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Latest Israel News – 5th September

Ex-Israeli Defense Minister: Iran Will Be Watching How World Reacts to North Korea’s Nuclear Provocations

Iran will be watching how the world reacts to North Korea’s latest nuclear test, a former Israeli defense minister said on Sunday.

Following the news that Pyongyang had detonated what it claimed to be an advanced hydrogen bomb that could be put on an intercontinental ballistic missile, Moshe Ya’alon — a retired IDF lieutenant general who now heads the Manhigut Aheret NGO — tweeted, “The response of the international system, led by the US, to the North Korean regime’s provocations will be reflected in the Iranian regime’s behavior on the nuclear issue in the near future.”

“Although the nuclear test is not our concern, the tension should worry us,” Ya’alon continued.

In a March interview proliferation expert David Albright said that paying attention to any potential nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Iran should be a priority for the Trump administration. (the Algemeiner)

Israel Must Treat Russian Promises on Syria ‘With Caution’ and Ready Itself to ‘Use Force Wisely’ to Thwart Iran’s Bid to Establish Permanent Presence There, Analysts Say

Israel must treat Russia’s promises vis-a-vis Syria “with caution” and also bolster its preparations to “use force wisely and with a low signature” against Iranian assets in its war-torn neighbor to the northeast, an analysis published by the Institute for National Security Studies on Sunday said.

The brief — authored for the Tel Aviv University-affiliated think tank by Zvi Magen, Udi Dekel and Sima Shine — delved into Israel’s efforts — highlighted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi – to make clear its concerns about Iran’s efforts to establish a permanent presence in Syria, as world powers continue to try to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict that has raged in the country for the past six and a half years.

“Israel’s struggle against Iran’s growing influence in Syria will be determined by the ability of both Iran and Israel to exercise effective levers of influence on Russia,” the analysis noted. “Russia for its part will try to maneuver between Israeli demands and the need for cooperation with Iran, partly by making conflicting promises to each side.”

Israel, the authors pointed out, faces three “constraints” as it considers its Syria options:

First, it must not allow the consolidation of Iranian influence in Syria for the long term, turning Syria into an Iranian client state and expanding the area of friction between Israel and Iran and its proxies. Second, relations with Russia are a strategic asset, and therefore Israel must find a way to maneuver between a credible threat of its determination to damage essential Russian interests in Syria, and its desire to continue the fruitful strategic coordination with Moscow. Third, the United States, Israel’s central ally, will not do the job for it. In addition, the Trump administration sees the Syrian arena as a place to promote cooperation with Moscow, which it wishes to extend to other arenas (above all, North Korea). Therefore, and based on the failed models in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is no American desire to wallow in the Syrian swamp. In any case, Washington will give political backing to any Israeli course of action, including large scale military action, but no more than that.

Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Segei Lavrov dismissed Israeli warnings that a ceasefire imposed by Moscow in Syria was enabling Iran and its Shiite terror proxy, Hezbollah, to amass fighters and weapons near the border with the Jewish state in preparation for a future war.

Lavrov told a news conference in the Qatari capital Doha on Wednesday, “We do not have any information that someone is preparing an attack on Israel.” He also defended Iran’s role in Syria in supporting, alongside Russia, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. “Whatever area of cooperation between Iran and Syria, my position is that if their cooperation in whichever field does not violate the basic provisions of international law, it should not be cause for question,” Lavrov said.

On Friday, Lavrov parried Israel’s displeasure with the terms of the ceasefire by implying that Israel had been kept fully abreast of developments in the negotiations to create so-called “de-escalation zones” in Syria — areas that Netanyahu and others fear will now become ripe targets for Iran.

“When this decision was being prepared, the Israeli partners were being informed on the direction of this work, alongside trilateral contacts of Russia, the United States and Jordan,” Lavrov claimed, before denying that Israel’s “security interests” had been “ignored.”  (the Algemeiner)

Sara Netanyahu to stand trial for misusing $112,000 in state funds

Sara Netanyahu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, is reportedly to stand trial for allegedly diverting some NIS 400,000 ($112,000) in public funds for her private housekeeping expenses.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is likely to inform Sara Netanyahu of the indictment in the coming weeks, according to report in the Haaretz daily on Tuesday.

She is suspected of misusing state funds at the Prime Minister’s Residence, including receiving goods under false pretenses, falsifying documents and breach of trust.

Previous reports said the attorney general was poised to level four separate charges against Sara Netanyahu.

The most serious of those involves the hiring of electrician Avi Fahima, a Likud Central Committee member. A committee charged with overseeing residence expenditures — and which included the Prime Minister’s Office legal adviser — ruled against the hiring of Fahima, but he was employed regardless.

Further suspicions relate to the use of state funds for purchasing furniture. The furniture was apparently bought for the official residence in Jerusalem and then moved to the Netanyahus’ private residence in Caesarea, while older furniture was taken back from Caesarea to the residence in Jerusalem.

The prime minister’s wife is also suspected of improper use of state funds for her late father’s medical care and overdrawing from state coffers for private meals ordered to the Prime Minister’s Residence.

Sara Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing. Her lawyer has called the allegations against her “ridiculous” and part of the overall “persecution of the Netanyahu family.”

Over the weekend, Channel 2 news reported that Sara Netanyahu had taken a private lie detector test in a bid to shore up her version of events. She took the test at the Tal Polygraph center at her “own initiative” in order to “prove her version of events,” the center said, according to the report.

The center said Sara Netanyahu was found to have been telling the truth; however, lie detector tests are inadmissible in Israeli courts and can only be used as an indication of events.

The decision to launch the investigation into her came in light of the state prosecutor’s recommendation, after allegations were raised in a 2015 report by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira that detailed lavish spending at the official residence in Jerusalem, as well as at the Netanyahus’ Caesarea home.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is also under investigation in two separate cases of suspected financial misdeeds and supposed illicit ties to executives in media, international business and Hollywood.

One investigation involving Netanyahu, dubbed by police as “Case 1000,” concerns claims he and his wife improperly accepted lavish gifts from wealthy supporters, including Australian billionaire James Packer and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

The second investigation, “Case 2000,” concerns Netanyahu’s alleged attempts to strike a deal with publisher Arnon Mozes of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper group to weaken Yediot’s main competitor, Yisrael Hayom, in exchange for more favorable coverage of Netanyahu by Yediot.

A key former aide, Avi Harow, has turned state’s witness and reportedly given evidence relating to some of the investigations.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in either of the cases.  (the Times of Israel)

Netanyahu sneaks fresh peek at African migrants in south Tel Aviv

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured south Tel Aviv for a second time in less than a week Sunday evening, in what was described as an “undercover” peep at the large community of undocumented African migrants in the area.

Accompanied by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Netanyahu visited the same areas he toured on a similar visit Thursday, only this time without any prior warning or arrangements, in order to gain a more candid view of the neighborhood’s alleged woes, according to Deri’s spokesperson.

The influx of African migrants into the working class area of Tel Aviv in recent years has sparked anger among local residents, who claim the asylum-seekers bring crime. Protests by residents have stepped up in recent days around a court ruling that found Israel could only detain migrants for 60 days and could not forcibly deport them to a third country.

The two walked around the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood, Levinsky Park and the Hatikvah neighborhood.

Netanyahu, who last week announced his intention to establish a ministerial committee to deal with the issue, denied earlier Sunday that the asylum-seekers, most of whom hail from Sudan and Eritrea, were actually refugees.

“Most of them are looking for jobs,” he asserted, adding that Israel had the right to “remove [the] illegal aliens who don’t belong here.”

Netanyahu’s tour on Thursday, with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Culture Minister Miri Regev, came on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling last week that the government could continue with its controversial practice of deporting undocumented migrants to an unnamed third country, but said the government cannot jail those who refuse to go for more than 60 days.

“We are here on a mission to give back south Tel Aviv to the Israeli residents,” the prime minister said on Thursday. “I’ve heard the residents, and what I hear is pain and crisis. People are afraid to leave their homes.”

Netanyahu has said the government will take a three-pronged approach to the problem.

Measures include a security fence along the border with Egypt which has already succeeded in significantly reducing the number of migrants who cross into Israel from African countries, increased enforcement against those employ illegal migrants and migrants who break the law, and the ministerial committee that the prime minister said he will lead himself and will meet for the first time on Thursday.

South Tel Aviv residents last week applauded his comments and chanted slogans against the Supreme Court.

According to the African Refugee Development Center, there are approximately 46,437 Africans in Israel who consider themselves asylum seekers. The majority, 73 percent, are from Eritrea, and approximately 19% are from Sudan.

Israel’s practice of expelling asylum-seekers to a third country is largely unprecedented in the Western world. Italy and Australia signed similar agreements with third-party countries — Italy with Libya, and Australia with Malaysia — but both proposals were shot down by local courts.

In both cases, courts ruled the bills inconsistent with international law and the 1951 UN convention on refugees — to which Israel is also a party.

Deri has said he will push legislation that allows Israel to forcibly deport migrants to a third country.  (the Times of Israel)

Pioneering Israeli App Helps Visually Impaired Find Their Way

A pioneering smartphone accessibility application launched this week seeks to help orient the visually impaired through crowded indoor spaces, such as malls, hospitals and universities.

Ra’anana-based RightHear was founded by Idan Meir and Gil Elgrably and is billed as an app that “offers an innovative indoor orientation and mobility solution for people who are blind or visually impaired.”

The RightHear app was developed almost accidentally, as Meir and Elgrably had originally developed technology meant to offer virtual on-the-spot coupons to shoppers, the Israel21c website reported this week. They soon realized, however, that rather than marketing the application to end users, they could pitch it to the venues as a way of making their space accessible to the visually impaired.

“We didn’t even know if blind people used smartphones or apps since they’re so visual,” Meir told Israel21c, adding that once the prototype was designed — during a 2015 event in Ra’anana — the municipality put the app developers in touch with several blind people in the city to try it.

“They were blown away. They were so excited about it, even though we didn’t have a product yet,” he said.

Meir and Elgrably have spent the last two years developing RightHear, which is currently operational at 200 venues. The app is free for users, and RightHear charges the venues a fee based on the number of access spots that are deployed. (JNS/the Algemeiner)

Guterres and Greenblatt outline divergent paths to peace

In Jerusalem, the UN chief strikes a conciliatory tone but espouses traditional positions, while Trump’s envoy pushes grassroots efforts to prepare the ground for reconciliation

By Raphael Ahren                The Times of Israel

https://www.timesofisrael.com/guterres-and-greenblatt-outline-divergent-paths-to-peacemaking/

Two top foreign dignitaries visited the region last week, representing contrasting views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both are good news for Israel, relatively speaking.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres advanced the traditional positions of the international community by pushing for a “two-state solution that will end the occupation.” US President Donald Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, on the other hand, focused on exploring grassroots efforts to bring the two sides closer together on the ground.

The two men visited many of the same stations: the Prime Minister’s Office, the presidential compound in Ramallah, the Erez Crossing and the homes of Israelis living close to the Gaza Strip. But despite the similar itineraries, the two men, who on Monday briefly met in Jerusalem, came with different goals and different strategies.

Guterres urged immediate steps to bring about peace, while Greenblatt seemed eager to explore ways to bring the two societies closer together to prepare the ground for a reconciliation that would precede peace.

Greenblatt’s approach to the peace process is certainly more to the liking of Israel’s right-wing government, but it can also feel satisfied with Guterres, who went as far as he could given his position in expressing sympathy for the Jewish state.

To be sure, he said some things Israeli officials could have done without. He reiterated that settlement activity is “illegal under international law,” expressed support for a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation and called for an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, describing the Strip’s state as a “dramatic humanitarian crisis.”

And yet, his speeches and gestures here were more positive than Israelis could have expected from the head of an organization that is meant to remain “neutral” but is notorious for its relentless bashing of the Jewish state.

While he sometimes disagreed with the Israeli government, on Monday he declared in Jerusalem that he remains committed to the UN’s “impartiality” — meaning that Israel must not be singled out for undue criticism — and stressed that he considers calls for Israel’s destruction “a form of modern anti-Semitism.” He repeated this idea several times this week.

Israel has “fulfilled the rights and national aspirations of Jews throughout generations,” he said, which is as close as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state as a top UN official has ever come.

After his visit to Nahal Oz, a kibbutz on the border with Gaza, the secretary general praised the residents of the rocket-struck kibbutz for suppressing “what would be natural feeling of anger” and instead sending “an extraordinary message of peace and reconciliation” and offering to help Palestinian civilians in the Hamas-run enclave.

Guterres garnered much praise from Jerusalem and the wider Jewish world. Hosting him in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the UN’s “absurd obsession with Israel” but in the same breath praised its new secretary general for his demonstrated desire “to turn a new page in relations.”

After a private meeting Monday, Israel Council on Foreign Affairs president Dan Meridor said he found Guterres to be “fair-minded.”

The Anti-Defamation League, too, lauded Guterres’s equivalency between anti-Semitism and anti-Israel agitation as “significant.” “These remarks, along with his recognition of the daily security and terror threats faced by Israelis, send a clear message and are an important signal that the Secretary-General understands the challenges Israel faces in the region,” the group’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said.

Guterres’s somewhat unexpectedly sympathetic tone when addressing Israelis may have to do with the Trump administration’s ongoing threats to withdraw funding from the UN if it doesn’t rein in anti-Israel bias.

In substance, however, his approach was not new. He espoused the exact same positions on Gaza and the peace process as his predecessors did before him. And that is where his approach fundamentally differs from that of Jason Greenblatt, who remained loyal to the US administration’s policy of refraining from publicly subscribing to any clear-cut policy.

In Tuesday’s meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, Guterres mentioned the two-state solution nine times.

Greenblatt, by contrast, has never publicly endorsed the notion of two states for two peoples. Rather than making policy pronouncements, Trump’s envoy met with officials and civil society leaders from both sides and continued his effort to strengthen Israeli-Palestinian coexistence projects.

He visited two crossings into Gaza — where he met with Palestinian businessmen, walked through a Hamas terror tunnel and participated in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over another power purchasing agreement.

At the Ziv Hospital in Safed, he was “extremely impressed” by Israel’s aid to thousands of Syrian refugees. “These are the stories of Israel the world needs to hear and stories like this show how peace in the region can be possible,” he said.

Greenblatt also toured the Jalameh (Gilboa) crossing, in the northern West Bank, to learn about Israeli-Palestinian economic and security cooperation and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz’s regional initiative to extend railroads to connect Israelis and Palestinians to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

Greenblatt visited Rawabi — the first city built for West Bank Palestinians — and met with Palestinian academic leaders to “discuss [the] role of higher education in economic growth and a stronger civil society,” and with a group of Gazans.

Greenblatt also made time to stop by at a practice of a mixed Arab and Jewish soccer club in Jerusalem suburb Mevasseret Zion. “It’s very important to face racism, to fight discrimination, and I’m very energized by programs like this. I think they’re very important for what we’re trying to accomplish in terms of peace,” he said. “In my mind, a peace agreement will not be successful the day after, until the societies reconnect. And this is a perfect example of societies connecting,” he said of the team.

This nicely sums up Greenblatt’s strategy. In parallel to talks with political leaders in Ramallah in Jerusalem, he is trying to see what civil society can do to help the process.

Careful not to jeopardize his reputation as an honest broker, Trump’s envoy made sure to say nice things about both Israelis and Palestinians, though his praise for the Israelis he met was much more effusive.

More importantly, however, his tour underlined once more that the US administration, while keen on clinching the ultimate deal, remains hesitant to impose policies on Jerusalem. Rather, it appears that the White House has come to understand that any attempt to relaunch peace negotiations needs to be bolstered by a serious effort to nourish reconciliation and coexistence.

The next war against Israel

By Jed Babbin                 The Washington Times

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/sep/3/the-next-war-against-israel/

Israel’s national existence is again being threatened, this time by a three-front war being engineered by Iran.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Russian city of Sochi on August 24 to attempt to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to restrain Iran’s actions.

Iran is extending its expansion in Syria, to which Russia is a party, from western Syria up to Israel’s doorstep on the Golan Heights. Iran, already heavily involved in Syria, is also deeply involved in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. Most of its involvement is through its Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces and proxy terrorist networks. As a result Israel is, justifiably, feeling surrounded.

What both leaders know, and Mr. Putin wouldn’t admit, is that Russia’s power to restrain Iran is limited. Gone are the days when America and Russia could exert a superpower’s near-total control over the actions of their allies and dependent or satellite states.

Russia’s power to influence Iran while considerable, will not be determinative. Russian influence in Iran is deeply embedded both economically and militarily. Russian trade with Iran doubled over 2016. Iran is on an infrastructure building binge mostly funded by Russia. But Mr. Putin isn’t about to threaten to cut off that aid to help Israel.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Putin reportedly gave no hint about what he would do.

Mr. Putin’s restraining Iran, if it occurs at all, will have only a temporary effect. Iran may proceed more slowly in Syria, but its actions will continue.

Israel sees another war coming. This time, it will most likely result from attacks by a combination of terrorist networks supported by Iran. Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy terrorist force, has more than 100,000 rockets and missiles now, some of which can reach from Lebanon to every Israeli town.

Days after the Sochi meeting, Mr. Netanyahu met with the new U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. He reportedly told Mr. Guterres that Iran is building missile manufacturing sites of “precision-guided missiles” in Syria and Lebanon to supply its terrorist proxy forces.

Israel rightly fears a two-front war in Lebanon and Syria. Mr. Netanyahu reportedly told Mr. Guterres that Iran’s efforts amounted to placing a noose around Israel’s neck, which Israel could not, and the U.N. should not, accept.

When it comes, this will be a three-front war. On the day that Mr. Netanyahu met with Mr. Guterres, Yehiye Sinwar, the new leader of Hamas, another powerful terrorist network dedicated to Israel’s destruction, met with reporters. He announced that Hamas had mended fences with Iran and that Iran is now Hamas’ largest financial and military backer.

Hamas had broken with Iran in 2012 when Iran had refused to back the Assad regime in what was then a Syrian civil war. Since then, Iran and Russia (and Turkey, our former ally) have all intervened to protect Assad’s regime. Hamas will be a recipient of the “precision-guided missiles” manufactured in Syria and Lebanon for use against Israel.

Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, constantly excavates tunnels into Israel to enable its terrorist fighters to slip into Israel undetected and murder Israeli citizens. Iran’s aid can greatly enhance their capabilities to tunnel and to fire rockets and missiles into Israeli population centers.

The greatest danger Israel faces is Hezbollah rockets and missiles. The Israeli “Iron Dome” missile defenses have proven effective against the kinds of rockets that Hamas and Hezbollah have used in the past. But it has never been used against the ballistic missiles Hezbollah has. Those missiles, supplied by Iran, may be able to attack Israeli population centers with explosive, chemical or even biological weapons.

Facing the combined threats of Iran in Syria as well as Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel might decide to strike pre-emptively against the missile bases in Lebanon and Gaza as well as the missile production facilities in Lebanon and Syria. It is very unlikely that Russia would intervene in their defense, but Iran might.

Hezbollah and Hamas, at Iran’s instigation, might attack before Israel can pre-empt them. If the Israelis appeared in danger of defeat America would intervene just as we nearly did in the 1972 war when Israel appeared on the verge of defeat.

If the Iron Dome system defeats Hezbollah’s missile attacks, the war will be confined to Lebanon, Syria and Gaza. If not, Iran — regardless of Russian efforts to stop it — almost certainly try to deliver a killing blow to the Jewish state. At that point, we should not hesitate to throw all our military might against Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.

Iran, as Henry Kissinger wrote in “World Order,” is a revolutionary power that means to overturn the old world order that has been in place since the 17th century. Iran calls America the “Great Satan,” and Israel “the Little Satan.” It is our common enemy, as are Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which have American blood on their hands.

When this war comes America must quickly come to the realization that Israel is fighting our fight against our common enemies. The president should say so in a speech to the American people, and we should act accordingly in Israel’s defense.

What BDS movement? Conan O’Brien defies critics on Israel tour

by Noa Amouyal      The Jerusalem Post

http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Analysis-What-BDS-movement-Conan-OBrien-defies-critics-on-Israel-tour-504084

When most celebrities come to Israel, they have a photo-op or two, give a performance where an occasional “Shalom!” is called out, and then are quickly whisked away to go back home.

But late night TV host Conan O’Brien raised the bar – the brazen, red-haired funny man spent a week collecting footage for a special episode that will highlight all the high jinks that ensued while he was here.

This is far from the first time O’Brien has traveled the world to joke around with locals.

Armenia, Mexico, Cuba have all been featured in his TBS show Conan. However, when he travels the world speaking to political officials, entertainers and regular everyday folks, he doesn’t get weighty accusations like “apartheid apologist” or “enabler of an occupation” leveled at him. But Israel is a unique place, where every move is seen as a political statement.

The most interesting aspect of the his visit, though, is that he is defiantly ignoring his critics and treating Israel like it’s an attractive (and normal) tourist destination.

That’s because it is.

Take a look at all of Conan’s stops here: A visit of the set of the Israeli hit TV show Fauda (what O’Brien referred to as a favorite of his); floating and singing “Hava Nagila” in the Dead Sea; meeting doctors from Ziv Medical Center who are saving the lives of Syrian refugees; and hitting up an Israeli hummus restaurant.

By all accounts, it seems like O’Brien enjoyed an immersive experience, with a joy that far surpassed most celebrity visits.

We saw a mere glimpse of a love for Israel when Steven Tyler of the rock band Aerosmith jokingly declared that he was “making aliya.” But O’Brien went a step further. He joked around with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and fed Netanyahu’s dog cucumbers.

He posed with IDF female combatants of the Caracal Battalion. And he posted everything on social media for his 25.4 million followers to see.

He is, essentially, Roger Waters’s worst nightmare.

“[His visit] demonstrates that Israel is a great country. And when someone like Conan says all these nice things about Israel – nobody is forcing him to do it – it’s really a great feeling,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post.

Nobody can accuse O’Brien – a Harvard graduate with a deep love of history – of ignorantly wading into this conflict zone. He must have been warned of the consequences prior to his departure, and it seems as if every attack against him only emboldened him.

He didn’t ignore the conflict either.

Posts showing him touring Bethlehem and meeting Israeli Arabs in Jaffa show that he is well aware that Israel is a complex place where coexistence is possible.

“I think there are a lot of people who think of Israel as a tense place, but that’s not the impression that you get,” he told Channel 2 in an interview last week.

This visit could be a harbinger of how future celebrities enjoy their stay here, and an indication that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement – the big, bad wolf threatening Israel – is really a feeble dog with a lot of bark but little bite.

Despite the millions the government is pouring into fighting this battle, perhaps it is really visits like these that can help change hearts and minds when it comes to people’s impressions of Israel.

“I don’t really understand the politics, but I see many good people in these pics and videos. I don’t understand why there is so much negativity,” one commentator wrote on O’Brien’s Facebook page.

It is that exact sentiment that can eradicate the BDS movement once and for all.