Friday, November 16, 2012

Israel strike kills 30, Hamas HQ hit

World Israel strike kills 30, Hamas HQ hit

November 17, 2012 -

GAZA CITY: Israeli air strikes hit the cabinet headquarters of Gaza's Hamas government, the group said early Saturday, with eyewitnesses reporting extensive damage to the building.

"The cabinet headquarters was targeted with four strikes and the government stresses that it remains committed to its positions and its stand alongside the people," the Hamas government said in a statement.

"The IDF (army) has targeted (Hamas prime minister) Ismail Haniya's headquarters in Gaza," an Israeli army spokesman told AFP. "Over the past six hours, the IDF targeted 85 more terror sites," the military spokesperson's official Twitter account added. Eyewitnesses and Hamas officials said the headquarters in the Nasser neighbourhood of Gaza City was virtually leveled in the strike.

"The headquarters was completely destroyed and neighbouring houses were damaged as a result of the barbaric Israeli bombing," a Hamas official told AFP. On Friday morning, Haniya and a slew of other top Hamas government officials lined up in front of the building to welcome Egypt's Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, on a brief solidarity trip to the Gaza Strip.

The raid on the building came as Israel renewed strikes across Gaza, bombing the headquarters of the Hamas police force in western Gaza City and the government's internal security headquarters

in the north of the city.

In the northern Jabalia camp, a strike left at least five people injured from the same family, according a source at the Kamal Odwan hospital.

The string of attacks came after a relative lull in the violence that began on Wednesday with an Israeli strike that killed a senior Hamas commander. Since then, at least 30 Palestinians have been killed, with over 280 wounded, and Gaza militants have fired hundreds of rockets at Israel, killing three people and wounding 16.

Today's Paper | Editor-in-Chief: Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman


Israel expands air assault in Gaza

AP The Iron Dome defence system fires to interecpt incoming missiles from Gaza in the port town of Ashdod, Israel.

Israel expanded its fierce air assault on rocket operations in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Saturday, striking security compounds, smuggling tunnels and a three-story apartment building after an unprecedented rocket attack aimed at the holy city of Jerusalem raised the stakes in its confrontation with Palestinian militants.

Israeli aircraft also kept pounding their original targets, the militants’ weapons-storage facilities and underground rocket-launching sites. The Israeli military called up thousands of reservists and massed troops, tanks and armoured vehicles along the border with Gaza, signalling a ground invasion of the densely populated seaside strip could be imminent.

Israel launched its military campaign on Wednesday after days of heavy rocket fire from Gaza and has carried out some 700 airstrikes since, the military said. Militants, undaunted by the heavy damage the air attacks have inflicted, have unleashed some 500 rockets against the Jewish state, including new, longer—range weapons.

Civilian targets

Israel has slowly expanded its operation beyond military targets and before dawn on Saturday, the Gaza Interior Ministry reported, missiles smashed into two small Hamas security facilities as well as the massive Hamas police headquarters in Gaza City, setting off a huge blaze that engulfed nearby houses and civilian cars parked outside. No one was inside the buildings at the time.

The Interior Ministry said a government compound was also hit as devout Muslims streamed to the area for early morning prayers. So, too, was a Cabinet building where the Hamas prime minister received the prime minister of Egypt on Friday.

In southern Gaza, Israeli aircraft went after the hundreds of underground tunnels militants used to smuggle in weapons and other contraband from Egypt, people in the area reported. A huge explosion in the area sent buildings shuddering in the Egyptian city of El—Arish, 30 miles (45 kilometres) away, an Associated Press correspondent there reported. The tunnels have also been a lifeline for residents of the area during the recent fighting, providing a conduit for food, fuel and other goods after supplies stopped coming in from Israel days before the military operation began.

Missiles also knocked out five electricity transformers, plunging more than 400,000 people in southern Gaza into darkness, according to the Gaza electricity distribution company. A three-story apartment building belonging to a Hamas military commander was hit, and ambulances ferried out inhabitants wounded by the powerful explosion. Others were thought to be buried under the rubble.

A mosque in central Gaza was also targeted, but it wasn’t clear whether weapons or fighters were being harboured in the area.

At least one person was killed and dozens were wounded in the various attacks, Gaza health official Ashraf al—Kidra said. In all, at least 30 Palestinians, including a dozen civilians, and three Israeli civilians have been killed since the Israeli operation began.

The Israeli military said it did not immediately have an accounting of its various overnight targets.

“The Palestinian government emphasises its steadfastness and support for the Palestinian resistance,” government spokesman Ihab Hussein said in a text message to reporters after the wave of Israeli attacks. “It stands alongside its people, who are subject to this aggression.”

The attack aimed at Jerusalem on Friday and strikes on the Tel Aviv area twice this week dramatically showcased the militants’ new capabilities, including a locally made rocket that appears to have taken Israeli defence officials by surprise. Both areas had remained outside the gunmen’s reach in past rounds of fighting, and their use dramatically escalated the hostilities.

Keywords: Hamas attack, Israeli air strikes, Gaza bombing, Middle East conflict, Israel-Palestine conflict

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Tsafrir Abayov/Associated PressUpdated: Nov. 16, 2012

Israeli Air Assault on Gaza

Nov. 16 Palestinian militants fired rockets for the first time at Jerusalem, in a daring new escalation of hostilities. Israel’s cabinet approved a request from the defense minister, Ehud Barak, to call up 75,000 reserve members, Haaretz reported on its live blog, as preparations continued for a possible ground invasion of Gaza for the second time in four years. The Palestinian death toll rose to 28. Three people in Israel have died. Egypt’s prime minister, Hesham Qandil, visited Gaza in a show of support.

Nov. 15 Israeli warplanes struck dozens of militant sites in Gaza, the second day of Israel’s deadly offensive against Hamas and other militant groups, and rockets fired from the enclave reached far into Israel, killing three civilians when one struck an apartment block in Kiryat Malachi. Two longer-range rockets aimed at Tel Aviv, causing no harm but triggering an air raid warning.

The regional perils of the situation sharpened, as President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt warned that his country stood by the Palestinians against what he termed Israeli aggression. Egypt recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv.

Nov. 14 An Israeli airstrike blew up the car carrying the commander of the Hamas military wing in Gaza, making him the most senior official of the group to be killed by the Israelis since their invasion of Gaza four years ago. At least 20 targets were hit in Israel’s fiercest attack against Gaza since its invasion in late 2008.

Conflict Summary

On November 14, 2012, Israel launched an air campaign against targets associated with Hamas, the hardline Palestinian party that has ruled Gaza since 2007. It was the first major conflict between the two since Israel’s Operation Cast Lead killed about 1,400 Gazans in three weeks of air and ground assaults in response to repeated rocket fire starting in December 2008.

Since then, the two sides had observed an informal and uneasy cease-fire. In recent months, the number of rockets fired into southern Israel by militant groups in Gaza had risen. Hamas had mostly held its fire while it struggled to rein in those groups.

But it has responded forcefully to the new assault, sending more than 300 rockets into Israel over 24 hours, with several penetrating the heart of Israel’s population center around Tel Aviv.

Newly emboldened, and with the support of the regional powerhouses of Qatar, Turkey and Egypt, Hamas is demonstrating its strength compared with a weak and crisis-laden Palestinian Authority.

For Hamas, the goal is not necessarily a military victory, but a diplomatic one, as it tests its growing alliance with the new Islamist leadership of Egypt and other relationships in the Arab world and beyond.

The commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, was on Israel’s most-wanted list of Palestinian militants. The Israeli military said it had ordered the strike in response to days of rocket fire launched from Gaza into Israeli territory.

The scope of the airstrikes, in response to what Israel called repeated rocket attacks by Gaza-based Palestinian militants, provoked rage in Gaza, where Hamas said the airstrikes amounted to war and promised a harsh response.

The abrupt escalation in hostilities between Israel and Hamas came amid rising tensions between Israel and all of its Arab neighbors.

Clashes on the Syrian Border

On Nov. 11 and 12, Israel traded artillery fire with Syria across the border on the Golan Heights.

On Nov. 11, a mortar shell crashed in from Syria, prompting Israel to respond with what its military described as “a warning shot” at a Syrian position across the frontier for the first time in 39 years.

The next day, the Israeli military said, a Syrian mortar shell hit an open area in the vicinity of an Israeli army post in the central Golan Heights but caused no damage or casualties. In response, Israeli soldiers fired tank shells toward the source of the fire, hitting Syrian mobile artillery units.

Israeli military officials have made it clear that Israel has no desire to get involved in the fighting in Syria.


In April 2012, Israel celebrated its 64th Independence Day. According to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 7.9 million people live in Israel, 10 times the number at the country’s founding, with 14 big cities; and 70 percent of the inhabitants are native-born, compared with 35 percent in 1948. Israel’s gross domestic product per capita would fit well into Western Europe.

But Israel has rarely felt more uncomfortable in its more immediate neighborhood. Since early 2011, the winds unleashed by the Arab Spring have cast a chill over the Middle East, leaving Israel grappling with a radically transformed region where it believes its options are limited and poor. By the fall of 2011, with its Cairo embassy ransacked, its ambassador to Turkey expelled and the Palestinians seeking statehood recognition at the United Nations, Israel found itself increasingly isolated.

And there is always Iran and its nuclear program, which Iran has defended as peaceful even as it has defiantly pursued uranium enrichment through years of international pressure and sanctions. Israel’s increasingly urgent warnings on the need to halt Iran’s nuclear progress, before it gets much closer to being able to build a bomb, have prompted concerns that Israel might unilaterally mount a military strike — and have added to the implacable enmity between the two.

In addition to its longstanding conflicts with its neighbors, Israel has been roiled by protest movements focusing on domestic concerns, like a housing shortage and rising inequality.

For all that, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of the hawkish Likud party, has enjoyed durable popularity. For two months in mid-2012, Mr. Netanyahu presided over an unusually large parliamentary coalition — including 94 of the Knesset’s 120 members — after he struck a deal with Shaul Mofaz, the chairman of the opposition centrist Kadima Party. But in July, Kadima pulled out of the coalition, citing differences with Mr. Netanyahu over a proposed universal draft law.

Netanyahu Forms Coalition With Nationalist Party

On Oct. 9, Mr. Netanyahu ordered new parliamentary elections in early 2013, roughly eight months ahead of schedule, setting the stage for a quick campaign.


Mr. Netanyahu announced on Oct. 25 that his Likud Party would run on a joint ticket with the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party in the Jan. 22 elections. The surprise joining of forces immediately shook up Israel’s political map.
The move sharpened the contours of the left and right camps in Israeli politics after years during which the major-party leaders, including Mr. Netanyahu, had gravitated toward the political center. Political opponents from the center and left warned that the unification of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, reflected a creeping extremism that would not serve Israel.
Fallout from U.S. Campaign
After the American presidential election in November, Mr. Netanyahu rushed to repair his relationship with President Obama, after seeming to support his opponent, Mitt Romney. At the same time, many Israelis were questioning whether he had risked their collective relationship with Washington at a critical time.
And Mr. Obama’s re-election seemed to embolden Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister who has spent the past few years battling corruption charges.
Drawn Into the Syrian Conflict
Israel and Syria are bitter foes who have fought several wars, but their shared border has been mostly quiet since a 1974 cease-fire. Still, Israel worries that Syria’s civil war could spill across into the Golan, and repeated errant fire has intensified that concern.
Israel fears that if the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is toppled, Syria could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists or descend into sectarian warfare, destabilizing the region.
In the fall of 2012, incidents of errant fire from Syria multiplied, leading Israel to warn that it holds Syria responsible for fire on Israeli-held territory.
On Nov. 11, 2012, Israel was drawn into the Syrian conflict for the first time, firing warning shots into the neighboring country after a stray mortar shell fired from Syrian territory hit an Israeli military post. The Israeli military said the mortar fire caused no injuries or damage at the post in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war.

More on the Coalition
By joining up, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lieberman clearly intended to bolster their tickets and guarantee their leadership of a strong governing coalition in the coming years.
Mr. Lieberman, a Russian speaker who immigrated to Israel from Moldova in 1978, is a blunt-talking politician whose party has advocated some contentious and populist policies, like a demand for a loyalty oath in Israel because of concerns about the country’s Arab citizens.
In the current 120-seat Parliament, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu together command 42 seats, and sit together in a coalition made up of six parties with close to 40 ministers and deputy ministers. If the new superparty were to garner a similar number of mandates in the coming elections, or more, it would be able to form a coalition that would be dependent on fewer parties.
There has been feverish speculation in Israel of late that the only possible challenge to Mr. Netanyahu would come from a return to politics by Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, as the leader of a newly formed coalition of centrist and leftist forces. Bogged down by legal problems, Mr. Olmert has not yet announced his intentions.
Many commentators said the new rightist merger would neutralize any threat from such a coalition of center and leftist parties.
Others saw the merger as a risky gamble that could potentially benefit the opposition.
Olmert Plans a Political Comeback
Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister who has spent the last several years battling corruption charges, may be planning a comeback that analysts say offers the best hope of uniting Israel’s fragmented political center, but also shows the opposition’s desperation in trying to block the seemingly inevitable re-election of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
A Jerusalem Post poll published in mid-October suggested that if he could convince the leaders of several centrist factions to join his ticket, it would beat Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party by several seats.
That is a very big if. There is also an intense legal debate over whether Mr. Olmert should even be allowed to run, given his conviction in summer 2012 for breach of trust and a separate trial under way in which he is accused of taking bribes in a real estate deal. Pundits also point out that before he left office under the corruption cloud in 2009, his popularity had plummeted to the single digits.
But it is clear that Mr. Olmert, 67, wants badly to run on a platform accusing Mr. Netanyahu of spoiling Israel’s relations with the United States, scuttling the prospects of peace with the Palestinians by expanding Jewish settlements and taking the wrong tack on Iran. Analysts say he is the only candidate seen as a credible alternative to Mr. Netanyahu and that his candidacy — if he manages to unify the cadre of centrist leaders he has been courting — would create the kind of compelling story that could shake up what otherwise looks like a moribund campaign landscape.
On Oct. 15, Israel’s Parliament voted to dissolve itself and officially set the balloting for Jan. 22, creating a lightning campaign calendar that many see as Mr. Netanyahu’s effort to derail Mr. Olmert from gathering momentum.
First, though, Mr. Olmert faces legal hurdles. Though he was acquitted of the two more serious charges, Mr. Olmert was fined and given a one-year suspended jail term for breach of trust in September. Most legal experts agree that this allows him to run for Parliament, but not become a cabinet minister. They differ, though, on whether the prime minister is, technically, a minister, or a Parliament member empowered by the president to form a government.
Plus, what if he were elected and then convicted in the real estate trial?
Then there are the politics. While the Jerusalem Post poll published in October indicated that Mr. Olmert could win 31 Parliament seats compared with Mr. Netanyahu’s 27, the key question in Israel is who can form a 61-member coalition afterward. The same poll showed all center-left parties totaling 54 seats, leaving the balance of power in the hands of Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu and other parties now aligned with Mr. Netanyahu.
Report on Iran Nuclear Work Puts Israel in a Corner
In late August 2012, the International Atomic Energy Agency offered findings that validated Mr. Netanyahu’s longstanding position that while harsh economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation may have hurt Iran, they have failed to slow Tehran’s nuclear program. If anything, the program is speeding up.
The report issued by the agency confirmed that Iran has already installed three-quarters of the nuclear centrifuges it needs to complete a deep-underground site for the production of nuclear fuel. It laid out in detail how Iran used the summer of 2012 to double the number of centrifuges installed deep under a mountain near the holy city of Qum, while cleansing another site where the agency said it suspects that the country has conducted explosive experiments.
The agency’s report also put Israel in a corner, documenting that Iran is close to crossing what Israel has long said is its red line: the capability to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack. Officials and experts in Israel say the report’s conclusions may force Israel to strike Iran or concede that it is not prepared to act on its own.
This accentuates the tension with Washington during the hot-tempered atmosphere of a presidential election. President Obama and Mr. Netanyahu often say they have a common assessment of the intelligence about Iran’s progress. What they do not agree on is the time available.
In September 2012, Mr. Netanyahu displayed his anger by abruptly canceling a meeting of his security cabinet after information was leaked about disagreements in the government over how soon Iran’s nuclear program would reach a point at which an Israeli attack could no longer derail it.
The next week, Mr. Netanyahu harshly criticized the Obama administration over recent statements that the United States would not set deadlines or draw “red lines” for Iran over its disputed uranium enrichment activities, calling such comments a signal to the Iranians that they could build atomic bombs with impunity.
His remarks laid bare a thinly disguised disagreement between the United States and Israel over how to deal with Iran, and they threatened to elevate the Iranian uranium enrichment program as a virulent campaign issue less than two months before the American presidential elections. Mr. Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, who is friends with Mr. Netanyahu, has accused Mr. Obama of sacrificing Israel’s security, a charge that the administration has summarily rejected.
A Call For More Sanctions, and a Clearer ‘Red Line’
In the summer of 2012, the Obama administration and its allies imposed sweeping new sanctions meant to cut Iran off from the global oil market.
In late September, an internal report prepared by Israel’s Foreign Ministry was published by the newspaper Haaretz. The report called for an additional round of international sanctions, in what appeared to be a rare Israeli acknowledgment that there might still be time to try to stop the Iranian nuclear program by means other than military action.
Citing an Israeli Foreign Ministry official, Haaretz said Iran had suffered a 50 percent decline in its oil exports as a result of sanctions by the European Union and other countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea. As a result, the country’s oil revenues have declined by $40 billion since the beginning the year, it said.
The Foreign Ministry report stated that the international sanctions already imposed on Iran are having a deep effect on the country’s economy, according to the official, and may, according to some assessments, also be affecting the stability of the Iranian government. But the sanctions have not yet persuaded the government in Tehran to suspend its nuclear drive. Therefore, the report concluded that “another round of sanctions is needed,” the official said.
On Sept. 27, the same day that the report was published, Prime Minister Netanyahu told the United Nations that he believes Iran’s ability to make an atomic weapon will be irreversible by spring or summer 2013, a far more specific time frame than he had asserted before. In a speech before the General Assembly, he argued that a “clear red line” must be drawn to warn the Iranians they must halt their nuclear-fuel enrichment before then.
In early October, Israeli officials said that Mr. Netanyahu plans to travel to Europe before the end of the year to personally lobby for a toughening of sanctions against Tehran out of concern that the American presidential elections make new action from Washington less likely.
At the same time, Iran’s fragile currency, the rial, showed new signs of stress, falling 40 percent in a week as it was battered by a combination of Western sanctions and new anxieties among Iranians about their government’s economic stewardship.
Egypt: Another Concern
In April 2012, Egypt announced that it was canceling its supply of natural gas to Israel, and while both governments publicly described it as merely a business dispute, it was clear that deep political antagonism was behind the decision as Egypt moved away from the policies of former President Hosni Mubarak.
Moreover, the Egyptian Sinai has become a source of enormous concern for Israel, with Prime Minister Netanyahu calling it a “kind of Wild West,” and the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, saying Israel should consider massing more troops along that border.
That led Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi of Egypt to warn that his country would defend its territory. “We will break the legs of anyone trying to attack us or who comes near the border,” he said.
In early August 2012, terrorists attacked an Egyptian army checkpoint in the northern Sinai, killing 15 soldiers. On of the gunmen then drove a truck, taken from the military outpost and packed with a half ton of explosives, about a mile to the Israeli border fence, which he blew up along with himself and the vehicle.
An armored car, also stolen, then entered Israel, where it was stopped by three Israeli airstrikes that killed six or seven men — most of them carrying explosives on their bodies — as they tried to flee.
The attack brought several early signs of cooperation and coordination between the two countries. An Israeli brigadier general and his Egyptian counterpart met near the border to discuss the investigation. Israel handed over to Egypt the armored car and the bodies of those killed as they tried to enter through the Kerem Shalom crossing, at the southern tip of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement of condolence.
Mr. Netanyahu was born on Oct. 21, 1949, in Tel Aviv, Israel. He was partly educated in the United States, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He once tried an Americanized name, Ben Nitay. But he is Israeli to the core: a native “sabra” reared on militant Zionism, honed in an elite commando unit and wary of ever giving an inch to his enemies, whether politicians or Arabs.
He first served as prime minister from 1996 until 1999, when his government fell apart after he reluctantly forged agreements with Yasir Arafat for Israeli land transfers in the West Bank.
His heroes are his father, the historian Benzion Netanyahu, an ardent follower of a right-wing school of Zionism that held as early as 1925 that the Jewish claim to the entire land of Israel was unquestionable and nonnegotiable, and his brother, Yonatan Netanyahu, whose death leading the commando raid to free Jewish hostages at Entebbe in 1976 turned him into an Israeli legend.
The “Americanization” of Mr. Netanyahu began in 1963 at age 14, after his father took a teaching job in Pennsylvania. Young Bibi graduated from Cheltenham High School in Wyncote, Pa., and, after five years of military service, enrolled at M.I.T. He served with distinction in the same military unit as his brother.
At age 27, after the death of his brother, he organized a series of memorial seminars on terrorism that attracted much attention. Among those impressed was Moshe Arens, then ambassador to the United States, who plucked Mr. Netanyahu from a job as a furniture salesman and made him his deputy. Mr. Netanyahu was soon a delegate to the United Nations, a position in which he became a fixture on American television talk shows and popular with conservative American Jews.
Back in Israel as deputy foreign minister, Mr. Netanyahu gained further renown as the Israeli spokesman during the Persian Gulf War. After Likud lost the 1993 national election, Mr. Netanyahu seized the party chairmanship.
When Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, the perception that Mr. Netanyahu condoned or even incited the radical right led to a steep plunge in his standing in the polls. His fortunes changed with four suicide bombings in February and March 1996, which turned many Israelis against the government. When Mr. Netanyahu was elected in 1996, he became not only the youngest Israeli prime minister but also the first to be born after the state was founded in 1948.
His first term as prime minister was a turbulent time in which he angered his rightist colleagues by agreeing to a memorandum by which Israel would withdraw in stages from 13 percent of occupied land. He was accused of betraying his right-wing convictions in the name of ambition. And then he angered the left when he froze the agreement, citing Palestinian violations.
When he lost the 1999 election to Ehud Barak, he resigned his seat in Parliament and his leadership in Likud — a role that was taken by his chief rival, Ariel Sharon. After Mr. Sharon became prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu served as foreign minister and then finance minister, resigning in 2005 to protest the beginning of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. When Mr. Sharon formed his centrist Kadima Party, Mr. Netanyahu returned as Likud leader, suffering a humiliating defeat in 2006, winning only 11 parliamentary seats out of 120.
Mr. Netanyahu’s opportunity to return to power came when Mr. Sharon’s successor, Ehud Olmert, was forced to step down in the face of a corruption investigation, opening the way to new elections in 2009.
A Crucial Meeting With Obama
In March 2012, President Obama met with Mr. Netanyahu in Washington, and urged him to to give diplomacy and economic sanctions a chance to work before resorting to military action on Iran.
The meeting, held in a charged atmosphere of election-year politics and a deepening confrontation with Tehran, was nevertheless “friendly, straightforward, and serious,” a White House official said. But it did not resolve basic differences between the two leaders over how to deal with the Iranian threat
Mr. Netanyahu, the official said, reiterated that Israel had not made a decision on striking Iran, but he expressed deep skepticism that international pressure would persuade Iran’s leaders to forsake the development of nuclear weapons. Mr. Netanyahu, according to the official, argued that the West should not reopen talks with Iran until it agreed to a verifiable suspension of its uranium enrichment activities — a condition the White House said would doom talks before they began.
Mr. Obama, an official said, argued that the European Union’s impending oil sanctions and the blacklisting of Iran’s central bank could yet force Tehran back to the bargaining table — not necessarily eliminating the nuclear threat but pushing back the timetable for the development of a weapon.
Both leaders agreed to try to tamp down the heated debate about Iran in their countries, officials said. Mr. Obama said the talk of war was driving up oil prices and undermining the effect of the sanctions on Iran. Mr. Netanyahu expressed frustration that statements by American officials about the negative effects of military action could send a message of weakness to Tehran.
Short-Lived Unity Coalition
In May 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for early elections. The official pretext was the court-mandated expiration of the Tal Law, under which vast numbers of ultra-Orthodox Jews were exempted from Israeli Army service, on which Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition government was split.
But on May 8, Mr. Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz, the newly elected chairman of the opposition Kadima Party, struck a deal to form a unity government, a surprise move that staved off early elections and created a new coalition with a huge legislative majority. Mr. Mofaz became deputy prime minister.
While Mr. Netanyahu’s popularity is sky high and his re-election is all but assured, avoiding elections and broadening the coalition to 94 of the 120 members of Parliament significantly consolidates his power and limits the potential influence of right-wing factions, including the ultra-Orthodox.
For Mr. Mofaz, whose party has been polling far short of its current 28 seats in Parliament, the deal elevates his standing and gives him time to build more support before facing the public at the ballot box, though it also raises questions of credibility since he had insisted he would not join Mr. Netanyahu.
The elections had originally been scheduled for 2013, but would have been held in September 2012 if not for the deal with Kadima.
Mr. Netanyahu said that the new coalition would focus on four things: rewriting the draft law this summer to require an “historic redistribution of the burden;” passing a budget; overhauling the electoral process by year’s end; and advancing “a responsible peace process.”
The two men offered no specifics on their plans for integrating more ultra-Orthodox men who are now exempt from the draft to study the Torah into the military or national service, nor on how elections should be changed. But Mr. Mofaz said that if electoral reform is accomplished, “that will be enough of an achievement.”
The implications for Israel’s policy regarding Iran’s nuclear program are mixed. Mr. Mofaz is regarded as a more moderate voice who opposes any rush into military action. As leader of the opposition, he said in a television interview that an early attack on Iran could be “disastrous” and bring “limited results.”
However, many politicians and analysts argued that including Mr. Mofaz and Kadima in the governing coalition strengthened Mr. Netanyahu’s hand. The reasoning is that by broadening his coalition and thereby averting early elections, Mr. Netanyahu has likely bought himself more time and government stability.
But in July, Kadima pulled out of the coalition. Mr. Mofaz cited intractable differences with Mr. Netanyahu over the proposed universal draft law.
Israel’s Supreme Court in February invalidated a law granting draft exemptions to thousands of yeshiva students, and when Mr. Mofaz and Mr. Netanyahu made their deal, they said that rewriting the law to ensure that all citizens share the burden was a top priority.
While Mr. Mofaz’s Kadima Party had drafted legislation that would have required 80 percent of ultra-Orthodox men to enlist within four years, many in Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud faction, as well as the religious parties with which it has long been aligned, insisted that was moving too fast. Another key coalition partner, Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, had made proposals requiring Israel’s Arab citizens to do some kind of community service a priority, which also irked Kadima.
About 17 percent of ultra-Orthodox men now serve in the military or perform civilian national service work; 75 percent of other Jewish men serve in the military. Over all, about 60,000 yeshiva students are exempt from the draft under the law the Supreme Court struck down, a huge expansion of the 400 waivers granted at Israel’s founding to ensure the future of Torah study.
It was not clear whether the fracture would lead to early elections, something Kadima had hoped to avoid by forming the unity government.
An Imposed Palestinian Border?
In May 2012, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel should consider imposing the borders of a future Palestinian state, becoming the most senior government official to suggest bypassing a stagnant peace process.
Speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv sponsored by the Institute for National Security Studies, a respected research center that is close to the military and security establishment, Mr. Barak called for “an interim agreement, maybe even unilateral action.” Referring to fears that Jews will become a minority in their own state, he added, “Inaction is not a possibility.”
He did not offer any specifics, but echoed an emerging chorus of political leaders, analysts and intellectuals who have said that Israel needs to put in effect its own settlement to the Palestinian crisis.
Calls for direct action are based on the arguments that negotiations are no longer feasible because of enduring political divisions on both sides and the changing dynamics inspired by the Arab Spring, which demand that leaders take more populist positions in line with anti-Israel public sentiment. But some advocates of this approach have also said that they believe the door should remain open to negotiations, suggesting that unilateral steps could be phased in over many years and be designed, in part, to give Israel a stronger hand in final status talks.
The Palestinian Authority has opposed any effort by Israel to decree the contours of its territory and abandon a negotiated settlement on a wide variety of issues, including the future of Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority, however, did take its own unilateral steps last fall, when it pursued United Nations recognition, something it is considering doing again. Israel has criticized such efforts for stepping outside the bounds of negotiations. The Obama administration has strongly opposed unilateral action by either side, and some senior Israeli officials have worried that such a move by Israel could provoke an uprising by Palestinians.
Criticized Over Commando Raid
In June 2012, Mr. Netanyahu was criticized in a report by Israel’s state comptroller, the government watchdog, over his handling of a commando raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish ship in 2010.
The state comptroller — Micha Lindenstrauss, a retired judge — concluded that the decision-making process surrounding the raid was flawed with “substantive and significant shortcomings.” Among them, the comptroller wrote, were a lack of orderly preparation, proper coordination or documentation. He also said warnings about what could happen if the commandos met resistance on the ship went largely unheeded.
Reports by the state comptroller, who is elected by Parliament, carry more moral weight than practical consequences, so the findings released were not likely to have much effect politically on Mr. Netanyahu. Still, the report may tarnish Mr. Netanyahu’s leadership credentials at a time when Israel insists on keeping open the possibility of a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Barak was also criticized in the report.
Jewish Settlers Moved From West Bank
In late June 2012, Jewish families moved quietly — but not willingly — from their homes in Ulpana, which were declared illegal because they sit on private Palestinian land.
In 2011, Israel’s Supreme Court had ruled that five of Ulpana’s 14 multifamily buildings had to be removed by July 1, and the government has spent the past several months struggling to find a solution that would appease the settlers without enraging the international community. Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that he would not only add around 300 homes to Beit El but also 500 elsewhere in the West Bank and that he would try to relocate rather than demolish the Ulpana buildings in a feat of engineering the prospects of which are yet unclear.
So while the court ruling was seen as a victory for Palestinians and the Israeli left that advocates for them, it was hardly a celebration on either side. Many experts and advocates said the handling of Ulpana — and two other settlements on private land scheduled to be evacuated in the summer of 2012, Migron and Givat Assaf — simply proved Mr. Netanyahu’s commitment to the settlement enterprise and made any future two-state solution less likely.
Most of the international community considers all Jewish settlements in the West Bank territory that Israel captured in the 1967 war to be illegal but Israel distinguishes between those built with permits on state land and those constructed on private plots or without government authorization. While most maps of a potential Palestinian state imagine some of the settlements remaining in place in exchange for other land, Beit El, about 15 miles from Jerusalem, is not among them, making its expansion harder for those seeking an end of the conflict to accept.
Troubles With Iran Continue to Escalate
In early 2012, the debate over whether Israel would or should launch a preemptive attack to disrupt Iran‘s nuclear program heated up, with Mr. Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak stressing the seriousness of the threat, and other officials in the United States — and some within Israel — stressing the need for further diplomacy and the drawbacks of such a move.
Should Israel decide to launch a strike on Iran, its pilots would have to fly more than 1,000 miles across unfriendly airspace, refuel in the air en route, fight off Iran’s air defenses, attack multiple underground sites simultaneously — and use at least 100 planes. That was the assessment of American defense officials and military analysts.
In January 2012, seeking to lower the tone of nervous discourse as the United States and European Union imposed sanctions on Iran Mr. Barak said that any decision to attack Iran because of its nuclear program was “very far off.”
But in mid-February, tensions increased, when Israeli officials blamed Iran in two separate attacks. On Feb. 13, Israeli Embassy personnel were targeted by bombers in the capitals of Georgia and India, injuring the wife of an Israeli diplomat and a driver. The embassy blasts used methods that were similar to attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years, for which Iran has blamed Israel. The next day, a series of explosions rocked a residential neighborhood in Bangkok, wounding several people. Thai authorities found a cache of bombs in a rented house and captured two men who carried Iranian passports.
In July, tensions between the two countries escalated further, when a suicide bomber attacked a tour bus carrying Israeli vacationers outside an airport in the Bulgarian city of Burgas. Five Israelis and the Bulgarian driver of the bus were killed along with the bomber, and dozens more were injured.
Israel quickly blamed Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militia in Lebanon, and promised a firm response. As injured Israelis were being ferried back from Bulgaria by military plane, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the attack was carried out by “Hezbollah, the long arm of Iran.”
Nearly two weeks later, Bulgarian investigators said they had yet to identify the bomber, and did not publicly indicate who they believed was behind the attack. The Bulgarian government has tried to contain details about the investigation, hoping to avoid mistakes in a situation with global political and security implications, as evidence grows of a shadow war between Israel on one side and Iran and Hezbollah on the other.
U.S. Shows Support and Warns Iran
In early August 2012, while on a visit to Israel, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta took a tough tone against Iran as he implicitly threatened the possibility of an American military attack if Iran decides to develop a nuclear weapon. Standing next to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mr. Panetta seemed to reassure Israel about the Obama administration’s intentions days after Mitt Romney, then the presumptive Republican nominee, took a hard line against Iran during a July visit to Jerusalem.
Mr. Panetta repeatedly refused to detail those options, but he made clear they would include military action if economic sanctions and diplomacy did not work.
Defense officials say that Mr. Panetta did not come to Israel to try to persuade Israel from holding off on a unilateral military attack on Iran, and they said they had no indication that the Israeli leadership was moving closer to a decision on an attack.
But they also acknowledged Israel’s growing impatience with sanctions and diplomacy and said there was much that Israel does not tell them.
A series of public statements and private communications from the Israeli leadership set off renewed concerns in the Obama administration that Israel might be preparing a unilateral military strike on Iran, perhaps as early as fall 2012.
But after a flurry of high-level visits, a number of administration officials said they remained hopeful that Israel has no imminent plans to attack and may be willing to let the United States take the lead in any future military strike, which they say would not occur until 2013 at the earliest.
In Israel, there remains feverish speculation that Mr. Netanyahu will act in September or early October. Besides the prime minister’s fear that Israel’s window of opportunity will close soon, analysts cite several reasons for the potential timing: Israel does not like to fight wars in winter. Mr. Netanyahu feels that he will have less leverage if President Obama is re-elected, and that if Mr. Romney were to win, the new president would be unlikely to want to take on a big military action early in his term.
Such speculation was fueled by Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, who told Israel Radio on August 12 that there should be an international declaration that the diplomatic efforts to halt Tehran’s enrichment of uranium have failed.
On Aug. 14, amid growing concern about Israel’s preparedness for the response to a potential attack on Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu named Avi Dichter as his new home front minister. Mr. Dichter is a former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s version of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
American defense officials and experts in Israel say that because Israel does not have a bomb powerful enough to penetrate Iran’s underground uranium-enrichment facilities, an independent strike would be likely to set the nuclear program back only one or two years, at most. That has led to major dissent among Israel’s security professionals over the wisdom of such an attack. The Pentagon, in contrast, has the munitions, bombers, missiles, stealth aircraft and drones that would cause far more extensive damage.
Strained Relationship With Obama
Mr. Netanyahu’s relationship with President Obama has been notably strained. The tensions began in 2009 when Mr. Netanyahu rebuffed Mr. Obama’s request for an extended moratorium on construction in occupied territories, the issue that eventually stalled the short-lived peace talks with the Palestinian Authority that began in September 2010.
In September 2012, Mr. Netanyahu harshly criticized the Obama administration over recent statements that the United States would not set deadlines or draw “red lines” for Iran over its disputed uranium enrichment activities, calling such comments a signal to the Iranians that they could build atomic bombs with impunity.
In an hourlong telephone conversation on Sept. 11, Mr. Obama had rebuffed a proposal by Mr. Netanyahu to make the size of Iran’s stockpile of close-to-bomb-grade uranium the threshold for a military strike by the United States against its nuclear facilities.
According to an administration official, Mr. Obama repeated the assurances he gave to Mr. Netanyahu in March 2012 that the United States would not allow Iran to manufacture a nuclear weapon. But the president was unwilling to agree on any specific action by Iran that would lead to American military action.
On Sept. 16, having been rebuffed by Mr. Obama, Mr. Netanyahu made his case against Iran on two prominent American television programs, “Meet the Press” on NBC and “State of the Union” on CNN. On the shows, he made the argument that the only way to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon was to draw a “red line” that, if crossed, would set off military intervention.
Mr. Netanyahu argued that Iran was six months away from having “90 percent” of what it needed to make an atomic bomb. “You know, they’re in the last 20 yards, and you can’t let them cross that goal line,” Mr. Netanyahu said on “Meet the Press.”
The telephone conversation came after a day that seemed to epitomize the frequently crossed wires between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu. It began with angry comments by the prime minister that the Obama administration had no “moral right” to restrain Israel from taking military action on its own if it refused to put limits on Iran. It continued with reports in the Israeli news media that the White House had rebuffed a request by Mr. Netanyahu’s office for a meeting with Mr. Obama during the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September. The White House denied those reports, citing more mundane scheduling problems. Finally, on the evening of Sept. 11, Mr. Obama called Mr. Netanyahu.
Relations With the Palestinians Stalled
Relations with the Palestinians seemed to have stalled. Israel vehemently opposed the effort begun in September 2011 by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, for full recognition by the United Nations Security Council. Shortly afterward, Mr. Netanyahu’s government formally accepted an international proposal to return to peace negotiations, but the Israelis and Palestinians differed sharply over the letter and spirit of the proposal.
In November, to protest the Palestinians’ membership efforts at the United Nations and pursuit of power-sharing with Hamas, Israel carried out a threat to suspend the transfer of about $100 million in tax payments to the Palestinian Authority. On Nov. 30, under strong American and international pressure, Israel agreed to transfer the money.
In early January 2012, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met for the first time in more than a year in Jordan, in an effort to revive moribund peace talks, although none of the sides involved suggested any reason to view the meeting as a sign of significant progress. Palestinian officials reported little or no progress in the meetings and, on Jan. 25, Mr. Abbas said that discussions had ended.

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