Stuck between Iran and a Liberman: 7 things to know for November 20
Israel media review

Stuck between Iran and a Liberman: 7 things to know for November 20

Israel may be headed toward a more serious conflict with Iran and the slide toward third elections now seems inevitable

An Israeli M109 self-propelled howitzer is stationed near the border with Syria in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on November 19, 2019, after Israeli air defenses intercepted four rockets fired from neighboring Syria. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)
An Israeli M109 self-propelled howitzer is stationed near the border with Syria in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on November 19, 2019, after Israeli air defenses intercepted four rockets fired from neighboring Syria. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

1. They couldn’t have just called? A day after four rockets were shot at Israel from Syria, Israel responded with a large reprisal airstrike operation, targeting dozens of Iranian and Syrian military sites in Syria.

  • The operation was actually copped to by the IDF and politicians, a rarity.
  • The Ynet news website calls the Israeli attack an “exceptional message” to Iran and its proxies, Syria’s Bashar Assad, and the Kremlin.
  • “The message to the Iranians is the most important … That Israel will not back off but will respond harshly to any attack on its sovereignty and will not rule out a large battle, or even war, if Iran continues to base fighters and create a front against it in Syria, Iraq and maybe even Yemen,” Ron Ben Yishai writes.
  • Channel 13’s Hezi Simantov quotes a security source saying that the attacks were Israel’s way of changing the rules of the game and actually meant to send a message to the Iranians protesting fuel hikes.
  • “We’re changing the equation. Even when the attack is modest — we are responding. The action was done with the knowledge of the protests in Iran, the most serious since the revolution. Our message to the Iranian public: Your regime leaders are endangering you with their terrorist adventurism.”

2. Gird your citizens: He also reports that Iran has still not decided whether to exact a tit for Israel’s tat.

  • That’s despite the IDF’s recent conclusion — spread about via its army of “independent” analysts — that Iran has shifted its policy from turn the other cheek to eye for an eye, hence the rocket fire on Tuesday morning.
  • IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman tells reporters that the army is prepared for no response, a minor response, and a more significant response.
  • ToI’s Judah Ari Gross notes that “save for minor air defense reinforcements, there were no significant changes to the IDF’s deployments in northern Israel on Wednesday morning.”
  • Yoav Limor writes in Israel Hayom that Israel is walking on eggshells: “It fluctuates between the need to act to maintain deterrence and the desire to avoid a clash that could escalate into all-out war. Between these two considerations, and despite the tangible risks involved, Israel must insist on offense and deterrence, even at the cost of attempts to harm Israel, such as Tuesday’s missile attack, and perhaps attacks that are even more severe.”

3. Projectiles over politicos: Writing about the south, but in a column that’s painfully relevant for the whole country, which seems to seesaw between tensions in the north and south (and sometimes both), Haaretz’s Sami Peretz says that at a meeting in 2016, IDF brass realized that Israelis need to understand that they should get used to rocket fire, thanks to the capabilities of its air defense systems making flareups less costly but still disruptive.

  • “One conclusion was that it’s necessary to close this gap between expectations and capabilities; that is, to make clear to Israelis that in every such round of fighting they’ll have to sit in bomb shelters, lose workdays and schooldays and cope with significant disruptions to their daily routine,” he writes.
  • Against this backdrop, ToI editor David Horovitz writes that politicians have failed to show the same understanding, endangering the state with their infighting.
  • Horovitz criticizes “the degree to which our political leaders have allowed themselves to be distracted from what ought to be an obsessive focus on the strategies for our defense in the face-off against an increasingly emboldened Iran and its web of proxy forces around us.”
  • “Israel is not Scandinavia. It is a small, embattled nation in the toxic Middle East. And our leaders’ little rivalries have never looked so unforgivably self-indulgent as they do today, in the new normal where we are routinely shaken from our sleep by the latest aggression of Iran and its proxies,” he writes.
  • In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that Israel is in “a period when the dangers of mixing security and political considerations is higher than usual.”

4. Avigdor closes the door: Indeed, most eyes Wednesday morning are not on Iran but rather on Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, who gives a statement in the early afternoon saying he will not join a right-wing or center-left government, essentially paving the way to new elections.

  • In the lead-up to the announcement, Liberman’s cherubic mug was at the top of all the Hebrew news sites, many of which carried out his statement live, in a repeat of the excitement surrounding Liberman immediately following the elections two months ago.
  • “The only one who could create this kind of excitement is Liberman,” Kan reports.
  • The announcement comes amid what appears to be the failure of unity talks after four weeks of Blue and White leader Benny Gantz trying to form a coalition.
  • Several note that most of Liberman’s announcement was devoted to trying to wash his hands of any responsibility for the failure of coalition talks, despite being the kingmaker who refuses to choose a king.
  • With a day to go, print newspapers which are quickly made obsolete run headlines like “Deadlock peak” (Yedioth Ahronoth) and “Talks and blame” (Israel Hayom).
  • Both sides spent the morning trying to woo Liberman, after it became clear that he could pick one side instead of continuing to push for a unity government.
  • “After talks with Gantz fail: Likud signals to Liberman,” reads a headline from Kan, reporting on Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement late Tuesday claiming that Liberman promised he would go with whoever is not a refuser and that is now Gantz.
  • However, as my colleagues at ToI point out, Netanyahu actually misrepresented Liberman’s ultimatum, in which he challenged Netanyahu and Gantz to accept tough compromises or he would back the other candidate and renege on his pledge to only support a national unity government.

5. Racist groundhog day: All hope for avoiding a third trip to the polls is not dead though, with 21 days to go in which the Knesset can get together and force the president to give the mandate to someone for a last ditch try.

  • That mandate can go to any of the 120 serving MKs, including those who already got a shot or someone else, like Ahmad Tibi. Why not?
  • Israel Hayom writes that Israel has never gone to the 21-day period before, saying things have “never been so open.”
  • Channel 12 reports that an oft-overlooked section in the law means that a minority government can still be created in the 21-day period, since 61 MKs just have to agree on a candidate, not actually agree to join the government.
  • But Army Radio notes that Liberman’s words, in which he spoke harshly against Arabs and ultra-Orthodox, “end the idea of a minority government.”
  • Channel 13 reporter Barak Ravid notes that Liberman also engaged in some truly shocking “incitement against Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox,” which he says was “bordering on anti-Semitic.”
  • Noa Landau of Haaretz tweets that Liberman, who brought up the idea of direct elections for prime minister, “rejects the democratic participation of Israel’s largest minorities, ultra-Orthodox and Arabs. That will make us more ‘stable,’ he says. I can think of another word it would make us.”

6. How Balfour was almost won: With talks unraveling, some new details about what was offered are starting to emerge.

  • Shas head Aryeh Deri tells Army Radio that Blue and White agreed to all his demands to keep the status quo on religion and state issues. “The only reason there is no unity government is Yair Lapid,” he charges.
  • The same station reports that Blue and White’s Yoaz Hendel tried to woo New Right’s Ayelet Shaked by promising to annex the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, saying it “nearly put Gantz in Balfour.” The only thing that stopped the deal was Netanyahu giving party leader Naftali Bennett the Defense Ministry.
  • In Al-Monitor, Shlomi Eldar writes that Netanyahu, stuck in purgatorial power with an unending transition government, is using the ministerial posts as a bottomless bag of carrots to keep his yes-men saying yes.
  • “Given current circumstances, Netanyahu is highly susceptible to pressure and needs every one of the 55 Knesset members from five parties that he has mobilized to support him. Giving significant ministerial appointments in an interim government to tiny factions comprising three or four lawmakers in return for their defense against possible indictments seems — from Netanyahu’s perspective — a small price to pay. They, in turn, are given free rein in their interim ministries to improve the quality of the settlers’ lives and develop infrastructure in West Bank territories,” he writes.

7. Settlements, settlements everywhere, but not a drop to annex? The US’s reversal on settlements illegality has some talking annexation, but it may be a bit early.

  • “If the settlements aren’t illegal in the eyes of the world’s largest superpower, why should Israel treat those communities as anything less, supporters of Israeli presence in the West Bank concluded,” writes ToI’s Jacob Magid.
  • Magid notes that one left wing MK admitted that the announcement makes it harder for him to come out against annexation, saying that “it doesn’t make us look very good when we oppose something that even the US government doesn’t seem to have a problem with.”
  • Channel 13 news quotes a US official saying that the decision “should not be seen as a green light for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank or start unrestrained building in settlements.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Nadav Shragai writes that the US announcement means Israel needs to ramp up building in the West Bank, and not just in existing blocs, so the US can recognize that in the future as well, comparing the situation in the West Bank to an aquarium: “The fear is that the fish (the settlements) will stay in the aquarium, will not be evacuated, and even Israeli sovereignty will be placed on them, but most of the water (the land) will be pumped out, for the Palestinians and their future diplomatic entity.”
  • Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el focuses on another phrase in Mike Pompeo’s statement that could have far-reaching effects: his proclamation that the decision was based on “the unique facts, history and circumstances.”
  • “The meaning of this policy is that any country, be it Russia, China, Iran or even the United States itself, can create ‘unique facts’ and new ‘circumstances’ in any area it wants, and if they hold that area long enough, they can enjoy legal status there,” he writes.
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