Reuters reports: A military affairs commentator interrupts his broadcast to deliver a monologue: I’m alarmed by what’s happening in Israel, he says, I think my children should leave.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak warns of “the seeds of fascism”. Moshe Arens, who served as defense minister three times, sees it as a turning point in Israeli politics and expects it to cause a “political earthquake”.
The past five days have produced tumult in Israeli politics, since conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unexpectedly turned his back on a deal to bring the center-left into his coalition and instead joined hands with far-right nationalist Avigdor Lieberman, one of his most virulent critics.
Lieberman, a West Bank settler, wants to be defense minister. So on Friday, Netanyahu’s former ally and confidant, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, resigned and quit Netanyahu’s Likud party in disgust.
After a weekend to digest the developments, which are expected to be finalised in an agreement between Netanyahu and Lieberman on Monday to form the most right-wing government in Israel’s 68-year-old history, commentators have tried to put it in perspective and found themselves alarmed. [Continue reading…]
Avigdor Lieberman, head of the far-right party Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) has accepted Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer of the defense ministry. The Israeli prime minister’s offer returns to the cabinet a man who is a past foreign minister and whose vision for the future strains the right-wing limits of Israel’s wildly divided political spectrum.
Israeli politicians are mostly horrified by the appointment. Benny Begin, son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin and a longstanding member of Netanyahu’s own Likud Party, said that Netanyahu had acted irresponsibly and “dangerously.” Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union (a joint party composed of Herzog’s Labor Party and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah) and who had actively sought his own place in the cabinet, said the policies now pursued would “verge on insanity.”[Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: In a press conference Friday, [Moshe] Yaalon [who resigned as defense minister today], a fellow member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, warned that Israel was drifting dangerously toward extremism.
“I fought with all my might against manifestations of extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society, which are threatening its sturdiness and trickling into the armed forces, hurting it already,” he said.
Yaalon appeared to be referring to widespread support by Israeli leaders for a combat medic who shot to death a wounded Palestinian attacker as he lay on a street in Hebron in the occupied West Bank.
Thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv and proclaimed the soldier a hero. Israeli human rights activists called it a cold-blooded execution. The killing was captured on video. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: A former chief of Israel’s armed forces, Yaalon had shored up relations with the Pentagon that provided a counter-weight to Netanyahu’s policy feuds with U.S. President Barack Obama over peace talks with the Palestinians and Iran’s nuclear program.
By contrast, Lieberman – whose appointment has not yet been confirmed – is inexperienced militarily and famed for his past hawkish talk against Palestinians, Israel’s Arab minority and Egypt – an important regional security partner for Israel.
An Egyptian official told Reuters on Thursday that Cairo was “shocked” at the prospect of Lieberman as Israeli defense minister.
Washington struck a more optimistic note on Friday. While praising Yaalon, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Washington looked forward to working with his successor.
“Our bonds of friendship are unbreakable and our commitment to the security of Israel remains absolute,” he added. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Israel on Wednesday said it plans to expand a key missile-defense system to warships, in a bid to protect the country’s lucrative offshore gas fields amid growing aerial threats from regional adversaries.
Israel’s military said it had successfully tested a naval version of its land-based Iron Dome system in recent weeks and would begin deploying it on its newest frigates to protect the country’s strategic assets, including its gas rigs.
The naval system is a combination of the land-based Iron Dome missile interceptor and radar systems on ships, the military said. “We call it the Iron Dome of the sea,” Col. Ariel Shir, head of operational systems in the Israeli navy, told reporters on a phone call.
Israel’s land-based Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts short-range rockets and has become a bedrock of the country’s defense since its introduction in 2011.
The ship-based Iron Dome system would augment a combination of land-based systems that Israel has jointly developed with the U.S., and that it hopes will provide a layered defense against a variety of short range missile threats to those capable of flying more than 600 miles. [Continue reading…]
In 2014, Malise Ruthven wrote: When the jihadists of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) tweeted pictures of a bulldozer crashing through the earthen barrier that forms part of the frontier between Syria and Iraq, they announced — triumphantly — that they were destroying the “Sykes-Picot” border. The reference to a 1916 Franco-British agreement about the Middle East may seem puzzling, coming from a radical group fighting a brutal ethnic and religious insurgency against Bashar al-Assad’s Syria and Nouri al-Maliki’s Iraq. But jihadist groups have long drawn on a fertile historical imagination, and old grievances about the West in particular.
This symbolic action by ISIS fighters against a century-old imperial carve-up shows the extent to which one of the most radical groups fighting in the Middle East today is nurtured by the myth of precolonial innocence, when the Ottoman Empire and Sunni Islam ruled over an unbroken realm from North Africa to the Persian Gulf and the Shias knew their place. (Indeed, the Arabic name of ISIS — al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil-Iraq wa al-Sham — refers to a historic idea of the greater Levant (al-Sham) that transcends the region’s modern, Western-imposed state borders.)
But why is Sykes-Picot so important? One reason is that it stands near the beginning of what many Arabs view as a sequence of Western betrayals spanning from the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire in World War I to the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Sykes-Picot agreement — named after the British and French diplomats who signed it — was entered in secret, with Russia’s assent, in May 1916 to divide the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire into British and French “spheres of influence.” It designated each power’s areas of future control in the event of victory by the Triple Entente over Germany, Austria, and their Ottoman ally. Under the agreement Britain was allocated the coastal strip between the Mediterranean and the river Jordan, Transjordan and southern Iraq, with enclaves including the ports of Haifa and Acre, while France was allocated south-eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, all of Syria and Lebanon. Russia was to get Istanbul, the Dardanelles, and the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian districts.
Under the 1920 San Remo agreement, which built on Sykes-Picot, the Western powers were free to decide on state boundaries within these areas. The international frontiers — with Iraq’s framed by the merging of the three Ottoman vilayets of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra — were consolidated by the separate mandates granted by the League of Nations to France in Lebanon and Syria, and to Britain in Palestine, Transjordan, and Iraq. The frontier between French-controlled Syria and British-controlled Iraq included the desert of Anbar province that was bulldozed by ISIS this month.
Kept hidden for more than a year, the Anglo-French pact caused a furor when it was first revealed by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Russian Revolution — with the Syrian Congress, convened in July 1919, demanding “the full freedom and independence that had been promised to us.” Not only did the agreement map out — unbeknownst to the Arab leaders of the time — a new system of Western control of local populations. It also directly contradicted the promise that Britain’s man in Cairo, Sir Henry McMahon, had made to the ruler of Mecca, the Sharif Hussein, that he would have an Arab kingdom in the event of Ottoman defeat. In fact, that promise itself, which had been conveyed in McMahon’s correspondence with the Sharif between July 1915 and January 1916, left ambiguous the borders of the future Arab state, and was later used to deny Arab control of Palestine. McMahon had excluded from the proposed Arab kingdom “portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo [that] cannot be said to be purely Arab.” This clause led to lengthy and bitter debates as to whether Palestine — which Britain meanwhile promised as a homeland for Jews under the terms of the November 1917 Balfour Declaration — could be defined as lying “west” of the vilayet, or district, of Damascus. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: In a surprise announcement Saturday, Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia blamed the recent killing of a militant described as its top commander in Syria on extremist Sunni insurgents. Many expected the powerful Shiite group to point a finger at its traditional nemesis, Israel.
Hezbollah revealed a day earlier that Mustafa Badreddine, one of its most senior figures, died in a mysterious blast in Damascus, the Syrian capital. Before leading thousands of militants in Syria, Badreddine, 55, is suspected of having roles in the assassination of a Lebanese prime minister in 2005, and other bombings that date to the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.
Analysts said Friday that Badreddine’s killing appeared to bear the hallmarks of an airstrike by Israel, which has targeted a number of the Lebanese militants in Syria in recent years. But in a statement, Hezbollah blamed it on “artillery bombardment carried out by takfiri groups in the area.”
Hezbollah uses “takfiri,” an Arabic word, to describe its extremist Sunni Muslim enemies, including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Hezbollah didn’t specify which group killed Badreddine or when he died.
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said there has been no shelling for more than a week in the area where Hezbollah said Badreddine was killed, Reuters reported.
If Hezbollah had blamed Israel for his death, the group would have come under pressure to launch a tough retaliation that, in turn, would risk triggering war. Israel and Hezbollah fought a brief but devastating war in 2006. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Hezbollah’s top military commander, who was directing its operations in Syria and was accused in a string of deadly attacks stretching across decades, has been killed in Damascus, Hezbollah officials confirmed on Friday.
Mr. Badreddine, 55, had been overseeing Hezbollah’s forces in Syria, which have been decisive in keeping President Bashar al-Assad in power through five years of war with various rebel and militant Islamist groups seeking to topple him.
Mr. Assad is a close ally of Hezbollah’s patron, Iran, which has long provided a conduit to supply Hezbollah with weapons to battle Israel. Now, Hezbollah is the most powerful of several Iran-backed Shiite paramilitary groups that, along with Iranian forces, are playing an ever more prominent role on the battlefield in Syria.
It remained unclear who was behind Mr. Badreddine’s death: Israel, or one of the insurgent groups Hezbollah has been fighting.
Hezbollah, which confirmed the death on Al Manar, its television network, said that Mr. Badreddine died in a “huge blast” near the Damascus airport, in which several of the group’s fighters were wounded. “The investigation will find out the nature of the blast as well as its reasons, and whether it was a result of an airstrike or rocket attack,” it said.
The timing of the attack was not provided. A Beirut-based television network, Al Mayadeen, which is also close to Hezbollah, initially reported that Mr. Badreddine had been killed in an Israeli airstrike, but it later removed that report. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Born in the southern Beirut suburb of Ghobeiry on 6 April 1961, Badreddine had a pronounced limp, believed to have been sustained while he fought alongside pro-Palestinian and pan-Arabist militias during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
His nom de guerre was Sayyed Zul Fikar: Sayyed indicating a claimed descent from the prophet Muhammad; Zul Fikar being the name of the legendary forked sword of Imam Ali, the prophet’s cousin and one of the most revered figures in Shia Islam.
Badreddine was arrested and sentenced to death in Kuwait in 1983 over his suspected involvement in a string of coordinated bombings in the tiny Gulf emirate that also targeted the US and French embassies. They were believed to be retribution for Kuwait and the west’s support for Iraq in its war with Iran.
The sentence, which had to be formally approved by the emir, was never carried out, perhaps as a consequence of a series of attacks and plane hijackings demanding the release of the Kuwait attackers, and which allegedly involved Mughniyeh. It was also never carried out because when the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, he threw open the doors of the country’s prisons, allowing Badreddine to escape.
This is where the trail disappears. It only emerges again in 2011, when UN prosecutors investigating a 2005 Beirut bombing that killed Lebanon’s prime minister, Rafik Hariri, indicted Badreddine. They alleged he was the coordinator of a sophisticated network that tracked and ultimately assassinated the popular billionaire. [Continue reading…]
Jonathan Ofir writes: Zionism is very much a mirror image of anti-Semitism. It was founded and based on an assumption that assimilation is bound to fail, and that the Jews must resort to other measures in order to protect their existence – as persons, but perhaps even more significantly – as a supposed nation. David Ben-Gurion’s words to the Mapai committee in 1938 reveal how the national aspect could supersede the humanitarian concern to actual people: ”If I knew that it was possible to save all the children of Germany by transporting them to England, and only half by transferring them to the Land of Israel, I would choose the latter, for before us lies not only the numbers of these children but the historical reckoning of the people of Israel.” In that same year he spoke to the Jewish Agency in regards to the Évian conference which sought to facilitate the plight of Jewish refugees, saying, “[I do] not know if the conference will open the gates of other countries. . . . But I am afraid [ it ] might cause tremendous harm to Eretz Yisrael and Zionism. . . . and the more we emphasize the terrible distress of the Jewish masses in Germany, Poland and Rumania, the more damage we shall cause” — to Zionism and Eretz Israel by promoting emigration to western countries. [Both quotes at this link.]
That is to say, that the priority of nationalism (as opposed to personal security) was extremely high in Zionism from the outset. Zionism sought to forge a sense of ‘nationhood’ for a people that were of a vast spectrum of ethnicity, language, even religion (from ultra-orthodox to atheist) and claim that they were one. The British (and notably Jewish) Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu, in his critique of Her Majesty’s Government’s intentions to endorse a ‘Jewish national home” in Palestine in 1917, said: “I assert that there is not a Jewish nation. The members of my family, for instance, who have been in this country for generations, have no sort or kind of community of view or of desire with any Jewish family in any other country beyond the fact that they profess to a greater or less degree the same religion. It is no more true to say that a Jewish Englishman and a Jewish Moor are of the same nation than it is to say that a Christian Englishman and a Christian Frenchman are of the same nation: of the same race, perhaps, traced back through the centuries – through centuries of the history of a peculiarly adaptable race”. [Continue reading…]
Gideon Levy writes: And here they come, those new-old sensitive heroes, soldiers who shoot but cry over it, a 2016 version of the Six-Day War soldiers featured in “The Seventh Day: Soldiers Talk about the Six-Day War.” In the Six-Day War, they were soldiers who shot and cried and were therefore considered moral. After the second intifada that broke out in 2000, there were the old-boy “gatekeepers,” (the former Shin Bet security service directors) who suddenly sobered up and were deemed men of conscience.
Now it’s the turn of the most senior commanders in office who are sobering up and sounding the alarm, the threesome of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan. It could have impressed and inspired respect had it not been for one tiny problem. The three aren’t doing a thing to change the situation that they are taking exception to.
These nice and principled military figures are beloved on the center-left, which has always dreamed about ethical generals who make eloquent Holocaust Remembrance Day speeches, but they are nothing more than empty salves to the conscience of the purportedly enlightened tribe.
Ya’alon, Eisenkot and Golan said some things that are correct and resounding. Ya’alon warned against the army becoming bestial. For his part, Eisenkot doesn’t want soldiers to empty their ammunition cartridges on 13-year-old girls. And last week on Holocaust Day, Golan said he saw concerning signs reminiscent of pre-Holocaust Germany in Israel.
It’s hard not to appreciate their courage, but we cannot ignore the fact that these are not three observers from the sidelines. All three bear direct and heavy responsibility for the situation that they are criticizing and have contributed for years to bringing it about.
They head the IDF, which is one of the most major agents of damage to Israeli society. They are in charge of an army most of whose operations consist of maintaining the occupation through brutal force. And anyone who heads an occupation army, who has commanded some of its worst military operations, lacks the necessary moral authority to preach morality — unless they have truly changed. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The deputy head of the Israeli military has been forced to backtrack after appearing to compare some attitudes in present-day Israel to “nauseating trends” in 1930s Germany.
In a hard-hitting Holocaust memorial day speech on Wednesday evening, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) deputy chief of staff, Maj Gen Yair Golan, made remarks that he felt compelled to clarify overnight on Thursday, insisting he had not “intended to compare Israel to Nazi Germany”.
Both the timing – on the day that marks the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis – and the perceived comparison, touch on the most sensitive of issues in Israel.
Golan told an audience including a government minister and survivors of the Holocaust: “The Holocaust must lead us to think about our public lives, and even more than that, it must guide anyone who has the ability, not only those who wish to bear public responsibility.
“Because if there is anything that frightens me in the remembrance of the Holocaust, it is discerning nauseating trends that took place in Europe in general, and in Germany specifically back then, 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and seeing evidence of them here among us in the year 2016.
“After all, there is nothing simpler and easier than hating the foreigner, there is nothing easier and simpler than arousing fears and intimidating, there is nothing easier and simpler than becoming bestial, forgoing principles and becoming smug.” [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: President Obama has proposed granting Israel the largest package of military aid ever provided by the United States to another nation, but he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remain deeply at odds over a figure for the assistance despite months of negotiations.
American officials have balked as their Israeli counterparts insisted on more generous terms for a new 10-year military aid package that could top $40 billion. The divide, which could have broad national security implications for both the United States and Israel, is exacerbated by the pent-up animosity between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu, which has been stoked by their radically divergent views of the nuclear deal with Iran.
“There’s a unique place of pique for the Israelis in certain places in the administration, and I think that hovers around this negotiation,” said Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It’s one of the reasons it’s taken so long to reach a decision.” [Continue reading…]
Dina Smeltz writes: Rarely — if ever — has a presidential candidate been so publicly critical of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians as Sen. Bernie Sanders was last week during the CNN Democratic primary debate in Brooklyn. Media outlets seized the moment, with headlines such as “Bernie Sanders smashes the Israel status quo,” “Bernie Sanders just shattered an American taboo on Israel” and “Why Does Bernie Sanders hate Israel?”
Some writers have pitched this as a “watershed moment” in Democratic Party politics. For the political class, perhaps it is. But public opinion surveys show that Sanders’s views are representative of many Americans, and particularly Democrats, who are critical of some Israeli policies yet remain favorable toward Israel.
At the debate, the senator from Vermont stuck by a previous comment that the 2014 Israeli incursion into Gaza was “disproportionate.” Sanders further advocated a more balanced U.S. role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, saying “there will never be peace in that region unless the United States plays a role, an even-handed role trying to bring people together and recognizing the serious problems that exist among the Palestinian people.”
Survey results from the past decade demonstrate that a majority of Americans has consistently favored an impartial role for the United States in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. A CNN-ORC poll from 2015 showed that two-thirds of Americans said the United States should refrain from taking either side, while 29 percent favored taking Israel’s side and 2 percent favored taking the Palestinians’ side. Although this sentiment is strongest among self-described Democrats (76 percent), a majority of independents (70 percent) and even a substantial number of Republicans (47 percent) agree. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: The young man accused of being the first suicide bomber in Jerusalem in a decade doesn’t fit the profile of a desperate Hamas operative — and that worries the Israelis.
His uncles are prosperous merchants. He did not grow up in a refugee camp. He went on shopping trips to Jordan.
But the cover photo on his Facebook page includes the image of Yahya Ayyash, a.k.a. “The Engineer,” the chief bombmaker for Hamas, who likely was killed by an exploding mobile phone planted by Israeli agents in 1996.
On Monday afternoon, 19-year-old Abdel Hamid Abu Srour boarded the Egged No. 12 bus and placed a package between his legs. His uncles think that it might have been his first visit to Jerusalem.
His seat was above the vehicle’s gas tanks, according to Israeli news media. His relatives scoffed at the idea that Abu Srour would know how to make a bomb himself.
His high school grades were poor enough that he wanted to retake subjects and redo his exams.
Who gave him the bomb and how it was detonated is the object of a fast-moving investigation.
Hamas claimed that Abu Srour was a member of the Islamist militant movement, although the Gaza-based terrorist group did not assert direct responsibility for the bombing.
Israeli police announced Thursday that they had arrested several members of a Hamas cell in Bethlehem tied to the case. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Monday acknowledged “overwhelming frustration” with the Israeli government and said the systemic expansion of Jewish settlements was moving Israel toward a dangerous “one-state reality” and in the wrong direction.
Addressing the J Street lobby group in Washington, Biden said despite disagreements with Israel over settlements or the Iran nuclear deal, the United States had an obligation to push Israel toward a two-state solution to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
“We have an overwhelming obligation, notwithstanding our sometimes overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government, to push them as hard as we can toward what they know in their gut is the only ultimate solution, a two-state solution, while at the same time be an absolute guarantor of their security,” Biden said. [Continue reading…]
The Times of Israel reports: The United States on Monday objected to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the Golan Heights will forever remain under Israeli control, reiterating that it does not recognize the Jewish state’s claims to the strategic plateau.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the Obama administration does not consider the Golan Heights to be part of Israel.
“The US position on the issue is unchanged,” Kirby said at a daily media briefing at the State Department in Washington. “This position was maintained by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Those territories are not part of Israel and the status of those territories should be determined through negotiations.” [Continue reading…]
AFP reports: The Israeli ringleader in the beating and burning alive of a Palestinian teenager in 2014 has been convicted of his murder.
Yosef Haim Ben David, 31, was found in November to have led the assault, but a verdict was delayed after his lawyers submitted last-minute documents saying he suffered from mental illness.
The court ruling on Tuesday said that Ben David “was not psychotic, fully understood the facts, was responsible for his actions, had no difficulty in understanding reality and had the capacity to prevent the crime”.
A sentencing hearing has been set for 3 May.
The family of the teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, welcomed the decision but said they hoped judges followed through with a life sentence for Ben David.
At the hearing Mohammed’s mother wore a heart-shaped pendant containing an image of her son wearing a baseball cap, and his father said the decision “should have been made a long time ago”.
“We knew that he wasn’t mad,” Hussein Abu Khdeir told Agence France-Presse. “It was all a big lie to get off from the crime which he carried out. Even if they sentence him for life, this will never bring Mohammed back again. Our hearts are wounded from what happened.”
In February, a court sentenced Ben David’s two young Israeli accomplices to life and 21 years in prison for the killing, which was part of a spiral of violence in the run-up to the 2014 Gaza war. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to the occupied Golan Heights on Sunday to declare that Israel will retain full control of the mountainous plateau forever and will never return the strategic highlands to neighboring Syria.
As talks on the future of Syria are underway in Geneva, Netanyahu convened a symbolic meeting of his cabinet on a mountaintop in the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War.
In a lead-up to the Geneva talks, representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signaled that they wanted the discussions to include a possible return of the region.
Netanyahu was having none of it.
“The time has come after 40 years for the international community to finally recognize that the Golan Heights will remain forever under Israeli sovereignty,” he said.
Whatever the outcome of the peace talks, he added, “the border will not change.” [Continue reading…]