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Latest Israel News – 7th March

Netanyahu to urge Russia to say ‘nyet’ to Iranian ops near Israel border

Israel hopes to reach “specific understandings” with Russia to prevent Tehran from permanently setting up a base of operations in Syria against Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday.

At the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu announced that he will be traveling to Moscow on Thursday for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the discussions will focus on current efforts to put together new arrangements in Syria. Those efforts have taken place in recent weeks in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, and Geneva.

“With the framework of these arrangements, and also without them, there is an Iranian effort to become firmly established on a permanent basis in Syria, either through the presence of ground forces, or naval forces,” Netanyahu said. He also said the Syrians are involved in a “gradual attempt to open up a front against us on the Golan Heights.”

The prime minister said that he will express Israel’s fierce opposition to this in his discussions with Putin.

“I hope that we can reach specific understandings in order to decrease possible friction between our forces and theirs, as we did successfully until now,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu traveled to Moscow in September 2015, just as Russia began its military engagement in Syria, and set up a deconfliction mechanism between the two countries aimed at preventing any accidental engagement between Israeli and Russian forces in Syria.

The prime minister discussed the situation in Syria, and how he defines Israel’s interests there, with US President Donald Trump when he met with him in Washington last month. Diplomatic sources said he now wants to have a similar conversation with Putin.  (Jerusalem Post)

Stabbing attack prevented at Tapuah Junction

Border Police officers prevented a stabbing attack at Tapuah Junction in the West Bank on Sunday afternoon, the Israel Police said in a statement.

A member of the Border Police who was stationed at a lookout position at the junction identified two suspects moving in the open area nearby.

He relayed the information to other officers who approached the suspects and ordered them to halt and identify themselves. The Border Police then conducted a search and found a knife on the person of one of the suspects.

Both men, adult residents of Nablus, were detained without the use of physical force and transferred to security services to be interrogated.

The police’s initial investigation suggests that one of the two had been in the area previously to study troop movements and had returned with the second man, who brought the knife. They allegedly had intended to carry out an attack on the civilians or security personnel at the junction.   (Ynet News)

Palestinian killed after opening fire on IDF forces in Ramallah

Overnight Sunday, into Monday morning, Border Police in the counter terrorist unit Yamam attempted to arrest a wanted Palestinian in Ramallah. When the forces entered the village the they were met with rounds of fire from the terrorist, the IDF reported Monday morning.

As a result security forces returned fire and the terrorist was killed. No Israelis were injured in the incident.

The terrorist was named as Babasal al-Stag, 31-years-old, from Bethlehem. Stag was the head of a terrorist cell that had planned attacks against Israelis and security forces.

When searching the area security forces located an automatic M16 weapon as well as a Carlo automatic machine gun. (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu to be grilled by police for fourth time on Monday

Police will question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under caution on Monday for a fourth time. The investigation will reportedly deal with both criminal investigations into Netanyahu, termed Case 1000 and Case 2000.

The probe into Case 1000 may take longer than previously thought, with it now expected to end sometime in April instead of in late March, as investigators had difficulty coordinating the questioning with Netanyahu due to his extensive foreign travel, Channel 2 reported.

The police have also had difficulties coordinating the foreign judicial inquiry of Australian billionaire James Packer – for personal and medical reasons – and the foreign judicial inquiry of Israeli billionaire Arnon Milchan, for reasons that are unclear. Both billionaires are suspected of giving illegal gifts to the prime minister and his family.

Case 1000 deals with allegations that the prime minister and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, accepted illegal gifts of cigars, champagne and jewelry from Israeli Hollywood movie mogul Milchan. Netanyahu’s oldest son, Yair, is also alleged to have accepted gifts from Packer.

In Case 2000, the prime minister is suspected of attempting to broker favorable media coverage with Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes in exchange for supporting a 2014 Knesset bill to weaken competing newspaper Israel Hayom.

Police are still seeking to receive a statement from US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a Netanyahu confidant and owner of Israel Hayom, according to Channel 2.

In both cases, Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing, reiterating, “There will be nothing, because there is nothing.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Joint Netanyahu-Herzog peace bid was stymied by Amona crisis last fall – report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog planned to announce a new regional peace initiative during an abortive bid to piece together a national unity government last fall, according to a Sunday report in the Haaretz daily.

As part of the regional initiative, Netanyahu and Herzog, whose coalition talks collapsed amid mutual recriminations by October, were to release an eight-point English-language text detailing Israel’s position in support of a new peace push.

The document, published by Haaretz, is dated September 12-13, 2016, and addresses Arab states, especially Egypt.

It thanks Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi “for his willingness to play an active role in advancing peace and security in the region and re-launching the peace process.”

It explicitly welcomes wider Arab involvement in a new peace effort, noting: “Israel regards positively the general spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative and the positive elements in it. Israel welcomes a dialogue with Arab states regarding this initiative, so as to reflect the dramatic changes in the region in recent years and to work together to advance the two-state solution and a broader peace in the region.”

The statement then affirms “our commitment to a solution of two states for two peoples and our desire to pursue this solution,” and says Israel “extends its hand to the Palestinians to begin direct, bilateral negotiations without preconditions.”

The proposed text would have committed the Netanyahu government to an apparent curtailment of settlement construction, committing Israel, “in the context of the renewed peace effort” to implementing its “settlement activities in Judea and Samaria… in a manner that would facilitate a regional dialogue for peace and the goal of two states for two peoples.”

It affirms that Israel “seeks an end of conflict and finality of all claims, mutual recognition between two nation-states, enduring security arrangements and an agreed territorial solution which, among other thing, will recognize the existing population centers.”

According to Haaretz, the proposed initiative never panned out because Netanyahu was caught in the political vise of the Amona outpost controversy.

The illegal West Bank outpost, which the High Court of Justice ruled in 2014 had been built on privately owned Palestinian land, was due to be demolished by the end of the December of last year, and the weeks leading up to the deadline saw rising tensions with the Jewish Home party and many Likud ministers on Netanyahu’s rightist flank.

The proposed text was written in close coordination between Netanyahu and Herzog, and was due to be presented publicly by the two leaders in a planned summit in Cairo or Sharm el-Sheikh with Egypt’s Sissi and possibly Jordan’s King Abdullah II last October, the report said.

According to the newspaper, the text’s content, as well as the plans for the summit, were known to officials in Egypt and Jordan, as well as to then-US secretary of state John Kerry and Quartet Mideast peace envoy Tony Blair.

Netanyahu’s office told Haaretz that the narrative according to which a possible regional peace process was prevented by Israeli political infighting was completely untrue. Herzog’s office declined to comment on the Sunday report.

The prospect of a regional solution has dominated discussion on the conflict in Jerusalem, Washington and around the world, but has been rejected by Palestinian officials.

In a February meeting at the White House, Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump voiced support for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that builds on Israel’s ties with other Arab countries.

During public comments delivered by the two leaders before their meeting, Netanyahu avoided mentioning Palestinian statehood, calling instead for a “regional” approach to resolving the conflict that included Arab states. He noted that he would be discussing such an initiative with Trump.

In response, Trump said the two had been discussing a regional deal, and noted it “would take in many, many countries.”

But later last month, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the idea of “temporary” and regional frameworks for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which have been endorsed recently by the leaders of both Israel and the United States.

Addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Abbas said, “It is impractical for the sake of peace and justice to discuss temporary solutions or merge the question of Palestine within the framework of regional affairs as the current Israeli government has attempted to do.

“Palestine today is a fact, and has deep roots within the international community,” he added.

Abbas reiterated his demand that countries that have recognized Israel and support a two-state solution to the conflict should “defend and support this solution by recognizing the State of Palestine.”

The PA leader in December presented that demand directly to the United Kingdom and France, both of which have refused to do so.

A previous Haaretz report that may have drawn from similar sources claimed that Netanyahu had already rejected a regional peace plan put forward at the behest of Kerry last February, which had culminated in a secret meeting in Aqaba on February 21, 2016 between Netanyahu, Kerry, Sissi and Abdullah.   (the Times of Israel)

4,000-year-old structure with mysterious engravings discovered in Galilee

A 4,000-year-old table-like stone structure, known as a dolmen, inscribed with unprecedented mysterious art, was recently discovered next to Kibbutz Shamir in the Upper Galilee.

According to the Antiquities Authority, the structure from the Bronze Age was initially found by Prof. Gonen Sharon of Tel Hai College’s Galilee Studies Program.

“What makes this dolmen so unique is its huge dimensions, the structure surrounding it, and most importantly, the artistic decorations engraved in its ceiling,” the Antiquities Authority said on Sunday.

Archeologists from Tel Hai College, the authority, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem published a study on the find last weekend in the scientific journal PLOS One.

A dolmen is a millennia-old megalithic structure built of huge stones. The basic shape of the dolmen resembles a table and most of them are surrounded by a heap of stones.

Dolmens have been found elsewhere in the world, from Ireland to Korea. Thousands of dolmens are scattered across the Middle East, from Turkey to Yemen. On the Golan Heights, thousands of types, scattered in concentrations known as “dolmens fields,” have been identified.

Although they are very common and stand out quite prominently in the landscape of ancient Israel, the mystery surrounding the dolmens’ age and their purpose have still not been resolved.

“It is just one of more than 400 huge stone structures dating to the Intermediate Bronze Age (over 4,000 years ago) that are located in the dolmen field around Kibbutz Shamir,” the Antiquities Authority said. “When Prof. Sharon entered the chamber built beneath the largest dolmen, he was surprised to discover rock drawings engraved in its ceiling.”

The discovery of the engravings led to a joint research project of the dolmen and its environs, which produced new revelations concerning the dolmen phenomenon in Israel.

“This is the first art ever documented in a dolmen in the Middle East,” said Uri Berger, an archeologist with the Antiquities Authority and partner in the study.

“The engraved shapes depict a straight line going to the center of an arc. About 15 such engravings were documented on the ceiling of the dolmen, spread out in a kind of arc along the ceiling. No parallels exist for these shapes in the engraved rock drawings of the Middle East and their significance remains a mystery.”

The panel depicting the art was scanned in the field by the Computerized Archaeology Laboratory of the Hebrew University, which created an innovative three-dimensional model of the engraving.

“The three-dimensional scan enabled us to identify engravings that otherwise could not be seen with the naked eye,” said Prof. Lior Grossman, the laboratory director. “The chamber inside the dolmen, where the engravings were found on its ceiling, is large, measuring two by three meters, and the stone covering it is also huge, weighing an estimated 50 tons at least. This is one of the largest stones ever used in the construction of dolmens in the Middle East.”

Grossman said the dolmen was enclosed within a large stone heap (tumulus) 20 meters in diameter, with stones estimated to weigh 400 tons.

“At least four smaller dolmens that were positioned at the foot of the decorated dolmen were identified inside the stone heap,” he said. “In other words, what we have here is a huge monumental structure built hierarchically [with a main cell and secondary cells]. This is the first time such a hierarchical dolmen has been identified in the Middle East.”

The large dolmen found at Kibbutz Shamir is just one of hundreds of enormous densely scattered structures in this region, he said.

“It bears witness to the existence of a significant and established governmental system in the region during the ‘Middle Ages’ of the Bronze Age,” Grossman said. “Archeologists tend to interpret the past based on material finds. The absence of cities, large settlements and monumental buildings attests to the collapse of the governmental and economic systems during a dark period in history.

“The dolmens tell a different story about the period – a story about a society that had a complex governmental and economic system that executed monumental engineering projects, but did not leave behind any other archeologist evidence.”

Sharon, who first discovered the structure, noted that the dolmen is undoubtedly an indication of public construction.

“[This] required a significant amount of manpower over a considerable period of time,” he said. “During that time, all of those people had to be housed and fed.

The building of such a huge construction necessitated knowledge of engineering and architecture that small nomadic groups did not usually possess.

“And even more importantly, a strong system of government was required here that could assemble a large amount of manpower, provide for the personnel and above all, direct the implementation and control of a large and lengthy project.”


Despite all this, the circumstances surrounding the construction of the dolmens, the technology involved in it and the culture of the people who built them, are still among the great mysteries of the archaeology of Israel.

The dolmen field at Kibbutz Shamir was first surveyed by the late Moshe Kagan in the 1950s. More than 400 huge structures overlooking the Hula Valley have been identified in the field.  (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinian Authority must stop rewarding acts of terrorism

by  Amos Yadlin and Moshe Yaálon                       The Jerusalem Post


Shortly after the Oslo accords were signed, the late Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat began providing educational benefits to convicted terrorists ostensibly in order to enable them to pursue peacetime professions. Over time, the rehabilitation program grew into a ministry in and of itself, and the services it provided expanded from employment education to monthly cash transfers (“salaries”) that positively correlated with the length of sentence (and, hence, severity of the attack on Israel). In 2004, the PA policy of sponsoring convicted terrorists was actually enshrined in law, and by 2010 the yearly salary for those serving 30-year sentences was nearly 20 times the average per capita income in the West Bank and the ministry’s budget surpassed $100 million. Ironically, what started out two decades ago under the pretense of a PA program to rehabilitate Palestinians convicted of violence against Israelis has become an incentive program for committing acts of terrorism.

Eventually, the international community caught wind of the PA’s policy of sponsoring terrorists and pressured the leadership to end these practices that made donor countries unwitting accomplices. The PA responded by delegating the responsibility for prisoner payments to the PLO and simply transferring the funds to the PLO to dole out. Essentially, this was a cosmetic change that placated the PA’s foreign donors because it created a degree of separation between Abbas’s government and the program.

So what are the consequences of allowing for the PA program to mobilize and militarize Palestinian society to continue? In terms of simple economics, the PA’s rewards for prisoners create financial incentives for impoverished Palestinians to take up arms. Offering monetary compensation for acts of terrorism is just another aspect of the PA’s multifaceted campaign to mobilize Palestinian society against Israel. This component complements other PA policies that endow with honor those who commit acts of terrorism by naming public spaces after them, extolling their virtues in public speeches, describing those who are killed while carrying out attacks as martyrs in PA -controlled media, providing stipends for their relatives (even when there are no dependents), and funding mourning tents for them.

Also, because all governments have finite resources, carrying out this policy means that the cash-strapped PA will be allocating its money to those sitting in prison cells for killing Israelis at the expense of services that actually benefit the population (hiring more teachers, sanitation workers, etc.).

Of course, this also has ramifications for the potential revival of peace talks. The PA claims it abandoned violent resistance, and it was recognized by Israel on that basis. What legitimacy does President Mahmoud Abbas have as a partner for peace so long as his government rewards violence? In fact, not only does the PA reward Palestinians for acts of terrorism, but it pays those with Israeli citizenship a premium for undertaking such actions – tantamount to sponsoring an insurrection inside of Israel as well. This completely undermines the PA’s recognition of Israel in 1993.

No less important is the effect of the PA offering preference for governments jobs on the sole basis of having killed or tried to kill Israelis. First, giving positions of authority and influence in society to those guilty of violent acts against Israel clearly presents these figures as role models to the general population. Second, stacking the government with individuals who see violence as a solution to the conflict will likely steer government policy away from moderation and compromise. Third, this offers yet another reason to question the viability and character of a Palestinian state; its future government evaluates candidates for employment not on qualifications or competence but rather on the severity of crimes committed against Israel.

However, because Ramallah has shown determination to continue this policy by making the necessary institutional adjustments to “hide” it in the face of growing criticism, Israel requires an approach capable of convincing Abbas’s government that the economic punishment it endures for supporting convicted terrorists outweighs any benefits that it reaps from doing so. One possibility, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered (but has yet to carry out), is for Israel to calculate the amount of funding diverted to terrorists and subtract that amount from the taxes it collects on the PA ’s behalf. In effect, Israel would force the PA to pay twice over if it opted to continue with its current policy. Another option is to establish an international coalition of foreign donors that institute and enforce guidelines to prevent the misuse of foreign aid. The UK has already done so, and Israel would likely find willing partners in the enraged officials from the US, Germany, and Australia who have indicated a strong desire to bring an end to the misuse of their taxpayers’ money for rewarding terrorism.

Likewise, President Donald Trump, who has expressed disdain for foreign aid, disgust at Islamic terrorism and staunch support of Israel will likely come out in favor of cutting off US taxpayer support to the PA so long as it maintains its policy of paying salaries to terrorists. Yet, economic threats cannot guarantee to end the practice if the PA is willing to endure the economic punishment, because Israel does not have the ability to directly interfere with funds funneled from the PA to the PLO and into Palestinian bank accounts.

When crafting a response to this deeply troubling PA policy, Israeli decision makers must take into account the possibility that their actions could have the secondary consequence of pushing an already unpopular government in Ramallah to fall. For example, it is possible that the PA , when faced with growing external pressure to which it is unwilling to concede, will disband of its own accord. Two other possible scenarios in which Israeli actions bring about the end of the PA are more along the lines of state failure: either the PA refuses to change its practices and the economic punishment it endures causes its patronage system to collapse, or it accedes to outside demands and abandons the terrorists it crowned as national heroes, thereby provoking a popular insurrection.

However, Israel should not refrain from acting against these policies simply because doing so entails risks. Firstly, a failure to respond to PA support for terrorists due to fear of institutional collapse sends the message that Israel seeks to keep the PA alive at any cost – that there will not be serious consequences for the PA ’s dangerous policies. If that is what Israel signals through its silence, it can only expect the PA ’s behavior to get worse. Second, in the past the PA ’s threats to fold proved empty, and there is no credible indication that the organization will voluntarily give up its hold on power (especially considering Abbas’s recent efforts to consolidate power). Third, if the PA were to collapse in response to Israeli pressure, which is far from certain, the consequences would be significant though manageable.

Like any other government in the world, protecting its citizens is the State of Israel’s primary obligation; therefore, it has a moral imperative to do everything in its power to bring an end to the PA policy of financially incentivizing the murder Israelis. Pressuring the PA to end its “murder for hire” policy is accompanied by political and security risks, but moral rectitude often entails facing dangers. In this case, coercing the PA to spend its budget on providing actual services to its people rather than diverting funds to imprisoned terrorists may have the silver lining of causing it to build more effective institutions and broaden public support.

Moshe Ya’alon is a former defense minister and IDF chief of staff. Amos Yadlin is the former head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate and the current head of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).