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Latest News – 12 September

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

IDF attacks Gaza, terrorists try to down Israeli jets

IDF fighters and aircraft attacked several terrorist targets at a military compound belonging to the Hamas terror organization in the northern Gaza Strip, confirmed an IDF spokesperson on Wednesday night.

The attack was carried out in response to rockets that were fired at Israel from Gaza earlier on Wednesday.

“The IDF will continue to act against attempts to harm Israeli citizens and sees the Hamas terror organization as responsible for all actions in and from the Gaza Strip,” said the spokesperson.

Terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip fired at IDF aircraft in an attempt to down them, according to Sawa.

Rocket sirens went off twice on Wednesday night in two towns in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council.

The rocket sirens went off in the town of Zikim in the first incident and then the town of Mivkaim the second time.

According to Quds, the anti-aircraft fire set off rocket sirens in southern Israel.

An IDF spokesperson confirmed that the rocket sirens were false alarms and that the siren in Zikim was caused by a needless interception attempt.

The IDF attacked sites belonging to terrorist groups in the northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday night, Palestinian Sawa news agency reported. (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu: Cabinet to approve new Jordan Valley settlement

The cabinet will vote on Sunday to approve legalizing the Jordan Valley unauthorized outpost of Mevo’ot Yericho as a legal settlement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed at a special Knesset session on Wednesday.

Speaking to the Knesset about his Jordan Valley annexation plan, he mocked criticism that he had not taken such a step in his first 13 years as prime minister.

“Those who ask why we didn’t annex it before don’t understand how it works,” he said. “I have been working for years on softening hearts. It is a gradual process. That is why I told the US over the past few days about my decision.”

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein had Joint List head Ayman Odeh forcibly removed from the session after Odeh confronted Netanyahu and put a phone camera directly in front of the prime minister’s face.

“Get out already, I’ve already heard your speeches,” said Edelstein as Odeh resisted being removed. Edelstein called Odeh’s behavior shameful.

Netanyahu criticized Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman and his party’s MKs for not attending the special session in which there was a vote on cameras in polling stations. Netanyahu said the bill could have passed with Liberman’s support and accused him of being afraid.

Liberman tweeted that Netanyahu went to the Knesset “to put on a horror show.” He said that Netanyahu was misleading the public on both the cameras and the Jordan Valley.

“Netanyahu will annex the Jordan Valley after he endorses the Sahara Desert,” Liberman said.

In his speech, Netanyahu also attacked the heads of Blue and White. He said he did not know who was happier about rocket fire from Gaza that forced him to leave the stage at an Ashdod Likud rally on Tuesday night, them or Hamas.

Blue and White’s No. 2 candidate Yair Lapid fiercely attacked Netanyahu in his speech at the Knesset session.

“In six days, we can get rid of him,” he said. “Not an ugly goodbye, a polite one, respectful. We’ll thank him and move on.

“It will be over. After two weeks, everyone will look around and see that life goes on. Children are going to school. Prices are coming down. The extremists and extortionists aren’t controlling our lives. Trump will be friends with the next Prime Minister. Because that’s how it is. It’ll be clear that we can live without him – that it’s better without him.” (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli researchers find key to reversing biological clocks – in worms

What if women could pause their biological clocks? Israeli researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s (HUJI) Genetic Department have discovered the switch that may do this – in worms.

Human eggs begin to mature from the onset of a woman’s maturation process during her teens. Over time, their eggs age and the quality decreases. The researchers are hopeful this breakthrough may help women extend their fertility and maintain high egg quality into their 30s and 40s.

Dr. Yonatan Tzur and Dr. Hanna Achache of HUJI conducted the study along with scientists at Harvard Medical School. They chose the tiny roundworms because C. elegans has been incredibly helpful in helping scientists understand human genetics. These worms contain the same number of genes as humans do, 20,000, and their eggs mature in about one day.

Tzur and his team monitored the changes in each of the worm’s 20,000 genes during egg formation and were able to pinpoint an exact gene, ogr-2, that controls the rhythm of egg maturation.

Delving further, the team studied MAP Kinase (“MAPK”), the biochemical switch that turns egg development on and off. When they removed the ogr-2 gene with CRISPR gene-editing technology, MAPK went into overdrive and the worms’ eggs aged very quickly.

“We tested the gene’s role by removing it from the worm’s gene sequence. Instantly, these ‘edited’ worms became less fertile and their eggs more closely resembled those of an older worm,” Tzur explained.

These findings are significant because aging egg cells is the main cause of birth defects, miscarriages, and infertility. As human eggs age, abnormalities develop. Women over the age of 35 have a harder time producing a healthy baby with their own eggs, and for women 42 and older, those chances are close to zero.

These statistics, along with the fact that the average age of first-time mothers in the Western world is increasing sharply, means finding the key to slowing down egg maturation is crucial and has spurred scientists like Tzur to discover the mechanisms that control ovarian development and oocyte aging.

Though still in its early stages, Tzur sees two possible applications of his discovery.

One is to gently increase the equivalent of ogr-2 in girls via a food additive. This may allow girls to maintain the high quality of young eggs until they’re ready to use them.

Another would be to suppress MAPK during IVF cycles. This would help older eggs complete their development and improve women’s’ chances of having a healthy baby as they get older. (JWire)

Israel’s election – will Netanyahu survive?

With only a week to go until the elections, Likud appears to be neck-in-neck with its main rival, the Blue and White party, prompting the PM to make desperate moves like announcing annexation of Israeli settlements; but will it pay off or end his decade long dominance?

Israelis vote next week for the second time in less than six months in a election that could see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win a record fifth term – or end his decade-long dominance of Israeli politics.

He faces new and formidable challengers to his reign and, after the vote, possible criminal charges in three corruption cases. Recent polls have shown Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party tied with the centrist Blue and White. They also show that neither party will secure an outright majority.

Here are a number of possible scenarios for how the September 17 election could play out:

1. NETANYAHU WINS CONTROL OF MAJORITY OF KNESSET SEATS

Likud, together with the three right-wing and religious parties that have already declared their support for him, win a majority. With at least 61 lawmakers, Netanyahu would have relatively little trouble assembling a coalition similar to his outgoing cabinet, which supported his hawkish position on Iran and its 2015 nuclear deal, and took a tough stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the run-up to the election Netanyahu has vowed to annex the settlements Israel has built in the West Bank, emphasizing the area of the Jordan Valley. Such a move would delight Netanyahu’s far-right allies.

2. NO CLEAR WINNER AND NETANYAHU UNITY GOVERNMENT

After election day, Israel’s president consults with party leaders, asking them who they would support for prime minister. President Reuven Rivlin then asks the candidate he believes has the best chance to try and form a government. Netanyahu had his opportunity after the previous election in April, but failed within the allocated 42 days. Rather than risk Rivlin appointing someone else to try, Netanyahu opted for a second election.

If he is again chosen, and again faces a stalemate, Netanyahu could go outside his bloc of right-wing and Jewish religious parties to form a so-called “national unity” government with those who are not his natural allies.

That would likely mean his strongest rival, Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White. But Gantz has said he would not join a Netanyahu-led government, citing looming possible corruption indictments against Netanyahu. But Israeli politics are famously fluid, with ever-shifting fealties.

3. NO CLEAR WINNER, CENTRE-RIGHT GOVERNMENT FORMED WITHOUT NETANYAHU

If Netanyahu again fails again to form a government, his own party could oust him to pave the way for a governing coalition between Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White, leaving Netanyahu in the political wilderness.

So far, no one in Likud has publicly broached such an idea. But that could change if Netanyahu again comes up short in coalition talks.

4. NETANYAHU CLEARLY DEFEATED, CENTRE-LEFT GOVERNMENT

If the centre and left-wing parties garner a majority in parliament, Gantz would head a government that could include his own party as well as the Labour Party and the newly-formed, environmentalist and secularist Democratic Camp, without needing an alliance with the right. It would be the first time since the 1990s that the left controlled parliament although, with an electorate shifting steadily toward the right, polls are not showing much likelihood of such a scenario. However if a left-leaning coalition were ultimately formed, it would likely pursue peace talks with the Palestinians and be more open to concessions toward them as part of a lasting peace accord. It could also be more accepting of the nuclear deal struck between would powers and Iran.

5. NO CLEAR WINNER, NEW ELECTIONS

If no candidate can form a government, Israel would head to another snap election. But lawmakers are likely to do all they can to avoid a third this year.

HOW DOES THE ISRAELI ELECTION WORK?

The 120 Knesset seats are allocated by proportional representation to party lists. In order to win seats, a party must get at least 3.25 percent of the national vote, equivalent to 4 seats. In the election in April, Likud and Blue and White came out on top, tied at 35 seats each. No one party has ever won an outright majority of the 120-seat Knesset (parliament) in 71 years of nationhood. This makes post-election coalitions the key to victory, and negotiations can stretch on for weeks.

WHO’S THE KINGMAKER?

According to the polls, it’s Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s hawkish ex-defense minister. Polls suggest the ultra-nationalist settler will double his seats from five to around 10. Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, has said he would only join a unity government comprised of Likud and Blue and White.

However, Liberman is something of a wild card and has made unpredictable moves in the past.

WHAT ABOUT NETANYAHU’S LEGAL WOES?

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has announced his intention to indict Netanyahu in three corruption investigations, is expected to decide whether to formally charge him by the end of 2019 after a pre-trial hearing in October, during which Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, can argue against indictment.

A majority in the Knesset could grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution until the end of his term. Some of his prospective allies signalled they would support such a move, but it would probably draw a public outcry and legal challenges at the Supreme Court. Yet even if indicted, Netanyahu would not be under strict legal obligation to step down. His right-wing and religious allies are not expected to pressure him to resign, even if he is charged.

WHAT ABOUT TRUMP’S “DEAL OF THE CENTURY”?

Netanyahu has said he expects U.S. President Donald Trump to release his long-delayed plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace soon after the election. If Netanyahu wins and forms a right-wing cabinet, he would have a hard time getting his far-right allies to sign on to any peace plan involving concessions to the Palestinians.

This could either destabilize the government or bury the Trump plan. A cabinet with Gantz in it would likely be more open to give-and-take negotiations with the Palestinians.

Under fire from all sides, Netanyahu battles to keep looking like a winner

Being shepherded offstage to shelter during a political rally amid a rocket attack from Gaza is hardly the image the PM seeks to burnish. Still, he’s nothing if not resilient

by David Horovitz The Times of Israel

Just a few seats short of a potential majority coalition, and just a few days away from elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was looking to events he’d planned for Monday and Tuesday to help put him over the top.

On Monday evening, he scheduled his revelation of an Iranian nuclear weapons development site — showcasing data and showing photographs that, he said, again prove the Iranians are bent on obtaining a nuclear weapons arsenal, lying to the UN’s watchdog and the rest of the international community about it, and frantically covering up their secret sites every time they realize Israel is on to them.

And on Tuesday evening, he again commandeered local media with what was billed ahead of time as a “dramatic” announcement, to say that “diplomatic conditions have ripened” to the point where he will immediately apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley/northern Dead Sea area — almost a quarter of the West Bank — and later apply sovereignty to all West Bank settlements, if the electorate rewards him next Tuesday with another term as prime minister.

To put it mildly, however, things haven’t panned out exactly as Netanyahu planned.

On Iran, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo followed up on his revelations by accusing the ayatollahs of “possible undeclared nuclear activities,” and the International Atomic Energy Agency is asking increasingly pointed questions about Iran’s accelerating departure from the restrictions of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Set against this, however, the prime minister’s most powerful ally, US President Donald Trump, is indicating a desire to sit down with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, asserting on Monday that the Iranians “would like to be able to solve their problem… We could solve it in 24 hours.” Deepening Netanyahu’s concern that Trump is shifting to a more moderate stance on Israel’s existential enemy, the US president on Tuesday fired/consented to the resignation of his national security adviser John Bolton, spearhead of the administration’s “maximum pressure” sanctions policy against Tehran — the very policy that Netanyahu so centrally advocates.

“I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions,” Trump explained of Bolton. His departure, chortled Tehran, constitutes a “decisive sign of the failure of the US maximum pressure strategy.”

As for Netanyahu’s extending sovereignty announcement, here too, it’s been a rocky ride. Rapidly concluding that his live appearance was more party political broadcast than vital diplomatic declaration, Israel’s main TV stations cut away from his presentation on Tuesday evening after just a few minutes.

Next, while most settler leaders quickly hailed his promises of imminent sovereignty, political rivals to the left denounced him for potentially scuppering any future prospect of a negotiated separation from the Palestinians, while rivals on the right made clear that they simply didn’t believe him. And both sets of opponents observed that if he’d wanted to annex the Jordan Valley, he could have done so years ago.

The right-wing Yamina party called his promise a transparent case of “spin,” designed to lure its voters to his Likud, and its chair Ayelet Shaked opined Wednesday that he could render the Jordan Valley part of Israel with a simple cabinet vote inside a day if he was serious about it. It’s not clear that the current transition government could do anything of the sort; it is clear that, whatever the voters may have made of his promise, almost all of Israel’s political leaders, outside Likud, are highly skeptical.

But Tuesday evening got worse for Netanyahu. Having concluded his broadcast regarding the Jordan Valley, he headed down south, to an election rally in Ashdod, livestreamed by Likud on social media. And Gaza’s terror groups apparently watched him on his way. As he prepared to begin his address to the hundreds in the hall, and many more watching online, rocket sirens sounded: Two projectiles had been launched from Gaza — at Ashdod and nearby Ashkelon.

Netanyahu certainly did not panic. He calmly instructed the crowd to “leave quietly. But he did allow himself to be escorted from the stage by his bodyguards. He had little choice in the matter; the prime minister cannot ignore his own core security regime, and he also could not ignore the imperative for those in the hall to heed the sirens and take appropriate shelter.

But the footage of an Israeli prime minister, whose capacity to ensure security for Israel is a major component of his electoral appeal, being compelled to temporarily abandon an election rally because of a rocket attack from the Hamas-run territory next door, constituted potential electoral catnip for his rivals.

To the right, Yamina’s Naftali Bennett rushed to term the scene a “national humiliation.” Netanyahu’s nemesis, Avigdor Liberman, said it showed his Gaza policy was bankrupt. His main rivals in Blue and White boasted that one of their candidates, Gabi Ashkenazi, had not left the stage where he was appearing in Ashkelon at around the same time, because, as Ashkenazi told his audience, “We are not afraid.” Said Blue and White’s leader Benny Gantz: “If I’d been there, I wouldn’t have moved.”

And on Wednesday, the Blue and White leadership gathered in Ashkelon to set out how it would handle the ongoing attacks from Gaza. “We will not tolerate Hamas in Gaza carrying out what we saw yesterday and what we have seen for the past year and a half,” declared Gantz. “We have to change our policy… If necessary, we will intensify our assault against Gaza, we will move to overwhelming assaults by air and to targeted assassinations and any other appropriate measures… We will change this reality.”

Gantz, and Liberman and Bennett for that matter, have vowed often in the past to follow similar policies, while castigating Netanyahu for buying calm by allowing Qatar to distribute millions of dollars in cash to needy Gazans; to date, the Israeli electorate has not been persuaded in sufficient numbers to support them for it.

Well aware that most of his rivals are less skilled than he in the political arts, Netanyahu by Wednesday morning was bouncing back, condemning Blue and White for gloating at his misfortune, and denouncing his domestic political rivals in the same breath as Israel’s terrorist enemies. “I don’t know where they celebrated more,” he fumed, “in Gaza or with [Blue and White No. 2 Yair] Lapid and Gantz.”

Even as further Gaza rockets targeted southern Israel on Wednesday afternoon, he was finalizing plans to fly to Sochi on Thursday, for another intended vote-boosting appearance, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the blows kept coming; he suffered another, albeit predictable defeat Wednesday afternoon when his bid to fast-track legislation to deploy cameras in polling stations on election day was rejected by the Knesset.

In short, Netanyahu is doing everything he can to look like a winner, while a multitude of forces and factors have combined to undermine that image in these final days of the campaign. Being ushered offstage under rocket fire is emphatically not the look he was going for. But Netanyahu is nothing if not resilient.