23:49 GMT22 February 2020
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    Twitter users are praising Israel's Prime Minister for the efforts he exerted to facilitate the release of Naama Issachar. But critics say 'Bibi' was motivated by political gains, as Israel is facing another round of elections in early March.

    Israel has never awaited its Prime Minister's return so eagerly. But Netanyahu, who is expected to arrive in his country later today, is not getting the positive attention because of the deal he managed to tailor in Washington with President Donald Trump in an attempt to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    All eyes are on 'Bibi' for a different reason. En route from Moscow, his Boeing is said to be carrying Naama Issachar, a young Israeli woman who until recently has been incarcerated in Russia for drug smuggling and who was yesterday pardoned by none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    The president, who visited Israel last week to attend the 5th World Holocaust Forum, promised Naama's mother that "everything would be fine", with Israeli press suggesting that Putin had decided to pardon the woman only after he had managed to hash out a good deal with his Israeli counterpart. 

    Quid pro Quo?

    The price - Alexander's court in Jerusalem's Old City. Israeli media speculate that Russia has long been interested in obtaining the rights to the area, which includes the Alexander Nevsky church as well as a number of other historic buildings.

    According to reports, in 2015 Russia's then Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had requested that Israel release that swath of land but received a reluctant 'no' from the Israeli authorities. 

    Naama's case is widely believed to have changed that decision, with Putin reportedly striking a deal with Netanyahu, allegations that the Prime Minister denied, saying the release of the 27-year old was "Putin's gesture" to him.

    God Sent Leader

    Whatever the truth is, many Israelis considered the release of Naama a victory for Netanyahu and praised him for his ability to handle complex situations.

    "Trump's deal of the century was a gift to Netanyahu. The release of Naama was Putin's gift to Netanyahu. What else can we possibly ask for? Stop this hatred and take responsibility. Start supporting the leader that we received as a present from God. Right now there is nobody like him and nobody who can equal his abilities".
    "Nobody can be compared to Bibi. Who can ever fill his shoes? Gantz? This is funny."

    ​Naama as a Leverage Tool

    However, not everyone was impressed with the PM's diplomatic abilities, with some suggesting that the move was 'cynical' and aimed at getting more votes in the upcoming elections, set for early March.

    "Naama is not the issue here... if it wasn't for elections, we wouldn't have heard her name. That's what the story is about".
    "So the story of Naama Issachar has turned into a pre-election campaign? There is no abyss that Bibi wouldn't go to [to get extra votes]. It makes me sick".

    ​But this strategy seems to be paying off, recent polls show. According to the survey conducted by Israel Hayom, an Israeli newspaper associated with right-wing circles, for the first time in months, Netanyahu's Likud Party bypassed its rival, the former chief of staff Benny Gantz' Blue and White Party.

    If elections were held today, the prime minister's party would have gotten 35 seats in the 120-seat Israeli parliament, with Blue and White falling two seats behind.

    Some say the release of Naama Issachar is one of the main reasons for such an unexpected turn.

    One twitter user wrote: "Two blows to the Israeli left is way too much [referring to the deal of the century as one of them]... Naama is supposed to arrive here on board the prime minister's plane. They will hate Naama so much now, only because she brought him a little bit more respect and sympathy. They would rather see her rot in a Russian prison only not to see him get credit for her release".

    Another Twitter user wrote: "Netanyahu in three weeks: Supplied gas to Egypt, signed a deal with Greece ensuring Israeli gas gets to Europe, met Putin, the President of Argentina, the Vice President of the US, the presidents of Ukraine and France. Then he sealed a deal with Trump on the annexation of the Jordan Valley. Tomorrow he will be bringing Naama back".

    What Did Gantz do in Three Weeks?

    Focused on Netanyahu's immunity and indictment. Read a speech from three teleprompters and hashtagged the White House."

    ​Right-wing circles supportive of Netanyahu feel that the prime minister is unjustly persecuted by the country's media, which leads a campaign to delegitimise the PM and oust him from office.

    Since his indictment in November 2019, thousands have taken to the streets of cities across Israel to weigh in on the issue; while some denounce Netanyahu, others have protested against the "unlawful conduct" of the country's law enforcement agencies, the judiciary system and the media.

    Others preferred to vent anger via the social media platforms, criticising the left's 'hypocrisy' and 'double standards'.

    "...as usual the Israeli left is looking for something sour in every achievement [of Netanyahu]. Dear friends, Gantz has no policy. The release of Naama is an achievement that only a magician [like Netanyahu] could have done. His trip [to Moscow] is no less than historic".
    ​"When Naama was still in prison, the left wrote: Bibi the loser cannot bring to her release despite his relations with Putin.

    Now that Bibi is set to return with her to Israel, they write: Yuck! He cares so much for this drug smuggler!"

    But some used the occasion of Naama's release to slam the prime minister for his ties with Moscow.

    "If Putin is such a good friend of Bibi, why does he supply weapons to all the countries around us [most are hostile to Israel]? Why does he cooperate militarily with Iran? Why does he give Syria missiles against our Israeli planes? Why does he kidnap Naama Issachar from the first place? And why did we need to swap her for lands?..."
    "I agree with Yossi Werter [an Israeli journalist writing for Haaretz]. She will return to Israel not because Netanyahu is a great leader but because he is prepared to pay high prices in exchange for public support ahead of the fateful elections that will determine his future. If he had strong relations with Putin, the entire thing wouldn't have happened from the first place". 

    ​Naama Issachar was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison last year for carrying 9 grams of marijuana after she was stopped at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, where she had a scheduled layover while returning from her trip to India. She was released after serving almost ten months in prison. In Israel, possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana isn't considered a criminal offence.

    Tags:
    Twitter, Knesset, Donald Trump, pardon, Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S, Russia, Israel
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