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Latest Israel News – 24th March

Jewish Israeli-US teen arrested for phoning in JCC bomb threats

A Jewish Israeli teenager born in the US has been arrested on suspicion of issuing dozens of fake bomb threats against Jewish institutions in North America and elsewhere in recent months, police said on Thursday.

Police said the resident of the southern city of Ashkelon was the subject of a months-long undercover investigation by police’s Lahav 433 cyber unit and the FBI. It said in a statement that the motive behind the bomb threats was unclear. Police said he is 19 years old, but several Israeli media outlets reported him as 18.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the suspect allegedly placed dozens of threatening phone calls to public venues, synagogues and community buildings in the US, New Zealand and Australia. He also placed a threat to Delta Airlines, causing a flight in February 2015 to make an emergency landing.

“He’s the guy who was behind the JCC threats,” Rosenfeld said, referring to the dozens of anonymous threats phoned in to Jewish community centers in the US over the past two months.

The hoax calls were widely regarded as acts of anti-Semitism. The threats led to criticism of President Donald Trump’s administration for not speaking out fast enough. Last month, the White House denounced the threats and rejected “anti-Semitic and hateful threats in the strongest terms.”

Channel 2 reported that the suspect tried to seize the gun of a female police officer when cops arrived at his home to arrest him.

Rosenfeld said the man used advanced technologies to mask the origin of his calls and communications to synagogues, community buildings and public venues. He said police searched his house Thursday morning and discovered antennas and satellite equipment.

“He didn’t use regular phone lines. He used different computer systems so he couldn’t be backtracked,” Rosenfeld said.

The suspect was brought before the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court later on Thursday for a remand hearing. He was ordered to be placed under 24-hour observation, as a potential danger to himself, Channel 2 reported.

His father was also summoned by police for questioning.

The suspect, who was not named, faces charges of extortion and is accused of sowing widespread fear and panic, police said.

Sources confirmed the suspect is a dual US-Israeli citizen. He was exempted from the mandatory IDF service after recruiters deemed him unfit for military service, according to the Haaretz daily.

During his court hearing, the suspect covered his face with a sweater. A neighbor told the channel he was extremely quiet and would only leave his home to walk a dog, always wearing the same clothes.

Illustrative photo of police tape at the JCC in Nashville, Tennessee, after the community center received a bomb threat on January 9, 2017. (Screenshot: The Tennessean)

Illustrative photo of police tape at the JCC in Nashville, Tennessee, after the community center received a bomb threat on January 9, 2017. (Screenshot: The Tennessean)

Nearly 150 bomb threats have hit JCCs, Jewish day schools and other Jewish institutions since the beginning of the year, causing the evacuation of dozens of Jewish community centers. The threats have mostly come in waves, via phone and email. Many of the institutions have been threatened more than once.

The FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies have been investigating the threats to the Jewish institutions.

Juan Thompson, a St. Louis resident, has been charged with committing eight of the threats, but appears to have been a copycat.

Earlier this month, a top New York police official said most of the threats were likely being carried out by a single individual using phone spoofing technology to mask the source of the calls.  (the Times of Israel)

IDF chief: Hamas tunnels are not a strategic or existential threat

“The threat of Hamas tunnels is grave, but it does not constitute an existential or strategic threat to Israel,” Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said on Wednesday, as he defended the IDF’s performance during the 2014 Gaza War in the face of harsh criticism by the recent State Comptroller’s Report.

Eisenkot made the statement to the Knesset State Control Committee.

The Comptroller’s Report highlighted the military’s failure to prepare for the Hamas tunnel threat, slammed the IDF for intelligence failures, suggested that the war was possibly unnecessary and said it should not have dragged on for 50 days.

Eisenkot made public comments before the committee followed by a classified session behind closed doors.

During the public comments, the IDF chief welcomed the Comptroller’s Report, saying that it “aided the IDF in the process it had already begun immediately after the war of learning the lessons” of Operation Protective Edge.

He acknowledged that the attack tunnels led to the deaths of 13 soldiers, saying that it marked “the first time the army had dealt with fullfledged underground warfare.”

Eisenkot added, however, that the IDF did manage to find and destroy 31 tunnels, something that “would not have been possible without excellent intelligence work.”

While the tunnels constitute a serious threat, they are just one of many that Israel is facing, including from Hezbollah, Hamas rockets, Sinai, the West Bank, Syria and the Iranian nuclear threat.

As in a speech he gave on Tuesday, he mentioned the Iranian nuclear threat last.

He added that with all of these threats, “we can’t have optimal responses to every threat,” must prioritize resources and must even take risks in certain areas since resources are not unlimited.

However, the IDF has dedicated major resources to combat the tunnel threat, Eisenkot said, both from Hamas and from Hezbollah in the North. He said that the army had dedicated an additional NIS 1.2 billion to technological solutions to the tunnel issue and additional billions to improving intelligence and related issues, as well as establishing special units to deal with the underground threat.

He acknowledged that there were still shortcomings in the preparedness to deal with tunnels, but claimed that Israel was more advanced than any other country, including the US and South Korea, at doing so.

Defending the IDF’s performance during Operation Protective Edge, he said that the result has been a period of quiet on the Gaza border unparalleled in the last 40 years.

The IDF chief also discussed the way the army had adjusted to dealing with the Hamas rocket threat in order to maintain deterrence.

“We had an arrangement in which they fired a rocket and we fired shells. We learned we could not tolerate this,” he said.

Now, if Hamas or anyone else from Gaza fires a rocket, “we hit valuable Hamas targets – not empty locations of small arms.

It gives us more deterrence.”

Even with what he called the IDF’s progress, he cautioned against complacency, saying deterrence is an amorphous concept that evolves dynamically in changing circumstances.

Earlier, committee chairwoman Karin Elharar said “the most important thing is… taking responsibility for the failures, and then to move forward and to try to fix them without compromises.”

Elharar showered Eisenkot with praise for addressing the war’s failures and making changes, while backhandedly criticizing “other officials” (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon) who have not acted similarly in her view.

Likewise, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira complimented Eisenkot for implementing the recommendations of the report even before it was completed.

Further and significantly for future appointments, Shapira complimented incoming IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen.

Aviv Kochavi for his openness and work in implementing the recommendations.

Shapira’s complimenting of Kochavi could pave the way for Kochavi to succeed Eisenkot down the road, despite the fact that Shapira’s report harshly criticized Kochavi and IDF Military Intelligence as making intelligence errors when he headed it during the war.

Wednesday’s was the second of three major hearings on the issue.

The first hearing on Sunday highlighted criticism of Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, who was national security adviser at the time of the war, and Cohen’s responses to the criticism.  (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinian killed, two others wounded by IDF fire near Gaza border

An 18-year-old Palestinian man was killed and two others were moderately wounded after the IDF opened fire toward them in the southern Gaza Strip.

The three were near the border fence between Rafah and Israel on Tuesday night and were hit by tank fire after attempting to cross the border, the IDF said.

It is not clear why they were approaching the fence, but according to initial reports, the three appeared to IDF soldiers to be in the act of planting bombs.

Ashraf al-Qudra, the spokesman for the health ministry in Gaza, identified the 18-year-old as Yousef Abu Azra. He and the two wounded, no names given, were evacuated to the Abu Yousef al-Najjar hospital in Rafah, the southern Gaza Strip, in moderate and critical condition with shrapnel wounds over their bodies, according to the spokesman.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the Israeli artillery fire on east Rafah, with government spokesman Tariq Rishmawi calling on the international community “to put an end to the continued and premeditated Israeli aggressions on our people in all places that they exist.”

The IDF said it was investigating the incident.

Two weeks ago, two bombs were neutralized in an off-limits area in the northern Gaza Strip. The charges were taken in for further examination. There were no casualties in the incident.

Hamas has recently built military outposts every dozen meters along the border with Israel and also carries out regular patrols, to both impose its control on the Strip by preventing Palestinians from crossing into Israel and to watch what is happening on the Israeli side.

The incident comes as the military finished its largest planned drill of the year, calling up some 2,000 reserve soldiers to simulate a war in Gaza. The surprise drill, which was carried out by the Southern Command’s reserve division, the Sinai Division, included four reserve brigades – two infantry and two armored brigades. The IDF’s Home Front Command also carried out a drill this past week in the South.

Despite tension between Israel and the Gaza Strip running high, the IDF said that both drills were planned in advance.

The last two months have seen gunfire targeting IDF troops along the border as well as seven rockets launched at Israel.

Most of the attacks have been claimed by small jihadist groups, often as a means of pressuring Hamas by raising tensions between the terrorist organization and Israel.

Hamas has cracked down on these small groups, recently carrying out a series of arrests among Salafi, jihadist, pro-Islamic State organizations. Nonetheless, Israel holds Hamas responsible for all fire coming from the Strip.              (Jerusalem Post)

PM: China holds Israel’s innovation in high esteem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wound up a three-day visit to China on Wednesday saying Beijing’s high esteem for Israel’s innovative abilities opens up massive opportunities worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Before boarding his plane back to Israel, Netanyahu summed up his visit – which focused more on economics and technology than diplomacy – by saying the trip contributed not only to Israeli-Chinese relations, “but also to advancing Israel’s economy.”

Upon his return to Israel, Netanyahu will be thrust immediately into the coalition crisis over the fate of the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation.

Terming China a “giant world power,” Netanyahu said Beijing decided to forge “a special connection” with Israel regarding innovation, characterizing it as a “unique partner for innovation.”

“This opens up for us very big opportunities,” Netanyahu, said, noting that a number of agreements were signed that “are good for the Israeli economy.”

Netanyahu said the strong relationship with China is also good for Israel’s “diplomatic standing that is rising in the world. Israel is a country sought after, and the innovation of its citizens is appreciated the world over, especially in China.”

Bibi in China

Sara Netanyahu photographs her husband, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Great Wall of China

The prime minister’s return to Jerusalem caps two months of intensive travel that has taken him to the capitals of four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, Russia, Britain and China – as well as to Singapore and Australia.

Though he was toying with the idea of attending the annual AIPAC policy Conference in Washington next week, he will not go, but rather address the gathering by a video hook-up instead.

On his final day of his trip, Netanyahu went to the Great Wall of China and then ate lunch with his wife, Sara, in a Chinese restaurant. His visit to the Great Wall was not open to reporters traveling with him.

Among other trips Netanyahu is likely to take later this year is one to Budapest, where he will meet leaders of the Visegrad Group – an alliance made up of Hungary, Poland the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

He is also scheduled to travel to Togo in the fall for a meeting with a number of African leaders.

There also is talk about a trip to Latin America, which would be the first ever visit by a sitting Israeli prime minister to South or Central America.

So far, however, nothing definite has been arranged.              (Jerusalem Post)

Israel said to reject US demand for building freeze in isolated settlements

The Trump administration reportedly demanded that Israel halt all construction in isolated West Bank settlements and put curbs on new building inside the major settlement blocs, under the terms of an agreement currently being negotiated with the Netanyahu government over settlement construction.

During his visit to the region last week, US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt held a pair of lengthy discussions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in part to reach an understanding on new settlement construction.

According to several Hebrew media reports Wednesday, Greenblatt set out terms under which the US would not oppose the construction of new homes in Jewish neighborhoods over the pre-1967 lines in East Jerusalem, and would accept an agreed number of new homes each year inside the major settlement blocs, while no new homes would be built in isolated settlements. Building in the blocs would be within an agreed annual quota, Greenblatt proposed, according to Channel 2.

Israel “was surprised” by the stringency of the demands, and rejected them, the report said.

Netanyahu rejected the terms, Haaretz reported, in part due to opposition from coalition members to a public declaration of any type of settlement freeze. Right-wing members of his Likud party, as well as from the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, were adamantly opposed to any freeze, Haaretz added.

Netanyahu also reportedly rejected Greenblatt’s proposal because it would prevent him from honoring his promise to build a new settlement for the evacuees of the now destroyed illegal Amona outpost, according to Channel 2.

Channel 2 further reported that Netanyahu wants to be able to build within settlements’ “city limits” — which could potentially triple the size of the settlement enterprise.

As a consequence of the failure to reach an understanding with Greenblatt during his visit, Netanyahu dispatched his chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, to Washington on Sunday in order to continue discussions on the subject with the Trump envoy alongside Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu said there had been “significant progress” in talks on the issue with the US.

“The talks have not been completed, but there is progress and we will hear about it when we reach Israel,” he told reporters in China, where he was on a state visit.

Greenblatt has not specified what was discussed on the settlements issue with Netanyahu. When The Times of Israel’s diplomatic correspondent, Raphael Ahren, tweeted on Thursday evening that Greenblatt’s second powwow with Netanyahu had ended without concrete results, the US envoy replied that “complex matters are not black and white and require significant time and attention to review and resolve.”

After Trump told Netanyahu that “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit” during a February meeting of the two leaders at the White House, the prime minister said he was working with the US administration to “establish a mechanism” to coordinate new settlement construction.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu said that while he is still seeking to reach an agreement with the Trump administration, he would not “negotiate” on halting construction of new homes in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu also said on Tuesday he had not “retreated” from his promise to build a brand new West Bank settlement for the Amona evacuees.

The prime minister has been trying to get the White House’s approval for the construction of the new settlement — the first in some 25 years — to replace Amona, which was evacuated and demolished in February in accordance with a High Court ruling that found it was built illegally on private Palestinian land.

Last month, he indicated to members of his security cabinet that the government may have to back off the pledge, drawing vociferous protests from the settlers and their allies in the coalition.

Before his second meeting with Greenblatt last week, by contrast, Netanyahu vowed that he would fulfill his promise to Amona residents to establish the new settlement.

In a report released Wednesday, the Central Bureau of Statistics said new West Bank settlement housing construction starts were up to 2,630 in 2016, marking a nearly 40 percent increase from 2015.

The CBS statistics do not include housing starts in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

Since Trump’s inauguration, Israel has approved the construction of some 6,000 news homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which unlike during the Obama administration were met with little fanfare from the White House, although no new building plans have been announced since Trump’s comments in February. (the Times of Israel)

Israel’s ‘secret’ system of education drives high-tech powerhouse

by  Naftali Bennett                     The Wall Street Journal/The Australian


I am often asked how a country the size of New Jersey, with fewer residents than New York City, became a global hi-tech force. In a dynamic world, where innovation and adaptation are crucial, everyone wants to know Israel’s secret educational ingredient.

Despite its small size, Israel lists 93 companies on the Nasdaq — more than India, Japan and South Korea combined. In 2016 investors sank $US6 billion ($7.7bn) into Israel’s more than 6000 start-ups. Google, IBM, Apple and Intel all have research-and-development centres located there.

Many people look to the Israeli education system to explain this success. During my two years as Minister of Education I have come to understand that although Israel’s schools are good, our secret weapon is a parallel education system that operates alongside the formal one. This is where our children learn to become entrepreneurs.

Israel’s shadow education system has three components. The first is our heritage of debate — it’s in the Jewish DNA. For generations Jews have studied the Talmud, our legal codex, in a way vastly different from what goes on in a standard classroom. Instead of listening to a lecture, the meaning of complex texts is debated by students in hevruta — pairs — with a teacher offering occasional guidance.

Unlike quiet Western libraries, the Jewish beit midrash — house of study — is a buzzing beehive of learning. Since the Talmud is one of the most complex legal codes ever gathered, the idea of a verdict is almost irrelevant to those studying. Students engage in debate for the sake of debate. They analyse issues from all directions, finding different solutions. Multiple answers to a single question are common. Like the Talmud itself — which isn’t the written law but a gathering of protocols — the learning process, not the result, is valued.

The second component of our shadow education system is the peer-teaches-peer model of Jewish youth organisations, membership-based groups that we call “movements”. Teenagers work closely with younger children; they lead groups on excursions and hikes, develop informal curricula, and are responsible for those in their care. As an 11th-grade student, I took fifth-graders on an overnight hike in the mountains. Being given responsibilities at a young age helped shape me into who I am today.

The third component is the army. Because we are constantly defending ourselves from Islamic terror, 18-year-old boys and girls are drafted into the military for stints of two or three years. Young Israeli adults must literally make life-or-death decisions every day.

As a 23-year-old officer in 1995, I led 70 soldiers behind enemy lines. The covert mission required me to prepare my troops, mobilise people and equipment, build contingency plans, and function under immense physical and mental pressure. These situations teach a person how to execute plans — or adapt and improvise.

Consider a hypothetical 19-year-old soldier in the intelligence corps, analysing aerial photographs or intercepted communications. She must decide if the material in front of her indicates an impending attack or not. This isn’t a rare occurrence. Thousands of Israeli soldiers experience it daily.

Good teachers in vibrant classrooms are necessary for children — and nations — to succeed. Schools provide a base of literacy, mathematics and social interaction. But Israel’s extra-curricular system goes further. Peer-led debate and intellectual dialogue enhances learning. Actual responsibilities, like caring for younger children, nurture growth and maturity. Real-life tasks show young adults how much they are capable of achieving. These are the principles that anyone wishing to replicate Israel’s success should emulate.

Two qualities are needed to change the world: innovation, to think of new ideas, and entrepreneurship, to turn those ideas into reality. That is the essence of today’s economy. The way to create citizens steeped in the ethos of both is to give children, at a young age, the room to try.

UN bashes Israel yet again

Editorial from The  Australian


The UN, which is hugely reliant on billions of dollars from Washington to keep running, would be unwise to overlook the significance of the Trump administration’s boycott of the current session of its Human Rights Council. The boycott, as the US’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley has explained, is to protest against the UNHRC’s incessant “Israel bashing”. It follows a letter from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in which he warned that unless the 47-member body reforms itself the US will no longer be part of it.

It also comes amid indications the Trump administration will slash 50 per cent from the $US5.4 billion it gives the UN each year. That is almost a quarter of the body’s budget. The US is also planning massive cuts to the $US8.25bn it provides to cover UN peacekeeping operations — almost 30 per cent of the peacekeeping budget. Alarmed UN officials and attendant hangers-on, who never take a step back when it comes to criticising Washington, say the cuts will cripple UN humanitarian operations.

Such concern is understandable. But what they need to understand is that the UN’s anti-Israel bias has now reached grotesque levels and that the Trump administration is unlikely to change its mind about funding until the UNHRC — which includes pillars of democracy such as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, China and Cuba — comes to its senses and stops hammering away at the only nation in the Middle East that has democracy and the rule of law.

The latest farce occurred when the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia moved to formally declare Israel an “apartheid state” — a country that, like South Africa under white rule, “commits inhumane acts, systematic oppression and is dominated by one racial group over another”. It is to the credit of the US that it immediately reacted to this ploy, forcing new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to intervene. He compelled the UNHRC to abandon its move and the top UN bureaucrat, under-secretary-general Rima Khalaf, angrily quit in protest.

To be frank, we are left wondering why Australia is bothering to campaign for a place on the discredited UNHRC.

Neutralizing the Palestinian Internationalization Strategy – Amos Yadlin and Kobi Michael (Institute for National Security Studies)

Eight years ago the Palestinians adopted an “internationalization strategy” reflecting their hope that the international community would accept their demands: (1) establishment of a Palestinian state, (2) on the basis of the 1967 lines, (3) with east Jerusalem as its capital.

The Palestinians hoped to achieve this without having to contribute the minimum demanded by Israel for achievement of an agreement: committing to an end of conflict and finality of claims; waiving the right of return; and agreeing to security arrangements that to some extent would limit their sovereignty.

It appears that the Palestinians are having difficulty in internalizing two major changes that have made their internationalization strategy much less relevant: the Trump administration is not committed to the Palestinians to the same degree as was the Obama administration, and the Israeli narrative is closer to the outlook of the current administration than the Palestinian narrative.

In addition, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become less important in the Arab world and in the international community. Ten million Syrian refugees, a humanitarian disaster in Yemen, and instability in Iraq and Libya have shunted the Palestinian issue to the region’s political sidelines.

Israel’s interest requires coordination and understanding with the U.S. on the truly significant challenges in the region: Iranian subversion and terrorism, the conflict in Syria, and the need to strengthen Egypt and Jordan as stabilizing elements.

Paradoxically, the Palestinian internationalization strategy has prevented progress toward a solution to the conflict. Making it unmistakably clear to the Palestinians that they must return to the negotiating process and mutual give and take, and also accept transitional and interim arrangements as preferable alternatives to the status quo, will engender greater potential for progress than during the Obama administration.

As an initial sign to the Palestinians that the rules of the game have changed, moving the American embassy to Jerusalem is in order. An American retreat from this pledge, as a result of the Palestinian threat aimed at preventing this measure, will weaken America’s stature and become an incentive for the Palestinians to adhere to a strategy of bypassing Israel and evading direct negotiations.

Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, former chief of Israeli military intelligence, heads Tel Aviv University’s INSS.

Dr. Kobi Michael, a senior research fellow at INSS, was deputy director general and head of the Palestinian desk at the Israel Ministry for Strategic Affairs.

A drone flew over Israel’s most spectacular locations and this is what it captured

When you venture off the beaten track in Israel, it’s amazing what you can discover…