1. Long-winded terrorist: Breaking a relatively long silence, Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, gave an interview to a Lebanese TV station Saturday. Clocking in at over three hours, Nasrallah covered a wide range of topics, many of them related to tensions with Israel.
- He dismissed the IDF’s anti-tunnel operation, said the passsageways were old and called it a media campaign.
- But he also confirmed that Hezbollah does have plans to attack and conquer the Galilee.
- He threatened that the “axis of resistance” could start responding to Israel’s airstrikes in Syria.
- He claimed that Israel had failed to stop Iranian entrenchment and that Hezbollah had as many precision missiles as it needed.
- He told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to make a election-related miscalculation and start a war, and told Israelis they should want Hezbollah to have precision missiles, so that when they fly they only hit soldiers and not civilians.
- He confirmed he is not dead or dying.
2. Hezbollah Shmezbollah: If his performance was meant to scare Israelis or warn them off, it seems it didn’t work, judging by reactions in Israel.
- “There’s really nothing new here,” an anchor on Army Radio says Sunday morning.
- Israel Hayom’s Oded Granot, noting a Saudi claim that it was actually a body double in the interview, writing that it seems the whole point of the thing was just to prove he is not dead or wasting away in some hospital:
- “Someone in the Hezbollah higher-ups understood that keeping quiet for two months could be troubling for someone who normally gives speeches on current affairs,” he writes. “There are a lot of reasons to assume that without this consideration he would have preferred to stay silent for as long as possible. Developments in the region in the last few months have not been kind to him, and unpleasant things are hard to explain even in a fancy speech like this.”
- “Had aliens landed in the region and listened to Nasrallah’s interview without prior knowledge of the balance of power between Israel and Hezbollah, they may have believed that in a future war it would be Israel’s existence that would be in danger, not Hezbollah’s,” Avi Issacharoff writes in The Times of Israel. “In fact, Hezbollah remains a dangerous organization capable of inflicting immense damage on Israel, but it does not pose an existential threat to Israel. In the next war, however, Hezbollah’s future and its very existence will probably be in question…”
3. That doesn’t mean war isn’t in the offing, though.
- “The military and verbal provocations flying back and forth between the two have all the hallmarks of an unintended and miscalculated disaster waiting to happen. It doesn’t help that all of this is taking place amidst election fever in Israel, where the current prime minister, who is also the defence and foreign minister, is battling both to survive in power and to avoid going on trial over corruption allegations. As a vote winner, Netanyahu might be tempted to increase his ‘Mr. Security’ image with a ‘splendid little war’ against Iranian forces and their allies in Syria,” Yossi Mekelberg writes in Saudi-based Arab News.
- Lebanon-based journalist Elijah Magnier reports, based on what he calls well-informed sources, that Iran et al are no longer content to not respond to Israeli bombings. And he claims Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has already drawn up battle plans to go to war against Israel with Hezbollah’s help.
- “Logistic-technical-military planning and command and control between Hezbollah and Syria is today united. Nasrallah knows how to fight Israel, how much fire power to use and when. Assad and Nasrallah will both be running any future battle against any Israeli aggression when the decision to engage will be taken,” he writes.
4. Qatar qualms: What Israel did seem much more concerned about this weekend was violence breaking out in Gaza after Hamas rejected money from Qatar.
- Instead, weekly border riots were mostly subdued and Qatar ended up distributing much of the money to the poor instead of to Hamas civil servants.
- We “will not pay the salaries of the Hamas employees,” Qatar’s ambassador to the Gaza Strip Mohammed al-Emadi tells AFP.
- Noting that both Israel and Hamas were feeling the heat internally over the cash disbursements, Emadi says he will donate the remaining tens of millions of dollars through UN programs instead.
- “Both sides are relieved now; totally relieved, and it is much better,” he says.
- But Haaretz’s Amos Harel warns that Qatari money or not, quiet in Gaza may not last long, with the new arrangement giving Hamas an upper hand over Israel.
- “ All aid to Gaza is now provided by official channels; it’s not a Qatari handout. For Hamas this is another step toward de facto international recognition of its rule in Gaza. Rising frustration in the Palestinian Authority over this arrangement comes as no surprise,” he writes.
- As for Israel, “Since the United Nations is now involved, it will be harder for Netanyahu to halt the money transfers at will. And since Hamas doesn’t receive any money directly for its officials, it may be less committed to the agreement.”
- The upshot: “There’s less incentive for Hamas to maintain calm for an extended period.”
- In al-Monitor, Shlomi Eldar notes that it was actually the Qataris who were stuck in the middle.
- “Gaza has become dependent on Qatari money and any holdup generates anger — not just toward Israel or Hamas, but also at the Qataris for failing to fulfill their promise to help the blockaded enclave. Although Gaza protesters held up signs against Israel this past week, there were also some angry accusations that the Qatari envoy was a ‘Zionist pawn,’ he writes.
5. Ya’alantz or Gantzon? The lead story in Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon are on their way to combining forces.
- The paper reports that the two are trying to reach an agreement in time for Gantz’s Tuesday’s silence-breaking press event by Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party.
- According to the report, the two have already agreed in principle, but Ya’alon still wants Gantz to commit to not joining a Netanyahu-led government.
- “The two seemingly moved past the disagreement, helped by Gantz clarifying that he intends to run as a candidate for prime minister against Netanyahu.” the paper reports.
- The news comes a day after New Right head Naftali Bennett went on TV to blast Gantz for having sought out a “tie” in the 2014 war against Gaza. The defense minister during that war: Ya’alon.
6. Ice-breaker: A Gantz-Ya’alon union would make this picture that looks like Ya’alon is sitting on Gantz’s lap all the more relevant.
If nothing else, this election season will provide many, many opportunities to use this photo of tiny Moshe Ya'alon sitting on giant Benny Gantz's lap. And for that I am grateful. pic.twitter.com/GvJCpRllHn
— Joshua Davidovich (@Josh_Davidovich) December 25, 2018
- But Gantz is likely hoping another picture gets some decent play, taken by ToI military correspondent and former army photographer Judah Ari Gross, who writes about capturing a picture of the then-IDF head getting in a snowball fight with a Palestinian family in 2013.
- The army refused to let the picture out for five years, saying it would only unfreeze it when there was a peace accord, Gross relates.
- But now “the chief of staff in question, Benny Gantz, has entered politics and is campaigning for the premiership, and — peace be damned — the Israel Defense Forces has decided the photograph can be published.”
- Tellingly, the picture’s publication was okayed days after Gantz released a video boasting about killing Gazans and bombing the Strip to the Stone Age, for which he received some pretty bad press. The snowball fight picture, by contrast, would show him as someone who doesn’t only launch missiles at Palestinians.
7. Caracas in the Middle East: Channel 13 reports that Israel is being pressured by the US into publicly backing its stance in Venezuela, supporting Juan Gauido over Nicolas Maduro for president.
- According to the report — and an earlier report in Ynet — Israel would happily oblige, but fears doing so could put the country’s remaining Jews in danger, and so prefers to remain silent.
- That behavior is familiar to Jews living in the Middle East and according to Hussein Ibish, writing in UAE-based The National, Caracas is looking an awful lot like an Arab capital these days.
- “Venezuela’s experiment with dismantling existing institutional structures and replacing them with new ones that are strictly subservient to a new, narrow political leadership – all in the name of the nation and the people – is starkly reminiscent of many Arab republics, including Nasserite Egypt and Baathist Syria and Iraq,” he writes. “Disastrous consequences follow inevitably from such folly and mendacity, both here and there.”