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November 4, 2016 3:42 am

Europe’s Double Challenge and Israel’s Complex Role

avatar by Arthur Koll

Middle Eastern migrants. Photo: Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed via Wikimedia Commons.

Middle Eastern migrants. Photo: Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed via Wikimedia Commons.

The European Union is facing the greatest challenge in its history, due to mass migration and significantly heightened security threats.

As a result, Europe is now trying to reconcile a growing clash between its values and interests, scrambling to preserve its liberal and free spirit, while at the same time preventing the spread of terror and radical Islam.

Israel plays a minor, yet complex role in this struggle. European governments and security officials are tightening cooperation with Jerusalem in order to stop terrorism, but they still cast blame on Israel for its failure to resolve the Palestinian issue. Yet European governments are finally beginning to understand that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict doesn’t drive terrorism.

Over the past three years, migrants from the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa have flocked to Europe — a consequence of ongoing wars and enormous global economic and social inequality.

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It is difficult to fully grasp the difference in the quality of life in Europe compared to those regions, particularly as wars and unrest continue to ravage Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas.

Entire populations that have given up hope of development in their homelands are pulled towards Europe, lured by the promise of security, employment and state-backed social and public services, as well as individual freedoms.

If the waves of migration continue, European countries such as Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Sweden and others will not resemble their former selves, and their character will be permanently altered. This situation is leading to the rise of far-right parties, which call for drastic steps to counter migration. Yet even among mainstream parties and voices, including that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, there is a realization that the current trend cannot continue.

Members of the 28-member European Union — soon to be 27 with the exit of the UK — are increasingly rebelling against the common decision-making spirit of the EU.

Britain is the most extreme example of this. But there are others.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban is pursuing anti-migration policies to counter the flow of people who move through his country. Hungary has rejected the EU’s proposal for refugees to be settled among all member states, and instead constructed a border fence with Serbia to prevent the entrance of more refugees. Croatia is also threatening to construct a border barrier with Serbia.

Serbia, a small country in the process of negotiating its admittance to the EU, is facing an impossible reality. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have passed through its territory. Serbia does not wish to jeopardize its EU candidacy with drastic counter-steps, but also rejects the idea that it will become a “dumping territory” for Europe. This might happen if the EU shuts its doors to further waves of migration from the Middle East.

On a recent visit to Serbia, an official  told me that, on average, some 3,000 refugees arrive daily, trying to move on to Croatia and Hungary (and, from there, to Austria and Germany).

Within the migration crisis, there is a tangible and dangerous security threat: ISIS can, and does, plant terrorists within the waves of innocent refugees. France has already sustained mass casualty attacks by ISIS operatives, some of whom reportedly reached Paris via refugee transit routes.

Germany experienced its first suicide bomb attack last summer when a Syrian national detonated himself in Anbash.

Jihadist operatives who receive training and indoctrination in Middle Eastern battlefields can enter Europe and launch attacks there. Alternatively, some ISIS volunteers who return to their home countries in Europe can merge with local radical elements and help radicalize them. Due to these challenges, Europe is facing its worst security situation in decades.

As these changes play out, Israel has shared highly advanced intelligence capabilities that can help bolster European security. Yet, in the arena of public opinion, Israel’s image is not likely to significantly improve in Europe.

Israelis who had hoped for more understanding of the challenges they face due to the rise of terror in Europe are likely to be disappointed. To Europe, Israel is still the villain.

What has changed, however, is that criticizing Israel is no longer a top priority. Yes, Europeans still want to find a way to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but now they are far busier dealing with their own rapidly evolving crises. And, perhaps, this will eventually lead to more sympathy and understanding for Israel.

Ambassador Arthur Koll is the former Deputy Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he concluded his service as the head of the Media and Public Affairs Division. He is a former Ambassador of Israel to the Republic of Serbia and to Montenegro and served as instructor of the National Defense College. Mr. Koll also served as Consul General of the Israeli Consulate in Atlanta, USA. He is a lead lecturer and diplomatic advisor for Our Soldiers Speak . 

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