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Latest Israel News – 29th August

The ‘chosen’ Anzacs: Australia’s distinguished fighting Jews gain new recognition

A new book by Mark Dapin chronicles the Outback’s rich history of Hebrew heroes — including the only Jewish military commander-in-chief outside of Israel, as reported in the Times of Israel

http://www.timesofisrael.com/the-chosen-anzacs-australias-distinguished-fighting-jews-gain-new-recognition/

Report: Kushner promised peace plan within four months

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner asked Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to freeze diplomatic measures, such as those involving the UN and International Criminal Court, against Israel for a period of 3-4 months, in return for a pledge that the Americans would by then submit to the parties a formal political plan to jumpstart negotiations, Israel Hayom reported according to a senior PA official.

According to the report, Kushner made the suggestion during his meeting with Abbas last week.

The PA official said that the US administration intends to formulate a plan that will include a predetermined timetable, according to which the parties will discuss most of the core issues pertaining to negotiations – on the condition that the PA refrains from attacking Israel in the international sphere.

Abbas himself expressed agreement in principle to Kushner’s request, but demanded a personal commitment from President Trump to the plan.

Kushner and he agreed that a summit meeting would be held between Abbas and Trump at the annual UN General Assembly meeting in New York next month, where Trump would commit to Abbas to formulate the plan in question.  (Arutz Sheva)

Trump Administration Reportedly Confirms $300 Million Annual US Funding of Palestinian Refugee Agency Will Continue

Three months after indefinitely delaying the potential move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, President Donald Trump has retained another core policy of preceding administrations by promising that annual American funding of $300 million to a UN  agency that caters solely to Palestinian refugees will not be halted, Foreign Policy reported this week.

“Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, has privately assured the UN Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, that the United States, which provides more than $300 million to the agency each year, will maintain its current levels of funding to the organization,” the journal reported. “‘America has long been committed to funding UNRWA’s important mission, and that will continue,’ said one official at the U.S. mission to the United Nations.”

Foreign Policy noted that the US pledge runs “contrary to the administration’s push to rein in spending on UN relief programs elsewhere. It reflects growing concern that the imposition of sharp cuts to Palestinian relief programs could thwart the White House campaign to restart Middle East peace talks, and inject further political instability in a region that stands permanently perched on the brink of political upheaval.”

The decision also puts the US sharply at odds with the Israeli government. While Israel has historically recognized the stabilizing role played by UNRWA in providing key services to the 750,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants — who now number around five million people — more recently, it has urged that the agency be dissolved into the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which caters to the remainder of the world’s current 65 million refugees.

In June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a visiting Ambassador Haley that the time had come to “dismantle UNRWA and have its parts be integrated into the UN High Commission for Refugees,” after Israel discovered an underground tunnel beneath an UNRWA-run school in Gaza. Israel has long pointed to the consistent use of UNRWA schools and hospitals by Hamas terrorists in the coastal enclave as weapons depots, and in the process turning Palestinian civilians into human shields.

But Netanyahu’s proposal that UNRWA be taken over by UNHCR will face fierce rejection from the PLO and from Arab states. Unlike UNWRA, the UNHCR does not transfer refugee status to descendants. Should the Palestinians become UNHCR’s responsibility, Arab states and the PLO fear that would be the end of permanent refugee status for the Palestinians — and, in turn, the end of the PLO’s cornerstone “right of return” policy, which has provided a convenient alibi for the refusal of Arab states to integrate their Palestinian populations.

The US is not the only country pledging to continue UNRWA’s existence. On Thursday, the Canadian government announced that it will provide a further $25 million to the agency — prompting one Canadian Jewish organization to highlight the role played by UNRWA schools in normalizing antisemitic views of Jews and Israelis.

“Helping impoverished Palestinians in various Arab countries is certainly a positive, as many individuals do require assistance,” said Michael Mostyn, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada. But, he went on to point out, “UNWRA continues to facilitate antisemitism and the demonization of Israel.”

“UNWRA’s highly-politicized environment actually obstructs the best possible service to the Palestinians,” Mostyn said.  (the Algemeiner)

Trump team, Netanyahu renew talks on US embassy move to Jerusalem

Senior members of the Trump administration and Israeli officials renewed talks over the possibility of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a promise repeatedly made by the president in the 2016 election campaign, during high-level meetings in Israel last week, the Times of Israel has learned.

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday as part of a visit to the region in a bid to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

During that meeting, the embassy move “was brought up by both sides as part of a productive broad conversation about a number of issues,” a US source familiar with the discussions said Sunday, declining to reveal the specifics of discussion.

Trump backtracked on the pledge in June, signing a waiver which pushed off moving the embassy for at least another six months.

“Needless to say, the administration’s policy is ‘when not if,’” the source added, referring to statements US officials made when signing the waiver promising that the move would take place during Trump’s presidency.

Earlier Sunday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely had told The Times of Israel that issue did not come up during last week’s meetings, to her disappointment. “We were told that the move [of the embassy] would go ahead but it wasn’t on the table and there hasn’t been any progress on it. I hope there will be soon,” she said.

A source in the Prime Minister’s Office, however, rejected Hotovely’s statements, saying that she was not aware of the content of the discussions. “She wasn’t in any of the meetings and to put it charitably, she is wrong,” they said.

They confirmed that the issue was discussed but, like their US counterparts, declined to comment on the details of the conversations.

Netanyahu said after the talks that they were “helpful and meaningful,” and that he “expects the talks to continue in the coming weeks.” A statement from his office added that “the Prime Minister expressed his appreciation to President [Donald] Trump and the Trump administration for its strong support of Israel.”

Kushner told Netanyahu that Trump was committed to help broker a peace deal and thanked the prime minister for working with the White House toward that goal.

“The president is very committed to achieving a solution here that will be able to bring prosperity and peace to all people in this area,” he said. “We really appreciate the commitment of the prime minister and his team to engaging very thoughtfully and and respectfully in the way that the president has asked him to do so.”

When Trump signed the waiver, White House officials said that moving the embassy at this stage could jeopardize efforts to bring the two sides together.

Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it, a move never recognized by the international community. Israel declared the city its undivided capital, but the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would be seen as endorsing Israel’s claim to the city and rejecting the Palestinians’. Countries with ties to Israel typically place their embassies in Tel Aviv; some have consulates in Jerusalem.

The US says its policy on Jerusalem hasn’t changed and that Jerusalem’s status must be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians.  (the Times of Israel)

End bias or else, Israel threatens UN ahead of chief’s visit

Israel is to tell UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres during his first visit to the country this week it will “no longer tolerate anti-Israel bias” at the international body, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said Sunday.

Guterres is set to land in Israel Sunday night for a three-day visit that will include meetings with senior Israeli officials in Jerusalem and Palestinian officials in the West Bank, as well as a stop in the Gaza Strip, where the United Nations runs a major Palestinian aid program. The visit will be his first to the region since taking the helm at the UN in January.

Briefing journalists ahead of the trip, Hotovely said two key issues would be addressed during the visit: ending “anti-Israel bias” at the 193-nation organization, and changing the UNIFIL mandate for UN activities on Israel’s northern border.

“We are seeking a dramatic change in the way the UN treats Israel. It’s time to place the issue squarely on the table and address it head-on,” Hotovely said, threatening funding cuts for the body if changes were not implemented.

Pointing to recent comments by US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, Hotovely said that “if the UN does not drastically change its behavior it will lose both support and funding” from Israel and other countries.

“It’s no longer just us threatening this.” she said. “The US position has changed. Led by Nikki Haley, they have made clear that they will not tolerate bias against us and will no longer be giving an open check.”

In April Israel announced it would reduce its annual membership payment to the United Nations by $2 million following recent “anti-Israel” votes in the organization’s bodies.

The Foreign Ministry said at the time the decision was made following votes critical of Israel at the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, and condemned the “obsessive discrimination against Israel on the part of the United Nations and its agencies.”

Responding to the votes, Haley said that the UN Human Rights Council’s “relentless, pathological campaign” against a state with a strong human rights record “makes a mockery not of Israel, but of the Council itself.”

Haley, who has pledged to tackle hostility toward the Jewish state at a UN, said that if the Human Rights Council failed to make the required changes, the US would consider quitting the body and looking for ways to promote human rights in different frameworks.

Hotovely said discussions with Guterres will also focus on strengthening the mission of the UN interim force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), following a series of skirmishes along the UN-monitored demarcation line between Israel and Lebanon.

“It’s clear that the mandate has to change,” Hotovely said, echoing US calls to change the force’s mission by giving it authority to deal with arms movements by Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist militia.

The 10,500-strong UNIFIL has been in southern Lebanon since 1978, when it was charged with confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces from a demilitarized zone between the two countries. The mission’s current mandate ends at the end of August.

Since taking over from Ban Ki-moon on January 1, Guterres has been cautious in his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, partly in response to US accusations that the United Nations was biased against Israel.

In March, the UN chief demanded that a report by a UN body be withdrawn after it accused Israel of imposing an apartheid system on the Palestinians.

Guterres had initially distanced himself from the report, but the United States insisted that it be withdrawn altogether.  (the Times of Israel)

Palestinian Incitement: Attack a Jew and Get a Passing Grade at School!

The Palestinian Education Ministry has granted any student who was arrested for throwing stones and/or Molotov cocktails at Israeli vehicles a passing grade.

Awarding passing grades to students who commit violent attacks against Israeli motorists is one of many methods of incitement to terror practiced by the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Jewish Press reported.

According to the news site, an Israeli security source told Channel 20:

“One time we stopped a terrorist who threw a Molotov cocktail and took him for interrogation, where we found out that he had decided to carry out the attack because that morning he had a matriculation exam, and it turns out that for them it is customary that someone who is arrested for carrying out an attack on the day of an exam to receive a passing grade automatically.”

“They are frightened of their fathers,” said another security source, “So if they know in advance that they are likely to fail the exam, they choose terrorism in order to get a passing grade.”

The more popular forms of PA incitement include, for example, cultural events glorifying terrorists; naming schools and city streets after terrorists; and TV shows for preschoolers, school-aged children and teens promoting anti-Semitism and lies about the “Zionist entity.”

Desperation to pass the school year is a less common reason for violence; nonetheless, several young terrorists admitted they carried out such attacks for that very reason, the Israeli security source said.

Stone-throwing has proven to be deadly in several cases. Adele Biton, for example, was critically wounded at the age of two in a 2013 rock-throwing terror attack. She spent almost two years in intensive care due to traumatic brain damage before succumbing to her wounds.         (United with Israel)

Lieberman: We must not repeat mistakes made in Shalit deal

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned on Sunday that Israel “must not repeat the mistakes made with the Shalit deal” amid criticism of the resignation of POWs and MIAs coordinator Col. (res.) Lior Lotan.

IDF soldiers Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul were both killed during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge in Gaza and their bodies were captured by Hamas. In addition, three Israeli citizens—Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Jumaa Ibrahim Abu-Ghanima—have all entered the Gaza Strip and are believed to be alive and held by Hamas.

The Goldin and Shaul families have both criticized the government over Lotan’s departure, demanding a replacement for him is appointed posthaste.

“I accept with understanding and love the criticism by the Goldin and Shaul families and continue being personally committed to returning home Hadar and Oron, as well as our other citizens being held in the Gaza Strip in violation of international law,” Lieberman said Sunday.

However, while stressing that he considers returning Israel’s soldiers and citizens home to be “of supreme moral and ethical importance,” he added that “we must not return to the mistakes we made in the Shalit deal.”

Among the 1,027 terrorists released in the 2011 deal that saw captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit returned to Israel alive were Mahmoud Qawasmeh, “who was released to the strip and funded the abduction of the three Israeli teens,” and Yahya Sinwar, “who became the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It is the same Sinwar who is now setting strict demands that don’t allow making any progress towards any sort of deal,” Lieberman said.

The defense minister went on to say that “202 of the released prisoners in the Shalit deal have been arrested again since then for their involvement in terrorism, 111 of whom are still in Israeli prison, while seven Israelis were murdered because of direct or indirect involvement of prisoners released in that deal.”

Therefore, before appointing a replacement for Lotan, Lieberman said it was important to adopt the conclusions of the 2012 Shamgar Commission in full and in that “set clear lines to the State of Israel and envoys on its behalf, but mostly stand firm against our enemies and make it clear to them we have no intention of compromising on Israel’s security.”

The 2012 Shamgar Commission report, headed by former Supreme Court chief Justice Meir Shamgar, called for stricter positions in negotiations over prisoner swaps. The details of the report remain confidential.

Zehava Shaul, Oron Shaul’s mother, slammed Lieberman’s remarks, saying he encourages abandoning IDF soldiers. “It is to the glory of the State of Israel that its defense minister, who heads its military system, encourages abandoning IDF soldiers,” she said sarcastically. “Unfortunately, the defense minister has yet to internalize that this inaction in bringing back IDF soldiers, who defended Israeli citizens as they spent 50 days in shelters, leads the silent majority in the country not to send their children to serve in combat units.”

Lotan, who has done the job voluntarily over the past three years, resigned on Thursday, telling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the position of POWs and MIAs coordinator is very demanding, both professionally and emotionally, and that in his opinion the coordinator should be replaced every few years.

The families of the POWs and MIAs were not surprised by Lotan’s departure. The Goldin family said they “feel we have been abandoned by the government,” demanding that Lieberman and Netanyahu “urgently appoint a replacement, implement the cabinet decisions passed in January, and pressure Hamas in every possible and effective way to bring our boys back to Israel.”

The Shaul family echoed the Goldin family’s call to quickly find a replacement, adding that “Any day of delay in the appointment will prove to us the Israeli government doesn’t put the issue of returning our sons at the top of its list of priorities.”

The Mengistu family, whose son Abera Mengistu entered the Gaza Strip in September 2014 and is presumed to be held by Hamas, expressed surprise and disappointment at Lotan’s resignation. “My son is being held for no fault of his own and his life is in danger,” Mengistu’s mother said. “I hope there is real commitment by the government to bring him back.”

Until a replacement is found for Lotan, the issue of POWs and MIAs will be handled by the Prime Minister’s Military Secretary, Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano. (Ynet News)

Russian President Putin Gives Israeli PM Netanyahu Copy of First-Ever Bible Printed With Rashi Commentary

At their meeting in Sochi on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a copy of the first-ever Bible printed with Rashi’s commentary.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Netanyahu called the Russian leader’s gesture “moving,” and said the Bible would be handed over to the National Library of Israel.

“I thank President Putin for the friendship and cooperation between us,” Netanyahu wrote.

In March, at a meeting in Moscow, Netanyahu received from Putin a nearly 500-year-old copy of Roman-Jewish historian Josephus’ book The Jewish War.

The focus of this week’s sit-down on the shores of the Black Sea was the situation in Syria and Iran’s military presence there, which, Netanyahu said after the meeting, posed a growing risk to global security.   (the Algemeiner)

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a historical Bible at their meeting in Sochi on Wednesday

Israeli Satellite Yields Unique Photos of Jerusalem

The Venus research satellite, operated by the Israel Space Agency at the Science and Technology Ministry, transmitted its first images from outer space on Wednesday, among them images of the Jerusalem area.

The state-of-the-art imagery makes it possible to see Jerusalem and its environs with unprecedented quality.

The Jerusalem area is prone to brush fires, particularly during dry seasons. The information Venus provides will help scientists develop new methods of characterizing the area’s ecosystem, understand and reduce risk factors for the fires, and study the effects of global warming.

“The beauty of Jerusalem can also be seen from outer space,” Israeli Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis said. “This is just the beginning. In the coming years all of humanity will benefit from these images, which will help trailblazing research in the fields of environment protection, earth sciences, water and food.”

The Venus satellite was launched on Aug. 1 from French Guyana, with its mission to last three and a half years. It is a joint project between Israel and France’s National Center for Space Studies. The satellite was built by Israel Aerospace Industries and includes a sophisticated Elbit Systems-designed camera capable of snapping photos on 12 different wavelengths, and a new electric engine developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

Venus has also transmitted images of Marseille in France, agricultural fields near Phoenix and tropical forests in Peru.  (The Algemeiner)

Jerusalem from outer space

Jerusalem, as seen from outer space via the Venus research satellite.

Jared Kushner was in the Middle East. Did Trump’s A team bring a peace plan?

by Ron Kampeas                  JTA

Jared Kushner was in the Middle East. Did Trump’s A team bring a peace plan?

Seven months into the Trump presidency, Israel and the Palestinians, along with other countries in the Middle East and experts on policy in the region, are still waiting for the U.S. administration to describe its preferred framework for peace there.

Kushner, who Trump has charged with brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, arrived Wednesday in Israel for his third visit to the region. He and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s top international negotiator, and Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser, held meetings the following day with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before wrapping up a Middle East tour that the U.S. described as “productive,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

“Something has to come out of this trip that demonstrates that the peace process is not dead and buried,” Aaron David Miller, a veteran Middle East peace negotiator under Republican and Democratic presidents who is now president at the Wilson Center, told JTA. “The whole world is watching. Some sort of event or framework is necessary.”

Husam Zomlot, the Palestine Liberation Organization envoy in Washington, D.C., was more blunt at a meeting earlier this month with reporters.

“We need them to tell us where the hell they are going,” he said.

For its part, the Trump administration does not appear to be poised on the brink of a breakthrough. The Palestinians had hoped for a commitment to two states — Trump in February had retreated from 15 years of explicit U.S. commitment to the outcome. But on Wednesday, as Kushner’s party was landing in Israel, Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, made it clear that nothing on the two-state front had changed.

“We are not going to state what the outcome has to be,” she said. “It has to be workable to both sides. And I think, really, that’s the best view as to not really bias one side over the other, to make sure that they can work through it.”

The inclination toward caution — leaving the pace of advancement to the parties — is a reaction to the burns suffered by the United States when previous administrations took a more proactive role in brokering peace.

It’s an experience Kushner is keen not to revisit — something he made clear earlier this month in a leaked chat with congressional interns. Kushner rarely speaks in public, and the exchange last month was a rare insight into how he has been approaching the renewal of the peace talks. It underscored how embryonic the administration’s approach was to peacemaking.

“So what do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know,” Kushner said in a recording obtained by Wired magazine. “And we’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there’s a solution. And there may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on.”

Kushner’s remarks — hesitant, if not feckless — were  in contrast with the intensity of the Trump administration’s activity at the start of his presidency, said Daniel Shapiro, the Obama administration’s ambassador to Israel from 2011 to 2017. In addition to Greenblatt’s near constant presence in the region and the two visits by Kushner, Trump visited Israel and the Palestinian areas in his first overseas trip as president, and has hosted Netanyahu and Abbas at the White House.

“Trump obtained a significant degree of leverage through his first meetings” with Netanyahu and Abbas, Shapiro said. “That kind of leverage is wasting an asset if it’s not used.”

A perception that has arisen: One of the obstacles to a coherent White House Middle East policy was infighting between relative traditionalists like Kushner and Powell — a Middle East hand who served in senior positions in the George W. Bush administration — and hard-liners like Stephen Bannon, the former White House strategist. Vanity Fair reported this week that Bannon lobbied hard to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, and “pushed a tougher line against the Palestinians than Kushner did.”

Pro-Israel groups that favor a hard line in dealing with the Palestinians lamented the appointment of David Satterfield, a veteran U.S. diplomat with experience in the Middle East, as acting assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs. The Zionist Organization of America worries that Satterfield will bring “unwarranted pressure on Israel.”

ZOA has also labeled Powell, who directed charitable activities at Goldman Sachs after serving as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs in the George W. Bush administration, as “hostile to Israel.”

If Bannon’s exit from the White House means the administration will adopt a more traditional “honest broker” approach to the Middle East, some suggest that Kushner is likelier to push for talks — and compromise — on both sides.

The ex-negotiator Miller said that didn’t seem likely. Bannon’s preoccupations were elsewhere, he said, and in any case, it’s not as if Kushner and Greenblatt — Orthodox Jews with longstanding ties to Israel, including to its settlement movement — were slouches when it came to defending the country’s interests.

“You didn’t need Steve Bannon to create a huge sort of tsunami tilt in favor of Israeli sensibilities,” Miller said, as opposed to the coolness of U.S.-Israel relations under the Obama administration.

Another factor inhibiting a breakthrough is the domestic tribulations of each leader. Both Netanyahu and Trump are facing the possibility of criminal inquiries into their administrations, and Abbas faces the old internal challenge from Hamas, the terrorist group running the Gaza Strip, and newer ones from younger leaders in his own Fatah movement.

Still, the itinerary of the Kushner trip suggests the nascent stages of a grander strategy, according to Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The U.S. delegation, which included stops in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

“There is still interest across the region to explore a regional architecture for peace,” Schanzer said, referring to plans that Trump and Netanyahu have touted in the past that would create the conditions for a broader and simultaneous peace deal among Israel, the Palestinians and other Arab states.

“This idea is that the Israelis and the Arabs could find ways to ensure a better quality of life and some progress toward autonomy for the Palestinians while simultaneously exploring shared regional priorities with the Arabs,” he said, including shared strategies to confront Islamist terrorist groups and contain Iran’s influence. “If done in parallel, it could be productive.”

The time to strike on such a regional approach was now, Schanzer warned, noting that both Russia and China were making inroads into the region.

“You’ve got the Russians effectively commanding the Israelis to pay visits,” he said, referring to Netanyahu’s visit this week to Moscow, which seemed to preoccupy the Israeli leader more than the Kushner visit.

Russia maintains a presence in Syria, and Israel is pressing Russian President Vladimir Putin to make sure that any outcome in that country’s civil war is not to the benefit of Russia’s de facto allies in the conflict, Iran and Hezbollah.

According to Schanzer, “The Trump administration needs to guard this portfolio jealously if they want to maintain control” in the Middle East.

Victory, Not Deterrence, Will Be Israel’s Goal if War Breaks Out Again in Gaza

By Yaakov Lappin       BESA   (Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies)

Victory, Not Deterrence, Will Be Israel’s Goal if War Breaks Out Again in Gaza

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Creating deterrence was Israel’s goal in the last three conflicts it fought against Hamas, but that objective has been cast aside. Any future armed clash with Gaza’s Islamist rulers will be guided by a new Israeli objective: that of achieving a crystal clear victory over the enemy.

In past models of conflict, Israel responded to Hamas aggression through the use of force in a way that was designed to punish Hamas and convince it to return to a state of calm. Systematically destroying Hamas’s military capabilities was not an Israeli objective.

Today, while Israel hopes to avoid war, it is preparing for the possibility of a new conflict. War could erupt again in Gaza for a wide range of reasons.

Should hostilities resume, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) plans to make sure the end stage of that clash will be an unmistakable Israeli victory, and that no one will be able to mistake it for a tie or stalemate.

This change in approach has been brewing over the past three years, ever since the end of Operation Protective Edge in 2014. That operation was launched by Israel to defend itself against large-scale projectile attacks and cross-border tunnel threats from Gaza. At two months’ duration, it was one of Israel’s most protracted conflicts.

It was also the third large-scale clash fought with Hamas since 2009. At the end of each round of fighting, the military wing of Hamas remained intact, and was able to quickly begin rearming and preparing new capabilities for the next outbreak of hostilities.

Should Hamas initiate another conflict with Israel, Jerusalem should not be expected to return to the deterrence model. It will not make do with the goal of returning calm to the area, as it did in 2014, 2012, and 2009.

Instead, Israel would likely seek to destroy Hamas’s military wing, including its underground labyrinth of tunnels under Gaza City, built to enable operations out of Israel’s sight.

Hamas’s decision to embed many of its offensive capabilities in Gaza’s civilian areas will not immunize it to Israeli strikes. The IDF would, however, make every effort to minimize harm to noncombatants.

After 2014, the IDF’s Southern Command began moving away from the “frequent rounds” model, concluding that Israel should not be dragged into major armed conflicts with Hamas every two to three years.

The Southern Command identified three alternatives for Israel and Gaza. Under the first, Israel would continue to experience short, temporary truces – an option deemed unacceptable.

In the second scenario, Israel would conquer Gaza and topple the Hamas regime completely. In such a scenario, Israel would either rule the Strip and its two million Palestinian inhabitants or find someone who would.

It is unlikely that the Palestinian Authority (PA) would take over Gaza after an Israeli “handoff.” Not only would the PA lose domestic legitimacy, but its ability to retain Gaza without IDF assistance would be in serious doubt.

As a result of these calculations, the defense establishment identified a long-term truce, fueled by Israeli deterrence, as the best option. That is the current situation between the combatants: a long-term truce.

During the time the truce has lasted, the idea of facing two bad choices – occupying Gaza or accepting the “frequent rounds” model – has evolved.

One possibility, in the event of a new conflict, is that the IDF takes out Hamas’s military wing but leaves in place its political wing and police force, thereby creating a feasible Israeli exit from Gaza that does not depend on Jerusalem’s finding new rulers for the Strip.

Today, three years after Operation Protective Edge, Hamas continues to rebuild itself. Its domestic arms industry is producing rockets, mortar shells, and tunnels. Tunnels under Gaza City are designed to enable Hamas battalions to launch hit-and-run attacks on the IDF and to move weapons and logistics out of Israel’s sight.

The other kind of tunnel threat, the network of cross-border tunnels, is on borrowed time. Israel is building an underground wall along the 65-kilometer Gazan border, and it progresses with each passing day. Israel has invested billions of shekels in that project, and an anti-tunnel detection system is also operational.

Hamas is not sitting idle during the truce. It is looking for new assault tactics. It seeks to be able to flood southern Israel with short-range projectiles that can carry a warhead as big as a half-ton, which would pose a major threat to any built-up area near the Strip.

Hamas can also try to paralyze central Israel with medium-range projectiles, even if these are intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system. Air raid sirens and interceptions are severely disruptive for Israel even without significant projectile damage.

Hamas continues to work on its naval commando cells, which are designed to infiltrate Israel via the coast. It is also continuing to pursue its drone program, with which it hopes to send explosives at targets in a guided manner.

Israel is well aware of these capabilities. Hamas remains a serious combat challenge, and has proven its ability to adapt to Israel’s progress.

But Hamas is also under intense, unremitting Israeli intelligence surveillance. Hamas is likely aware that any new clash would involve upgraded Israeli combat capabilities that are better suited for the Gazan arena.

Israel has been using the truce to build up its force and study the Gazan battlefield. It is building a growing fleet of armored personnel carriers and tanks that can defend themselves with active protection systems. In Gaza, where practically every Hamas fighter is armed with an armor-piercing RPG, that kind of protection is a game changer.

Israel’s ability to strike Hamas’s underground city has also been enhanced significantly in recent years. Hamas will have nowhere to hide if war resumes. Hamas is likely aware that although it can pose serious challenges to the IDF and to the Israeli home front, Israel has changed its end game.

For the time being, Hamas’s cost benefit analysis has led it to conclude that a lengthy truce is in its own best interest.

Trump’s Foreign Policy and Israel

by Ron Weiser

Notwithstanding the constant polarisation that especially his domestic words and deeds seem to generate, on some foreign policy matters President Trump seems to have very wide American support.

A case in point is his recently announced Afghanistan policy.

Candidate Trump campaigned against increasing America’s military role there and was very clear that he was specifically opposed to sending any more US troops to Afghanistan. He was scathing about the cost to America in terms of lives and money and called it a “total disaster”.

On August the 21st, President Trump announced an unspecified increase in the number of US soldiers he would deploy to Afghanistan, contrary to his campaign position. He also announced that US policy would no longer be directed to nation building, but rather to the elimination of terrorists. Moreover he put pressure on Pakistan to dramatically improve its game and amongst other things, to cease allowing safe haven for those terrorists who keep slipping over the border.

And there was virtually universal praise for his announcement.

Trump explained his changed policy as follows:

“My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like to follow my instincts.

I heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk of the Oval Office.”

Similar sentiments have also been heard repeatedly from successive Israeli Prime Ministers on how different things look when sitting in the top job.

What is also clear is that Trump’s administration is still trying to work out how it should operate and there is a lot of internal jockeying for his ear

Steve Bannon in all policy areas, had been urging Trump to stick to his campaign promises and therefore argued against the new Afghanistan policy.

For the six month period as Trump’s chief strategist, Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law Kushner, continually clashed, including on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

According to a report in Variety magazine last week, Bannon had strongly lobbied Trump to fulfil his campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and pushed the President to adopt a tougher stance toward Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Both of which Kushner allegedly opposed.

When Abbas met with Trump at the White House in May, Bannon boycotted the meeting in protest.

“I’m not going to breathe the same air as that terrorist,” he texted a friend at the time according to the magazine.

Having disagreed with Trump in a number of areas, Bannon, not understanding the transition from campaigning to actually holding office, was fired by Trump.

As compared to the situation in Afghanistan – we see two further different approaches by President Trump when it comes to Israel.

On the Israeli/Palestinian track, Trump himself has neither endorsed nor rejected the two state solution. He is keeping his powder dry.

For those who seek a deal, this seems to be the smart approach.

Aside from personally speaking with King Abdullah of Jordan from time to time and praising him for resolving the Temple Mount/Israeli Embassy in Jordan issues, Trump remains interested but aloof.

This week he spoke directly with Egyptian President Al-Sisi.

He has spoken directly virtually not at all, with Prime Minister Netanyahu, for some time.

Trump has left his A team, Kushner and Greenblatt as well as Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell, to talk directly to Netanyahu and to deal with the shuttle diplomacy they have engaged in, in anticipation of coming in later and “closing the deal” if one appears viable.

He keeps all of the Middle East actors playing the same game – not wanting to upset the President.

Dina Powell is easily the most accomplished of the three Trump representatives when it comes to international political matters. She is Egyptian born into a middle class Coptic Christian family and is fluent in Arabic. Powell has lived almost all of her life in the US and is a lifelong Republican. She also served in the George W. Bush administration.

Of the three she is the only one with previous diplomatic experience and is considered a policy heavyweight.

Powell accompanied President Trump on his first foreign trip which began in Saudi Arabia and is known for not conforming to expected dress in Arab countries. She was not backward about ensuring a headline speech included references to the lack of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

As the trio arrived in Israel after visiting Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan where they were told that only the two state solution is viable, the US State Department, which has also held for decades that this is the only policy on the table, surprised with a changed position:

“We are not going to state what the outcome has to be” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “It has to be workable to both sides. That’s the best view as to not really bias one side over the other, to make sure that they can work through it.”

Interestingly the trio met with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu issued the following statement after the meeting:

“We discussed ways to promote peace and prosperity in the region. The talks were helpful and meaningful,” and that Netanyahu “expects the talks to continue in the coming weeks.”

The statement added that “the Prime Minister expressed his appreciation to President Trump and the Trump administration for its strong support of Israel.”

The trio then moved on to meet Abbas in Ramallah. The Palestinians had been making more negative noises about the Trump administration’s intentions but after the meeting Abbas said:

“We know that this issue is difficult and complex, but nothing is impossible in the face of good efforts. We affirm that this US delegation is working toward peace, and we are working with it to achieve soon what Trump called the ‘peace deal’”.

Kushner’s statement:

“President Trump is very optimistic and hopes for a better future for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people. We hope they can work together and live together for many years and have a much better life.”

So, despite some leaks from Arab media then firmly denied by the White House, status quo ante. All sides back to praising Trump and his efforts, no clarity on “the deal”, but shuttle diplomacy to continue and all parties anxious to not upset the US President.

For Israel, the immediate issue however is not the Israel/Palestinian track, but Syria and how things are shaping up there.

What is happening in Syria is of the utmost importance to Israel’s current and future security.

This is THE number one issue for Israel today and has been for some time.

And here Trump appears to be dangerously distracted, disinterested and disengaged.

Trump approach style number three.

In effect in regards to Syria, Trump continues Obama’s policy of limited US involvement in conflict zones.

Trump was focused on defeating ISIS – even if that was mainly to be done by the Russians, Assad and the Iranians.

And then on supporting the ceasefire deal he, Trump, brokered with Putin in early July at the G20 summit.

Unfortunately for Israel, this cease fire deal leaves Assad in power and brings Iran to Israel’s border.

Whilst for Israel ISIS was a tactical issue, the strategic issue is Iran and its attempts to dominate Syria, fill the vacuum there and create a crescent corridor from Iran to the Mediterranean.

According to Israeli security sources, Israel is expecting to find itself under the threat of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, who will be stationed right on the border in the Golan Heights. On its doorstep Israel will be facing the threat of new rockets that would be manufactured at the factory Iran has built near Aleppo, which will be given to Hezbollah. It will also be facing the threat of thousands of fighters from Afghan and Pakistani Shiite militias.

Netanyahu has publically criticised Trump on the Syrian arrangement and he has been pushing the Americans to not support a final peace deal in Syria that allows Iran to keep and/or increase its grip on Syria.

Last week Netanyahu again flew to Russia to meet with Putin and took Mossad chief Yossi Cohen with him to share “sensitive, credible and very disturbing detailed intelligence” on Iran’s military efforts in Syria.

The previous week a delegation had flown to the US to share the same evidence, but returned extremely disappointed that they had failed to get any American commitment regarding the Syrian situation.

With the US disinterested and the Russians dominant, Israel has been trying as a fall-back position, to ensure that at least the Russians understand Israel’s red lines.

And that Russia will continue to understand them as Israel takes action to prevent Iran and her proxy’s military build-up. In particular Israel needs to stop Iranian attempts to transfer missiles and other sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah

The arrangement with Russia and Putin’s understanding/acceptance of Israeli continued military action in Syria is vital.

The good news?

On the 14th of August outgoing Israeli Air Force Chief Amir Eshel revealed that over the past five years IAF jets had carried out almost one hundred airstrikes against Syrian and Hezbollah arms convoys.

Although some of these actions were known publically, the extent was not.

These strikes have been done with precision, with at least tacit Russian agreement, with no mishaps in communication between Israel and Russia and without escalation into another war.

Despite having to do so virtually alone, this shows what Israel can achieve in both the military and diplomatic spheres to secure her future.

These abilities should give us some basis for cautious optimism despite whatever the larger geopolitical climate may bring.