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Latest Israel News – 1st December

Israeli hikers attacked in Samaria; Palestinian shot dead

A Jewish hiker shot and killed a Palestinian in a grave incident on Thursday, as the shooter accompanied a group of children on a hike in Samaria marking one of the hikers’ bar mitzvah celebration.

A large number of Palestinians surrounded the group of hikers, approaching them and throwing rocks. Three boys sustained minor injuries in the altercation.

A parent of one of the hikers, who accompanied the group and was carrying a weapon for safety reasons, felt threatened and fired. One of the Palestinian assailants was critically wounded in the incident, and was ultimately declared dead after failed resuscitation efforts.

The children fled to a nearby cave and waited to be rescued by Israeli security forces. When the troops arrived, they administered first aid to the wounded and dispersed the Palestinians. Finally, the hikers were rescued and evacuated.

“The hike was coordinated with the Samaria Brigade in advance,” said one area official. “It was approved by security forces on the terms that two parents accompanied the group and were armed. The moment they were surrounded by Palestinians, they quickly called for help, but before the forces arrived they felt they were in mortal danger and one of the guards had to fire warning shots, followed by fire at the aggressors.”

One of the parents described the incident, saying, “We are parents to children. We were caught off guard in the open area by dozens of Arabs who were hurling rocks and boulders at us. We had to fire into the air in self-defense. During the incident, my gun was snatched by one of the Arabs. Our lives were completely in danger, and the children fled to the cave. We did everything we could to protect ourselves and the children.”  (Israel Hayom)

IAF fighter jets fire on terrorist positions in central Gaza Strip

IDF tanks and aircraft fired towards six positions in the Gaza Strip Thursday after Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fired a barrage of 12 mortar shells towards an army outpost earlier in the afternoon.

The mortar barrage is believed to have been the response by PIJ for the cross-border attack tunnel that was destroyed by the IDF in September killing 14 terrorists.

The group said that the tunnel, which had been detected using newly implemented advanced technology and destroyed in a controlled explosion inside Israeli territory, had been under construction “for years” and had vowed to revenge those who had been killed.

Following the destruction of the tunnel, the IDF upped its alert level along the Gaza border and deployed Iron Dome batteries across the center of the country.

“It is exactly 1 month since the IDF destroyed the tunnel and PIJ carried out their retaliation today,” Manelis added.

According to Manelis, civilian communities were not threatened at any moment and Israel has no intention to escalate the situation or initiate any hostilities on its southern border but any further action would be dependent on what happens in Gaza.

“We know exactly who fired the projectiles, we know their names,” Manelis said, adding that the IDF still holds Hamas responsible for everything that occurs in the Hamas-run enclave.

There were no casualties and only minor damage to equipment following the firing of the projectiles.  The Gaza ministry of health said that three people were lightly wounded by the Israeli strikes.

The IDF carried out two rounds of strikes by dusk, with tanks and aircraft hitting two Hamas posts and two others belonged to Islamic Jihad shortly after the barrage. Two additional strikes against PIJ posts were carried out by the Israeli Air Force shortly afterwards.

Calling the firing of the projectiles a “severe attack,” IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said that the projectiles were aimed at the IDF post and a cement factory on the northeastern edge of the Gaza Strip, where construction crews are working on Israel’s new underground barrier.

According to Manelis, civilian communities were not threatened at any moment and Israel has no intention to escalate the situation or initiate any hostilities on its southern border but any further action would be dependent on what happens in Gaza.

There were no casualties and only minor damage to equipment following the firing of the projectiles.  The Gaza ministry of health said that three people were lightly wounded by the Israeli strikes.

The IDF carried out two rounds of strikes by dusk, with tanks and aircraft hitting two Hamas posts and two others belonged to Islamic Jihad shortly after the barrage. Two additional strikes against PIJ posts were carried out by the Israeli Air Force shortly afterwards.

Calling the firing of the projectiles a “severe attack,” IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said that the projectiles were aimed at the IDF post and a cement factory on the northeastern edge of the Gaza Strip, where construction crews are working on Israel’s new underground barrier.

Islamic Jihad Spokesman Daoud Shehab said Israel is trying to “cause confusion” and “divert attention away from the settlers’ crime in Kusra,” according to Palestine Today, a news site affiliated with the group.

Shehab also said that the Palestinian resistance has “the full right” to retaliate.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and the Head of the Southern Division and Intelligence met and felt that no further restrictions should be imposed on the civilian population of the region.

The mortar fire set off alarms that were heard in the city of Sderot and the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. Train service in the area was temporarily halted but resumed an hour later, Israeli media reported.

Minister of Transportation and Intelligence Israel Katz said Israel would continue to hold a “zero tolerance” policy towards enemy fire from Gaza.

He said the mortar fire from Gaza “proves that [Palestinian Authority] Mahmoud Abbas is nothing more than a fig leaf that covers up a severe reality of armed and threatening terror organizations.” (Jerusalem Post)

White House says Jerusalem embassy move report ‘premature’

The White House urged caution after an Israeli TV report suggested a decision would come as soon as Sunday and that the US president would declare that he recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“This is a premature report. We have nothing to announce,” said press secretary Sarah Sanders.

Trump has so far decided not to fulfill his campaign pledge to shift the embassy from Tel Aviv. But the US president faces a December 4 deadline to publicly restate US policy.

President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, left, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017. (Israel Bardugo/via JTA)

Trump shied away from the move in June in order to “maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians,” the White House said at the time.

The decision would delight many Israelis, but dismay Palestinians and raise concerns among Israel’s Arab neighbors.

Trump’s advisors have been divided about the wisdom of a sharp shift away from decades-old policy.

The Hadashot news report suggested the Israeli government considers it extremely likely that Trump will declare in the next few days that he recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that he is instructing his officials to prepare to move the Embassy to Jerusalem.

The report came a day after US Vice President Mike Pence said Trump was”actively considering” moving the US embassy.

“In Jerusalem, there is a very high expectation” that Trump will declare that he “formally recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and instructing his team to actively prepare to move the embassy,” the Hadashot news report claimed. It said this declaration was expected within days, and possibly as soon as Sunday.

There was no official confirmation of the claim from Israel or the US.

Pence gave the keynote address at an event in New York commemorating the 70th anniversary of the UN vote for partition of Palestine, which led to the creation of the State of Israel.

“President Donald Trump is actively considering when and how to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” the vice president told the gathering of UN ambassadors, diplomats and Jewish leaders, hosted by Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon.

The UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947 passed a resolution adopting a plan on partitioning British-mandated Palestine to establish a Jewish state. Of the 56 members of the UN at the time, 33 voted in favor, 13 against and 10 abstained, enabling the establishment of Israel the following year. In keeping with Jewish tradition, the celebration was held on the eve of the historic date.

“Israel didn’t need a resolution to call for its existence, because its right to exist is self-evident, and timeless,” Pence said. “While Israel was built by human hands, it’s impossible not to see the hand of heaven here, too.”

The US vice president received a standing ovation from the audience at the Queens Museum, site of the original United Nations vote in 1947.

Trump has so far balked at moving the US mission to Israel’s capital, despite initial anticipation among many Israeli and American Jews that he would make good on that election campaign promise.

Right-wing Israeli leaders have been lobbying for the embassy move. Some, however, have reportedly expressed private worries that it could inflame regional tensions. The Palestinians have vociferously objected to the US proposal, citing their claim to East Jerusalem as their future capital.

In early December, Trump will have to again decide whether to postpone the move for another six months.

Congress passed a law in 1995 making it US policy to move the embassy to Jerusalem, symbolically endorsing Israel’s claim on the city as its capital.

But the law contained a clause that has allowed each US president since to issue and renew a six-month waiver on implementing the move. Trump signed the last waiver on June 1.

In the keynote speech, Pence underscored US support for Israel, asserting that ties between the two countries have never been stronger than under the Trump administration.

“As President Trump says, ‘If the world knows nothing else, let them know this: America stands with Israel,’” he said. “Under our administration, America will always stand with Israel.”

Noting recent US steps taken at the UN on behalf of Israel, he declared “the days of Israel-bashing at the United Nations are over.”

Turning his attention to the Iran nuclear deal, Pence said the Trump administration is working to fix “glaring failures” in the agreement that was reached under the previous administration.

“As we speak, our administration is working with Congress to overcome some of the Iran deal’s most glaring problems.”

“Under President Trump, the US will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons,” he vowed. “This is our solemn promise to you, to Israel and to the world.”

The Iran nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and signed between Iran and the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany in 2015, saw stringent sanctions on Iran lifted in return for Tehran dismantling Iranian technologies that could be used to produce nuclear weapons. The deal was strongly opposed by Israel and Trump repeatedly criticized the agreement during his election campaign. (the Times of Israel)

Netanyahu holds marathon meetings in Kenya

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conducted a one-day visit to Kenya on Tuesday, to take part in celebrations for the inauguration of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. This is Netanyahu’s third trip to Africa in the past year.

Netanyahu took off to Kenya Tuesday morning and landed in the capital of Nairobi, where he was greeted by an honorary guard. He is due to return to Israel around 5am (technically Wednesday).

Netanyahu was the only western leader to take part in the celebrations, which included ten African leaders. Communications Minister Ayoob Kara joined him on the trip.

Despite original reports that he was planning to attend the inauguration itself, the Israeli premier only joined the celebrations amid security concerns that threatened to erupt during the ceremony.

After arriving in Nairobi, Netanyahu participated in a celebratory meal with the other leaders, during which he was seated next to Kenyatta on his big day.

Bibi in Kenya

Netanyahu was also the only foreign leader to be asked to speak at the lunch, during which he congratulated Kenyatta on the birth of his granddaughter and offered him a picture with a blessing for the newborn.

Netanyahu used the opportunity to conduct a series of diplomatic meetings with foreign leaders, including Rwandan President Paul Kagame, with whom Netanyahu is currently in negotiations to transfer over 10,000 illegal infiltrators to Rwanda, with Israel paying for each person that will be transferred to the African country.

During their meeting, Netanyahu announced that Israel will be opening an embassy in the country’s capital of Kigali, “as part of deepening the cooperation between Israel and African countries.”

The prime minister also met with the presidents of Gabon, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, South Sudan, Botswana and Namibia, as well as with the prime minister of Ethiopia.

During the meetings, Netanyahu discussed furthering cooperation in a variety of fields, including energy, agriculture, technology and security. The leaders reportedly thanked Israel for its help and asked for further assistance in matters of security, intelligence and agriculture.

“We want to work with you and each of your countries, to connect Africa to electricity,” said Netanyahu during the celebratory lunch. “We believe in Africa. For each of your initiatives, there will be an initiative of ours to take advantage of the future and make life better and safer for your people.”  (Ynet News)

Netanyahu to tell EU next month: Tell your people what Israel provides

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to tell the 28 EU Foreign Minister at a meeting next month in Brussels that they should ask their people whether they want all that Israel has to offer – anti-terror expertise and technology – or Ramallah.

Netanyahu, who over the last year has raised with every visiting EU foreign minister his desire to address all 28 foreign ministers at one of their monthly meetings, received a formal invitation on Tuesday to do just that.

According to a senior diplomatic official, Netanyahu is expected to tell the European leaders that their obsessive focus on the settlements is “ridiculous,” remind them that the Arab-Israeli conflict predated the settlements by 50 years, and say that 85 percent of the settlements are in the settlement blocks that “everyone knows will be part of Israel.”

In addition, the official said, he will go on record saying that “we in Israel are the future, we will bring you water, technology and security against terrorists – we have blocked 30 to 40 major attacks in Europe. You ask your people whether they would rather have that, or Ramallah.”

Although these are messages that Netanyahu has repeated numerous times in the past, the official said they will have more impact when said directly in Brussels, at the heart of the EU.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini issued a statement Tuesday saying she decided to invite Netanyahu for an “informal exchange of views with Ministers in the margins of the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday, 11 December 2017, in Brussels.” She said the meeting will “be an opportunity to discuss issues of common concern, such as the Middle East peace process, bilateral relations and regional issues.”

Netanyahu will be the first Israeli prime minister to address the body. EU President Donald Tusk is scheduled to visit Israel five days earlier.

One Israeli diplomatic official said he was “surprised” that the Europeans agreed to host Netanyahu at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting. “He has raised it with every European foreign minister he has met over the last year,” the official said. “They were stand-offish, saying they weren’t sure they could do it. The fact that it is happening is significant.”

The official said Netanyahu is keen on meeting the ministers in order to break the automatic majority against Israel at the UN and in international forums, as the EU – which often votes as a block – is a problem when it comes to these votes.

Netanyahu, the official said, has made breaking the automatic majority at the UN one of his top foreign policy priorities, not because the anti-Israel resolutions at the UN cause him to “lose any sleep,” but because he sees these resolutions as a “strategic threat” since they could be used as a basis of action against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

Netanyahu himself has said that breaking the automatic majority is one of the reasons for his focus on improving ties with Africa.

The official acknowledged that going to Brussels and “standing up” to the Europeans will also politically “look good over here.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Israel zigzags on Iranian bases in Syria to give Russia room

By Seth J. Frantzman           The Jerusalem Post


On November 10 the BBC revealed that Iran is building a “permanent military base in Syria.” The report came complete with aerial photos, yellow boxes and labels. It stressed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Iran against such a permanent presence.

Then, during an interview published Tuesday on Ynet, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that there is no physical Iranian presence in Syria. Liberman appeared to downplay the warnings from the prime minister, President Reuven Rivlin and others, asserting that the Iranian presence is relatively modest and consists of hundreds of experts and advisers.

The comments by Liberman come amid reports in the Kuwaiti Arabic newspaper al-Jarida that Netanyahu sent a warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad via Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep Iranian forces 40 kilometers from the border. Allegedly, this took place during Putin’s meeting with Assad on November 21, when the Syrian president hugged Putin and thanked him “for all the efforts that Russia made to save our country.”

Liberman chose his words carefully during the Ynet interview, speaking deliberately.

“Iran is not on our border,” he said, when pressed about his comment that “we don’t just speak,” implying that Israel also acts to defend its interests, and that all the “players” know Israel is a strong power in the region.

On the one hand, his comment could be seen as his response to feeling accused of not preventing Iran from establishing itself in Syria. But why downplay a risk that Israel has been pushing to the international community? Liberman was clear in the interview that Israel would not allow permanent Iranian bases in Syria.

The comments appear at odds with Netanyahu’s warnings, but it may be a slight difference of language. Netanyahu warned against Iranian bases in a July meeting in Paris, and told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that “Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment” in August. Rivlin warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel in September that Iran could “drag the whole region into war.”

The Liberman comments also come in the context of an alleged change in policy regarding Israel’s demands to Russia about Iranian forces in Syria. In September numerous reports asserted that Israel had demanded a 60-km. buffer along the border with Syria.

Then came the November report of the Iranian base at Al-Kiswah published in BBC. That base is 50-km from the border. Then, on November 26, the Kuwaiti newspaper claimed Israel has said it would target Iranian facilities within 40 km.

The real message here might not be for Assad and the Iranians, as much as it might be a quiet nod to the Russians. Israel might want to create daylight between the Russians and Assad.

Putin hosted Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani for a bilateral meeting on November 22, after hosting both Rouhani and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi. “We cooperate with you in almost all areas of mutual interest,” Putin told Rouhani, according to the short readout of the meeting from Putin’s office. “Once again I want to note our undeniable progress toward resolving the situation in Syria.”

Liberman’s statements provide Russia with the time to discuss with Assad what comes next and to weigh whether Iran’s presence in Syria is worth the possibility of Israeli action that would harm Moscow’s ally.

This is a very sensitive period, with tensions between Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia and Israel at an all-time high. With the war against Islamic State winding down and Russia, the US and Jordan signatories to a cease-fire in southwest Syria near the Golan border, no one wants a new conflict. Yet Iran is aggressively asserting itself. Gen. Muhammad Hossein Baqeri, the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, told Shargh newspaper in Iran that he is seeking distant bases. “It may become possible one day to have bases on the shores of Yemen or Syria.”

Israel Air Force Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel said in August that Israel had carried out almost 100 air strikes in Syria over five years to prevent weapons transfers to Hezbollah. Russia, Iran and Syria all know that Israel can act. Liberman’s comments appear to put the breaks on the warnings, with hopes Russia will convince Assad that as the war enters a new phase in Syria, with cease-fires and de-escalation, it doesn’t need Iran as much.

According to Dr. Eran Lerman, the vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and lecturer at Shalem College, Israel’s real interest today is to prevent Jordan from being destabilized by Iran. He said Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently referenced the need to “turn the West Bank into the next Gaza,” and that to do that Iran would want to gain access via Jordan.

“The larger question of Iranian bases deeper into Syria – that is a question of what to do about them. I don’t think they can change the strategic balance, given that the Syrian military is a shadow of its old self,” said Lerman.

The real redline today is not rhetoric about throwing the Iranians out of Syria, which isn’t realistic, “but in more limited terms there are real redlines we can talk to the Russians about.”

The new peace partners and the next war

Analysis: A new kind of peace is taking shape before our eyes between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. No longer cold, indifferent and hostile, peace is hiding in the highest places of the government echelons. Together, the new peace partners are learning to assess the dimensions of the next conflict, which will likely be the worst we’ve ever experienced.

by Smadar Perry                  Ynet News


An old friend called me from Jordan on Monday. Help me out of the imbroglio, he requested. I have an urgent personal issue, and I must get to Tel Aviv. I need no explanation from my friend: the Israeli Embassy in Amman has been under lock and key for four months now, and there is no one to issue him an entry visa and stamp his passport.

Here’s a reminder: King Abdullah is angry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to end the security guard affair. The Jordanian street is furious over the unsolved death of two citizens. Israel promised to hand over the investigation report and bring the guard to justice. The king and the street have lost their patience.

A solution has already been found for hundreds of passports that got stranded in the empty embassy building, including passports from Egypt which were sent to Amman after the Israeli Embassy in Cairo was shut down. In Jordan, new documents were issued. In Cairo, anyone wishing to visit Israel is required to first of all present “the yellow note.” The process of obtaining that note, in the general security service’s offices, is deterring. No one wants their name and address to be listed, as someone may pay them a visit at night to inquire why they are rushing to Tel Aviv. No one wants to “get caught in normalization” either.

A new kind of peace is taking shape before our eyes. It’s no longer cold, indifferent and hostile peace, but peace hiding in the highest places of the government echelons. Leader vis-à-vis leader, in Egypt’s case, and apparatus vis-à-vis apparatus, in Jordan’s case.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announces at his own initiative that he talks to Netanyahu, and the prime minister makes a comment about “an interesting conversation with the Egyptian president.” As for the angry king of Jordan, the street no longer has to launch protests against signs pointing to normal relations. Everything is concealed, and Israel is drifting away.

Now, a third partner is entering the picture. The young crown prince from Saudi Arabia, who is imposing a new political, economic and maybe even social order. As far as he’s concerned, the sky’s the limit. Who should we believe: Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is scattering statements about covert contacts and cooperation, or Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who is firmly denying this, and insisting that such things never happened?

I’m going to guess that had there really been no contacts, the Saudi minister would have allowed himself to keep quiet. There are too many signs stacking up on the ground that there is, in fact, a dialogue going on at a high rank. Riyadh and Jerusalem are connected by a whole lot of interests under the rug, led by the Iranian threat. I’m willing to believe the Saudi foreign minister when he insists that we have yet to reach the path of open relations. The test will take place soon: will the Saudis issue entry visas for the Israeli chess team, and how will be greeted, if at all?

The new peace draws the boundaries of the “good guys” camp versus the “bad guys” camp in our neighborhood, between the moderate Sunni-Muslim axis and the evil Shiite axis, as Iran has already succeeded in settling in four capitals: Baghdad, Damascus, Sanaa and Beirut. The Revolutionary Guards are not on an annual field trip; they have come to gain strongholds.

The moderate axis is learning how to walk on eggshells. If a conflict breaks out in one of the places, the next war will be the worst and toughest war we’ve ever experienced, with weapons we never dreamed of, soaked with blood and destruction. It won’t be a war between states. It will be a war within the Muslim camp which everyone is now trying to curb, and Israel—being stuck in the middle—will have trouble evading it.

Together, the new peace partners are learning to assess the dimensions of the next conflict. We should take note of the warnings from one side (Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah) and the “all clear” signals from our side. No one is planning to initiate an adventure in Lebanon against the Iranians and Hezbollah’s missile arsenal. No one in Riyadh, Cairo and Amman will assume responsibility for taking the first step against Iran, when no one knows where and how it will end. And peace? It will remain in its new, covert place, moving away from the civil level, because the leaders are busy.