I begin with a report on the Likud primary that took place last Thursday: As expected, Binyamin Netanyahu defeated his challenger Gideon Sa’ar. And he did so in a landslide, with 72.5% of the vote. Out of 106 Likud polling stations across the country, Netanyahu won 99 and Sa’ar seven.
There is an expectation that this will bode well for the national election in March: The prime minister is now looking like a winner again, after twice failing to put together a government. This may have a positive impact on voters’ readiness to support him and help to bring a decisive electoral resolution.
David Horowitz, in writing about this, noted that Netanyahu’s willingness to allow the primary to proceed – when other parties passed on primaries – “burnished the party’s democratic credentials.” Will this make a difference? We’ll see soon enough. What it has certainly done is give Netanyahu himself a badly needed psychological boost. I anticipate that this will be reflected in his tone as he campaigns.
“Thank you to the members of the Likud for their trust, support and love,” he said. “With the help of God and with your help, I will lead the Likud to a big victory in the upcoming elections and continue to lead the State of Israel to unprecedented achievements.”
This week, according to various reports, the prime minister will be making a formal request for legal immunity from the charges against him in the indictment. Likud says he hasn’t decided yet: Thursday is the deadline.
The immunity, if granted, would not excuse him, but, rather, postpone the process until he is no longer prime minister, allowing him to proceed without interference.
I am all for this.
The fact that we are in a “limbo” interim situation affects the process, however: Netanyahu requires 61 MKs to vote in favor of immunity, but apparently this vote would not take place until after the March election and the establishment of the next Knesset (presuming a coalition will be established). What this does, in any event, is delay the start of any trial until that Knesset is established.
Talk about confusion. We’re in uncharted waters here.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has now blocked the PA’s “pay-for-slay” program with regard to terrorists who are also Israeli citizens and serving time in Israeli prisons. There are eight such terrorists.
Signing an order that blocks payments to them, he declared: “This is another step in the campaign against terrorists, we are working so that Jewish blood will no longer be financially lucrative.”
There is a great deal more to be done, but he is moving in the right direction.
The attitude of the chief of staff is of utmost importance to our nation now. And I am grateful for the fact that Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi appears to be made of considerably tougher stuff than his immediate predecessors. (And I am referring to Benny Gantz, as well as to Gadi Eisenkot.)
In my last posting, I provided a potentially positive perspective on our long term situation. My focus was on Iran’s struggle because of internal chaos, as well as uprisings in Lebanon and Iraq. And I indicated that this was weakening Iran.
But in an aside I noted that there was one way in which Iran was utilizing the chaos in Iraq. This is a matter of considerable import and it is one that Kochavi has now addressed decisively.
In comments made last Wednesday, General Kochavi indicated that Iran is exploiting Iraq’s current political crisis to smuggle weapons into Syria. Of greatest concern is Iran’s intent to smuggle precision-guided munitions, in the form of kits that attach to rockets, via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Explains Seth Franzman: “Iraq needs to find a new Prime Minister, but the larger problem in Iraq is that it is a divided society and Iran has exploited these divisions to build up an arsenal in Iraq.
“Although it is temporarily distracted by protests in Iraq and at home, as well as protests in Lebanon that have challenged Hezbollah’s grip on the country, the overall picture is that Iran continues to upgrade bases [in Syria near Iraq] and plot its next steps.”
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) Quds Force is increasingly entrenched in Iraq, and building up munitions in bases there. The Albukamal crossing at Iraq’s border with Syria has become a key conduit for weapons flowing through to Syria.
In describing the above situation in an address at a security conference, General Kochavi said (emphasis added):
“One of the IDF’s roles is to ensure periods without wars.
“Winning wars isn’t enough – we have to manage security in a way that doesn’t test the public every two or three years. We have to make sure that we reach a decisive result that ensures deterrence.
“War is always the last resort, but sometimes, war is a solution. Therefore, when we act, we will always be in a just moral position of acting with the purpose of defense rather than offense. Once we have been forced to reach this situation, we will not hesitate to employ the full force of the IDF, even in the urban sphere where the enemy has chosen to act.”
…the “ultimate goal is to instill in our enemies the feeling of despair and doubt in their ability to achieve their aggressive aims…
“We are sparing no effort to stay one step ahead of the enemy. Every arena is active and we are dealing with a growing number of arenas and a growing number of enemies.
“Their warheads and missile ranges are growing and in the next war, we will sustain more fire. We have to acknowledge that and prepare for it, mentally too…
“Iran has become more aggressive – first and foremost against the [Persian] Gulf states. There’s no deterrence, no response and no retaliation [on the part of the Gulf states].
“Iran has changed its policy toward us, but we are responding and will continue to respond.
“There is a possibility that we will face a limited confrontation with Iran and we are preparing for it. We will continue to act, and responsibly.
“It would have been better if we were not the only ones, but this is the reality for the time being. We are carrying out operations publicly and under the radar to prevent the enemy from obtaining precision-guided missiles, even if those operations lead to a conflict…
“Advanced weapons are being smuggled by the Quds Force in Iraq on a monthly basis and we can’t allow that. We intend to continue with our efforts to undermine Iran’s efforts to gain a greater foothold in the northern sector and in Iraq.”
And so we see that Kochavi is pulling no punches, and is realistic in his warnings. I am heartened by his stated readiness to utilize Israel’s full force if it should become necessary. Too often, this has not been the case. When our enemies perceive reluctance on our part to act, they become emboldened.
Right now, he says, none of Israel’s enemies want to ignite a conflict. “It has to do with our abilities and willingness to exercise power from time to time. Some of our recent operations have been able to bolster deterrence but that’s never foolproof. Deterrence needs maintenance.”
The organizers of the weekly demonstrations at the border between Gaza and Israel – the “Higher National Commission of the Great March of Return and Breaking the Gaza Siege” – announced last Thursday that those protests were being suspended, staring this coming Friday, January 3rd, and through the end of March 2020.
One reason, says Khaled Abu Toameh, is fatigue. Some 350 people have been killed at the fence and there is nothing to show for it in terms of ending the blockade on the Gaza strip or securing the Palestinian Arab “right of return” to Israel. It is considered unlikely that it will resume again, except to mark special occasions. Over recent weeks, the number of people turning out has diminished.
A demonstration in March 2019
But something else was immediately apparent with this announcement: This was part of a deal that might turn into a long term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. And indeed, this is what appears to be evolving – although it is in no way yet a sure thing.
There was a time when I was opposed to such a ceasefire, as it was likely to be no more than a hudna, a time of quiet during which Hamas would strengthen for the next onslaught of rockets. (And I anticipate some enraged communication from readers regarding the foolishness of such a ceasefire, which they perceive as merely weakening us.)
But my opinion on this issue shifted some time ago with regard to the wisdom of declaring war on Hamas. I now consider a ceasefire within certain bounds as a potentially positive move, and want to briefly address various parameters of the situation.
First, with the stance we are taking in the north, it would be very difficult to imagine that Israel would appear weak if there were an agreement with Hamas.
And then, Hamas truly is tired – burnt out to some degree, and hurting badly economically.
Readers may recall that in our recent engagement with Islamic Jihad, Hamas took pains to stay out of it. This had never happened before.
That military engagement followed in the wake of Israel’s brilliantly engineered assassination of Islamic Jihad’s Baha Abu al-Ata, a main instigator of terror attack and a fierce opponent of any ceasefire with Israel. He undermined all ceasefire efforts and the dynamics have shifted since he is gone.
There is pressure, as well, being applied on Hamas by Egypt, along with Qatar (whose involvement does not sit well with me).
The over-riding security concern right now is Iranian activity in the north, with the need to curtail Iranian entrenchment in Iraq and Syria, and to halt smuggling of armaments to Hezbollah. If we do not have to contend militarily with Hamas at the same time, so much the better. We are certainly able to take Hamas on, should it be necessary to do so, but it would be a drain on our focus.
General Kochavi alluded to the matter of a deal with Hamas in his address last week:
There is an opportunity to prevent war in Gaza, he said, because the enclave’s ruling Hamas terrorist organization wants to improve conditions in the region. Israel is “in the process of assisting the Egyptians [in] facilitating civilian relief. This is the policy of the Israeli government and I support it.”
Having said all of this, what must be noted here is that this deal with Hamas, should it truly come to realization, potentially has a couple of serious flaws.
One, as noted by The Jewish Press, is that Hamas is apparently refusing to reign in terrorists it controls in Judea and Samaria. The quiet that the group is promising applies only to Gaza. This is an issue of particular concern because of talk of allowing Gazans workers into Israel as part of the arrangement.
“The Shin Bet is leery of this move, arguing that as long as Hamas continues to direct from Gaza the terrorism carried out by its agents in Judea and Samaria, letting Gazan workers into Israel is a huge security risk.”
And so, while some ceasefire arrangement is likely desirable, the devil is in the details – and much depends on exactly what the arrangement would be.
There remains, as well, the very painful issue of securing the release of two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers ‒ Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul ‒ who have been held by Hamas since the war in 2014. It has been difficult to secure their release because Israel will not accede to the excessive demands made by Hamas, which involve release of large number of terrorists from prison. This is not going to happen, not ever again.
Leah and Simcha Goldin, the parents of Hadar Goldin, are arguing that this potential arrangement with Hamas flies in the face of a commitment Prime Minister Netanyahu made, that there would be no agreement with Hamas until the bodies were returned.
Minister Tzachi Hanegbi – who is a member of the Security cabinet – stressed on Sunday morning that without the release of the two bodies and the two Israeli citizens “things that are important to the other side, such as the infrastructure, will not happen.”
What would happen, certainly, is an influx of funds and loosening of certain restrictions. Much would depend on final arrangements, and the caution with which they are structured.
We are approaching the end of 2019, and I do not anticipate writing again until the early days of 2020. To those readers who celebrate New Year’s Day, I extend wishes for many blessings in the year ahead.
For myself, I confess readily that the day has little meaning except that I must remember to put the correct year in the date of my postings. “The New Year” for me comes with Rosh Hashana.
There have been years in the past when I have added illustrations of fireworks or confetti to festively mark the advent of the secular New Year. But this year I am not inclined to do that. Given the state of the world – I have not yet even addressed the growing plague of anti-Semitism, but will – I believe prayer and soul searching would be the best way to welcome 2020.
With it all, however, I am somber but not pessimistic. Last night was the last night of Chanukah and I found peace meditating on my burning candles (picture is an illustration).
Over the candles we sing thanksgiving to the Almighty for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds, the saving acts, and for the wars waged for our fathers in days of old.
So may it be in our day.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.