Posts Tagged ‘Avigdor Lieberman’

Israel: Early elections called for April 9 as coalition agrees to dissolve Knesset

December 24, 2018

Government says all parties have agreed on national polls after ‘full four-year term,’ amid disagreements over ultra-Orthodox draft law

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on November 21, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on November 21, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Amid a series of coalition crises and deliberations over a possible indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, coalition leaders announced Monday that Israel will head to the polls within four months, with a general election set for April.

“Out of national and budgetary responsibility, the leaders of the coalition parties decided, unanimously and unanimously, to dissolve the Knesset and go to new elections at the beginning of April after a four-year term,” the heads of the five coalition parties said in a joint statement.

Elections were previously slated for November 2019, and the announcement means that Knesset members will vote to dissolve parliament early. Hebrew media reports said the elections would likely be held on April 9.

In this Sept. 16, 2018 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem. (AP)

Despite ongoing disagreements over the ultra-Orthodox draft bill, which was the initial impetus for their meeting Monday, the coalition heads stressed that none of the parties will leave the government and that “the partnership in the Knesset and in the government will continue during the elections.”

The announcement came after MK Yair Lapid announced that his opposition Yesh Atid party will vote against the coalition’s bill on the military draft of ultra-Orthodox men, claiming that the government was preparing an “under the table” deal that would change the import of the legislation.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court granted the government a further month and a half to pass the bill, extending an early December deadline to mid-January. Without the extension, thousands of yeshiva students would have become eligible to be drafted.

Elections will likely mean a further extension will be granted.

The decision to go to the polls comes just a month after Avigdor Liberman resigned as defense minister and pulled his Yisrael Beytenu party out of the coalition, leaving it with a paper-thin majority of just 61 out of 120 Knesset members.

The decision also comes as Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is set to begin reviewing materials to decide on possible charges against Netanyahu this week, embarking on the most high-stakes stage yet of a several-year legal entanglement that has threatened to upend the country’s political system.

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan said Wednesday he was wrapping up recommendations on three cases against Netanyahu for Mandelblit, which reportedly include recommendations that the premier be indicted on bribery charges over an affair in which he is accused of kicking back regulatory favors in exchange for positive media coverage.

Mandelblit is expected to convene his legal team to begin working on the hundreds of pages of testimony and other evidence in the three cases on Monday, the Ynet news site reported.

Of the cases Netanyahu is suspected of illegal activity in, the one known as Case 4000 is considered by the State Prosecutor’s Office to be the most serious, according to Israeli television reports.

In that case, Netanyahu is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

In another affair, Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues.

A third, Case 2000, involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily newspaper, the Sheldon Adelson-backed freebie Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/early-elections-called-for-april-9-as-coalition-agrees-to-dissolve-knesset/

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Israel coalition leaders agree on early elections in April: spokesman

December 24, 2018

Israeli coalition leaders agreed Monday to hold early elections in April, seven months before they are due, a statement issued on their behalf said.

Coalition party heads in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have decided to dissolve parliament and hold elections in early April “in the name of budgetary and national responsibility,” the statement distributed by a spokesman for Netanyahu’s Likud party said.

Coalition party heads in the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree to hold early elections in April, seven months before they are due

Coalition party heads in the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree to hold early elections in April, seven months before they are due.  AFP/File

The decision comes with the coalition struggling to agree on a key bill related to ultra-Orthodox Jews serving in the military like their secular counterparts.

Netanyahu’s coalition was left with a one-seat majority in parliament following defence minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation in November over a controversial Gaza ceasefire deal.

His resignation removed his Yisrael Beitenu party’s five seats from the coalition.

Netanyahu is also facing mounting pressure over a series of corruption investigations into his affairs.

Police have recommended his indictment in three different probes and the attorney general is considering how to proceed.

Netanyahu is however not required to step down if indicted, and polls have indicated his Likud party would remain the largest in parliament after new elections.

Some analysts believe he would be better positioned to face potential charges with a fresh electoral mandate.

AFP

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In Israel, a Coalition of the Barely Willing

November 20, 2018

Netanyahu outmaneuvers rivals, heads off early election.

Copies of ballots and campaign posters for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2015. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Copies of ballots and campaign posters for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2015. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the past week must have felt like an eternity. A two-day escalation with the Islamist Hamas group in Gaza last Monday set off a chain of events that threatened to topple his government.

But the long-serving premier staved off early elections for now by outmaneuvering coalition partners and raising the specter of a looming military crisis—without actually describing what that crisis might be.

The victory served as a reminder that Netanyahu, despite his legal trouble and his occasionally rebellious coalition partners, remains firmly in control of the Israeli political realm almost 10 years into his premiership with not a single rival on the left or right who can challenge his leadership.

The threat to Netanyahu’s rule came this time from politicians to his right, who complained that a quick cease-fire with Hamas amounted to a surrender to terrorists. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned and his Yisrael Beiteinu party departed the coalition, leaving Netanyahu’s government with a wafer thin, 61-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, added to his troubles by demanding the defense portfolio and a hawkish shift in policy—or else his faction, too, would leave the government.

Both Lieberman and Bennett were hoping to capitalize on public anger at the more than 460 rockets fired at Israeli territory from Gaza last week, killing one and wounding at least 20 others. According to a poll released last Wednesday, 74 percent of the public is unhappy with the government’s handling of the crisis. Referring to Bennett’s ultimatum, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked declared that “the public is fed up with voting right and getting left.”

But Netanyahu, who has another year to serve before a scheduled election, struck back, warning the wayward ministers that the public would hold them responsible for the downfall of a right-wing government.

In a histrionic prime-time address from Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv late Sunday, Netanyahu described early elections as “unnecessary” and “irresponsible,” drawing direct parallels to previous coalition crises in 1992 and 1999, when a government led by his Likud party was brought down from within. After both, Netanyahu warned, the left came to power and brought on the “disasters” of the Oslo Accords and the Second Intifada. “We must not repeat those mistakes,” he implored his political base.

More ominously, Netanyahu—now acting defense minister—suggested a security crisis was afoot, the exact details of which he couldn’t share with the public. “You only see a partial picture of a wide-scale campaign that we are in the middle of,” he lectured. “We find ourselves in one of the most complex security periods. In such a moment you don’t topple a government. … and you don’t desert.”

Even some hard-liners saw the logic, despite their own misgivings with Netanyahu. “It’s not correct to fell a government when we don’t know what the alternative is,” said Benny Katzover, a veteran West Bank settler leader, interviewed on Israeli radio.

By Monday morning, Bennett withdrew his threat. Flanked by Shaken, his ashen-faced party deputy, at a press conference, he listed all of his disagreements with Israeli defense policy under Netanyahu over the past decade but then abruptly stated that Netanyahu had promised a radical change in his speech the night prior. The prime minister, in truth, had done no such thing—but Bennett pressed on. “We will stand by the prime minister, so that Israel starts winning again,” he said. “I prefer that the prime minister defeats me in a political battle than [Hamas leader Ismail] Haniyeh defeating the State of Israel.”

Foreign Policy:https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/11/19/in-israel-a-coalition-of-the-barely-willing/

Erdoğan condemns Israel’s attacks on Gaza in call to Abbas — Expressed “Turkey’s unwavering support for the Palestinian people and cause.”

November 16, 2018

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday called Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.

The phone call, according to WAFA, focused on the “latest Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip.”

Image result for Abbas, Erdogan, photos

FILE photo

The news agency said President Erdoğan condemned — in the strongest possible terms — the recent Israeli aggression.

He also voiced Turkey’s readiness to support the people of Gaza and treat injured Palestinians at Turkish hospitals.

Abbas, for his part, thanked Erdoğan for what he described as “Turkey’s unwavering support for the Palestinian people and cause.”

Beginning Monday evening and carrying on through Tuesday, Israeli artillery pounded at least 160 targets the Gaza Strip, killing at least seven Palestinians, injuring 26 others and decimating dozens of homes. The violence was the worst between Israel and Gaza since a 2014 war.

The bout subsided after a cease-fire was struck late Tuesday. The truce, brokered by Egypt, prompted Israel’s hawkish Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to announce his resignation on Wednesday.

https://www.dailysabah.com/diplomacy/2018/11/15/erdogan-condemns-israels-attacks-on-gaza-in-call-to-abbas

 

Netanyahu coalition at a crossroads after Israeli defence minister quits

November 15, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plotted his next moves Thursday after his defence minister resigned over a controversial Gaza ceasefire, throwing his coalition into crisis and raising the possibility of early elections.

After Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation on Wednesday, Netanyahu was clinging to a one-seat majority in parliament and one of his main right-wing rivals was also threatening to pull out of the coalition.

Related image
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the far-right Jewish Home party was demanding to be given the defence portfolio or he would withdraw his eight seats from Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

Another key coalition partner, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon of centre-right Kulanu, reportedly told Netanyahu elections should be called as soon as possible because a stable government was needed to keep the economy on track.

Netanyahu was meanwhile seeking to contain the political fallout of his decision to accept a ceasefire deal on Tuesday that ended the worst escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war.

Lieberman said it was “capitulating to terror” when announcing his resignation and also criticised Netanyahu’s recent decision to allow Qatar to send millions of dollars in aid to the blockaded Palestinian enclave.

He formally submitted his resignation on Thursday.

ANALYSIS: COULD NETANYAHU BE FORCED INTO EARLY ELECTIONS?

Beyond that, there have been protests calling for tough action against Hamas by Israelis living near the Gaza border whose communities were targeted by barrages of rockets from Gaza this week.

A poll published on Thursday found some 74 percent of respondents were unhappy with Netanyahu’s handling of the escalation with Gaza and its Islamist rulers Hamas.

Giving further ammunition to Netanyahu’s political critics, Hamas has portrayed the ceasefire and Lieberman’s resignation as a victory.

“This government has failed to establish deterrence,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, from Bennett’s Jewish Home, told army radio on Thursday.

‘Mr. Security’

Netanyahu’s political popularity is in large part due to his reputation as Israel’s “Mr. Security”, as he has often been dubbed, and he has defended his decision saying: “Our enemies begged for a ceasefire.

“In times of emergency, when making decisions crucial to security, the public can’t always be privy to the considerations that must be hidden from the enemy,” he said.

His Likud party has hit back at suggestions he will be forced to call early elections, saying Netanyahu will take over the defence portfolio at least temporarily in addition to the premiership, foreign affairs and health portfolios he already has.

A Likud spokesman said Netanyahu would continue consultations on Thursday aimed at stabilising his coalition.

There has long been speculation that Netanyahu may call elections before they are due in November 2019, particularly with police having recommended charges against him in two corruption probes.

The attorney general is expected to announce in the coming months whether to pursue charges against him, and some analysts believe he would be better positioned to combat them with a fresh electoral mandate.

But Netanyahu would want to make the move at the most advantageous time and likely not with public attention focused on the Gaza ceasefire.

Qatari cash

The Gaza violence had erupted on Sunday with a botched Israeli special forces operation inside the territory that turned deadly and prompted Hamas to vow revenge.

Palestinian militants responded with rocket and mortar fire, as well as an anti-tank missile that hit a bus that Hamas says was being used by Israeli soldiers. A soldier was severely wounded in the attack.

Around 460 rockets and mortar rounds were fired from the Gaza Strip, wounding 27 people, three of them severely.

A Palestinian labourer from the occupied West Bank was killed when a rocket hit a building in the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

Israel hit back with widespread air strikes on some 160 targets in the Gaza Strip before the Egyptian-brokered truce took effect on Tuesday. Seven Gazans were killed.

The escalation came despite Netanyahu’s decision to allow Qatar to transfer millions of dollars in aid to Gaza for salaries as well as fuel to ease a chronic electricity shortage.

The cash transfers had led to calmer protests along the border after months of deadly unrest.

But they also drew criticism from within Netanyahu’s own government, and Lieberman slammed them in announcing his resignation.

(AFP)

Israeli defense minister quits — says Israel ‘capitulated to terror’ in Gaza

November 14, 2018

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation on Wednesday in protest at a Gaza ceasefire that he called a “capitulation to terror”, weakening Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative coalition government.

Avigdor Liberman announces his resignation as defense minister during a Jerusalem press conference, November 14, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Avigdor Liberman announces his resignation as defense minister during a Jerusalem press conference, November 14, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

“Were I to stay in office, I would not be able to look southern residents in the eye,” Lieberman said, referring to Israelis subjected to a surge in Palestinian rocket attacks before Tuesday’s truce took hold.

Lieberman said his resignation, which will go into effect 48 hours after he submits a formal letter to Netanyahu, also withdraws his far-right Israel Beitenu party from the coalition.

That would leave Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament a year before Israel’s next election.

Israeli political commentators had speculated that Netanyahu, who despite his approval ratings has been dogged by multiple corruption investigations, might bring forward the ballot.

But a spokesman for his rightist Likud party played down that option, saying Netanyahu would assume the defense post.

“There is no need to go to an election during what is a sensitive period for national security. This government can see out its days,” the spokesman, Jonatan Urich, said on Twitter.

Lieberman has spoken in favor of harsh Israeli military action against Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists, even as the government authorized a Qatari cash infusion to the impoverished enclave last week and limited itself to air strikes rather than a wider campaigns during this week’s fighting.

Born in the former Soviet Union, Lieberman’s voter base is made up of fellow Russian-speaking immigrants, and rightists and secularists who share his hostility to Israel’s Arab minority and the religious authority wielded by ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.

The former foreign minister, received the defense portfolio in May 2016.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Peter Graff

Reuters

See also:

Defense Minister Liberman resigns, says Israel ‘capitulated to terror’ in Gaza

https://www.timesofisrael.com/defense-minister-liberman-resigns-says-israel-capitulated-to-terror-in-gaza/

Israeli defense minister to make statement, may quit over Gaza

November 14, 2018

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman was due to make a public statement on Wednesday and a source close to the far-right politician said he may announce his resignation over the government’s policy toward the Gaza Strip.

“He is thinking of quitting,” the source told Reuters, after Lieberman’s office said he had opposed a security cabinet decision on Tuesday to stop attacks in Gaza, where a ceasefire agreed by Palestinian armed groups ended a two-day surge in fighting

Related image

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported sources close to Lieberman saying that he does intend to step down and has been planning the move for some time, feeling he “isn’t leading the defense establishment to the place he wants to go”.

Lieberman’s departure would probably also mean withdrawing his Yisrael Beiteinu party from the ruling coalition. Without its five seats in the 120-member parliament, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be left with a majority of just a single seat. That could prompt Netanyahu to consider bringing forward a national election slated for November 2019.

Lieberman’s office said he would address media at 1100 GMT after convening a special session of his party. A Lieberman spokesman declined to comment on the content of his planned announcement.

Lieberman has spoken in favor of harsh Israeli military action against Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip, even as the government authorized a Qatari cash infusion to the impoverished enclave last week and, on Tuesday, accepted the Egyptian-mediated truce that halted Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes.

Lieberman, a former foreign minister, received the defense portfolio in May 2016. Despite his hawkish talk on Gaza, he has been criticized by another far-right party within the coalition, the Jewish Home, as easily swayed by a cautious military brass.

Born in the former Soviet Union, Lieberman’s voter base is made up of fellow Russian-speaking immigrants, and rightists and secularists who share his hostility to Israel’s Arab minority and the religious authority wielded by ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Peter Graff

Reuters

Israel Strikes Gaza After a Rocket Is Fired, in a Sharp Escalation of Tensions

October 17, 2018

Israeli fighter jets attacked targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, the military said, hours after a rocket fired overnight by militants in the territory struck a house in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, a sharp escalation after months of simmering tensions along the Israel-Gaza border.

The residents of the house — a woman and her three young children — were treated for shock, according to the Israeli emergency services, and the Israeli military said a second rocket fell into the sea after it was fired overnight toward the crowded coastal area of central Israel.

Members of the Hamas terror group’s military wing attend the funeral of six of its fighters at a cemetery in the Deir al-Balah refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on May 6, 2018. (Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The Israeli military said it had struck 20 targets in the Gaza Strip, including Hamas sites, but Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the other main militant group in Gaza, issued a joint statement soon after the first Israeli strikes denying responsibility for the rocket fire against Israel.

It would be unusual for a smaller, rogue group to fire longer-range rockets that can reach the central coastal area and, in any case, Israeli officials said they held Hamas responsible for the attacks.

By  Isabel Kershner
The New York Times

Smoke billowed from the Gaza city of Rafah on Wednesday after an Israeli airstrike. Credit Said Khatib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Hamas controls Gaza, and Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said only Hamas and Islamic Jihad possessed the midrange, locally produced rockets that were used overnight, “which narrows it down.”

Israel has fought three wars against Palestinian militant groups in Gaza over the last decade, with deadly and devastating consequences. The most recent was in 2014, a 50-day war in which thousands of rockets were fired out of Gaza at Israel and that ended only after widespread destruction to the territory.

Tensions have burst out in brief bouts of fierce, cross-border fighting at least twice in recent months but international mediators were able to quickly restore the fragile cease-fire.

The house in Beersheba, Israel, that was hit by a rocket fired overnight from the Gaza Strip. Credit Abir Sultan/EPA, via Shutterstock

Israel also said it had targeted a squad of militants who were trying to launch more rockets into southern Israel. One Palestinian militant was killed, according to Gaza health officials, and three Palestinians were injured in earlier airstrikes on militant targets in Rafah, in southern Gaza.

The overnight exchange came after seven Palestinians were killed on Friday by Israeli fire during a particularly stormy day of protests. Four of the dead had crossed the fence that separates Gaza from Israeli territory and tried to reach an army sniper’s post, and one was armed with a knife, according to Israeli forces at the scene.

In recent weeks, the Palestinians have also resumed flying incendiary balloons from Gaza, some rigged with small explosive devices and others designed to set fires in Israel.

The Israeli defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, warned during a visit to the Gaza Division of the Israeli military on Tuesday, “We have all come to the understanding that the situation as it is today cannot continue.”

Mr. Lieberman, who is known for taking a hard-line stance toward the Palestinians, said Israel had tried using peaceful means to reduce tensions in the area, which have risen since border protests began in late March, including cooperating with international mediation efforts to restore and stabilize the cease-fire that ended the war in 2014.

“We have exhausted all the options, all the possibilities,” he said. “Now is the time for decisions.”

Israel needed to “deal Hamas a strong blow,” Mr. Lieberman added, referring to the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza.

Read the rest:

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/17/world/middleeast/israel-gaza-rocket-hamas.html

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Scarred by Previous Wars, Israeli Army’s Ground Forces Struggle to Keep Up

September 1, 2018

The army vowed to address the limitations exposed in Lebanon and Gaza, but is it ready for a ground maneuver deep in enemy territory? ■ Why Nasrallah, an avid Haaretz reader, is worried

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A paratrooper brigade training, last year.
A paratrooper brigade training, last year. Eliyahu Hershkowitz

On Thursday, June 12, 2014, the members of the IDF General Staff gathered for an evening of “team-building” in the Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv. The General Staff forum, headed by then-Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, heard to a lecture by Prof. Yoram Yovell titled “Between Body and Soul.”

Later that night, after the generals had all gone home, the IDF received the first report, still vague, about an incident in the West Bank. The picture became clear only the next morning. Three youths, yeshiva students in Gush Etzion, were hitchhiking and were picked up by a car driven by Palestinians masquerading as Israelis. The youths, whose bodies were found weeks later west of Hebron, were murdered by the kidnappers, members of a Hamas cell from Hebron.

>>Will Israel be forced to invade and reoccupy Gaza? | Opinion ■ Photos of 300 fighters in elite pre-state Israeli militia were found, and nobody can identify them ■ Israel’s defense chief takes flak for Gaza talks, but there’s still one area where he holds sway | Analysis

The IDF ended the summer of 2014 with scars to both its flesh and spirit, says one of the participants at the General Staff get-together that evening. “From the minute dozens of those released in the Gilad Shalit deal in the West Bank were rearrested, we were already on the slippery slope.” The worsening tensions with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, mostly concerning the tunnel the group dug near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, led to the blow-up – Operation Protective Edge – which began in the second week of July and ended this week, four years ago.

Protective Edge exposed the limitations of the army’s capabilities on the ground. This was the last link, for now, in the not very illustrious chain that began with the Second Lebanon War in 2006, if not earlier. After the failure and disappointment in Lebanon, the IDF announced widespread steps to fix the problems. The units returned to training much more seriously and reservists received new equipment.

But the change wasn’t deep enough after the war in Lebanon: The ground forces remained way down at the bottom of the list of the IDF’s priorities, while the political leadership remained doubtful about its ability to conduct maneuvers on the ground deep inside enemy lines during a war.

This was quite clear during the three operations the IDF has conducted since then in the Gaza Strip. During Operation Cast Lead at the turn of 2009, only a symbolic ground action was carried out, whose main goal was to prove to the enemy (and the Israeli public) that the army had rehabilitated itself from the trauma of the Second Lebanon War. In the next operation, Pillar of Defense in 2012, large numbers of reserve forces were called up but Israel tried to achieve a cease-fire after only a week of aerial attacks. And in Protective Edge, the IDF’s mission was limited to dealing with the attack tunnels, at a distance of no more than 1.5 kilometers inside the Gaza Strip.

Four years since the end of the last military operation, the doubts remain. What is the real state of the ground forces units? Is there a chance to close the gap between their effectiveness and that of the Air Force, intelligence branch and the technological units? And do the repeated public statements made by the army’s top brass about the necessity of ground maneuvers deep inside enemy territory during wartime have any value?

This debate has become much more important and loaded recently, given the coincidental timing of a number of unrelated events: IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s term is ending in a few months and the race is on to choose his successor; the harsh criticism leveled by the outgoing IDF ombudsman on the ground forces’ lack of readiness for war; and the ambitious and resource-filled plan “IDF 2030,” whose main principles were presented this month by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Are Netanyahu and Eisenkot on same wavelength?

When Eisenkot entered the chief of staff’s office back in February 2015, he found the ground forces in rather bad shape. As someone who had been the deputy chief of staff under Gantz during Protective Edge, it seems he was not surprised. The criticism that only a few individuals in the General Staff dared to express at the end of the fighting in Gaza became almost a consensus a few months later:

Reuven Rivlin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot attend a graduation ceremony of new Israeli army officers at a base near Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, June 20, 2018.
Reuven Rivlin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot attend a graduation ceremony of new Israeli army officers at a base near Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, June 20, 2018. Amir Cohen/Reuters

During Protective Edge, the IDF failed in suppressing the rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip; the Air Force did not have enough precise intelligence about Hamas targets; the level of preparedness of the various units to carry out their missions, and first and foremost dealing with the tunnels, whose importance increased during the fighting, was too low; and the use of the forces on the ground during the fighting suffered from a lack of creativity.

In a document distributed throughout the military a month after his appointment, in preparation for the composing of the multi-year Gideon plan for the IDF, the new chief of staff wrote: “A deep change is needed in the IDF to carry out its missions.” Eisenkot asserted that the problems in the IDF did not end with questions about the leadership and values, but reflected a much deeper professional crisis within the ground forces. He found an army that had gotten fat in the all the wrong places in the decade after the Second Lebanon War. A large army that was not focused on its principle missions and had not undergone the necessary structural changes.

Gideon included a number of unprecedented changes. Eisenkot’s multi-year plan was not just a long shopping list of inflated requirements. It identified central discrepancies and tried to deal with them, with Eisenkot personally overseeing from up close the pace of implementation of his instructions.

The plan’s focus for the ground forces was on missions needed for a decisive victory on the ground. The updated version of the document on the IDF’s strategy, which was released in April this year, stated: “The operation of the forces will combine the physical and softer capabilities in all dimensions of the war, including: Rapid and lethal maneuvering to the objectives viewed by the enemy as valuable, multi-dimensional fire … and actions in the dimension of information, such as cyber [warfare] and awareness.”

The document differentiates between two approaches to operating the forces: The decisive victory approach and the approach of prevention and influence. As for decisive victory, the document states that during fighting according to this approach: “The military force will be used for attack whose goal is to move the war into the enemy’s territory as quickly as possible.” The IDF will prepare for attack in one or more regions, based on an “immediate and simultaneous integrated strike” that will include a “maneuvering endeavor with crushing capability – survivable, quick, lethal and flexible” alongside “wide-scale precise fire based on high-quality intelligence.”

Eisenkot’s unusual decision to release the document to the public, the first of its kind ever published, reflected an attempt to hold a public dialogue with the government and security cabinet. According to MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid), the chairman of the Knesset Subcommittee on Security Preparedness and Maintenance, Eisenkot is “basically telling them: In 2006 and in 2014, the political and military leadership were completely paralyzed as a result of the fears of the expected casualties in a ground maneuver. The result was that the operation lasted until in the end it was decided on a limited maneuver, which was conducted in an incorrect manner and achieved nothing. Eisenkot’s public message is: I am preparing the ground forces for a quick and lethal maneuver and you will have to decide whether to use it within a short time after war breaks out.”

But the report produced by Shelah’s subcommittee, which was released in September 2017, hinted at disparities between Eisenkot’s vision and its full implementation. The report states that Eisenkot has laid down the correct directions but equipping and building the forces is proceeding at too slow a pace. It seems the subcommittee was referring in part to the scope of the procurement plans for active defense, such as the Trophy armored protection system for tanks and armored personnel carriers, and the large gap between the regular army’s capabilities and that of some of the reserve brigades.

This criticism is all the more acute in light of the debate over future defense budgets. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman presented a request last year for a budgetary supplement of about 13 billion shekels ($3.6 billion), based on changes in the challenges facing the IDF – including the Iranian presence in Syria and the improved accuracy of the missiles in Hezbollah’s hands – along with the Defense Ministry’s new interpretations of previous agreements reached with the Finance Ministry.

Netanyahu, in a meeting of the security cabinet held two weeks ago, went even further. The strategic threats require setting the defense budget as a fixed percentage of the GDP, he said. Considering the optimistic economic growth rates he forecasts, about 3 percent a year, Netanyahu wants to add tens of billions of shekels to the defense budget over the next decade. He listed a number of main areas where he thinks money is needed, including precision weaponry, missile and rocket interception systems, both defensive and offensive cyber-warfare tools, completing the construction of the country’s border fences and improving protection for the home front. None of the areas presented by Netanyahu as candidates for increased spending as part of the strategic plan directly concern the ground forces, and large sums were included for implementing these capabilities in the multi-year Gideon plan.

Shelah says that Netanyahu “views the IDF as a boxer in a 15-round fight: Heavy, strong and well protected. This does not correspond with the principle of shortening the period of the fighting, which appears in the IDF’s strategy document. [Netanyahu] did not present a security doctrine, only a shopping list that does not come together in real capabilities. The large amount of money that will be spent on it will prevent the closing of the gaps remaining in the ground forces’ capabilities, and will turn what has already been invested into a white elephant. This is how we may well find ourselves without the ability for decisive victory, not in one way and not in any other way.”

The Gideon plan was designed for a specific direction and even though it was never fully implemented, it aspired to rehabilitate the ground forces. In his recent statements, it seems Netanyahu has made a U-turn: A battle of fire from far away, a great deal more than just maneuvering on the ground. Netanyahu’s ideas are not synchronized with what the General Staff has presented, not in the goals of the war and not in the view of how the military is used: stand-off attacks from a distance as opposed to contact up close.

“Lacking a decision, our view on the question of what we want to achieve in the war and how to do so, we may well invest many billions without them becoming a critical mass that will create a concrete achievement. Netanyahu is talking about tens of billions [of shekels] but every shekel we spend now without deciding first what we want, will be wasted,” warns Shelah.

Israeli soldiers prepare for combat in the Gaza Strip at an army deployment along the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory on July 29, 2014.
Israeli soldiers prepare for combat in the Gaza Strip at an army deployment along the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory on July 29, 2014.Jack Guez/AFP Photo

Israel sees slowdown in long-term Iranian deployments in Syria

August 31, 2018

Israel’s defense minister described Iran on Friday as having slowed down its long-term force deployment in Syria, attributing this to Israeli military intervention as well as an economic crisis gripping Tehran as U.S. sanctions are restored.

Israel, which monitors neighboring Syria intensively, has long alleged that Iran came to assist the Damascus government in Syria’s civil war in part to set up a permanent garrison there, including advanced missile factories and air and naval bases.

Image result for Avigdor Lieberman, photos

Avigdor Lieberman

The Israelis have carried out scores of air strikes in Syria targeting suspected arms and troop movements by Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas it sponsors. The Israeli actions have been mostly ignored by Russia, Damascus’ big-power backer.

“The Iranians have reduced the scale of their activity in Syria,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview published by Israel’s top-selling Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

He said there was “no activity, at this stage”, in Iranian efforts to build missile production factories on Syrian soil.

“Nor have they built a port in Syria, and they have no airport there, but they have not abandoned the idea. They are continuing to negotiate with the Assad government on the creation of garrison outposts in Syria,” Lieberman added.

“The main reason for why this has stopped is the result of our daily, hard work in Syria.”

Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy in the Middle East, has been a core supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the 7-year war, sending military advisers as well as materiel and regional Shi’ite militias that it backs.

This week, Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami visited Damascus and said the Islamic Republic would maintain its presence in Syria. The countries had signed a pact for defense cooperation, including to restore Syria’s military industries.

Yedioth asked Lieberman whether Iran’s conduct in Syria was linked to its economic crisis, precipitated by the restoration of U.S. sanctions after President Donald Trump exited world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

“Obviously there is heavy economic pressure on them. The budget for Iranian forces in the Middle East was $2 billion, and even today less money is going to Syria and Hezbollah,” he said.

“I believe that when the second stage of the American economic sanctions starts, on November 4, the situation will get worse,” he added, predicting that reduced funding for Hezbollah meant it “will not be able to exist in its current format”.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Reuters