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Netanyahu’s Reckoning?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem on June 5, 2024. Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool via REUTERS

JNS.orgAs the war in Gaza appears to be winding down and another appears to be winding up on Israel’s northern border, Israeli politics is returning to something like its usual state: angry contention.

For many months, the political divisions that threatened to rip the country to pieces in the year before the Oct. 7 massacre were buried by war. The interregnum appears to be over. The street protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have heated up again, with the issue of a hostage deal added to the usual grievances. Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz, recently quit the War Cabinet and with it the government in a very public spat with the prime minister. A recent Kan News poll showed Netanyahu would lose his Knesset majority by a considerable margin in the next election.

There is, in the end, only one reason for this discord: Netanyahu himself. Those who hate the prime minister—and they are legion—are determined to topple him once again whether through elections or other means.

However, those who have already written Netanyahu’s political obituary should proceed with caution. He is beyond question the most talented and successful Israeli politician of his generation. He commands a fiercely loyal base that will never abandon him. If Israelis emerge from this war feeling like they won something like a victory, it is entirely possible that Netanyahu will survive.

Still, this raises the question of whether Netanyahu should survive. In the interests of full disclosure, I will reveal my bias: I think Netanyahu should have resigned on Oct. 8 for the sake of personal honor, if for no other reason. Certainly, in many other countries with parliamentary systems, Netanyahu and his government could never have survived such a colossal military and intelligence failure.

For example, in 1940, when Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policies proved a disaster, his Conservative Party removed him and replaced him with Winston Churchill. There was never a chance that this would happen in Israel, as Netanyahu’s Likud Party has always been fiercely loyal to its leaders. Nonetheless, the issue of personal honor remains.

To resign for such reasons, however, would have demanded something Netanyahu often fiercely resists: Taking responsibility for his failures.

Regarding Oct. 7, Netanyahu is almost alone in his failure to do so. Most other Israeli leaders, including those like Naftali Bennett and others who were not in power when the attack occurred, have already taken their fair share of responsibility. Netanyahu has not.

It is fairly easy to envision Netanyahu’s line of defense, especially in the next elections. He will almost certainly say something like: The Israel Defense Forces and the security establishment boxed me into their failed strategy. The United States wouldn’t let me deal properly with Hamas. Primary responsibility for the disaster rests with the previous Bennett-Lapid government. I am being scapegoated by a biased media and the Biden administration wants to force me out. It’s not my fault.

I think this refusal is sincere. I admit that this is speculation, but I am convinced that Netanyahu genuinely believes that he bears little or no responsibility for the failures of Oct. 7. This is not so much a result of arrogance or narcissism. It is because of how Netanyahu views his opponents.

Much like Richard Nixon, Netanyahu is a brilliant man often undone by the fact that he defines himself entirely by his enemies. Certainly, he has his fair share, and the hatred he arouses in his opponents is often disproportionate and unfair. Nonetheless, Netanyahu’s fervent belief that he is an infinitely aggrieved and persecuted party goes beyond reality. There is an air of paranoia to his worldview.

This is, in some ways, tragic. Because if anything may ultimately undo Netanyahu, I think it will be his failure to take responsibility. Blaming everybody else and stoking up his base’s outrage may save him, but it will be a hollow and cheap victory. It will be, in many ways, very small.

One can defend Netanyahu’s actions, of course. One could say it would have been foolish for a prime minister to resign during Israel’s most serious war in decades. Netanyahu has proven to be a relatively effective war leader. He has stood up to American pressure when it mattered. He remains one of the most skilled political tacticians in the world, and a skilled tactician is what Israel needs right now.

Yet all of this elides the simple truth that if the ship sinks while the captain is asleep in his bunk, it’s still the captain’s fault. The buck has to stop somewhere. In Israel, like it or not, it stops with the prime minister. Netanyahu’s refusal to accept the buck results in a very strange paradox: If Netanyahu is responsible for nothing, then he is simultaneously saying that he is both a strong leader and a helpless figurehead at the mercy of forces that will not allow him even to save the country from disaster.

This may prove to be an effective defense but it is a risky one. It may prompt people to ask: “Since you can’t actually do anything as prime minister, what’s the point in having you as prime minister?”

Should they ask this question, it’s not clear where Israelis may turn. Another Likud figure could replace him as leader and thus as prime minister, but Netanyahu has proven very effective at neutralizing any potential rivals. Gantz currently appears to be leading Netanyahu in most polls. A former prime minister like Bennett could return to power. Israelis may seek out a leader even more right-wing than Netanyahu. Moreover, given that Bennett served as prime minister despite winning less than 10% of the vote, it is theoretically possible that anyone could replace Netanyahu.

One wonders, of course, if any replacement is preferable. For example, would Bennett or Gantz be willing to stand up to Washington when necessary? Would they be willing to defy the world’s opprobrium? Would they be willing to go the distance?

The answer may be “no” to all three. If so, Israel may be well served by retaining Netanyahu for the moment. Nonetheless, it is more or less certain that one thing Netanyahu is not willing to do is take responsibility. Whatever one thinks of him, this is a very serious character flaw, and a leader’s character does matter.

Character, moreover, is fate. Love him or hate him, Netanyahu is something very close to a great man, if only because of his extraordinary longevity. But if, out of his deep sense of grievance, he cannot bring himself to admit to his own failures, he will in some ways undo everything he hoped would be his legacy. This would be a profoundly tragic ending. Nonetheless, it is the ending that any leader who cannot acknowledge the reality of his own power deserves.

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.


Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

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Putin Jails US Reporter Gershkovich in Sham Trial

A Russian secret court found U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage on Friday and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony in what his employer, the Wall Street Journal, accurately called “a disgraceful sham conviction.”

Gershkovich, a 32-year-old Jewish American who denied any wrongdoing, went on trial in the city of Yekaterinburg last month after being accused of trying to gather sensitive information about a tank factory.

He was the first U.S. journalist accused of spying in Russia since the Cold War, and his arrest in March 2023 prompted many U.S. and other Western correspondents to leave Moscow.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Gershkovich did not commit any crime and has been wrongfully detained.

“We are pushing hard for Evan’s release and will continue to do so,” Biden said in a statement. “Journalism is not a crime.”

Video of Friday’s hearing released by the court showed Gershkovich, dressed in a T-shirt and black trousers, standing in a glass courtroom cage as he listened to the verdict being read in rapid-fire legalese for nearly four minutes.

Asked by the judge if he had any questions, he replied “Nyet.”

The judge, Andrei Mineyev, said the nearly 16 months Gershkovich had already served since his arrest would count towards the 16-year sentence.

Mineyev ordered the destruction of the reporter’s mobile phone and paper notebook. The defense has 15 days to appeal.

“This disgraceful, sham conviction comes after Evan has spent 478 days in prison, wrongfully detained, away from his family and friends, prevented from reporting, all for doing his job as a journalist,” the Journal said in a statement.

“We will continue to do everything possible to press for Evan’s release and to support his family. Journalism is not a crime, and we will not rest until he’s released. This must end now.”

Gershkovich’s friend, reporter Pjotr Sauer of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, posted on X: “Russia has just sentenced an innocent man to 16 years in a high security prison. I have no words to describe this farce. Let’s get Evan out of there.”

Friday’s hearing was only the third in the trial. The proceedings, apart from the sentencing, were closed to the media on the grounds of state secrecy.

Espionage cases often take months to handle and the unusual speed at which the trial was held behind closed doors has stoked speculation that a long-discussed U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange deal may be in the offing, involving Gershkovich and potentially other Americans detained in Russia.

The Kremlin, when asked by Reuters earlier on Friday about the possibility of such an exchange, declined to comment: “I’ll leave your question unanswered,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Among those Russia would like to free is Vadim Krasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering an exiled Chechen-Georgian dissident in a Berlin park in 2019.

Officers of the FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29, 2023, at a steakhouse in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles (1,400 km) east of Moscow. He has since been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.

Russian prosecutors had accused Gershkovich of gathering secret information on the orders of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency about a company that manufactures tanks for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The Uralvagonzavod factory, which he is accused of spying on, has been sanctioned by the West. Based in the city of Nizhny Tagil near Yekaterinburg, it has publicly spoken of producing T-90M battle tanks and modernizing T-72B3M tanks.

Earlier on Friday, the court unexpectedly said it would pronounce its verdict within hours after state prosecutors demanded Gershkovich be jailed for 18 years for spying. The maximum sentence for the crime he was accused of is 20 years.

Russia usually concludes legal proceedings against foreigners before making any deals on exchanging them.


Gershkovich, his newspaper and the U.S. government all rejected the allegations against him and said he was merely doing his job as a reporter accredited by the Foreign Ministry to work in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is open to a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, and that contacts with the United States have taken place but must remain secret.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that Washington was working every day to bring home Gershkovich, former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan and other Americans.

He declined to go into details when asked why Putin would reach a deal on Gershkovich’s release ahead of the U.S. election.

“Any effort to bring any American home is going to be part of a process of back and forth, of discussion, potentially of negotiation,” Blinken said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“Depending on what the other side is looking for, they’ll reach their own conclusions about whether it meets whatever their needs are, and we can bring someone home – and I don’t think that’s dependent on an election in the United States or anywhere else,” he said.

Mark Warner, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, called Gershkovich’s sentence “outrageous,” and said he thinks “it’s clear that the Russians view Evan almost as a bargaining chip at this point.”

Speaking in an interview with Reuters, Warner declined to discuss whether efforts are underway to arrange an exchange for Gershkovich’s release, but said “all options have to stay on the table” with regards to how the Biden administration responds.

Friends who have exchanged letters with Gershkovich say he has remained resilient and cheerful throughout his imprisonment, occupying himself by reading classics of Russian literature.

At court appearances over the past 16 months – most recently with his head shaven – he has frequently smiled and nodded at reporters he used to work with before he himself became the story.

Since Russian troops entered Ukraine in 2022, Moscow and Washington have conducted just one high profile prisoner swap: Russia released basketball star Brittney Griner, held for smuggling cannabis, in return for arms dealer Viktor Bout, jailed for terrorism-related offenses in the United States.

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VP Harris Hits Fundraising Trail Amid Ongoing Calls for Biden to Quit Race

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will headline a fundraiser in Massachusetts on Saturday as President Joe Biden faces continued pressure from fellow Democrats and big money donors to end his floundering campaign.

Biden and top aides on Friday vowed to continue with the campaign, even as major donors signaled they were unwilling to open their checkbooks unless the 81-year-old president stepped aside.

The crisis-in-confidence in Biden’s ability to win has placed a huge spotlight on Harris, widely believed to be the most likely replacement if he steps down.

Her fundraising events, including the one on Saturday in Provincetown, Massachusetts are getting added interest from donors who want to signal they are willing to coalesce around her potential bid for the White House, according to three Democratic fundraisers.

More than one in 10 congressional Democrats have now publicly called on Biden, who is isolating at his Delaware home with a case of COVID-19, to drop out following a disastrous debate last month against Republican former President Donald Trump that raised questions about the incumbent’s ability to win the Nov. 5 election or carry out his duties for another four years.

Biden’s campaign hoped to raise some $50 million in big-dollar donations in July for the Biden Victory Fund but was on track for less than half that figure as of Friday, according to two sources familiar with the fundraising efforts.

The campaign called reports of a July fundraising slump overstated, noting that it anticipated a drop-off in large donations due to vacations. It said the campaign still has 10 fundraisers on the schedule this month.

Harris assured major Democratic donors on Friday that the party would prevail in the presidential election as more lawmakers called for her running mate, Biden, to stand down.

“We are going to win this election,” she said on a call arranged on short notice to calm donors, according to a person on the call. “We know which candidate in this election puts the American people first: Our president, Joe Biden.”

Harris attended the call “at the direct request of senior advisers to the president,” one of the people said, an account confirmed by another person familiar with the matter.

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