Israel PM appoints new defence minister, boosting Likud party

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem November 3, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 08 November 2019

Israel PM appoints new defence minister, boosting Likud party

  • A statement by Likud said that Netanyahu had “offered to appoint Bennett as defense minister", and Naftali Bennett accepted the offer.”

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Premier Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Naftali Bennett would be appointed defense minister and their parties would unite, as the political system remained deadlocked after two inconclusive elections.
Netanyahu, who has so far failed to form a coalition after a September 17 poll, had in the past refused to give the security-oriented Bennett this coveted portfolio.
But wary of his main challenger Benny Gantz attempting to collect the support of 61 lawmakers necessary to form a coalition and become prime minister himself, the incumbent has changed course.
In doing so, he effectively locked in the three lawmakers of Bennett’s New Right to his ruling Likud party.
A statement by Likud said that Netanyahu had “offered to appoint (Bennett) as defense minister, and Naftali Bennett accepted the offer.”
“Bennett agreed that if a new government is formed” without a third election, “a different person will be appointed defense minister,” the statement read.
The two also agreed that the New Right — formed by Bennett and former justice minister Ayelet Shaked — would join Likud to become a combined force, the statement said.
They will “commit to act as a joint faction throughout the current parliamentary term,” it added.
Bennett did not comment on the move, but Shaked said her party had been offered a choice of the defense ministry on its own or two lesser ministries.
The choices available for the latter were agriculture, diaspora and welfare, Shaked said.
“In a joint decision we agreed that Bennett will be appointed defense minister until a new government is formed,” she said on Twitter.
Gantz’s Blue and White called Bennett’s appointment “inappropriate,” accusing Netanyahu of acting out of a “narrow political and personal interest” rather than toward an inclusive unity government.
Both Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White say they want a unity government, but disagree on how to achieve it.
Likud has been seeking to negotiate based on a compromise proposed by President Reuven Rivlin that takes into account the possibility Netanyahu will be indicted for corruption in the coming 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.
Blue and White says Gantz should be prime minister first under any rotation arrangement since his party won the most seats, finishing with 33 compared to Likud’s 32 — before the addition of Bennett’s party.
Whoever wants to govern needs to find partners with which to control a majority of at least 61 seats in the 120-member Israeli parliament.
Negotiators for Likud and Blue and White, as well as the heads of the two factions, have been meeting since the elections.
On Friday, both Netanyahu and Gantz took to Facebook to trade blame for the political deadlock.
Netanyahu said his Likud was prepared to make concessions while Gantz was “using every excuse to not form the government Israeli citizens want: a national unity government.”
And Gantz said Netanyahu has determined to “drag Israel to a third election” which would be “a disaster for the state.”
Blue and White and Likud each won 35 seats in an April election that was also inconclusive.


Turkish, Iranian media outlets exchange blows on Syria

A Syrian woman carrying a child walks by, in the Washukanni Camp for the internally displaced, near the predominantly Kurdish city of Hasakeh in northeastern Syria, on February 17, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2020

Turkish, Iranian media outlets exchange blows on Syria

  • Middle East expert believes Ankara and Tehran are locked in an information war

ANKARA: Turkish and Iranian media outlets are battling as deeply rooted tensions have resurfaced. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency has published an opinion piece that critically discussed tensions with Iran over Syria. It said: “Turkey’s vision of regional development and integration is pitched against Iran’s regional strategy prioritising geopolitical wins.
“Ignoring Ankara’s concerns in the fight against terrorism during Operation Peace Spring, Tehran is now setting its Shiite militias in the field in motion against Turkey, who is actively endeavoring to prevent a humanitarian crisis.”
The analysis piece, titled “Idlib front, Iran’s weakening foreign operation capacity,” was penned by Hadi Khodabandeh Loui, a researcher at the Iran Research Center in Ankara.
Throughout Syria’s civil war, Turkey has backed rebels looking to oust Bashar Assad, while Iran has supported the Assad regime. However, the two countries are collaborating to reach a political solution to the conflict.
An editorial piece that was published in Iran’s hardline newspaper Entekhab compared Turkey’s military moves in Syria to Israel’s bombings of pro-Assad forces. The piece warned Ankara about a potential aggressive reaction from Tehran to both threats.
Israeli warplanes fired missiles at targets near Syria’s capital, Damascus, in early February and they hit Syrian Army and Iran-backed militia positions, reportedly killing 23 people.
Being among the guarantor states of the Astana peace process for Syria, aimed at ending the Syrian conflict, Turkey and Iran have already witnessed the fragility of their relations in October 2019 when Iran criticized Turkey’s moves to establish military posts inside Syria, emphasizing the need to respect the integrity of Syria.
Then, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly accused Iran of betraying the consensus between the two countries following Tehran’s condemnation of Turkey’s operation in northern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

BACKGROUND

Throughout Syria’s civil war, Turkey has backed rebels looking to oust Bashar Assad, while Iran has supported the Assad regime. However, the two countries are collaborating to reach a political solution to the conflict.

In March 2018, Iran’s Tehran Times defined Turkey’s cross-border military operation against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin as an “invasion.” It splashed with a headline that read: “Turkish troops occupy Syria’s Afrin.”
Over recent weeks, Ankara has voiced criticisms that the Assad regime, Iran-backed militia and Russia have violated the ceasefire in Syria’s rebel-held province of Idlib, with frequent attacks targeting Turkish troops.
Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford, thinks that Assad’s forces are winning decisively, and Turkey’s ability to resist them is greatly diminished.
“Assad’s forces have consolidated their control over west Aleppo, and are steadily advancing in Idlib. Turkey does not view the Iranian mediation offers in Syria as credible, especially as Iranian media outlets are justifying them by claiming that Turkey broke the terms of the Sochi agreement by harboring extremists. Turkey is insistent that Russia violated Sochi by supporting Assad’s offensive,” he told Arab News.
Regarding the media conflict, Ramani thinks that Turkey and Iran are locked in an information war over Syria, and are both trying to paint the other as an aggressor.
“It’s a way to rally public support in both countries around more confrontational posturing, in the event of a bigger military escalation that actually sees Turkish and Iranian forces in direct combat, not just Assad and Turkish proxies,” he said.