-- January 29, 2012- Turmoil in Prime Minister's Office, Tal Law Extension, The Last Days of the Assad Regime?

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Israel Update
A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman

January 29, 2012- Turmoil in Prime Minister's Office, Tal Law Extension, The Last Days of the Assad Regime?

For the last few days Israeli news has been dominated by what is being called "The Eshel Affair". That affair began as charges of harassment were leveled against the head of Prime Minister's office, Natan Eshel. It is alleged Eshel harassed a female employee. What is particulary unusual about the charge is that it was not the alleged victim that brought the charges, but, instead, three senior advisors of Netanyahu; including his Military attache. Eshel has now gone on a vacation while the affair is being investigated by the government Workers' Authority. Whatever the results of the investigation, the current group of Netanyahu's close advisors are unlikely to be able to work together again.

A major issue that dominated Israeli discourse over this past weekend has been the question of the extension of the "Tal" Law. The law officially provides for the exemption of Charedim who study in Yeshiva from Army service. When the law was originally passed there was hope the law would result in additional Charedim would opt to join the army. While the number of Charedi IDF soldiers has increased slightly, that amount has been overwhelmed by the overall demographic growth of the Charedi community. Prime Minister Netanyahu had planned to routinely pass a five-year extension of the Tal law. That plan was torpedoed when Yisrael Beitunu made it clear it would not vote for any extension. A public storm of protest over the extension followed.

At the end of last week a protest tent went up in Tel Aviv demonstrating against any extension of the law. Some, both inside, as well as outside of the government made a radical suggestion to continue exempting Charedim from army service, but insist the majority leave their Yeshivot and join the tax paying work force. This suggestion may be practical. However, its unfairness to the population that does serve is so clear, that there is no chance that it could ever gain support. I think events in the last few weeks may have made the passage of an extension of the Tal Law all but impossible. I also believe that a connection is finally being made between the social events of the summer and the extent of the cost of the Charedim to Israeli society.

This morning as the protest tents came down there was a well organized demonstration by a group of youngsters giving out bumper stickers that said: "Power to the People".

There were about 100 youngsters spread throughout the area with placards. They were unwilling to say more than "we believe in bringing about change and that change will make this a better place." Details to follow. I have no way of knowing what or who is behind this, but Yair Lapid comes to mind. Lapid, by the way, has been very quiet except on his Facebook page. There, he seems to answer most posts to his wall. If you can read Hebrew its worth reading http://www.facebook.com/YairLapid

Events in Syria may be coming to a head. The “Free Army of Syria" seems to be gaining strength, capturing a number of the suburbs of Damascus. The protests in Syria now seem to be a full fledged Civil War. This is a war Assad cannot win, for it now seems to have become Sunni vs. Alawite. The Alawites make up less than 10% of the country. More and more army units are defecting to the rebels, and unlike the Libyan rebel groups, who were untrained militias, the Syrian rebel units seem to be fully trained former Syrian units. Meanwhile, here in Tel Aviv, they put a plastic ice skating rink on the boardwalk of the Old Port. Up North the Hermon is open for skiing.

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