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Bennett: It sounds like fiction, but I’d want coalition with Ben Gvir, Mansour Abbas

Outgoing PM gives candid TV interviews; Liberman vows not to sit with Netanyahu, Haredim; Likud said to oppose renewing settlers law because it might help Lapid build diverse gov’t

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a Channel 12 TV interview broadcast on June 25, 2022. (Channel 12 screenshot)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a Channel 12 TV interview broadcast on June 25, 2022. (Channel 12 screenshot)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they unfolded.

Qatar, Egypt cement rapprochement as emir visits Cairo

In this photo made available by Qatar News Agency, QNA, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, meets with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, at the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, June 25, 2022. (QNA via AP)
In this photo made available by Qatar News Agency, QNA, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, meets with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, at the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, June 25, 2022. (QNA via AP)

CAIRO — Egypt’s leader discusses energy and investment with Qatar’s emir, who is in Cairo for the first time since the countries restored relations following a Saudi-led rift.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani tells Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that his country is keen to “maximize Qatari investments in Egypt and take advantage of the vast investment opportunities available,” according to an Egyptian presidency statement.

The pair discuss developing cooperation “in various fields, especially in the energy and agriculture sectors,” and in trade and investment, “particularly the flow of Qatari investments towards Egypt,” the statement adds.

In late March, Cairo said the gas-rich Gulf state would be investing $5 billion in Egypt.

At the same time, Qatari hydrocarbon giant QatarEnergy announced an agreement with ExxonMobil to acquire a 40 percent stake in a gas exploration block off Egypt in the Mediterranean.

No new agreements were announced during the emir’s two-day trip, which concluded today and was his first to Cairo since 2015.

After relations between Egypt and Qatar were restored in January 2021, Sissi and the Qatari emir had only met twice, both times on the sidelines of summits abroad.

According to the Egyptian presidency, the emir also “praised Egypt’s ongoing efforts on reconstruction in the Gaza Strip.”

Doha and Cairo — key US allies in the Middle East — have both provided reconstruction aid to the territory and have been involved with mediation efforts between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Islamist rulers Hamas.

The two leaders also welcomed next month’s Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia, which will also be attended by the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and the US, the presidency statement says.

Memorial for rabbi killed in West Bank terror shooting vandalized for 2nd time in months

A memorial for a rabbi killed in a West Bank terror attack has been vandalized.

A picture of the memorial to Raziel Shevach outside the illegal Havat Gilad outpost showed Arabic graffiti reading “Death to Israel” and the “Al-Qassam Brigades,” referring to the Hamas terror group’s military wing, a member of which carried out the 2018 drive-by shooting attack.

It was the second time in recent months that the memorial has been vandalized.

Shevach, a father of six, was murdered as he traveled down a road outside Havat Gilad, where he lived.

The terrorist, Ahmed Jarrar, was later tracked down and killed in a firefight with Israeli forces.

Bennett: There should have been less Zelensky, more Silman. Less MBZ, more Orbach

Also in their interview, Channel 12’s Dana Weiss shows PM Naftali Bennett a clip on her phone of Yamina MK Idit Silman, the former coalition whip who quit his government, saying to Likud MK Yariv Levin as they walk downstairs in the Knesset, “I was good to the end.”

Asked about the scene, which seems to amount to Silman seeking praise from the Likud MK for helping Netanyahu and the opposition oust her own party’s government and prime minister, Bennett looks sorrowful and pauses.

“I don’t have much to say,” he then says. “That’s a painful picture. It’s not her fault. It’s my fault. They killed her. The people from the Bibi and Smotrich machine turned her into a liar, and a cheat, and a fantasist… and I was busy with Iran.”

In retrospect, he says, he should have spent more time with Silman and other Yamina MKs such as Nir Orbach, and been more supportive.

“[Even as a prime minister] you need to devote 30-40 percent of your time to politics,” he says. “Less Zelensky, more Silman. Less MBZ [the UAE’s Mohamed bin Zayed] and more Nir Orbach.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) with MK Idit Silman at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Having partnered with left-wing and Arab parties in the outgoing coalition, Bennett acknowledges that he would not be a welcome visitor these days to settlements such as Beit El, Ofra or Kiryat Arba, some of whose residents voted for his right-wing Yamina and many of whom are furious with him for his political choices.

“Many of them have been through a year where they felt anxiety, anger and harm. They feel the country was taken away from them. It’s really not true: We boosted security; we held the [Jerusalem Day] flag march; we continued to build homes at the settlements, even more than in the past. But that was their feeling.”

Weiss reminds him that he’d promised not to partner with Ra’am, or to sit under Lapid, to whom he is about to transfer the premiership, and that they feel he defrauded them.

With time, he responds, his coalition will come to be regarded as having overseen “a very successful year.”

When you took office, says Weiss, the Netanyahu-led opposition was in far weaker shape, and the Ben Gvir-Smotrich Religious Zionism party had needed Netanyahu’s help to even get into the Knesset. Now the Netanyahu-led bloc almost has a Knesset majority, and Religious Zionism is at close to 10 seats, according to the polls. Maybe, she asks, that proves you didn’t succeed?

“It’s certainly a reaction to the government, and to the despicable campaign that persuaded many that we were strengthening Hamas, when we were doing the opposite,” says Bennett. He adds that his government has sent the IDF to tackle terrorism on a nightly basis. “We are killing the terrorists in their homes.”

He protests that he’s been accused of enabling terrorists to kill Israelis’ children. “Netanyahu was never accused of this… It’s a terrible thing, that has to be uprooted.”

He says what’s doing now is finalizing a dossier for Yair Lapid, so that when Lapid takes over as prime minister in a few days, he’ll be as prepared as possible. “Because this is the hardest job in the universe.”

Bennett says he’s been much changed by his year in office. “I won’t demonize anybody… Mansour Abbas is not a supporter of terrorism,” he stresses, countering opposition attacks on the Ra’am leader.

He promises: “You won’t see me so quickly signing public pledges,” such as he did before last year’s elections vowing not to partner with Ra’am or sit in a Lapid coalition. “That’s not the way.”

“Today, I’m someone who wants to believe in the good in everyone, and to unify,” says Bennett. “Together, together, together. How? That’s complicated.”

So is this a farewell interview? “I haven’t decided,” he says. It will depend on what’s good for Israel. Lots of people are telling him to continue. “At home, less so,” he says with a rueful smile.

“I will want to return,” he adds. “I think I was a prime minister who tried to do good for his people and his country. I think I succeeded. The Holy One, blessed be he, and the people of Israel will decide.”

Iran vows nuclear development to continue until West ends ‘illegal behavior’

The head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, at a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran on June, 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
The head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, at a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran on June, 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council meets with top EU diplomat Josep Borrell, who is visiting Tehran as part of efforts to revive stalled nuclear talks.

According to the Mehr news agency, Ali Shamkhani told Borrell that Iran’s violations of the 2015 nuclear deal “are solely a legal and rational reaction to US unilateralism and European indifference to the continued US violations against the Iran nuclear deal.”

He adds that Iran will reject any agreement that doesn’t include guarantees from the US and Europe or provide the Islamic Republic with economic benefits.

Shamkhani also vows that Iran will continue to push ahead with nuclear development until the West ends its “illegal behavior,” Reuters reports.

Borrell tweets that he and Shamkhani had an “important meeting” aimed at bringing the nuclear deal “back on track,” without elaborating further.

Biden to meet with Netanyahu during visit to Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Joe Biden (R). (Flash90/AP)
Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Joe Biden (R). (Flash90/AP)

US President Joe Biden is slated to meet with opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Israel next month, an official familiar with the matter tells The Times of Israel.

The meeting was not planned initially but has been added to the schedule following Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to dissolve parliament and trigger elections in the fall. The Biden administration is keen on avoiding the perception that it is intervening in Israel’s election, according to the official.

Bennett aims to step aside as early as Monday when Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will become interim prime minister. The latter will greet Biden at Ben Gurion Airport on July 13 and hold several meetings with the president throughout the trip, the official said. Bennett will also have an opportunity to meet Biden, with whom he has built a rapport over the past year.

Lapid and Biden are only believed to have met once before, when the former was finance minister and the latter was vice president in 2013.

Bennett: I want a coalition that spans from Ben Gvir to Mansour Abbas — that might sound like fiction

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a Channel 12 TV interview broadcast on June 25, 2022. (Channel 12 screenshot)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a Channel 12 TV interview broadcast on June 25, 2022. (Channel 12 screenshot)

In a long and candid interview with Channel 12 news, outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett talks at length about some of his mistakes in the job, his attitude to the Yamina party MKs whose defections cost him his majority, his thinking on Benjamin Netanyahu’s fitness to return as prime minister, and the kind of government he believes Israel needs.

In one of the many dramatic passages, he asks hypothetically, “Would a government that depends on [far-right Religious Zionism MKs Itamar] Ben Gvir and [Bezalel] Smotrich be good for Israel? No. I’m not saying they’re barred, but [the government] cannot be dependent on them… I greatly respect [Ra’am party leader] Mansour Abbas but it’s not good to be dependent on him. I want him in the coalition. [But] this year proved it’s not good to be dependent on the extremes.”

Bennett then says, “I want a coalition [that spans the political spectrum] from Itamar Ben Gvir to Mansour Abbas — that might sound like fiction to you…”

It certainly does, interjects interviewer Dana Weiss.

Bennett continues, “The whole culture of ‘invalidation’ has to go.”

Weiss then asks him if Netanyahu is a potential partner.

“If it’s Netanyahu the 2015 model, who ran the state in a restrained manner, without going to crazy extremes, it’s perfectly fine [to partner with him in government]. [But] if it’s [a situation with Netanyahu] that you go to very bad places, then no.”

“I’m a right-winger, but what Israel needs now is a government that simply goes to work,” he says, saying that’s what his coalition did.

Weiss presses him on Netanyahu, asking if Netanyahu is fit to be prime minister of Israel at this time.

Bennett replies: “I’m not awarding grades… It depends on what he would do. It depends on what constraints are on him.”

Says Weiss: But you’ve condemned him during your premiership for his toxic machine and fake news…

Bennett: “Terrible and unacceptable behavior.”

But the core issue that determines political alliances, he indicates, has to be what is in the interests of Israel.

In that case, asks Weiss, why not set up a government right now with the right?

Says Bennett: “To set up a government in which the… center-left component is in mourning, and will be trampled, and have its bones broken, as [right-wing] MKs say, would be very bad.”

Israeli official warns against renewed Iran nuclear deal as talks expected to resume

The flag of Iran waves in front of the International Center building with the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in Vienna, Austria, on May 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter, File)
The flag of Iran waves in front of the International Center building with the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in Vienna, Austria, on May 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter, File)

Israel is concerned about the prospect of a renewed Iran nuclear deal, Channel 12 news reports, after the EU’s top diplomat announced negotiations on restoring the 2015 accord are due to resume in the coming days.

“If it’s signed, the current deal is very bad for Israel,” an unnamed senior security official told the network.

“[The agreement] is limited to 2.5 years and will allow Iran economic prosperity that will cause its military capabilities in the Middle East to advance,” the official added.

Third rocket in 72 hours targets north Iraq gas complex

A Katyusha rocket struck near an Emirati-owned gas complex in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region without causing damage or casualties, local officials say, the third such attack in 72 hours.

The rocket targeted the Khor Mor gas complex, owned by UAE energy company Dana Gas, says Sediq Mohammed, an official from the adjacent Qadr Qaram district.

“The rocket hit around 500 meters outside the complex,” he says.

There was no immediate claim for the attack.

Counter-terrorism forces in Kurdistan’s Sulaimaniyah province confirmed there had been no casualties or damage to the complex.

The gas field lies between the cities of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah.

 

Putin aims to enable Belarus air force to carry nuclear weapons

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands during their meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 25, 2022. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands during their meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 25, 2022. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin offers to upgrade Belarus’ warplanes to make them capable of carrying nuclear weapons, amid soaring tensions with the West over Ukraine.

“Many Su-25 [aircrafts] are in service with the Belarusian military. They could be upgraded in an appropriate way. This modernization should be carried out in aircraft factories in Russia and the training of personnel should start in accordance with this,” Putin says after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko asked him to “adapt” the planes in a televised interview.

Four hurt in East Jerusalem shooting

Four people have been hurt, including one critically, in a shooting incident in East Jerusalem’s a-Tor neighborhood, police say.

Citing medical officials, police say one person is listed in critical condition, one in serious condition, and two others with injuries to their “lower body.”

Officers are scanning the scene for suspects and to collect evidence, police say.

The circumstances of the shooting are not immediately clear.

Likud said to oppose renewing settlement bill ahead of elections

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu heads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu heads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is reportedly refusing to vote in favor of a bill to renew a longstanding measure extending Israeli law to citizens living in the West Bank as the Knesset is set to disperse.

The measure must be renewed every five years, and failure to pass it could have far-reaching consequences for settlers. However, if the Knesset dissolves before July 1, the bill will be automatically renewed for six months, amid Israel’s election season.

The current government is heading to elections, among other reasons, due to failing to muster enough votes to pass the bill. Likud, and other right-wing opposition parties, have refused to support any government legislation, even if they ideologically support it.

According to Channel 13 news, Likud wants the bill to be extended only for six months, to ensure that incoming prime minister Yair Lapid will not manage to form a new government after the expected fall elections, since he would have to again find a majority to renew the bill. If the bill is renewed for five years, it would not be a priority when forming a government.

Liberman vows not to sit with Netanyahu, Haredi parties

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 13, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 13, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman vows not to sit in a government with Benjamin Netanyahu and two ultra-Orthodox parties.

“We will not sit with Netanyahu under any conditions and circumstances, and not with Shas and [United] Torah Judaism,” Liberman tells Channel 12 news.

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