Pulling for a pullout: Nine things to know for May 8
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Pulling for a pullout: Nine things to know for May 8

As the world waits with bated breath, the few Israelis who have spoken up are hopeful Trump will announce he is walking away from the Iran nuclear deal

US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting on prison reform in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, January 11, 2018. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting on prison reform in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, January 11, 2018. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

1. With US President Donald Trump’s announcement of his decision on pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal slated for later today, speculation is rampant in Israel over what he may do, though most expectations are that he will follow through with his threat to have the US say adios to the pact.

  • It’s still an open question, though, as to what form that will take. In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer looks at five possible scenarios, from Trump leaving some version of the deal in place, but with caveats, to Trump imposing new sanctions, Iran ramping its nuclear program back up and both sides moving into war footing.
  • “The closest thing to a doomsday scenario would see the United States preparing for war in the wake of sanctions, with the biggest military buildup in the Middle East since the eve of the Iraq War in early 2003,” he writes.
  • Yet don’t expect war to break out right after Trump’s announcement. As Defense News reporter Barbara Slavin points out on Twitter, the US doesn’t even have an aircraft carrier in the neighborhood.

2. Officially, most Israeli officials are keeping mum, though Minister Yoav Galant, a former general, does tell the Ynet news website Tuesday that he hopes Trump will “make the right decision, pull out of the deal and renew sanctions.”

  • Similarly, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz tells Army Radio he thinks Trump will pull out: “The Iranians have already proved that they only understand threats and powerful force,” he says.
  • The general radio silence by others may be by fiat. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been the most vocal non-American proponent of killing the deal, but in recent days has quieted his rhetoric, reportedly to keep from looking like he’s meddling in a US issue, and it’s possible his ministers have been ordered to do so as well.
  • Even Israel Hayom, which has regularly bashed the deal at the service of Netanyahu and Trump, covers the preview of the announcement matter-of-factly.
  • Yet excitement, or something like it, is plainly palpable. Both Israel Hayom and fellow tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth play the looming announcement like some sort of primetime event, not unlike the Eurovision song contest set to kick off a mere hour later.
  • “Moment of truth,” read headlines in both papers.
  • Netanyahu himself cut short a trip to Cyprus in order to be in Israel for the announcement, Yedioth reports, noting that he first said he was leaving Nicosia early because of the death of the Cypriot president’s mother, but once Trump said he would make his announcement Tuesday “it’s likely there is a link between the two.”

3. The Herzliya security conference is set to kick off later Tuesday, though, and with several top ministers and military brass set to speak, it’s likely the Iran deal announcement will be a major topic of discussion.

  • The last speaker of the day is slated to be IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, though his address will be off the record.

4. Israeli leaders are being far from quiet regarding tensions with Iran ramping up over Syria and the possibility of a revenge attack by the Islamic Republic or one of its proxies.

  • Analysts believe the saber-rattling is an attempt to scare Iran off making any move, and at an event marking the 70th anniversary of the army’s founding Monday night, officials tried to flex every muscle they could.
  • “Iran entrenchment requires us to bolster our assessments for any scenario,” reads a headline in Yedioth, a quote from Eisenkot at the ceremony.
  • In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes Israelis believe the revenge attack being planned will be a “mirror image” of Israel’s policy in Syria, where it reportedly carries out bombing runs but refuses to take responsibility in the hopes of avoiding a response and a slippery slope to all-out war.
  • Iran is hoping to “settle accounts with Israel and deter it, but maintain ambiguity regarding the perpetrators and avoid war in Syria, where it has only just begun to deploy militarily and from whose territory it would have a hard time against Israel’s air and intelligence superiority,” Harel writes.
  • In The Times of Israel, Judah Ari Gross notes that Israeli officials regard the retaliatory attack as a necessary and even somewhat acceptable price for keeping Iran from gaining a foothold in Syria, determined not to repeat their experience in Lebanon, where, by choosing not to rock the boat they let the Hezbollah terror group rearm and then some.
  • “Israel has taken a far more aggressive stance toward the entrenchment of Iranian forces and proxies in the civil war-torn country — allegedly striking not only positions along the border but also weapons caches and bases deep inside Syria — even though that policy may mean open conflict with Tehran,” he writes.

5. Hezbollah hasn’t only re-armed, but Monday also saw it celebrating over major gains in Lebanese elections, with some seeing it as the most powerful force now in the country’s politics.

  • Israel Hayom calls the results “Nasrallah’s parliament,” referring to the leader of the terror group and noting that it and its allies could control 64 seats out of 128. (Other estimates put the number as high as 67.)
  • Yedioth reports on Nasrallah’s “victory” speech, in which he noted that he is paying attention to what is going in Israel, including tensions in Iran and Gaza. “We don’t know it it will develop and we have no time to waste,” he’s quoted saying.
  • In Haaretz, Zvi Bar’el offers the unconventional take that Hezbollah victory may be good for Israel, since it could lead to government stability and giving the Lebanese, and the terror group, more to lose by going to war: “Theoretically at least, the more Lebanon flourishes, the more the Israeli threat serves as a deterrent.”

6. Shortly after Hezbollah’s gains became apparent Monday, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett repeated the mantra that “Hezbollah = Lebanon,” leading to angry rejections from Beirut.

  • Asked about it at a press conference Monday, Hariri shot back that “Lebanon is the Lebanese government, the dissociation policy and the ministerial policy statement,” according to Lebanese news site Naharnet. “Hizbullah has a parliamentary bloc and it has weapons, but this is a regional issue,” he added.
  • On Twitter, Beirut-based reporter David Kenner and Lebanon-Israel researcher David Daoud both also push back at Bennett’s equation.

7. Bennett himself is caught in a battle in which he is learning that domestic political gains do not mean hegemony, with his party’s efforts to push through a bill allowing the Knesset to override the Supreme Court continuing to meet with resistance.

  • On Monday, Netanyahu chided Bennett for pushing too hard and “burying the bill.”
  • Meanwhile the Supreme Court itself is also unhappy, and top justice Esther Hayut’s blistering criticism makes for Haaretz’s unconventional top headline, stretching out its 27 most potent words over five lines: “The judicial branch is under a brutal and unprecedented attack that poses a realistic threat to its power and independence. The supercession law is bad and dangerous and could cause permanent damage. This is superceding human rights,” reads the headline.
  • In the same paper, op-ed columnist Amira Hass attacks the court from the left, writing that it’s driven by the same “supercession spirit” that has allowed the country to run roughshod over Arabs and others: “The High Court, in contrast to its image and the methodical incitement against it, hasn’t really tried to stop these practices of excluding the Palestinians from space and history.”

8. Awkward is one way to put what happened at a LA City Council meeting Friday night, with council members (including one who is Jewish) making what are described as anti-Semitic jokes while Israel’s consul general (and Jewish mayor Eric Garcetti) looked on and grimaced, according to the CityWatch blog. The meeting was meant to mark Jewish Heritage Month, but quickly turned into a discussion of how many Jews are running the city’s finances.

“The Mayor mentioned that we have three city-wide electeds that are Jewish. But the three Jewish Councilmembers, it doesn’t escape me, are also the majority of the Budget and Finance Committee to oversee the city’s shekel,” councilmember Mitch Englander, who is Jewish, is quoted as joking.

9. Tastelessness isn’t only reserved for LA. In New York, The Forward goes to town on actress Olivia Munn for wearing a dress “inspired by the Crusades” to the Met Gala.

“You could be asleep for 90 percent of high school European history and almost all of Hebrew school and still know that The Crusades were one of the least fun things that have ever happened to the Jewish people,” writes a livid Jenny Singer. “So, yeah — a really inspiring event.”

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