Likud MKs Tzachi Hanegbi and Avi Dichter (CC GPO Israel)

05/17/2020 Headline Update:


Knesset approves the new cabinet comprised of 34 ministers. In defending the biggest cabinet ever, Bibi said that he did the math and the additional expense will be only 85 million shekels, compared to 2 billion shekels if the country went to yet another election.

After working overtime, Israel’s acting PM thought he had finally formed a new coalition government with the required 61-Knesset seat majority. After weeks of political horse-trading, Israel’s parliament prepared for the celebratory session to swear in the new cabinet ministers. Woops – it was suddenly called off a couple of hours before. What happened? Two of Bibi’s long-term sidekicks, Tzachi Hanegbi and Avi Dichter, threatened to boycott the session because Bibi had overlooked them by failing to offer a cabinet post. It must be said that both are respected politicians in the Likud party. 

In all of Netanyahu’s feverish wheeling and dealing with other parties, he had left out some of his own Likud stalwarts. So Bibi has to go back to the drawing board and figure out a solution. (One of the most outrageous deals by Netanyahu was to induce left-wing Laborites Amir Peretz and Yitzhak Shauli to join his right-wing cabinet!) But don’t get your hopes up or down, depending on your political persuasion, Netanyahu will come up with a solution – his whirring mind is very good at that. Perhaps that’s also why he seems to get along with two tough customers, such as Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. 

So, after Netanyahu figures out an acceptable detour to this bump in the road, What kind of Israeli government can be expected? And by the way, the startup nation may set a new record by forming the biggest cabinet in any country around the world. 

Come what may, Netanyahu will carry on as PM, while Benny Gantz of Blue and White will take over the defense portfolio. Then, after 18 months, their “rotation” plan is due to kick in, and they will switch jobs for and additional one-and-a-half years. That’s the plan in theory – I stress “in theory” because the odds are probably 50-50 that Bibi will ever exit the PM’s office of his own volition. But, in the weeks ahead, Netanyahu will apparently be spending part of his time in court to face three charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.  

The packed agenda …

The hottest issue will likely be the annexation of all or part of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). In his “Deal of the Century” peace plan, Trump spelled out that 30% of the West Bank should be allocated to Israel in a final peace accord. Now, Bibi’s Likud party, together with his far-right political supporters both in and out of the cabinet, are campaigning to move forward on annexation. They argue that no one can predict who will win the upcoming US election, and this present opportunity might be lost. So, the key question is, what does Trump think about an Israeli annexation right now? 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has just met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem, and he said publically that the question is up to Israel. (Meanwhile, in Brussels, EU officials are threatening to clamp sanctions on the Jewish state if Netanyahu annexes part of the West Bank.) Undoubtedly, this will be one of the hottest issues when the new cabinet does take office. A public debate is now underway, with voices likes of Gen. (ret.) Amos Gilad, a highly respected expert, warning that annexation could jeopardize the peace treaty with Jordan, that once ruled the West Bank. Jordan now serves as a bulwark to Iran, Israel’s most dangerous enemy, and it would not be in Israel’s security interest to risk this strategic relationship. 

Israel and China …

Chinese Ambassador to Israel, Du Wei

What was uppermost in Pompeo’s mind was Israel’s current economic relationship with China. Chinese companies are now involved in two major projects in Israel – the expansion of the port of Haifa, and the construction of the Tel Aviv subway system. What has come to the fore is President Trump’s fury over China’s pressuring the WHO into delaying an international warning about the COVID-19 disaster by a week or so. This delay caused incalculable damage, in Trump’s view, and reflected the nefarious aspects of the Chinese regime. Trump also contends that the Chinese presence in Israel may be exploited for espionage, not only against the Jewish state (thereby also against the US). 

No question, the new Netanyahu government will have to address this issue urgently. In response, China’s ambassador to Israel Du Wei rejected Pompeo’s warning of a danger to Israel’s security because of economic cooperation. The Chinese diplomat called it a win-win situation for both countries, and there was no truth to the allegation that “China is buying up Israel” or exploiting the economic cooperation for espionage activity. 

Russia and Iran in Syria …

There are conflicting reports about what is going on in Syria these days. Israel’s acting Defense Minister, Naftali Bennett, has disclosed that the Israeli airforce has been conducting persistent airstrikes again Iran’s military buildup in Syria. After sending vital military forces to shore up President Asad’s regime, Tehran has been cashing in by building a forward military base along Syria’s border with Israel. The strategy is similar to Tehran’s Hezbollah operations in Lebanon. In any case, Russia is the most dominant power broker in Syria and, to his credit, reached an arrangement with Putin that enables Israeli jets to rocket Iranian bases in Syria without endangering Russian forces now stationed in that country. 

Meanwhile, in neighboring Lebanon, Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, may have contributed to the virtual crumbling of that state where Muslims, Christians, and Druze are supposed to live in brotherly love. After suffering bloody civil wars between various ethnic and religious communities, the sorry state of Lebanon is virtual collapsing in economic disaster. It has become a failed state. This time, due to wide-spread corruption by the economic cliques that rule the country. Moreover, Iran also has its finger in the pie. 

Iran – “The truth will out!”

Slowly but surely, the reality of the medical in Iran facilities falling into decline is becoming more apparent. This is partially due to the Ayatollahs channeling vast amounts of national resources into the nuclear weapons program and financing military ventures not only in Syria and Lebanon but also in Iraq and Yemen. Foreign observers believe that COVID-19 has devasted parts of the country, and the regime’s fatality figures are far higher than those released to the public. Look for renewed demonstrations when the people do become aware of this neglect that could trigger another wave of protests again the religious regime. 

IDF soldier who lost his life, Amit Ben-Yigal (Z”L)

And finally, last week, Israel celebrated its young dedicated soldiers who are prepared to risk their lives in defense of the Jewish homeland. Sadly, we mourn the death of Sgt. Amit Ben-Yigal was killed in action during an IDF punitive operation in the town of Yabed in the West Bank. Sgt.Ben-Yigal served in the vaunted Golani special forces. In a night-time operation, they protected an Israeli tractor that demolished the home of the terrorist recently convicted for the terrorist bombing that killed a teenage girl. There is no death penalty in Israel for terrorist killers. During the punitive operation, Palestinians on roofs started hurling huge stones and building tiles on the soldiers down below. One of them hit Sgt. Ben-Yigal in the face when he looked up and killed him on the spot.  

I can already “hear” some people asking, what were the Israeli soldiers doing there in the first place? Answer – if the soldiers weren’t stationed there, the terrorists will attack us inside Israel, as they have in the past after former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak offered wide-ranging peace agreements.

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