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Finance minister to give tax breaks to young apartment buyers, defense minister says Israel must plan to act alone against Iran

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (photo credit:Flash90)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (photo credit:Flash90)

Explosions dominate the front pages on Tuesday, but for once they are only metaphorical. The Big Bang, a projected implosion of market prices, and a defense minister’s bombastic advocation of Israeli unilateral action against Iran are some of the top stories.

Cheaper apartments are Yedioth Ahronoth‘s big scoop of the day, reporting that Finance Minister Yair Lapid is putting in motion a tax break on new apartments for young couples. Those who qualify would be exempt from paying value added tax (which currently stands at 18 percent) on the cost of their new home. According to the paper, Lapid’s move is projected to cause the price of new apartments to drop by 18%, and consequently drive down prices on second-hand apartments as well.

“By the estimation of sources in the Finance Ministry, the revolutionary step will bring about a significant reduction in the prices of apartments in Israel as soon as this year,” the paper reports.

But don’t get your hopes up just yet, there are several hoops to jump through that appear to exclude ultra-Orthodox couples from the discount. First, the discount isn’t automatically applied but rather only counts for those buying apartments of the average price for the area — penthouses not included. Second, those who qualify must be a couple with at least one child, one of the couple must have served in the army or national service, and neither may have previously owned an apartment in Israel, and one of them must work.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon again takes to the airwaves and makes fustian statements to the press. The front page of Haaretz quotes the former IDF chief of staff saying that he doesn’t believe the US has the wherewithal to carry out a strike on Iran if necessary, and therefore Israel must make plans to do so itself. The paper says that Ya’alon’s statements advocating Israeli independent action against the Islamic Republic reflects a complete turnaround from earlier, when he was a major opponent to unilateral Israeli action in the last security cabinet.

The defense minister launched a scathing attack once again on the Obama administration, saying that Washington “projects weakness” on the Crimean issue, which affects its standing elsewhere — notably Iran. He said such weakness may end up harming the United States.

“If you wait at home, terror will come to you once again,” he said. “Even if you wait in the doorway, in the end it will come to you. This is the war of civilizations. If your image is weak, then in the world the weakness will certainly not pay off. Nobody will replace the US as world policeman. I hope the US reconsiders. If not, it will be a challenge for the world order and the US will be the one harmed.”

Surprisingly, right-wing Israel Hayom covers Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s visit with President Barack Obama in Washington while Yedioth Ahronoth gives it no attention. Israel Hayom’s interpretation of the meeting was that Obama told Abbas to accept the framework agreement Washington intends to put forward. The president called on Abbas to make “very hard, very challenging, tough political decisions and risks.”

Haaretz, on the other hand, focuses on Abbas’s rejection of Israel’s demand to recognize it as a Jewish state as part of the framework deal. “We’ve already recognized the State of Israel in the past,” it quotes Abbas saying in its headline.

Top story for Israel Hayom is the referendum in Crimea which, unsurprisingly, turned out overwhelmingly in favor of joining Russia and seceding from Ukraine. The White House and the European Union levied sanctions on Moscow in response. Much of the paper’s coverage is quotes from American and European leaders condemning Russia’s move to grab the peninsula from Kiev and refusing to recognize Crimean secession. The paper notes that despite clapping economic restrictions on a number of senior Russian and former Ukrainian officials, and despite the tough rhetoric, Washington “avoided adding senior Russian security officials, and certainly not President [Vladimir] Putin himself, to the list of sanctions.”

Yedioth Ahronoth runs a brief account titled “The annexation and its punishment,” mimicking Dostoyevsky.

In Haaretz, former Israeli diplomat Moshe Arens writes that the Iron Dome anti-missile system is not enough to thwart terrorism from the Gaza Strip. He praises the system as a technological feat and lauds Rafael for “attaining the seemingly impossible.” But the exchange ratio of a $50,000 missile against a dirt cheap Kassam rocket is stacked heavily against Israel, he says, and Iron Dome’s protective umbrella over southern Israel is but a dream.

“No system can seal off the skies over such a large area and make them impervious to incoming missiles. Some are bound to get through, and the population better run for cover at the first indication of a terrorist missile attack,” he writes. Since that happens at the slightest hint of a barrage, the terrorists in Gaza still succeed in their aim of gripping Israelis with fear.

“It is only a matter of time before the population in southern Israel has to run to the shelters again. Iron Dome cannot change this situation. Only the entry of IDF ground forces into the Gaza Strip and the destruction of the terrorist arsenal there can do that.”

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