After two days of discussions between Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and Blue & White leader Benny Gantz, negotiations have broken down.
No agreement was made to create a national unity government — even though that’s what almost everyone in Israel wants.
Therefore, Rivlin has decided to give Netanyahu the first opportunity to form a coalition government because 55 members of Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) told Rivlin they want Bibi to be the PM again.
Only 54 members supported Gantz.
Netanyahu now has 28 days to try to form a government. If necessary, he can ask Rivlin for up to an additional 14 days.
If Bibi cannot form a government, however, Rivlin will give Gantz the opportunity to try. If it gets to that point, Gantz will also have 28 days. He may also then have a great deal of leverage to persuade Bibi and Likud to create a national unity government after all.
Bottom line: keep praying for us — we very well may not have a fully-formed new government until late November.
NOTE: These are my own personal views. I’m not writing or speaking in my capacity as Founder and Chairman of The Joshua Fund, as that organization is non-political and non-partisan.
(Washington, DC) — Just before I left for Washington, I did a live interview with i24 TV News from Jerusalem on the escalating tensions in the Gulf and what may come next.
Among the questions that anchors Nurit Ben and Calev Ben-David asked me:
With Secretary Pompeo calling Iran’s attack on Saudi oil facilities an “act of war,” how closely aligned do you think the White House’s views are with the Saudis’ views?
With President Trump facing elections in 2020, isn’t he going to be reluctant to start a new war in the Middle East — and can’t the Saudis simply defend themselves without US help?
How can the US and the Saudis restore deterrence against Iran? Is there any way other than military action to achieve deterrence? Aren’t leaders in the region growing concerned that President Trump might not have their back if a real war erupts?
Shouldn’t the Saudis turn to Israel to buy for missile defense systems to protect their Kingdom? Yet, wouldn’t that require peace between Riyadh and Jerusalem? Are the Saudis trending towards real peace and cooperation with Israel?
(Washington, DC) — This week I’m in Washington briefing White House officials, Members of Congress and Middle East experts at various think tanks on our recent meetings in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his inner circle.
Yet as interesting as all those conversations are, people keep asking me about last week’s elections in Israel and where things are headed.
Can Netanyahu form a government when fewer people voted for him and allies than in April?
Will Netanyahu actually be indicted after next week’s hearings?
Does Benny Gantz really have a shot at being the next Prime Minister, and will it be a “national unity government”?
Why did Israel’s Arab parties — which haven’t supported a Jewish candidate for PM since Yitzhak Rabin in the early 1990s — suddenly decide to support Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff?
And is it really possible Israel will remain deadlocked and we’ll have to go to an unprecedented third round of elections?
Yesterday, I discussed all these matters — as well as the blowback I’m getting from meeting with MBS — with CBN News anchors John Jessup and Jenna Browder on their program, “Faith Nation.” Hope you’ll watch and tell me your thoughts on Twitter and/or my “Epicenter Team” page on Facebook.
(Jerusalem, Israel) — Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East. And we love elections so much we’ve had two in the last six months.
But Tuesday’s vote didn’t go well for Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, currently the longest-serving Prime Minister in Israeli history. After pulling out all the stops to secure 61 or more seats to build a right-wing coalition government, Bibi fell well short.
Israeli politics are cutthroat and labyrinthian, so there’s no point in going through all the possible permutations of what happens from here.
Short version: the most likely outcome is now a “national unity government” in which either Gantz serves as Prime Minister for the first two years and Netanyahu for the second two years, or vice versa.
That said, here’s what you need to know:
Netanyahu faces an all-important court hearing on October 2, and it is very possible that he will be formally indicted in three separate corruption cases. Though Bibi deserves the presumption of innocence, many Israelis believe government officials should not forge a deal with Bibi because he will need to spend so much of his time on his own legal defense in the years ahead.
Avigdor Liberman — the former Defense Minister, head of his own political party, and former chief of staff for Netanyahu who is a now a fierce rival of Netanyahu — won 9 seats. This is nearly double from his previous 5 seats, and Liberman is widely regarded as the “kingmaker” whose support is crucial to anyone trying to create a majority coalition. Liberman today indicated that he will recommend Gantz, not Netanyahu — to be next Prime Minister, though he, too, supports a national unity government.
If all this weren’t complicated enough, neither Blue & White nor Liberman’s party are keen on having ultra-Orthodox religious parties in the coalition, believing those parties already exert too much control over Israeli social policy and the budget. Will Likud be willing to join a national unity government only with Blue & White and Liberman, jettisoning their long-time alliance with the religious parties? That remains to be seen, and is likely going to be a major point of contention in the negotiations.
I’ll post more analysis in the days ahead, but for breaking news please follow me on Twitter @JoelCRosenberg.
(Photo: PM Netanyahu on the left, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the center, and Benny Gantz on the right, shaking hands at an event today remembering the late-President of Israel Shimon Peres.)
NOTE: These are my own personal views. I’m not writing in my capacity as Founder and Chairman of The Joshua Fund, as that organization is non-political and non-partisan.
UPDATED: After speaking with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), President Trump says US forces in the Gulf are “locked and loaded,” strongly suggesting he may order retaliatory military strikes against Iran, possibly within the week.
All eyes are once again on the Middle East, yet the US media has largely ignored a group of American faith leaders who met with MBS and have direct knowledge of how he views Iran and the state of the US-Saudi alliance.
Here’s a roundup of the media coverage of our meetings in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia — including our two-hour meeting with the Crown Prince — which occurred just days before the horrific attacks by 12 cruise missiles and 20 drones on Saudi oil facilities that have brought the region, once again, to the brink of war.
With the notable exception of the Associated Press, the trip received rather little original coverage in the U.S. However, the story was front-page news in the Arab world. Israeli and Christian media also covered it extensively.
Particularly historic was that the Christian Broadcasting Network was granted exclusive and extensive access not only to enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the first time ever. Correspondent Chris Mitchell was able to cover a wide range of stories —including the missiles attacks — in addition to our Delegation’s activities. Last year, when we made our first trip into the Kingdom, CBN News was denied permission to join us.
In the meantime, please pray faithfully for the President, his national security team, the Crown Prince and other regional leaders to know how best to respond to the latest acts of war by Iran. No one but the mullahs in Tehran want a war, but it may come anyway.
(For regular updates and breaking news, please follow me on Twitter.)
UPDATED: (Amman, Jordan) — Having just been in Saudi Arabia discussing the gravity of the Iran threat with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and other senior Saudi officials and military commanders, I would say MBS is fiercely determined to work closely with the US and his allies in the region to counter the Mullahs in Tehran.
Then I arrived in Amman as a new crisis erupted between Iran and the Saudi Kingdom.
Vital American-Saudi ARAMCO oil facilities in Saudi Arabia were severely damaged on Saturday by upwards of 12 cruise missiles and 20 drones, and the U.S. is pointing the finger of blame directly at Iran. This will surely stiffen MBS’ resolve to show steel towards Tehran. Will it do the same in Washington?
US Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally and a sharp critic of MBS, says it may be time to bomb Iranian oil facilities to send an unmistakable message.
“It is now time for the U.S. to put on the table an attack on Iranian oil refineries if they continue their provocations or increase nuclear enrichment,” Graham tweeted.
“Iran will not stop their misbehavior until the consequences become more real, like attacking their refineries, which will break the regime’s back,” Graham added.
Earlier this summer, US Senator Tom Cotton, also a close Trump confidante, said Iranian attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf — and Iran shooting down a US intelligence drone operating in international airspace over the Gulf — warranted American military retaliation.
Keep a close eye on statements in coming days by Senators Graham and Cotton, along with Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — each of whom are highly influential with President Trump and among their Senate colleagues — for clues as to where the White House, State and the Pentagon are trending.
Until now, President Trump has not felt military action was needed. Rather, Trump has employed aggressive sanctions against Iran, and the offer of direct talks of Tehran is willing to abandon its regional aggression and nuclear ambitions.
Two big questions:
1. Will these attacks by Iran on a key ally mark a turning point for American Senators who have been furious with MBS? Will they remind Congress that while there are serious matters that need to resolved between Washington and Riyadh, they need to keep their eye on the ball of the seriousness of the Iran threat and why we need to work closely with the Saudis and our other regional allies to neutralize Iran?
2. Will President Trump decide it is time to strike Iran now that Tehran’s attacks in the region are becoming more brazen, rather than engage in direct talks?
I pray it doesn’t come to war, but as I wrote earlier this summer, it seems as if Iran is actively angling for a war.
Raging fires from the drone strikes required ARAMCO to shut down half of their refining operations this weekend, though they are expected to come back online soon. “The production shutdown amounts to a loss of about 5.7 million barrels a day, the kingdom’s national oil company said, roughly 5% of the world’s daily production of crude oil,” reported the Wall Street Journal.
Houthi rebels in Yemen that have been in a long and bloody war with a Saudi-led coalition quickly claimed responsibility.
However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says there is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.
“Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while [Iran’s president and foreign minister] Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” said Pompeo.
“Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.”
President Trump immediately called Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to assure him of American solidarity. Most Arab states — including the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait — immediately condemned the attacks and vowed to stand with the Saudis.
The following is a press release our Evangelical Delegation issued on Tuesday, September 10:
(Jedda, Saudi Arabia) — On the eve of the 18th anniversary of the September 11th tragedy, a delegation of American evangelicals led by Joel C. Rosenberg made their second visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia within a year. The group discussed the Kingdom’s sweeping reforms and encouraging battles against terrorism and violent extremism. The group also discussed the Vision 2030 plan, matters of religious freedom, human rights, Iran, Israel and the peace process.
The visit was organized by the kingdom’s new Ambassador to the United States, HRH Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, as well as her immediate predecessor, HRH Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The Delegation met with a wide range of senior officials, and also visited the ancient Nabatean city of Al-Ula and the $500 billion region of Saudi’s future, NEOM, both likely to draw an enormous flow of tourists once the Kingdom begins issuing tourist visas by the end of this year and as development accelerates on both projects.
The group issued the following joint statement about the visit:
“We are grateful for the hospitality of our hosts, His Majesty the King and His Royal Highness Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. As in all of our interactions with the Kingdom and religious leaders of this nation, our focus has principally been the future of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“While it may surprise some that we would choose the week of September 11 to visit the Kingdom, we actually feel there is no more appropriate time to focus on where the Kingdom must go, can go, and where we believe it is going. In fact, our visit here on this profoundly important week is in defiance of those that aim to derail reform in the Kingdom through an embrace of hate and fear rather than courage and moderation.
“We are also grateful to have deepening relationships in the Kingdom where trust is invaluable and where change is a topic of daily conversation.This increasing trust has afforded us the opportunity to talk openly, if sometimes privately, about what we believe must change in the Kingdom even as we celebrate the Kingdom’s progress in so many other areas.That is particularly evidenced by the diversification of its economy, tourism, the groundbreaking work of the recent Charter of Mecca and the introduction of various forms of openness and modernization, especially as it relates to the rights of women. Our meetings were unhurried and our discussions were substantive.
“Frankly, we’re delighted at the scope of the developments even as we look with expectation for more change.We are also patient friends with realistic expectations that it will take time to reform what took years to create.”
Joel C. Rosenberg, head of the Delegation, added:
“We were encouraged to see that two U.S. Senators visited the Kingdom this week and met with the Crown Prince. But we were stunned to learn that these were the only two Senators who have come to visit all year. Saudi Arabia is one of America’s most important strategic allies in the war against Radical Islamist terrorism and in countering the rising Iranian threat. Yes, there are significant challenges in the US-Saudi relationship. But we urge more Senators to come here, see the sweeping and positive reforms that the Crown Prince is making, and ask him candid questions directly rather than sniping at him from Washington.”
Evangelical Delegation to Saudi Arabia: September 8-12, 2019
(note: each person came in an individual capacity; organizations listed for identification purposes only)
1.Mr. Joel C. Rosenberg — Host of the Delegation. New York Times best-selling author of fiction and non-fiction books about the Middle East with nearly five million copies in print. Chairman and Co-Founder of The Joshua Fund, a non-profit educational and humanitarian relief organization that assists and encourages Christians in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. Married to Lynn. Four sons. Dual U.S.-Israeli citizen. Lives in Jerusalem. Full bio: http://www.joelrosenberg.com/about-joel/
2.Mrs. Lynn A. Rosenberg — Wife of Joel C. Rosenberg. Vice President of November Communications, Inc. Co-Founder of The Joshua Fund. Dual U.S.-Israeli citizen. Lives in Jerusalem.
3.Rev. Johnnie Moore — Co-chairman of President Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council. Serves as a Commissioner with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. Member of the Board of the World Evangelical Alliance. Full bio: http://www.uscirf.gov/about-uscirf/johnnie-moore-commissioner
4.Mr. A. Larry Ross — Founder and CEO of one of the nation’s most respected Evangelical public relations firms. Media advisor to numerous influential Evangelical Christian pastors and ministry leaders in the U.S. Served for decades as the spokesman for Dr. Billy Graham, the most famous American Evangelical Christian of the 20th century. Full bio: http://alarryross.com/a-larry-ross-2/
5.Ambassador John Kenneth Blackwell — Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance at the Family Research Council. Bestselling author of three books. Member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Board of Advisors, of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). Served as mayor of Cincinnati, Treasurer and Secretary of State for Ohio, undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. https://www.frc.org/ken-blackwell
7.Mr. Michael Little — Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of the National Religious Broadcasters. Chairman of the Board of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Former President and CEO of The Christian Broadcasting Network. Full bio: http://nrb.org/about/leadership/executive-committee/
8.Pastor Skip Heitzig — Senior pastor of Calvary Albuquerque, one of the largest Evangelical churches in the U.S. with over 15,000 people attending. Serves on the board of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian humanitarian relief organization founded and run by Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the late Dr. Billy Graham. Full bio: https://www.calvaryabq.org/churchinfo_skipsbio.asp
9.Mrs. Lenya Heitzig — Wife of Skip Heitzig, pastor of Calvary Albuquerque with a congregation of 15,000 members. Co-host of Skip’s radio program, The Connection, heard on over 400 stations nationally and on the internet worldwide. Author and speaker whose passion for women, God’s Word, and worship https://lenyaheitzig.com/about/
2:00pm to 4:00pm — Meeting with HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; HRH Prince Khalid bin Salman, Vice Defense Minister; H.E. Adel al-Jubeir, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs; H.E. Sheikh Mohammed al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League; HRH Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Ambassador to the United States
(Jerusalem, Israel) — A fire-fight opened up today on Israel’s northern border.
The Iranian-backed terror group known as Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles at a clearly-marked ambulance on an Israeli army base.
No one was hurt, thank God, but Israel retaliated with some 100 bombs and missiles at Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon, Israeli media reported.
The attack comes amidst rising concerns that Hezbollah is preparing for a much larger war with Israel, possibly soon.
1. In January, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to “invade the Galilee,” The group has been building terror tunnels along the Lebanon border, some of which Israel still may not have found. They also have an estimated 150,000 missiles aimed at Israel.
5. Israeli military forces in the North have been on high alert in recent days. “In light of the terror group’s threats, the Israeli military has been on high alert over the past week, restricting soldiers’ movements in vulnerable areas, canceling weekend leave for troops in the IDF Northern Command and reportedly sending artillery and other heavy equipment to the Lebanese border,” reported the Times of Israel.
6. Several days ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — facing national elections on September 17 — gave a secret military briefing to his chief political rival, Benny Gantz, on the rising tensions in the north. This was so unusual that Israel’s largest daily newspaper ran a story headlined, “IS ISRAEL ON THE VERGE OF AN ALL-OUT WAR?”
Please pray that tensions will be quickly defused and all these rumors of war won’t become self-fulfilled prophecies. And please follow me on Twitter for the latest developments and more breaking news.