Looking for quiet in a riot: 6 things to know for January 1
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Israel media review

Looking for quiet in a riot: 6 things to know for January 1

While Baghdad turns into the latest preview of a feared Iranian-US-Israel conflict, Israel looks for a hand from some other enemies and Netanyahu gets ready to whisper ‘immunity’

Pro-Iranian militiamen and their supporters set a fire while US soldiers fire tear gas during a sit-in in front of the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, January 1, 2020. (Khalid Mohammed/AP)
Pro-Iranian militiamen and their supporters set a fire while US soldiers fire tear gas during a sit-in in front of the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, January 1, 2020. (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

1. Qassem in the middle: Israel is warily eyeing Iranian-backed attacks on US assets in Iraq in which rioters backed by Tehran have stormed the US embassy for two days running, in response to an attack on an Iran-backed militia, after an American was killed in a rocket attack.

  • A number of Israeli analysts tie the attacks to a coordinated Iranian attempt to reverse anti-Tehran sentiment in Iraq and the region.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth intimates that the rioting is directly tied to a visit by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qassem Soleimani, claiming, with no sourcing, that he told his underlings while there “to look for opportunities to confront American embassy staff and try to remove them from Iraq.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Oded Granot says Iraq is Soleimani’s “preferred” theater against the Americans: “A confrontation on Iraqi soil via militias tied to Tehran will help the Iranians drive a wedge between Washington and Baghdad. … Yesterday it became clear that Iran intends to take advantage of the embassy incident in order to rally public sentiment in Iraq in favor of ousting the embassy and American forces from Iraq.”
  • Kan’s Roi Kas retweets a video of pro-Iran militiamen essentially being let into the Green Zone with the help of Iraqi soldiers, and writes that “Trump should know: if the Iraqi forces were working well, the angry masses wouldn’t have gotten near the embassy in the first place.” He predicts the situation will not calm anytime soon, as the militias “try to take advantage of the situation and give a picture that a few thousand angry rioters represent the whole country.”
  • He also tweets a picture of militias setting up food for the rioters, calling it “MasterChef: Pro-Iran militias.”

2. FUBAR in Baghdad: Several Israeli analysts are critical of how the US is handling the situation.

  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel describes the goings-on in Iraq as a “snowball” that could become “an avalanche that will put America’s entire Middle East strategy to the test,” and says Washington was caught off guard by the embassy attack.
  • “This is the moment of truth for US strategy in the region. It’s impossible to know to what extent the Iranians planned this outcome in advance, but it’s clear they have gradually and calculatedly raised the risk level in a way that has now backed America into a corner and forced it to respond,” he writes.
  • Speaking to Army Radio, former IDF general Giora Eiland also indicates the Trump administration has fouled up dealing with Iran: “A strong country needs a mixture of three things: military might, international allies and economic strength. With Trump negating the need for two of them, military might and allies, he has become pathetic.”
  • Channel 12 news reports that some US lawmakers are worried that “Trump will take advantage of the situation to go to war.”
  • But a US official tells Kan that it is trying to prepare for the long haul while also “keeping from harming the protesters in order not to worsen the situation.”

3. But is it bad for the Jews? In the Daily Beast, Seth Frantzman writes that the US strike on the pro-Iranian militia seemed to follow Israel’s lead in striking Iranian groups in Syria, which the US is apparently now not just not opposing but mimicking.

  • “Clearly a new era has begun, but the potential clashes ahead span a large battle space from the Gulf to the Golan Heights with pro-Iranian forces located near U.S. bases and U.S. and Israeli forces both potentially acting against Iranian attacks.”
  • In the Washington Post, Marc Lynch includes Israel getting into a war with Hezbollah along with annexing the West Bank as two destabilizing moves that Jerusalem may push if it sees its window of opportunity under Trump closing.
  • Yedioth writer Yossi Yehoshua also sounds alarm bells, and calls the last 10 years a “lost decade” because Israel allowed Hezbollah to become “a monster which can threaten Israel” with some 150,000 missiles.
  • “In terms of managing expectations when it comes to a battle in the north, the army has already begun trying, but it’s clear to everyone in the IDF’s General Staff that most civilians are not aware of the level of destruction the homefront will see,” he writes.

4. Wouldja do us a favor and pipe down, Gaza? Yehoshua also writes that the threat of war in the north is what is pushing Israel into a deal with Hamas in Gaza for quiet in the south, though he surmises that it won’t necessarily work, with Iran-backed Islamic Jihad still a major factor.

  • Also pooh-poohing the idea, Kan’s Gal Berger tweets sarcastically that he asked Hamas and PIJ if they would really give us quiet to fight up north: “They said they would think about it and are generally around to help.”
  • Speaking to Army Radio, National Union head Bezalel Smotrich says any deal with Hamas is bad news. “We need to hit Hamas hard and not give them a second to breathe.”

5. Just don’t mention immunity: Hamas may or may not be getting or giving a free pass, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is widely expected to request immunity Wednesday, as a midnight deadline to ask for it looms.

  • What’s the holdup? Kan reports that Netanyahu is worried about the optics of the ask and that it will hurt his reelection chances.
  • “Despite the hemming and hawing, his associates are convinced that in the end the prime minister will make the request, but unlike his behavior at the beginning of the week, now he will try to minimize how much of a splash it makes,” the network reports, referring to his speech earlier this week in which he called immunity a “cornerstone of democracy.”
  • Wednesday’s re-emergence of violence in Baghdad, which pushes the immunity decision off of the top of news sites, seems to offer a perfect opportunity, but as of 4 p.m. there has been no word from him on the ask.
  • Channel 12 news reports that he’ll likely announce the request in a social media post, in order to keep as low a profile as possible.
  • Haaretz’s Jonathan Lis goes through the various scenarios of what will happen one he asks for immunity, a process that will take months at least: “Whether Netanyahu meets the criteria for receiving immunity or not, the Knesset vote on the issue will be political. His supporters are expected to stand by his side, while his opponents will most likely vote against immunity – regardless of the findings placed before them in the Knesset House Committee and the plenum.”

6. 2020 foresight: The immunity request comes a day after Netanyahu seemingly won a court battle, with High Court justices expressing wariness about deciding on whether an MK under indictment can be tasked with forming a government during the election period.

  • Israel Hayom columnist Aviad Hacohen calls the decision to delay a ruling “both correct and wise.”
  • “Pushing off the decision — apparently until after the election — won’t cause any harm. The opposite is true. In actuality, as noted by the judges, for now this is all purely hypothetical.”
  • Channel 12 writes that Netanyahu should be worried after President Reuven Rivlin, asked about giving Netanyahu the mandate wand, said he would take “all the relevant considerations into account.”
  • “The meaning is clear: … If one of the candidate does not have 61 MKs recommending them, and picture is again foggy, the president will have all the power to take everything into account, including criminal charges.”
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