How will the Israel election outcome affect its Arab neighbors and Palestinians?

How will the Israel election outcome affect its Arab neighbors and Palestinians?
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Updated 23 March 2021

How will the Israel election outcome affect its Arab neighbors and Palestinians?

How will the Israel election outcome affect its Arab neighbors and Palestinians?
  • Tuesday’s general election does not guarantee a more decisive result than the three before it
  • The intrinsic instability of Israel’s political system creates nervous anticipation across the Arab region

LONDON: It is not only Israelis who are becoming accustomed to their endless rounds of elections — this week’s being the fourth in two years. The whole region is being forced to consider the impact on Israel’s policies toward its neighbors, especially toward the Palestinians.

The intrinsic instability of the Israeli political system means that whenever an election takes place, it creates anxious anticipation across the Middle East and North Africa, a nervousness arising from the vacillations in Israel’s policies that in turn derive from both the need to lure voters and the constraints of the constant, excruciating and never-ending formations and dissolutions of coalitions.

Tuesday’s general election does not guarantee a more decisive result than the three before it.

In the meantime, the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is conducting both his domestic and international policies not necessarily to serve the interests of the country and its people, but first and foremost to prolong his time in office, and at this stage mainly to escape justice in his corruption trial on three cases of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

For both the Israeli electorate and for the international community, in the more than four years since the investigation into Netanyahu’s corrupt and hedonist behavior began, it has become almost impossible to discern which of the Israeli government’s policies stem from a genuine strategic outlook and which are merely to serve Netanyahu’s attempt to derail his trial and avert conviction.

Yet, scanning the various possible post-election scenarios, as far as Israel’s policies in the region are concerned, one cannot foresee dramatic changes, whether Netanyahu stays or quits.

KEY CONTENDERS IN ISRAELI ELECTION

* Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud 

* Yair Lapid, Yesh Atid 

* Naftali Bennett, Yamina 

* Gideon Saar, New Hope 

* Ayman Odeh, Joint List 

* Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beytenu 

The great danger is that if Netanyahu remains in office, the trend of decisions taken to divert the course of justice will continue, and this might lead to adventurism and pandering to his right-wing base.

If his time in politics comes to an end after Tuesday’s election, Israel is likely to end up with some species of right-wing government, one which might include more centrist elements, but not necessarily.

Of the three other likely candidates for the prime ministerial role, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, Naftali Bennet of Yamina and Gideon Saar of New Hope, it is only Lapid who might offer a less hawkish foreign policy and one more accommodating towards the Palestinians.

However, considering the other members of what would inevitably be a coalition government, his room to maneuver would be very limited, and even more so if a post-Netanyahu Likud were to be part of that coalition.

Hence, any changes if they take place might be more nuanced in all regards.




Protesters gather during an anti-government demonstration near the Israeli prime minister's residence in Jerusalem on March 20, 2021, ahead of the election taking place on March 23. (AFP)

An external observer of Israeli politics might expect the Palestinian issue to be high on the public agenda, if not top of it at election time; however, this is not the case.

The issue has been marginalized in inverse correlation to its importance to Israeli society and is confined to small parties either on the left or those of the Joint Arab List. None of the major parties are prepared to offer an alternative discourse, or to call out the dire conditions under which the Palestinians are forced to live in the West Bank and Gaza.

No party is ready to confront the practical, let alone the moral, implications of the continuous occupation of the West Bank and the blockade on Gaza, which is also a form of occupation.

The conventional wisdom, or rather the collective denial, is that there is no partner for peace on the Palestinian side, and as things stand there is no sense of urgency to enter into genuine peace negotiations, based on a two-state solution and a fair and just resolution of all outstanding issues, including the status of Palestinian refugees and the future of Jerusalem.

Judging by the polls and consequently the different scenarios of a future coalition government, it is possible that those who call for the annexation of large swaths of land in the West Bank — a threat that was halted last summer by the Abraham Accords — might be extremely influential in the next government.

Such elements might push to expand the Jewish settlements, legalize dozens of outposts in the West Bank that even in the eyes of the Israeli government are illegal, confiscate more Palestinian land and generally make the lives of Palestinians as uncomfortable as possible.




An Israeli soldier casts his early vote for the country's upcoming legislative elections, at the Golani military base in Kafr Qara near Haifa, on March 17, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

Depending on the composition of the Knesset, there could emerge a more pragmatic government, but one that still would be under pressure to at least maintain the sorry status quo.

A major issue that will be high on the next government’s agenda is Iran, and closely related to it, relations with Syria and Lebanon. For Israel, especially under Netanyahu, the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Tehran was from its outset like a red rag to a bull. It opposed it, never believed that Tehran would adhere to its terms, and saw it at best as delaying rather than preventing Iran’s development of nuclear military capability.

There is a wide consensus in Israel that Iran is posing, if not an existential threat to Israel, then at least a very severe one. The corollary of that is a proactive Israeli approach, whether diplomatically or through covert and overt operations in Iran, Syria and other parts of the world where Tehran operates against Israeli targets.

There might be a more nuanced approach in a government not led by Netanyahu, one that would avoid confrontation with the Biden administration if it is determined to re-join the JCPOA, as long as it offers a more stringent inspections regime and constraints on Iran’s development of long-range missiles.

In this context, any incoming Israeli government will be concerned with the consolidation of Iran’s military presence in Syria and air raids on Iranian targets there will continue, along with attacks on arms convoys bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon.




A picture taken on March 21, 2021, shows the installation "Speak Out!", consisting of 90 sculpted heads by artist Sophie Halbreich aimed to encourage people to vote, at Habima Square in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv. (AFP)

The military build-up of the latter on Israel’s northern border, which includes an enormous arsenal of precision-guided missiles, is a threat that Israel’s strategists take very seriously.

As with Iran’s nuclear program, deterrence, quiet diplomacy and limited operations will remain Israel’s policy of choice. However, should Hezbollah cross a certain threshold, open hostilities remain a real possibility.

Lastly, one of Netanyahu’s rare achievements in recent years has been the normalization agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, adding to the existing informal cooperation with Saudi Arabia, and the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan.

Maintaining this state of affairs and building on it will be the task of the next government. However, as long as the Palestinian conflict lingers on with no sign of a satisfactory solution, it could always become a spoiler in these regional relations, as we have seen recently with the growing tension between Israel and Jordan.

It is safe to say that in the wake of this week’s Israeli election, we will see more continuity than change as far as the region is concerned, but the composition of the next coalition and the main forces in it may still usher in some changes — for better or worse.

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 * Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. Twitter: @YMekelberg


Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground
Updated 6 sec ago

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground
  • Diplomats: Tehran simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how

PARIS: World powers and Iran return to Vienna on Monday in a last ditch effort to salvage the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but few expect a breakthrough as Tehran’s atomic activities rumble on in an apparent bid to gain leverage against the West.
The US will also send a delegation, headed by Washington’s Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, to participate in the talks indirectly.
Israel worries Iran will secure sanctions relief in renewed nuclear negotiations with world powers, but will not sufficiently roll back projects with bomb making potential, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.
“Israel is very worried about the readiness to remove the sanctions and to allow a flow of billions (of dollars) to Iran in exchange for unsatisfactory restrictions in the nuclear realm,” Bennett told his Cabinet in televised remarks.
“This is the message that we are relaying in every manner, whether to the Americans or to the other countries negotiating with Iran.”
Few expect a breakthrough in the talks as Iran’s uranium enrichment activities have escalated in an apparent bid to gain leverage.
Diplomats say time is running low to resurrect the JCPOA, known as the Iran nuclear deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other world powers involved.
Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June.
The latest round begins after a hiatus triggered by the election of new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that US and European diplomats consider unrealistic.
Two European diplomats said it seemed Iran was simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how.
Western diplomats say they will head to Monday’s talks on the premise that they resume where they left off in June, and have warned that if Iran continues with its maximalist positions and fails to restore its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, then they will review their options.
Iran’s top negotiator and foreign minister both repeated on Friday that the full lifting of sanctions would be the only thing on the table in Vienna.
“If this is the position that Iran continues to hold on Monday, then I don’t see a negotiated solution,” said one European diplomat.
Iran has pressed ahead with its uranium enrichment program and the IAEA says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to re-install monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.
“They are doing enough technically so they can change their basic relationship with the West to be able to have a more equal dialogue in the future,” said a Western diplomat involved in the talks.
Several diplomats said Iran was now between four to six weeks away from the “breakout time” it needs to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, although they cautioned it was still about two years from being able to weaponize it.
Should the talks collapse, the likelihood is the US and its allies will initially confront Iran at the IAEA next month by calling for an emergency meeting.


Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds

Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds
Updated 17 min 57 sec ago

Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds

Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds
  • Prime minister directs government to take all precautionary measures against new COVID-19 variant Omicron

CAIRO: Egypt authorized on Sunday Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12-15, the cabinet said in a statement.
The step effectively lowers the minimum age of eligibility to receive the two-shot vaccine in Egypt, which was 15 years old previously.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly directed the government to take all precautionary measures against the new COVID-19 variant Omicron, noting the decision to halt all direct flights with South Africa.
His comments came during a meeting of a medical group to combat coronavirus, the state news agency (MENA) reported. 
Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, higher education and acting health minister, reviewed a report on the current local and international epidemical situation and the developments of the new variant, adding that the report confirmed there are no Omicron cases detected in Egypt till now.
He said that about 45.2 million vaccine doses had been administered, with 15.6 million people having received both doses.
On Friday, Egypt suspended direct flights to and from South Africa due to concerns about a new variant of the COVID-19 virus.
(With Reuters)


At least 200 Houthis killed in fighting, airstrikes in Marib, Jouf

At least 200 Houthis killed in fighting, airstrikes in Marib, Jouf
Updated 10 min 39 sec ago

At least 200 Houthis killed in fighting, airstrikes in Marib, Jouf

At least 200 Houthis killed in fighting, airstrikes in Marib, Jouf
  • The Arab coalition on Sunday announced that it had killed 110 Houthis in 15 airstrikes that destroyed nine Houthi military targets in Marib and Jouf during the past 24 hours

AL-MUKALLA: At least 200 Houthis were killed in heavy fighting with government forces and in airstrikes by Arab coalition warplanes during the past 24 hours in the Yemeni provinces of Marib and Jouf, as the militia pushed into Marib to seize control of strategic terrain, coalition and local military figures said on Sunday. 

One official told Arab News that at least 100 Houthis were killed when the militia launched a string of attacks on government forces in Thana, west of Marib city, on Saturday, in a bid to break the government’s lines and reach Al-Balaq Al-Qibili Mountain to high ground over parts of the city.

“All waves of the Houthis failed to advance or capture an inch in Thana. Many Houthis were killed when our forces and the (Arab) coalition’s warplanes wiped out those waves,” the official said, adding that most of the Houthi fatalities were caused by “precise” airstrikes. 

The Houthis have recently focused attacks on areas west of Marib after failing to make territorial gains in Juba, Um Raesh and Al-Amud, south of Marib.

In September, the Houthis pushed into districts such as Abedia, Rahabah and Hareb after making rapid gains in neighboring Al-Bayda province.

The Houthis once again were drawn into a military stalemate in Juba after facing stiff resistance from army troops and local tribes. Hundreds were killed in heavy fighting during the past week, and the militia was forced into decreasing attacks due to high losses, the official said. 

The Arab coalition on Sunday announced that it had killed 110 Houthis in 15 airstrikes that destroyed nine Houthi military targets in Marib and Jouf during the past 24 hours.

The coalition has intensified raids against the Houthis across Yemen, hitting ballistic missile depots, drone workshops and ammunition stores in Sanaa and dozens of military vehicles and fighters heading to various battlefields.

Based on the coalition’s daily updates on its airstrikes, hundreds of Houthis have been killed and dozens of vehicles destroyed in Marib and other flashpoints in Yemen this month.

The heavy aerial bombardments of Houthi targets have shored up government troops on the ground, allowing them to repulse Houthi attacks and make territorial gains.


Sudan’s Burhan dismisses senior intelligence officers: Sources

Sudan’s Burhan dismisses senior intelligence officers: Sources
Updated 28 November 2021

Sudan’s Burhan dismisses senior intelligence officers: Sources

Sudan’s Burhan dismisses senior intelligence officers: Sources
  • The decision by Al-Burhan comes a week after he struck a deal to reinstate Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok
  • He also mets with EU envoy for the Horn of Africa to discuss transitional process, elections

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s military leader has overhauled top intelligence positions, dismissing at least eight general intelligence officers and replacing the head of military intelligence, two official sources told Reuters on Sunday.
The decision by Sovereign Council head Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan comes a week after he struck a deal to reinstate Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who had been placed under house arrest in an Oct. 25 coup.
Of the officers dismissed, five were in senior positions and had been in place since before the 2019 overthrow of long-ruling autocrat Omar Al-Bashir, the sources said. On Saturday, official sources said Al-Burhan had replaced the head of the general intelligence service.
It was not immediately clear what impact the decisions could have on the balance of power following Hamdok’s return. Hamdok replaced the country’s top two police officials on Saturday, following deadly violence against anti-military protesters in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Al-Burhan held talks with EU envoy for the Horn of Africa Annette Weber to discuss the need to complete the structures of the transitional authority, including the formation of the transitional legislative council, especially those related to the election process.
During the meeting, Al-Burhan “pledged to protect the transitional period until free and fair elections are held,” and stressed his support for the government that will be formed by Hamdok to perform its national tasks, satae news agency SUNA reported.
Weber affirmed the EU’s continued support for the political transition process in Sudan in order to hold the elections, especially in the logistical and technical aspects. She said “Sudan is an important country for the security of the region and the Red Sea.”
Before the coup, the military had been sharing power with civilian groups that took part in an uprising against Bashir. Many within those groups have opposed the deal between Al-Burhan and Hamdok, saying they want the army to exit politics.
One condition of the deal was that political prisoners arrested since the coup should be freed. Some have been released but others remain in detention.
The US, Britain and Norway, which lead Western foreign policy on Sudan, called for the release of all those imprisoned for their political beliefs across Sudan.
“These are necessary steps to rebuild trust and return Sudan to the path of freedom and democracy,” they said in a statement.
(With Reuters)


Daesh roadside bomb in Iraq leaves 5 Peshmerga dead, 4 wounded

Daesh roadside bomb in Iraq leaves 5 Peshmerga dead, 4 wounded
Updated 28 November 2021

Daesh roadside bomb in Iraq leaves 5 Peshmerga dead, 4 wounded

Daesh roadside bomb in Iraq leaves 5 Peshmerga dead, 4 wounded
  • The Peshmerga fighters were killed in the Garmian district in Iraq’s Kurdish-run north late Saturday

BAGHDAD: A roadside bomb attack by Daesh group fighters in northern Iraq killed five Kurdish forces and wounded four others, Kurdish state news agency Rudaw reported Sunday.
The Peshmerga fighters were killed in the Garmian district in Iraq’s Kurdish-run north late Saturday. Daesh militants then attacked a peshmerga post, wounding four, according to the report.
Attacks targeting Iraqi security forces, including Kurdish peshmerga fighters, are common and have been on the rise since Daesh was defeated on the battlefield in 2017. Militants remain active through sleeper cells in many areas, especially across a band of territory in the north under dispute between federal Iraq and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.
Militants from Daesh still conduct operations, often targeting security forces, power stations and other infrastructure.
Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani offered condolences to the families of the dead Sunday.
“The increase in the (Daesh) attacks sends a dangerous and serious message and brings forth a serious threat in the region. Therefore, further cooperation between the Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi security forces with support from the global coalition is an urgent need,” he said in a statement.
The US-led coalition to defeat Daesh announced the end of its combat mission and said troops will withdraw from Iraq by the end of December. Advisers will remain to continue to train Iraqi forces.