Wait, what just happened? 8 things to know for March 14
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Israel media review

Wait, what just happened? 8 things to know for March 14

The press and pundits look at what kept Netanyahu’s government in power, and what pushed Rex Tillerson out

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, left, shakes hands with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri in the Knesset on March 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, left, shakes hands with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri in the Knesset on March 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

1. With early elections called off at the last moment, attention turns to the all-important post-mortem, as Israel tries to figure out just what the heck happened.

  • Haaretz’s lead headline “Netanyahu retreats from his plans to move up elections under pressure from coalition party leaders,” and Yedioth Ahronoth’s more sarcastic “They voted for themselves” allow for little sense-making of the coalition’s dithering over the last several days.
  • Some report that Netanyahu and the others feared losing power through elections: “The prime minister didn’t reverse from going to elections because he thought it was good for the country, he reversed because it could have come back at him like a boomerang,” Sima Kadmon writes in Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • The Times of Israel’s David Horovitz also surmises that poll numbers showing Netanyahu’s coalition partners weakening led to the about-face. “All these parties are current or potential coalition partners for Likud. All are right-wing themselves or are natural allies of a right-wing leadership. And all appeared in Monday night’s poll to be in a degree of trouble,” he writes.

2. But was Netanyahu really scared, or was it his coalition partners, who saw an opening to avoid an snap poll by refusing to back Netanyahu’s preferred date of June for elections and forced him to back off, as several reports indicate.

  • “To Netanyahu, the ideal time for an election would have been June, after the celebrations of Israel’s 70th birthday and the U.S. Embassy’s move to Jerusalem, and before the attorney general’s decision on whether to indict him in the corruption cases. It would be better for him to go to an election as a suspect rather than someone under indictment,” Yossi Verter writes in Haaretz. “But this window is now finally closed – not because Netanyahu yearned for that to happen, but because his partners were wise enough at the last minute to unite against him and isolate him.”
  • The Times of Israel reports that it was Likud members who threatened a mutiny if he pushed for elections.
  • “It was made clear to him that he would not be able to reach a majority. The other parties didn’t want elections but it was Likud that would have stopped them,” a coalition source is quoted saying. “Once Netanyahu realized he may face some sort of rebellion, he decided to really look into the compromise deal.”

3. The official line remains that the coalition crisis was precipitated by a dispute over the law on enlisting ultra-Orthodox men, which was allowed to go through on preliminary reading under the 11th-hour deal.

  • Israel Hayom plays Netanyahu as the hero for reaching that compromise, echoing the Likud talking point that Netanyahu never wanted early elections and blaming Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman and the ultra-Orthodox parties for bringing the government to the brink of collapse, until good sense won out.
  • “The coalition partners all managed to stop elections but also showed how much their will to stay in power is stronger than anything else,” Moti Tochfeld writes in the paper.

4. In Yedioth, Yossi Yehoshua asks how much the army actually needs the ultra-Orthodox anyway (though for most, it’s more about fairness than manpower).

  • “The IDF is indeed in a manpower ‘hole’ in terms of enlisted soldiers, but that’s temporary and is expected to be gone within three years,” he writes.

5. Perhaps giving a window into poll numbers that show Netanyahu with still sky-high support despite corruption investigations against him, Shmuel Rosner writes in The New York Times why he’s worried for the day the prime minister will vacate his seat.

  • “Netanyahu, as long as he is not forced out, is undisputedly the most experienced leader Israelis have in stock. In fact, he is the only one with real experience. The details and names can be a bore, but those who hope to succeed him are a former media personality who served briefly and unsuccessfully as finance minister, a former minister for environmental protection whose party got tired of him within a few months of taking over and an education minister with a lot of ambition but few supporters.,” he writes, breaking Yair Lapid, Avi Gabbay and Naftali Bennett into their least appealing parts.

6. The “Rexit” of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and coming of Mike Pompeo as top diplomat, is seen as putting Foggy Bottom more in line with Trump’s thinking on Israel and Iran, among other issues.

  • Israel Hayom trumpets the fact that it saw the firing coming — even though Tillerson apparently did not — quoting its own story from October saying he was on the outs, one of several stories to circulate about Tillerson about to be booted during his short diplomatic career.
  • “The writing was on the wall from the day Rex Tillerson took office. From the beginning, he projected weariness, frustration, and a notable lack of enthusiasm for his demanding position,” Avraham Ben Tzvi writes in the tabloid.
  • However, Raphael Ahren points out in The Times of Israel that Tillerson wasn’t exactly John Kerry. “Tillerson… was considered by Jerusalem a friendly secretary of state. A former oil tycoon, he had no previous ties to the Jewish state, but seemed on board with the administration’s general pro-Israel positions.”
  • Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev notes that with Trump’s penchant for firing anyone and everyone, Netanyahu should be worried his own close friendship with the US leader could one day be a thing of the past: “Many world leaders are wary of what they perceive as Trump’s willingness to betray allies abroad and loyalists at home when it suits him, a fate from which Netanyahu, for some reason, feels himself immune.”

7. Stephen Hawking’s shuffle off into the great beyond sparks not only hagiographies of the legendary physicist, but also second looks at his frayed relationship with Israel and support for the Palestinians.

  • “In 2013, his decision to boycott a conference in Jerusalem honoring Shimon Peres, the late Israeli president, made international headlines, sparking outrage in Israel and much of the Jewish world,” Haaretz reports.
  • “Tributes were being paid on Wednesday to renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking – not only remembering him for the brilliance of his scientific mind but as an impassioned campaigner who lent his unique voice to causes including Palestinians’ right of resistance and to call for an end to the war in Syria,” notes the Middle East Eye.

8. Israeli companies have been getting a lot of press in the last few days for uncovering cybersecurity flaws in everything from baby monitors to computer chips.

  • One such discovery, though, is raising questions, after Tel Aviv’s CTS labs claimed to have found a way to hack into AMD chips. One researcher called it “overhyped beyond belief” and some wonder if this isn’t a marketing ploy to help competitor Intel.
  • “It’s kinda hard to parse it all at face value, because I don’t think they are acting in good faith, and the lack of details makes it unverifiable,” Ben Gras, a hardware security researcher at the Free University of Amsterdam, is quoted saying in Wired.
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