The decade's most significant stories in review

Jerusalem Post's reporters reflect on the past decade and determine which event, trend or personality on their beats had the most impact.

The decade's most surprising stories in review
When the dawn of 2010 squinted over the horizon, nobody could have predicted that, over the next decade, Donald Trump would become the president of the United States, Israel would be going to elections three times within a year, and an Israeli rocket would (almost) land on the moon.
More predictable were the decade-dominating, ongoing sagas of Israel enduring thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza and multiple confrontations with Gaza and Islamic Jihad, the Iranian nuclear threat continuing to monopolize Israel’s security concerns, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s durability.
Events happen so fast, they’re often swept under the weight of new headlines and filled memory banks. All of this took place: Gilad Schalit was released by Hamas in exchange for over 1,000 prisoners; the North was consumed by the worst fire in Israel’s history; an Israeli president – Moshe Katsav – was convicted of rape and sent to prison;  a former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was convicted of fraud, breach of trust, and tax evasion; and in 2014 three yeshiva students were kidnapped and killed in Gush Etzion, triggering Operation Protective Edge. And let’s not forget the indictment of a standing prime minister.
Israeli technology and know-how continued to have a major impact on the world through innovations like Waze and Mobileye. Icons Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres left us. It was also the decade of Gal Gadot, Netta Barzilai and Fauda.
We asked some of our reporters to reflect back over the decade and determine which event, trend, or personality on their beats had the most impact on Israel over the past decade. Enjoy their summaries but remember that by 2030, things will have happened that none of us could have predicted. – David Brinn
The decade of Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dominated the political, diplomatic, security and economic discourse over the past decade, serving as prime minister since March 31, 2009.
He passed David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister in September this year and has won four elections. After the last two elections he had opportunities to form a government and failed, and he is currently fighting for his political life in the third election in under a year.
The highlights of Netanyahu’s achievements in the diplomatic sphere include persuading US President Donald Trump to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and withdraw from America’s deal with Iran.
But he threatened Israel’s bipartisan relationship with the US by closely aligning himself with Trump and his tense relationship with Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama. Relations with liberal American Jews floundered, especially after he broke a deal that would have facilitated egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.
Netanyahu successfully alerted the world to Iran’s attempts to obtain nuclear weapons and became a mentor to right-wing heads of state worldwide. Despite a reputation as a security hawk, he avoided full-scale war and never returned Israel to the Gaza Strip or any evacuated settlements.
He is credited with many of Israel’s economic successes, including the country’s high economic growth and low unemployment, though the gap between the haves and have-nots has grown to be among the largest in the world.
Netanyahu built himself politically by campaigning against perceived left-wing elites such as the media and the legal establishment. His three criminal indictments on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust are threatening to shape his legacy as a prime minister who had no real competition but brought himself down.
The leadership gap
The 2010s was the decade in which Benjamin Netanyahu managed to convince most voters that he is the only worthy candidate for prime minister.
It’s hard to remember now that we’re in this unprecedented situation of three elections in one year, but Netanyahu went into the decade in a political scenario that was similar to today in one important way: The public saw two viable candidates for prime minister – then it was Tzipi Livni, now it’s Benny Gantz – and was split almost evenly between their parties, with a slight advantage to the one that’s not Likud.
Back in 2009, Netanyahu quickly lined up a coalition behind him, locking Livni out of the Prime Minister’s Office. It wasn’t long before it started looking like he was the only game in town. By 2012, Time published the famous “King Bibi” cover story, rightly asserting that Netanyahu “has no national rival.... He will no longer have to look over his shoulder.”
Netanyahu was careful to maintain his status, stifling any competition within his own party and giving his “natural partners” on the Right a bear hug that kept new leaders from exploring other options. The Likud’s stunning 2015 victory inspired cheers of “he’s a wizard” at party events, and the Right continued cheering even as news of investigations into corruption came to light.
Meanwhile, the Left never really stood a chance. The events of the previous decade – an intifada and a Gaza disengagement that quickly empowered Hamas – made concessions unpopular, and Netanyahu rode that wave. “Leftist” became a dirty word, and Labor leaders called themselves centrists and stopped talking about peace. Their own internal political dysfunction didn’t help, either. For most of the decade, the Center-Left didn’t manage to field a candidate that the public took seriously as a prime minister.
At the beginning of 2019, it looked like this decade would end with Bibi remaining king. But no one could have predicted the events of this year. We’re going into the 2020s with a real challenger that, polls show, the public thinks is just as worthy of being prime minister. But a decade-long leadership gap still has sway over right-wing voters and their representatives. Whether Netanyahu will release his choke hold on the Right or bring about its defeat in 2020 remains to be seen.
Iran’s dark cloud
There have been two US presidents in the last decade, a regional earthquake erroneously called the Arab Spring, and just a very short period of negotiations with the Palestinians.
Everything was fluid. Yet there was one given: Iran. It hovered like a dark cloud over Israel and the region throughout the decade – and influenced seemingly everything.
The first half of the decade was dominated by Israel’s fear of Iran marching to nuclear capability, and an attempt to stop it. There was serious talk at one point of a military action, and when that did not materialize, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to go head-to-head with the US administration to stop the nuclear agreement.
Those efforts poisoned ties with then-US president Barack Obama, and – as a result – Iran even had a hand in creating a partisan divide on Israel in the US that remains evident today.
When efforts to stop the nuclear deal failed in 2015, and the accord was signed, Iran became flush with funds and used them to act aggressively throughout the region – from Yemen to Iraq, Syria to Lebanon.
All of a sudden, Israel had a new strategic nightmare: Iran’s entrenchment in Syria.
And then in 2018 US President Donald Trump changed America’s direction, walked away from the nuclear agreement and clamped crippling sanctions on Iran. This resulted in the Islamic Republic needing to retreat a bit from its regional hegemonic designs, having to concentrate more on domestic unrest, even as it threatened once again to run across the nuclear threshold.
The Iranian cloud is still dark and hovering at the end of the decade, just as it was at the beginning. Yet there is one silver lining: It has led to a historic confluence of interests between Israel and some of its Sunni neighbors.
Or, as Mideast commentator Ed Husain wrote last week in an article in The Spectator magazine that was retweeted by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed to his 4.6 million followers – something that was unthinkable at the beginning of the decade: “With an assertive Iran and an uninterested West, the Arabs and Jews have a shared interest in building a lasting alliance with each other. This may yet be the decade of peace.”
The domination of Trump
Donald Trump’s victory
in the 2016 presidential race in America is, without a doubt, the past decade’s most significant event for world politics.
After eight years of Barack Obama, which could have been the story of the decade, Trump came in and turned everything around. He broke all the common conceptions about American politics: how a president should talk or tweet, and what “presidential” means.
He proved the media wrong twice – first, their failure to feel the telluric current that shifted toward Trump on battleground states; second, their overreliance on polls, which were proven inaccurate.
Trump’s first three years in office were as heated as his campaign. Cabinet members and close advisers came and went at a record pace – some of them were fired in tweets. Investigations were launched and closed, and he even got impeached, in a decision along party lines that is not expected to hurt him among his loyal base of supporters.
He made some controversial decisions, such as withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, but was also able to sign agreements, such as the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and was able to maintain low unemployment rates with a strong stock market.
It is not clear whether Trump’s victory signifies a wave of world populism, with Brexit on the one hand and victories of leaders such as Jair Bolsonaro on the other hand, or whether Trump was the one who caused the populist wave across the globe (Brexit, of course, preceded his presidency).
The main question for the next decade is whether Trumpism is just a trend, or is it here to stay? The 2020 elections in America might signal which way we’re headed.
The Intelligence moment
In January 2018, Mossad director Yossi Cohen joined the pantheon of legendary Israeli intelligence leaders when he personally ordered and managed the Mossad’s daring raid to steal Iran’s secret nuclear archives from under its nose in the heart of Tehran.
Cohen’s operation is credited with serving as the platform US President Donald Trump used to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and to launch his maximum-pressure campaign on the Islamic Republic.
Sources close to Cohen have told The Jerusalem Post that the information the Mossad seized in Tehran is “still being used right now” and essentially included a map of potential undeclared nuclear sites.
When Cohen met Mike Pompeo in March 2018, the then-CIA director was blown away by the Mossad’s epic achievement.
The tactics used in the operation were as eye-popping as the concept of the operation itself.
Dozens of agents were involved between the surveillance and the heist stages of the operation, making it the operation with the largest number of spies involved in a single hit.
The Mossad struck at the exact moment when the night shift was lax.
They neutralized all electronic surveillance and spent a jaw-dropping six hours and 29 minutes nabbing Iran’s secret nuclear files from 32 preselected safes.
Using special torches that reached 2,000°C (3,600°F), they sliced into the safes.
Finally, they loaded the vast nuclear files onto trucks to get them to the Azerbaijan border, according to foreign reports, using Iranian smugglers to get the files across. The “just pay me and don’t ask, don’t tell” Iranians had no idea what they smuggled.
The Iron Dome, the game changer
For close to a decade, Israelis have had an iron umbrella over their heads, protecting them as rockets continue to rain down on the home front.
During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, large Israeli cities were struck by missiles for the first time. Close to 50 Israeli civilians were killed by the intense rocket and missile fire by Hezbollah, and some 250,000 citizens were evacuated to other parts of Israel.
In response, former defense minister Amir Peretz decided to develop the Iron Dome, despite opposition from army brass.
After a lengthy development process, and with the financial help of the United States, the Iron Dome went into service in April 2011, with its first battery placed near the southern city of Beersheba. Just days later it made its first interception of a Grad rocket fired from the Gaza Strip toward southern Israel.
Thousands of missiles and rockets launched by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Iran have been intercepted by the famed system since. The Rafael-built Iron Dome interceptor missile carries 11 kg. of explosives and can intercept an incoming projectile from 4 km. to 70 km. away and is able to calculate whether rockets will land in open areas, choosing not to intercept them, or civilian centers.
In February, the United States purchased the system from Israel for an immediate need of the United States Army to fill the gap in its defenses, especially in the European arena.
Since its first deployment, it has intercepted over 85% of projectiles fired toward Israeli civilian centers, changing the face of battle between Israel and her enemies.
Without the Iron Dome, the situation would look completely different.
Israeli TV goes global
The entertainment story of the decade is the emergence of Israel’s television industry as a global powerhouse. There had been successful television shows in the first decade of the 21st century that crossed over to the international market, but with Homeland, a remake of the Israeli show Prisoners of War, in 2011, Israel started to conquer the television market in ways that no one could have anticipated beforehand.
Today, dozens of Israeli television shows, both in Hebrew, with subtitles, and as locally made remakes, are broadcast in nearly every country on the globe. The Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement may have made inroads into how Israelis are treated in academia, but the irony is that millions of viewers all over the world watch television shows created by Israelis every day. Israeli content is viewed on streaming platforms such as Netflix – with the unforeseen popularity of such quintessentially Israeli dramas as Fauda (about a counterterrorism unit) and Shtisel (the story of an ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem) – and remade by major networks and premium cable channels. It’s hard to think of a medium more influential and intimate than television, and Israel has made its mark there, way out of proportion to its size.
Keeping the world’s eyes on the road
From global cybersecurity leadership to digital health breakthroughs, Israel has cemented its place as the world’s Start-Up Nation over the past decade.
While local entrepreneurs have assumed a prominent role in numerous fields of innovation in recent years, Israel’s role as the world’s navigation and mobility pioneer is worthy of special mention.
Navigation app Waze, founded by Ehud Shabtai, Amir Shinar and Uri Levine, has relegated backseat driving-related arguments to just a distant vacation memory. Waze was acquired by Google in June 2013 for $966 million, with the company’s 100 employees each receiving an average of $1.2m.
The acquisition of Jerusalem-headquartered Mobileye by Intel for $15.3 billion in 2017 remains the largest exit recorded to date by an Israeli start-up. The vision technology company is a leader in the field of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems and autonomous driving. Headed by Prof. Amnon Shashua of Hebrew University, the company continues to rapidly grow in the capital following the acquisition.
Reliant on public transportation? Israeli-founded Moovit, one of the leading urban mobility app developers, boasts more than half a billion users worldwide. Assisting commuter navigation since 2011, the app currently operates in 3,000 cities across 92 countries, and is available in 45 languages.
Israeli mobility innovation shows no signs of slowing down as the world enters a new decade. Many of the world’s leading carmakers have opened R & D hubs in Israel, aiming to take advantage of local excellence in autonomous mobility, e-mobility, smart mobility and in-vehicle technology.
A decade of medical miracles
Israel is a powerhouse of medical innovation, and the past 10 years have been marked by dozens of standouts in a field whose developments can save lives.
Take Argo Medical Technologies’ ReWalk robotic exoskeleton, which is already in use by patients in rehab centers in the United States and throughout Europe.
The ReWalk system enables quadriplegics to be able to walk again – or even run a marathon – and is likewise able assist those who have difficulty maneuvering due to stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS) or other reasons.
ReWalk received FDA approval in 2014.
Mazor Robotics’ Spine Assist, Renaissance and MazorX robots are transforming spine surgery from freehand procedures to highly accurate, increasingly safe, efficient operations with less need for radiation, and which are less invasive.
Based on a CT scan, the surgeon uses Mazor’s 3D planning software to plan the surgery, customized to the patient’s anatomy and diagnosis. Once in the operating room, the robot guides the surgeon precisely to the preplanned anatomical location where intervention is needed.
So far, about 36,000 procedures have been performed with Mazor, including close to 205,000 spine implants.
The company was founded 16 years ago, but it was only in 2010 that the company took its current name. Mazor’s next-generation products were released commercially in 2011.
And it was Israel that developed the CAR-T treatment for leukemia, which uses a patient’s own immune cells to seek and destroy cancerous cells. Although Israel’s Prof. Zelig Eshhar began working on the concept for the therapy in the 1980s, it was only this decade that the treatment was actively administered to save lives.
Finally, this year a team of Tel Aviv University researchers “printed” the world’s first 3D vascularized, engineered heart, made using a patient’s own cells and biological materials. Until now, scientists have successfully printed only simple tissues without blood vessels. (See page 14 for more Israeli innovations.)
US becomes an enemy
The 2014 war in the Gaza Strip, better known as Operation Protective Edge, and decisions taken by the Trump administration since 2017, are the main developments in the Palestinian arena over the past decade.
The Gaza war was one of the fiercest confrontations between Israel and Hamas in the past decade. In addition to the severe blow dealt to Hamas and other Palestinian groups, tens of thousands of Palestinians are still suffering from the consequences of that war.
Since that conflict, Hamas has been careful not to engage in all-out military confrontations with Israel.
Trump’s 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem marked the beginning of an unprecedented crisis between the Palestinians and the US administration. That crisis is considered the worst in the history of relations between the Palestinians and the US.
Subsequent measures by the Trump administration, including halting US funding to UNRWA, closing the PLO diplomatic mission to Washington and ruling that settlements are not inconsistent with international law, have further exacerbated tensions between the Palestinians and the US.
The past decade will be remembered as the period when Hamas and the Gaza Strip were dealt a severe blow because of rocket attacks on Israel. It will also go down in history as the period when Palestinians began considering the US an enemy and rival instead of an honest broker and friend.
UN recognizes Palestine as de-facto state
The two peace talk meetings between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held in September 2010, should have heralded a decade in which former US President Barack Obama resolved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The talks, however, didn’t last the month. Negotiations entered a ten-year freeze, save for a brief nine-month thaw between July 2013 and April 2014.
The peace drives that had marked the past two decades – Oslo, the Road Map, Annapolis – gave way to a Palestinian drive for unilateral statehood recognition. The Palestinians were most successful at the United Nations, which had previously recognized the PLO as an observer mission.
The PA had its first success with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Committee, which recognized it as a member state in 2011. In the years that followed, the PA used its status to successfully register to Palestine landmark West Bank sites onto the World Heritage List. This included the Church of the Nativity in 2012, the Battir terraces in 2014 and Hebron’s Old Town with its Tomb of the Patriarchs in 2017.
The UN General Assembly helped the PA expand its influence in the UN, when in 2012 it passed a resolution that upgraded the PA's status to that of non-member state. It was a move that provided the Palestinians with de-facto statehood recognition.
The PA made use of its new-found status to sign onto over 80 international conventions and treaties, including in 2015 the Rome Statute, which governs the International Criminal Court.
Among the major successes that followed when it comes to boosting Palestinian statehood status, was the PA’s leadership this year of the largest bloc of UN member states, known as the Group of 77 (G77) and China.
It has also used its newfound strength at the UN to diplomatically pursue Israel and to pressure it to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines, particularly with attempts to hold Israel culpable for alleged war crimes.
Just last week the ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda agreed to advance the PA’s 2018 request to investigate Israel for war crimes with regard to its military activity in Gaza and its West Bank settlement activity.
But in spite of its successes, the United States has placed a glass ceiling on those efforts by blocking its pursuit of actual statehood. It’s a move that can happen only with the approval of the UN Security Council, where the US has veto power.
America’s antisemitism
The past decade has seen a deeply shocking rise in antisemitic attacks across Europe and the United States.
Jewish communities have been subjected to hate speech, Jewish cemetery desecrations, antisemitic graffiti, and lone-wolf attacks – none of which have abated.
However, the game changer, which sent shock waves across the world, was the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting on October 27, 2018.
Eleven congregants were mowed down in cold blood. Six others were wounded. The victims were men and women who were just praying in their synagogue, as they did every Saturday morning. They were exercising their fundamental human right to practice their religion freely.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the shooting is believed to be the deadliest antisemitic attack on American soil.
The attack was a jolting wake-up call for US Jewry. During an interview with The Jerusalem Post earlier this year, New York Times opinion editor and antisemitism expert Bari Weiss said that antisemitism was always something she was keenly aware of.
“I can tell you how Ilan Halimi was murdered [in Paris]. And who died in Sbarro’s pizzeria [in Jerusalem],” she said. “But I was of the view, I think like many American Jews, that antisemitism was something that happened to Jews in other places. I believed we were uniquely inoculated from this virus.”
In the 14 months following the attack, there have been two more targeted attacks on Jewish establishments in the US.
Exactly six months later, on April 27, as congregants celebrated the last day of Passover, far-right activist John Timothy Earnest, armed with an AR-15-style rifle, entered the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in California and opened fire.
On December 10, two assailants targeted a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey, in another antisemitic shooting.
US President Donald Trump signed an executive order that includes discrimination against Jews as a violation of law in certain cases. The order also aims to target antisemitism on college campuses across the country. Whether it will have any impact on the bold return of antisemitism to the US remains a question mark.