Netanyahu: The Rewards And Limits Of Shooting For The Status Quo

Op-Ed: The veteran Prime Minister's passivity suits the Israeli public, interested in neither war nor peace. Still, to turn the short-term success into a lasting legacy Netanyahu must radically change his strategy -- and coalition partners.

Benjamin Netanyahu at the Masa Israel Journey conference
Benjamin Netanyahu at the Masa Israel Journey conference
Aluf Benn

Love him or hate him, you can't argue with Benjamin Netanyahu's success. Since his return to the Prime Minister's office, Israel has been enjoying the calm that comes with greater security, economic growth and a level of political stability not seen in generations. The public prefers political deadlock and Netanyahu's restraint on security matters, following the policies of his predecessor Ehud Olmert, who combined bold politics with military adventurousness. Israelis are in love with the status quo, and don't want to be bothered with either wars or peace initiatives. Netanyhu's passiveness suits them perfectly.

In his foreign policy, Netanyahu turns out to be a skillful diplomat who knows how to leverage crises, and turn them into opportunities. He used the political difficulties of President Barack Obama to shake off the settlement freeze and push back on the American peace initiative. His assessment that he can bend the President, with the help of the Congress and the Jewish community in the US, proved correct. Obama struggles for his reelection for a second term and drops the occasional love message to Israel, even though he cannot stand Netanyahu and his policy.

When Turkey and Israel clashed over the flotilla crisis, Netanyahu was quick to establish a strategic alliance with Greece. And when Ankara's relations with Damascus wobbled, and Greece faced economic collapse, Netanyahu went back close to Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He used the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas to duck international pressure over concessions to the Palestinians and keep his hands free. Now he's battling Mahmoud Abbas' initiative to win UN recognition of the Palestinian state. September's General Assembly is still far off, but Abbas' determination is already showing signs of softening.

Fallout from the Arab spring

The revolution in the Arab world only strengthened Israel's strategic position. The US and its European partners have run out of allies in the region. The Arab regimes are falling apart, or struggling for survival, and Israel stands alone as an island of stability and relentless support of the West. Iran continues with the nuclear program, but is torn up by internal strife and has difficulty securing the rule of its Syrian protégé, Bashar al-Assad. There's no real pressure on Netanyahu to wage an urgent preventive war against Iran – but there's also no one to stop him if he decides to send the air force to Natanz, Bushhehr and Qom.

Under such circumstances, no wonder Netanyahu radiates smugness and ignores warnings by Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres, his devotees of yesterday who now caution of "a political tsunami" and crumbling walls. Instead of listening to them, he's celebrating with his extreme right wing allies the "victory over Obama," getting compliments from the ever hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The problem is that Netanyahu's stances gradually drift from his coalition, which is recklessly pulling rightwards. His declarations in favor of a Palestinian state are deemed unacceptable by his partners who preach for Israeli annexation of the West Bank. His statements at the Government's meeting earlier this week about his wish to separate from the Palestinians and to maintain a solid Jewish majority within Israel's future boundaries, are closer to those expressed by Olmert than those who have argued with the Prime Minister over "the demographic threat".

If Netanyahu believes in dividing up the country, as he has now announced several times, he should change his political partners. There is no other way to realize his vision, which indeed enjoys the support of most of the public. Tzipi Livni should enter the Foreign Ministry instead of Lieberman so the negotiations with the Palestinians can resume and the world can start believing that Israel is serious and not only making up excuses for continuing the occupation and expanding the settlements.

There is no greater danger to good statesmanship than the intoxicating influence of success. That's what has brought down the greatest leaders and statesmen in history, and what now threatens Netanyahu. If he keeps dancing with Lieberman and the settlers' rabbis, he would push the Palestinians to a third Intifada, and would lead to the materialization of the gloomy predictions of the Defense Minister Barak and the President Peres. To prove them wrong, Netanyahu needs to form a different coalition.

Read original article in Hebrew

Photo - Masa Israel Journey

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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