Israel could lose out as friends and foes unite against IS, minister warns

Once Islamic State is removed, we’ll have to face Iran and Hezbollah almost alone, says ex-general Yoav Galant; Lapid: Israel’s global status at lowest ebb; Sa’ar: We are losing Jerusalem

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Ex-general and Kulanu party member Yoav Gallant on January 20, 2015. (photo credit: Danielle Shitrit/Flash90)
Ex-general and Kulanu party member Yoav Gallant on January 20, 2015. (photo credit: Danielle Shitrit/Flash90)

The developing ties between Israel’s allies and enemies as they join forces to fight Islamic State pose a threat to Israel, Housing Minister Yoav Galant, a senior IDF commander turned Kulanu party lawmaker, warned Tuesday.

“They are fighting side by side against a joint enemy, Daesh [Islamic State], building ties, and learning from joint experience, and it creates new challenges for Israel,” Galant told the annual international conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

“In the framework of these joint actions, the gates are opening for Iran and the significance of that are far-reaching.”

After the threat of Islamic State has been removed, Israel will face Iran and its Lebanon-based proxy Hezbollah almost alone, he said. “We need to isolate Iran and Hezbollah, and prevent a situation in which they isolate us.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, meanwhile, told the conference that Israel’s standing in the world has never been so bad, and its worsening status threatens the country’s national security.

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid speaks an a college in Ashkelon on August 7, 2015. (Courtesy)
Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid. (Courtesy)

“There is a constant effort to claim that the situation isn’t so bad,” he said. “This claim isn’t based on facts, but on the public’s inability to distinguish between diplomatic niceties and handshaking with smiles to the cameras, and real political cooperation.”

Lapid, who served as finance minister in the last government, said that with “proper management” of foreign policy, based on an organized work plan, it would be possible to restore Israel’s special status in the eyes of the US, Europe and some of the Islamic states, and significantly strengthen Israel’s national security.

“There are excellent people in the Foreign Ministry – they should be invested in,” he added.

Former interior minister Gideon Sa'ar holds a press conference on September 17, 2014.. (photo credit: Flash90)
Former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar. (Flash90)

Former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, seen as a potential future rival for party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, told conference participants that “with our own hands, we are losing Jerusalem, without one shot having been fired to preserve her Jewish majority.” He called for immediate action.

Also Tuesday, opposition leader Isaac Herzog of Zionist Union blamed Netanyahu for intensifying public fears in recent years, accusing him of scaremongering and race-baiting for his own political ends.

He told community service volunteers and counselors at Jerusalem’s Begin Center that Israelis felt a sense of despair and there was a dearth of optimism about the chances of breaking the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Netanyahu understood that he had to go to the lowest possible place — and that’s racism,” Herzog said. “The tension is so deep and that’s why what he says has influenced certain groups in Israeli society.”

“The more we integrate the Arab population into society, [the more] we can integrate [our] interests,” he said. “In hospitals and old age homes, Arabs care for Jews. Netanyahu has humiliated them and excluded them and this causes profound frustration which can be directed to places we don’t want to go to.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) warned that a “deadlock” in creative thinking on security threatened Israel far more than the diplomatic impasse with the Palestinians.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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