Posts Tagged ‘Avigdor Lieberman’

Israeli Defense Chief: Hamas Leaders ‘Bunch of Cannibals Who Use Children as Ammunition’

May 16, 2018

Avigdor Lieberman tours Gaza border two days after 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire near fence as tens of thousands demonstrated

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Avigdor Lieberman near the Israel-Gaza border on May 16, 2018.
Avigdor Lieberman near the Israel-Gaza border on May 16, 2018. Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The leaders of Hamas are “a bunch of cannibals who also treat their own children as ammunition,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman as he toured of the Gaza border area on Wednesday, two days after Israeli troops killed 60 Palestinians who were among tens of thousands demonstrating.

“Their goal is to lift the siege on Gaza, but not to build an economy or to speak about coexistence,” Lieberman said. “They need to lift the siege so they can smuggle weapons, continue to build up [their] power,” yet they remain unwilling to recognize Israel, he said.

Lieberman also referred to criticism of troops’ conduct on Monday and Palestinian discussions of turning to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, saying: “I suggest that everyone think about what would have happened if that rabble had succeeded in violating sovereignty and breaking into one of the communities.”

>> Hamas trying to use deadly Gaza clashes to secure humanitarian relief, Israel believes | Analysis >>

He asserted that the military “has acted in accordance with ethical norms that we have not seen anywhere else in the world.”  Lieberman accused critics of hypocrisy and said he has never heard critics of the army’s conduct condemning Syrian President Bashar Assad over the deaths of 600,000 people in Syria. “Every day in the Middle East, more than 100 people are murdered,” he said.

Commenting on the relative quiet on the Gaza border on Tuesday, Lieberman said there should be “no illusions” that Hamas has not given up its intentions to foment disturbances of the peace and “terror processions,” as he called the marches near the border. “But first of all, they have sustained a serious, significant blow,” which Lieberman said caused them to make a retreat.

On reports of unofficial channels of contact with Hamas, Lieberman said most of the emissaries represent only themselves and nothing substantial has come of their activities. “Our proposal remains openly and transparently on the table: rehabilitation [of Gaza] in exchange for demilitarization. It is not acceptable for them to be get quiet and a lifting of the siege only to continue building their power and smuggling weapons.”

Particularly since the Islamist Hamas movement forcibly took control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, Israel has restricted the movement of people and goods in and our of the coast enclave. Egypt, which also shares a short border with Gaza, also restricts  movement over its border.

As Haaretz has reported, between Monday evening and Tuesday morning, Hamas conveyed a series of messages to Israel via Egyptian intelligence official, apparently as well as mediation by the Gulf state of Qatar through which the group indicated that it wishes to rein in the violence following Mondays’ bloodshed.

Meanwhile, Hamas refused on Tuesday to accept two trucks full of medical equipment offered by the Israel Defense Forces. Following the reopening of the Kerem Shalom crossing to vehicles transporting goods, trucks carrying medical equipment and basic necessities arrived, including four from the Palestinian Authority, two from UNICEF, and two from the IDF. Hamas refused to accept the military’s equipment and instructed personnel not to unload it.

The Palestinian Health Ministry on Tuesday urged the world to send aid to Gaza in the form of medical equipment to help the enclave’s overburdened hospitals. Hamas’s refusal to accept the Israeli may stem from security considerations.

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Abbas Apologizes to ‘Jewish People’ for Offensive Comments, Condemning Holocaust and anti-Semitism

May 4, 2018

‘Abbas is a pathetic Holocaust denier – his apology is not accepted,’ Lieberman fires back ■ Palestinian president suggested historical persecution of Jews in Europe was caused by involvement in money-lending

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FILE PHOTO -  Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas heads a Palestinian cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah July 28, 2013. REUTERS/Issam Rimawi/Pool/File Photo
FILE PHOTO – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas heads a Palestinian cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah July 28, 2013. REUTERS/Issam Rimawi/Pool/File Photo\ POOL/ REUTERS

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas apologized Friday for comments he made last week which were widely decried as anti-Semitic.

“If people were offended by my statement, especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them. I would like to assure everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic faiths.

 “I would also like to reiterate our long held condemnation of the Holocaust, as the most heinous crime in history, and express our sympathy with its victims,” he said.

“Likewise, we condemn anti- Semitism in all its forms, and confirm our commitment to the two- state solution, and to live side by side in peace and security,” a statement released in English, Hebrew and Arabic said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman rejected the apology by the Palestinian leader, saying “Abbas is a pathetic Holocaust denier who wrote his doctorate thesis about Holocaust denial and afterwards even published a book about Holocaust denial. That’s the way he should be treated and his apology is not accepted.”

Israel’s Holocaust museum and memorial denounced Monday’s address by Abbas Wednesday as “replete with anti-Semitic tropes and distortions of historical facts.”

>> What Abbas really said about the Jews | Analysis

The European Union and the United Nations’ Mideast envoy on Wednesday condemned Abbas’ remarks as “unacceptable” after he suggested in a speech that Jews were historically persecuted because of their involvement in money-lending and banking.

Citing books written by various authors, Abbas argued: “They say hatred against Jews was not because of their religion, it was because of their social profession. So the Jewish issue that had spread against the Jews across Europe was not because of their religion, it was because of usury and banks.”

The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, condemned Abbas’ statement, saying his speech “repeated some of the most contemptuous anti-Semitic slurs, including the suggestion that the social behavior of Jews was the cause for the Holocaust.”

The UN envoy said that “such statements are unacceptable, deeply disturbing and do not serve the interests of the Palestinian people or peace in the Middle East. Denying the historic and religious connection of the Jewish people to the land and their holy sites in Jerusalem stands in contrast to reality.

“The Holocaust did not occur in a vacuum, it was the result of thousands of years of persecution. This is why attempts to rewrite, downplay or deny it are dangerous. Leaders have an obligation to confront anti-Semitism everywhere and always, not perpetuate the conspiracy theories that fuel it.”

In unusually blunt language from Brussels, the European External Action Service said in a statement: “The speech Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered on 30 April contained unacceptable remarks concerning the origins of the Holocaust and Israel’s legitimacy.

“Such rhetoric will only play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which President Abbas has repeatedly advocated.”

The EEAS added: “Antisemitism is not only a threat for Jews but a fundamental menace to our open and liberal societies.

“The European Union remains committed to combat any form of anti-Semitism and any attempt to condone, justify or grossly trivialize the Holocaust.”

Also Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Abbas’s remarks, writing on his Twitter account: “It would appear that, once a Holocaust denier, always a Holocaust denier.”

Former U.S. secretary of state John Kerry also criticized the remarks, writing on Twitter: “These comments are wrong, ugly, and unacceptable – anywhere from anyone – but particularly from anyone who says he wants to be a peacemaker. No excuses for antisemitism: words to be condemned, not explained away.”

On Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Abbas had “reached a new low,” adding that “all those who think Israel is the reason that we don’t have peace, think again.”

Trump’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jason Greenblatt, also condemned Abbas’s speech: “President Abbas’ remarks yesterday in Ramallah at the opening of the Palestinian National Congress must be unconditionally condemned by all. They are very unfortunate, very distressing and terribly disheartening. Peace cannot be built on this kind of foundation.”

Abbas stirred controversy in his doctoral thesis written decades ago at Moscow University, in which he examined connections between the Zionist leadership in Israel and the Nazi regime in the 1930s. In it he dealt with the claims of Holocaust deniers such as Roger Garaudy regarding the correct number of Jewish deaths in the Holocaust. Israeli officials have dubbed Abbas a Holocaust denier, but he has refuted the accusation.

The shadow war between Israel and Iran takes center stage

April 24, 2018

The rumblings of an open conflict between Israel and Iran in Syria are growing louder. When President Trump launched yet another one-off missile salvo against the Syrian regime, it came on the heels of a suspected April 9 Israeli strike on an Iranian facility at a Syrian air base, which drew howls of condemnation from the regime’s patrons in Moscow and Tehran.

Though Israel didn’t acknowledge responsibility for the attack, it fit a familiar pattern. Since 2012, the Israelis are believed to have launched more than 100 strikes on suspected Iranian-linked positions in Syria. Israeli officials privately argue that these measures are necessary to prevent a permanent Iranian threat on their borders and stymie the flow of weaponry to Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.

“No matter the price, we will not allow a noose to form around us,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio over the weekend. But he cautioned against talk of outright hostilities. “I hope not,” he said when asked whether war was imminent. “I think that our primary role is to prevent war, and that requires concrete, real deterrence as well as readiness to act.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made similar appeals for calm in a Sunday interview with CBS News, though he accused the Israelis of escalating “tension by violating Syrian airspace.”

“I do not believe that we are headed towards regional war. But I do believe that, unfortunately, Israel has continued its violations with international law, hoping to be able to do it with impunity because of the U.S. support and trying to find smokescreens to hide behind,” Zarif said.

Still, Zarif warned that Israel was playing a risky game. “They should expect that if they continue to violate territorial integrity of other states, there’ll be consequences,” he said. “The easiest answer would be to stop — to stop these acts of aggression, to stop these incursions.”

But the Israelis have made clear that an entrenched Iranian presence in Syria marks a new red line. They point to the new threat of Iranian drones, potentially armed with explosives, entering Israeli airspace, as well as the old threat of rockets launched from southern Lebanon. The April 9 strike, according to one account, was Israel’s first direct attack on Iranian equipment and personnel and killed a senior Iranian drone commander.

Last week, the Israeli military leaked details and satellite images of the existence of an Iranian “air force” in Syria, including civilian planes they claimed were ferrying shipments of arms. The leak was supposed to signal to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the powerful military organization that dominates Iran’s foreign policy decisions, that Israel had new targets already in sight should the Iranians or their proxies attack.

From the Iranian perspective, their presence in Syria is a legitimate defense of their beleaguered ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. And they see their capacity to threaten Israel from next door as a potential deterrent against a long-standing regional foe.

“Israeli leaders frequently threaten to bomb Iran, so having strong military proxies near Israel’s borders gives Iran some protection,” wrote Ben Hubbard and David Halbfinger of the New York Times. “If Israel attacks Iran, the thinking goes, it knows it can expect a painful response from Hezbollah in Lebanon, and perhaps from other militias now operating in Syria.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up what he claimed was a piece of an Iranian drone shot down over Israel while speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 18. (Lennart Preiss/Munich Security Conference /Agence France-Presse)

The deepening tensions come at a time of growing discontent within the Islamic Republic. A tanking economy has blown the lid on popular frustration with the regime and even prompted Zarif’s putative boss, President Hassan Rouhani, to complain about the costly war effort in Syria. But the prospect of broader confrontation with Israel — and the likely upcoming drama over Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers — may persuade regime hard-liners that now is the time to circle the wagons.

“The shadow war has come to light after the decision by the Iranian leadership to proceed with the IRGC’s plans to establish permanent bases in Syria. This was not a unanimous decision,” wrote Anshel Pfeffer in the Times of London. “The faction in Tehran led by the country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, is in favor of investing in Iran’s domestic economy the huge amounts of money these bases will cost. But the IRGC has the ear of the nation’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and it is keen to capitalize on the investment it has made in propping up the Assad regime for the past seven years.”

The way forward is treacherous. “Iran is determined to entrench its positions in Syria, and Israel is determined to prevent them,” said Amos Yadlin, a former commander of Israeli military intelligence, to Pfeffer.

He suggested that Russia, whose forces help prop up the regime’s air defenses and whose diplomats are key interlocutors to both the Iranians and the Israelis, will play a critical role. “Conflict is inevitable unless Putin steps in to prevent it,” Yadlin said. But recent events suggest that the Russians have limited influence over Iran and are more concerned about reinforcing the Syrian regime.

At the same time, some foreign policy figures in Washington seem keen on letting Israel continue its covert campaign against the Iranians. They see Israeli strikes as necessary at a time when President Trump wants to disengage from the Syrian conflict and outsource the stabilization of the country to Iran’s Sunni Arab rivals.

But other experts contend that this does not amount to a real strategy. “There is a pathway to containing and deterring Iran in Syria … but it requires more than just Israel’s itchy trigger finger and cheerleading from the sidelines by Arab autocracies,” wrote Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution, who argued for more robust diplomatic engagement from the Trump administration and cautioned against alienating allies by pulling out of the nuclear deal.

In February, the International Crisis Group issued a report warning that the current atmosphere of tensions made “miscalculation more likely” in Syria. Since then, the risks of an escalation have only intensified.

By Ishaan Tharoor
The Washington Post

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/04/24/the-shadow-war-between-israel-and-iran-takes-center-stage/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d815ef8d7a20

Israel Takes Offensive Against Iran in Syria — “The final situation is the removal of all the Iranian-Shi’ite forces from Syria, including Hezbollah and the militias.”

April 10, 2018

This resolute stance, shared by all branches of Israeli security, was recently presented to political officials. IDF chief and Defense Minister Lieberman clarify that increased Iranian military presence in Syria will be perceived as a red line

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Members of the Israeli security cabinet during a security tour of the Golan Heights, February 6, 2018
Members of the Israeli security cabinet during a security tour of the Golan Heights, February 6, 2018Kobi Gideon

Security officials support an offensive and determined approach to stop Iran from gaining a foothold in Syria. This tough stance, shared by all branches of Israeli security, was recently presented to political officials. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot have made clear a number of times over the past few months that increased Iranian military presence in Syria will be perceived as a red line and that Israel will act to protect its security interests.

Last week, the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Ankara to discuss the situation in Syria. The meeting raised major concerns in Israel. The impression is that Russia is now backing Tehran in its continued military actions in Syria, even if it means increased friction on the border with Israel.

The Shi’ite forces in Syria that answer to Iran now number somewhat fewer than 20,000, and in recent years there that number has not changed dramatically. According to IDF estimates, there are about 2,000 Iranian advisers and fighters in Syria, about 7,500 members of Hezbollah and about 9,000 militia fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

>> Israel Is Now Directly Confronting Iran in Syria | Analysis <<

“The final and desired situation is the removal of all the Iranian-Shi’ite forces from Syria, including Hezbollah and the militias. We won’t let them get near the borders,” Eisenkot told Haaretz in an interview to mark the Passover holiday. The chief of staff said that Israel had defined a strip along the Syrian border in which it would not permit entry to forces loyal to the regime in Tehran, but he gave no details as to what that line is geographically.

But Iran’s efforts to establish itself in Syria are not limited to land; they also involve increasing the regime’s aerial capabilities. The T-4 Syrian air force base that was attacked on Monday was used in the past was used by the command module for the operators of the Iranian drone that penetrated Israel. Not far from there is another air base that serves Iran and its allies, the Shayrat airbase.

Israeli Radio Host Posted ‘Ashamed to Be Israeli’ After Gaza Deaths. Now He May Lose His Job

April 2, 2018

Haaretz

Army Radio commander Shimon Elkabetz orders the station to no longer broadcast Kobi Meidan on the air, but it remains to be seen whether temporarily or permanently

.Israeli radio host Kobi Meidan in Tel Aviv, March 2018.
Israeli radio host Kobi Meidan in Tel Aviv, March 2018. Meged Gozani

Top Israeli radio host Kobi Meidan has been silenced on Army Radio after posting on Facebook that he’s “ashamed to be Israeli” after 15 Gazans were shot dead during mass Gaza protests along the Israel-Gaza border last week.

After talking with the media personality, Army Radio commander Shimon Elkabetz ordered the station to no longer broadcast Meidan on the air, but it remains to be seen whether temporarily or permanently.

Meidan told Elkabetz that he uploaded the post before he knew the full facts of the Gaza incident. It has been reported that Elkabetz tends against firing Meidan outright, conditional on him explaining his actions to the public. It bears adding that Meidan is not a civilian employee of the Israeli army but a service vendor.

Kobi Meidan’s Facebook post: “Today I am ashamed to be Israeli”

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Radio 103 FM that he’s “ashamed to have a radio host of the type on Army Radio.” “If Meidan feels such shame,” Lieberman said, “if he has any integrity, he should quit the station.”

<< Lieberman warns Gaza protesters: ‘Hamas is playing with your lives’  ■ Israel’s failure on the Gaza border could shift the crisis there from bad to worse | Analysis <<

Lieberman did not, however, tell Elkabetz what he should do. The minister vaguely stated that “he should do his duty.”

Gilad Erdan, the Minister for Public Security and Strategic Affairs, also weighed in during an interview with Army Radio on Monday, criticizing Meidan for his statement.

Erdan said of Meidan that if he was “truly moral,” then he would “give up the keys and say that he didn’t want to broadcast at Army Radio,” adding that Meidan’s words teach not only the “position of the extreme left, but that he also lacks seriousness” since the remarks were made before any full examination of last week’s events.

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay wrote on Twitter on Monday that he’s “very proud to be an Israeli, but is strongly opposed to being rejected on the grounds of freedom of expression.”

Around 30,000 Palestinians had rallied throughout the Gaza Strip last week during the “March of Return,” a series of mass protests along the Israel-Gaza border. At least 15 Palestinians were shot dead and dozens more were wounded during hours of clashes with Israeli soldiers after protesters threw stones and firebombs toward soldiers stationed along the fence.

Army Radio and Meidan declined to comment for this report.

Israel and Iran Back on Collision Course in the North

March 10, 2018

Haaretz

Two powerful yet contradictory trends are all but fated to collide: Iran’s insistence on establishing a military presence in Syria, and Israel’s insistence on preventing it

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Israel forces on the Israeli Golan Heights keep a watchful eye on the events in Syria. February 2018
Israel forces on the Israeli Golan Heights keep a watchful eye on the events in Syria. February 2018Gil Eliahu

Almost a month has passed since the drama in the skies of Israel and Syria, when Israel knocked down an Iranian drone that had penetrated its airspace and bombed Iranian targets in Syrian territory, and Israel lost a fighter jet to Syrian anti-aircraft artillery. In this time Syria hasn’t reported a single Israeli aerial attack on arms convoys, missile warehouses or army bases, reports that have been quite frequent in the last five years.

This hiatus will probably be transient. The underlying conditions on Israel’s northern front remain unchanged, even after that extraordinary exchange of firerpower. The decided advantage of the pro-Assad axis in the Syrian civil war gives its forces security and bolsters their drive to win, in compensation for their efforts invested in saving the Syrian tyrant back when his chances looked slim.

In a review that army intelligence delivered to the political echelon, the Israeli and Iranian moves were described as two powerful strategic trends that were all but fated to collide: the Iranian insistence on establishing a military presence in Syria, and the Israeli insistence on preventing it, stated time and again by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his AIPAC speech this week: “We must stop Iran. We will stop Iran.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds what he claims is part of an Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace at the Munich Security Conference on February 18, 2018.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds what he claims is part of an Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace at the Munich Security Conference on February 18, 2018. LENNART PREISS/AFP

Why didn’t the shoot-out on that Shabbat descend into war? Because both Israel and Iran are being very careful and trying not to go there. It’s the early days for the Iranian project in the region and Tehran doesn’t seem to want a direct military confrontation with Israel at this time. Watching the Iranian moves in recent years shows it can change direction, sometimes halt entirely, following Israeli threats or attacks linked to the air force.

From Israel’s perspective, even though the stated intention is to foil Iran’s plans in Syria and Lebanon, neither Netanyahu nor Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman nor the top military brass aspire to a broad confrontation whose end cannot be foretold. Most Israeli deterrence moves are under the radar, sometimes barely gaining mention in the press. Israel would probably prefer things to go on without direct clashes.

Both Israel and Iran have to factor Russia into the equation. Moscow is the big winner of the civil war in Syria, and the only world power still in touch with all parties involved. The last thing that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants is for an Iranian-Israeli war to imperil his No. 1 strategic triumph in the region in recent years: saving the Assad regime. That seems to have been the message delivered to Jerusalem and Tehran as that day of fighting up north wore on. The belligerents conducted themselves accordingly.

Israel forces prepare in the Golan Heights February 2018
Israel forces prepare in the Golan Heights February 2018Gil Eliahu

Amos Yadlin, head of the Institute for National Security Studies, tells Haaretz that Iran is building up its forces and increasing its influence in Syria using three combined models: those of Hezbollah, Iraq and North Korea. In 2014 and 2015, Hezbollah and the Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard set up terror cells based on local Druze units in the Syrian Golan Heights and Palestinian organizations. When activists in these networks were killed in actions ascribed to Israel, Iran abandoned the attempt to implement a Hezbollah-type model in Syria.

The second model, based on a test run that went very well in Iraq, touches on deploying Shi’ite militias obedient to Iran throughout Syria. The militias, which rely on recruits from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, helped tilt the war in Assad’s favor. But the number of their people in Syria is not large, some counting it below 10,000.

Lately the third approach, which Yadlin called the North Korea model, was added. It is reminiscent of the Pyongyang missile threats against Seoul. Iran seems to want to renew Assad’s arsenal of long-range missiles, most of which were used or destroyed during the civil war. It also wants to build missile assembly lines on Israel’s border. This turning point is happening during the quiet years assured by the Vienna agreement of 2015, which put off the Iranian nuclear threat by at least seven to 10 years.

Even optimistically assuming that Tehran keeps its word, when the agreement expires Iran will be in a better position: It will be able to continue pursuing its nuclear ambitions and create a double missile threat, from Syria and Lebanon, making Israel think two or three times before attacking the Iranian nuclear sites.

The arsenal of missiles is supposed to grow and be deployed over more fronts, and in part to become more accurate. Speaking at the Munich security conference in late February, Netanyahu gave his view of the Iranian goal: to equip Hezbollah with guided missiles whose accuracy (“probable circular error”) is tens of meters.

Talking with U.S. President Donald Trump this week, Netanyahu again pressed him to declare that America would abandon the nuclear agreement in May. Meanwhile the EU wants to lead an initiative enforcing monitoring in Iran and restrictions on its missile program, as wells as its dissemination of technology among terrorist and guerrilla groups in the region. These are goals marked for the years to come, based on the understanding that the battle with Iran will slog on for years and that the Vienna agreement provided, at best, a hiatus, not a comprehensive solution.

Fighting on All Fronts, Netanyahu Could Leave Israel Exposed

February 23, 2018
Haaretz

Fighting for his political, Netanyahu juggles tensions in north and south ■ Netanyahu’s threats against Iran and Syria could backfire ■ In Gaza, while Israelis philosophize about the gravity of the situation, a crisis is liable to erupt imminently

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows a map of the Middle East during a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference on February 18, 2018 in Munich, southern Germany
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows a map of the Middle East during a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference on February 18, 2018 in Munich, southern GermanyMARC MUELLER/AFP

Just like in the arena of criminal proceedings, where a critical mass of investigations is threatening the survival of the main suspect, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also facing dangers on the security front. The problem lies not in the fodder of conspiracy theories, namely that Netanyahu will ignite a war in the north of Israel or in Gaza in order to evade the noose of investigations. Netanyahu knows full well that wars tend to become messy and that it’s doubtful that they would grant him more than a temporary reprieve from his legal problems. Moreover, he has shown no appetite for such adventures in the past.

Cabinet ministers, including Netanyahu’s political rivals, praise the high level of concentration the prime minister has demonstrated in recent discussions of security and diplomatic issues. But one may ask what the incessant deluge of bad news in the criminal arena will do to his attention and to the time he has left to devote to important issues. At the same time, it seems that Netanyahu will find it difficult to take steps he deems essential since these will be overshadowed by doubts, even if his considerations are germane to the issues at hand.

The risk of an outbreak of hostilities has grown in recent weeks on the northern front – opposite Iran, Syria and to some extent Hezbollah – as well as on the Gaza border. Since February 10, which saw the downing of an Iranian drone and an Israeli F-16, there have been no further incidents in the north, but one should not underestimate the risk levels reached on that Saturday morning.

For a long time Israel has managed to foil Iranian plans to arm Hezbollah with more accurate weapons systems. In his speech earlier this week at the Munich Security Conference Netanyahu revealed for the first time that Iran’s intent is to upgrade Hezbollah rockets so they have the capability of hitting within a 10-meter radius around a target. Israel’s successes have angered its rivals – and presumably Moscow. A Western observer who has had ties with the Assad regime for many years estimated this week that the massive anti-aircraft barrage fired by Syria, which led to the downing of the F-16, was carried out with the knowledge of Russian advisers working alongside the Syrian army’s anti-aircraft network.

This week Israel’s leaders repeated their threats, saying they would hit Shi’ite militias and, if needed, Syrian and Iranian targets, if these militias and the Iranians continue to entrench themselves in Syria. The New York Times published a story and a detailed map showing the large number of Syrian bases which have an Iranian presence. The Assad regime dismisses these claims, saying that the number of militia fighters has declined lately and that in any case, they are concentrated in the center and north of the country in order to participate in important battles against rebels, in comparison to which the Golan Heights is considered only a secondary front.

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Iranian presence in Syria

The frequent warnings emanating from Jerusalem are reminiscent of Netanyahu’s 2009-2013 government. Closely backed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Netanyahu kept issuing military threats against Iran, despite sweeping opposition by the heads of all of Israel’s security branches. One could argue that Israel’s preparations for attacking Iran drove the Obama administration to impose stringent international sanctions on the Islamic Republic (although Netanyahu, for his own reasons, never took credit for this). These, in turn, led to partial Iranian concessions and the signing of the Vienna nuclear accord, which ostensibly postponed the Iranian nuclear threat by ten years.

During a heated dispute at the time, Mossad head Meir Dagan argued against Netanyahu and Barak’s attempts to instruct the defense establishment to prepare for an attack within a specified period. One argument Dagan used was that even if an attack never took place, the preparations would immediately be recognized in the international arena, alerting the Iranians. Under such circumstances, claimed Dagan, unnecessary sensitivities could lead to an explosion, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. These circumstances may repeat themselves again with regard to Iran’s entrenchment in Syria.

At the present, the person falling in line with Netanyahu is Avigdor Lieberman. The defense minister is using the Iranian threat as the basis of his argument in the dispute with the Israel Defense Forcesover the need to change the multi-year Gideon Plan, which increased the defense budget and is so beloved by IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot.

.Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, left, with Israel Defense Forces deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, during a tour of the Israel-Gaza border, Feb. 20, 2018.

Defense Minister Lieberman, left, with IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Kochavi, touring the Gaza border Tuesday. Hamas sends “the most unfortunate people” to take part in clashes, said Lieberman.Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry

Eisenkot created the plan on what he saw as a window of opportunity had opened after the Iran deal and the deferment of the nuclear threat. However, Lieberman claims that the new threat that has developed with Iran’s presence in Syria is one reason for changing the plan.

In the meantime, Netanyahu and Lieberman’s promises to change the plan and increase the defense budget, which the army is not keen on, are stuck in a committee headed by the head of the National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat. Discussions in this committee have stalled and the defense establishment has not yet presented the financial needs that derive from this new threat, nor the required response to it.

Across the fence

Unusually high tension is expected on Friday along the border with the Gaza Strip. Last Saturday, four Israeli soldiers were wounded by a bomb hidden in a flag draped over the border fence. Those who placed the explosives, apparently members of a Salafi organization, exploited the lack of caution with which the soldiers approached the area.

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Palestinian protesters are seen as Israeli soldiers take cover behind a sand hill during clashes near the border between Israel and Central Gaza Strip October 15, 2015.

Palestinian protesters are seen as Israeli soldiers take cover behind a sand hill during clashes near the border between Israel and Central Gaza Strip October 15, 2015. \ REUTERS

The army concluded that the flag and the bomb were set up a day earlier, under cover of the protest demonstration which Hamas organizes near the fence every Friday. Consequently, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, issued a warning that the army would take “extremely harsh measures against rioters” if they get anywhere near the fence this Friday.

One of the Palestinian demonstrators wounded by Israeli fire near the border fence last Friday died of his wounds on Wednesday. This Friday, the army will presumably come equipped with crowd control gear as well, but any sizable clash is liable to lead to additional casualties on the Palestinian side.

Meanwhile, for more than a week now, talks between various Palestinian parties have been taking place in Cairo with Egyptian mediation, in an effort to once again extricate the Palestinian reconciliation wagon from the mud in which it is mired. So far, no progress in the talks has been reported, but the effort Egyptian intelligence is investing in them is evident.

This may explain Lieberman’s continued hard line against Hamas in Gaza, on the assumption that the organization is close to breaking and will be forced to accept Egyptian dictates. It also explains his refusal to adopt the warnings of the relevant defense agencies – the IDF, COGAT, the Shin Bet security service – about the danger of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Lieberman is even demanding that Hamas return the Israeli civilians and the bodies of the slain soldiers held in Gaza as a condition for any real progress.

The Israeli defense officials who have been warning about the distress in the Strip expect international intervention to save the Gazans. Mordechai recently wrote that the enclave needs something like a Marshall Plan. But for now, the defense establishment doesn’t seem to have any organized plan of its own for rescuing Gaza from its woes. While Israelis are philosophizing about the gravity of the situation and talking about long-term solutions based on hypothetical international aid, a crisis is liable to erupt imminently and it will require swift intervention.

Israel is acting as if it has all the time in the world. But if and when an epidemic breaks out in Gaza, the problem is liable to become incomparably more urgent.

Israel: Could Netanyahu Survive Corruption Scandal? — “Dead man walking” — Three possible outcomes….

February 22, 2018

Haaretz

Despite the media describing him as a lame duck, the Israeli PM still has several options as he deals with the avalanche of corruption allegations against him

.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of an ER in Barzilai Medical Center, Ashkelon.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of an ER in Barzilai Medical Center, Ashkelon.\ Ilan Assayag

At first, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked as if he might ride out the corruption storm raging around him (at least temporarily). After the police recommendations last Tuesday that he be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two of the corruption cases involving him, he initially stood strong, issuing a defiant statement.

Politically, he maintained strong support within his Likud party, with no one daring to even speculate on who might take over in a post-Netanyahu world. Similarly, his key governing coalition partners said they would adopt a wait-and-see approach, committing to stand by him at least until the attorney general made his final decision on whether the prime minister would face criminal charges.

But the cards were reshuffled Tuesday with two bombshells: the first, that a confidant (aka henchman) of Netanyahu’s was suspected of offering the job of attorney general to a former judge, in exchange for her killing a case against the premier’s wife, Sara Netanyahu.

But potentially more significant was the news that Shlomo Filber, the former director general of the Communications Ministry, had turned state’s evidence and would share what is presumed to be highly damaging testimony regarding Netanyahu’s role in what is known as Case 4000. This case involves the Israeli telecom giant Bezeq, whose controlling shareholder is Netanyahu’s friend Shaul Elovitch.

If Filber testifies that Netanyahu directed him to make decisions benefiting Bezeq, and acknowledges that the positive news coverage of the Netanyahu family on a Bezeq-owned news site was a quid pro quo – many pundits are saying the bribery case against Netanyahu appears to be open-and-shut.

What happens to Netanyahu now? 3 possible scenarios
Ofer Vaknin
Netanyahu has been declared, depending on the preferred metaphor of any given TV talking head, a “dead man walking” or a “lame duck” – officially running the country, but drained of any real authority.

The atmosphere is reminiscent of the United States during the Watergate era (1973-74), with every day bringing new revelations. So what are the possibilities facing the prime minister moving forward?

Netanyahu government falls: New elections are held

The most dramatic scenario would occur if one or more of Netanyahu’s coalition partners – possibly one of the parties headed by a leader who aspires to replace him in the Prime Minister’s Office – decides to quit the government.

If none of the parties currently in the opposition steps up to replace them and save the coalition – and that seems highly unlikely given the current circumstances – the government would officially dissolve. New elections would be called as soon as possible, presumably in the spring or early summer.

Several political parties are already scrambling in preparation for this eventuality. Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay – whose party is currently the second largest in the Knesset – sent a letter to party members on Tuesday, declaring that “the Netanyahu era is over. We must prepare for an election soon.”

Netanyahu steps down but Likud-led government remains

If Netanyahu’s grip on Likud slips far enough, and coalition parties are sufficiently reluctant to give up their positions of power, a deal could be struck between these parties and Likud – with or without Netanyahu’s participation. In such a scenario, Netanyahu would step down from the Likud leadership but the Likud-led coalition would remain in place, with the same parties heading the same ministries and a new prime minister chosen from within Likud.

The move could be framed as either permanent or temporary – an idea to which Netanyahu might be more amenable. Interestingly, while this solution has not been publicly discussed by any members of the coalition, it has been floated by prominent opposition leaders. Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid (who provided key testimony in one of the cases against Netanyahu) has proposed that Netanyahu take a “leave of absence” and “step aside” until the situation is resolved, even if there are no plans for new elections.

Netanyahu hangs on

Some of the party leaders in Netanyahu’s coalition have ridden out their own corruption scandals – ministers like Avigdor Lieberman and Arye Dery. This could make them sympathetic enough to maintain a “wait and see” approach, even in the face of the ever-widening and worsening list of suspicions and accusations against Netanyahu.

They are also very comfortable with their jobs heading powerful ministries, and it’s far from certain whether a new Knesset election would grant them the level of support needed to keep them there. For example, in the most recent poll about how the public would vote if an election were held tomorrow, Dery’s Shas party would not even garner enough votes to gain Knesset representation.

Another volatile factor that might keep the current government in place is the fragile security situation.

Any major military conflict – on the northern front with Lebanon and Syria, or in the Gaza Strip with Hamas – could push elected officials and the general public to “circle the national wagons,” and put political divisions aside in order to project a stronger and more stable image to Israel’s enemies.

Within Likud itself, Netanyahu has worked hard for years to make sure he has no natural successor. There is no figure within the party perceived as being able to fill his shoes.

More importantly, he has a powerful base of party loyalists who believe he is such a strong and effective figure that they are prepared to overlook any alleged personal foibles – be they cigars and champagne, or favors to wealthy media barons in exchange for positive coverage for his family.

Much like the acquiescence of the Republican Party to Donald Trump, potential aspirants to the Likud leadership are afraid that a direct attack on Netanyahu will alienate that loyal base and harm their own political futures. For that reason, they would prefer to see prosecutors and judges bring Netanyahu down than do it themselves.

As long as that fear persists, Netanyahu has a chance of holding onto power by his fingernails – as the nation watches and waits for his fate to be decided by the judiciary.

Sooner Or Later, Palestinians and Israelis Have To Talk and Work Things Out — Hopefully that long overdue reckoning will begin in 2018

January 4, 2018

The Year the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Went Out of Fashion

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Much-hyped anniversaries and events sank into obscurity last year; the Jerusalem issue triggered only rote responses. This year will be the same: the world is watching more incendiary conflicts elsewhere. It’s us and the Palestinians, home alone

By Anshel Pfeffer Jan 04, 2018 7:27 PM
Haaretz

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The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem held a series of meetings in early 2017 to prepare for what they believed would be a troubling event. The fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War was looming and, with it, the commemoration of half a century of Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The diplomats were worried that the international agenda would be dominated by an uncomfortable narrative portraying Israel as the heartless conqueror, rather than a tiny beleaguered nation that went to war in 1967 to save itself from destruction.

Palestinian protesters chant anti-British slogans on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, in Ramallah. Nov. 2, 2017
Palestinian protesters chant anti-British slogans on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, in Ramallah. Nov. 2, 2017Nasser Nasser/AP

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All manner of diplomatic contingency and media management plans were prepared, but as the anniversary drew near, and then passed, none were necessary.

The Palestinians held some sparsely-attended demonstrations, a few scholarly books were published and a handful of international news organizations produced elegant and well-balanced reports. And that was it.

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“We were surprised, and relieved, to discover that the world just doesn’t care that much anymore,” one senior diplomat admitted to me a few weeks after the anniversary.

The same proved true of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in November. For a few days there was a flurry of events in London – Benjamin Netanyahu visited, Abu Mazen issued a grand demand that Britain apologize and revoke the declaration, and the supporters of the Palestinians held a march which disappointed in its turnout. And it was over. The world just doesn’t care that much anymore.

So since we’re still in the first week of 2018, I’ll risk my prediction for the coming year. We will celebrate in Israel the seventieth anniversary of the state, while the Palestinians mark seventy years to the Nakba, and the world won’t come to either party.

Furthermore, there won’t be any serious peace proposal coming from the ridiculous Trump administration and while there may be the occasional flurry of attention at nascent outbreaks of violence in Gaza and the West Bank, the world will be, for the main part, looking away.

U.S. President Donald Trump passes Jared Kushner during a Hanukkah Reception at the White House. December 7, 2017
U.S. President Donald Trump passes Jared Kushner during a Hanukkah Reception at the White House. December 7, 2017 KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

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Smart foreign policy think-tanks and magazines published in recent days their ten-hotspots-around-the-world to watch in 2018. Israel-Palestine, which was once a perennial fixture on these lists, was absent. For now at least, we’ve gone out of fashion.

As shrinking editorial budgets are forcing many news organizations to downsize their corps of foreign correspondents, most of them are realizing that precious resources need to be focused on larger, literally more incendiary conflicts, in the Middle East and beyond.

That doesn’t mean that Israel will not continue to receive a disproportionate amount of attention – there are many reasons that the Jewish state will remain a compelling story, and old journalistic habits die hard – but it will be less than in the past.

For the time being, there won’t be any major diplomatic initiatives here. Trump isn’t serious and anyway will be tied down by investigations. Europe has to deal with its own problems right now. And the more immediate region will be much more focused on the intensifying Saudi-Iranian showdown, to bother about the Palestinian sideshow.

The world is tired of us – and so are we.

You can already see the results of this lack in attention in the reactions to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Sure, it got the United Nations vote of condemnation, but that was simply going through the diplomatic motions. On the ground, the “days of rage” quickly dissipated, with Palestinians leaders admitting themselves that a violent uprising would not help them now.

Israeli Border Police patrol the Arab quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, Israel. Dec. 17, 2017
Israeli Border Police patrol the Arab quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, Israel. Dec. 17, 2017.  Bloomberg

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Indeed, 2017 was a year in which the casualty numbers on both sides remained relatively low, with the death-counts of Israelis and Palestinians declining for a third consecutive year.

And you could see it in the cautious Israeli response to the mortar and rocket firing from Gaza. Even Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that it would be best to let the world focus on the protests in Iran, than to start another Gazan war.

For years, we predicted that the day would come when the “international community” would say enough is enough, and somehow force Israelis and Palestinians to iron out their differences. That the occupation was unsustainable and simply couldn’t last. That the two-state solution, or any sort of solution was inevitable, because the world would decide that the current situation was “apartheid” and intervene.

Well, whatever it is, the world just can’t be bothered any longer. After seventy years of conflict, Israelis and Palestinians are just two old siblings who hate each other and yet still can’t leave the family house they share, even after everyone else has gone. We’re home alone, together, and 2018 may finally be the year in which it starts to sink in.

A golden statue of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu placed by an artist in front of City Hall prompted passersby to try and topple it. Tel Aviv, Dec. 6, 2016
A golden statue of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu placed by an artist in front of City Hall prompted passersby to try and topple it. Tel Aviv, Dec. 6, 2016.  AP Photo/Oded Balilty

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It will be a nasty realization, especially for many of those from abroad who would have loved to celebrate Israel’s achievements at 70, for Jews and other true friends, who deluded themselves that this thorn in the rosebush, this nasty occupation, could somehow be wished away and that the solution was just around the corner. Particularly, because one thing that is eminently clear today, is that for all their good will and actions and lobbying, Israelis have never been less disposed to heed the concerns of the Jewish Diaspora.

Perhaps I’m wrong, and in 2018 the Palestinians, in their hopelessness, forsaken by the world and their Arab brothers, will conclude they have nothing to lose and rise up in a third Intifada. But if 2017 is anything to go by, the overwhelming majority of them seem to have reached a different conclusion. At least for now.

Few Israelis will give much thought to their Palestinian neighbors this year. We are still riveted by what could be the last chapter of the Netanyahu saga and his attempts to tear apart our social fabric in his flailing battle to cling to power. It seems almost absurd that the political fate of one man, and his wife and son, can obscure the existential issues of an entire nation, but that is where we currently stand.

Perhaps only once Netanyahu departs, will Israelis grasp that their future is much more complex than the rise and fall of one politician. Hopefully that long overdue reckoning will begin in 2018.

Anshel Pfeffer
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.833054

read more: https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.833054

Shin Bet Warns Israel’s Ministers: Death Penalty for Terrorists Will Lead to Kidnappings of Jews Worldwide

January 3, 2018

Despite the warning, Netanyahu backed the bill in a preliminary Knesset vote: ‘A person who slaughters and laughs should be put to death’

Chaim Levinson Jan 03, 2018 5:12 PM
Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the Knesset, October 24, 2017.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the Knesset, October 24, 2017. Olivier Fitouss

UPDATE: Knesset gives preliminary backing to death penalty for terrorists bill

The Shin Bet security service has voiced its objections to the death penalty bill, which it suspects will trigger a wave of kidnappings of Jews around the world to use them in negotiations.

Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman has shared his negative opinion of the bill with the inner security cabinet. The security service will be presenting its opinion to the cabinet when it convenes to discuss the bill, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it would.

The bill received preliminary backing from the Knesset on Wednesday and still needs to pass three rounds of voting in order to become a law. Despite the warning, Netanyahu backed the bill and, in unusual remarks ahead of the vote, said that, “a person who slaughters and laughs should not spend his life behind bars but be put to death.”
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The Shin Bet is predicting abductions of Jews not only in Muslim countries, but in the West as well. It also has other objections to the bill. In 2011, when some – including Central Command General Avi Mizrahi – were advocating the death penalty for Amjad Awad for murders of five members of the Fogel family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, the Shin Bet objected and the idea fell through.

Ahead of the bill’s preliminary reading, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said in a private conversation that he is not bound by the cabinet’s position – and that is just one of many considerations. Mendelblit had also opposed the death penalty as chief military prosecutor, and his position has not changed.

Present military law allows the death penalty to be handed down for murder committed as part of a terror act, but it is conditional on the unanimous support of the sentence by the judges. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who sponsored the bill, proposes that an ordinary majority of judges should suffice to sentence a terrorist to death. The bill also bans leniency after a final death sentence has been handed down.

Chaim Levinson
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.832858