Daily Kickoff: Does Cuba signal Iran is next? | Video: Obama handed Cuban cigar at WH Hanukkah party | PM Modi tweets Hanukkah wishes in Hebrew today

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ISRAELEX: “Netanyahu could be disqualified from Likud leadership race” by Lahav Harkov: “Likud Comptroller Shai Galili invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a pre-disqualification hearing Friday, on grounds that he improperly used Likud resources in his leadership primary run. Netanyahu will have to write a letter to Galili or meet him in person to defend himself within the next week, or he will not be able to run for leader of Likud.” [JPost] • Former Likud member Moshe Kahlon expected to announce that former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren will run on his Knesset electoral list [Haaretz] • Poll: Likud could finish in third place [JPost]

PALACE INTRIGUE: “Former Israeli PM Olmert: Sheldon Adelson told President Bush I was a traitor” by Revital Hovel: “Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert claimed in recordings released Thursday that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson had called him a “traitor” in a conversation with then-U.S. President George Bush. “Adelson, the whore – this dog, son of a dog – went to President Bush and said that I’m a traitor. Bush told me,” Olmert said in a secretly-recorded conversation with his former assistant Shula Zaken. The conversation was held – and recorded by Zaken – in May 2011 during the Holyland bribery case, in which both Olmert and Zaken were convicted.” [Haaretz]

MORE DETAILS EMERGE: “Pope Benedict helped free Alan Gross from Cuba” by Nicole Winfield: “Pope Francis rightly got credit for helping bring the U.S. and Cuba together and free U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross. But it was Francis’ predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who made the first high-level Vatican maneuvers to release Gross, spurred in part by an unlikely group of papal lobbyists. The American Jewish Committee was one of several Jewish groups that approached the Vatican in the months before Benedict’s March 2012 visit to Cuba to ask that the German pontiff raise the issue of the Jewish captive on humanitarian grounds with Cuba’s leadership.” [AP

—“The Senate’s back-channel in Cuba deal” by David Rogers: “Tim Rieser was a Vermont public defender before coming to the Senate Appropriations Committee in the late 1980s – and in many ways, he never stopped. Like all staffers, any power he has is owed to his patrons — in this case both Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and the committee’s Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). But from foreign prisons to U.S. watch lists, Rieser has repeatedly used that leverage to intercede for the vulnerable. And when Alan Gross got off the plane from Cuba Wednesday, he was quick to hug this wiry-framed, 62-year-old clerk from the halls of the Senate’s Dirksen office building. Indeed, one subplot to Wednesday’s historic events was Rieser’s back-channel role, traveling to-and-from Cuba over the past two years to help win freedom for Gross and advance a more open U.S. policy toward Havana.” [Politico] • “SKDK’s Jill Zuckman helped free Alan Gross” [BuzzFeed]

—VIDEO: “President Obama takes a whiff of a Cuban cigar at White House Hanukkah party” [NYPost]

HAPPENING TODAY: At 1:30PM, President Obama will hold his annual end of the year news conference at the White House [C-SPAN]

—At 9:30AM, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer on “Diplomacy in Colflict: Improving on Special Envoys” at a panel hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace. “Nearly every modern U.S. administrationhas named special envoys or special representatives to address high-stakes conflicts by applying the kind of concentrated attention that exceeds the day-to-day capacity of the State Department and other regular bureaucratic structures. But how well does this approach really work? And what should be done to bolster the effectiveness of these envoys?” Kurtzer will join former envoys Ambassador Princeton Lyman and Ambassador Robert Beecroft who recently published a report on the topic. [USIP]

BLINKEN SUCCESSOR NAMED: “Number 2 at CIA Moves to White House” by Simon Engler: “The selection of Avril Haines to serve as deputy to National Security Advisor Susan Rice will put an Obama administration veteran with a long record in the intelligence and foreign-policy worlds into a powerful role in a White House working to burnish its legacy while battling accusations that it has centralized power and micromanaged key decisions.” [TheCable]

WHAT’S NEXT? “Does the “new chapter” with Havana mean Tehran (and a nuke deal) will be the next stop on President Obama’s legacy tour?” by Aaron David Miller: “What do Cuba and Iran have in common? Well… let’s see. Both are authoritarian countries headed by aging dictators; both claim revolutionary ideologies; both have relationships with the United States driven by a half century of bad blood; both have American citizens as prisoner/hostages; both have young populations eager to break out; both are under U.S. sanctions; and both carry complex political and Congressional complications for U.S. politicians and certain aspiring presidential candidates. Oh yeah, one more thing. Both are the objects of the attention of a U.S. president who fashions himself a transformer still and seems determined to leave a legacy that sets relations with each on new and historic course. One down and one to go?”

“The differences between Cuba and Iran abound. But take notice. President Obama’s Cuba initiative should be a clear sign of where he might like to go with Iran on the nuclear issue in coming months. Here’s what ties the Cuba and Iran situations together — at least in the president’s mind as he contemplates getting to an agreement with Iran next year. Legacy… Secrecy… Change from Below… Create Facts… Time’s running out for Obama, and he’ll never pass this way again. So why not move on Cuba and try for Iran too, an even bigger prize? And as I’ve pointed out before, it’s likely that both the president and Secretary of State John Kerry see additional opportunity in the Israeli-Palestinian issue if the March 2015 Israeli elections break in a way that produces a government willing and able to make decisions on the peace process.” [ForeignPolicy]

IRAN TALKS: “At U.N., Iran urged to show more flexibility in nuclear talks” by Louis Charbonneau: “Iran has not demonstrated sufficient flexibility in nuclear talks with six world powers aimed at ending a 12-year standoff with the Islamic Republic over its atomic ambitions, France and Britain said on Thursday. The remarks at the United Nations came just after the completion of another inconclusive round of negotiations in Geneva this week between Iranian officials and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.” [Reuters] • “Senior cleric: Iran has knowledge to build a nuclear bomb” [TheGuardian] • “Iran unveils monument to Jewish soldiers killed in war with Iraq” [Haaretz/AP]

BACKSTORY: “Burgas attack said to have put Hezbollah on Mossad spy’s trail: Hezbollah has begun trying Mohammad Shorbah, a senior official in the Lebanese terror group’s external operations unit, for treason over accusations that he was an agent for Israel’s Mossad spy agency, Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper reported Friday. The group’s suspicion was reportedly aroused when the Bulgarian interior minister accused it of being behind the attack. Shorbah had informed Israel that Hezbollah was behind the attack, and Jerusalem, in turn, relayed the information to the Bulgarian authorities, the report said. [TOIDailyStar] • “Hamas reconstructing terror tunnels using Israeli materials” [YNet]

DOES MATTI FRIEDMAN DESERVE CREDIT FOR THIS ONE? — AP Headline: “Under Abbas, majority say they can’t speak freely” by Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh:“Two-thirds of Palestinians say they are afraid to criticize Mahmoud Abbas, according to a poll, and some of the Palestinian president’s recent actions only seem to confirm claims that dissent comes at a price. Last month, Abbas outlawed the West Bank’s largest labor union and briefly jailed its two leaders for organizing strikes. Security agents routinely monitor social media and send threats or complaints to some of those criticizing Abbas. Meanwhile, the Palestinian leader’s Fatah movement continues to purge supporters of an exiled rival.” [AP]

STATE DEPT: “We don’t support the Palestinians’ UN draft resolution” — From yesterday’s briefing: “QUESTION: — let’s focus on what was supposed to be the focus of the Secretary’s diplomacy this week. The Palestinians released their draft resolution – or their full resolution last night. And I was wondering, now that it is public and released, if you have an official response to it – whether you would support it or not. MS. PSAKI: We have seen the draft. It is not something we would support, and we think others feel the same and are calling for further consultations. The Palestinians understand that. You may have also seen President Abbas speak to this earlier today, and have said they support continued consultations and are not pushing for a vote on this now.” [TranscriptC-SPAN Video] • “Full text ofPalestinians’ UN resolution: End the occupation by 2017″ [ToI] • “Israel raps Palestinian UN draft as ‘gimmick'” [Reuters]

REPORT: “Israel Gas Deals With Egypt, Turkey Will Happen, U.S. Envoy Says” by Calev Ben-David & Shoshanna Soloman: “We have a remarkable situation where the self-interest of each of the parties is remarkably similar in the energy sphere,” said Amos Hochstein, U.S. State Department special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs. He spoke in an interview at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Hochstein helped broker deals signed this year between Noble Energy Inc., the U.S. company that discovered the gas with several Israeli partners, and Jordan’s Arab Potash Co. and U.S.- affiliated Jordan Bromine Co. The State Department also “coordinated and supported” the signing of a letter of intent in September between Noble and its Israeli partners to provide the National Electric Power Company of Jordan with gas over 15 years.” [Bloomberg]

TOP-OPS: Eric Yoffie: “Naftali Bennett is the anti-Messiah of American Jewry” [Haaretz] • Richard Kemp & Joseph Raskas: “Europe Needs an anti-ISIS Playbook” [WSJ] • Margalit Bejarano: “Will Israel follow the U.S. lead and restore ties with Cuba?” [Haaretz] • Elliott Abrams: “What did Obama trade for Alan Gross?” [IsraelHayom] • Haleh Esfandiari: “Iran’s Rouhani Pushes Back” [WSJ] • Alan Dershowitz: “The Case Against Harvard Boycotting SodaStream” [TheCrimson] • Mariam Barghouti: “Ramallah’s Mean Streets” [NYTimes]

—Haaretz is also running this op-ed today: “Obama, do another Cuba: Lift the perennial American veto for Israel in the UN” by Carolina Landsmann [Haaretz]

**Good Friday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email editor@jewishinsider.com**

2016 WATCH: Jeb Bush Briefs Loyalists as He Weighs 2016 White House Bid: “Over filet mignon and key lime pie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gathered Wednesday evening in the Miami area with about two dozen of his closest friends and most loyal fundraisers to tell them personally about his consideration of a presidential campaign. Two of Mr. Bush’s closest political advisers also attended the gathering: Sally Bradshaw, his former chief of staff, and Mike Murphy, who led Arizona Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2000. They promised to run an “innovative” campaign, according to some of the guests, who were asked not to discuss the gathering.” [WSJ] • “The tortoise and the hare: Bush’s bold jump catches Clinton backers by surprise” [Politico] • “As 2016 Nears, Clinton Keeps in Mind Mistakes of 2008 Campaign” [NYTimes] • David Weigel: “Is the Draft Warren Campaign a Piece of Progressive Performance Art?” [Bloomberg] • Rand Paul: “Trade With Cuba ‘Probably A Good Idea'” [AP] • “Rubio says Rand Paul’s clueless on Cuba” [Politico] • “Carly Fiorina Hiring for Presidential Campaign” [NationalJournal]

—NEW SIENA RESEARCH POLL: Favorables among Jewish voters in New York — Biden 68%; Hillary 60%; Obama 50%; Christie 50%. H/T Jacob Kornbluh [Siena]

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Lev Leviev‘s Africa Israel warns of rouble impact on Russian properties”[Reuters] • “Hotelier Sam Nazarian Says He Needs to ‘Take Some Time Away’ From SBE” [WSJ] •Melohn sells Midtown rental to Wasserman for $132M” [RealDeal] • Lisa Belzberg drops UWS Townhouse for $10M” [Observer] • “Gordian Group Appoints Fred Zeidman as Chairman”[Newswire] • “Leaked Sony emails show Daniel Loeb‘s influence on studio execs” [Reuters]

STARTUP NATION: “Israeli Venture Capatalists Finance Arab Startups” by Efraim Chalamish: “While the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is frozen and many countries in the region are facing civil wars and political violence, several Israeli investors are busy investing in Arab or Israeli-Arab startups and incubators. Al Bawader, for example, is an Israeli-government-supported fund that invests in Israeli-Arab startups. Another leading example is Amelia Investments, a new Israeli private equity fund led by Chemi Peres, the former president’s son and an Israeli venture capitalist dedicated to investments in companies operating in the Middle East or with close ties to the region. It has been reported that the fund has already invested in Tawkin Labs, a startup accelerator for Israeli-Arab entrepreneurs.”[HuffPost] • “Lockheed forms Israeli cyber research group” [C4ISR]

TOP TWEETS: @AmbassadorPower – “Applaud Israel, China, Germany, Switzerland, Bolivia & Brazil for their recent pledges to #EbolaResponse. More countries must contribute.” [Twitter

—Prime Minister of India @NarendraModi — אני מאחל לחבריי בני הדת היהודית חג חנוכה שמח! מי יתן שחג אורים זה, ותקופה זו של חגיגות תבשר שלום, תקווה ורווחה לכל. [Twitter] • “Wishing my Jewish friends a Happy Hanukkah! May this Festival of Lights and the festive season ring in peace, hope and well-being for all.” [Twitter]

TALK OF THE TOWN: Rockland County Legislator Aron Wieder ‘In Shock’ After ReveivingISIS-style Threatening Letter: “On Thursday, Spring Valley Legislator Aron Wieder revealed to local media that the chilling picture was sent to his county office on Monday in an envelope postmarked from Monsey and sent under the name of “Moshe Muhammad.”  “I opened the letter and I was completely shocked. I literally had shivers running down my spine,” Wieder said. “It’s meant to intimidate and to shock. If it’s someone who is sympathetic toward ISIS or someone who is hateful toward the Orthodox community is no matter, it’s equally disgusting.” [JPLoHud]

AP: “Innovative California Rabbi Harold Schulweis Dies” [APTabletMag]

WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: “Here’s why email newsletters can be so powerful — and valuable”[Gigaom]


That’s all folks; have a great day!
**Have a tip, suggestion, or even an op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Email  editor@jewishinsider.com**


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