Middle East briefing: Helping Nepal, coalition, US support

Last Saturday, minutes after Israel heard the news of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal, the Israeli Foreign Ministry set up a 24/7 Emergency and Crisis Management Center with the goal of providing an immediate and appropriate response to the disaster and coordinate rescue, medical and humanitarian aid to Israelis, Nepalese and others who were caught up in the disaster.
According to an MFA bulletin issued Monday: “The first Israeli rescue plane, from the Home Front Command, landed in Kathmandu on Sunday (26 April) and brought back to Israel the first group of Israelis, including newborn babies. A Magen David Adom plane landed in Nepal, also on Sunday, and delivered a delegation of doctors and paramedics who settled in at the Chabad House. The plane returned to Israel with another group of Israelis.”
Three IDF air force planes arrived in Nepal on Monday loaded with emergency aid. They also brought back more stranded Israelis.
Two El Al planes — one cargo and one passenger — arrived Tuesday carrying a team from the Israeli Ministry of Health and a large delegation of Home Front Command — more than 200 doctors, sanitation engineers, machinery technicians and others — as well as medical equipment (portable monitors, oxygen tanks, ventilators, medicine, X-ray machines, resuscitation kits) and engineering equipment.
After unloading their cargo, the planes returned to Israel carrying more Israeli travelers.
According to one witness at the airport, while preparing the planes for the return flights, the Israeli crews handed out sandwiches, oranges and water to the hundreds of stranded travelers, of all nations, that were waiting desperately to be rescued. Several Nepalese officials commented that no other country cares for its citizens as Israel does.
As of Tuesday morning, out of hundreds of Israelis currently still in Nepal, several dozen have not been found. The Department for Israelis Abroad at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem is leading the efforts to establish contact with them.

The new Israeli government

Not yet! As of Tuesday, with only six days left of the 14-day extension that President Rivlin gave Prime Minister designate Netanyahu, the coalition has yet to be finalized.
Not that there is a shortage of candidates. With Netanyahu needing at least 61 sitting Knesset members to form a coalition, there are plenty of potential “wannabe” ministers and deputy ministers in the parties considered ideological “natural partners” in a right-wing government, to give him at least 61, and possibly 67 seats.
But there’s the problem: Everyone wants a “job” or control over a ministry or committee that will allow them to spread patronage and benefits to their constituents … at a cost of tens of millions of dollars each year … all from the small national taxpayer-funded coffers, which also have to support crucial government sectors like the IDF and national security, as well as education, power, infrastructure, development and more.
While Netanyahu has not yet formed a coalition, bits of information leaked from the negotiations indicate that he might be close.
For example: until the last Knesset changed a “Basic (constitutional) Law,” past Israeli governments have included dozens of ministers, deputies and “ministers without portfolio.” But according to the new law, as of this election the Israeli government can have only 18 ministers and four deputy ministers.
However, Netanyahu indicated Monday that the Knesset might have to pass a new law that would enable him to form a broader coalition, with up to 22 ministers and six deputy ministers, in order to satisfy the ambitions of potential partners who refuse to compromise on their demands for portfolios, personal benefits and constituent-related budgets. If that happens, then the so-called “cost of democracy” in Israel will go through the roof…

US support for Israel

Sunday night I was encouraged by the warm, enthusiastic and unreserved support for Israel that reverberated through the packed ballroom during AIPAC’s annual event in Dallas. And I’m not talking about the very impressive gathering of over 1,200 local AIPAC members and supporters, whose very participation in this signature evening speaks volumes about their support for our historical and eternal Jewish homeland.
No — what encouraged me were the statements by the politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, seniors and juniors. While they all made the obligatory comments about “shared values” of democracy, human rights, justice and America’s long-term commitment to Israel’s security, I was pleasantly surprised that most of them, from both parties, specifically mentioned the current and immediate threat to Israel, the U.S. and the Middle East from a nuclear-armed Iran.
All agreed that a diplomatic resolution that prevents Iran from ever reaching that stage is preferable … and that Congress should be involved before a bad deal with the extreme Islamist, terror-sponsoring Republic of Iran is signed.

The ‘Bad Deal’

Last Friday, Iran and the P5+1 negotiators, led by the U.S., renewed talks in Vienna. After the first round Iran foreign minister Abbas Araqchi said that the U.S. negotiating delegation gave the Iranian nuclear team “very useful” explanations regarding the removal of anti-Iran sanctions. He could be referring to the desperate attempt by the US, according to The Wall Street Journal and several news agencies, to bribe Iran into signing a worthless and unenforceable “deal” by agreeing to release $30-50 billion of funds, frozen under the UN Security Council sanctions resolution, immediately … and with only an Iranian highly questionable “promise” to comply … maybe.
What a week this has been:
Israel projecting a bright and shining “light to the nations,” despite Bibi’s obstacles to forming a coalition and tension rises in the North and South.
U.S. grassroots political support for Israel’s security (at least in DFW) is at its height.
The weak U.S.-led P5+1 appears to be abandoning the pledge that “no deal with Iran is better than a bad deal” in favor of “any deal at any cost.”
This week we’re two out of three … let’s see what next week brings.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is President and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org

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