Israel-Hamas escalation eclipse Ukraine-Russia war, exposes Israeli Intelligence failure – Prof Theo Venter

For the past two years, the world has watched with alarm as Ukraine faced a brutal invasion by Russia. The conflict had a profound effect on the global economy, with rising energy prices and consumers feeling the pinch. However, the Ukraine crisis has been suddenly eclipsed by another flashpoint in the Middle East: the violent escalation between Israel and Hamas. In an interview with Biznews, political analyst at the University of Johannesburg, Professor Theo Venter, says the Israel-Hamas conflict has now become the World’s Number One Crisis. Prof Venter says that the Hamas attack was an intelligence failure and that Israel is likely to retaliate with a “20-pound hammer,” which could lead to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. In an interview with BizNews, he said that we will all be impacted again like the Ukraine conflict did, with oil prices, the dollar, the pound, and the South African rand becoming more volatile while the price of gold and oil will increase. Prof Venter also gave his prediction of the outcome of the 2024 elections in South Africa. He suggests that despite consistently polling below 50% of support, the ANC is likely to retain power. Venter also predicts that the Multi-Party Charter will get “deep in the 30s” in the 2024 elections. Rapid urbanisation with more voters aware of the effects of load shedding and infrastructure collapse in the country will be two most important game changer, he says. – Linda van Tilburg

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:09 – Introductions
  • 00:35 – Prof Theo Venter on the situation in Israel
  • 07:49 – How the Israel conflict might influence the rand
  • 12:34 – Next Year’s election in SA
  • 20:36 – Would would people rather stay away than not vote for the ANC
  • 27:48 – What kind of outcome do you predict for the elections in 2024 on national and on provincial level
  • 31:50 – The surprises in the election
  • 33:55 – Conclusions

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Excerpts from the Interview

Israel-Hamas Has Become the World’s Number One Crisis 

The situation in Israel is probably the number one crisis globally at the moment. I mean, suddenly we don’t even think about Ukraine anymore, or Putin. But we have seen this before. We saw this in 1967. We saw this in 1973. This whole Hamas attack on Israel is 50 years after the Yom Kippur War, and it is important to remember that although towards the end of the 1973 conflict, Israel got the upper hand and they, in my terms, won the war in the first few days of that war, Syria and Egypt were taking back land that was occupied in 1967. So, in the Arab nations, the Yom Kippur conflict is seen as a victory. This is a situation that 50 years afterwards was done in a very specific sense.

What Hamas did was for the first time we have seen an attack on Israel on three dimensions: land, sea, and air through missiles which means that they had to put a lot of planning into this. They had to really work through this and looking at it, it is a systems failure on the side of Israel. In other words, an intelligence failure for them not to see it coming. Usually, the Israeli intelligence services are fairly well-connected to other intelligence services, but this one wasn’t clear.  In my readings after the attack, I found three articles – one in The New York Times, one in The Washington Post, and the third one – where people over the last 18 months wrote about 10,000 to 15,000 missiles in the Gaza region and that Hamas was building up a huge stockpile with the help of Iran inter alia to get that. In each of these articles, there was a warning that one should be careful about what they’re planning.

Read more: UNDICTATED: Myths and facts on Tshwane strike – a face-off with national implications

Israeli Intelligence Failed, Internal Politics diverted attention

Two things happened in Israel. One is the confidence they had in the Iron Shield (Dome). In other words, whatever comes, we can stop that. If 5,000 of these missiles are coming, I don’t think anything will stop all of them. Secondly, I think one shouldn’t forget that the internal politics in Israel at the moment are very, very polarised. Netanyahu has been in power for the last 12 years, of which 10 years continuously. There are stories about his personality and corruption and then over the last two years, they’ve started with a process to actually undermine the legal authority of the Supreme Court and the court system in Israel by allowing it to be changed by a political vote. This has caused weekend after weekend of uprisings and boycotts in Israel. I think these things prevented them from seeing the problem emerging in Hamas. The question now is: what is it that Hamas is doing? We must remember that Hamas is a political organisation. Some people would call it a terrorist organisation, some would call it a freedom organisation – whatever side you’re on. They are not in control of Gaza; that is the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Hezbollah. So, Hamas’ actions must be divorced from the Palestinian Authority, although when you look at the problem, people tend not to do that.

Hamas Wants Israel to Retaliate, Israel Will Use ‘Big Hammer’

What they want, Hamas, is they want Israel to retaliate en masse and I think Israel will probably do that because that’s how they retaliate. If it is with a 10 or a 20-pound hammer rather than a very well-taken shot, they will come with a big hammer. If they come with a big hammer into a highly densely populated area like Gaza, you will see a humanitarian crisis like you’ve never seen before. That means that the Israelis would not be able to sustain such a project. To go into Gaza is a military decision, to get out of Gaza is a problem. So, I think currently in Israel there must be a lot of strategic thinking going into this, but Hamas expects the Israelis to react and to respond predictively. It is going to harm Israel in a very real sense. 

All Middle East Peace Plans are on hold, Impact on SA will be like Ukraine

I think all the plans for some form of peace or settlement, whether it’s a two-state, whether it’s an integrated state, doesn’t matter which model you’re looking at, whether Saudi Arabia is approaching Israel, whether Israel is continuing on a kind of a relaxation of relations in the countries around them. I think all of these things are currently put on hold to see where this conflict is going. This conflict is going to impact all of us like the Ukraine conflict did, the oil, the gas situation, the energy situation, the food situation. With Israel, we can see monetary units like the dollar, the pound, and the Rand becoming more volatile, typically gold increases in value, as well as oil. Europe currently, and the strain of energy supply due to the Ukrainian conflict will feel this as hard as South Africa.

Complicated for South Africa, Strong Jewish Lobby But Understanding ‘Boxed-up’ Gaza Frustration

It is a complicated situation in South Africa. The ANC has long been on record as being proactively supportive of the Palestinian cause, as evidenced in their manifestos and party documentation. However, South Africa also has a strong Jewish lobby operating in the business sector, and the country has had long-standing relations with Israel. Despite these factors, Israel is a major player in fields such as biotechnology, which is significant for South African agriculture, among other things. As a result, there’s a huge, tightly knit network.

This is why the government’s response was similar to its response to Ukraine, calling on both parties to cease fighting and to sit around the table and talk. In the Middle East, getting parties to sit around a table for talks seems to be the last part of any conflict. In other parts of the world, it’s possible to get parties to sit down for discussions, but in places like Turkey, Syria, and Egypt, it seems that the first step is often conflict. Only later on, when it becomes clear that the conflict isn’t sustainable or when there’s enormous external pressure, do talks begin.

There have been so many efforts. The last one was when Donald Trump and his son-in-law tried to establish a peace deal in the Middle East. That was stillborn because they did it without talking to Hamas or Hezbollah. They were talking to Saudi Arabia and the Israelis. That’s the easy part. The difficult part is to talk to the people who truly understand the frustration of being  ‘boxed up’ in Gaza.

From a South African standpoint, we came from an era of apartheid. Apartheid was a system of legislative division and social engineering designed to keep people apart as part of a political solution, which was, of course, never sustainable. So, we understand when the Palestinians say that Gaza is nothing but a Bantustan, a little  outpost bordered by the sea to the south, the desert to the east, and Israel to the north and west.

Then Israelis went on land that was basically up for negotiation under Netanyahu (that’s why we call him conservative), started to establish kibbutzim, farms, and settlements on land that was still being negotiated. I think that created a lot of frustration.

Lastly, to show the intricacy of these networks: between 19,000 and 20,000 Palestinians travel daily between Palestine and Israel for work and then return daily. Their income, tax, and work is generated by Israel. That has now come to a stop. So, it is a huge crisis at different levels. That’s why I think this is currently the number one problem in the world.

South African 2024 Election Predictions

Why so many smaller parties emerged in South Africa

When you’re in the UK, where there’s a first-past-the-post party system, elections are held inwards, and one candidate from each ward can emerge as a member of parliament. We had a system like that until 1994, so we understand it intuitively and very well. But then in 1994, we moved to a system of proportional representation, similar to what you see in Italy and the Netherlands. Proportional representation reflects different political views in a much fairer way than the first-past-the-post system, which can be very skewed. However, it also leads to the creation of a multitude of parties.

At the Independent Electoral Commission, 343 parties are registered to participate in the national election. Not all will. Typically, about 40 parties participate because they have enough money and can sustain a campaign and between 10 and 12 parties make the final cut, meaning they get a percentage. In terms of current electoral statistics, you need between 45,000 and 50,000 votes in a national election to have one representative in parliament. We’ve got 400 MPs, 200 will be elected directly, proportionally and 200 are elected proportionally from the provinces. A lot of what I call the 1% parties are parties that are in parliament because they got a portion of a calculation. Let’s say 0.5% or 0.27% constitute one seat in parliament. That means we’ve got three or four big ones: the ANC, the DA, the EFF and I would add the Inkatha Freedom Party among them. Let’s call them the Big Four of which two are smaller and two are bigger and then you have the rest.

ANC Consistently Polls Below 50%

Now, if you look at the current polling, there are several survey and research teams in the field at the moment bringing interesting results to the fore. I’ve tried to compile a bit of it. It seems to me that if you consider the major political parties, they will make up approximately 90% of who goes to parliament. The other 40 parties participating in the election will have to share among themselves 8% of the total vote. There will be a few 1% parties.

The big issue we are looking at for 2024 is that the ANC, for the first time, is polling regularly below 50%. Every month in different polls, different sets of statistics, and different population groups show it polling under 50%. Some have it as low as 39%. I’ve seen surveys showing 37%, but I think it’s more towards the mid-40s, let’s say around 45%. This must concern the ANC very much because it means they will have to form an alliance or a coalition to stay in government.

The next interesting point is about the DA. They poll around 20%, which is where they’ve been for the last two or three elections.  They have formed a pre-election coalition with several other parties, the Multi-Party Charter to see if they can jointly gain more support than the ANC. They’re onto something, but I’m not sure they have the numbers.

EFF Could be Provincial Coalition Partner, Not in National Coalition 

The EFF is currently regarded as the most radical party in parliament. They are the ones in red, responsible for disturbances in parliament and doing everything unconventional that you can think of. Their problem is that they poll between 10% and, in some polls, I’ve even seen 15% to 16% support. Now, that is significant in size, but it is too large to be considered as a coalition partner with, for instance, the ANC. So, I don’t see the EFF playing a role at the national political level at all following 2024. However, they may be a coalition partner at the provincial level, which is far less important, but over time it provides you with a power base.

Read more: ISRAEL AT WAR: “Whole families erased”, 100s dead, 1000s wounded in worst ever terror attack

IFP Resilience Beyond Buthelezi; Could Form Coalition Government in KZN

One of the interesting ones would be the IFP, the Inkatha Freedom Party. Many moons ago, I did my master’s thesis on Inkatha and Buthelezi. My view then was that if Buthelezi dies, Inkatha will die with him because he is so much the image and leadership. But I must admit today, like a young academic, I was wrong. There is life in the IFP beyond Buthelezi. It may interest British listeners that Lady Diana was far more important in her death to bring about changes in the royal family than when she was still alive. I think with Buthelezi, it’s a very similar comparison. He will be used by the IFP in next year’s election, and they will rally around his heritage. The IFP is polling around 7%. It’s incredible. At one point, I thought the IFP was dead. Now, in coalition with the DA, Action SA (the new kid on the block that everybody is speculating about), the ACDP (the African Christian Democratic Party), and two or three other smaller parties, they may even have the capacity to form a coalition government in KwaZulu-Natal province. That’s how significant some of these changes are for next year.

A Higher Number of People Abstained from Participating in 2019 Election Than Those Who Voted

Two things, in my view, are regarded as game-changers for next year. The first is voting behaviour. In South Africa, we have seen from 1994 onwards that if you grew up in an ANC family or environment, it’s very difficult to vote for another party in an election, even if the ANC is not fulfilling its promises. So, what we have seen people doing is staying away from the polls. It’s even more than that. If you look at the statistics, which is a worrying factor for the IEC and political parties, we have approximately 45 million South Africans who can vote, i.e., South Africans over the age of 18, out of a population of approximately 60 million. Of the 46 million that are eligible to vote, only 26 million have registered to participate in an election. In other words, there are approximately 20 million South Africans over the age of 18 who do not participate in elections at all. Of that 26 million in the 2019 election, only about 17 million participated in the election. So, if you calculate backwards, you can say that more people ignored the election or decided not to participate in the election at all than those who participated in the election. That’s an unhealthy situation and it impacts the political situation in the following way.

High Voter Turnout Tends to Favour Centrist Parties

In a system like South Africa’s, high voter turnout, above 50% tends to favour the parties in the middle. So, high voter turnout means that parties like the ANC and the DA get more people to the polls. If there’s a low voter turnout, it favours the parties on the edges of the political spectrum because they are the most mobilised and have the highest willingness to go to the polls and vote. So, it’s not only about whether people participate in the election but also about voter turnout. Now, let’s get back to the EFF, the radical party. If you look at the voting population and who has registered and who has not, the EFF is regarded as a political party that is strong among the youth, especially people under the age of 30. However, if you look at the registered population and compare it with South Africa’s population graph, which looks like a typical emerging nation with a very broad base and then like a pyramid it goes up with fewer older people and a lot of young people. The registration profile is an upside-down pyramid. The older you are, the more likely you are to register; the younger you are, the less likely you are to register. In other words, the EFF’s ceiling in terms of its support has to do with voting behaviour and who decides to participate and who does not.

Urbanisation and Stay-Away Vote Play Key Role in 2024 Election

There are two very important game-changers. The first one is voting behaviour, and the second one is urbanisation. South Africa is now approaching 70% urbanisation. In other words, about 30% of South Africans live in rural areas, and about 70% live in big cities and towns. The politics of urban centres, the politics of urbanisation, is vastly different from the politics of the deep rural areas of South Africa. In the deep rural areas of South Africa, people are not aware of things like load shedding where the power goes off for an hour or two daily or maybe three or four times a day. In the urban centres, they are acutely aware of it because everything is run on electricity.

It’s also the old question of the cost of living. The war in Ukraine had a huge impact on us getting out of COVID. That caused primary things in the rural areas like fuel, candles or oil for cooking to become very scarce and still highly priced. So, that is what the rural areas experience, but in the urban areas, it’s load shedding as well as a total lack of service delivery because our local governments are failing. it’s not all of them, we’ve got pockets of extremely well-organised local governments. Some of them, the biggest proportion, of course, are in the Western Cape, which means they are managing what they’ve got because their budgets are very similar, the rules are very similar, and so on. But, the collapse of metros in the north as well as local governments will have a political impact.

The election will be somewhere in May 2024. Two years after that, we will have a local government election where these issues will be even more acutely part of the political issue and within a year of that, it will be the end of Cyril Ramaphosa’s second term as leader of the ANC in 2027. So, after this election, there will be two or three very important events that will determine the direction in which South Africa is going

Read more: Israel conflict reignites oil price volatility: Global markets brace for impact

Weakened ANC Likely to Retain Power, Multi-Party Charter High 30s

With the information we’ve got at the moment, and having been privileged to participate in every election since 1987 as an analyst, I would say that the ANC will get very close to 50% despite the survey research because there’s the value of incumbency. That is what the ANC has, it is the government. It can provide grants and other benefits. So, I think the ANC will be very close to 50%. It will need maybe one or two smaller parties at the national level to form a government. The Multi-Party Charter, with the leadership of the DA and others, will get deep into the 30s, but not significant enough to form a government. The EFF will operate within their ceiling of 10 to 15 percent. I think 15 per cent is a stretch target. I think more towards 10 per cent and several smaller parties will get in.

What we do not know is what impact the independents that may participate in next year’s election will have. For them to participate, it’s a very tough entry-level, considering the amount of signatures you need, the amount of money and so on. So it’s uncertain, but I don’t think they will change anything.

So in my view, the ANC will form a government again. The opposition parties will have coalesced into a much stronger group forming a competitive election. Now the situation at national level would mean that the ANC will have a very hard time, even impossible, to pass legislation that needs a two-thirds majority or any of the decisions to change the constitution, those kinds of things. So that is one of the implications.

ANC May Lose Powerhouse Gauteng and KZN, Institutional Corruption Limited

If we go down to the provincial level, I think the Western Cape is now safely in DA hands. I don’t think the ANC can win it back. What the ANC may lose is Gauteng, which is where Johannesburg, Pretoria, and the whole industrial hub of South Africa are located. It may also lose KwaZulu-Natal to a coalition government. This means that the ANC is a national government, but it sits in a town or a city that is managed by the opposition, Pretoria. Parliament sits in Cape Town managed by the opposition. Durban, which is our biggest export harbour, sits in a province in the hands of the opposition and the whole of Kwazulu-Natal. So, it is a very uncomfortable situation for the ANC. 

The value of a competitive election is that it limits patronage and to have better control over what we term state capture, which in any other country, would be called institutional corruption or corruption on a grand scale. That will also be limited.

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