How Gantz Could Build A Government, Without A Majority

Israel’s second round of elections have been a complex but ultimately straightforward math problem: the ruling Likud party plus their allies equals less than a majority. The opposition Blue and White party plus their allies equals less than a majority. Neither side is willing to make the compromises needed to …

Arab Village Electrician Uncovers Ancient Artifacts, Helps Israel Preserve Them

Arabs can face opposition from their own people for helping Israel, but one Arab villager recently chose to do the right thing in spite of critique and in the process helped Israel preserve history. The resident of the village of Araba in northern Israel, Ahmed Nassar Yassin, is an electrician …

Netanyahu Says Deterrence Strengthened: Terrorists Know We Will Put Attackers ‘in the Crosshairs’

Just days after assassinating senior Islamic Jihad commander Abu al-Ata, and despite hundreds of rockets being fired by Islamic Jihad at Israel since then, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel’s action “changes the equation” vis-à-vis terrorists. “The arch-terrorists know that we can put them in the crosshairs and …

Israel Supports Italian Holocaust Survivor Who Received Hundreds of Death Threats

Italian Life Senator Liliana Segre, a Holocaust survivor, recently succeeded in convincing the Italian parliament to better tackle anti-Semitism, including setting up a parliamentary commission on the issue. In response, Segre has received hundreds of anti-Semitic death threats and now requires ongoing police protection. On Sunday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin …

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Germany Condemns Iran for Saying Wiping Israel Off the Map Is ‘Achievable’

October 2, 2019 Peace and Conflict

Radiation Warning Symbol. Public Domain.

It’s not new that an Iranian leader has openly discussed wiping Israel off the map, but the leader of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Monday said it’s no longer just an idea, but “an achievable goal.” The Tasnim News Agency quoted Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami as saying Israel “must be wiped off from the world geography in the second step (of the Islamic Revolution), and this is not an aspiration or dream anymore, but an achievable goal.”

Salami’s comments to a conference of IRGC commanders were condemned the next day by Germany, a nation who knows all too well the dangers of Holocaust rhetoric. “We condemn the recent threats by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps against Israel in the strongest possible terms,” a Federal Foreign Office Spokesman said in a press release on Tuesday.

“Such anti-Israel rhetoric is completely unacceptable. Israel’s right to exist is not negotiable. We urge Iran to commit to maintaining peaceful relations with all states in the region and to take practical steps to de-escalate tensions.”

Yet rather than back down from the violent comments, Iran doubled down on Wednesday, responding to Germany’s comments with yet another threat. … Continue Reading

Israeli UN Speech Calls for Global Recognition of Jerusalem and Pressure on Iran

October 1, 2019 News

Flags at the UN headquarters in New York. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz had a message for the world, and what better venue to deliver it than at the United Nations General Assembly last week. From recognizing Jerusalem to pressuring Hamas to countering Iran, Katz repeatedly called for all nations to unite in common causes in a speech delivered last Thursday.

“I call on the international community to unite in order to stop Iran,” said Katz, according to a transcript of his speech posted to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. “The world cannot allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. The world cannot allow Iran to develop ballistic missiles, and the world must stop Iran from supporting terror organizations in the region.”

Israel’s top diplomat went on to specifically call for the UN to label Hezbollah and the Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as terror organizations. “They promote terror in the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, and all over the world,” said Katz. “And the world must stop them.” … Continue Reading

Europe Threatens to Begin Withdraw from Nuclear Deal If Iran Continues to Advance Nuke Program

Germany one of multiple EU nations wanting new nuclear deal with Iran. German, EU flags in Square of the Republic in Berlin. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

The European Union last week threatened Iran that they may withdraw from the international nuclear deal and resume global sanctions on Iran if Tehran takes another sizable enough step in their nuclear program. The Guardian reported last Thursday that the message comes as Iran—having already withdrawn from certain components of the deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—have threatened a fourth move in November if economic relief is not granted them. Before re-engaging sanctions, Europe would need to engage the JCPOA’s dispute mechanism to arbitrate the disagreement between the sides.

The response from Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman on Monday, according to the Fars News Agency, was to call a move by Europe to trigger the dispute mechanism “illegal” and “already dead”. Seyed Abbas Mousavi was quoted by Fars as saying that if Europe does not make a significant enough economic move for Iran, the Islamic Republic would carry out their threat to continue its withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

With that in the background, the United States believes the recent Iranian drone and missile attack on the Saudi oil industry has changed the calculus for Europe and that a number of European allies believe the JCPOA needs to be amended—something the Trump Administration has been demanding for years. … Continue Reading

Who Really ‘Won’ and ‘Lost’ the Israeli Election

September 23, 2019 Special Feature

President Rivlin (center) with Netanyahu and Gantz. Photo courtesy of Haim Zach, Israeli GPO.

The ballots have been cast and there is no clear winner in the Israeli elections. Neither major party—Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud or the Blue and White party led by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz—has a clear majority in the 120-member Knesset (Israeli Parliament). The final makeup of the next government is unclear even as the sides start the coalition negotiations to try and create a majority government. Despite that, there are losers and winners in the latest elections, including some surprises.

Winners

  1. “Unity”

Ironically, a deeply divided electorate in which the center-right led by Netanyahu parties won just 55 seats and the center-left and Arab parliamentarians who nominated Gantz account for just 54 seats, a powerful unity government formed by Likud and Blue and White is the most likely next government. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose job is to grant the mantle to try and build a government to a prime minister candidate—likely either Gantz or Netanyahu—believes it’s the only option. “A stable government cannot be formed without the two big parties and this, I believe, is the will of the people,” said Rivlin in an Israeli press release on Monday. “We are a stable country, flourishing economically and able to defend our borders, and we must ensure that a government is formed that brings stability, dialog and healing of the divisions in our country.”

  1. Opponents of Benjamin Netanyahu

The Prime Minister for the last 10 years, Netanyahu looked to have an ironclad path to re-election thanks to the center-right bent of the electorate. And again, Netanyahu’s Likud party and right-leaning political parties won the most seats. However, thanks to the refusal of Avigdor Lieberman and his right-wing secular Yisrael Beiteinu party to name Netanyahu the premier again, there is no clear path to Netanyahu taking the leadership mantel. Instead, the best he can hope for is probably a rotation of leadership with Gantz as part of that unity government. Someone else will likely be prime minister again—either now or in two years.

  1. Iran

Surprise! Netanyahu has long been a thorn in the side of Iran, exposing their nuclear program’s secrets and campaigning repeatedly against the Iran nuclear deal. Not that another Israeli leader can’t express those concerns with the same conviction, but Netanyahu’s command of English as a second language and years of speaking to world leaders and governments make him a powerful voice. Furthermore, while no Israeli leader will likely be friends with Iran, it has felt as though Netanyahu has made Iran his number one concern. If he’s no longer Prime Minister, that may dull Israel’s PR war with Iran.

  1. The Arab Parties

Another surprise, since the Arab parties have never been part of an Israeli ruling coalition and don’t plan to do so this time either, according to The Times of Israel. However, the Arab bloc won the third-most seats in the Knesset, meaning they could be the largest party outside a unity government—giving them the potential to be the leader of the opposition. That’s more than just a title. The Jerusalem Post notes that as leader of the opposition, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh would not only be the first ever Arab opposition leader, but he would also be granted regular security briefings from the Israeli leadership. It’s not a given, as the Post report notes that opposition leader is voted upon by the other parties outside the government. Odeh is therefore unlikely to be named if most of the smaller parties stay out of a unity government. Still, they hold a place of power and prestige.

Losers

  1. The Religious Right in Israel

Aside from Netanyahu being the most obvious loser, the hardest hit participants are the religious rightwing. The reason? If Netanyahu forms a unity government with the centrist Blue and White party, that is more than enough votes to control the Knesset—making all the smaller parties unnecessary. In coalition negotiations, smaller parties can demand key government positions or policy plans in exchange for their support of a narrow government that needs their seats to hold power. In a unity government scenario, the rightwing parties may not even be part of the government—sidelining them politically.

  1. US President Donald Trump

Another surprise player in the Israeli elections, Trump apparently delayed publishing his “Deal of the Century” peace plan until after these Israeli elections. But now, with the result so uncertain, there is a possibility that another round of elections will be called—potentially creating another delay. What’s more, Trump and Netanyahu appeared to have a good relationship. Netanyahu was effusive in his praise of Trump, who for his part repeatedly made pro-Israel foreign policy decisions that boosted the political power of the Israeli leader. Furthermore, Netanyahu was an effective voice against the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump also opposes. The two leaders may not see eye-to-eye on opening negotiations with Iran now—Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying now was not the time for talks, while Trump has repeatedly expressed openness to it. And perhaps Trump and Gantz will be fine together. But that’s an unknown.

  1. Hamas

The Palestinian terror group leading the Gaza Strip has toyed with fire—literally—with arson attacks, riots at the Gaza-Israel border and rocket attacks. So far, Israel has refrained from a harsh response. Despite protestations to the contrary by Netanyahu, one can only imagine that the uncertain political climate reduced the government’s willingness to go to war. But in a unity government situation, the ruling parties would represent the will of most of Israel, creating a stability that can allow for conflict without burning too much political capital too quickly. Furthermore, Gantz is the former leader of the IDF—and not surprisingly Al-Monitor notes that Gantz backs an even stronger military approach to Gaza terrorism. Hamas benefits from instability and the subsequent “lack of will” to fight in Israel’s government. If a unity government is formed, that will go away quickly.

As for who will actually “win” the elections and be the new prime minister, we may not know for weeks or months. In the meantime, many players—both inside and outside Israel—will be watching closely.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, September 23, 2019)

Historic Training Exercise Sees Israeli Jets Deployed in UK for the First Time

September 22, 2019 Special Feature

Israeli jets trained in the UK for the first time. UK, Israeli flags. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has long conducted joint training with other nations, but somehow had never deployed jets in the United Kingdom. That changed in the last few weeks, as the IAF participated alongside other nations in the UK’s “Cobra Warrior” exercise with the Royal Air Force (RAF). An article posted to the IAF website highlighted the historic nature of the training, noted it involved dozens of training scenarios and quoted one participant saying it’s “like the Olympics.”

Maj. A’, an Israeli technical officer, was quoted in the article as saying, “People who participate in the Olympics represent their country; here, we represent the Israeli Air Force.”

The Israelis were joined in the training by the US, Germany, Italy and Canada, in addition to the RAF. The RAF Twitter feed called it the “largest Royal Air Force exercise of the year,” with three weeks of “intensive training.” The RAF website said the exercise ended last week, with a report stating that the training “rehearsed a range of complex scenarios” from an enemy that is nearly on par with the participating advanced air forces. … Continue Reading

US Increases Sanctions on Iran, Pledges Troops to Bolster Saudi Defenses after Attack

September 22, 2019 Peace and Conflict

US President Donald Trump is weighing his options on Iran. Illustrative photo, edited for size. Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead.

The United States responded to the Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry on Friday, expanding sanctions on Iranian financial institutions and pledging troops to bolster the Saudi’s air and missile defense. “As the president has made clear, the United States does not seek conflict with Iran. That said, we have many other military options available should they be necessary,” US Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark Esper told reporters on Friday announcing the military plans, according to a transcript posted to the US Department of Defense website.

Esper said the troops, which would be “defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense”, would help protect the world’s oil supply and “send a clear message that the United States supports our partners in the region.”

The US action comes after drone and missile attacks—which the US has repeatedly said came from Iran—struck the Saudi oil industry. It marks the latest escalation by Iran in a summer full of aggression, with Esper noting Iran has already attacked commercial shipping, seized a British oil tanker and shot down an American unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). … Continue Reading

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