Israel Round-Up: Lunar Landing, U.S. Israeli Security and So Much More

Jason Greenblatt, the U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations, publicly criticized the Palestinian Authority over the weekend for rejecting $150 million in revenue collected for it by Israel.

Earlier this month Israel implemented a law passed last summer to withhold $11 million from its tax collection dispersal to the PA. The amount being withheld is equal to the payment made by the PA to terrorists for the murder or attempted murder of Israelis, a scheme known as “Pay for Slay.”

But the Palestinian Authority – in a move which sure looks like cutting off its nose to spite its face – is refusing to accept any of the tax revenue unless the withheld portion, the Pay for Slay portion, is also turned over.

“The Palestinian Authority is refusing to accept over $150 million in revenue to protest the fact that $11 million is being withheld, only to make a political point. Does that sound like a governing authority that is concerned with the welfare of its people?” Greenblatt asked.

Last month the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL launched a rocket into space from Cape Canaveral, in Florida. That rocket, dubbed “Beresheet” (the first word in the Hebrew Bible, which translates to “In the beginning,” or “Genesis”) is currently circling the Earth, and will cross over to an orbit around the moon. It is scheduled to make a moon landing in the Sea of Serenity, on April 11. The venture was privately funded. If the lunar landing is successful, Israel will join just three other nations at having reached this goal: Russia, the U.S. and China.
Israel’s Attorney General announced on Feb. 28 his intention to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges growing out of three criminal investigations. Netanyahu’s lawyers will now be given the chance to argue against the formal issuance of the threatened indictments. The charges are underwhelming, although the political fallout may not be.

The first set of allegations are that Netanyahu is guilty of fraud and breach of trust because he accepted expensive gifts – champagne and cigars – from wealthy long-time friends. But there is no proof that the treats were bribes for special favors, and accepting such gifts is not against Israeli law.

The second charge alleges the Israeli Prime Minister committed a breach of trust because he discussed obtaining favorable coverage in a critical newspaper in exchange for supporting legislation that would shut down a free daily newspaper which is very supportive of him. But the conversation went nowhere. If it had, perhaps that could make out a claim for breach of trust. No support was given in exchange for favorable coverage; no law was broken. Another seemingly empty charge.

The third charge sounds similar: it claims Netanyahu favored a certain utility company in exchange for favorable coverage on that company’s news site. But the news site remained critical – no gain for Netanyahu, without which it seems hard to make the case for bribery.

What is a big deal, however, is the timing of the Attorney General’s announcement. It came following two years of investigation, and just at a critical moment in Israel’s election season. Israelis go to the polls on April 9.

Benjamin Netanyahu has been re-elected Prime Minister four times, the last three terms of which have been consecutive. With corruption charges hanging over him and a public that many believe to have become Netanyahu-weary, the time seemed riper than ever for new leadership.

But don’t count Netanyahu out.

Israel’s political left has withered over the past decade. The security situation is largely to blame. The relentless waves of Palestinian Arab terrorism, even following the removal of every Jew – living or dead – from the Gaza Strip in 1995, has left the Israeli “peace camp” without credible appeal or a viable strategy.

But rather than a political threat from the left, a rising centrist bloc has formed over the past few months. This party, whose English name is “Blue and White” (the colors of the Israeli flag), is comprised of two former military heroes and the head of a centrist political party. One military hero is a widely respected strategist and thinker, utterly lacking in charisma. The other, a very recently retired Military Chief of Staff, is tall, good-looking but politically untried. The third member of the triad was a Minister of Finance, and before that, a television newscaster.

Blue and White initially skyrocketed in the polls, shooting past Netanyahu’s Likud party. The latest polls this week, however, show Likud inching back within a hair’s breadth of the upstart. More importantly, with 120 seats in Israel’s Knesset (parliament), and more than a dozen political parties, the creation of a coalition is necessary to attain a controlling bloc – 61 seats. Just a month out from the election, the latest polling shows that Netanyahu once again has a shot at leading the Israeli government.

At the direction of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, the U.S. deployed its most advanced air and missile defense system to Israel in March for the first time.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) is an American anti-ballistic missile defense system designed to intercept and destroy short-, medium- and intermediate- range ballistic missiles during descent or reentry.

“THAAD is the most advanced integrated air and missile defense system in the world, and this deployment readiness exercise demonstrates that U.S. forces are agile and can respond quickly and unpredictably to any threat, anywhere, at any time,” U.S. European Command said in a statement.

“I think this is a testament to the strength of the alliance between Israel and the United States, Netanyahu remarked. “The coalition for a common defense, that is expressed not merely in intentions but in actual forces on the ground, I think is remarkable.”

According to a statement by Israel’s Defense Forces, the THAAD deployment was defensive in nature and not related to any specific current event. But, no doubt, Iran has taken notice.