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Latest Israel News – 5th April

‘Iran arms manufacturing facilities in Lebanon are new kind of threat’

Reports that Iran is building workshops and facilities to make advanced rockets inside Lebanon is a “huge development” that constitutes a “whole new kind of threat,” Chagai Tzuriel, director- general of the Intelligence Ministry, said Monday.

Tzuriel, at a briefing organized by The Israel Project, attributed the reports to a Kuwaiti newspaper, but seemed to accept their veracity. If true, it would mean the Iranians and Hezbollah are trying to get around the difficulty of transferring arms over land through Syria to Lebanon by manufacturing them there instead. Israel reportedly, on a number of occasions, has attacked convoys moving potentially “game-changing” armaments over land through Syria.

In addition to the weaponry, Iran continues to provide Hezbollah with $1 billion a year.

Tzuriel said Hezbollah has an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 of its best fighters in Syria, and has lost approximately 1,700 men in the war there with thousands others wounded.

Today, Tzuriel said, the most important strategic issue in the region for Israel is not Iran’s nuclear capability, but rather “Iran in the region.”

The nuclear issue is “always high on the agenda,” but it is a threat that – because of the deal reached with the US in 2015 – will become more dangerous in five, eight and 10 years. But more immediately pressing, he said, is Iran’s efforts to build a land bridge stretching from Iran, through Iraq, Syria and then into Lebanon – a land bridge that could be complete in the near future when Mosul is expected to be wrenched free of Islamic State control.

“The greatest state threat facing Israel is Iran,” he said. “The greatest non-state threat comes from Hezbollah, it has the greatest damage potential. And the greatest non-state threat in terms of volatility is Hamas. Gaza is volatile both militarily, as well as from a humanitarian point of view.”

With that being said, the most important strategic arena right now is Syria, he added, calling it a “microcosm of much of the international regional and local relationships and power balances.”

What happens in Syria – where the world superpowers are vying, as well as regional powers, local elements, and a diverse group of ethnic and religious groups – “will influence to a large extent what happens in the region and the world,” he said.

“Syria is an exporter of terrorism and refugees and immigrants, and just that has already changed the social and economic make-up or reality in the neighboring countries, specifically Jordan, but also in Lebanon and other countries,” he said. “I think we can say that it changed the political and social fabric in Europe, and I think it would not be far fetched to say it influenced, to large extent, the Brexit and the elections in the US.”

According to Tzuriel, the most important development in Syria of late has been the strengthening of the Iranian- Shi’a axis there. Jerusalem, he said, believes that if Iran bases itself in Syria over the long run it will be a constant source of friction not only with Israel, but also with the Sunni majority in Syria, Sunni countries outside Syria and Sunni minorities outside the region.

Regarding Russia’s involvement in Syria, Tzuriel said it is “a dominant player and is not going anywhere. I think their profile may change, but they are here to stay. We need to understand this and cope with it. For us, Russia is not an enemy, despite selling advanced weapons to Iran.”

He added: “The dialogue we have with Russia, alongside our most important dialogue with the US – our most important strategic partner – has the potential of influencing the outcome of the final future picture in Syria.”  (Jerusalem Post)

PM Netanyahu extends condolences to Russia following deadly metro terror attack

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his condolences to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday evening, expressing Israel’s solidarity following the deadly metro blast that took place earlier in the day at Russia’s second-largest city Saint Petersburg.

The premier told Putin that “on behalf of the Israeli government, I send my condolences to President Putin and the families of the murdered, following the explosion in St. Petersburg’s metro railway today.”

Netanyahu also said that “Israeli citizens are standing with the Russian people on this hard day.”

The incident, which occurred on Monday afternoon, claimed the lives of dozens and injured at least 50 people according to recent Russian media reports. Russia’s emergency services as well as government officials have labelled the blast as a terror attack, and search warrants have been released for two suspects who security forces believe are linked to the attack.

Earlier in the evening footage emerged of a man who is allegedly one of the suspects running through the train station.

Following the attack, all metro stations in the city were evacuated and sealed for safety reasons. President Putin has spoken to the nation on live national television and promised that security agencies will conduct a thorough investigation into the attack.  (Jerusalem Post)

PM said preparing package of gestures for Palestinians at Trump’s behest

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly preparing a raft of goodwill gestures for the Palestinians following a request from US President Donald Trump, who wants to see the two sides back at the negotiating table.

Netanyahu presented some of the measures to his cabinet in a meeting held Thursday night, according to a report published Monday in the Haaretz newspaper. The reported cited five participants in the closed-door meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Chief among the measures was allowing Palestinians to build in Area C of the West Bank, the part of the territory under full Israeli civil and military control.

During the meeting, the prime minister also announced measures to limit building in the West Bank. He told his ministers that although the move is not part of an official agreement or informal understanding with the White House, he knows that the Trump administration will be keeping a very close eye on settlement construction.

The Americans know about every home that is built in the settlements, he reportedly said.

The prime minister also noted several times that Trump is determined to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and to reach a deal between the two sides. Netanyahu stressed the importance of Israel not being seen as the party that caused the process to fail.

Trump will this week be meeting Arab leaders, who are likely to present him with a plan to get the Israelis and the Palestinian back to the negotiating table.

In previous attempts, the Palestinians have demanded a complete freeze to settlement construction.

While Netanyahu has close personal relations with Trump and views the new administration as much better for Israel than the Obama White House, he is nevertheless wary of antagonizing the American leader.

“This is a very friendly administration and we need to be considerate of the president’s requests,” Netanyahu reportedly said, referring to Trump’s statements that he would like to see settlement construction limited.

Although Netanyahu had said that there will be “no limits” on construction in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, he stressed that “we have to act wisely,” Haaretz reported, implying that construction in the capital will not automatically be green-lighted.

After ministers last Thursday approved a new settlement for the evacuees of the Amona outpost, the Prime Minister’s Office said overnight Thursday-Friday that any future construction would be limited to existing settlement boundaries or adjacent to them. If legal, security or topographical limitations do not allow adherence to those guidelines, however, new homes would be built outside the current settlement boundaries but as close as possible to them, the statement said.

Israel will also prevent the construction of any new illegal outposts, Netanyahu told his ministers.

The White House on Friday welcomed the new policy.

Notwithstanding the Israeli unilateral steps to curry favor with the US, Israel Radio reported Sunday that the negotiations between Israel and the US over settlement construction were put on hold on Sunday morning after Netanyahu and Jason Greenblatt — Trump’s special envoy — and working groups on both sides failed to reach understandings on the issue.

However, the White House told The Times of Israel later Sunday that it was not holding “formal negotiations” with Israel over the settlements. “I would dissuade you from the notion that there is some set of formal negotiations regarding settlements,” an administration official told The Times of Israel. “We continuously discuss a range of issues, including how to improve the overall climate.” (the Times of Israel)

Attempt to smuggle diving suits into Gaza thwarted

Security forces at the Kerem Shalom border crossing near Gaza thwarted an attempt to smuggle some 30 professional diving suits into Gaza.

The suits are intended, according to suspicions, to serve terrorists in the Gaza strip, including the ‘naval commandos’ of Hamas.

Diving Suit

The suits were hidden in a seemingly simple package of sports clothing imported internationally to the PA, and sent from there to Gaza.

The package was confiscated and an investigation was opened to locate those involved in the smuggling attempt.   (Arutz Sheva)

Stop denying the Israeli consensus on the Palestinians

by Jonathan S. Tobin          Jewish News Service (JNS)

http://www.jns.org/latest-articles/2017/3/30/stop-denying-the-israeli-consensus-on-the-palestinians#.WOL8XDi1uos=

Yair Lapid is the current favorite to become prime minister the next time the Israeli people go to the polls to elect a new Knesset, at some point in the not-too-distant future. But whether or not the former television star who leads the centrist Yesh Atid party winds up succeeding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he has already done something that ought to influence international opinion about the Middle East conflict. The only question is whether those determined to impose their will on the Jewish state will listen.

Last weekend, Lapid made it clear that his effort to unseat Netanyahu will be conducted on a platform that will be remarkably similar to that of the prime minister. As Haaretz reported, Lapid said any negotiations with the Palestinians would need to be conducted “in very slow stages.” How slow a process does Lapid envision? His answer is that it will take “15-20 years, the main element of which is security arrangements.”

Why so slow when so many of his country’s critics, as well as its left-wing political parties and former generals who are Netanyahu critics, claim it is a matter of urgency to withdraw from the West Bank as soon as possible? His answer is succinct: “I don’t believe the Palestinians.”

His stance is also similar to that of the current titular head of the opposition in the current Knesset—Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union party. Herzog issued his own peace plan last month in which he asserted that peace would have to wait until at least 10 years passed, during which the Palestinians would need to completely refrain from anti-Israel terror.

This means both the current head of the opposition to Netanyahu and the man who has the best chance to beat him actually largely agree with the prime minister on the one issue for which Israel’s critics are most desirous of a policy change. Rather than advocate a surrender of the disputed territories in order to create a Palestinian state as soon as possible, they agree peace is nowhere in sight. Their reason is that Palestinian intentions toward Israel are such that all Israel would be doing is attempting to trade land for terror, rather than the peace that was sought. In a remarkable demonstration of a broad consensus, Netanyahu, Herzog and Lapid all understand that until a sea change occurs within their political culture that will render peace acceptable to most Palestinians, Israel has no alternative but to hold its ground.

This explodes the notion that Israel is split down the middle on the peace process. That was true until Palestinian terror blew up the Oslo agreements, as the carnage of the second intifada convinced most Israelis that their high hopes for obtaining peace had been a cruel deception. Since then, the Israeli left has been marginalized.

It’s possible that Lapid is attempting to deceive the Israeli public and would behave differently if he won. Lapid’s chief foreign policy advisers are left-wingers and may believe their candidate is only saying what he must to get elected. But even if that is true, Lapid’s determination not to let himself be portrayed as soft is significant because it shows he understands that winning an Israeli election will require a realistic stance on peace.

The majority of Israelis, including some who vote for the ruling Likud party, would be happy if a two-state solution were possible. Most would probably embrace painful territorial sacrifices resulting in the uprooting of some settlements if they thought it was the required price for actually ending the conflict. But after the last quarter century, during which the Palestinians have repeatedly demonstrated their unwillingness to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn, they understand that the kind of withdrawal favored by former President Barack Obama and other Israel critics makes no sense. They have no appetite for a West Bank replication of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza.

Israel’s critics should pay attention to what Lapid said because it demonstrates that there is a consensus about peace and territorial withdrawal. Those who ignore this consensus are seeking to overthrow the verdict of democracy, and forgetting that the Israeli electorate has a much firmer grasp of the security situation than that of foreign kibitzers who want peace now.

Is Israel ready to face thousands of Hezbollah missiles?

By Anna Ahronheim       The Jerusalem Post

http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Analysis-Is-Israel-ready-to-face-thousands-of-Hezbollah-missiles-486011

The idea for Iron Dome came after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when large Israeli cities were struck by missiles for the first time from its northern neighbor.

David’s Sling, the final piece of Israel’s protective aerial umbrella, became operational Monday afternoon, filling the last gap in Israel’s missile-defense system and sending a clear signal to the country’s enemies.

With Iron Dome, Arrow and David Sling batteries deployed throughout the country, Israel should be completely defended against aerial threats. Will the systems measure up if Israel is faced with a real rocket barrage upon its cities? The timing of the system’s initial operational capability (IOC) comes as tension has risen along both the northern and Gaza borders, and shortly after the first successful interception by an Arrow battery of a Syrian anti-aircraft missile that had been fired toward Israel.

Speaking at the IOC ceremony at the Hatzor Air Force Base in central Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the “cutting-edge technology” of David’s Sling will help protect Israel against her enemies, warning that “whoever seeks to hit us will be hit. Whoever threatens our existence places himself in existential danger.”

According to Yiftach Shapir, head of the Middle East Military Balance Project at the Institute for National Security Studies, while David’s Sling is a “wonderful addition to Israel’s defense arsenal,” it will be hard to defend against a rocket barrage of thousands of missiles.

“It will be able to defend against threats that the Iron Dome is not able to,” Shapir told The Jerusalem Post, “but nothing is ever 100%. Every kind of defense system is vulnerable.”

Designed to intercept medium- to-long-range rockets, as well as cruise missiles fired at ranges between 40 to 300km, David’s Sling complements the Iron Dome system, designed to shoot down short-range rockets, and the Arrow system, which intercepts ballistic missiles outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

Together the systems will provide Israel the ability to counter threats posed by both short and mid-range missiles used by terrorist groups in Gaza and Hezbollah, as well as the threat posed by more sophisticated long-range Iranian ballistic missiles.

The idea for Iron Dome came after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when large Israeli cities were struck by missiles for the first time from its northern neighbor. It has since been used during two military operations against Hamas.

Iron Dome has proven itself since it went into service in April 2011, with a successful interception rate of 85% of projectiles fired toward Israeli civilian centers since its first deployment.

During the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza, the system successfully intercepted nearly 800 rockets fired at Israeli cities.

A recent series of successful experiments for Iron Dome focused on the ability of its Tamir anti-missile rocket to intercept a number of targets fired simultaneously at different ranges.

But while Iron Dome has proven itself against Hamas rockets from Gaza, experts have long warned that Israel faces the threat of thousands of Hezbollah rockets pounding the home front in the next war on the northern border.

The Lebanese Shia terrorist group is believed to have more than 100,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel, including sophisticated long-range rockets.

This is a threat that despite all of the army’s advanced air-defense system, it remains ill-prepared to face.

Even if the air force manages to destroy a large amount of missiles, there will likely remain enough of them to risk the interceptor systems being inundated if either group decides to launch large-scale barrages with rockets from varying ranges simultaneously.

According to a senior officer in the Air Defense Command, while Israel “now has the ability to protect more territory, it is impossible to protect everything at all times.”

With one David’s Sling interceptor missile costing $1 million, $100,000 for one Iron Dome interceptor missile and $3 million for one Arrow interceptor missile, the economic cost of destroying the hundreds of thousands of rockets aimed at Israel is astronomical.

According to Shapir, Israeli government strategists will have to decide what is to be defended by David’s Sling and other missile defense systems.

“When the Iron Dome was first deployed, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said openly that it should be used to defend strategic assets, so that Israel can continue fighting. But within months, the government decided that defending civilian populations is more important and that was Hamas’s targets,” Shapir said.

With Hezbollah likely to target Israeli strategic installations as well as military bases, that is what we will have to defend, he added. “But if they decide to target both military installations as well civilian centers, the Israeli leadership will have to decide what they choose to defend. It will be a very tough decision no matter what way you look at it.”