12/19/18 Trump and Syria, Netanyahu Legal Troubles Mount and More

1) The announcement of President Trump that the United States would pull all of its troops out of Syria immediately; Diplomatic personnel to leave within 24 hours and military to withdraw within 60 days. This is bad news for Israel. First, like most acts in the Trump Administration it is being done without receiving a quid pro for the action. The US has been continually wasting its leverage. Second, American forces have been blocking the land bridge Iran wants in order to have direct access into Syria and Lebanon. Now, that block will be gone. Third, the US is once again abandoning the Kurds, an act that in itself will weaken America; as it is a sign that America no longer stands with its friends. Anything that undermines America weakens Israel. Finally, the suddenness of this decision was shocking. After stating for months that the US would not leave Syria until Iran does, all of a sudden the US takes its marbles and leaves. Prime Minister Netanyahu reacted by saying he was told about this move by the US, this was a US decision, and Israel would know how to look after its own interests. This abrupt policy shift clearly shows the limited of Netanyahu’s influence over Trump.

2) The announcement by the Israeli State prosecutor that after marathon meetings the prosecutors’ office has completed review of the three cases against Netanyahu — which had been expected to take many months. The State’s prosecutor stated that Attorney General Mandelblit will begin to review the case next week. At this pace, a decision from Mandelblit may come much sooner than forecast. The implications of this development are yet to understood in the political system.

3) The success of Finance Minister Kahlon persuading Osem not to raise prices, at least for the moment. Kahlon had a meeting in the middle of the night, where he promised to bring down the cost of some of Osem’s imported raw material and attempt to block the increase in the price of electricity. Speaking about electricity, Netanyahu pledged to block the 8% increase in electricity prices.

4) Finally, Israel bid farewell to Rona Ramon today. Her casket laid in state at the Peres Center, as citizens passed to pay their final respects. There was true national grief over the early death of a woman who lost her husband Ilan when the Columbia burned on reentry, and mother who lost her eldest son, a pilot like his dad, who perished during a training mission. Her request to be cremated, so that her three remaining children would be spared the trauma of another burial, created tremendous controversy in the Ultra-Orthodox community, as a violation of traditional Jewish law. However, while surprised, most average Israelis seemed to understand her motherly instinct to do what she could to protect her children.