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Netanyahu under fire for axing Ya’alon, ‘the last gatekeeper of the IDF’

MKs from center and left lambaste PM for offering defense portfolio to Liberman, Herzog for abortive bid to join coalition

  • The Israeli Navy tests a new sea-based missile defense system, in a video released on May 18, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)
    The Israeli Navy tests a new sea-based missile defense system, in a video released on May 18, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)
  • Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog addresses the media about coalition negotiations on May 18, 2016 (screen capture: Channel 2)
    Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog addresses the media about coalition negotiations on May 18, 2016 (screen capture: Channel 2)
  • Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at a press conference in the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 18, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at a press conference in the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 18, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • An image of Marwan Barghouti is seen painted on the security fence near the West Bank village of Qalandiya on May 6, 2016. (Photo by Haytham Shtayeh/Flash90)
    An image of Marwan Barghouti is seen painted on the security fence near the West Bank village of Qalandiya on May 6, 2016. (Photo by Haytham Shtayeh/Flash90)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on May 15, 2016. (Photo by Emil Salman/Pool)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on May 15, 2016. (Photo by Emil Salman/Pool)

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

PM calls Liberman for urgent talks on joining coalition

Benjamin Netanyahu invites Avigdor Liberman for an urgent meeting, moments after Liberman announces at a press conference that he does not rule out taking his hawkish Yisrael Beytenu party in the coalition government.

The two are expected to meet today at 4 p.m. at the PM’s office in Jerusalem, Haaretz says.

The PM’s efforts to bring in Liberman meet with approval from his ruling Likud party, with ministers openly supporting the move.

3 Israelis killed in accidents in Caribbean, Switzerland

Israel’s Foreign Ministry confirms deaths of three Israeli tourists in two separate car crashes overnight.

A 23-year-old man is killed late last night in a car crash on San Andrés, a Caribbean island belonging to Colombia.

The Foreign Ministry says he was seriously wounded in the crash, but died en route to the hospital. The Israeli embassy in Bogota is working to return his body home for burial, the ministry says.

Hours earlier, a mother and daughter from Rishon Lezion are killed in a car crash in southern Switzerland. The fatal crash occurred on the A2 highway just outside the village of Quinto, shortly after the two crossed into Switzerland from Italy in a rental car, the ministry says.

— Tamar Pileggi

Belgian lawmakers nominate Barghouti for Nobel Peace Prize

Belgium lawmakers from across the political spectrum and from both the Senate and House of Representatives nominate jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti for the Nobel Peace Prize.

According to the Palestine News Network, a letter from the lawmakers to the Nobel committee states: “Marwan is an elected representative of the Palestinian nation, and was the first parliamentarian to be arrested… He is a democrat defending human rights, notably women’s rights. He was actively engaged in the promotion of political and religious pluralism, and as such he is an important actor for the future of a region more fragmented than ever… Peace requires the freedom of Marwan Barghouthi and of the political prisoners, and more generally the freedom of the Palestinian people living for decades under occupation.

“By granting the Nobel Peace Prize to the one who embodies the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom, but also their aspiration to achieve peace, a leader that can unite Palestinians around a political project that clearly includes a two-state solution on 1967 borders, more threatened than ever by colonization and the absence of a political horizon, the Committee for the Nobel Prize would help resurrect the indispensable hope to go out of the current impasse.”

Barghouti is currently serving five life sentences for murder in an Israeli jail for his role in terror attacks during the Second Intifada. Palestinian activists have been campaigning for his nomination for a Nobel since April.

Levin to Liberman: Complete coalition negotiations today

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) calls on Liberman to finalize his coalition negotiations with Netanyahu and join the government as soon as possible.

“The target of expanding the government is at hand,” Levin says, according to Ynet. “I urge Liberman to come to complete the negotiations today. Our enormous months-long effort to bring Liberman in… has succeeded, and I welcome this.”

Herzog: No coalition negotiations while PM talking to Liberman

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog says there will be no coalition negotiations while the PM is also negotiating with Liberman. He says that Netanyahu has a choice between the hawkish Liberman and the pro-peace Zionist Union.

“If Netanyahu wants to bring Liberman into the government, then let him do it,” Herzog says at a televised press conference. “We will take them apart from the opposition.”

Referring to yesterday’s statements by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi regarding a new push to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Herzog says that “the Egyptian president does not work for me or for Netanyahu,” and adds: “The chance to make the most of this chance is now in Netanyahu’s hands.”

‘We won’: Yachimovich celebrates Herzog halting coalition talks

High-ranking Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich claims victory in her campaign to prevent Zionist Union, of which Labor is the senior partner, from joining Netanyahu’s government.

“We won,” Yachimovich writes on Facebook, in a post accompanied by an image of a falling man used in the opening credits of the TV show “Mad Men.” “But God, how vile! On the one hand I have a tremendous sense of relief that we succeeded, by joining forces, in stopping the disgrace of crawling into the government, on the other hand I admit that I am really angry. How far could this ongoing political suicide be taken?”

Meretz MK: Herzog coalition talks were just foreplay

Meretz MK Ilan Gilon accuses Netanyahu of using Herzog as a diversion while he sought to bring “neighborhood bully” Liberman into the government.

“It was clear all along that Herzog was just foreplay for an even more right-wing and even crazier government with neighborhood bully Liberman,” Gilon says, according to Channel 10.

Jewish Home MK: Priority is maintaining right-wing government

Jewish Home faction leader Shuli Mualem offers a tepid response to the likely entry of Yisrael Beytenu to the government, saying her party’s main concern is the continuation of a right-wing government.

“From our perspective, the [priority] is the continuation of the right-wing government; we have no desire to change the direction of the government,” she tells the national religious Srugim website. “It is correct that this right-wing government continues along its path and brings in whoever is a true right-winger.”

Mualem also dismisses the chances of a unity government with the center-left Zionist Union.

“I don’t see a reality that calls for a unity government,” she says. “It is also clear from media reports that there was no unity here, but rather several Zionist Union MKs entering a right-wing government.”

Teen found in critical condition from gunshot wound

A teenager is found in critical condition in her apartment in Ramat Gan with a gunshot wound to the chest, Israel Hayom reports.

Paramedics at the scene administer emergency treatment to stabilize the 17-year-old before rushing her to the hospital.

The circumstances of the incident are under investigation.

Labor MKs demand Herzog’s resignation

Labor MKs call on party leader Herzog to resign in the wake of aborted unity government talks with Netanyahu.

“It is now clear that Bibi used Herzog in order to bring Liberman into the government,” MK Stav Shafir writes on Facebook. She calls Herzog’s efforts to take Zionist Union into a unity government led by Netanyahu self-serving and “unforgivable.”

“A leader who cannot differentiate between the Bibi of a peace agreement and the Bibi who gives the defense portfolio to Liberman is not worthy to be head of the Labor Party,” she writes.

Colleague Mickey Rosenthal also demands Herzog’s resignation, saying that the party leader has lost the trust of the voters.

“The party will not be able to recover if you do not hand over the keys,” Rosenthal says, according to Maariv. “You have lost the confidence of the electorate.”

PM tells Ya’alon he is offering Liberman the defense portfolio

Netanyahu informs Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon that he plans to offer the defense portfolio to Liberman, Walla reports.

Ya’alon’s office denies that Netanyahu informed the minister of such a plan, Maariv says.

Netanyahu and Liberman are due to meet this afternoon.

 

Ramat Gan teen dies of gunshot wounds

A teenage girl found in critical condition in her Ramat Gan apartment with gunshot wounds to her chest dies of her injuries.

The police are investigating the circumstances of the incident, Channel 2 says, but suspect the gun accidentally discharged as the 17-year-old was playing with it.

Jewish Home source: Time for Ya’alon to go

An unnamed source in the right-wing Jewish Home party calls on Ya’alon to quit as defense minister, Channel 2 reports.

“It is time for Moshe Ya’alon to finally vacate the Defense Ministry, where he has only caused damage,” the source says amid reports that Netanyahu plans to hand the defense portfolio to Liberman.

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett and Ya’alon have recently clashed ove an IDF soldier accused of manslaughter for shooting dead a disarmed and wounded Palestinian attacker in the West Bank in March.

Kerry in Cairo for talks on Egypt’s politics, Mideast peace

US Secretary of State John Kerry is in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials on the country’s political situation and to explore Egypt’s ideas for supporting a new Israeli-Palestinian peace bid.

Kerry flies into the capital for a brief visit, a day after Sissi offers support for a French initiative to revive the peace process and says he is willing to serve as a mediator.

American officials traveling with Kerry say the secretary wants to hear more about Sissi’s plans. Earlier today, Kerry spoke by telephone with Netanyahu.

The officials say that in Kerry’s meetings in Cairo, he plans to express concerns about human rights, including Egypt’s crackdowns on dissent, free speech and freedom of assembly.

— AP

Relative: Nigerian girl snatched by Boko Haram found, pregnant

A relative of one of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from Chibok says she has been found by Nigerian soldiers, making her the first freed from the Islamic extremists since the mass kidnapping more than two years ago. Her uncle describes her as pregnant and traumatized but otherwise fine.

Amina Ali Nkeki is the first of the 219 Chibok girls to escape from her captors since their abduction grabbed worldwide attention more than two years ago.

She was found wandering in the forest, uncle Yakubu Nkeki says. He says the 19-year-old — who was 17 when abducted — was brought to Chibok last night for her identity to be verified and to be reunited with her mother. Her father died while she was held captive, he says.

— AP

Netanyahu, Liberman meeting on coalition expansion

The meeting between Netanyahu and Liberman on Yisrael Beytenu joining the coalition government is currently underway at the PM’s office in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu is expected to offer Liberman the Defense Ministry, although Haaretz reports that both sides are denying this offer is on the table.

IDF successfully tests ‘Iron Dome for boats’

Israel’s Navy announces a successful test of a new sea-bound anti-missile defense system, nicknamed the “Iron Dome of the sea.”

The Tamir-Adir system can intercept short-range ballistic missiles while placed on a moving ship and will be used to protect strategic assets, such as natural gas rigs, in Israel’s territorial waters.

Col. Ariel Shir, head of combat systems in the Israeli Navy, says the system uses technology developed for Iron Dome but adjusted for the operational needs of a moving vessel.

Shir says that during tests carried out two weeks ago, the system shot down every one of a salvo of short-range ballistic rockets fired from the shore.

— Raoul Wootliff

Likud: Netanyahu, Liberman to set up coalition negotiation team

Netanyahu’s Likud party says the PM’s talks with Liberman this afternoon on Yisrael Beytenu possibly joining the coalition took place in “a good atmosphere” and ended in agreement to establish negotiating teams on the issue. The discussion was conducted in a “businesslike” manner, the party says.

The PM is updating the coalition on the details, according to Likud.

— Raphael Ahren

Police nab man at Beersheba bus station with knife

Police say a man in his 20s is arrested after he is spotted at the entrance to Beersheba bus station with a knife in his bag.

The man, from an unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev, flees the bus station when security guards try to detain him, and is apprehended after a police chase.

The suspect is taken in for questioning by police.

— Judah Ari Gross

Germany condemns Holocaust cartoon contest in Iran

Germany is condemning a contest in Iran for cartoons depicting the Holocaust, saying it sows hatred and deepens divisions in the Middle East.

The event is organized by non-governmental bodies with support from Iran’s hard-liners. A previous contest in 2006 got a boost from then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who referred to the Holocaust as a “myth.”

“The murder of 6 million men, women and children during the Holocaust, for which we Germans bear guilt and responsibility, must not be abandoned to ridicule,” says German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer.

Schaefer says German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier made clear during a February visit to Tehran that no further such competition should take place, and that it was “very regrettable” it went ahead.

— AP

Liberman, Netanyahu to meet again today – associates

Avigdor Liberman will hold further talks today with Netanyahu, sources close to the Yisrael Beytenu leader say.

Walla quotes the sources as saying that the meeting between the two this afternoon was conducted in a good and businesslike manner, echoing an earlier statement from Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Netanyahu to ministers: I offered Liberman the defense portfolio

Netanyahu tells his cabinet that he is offering Liberman the Defense Ministry as part of efforts to bring Yisrael Beytenu into the government, Haaretz reports.

The paper also says that Netanyahu’s meeting with Ya’alon, held before the PM’s talks this afternoon with Liberman, was a “professional consultation” that did not include any discussion on removing Ya’alon as defense minister.

Steinitz, oil companies agree on change to controversial clause

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and the two companies tasked with drilling for Israel’s natural gas reach an agreement over a controversial clause in the agreement on developing the offshore gas fields.

The so-called “stability clause,” which was struck down by the High Court, prevented the state from making any substantial changes to the framework deal for 10-15 years. But the new clause grants future governments the discretion to adjust the agreement, if necessary, in light of any policy changes on the natural gas fields.

The new clause proposal will be submitted to the government in the coming days, Army Radio says.

Ya’alon associate: Minister may consider other portfolios

An associate of Ya’alon says he may be willing to consider portfolios other than defense, which Netanyahu appears to have promised to Liberman in return for Yisrael Beytenu’s entry into the coalition.

Former Yisrael Beytenu MK Moshe Matalon tells Army Radio that he will “recommend to [Ya’alon] that he consider taking a different portfolio if the defense portfolio is taken from him.”

According to Matalon, “His popularity is such that he could even consider a new path, which I have not proposed to him or discussed with him. This is the right time to take stock and consider all possibilities, including accepting another ministry.”

Report: Liberman accepts PM’s offer to be defense minister

Avigdor Liberman accepts Netanyahu’s offer of the defense minister post in return for bringing his six-seat Yisrael Beytenu party into the coalition government, Channel 2 quotes party sources as saying.

US Congress foreign affairs panel passes Holocaust survivors resolution

The United States House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approves a bipartisan resolution calling on the German government to fund full care for elderly Holocaust survivors.

The resolution, proposed by Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch and Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, urges Berlin to “satisfy its moral responsibility to fully provide for the medical, mental health, and long-term care needs of Holocaust survivors so they may live their remaining days in dignity.”

Praising the passage of the resolution, Deutsch says it “will send a strong message that Congress is closely watching these negotiations [with Germany] and expects an agreement that meets the growing needs of this most vulnerable population in full.”

Labor MK Margalit: PM decapitated Ya’alon on live TV

Labor MK Erel Margalit slams the agreement between Netanyahu and Liberman, which will see the Yisrael Beytenu leader replace Moshe Ya’alon as defense minister.

“Netanyahu decapitated the defense minister on live TV, and the gangs have triumphed over democracy,” Margalit says, according to the NRG website.

“This is a day of celebration for extremists, La Familia [a gang of Beitar Jerusalem supporters] and the hilltop youth, and at this rate Elor Azaria [the IDF soldier charged with manslaughter for killing an incapacitated Palestinian attacker] will be appointed deputy defense minister by Bibi.

“Flowers for the Labor Party leadership which brought about this disgrace,” Margalit says.

Meretz chief: Herzog must quit after PM manipulated him

Meretz leader Zehava Galon lambastes Herzog for trying to join the coalition, and joins voices within his own party calling on him to resign as opposition leader.

“What we are witnessing is the bastardization of the political system by the chairman of Zionist Union, who should first and foremost resign as opposition leader and go home,” Galon says, according to Army Radio.

“He can no longer be opposition leader after the way in which Netanyahu dragged him like a rag in the market and then used him as paving stones to bring Liberman into the government,” she adds.

Elkin said headed for Economy Ministry in coalition reshuffle

Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) could be headed for the Economy Ministry in a cabinet reshuffle triggered by Yisrael Beytenu joing the coalition, Ynet reports.

According to Ynet, however, the ministerial responsibilities will be curtailed and pertain to just trade and industry.

Minister Zeev Elkin participates in a Knesset committee meeting on December 3, 2014 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Minister Ze’ev Elkin participates in a Knesset committee meeting on December 3, 2014 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Labor’s Barlev: PM sold out Ya’alon, ‘last gatekeeper of the IDF’

Labor MK Omer Barlev accuses Netanyahu of selling out “the last gatekeeper of the IDF” in replacing Ya’alon with Liberman as defense minister.

“Ya’alon was a beacon in the dark, a warrior who never slept on his watch over the IDF, its character or its values,” he says. “For the sake of grabbing one seat, Netanyahu has sold out the last gatekeeper of the IDF.”

Herzog set to comment on Netanyahu-Liberman coalition deal

Herzog is expected to make a statement imminently on the coalition agreement between Netanyahu and Liberman that looks set to see the Yisrael Beytenu leader replace Ya’alon as defense minister.

Herzog: Netanyahu promised us 9 ministerial posts

Herzog says he halted coalition talks last night, after Netanyahu offered Zionist Union nine ministerial posts.

Herzog: Yachimovich to blame for Liberman as defense minister

Herzog rails against leading Labor MKs for working against coalition talks Netanyahu, saying MK Shelly Yachimovich is ultimately responsible for Liberman’s appointment as defense minister.

The opposition leader says he will no longer suffer extreme left elements in the Zionist Union faction.

Herzog: Netanyahu gave up historic chance to bring change

Herzog tells reporters that Netanyahu has passed up “a historic chance” to bring about a breakthrough in the peace process, by electing to bring Liberman into the government as defense minister.

The Zionist Union chair also vows to remain as opposition leader, despite calls from inside his own party for him to quit, and pledges that the government will not be given even one day of quiet.

 

 

Air raid siren sounds in Gaza border communities

The “code red” air raid siren sounds in communities in the Eshkol Regional Council, which borders the Gaza Strip.

Yachimovich: Still deciding whether to challenge Herzog

Yachimovich hits back Herzog after he accuses her of thwarting Zionist Union’s entry into the coalition, thereby setting the stage for Liberman to become defense minister.

She tells Channel 2 that she rejected the opportunity to become the highest-ranking female minister in the cabinet, and says she has yet to decide whether to challenge Herzog as opposition leader.

2 rocket strikes reported in Gaza border community

At least two rocket strikes are reported in Eshkol Regional Council, which borders the Gaza Strip.

There are no reports of injuries or damage. Security forces are searching for the sites where the rockets landed.

IDF: Rocket alert on Gaza border was false alarm

The IDF says the air siren that sounded moments ago in southern Israel was a false alarm.

 

Begin: Making Liberman defense minister is delusional, irresponsible

MK Benny Begin tells Channel 2 that Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Liberman as defense minister is “delusional” and displays “a lack of responsibility toward the defense establishment and the citizens of Israel.”

He adds: “The prime minister apparently prefers to swap the daily difficulties of managing of a limited coalition for difficulties that are several times greater.”

US intelligence: Foreign hackers spying on presidential campaigns

The United States sees evidence that hackers, possibly working for foreign governments, are snooping on the presidential candidates, the nation’s intelligence chief says. Government officials are working with the campaigns to tighten security as the race for the White House intensifies.

“We’ve already had some indications” of hacking, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, says at a cybersecurity event at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. He says the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are helping educate the campaigns.

Clapper predicts that “we’ll probably have more” hacking.

The activity follows a pattern set in the last two presidential elections. Hacking was rampant in 2008, according to US intelligence officials, and both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were targets of Chinese cyberattacks four years later. Despite that history, cyber experts say neither Donald Trump’s nor Hillary Clinton’s campaign networks are secure enough to eliminate the risk.

— AP

Khenin: PM trying to flank Jewish Home from right

Left-wing MK Dov Khenin says that Liberman as defense minister “is a direct continuation of Netanyahu’s right turn over last year.”

Khenin, the only Jewish member of the Joint List, also accuses the PM of “flanking [Jewish Home lawmakers] Bennett and Smotritch from the right.”

The right-wing politicians, Khenin says in a Facebook post, “are united in an agenda of extremism and racism, of overriding political opponents, incitement, maintaining the cycle of violence and of war, and the continued sale of our present and future to tycoons.”

Labor MK Yona calls for party primaries to replace Herzog

Labor MK Yossi Yona calls for the party to hold primaries as soon as possible in order to find a replacement for Herzog, whose efforts to join the coalition government have enraged many Labor lawmakers.

“Instead of dumping on his faction members, Herzog is asked to take responsibility for the resounding, embarrassing failure of his underhanded move,” he says, NRG reports.

According to Yona, “the next logical step is to set a date for party primaries, and allow members to decide who they want to stand at its head.”

Government drops plan to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel

The government drops from its agenda a plan to bring 1,300 Jews from Ethiopia to Israel, Channel 2’s Amit Segal says.

The plan had been propelled forward by two Likud MKs who threatened to scupper Knesset votes for the 61-strong coalition, which jumps to 67 members with the addition of Yisrael Beytenu.

Gaza border council leaders to PM: Uphold Ya’alon’s policies

The council leaders in communities bordering the Gaza Strip urge Netanyahu to keep in place security policies implemented during Ya’alon’s years as defense minister.

“The reality of the security situation requires leadership that will safeguard the equilibrium,” Channel 10 quotes them as saying. “We hope that this policy by Minister Ya’alon will continue.”

Study: 98% of young Ethiopian Israelis report experiencing racism

An annual report by the Elem organization for youth in distress finds that 98 percent of young Israelis of Ethiopian extraction say they experienced racism and discrimination.

The report is presented to President Reuven Riuvlin, who expresses concern at its findings.

“The report is primarily a mirror to Israeli society. To show what the situation is. A society that does not care for its helpless does not deserve to be called a society,” Rivlin says.

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IDF successfully tests ‘Iron Dome for boats’

Israel’s Navy announces a successful test of a new sea-bound anti-missile defense system, nicknamed the “Iron Dome of the sea.”

The Tamir-Adir system can intercept short-range ballistic missiles while placed on a moving ship and will be used to protect strategic assets, such as natural gas rigs, in Israel’s territorial waters.

Col. Ariel Shir, head of combat systems in the Israeli Navy, says the system uses technology developed for Iron Dome but adjusted for the operational needs of a moving vessel.

Shir says that during tests carried out two weeks ago, the system shot down every one of a salvo of short-range ballistic rockets fired from the shore.

— Raoul Wootliff