1. Primary blow: As of this writing, votes in the Likud primary are still being counted, but one things seems for sure: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign to sink comeback kid Gideon Sa’ar’s candidacy has failed spectacularly.
- Tallies as of Wednesday morning put Sa’ar well within the top five vote getters in the national primary, alongside Israel Katz, Yuli Edelstein, Gilad Erdan and Miri Regev.
- Meanwhile, Netanyahu loyalists like David Bitan and Amir Ohana look to be failing to make it into the top 10 of the party slate, sitting somewhere in the low teens.
- Haaretz calls the partial results “a blow to Netanyahu.”
- The Ynet news website notes that even former Netanyahu chief of staff David Sharan, who is running for the reserved Tel Aviv slot and who got outsized public support from the prime minister, is neck and neck with Sa’ar ally Michal Shir.
2. Too far on Sa’ar: There were signs already Tuesday that Netanyahu had overplayed his hand against Sa’ar by pushing the theory that he had been plotting a coup.
- ToI’s Raoul Wootliff, speaking to Likud voters at a polling place in Jerusalem, reports that “most voters who spoke with The Times of Israel dismissed the accusations and said they didn’t believe them to be true.”
- First time Likud voter Lou Weiss tells him that though he has full faith in Netanyahu, “on Sa’ar, I think he’s wrong,”
- Speaking to Channel 12, former minister Limor Livnat expressed how many were feeling, saying Netanyahu’s campaign against Sa’ar was “unacceptable.”
- Dan Tichon, a former Likud MK and party activist, tells Army Radio that he doesn’t even agree with Sa’ar on many things but voted for him anyway to push back against Netanyahu, whom he terms a “destroyer.”
- Even Israel Hayom, seen as solidly in the Netanyahu camp, writes that the prime minister’s biggest mistake was “branding Sa’ar” as his chief rival and thus potential inheritor.
- “He put all his energy into it, even on election day. But Likud members, who love Netanyahu, proved that they are not blind and with all due respect to the wishes of the venerable chairman, they can decide for themselves what’s good for the party and for the country,” columnist Eli Barak writes.
3. Giving Hazan the heave-ho: Former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat likely making to seventh place is seen as one of the biggest surprises, while firebrand Oren Hazan, who has apparently failed to gather enough votes to snag a realistic spot on the list despite his outsized personality and media profile, is seen as the biggest loser.
- Channel 13’s Akiva Novick writes that Likud voters jettisoned loudmouths and gimmick-mongers in favor of lawmakers and others with a history of getting things done: “Likud activists showed they are a lot more intelligent than they are thought, getting rid of many of the mistakes of the 2015 list and choosing a top ten with new faces — even if it is quite male and Ashkenazi for my taste.”
- “Likud picked a very good list. They trashed a lot of embarrassments,” Channel 12’s Amit Segal tweets, adding that the list showed Netanyahu “the limits of his power.”
4. Disengaged: Competing with Likud for attention (and winning) is Benny Gantz, who managed to make news in an interview (his first since entering the race) with shmaltzy singer Shlomo Artzi and comedian Hanoch Daum for Yedioth Ahronoth that had originally been regarded as a joke.
- Gantz tells the duo that he is bullish on the 2005 Gaza disengagement, and thinks its lessons should be implemented elsewhere, seen as a clear show of support for a West Bank pullout.
- Likud was quick to seize on the comment, using it to add fuel to its claims that Gantz is a leftist. Hitting back, Gantz points out that it was Likud that carried out the disengagement.
- Many aren’t buying it. Walla news’s Tal Shalev notes that Gantz and his Israel Resilience party had to spend the morning backtracking and defending the comments. That included a tweet from the party “for those who lost their memory,” recalling votes on the disengagement supported by Netanyahu.
- The problem, according to Shalev: While snottily accusing others of not knowing their history, the party managed to get the dates of the votes wrong.
- Former IDF spokesman Avi Benayahu, who very briefly held the position under Gantz, also appears to push back, writing on Twitter that “the era of unilateral disengagement has ended. Israel will only make decisions (if and when it does) on the basis of a deal with a responsible partner, with Israel’s security interests as a foundation of the agreement.”
5. There is no center: Writing before the interview came out (but likely just as relevant) Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el writes that voters should be wary of Gantz’s various statements, which don’t seem to offer much in terms of what his actual stances are regarding such issues, which may very well mirror Netanyahu’s.
- “Gantz’s ‘center’ – the magical creature that has enchanted the average citizen – is devoid of any characteristics of its own. Its vague identity derives from the distance that separates it from the far right and from the extent of its revulsion for the Zionist left,” he writes.
6. Four-headed monster: Meanwhile, Channel 13 reports that talks between Yair Lapid and Gantz are stalled, with a rotation seemingly ruled out, and concerns that Gantz promised too much in his party’s merger with Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party, leaving it with few top spots to give Yesh Atid.
- According to Israel Hayom, Gantz, Ya’alon and and fellow former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi are putting maximum pressure on Lapid to compromise, with the main suggestion now a four-headed party, albeit with no explanation of how the Brahma-esque thing will rule. Instead, the idea appears to be mainly based on stroking egos.
- “If they make such a decision, the quartet will appear on campaign posters and the campaign will emphasize that the party is led by four leaders.”
7. No Palestinian carrots: Despite US President Donald Trump being known for his love of transactional diplomacy, a senior US official familiar with his still-unannounced peace plan tells ToI’s Raphael Ahren that the administration has no intention of balancing its pro-Israel bias with carrots tossed toward the Palestinians.
- The US is a strong ally of Israel. The administration, from the president on down, is not embarrassed to defend Israel where Israel needs to be defended, whether it’s on the Gaza border, on the Hezbollah tunnels, the Syrian border, wherever it is,” the senior official says.
- Asked about the widespread perception on the Palestinian side that the US is no longer an “honest broker,” the senior official dismisses that concept as “a vestige of talking points from decades ago.”
- Channel 13 news reports that more details of the peace plan may be revealed later this month when Jared Kushner gives a live interview to Norwegian diplomat Borge Brende at a Warsaw security conference.
8. Can Israel trust the US? The answer is no, according to one unnamed Middle Eastern leader quoted by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, who accuses Trump of “lurch[ing] from blunder to blunder on the Middle East.”
- His latest screw-up, according to the column, is advertising the fact that the US is going to use al-Asad base in Iraq for spying on Iran, just as Baghdad’s pro-Iran government is looking for a reason to boot the American troops.
- Trump made the statement to CBS, seemingly pushing back against concerns by Israel and others that shutting down the al-Tanf base in Syria will give Tehran more room to maneuver in entrenching itself in the region.
- “It’s painful to watch an American president in this stumbling, vainglorious retreat,” he writes.
9. Who you gonna call? ToI’s Shoshanna Solomon tries out a new Israeli emergency hotline, 119, meant to protect Israelis from hack attacks online.
- Telling the operator that her computer is suddenly running slow, the center doesn’t dispatch a van of IT nerds to the rescue, but rather reacts with polite skepticism.
- “[Slow] doesn’t necessarily mean you are under a cyberattack. I’d suggest you contact your internet supplier, for example,” the operator tells her.
- Yigal Unna, director general of the National Cyber Directorate, compares the hotline to one run by the Centers of Disease Control in the US.
- “We are handling epidemics,” he says. “Cyberattacks usually act like epidemics — with an outbreak, the faster you contain it, you have the upper hand.”