The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s developments as they unfolded.
Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being “not stable.”
He is responding to a television report on Sunday night that claimed the Likud party and Blue and White party were seeking to shore up support for a Knesset vote to cancel the September elections, paving the way for a unity government. Both parties denied the report.
“So Netanyahu first took us to early elections. And then he wanted another election. Now he’s scared of elections. Tomorrow, he’ll want elections again,” says Lapid at a weekly faction meeting. “He’s not stable. We can’t afford a prime minister who isn’t stable. This country needs stability.”
“The deficit is growing. The economy has been neglected. There are cuts to the police, to hospitals, to welfare budgets. We’re heading to a crisis which is purely the result of neglect, of a government which isn’t functioning. Netanyahu used to be stable, no longer,” he adds.
During the previous election campaign, the centrist party condemned a Likud campaign that questioned Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s mental fitness as below the belt.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defends budget cuts designed to reduce the soaring deficit, telling his cabinet the Finance Ministry’s unpopular plan to slash over a billion shekels in public spending months before the September elections is “hard but necessary.”
The cabinet votes in favor of the cuts, though Likud ministers Gilad Erdan (public security) and Israel Katz (foreign affairs) oppose it.
The proposal for NIS 1.1 billion in across-the-board cuts to public spending has drawn opposition from lawmakers and cabinet ministers whose ministries would be affected by the austerity measures.
“Budget cuts are hard, but they are necessary,” Netanyahu says at the start of the meeting. “Nobody wants to do this. I understand the ministers whose offices will be affected by the cuts, but this is what we have to do. We have to take care of our priorities.”
At a Monday cabinet meeting, Netanyahu tells ministers the Finance Ministry urgently needed to free up a quarter billion shekels to continue subsidizing afterschool care programs and provide aid to the victims of the recent forest fires.
The cuts, which will amount to 1.75% of the ministerial budgets, will also finance a Gaza border construction project.
Finance officials were flying into Bahrain on Monday for a US-led peace conference that holds out billions of dollars for the Palestinians, whose leaders pronounced the idea dead on arrival.
Led by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, the Peace to Prosperity economic workshop is billed as the opening of a long-delayed initiative that will later include political solutions to solve the long intractable Middle East conflict.
Finance ministers from oil-rich Gulf Arab states along with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde are expected in Bahrain.
Russia on Monday denounces as “illegal” new economic sanctions that the United States is preparing to impose on Iran.
“We consider these sanctions illegal,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says during a briefing.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have flared since Iranian forces on Thursday shot down a US drone, the latest in a series of incidents including attacks on tankers in sensitive Gulf waters.
US President Donald Trump on Friday called off a planned retaliatory strike at the last minute, tamping down the threat of military action.
He said Washington would instead place “major additional sanctions on Iran on Monday.”
The new economic sanctions that the United States is preparing to impose on Iran will have no “impact,” a spokesman for the Islamic Republic’s foreign ministry says Monday.
“We really do not know what (the new sanctions) are and what they want to target anymore, and also do not consider them to have any impact,” Abbas Mousavi says at a press conference in Tehran.
“Are there really any sanctions left that the United States has not imposed on our country recently or in the past 40 years?” he adds.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Saudi Arabia’s rulers as he seeks to coordinate with allies over soaring tensions with Iran.
On a day trip scheduled after Iran shot down a US drone, Pompeo flies into the Red Sea city of Jeddah and meets with King Salman at his palace.
“You are a dear friend,” the king tells Pompeo as he shakes hands with the top US diplomat and his aides.
Pompeo later opens talks with the powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The top US diplomat was due to fly later Monday to the United Arab Emirates.
Both Saudi and Emirati leaders advocate a tough US approach against regional rival Iran, whose downing of the unmanned drone prompted President Donald Trump to order a military strike before changing his mind.
Pompeo, speaking to reporters as he left Washington, calls Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates “two great allies in the challenge that Iran presents.”
“We’ll be talking with them about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned and how we can build out a global coalition,” Pompeo says.
He says the United States sought a coalition “not only throughout the Gulf states but in Asia and in Europe that understands this challenge and that is prepared to push back against the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.”
Communications Minister Ayoub Kara of the Likud party quits his ministerial post.
In his letter of resignation, Kara accuses Likud members of working to discredit him within the party.
He says he’ll leave public life altogether.
The resignation comes a day after the longtime Netanyahu ally offered rare criticism of the prime minister and his Likud party in a Channel 12 interview.
Netanyahu meets Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in Jerusalem ahead of an unprecedented tripartite meeting of top US, Israeli and Russian security officials on Tuesday.
“We pay special attention to Israel’s security,” says Patrushev. He says the meeting will focus on resolving the crisis in neighboring Syria to ensure Israel’s safety.
The prime minister tells the Russian official that Israel will not allow Iran to entrench militarily in Syria or obtain nuclear weapons.
“Russia understands the significance we place on the regime that calls for our destruction and works daily to achieve this goal,” says the prime minister. “And therefore Israel won’t allow Iran, which calls for our destruction, to entrench on our border and obviously we will do everything to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.”
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of seeking to form a minority government, with the backing of the Arab parties.
“It’s obvious that the minority government that Netanyahu is planning with the Haredim and the Arabs will be established at the expense of the military-serving public… and tax-paying public,” says Liberman.
“It appears that in Likud, they understood that they won’t have 61 seats without Yisrael Beytenu [after the September elections] and therefore decided to move toward this step with Arab parties,” he adds.
The Likud party calls his comments “fake news.”
“It’s fake news that is disconnected from reality,” says Likud. “There never was and never will be coordination between Likud and the Arab parties. Prime Minister Netanyahu will work to form a right-wing government led by Likud.”
Netanyahu failed to form a majority government in late May, after Liberman refused to join the coalition over disagreements on the ultra-Orthodox military enlistment law.
US President Donald Trump on Monday says other countries should protect their own Gulf oil shipments, and defined US aims regarding Iran as “No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror.”
In a pair of tweets, Trump says the US did not even need to be in the Gulf because it had become the world’s largest energy producer.
“So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been a dangerous journey,” he writes.
As for Tehran, he says, “The U.S. request for Iran is very simple – No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!”
….a dangerous journey. We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world! The U.S. request for Iran is very simple – No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2019
Turkey says Monday it does not fear US sanctions over its decision to buy a Russian missile defense system that has frayed ties between the NATO allies.
The United States has given Turkey a deadline of July 31 to drop the purchase of the S-400 system, or face sanctions and removal from its F-35 fighter jet program.
“Regardless of whatever sanctions there may be, whatever the messages from America, we’ve bought the S-400,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tells reporters in Ankara.
He says Turkey is working on the date for the system’s delivery, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said would be in the first half of July.
“If there’s an attack on Turkey tomorrow, we cannot expect NATO to protect us because NATO’s capacity would only protect 30 percent of Turkey’s airspace,” Cavusoglu says.
Turkey will no longer allow other countries to dictate its defense purchases, he says.
Relations between Washington and Ankara have deteriorated over multiple issues, including the S-400 deal and US support for a Syrian Kurdish militia viewed as terrorists by Turkey.
Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency is reporting that a local fisherman has found parts of the US spy drone that Iran shot down in the Gulf of Oman last week.
The report says the parts will be delivered to Iranian security forces in Qeshm Island, which is located in the Strait of Hormuz, the chokepoint through which all oil trade passes in the Persian Gulf.
Officials have yet to confirm the report.
Iranian authorities had already shown parts of the downed drone, valued at more than $100 million, to journalists on Friday.
Iran says it shot down the spy drone for violating Iranian airspace, which the US insists was flying above international waters.
US President Donald Trump called off strikes in retaliation as tensions flare between Washington and Tehran.
A lawyer representing the family of the 7-year-old Israeli girl allegedly raped by a Palestinian maintenance custodian says the young girl was summoned earlier today by police to provide additional testimony as new evidence was discovered by investigators.
The suspect, Mahmoud Qadusa, is slated to appear before the Ofer Military Court for a remand hearing tomorrow morning. Last week, a law enforcement official said police were prepared to drop the charges against the 46-year-old Palestinian if new evidence did not come to light.
Earlier Monday, Qadusa’s lawyer said that the military prosecution informed him that it had no intention of dropping the case against his client despite a slew of reported missteps throughout the police investigation.
Police arrested Palestinian school maintenance worker Qadusa on May 1 on suspicion that he had kidnapped the ultra-Orthodox girl from a school in a central West Bank settlement and raped her. He has been in jail since, but questions have been raised about the strength of the case and the reliability of the testimony of the victim. No other witnesses have come forward.
The case, which was made public at the beginning of last week, provoked public outrage and calls from right-wing politicians that the suspect be investigated on terror charges, with some demanding that he be executed.
While unofficial statements from law enforcement figures have pointed to the case possibly falling apart, there have been few public statements on the status of the case beyond the announcement of the indictment on Sunday and a statement days later that police were being tasked with reopening the investigation and shoring up evidence.
— Jacob Magid
At least four blazes have been sparked in southern Israel apparently by balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the Gaza Strip, according to the local fire department.
Two fires, one of them large, were sparked in the Sha’ar Hanegev region northeast of the Strip; one fire occurred in the Sdot Negev region, east of Gaza; and the fourth was located in the Eshkol region southeast of the Palestinian enclave.
One fire is still burning in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. The other three have been brought under control, the fire department says.
Investigators are looking to determine the cause of the fires, but they are suspected to have been started by balloons from Gaza.
— Judah Ari Gross
Hundreds of Palestinians protest on Monday against a US economic peace proposal, a day ahead of an American-led conference in Bahrain.
Protesters gathered in cities in the West Bank, including Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron, where clashes broke out, AFP journalists say.
The economic conference, to be held Tuesday and Wednesday in the Gulf Arab state, has been billed by the US as a potential opportunity for the Palestinians to access billions in investment in the event of peace with Israel.
But the Palestinians have already rejected the conference, accusing the United States of pro-Israeli bias and seeking to buy off their ambitions for independence and statehood.
In a protest near Hebron in the southern West Bank, protesters sat around a coffin with the words “No to the deal of the century” on it, a derogatory phrase for US President Donald Trump’s peace proposals.
Protesters also burn pictures of Trump and the King of Bahrain, an AFP correspondent says.
Major Palestinian factions have called for new protests in the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday.
Belgian authorities have arrested a man suspected of plotting an attack against the US embassy in Brussels, prosecutors say.
“The suspect has been detained for an alleged attempted attack within a terrorist context and preparation of a terrorist offence,” the federal prosecutor’s office says.
Israel’s UN ambassador urges Palestinians to surrender their struggle for a homeland in exchange for economic benefits as the United States prepared to roll out part of a peace plan promising billions of dollars.
Palestinian leaders have said the US plan will be tantamount to surrender and declared US President Donald Trump’s initiative dead on arrival.
“I ask: What’s wrong with Palestinian surrender?” writes Ambassador Danny Danon in a New York Times op-ed.
“Surrender is the recognition that in a contest, staying the course will prove costlier than submission.”
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to open the conference in Bahrain tomorrow to unveil plans for raising $50 billion in investment for the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors.
“The Palestinians have little to lose and everything to gain by putting down the sword and accepting the olive branch,” writes Danon.
Palestinian official Saeb Erekat “misleadingly suggests that a ‘surrender’ will lead to an end of the Palestinian people,” he adds.
“But nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead, surrendering will create the opportunity to transform Palestinian society, thereby leading to his people’s liberation.”
Danon takes aim at the Palestinian leadership, accusing it of corruption and citing a poll that said 90 percent of Palestinians do not trust it.
Firefighters say nine fires have been started in southern Israel and all but two have been brought under control.
The service confirms the blazes were ignited by balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the Gaza Strip.
Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, says his country is participating in the Bahrain economic conference to listen to the US proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“We have the right to evaluate and review it,” he says in an interview with Russia Today.
But, he adds, “the final decision is for the Palestinian Authority.”
The Palestinians are boycotting the conference and have rejected the proposal outright. The conference will not deal with the political aspects of the plan, which have yet to be unveiled.
— with AP
The United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates jointly call for “diplomatic solutions” to ease soaring tensions with Iran.
“We call on Iran to halt any further actions which threaten regional stability, and urge diplomatic solutions to deescalate tensions,” says the statement released by the United States as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Saudi and Emirati leaders.
US President Donald Trump signs an executive order imposing “hard hitting sanctions” against Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, days after Tehran shot down an American drone.
“We do not seek conflict with Iran or any other country,” says the US president. “I can only tell you we cannot ever let Iran have a nuclear weapon.”
Trump is holding Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, “ultimately responsible” for the Islamic Republic’s destabilizing activities.
“We will continue to increase pressure on Tehran,” Trump says, as he signed the sanctions order targeting Khamenei in the Oval Office. “Never can Iran have a nuclear weapon.”
He says that depending on Iran’s response the sanctions could end tomorrow — or it “can also be years from now.”
— With AFP
After sanctions aimed at Iran’s supreme leader, the United States will target Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the coming days, says US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Mnuchin tells reporters Zarif will be added to an economic sanctions list “later this week,” adding that eight top military commanders from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have now also been blacklisted.
Mnuchin says the fresh wave of sanctions will cost the Iranians “billions,” adding that the financial penalties were in the works even before Iran downed a US drone.
— With AFP
The number of wildfires in southern Israel ignited by balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the Gaza Strip on Monday rises to 13, according to the local fire department.
All but two blazes were extinguished within minutes, firefighters say.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says US sanctions against Iran will continue until Tehran negotiates a deal to curb its “destabilizing behaviors.”
“The supreme leader’s office has enriched itself at the expense of the Iranian people,” he says of new US penalties against Iran’s supreme leader. “It sits atop a vast network of tyranny and corruption that deprives the Iranian people of the freedom and opportunity they deserve. Today’s action denies Iran’s leadership the financial resources to spread terror and oppress the Iranian people.”
“The only path forward is for Iran to negotiate a comprehensive deal that addresses the full range of its destabilizing behaviors. Until it does, our campaign of diplomatic isolation and maximum economic pressure will continue. When the Iranian regime decides to forgo violence and meet our diplomacy with diplomacy, it knows how to reach us,” adds the top US diplomat.
India has again reportedly canceled its deal with Israel’s Rafael defense contractor to purchase half a billion dollars worth of Spike anti-tank guided missiles.
Government officials familiar with the deal tells the Indian Express newspaper that Israel has been informed of the contract being abandoned, in favor of a anti-tank guided missile from the local Defence Research & Development Organisation, which said it could produce the weapons within two years.
The government-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems refuses to comment.
The $500 million deal has been called off and brought back several times already.
In late 2017, the Indian government announced it was opting out of the purchase and going instead with DRDO.
It was revived several months later, following an official state trip to India by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In December 2018, the agreement was again said to be in peril of being canceled, but the reports did not end in an official decision at that time.
— Judah Ari Gross
On the day the 21st Knesset was dissolved last month and Israel headed to new elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered Blue and White leader Benny Gantz a rotation deal of the premiership, in a Hail Mary bid to build a majority coalition, the Kan public broadcaster reports, citing Blue and White party sources.
Gantz turned down the offer, Kan says.
The Likud party flatly denies the report as a “total lie.”
The sultanate of Oman denies Monday that it had sent a message from the United States to Iran after the Islamic Republic shot down a US drone in the Gulf.
“The reports that have been circulating in the media on the sultanate delivering an American message to the Iranian government about the incident… on June 20, 2019 are not true,” the Omani foreign ministry says on Twitter.
Media reports late last week said Muscat had sent a message to Tehran from US President Donald Trump, warning the Islamic Republic of an impending American attack.
A military strike ordered in retaliation for the downing of the US drone was called off by Trump at the last minute.
Iran denied on Friday that it had received a message from Trump, and the United States followed suit with its own rebuttal on Sunday.
US special envoy Jason Greenblatt condemns a youth group of the Palestinian faction Fatah, which threatened terror attacks in response to the US-led economic peace conference in Bahrain opening Tuesday.
“As the US gov’t works to improve Palestinian lives thru an exciting economic vision for the future, Fatah threatens an intifada, attacks & to ‘make the ground burn under the feet of tyrants.’ How sad for those Palestinians who do not support this ugliness,” he tweets.
As the US gov't works to improve Palestinian lives thru an exciting economic vision for the future, Fatah threatens an intifada, attacks & to “make the ground burn under the feet of tyrants.” How sad for those Palestinians who do not support this ugliness. https://t.co/Wsrzh9cf8C
— Jason D. Greenblatt (@jdgreenblatt45) June 24, 2019
He is citing the secretary general of the Shabiba Fatah youth movement, who warned: “Shabiba… is prepared for every eventuality, and its members who ignited the first Intifada and the Al-Aqsa Intifada are still capable of making the ground burn under the feet of the tyrants,” according to a translation by the Palestinian Media Watch NGO.