Iran Planning To Attack Israel From Yemen, Says Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press at the Palmachim Air Force Base near the city of Rishon LeZion on October 27, 2019. Abir SULTAN / POOL / AFP

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Iran of wanting to strike Israel with precision-guided missiles from Yemen as he urged US President Donald Trump’s administration to further pressure Tehran.

Netanyahu made the comments as he met US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Jerusalem, and while he again congratulated Trump on the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he called for “a lot more” sanctions against Israel’s archfoe Iran.

“Iran is seeking to develop now precision-guided munitions, missiles that can hit any target in the Middle East with a circumference of five to 10 metres,” Netanyahu said.

“They want to place them in Iraq and in Syria, and to convert Lebanon’s arsenal of 130,000… rockets to precision-guided munitions.”

He added that “they seek also to develop that, and have already begun to put that in Yemen, with the goal of reaching Israel from there too.”

READ ALSO: We Have Obtained The Capacity To Destroy Israel, Says Iran General

Netanyahu made reference to September 14 attacks on two Saudi oil facilities and echoing Riyadh, blamed Iran. Tehran has denied involvement.

The attacks were claimed by Iran-backed Yemeni rebels.

Mnuchin, on a tour of the Middle East and India, said “we have a shared view as to the threat that Iran poses to the region and to the world” and spoke of the US “maximum pressure campaign” involving sanctions.

“We will continue to ramp up more, more, more, as you’ve said.”

Washington has hit Iran with unilateral sanctions since withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear accord between world powers and Tehran.

Israelis have been concerned over Trump’s withdrawal of US troops from neighbouring Syria that many have viewed as a blatant abandonment of Washington’s Kurdish allies.

There are worries that Israel too could be abandoned by its most important ally, as well as longstanding concerns that Iran could move to fill any vacuum in Syria.

Iran, along with Russia, has been backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in his country’s eight-year civil war.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was among the US officials accompanying Mnuchin on his trip.

Kushner and US special representative for Iran Brian Hook also met Netanyahu on Monday.

Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s main opponent in Israel’s deadlocked September 17 elections, met Kushner and Hook as well.

Netanyahu failed to form a new government following the elections, and Gantz is now seeking to do so though he also faces long odds.

The stalemate has raised the possibility that Israel will soon be heading toward a third election in a year’s time.

AFP

Netanyahu Says Cannot Form Israel Govt, Asks Opponent To Try

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and retired Israeli general Benny Gantz, one of the leaders of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) political alliance. JACK GUEZ, Oded Balilty / AFP

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed Israel’s president Monday he could not form a new government following deadlocked September elections, making way for his opponent Benny Gantz to try.

The decision was an important defeat for Netanyahu as he seeks to continue his tenure as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, but it does not mean the end of those efforts since he still has various cards to play.

Gantz will also face long odds in forming a government, with many analysts predicting he too will fail to negotiate a unity coalition.

In that case, President Reuven Rivlin could ask a majority of parliament members to agree on a candidate.

Rivlin has vowed to do all he can to prevent yet another election — a third since April — but the possibility remains that the stalemate could eventually trigger it.

Netanyahu has been battling the threat to his political survival on two fronts, also facing the possibility of corruption charges in the weeks ahead.

“A short time ago I informed the president that I was handing back my mandate to try to form a government,” Netanyahu said in a video posted on his official Facebook page.

The prime minister blamed Gantz for refusing to negotiate on Netanyahu’s preferred terms.

 ‘Simply refused’ 

Rivlin said shortly afterwards that he intended to ask ex-military chief Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White alliance, to try to form a government.

Like Netanyahu, he will have 28 days to attempt to do so.

Rivlin can take up to three days to hear out the parties elected to parliament before officially tasking Gantz, who had no political experience before mounting his challenge to the premier he once worked with as military chief of staff.

Blue and White said in a statement: “The time of spin is over, and it is now time for action.”

“Blue and White is determined to form the liberal unity government, led by Benny Gantz, that the people of Israel voted for a month ago,” it said.

By “liberal”, it signalled it would seek to limit the influence of religious parties in forming a coalition.

Netanyahu argued that he had “made every effort to bring Benny Gantz to the negotiating table, every effort to form a broad national government, every effort to prevent further elections”.

“Unfortunately, time and time again he simply refused.”

But Gantz has repeatedly said he cannot negotiate based on the terms Netanyahu wants.

Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud has been seeking to negotiate based on a compromise set out by Rivlin that takes into account the possibility the premier will be indicted for corruption in the upcoming weeks.

It could see him remain prime minister for now, but step aside at some point later as he combats the charges.

Gantz would take over as acting premier under such a scenario.

 Who goes first? 

The Blue and White leader, however, says he should be prime minister first under any rotation arrangement since his party won the most seats in September 17 elections, finishing with 33 compared to Likud’s 32.

Gantz also says Blue and White cannot serve in a government with a prime minister facing serious indictment.

Netanyahu has added a further complication to the coalition talks.

He has pledged not to abandon the smaller right-wing and religious parties that support him in parliament, saying he represents the entire bloc in coalition negotiations.

That condition is also unacceptable to Gantz, who says it would mean Blue and White joining a Netanyahu government as a junior member.

Netanyahu received the endorsement of 55 members of parliament for the post of prime minister after the election, while Gantz received 54.

Ten of the parliament members endorsing Gantz, however, are from Arab parties and have said they will not serve in a government with the ex-military leader.

While the 70-year-old Netanyahu was yielding to his opponent at least temporarily on Monday, he has shown no sign of willingly giving up the post he has held for a total of more than 13 years.

A prime minister does not have to step down if indicted — only if convicted with all appeals exhausted — while other ministers can be forced to do so when charged.

Israel Condemns Turkish ‘Invasion’ In Syria

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech in Jerusalem on October 10, 2019.
GALI TIBBON / AFP

 

Israel on Thursday slammed Turkey’s “invasion” of Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria and warned against “ethnic cleansing” of the Kurdish people, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

“Israel strongly condemns the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish areas in Syria and warns against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies,” the statement said.

“Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the gallant Kurdish people.”

Turkey’s operation launched Wednesday has sparked international outrage, raising fears of a new refugee crisis in northern Syria and concern that thousands of jihadists being held in Syrian Kurdish prisons could use it as an opportunity to escape.

The operation had seemed almost inevitable after US President Donald Trump announced on Sunday that American troops deployed in the area were pulling back from the border.

Trump has tried to justify the de facto green light he gifted his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for an assault seen as a blatant betrayal of Washington’s erstwhile Kurdish allies.

Netanyahu has been careful not to be seen as criticising Trump, who has provideSyd him with strong backing since taking office, but the US leader’s perceived abandonment of the Kurds has provoked deep concern in Israel.

Israelis have questioned whether their country could be abandoned in a similar way by its most important ally in addition to longstanding concerns over whether arch-enemy Iran will move to fill any vacuum in neighbouring Syria.

Netanyahu has also had tense relations with Erdogan, a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause.

AFP

Netanyahu’s Lawyers Arrive For Pre-Indictment Hearing

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on July 8, 2018. ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers arrived for his pre-indictment hearing on corruption allegations Wednesday and pledged to convince prosecutors to drop the cases against him.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had in February announced his intention to indict the premier for bribery, fraud and breach of trust pending a hearing in three separate cases.

He is accused of acting on behalf of wealthy supporters and businessmen in exchange for gifts or favourable news coverage.

Speaking to journalists outside the justice ministry ahead of the closed-door hearing, Netanyahu attorney Ram Caspi said that based on the materials and arguments they would present, there was “a solid foundation for a change of course”.

Caspi also said he was confident that Mandelblit would reach his decision “in a professional manner, ignoring the background noises”.

“The prime minister is not above the law, but neither is he below it,” he said.

Mandelblit had rejected Netanyahu’s request to broadcast the hearings live.

Another attorney, Amit Hadad, noted they had new evidence to present to Mandelblit.

“At the end of the day, the three cases will have to be closed,” he told journalists.

The hearings will last four days and Netanyahu is not expected to attend in person.

Mandelblit is expected to take several weeks to decide whether to issue the indictments after the hearing is complete.

Netanyahu denies all the accusations and has labelled them bids by his enemies to force him from office, which he has held for a total of over 13 years, the longest in Israeli history.

The hearing comes with Netanyahu’s attempts to form a unity government following September 17 elections at an impasse after his main opponent cancelled a meeting planned for Wednesday.

Netanyahu was instead planning to meet with the heads of right-wing and religious parties supporting his bid to form and head a government after the deadlocked election.

In calling off Wednesday’s negotiations, Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White said that preconditions for continued talks “have not been met.”

“We will not be the background for Netanyahu’s election games,” Blue and White said.

Netanyahu had also sought to meet Gantz later Wednesday, but Blue and White said there was no point in doing so for now.

Netanyahu had been tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a coalition, and should the incumbent premier say he cannot do so, the president must then decide whether to ask Gantz to try.

Alternatively, Rivlin could call on parliament to agree on a candidate for prime minister with a vote of at least 61 of 120 members.

AFP

Israel Election: Exit Polls Show Possibility Of Another Deadlock

Children accompany an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man to a voting station in the city of Bnei Brak during the Israeli parliamentary election on September 17, 2019. Menahem KAHANA / AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main challenger Benny Gantz were locked in a tight race in the country’s general election after polls closed Tuesday, exit surveys showed, raising the possibility of another deadlock.

Three separate exit polls carried by Israeli television stations showed Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance with between 31 and 34 parliament seats each out of 120.

Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, which could play a kingmaker role, could win between eight and 10 seats, according to the polls.

If the exit polls are reasonably accurate — and they have in the past been off base — either Netanyahu or Gantz will face tough negotiations to form a government.

After the exit polls were released, Lieberman called for a unity government with his party, Likud and Blue and White as he addressed supporters, saying the country was facing an “emergency”.

“There is only one option for us,” he said, adding the unity government should exclude the country’s ultra-Orthodox religious parties, which he accuses of having undue influence on politics.

The exit survey results prompted initial cheers at Blue and White’s post-election party in Tel Aviv, where they were shown on large screens, before doubts began to set in.

“We have an advantage, but I see that we are dependent on Lieberman,” said supporter Dina Margoli, 40.

At Likud’s post-election rally, music played and chants of “Bibi king of Israel” broke out, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

“Hopefully when the real results come some of these results will change and we’ll be able to form a coalition like we wanted to before,” Likud parliament member Sharren Haskel told AFP.

“And if not we’ll have to try and find another way to do it.”

Immunity?

The stakes could not be much higher for the 69-year-old Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister but who is facing possible corruption charges in the weeks ahead.

He spent the day warning he was on the verge of losing if his supporters did not turn out to vote, including in appearances at Jerusalem’s main market and its central bus station, wielding a megaphone to exhort the crowds.

He repeatedly warned, as he has in previous elections, that left-wing and Arab voters were showing up in large numbers to vote him out, appearing on Facebook live to do so.

Gantz voted in his hometown of Rosh Haayin near Tel Aviv and called on the country to reject corruption and “extremism”.

Later he visited a shopping mall in the northern city of Haifa and addressed the public through a megaphone on the beach in Tel Aviv.

Fears of election fatigue did not materialise, with turnout at 69.4 percent, higher than in April polls.

Netanyahu, prime minister for a total of more than 13 years, suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career following an election in April.

His Likud along with its right-wing and religious allies won a majority, leading President Reuven Rivlin to task him with forming a government.

But following weeks of discussions, Netanyahu failed, opting for an unprecedented second election rather than risk Rivlin choosing someone else.

Many believe that if he wins, Netanyahu could seek to have parliament grant him immunity from prosecution ahead of a possible corruption indictment in the weeks ahead.

He spent the final days of the campaign seeking to appeal to right-wing nationalists — key to his re-election bid — and to boost turnout among his base.

Those efforts included a controversial pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, a third of the occupied West Bank.

He issued unfounded warnings that the vote could be stolen by fraud in Arab communities, leading critics to accuse him of racism.

But Netanyahu has also highlighted the country’s growing economy and his relationships with world leaders such as US President Donald Trump.

‘Normal again’

Gantz has presented himself as an honourable alternative.

He repeatedly spoke of Netanyahu’s willingness to form a coalition with far-right parties that could help him secure immunity.

Gantz says his alliance, which includes three former armed forces chiefs of staff, wants a unity government that the vast majority of Israelis would support.

A campaign by Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu to “make Israel normal again” appeared to have resonated with voters.

The staunch secularist has long campaigned against what he sees as the undue clout of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, which he accuses of seeking to impose Jewish religious law on Israel’s secular population.

Lieberman has demanded legislation to make military service mandatory for the ultra-Orthodox as for other Jewish Israelis — a demand he refused to drop after April polls, eventually blocking Netanyahu’s efforts to form a coalition.

Separately, if exit polls showing Israel’s newly reunified Arab parties with between 11 and 13 seats are accurate, they could potentially block Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister by recommending Gantz.

AFP

Israel Votes On Netanyahu’s Political Survival

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their votes at a voting station in Jerusalem on September 17, 2019. Heidi Levine / POOL / AFP

 

Israel voted in its second election in five months Tuesday that will decide whether to extend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s term as the country’s longest-serving prime minister despite corruption allegations against him.

The stakes could not be much higher for the 69-year-old right-wing leader who, as in April polls, faces a strong challenge from ex-military chief Benny Gantz and his centrist Blue and White alliance.

Netanyahu voted in Jerusalem alongside his wife Sara and said he expected a close election, urging Israelis to turn out in large numbers.

“President (Donald) Trump said yesterday that the elections will be tight,” Netanyahu said in reference to Monday’s comments calling the polls “50/50” by the US leader, who has been a strong supporter of the premier.

“I can guarantee you this morning that they are very tight.”

Gantz voted in his hometown of Rosh Haayin near Tel Aviv and called on the country to reject corruption and “extremism”.

“We want new hope. We are voting today for change,” Gantz said after voting with his wife Revital.

“We will succeed in bringing hope. We will succeed in bringing change, without corruption and without extremism, all together.”

Polls opened at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) and were due to close in most areas at 10:00 pm.

Some 6.4 million people are eligible to vote.

The first exit surveys will be released just after polls close, while official results are not expected until Wednesday.

There were early signs that concerns over election fatigue may not materialise.

Turnout by 10:00 am was 15 percent, the highest by that time since 1984, according to the election committee.

Opinion polls have indicated another tight race, showing Netanyahu’s Likud and the Blue and White winning around 32 seats each in the 120-seat parliament.

Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s former right-hand man turned rival, could play a kingmaker role with his campaign to “make Israel normal again.”

 Immunity? 

Netanyahu suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career following the April vote.

His Likud along with its right-wing and religious allies won a majority, leading President Reuven Rivlin to task the premier with forming a new government.

But following weeks of discussions, Netanyahu failed, leading him to opt for an unprecedented second election rather than risk having Rivlin choose someone else.

The danger for Netanyahu extends beyond remaining prime minister, a post he has held for a total of more than 13 years.

If he wins, many believe he will seek to have parliament grant him immunity from prosecution, as he faces the possibility of a corruption indictment in the weeks ahead.

Recognising the stakes, Netanyahu spent the final days of the campaign seeking to appeal to right-wing nationalists — key to his re-election bid — and to boost turnout among his base.

Those efforts have included a controversial pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, which makes up a third of the occupied West Bank.

He has issued unfounded warnings that the vote could be stolen by fraud in Arab communities, leading critics to accuse him of racism.

But Netanyahu has also highlighted the country’s growing economy and his relationships with world leaders such as Trump.

He has tried to label his main opponents “weak” and “leftist” despite their security credentials.

 ‘Normal again’ 

Gantz has campaigned by presenting himself as an honourable alternative.

He has repeatedly spoken of Netanyahu’s willingness to form a coalition with far-right parties that could help him secure immunity.

Gantz says his alliance, which includes three former armed forces chiefs of staff, wants a unity government that the vast majority of Israelis would support.

Opinion polls show the campaign by Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party has resonated with voters.

His “make Israel normal again” slogan refers to what the staunch secularist says is the undue influence of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties on the country’s politics.

He accuses them of seeking to impose Jewish religious law on Israel’s secular population and wants legislation ending the exemption of the ultra-Orthodox from mandatory military service.

Lieberman prevented Netanyahu from forming a coalition after April polls by refusing to relent on his demand that the ultra-Orthodox be required to serve in the military like other Jewish Israelis.

It is not clear he will endorse Netanyahu as prime minister again, which could be enough for Rivlin to allow Gantz to try to form a government.

Israel’s newly reunified Arab parties could also prove decisive with a performance similar to 2015 elections, when they became the third-largest force in parliament.

If so, they could block Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister by recommending Gantz.

AFP

Netanyahu Accuses Iran Of Destroying Secret ‘Nuclear Site’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a press conference in Berlin on June 4, 2018. 
Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Iran of having a previously undisclosed site aimed at developing nuclear weapons that it destroyed.

Iran destroyed the site located near the city of Abadeh, south of Isfahan, sometime between late June and late July after realising that Israel had detected it, Netanyahu alleged.

In an address on live television, with photos of the alleged site on a screen behind him, Netanyahu referred to an intelligence trove he had previously announced last year.

“Today we reveal that yet another secret nuclear site was exposed in the archives that we brought from Tehran,” Netanyahu said.

“In this site, Iran conducted experiments to develop nuclear weapons… When Iran realised that we uncovered the site, here’s what they did: They destroyed the site, they just wiped it out.”

The prime minister, whose country is an arch-enemy of Iran, did not provide further details on the alleged experiments, or when they purportedly were held.

When he announced the intelligence trove allegedly obtained from a secret compound in Tehran, Netanyahu said he had new “proof” of an Iranian nuclear weapons plan that could be activated at any time.

But while Netanyahu then accused Iran of lying about its atomic ambitions, he did not provide evidence that Tehran had actively worked to obtain the bomb since its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Netanyahu’s latest statement comes just days ahead of Israel’s September 17 polls in which he is facing a difficult re-election campaign.

Iran has been scaling back its commitments under the 2015 deal in response to US President Donald Trump’s pullout from the accord and reimposition of sanctions.

AFP

Trump Asks Israel To Deny Two US Muslim Lawmakers Access

Netanyahu Seeks To Calm Israeli Concerns Over Trump's Syria Pullout
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu/AFP

 

Israel would “show great weakness” if it allows a visit by two Muslim members of the US Congress who support a boycott of the Jewish state, US President Donald Trump said Thursday.

First-term House Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who are expected to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories at the weekend, are the first Muslim women to serve in Congress — and have been at the receiving end of Trump’s ire before.

They are part of the so-called “squad,” a quartet of House Democrats, all women and all ethnic minorities, whom Trump has repeatedly attacked on social media and in campaign speeches.

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” Trump tweeted.

“They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds,” he said.

“They are a disgrace!”

Omar and Tlaib have been vocal in their criticism of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.

Israeli officials have acknowledged the visit is being discussed at the highest levels, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding consultations about the matter Wednesday.

A final decision is being weighed, and Israel may end up barring the two lawmakers, a government official said Thursday despite previous signals that they would be allowed in.

“There is a possibility that Israel will not allow the visit in its current proposed format,” the official said.

Trump sparked a firestorm of outrage last month when he said the four “squad” lawmakers, all US citizens, should “go back” to their countries of origin.

Omar is a refugee who fled Somalia as a child, and Tlaib was born in Detroit, Michigan to Palestinian immigrants.

Omar has been at the centre of a swirling debate about anti-Semitism and discrimination since she joined Congress in January.

Her remark that US political backing for Israel is fueled by money from a pro-Israel lobbying group, and her open support for a boycott and divestment movement against the Jewish state, led to fierce criticism from both sides of the political aisle.

AFP

Netanyahu Warns Iran Of Possible Israeli Attack

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tuesday that Israel’s fighter jets “can reach anywhere in the Middle East, including Iran,” in his latest comments directed at his country’s arch-foe.

While visiting an air force base where he inspected F-35 jets made by US firm Lockheed Martin, Netanyahu issued a video with one of the planes behind him.

“Recently, Iran has been threatening the destruction of Israel,” he said at the Nevatim air base in southern Israel.

READ ALSO: Iran Breached Uranium Enrichment Cap – Nuclear Agency

“It would do well to remember that these planes can reach anywhere in the Middle East, including Iran and certainly Syria.”

Netanyahu has issued a series of statements against Iran in recent weeks.

They follow the Islamic republic’s decision to begin breaching some commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and attacks in the Gulf that Israel and the United States blame on Iran.

On Sunday, Netanyahu called an announcement by Iran that it would exceed the uranium enrichment cap set by the troubled accord a “very dangerous step”.

He urged European countries to sanction Iran in response.

On Monday, Iran breached the enrichment cap as it seeks to press other parties into keeping their side of the bargain under the nuclear deal.

Netanyahu opposed the accord and urged US President Donald Trump to withdraw from it, which he eventually did.

Despite having opposed the deal, Netanyahu is now calling on European nations to enforce its parameters as he and the United States seek to further pressure Iran.

Israel has also carried out hundreds of strikes in neighbouring Syria against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah military targets.

It has vowed to keep Iran, which has backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country’s civil war, from entrenching itself militarily there.

In May 2018, Israel’s military said it had become the first country to use F-35s in combat.

AFP

Israel PM Netanyahu’s Wife Convicted Of Misusing Public Funds

Sara Netanyahu, wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leaves the Magistrate’s Court in Jerusalem on June 16, 2019. GALI TIBBON / AFP

 

An Israeli court Sunday convicted the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of fraudulently using state funds for meals, under a plea bargain which dropped more severe charges.

While the ruling cut short a high-profile trial, the Netanyahu family’s legal woes are far from over: the veteran premier himself faces possible indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the coming months.

In a deal approved by judge Avital Chen at Jerusalem magistrates’ court, Sara Netanyahu was found guilty of using the errors of government accounting staff to bypass spending restrictions.

She was fined 10,000 shekels ($2,800) and ordered to reimburse the state a further 45,000 shekels.

Although her husband is a millionaire she asked for payment to be deferred and the judge allowed her to pay in monthly instalments beginning in September.

“The deal reached between the sides is worthy and appropriately reflects the deeds and their severity on the criminal level,” Chen said in his ruling.

The 60-year-old, a high-profile presence at her husband’s side throughout his long tenure in office, was initially charged in June 2018 with fraud and breach of trust for paying $100,000 (85,000 euros) for meals from well-known Jerusalem businesses.

She had done so while falsely declaring there was no cook available at the PM’s official residence.

The amended indictment, approved Sunday, dropped the graft charges, replacing them with “obtaining a benefit by deliberately exploiting the mistake of another person”.

“Despite the fact that cooks were employed at the residence the accused instructed staff at the residence, as a matter of normal practice, to order prepared meals from restaurants for herself, her family and visitors.”

The tiny courtroom at the Jerusalem magistrates’ court was packed with journalists.

“As in every plea bargain, each side makes concessions, sometimes hard concessions,” prosecutor Erez Padan said.

“It is right and proper for the public interest to bring this case to an end.”

Made of steel

Netanyahu’s attorney Yossi Cohen told the court his client had already been heavily punished by the media.

“Four years of ugly leaks and denigrations” constituted “inhuman punishment”, he said.

“No other person could have withstood this, this lady is made of steel,” Cohen added.

Sara Netanyahu has a reputation for finding legal loopholes to receive state funding for her household’s relatively high expenses.

“On a number of occasions she instructed that restaurant chefs be brought in to cook for guests at the residence, all in deliberate exploitation of the bookkeepers’ mistakes,” the amended charge sheet said

The caterers included an Italian restaurant, a Middle Eastern grill joint and a Sushi house.

The prosecution attorneys put a positive face on what was generally considered a good outcome for Sara Netanyahu Sunday.

“The significance of this ruling is that a person with access to public funds, as senior as they may be, cannot use them as their own,” Padan’s co-counsel Jenny Avni told reporters outside the courtroom.

“Taking significant amounts of public funds over several years, in violation of the rules and procedures, is a criminal offence carrying with it a conviction and a real financial penalty.”

Sara Netanyahu is also being sued by a former cleaner who claims the premier’s wife mistreated her.

In 2016 a court awarded some $47,000 in damages to a former housekeeper who accused her of repeated workplace abuse in a similar case.

Separately, Benjamin Netanyahu is facing possible indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the months ahead.

Two people wearing t-shirts with the message “crime minister” were barred from entering the court for his wife’s hearing on Sunday.

He is reportedly seeking legislation that would result in him being granted immunity.

However, he was unable to form a coalition following an April general election, and Israel is now gearing up for September polls.

In a Facebook post late Saturday, he declared his wife a “real heroine” who was “a punching bag for the media.”

BREAKING: Netanyahu Set For 5th Term As Rival Concedes Defeat

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at his Likud Party headquarters in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on election night early on April 10, 2019.
Thomas COEX / AFP

 

 

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is on course to secure a record fifth term after his main election rival conceded defeat on Wednesday evening.

Netanyahu was on track for victory in Israel’s election on Wednesday after nearly complete results put him in position to form a right-wing coalition and further extend his long tenure in office.

The results from Tuesday’s vote came despite corruption allegations against the 69-year-old premier and kept him on course to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister later this year.

His close ally President Donald Trump, who has swung US policy sharply in Israel’s favour and openly backed Netanyahu, said the incumbent’s victory for a fifth mandate gives the White House’s long-awaited peace plan a “better chance”.

Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party looked set to finish with a similar number of seats in parliament to his main rival, ex-military chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance.

But the results showed that Likud together with other rightwing parties allied to the prime minister would hold around 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament.

Final results were expected on Thursday, with ballots for soldiers and other special categories of voters yet to be counted.

READ ALSO: Macron Insists Long Brexit Delay Not ‘Decided’

The results would seem to leave President Reuven Rivlin, who must ask one of the candidates to form a government, with little choice but to pick Netanyahu.

Intensive coalition negotiations will follow and could drag on for days or even weeks.

Rivlin said he would begin consultations with party heads next week ahead of making his decision.

His office said the consultations would be broadcast live in their entirety for the first time.

The close race between the two main parties had led to uncertainty after polls closed Tuesday night and exit surveys were released.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz claimed victory after the initial exit polls, but on Wednesday evening the Blue and White leader conceded defeat.

“We respect the decision of the people,” Gantz told journalists, acknowledging he had failed to unseat the prime minister.

Former finance minister Yair Lapid, who joined the Blue and White alliance, vowed to “make life bitter for the Netanyahu government”.

‘Magnificent victory’

Netanyahu spoke in the early hours of Wednesday at the Likud’s post-election party in Tel Aviv and called it a “magnificent victory.”

As he walked onto the stage to chanting crowds, he planted a kiss on the lips of his wife Sara.

“It will be a right-wing government, but I will be prime minister for all,” he said.

The vote had been expected to be close, even with Netanyahu facing potential corruption charges.

Fighting for his political life, Netanyahu spent the weeks ahead of the vote campaigning furiously to energise his right-wing base.

Besides Trump, other Netanyahu allies including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz offered congratulations.

Gantz, a newcomer to politics, mounted a strong challenge by brandishing his security credentials while pledging to undo damage he says Netanyahu has inflicted on the country with divisive politics.

The election was in many ways a referendum on the premier who has built a reputation as guarantor of the country’s security and economic growth, but whose populism and alleged corruption left many ready for change.

He engaged in populist rhetoric critics said amounted to the demonisation of Arab Israelis and others.

True to form, Netanyahu issued a controversial pledge only three days before the election, saying he planned to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank should he win.

Extending Israeli sovereignty on a large scale in the West Bank could end already fading hopes for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

It is a move long championed by Israel’s far right.

‘King Bibi’

Netanyahu sought to portray himself as Israel’s essential statesman during the campaign and highlighted his bond with Trump.

He spoke of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and of Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the annexed Golan Heights.

Netanyahu also used Trump-like tactics, calling the corruption investigations a “witch hunt” and denouncing journalists covering them.

Gantz, a 59-year-old former paratrooper, invoked the corruption allegations against the premier to make his case that it was time for him to go.

He called Netanyahu’s annexation pledge an “irresponsible” bid for votes.

Gantz said he favoured a “globally backed peace agreement” with Israel holding on to the large West Bank settlement blocs, adding he opposed unilateral moves.

He sought to overcome Netanyahu’s experience by allying with two other former military chiefs.

Netanyahu has been premier for a total of more than 13 years.

But “King Bibi,” as some have called him, now faces the prospect of becoming the first sitting prime minister to be indicted.

The attorney general has announced he intends to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust pending an upcoming hearing.

Netanyahu On Path To Becoming Israel’s Longest-Serving Prime Minister

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at his Likud Party headquarters in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv early on April 10, 2019. Thomas COEX / AFP

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on the path of victory in Israel’s election on Wednesday after nearly complete results put him in position to form a right-wing coalition and further extend his long tenure in office.

The results from Tuesday’s vote came despite corruption allegations against the 69-year-old premier and put him on track to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister later this year.

His Likud party looked set to finish with a similar number of seats in parliament to his main rival, ex-military chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance, Israeli media reported.

But with 97 percent of the votes counted, results showed the Likud and other right-wing parties allied to him with some 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament.

The results would seem to leave President Reuven Rivlin, whose task it is to ask one of the candidates to form a government, with little choice but to pick Netanyahu.

Intensive coalition negotiations will follow and could drag on for days or even weeks.

Final results were expected by Thursday afternoon, with ballots for soldiers and other special categories of voters yet to be counted.

The close race between the two main parties had led to uncertainty after polls closed on Tuesday night and exit surveys were released.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz claimed victory after the initial exit surveys that gave Blue and White the most seats.

But even then Netanyahu appeared best placed to form a coalition, with both parties, in any case, falling far short of an outright majority.

‘Magnificent victory’

Netanyahu spoke in the early hours of Wednesday at the Likud’s post-election party in Tel Aviv and called it a “magnificent victory.”

As he walked onto the stage to chanting crowds, he planted a kiss on the lips of his wife Sara.

“It will be a right-wing government, but I will be prime minister for all,” he said.

Earlier while addressing cheering supporters who waved Israeli flags at an event hall in Tel Aviv, Gantz called it a “historic day.”

Speaking to journalists outside his home on Wednesday morning, Gantz said, “we’re waiting until the end of the results.”

“This is a historic accomplishment. There has never been a party so large, so significant, with so many good people that was founded in such a short period of time.”

The vote had long been expected to be close, even with Netanyahu facing potential corruption charges.

Fighting for his political life, Netanyahu spent the weeks ahead of the vote campaigning furiously to energise his right-wing base.

Gantz, a newcomer to politics, mounted a strong challenge by brandishing his security credentials while pledging to undo the damage he says Netanyahu has inflicted on the country with divisive politics.

The election was in many ways a referendum on the premier who has built a reputation as the guarantor of the country’s security and economic growth, but whose populism and alleged corruption left many ready for a change.

He engaged in populist rhetoric that critics said amounted to the demonisation of Arab Israelis and others.

Netanyahu faced further criticism on election day when members of his Likud party brought small cameras into polling stations in Arab areas.

Arab politicians called it an attempt at intimidation, while Netanyahu said cameras would prevent fraud.

True to form, Netanyahu issued a deeply controversial pledge only three days before the election, saying he planned to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank should he win.

Extending Israeli sovereignty on a large scale in the West Bank could be the death knell to already fading hopes for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

It is a move long championed by Israel’s far right.

King Bibi

Netanyahu sought to portray himself as Israel’s essential statesman in the run-up to the vote and highlighted his bond with US President Donald Trump.

He spoke of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and of Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the annexed Golan Heights.

He also used Trump-like tactics, calling the corruption investigations a “witch hunt” and denouncing journalists covering them.

On Tuesday, he continually warned the Likud was at risk of losing as a result of what he said was low turnout among supporters, claims widely seen as a bid to motivate right-wing voters.

Turnout was 67.9 percent compared to 71.8 percent in the last election in 2015.

Gantz, a 59-year-old former paratrooper, invoked the corruption allegations against the premier to make his case that it is time for him to go.

He called Netanyahu’s annexation pledge an “irresponsible” bid for votes.

Gantz said he favoured a “globally backed peace agreement” with Israel holding on to the large West Bank settlement blocs, adding that he opposed unilateral moves.

He sought to overcome Netanyahu’s experience by allying with two other former military chiefs and ex-finance minister Yair Lapid to form his alliance.

Netanyahu has been premier for a total of more than 13 years.

But “King Bibi,” as some have called him, now faces the prospect of becoming the first sitting prime minister to be indicted.

The attorney general has announced he intends to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust pending an upcoming hearing.

AFP