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Litzman (L), Lieberman (R)

Israel's Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and wife Sarah flew merrily off to Washington with his coalition partners in a frenzy - the Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox party, which holds the balance of power in the coalition government, was threatening to topple the government. And why was that? Simply because the cabinet was not ready to pass a new basic law that would exempt all its young religious men, who study all day, from enlisting in the IDF like the rest of the other eighteen-year-old Israeli men and women. Nearly all of the ultra-orthodox are already legal draft dodgers, but the ultra-orthodox politicians have been ordered by their rabbis to press for even stiffer legislation. Such as including it in Israel's informal constitution that is made up of 'basic laws' that can only be altered in the future by an overwhelming majority and not by a simple majority.

So how come the ultra-orthodox religious parties have been able to pressure the ruling Likud party to grant them such concessions which are actually undemocratic in that they apply only to ultra-orthodox Jews? It is because they hold the balance of power between the Right and Center-Left when it comes to forming a coalition government. And the Likud is always ready to offer them more.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his party supporters, who do serve in the IDF, are categorically opposed to permitting even more Haredim (ultra-orthodox) from doing military service

However, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his party supporters, who do serve in the IDF, are categorically opposed to permitting even more Haredim (ultra-orthodox) from doing military service. Moreover, the Haredim have poured more fuel on the flames by threatening to vote against the new budget proposed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon before the Knesset rises for its spring recess in another two weeks. Kahlon has retorted by threatening to quit the coalition and bring down Bibi's coalition.

The PM and his aides have tried to find a stop-gap solution, but to no avail - all the sides are hunkering down in their positions and refuse to budge. At the airport before flying off to the US, Bibi said he had done all he could to resolve the crisis and if his coalition pals refused to cooperate he was ready for an early election. This despite the fact that he, and his wife Sarah, have been interrogated by Israeli Police investigators on suspicion of bribe charges. (On the airliner, Bibi gallantly presented Sarah with a bouquet of flowers in gratitude for her having to bear the ignominy of also being questioned by the police for her possible role. So what is the possibility that the government will fall after Bibi returns from a week and a half visit to the US (a welcome rest from those pesky police investigators and daily revelations in the media)?

On the face of it, all the coalition partners really have it made in the present coalition and have lots to lose in an early ballot before the scheduled date of November 2019.

Bibi's Likud party: It heads a Right-wing, Land of Israel coalition that is opposed to making significant concessions if the Palestinians ever get around to negotiating a realistic peace treaty as did Egypt and Jordan.

...all the coalition partners really have it made in the present coalition and have lots to lose in an early ballot before the scheduled date of November 2019.

Kashlon's Kulanu party: party boss Moshe Kahlon currently has the plumb Finance Minister Portfolio and who knows if he'll still have his job.

Avigdor Lieberman: Lieberman has also made a giant leap into the prestigious position of Defense Minister, the biggest shocker in the current coalition. Lieberman has proved that his 'bark is far greater than his bite' and has adopted a relatively moderate but firm IDF approach to both the Palestinians and the threats from Iran and Hezbollah. Again, after a new election, Lieberman might be kicked out of the Defense Ministry.

Then there are the Haredim whose many goals in government are to secure big budgets for their particular interests such as a private educational system, religious issues, as well as keeping their young men out of the IDF. At present, they never had it so good. In fact, the Sefardi Haredi religious party differs the Ashkenazi (European) politicians - they fear, and rightly so, that the new demand for religious laws will trigger a big backlash from both the secular moderately religious Israelis.

Aye, and here lies the rub! The Ashkenazi party lead by Deputy Health Minister Yaacov Litzman, who takes his orders from the party's elder rabbis, contends that in the land of the Jews, it is a heavenly right and duty for all Jews to study Torah from dawn to dusk. This is a religious truism and non-negotiable - everything must be done to ensure it's fulfillment and there can be no compromise on this issue! But what if after all is said and done it is impossible to achieve this goal and the other side is not bluffing and is ready to go to an early election? Bear in mind that Likud, Kahlon, and Lieberman are well aware that a growing number of Israelis are sick and tired of the special concessions granted to the ultra-orthodox. This will be reflected in opinion polls boosting Yair Lapid's party that has adopted a strong anti-Haredi platform. These are all legitimate and weighty considerations.

So when the crisis passes the 'push to shove' stage it is fair to say that even the most hard-line ultra-orthodox will have to address the question: 'Is it worth risking all the other special concessions we have gained over the years by not budging on more IDF legislation when our young men are already being exempted from military service? That could be the case if a Center-Leftist coalition comes to power after we bring down the current Bibi government'.

David Ben-Gurion

By the way, after the founding of the new state of Israel in 1948, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion agreed to exempt some 300-400 Yeshiva seminary students from service. His feeling was that so many ultra-orthodox young men had been murdered in the Holocaust that this was the right thing to do. But that limited number has now spiraled into thousands every year. This is doubled and tripled by the fact that men serve for over two years in the IDF and then are called back annually for reserve duty.

Iran continues to turn the screws on Israel...

In December, a barrage of mysterious missiles destroyed a large Iran installation not far from Damascus. No one took responsibility for the attack but the Syrians blamed Israel. Jerusalem remained mum, however, Israeli leaders have made clear to one and all, including a Bibi meeting with Putin, that Israel will not acquiesce in an Iranian military build-up in Syria that would obviously threaten the Jewish state. This is part of an ongoing Israeli policy that includes the interdiction of sophisticated Iranian arms to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Now via Fox news in the US, satellite imagery has revealed another permanent Iranian military site now under construction, again in the Damascus area. The question posed by Israeli commentators was how long before it is also turned into rubble?

The chance of war has increased in 2018 but that is not to say that we, or the other forces around us, have an interest in going to war'.

An Israeli security source did warn: 'Iran is playing with fire! We will do everything to prevent it!'

The new Iranian installation was apparently planned to store missiles capable of hitting all of Israel.

Then IDF General Kobi Barak went on record telling military correspondents:

'The prospect of war in 2018 has increased, this summer a new military concept will be implemented for coping with an existing enemy or a potential one. If we again go to war with Hezbollah our objective will be total victory'.

He related to a potential land operation against Hezbollah.

IDF land forces were being trained to cope with '360-degree and underground warfare by Hezbollah'. The concern was that after its experience in the Syrian civil war, Hezbollah now knows how to fight at night in contrast to past warfare. Gen. Barak disclosed that the objective of an Israeli ground operation would be to seek and rapidly destroy hidden enemy forces that form centers of power'

The next IDF exercise would be swift and deeper. Already at present, we are better trained and prepared for battle. This summer a concept of new warfare will be tested against an existing enemy and a future possibility. The chance of war has increased in 2018 but that is not to say that we, or the other forces around us, have an interest in going to war'.

Late last year, the IDF carried out a major maneuver in northern Israel opposite the Lebanese border to prepare for a new and better trained Hezbollah force that gained experience fighting for Syria's President Hafez Assad in the civil war. Our recent report that Russia is not delighted with the expanding Iranian presence in Syria may have now been vindicated. Channel 1 reported foreign sources as saying that Moscow is opposed to the Iranians building a naval on Syria's Mediterranean coast.


Political Analyst David Essing



 David Essing

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