News Digest — 2/19/20

Netanyahu Challenges Gantz To Televised Debate

With less than two weeks until election day and polls showing Likud and its allies doing no better than during the last round of voting in September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday (18th) challenged his opponent, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, to an election debate.

It was Netanyahu’s first sign of interest in holding a debate since taking office for the second time in 2009.  Such a debate, if it were to take place, would be the first between two leading candidates for Israel’s premiership in 24 years.  The last time was in 1996 between Netanyahu and then-prime minister Shimon Peres. Netanyahu went on to win that election.

During an interview with the right-wing Channel 20 on Tuesday, Netanyahu said, “I have an offer, one Gantz might not be able to refuse.  I am willing to come here, or somewhere else – I invite him to a televised debate.”  

“We’ll talk to the public, without teleprompters…and say things as they really are,” Netanyahu said.

Gantz mocked the offer on Twitter as “spin,” but stated that he “was ready for anything.”

Netanyahu may believe a debate will help him in the polls.  He is widely viewed as a gifted public speaker. Gantz, a former army chief of staff, is less experienced in public speaking.



IDF Announces New Command To Combat Iranian Threat

Israel’s military will set up a special branch in its general staff dedicated to threats from Iran, it said Tuesday (18th).

The IDF said it will appoint a major-general to head the command, which is part of a broader restructuring in its general staff.

A statement by the military offered a few details about the new command, saying the nature of the new branch’s work was “yet to be determined.”  But the move highlights the importance Israel places on the threats emanating from Iran.

Iran has forces based in Syria, Israel’s northern neighbor, and supports terror groups that seek Israel’s destruction, including Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

In Gaza, Iran supplies Islamic Jihad with cash, weapons and training, and also supports Hamas, which rules the coastal territory.

Iran is currently attempting to develop a nuclear bomb, according to evidence produced by Israel, a charge Iran denies.

Israel has repeatedly struck Iran-linked targets in Syria in recent years and has warned against any permanent Iranian presence on the frontier.  But its battle with Iran has increasingly come out of the shadows, with Iran and Israeli forces coming into direct confrontation.

In November, the Israeli military said fighter jets hit multiple targets belonging to Iran’s elite Quds force, including surface-to-air missiles, weapons warehouses, military bases and more, in response to an Iranian attack on Israel a day earlier.



A Plan For Israel’s Security – Zalmon Shoval

→ The U.S. peace plan is arguably the most important statement pertaining to Israel’s political position since the UN partition plan of 1947 and the Declaration of Independence in 1948, provided that its major elements are implemented.

→ Its primary significance is that the principle of secure borders, noted in UN Security Council Resolution 242, has become a concrete political precept initiated and supported by the world’s major power, the U.S. (and apparently not objected to by major parts of the Arab world).

→ The security-based essence of the plan – Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley and security control in the West Bank – has been one of the fundamentals of Israel’s security doctrine since repelling aggression in the Six-Day War.  As Henry Kissinger said in 1991, “Peace is secondary; security is vital.” The U.S. plan is the first time Israel has been accorded the right to set its own security borders.

→ One important implication of the plan is the creation of a new paradigm, an up-to-date reference point for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In the future, the general outline for any arrangement will have to take into account the template of the Trump plan, which even a future Democratic administration would find hard to reverse completely.

→ The underlying guideline of the plan is the eventual two-state principle.  The plan protects a minimum four-year transition period plus a string of clear conditions to the Palestinians on terrorism, incitement, renunciation of the “right of return,” and an end to anti-Israel activities at international forums.  While a Palestinian state is the final goal, in practice the present chaotic situation makes it clear that Palestinian statehood any time soon won’t be an option.

→ The plan has been castigated as one-sided.  It is not. It is a pragmatic approach, taking into account realities as they are and not as some want them to be.  It looks after Israel’s security concerns and provides extensive economic and political advantages, including future self-governance, to the Palestinians, while setting a mutually beneficial framework for Jewish-Arab coexistence in the land shared by both.

The writer served twice as Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.



‘Everyone Wants To Work Here,’ Say Gaza Workers Allowed Into Israel

The workers from Gaza who legally crossed the border on Wednesday morning (19th), expressed their feelings of gratitude after Israel’s decision to issue a record number of entry permits for Palestinian merchants living in the Hamas-controlled enclave.

Israel announced Tuesday evening (18th) that it’s set to extend the fishing zone off the coast of Gaza to 15 nautical miles and issue an additional 2,000 entry permits, a 40% increase, to Palestinian entrepreneurs in the Strip, raising the total number to an unprecedented 7,000.

“Everyone wants to work in Israel, everyone wants quiet and a good life,” said Nahed Halees, who crossed into Israel through the Erez border crossing.

Halees, who works in the southern city of Ashkelon and received a permit before the decision to increase the amount, said he’s been hearing from his colleagues in Gaza about the desire to work in Israel.

“Everyone tells me ‘I want to get into Israel to work,’ but I tell them I can’t get them a permit,” he said.  “More workers should be allowed out of Gaza to work in Israel.”

Nahed said unemployment is one of the biggest issues the impoverished enclave is facing.  “People want to live, eat, drink, and provide for children. Sometimes children don’t even go to school.”

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said in a statement, that “the decision to ease the restrictions on the enclave stems from the recent relative quiet on the southern border.”

The statement added, however, “If rocket and balloon attacks aimed against Israeli civilians resume, all the previous sanctions will be reimposed.”



Israeli Tech Pulls Water From Air For Gazan Neighbors

Israeli-based company Watergen has been supplying water to a Gaza neighborhood via its water-from-air machine and can generate up to 800 liters per day.

Watergen’s 780-kilogram GEN-M atmospheric water generator was placed last Wednesday (12th) in the Gazan neighborhood of Abasan al-Kabira.  It will provide the local municipal area with fresh drinking water.

Gaza suffers from a rapidly depleting water supply.  Its main source of water is its coastal aquifer, which has been over-extracted in recent decades.  The reduced water levels have resulted in saline water seeping in, further polluting the water in the aquifer – with the result being that 90% of the water is not fit for consumption.

The GEN-M unit will provide the Gazan neighborhood with an inexpensive method to acquire freshwater.  It requires no special infrastructure except for electricity, in this case, solar panels.

Watergen’s technology creates water by cooling collected air at its dew point.  The water then goes through physical, chemical, and biological treatment followed by a mineralization process to ensure its cleanliness and taste.

”Responding in accordance with our belief that every human being, regardless of race, gender, or religion has a fundamental right to clean drinking water, we are helping some of Israel’s next-door neighbors gain access to fresh water, a resource that is lacking in Gaza,” Watergen said in a statement.

The company added that it hoped the provision of the unit would not only help solve the water crisis but also “serve as a step forward towards mutual collaboration in the Middle East.”