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On The Middle East: Israel Elections, Saudi Drone Strikes, Iran Tensions

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their votes at a voting station in Jerusalem on Sept. 17, 2019. (Heidi Levine/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their votes at a voting station in Jerusalem on Sept. 17, 2019. (Heidi Levine/AFP/Getty Images)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

With news from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran, we talk with a U.S. diplomat who has served across the region about the role the U.S. should play in this delicate moment in the Middle East.

Guests

Yaacov Benmeleh, Bloomberg’s bureau chief for Israel and Palestinian territories. (@kbenme)

Ryan Crocker, diplomat-in-residence, Princeton University. He has served as U.S. ambassador six times: Afghanistan (2011-2012), Iraq (2007-2009), Pakistan (2004-2007), Syria (1998-2001), Kuwait (1994-1997) and Lebanon (1990-1993).

From The Reading List

New York Times: “After Tight Israeli Election, Netanyahu’s Tenure Appears Perilous” — “Israel’s election was still too close to call Wednesday afternoon, with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his chief rival, the former army chief Benny Gantz, a centrist, immediately commanding enough support to form a majority coalition, according to partial results and exit polls.

“But Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White party appeared to have come out ahead of Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud, giving a small third party the power to decide the outcome. And his avowed desire to force a unity coalition including both their parties made it likely that, if the projections held, Mr. Gantz would be given the first chance of forming a government.

“With about 63 percent of the ballots counted, Blue and White had 25.8 percent of the vote, slightly ahead of Likud, with 25.1 percent. The murky outcome itself was a humiliating blow to Mr. Netanyahu, 69, the nation’s longest-serving prime minister, who forced the do-over election when he failed to assemble a coalition in May, rather than let Mr. Gantz have a try.”

Bloomberg: “The Players and Parties as Israel Votes” — “Polls ahead of Israel’s Sept. 17 election suggest a tight race between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and former military chief Benny Gantz’s Blue and White. But in Israel’s fractured political landscape, it takes more than a single party to rule, so the real tension will be over who can line up the biggest bloc of parliamentary seats.

“The election is the second in five months after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition following April balloting. The key decider may be former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, who last time refused to join Netanyahu’s government. Other potential players include Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas. They command roughly 15% of parliamentary seats between them and have been mainstays in Netanyahu governments, while the Joint List, which represents Israel’s Arab minority, has signaled some support for Gantz.”

New York Times: “Trump Says Iran Appears Responsible for Saudi Attack but That He Wants to Avoid War” — “President Trump said Monday that Iran appeared to have been responsible for the weekend attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities. But he also said he would ‘like to avoid’ a military conflict with Tehran, emphasized his interest in diplomacy and played down the attack’s jolt to the global oil market.

“Asked at the White House whether Iran was behind the strikes on Saturday that crippled much of Saudi Arabia’s oil output, Mr. Trump said, ‘It’s looking that way.’ But he stopped short of a definitive confirmation, adding, ‘That’s being checked out right now.’

“The attack was the most destructive blow to Saudi Arabia since it began waging war in Yemen more than four years ago. The damage inside Saudi Arabia helped drive world oil prices up by 10 percent on Monday, the fastest rise in more than a decade.

“Mr. Trump warned that the United States has fearsome military capabilities and is prepared for war if necessary. ‘With all that being said, we’d certainly like to avoid it,’ he said. ‘I know they want to make a deal,’ he said of Iranian officials, whom he has been trying to draw into talks over their nuclear program and other issues. ‘At some point it will work out.’ ”

NBC News: “Netanyahu fights for his political life as Israel heads to the polls” — “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was fighting for his political life as the country headed to the polls in an unprecedented do-over election on Tuesday morning.

“The embattled leader spent the days leading up to the vote unveiling hard-line campaign pledges in a last-ditch attempt to win over right-wing voters and to draw attention away from his potential indictment in three corruption cases.

“But it remains unclear whether Netanyahu’s pulling out all the stops will be enough to allow him to form the next government.”

Al Jazeera: “Netanyahu accuses Iran of dismantling secret nuclear weapons site” — “Iran was clandestinely developing nuclear weapons but destroyed a secret site after Israel discovered it, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged on Monday.

“Iran quickly refuted the Israeli leader’s accusation.

“Tehran had been developing atomic arms at a facility in Abadeh, south of Iranian city of Isfahan, said Netanyahu.

“It was the first time the prime minister identified the site after publicly accusing Iran of trying to build a bomb last year while citing a trove of Iranian documents allegedly stolen by Israeli agents from an Iranian warehouse.

“‘In this site, Iran conducted experiments to develop nuclear weapons,’ Netanyahu said, adding after Israeli intelligence found out about it, ‘they destroyed the site. They just wiped it out.’ ”

Allison Pohle and Stefano Kotsonis produced this hour for broadcast.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.