Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
Selfie from 20,000 miles away: Israeli Beresheet snaps first shot in space
The selfie shows the Southern Hemisphere, and Australia can clearly be seen in the background.
The Israeli spacecraft Beresheet, which was launched off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, two weeks ago on its way to a planned Moon landing next month, took its first selfie in space. The selfie – which was taken some 37,600 km (20,000 miles) away from Earth – shows the Southern Hemisphere, and Australia can clearly be seen in the background.
The image was taken as the spacecraft slowly orbits the Earth for the next month or so, before it will be pulled by the gravitational force of the Moon and the landing process will begin. Beresheet is scheduled to land on the Moon on April 11.
“The selfie of the spacecraft is proof of the technological power of Israel,” said the Israeli Minister of Science and Technology Ofir Akunis. “Despite the small size of the spacecraft Beresheet, it brings us great joy. The spacecraft is proof of the technological strength and power of Israel, and its success passes on an educational message as well to the children of Israel: You need to dream big,” he said.
“I am proud of the decision of the Science and Technology Ministry to be a partner in this project,” Akunis said. (Jerusalem Post)
Blue and White platform includes backing for Western Wall pluralistic plaza
The Blue and White party platform will include a commitment to implement a currently frozen deal to expand the pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall and establish a first-of-its-kind body made up of non-Orthodox Jewish leaders to oversee the site, a party source said Tuesday.
The policy proposal comes as part of a “specific commitment to rehabilitating the relationship with the Diaspora, born out of a sensitivity to the specific to the needs and views of Diaspora Jewry,” a Blue and White source said.
The party, which is projected to be the top vote-getter in April’s election, is set to release its platform this week, after weeks of speculation on the new faction’s positions.
According to the source, the party will call for the implementation of the full agreement reached between the government and non-Orthodox Jewish leaders in January 2016, overturning a decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay any progress on the plan at the behest of his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.
Netanyahu’s decision was met with outrage from a large swath of Diaspora Jewry, underlining a growing rift between Israel and the US Jewish community.
Taking a clear stance on the Western Wall deal would position the party in direct opposition to both Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox parties that fought it, as well as send a strong message of support to non-Orthodox denominations in the US and elsewhere.
“We believe in the shared fate of the Jewish people. They are a part of the Jewish people and as such, we need to take them into account,” the party source said of liberal and progressive Jewish communities.
The original plan, which Blue and White will push for, includes three key provisions: a joint entrance to the main Western Wall plaza and the egalitarian prayer space; a new permanent pavilion greatly enlarging the existing modest prayer deck, which has served as a site for pluralistic prayer since 2000; and, perhaps most controversially, a joint council made up of representatives from liberal streams of Judaism and government representatives that would be in charge of overseeing the site.
A remnant of a wall supporting the Second Temple complex destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, the Western Wall has been honored by Jews for thousands of years as place of pilgrimage and prayer. But, while anyone can access the wall and the prayer plaza it backs on to, the site is managed by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which imposes Orthodox practices on worshipers, separating men and women and prohibiting egalitarian prayer services.
The small platform currently used for pluralistic and egalitarian prayer services is located in the Davidson Archaeological Park, tucked into an area called Robinson’s Arch. It is out of sight of the current mainstream Orthodox prayer plaza, separated from it by the ramp leading up to the Mughrabi Gate, which is the only entrance for non-Muslims to the Temple Mount.
Activists have demanded the plaza be raised dozens of feet to be on the same level as the main prayer plaza, and be connected directly to it. Access is now only possible via a series of makeshift stairs and ramps separated from the main plaza.
The original decision to build a new pavilion dates back to January 31, 2016, when the government — spurred by decades of high-profile activism by the feminist prayer group Women of the Wall — approved the so-called Western Wall compromise. Painstakingly negotiated since 2012 with leaders of liberal Judaism and other prominent figures, it provided for the construction of a permanent pluralistic area at the site of the existing temporary one.
But on June 25, 2017, Netanyahu, facing intense ultra-Orthodox pressure, froze the compromise. While killing off the joint entrance and pluralistic governing board, however, he vowed to continue with the construction of a permanent platform.
Although the initial plan was warmly embraced by liberal and Diaspora Jewry, it was immediately met with controversy, as Israeli ultra-Orthodox politicians, who initially allowed the proposal to advance, responded to grassroots pressure in their communities to step in and work to prevent its implementation. As a result, several Diaspora Jewish organizations took up the cause of the pluralistic platform, which has become a point of increased friction.
Blue and White, which was formed last month in a merger between former military chief Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party and centrist leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, has so far been largely mum on policy specifics ahead of the scheduled release of its campaign platform in the coming days.
Previous reports have indicated the party’s platform will hew to some of Netanyahu’s right-wing stances, including a lack of support for Palestinian statehood.
On social issues however, it will likely break with the government, supporting initiatives blocked by the ultra-Orthodox, such as public transportation on Shabbat.
While Yesh Atid had already released a detailed 200-page manifesto before the merger was announced last month, Israel Resilience declined to publish any clear policy proposals on domestic, security or diplomatic issues.
The Yesh Atid manifesto included a clause saying that the party “would work toward a renewed agreement on the Western Wall plaza so that it will be divided equally between men and women, and to establish a third plaza that will be appropriate for the wide and diverse Israeli and Jewish public.” Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid has included a promise to “return the Western Wall deal” in his campaign stump speech.
In Gantz’s maiden political speech in January, he said that he was committed “to the agreement regarding prayers at the Western Wall.” But, has been the case with other policy areas, he did not specify what specific policy he was proposing. (the Times of Israel)
Putin Promises Netanyahu to Stop Delivery of ‘S-300’ to Syrian Regime
Russian President Vladimir Putin has informed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Moscow would stop the transfer of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system to the Syrian army and would form a joint team with Tel Aviv on the pullout of foreign forces from the war-torn country, political sources said.
During the meeting in Moscow last Wednesday, Putin also pledged to allow Israel to operate freely in Syria, the Tel Aviv sources said.
Russia has dispatched advanced S-300 air defense batteries to Syria, raising concerns they could be used against Israeli warplanes. They have yet to be deployed, according to intelligence assessments.
On Sunday, Maariv newspaper claimed receiving information on the pledges made by Putin to Netanyahu from the Israeli PM’s office.
It confirmed that the first deal struck between the Russian and Israeli leaders means that the Syrian army would not control the S-300 air defense system, already installed in northern Syria, and would be banned from using it unilaterally against Israeli jets.
As for their second agreement, Maariv’s military analyst Tal Lev-Ram said that it touches on the presence of Iranian forces in Syria.
Lev-Ram downplayed the agreements reached between Netanyahu and Putin saying, “Russians would not exert pressure to force the pullout of Iranian forces from Syria, but would keep their double standards to protect their interests.”
On Sunday, the Israeli PM told his Cabinet that he made it unequivocally clear to Russia that Tel Aviv will not allow the military entrenchment of Iran in Syria and would continue to take military action against it. . (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
Belgian carnival float condemned for featuring anti-Semitic puppets of Jews
Participants in a street celebration in the Belgian city of Aalst on Sunday paraded giant puppets of Orthodox Jews and a rat atop money bags, prompting Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs to condemn the act as “shocking, typical, anti-Semitic caricatures from 1939.”
The umbrella groups representing Flemish and French-speaking Jews in Belgium, FJO and CCOJB respectively, complained to the federal UNIA watchdog on racism about the display. “In a democracy like Belgium, there is no room for such things, carnival or not,” they wrote.
The group Vismooil’n created the two puppets as their 2019 theme for the Aalst carnival, the local edition of celebrations that take place throughout parts of Europe and Latin America annually, in anticipation of Lent, the 40-day period before Easter. Participants prepare floats and dance routines, parading them through town on Carnival.
The Vismooil’n group, a veteran participant that specializes in hyper-realistic puppets, created the display to address rising prices, they told a Belgian blogger last month. They titled the work “Shabbat Year.”
The display features two giant puppets with streimels, fur hats worn by some Orthodox Jews on special occasions, in pink suits. They both have sidelocks. One of the puppets is grinning while smoking a cigar and extending a hand, presumably to collect money. That puppet has a white rat on his right shoulder. Both puppets are standing on gold coins and have money bags at their feet.
In the background is a round window reminiscent of the architecture of many European synagogues and a small box resembling a mezuzah on its right-hand side.
For the 2013 Aalst carnival, a different group designed a float resembling a Nazi railway wagon used to transport Jews to death camps.
The people who designed the float, known as the FTP Group, marched near the float dressed as Nazi SS officers and Haredi Orthodox Jews. A poster on the wagon showed Flemish Belgian politicians dressed as Nazis and holding canisters labeled as containing Zyklon B, the poison used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews in gas chambers in the Holocaust. (the Times of Israel)
Trump blasts Omar’s latest remarks: A ‘dark day for Israel’
U.S. President Donald Trump says that the latest comment made by U.S. Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar relating to Jews and Israel marks a “dark day” for the Jewish State.
“Representative Ilhan Omar is again under fire for her terrible comments concerning Israel. Jewish groups have just sent a petition to Speaker Pelosi asking her to remove Omar from Foreign Relations Committee. A dark day for Israel!” Trump said on Twitter.
Trump was responding to Omar’s tweet, in which she wrote: “I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee.”
Her comments were seen as suggesting that encouraging support for Israel amounts to advocating allegiance to a foreign country.
It followed her accusation in February that the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby group in Washington was paying off members of Congress to gain their support for Israel.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said that her most recent comment was another example of anti-Semitism. The issue of dual loyalty has long been a sensitive issue for many U.S. Jews who support Israel, insisting that they are first and foremost American though working to safeguard Israeli interests.
A number of Jewish groups wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday, asking for Omar to be removed from the committee.
“In light of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s recent anti-Semitic tweets, statements, and address before Islamic Relief USA on Saturday, February 23rd, we, the undersigned organizations, request that you immediately remove her as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee,” the groups wrote.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, also wrote to Pelosi on Monday and asked that the House draw up a resolution condemning her statements.
Greenblatt wrote that accusing Jews of having dual loyalties has “long been a vile anti-Semitic slur.”
In response, Democrats drafted a resolution denouncing anti-Semitism.
According to news website Politico, Democrats intend to put the measure, which would likely have universal Republican support, to the floor on Wednesday.
Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, had posted on Twitter that anti-Muslim stereotyping of Omar was offensive and should be roundly condemned, and that, for the same reason, Omar’s repeated use of anti-Semitic tropes should be, as well.
“I am saddened that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel. I urge her to retract this statement and engage in further dialogue with the Jewish community on why these comments are so hurtful,” wrote Lowey.
“The people of the 5th [Congressional District of Minnesota] elected me to serve their interest. I am sure we agree on that!,” Omar told Lowey, hinting that Lowey’s support for Israel was not in the interests of her congressional district in New York.
Omar added that “I have not mischaracterized our relationship with Israel, I have questioned it.” (WIN)
Muslim activist guilty of assaulting pro-Israel activist in Australia
A Muslim activist in Australia named Sam Ekermawi who has filed numerous racial vilification and discrimination complaints against prominent Australians was found guilty on Friday of assaulting pro-Israel activist Avi Yemini during a scuffle outside a courthouse in Sydney in June 2018.
In the incident, Ekermawi, a Palestinian immigrant to Australia, was attending a hearing involving a complaint he filed with the Australian Human Rights Commission, which investigates alleged infringements of anti-discrimination legislation, against TV news presented Sonia Kruger.
In a 2016 on-air discussion, Kruger backed a ban on Muslim immigrants to Australia and said that there was a correlation between the number of Muslim immigrants in a given country and the number of terror attacks it suffers.
Ekermawi, 75, sued Kruger under anti-discrimination legislation. The case against Kruger was dismissed in February this year, since Australian law bans discrimination on a racial basis only, and the court determined that while Kruger had vilified the Muslim community as a whole, Muslims do not constitute a racial group.
Following a court hearing in June 2018, Yemini confronted Ekermawi while recording the incident on a cell phone to protest his frequent legal complaints and what he and fellow activists describe as an assault on freedom of speech in Australia.
While accosting Ekermawi following the hearing with several supporters, Yemini can be heard telling Ekermawi to “go back to the shit hole you come from” whereupon Ekermawi lunged at Yemini and grabbed his arm, tussling with him for several moments before being separated.
Yemini said that the primary reason he filed a complaint against Ekermawi was “to give this man a taste of his own medicine,” in relation to the multiple complaints the Muslim activist has filed for racial vilification.
“This is someone who has come to Australia to build a better life and spends most of his days taking high-profile Australians to human rights commission for offending Islam,” said Yemini.
“He’s found a way to manipulate the Australian judicial system to enforce Islamic blasphemy laws.” (Jerusalem Post)
Why Netanyahu and Gantz publicly bicker most over the policy they most agree on
PM and ex-IDF chief together helped shape Israel’s careful, arguably wise Gaza strategy, but it’s hard to explain to a rocket-battered public, so they’re blaming each other for it
by Haviv Rettig Gur The Times of Israel
A Likud campaign video released earlier this month warned ominously — and for the umpteenth time — that Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz is a “weak leftist.” Another cautioned that he associates with those who would “hand the Gaza periphery to Hamas,” and “will sit with [Arab lawmaker Ahmad] Tibi in an [electoral] bloc” if he wins the April 9 election.
Gantz’s campaign has responded with accusations no less startling in their vehemence — and no less empty of substance. “Netanyahu,” one Gantz campaign video said, “pays the Hamas murderers 15 million dollars. Every month. In cash. In exchange we got hundreds of rockets on the residents of the south, tens of thousands of dunams burned, hundreds of incendiary kites and balloons, tens of thousands of children in bomb shelters. We won’t pay Hamas protection money,” it vowed.
Gantz has also placed Netanyahu’s 15-year-old votes for the 2005 pullout from Gaza at the center of his campaign. “He voted for the disengagement three times!” one Gantz campaign video cried, while another accused: “Netanyahu expels Jews by force.”
According to the Gantz campaign, Netanyahu is a cagey man, prone to territorial withdrawals and intimidated by Hamas, and his weakness puts Israel’s children in harm’s way. According to the Netanyahu campaign, Gantz is an incorrigible leftist who will “form a weak, leftist government with the left” (the word “left” recurs like an incantation in Likud’s campaign; indeed, it is Likud’s campaign) and in effect hand the reins of national leadership to anti-Zionist Arabs.
What makes all this frenetic image-making so very odd is the fact that it is being deployed at the behest of two men who together helped formulate Israel’s current defense posture toward Gaza and are in near-total agreement about that policy.
It’s even stranger when one considers the fact that there are other theaters in which Netanyahu and Gantz can be said to disagree, even if only a bit. On Iran, for example, Gantz believed the Obama administration’s 2015 nuclear agreement was a done deal while Netanyahu believed direct and persistent confrontation could derail it. Or in the West Bank, where a tight-lipped Gantz is thought to be more amenable to contemplating ways to reduce the occupation, but cautions it may not be possible, while Netanyahu has insisted both that he backs a Palestinian state and that he vehemently opposes one. On Iran the two men’s records are clear; on the West Bank their actual views remain largely guesswork.
Even so, it is their Gaza policy that has so far drawn the attention of their mutual campaigns. And that’s no accident.
A new kind of enemy
On August 25, 2014, the penultimate day of the 50-day Operation Protective Edge, a poll by Channel 2 found that just 38 percent of Israelis said they “supported” Netanyahu’s handling of the war in Gaza. That was an abysmal showing, down 44 points from a high of 82% on July 23, a month earlier, which was in the second week of the war and just after the start of Israel’s ground incursion into the Strip.
The August 25 figure marked the nadir of a long decline — on August 5, Netanyahu’s approval was 63%. On August 21, 55%.
The slow collapse of Netanyahu’s wartime popularity had to do with how Israelis understood the outcome of the war. Israelis, like most Westerners, believe that war should be fought in decisive engagements by military formations. Arab-world opponents of Israel, meanwhile, gave up defeating the Jewish state on such conventional battlefields in the 1970s. By the early 2000s, after continuing Arab political decline had cemented the sense that Arab nationalism and the Arab state as an institution had failed to deliver, a new strategy gradually took hold among many of the region’s Islamist movements that has defined the war against Israel ever since.
During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the influential Israeli analyst Ehud Yaari suggested calling the new strategy, advanced in that war by Hezbollah and subsequently by the Palestinian terror group Hamas, the “Muqawama Doctrine.”
“The literal translation of the Arabic word muqawama is ‘resistance,’ but that does not reflect the full meaning of the term. A more correct translation would be ‘the doctrine of constant combat,’ or ‘persistent warfare,’” he wrote in November 2006.
After Arab states failed to dislodge Israel through military effort, the new strategy seeks to replace direct confrontation by military formations with “the methodical erosion of the enemy’s resolve” through unconventional guerrilla-like means. Thus, “there is no need to defend territory against Israeli occupation, or to try to conquer land,” Yaari explained. The war is ultimately a psychological one: “The essence is to spill blood, and since that is the case, it is better to focus on the civilian population as the primary target. The motto is blood, not land, and the effort is directed at denying victory to the enemy, not at achieving a quick result.”
This logic, a kind of Islamist inflection of classic 20th-century anticolonial guerrilla strategies, has led Palestinian terror groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, to deploy waves of suicide bombers to terrorize Israeli civilians, to hide their fighters and rocket launchers deep within their own civilian populations in order to raise the political cost for conventionally powerful Israel of deploying its assets, and to deliver endless and sometimes unintentionally comical streams of invective and taunting meant to degrade Israelis’ psychological resilience.
Part of this strategy of permanent confrontation includes a redefinition of victory. Whereas Israelis, like most Westerners, are culturally primed to seek a decisive clash, Hamas and Hezbollah see in mere survival a victory, since it permits the continuation of the muqawama. As long as the enemy doesn’t win, it loses. Even as Lebanon burned around it in the 2006 war, Hezbollah insisted it had “won” because Israel had not destroyed it. Hamas, too, in the wake of the 2014 war in Gaza, celebrated its “victory,” despite widespread destruction and the deepening of the blockade on the beleaguered enclave.
Yaari is the clearest spokesman for a view that is now more or less the accepted strategic thinking among Israeli planning elites about the challenge posed by this new way of war.
And Netanyahu, the prime minister in 2014, and Gantz, the IDF chief of staff at the time, are among the key architects of Israel’s response to the new threat.
The waiting game
That response flows from a basic premise: in this waiting game, time is on Israel’s side. There is a corollary: Israel can do a great deal in the meantime to ensure this long war concludes in its favor.
And so Israel has set about degrading the capabilities of its guerrilla enemies and growing its own non-conventional capabilities, from missile defense to cyber and espionage to precision air power to the psychological arena intended to undermine the terror groups’ backing at home. Hence the Gaza blockade and the persistent, increasingly public Israeli air campaign against Hezbollah’s supply chain in Syria.
And Israel enjoys some structural advantages in this effort that its opponents, largely for ideological reasons, are unable to see.
For example, the muqawama doctrine, at least as advanced by Hezbollah, sees in Israeli democracy an Achilles heel, making the country’s leaders overly sensitive to the psychological effects of terrorism and the Israeli public overly prone to self-flagellation and despair. For evidence they point to Israel’s ferocious internal debates and partisan infighting, including during wartime.
But Hezbollah has yet to make the connection between Israel’s political and economic freedoms on the one hand and the economic and technological prowess that drive its military might on the other. Hezbollah is a drain on Lebanon, on its governance and economy, and effectively chains the country’s fate to the warmaking needs of the ayatollahs of Tehran. Israel, meanwhile, has experienced over the past two conflict-filled decades almost uninterrupted prosperity and flourishing. The point here is not moral, but strategic. The very thing Hezbollah and Hamas spokespeople have often depicted as the source of Israel’s weakness — for example, the public anxiety over soldiers’ welfare, the political vulnerability of Israel’s elected leaders — is the source of its stamina. Democratic Israel can afford this standoff, and it becomes more affordable with each passing year of economic growth. Lebanon and Gaza cannot.
It is no accident, then, that neither Netanyahu nor Gantz believes it is in Israel’s interest to uproot Hamas from Gaza. For all its bluster and pious proclamations of permanent holy war, Hamas has mismanaged Gaza into ruin, dragging the impoverished territory into its permanent conflict not only with Israel, but from 2014 on, with Egypt too. It keeps Gaza weak, even as its belligerency bolsters Netanyahu’s case on the world stage for a stricter security regime in any future agreement in the West Bank, and it has spent much of the past 12 years since its takeover of the Strip suppressing more radical groups in the territory, including the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad. It simply isn’t worth the vast toll in lives and treasure, both Israeli and Palestinian that a full invasion and military pacification of Gaza, the kind of operation that alone might stand a chance of an immediate and direct dismantling of Hamas, would require.
In Hezbollah, too, Israel has discovered an aggressor that, though far more dangerous than Hamas, is nevertheless more vulnerable over time than the muqawama strategy seems to acknowledge. Even as it constructs its state-within-a-state in Lebanon, Hezbollah faces pressure from other Lebanese who do not want a recurrence of the destructive 2006 war, and from its patron Iran and its ally Damascus, whose interests are decidedly state-based and influenceable via the traditional means of the state system: sanctions, military actions and the like.
This is ultimately a strategy of containment, of demonstrating to the muqawama mind and its believers and supporters throughout the region, not least among them the regime in Tehran, that Israel is better positioned to win not only a conventional conflict, but this new psychological game of “chicken” as well.
In the 2006 war, then-prime minister Ehud Olmert, a strategic neophyte, proclaimed in the war’s early days that the goal of the conflict was to “annihilate Hezbollah” — playing wholly into Hezbollah’s narrative that survival is victory. Netanyahu has led Israel through three wars in Gaza since, and his approach, which Gantz helped shape and in 2014 successfully implemented on the ground, shows the new Israeli strategic concept in action: each war was limited, geared toward denying Hamas successes while not paying the high costs that would be demanded for meaningful Israeli gains. In each, Israel refused to be drawn into escalations by Hamas, instead escalating the fighting at its own slow, measured pace, leaving Hamas the problem of explaining to Palestinians why their suffering seemed to be increasing amid Hamas’s promises that the enemy was cowed and victory was inevitable. And then, crucially, Israel refused a ceasefire on any terms that meaningfully altered the conditions in place at the start of the fighting.
In each case, the point was to demonstrate to Hamas that none of its “force multipliers” – international pressure on Israel due to civilian deaths, domestic political pressure from rocket-battered Israeli civilians – could protect the organization. Israel could operate in Gaza, Netanyahu and Gantz sought to show, with no meaningful domestic or international constraints, dealing pain to Hamas at its leisure and escalating at will. Each round of fighting, they sought to show, left Israel better off and its opponents worse off. The permanent muqawama was dismantling Palestine, not Israel.
When it comes to Gaza, Israeli security policy is divided not between “right” and “left” as these are depicted by the current political campaigns, but between those who grasp this strategy and those who, for various reasons, rail against it.
On the right, that latter group includes Naftali Bennett, now of the New Right party, who has long charged that this systematic avoidance of decisive engagements eats away at Israeli morale and deterrence. On the left, it includes some members of the Meretz party, for example, who view the permanent standoff engendered by this strategy as exacting an untenable cost from the civilian populations on both sides — evidenced by the humanitarian crisis in blockaded Gaza and widespread post-traumatic symptoms among Israeli residents of Gaza-bordering working-class communities like Sderot.
But the upshot in this election season concerns the way the Netanyahu and Gantz campaigns have tried to distinguish themselves from each other, and often appealed to the Gaza conflict to do it.
Credit where it’s due
Gantz is taking credit for the Hamas forces destroyed under his command, while lashing Netanyahu for working to ensure that Hamas’s regime doesn’t fall by allowing it to receive fresh cash infusions each month — though it was Netanyahu who ordered the escalations of 2014 that dealt Hamas the blows Gantz is celebrating, and Gantz himself who sought to avoid a Hamas collapse even as he sent airstrikes and ground troops to demolish its installations and tunnels.
Rocket attacks have not ended under Netanyahu. Last November, over 400 rockets struck Israel in a single 24-hour volley. It was Netanyahu who made the decision then not to get drawn into renewed fighting in Gaza, not Gantz. It is Netanyahu who released 1,100 terrorists for Gilad Shalit in 2011. The absurdity reached a kind of apotheosis when a Netanyahu campaign video showed images of terror attacks blamed on the “left” that it claimed would return if “leftist” Gantz won the election — but the attacks shown occurred while Netanyahu was prime minister.
Meanwhile, as Gantz’s campaign slams the cash suitcases to Hamas and Netanyahu’s 15-year-old votes for the Disengagement, very few Israelis believe Gantz would have voted against the Disengagement in his stead, or, were he still in uniform, would be fighting to stop the cash payments that are backed by the bulk of the defense establishment.
This isn’t just hypocrisy. It is a more active and fervent sort of dishonesty. It is an attempt, in essence, to hide the very fact that the two contenders for the premiership actually share a single policy on Gaza. And the smaller the gap that divides them, the harsher and more dishonest the rhetoric seems to grow.
Gantz and Netanyahu are both careful strategists pursuing a careful strategy in Gaza, but it’s a difficult strategy to explain to a rocket-battered public. It may be a wise policy, and in the meantime arguably successful, but as Netanyahu’s declining poll numbers during the 2014 war showed, it will never really be popular.
And so, ironically, it is on the issue where Gantz and Netanyahu may be most similar that their campaigns have invested the bulk of their smearing efforts, subjecting Israelis to a mindless barrage of pretense and posturing in which, without shame or hesitation, each side accuses the other of holding its own views.
Will war between Israel and Hamas break out before elections ?
A continued deterioration of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure will continue to put pressure on Hamas, which could lead to another violent clash with Israel.
by Anna Ahronheim The Jerusalem Post
As Israel’s April 9 election approaches, tension is mounting on the Palestinian front, with ramming attacks in the West Bank and an increase of violence along the border with the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Almost a year after Palestinians first began demonstrating along the Gaza border fence as part of the Great March of Return, Israel’s military intelligence has warned of the high risk of military escalation.
The ongoing Great March of Return protests began last March 30 and have seen hundreds of thousands of Gazans violently demonstrating along the security fence with Israel, demanding an end to the 12-year-long blockade of the coastal enclave.
Israeli defense officials have been examining ways to improve the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip in an effort to avoid a violent escalation that could lead to another deadly war.
But despite both sides not being interested in another war, a continued deterioration of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure will continue to put pressure on Hamas, which could lead to another violent clash with Israel.
Hamas has in the past provoked confrontation with Israel to detract from internal issues, but one of Hamas’s primary fears is that the people of Gaza will one day rise up against it and lead to its fall from power and the return of the Palestinian Authority to the Strip.
According to the IDF, over a half million people have attended the protests since they began, with the number of Palestinians congregating at points along the border ranging between several thousand to 45,000 each day.
In the month leading up to the anniversary, there has been a marked increase of Hamas-led violence along the border, both during the day and at night, with explosive balloons and improvised explosive devices hurled at troops or placed on the fence.
In response, Israel has increased strikes on Hamas outposts, because in Gaza the equation is simple: explosive aerial devices are answered by strikes.
On Monday, IDF combat helicopters struck two Hamas positions in southern Gaza in response to several explosive balloons which had been launched from the blockaded enclave. It was the fourth retaliatory air strike against the group in the three days.
Also on Monday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told reporters that, “If the [Israeli] occupation or Netanyahu think of an adventure, I think they will pay the price that will send them away. We do not fear any adventures from Netanyahu towards Gaza… The resistance has its eyes open.”
On Tuesday morning the IDF briefly closed the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza, the coastal encalve’s main commercial and humanitarian crossing after a drone was spotted above.
While the crossing was closed for around half an hour, closure of the crossing is often seen as an initial step towards a greater response to Gaza violence.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who was recently sworn in as the military’s top officer, has prioritized the southern front as one which could explode into war at any moment.
As one of his first visits as chief of staff, Kochavi went to the Southern Command and met with senior officers and approved operational plans for war, including setting up a centralized administrative unit to prepare a list of potential targets in Gaza in case a war should break out.
In response to the protests, the IDF has “substantially” increased its forces deployed on the Gaza border and all troops have undergone “specially developed trainings designed to replicate the expected elements of the Gaza border events.” Israel has also stationed counter-terrorism forces in communities along the Gaza border in order to rapidly respond to any infiltration or military attacks.
The IDF has constructed sand berms to provide defenses for IDF forces along the border, and also dug long trenches and laid barbed wire behind these berms in an attempt to delay crowds and vehicles from reaching Israeli civilian communities if a large-scale infiltration succeeds.
Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip, Yayha Sinwar, has become increasingly more pragmatic as he struggles to cope with the dire humanitarian situation in the enclave and is trying to avoid full-scale war with Israel.
But the ruthless hardliner is also building up the military capabilities of Hamas for when the next military confrontation explodes. He is continuing to build terrorist cells in the West Bank to carry out attacks against Israelis while at the same time undermining the rule of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Several months ago, former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warned that there was a high probability of escalation in the West Bank. In November, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Nadav Argaman echoed Eisenkot’s warning, saying the relative calm in the area was “deceptive” as “Hamas is trying very hard to carry out terrorist attacks in and from Judea and Samaria.”
In Argaman’s November briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he said that security forces have thwarted 480 terror attacks in the West Bank, including 219 attacks planned by Hamas cells and 190 planned by lone wolves.
According to data released by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), there has been a steady increase of attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem over the last several months. In October there was a total of 109 attacks, 116 in November, 138 in December and 138 in January 2019.
On Monday, an IDF officer and Border Police soldier were wounded after three Palestinians rammed their car into troops outside a West Bank village near Ramallah. The officer, a company commander in the Kfir Brigade, was seriously wounded and was evacuated to Tel HaShomer Hospital in serious but stable condition.
While the economic situation is much better in the West Bank compared to the Gaza Strip, it has gotten much worse since US President Donald Trump’s administration stopped funding for the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA.
In mid-February, Israel’s defense cabinet also began withholding Palestinian tax funds and deducted some NIS 500 million ($138m.) from the total sum that is still due to be delivered to the PA. Defense officials believe that the funds provided by Israel were to be given to the families of Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli prisons.
There are also tensions between Israeli officials and Palestinians in prison, after Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan installed disrupters to garble conversations that prisoners would have on smuggled cellphones. With violent incidents already having broken out between wardens and inmates over the issue, it is possible that it could spill over onto the Palestinian street.
In Jerusalem, tensions are also high surrounding the decision of the Waqf – the Muslim custodian of the Temple Mount – to reopen the Bab el-Rahma or Golden Gate which had been closed by Israel since 2003.
In late February, dozens of Palestinians clashed with Israeli police as they forced their way through the gate, led by Waqf officials, to hold prayers. According to a report in Haaretz, Waqf officials have now called for mass protests prayers every Friday by the entrance to the site, similar to the mass protest prayers seen after Israel installed metal detectors at the site following a deadly terror attack in 2017.
While neither side wants conflict to break out, all the components for a violent explosion between Israel and the Palestinians are in place.
All it would take is a small miscalculation.