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 …

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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 …

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Following more rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel, the IDF hit back at Hamas in a counterstrike last Friday. Based on comments from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, expect that Israeli response to Gaza violence to continue as needed. “We are acting against Islamic Jihad, as it is …

Iraqi Protestors Challenging Iranian Influence Have ‘Clearly Made Iran Nervous’

Protests are making an impact in Iraq, and it’s not just the leaders in Baghdad that are feeling the pressure. Leaders in Iraq’s next-door neighbor and general bad influence Iran are taking notice too, as Iraqi protestors have opposed Tehran’s entanglement in their country. “Iraqis increasingly view Iran as having …

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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

Cautious Trump Says War with Iran Is Option after Saudi Strike

September 18, 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 is readying “very significant sanctions” on Iran after the latter launched a massive attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, according to US President Donald Trump, who further noted his country has more options for a response than just sanctions. “There are many options. And there’s the ultimate option [of going to war], and there are options that are a lot less than that,” said Trump in comments on Wednesday posted to the White House website. “And we’ll see. We’re in a very powerful position.”

Trump, however, appeared to express caution on warfare in his comments to reporters, highlighting the war in Iraq that has dragged on far longer than the US originally envisioned. “There’s plenty of time to do some dastardly things,” said Trump. “It’s very easy to start. And we’ll see what happens… If we have to do something, we’ll do it without hesitation.”

Regardless of whether the US launches retaliatory strikes on Iran, stronger sanctions against the Islamic Republic are promised. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his support for that move in a statement on Wednesday. … Continue Reading

Trump, Netanyahu Plan to Discuss US-Israel ‘Mutual Defense Treaty’

September 15, 2019 News

PM Netanyahu with US President Trump. Photo courtesy of Israeli GPO

The United States and Israel could move towards arranging a mutual defense treaty linking the two countries, according to US President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and comments from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On Saturday, Trump tweeted in a pair of tweets, “I had a call today with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the possibility of moving forward with a Mutual Defense Treaty, between the United States and Israel, that would further anchor the tremendous alliance…. between our two countries. I look forward to continuing those discussions after the Israeli Elections when we meet at the United Nations later this month!”

Netanyahu thanked Trump on Twitter and then spoke further on the proposal on Sunday in comments released by his office. “We agreed to advance a historic defensive alliance between the US and Israel at our upcoming meeting at the UN General Assembly,” he declared.

“This is historic because it adds a powerful component of deterrence against our enemies, alongside maintaining the ability to act, and freedom of action, of our forces. On this we will always insist and it will always be in this defensive agreement just as it has entered into the other defensive agreements. This is a main component for coming generations to ensure our future.” … Continue Reading

Politicians Predict Impact of Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ Peace Plan on Israel

September 15, 2019 Peace and Conflict

What will the Trump peace plan look like? PM Netanyahu and US President Trump. Illustrative. Photo courtesy of Avi Ohayon (GPO)

The long-awaited Middle East peace plan from United States President Donald Trump is not expected to be unveiled until after Tuesday’s Israeli election, but Israeli politicians are already making bold statements about details in the as-yet-unseen plan dubbed “The Deal of the Century.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in comments released by his office on Sunday, reiterated his pledge to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, known as settlements.

He then went on to imply that was part of Trump’s vision. Said Netanyahu, “These things will come up in the plan of the century; it will come very fast after the elections.”

Meanwhile, a right-wing political rival to Netanyahu warned on Sunday that that positive prediction for Israel isn’t the whole story. Former Israeli minister of education Naftali Bennet, a candidate with the Yemina party running for Israel’s parliament (Knesset), posted to Facebook that the Trump plan would ultimately create “islands” of settlements in an “ocean of “Palestine”, according to a report in “The Times of Israel”. … Continue Reading

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