1. Binge and merge: Party slates are being finalized, which means yet again the Likud party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are putting heat on the right wing to bring extremist Otzma Yehudit under its wing as part of a wide far-right merger.
- “The right needs to unify,” screams a front page headline in Israel Hayom, leading off an Amnon Lord op-ed in which he accuses the right of “a breathtaking show of irresponsibility.”
- The main point of contention is Likud’s efforts to foist Otzma, the bastard stepchild of Israeli politics, onto the New Right-National Union, in what has become something of an uncherished tradition.
- But New Right leader Naftali Bennett, while welcoming Jewish Home to join up, is seemingly vetoing its partner Otzma.
- According to Channel 12 news, Netanyahu is pressuring Bennett by pointing out how nice his defense minister post is, and what a shame it would be if something happened to it, essentially threatening to strip him of the role if he doesn’t buck up and fall in line.
- The channel reports that “those around Netanyahu claim that it’s not a threat, but a description of fact: If the parties are split, Bennett will be forced to attack Netanyahu and won’t be able to remain in the role.”
- Diaspora minister Tzipi Hotovely tells Ynet that the threat is more a matter of “crime and punishment, and the crime is allowing a split in the national-religious camp.”
- As for Otzma leader Itamar Ben Gvir and his views, she says bringing him in is just realpolitik, pointing to Gesher’s Orly Levy-Abekassis who managed to bite the bullet and ally with far-left Meretz.
- Foreign Minister Israel Katz is also envious of the left and its merger in trying to put down Bennett. “The left deserves praise. The right is splitting like amoebas,” he tells Kan.
- Meanwhile, Channel 13 reports that Bennett told Netanyahu that if he wants Ben Gvir in the Knesset so badly, he should bring him in himself.
- On Army Radio, Likud minister Yariv Levin is posed with the same query after blaming Bennett for sinking the right with his ego. He does not venture an answer.
2. No more Drucking around: With no apparent breakthrough, Netanyahu has reportedly switched tactics to trying to make Jewish Home more palatable by bringing in some big names.
- “On Wednesday, Netanyahu upped the pressure with a phone call to Shimon Riklin, a right-wing journalist, urging him to join the far-right slate so it would be more attractive to voters,” reports Haaretz.
- However Riklin quickly pickles the proposition. “The boycotts, the hate, the divisiveness, do not allow me to accept the proposition to join Jewish Home with a full heart,” he tweets, in his typical extended haiku fashion.
- Channel 12 reports that Netanyahu is also trying to get the party to replace leader Rafi Peretz with Rabbi Haim Druckman, a central party figure, but one who has stayed out of the Knesset fray.
- The suggestion is seen as less than serious. “I laughed out loud,” tweets Haaretz Chaim Levinson. Channel 12’s Amit Segal points out that Druckman is 87 years old. “I thought I’d seen everything this round,” quips Makor Rishon’s Shirit Avitan Cohen.
3. Get Rafi: Pressure is also coming at Peretz from inside the party. Walla reports that MK Moti Yogev, the Jewish Home No. 2, is publicly urging him to jettison Otzma Yehudit and get the Yamina gang back together.
- Modiin Deputy Mayor Amiad Taub, another party member, tells Army Radio he wants little to do with it now. “Otzma Yehudit cannot run with us, i left after the merger. Bennett and Shaked are a good replacement, in my eyes.”
- Israel National News reports that several leaders of religious-Zionist education systems penned a letter to Peretz urging him to “cancel the harsh decree of division that has been forced upon us and save the land and the people.” The letter also decries the “ruination this may bring upon us. Please God, save us.”
4. School pride: Peretz, who is education minister, is taking it from both sides, as other educators and students hold large rallies around the country Wednesday to protest his homophobic comments recently published by Yedioth.
- “Someone in his position cannot allow himself to say things like this and hurt an entire population,” one student is quoted telling Ynet.
- Kan puts the crowd at the main protest in Tel Aviv at around 1,000.
- Haaretz puts the crowd at a much larger 3,000, which is even more impressive given that it reports that senior officials at the Education Ministry have been pushing principals to not allow students and teachers to participate.
- According to the report, the ministry said attending the rally would be regarded as an unexcused absence. So in response, some principals officially registered the rally as an off-campus extra curricular activity, thus okaying participation.
5. Tales from the centrifuge: An annual military intelligence assessment released Tuesday is also making some waves, with the Israeli press claiming that it predicts Iran can break out to a nuclear weapon within a year after breaking nuke deal constraints.
- According to Yedioth, “By the end of 2020, Iran will have enough enriched uranium for a bomb, if it continues to enrich uranium as a response to US President Donald Trump leaving the nuclear deal.”
- “Iran will have a sufficient amount of enriched uranium to produce one nuclear bomb by the end of the year, according to Israeli army intelligence estimates for 2020,” reports Haaretz.
- But that is misleading, ToI’s Judah Ari Gross says, since what the assessment actually shows is that it will be two years until Iran has the bomb, an estimate that has been consistent within the Israeli defense established for quite some time.
- “Should it choose to ‘break out’ rapidly, by the fall of 2020 Iran would be able to produce the 1,300 kilograms (2,900 pounds) of low-enriched uranium needed to get the 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of highly enriched uranium necessary for a bomb, assuming it continued at current projected rates, according to Israeli assessments,” he writes.
- On Twitter, former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin also tries to correct the record, saying the reports require clarification.
- Yadlin notes that getting to the bomb requires two processes, enriching material and turning it into a weapon. The first is happening, the second is not and would violate the non-proliferation treaty: “A step like that would lead to an international response, and risk military action from the US and Israel.”
6. Save the last chance: The news comes as Europe says it is preparing to take steps against Iran for breaking the nuclear deal, in what see as the death knell of the pact.
- A day after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested ripping up the JCPOA and replacing it with “a Trump plan,” UK ambassador Neil Wiggan tells Ynet that the dispute resolution mechanism is a chance for Iran to get back in line. “If not then Iran faces the end of the nuclear deal and the return of sanctions,” he says.
- In Israel Hayom, columnist Eldad Beck calls it a last chance for the Europeans to save face, chiding them for still holding out hope for the JCPOA.
- “The Europeans must be held to account for having ignored reality for too long. It was a dangerous, even lethal, approach. They have claimed it was better to gain 10 years in which the Iranians might be persuaded to invest in their economy rather than in atomic bombs, in which the ‘moderates’ might manage to change the face of the revolution through reforms and investment. None of that happened. The Iranians fooled the Europeans, and not for the first time,” he writes.
7. Opportunity strikes: The bigger news out of the assessment is that the removal of Qassem Soleimani from the picture may give Israel a better chance at halting Iranian attempts to entrench military in the region.
- Driving home the point, reports overnight appeared to indicate an Israeli attack on the T-4 base in Syria, thought to be used by the Quds Force.
- “Despite the apparent lull in incidents in recent weeks, Military Intelligence thinks an opportunity has been created to accelerate the pace of attacks against Iran and its allies. And it has urged Israel to seize this opportunity despite its assessment that Iran and Hezbollah will respond militarily if any of their people are killed,” writes Haaretz’s Amos Harel.
- Amir Buhbut in Walla writes that though Soleimani may have been replaced in title, Iran will be hard pressed to find someone to fill his shoes and will need to consider how to move the projects he headed forward without him.
- “Now the Iranians need to undergo a process of checking the politicians, militias and terror groups that were in relationships with Soleimani,” he writes, claiming that some, like Hezbollah and the Houthis, have already tried to distance themselves from Tehran and others, like Syria and Russia, aren’t completely sad to see him and his trouble-making go.
- “The ‘father of the resistance’ is no more and his replacement Esmail Ghaani doesn’t really inspire dread,” he writes. “At least not from afar.”