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Latest Israel News – 31st March

Israel to slash payments to UN, give money instead to supportive countries

Israel will cut $2 million from money it has allocated to the UN and give it instead to programs in developing nations that support it in international organizations, the Foreign Ministry announced on Wednesday.

The ministry issued a statement saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed it to slash the $2m. to the United Nations as a result of the anti-Israel resolutions passed last week in the UN Human Rights Council.

This cut is in addition to the $6m. that Jerusalem slashed in January in the aftermath of the passage of anti-settlement Resolution 2334 in the UN Security Council. Following these cuts, Israel will contribute only $3.7m. this year to the UN, instead of the $10.7m that was originally earmarked.

The ministry said that this decision is part of an Israeli campaign – along with its friends, first and foremost the US – to change the “obsessive bias against Israel at the UN and in its agencies.”

In January, Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon announced the cutting of $6m. by saying, “It is unreasonable for Israel to fund bodies that operate against us at the UN.”

The UN, he said, “must end the absurd reality in which it supports bodies whose sole intent is to spread incitement and anti-Israel propaganda.” (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli military exports rise to $6.5 billion

Israeli military exports grew by $800 million in 2016, bringing in $6.5 billion, SIBAT, the military exports unit of the Defense Ministry, said on Wednesday.

SIBAT director Brig.-Gen (res.) Michel Ben-Baruch said the majority of the new contracts comes from increased defense budgets in European and North American countries, due to the increased focus on terrorism following dozens of attacks on the two continents by “lone wolves” and Islamic State supporters.

“The increase in the volume of new contracts signed expresses a global trend of pulling out of the recession, especially in Europe and North America, and increased defense budgets in the face of growing security challenges,” read a statement by SIBAT.

These dozens of significant contracts allowed “the continued trend of strengthening Israel’s place in the global defense market,” it continued.

Speaking at the Israel HLS & Cyber conference in Tel Aviv in November, Ben-Baruch said that in 2017, “the Ministry of Defense will invest a special effort in promoting Israel’s military and protective cyber capabilities abroad.”

The largest share of defense exports went to the Asia Pacific region, for a total of $2.6b., followed by Europe at $1.79b., North America with $1.265b., Latin America at $550m. and Africa with $275m.

Within Asia, India has become a key market. Over the last five years, defense trade between the two countries has averaged more than $1b.

With the two countries celebrating 25 years of diplomatic ties, New Delhi will be sending more than 50 companies to take part in ISDEF, the leading international defense and homeland security trade show, in Tel Aviv in June.

“The Israeli defense industries have won great prestige around the world, thanks to advanced quality technology.

Missile System

IAI successfully tests MRSAM Air and Missile Defense System

We are proud to conclude a challenging and successful year for the Israeli defense industry. We succeeded in working together to bring about a significant increase in the volume of defense exports,” the SIBAT statement read.

In 2016, aircraft and aerial system improvements accounted for 20% of exports. Observation and optronics (18%) came next; and then aerial defense (15%); ammunition and weapons stations (13%); radars and electronic warfare (12%); information and intelligence (8%); unmanned aerial vehicles (7%); telecommunications (4%); maritime (1%); and other (2%).

Lior Konitzki, deputy director-general of the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, quoted in a November report by Globes, said that in 2015, defense exports totaled $5.6b, with an estimated 20% related to homeland security.

Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Arms and Military Expenditure Program, said in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post that, while Israel is not in “the league of major importers, it is one of the larger arms exporters,” ranking 10th in the world.

The statistics compiled by the Swedish institution, which has monitored international arms transfers since 1969, are based on the transfer of major arms, not small arms, ammunition or electronic arms components, which are harder to track; otherwise, Israel would likely have ranked even higher, Wezeman said.

According to the February report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, arms imports across the entire Middle East surged by 86% between 2012 and 2016, accounting for 29% of global arms purchases, an increase of almost 100% from the previous five-year period.

The flow of arms to the Middle East, Asia and Oceania is thought to be spiking, fueled in part due to conflicts raging in the Middle East and tensions in the South China Sea. (Jerusalem Post)

IDF closes 3 alleged West Bank gunsmithing operations

Israeli troops shut down three workshops believed to have been used to illegally manufacture guns in the Hebron region early Wednesday morning, as part of an ongoing crackdown on the weapons trade in the West Bank, the army said.

In a joint operation by the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service, the soldiers confiscated equipment and gun parts from the workshops, before sealing off the doors, the army said.

No arrests were made in connection with the alleged weapon manufacturing operations, an IDF spokesperson said.

So far in 2017, the army has located and shuttered 12 such workshops and seized over 110 guns, the IDF said Wednesday.

IDF soldiers seal off a workshop suspected of being used to manufacture weapons illegally in the West Bank on March 29, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

IDF soldiers seal off a workshop suspected of being used to manufacture weapons illegally in the West Bank on March 29, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

That figure puts the army on track to match, if not exceed, its efforts from the year before, in which forces shut down 43 alleged gunsmithing operations and confiscated over 450 weapons.

For the past 15 months, the IDF has set its sights on the illegal gun market in the West Bank, focusing on its sources — gun makers and sellers, rather than gun owners, for instance — in an attempt to prevent terror attacks.

The effort has not yet significantly curbed the number of shooting attacks perpetrated against Israeli civilians and soldiers, but has sent the prices of illegal guns skyrocketing. The cost of a homemade weapons tripled over the course of 2016, an intelligence officer in the army’s West Bank division told reporters in January.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli troops arrested an alleged Hamas operative and five Palestinians suspected of taking part in so-called “popular terrorism,” a catch-all term denoting rock throwing and participating in violent protests.

The suspected Hamas member was arrested in Aqraba in the northern West Bank.

Two of the alleged rock throwers were arrested in Usarin, south of Nablus; another two were arrested in Tuqua, in the central West Bank; and the fifth was arrested in Bethlehem, the army said. (the Times of Israel)

2016 hailed as best year for Israeli economy in 4 years

The Israeli economy grew by 4% in 2016, exceeding projections by 1.2 percentage points and marking the most solid economic performance for the country since 2012, the Bank of Israel said Wednesday.

Israel’s economy grew by 2.5% in 2015 and 3.2% in 2014.

In its 2016 annual report, the bank noted that the gross domestic product hit a record 1.22 trillion shekels ($337 billion); Israel had a record $12.4 billion surplus in its current account balance of payments; unemployment dropped to 4.8% in 2016; public debt dropped to an all-time low of 62.8% of GDP; the number of employed Israelis hit a record high of 3.74 million people; the GDP per capita reached a historic high of $36,800; private consumption climbed by 6%; and Israelis overall standard of living increased by 5%.

At 4%, Israel’s economic growth was double of the United States’ economic growth in the past year; it was 2.3 times higher than the average growth among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development members; and 2.5 times higher than average growth in the eurozone.

According to the data, since 2011, the Israeli economy grew by a cumulative 21.6%, exceeding all OECD member states.

The report further noted that since 2011, per capita growth has increased by a cumulative 14.2%, and private consumption has risen by a total of 25.2%, meaning Israelis’ standard of living improved by an astonishing 17.8% since 2011.

Per capita growth in Israel increased by an average of 1.9% during this period of time, compared with an average growth of 0.8% in the U.S., 1.1% among OECD nations and 1.3% in the European Union.

The data indicates that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s goals of improving Israel’s ranking among OECD nations.

Bank of Israel Governor Dr. Karnit Flug presented Netanyahu, Kahlon and President Reuven Rivlin with the report on Wednesday morning.

Netanyahu lauded Israel’s economic performance, saying, “The picture of Israeli economy that emerges from this report, and other reports we receive, is very good. Israel is a well-managed, growing economy. … But we must ensure the continued growth, and the growth of other resources we want to dedicate to infrastructure and education.

“Ensuring continued growth is our primary goal, including by opening up huge new markets around the world. All this ends up benefiting the public — reducing the cost of living, in jobs — we have created hundreds of thousands of jobs over the years, avoiding the dreadful unemployment we’re seeing, especially in European countries.

“Israel in this a strong economy and we will make it’s even stronger,” he said.

Flug noted that “Israel’s macroeconomic standing is solid. The economic growth is strong, certainly compared with other countries. The job market is strong, unemployment is low, and we are seeing a decline in gross income inequality.”

Upon receiving the report Rivlin said, “Israel’s economy is, without a doubt, doing well. The bottom line of the Bank of Israel’s annual report is that the Israeli economy is showing signs of strength compared to other economies, and it weathered the global [financial] crisis well.

“I believe in the importance of maintaining the independence of the central bank, whether in setting monetary policy, as economic advisor to the government, or in supervising the stability of the financial system,” Rivlin said.

The report further admitted, for the first time, that Kahlon’s fiscal policies, mainly cutting income tax and increasing public expenditure, have contributed to 2016’s high growth rate.

The bank admitted that Kahlon’s measures to reduce the cost of living have increased efficiency, productivity and the standard of living, as well as a to a decrease in income inequality and the reduction of poverty.

Still, Israel is still lagging behind in terms of economic disparities, ranking 11th in the bottom third of the OECD’s disparities index.

Israel ranked even lower in the OECD’s indices on wage gap between the top and bottom deciles, coming in second to last — only one slot above Chile.

Israel is also ranked second to last among OECD nations in terms of the actions taken by the government to help households out of poverty.  (Israel Hayom)

Israelis develop a blood test to diagnose lung cancer

Israeli scientists from the Rehovot-based company Nucleix succeeded in developing a first of its kind blood test to diagnose lung cancer.

The new test is able to diagnose the disease long before it spreads in the body, thus increasing the chance of survival, as many patients usually die within a few months of the diagnosis.

Each year, approximately 1.8 million new lung cancer patients are diagnosed, a 1.59 million of whom will die within the first year post-diagnosis. Most cases are discovered by chance, after a screening test, or due to abnormal symptoms such as prolonged cough, bloody cough, breathing difficulties or weight loss.

Diagnosis of the disease is usually done via a CT scan, but its level of accuracy is not high, and in 25 percent of the cases, the lung scan shows lesions of which only 3% are indeed cancerous.

The new test was developed by Dr. Elon Ganor, CEO of Nucleix, in collaboration with his colleagues Dr. Danny Frumkin, Dr. Adam Wasserstrom and Dr. Ofer Shapira. The test is based on the genetic characterization of cancer.

Cytosine is one of the four main bases found in DNA and it is held together by three hydrogen bonds.

A study by Prof. Haim Cedar from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that the three hydrogen bonds molecule serves as a kind of on/off switch that activates (or deactivates) different genes and has a decisive effect on our susceptibility to cancer and other diseases. When a certain change occurs on the same molecule, a wild division of uncontrolled cells begins, resulting in the formation of cancerous tumors.

The Israeli researchers were able to isolate the specific change on that three-bonds molecule and designed a unique blood test that identifies it. To examine the efficacy of the development, two studies were conducted, involving 170 volunteers in each study: 70 were lung cancer patients and 100 were healthy, but belonged to groups at high risk for lung cancer, such as heavy smokers.

The results showed a specificity of 94% (i.e., 94% of the healthy subjects were indeed identified as healthy), and a sensitivity of 75% (i.e., 75% of the patients were indeed identified as diseased). This is a very high level of accuracy.

The researchers predict that within two years the test will be marketed to and indicated for people over the age of 50 who are considered heavy smokers (who smoke 30-pack years—i.e., one pack per day for 30 years or 2 packs per day for 15 years), or to those exposed to heavy smokers.

“This is a significant achievement after eight years of work,” Dr. Elon Ganor told Ynet. “We developed the test here in Israel. We dreamed of making a significant contribution to humanity and saving lives, and we are convinced that this test will indeed save hundreds of thousands of people every year worldwide.” (Ynet News)

AIPAC and beyond

from Dr Ron Weiser

It’s AIPAC time again.

A year ago about 18,000 members of American Jewry’s prime pro-Israel advocacy organisation was trying to work out whether and how to welcome Donald Trump to its annual conference.

And let’s be clear, since Israel is now unfortunately struggling to retain general American bipartisan support, that is both Republican and Democrat, those divisions are being reflected more and more within US Jewry itself as the vast majority of American Jewry are Democrats.

Which also makes it harder and harder to ascertain just how representative AIPAC is of American Jewry generally.

Last year, AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus saw fit to issue a public apology for some of Trump’s comments the day after he made.

This year she personally introduced Vice President Mike Pence to the attendees.

Ironies abound.

Unlike President Trump, Pence has actually been to Israel, indeed a number of times.

His speech was full of emotion and love for Israel and the Jewish People and he was extremely well received.

What continues to be interesting though in contradistinction to almost every other Trump policy arena, is the lack of speed in actually implementing policy vis a vis Israel and the Middle East.

Pence’s speech did nothing to quicken that.

Nor did it contain any policy details.

He suggested that moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem was still on the agenda.

“After decades of simply talking about it, the president of the United States is giving serious consideration to moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,”

but he was as vague as it was possible to be on the conflict.

Without mentioning any of the buzzwords such as “settlements” Pence said:

“there will undoubtedly have to be compromises”.

And then the Vice President added:

“I can assure you all that President Trump will never compromise the safety and security of the Jewish state of Israel.”

You will recall that despite the Israeli right wing believing that Trump was the equivalent of the messiah – he surprised everyone when he told Prime Minister Netanyahu at their joint press conference last month that he:

“would have to hold back on the settlements for a little bit and would have to compromise too.”

“You realise that, right?”

To date no-one is really clear on what compromises Trump will actually want from Israel and how far he will or will not push Netanyahu to get them.

However the call from Trump for Israeli compromises has been echoed even at AIPAC by Pence and generally by all of Israel’s other supporters within the administration, without exception.

The star of AIPAC was undoubtedly US Ambassador to the UN – Nikki Haley.

Who can doubt Haley and her actions already in just such a short time at the UN. She received multiple ovations and was clearly the crowd favourite as she produced one memorable statement after another, such as:

“You’re not going to take our number one democratic friend in the Middle East and beat up on them”

And yet, Haley too is on the record supporting the two state solution.

Speaker of the House Ryan also took the podium. He concentrated on the Iran deal, BDS and criticising Obama’s record. But he avoided any topic that might require Israel to “compromise”.

Prior to the AIPAC conference Trump’s personal envoy Jason Greenblatt, travelled to the Middle East on a “listening tour” and surprised many with his “evenhandedness”. Not only did the now kippa less Greenblatt meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and separately with Israeli settlement leaders, but he also went to Ramallah to meet with Abbas after which Greenblatt tweeted:

“President Abbas & I discussed how to make progress toward peace, building capacity of Palestinian security forces & stopping incitement”

It is fair to say that many in Israel have been caught off guard by presupposing Trump’s views which may or may not turn out to be as previously understood.

But the messages on the need for some sort of decision on future settlement construction is a consistent theme across Trump’s people to date. And if it was totally in synch with Israel’s position, we should have known by now.

For his part, Netanyahu told AIPAC via video link that:

“Israel is committed to working with President Trump to advance peace with the Palestinians and with all our neighbors”

One rather interesting aside occurred in regards to the next 10 year US aid package to Israel.

Netanyahu originally decided to determine the size of the package with then President Obama, not being sure he would be able to get a better deal out of either Hillary Clinton or Trump.

Many criticised him at the time urging Israel to wait till Trump got elected in order to get that better deal.

Turns out Netanyahu made the correct decision.

In his AIPAC address Netanyahu praised Trump for not cutting Obama’s aid package (without actually mentioning Obama), despite Trump cutting the State Department’s budget by 28%.

As Netanyahu said:

“You see it in the budget requests submitted by President Trump which leaves aid to Israel fully funded even amid federal belt-tightening.”

Just as domestically Netanyahu is trying not to look like the most left wing member of his own government – Trump can hardly be seen to be financially less supportive of Israel than Obama.

Whilst Obama supported Israel in the military and intelligence spheres, he left a lot of daylight between the US and Israel on the diplomatic level.

All three levels are critical to Israel’s security and they are all interrelated.

To date Trump has been magnificent in the diplomatic arena.

But what he plans for Israel in the future is still an unknown quantity.

As far as Israel is concerned, it is a matter of having her priorities understood.

Trump sees himself as the ultimate deal maker, and as deal making requires something to be given to all sides in any compromise, the real question is what he will try and pressure Israel to give ground on, and what he will be happy to see as “wins” on the Israeli side of the ledger

Netanyahu is being very careful to try and ensure that those “wins” relate to matters higher up the Israeli list of priorities.

Trump by his phone call to Abbas, invitation to the White House and visits by Greenblatt has somewhat resurrected Abbas’ standing and allowed Abbas to take centre stage at the Arab League meeting just concluded. Also attended by Greenblatt it should be noted.

However he has simultaneously placed the blame for the lack of a deal at Abbas’ door due to Palestinian intransigence and incitement.

In regards to Israel, Trump has shifted the focus away from the existing settlements to that of the possible building of new settlements. Or possibly the potential footprint expansion of the existing settlement blocks. Or both.

In terms of settlements, despite announcements of building, the real focus in Israel is on what is actually happening.

That is that Netanyahu at the direction of Israel’s High Court, evicted the 40 or so families from the decades old unauthorised settlement of Amona.

Amona was the largest of the unauthorised outposts by the way, so ponder on how small some of the other outposts are.

Netanyahu has also repeatedly promised that he will build them a new settlement as compensation.

What makes this such a hot issue is what puts the lie to the “Israel’s settlement building is the problem” claim.

This Netanyahu commitment is so controversial because all of those who were claiming that Israel was gobbling up the West Bank for years, are now shouting that no matter how small and no matter where the new Amona might be, it is damaging to peace because this would be, what has become the common refrain, “the first new Israeli settlement built in 25 years”.

With all the claims of Israeli settlement building are we now finally hearing something closer to the actual truth – that if it is built, this would be the first new settlement in some 25 years?

Netanyahu is trying to convince Trump that the Israeli government needs to set up a new Amona for Netanyahu’s own domestic political health.

Whether or even if it is built and what might fall within the parameters Trump feels necessary to set before he meets with Abbas, is the open question that is keeping Greenblatt traversing the Middle East.

Whichever way one looks at it, it would appear that initially Trump is certainly angling to set conditions so as not to disrupt his own attempts to go for some version of the two state solution between Israel and Abbas.

Should that fail, then Netanyahu will want to do as much as possible to ensure Trump does not blame Israel for that failure.

How junkyard cars from Israel have become deadly Palestinian treasures

By Ruth Eglash                   The Washington Post


There’s nothing unusual about Abu Abdullah’s white Ford Fiesta, at first glance. It’s a little beat-up and the tires are bald, but it’s a fine vehicle for a young man working in construction.

But take a closer look.

The 1993 four-door hatchback, which cost Abu Abdullah just $250, has Israeli license plates, a little out of place in a Palestinian village like this. On the back, there is an array of Hebrew bumper stickers, some with Israeli political slogans and even one dedicated to a long-dead Jewish spiritual leader — more signals that something is awry.

Finally, the plain little car is conspicuously missing its road-tax sticker for this year. The last one on the windshield is from 2015.

It’s clear: The car is a “mashtub.”

The Arabic word literally means scrap, but these days, in West Bank slang, it refers to a car once owned by an Israeli citizen. The car could have been stolen from Israel, but it’s more likely to have been deemed not roadworthy and consigned to be demolished or sold for scrap.

Somehow, it never made it to the scrap yard or the crusher and has instead ended up in the West Bank, part of an illegal secondhand-car industry flourishing here in rural Palestinian villages.

“Everyone I know drives a mashtub,” said Abu Abdullah, ­using his traditional Arab nickname for fear of arrest. “We live on a mountainside. We can’t very well walk back and forth. And these are the only cars we can afford.”

Israeli and Palestinian authorities say thousands of mashtub cars are being used in the West Bank. The problem has existed for years but has recently assumed a new urgency for both sides; despite the gulf between them on other issues, they appear as one in their determination to stamp it out.

For the Israelis, whether the police or the soldiers who patrol the West Bank, the cars are a problem because they are increasingly being used in terrorist attacks on Israeli targets.

According to Col. Roman Goffman, army commander of the brigade responsible for the West Bank area south of Jerusalem where numerous attacks have taken place in the past 18 months, 90 percent of such incidents across the territory have involved these illegal cars.

For the Palestinian police, the mashtub cars are a headache because they often wind up being used in criminal acts in Palestinian Authority areas. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah launched a campaign several months ago ­designed to crack down on them.

In both scenarios, because the cars no longer officially exist and are not registered to any individual, they are impossible to track. They are the perfect getaway cars.

Then there is their role in auto fatalities. More Israelis and Palestinians die every year in accidents on West Bank roads than in ­violence stemming from the ­decades-old conflict between the two peoples.

“These cars are not meant to be on the road,” said Israeli police superintendent Barak Arussi, whose beat covers the Hebron Hills area in the southern West Bank. Israeli police in the West Bank are working closely with their Palestinian counterparts to track down and demolish mashtub cars, he said.

“Its time-consuming,” Arussi said. “It means stopping and checking all cars that look suspicious.”

They look for the red flags, he said: Palestinians driving cars with Israeli license plates or bumper stickers. Sometimes, the giveaway is more glaring: In one case that Arussi recalled, a car was a Toyota in the front and a Honda in back.

Farouq A. Rahmin, director general of the Palestinian car-licensing authority in Ramallah, said the under-the-radar vehicles are “a bad social phenomenon.”

“There are many accidents because of these cars, not to mention crimes and security issues,” he said.

Although Rahmin argued that the onus is on Israel to stop the cars from reaching the West Bank, since they must be driven through an Israeli military checkpoint to get there, Palestinian officials are cooperating. Finding them is difficult, he said, but “when we do find them, we immediately destroy them.”

That is what happened in Qataneh two months ago.

Abu Mohammed, a villager who asked that his real name not be used because he feared arrest, recalled waking up early one morning to the sound of metal being crushed. Palestinian police officers had arrived with a bulldozer and were destroying any cars they believed were mashtub.

“They didn’t even check the cars properly, they just destroyed everything in their path,” said Abu Mohammed. His car, along with about 50 others, was destroyed that day. The only ones saved belonged to people who had left for work.

For many of Qataneh’s 13,000 residents, owning an old Israeli car is the only way to get around, Abu Mohammed said. The town is nestled deep in a valley, with houses flowing up a steep hillside, and most of the roads are dirt paths with potholes. Public transport is almost nonexistent, and purchasing a legal car — new or used — is almost out of the question.

“Secondhand cars in Palestine are very expensive. They cost at least five times more than secondhand Israeli cars, and anyway, we are no longer allowed to buy Israeli cars,” Abu Mohammed said.

As for a new car, he said, “most of us can’t legally work in Israel, where salaries are higher, and in the West Bank we can only earn about $55 a day.”

He and the other mashtub owners blame the Palestinian Authority for the problem, saying its exorbitant taxes on legal cars leave them with little choice.

But aren’t the illegal cars dangerous?

“Most of the cars they bring from Israel are perfectly fine,” Abu Mohammed said. “We just patch them up and use them.”

“Even if the police find them and destroy them, they are so cheap it doesn’t matter,” he added. “It’s a chance we are willing to take.”

The history of Palestinian rejectionism