1. UNIFIL ‘er up: Israel is not only trying to push Iranian forces away from its border with Syria. The Israel Hayom daily reports that IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot recently sent a “clear” message to the head of the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon demanding that the blue helmets work harder at keeping Hezbollah away from the frontier.
- According to the ceasefire agreement following the second Lebanon War, UNIFIL is supposed to make sure there is no armed presence below the Litani river aside from the Lebanese armed force, creating a 40-kilometer buffer zone. But Hezbollah has made no secret of its continued presence south of the waterway and even along the border.
- The report notes that Eisenkot met with new UNIFIL commander Stefano Del Col and made the demand during a meeting.
- “Israel is worried that UNIFIL is not working against Hezbollah in built-up areas in southern Lebanon, and as a result some 200 Shiite villages have turned into battle fortresses,” the paper reports.
- The report does not include a UNIFIL response and UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti tells me that “UNIFIL does not share content of meetings publicly.”
- “UNIFIL has regular contact with Lebanese and Israeli authorities in the context of implementing its mandate and maintaining a situation of overall calm in its area of operations that benefits communities on both sides of the Blue Line,” he says.
2. Missiles not jets: The story comes a day after the Defense Ministry announced it would be buying new advanced missiles from Israeli firm IMI for “hundreds of millions of shekels.”
- The new missiles are GPS-guided and can hit a target within 10 meters from up to 150 kilometers away according to Yedioth Ahronoth, which says the weapons are planned for use in Israel’s next war with Hezbollah.
- “The rockets will be able to replace use of air force fighter jets in many cases,” the paper notes.
- According to Hadashot news, Israel is also considering rockets made by IMI that can reach up to 300 kilometers away, which would cover all of Lebanon, and a good chunk of Syria.
- Spokespeople for both the Defense Ministry and IMI refused to tell ToI a more exact figure for the deal.
3. Gaza calm? Over Abbas’s dead body: Tensions in the south, meanwhile, appear to be on the wane. On Monday, Israel reopened the Erez crossing, which is where people can move between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
- Hamas is increasingly signaling that there is some sort of understanding with Israel, with the group defending a possible deal by saying it won’t mean it’s giving up its overall struggle with Israel, and attacking PA President Mahmoud Abbas with what Hadashot news calls an “extraordinary statement.”
- Abbas, meanwhile, says “there will be a calm and a ceasefire over my [dead] body” Israel’s Channel 10 news reports.
4. Saving Israel from itself: Another hopeful sign for some was a High Court decision Monday to strike down Israel’s policy of not allowing relatives of Hamas members into Israel for cancer treatment, a policy meant to pressure the terror group into a deal to give up Israeli captives and remains of soldiers.
- Haaretz analyst Mordechai Kremnitzer writes the court once again saved Israel from having deaths on its hands.
- The court “saved itself, the security cabinet and all of us … from responsibility for the deaths of five Gaza women with cancer who were being prevented from receiving life-saving medical treatment,” he writes.
- Israel Hayom’s coverage of the case, meanwhile, leads with deputy defense minister Eli Ben Dahan threatening to “stop relying on the court if it continues to rule like this,” whatever that means.
5. Jerusalem forgotten: There’s a petition going around calling on the government to kick the United Nations out of a compound on Jerusalem’s Hill of Evil Counsel, better known as Armon Hanatziv.
- The petition, put forward by Hemi Cohen, son of David Ben-Gurion’s first bodyguard and a famous pre-state fighter, calls on the government to exercise its rights, claiming that the UN refused to sign on a lease for the plot, which once housed the British high commissioner and was no-man’s land until 1967, since it would have meant recognizing Israeli sovereignty.
- It’s only gotten 895 signatures online as of this writing, but it apparently caught the attention of Yedioth op-ed writer Yoaz Hendel, who points to it as a symptom of a deeper malaise affecting the city, where many, including leaders, are unwilling to truly unify and claim control over East Jerusalem despite paying lip service to it, he says.
- “You can give all sorts of sociological-identity explanations for why some stay away from East Jerusalem, like the flight of secular people or the nature of the associations that settle the center of the Old City. It’s harder to explain the government processes taking place that are the opposite of their statements,” he writes. “Jerusalem needs the government offices that are still in Tel Aviv. It needs infrastructure in the east of the city. It needs the military colleges to move to Mount Scopus as planned and not Ein Karem. Mount Scopus is a symbol. From there you can see … the Old City. Ein Karem is a nice neighborhood that should stay green.”
6. Two nation-state solution: It’s been several days since a Hadashot news report said that the US was planning on announcing it does not support a Palestinian right of return for refugees, with no announcement yet forthcoming.
- The Times of London reports Tuesday that the White House has decided that all but 500,000 of the 5.5 million Palestinian refugees should lose that status, which is one way of dealing with the problem.
- In a bit of thinking outside the box, analyst Ofer Zalzberg tells the paper that the administration’s move, which would make sure Palestinians don’t flood Israel, could be a way of the White House signaling support for a two nation-state solution, one Jewish, and one Palestinian, where the remaining 5 million would have to settle.
I spoke with @thetimes of reported new US policies toward Palestinian refugees [redefining number of refugees, etc], saying these could indicate a US attempt to signal support for a two-state solution in which both states were firmly "nation-states" — Jewish and Palestinian. pic.twitter.com/pWdfT8FyPT
— Ofer Zalzberg (@OferZalzberg) August 28, 2018
7. All work and little play for Netanyahu: In another bit of unexpected thinking, Haaretz, which usually does not write features defending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, runs a behind the scenes look at his many trips abroad, writing that far from being the glamorous vacations the press often makes them out to be, they are actually a lot more low-key and business oriented, even if his wife does come along for the ride.
- Noa Landau, who has been following Netanyahu around for almost a year as the paper’s diplomatic correspondent, addresses four myths surrounding the trips. The article may be a beat-sweetener, but it gives readers not only a rare appreciation for the amount of work accomplished, but also for the challenges a journalist faces in covering him on these trips abroad.
- “Netanyahu’s schedule on these trips is usually packed full, if not filled up completely. It includes appointments, meetings, statements, speeches and ceremonies with foreign leaders, representatives of the Jewish communities and sometimes with local businesspeople. In addition, behind the scenes there are numerous telephone conversations and the continuing business from Israel that accompanies him – alongside the internal briefings and preparations before and after every important meeting,” she writes.
- “As a rule, there is no factual basis for the claim that the trips are really only some form of vacation, unless the readers think that the schedules described above are really a relaxing form of entertainment.”
- She also recounts following the Netanyahus around as they toured Vilnius on Saturday, with them offering her a bottle of water. “It’s part of our attempts to leave the media out to dry,” she writes that he joked to her.
עוד צילום מהמעקב אחרי הזוג נתניהו בטיול השבת שלהם בווילנה. אחרי שהבחינו בי בשלב מסוים הציעו בקבוק מים. ראש הממשלה התלוצץ: ״זה חלק מייבוש התקשורת״ pic.twitter.com/M7ZAf9338n
— Noa Landau (@noa_landau) August 25, 2018
8. Ugandan Birthright: ToI’s Yaakov Schwartz reports on another group traveling for more than just vacation: Uganda’s Abuyudaya, in Israel to celebrate their Jewish heritage despite the state denying their Judaism.
- “The group danced… as they entered Jerusalem for the first time on Friday, and spent Shabbat in the Holy City before marking the day’s end with a Havdalah service,” he writes.
- On Monday, they welcomed a new Torah scroll to the Western Wall’s egalitarian Ezrat Israel plaza, singing and dancing again.
- “Meanwhile, the 2,000-strong Abayudaya community continues to battle for recognition in what they identify as their Jewish homeland.”