No, my title “President” is not a mistake for Israel’s leader. The Prime Minister in a parliamentary system is defined as the “first minister” among equals who leads a cabinet that votes on vital issues. Throughout his 12 years as Israel’s leader, Bibi has succeeded in completely dominating his Likud party while also wiping out the former Labor, his main parliamentary opponent. It was an extraordinary feat. So, how did Netanyahu do it?
First of all, Bibi is a masterful politician, and probably the best political speaker in the world, even in English, which is not his mother tongue. Ah, yes – he did once lose a general election to Ehud Barak, but that was when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was going through the motions of peace-making. And, for example, when Shimon Peres took over after the Rabin assassination, Arafat increased the blowing up of busses in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Arafat literally bombed Peres out of office!
Coming back to Netanyahu, he once decided on a ten-month “moratorium” on settlement building in order to negotiate a peace treaty with the Palestinians, but President Abbas never showed up at the table. Israelis are not stupid and realized the Palestinians (until this very day) are unwilling to negotiate with the Jewish state. Even President Abbas argues that the Jews are members of a religion, and “religions are not entitled to states.”
This brings me back to the theme of “President” Netanyahu, who, although facing three indictments, does pretty well what he wants. In the current cabinet, he has whittled down his coalition partner, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party (that replace Labor). Gantz, a former IDF Chief of Staff and an old soldier, has just “faded away” like in the song lyric. Gantz still has visions of being “rotated” into the premiership in another 16 months or so, but Bibi will never keep his part of the rotation agreement. He can be expected to contend that it will not be in the national interest, and who knows, maybe he’s right.
But, to Israel’s present predicament – maybe Netanyahu got carried away with his annexation exuberance being egged on by the far-Right settlement fanatics. With his July 1st deadline fast approaching, so far, Netanyahu has not presented a real program for implementation. And with good reason, nearly the entire world is threatening to punish Israel financially – from the European Union to the Democrats in the US, who may very well win the Presidential election in November. This is all Israel now needs – a critical Joe Biden in the White House bent on slashing foreign aid.
So Netanyahu has to, sort of, climb down from his open-ended and ill-considered annexation hype. Oh yes, on this score, Defense Minister Gantz has finally clarified his position. In a closed-door briefing with military correspondents, Gantz explained in some undiplomatic language why some annexation might be a good thing at this time:
“It would show the Palestinians that they cannot drag us down into their deep shit of doing nothing to advance peace!”
In any case, President Trump has let it be known that he does not oppose a limited Israeli annexation in Judea and Samaria as long as it remains in keeping with his “Deal of the Century” – 70% of the West Bank to a Palestinian state, and the remaining 30% to Israel. The fact that Bibi has kept his annexation plan under wraps would seem to indicate that he also has some serious reservations. The EU has repeatedly warned Israel it will impose sanctions. It might also derail Netanyahu’s successful quiet alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Muslim states in the Gulf. These countries are being openly threatened by Iran, and Shiite Muslim country bent on toppling their regimes.
In any case, Netanyahu has just disclosed that Israel and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to collaborate on technology to combat COVID-19. Netanyahu’s people contend that a minor annexation will not trigger any major violence in the Arab world than did the US decision to transfer its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, this will not apply to Jordan, where a majority of the population is comprised of Palestinians, who would likely go on the warpath. To help sort out the question, Washington’s new mediator, Avi Berkovitz, will be flying to Israel to discuss the annexation issue with Israeli leaders. Might this 11th-hour intervention help Bibi get off the hook?
Lebanon and Syria…
In a passing-out ceremony for new Israeli Airforce pilots, Netanyahu issued his most dramatic warning to Iran so far. He declared point-blank that Israeli aircraft will continue to bomb Iranian forces out of Syria and will not permit them to convert Syria into a forward-base for rocketing Israel. Neither will Iran be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, as it is now doing, to destroy the Jewish state. On this score, Netanyahu noted that the International Atomic Energy Agency has now confirmed that Iran is illegally enriching uranium that could be converted to nuclear warheads.
In another development, reports out of Lebanon indicate that Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, may go to war against Israel this summer. The rationale is that the Lebanese economy is coming apart at the seams, and massive rioting has paralyzed the country. The idea would be to deflect the current protests against government corruption from the streets of Beirut to a new conflict with Israel. It goes without saying that this would be a big mistake – Israeli intelligence has reportedly pinpointed the dozens of Lebanese villages in the south where Hezbollah has stored thousands of missiles and rockets. Does anyone have any doubt what will happen to them if they are used as launchpads for rocketing Israel?
Another batch of new Israeli pilots…
While we’re on the subject, the 180th graduating ceremony for new Israeli pilots has taken place at an Israeli Airforce base. Among the 40 new pilots who earned their wings were three young women. One is now a fighter pilot; the other two will operate the controls in helicopters and transports. Due to COVID-19, the fly-past ceremony was held this time with just the immediate family members. Among them was a proud grandfather who served in combat with the British army during WWII. Mordechai Raflovich said his heart was “overflowing with pride and joy” to see his granddaughter receive her pilot’s wings.