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Edelstein to challenge Netanyahu for Likud leadership if party in opposition

Health minister planning bid to replace longtime party leader if Lapid-Bennett government is formed

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, seen during a visit at the COVID-19 vaccination center in Zarzir, northern Israel, February 9, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, seen during a visit at the COVID-19 vaccination center in Zarzir, northern Israel, February 9, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s developments as they unfolded.

Gantz acknowledges ‘gaps’ in coalition talks, reaffirms demands

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz says there are “gaps” between the parties in the coalition talks of the so-called change bloc, expressing hope the issues will be resolved.

“There are gaps and there are disagreements that need to be closed,” Gantz says, noting his eight-seat party is larger than other factions set to join the coalition.

“If it was dependent on my personal ambitions, there would be no ‘change government,'” Gantz says. “I gave up the prime minister’s office. I could have been prime minister in the current government. If I had agreed [to Netanyahu’s offer] to be first in rotation for the next two and a half years — I would have been prime minister.”

Gantz is demanding the agriculture portfolio and that a Blue and White party member be placed on the Judicial Appointments Committee.

Yamina says gaps in coalition negotiations are bridgeable

Officials in Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party say the gaps between the parties set to join the so-called change government can be resolved.

“There are no irreconcilable disagreements vis-a-vis the other parties in the coalition,” an unnamed Yamina official tells Channel 12.

US sells off Iranian crude oil seized off coast of UAE

The US has sold some 2 million barrels of Iranian crude oil after seizing an oil tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, court documents and government statistics show.

The Iranian crude oil showed up in new figures released over the weekend by the US Energy Information Agency, raising the eyebrows of commodities traders as Tehran remains targeted by a series of American sanctions. The EIA figures included just over 1 million barrels of Iranian “crude oil imports” in March.

The oil came from the MT Achilleas, a ship seized in February by the US off the coast of the Emirati port city of Fujairah. US court documents allege the Achilleas was subject to forfeiture under American anti-terrorism statues as Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard tried to use it to sell crude oil to China. The US has identified the Guard as a terrorist organization since the administration of former president Donald Trump.

Prosecutors say shippers tried to disguise the shipment by labeling it as “Basra light crude” from neighboring Iraq.

The US government brought the Achilleas to Houston, Texas, where it sold the just over 2 million barrels of crude oil within it for $110 million, or at around $55 a barrel, court documents show. The money will be held in escrow amid a court case over it.

When asked Monday about the case, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said he had “no details” about it. “Since the time of the former US president, Mr. Bill Clinton, no oil has been purchased from Iran because of their laws,” Khatibzadeh says.

At the height of trade with Iran, in July 1977, the US imported some 26.5 million barrels of crude oil from Iran, then under the rule of the American-allied Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran saw those sales plummet to zero in the months that followed.

Foreign Ministry summons Mexican envoy over UNHRC vote

Mexico’s Ambassador to Israel Pablo Macedo is summoned to the Foreign Ministry for a “clarification” after Mexico voted last week to back the establishment of an open-ended UN Human Rights Council probe of Israel.

Israel previously summoned the Philippine ambassador over the issue.

The 24-9 vote last week, with 14 abstentions, called for the creation of a permanent “Commission of Inquiry” — the most potent tool at the council’s disposal — to monitor and report on rights violations in Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It would be the first such COI with an “ongoing” mandate.

China and Russia were among those voting in favor. Several Western and African countries voted no, among them Austria, the UK, Germany, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Israel thanked the countries that opposed what it called a “scandalous decision.” Many others abstained, including France, Italy, Japan, Poland, Brazil and the Netherlands.

The UN Human Rights Council during a session with the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip on June 29, 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland. (UN photo)

Just 4 new COVID cases detected Sunday

Shattering a new record, the Health Ministry says just four new coronavirus cases were detected on Sunday, out of 22,360 tests.

The number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients dropped to 49, with 352 active cases overall.

Israelis attend a movie at Cinema City in Jerusalem for the official reopening after 14 months of closure during the coronavirus pandemic, on May 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Netanyahu meets with Herzog ahead of presidential vote

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog, who is running for president.

Netanyahu has refrained from endorsing a candidate in the Wednesday vote. Herzog, a former Labor chairman and opposition leader, is running against Miriam Peretz.

The parliamentary vote for the next president will be held in a secret ballot among the 120 members of Knesset.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (right) sits next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an Aliyah Day event in the Knesset on October 24, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman refuses to hand over Agriculture Ministry to Gantz

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman accuses Blue and White leader Benny Gantz of seeking a pretext to undermine the so-called “change bloc” with his demand for the agriculture portfolio.

“I wonder if his holy war for the agriculture portfolio is an excuse to dismantle the change bloc,” Liberman muses at a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting in the Knesset.

The Agriculture Ministry was reportedly promised to Liberman’s party in the coalition talks. Liberman says it’s not up for negotiation.

Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman says Netanyahu ‘mentally unstable’

In his remarks at the Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting in the Knesset, Liberman questions Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mental fitness.

“I’m not sure he’s fit to fill the role of prime minister,” says Liberman, calling Netanyahu “mentally unstable.”

Liberman, who is poised to become finance minister if the “change government” is confirmed, says the government will focus primarily on economic issues.

 

Iran says Saudi talks ongoing in ‘good atmosphere’

Iran’s foreign ministry says the Islamic Republic is continuing talks with regional rival Saudi Arabia in a “good atmosphere,” in the hope of reaching a “common understanding.”

Media reports last month revealed that Iranian and Saudi officials met in Baghdad in April, their first high-level meeting since Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2016.

“Talks are still continuing in a good atmosphere,” ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh says at a press conference.

“We hope these talks can achieve a common understanding between Iran and Saudi Arabia,” he adds.

Ties between the two countries were cut in 2016 after Iranian protestors attacked Saudi diplomatic missions following the kingdom’s execution of a revered Shiite cleric.

The talks in Baghdad, facilitated by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, remained secret until the Financial Times reported that a first meeting was held on April 9.

Lapid: There are plenty of obstacles in the way of the formation of coalition

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid acknowledges “plenty of obstacles” in forming a government of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties, but expresses hope the issues can be resolved.

“There are still plenty of obstacles in the way of the formation of the new government. Maybe that’s a good thing because we’ll have to overcome them together. That’s our first test. To see if we can find smart compromises in the coming days to achieve the greater goal. In a week the State of Israel can be in a new era. Suddenly it will be quieter, ministers will go to work without inciting, without lying, without trying to instill fear all the time,” he says.

Yesh Atid party chief Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on May 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Lapid condemns Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech yesterday in which he railed against the emerging government that would remove him from power.

“If you want to know why we have to change the leadership in Israel, go and listen to Netanyahu’s speech. It was a dangerous and unhinged speech by someone who has no limits anymore. His weakness weakens us all.

“That’s exactly why we must form the government we’re trying to form. A government of people from the right, left and center who say to the Israeli public – we know how to work together and we don’t hate one another,” says Lapid.

Several wildfires break out amid scorching heatwave

Several wildfires are raging in various locations, as Israel experiences a scorching heatwave.

A fire near Ramat Beit Shemesh spread to the community, damaging two buildings. Residents were evacuated from the building without harm.

Firefighters were also battling fires near Gedera, Haifa, and along Route 6.

Hitting back at Liberman, Blue and White underlines support for ‘change bloc’

Blue and White reiterates its support for a government of the so-called change bloc after Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman questions the party’s commitment to the emerging coalition.

“We are committed to a change government and believe it will be formed in the coming hours,” says Benny Gantz’s party. “We recommend that everyone conduct negotiations behind closed doors and not issue unnecessary statements.”

Gantz and Liberman are fighting over the agriculture portfolio.

Litzman implores New Hope, Yamina: Don’t form government with Lapid

United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Litzman urges Yamina and New Hope lawmakers not to form a government with Yesh Atid.

“Don’t repeat the mistake with Lapid,” he says, calling upon them to instead form a right-wing government, presumably with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on May 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sa’ar: Unclear if government will be formed, but we’ll do our best

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar says it remains unclear that a government removing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power will be formed, as he throws his support behind the proposed coalition of the so-called change bloc.

“Even now — it’s uncertain whether a government will be formed, but we are doing and will continue to do all we can to see it established,” says Sa’ar.

Sa’ar, a former Likud minister, says he refused Netanyahu’s offer to be prime minister in a three-way rotation deal since it would keep the incumbent in power in all but name.

He vows to uphold his right-wing values in the new government, should it be created.

“We will not allow harm to come to the Land of Israel, just as we will not allow democracy to be harmed,” says Sa’ar.

Then-education minister Naftali Bennett (left) with former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar during Jerusalem Day celebrations at the Western Wall, on May 17, 2015. (Flash90)

Sa’ar says left-wing politicians “are not our enemies” and notes Netanyahu has partnered with dovish politicians in the past.

“The left with Netanyahu — fantastic. The left in a government without Netanyahu — the end of the country,” says Sa’ar, ridiculing Netanyahu’s comments against the emerging “left-wing government.”

Poll: Most Yamina voters displeased with Bennett over alliance with Lapid

A survey cited by Channel 12 finds that 61 percent of Yamina voters say they would not vote again for Naftali Bennett’s party in light of his alliance with centrist and left-wing parties.

A majority of Yamina voters would also prefer a fifth round of elections to the emerging Bennett-Lapid government, the poll finds.

Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on May 30, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Labor chief: Current right-wing incitement reminiscent of before Rabin’s murder

Labor leader Merav Michaeli says the current “incitement campaign” on the right reminds her of the run-up to the 1995 murder of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist.

“The incitement campaign we’re seeing reminds us of the atmosphere before Rabin’s murder. This hatred is the reason I’ve always refused to partner with Netanyahu,” says Michaeli at a Labor faction meeting in the Knesset.

Labor party leader MK Merav Michaeli speaks during a meeting in Tel Aviv, March 24, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Turkish agents capture nephew of US-based cleric overseas

Turkish agents have captured a nephew of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen in an overseas operation and have brought him to Turkey where he faces prosecution, Turkey’s state-run news agency says.

Selahaddin Gulen, who was wanted in Turkey on charges of membership in a terror organization, was seized in an operation by Turkey’s national spy agency MIT, the Anadolu Agency reports.

The report does not say where he was seized or when he was returned to Turkey. Gulen’s nephew however, was believed to be residing in Kenya.

Selahattin Gulen, a nephew of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, stands between Turkish flags in this photo provided by Turkish intelligence service, on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Ankara, Turkey. (Turkish Intelligence Service via AP)

His case is the latest in a series of forced repatriation of people affiliated with Gulen’s movement, which the Turkish government blames for a failed coup attempt in 2016.

Gulen, a former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who now lives in exile in Pennsylvania, has rejected the accusations of involvement in the coup attempt.

Turkey has designated his network a terrorist group, which it has named the Fethullahist Terror Organization, or FETO.

Erdogan announced earlier in May that a prominent member of Gulen’s network had been captured but did not provide details.

After Meron crush, local authorities block mass event at nearby religious site

A local council in northern Israel is shutting down a religious pilgrimage site from Thursday through Saturday night due to its dangerous infrastructure, following last month’s deadly crush at Mount Meron.

The graveside of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel in Amuka usually draws large crowds on the anniversary of his death, which this year falls out on Sunday.

Local authorities took the preemptive step after 45 people were killed during the Lag B’Omer festival in nearby Meron. According to Channel 12, police and fire service representatives warned the Amuka site does not meet safety standards.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews at the tombsite of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel, in the northern Israeli city of Amuka, June 10, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Hamas says Gaza calm depends on Israeli actions in Jerusalem

A senior Hamas official says Israel must halt its “aggression” in both Gaza and Jerusalem if it wants calm following an 11-day war earlier this month.

Khalil al-Haya speaks after meeting with Egypt’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, who visited Gaza after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a trip aimed at shoring up an informal ceasefire brokered by Cairo.

Kamel, who has not given public statements, is the highest-ranking Arab official to visit Gaza since 2018. He met with Yahya Sinwar, the top Hamas leader in Gaza.

“We discussed several files, most importantly the necessity to oblige the occupation to stop its aggression on Gaza, Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah and all over Palestine,” al-Haya tells reporters. He says Israel must also fully lift the blockade it imposed on Gaza to prevent Hamas from obtaining weapons when the terror group seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.

“If this happens, then calm and stability could return,” he says.

Hamas official Khalil al-Haya (C-R) embraces General Abbas Kamel (C-L), Egypt’s intelligence chief, as the latter arrives for a meeting with leaders of Hamas in Gaza City on May 31, 2021. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Hamas willing to hold ‘immediate negotiations’ with Israel on prisoner swap

Hamas Gaza governor Yahya Sinwar says the terror group is ready for “immediate negotiations” to reach a prisoner exchange with Israel.

Sinwar makes the comments following a meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.

“The matter of prisoner exchanges saw some movement during the past period, but it came to a halt due to what [Israel] went through,” Sinwar says.

Yahya Sinwar (L), Hamas’ political chief in Gaza, embraces General Abbas Kamel (R), Egypt’s intelligence chief, as the latter arrives for a meeting with leaders of Hamas in Gaza City on May 31, 2021. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Hamas holds two Israeli civilians captive — Hisham al-Sayed and Avner Mengistu — as well as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers — Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

Israeli officials have said they will condition allowing the reconstruction of Gaza to go forward on progress in reaching a deal with Hamas that secures the return of the two captives and the two bodies.

Hamas has consistently said it rejects tying rebuilding Gaza after the recent hostilities to a deal with Israel on the matter.

Clockwise from top left: Oron Shaul, Avera Mengistu, Hadar Goldin and Hisham al-Sayed (Flash 90/Courtesy)

Deri could quit Knesset if Shas heads to opposition — report

Shas leader Aryeh Deri could quit the Knesset if his ultra-Orthodox party ends up in the opposition, the Ynet news site reports, citing the interior minister’s close associates.

In such a scenario, Deri would continue to lead the Shas party from outside parliament, the report says.

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri attends a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu meets with Lindsey Graham: ‘No one has done more for Israel’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu calls Graham a “tremendous friend and tremendous ally,” and says, “No one has done more for Israel than you.”

Graham vows to back Israel in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“The worst possible outcome for the world is to allow the Iranian regime to acquire nuclear capability,” says Graham.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosts Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, May 31, 2021 (Koby Gideon / GPO)

“My hope is to find an alternative to the JCPOA “that will avert “the existential threat to Israel and the world at large,” he adds, referring to the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. US President Joe Biden is currently negotiating to reenter the pact.

Shaked meeting Ra’am leader in Knesset

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked is meeting with Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas in the Knesset for coalition talks, according to Hebrew media reports.

 

On Memorial Day, Biden commemorates war dead at Arlington National Cemetery

US President Joe Biden honors America’s war dead at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day by laying a wreath at the hallowed burial ground.

The president is joined by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff in a somber ceremony at the Virginia cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is dedicated to the fallen US service members whose remains have not been identified.

After approaching the wreath, Biden bowed his head before the wreath and made the sign of the cross. Later, he delivered a Memorial Day address and called on Americans to honor their fallen heroes by remembering their sacrifices.

“All those we honor today gave their lives for the country, but they live forever in our hearts,” he says.

On Sunday, Biden addressed a crowd of Gold Star military families and other veterans in a ceremony at War Memorial Plaza in New Castle, Delaware. Earlier in the day, he and other family members attended a memorial Mass for his son Beau Biden, a veteran who died of brain cancer six years ago to the day.

Last year, Biden, then a presidential candidate, chose Memorial Day to make his first public appearance in the two months after the coronavirus pandemic closed down the nation.

US President Joe Biden salutes before delivering an address at the 153rd National Memorial Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in Arlington, Virginia on May 31, 2021. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

TV: Lapid not expected to declare that he has a coalition today

Despite progress in the coalition talks, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is not expected to declare Monday that he has mustered enough support to form a government, according to Channel 13, which quotes sources in the “change bloc.”

Lapid has the presidential mandate to form a coalition, though such a government, if formed, would be headed by Naftali Bennett for the first two years, followed by Lapid.

Syria, which used chemical weapons on children, wins seat on WHO board

Dozens of medical workers in rebel-held northwest Syria protest a decision to grant President Bashar Assad’s government a seat on the executive board of the World Health Organization. They say Assad is responsible for bombing hospitals and clinics across the war-ravaged country.

The decision to give Syria a seat comes a decade into the country’s devastating civil war that has left untold numbers of civilians — including many health care workers — dead and injured.

The selection of Syria at a little-noticed session Saturday of the WHO’s annual assembly — which brings together all member states of the UN health agency — has evoked outrage in opposition-held Idlib province.

Rifaat Farhat, a senior health official in Idlib, says the move “contradicts all international and humanitarian laws.”

Destruction at the entrance of a hospital in the village of Kafr Nabl, south of the jihadist-held Syrian province of Idlib, May 5, 2019, reportedly hit by Russian airstrikes. (OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP)

Syria was among 12 WHO member states that were chosen to appoint new members for the 34-member board in an assembly vote that faced no debate or opposition.

Syria will take up the seat for the executive board’s next session, which begins Wednesday.

The revelation was highlighted by the advocacy group UN Watch, which keeps tabs on perceived hypocrisies and other shortcomings of the world body and its affiliated organizations like WHO.

The WHO board is largely a technical group whose role is to carry out the decisions of, and advise, the assembly, which is made up of all WHO member states and has been meeting since May 24.

Syria’s war has left half a million people dead and driven millions out of the country since the conflict erupted in 2011. Investigators working for the UN’s main human rights body and international advocacy groups have reported that the Assad government and its allies — like Russia and Iran — have been responsible for the destruction of health care facilities as part of the years of fighting. The regime is also accused of using chemical weapons on civilians, including children.

Hundreds of medical facilities have been bombed, mostly in government airstrikes; half the hospitals and health centers are functioning only partially or not at all, while 70% of the medical personnel have fled the country.

A WHO emergency appeal for Syria issued in March said at least 12.4 million people are in need of assistance in Syria, and the “essential health service infrastructure such as hospitals and health care centers are in a state of disrepair.”

By the end of December, it said, only half of the country’s assessed public hospitals were reported to be fully functioning. Up to half of Syria’s health care workforce has left the country.

Lebanon receives French report regarding Beirut port blast

Lebanon receives a preliminary report from France regarding last year’s massive port blast in Beirut that killed and wounded thousands, judicial officials say.

The officials say the French report is useful for the ongoing investigation in Beirut over the August blast, which decimated the country’s main port and caused severe damage to surrounding areas. The officials, who speak on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, decline to give details about the report.

Nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate — a highly explosive material used in fertilizers — had been improperly stored in the port for years. The catastrophic blast on August 4 killed 211 people and injured more than 6,000.

Smoke rises from the scene of the explosion in the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, August 5, 2020. (AP/Hussein Malla, File)

Security threat for Bennett, Shaked nearly at highest level — TV

Security has been significantly bolstered around Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and MK Ayelet Shaked, with the right-wing politicians facing rising threats as they negotiate a government with centrist and left-wing parties.

Channel 12 says police have designated the threat at Level 5 — one level lower than the highest.

Naftali Bennett (left) and Ayelet Shaked attend a press conference in Ramat Gan, July 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Frenchman held by Iran is a ‘tourist caught in trap’ — sister

A Frenchman held in Iran for over a year is an innocent tourist caught in a trap that has nothing to do with him, his sister says, after it emerges that he faces trial on charges of espionage.

Benjamin Briere, born in 1985, was arrested in Iran in May last year, allegedly while flying a drone and taking photographs in a prohibited area.

His Iranian lawyer said Sunday prosecutors have confirmed that he will be tried for espionage, as well as “propaganda against the system.” A conviction of espionage is punishable by death in Iran.

“We are completely in shock. Now we see such serious accusations emerge against him, it takes on a proportion that we cannot control and it is terrifying,” Briere’s sister Blandine Briere tells AFP.

“We believe the game is somewhere else, but what it is about is completely beyond us. He has been caught in a trap.

“Benjamin is not a spy, he is an ordinary French citizen, a tourist who found himself caught in an unreal case.”

Gantz: Gaza rebuilding hinges on long-term quiet, return of soldiers’ bodies

Defense Minister Benny Gantz tells reporters the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip following the 11-day conflict with Palestinian terror groups will be conditioned on the return of the bodies of IDF soldiers, as well as long-term quiet.

“What was is not what will be. I spoke to the Americans, Egyptians and many other international representatives and clarified that… we will demand that the Gaza Strip’s rehabilitation be accompanied by long-term quiet and the return of the soldiers [remains, held by Hamas since 2014],” says Gantz, according to a Hebrew-language statement from his office on his meeting with the foreign press.

“In addition, we will work to strengthen our relationship with the Palestinian Authority, which I hope will want to take responsibility for some of what happens in Gaza,” he adds.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi (L) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (R). (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Minister)

Gantz also addresses a future war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist organization.

“What we saw in Gaza will be a tenth of what will happen in Lebanon,” he says, referring to Israel’s Operation Guardian of the Walls earlier this month. “It will be a complex fight because Hezbollah is hiding 100,000 missiles, some of them precision and long-range [missiles], and all of them are [embedded] among the civilian population,” says Gantz.

He also warns that the Iran nuclear deal, which the US is negotiating to rejoin, is not sufficiently strong. The treaty, in its current form, leaves Iran 6-7 years away from obtaining nuclear weapons, warns Gantz.

Ra’am demanding party member be tapped as deputy interior minister: report

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas is demanding that a member of his Islamist party be appointed deputy interior minister, the Haaretz newspaper reports. Abbas reportedly lays out the demand in a meeting with Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked.

Shaked — who is set to be appointed interior minister under the tentative coalition agreements — is strongly opposed to granting the request, according to Haaretz. Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and New Hope chairman Gideon Sa’ar are also leaning against it, though they have yet to make a final decision, the report says.

The so-called “change bloc” will mull over the demand in the coming days.

The parties need Ra’am’s support to form a government that would remove Netanyahu from power.

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am party, leads a faction meeting, in the Israeli parliament on April 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Shaked said demanding she be placed on judicial appointments panel

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked is now demanding that she be placed on the Judicial Appointments Committee, instead of Labor chief Merav Michaeli, as part of the coalition agreements, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The broadcaster quotes Shaked, a former justice minister, as telling her party activists that if this demand is not met, “there won’t be a government.”

IDF admits ‘human error’ led to stabbing of Israeli by Gazan who crossed border

The Israel Defense Forces says the Palestinian man who entered Israel from Gaza yesterday and attacked a civilian security officer was not seen crossing the border because of a “human error” by a soldier monitoring a security camera along the frontier.

According to the military, the man infiltrated into Israel through an area along the security fence that had been damaged by mortar fire during the fighting earlier this month.

“The initial investigation finds that this was an extremely serious event in terms of the different defensive rings that could have prevented it. The lessons of the initial investigations have been learned and will be studied immediately. The investigation of the event is continuing,” the IDF says.

The suspect is Imad Sufi, 24, from the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. He was shot and injured during the confrontation with the security guard and is now being questioned by the Shin Bet security service.

Fire in south likely started from incendiary balloon from Gaza, violating truce

A wildfire in southern Israel appears to have been started by an incendiary balloon from Gaza, firefighters say.

The incident comes as the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza terror groups has held following the war earlier this month.

The blaze has been brought under control, the fire service says.

It says another 10 fires, which weren’t set by airborne incendiary devices from the Strip, broke out in the south and have been extinguished.

TV: New Hope demanding next government continue settlement construction

As coalition talks among the “change bloc” hit snags, Channel 13 reports that Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope is conditioning its support for the government on the attorney general’s job being split into two positions and on the continued building in West Bank settlements.

Those positions would likely be opposed by the more dovish factions in the prospective coalition.

New Hope denies making demands regarding settlements.

Ra’am denies MK will go rogue and oppose Bennett-Lapid government

Ra’am denies a member of the Islamist party will oppose the establishment of a government led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, as reported by Channel 12.

In a statement put out by Ra’am party spokespeople in response to the reports, MK Mazen Ghanaim is quoted denying the accusations.

“I am behind every decision taken by Ra’am… for those looking for a scoop or political gain, I say: not on Mazen Ghanaim’s shoulders,” Ghanaim says.

The prospective coalition needs all four Ra’am members to be on board to garner the majority vote needed to form a government.

IAEA: Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile 16 times larger than deal’s limit

The UN nuclear watchdog says in a report that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is around 16 times the limit laid down in the 2015 deal with world powers.

The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gives an estimate of the stockpile of 3,241 kilograms (7,145 pounds), but cautions that it is not able to verify the total. The limit laid down in the deal was 300 kilograms of uranium in a particular compound form, the equivalent of 202.8 kilograms of uranium.

In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, Iran. (IRIB via AP)

UN nuclear watchdog chief ‘concerned’ over undeclared Iran sites

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog says in a report he is “concerned” that Iran had not clarified queries over several sites where previous undeclared nuclear activity may have taken place.

The report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says that the organization’s director general, Rafael Grossi, “is concerned that the technical discussions between the agency and Iran have not yielded the expected results,” referring to exchanges on the sites with Iranian officials.

Israeli woman rescued from Syria ran away from welfare program — report

An Israeli woman who crossed into Syria earlier this year and was returned in a Russia-brokered swap has fled the Welfare Ministry-run program where she was being treated, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The program has notified the state prosecution that she left without notice, the report says.

The Israeli woman who crossed into Syria and was returned in a deal brokered by Russia, in a photo shown by Channel 12 on February 20, 2021. (Channel 12 screenshot)

The woman’s crossing became a major international incident and she was returned to Israel via Russia after over a week of diplomatic wrangling. Her return came at a steep cost and included the release of Syrian captives in Israel, and reportedly involved Israel buying vaccines for Syria.

She was indicted for her actions on charges including illegally exiting the country.

The woman, whose identity is barred from publication, has reportedly suffered from mental ill-health in the past. She is reported to be a 25-year-old from Modiin Illit, who left the ultra-Orthodox community and speaks Arabic.

UN watchdog: Access to key Iranian data lacking since Feb 23

The United Nations’ atomic watchdog has not been able to access data important to monitoring Iran’s nuclear program since late February when the Islamic Republic started restricting international inspections of its facilities, the agency says.

The International Atomic Energy Agency reports in a confidential document distributed to member countries and seen by The Associated Press that it has “not had access to the data from its online enrichment monitors and electronic seals, or had access to the measurement recordings registered by its installed measurement devices” since February 23.

While the IAEA and Iran earlier acknowledged the restrictions limited access to surveillance cameras at Iranian facilities, Monday’s report indicated they went much further. The IAEA acknowledges it can only provide an estimate of Iran’s overall nuclear stockpile, as it continues to enrich uranium at its highest level ever.

Edelstein could challenge Netanyahu for Likud leadership

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein plans to challenge Benjamin Netanyahu for the leadership of the Likud party if Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid form a government, reports Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site.

Should a government of the so-called “change bloc” force Likud into the opposition, Netanyahu is expected to seek snap party primaries to cement his hold over the right-wing party. Edelstein, the party’s No. 2, will likely seek to delay the primaries for a few months and then challenge Netanyahu for the top spot.

Edelstein, however, will only make a final decision on whether to proceed with the move if a Lapid-Bennett government is established.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein seen during a visit at a Leumit COVID-19 vaccination center in Tel Aviv, with the 5 millionth Israeli who received a vaccination. March 8, 2021. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

An unnamed Likud official, speaking to Zman Yisrael, said that Netanyahu’s removal would hasten the collapse of such a government, whose ideologically diverse members are united largely in their opposition to Netanyahu.

“Netanyahu is the glue of the government that will be formed, and only if he resigns can we easily dismantle it,” the official says.

Most remaining COVID restrictions to be lifted Tuesday

Israel on Tuesday will lift the remaining coronavirus restrictions on gatherings, and will no longer limit entry to certain venues only to the vaccinated.

The so-called Purple Badge and Green Pass systems will be scrapped, meaning that Israelis will no longer require proof of vaccination to enter various venues, and capacity limits at stores, restaurants and other sites will be lifted. There will be no further caps on gatherings, indoors or outdoors.

The indoor mask mandate remains in place, however, though health officials have indicated it will soon be lifted, too.

The move comes after just four new virus cases were diagnosed on Sunday.

Israelis attend a movie at Cinema City in Jerusalem for the official reopening, after 14 months of closure during the coronavirus pandemic, on May 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
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