Kafe Knesset for Feb. 23
Netanyahu adds another stop to his busy itinerary — Far away from the troubling reality of criminal probes and political hazards, Netanyahu appears to be enjoying the Grand World BB tour. Currently enjoying the summer sun in Sydney, Australia, the PM announced he will be flying to Moscow in two weeks time. He will meet with President Putin to discuss Israeli concerns about Syria and Iran. The Russian trip will be the sixth that Netanyahu is taking during February and March. After London, DC, Singapore and Sydney this month, Netanyahu will be spending most of March abroad as well, traveling to Beijing and then back to DC for AIPAC after visiting Moscow. All of the trips have huge strategic and economic significance, but as a senior political figure told Kafe Knesset today, “it looks like Netanyahu is really trying not to be here.” In the wake of the ongoing criminal investigations and political rivals who are waiting to attack, Netanyahu appears to prefer the smiling photo ops with world leaders. He is diverting the public agenda towards statesmanship, an arena in which he has no visible competition to date.
However, a day after Netanyahu returns from Sydney next week, he will be welcomed by a cold – and old – political stumbling point: the State Comptroller’s report about Operation Protective Edge. The contentious report, parts of which has already been leaked quite extensively in recent months, is expected to contain some tough conclusions for Netanyahu and his former defense minister Moshe Yaalon, exposing some inconvenient mistakes in the decision-making process leading up to the 2014 operation. This issue has been fueling a mean and nasty political fight for months, between Netanyahu and Yaalon versus Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett. Bennett accused them of not preparing sufficiently or informing the security cabinet about the fatal terror tunnel threat. The former IDF chief of staff and other senior IDF officers will also be criticized in the report but all eyes are on Bennett, whose version of the situation was basically adopted by the Comptroller and on the dynamics of Netanyahu’s and Yaalon’s reactions.
Bennett will be starting next week already emboldened with news of four new judges appointed to the Supreme Court yesterday, three of them associated with his National Religious constituents and considered conservative. Bennett praised his number two, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, for “doing the impossible and turning over the balance of power, picking excellent conservative judges.” The appointments will put to rest months of bickering and arguments between politicians, judges and lawyers sitting on the judicial selection committee and are considered a huge achievement for the Jewish Home voters, who are traditionally hostile towards the High Court, largely in the name of lack of diversity.
Meanwhile, another political debacle is dominating the agenda, regarding the investigation of the January events at the Bedouin village of Um El Hiran, in which an Israeli policeman and a Bedouin citizen were killed during an attempt to evacuate the southern unrecognized village. Immediately after the incident, the police and public security minister Gilad Erdan dubbed it as a terror attack, accusing the Bedouin driver Yakub Abu Al Kiyan of being a Daesh supporter who perpetrated a car ramming attack before being killed by police gunfire. Recent reports have indicated that the investigation is due to show that Abu Al Kiyan had no intention to drive over the policeman, prompting calls from Arab and left-wing MKs for the resignation of Erdan and police chief Roni Alsheich.
Erdan responded to the criticism today, urging his critics to wait until the final conclusions and findings are out, but vowing to “learn the lessons needed” and apologize if it turns out he was wrong. “No one had any information source other than the police forces on the ground, and I, as a minister who wasn’t at the scene, can only rely on the police,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Is it possible that mistakes were made in the difficult and complex event that took place there? Possibly, especially in a complex situation like the one the forces were in. If it turns out that there were errors here or that it wasn’t an attack, we must learn from it, and I will make sure that the lessons will be learned and that what needs to be fixed will be fixed.”
Netanyahu, who also treated the incident as a terror attack at the time, took a similar approach. Speaking to journalists during a briefing in Australia, the PM said that he checked three times with the police before joining the statements characterizing the case as a terror attack. “We should wait and examine the case and reach the truth. If there was a mistake we will have to say that we were wrong but I will wait for the official report.”