The Jerusalem Post’s top 5 stories of 2015

The Iran deal heads the list, but what’s next?

2015: The year that was (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
2015: The year that was
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Despite Israel’s vocal objections, international powers led by the United States signed a landmark agreement with Iran this year. History will decide whether the deal succeeded in stopping Iran’s nuclear program and bringing the Iranian regime into the fold of civilized nations, or fueled its support for international terrorism and determination to destroy Israel.
Both US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at loggerheads over national interests and personal legacies, put the issue at the top of their agendas.
The Iran deal, which captured international attention and enormous media coverage, heads the The Jerusalem Post’s list of the top five news stories of 2015. The list was chosen from an Israeli, Middle East and global perspective, based on news value, historical significance and public interest.
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The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and the P5+1 world powers (the US, the UK, Russia, France, China and Germany) was signed on July 14. It essentially removes international economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for a halt to its nuclear weapons program. Obama hailed the Iran deal as one of his administration’s top accomplishments.
“We succeeded in forging a strong deal to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.
Netanyahu lobbied stridently against the deal, including a controversial address to US Congress in March, and when the deal was finally struck, he issued a tough statement denouncing it, saying that Israel is not bound by it because Iran continues to seek Israel’s destruction.
“The leading international powers have bet our collective future on a deal with the foremost sponsor of international terrorism,” Netanyahu said. “They’ve gambled that in 10 years’ time, Iran’s terrorist regime will change while removing any incentive for it to do so. In fact, the deal gives Iran every incentive not to change.”
Six world powers adopt nuclear deal with Iran  (photo credit: REUTERS).
The past year has seen a tsunami of terrorism, targeting Israel and other countries around the world. At home, we witnessed a series of apparently lone-wolf terrorist attacks that have taken a painful toll. The current wave of terrorism against Israelis began on September 13, when Alexander Levlovich was killed after his vehicle was stoned on his way home from a Rosh Hashana dinner. The violence escalated from stonings and stabbings to vehicular and shooting attacks. Within four months, more than two dozen people were murdered, including Na’ama and Eitam Henkin, shot dead near Beit Furik on October 1 as their four small children sat in the back of their car. On November 13, Rabbi Ya’akov Litman and his son, Netanel, were shot dead near Otniel. Two weeks later, thousands attended the bitter- sweet ceremony in Jerusalem in which Litman’s daughter, Sarah-Tehiya, married Ariel Beigel. We all felt the pain of the relatives and friends of the victims and wounded, and our hearts went out to the Schwartz family when their 18-year-old son, Ezra, an American student on his gap year in Israel, was murdered in a terrorist attack on November 18.
The horror of alleged “Jewish terrorism” reared its ugly head when the Dawabsha family home in Duma was firebombed on July 31, killing 18-month-old Ali Dawabsha and his parents, and wounding his four-year-old brother. In December, police launched an investigation into a video showing Jewish extremists shamelessly celebrating the Duma arson at a wedding in Jerusalem.
Abroad, Islamic State carried out a range of barbaric attacks around the globe. On October 31, it claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian plane in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board. In Paris on November 13, a string of simultaneous attacks left 130 people dead. A week later, 20 people were killed in a terrorist attack in Mali, and on December 2, 14 people were killed in San Bernardino, California, by a couple said to have been inspired by Islamic State. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s fighters also caused havoc throughout the Middle East, although they have recently lost significant territory seized in Syria and Iraq. US and coalition forces carried out a campaign of air strikes against the jihadist group, but have so far failed in their mission to destroy Islamic State. Terrorism by Islamic State, as well as violence by the Syrian regime, pushed out hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of whom sought a new life in Europe.
Captive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ending months of political disputes, Netanyahu hit the gas pedal and signed the natural gas framework agreement on December 17. Although it still faces hurdles, including legal challenges from its detractors, the deal promises to have a significant positive impact on the Israeli economy. Proponents say it is crucial for Israel to tap the potential of the gas fields off the Mediterranean coast to maintain a robust energy sector and enable Israeli citizens to reap its benefits. They also see it as a strategic asset that can be used to foster regional ties.
Opponents argue that it feeds large companies, caters to tycoons who plan to export much of the gas abroad and could result in inflated prices in the domestic market. Netanyahu voiced the hope that it would turn Israel into an international player in the energy market.
“The gas was given to us as a gift from God, found in the deep sea, where we were given enormous gas reserves,” the prime minister said. “They potentially transform us not just into an energy power, but certainly into an important international energy force with a very great capability – and we need to extract them.”
Israel Navy missile ship patrols near Tamar gas field‏ (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
World leaders warmed up to one another in Le Bourget, France, to reach a landmark climate-change deal at the Conference of Parties (COP21) on December 12.
The so-called Paris Agreement, signed by 195 countries including Israel, calls for a significant reduction in greenhouse gases in an effort to combat global warming.
Noting that “climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries,” the signatories called it “the single most important collective action for addressing climate change ever agreed upon.”
Obama hailed it as “the best chance we have to save the one planet we have.”
Netanyahu called it “an important breakthrough.”
“We have an interest, as do other countries, in ensuring that if global warming is not stopped, it will at least be slowed,” Netanyahu said.
In September, the Israeli government approved a program to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2030.
Hundreds of environmentalists arrange their bodies to form a message of hope and peace in front of the Eiffel Tower as the World Climate Change Conference 2015 convened at Le Bourget near the French capital (photo credit: REUTERS).
Jonathan Pollard, who spent an unprecedented 30 years of a 45-year-life sentence for spying for an ally – Israel – while working as a US Navy intelligence analyst, was freed from prison on the night of November 20. Because he was released on parole, and not pardoned, Pollard still has the balance of his life sentence – 15 years – hanging like the Sword of Damocles over his head. Any violation of his parole conditions will send him back to prison.
For three decades, the case has been a source of tension in the otherwise close relationship between the US and Israel. When he was finally freed at the age of 61, Pollard was welcomed by his wife, Esther, with whom he is now living in New York. There, Pollard is battling against Draconian parole conditions in court and fighting to move to Israel. His parole conditions prevent him from being gainfully employed, observing his religious beliefs and reintegrating into normative society.
His attorneys, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, say there is no justification for these conditions that are, in their words, “onerous, punitive, vindictive, cruel and unlawful.”
When Netanyahu last met with Obama in Washington, he requested the return of Pollard, an Israeli agent, and gave Washington guarantees for his supervision.
Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard leaves a federal courthouse in New York (photo credit: REUTERS).
Wishes do come true. When I became editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post in 2011, I published a “wish list” featuring the following items:
1. Hamas must free Gilad Schalit
2. The US must free Jonathan Pollard
3. Cuba must free Alan Gross
4. Egypt must free Ilan Grapel
5. Bashar Assad must go
6. Iran’s nukes must be stopped
7. The PA must negotiate
Despite the cynical responses I received at the time, I am pleased to report that four years later, the first four items have materialized.
Hamas has freed Schalit, although it has yet to release two other captured Israelis and hand over the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed in Operation Protective Edge last year. Cuba has freed Gross, while Egypt released not only Grapel, but Ouda Tarabin as well.
Although Pollard is out of jail, the Jewish state awaits his arrival as a free man. While Iran’s nuclear program may have been halted for a decade, questions linger over its future plans. If Syria is to harbor any hope, Assad has got to go, but so must Islamic State. To give peace a chance, the PA should halt inciting hate against Israel, and resume good relations and peace negotiations.
Perhaps most importantly, terrorism of any type cannot be tolerated. May 2016 be a more peaceful year for all of us!