News from November 11 to November 17

Gaza escalation, Israeli election update, Deni Avdija

Hey everyone! Lots of new followers this week, so if you’re new to News of the Jews, this newsletter aims to make complicated Jewish and Israeli news easier to follow. Note that since I write the newsletter on Sunday, it covers news from Monday to Sunday. Accordingly, I’ll be covering today’s news of the United States changing its stance on settlements next week. If you have any comments, questions, or concerns, feel free to reach out at newsofthejews@gmail.com.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad launches hundreds of rockets at Israel after the IDF assassinated its leader:

What happened? On Tuesday, Israel launched a precision airstrike on the leader of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Baha Abu al-Ata, killing him and his wife. In response, PIJ launched 450+ rockets into Israel, including many at population centers. No Israelis were killed (81 people were treated in Israeli hospitals), which was mainly a result of the United States-funded Iron Dome missile defense system. 34 Palestinians (many of whom were PIJ militants) were killed and 111 were injured in Israeli retaliatory airstrikes. Israel also attempted but failed to kill another senior PIJ official, Akram al-Ajouri, in Syria on Tuesday. Ultimately, a truce was reached on Thursday morning.

Who is al-Ata, and why did Israel kill him? Al-Ata was a senior commander in PIJ who was seen as responsible for recent flare-ups with Israel. He, and by extension PIJ, frequently took action to disrupt the very fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the party and terrorist group that controls Gaza. Specifically, he is known to have organized rocket and sniper attacks. Israel has said that it believed al-Ata was planning imminent attacks.

PIJ is a terrorist group that is very closely affiliated with Iran. I won’t talk too much about PIJ because I covered it in a previous newsletter where I also profiled al-Ata, so definitely check that out. 

Anything else? There are many important points to analyze in this escalation. For one, as I mentioned in that previous newsletter, Israel has a policy of holding Hamas responsible for any aggression that comes out of Gaza. That was certainly the case when PIJ launched rockets at Israel a few weeks ago and Israel responded by striking Hamas positions. However, Israel appears to have revised its strategy. Despite a massive barrage of rockets coming from Gaza, Israel did not retaliate against Hamas. Israel had intelligence that Hamas was not involved in the violent response to al-Ata’s assassination, and it didn’t want to bring Hamas into a wider conflict and risk all-out war. Hamas and PIJ have a long and complicated relationship, but Hamas’ reasoning boils down to its basic role in governing Gaza. PIJ is not accountable to anyone but Iran, so it does not care about popular opinion. Although Gaza is not a democracy, Hamas is somewhat sensitive to potential unrest as the body that conducts everyday governance. An all-out war would not serve Hamas’ interests, at least right now. 

I think that there is another factor at play that isn’t getting widely reported in the media: the impending Palestinian elections (not yet scheduled, but gaining traction). Why does Hamas want stability? For one, it allows them to develop new weaponry and build new infrastructure for a potential future conflict with Israel. It also helps Hamas maintain control of the streets in Gaza, which it is said to be losing. Alternatively, with the Palestinian elections possibly coming up, Hamas could hold an advantageous position. On the one hand, Hamas has a notable past of what they would call “fighting for” the Palestinian people. On the other hand, Hamas can claim that it knows when not to fight and when to keep Gazans out of a war. Maybe that’s reading too much into it, but showing energy and restraint is always a smart political move. In any event, it surely helps relations with Fatah, the comparatively moderate party that runs the Palestinian Authority to appear reasonable and open to compromise as they negotiate elections. Fatah-Hamas relations are a broader topic that I’ll write a dedicated piece about at some point. 

We should also pay attention to Israel’s coalition negotiations. Many are speculating that the dangerous security situation will invigorate the push for a unity government. After all, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did inform Blue and White leader and possible coalition partner Benny Gantz about the plans to assassinate al-Ata in advance. Gantz subsequently publicly supported the operation. Yet, the timing of the operation has raised a few eyebrows since the operation occurred at the height of Gantz’s coalition negotiations. Some see it as a move by Netanyahu to encourage Gantz to join a coalition with him instead of with Arab-Israelis who criticized the strike. Regardless, Gantz indicated that he would proceed through coalition negotiations as though nothing had changed. The timing was also suspicious because it came shortly after Netanyahu was forced off the stage at an event because PIJ launched a rocket at the city where he was campaigning. Al-Ata was seen as responsible for that attack.

A personal note: The strike that killed al-Ata was remarkable. The missile only struck al-Ata’s bedroom, leaving the rest of the house intact and sparing the other occupants who were in other rooms. For all the flack Israel gets about endangering civilians, Israel went to extreme lengths to minimize casualties. The IDF could’ve leveled the building, but it was able to target the precise room that al-Ata was in. We should appreciate the effort that the IDF put in to reduce collateral damage. Check this out:

Source: Mohammed Saber/EPA, via NYT

Relatedly, we should also recognize when things don’t go according to the plan. In retaliatory strikes, Israel accidentally destroyed a house that had an entire family in it, tragically killing 8. Thankfully, the IDF has acknowledged the mistake and is launching an investigation to figure out what happened.  

Rapid-fire extra thoughts: The Iron Dome is incredible, indiscriminate rocket fire on civilians is a war crime, and nobody benefits from flare-ups like this.

There are too many points to discuss, so I’ll stop here. If you have particular questions or thoughts, feel free to reach out.

Further reading: https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Israel-and-Hamas-against-PIJ-608151

Israeli election update:

Does Israel have a government yet? Nope.

What’s the latest? Israel is still deadlocked as Netanyahu and Gantz have not been able to agree to a unity government. On the one hand, Netanyahu has insisted on negotiating as a right-wing bloc, forcing any potential coalition partners to work with the ultra-religious parties. Joining such a coalition would be problematic for many of the centrist and center-left parties because they are unlikely to agree on any ethnic or religious policy matters, which are some of the most pressing issues in Israel at the moment. On the other hand, since a unity coalition would entail both leaders serving time as the Prime Minister, the order that they serve in is also controversial. Gantz has been pushing to serve as the Prime Minister first, which is problematic for Netanyahu, who is battling legal issues and sees political leadership as protection from prosecution. Specifically, although cabinet ministers are required to step down if indicted, Prime Ministers are not expected to resign. Netanyahu desperately needs to remain Prime Minister to protect himself legally. 

Accordingly, there seems to be a pretty straightforward compromise. Netanyahu could drop the right-wing bloc and in exchange serves first. It’s not happening, though. President Reuven Rivlin has proposed a framework for a compromise centered around Netanyahu stepping down when his potential indictment is announced (which could be in the next two weeks), but Netanyahu has refused the offer. Rivlin countered by suggesting that he step down if/when the indictment is “formally announced” in a few months. Netanyahu has not accepted that framework either. 

An additional issue is Gantz’s role if Netanyahu is forced to step down for legal reasons. Critically, Netanyahu wants Gantz to be an “interim Prime Minister,” serving together with him even while he may be on trial. Rivlin has said it would be impossible to have more than one Prime Minister. Alternatively, Gantz believes he should be the full Prime Minister if Netanyahu is indicted. 

Anything else? We’ll know if Israel has a government or if it’s going to a third round of elections at this time next week because Gantz’s mandate expires this week. There are essentially three possibilities (not ranked by probability):

  1. Unity government with Likud

  2. Minority government backed by the Joint List

  3. Third elections

There are a number of permutations within each option, but these are the general options. We’ll find out which one happens soon!

Further reading: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/with-three-days-left-to-deadline-netanyahu-rival-gantz-scrambles-to-form-gov-t-1.8134791 (Haaretz)

Bleacher Report profiles Israeli basketball star Deni Avdija:

What’s the deal? 18-year-old Israeli basketball player Deni Avdija might be the next “big thing” in the NBA. Currently playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv, Avdija is a potential top-five pick in the 2020 NBA draft. Some analysts even have him as a top-three pick. In any event, Avdija is an exciting basketball player with a great story of how he has risen to prominence. The piece is definitely worth checking out.

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