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Latest Israel News – 18th September

Russian agree to keep Iranians only 3 miles from Israel border

In the past month or two, the defense establishment has identified unprecedented Iranian activity north of the border. In light of this, perhaps last week’s reports by foreign media outlets that Israel attacked a weapons facility in Syria on Sept. 7 seem more understandable.

Aside from the aforementioned alleged airstrike, the IDF carries out hundreds of operations year-round within the framework of its so-called “war between the wars.” Only a small portion of the IDF’s activities come to light in the foreign media, but these operations include special intelligence gathering, land-based missions and a variety of other measures aimed at staving off the next war.

In recent weeks, we have also heard Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman issue harsh statements about Iran’s encroachment into Syria, along with reports that the Islamic republic is trying to build precision-missile factories in Lebanon and Syria. According to foreign reports, the target of last week’s airstrike was one of these factories.

Thus far, terrorist organizations have been unable to acquire precision strike capabilities. The IDF, meanwhile, views Hezbollah’s aspirations in this regard as a “severe strategic threat,” because such missiles can accurately hit strategic installations in Israel, such as air force bases, the chief of staff headquarters and other sensitive sites. It is important to note that despite Israel’s air-defense systems – Iron Dome, David’s Sling – it is impossible to intercept every enemy missile.

Talking with the Russians

Israeli officials are perhaps discontented with Russia’s handling of Iran in the region, but Israel and Russia have been wise enough to build a successful mechanism to prevent friction between their respective militaries in the Syrian arena. To maintain this mechanism, senior IDF officers meet every few weeks with their Russian counterparts.

Israel wants Russia to prevent hostile elements, such as Iran and Hezbollah, from establishing a presence along Israel’s border. In its efforts to keep Iran away from the Golan Heights border, Israel has asked Russia to forbid Iran and its proxies from crossing the Sweida-Damascus line, but the Russians have agreed to allow the Iranians within 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) of the border with Israel. The distance between Damascus and the Israeli border, incidentally, is about 40 kilometers (25 miles).

Israeli officials recently expressed considerable concern that the Iranians ultimately want to be “on Israel’s fences” and will gradually try to move closer to the border. (Israel Hayom)

‘Netanyahu to present Trump with specific plan to nix or fix Iran nuke deal’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to present US President Donald Trump in their meeting Monday on the sidelines of the 72nd annual session of the United Nations General Assembly with a proposal for rolling back the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran signed by the Obama administration and other P5+1 powers.

According to a Channel 2 report Saturday, Netanyahu is preparing a specific formula for either scrapping the historic deal or amending it. His proposal will detail how “to cancel or at the very least introduce significant changes” to the accord, the report said.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu said Israel wanted to see the two-year-old deal — which offered Iran relief from punishing sanctions in exchange for having it roll back its nuclear program — either amended or canceled altogether.

“Our position is straightforward. This is a bad deal. Either fix it — or cancel it. This is Israel’s position,” said Netanyahu in Buenos Aires on Tuesday during a trip to Latin America.

Netanyahu rejected recent reports claiming that Israel and Saudi Arabia were no longer interested in scrapping the landmark deal. Reuters reported Tuesday that US officials familiar with discussions about the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), said Israel and Saudi Arabia would rather the pact remain intact.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Trump on Monday in New York, a day before the Israeli leader is to give his annual address before the General Assembly. Netanyahu indicated on Friday that his speech will focus on the stance that Israel would not tolerate an Iranian presence on its northern border with Syria, now in its seventh year of a brutal civil war.

Trump is expected to give his first speech before the UN body on the same day.

The Netanyahu-Trump meeting will be held amid growing speculation that the US president will declare Iran not to be in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Trump is due to decide before October 15 whether Iran has breached the agreement, and critics fear he may abandon the accord altogether.

A US pullout would effectively bring the agreement to an end.

The meeting will be the two leaders’ fourth together since Trump assumed office. The two met once in February when the Israeli premier visited the White House, and twice in May when the American president traveled to the region, which included a two-day stop in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Washington on Thursday waived nuclear-related sanctions on Iran but slapped new ones on 11 companies and individuals accused of engaging in cyber attacks against US banks.

During the 2016 US presidential campaign, Trump called the nuclear accord “the worst deal ever” and vowed to tear it up upon taking office. Trump has since moderated his tone, although he said last month Iran is “not in compliance with the agreement” and said he did not believe he would again declare Iran to be abiding by the deal come October.

Israel has been a vocal opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, often clashing with the Obama administration in the lead-up to the signing of the controversial accord and its aftermath.  (the Times of Israel)

Egypt proposes new formula for prisoner swap talks

Egypt has proposed a new plan to jumpstart prisoner swap talks between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian daily Al-Quds reported on Thursday, citing anonymous sources.

According to the Egyptian plan, Israel would turn over 39 Palestinian bodies including those of 19 Hamas terrorists, which it took captive during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, to Hamas in return for information on Israeli soldiers’ bodies and civilians believed to be held in Gaza.

Hamas is thought to be holding the bodies of two soldiers – Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul – as well as three Israeli civilians – Hisham al-Sayed, Avera Mengistu and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima.

Following the exchange of bodies and information, Israel would release Palestinian prisoners who were rearrested after being set free as a part of the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hamas in 2011.

Hamas officials have said that Israel is holding 54 such prisoners.

Thereafter, Israel and Hamas would enter into “serious and real” indirect negotiations under the auspices of Egypt to achieve a prisoner swap deal.

Al-Quds reported that Egyptian officials presented the plan to a Hamas delegation that visited Cairo this past week. Egyptian Intelligence chief Khalid Fawzy and Hamas Politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh and a number of other senior Hamas officials met in Cairo on Monday.

The Palestinian daily also reported that Hamas officials refused to comment for its story.

Hamas officials and the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

Israel has previously released prisoners in exchange for information on Israeli captives held by Hamas and other groups. In 2009, Israel released 20 prisoners in return for video footage of Shalit, a soldier who had been taken hostage by Hamas in 2006. (Jerusalem Post)

PM: Public embrace received in Latin America a sign of Israel’s stature

The fact that the presidents of three important countries in Latin America publicly embraced Israel over the last four days is a sign of the Jewish state’s rising stature in the region and the world, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Mexico City on Thursday, wrapping up his visit to Argentina, Colombia and Mexico.

“The leaders themselves are the best seismographs,” Netanyahu told reporters in a briefing after a four-hour meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the Los Pinos presidential residence. “They understand that not only does the public not have a problem with their public embrace of Israel, but it has benefits. There is a lot of sympathy [for Israel],” he said.

Netanyahu, who characterized Israel’s relationship with Mexico as a “great friendship,” said that he was not surprised by the warmth of his reception in Latin America. He said that what did surprise him was the lack of protest and criticism in the media, especially since he was warned beforehand that Israel has a problem in Latin America.

“Maybe in Venezuela,” he quipped, but not in the countries he visited.

Netanyahu was scheduled to leave Mexico for New York on Friday, where he is slated to meet US President Donald Trump on Monday, and address the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

A tweet Netanyahu posted in January that was interpreted as support for Trump’s desire to build a wall with Mexico and infuriated the Mexican government and the Jewish community did not come up when the prime minister and Peña Nieto held a press conference, with one senior Israeli diplomatic saying that the two countries have “turned the page” on the issue.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuand wfie Sara at an event for the Jewish community in Mexico City, September 14, 2017Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuand wfie Sara at an event for the Jewish community in Mexico City, September 14, 2017

It also did not prevent hundreds of members of the 45,000-strong Jewish community from giving Netanyahu a rousing ovation when he spoke Thursday at the local Jewish center.

Following his meeting with Netanyahu, Peña Nieto thanked the Jewish community for their “valuable contributions to the economic, social and cultural development of the country.” He also said that they were an important source of employment for the country.

Not only did Peña Nieto not mention the tweet about the wall during brief remarks he gave after meeting Netanyahu, but – like Argentinian President Mauricio Macri and Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes – he also did not mention the Palestinian issue.

Netanyahu said that the Palestinians would not have come up in his meeting with the Mexican president had he not brought it up himself.

“I raised the Palestinian issue,” he said, explaining that he then gave a brief lecture to Peña Nieto and nearly half his cabinet at the meeting on how neither the conflict with the Palestinians nor the settlements were at the heart of the problems plaguing the Middle East.

During the meeting the two sides agreed to upgrade and modernize the free trade agreement between them which is outdated and does not provide any provisions for new developments such as e-trade.

They also signed agreements governing cooperation between the countries’ two space programs, tourism, aviation, and in the areas of international development.

Peña Nieto asked Israel to become involved in development programs in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, in what is called Central America’s Northern Triangle. Mexico and the US are cooperating in providing development aid there in an effort to stabilize the economy and prevent migration northward.

During his statement alongside Peña Nieto, Netanyahu apologized for this trip being the first time an Israeli prime minister ever visited the country, saying this was “an unpardonable lapse, but we want pardon.”

Netanyahu said that this visit corrected that “historic lapse, because Mexico is a great country. It’s one of the world’s great economies, it’s a great nation, a great people, a great culture. We want to be close, even closer to Mexico, and this is what this meeting signifies.” (Jerusalem Post)

Kiryat Shmona, Sderot to be evacuated in case of military conflict

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman have decided to completely evacuate Kiryat Shmona or Sderot in the case of a military conflict against Hezbollah in the north or Hamas in the south.

According to the evacuation plan, only residents whose job is vital for the continued operations of the city—such as municipality workers, police and rescue forces among others—would remain.

The IDF and the National Emergency Management Authority would evacuate residents to hotels in the Dead Sea area and in central Israel, which will be cleared of guests upon the declaration of a state of emergency.

The Defense Ministry already has agreements in place with some of the hotels, and new hotels will be added to the list to allow taking in the residents from the cities.

So far, only residents of small communities adjacent to the border were evacuated during military conflicts. In a future conflict, these residents would be evacuated to towns in the rear, with each frontline town being taken in by a homefront town.

Town leaders met several months ago to coordinate the evacuation, with the towns set to take in evacuees being equipped with extra beds, blankets and food.

The IDF has just concluded a large-scale training exercise in northern Israel simulating a scenario in which Hezbollah fighters are able to infiltrate the country and invade an Israeli community, taking hostages there and carrying out a large-scale attack.

In addition, both Hezbollah and Hamas are expected to fire barrages of rockets and mortar shells at Israeli communities and towns near the border. Hezbollah, in particular, has developed new short-range “Borkan” rockets that can carry hundreds of kilograms of explosives and penetrate even fortified shelters.  (Ynet News)

IDF can achieve ‘clear, substantial, significant victory’ against Hezbollah

The IDF can achieve a “clear, substantial and significant victory in a short period of time” against Hezbollah should another war break between Israel and the Lebanese terror organization, the IDF’s top command believes.

A large-scale 10-day training exercise concluded this week in northern Israel, simulating an all-out war against Hezbollah. Tens of thousands of soldiers took part in the Northern Command’s largest exercise in 20 years, drilling defensive and offensive capabilities, gathering and using intelligence, and maneuvering forces on several different fronts at the same time. At the same time, the General Staff drilled a variety of scenarios on multiple fronts.

The IDF recognizes Hezbollah has improved its fighting capabilities since the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Over the last three years of its operations in the Syria civil war, Hezbollah has changed from a guerilla organization to a fighting army that uses artillery, relatively high-precision missiles, drones and more.

However, IDF officials claim Israel has opened an immeasurable gap in its capabilities compared to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah currently has a third of its number on Syrian soil. Since it entered the country in aid of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Shiite terror group has lost some 2,000 fighters.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is working to build arms factories to manufacture high-precision missiles of all ranges.

But IDF officials say that while such missiles would constitute a serious strategic threat that must be thwarted in advance, they do not pose an existential threat to Israel.

Hezbollah is also enjoying extensive support from Iran, receiving some $800 million a year from the Islamic republic. Tehran is also sending hundreds of millions of dollars to militia forces in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and $60-70 million a year to the Gaza Strip.  (Ynet News)