While Bibi is meeting Putin in Sochi, the US special envoy to Syria, Michael Ratney, is in Jerusalem this week, Kafe Knesset has learned. Ratney will be meeting senior Foreign and Defense Ministry officials, as part of “a regular and ongoing dialogue between Israel and the White House,” a senior Israeli official said. At the same time, the Prime Minister’s office went out of its way to reject recent criticism of the US administration and clarify that the dialogue is productive and strong. Before embarking to Russia, PMO officials briefed reporters that the security delegation lead by Mossad head Yossi Cohen came back from the White House last week “very satisfied with the US thorough understanding of the Israeli positions about the increasing Iranian presence in Syria and agreed to continue constant contact on the matter.”
Remnants of the Israeli concerns could be heard in comments given by Likud Cabinet minister Yisrael Katz today. “The US must resume a leadership position in the region. The outgoing administration’s policy of leading from behind failed and enabled the Iranian axis of evil, backed by Russia, to reach a critical influence position which poses a threat to US regional allies,” Katz said.
Bibi’s daylong trip to Sochi, in the midst of the dry news cycle in August, prompted politicians from across the spectrum to weigh in on the Syrian-Iranian issue and even the PM’s rivals wished him luck. “The PM is on a critical 24-hour mission to push Iran away from the border. The message must be clear – if you don’t push Iran away, Israel knows how to preserve its security,” Yair Lapid tweeted, and former defense minister Bogie Yaalon said that “it’s good that Netanyahu is trying to stop the unbearable Iranian effort to create a direct territorial reach from Tehran to the Mediterranean.” Labor leader Avi Gabbay wished Netanyahu luck, but expressed skepticism about his chances of success, saying: “The Iranians, and mostly the Shiite militias they brought to Syria, are the real force on the ground and not the Russian Air Force. Our strength is our deterrence, and like in every security challenge in the past, we must trust ourselves and not others.”
It’s the start of the Jewish month of Elul, the beginning of a period of reckoning in Jewish tradition, when people start reflecting on the past year and prepare to repent for their sins. Or, for some in Israel politics, it’s just another reason to stir up some excitement.
This morning, Likud MK Yehudah Glick and Bayit Yehudi MK Shuli Muallem-Refaeli, Chairpeople of the Knesset Caucus for the Temple Mount, decided to visit Judaism’s holiest site. The catch? Netanyahu has a rule against lawmakers and ministers visiting the Mount since November 2015. As expected, Glick and Muallem-Refaeli were stopped by police from actually getting on to the Temple Mount, but not without them making a fuss on social media, including a Facebook Live video of them being barred from entering. Glick argued that the ban is illegal: “The Prime Minister can’t give instructions to the police, because then he could tell them not to investigate him,” he said. “It can’t be that anyone in the world can come to the Temple Mount, even members of the Islamic Movement, but not MKs. I want Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to come and stand for MKs’ rights and immunity.” Muallem-Refaeli called the ban “twisted,” because MKs weren’t the ones who sparked violence on the Temple Mount. She also pointed out that Arab MKs who are not well-known have managed to get on the Mount without police recognizing them.
The start of the new month also means that the Women of the Wall are back. In light of the Kotel-related lawsuit by the Conservative and Reform Movements, with the Supreme Court due to make a ruling in eight days on whether the state can uphold its suspension of the Kotel compromise, WofW got extra attention this morning. The police put up barricades to protect the WotW while they said morning prayers, so the other women and girls who came to protest them came up with a new, non-physical tactic to disrupt them: Screaming like banshees. You can hear them in this video – it kind of sounds like there’s a roller coaster next to the Kotel.