Iran, Pakistan urge UN Security Council to take action against Israel

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi (R) being greeted by his Pakistan's counterpart Asif Ali Zardari (L) upon his arrival at the President House in Islamabad. (File/AFP)
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Updated 24 April 2024
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Iran, Pakistan urge UN Security Council to take action against Israel

  • The joint statement followed a three-day visit to the country by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi
  • Muslim neighbors Iran and Pakistan are seeking to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes this year

ISLAMABAD: Iran and Pakistan called on the United Nations Security Council in a joint statement issued on Wednesday to take action against Israel, saying it had “illegally” targeted neighboring countries and foreign diplomatic facilities.
The joint statement, released by Pakistan’s foreign ministry, followed a three-day visit to the country by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at a time of heightened tensions in the Middle East.
Explosions were heard last Friday over the Iranian city of Isfahan in what sources said was an Israeli attack. However, Tehran played down the incident and said it had no plans for retaliation.
“Recognizing that the irresponsible act of the Israeli regime forces was a major escalation in an already volatile region, both sides called on the UN Security Council to prevent the Israeli regime from its adventurism in the region and its illegal acts attacking its neighbors...,” Iran and Pakistan said in their joint statement.
Muslim neighbors Iran and Pakistan are seeking to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes this year.
Raisi, who wrapped up his visit and flew on to Sri Lanka on Wednesday, vowed to boost trade between Iran and Pakistan to $10 billion a year.
During his visit to Pakistan, Raisi was quoted by Iran’s official IRNA news agency as saying any further Israeli attack on Iranian territory
could radically change the dynamics and result in there being nothing left of the “Zionist regime.”
On April 13, Tehran launched a barrage of missiles and drones at Israel in what it said was retaliation for Israel’s suspected deadly strike on the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus on April 1, but almost all were shot down.
Pakistan has previously called for de-escalation by “all parties.”
Iran and Pakistan vowed during Raisi’s visit to boost trade and energy cooperation, including on a major gas pipeline deal that has faced delays due to geopolitical issues and international sanctions.


Israel has addressed many of Biden’s concerns over widescale Rafah operation, US official says

Updated 22 May 2024
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Israel has addressed many of Biden’s concerns over widescale Rafah operation, US official says

  • Israel has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry

CAIRO: Israel has addressed many of President Joe Biden’s concerns over its long-simmering plan to carry out a widescale military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah aimed at rooting out Hamas, a senior Biden administration official said Tuesday.
The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity, said that in talks over the weekend with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Israeli officials incorporated many changes into their planning that seem to meet concerns about deepening an operation in an area that has been flooded with Palestinian refugees during the seven-month war.
Biden had previously said he opposed a widescale operation in Rafah that did not prioritize the safety of innocent Palestinian civilians.
The official said the administration stopped short of greenlighting the Israeli plan but said Israeli officials’ altered planning suggested they were taking the American administration’s concerns seriously.
About 900,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah in recent weeks after the population swelled to about 1.5 million.

The United Nations suspended food distribution in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Tuesday due to a lack of supplies and an untenable security situation caused by Israel’s expanding military operation. It warned that humanitarian operations across the territory were nearing collapse.
Along with closed and chaotic land crossings, problems also plagued the US military’s floating pier meant to provide an alternative route for aid into Gaza by sea. Over the weekend, hungry Palestinians took aid from a UN vehicle convoy coming from the pier, and the UN said since then it had been unable to receive trucks there.
Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters in Washington that for the past few days, forward movement of aid from the pier was paused but it resumed Tuesday. There was no confirmation from the UN
The UN has not specified how many people stayed in Rafah since the Israeli military began its intensified ground and air campaign there two weeks ago, but apparently several hundred thousand Palestinians remain. The UN’s World Food Program said it was also running out of food for central Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people sought shelter in a chaotic exodus after fleeing Rafah, setting up new tent camps or crowding into areas already devastated by previous Israeli offensives.
“Humanitarian operations in Gaza are near collapse,” said Abeer Etefa, a WFP spokesperson. If food and other supplies don’t resume entering Gaza “in massive quantities, famine-like conditions will spread,” she said.
The warning came as Israel seeks to contain the international fallout from a request at the world’s top war crimes court for arrest warrants targeting both Israeli and Hamas leaders. The move garnered support from three European countries, including Israel’s key ally France.
The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged “use of starvation as a method of warfare,” a charge they and other Israeli officials angrily deny. The prosecutor accused three Hamas leaders of war crimes over killings of civilians in the group’s Oct. 7 attack.
The UN says some 1.1 million people in Gaza — nearly half the population — face catastrophic levels of hunger and that the territory is on the brink of famine. The humanitarian crisis deepened after Israeli forces pushed into Rafah on May 6, vowing to root out Hamas fighters. Tanks and troops seized the Rafah crossing into Egypt, closing it ever since. After May 10, only about three dozen trucks made it into Gaza via the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel because fighting makes it dangerous for aid workers to reach it, the UN says.
Israel insists it puts no restriction on the number of trucks entering Gaza. COGAT, the Israeli military office in charge of coordinating aid, said 450 trucks entered Tuesday from its side to Kerem Shalom and a small crossing in northern Gaza. It said more than 650 trucks are waiting on the Gaza side of Kerem Shalom to be retrieved, blaming “lack of logistical capabilities and manpower gaps” among aid groups.
For months, the UN has warned that an Israeli assault on Rafah could wreck the effort to get food, medicine and other supplies to Palestinians across Gaza. Throughout the war, Rafah has been filled with scenes of hungry children holding out pots and plastic containers at makeshift soup kitchens, with many families reduced to eating only one meal a day. The city’s population had swelled at one point to some 1.3 million people, most of whom fled fighting elsewhere.
Around 810,000 people have streamed out of Rafah, although Israel says its operations in Rafah are not the full-scale invasion of the city it had planned. The US says Israel never presented “credible” plan for evacuating the population or keeping it safe.
The main agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, announced the suspension of distribution in Rafah in a post on X, without elaborating beyond citing the lack of supplies. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the UNRWA distribution center and the WFP’s warehouses in Rafah were “inaccessible due to ongoing military operations.”
Asked about the ramifications of suspending aid, Dujarric said simply: “People don’t eat.”
Etefa said the WFP had also stopped distribution in Rafah after exhausting its stocks. It is still passing out hot meals and “limited distributions” of reduced food packages in central Gaza, but “food parcel stocks will run out within days,” she said.
The US depicted the floating aid pier as a potential route for accelerated deliveries. The first 10 trucks rolled off a ship onto the pier on Friday and were taken to a WFP warehouse. But a second shipment of 11 trucks on Saturday was met by Palestinian crowds who took supplies, and only five trucks made it to the warehouse, Etefa said.
No further deliveries came from the pier on Sunday or Monday, she said.
“The responsibility of ensuring aid reaches those in need does not end at the crossings and other points of entry into Gaza — it extends throughout Gaza itself,” she said.
At the same time, battles have escalated in northern Gaza as Israeli troops conduct operations against Hamas fighters, who the military says regrouped in areas already targeted in offensives months ago.
One of the main hospitals still operating in the north, Kamal Adwan, was forced to evacuate after it was “targeted” by Israeli troops, the Gaza Health Ministry said. Around 150 staff and dozens of patients fled the facility, including intensive care patients and infants in incubators “under fire from shelling,” it said. The Israeli military did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
The nearby Awda hospital has been surrounded by troops the past three days, and an artillery shell hit its fifth floor, the hospital administration said Tuesday. A day earlier, the international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said Awda had run out of drinking water.
The war between began on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants crossed into Israel and killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 hostage. ICC prosecutor Karim Khan accused Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh of crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder and sexual violence.
Israel responded to the Oct. 7 with an offensive that has laid waste to Gaza and killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between noncombatants and fighters in its count.
Monday’s call by Khan for arrest warrants deepens Israel’s global isolation at a time when it is facing growing criticism from even its closest allies over the war. France, Belgium, and Slovenia each said they backed Khan’ decision.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz headed to France on Tuesday in response, urging it to “declare loud and clear” that the request for warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant “is unacceptable to you and to the French government.”
His meetings there could set the tone for how countries navigate the warrants — if they are eventually issued — and whether they could pose a threat to Israeli leaders. A panel of three ICC judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.
Israel still has the support of its top ally, the United States, as well as other Western countries that spoke out against the decision. But if the warrants are issued, they could complicate international travel for Netanyahu and his defense minister, even if they do not face any immediate risk of prosecution because Israel itself is not a member of the court.
 

 


Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu

Updated 22 May 2024
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Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu

The US should slap sanctions on International Criminal Court officials who seek an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a top foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Tuesday after meeting the Israeli leader.
Robert O’Brien, who served as Trump’s fourth and final national security adviser, made the comments in a Jerusalem interview with Reuters after meeting Netanyahu and other Israeli officials during a multi-day visit to the US ally.
O’Brien, who said Trump would be briefed on the results of the trip, discussed what he called the ICC’s “irrational decision” to issue a warrant for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, along with three Palestinian Hamas leaders, in his meetings with the Israeli officials.
“We can sanction the bank accounts, the travel. We can put visa restrictions on these corrupt prosecutors and judges. We can show some real mettle here,” O’Brien told Reuters from Jerusalem.
O’Brien was joined by former US Ambassador to the UAE John Rakolta and former Ambassador to Switzerland Ed McMullen.
The trip, first reported by Reuters, was a rare case of Trump allies traveling abroad as part of an organized delegation to meet foreign officials. It took place amid strains between Israel and the Biden administration about the US Middle East ally’s conduct of the war in Gaza.
In addition to Netanyahu, the delegation met in recent days with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, and Gallant, O’Brien said. Their itinerary did not include Palestinian leaders.
O’Brien said rescuing all remaining hostages held by Hamas and capturing Yahya Sinwar, the mastermind of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that prompted Israel’s Gaza offensive, would be key to declaring victory over the militant group.
“This is something I did share with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and President Herzog and Benny Gantz from the war cabinet: We’ve got to move quickly,” O’Brien told Reuters. “Israel has to defeat Hamas in Rafah.”
The group said they did not go to Israel at Trump’s behest.
But O’Brien, Rakolta and McMullen all speak regularly to Trump who, despite facing four criminal trials, is ahead of his Nov. 5 presidential election rival, Democratic President Joe Biden, in opinion polls in most battleground states.
In addition to meeting political leaders, members of the delegation traveled to areas of Israel that were targeted in the Hamas attack in October, including the site of the Nova Music Festival and the Nir Oz kibbutz, both near Gaza.
More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s seven-month-old assault on the Gaza Strip, according to health officials in the Hamas-ruled enclave. The war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting 253 others, according to Israeli tallies. Israel says that more than 100 hostages are still being held in Gaza, including several Americans.
On Monday, the ICC’s prosecutor in The Hague, Karim Khan, requested the warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant and three Palestinian leaders, alleging they had committed war crimes.
In the Reuters interview, O’Brien said he was throwing his support behind Republican-led legislation in Congress that would sanction ICC employees that investigate officials in the US or in allied countries that do not recognize the court, like Israel.
It was unclear how much bipartisan support that bill could garner, though both Democratic and Republican officials have been sharply critical of the ICC.
In 2020, Trump issued an executive order to restrict travel and freeze assets of court staff involved in investigating US conduct in Afghanistan, sanctions which were reversed in the opening months of the Biden administration.
O’Brien’s comments suggest Trump’s advisers would be willing to reimpose and expand sanctions should the former president return to the White House. While the US has at times engaged with the ICC in a limited fashion, it has never been a member of the court, and many US political leaders argue the ICC’s international jurisdiction threatens national sovereignty.
Throughout the interview, O’Brien, Rakolta and McMullen rejected assessments by many US, Palestinian and international officials who say Israel is not doing enough to protect civilian life.
“The Israelis are conducting themselves in a really fine tradition of a modern, humanitarian military, and I think that’s the biggest takeaway from the meetings we’ve had in my view,” O’Brien said.
The Biden administration has at times dissented from that view, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying earlier in May that Israel lacked a credible plan to protect civilians in Rafah.
While the Trump administration backed a two-state solution to Middle East conflict, O’Brien said the conflict in Gaza and Palestinians’ hostile attitude toward Israel makes discussing it a moot point at the moment.
The US government has long held that the pathway to a lasting peace runs through the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Since Oct. 7, however, Trump has indicated in interviews and on the campaign trail that he is rethinking his stance.


Israeli forces raze parts of Gaza’s Jabalia, hit Rafah with airstrikes

Updated 21 May 2024
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Israeli forces raze parts of Gaza’s Jabalia, hit Rafah with airstrikes

  • In Jabalia, a sprawling refugee camp built for displaced civilians 75 years ago, Israeli army used bulldozers to clear shops and property near local market, residents said
  • Israel said it has returned to the camp, where it had claimed to have dismantled Hamas months ago, to prevent the militant group that controls Gaza from regrouping

GAZA STRIP: Israeli forces thrust deeper into Jabalia in northern Gaza on Tuesday, striking a hospital and destroying residential areas with tank and air bombardments, residents said, while Israeli airstrikes killed at least five people in Rafah in the south.
Simultaneous Israeli assaults on the northern and southern edges of the Gaza Strip this month have caused a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes, and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine.
In Jabalia, a sprawling refugee camp built for displaced civilians 75 years ago, the Israeli army used bulldozers to clear shops and property near the local market, residents said, in a military operation that began almost two weeks ago.
Israel said it has returned to the camp, where it had claimed to have dismantled Hamas months ago, to prevent the militant group that controls Gaza from regrouping.
In a roundup of its activity over the past day, the Israeli military said it had dismantled “about 70 terror targets” throughout the Gaza Strip, including military compounds, weapon storage sites, missile launchers and observation posts.
Palestinian medics said Israeli missiles struck the emergency department of Jabalia’s Kamal Adwan Hospital, prompting panicked staff to rush patients on hospital beds and stretchers to the rubble-strewn street outside.
“The first missile when it hit, it hit the entrance of the emergency department. We tried to enter, and then a second missile hit, and the third hit the building nearby,” said Hussam Abu Safia, the head of hospital.
“We cannot go back inside to them ... The emergency department provides a service for children, the elderly and people inside the departments of the hospital.”
Residents and medics said Israeli tanks were besieging another Jabalia hospital, Al-Awda Hospital, for the third day. In Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said northern Gaza’s sick and wounded were running out of options.
“These are the only two functional hospitals remaining in northern Gaza,” Tedros said. “Ensuring their ability to deliver health services is imperative.”
More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war in Gaza, which is now in its eighth month, according to the Gaza health ministry. At least 10,000 others are missing and believed to be trapped under destroyed buildings, it says.
Israel is seeking to eradicate Hamas after militants from the group stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 and taking more than 250 hostages, by Israeli tallies.
The war has devastated the overcrowded coastal enclave, destroying houses, schools and hospitals and creating a dire humanitarian crisis.
Aid from a US-built pier resumed moving into warehouses in Gaza on Tuesday using alternative routes, the Pentagon said. The distribution was halted for three days after crowds of needy residents intercepted trucks.

AIRSTRIKES
In the south, airstrikes killed three children in a house in Khan Younis and at least five people including three children in a home in Rafah, health officials said.
East of Khan Younis, residents said they were fleeing Khuzaa town after Israeli troops began an incursion on the eastern edge of the territory, bulldozing across the border fence.
“Bombing everywhere, people are leaving in panic. It was a surprising incursion,” one resident from Khuzaa told Reuters by phone as he and his family were leaving.
Israel is pushing on with its operations in Rafah on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, where more than half of the territory’s 2.3 million population had sought refuge after being displaced from areas further north.
UNRWA, the main United Nations agency in Gaza, estimated as of Monday that more 800,000 had fled since Israel began targeting the city in early May, despite international pleas for restraint over concern about civilian casualties.
On Tuesday, the agency said food distributions had been suspended in Rafah due to lack of supplies and insecurity.
Israel has pledged to continue with the Rafah assault to root out what it says are four remaining battalions of Hamas fighters holed up there. Tanks made incursions into the eastern Rafah suburbs of Jeneina, Al-Salam, and Brazil, according to residents.
The Israeli military said over the past day it had “identified a terrorist shooting mortar shells at IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) troops,” though no injuries were reported. It said it had taken out the enemy with an airstrike and had located rockets and additional military equipment in the area.


Is Israel’s Netanyahu pursuing perpetual war in Gaza to save his political skin?

Updated 21 May 2024
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Is Israel’s Netanyahu pursuing perpetual war in Gaza to save his political skin?

  • Critics in the war cabinet have accused the PM of lacking a ‘day after’ strategy for Gaza
  • Fragmentation within government and among the population raise specter of mass protests

LONDON: Last Wednesday evening, five Israeli soldiers were killed and seven others wounded in a “friendly fire” incident in northern Gaza.

The five paratroopers, aged between 20 and 22 and reported by The Times of Israel to have been part of an ultra-Orthodox company of paratroopers, died when an Israeli tank mistakenly fired on their position during confused fighting in Jabaliya.

They are not the first Israeli soldiers to have died at the hands of their comrades. According to the IDF, of the 279 personnel killed so far in Gaza since the start of ground operations on Oct. 27, 49 have died in similar incidents or accidents.

But after seven months of war, with Israeli troops fighting and dying over territory that had, ostensibly, already been cleared by the IDF earlier in the war, the stark futility of these latest deaths has struck a bitter chord in Israel.

A member of Israel’s security forces aims his rifle during an Israeli raid at the Nur Shams camp for Palestinian refugees near the occupied West Bank city of Tulkarm, on January 4, 2024. (AFP)

As Benjamin Netanyahu continues to evade making a deal with Hamas to bring home the remaining hostages — an ongoing national trauma emphasized by the recovery on Friday from Gaza of the remains of three of the victims of the Oct. 7 massacre at the Nova music festival — many fear the Israeli prime minister is pursuing a strategy of perpetual war solely in a bid to save his own political skin.

It has been no secret that over recent months Israel’s military has been pushing Netanyahu to develop a “day after” strategy. Last Wednesday, just hours before the deaths in Jabaliya, Israel’s defense minister broke rank to publicly criticize his prime minister.

In an extraordinary video address, Yoav Gallant, a former general, revealed that since October he had been consistently pressing Netanyahu in cabinet meetings to work toward a political solution in Gaza.

The end of the military campaign, he said, “must come together with political action. The ‘day after Hamas’ will only be achieved with Palestinian entities taking control of Gaza, accompanied by international actors, establishing a governing alternative to Hamas’ rule.

“Unfortunately,” he added, “this issue was not raised for debate. And worse, no alternative was brought up in its place.”

A protester speaks on a megaphone while holding up a sign depicting Israeli politicians during an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv on February 3, 2024. (AFP)

Gallant then embarked on an unprecedented public attack on Netanyahu that at times veered close to open revolt. “Indecision is, in essence, a decision,” he said.

“This leads to a dangerous course, which promotes the idea of Israeli military and civilian governance in Gaza. This is a negative and dangerous option for the State of Israel — strategically, militarily, and from a security standpoint.”

In short, he said: “I will not agree to the establishment of Israeli military rule in Gaza.”

Then he issued a direct challenge.

“I call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over the Gaza Strip, that Israel will not establish military governance in the Gaza Strip, and that a governing alternative to Hamas in the Gaza Strip will be raised immediately.”

Netanyahu did not immediately respond to the attack in public. But right-wing national security minister Itamar Ben Givr — part of the shaky coalition government Netanyahu must hold together to cling on to power, and who has called repeatedly for the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza and its resettlement by Jews — demanded Gallant be sacked.

Israel’s defense minister said that since October he had been consistently pressing Netanyahu in cabinet meetings to work toward a political solution in Gaza. (AFP)

Then, on Saturday, Benny Gantz, the other member of Netanyahu’s three-person war cabinet and his main political rival, announced that he would withdraw his centrist National Unity party from Israel’s emergency coalition on June 8 unless the prime minister agreed to a six-point “day after” plan for Gaza.

Gantz’s plan includes securing the return of hostages, ending Hamas’ rule, demilitarizing Gaza and establishing an international administration with “American, European, Arab and Palestinian elements” to manage its civilian affairs.

“Personal and political considerations have begun to penetrate the Holy of Holies of Israel’s national security,” Gantz said.

“A small minority has seized the bridge of the Israeli ship and is piloting it toward the rocky shoal,” and steps have to be taken urgently to avoid a “long and harsh existential war.”

Gantz also called on Israel to “advance normalization with Saudi Arabia as part of a comprehensive process to create an alliance with the free world and the West against Iran and its allies.”

Benny Gantz’s 6-point Gaza blueprint

  • Bring the hostages home.
  • Topple Hamas rule, demilitarize the Gaza Strip and gain Israeli security control.
  • Alongside that Israeli security control, “create an international civilian governance mechanism for Gaza, including American, European, Arab and Palestinian elements — which will also serve as a basis for a future alternative that is not Hamas and is not (Palestinian Authority President) Abbas.
  • Return residents of the north (evacuated due to Hezbollah attacks) to their homes by Sept. 1, and rehabilitate the western Negev (adjacent to Gaza, targeted by Hamas on Oct. 7).
  • Advance normalization with Saudi Arabia as part of a comprehensive process to create an alliance with the free world and the West against Iran and its allies.
  • Adopt a framework for (military/national) service under which all Israelis will serve the state and contribute to the national effort. Gantz, a former general, wants an end to exemption from military service for ultra-Orthodox Israelis.

Israel’s leadership is now so fragmented, and its population increasingly divided over Gaza and the wider issue of a Palestinian future, that there is even speculation that Netanyahu might be facing the unprecedented possibility of a military coup.

“As the war seems to have less of a point and less success, everything seems to be coming apart,” Shaiel Ben-Ephraim, analyst and host of the podcasts “Israel Explained” and “History of the Land of Israel,” told Arab News.

“Something has to give. The military is talking about a coup. I don’t think it is going to happen, but on Telegram and WhatsApp, military people who could do something are saying: ‘Someone should remove Netanyahu, someone should do something about Ben-Givr.’

“That’s very alarming. We’ve been hearing that from regular people on the left and the center for a long time. But now, even people in the Shabak (Israel’s internal security agency) are discussing the idea.”

An Israeli protester wearing a hat with a slogan against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on during an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv on April 27, 2024. (AFP)

Netanyahu, said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney specializing in Israeli-Palestinian relations and founder of NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem, “is leading us toward a never-ending insurgency.

“The entire military establishment opposes it,” Seidemann told Arab News. “The credible people in the government who are not racist and fanatics oppose it. But he’s adamant, and there are three reasons why.

“First, habitually Netanyahu is incapable of making a decision. He always procrastinates.

“Secondly, he doesn’t believe that peace exists. For him, life is eternal conflict, never decided, and the only goal is to be a bit stronger, a bit more sophisticated than your enemy and to contain them. But you’re not going to solve anything that way.”

But compounding these “predispositions” in the current situation in Gaza, he said, was Netanyahu’s overwhelming self-interest.

“An end of the war, a ceasefire, is the end of Netanyahu’s career and possibly jail for him, full stop,” he said. “That is why he has turned the hostages and their families into enemies of the state.”

There had, he said, been “an organized, sophisticated smear campaign against these people. It’s just remarkable. Why? Because you cannot prioritize returning the hostages and continue to fight in Gaza. It’s one or the other.

“Netanyahu knows that if the hostages are released, the price for that will be a ceasefire, and the ceasefire will be the end of him. So he is doing everything in his power to perpetuate this war. This is the way most people in Israel are talking today. His considerations are all personal.”

Soldiers killed in northern Gaza on May 15, 2024. Top row, left to right: Sgt. Ilan Cohen, Sgt. Daniel Chemu, Staff Sgt. Betzalel David Shashuah; bottom row, left to right: Staff Sgt. Gilad Arye Boim, Cpt. Roy Beit Yaakov. (Israel Defense Forces)

For Seth Frantzman, an adjunct fellow with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies and senior Middle East correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post, the lack of apparent direction over Gaza is rooted as much in systemic issues as in Netanyahu’s personality.

“I don’t think that they have invested the resources for long-term planning in terms of the strategy of what comes afterwards,” Frantzman told Arab News.

“That doesn’t mean that there aren’t voices that haven’t been calling for that — the Defense Ministry has been pushing for a day-after plan for many months.

“But Israel has spent 15 years or more ‘managing’ the conflict in Gaza with Hamas. Hamas became the devil that everyone is familiar with and therefore the idea of picking up some alternative kind of structure is a bit complicated — even though it’s obvious, after Oct. 7, that the murderous genocidal nature of Hamas means you just can’t live next to a group like that or continue to appease it.”

But Netanyahu’s “decisive indecision” is proving to be a gift for Hamas, Ben-Ephraim said.

“I think that at first Hamas was unpleasantly surprised by how Israel banded together and struck back so strongly, and the amount of support it got from the US.

“But because the Israeli strategy since has been so horrifically bad, they’re now very pleasantly surprised and indeed stunned to see Israel destroy its international standing, and its internal cohesion and solidarity, to no end besides Netanyahu’s surviving.”

Protesters lift national flags and portraits of Israelis held hostage by Hamas in Gaza since October 7, during a rally demanding their release outside Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s private residence on January 27, 2024. (AFP)

Even before his boss Gallant spoke out, Herzi Halevi, the IDF chief of staff, was reported to have taken Netanyahu to task over his failure to develop a long-term strategy.

On May 12, Hebrew-language television station Channel 13 reported what it said was a verbatim account of a heated meeting between Halevi and the prime minister.

“We are now operating once again in Jabaliya,” Halevi, a paratrooper and former head of Israeli military intelligence, reportedly said.

“As long as there’s no diplomatic process to develop a governing body in the Strip that isn’t Hamas, we’ll have to launch campaigns again and again in other places to dismantle Hamas’ infrastructure.” 

It would, he added, “be a Sisyphean task” — a reference to the ancient Greek myth about a king condemned by the gods to spend eternity repeatedly pushing a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down again every time.

A whiff of unprecedented dissent, if not outright revolt, is in the air.

“I don’t think you’re going to be seeing large-scale conscientious objection,” Seidemann said. “That’s not how it works here. But what you will see are tens of thousands of army reservists going home and leading the protests.”

Israeli police disperse a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Jerusalem, on May 20, 2024. (AFP)

Such protests have brought about political change in the past in Israel, most notably the toppling of Prime Minister Golda Meir in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in the run-up to which she had repeatedly rebuffed peace overtures from Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people in the streets already,” Seidemann said. “And there have been two kinds of protests — for the release of the hostages and for elections for a new government.

“Initially the hostage families distanced themselves as a group. They wanted to appear to be apolitical. But that’s over. They’ve joined forces. There will be an event of some kind at some time over the next month or two, which will bring out millions of Israelis.”

It would, he believes, be impossible for Israel to reoccupy and resettle Gaza, as right-wingers in Netanyahu’s cabinet have demanded.

Quite apart from the uproar such a move would provoke among Israel’s staunchest allies in the West, Gaza “is going to be a lunar landscape,” he said. “Just to maintain some semblance of normality, Israel would have to harness so much of its resources, energies, money, just to be on this fool’s errand of running Gaza.”

Smoke plumes from an explosion billow in the Gaza Strip, as seen from Israel’s southern border with the Palestinian territory, on May 21, 2024. (AFP)

In the meantime, millions are being traumatized, not only in Gaza, where the death and suffering are on such a shocking scale, but also — and crucially for Netanyahu’s future prospects — in Israel.

“The day after, both societies are going to be totally traumatized,” Seidemann said.

“A friend of mine sees the police records, and in Tel Aviv the police are receiving dozens of reports weekly of people who think they can hear digging under their apartment buildings.

“That’s the level of trauma that you’re dealing with and there’s a growing sense that this can’t go on.”

Whatever the eventual solution, and however the war in Gaza is finally brought to an end, one thing is certain, he believes.

“Nothing is possible with Netanyahu at the helm. The only thing that can be done until he’s gone is damage control.”

 


Officials discuss plans for 54th session of the Council of Arab Information Ministers

Updated 21 May 2024
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Officials discuss plans for 54th session of the Council of Arab Information Ministers

  • Arab League’s assistant secretary-general and Bahrain’s minister of information review agenda for the 3-day ministerial meeting, which begins on Monday
  • A key item is the implementation of an Arab Media Strategy to Combat Terrorism

CAIRO: The Arab League’s assistant secretary-general and head of its media and communication sector, Ambassador Ahmed Rashid Khattabi, and Bahrain’s minister of information, Ramzan Al-Nuaimi, discussed the agenda and arrangements for the 54th session of the Council of Arab Information Ministers, which will take place on May 27 to 29.
Their meeting followed the Arab Summit in Manama last week, which issued resolutions relating to various strategic, political and developmental issues affecting the Arab region. It also explored ways to enhance mechanisms for Arab cooperation, including media support for the Palestinian cause in light of the latest developments and the repercussions of Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip.
Khattabi and Al-Nuaimi reviewed the draft agenda for the upcoming ministerial meeting, which was approved by the Executive Office of the Council of Arab Information Ministers during its meeting on Dec. 24 in Libya.
It includes several items related to proposed projects for the development and enrichment of a comprehensive and diverse Arab media system. A key item is the implementation of an Arab Media Strategy to Combat Terrorism, which was approved during the Arab Summit.
Other significant topics include a media map for achieving sustainable development by 2030; environmental media; educational media; ways to enhance the status of women in the media; and the development of capacity through the use of artificial intelligence technology.
The agenda also includes a proposal by the General Secretariat for the development of a charter detailing the responsibilities of the media in coverage of elections. It includes issues such as the role of the media in electoral campaigns; respect for the rules of pluralism, transparency and neutrality; and the prevention of discrimination based on gender, race or language.
During their meeting next week, the information ministers will also discuss organizational matters, and the winners of the eighth Arab Media Excellence Awards will be announced on the sidelines of the event. More than 100 entries were submitted and the winners chosen by a special committee of judges from member states, chaired by Kuwait, the sponsor of the awards.