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Israel: Gantz’s calls for unity against Netanyahu rejected

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Most Israeli parties have declared their refusal to unite or merge with the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance chaired by Alternate Prime Minister and Defence Minister Benny Gantz, local media reported yesterday.

“I am willing to sacrifice much for Bibi to go. If we get rid of our egos, we’ll get rid of Bibi,” Gantz had said in a press conference, using Benjamin Netanyahu’s nickname. “We cannot let [Netanyahu] smash us into splinters of parties,” he added.

However, his calls fell on deaf ears as he was looked at by other parties as the man who splintered his own party by joining a coalition with Netanyahu last year.

Several recent surveys found that Gantz is now polling at 4-5 seats in the Knesset; however, he entered the dissolved Knesset with 33 seats. Some monitors have said that Gantz is in danger of falling below the 3.25 per cent threshold for entering the Knesset.

According to the Times of Israel, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said: “We shall make every effort to form alliances that will lead to a sane, liberal government that will change the country.”

But sources within the party told the paper that Gantz did not respect the obligations and promises he made when he joined the government with Netanyahu. “So how can Lapid take him back and trust him now?”

READ: Blue and White likely to collapse after departure of key figures

For his part, the head of Yisrael Beiteinu Avigdor Lieberman addressed Gantz saying: “You had the opportunity to get rid of Netanyahu, but you chose to become a reserve Prime Minister. What you can do in favour of the state is your declaration not to go for the next elections.”

He accused Gantz of spoiling the political system in Israel; therefore, he should pay the price and leave political life. He said there is no need to meet with him because he “is not credible”.

Israel is due to hold its fourth election in two years as its coalition government collapsed last month after it could not agree on a budget.

Netanyahu's corruption scandal - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Netanyahu’s corruption scandal – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

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Coronavirus

Israel bans international flights to curb coronavirus spread

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Israel will ban passenger flights in and out of the country from Monday evening for a week as it seeks to stop the spread of new coronavirus variants, Reuters reports.

“Other than rare exceptions, we are closing the sky hermetically to prevent the entry of the virus variants and also to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in public remarks at the start of a cabinet meeting.

The ban will come into force from Monday at 2200 GMT and last until the end of January, a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

The country’s borders have largely been closed to foreigners during the pandemic, with only Israeli passport holders allowed entry.

Also on Sunday, Israel expanded its rapid vaccination drive to include late teens. The vaccines were initially limited to the elderly and other high-risk categories, but are now available to anyone over 40 or – with parental permission – those between 16 and 18.

The inclusion of late teens is meant “to enable their return (to school) and the orderly holding of exams,” the Education Ministry spokeswoman said.

READ: Russia, Israel discuss joint production of coronavirus vaccine

Israel awards a matriculation certificate to high school students in grades 10-12 who pass exams, administered by the Education Ministry, that play a major role in acceptance to universities. They can also affect placement in the military, where many Israelis do compulsory service after high school.

Israel has the world’s fastest vaccine distribution rate. With regular imports of Pfizer Inc. vaccines, it has administered at least one dose to more than 25% of its 9 million population since Dec. 19, the Health Ministry says.

The country has been under a third national lockdown since Dec. 27, which it plans to lift at the end of January. Critics say the government has mishandled the crisis, lacking a clear long-term strategy and allowing politics to cloud its decisions.

Education Minister Yoav Galant, speaking on Ynet TV, said it was too early to know if schools would reopen next month.

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Asia & Americas

UAE confirms it inked $23 bln deal to buy F-35 jets, drones from US

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The United Arab Emirates confirmed that it signed agreements with the United States on former President Donald Trump’s last full day in office to purchase up to 50 F-35 jets, 18 armed drones and other defense equipment in a deal worth $23 billion, Reuters reports.

The UAE embassy in Washington said in a statement on its website that the letters of agreement had been finalised on Tuesday confirming terms of purchase, including costs, technical specifications and anticipated delivery schedules.

Reuters first reported the news on Wednesday.

The deal, however, could now be reviewed as the new Biden administration has said it will re-examine the agreements for the sale, which the Trump administration had said supported U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives by allowing the UAE to deter Iranian “threats”.

The UAE, a close U.S. ally, has long expressed interest in acquiring the stealthy F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin and was promised a chance to buy them in a side deal when it agreed to normalize ties with Israel last August.

The embassy said the contracts included as many as 50 F-35A fighters valued at $10.4 billion, 18 MQ-9B drones valued at $2.97 billion, and various munitions valued at $10 billion.

READ: Israel allows US to deploy Iron Dome batteries in Gulf

It did not mention the final in-country delivery date for the F-35 jets, but people familiar with the matter had told Reuters the initial proposal sent to UAE said 2027.

In December, the U.S. Senate rejected attempts to block the transaction which opponents had said was being rushed through without sufficient assurances that the equipment would not fall into the wrong hands or fuel instability in the Middle East.

The embassy statement said the Gulf Arab state was committed to de-escalation in the region and that the defense package enhanced U.S.-UAE military interoperability.

It said the transaction was also “consistent with the bipartisan US National Defense Strategy of enabling partners to take on more responsibility for their own and collective security in the Middle East”.

The UAE said on Thursday that it looked forward to working with President Joe Biden’s administration.

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Asia & Americas

UAE cabinet approves setting up embassy in Tel Aviv

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The United Arab Emirates cabinet on Sunday approved the establishment of an embassy in the city of Tel Aviv in Israel, state media said, Reuters reports.

The UAE and Israel agreed to normalise relations in August, a deal forged largely over shared fears of Iran.

Since then Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have all agreed to establish ties with Israel in deals brokered in 2020 by the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

No further details about the embassy were given in UAE media.

Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as its capital, although that is not recognized by most of the international community. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Most countries have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

READ: Israel tourist behaviour in UAE ‘shameful’

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