Israeli PM’s ‘make or break’ Washington visit

Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu will address the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobby group representing 18,000 pro-Israel Americans, lawmakers and policy advisers, on Monday. (AP)
Updated 03 March 2018
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Israeli PM’s ‘make or break’ Washington visit

NEW YORK: Benjamin Netanyahu heads to Washington this weekend for what analysts describe as a “make or break” visit in which the embattled Israeli prime minister will leverage his popularity in the US against the corruption allegations dogging him back home.
On Monday, Netanyahu will meet US President Donald Trump in the White House and address the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a lobby group representing 18,000 pro-Israel Americans, lawmakers and policy advisers.
Michael Koplow, an analyst at the Israel Policy Forum, a think tank, said Netanyahu will seek to counter a political firestorm in Israel, where police say they have enough evidence for the Likud leader to be charged with bribery in two corruption cases.
“Netanyahu has been backed into a corner, and he will use his trip to Washington to see if he can buy himself some leverage,” Koplow told Arab News.
His AIPAC speech is likely to heap praise on Trump’s Republican administration, which has recently cut cash-flows to Palestinian refugees, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and started relocating the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the Holy City, said Koplow.
“He needs to have Trump effusively praise him and bask in the adoration of thousands of cheering AIPAC delegates, and then remind the Israeli public and his coalition partners that it is through his unique political talents and insights into the US that the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” said Koplow.
Netanyahu has been hounded by sleaze allegations for months, but police only recommended charging him in February and the attorney general is yet to decide whether to indict the 68-year-old in either of the corruption cases.
In one, he is suspected of bribery over gifts from rich businessmen, which police valued at $300,000. The other involves an alleged plot to win favorable coverage in Israel’s biggest newspaper by offering to try to curtail the circulation of a rival daily.
Netanyahu, a titan of Israeli politics who has been in power since 2009, denies the allegations. Insiders are speculating whether he will call a snap election in an attempt to stall the legal proceedings during the campaign and to rally his right-wing power base behind him.
At AIPAC, which lobbies US legislators to arm Israel and counter Iran, he will speak alongside Trump administration heavyweights such as Vice President Mike Pence, UN envoy Nikki Haley and ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
The lobby prides itself on having broad support among Democrats and Republicans and the March 4-6 gathering features Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, and other liberal lawmakers. But recent data from Pew Research Center suggest that bipartisan support for Israel is ebbing.
A survey in January found that 79 percent of Republicans say they sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians, compared with just 27 percent of Democrats — a divide that has widened in the past two decades, researchers said.
The timing of the visit is key. Trump administration officials speak of unveiling a long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan “soon,” while Israeli right-wingers push for Washington’s acquiescence over the annexation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Jonathan Cristol, a fellow at the World Policy Institute, a think tank, said Netanyahu will “grandstand for the domestic audience” at AIPAC, but questioned whether delegates from Israel would back the prime minister when at the podium themselves.


Explosion in north Syria targets Al-Qaeda gunmen, kills 11

Updated 13 min 22 sec ago
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Explosion in north Syria targets Al-Qaeda gunmen, kills 11

  • The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Smart news agency, an activist collective, said the blast occurred on the southern edge of the rebel-held city of Idlib
  • The Observatory said 11 people were killed in the blast, including seven HTS members. Smart said 12 people were killed, many of them militants

BEIRUT: An explosion outside an office belonging to an Al-Qaeda-linked group in northwestern Syria on Friday killed at least 11 people and wounded several others, opposition activists said.
The blast comes a week after members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee, or HTS, took over control of wide parts of Idlib province and the surrounding countryside after forcing rival insurgents to accept a deal for a civil administration run by HTS in their areas.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Smart news agency, an activist collective, said the blast occurred on the southern edge of the rebel-held city of Idlib.
The Observatory said 11 people were killed in the blast, including seven HTS members. Smart said 12 people were killed, many of them militants.
In the country’s east, an airstrike in the last area held by Daesh killed at least 20 people.
State news agency SANA said 20 people were killed in the airstrike on the Daesh-held village of Baghouz, while the Observatory said 23 people were killed including 10 IS members.
They both blamed the US-led coalition that has been providing air cover to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in their monthslong offensive to capture the area from extremists near the Iraqi border.
The SDF has intensified its offensive over the past weeks on the Daesh-held area.
Meanwhile in Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan met with US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to discuss the situation in Syria as the United States prepares to withdraw troops.
Graham, a prominent voice on foreign affairs in the US, met with Erdogan and other Turkish officials Friday for talks that were also expected to include a proposal for the creation of a “safe zone” in northeast Syria.
The visit comes days after a suicide bombing, claimed by Daesh, killed two US service members and two American civilians in the northeastern town of Manbij.
Graham has said he is concerned that US President Donald Trump’s troop withdrawal announcement had emboldened Daesh militants and created dangerous uncertainty for American allies.
The Pentagon identified three of the four Americans killed in the suicide bomb attack in Manbij — Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida, who was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, from upstate New York and based at Fort Meade, Maryland; and a civilian, Scott A. Wirtz, from St. Louis.
The Pentagon hasn’t identified the fourth casualty, a civilian contractor.