News Digest — 12/4/19

Netanyahu: “If We’re Forced Into New Elections, We Will Win”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with reporters Wednesday morning (4th) just before his departure for Lisbon, Portugal, where he is set to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

On the tarmac Wednesday morning (4th), Netanyahu blamed Blue and White MK Yair Lapid for the failure of negotiations leading to a breakthrough towards the formation of a unity government.  Netanyahu also suggested that Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman could rejoin the right-wing bloc and help form a narrow right-wing government.

“Liberman could form a government with us, but that’s his decision.  The country needs a unity government, not a completely unnecessary third-election.  But if we are forced into an election, we will win.”

The prime minister said that despite the impasse, he still favors forming a unity government with Blue and White before next Wednesday’s (11th) deadline.

“I want unity.  After the generous offers we made to Blue and White, they haven’t moved one millimeter.  We made all kinds of offers to them, including ways to ensure that a unity government will be maintained, but they simply refused.”

“The personal interests of one man – Yair Lapid – are interfering with major national interests.  That is saddening.”

“If the Likud and Blue and White are unable to reach an agreement by the Wednesday night (11th) deadline,” continued Netanyahu, “we will head to new elections, and we will win.  But I’m making every effort possible to form a unity government, and I’m still open to talks with anyone who is willing to meet with us, and I hope that this will bear fruit.”

Netanyahu is slated to meet with Pompeo in Lisbon this week, following the Secretary’s appearance at the NATO summit in London alongside President Trump.



Iranian Revolutionary Guards Commander Blames Riots On “Dirty Goals Of Great Satan And Zionists”

The mass discontent in Iran over the past several weeks has been the work of Israel and the United States, a senior Revolutionary Guard leader said over the weekend in one of the most pinpointed attacks on the Jewish State in recent days.

The commander, Esmaeil Kowsari, said that the protests, which were triggered by the high price of fuel, caused in part by the American sanctions on the regime, were part of the “dirty goals of the Great Satan and the Zionists,” reported Seth Frantzman of The Jerusalem Post.

According to Frantzman, the statement was “one of the first major comments in which Iran directly blamed Israel, though the Islamic republic had already blamed foreign forces for stirring up the protests.”

On Tuesday (3rd), Iran conceded for the first time that protesters have been shot dead over the past two weekends by security forces.

“State television acknowledged killings of protesters, without giving figures,” Reuters reported Monday (2nd).  According to the report, state broadcasters said “rioters were armed with knives and weapons.  They had taken people hostage by closing all roads in some areas. Security forces had no other choice but to firmly confront them…and rioters were killed in the clashes.”

The pro-Israel lobbying organization American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lashed out at Iran on Tuesday (3rd), noting that its conduct showed that it cared more about regional aggression than about the welfare of its people. 

“Iran has brought this economic situation on itself.  Rather than invest in its people, Iran chose nuclear weapons, terror, and ballistic missiles.  The U.S. has offered Iran a path to full sanctions-relief if it ends these illicit activities. Iran should take the offer,” AIPAC tweeted.



Protests Might Be The Harbinger Of A Greater Crisis For Iran – Afshon Ostovar and Henry Rome

Iran has experienced its most significant turmoil in a decade.

The crowds have adopted chants that include taunts against the supreme leader.  They have attacked statues of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the revolution, and offices affiliated with his successor, Khamenei.  Numerous images and videos of Basij paramilitary forces firing into crowds, rushing into crowds while swinging truncheons from the backs of motorcycles, and beating protesters indiscriminately have been posted to social media.  The most severe anti-regime activism in terms of destruction to government buildings appears to be occurring in more blue-collar and traditional conservative provincial cities.

In Iraq, Iran has become one of the key targets of the protest movement.  Iran’s massive political influence in Iraq has made it an arch villain. A recent opinion poll found that Iraqis view Iran even less favorably than they view the U.S.

Iran has invested in militants who can fight wars and take territory, but they are generally poor at governance.  Once security has been established, and citizens have the luxury to think about more than mere survival, suddenly things like access to electricity, employment, education, and health care begin to matter more.  The protests in Iran evince the shaky ground undergirding the Islamic Republic. As the region’s recent history has shown, repressing the popular desire for good governance and justice does not end that desire, and could beget even further instability.

Afshon Ostovar is an assistant professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.  Henry Rome is an Iran analyst at Eurasia Group.



Ancient Golan Mosaics Strengthen Claims Of Jewish Presence There

Colorful mosaic fragments have been discovered in a site of a rare Roman period synagogue in the Golan Heights, the University of Haifa said in a statement on Monday (2nd).

The mosaics unearthed during the excavations in the site of Majdulia depict the legs of several animals and birds, although the poor state of preservation does not allow researchers to identify the species.

Mechael Osband from the university’s Zinman Institute of Archaeology explained that the findings date back to the third century CE and that very little information from that period is available – not only about the Jewish presence in the Golan, but about synagogues in the land of Israel as a whole.

“In the third century CE, regarding synagogues’ structure, we see an interesting combination between the Second Temple tradition – for example, in the shape of the seating arrangement and in the unadorned style – and new elements that over time became commonly found in prayer halls, such as colorful mosaics featuring animals,” he added.

According to the university’s statement, until recently, the general understanding among scholars was that the Jewish presence in the Golan ceased to exist with the destruction of Gamla by the Romans in 67 CE.  For this reason, the remains of the synagogue in Majdulia, as well as other findings from the last few years, have been considered of extreme importance.

The synagogue featured a rectangular plant of 13m. by 23m.  The archaeologists found out that its lateral halls’ floors were decorated with geometric designs, while the richer mosaics featuring animals were laid down to decorate the main room.

According to Osband, between the second and the third century, synagogues underwent a transformation from a place specifically devoted to learning, to sites for communal prayer.

“We know that synagogues at the end of the Second Temple period served mainly as a place of Torah study,” Osband explained.  “At the end of the Roman period, and especially in the Byzantine period, the synagogue began serving as a prayer hall – a kind of ‘little Temple.’  They therefore became much more luxurious and it is not uncommon that they also include fancy mosaics.



Over 100 Jewish Graves Vandalized In France

More than 100 graves were found covered with swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti at a Jewish cemetery near Strasbourg in eastern France on Tuesday (3rd), officials said, just hours after similar vandalism was discovered in a nearby village.

“It’s a shock,” Maurice Dahan, president of the Jewish consistory for the Bas-Rhin region told AFP, adding that most of the graves were daubed with swastikas.

The government’s regional authority said it was investigating the damage to 107 graves at the cemetery in Westhoffen, 15 miles west of Strasbourg.

In the nearby village of Schaffhouse-Sur-Zorn, anti-Jewish inscriptions were also found.

The Alsace region has suffered a rash of racist vandalism over the past year, most notably the desecration of 96 tombs at a cemetery in Quatzenheim in February, which drew nationwide outrage over a spate of anti-Semitic attacks.

President Emmanuel Macron, during a visit to inspect the damage, vowed to crack down on hate speech, including by an increased focus on educating against racism in schools.  

The rising number of anti-Jewish offences reported to police – up 74% in 2018 from the previous year – have caused alarm in the country that is home to the biggest Jewish and the biggest Muslim communities in Europe.