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MIDEAST MIRROR 30.06.15, SECTION A (ISRAEL)

 

The moment of truth

 

Israeli newspapers lead their Tuesday editions with the spate of terror attacks across the West Bank over the past 24 hours. Late Monday night, four people were wounded in a shooting attack near the West Bank settlement of Shvut Rachel. One of the victims was reportedly in serious condition. The incident came just hours after a female IDF soldier was wounded in a stabbing attack at Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem. In addition, the papers point out, terrorists opened fire on a civilian ambulance as it was driving along a road adjacent to Beit El, also in the West Bank.

Responding to this spate of attacks, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely accused the Palestinians of 'playing a double game of hypocrisy. They are enflaming the area and inciting terrorism, while turning to international bodies under the guise of morality and justice. We must restore security to the citizens of Israel at all costs,' she said.

According to settler-run news service Arutz 7, the IDF and the Shin Bet have moved away Tuesday from the 'lone wolf' explanation that they used for a recent spate of terror attacks, and have now admitted that a terror cell appears to be at large in areas of the West Bank north of Jerusalem. Sources in the security establishment said that, according to information in their possession and following an initial inquiry, it can be determined that there was more than one terrorist involved in Monday night's shooting near Shvut Rachel, and that there certainly may be a terror cell at large in the region. The sources said that the cell may have been responsible for the gunfire at an ambulance Saturday evening, and that it fired at a civilian vehicle before shooting at the ambulance. The cell may also be connected to the murder of Danny Gonen, near Dolev, 11 days ago.

IDF Judea and Samaria Division Commander, Tamir Yadai, held several discussions Monday on the matter, and the conclusion is that these are not 'lone terrorists' but a phenomenon that is 'gathering steam.' The security establishment noted that more than 25 bullets were fired at the vehicle – indicating that there were several terrorists involved, and that they switched cars and escaped into one of the local villages. The security establishment sources added that Tuesday is the anniversary of the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir and that there are alerts regarding possible revenge terror attacks.

Elsewhere, many of the papers carry a report from the AFP news agency, according to which France wants a new international group made up of the United States, European powers and Arab countries to be set up to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday. 'It could be a sort of Quartet-plus,' Fabius told reporters. He added that the inclusion of Arab states 'makes sense,' because they have a role to play in the peace process and have put forward a plan in 2002 that the foreign minister described as 'interesting.' 'It will be necessary to have an international accompanying body,' Fabius told reporters in New York where he was to attend a United Nations meeting on climate change.

According to Yedioth Ahronoth, Fabius appeared to be taking a step back from France's proposal to present a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that would set a timetable for reaching a final Israeli-Palestinian deal. 'The resolution is a tool, not an end in itself,' he stressed. 'The first thing is this question of getting back to negotiations and having this international accompanying body and if a resolution - if and when is necessary - we will think about it.' Fabius had said in late March that France would begin talks on a draft resolution but a question mark remained over whether the United States, Israel's closest ally, would back such an initiative. 'France is keen about not abandoning this problem,' he said, adding that the risk of an 'explosion' in the region was real.

Meanwhile, the papers report that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been forced to postpone a Knesset vote that would have allowed the government to ignore objections from the anti-trust commissioner to an agreement between the state and the companies operating Israel's offshore gas platforms. Netanyahu, who heads a narrow 61-member coalition, was unable to muster the requisite majority to pass the decision, despite the security cabinet declaring that Israel's vital national security interests would be affected by the decision.

Finally, Haaretz reports that, more than 15 years after sites on Temple Mount were closed to non-Muslim visitors; Israel and Jordan have been negotiating reopening them. Israel, which controls security on the mount, including entrance to it, believes that opening the mosques to paying visitors would give the Muslim Waqf, which manages the site’s day-to-day religious affairs, an incentive to keep the peace on the mount.

Some details of the negotiations were revealed in a report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based NGO, which is slated for publication on Tuesday. After meeting with decision makers in Israel, Jordan and the PA, the report’s authors concluded that such a move could indeed help keep peace on the mount. But they warned that Israel’s new government might make a deal harder to achieve. An official in the Prime Minister's Office, however, stated, 'There are no negotiations and no change in the status quo at Temple Mount.'

 

 

ON THE PATH TO A NUCLEAR DEAL: Writing in Israel Hayom, Yaakov Amidror comments on the progress of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six world powers, saying that, in the end, the United States will find an 'elegant' way to agree to the Islamic Republic's demands – no matter how outrageous.

"If someone had asked me two weeks ago whether there would be a nuclear agreement between Iran and the six world powers, I would have answered in the affirmative. The Americans very much wanted an agreement – more, in fact than the Iranians appeared to want one, and they need one desperately. The United States is currently far from the formula that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry determined when he said that no deal is better than a bad deal. Right now, the Americans are of the opinion that any achievable deal would be better than no deal. That is why they are willing to be flexible on almost every demand that the Iranians are making. The Iranians, for their part, have taken full advantage of this and are pushing up their price. They are certain that Kerry will agree, because he doesn't want to see the Iranian backtrack on things they have already agreed to.

But the United States is a democracy and Congress has forced itself into this process; the agreement will have to be brought before lawmakers for inspection and approval. The public discourse that is going on allows professionals to have their say and one of the most important contributions to the debate came from the Washington Institute, which issued a public statement, signed by experts from both parties, including academics and specialists who have been keeping close tabs on the negotiations or who were involved in the issue in previous administrations. They, therefore, have a greater understanding of the nuclear issue and represent years of cumulative American experience from the United States' failure to prevent North Korea from obtaining nuclear capabilities. In their statement, they stipulated several conditions that any nuclear agreement with Iran must meet if it wants to meet even the low standards set by the White House as to what constitutes a 'good deal' – and they hinted that, in their opinion, the Obama Administration has set a very low bar indeed.

In the statement, these experts explain that the Iranians must be obligated to allow their military installations to be inspected and that sanctions must be lifted gradually and at a pace that will be determined by how well the Iranians are implementing the agreement. This will be determined by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. They also proposed that the United Nations should have no say in whether or not sanctions are imposed anew further down the road. The Iranians, for their part, are trying to obtain more sanctions relief as part of the agreement and have announced that they will not open their military sites to inspection. They also want the vast majority of sanctions lifted almost automatically when the deal is signed.

I do not know whether the Iranians will dig their heels in during the final few days of negotiations. It is possible that they only made their new demands in order to be able to back down and that what they have already achieved goes far beyond their wildest dreams. So now they will 'make concessions' and drop demands that they never really thought would be granted. This will allow the Obama Administration to present Congress with an achievement when, in fact, Obama's negotiating team achieved nothing.

If the Iranians dig their heels in, they could end up making the classic mistake that dictatorships always make when dealing with democracies. Democracies always strive for peace and stability; they are reticent about going to war, which they see as the last resort. But if they are pushed into a corner, if they feel that they have made every reasonable effort but that their dictatorial interlocutor is not making the requisite concessions, they can often responds with attacks that take the other side by surprise.

I do not know what the Americans' red line is. There are those who argue that the Obama Administration doesn't even have one and that, in the end, his negotiating team will capitulate since it has lost its backbone. I hope they are wrong. I hope that, when the Americans realize that the agreement does not even meet the minimum demands they have set and that were stipulated in the Washington Institute's statement, they will come around. Then they will be faced with the question of how to respond – and there's no easy answer to that. If they want to continue with sanctions, they would have to convince the Europeans, the Chinese and the Russians, none of whom will be happy. If the United States decides to use military force – and there's no question that it possesses the ability to do so – it would entail going against the fundamental principles and instincts of the Obama Administration. The Americans are terrified of having to make that decision.

Therefore, I  believe that Kerry and his team will do anything and everything in their power to reach an agreement and that the Iranians will only manage to derail an agreement if their demands are patently excessive, in which case, even the most ardent supporters of Obama's policy of flexibility will be unable to justify an agreement. It is true that the Iranians would have to be utter fools to act in this way, but it is possible that American manifestations of weakness will tempt the Iranians to act in this way. So I cannot say what will happen in the end. But if I was a betting man, I would wager that the Americans will find a way to agree to Iran's demands and that there will, in the end, be an agreement."

Ends…

 

THE MOMENT OF TRUTH: Writing in Maariv, Yossi Melman refuses to be drawn on whether or not Iran and the G5+1 will reach a deal and says that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's return to Tehran this week proves that even he does not know how Spiritual Leader Ali Khamenei will rule.

"Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should be rubbing his hands in glee. Thanks to what has been blamed on Israeli intelligence, the negotiations over a nuclear agreement between Iran and the six world powers will not be reached by today's deadline. It is now clear that a deal will not be inked by the long-standing deadline and every day that passes without an agreement is an achievement for Netanyahu and everyone who opposes the deal in the first place.

Even though the negotiations have been extended, it is clear to everyone that they cannot go on forever. The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is desperate to finalize the deal before July 4th, when the American people celebrate Independence Day. If that happens and the deal is finalized by then, Congress will have only 30 days to inspect and perhaps even delay the agreement. If the agreement is only finalized after July 9th, Congress will have 60 days to inspect the agreement – and who knows what could happen in that time?

After three marathon meetings with his American counterpart this week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif left Vienna for Tehran, for consultations with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – the man who will determine, in the end, whether or not there is an agreement. Zarif jetted back to Tehran because he and his team are worried that they are being eavesdropped on and they cannot even trust their own communications systems, which were supposed to allow them to talk freely, without concern that their conversations would be deciphered. Just a few weeks ago, after all, there were reports in the international media and from cyber security companies that Israel's intelligence services had infiltrated viruses into the computers of the hotels where the talks were taking place.

Zarif's return to Tehran also proves that he has not been given a mandate by the Supreme Leader to finalize a deal and that he must schlep back to Iran to get Khamenei's blessing before signing any deal. If past experience of how Iran has negotiated with the world powers over the past decade is any indication, the Supreme Leader would not give advanced approval of any deal. His approach is this: First of all, sign the deal – and then we'll decide whether to honor it. And let's not forget that Khamenei has already nixed one signed, sealed and delivered nuclear agreement.

One would have to be either extremely foolish or extremely brave to predict whether the negotiations will end with an agreement. The gaps between the sides remain wide, according to a statement from the British, French and Germany foreign ministers. The same issues that have always been contentious remain unresolved today: the West's demand that international inspectors be allowed access to Iran's military installations, the demand that Iranian scientists who worked on the country's military nuclear program make themselves available to answer international inspectors' questions, the demand that Iran finally come clear about its past efforts to obtain nuclear capability and the disagreement over how and when sanctions should be lifted – and how they should be imposed anew if Iran violates the terms of the agreement.

In short, it's impossible to predict whether there will be a deal. Logic says that Iran needs this deal far more than anyone else. The Obama Administration is desperate for an agreement to be reached. Yet it remains unclear whether or when the sides will reach a deal. Everything remains open – perhaps because the moment of truth is rapidly approaching."

Ends…

 

NOT JUST DEFENSE: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, former Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar warns that, if the government fails to divert funds away from the defense establishment and into civilian projects, it risks creating a massive social protest that will undermine national security.

"What is the common denominator between the massive social protests of 2011, this summer's protests against overcrowding in classrooms and a host of other protests like them? They are all the desperate attempt of Israeli society to tell the country's leaders that the citizenry is extremely worried about the social and civilian services that the state provides and the quality of these services.

What do Shinui (2003), the Pensioners Party (2006), Yesh Atid (2013) and Kulanu (2015) all have in common? According to veteran political parties, they were all established to reflect the mood of the people at the time. These parties do indeed rise and fall with each election, but the mood of the people remains constant – and it is a mood of dissatisfaction.

Israeli governments have always known how to provide tactical responses to public storms. Sometimes the responses were successful, sometimes less so. There were and still are ministers who do their very best and who introduce important and significant reforms to their areas of responsibly. However, no government has ever really carried out ambitious and comprehensive strategic reforms that would fundamentally benefit the people of Israel. Even today, there are no such reforms on the horizon.

There have been contradictory reports about the recommendations of the Locker Commission – which has been examining the size and nature of the defense budget. The committee, headed by the former director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Harel Locker, has yet to publish its recommendations. On the one hand, according to some reports Locker and his colleagues will recommend that the defense budget be set for several years at a time and that it be increased by 58 billion shekels. Then again, there have been noises coming from within the defense establishment, which would indicate that they are not happy with the committee findings. If rumors about Locker's conclusions are correct, the gap between the investment in the military and investment in civilians will widen. Even now, the defense establishment enjoys privileges that the education system and the health system can only dream of. For example: the defense budget is only a recommendation. Expenditure by the defense establishment in practice is always several billion shekels more than the approved budget. In retrospect, the government always finds the extra funds to cover the shortfall.

Ever since the establishment of the State of Israel, it has had massive security needs and faced huge challenges. Even if the entire state budget were spent on defense, it is doubtful whether it would be enough to meet all of those challenges. But not every increase in the defense budget will bring greater security. Investment in education, science, research and academia and narrowing the gaps between the richest and the poorest members of Israeli society will also contribute to our national security. In fact, they would do more to bolster security than an increase in the defense budget.

When I was a member of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's third government, I asked, on more than one occasion, the following question: Why does the defense budget need the security of a two-year budget any more than the education system?

One key condition for meeting the national security challenges facing the State of Israel is maintaining our qualitative edge – as well as safeguarding our free economy from radical populism and ensuring that Israeli society remains strong, progressive and just. Our ability to meet these challenges depends very much on the performance of the civilian government ministries.

Since real life is a zero-sum game and since we live in a world with limited resources, decisions must be made. Without recognizing the need to reign in the exponential increase in the defense budget, we will not be able to stand up to the national security challenges we are facing. Israel could fail to achieve things that should be well within its reach and which depend more on our own behavior than on external factors.

The political system will soon face a new test, when the time comes to pass the budget for 2015-2106. If the government fails, the outcome could be a social and political earthquake far greater than anything we have seen in the past."

Ends…

 

LET THEM DOCK: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Ariela Ringel Hoffman says that Israel should let the next flotilla dock in Gaza – but only after its cargo has been thoroughly inspected for contraband.

"Israel should have not prevented the latest flotilla of ships from breaking the blockade of the Gaza Strip and reaching shore. Why? Because doing so is the classic definition of insanity: repeating the same action time and time again – and expecting a different outcome. It's time that the government realizes that using force to prevent these ships from reaching Gaza is not the solution, it merely exacerbates the problem. And this is before we even touch on the moral elements of this affair, the difficulty that we face in justifying the blockade itself – both on the international stage and now even domestically. More than two million people are living in intolerable conditions and they are utterly dependent on the decisions and whims of the Israeli government, which has the power to tighten or loosen the chains.

The flotilla that Israel intercepted yesterday is not the last one. It will be followed by more and it is likely that the frequency of these flotillas will increase. At the same time, the legitimacy that the international community grants Israel to carry out various operations will not increase. The opposite is true: every additional flotilla will erode a little more of this legitimacy. In other words: even though the operation to take control of the flotilla was quick and elegant, even though the passengers were detained without incident – we will lose the battle in the end.

The argument that these vessels are carrying weapons is not totally unfounded, but that is a risk that Israel has to take. We have to understand that the problem is not whether Hamas has a hundred more missile or a hundred fewer missiles; the problem is the motivation of the organization to launch them and our ability to take out those responsible for the rocket attacks in real time.

Therefore, the solution must be found elsewhere. Israel must demand, for example, that some international player ensure that the equipment on board is, indeed, humanitarian in nature. We have to trust that our diplomats are capable of setting up such a system of inspection. And let's not forget: if it were to be discovered that one of these ships is carrying, say, a cargo of missiles – Israel's hasbara machine would have a field day.

Israel must also make it clear that the decision to allow future flotillas into Gaza is a conscious one and not a response to outside pressure. We must make sure that the world knows that we are trying to alleviate the situation in Gaza, to restore some degree of normality – in the belief that the other side also recognizes that this is the only way for both Israel and the Palestinians to live side by side."

Ends…

 

FUTILE FLOTILLA: In its editorial on Tuesday, The Jerusalem Post says that Israel was right to block the flotilla that tried to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip, saying that its sole purpose was to delegitimize Israel, not help the Palestinians.

"The Swedish-registered Marianne of Gothenburg, one of several ships making up the 'Freedom Flotilla III,' was boarded by Israel Navy commandos without incident. The vessel was towed to Ashdod Port and those on board will be deported. To their credit, the activists on the Marianne stood by their promise not to use violence against the commandos.

But the broad support for this so-called 'Freedom Flotilla' – ostensibly organized to improve the socioeconomic conditions of Palestinians living in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip – raises questions about the world’s prejudiced views toward the State of Israel. Listening to the activists, it's as though Palestinians’ suffering was solely the product of Israeli sadism, not the by-product of a sustained attempt by Israel to defend itself from a Palestinian terrorist group that has no qualms about causing immense suffering to its own civilian population in the name of a distorted interpretation of Islam – indeed cynically seeks that suffering as a means of disparaging Israel in the eyes of the world.

Many of the activists who took part in the flotilla were respectable politicians. Former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki was on board one of the ships, as was Spanish EU parliament member Ana Maria Miranda Paza. Bassel Ghattas, a Knesset member from the Joint Arab List also took part. And while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has publicly opposed using flotillas to break the blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza since 2009, he nevertheless adheres to the stance taken by the UN Human Rights Council that, while it is 'fully aware of the need for Israel to address its security concerns,' there must be a 'full and immediate lifting of the blockade.'

Yet, as dozens of respectable world leaders demand that Israel immediately end the suffering of the Palestinians living in Gaza by removing all restrictions on the movement of goods and people to and from the Strip, Hamas continues to channel the few material resources at its disposal into preparations for another terrorist attack on Israel.

On Sunday, Hamas commanders bragged to Iranian TV that they have just finished the building of a new fortified tunnel that reaches into Israeli territory. Hamas troops, within clear view of the border between Gaza and Israel, are carrying out military maneuvers or training in camps like the one established on the ruins of Dugit, one of dozens of Jewish settlements abandoned by Israel as part of the 2005 evacuation of all Israelis from the Gaza Strip. And while it is not clear that Hamas was directly involved in the June 19 murder of Danny Gonen in a shooting attack near Dolev, it is clear that the terrorist organization is intent on extending its influence to the West Bank.

However, instead of denouncing Hamas for devoting so much of its energies to violent resistance and enlisting its very limited resources for the building of terrorist tunnels and rockets and for training terrorist militias, the world continues to denounce Israel for defending itself through measures such as a naval blockade designed to stop ships carrying weapons for Hamas – like the SS Francop and the Klos-C – and border restrictions at the Erez crossing designed to stop the smuggling of arms or materials that could be used to attack Israel.

Strangely, Egypt, which has maintained a much stricter closure of its Rafah crossing with Gaza as part of its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, has not been subjected to the sort of condemnation reserved for Israel. Indeed, since Egypt has more aggressively combated smuggling via tunnels operated by Hamas, the vast majority of goods that make their way into the Strip get there through the Israeli- run Erez crossing.

There is a very simple solution to Palestinian suffering in Gaza: political change. One possibility is that Hamas will accept the three conditions set down by the Mideast Quartet – the UN, the EU, the U.S., and Russia. First, it will recognize the State of Israel and repeal Hamas’s charter, which includes among other gems the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Second, it will abandon terrorism and dismantle its terrorist infrastructure. Third, it will recognize the agreements and understandings that Israel has reached with the Palestinian Authority.

The other possibility is that the Hamas regime will be replaced by a leadership willing to accept these basic conditions. Until this happens, Israel cannot allow itself to remove the naval blockade or the restrictions it imposes on imports and the movement of people. Doing so would be a dereliction of duty to millions of Israelis threatened by Hamas’s terrorism.

So-called Freedom Flotillas do nothing to advance the rights of Palestinians living under Hamas’s Islamist regime. Their real goal is the delegitimization of Israel and its right to self-defense."

Ends…

 

YA'ALON'S ARROGANCE: In its editorial on Tuesday, Haaretz accuses Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon of helping erode the firm alliance between the Pentagon and defense headquarters in the Kirya – which it describes as Israel's most vital strategic asset.

"Briefing correspondents on Monday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon provided yet more evidence of the shallowness of the leadership in Israel. Ya’alon may have been careful this time not to slander anyone, after being burned by his gross attack on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who he called 'messianic' and 'obsessive,' but the address of his criticism remains the American administration.

On the eve of an expected agreement between Iran and six world powers, the goal of which is to stop Iran’s progress towards developing nuclear weapons, Ya’alon said that the 'Americans have an alternative story on the Iranian issue that I’m not buying,' and described the disagreement between Israel and the United States in black and white terms: The American administration sees in Iran a solution, while the government of Israel sees it as a problem.

Ya’alon continues to demonstrate the superficial approach that has characterized him throughout his entire term, as if he has not learned much in his senior positions over the past two decades – as head of Military Intelligence, IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister. A change in Iranian policy is definitely one of the key conditions for replacing the culture of conflicts and wars in the Middle East with sustainable agreements. Israel, too, is an interested party.

Without Iranian aid, Hizbollah would be transformed from a significant enemy into one of many organizations in the Lebanese political arena, with the danger of war in the north receding as a result. The possibility of achieving successful coexistence with the Hamas government in Gaza, or at the very least of preventing repeated rounds of violence, is dependent on Iran’s willingness to cooperate with such a trend, and not prevent it through militant elements in Hamas or other factions, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad. An agreement that will prove to the Iranian population, who are thirsting for economic rehabilitation, that moderation pays off will be a step in the right direction and will benefit the entire region, including Israel.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s governments cannot present an impressive list of achievements in the area of diplomatic wisdom. Those who have mostly excelled at not reaching agreements, and in so doing dragged Israel into bouts of violence and diplomatic isolation, cannot preach to others how to achieve a wise and beneficial agreement. The arrogant approach toward the American administration, represented by Ya’alon and rife in the cabinet, attributes great naiveté and a lack of understanding to Washington, but it is not based on any diplomatic or security achievement on the part of its critics.

Israel is entitled to protect its supreme security interests, which, as opposed to Ya’alon’s position, do not include worshipping the settlements and a lack of belief in a diplomatic agreement. The arrogance toward Obama, as demonstrated by Ya’alon and MK Michael Oren (Kulanu), harms Israel and erodes its most vital strategic asset – the firm alliance between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office, and between the Pentagon and defense headquarters in the Kirya in Tel Aviv."

Ends…

 

 

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