“Schlaglicht Israel” offers an insight into internal Israeli debates and reflects selected, political events that affect daily life in Israel. It appears every two weeks and summarizes articles that appeared in the Israeli daily press.
Main topics covered in this Publication:
- Israel’s Air Force attacks targets in Syria
- Vertical start for Benny Gantz
- Nasrallah’s threats
- Selection of Articles
(…) Bashar Assad’s fragile state is the playground of Iranian forces (…). The key to preventing a further escalation seems to be impressing on Vladimir Putin’s Russia that it needs to abide by promises to keep Iran from becoming entrenched on Israel’s border and stop weapons supplies from reaching terrorist organizations that openly threaten Israeli civilians. Israel (…) needs to take action to maintain deterrence and prevent the situation from deteriorating into a form of war of attrition – similar to the situation that has developed with Iranian-sponsored Hamas in the South (…). On the other hand, care needs to be taken to avoid an escalation that can quickly get out of control. (…) Russia is keen to maintain the calm (…) while Iran, already overstretched, also does not seem keen on an all-out confrontation with Israel. Jerusalem has to continue to make it clear that Iran does not enjoy immunity and that Russia’s presence is no guarantee for it to act with impunity. Israel has a responsibility to perform a delicate balancing act, weighing firm action to protect its citizens while trying its best to avoid an unwanted escalation in the conflict.
Editorial, JPO, 21.01.19
Israel and Iran are on a collision course in Syria – and the U.S. and Russia don’t care
(…) Israel and Iran are now engaged in direct and open conflict in Syria – which is perhaps not so surprising (…). What is remarkable is how this latest development is happening without either of the world powers – the United States and Russia – trying to exert any significant influence on the outcome. (…) Neither side, Israel or Iran, seems to want to go all the way to all-out war, but without any restraining hand that could well happen. (…) Russia promised to keep Iranian forces at least 60 kilometers (…) away from Israel’s border. It also said it would greatly upgrade Syria’s anti-aircraft capabilities (…). In reality, none of this has happened. (…) The Kremlin wants to give the impression that it controls events in Syria. But the truth is that it has only two real objectives there: Safeguarding the Assad regime; and establishing its own air base and port on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. (…) Curtailing either Iran or Israel’s operations in Syria would necessitate way more diplomatic and military resources than Russia is prepared to invest. It is clear now that the most Israel can expect from its own engagement with the Russian leadership is “deconfliction” (…). The bottom line is that Syria remains as it was from the beginning of the civil war in 2011. Neither the Assad regime nor any of the external players can (…) control it outright. Russia wants bases and the United States just wants to get the hell out; Turkey is interested in controlling various northern regions and suppressing the Kurdish population; Iran is interested in a beachhead that will serve as a link in its Shia crescent, encompassing Iraq and Lebanon as well; Israel will do almost anything to stymie Iran’s plan. With the global powers effectively leaving a vacuum in Syria, Israel and Iran are increasingly on a collision course no one is trying to prevent. (…)
Anshel Pfeffer, HAA, 21.01.19
Iran and Israel are on a collision course
(…) Israel and Iran are on the brink of a direct military confrontation. (…) The Israeli strike (…), which targeted Iranian assets in Syria, was highly unusual because it was carried out during the day. (…) The fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting Chad when the attack took place only underscores the importance of those targets and the urgency involved. (…) The latest tit-for-tat suggests Iran is no longer going to remain passive to Israeli action. It is safe to assume that the recent escalation is not over yet. (…) Israel and Russia have a (…) comprehensive mechanism for deescalation. Israel must make sure the arrangement with Russia remains strong, as it is of paramount importance. Although it is unlikely that the latest escalation will not spiral out of control, the IDF is not going to take any chances and will most likely remain on high alert in the near future to prepare for any Iranian response, which could also come from various Iranian proxies, including Hezbollah. So tension in the north will remain a constant fixture for the foreseeable future and might very well play a major role in the election campaign.
Yoav Limor, IHY, 21.01.19
Iran is ready to take risks in its struggle with Israel
In response to Israel’s attack Sunday on Iranian targets in the Damascus region, the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard fired a medium-range surface-to-surface missile at the Hermon Mountain vicinity. (…) The significance of firing the missile during the day was that it was clear to the Quds Force that there were hundreds of Israeli tourists visiting the area and a ski resort. This attack indicated Iran’s readiness to ratchet up the level of violence and take greater risks for a strong Israeli reaction, thereby leading to a military deterioration with Israel. If reports that some of the targets attacked by Israel were close to the Quds Force command building in the Damascus region are true, from the viewpoint of Iran, it can no longer tolerate Israeli attacks. (…) It was no coincidence that the Iranian press released this statement by Iran’s Air Force commander Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh: “The young people in the air force are fully ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the Earth.”
Shimon Shapira, TOI, 21.01.19
A potential danger on the northern front
(…) The widespread assumption is that Syria and Iran are not interested in starting a war (…). Israel doesn’t have any interest in broadening the Syrian front either (…). But the skirmishes between the Israel Defense Forces and the Syrian and Iranian forces indicate that the potential for a slide into a military campaign broader than what any of the parties intend still threatens the northern front. (…) When the prime minister is also the defense minister, and when the new chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, tags the IDF as a “lethal army” and wants to make his mark as soon as he can, the system of checks and balances meant to characterize the military decision-making process may be dangerously biased. (…) One hopes that the IDF and the military moves it is planning can be shielded from the poisonous radiation emanating from the prime minister’s private campaign, but Netanyahu is able to blow holes even in that hope. Netanyahu is making the public suspect that he would even be willing to exploit the security situation for his needs, just as he prevented the collapse of the government by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked by lying about a pending exceptional security threat. How can he be trusted when only a few weeks later he dissolved the government on his own initiative? The suspicion that security crises might be created to serve the prime minister’s personal objectives is enough to demand Netanyahu’s removal, or that he at least appoint a defense minister who can consider Israel’s security needs in a focused and impartial manner.
Editorial, HAA, 22.01.19
Russia’s rebuke of Israel’s Syria strikes wasn’t mere lip service
(…) The Syrians started the soft war when they filed a complaint against Israel with the United Nations Security Council (…) the Russian military headquarters in Syria settled for laconic statements of facts, with no condemnation or demands of Israel, and this must have angered Damascus. Russia prefers not to anger Assad, (…) the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement through a lower rank, its spokesperson, in which it condemned Israeli operations and demanded that it ceases it´s attacks in Syria—just as the Assad regime demanded. Except that the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement included an interesting sentence, calling on all sides to stop waging geo-political struggles on Syrian territory. This sentence, it appears, was not just meant for Israeli ears but also, and perhaps mostly, for the ears of the Ayatollahs regime in Iran. Behind this implied message to Tehran is rather credible information published by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida. The paper’s (…) correspondents in Jerusalem and Tehran, said that Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, toured the Syrian Golan Heights about a week ago, some 45 kilometers from the Israeli border. It’s safe to assume Al Jarida’s credible sources meant for this information to reach the Russians. Russian President Vladimir Putin did commit (…) that he would keep the Iranians at least 80 kilometers away from the Syria-Israel border on the Golan Heights. If Soleimani did visit that area on January 18, at such a close distance from the border with Israel, it would constitute a clear violation of the promises Moscow made to Jerusalem and Washington. (…) Israel is signaling to Moscow that it needs to keep its word, which was probably not very pleasant for the Russian Foreign Ministry to hear. (…)
Ron Ben Yishai, YED, 24.01.19
The end of the ambiguity policy: Israel´s new strategy in Syria
(…) Whether or not the first attack was perpetrated by Israel, it was an attack designed to strike only military sites and infrastructure. Iran, however, attacked Israeli civilians, launching a rocket toward thousands of visitors enjoying a popular resort (…). Had the rocket not been intercepted, innocent lives could have been lost, and Israel might have been forced to respond in a manner likely to cause wide-scale escalation on its northern borders. (…) Israel’s military actions during the past two months indicate a gradual shift in its strategy regarding Syria. Israel is now operating against multiple military targets at once. Moreover, it has abandoned its traditional policy of ambiguity (…) These operations have sent a clear message to the Iranians and Hezbollah in Lebanon: Israel will not tolerate an Iranian stronghold being established in southwest Syria. (…) the recent escalations illustrate that, despite its dominance in Syria, Russia’s ability to dictate the actions of both sides is limited. The Iranian rocket was fired from southern Syria, an area that the Russians already promised Israel would be free of Iranian presence. (…) Russia cannot prevent Iranian proxy militias from committing such acts from within the Syrian south. (…) The Israeli government and its prime minister are now facing a difficult dilemma: how to act against Iran’s increasing influence and control in Syria and Lebanon, without deteriorating into war. It must be noted that in Lebanon alone, Hezbollah has about 100,000 rockets, 40% of which are in areas under UN supervision, hidden inside or beneath civilian infrastructures, in a manner that makes the population of South Lebanon a human shield. Moreover, Iran is determined to assist Hezbollah to improve its rocket arsenal. (…) The Israeli decision to end its ambiguity policy sends a clear message: Israel will not compromise on its security (…)
Sarit Zehavi, Ibrahim Abu Ahmad, JPO, 25.01.19
Let this be the decisive campaign
(…) Israel has laid out three goals it wants to achieve in Syria: stopping the development of the terrorist front on the Golan Heights; preventing Iranian military entrenchment in Syria; and preventing Hezbollah and Iranian forces from arming themselves with long-range weapons. (…) The strategy in Syria should first be evaluated in the context of an interwar campaign. (…) We must focus on defining its purpose. Publicly, Israel is right to pursue its three stated goals. In secret, it is necessary to understand that even if continued Israeli actions in Syria could lead to war, we must prepare for war as a way out of the impasse in the north.
Gershon Hacohen, IHY, 25.01.19
Benny Gantz may be just what Israel needs
(…) Israel faces a crisis of leadership. Too many politicians rely on a cowardly strategy of superficiality and fake news, mean-spirited vitriol, divisive rhetoric, and preference for sectoral over national interests. (…) After so many years of imperious arrogance and mean-spirited demonization of rival positions, it is critical to have a leader with a proven ability to listen. We need someone who can hear all sides, who is inclusive and tries to find common ground before making the call and taking action. (…) We are lucky to have a veteran leader like Benny Gantz who is willing to leap into the quagmire of national politics, notwithstanding the many associated indignities. For those of us still uncertain about who we should be voting for, I suggest taking a step back from the usual, narrow, tribal concerns and considering Gantz’s new party. It’s about time that Israel had leadership that intuitively knows that what unites us is far more dominant than what divides us — a leader who has the ability to inspire us all to work together for a better Israel.
Alon Tal, TOI, 17.01.19
In the upcoming election, choose the rule of law
(…) nearly all the parties in the current governing coalition would join another one headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, even if he is summoned to a pre-indictment hearing. (…) most would do so even if he stood trial. (…) Successive Netanyahu governments haven’t been content with merely assaulting Israeli democracy and its constituent values – equality for minorities, freedom of expression and other human rights. In recent years, the assault has focused on the rule of law (…) The rule of law is under attack on multiple fronts. The targets include the institutions responsible for enforcing it – the police, the prosecution and the courts – as well as the people responsible for ensuring that the government obeys the law, such as ministry legal advisers, the attorney general, the state comptroller and every other independent oversight agency. (…) the importance of preserving crucial systems and institutions, without which the government might well acquire unlimited power, must be the focus of this election. (…) Otherwise, Israel is liable to wake up after the election to a new set of circumstances, in which it will be possible to definitively dismantle the rule of law.
Editorial, HAA, 24.01.19
Everyone’s blue-eyed boy: Reflections on the elections
Anyone who talked to Benny Gantz the day after he made his first political statement, got the impression the man is in low spirits. The 20th IDF chief of staff and the most intriguing candidate of Israel’s 2019 elections had hoped for a different outcome with the launch of his political campaign. (…) we need to understand Gantz’s dilemma (…): Should he turn to the right — to Likud and Kulanu voters, or to the left —to Yesh Atid and Zionist Union voters? In normal elections, the answer would be clear — he should turn right with all his might. This way, Gantz could both smash the right-wing bloc and also win over opposition voters who saw him as the next Israeli prime minister. Surely this would work for 6′5″ blue eyed former military leader. But these are not normal elections. There are a host of would-be prime ministers — Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni, Labor Party head Avi Gabbay, Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abekasis and Telem chair Moshe Ya’alon— all competing for the same votes. First, Gantz must fight to build his own his base, for if he breaks right looking for success, he could end up losing on both sides of the spectrum. (…) “Israel Before All”, Gantz’s new slogan, as well as the 20-second video he posted last week, serve as an introduction to his next dilemma: Should he establish a coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? Gabbay is trying to convince him otherwise while Likud members dissect his every word in an effort to label him as a leftist. In short, it’s a holy mess. (…)
Amit Segal, YED, 21.01.19
Gantz has to pick a side
(…) Benny Gantz apparently doesn’t believe that Right and Left even exist. He thinks that in politics, he can keep doing what he did in the army: serve for the good of the state. (…) in the army he served the policies of both right-wing and left-wing governments. As an officer, he needed to operate without taking ideology into account. If he has to decide, he will need to pick one of the two options. (…) Gantz’s lengthy silence on political issues covered up his positions. (…) despite his exaggerated caution, he removed the veil. Now the Right can say he’s a leftist, and the Left can say he’s a right-winger, and they’ll both be partly correct. But they won’t be able to say that he’s hiding his worldview or his plans. Benny Gantz is a worthy man, and he passed the test of the first speech. (…) the dark horse in the 2019 election could win support from unaffiliated voters who are looking for a leader. But the party’s supposed agreement guaranteeing places for former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Zvi Hauser, and Yoaz Hendel (all right-wingers) at the top of the joint faction should be a signal to center-left voters that what came into being this week is not from their camp.
Yossi Beilin, IHY, 30.01.19
An alternative to Netanyahu
Former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (…) declared his candidacy for prime minister, and it appears that Netanyahu can expect a genuine battle for leadership of the country (…) He promised to heal Israel’s divisions and to end the incitement against institutions of government. (…) In a part of his speech that referred to the security situation, Gantz maintained the militant line of the videos that he shared last week. (…) Anyone expecting an innovative diplomatic message was disappointed. Despite returning the word peace (…) to the public conversation, Gantz avoided mentioning the two-state solution. He presented a tough, hawkish line. Gantz promised to strengthen the settlement blocs and the Golan Heights (…) and a united Jerusalem as the “eternal” capital of Israel. (…) he was saying no to an independent Palestine and no to annexation. Gantz was clear that his electoral partnership with Moshe Ya’alon was his first political partnership, and he promised that there will be others. (…) Let us hope that he will succeed in this mission. Let us hope that the heads of the Labor Party and of Yesh Atid will swallow their pride and join forces with Gantz. Israel needs a political upset the way that it needs oxygen.
Editorial, HAA, 30.01.19
Gantz suddenly has charisma
(…) Tall and grey-haired Gantz sought contact—he hugged, kissed and posed for selfies with everyone who waved their phone at him, he was even compared to former US president Bill Clinton in his prime. He suddenly had charisma. (…) Stating he would not sit in a government whose prime minister is facing an indictment was the only issue influencing the day after the April elections that Gantz addressed. He won’t be able to back down from this promise, but keeping it won’t be easy. On some levels, Gantz comes as a surprise. When he first retired from the IDF (…) Gantz had no political ambitions. (…) With some exaggeration, like King Saul, Gantz went looking for donkeys and found a kingdom, or unfortunately, the ambition to become a king. (…) The retired generals are convinced that if they enter politics, they will make some sort of correction. They were trained to think in stately (patriotic) terms. The country is genuinely important to them and they are truly concerned about what has happened to it during the Netanyahu era. (…) There was something very moving in seeing former chief of staff Moshe “Boggi” Ya’alon, who was once Gantz’s commander and now agreed to be his number 2 man on the list, joining him on the stage. (…)
Nahum Barnea, YED, 30.01.19
Nasrallah, Iran, and Israel’s end game
(…) while the millions of dollars and years of Sisyphean work invested in building the tunnels goes down the drain, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah remains silent. Why? (…) Perhaps Hezbollah’s secretary-general really is not hundred percent well, or perhaps he is adopting a new media strategy of enigmatic silence. (…) Instead of threatening retaliation, he prefers to sit and wait. (…) he has other domestic issues that demand his attention. (…) a new government has yet to be formed (…) The Shiite terror organization understands that without the help of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is favored by the West, the funds Lebanon so desperately needs will not be infused into the country. (…) Instead of being dragged into a new operation every other day and investing useless and expensive efforts to harm Iran’s proxies—Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah—Israel’s new strategy is to directly target the Islamic Republic and its entrenchment attempts in Syria, while avoiding military adventure at all costs. But Qassem Suleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ strongman, has also adopted a different approach. Suleimani believes in an ongoing revolution—from Syria to Iraq to Yemen and even Israel or Palestine. He is preparing the ground for the day he takes command in the Galilee and the Golan Heights. A chess cliché is useful when talking about Iran: Israel is moving its pieces into multiple, interlinked places to do battle against Suleimani. Gaza is connected to Lebanon, which is connected to Syria, and everything is connected to Iran.
Shimrit Meir, YED, 16.01.19
Nasrallah would prefer to stay quiet
(…) the interview (…) had one goal: to prove that Nasrallah is alive, kicking, and in control. Someone up top in Hezbollah realized that silence of more than two months by someone who had gotten his supporters accustomed to frequent speeches could be doing some damage. Even if he isn’t in the best of health, it would be better for him to speak. There are plenty of reasons to assume that if that consideration hadn’t been factored in, Nasrallah would have preferred to keep quiet for as long as possible. Developments in the region and in his own circle in the past few months are inconvenient for him, and it is hard for even a skilled speaker such as he is to explain away what is inconvenient. First, Israel exposed his tunnels. (…) Iran, Hezbollah’s sponsor, is becoming increasingly isolated in the world. (…) Nasrallah might have preferred to keep quiet, but circumstances dictated otherwise. (…) Hezbollah will respond if Israel attacks Hezbollah targets in Syria (…) he is warning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against making the mistake of a military gambit to “promote himself in the election campaign”; and he is threatening that in the next war, “all Palestine will be under threat.” For that, he didn’t need to break his silence.
Oded Granot, IHY, 27.01.19
Hezbollah caught between desire to strengthen Iran and need to reinforce its domestic power
(…) Hezbollah is now caught between its desire to strengthen the status of Iran and Syria and the need to reinforce its domestic political power, which allows it to dictate the government’s position as it sees fit. But in the absence of a government, Hezbollah has no real leverage, and its insistence on dictating the government’s makeup also places it in the way of Lebanon overcoming its severe economic crisis. (…) Beyond recognizing the inability of the Lebanese army to face off against Israel (…) Hezbollah will have to restrain its response in order to avoid further complicating the formation of the government and the damage that an Israeli strike could cause Lebanon. It must also be very careful not to move Israeli military action from Syria to Lebanon. Thus, even Hezbollah’s concept of “resistance,” which is the foundation of its military existence, is subservient to political and diplomatic considerations if it wishes to help Syria and Iran. However, these obligations are not set in stone. Their fabric depends on Israel’s intentions and its actions in Syria and Lebanon. Hezbollah is willing to give Lebanon the right to sleep peacefully as long as Israel does not keep it awake at night.
Zvi Bar´el, HAA, 28.01.19
Corrupt legal system
The case of Israel Bar Association president Effi Nave, who has been arrested on suspicion of advancing judges’ appointments in exchange for sex, is the gravest corruption affair the Israeli justice system has ever known. The suspicions (…) cast a large and heavy shadow over the judicial selection and appointments process, as well as on the judgment of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. (…) Shortly after becoming justice minister, Shaked forged a political alliance with Nave irresponsibly, leaving the Judicial Selection Committee without appropriate professional checks and balances. (…) Under Shaked, the court system was compelled to accept appointments and promotions of judges that (…) may have been made for improper, allegedly criminal reasons. (…) Shaked, a representative of the settlers and proponent of annexation who sits in the cabinet, wished to advance judges whose views were to her liking, and to this end she was willing to forge inappropriate alliances. In so doing, she made the legal system a victim of unchecked and quite possibly criminal interests. In the Shaked era, the Judicial Selection Committee came to be composed of four politicians and two Bar Association representatives versus a minority of three Supreme Court justices. For the first time in the committee’s history, it included no representative from the opposition, who could have served as a brake on Shaked and Nave’s steamrollered appointments. Nave, who ruled the Bar Association with a free hand, absolutely influenced the association’s position in the judicial appointment process. No one stopped him (…). The shift in the balance of power on the Judicial Selection Committee – away from the justices and toward the politicians – is what made possible the actions now under investigation. (…) Justice Minister Shaked purported to stand for clean ethics (…) the ministerial responsibility falls on her.
Editorial, HAA, 17.01.19
Controversial investments of Chinese companies
The Israel-China debate
We cannot ignore the emerging public debate about the Chinese over-investment in the Israeli market. What used to be a topic for salon chats behind closed doors now occupies primetime news shows and national security forums. (…) The need to adapt the Israeli regulatory regime to rising Chinese investments and new global industries (…) is long overdue. (…) The recent debate about the role of the Chinese in Haifa’s port and Tel Aviv’s underground railroads could be the right moment to complete an intra-ministerial analysis that will lead to the right regulatory response. (…) The Israeli government should not confuse trade protectionism with legitimate foreign investment concerns and their security implications. While Israeli companies have “gone global” in recent years, foreign investment in the Israeli market is still the engine of the Israeli economy. (…) Any Israeli reform that redesigns foreign investment, from old industries like tunnels to cutting-edge technologies, should bring transparency and effectiveness to the table without diminishing the strong momentum of the Israeli economy in global markets.
Efraim Chalamish, JPO, 22.01.19
Sick health care system
Heal health care
(…) It is a system in trouble, and everyone knows it. (…) Even while life expectancy in Israel is one of the highest in the world, the country still faces a shortage of doctors, nurses, hospital beds and medical equipment (…). We know that the quality of medical care itself is indeed very high in Israel, and the proof is in the ever-growing number of medical tourists who come to Israel for treatment. While that greatly benefits Israel’s economy, it also puts added pressure on the collapsing system: the influx of foreign patients leads to longer wait times for domestic residents, amid reports that some doctors have been paid under-the-table for their services. It is ironic that the name of the health care system in Israel is known as kupat cholim, which is called the health fund but literally translates as sick fund. (…) As we now find ourselves in an election season, with candidates prepared to pledge all sorts of things to people, we strongly urge each and every party to put aside the platitudes and promises and address this severe predicament. (…) Forget right-wing/left-wing, religious/secular, Jew/Arab – we are talking about life and death, right now (…). We appeal to candidates to dispense with the slogans and to put forth viable practical solutions to this medical emergency. Our lives depend on it.
Editorial, JPO, 30.01.19
Protest of the Ethiopian community in Israel
The Ethiopian community cries out: enough!
(…) I had the privilege of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with my brothers and sisters and shout out our pain in the most democratic way possible. And I can say with pride that we staged the protest in the same way we were brought up, with the calm and quiet that is so typical of us, with determination and with our head held high. We did it while united and shouting “enough!” Enough! Let us live with dignity while feeling secure in a country that we fought so hard to reach, in a country that is ours. Enough! (…) We do want to walk the streets (safely), go to work, gain education, go shopping and have fun, while feeling secure and normal. Labeling us as a violent community is wrong. It’s unjust. Instead of labeling us, try to get to know us. Look us in the eye, see who we really are. We are exactly like everyone else. The only difference is the color of our skin. (…)
Titi Aynaw, YED, 31.01.19fes
HAA = Haaretz
YED = Yedioth Ahronoth / Ynetnews
JPO = Jerusalem Post
IHY = Israel HaYom
TOI = Times of Israel
GLO = Globes
Published: February 2019
Dr Paul Pasch,
Head of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel