Predictions revisited: A look back at the 2016 crystal ball

Syria’s civil war got bloodier, Putin’s power increased, the Cubs won the World Series, but Abbas stayed in office and peace remained elusive.

By
December 27, 2016 05:00
Times Square New Year's Eve Ball atop the roof of One Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New Y

Times Square New Year's Eve Ball atop the roof of One Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

On December 31, 2015, I took the risk of gazing into my crystal ball, looking at the future of Israel, the region and beyond, making 16 predictions for 2016.

The article received plenty of feedback, with letter writers, Facebook sharers, talkbackers and tweeters questioning and mocking many of the predictions. Some thoughtful readers even set alerts for December to check the results and poke fun at them a year later.

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As expected, the results were mixed. But it is safe to say that more than half of the predictions were right on the money, and only six were incorrect.

1. Removal of sanctions makes no difference to Iranians


Prediction:
An international community, eager to implement the historic deal it reached with the Islamic Republic, will not look too closely into whether Iran abided by its commitments and will remove sanctions regardless. Money will flow into Iran. European companies will rush to do business with Iran. But the lives of ordinary Iranians will not get better. The bulk of the money that will reach Iran will be spent abroad on boosting international terrorism, not just against Israel but also targeting the P5+1 countries that brokered the deal.

Results:
Inconclusive. It is correct that sanctions were removed even when Iran did not keep all of its obligations and that money is flowing into Iran, primarily from Europe. But grading the rest of the prediction is more complicated, in part because Iran’s finances are not transparent. Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iran at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, estimated that several billion dollars have reached Iran. He said Iran is supporting Hezbollah but not giving terrorist groups the bulk of the money. As for the lives of ordinary Iranians, he said: “The removal of the sanctions has had a positive impact on Iran’s economy, but many in Iran are disappointed that the boost to the economy is not as much as [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani promised before the sanctions were lifted.”


2. The Middle East spreads around the world

Prediction:
An international community that did not make much of an effort to end violence in the Middle East will see continued global exports of Middle Eastern terrorism. Tactics used by Palestinian terrorists against Israel will continue to be adopted by jihadist elements abroad. Countries that condemned Israel for responding “disproportionately” to stabbings, shootings and vehicular terrorism will face stabbings, shootings and vehicular terrorism. Islamic State and al-Qaida will be joined by other terrorist groups eager to spread jihad. Syrian refugees will be particularly active in terrorist attacks in Europe and perhaps even in Canada.

Results:
Unfortunately too correct. Monday night’s truck-ramming attack on a Christmas market in Berlin killed at least 12 people. It followed the July 14 attack on crowds celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice that murdered 85. In July, Syrian refugees were responsible for two terrorist attacks in Germany. One stabbed a woman to death and wounded four others. Another Syrian refugee blew himself up outside a music festival, wounding 15. In August, a Canadian man previously banned from associating with Islamic State extremists, prepared a martyrdom video and was about to commit a terrorist attack but was killed in Strathroy, Ontario, after he detonated his explosive device in a taxi and was shot at by officers who say they thwarted the plot. The terrorist planned to carry out a suicide bombing in a public area in an urban center during rush hour. He was not a Syrian refugee, and there is no known attack by a Syrian refugee in Canada.


3. Syrian civil war intensifies

Prediction:
With Russia and a coalition led by the United States becoming more involved by air, the Syrian death toll, which has passed a quarter million, will continue to rise. The US and Russia will criticize each other. But Islamic State will endure, and thanks to Russia, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad will, too. There will be constant news in 2016 on attempts to broker a cease-fire to end the fighting. But the talks will not bear fruit.

Results:
The death toll from Syria’s five-year civil war has passed 300,000 victims, with an estimated 50,000 killed in 2016. US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have indeed criticized each other. Russia has given Assad a huge boost. And no, there is no cease-fire, but evacuations from Aleppo are being allowed.


4. Putin’s power progresses

Prediction:
Putin will continue to flex his muscles throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Around the world, in the absence of leadership, there is no one to stop him from spreading his influence and promoting his agenda.

Results:
Extremely correct. Not only has Putin’s prominence grown throughout the Middle East, he has become a force to be reckoned with in Europe. Obama has even accused him of interfering in the American election. With Donald Trump, who admires Putin, as US president and Rex Tillerson, who has close ties with Putin’s government, as his secretary of state, Russian influence is expected to only grow in 2017.


5. Poor health forces Abbas out of office

Prediction:
Decades of chain-smoking and stress will finally get to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He will leave his people behind with many self-proclaimed natural successors and no closer to a state than they were in 2005 when he was elected.

Results:
Incorrect. Abbas is still in office, and former MKs who met with him this month did not notice any problem with his health. He underwent a cardiac catheterization in October after complaining about chest pains. Imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for murder, received the most votes in the December 3 party elections, which could make him Abbas’s heir apparent.


6. No election initiated in Israel

Prediction:
Despite predictions that Netanyahu’s government will fall apart in 2016, it will stay together. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon will pass another state budget. There will be constant stress in the Knesset, and at times the coalition will lose. But on matters Netanyahu cares about, he will still find a way to advance his agenda.

Results:
Correct. Netanyahu added Yisrael Beytenu to his coalition in May, and since then, there has been much smoother sailing. A two-year budget passed by a 60 to 48 vote at 1:20 a.m. Thursday, which ended a potential threat and will make it harder for Netanyahu to be toppled. But with divisive and ineffective David Bitan as head of the coalition, passing legislation on which there is no consensus will be difficult.


7. Herzog delays primary in Labor

Prediction:
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog succeeds in changing the Labor Party constitution and postponing the next leadership race in the party from May 2016 to sometime in 2017, with the blessing of other potential future candidates who want to challenge him.

Results:
Correct. The next Labor race currently must be held by July 2017, but don’t be surprised if it gets postponed again. Former Labor leader Amir Peretz joined the race this week and immediately made a critical mistake by pronouncing himself a “proud leftist.” MK Erel Margalit has been actively seeking headlines, while MK Shelly Yacimovich has been laying low. It is still unclear whether a former general will seek the post.


8. Benny Gantz enters politics

Prediction:
By the end of 2016, the calls for the Center-Left to be led by an untainted security figure to defeat Netanyahu will intensify. Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz will give in and announce his interest in leading the bloc.

Results:
Incorrect. A law requiring a three-year cooling-off period for former generals will keep Gantz on the sidelines until February 2018 and possibly November 2018. There are loopholes he could try to exploit to join earlier, but with no election in sight, there is no hurry. Meanwhile, he heads a cybertechnology firm and is involved with many charities.


9. Indictment for Sara, Deri or Liberman

Prediction: Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, could be the biggest name in the legal headlines in 2016. Shas leader Arye Deri’s decision to return to the Interior Ministry, which led to a bribery conviction last time, could backfire again. And you can never count out an investigation of Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, whose closest confidants are embroiled in major legal trouble.

Results: Incorrect. Although 16 current and former Yisrael Beytenu officials were indicted in September, Liberman was not investigated in 2016. Deri and his building contractor brother Shlomo are being investigated for corruption related to unreported real estate owned by their family, but there have been no headlines on the probe in months. Police recommended indicting Sara for irregularities in the running of the prime minister’s households in May. She was questioned for several hours on December 2 on suspicion she misused public funds. But she, too, has not been indicted.


10. Olmert’s sentence lengthened again

Prediction:
After the Supreme Court decided to shorten former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s sentence from six years to one-and-a-half in December 2015, his jail time will be lengthened in 2016.

Results:
Correct. Olmert lost his appeal on his eight-month prison sentence for pocketing money from an American supporter. The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court tacked on another month behind bars for obstructing justice in February 2016, the same month he became the first prime minister to enter prison.


11. Katsav goes home but more harassers follow in his footsteps

Prediction:
Former president and convicted rapist Moshe Katsav, who was due to be released from prison in December 2018, will be let out for good behavior. At least one more MK will be forced to leave the Knesset due to sexual harassment charges in 2016.


Results:
Correct about Katsav, who went home to Kiryat Malachi on Wednesday. Bayit Yehudi MK Nissan Slomiansky has suspended himself from the chairmanship of two Knesset committees pending sexual harassment charges. He is under pressure to quit the Knesset, but he has refused.


12. Hillary Clinton elected US president

Prediction:
Enough Americans will decide that there should be a woman president to carry Clinton to the White House. It doesn’t matter if the Republican candidate will end up being Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. (It won’t be Donald Trump.) The GOP will not succeed in attracting enough support to win.

Results:
Completely and embarrassingly wrong! Donald Trump won the Republican primary and will be sworn in on January 25 as the 45th president of the United States. Bill Clinton has blamed his wife’s loss on the Russians, the FBI and “angry white men.”


13. Obama selected as UN secretary-general

Prediction:
The outgoing US president will be elected UN secretary-general, after a consensus candidate from Europe is not found.

Results:
The UN’s former refugee chief and former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres will become the UN’s ninth secretary-general on January 1, after he was elected in October to succeed Ban Ki-moon.


14. Superstar singer comes to Israel

Prediction:
Israeli promoters are in touch with the biggest names in the US about being the star performer of the concert scene here. Whether it ends up being Katy Perry, Britney Spears or the biggest of the big, Beyoncé, there will be a superstar coming to Israel in the summer of 2016.

Results:
Incorrect. Elton John was the biggest name who came to Israel in 2016. Justin Bieber is set to come in May 2017, but there are no plans for Perry or Spears to come. Beyoncé was indeed set to come for two shows at Hayarkon Park in October 2016. Promoters are still hoping to reschedule for the summer of 2017.


15. LeBron brings victory to Cleveland

Prediction:
LeBron James leads the Cleveland Cavaliers to victory over Stephen Curry’s Golden State in a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals, bringing Cleveland its first major professional sports championship since 1964. It will be a victory for Israeli coach David Blatt, but all the credit will go to James.

Results:
Correct, except for the part about Blatt, who was fired on January 24. Cleveland celebrated after the Cavs won a seven-game series. But the city’s celebrations ended on November 3, when the Indians lost the World Series to the Chicago Cubs in Cleveland.


16. Cubs World Series victory preempts messiah

Prediction:
The biggest championship drought in American sports history will end in 2016, when, thanks to a lineup of young star hitters, a staff of effective pitchers and winning manager Joe Maddon, the Cubbies will go all the way. There were those who predicted that the Messiah and peace in the Middle East would come before a Cubs World Series victory. But the Cubs will speed ahead of the Messiah, and as for peace in the Middle East, it is doubtful anyone will be making that prediction any time soon.

Results:
The Cubs won a seven-game series, defeating the Indians 8 to 7 in 10 innings. The Cubs players became immediate international celebrities, and there were many big paydays in Las Vegas. The Cubs appear to be built to become a dynasty, and despite losing a couple of key players, they are the favorites to win the World Series next year, too. The Messiah and Middle East peace, however, remain nowhere to be seen.


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