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Latest Israel News – 16th March

Israeli MK’s dress up for Purim

Getting in the spirit of Purim, Government ministers and Knesset members dress up and show their humorous side. (Ynet News


Iran sets up underground rocket factories in Lebanon

Iran has established rocket factories in Lebanon that are under the full control of the Hezbollah terror group, a top Iranian general told a Kuwaiti newspaper.

Citing one of the deputy heads of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the al-Jarida newspaper reported Monday that Iran in recent months has established factories for manufacturing both rockets and firearms in Lebanon.

The newspaper did not say which of IRGC chief Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari’s deputies made the assertion.

The report came just days after Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, a former brigadier general in the IRGC, said Hezbollah is now capable of producing rockets that can hit any part of Israel. Dehghan offered no details of the new capabilities.

The new factories, said to be located underground, have reportedly been in operation for the past three months.

Among their staff are advisers from the IRGC, as well as Lebanese experts trained at the Imam Hossein University in Tehran, a key training institution for IRGC personnel. Hundreds have reportedly been trained by the university in rocket manufacturing techniques.

The manufacturing sites are located some 50 meters (160 feet) underground, according to the report, and are protected by multiple layers of defenses from potential Israeli aerial bombardment. No facility produces rockets in their entirety; rather, each site produces separate parts that are then collected and assembled into complete rockets.

The Iranian general was quoted by al-Jarida as saying that the decision to produce rockets indigenously in Lebanon came after Israel bombed weapons factories in Sudan and supply routes for Iranian rockets via Syria.

The new factories would mark a dramatic upgrade in Hezbollah’s ability to acquire more, and more precise, rockets than ever before.

Rockets produced by the new facilities have already been used by Hezbollah in battles in Syria, the report said.

The development highlights the depth of Iran’s involvement in Syria and Lebanon. During Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow last week, he reportedly presented Russian leaders with information acquired by Israel, according to which Iran is seeking to establish a naval base on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, likely in the Latakia area.  (the Times of Israel)

Liberman suggests new peace push afoot, calls for population swaps

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman declared on Monday that prominent Arab MKs have no place as Israeli citizens in a statement about the centrality of land and population swaps as a critical part of any accord with the Palestinians.

Liberman has long been an advocate of transferring Arab towns close to the West Bank to any future Palestinian state as a way of reducing the Arab minority in Israel and thereby boosting the demographic advantage of its Jewish majority.

Liberman included in his list MK Basel Ghattas, who is currently facing charges of smuggling cellphones to imprisoned Palestinian terrorists; firebrand MK Haneen Zoabi; Joint List leader MK Ayman Oudeh; and convicted Islamist cleric Raed Salah.

Writing on his Facebook page, Liberman suggested that a new push for peace is on the horizon and warned against repeating what he said were the mistakes of the past.

“At the threshold of a new attempt to start up diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, we must learn the lessons of the past, and the first lesson is: every attempt to solve the Palestinian issue on a land-for-peace basis is destined to fail,” Liberman wrote.

“The only way to a sustainable agreement is through land and population swaps as part of a larger regional peace deal,” he continued.

“It is unthinkable that a homogeneous Palestinian state will be established without a single Jew – 100% Palestinian, and that despite this Israel will be a bi-national state, with 22% Palestinians,” he stated, in reference to the assumption that any peace deal will require Jews living in settlements in Judea and Samaria to leave their homes, in similar fashion to the 2005 Gaza disengagement.

“There will be no reason for Sheikh Raed Salah, Ayman Oudeh, Basel Ghattas or Haneen Zoabi to continue to be Israeli citizens,” he concluded.

Liberman has been a long-term advocate of land transfers from Israel to any putative Palestinian state of territories with large numbers of Arab citizens, especially in the so-called “triangle” region southeast of Haifa and abutting the northwestern region of the West Bank.

The defense minister’s comments were heavily criticized, however, especially by Arab MKs.

Oudeh himself quipped that Liberman has been touted as the more moderate voice in the current government, yet is in favor of legally problematic proposals such as population transfer.

“In the extreme right-wing government of Netanyahu, the one who purports to be the responsible and sane adult is the one who is proposing forcible transfer of a civilian population,” said the Joint List leader.

“The government of settlers knows that the Arab minority will be a decisive part of the campaign to change the government, and they are obsessively engaged in threats to remove our citizenship,” Oudeh said.

“Despite Lieberman’s opposition and wrath and the rest of the madmen of the right wing, the Joint List will continue to grow and become stronger in the next elections until we have a critical mass to topple them from power,” he said.  (Jerusalem Post)

Israel thwarts Hamas moves to spread influence in West Bank

Security agencies have uncovered several Hamas networks run by university students in the West Bank, the Shin Bet announced on Sunday.

Muhammad Aazi, 20, a Hamas operative from village of Jamma’in, 16 km.southwest of Nablus, was arrested along with Noor Aldin Ghaith, 22, from Hebron, for planning shooting attacks against Israeli targets, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said.

During the investigation it was discovered that the two men had planned to shoot at civilian and military vehicles traveling on main roads in the area. Aazi and Ghaith had reconnoitered the road and had planned to scatter nails on it, to cause vehicles to stop so they could attack them.

The weapons bought to carry out the attack were seized during the investigation.

The cell had also built bombs to throw at Israelis, and tested devices. The two were also planning to plant an explosive canister at the entrance to a village and explode it against a military vehicle, the Shin Bet said.

More recently, members of a Hamas cell that carried out extensive terrorism activity in Judea and Samaria were arrested, the agency said.

During the investigation it was discovered that members of the cell, residents of Biddu, 6 km. northeast of Jerusalem, planted bombs, threw Molotov cocktails at soldiers operating in the area, and were involved in the attacks on the town of Har Adar, 15 km. west of the capital, in 2015. An additional investigation found that the cell members had planned to perpetrate more shooting attacks.

In addition, a number of students from Bir Zeit University, north of Ramallah, were detained last month in a joint operation of Shin Bet, IDF and Israel Police, for their role in rallies, recruiting and financial activities for Hamas-affiliated Kutla Islamiyah student union, in a bid to consolidate the terrorist group’s hold on the school’s campus.

Bir Zeit University is known as a Hamas stronghold, and the terrorist organization won its student elections two years in a row.

Since the latest wave of Palestinian violence, numerous attacks by Hamas supporters and members have been thwarted in the Judea and Samaria.

In January, security forces arrested 13 Hamas operatives operating in the West Bank’s Binyamin region who were attempting to establish terrorist infrastructure and undermine the Palestinian Authority.

“The Shin Bet together with the IDF will continue to work with determination to thwart and foil terrorist activities,” the agency said. (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu, Greenblatt meet for five hours on way to move diplomatic process forward

A five hour meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump’s advisor Jason Greenblatt ended Monday evening with a statement pledging commitment to finding a true, sustainable peace agreement and the need to improve living conditions in the Palestinian Authority.

According to a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, the two affirmed the joint commitment of the US and Israel to advancing a “true, sustainable peace between Israel and the Palestinians that will strengthen Israel’s security and stability in the region.”

Greenblatt, who arrived earlier on Monday, is scheduled to meet PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday during his first foray into the thick of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.

According to the statement, Netanyahu said that he believed that under Trump’s leadership it will be possible to promote peace between Israel and all its neighbors, including the Palestinians, and that he anticipates working closely with Trump on this issue.

The statement said that Greenblatt reaffirmed Trump’s commitment to Israel’s security and to helping the two sides reach peace through direct negotiations. The statement said that the two men discussed the issue of settlement construction “in the hope of coming up with a formula that will lead to the goal of peace and security.”

When Netanyahu met with Trump last month in Washington it was decided to set up a mechanism, led by Greenblatt and ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, to develop agreed upon guidelines between the US and Israel about where construction in the settlements will be permitted. Netanyahu’s hope is that if guidelines could be agreed, then an issue that served under the Obama administration as a constant irritant could be removed.

Dermer took part in Monday’s meeting. The PMO statement said that Greenblatt emphasized that Trump was “very interested” in encouraging Palestinian economic growth and improving the living conditions for the Palestinians.

Netanyahu, according to the readout, said he too was completely committed to Palestinian economic prosperity and sees it as a way of improving the prospects of reaching a peace deal.  (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu, Kahlon agree to reduce taxes

As a result of Israel’s productive 2016 – and continuing this year with Monday’s purchase of Mobileye – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon agreed yesterday to advance plans toward reducing taxes.

The ministers declared their intent to further stimulate the country’s economy, as well as to formulate a joint framework to decrease taxes, a spokesman for Kahlon said. Their Monday meeting followed Kahlon’s announcement on Channel 2’s Meet the Press program on Saturday night that a tax cut is coming.

Kahlon also acknowledged that the cost of living is high, and that surplus funds would not remain in the Finance Ministry’s coffers.

“We are about to reduce taxes,” he said on Meet the Press. “We must return money to the weaker population segments; it will be returned to the public.”

In response to Netanyahu and Kahlon’s agreement on Monday, MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) said that if a surplus of billions of shekels does in fact exist, the money should be directed toward rehabilitating the country’s social services.

He particularly called for the government to use the money to implement nursing care reform and to raise disability and elderly care budgets.

“If we once again take the reckless step of reducing VAT by fractions of a percent that will never be felt, the Israeli public will lose big time,” Shmuli said. “Without the restoration of social services, we will not manage to decrease poverty and the tremendous inequality in Israel.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog urged Netanyahu and Kahlon to do more than just lower taxes. Referring to an agreement earlier that day announcing that chip giant Intel would be acquiring Jerusalem’s Mobileye for $15 billion, Herzog called upon the ministers to harness the taxes generated by that forthcoming transaction to launch an emergency public health plan.

“Tax money from this welcome deal can bring full and comprehensive rehabilitation of the collapsing Israeli health system,” Herzog said, citing a need for more hospital beds, subsidized cancer treatments, MRI machine purchases and shortened wait times in emergency rooms.

“The government of Israel must grant Israeli citizens a strong, stable and equitable health system for everyone from every place,” Herzog added.  (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu: Intel’s Acquisition of Mobileye ‘Dramatic’ Proof of Israel Becoming Global Technology Center


A vehicle fitted with Mobileye technology drives on an Israeli road.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Israeli autonomous vehicle technology firm Mobileye on Monday over its $15.3 billion acquisition by Intel — the largest purchase ever involving the Jewish state’s high-tech sector.

“Israeli genius, Israeli pride,” Netanyahu said on Facebook. “This deal proves in a dramatic fashion that our vision is being realized. Israel is becoming a global technology center — not only in cyber, but also in the automotive realm.”

Furthermore, Netanyahu noted, Mobileye CEO Ziv Aviram told him the company would keep its base of operations in Israel.

Last year, Mobileye was ranked sixth on a list of the world’s 50 “smartest” companies published by MIT Technology Review.

“How can automakers compete with companies developing self-driving vehicles, such as Google parent Alphabet?” MIT Technology Review wrote. “One increasingly popular option is to partner with Mobileye, which makes machine vision systems and motion detection algorithms that warn drivers when they are deviating from driving lanes or about to collide with cars in front of them.”  (the Algemeiner)

Girlfriends of fallen soldiers officially recognized by the IDF

Non-married partners of fallen and wounded soldiers are now officially recognized by the IDF, receiving special treatment by its Casualties Department.

In a document detailing the official procedure released by the department, non-married partners will now receive word of the tragedy by a Casualties Officer, will be entitled to personal days off work to mourn, and will receive psychological support to aid them with their loss.

Procedures were changed after partners of fallen soldiers in Operation Protective Edge united in protest against the indifference they experience by the system towards their grief.

The new head of IDF’s Casualties Department, Col. Joslin Bash, is credited for the new procedures. In the document detailing the changes, it is now stipulated that when a soldier’s family is notified of his death, the family must also be asked if the soldier had a partner.

“If they say yes,” the document states, “then the department will immediately assist in bringing the partner to the family’s home.”

The document also says that if the partner serves in the IDF, the message must be delivered by their commanding officer, who will oversee their travel to the family’s home.

Another issue that is now finally settled with the new procedures is that pertaining to days of mourning days.

According to the document, the partner will now be eligible for days off from the time of death until the end of the mourning period (seven days from the time of burial). In addition, bereaved partners will no be required to attend work on Memorial Day.

Ppsychological treatment will also be a new right to which the partners are now entitled. “If partner is interested, their details will be transferred to the newly established non-profit “Organization for Emotional Support of Girlfriends of Fallen IDF Soldiers,” the new points read.

“We do our best to adjust ourselves to the current times,” said an official source in the Manpower Division. “It’s a very complicated issue. During Operation Protective Edge there was a lot of controversy about this subject. There is no change in the girlfriend’s official status, but we decided to make official procedures for them nonetheless.”

“We are their partners, they are the ones closest to us,” said Noam Bar, girlfriend of fallen St.-Sgt. Tal Yifrah who was killed in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.

“If they had done this (referring to the new procedures) for me, it would have been good,” she lamented. “There will unfortunately be others who will follow, and they deserve to be properly notified and not get it by rumor or a phone message.”

Bar is not the only one relieved by these changes in procedures.

Eden Bein received the message about the death of her boyfriend, Sgt. Sean Carmeli, almost by accident. “I was in the middle of an tour for teenagers from the US in Yad Vashem, as part of my duties as a soldier, when I started receiving phone calls from my friends,” she recalled. “It was a bit odd. I didn’t understand why everyone’s calling me. Sean’s mom even called me from Texas.

“After about half an hour, Sean’s best friend called me, crying hysterically. At first I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but then I heard him saying that a message about casualties was released that had Sean’s name in it. To this day, I haven’t seen that message,” said Bein.

Adi Tal-Cohen lost her fiancée, Cpt. Tal Bardugo, in a Gaza terrorist attack in 2004. “I was at the army when I saw the attack on the Television,” she recalled.

“I knew his platoon was there, so I called him but he didn’t pick up. I could just hope for the best. At some point his parents were officially notified by the City Officer, but no one told me. People close to me found out but they didn’t want to tell me, so some even lied. I found out later, on a phone call, when I was all by myself. It was the most terrible way to get the news. I just collapsed in tears,” she confessed.

Tal-Cohen says the new procedures are of the utmost importance. “No girlfriend will forget the moment she gets that message. They way she gets it is important is her rehabilitation as well. We never had any demand but to be notified properly. This is very important to the girlfriends unfortunately to come.”

MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), who led the fight for the bereaved girlfriends since the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge, said on Sunday that “these important amendments clarify the recognition that grief and pain something (from which no one is immune), even if they are not married yet. The next stage is working for equality between wives and fiancées of the fallen, to help, even a little, with something which is feared by all.”

Rina Cohen, Chairwoman of the Organization for Emotional Support of Girlfriends of Fallen IDF Soldiers, welcomed the new orders on Sunday, saying “those girls never demanded money, only to be treated with respect. This is a moral debt we owe to the fallen soldier, which we have to pay.” (Ynet News)

When Trump meets Abbas: Will he deliver Israel?

by  Shmuel Rosner             The Jewish Journal


President Donald Trump invited Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to the White House. A date has not been set yet. In the meantime, Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt is visiting Israel and the Palestinian Authority for talks. The Palestinians seem pleased with these developments. Israeli right-wingers, who for some reason believed a Trump presidency means they get free reign, seem a little worried. Trump has a packed agenda, and has had a chaotic start to his term, and yet he still found time to spend on the Israel-Palestine negotiations. That is not a good sign for those betting on presidential neglect.

Why is Trump doing this? During the campaign he gave an honest answer: it is a challenge that all his predecessors failed at, and it would be nice to show the world his competency by succeeding where others have failed. What is Trump’s plan for success? That is still a mystery. If the president indeed told Abbas what the White House statement says it did – “a peace agreement must be negotiated directly between the two parties, and that the United States will work closely with Palestinian and Israeli leadership to make progress toward that goal. The President noted that the United States cannot impose a solution on the Israelis and Palestinians, nor can one side impose an agreement on the other” – a rocky path awaits him. If direct negotiations resume, they are likely to produce nothing. What then?

Then he will have to make a decision: He could drop the ball and move to solve other world problems (Turkey-Netherland relations seem to have potential). He could set limited goals – instead of a comprehensive peace – and try to achieve these goals by helping Israel and the Palestinians slightly better the current situation. Or he could repeat the mistake of all his predecessors and go for the jugular. Cold calculation would advise against such a move. But Trump doesn’t always follow what other people consider to be cold calculation. Trump follows his gut, his ego, his big dreams.

In the long and nuanced review of the round of talks conducted under the leadership of former Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli negotiator Michael Herzog wrote, among other things, that Kerry appeared at times “more eager” than the two parties to reach a deal. He “pushed them beyond their limits, set unrealistic goals and timeframes, and shouldered some burdens better left alone or to the parties – in the belief that his own powers of personal persuasion could overcome any obstacle.”

What was true for Kerry is also true for Trump. His eagerness is worrisome. His possibly unrealistic goals could prove problematic. His tendency to believe in his own “powers of personal persuasion” might take him down the Kerry path. What happened in the Kerry path is well documented by Herzog. His account of Palestinian expectations is telling:

So why did Abu Mazen shut down? … the main reason lies in his unmet expectations that the U.S. side would deliver him an acceptable deal by pressuring Israel. Abbas entered the process with low expectations of Netanyahu, yet he expected or was led to believe that the U.S. side would produce a well-designed process, including significant Israeli flexibility… He was increasingly disappointed…”

There it is: If Trump wants to get to a yes from the Palestinian side, he’ll have to “deliver” Israel. And what delivering Israel means is no secret. Trump will have to demand Israeli concessions on settlements, security, Jerusalem, and other thorny items. If he does, Israel is going to cave on some issues, but at some point, it will have to resist.

For example: Israel is not going to agree to an arrangement that leaves the Jordan Valley open to infiltration from other countries after only a short period of transition. But that is currently what the Palestinians demand (according to Herzog, Abbas “offered five years as the period after which foreign forces might be deployed indefinitely in the area… Netanyahu thought in terms of decades”). The US can adopt one of four positions on this issue:

It can tell the Palestinians that Israel’s demand is reasonable – and see them “shut down” as they did with Kerry.

It can tell Israel that its demand is unreasonable – and see Netanyahu maneuver against the US position as he did with Kerry.

It can search for a middle ground – as Americans in general, and American businessmen in particular, tend to do – and discover that some things don’t work quite the same in the Middle East.

It can say that the parties have to solve this issue by direct negotiations – and watch them get stuck, one issue after the other, because the differences are just too big to bridge at this point in time.

What will Trump’s choice be? The fact that he spoke to Abbas and invited him to Washington tells us something about his stance – the Israel-Palestine issue is more a priority for him than some of us believed. The reports about Abbas being pleased with the conversation tell us some more – Trump did not let him feel that there is no reason for him to engage with this administration. Greenblatt’s visiting Israel and the PA tells us some more – the administration is not all talk, it is moving to action. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s decision to join Prime Minister Netanyahu in warning against settlement construction tells us some more – what they hear from Washington calls for caution.

All signs show that the games are about to begin. The teams know that they will ultimately have to score. The referee has entered the field, whistle in hand.

But he still needs to tell us the name of the game.

Wildlife at the Dead Sea