DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 23, 2009
Preparing to take over as Israel's 32nd prime minister this week, Binyamin Netanyahu bound 7-8 ministers and senior officials into a powerful new body to assist him in top-level decision-making on military, diplomatic, security and intelligence policy-making and actions.
Its members fall into two main groups, military and strategic-intelligence. Their input will guide Netanyahu's steps on such critical matters as whether to strike Iran's nuclear facilities or the tenor of his government's relations with the Obama administration.
It will be up to him as prime minister to pick his way among the divergent views offered him, because the members of the two teams, far from being yes-men, are individualists on the security issues in their fields of expertise
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 7, 2009
The man certain to form the next Israeli government after the general election of Feb. 10, Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu, started out with a handy lead of well over 30 Knesset seats (out of 120). But his campaign blunders are eroding this lead to below 30. The deserters are swinging over to Avigdor Lieberman's right-wing Israel Beitenu which is now polling 20 and still counting.
In a campaign dominated by personalities and security concerns, Netanyahu's big mistake is his apparent choice of the unpopular Labor leader, Ehud Barak, to carry on as defense minister in the next government. His second is his refusal to name a finance minister for a country worried sick by the slide into serious recession and growing unemployment.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 5, 2009
"To all the warmongers among you I say I am not minister of war but minister of defense."
This emotional statement was delivered by Ehud Barak Monday, Nov. 24, to his many critics at a briefing session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee. He went on to lambast Iran for its energetic pursuit of its nuclear program while deceiving the world. Israel does not rule out any option against a nuclear-armed Iran, he said, "but the less said about this better."
debkafile's military sources suggest that Barak take his own advice. While never short of words and promises, his performance in deeds is seriously wanting.
There are three fundamental problems with the defense minister's position and they explain why he is sinking fast in all the opinion polls:
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 24, 2009
The Israeli voter will want to know the name of the defense, finance and foreign ministers in Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu's shadow cabinet well before general election date of Feb. 10, 2009. He - and she - are desperate for a fresh, credible team capable of addressing its deep concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran, a missile-battered southwest and an impending economic recession. Netanyahu will have to take this into account. He will have to roll up his sleeves as soon as soon as the list of candidates is chosen by the 99,000 registered Likud voters on Dec. 8 and set about building an alternative transition team.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 7, 2008
What brought the unnamed accuser from America to the door of the Israeli police at this time? According to an Israeli paper, he laid before police investigators strong evidence of a new and grave corruption charge against prime minister Ehud Olmert, the fifth case opened against him thus far - all predating his two-year term as prime minister.
The attorney general Menahem Mazuz found the material substantial enough to order the police to question the prime minister under caution within 48 hours, raising one of the many questions on which a court gag order has condemned the public to ignorance.
Israeli politicians are in a dither but treading on eggs until they too find out what it is all about, why now and whether Olmert can weather the new scandal.
The Olmert government was stripped down to a fragile majority of 64.
In the view of debkafile's political sources, Olmert's anonymous accuser was put up to opening his can of worms by a party seeking to cloud Israel's forthcoming 60th anniversary celebrations to which a glittering gallery of invited foreign guests, led by US president George W. Bush, is invited.
That party, whether domestic or foreign, wants to get rid of Ehud Olmert.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 4, 2007
The incoming chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, won a full four-year term when the cabinet unanimously endorsed him Sunday, Feb 4, instead of the standard 3 years and an optional fourth. He takes the reins from Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz on Feb. 14. Ashkenazi faces some hard choices before he can settle into the job. The flames of a Palestinian civil war engulfing the Gaza Strip pose a multiple threat to Israel which his bosses, the politicians, persist in brushing aside.
Israel not only supplies the Fatah side led by Muhammad Dahlan with weapons and money to fight Hamas, but also intelligence and logistic backing, thereby sending two messages:
If Dahlan cannot finish Hamas, the IDF will go in and do it for him.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 23, 2006
Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert informed the nation Sunday night: "Our soldiers will be trained to stand up to the threats confronting us, principally from Iran, and we have already started work." Already, he said. So what have "we" been doing till now? Handing the Gaza Strip to the Iranian-armed Hamas?
He was addressing a group of his Kadima party followers.
The new star poised to expand the government coalition this week, Israeli Beitenu's Avigdor Lieberman, added his two bits: "I'm joining he government," he said "to save Israel from the Iranian nuclear (threat)."
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 19, 2006
The Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert will be meeting defense minister Amir Peretz to attempt a meeting of minds before he is due in Washington for his first White House talks on May 23. He can't afford to throw his weight about too much, because it is in Peretz's power to bring the government down by walking out with his Labor party. The prime minister cannot blind himself to the dissonances in the Labor leader first essay in government as head of the national defense establishment. Too many complaints are coming in. And a war on terror is in progress, after all
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 6, 2006
Two days before chairing his first cabinet meeting Sunday, May 7 in Jerusalem, the incoming prime minister put up the price of bread by seven percent. This was a slap in the face for his three new coalition partners and, in particular, the new industry, trade and labor minister, Eli Yishai, head of the ultra-religious Shas.
The Sharon government's most notable action was the controversial evacuation of the Gaza Strip in 2005. Ehud Olmert proposes a follow-up on the West Bank to "set Israel's final borders" on the East.
His detractors remark that the removal 8,500 Israelis from the Gaza Strip was a wrenching, near-impossible feat and a daunting test of national leadership. They question whether the new prime minister is up to this test which, according to the concept he has outlined, potentially involves removing ten times that number from their West Bank homes and expanding the large settlement blocs. Few credit him with the clout to force his will on a reluctant Knesset (in which his coalition commands 66 out of 120 seats, barring further expansions) - as did Sharon.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 1, 2006
During her two-day tour of northwest England, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice protested to the anti-US demonstrators dogging every footstep: "I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them, I'm sure. But when you look back in history, what will be judged will be, did you make the right strategic decisions?"
Since Rice appears to be leaving the Iraq problem to the next heads of the state department, where does that leave Israel, which is a good deal closer to the troubles in Iraq than the United States of America?
Given the" thousands" of American mistakes, why on earth did Israel's incoming prime minister Ehud Olmert pledge in his victory speech of March 28 to coordinate his Palestinian policies with President George W. Bush, like Ariel Sharon before him? He surely knows that the Bush administration cannot - and not longer even wants to - spend any more time unraveling the Middle East conflict.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 26, 2006
With 48 hours to go before the polling stations open for Israel's 17th Knesset election, 4.5 million voters are holding the three leading party blocs in high suspense.
At the last sampling, one-third of the 120 parliamentary seats were undecided. What most rocked campaign managers back was the frank admission by 21-28-year olds that they do not intend to turn out at all, because they do not regard a single party leader, whether Kadima's acting prime minister Ehud Olmert or opposition leaders, Binyamin Netanyahu (a former Likud prime minister) and Amir Peretz of Labor, worth the candle.
At the last count, Kadima was still ahead with an estimated 33 seats, according to opinion polls. If it falls any further - and is not overtaken by either of its rivals - any government that is put together will be deeply fragmented and therefore short-lived. Israel would then face a period of high political volatility.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 8, 2006
The campaign broadcasts launched by 16 parties Tuesday, March 7, snagged only a 12% on the television rating. The electorate is not charmed by any of the would-be prime ministers' personalities; neither does the public buy their evasions on pressing issues, or the heavy-handed way they have of making butts of rivals. The fuzzy lines of electioneering for the 17th Knesset ballot reflect the contestants' perplexities and failings.
While the media consultants of all three leading contestants - Olmert, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Likud and Amir Peretz of Labor - publicly enthused over their clients' first TV clips, privately, debkafile's political sources report, they were mercilessly critical.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 5, 2006
It soon became evident Wednesday night, Jan. 4, that prime minister Ariel Sharon was very ill indeed. After he went into emergency surgery at Hadassah Ain Karem hospital to drain the blood flooding his brain, his close aides would only say: We are praying for a miracle. Minutes after he was admitted to the hospital, acting prime minister Ehud Olmert assumed his powers. This time there was no hesitation, unlike after his stroke three weeks ago. The rabbis and religious parties added to the sense of crisis by asking the public to pray for him. Everyone began to understand that, even if the operation was a success, Ariel Sharon would not be fit to resume his duties for months - if at all.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 31, 2005
Prime minister Ariel Sharon and his new Kadima party continue to crest the opinion polls. They have for the moment emerged without a scratch from the security mishaps of the past week, even though these incidents accentuate the heightened security perils preying on the country as a result of last summer's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.
They were accompanied by the exposure in a damaging press leak of Sharon's state of health as being a lot more serious than given out by his aides after his stroke two weeks ago.
Nonetheless, the latest polls place the prime minister's one-man party Kadima miles ahead of the field with a potential 40-42 seats in the 120-member Knesset (the figures vary from poll to poll), Labor plummeting (from 22) to 16-19, and Likud climbing back to 16 and rising. Shinui (Change)'s respectable 15-mandate representation in the outgoing Knesset has melted away to 1-5. In contrast, the Russian-immigrant Israel Beitenu appears to be prospering - up from 4 to 7.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 21, 2005
Israel's creaking, turgid political system is breaking up and on the move. The decades-old Likud and Labor parties which have dominated all the national governments are crumbling. Furthermore, the "right' and "left" epithets, always imprecise and simplistic, are losing any significance.
Ariel Sharon's breakaway from Likud, an alliance of parties he himself forged 32 years ago, is the latest symptom of the disintegration. Sharon's new Party of National Responsibility is engaged in a mighty tug-o'-war with Likud over ministers, Knesset ministers and members of party institutions, who are being pulled two ways.
The first meeting of his new list, attended by 12 MKs, he promised to follow the Middle East road map, wage a relentless war on terror and refrain from further disengagements.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 6, 2005
As the 10th anniversary memorial ceremonies for the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin go into high gear, more people are asking how a lone killer, the ultranationalist Yigael Amir, was able to get close enough to the heavily-guarded prime minister to shoot him in the back as he left a Tel Aviv peace rally. And if there was a conspiracy, what was the motive behind it?
The spreading skepticism about the obvious answers persuaded Dror Yitzhaki, the former head of the Shin Beit internal security services' bodyguard detail on duty at the time, to break the long silence he maintained from the time of his resignation.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 27, 2005
Israeli prime minister Aril Sharon's victory over his longtime rival and predecessor Binyamin Netanyahu is unquestioned, notwithstanding its narrow margin - 104 out of a nearly 3,000 ruling Likud central committee members. In 1996, Netanyahu wrested the premiership from Labor's Shimon Peres by a few thousand, but even an edge of one vote counts as a win.
But Sharon's triumph does not prove that the right-of-center party has embraced his guiding principles, as his spokesmen are claiming. The losing side led by Netanyahu and the anti-evacuation rebel leader MK Uzi Landau did after all garner very close to 50% of the vote, nearly doubling the Likud anti-evacuation rebels' strength. The rift cutting through the heart of Sharon's party since last year when he first broached his disengagement plan is more unbridgeable than ever.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 19, 2005
Even before he set out for home Monday, Sept. 19, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon charged into combative mode against his political adversaries, using a New York meeting with Jewish leaders as his platform. He declared he had lost the majority of the party he founded because of the "lies and terrible incitement of a minority which opposed the Gaza evacuations."
The heating up of the race between Sharon and Netanyahu may even help Landau run off with the party chairmanship and prime ministerial candidacy in the Likud primaries.
He is the quintessential Mr. Clean, a rare asset that may attract the general voter even more than his being vindicated in his dire prophecies of a breakdown in national security.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 11, 2005
The most intriguing question is what led Shaul Mofaz to raise the flag of mutiny against the prime minister. For eighteen months, his obedience has been almost machinelike. He activated the army against Israeli civilians for the first time in its history, lent a hand to the purging of the high command and tied the hands of military intelligence, lest they obstruct Sharon's disengagement plans for Gaza Strip.
He claims truthfully that his observant religious background held him back from sending Jews to destroy synagogues. But looking beyond this claim, debkafile's analysts find a more likely cause: he felt his loyalty had been rewarded with a kick in the teeth when Sharon last week abruptly snatched security responsibility for the Gaza Strip from the defense ministry and handed it to vice prime minister, Labor leader Shimon Peres.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report August 19, 2005
The tale of the acid attack by disorderly evacuation resisters against Israeli troops and police was born on the spur of the moment amid the noise and clamor of the evacuation of Kfar Darom synagogue in the Gaza Strip Thursday, Aug 18.
It was picked up without any sort of investigation with suspicious speed. Live broadcasts from the scene reportedly hysterically that six ambulances had rushed the injured police officers to hospital.
Friday afternoon, Aug 19, Michael Eytan, chairman of the Knesset law committee, published a furious protest against "the acid lie." He called it "a blood libel" designed to mar the atmosphere of restraint and mutual sympathy that had prevailed in the evacuation operation till then.