Frida Ghitis
The Miami Herald (Opinion)
December 11, 2012 - 1:00am

You have seen the headlines from the Middle East. Now imagine listening to the same stories as you stand in Israel, just a few miles from Syria, Egypt, Gaza, the West Bank.

Considering the range of unhappy outcomes the Israeli people may have to face, it is stunning to see their political leaders create unnecessary problems for their country.

Israel faces so many challenges, so many serious, dangerous, life-threatening scenarios that its people should demand of their leaders that they stop, take stock, and start behaving more responsibly. The recent decision to move forward a controversial housing construction program was inexcusable.

Israel wanted to show its displeasure with the Palestinian Authority's move at the U.N., which violated a fundamental tenet of the Oslo Accords: that the two sides will work together for peace, not unilaterally. I am unconvinced that the plan to build in the contested E1 area will go forward, because I believe the its announcement was a way of signaling unhappiness. It was also a political move ahead of the country's January elections.

Some will defend Israel's right to build, and explain that the E1 project does not kill the Two-State solution - still the only idea for ending the conflict with the Palestinians, or at least with some Palestinians. But the more important matter for Israelis is that the decision to move forward the construction project created problems at a time when Israel, despite its strength and prosperity, cannot afford them.

Israel is turning away its friends and giving ammunition to its enemies. That is foolish beyond belief.

Perhaps the sense of normalcy, the success of Iron Dome against Hamas' rockets, is lulling the country into a false sense of security. Israel is strong - the strongest country in the region - but it has potential security problems of a magnitude that boggles the mind.

We have heard Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk at length about the threat from Iranian nuclear weapons. And we know about Hamas and Hezbollah, two organizations committed to Israel's destruction, which unceasingly tout their desire to destroy the Jewish state, even as Iran does all it can to arm them.

Israel doesn't say much about some of the other threats across its borders.

In recent days, and even as I write this, NATO officials are scrambling to figure out what to do about information that there is some sort of activity in the chemical and biological storage facilities built by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his equally bloodthirsty late father. Assad, Russian diplomats say, has lost all hope of surviving. There's no telling what he will do. And after he falls, there are ten bad possible scenarios for every good one.

Syria's opposition has a huge Jihadi component, which has already vowed to take on Israel once it finishes Assad.

Let's hope the Syrian tragedy has a happy ending, with peace and democracy for the Syrian people and cordial relationships with Israel. The latter part, granted, is a bit of a stretch.

Cordial relationships with its neighbors are key to maintaining the kind of life that Israelis want for their families; lives in which education, arts, technology, can continue to flourish.

Relations with Egypt and Jordan, the two neighboring countries with which Israel has peace treaties, cannot be taken for granted. Egypt is now in the clutches of a violent showdown between the Muslim Brotherhood and the more liberal members of society, who fear their revolution has been hijacked by Islamists. So far, the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization with strong anti-Israel and anti-Western credentials, has won every important battle.

The entire Middle East has seen the ascendance of Islamist parties. The Brotherhood-affiliated organizations throughout the region are not spending much time thinking about Israel. They are much too busy at home. But nobody knows what will come later in this new era of Middle Eastern turbulence.

The chaos in Syria could envelop Jordan and Lebanon, Israel's neighbors.

And when we talk about tiny Israel's neighbors, we speak of countries lying within a few miles of Israel's major cities.

Given this uncomfortable state of affairs, Israel should be using all its diplomatic skills to strengthen relations with the countries that support it. It is doing precisely the opposite. It should be trying to strengthen any Palestinians, any Arabs, who embrace coexistence. It is doing precisely the opposite.

Some of this is election-related political games. But Israel, much as it would like, is not a country like all others; especially not now. Not when it stands just across the border from an explosively unstable Middle East, where it has no friends.

Perhaps Israeli will look at what surrounds them and demand better, smarter, from their leaders.

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