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Israeli press review: Lebanon barrage sparks fears of defensive decline

Meanwhile, an ex-PM deletes a tweet acknowledging nuclear arsenal while the ex-head of the air force fears a tyrannical regime will arise in Israel
An Israeli police bomb disposal unit member inspects the remains of a shell fired from Lebanon on the northern town of Shlomi, 6 April 2023 (AFP)

Lebanon rocket fears

Israeli officials are concerned about the decline in the army's defensive power following the launch of a barrage of rockets from Lebanon on Thursday afternoon.

A senior security official told Walla news site that, for years, Israel's deterrence capability had been a concern. 

"Today, we've received a confirmation [of that concern], as we recorded a harm to sovereignty," saying that Israel "will choose the timing to collect a painful price."

Israeli officials convened on Thursday afternoon to prepare for a possible wide-range retaliation, which could last for several days, after bombing the Gaza Strip that evening and southern Lebanon on Friday morning.

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Walla reported that the Israeli army was mobilising forces near Gaza and Lebanon and raised the level of alertness in the occupied West Bank.

A political analyst in the Haaretz newspaper, Amos Harel, wrote that a military escalation would temporarily halt threats by army reservists to freeze their military service in objection to Netanyhau's judicial reforms.

Harel wrote that Netanyahu visited military bases in the past weeks to congratulate "the generals briefly for their contribution to state security," in front of cameras.

Once the journalists left the room, Netanyahu showed his anger and berated the general, claiming that they were not doing enough to combat the refusal to serve in the military, according to Haaretz.

Netanyahu was quoted telling the generals: "You are an army that costs the state 70 billion shekels ($19.36bn) a year, and you went on strike against the government."

“It’s inconceivable. Reservists cannot do as they please," he said.

Barak warns of Israel nuclear threat

In a tweet, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak appeared to confirm that Israel possesses nuclear weapons and warned of them being deployed by a fanatical leader, the Times of Israel reported.

Barak is a fierce opponent of Netanyahu's government and its plans to overhaul the judiciary and introduce a law that could harm minorities.

Though it is an open secret that Israel has nuclear capability and established the Dimona nuclear plant in Negev at the end of the 1950s, no Israeli official publicly admits it.

Israeli jets bomb Lebanon and Gaza after rocket attacks
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Barak tweeted on Tuesday: “In conversations between Israelis and Western diplomatic officials, there are deep concerns raised of the possibility that if the coup in Israel succeeds, a messianic dictatorship that possesses nuclear weapons and fanatically wishes for a confrontation with Islam centred on the Temple Mount will be established in the heart of the Middle East."

Later, the tweet was deleted.

Barak was referring to Netanyahu's far-right allies, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, and Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister, who were once active in settler movements in the occupied West Bank.

Ben-Gvir and Smotrich support and encourage settlers to storm the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem, despite offending Palestinians and Muslims. 

Barak served as defence minister from 2009 to 2013 in Netanyahu's Likud coalition and was prime minister of the Labor Party government from 1999 to 2001.

'A tyrannical leader'

Eliezer Shkedy, the former commander of the Israeli Air Force, fears that his country faces an "existential threat" as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to overhaul the judiciary.

Shkedy, a retired general and the former CEO of El Al airliner said in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth on Friday that he would decline to obey a military order if it was in the interest of Netanyahu, his wife Sara, or his son, Yair.

"I have never felt, even in the most challenging situations, that we are under an existential threat as these days," he said.

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Netanyahu plans to resume the judicial overhaul in May, giving the government power to appoint judges, which the opposition sees as a threat to democracy. However, the government argues that balancing the powers between the judiciary and parliament is necessary.

"All my life I have worked in defence from external enemies, but I have never felt threatened as is the case now.

"This is the first time that I am petrified that the decisions that are taken or will be taken in the future do not serve the state and the people, but rather the ruler, his wife and his son," he said about the Netanyahus.

Shkedy said that Israeli pilots would stay on duty despite many of them protesting Netanyahu's judicial plans and threats of non-compliance to orders.

In March, almost 650 members of army special forces, cyber and intelligence units, and combat pilots threatened to refuse to serve if Netanyahu carried on with his plan, which was put on pause after weeks of protests.

Shkedy said Israel's real problem remains long-term.

"The pilots are ready to do anything in order to defend the State of Israel," he said.

"But the threat now is of a completely different kind. The threat is that a tyrannical leader will grow up here and that tomorrow he will decide to appoint his son as crown prince and transfer power to him."

Shkedy said that for now, no pilot he called told him that he wouldn't serve.

"As long as the fighting is in the interest of my people, it is impossible for me to be in a position to refuse to fly. But for the ruler's interest, his wife and his son, this is a different matter," he said.

Israeli press review is a digest of news reports not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.