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BernieBy BERNIE BELLAN Since the news from Israel can often seem to be unremittingly bad, e.g., new threats of war with Syria/Iran/Hezbollah and/or Hamas;  a peace process with Palestinians that no longer exists; ongoing corruption investigations involving the Prime Minister – along with  other important Israelis - I thought it worthwhile to point out some very encouraging facts about that country.

For instance, tourism to Israel in 2017 was at an all-time high: 3.6 million! That beat the previous record, set in 2016, of 2.9 million, with an impressive increase of  25% in the total number of tourists from 2016-17. (Interestingly, the major reason for this has been a very large increase in the number of tourists from Russia – up 26% from 2016 to 307,000. The growth in the number of tourists from Russia is largely attributable to the many low-cost flights that are now available from several Russian cities - as little as $188 one-way).
While the number of tourists going to Israel from Canada hasn’t grown at nearly the same rate, 2017 did see a record number of tourists going from this country to Israel: 75,000. Here are the figures for previous years: 2016-69,000; 2015-66,700; 2014-66,200 (and that year was on pace to see a record for Canadian tourists until war broke out with Hamas in the summer); 2013-71,000 – which had been the previous record for Canadian tourists until 2017.
One of the major contributing factors in the increasing numbers of Canadians who are going to Israel has been the expansion in the number of direct flights by a number of carriers to that country, particularly Air Canada and Air Transat. There are now 19 non-stop flights weekly to Tel Aviv from either Toronto or Montreal (although Air Transat operates only a seasonal service).
So – there’s good news insofar as tourism is concerned, and other economic indicators are also continuing to look up for Israel. For instance, inflation – which I’m sure you will recall, used to be a huge problem in that country, has all but disappeared. Per capita GDP is now over $37,000, which ranked Israel it 53rd in the world in 2017.  (Canada, by the way, ranked 34th.)
Considering that Israel is forced to spend a huge proportion of its GDP on military spending (5.8% -  $17.8 billion), compared with Canada (1% - $15 billion), one can well imagine how much more productive Israel could be if it weren’t put into the bind of having to devote so much of its productive energy to defense spending.
All this leads me to wonder though, whether the relatively robust Israeli economy might come to a halt – yet again, due to another outbreak of hostilities – this time on its northern front and perhaps with Hamas too, although there is less likelihood of a war with Hamas at the present moment. If you read Israeli news media, you  can’t help but be aware of the marked increase in the possibility of some sort of major blow-up between Israel and Iran through its Syrian and Hezbollah proxies, with the possibility that Russia might also be involved.
Recently a major contributor to the increase in tensions has been the apparent resumption of Iran’s building a precision missile factory in Lebanon. Work had been halted on the construction of the factory in 2017 but, according to Israeli military sources, construction of that factory has now resumed. Israel had destroyed a similar factory that Iran had been building in Syria and it has also been quite successful in knocking out convoys of sophisticated weaponry that the Iranians had been trying to ship to their Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon through Syria.
As I write this Israel has just been involved in what turned out to be a serious confrontation with Syrian anti-aircraft missiles – leading to the loss of an Israeli F16. While in recent days Israeli politicians and military leaders  had also been warning that another war with Hezbollah was imminent, eyes are now being cast toward Syria. Hezbollah does have a huge arsenal of missiles available – numbering over 150,000 according to sources, but Israel is also well prepared this time around to fend off the most dangerous of those missiles. With a combination of missile defense systems including the Iron Dome, Patriot anti-missile systems, and the most recently developed system, known as “David’s Sling”, while no doubt the many Katyusha rockets that are hidden within Lebanese villages close to Israel’s border will inflict damage, they are not precision weapons.
If Israel decides that it will have to take proactive action in attacking either Syrian bases or  the Iranian factory under construction in Lebanon, the one actor that could step in as an interlocutor is Russia. How strange is it that the United States has become completely sideshadowed in that part of the world?
Neither Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah nor his Iranian masters are stupid, however.  Certainly they are prepared to sacrifice thousands of Lebanese lives if that might bring Hezbollah and Iran a strategic victory in terms of much of the world castigating Israel for having the temerity to defend itself against missiles, but there has been quiet on the Lebanese front for 11 years now – for good reason: Nasrallah knows that, while Hezbollah has certainly bolstered itself militarily, Israel is that much better prepared this time around that it was in 2006. One wonders though how far the Iranians are prepared to go in provoking Israel.