Burning Issues brings our best opinion writers to one podium, where they respond, in brief and in real time, to a question about one of the hottest news topics on the agenda. A link to the writer's most recent column appears after each post.
Burning Issues 1-18:
Last three: Iran and Russia, PA crisis and Israel, anti-Iran rhetoric.
Question #19What is your forecast of 2007 with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iranian nuclear program and the Syrian/Lebanese front?
Contributions by Michael Freund, David Horovitz, Saul Singer, Jonathan Tobin and Isi Leibler and Daniel Pipes
The portents for 2007 are not good. Iran is pressing determinedly ahead toward a nuclear capability. Syria is rearming Hizbullah. And the Palestinian public shows no sign of internalizing the direct link between its choice of a terrorist leadership and the evaporation of prospects for a better future.
Israel's challenge, in the coming year as ever, lies in working for the best while preparing for the worst - seeking to encourage the international community to thwart murderous extremism, to bolster moderate elements, to ensure its own armed forces are capable of protecting our people.
Forecasting in this volatile region is truly the province of fools. But in assessing Israel's strengths and weaknesses in the year ahead, and its vital capacity to safeguard its own most basic interests, no one should lose sight of the fact that there are social and economic components to a nation's resilience.
A country riven with economic inequality, a country racked by corruption, is far less capable of holding firm than one, however externally threatened, marked by greater equality and leadership propriety.
Editor's Notes: A terrible silence
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will likely limp along, as at present, with no decisive developments. But the scene seems ripe for an unexpected event sending the conflict in an unexpected direction (such as happened in 2006 with the capturing of Israeli soldiers, and the consequent war).
This could include Ehud Olmert resigning the prime ministry due to corruption charges, Abbas assassinated by Hamas, a mega-terrorist attack on Israel, in which case, all bets are off.
Little decisive will happen vis-a-vis the Iranian nuclear program, I have predicted
, until the US president either permits it to go ahead or deploys military force to prevent that from happening; everything else is just skirmishing of no great import.
Depending on how American intelligence services assess the speed of Iranian progress, this key presidential moment could come in 2007 or in a subsequent year. There remains a vestigial hope that Iranians themselves will reign in their rogue president, a possibility that deserves close observation.
Hizbullah seems to be inexorably rising in Lebanon. With regard to Syria, a Golan intifada could well begin in 2007, heating up the Syrian-Israeli front in a way unseen for decades.
How the West could lose
With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, anyone expecting the Palestinian "moderates" to defeat the "radicals" (i.e. Fatah to take on Hamas) and to establish a meaningful peace with Israel in the coming year is obviously still hung over.
The coming year will, no doubt, see more attempts by both the United States and Israel to prop up Mahmoud Abbas as an alternative to the popular Hamas government of the PA.
Such efforts will be as fruitless as the ones that have gone before. In fact, it is entirely possible that the US-Israel aid will have the opposite effect and ensure not only that Abbas will make no attempts to depose Hamas but that he will grow weaker, not stronger in the coming year.
The Syrian "peace" offensive is gaining support in Washington and from the Jewish left. This strengthens their position in Lebanon and also makes the position of their ally Hizbullah stronger. If this continues and develops, it will ensure that the minimal gains that the Olmert government claims it achieved in Lebanon will be further diluted.
As for Iran, 2007 will probably not bring a moment of truth for the confrontation over that rogue nation's nuclear ambitions. But the failure of the West to confront Teheran over its plans will only make it even more certain that in the not-too-distant future both the United States and Israel will face a terrible choice: either acquiesce to a nuclear Iran or take bold action to stop them.
And on that cheery note, a happy, healthy and peaceful 2007 to all of our readers.
View From America: Protestant, Catholic, Jew and Muslim
Clearly we face a turbulent year. Much depends on whether our dysfunctional government gets its act together or is replaced. As of now, the leadership lack a coherent game plan or long term strategy and are simply zigzagging from day to day in response to conflicting internal and external pressures.
If the Lebanon war debacle acted as an early warning system and obliged us to ready ourselves for more crucial battles, it may prove to have been a blessing in disguise.
Unless there are dramatic changes, we seem to be heading towards an ugly confrontation with the Palestinians. They seem to be emboldened by the blunders associated with the Lebanon war and our current inexplicable passivity in the face of missile attacks against our civilians. If they underestimate our military capacity they will face a rude shock. But under such circumstances the Syrians and Hizbullah could become involved in what could erupt into a regional conflict.
The Iranian nuclear threat will not disappear. We must make it abundantly clear that even in the event of a first strike, any country employing nuclear weapons against us will be wiped off the face of the earth.
Despite this gloomy projection, if we overcome our internal leadership problems I am optimistic and now see light at the end of the tunnel.
Give us leadership
This coming year will be a year of decision for Israel and the West regarding Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
Indeed, the countdown has already begun, and with each passing day, the Ayatollahs are drawing closer to their goal of obtaining "the bomb".
As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly stated in recent weeks, his goal is to complete the installation of thousands of centrifuges, the devices used to enrich uranium, at Iranian nuclear installations by the end of March 2007.
This will give the would-be Hitler of Persia the ability to start producing nuclear weapons, and eventually to spread nuclear terror far and wide, threatening the existence not only of Israel, but of Western civilization itself.
Less than three months - that's all we've got. That's all that stands right now between the world as we know it, and one in which the Persian executioner will begin readying his finger to press the nuclear button.
This cannot be allowed to happen. The danger is too great, the peril is too real.
Sanctions and diplomacy may make for good headlines, but they haven't stopped or even slowed down Iran's drive to enter the nuclear club. Only military force can deter Teheran from pursuing its nuclear goals, and time is of the essence.
For if the IAF or the US Air Force do not go into action soon, the mullahs of Teheran will jeopardize everything we hold dear.
That is why the coming year is so crucial, and we dare not delude ourselves into thinking otherwise. One way or another, 2007 will go down in history - either as the year in which Israel and/or the US turned back the Iranian threat, or as the beginning of the end of the West. The choice is that stark, and it is that simple.
Right On!: Give American Jews a 'birthright honeymoon'
There will be no real progress in 2007 on the Palestinian front because the entire region is waiting to see who will gain the upper hand in the confrontation between Iran and the West.
Currently, the assumption is that the West will not succeed in stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
This perception could tip the other direction, against Iran, in 2007, if sanctions continue to tighten and the US begins to take a more active leadership role.
If, however, as looks likely now, sanctions continue to be too little, too late, then situation in Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq will continue to deteriorate as radical Islamists become stronger.
Interesting Times: Baby steps