In this week’s Israel news update read about why Israel’s parliament has been dissolved triggering early elections, the numbers in the IDF 2018 report, Palestinian political divisions flaring, and more.

Israeli Parliament Dissolves Triggering Early Elections

The final blow to Israel’s collapsing ruling coalition came on December 26, when the Israeli parliament, known as the Knesset, voted to dissolve triggering early elections scheduled for April 9.

The volatility of Israeli politics is no secret, especially in the last year. The stresses of the security situation in the Gaza Strip, internal pressures from corruption investigations and other widely felt political divides slowly eroded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition of parties. Perhaps no moment was more revealing of the fractures in Israeli politics than when Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman resigned in the wake of the botched Gaza raid and ensuing escalation that nearly spiraled into a full-scale war. A scramble by Netanyahu and his allies barely managed to keep the coalition together.

However, it wasn’t the security debate that pulled the legs out from under the government. Rather, a deep division over a bill that would enlist Haredi Jews into the IDF. For decades, Haredi Jews have been exempt from the compulsory military service, but after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that mass exemption unconstitutional in September of 2017, the issue quickly became a political battleground.

A stalemate over votes for the current recruitment bill and rumors of under-the-table deals with the Haredim led the ruling coalition to dissolve parliament and invoke early elections, hoping to get the upper hand in a restructuring of the Knesset.

Netanyahu, who called for the dissolution, praised his coalition for key military, economic, and political accomplishments over the last four years and set his sights on reassembling the same coalition, according to the Jerusalem Post. Netanyahu also said he did not initiate an early election six weeks ago, when Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s resignation sparked a coalition crisis, because he first wanted to finish destroying Hezbollah tunnels on the Lebanese border.

Netanyahu is in his fourth term as prime minister and if the parliament had not been prematurely dissolved, the next elections would have taken place in November 2019.

IDF Annual Report - By the Numbers

An IDF summary of Israel’s security incidents in 2018 paints a picture with some improvements but also fraught with violent escalations and the impact of the long-term security crisis from the months-long Gaza border protests.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the report:

  • Israel destroyed fifteen cross-border terror tunnels dug from Gaza. (Egypt just announced they destroyed thirty-seven dug from Gaza into Egypt in 2018.)
  • One thousand rockets and mortars were launched from Gaza into Israel.
  • 250 of those were intercepted by the Iron Dome Missile Defense System and forty-five projectiles fell in urban areas.

In Judea and Samaria regions, there were:

  • 893 firebomb attacks
  • 33 shooting attacks
  • 17 stabbing attacks

In all, sixteen Israelis were killed in those attacks, a decrease in number of dead from recent years but an increase in the number of Israelis wounded in terrorist attacks.

In the West Bank, the army documented 87 “terror events,” ten fewer than in 2017 and far fewer compared to the 169 in 2016 and 219 in 2015, reports the Times of Israel.

The most consistent security event in Israel in 2018 was the Gaza border protests, which took a heavy toll on Israel’s southern border communities and Gazans protesting or trying to cross the border fence. Around 185 Palestinians have been killed at the border protests, according to the Associated Press count, most by Israeli live fire, many of them Hamas operatives attempting to breach the fence.

The year has ended, but the protests continue. Around 10,000 Palestinians took part in violent protests just last Friday, burning tires, hurling rocks and explosive devices at IDF soldiers on the other side of the fence, according to the Times of Israel. The Gaza-Health Ministry reported fifteen wounded by Israeli live-fire.

Internal Palestinian Divisions Flare

As the year came to a close and Israel’s ruling coalition dissolved the Knesset, divisions in Palestinian politics also flared though they’ve garnered far less attention.

The two ruling (and rival) Palestinian factions, Hamas based in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, have traded blows reminiscent of the violent skirmishes when Hamas took over the Gaza strip in 2007.

On December 31, the Associated Press reports that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party claimed that Hamas detained five hundred of its members in Gaza. The alleged arrests coincide with Fatah’s commemoration of its 54th anniversary. Fatah says that Hamas rulers have banned pro-Abbas loyalists from organizing events in Gaza to mark the occasion, but Hamas denied the charges, claiming it only summoned thirty-eight local Fatah leaders “to maintain order.”

Not even a week later, masked gunmen raided the Palestinian Authority-run TV station in Gaza, smashing glass and destroying equipment.

As tensions between the two bitter rivals escalate, a new Palestinian coalition is seeking to break the political duopoly Fatah movement and Hamas. Made by five smaller Palestinian factions, the “Democratic Caucus” announced their intent to challenge the two ruling forces by holding presidential and parliamentary elections.

Palestinian elections have not been held since 2006 due to political fighting between Hamas and Fatah continually postponing them.

Rocket Alert Apps Disabled

Sirens and alarms that once screamed from dozens of apps alerting the user of incoming rockets in Israel will now fall silent after the IDF decided to pull the plug on third-party rocket alert apps.

The decision was made to cut down on misinformation, according to a Ha’aretz report.

Till now, the IDF had been sharing data about rocket and mortar attacks with private smartphone apps but said that they will be disconnecting access to that data from fears that those apps could spread misleading information and false alerts.

The military also said that those fears are not unfounded, that due to technical glitches the reports through those applications often arrive late and sometime send false alerts. Those false alerts drew complaints and created confusion among users. Instead, the IDF recommends using the Home Front Command’s official app, which it says delivers reliable, real-time alerts to users.

The decision to disconnect private apps is not without controversy. Strong complaints have come from the Bedouin communities in southern Israel that are also vulnerable to rocket and mortar attacks but are unrecognized by the state and therefore not included in the official alert database. That means they are unable to receive real-time warnings of incoming rocket and mortar shell attacks from the Gaza Strip. To download the official app, users must select which community they are a part of; a choice that is not available for the Bedouins in unrecognized communities.

Approximately 90,000 Bedouins are in Israel’s south, many in unrecognized villages where they lack basic infrastructure and services.