Gantz and Saar agree to merge parties for elections
The BBC reports on the Iranian hackers who claim to be behind a rare cyberattack on Iran’s steel factory two weeks ago. “It’s extremely rare for hackers, who operate in the digital world, to cause damage in the physical world. But a cyber-attack on a steel maker in Iran two weeks ago is being seen as one of those significant and troubling moments. A hacking group called Predatory Sparrow said it was behind the attack, which it said caused a serious fire, and released a video to back up its story.”
The Times writes on US President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia this week, just three years after promising to turn Saudi Arabia into a geopolitical “pariah” if he made it to the White House. “Biden’s visit, which he has resisted for 18 months, is an acknowledgement that ostracising Saudi Arabia is a foreign policy luxury the US cannot currently afford.” The Telegraph claims that Biden’s visit to the Middle East was supposed to have been tacked onto his recent trip to Europe but it was delayed because White House officials feared extended travel would be “crazy” for the 79-year-old President.
The Guardian and the Financial Times comment on President Biden’s op-ed in the Washington Post on Saturday where he defended his decision to travel to Saudi Arabia. He said human rights would be on his agenda as he gave a preview of a trip on which he aims to reset ties with the crown prince, who he previously denounced as a pariah.
Reuters reports that the Biden administration is discussing the possible lifting of its ban on US sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia, but any final decision is expected to hinge on whether Riyadh makes progress toward ending the war in neighbouring Yemen, according to four people familiar with the matter.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Telegraph, Idan Roll, Israel’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, called for greater normalisation with Israel to be rolled out across the Middle East. He went on to warn that the JCPOA nuclear deal will not stop Iran from causing “chaos”.
Muslims from around the world descend upon Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage – the Independent and Reuters explain everything you need to know about the Hajj and the first day of Eid al-Adha feast.
Reuters reports that the Israeli flag carrier El Al Israel Airlines has reached a collective agreement with its pilots to restore their salaries to pre-COVID pandemic levels and end months of labour action that led to cancelled flights.
In the Israeli media, Benny Gantz and Gideon Saar last night announced their decision to merge their two parties, Blue and White and New Hope, and to run jointly in the next election. Saar, who will be second, described the joint venture as the embodiment of the “stately right and security centre”. Gantz said the merger had the potential of extricating Israel from its ongoing political stalemate. Pnina Tamano-Shata is third on the joint list, followed by Chili Tropper, Yifat Shasha-Biton, Michael Biton, Zeev Elkin and Orit Farkash-Hacohen in the eighth slot. If [former IDF Chief of Staff] Gadi Eisenkot decides to join, he will be given the third spot on the list, and another two slots for people of his choosing. Blue and White the New Hope is to hold its first joint faction meeting today. While Saar and Gantz were unsparing in their explicit and implicit criticism of Netanyahu, they nevertheless refrained from ruling out a future partnership with him.
Kan Radio reports that the talks between the two parties were held secretly and were publicly denied so as not to alarm Yoaz Hendel, who currently is a member of New Hope along with Zvi Hauser in the Derech Eretz sub-faction. As a result of the merger, Hendel met with Yamina Chairwoman Ayelet Shaked yesterday and began talks to join her party. Meanwhile, the Likud party has decided to hold its primaries on 3 August. Aside from Benjamin Netanyahu, nobody has submitted their candidacy to run for leader of the party. Last night, the Likud’s constitution committee approved letting Netanyahu reserve four out of the first 40 slots on the list.
In Yediot Ahronot, Sima Kadmon writes: “Saar believes that if the race remains a two-headed race between Netanyahu and Lapid, Netanyahu will win. He thought that they should create a centre with right-wing leanings, a centre that does not force his party to face the question of whether they are in favour of the Lapid option or the Netanyahu option… the election will be a race among three forces: Bibi, with his dream of reaching 61 seats, Lapid, who will get the votes of the left, and a third force, which will try and attract the centre and the right-wing centre. Lapid was not mentioned [in their press conference] in even a single word. We have created a solution for the people who won’t vote for Lapid, New Hope members explained. He can take votes from the Labour Party and from Meretz. The new party that we formed will be the first line of defence for deliberators who find it hard to vote for Lapid but are not willing to vote for Netanyahu. In other words: an anti-Bibi force.”
Ben Caspit explains in Maariv another facet of the thinking underpinning the new merger, writing: “Gantz and Saar’s goal is to abandon the pathetic fight over the five seats that are up for grabs between the Labour Party and the last vestiges of Meretz, and to aim for the centre and the soft right. They hope to break out beyond the electoral boundaries of the greater Tel Aviv area and to make inroads in the periphery, to try to gain a foothold in communities that are currently viewed as being lost causes for them. There are supposed to be voters there who have right-wing views but are leery of Ben Gvir, abhor extremism and aren’t at all enthusiastic about Netanyahu’s plans to mount a constitutional revolution, to dismantle the rule of law and to establish a dictatorship. Those voters, so believe Saar and Gantz, will find a new home with their party.”
Amit Segal argues on Channel 12 News that “Gantz and Saar are trying to frame the reality as one in which there are three political blocs — not just Bibi and Ben-Gvir versus Lapid and Meretz, but that there is a third bloc, a Gantz bloc, which has the capacity to cooperate with the Haredim [ultra-Orthodox]. The goal of the defence minister and the justice minister is to say that they will form the next government. On the other hand, both realise that in order to form a government, they will have to give something, such as an alternating premiership arrangement to the other side, but apparently would prefer to begin to address that after the election in November. Lapid is the loser. Gantz is gaining momentum and has perhaps increased the chances that the Haredim will join a government with him. Saar and Gantz also left a central place open for Eisenkot, whom Lapid also wants.”
The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel has agreed to investigate reports over the weekend of mass grave of Egyptian soldiers at Egyptian President el-Sisi’s request. Yediot Ahronot and Haaretz published archival material and interviews with residents recounting how dozens of Egyptian soldiers killed in the Six-Day War may be buried in an unmarked grave near Latrun, an area between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Israel Hayom reports that a pro-settlement activist group is planning to set up at least 28 new outposts in the West Bank, three of which it plans to erect days after US President Joe Biden’s visit to region this week. The Nachala movement is currently coordinating hundreds of volunteers and the purchase of building equipment for three new settlement outposts, the locations of which it is keeping under wraps to avoid running afoul of the IDF Civil Administration, which oversees activity in Area C of the West Bank. Nachala chairwoman Daniella Weiss told Israel Hayom: “Now, when reports are saying that the government intends to approve Arab construction in Area C, is the time to say clearly – the Land of Israel in its entirety belongs to the Jewish people. Israel is an independent state. The entire Land of Israel is our, and we will continue to found settlements and towns throughout Judea and Samaria.”