Tel Aviv Diary: Putin Gives Israel Green Light to Pound Hezbollah

An Israeli soldier leans on a tank near the border with Lebanon on January 29. Reports from Syria that Israel struck targets there on December 3 confirms the fact that Russia has given Israel a green light to continue to attack Hezbollah, Russia’s ally in its fight in Syria, the author writes. Ammar Awad/Reuters

The residents of Tel Aviv do their best to block out the events swirling around them, but that has been very hard to do lately. The San Bernardino, California, shooting has led the news reports here for the past two days.

To most Israelis, the seemingly endless discussion over whether or not the brutal California attack was an act of terrorism seems a little absurd. The fact that 14 people were gunned down in cold blood and the area's entire population was terrorized seems to indicate a clear-cut case of terrorism—regardless of the exact motives of the perpetrators.

Of course, America's endless debate on gun control is completely incomprehensible to a country where the population has been universally trained to use guns, but where very few people actually own their own weapons (with the exception of those who live in the West Bank).

While the shooting in California has dominated news broadcasts, discussion on the street has concerned matters closer to home. The announcement of the arrests of suspects in the arson murder in Kfar Duma raised some hopes that Israel would be able to come to grips with its self-spawned terror. Unfortunately, we do not seem to be there quite yet.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan stated Friday morning that there is still not enough evidence to try the suspects, who are being held in administrative detention pending the government's ability to bring charges.

Paradoxically, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, which usually protests the ill treatment of Palestinians, has protested that the Jewish suspects in the Kfar Duma arson have had their rights violated by being held in administrative detention and not being able to see their lawyers. Most Israelis would like to see the suspects brought to trial as soon as possible, and hope that the hideous acts are the work of a very small, fanatical group of people.

Continued fallout from the Turkish downing of the Russian fighter-bomber last week continues to be watched carefully by most Israeli observers of the news. This action has added another layer of instability to the area surrounding Israel.

A direct consequence is the fact that the Russians have deployed their most advanced anti-aircraft system (the S-400) in Syria, something no Israeli planner ever anticipated. Israel has, no doubt, long since developed a strategy for defeating the older S-300 (which the Russians have promised repeatedly to the Iranians), but the S-400 might (and I only say might) present a greater challenge.

In the meantime, it would seem that Israel's close relationship with Russia and especially with its leader, Vladimir Putin, has been bearing fruit. Reports from Syria that Israel struck targets there on December 3—either once or twice—confirms the fact that Russia has given Israel a green light to continue to attack Hezbollah, Russia's ally in its fight in Syria.

Of course, all of this has been happening against the background of the continued knifings and vehicular homicide attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, primarily in the West Bank. On Friday, December 4, there were three attacks.

Unfortunately, the attacks have become routine. To Tel Aviv residents, events in the West Bank and Jerusalem appear to be taking place in a different universe, far, far away (even though they've happened a mere 50 miles from here).

Finally, any reflections on the events of the last week would be incomplete without at least making reference to the ongoing sex scandals revolving around the improper actions of men toward women in their employ or under their command. Recent Israeli history is full of such stories and scandals. The latest one forced a young up-and-coming member of the Knesset from the Habayit Hayehudi party to resign from Israeli parliament. Meanwhile, one of the top commanders of the Israeli police department has been asked to remain on paid leave while allegations against him are investigated.

Just another week in Tel Aviv, located in one of the most "peaceful" places on earth.

Marc Schulman is the editor of