News Digest — 3/23/21

Israeli Elections: Rivlin To Take His Time With Mandate To Form Government

President Reuven Rivlin intends to use all the time at his disposal to appoint a candidate to build a new governing coalition, President’s Residence director-general Harel Tuvi told The Jerusalem Post in an interview Sunday night (21st).

Tuesday’s (23rd) election results will be formally presented to Rivlin by the head of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Judge Uzi Vogelman on March 31 after the counting of some 600,000 double ballots of emissaries, soldiers, prisoners, those quarantined and sick from COVID-19 and those returning from abroad on Election Day and voting at Ben Gurion Airport.

“No action will be taken until the results will be clear, official and final,” Tuvi said.

Rivlin will then begin consultations with faction representatives to hear their recommendations about who should form the next government.

The deadline for Rivlin to give his 28-day mandate to build a coalition is April 7.  Sources close to him said that unlike following other elections when he expedited the process, this time, he will take his time to help facilitate it better.

“After the first couple of elections, he didn’t wait for the final results because the public interest was to end uncertainty as soon as possible,” Tuvi said.  “This time, there are double envelopes and other complications from corona, so the president said he would not start the consultations until we really know the official results,” he said.  “This time he will also encourage the parties to talk among themselves first and let the situation settle.”

The first candidate who receives a mandate to form a government can ask for a two-week extension.  If there is a second candidate, he will receive no more than four weeks.

Rivlin’s term is set to end on July 9.  It is possible a new president-elect could be chosen by the Knesset while a second candidate has the mandate. But Tuvi said Rivlin’s decisions and timetable will not be impacted by the race for his successor.

“The president will be guided by the decision of the nation,” Tuvi said.  “He has wide considerations and can choose among many options but he cannot go against a clear decision by the nation.”



Abbas Advisers Push For New Strategy: ‘Soft Sovereignty;’ State Is ‘Distant’

Two senior Palestinian Authority (PA) advisers are suggesting a new strategy to PA Leader Mahmoud Abbas, which they term “soft sovereignty.”

In the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, Hussein Agha and Ahmad Samih Khalidi, both of whom are London-based Palestinian negotiators, argue that it is time for a new approach for the Palestinians.

The article, titled “A Palestinian Reckoning,” is notable in that 1) it argues for a position short of a Palestinian state, something the Palestinian leadership has never been willing to do, and 2) it holds the Palestinians responsible (at least somewhat) for their plight.

The two argue that the wave of normalization between Israel and Arab states has left the Palestinians marginalized and Israel with little incentive to negotiate.

They say that Palestinian leadership needs to recalibrate, to focus on what is attainable as statehood is a “distant” dream.

“The Palestinians cannot remain hostage to the absence of a state, living in permanent limbo while awaiting a salvation that is visibly retreating and may never arrive,” they write.

As the creation of a state – “hard sovereignty” – is remote, they suggest a compromise: “Soft sovereignty,” in which Jordan and Egypt would take part.

“Under soft sovereignty, border security arrangements would need to be trilateral in both the West Bank (Jordanian, Israeli, and Palestinian) and Gaza (Egyptian, Israeli, and Palestinian),” they write.

Operating in an environment where Israel is typically held at fault for Palestinian missteps, Agha and Khalidi surprisingly don’t spare the Palestinian leadership for its “massive” failure of diplomacy.

“It takes exceptional talent to transform an almost complete consensus among Arabs and Muslims on the future of Palestine and Jerusalem into just another matter on a packed Arab agenda,” they write.

“The Palestinians have put themselves in a position in which nothing but agreement to all their terms could be acceptable…,” they note.

“Palestinian leaders promised their people a path to freedom and empowerment.  Yet in the last two decades, they developed a culture of dependency rather than resourcefulness, an expectation of external salvation rather than self-reliance,” they say.

“This sapped their will to build and develop their society and stymied their willingness to explore new thinking.”



Israel Completes Test Of Extended Range Interceptor

Israel Aerospace Industries announced Monday (22nd) that it had successfully completed a series of tests of the Barak air defense system showing it can intercept targets, including ballistic missiles, up to 90 miles distance.

A derivative of IAI’s successful Barak-8 missile that has a range of 60 miles, the Extended Range Interceptor (ERI) version is “designed to intercept a variety of systems in different ranges,” the company said in a statement.

“The evolution of airborne threats across the globe, combined with geopolitical changes, requires an advanced, agile, and versatile air defense system,” said IAI CEO Boaz Levy.  “The Barak system was operationally proven against countless threats, including some of the most challenging ones today.”

“This series of experiments added another tier to the system’s capabilities in the long run and against a wider range of threats, and joins many dozens of experiments performed in the Barak system across all its derivatives,” Levy said.

IAI co-developed a version of the Barak missile for the Indian Army with India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO).

In 2017, IAI was awarded $1.6 billion in contracts, at the time, the largest defense deal in Israel’s Defense Industries’ history, for IAI to provide advanced air and missile defense systems for the Indian Army.

A subsequent deal, with $777 million, was reached to supply a maritime version of the Barak-8 surface-to-air-missile system on seven Indian Navy vessels at a cost of $111 million each.

Israel uses Barak-8 on its own vessels that are capable of intercepting aerial threats such as missiles and jets, including the kinds of anti-ship missiles that the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon has in its arsenal.

Israel and India enjoy the sharing of technological developments, and India is one of Israel’s biggest clients in the defense technology market.  Israel’s military delegation to India is second in size only to its delegation to America.



The EU Imposes China Sanctions Over Xinjiang Abuses

The European Union imposed sanctions on Monday (22nd) on four Chinese officials, including a top security director, for human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the first sanctions against Beijing since an arms embargo in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Accused of mass detentions of Muslim Uighurs in northwestern China, those targeted with sanctions included Chen Mingguo, the director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.  The EU said Chen was responsible for “serious human rights violations.”

In its Official Journal, the EU accused Chen of “arbitrary detentions and degrading treatment inflicted upon Uighurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities, as well as systematic violations of their freedom of religion or belief.”

Others that were hit with travel bans and asset freezes were senior Chinese officials Wang Mingshan and Wang Junzheng, the former heads of China’s Xinjiang region, including Zhu Hailun, and the Xinjiang production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau.

While mainly symbolic, the sanctions mark a significant hardening in the EU’s policy towards China, which Brussels long regarded as a benign trading partner but now views as a systematic abuser of basic rights and freedoms.

All 27 EU governments agreed to the punitive measures.

The EU has also called for the release of jailed ethnic Uighur economics professor Ilham Tohti, who was jailed for life in 2014.  He was awarded the European Parliament’s human rights prize in 2019.

China is the EU’s second-largest trading partner after the United States, and Beijing is both a big market and a major investor which has courted poorer central European states.

The EU sanctions take aim at officials who design and enforce the detentions in Zinjiang, and come after the Dutch parliament followed Canada and the United States in labeling China’s treatment of the Uighurs as genocide, which China rejects.



Iranian Revolutionary Guards Publication: ‘Young People In Iran Pose A Security Threat To The Regime’ – Lt.-Col. Michael Segall And The Iran Desk

The weekly Sobh-e Eghtesad, the official newspaper of the Revolutionary Guards’ Political Bureau, in an editorial on March 7, 2021, called young Iranians born in the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century a “serious threat” to the regime, stressing that it was difficult to impose power over them compared to previous generations and they “may well be exploited by Western enemies against the regime.”

The Tehran-based newspaper Jomhouri-e Eslami,  in an editorial on March 14, wrote that in the Islamic Republic, like during the Shah’s regime, power is once again in the hands of 1,000 influential families, and the “monopoly on political activity held by famous, influential and wealthy families of the regime keeps talented people away from the service of the state and the people.”  The editor called on the regime’s systems to “wake up before it is too late, allow the integration of all forces and let society monitor the regime.”  Jomhouri-e Eslami is the oldest newspaper in the Islamic Republic, published by the esteemed cleric Masih Mohajeri.

On US-Iran discussions, Hossein Dehghan, former defense minister and military advisor to the Supreme Leader, told the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar that the US must lift full sanctions on Iran for there is no plan for lifting the sanctions in phases,  Dehghan has announced his candidacy for president in the June 18 elections.