Soleimani’s Killing: US Has Right To Self-Defence – Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference regarding his intention to file a request to the Knesset for immunity from prosecution, in Jerusalem on January 1, 2020.
GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP Inset Iran Top General Major General Qasem Soleimani

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday praised US President Donald Trump “for acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively” to eliminate an Iranian general in a missile strike.

“Just as Israel has the right of self-defence, the United States has exactly the same right,” he said as he boarded a flight home after cutting short a visit to Greece.

Meanwhile, the world has reacted with alarm to the development, with many governments appealing for restraint.

Although, the attack was praised by US President Donald Trump’s Republicans and close ally Israel, but elsewhere there were sharp warnings it could inflame regional tensions.

Following are some of the reactions from around the world:

 ‘Terminated’ 

US President Donald Trump said Soleimani was “terminated” when he was on the verge of attacking US diplomats but insisted that Washington is not seeking to topple Iran’s government.

But among Democrats, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the killing risks provoking a “dangerous escalation of violence”.

“President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,” his 2020 presidential rival Joe Biden said.

 ‘Aggravate situation’ 

“This action can seriously aggravate the situation in the region,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said, according to a Kremlin readout of a phone conversation with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

 ‘Cannot afford another war’ 

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of the need to avoid war in the Gulf.

“This is a moment in which leaders must exercise maximum restraint. The world cannot afford another war in the Gulf,” a spokesman for Guterres said in a statement.

 ‘Remain calm’ 

“China has always opposed the use of force in international relations,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

“We urge the relevant sides, especially the United States, to remain calm and exercise restraint to avoid further escalating tensions.”

He said Iraq’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be respected.

‘Spark a devastating war’ 

Iraq’s caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said the US strike, which also killed an Iraqi commander, would “spark a devastating war”.

“The assassination of an Iraqi military commander in an official post is an aggression against the country of Iraq, its state, its government and its people,” he said.

It was a “flagrant violation of the conditions authorising the presence of US troops” on Iraqi soil, he added.

‘Cycle of violence’ 

“The current cycle of violence in Iraq must be stopped before it spirals out of control,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

“The EU calls on all the actors involved and on those partners who can have an influence to exercise maximum restraint and show responsibility in this crucial moment.”

 ‘Will not be forgotten’ 

The Syrian regime condemned the killing and heaped praise on the Iranian general.

The Syrian people “will not forget that he stuck by the side of the Syrian Arab army”, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in a letter of condolences sent to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

 ‘Avoid aggravating situation’ 

Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia cautioned against “anything that could aggravate the situation” while the foreign ministers of Bahrain and Qatar also called for “restraint.”

The Jordanian foreign ministry also called for efforts to be  made to avoid an escalation.

 ‘Meting out punishment’

“Meting out the appropriate punishment to these criminal assassins… will be the responsibility and task of all resistance fighters worldwide,” the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shiite militant group, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a statement.

“We will carry a flag on all battlefields and all fronts and we will step up the victories of the axis of resistance with the blessing of his pure blood.”

 ‘Threaten peace and stability’ 

“Pakistan has viewed with deep concern the recent developments in the Middle East, which seriously threaten peace and stability in the region,” the foreign ministry said.

“Respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity are the fundamental principles of the UN Charter, which should be adhered to. It is also important to avoid unilateral actions and use of force.”

The foreign ministry in neighbouring India said: “We have noted that a senior Iranian leader has been killed by the US. The increase in tension has alarmed the world.”

 ‘Against foreign intervention’ 

“It is manifest that the operation carried out by the US will increase insecurity and instability in the region… Turkey has always been against any foreign intervention in the region, assassinations and sectarian conflicts,” the foreign ministry said.

‘Act with restraint’ 

French President Emmanuel Macron urged restraint after Soleimani’s killing.

In his telephone call with Putin, Macron said there should be no “new dangerous escalation of tensions” and “called on all the parties to act with restraint,” the Elysee said.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said London had “always recognised the aggressive threat” posed by Soleimani and his Quds Force. “Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests.”

AFP

Iran Attack: Israeli PM Netanyahu Cuts Short Foreign Trip

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in Jerusalem on January 1, 2020. Inset Iran Top General Major General Qasem Soleimani/AFP

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was heading home Friday after cutting short a visit to Greece, a source in his office said, after the US killed a top Iranian commander.

Israel’s security cabinet was set to meet Friday to discuss possible threats to the Jewish state after the United States, its closest ally, killed Major General Qasem Soleimani in a missile strike near Baghdad airport on Friday morning.

Meanwhile, the world has reacted with alarm to the development, with many governments appealing for restraint.

Although, the attack was praised by US President Donald Trump’s Republicans and close ally Israel, but elsewhere there were sharp warnings it could inflame regional tensions.

Following are some of the reactions from around the world:

 ‘Terminated’ 

US President Donald Trump said Soleimani was “terminated” when he was on the verge of attacking US diplomats but insisted that Washington is not seeking to topple Iran’s government.

But among Democrats, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the killing risks provoking a “dangerous escalation of violence”.

“President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,” his 2020 presidential rival Joe Biden said.

 ‘Aggravate situation’ 

“This action can seriously aggravate the situation in the region,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said, according to a Kremlin readout of a phone conversation with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

 ‘Cannot afford another war’ 

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of the need to avoid war in the Gulf.

“This is a moment in which leaders must exercise maximum restraint. The world cannot afford another war in the Gulf,” a spokesman for Guterres said in a statement.

 ‘Remain calm’ 

“China has always opposed the use of force in international relations,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

“We urge the relevant sides, especially the United States, to remain calm and exercise restraint to avoid further escalating tensions.”

He said Iraq’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be respected.

‘Spark a devastating war’ 

Iraq’s caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said the US strike, which also killed an Iraqi commander, would “spark a devastating war”.

“The assassination of an Iraqi military commander in an official post is an aggression against the country of Iraq, its state, its government and its people,” he said.

It was a “flagrant violation of the conditions authorising the presence of US troops” on Iraqi soil, he added.

‘Cycle of violence’ 

“The current cycle of violence in Iraq must be stopped before it spirals out of control,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

“The EU calls on all the actors involved and on those partners who can have an influence to exercise maximum restraint and show responsibility in this crucial moment.”

 ‘Will not be forgotten’ 

The Syrian regime condemned the killing and heaped praise on the Iranian general.

The Syrian people “will not forget that he stuck by the side of the Syrian Arab army”, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in a letter of condolences sent to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

 ‘Avoid aggravating situation’ 

Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia cautioned against “anything that could aggravate the situation” while the foreign ministers of Bahrain and Qatar also called for “restraint.”

The Jordanian foreign ministry also called for efforts to be  made to avoid an escalation.

 ‘Meting out punishment’

“Meting out the appropriate punishment to these criminal assassins… will be the responsibility and task of all resistance fighters worldwide,” the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shiite militant group, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a statement.

“We will carry a flag on all battlefields and all fronts and we will step up the victories of the axis of resistance with the blessing of his pure blood.”

 ‘Threaten peace and stability’ 

“Pakistan has viewed with deep concern the recent developments in the Middle East, which seriously threaten peace and stability in the region,” the foreign ministry said.

“Respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity are the fundamental principles of the UN Charter, which should be adhered to. It is also important to avoid unilateral actions and use of force.”

The foreign ministry in neighbouring India said: “We have noted that a senior Iranian leader has been killed by the US. The increase in tension has alarmed the world.”

 ‘Against foreign intervention’ 

“It is manifest that the operation carried out by the US will increase insecurity and instability in the region… Turkey has always been against any foreign intervention in the region, assassinations and sectarian conflicts,” the foreign ministry said.

‘Act with restraint’ 

French President Emmanuel Macron urged restraint after Soleimani’s killing.

In his telephone call with Putin, Macron said there should be no “new dangerous escalation of tensions” and “called on all the parties to act with restraint,” the Elysee said.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said London had “always recognised the aggressive threat” posed by Soleimani and his Quds Force. “Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests.”

AFP

Israel’s Netanyahu Wins Ruling Party Leadership Vote

 

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

 

Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a “huge” victory Friday, after winning a leadership primary that ensures he will lead his right-wing Likud party into a March general election.

Israel’s longest-serving premier, who faces a corruption indictment and a third general election in 12 months, was expected to beat rival Gideon Saar but the convincing margin of victory strengthened his position in the party he has dominated for 20 years.

With all votes counted, the Likud announced that Netanyahu had secured 72.5 percent, with Saar winning 27.5 percent.

“A huge win! Thank you to Likud members for their trust, support and love,” Netanyahu tweeted.

“With God’s and your help, I will lead the Likud to a big victory in the upcoming election and we will continue to lead the State of Israel to unprecedented achievements,” he added.

Most media commentators had predicted a Netanyahu victory but its scale made banner headlines.

“Netanyahu, big time,” said Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s top-selling daily.

State radio described it as a “landslide” victory for Netanyahu.

The left-wing Haaretz newspaper described it as a battle between the “rational expediency” of Saar supporters and the “tribal loyalty” of the Netanyahu camp.

It noted the historic reluctance of Likud members to depose a sitting leader.

“Since 1948, the Labor Party has replaced its leader 17 times,” it said. “The Likud has had only four leaders since Israel’s inception, and only two since 1995.

“Netanyahu has led the party for the past 14 years consecutively, and for two decades altogether. Younger Likudniks have never known their party without Netanyahu at its helm.”

Netanyahu is scheduled to give a victory address at 11:00 am (0900 GMT).

Around 57,000 Likud members voted on Thursday — a little less than 50 percent of those eligible.

Saar, a former minister seen as to the right of Netanyahu, campaigned on the basis that the leader was no longer able to win elections after deadlocked polls in April and September.

“I am content with my decision to have stood. Those who are unwilling to take a risk for what they believe in will never succeed,” Saar tweeted.

“My colleagues and I will stand behind (Netanyahu) in campaigning for the Likud’s success,” he added.

Saar announced his leadership challenge last month after Israel’s attorney general indicted the prime minister for fraud, bribery and breach of trust.

Netanyahu, 70, denies the allegations, accusing the police, prosecutors and the media of a witch hunt.

Stephan Miller, a pollster who has worked on multiple Israeli campaigns, said Netanyahu had campaigned harder than ever before to defeat Saar.

Netanyahu held several campaign events a day in different parts of the country, while on Thursday his Facebook page broadcast live video of him phoning supporters.

In the campaign’s most dramatic moment on Wednesday, Netanyahu was rushed off stage at a rally in the southern port of Ashkelon after a rocket was fired from the nearby Palestinian enclave of Gaza.

“His job was on the line and he fought to keep it successfully,” Miller said.

– Immunity focus –

Netanyahu’s downfall has been predicted repeatedly since he was elected for a second term in 2009, but he has defied expectations and beaten off multiple potential rivals.

He will likely remain prime minister at least until a new election on March 2.

The Likud and the centrist Blue and White were near neck-and-neck after polls in March and September, with neither able to form a majority coalition under the country’s system of proportional representation.

Early polls indicate that the March 2020 election could again be a stalemate.

In the short term, attention will now turn to Netanyahu’s legal woes.

Netanyahu is accused of corruption in three separate cases, ranging from receiving illegal gifts worth thousands of dollars to offering to change regulations in exchange for positive media coverage.

On Tuesday, the supreme court is expected to hold a hearing on whether a prime minister who has been indicted can form a government.

Under current understanding of the law, a prime minister is only forced to step down once convicted and with all avenues of appeal exhausted.

also has until January 1 to decide if he will ask parliament for immunity.

Gayil Talshir, a professor of politics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said the result could embolden Netanyahu in his campaign against the charges.

“He is going to argue that the people chose him and not the mechanisms and the judiciary,” Talshir said.

“The big game for Netanyahu is immunity and for that he needs 61 votes (in the 120-seat parliament),” she said.

AFP

Netanyahu To Press Pompeo For More Pressure On ‘Tottering’ Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on December 1, 2019. Abir SULTAN / POOL / AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Portugal Wednesday to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and call for increased pressure on the “tottering” Iranian government.

The two men will meet on Wednesday night in Lisbon, the US State Department announced.

Speaking before setting off, Netanyahu said US President Donald Trump’s sanctions against Iran were paying dividends and he would be urging Pompeo to take further steps.

“I think President Trump has placed tremendous pressures and sanctions on Iran,” he said.

“We’re seeing the Iranian empire totter. We see demonstrations in Tehran, demonstrations in Baghdad, demonstrations in Beirut. It’s important to increase this pressure against Iranian aggression.”

Israel, which has the Middle East’s sole but undeclared nuclear arsenal, has for years accused Iran of seeking to obtain nuclear weapons and strongly opposed a 2015 agreement designed to address the concerns of major powers.

Trump, a strong Netanyahu ally, unilaterally pulled the United States out of the deal in May last year and reimposed crippling sanctions.

Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political life after an indictment on graft charges, has hailed the Trump sanctions.

Israel believes they have squeezed the Iranian economy, prompting the government to raise fuel prices — sparking nationwide protests.

Lebanon and Iraq, both countries where Iran has significant influence, have also seen major demonstrations.

Netanyahu criticised European governments that have signed up to a barter system that would allow Iran to trade without fear of US sanctions.

AFP

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