Motzei Shabbat (After Shabbat)
The news broke yesterday that Likud, headed by Binyamin Netanyahu, and Yisrael Beitenu, headed Avigdor Lieberman, who is currently foreign minister, have decided to run together in the election, with a joint list.
The logic is obvious: After the election, the party that has garnered the most mandates (seats in the Knesset) will be asked by the president to form a coalition (a number of parties that together have 61 or more mandates), which will constitute the new government.
There has been considerable talk on the left/center about a joint party — possibly including Tzipi Livni, formerly head of Kadima; Shaul Mofaz, who currently heads Kadima; Haim Ramon, who had jumped from Labor to Kadima and then quit Kadima; Yair Lapid, who is supposed to be forming the new party Yesh Atid; even Ehud Olmert of Kadima (although this is now unlikely) — Shelley Yacimovich, how head of Labor, may have been in on that as well. The notion was that this new party would garner more seats than Likud, thus pushing out Netanyahu.
That prospect has not materialized — although talk of it will now be reinvigorated — but Netanyahu pre-empted them on this. As savvy a politician as exists here currently, he was not about to sit and wait to see what would happen. What we learn now is that this plan with Lieberman has been in the works for two months.
If Likud and Yisrael Beitenu each retain their current number of seats, then this merger would bring in a combination of 42 seats, which is considered to be probably unbeatable by any combination of left/center parties.
The number may be lower, as some in favor of Likud might be turned off by Yisrael Beitenu and vice versa. But there is also the possibility that it could be higher (as much as 51 according to one poll).
Lieberman is something of a wild card. He often speaks with an honesty that is unusual for politicians, and I have repeatedly praised him for this. He says bluntly that there will be no peace agreement in light of how the PA is conducting itself, and pretending to pursue it now is silly.
But on occasion he comes forward with something that is slightly off the wall, or that marks him as lacking in diplomatic skill. He is not a far right crazy, which is how the left seeks to have him seen. That he tilts right and will have considerable influence on the new government is a good thing, from where I sit.
It has been made clear that Netanyahu will still be in charge. He will be number one on the list and would again become prime minister if his joint party won. Lieberman will be second on the list. Following this will be two members of Likud, two members of Yisrael Beitenu, and on from there. Much will come clear in the days and weeks ahead.
In passing let me note something that, with everything else happening, I let slip by: Habayit Hayehudi and National Union, both nationalist parties, have also achieved a merger of sorts, although that merger is incomplete (with one faction of National Union withdrawing). I see this a positive, as their clout will increase as a coalition is formed.
An additional gain for the country can be seen in this recent move towards larger merged parties. Too often the successful formation of a coalition has depended upon several small splinter parties that have made demands beyond what would be reasonable for their numbers. This would render such a situation less likely.
But I would like to turn from this to a completely different and potentially quite important issue:
According to Sudanese claims — which seem to have been confirmed — there was an attack from the air on its Yarmouk military complex near Khartoum at midnight Tuesday. The target of this attack is understood to have been a munitions factory.
Sudan has accused Israel of initiating the attack. Israel has had no comment regarding the attack.
However, what Israel has called to light in recent days is Sudan’s role in terrorism and its relationship to Iran. Amos Gilad, director of policy and political-military affairs for the Ministry of Defense, told Army Radio that:
“We need to understand exactly what happened there, but the role of Sudan is clear: It is a dangerous terrorist state.”
The JPost on Friday cited the Shin Bet as saying that “Sudan is the central crossroads in a major weapons smuggling route from Iran that passes through Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula and from there on to the Gaza Strip.”
According to Yaakov Lappin, citing open sources, “…officials from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have loaded long-range rockets and an array of sophisticated missiles onto ships at Iran’s Port Bandar Abbas, from where ships have sailed to Sudan. From there the weapons travel in land convoys into Egypt, and are then smuggled into Gaza via tunnels from Sinai.”
On more than one occasion, land convoys in eastern Sudan believed to have been carrying Iranian weapons have been intercepted by air; these attacks are presumed to have been initiated by Israel.
Speculation is that Iran ” may well have decided to construct a rocket factory in the Sudanese capital, shortening the distance between the arms’ manufacturing center and their target destination.”
The implications of the bombing of the Sudanese munitions factory, if it was carried out by Israel, are several. First, and most obviously, a supply of weapons intended for launching at Israeli civilians has been destroyed.
But beyond this are the messages imparted to Iran. There is the evidence of Israel’s readiness to interfere, even in distant places, with Iran’s efforts to foment terrorism against Israel. And then, what is worthy of note is that Khartoum is roughly the same distance from Israel — 1,900 kilometers — as Iran is, at 1,600 kilometers away . Iran would not have missed the implications here regarding Israel’s long range jet capabilities.
For more on this issue:
I cannot move on from the issue of Iran without noting that:
“Intelligence officials from several countries say Iran in recent weeks has virtually completed an underground nuclear enrichment plant. The installation of the last of nearly 3,000 centrifuges at Fordo, deep under a mountain near Qum, puts Iran closer to being able to build a nuclear weapon.
“Iran’s progress was disclosed by officials familiar with the findings of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency who have been to the site recently. While the plant is not yet fully running – fewer than half of all its centrifuges are spinning out enriched uranium – Iran could have it doing so within months, officials say.”
No so many days ago, the NYTimes ran an article about an understanding between Obama and the Iranians to hold one-on-one talks after the election. This was promptly denied by Obama.
But Dore Gold now has an explanation about how there may be some talks going on that provide Obama with deniability: Back channel talks, which are not official.
In passing: A week ago, the ship called the Estelle, which set sail with the intention of breaking the sea blockade of Gaza, was stopped by the Israeli navy. When calls to the ship to cooperate and change course were ignored, the ship was boarded — it was done peacefully and without incident. The ship was rerouted to Ashdod port and those aboard were handled by immigration authorities.
PM Netanyahu stated at the time that, “Their entire objective was to create a provocation and blacken Israel’s name. If human rights were really important to these activists, they would sail to Syria.”
As I understand it, no humanitarian supplies were found on board, delivery of such supplies not being the genuine intention of those on the ship.
A typo that from my last post: I dropped some zeroes when I wrote that the Emir of Qatar had brought Hamas $400,000. That’s mere chicken feed. His gift totaled $400 million. (Thanks Bennet R.)