+61 3 9272 5644

Latest Israel News – 13th June

Netanyahu, Herzog and Sissi met in Cairo to talk peace, says report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi held a secret meeting in Cairo last year to discuss efforts at restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the Haaretz daily reported Monday.

The Cairo get-together came as Netanyahu and Herzog had intense contacts aimed at bringing Herzog’s Zionist Union party into the government coalition.

According to the report, in April 2016 Netanyahu and Herzog, along with advisers and a security detail, flew at night to Cairo on a private plane and were taken directly to the presidential palace to meet Sissi. They returned before dawn after Sissi had urged them to press ahead with a joint effort to restart peace talks.

Haaretz said it learned of the Cairo meeting from “a figure who is not currently in politics and is not connected in any way to Herzog.”

Herzog did not directly confirm the Cairo meeting to Haaretz, saying only that he met with “very senior officials in the international and regional communities.”

When asked about the authenticity of the report during a Monday interview on Israeli Radio, the Zionist Union leader said “I can only authorize what I have not sought to hide in the past.”

“Last year there was a rare opportunity… but it was lost because of the intransigence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” he said. “I went to a lot of places and met a lot of people.”

The Cairo meeting came shortly after the Aqaba Summit in February, another then-secret summit attended by Netanyahu, Sissi, King Abdullah II of Jordan and John Kerry, at the time US secretary of state.

Netanyahu was reportedly trying to draw Herzog into the government because his right-leaning coalition would not back the kind of compromises he would need to make in order bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. In particular, a partial West Bank settlement construction freeze as a pre-condition to talks would not have been backed by the coalition Jewish Home party, which staunchly supports the settlement enterprise, as do many in Netanyahu’s own Likud party.

The Haaretz report said that “international and regional powers that were aware of Netanyahu’s inability to lead a significant peace process, due to his coalition partners, went to Herzog through various channels.”

Herzog, who had been informed of the Aqaba summit, was aware that there were opportunities for significant changes in the region but that it would require his Zionist Union party to be on board. He held talks with various Arab leaders and they told him they hoped he would assist Netanyahu to move things along, the report said.

However, negotiations between Netanyahu and Herzog broke down and the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, led by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, joined the coalition instead, effectively slamming shut the door on Herzog.

According to a February 2017 report in Haaretz, the negotiations with Herzog failed when Netanyahu got cold feet and cut off discussions.

In March Haaretz reported that as part of the regional initiative, Netanyahu and Herzog were to release an eight-point English-language text detailing Israel’s position in support of a new peace push.

The document, published by Haaretz, is dated September 12-13, 2016, and addresses Arab states, especially Egypt.

It thanks Sissi “for his willingness to play an active role in advancing peace and security in the region and re-launching the peace process.”

According to Haaretz, the proposed initiative never panned out because Netanyahu was caught in the political vise of the Amona outpost controversy.

The illegal West Bank outpost, which the High Court of Justice ruled in 2014 had been built on privately owned Palestinian land, was due to be demolished by the end of December of last year, and the weeks leading up to the deadline saw rising tensions with the Jewish Home party and many Likud ministers on Netanyahu’s rightist flank.

Netanyahu’s office told Haaretz at the time that the narrative according to which a possible regional peace process was prevented by Israeli political infighting was completely untrue. Herzog’s office declined to comment on the report.

In February 2017 Herzog, speaking to a conference of American-Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, said that in mid-May 2016, the talks over a unity government broke down because Netanyahu “simply reneged on basic understandings we had.”

The report on Herzog, Netanyahu and Sissi’s meeting comes amid renewed efforts by US President Donald Trump to restart talks between Israels and Palestinians as part of regional cooperation between moderate Sunni Arab states.   (the Times of Israel)

Trump’s Russian leak said to reveal Israeli cyber hack of IS bomb cell

The sensitive intelligence that US President Donald Trump controversially revealed to the Russians was gathered by an Israeli cyber warfare unit that penetrated an Islamic State group bomb-making cell, The New York Times reported on Monday. The acutely sensitive information obtained by the Israelis reportedly exposed how IS intended to use bombs in laptops to blow up airliners.

Previous reports on the leaked information had indicated that it was an Israeli agent who had infiltrated the organization.

A New York Times report about US cyber-warfare efforts against IS said Monday that the information was specifically about an IS plot to disguise bombs as laptop batteries in a way that would trick X-ray security machines at airports.

The report said this Israeli cyber breakthrough had been one of the only successes in infiltrating IS.

“Top Israeli cyberoperators penetrated a small cell of extremist bombmakers in Syria months ago, the officials said. That was how the United States learned that the terrorist group was working to make explosives that fooled airport X-ray machines and other screening by looking exactly like batteries for laptop computers,” the report said.

“The intelligence was so exquisite that it enabled the United States to understand how the weapons could be detonated, according to two American officials familiar with the operation. ”

Armed with the information, US officials imposed a ban earlier this year on taking laptop computers on flights heading to the US from 10 airports in Muslim countries.

According to the report, the bomb information was “part of the classified intelligence that Trump is accused of revealing when he met in the Oval Office last month with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak.”

Trump’s indiscretion sparked anger in the Israeli intelligence community, prompting calls by some for a scaling-back on intelligence sharing with the US.

Later reports said an Israeli intelligence asset embedded in the terrorist group had provided the tip-off about the planned attack, and that Trump’s information-sharing possibly put the spy’s life at risk.

Trump admitted that he had given information to the Russians, saying in a tweet he had the right to do so, but the exact source of the material was never confirmed. Although media reports pointed first at Jordan, speculation quickly turned to Israel as being the original provider.

The US president then seemed to inadvertently confirm that Israeli operatives were the source of the intelligence when he made on off-the-cuff remark to journalists during his visit to Israel at the end of May.

As he headed into a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said “I never said the word Israel” in his meeting with the Russian foreign minister, a comment that many saw as confirmation that the source was in fact Israeli.

Reports of the leak made waves in the Israeli intelligence community, with some former heads of the Mossad decrying Trump and calling for the US to be “punished” for the gaffe.

On March 21, Washington announced a ban on carry-on laptops and other electronics larger than a cellphone on direct flights to the United States from 10 airports in Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa.

Last month US aviation security officials stepped back from imposing a ban on carry-on computers on flights coming from Europe, which had been proposed to guard against possible bomb-laden electronics from IS. (the Times of Israel)

UNRWA uncovers Hamas-dug tunnel under school in Gaza

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees uncovered a tunnel belonging to Hamas under a boys’ elementary school in the Gaza Strip, according to a statement released by the organization on Friday.

The tunnel was discovered by workers of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on June 1 under the school, which is part of a compound comprising other schools in the Maghazi refugee camp in the Gaza Strip near the city of Deir al-Balah.

The tunnel, between two and three meters underground, passes under the Maghazi Elementary Boys A&B School and the Maghazi Preparatory Boys School, and was built both westward into the Palestinian enclave and eastward toward the security fence with Israel, according to UNRWA.

“The discovery was made during the summer vacation, at a time when the schools are empty, and in the course of work related to the construction of an extension of one of the buildings,” UNRWA said, adding that the tunnel “has no entry or exit points on the premises nor is it connected to the schools or other buildings in any way.”

The agency said it condemns “the existence of such tunnels in the strongest possible terms,” adding that it was “unacceptable that students and staff are placed at risk in such a way.”

“We demand they desist from any activities or conduct that put beneficiaries and staff at risk and undermine the ability of UN staff to provide assistance to Palestine refugees in safety and security,” the agency said.

“The construction and presence of tunnels under UN premises are incompatible with the respect of privileges and immunities owed to the United Nations under applicable international law, which provides that UN premises shall be inviolable. The sanctity and neutrality of UN premises must be preserved at all times,” the statement read.

The agency said it logged a complaint with the Hamas rulers and told them it intends to seal the tunnel “as an immediate priority.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said in a statement “that the cruelty of Hamas knows no bounds as they use the children of Gaza as human shields. Instead of UN schools serving as centers of learning and education, Hamas has turned them into terror bases for attacks on Israel.”

He called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council to ensure strict oversight over the UN body.

“The UN must act immediately to ensure that their structures and institutions are not being used to harbor the terror infrastructure of Hamas,” Danon said.

Hamas on Friday denied the UNRWA report, with spokesman Fawzi Barhoum saying the group “strongly condemns UNRWA’s allegations.” Barhoum also said Hamas clarified the issue with other groups who denied having any “resistance-related works” in the area.

The incident wasn’t the first time Hamas has used UNRWA premises for its purposes or the first time the agency has been otherwise linked to with the terror group.

Hamas is listed as a terror organization by the United States and most of Europe, including some of UNRWA’s top funders.

Israel has long claimed that some of UNRWA’s Palestinian employees support terrorist activities and spread anti-Semitism online.

In February, a UN watchdog group released a report showing screenshots from the Facebook pages of 40 UNRWA school employees in Gaza and other parts of the Mideast that it said “incite to Jihadist terrorism and anti-Semitism, including by posting Holocaust-denying videos and pictures celebrating Hitler.”

In April, the agency said a Gaza staffer suspected of having been elected to Hamas’s leadership no longer works for it but declined to clarify whether he was fired or resigned after Israel voiced its objections.

An independent UN inquiry found in 2015 that Palestinian armed groups hid weapons in three empty UN-run schools in Gaza and that in at least two cases terrorists “probably” fired rockets at Israel from the facilities during the summer war in 2014 between Israel and the Gaza Strip. (the Times of Israel)

Israel demands UN response following Gaza tunnel discovery

Israel on Friday called on the UN to “strongly and unequivocally condemn Hamas” and formally classify the group a “terrorist organization” following the discovery of a tunnel that runs beneath two UN Relief and Works Agency schools in the Gaza Strip.

In a letter to the president of the Security Council, Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon demanded that “this time, the international community must not turn a blind eye toward such cynical exploitation” of civilian infrastructure in Gaza by Hamas.

UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov posted the following message on Twitter on Saturday: “Despicable to risk the lives of children! Hamas must end illicit arms buildup and militant activity in Gaza.”

UNRWA’s announcement of the discovery of the tunnels came a day after US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley visited an UNRWA school in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem.

Danon, in his letter – which was also sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – wrote that “this latest finding verifies once again that Hamas’s cruelty knows no limits, including endangering centers of learning and education, and using children as human shields. This latest abuse is not only a flagrant misuse of UN premises and civilian infrastructure, but more important, is a direct threat to the safety and security of children.”

Danon wrote that “despite the repeated efforts of my delegation, our reports of Hamas’s military buildup and use of children in military campaigns have fallen on deaf ears,” and criticized the UN’s failure to adequately deal with repeated reports of Hamas’s exploitation of UN facilities in Gaza.

“It is of the utmost importance that the council ensures that all UN-affiliated agencies, and especially UNRWA, remain neutral and safeguarded from abuse by terrorist organizations,” read the letter.

Danon wrote that the discovery of this tunnel was not an “isolated incident, but rather the latest of deeply concerning attempts by Hamas terrorists to systematically exploit the organs of the UN.” These efforts, he said, are “severely damaging” humanitarian efforts in Gaza.

According to a report that appeared in al-Monitor, Hamas denied it built the tunnel under the UN schools, and “strongly condemned” the UNRWA statement.

Hamas, according to the report, “clarified the issue with all factions and resistance forces, who clearly stated they had no actions related to the resistance in the said location.”

UNRWA has been the subject of considerable pressure in recent months. In February, allegations emerged that an UNRWA employee had been elected to the Hamas political leadership. The individual in question was suspended by the organization and subsequently resigned.

And earlier this month, the UNRWA apologized after it was revealed that it had used a photo of a Palestinian child living in Syria for its fund-raising campaign in Gaza. The photo was later removed. (the Jerusalem Post)

Liberman: We are ‘closer than ever’ to deal with Palestinians

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday that Israel was “closer than ever” to an agreement with the Palestinians and that the opportunity for full relations with Arab states would sway the Netanyahu government to accept a deal.

“We are far closer to an agreement than ever before,” Liberman told Channel 2 on Thursday. “I hope we will be able to realize this option.”

Liberman did not offer any details about the agreement on the table, referring to it only as an “arrangement,” but indicated US President Donald Trump’s administration had played a role in cobbling the pact together and that it would include other regional players.

When asked how the deal would come together, Liberman responded: “Because Trump has arrived on the scene and because, as I keep saying, the Arab countries have internalized that their problem is not Israel. Israel can be a solution to the problem.”

“If someone comes and puts a deal on the table that includes an agreement with all the moderate Arab states, including the opening of embassies, trade relations and direct flights, I believe that it will get an overwhelming majority in the Knesset and among the people,” he told Channel 2.

Asked what such a scenario depends upon, he said he would “leave that for the next interview,” and refused to further elaborate.

Liberman, who is scheduled to be interviewed next week at a Times of Israel Presents event, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was committed to working toward an elusive agreement.

“If you’re asking me whether Netanyahu is making every effort,” he added, “yes, he is. I can testify that he is making a great many efforts.”

Trump has been pushing Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks and has indicated that he would like help both sides reach “the ultimate deal.”

As Trump wrapped up his visit to Israel last month, a senior White House official said the US would now work on building strong relationships in the Middle East between Israel and its Arab neighbors that would create momentum for a peace deal.

Liberman has long said he does not believe such a deal would be achievable in the foreseeable future.

Israel has reportedly been suing for a regional deal that would not necessarily involve a final status agreement with the Palestinians, a position apparently supported by the White House.

However, Gulf Arab state and Palestinians say they continue to support the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which sets a peace deal with the Palestinians as a precondition for the opening of ties between Israel as the wider Arab world. (the Times of Israel)

Liberman: Settlement building at highest level since 1992

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman boasted Sunday that West Bank settlement building numbers were the highest they have been since in over 20 years, and warned that clamoring for more construction could bring the whole enterprise tumbling down.

Responding to criticism from settler leaders over what they believe to be an insufficient amount of construction in the West Bank, Liberman warned that the rate of building was as high as it could possibly go.

“Anyone who claims that it was possible to approve more construction in the settlements is not just trying to stretch the rope but to tear it completely, thereby endangering the entire settlement enterprise,” the defense minister said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

“There was and will not be a government that will take better care of the Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria,” Liberman added, using the biblical term for the West Bank. He said settlement building numbers for the first half of 2017 were the highest they have been since 1992.

Liberman, who is required to authorize each approval by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee, said 3,651 housing units were greenlighted last week and a total of 8,345 units have been okayed since the beginning of the calendar year, terming the figures “the maximum.”

The figures were similar to those published by settlement watchdog Peace Now last week.

Counting plans and tenders, Peace Now said 7,721 units had been advanced this year, almost triple the number for all of 2016, which amounted to 2,699.

Peace Now could not immediately say whether it agreed that this year’s figures were the highest since 1992, which is before settlement construction slowed as a result of the Oslo accords.

Last week, settler leaders blasted as unsatisfactory the number of construction projects advanced by the subcommittee.

The uproar led to a meeting on Thursday between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the heads of various West Bank regional councils to discuss ways to further advance settlement building.

While the settler leaders left the meeting speaking of a positive atmosphere, they were unable to name any concrete gains.

Samaria Regional Council Head Yossi Dagan dismissed Liberman’s numbers on Sunday, saying they had been mistallied. “I have great respect for the defense minister, but his numbers are unfortunately incorrect,” he said.

Dagan claimed that in order for Liberman to arrive at his figure of 8,345, the defense minister double-counted many of the housing units. “The actual number is less than 2,000, in comparison to the 20,000 units that the cabinet approved for Arab residents living in Area C of Judea and Samaria,” he said, the part of the West Bank that is under Israeli administrative and military control. He accused the government of having a de facto settlement freeze.

Among the plans advanced by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee last week were 102 housing units for the new settlement of Amichai built for evacuees of the illegal Amona outpost.

An Israeli government-sanctioned settlement would be the first official new settlement in a quarter of a century.

Also approved by the subcommittee were 839 and 603 housing units for the Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim settlements respectively.

In addition, the Defense Ministry body approved 255 housing units in the Kerem Re’im outpost near the settlement of Talmon, west of Ramallah, retroactively legalizing an illegal outpost.

“The Defense Ministry approved the planning of Kerem Re’im as a ‘neighborhood’ of Talmon when the two are considerably far away from one another,” Lior Amichai of the Peace Now settlement watchdog pointed out. “This goes against the government’s agreement not to build outside of existing neighborhoods.”  (the Times of Israel)

PM Netanyahu: Get out of the houses, get out of the buildings in case of earthquake

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke at Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting about the IDF’s earthquake preparedness drill and the State budget.

“As part of our efforts and actions to improve home front emergency preparedness, we are beginning today a national earthquake exercise, called ‘Earthquake 2017,'” Netanyahu said. “So first of all, I hope there will not be an earthquake in 2017.”

“There are enough earthquakes around us in all senses of the word, but we live adjacent to the Syrian-African rift, and an earthquake can hit at any moment. They already have and they undoubtedly will.

“The more prepared we are, the better we will be able to deal with such an incident and thus reduce harm to life and property. I ask the public to follow the exercise instructions.

“If I had to summarize the approach in the case of an earthquake, in contrast to other scenarios that threaten the home front, the basic rule is: Get out of the houses, get out of the buildings. The safest place is open space.

“Today the Cabinet will hold its biannual discussion on progress in controlling the state budget in the coming years. We have determined a rule, the ‘numerator’ rule. I thank the Finance Minister and other ministries, but you Mr. Finance Minister, that we have been partners on this important issue.

“What is the numerator rule? It says that there are no blank checks, and this is a well-known rule, but we have known this rule for two years. We set a budget and we are committed to working within the budget.

“We set a bi-annual budget, but the government is constantly making budgetary decisions for years, for more than two years, and thus we determine budgetary commitments that are very hard for us to meet afterwards.

“The numerator rule says that we also include long-range commitments in the budgetary framework. This is a radical change in how the government works; not many countries have it, and this places Israel among the handful of the world’s leading countries in terms of fiscal and budgetary management.

“I think that this discussion expresses the fact that the Israeli economy is not only free, vibrant and productive, it is also administered well, and this is very important. And again, I very much appreciate your cooperation Mr. Finance Minister and that of your ministry, and our joint work in order to broadcast this responsibility to the world. This is effective; we see the results.”  (Arutz Sheva)

‘An IDF soldier wanted to buy a Torah book’

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid on Sunday morning posted on his Facebook page about the Friday attack on an IDF soldier in Jerusalem’s haredi neighborhood of Mea Shearim.

“Former MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) has a son, Shlomo,” Lapid wrote. “He’s a great kid, he’s an IDF soldier, and he’s a normal haredi just like his dad.”

Lipman served as a Yesh Atid MK in Israel’s 19th Knesset.

His son Shlomo, on his way home from base for a Shabbat off, decided to stop and buy a book for Shabbat.

The only place this book can be purchased is in Mea Shearim.

Shlomo arrived at the store and began looking through the shelves, as he had done so many times previously. However, this time, he was in uniform.

Only a few minutes had passed before dozens of bullies arrived, closed off the entrance to the store, and began screaming, “Haredi trator! Dirty soldier! Get out of here!”

Some of them entered the store.

Meanwhile a store worker said, “Come with me,” and ran with Shlomo down the steps and out the store’s back entrance to a different street.

The bullies realized their target had disappeared, and began running in all directions, throwing stones. People came out onto their porches, screaming and cursing at Shlomo.

There were a lot of children and several women.

“Come with me,” one Toldot Aharon hasid told Shlomo, leading him through the alleyways. A few other haredim came up to the pair and told Shlomo “not to worry.” One of them hugged him.

A United Hatzalah ambucycle soon arrived and began accompanying them.

Meanwhile, the bullies and children continued to chase Shlomo and his escorts. Soon Israel Police arrived together with an ambulance, in which Shlomo was escorted from the neighborhood. (Arutz Sheva)

Arab countries are turning on Qatar. What does it mean for Israel?

By Ron Kampeas               JTA

Arab countries are turning on Qatar. What does it mean for Israel?

Five Arab nations cut ties with Qatar on Monday, escalating a long-simmering competition for pre-eminence in the region into actions that could set the stage for war.

Saudi Arabia, which is leading the charge, has cut off Qatar’s only land crossing – and what one Saudi-friendly estimate says is as much as 40 percent of the tiny emirate’s food supply. The other four nations cutting all ties with Qatar are Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Yemen.

Meanwhile, Iran is pledging humanitarian support for Qatar. Given Iran’s propensity for meddling and its relative military strength, any robust Iranian assistance to the emirate could further unsettle the region.

The tensions come as President Donald Trump hopes to align U.S. allies in the region – including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel – in a united front to contain Iran and crush Islamist terrorists.

What’s fueling the crisis and what does it mean for Israel?

It’s about Iran

Containing Iran’s influence is the number one priority for Saudi Arabia. The oil producing behemoth has watched with alarm as Iran has exploited regional unrest to expand its influence in nations where the Saudis once had considerable sway — including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. The Saudis, like Israel, also believe that Iran has ambitions to become a nuclear weapons power.

Qatar houses the largest U.S. airbase in the region and has contributed to efforts to roll back Iranian ambitions in Syria. But it is also a small nation that has for years sought to appease the looming giants surrounding it — the Saudis to the south and west, the Iranians across the Persian Gulf. Qatar shares a gas field with Iran, signed a security agreement with the country and was almost alone among Gulf states in welcoming the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Saudi Arabia and Israel revile.

“Qatar is a small country that survives by balancing its friends against its enemies and not making clear who are the friends and who are the enemies,” said Simon Henderson, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

It’s about the Muslim Brotherhood

Qatar’s ruling Al-Thani clan has been supportive of some of the Islamist movements that have long roiled the region. It was especially galling to Qatar’s neighbors that precisely in the period following the Sept. 11 attacks, when governments in the region were seeking to suppress the extremist Islamist tendencies that underpinned the terrorists’ ideologies, Qatar continued to help nurture Islamist movements. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi especially resents Qatar for its backing of the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood presidency of Mohamed Morsi, whom al-Sisi ousted in 2013.

For years, the emirate has offered safe haven to the leadership of Hamas, the Brotherhood affiliate that runs the Gaza Strip. And in 2014, it joined with Turkey in attempting to broker an end to Hamas’ war with Israel that would have been friendlier to Hamas than Israel wanted. Egypt intervened and helped Israel impose an end to the war that was more to Israel’s liking, and that kept Hamas isolated.

It’s about Al-Jazeera

Qatar houses and underwrites Al-Jazeera, the muckracking, at times pro-Islamist and generally provocative satellite television channel that has proven an irritant to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the other regimes. Depending on who is talking, Qatar’s critics hate the light the network casts on their oppression, or are sick and tired of what they see as its agenda-driven “fake news.”

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a UAE-based columnist for Newsweek, says that the nations effectively blockading Qatar want nothing less than for the channel to be shut down.

It’s personal

The father of Qatari leader Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, who relinquished power to his son in 2013, seized the country from his own father in 1995 in a coup, prompting Saudi Arabia to attempt at least one counter-coup to reinstall the father. In recent weeks there have been ugly tit-for-tat exchanges between partisans of the Qataris and the Saudis over which clan was more compromised in the distant past by dalliances with British colonials and (horrors!) their women.

Also seen by Qatar’s neighbors as bad form, according to the Financial Times: $1 billion paid by Qatar to Iranian officials and an al-Qaeda affiliate to free 26 members of the ruling clan who had been on a falconry expedition in Iraq. (No word on the status of the birds.)

It’s Trump

Trump’s message last month when he visited Saudi Arabia and addressed regional leaders was twofold: Let’s unite to crush terrorism and contain Iran and what you do on your own time is not our business. It looks like the Saudis were listening.

The Qatari crisis isn’t the first time Trump’s winks and nods precipitated trouble. Just days after top Trump officials said last month they would be okay with the Assad regime in Syria outlasting the civil war – another break with years of U.S. policy – the Syrian regime allegedly launched its worse gas attack on civilians since 2013.

Trump himself has also made contradictory noises about Qatar. In a meeting with Al-Thani in Saudi Arabia last month, Trump referred to Qatar’s purchase of “beautiful military equipment” from the United States. But in a tweet early Monday after news of the Saudi squeeze broke, Trump wrote: “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!”

It’s good for Israel

Five Arab nations just pulled off what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has for years wished the West would do: Exact a painful price on a nation for flirting with Hamas and Iran.

It’s bad for Israel

Qatar was the only Persian Gulf nation that, from 1996 to 2000, allowed Israel to run a semi-diplomatic mission – a business interests section – on its soil. Its consistent posture on the boycotts that so aggravate Israel is that they are counterproductive. It has hosted Israel at its tennis tournaments and said that, should it win a spot, Israel would be welcome when it hosts the World Cup in 2022. The late Shimon Peres, when he was deputy prime minister, in 2007, made a high-profile visit to Qatar.

Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the Israelis have “not been happy with the presence of Hamas in the capital of a major U.S. ally.” On the other hand, he said Israel has been working with Qatar since 2014 to keep the Gaza Strip from collapsing into chaos.

And while Israel’s outward posture toward Iran has been one of confrontation, it is not unappreciative of efforts by Qatar to moderate the Iranian regime, if only because that could mitigate the dangers of a regional arms race, said Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“From Israel’s viewpoint, you have to decide if you want a constant arms race or you want the kind of pressure on Iran that will moderate it,” he said.

What should Israel do?

Stay out, stay quiet. There’s no upside to buying in, said Cordesman.

“The best position is to hope that if Israel stays out of this, what you will get is a compromise that will, on one hand, put more pressure on Qatar in terms of Islamic extremism, particularly the financing of extremists, but it will not freeze the situation with Iran as a whole,” he said.

Six days that helped put Palestinians on the map

by Michael Oren                  The Australian


Fifty years ago yesterday, at midnight, a battle-blackened Israeli soldier stood on Mount Hermon looking out across an unrecognisably altered Middle East. Around him, the Golan Heights, once a Syrian redoubt, was entirely in ­Israeli hands, as was the formerly Jordanian West Bank further south. From Egypt, the entire Sinai Peninsula had been seized along with the Gaza Strip. Other Israeli soldiers were swimming in the Suez Canal and, for the first time in millennia, raising the Star of David over a united Jerusalem. Most astonishingly, these transformations took place over a mere six days.

But few wars in history have proved as contentious. University students and faculty members still lock horns on the question of Israel’s right to Judea and Samaria — the West Bank’s biblical names — and the Palestinians’ demand for statehood in those areas.

The US policymakers, meanwhile, devote countless hours to resolving the war’s consequences diplomatically. Obsessively, it seems, the media focuses on the realities created by those few days.

And never have the disputes surrounding the Six-Day War been more bitter. There are those who insist that the Arabs never seriously threatened Israel, which initiated the fighting to expand territorially. The war resulted in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the building of Israeli settlements. Rather than a victory, the war transformed Israel into colonial, apartheid state.

The other interpretation maintains that Israel had no choice but to fight and that this defensive war provided the state with secure borders, vital alliances, peace treaties, and a renewed sense of purpose.

Israel in 1967 had 2.7 million residents, many of them Holocaust survivors and refugees from Arab lands. At its narrowest, the state was nine miles (14.5km) wide with Arab armies on all its borders and its back to the sea. Its cities were within enemy artillery range — Syrian guns regularly shelled the villages of Galilee — and PLO terrorists and Yasser Arafat’s al-Fatah nightly struck civilian targets. Jerusalem was divided and Jews prohibited from visiting their holiest places. Economically, the country was in crisis and internationally it was alone. China, India, Soviet Russia and its dozen satellite nations were all hostile. The US, though friendly, was not allied militarily with Israel. Most of its arms came from France which, just days before the war, switched sides.

The Arabs, by contrast, were jubilant. With the Soviets lavishly arming Egypt, Iraq, and Syria they enjoyed vast superiority over the Israel Defence Forces. Under the leadership of Egypt’s charismatic president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Arabs rallied around a sense of national — as opposed to religious — identity, the centrepiece of which was rejection of ­Israel. The humiliating failure to prevent Israel’s emergence 19 years earlier and the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem sent millions of Arabs clamouring for war.

Though Nasser almost certainly did not want bloodshed, he saw an opportunity to bolster his power, expel UN peacekeeping forces from Sinai, and parade his army back into the peninsula. Next, he closed the Straits of Tiran, cutting off Israel’s Red Sea route to Asia. These moves further incited Arab opinion to the point where Nasser’s Syrian rivals signed a mutual defence pact with him and even his arch enemy, Jordan’s King Hussein, placed his army under Egyptian command. PLO chairman Ahmad Shukeiri predicted Israel’s “complete destruction” and Cairo Radio welcomed “Israel’s death and annihilation”.

The government distributed gas masks and dug some 10,000 graves but assumed they would not suffice. The army called up reserves, paralysing the economy. “The people of Israel are ready to wage a just war,” general Ariel Sharon berated prime minster Levi Eshkol. “The question is …. the existence of Israel.” Israelis waited, hoping for help from overseas. None came. Through back channels, Israeli leaders secretly urged Arab rulers not to begin a war nobody wanted. Their appeals went unanswered.

The decision was made to pre-emptively strike. Even then, the goals were limited: neutralise Egypt’s air force and the first of three offensive lines in Sinai. No sooner did Israeli warplanes begin destroying Egyptian jets on the ground, though, then Jordanian troops advanced toward West (Jewish) Jerusalem and their artillery pounded the city as well as the outskirts of Tel Aviv. The Syrians rained thousands of shells on to the Galilee. In response, Israeli forces entered the West Bank and mounted the Golan Heights. Still, at every stage in the fighting, Israeli leaders hesitated. On the morning of June 7, as IDF paratroopers prepared to enter Jerusalem’s Old City, Eshkol wrote to King Hussein offering to forgo ­liberating the Western Wall if ­Jordan agreed to peace talks. There answer was silence.

A month after the war, Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem but it also offered to return almost all of land captured from Syria and Egypt in exchange for peace. The Arabs responded: no negotiations, no recognition, no peace. That November, the UN passed Resolution 242, affirming the right of all Middle Eastern states to “secure and recognised borders” and establishing the principle of “territory-for-peace”. That concept served as the basis for Israel’s 1979 peace agreement with Egypt which, in turn, enabled the Israel-Jordan treaty of 1994. The peace process, as it came to be known, is a product of the Six-Day War. The war also wakened the White House to the existence of a democratic, pro-American, Middle Eastern powerhouse that just defeated several Soviet-backed armies. Thanks to the Six-Day War, the Syrian civil war is raging far from the old border, a mere 10m from the Sea of Galilee. Though unthinkable a half-century ago, the Sunni Arab states now view Israel not as an enemy but as an ally in the struggle against the Islamic State and Iran.

But what about settlements and the damage they inflict on ­Israel’s image? There can be no gainsaying the erosion of Israel’s standing resulting from the lack of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The settlement policy ­frequently draws fire. But the ­Palestinians have been offered a state, in 2000 and 2008, and turned it down, and all of the ­settlements account for only 2 per cent of the West Bank. As paradoxical as it might sound, and without diminishing their trauma, the Palestinians were fundamentally transformed by the Six-Day War.

Before the war, with Jordan in possession of the West Bank and Egypt occupying Gaza, nobody spoke about a Palestinian state. For the first time since 1948, the three major centres of Palestinian population — in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel — were together under a single governance (Israel’s). It reinforced the Palestinians’ identity, rooted in the realisation that they could no longer look to any Arab leader to fight for their cause. Shortly after 1967, the PLO merged with al-Fatah under ­Arafat and launched high-profile terrorist attacks. Seven years later, that same Arafat received a standing ovation in the UN General ­Assembly. The Six-Day War put the Palestinian issue on the international political map.

Michael Oren, author of “Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East,” is a member of the Knesset and deputy minister for diplomacy in the prime minister’s office.

Palestinians: Crocodile Tears and Terrorism

by Bassam Tawil             The Gatestone Institute


This apparent repudiation of terrorism is a startling development for Abbas. The only catch is that when it comes to Israel, Abbas takes quite the opposite line.

For the past two years, Palestinians have been waging a new type of “intifada” against Israel — one that consists of knife and car-ramming attacks, similar to the ones carried out in Britain, France and Germany. This wave of attacks, which began in September 2015, has claimed the lives of 49 people and injured more than 700. Since then, Palestinians have carried out more than 177 stabbings, 144 shootings and 58 vehicular attacks.

Adding to the hypocrisy, Abbas and his PA leadership often point an accusing finger at Israel for killing the terrorists. Instead of condemning the perpetrators, Abbas and the Palestinians regularly accuse Israel of carrying out “extra-judicial killings” of the terrorists. In other words, Palestinian leaders save their condemnation for Israeli soldiers and policemen for defending themselves and firing at those who come to stab them with knives and axes or try to run them over with their cars. How would the British or French governments react if someone condemned them for killing the terrorists on the streets of Paris and London?

Who says that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas does not condemn terror attacks against civilians?

As it turns out, he and his Palestinian Authority (PA) do indeed condemn terrorism — when it is directed against anyone but an Israeli. Israeli blood, it seems, is different.

Abbas led the international outcry after the June 3 London Bridge terror attack that left seven people dead and 48 injured.

A brief statement issued by Abbas’s office read:

“The President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, on Sunday condemned the terror attack in the British capital of London. His Excellency (Abbas) offered his deep condolences to Britain – its queen, government and people, and to the families of the victims of the terror assault. He affirmed his permanent rejection of all forms of terrorism.”

This statement is in line with others Abbas has made recently. Just two weeks ago, Abbas, during a joint press conference with visiting U.S. President Donald Trump in Bethlehem, condemned the May 23 terror attack in the British city of Manchester, the deadliest attack in the United Kingdom since July 7, 2005, in which 23 people were killed and 119 were injured, 23 critically.

Abbas described the terror attack as a “heinous crime” and said that the Palestinians were prepared to work with the U.S. as “partners in the war on terrorism in our region and the world.”

Two days later, Abbas was among the first leaders to condemn a terror attack that killed 28 Coptic Christians in central Egypt. Once again, Abbas said that he and the Palestinians stood with Egypt and its president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in the war against terrorism.

This verbal charade has been going on for some time.

Last April, Abbas was quick to condemn the terrorist attack that took place on the Saint Petersburg Metro, in Russia, in which 15 people were killed and 45 injured. Abbas, in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that he and the Palestinians support Russia in its war against terrorism.

Abbas also ran to condemn the wave of terrorist attacks that has hit Belgium, France and Germany in the past two years. This apparent repudiation of terrorism is a startling development for Abbas. The only catch is that when it comes to Israel, Abbas takes quite the opposite line.

For the past two years, Palestinians have been waging a new type of “intifada” against Israel — one that consists of knife and car-ramming attacks, similar to the ones carried out in Britain, France and Germany. This wave of attacks, which began in September 2015, has claimed the lives of 49 people and injured more than 700. Since then, Palestinians have carried out more than 177 stabbings, 144 shootings and 58 vehicular attacks.

This wave of terrorism is the direct result of incitement by various Palestinian groups and leaders, including Abbas himself.

Days before the violence erupted, Abbas stated:

“Every drop of blood that has been spilled in Jerusalem is holy blood as long as it is for Allah. Every martyr (Shahid) will reach paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded, Allah willing. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is ours, and they [Jews] have no right to defile it with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to [defile it], and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem.”

A few days later, Palestinians heeded Abbas’s call by launching the newest wave of terrorist attacks against Israelis. These deadly attacks continue until this day. Abbas’s remarks served as a catalyst for the new “intifada”, one that is precisely parallel to the attacks we are witnessing on the streets of Paris, London and Berlin.

Yet Abbas, the world’s newest renouncer of terror, has chosen to refrain from rescinding his explicit call for Palestinians to butcher Jews in order to prevent them from “defiling” the Aqsa Mosque. Needless to say, Jews have neither desecrated nor caused any harm to the mosque. All they have been doing, as is permitted, is visiting the outdoor Temple Mount compound as tourists. Never have any of these Jews set foot inside the Aqsa Mosque.

But Abbas and the Palestinians have been exploiting Jewish visits to the Temple Mount to incite against Israel, thus triggering the current wave of stabbings and vehicular attacks.

Not only has Abbas failed to withdraw his deadly appeal to Palestinians to engage in terrorism, he has also refused to condemn the attacks that have claimed the lives of scores of Israelis and wounded hundreds of others.

So, here is the take-home: Abbas is against terrorist attacks anywhere in the world. Except in Israel, perpetrated by his own people and prompted by him.

Adding to the hypocrisy, Abbas and his PA leadership often point an accusing finger at Israel for killing the terrorists who are carrying out attacks. Instead of condemning the perpetrators, Abbas and the Palestinians regularly accuse Israel of carrying out “extra-judicial killings” of the terrorists. In other words, Palestinian leaders save their condemnation for Israeli soldiers and policemen, for defending themselves and firing at those who come to stab them with knives and axes or try to run them over with their cars.

How would the British or French governments react if someone condemned them for killing the terrorists on the streets of Paris and London?

Has anyone in the West noticed Abbas’s double standards in dealing with terrorism against civilians?

But Abbas not only stays silent when his own people mow down Israelis: he names streets and squares after such “heroes.” Moreover, he rewards them and their families financially, with the help of American and European taxpayer money.

Perhaps it is time for Westerners to realize that there is no difference between a terrorist who sets out to kill Jews and a terrorist who kills British, French and German nationals. In fact, it has become clear that the terrorists in Europe have copied the tactics of the Palestinians in carrying out stabbings and vehicular and suicide-bombing attacks.

Abbas’s crocodile tears are intended to disguise tears of joy that terrorism is alive and well — certainly when it comes to the Israeli blood that his own people spill in the name of Allah

The Arab World Has Never Recovered From the Loss of 1967 – Hisham Milhelm (Foreign Policy

Fifty years after Arab intellectuals started to mercilessly deconstruct their ossified political orders, reactionary and primitive religious structures, and stagnant societies, the Arab world has descended further into darkness. Physical, intellectual, and political desolation has claimed many of the once lively metropolises of the Arab region – Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad, Mosul, Cairo, and Alexandria.

In 1967, as a young man, I witnessed the surprising outburst of enthusiasm that arose in the wake of the collective Arab disbelief and humiliation following the swift, crushing defeat of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan at the hands of Israel in six days. The war marked the death knell for the idea of Arab nationalism embodied by Egypt’s then-president, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Today, Cairo has ceased to be the cultural mecca of the Arabs, with none of its universities, research centers, laboratories, publications, studios, or galleries producing meaningful science, knowledge, or art. Beirut, the imperfect liberal oasis of my youth, is meanwhile being suffocated by an ossified, corrupt, and feudal political system and by a predatory, cunning, and ruthless paramilitary force: Hizbullah.

In 1979, the Middle East was shaken to its core by three major political earthquakes: the Islamic revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the violent takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

But after decades of atrocious governance, rapacious authoritarianism, predatory economic monopolies, and the hollowing out of civil society, the rickety scaffolding of those new nation-states, built over ancient civilizations like Iraq and Syria, began to fray and disintegrate.

In the June 1967 war, three Arab states were defeated and lost territories to Israel, but their very existence was not in jeopardy. Today, the multiple wars raging in Syria and Iraq, as well as those in Libya and Yemen, are more dangerous, as they grind at the weak foundations of the states. The unraveling of Syria may well drag into its maelstrom the fractured country of Lebanon or even Jordan.

Despite what U.S. President Donald Trump might wish, there is no incentive for Israel to strike a historic bargain with the Palestinians now or in the near future, since the balance of power is not likely to change. The Palestinians, in turn, have grown dependent on the kindness of strangers from Europe and the United States. The Palestinian leadership exists in stagnation, after wasting many opportunities to pursue a comprehensive and protracted strategy of creative peaceful resistance to occupation that could draw the necessary support from Israelis.