Posts Tagged ‘Gaza’

Netanyahu Names Himself Israel’s Defense Minister — More cabinet members planning to quit the government on Monday

November 19, 2018

Taking a dig at Bennett and Liberman, PM says he’s trying to ‘prevent unnecessary elections’ because ‘you don’t leave during a military campaign,’ implores partners to back him

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Defense Minister in Tel Aviv, on November 18, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Defense Minister in Tel Aviv, on November 18, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu​ announced Sunday night that he will take on the post of defense minister following Avigdor Liberman’s resignation, rejected calls for new elections, and said that Israel was in the midst of a military campaign, during which “you don’t play politics.”

During a highly anticipated speech delivered at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, which coincided with Israel’s main nightly news broadcasts​, Netanyahu said it would be wrong and “irresponsible” to bring down the government and force new elections during “one of our most difficult security periods.”

“We are in them midst of a military campaign, and you don’t leave during a campaign, you don’t play with politics,” he said, in a stinging critique of Liberman, who resigned last week, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is threatening to follow suit. “The security of the state is above all else,” Netanyahu said.

In a further dig at Jewish Home chairman Bennett, who has demanded the defense minister’s job as a condition for staying in the coalition, Netanyahu said, “There is no place for politics or personal considerations,” when it comes to Israel’s security.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in a televised address to the nation in Tel Aviv on November 18, 2018. Netanyahu said calling snap elections now would be “irresponsible” as he vowed to push on despite a coalition crisis. (Photo by Jack GUEZ / AFP)

Bennett has threatened to bring down the government if he is not appointed defense minister. Without the Jewish Home, Netanyahu’s coalition would shrink from 61 seats to just 53 and lose the required majority of the 120-seat Knesset to survive no-confidence motions. Bennett, along with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, are planning to quit the government on Monday morning, according to television reports on Sunday night.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on August 30, 2016. (Abir Sultan, Pool via AP/File)

The prime minister said that he was the best person for the defense job and implored his coalition partners to “do the responsible thing for the sake of Israel” and back him.

“So you see that I am making every effort in recent days, every effort, to prevent unnecessary elections,” he said.

Touting his military experience in the Sayeret Matkal elite operations unit and his “years of having ordered many military operations” as prime minister, Netanyahu said that he “knows when to act and what to do” in moments of crisis.

Before the address, Netanyahu met at the Defense Ministry with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, his nominated successor Aviv Kochavi and Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman​.

Citing criticism of  a ceasefire agreement with Hamas that brought an end to a major flareup in violence in the Gaza Strip — despite the more than 400 rockets fired towards Israel in two days — Netanyahu said that some public anger may stem from that fact that “it is impossible to present you with some of the information.”

“You are only seeing a partial picture of the ongoing operation we are engaged in,” he said, adding that, “I will not say tonight when we will act and what we will do… but I have a clear plan.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in the Knesset on March 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Earlier, Netanyahu met briefly with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to discuss the future of the coalition. Kahlon has said it is up to Netanyahu to choose his defense minister, but that he does not believe the coalition can function with only 61 members and therefore backs early elections. The meeting ended inconclusively, and the two are to meet again later in the week.

Liberman last Wednesday announced his resignation as defense minister because the prime minister had accepted an informal truce with Hamas, and slammed Netanyahu for “failing to instill Israel’s deterrence” against the Islamist terror group. “What happened yesterday, the ceasefire, together with the deal with Hamas, is a capitulation to terror. There is no other way of explaining it,” Liberman told reporters on Wednesday of the ceasefire deal.

“What we’re doing now as a state is buying short-term quiet, with the price being severe long-term damage to national security,” Liberman said, adding that early elections should be held “as soon as possible.”

Following Liberman’s resignation, Bennett said he could only remain in the government if he were to be appointed defense minister, so that he could “return Israel to winning again.”

Speaking at his weekly cabinet meeting earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu said it would be unwise to embark on a divisive election campaign during such a sensitive time for national security.

“It would be both unnecessary and incorrect to go to elections. We remember well what happened when elements inside the coalitions took down Likud governments in 1992 and in 1999,” Netanyahu said, noting two recent elections in which the Labor Party came to power.

“We need to do everything we can to prevent repeating these mistakes,” he added.

While Netanyahu made clear that he would not give in to Bennett’s demand, earlier Sunday, it was reported that the prime minister will appoint a foreign minister from his own party in the coming days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) is seen with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and Tzachi Hanegbi during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on July 27, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hebrew-language media reported Sunday that Netanyahu would likely select a Likud member as foreign minister, a post that he currently holds. Channel 10 news said Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz were being considered for the position.

Shortly after the reports were published, the Likud party released a statement saying the prime minister would “appoint ministers in the coming days,” without elaborating. Currently, the prime minister holds the foreign affairs, defense, health, and immigration absorption portfolios.


In rare criticism, IDF officer says army ‘failing its mission’ in West Bank

November 18, 2018

Col. Alon Madanes writes detailed letter listing failures he says have cost lives and ‘morally corrupted’ the military’; IDF says the issues are being dealt with

Illustrative: IDF soldiers conduct raids in the West Bank on September 27, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

Illustrative: IDF soldiers conduct raids in the West Bank on September 27, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

A letter written by a senior Israeli military commander expressing unusually detailed criticism of the Israel Defense Force’s top brass and of prevalent procedures with its system was leaked to the press on Saturday, raising issues and problems the officer said had cost lives and compromised the army’s moral values.

The rare letter was written in July by Colonel Alon Madanes as a summary of his two years as operations officer in the IDF’s Central Command — which is in charge of the West Bank — and published on Saturday by the Ynet news website.

In the  letter, addressed to the commander of the Central Command, Madanes called his job “the most frustrating and ungrateful position I’ve experienced in my military service.”

The officer intentionally wrote the document, which raises various issues rarely discussed publicly, before the process that assigned him a new position, so that it wouldn’t be perceived as a form of revenge.

Madanes, 42, had been a candidate to be the next commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, a prestigious position that is seen as a springboard to senior roles in the military, including that of chief of staff. He eventually landed the position of army attache at Israel’s embassy in the United States, which is also considered desirable but from which officials rarely advance to top slots.

Col. Alon Madanes in 2016. (Screenshot: YouTube)

In his opening paragraph, Madanes wrote that the document was written out of “great concern and the understanding that we have no other country or military,” and that he would focus on the “empty half of the glass” in the hope that the issues would be taken care of.

The first section of the letter, Ynet reported, focused on what he said was a fear among senior officers to voice their frank opinions. He said he had been told that his tendency to “tell it like it is” was great until he became a company commander, but that it would endanger his future in the military as he rose in the ranks.

The letter decried several projects in which decisions were made “on shaky professional grounds” and sometimes following the opinion of a single low-ranked officer.

One example was the erection of many cameras on Route 443 linking Jerusalem and central Israel, a road that has been frequently targeted by Palestinian terrorists throwing rocks and firebombs at passing vehicles.

“Millions were invested in installing cameras on Route 443 that didn’t succeed in changing the trend of lone-wolf terrorism around that route,” Madanes wrote.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot at Glilot military base near Tel Aviv, March 28, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

He also slammed Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot’s multi-year plan, which has now entered its fifth year, for “trying to change too much in the military at once,” and called for an “honest inquiry” into it.

In another section, titled “corruption,” the officer criticized the prevalence of deals in which officials get paid to assign certain soldiers to certain positions or courses.

He also said some offices took years to renovate while others were “completely rebuilt within no more than two weeks,” adding that many — but not nearly enough — contractors and officers had been arrested and jailed in recent years in connection with suspected corruption.

“I feel a significant erosion of our ethical conduct as a system,” Madanes wrote. “There is great disrespect of discipline. There were many incidents in the last two years in which we could have prevented casualties and fatalities had we dealt with cases of negligence in a timely and strict manner.”

Examples cited by Madanes included the 2017 death of Lt. David Golovensitz, who was shot in an accidental discharge during a military drill in Hebron, and the death this year of Staff Sergeant Shahar Strug during a game of “draw” with his friend at the Nachshon Base in the central West Bank. Those cases were allegedly not adequately studied to prevent similar cases in the future, and decisions following them haven’t been implemented.

Madanes said many soldiers and commanders in the field were “unprofessional” and lacked basic legal knowledge, and that legal experts had no experience in battle or serving in the West Bank.

He gave as an example the army’s “problematic” dealing with the widely publicized case of Elor Azaria, a soldier who shot and killed an already injured Palestinian assailant in Hebron in 2016 and was subsequently convicted of manslaughter and jailed.

Former IDF soldier Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron, appears before a parole board in the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters on March 14, 2018. (Flash90)

Madanes also criticized what he said was the military’s tendency to trim Central Command manpower, especially soldiers operating in the West Bank, and boost it only after terror attacks for no reason other than to stifle criticism that the military wasn’t doing enough.

While the challenges facing the command in the West Bank haven’t changed over the past two years, Madanes said, the number of deployed soldiers has decreased and isn’t sufficient to achieve its goals.

“I think too many Israelis were killed and injured in the last two years,” he wrote, saying that the “dozens of hurt and bereaved families” meant the Central Command had been failing its mission.

Another criticism voiced in the letter was aimed at commanders’ “over-dependence” on intelligence, rather than learning from past incidents.

“Next year there will be terror attacks at Ayosh Junction, stabbing attempts at Damascus Gate [in Jerusalem’s Old City], rocks will be hurled at three specific locations on Route 443, and in 2020 there will be another terror attack in Halamish,” Madanes wrote, referring to places in the West Bank and Jerusalem that were repeatedly targeted in recent years by Palestinian assailants.

A section of Route 443. (Gili Yaari / Flash90)

“This document should be archived and pulled out in two years, and then we’ll see who’s the fool — me or the intelligence addicts,” he wrote.

He also criticized the long time it takes to locate and arrest some Palestinian terrorists, despite the investment in related technological projects.

In its response, the IDF praised Madanes’s track record over the last few years as an “experienced officer and a successful commander,” but claimed there was “free discourse” between field commanders and their superiors. It also said the decision to trim the manpower was “justified and proved itself.”

Regarding Route 443, the military admitted that at first cameras weren’t connected to operational systems, but added that they were later connected and that rock throwing was now down from five or six incidents per week to just one per month on average.

The military said that while some of Madanes’s comments were correct, his remarks were based on his perspective and were not shared by many in the field. It also denied being in a moral crisis.

“The content raised in the letter was checked by the command’s commander and issues raised that were found to justify inquiries or steps are being taken care of accordingly,” it said.

The military later clarified that Madanes’s future in the army wasn’t in jeopardy following the letter and its leaking.


Netanyahu government heads towards collapse

November 16, 2018

Jewish Home party withdraws support over Hamas ceasfire handling

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)

By Mehul Srivastava in Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raced to save his coalition on Friday, as the Jewish Home party withdrew its support over the handling of a ceasefire with Hamas and the rejection of its own candidate for defence minister. Mr Netanyahu said in a statement that he was making “every effort to preserve the rightwing government,” and warned of the consequences of toppling the Likud-led coalition.

He urged his coalition partners “not to repeat the historical mistake of 1992 when the rightwing government was overthrown, the left came into power and brought the Oslo disaster to the State of Israel,” referring to the Oslo Peace Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Mr Netanyahu’s lost his majority in parliament with the departure of the Jewish Home party, with his coalition dropping to 53 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. Earlier this week, he held on to a razor thin majority after the departure another coalition partner over his handling of the Gaza cease fire.

The leader of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, reportedly told the prime minister of his decision after being denied the defence portfolio, which was vacated earlier this week by Avigdor Lieberman, a rival of Mr Bennett’s in Israel’s rightwing politics.

Mr Netanyahu agreed a ceasefire with Hamas on Tuesday after two days of the worst rocket attacks on Israeli cities since a war in 2014. Seventy per cent of Israelis were disappointed in the decision, a poll said earlier on Friday.


See also:

Israel heads toward elections as Jewish Home says it will leave coalition


Israel: Outgoing defense minister says Government has given ‘immunity’ to terrorist leaders in Gaza

November 16, 2018

In final volley, outgoing defense minister rails against security cabinet, says Hamas will become like Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah terrorist army

Outgoing Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman addresses soldiers during a farewell tour of the Gaza border region, November 16, 2018 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Outgoing Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman addresses soldiers during a farewell tour of the Gaza border region, November 16, 2018 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

In a final shot as defense minister, Avigdor Liberman on Friday lambasted his former colleagues in the security cabinet, saying they’d “effectively” given the leaders of the Hamas terror group “immunity” during this week’s intensive round of violence.

“It simply makes no sense that after Hamas launches some 500 rockets at Israeli communities outside Gaza, at the south of the country, the heads of Hamas effectively get immunity from the Israeli security cabinet,” he said during a farewell visit to the south.

Liberman, who tendered his resignation on Wednesday, also warned that Israel’s policies toward Gaza were threatening to allow the Hamas terror group — considered by the Israel Defense Forces to be a comparatively minor strategic threat in terms of raw military power — to become akin to Lebanon’s mighty Hezbollah terrorist army, which is seen as the Jewish state’s main rival in the region with an arsenal of over 100,000 mortar shells, rockets and missiles.

“We are currently feeding a monster, which if we don’t stop its rearmament and force-building — in a year we will get a twin to Hezbollah — with all that entails,” he said.

Officials assess the damage to a house after it was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, Israel, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Liberman made his remarks on Friday afternoon, hours before his tenure as defense minister came to an end, following meetings with officers and soldiers from the IDF’s Gaza Division and with civilian security officials from the communities near the Gaza Strip.

On Wednesday Liberman announced he was resigning as defense minister— a position he’s held since May 2016 — specifically citing the government’s policies toward Gaza and its rulers Hamas as the main reasons why.

The defense minister’s resignation came a day after a de facto ceasefire went into effect, ending a 25-hour flareup that saw the largest-ever barrage of rockets and mortar shells fired at southern Israel, killing one and injuring scores more.

Outgoing defense minister Avigdor Liberman addresses soldiers during a farewell tour of the Gaza border region, November 16, 2018 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“For the past two and a half years, I have bit my tongue. I tried to change things from within, but the last two decisions — on the transfer of $90 million to Hamas over the next six months and the decision on the ceasefire — these were two decisions that went too far,” he said.

Liberman was referring to a decision to allow Qatar to send funds into Gaza, which was meant to pay salaries of Palestinian civil servants in the Strip — after the Palestinian Authority decided to withhold those funds in a bid to punish its rival Hamas.

Earlier this month, the first batch of Qatari funds — $15 million — was brought into Gaza, which was seen as embarrassing for the Israeli government when pictures of the cash in suitcases were released to the media.

On Friday Liberman said “the moment the money crosses the border with the Strip, there is no oversight of it.”

He added, “It is purely $15 million of terror funding.”

Gal Berger גל ברגר


Exclusive: 3 suitcases w 15 million dollars in cash entered Gaza today w the Qatari envoy through Israel (Erez crossing point). The money goes to Hamas, to pay salaries of civil employees. Exclusive pic:

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The outgoing defense minister noted that the first people to receive payments from the Qatari funds were families of Palestinians killed during clashes with Israeli troops on the Gaza border, not civil servants.

In the months prior to the flareup, Liberman had repeatedly and publicly called for a military operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, claiming it was the only way to return calm to the communities in southern Israel, which have periodically been pummeled by fusillades of rockets and mortar shells.

The defense minister reiterated this position on Friday, saying Israel should have launched a military campaign against Hamas this summer, with the end of the school-year.

Palestinians inspect a crater caused by an Israeli airstrike earlier this week during fighting with Palestinian terror groups, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 14, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

“It’s not a secret, I thought that right after the tests, right after the school exams in July, we needed to deal a strong blow [to Hamas] — and we didn’t do that,” he said.

In Friday’s press conference Liberman also responded to a question about a claim he made prior to becoming defense minister, that he would give Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh 48 hours to return two Israeli civilians and the remains of two IDF soldiers currently in the terrorist group’s custody in Gaza and assassinate him if he didn’t.

Asked if he’d brought up the plan during security cabinet meetings, the defense minister coyly responded that he “didn’t remember.”

Without mentioning him by name, Liberman also appeared to attack one of his main political rivals, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is now vying to take over as defense minister.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a Jewish Home party faction meeting at the Knesset, on November 5, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“The same people who would torpedo every decision [in the security cabinet], every tough choice in the cabinet’s discussions in the evening, would appear the next morning on talk shows and ask, ‘What about the 48 hours? What about Haniyeh?’” Liberman said.

In his resignation, the defense minister decried the decision to accept a ceasefire from Hamas on Tuesday, rather than launch a larger counterstrike, saying it was a “capitulation to terror.”

He brushed off the arguments made by some defense analysts that the government refrained from conducting a campaign against Hamas in Gaza because it preferred to focus the military’s intentions on threats in Iran, Syria and Lebanon.

“It’s all excuses,” he said.

The defense minister reiterated his position that his issue was with the cabinet’s decisions, not with the military’s actions or abilities.

“The blame cannot be rolled onto the IDF. The responsibility is on the political leadership. The IDF is subordinate to the political leadership’s decisions,” he said.

According to the military, over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over on Monday and Tuesday — more than twice the rate at which they were launched during the 2014 war.

The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside Israeli cities and towns, killing one person, injuring dozens and causing significant property damage.

Fire and smoke billow following Israeli air strikes targeting Hamas infrastructure in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, near the border with Egypt, on November 12, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

In response, the Israeli military said it targeted approximately 160 sites in the Gaza Strip connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, including four facilities that the army designated as “key strategic assets.”

The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, which was announced by Hamas on Tuesday evening but not officially confirmed by Israel, appeared to largely be holding as of Friday morning. However, the Israeli military kept reinforcements in place and ordered troops to remain on high alert out of concerns that border violence may again break out.


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.


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.

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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.


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.


Israelis aren’t happy with Netanyahu, but still look mainly to him to solve Gaza

November 15, 2018

What matters, as near-war gave way to resignations and bickering, is whether PM really had compelling reasons for pushing to urgently end this round of conflict with Hamas

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the border of the Gaza Strip on October 20, 2015. (Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the border of the Gaza Strip on October 20, 2015. (Haim Zach / GPO)

With the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Benjamin Netanyahu now holds the three most senior positions in Israel’s government: prime minister, foreign minister, and defense minister.

The way Liberman has reportedly been describing Israel’s governance to his colleagues in the past 24 hours, however, Israel’s most crucial decisions have long routinely been Netanyahu’s and Netanyahu’s alone, with the prime minister guaranteed an automatic majority in what is supposed to be the country’s most senior decision-making body, the 12-member security cabinet.

“It’s all spin,” Liberman has reportedly been complaining to unnamed colleagues, according to Hadashot TV on Wednesday night. “We sit in the cabinet, or we hold security consultations, and decisions are made.” But there is no genuine debate, and no way that suggestions that differ from Netanyahu’s can get approved, he indicated.

At Tuesday’s 7-hour security cabinet meeting, Liberman reportedly elaborated, “a remarkable thing happened”: Naftali Bennett, who is now seeking to succeed Liberman as defense minister, “supported my proposal” — which was apparently that Israel not accept a ceasefire, but rather continue to target Gaza’s terror groups. “But we didn’t ask for a vote because there was no majority for us… The whole gang, [fellow ministers] Kahlon, Gallant, Erdan and Katz, all line up with Bibi.”

Hitting back, aides to Netanyahu were quoted in the same broadcast as asserting that the prime minister’s preference for halting the 48-hour escalation in fighting proved persuasive because he made “extremely concrete” arguments in support of “the imperative to calm things down at this stage.” While the “irresponsible” Liberman “acted like a politician” in quitting his super-sensitive post, the better to position himself ahead of forthcoming elections, Netanyahu and the cabinet majority, these unnamed aides said, “chose statesmanship.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, at the Knesset on October 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Whichever narrative you choose to believe, they both underline Netanyahu’s unchallenged position at Israel’s helm. And a snap poll by Hadashot TV, taken immediately after Liberman announced his resignation, indicated much the same.

Wednesday was one of Netanyahu’s darkest political days — the right-wing prime minister, abandoned by his more right-wing defense minister Liberman, challenged by his still more right-wing coalition partner Bennett, for not having pounded Hamas long or hard enough. Hamas gloating at its ostensible victory. And hundreds of Israelis in the south holding protests in the streets, with some calling “Bibi, go home” and declaring that they had irrevocably lost faith in him.

Yet the TV survey, for which no margin of error was initially made available, showed Netanyahu’s Likud, which holds 30 seats in the current Knesset, slipping by just one, to 29. That left it still 11 seats ahead of its closest rival, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid with 18 seats, and still best-placed to form the next coalition. Liberman, whose Yisrael Beytenu holds five seats at present, rose by just two to seven, at what should have been the outgoing defense minister’s finest hour. Bennett’s Jewish Home was up, but only from its current 8 to 11.

With Liberman gone, Netanyahu faces an acute dilemma: To capitulate to Bennett’s ultimatum and make him defense minister, or to call elections. He is far too skilled and experienced a politician to be complacent about even unreliable snap polling figures, or protests by hundreds of angry Israelis. The same survey found a striking 74% of Israelis unsatisfied (to 17% satisfied) with his handling of the latest Gaza crisis. But he will know that his position remains extremely strong, and that there are no current politicians who pose a credible threat to him.

He may be a little more worried by a second question asked by the pollsters, which was about how Israelis would vote if the former chief of staff Benny Gantz enters politics as the head of a new party, as he is widely expected to do. Gantz’s non-existent party would win 15 seats, the survey found, and would push the Likud down to 24 — a seriously worrying fall. But ex-chiefs of staff are routinely highly popular before they enter politics, and invariably far less so the moment they start giving political speeches.

What really matters for Israel and for Israelis, as two days of near-war gave way Wednesday to political resignations, demands and bickering, is whether Netanyahu does indeed have compelling and concrete reasons for having determined late on Tuesday afternoon that there was more to be lost than gained by continuing the conflict. In this context, it is worth noting that the security establishment has been widely reported as not having energetically pushed for a wider Gaza operation.

Israeli security forces and firefighters gather near a building set ablaze after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in the southern town of Sderot on November 12, 2018. (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Daily reality has become increasingly difficult for southern Israel, with Hamas not just ready and able, but demonstrably willing, to launch massive rocket barrages and force vast numbers of Israelis into bomb shelters at moments of its choosing. And to punctuate those moments with smaller bouts of rocket fire, major border riots, and arson attacks on the towns, villages, and fields of the south.

If the prime minister, foreign minister, and defense minister does indeed see a route to changing that grim reality, he will have nothing to fear politically. They may not be too happy with Netanyahu right now, but it is still to him that Israelis look for a solution to Gaza. The nature of that solution, after yet another harrowing and inconclusive round of violence with the terrorists of Gaza, however, remains as hard to discern as ever.


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


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

Netanyahu defends Gaza ceasefire after Israeli criticism

November 14, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday defended his decision to accept a ceasefire after the worst escalation with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip since a 2014 war.

A Palestinian protester holds up a sign on Tuesday, November 13, during a demonstration in the occupied West Bank town of Hebron against the Israeli air strikes on Gaza. (AFP)

“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 at a ceremony in honor of Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion.

“Our enemies begged for a ceasefire and they knew very well why.”

The deal has provoked criticism from within Netanyahu’s government as well as from Israelis who live near the Gaza Strip and want further action against its Islamist rulers Hamas.


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

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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