Lapid tries to charm the world as West Bank burns

While the PM talked of a two-state solution at the UN, an Israeli raid on Jenin on Tuesday, in which at least four Palestinian militants were killed, was a reminder that Operation Breakwater is still ongoing


TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - MAY 06: Yesh Atid Party leader, Yair Lapid, speaks at a press conference on May 6, 2021 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin asked Lapid to form a new Israeli government after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to form a new government. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

September 29, 2022 12:24

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tried to make three phone calls to senior Israeli leaders to wish them a happy new year. The calls to President Isaac Herzog and Defence Minister Benny Gantz took place. For an undisclosed reason, Prime Minister Yair Lapid was unable to take his call.

His unavailability may have meant nothing. Mr Lapid had just returned from his trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York and went straight to the wedding of his eldest son. But it would not be an exaggeration to say that he wasn’t particularly eager to speak to the Palestinian leader.

At the UN, Mr Lapid had made it clear in his speech that “an agreement with the Palestinians, based on two states for two peoples, is the right thing for Israel’s security, for Israel’s economy and for the future of our children” and promised the Palestinians that “we can build your future together, both in Gaza and in the West Bank” if only they put down their weapons “and prove that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not going to take over the Palestinian state you want to create.”

Mr Lapid’s team were eager to highlight his support for the two-state solution. But they also stressed that he wasn’t about to call Mr Abbas and offer to restart the negotiations between the two sides dormant for eight years.

For a start, there’s the minor issue of an election in five weeks. And even if Mr Lapid manages to somehow remain in office after the election, he is still less than convinced that Mr Abbas, 86 and in the 18th year of a four-year presidential term, is a realistic interlocutor.

Mr Lapid’s speech wasn’t really meant for Palestinian ears. As a senior Israeli minister said this week: “I find it hard to see the Palestinians making any historic decisions right now. And to be honest I find it hard to see our side making far-reaching decisions now either.”

Mr Lapid was talking at the UN to an Israeli audience. He wants to make it clear to centre-left voters that he is the only viable alternative to a comeback for Benjamin Netanyahu – and part of that role is offering a vision of solving the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Not everyone in Mr Lapid’s orbit is convinced that bringing up the Palestinian issue is the right thing to be doing at this point in the campaign. But there may be no choice. The Israeli raid on Jenin on Tuesday, in which at least four Palestinian militants were killed and 44 wounded, was a reminder that Operation Breakwater, which began six months ago, is still ongoing.

It began in response to the terror attacks within Israel, most of which originated from the Jenin area, and it has prevented most would-be attackers from making it from the West Bank into Israel. But it has so far not succeeded in ending the open insurgency in Jenin. Instead, the unrest has spread to the larger city of Nablus.

There are two views within the Israeli intelligence community’s Palestine-watchers. The optimistic one is that this is ultimately an intra-Palestinian affair, with various armed groups trying to establish their own fiefdoms, and that with time the Palestinian Authority will regain control.

The darker view is that the PA has already lost control, irrevocably, and that this is already the post-Abbas period in which the various factions are “proving themselves” by launching attacks on Israel.

Whichever view is more accurate will determine Israel’s next move or whether Operation Breakwater will evolve from a series of short overnight raids into a wider campaign which will necessitate more lengthy deployments in the Palestinian cities.

The last time Israel embarked on such an operation was more than 20 years ago, in March 2002, with the six-week Operation Defensive Shield, where the IDF entered and took control over large parts of the West Bank cities. Thirty Israeli soldiers and 497 Palestinans were killed but ultimately it led to a two-decade period of relative calm in the West Bank.

Israel wants Ukraine Help
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told French television last weekend: “I’m shocked. I don’t understand what happened to Israel. They supplied nothing to us. Zero.”

Mr Zelensky said Ukraine had asked Israel for air-defence systems .

“While I understand Israel’s need to defend its own territory, it sold systems like these to other countries and could export it to us. That’s why I’m shocked. You know there’s a war in Ukraine and you know that there are many people of Jewish origin in Ukraine, as well as a lot of Ukrainians in Israel.”

On Tuesday evening, the Israeli foreign ministry issued a rare condemnation of Russia (though not by name), saying that Israel “recognises the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” and “will not accept the results of the referendum in the Eastern districts of Ukraine.”

It also announced that 20 wounded Ukrainian soldiers would be treated in Israel.

These gestures are partly in response to Mr Zelensky’s outburst and partly in recognition that for the first time since Russia invaded, Israel needs a favour from Ukraine.

Israeli military experts have been watching the battlefields in Ukraine closely, in an attempt to learn lessons from the largest ground war in decades.

A special team has been set up by the IDF’s General Staff to study how small Ukrainian units have hampered and cut up Russian armoured columns. But until now, the information available from open sources was sufficient.  

In recent weeks, however, the Ukrainians have come into possession of much more valuable technical information.

In a desperate attempt to reverse the tide of battle, Russia has started using hundreds of drones newly purchased from Iran.

Israel can expect to confront identical drones the next time it faces Hezbollah in Lebanon and any up-to-date details on their use could save the lives of Israeli soldiers.

A senior Israeli defence official said this week that the policy of not supplying “offensive weapons” to Ukraine remains unchanged, but then refused to say whether Israel and Ukraine were exchanging intelligence on the Iranian drones.

Even if there is no direct intelligence sharing, it can take place through other channels, such as American or British intelligence. Either way, Ukraine has something Israel needs and it will make full use of that rare position. 

September 29, 2022 12:24

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