1. The nomination of John Bolton as US national security adviser, continuing to reverberate through the Israeli media ecosystem, is being given new life by a revelation Sunday morning by former defense minister Shaul Mofaz that Bolton once tried to convince him to bomb Iran.
- Bolton’s views on a preemptive strike on Iran were known. As Ron Kampeas notes in his excellent Bolton primer for JTA, Bolton told the Washington Free Beacon in August that “I don’t make any disguise of the idea that ultimately it may take an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program to stop it.”
- Nonetheless, the idea that he not only supported but was pushing Israel to take on the highly dangerous operation takes the position to a whole new level.
- “I know John Bolton from when he was US ambassador to the UN — he tried to convince me that Israel needs to strike Iran,” Mofaz is quoted saying at a Yedioth Ahronoth security conference. “I don’t think it’s a smart move — not from the Americans or anybody — until this threat is actualized.”
- Mofaz, who was born in Iran, served as defense minister from 2002 to 2006. Bolton was UN ambassador for the last two of those years, just as Israeli concerns about Iran’s weapons program were beginning to ramp up. According to Seymour Hersh, who wrote a series of articles about the likelihood of the US or Israel bombing Iran for the New Yorker around that time, in 2004, Bolton got IAEA inspectors to visit Parchin, before it was widely believed to house nuclear activity, and the Bush administration was actively drawing up plans to go to war against Iran.
2. Most Israeli politicians in the country’s right-wing government welcomed Bolton’s nomination by US President Donald Trump over the weekend.
Great appointment of Amb. John Bolton, an extraordinary security expert, experienced diplomat and a stalwart friend of Israel.
Good luck John! pic.twitter.com/bnIp2WF93h
— Naftali Bennett בנט (@naftalibennett) March 23, 2018
- Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom emblazons its front page with the headline “John Bolton nomination: A Blue and White House,” over a column by Avraham Ben Tzvi claiming that Bolton and incoming secretary of state Mike Pompeo puts two very pro-Israel figures at the top of the US defense policy troika. The third person is Pentagon head Jim Mattis.
- Mattis, he writes, has not shown an especially strong “embrace or empathy of Israel,” but rather only as far as Israel can contribute to US security, as opposed to Bolton and Pompeo, whose cups overfloweth with love of Israel.
- “The dominant support of these two figures for the special ties with Israel in decision making is likely to override the minority opinion of the last survivor of the upper echelons since the swearing-in of the 45th president.”
3. A big part of Israeli officials’ love for Bolton is that he is seen as the death knell for the Iran nuclear deal. Amos Harel writes in Haaretz that Israeli officials see increased US pressure to scrap the agreement coming just as Tehran is under increased pressure because of its military adventurism abroad and still beleaguered economy, citing an intelligence assessment.
- “Israel’s intelligence community sees this situation as a window of opportunity for extracting more concessions from Iran in renewed negotiations on the nuclear deal and in other areas — presumably through new threats of economic sanctions and perhaps even US military force,” Harel writes.
- In the same paper, columnist Chemi Shalev suggests at least Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be more cautious about seeing Bolton’s appointment as a good thing: “Netanyahu may be satisfied, but he should be more ambivalent: Bolton’s appointment will make it more difficult for him to restrain the demands of his coalition partners with the excuse that the US opposes them. Bolton’s appointment strengthens the right wing-messianic-Evangelical bloc in both countries, which Netanyahu still tells himself he doesn’t belong to.”
4. The Israeli (and increasingly American) feeling of “us against the world” was personified over the weekend with the UN Human Rights Council’s decision to pass five resolutions against Israel.
- “Five against Israel, one against North Korea,” writes an indignant Yedioth Ahronoth, calling the meeting a “set ritual” of “anti-Israel hatred.”
- Yet columnist Ben-Dror Yemini notes that the automatic majority against Israel seems to be shrinking slightly: “Despite the small change, the council is still one of the most backwards bodies in the UN.”
- The reaction from Israel’s ambassador Danny Danon was also pretty much just as automatic. “There will be significant consequences as a result of the UN Human Rights Council’s anti-Israel votes,” he said late Saturday. “These actions against Israel are hypocritical and cause irreparable damage to the cause of those who truly care about real human rights violations around the world.”
5. At the same Yedioth conference panel where Mofaz spoke, he and other former army chiefs were asked about the possibility of war over the summer. “Yeah, between the Jews,” Dan Halutz (he of the disastrous Second Lebanon War) quipped. “With the Arabs I’m not sure.”
- That internecine war may have seen its first volley Sunday morning with the news that Education Ministry is plowing ahead with a code of ethics meant to ban political talk from university lecture halls.
- The move is seen as a victory for Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, even though the clause in the code banning political talk will only be encouraged but not mandatory for universities.
- The council of university heads was quick to reject the code, indicating that the clause will not be adopted.
- “This terrible drive to use the ethics code as a way to censor politics tramples over the most basic standards of academic freedom and research freedom, and will shut mouths,” they write, according to Haaretz.
- Although the code is not directed at any particular political orientation, Israeli academia is often seen as left-leaning. Critics have accused Bennett of attempting to limit liberal voices in educational institutions while bringing in more conservative views.
- “They are trying to create a regime of terror, on the brain and mouth of every lecturer, and in their wake, the student,” Yedioth columnist Yehuda Nuriel writes.
6. Even the left and the left are at each other, as it emerged over the weekend that new Meretz head Tamar Zandberg won the leadership of the left-wing party by consulting with a right-wing firebrand.
- Haaretz, seen as the paper mostly closely aligned with Meretz, accuses Zandberg of lying about working with Moshe Klughaft.
- “She needs to think about whether she’s fit for the job and whether the job is right for her,” Haaretz’s Yossi Verter writes, noting that Klughaft is seen as the left’s top bogeyman.
- “He is not only a dirty opponent of the left, but of every Israeli who wants an open and tolerant society,” says Avi Dabush, who lost to Zandberg in the leadership campaign, nonetheless expressing confidence she will correct her mistakes and accusing Klughaft of trying to smear the party.
- By Sunday, Zandberg was apologizing but also defending herself and her party against an onslaught from all around, saying Klughaft’s role was minor.
- Nonetheless, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira announced he would probe her for not reporting her association with the adviser as required by law.
7. The Jews can apparently fight each other and the Arabs at the same time. Israeli jets stuck sites in Gaza early Sunday after a group of Palestinians from Gaza infiltrated into Israel and tried to damage machinery being used to construct a new anti-tunnel barrier around the coastal enclave on Saturday night.
- The bombing is the latest incident to point at escalation in the south. However, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman seems more concerned with war footing in the north.
- Answering a question about home-front preparedness, Liberman tells the Yedioth security conference that “the better side is in the south on the Gaza border, and the bad is in the north.”
8. Much of the saber-rattling with Lebanon and Hezbollah is being tied to upcoming Lebanese parliamentary elections, scheduled for May.
- Hezbollah may begun to glom onto the tactic of using fake news to push its agenda, columnist Ali Al-Amin writes in Sunni-aligned Al-Arabiya: “It has also used its media outlets and social media pages to air and post large amounts of reports – both real ones and fabricated ones – about an imminent Israeli war against it. However, Israeli stances are the same and nothing has changed. Thus, there is nothing that justifies these reports.”
- With the election campaign officially kicking off this week, Lebanese Prime Minister Said Hariri slung an opening volley at Hezbollah while announcing his slate on Saturday.
- “I did not want to talk about the other lists but we cannot ignore what is happening! Is Bashar working on the formation of lists once again? And is Hezbollah fulfilling the task?” he told supporters, according to Asharq al-Awsat.
9. Next Sunday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will visit Israel for Easter and will face a minefield in navigating his country’s tricky relationship with Jerusalem.
- The last time a German foreign minister visited, it ended in a diplomatic spat after Netanyahu gave him an ultimatum over meeting with left-wing group Breaking the Silence.
- But it’s not just BtS. Deutsche Welle says there are four main areas of conflict between Jerusalem and Berlin: Settlements, recognition of Jerusalem, anti-Semitism in Germany, and Germany’s bid for a UN Security Council seat, which it is running against Israel for.
- “Many in Israel are demanding Germany step aside for its ‘partner,’ arguing that Germany was on the Security Council in 2011/2012, while Israel has never been on it in the 70 years since the state was founded. In his inaugural speech, Maas stressed the importance of Germany’s candidate,” DW reports.
10. Would a Security Council pig be kosher? It might if it was made of lab-grown meat. Popular modern Orthodox rabbi Yuval Cherlow sparked a firestorm late last week when he was reported to have said that cloned pig meat would be kosher.
- On Saturday night, he had to send out a series of tweets clarifying his position, which only covers lab-grown meat, and not meat produced from a live pig whose genetic material comes from a cell from which the pig was cloned.
- “At the end of the day, it’s worth it to get used to choosing the truth as the better option,” he tweets Sunday morning.