Remember Me



Not very welcomed


Fifty-five days after the election, the Knesset voted Thursday evening, by 61 votes to 59, to approve Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's fourth and Israel's 34th government. The ceremony began at 9 P.M. – two hours after the original scheduled time – as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu scrambled to finish appointing ministers from within his own Likud party. With the clock ticking, Netanyahu decided to unveil his new government without finding positions for at least two of his key fellow Likudniks – Gilad Erdan and Silvan Shalom.

As expected, the vote was preceded by a heated debate in the Knesset between coalition and opposition. As Netanyahu addressed the Knesset to present his new government, he faced a raucous, disrespectful plenum. Three Arab MKs were ejected from the plenum, one after the other, as Netanyahu began speaking, due to loud and incessant interruptions.

Netanyahu's speech focused primarily on the need to change Israel's electoral system, which, he said, made it impossible for anyone to establish a stable government and condemned the country to having elections every two years on average. He urged opposition leader Isaac Herzog to help stabilize the government by bringing his Zionist Union party into the coalition – which would provide them with a government broad enough to push through a new electoral system.

In his response, Herzog made it abundantly clear that he has no intention of taking Netanyahu up on his offer. 'This is not the government the people wanted and not even the government that half of the people wanted,' he said. 'You bought power with lies. After such negotiations, you still dare give the world advice about negotiations with Iran?' Herzog also criticized the decision to expand the number of ministers. 'My way is not your way,' he said. 'No respectable leader will join your government.'

Netanyahu had hoped that Herzog would take the currently vacant foreign minister position – which both Erdan and Shalom had been lobbying for. Their hopes were dashed when Netanyahu told Tzipi Hotovely that she would serve as a deputy in the ministry while he tried to convince Herzog. Tzachi Hanegbi was announced as coalition chairman and the chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. 

This is the full list of the ministers, deputy ministers and ministers without portfolio in the new government: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (also serving as Foreign Minister, Health Minister, Communications Minister, and Minister of Regional Cooperation); Moshe Ya'alon (Likud) - Defense Minister (returning); Silvan Shalom (Likud) - Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister; Yuval Steinitz (Likud) - Minister of Energy and Infrastructure; Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) - Absorption Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister; Ofir Akunis (Likud) - Minister without portfolio; designated to serve in the Communications Ministry; Benny Begin (Likud) - Minister without portfolio; Gila Gamliel (Likud) - Minister of Senior Citizens and Equality; Yisrael Katz (Likud) - Transportation Minister (returning); Yariv Levin (Likud) - Public Security Minister, Tourism Minister, and Ministerial Liaison Between the Government and the Knesset; Miri Regev (Likud) - Culture and Sport Minister; Danny Danon (Likud) - Space and Technology Minister; Haim Katz (Likud) - Welfare Minister and Social Affairs Minister; Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) - Deputy Foreign Minister; Ayoub Kara (Likud) - Deputy Minister of Regional Development; Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) - Finance Minister; Yoav Galant (Kulanu) - Housing and Construction Minister; Avi Gabbai (Kulanu) - Environmental Protection Minister; Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) - Education Minister, Diaspora Affairs Minister; Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) - Agriculture Minister; Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) - Justice Minister; Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan (Habayit Hayehudi)  - Deputy Defense Minister; Aryeh Deri (Shas) - Economy Minister, Minister of Development of the Negev and Galilee; David Azoulay (Shas) - Religious Affairs Minister; Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) - Deputy Minister in the Finance Ministry, Ministry for the Negev and the Galilee, and the Economy Ministry; Meshulam Nahari (Shas) - Deputy Education Minister; Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) - Deputy Health Minister; Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) - Deputy Education Minister.

All the newspapers use the swearing in of new government to make lead headlines out of their top commentators. On the front page of Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth and Dan Margalit get top billing; the former castigating opposition leader Isaac Herzog for his Knesset speech, the latter bemoaning the haphazard way the government was put together. On the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, Sima Kadmon goes much further than Margalit – she says that the coalition negotiations and the unveiling of the new government were nothing less than shameful. Haaretz's Yossi Verter offers a variation on that theme, saying that the right-wing government has got off on the left foot.

In the United States, President Obama said that he still believes that Israel's long-term security is best served by reaching an agreement to live alongside a recognized Palestinian state. Obama, speaking shortly after the swearing-in, was speaking at a press conference at Camp David, where he is meeting Gulf leaders for talks on the impending Iranian deal.

'I know that a government has been formed that contains some folks who don't necessarily believe in that premise, but that continues to be my premise,' he added. Noting that he was speaking at Camp David, Obama referred back to a 1978 deal negotiated at the same presidential retreat that brought peace between Israel and Egypt. 'Israel is better off for it. I think the same would be true if we get a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians,' he said. 'That prospect seems distant now, but I think it's always important for us to keep in mind what's right and what's possible,' added Obama. Obama declined to comment on the Vatican's recent decision to recognize the state of Palestine.

At the same press conference, Obama also said that leaders of Gulf allies have agreed that a comprehensive, verifiable deal that blocks Iran's pathway to a nuclear weapon would serve everyone's interests. He added that the United States and the Gulf nations had pledged to work together to address threats to the region, including those blamed on destabilizing behavior by Iran. Obama pledged America's 'ironclad commitment' to the Persian Gulf nations to help protect their security, pointedly mentioning the potential use of military force and offering assurances that a potential nuclear agreement with Iran would not leave them more vulnerable. He said the U.S. would join the Gulf Cooperation Council nations 'to deter and confront an external threat to any GCC state's territorial integrity.'

Elsewhere, Israel security forces are on high alert today as Palestinians commemorate Nakba Day. As part of its preparations, the IDF has reinforced its troops stationed in the West Bank by six companies. The IDF's preparations are aimed mainly at containing potential riots and disturbances at locations where they commonly take place, including Qalandiya, Betuniya, Ni'ilin and Bil'in.



WINNERS AND LOSERS: Writing in Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth admits that the process of forming Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's new government has not been elegant, but says that the problem is with the electoral system itself.

"The birth of the State of Israel's 34th government was not an easy one. And now that it has, at long last, been born, it faces many problems. There will be harsh criticism from the opposition, as well as from the media. In other words, the camp that lost the election will be criticizing the winners. But that's to be expected when memories are short and when people forget that a one-vote majority is still a majority.

Is appears that members of the Israeli opposition have forgotten that an election was held here just two months ago and that the people of Israel had their say. The election may only be an unimportant detail for Tzipi Livni, if we are to judge by her comments in the Knesset last night. She said that she is worried for the fate of Israeli democracy. Perhaps she wants the job of forming the government to be given to the losing party? That's Livni-style democracy.

Livni's partner, Isaac Herzog, doesn't want to be foreign minister. He wants to be prime minister. And, in order to become prime minister, he first of all needs to continue being the leader of the Zionist Union. And in order for him to remain at the helm of his party, he must flex his muscles and fight off all those who want to replace him. Between you and me, he didn't deliver the goods he promised, did he? Didn't he promise that he would form the next government?

And that's exactly what Herzog did yesterday in the Knesset: he flexed his muscles in an aggressive and belligerent speech. He wants to show the world that he's leader of the opposition. He just forgot one small thing in his highly unstatesmanlike speech: he was the loser in the general election. In fact, every member of the opposition seemed to forget that small and unimportant detail during the coalition negotiations which were, let's admit it, far from elegant.

And now to the coalition negotiations themselves – 42 days that were not a pleasure to witness and which highlighted yet again the problems inherent in the Israeli electoral system. Because of this system, every election is followed by a period of extortion and blackmail. And the person who is subjected to this unpleasantness is always whoever won the election. That's just the way it is in our country.

In this election, the people make their voice heard very clearly. The right-wing bloc should have been able to put together a coalition of at least 70 members. But the three seats won by Eli Yishai's Yahad party – which failed to cross the electoral threshold – went down the tubes and the six seats that Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party won belong to the rightist bloc – but Lieberman made his choice and opted to sit on the opposition benches.

In the end, Netanyahu finds himself with a coalition of 61 Knesset members. That's a wafer-thin majority. But that's the reality. Let's hope that he manages to expand his government. Even if he does not, let's hope that the 34th government of Israel is a successful one.

The speech that Herzog delivered in the Knesset yesterday evening was a clear message to Netanyahu. The post of foreign minister remains vacant. Gilad Erdan would no doubt be delighted to be handed it. Silvan Shalom, who is deputy prime minister, would also make a fine foreign minister. Netanyahu could have thought about that earlier.

Yesterday's events do not add honor to Israeli politics. Not because of the minimal majority with which the new government was approved. There have been governments that were just as narrow. Let's not forget that the Oslo Accords were passed by a single-vote majority – which didn't seem to bother the left at the time – and we all remember how easily ministers and lawmakers can be bribed to change their vote. Of course, things can be different. But for that to happen, we must change the electoral system. But when the Likud based its early election campaign on a promise to change the electoral system, the voters were far from enthusiastic.

Maybe the time has come to find the right formula and to ensure that, next time, the winner of the election isn't treated like the loser and the loser doesn't have delusions of victory."



TO DIE OF SHAME: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Sima Kadmon says that the fourth Netanyahu government is an embarrassment and that the people of Israel – and even members of the prime minister's own party – deserve better.

"No matter which political camp you belong to, the scenes we witnessed in the Knesset last night were enough to make anyone die of shame.

There have been embarrassing scenes in the Israeli parliament before, but yesterday a new record was set: the prime minister taking a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and reading the list of ministers in his new government – many of whom were hearing about their appointment for the first time and others who discovered that they had been given jobs that they had not agreed to accept.

The swearing in of the new government, which was the final scene in a two-month charade of negotiations, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the formation of the fourth Netanyahu government was put together in the most negligent and dishonorable way possible. And this is a prime minister who has the audacity to preach to the president of the United States about how best to conduct his negotiations with Iran?

After 55 days and with 30 Knesset seats, this is what Netanyahu has managed to present to the people. Not only is he the leader of a narrow coalition, which everyone agrees will have a very short shelf-life, but he also handed out ministerial appointments to members of his own party in the most haphazard way imaginable: ministries were deconstructed so that he could satisfy the power lust of politicians who were not happy with what they were offered. In addition, the authorities of some ministries were transferred to others without any logic or reason. And so we find ourselves in the absurd situation whereby the Transportation Ministry is also responsible for intelligence matters and the minister for immigrant absorption is also in charge of strategic threats. And when there are no more jobs to hand out, our prime minister anoints a rank-a-file Knesset member as 'minister.' Minister of what? Who knows? When it comes to appointing ministers, Netanyahu is trigger happy.

Take Benny Begin, for example. His father – Menachem Begin – was mentioned during the Knesset debate last night, but, ironically, by Herzog. What must Benny Begin have felt when he heard for the first time that Netanyahu was making him a minister? And what must Tzachi Hanegbi – a serious, experienced politician and one of Likud's most eloquent spokesmen – have thought when he heard that, in addition to being chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, a position he has held for years and which he has asked to be relieved of, he was also made coalition whip – a thankless task that he didn't ask for and didn't agree to take on? As if all this were not enough, Netanyahu had another surprise up his sleeve: Hanegbi and Ofir Akunis would be switching jobs in a year from now. Hanegbi will become a 'minister' and Akunis will take over as Netanyahu's lapdog.

And then there's Gilad Erdan – who won top place in the Likud primary, who is the Netanyahu family's most loyal servant and who committed hara-kiri in the television studios to defend the behavior of Mr. and Mrs. Netanyahu. How must he have felt when Netanyahu called on him to join the government –but failed to leave a single position open for him? How ungrateful does one have to be to do something like that to a loyal servant who has never once gone against the wishes of his prime minister?

After Herzog's excellent speech – which left no room for doubt that the Zionist Union will not be joining the fourth Netanyahu government – the prime minister would be well advised to appoint Erdan as his foreign minister. As of yesterday, there can be no more excuses. There is no point in hanging on to the position of foreign minister, since there is no one to hold it for. Silvan Shalom – who had demanded the Foreign Ministry job otherwise he wouldn't serve in the government – capitulated in exchange for a position that isn't worth the paper it's written on: deputy prime minister. Just that morning, Shalom slammed the door on the offer to become interior minister; by nighttime, after he was offered a meaningless position, he opened the door again.

The fourth Netanyahu government was born last night. Mazal tov. It's a narrow coalition between the Likud, the ideological right and the ultra-Orthodox. From now on, our representative in the international community is Tzipi Hotovely, who has been busy encouraging Jewish worshippers to visit Temple Mount. Some people will say that we got what we deserve. But that's not true. No one deserves a government like this."




SAME OLD STORY: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Ben-Dror Yemini comments on how the new Israeli government will be viewed by opponents of the Jewish state overseas – and adds that newly appointment Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked will not have the power to change anything.

"The formula is a familiar one: The more right-wing the government of Israel appears to the world, the easier it is for the anti-Israel campaigners to do their work; an increase in Israel in anti-Arab statements and incidents leads to a fall-off in support for Israel among Jewish students on U.S. campuses; and the more organizations like Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem create the distorted impression that Israel is committing crimes on an ongoing basis, the easier it is for the BDS activists to tout their case.

The starting positions are problematic – not only due to the composition of the new Israeli government, but primarily in light of the geopolitical situation. The absurd thing is that under current circumstances, Israel's control over the territories is the lesser evil. A hasty political settlement that the U.S. administration and the European Union are pushing for, with the encouragement of a bunch of Israelis who support the Palestinian demand for unilateral recognition of statehood – would be a disaster for the Palestinians. A Hamas takeover would only be a matter of time. This has nothing at all to do with the composition of the Israeli government. Isaac Herzog would encounter the same geopolitical situation; and Tzipi Livni, too, would encounter Palestinian opposition to any peace deal. After all, the Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert governments made very generous offers to Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas respectively – to no avail.

Nevertheless, not all is lost. Assuming that Israeli control over the West Bank is not going to end anytime soon, a right-wing government can still promote a series of measures that would better the lives of Palestinians but would not undermine Israeli security in the slightest – in the field of water infrastructure, for example. Funds have been donated for rehabilitation projects; a start can be made. And the same goes for projects in the fields of health, construction and infrastructure. Israel hasn't been the one to delay development. On the contrary, since the beginning of Israel's control over the West Bank and Gaza, there have been huge improvements in most areas. In 1967, for example, just four Palestinian communities were hooked up to running water for domestic use; by 2004, however, 643 of the 708 communities were on the water grid. But there is still much to improve. It's not only a Palestinian interest, but an Israeli interest too.

There's something foolish about the fact that the international community is pushing the sides into a political settlement that will only make things worse for the Palestinians. But there are some things that can be done even without a peace agreement. Whether or not improving the situation is in Palestinian interests remains unclear. An improvement is clearly in Israel's interests.

Meanwhile, the manifestations of chauvinism in light of the appointment of Ayelet Shaked as justice minister are nothing more than a small blemish compared to the attempt to present any proposal for change as an assault by the forces of darkness on the forces of light. Even European officials, it has been reported, are monitoring with concern any initiative that could undermine Israeli democracy. Interesting – because Shaked's criticism of the judicial system has been voiced in the past by professors and leftists. They sparked similar responses. After all, anyone who questions something becomes a member of the forces of darkness – regardless of the fact if the individual in question is an Israel Prize laureate, like Ruth Gavison and Daniel Friedmann, or a political figure like Haim Ramon. Anyone who thinks different is immediately labeled dark. This is the democracy of the forces of light. The response from Europe falls into the same category. After all, the proposals raised by the so-called forces of darkness are based, inter alia, on the common practice in many European states.

But just to make things perfectly clear, Shaked has no chance of changing anything. The judicial oligarchy has already proved itself too strong. And this is more proof of the problem."



THE LAST SIX WEEKS: Writing in Maariv, Shlomo Shamir says that the U.S. and the West are looking for a way to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, especially over the Ukrainian crisis, but that the main concern for the Obama Administration remains the nuclear deal with Iran.

"Contrary to popular opinion, it isn't Israel that is making life hard for the White House to finalize the nuclear agreement with Iran. It isn't even the opposition expressed by the six leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council to the United States' accelerated rapprochement with the Islamic Republic that's got the White House upset. As we enter the final stages of the protracted negotiations between the six world powers and Iran, it's Russia – one of the key members of the P5+1 – that has taken upon itself to be Washington's worst nightmare and to be the joker in the pack.

While President Barack Obama was busy trying to reassure the Gulf leaders that the deal with Iran – their arch nemesis in the region – was a good one, Secretary of State John Kerry was initiating and spearheading a highly publicized diplomatic drive to bury the hatchet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and to renew fruitful dialogue between Washington and Moscow.

Kerry's meeting with Putin took place on Wednesday in the resort town of Sochi – and represented the top U.S. diplomat's walk to Canossa. But the need to get Putin and the Kremlin on the same page as the other Western powers is so pressing and so critical that Kerry's meeting will be followed by one between Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow on Sunday.

The Kerry-Putin summit was the first such high-level meeting between the two powers for two years. Both sides admitted that the meeting did not yield any breakthroughs. Kerry added that, while the discussions did not produce any concrete progress, the atmosphere was good and the talks constructive. 'There is no substitute for talking directly to key decision-makers, particularly during a period that is as complex and fast-moving as this is,' he said. 'We are now coming into the last six weeks of negotiations [with Iran] ... and we all understand that unity has been key to bringing us where we are today.'

Kerry stressed the importance to U.S. foreign policy of dialogue and cooperation with Russia. Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, analyst Fred Weir saw the meetings between Russian, American and German officials as a possible return to the pragmatism that once characterized relations between Russia and the West. According to Weir, Western governments are now in damage-limitation mode, following the diplomatic unpleasantness of the virtual boycott of Russia's military parade, marking the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany.

In Washington, however, there's an altogether less complimentary interpretation of this wooing of Putin. It would appear that senior U.S. administration officials and their counterparts in European capitals have reached the conclusion that sanctions against Russia – imposed after it annexed the Crimean Peninsula and gave its backing to Ukrainian separatists – have made little impact on Putin, who has maintained a rather contrarian policy in his dealings with the United States and the West. According to top diplomats in New York, Ukraine will continue to be the main cause of tensions between Russia and the West, with several predicting a flare-up between government forces and the separatists in the near future.

But in the upper echelons of the White House and the State Department, the main concern remains how to get the deal with Iran over the finishing line. The Obama Administration is facing possible obstacles from two of its supposed partners: on the international stage, Russia, and, on the domestic front, Congress."



THE SECRET WEAPON: Writing in Haaretz, Amos Harel says that Israel is turning to the media and diplomacy to head off an almost inevitable new round of confrontation with Hizbollah.

"In a prominent article on Wednesday, The New York Times reported detailed Israeli allegations about Hizbollah’s military deployment in Shi’ite villages in southern Lebanon. The paper cited a briefing by Israeli military officials as its source, added an evasive response from 'a Hizbollah sympathizer in Lebanon,' and noted that the Israeli claims 'could not be independently verified.'

The Times cited data, maps and aerial photographs provided by the Israel Defense Forces in regard to two neighboring villages, Muhaydib and Shaqra, in the central sector of southern Lebanon. The former, according to Israeli military intelligence, houses 'nine arms depots, five rocket-launching sites, four infantry positions, signs of three underground tunnels, three antitank positions and, in the very center of the village, a Hizbollah command post' – all in a village of no more than 90 homes. In the latter village, with a population of 4,000, the IDF claims to have identified no fewer than 400 Hizbollah-related military sites.

Throughout southern Lebanon, Israel has identified thousands of Hizbollah facilities that could be targeted by Israel, according to the report by Isabel Kershner. Israel, Kershner writes, is preparing for what it views as 'an almost inevitable next battle with Hizbollah.' According to the IDF, Hizbollah has significantly built up its firepower and destructive capability, and has put in place extensive operational infrastructure in the Shi’ite villages of southern Lebanon – a move which, Israel says, 'amounts to using the civilians as a human shield.'

Although Kershner’s Israeli interlocutors don’t claim to know when or under what specific circumstances war will erupt, they pull no punches about its likely consequences. In such a war, the Times report says, the IDF will not hesitate to attack targets in a civilian setting, with the result that many Lebanese noncombatants will be killed. That will not be Israel’s fault, an unnamed 'senior Israeli military official' says, because 'the civilians are living in a military compound.' Israel 'will hit Hizbollah hard,' and make 'every effort to limit civilian casualties,' the military official said. However, Israel does 'not intend to stand by helplessly in the face of rocket attacks.'

The Times reports that Hizbollah, as part of the lessons it drew in the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, moved its 'nature reserves' – its military outposts in the south – from open farmland into the heart of the Shi’ite villages that lie close to the border with Israel. That in itself is old news; Hizbollah began redeploying along these lines immediately after the 2006 war. In July 2010, Israel presented similar data to the local and foreign media, which revealed in great detail Hizbollah’s military infrastructure in southern Lebanon. The village that was singled out then was Al-Khiyam.

On all these occasions, Israel made it clear that in the event of a war it would have to operate in the villages, and that civilians would inevitably be harmed. In the current incarnation of warnings, as conveyed in this week’s Times report, the potential consequences of the situation are noted by two former senior officials of the defense establishment.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, a former director of Military Intelligence, is quoted as saying that the residents of villages in southern Lebanon do not have full immunity if they live close to military targets. Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, formerly head of the National Security Council, asks why the international community is doing nothing to prevent Hizbollah’s arms buildup. A few years ago, at the instruction of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Amidror, as head of the NSC, presented similar aerial photographs and maps from Lebanon to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The question is: Why again now? The IDF says that the briefing by the senior officer, together with the information provided to the Times, is intended to reinforce the ongoing Israeli messages to Hizbollah and the international community. The essence of those messages is that Hizbollah is continuing to violate UN Security Council Resolution 1701 by smuggling increasing quantities of arms into Lebanese territory and by deploying its forces south of the Litani River; that Hizbollah’s military infrastructure is an open book to Israeli intelligence and that the IDF can inflict serious damage on it when needed; and that, because Hizbollah chooses to shelter among a civilian population, strikes at its military targets will entail the non-deliberate killing of innocent persons.

An additional explanation for why these points were emphasized in the briefing to the Times lies in the spirit being dictated to the IDF by the new chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot. In his view, the army’s mission, under his leadership, is 'to distance war.' This involves preparing the IDF as thoroughly as possible for the next possible confrontation – alongside an active effort, in the sphere of public diplomacy and to a degree even in the state-policy realm, to prevent war. This is the reason for the frequent emphasis on training as the IDF’s first priority, following a lengthy period of compromises and budget cuts in that sphere. Recent weeks have seen a fairly extensive series of training exercises by the ground forces, a trend that is slated to continue in the months ahead.

Proper management of the daily risks to Israel, most of which stem from possible indirect consequences of the region’s chronic instability, could reduce the danger of an all-out war. At the same time, a higher level of fitness and readiness displayed by the IDF could help deter Hizbollah – at present, the most dangerous and best-trained enemy Israel faces – from setting in motion a deterioration of the situation that would lead to war.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also hinted at this, in a talk he gave at a meeting of officials from regional councils on Tuesday. Ya’alon warned that 'Israel could unite all the forces in the region against it, if it acts incorrectly.' Israel’s approach, he said, consists of 'surgical behavior based on red lines, and those who cross them know we will act.' Those lines include 'violation of sovereignty on the Golan Heights, the transfer of certain weapons.'

Israel is apparently deeply concerned by Hizbollah’s effort to improve the accuracy of its rockets. The organization has in its possession vast numbers of missiles and rockets – 130,000, according to the latest estimates – but upgrading its capability is dependent on improving the weapons’ accuracy, which would enable Hizbollah to strike effectively at specific targets, including air force-base runways and power stations.

'There are some things for which we take responsibility and others for which we don’t, but we do not intervene in internal conflicts unless our red lines are crossed,' Ya’alon reiterated.

In other words: Israel is upset at the smuggling of weapons by the Assad regime in Syria to Hizbollah, but understands that launching a lengthy, systematic series of attacks is liable to affect the delicate balance in the north, generate a confrontation between Israel and Hizbollah, and, as a consequence, foment a change in the civil war in Syria. Israel does not wish to see any such change, preferring a continuation of the status quo."



THE GOVERNMENT THE WORLD WILL LOVE TO HATE: Writing in The Jerusalem Post, Herb Keinon says that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's fourth government will have its work cut out in persuading the international community that it has good intentions.

"By appointing Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely as deputy foreign minister on Thursday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may have tried to solve some internal Likud problems, but he did not help Israel’s position in the world.

One can only imagine the cables diplomats from the U.S. to New Zealand, Britain to Spain, sent their home offices regarding the new government: 'A narrow hard-right government with the Foreign Ministry to be run day-by-day by Hotovely, a proponent of a one-state solution who believes Jews should be allowed to pray on Temple Mount, and is very close to the settlement community.' In other words, Hotovely represents the opposite of everything much of the world, including U.S. President Barack Obama, wants to see in Israel.

On Wednesday Obama said he wanted to see policies and actions from both Israel and the Palestinians that would show their commitment to a two-state solution. On Thursday Netanyahu sent to the Foreign Ministry as his deputy a one-state advocate who believes Israel should apply sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, give the Palestinians full citizenship and live with a large Arab minority.

Netanyahu’s refusal to appoint a full-time foreign minister, and to instead keep that portfolio for himself for the time being, is an indication that he is holding that job open for someone else who he hopes may join the government down the line. Preferably, from his point of view, this would be the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog, but quite possibly Avigdor Lieberman, if and when he gets tired of sharing the opposition benches with Meretz’s Zahava Gal-On and the Joint List’s Haneen Zoabi.

Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said Wednesday that there would probably not be any significant diplomatic fallout from the appointment – Ze’ev Elkin, another opponent of the two-state solution, served in the deputy foreign minister post recently and the roof did not fall in. Furthermore, Avigdor Lieberman, with his views at odds with much of the world, was a full-fledged foreign minister and Israel’s foreign relations did not collapse.

But the problem with Hotovely’s appointment is both the mixed message it sends, and what could have been. Regarding the mixed message, the world will once again see in the Foreign Ministry a right-wing and strongly ideological personality who, like Lieberman, does not agree with some of the fundamental diplomatic policies of the prime minister.

And regarding what could have been, Netanyahu – well aware of the country’s difficult diplomatic standing – could have put in that position a face that would have been 'presentable' to the world: someone like former U.S. ambassador Michael Oren, from Kulanu, or even a Yuval Steinitz, Gilad Erdan or Tzachi Hanegbi from the Likud; someone who may have been able to put a more moderate face on a right-wing government the world is just going to love to hate.

Political considerations made that impossible. So instead, Hotovely gets the nod, something that – at a time of tremendous diplomatic challenges – is not going to make Israel’s ability to maneuver on the international stage any easier."




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