Stomp speech: 8 things to know for January 23
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Stomp speech: 8 things to know for January 23

Tough talk from Israel after a flare-up of violence is seen as a product of election fever, but are candidates being too harsh?

Palestinians take cover behind a dirt mound as they raise their national flag during clashes along the Israeli fence east of Gaza City, on January 18, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Palestinians take cover behind a dirt mound as they raise their national flag during clashes along the Israeli fence east of Gaza City, on January 18, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

1. War with Gaza? Probably not. For a few moments on Tuesday, it looked like Israel and Gaza could be headed for another major round of violence, as Israel retaliated for two cross-border shooting incidents, including one in which an Israeli soldier was lightly injured..

  • “Residents of the south are preparing for especially tense days ahead,” The Israel Hayom daily reports, taking no chances.
  • Yet things have seemingly calmed since Tuesday night, with no Hamas reprisals after Israel first froze a transfer of $15 million in Qatari aid money, and then carried out airstrikes on a Hamas site in the northern Gaza Strip. The money, it seems, is the key.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Hamas had been trying to calm tensions over the last few days in order to allow the money in, before Tuesday’s violence threw a spanner in the works.
  • Haaretz notes that “those behind the two shooting incidents along the border are thought to be Islamic Jihad activists. The flare-up can also be linked to an internal conflict between the different Palestinian factions; Islamic Jihad and other groups disagree with Hamas, who believe that it is better to maintain a relative calm on the border with Israel so that the cash flow from Qatar of $15 will not stop.”

2. Stumping tough: Despite the calm, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is rattling his sabers again Wednesday, threatening “an especially painful and deadly” response to Gaza.

  • The tough words are no surprise, with elections coming up and leaders wanting to sound as tough as possible. Freezing the Qatari money was also seen as a nod to Netanyahu’s right-wing base.
  • Israel has refused to acknowledge it lets in the money in order to soothe those same potential voters who are against any money entering Gaza. Thus Netanyahu’s attempt to claim credit for something he can’t admit exists led to an almost farcical situation in which Israel’s announcement of freezing the funds had to be attributed to an anonymous official, but the statement also had to specifically credit Netanyahu with freezing the transfer.
  • Writing in the Walla news site, Amir Bohbot warns that there is an actual danger to stumping by sounding tough.
  • “The closer elections get — the more sensitive things will become. Beyond that, politicians and defense brass need to cool their statements and braggadocio about attacks in the north and Gaza in order not to start more fires.”
  • ToI’s Avi Issacharoff notes, though, that Hamas is cognizant of internal pressures in Israel and letting cooler heads prevail rather than let everything go to hell.
  • “One way or another, the Hamas higher-ups understand that the decision to stop the money is more about electoral considerations than anything else, and not because of what is happening on the ground,” he writes, suggesting that the money will be transferred soon enough.

3. Stone-age mentality: How militaristic is Israel that even terrorists know not to take hard-line campaigning seriously?

  • One need only look at a campaign ads by Benny Gantz, taking credit for the utter destruction of Gaza and scores of deaths there, to begin to understand.
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial calls the videos “a display of crudeness and a source of disappointment for those who waited weeks to hear him speak.”

4. Gantz speaks, maybe: That wait may soon be over, with Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party announcing that it will be launching its official campaign next week.

  • Asked by ToI whether that includes Gantz actually opening his mouth and speaking words, a spokesperson at first declines to say, and then reacts with incredulousness to the question.
  • Of course it’s not clear if he’ll say anything of substance, but people are already getting excited for the address.
  • “Cancel everything, it’s happening,” Ynet report Attila Somfalvi tweets sarcastically.

5. Pointing arrow: The flare-up of violence on the Gaza border Tuesday, days after an even more serious escalation of tensions on the northern border, served as a stark reminder of the dangers Israel faces in the possibility of a two-front war on the horizon.

  • A test of the Arrow 3 missile defense system Tuesday morning is being read as a clear signal to Iran, Syria, Russia and anyone else who might be confused about Israel’s abilities to defend itself from missile attack.
  • “Message to Iran: Successful Arrow 3 test,” reads a headline in Israel Hayom.

6. Things are more complicated than knocking dummy missiles out of the sky, though. In Haaretz, Zvi Bar’el notes that Israel knows it cannot beat Iran in Syria alone.

  • “Any Israeli military operation to eradicate the Iranian forces depends on Russia, which up to now has shown little interest or ability to influence Iran’s actions. Moscow hasn’t even been able to make good on its promise to move Iran’s forces away from the Israeli border,” he writes.
  • Writing for the INSS think tank, though, Ran Tira argues that given the importance of the objective, Israel may need to take the initiative no matter the costs:
  • “There is an argument that the ‘overload of risks’ limits or even removes Israel’s freedom to continue operating in Syria. In contrast, it could be argued that the feasibility of operational action remains, since Israel can continue to achieve the operational objectives it seeks, and all that has changed is the risk and the cost involved. It is possible to further argue that in the case of securing a vital national interest, such as preventing Iran and Hezbollah from building up a precision weapons echelon in Israel’s first circle, the current and emerging risks and costs should be incurred.”

7. ‘Israeli impunity’: Britain’s Guardian newspaper mentions Gantz’s ads in an extraordinarily harsh editorial taking Israel to task for just about everything short of Brexit.

  • A “blatant disregard for Gazan lives and the lack of accountability is underpinned by a politics of resentment and dissembling that has profound repercussions for Israel. If one can kill with impunity, then can one lie without consequence?” the editorial reads.
  • Hitting back, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon tells The Times of Israel that the Guardian “has decided to engage in an exercise of cheap moralizing, deliberately ignoring Palestinian terror and violence.”

8. Israel is not all bad: The Ynet news website reports that when PA President Mahmoud Abbas was hospitalized in May, with things looking as bad as ever, Israel stepped in to try and save him.

  • The news site reports that Palestinians are concerned Abbas, 83, may have cancer, with health problems persisting.
  • Israel, knowing how important he is to keeping things stable in the West Bank, offered to have him transferred to an Israeli hospital, but the Palestinians refused and instead allowed Israeli specialists to come to Ramallah to treat him.
  • “Palestinian officials expressed appreciation and gratitude to the Israelis over the offer, but kept it totally secret,” the site reports.
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