A gaze into my 2016 crystal ball

Traditionally, during the days before the New Year, journalists and pundits have a tendency to languish nostalgically on summaries of events and trends of the outgoing year. Who did what, who said what, who married (or divorced) whom, who was successful, who failed, who rose to stardom, who descended into oblivion, whose political fortunes shined and whose were humiliatingly tarnished.
Don’t worry — I have no intention of boring you with a walk down memory lane with facts that you already know or can easily look up.
Besides, while some good things happened this year, I really don’t feel like dwelling again on the international and political blunders (both Israeli and American!) of 2015.
In world affairs, we’re seeing “expert” end-of-year analysis about which of the world’s four “superpowers” — the U.S., Russia, China or Iran — has more worldwide respect, allies and influence.
Dictionary.com defines superpower as “an extremely powerful nation, especially one capable of influencing international events and the acts and policies of less powerful nations.”
There is good reason that on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, we say “Tichleh shana vekileloteha, tachel shana uvirchoteha” (“May a year with its curses end, may a year with its blessings begin”). In Arabic there is a phrase: “Il faht maht” (“What is past is dead”).
So, dusting off my usually reliable crystal ball, let’s leave 2015, and see what twists and turns the beginning of 2016 may have in store for Israel…
The “Knife Intifada” will continue, despite Israel’s ongoing upgrading of prevention, “threat-neutralization” and deterrence policies.
Recent polls show a growing support for this “national resistance” among Palestinian youth and young adults, mainly in the West Bank, as the result of nonstop incitement and pseudo-religious “justification,” together with daily media glorification of the so-called “martyrs” by prominent Arab and Palestinian leaders from Abu Mazen and his ruling Fatah faction, through Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, ISIS and others.
The naive potential terrorists are not only promised all the benefits of “martyrdom,” but also a glorified eternal place of honor in a future pantheon of “national heroes” whose death brought about the “Liberation” of Palestine. Both are very persuasive motivators.
While this low-intensity war is not an existential threat to Israel, the “optics” and international public relations will continue to fuel anti-Israel and “one-state” movements worldwide.
A new Lebanon war? After the targeted extermination on Dec. 19 of convicted murderer and terrorist, Samir Kuntar, together with other senior Hezbollah militants, Hassan Nasrallah, the organization’s leader, threatened Israel with a painful retaliation.
In response, a senior IDF official stated unequivocally that Nasrallah and Hezbollah would be making a big mistake if they perpetrated a lethal terror attack, either in Israel or anywhere in the world, to avenge Kuntar’s elimination.
So will a Hezbollah response to Kuntar’s death trigger another Israel-Lebanon war within the next few months? That’s certainly possible and the IDF is more than prepared.
However, Western sources claim that several Lebanese political factions are pressuring Nasrallah not to launch a revenge attack, since Israel will retaliate with devastating force against Lebanon.
Even Iran, Hezbollah’s patron, is telling Nasrallah to avoid a conflict with Israel right now, since it would cause huge damage to the current efforts to preserve Bashar Assad’s Alawite/Shiite government in Syria, and to Hezbollah and Iran’s influence and infrastructure in Lebanon.
Will Hezbollah do something really stupid? The next few days or weeks will tell.
A war with ISIS? On Saturday ISIS released a recorded message, supposedly by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In it he said: “We are getting closer to you day by day, do not think that we have forgotten about you…God caused the Jews of the world to gather in Israel, and the war against them has become easy … It is the obligation of every Muslim to carry out jihad. Jews, you will not enjoy (sic) in Palestine. God has gathered you in Palestine so that the mujahideen can reach you soon and you will hide by the rock and the tree. Palestine will be your graveyard.”
According to Israeli sources, ISIS has been planning attacks against Israel for some time. Covert and overt IDF, GSS (Shin Bet) and Mossad operations, both alone and/or in cooperation with the U.S., Russia, Egypt, Jordan, other Arab countries and Turkey, have so far effectively thwarted those plans.
In a taunt to the U.S. and Russia, Baghdadi added: “Be confident that God will grant victory to those who worship him, and hear the good news that our state is doing well. The more intense the war against it, the purer it becomes and the tougher it gets.”
Based on the methodology of the recent ISIS attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, it would be prudent to assume that al-Baghdadi’s words were not just intended to threaten Israel, but very possibly also to “activate” already imbedded, trained and equipped sleeper cells or “lone wolf” terrorists in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. I’m confident that Israel’s highly experienced defense and security services are on top of this. However, we should always remember that in security, there is never “100 percent.”
There is more in my crystal ball regarding Israel, America and the Middle East in the first half of 2016…but I have to recharge it now.
As for the second half of 2016 — I agree with the wise Jedi Master Yoda, who once observed: “Always in motion the future is…difficult to see.”
Happy New Year, and “May the Force be with us all” in 2016…we’re going to need it!
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org

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