It’s an odd sensation when friends in Israel are calling you up or sending you messages to stay safe. In Brussels.
The lockdown here – that has only been lifted this morning after the terror alert was downgraded – was the first real taste for many in the European capital of what the threat from Islamist terrorist looks and feels like. It was something so alien and so uncomfortable that many had no clue what to do.
Watching all this on the evening news from their living rooms in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, many an Israeli would be forgiven for allowing themselves a wry smile and a “welcome to our world” remark. Let us not forget that ordinary Israelis are still facing a wave of stabbings and car rammings that continue to kill, maim and injure. This week saw 2 more dead and 11 wounded, including a 12 year girl that was stabbed.
Instead, Israel, despite the recent raw deal it got from the EU on labelling, and despite an overarching feeling that Europe doesn’t really care, was magnanimous and generous in its response to the terror attacks in Paris and the dark shadow of a real threat to life in Brussels.
Quietly, surely and delicately Israel has been sharing its expertise in dealing with terror with its counterparts in Europe. Last week many Israeli anti-terror experts were in Brussels, all below the publicity radar, offering briefings, solutions and best practice.
The highest profile of these visits this week came from IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, who held a number of private meetings with Belgian security officials.
The purpose of the trip was to establish unprecedented security ties involving Belgium and Israel. During his one-day trip to Europe, the IDF chief of staff also held meetings with high ranking military officials from the United States. Earlier this week, it was also revealed that Germany had received from Israeli intel services
key intelligence regarding an imminent terror attack against a packed soccer stadium.
This led lead German authorities to cancel a scheduled friendly soccer match between Germany and the Netherlands at Hanover Stadium on November 17.
It is a sad state of affairs that terror has brought its blood soaked hands to Europe. To many experts it wasn’t a case of if but when. Well, there can be no doubt that it is here now, and European capitals, particularly Paris and Brussels are left undeniably altered and shaken.
It’s a tough lesson for Europe to learn, where old certainties and comfortable clichés such as “why can’t we all just get along?” no longer apply.
This harsh new reality does however offer an unprecedented opportunity for rapprochement between the EU and Israel after a testy few months.
We do, after all, now share a very simple and stark reality: That there are those who seek our destruction, by any means necessary. That there are those who abhor democracy, freedom of speech and the liberties that we take for granted.
I sincerely hope that the tragic episodes in Paris and Brussels will wake Europe from a slumber that somehow separates and compartmentalises the Israel-Palestinian conflict into something “other”, something that is unique.
It is anything but. Settlements and the temple mount are simply the latest smokescreen in a long running attack on the only democracy in the middle east. This is instead a sadly on-going struggle against fundamentalism that sees no place, no future and no role for any non-arab in the region, just as it views any non-adherent to this brutal and murderous narrative as the enemy.
Israel has shown this week that it can swallow its bruised pride on EU labelling, rise above it and take a decisive and leading role in showing EU states how to deal with and fight terror. It is showing people how you can live and prosper, in spite of terrorism.
Brussels is renowned as a foggy place. But its is starting to feel like people are now slowly beginning to see what is at stake.
The Op-Ed was written by Alex Benjamin, EIPA executive director and was published in The Times of Israel