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Friday Feature-Israel’s Coalition Talks Going Down to the Wire

Israel’s parliament, called the Knesset, has 120 members. This requires a minimum number of 61 MKs to form a governing coalition. In every election, parties must garner a minimum 3.25% of the vote in order to pass the “threshold” and enter the Knesset. Because of this system, even a small party with only a few seats can make outsized demands in return for an agreement to enter into a coalition government, and that dynamic has been playing out in Israel since the elections for the 21st Knesset on 9 April.

Just days away from the legal deadline for incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to present his governing coalition for the 21st Knesset to President Reuven Rivlin, none of the potential coalition partners who recommended that he be tasked with forming such a coalition following the elections have formally signed on. On Sunday, Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting that some of the leaders of potential partners were making unrealistic demands, adding a public appeal for them to lower their expectations.

However, later in the week, progress was reported following Netanyahu’s meetings with Arye Deri, leader of the Ultra-Orthodox Shas faction and Avigdor Liberman, leader of Yisrael Beytenu, who has reportedly demanded to return to his old post as Defense Minister. Some analysts expressed surprise at this, since it was Lieberman’s resignation from that post and his withdrawal from the governing coalition late last year which essentially triggered the most recent elections.

Additionally, Lieberman, whose party recieved only 5 mandates in the most recent election, is demanding that the government take a tougher stance to ensure the security of communities near the border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. He also wants a member of his faction (not necessarily himself) to be appointed chairman of the Knesset’s Interior Committee, along with other demands.

But the thorniest demand that Lieberman is making is that the perennial question of how to draft young men from Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox (haredi) community into some form of military service or civilian national service finally be settled. The issue has been an open wound in Israel’s political and social life for decades, with many ideas to solve it being tried but ultimately coming up short.

Deri and the leaders of other haredi parties have flatly refused to accept Lieberman’s plan for resolving the issue and Lieberman has been quoted as saying he won’t back down either, leaving Netanyahu and the Likud Party he leads trying to figure out a way forward. Meanwhile, the possibility that another round of elections might be required has already been quietly raised by some political analysts.

With the clock ticking towards the legal deadline for forming a coalition government and both sides digging in, negotiations can be expected to go down to the wire.

Netanyahu Reprieve Sparks Outrage on Left

Political opponents of incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed exasperation and outrage Wednesday following an announcement by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit that he has granted a request to delay Netanyahu’s hearing prior to a possible indictment on corruption charges from July to October. The announcement, which some analysts said would help Netanyahu in his ongoing negotiations with potential partners as he tries to form a governing coalition, also gives him time to push laws through the Knesset which would give sitting MKs immunity from prosecution for the duration of their time in office.

In related news, reports surfaced this week that the trial of Sara Netanyahu, the premier’s wife in a case titled the “Prepared Food Affair” which resulted from Sara being indicted on charges that she abused expense accounts for the Prime Ministers residence going back almost a decade appeared headed for a plea agreement. Mandelblit indicted her in June of 2018 on charges of fraud with aggravated circumstances and breach of public trust, but in recent days her attorneys have said she is willing to plead guilty to less severe charges while wrangling continues over the size of fines she will be required to pay.

BDS Movement Suffers More Setbacks
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered several setbacks on Wednesday, starting with an announcement by Solabia Group, a French maker of natural active ingredients for the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and microbiology industries, that it is acquiring Israel’s Algatech. The Israeli company, which has seen rapid expansion in recent years, said it expects to reach new heights of production and profitability with the new arrangement. Earlier this week, Tel Aviv’s Diamond Exchange received delegations from the US and China which included some of the biggest names in international gemstone trading.

The first delegation on Monday featured 25 members of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) led by President Susan M. Jacques. The delegation’s purpose in visiting Israel was to inaugurate a new laboratory at the Ramat Gan Stock Exchange. Later on Monday, deputy mayor of Shanghai Xu Kunlin led a delegation from the Shanghai Diamond Exchange. That visit concluded with an announcement that there will be an Israeli exhibition in China in July.

Here is a video about how YOU can help defeat BDS by Studying the Land of the Bible at Tel Aviv University

Iranian Leader Predicts Demise of US and Israel
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave another of his trademark fiery speeches to a group of university students on Wednesday, telling them that “You young people should be assured that you will witness the demise of the enemies of humanity, meaning the degenerate American civilization, and the demise of Israel." He also addressed the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, saying he never thought much of it and tried to warn those within the regime who were enthusiastic about its prospects.

Gaza-Launched Incendiary Devices Cause Fires in Southern Israel
Following a series of fires in southern Israel sparked by incendiary devices sent over the border attacked to kites and balloons from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, the IDF announced on Wednesday that it was restricting the zone fisherman from the Strip can use to 10 nautical miles off the coast, just one day after expanding the zone to 15 nautical miles.

Israel’s Cost of Living Set to Increase
Israel’s Ministry of the Interior announced on Wednesday that municipal property taxes (arnona) will increase by 2.58% on 1 January, 2020, with several economic analysts warning that this is likely to set off a spike in prices for nearly all consumer goods as merchants pass on the increase in their expenses to their customers. Rent for apartments as well as other household costs such as groceries, water and electricity, have also increased recently, with more price hikes expected going forward.

Heavy Fighting Reported in Northwest Syria
After several months of relative calm in Syria, heavy fighting has once again been reported between forces loyal to the regime of President Bashar Assad and rebel factions in the northwest corner of the country. Regime aircraft carried out strikes in several areas while fierce fighting was reported between ground forces around the town of Kafr Nabuda. All sides in the fighting, as well as civilian aid agencies, reported large numbers of people killed and wounded in these clashes.

“A full military incursion threatens to trigger a humanitarian catastrophe for over 3 million civilians caught in the crossfire, as well as overwhelm our ability to respond,” said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office.

Today's video shows a book event with legendary Israeli diplomat Zalman Shoval

US Says it is Successfully Deterring Iranian Aggression

US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan gave a press briefing at the Pentagon Tuesday in which he said, among other things, that the deployment of US military forces in the Middle East have deterred Iran. “I think our steps were very prudent and we've put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans and that is what is extremely important," Shanahan said, "I'd say we're in a period where the threat remains high and our job is to make sure that there is no miscalculation by the Iranians.”

Later in the day, he told another press briefing that “This is about deterrence, not about war. We are not about going to war. Our biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation. We do not want the situation to escalate."

Iranian President Hassan Rohani said in a live TV broadcast on Tuesday that "the Iranian nation will not be defeated by America, the White House could not defeat the Iranian nation." Acknowledging the difficulty imposed by economic sanctions he added "at the end of the road, the victory is ours."

Here is a video giving some in-depth analysis of the situation

Here is a video about a new project designed to keep track of Iran’s support for terrorism

Here is a recently released podcast which gives some commentary on current events

Here is a video giving some further analysis of the situation

White House Proposal for Bahrain Parley Gains Traction

A summit proposed by the White House to be held in Bahrain on 25 June to discuss economic aspects of the so-called “Deal of the Century” gained traction on Wednesday with the endorsement of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Palestinian Authority officials have already said they won’t participate while the Islamist terror militia Hamas has condemned the effort as a conspiracy to liquidate the Palestinian national cause. In related news, reports emerged this week that a consignment of ten armored vehicles supplied by the US have been transferred to the PA police through Jordan after years of protests against the move by Israel.

US Accuses Syria's Assad Regime of Chemical Attack
The US State Department issued a statement on Tuesday that it suspects Syria’s Assad regime of carrying out attacks against its enemies with chemical weapons. The attack is alleged to have taken place on Sunday in Idlib Province, the only territory still under the nominal control of regime opponents, including jihadist elements under the banner of a group calling itself Tahrir al-Sham, which has incorporated fighters from a variety of groups including remnants of the Al Nusra Front.

Shell Invests in Israel-based AI Start Up
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered another defeat this week when British-Dutch energy giant Shell announced that it is investing $4 million in Ravin.AI, an artificial intelligence start-up based in Haifa and London. The company has developed software which uses ordinary cameras to inspect vehicles for damage, marketing the software to car-rental agencies and their insurers. “Shell is constantly looking to invest and incubate the best ideas to provide new services and added value to our customers,” said Shell New Energies VP for Digital Businesses Roger Hunter. “We will continue to seek opportunities to work with the team to bring Ravin.AI to our network of customers.”

Israel Blesses the World
The Israeli NGO IsraAID has sent teams and humanitarian supplies to the South American country of Columbia to assist in relief efforts for the thousands of refugees streaming into the country from neighboring Venezuela. According to relief organizations, there are an estimated 1.2 million Venezuelan refugees in Columbia, with more coming every day.

Here is a video about other ways Israel is blessing the world

Hezbollah Leader Feted by UN Official
Israeli officials reacted furiously on Tuesday to a Tweet by United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis, in which he announced that he had met with Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem and received a copy of his book, which he also recommended others to read. "We are shocked and disappointed by this meeting with a designated terror organization’s leader, threatening Israel, Lebanon and the whole region," Israel’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon tweeted. "One doesn’t need to read the Naim Qassem book, courtesy of #Hezbollah terrorists, in order to understand this !!"

"The role of #UN representatives is to promote a stable and secure region and not to meet with the leaders of a terrorist organization and to glorify incitement against the State of Israel," Israel's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Danny Danon tweeted Wednesday morning. “The role of #UN representatives is to promote a stable and secure region and not to meet with the leaders of a terrorist organization and to glorify incitement against the State of Israel.”

Rohani Says Iran Facing ‘Economic War’

Iranian President Hassan Rohani declared Monday that he is seeking expanded executive powers to push back against the “economic war” being waged against his country by the US and its regional allies, adding that although he theoretically favors a negotiated solution to the current standoff "Today's situation is not suitable for talks and our choice is resistance only." US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, told reporters in Washington that "With Iran, we'll see what happens. But they've been very hostile. They've truly been the No.1 provocateur of terror. I think Iran would be making a very big mistake if they did anything. If they do something, it will be met with great force but we have no indication that they will. We'll have no choice."

Meanwhile, reports emerged on Monday that the Islamic Republic has made a 400% increase in its production of low enriched uranium, one week after Iranian officials announced that they would stop keeping some of their commitments under the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement.

Finally, reports have surfaced in various media outlets that increased economic sanctions on Iran are having a strong downward effect on its ability to support terrorist groups like Lebanese Hezbollah.

Here is a video about a new project designed to keep track of Iran’s support for terrorism

Here is a recently released podcast which gives some commentary on current events

Here is a video giving some further analysis of the situation

Investigation Continues Into Arson Attack on Christian Broadcaster

A fire which gutted the Jerusalem studios of Daystar, one of the world’s largest Christian broadcasters, was officially confirmed by Israeli police Tuesday morning to have been the result of an arson attack. “As many of you know, Daystar’s Jerusalem studio was recently destroyed by arson,” wrote Daystar owner Marcus Lamb in a statement on the Daystar website. “Reduced to a pile of rubble and ashes. I’m certain the enemy thought this attack would be fatal to our efforts to share the Gospel across Israel. But as usual, he’s wrong.”

“Even now we’re exploring every option and discovering how best to rebuild on a foundation the Lord laid for us long ago. Just as it was in the days of Nehemiah, who rebuilt the crumbling walls around Jerusalem, God will stand with us as we remain fully committed to the work of His Kingdom.”

“Many Christians believe in times like these at God will redeem the situation and turn what the enemy meant for evil to good,” said CBN’s Chris Mitchell, who broke the story. “It’s something I have heard a lot after this attack.”

Reports indicate that the fire started at 2:15 AM on Saturday morning, with security cameras recording images of the arsonist. “They see the explosion, then the fire,” said Dave Sharett, a contractor who has been supervising renovations on the studios which had been ongoing for over a year and were almost completed. “The next second, you see a rope going over the balcony and him climbing down the rope. He goes down to the floor below, gathers the rope and runs off.”

Israel Blesses the World
NIS 60 million in grant monies were dispensed this week to 14multidisciplinary teams with the objective of developing personalized medical options in Israel and around the world. “All of these projects promote novel approaches to medical challenges,” said Prof. Benny Geiger, chairman of the Israel Science Foundation (ISF). “I think this will increase dramatically the highest quality research, and we will see results in how we treat patients - not in 20 years, but sometime in the immediate future.”

Here is a video of a recent message about how Israel is a blessing to the world

Jerusalem Ranked Among World’s Best Location for Start-Ups
The 2019 Global Startup Ecosystem Report listed Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city, as the 8th best ecosystem for Life Science startups. "Jerusalem should be a light to the world from a create and innovation perspective. It is a place where new solutions emerge that can solve real-world problems in health, automotive, and any industry that can make life better," the report stated.

German Government Resolution on BDS Condemned
A group of Israeli academics sent a letter recently adding their names to calls for the German government to reject a recent non-binding resolution condemning the effort to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel as anti-Semitic. The letter, which failed to have the desired response, was exposed Monday by the Im Tirtzu organization, which noted that many of the professors who signed the letter were employed by universities which receive generous tax-payer funded support from the Israeli government. In related news, the Arab League issued a statement Sunday calling on the German parliament to rescind the non-binding resolution.

Here is a video showing a fun way YOU can defeat the BDS Movement

Hamas Thanks UK Labor Leader Corbyn for Support
The Islamist terror militia Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and recently launched hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians, issued a statement this week thanking Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK’s Labor Party, for a message he sent in support of an “Al-Quds Day” rally in central London on 11 May. Yes Atid leader Yair Lapid said in response "Jeremy Corbyn, here is a free piece of advice: if Hamas is thanking you then you're on the side of terrorism."

Tensions Spike Between Iran, US-led Coalition

The already high tensions between Iran and the US spiked Sunday evening when a rocket landed near the US Embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq, causing no casualties but immediately rousing suspicion about a possible attempt by Iranian-backed militias in the city to send a message to Washington. Meanwhile, the government of Saudi Arabia issued a statement on Sunday that they are not seeking a war with Iran but that they are ready for one if Iran starts it. "The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want a war in the region nor does it seek that," Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told a news conference. "We want peace and stability in the region but we will not sit on our hands in light of the continuing Iranian attack. The ball is in Iran's court and it is up to Iran to determine what its fate will be."

The statement, which was met by nearly identical statements by Iranian officials aimed at Saudi Arabia and the US, follow drone attacks on Saudi oil pipeline pumping stations last Tuesday which Riyadh has blamed on Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen. Meanwhile, King Salman has invited Arab League heads of state to an emergency meeting in Mecca, scheduled for 30 May.

"The current critical circumstances entail a unified Arab and Gulf stance toward the besetting challenges and risks," the UAE foreign ministry said in a statement.

Here is a recently released podcast which gives some commentary on current events

Here is a video giving some further analysis of the situation

Churches in West Bank Vandalized

Leaders of Palestinian Christian communities in the West Bank are calling on the Palestinian Authority to investigate vandalism attacks on churches near Ramallah and Bethlehem. The Church of God in the village of Aboud, west of Ramallah, was burglarized and damaged last Friday while the Saint Charbel Monastery in Bethlehem was also vandalized on the same day. “We feel we’re being deliberately targeted because we’re Christians,” a Christian woman from Aboud told The Jerusalem Post. “When you see two attacks on a church and monastery in one week, this makes you wonder whether there’s some kind of a scheme against Christians.”

“We pray in solidarity with this church and for the repentance of the aggressors,” the Holy Land Church organization said in its statement. “We also call on the responsible authorities to lay their hands on the perpetrators and bring them to justice as soon as possible.”

The Holy Land Council of Bishops also issued a statement condemning the attacks and what it characterized as the “robbery” of the Saint Charbel Monastery, which is located in downtown Bethlehem and is affiliated with the Lebanese Maronite Order.

Eurovision Contest Ends on High Note for Israel
The Eurovision song contest wrapped up in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening in Tel Aviv, with Holland’s Duncan Laurence taking the top prize while hometown hero Kobi Marimi finishing 23rd. The evening produced some controversy as pop superstar Madonna’s act included two backup dancers with Israeli and Palestinian flags on the back of their costumes while Icelandic band Hatari displayed pro-Palestinian banners during the live broadcast, an act which the European Broadcasters Union said they might be punished for since the Eurovision contest is explicitly non-political. The displays were also rejected by BDS groups, who characterized them as a “fig leaf” which didn’t balance out the fact that the artists had performed in Israel.

Here is the video of Kobi Marimi's Eurovision Finals Performance

Netanyahu Laments Difficulty in Forming Coalition
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during Sunday morning’s cabinet meeting that the leaders of potential partners for his coalition government are making unrealistic demands which make it difficult to sign agreements with them. “I hope that we will find a way, as soon as possible, to bring them back to reality so that we can form a strong and stable government for the State of Israel that will continue to lead the country to new heights,” he said.

In related news, Israel’s State Comptroller Committee declared on Monday morning that Netanyahu must submit his financial records for review by Friday, pending his request to allow donars to contribute towards the costs of his legal defence as he faces a possible indictment on several counts of corruption. The announcement was seen as a setback for Netanyahu by some legal analysts.

IDF Deputy COS to Attend NATO Meeting
In the latest defeat for the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir has been invited to attend a meeting of the NATO Military Committee meeting in Brussels next week. Senior military officers from Israel’s neighbours, Egypt and Jordan, will also attend under the auspices of NATO’s Middle East Dialogue group.
Today’s video tells the Story of Israel

Riots and Demonstrations Mark ‘Nakba Day’ 2019

An estimated 10,000 Palestinian residents of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip participated in riots and violent confrontations with Israeli troops guarding the border fence on Wednesday afternoon to mark “Nakba (Catastrophe) Day” as the Palestinians refer to the anniversary of Israel’s birth on 15 May, 1948. Several incendiary balloons were also sent over the border into Israel, sparking large fires which destroyed crops, trees and buildings inside Israel. Large demonstrations were also held in PA administered cities in the West Bank and in Israeli-Arab villages and among Arab students in some universities.

Senior Hamas official Fathi Hammad declared at one rally near the Gaza-Israel border that Hamas would soon lead the Palestinian people to “victory and uprooting the Zionist enemy from our land.” In a direct message to Israelis, he added “Go away, the day of your slaughter and elimination is nearing. You have no place in Jerusalem, Haifa and Jaffa.”

Other speeches made by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders echoed these sentiments, while speeches made by PA officials at rallies in the West Bank were less bellicose while still including maximalist demands which they said they would settle for in return for a cessation of hostilities with Israel.

Here are some videos which give a closer look at this situation

Iranian IRGC Commander Says His Troops Ready for War

Hossein Salami , commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) released a statement Wednesday declaring that his country is preparing for a “full confrontation” with its “enemies” even as many voices in the non-IRGC controlled media have been sounding notes of caution, harkening back to the difficult situation in Iran during the war with Iraq in the 1980s. For his part, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday evening that "I'm sure that Iran will want to talk soon," without giving any explanation as to what led to this assessment.

Elsewhere, a senior official in the United Arab Emirates issued a statement Wednesday saying his country was "committed to de-escalation, peace and stability" following a flare-up over alleged acts of sabotage damaged several oil tankers in its territorial waters. Anonymous US sources told media outlets the acts of sabotage were carried out by Iran while Iranian officials blamed Israel, saying the Jewish State was attempting to push Iran and its Arab neighbors into a conflict. Investigators from the US, France and Norway are reportedly on their way to the UAE to carry out a joint investigation with law enforcement agencies from the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

In related news, Saudi warplanes carried out heavy strikes on targets in the Yemeni city of Saana Thursday in apparent retaliation for what Riyadh claims were drone and missile attacks on an oil pipeline late Wednesday by Iranian-backed Houthi factions.

Here is a video giving some analysis of the strategic situation in the Middle East

Earthquake Shakes Up Israel
Residents of Jerusalem and several other cities in Israel’s central and southern districts reported feeling the ground beneath their feet moving on Wednesday evening as the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre reported detecting an earthquake measuring 4.6 on the Richter scale and centered dozens of kilometers off the coast. Residents of Cyprus, Egypt and Jordan also reported feeling the tremor.

Israeli Universities Site of ‘Nakba Day’ Demonstrations
A demonstration under the banner of “Nakbe (Catastrophe) Day” featuring Arab-Israeli students and elected Members of Knesset was held on 15 May near the entrance gate to Tel Aviv University, with similar demonstrations held at other Israeli Universities. Jewish students held a counter-demonstration, with one counter-demonstrator telling journalists "The fact that Israeli universities provide a platform for those who mourn the failed attempt to annihilate the Jews shows the backwards state of Israeli academia."

Here are some videos about studying in English at Tel Aviv University

Beresheet Spacecraft Crash Site Identified by NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) issued a statement Wednesday evening announcing that they have pinpointed the spot on the lunar surface where the Beresheet spacecraft, sent to the moon by private Israeli company SpaceIL, crashed on 11 April. The statement was accompanied by photographs of the site, provided by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) telescope.

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