Hamas threatens escalation if Israel ‘crosses red line’
Hamas on Thursday threatened a security escalation if Israel continues targeting the terrorist group’s posts in the Gaza Strip.
Over the past week, several rockets have been fired from northern Gaza at Israeli communities near the border. The Israeli Air Force struck Hamas targets in the enclave in retaliation.
On Thursday, IDF troops on routine patrol along the Israel-Gaza border came under artillery fire. No injuries were reported, but one military vehicle sustained damage. IDF tanks fired at the source of the Palestinian fire, while IAF aircraft destroyed Hamas positions.
Palestinian media reported that Israeli tank fire targeted Hamas posts in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya, significantly damaging two buildings.
An article titled “Will there be a New Equation in Gaza?” posted on the Hamas-affiliated Al-Majd website on Thursday, quoted a senior Hamas official as saying that since the end of the 2014 Gaza campaign, Israel has worked to “impose a new equation for its response to [rocket] fire from the strip, based on striking Hamas targets. Israel knows this equation has its red lines regarding casualties, and if it crosses those lines it will lead to an escalation. … Public opinion in Gaza is beginning to see the need to respond to [Israeli] strikes.
“Unlike previous assessments that said the Palestinian groups in Gaza, and primarily Hamas, could contain Zionist provocations, the public now wants to create a new phase of non-containment and retaliation, so to change this policy. Israel must realize that the equation has changed, and it may be based on the principle of strike for strike, military post for military post, and target for target,” the article read.
Comparing the current security situation to 2014, prior to Operation Protective Edge, the article said, “The challenge the resistance is dealing with now indicates that we are facing a similar conflict scenario — until such time as the equation is broken in favor of escalation.”
Meanwhile, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai accused Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip of collaborating with Sinai Province, Islamic State’s proxy in the desert peninsula.
Posting on COGAT’s Arabic language Facebook page, Mordechai wrote: “Hamas officials, your efforts to hide your cooperation with Islamic State with regard to smuggling from Sinai with lies and manipulations, while attempting to act like it’s ‘business as usual’ with Egypt, are obvious. … Hamas is blatantly lying to its other neighbors and to Egypt, which is systematically working to destroy [Hamas] tunnels.”
Also on Thursday, Hamas security forces arrested hundreds of Islamic State supporters across the enclave, Salafi sources told Palestinian media. (Israel Hayom)
According to reports, raids and arrests have been taking place most likely over the rocket fire by Salafist terrorist groups at Israel in an attempt to force Hamas and Israel into an armed conflict.
The London-based Arab newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat quoted senior Hamas officials as saying security forces have arrested over 550 Salafist operatives, who now face prosecution in Gaza’s military courts.
The Gaza-based terrorist groups affiliated with Islamic State often claim rocket fire in Israel is carried out over Hamas’ persecution of Salafist operatives.
Lieberman: Hamas won’t suddenly become pacifists
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman claimed Thursday that there was no diplomatic alternative to going to war in Gaza in the summer of 2014, saying that those who think Hamas can suddenly become pacifists are “delusional and detached from reality.”
In a report on Operation Protective Edge released on Tuesday, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira reprimanded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not bringing any alternative diplomatic options to the Security Cabinet ahead of the military operation.
Lieberman, who was the foreign minister and a member of the Security Cabinet at the time, rejected that claim.
“There was no diplomatic alternative,” he insisted. “People keep thinking more can be done, another move, to throw (Hamas) another bone and everything would suddenly work itself out. They think Hamas will suddenly become pacifists, a kind of Peace Now, and not want to destroy us.”
The only diplomatic alternative, according to Lieberman, “is primarily to raise awareness among the residents of Gaza that they are suffering because of the Hamas leadership. The second thing is that the Hamas leadership must understand it is always losing.”
While the State Comptroller pointed to an unprepared, ill-informed and uneffective Security Cabinet during the war, Lieberman claimed he had done his part during the war in Gaza.
“As the Foreign Ministry, we got the government diplomatic credit for 51 days,” Lieberman said. “In this, we definitely gave everything we had to give.”
The defense minister asserted that while the IDF has already learned the necessary lessons from Operation Protective Edge, the State Comptroller’s report “is serious, and we must read it closely and shouldn’t reject it out of hand.”
He came out against the “civil wars within Israel” over the operation and the report, saying that “the accusations, the internal wars, and the attempts to blame someone else all undermine state security.”
“Lesson learning must be done within the cabinet, within the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and within the defense establishment—not as a public argument,” he added.
The comptroller determined that at least half of Hamas’s offensive border-crossing tunnels remain and that the IDF did not accomplish its mission to neutralize the threat.
To this, Lieberman asserted that “there is a great effort. An investment of billions of shekels. There’s this wall, this obstacle we’re building” under the Gaza border to block tunnels.
The defense minister also addressed the 18-months sentence given to IDF soldier Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter after shooting dead a seriously wounded Palestinian terrorist who was lying on the ground.
The IDF, he said, should not appeal the lenient sentence. “The IDF does need to learn the lessons from every incident… but I would like to reiterate this. At the end of the day, We’re talking about an outstanding soldier and a terrorist who came to kill soldiers. We shouldn’t be confused.”
Earlier this week, State Attorney Shai Nitzan announced that the preliminary investigation into suspicions of a conflict of interest in the purchase of submarines for the Israeli Navy has become a full-fledged criminal investigation.
Lieberman, who was part of the government at the time the deal was made but was not its defense minister, said he could not remember anyone in the cabinet objecting to the deal.
“The cabinet discussed several times whether, in principle, there is need for the submarines. I don’t remember anyone, including the former defense minister, who spoke against the move itself,” he said. (Ynet News)
Netanyahu graft investigation held up due to PM’s recent travels
An ongoing police investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s affairs over graft allegations is being held up due to the Israeli leader’s recent overseas travels.
Investigators from the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit have had difficulty setting up an additional interview with the prime minister in recent weeks, Channel 2 reported on Friday, adding that talks were ongoing between the police and the Prime Minister’s Office over committing to a date and time for the questioning.
Police, according to Channel 2, have complained that any other suspect would have had to comply with the requests and would have been questioned long ago.
Netanyahu recently went on a week-long trip to Singapore and Australia on state visits. Previously, the PM visited Washington for his first meeting with US President Donald Trump since his election in November.
The investigation, dubbed Case 1000, into whether there has been an illegal conflict of interest in Netanyahu accepting gifts from businessmen, and taking actions on their behalf, is one of a series of ongoing corruption investigations against the prime minister who has firmly denied any wrongdoing.
According to Channel 2, investigators are also having a difficult time setting up interviews with two key persons in the investigations, namely Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, who allegedly provided Netanyahu and his wife with expensive cigars and champagne valued at hundreds of thousands of shekels, and Australian businessman, James Packer, who is said to have paid for expensive meals and accommodation for the Netanyahus’ son Yair.
Police, according to the report, said an earlier assessment that the investigation would conclude in March was no longer realistic and that investigators were more likely to finish their work on the case in April.
Last month, Haaretz reported that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit rejected a police request to question former US Secretary of State John Kerry and former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro in the investigation, following allegations that Netanyahu asked Kerry three times in 2014 to intervene and arrange a long-term US visa for Milchan. Shapiro was also asked about the matter, according to the report.
“At the current time the attorney general feels there is no real need to question them,” a source involved in the investigation told Haaretz. “We are still in the middle of the investigation, and if it turns out later that it is necessary to get testimony from either of the American officials the testimony will be taken.”
However, he added, “we will try very hard to avoid such a move.”
Born in Israel, the LA-based Hollywood producer Milchan, 72, never became a US citizen, but used to enjoy 10-year visas to live there, Channel 2 news said in January. However, in 2013, he gave an interview to the same TV channel in which he acknowledged that he had worked in the past for the Israeli intelligence community. In the wake of his disclosures, the TV report said, Milchan — behind such movie hits as “Fight Club,” “Pretty Woman,” “LA Confidential,” “12 Years a Slave” and “The Big Short” — was no longer afforded 10-year US visas, and instead was required to apply for an annual extension.
Acting on Milchan’s behalf, Netanyahu asked Kerry three times in 2014 to intervene; restoration of a 10-year US visa for Milchan was subsequently secured, the TV report said.
Police said last month that the investigation will likely lead to a recommendation to indict Netanyahu. Officials said they were looking at two options: accusing the premier of breach of trust only, or adding the more serious charge of accepting a bribe.
In response to the report on Friday, the prime minister released a statement through his office chastising the police for indicating that a recommendation to indict was likely, before the investigation is completed, but then asking for more interviews.
“What is there more to investigate if they indicated that they will recommend an indictment? This is what happens when pre-conceived notions clash with the facts. Like I’ve said before: ‘There will be nothing because there is nothing,’” Netanyahu said in the statement.
The prime minister is also being investigated in a second case, known as Case 2000, which involves alleged negotiations with the publisher of the Yedioth Aharonoth daily, Arnon Mozes, and focuses on the prime minister’s supposed promise to advance legislation to hobble the Sheldon Adelson-controlled Israel Hayom paper in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Channel 10 reported in January that police were looking into two more possible criminal probes against Netanyahu, dubbing them “Case 3000” and “Case 4000.”
The TV report suggested that Case 3000 deals with the purchase of submarines, but gave no information on Case 4000. Channel 2 News said last month that police sources deny the existence of Case 4000 (the Times of Israel)
Ya’alon announces intention to run for prime minister, form new party
Former Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon officially declared on Saturday his intention to run for the post of prime minister as well as form a new political party. Making the official declaration at a cultural event in Tel Aviv, Ya’alon explained that he feels that the time has come for him to pursue a new stage in his decades-long political career.
This new stage was in the plans for quite a while, Ya’alon told the audience at the event, stating that “as I said when I resigned- I will run for the national leadership.”
“I know how hard it is in politics, but I care about this country,” he explained. “I am forming now a new party which will [serve as a] political platform.”
While the future party Ya’alon plans to establish has yet to be named, activities to promote it are already underway. Ya’alon said that he is currently operating through an NGO he founded, fittingly named “Alternative Leadership.”
Ya’alon explained that it is important for him to be in direct contact with the Israeli population, saying that “I have days that I go to three different homes to talk to potential voters.”
“I have learned that the mediation of the media can cause you damage, especially when you don’t control a TV channel or a newspaper,” the former defense minister added, alluding at allegations concerning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been accused of controlling the daily newspaper Yisrael Hayom that is owned by his longtime confidante, American billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Ya’alon also addressed speculations regarding possible cooperation with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, and did not rule out the option of joining forces. “I do not like the fracturing into small parties, I think we should unite our efforts,” he said. “I am building my political power now, and when needed I will be happy to see unity.” Ya’alon then added that he is certain that we will see more players joining the political sphere before the elections like he plans to.
Ya’alon also used the opportunity to discuss what he sees as attacks on the democratic symbols in Israel, and claimed that these are the country’s true threats. “Corruption, hate speeches, contempt of the rule of law and de-legitimization of the media,” he said, “Our threats are internal.” Ya’alon blamed politicians who according to him want to “score points” among their constituency and using their power for incitement.
Continuing his critique of the government, Ya’alon didn’t hesitate to take a stab at his former Likud party, saying that “Today, even Jabotinsky would not been elected in their primaries.”
Meanwhile, Likud MK and former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Avi Dichter announced that he will run for his party’s leadership. “I am already getting ready for the next primaries, even if it means running against Netanyahu,” Dichter stated on Saturday at a cultural event in Modi’in.
Dichter touched on the controversial subject of Netanyahu’s investigations and claimed that the prime minister cannot function during this period in which police are looking into numerous corruption allegations allegedly involving the premier. “I was in the government when the prime minister [Olmert] was under investigations… anyone [who] tells you that they can fully function with no distractions or disruptions during such period – is not telling the truth.”
Ya’alon ended by adding that the social divide between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis is often heavily impacted by the polarizing speech and agendas promoted by Israeli politicians. “The Arabs want to integrate [in society] but they see a discourse full of hatred,” he said. “How many terrorists were actually Arab Israelis? They want to be part of us but they see this public atmosphere that politicians have created.” (Jerusalem Post)
US delegation in Israel to study relocation of embassy to Jerusalem
An official United States delegation led by Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is briefly visiting Israel on Saturday and Sunday to study the possibility of relocating the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“The delegation is in Jerusalem to learn first hand what it will mean to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” said Ruth Lieberman, a friend of DeSantis and a political advisor in Israel.
“Its leadership intends to return to Congress with a report and a deeper understanding of what to expect, and of some of the decisions that have to be made as well,” Lieberman said.
DeSantis chairs the subcommittee for National Security for the US House Oversight Committee.
The delegation will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli political leaders during their visit.
US President Donald Trump had promised to relocate the embassy during his campaign for the White House. But since his January 20th inauguration, his lukewarm statements about the matter led many to speculate that he would not make good on his pledge.
The delegation’s visit is the first sign that there might be some movement on the issue.
Palestinian and Jordanian leaders have warned the US that moving the embassy could spark violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories, as well as in the Middle East region as a whole.
The “US Congress should understand that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem will explode the situation in the Mena region (Middle East and North Africa,” Fatah spokesperson Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad said.
“This same team should consult with its military and political consultants in the (US) State Department that stated several times in the past that (such) actions put American interests and presence in the region in danger,” Abu Zayyad said.
“The new American administration must decide whether it is supporting the Israeli settlement building illegally on Palestinian lands or not and make a clear statement about this,” Zayyad added. (Jerusalem Post)
Israel’s best-known photographer David Rubinger, dead at 92
David Rubinger at home, flanked by some of his most iconic photos – including, of course, the June 7, 1967, shot of the three paratroopers at the newly liberated Western Wall.
David Rubinger, the world-famous photographer and Israel Prize laureate who captured the history and evolution of Israel in the lens of his camera, died in Jerusalem on Wednesday. He was 92.
Rubinger’s most iconic photograph was that of three soldiers in their 20s – Zion Karasenti, Yitzhak Yifat and Haim Oshri – gazing awestruck at the Western Wall after Israeli paratroopers had captured the Old City.
Rubinger, who would have celebrated his 93rd birthday this June, would undoubtedly have been included in the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the victory in the Six Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem.
As a staff photographer for Time-Life, Rubinger took the first photographs of the reunification of Jerusalem after a 19-year hiatus in which part of Israel’s capital was ruled by Jordan.
Born in Vienna in 1924, Rubinger is the last of the Austrian-Jewish celebrities of his era who made a name for themselves in Israel. Another was former Jerusalem Post coeditor-in-Chief Ari Rath, who was six months younger than Rubinger and who died in January. Illness prevented Rubinger from attending Rath’s funeral – something that upset him greatly.
Rubinger was one of the founders of the Foreign Press Association in Israel, which in eulogizing him on Thursday quoted a passage from his book Israel Through My Lens: Sixty Years as a Photojournalist, which he co-wrote with Ruth Corman.
“Frequently these days, when looking back over the years, I find myself asking how I could have been so lucky. I went through 10 wars unscathed and survived countless other high-risk situations, and I have reached the peak of the photographic profession, with worldwide recognition for my work, being the oldest person on the masthead of Time, one of the world’s most prestigious magazines.
“I have had personal access to many of the world’s leaders and other fascinating personalities, as well as the support of a wonderful family: my two children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. How can anyone be so fortunate?
“And after all this, what would I say to those who ask me the secret of a fulfilled life? Mine is really quite a simple philosophy. Try to live every day as if it is your last, but plan your future as though there were endless tomorrows.”
A second FPA obituary later in the day, written by Matt Rees, begins: “There was enough tragedy in David Rubinger’s life that you could have forgiven him any amount of bitterness or anger. From the murder of his mother by the Nazis to the murder of his beloved partner in her own home in Jerusalem’s Greek Colony when David was 80. But you will not find a single person who can remember a truly bitter word from his lips, and the only anger he expressed was a righteous impatience for those who seemed to wish for more conflict where he saw the possibility of peace.”
Rubinger was frequently regarded as David Ben-Gurion’s personal photographer, but he was in fact every prime minister’s personal photographer – though not employed as such. He arrived in Mandatory Palestine in 1939 when he was 15 years old. He spent three years on a kibbutz and when he was 18 he joined the Jewish Brigade of the British Army. He wanted to fight the Nazis – and he did.
In Paris, in 1942, he had a brief romance with a girl named Charlotte, who gave him his first Leica camera. It remained his favorite make.
After he returned to Mandatory Palestine in 1946 with his wife, Anni, – a distant relative who had survived a death camp and whom he had married fictitiously in order to get her out of Europe. They “forgot to get divorced,” as he often said, and were married for 54 years before her death in 2000.
She worked as his assistant and it was she who decided that the photo of the three soldiers at the wall was more interesting than then-IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren blowing a shofar as he approached the wall hoisted on the shoulders of several paratroopers.
But long before that, when Rubinger first tried to get work as a photographer, he came to The Palestine Post and spoke to Mike Ronnen, the paper’s famous cartoonist and art editor, who at the time was the photo editor. Rubinger approached Ronnen and asked how he could get his photos published. Ronnen’s advice was to buy a motorcycle and to be faster than his rivals in bringing a photo into the office.
It didn’t take long for Rubinger to gain recognition elsewhere and the upshot was that he spent almost half a century working for Time magazine.
Micha Bar-Am, another of Israel’s famous photographers, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that Rubinger was “a true colleague and a real professional,” who was totally connected to everything in Israel because it was important to him. “It was a real pleasure to know him and work with him, because he was always so friendly,” said Bar-Am.
President Reuven Rivlin, who knew Rubinger well and described him as a family friend, said, “There are those who write the pages of history, and there are those who illustrate them through their camera’s lens. Through his photography, David eternalized history as it will be forever etched in our memories. His work will always be felt, as it is seen in the eyes of the paratroopers as they looked upon the Western Wall, and in the expressions on the faces of the leaders of Israel, which he captured during the highest of highs and lowest of lows.
“When I entered the president’s office, I hung on the wall a picture he took of Ben-Gurion. David came to visit with a special signed copy and helped me hang it in its place, alongside a picture of Jabotinsky that has been with me throughout the years.”
Even in retirement, Rubinger was never without his Leica. A photojournalist in his soul, he could not resist capturing scenes for posterity. Though only an adolescent when he left Vienna, he never abandoned his exquisite European manners. He was always the perfect European gentleman.
He was also a great raconteur and could tell riveting anecdotes in Hebrew, English or German, switching with ease from one to the other. A series of Austrian ambassadors to Israel regularly included his name on their guest lists.
His family had originally wanted a small, private funeral, but was prevailed upon to realize that there were so many people who wanted to pay their respects and accompany Rubinger on his final journey that they agreed to a public funeral, which will take place in Jerusalem at 10 a.m. on Friday, at Har Hamenuhot Cemetery’s Beit Hahesped. (Jerusalem Post)
Don’t jeopardize this great opportunity
by Isi Leibler Israel Hayom
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has returned from triumphant visits to the United States, Australia and Singapore. Now is the time for him to display courage and make serious decisions that will determine his legacy.
We are living in a crazy world, which was stunned by the surprise election of the upstart Donald Trump. The new American president has proceeded at breakneck speed to reverse the politically correct approaches of his predecessor Barack Obama, which included endorsement of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Trump is the first American president to confront the bias of the liberal press. His haste to implement some policies, such as his decree limiting immigration, led to chaos and ultimately was curbed by the courts.
However, Trump’s election is regarded as a gift by many Israelis. His uninhibited display of warmth and gestures of friendship toward Israel and Netanyahu have raised Israel’s standing in the eyes of many nations that were implicitly encouraged to condemn Israel by the Obama administration. That the U.S. now treats Israel as a genuine partner will enormously benefit us at all levels — politically, economically, and militarily.
There is already a profound impact at the United Nations, where Trump’s newly appointed Ambassador Nikki Haley clearly stated that the U.S. “will not turn a blind eye” to Israel bashing and will demonstrate “ironclad support for Israel and intolerance for the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias.” Beyond that, the administration has warned that it may pull out of the obscenely anti-Israeli U.N. Human Rights Council, which would send a powerful message.
But this is the tip of the iceberg.
Another most astonishing development is the almost open alliance between Israel and the moderate Sunni states, which Trump has been actively encouraging. The relationship with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, including defense and intelligence sharing, exceeds the heady days of the late President Anwar Sadat. Likewise, senior Saudi spokesmen have been playing down their traditional hatred of Israel and, with the other Gulf states, calling for a united front against the efforts of the Shiite Iranian terrorist state to achieve regional hegemony as a nuclear power. Trump has vowed to reverse the appeasement policies of Obama and reiterated that he would never come to terms with a nuclear Iran and will take steps to neutralize its global terrorist activities.
Remarkably, Israel has developed a relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, notwithstanding its support for Syria. Thanks to Obama’s blunders, Russia now occupies a dominant position in the Middle East. Hopefully, Trump’s policies will not cause any ruptures in Israel’s interaction with Russia.
In Asia, Africa, and some European countries, the bonds with Israel are being strengthened because those seeking a better relationship with Trump sense that his affection for Israel is genuine.
This atmosphere provides Israel with opportunities to move forward in relation to settlements and a policy toward the Palestinians.
Trump has said that he is not committed to a two-state policy and that if the Israelis and Palestinians can find another solution, he would be supportive. But in the course of professing his love for Israel and his determination to act as a genuine ally, he stated that his ultimate objective was to reach a deal that would never undermine Israel’s security. He stressed that Israel would be obliged to make some compromises and stated that excessive expansion of settlements would not be helpful. At the same time, he insisted that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state and cease their incitement. He postponed moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, presumably because he was advised that it could undermine the very delicate relationship brewing between Israel and the Sunni states.
While there is still chaos in the administration with gaping vacuums in key positions, the hysteria against Trump by American liberals is unprecedented.
The liberal majority of the American Jewish community has become engaged in an insane campaign to demonize Trump as an anti-Semite. There is an increase in anti-Semitism in the U.S. and Trump has been tone-deaf not to respond more vigorously. There was therefore some justification for criticism, but having regard to his family, his circle of Jewish friends and his extraordinary outpourings of love for Israel, it is obscene to accuse him of promoting anti-Semitism, engaging in Holocaust revisionism, supporting fascism or acting like Hitler. The visit by Vice President Mike Pence to Dachau and his personal commitment in helping to repair a vandalized Jewish cemetery said it all.
Official mainstream organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the Reform movement have effectively adopted the same role as J Street and engaged in unprecedented partisan activities that have undoubtedly created anti-Jewish hostility among Trump supporters. Yet during the Obama administration, they failed to react to the most dangerous instances of anti-Semitism cloaked as anti-Zionism. They did not ring the alarm bells when Jewish students were being physically intimidated on campuses for identifying with Israel or when Obama ignored Iran’s calls for the destruction of Israel.
Initially, the ADL even defended the candidacy of the anti-Semitic Keith Ellison as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, but it was forced to back down under public pressure. The ADL also refused to condemn the Black Lives Matter movement, despite its outrageous condemnation of Israel as an apartheid state. Nor did it object to Linda Sarsour and other radical anti-Israel activists at the forefront of the Women’s March on Washington.
But despite the hostility of liberal American Jews and their abandonment of Israel, we are now presented with a unique opportunity to achieve crucial national objectives. Israel’s success will depend on our leaders’ willingness to set aside short-term partisan politics and act in the national interest.
Aside from the extreme Left and extreme Right, there is a greater national consensus among Israelis than has existed since the great schism over the Oslo Accords. Most agree that we must separate from the Palestinians and recognize that annexation of all of Judea and Samaria would inevitably lead to a binational state and end the Zionist dream. Yet there is also a clear consensus that an independent Palestinian state today would effectively amount to a terrorist state at our doorstep.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull summed up Israel’s predicament when he stated that “being blunt and realistic about this — you cannot expect any Israeli government to put itself in a position where its security is at risk, where its citizens are not safe. The first duty of every government is the safety of the people.”
Netanyahu must now spell out our main objectives, which include approval of unlimited building in the major settlement blocs within existing boundaries, defining permanent borders and formal U.S. endorsement for the annexation of the Golan Heights.
At the same time, it is also in Israel’s interest to promote greater industrialization and economic infrastructure in the West Bank in order to incentivize coexistence. This would facilitate greater Palestinian autonomy — subject, of course, to maintaining Israel’s fundamental security requirements.
This requires Netanyahu to confront not only Naftali Bennett and Habayit Hayehudi but also the radicals in his own Likud party. If he fails to stand up to them, we could face a disaster. Trump is volatile and if Netanyahu permits the radicals in his coalition to unilaterally initiate annexations, this could easily spark a confrontation — which Netanyahu is desperate to avoid, preferring to work with Trump in close tandem.
Trump seems determined to achieve a deal. However, unlike Obama, he is unlikely to promote any scheme that would undermine Israel’s security. Netanyahu must engage positively in these negotiations and if the Palestinians remain inflexible, Trump will in all likelihood fully support us.
But prior to that, Netanyahu must stand firm, and if his radical partners seek to embark on unauthorized initiatives, he must be willing to dissolve the government.
Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid is today a contender for prime minister. He has been extremely responsible in his statements over the past 12 months. Setting aside personalities, he and Netanyahu probably share a similar vision of what should be done. Were he to publicly support Netanyahu, he would strengthen his own status in the public as a future leader and enable Netanyahu to move forward.
Today, we are in a remarkable position. We have been presented with the great opportunity to shape our destiny with a genuinely pro-Israel U.S. administration. But this will depend on Netanyahu and whether he succeeds in resisting the pressures from the radical elements of his own party and coalition. In achieving this, he would have the nation’s support to steer through the diplomatic minefields and capitalize on his personal relationship with Trump and lead the nation toward stability and security.
In politely devastating critique, Israeli negotiator skewers Kerry for dooming peace talks
By Raphael Ahren The Times of Israel
The 2013-14 effort at Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking was doomed to fail because of the unrealistic goals set by the United States at its inception, according to a new Israeli insider account. And the inevitable collapse was expedited by grave mistakes made during the negotiations by their American sponsors, and especially by secretary of state John Kerry, veteran Israeli peace negotiator Michael Herzog writes.
In a lengthy article published this week, Herzog says Jerusalem, Ramallah and Washington all contributed to the breakdown of negotiations in April 2014. “All parties made mistakes, each exacerbating the others’ and contributing to a negative dynamic.”
But he apportions devastating blame to Kerry, who initiated and headed the talks. He writes that Kerry “definitely does not deserve the slander directed at him by some Israelis,” but nonetheless highlights Kerry’s over-confidence and lack of sensitivity, says Kerry caused confusion from the start, cites instances where Kerry misrepresented Israel’s positions to the Palestinians, and suggests the US team led by the former secretary might have deliberately misled the parties.
After insistently launching negotiations with the unattainable goal of reaching a final-status agreement in less than a year, Kerry then mismanaged the talks as they proceeded, charges Herzog, who was a member of the Israeli negotiating team headed by then-justice minister Tzipi Livni. (Herzog, brother of Labor leader Isaac and son of former president Chaim, is a retired brigadier-general who formerly headed the IDF’s strategic planning division and served as chief of staff to the defense minister; he stresses that he has never been politically affiliated.)
Kerry failed to fully understand “the psychology of the parties or the delicate nuances of their relations,” writes Herzog, who has participated in most of Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians, Syrians, and Jordanians since 1993.
“At times he appeared more eager than they were, pushed them beyond their limits, set unrealistic goals and timeframes, and shouldered some burdens better left alone or to the parties — in the belief that his own powers of personal persuasion could overcome any obstacle.”
For instance, the former secretary of state misinformed Ramallah about Israel’s firm opposition to releasing Palestinian security prisoners, one of the key misunderstandings that led to the talks’ breakdown, according to Herzog.
Kerry also insisted on merging the negotiations he presided over publicly with a “back channel” track, destroying tangible progress that had been quietly made between the sides.
A waste of time and energy
“Reaching a deal in nine months was clearly unrealistic, given the very significant gaps and mistrust between the parties. This should have been realized from the outset,” Herzog writes in The American Interest magazine in an article titled “Inside the Black Box of Israeli-Palestinian Talks.”
And yet, Kerry stuck to the “titanic goal” of reaching agreement on all core issues within this framework. “The result was a waste of precious time and energy in the first phase of talks.” Rather, the parties should have first tried to agree on guidelines for negotiating and resolving the core issues, according to Herzog.
Kerry set ground rules for the talks with both parties separately, which became a source of serious confusion and misunderstanding, eventually causing the process to collapse, Herzog charges
Before agreeing to enter negotiations, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas insisted that Israel release a number of Palestinian security prisoners, among them several Arab-Israelis. Jerusalem told the Americans that it refused to free Israeli citizens convicted by its own courts. But the Israeli side was “soon surprised to find out that Kerry had nonetheless promised this to Abbas, later claiming a misunderstanding with Israel,” according to Herzog.
Furthermore, Kerry’s ground rules allowed Israel to determine the terms of the prisoners’ release. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following the advice of his security chiefs, thus delayed the release of prisoners likely to return to terrorism to the fourth and last round. He also insisted that 10 out of the total of 108 prisoners be expelled to Gaza, Jordan or elsewhere and not be allowed to return to the West Bank.
“Yet the Palestinians claimed there was an agreement between Abbas and Kerry that all prisoners would be released ‘to their homes’ — a claim later affirmed to us by the US team,” Herzog writes. “One of Kerry’s aides apologetically explained that in his meeting with Abbas, ‘the Secretary was not aware of this nuance.’”
Jerusalem’s eventual refusal to release the last batch of prisoners at the planned date led Abbas on April 1, 2014, to sign documents to join 15 international bodies, violating a commitment not to take unilateral steps to advance the bid to have “Palestine” recognized as a state. Israel reacted by reissuing tenders for 708 housing units in East Jerusalem, a move which critics — including Kerry — inaccurately pinpointed for the talks’ breakdown.
Netanyahu had never promised to freeze settlement construction for the duration of the talks, Herzog notes. In fact, the Israelis had told Kerry they would announce construction of 1,200-1,500 housing units beyond the Green Line to coincide with every phase of prisoner releases.
“Kerry was careful not to provide a formal stamp of approval to a policy that the US government officially objected to, but in reality he went along given the context of conflict-ending negotiations,” Herzog wrote. “He conveyed the picture to the Palestinian side; however, it is not clear what exact language and tone he used.”
Of the US handling of the talks, Herzog writes that whenever Israelis or Palestinians were presented by an American negotiator with a certain position, neither side knew whether this position represented Washington or the other side. The Americans might have sowed confusion deliberately to “allow the US side more maneuvering space between the parties,” he suggests, “but instead each developed suspicions that the US side did not necessarily share identical content with both parties.”
Tzipi Livni, left, John Kerry, center, and Saeb Erekat at the State Department July 30, 2013, when peace talks began.
Particularly detrimental to the process, he goes on, was Kerry’s insistence on launching the talks in parallel to existing back channel negotiations that were well underway and promised to yield substantive results.
Herzog describes informal talks conducted discreetly by private individuals who acted on behalf of their respective leaders. Before Kerry publicly launched his talks between the two sides — headed by Livni and Saeb Erekat, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization — US president Barack Obama had called the secret back channel “the only game in town.”
But Kerry pushed for a front channel of negotiations. “His position triggered a debate within the Obama Administration: Should it invest political capital in a parallel public channel, which many thought carried low chances of success, or should it just wait and give the back channel a chance? Kerry insisted and had his way,” Herzog writes.
From July to December 2013, the two tracks ran parallel to each other. “What emerged was a predictable competition. As expected, once participants in the public channel became aware of the back channel and its contents, they objected to being a side-show or serving as cover,” Herzog recalls.
“With time, I formed the impression that Kerry quietly fostered the competition, as if splitting his investment and waiting to see which of the tracks would yield more. I warned him that this approach would ultimately destroy the unprecedented progress made over more than two years of meticulous efforts. It did.”
Abandoning the back channel for the public one “was a major mistake,” Herzog judges.
In March 2014, as the nine months allotted for the talks neared their conclusion, the Israeli negotiators sought to directly engage with their Palestinian counterparts to salvage the faltering process. They were shocked to discover that the Americans had apparently given false information to the Palestinians about an upcoming vote in Israel’s cabinet.
“While comparing notes, we were told by the Palestinians how on nine separate occasions in recent days the US side had given them specific hours at which Israel’s cabinet would meet to vote on the prisoner release,” Herzog recalled. “Our jaws dropped. Nobody on our side ever determined a specific hour for the cabinet meeting… To this day, I am bewildered by this episode.”
Still, Herzog allows, despite the many missteps that doomed the talks, Kerry deserves praise “for his commitment, determination, and intelligence, and for his indispensable role in propelling the process.”
Writes Herzog: “He definitely does not deserve the slander directed at him by some Israelis. His mission was unenviable in that he was struggling to negotiate simultaneously with Israelis, Palestinians, and the White House.”
The framework document
Efforts to save the talks eventually resulted in a framework document, meant to enshrine whatever progress had been made in discussing the core issues. Herzog does not divulge the document’s exact terms but provides a glimpse into how far each side was willing to go.
Regarding security arrangements, the Palestinians, for instance, were willing to accept an Israeli military presence in parts of the West Bank for five years, which was to be followed by an indefinite deployment of foreign forces. Israel rejected that, requiring a long-term Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley. “Netanyahu thought in terms of decades,” according to Herzog.
“Ultimately, the U.S. and Israeli sides agreed that the timeframe should be based on specific criteria. The debate over which criteria and who would judge them was never fully resolved in this phase,” he reports.
While rejecting the Palestinians’ demand for a “right of return” for refugees, Israel and the US considered allowing “admitting some Palestinians to Israel on an individual, humanitarian basis and at Israel’s sole discretion.”
Washington also appeared positively disposed to Jerusalem’s request that a peace deal acknowledge the suffering of Jews who fled Arab countries after the State of Israel was founded, and to create a mechanism for compensation.
The issue of Jerusalem remained entirely unresolved, Herzog writes, in part because Ramallah insisted, with American approval, to have Israel explicitly recognize a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
Israelis have reason for concern ahead of future war
by Yaakov Katz The Jerusalem Post
In the beginning of July 2014, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet: the IDF had discovered the bodies of three Israeli teenagers abducted by a Hamas terrorist cell in the Etzion settlement bloc, and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip was escalating.
In a private meeting just days earlier, then defense minister Moshe Ya’alon told Netanyahu that he was against striking terrorist tunnels in Gaza from the air. The effectiveness of such strikes was limited, he said, and would impair the ability to locate the tunnel’s full route and destroy it.
At the security cabinet meeting, though, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yoram Cohen recommended bombing the tunnels. “We need to try and attack,” Cohen told the ministers.
Despite Cohen’s support, the cabinet refrained from making operational decisions. A massive bombardment of Gaza would escalate the volatile situation, and there was still hope that war could be avoided.
At the next security cabinet meeting on July 7, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz again raised the option of attacking Hamas’s terrorist tunnels. Air strikes, he told the ministers, “would have results, but they would be limited.” Cohen backed up Gantz and said that if rocket fire continued from Gaza, Israel should bomb the tunnels.
Netanyahu summed up the meeting. If rocket fire continues, he told the participants, the IDF will escalate its bombings including against the tunnels. “Unless you tell me otherwise,” he said turning to the defense minister. Ya’alon did not respond.
A day later, on July 8, Naftali Bennett, then economy minister, asked if air strikes would make it difficult for ground forces to later outline a tunnel’s full route. Tunnels, Bennett reminded everyone, had one main opening but then split into different lines and shafts, some of which also independently reached across the border. That meant that even if you bomb the main entrance, the tunnel could still be used in a cross-border attack.
“It makes it difficult, a bit,” Gantz replied. Later, Gantz, Ya’alon and Cohen all recommended bombing the tunnels.
Cohen, at the time, based his recommendation on a presentation the air force gave the cabinet and Gantz’s support for it. If Gantz was behind the IAF, Cohen later explained, he should be too.
The problem was that this across-the-board support for the air strikes went against everything the defense establishment had thought until the Gaza war. In January 2013, for example, Cohen met privately with Netanyahu and told him that air strikes against tunnels were only partially effective. Military Intelligence agreed. In a top-secret document its research division circulated in March 2014, it called the air strikes “problematic.”
None of this though was known to the security cabinet whose members were hearing for the first time not just about the existence of the tunnels and the threat they posed to Israeli communities along the volatile border, but also about the options to destroy them.
Bennett had learned about the existence of the tunnels weeks earlier, and had been pushing since late June for the IDF to present a plan to destroy them. On June 30, the day the bodies of the three teenagers were found, Bennett asked the IDF if it had an operational plan to destroy the tunnels. Netanyahu ended the meeting by instructing Ya’alon to bring him a plan the following day.
A few days later, Bennett again asked if the IDF was going to present a plan. Netanyahu said that the army was first discussing it internally. “I thought that was yesterday’s homework,” Bennett quipped.
A few days later, at another cabinet meeting, Bennett again raised the tunnel plan. Ya’alon said he was reviewing options and would rule on the best way to deal with the threat. A plan was finally presented to the cabinet on July 10, nearly two weeks after it had first been requested.
This short story is one of many revealed in great detail in the State Comptroller’s Report published this week on the 2014 Gaza war, also known as Operation Protective Edge.
The war started on July 8, and for the first 10 days the IDF bombed Gaza from the air. On July 17, Israel launched a ground offensive into Gaza, aimed at locating and destroying some 30 Hamas tunnels believed to cross the border into Israel. The war would carry on for another 40 days.
Is it possible that without air strikes the tunnels would have been located and destroyed faster? It seems so, although we will never really know. But what this story does show is just how complicated wars are, and how they never really go the way you plan them.
Israel has a talent for self-flagellation, for beating itself up after every war or operation. After the Second Lebanon War in 2006, for example, there was the Winograd Commission that led to the eventual resignation of a prime minister, a defense minister and a chief of staff. Now there is the comptroller’s report.
I wonder, though, if Israelis would have felt such rage after the Lebanon war had they known in 2006 what they know today – that the war would create over a decade of unprecedented quiet in the North. The nearly three years of quiet since Protective Edge might be fragile, but they cannot be taken for granted.
People tend to forget that wars are fought on a battlefield and not in a laboratory or classroom. They are fought against an enemy who – no matter how good the intelligence is – will always maintain a high degree of unpredictability.
The one and only probability to genuinely expect in war is the unexpected. In the Gaza war of 2014 Israel encountered the tunnels. In the next Gaza war it will likely be something else.
That is the nature of asymmetric warfare in the 21st century, and why preparing for a future war and not the last one is one of the biggest challenges for militaries today. But this is difficult since the last war is a military’s last point of reference – it is hard for commanders and soldiers to forget their tangible experiences.
Does that mean that post-war probes are unnecessary? Of course not. They are fundamental for learning lessons and preparation. But that is exactly what they need to be used for – improving, training and ensuring that the outcome of the next war will be even better. They should not be used for political gain.
This one story demonstrates that essentially, the system in Israel is broken. The dynamic between the prime minister and the security cabinet, between the security cabinet and the IDF, and between the different ministers in the cabinet is a recipe for mistakes and mishaps.
Take the security cabinet as an example. Sitting around the table during the 2014 war were Ya’alon, Bennett, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, four politicians whose aspirations to replace Netanyahu and become prime minister were no secret. Can we really expect the prime minister to be open and vulnerable in front of this group? I have no doubt that in times of war these people are first and foremost concerned with the country’s security. But they are still politicians, and in the back of their minds they will always think like politicians. The same with the prime minister.
The bigger question though remains unanswered, and has to do with long-range strategic policy: what does Israel want from the Gaza Strip? Israel is not responsible for the current situation in Gaza. Hamas is. But Israel can take steps to ease the economic pressures there. All members of the security cabinet seem to agree that the dire economic situation in Gaza gives Palestinians a feeling that they have nothing to lose, so why not engage in terrorism? As with many other issues, Israel has to decide what it wants.
But it also needs to look at the tunnel threat from the right perspective. Terrorist tunnels are dangerous. They can be used to infiltrate a kibbutz and massacre dozens of people. But they do not pose an existential threat to the State of Israel.
The fact is, Israel has never been stronger in its nearly 69 years of statehood. Israel is an economic superpower and a vibrant democracy, and has the most powerful military in the Middle East, Africa and beyond.
Iran might one day obtain nuclear weapons and become an existential threat, but that is not yet the case. Additionally, there is no conventional military in the region capable of conquering territory in Israel. As bad as Hezbollah’s missiles are and the devastation they can cause, the Lebanese guerrilla group cannot conquer and hold onto a single kibbutz along the northern border for an extended period of time. The same goes for Hamas with its tunnels and rockets to the south.
Does that mean there are no threats? Not at all. There are. They simply need to be viewed in the right proportion.
The security cabinet needs to become a place where political considerations are checked at the door. The cabinet of 2014, according to the comptroller’s report, was dysfunctional. Israelis have a legitimate reason to be concerned ahead of a future war.
The fact that the military and the Shin Bet hid their original assessments about the effectiveness of the tunnel air strikes shows their contempt for what is supposed to be Israel’s most secret forum, the place where the real decisions are made.
This is an unhealthy atmosphere that needs to be corrected.
Tunnels are a threat to Israel, but the bigger threat is the government’s tunnel vision. It is time to correct that.