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Back to the Ballot, War Games, Israel on High

Israel Moves to Hold New Election as Netanyahu Fails to Form a Coalition

Isabel Kershner, New York Times, May 29th 2019


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to form a government will thrust Israel into new elections. The Knesset voted to disperse itself only a month after being sworn in and, for the first time in history, Israelis will return to the ballot box to elect a new government.

The Context:

  • Netanyahu was confident after the April 9th elections, which secured him a 4th consecutive term as Prime Minister [1], that his Likud party would easily form a coalition with its previous right-wing and religious allies.

  • Netanyahu was given six weeks to form a government, the maximum allowed by law, but his plans fell apart due to a power struggle between secular ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox factions.

  • Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, was Netanyahu’s main stumbling block. Although Liberman supported a Netanyahu-led government, he refused to sign on unless he was guaranteed that a bill which requires ultra-Orthodox men to serve in the IDF be passed into law [2]. Ultra-Orthodox politicians comprise 16 of 60 seats in Netanyahu’s proposed coalition. 61 seats form a majority.

  • In a last-ditch effort to form a coalition, Netanyahu reportedly offered high ranking cabinet posts to Labor party members to no avail [3]. Likud’s main opposition, the Blue and White party, also refused to partake in a Netanyahu-led government.

  • The Knesset’s dissolution prevents President Reuven Rivlin from tasking another lawmaker with forming a coalition [4].

Conversation Points:

  • How will Liberman’s actions effect the Haredi vote during the next election?

  • Will Israel face the same problems in September?

  • Are new elections the path to reshaping the relationship between the Haredim and the rest of Israel?

IDF Incorporating VR Simulators into Training

Yoav Zitun, Ynetnews, May 29th 2019


Israel is incorporating virtual reality simulators in its military trainings. It has been over 13 years since Israel has had a major ground incursion into enemy territory.

The Context:

  • The Future Lab corps, a new unit in the IDF's Information Technology division, has developed an advanced virtual training environment that realistically replicates typical middle-eastern streets and alleyways— places IDF troops are likely to find themselves in. It also simulates Hamas and Hezbollah tunnels.

  • While using the simulator, players wield rifles similar to those issued by the IDF and maintain contact with the Air Force. Professional gamers were recruited to develop the technology.

  • Despite its significant costs, the VR initiative has been helpful in cutting expenses and training time by allowing soldiers to undergo exercises they could not perform in real life. The army hopes to expand the program to allow a full squad of 20 to train together [5].

Conversation Points:

  • Does the need for VR simulators stem from the fact that an entire generation of soldiers and officers have little familiarity with actual heavy combat?

  • Can VR simulators have a negative effect by giving soldiers a false sense of familiarity with war-like situations?

Israel is Banking on Cannabis as its Next Big Industry

Tracy Wilkinson and Noga Tarnopolsky, Los Angeles Times, May 29th 2019


The Israeli government recently voted to permit the exportation of medical marijuana, opening up a global market for Israel’s 100 startups that produce cannabis-based medicines and products.

The Context:

  • Israel’s mild weather, advanced agriculture processes and sophisticated research-and-development sectors make it well-positioned to capitalize on the growing industry.

  • Israelis have dedicated thousands of acres to cultivating the plant under controlled conditions.

  • Breath of Life (BOL), an Israeli firm, filed for an initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange with an expected valuation of $1 billion [6]. In 2018, BOL posted revenues of $3.5 million and a net loss of $29.3 million [7].

The Context:

  • Will Arab countries eventually adopt laws to permit medical marijuana?

  • What explains BOL’s rich valuation?


  1. Knesset votes for new elections on September 17 after PM fails to form coalition, TAMAR PILEGGI and RAOUL WOOTLIFF, Times of Israel, May 29th 2019

  2. Ibid.

  3. Knesset votes to disperse, hold new elections on September 17, Yuval Karni, Shahar Hai and Kobi Nachshoni, Ynetnews, May 29th 2019

  4. Israel to hold fresh election in September, Al Jazeera, May 29th 2019

  5. IDF Using Virtual Reality Headsets to Prepare for Next Gaza War, Aiden Pink, Forward, May 8, 2017

  6. Israel's BOL Pharma Aims for Top of the World's Medical Marijuana Industry, Shelly Appelberg, Haaretz, May 27, 2019

  7. Israel’s largest medical cannabis producer to list shares on Toronto Exchange, SHOSHANNA SOLOMON, Times of Israel, May 26th 2019