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July 31, 2023

The Crisis in Israel | A Real or Staged Tipping Point?

Over the weekend, for the first time since the outbreak of the severe political crisis in Israel, seven Likud members of the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament), openly criticized the predatory legislation led by the extremist axis in Netanyahu’s government. A government that is a coalition of the Likud party, Haredi parties, and religious Zionist parties.

This extremist axis includes members of Netanyahu’s own party, including Justice Minister Yariv Levin of Netanyahu’s Likud party, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the head of the Religious Zionist party, and national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir head of the Otzma Yehudit party.

The members of Likud that have broken their silence are calling for an end to this government’s unilateral legislation. Some of them have threatened that their support for Netanyahu’s government is not guaranteed.

Given that the same people who are now criticizing the continued pursuit of unilateral legislation are the same ones who only a few days ago voted to limit the Supreme Court’s ability to review the “reasonableness” of government decisions, there are those who think that this is a staged move designed to quell the 30-week long public protests.

That will not happen.

The public protests against the unilateral predatory legislation will continue and intensify if the assault on Israeli democracy continues.

There are those who believe that the criticism from within the Likud party is an artificial move initiated by none other than Netanyahu himself. They argue that the prime minister is attempting to create a faux uprising within his party to pressure the extremist axis in his government to show restraint, out of a fear that the ‘uprising’ within Likud could lead to his government’s downfall.

To support the theory that Netanyahu himself is behind the cracks in Likud support, some note that in parallel to the open criticism – perhaps not coincidentally – the weekend newspapers in Israel reported that the Intelligence Directorate of the Israel Defense Forces – the agency officially responsible for assessing Israel’s national security – sent Netanyahu severe warnings that Israel’s enemies see Israel’s severe crisis as a historic opportunity to realize their aspiration to violently eliminate Israel. The security threat is one of the few issues around which there is wall-to-wall consensus among the divided Israeli public. Ignoring the warning by the Israeli government, which is legally responsible for Israel’s security, will outrage both government supporters and opponents alike. This further bolsters the argument that the supposed leaking of the intelligence warning is intended to exert pressure on the extremist axis.

On the other hand, there are those who think that this criticism is a real “mini-revolt” in the ranks of the Likud.

In my view, the criticism from within the ranks of Likud is authentic. The aggressive legislation pursued by this government – in which Likud is the largest party – has led to a severe crisis that jeopardizes Israel’s very existence. When the ship sinks, everyone will drown. No reasonable person can be oblivious to that simple truth. And particularly Likud politicians. Why? Because the anger of many Likud supporters is evident in the polls, which show declining support for the party. It is evident that many Likud supporters are outraged by the extremist axis’ takeover of Netanyahu’s government. The agenda and priorities of the extreme axis in this government is not what Likud supporters voted for. Likud politicians are aware of their constituents’ anger, and they fear that they will pay a personal political price if they continue to keep their mouths shut.

It is quite clear that at this stage, Netanyahu wants to calm the situation. But can he?

The extremist axis in Netanyahu’s government, led by Levin and some of his religious Zionist coalition counterparts, has different – if not conflicting, political interests.

Levin aspires to be the next leader of Likud. He is betting the legal reform card will be the card that will lead him to victory over his political opponents in the Likud. Levin cannot afford to give up this card.

Levin’s rivals within the Likud party hope his winning card of judicial reform will actually be the end of his political career. That’s why they keep quiet as Levin leads the unilateral legislation.

Religious Zionism is dominated today by an extremist agenda led by Itamar Ben Gvir, the Minister of National Security, Simcha Rothman, the Chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, and Bezalel Smotrich, the Minister of Finance. For the three of them, the unprecedented power and disproportionate political weight they have in the current government due to Netanyahu’s dependence on them is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to advance their agenda. Among other things, they aspire to enact laws that will allow them to take control of centers of power in the country, such as the police, the judiciary, and the media. This means that the axis has an interest in continuing unilateral predatorial legislation. That trajectory further deepens the crisis in Israel.

At this point, it is not clear whether the criticism within Likud ranks marks a real tipping point.

All polls clearly indicate that most of the Jewish public in Israel demands to end to the takeover by an axis that represents an extremist agenda that most of the Jewish public does not share. 

If Netanyahu continues to capitulate to the dictates of extremists and drag Israel into the abyss, critics of the unilateral predatory legislation within the ranks of the Likud will face the moment of truth. They cannot continue to hold the stick at both ends. They cannot call for legislation through dialogue and consensus, and yet at the same time support predatory unilateral legislation.      

They will be judged by their actions, not statements.

January 28, 2023

Israel’s National Security Minister Puts Country’s Security at Risk

The match Ben Gvir is lighting won’t stop at Jerusalem’s borders, the fires will quickly spread to the West Bank where the situation is already volatile between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Israeli settlers, Palestinian militias, and the Palestinian Authority. Ultimately the flames will also spread to Gaza as well.

Instead of his reckless approach, smart management of such a complex and multidimensional reality in a place like Jerusalem requires a more comprehensive view and in-depth consideration. Dealing effectively and constructively with ongoing tension in Jerusalem that has ongoing potential to boil over requires several elements:

  • A laser-focused policy addressing security challenges (criminal or terrorist) in such a way that there will be a minimal impact on those who haven’t committed any crime.
  • Identifying, isolating, and neutralizing hot spots or issues that have the potential to flare up.
  • Maintaining ongoing and practical direct contact and open dialogue with community leaders in Arab Jerusalem neighborhoods in order to improve and expand service infrastructure for the residents.
  • Maintaining constant contact with Jewish and Arab community leaders along the seamline neighborhoods with the aim of creating a framework of pragmatic dialogue that will allow the leadership on both sides to maintain a normal routine of life in situations of tension or outbreaks of violence.

These tactics, which I employed to during the first and second intifadas, helped to cool tensions and restore calm, and will likely work again if employed now.


January 3, 2023

What Israel’s Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir’s quick visit to the Temple Mount on Tuesday is counterproductive to Israel’s strategic and security interests. The visit plays into the hands of those opposing normalization, those criticizing Israel’s allies in the region, and provides the perfect distraction for Iran at a time when it is trying to divert world attention from its brutal suppression of domestic protestors.

For the Palestinian Authority (PA) already going through its own power struggle, the trip – seen as a provocation by Israelis against the Muslim-control over the Al-Aqsa compound – is inflaming tensions with both moderate and more radical Palestinians who criticize the PA’s strategic choice of diplomacy over armed conflict and what they perceive as a loss of the power to deter Israeli provocations through the threat of violence.

With the trip being directly against the publicly reported wishes of Netanyahu, many in Israel and abroad question his ability to reign in more right-wing influences within his coalition.

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Avi Melamed
Avi Melamed
Avi Melamed is an expert on current affairs in the Arab & Muslim World and their impact on Israel & the Middle East. A former Israeli Intelligence Official & Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Fluent in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence & Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities & communities - often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. He is the Founder & CEO of Inside the Middle East | Intelligence Perspectives - an apolitical non-partisan curriculum using intelligence methodology to examine the Middle East. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides Intelligence Analysis, Briefings, and Geopolitical Tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policymakers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs.

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