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Latest Israel News – 1st March

Blistering Gaza war report scorches Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Gantz over tunnel failures
Israel’s state comptroller took military and political leaders to task for their failure to prepare adequately for the threat of attack tunnels ahead of the 2014 war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, in a pair of long-awaited, highly critical reports published on Tuesday.
The reports found significant gaps in the military’s intelligence in the lead-up to the war, as well as a lack of clearly defined operational plans for how to destroy the tunnels. Those failings may have led, the report said, to the unnecessary deaths of Israeli soldiers during the 50-day conflict.
But the Prime Minister’s Office bore the brunt of State Comptroller Yosef Shapira’s criticism, for its failure to sufficiently brief members of the security cabinet about the subterranean threat.
While the reports were only released to the public on Tuesday, most of the critiques they contain have been reported on widely for months, as versions of the scalding documents circulated among relevant politicians and defense officials — and were leaked by them — as early as May 2016.
One report deals with the performance of the government and military during the conflict, dubbed Operation Protective Edge in Israel, and in the lead-up to it in general, with special attention paid to Hamas tunnels and Israel’s lax preparations for dealing with their threat. A second, shorter report deals only with the tunnel threat, but in far greater detail.
The 50-day conflict came on the heels of Operation Brother’s Keeper, a large-scale counterterrorism crackdown in the West Bank prompted by the abduction and disappearance of three Israeli teenagers on June 12, 2014.
As Israeli troops rounded up hundreds of suspected terrorists, most of them affiliated with Hamas, the Gaza-based group began firing dozens of rockets at Israel’s southern communities in retaliation. Hamas, at the time, was also in the midst of a funding crisis, as the Palestinian Authority froze payment to tens of thousands of its employees.
The IDF responded to the rocket and mortar attacks with limited airstrikes at launch sites, weapons caches and attack tunnel entrances.
After the three teens’ bodies were found north of Hebron on June 30 (confirming they had been killed in the hours after their abduction), rockets continued to rain down on Israel’s south and the army turned its attention from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.
On July 7, the cabinet approved a Gaza operation. Over the next 10 days, that operation, which began as a response to rocket fire, instead turned into a tunnel-destroying mission as the gravity of the threat they posed became clear.
By the war’s end on August 26, 2014, the IDF had targeted over 30 tunnels, of which 14 had crossed the border into Israel. Thousands of rockets had been fired by Hamas and other Gaza terror groups indiscriminately into Israel. A total of 74 people — 68 soldiers, 11 of whom were killed in cross-border tunnel attacks; and 6 civilians — died on the Israeli side of the conflict. In Gaza, more than 2,000 people were killed, with Israel putting the percentage of civilians killed at approximately 50 percent and the Palestinians estimating it to be closer to 70%. Israel said the high proportion of civilian Gazan deaths was the fault of Hamas, which embedded military infrastructure, including tunnel entrances and rocket launchers, in residential neighborhoods.
In the dark on tunnels
Though tunnel destruction became a central objective of the campaign, the comptroller accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of having kept senior ministers in the dark about the subterranean threat prior to the war and only seriously addressing it in cabinet meetings after the operation began.
Netanyahu, for his part, has denied the accusation, saying the issue of Hamas’s subterranean attack infrastructure was in fact presented as a strategic threat to the cabinet.
Responding to an initial draft of the report, the Prime Minister’s Office provided eight dates, beginning in November 2013, when the issue of tunnels was raised in the cabinet. But Shapira found those discussions to have been cursory and perfunctory and not representative of the full extent of the risk posed by the tunnels.
The tunnel threat report also accused Netanyahu and Ya’alon of endangering Israelis living near Gaza by halting government funding for their local security teams, and pulling out the soldiers who used to stand guard outside their communities in the year and a half leading up to the operation.
While Netanyahu drew considerable rebuke in the report, he was not the only person put in its crosshairs. The National Security Council, the security cabinet, then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, and the IDF were also implicated.
The NSC, known in Hebrew by its acronym Malal, was led at the time by current Mossad head Yossi Cohen. It was found to have not fulfilled one of its central duties: to provide the cabinet with a variety of opinions, and potential courses of action, beyond what is offered by the military and security services.
The prime minister frequently sets the agenda for meetings of the security cabinet, his inner circle of senior ministers, which take place on an ad hoc basis. However, the NSC is also entitled to raise issues at the meetings, something it failed to do with regards to the tunnels, according to the report.
The security cabinet, which is meant to function as an advisory body to the prime minister, was accused of failing in that role. According to a former cabinet minister who spoke on condition of anonymity, the ministers acted as a symbolic “rubber stamp” — the cabinet has no actual approval power — and accepted the plans presented to them by the military.
While the cabinet members felt at the time that they were seriously involved in the war effort, the unnamed former minister, in retrospect, said he realized how little power and influence they actually wielded.
Bennett vs. Ya’alon
Throughout the fighting in Operation Protective Edge, and in the two and a half years since, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a member of the security cabinet, was an outspoken critic of how Netanyahu, Ya’alon and then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz managed the conflict.
Those three and, more recently, Ya’alon’s successor, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, have taken aim at Bennett for “playing politics” with national security discussions, all but accusing him outright of leaking information about cabinet meetings.
“There are those who leak and those who fight,” Ya’alon said this week, in a preemptive parry ahead of the report’s publication. It was a clear reference to Bennett.
Last month, Bennett, who leads the right-wing Jewish Home party and was the economy minister at the time of the campaign, said the report would be an “earthquake” that would reveal the failures of the country’s leaders during the conflict.
Ya’alon responded the next day, referring to Bennett (without using his name) as a “minister of leaks” and accusing him of emboldening Hamas with his claims that Israel wasn’t victorious in the 2014 conflict.
Bennett, meanwhile, has painted himself as a Cassandra, crying out alone about the impending threat of Hamas tunnels, only to have those warnings fall on deaf ears.
According to the report and former cabinet members, Bennett’s account is correct, but only to an extent.
Before the start of the conflict, on July 2, 2014, Bennett had demanded the army come up with plans to demolish the tunnels. In the early days of the fighting, he called for more aggressive action, with an emphasis on destroying Hamas’s subterranean infrastructure.
On July 27, Bennett admonished Gantz as he was speaking before the cabinet, telling him that military leaders should be like “galloping horses” that need to be restrained by the government, not like “lazy bulls,” which require prodding to take action.
He also visited the IDF’s staging areas near the Gaza Strip and spoke with officers in the field, hearing from them about the tunnels. For this, Bennett drew criticism from the cabinet. As defense minister, Ya’alon chastised him for trying to subvert his authority. Yair Lapid, who was finance minister at the time, accused him of “playing with the generals,” according to cabinet meeting transcripts leaked to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
Bennett’s repeated requests that the army focus on the tunnels were rebuffed at the cabinet meetings, as were the urgings of Liberman, the then-foreign minister, for the army to completely conquer the Gaza Strip.
Former cabinet members confirmed that Liberman’s statements were completely disregarded at the meetings.
Several ex-ministers contradicted Bennett’s claim that he had discovered the threat of the tunnels.
Livni, the former justice minister, scoffed at the notion.
“No one ‘revealed to anyone that there were tunnels,’” Livni told The Times of Israel in a statement. “It was known to everyone involved that Hamas was digging tunnels in Gaza — that’s how Gilad Shalit was captured.”
Eight years before Protective Edge, Shalit, an Israeli soldier, was smuggled from Israeli territory into the Gaza Strip through one such tunnel, after Hamas operatives killed three of his tank crewmates and abducted him in a surprise attack near the border.
As for the specific border crossing tunnels targeted by the Israeli military during the campaign: While the cabinet was not briefed on them until the operation was already underway, the IDF, Shin Bet and other security services were aware of them and the threat posed by them, she said. The decision to refrain from targeting them initially was deliberate and tactical, not due to ignorance of their existence.
“It’s not that the State of Israel didn’t know, but that the cabinet didn’t know,” the former cabinet member said.
The ministers were not prevented from inquiring about the threat of tunnels on their own, independent of the cabinet meetings. But ultimately, the report said, the National Security Council is responsible for preparing the senior ministers, a practice that has apparently become more common since the 2014 war.
How to take out the tunnels
By 2014, Hamas attack tunnels were well known to the Israel Defense Forces. The Egyptian military had been hard at work for months to demolish smuggling tunnels connecting the Sinai Peninsula to Gaza. Tunnels were discussed in media reports and publicly by politicians.
Two of those cross-border tunnels were found and destroyed in October 2013, with their discovery widely reported by both local and international press. The army even invited journalists and Hollywood celebrities to tour the Hamas tunnels. A third was found in January of that year as well.
Troops had also stumbled upon a Hamas tunnel ahead of a smaller-scale 2012 operation in the Gaza Strip, known in Israel as Pillar of Defense.
Yet, according to the report, the army had not formulated clear guidelines for how to uncover and destroy such tunnels in wartime; rather, the procedure was created on the fly during the course of Operation Protective Edge.
The army’s improvised tunnel destruction attempts were found by the report to have been “problematic.”
Despite initial objection by Ya’alon and the full knowledge that the measure would only be partially effective, the military began to conduct airstrikes against tunnel openings in Gaza on July 7, 2014.
According to the report, the military and political leaderships’ assessment of the utility of airstrikes on tunnels was mixed going into the Gaza operation. Bennett and then-head of the Southern Command Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman were opposed to aerial bombardments, while most others saw the tactic as having both benefits and costs. Netanyahu said he was unsure and followed the advice of his army chief and defense minister.
Ya’alon said he opposed airstrikes on June 30, 2014, but later came around to the idea and approved such operations a week later. Targeting the tunnels from the air allowed the military to at least partially “knock out” Hamas’s capabilities without seriously risking Israeli lives, he told the comptroller after the war.
“I’d rather try and block two or three terror attacks from tunnels, than lose 67 soldiers,” he said in March 2015.
But those aerial bombings later made it more difficult for soldiers to enter and fully demolish the tunnels during the ground operation, as their entrances were obstructed by rubble, Gantz said during a cabinet meeting on August 8.
“If we hadn’t attacked the [tunnels]… it would have shortened the time [needed to fully demolish them],” he said.
The report did not connect those delays to any soldiers’ deaths, though any extra time spent stationed in one location, guarding a tunnel opening, would presumably increase the chances of attacks by Palestinian fighters.
An internal army investigation leaked late last year also noted that the military, particularly the Engineering Corps, was not prepared to confront Hamas’s underground infrastructure during the fighting.
Who knew what when?
With the reports’ release, arguments among Israeli lawmakers over what the cabinet knew about the tunnels, and when it was briefed on the threat, are sure to only increase. So, too, will discussions of what the army knew about Hamas’s underground network and, more importantly, what it didn’t.
On November 26, 2013, about a month and a half after the two border-crossing tunnels were discovered, then-Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi was supposed to brief the cabinet about “the threat of the tunnels in a way that would show its meaning and gravity,” according to the report. That did not happen, for an unspecified reason.
But immediately before and during the conflict, the issue of the tunnels was brought up repeatedly in cabinet meetings.
On July 1, 2014 Ya’alon told the cabinet he believed that Hamas would not make extensive use of its attack tunnels and would instead save them for a more opportune time to strike.
“Hamas does not have any intention of activating its tunnels of its own initiative,” Ya’alon told the ministers. “We must be wary of making a miscalculation.”
Once the operation began, Hamas did, in fact, make use of its border-crossing tunnels on four occasions. (There were also other incidents of the terrorist group using its underground infrastructure within the Gaza Strip, including in the capture of Lt. Hadar Goldin’s body.)
One such attack, on July 17, 2014, involved over a dozen Hamas fighters who crossed into Israel near the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Gaza. The incursion was prevented by IDF troops, but it served as a catalyst for the army’s ground invasion, which began later that night.
The other three cases involved smaller Hamas teams who performed “hit and run” attacks, one of them with regular firearms, the other two with anti-tank missiles. Those attacks can be seen as successful, to a degree, as 11 Israeli soldiers were killed in them.
They did not represent the doomsday scenario of tunnel attacks — dozens of Hamas terrorists infiltrating an Israeli community and either massacring the inhabitants or taking them hostage. Turgeman told the State Comptroller’s Office after the war that such an attack was specifically described in Hamas documents discovered during the operation.
However, over the course of the conflict, the army also noted that it believed soldiers may have been the intended targets of Hamas cross-border tunnel attack, not civilians.
Going into the fighting, the military knew it had only incomplete intelligence concerning the tunnels specifically and the Gaza Strip in general, according to the report.
Assessments made based on “significantly lacking intelligence” are especially dangerous “with issues critical to military operations,” Shapira, the state comptroller, wrote in the tunnel report.
On Sunday, former IDF chief Gantz defended the military’s intelligence during the conflict, saying that though it was “not always perfect,” he would be “ready to go to the next campaign with the same intelligence that we had in the last one.”
Where are we now now?
For parts of Israeli society, Operation Protective Edge remains a gaping wound.
The bodies of two soldiers who were killed in the fighting — Goldin and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul — are believed to still be held in the Strip by Hamas. Three Israeli men who crossed into Gaza since 2014 are also suspected of being imprisoned by the terrorist group.
Last month, Maj. Hagai Ben Ari, who was seriously injured in the operation, succumbed to his wounds.
The people of Gaza have yet to fully rebuild their homes, hindered by Israel’s naval and land blockade, which the Jewish state says is necessary for its security, as well as Hamas’s nasty habit of confiscating building materials for use in new tunnels instead of new apartment buildings.
In the time since the operation, the army and government have put into practice some, but not all, of the recommendations made by Shapira in his reports. Notably, the military has put a greater emphasis on tunnels, naming them as a primary threat in army chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s “IDF Strategy” paper.
“The tunnel issue is a top priority for the IDF, and the military has already begun putting the majority of the report’s comments and suggestions into practice,” the army said in response to the comptroller probe.
The elite combat engineering unit, known by its Hebrew acronym Yahalom, has been doubled in size since the operation, and the unit’s base in Sirkin, outside Tel Aviv, is now equipped with an exact replica of a Hamas tunnel for training purposes. It was made by an Israeli construction company to the same specifications as in Gaza — 5.6 feet (1.7 meters) tall and approximately two feet (0.6 meters) wide, with a rounded top.
In training ground troops, the army has also begun putting more emphasis on preparing them for urban and populated areas, as opposed to the older exercises of conquering hilltops in open fields, according to military officials.
The army has poured more than NIS 2 billion ($546 million) and many tons of concrete into the ground surrounding the Gaza Strip to prevent infiltrations and tunneling efforts, as part of a massive project whose details are still largely under military censorship.
“The IDF has invested efforts and resources in the research, development and equipping of technological systems in accordance with their operational readiness… and with the classification of the level of the threat,” the army said on Tuesday.
“The IDF and defense establishment have been dealing with drawing lessons and rectifying what needs fixing from the day after the campaign. We have a strong army and the readiness of the army and reservists is at one of its highest levels in decades,” Liberman, the defense minister, saidMonday.
Two border-crossing tunnels were also found and destroyed by the IDF since Operation Protection Edge, one in April and the second in May.
The security cabinet and National Security Council have also been revamped since the war, with ministers enjoying better access to information than in the past, according to senior officials who asked to remain unnamed.
However, cabinet members still complain that they are not consulted on larger, strategic issues, but are instead focused on more quotidian issues like airstrikes against Hezbollah weapons convoys.
Tuesday’s reports did not address the government’s alleged lack of an overall strategy for the Gaza Strip. The coastal enclave’s terrorist Hamas rulers are anathema to Israel, and the Jewish state has recognized the rapidly approaching humanitarian crisis in the Strip. Yet, no comprehensive solution to the problem was offered by the government at the time of the 2014 operation; nor in the years afterward.
“Israel doesn’t have a strategy vis-à-vis the Palestinians generally or Gaza specifically,” said Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, who served as justice minister during the war in 2014, on Monday. “We don’t have to reach an agreement with Hamas, but we need to rally the world against Hamas so Israel has the legitimacy to act against the tunnels in any future operation.”
Did Israel win?
The IDF’s mission in 2014 was not to topple Hamas or locate every piece of weaponry in its possession; rather, it was to deal considerable damage to the terrorist group’s capabilities, notably its cross-border tunnels, and to create some form of deterrence that would force Hamas to keep the Strip’s more radical organizations in check.
Those goals were accomplished to a certain extent: In addition to the demolished tunnels, once-frequent rocket attacks have dwindled to perhaps one or two a month, including one on earlyMonday morning.
“The results since the war speak for themselves,” Netanyahu said ahead of the report’s publication. “The current IDF chief of staff has said that the Gaza border hasn’t been this quiet since the Six Day War [in 1967]. Hamas suffered a devastating blow. The Gaza border communities are flourishing.”
The prime minister’s glowing assessment does not overlap fully with those put forth by the State Comptroller’s Office.
Shapira’s two reports are in total 176 pages long. In them, there are few compliments.
The tunnel threat report noted that, in addition to the criticism detailed above, the IDF only completely “destroyed or neutralized” half of the tunnels it designated as requiring “treatment.” The other half were either damaged or left in working order.
“The IDF… thus did not complete its mission,” according to Shapira’s tunnel threat report.
Hamas is said to still possess at least 15 tunnels that extend into Israel and is believed to have restored its military capabilities to pre-Protective Edge levels, filling its stockpiles with both imported and locally produced missiles, mortars and small arms.
How, then, can victory truly be declared over Hamas if ministers and defense officials refer to the next round of conflict with it as a matter of when, not if? That is one question the state comptroller reports do not address.                 (the Times of Israel)
Sydney Jewish Museum bomb scare
Sydney’s Jewish Museum was evacuated yesterday following a threat of a bomb scare.All staff at the neighbouring building housing the NSW Jewish Board  of Deputies, JCA, Zionist Council of NSW and UIA were also evacuated before the authorities gave the all clear two and a half hours later.
The NSWJBD cancelled their monthly plenum following a decision to allow the staff to go home early.
The museum announced the launch of its new Holocaust exhibition last week.
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff commented: “A police operation was put into place at the Sydney Jewish Museum on Tuesday following a threat to the facility. The building was evacuated by police as a precaution while the area was searched. The NSW Police secured the area, the all-clear was subsequently given and we were assured there was no risk to the facility or the community. We wish to express our gratitude to the NSW Police for their swift response.”  (J Wire)

Netanyahu: Israel will not allow ‘drizzle’ of rocket fire from enemies

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday reiterated his warning that Israel will not allow any “drizzle” of rocket fire on its territory from enemy entities.

“We respond to all fire at our territory; thus we did today and as such we will do in the future,” the premier underscored hours after a projectile launched by terrorists exploded in an open field in southern Israel overnight.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman stated that while Israel has no intention of initiating any military action in Gaza, “we have no intention to continue to absorb drizzles (of rockets out of the Strip).”

“We will not get into a ping-pong situation of fire and counter-fire. I suggest Hamas take responsibility, impose order and calm down,” Lieberman said in public remarks to legislators of his Yisrael Beytenu party in Jerusalem.

No group immediately laid claim to the rocket attack. However, in retaliation to the strike, the IDF struck multiple Hamas terror targets in Gaza as the military holds the Palestinian terror group responsible for any fire originating from the Strip.

Netanyahu warns Hamas after weekend of rocket fire from Gaza [March 2016]

Taking to Twitter, Hamas evaded responsibility for the rocket launching and accused the IDF of escalating tensions with Gaza.

There were no injuries or damage in Sunday’s rocket attack on Israel.

There have been several rockets launched at southern Israel in February, including two incidents in which the Islamic State group in the Sinai fired a barrage of rockets towards the southern city of Eilat. Three of the projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile system while a fourth landed in open territory.

Two weeks ago, following a previous rocket attack, Netanyahu told reporters in London that his directives are to respond with force to every missile attack.

“The two-and-a-half years since Operation Protective Edge were the two quietest years since the Six Day War,” he said, adding that Israel will be steadfast in responding to every attack, and not permit a “drizzle” of missile attacks that go without a response.   (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu strikes back at comptroller: Ministers updated more than ever

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended himself from an impending state comptroller’s report that is set to be released Tuesday, telling his Likud faction Monday that his security cabinet was briefed sufficiently ahead of Operation Protective Edge.

The report is expected to criticize Netanyahu’s handling of the security cabinet ahead of and during the 2014 operation in Gaza, especially regarding the issue of terror tunnels dug by Hamas.

“No security cabinet in the history of the state has been updated more,” Netanyahu said. “When entering the security cabinet, one is supposed to leave his cellular phone and his narrow, personal political interests outside.”

Netanyahu accused State Comptroller Joseph Shapira of being too harsh on the IDF and intelligence agecies in the report.

“Unlike the comptroller’s repoirt, I support the heads of the IDF, Shin-Bet and defense establishment who protected and continue to protect the citizens of Israel. Our soldiers and officers fought with all their souls and the people of Israel are proud of them.”

Netanyahu boasted that in the operation “we gave Hamas the harshest blow it has endured in its history.” He said the operation’s key lessons were not in the report and were being implemented quietly and consistently.

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said the comptroller would convict the prime minister in the report for poor strategic handling of the country and decision-making during the operation. He said Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid could also not avoid blame, because he was a member of the security cabinet during the operation and did not have enough of an influence.

Lapid said he would not call upon Netanyahu to quit due to the mistakes he made during and since the operation but he expected him to take action to correct them.

“The IDF did the right thing in starting to fix its mistakes the day after the war, but the prime minister has done the opposite,” Lapid said. “Mistakes happen. What bothers me is that there are political spins. This is not how a country is run. If a single soldier can be saved in the next war, the government has an obligation to take action. The prime minister must go before the public, say he made mistakes, and start fixing them.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu: Still no agreement on settlements with Trump

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told MKs from his ruling Likud party on Mondaythat he still has not reached an agreement with US President Donald Trump regarding the construction of new homes in West Bank settlements.

Netanyahu said that although he is working with the White House to establish a “mechanism” for coordinating settlement construction, “things are not as simple as you think they are,” unnamed participants in the Likud faction meeting told the Haaretz daily.

Trump’s presidency “is a historic opportunity, but [we] need to know the limits of this opportunity,” Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as saying.

Netanyahu’s comments were reportedly made during a heated argument between Likud lawmakers who support annexing large swaths of the West Bank and those in favor of separating from the Palestinians while still maintaining security control over the area.

Although Netanyahu has expressed support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, he has refrained from voicing support for a two-state solution of late, as MKs from both Likud and the right-wing Jewish Home party — upon whose support Netanyahu’s coalition depends — have called on him to renounce the two-state solution.

However, during his visit to Washington Netanyahu said “I don’t want to annex close to 2.5 millions Palestinians to Israel I do not want them to be our subjects,” while also telling Australian Foreign Minister last week while in Australia that Israel will never relinquish security control over the West Bank.

While many on the right celebrated Trump’s election as an opportunity to move ahead with large scale construction in West Bank settlements, the US president told Netanyahu during a joint press conference at the White House that “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

Just days before the prime minister’s visit, Trump also told the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily that “I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace,” as “every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left.”

Immediately following the prime minister’s visit to Washington, a senior Israeli official said that although the two sides have yet to reach an agreement on new settlement construction, they will work to establish a “mechanism” for discussing the issue upon Netanyahu’s arrival in Israel following his trip to Singapore and Australia, from which he returned on Sunday.  (the Times of Israel)

After foreign trips, Netanyahu says Israel is ‘rising global power’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that his recent foreign trips to the UK, US, Australia and Singapore have strengthened Israel’s position in the world and prove the country is “a rising global power.”

Speaking to the Likud weekly faction meeting — his first in three weeks due to the trips — Netanyahu said his travels had bolstered Israel’s security and economy.

Citing further upcoming trips to Russia and China and a scheduled visit to Israel by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Netanyahu said the Jewish state was experiencing a turnaround in its global standing.

“Everywhere I went I was met with great sympathy for the State of Israel. I say sympathy, and often admiration. I saw this with leaders and I saw this with people on the streets.

“Israel is a nation sought after by many,” he declared.

Netanyahu said many countries were interested in forging alliances and pacts with the Jewish state, and insisted it had earned this respect by refusing to back down from its diplomatic positions.

“All this is happening not because we yield, or fold, or pander. The opposite it true: It’s because we stand firm on the rights of the Israeli people and the interests of the State of Israel,” he said. “Alliances and agreements are made with the strong, not the weak.”

Israel under his leadership, he asserted, “is strong — militarily, technologically, economically. And that is why we are also growing stronger diplomatically.”

Israel has recently come under intense international criticism for its passage of the Regulation Law, which would retroactively legalize Israeli West Bank outposts built on private Palestinian land.

The law has been widely censured by world powers, including the United Nations, the European Union, France, Britain, Turkey and others. Germany said its confidence in Jerusalem had been shaken and reportedly cancelled a planned summit with he Israeli government. Even some Israeli right-wingers opposed the law, including members of the governing coalition who voted in favor of it, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

The international community has also expressed great alarm at Israel’s possible withdrawal of support for the two-state solution.

The ostensible change in Jerusalem’s policy is likely the result of US President Donald Trump’s statement during his meeting with Netanyahu this month that he could live with either a two-state or a one-state solution. Netanyahu has since conspicuously avoided any public statement of support for two states.

During his five-day trip to Australia that ended Sunday, Netanyahu met with multiple national leaders, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten.

Besides agreements on business and travel links between the two countries, the conflict with the Palestinians arose in each meeting, and Netanyahu’s travels in Sydney were greeted on occasion by pro-Palestinian protesters.

Earlier in Singapore, the premier met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Tony Tan Keng Yam. Lee said that Israel was the second-largest contributor of foreign direct investments in Singapore from the Middle East, and the two discussed further cooperation between the countries(the Times of Israel)

Israeli intelligence minister says Trump created a new path to peace

By Ruth Eglash                 The Washington Post

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/02/26/israeli-intelligence-minister-says-trump-created-a-new-path-to-peace/?utm_term=.4296807e3655

Israeli Minister of Intelligence Israel Katz is known as a political bulldozer. It’s a label he is proud of and a trait, he believes, could bring about peace with the Palestinians.

Albeit in a roundabout way.

Katz’s plan, which he says has been adopted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is regional and multilayered. And if all goes smoothly, there might be some type of autonomous, demilitarized Palestinian entity at the tail end.

“Netanyahu went to America after many discussions here in which we spoke about the idea for regional peace, based on security and economic considerations in the region,” said Katz in an interview with The Washington Post.

“I told the prime minister that the goal should be to deal less with labels and more with content,” said Katz, who also serves as Israel’s minister of transportation.

This was the one of the messages Netanyahu shared in a news conference with President Trump in the White House earlier this month.

Responding to a journalist’s question asking if the prime minister had come to Washington to tell the president he is backing off from the solution of two states for two people — the Israelis and the Palestinians — Netanyahu said: “Rather than deal with labels, I want to deal with substance. It’s something I’ve hoped to do for years in a world that’s absolutely fixated on labels and not on substance.”

“I am against two states. As one White House official pointed [out] – ‘if you ask five people what two states would look like, you’d get eight different answers,’ ” said Katz, a member of Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet.

Katz said this point and others made recently by the new U.S. administration has made clear that Trump will allow Israel to find its own solution, in its own time.

Trump, he said, has opened up the playing field for peace.

We sat down with Katz recently in his office in Jerusalem.

This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity:

After all that’s been said and done in the past few weeks by the Israeli government and the new American administration, do you believe that the two-state solution with the Palestinians is dead?

I come from the perspective of reality. This is a concept that is not relevant. Even those who want to create two states know that it can’t be done at the moment.

[Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas is weak. He needs security support from Israel. And, Hamas was extreme before but since changing Ismail Haniya and placing Yehiya Sinwar in the leadership position, this means that Hamas’s military wing is now controlling Gaza.

If there were nuances before that might have helped us reach the creation of a Palestinian state, they now no longer exist. What kind of Palestinian state can we create in this reality?

What is your solution to bringing about peace between Israelis and Palestinians?

I have been pushing a more regional perspective. Layered peace that starts with security coordination between Israel and the moderate Arab countries, including moderate Palestinians.

Relations already exist between Israel and Sunni Arab states in the region. We are not allowed to say which but they do include countries where we have no peace agreement or diplomatic relations.

How would this work?

When it comes to fighting ISIS or al-Qaeda, everyone wants to work with Israel. The whole world is against ISIS and if Israel can help share intelligence information, then there is a willingness to work with us. [ISIS is another name for the Islamic State.]

There is also the Iranian-Hezbollah axis. There are two groups that are against this axis — Israel and the Sunni states. The Iranian nuclear agreement created a situation where the United States did nothing to curb Iranian activities in the region, and Russia wants to partner with Iran for its own reasons.

But now, there has been a change in position by the new American administration and that has given us the tools and support to deepen partnerships with the Sunni states to fight against Iran and ISIS.

One of the goals of the new U.S. administration is to strengthen the relationships between Israel and these states.

After intelligence sharing and a level of strategic regional peace, what comes next?

Regional economic peace. I have been trying to push this idea forward for some time. The prime minister raised it with the Americans, too.

When the Turks ruled here, they built a train line across the whole region. Because of the tensions since Israel’s creation and the new borders, that train system was abandoned. Now we have renewed the train lines in Israel, and we want to extend this line so it reaches Jordan. Jordan will be the key that connects to the Israeli train line and to train lines across the Arab world. And we also have a plan to connect the Palestinians to that system, too.

Israel recently opened a train line from Haifa port to Beit Shean (near the Jordanian border), and we can extend that line, across the Sheikh Hussein bridge, up to the Jordanian city of Irbid. From there, the line can connect to the whole region.

I have full support from the prime minister on this, and we are currently working to garner support in the region, from the Gulf States, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia. We have already met with senior officials in Jordan about this.

Why do think this will work when so many people, including leaders of the countries you mentioned, are opposed to working with Israelis unless the Palestinians receive a state?

First, there is a financial interest in this, and second, they are always looking for alternative transport routes so they can reach Europe, and goods from Europe can reach them.

Already, over the past year, because Syria is now closed to them, Turkey has used Israeli ports to send some 5,000 trucks of goods across the Middle East. It’s already being done with trucks, the train is a new element.

How will all this bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians?

Security coordination and economic peace will help bring about the diplomatic, political peace, which is more complicated for all different reasons.

The United States still supports a two-state solution, and Netanyahu has not rejected it.

But is it realistic to talk about regional peace before sorting out the problems with the Palestinians?

The Palestinians are a nation that knows how to survive. They are educated and hard working, they have their businesses in place, and this plan will give them the chance to connect economically with the rest of the Middle East. Peace can arise out of that.

It might not be a peace that will allow Israelis to head to Damascus or Riyadh to eat hummus — those are naive concepts. But I am a doer, and I believe this plan can exist within the conditions of today’s Middle East.

The ‘new’ US anti-Semitism

by Zalman Shoval                   Israel Hayom

http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=18489

 Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia were desecrated, hate graffiti and swastikas were spray-painted on the door of a Jewish school, and there have been at least 67 bomb threats against Jewish community centers from San Diego to Connecticut. And these are just the incidents that have made headlines and from which we can conclude that hatred of Jews is on the rise in America — both for classic anti-Semitic reasons and because of Arab elements, as the Jews of France were forced to learn again after a violent attack on two Jewish brothers in a Paris suburb last week.

At the same time, the esteemed Pew Research Institute has published a poll on Americans’ support for various religious groups in the country, and the results showed that Jews had the biggest support among respondents, ahead of Catholics, Mormons, and evangelical Christians. Another poll conducted by Gallup shows that 71% of Americans support the State of Israel. Indeed, there may not always be a direct connection between support of Jews and support for Israel, but it’s no coincidence that the anti-Semitism that was rife in the U.S. for a long time started to wane after Israel was founded, which had a positive effect on the status of Jews in the U.S., too.

So how do we reconcile this apparent contradiction? The answer lies in both the fact that classic anti-Semitism in America never entirely disappeared, and the fact that now the extremist sectors feel empowered by the results of the presidential election. Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who favored limiting the number of Jews who could enter the U.S. despite Nazi persecution, was not anti-Semitic, but many in his circle were. Apart from that, Roosevelt wanted for political reasons to avoid a face-off with racists in his party.

Some accuse President Donald Trump, unjustly, of similar electoral considerations after his spokesman refrained from mentioning the Jewish people on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Since then, both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have taken practical steps to shake off these accusations: Trump himself issued a clear condemnation of any expression of anti-Semitism, and Pence made an unusual gesture by grabbing a shovel and helping repair the vandalized headstones at the St. Louis cemetery.

American Jewish organizations feel this isn’t enough, and that the administration must adopt more practical and consistent measures, including legal ones, against anti-Semitic acts and what lies behind them. There are also those who believe that the rise in anti-Semitic incidents is related to Trump’s election victory. Statistically, this claim is correct, but not because Trump or his close associates are anti-Semites, but because Nazi and racist elements rode in on Trump’s coattails in the election. Incidentally, there is no figure that convincingly shows that Trump’s victory came thanks to the support of these marginal elements — the opposite may be the truth, that their vocal and crude support of him as a candidate actually deterred voters who otherwise might have cast ballots for him.

Israel welcomes the major turn for the better in relations with the U.S. under Trump and is working to deepen ties with it in all areas, but it does not identify, of course, with every foolishness of those who presume to represent the president, and certainly not with those who crawl up to him unwanted.

Indeed, the consistent headlines in the liberal (leftist) media in America and the West in general cover up the fact that the main anti-Semitic threat to U.S. Jews today is from elements mostly identified with the Left — such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement — whose purpose is to completely delegitimize the State of Israel and to cancel out the Jewish people’s very existence. These elements may claim they aren’t anti-Semitic, “only” anti-Israel and anti-Zionist, but in practice their incitement, their tactics — which include hampering Jewish speakers on university campuses — and the rest are anti-Semitism by definition.

The reality of anti-Semitism from both the Right and the Left demands the utmost unity among Jews, so it is regrettable that the umbrella organization of Reform Jews in America took a stance against the candidacy of David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel. One can debate his opinions (which, from the moment he takes office, carry no weight), but we must not provide a helping hand for those who wish the Jewish people as a whole ill and rush toward any sign of internal schism among them.

Animosity Towards a Sovereign Jewish State Is the Root Cause of the Conflict – Einat Wilf and Adi Schwartz (The Hill)

  • True peace requires addressing the deep sources of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Those lay with the Arab and Muslim reaction to the return of the Jewish people to powerful sovereignty in their ancient homeland. As far as Muslim theology and Arab practice were concerned, the Jews were non-believers, only to be tolerated, never as equals. They should have never been allowed to undermine Muslim rule over the lands which the Jews claimed as their homeland but the Arabs viewed as exclusively theirs since conquering them in the seventh century.
  • The return of the Jewish people to restored sovereignty in their ancient homeland required Arabs and Muslims to accept that a people, whom they have for centuries treated as inferiors, worthy of contempt, were now claiming equality and exercising power in their midst. This unnatural historical development, in Arab eyes, led Arab governments to take revenge and forcefully expel hundreds of thousands of Jews living in their midst, often in communities predating the birth of Islam, just after the establishment of the State of Israel.
  • It is also the reason why Arab states kept the Arabs who were displaced during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and their millions of descendants as perpetual “refugees” – to deprive the Jewish state of legitimacy and peace.
  • It is the reason that even after losing repeated military wars against the State of Israel, Arab countries have continued their diplomatic and economic war against it to this day.
  • This attitude towards the Jewish state is an Arab – and Muslim – issue, and not only a Palestinian one. The Palestinians are the thin end of the wedge by which the Arab and Muslim world wages its war against a sovereign Jewish people.
  • If the word “peace” is ever to truly describe the situation between Israel and its neighbors, it requires the Arab and Muslim world to accept the Jews as their equals and as an indigenous people who have come home.Einat Wilf is a former member of the Knesset. Adi Schwartz is a researcher and writer in Tel Aviv.