After 3 years of Gaza quiet, a boom of southern life
While the border with the Gaza Strip is Israel’s most explosive, three years of quiet has led to a surge of growth in Israeli communities bordering the Hamas-run Strip, a senior IDF officer said.
“People here feel more secure and they are building in the kibbutzim and neighboring communities,” Lt.-Col. Ariyeh Berger said, adding that there has also been an increase in tourism.
In the nearby town of Sderot, which sits just a few kilometers from the border and which has been pounded by thousands of Hamas rockets over the years, construction has increased tremendously with high-rise buildings on the outskirts of the town and a new mall at one of the entrances to the town.
“There is a lot of life here. In my eyes, that’s the most incredible thing I have seen,” Berger, who served on the northern part of the Gazan border stated.
The coordination and cooperation between military forces in the area and the local regional councils is at the highest possible level, with all relevant figures involved on an almost daily basis.
And while the prolonged period of quiet since Operation Protective Edge in 2014 has brought new life to border communities, every once in a while the calm is shattered by a rocket launched by Salafi jihadist groups, reminding the IDF of the ever-present threat on the other side of the fence.
Several rockets have struck southern Israel in recent months and while most of them have been claimed by small jihadist groups, many times as a means for pressuring Hamas by raising tensions between the terrorist organization and Israel, Israel holds Hamas responsible for all fire coming from the Strip.
Company Commander Capt. Guy Dahan told the Post that following a rocket launch toward the Eshkol regional council last month “we were able to pinpoint the target” and he fired on a Hamas position with his tank.
Due to intelligence gathered on the target prior to the retaliation, “it was all over quickly,” he said.
While the group has rebuilt its missile stockpile with locally produced weapons the group has also invested in their own intelligence gathering capabilities, building outposts every dozen meters along the border with Israel and patrolling the border. While the outposts may allow Hamas to collect intelligence on the IDF, Dahan told the Post that the outposts has made it easier for him and his fellow soldiers to see their enemy.
According to Berger, Hamas, which quickly arrests those responsible for firing rockets towards Israel, has been deterred and is not looking to get into another conflict with Israel. Nonetheless the IDF continues to build its capabilities and maintains the preparedness of troops.
Berger told the Post that troops under his command have at least two drills per week “to make sure that if the situation suddenly changes we know how to properly react and get the situation under control as fast as possible.”
In December, hundreds of IDF soldiers participated in a large-scale 11-hour drill in border communities as well as in large southern cities such as Ashkelon, Netivot and Ofakim in preparation for another possible war with Hamas and terrorist attacks emanating from the coastal enclave, including sudden, surprising terrorist infiltrations through terror tunnels into populated Israeli territory in the south of the country.
During the 2014 war, several soldiers were killed by Hamas gunmen when they popped out of the numerous tunnels dug into Israel by the terrorist group, surprising the IDF and leaving the residents of border communities concerned of possible tunnels beneath their homes. By the time of the last cease-fire, the IDF said it had destroyed 32 tunnels that crossed under the border.
According to Berger the army has not heard from any civilian reporting hearing any sounds of digging, but nonetheless the army is “spending a significant amount of energy and time on increasing our ability to protect our citizens.”
The construction of Israel’s underground barrier, which has become incredibly symbolic to both sides, has led some officials to voice their concern that it may push Hamas to attack Israel.
Construction of the barrier is expected to cost over NIS 3 billion and be completed within two years. Despite the fact that the barrier is being built entirely in Israeli territory, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir recently stated it can potentially lead to a dangerous escalation.
But while above ground it may be quiet, both Hamas and the IDF are preparing for a war which could break out at any moment.
“We know Hamas, we have been dealing with them for years,” Dahan said. (Jerusalem Post)
South African diplomat says country will boycott Africa-Israel summit
The organizers of the Africa-Israel summit scheduled for the end of October in Lomé, Togo, have not received official word from Pretoria that South Africa will be boycotting the summit, despite remarks to the contrary made last week by that country’s ambassador to Lebanon and Syria.
Nevertheless, there is no expectation at all that South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma would attend the conference, as South Africa has emerged as one of the leading forces in sub-Saharan Africa working against Israeli efforts to make inroads on the continent.
For instance, it was South Africa, according to Israeli diplomatic officials, which has blocked for years Israel’s acceptance as an observer to the African Union.
The South African newspaper The Citizen quoted last week Sean Benfeldt, the country’s ambassador to Lebanon and Syria as telling a delegation of the Popular Conference of Palestinians Abroad that Pretoria will not take part in the event which he described as a step to normalize relations between Africa and an “occupation state.”
According to the report, “the South African ambassador highlighted what he believed was Israel’s inhumane blockade of the Gaza Strip, stressing the need for practical solutions to the humanitarian suffering of the population in the besieged territory. Benfeldt also adopted the delegation’s proposal to invite ambassadors of African countries in Lebanon to a special meeting soon to talk about the summit with Israel and the need to boycott it.”
Al Jazeera reported last week that in addition to South Africa, several other African countries – including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania – have decided to boycott the summit.
One African diplomatic official characterized that as ‘fake news,” however, since no one expected those countries to take part.
The official said that while it was clear that Zuma will not attend, it is possible that the country might send a lower-level representative, perhaps an ambassador to one of Togo’s neighboring countries.
According to Al Jazeera, a group called the Popular Conference for Palestinians Abroad sent a letter last week addressed to African governments calling for a boycott of the summit.
“African countries which fought colonialism for decades and became free after a long suffering should never associate themselves with the only, longest and most brutal colonial project in the world today,” the letter read.
“In the name of justice and freedom and in the name of the African legacy of long struggle for freedom, we ask your country to disassociate from Israel’s Apartheid regime.”
The Jerusalem Post reported earlier this month that the Palestinian Authority and Morocco were pressuring Togo to scuttle the summit, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned this at a cabinet meeting some two weeks ago.
“Various pressure is being placed on Togo’s president to cancel the summit, and this is the best testimony to the success of Israel’s presence in Africa,” he said.
Nevertheless, planning for the event continues, with organizers expecting between 18 to 25 African heads of state to take part.
In addition, the Israel Export Institute, which is a partner in the summit, will bring to Lomé a delegation representing over 100 Israeli companies in various fields, including agritech, health, homeland security, water management, cybersecurity and telecommunications.
In addition, the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee will host a panel at the conference discussing ways to establish trilateral cooperation between Africa, Israel and the United States.
Israel has in the past leveraged its good ties with the US as a way to improve relations with various countries around the world, with those countries believing that good ties with Jerusalem will help them develop better ties with Washington. (Jerusalem Post)
Long-awaited Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway edges closer to maiden journey
An Israel Railways train passes through Ein Yael in Jerusalem
28 minutes. That’s the time it took for a passengerless train to make the journey from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Sunday in the first test run of the new high-speed rail link connecting two of Israel’s major cities, according to Channel 2.
A nation of commuters will be delighted by news of the successful test. The route, set to open in April 2018, will significantly cut the time currently required to travel from Tel Aviv to central Jerusalem by road or train.
The high-speed railway has been under construction since 2001 and will complement the existing, slower Jaffa-Jerusalem railway. Trains traveling on the 19th century Ottoman-built railway, which winds between picturesque hills, take approximately 80 minutes to arrive at their final destination. Many commuters opt to travel by car or bus.
Praising the test, Israel’s Transportation Minister Israel Katz said: “The high-speed train… will ensure the status of Jerusalem and the ability for people to live there and to open businesses. It will completely change the relationship between Jerusalem and the rest of the country.”
A bridge, part of Israel Railways’ Jerusalem High Speed Link project, is seen near the Israeli town of Modiin July 7, 2012. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)A bridge, part of Israel Railways’ Jerusalem High Speed Link project, is seen near the Israeli town of Modiin July 7, 2012. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)
Trains will service all four of Tel Aviv’s railway stations, pick up passengers at Ben-Gurion Airport and conclude their journey at Jerusalem’s new railway station near the city’s central bus station. During peak times, three trains per hour are expected to travel in each direction.
An infrastructure project requiring nine bridges and four tunnels was never going to be cheap. When complete, the railway is expected to cost in the region of NIS 7 billion, over double its original estimate.
The new railway is expected to change Israel’s transport and work scene, effectively turning Tel Aviv and Jerusalem into commuter towns for each other.
For many Israelis, the end of the daily trauma of endless traffic jams and delays on Israel’s highways is now in sight. April 2018 promises to bring a quicker, stress-free alternative. (Jerusalem Post)
Gazan children get first glimpse of Jerusalem in UN-run tour
Dozens of Palestinian children from the Gaza Strip saw Jerusalem and two of its holy sites for the first time on Sunday as part of a UN-run exchange program.
Ninety-one children aged between eight and 14 crossed from the Palestinian enclave into Israel before visiting Jerusalem, according to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA.
All but seven had never been out of Gaza, said UNRWA’s Scott Anderson.
The children visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built at the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried, and the Al-Aqsa mosque compound nearby, he said. Both sites are in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The children prayed and took pictures at the mosque compound, which also includes the golden-topped Dome of the Rock, an AFP journalist reported.
The compound is the third-holiest in Islam and the most sacred for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.
“They were over-the-moon excited,” Anderson said. “There’s really no other way to describe it.”
The children later travelled to Ramallah and will remain in the West Bank until Friday. They will visit various West Bank cities throughout the week.
The Gaza Strip, run by the terrorist group Hamas, has been under an Israeli blockade for a decade.
Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel and has fought three major rounds of conflict against it since seizing Gaza in 2007. Over the years, it has fired thousands of rockets into Israel, tunneled under the border to carry out attacks, and orchestrated suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis.
UN officials have called for an end to the blockade, citing deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the enclave of two million people.
Israel says its blockade is essential to prevent terrorists from obtaining materials to fortify military positions, dig tunnels and build rockets to fire at the Jewish state.
Gazans need Israeli permission to visit the West Bank and Jerusalem, which requires them to enter Israeli territory.
The vast majority of the children on Sunday’s trip had never been to Jerusalem even though it is only some 75 kilometers (around 45 miles) from Gaza City.
Gaza’s crossing with Egypt — the only other country with which it shares a border — has also remained largely closed in recent years.
The exchange program, in its first year, included 38 Palestinian children from the West Bank visiting the Gaza Strip a few weeks ago.
UNRWA hopes to carry out more such exchanges in the future. (the Times of Israel)
Trump must question Abbas-PLO commitment to peace with Israel
by David Singer J Wire
The planned visit to the Middle East at the end of August by President Trump’s Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell – presents a wonderful opportunity for them to test the commitment of the PLO and its leader Mahmoud Abbas to concluding a peace treaty with Israel…writes David Singer.
Abbas needs to confirm or reject his following remarks reported on 11 January 2014:
“Referring to Israeli demands to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas said, “This is a story that we have heard only in the last two years. We won’t recognise and accept the Jewishness of Israel. We have many excuses and reasons that prevent us from doing so.”
Abbas was speaking during a meeting in his office with dozens of east Jerusalem residents.
Israel’s problem is that the Palestinians know more than the Israelis about history and geography, he said. “We talk about what we know,” he said.
“We won’t accept the Jewishness of Israel. We are asking for the 1967 borders.”
Abbas and the PLO should be asked to amplify these remarks by written responses to the following questions:
On the Jewishness of Israel:
What excuses and reasons do you have for refusing to recognise and accept the Jewishness of Israel?
On the history of Palestine:
Do you accept the historical accuracy of the following statements in Israel’s Declaration of Independence?
“The land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.
Exiled from Palestine, the Jewish people remained faithful to it in all the countries of their dispersion, never ceasing to pray and hope for their return and the restoration of their national freedom.”
- On the geography of Palestine:
- Do you still claim that:
“Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.”
- Did the boundaries of Palestine during the British Mandate encompass what is known today as Israel, Jordan, Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and Gaza?
III. Did 78% of the British Mandate territory become the sovereign independent Arab State called ”The Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan” in 1946?
- On asking for the 1967 borders:
Are you aware that:
- the “1967 borders” are in fact the “1949 Armistice Demarcation Lines” delineated under an agreement signed on 3 April 1949 between The Government of the Hashemite Jordan Kingdom and the Government of Israel (Armistice Agreement)
- Article VI (9) of the Armistice Agreement provided:
“The Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in articles V and VI of this Agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto”.
If Abbas and the PLO can’t provide satisfactory answers – then Trump will be wasting his time trying to jumpstart negotiations – stalled since April 2014 – between Israel and the PLO – since those negotiations will assuredly end up going nowhere like previous PLO – Israel negotiations conducted during the last 24 years.
Jailed PLO terrorists and families of deceased terrorists still receive life-time payments for murdering Jews – rebuffing Trump’s demand they cease.
Trump has shown no compunction jettisoning poor performers like Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci and Steve Bannon who failed to deliver.
Abbas and the PLO could suffer the same fate if they show no genuine commitment to resolving the Jewish-Arab conflict after 50 years of relentless rejectionism.
David Singer is a Sydney Lawyer and Foundation Member of the International Analysts Network
Palestinians: When Suicide Attacks Are Bad
by Khaled Abu Toameh The Gatestone Institute
The emergence of ISIS-inspired groups in the Gaza Strip has long been an open known secret. This is the inconvenient truth that Hamas has been working hard to conceal for the past few years.
Obstinately holding on to an imaginary dream, some political analysts and journalists have misinterpreted the Hamas document as a sign of “moderation” and “pragmatism,” and argued falsely that the Islamist movement is ready to join a peace process with Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar could not be clearer on this point.
Hamas, as we all know, is hardly opposed to suicide bombings. Yet when the boomerang returns, suddenly the attacks become “cowardly terror” actions perpetrated by “outlaws” and “intellectually and religiously and morally deviant” terrorists. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and ISIS may disagree on many issues, but targeting Jews and “infidels” is not one of them. On that point, they are in savage agreement.
The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas is finally getting a dose of its own medicine — in the form of a suicide bombing targeting its members in the Gaza Strip.
During the past two decades, Hamas was responsible for dozens of suicide attacks that maimed and killed hundreds of Israelis, particularly during the Second Intifada between 2000 and 2006. Hamas is famous for its suicide attacks and hails the perpetrators as “heroes” and “martyrs.”
For Hamas, suicide bombings are a noble deed when they are carried out by its members and the victims are Jews.
In their own words, Hamas leaders and spokesmen continue to defend their suicide attacks against Israel as a “legitimate tool of resistance” against Israel.
Recent events, however, may have left a bad taste for suicide attacks in Hamas’s mouth.
On August 17, Nidal Al-Ja’fari, a member of Hamas’s military wing, Ezaddin Al-Kassam, was killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. The suicide bomber was identified as Mustafa Kallab, a member of a jihadi group that is affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group.
According to Hamas, Kallab detonated the explosive belt he was wearing as he and another jihadi tried to cross from the Gaza Strip into Egypt. The slain Hamas security officer, Al-Ja’fari, was among a border security patrol that intercepted the jihadis and attempted to stop them from infiltrating into Egypt. It was the first time a suicide bomber had ever targeted Hamas members.
Eyad Al-Bazm, a spokesman for Hamas, said the incident took place early August 17, when a Hamas unit noticed two suspects who were trying to cross the border from the Gaza Strip into the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. When the Hamas soldiers approached the suspects, Kallab detonated an explosive belt wrapped around his body, killing Al-Ja’fari.
Now that the shoe is on the other foot, things look a bit different. The Islamist movement, which is not used to being targeted by suicide bombers, has employed powerful rhetoric to condemn the terror attack and those behind it. This is the same Hamas that is used to applauding and glorifying suicide bombings and other terror attacks against Israel.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denounced the suicide bomber as an “outlaw” and said that his movement will deal with force and firmness against “those who deviate from the values and traditions of the Palestinian people.” Other Hamas leaders have described the suicide bomber as an “ideological deviant.”
Interestingly, several Palestinian factions, which regularly applaud stabbing and car-ramming attacks, as well suicide bombings, are now calling the August 17 attack along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt a “cowardly terror attack.”
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack that killed the Hamas officer. But this statement has not stopped the Palestinian manipulation machines from pointing a finger at Israel — completely without evidence.
This false accusation is an excellent example of the Palestinian modus operandi — at all cost, divert attention from a disturbing truth.
In this case, Hamas is diverting attention from the fact that ISIS jihadis have long been operating under its rule in the Gaza Strip.
Actually, many of the ISIS jihadis are former members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The emergence of ISIS-inspired groups in the Gaza Strip has long been an open secret. This is the inconvenient truth that Hamas has been working hard to conceal for the past few years.
Understandably, the presence of ISIS individuals and groups in the Gaza Strip is discomfiting for Hamas, especially in wake of its continued effort to win legitimacy and recognition by the international community. In the past few months, Hamas has been attempting to project itself as a “moderate” movement that accepts the two-state solution.
To back its claim, Hamas recently published a “policy document” that states that the movement would be prepared to accept a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines. What it refrains from mentioning, however, is that this acceptance would in no way include an acceptance of Israel’s right to exist.
In other words, Hamas is saying that it will use a future Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem as a launching pad to destroy Israel.
Obstinately holding on to an imaginary dream, some political analysts and journalists have misinterpreted the Hamas document as a sign of “moderation” and “pragmatism,” and argued falsely that the Islamist movement is ready to join a peace process with Israel.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar could not be clearer on this point — he has repeatedly denied the claim that his movement has abandoned its ideology and dream to destroy Israel, explaining that the real goal remains to “liberate all of Palestine, from the (Mediterranean) sea to the (Jordan) river.”
Timing is everything — and the timing of the August 17 suicide attack is particularly bad for Hamas. Hamas has been working overtime to improve its relations with Egypt in light of reports that jihadis from the Gaza Strip have been infiltrating Sinai to carry out attacks against the Egyptian army.
Now, the truth is out: this suicide attack demonstrates rather convincingly that the Egyptian charges are not unfounded.
Kallab was among a group of jihadis that was on its way to join ISIS and other Islamist terror groups in Sinai that have been waging a wave of terror attacks against the Egyptian army in the past few years. It is worth noting that Hamas has always denied the presence of ISIS in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has also denied that jihadis from the Gaza Strip were involved in terror attacks in Sinai. It now remains to be seen how the Egyptians will respond to the Hamas lies.
The unprecedented suicide attack, which caught Hamas by surprise, showcases the Gaza Strip for what it is: a breeding ground for jihadis and other Islamist terrorists. And, Hamas’s denunciation of the jihadis as “ideologically and religiously and morally deviants”, is beyond the bounds of irony.
On the other hand, Hamas may use the suicide bombing to try and persuade the Egyptians that it is serious in its effort to stop terrorists from crossing from the Gaza Strip into Egypt.
Hamas and the ISIS-inspired groups and individuals in the Gaza Strip are birds of a feather. Each and every one promotes and preaches extremist Islamist teachings.
Kallab and the ISIS jihadis in the Gaza Strip are sons of the Hamas school that has poisoned the hearts and minds of many Palestinians.
Hamas, as we all know, is hardly opposed to suicide bombings. Yet when the boomerang returns, suddenly the attacks become “cowardly terror” actions perpetrated by “outlaws” and “intellectually and religiously and morally deviant” terrorists.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and ISIS may disagree on many issues, but targeting Jews and “infidels” is not one of them. On that point, they are in savage agreement.