Israel's new far-right government worries the Middle East
The extreme-right Israeli firebrand Itamar Ben-Gvir visited Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque just a few days after the creation of Israel's new government. "Our administration will not submit to the threats of Hamas," declared the newly appointed Minister of National Security.
Middle Eastern governments' concerns about the direction of events in Israel were amplified by the action taken by the far-right Israeli politician. Politicians and analysts from Jordan to Egypt fear that the Middle East and Palestine may soon face new crises if the incoming Israeli government does not exercise prudence on several topics.
The recent messages from the Jewish state, presenting the Israeli side to evaluate war scenarios with Iran, add fuel to the fire that Israel's new far-right administration has kindled in the Middle East.
Members of Benjamin Netanyahu's new cabinet clarified their goals and political agenda to the public before Ben-Gvir's contentious visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, an event that angered Palestinians.
A typical example is the new Minister of Culture and Sports for Israel, who has spoken out about his government's stance on culture. "We'll withhold funding from those spreading the enemy's propaganda. With Israeli support, terrorists and shahids [Muslim martyrs] won't be glorified as heroes," Miki Zohar made a statement during the ceremony where he succeeded Chili Tropper as the ministry's leader.
In an interview with Israel's Army Radio, Zohar made known his plans to withhold support from "anti-Israel" artistic endeavors: "It only makes sense that we won't finance anything that aims to damage Israel's reputation."
In a similar incident, Israel's newly appointed foreign minister, Eli Cohen, proposed that the Palestinian Authority be tried instead of Israel, accusing it of encouraging terrorist acts against Jews. In his inaugural speech to diplomats and employees of the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Cohen stated that "the international community must convey a simple message to the Palestinian leadership." After meeting Yair Lapid, whose time as foreign and prime minister ended last week, Cohen remarked, "Enough incitement in educational institutions and subsidizing the killers of Jews."
In the last twenty-four hours, the inflammatory remarks made by Zohar and Cohen have been accompanied by remarks made by Ofir Sofer, the recently appointed Minister of Aliyah and Integration. Sofer lamented that most recent immigrants from Russia and Ukraine did not adhere to Jewish religious law and demanded that Israel take action to restrict non-Jewish immigration. In an interview with national broadcaster Kan, Sofer claimed that the Law of Return needed to be changed. However, he preferred "to find a method without legislation," as some 40,000 of the 55,000 new immigrants from Russia and Ukraine are not halachically Jewish.
The new Israeli government opted to alter the Jewish state's official position on another delicate topic simultaneously with these worrisome messages. The newly sworn-in administration announced it would overturn the Disengagement Law prohibiting Israeli presence in evacuated areas, as the High Court of Israel has given the government 90 days to justify its decision to reverse direction on the illegal West Bank settlement of Homesh. When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, three additional West Bank settlements were evacuated, including the Homesh outpost, which was subsequently constructed on privately held Palestinian land. Since then, it has been against the law for Israelis to enter Homesh without a permit. To date, the state's stance has been that the settlers must go, but on Monday, officials declared the stance would alter to reflect the principles of the new Netanyahu administration. Even if it might not address the problem, the Disengagement Law will be changed under the coalition agreement to legalize the outpost afterward erected there.
War with Iran?
Iran's nuclear ambitions are a further development that worries Israel and is raising anxiety in the Middle Eastern capitals. Israeli politicians and generals have recently left open the potential of a future strike by Israel on the nuclear facilities of the Islamic Republic.
According to Israel's Chief of Staff, Aviv Kochavi, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are now more ready to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. Kochavi, who gave a speech to the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, said, "the level of preparedness for an operation in Iran has drastically improved."
Kochavi claimed Iran wants to send "thousands of Shia militiamen" and hundreds of missiles to Syria. He asserted that if the army is directed to act against Iran's nuclear program, "it will complete the mission it is assigned." According to the army chief, Israel could thwart Iran's plan to "create a second Hezbollah in Syria."
A year after leaving the Israeli army, former Military Intel Chief Tamir Hayman warns of diminished U.S. support for Iran in the event of attacks on human rights in the West Bank while also focusing on Iran's nuclear armament. Hayman warns Netanyahu's administration, "The current plan is failing since it is predicated on the expectation that the regime would fall; the group must admit to itself or declare it in public. That's a wish; you don't build a strategy on that.” The Israeli general continues, "The threat of a dirty bomb in the hands of Hezbollah or Palestinian terror organizations — and the spread of nuclear technologies — is a very complex problem."
"Escalation is expected not only in the Palestinian territories but also regionally"
"Across the Middle East, there are many complicated situations that have characterized this post-Covid year," writes Amer Al-Sabaileh in his column in the Jordan Times, a Jordanian newspaper.
According to the columnist, "One of the most important is the worsening internal situation in Iran. An escalation is expected in the Palestinian territories and regionally in the Syrian crisis and the increasingly complex situation in Lebanon and Iran." Another worrying development is the strong return of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with a new far-right government.
Agreeing with Al-Sabaileh, Mohamed Salmawy, in his column in the Egyptian newspaper "Al Ahram," writes that "With Netanyahu back in power, tensions between Palestinians and Israeli occupation forces have shot up to the point that former Israeli military intelligence chief Tamir Hayman is warning that there are clear signs that a third Palestinian Intifada is on the way. West Bank and Jerusalem conditions are growing more volatile by the minute."
"The recent Knesset elections in Israel have ensured that Netanyahu is backed by the country's most far-right political and religious forces, especially those representing the settlers. Undoubtedly, including the extremist parties in the Netanyahu government will lead to more collective violence against the Palestinians and more assaults against Palestinian civilians, not to mention more seizures of Palestinian land and property and further expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, all of which is likely speeding up the expected outbreak of the third Palestinian Intifada,” concludes the Egyptian columnist.
*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.