I want to begin with a request for assistance for the Legal Grounds Campaign, which I co-chair. We are running a campaign to have Israeli citizens living here in Israel sign on as members (no cost).
We hope to secure a large membership base: this will increase our effectiveness as we lobby candidates for the Knesset. The candidates need to know that voters who care about Israel’s rights in eastern Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria, are watching them and want them to speak out.
If you are an Israeli citizen living in Israel, and you have not already joined our Campaign via the English site, please go to the page here to sign on:
If you have friends or relatives in Israel who might sign on, please copy and paste these paragraphs and share with them.
I mention the election campaign, and so we can turn first to this, which is the madness. I do not remember a campaign as divisive and confusing as this one. I’ve already described the “musical chairs” atmosphere – people leaving parties, joining others, starting new ones.
This divisiveness is not, cannot be, good for Israel. We need unity, a readiness to come together for the good of the county, and a focus on what matters most.
Years ago, a political analyst of many years’ experience told me that each politician convinces him/herself that he/she would be best for the country. Thus does each candidate move ahead firm in the belief that it is “for Israel’s sake.” What many of us see, however, is an abundance of ego.
The polls reporting on which parties the electorate prefers are fluctuating: It’s still too soon in the game for a definitive reading. What should be noted, however, is that – even with Netanyahu’s problems regarding the possibility of an indictment – the Likud continues to come out on top.
A good percentage of the country still believes that Netanyahu is best suited to lead.
It is widely assumed that – barring a major change in the political landscape, such as a coming together of several centrist parties that challenge Likud as a stable bloc – Netanyahu will again be prime minister. The major outstanding question then is the nature of the coalition that he is likely to put together.
Netanyahu is particularly adept at strengthening ties within the international community. Without question, this has served Israel extremely well. In the main, however, he campaigns as “Mr. Security,” positioning himself as the leader with the greatest expertise, and most steadfast strength, with regard to confronting major security risks.
Ari Harow, who was chief of staff for Netanyahu at one point, and is now an independent political consultant, wrote a thoughtful op-ed in yesterday’s Jerusalem Post.
The ideological debates that took place during campaigns in earlier years have been replaced by a cult of personality, he tells us: “Elections have become a popularity contest, ideology and policy but a distant memory.” I believe he is correct to a significant degree, and that the country is the poorer for it.
Harow cites as an example of this phenomenon the emergence of former chief of staff Benny Gantz, who started his own Resilience Party. For weeks Gantz said nothing and yet managed to show extremely well in the polls – and was even seen as a potential challenger to Netanyahu. This was a bit crazy as no one knew what he stood for; his popularity was based on image.
Now Gantz has begun to speak out. While we still haven’t heard anything resembling a genuine policy statement from him, it is clear that he is courting the left. He has, for example, met with a group of disgruntled Druze and told them he would “fix” the Nation State Law. And now he is losing traction.
On Monday night, National Union became the first faction to hold internal elections: MK Bezalel Smotrich (pictured) defeated Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel for the position of faction leader.
On the list after Smotrich are: Ofir Sofer; Orit Struk (a former MK); Yossi Cohen; and Amichai Eliyahu; Ariel is retiring. National Union will run in the elections as part of Habayit Hayehudi, which Smotrich aspires to head now that Bennett has left.
The issue of “peace negotiations” is not on the table at present to any discernable degree: It is being promoted only by delusional lefties such as Tzipi Livni, who is calling for “immediate dialogue with the Palestinians.”
What IS an issue of major concern, however, is Hamas in Gaza. I do not want to be marked as a commentator who has cried “wolf,” or “war” too often – but once again we seem to be on the edge of open hostilities. And here we segue into the menaces we face.
Twice over the last two months, Israel has permitted Qatar to bring $15 million into Gaza, ostensibly to cover pay for civil servants cut off by Abbas. We have no reason, however, to believe that the money has gone to the people for whom it was intended. It has gone either into the pockets of Hamas leaders or to pay for additional armaments (or both).
This month, because of increased violence at the Gaza border, Israel has blocked that money from going in. In spite of reports that we would back down, as I write this, we have not.
What startled me some days ago was a comment by outgoing Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, indicating that he favored allowing the money in, as this would lessen tensions and thus the possibility of war – without the money “the explosion will come sooner.” This certainly suggests that he anticipates it is coming.
It turns out, however, that $15 million monthly is small potatoes. The Palestinian Authority has been spending roughly $100 million monthly in Gaza for support and assistance of various sorts. But Abbas is now ready to cut back on this significantly. He is putting the squeeze on Hamas, big time, in an effort to force it to relinquish control of Gaza.
Abbas has already withdrawn PA monitors from the Rafah crossing into Egypt, prompting Egypt to shut it down. Now he is talking about withdrawing personnel from the crossings with Israel, as well as other tactics to increase pressure. According to an anonymous senior Palestinian Authority official, “Very important decisions against Hamas are being discussed.”
This past Sunday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan identified Abbas as “one of the main instigators of violence on the southern border.”
A sixth Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnel running from Ramyeh, Lebanon into northern Israel was discovered over the weekend. This was the largest of all the tunnels, dug at a depth of 55 meters (180 feet), and the most sophisticated – with stairs to the exit carved out of the stone, transport equipment, lighting and more.
The tunnel has been booby-trapped so that it cannot be used, and will be destroyed in coming days.
“According to our intelligence and our assessment of the situation there are no longer any cross-border attack tunnels from Lebanon into Israel,” IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus has stated. Thus has the IDF declared Operation Northern Shield at an end.
This past Saturday, Arab media carried reports of an attack in Syria, in the area around Damascus. It was said to have been carried out late the day before, by Israel planes operating from Lebanese airspace. Missiles were shot at Iranian weapons that had been unloaded at the Damascus Airport, and at Hezbollah warehouses in the area.
Up to this point, this was a fairly “normal” state of affairs: an attack on Iranian equipment or installations in Syria, perhaps formally reported on by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that everyone understood was executed by Israel, but which Israel never openly commented upon, either to acknowledge or deny involvement.
It has been called “the policy of ambiguity” and it was maintained in good part to avoid provoking either Iran or Syria into feeling compelled to respond to an attack.
On Sunday, however, the situation changed: at the opening of the weekly Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the IDF has “succeeded impressively in stopping Iran’s military buildup in Syria – and in this context the IDF has attacked Iranian and Hezbollah targets hundreds of times.”
He said this after Chief of Staff Eisenkot had given an interview in which he declared that Israel had dropped 2,000 bombs on targets in Syria in 2018 alone: “We struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit.”
And just hours later, Netanyahu went north to visit with soldiers in the Galilee Division. And now he made a very specific declaration: “In the last 48 hours, Israel attacked an Iranian weapons depot at the Damascus International Airport, reflecting our determination to prevent Iran’s military buildup in Syria. If necessary, we will intensify these attacks.”
So what was going on?
Numerous critics accused the prime minister of breaking with the policy of ambiguity for campaign purposes, thus putting Israel at increased risk of retaliatory attack for his own gain.
But what might, at first blush, seem to be the case is not necessarily so. Herb Keinon, doing an analysis of this situation in the JPost, observed that it was important to consider the prime minister’s exact words, which were very specific: Israel attacked Iranian warehouses containing Iranian, not Syrian, equipment. This, said Keinon, might have been a message to Russia, which has a vested interest in protecting Assad.
Dore Gold, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, observed that the accusation of political motivation would have been more credible if the attacks had not been on-going for a long duration but had just been initiated. In this case, Israel’s taking credit was part of Israel’s “deterrence posture…it is now clear that Israel will do what is necessary to prevent the buildup of an Iranian military presence on Syrian soil.”
What is more, this is connected to the imminent withdrawal of US forces from Syria. The Iranians may have drawn the conclusion that they can now take over Syria. Netanyahu’s statements make it very clear that this will not be the case.
In response to Netanyahu’s statements, Iran has now claimed that it has no military presence in Syria, only advisors. And to this, our prime minister today replied that:
“I advise them to get out of there quickly because we will continue our offensive policy as we promised and as we do without fear and without pause.”
What is more, he added that Israel is prepared to fight and win a “multi-front war.”
Binyamin Netanyahu is capable of all sorts of electioneering, but where confrontation with Iran is concerned, I take him at his word and always have. This is an existential issue about which I believe he is deadly serious.
His last comments, today, were made at the installation of the new IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, as Gadi Eisenkot retired after 40 years of service to the nation.
I am hearing very good things about Kochavi, who said “I take on this role with reverence and see it as a privilege.” We must pray for his courage and wisdom in these tough times.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.