News Roundup for January 14, 2019

January 14, 2019

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Top News and Analysis

White House Sought Options to Strike Iran, Wall Street Journal

“President Trump’s National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran last year, generating concern at the Pentagon and State Department, current and former U.S. officials said. The request, which hasn’t been previously reported, came after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad’s sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the U.S. Embassy, on a warm night in early September. The shells—launched by a group aligned with Iran—landed in an open lot and harmed no one. But they triggered unusual alarm in Washington, where Mr. Trump’s national security team led by John Bolton conducted a series of meetings to discuss a forceful American response, including what many saw as the unusual request for options to strike Iran.”

Yair Lapid Courts Left-wing Voters, in Advanced Talks to Join Forces With Tzipi Livni, Haaretz

“The political parties Yesh Atid and Hatnuah are holding serious talks on running a joint ticket in the upcoming Israeli election. Respective party leaders Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni met about the possibility several times over the past few days since Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay decided to split up his party’s alliance with Hatnuah….Lapid and Livni met about 10 days ago. Livni is reportedly prepared to join with Yesh Atid and is not demanding the number one slot on a unified Knesset roster, which Lapid does want. Over the past two weeks, the Yesh Atid chairman has concluded he needs to increase his strength within the center-left bloc, after his failure over the past three years to gain ground by expressing right-wing opinions. Lapid reportedly sees unifying with Livni as the opportunity to win the rest of the seats from the Labor Party, and to significantly pull ahead in the opinion polls of the new Hosen L’Yisrael, headed by former Israeli army chief of staff Benny Gantz, and then propose to Gantz to run with him as an alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”


Netanyahu Reveals Israel Struck Iranian Arms in Damascus Over the Weekend, Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed on Sunday morning that Israel has carried out hundreds of attacks against Iranian and Hezbollah targets, confirming reports of an Israeli airstrike in Damascus on Friday night. Speaking at the start of the weekly government meeting, Netanyahu said the Israel Air Force attacked Iranian weapons depots at the Damascus International Airport in Syria over the weekend.

Palestinians, Israeli police scuffle at Jerusalem holy site, Washington Post

Scuffles broke out at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday after guards at the mosque refused to allow an Israeli policeman to enter for a routine security check because he was wearing a Jewish skullcap known as a kippah. Firas Dibs, a spokesman for the Islamic authority that oversees the site, says dozens of worshippers scuffled with police after the guards closed the doors to the mosque and barricaded themselves inside. He says the director of the mosque was lightly wounded.

In farewell remarks, IDF chief urges cabinet to strengthen PA security forces, Times of Israel

Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot reportedly urged the government to strengthen the Palestinian Authority security forces, noting that they had recently thwarted a Hamas terrorist attack in the West Bank. In his farewell remarks to the cabinet on Sunday, Eisenkot said PA forces seized weapons and explosives originating from Hamas’ military wing in Area A of the West Bank several days ago, ministers attending the meeting told Channel 10 news. Area A are parts of the West Bank under full Palestinian control.

Accusing leader of cronyism, ministry report urges century-old KKL be dismantled, Times of Israel

A scathing draft report by an investigator operating on behalf of the Justice Ministry has alleged malfeasance within the leadership of the Jewish National Fund, and recommends weighing the dissolution of the 117-year-old organization. The charges come as the Israeli body, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael Jewish National Fund, faces mounting pressure from branches abroad, with donations down and costs up, raising questions about the future of the multi-billion dollar behemoth, famous for its widely distributed blue boxes that were once synonymous for many in the Diaspora with support for Israel.

IDF strikes Hamas targets in Gaza after rocket lands in southern Israel, JTA

After a rocket was fired from Gaza into southern Israel, Israeli fighter jets struck two Hamas targets. The Israel Defense Forces  struck two Hamas tunnels originating in Gaza City on Saturday night.“We will continue operating to defend Israeli civilians,” the IDF said in a statement. The rocket fired from Gaza landed in an open field in southern Israel, after activating the Code Red rocket siren alert, according to the IDF. There were no reports of damage or injuries.

In First Public Statement, Benny Gantz Vows to ‘Fix’ Nation-state Law, Haaretz

Former army chief Benny Gantz said Monday he would “do anything in his power to correct” Israel’s nation-state law, making his first public statement since he registered his party ahead of the April 9 election. Gantz, seen as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main contender, spoke to dozens of Israeli Druze who protested outside his home in Rosh Ha’ayin against the controversial law. Gantz said the legislation, approved in the Knesset by a narrow margin in July, should “express the deep, inseparable connection” between Israel’s Jewish and Druze communities, “not only in combat, but in life, too; not only in hardships, but in good times too. We’ll do it together.”

Opinion and Analysis

Are Israel’s Religious Parties About to Lose Their Clout in the Knesset?, Haaretz

Judy Maltz writes, “Relatively small religious parties have always wielded a disproportionate amount of power in Israel. Without them, the big parties cannot usually form coalitions, and this allows the religious parties to extract a hefty price for their participation – often in the form of funding and legislation that benefit their constituents. But perhaps no longer, if election polls are to be trusted. Two out of three religious parties that are members of the current coalition, according to the polls, might not pass the electoral threshold – currently 3.25 percent of the vote – when elections are held on April 9.”

Why Do Jews Keep Tearing Down Black Leaders?, Forward

Batya Ungar-Sargon writes, “Is it really the American Jewish community’s role to abandon the most vulnerable in our own society and denounce their leaders in order to police a discourse about another country that we, too, find fault with when we are being honest? And what are we offering as a reward for those who pass our purity test? What are we doing to ensure that their civil rights are protected? As we demand sensitivity to our history, what are we doing to make sure that their bodies are safe from the bullets of cops and the cells of Rikers Island and pollsters in Georgia turning them away from voting booths?”

Gabbay’s Mission Impossible: Revive a Despondent and Divided Labor Party in Time for Election, Haaretz

Chemi Shalev writes, “The approval of Gabbay’s preferred guidelines and rules for Labor during the upcoming election campaign was supposedly the last internal hurdle he needed to face before the party primaries on February 11 and the start of his race against Yair Lapid and, presumably, former chief of Staff Benny Gantz for the title “most likely next prime minister if the unthinkable happens and Netanyahu isn’t reelected.” But the intensity of emotions and mutual acrimony on display at the party conference on Tuesday indicate that such a scenario could be no more than wishful thinking. Cabel’s intensely emotional onslaught against Gabbay included a melodramatic brandishing of what he described as results of a polygraph test that proved he was telling the truth and, as he stressed repeatedly, that Gabbay was a liar.”