Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar vowed to defeat the IDF and “shower” Israeli cities with missile barrages if Israel launches another military campaign in the Gaza Strip.
“We will break the defeated occupation army if it crosses into the Gaza Strip. We know what we say and mean what we say,” Sinwar said in a speech celebrating the Eid al-Adha holiday in his hometown of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.
“If Israel launches a campaign in Gaza, we will shower their cities with hundreds of missiles in one go,” he added. “If a war occurs, we will strike on the occupation army and break its power once and forever. We are not joking.”
Sinwar then praised the August 1 attack by Hani Abu Salah, a member of Hamas’s border patrol, who wounded an IDF officer and two soldiers as he tried to infiltrate into southern Israel in the area of Kissufim.
The attack, Sinwar said, was a “heroic commando one.”
Abu Salah was wearing a uniform and was armed with grenades and a Kalashnikov assault rifle when he infiltrated into Israeli territory from the southern edge of the Hamas-run enclave.
During his short speech, Sinwar also stated that the series of weekly protests along the border fence “will go on until it achieves its goals.”
The “Great March of Return” border protests began on March 30 and have seen over half a million people violently demonstrating along the security fence, demanding an end to the 12-year blockade, with several thousand to 45,000 congregating at points along the border every Friday.
Demonstrators have been burning tires and hurling stones and marbles, as well as carrying out other types of aggression, which include the throwing of grenades and bombs (including military-grade explosives) toward troops. Ball bearings and other projectiles have been launched by high-velocity slingshots toward forces along the border.
The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said that close to 300 Palestinians have been killed and over 22,000 injured since the “Great March of Return” began.
According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of March, there have been a total of 29,187 Palestinians injured since the protests began, with 7,246 wounded by live ammunition and 773 by rubber bullets.
Another 12,442 Palestinians have been injured by gas inhalation and 8,449 by other means. OCHA documentation also found that the large majority of those injured were men (21,433), followed by 5,333 male youths, as well as 1,699 women and 445 girls.
The killing of the first Israeli soldier along the Gaza front since Operation Protective Edge in 2014 also occurred during one of the weekly protest, after an IDF force responded to a violent protest by 20 Palestinian youth some 400 meters from the border fence. St.-Sgt. Aviv Levi was killed after he was shot in the chest by sniper fire.
Over the past year there have been 10 rounds of violent conflict with terrorist groups in the Strip, with the last round in early May seeing over 700 rockets fired towards southern Israel and killing five civilians. (Jerusalem Post)
Calling the Jews “unexpected visitors,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas claimed Sunday that the Palestinians are the rightful owners of the land of Israel, saying his people are descendants of the ancient Canaanites for whom the biblical land of Canaan was named.
Speaking on the occasion of the Eid al-Adha holiday in the Jalazone refugee camp near Ramallah, Abbas said, “We will remain, and no one will be able to move us out of our homeland…. The unexpected visitor in this country has no right in this country. Thus, we tell them: ‘Every brick you laid in our land and every house you built in our land will vanish, God-willing.’”
He also denounced the Israeli Defense Ministry’s initial approval of 2,300 more homes in Judea and Samaria.
“Whatever homes they announce here or settlements there, they will all disappear, God-willing,” he said. “They will be in the dustbins of history and they will remember that this land is for its people, its residents and the Canaanites who were here 5,000 years ago. We are the Canaanites.”
“There’s no connection between the ancient Philistines & the modern Palestinians, whose ancestors came from the Arabian Peninsula to the Land of Israel thousands of years later,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted last month. He also attached a National Geographic article on a study showing that the Philistines had come to Canaan from southern Europe during the Early Bronze Age but that their gene pool had disappeared into the local population within a few centuries.
To support their claim to Israel, Palestinians have variously maintained that they were descended from three different ancient peoples who populated this corner of the Middle East in biblical times — the Canaanites, Hittites and Philistines. Abbas has mentioned the Canaanite theory before as well – such as to the U.N. Security Council in 2018.
According to the London-based Saudi paper Asharq Al-Awsat, the Palestinian president also took the opportunity to once again reject U.S. President Donald Trump’s as-yet-unrevealed peace agreement.
Abbas also “praised the Palestinian people’s honorable stance and patience” regarding the cut in salaries they have had to endure as a result of the Palestinian decision not to accept from Israel any tax transfers after Jerusalem decided to deduct the amount Ramallah pays to jailed terrorists and families of terrorists killed during attacks. (WIN)
A Jewish driver was attacked on Salakh a-Din Street in east Jerusalem by a group of young Arab men, according to Channel 12.
The group saw the man driving down the street and began to attack his car. They threw stones and tried smashing his windows.
A police officer, who just finished his shift, was driving behind the man. He got out of his car and began shooting his gun in the air to disperse the mob.
The officer was able to get the driver out of his car.
The driver was taken to the hospital, treated and released with minor injuries. The same cannot be said for the car.
Two of the suspects involved have been arrested. (Jerusalem Post)
While the IDF has not yet come up with its own proven operational response to enemy drones, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, ELTA Systems, has already sold 100 “Drone Guard” systems to a number of foreign defense agencies.
The system detects and brings down drones using frequency blocking and electronic warfare, but a new upgrade, set to be introduced in the coming months, involves a “suicide” drone called the Bird that brings down enemy UAVs hovercraft by identifying their flight path and flying into them.
The ‘Bird’ anti-drone system
Now a new upgrade, which is being introduced in the coming months, should bolster the response to the threat – a “suicide” drone called the Bird that brings down enemy UAVs hovercraft after identifying their flight path.
The new system independently identifies a single drone or a group upon takeoff, can classify them by type and even predict the flight path.
The system uses not only radar but also a combination of optical tools that help to differentiate between the drone and other craft in the air, should the enemy attempt to deceive the system with balloons, kites and even rounds of bullets fired into the air.
ELTA has also developed an innovative capability to “steal” a drone, which has not yet been fully operationalized.
As well as bringing down an enemy UAV by hitting it with a drone, the system offers other options that are already operational and have proven themselves. These include using blocking frequencies or firing on the enemy drone from the ground with a special sight on a rifle that tracks and locks onto the drone in the air and then opening fire on it.
“One must remember that this is not a threat that is close in seriousness or damage to an anti-aircraft missile or rocket,” says a senior ELTA official. “Every anti-drone system has its advantages and disadvantages, so combining them optimizes the solution.”
The key challenge in combatting the drone threat is identification, therefore the new system provides 360-degree coverage.
The “Drone Guard” system, which can be used in automatic mode or semi-automatically alongside a soldier, has already proven itself in securing the G20 conference in Argentina in late 2018.
“The system already knows how to adapt well to its environment and differentiate between friend and foe,” the ELTA official says.
“The ‘Bird’ operating against drones will be a sophisticated upgrade.” (Ynet News)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Wednesday he declined an offer by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be Israel’s next ambassador to the United Nations.
“After considering the offer,” he wrote in a post on Twitter, “I’ve decided it is my duty to continue to serve as minister for public security and strategic affairs, and to remain in Israel at this vital time in order to do everything in my power to ensure the [election] victory of Likud, led by Netanyahu.”
Erdan, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, would have replaced the current ambassador, Danny Danon, whose term is supposed to end soon.
The UN posting is often seen as a mission impossible job in a hostile environment, where Israel is constantly attacked diplomatically. The job has in the past been held by Netanyahu, who represented Israel at the world body from 1984 to 1988, before being elected to the Knesset that year and later becoming prime minister in 1996.
It could take up to two months following the September 17 elections to form a new government, leaving senior Likud members with a five-month wait to find out if they will have a cabinet position. Erdan reportedly wanted the justice, foreign affairs, or education portfolios, all of which Netanyahu is expected to reserve for his top confidants and senior coalition partners, should he be tasked with forming the next government.
Appointing Erdan to the UN post would mean one less senior Likud member pushing for a key cabinet position. It would also put a veteran politician into a sensitive diplomatic posting in a year that may have significant developments with the Trump peace plan on the horizon.
According to reports, Netanyahu has offered Erdan the post on two previous occasions.
Last month, Netanyahu reportedly offered the job to New Right co-leader Naftali Bennett if he dropped out of the September elections. The appointment would have temporarily taken Bennett — an ambitious politician with aspirations to succeed him as premier, making him a potential threat — out of the Israeli political arena.
Bennett never confirmed the reports, but his party released a statement at the time saying he was only interested in a government position and that any other proposal was “irrelevant.”
Seen as a hawk, Danon stepped into the job in 2015 under a cloud of questions about his qualifications and ability to properly represent Israel, given his hardline politics and previous rejection of the peace process. (the Times of Israel)
by Seth Frantzman The National Interest
Israel’s Ministry of Defense has revealed a new program to design a combat vehicle for the future. Three prototypes, showing off the latest technology that will enable manned and unmanned vehicles to secure terrain, were on display in a dusty field below a series of hills. Beyond one of the hills was a fake village, constructed to resemble the kind of environment Israel might have to fight in during a battle in Lebanon. It was a fitting place for Israel to be discussing the battlefield of the future, while a simulation of the current battlefield is in the background. For Jerusalem the challenge is facing well-known adversaries, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, while looking further afield at an Iranian threat now entrenching in Syria and Iraq.
The unveiling of the new program comes just a few days after a Palestinian militant fired on an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) patrol near the Gaza Strip, wounding an officer and two soldiers. According to the IDF, the troops returned fire and killed the assailant. A Hamas military post was targeted in retaliation by an IDF tank.
Later the same day shots were fired at Israeli forces in the West Bank. In addition, local media in Syria accused Israel of carrying out an airstrike on the Golan Heights near the armistice line. That day’s activities suggest that a conflict on three or more fronts is brewing for Israel. Israeli media, officials and defense analysts have been warning about a scenario since 2017. The IDF has been working on the assumption that the next war could be fought simultaneously on multiple fronts.
Former Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, who has said Israel struck more than one thousand Iranian targets in Syria in the last years, asserted last year that Israel faces challenges in Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, Gaza, and in Sinai. In addition, a sixth layer should be added to this, one that includes Iraq, which is where Israeli jets reportedly struck targets. According to this scenario, Israel sees some Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitaries, which are linked to Iran, as a threat. Potential threats include paramilitary militias that could join a future conflict by cutting through Syria to the battlefield and Iranian supplied precision-guided missiles based in Iraq. These Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitaries, such as Kata’ib Hezbollah, are linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which Washington has designated a terrorist organization.
Israel hasn’t faced a multifront conflict like this since 1973. At that time the war was fought between Israeli conventional forces and the armies of Egypt, Syria, as well as elements of Iraqi armored divisions and other allies of the Arab states. Today the situation is dramatically different. As a result, Israel is honing its hi-tech military to be more precise, effective, and agile using artificial intelligence, drones, and missiles that fly further than before.
That is part of the vision that Israel presented when it unveiled its future combat vehicle program, dubbed Carmel, on August 4. A successful test of Israel’s Arrow 3 in Alaska also shows how Israel hopes to confront ballistic missile threats.
All of this gives Israel the types of capabilities that it has deployed at the Gaza, Lebanon and Syrian borders in recent years. That means in Gaza, when Israel has carried out retaliatory strikes against Hamas over the last year, often in response to rocket fire by Hamas, the casualties have been relatively low. For instance when four hundred rockets were fired at Israel on the weekend of May 5, several Israelis and seven Palestinians were killed. By contrast, in 2009, when Israel went to war and launched a ground operation in Gaza, more than one thousand people were killed, and thousands of others were wounded as a result of similar rocket fire.
It is now thirteen years since the 2006 Lebanon war. That destructive war also saw a high death toll of both Hezbollah, Lebanese and Israeli civilians and left both sides scarred. That war was also fought in the context of tensions on the Gaza border. Israel had launched operation Summer Rains in June 2006. Hezbollah launched a cross-border raid on July 12, 2006, not expecting that the IDF would launch a major war in response.
Israel understands the kind of conflict it faces in Gaza. It has blunted Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) threats, stopping tunnels and developing a multitiered missile-defense system. Iran may be able to encourage Hamas or PIJ to pressure Israel, because both have links to Tehran, but neither pose a major threat to Israel. By contrast, Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal of more than one hundred thousand projectiles, some with precision guidance that is far better than 2006, is a major threat. Hezbollah knows this and has boasted it can strike all of Israel. But it has tempered its threats with acknowledgement that neither it nor Jerusalem—nor the United States—wants a major conflict.
The larger question then is what comes next in Syria and how the Syrian front might look in a future conflict. With Hezbollah and Iran playing a role in Syria, one that has been revealed through numerous Israeli airstrikes, the chance of spillover is possible. But Syria’s Russian ally doesn’t want the Bashar al-Assad regime threatened through a new round of conflict. It prefers to focus on Syria’s north and tensions with the United States and Turkey.
The recent reports regarding Iraq, particularly allegations of Iranian missiles being based in Iraq and airstrikes, highlight a much larger possible front for Israel and its adversaries. Iraqi media is now responding to the reports of the Israeli airstrike last month. In the past Iraqi Shi’ite militias, such as Kata’ib Hezbollah, have pointed fingers at the United States and Israel in rhetoric against both countries. This is linked closely to Tehran and the IRGC’s own regional strategy and Hezbollah’s narrative, which tends to link Washington and Jerusalem. With U.S.-Iran tensions increasing over the past month, the chance of an incident on one of Israel’s borders growing into a larger crisis is ever-present. If that happens, then Israel may have to grapple with a multifront war for Israel.
With the prospects of the prime minister’s narrowing electoral fortunes, as a cornered political animal seeks to carve a path to victory at the right’s expense
by Haviv Rettig Gur The Times of Israel
It’s usually a bad idea to bet against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s electoral prowess. Surrounded by detractors on left and right, disliked by large swaths of the population, and recently facing the prospect of graft charges, the Likud leader has proven himself an unstoppable political juggernaut, and the shrewdest navigator of Israel’s chaotic politics in recent memory.
That’s an easy conclusion to reach after four consecutive Likud election victories, which last month made Netanyahu the longest-serving Israeli prime minister in the country’s history.
His success has several intertwined causes. Among these are a left that has yet to find a compelling political narrative to replace the Oslo peace effort of the 1990s after its collapse in the 2000-2004 Second Intifada; a Likud rank and file known for its loyalty to the party leader (Likud has had just four leaders since Israel’s founding); a demographic shift in recent decades in favor of the more conservative subcultures in Israeli society, especially Haredim and the national-religious community; and more.
But all of that shouldn’t diminish from the most salient factor that has driven Netanyahu’s victories: the man himself. At key points over the past decade, it was more often than not Netanyahu’s own decisions and tactical insights that ensured his victory. He decided when to run a campaign appealing to centrist voters, and when to lean rightward to shift the coalition math in another direction. It was he who engineered alliances with other parties, such as the union with Yisrael Beytenu for the 2013 election, chose the election days in 2015 and 2019, and orchestrated many of the public fights and crises that set the agenda during the campaigns. He is not just his party’s leader, but also its main political strategist and campaign manager.
That long record of political competence is the backdrop to the stunning setback Netanyahu was dealt when he found himself unable to pull together a coalition after the April 9 race. Though the wrench in the works was Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman’s ultimatum about an ultra-Orthodox enlistment law, among other demands, the failure was Netanyahu’s. As the whole country watched, he let the coalition talks drag on to the last possible day without result — not a single party had signed a coalition agreement by the time Netanyahu gave up on the 21st Knesset on May 30. Ensconced atop a 35-seat Likud, its best showing since 2003, Netanyahu nevertheless failed to force his will on a five-seat Yisrael Beytenu, or to draw meaningful concessions from the ultra-Orthodox. And in the last hours of May 30, he turned to the six-seat Labor party, offering no less than the vaunted defense and finance ministries in a desperate gambit to save his premiership.
The legendary political acumen of Benjamin Netanyahu was nowhere to be found in those proceedings. And the fallout, including the new elections on September 17, have left him weaker than before — and angrier.
Less than forty days to the election, his election strategy is slowly coming into focus, an amalgam of aggressive, brooding and bullying tactics, from turnout-depressing vilification of his opponents and the deployment of hundreds of cameras to polling stations in Arab communities, to fear-mongering among his base over the prospect of a left-wing victory. But none of that, however distasteful, is really new. What’s new this time around is Netanyahu’s focused and decisive turn against the right.
Abandoned by ostensibly right-wing Yisrael Beytenu, pressured ceaselessly by the United Right, he no longer has any interest in propping up the parties that might form a future right-wing coalition, focusing his campaign instead on urging right-wing voters to leave other rightist parties and vote Likud.
Thus, in June, Netanyahu pushed through Likud’s institutions the merger with the four-seat Kulanu party, led by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon. The logic of the move for both men is clear. Kahlon, at four seats, only slightly ahead of the 3.9-seat minimum for entering the Knesset, has avoided being politically erased. Netanyahu, meanwhile, has folded into his ranks one of the wildcards of the race, a man who urged a unity government in 2015 when Kulanu won 10 seats. Running separately, or in a union with some other right-wing party, Kahlon might net more seats for the right as a whole, but Kahlon could not be trusted to back Netanyahu the day after the election.
The trade-off here is clear. In the last two elections, polls have shown that large numbers of Kahlon’s voters voted for him in an emphatic attempt not to vote Likud. When Kahlon is no longer a possibility, most of those votes presumably don’t turn to Likud, but go to the centrist parties from whence they first came before the 2015 race. When he sat in a right-wing coalition, Kahlon represented a net transfer of centrist votes to a right-wing government. While some part of Kahlon’s rightist voters may now vote Likud, those centrist votes are likely lost now to the future right-wing coalition.
Ironically, Netanyahu has begun to couch his campaign at the right’s expense as a defense of the right.
Thus we find many of Netanyahu’s most dependable supporters, such as the columnists and journalists in the Sheldon Adelson-owned Israel Hayom daily, demanding that he commit publicly that he won’t establish a unity government with Blue and White.
“Netanyahu – commit to a right-wing government,” read the title of one such column by Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld earlier this week, which the newspaper, apparently distraught at the prospect, put on its front page.
That column earned a response from Netanyahu, which the paper ran as a “response column” on Wednesday, also on the front page. The “column” is more Twitter post than oped, a series of campaign talking points strung together apparently haphazardly, to the point that some sentences repeat almost verbatim the point raised only a sentence earlier. It is, in other words, a political ad being carried in a Netanyahu mouthpiece. But to those seeking signals of Netanyahu’s political thinking, such ads are more valuable than any lengthy prose full of dissembling and apologia.
The ad/column’s message is confused: “Only a right-wing coalition: There won’t be a unity government,” its headline declares. Right-wing voters “must wake up” and “must vote Likud — only Likud,” it adds.
It is hard to square this focus on voting for Likud alone with Netanyahu’s promise of a right-wing government, since every poll by every pollster has shown the same thing for the past month: Likud will not, in all likelihood, be able to form a right-wing-only coalition if the rest of the right doesn’t grow.
Netanyahu goes on: “My commitment is clear: to form after the elections a strong right-wing government, that will continue to lead the state of Israel to unprecedented achievements and will safeguard the security of Israel’s citizens. That’s my commitment to Likud voters. There won’t be a unity government.”
But he then rails again against voting for other right-wing parties: “Anyone who doesn’t vote Mahal [the letters on Likud’s ballot paper] — in effect votes for the toppling of the right-wing government and the establishment of a leftist government headed by Lapid and Gantz.”
Liberman, the prime minister warned, plans to recommend Benny Gantz for prime minister. Only a large Likud, larger than Gantz’s Blue and White, “will ensure that we are tasked with forming a government, and will deny Liberman the possibility of dragging us to a weak leftist government headed by Lapid and Gantz.”
And in case you still didn’t grasp that this was his main and only point: “We must not repeat the mistake of the last election, when right-wing voters lost seven seats to parties that didn’t pass the electoral threshold.”
On Friday, the prime minister doubled down yet again, posting a Facebook live video stream that hardly bothered to pretend he was aiming for a broader right-wing bloc. “Anyone who votes for another right-wing party that could pass the electoral threshold, and it does pass, in the end makes Likud smaller…. Anyone who says, ‘I want Netanyahu as head of a right-wing government,’ must vote Likud, and not say to themselves, ‘I’ll give this [vote] to someone else and make sure, or hope, that they pass the threshold and then also recommend Netanyahu.’ I’m hearing the stuttering [on that point] by our friends over there on the right.”
The message is astonishing, and completely new: No one ensures a right-wing government except me, Netanyahu. Even the far-right may not recommend me, and so would usher in a left-wing government.
It is rendered all the more astonishing after Likud MK David Bitan, a Netanyahu ally and loyal footsoldier, confirmed on Thursday media reports that said Netanyahu had told Likud activists he would turn to Gantz and ask him to join his next coalition, but without the Yesh Atid portion of the Blue and White alliance. “We have no problem going with Gantz — but without Yesh Atid,” Bitan told Radio Drom, referring to Yair Lapid’s party.
Who to believe? Netanyahu, or Netanyahu? Is a vote for Netanyahu’s Likud really a vote for a right-wing government, whereas a vote for United Right is not?
Here lies the heart of the new strategy: the right-wing “bloc” be damned. In the end, Netanyahu believes it is a Netanyahu government that matters, not a rightist one. Those who support him for his policies and accomplishments may understand that view, but it conflicts directly with Netanyahu’s promise that he’ll only lead a right-wing government.
As the prime minister pivots to a campaign at the right’s expense, ironically egged on by unwitting supporters in Israel Hayom and elsewhere, the rest of the right has responded with growing bitterness and the accusation that Netanyahu is doing his utmost to ensure the very thing he so vehemently forswears: a centrist national-unity coalition.
As United Right chair Ayelet Shaked said Friday in response to Netanyahu’s post, it is Netanyahu, not his “friends over there on the right,” who is “stuttering” — “stuttering with [former Labor leaders] Gabbay and Herzog, and [former leftist coalition partners] Livni and Barak.”
Netanyahu has often and happily joined forces with centrist and left-wing parties in recent years, as witnessed in his attempt to bring Avi Gabbay into his coalition as recently as May 30. But that was no mere fluke born of the desperation of the moment. Netanyahu was in open talks with then-Labor chief Isaac Herzog in 2016 to bring him into the government. Labor actually sat in Netanyahu’s coalition from 2009 to 2011, and then for another two years as the splinter faction Independence, after then-Labor chief Ehud Barak broke away from his own party over a leadership challenge.
Similarly, in the 2013 government, Yesh Atid, now a major part of the Blue and White party, and so an integral pillar of the supposed “center-left bloc,” held the finance, education, welfare, health and science portfolios under Netanyahu. Hatnuah, Tzipi Livni’s left-wing faction that disbanded ahead of the April 2019 race, also sat in that government, holding the justice and environmental protection portfolios. That is, as recently as four years ago Netanyahu was happy to place much of the government’s domestic policy in the hands of what he now depicts as an untouchable “left.”
Netanyahu’s long record of such centrism includes his votes in favor of the Disengagement from Gaza in 2004, or, as prime minister in the late 1990s, his implementation of the withdrawals from Palestinian population centers stipulated in the Oslo peace accords.
In short, those parts of the ideological right not enamored with the man himself are smelling a trick, a betrayal being prepared for them by a man with more flexible principles than his campaign will admit.
“More and more indications are showing us that Netanyahu plans to form a leftist government,” Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, No. 3 in the United Right party, charged in a Twitter post as early as Tuesday.
“That’s why he wants us small and weak,” Smotrich went on. “Only if we’re big and strong can we ensure he has no choice but to form a right-wing government. The United Right will keep Netanyahu on the right.”
Eli Ben Dahan, the deputy defense minister from Jewish Home who ran on the Likud list in April as a concession by Netanyahu to give the far-right another Knesset slot, also slammed Netanyahu’s campaign.
“Without an ideologically rightist party to the right of Likud, we will find ourselves with Likud in a national unity government with the left,” Ben Dahan said Thursday. Such a union “will surrender parts of the land of Israel” in a peace deal with Palestinians, he warned, showing that Netanyahu isn’t the only politician willing and able to play with voters’ fears and anxieties.
“We cannot let that happen,” Ben Dahan concluded.
Israeli pundits often think about election arithmetic through the lens of left or right, the supposed “camps” or “blocs” of Israeli political life. Each time a major news outlet posts a new poll, it includes a pie chart or bar graph showing the “total size” of a “right-wing-and-Haredi bloc” and a “center-left-and-Arabs bloc.” No single party has ever won a Knesset majority, the thinking goes, so the race isn’t actually won by the largest faction, but by such like-minded alliances.
The trouble with this way of thinking is that Israeli politicians do not really behave this way, and Netanyahu least of all. He has shown himself entirely comfortable incorporating the left into his coalitions, and even ceding major agencies and policies to make that happen.
If the collapse of the last coalition talks proves anything, it is that lumping the ultra-Orthodox with the right also doesn’t reflect electoral reality; it is right-wing Yisrael Beytenu, and not the centrist secularists of Yesh Atid, that torpedoed the formation of that coalition over its demands of the Haredim.
Nor does the lumping of the Arab-majority parties with the center or left reflect Israeli political reality. It is true that Arab parties once famously backed the Rabin government’s efforts to push the Oslo accords through the Knesset, but such examples are exceptions, not the rule. Arab parties are not generally disposed to backing leftist or centrist Jewish-majority parties just for the principle of the thing, and have never joined a ruling parliamentary coalition. Indeed, they have proven as likely to cooperate with the right as with the left, if not in their rhetoric then in their politicking and legislation.
Thus the Arab parties joined with Netanyahu in the June Knesset vote forcing a new election, a vote Netanyahu desperately needed in order to avoid having to surrender his premiership to another MK. Shortly after that vote, Netanyahu’s closest political fixer and confidant Natan Eshel — Likud’s lead negotiator in the failed coalition talks in May — penned an oped in the left-wing Haaretz daily urging cooperation between the Israeli right and the Arabs. “We must join our fate to that of Israel’s Arabs,” he wrote, and urged “full cooperation” between the right and the Arab community, and even “a partnership in leading the country.”
With Netanyahu reeling from the failure to form a coalition, the oped was a not-so-subtle wink at the Arab parties, telling them they will find a sympathetic ear in the premier — a leader running an unabashed fear-mongering campaign against the Arab community, complete with secret body cameras in Arab polling stations — as long as they don’t back Gantz for prime minister .
Instead of counting artificial “blocs,” prognosticators would be better served thinking about possible coalitions, which can and do straddle the political divides and are the real engine of victory in an Israeli election.
Netanyahu faces a tricky confluence of electoral realities: the rise of Liberman as a champion of secularists and the liberal right, the abiding strength of Blue and White in the polls that continues to threaten his lead, the loss of Kulanu for the right, and the United Right alliance to his right coalescing without the extremist factions Zehut and Otzma Yehudit, likely leaving perhaps three or four Knesset seats’ worth of rightist votes outside the next Knesset.
Netanyahu’s response is simple and straightforward: abandon the right, secure a Likud lead, and worry about the next coalition’s makeup and policies only after victory is secured on September 17.