News Digest — 6/11/21

All Eyes On Knesset As Lawmakers Prepare For Sunday’s Crucial Vote

Israel’s 36th government will be sworn in on Sunday (13th) barring some unforeseen development or a last-minute defection.

This would end Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership and make him the head of the opposition.

The procedures to install a new government could take several hours, potentially creating drama all through the day, as pro-Netanyahu lawmakers may try until the very last moment to ensure the crucial vote to officially swear in a government fails.

The Knesset will convene for a special plenum meeting at 4 p.m. on Sunday (13th) for the swearing-in.  The meeting will be attended by President Reuvin Rivlin, who tasked the MK Yair Lapid to form a government about six weeks ago after Netanyahu had failed to do so in his allotted time period.  Lapid, who agreed to a rotating premiership with Yamina leader Naftali Bennett as part of a so-called “change coalition” to replace Netanyahu, will let Bennett represent him at the meeting since he will be prime minister for the first two years of the prospective government’s four-year term (unless it collapses before that). 

After Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin invites Bennett to present his cabinet, the right-wing leader will deliver his inaugural speech and outline the coalition’s basic guidelines, as is required by law, under which he would spell out his policy agenda.  Lapid, who will hold the title of alternate prime minister until his turn comes, will then deliver his own inaugural address.

In past swearing-in ceremonies, the opposition leader has also been called to deliver a speech before the plenum.  Thus, it is likely that Netanyahu will deliver his first speech in more than 10 years without holding the title of prime minister.

The Knesset would then elect a new speaker who would hold a vote of confidence in the new government.  If it gets approved, the government would have been officially installed and the new prime minister would be sworn in and pledge allegiance to the country and its laws, as well as vow to faithfully execute the office and uphold the Knesset’s decisions.

The ministers, as well as Lapid, would also have to say the same pledge.  After a brief cabinet meeting, the ministers would arrive at the President’s Residence, where they would have a traditional group photo taken.



Intelligence Ministry: PA Construction Threatens National Security

The Intelligence Ministry has produced a new report that the illegal Palestinian Authority construction in Judea and Samaria constitutes a threat to Israel’s national security, Channel 12 News reported.

The report for the first time also deals with the PA’s activities in Areas A and B in addition to Area C, and states that “the PA is openly working to create conditions for a future connection between a ‘Palestinian state’ and areas with an Arab majority in the State of Israel and the Bedouin settlements in the Negev.”

The report details data on the expansion of PA construction in recent years, which is flowing into Area C.  Among other things, it was said that the localities of Otniel and Elon Moreh are surrounded by Arab construction which could harm their security.

In addition, it has been described that in recent years extensive construction has been carried out near major traffic arteries, and the effectiveness of the separation fence in the center of the country and in the Jerusalem envelope in terms of its security value for Israel has eroded.

“The Palestinian Authority is deliberately and illegally taking over the territories,” said Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen.  “This is part of the Palestinian attempt to establish a state by establishing facts on the ground.  I conveyed to the cabinet the recommendations of the Intelligence Ministry to deal with this ticking bomb immediately, before it is too late.  We must immediately stop the continued illegal takeover of land by construction and development.”

The report was initiated by Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen following a tour of the area with attorney Avichai Boaron, who said: “Until today, the State of Israel had no idea what was happening in the open areas of Judea and Samaria.  Now there is finally an operational strategic plan to deal with the ticking time bomb and the cabinet must adopt the plan and pass an urgent government decision.”

Attorney Boaron added: “This is a planned and intended trend to create a state within a state.  The Knesset of Israel has a duty to rectify this and address this super-strategic issue immediately, so that in a few years we will not find ourselves besieged in the heart of Jerusalem as if we are in Netzarim in Gush Katif.”



Report: Russia To Give Iran Advanced Satellite That Could Track IDF Bases

Russia is preparing to provide Iran with an advanced satellite that would enable it to track potential military targets across the Middle East, the Washington Post reported Thursday (10th).

The satellite is projected to have the ability to track long-range targets, including IDF bases, as well as oil refineries throughout the Persian Gulf and US bases in Iraq.

The plan would deliver a Russian-made Kanopus-V satellite equipped with a high-resolution camera which could be launched from Russia within months, the Post said.

The report was published days before US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Geneva and as Iran and the United States are engaged in indirect talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal designed to put curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing economic sanctions.

The satellite would allow “continuous monitoring of facilities ranging from Persian Gulf oil refineries and Israeli military bases to Iraq barracks that house US troops,” said the paper, which cited three unnamed sources – a current and a former US official and a senior Middle Eastern government official briefed on the sale.

While the Kanopus-V is marketed for civilian use, leaders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have made several trips to Russia since 2018 to help negotiate the agreement, the Post said.

Russian experts traveled to Iran this spring to help train crews who would operate the satellite from a newly built facility near Karaj west of Tehran, it added.

The satellite would feature Russian hardware, the Post said, “including a camera with a resolution of 6.5 feet – a significant improvement over Iran’s current capabilities, though still far short of the quality achieved by US spy satellites.”

The Revolutionary Guards said in April 2020 that they had successfully launched the country’s first military satellite into orbit, prompting then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to call for Tehran to be held accountable because he believed that the action defied a UN Security Council resolution.



Resigned To Nuclear Deal’s Revival, Gulf Leaders Willing To Engage With Foe Iran

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, resigned to the revival of a nuclear pact with Iran who they always opposed, are engaging with Tehran to contain tensions while lobbying for future talks to take their security concerns into account.

World powers have been negotiating in Vienna with Iran and the United States to revive the 2015 deal, under which Tehran agreed to place curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

The new US Biden administration wants to restore the deal, which Washington abandoned under his predecessor, Donald Trump.  But Washington’s Gulf allies have always said the deal was inadequate because it ignored other issues, such as Iran’s missile exports and support for regional proxy fighters.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made clear on Monday (7th) that Washington’s priority was to get the deal “back in the box” and then use it as a platform to address other questions.

But with Saudi Arabia embroiled in a costly war in Yemen and facing repeated missile and drone attacks on its oil infrastructure which it blames on Iran and its allies, the Gulf States say the wider issues must not be set aside.

“The Gulf countries have said, ‘fine the US can go back to the nuclear deal, this is their decision – we can not change that, but …we need everybody to take into account regional security concerns,” Gulf Research Center’s Abdulaziz Sager, who has been active in past unofficial Saudi-Iran dialogue, said this week.

Iran holds a number of cards, not the least of which is its support for the Houthi movement in Yemen, which the Saudis have failed to defeat after six years, and has exhausted Washinton’s patience.

“Yemen is a cheap course for Iran and a very expensive one for Saudi Arabia.  This gives Iran a strong bargaining position,” Sager said.

The UAE, for its part, has already been in regular contact with Iran, trying to deescalate a situation notably, in which tankers were attacked off its coast in 2019, a regional source said.

The priority now for Gulf states is to focus on their economies following COVID-19, but security assurances are an important part of that recovery.

Gulf States hope Washington maintains leverage over Tehran by keeping some sanctions, including those designed to punish foreign actors for supporting terrorism or weapons proliferation.

However, the Gulf states remain skeptical.  UAE envoy to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba said in April he saw no evidence the nuclear deal would become “a tool where moderates are empowered” in Iran, which holds presidential elections this month dominated by hardliners.

“But we need to live with them in peace,” Otaiba said.  “We want non-interference, no missiles, and no proxies.”



Grand Mufti Of Jerusalem: Martyrdom For Allah ‘Badge Of Honor’

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem called martyrdom a “badge of honor” bestowed upon the chosen of Allah in a recent interview.

Speaking at an event in Ramallah in honor of the “martyrs” of the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein said, “This badge of honor is praised and respected in this world, and those upon whom it was bestowed are honored in the hereafter as well.  I am talking about the badge of honor of martyrdom, martyrdom for the sake of truth, for the sake of Allah, for the sake of rights, and for the sake of defending the homeland and honor from the attacks of attackers and the oppression of oppressors.”

Martyrdom, said Hussein, was bestowed only upon the righteous.

“Therefore, Allah said in the Quran about them and about this badge of honor: ‘Do not say about those who were killed for the sake of Allah that they are dead.  Rather, they are alive, but you do not perceive,’” he said.

“In another verse, Allah said, ‘Think not of those who were killed for the sake of Allah as dead.  Rather they are alive with their Lord, and they are well-provided for.’  This is a life of honor in the hereafter and an enormous legacy in this world.”

Hussein’s speech was aired on Palestine TV on May 25, just days after his Friday sermon at the Al-Aqsa Mosque was interrupted by angry worshippers, who chanted: “Dogs of the PA, get out!” and accused him of being a spy.