The Likud-Beytenu party has changed gears now that it has lost significant ground to the upstart Jewish Home party, and it has launched an assault on its opponent’s stance on women. Meanwhile, as the bloodshed in Syria increases, the Foreign Ministry says it regards the unrest a good thing for Israeli regional security.
Israel Hayom publishes its own elections poll in advance of the January 22 vote, with Likud-Beytenu winning 34 seats, the Labor Party winning 16, and the Jewish Home party winning 14. The results are nearly identical to a Dialog poll published in Haaretz a day earlier, but the poll gives Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party 11 seats (as opposed to 9 in the Haaretz poll), and the radical right wing Otzma Leyisrael (Power to Israel) party is not projected to break the threshold.
Despite the fact that the Jewish Home has apparently swindled seats from the Likud-Beytenu bloc, Israel Hayom writes optimistically that the religious nationalist party has reached its peak.
“The question is whether it has peaked too early, since the elections are only in another three weeks,” it writes. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mega-list told Israel Hayom that the Jewish Home is “like a balloon that succeeded in inflating itself with supporters” and that soon that balloon would pop.
The paper also reports on the new Likud-Beytenu campaign strategy to target the Jewish Home party as misogynistic. While the paper does not run the Likud party’s ad smearing three of the party’s members for anti-feminist statements, it shows a picture of the ad in an article that proceeds to summarize the Likud-Beytenu position.
Only at the very end does it quote a Jewish Home member who calls Likud-Beytenu hypocritical and chauvinistic, pointing out the fact that a quarter of Jewish Home’s top 12 are female and that Likud-Beytenu has only one woman in its upper echelons.
The paper that does run the Likud-Beytenu attack ad on its front page is Haaretz, but for the sake of fairness it also runs an anti-Meretz ad across the top of the page. With the Likud party attacking from the right, Haaretz’s editorial attacks the Jewish Home from the left, calling it “an extremist right-wing platform – ultra-nationalist, anti-democratic and particularly dangerous.” It proceeds to rake Jewish Home over the coals for what it perceives as the party’s threats to freedom of speech and an active judiciary, and its scorn for “infiltrators” and desire to rid Israel of them.
“A dangerous ideology, intended to undermine democracy and the rule of law in Israel, lurks behind Bennett’s smile,” it warns its readers.
Top billing on its front page is the United Nations’ report from Wednesday that amended its casualty figures from the Syrian civil war to upwards of 60,000 killed since the beginning of the uprising in March 2011. It also reports that settlers residing in the Jordan Valley are farming 1,250 acres of private Palestinian land situated along the border with Jordan whose original owners are not allowed to access their land because of a military order preventing them from entering the area.
Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the Shas party made an unlikely and unconventional pit stop in Arab communities in the Galilee. “Shas will be victorious, inshallah!” reads the report’s headline, invoking the Arabic expression for “God willing.”
Party leader Aryeh Deri told Arab voters in the village of Abu Sanan that he “felt at home” and “inshallah and with God’s help we will hold the victory party here,” adding the customary religious disavowal of vows. The paper quotes MK David Azoulai saying that in the 2009 elections Shas garnered 8,000 votes from the Druze, Christian, and Bedouin minorities in Israel.
It also quotes senior Likud officials harshly criticizing what they call the campaign manager’s failure in running a successful campaign, citing the party’s massive drop in the polls. According to the report, local Likud activists are enraged by why they call “total paralysis of the branch offices.” According to the paper, the Likud central campaign office has not conferred with the local branches and has not provided them with funding to manage the day-to-day running of the campaign.
Maariv reports, for a bit of a change, that Iran’s ability to retaliate against Israel in response to a strike on its nuclear facilities is weaker, pointing at the crumbling of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and the weakening of Hezbollah as a result. It quotes a Foreign Ministry intelligence estimate that says that “if there was a military altercation between Israel and Iran, the Syrian army would not take part in it.”
“More importantly, the chances that Hezbollah would participate in the conflict fell dramatically,” it writes. “Without Syrian support and because of the significant reduction of arms supplied by Iran, Hezbollah has become more vulnerable.”
“Our strategic situation in the region has improved greatly, both in the north and the south,” a senior official in Jerusalem tells the paper.
Amir Rapaport argues that its not all good news, and that the Foreign Ministry report is deceptive. He says that the reason Hezbollah has not attacked since the 2006 Second Lebanon War is not because of Israeli deterrence but rather because Iran has told it not to just yet. He notes that unlike the last major skirmish in Lebanon, Hezbollah is now armed to the teeth with “missiles with warheads of hundreds of kilograms and precision of tens of meters.”
Make no mistake, he says, “if there will eventually be an [Israeli] strike, Iran and Hezbollah already have enough ways to attack Israel with heavy fire, to an extent that the Iron Dome and Arrow missile systems will have difficulty contending with,” he writes.
One front that Israel’s security forces was lacking on Wednesday was safety. A soldier was accidentally shot during a training exercise, and an F-16 fighter jet nearly crashed on landing with its pilot and navigator ejecting at the last second.
Maariv reports that in the shooting accident, a new recruit accidentally switched her M-16 from semi- to fully automatic and accidentally pulled the trigger while her instructor was standing in front of her. The instructor was shot multiple times in the chest, stomach and leg, and underwent surgery. The incident is under investigation.
In the second incident, as an Air Force jet was landing after taking part in a training exercise its landing gear failed. Neither airmen were injured in the incident, but the Air Force grounded its jets after the accident. Maariv reports that a similar occurrence happened last week at the same airbase in northern Israel.
“Then, too, a fighter plane swerved off the runway and was damaged, but the Air Force points out that it was a totally different malfunction and that the two incidents are unrelated,” it writes.