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Israel's Syria Conundrum

Israel is avoiding official comment over the recent events in Syria, where the regime is a longstanding enemy neighbor. But the enemy you don't know can always be worse.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Marc Henry

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked his ministers to keep a low profile concerning the current events in Syria. This order by the head of the government is a sign of Israel's confusion over how to react to the recent demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, as well as its sense of powerlessness. As local commentators and experts in the media like to underline, Israel is facing a dilemma.

"On the one hand, Bashar al-Assad is a lesser evil, a hostile leader whose actions are nevertheless rational and predictable. On the other, his fall from power would weaken the axis of evil constituted by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah of Lebanon, and Palestinian Islamists of Hamas," says Professor Meir Litvak, referring to the four most formidable enemies of Israel. A university specialist on Iran, Litvak alludes to the Syrian role in allowing, for many years now, the transport of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas which they then use to threaten the north and south of Israel. This alliance is also evidenced by the presence of Hamas headquarters in Damascus.

Plans of Attacks

Yet at the Syrian border with Israel, particularly in the Golan Heights, Bashar al-Assad has continued to preserve the peace, anxious to avoid even the slightest direct confrontation with an enemy he knows to be superior. He even refrained from responding to a September 2007 air attack - believed to be Israeli according to foreign experts - against a nuclear center that was being secretly built in northern Syria with the help of North Korea.

However this cautious approach could be thrown to the wind by the beleaguered el-Assad. Itamar Rabinovitch, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, does not preclude the possibility of a desperate attempt by al-Assad and the Iranians "to trigger a conflict with Israel in Lebanon or the Gaza Strip" in order to divert attention from the situation in Syria. It might not be a coincidence that the counter-terrorism office, an official organization under the authority of the prime minister, has just launched a warning about some "very specific" plans for anti-Israeli attacks abroad that Hezbollah might be about to commit.

In terms of a possible post-el-Assad period, the uncertainty is also obvious. Israeli media has raised the worrying possibility of a civil war in Syria, which could bolster the Muslim Brotherhood. Commentator Mordehaï Kedar, speaking on public radio, suggested the situation could even lead to the break-up of Syria, with a Kurdish state in the North, Druze one in the South, a Bedouin enclave in the East, and the region around Damascus transformed into an Alawite principality, the minority religion to which al-Assad belongs. He warned that this implosion would lead to the return of a fragmented Middle East, divided along ethnic and religious lines, which prevailed during the Ottoman Empire.

Not everyone agrees with this analysis of the situation. The majority of experts believe that it will be the Syrian army, which until now has remained loyal al-Assad, which will decide the fate of the regime and guarantee the country's unity.

Read the original article in French

Photo - The Jewish Agency for Israel

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Gluten-Free In France: Stepping Out Of The Shadows, Heading Upmarket

For those in the haute cuisine world of French food, a no-gluten diet (whether by choice or health requirements) has long been a virtual source of shame. But bakers, chefs and pastry makers are now taking the diet to whole new levels of taste and variety.

photo of a man carrying bread in a field

Paris-based entrepreneur Adriano Farano, in Sicily, where his company's wheat is grown

Adriano Farano's Instagram page
David Barroux

PARIS — The "gluten-free" aren’t hiding anymore.

Whether they avoid the grain protein by choice or by obligation — due to taste, allergies or an intolerance — many stick to a diet seen by the outside world as a little bit funny, or perhaps simply just bland.

For some, being gluten-free even came with some amount of self-consciousness: about being that person, the one who announced at the beginning of dinner that they wouldn’t be eating that bread, or that pasta, or that pastry — or about coming across as precious and complicated, or worse, as a killjoy for everyone else’s gustatory pleasure.

For those who feel that it is hard to speak up, it's often easier just to keep the gluten intolerance to themselves and eat only the vegetables at meals, abstaining from bread and dessert to avoid stomach cramps.

But the times, they are a-changin'. Living without gluten used to feel punitive; now it feels more like an option. The number of gluten-free products has exploded, in both quantity and quality, and there’s never been a better time to join the "no-glu" camp.

In supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants, there are increasingly varied alternatives to gluten. And demand is just as high — €1 billion per year in sales in France alone, according to Nielsen. The research consultancy found that 3% of French households were gluten-free in 2019. Now, that number is 4.4%, which is twice as high as the number of “strictly vegetarian” households.

According to market research firm Kantar, the frequency and number of purchases, as well as the average amount spent for gluten-free products, continues to increase — up 6% compared with 2019.

In this context, it’s hardly surprising that gluten-free alternatives are becoming increasingly chic.

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