JERUSALEM, Israel - Israelis are unusually astute people, especially when it comes to politics. They're keenly aware of world opinion and the way in which the media often portrays the Jewish state as the responsible party in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Six months into his second term as prime minister (first term: 1996 - 1999), an increasing number of Israelis are disappointed by Binyamin Netanyahu's diplomatic efforts to appease U.S.-led demands.
The issue of settlement construction tops the agenda.
The U.S. government under President Barack Obama has called for a full construction freeze in so-called Jewish settlements, which the State Department defines as any area outside the pre-1967 armistice lines.
A recent poll, commissioned by IMRA (Independent Media Review and Analysis) revealed that 74 percent of Israelis are dissatisfied with the way Netanyahu is handling the issue of settlement construction.
Sixty-one percent of poll respondents believe the government should sanction "illegal" Jewish outposts in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), rather than destroy them, which is viewed as more appeasement to the U.S.
The poll also found that 70 percent of Likud members are not happy with recent decisions by their party chairman and prime minister.
During Netanyahu's four-day trip to England and Germany last week, the U.S. reportedly withdrew its objections to construction in Jerusalem neighborhoods, though that decision may be reversed in a few short weeks.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that while U.S. "positions in these discussions remain unchanged," it will not demand preconditions for restarting negotiations.
"We put forward our ideas, publicly and privately, about what it will take for negotiations to be restarted, but ultimately it will be up to the parties themselves, with our help, to determine whether that threshold has been met," Crowley told the press.
Meanwhile, according to bits and pieces of information leaked to the media, the White House has been hosting a group of diplomats who are formulating a unilateral plan for a final peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Rumor has it that Obama will present his plan at the United Nations opening of the General Assembly next month.
Israelis too see the writing on the wall. Despite claims of preserving America's historical relationship with the Jewish state, Obama's actions on the ground do not support his statements.
Results of a Smith Research poll, commissioned last week by The Jerusalem Post, revealed that only 4 percent of Israelis view Obama as pro-Israel, down 2 percent from a poll published on June 19.
And Netanyahu's efforts to appease world leaders backing the Saudi-initiated Arab Peace Plan is a far cry from what Israelis were hoping for when they voted in a Likud-led government.
The majority of Israelis were not happy with the direction Ehud Olmert's administration had been taking the country. Many believed a Likud-led government, under the leadership of party chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, would make a difference.
Israeli President Shimon Peres made a very pragmatic decision last February when he tasked the Likud chairman and former prime minister with forming the next government.
Despite his personal political leanings and the Kadima party's one-vote lead in election results, the president saw the writing on the wall.
Peres, a seasoned politician himself, knew the country was not evenly divided as one might have assumed from election results, which are based on Israel's electoral system that votes for parties rather than individual candidates.
The Labor party took a beating in the elections as did the ultra-left wing Meretz party. Peres knew that Labor chairman Ehud Barak would likely join a Netanyahu-led unity government, allowing him to stay on as defense minister.
The president saw that nearly 70 percent of Israelis, represented in the more right-wing parties, wanted a strong leader who would stand up to the demands of the Arab League, European Union, United Nations and especially the new U.S. administration under President Barack Obama.
These parties would join a Likud-led government, giving Netanyahu a clear majority for his coalition. And that's exactly what took place.
Six months later, many Israelis are less confident of the prime minister's ability to stand up against the dictates of the U.S. government and its allies worldwide.
Gov't A-team to blitz US to explain 'true roots of conflict'
Israeli Leader: Time Winding Down for Iran
Recent unrest in Iran has sparked speculation that Israel could be ready to take military action against the regime's nuclear program.
Yet Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon recently told CBN News that Israel doesn't want to carry out a military strike against Iran and still believes that strong international sanctions could stop the country from obtaining a nuclear bomb.
"If there was a unity of purpose for international community with effective sanctions the regime in Iran will not be able to sustain it nor tolerate it and this is the only way, I believe, to change their conduct to put the dilemma on them," he said.
Israel also supports Washington's intent to dialogue with Tehran, but if no progress is made with sanctions or talks in the next six months, Israel will have a better idea of how to proceed.
"The clock is ticking and unfortunately it's ticking fast and so far it's in Iran's favor," Ayalon continued. "We need to stop this clock. I cannot tell you in terms of weeks or months when is the point of no return but I would think that by the end of the year should be a clear view of how we move ahead."
Iran is just one of the many threats that the country is facing.
Ayalon says that Israel has not only survived but thrived in the face of trials, tribulations and many terror attacks in the past. He calls it Israel's most important achievement.
"The fact that we also reach to friends and we have the evangelicals in the United States and elsewhere as well, I think, attests to the fact that Israel is not only a country which is based on physical and human achievements, but it's also a country with a greater purpose with a really faith," he said. "And as some say is nothing short of a miracle, a Godly miracle."
Germany, France repeat Iran threats Germany and France on Monday reinforced a call for Iran to respond to concerns about its nuclear program in September or face tougher sanctions, and said they wanted wide international agreement on those measures. President Barack Obama has set a Sept. 15 deadline for Iran to respond to US overtures about negotiating over its nuclear program. "Initiatives must be taken during the month of September which take account of Iran's will or otherwise to cooperate," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after meeting Merkel. If it does not, he said, "Germany and France will be united in calling for a strengthening of sanctions." "Iran should know that we mean this very seriously," Merkel said. Teheran "must not again let the deadline elapse at will," she added. financial and other important sectors." She declined to elaborate Monday on what form those sanctions might take or what they might target, other than to reiterate that the energy sector is a possibility. "I don't want to say anything about details now because that makes no sense - we must try to set these sanctions on the widest possible basis," she said. Sarkozy said that "there are many ideas" for further sanctions - "on just one condition, that it be the whole of the international community that is convinced of the necessity of sanctions." "That is where the problem is," he said. "It is on that front that Ms. Merkel and I are going to work a lot." Merkel's government said earlier Monday that officials from the six countries trying to address concerns about Iran's nuclear program - the US, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany - would meet near Frankfurt on Wednesday. It said the meeting would involve political directors - foreign ministry officials below ministerial level. The French Foreign Ministry said the gathering would prepare for a meeting later in September on the Iran nuclear issue, which will take place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. In its latest report, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it has pressed Iran to clarify the purpose of its uranium enrichment activities and reassure the world that it's not trying to build an atomic weapon. The agency acknowledged that Iran has been producing nuclear fuel at a slower rate and allowed UN inspectors broader access to its main nuclear complex in the southern city of Natanz and to a reactor in Arak. But the agency said "Iran has not suspended its enrichment-related activities." Iran insists its nuclear program is geared solely toward generating electricity. Sarkozy said he backs Obama's efforts to reach out to Iran. However, "this hand cannot remain outstretched indefinitely to leaders who do not respond," he said.
Israeli Arab used membership of same gym to spy on Chief of Staff
DEBKAfile Special Report
August 31, 2009, 4:33 PM (GMT+02:00)
Rauy Sultani, 23, from the Israeli Triangle town of Tirah was brought to trial before the Petach Tikva district court Monday, Aug. 31, accused of being recruited by the Lebanese Hizballah to spy on the Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi. Sultani is accused of grave offenses against state security, passing information to the enemy and contact with a foreign agent.
According to the indictment, he was recruited by Hizballah operative Salman Harb at a summer camp run by the Israeli-Arab Balad party in Morocco in August 2008.
Sultani told Harb that he was perfectly placed to spy on the Israeli army chief because they belonged to the same gym in Kfar Saba. He said he was familiar with Ashkenazi's movements and daily schedule.
Told to do nothing at that point, in December he was instructed by his instructor to travel to Poland and meet up with "Sammy Harb," his recruiter's brother. The Israeli Arab was then assigned with gathering information on IDF bases and troops. But first he was thoroughly grilled on the routes of access to the gym, Ashkenazi's regular workout times, his gear and the state of security around him at those times.
The next day he was given an email address for corresponding with his controller together with an encryption disk.
On his return to Israel, the accused spy regularly reported to his controller, transferring coded messages by telephone and email. In December, Israeli police investigators picked up the correspondence and launched an inquiry. Sulmani was then put under arrest and questioned. He confessed to spying on the chief of staff and passing information to Hizballah in Poland.
The security surrounding Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi has been tightened following this and another breach: A soldier serving at general staff headquarters in Tel Aviv was discovered last month to have stolen the general's credit cards from his office and passing them on to criminals who used them on a spending spree.