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Latest Israel News – 12th September

Iran is Israel’s ‘shaping trauma,’ says ex-deputy chief of staff

Far more than terrorism, the constant threat of Iran remains Israel’s preoccupying concern, Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan told a Washington think tank this week.

Speaking to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the former deputy chief of IDF staff said that terrorist organizations strike a particular chord in the United States due to the nation’s traumatic experiences incurring attacks.

“All nations on Earth think in terms of trauma. And when you have a strategic discussion with someone, you should ask yourself before the discussion starts, ‘What is his shaping trauma?’” Golan said.

For Israel, Iran is “much more threatening compared to the Daesh threat,” Golan asserted, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS, “because the Iranians are sophisticated, they are a higher form of civilization, they have a nice academic infrastructure, nice industry, good scientists, many talented young people.

“They are very similar to us,” he said. “And because they are similar to us, they are much, much more dangerous.”

Golan said that Israel has dealt for years with Islamic State-styled fighters, and has over the course of those years has learned how to cope.

But its leadership has yet to come up with a strategy to fully counter the Iranian threat, he added.

Golan expressed alarm over Iran’s growing presence in Syria, days after Israeli forces allegedly conducted an air raid against a Syrian chemical weapons plant.

The Iranians are reportedly helping Syria with its weapons manufacturing, and are even building missile production sites within Syria itself for easy transfer of precision weapons to Hezbollah forces.

“A good peace is a peace based on values. Another form of peace [is] based on interests. And in some cases, you don’t have peace – you have hostility with no violence,” Golan said, expressing his best hope for peace in Israel’s region with its neighbors.

“This is also a kind of a reasonable situation.”

In the Syrian arena, as Iran has aggressively pushed west toward Israel’s border, Moscow has proven itself an operational partner, Golan noted.

“Our interest and the Russian interest are not compatible. But I cannot describe the Russian influence only as a negative one,” he said.

“It’s not easy. But I think that up to now, I can sum it up as a positive experience. It won’t necessarily remain like that, but hopefully that will be the future.

“I don’t think that the Russians are pro-Iranian in their ideology,” Golan added. “They use the Iranian influence on their own behalf.” (Jerusalem Post)

Shin Bet chief: Hamas setting up in Lebanon with Iran’s support

The head of the Shin Bet security service said Sunday that Hamas is setting up a base in Lebanon with Iranian support as part of its ongoing efforts to deepen its connections with the Islamic Republic’s “Shiite axis.”

Speaking to ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting, Nadav Argaman warned that the Palestinian terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip, has “continued to invest considerable resources in preparation for a future conflict, even at the cost of its citizens’ welfare.”

According to the Shin Bet chief, Hamas, more than three years after the previous round of hostilities, is “ready for a conflict with Israel.”

However, he said, the group is also in “strategic distress,” caught between trying to maintain its truce with Israel, placate its population and rearm itself.

Argaman noted that the past three years since the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, have been the quietest in “three decades.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pictured here in Tehran with Prime Minister of Gaza Ismail Haniyeh, leads the world’s largest Shia country. (photo credit: AP)

Though it started as an offshoot of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas has maintained a relationship with Iran and its allies over the years and “continues to deepen its strategic ties with the Shiite axis,” Argaman said.

Last month, the new leader of Hamas in Gaza said it has restored relations with Iran and is gearing up for future hostilities with Israel.

Yahya Sinwar told reporters that Iran is now “the largest backer financially and militarily” of Hamas’s armed wing. He said that with Iran’s help, Hamas is accumulating military power in preparation for a battle for “the liberation of Palestine.”

Hamas is “developing our military strength in order to liberate Palestine,” Sinwar said, but he also stressed that it does not seek war for now “and takes every effort to avoid a war… At the same time we are not afraid of a war and are ready for it.”

“The Iranian military support to Hamas… is strategic,” he added, saying the relationship had “become fantastic and returned to its former era.”

The Shin Bet chief did not say specifically where the alleged Hamas base in Lebanon was being constructed, though a senior Hamas terrorist, Saleh al-Arouri, has been spotted in Beirut. Al-Arouri moved to Lebanon after his expulsion from Qatar in June, and is being hosted by the Iran-sponsored Hezbollah terror group in its Dahieh stronghold, Channel 2 reported in July.

Lebanon is largely seen as weak and open to foreign influence, especially from Iran, whose proxy Hezbollah sits in the Lebanese parliament.

For instance, Iran is reportedly constructing at least two underground facilities in the country for manufacturing missiles and other weaponry for Hezbollah.

In March, the Kuwaiti al-Jarida newspaper reported that Iran had established multiple facilities some 50 meters belowground and protected them with several layers of defenses from potential Israeli aerial bombardment, citing an unnamed deputy head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said in June that Israel is in the midst of a major campaign to thwart attempts by Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah to arm themselves with increasingly accurate missiles.

Addressing the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense committee, Eisenkot said that the primary concern for Israel was what he called the “accuracy project” — efforts by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah to equip themselves with precision missiles.

“We are engaged in a whole campaign against the accuracy project and it is our top priority,” he noted.

In June, at the Herzliya Conference, IDF intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi said that “Iran has been working for the past year to set up indigenous infrastructures for producing precise munitions both in Lebanon and Yemen. We can’t ignore that, and we won’t.”  (the Times of Israel)

Israel working to thwart Palestinian bid to join UN tourism body as member state

Amid Palestinian threats to turn to international organizations if there is no movement on the diplomatic process, Israel is bracing for an expected Palestinian bid to seek full state membership next week in the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization.

The Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Tourism applied for membership for “Palestine” into the organization last year, and it is on the agenda at the meeting of the UNWTO General Assembly in Chengdu, China, which begins on Monday and runs through Saturday.

The Madrid-based UNWTO describes itself as the “leading international organization in the field of tourism,” and the UN agency “responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.”

If the Palestinians do apply for membership, and the bid is successful, it would be the second UN organization, after UNESCO, to which the Palestinians have full membership. A final Palestinian decision on whether to go ahead with the bid, or withdraw it, is expected shortly.

The US has reportedly asked Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to refrain from unilateral action in international fora for the next four months to allow the US to unveil a comprehensive diplomatic plan.

In order to be accepted as a state in the WTO, the Palestinians will need two-thirds of the votes cast — abstentions are not counted. They are expected to garner the necessary majority, especially since countries who could be counted on to support Israel and vote against the move – such as the US, Canada and Australia – are not members of the WTO. The United Kingdom is also not a member.

“Israel has taken all diplomatic measures to block the request,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. “We are not expecting any negative impact on Israel or its continued activity in the organization – the expected damage will be to the organization itself.”

Israel’s efforts to block the move have focused on the secretariat of the organization in Madrid, it’s outgoing Secretary-General – the Jordanian diplomat Taleb Rifai – and on China, which is hosting the conference.

Israel has also involved the Americans, who have warned the Palestinians that their joining the organization could have consequences in their relations with the US.

The Foreign Ministry’s spokesman said that Israel’s position is that the “State Of Palestine” does not exist, and therefore it cannot be accepted as a state in the UN or in any of its affiliated organizations.

Moreover, he said, granting state membership to the Palestinians will lead to a greater politicization of the organization and a cut in funding.

Since the Palestinians gained full membership in UNESCO in 2011, a number of anti-Israel resolutions have been adopted in the organization, including resolutions erasing a Jewish connection to Temple Mount and declaring Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs a Palestinian world heritage site.

The US cut off funding to UNESCO after it accepted the Palestinians as a full member state because of a law prohibiting US funding of UN organizations that grant full membership to the Palestinians.  (Jerusalem Post)

Did the Saudi Crown Prince make a covert visit to Israel?

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a discreet visit to Israel despite the fact that the Jewish state and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic ties, Israeli and Arab media speculated earlier in the week.

Rumors about the momentous visit, which was not confirmed by Israel, started swirling when Israel Radio’s diplomatic correspondent covering Arab affairs, Simon Aran, took to Twitter to announce the visit. Aran tweeted that a senior Arab figure from the Gulf region paid a visit to Tel Aviv last week, stirring immense interest in the Arab media.

Israel Radio’s Arabic-language broadcast reported that the the senior figure was a “Saudi prince” who met with senior Israelis to discuss regional peace. According to the report, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the news.

One Arab media outlet reported that the senior official was Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Qatari media and other affiliated news outlets such as the London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper, used the reports as a further opportunity to attack the Saudi royal family which is heading Arab intervention in Yemen, Syria and other locations.

Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, affiliated with Hezbollah and Syria, and London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, both published the news reported by Israel Radio.

The Saudi response came shortly thereafter, with Saudi website Elaph (which often interviews senior Israeli officials) reporting on Friday that there was a visit by a senior Arab official but, rather than Saudi, it was a Qatari official who visited.

“A senior Elaph source told the newspaper that a high-level Qatari official quietly visited Tel Aviv midweek and discussed security issues with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” wrote the newspaper. “The source added that the visit lasted two days before his meeting with Kuwaiti emir Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and US President Donald Trump to discuss the Qatar diplomatic crisis.”

“The senior Qatari emissary discussed security issues with Israeli representatives, including military steps that concern Doha due to their potential to escalate the Qatar crisis with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE,” reported Elaph. “The Qatari official explained the fragile situation that his country is in to his Israeli hosts in the hope that Israel will help reduce tensions and even solve the crisis through behind-the-scenes efforts. According to reports, Israel will ‘look into the issue’. Official Israeli sources refused to confirm or deny the reports.”

Publications in Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE all joined the media storm.

As expected, news of the visit was not warmly welcomed by the Arab public.

“The reports published in Arab media have negative connotations due to their connections to Israel,” said Aran, who originally sparked the media’s frenzy over the alleged visit. “It is important to remember, however, that in the distant past there were Arab representatives in Israel, including an ambassador from Mauritania, and financial representatives from Qatar, Tunisia, Morocco and Oman – at the same time that an Israeli representative was posted in Doha, the capital city of Qatar.”

“Even today, according to unofficial sources, there are secret economic and trade relationships between Israel and some of these countries. The prime minister and other senior government officials have spoken of cooperation and have hinted at relationships with countries with whom Israel does not have diplomatic relations.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Israel to offer Mexico aid, approves $1 mill for Houston Jewish community

Israel extended offers of aid Sunday to the US and Mexico following a string of devastating natural disasters.

The government unanimously approved a proposal at the weekly cabinet meeting put forward by Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett for a $1 million aid package to help rebuild Jewish institutions in Houston hit badly by Hurricane Harvey.

“This is a time for the Jewish State to help our Diaspora brothers at their time of need,” Bennett said. “They helped us when we needed it, it is our turn to help them.”

Bennett said the funds, which which will go to assist in the rebuilding of schools, synagogues and the local JCC that were damaged by the hurricane, are a “clear message about mutual responsibility.”

According to statement put out by Bennett, many of the schools and synagogues serving the 60,000-strong Jewish community cannot be used, and the community’s senior citizens home and JCC have suffered extensive water damage.

Regarding Mexico, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, set to leave for Latin America this evening, told the cabinet Sunday that when he meets Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto on Wednesday, he will offer Israel’s assistance to areas hit by the devastating earthquake there last Thursday.

Netanyahu said these are “not easy days for Mexico,” and sent his condolences to the victims of the disaster. At least 90 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the earthquake which badly hit the states of Tabasco, Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Netanyahu characterized his trip to Argentina, Colombia, Mexico — and from there to New York where he will address the UN General Assembly — as “historic,” inasmuch as it will be the first ever visit by a serving Israeli prime minister to South or Central America.

“This visit will strengthen our economic, security and technological ties with Latin America, and will constitute the continued strengthening of Israel’s position in the world, something we are leading in a successful and systematic manner,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nadav Argaman, the head of the Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet) briefed the cabinet before Netanyahu’s departure.

Netanyahu said before that briefing that the Shin Bent thwarted the efforts of more than 70 cells that were planning attacks. “Israeli citizens don’t know everything that the Shin Bet does,” he said. “I want to express my deep appreciation to the Shin Bet and all who deal with this important work for Israel’s security.” (Jerusalem Post)

Flying to Argentina with PM, Sara Netanyahu thanks ‘thousands’ for their support

Minutes before setting off on a state visit to Latin America, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife thanked the public for its support as she faces an impending fraud indictment for misuse of state funds.

“I want to say thank you to the thousands and thousands and thousands of Israeli citizens and people from the all over the world, who support me, help me and encourage me,” said Sara Netanyahu.

“I want to say that in good days, and in less good days, your help and your support give me strength to continue doing all the real things I do for all those who need help, which I try to do to the best of my abilities,” added the prime minister’s wife, who also works as an educational psychologist at the Jerusalem municipality.

She concluded with greetings for the Jewish New Year. “I simply [wish] everyone a Shana Tova. That the new year should bring only good for all of us.”

Speaking to reporters before boarding the flight to Buenos Aires, the prime minister confirmed that he will be meeting with US President Donald Trump later this month.

“I looking forward to my meeting with President Trump, my friend, in the United States, in New York,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (r) and his wife Sara board the plane to fly to Latin America for a 10-day state trip on September 10, 2017. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

He also expressed concern for those affected by the destructive and deadly Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which hit Texas and Florida.

“I want to take this opportunity to wish all our friends in the United States that they emerge safe and sounds from these difficult times,” he said. “This storm, too, shall pass. And every citizen of Israel is praying for the safety of the citizens of the United States of America.”

Netanyahu told reporters he had spoken to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to express condolences on the earthquake which struck the country on Friday, killing at least 90 people.

Netanyahu said he told Nieto that, “Israel was ready to give any assistance at our disposal.” He described the conversation as “very touching,” and said that the two would continue the discussion when they meet in person in a few days.

The trip — hailed by Netanyahu as “historic” because it marks the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister visits Latin America — comes amid investigations of alleged criminal wrongdoing by the Netanyahu’s.

A 16-page draft indictment to be served against Sara Netanyahu details allegedly illegal spending of up to NIS 25,000 (some $7,000) per month by the prime minister’s wife on meals from top restaurants in Jerusalem.

The prime minister is also suspected in at least two separate cases.

Adding to the first couple’s woes, their eldest son, Yair Netanyahu, caused a media and political storm on Friday after he posted on his Facebook page a cartoon aimed at critics of his parents, but widely panned for being based on anti-Semitic motifs. He removed the post on Sunday.

Netanyahu and his entourage — which includes a delegation of businesspeople — are due to fly for 20 hours — including a stopover in Madrid — before arriving in Buenos Aires on Monday. There he is due to attend ceremonies to commemorate two terror attacks in the early 1990s that targeted local Jews and Israeli diplomats.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu is scheduled to lay a wreath at the Monument to General San Martín and the Armies of Independence before heading to a meeting with President Mauricio Macri. During their meeting, Israel and Argentina will sign a series of agreements on public security, customs and social insurance as well as an archives agreement regarding the Holocaust, according to the PMO.

After the two leaders address the press, they will be joined by President of Paraguay Horacio Cartes for lunch, before Netanyahu is set to headline an economic forum for Argentine and Israeli businessmen.

On Wednesday morning, the prime minister’s delegation will fly seven hours from Buenos Aires to Bogota, for a whirlwind visit to meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, sign bilateral agreements on science and tourism cooperation, and visit the local Jewish community.

Later in the day, Netanyahu will make his way to Mexico for a meeting with Pena, during which Mexico and Israel will sign joint agreements on space, aviation, communications and development cooperation. In Mexico City, too, the prime minister will address a forum to encourage bilateral trade and attend an event organized by the local Jewish community.

Netanyahu’s travel plans were unaffected by Friday’s earthquake — Mexico’s strongest in a century — which killed dozens and was felt in the capital.

On September 15, Netanyahu will head from Mexico City to New York, where he is expected to conduct a series of meetings with world leaders, including Trump. No details of his meetings in the Big Apple have been released yet.

On September 19, the prime minister is scheduled to address to deliver his annual address to the United Nations General Assembly. Minutes after wrapping up his speech, he will rush the airport to arrive in Israel in time for the onset of the Jewish New Year, which starts on September 20.  (the Times of Israel)

Remembering Peres: Israel Postal Company issues memorial stamp

To mark the first anniversary of the passing of Israel’s ninth president Shimon Peres, the Israel Postal Company in conjunction with Israel Philatelic Services on Monday issued a special Shimon Peres memorial stamp.

Valued at NIS 2.40, the stamp features a portrait of Peres against a library backdrop in recognition of his love of books. There are also national emblems and Peres’s name in Hebrew, Arabic and English, the years of his birth and death and the word Israel in the three above-mentioned languages.

The stamp was designed by Limor Peretz-Samia, and the first day cover was designed by Tal Huber and Sharon Blinkov.

The stamp was unveiled at a ceremony at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation attended by Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, Hezi Zaieg, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the IPC, Danny Goldstein, Director General of IPC, Elhanan Shapira, the head of IPS, Chemi Peres, chairman of the Peres Center and members of the Peres Center staff.

Kara said that it was entirely fitting to have a stamp in memory of Shimon Peres, as he had been appointed Israel’s first Minister of Communication in 1970.

Peres Stamp

To produce a stamp in his honor was akin to closing a circle, said Kara, who described Peres as “a statesman par excellence” and went on to list some of the late president’s many accomplishments.

Calling him “a man of deed and vision” Kara spoke of Peres’s contributions to Israel’s defense network in terms of encouraging inventive creativity to enhance Israel’s defense capability, the nuclear reactor in Dimona and the nuclear research center in the Negev, the conceiving and promotion of Israel’s defense industries, Israel’s development as an innovative technological and scientific powerhouse as well as Israel’s stable economy.

Kara also emphasized how Shimon Peres had tirelessly worked for peace within the country and beyond its borders in the quest for peace with Israel’s neighbors. His contribution is without parallel, said Kara. “We owe him a great debt of gratitude.”

Chemi Peres regarded the issuing of the stamp as “a very moving and appropriate tribute” in light of his father’s long and loyal service to the state.

But taking a gentle barb at the slowdown in postal services ever since such services were privatized, Chemi Peres said: “My father had no patience. He was too quick, and too sharp. So get ready, because the envelopes with the Shimon Peres stamps on them will move faster than anything you ever imagined. Envelopes with Shimon Peres stamps have a duty to move quickly.”

Zaieg chose to ignore the veiled criticism and said; “Through postal items, this stamp will express throughout Israel and the world, the recognition and esteem of the people of Israel for the work and achievements of Shimon Peres.” (Jerusalem Post)

How to Understand Israel’s Strike on Syria – Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin (New York Times)

The Israeli attack on a military site in Syria that produces advanced missiles represents a major step in the right direction for Israel’s policy toward Syria. While Israel has previously targeted weapons shipments en route to Hizbullah, now Israel is broadening the scope of its action to prevent its key adversaries from producing or acquiring advanced weaponry in the first place.

This is essentially an extension of the doctrine pioneered by Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1981, which insisted that Israel carry out preemptive strikes to stop its enemies from constructing nuclear-enrichment plants as well as production facilities for advanced conventional weapons.

Israel’s message to Washington and Moscow is that if the great powers fail to take its critical interests into account in Syria, Israel will act independently to protect itself.

Another message has to do with credibility. In a world where threats are cheap and plentiful, it is much more meaningful when a nation delivers on tough rhetoric. In this specific case, the complex that was attacked was funded mostly by Iran, utilizes Iranian technology, and produces advanced long-range missiles and chemical weapons. The strike shows that Israel is willing to take decisive action to prevent the development of long-term strategic threats.

The airstrike rebuts claims that the Israeli Air Force was negatively affected by the deployment of powerful Russian air defenses in Syria.

The facility that was hit produces chemical weapons, barrel bombs, and a variety of other weapons that the Assad regime has used to massacre innocents. Destroying it could save countless lives.

The writer, director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, was the chief of Israeli military intelligence from 2006 to 2010 and participated in the successful raid to destroy Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981.