Netanyahu in hot water over praise of Trump’s wall

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to his Croatian counterpart Andrej Plenkovic (unseen) as they deliver joint statements in Jerusalem, in this January 24, 2017 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 30 January 2017
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Netanyahu in hot water over praise of Trump’s wall

JERUSALEM: When Benjamin Netanyahu sent a tweet in support of President Donald Trump's plan for a wall along the Mexican border, the Israeli prime minister can barely have expected it would be retweeted 40,000 times and cause a backlash at home and abroad.
Already under arguably the greatest pressure he has faced in his 11 years as prime minister, with police questioning him in two criminal probes into abuse of office, aligning himself with Trump may further undermine his standing.
The tweet, sent from his personal account shortly before the Jewish sabbath officially ended on Saturday, was very clear: "President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great Success. Great idea," Netanyahu wrote, appending pictures of the Israeli and US flags alongside each other.
Netanyahu was referring to a steel fence Israel has built along its border with Egypt, mainly to keep out migrants fleeing conflicts in Africa, including Somalis, Sudanese and Eritreans.
Israel has also built a steel-and-concrete barrier along its border with the occupied West Bank, which it says is to prevent militants crossing into Israel. Palestinians see the barrier, which has drawn international condemnation, as a land grab.
On the one hand, Trump's election as president was seen as a blessing for Netanyahu, the first time in four terms as prime minister that he would have a Republican in the White House.
As well as the Republicans being more ideologically aligned with Netanyahu's right-wing coalition, Trump has already shown a willingness to turn a blind eye to Israel's settlement building in the West Bank, which Barack Obama's administration frequently criticized, casting a pall over US-Israeli ties.
On the other hand, Trump is an unpredictable actor who in just nine days in office has sewn division across the US and shocked capitals around the world with a series of executive actions that are overturning decades of US policy.
The adverse reaction to Netanyahu's tweet, which was retweeted by Trump and drew far more attention than Netanyahu's tweets usually do as a result, appeared to be an early sign of the danger Netanyahu faces with aligning himself with Trump.
The Mexican government was outraged that he would involve himself in what it regards as a bilateral issue.
"The Foreign Ministry expressed to the government of Israel, via its ambassador in Mexico, its profound astonishment, rejection and disappointment over Prime Minister Netanyahu's message," the ministry said in a statement.
"Mexico is a friend of Israel and should be treated as such by its prime minister."
Dan Shapiro, who served as ambassador to Israel under Obama until nine days ago and still lives in the country, ditched diplomacy to question Netanyahu's motives in sending the tweet.
"Hard to explain this intervention on a hotly debated issue in domestic US politics. Unless this endorsement is Trump's demand of Netanyahu for something Netanyahu wants," he wrote on Twitter, suggesting it may be linked to Trump's promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
"To me, it looks like Trump is already squeezing Netanyahu hard."
Opposition politician Yair Lapid, who is ahead of Netanyahu in recent opinion polls, was also scathing. Whereas Lapid has shied away from criticizing Netanyahu over the police investigations into him, this time he didn't hold back: "A serious mistake by Netanyahu," Lapid tweeted in Hebrew.
"It is a needless declaration of war on Mexico and Hispanics and a rupture with the Democrats (including the majority of US Jews). It doesn't matter what we think of the wall, don't we have enough troubles of our own?"
Though Netanyahu has not deleted the tweet, Israel's Foreign Ministry immediately sought to nuance its content.
The prime minister was referring to Israel's "specific security experience", the Foreign Ministry spokesman said, adding: "We do not express a position on US-Mexico relations."


Israeli minister boasts his country has been ‘killing Iranians’

Updated 29 min 36 sec ago
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Israeli minister boasts his country has been ‘killing Iranians’

  • Hanegbi accused Iran, Israel’s main enemy, of seeking to create “chaos” and “harm freedom of navigation”

JERUSALEM: An Israeli minister boasted Sunday that his country was the only one that “has been killing Iranians,” after tensions between Britain and Iran rose in the Gulf.
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi’s comments to public radio were a reference to Israeli strikes in neighboring Syria against Iranian and Hezbollah military targets.
But they came after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker on Friday, adding to tensions between Washington and Tehran linked to a 2015 nuclear deal.
Hanegbi accused Iran, Israel’s main enemy, of seeking to create “chaos” and “harm freedom of navigation.”
Asked if he feared that Israel would not receive the backing of the United States in the case of a conflict with Iran, Hanegbi suggested that Tehran would avoid such a scenario.
“Israel is the only country in the world that has been killing Iranians for two years,” he said.
“We strike the Iranians hundreds of times in Syria. Sometimes we acknowledge it and sometimes foreign reports reveal it.”
He added that the Iranians “understand that Israel means business.”
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah military targets.
It has vowed to keep Iran from entrenching itself militarily there.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in a similar vein last week with cadets at the national security college.
“At the moment, the only army in the world to fight Iran is the Israeli army,” he said.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu warned that Israeli fighter jets “can reach anywhere in the Middle East, including Iran.”
Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz for breaking “international maritime rules” came some two weeks after Britain seized an Iranian tanker at the mouth of the Mediterranean on allegations of breaching UN sanctions against Syria.