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The Times of Israel

Latest Israel News – 15th February

Netanyahu, leaving for DC, says he and Trump ‘see eye-to-eye’

The US-Israel alliance is “about to get even stronger” during the Trump era, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday afternoon as he boarded a plane at Ben Gurion International Airport on his way to his first summit meeting with new US President Donald Trump.

“President Trump and I see eye-to-eye on the dangers emanating from the region,” Netanyahu said in English shortly before boarding the plane, “but also on the opportunities. And we’ll talk about both, as well as upgrading the relations between Israel and the United States in many, many fields.”

While “the alliance between Israel and America has always been extremely strong,” he said, it was “about to get even stronger.”

The two men last met at the end of the September, some six weeks before Trump’s upset victory.

In Hebrew comments at the airport, Netanyahu also addressed the pressure he has been facing from Jewish Home cabinet ministers to use the Wednesday’s Oval Office meeting as a forum for announcing the dissolution of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked urged Netanyahu to end his public support for Palestinian statehood, and argued that Trump’s term in the White House offered a unique opportunity to do so.

According to purported leaks from the closed-door meeting first reported by Channel 2, Netanyahu tried to dampen expectations on the far-right. The Trump administration, which he reportedly said was indeed friendlier to Israel than that of Barack Obama, would not tolerate unlimited construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, he said. He cautioned ministers not to push Israel into a confrontation with the president.

“Trump believes in a deal and in running peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” the prime minister was quoted as saying. “We should be careful and not do things that will cause everything to break down. We mustn’t get into a confrontation with him.”

Netanyahu reportedly told the ministers he would declare his commitment to the two-state solution, but would also continue to spotlight the Palestinians’ reluctance to reach a peace deal. He said he would reiterate that West Bank settlements are not the main cause of the conflict, but rather the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

As he boarded the plane Monday, Netanyahu noted he had consulted with a wide range of agencies and fellow ministers, but suggested he would ultimately be the one deciding how to steer Israeli policy in the new Trump era.

“We had many discussions ahead of this visit, with the heads of the security establishment, the National Security Council, the Foreign Ministry, and of course yesterday at the cabinet — a thorough, deep, serious discussion,” he told reporters in Hebrew.

“At the end of the discussion [in the cabinet], I said something I want to share with you,” he said. “I’m paraphrasing: I said I will lead and I will chart the course. That’s exactly what I intend to do, to lead and chart this historic alliance between Israel and the US for the national interest of Israel, and of course, for all Israeli citizens.”

Netanyahu refused to answer further questions, including one reporter’s explicit query as to whether he would defy Bennett by discussing the issue of Palestinian statehood in the White House.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday and Trump at the White House on Wednesday, as well as Democratic and Republican congressional leaders.

In the four weeks since Trump entered office, Israel has approved thousands of new homes over the Green Line, announced plans for the creation of the first new settlement in two decades, and passed a controversial settlement-home legalization law. The White House has refrained from condemning the moves, but warned earlier this month they may not be “helpful.”

On Thursday, Trump for the first time criticized settlements, in an interview with the Israel Hayom daily. Settlements, Trump said, “don’t help the [peace] process.” Trump added: “Every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left. But we are looking at that, and we are looking at some other options we’ll see. But no, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”

According to a report on Sunday, Netanyahu also revealed to his ministerial colleagues details of his telephone conversation with Trump on January 22, in which the US president insisted the Palestinians could be pushed to make concessions for peace over Netanyahu’s protestations.

Citing an official familiar with events at the meeting, the Haaretz daily said Trump asked Netanyahu to explain how he intends to act to achieve a final peace agreement. Netanyahu told Trump that although he backs a two-state solution, he doesn’t believe that the Palestinians will make the required concessions. Trump responded by reassuring Netanyahu that the Palestinians will be flexible.

“They will want, they will make concessions,” Trump told Netanyahu, according to the official, who requested anonymity.

The US president has voiced support for clinching a peace deal, appointing his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a special envoy to oversee the process.

The prime minister shared details of the phone call with the security cabinet after Bennett and Shaked, the Jewish Home ministers, urged him to convince Trump to withdraw US backing for the two-state solution, according to the report.

Bennett and Shaked, as well as other government ministers, have increasingly talked of extending Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank adjacent to the Green Line, a move that is tantamount to the annexation of areas that Palestinians want for a future state.                   (the Times of Israel)

Support for two-state solution ‘likely outcome’ of the Trump and Netanyahu meeting

A commitment to the Bush-Sharon understandings of 2004 and the notion of two states for two peoples as a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict appears to be one of the likely outcomes of the upcoming meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, current and former government officials and diplomats have said.

But even if such sentiments should be voiced during and after the meeting, officials say it is likely that Netanyahu will seek interim measures alone toward such a goal, given the instability of the region, the volatility and lack of unity in the Palestinian body politic itself, and the lack of trust the government has in the Palestinian leadership.

Such an outcome would come as a severe disappointment to the right-wing, given its earlier expectations from Trump. The prime minister would likely refrain from speaking explicitly about two states to avoid a backlash from Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and the right wing of the Likud Party.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office MK Michael Oren of Kulanu said he believes that Netanyahu could reach understandings with the Trump administration for building inside the major settlement blocs, and even allowing for natural growth outside the settlement blocs.

In addition, Oren said the prime minister would have to insist on the explicit formula of two states for two peoples if Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is part of the agreement.

“The prime minister is interested in exploring interim measures; he doesn’t want to have an interim Jewish state that eventually becomes a Palestinian state, which is what the Palestinians want,” continued Oren.

“[Former president Barak] Obama refused to discuss interim agreements and so we had no progress. We can make progress, but we need in the US a partner that is willing to think creatively.”

( Netanyahu pledges to promote responsible policies when he meets with Trump (credit: REUTERS))

The deputy minister said he would “not be surprised” if Trump suggests a return to the parameters of the Bush-Sharon exchange of letters in 2004, when Bush reiterated that the US was committed to the creation of “a viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent” state, but accepted that “in light of new realities on the ground,” Israel would not return to the armistice lines of 1949.

Oren noted, however, that it would be politically difficult for Netanyahu to embrace such a stance, because of the opposition to a two-state solution among many members of his own party, as well as that of Bayit Yehudi and the recent clamor for the unilateral annexation of Area C of Judea and Samaria.

Former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon, who is currently in the US and has held meetings of late with officials in the White House and in Congress, said that he believes it is “very clear” that Trump wants to make a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

“If Trump wants a deal that means compromises on all sides. He’s a deal maker, so that means Israel will not get everything it wants,” said Ayalon, who is currently a visiting professor at Yeshiva University and the founder and director of the Truth About Israel advocacy group.

“The only consequence of Trump’s desire to make a deal can be support for a two-state deal, and I would not be surprised if Trump himself talks of the two states for two peoples formula,” he told the Post.

Ayalon added that he does not believe the new US president would accept Israeli annexations of Area C.

“What we can hope for realistically is something along the lines of the Sharon and Bush understandings, keeping the major settlement blocs such as Gush Etzion, Ariel and the settlements around Jerusalem; not enlarging them, but building within them.”

He added that the concept of “defensible borders” for Israel – which was mentioned explicitly in the Bush letter, and a requirement that any future Palestinian state be demilitarized, as well as the need for an Israeli military presence in the Jordan valley – may also feature in Netanyahu’s discussions with Trump.

But in a change from the Obama administration, Ayalon said he expects Trump and his administration to restore the situation in which there is “no daylight” between Israel and the Palestinians, rhetorically and in terms of policy.

Such a stance would make it harder for the Palestinians to refuse negotiations with Israel as they did almost throughout Obama’s two presidential terms, said Ayalon.

He mentioned as well that the Trump administration is much less likely to tolerate the diplomatic warfare of the Palestinians in the UN, a stance that has already been evident in the actions of new US Ambassador to the UN Nikkey Hadley.

In exchange for this more supportive position though, Ayalon said that Trump would likely seek Netanyahu’s commitment, either in public or private, to a two-state solution, although he noted that the president “understands the prime minister’s “political position” and the challenge he is facing from Bennett and the hard-line figures from the Likud’s right.

He added though that, due to “the intransigence of the Palestinians, their radical approach which includes Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas]” and the “likelihood” that a Palestinian state could quickly become a failed state rife with terrorism, Netanyahu is unlikely to make major long-term decisions any time soon.

Regarding Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, Ayalon said that Trump will likely be much more willing to “hold Tehran’s feet to the fire” when it comes to enforcing the strict letter of the agreement.

He said, however, that the Trump administration would walk away from the deal, but might be willing to impose stricter sanctions on Tehran for violations over its ballistic missile program.

Oren said that Netanyahu would be looking for Trump to continue his tough stance against Iran and “tie in the nuclear deal and Iranian behavior,” in terms of the regime’s support for terrorist groups around the Middle East.

The deputy minister added that the prime minister would also likely try and get the Trump administration to “exact a price” for Tehran’s ongoing support for terrorist groups, and also seek to keep Iran and its various agencies and armed proxies out of Syria as far as possible.

Dennis Ross, the former US Middle East envoy in the Clinton administration, largely echoed Oren and Ayalon’s sentiments regarding both Iran and the conflict with the Palestinians.

Speaking in a telephone press conference organized by The Israel Project, Ross said that Netanyahu would focus heavily on these concerns regarding Iran, but would not demand that Trump scrap the JCPA deal.

“Netanyahu wants more done to deter Iranians, and renegotiate the end point at year 15 of the deal, which allows Iran to create as large a nuclear infrastructure as they want which will make them a nuclear threshold state,” said Ross.

“The prime minister wants the administration to revisit this end point, if not make it clear that if Iran weaponizes, it will be faced with a military response by the US.”

He said, however, that he does not expect the Trump administration to do anything concrete regarding Iran in the short term, although Trump would likely make strong comments about Iranian aggression while standing next to Netanyahu.

Ross added that he expects Iran to try and test Trump’s resolve in strict enforcement some time soon, as well as possible further sanctions on Tehran from Congress.

Regarding the conflict with the Palestinians, Ross said, like Oren and Ayalon, that it is very possible “we are going to see a resurrection of the Bush-Sharon letter,” in terms of supporting existing settlement blocs.

“That’s a significant issue to re-establish in light of UN Security Council resolution 2334, which created the 1967 lines as a default position, but there will be limitations outside those blocs.”  (Jerusalem Post)

PM to demand Pollard be allowed to come to Israel

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is making his way to Washington to meet with President Donald Trump. According to a Channel 2 report, Netanyahu will ask Trump to be more lenient with Jonathan Pollard’s parole conditions. Pollard, who is living in New York after serving a heavy 30-year sentence in an American jail, was forbidden to immigrate to Israel.

In July 2015 the American Parole Board agreed that Pollard would be released after serving 30 years in an American jail.

In November 2015 Pollard was released with restrictive conditions for the first five years after his release, including a prohibition on leaving a certain part of New York City, an electronic chip monitoring his whereabouts at all times, nighttime house arrest, continuous monitoring of his computer at work and at home, and a prohibition on contacting the media.

The prohibition on using internet originally issued to Pollard was cancelled after a petition by his lawyers.  (Arutz Sheva)

Bob Hawke condemns expansion on eve of Netanyahu visit

Former prime minister Bob Hawke has slammed Israel for its expansionist settlement policy and challenged the Turnbull government to grant diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine ahead of an historic visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Hawke is a long-time supporter of the state of Israel and its right to exist. But writing in today’s The Australian Financial Review he is scathing of the Israeli parliament’s decision to approve a law retroactively legalising 4000 settler homes built on privately-owned Palestinian land.

The aspirations of all those who had fought hard for peace in the Middle East are being “trashed by the inexorable expansion of Jewish settlement in the West Bank”, he writes.

“Australia was there at the very beginning.

“The least we can do now, in these most challenging of times, is to do what 137 other nations have already done – grant diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine.”

Mr Netanyahu is due in Australia next week. He is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to visit Australia since the state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948.

But first Mr Netanyahu is travelling to the White House to meet with Donald Trump, whose comments about the Middle East are said to have emboldened Israel’s settlement building.

In contrast to the approach taken by Barack Obama, Mr Trump indicated he would ease pressure on Israel to limit settlements when he took office.

Australia has been a long-time friend to Israel. In the 1940s, then Australian foreign minister Doc Evatt strongly supported the campaign to create an independent Jewish nation-state.

“It was our great foreign minister, Dr Evatt who chaired the UN Special Committee on Palestine and it was the resolution of that committee which authorised the partition of the Palestine into two states,” Mr Hawke writes.

“The aspirations of Evatt, the UN and the humanitarian foresight of Golda Meir have been trashed by the inexorable expansion of Jewish settlement in the West Bank – some 580,000 Israelis live in 123 government-authorised settlements and about 100 unauthorised outposts on the West Bank and 12 major neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.”

On December 23, the UN’s Security Council adopted a resolution that the establishment of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 have “no legal validity,” constitute a “flagrant violation” under international law and are a “major obstacle” to a two-state solution.

The provocative law to legalise Jewish settlements was passed by the Israeli parliament in early February.  (Australian Financial Review)

IDF arrests suspected terrorists responsible for West Bank shootings

The IDF in cooperation with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Service) service have arrested two Palestinians from the West Bank village of Rantis suspected of carrying out a drive-by shooting attack against an Israeli vehicle near Halamish last December 19.

According to the army, the two Palestinians shot at a car driven by an Israeli man, lightly wounding him when the gunfire shattered his window, sending glass shards to his face. That same evening soldiers found the vehicle used in the attack and impounded it.

The following night, troops from the Ephraim regional brigade, special forces, and the Shin Bet raided Rantis and arrested the two suspects, Ahmed Nadaf and Muhammad Havasa.

According to the army, the interrogation of the two suspects revealed that they were involved in the shooting attack, a botched attempt to carry out an additional shooting attack, and were responsible for throwing firebombs and rocks at Israeli vehicles in recent years.

During a later search the weapons used in the attack were found.

The two were charged on January 30 before a West Bank military with attempted manslaughter, as well as other offenses.

In another recent joint IDF and Shin Bet operation, five Palestinians from the West Bank town of Yabed, west of Jenin, were arrested on suspicion of carrying out a drive-by shooting at an army position in the northern West Bank on December 30, 2016.

The five suspects, arrested shortly after the attack, were named as Ali Muhammad Ali Amarna, Sayf al-Din Muhammad Sharif Abu Bakr, Mahmoud Awad Mohammed Harzalla, Joseph Keyes Abdullah Amarna and Muhammad Mahmoud Khaled Amarna. They were indicted in January.

According to a senior IDF officer, there were a total of 89 shooting attacks in the West Bank in 2016. Security forces believe that most of them were carried out with weapons produced in the West Bank, most commonly homemade copies of the Karl Gustav submachine gun.

The security forces have stepped up their efforts to uncover clandestine workshops producing illegal weapons, carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank, shutting down weapons factories and confiscating arms, greatly reducing the number of illegal explosive devices and other weapons that could end up in the hands of potential attackers.

On Sunday night, 18 suspects were arrested in the West Bank, wanted for involvement in terrorism, mass disturbances and violence to civilians and the security forces. Some are also wanted for involvement with the Hamas terrorist organization.  (Jerusalem Post)

Hamas elects new radical leader in Gaza

Yahya Sanwar has been elected to lead Hamas in the Gaza Strip after internal elections were held for the organization’s institutional and leadership positions, according to reports from Al Jazeera.

Khalil al-Haya has been chosen to serve as Sanwar’s deputy.

Sanwar was on the most senior officials released by Israel in the Shalit deal in which hundreds of terrorists and political prisoners were released in exchange for the return of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

He has developed a reputation as being among the most radical in Hamas, calling since his release for further kidnappings of IDF soldiers, and is thought of as the link between the military and political wing the terror organization.

With his ascent to power, Sanwar will take the reins to rule the strip from Khaled Mashal, despite Ismail Haniyeh being slated to fill the top spot.

When released from prison in 2011, Sanwar lamented the fact that other prisoners still remained in Israeli jails. “We feel that we left our hearts behind us, we left many prisoners behind. This is a great victory for our people and out resistance.”

During the same speech, the stanch Hamas activists called on Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, to undertake fierce efforts to kidnap more soldiers to bring about the release of more Palestinian prisoners.

Sanwar, who for a long period of time has been marked as a potential candidate in the elections, represents stark differences from his predecessor Mashal.

Born into a family of fighters, which was an integral part of the military wing, he is considered to be ascetic, strong, tough and the possessor of extreme discipline.

He distances himself from the media, which accounts for one of the reasons why he is less well known in Israel, despite his key role in Hamas.

During Operation Protective Edge, the new leader’s brother, Mohammad Sanwar—who was the architect of the Shalit deal—had his home attacked by the IDF.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit confirmed at the time that, with the cooperation with the Shin Bet, the homes of two senior Hamas activists had been attacked after they were being used as a command and control center of the organization, among them, the home of Mohammad Sanwar who was responsible for forces in Khan Yunis.

As far as Sanwar’s new deputy is concerned, Khalil al-Haya has also earned a reputation for being among the more radical elements of Hamas and was a member of the negotiating team in the Shalit negotiations.

His son was killed in Protective Edge after the Israel Air Force struck his home.   (Ynet News)

IDF developing compact and mobile mortar warning system

The IDF is working on a system of mobile sirens that can provide warnings of incoming mortar shells to soldiers stationed in open areas bordering the Gaza Strip, The Jerusalem Post learned on Sunday.

The system, nicknamed “Ronny,” produced by Motorola and developed by the Home Front Command and the C4I (Teleprocessing) Corps, is a smaller, more compact version of the Rotem mobile warning system already deployed along the Gaza border.

According to a senior officer in the Home Front Command, the army has worked extremely hard in the past two years on this system as it realized the need of some units to have lighter, more mobile systems for troops in the field.

The warning system, which can be carried on armored personnel carriers, jeeps and tanks, is able to identify when a mortar has been fired, has a 30-second- long warning siren and is set to be operational within three months after having been thoroughly tested by the Home Front Command, the senior officer said.

During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Iron Dome batteries intercepted 799 rockets out of 4,594 fired toward Israel. As the conflict waned, Hamas turned to short-range mortar fire, with deadly results, killing both soldiers and civilians who had little or no warning of incoming projectiles.

On the second to last day of the war, four-year-old Daniel Tragerman was killed when a mortar shell fired from Gaza hit outside his home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, sending shrapnel inside. The Tragerman family had three seconds of warning between the sounding of the alarm and the impact of the shell that killed him.

Israel has continuously improved the technology behind the country’s anti-missile systems, such as upgrading the Iron Dome in 2015 “to expand and improve the performance capabilities of the system in the face of an unprecedented range of threats.”

And while there is still no system in place to counter the threat of shortrange mortars with 100% effectiveness, there have been several systems developed since the 2014 conflict aimed to give warning of incoming mortars.

Last year the IDF unveiled the Rotem radar system deployed along the Gaza border and designed to give an additional eight seconds for residents to seek shelter from mortar attacks. The system, designed by Netanya-based RADA Electronic Industries – a manufacturer of tactical land radars for force and border protection – is operational and connected to the National Alert System, and has allowed for sirens to be triggered in areas where previous warning times were insufficient or nonexistent.

Another system, known as Wind Shield and used by the IDF, and developed by Israel Aerospace Industries subsidiary ELTA, was delivered to the army in 2014 following Operation Protective Edge. It was deployed at Gaza border areas and was designed to provide a “rapid response solution for tactical forces” as well as several seconds of warning for incoming fire, from rockets, artillery and mortars. It locates the source of the fire and predicts the location of the impact.

Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems is also working on the Iron Beam, a system designed to intercept low-altitude and low-trajectory projectiles like mortar shells using a laser beam.

The land-based system uses a pair of multi-kilowatt high-energy lasers (HEL) to disable incoming projectiles once it is picked up by the system’s radar.

Last month the IDF warned that Hamas has restored its military capabilities to their pre-2014 strength and the army has recently trained for situations in which the next war with Hamas would involve communities bordering the Gaza Strip being incessantly pounded with rockets and mortar attacks.

Earlier this week, Construction Minister Yoav Galant, the former head of the army’s Southern Command, told Israel Radio that “the [current] reality… might lead to a situation in which Hamas is drawn to escalation in the spring or the summer.”

In an interview with Channel 2 on Saturday evening Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman disagreed. “I do not know where people get their dates,” Liberman said. “This is ministerial chatter.”

But, he added, while Israel has no intention of initiating a new round of fighting with its enemies, should Israel be pressed into a confrontation, “we will go in at full force, we will not leave one stone unturned.”  (Jerusalem Post)

BDS didn’t scuttle Imbruglia’s TA concert ­

Australian pop star Natalie Imbruglia canceled her planned March 1 concert in Israel, but not due to BDS pressure, a promoter said.

Ticket sales were good, said Georges Cohen, a senior promoter at 3A Productions, which was handling Imbruglia’s show in Israel, but “she just couldn’t make it.”

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement “just used it and tried to appropriate the credit of this cancellation,” he said.

According to the concert’s Facebook event page, the concert was cancelled on February 3.

Imbruglia’s regular Facebook page included a long thread from fans thanking her for canceling the concert in “apartheid Tel-Aviv,” while others castigated her for caving to “forces of hate and racism.”

The ’90s pop star was being pressured by the BDS movement in Australia to cancel what it said was her first performance in Israel.

The singer was supposed to perform in Tel Aviv in August 2016, but that show was also canceled for logistical reasons, said Cohen.

“She is busy, really busy,” he said.  (the Times of Israel)

Trump Welcomes Netanyahu

by Alan M. Dershowitz             The Gatestone Institute


Israel’s longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon be welcomed to the White House by newly elected President Donald Trump. What can we expect from this initial meeting between two strong-willed national leaders?

I know them both — Netanyahu better than Trump — and I believe they will get along well. They are both no-nonsense pragmatists who understand the relationship between economic development and political progress. We all know of Trump’s business background and focus on jobs and trade. Less well-known is Netanyahu’s business background. Like Trump, Netanyahu went to business school and began his career as a businessman, working for Boston Consulting Group. When he entered politics, he helped transform Israel from an agrarian-based economy into “start-up nation,” which has become a technological superpower with a strong economy. He is the Alexander Hamilton of Israel, to David Ben Gurion’s Jefferson. Trump has to admire that.

Trump will also admire Netanyahu’s strong nationalism and love of country. He has made Israel great, militarily, technologically and economically. He may soon become Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, surpassing the legendary Ben Gurion.

Each leader would like to be the one who succeeds in bringing a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So many others — people of good will and considerable effort — have been unable to achieve this goal. There is no certainty that Trump and Netanyahu can succeed when so many others have come close but have never been able to close the deal. Both are respected for their deal-making capabilities — Trump in business, Netanyahu in domestic politics.

But there are considerable barriers to achieving a peaceful resolution. Netanyahu and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, each have domestic constituencies that would oppose the compromise necessary to achieve a two-state solution. Some of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition partners oppose a two-state solution in which Israel would turn over most of the West Bank to establish a Palestinian state. And many West Bank Palestinians — not to mention Hamas in Gaza — oppose recognizing the legitimacy of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. They also demand the “return” of millions of Palestinian refugees to Israel, despite the reality that there are probably only a hundred thousand or so actual refugees who themselves left Israel in 1948-1949, many voluntarily.

It must be remembered that Israel has twice in recent times offered the Palestinians a state on 95 percent of the West Bank. In 2000-2001, then Prime Minister Ehud Barak and then President Bill Clinton made a generous offer. Yasser Arafat, who was being advised by Jimmy Carter, rejected it and started a violent intifada, in which more than 4000 people were killed. Then in 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an even more generous offer, to which Mahmoud Abbas did not respond. And in 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally ended the military occupation and settlements in the Gaza Strip, only to be greeted with thousands of rocket attacks and terror tunnels from Hamas.

Much has changed since these Israeli offers and actions. The current Israeli government is not likely to offer more than what was rejected by the Palestinians. So the pressure must now be placed on the Palestinian leadership to make good faith counter-offers. That pressure can only come from the United States. This is so because the rest of the international community — the United Nations, the European Union, the courts in The Hague, the BDS movement — all disincentivize the Palestinians from making compromises, by falsely telling them they can get a state without negotiating with Israel.

President Trump must make it crystal clear that unless the Palestinians negotiate a reasonable solution with Israel, they will never have a state. President Obama did not send that message with clarity, especially when he ordered his United Nations Representative to allow a one-sided anti-Israel resolution to be passed by the Security Council.

President Trump must reassure Prime Minister Netanyahu that he will apply pressure — perhaps through our Sunni allies — on the Palestinian Authority, and not only on Israel, as the Obama Administration did. History shows that American administrations that really have Israel’s back — not to stab, but to support — are more likely to persuade Israel to offer compromises.

So, I hope that Benjamin Netanyahu will emerge from the White House meeting with the confidence in American support to stand up to those in his cabinet who oppose the two-state solution and who want to expand settlement activity. And I hope the Palestinian leadership will understand that they have no option other than to accept the Netanyahu offer to negotiate anywhere, anytime, and with no preconditions. Perhaps then we will finally see a reasonable resolution to the age-old conflict.

When foreign Governments meddle in Israeli politics

New York Post Editorial


In the only stable democracy in the Middle East, Israel, anyone can criticize the government. But when foreign countries fund groups that wantonly slander the Jewish state, Israelis have a right to be miffed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made that point clear to British leader Theresa May and Belgium’s PM Charles Michel last week. Who can blame him?

“How would you feel if I was funding — with Israeli government money — organizations that call British soldiers ‘war criminals’ ”? Bibi asked May.

That’s just the kind of thing “many governments do when they fund groups like Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, Adalah, etc.,” Netanyahu said. “I think the time has come to stop the funding.”

Directly or indirectly, UK government outlays of more than $2.5 million have gone to “groups that polarize Israeli society and for campaigns exploiting false allegations of ‘war crimes,’ ” says Gerald Steinberg of the watchdog outfit NGO Monitor.

It certainly looks like “intervention in internal Israeli affairs,” as Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked says.

Israel faces enough hate. Allies like Britain shouldn’t feed the beast; as Bibi says, it’s time they stop.

Despite Israel’s strength in the region, miscalculations could lead to war

By Yossi Melman    The Jerusalem Post/Report


Israel’s geostrategic posture has strengthened over the past year and it remains by far the most formidable power in the region – miscalculations with Hamas or Hezbollah, however, could lead to war.

The upheavals and uncertainties that have characterized the Middle East in recent years will continue unabated in 2017. But amid these volatile trends that for Israel pose a high risk for violent escalation and military confrontation, new developments with potential for change can also emerge. Perhaps the biggest unknown is what the presidency of Donald Trump will bring to the world and the region.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) remains the strongest military and technological power in the region extending across Asia from Pakistan to the Mediterranean shores. The Israel Air Force – which is the country’s long strategic arm – is about to further upgrade its capabilities by integrating the F-35, the United States made “stealth” fighter, which despite its flaws and weaknesses and high cost is by far the best flying machine in the world.

Israel is also a leading superpower in the realm of cyber warfare. This form of weapon is now considered by the most advanced military nations as the “fourth dimension” in addition to land and sea, air and space capabilities. Cyber measures are increasingly becoming a major tool for both intelligence gathering and as a weapon, which, by penetrating computer systems, can paralyze or destroy strategic and military assets.

Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot had been expected to order the creation of a new cyber command similar to that of the United States Army that would combine both defensive and offensive capabilities currently split between the Signal Corps (formerly known in Hebrew as the Communication Corps) and Unit 8200 of Military Intelligence. But Eisenkot, at least for the time being, has decided to maintain the current division of labor to further study and explore the ramifications of a unified command.

The land forces of both the standing army and its reserve units have used the passing year – aside from policing duties in the occupied West Bank – to train and practice for future confrontations. According to its five-year plan, the IDF will continue in 2017 to train further and increase its preparedness.

All in all, there is no matching force to challenge IDF military superiority, not even the military buildups of Iran and Hezbollah. The conventional threat has practically vanished. Only 13 years ago Israel faced conventional threats from the regular armies of Syria, Iraq and Libya, which had millions of soldiers and huge arsenals of modern weapons of all sorts – planes, tanks, artillery guns, rockets and missiles, ships and submarines. Now all three armies have been weakened and are embroiled in civil wars.

Israel has wisely managed to stay out of the conflicts and civil wars, which are plaguing the Arab world since the “Arab Spring” in 2011. This is especially so with regard to Israel’s northern borders with Syria and Lebanon.

Thanks to Hezbollah having its best troops bogged down and bleeding in support of the brutal Syrian dictatorship of Bashar Assad and thanks to the IDF’s deterrence, both fronts are relatively tranquil.

Another contributing factor has been Israel’s clever non-interventionist policy. Only in rare cases, and without claiming responsibility, has the Israel Air Force operated in Syria to sabotage efforts to transfer sophisticated weaponry from Iran and Syria to the Lebanese Shi’ite movement.

Israel has even managed to deter al-Qaida and ISIS forces – militias of a few thousand warriors – deployed along its northern border on the Golan Heights. The two groups don’t dare to mess with Israel.

Fear of Israel is no less evident on its southern borders. In Gaza, Hamas is deterred and still licking the wounds inflicted on it by the mighty Israeli war machine in three consecutive battles since 2009 and especially by Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. Hamas’s military wing has struggled to rehabilitate itself from the losses it suffered especially in its underground dimensions – attack tunnels the group considered as a strategic “winning card.” Hamas’s leadership, both political and military, for the time being at least, shows no inclination to initiate another round of hostilities against Israel.

THE LAST weeks of 2016 witnessed a slow but gradual trend of reconciliation between Egypt and Hamas, which is expected to continue in 2017. This process is also a contributing factor to the possibility that quiet will prevail along the Gaza border in 2017.

More importantly, in the past year Israel has further consolidated intelligence, security and military ties with Egypt. According to foreign reports, Israel is not only providing intelligence to the Egyptian army and security forces fighting ISIS in Sinai, but has on occasion sent drones to attack ISIS positions in the north of the peninsula.

As in the south with Egypt, Israel’s eastern border also benefits from the 1994 peace treaty with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Intelligence and security coordination between the two countries has never been better.

Israel’s improved geostrategic posture is no less impressive in the nonconventional arena. In 2014 the international community, led by Russia, forced Syria to get rid of its huge stock of chemical weapons. According to Israeli intelligence estimates more than 90 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons were dismantled, and it now retains only a residual capacity. Since its military defeat in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 the Assad dynasty – father and son – equipped its army with chemical weapons to be carried and launched by missiles, planes and artillery, and had a range of chemical weapons forbidden by international law such as mustard, sarin and nerve gas.

The chemical arsenal was developed and stocked for deterrence purposes against the IDF’s military superiority and as a countermeasure against Israel’s alleged nuclear arsenal.

The nuclear deal signed by the six major powers (US, Russia, China, UK, France and Germany) and Iran in July 2015 is another important addition to Israel’s geostrategic posture. It is estimated that Iran will continue to abide by its stipulations this year. The deal pushed back Iran’s potential to assemble a nuclear bomb from a few weeks to at least one year.

But, on the other hand, lifting international sanctions as a result of the deal as well as its involvement in Syria has positioned Iran closer to its aspiration of imposing its hegemony in the region. Even here the fear of Iran is inadvertently helping Israel. Sunni nations such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others want to see a strong Israel as a counterbalance to Iran and will continue to elevate their secret ties in the field of intelligence.

An important new factor in Israeli military- political thinking is the special relations cultivated with Russia. Its roots are at the tactical level, but these relations have strategic implications. They were born out of necessity when Russia rushed to help Assad and began to deploy its air force in Syria. To avoid the risk of aerial friction Israel and Russia created a “deconflicting” mechanism with direct “red lines” between the situation rooms of the two armies.

AT FIRST it seemed that Russia’s arrival in the arena would limit Israeli freedom over Syria. But later, when it didn’t stop the IAF from carrying out bombing missions, it transpired that the “deconflicting” arrangement also appears to cover Israel’s right to operate against Hezbollah.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu perhaps had in mind another hidden agenda when he deepened relations with President Vladimir Putin. Israel wanted to signal to US President Barack Obama, with whom Netanyahu had very bitter relations, that it has the ability to maneuver between the two powers and is not solely in America’s pocket. Surely, though, such thinking also plays into the hands of Putin, whose aim is to widen the wedge between the US and its allies in the region.

How will Israel maneuver in 2017? It all depends on Trump and his contradictory statements. On the one hand, he has expressed his almost unrestrained support for Israel to the point that the Israeli right feels it has a free hand to further consolidate its occupation of the West Bank, and suppress the Palestinians and maybe even annex chunks of territory. But on the other hand, Trump seems to be taking the US in an isolationist direction and may decrease the US presence and interests in the Middle East – a move that would have grave implications for Israel.

But regardless of Trump’s policy, Israel’s challenges will have little to do with Washington, and will be both external and internal.

Externally, as in 2016, the prime danger is of an incident with either Hamas or Hezbollah spinning out of control and leading Israel into a war neither side wishes for. This is especially true with regard to Hezbollah. With the Assad regime having regained the upper hand in many parts of the country, Hezbollah troops could return home from the killing fields of Syria where they have lost nearly 20 percent of their manpower. Despite their heavy losses, they are now more experienced than ever and could give Israel a bloody nose in the event of another war. Furthermore, with some 80,000 to 100,000 rockets and missiles pointed at Israel, military, strategic and civilian sites throughout a large swath of Israel are within range.

Another major challenge is the lack of progress on the Palestinian front, where even a minor terror attack could lead to a major confrontation. Only a renewal of peace talks and freezing of settlement expansion can reduce friction on the ground and without that we will continue to see more violence, such as that witnessed in Jerusalem when a Palestinian lorry driver rammed a group of IDF soldiers on January 8 killing four.

Nevertheless, the growing feeling among many inside and outside Israel is that the real existential threat to the country is its social-cultural divisions, the growing economic gap between the haves and the have-nots, as well as corruption and the erosion of traditional Western democratic values encouraged by far-right-wing ministers.

Two state solution or not

This video clip is not an endorsement of any policy of the Zionist Council of NSW or the Zionist Federation of Australia

It is provided as one view amongst many others