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Latest Israel News – 20th July

ReWalk: another Israeli life changing technology

This life changing Israeli technology is helping wheelchair bound individuals walk again. The ReWalk is an FDA approved exoskeleton that allows individuals with spinal-cord injuries to stand, walk, and move freely. Its mission is to give persons with lower limb disabilities an experience that is as close to natural walking as possible.

The ReWalk, which was invented by Dr. Amit Goffer, an Israeli quadriplegic, has already helped more than 100 paraplegics take their first steps towards mobility. (MFA)

Jewish ire at University of Sydney’s ‘Israel hate-fest’

The University of Sydney has distanced itself from a controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions conference being hosted by its Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, after members of the Jewish community labelled the gathering an “anti-Israel hate-fest”.

The department is holding the conference on July 28-29 in conjunction with lobby group Sydney University Staff for BDS and a range of pro-Palestinian organisations. Conference events include a speech on Palestinian rights under Donald Trump by US Campaign for Palestinian Rights executive director Yousef ­Munayyer, a paper by pro-BDS academic Jake Lynch on the pro-Israel influence in Australia, and a panel discussing anti-Semitism with pro-BDS Jewish speakers Peter ­Slezak, Marcello Svirsky and Vivienne Prozsolt.

Dvir Abramovich, the chairman of Jewish group the Anti-Defamation Commission, said it was shameful that the good name of the university had been hijacked and lent to a “blatantly anti-Israel hate-fest”, affording the conference legitimacy and credibility that is “unwarranted”.

“Misusing tax dollars to ­officially sponsor and put out the welcome mat to a one-sided propaganda gathering that is predicated on an immoral black-listing and boycotting of a state and its people, and which ­violates the principles of free speech and the unrestrained ­exchange of ideas so fundamental to university life, is shocking,” Dr Abramovich said.

“The BDS movement at heart is anti-Semitic, and by having an academic department, which is expected to be balanced and fair, host this event, a perception has been created that the university tacitly endorses this discriminatory and extremist platform.”

He said that the university should distance itself from the conference.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said the obsessive focus on BDS by the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies ignored the reality that it does nothing to advance a resolution to the conflict. “Then there is the irony that the organisers have scheduled a discussion on working with the Jewish community for a Saturday, automatically excluding ­observant Jews and demonstrating how tokenistic any attempts to understand the Jewish community actually are,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the University of Sydney said the institution was strongly committed to academic freedom and to being a forum for debate on a wide range of issues. “The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions policy is not a university-endorsed policy.”   (the Australian)

Israeli Army Distributes Video of Hezbollah Men on Lebanon-Israel Border

The Israel Defense Forces distributed two videos Tuesday the army says documents Hezbollah activity near the Lebanese border. According to the IDF spokesman’s office, the activity contravenes a on the presence of Hezbollah fighters in that area as part of a UN resolution.

The first film shows outposts known to affiliated with the Lebanese NGO Green Without Borders, and claim that the organization, ostensibly established to promote agriculture is working to collect intelligence against Israel by means of Hezbollah fighters are stationed at the organization’s lookout posts.

The second film shows pictures of more than 30 Hezbollah activists that the army says are patrolling in southern near the border with Israel. The IDF says it knows the individuals caught on film are Hezbollah by means of a Facebook page belonging to two Lebanese men.

Israeli army publishes video of Hezbollah men on Lebanon-Israel border

The films come ahead of a meeting to be held in the UN Security Council on Thursday on the subject of UN Resolution 1701 that ended the Second Lebanon War in August 2006. Last month, the IDF showed the Security Council what it said was documented evidence that Hezbollah lookouts were using Green Without Borders as a cover. Israeli army military intelligence chief, Herzl Halevi, criticized the UNIFIL peacekeeping force, saying that despite the important work they have done in Lebanon did, it claims it “doesn’t find Hezbollah basing itself in southern Lebanon.” Halevi called on UNIFIL not to bury its head in the sand and noted that Hezbollah is a stone’s throw from the border, under the guise of an environmental NGO.

Meanwhile, the chief of the IDF Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, said at a ceremony installing the new commander of the Galilee Division that Iran is “trying to penetrate Lebanon and Syria and establish extensive terror infrastructure” and that “Hezbollah is methodically breaching UN Resolution 1701, and in utter opposition to it, maintains a military presence there even if it is hidden in dozens of Shi’ite villages south of the Litani” river.                      (Haáretz)

Netanyahu slams EU as ‘crazy’ for ‘undermining Israel’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared Israel’s challenges with the leaders of four Central European countries on Wednesday during a closed meeting with the Visegrad Group in Hungary on Wednesday.

Netanyahu told the group, comprising Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, about Israel’s efforts to combat spillover from the civil war in Syria.

“We’ve provided humanitarian aid and we took in thousands of wounded women and children. Israel is treating them, at our expense, and we return them to Syria,” he said.

Speaking at a closed meeting that was accidentally transmitted to reporters, Netanyahu said Islamic State terrorists and Iran were establishing terror strongholds in the Syrian Golan Heights, across the border from Israel.

“I told [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, when we see them transferring weapons to Hezbollah, we strike them. We’ve done it dozens of times,” he said.

Netanyahu remarked on the immigration challenges currently facing Europe, which has seen a mass influx of Muslim immigrants in the wake of the Syrian war. He explained that Israel has closed the border between Israel and Syria because “Iran is establishing terrorist strongholds there.”

Unaware that reporters were listening in, Netanyahu leveled harsh criticism at the European Union, saying, “Europe is undermining its own security by undermining Israel.”

“The European Union is the only international organization that conditions relations with Israel, which gives it technology, on political considerations. Nobody else does that,” Netanyahu said.

“I was in China. We have special relations with China and they don’t care about the political issues. [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi told me, ‘I have to take care of India’s interests, and where will I get that? In Ramallah?’ Russia does not make political conditions and neither does Africa. Only the EU makes it conditional. It’s crazy. It is against Europe’s interests.

“I suggest that you deliver a message to your colleagues in Europe about how to help Europe,” Netanyahu told the leaders.

“Don’t undermine the only country in the region that takes care of Europe’s interests. Stop attacking Israel. Support Israel. Europe is dissociating itself from the biggest center of innovation in the world. It makes no sense. Europe is undermining its own security by undermining Israel. Because of a crazy attempt to institute political conditions.”

“I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive or if it wants to shrivel and disappear,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban called for improved relations between the EU and Israel, notably in security and technology.

Netanyahu and Orban both said relations should be reassessed as Israel is being criticized in Brussels while playing a stabilizing role in the Middle East, which benefits Europe.

The prime ministers of Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, who also attended the meeting with Netanyahu, said they support improved Israel-EU relations. (Israel Hayom)

In meeting with Netanyahu, Hungary’s PM acknowledges ‘sin’ of WWll

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday acknowledged Hungary’s “sin” in not protecting the country’s Jews during World War II, seeking to quell a controversy over his recent praise for Hungary’s wartime leader and Hitler ally Miklos Horthy.

Standing next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Hungarian leader also promised a “zero tolerance policy” toward anti-Semitism.

“We are aware of the fact that we have quite a difficult chapter of history behind us. And I wanted to make it very clear to him that the Government of Hungary, in a previous period, committed a mistake, even committed a sin, when it did not protect the Jewish citizens of Hungary,” Orban said. “I want to make it clear that it is our belief that every single Hungarian government has the obligation to protect and defend all of its citizens, regardless of their birth and origins.”

Hungary’s Nazi-allied regime instituted anti-Semitic laws modeled on Germany’s Nuremberg laws beginning in 1938. After German tanks rolled into Budapest in 1944, Nazi-installed Hungarian leaders ordered the mass deportation of Jews to Auschwitz. Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the war, through deportation to death camps or in massacres on Hungarian soil.

Orban said Hungary failed to live up to its commitment to its citizens during World War II, “both morally or in other ways. And this is a sin, because we decided back then, instead of protecting the Jewish community, to collaborate with the Nazis. I made it very clear to the prime minister that this is something that can never, ever happen again, that the Hungarian government will in the future protect all its citizens.”

Hungarian officials later pointed out this was the first time Orban referred to Horthy’s actions as a “sin.”

Bibi & Orban

On a four-day official visit in Hungary, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban walk during the reception ceremony in front of the Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary

MK Yair Lapid, who had urged Netanyahu’s to cancel his planned trip unless Orban’s apologizes, welcomed the Hungarian’s leader’s statement, but reiterated his outrage over Orban’s previous praise for Horthy.

“We must be clear: Hungary had a significant role in the Nazi extermination machine and was actively involved in the murder of Jews, in the murder of my family. That only heightens the severity of praising Miklos Horthy,” Lapid said. “The State of Israel is a strong and sovereign country and we must fight the increasing expressions of anti-Semitism in Europe which come from both the left and the right. When a prime minister in Europe says that an anti-Semite was ‘an exceptional statesman,’ we cannot be silent. That it is our moral responsibility to the millions who were murdered in the Holocaust.”

During the joint appearance with Netanyahu, Orban pointed out that a “sizable” Jewish minority lives in Hungary today. “I made it very clear to the prime minister that their security, being Hungarian citizens that they are, will be fully guaranteed by the Hungarian state, I’ve also made it very clear to the Prime Minister that the Hungarian government has a zero tolerance policy against all forms of anti-Semitism.”

There is a renaissance of Jewish life here in Hungary, Orban added. “And this is something that we are proud of. We think that the renaissance of Jewish life is a substantial contribution to the common achievements of the Hungarian nation quite clearly.”

Orban praised Netanyahu as a “dedicated patriot,” adding that this is the key to his country’s success.

“There’s a lot for us to learn from Israel, ladies and gentlemen, because Israel teaches the world and us also that if you don’t fight for something, you will lose it,” he said. “Because nowadays, you have to fight for everything in the modern world.”

Netanyahu said he raised with Orban “concerns” about his recent praise for Horthy and an anti-immigration billboard campaign, focused on Jewish billionaire George Soros, many Jews felt was anti-Semitic.

“He reassured me in unequivocal terms, just as he did now, publicly. I appreciate that. These are important words,” Netanyahu said.

The prime minister also thanked his host for standing up for Israel in international forums. “You’ve done that time and again. We appreciate this stance, not only because it’s standing with Israel, but it’s also standing with the truth.”

Budapest is at “the forefront of the states that are opposed to this anti-Jewish policy, and I welcome it,” the Netanyahu added.

Speaking in English after Orban, Netanyahu hailed Hungary as the birthplace of modern Zionism.

“When I come to Hungary, the first thing I think about, before anything else, is that Hungary was the, in many ways, the birth of modern Zionism, the movement that led to the establishment of the modern Jewish state because in Hungary was born our modern Moses, Theodor Herzl,” he said.

“It is probably inconceivable to think of the Jewish state, the State of Israel today, if it weren’t for that man born here in 1860, who envisioned the rebirth of the Jewish state and who saw in his mind’s-eye also the great challenges that would be posed anti-Semitism. He thought that this ultimately was the best solution for the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said, adding that he planned to visit the site where Herzl’s house once stood.

Before their statements, Netanyahu and Orban witnessed the signing of a bilateral culture agreement and declarations of intent regarding cooperation in innovation and technology. The culture agreement will enable reciprocal financing of cultural appearances, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Dozens of Israeli shows take place annually in Hungary via the existing culture agreement and dozens more will be added, thanks to the new one, thus allowing additional artists and directors – inter alia – to go to Hungary and expose Hungarian audiences to Israeli culture,” the PMO said.

The innovation and technology agreement is intended to increase cooperation between the Israel Innovation Authority and its Hungarian counterparts to promote Israeli-Hungarian startups. “The goal of the agreement is to promote cooperation between the governments including in the private sector with emphasis on high-tech, autonomous vehicles and new technologies,” according to the PMO.

Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu and his wife Sara were welcomed by Orban and his wife Aniko Levai at the steps of the Parliament in Hungary, where they reviewed a military honor guard. The Netanyahus toured the parliament, which houses the Holy Crown of Hungary, which has been used by kings since the twelfth century.

On Monday afternoon, Netanyahu was met Hungarian President Janos Ader in the presidential palace. He concluded the day with a dinner with Orban at the prime minister’s residence.

On Tuesday, he will meet the leaders of the Visegrad Group, a political alliance of four Central European countries: Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. He will also hold individual working meetings with Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Later in the day, Netanyahu and Orban will attend an economic forum attended by dozens of Israeli companies and more than 100 Hungarian companies from the cyber, high-tech, agriculture, pharmaceutical and technology sectors.

On Wednesday, the two prime ministers will visit the Dohany Street Synagogue and meet with Jewish community leaders. Relations between the local Jewish community and Israel have been tense over recent controversies surrounding Netanyahu’s apparent refusal to confront Orban over moves perceived as promoting anti-Semitism in the country.  (the Times of Israel)

Arabs killed Arabs at a holy site, the Jews are trying to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, and the Arab world is furious with the Jews about it

Rightly or wrongly, the Jewish state voluntarily gave up control of its holiest place 50 years ago; any tweak it makes now to try to prevent a new wave of violence is marginal by comparison

by David Horovitz    The Times of Israel


Less than three days. That’s what Israel likely has, at most, to resolve the fraught standoff at the Temple Mount.

If it’s not solved by Friday, when many thousands of Muslim worshipers will converge on the Old City for Friday prayers, we’ll need to brace for violence worse than the relatively low-level clashes around the site in the past few days.

It’s outrageous, of course. But saying so doesn’t solve anything.

It’s outrageous that in parts of the Muslim world, Israel is being castigated for installing metal detectors designed to boost security at the holiest place in the world for Jews and the third holiest for Muslims. Don’t they want security there?

It’s outrageous that many of those who are castigating Israel for ostensibly “changing the status quo” at the Temple Mount / Al-Aqsa Mosque compound are doing so without so much as mentioning the murderous attack that defiled the holy site and prompted the deployment of the metal detectors: On Friday, three Muslims — Israeli Arab Muslims — emerged from the compound, guns blazing, and shot dead two Border Police officers who were stationed on duty immediately outside. The two victims just so happened to be Druze — an Arabic-speaking monotheistic community incorporating many Islamic teachings. To put it really crudely then, Arabs killed Arabs at a holy place, the Jews are trying to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, and the Arab world is furious with the Jews about it. (As the footage below shows, one of the victims has his back to the compound as the gunmen emerge; he was there to protect them from outside attack.)

It’s outrageous that Jordan, which occupied the Old City before Israel captured it in 1967, and which Israel permitted to continue to administer the Temple Mount compound via the Waqf religious trust ever since, has been leading the public criticism of Israel. Surely Jordan should be leading the calls for better protection at the hallowed site. Surely Jordan should be apologizing for its refusal in the past to allow for security cameras to be placed at multiple locations on the Mount, as part of Israeli-urged precautions that might have prevented Friday’s attack.

It’s outrageous that the deployment of metal detectors outside the compound is being misrepresented as a change to that post-1967 status quo, when Israel since 1967 has always maintained overall security responsibility for the site, and when Friday’s events manifestly demonstrate the imperative for improved security.

The religious custodians of the third most holy place in Islam self-evidently loathe the notion of what they portray as a submission to those Jewish-overseen security checks more than they cherish the right to pray there

It’s outrageous that the metal detectors are deemed unacceptable when religious sites the world over are secured in exactly the same way, for exactly the same unfortunately necessary reasons. There is high security around key Islamic sites, notably including at Mecca and Medina. There is high security, including metal detectors, around the Western Wall plaza, immediately below the Temple Mount, imposed by Israel on all Jews and non-Jews who enter that area. There have long been metal detectors at the Mughrabi Gate entrance to the Temple Mount — the only access point for non-Jewish visitors.

It’s beyond outrageous that, since the compound was reopened by Israel on Sunday, after two days of security sweeps following Friday’s murderous attack, the Waqf officials have overseen what amounts to a boycott of their own holy places — insisting that Muslim worshipers not enter the Al-Aqsa compound so long as the metal detectors remain in place. The religious custodians of the third most holy place in Islam self-evidently loathe the notion of what they portray as a submission to those Jewish-overseen security checks more than they cherish the right and opportunity to pray there.

But, again, saying all that doesn’t change anything. It certainly doesn’t change the fact that all hell could break loose on Friday unless there’s some rapid, smart thinking.

So here’s a thought. How about some dialogue?

How about Israeli officials talking with Jordanian officials and trying to figure out a viable way forward, capitalizing on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s phone conversation with King Abdullah soon after the terror attack on Friday? It may well be that such contacts are already in full swing. And while it’s hard to say what formula might be found — Israel is not about to remove the metal detectors, and the Waqf is not about to reverse its refusal to have Muslim worshipers walk through them — it’s blindingly obvious that no formula will emerge unless people put their heads together. Netanyahu prides himself on warm relations with Abdullah, who holds overall responsibility for the Waqf, and who on Friday condemned the attack (even as he demanded that the Mount be reopened). That’s a useful start when you’re urgently seeking to restore and maintain calm.

Why on earth, one might ask, should Israel negotiate with anybody about vital security arrangements, at a site over whose status, moreover, it has already compromised to an astounding degree? Israel, after all, claims sovereignty in the Old City, yet it bars Jews from praying at the Mount, and consented to ongoing Muslim administration there.

And therein lies the answer. Israel chose not to fully realize its control over the Temple Mount in 1967 because it sought to avoid holy war with the Muslim world over this most contested and incendiary of places. It used a very convenient pretext to ban Jewish prayer there: the rabbinic consensus that forbids Jews from setting foot on the Mount for fear of inadvertently defiling the site of the Biblical Temples’ Holy of Holies. It opted for compromise.

No concession, agreed by Israel in negotiations to resolve the current standoff, could come close to matching that most dramatic of compromises half a century ago, in which the revived Jewish nation, having defeated its enemies in a war foisted upon it and liberated the most sacred place in its religious heritage, promptly relinquished its religious rights there to the representatives of its vanquished enemies.

And no compromise agreed to by Israel today could compare in its repercussions to the impact of that agreement 50 years ago, which has empowered a Palestinian and wider Muslim false narrative that asserts the Jews actually have no connection to the Mount, no history there, no legitimacy there — and by extension no sovereign legitimacy in Israel either. Why did defense minister Moshe Dayan’s concession on June 10, 1967, fuel that false narrative? Because, the way it was perceived in much of the Muslim world, the Jews could not and would not have relinquished their authority over the site if it truly constituted the most sacred physical focal point of their faith. Israel’s restraint, its religious realpolitik, in other words, has come to be regarded as proof of our illegitimacy. And of our duplicity. We were not the returning liberators; we were interlopers, who could and would be resisted until we returned to whence we ostensibly came.

Why get into all that decades-old history again now? Why focus on Israeli forbearance half a century ago, and decades of Muslim delegitimization, when we’re grappling with immediate dangers swirling around the Temple Mount? Because that’s what all of this is really about. Israel made its big-picture choice 50 years ago. It opted not to insist on religious freedom for Jews at the Temple Mount. Indeed, it opted not to insist on religious freedom at the Temple Mount, period. Israel deferred to Muslim sensitivities because of its perceived wider interests in working to normalize its very sovereign presence in the hostile Middle East.

Was that a historic mistake? Well, maybe it was, or maybe it was a vital, nation-saving imperative. It’s emphatically a question worth exploring. But the fact is that, today, right now, despite endless false assertions in the Muslim world to the contrary, there is no indication that the Netanyahu government intends to revisit that fundamental decision, no sign that it intends to reassert Israel’s fleeting full sovereignty at the Temple Mount.

In which case, it has less than three days, at most, to find an arrangement both sides can live with — to add one more tweak to that most dramatic of concessions from 50 years ago.

Israel and Hezbollah: The Battle before the Battle

by Jonathan Spyer          Middle East Forum


Israeli military planners now make little distinction between Hezbollah and uniformed Lebanese security forces.

During the 2006 war beween Israel and Hizballah, Israeli military actions were limited by the broader diplomatic situation. The expulsion of Syria from Lebanon had taken place a year earlier.

The government of then prime minister Fuad Siniora in Beirut was considered one of the few successes of the US democracy promotion project in the region. As a result, pressure was placed on Israel to restrict its operations to targets directly related to Hezbollah activity alone.

Ten years is a long time. Today, the view in Israel is that the distinction between Hezbollah and the institutions and authorities of the Lebanese state has disappeared.

But while the government of Lebanon is no longer a particular protégé of the US and the West, the position taken in Western capitals regarding the Lebanese state and, notably, its armed forces remains markedly different to that taken in Jerusalem. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) continues to be a major beneficiary of US aid.

This gap in perceptions reflects different primary security concerns. For Israel, altering this perception in the West before the next conflict with Hezbollah is a primary strategic task.

So what are the facts of the case? One of the basic expectations of a functioning state is that it exercise a monopoly on the use of violence within its borders.

Hezbollah and its allies have progressively absorbed Lebanese state institutions.

From this point of view, the Lebanese state ceased to function some time ago. As the 2006 and subsequent events graphically demonstrated, Hezbollah and its patrons could operate an independent foreign and military policy without seeking the permission of the official authorities in Beirut.

What has happened in the intervening decade, however, is that Hezbollah and its allies, rather than simply ignoring the wishes of the state, have progressively absorbed its institutions. The events of May/June 2008 in Beirut finally demonstrated the impotence of “official” Lebanon in opposing the will of Hezbollah and its allies.

Then, on the official political level, Hezbollah and its allies prevented the appointment of a Lebanese president for two years, before ensuring the ascendance of their own allied candidate, then-Gen. Michel Aoun, in October 2016. For good measure, the March 8 bloc of which Hezbollah is a part ensured for itself eight portfolios in the 17-person Lebanese cabinet. Of these, two are directly in the hands of Hezbollah.

So at the level of political leadership, it is no longer possible to identify where the Lebanese state begins and Hezbollah ends.

And the organization has long enjoyed a de facto, physical dominance, both within Lebanon and in terms of its actions across and beyond its borders (against Israel, in its intervention in the Syrian civil war, and in its involvement with other pro-Iranian militia groups in Iraq and Yemen).

What of the issue of security cooperation between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Armed Forces? No serious observer of Lebanon disputes that open cooperation between the two forces has increased over the last half decade.

The background to this is the threat of Sunni jihadist terrorism from Syrian Salafi groups engaged in the Syrian civil war. A series of bombings in Shi’a south Beirut and in border communities triggered the joint effort by Hezbollah and the LAF.

Of course, the bombings were taking place as retaliation by Syrian Salafi groups for Hezbollah’s own involvement in the war in Syria on the regime side. The Lebanese Armed Forces and Hezbollah cooperated on the level of intelligence sharing and scored a number of successes in locating and apprehending Salafi cells on Lebanese soil.

As a result of the increasingly overt cooperation between the Lebanese Armed Forces and Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia ended its military assistance to the LAF, canceling a $3 billion pledge in February 2016. The cancellation was a tacit admission of defeat by the Saudis, an acknowledgment that their project of exerting influence and power in Lebanon through their clients had failed.

The US, however, has continued its relationship with the LAF, which was the recipient of $200 million in assistance from Washington last year. Last December, the US dismissed Israeli assertions that M-113 armored vehicles displayed by Hezbollah in a triumphant parade in the town of Qusayr in Syria came from LAF stocks. The Lebanese Armed Forces, according to a statement by John Kirby, then-State Department spokesman, has an “exemplary record” in complying with US end-use guidelines and restrictions.

A statement by President Aoun in February appeared to confirm the situation of cooperation between the forces. Aoun told the Egyptian CBC channel that Hezbollah’s arms do not contradict the state… and are an essential part of defending Lebanon. As long as the Lebanese army lacks sufficient power to face Israel, we feel the need for Hezbollah’s arsenal, because it complements the army’s role.

The difference of opinion between the US and Israel in this regard is of growing importance because of the emergent evidence of hitherto unreported Hezbollah activities. In particular, there is deep disquiet in Israel regarding revelations of an Iranian- supported, homegrown Hezbollah arms industry. This, combined with what may be the beginnings of a slow winding down of the Syrian war, raises the possibility of renewed tensions with Hezbollah.

This does not mean that war is imminent.

But from an Israeli point of view, the gap in understanding and perception between Washington and Jerusalem on the Lebanese Armed Forces, and by definition on the current nature of the Lebanese state, is a matter requiring urgent attention. It is currently one of the missing pieces in the diplomatic structure which alone can make possible the kind of war that Israel will be wanting to fight next time round, should Hezbollah attack or provocation come.

This is intended to be a war on a scale and dimension quite different from 2006.

The intention will be to dismiss any distinction between Hezbollah and the Lebanese state, and to wage a state-to-state war against Lebanon, on the basis that the distinction has become a fiction. This would involve an all-out use of military force that will be intended to force a relatively quick decision.

Israel must convince the US that an Iranian proxy militia has effectively swallowed the Lebanese state.

For this to be conceivable, a diplomatic battle has to first be won. This is the battle to convince the West, or at least the US, that an Iranian proxy militia has today effectively swallowed the Lebanese state, making war against the former, by its very nature, involve war against the latter.

This battle before the battle has not yet been won. It is part of a larger Israeli hope to focus the US and the West on Iran and Shi’a political Islam, in place of the current Western focus on the Sunni variety. Only thus will Israel be able to establish the strategic depth in the diplomatic arena that will enable, if necessary, its plans in the event of war with Hezbollah to be carried out.

Why Trump’s Syrian Cease-fire Makes Israel Nervous

By David Makovsky             Politico Magazine


Israel has done all it could over the past six years to stay out of the maelstrom next door in Syria, where Bashar Assad’s regime has struggled for six years to beat back a peaceful uprising that became a bloody civil war. So I was struck during a recent visit by how nervous so many senior Israeli officials were about what unfolding developments in eastern Syria means for them in the months ahead—as well as how concerned they were about the enforcement of President Donald Trump’s recent cease-fire deal in southern Syria with Russia and Jordan.

Though it doesn’t say so publicly, Israel long ago wrote off western Syria as constituting a brutal triumph for Assad, who was assisted by Russia, Iran, Shia fighters and Hezbollah in defeating mostly Sunni insurgents. Israeli officials are scathing in viewing Assad as a butcher who murders and gasses his own people with virtual impunity. Yet, they believe he is unlikely to be dislodged. And they see in Assad’s survival a lesson rooted in the tragic history of the Jewish people: Israel must always have deterrent strength, since nobody came to the aid of the defenseless victims of the Syrian dictator just as nobody came to the aid of the victims of the Holocaust.

Israel’s view of eastern and southern Syria is different. There, Israeli strategic thinkers see a growing Iranian threat that requires a much more robust response.

The most recent development is the cease-fire announced by Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, which Trump said “will save lives.” For Israel, it’s noteworthy that Jordan was a party to the deal—the Israel-Jordan security relationship has deepened amid shared concerns about Iran and ISIS. However, Israeli security experts are skeptical that the cease-fire will hold—they have seen too many similar agreements fall apart in Syria. But this cease-fire touches more directly on Israeli interests than past such deals, as it falls not far from the Syrian-Israel border and adjacent to the Golan Heights, approximately two thirds of which is controlled by Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered a clear signal of Israel’s disquiet about the cease-fire just after it was announced. His office released a public statement laying out Israel’s “red lines” in Syria. Any deals, he said in remarks to his Cabinet: 1) Have to keep Iran and Hezbollah away from Israel’s Golan border; 2) Must prevent “the establishment of an Iranian military presence in Syria as a whole”; 3) Must block any attempt by Hezbollah to acquire “precision weapons.” This statement has raised the stakes for Jerusalem, as Israeli leaders do not usually speak about red lines.

Netanyahu also referred to “deep conversations” he had apparently held on the phone with Putin and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the architect of the cease-fire on the American side. “Both told me that they understand Israel’s position and will take our demands into account,” Netanyahu said. While saying Israel welcomes a genuine cease-fire in Syria, he said Israel’s will be “strongly upholding our red lines.”

Israeli security analysts tend to be a non-ideological, sober bunch by nature, and they are anxiously awaiting one coming development in the coming months: the fall of ISIS. The collapse of the Islamic State’s stronghold in Mosul has focused public attention on how the Middle East will look after the next domino falls—Raqqa, in northeastern Syria. And while Israel has pointedly stayed out of the ISIS crisis for years, its strategists now worry that the post-Raqqa world could create a vacuum that would be filled by Iran. A common refrain in my conversations was that the United States was pulling out of Raqqa and making Syria safe for Iran and its proxies. Israel’s fear is not that Iran will suddenly flood eastern Syria with troops, but will strategically deploy many of the estimated 25,000 Iran-backed Shia forces in the country to put down roots there. None of this should be misinterpreted to mean that Israeli officials want ISIS to stay—they just fear the aftermath of its ouster.

The unifying thread between Netanyahu’s three big concerns is his growing nervousness about Iran’s role in countries neighboring Israel. In Syria, Israel believes, Iranian strategists are trying to create a land bridge or land corridor going from Iran all the way to Lebanon that could be used to supply Hezbollah with increasingly precise weaponry and other resources. The term “Iranian land bridge” seemed to be on virtually every Israeli speaker’s lips at the annual Herzliya conference on foreign policy and security, where I spoke.

Iranian officials are hardly shy about their aims. “Today, the resistance highway starts in Teheran and passes through Mosul and Beirut to the Mediterranean,” Ali Akbar Velayati, a top Iranian adviser to Supreme Leader Aytalloh Khameini, said last week. Israel views Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani in particular as a master chess player who sees the land bridge as part of a wider effort to entrench Iran more deeply in the Levant. Chagai Tzuriel, director-general of Israel’s Intelligence Ministry, reportedly called such a land corridor a “strategic game-changer.”

Israel has played the Syrian crisis very cautiously over the past six years, so its concern about northeastern and southern Syria marks a significant departure. Netanyahu is famously risk-averse, seeing how his predecessor Ehud Olmert was toppled in no small measure by a land war in nearby Lebanon in 2006 that ended in a standoff and caused his popularity to plummet and never fully recover. No less significant is that Israel knows that it could not be a decisive factor in the Syrian war, which has multiple fronts and a baffling miasma of sectarian and extremist groups.

So, Netanyahu has handled the Syrian crisis from a defensive crouch. Israel fires back if there are rockets fired at it, and returns fire for errant mortars amid firing in southern Syria. It also shoots at convoys and the like if it detects Hezbollah moving advanced weaponry from Syria into Lebanon. It has provided low-level assistance to Syrian border villages to maintain friendly ties and is proud of providing medical assistance to thousands of Syrians.

Yet Israel is very aware that the Syrian civil war is entering a new phase, perhaps the very beginning of the postwar period. It is one thing to stay out of the fighting, but quite another to see political arrangements unfold that may lock in a permanent Iranian presence in Syria. Israel therefore looks at Iran’s role in Syria in a different light now.

From my talks with several Israeli security officials, I’ve learned that Israel makes a clear differentiation between Iran and Russia. In Israeli eyes, Iran’s influence is completely nefarious, while Russia’s is merely a fact of life. Several top Israeli officials even favor collaboration in Syria between the United States and Russia. Yet, questions linger about Russia’s sincerity about enforcing its end of the bargain on recalcitrant proxies like Iran and Assad.

As for the cease-fire in southern Syria, Israel’s most immediate concern is anything that brings Iran or Hezbollah to the border of Israel’s tacit ally, Jordan, or close to the border with Israel on the Golan Heights. In principle, a cease-fire deal that would keep Iran, Hezbollah, and Shiite forces away from these sensitive areas and would be welcome by Israel.

Yet for Israel, the potential gap between theory and practice looms large. Would the Russians actually enforce the cease-fire in southern Syria? Will Russian monitoring by satellites, drones and military police occur, and will it be sufficient? Does Russia really intend to keep Iran and Hezbollah in check? According to senior Israeli military officials, several hundred Hezbollah officials have joined the First Syrian Corps in southern Syria, where they provide intelligence and plant roadside bombs against Syrian rebels. The cease-fire does not formally include the Golan, but the strategic heights are of great concern to Israel, which wants to ensure that Hezbollah does not open a second front there, along with its stronghold in southern Lebanon. Israel is deadly serious about this, having shown that it will retaliate in the Golan by killing an Iranian general during a visit there two years ago. There is even unconfirmed speculation in southern Syria that if tensions rise, Israel will seek to empower local allies like the Druze to serve as a buffer.

No less significant for Israel are the anticipated developments in eastern Syria in the coming months. Israel’s fears about the fall of Raqqa creating a vacuum that could empower Iran create a dilemma for Netanyahu, who knows that the United States has little appetite for creating some sort of stabilization force in Syria. On one hand, he fears that Iran will gain a huge boost and solidify the land corridor by use of its Shiite forces. On the other, he’s wary of being seen as urging the U.S. to stay in Syria in the post-Raqqa phase, as he knows that anything Israel does will be scrutinized in the American public debate and would thus be very politically sensitive. But what alternative does Israel have? One high-level Israeli Cabinet minister told me just before Netanyahu’s “red lines” statement that if the U.S. pulls out and enables Iran to fill the post-Raqqa vacuum, an Iranian-Israeli “collision is inevitable.”

One early flashpoint could be a set of underground Iranian precision-guided missile production facilities that are being constructed in Lebanon for Hezbollah’s benefit. In an extraordinary statement at Herzilya, Israel’s director of military intelligence Maj.-Gen. Herzie Halevy announced the existence of the facilities, which would undoubtedly benefit from an Iranian land bridge through Syria. Could this be what Netanyahu was referring to when he warned that Hezbollah’s “acquisition of precision weapons” was one of his red lines? Was Halevy’s announcement signaling that Israel was willing to preemptively strike, and that therefore a way must be found to stop the construction?

Whatever, the case, Netanyahu’s message for Trump and Putin was clear: Israel’s interests in Syria—and its rising alarm about Iran—can’t be ignored any longer.