What is the vibe now in Israel, amidst the prisoner-hostage releases? What is the situation like?
The pictures of parents hugging their children again are warming our hearts. Some of them are heartbreaking stories because some children find out their parents are gone only after their release, but some on the opposite side, thought their loved ones were dead and they are alive. However, we cannot lose focus from destroying Hamas. We see that Hamas is scared, but there is a concern that, for political reasons, the job might not get done – so we are keeping pressure on the government that they must get the job done!
How is the population reacting to Prime Minister Netanyahu's management of the entire situation? It appears to be negative from the outside.
Most Israelis are mad at Bibi that this whole situation occurred in the first place and the anger is directed at him, the person, not at the overall execution of the current operations.
Of course, even before the war many people were angry at Bibi – who always sold himself as being “Mr. Defense,” for a wide number of reasons.
However, in contrast, as much as Israelis do not trust Netanyahu, they do trust the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to have the skills needed to get the job done in defeating Hamas. Personally, I feel, as do many people who are right-wing, that Israeli politicians have been too soft on Hamas. Hamas should be begging us to take the hostages back in exchange for 3-4 days of silence. Not this “negotiating” that we see now... Israelis are obsessed with saving the lives of their own people, so seeing the hostages coming home now has become all that people are talking about.
Why has Israel, over the 21 months since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, declined to assist Ukraine in any significant way?
Because Russian forces are on the border of Israel. Most Israeli politicians understand, clearly, that Ukraine is on the right side of history and that Russia is a “quiet” enemy of Israel. But the Israeli Air Force must routinely fly over Syria, over Russian anti-aircraft missiles and, so far, Russia has never used an S-300 rocket against our airplanes. But, let's consider: What would happen if Israel sold some of its weapons to Ukraine?
- 1) The Israel stock would be much smaller (and we really need the stock). 2. Putin might decide to use his anti-aircraft, in Syria, against our jets.
So, it really is all about avoiding a conflict with Russia?
No Israeli politician will do something that will start an armed conflict with Russia, unless they must. If Putin does not start anything against us, we will not start anything against Russia. Only if Russia fires first, Israel will respond. There is no doubt that in a conflict with Russian forces in Syria, Israel would destroy the Russians within 2-3 hours, but there might be Israelis who will die, or S-300 systems which will find their way to Assad or Hezbollah later – which would cause more problems for the Israeli Army.Personally, I believe we should be much more aggressive towards Russia and that if push-comes-to-shove for Israel, with Russia, Putin will back-off with his tail between his legs. He knows perfectly well that the balance of power here is not in Russia's favor, and I do not think he likes to be humiliated by a small country like Israel, barely seen on the map.
Now that Israel is facing a war against terrorism, like Ukraine, do you think more people realize the similarities between these two struggles?
Almost all Israelis now see the similarities. Even all the pro-Russian idiots I saw on Facebook before 7.10, are now silent. Israel saw those similarities before 7.10 as well, but many Israelis said, “It is not our problem, Ukraine votes against us in the UN.”
By the way... as a Ukraine supporter here, I too had the problem of explaining why we should risk a conflict with Russia, when Ukraine voted against Israel in the UN.
As you know, President Zelensky has sought to visit Israel – but you think that will not happen. Why?
If Zelensky were to visit Israel today, it would mean support not just to Israel but also for Netanyahu. Biden does not like Bibi, and Zelensky will probably try to do anything to stay on the good side of the Democrats in the USA.
Also, Bibi remains afraid of a conflict with Russia and the last thing that he needs now is another problem that he will be blamed for. There was a lot of criticism of the Israeli Prime Minister for having not met with Zelensky here, most especially because the public's hatred of Russia grew substantially after the Oct. 7. As I said a few weeks ago: There are two national leaders in the world today, who are Jewish. Unfortunately, between the two men, they have got only two balls. Both belong to Zelensky.
So, do you think that Bibi will be able to recover from all of this?
Bibi's political career is probably over.
Will Israel, following Hamas' close relationship with Moscow, continue to rely on Russia?
Israel never relied on Russia. The relationship with Russia was always a cold understanding: “You don't fire at us, we don't fire at you.”Though, I would argue that since Russia is losing a lot of power, Israel needs to move to another point of understanding: We do not fire at Russia, if they behave. Any problem that Russia might have with Israel is the problem of Russia. Will that happen? I do not know.So, who is Israel's top enemy?
Israel's Number One enemy here is Iran. Russia and Iran are not always getting along in Syria and they have a lot of differences there. So, I guess it will depend upon the behavior of Putin. The public opinion here about Russia has changed from “respect” and maybe even fear, to anger and mocking (people like to recall that Putin had promised “Kyiv in 3 days”).So, attitudes towards Putin and Russia are changing.When will there be elections in Israel? What sort of outcomes do you anticipate?
I am not clairvoyant! But I have some suspicions:Right after the war: Benny Gantz, an MP and former military general, will be the winner. Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennet who will probably return and will be the second largest party of the coalition and third in size after Gantz (Kahol Lavan) and Likud. After that, it is most likely that the Minister of Economy, Nir Barkat, will take Bibi's place in the Likud Party.
But – are your predictions usually right?
I did manage to guess the results of the elections in all the five last elections (including what happened with Bennet - therefore I chose to work with him), so I do have an eye for the possible outcomes. However, the results of the elections depend on the results of the war, so I say my predictions carefully. They might change a lot, based on what happens.
What predictions do you make for Ukraine?
About Ukraine, I hope that the West will understand that Russia must be defeated, decisively. For the future of the civilized world, it must happen. Putin must be humiliated.
Senia Waldberg took part in many political campaigns as a strategist, including Naftali Bennet's election where he then became PM, Zehut party, Avigdor Liberman Likud and Kulanu, and is currently advising several Israeli politicians.
In February 2022, Waldberg founded the rescue operation for Israelis and Jews in Ukraine, for which he can no longer visit Russia. Though born in Moscow, he renounced his Russian citizenship, 20 years ago, as he did not “want anything to do with that country – even back then.”
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