Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
Final polls: Blue and White leads, but right-wing bloc unanimously stronger
The final batch of polls conducted before Tuesday’s elections showed the centrist Blue and White widening its lead over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, even as the surveys unanimously indicated that the incumbent prime minister was best positioned to form the next government.
Friday is by law the last day on which surveys can be released before the ballot boxes open on Tuesday morning.
An Israel Hayom/i24 News poll published Friday projected the centrist Blue and White party would win 32 seats in the upcoming vote, five more than the right-wing Likud, which was predicted to win 27 seats. However, the poll found that right-wing bloc led by the Likud would beat the center-left bloc by a substantial margin.
The survey projected right-wing parties winning 64 seats in total. In addition to Likud’s 27, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism was slated to win 8 seats, followed by the center-right Kulanu, the right-wing Union of Right Wing Parties, the right-wing Zehut, and the New Right with six apiece. The ultra-Orthodox Shas party was polling at five seats, while the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu and centrist Gesher parties did not pass the 3.25% electoral threshold.
Meanwhile, the center-left camp was projected to take 56 seats in total, with nine for center-left Labor, six for Hadash-Ta’al, five for left-wing Meretz and four for Ra’am-Balad.
To secure a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, Blue and White will likely be unable to build a ruling coalition without the support of parties on the right.
The Israel Hayom survey also gauged the percentage of voters for parties who are sure of their vote. At the top of the list was Labor with 77%, followed by United Right Wing Party (76%), Blue and White (72%), UTJ (71%) and Likud (70%). At the bottom are Meretz (48%) and Ta’al-Hadash (47%).
Some 52% of respondents said Netanyahu would be Israel’s next prime minister, as opposed to 27% who said it would be Gantz. The poll conducted by the Maagar Mohot Institute surveyed 1,002 Israeli adults on April 4 and had a margin of error of 3.1%.
A poll by Smith Research for the Jerusalem Post published Friday showed Gantz’s Blue and White picking up 28 seats, with Netanyahu’s Likud at its heels with 27. But it found that overall the right and center-right would control 68 seats compared to 52 from the center and left.
Another survey published Friday evening by Channel 13 news had Likud and Blue and White polling even at 28 seats, after a poll published by the network earlier in the week gave the former a one-seat advantage. Like other polls, right-wing and religious parties were forecast to win a majority of Knesset seats.
A poll published late Thursday by public broadcaster Kan gave the right a narrower, although still decisive, lead of 64 to 56.
“Past polls have shown that nearly one out of every six or seven voters makes a decision only in the last two days before the elections, and it isn’t clear what will be the dynamic of the coming few days,” the Maariv daily wrote Friday.
On Friday, Yedioth Ahrohonth also published a poll that similarly showed Blue and White leading over the Likud. That survey projected Gantz’s party winning 30 seats, while Netanyahu’s party was slated to take 26. In third place was the Labor party with 11 seats, followed by UTJ (7), Hadash-Taal (7), The New Right (6). Meretz (5), Kulanu (5), Shas (5), Zehut (5) the Union of Right Wing Parties (5) Yisrael Beytenu (4), and Ra’am-Balad (4). Yedioth Ahronoth also predicted that Orly Levy-Abekasis’ Gesher party would fail to pass the threshold.
Channel 12’s final election poll published Thursday night — conducted by the same pollster as the Yedioth survey — showed a similar trend. The poll predicted Blue and White winning 30 seats, while the Likud polled at 26 seats. The poll showed Labor winning 10 seats, Hadash-Ta’al and Union of Right Wing Parties with seven, New Right with six, while the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, left-wing Meretz, right-wing Zehut, center-right Kulanu and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu received five seats each. Also picking up five seats was the Union of Right-Wing Parties.
Rounding out the Channel 12 poll with four seats was Ra’am-Balad, an alliance of two Arab parties that, along with Hadash-Ta’al, made up the Joint List in the outgoing Knesset. According to Channel 12, in total, Blue and White, along with center-left and Arab parties, would receive 56 seats, versus 64 for Likud with the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.
The TV news station said that its survey also factored in the likelihood that supporters of the two parties would vote.
Asked who they preferred to be prime minister, 36% of poll respondents said Netanyahu, only just beating out Gantz at 35%. Despite this parity, 58% of those polled said they believed Netanyahu will be premier after elections, with only 21% saying Gantz would become leader. The poll was conducted by the Midgam polling firm. It included 1,290 responds and a 2.8% margin of error.
That final polls again reflect the easier route Netanyahu is expected to have in cobbling together a ruling coalition in light of the overall strength of right-wing parties. (the Times of Israel) Staff & AFP
Netanyahu: If I’m re-elected, I’ll extend sovereignty to West Bank settlements
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Saturday to extend Israeli sovereignty to the settlements of the West Bank if he is re-elected in Tuesday’s elections.
Flatly ruling out Palestinian statehood, which he said would “endanger our existence,” Netanyahu promised to permanently maintain overall Israeli security control in the West Bank and to formalize Israeli rule over the 400,000-plus Israeli Jews in the settlements. This would apply not only to major settlement blocs, but also to isolated settlements, he indicated.
Asked in a Channel 12 interview why he hadn’t already extended Israeli law to the settlements or annexed them, he initially replied, “Who says we won’t do that? We’re on the way…. The next term will be fateful.”
Pushed further, he specified, “We’ll go to the next stage.”
“I am going to apply Israeli sovereignty, but I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements. From my perspective, each of those settlement points is Israeli. We have responsibility [for them] as the government of Israel. I don’t uproot any, and I won’t transfer them to the sovereignty of the Palestinians. I take care of them all.”
Netanyahu’s promise Saturday came a day after he told Channel 13 news that he had told US President Donald Trump he would not evacuate “a single person” from any of the settlements, and amid reports that he believes Trump will back him on settlement annexation if the Palestinians reject the much-anticipated Trump Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
Netanyahu’s dramatic comments about annexing the settlements came as he seeks to bolster support for his Likud party ahead of Tuesday’s elections, including by encouraging right-wing voters to choose Likud over some of the smaller right-wing parties.
A Channel 13 report on Saturday night, meanwhile, quoted sources close to Netanyahu saying he was “more ready than ever” to annex or extend Israeli law to the settlements, and anticipates possible backing from Trump.
Trump’s recognition last month of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights prompted Netanyahu to look into annexation, the sources said. The timing of such a move, they said said, would follow Trump’s presentation of his peace plan, expected soon after the elections.
If the Palestinian Authority, as expected, rejects the Trump proposal, and Netanyahu says yes to it with certain reservations, Netanyahu believes Trump “would give him backing and legitimization to annex or extend Israeli law to all West Bank settlements or at least some of the blocs,” the TV report said.
In an interview broadcast on Channel 13 on Friday, Netanyahu said he had made clear to Trump that he is not prepared to evacuate “a single person” from any West Bank settlements.
When asked if he knew the details of Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” Netanyahu said he knew what he had told Trump to include in the agreement. “I know what I said: I said there can’t be the removal of even one settlement, and [that Israel insists on] our continued control of all the territory to the west of the Jordan,” Netanyahu said.
Asked in the interview, which was recorded on Wednesday, whether he had specified this to Trump personally, Netanyahu said he had set out the same positions to Trump and former US president Barack Obama. He elaborated that he had specified to Trump that he would not evacuate “a single person” from the settlements.
“You said that to Trump?” he was asked.
“Like that,” he said, adding that it had been recorded.
Were the US plan to contradict those positions, he indicated, it would not be viable. “As far as I am concerned, [the evacuation of settlements] won’t be there [in the plan], and if it is [in the plan], it won’t [happen].”
Trump, he said, “is the best friend Israel has had” in the White House, and respects his position, “as I respect his,” when he insists on something.
When asked if he expected the US administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank like Trump recognized the Golan Heights last month, and why he wasn’t pressing Trump now to approve Israeli sovereignty over the settlements, Netanyahu said: “Wait until the next term.”
“All the settlements, without exception, those that are in blocs and those that aren’t, need to remain under Israeli sovereignty,” Netanyahu told interviewers Rani Rahav and Sharon Gal, adding that this would “eventually” happen.
Over 400,000 Jews live in West Bank settlements. Another 200,000-plus live in East Jerusalem neighbourhoods annexed by Israel after the 1967 war
The prime minister’s stance flies in the face of Palestinian demands for statehood in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Netanyahu has taken an increasingly hard line against Palestinian statehood, having accepted the idea in principle in a 2009 speech.
Netanyahu is well-placed to remain in power after Tuesday’s election. Likud is polling neck-and-neck with or slightly behind key challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, but has sufficient minor party allies to form a majority coalition, the surveys indicate. (the Times of Israel) Staff
Ex-IDF General: New missile defense strategy needed against Hamas
With Hamas targeting the country’s center more frequently, Israel needs a radical shift in its missile defense strategy, former deputy head of IDF Military Intelligence Brig.-Gen. Meir Elran wrote in an Institute for National Security Studies post on Sunday.
According to the post, after making initial jumps forward in missile defense surrounding the 2012 and 2014 wars with Hamas, especially with Iron Dome, the defense ministry may have gotten complacent.
Elran wrote that ending the complacency is not merely critical to protect individually targeted Israeli communities, but also to giving the security cabinet the time and patience to make balanced decisions about war and peace.
In contrast, there is a concern that if Gazan rockets smash into cities and communities in the center of the country, decision-makers would be under populist pressures to act without properly weighing the long-term consequences.
Bar Ilan University and IDF Command College lecturer Dr. Carmit Padan – who specializes in organizational sociology and preparedness – co-wrote the INSS post with Elran.
Conceptually, in terms of tactics, the IDF and other arms of the nation’s home front defense have invested considerably to defend Israeli communities on the Gaza periphery, and critical Israeli cities and infrastructure, wrote Elran.
But that mentality only does well in a full-scale war and as long as Hamas is targeting those key spots, he suggested.
Recently, he noted, Gazan rocket crews have repeatedly launched long-range rockets, even in the absence of a general war.
When they have done so, the post says they have targeted communities in Israel’s center that do not appear to be viewed as critical enough to have an Iron Dome battery assigned to them.
Elran wrote that Israel needs more of these anti-ballistic batteries to protect vulnerable areas in the country’s center.
In addition, while praising the increase in early warning systems to compartmentalize the country into 250 separate regions, he said significant work needs to be done to move the country to the 1,800 regions it is meant to be divided into.
The former IDF deputy intelligence chief said priority must be given to placing early warning systems in areas in the country’s center which Hamas has been less likely to attack, short of a general war, until now.
The INSS post said these areas must also undergo civilian defense drills as take place in Gaza periphery communities, so that home front officials and ordinary citizens are trained to respond to such attacks.
Until these changes are made, Elran said that Hamas may use “surgical” attacks on ill-prepared communities in central Israel not protected by Iron Dome batteries in order to strike terror and chaos without Israel responding with a declaration of war.
More batteries and proper preparation of communities in the country’s vulnerable center could neutralize any strategic advantage Hamas has identified, and reduce the terrorist group’s incentive for this method of attack, he said.
Elran also said that the government should aggressively implement the recommendations of a May 2018 commission regarding the delineation of the defense roles of the various home front agencies, as well as local government authorities.
Along those lines, the INSS post endorsed the State Comptroller’s March 27 report about the lack of readiness of the country’s rescue teams.
Finally, Elran noted that challenges posed by Hamas rockets apply as well for any future conflict with Hezbollah, whose arsenal includes more precise and sophisticated missiles than those of Hamas (Jerusalem Post) Yonah Jeremy Bob
Attackers threaten, curse worshippers at Buenos Aires synagogue
Two people physically attacked worshippers leaving a Jewish center and synagogue in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Friday night and made antisemitic comments during their attack.
Rabbi Uriel Husni, the head of the Mikdash Yosef Jewish center in the capital, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the attack was staged by a man and a woman against worshippers leaving the center in the Palermo neighborhood of the city, as people were leaving following the end of the Friday night Shabbat service.
Most of the congregants, the majority of whom are young men and women, had already left, while Husni remained behind with approximately 10 to 15 people.
According to the rabbi, they then saw a woman who had not been at the prayer service and who was acting strangely exit the Jewish center and shouted at him “Jew, give me food.”
When Husni said he did not have any food, she retorted saying “we need to kill you Jews,” cursed the group in other antisemitic ways, and physically assaulted some members of the group.
At the same time, a man who appeared to be associated with the woman took out glass bottles from a cardboard box and approached the group threatening to attack them with the bottles.
The rabbi said he stepped in front of the group as did a security guard at the center and came face to face with the assailant who spat in the security guard’s face.
The man then threw some unidentified liquid on the ground and the guard slipped over. One of the individuals from the group of youths who attended the prayer service went to help him, and the assailant threw a large rock at him, which Husni managed to block with his foot, injuring himself slightly.
A non-Jewish neighbor entered the fray and sprayed pepper spray at the woman, causing her to end her assault and eventually flee.
The male then ran away with Husni in pursuit. After running for several blocks they encountered the police who briefly detained the man and then released him.
Husni told the Post that he would file a complaint with the police over the attack on Monday morning.
The rabbi said that he was convinced the attack was antisemitic in nature given the antisemitic curses the man and woman hurled at them.
Mikdash Yosef is a Jewish center in Buenos Aires for young Jewish men and women which works both as a Jewish outreach organization bringing young Jews closer to Judaism as well as helping troubled youth who have become involved in drugs and alcohol.
The AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires said it expressed its “total solidarity,” with the members of the Mikdash Yosef community and demanded that the police and state officials look into the attack.
“Prevention and safety are fundamental pillars not to neglect or neglect at any time and under any circumstances. No situation of hatred, discrimination and violence can be tolerated within the framework of a democratic society,” AMIA said in a statement on its website.
(Jerusalem Post) Jeremy Sharon
After entering moon’s orbit, Beresheet spacecraft starts maneuvering for landing
After entering lunar orbit, Israeli spacecraft Beresheet on Sunday morning successfully performed the first of a series of manoeuvers to slow down and go into ever-smaller orbits around the moon before attempting to land on April 11 in the Sea of Serenity.
On Sunday, all of Beresheet’s engines were turned on for 271 seconds, burning 55 kilograms (120 pounds) of the fuel it has left.
The maneuver reduced the spacecraft’s farthest distance from the moon from 10,400 kilometers (6460 miles) to just 750 kilometers (465 miles). The nearest spot in its orbit has remained 460 kilometers (285 miles) from the surface of the orb.
In the four days remaining until the landing attempt, the engineers will perform several further manoeuvers to turn Beresheet’s current elliptic orbit into a circular orbit 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the face of the moon.
On Thursday, Beresheet’s engineers executed the most complicated maneuver yet, a perfectly choreographed space hop allowing the car-sized spacecraft to jump from an orbit around Earth to one around the moon — making Israel the seventh country in the world to achieve the feat.
In order for the spacecraft to successfully enter into an orbit around the moon, Beresheet needed to slow down from 8,500 kilometers per hour (5,280 miles per hour) to 7,500 kilometers per hour (4,660 miles per hour). Although that still seems fast to mere humans, according to engineers, it is the orbital equivalent of slamming on the brakes. The engineers accomplished this by turning the spacecraft so that its engines thrust in the opposite direction, slowing down the speed.
A picture of the far side of the moon with Earth in the background taken by Beresheet at 470 km from the moon.
It took about nine minutes for eight different engines to slowly maneuver the spacecraft in the right direction, and a little less than six minutes for the engines to slow the spacecraft down to the correct speed.
The United States, Russia (as the USSR), Japan, China, the European Space Agency and India have all made visits to the moon via probes, though only the US, Russia and China have successfully landed on the moon; other probes lost control and crashed into the surface.
If Israel successfully lands as planned on April 11, it will also be the first time that a privately financed venture has landed there.
The NIS 370-million ($100-million) spacecraft is a joint venture between the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, funded almost entirely by private donations from well-known Jewish philanthropists.
“There is a significant chance we have a crash landing,” said Opher Doron, the space division general manager at Israel Aerospace Industries. “It’s very dangerous, and it’s difficult to predict if we’ll succeed.”
In total, the spacecraft has traveled almost 6 million kilometers and still has about half a million left to go. This is the slowest and longest trip a spacecraft has made to the moon. The distance from the Earth to the moon is on average about 385,000 kilometers (239,000 miles).
By utilizing the gravitational pull of the earth and the moon and only activating the engines at the nearest and farthest points on the ellipses, engineers were able to drastically reduce the amount of fuel needed on the spacecraft. Fuel still accounts for the majority of Beresheet’s weight. At launch, the spacecraft weighed a total of 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds), of which about 440 kilograms (970 pounds) were fuel.
Beresheet, which means “Genesis” in Hebrew, lifted off on February 22 from Cape Canaveral in Florida atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the private US-based SpaceX company of entrepreneur Elon Musk.
The project launched as Israel’s entry into the Google LunarX challenge for nongovernmental groups to land a spacecraft on the moon. Google ended the contest in 2018 with no winners, but the Israeli team decided to continue its efforts privately.
If Beresheet successfully lands on April 11, the spacecraft is expected to carry out two or three days of experiments collecting data about the moon’s magnetic fields before shutting down. There it will stay, possibly until the death of the solar system, on the moon’s surface, joining approximately 181,000 kilograms (400,000 pounds at Earth weight) of human-made debris strewn across the moon’s surface. (the Times of Israel)
As vote nears, PM likely seeking to annex right-wing votes, not West Bank land
The PM always veers rightward before elections, skeptics say, noting that just last year he fought the very plan he is now proposing. But things have changed since
by Raphael Ahren The Times of Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday evening dropped a bombshell with potentially dramatic political, diplomatic and security-related ramifications for Israel and the entire region — or was it just an empty election promise?
“I am going to apply Israeli sovereignty, but I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements,” he said in an interview with Channel 12, in what cannot be understood as anything but a vow to annex a significant part of the West Bank.
“We’ll go to the next stage,” he announced.
Some have taken Netanyahu at his word, saying he has considered a partial West Bank annexation for some time now and might actually act on it, after the April 9 elections and the subsequent publication of the US administration’s plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“I think that releasing a strategic and historic decision in an election campaign bubble is not serious and (is) irresponsible,” his chief political rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, said Sunday.
But most politicians and pundits shrugged the statement off as a cheap ploy to endear himself to right-wing voters. Beyond the timing of the statement, just three days before Israelis head to the polls, and the fact that major policy pronouncements usually get a bit more fanfare that seemingly off the cuff comments in a TV interview, is the fact that annexing settlements goes against everything Netanyahu has said for years.
The comments failed to cause a major stir in Israel, where many remember how on March 16, 2015 — one day before the last Knesset election — Netanyahu declared that no Palestinian state would be established under his watch, which stood in opposition to his previous endorsement of a two-state solution.
Shortly after the election, however, he changed tune once more and went back to his commitment to the principle of two-states for two peoples (a formula he eventually abandoned in early 2017, shortly after Donald Trump entered the White House).
Netanyahu routinely veers rightward in the final days of an election campaign. Indeed, raising the prospect of Israel annexing the settlements is a smart move, politically speaking: By joining the pro-annexation camp, Netanyahu all but erases any substantial difference between his Likud and the New Right and the Union of Right Wing Parties, thus making his own party more attractive to hard-right voters who otherwise would have opted for the more hawkish alternatives.
The annexations statement is the second part of a one-two punch, with Likud also warning potential voters for smaller parties that Netanyahu could lose the chance to form a coalition without Likud being made the largest party.
The result is liable to decimate his potential allies, with URWP and New Right hitting the panic button in response.
“Netanyahu decided to wipe out New Right in order to form a ‘peacenik’ government with [Yair] Lapid and Gantz,” New Right leader Naftali Bennett warned on Facebook Sunday night.
Furthermore, the prime minister’s promise was made not in a speech or a declaration but in response to a television interview, and only after veteran political reporter Rina Matzliah put him in a corner him by asking why he has not done anything to advance Israeli sovereignty over any part of the West Bank.
Statesmen planning a move as dramatic as an annexation of the settlements — which would inevitable draw a torrent of international condemnation, possibly including the threat of sanctions — usually can be expected to announce their intentions in a somewhat more formal context than an interview.
But the most convincing argument against taking Netanyahu’s promise at face value is the indisputable fact Netanyahu has long fought against any and all legislative attempts to annex all or major parts of the West Bank beyond the main blocs.
Netanyahu has never spoken about annexing all West Bank settlements. In the past, he even floated the idea of leaving settlers in place under Palestinian rule in a future peace agreement.
In January 2017, he pushed back against attempts by Bennett and others to annex Ma’ale Adumim and other area. Tzachi Hanegbi, a close Netanyahu ally, said at the time such a move would be “a disaster” for the country.
And in February 2018, he buried the so-called Sovereignty Bill, proposed by first-time legislators Yoav Kisch (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home), which would have done exactly what Netanyahu now vows to do after the elections: applying Israeli laws in all the settlements from teeming Ma’ale Adumim to the hilltop of Ma’ale Michmash.
In an awkward bid to defend his opposition to the bill, Netanyahu at the time declared that, “for a while now I’ve been talking about it with the Americans.”
Indeed, one of his guiding principles on this issue is “optimal coordination with the Americans,” he told lawmakers in the Knesset.
But the White House did not like Netanyahu’s claim at all, indicating that the idea of unilaterally applying sovereignty over the West Bank was not part of the administration’s peace plan.
“Reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for the West Bank are false,” then-spokesman Josh Raffel said. “The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the President’s focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.”
Raffel’s rare on-record rebuke became the first, and pretty much only, public disagreement between Netanyahu’s government and the administration of Donald Trump.
There are indications, though, that Netanyahu may be looking to annex if not all settlements, then at least the major blocs.
A few things have happened since the February 2018 annexation gaffe that might indicate that he could actually obtain Trump’s okay for a partial West Bank annexation, most importantly his recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights last month.
If the president spontaneously decided to back Israel’s claim over a territory that clearly belonged to another state — Syria — before Israel captured it, Netanyahu may be thinking he could do the same for the West Bank, which everyone agrees was not part of a sovereign state before Israel snagged it in the 1967 Six Day War.
“There is a very important principle in international life: When you start wars of aggression, you lose territory; do not come and claim it afterwards. It belongs to us,” he said last month as he returned from Washington.
A few hours later, a senior Israeli official, who was identified by The New York Times as Netanyahu himself, stressed that any occupied territory that was “captured in a defensive war” belongs to the victor, clearly hinting at a possible West Bank annexation.
Netanyahu may be employing some magical thinking in surmising that he can draw legal precedent from the Golan move. Trump himself told a group of Jewish Republicans on Saturday that the decision to recognize Israel’s effective annexation was essentially made on the fly and based on security implications alone.
Nonetheless, Netanyahu has told associates he thinks Trump would back a partial West Bank annexation move, according to a Channel 13 news report.
Well-placed Israeli and American sources told The Times of Israel recently that Netanyahu could seek to annex at least the major settlement blocs — such as the Etzion Bloc, Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel, possibly in exchange for assurances from right-wing coalition partners to back legislation that would protect him from criminal prosecution, assuming he is given a chance to form a coalition after Tuesday’s vote.
While the US might not initially be in favor of a unilateral Israeli annexation of all settlements, after the Palestinians turn down the White House’s peace plan, as they are widely expected to, Netanyahu could suggest such a sweeping move in response to Ramallah’s intransigence.
Angry about the rejection, Trump may well be inclined to give Israel green light for annexation.
Even if he is serious about pushing ahead with annexation, though, all bets will be off should Netanyahu end up having to turn to the center to form a coalition, which could happen if any of his right-wing allies fall below the electoral threshold.
Even if the New Right and UWRP are only weakened, they may not be able to hold Netanyahu’s feet to the fire on the promise. That may only become clear once coalition negotiations are in full swing.
But by making his annexation comments and possibly stealing at least some thunder from his likely partners on the right, he might have made sure that he never actually has to go through with it.
No stone left unturned…
In the world of intelligence, the saying goes, reality often exceeds the imagination, and yet the operation to return Zachary Baumel’s remains to Israel in a mission that spanned the globe can easily be considered one of the most impressive in the country’s history.
by Yoav Limor J Wire
Israeli officials have long known where Baumel was buried. The matter of our missing soldiers was also raised on many occasions with foreign governments, primarily in the midst of peace talks with Syria and the Palestinians. After the Oslo Accords were signed, Yasser Arafat even transferred one of Baumel’s dog tags to Israel, but nothing more ever materialized. Syria has always said it would agree to resolve the mystery, but only parallel to receiving the Golan Heights in return, as part of a peace agreement between the countries.
A little over a year ago, the issue was again raised by then-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. If the reports are true that Russia was involved in the operation, we can assume that Lieberman spoke with his counterpart in the Russian defence ministry, Sergei Shoigu. It appears that this time the response was different, and the Russians agreed to lend a hand. Either way, Israeli officials began working vigorously. In a series of intelligence operations, the Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman) and Mossad pinpointed Baumel’s exact resting place. All the information was gathered into a classified file under the code name “Operation Bittersweet Song.”
According to the reports, we can assume Israel and Russia exploited the fact that Syria was mired in a civil war. Syrian President Bashar Assad, focused almost entirely on his own survival in recent years, couldn’t have prevented Russia from doing as it pleased on Syrian soil even if he had wanted to because Moscow had rescued his regime. We can also assume that an operation of this sort is managed at the highest levels on both sides, spearheaded by the respective army chiefs of staff (first Israel Defense Forces’ Gadi Eizenkot and then Aviv Kochavi in Israel, and Valery Gerasimov in Russia). Assuming this was the case, the operation also survived the diplomatic crisis between Israel and Russia following the downing of a Russian military plane last September, for which Russia explicitly blamed Israel.
The Russian defence ministry spokesman confirmed that Russian solidy worked on the matter for months. In retrospect, it sounds simple. But Russia did something that many countries likely wouldn’t have: put its own people in harm’s way for another country’s humanitarian cause. If this is what happened, it means that Russian soldiers were the ones to carry out, over a significant period of time, the physical search for Baumel’s remains. Once the green light was given, the body was flown to a third country and from there—after an IDF team conducted DNA tests—it was flown to Israel aboard an El Al aeroplane.
In Israel on Wednesday, officials stressed that nothing was given in exchange for Baumel’s return. It’s safe to assume that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during his short visit to Moscow on Thursday, will heap praise on his Russian hosts, although it would be nice if he brought along Lieberman and Eizenkot—the two people who laid the foundations for the momentous operation. Netanyahu should also make further use of the mechanism that has been established, alongside crucial regional issues, to locate the remains of the other soldiers that went missing during the Sultan Yacoub battle—Yehuda Katz and Tzvi Feldman—as well as Israeli Air Force navigator Ron Arad, whose remains are believed to still be in Lebanon.
Beyond the enormous operational drama and personal story that has now been closed with Baumel’s return home, this chapter also provides a unique lesson about Israel. There are very few countries in the world, if any, who after 37 years would continue searching for their missing soldiers, let alone jeopardize intelligence assets in the process. Israel proves time and again that it is extraordinary and doesn’t spare any effort to solve even the most daunting mysteries. This won’t bring the dead back to life, but it will give their families a burial place over which to mourn, and the soldiers who are currently serving the knowledge that if heaven forbid something were to happen, the country would turn over every stone for them.
What Is Behind the Opposition to Peace with Israel?
by Bassam Tawil The Gatestone Institute
- The anti-Israel campaign in the Arab and Islamic world sees peace with Israel — and not failed leadership, bad economic policies and corruption — as the biggest threat to Arabs and Muslims. Recognizing Israel’s right to exist is also seen by many Arabs and Muslims as a humiliation to their values, their culture, their political power and their economic traditions. They seem concerned that Arabs and Muslims might wake up one morning and start demanding freedom of expression and free and democratic elections like the ones held every few years in Israel.
- The anti-peace camp seems to want its people to continue living in misery and under dictatorships, so that it is easier to recruit people to jihad against Israel and the West. Also, if people are lifted from poverty and misery and begin to enjoy the fruits of modern civilization, there is a chance that Arabs and Muslims will move away from Islam and even start endorsing the inadmissible values of the West.
- The Trump administration will soon discover what every child in the Arab and Islamic world already knows: that the Israeli-Arab conflict is not about a settlement or a checkpoint or a security fence, but about Israel’s very right to exist in the Middle East. The Trump administration will also learn that peace with Israel is seen by many Arabs and Muslims as nothing but an unacceptable threat that must at all costs be stopped.
Peace with Israel is purportedly a form of surrender and submission that will harm the dignity of Arabs and Muslims.
This is the theme of a massive campaign being waged by Palestinians and other Arabs in preparation for the announcement of the US administration’s plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the “deal of the century.” The plan, according to US officials, is expected to be announced sometime after the general elections in Israel, slated for April 9.
The latest campaign is designed to thwart the “deal of the century” and terrorize Arabs and Muslims who may wish to accept the US administration’s peace plan.
As part of an effort to raise awareness to the dangers of the “deal of the century,” an increasing number of Palestinians and Arabs are now trying to explain to their people why peace and normalization of ties with Israel is totally unacceptable.
The latest effort came in the form of an online campaign called “The International Anti-Normalization Campaign.”
The organizers of the campaign say they are worried that some Arab states and leaders may cooperate with the “deal of the century.” They are concerned because they see that some Arab states and leaders are already engaged in various forms of normalization with Israel.
The campaign clearly aims to send a warning not only to ordinary Arabs and Muslims, but also to their leaders, about the “dangerous repercussions” of making peace with Israel.
According to the organizers of the anti-peace campaign, “normalization [with Israel] is the miserable outcome of a culture of surrender and submission” — and concessions and peace are only shameful and degrading.
For them, the words peace and compromise (with Israel) seem associated with extremely negative connotations such as retreat, defeat and surrender.
Recognizing Israel’s right to exist is also seen by many Arabs and Muslims as a humiliation to their values, their culture, their political power and their economic traditions. They have been educated to see Israel as an alien body and a “colonial project” planted in the Middle East by Western powers. They therefore cannot accept the presence of Jews — in what they regard as their own sovereign state — on lands they believe belong solely to Muslims.
Even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is often described by Western media outlets and officials as a “moderate” and “pragmatic” Arab leader, shares the view that Israel is nothing but a “colonial project.” In a speech before PLO delegates in Ramallah last year, Abbas quoted Egyptian intellectual Abdel-Wahab El-Messiri, saying:
“The functional nature of Israel means that it was evoked by colonialism in order to fulfill a specific function, and thus it constitutes a colonialist enterprise that has nothing to do with Judaism.”
“[Oliver Cromwell] came up with the idea of transferring the Jews from Europe to the Middle East… because they wanted this region to become an advanced post to protect the interests and the convoys coming from Europe to the East… He asked Holland, which owned the largest fleet in the world, to transfer the Jews, but the project was unsuccessful. This was in 1653.”
In the past year, Abbas has also repeatedly announced his rejection of the unseen “deal of the century.” He has referred to the plan as a “conspiracy” and the “slap of the century.” How then can he turn to his people and suddenly accept it — or any deal that might recognize Israel’s right to exist?
“Normalization [with Israel] is tantamount to defeat,” explained Mohammed al-Adloni, secretary-general of an anti-Israel group, “The International Coalition for Supporting Jerusalem and Palestine.”
He went on to warn that making peace or normalizing ties with Israel would constitute a threat to the “consciousness” of Arabs and Muslims. Making peace with Israel, al-Adloni said, would be like “a complete occupation of the consciousness [of Arabs and Muslims].”
Al-Adloni and other anti-Israel activists in the Arab and Islamic countries appear worried that, should they make peace with the “Zionist entity,” their people might be exposed to democratic values and freedom of expression. They seem concerned that Arabs and Muslims wake up one morning and start demanding free and democratic elections like the ones held every few years in Israel.
The anti-peace camp in the Arab and Islamic world appears not to want its people exposed to advanced Israeli technology, including medical care. This camp seems to want its people to continue living in misery and under dictatorships, so that it is easier to recruit people to jihad against Israel and the West. Also, if people are lifted from poverty and misery, and their living conditions are improved so they begin to enjoy the fruits of modern civilization, there is a chance that Arabs and Muslims will move away from Islam and even start endorsing the inadmissible values of the West.
This camp, extremists, seem not to care about lowering the high rate of unemployment among Arabs and Muslims, improving the living conditions of its people or offering young Arabs and Muslims hope for a better future. They seem instead to want their people to continue living in misery so that their anger, again, can be directed more easily towards Israel and the West.
The anti-Israel campaign in the Arab and Islamic world sees peace with Israel — and not failed leadership, bad economic policies and corruption — as the biggest threat to Arabs and Muslims. The message that the anti-peace activists are sending to their people says: “Peace with Israel is the worst thing that could happen to us Arabs and Muslims because these Jews will invade our minds and our culture.”
Yasser Qadoura, who represents a Lebanon-based group called “The Popular Committee for Palestinians in the Diaspora,” says that his organization is now making a big effort to educate Arabs and Muslims about the “dangers” of peace and normalization with Israel. He said that his followers and he are planning to publish a “list of shame” containing the names of Arabs and Muslims who are caught promoting peace and normalization or trying to make peace with Israel.
Anyone whose name appears on the list will immediately be denounced by Arabs and Muslims as a “traitor.” Treason, in many of the Arab and Islamic countries, is a charge punishable by death. The “list of shame” would therefore be seen by Arabs and Muslims as a license to kill anyone who dared even to talk about peace with Israel.
Last month, a large group of Arab and Islamic activists who met in the Lebanese capital of Beirut ruled that “all forms of normalization with the Zionist entity are an act of treachery.” According to the group, an Arab or Muslim who even engages in sports, cultural and artistic activities with the “Zionist entity” would be considered a “traitor.” In the eyes of the Arab and Islamic activists, including Islamic religious leaders, anyone who plays soccer or attends a cultural event with a Jew would be condemned as a “traitor.”
If and when US President Donald J. Trump’s administration finally publishes its plan, it will discover that many Arabs and Muslims have already launched a campaign of intimidation to stop their leaders from making peace with Israel. If an Arab or Muslim child is prohibited from playing soccer with a Jew, how can the Trump administration expect the Arabs and Muslims to recognize Israel’s right to exist?
The Trump administration will soon discover what every child in the Arab and Islamic world already knows: that the Israeli-Arab conflict is not about a settlement or a checkpoint or a security fence, but about Israel’s very right to exist in the Middle East. The Trump administration will also learn that peace with Israel is seen by many Arabs and Muslims as nothing but an unacceptable threat that must at all costs be stopped.