+61 3 9272 5644

Latest Israel News – 11th September

In Color: Amazing Photos of Eretz Yisrael From 1900

The then-revolutionary photochrom method gave the world its first color pictures — based a lot on the imagination of the employee working the printing plates      (Ha’aretz)


Defense Minister: Israel will do what it takes to protect her citizens

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday said Israel will do everything to prevent the creation of a Shi’ite corridor from Tehran to Damascus. His comments came just hours after Syria accused the Jewish state of striking an Assad regime military center, believed by analysts to produce and house chemical weapons and advanced precision missiles.

“We are not looking for any military adventure in Syria, but we are determined to prevent our enemies from harming, or even creating the opportunity to harm, the security of Israeli citizens,” Liberman said in an interview with Radio FM 100.

“Therefore, everything will be done to prevent the existence of a Shi’ite corridor from Tehran to Damascus.”

Syria accused Israel of striking its Al-Tala’i Research Center east of Masyaf in Hama, killing two Syrian soldiers and damaging the facility. The center is allegedly linked to the Assad regime’s development of chemical weapons.

“Israeli warplanes fired several rockets from Lebanese airspace at 2:42 a.m. on Thursday targeting a Syrian military position near Masyaf in Hama countryside,” Syria’s official news agency quoted the Syrian Army General Command as saying.

The Syrian military warned against the “dangerous repercussions of this aggressive action to the security and stability of the region” and accused Israel of directly supporting Islamic State and other terrorist organizations.

On Thursday evening the head of Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Hertzi Halevy, stated that the threats to Israel are primarily from armed organizations with funding and assistance from Iran which he called “serious but not existential threats.”

Halevi, who was speaking during an event commemorating the sixth President of the State, Chaim Herzog, who served twice as head of MID, stated that Israel will deal with the threats with determination.

“Our enemies are well aware of the combination of our accurate intelligence and capabilities.”

Army Radio quoted Syrian opposition sources as saying the air strike destroyed weapons, including chemical-tipped missiles that were to be delivered to Hezbollah.

According to Amos Yadlin – former head of Israeli Military Intelligence and executive director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv – Thursday’s strike was not routine.

“The factory in the attack also produces chemical weapons and barrels of explosives that killed thousands of Syrian citizens. If the attack was conducted by Israel, it would be a commendable and moral action by Israel against the slaughter in Syria,” he wrote on Twitter.

On Wednesday, the UN released a report affirming the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons at least 33 times since the beginning of the civil war, including this past April’s attack on Khan Sheikhoun, where planes dropped sarin gas on the city, killing 80 civilians.

According to a BBC report in May, intelligence documents obtained by the news agency said the regime manufactures chemical weapons at three branches of the country’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, including the one in Masyaf.

Yadlin wrote that Thursday’s strike targeted a Syrian military-scientific center which develops and manufactures, among other things, precision missiles. He said the action sent a message to world powers that Israel would enforce its redlines to protect its citizens.

“The attack sent three important messages: Israel won’t allow for empowerment and production of strategic arms; Israel intends to enforce its redlines despite the fact that the great powers are ignoring them; the presence of Russian air defense does not prevent air strikes attributed to Israel,” Yadlin wrote.

“Now it’s important to keep the escalation in check and to prepare for a Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah response and even opposition from Russia,” he added.

In October, Russia deployed the advanced mobile S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft batteries to Syria. The batteries are capable of engaging multiple aircraft and ballistic missiles at a distance of up to 380 kilometers, covering virtually all of Syria as well as significant parts of Israel and neighboring countries such as Turkey and Jordan. (Jerusalem Post)

Military intel chief says IDF fighting enemies ‘near and far’

In the wake of reports that Israel struck a chemical weapons facility in southern Syria, Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi on Thursday warned that Israel was consistently working to combat its enemies “both near and far.”

“We are dealing with these threats, both near and far, with determination and our enemies in every arena know very well the combination of (our) precise intelligence and operational capabilities,” he said at a memorial for former president Chaim Herzog in Tel Aviv.

“The serious security threats against Israel from armed groups are being aided by Iran, which are serious, but not existential threats,” Halevi said. “Iran is working to position itself on our borders with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, flooding those borders with deadly ideology.”

Early on Thursday morning, the Syrian army confirmed that planes bombed a military site near Masyaf where the regime is said to have stockpiled chemical weapons and missiles. In a statement, the army said the airstrike that killed two people was carried out by Israeli jets, and warned the strike could have “dangerous repercussions.”

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military on any of the reports, but Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman later on Thursday indicated the IDF would Israel would take whatever measures were needed to prevent Iran from establishing a Shiite-controlled land corridor stretching from Tehran to Damascus.

“We are not looking for adventures, and we do not wish to be dragged into one conflict or another,” Liberman told the Radius 100FM radio station.

“We are ready and determined to defend ourselves and ensure the safety of Israeli citizens,” he added, indicating the Air Force would continue to hit Iran-backed Hezbollah military targets there as necessary. “We will do whatever it takes to prevent a Shiite corridor from Iran to Damascus.”

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott on Thursday also alluded to Israeli military actions in the region aimed at preventing Iran from establishing a foothold along the northern border.

“We are working to strengthen out military capability and improve our existing deterrence,” he said at a memorial for slain soldiers from the Givati Brigade. “At the same time, we are working to thwart with responsibility and determination any threat that seeks to harm our security and prosperity.”

In Germany, President Reuven Rivlin also warned that Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and support of Lebanese terror group Hezbollah could “sink the whole region into war” that would threaten Israel.

Israel has for years been widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations on an individual basis.

In August a former commander of Israel’s air force said that it had carried out dozens of airstrikes on weapons convoys destined for the Hezbollah over the past five years. The remarks by Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel revealed for the first time the scale of the strikes, which are usually neither confirmed nor denied by the IAF.

The most famous Israeli strike in Syria took place almost exactly 10 years ago, on September 6, 2007, when IAF aircraft bombed a suspected nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor.

Israel has largely stayed out of the fray in neighboring Syria, but has repeatedly said it will act to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring advanced weapons.

In May, Liberman said the IDF only carries out raids in Syria for three reasons: when Israel comes under fire, to prevent arms transfers, and to avert a “ticking timebomb,” namely to thwart imminent terror attacks on Israel by groups on its borders.

Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets on Israeli communities during its last war with Israel in 2006. Since Tuesday, tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers have been staging a mock 10-day war against Hezbollah in northern Israel, marking the IDF’s largest exercise in nearly 20 years, the army announced Monday, amid tensions over growing Iranian influence in Syria and Lebanon. (the Times of Israel)

Netanyahu says wife’s indictment will ‘evaporate’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday said the attorney general’s planned indictment of his wife Sara for fraud would “evaporate,” and blamed the incidents on a former employee.

In a Facebook post published hours after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that he would be serving an indictment against Sara Netanyahu pending a hearing, Netanyahu blamed the legal entanglement on Menny Naftali, who served as caretaker in the Prime Minister’s Residence for a period of two years.

Mandelblit said earlier Friday that he intends to indict the prime minister’s wife for fraud for allegedly diverting some NIS 360,000 ($102,000) of shekels in public funds for her own use, with the specific intention of avoiding payment of personal expenses over private meals ordered to the Prime Minister’s Residence.

“Expenditure over food ordered in disposable containers had remarkably inflated during the time when state witness Menny Naftali served as caretaker, and miraculously dropped when he left,” Netanyahu wrote in the post.

“Why did expenses grow precisely during these years? Who ate or has taken this huge number of containers and meals, that were enough to feed a soccer team? Certainly not the Netanyahu family,” Netanyahu wrote.

“You should understand, this is what the entire story against the prime minister’s wife is based on. They told us about the garden furniture, the electrician, the bottles, the waiters, the nanny – in the end all that’s left is the bizarre and false story of the [food] containers, most of which were ordered by Menny Naftali. This, too, will evaporate during the hearing,” he wrote.

The indictment, announced Friday, also names Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, as a defendant in the case.

The indictments are pending hearings for both Netanyahu and Saidoff.

Also Friday, the Netanyahus’ attorney Yaakov Weinroth said Sara Netanyahu would not look for a plea deal in the case.

“I don’t think that there would be a plea bargain in this case, we will fight to prove her innocence,” he told Channel 2 news.

A statement from the Attorney General’s Office said that “the decision [to file the charges] was made after the attorney general examined the case material and after he heard the positions of the relevant sources, including the recommendations of the state prosecution and the Jerusalem district prosecution to consider pressing charges,”

The charges relate to the drawing of funds from state coffers for private meals ordered to the Prime Minister’s Residence.

According to the statement, Sara Netanyahu and Saidoff deliberately created the “false appearance” that there was no official chef working at the residence when in fact there was a full-time employee in the position. This was done in order to allow them to “sidestep the guidelines” by which, when there is no chef employed, the prime minister and his family are entitled to charge the state for food ordered to the residence.

“In this manner, they fraudulently received hundreds of meals from restaurants and outside chefs worth some NIS 359,000 ($102,000),” the statement said, adding that the specific charges being considered were for “fraud under serious circumstances and breach of trust.”

Naftali’s lawyer Daniel Haklai said he was “calling on Mrs. Netanyahu, her associates and the prime minister to cease the smear campaign against [Naftali] and to avoid disrupting the court’s proceedings, and to focus on the legal defense of Mrs. Netanyahu.”

“There is no escaping the serving of an indictment in a situation where personal expenses at hundreds of thousands of shekels are paid by the state, by the public and by the Israeli taxpayers. We will firmly withstand any attempt to pin these severe allegations on Menny Naftali who is an honest, brave and reliable man who dared expose some of this serious affair,” Haklai continued.

“Menny Naftali, for his part, will appear at the trial to testify truthfully as much as this is required of him,” Haklai said. (the Times of Israel)

Terror attacks against Israelis drop following harsh July

The number of terrorist attacks targeting Israelis fell by more than half last month from July, constituting the sharpest decrease in incidents since 2015.

The Shin Bet recorded 110 terrorist attacks in August compared to 222 the previous month, when tensions around the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem generated a major spike in incidents, the agency said in its monthly report published earlier this week.

The decrease brought the number of attacks back to a level similar from before the July conflagration, which resulted in the highest number of incidents in any month since December 2015. From January 2016 onward, Israel saw on average 121 attacks against its citizens per month.

The attacks in August resulted in two injuries, both from stabbings. There were no fatalities in August from terrorist attacks against Israelis. July was one of the deadliest months in terms of Israeli victims of terrorist attacks since 2015, with five dead, including two police officers near the Temple Mount.

The decrease in terrorist activity was especially steep in Jerusalem, where the 24 attacks in August represented a 73 percent drop. The decrease in the West Bank was less dramatic: a 36% drop to 83 incidents.

In July, three Arab terrorists killed the two officers before being shot dead. Israel placed metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount, a compound that is holy both to Jews and Muslims. Riots ensued, leading Israel to dismantle the metal detectors two weeks after installing them.  (the Times of Israel)

Critical that Russia not be surprised

By  Herb Keinon      The Jerusalem Post


If Israel did, as widely reported, attack a sensitive Syrian military facility near Masyaf in western Syria early Thursday morning, it is an operation that was weeks or months in planning.

Hitting such a sensitive facility – a branch of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center that housed chemical weapons and ground-to-ground missiles – is an operation that requires intense training, precise intelligence, and a go-ahead from the very top of the political pyramid.

It is not something done overnight.

And that all means that when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Russian President Vladimir Putin two weeks ago, this operation was well into the planning stages. The same was true when Mossad head Yossi Cohen and a top security delegation went to Washington just a few days earlier.

Both Washington and Moscow are well aware of Israel’s objections to Iran and Hezbollah ensconcing themselves permanently in Syria after the end of the civil war there. Netanyahu did not need to fly to Sochi to convey that message to Putin, nor Cohen to Washington to present this position to US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

Netanyahu and Cohen did not travel to those two capitals to win an argument, but rather to make Israeli interests clear so that – if and when Israel attacked to protect its interests – everyone would understand why it happened and what was at stake and no one would be surprised.

It is reasonable to assume that the type of operation reportedly taken on Thursday came up in the conversations. It was telling that there was no immediate condemnation from Moscow, at least not by Thursday evening.

Washington, also, did not issue any statement.

While the Russians obviously did not approve of Israel’s reported actions, since such a move ultimately weakens the party whom the Russians are trying to strengthen – Syrian President Bashar Assad – their immediate silence could be interpreted as a sign they were not blindsided by the move.

Israel and Russia have a complicated relationship. One senior Russian diplomat said recently that Israel and Russia were “frenemies” in Syria, a combination of friends and enemies.

Friends in the sense that there is a great deal of communication and coordination between the two militaries; enemies in the sense that their interests in Syria are very different. Russia’s interest is that Syrian President Bashar Assad remain in power, even if that means that Iran and Hezbollah gain a foothold in the country. Israel’s interest is that Iran and Hezbollah gain no foothold there.

Jerusalem has made clear that it will not allow game-changing weaponry to be transferred from Syria or Iran to Hezbollah, and will not let Iran or Hezbollah build bases on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights that could be used as launching pads for attacks against Israel. Netanyahu clearly told Putin not only what Israel’s redlines were, but how it would act if they were violated.

Following his meeting with Putin, Netanyahu told reporters that he told the Russian president in “a clear and detailed manner” that Israel would not “remain passive” if its redlines were violated in Syria.

One sentence that Netanyahu said following that meeting takes on a lot more meaning following Thursday morning’s action. He told reporters that Israel wants to prevent a regional war, and that therefore it is important to warn beforehand “of things that could lead to a deterioration of the situation.”

It is very likely that Netanyahu warned Putin of the kind of action that took place Thursday morning. Friends don’t like to be surprised, especially when they have troops who could be in harm’s way.

The Russians never took action against Israel in the past following the dozens of actions Israel has admittedly taken in Syria to enforce its redlines.

Moscow could have taken steps to prevent those actions, but it didn’t – a testament to a strong degree of understanding between Jerusalem and Moscow.

Chances are very good that the Netanyahu-Putin meeting last month ensured this pattern would continue even in the face of more intense Israeli action – the type of action that took place early Thursday.

How the submarine probe can cause irreparable damage to Israel’s defense industry

by Yaakov Katz    The Jerusalem Post


“Every Jewish mother should know that she has entrusted the life of her son in the hands of worthy commanders.”

This famous quote was uttered by David Ben-Gurion in July 1963, just days after he had stepped down as Israel’s prime minister. It was part of what became known as the “Farewell Address,” a speech Israel’s founding father gave as he bid farewell to the IDF’s top brass.

It is an adage that can be found throughout IDF bases, engraved on walls and buildings. In the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, it appears on the 14th floor in gold letters on the wall behind where the chief of staff sits when he convenes his top generals.

It would be interesting to hear Ben-Gurion’s take on what is happening today in Israel. What would he think of the state he established nearly 70 years ago? After learning of the ongoing police investigation into the submarine deal – also known as Case 3000 – would he still stand behind what he said 54 years ago?

Are Jewish mothers really entrusting their sons into the hands of worthy commanders? Or would the arrests of the former head of the navy, the former commander of Shayetet 13, and the former deputy head of the National Security Council change Ben-Gurion’s mind? Would he stand by the iconic quote?

Over the years, Israelis have grown accustomed to seeing their politicians come and go through courts, interrogation rooms and prison cells. Ehud Olmert, Moshe Katsav and Arye Deri are just some of the more recent examples. Getting used to this sad reality has created low expectations among Israelis that ensure little chance for disappointment.

However, the IDF was meant to be, and has always been portrayed as, Israel’s modern version of the ancient “Holy of Holies.” It was supposed to be a place where this type of culture did not exist. Yes, there was the occasional rotten weed like Elor Azaria, who recently started his 18-month sentence for manslaughter, but they were immediately uprooted, punished and removed from service.

When it came to financial corruption, the only big case was of Rami Dotan, the former air force brigadier-general convicted of a long list of corruption charges in 1991. Besides Dotan, the cases were few and minor.

The hedonistic culture that seemed to have overtaken the political system in recent years appeared to have failed to penetrate the military. There, at least we all thought, the system was pure, the decisions were objective, and the considerations were interest free.

Based on what is happening in the ongoing investigation into the submarine deal, that might not be the case. The arrest of reserve admiral Eliezer Marom, V.-Adm. (res.) Avriel Bar-Yosef and Brig.-Gen. (res.) Rami Brosh – all for allegedly taking bribes – brings into question all of the decisions these three men took as commanders. What motivated them? What was the real reason they chose one course of action over another?

The mere suspicion that the submarine sale was tainted with corruption is a stain on the country. Submarines are not just Israel’s most expensive military platform, but also its most strategic one. Israel’s Dolphin-class submarines reportedly serve as the Jewish state’s second- strike capability, meaning that even if the homeland were attacked by nuclear weapons, the subs would still reportedly be able to retaliate with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles of their own.

For now, the investigation will have short-term as well as long-term ramifications. In the short-term, the IDF will need to ensure that safeguards are put in place to prevent possible acts of corruption in the future. This could mean a closer review of senior officers’ decisions as well as their financial records. It could also mean the appointment of comptrollers and auditors throughout the military’s different branches who will have access to all nonoperational decisions to ensure transparency, accountability and honesty.

In the longer term, this could impact Israel’s ability to sign arms deals overseas. Israel has built up one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world, and is known for its sophisticated weaponry – especially drones, armor, intelligence systems and cyber weapons.

If because of Case 3000 Germany now decides to freeze the sale of three submarines to replace the first three received in the 1990s, the decision will resonate throughout the world. Israel will have difficulty closing other strategic arms deals, and the entire defense industry – which in recent years reached about $6.5 billion in annual sales – will be in jeopardy.

What, for example, will the Indians think the next time the Defense Ministry comes to New Delhi to close a billion-dollar deal? What will the Pentagon do the next time Israel asks for a boost in aid for the Arrow or Iron Dome missile defense systems? The submarine scandal doesn’t just make mothers question whether commanders are worthy of their sons; it tarnishes the reputation of the entire defense establishment.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot should take advantage of the ongoing investigation to clean house. Now is a perfect opportunity to review protocols, and tighten existing measures and restrictions meant to prevent corruption within the IDF and the Defense Ministry. For now, that is the least that can be done.

While this investigation is far from over, the political establishment in the meantime remains on edge. While Netanyahu is not a suspect in the submarine case – Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit said so earlier this year – the other investigations against him, especially the graft probe, are gaining momentum.

The recent interrogation of movie mogul Arnon Milchan in London, and the alleged discovery by police that there might have been quid pro quo for the cigars, champagne and other gifts he gave the prime minister, has turned this into a case of possible bribery. This is far worse than originally imagined.

What will Netanyahu do? On the one hand, elections are not scheduled for another two years, and there does not seem to be an interest by any of the coalition partners to bring down the government. Bayit Yehudi’s constituents are focused on right-wing political issues. The question of whether Netanyahu is corrupt is not at the top of their concerns. The haredim are enjoying the financial benefits of being in this government, and Moshe Kahlon doesn’t have a single accomplishment to show after two years as finance minister.

Privately, Netanyahu projects confidence. He claims that his government will last its full term, and that if he so desires, the coalition would pass another budget at the end of 2018 that would mean continued government stability.

Ministers who have met with him recently claim that nothing has changed.

“Netanyahu is the same and is focused on what is important,” one senior Likud minister told me. “The investigations take up time, but they don’t influence his work on the issues that are really important.”

Even if that is true, Netanyahu might decide – should he get the impression that Mandelblit is set to indict him – to go to early elections and receive a renewed mandate from the public, to show the attorney-general that the people stand behind him.

Either way, he is already in full campaign mode. His tough talk on Iran and Syria, his visits to West Bank settlements, his sudden interest in the African migrant crisis in south Tel Aviv – including two visits there in the span of three days – as well as his constant and exaggerated attacks against the media, are all a preview of what the Likud’s next campaign will look like.

The Likud will say something along the lines of the following: Netanyahu is needed to keep Israel safe from Iran and Syria, to keep the African migrants out of south Tel Aviv, and to get the truth out about Israel despite the so-called left-wing media.

His visits to Judea and Samaria are aimed at bolstering his strength among his base constituents. Since he returned to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2009, Netanyahu has, for the most part, stayed away from the West Bank. But in recent months, he has crossed the Green Line numerous times. Last week, he was at the 50th anniversary celebrations in Samaria. A few weeks before that, he participated in a cornerstone-laying ceremony in Betar Illit.

As for his next steps, Netanyahu keeps his cards close to his chest. Nevertheless, government officials who feel that the end of this government might be approaching are moving up plans that are important for them, to finalize before they potentially leave office. A number of officials, in several ministries, told me this week that they are under the impression that the end is near. Their prediction: elections will be held sometime in the first half of 2018.

Time will tell if they are right or are simply reacting to the investigations. In the end, Netanyahu will ultimately decide what happens next. But as he knows from 30 years in Israeli politics, sometimes the unpredictable happens.

Sometimes, when the entire political system gets wound up, it springs into action when least expected.