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Latest News in Israel – 14th January

IAF takes out terror cell in northern Gaza

Israeli Air Force (IAF) fighter jets launched a strike on Wednesday morning against a terror cell in northern Gaza.

The cell engaged in planting explosives on the security fence targeting soldiers patrolling the border with Gaza. According to the IDF, direct strikes on the terrorists were identified.

Israeli farmers were instructed to keep their distance from the border area, out of an apparent concern over reprisals. Likewise security coordinators in the region were ordered to be doubly alert and on the lookout for reprisal attacks.

According to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, one terrorist was killed in the strike and three others were wounded. The Arab news source also claimed that the Israeli navy opened fire on several Arab boats in southern Gaza near the Rafiah coast.

A military source revealed that soldiers identified bombs on the border during operational activities, and nearby the terror cell that planned to detonate the explosives as the IDF forces passed by was located.

In response, IAF jets were called in and took out the terrorists.

MK Haim Yellin (Yesh Atid), a resident of Nahal Oz and former Eshkol regional council head, praised the security forces who “proved this morning again that they will do everything so that Gaza Belt residents can live in quiet.”

“Israel must increase the deterrence against Hamas and respond forcefully to all fire from Gazan territories into Israeli territories,” said Yellin. “No country in the world can ignore terror on its citizens. Israel has the right to respond with force, every terrorist needs to know they have a death sentence.”

The strike comes a day after reports indicating Hamas has almost completely reconstructed its terror tunnel network to where it was at before Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.

In the fighting – which started when Hamas launched an onslaught of missiles at the Jewish state – over 30 of the attack tunnels leading into sovereign Israeli territory were destroyed.

Wednesday’s airstrike on the terror cell brings to mind IDF actions last month in foiling an attack on the border.

IDF forces patrolling near the border located powerful explosives planted on the security fence. The bombs did not detonate, with a number of them connected to a long-distance delay mechanism activated by a cell phone.               (Arutz Sheva)

EU funding Dead Sea road to help annex area to Palestinian Authority, NGO charges

The European Union is funding an unauthorized Palestinian road to the Dead Sea in Area C of the West Bank to help annex that area to the Palestinian Authority, said the non-governmental group Regavim.

The group, which monitors illegal Palestinian construction, is scheduled to give a presentation on the matter to Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s sub-group on Judea and Samaria.

It also petitioned the High Court of Justice last month against the road, the first 20 kilometers of which are under construction.

At present, the road is designed to be an access route from homes in the Palestinian village of Teqoa to nearby agricultural lands. Some eight kilometers of the road have been laid out in preparation for the pouring of cement.

But Regavim has charged that it is just the first phase of a much larger infrastructure project.

“It’s like a snake that is hiding in the grass,” said Oved Arad, who is in charge of Regavim’s land division “We’re talking about what will be a highly strategic road,” Arad said.

“When a road like this is built by the PA with EU funding, it allows it the [PA] to rule over a large area in the Judean desert and annex it,” he explained. “The State of Israel can’t afford to give up on this territory and it certainly can’t allow foreign governments to break the law in this way.”

For the past six months, Regavim has appealed to the Civil Administration to halt the project, but to date nothing has happened.

It then asked the High Court of Justice to force the Civil Administration to enforce the law. The High Court has given the state until the 18th of this month to respond to the petition.

Area C of the West Bank is under Israeli military and civil rule. All construction projects, including roads and infrastructure for the Palestinian villages in that area, must be authorized by the Civil Administration.

The Palestinians have complained that such authorizations are few and far between. The EU and US have increasingly called on Israel to assist Palestinian development in Area C.

The EU considers Israel’s presence there to be illegal under international law, saying European activities fall within the category of humanitarian assistance. In the past few years, it has increased its activity in that area. In particular, it has skirted the Civil Administration and provided Palestinians with illegal modular housing.

Arad said that in the past half year, it has begun investing in more permanent projects such as roads.

The office of the EU Representative to the Palestinian territories had no immediate comment on the matter.  (Jerusalem Post)

Hamas may have nearly as many terror tunnels as before 2014 war — report

Eighteen months after the last Israel-Hamas war, the Islamist terror group is believed to have rebuilt much of its cross-border tunnel infrastructure, with almost as many terror tunnels reaching under the Gaza border into Israel as before the summer 2014 conflict, Haaretz reported on Tuesday.

“Hamas is investing considerable effort and immense amounts of money in the tunnel project,” the report said. “The reasonable assessment is that the number of tunnels that extend beneath the border (into Israel) is now close to the number prior to (2014’s) Operation Protective Edge.”

The Israel Defense Forces said it destroyed more than 30 Hamas terror tunnels during the 50-day conflict, about one-third of which extended beneath the Gaza border into Israel, and several of which were used to stage attacks.

A senior Hamas member, Rahman al-Mubashar, was killed late last month when a tunnel in which he was working, collapsed. Al-Mabashar was one of the Hamas terrorists involved in the 2006 kidnapping of soldier Gilad Shalit, who was grabbed from his IDF base inside Israel by a terror cell that crossed in a tunnel beneath the border. Al-Mubashar died when the tunnel he was in collapsed “east of Khan Younis,” Hamas announced last month. “The only thing in the (Gaza) Strip east of Khan Younis is the border with Israel,” Tuesday’s Haaretz report noted dryly.

Israeli security officials do not believe that Hamas is currently seeking another major round of conflict with Israel in and around Gaza. But the Shin Bet and Israeli security forces have recently exposed several advanced Hamas efforts to carry out major acts of terrorism from the West Bank, including the kidnapping and killing of Israelis. In May 2014, the killing and kidnapping of three Israeli teens in the West Bank set in progress a sequence of events that led to that summer’s conflict, and the possibility of a similar sequence of events is not being discounted, the Haaretz report indicated.

Israel has said since the 2014 war that it is seeking technological solutions to the tunnel threat. However, Haaretz reported, the cost of a fence around Gaza that would include a technological defense against the terror tunnels is estimated at some NIS 2.8 billion (some $700 million), and there is no such budgetary allocation in the current defense budget, it said.

Still from an August 2015 Hamas video purporting to show a tunnel dug under the Israel border (Ynet screenshot)

In August 2015, Hamas released a video apparently showing renewed cross-border tunnel infrastructure in the Gaza Strip as well as a range of military equipment and techniques for targeting IDF forces. That same month, the Shin Bet said that a Hamas tunnel digger nabbed in a joint Shin Bet and police operation had provided a wealth of information on the terror group’s tunnel-digging in the Strip and its strategy for a future conflict with Israel.

A month earlier, The Times of Israel reported that hundreds of workers were digging tunnels in various parts of Gaza, including under the Israeli border, inside the Strip and on the Egyptian border. Some in the Israeli defense establishment, that report said, “have a working assumption that, a year after Operation Protective Edge, it is likely that Hamas already has one or more tunnels crossing the border fence and reaching inside Israel. Hamas is putting an enormous amount of effort, personnel and money into digging with heavy engineering equipment.” However, it added, Hamas was hamstrung by a shortage of some of the materials “vital to the tunnel industry.”

In May 2015, Omer Bar-Lev, a Zionist Union MK and former commander of the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal unit who sits on the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said Hamas was expanding its network of underground tunnels, including one that may reach into Israeli territory.

During the 2014 war, Hamas gunmen emerged from the tunnels on several occasions to ambush IDF forces, killing several soldiers. Two months after the war ended, an IDF spokesman said Hamas had planned to use the tunnels for a massive coordinated attack inside Israel. “They planned to send 200 terrorists armed to the teeth toward civilian populations,” Peter Lerner said in October 2014. “This was going to be a coordinated attack. The concept of operations involved 14 offensive tunnels into Israel. With at least 10 men in each tunnel, they would infiltrate and inflict mass casualties.”            (The Times of Israel)

Swedish officials unwelcome, deputy FM says, as Swedish deputy speaker visits

Officials from Stockholm are currently unwelcome in Israel, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely declared Wednesday, a day after Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, called for an investigation to determine whether Israel has been conducting extrajudicial executions of Palestinians during the current wave of violence.

“Israel is closing its gates to official visits from Sweden,” Hotovely said during a briefing for future Israeli diplomats currently taking the cadets’ course.

“For over two years, relations with Sweden have been at some level of disconnect,” she said. “That is, we have refused visits by the Swedish foreign minister in Israel. At the clearest level, the State of Israel is sending a very stark message to Sweden that says that [when] you encourage terror [in Israel], you encourage Islamic State to act in all parts of Europe: in Brussels, in Paris.

“We’re currently at the front line of the battle against terror,” Hotovely added. “[Wallstrom] is de facto supporting it, encouraging it, and the State of Israel is sending a blunt message.”

Her chief of staff, Noam Sela, later told The Times of Israel that there had been various requests by Swedish officials for visits, but that Jerusalem had decided not to “advance” them. “Our relations are currently not at their very best, to say the least. We’re not interested in hosting them here.”

Later, Sela clarified that only the foreign minister and her deputy would be prevented from Israel.

A senior Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unaware of any changes in Jerusalem’s foreign policy to bar Swedish officials from entering the country, according to Haaretz.

Indeed, at the very time Hotovely appeared to bar all Swedish officials from entering the country, the third deputy speaker of the Swedish parliament, Esabelle Dingizian, was in Israel on an official visit. A delegation of the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences is also currently visiting in Israel and has met with senior Israeli officials.

Jerusalem’s policy to discourage visits from top Swedish government officials has actually been in place since before Hotovely took office. In January 2015, when Avigdor Liberman was still foreign minister, Wallstrom had planned to come to Israel but was told that neither the president, nor the prime minister or the foreign minister would be available to receive her.

In addition, she was made to understood that she had to arrange her own security detail, as Israel refused to provide her with security. Wallstrom later canceled the planned visit, citing “scheduling differences.”

The most recent spat between Jerusalem and Sweden was triggered by Wallstrom’s call for an investigation into alleged extrajudicial Israeli executions of Palestinian attackers. During a parliamentary debate in the Riksdag on Tuesday, Wallstrom said it was “vital” to investigate into Israel’s policies vis-a-vis Palestinian attackers in order to “bring about possible accountability.”

While Israeli politicians and officials reacted angrily to Wallstrom’s remarks, Sweden’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, Carl Magnus Nesser, was not summoned to the Foreign Ministry for a dressing-down, and Jerusalem at this point does not appear to be planning any further steps.

“In her irresponsible and delusional statements, the Swedish foreign minister provides tailwind to terror, and thus encourages violence,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

Similar comments poured in from across the political spectrum.

“A person who looks at the war on terror worldwide and comes to the conclusion that Israel is the only country whose tactics must be investigated is anti-Semitic,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz charged.

The senior Likud minister went on to accuse Sweden of having a double standard, and noted the EU member nation made no such complaint against the French and US authorities in their bringing down of the terrorists who carried out recent terror attacks in San Bernardino and Paris.

Steinitz also claimed that Sweden had the highest numbers of volunteer recruits leaving for Syria to join the Islamic State terror group.

“The government of Sweden has become completely anti-Israel, and unfortunately, also a supporter of terrorism,” he said during an interview with Israel Radio.

While he ruled out severing diplomatic ties with Sweden, Steinitz said Israel needed to take “additional measures” to emphasize the gravity of Wallstrom’s remarks.

Over 130 Palestinians have been killed during the recent wave of terrorism and violence, most while carrying out or attempting attacks — in all, Israel has identified 91 of the Palestinians killed as attackers — and others in violent clashes with security forces.

Israeli officials have maintained that security services are justified in killing suspected attackers, and that making a greater effort to neutralize them without killing them would generate unnecessary risk.

Wallstrom’s comments were also denounced Tuesday by former foreign ministers Avigdor Liberman and Tzipi Livni, as well as by opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

“The only thing the foreign minister of Sweden hasn’t done is physically join the Palestinian terrorists and stab Jews,” Liberman said in a statement. “Given her conduct so far, we need to hope it won’t happen.”

Livni, meanwhile, urged Sweden to avoid “meddling” in internal Israeli affairs.

“We won’t accept any comparison between our security forces fighting against terror and terrorists,” she said in a speech at Tel Aviv University. “Israel has a moral army and strong judicial system, and therefore there’s no chance we will accept Sweden or any other country meddling in our internal affairs.”

Herzog said it was “interesting Sweden didn’t respond in the same way when the Paris police killed the terrorists, as they should have,” referring to the wave of deadly Islamic State terror attacks in France on November 13.

“And how will Sweden respond when terrorists carry out attacks on its land? Will they then also demand to pat them on the heads because they had a rough childhood?” he said.

Wallstrom leveled a similar accusation in an address to the Swedish parliament on December 7. She said Israel’s response to the wave of Palestinian stabbings and car-ramming attacks was “disproportionate,” and suggested the deaths of many attackers during their attacks were tantamount to “extrajudicial executions.”

The Foreign Ministry in Stockholm issued a clarification in the wake of Wallstrom’s December remarks, assuring Israeli officials that she had been misinterpreted. At the time, Netanyahu telephoned his counterpart, Stefan Löfven, to complain about Wallstrom’s comments.

Sweden has been among the countries most critical of Israel’s handling of the conflict with the Palestinians. Following the November 13 attacks in Paris, in which terrorists killed 130 people, Wallstrom asserted that the attacks were rooted in the frustration of Muslims in the Middle East, including that of Palestinians.

Sweden recognized the state of Palestine on October 30, 2014, a move that was widely criticized by Israel.                      (The Times of Israel)

Germany to Lease Israeli Drones Instead of Purchasing U.S.-made Predator

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday announced plans for the army to lease Heron TP drones from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) rather than buy Predator B drones from U.S. defense contractor General Atomics.

General Inspector Volker Wieker, head of the army, favors the Israeli drones which like the Predator B can be armed, government sources said, adding Germany planned to lease between three and five drones from 2018.

The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are to be stationed in Israel and will cost about 580 million euros.

“This is about drones that can be armed, that will be standard in the future,” von der Leyen told reporters. “It is important for the protection of soldiers,” she said, adding she would provide more information once the contracts had been agreed.

Germany already has three earlier versions of the Heron reconnaissance drone which are deployed in Afghanistan. They are maintained by Airbus and cannot be armed.

The new drones are to serve as an interim measure until the EU has developed its own, von der Leyen said.

Germany, France, Italy and Spain plan to jointly develop a drone by 2025.             (Ha’aretz)

Israel Emerging as Leader in Blocking Car Hackers

Building on its expertise in technology, Israel is emerging as a leader in the race to keep cars secure and prevent the nightmare scenario of a hacker commandeering your vehicle.

Most cars today are equipped with some level of connectivity and self-driving vehicles are being developed. Given this level of sophistication, protecting cars from contamination with malicious software has become big business.

“We view this as a potential $10 billion market opportunity over the next five years,” said Daniel Ives, an analyst with FBR Capital Markets in New York.

“As we have seen with cyber security over the past decade, the lion’s share of the innovation going after this market is from Israel and Silicon Valley.”

The threat appears real enough.

Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles to install new software last year after cybersecurity researchers showed they could turn off a Jeep Cherokee’s engine as it drove. Software manipulation, albeit intentional, was also behind Volkswagen’s emissions scandal.

From its headquarters in Tel Aviv, Check Point, one of the world’s largest cyber security firms, pioneered the computer firewall two decades ago. It hopes to repeat that success with a security capsule for vehicles.

Connected cars need a two-pronged defense.

First, they must make sure nothing bad gets in, like a virus sneaking through a navigation system. Then they have to keep internal communications secure to allow functions like side-view mirrors which angle down when vehicles are put into reverse.

Check Point is focusing on protecting the car’s external gateway, said Alon Kantor, vice president of business development. After two years of meeting carmakers and their top suppliers, he said they now have a working “proof of concept”.

“The car manufacturers didn’t know exactly what cyber security was. We had to study the networks in different cars. It was mutual learning,” Kantor said.

With Check Point’s system, everything going in and out of the car passes through the company’s cloud-based network, where it is inspected in real time and malware is blocked.

“The idea is to prevent the next recall and handle all security and updates over the air,” Kantor said.

Last week, Harman International Industries, a maker of connected car systems, said it was buying Israeli-founded cyber defense start-up TowerSec to protect its products with market-ready platforms. Israeli media estimated the deal at $70 million.

Technology giants like IBM and CISCO have asked their teams in Israel to work on protecting cars.

“What makes cars so vulnerable to attack is that they are such complex systems,” said Yaron Wolfsthal, head of the IBM research center in the desert city of Beersheba.

Premium cars, put together from a complex supply chain, can run on up to 100 million lines of software code — about 12 times more than in the new F-35 stealth fighter jet.

Like other global technology firms, IBM set up a branch in Beersheba two years ago when the military began moving operations there, including elite intelligence and cyber warfare units whose graduates are behind many of Israel’s private sector successes.

IBM has developed a comprehensive prototype, Wolfsthal said, and is looking to integrate it with a car manufacturer. The program will be connected to other IBM systems that can spot patterns of broader security breaches.

None of the handful of companies in Israel that spoke with Reuters would give the names of carmakers with whom they are talking. But the pitching process can include exposing them to the vulnerability of their own models.

Check Point said it showed executives from a few large automakers that it can hijack their car’s external communication channel using a handheld transceiver and frequency jammer, both of which can be bought on eBay for a few hundred dollars, and a laptop computer running open-source software.

Also based in Tel Aviv, Argus Cyber Security developed a defense system that protects a car’s internal networks as well as the external wireless connection.

The start-up was founded by graduates of the military’s cyber intelligence unit and in September raised $26 million, including from auto supplier Magna International.

Yoni Heilbronn, the company’s head of marketing, was the only foreigner to appear at a closed-door session last year in the U.S. Congress discussing how to protect connected cars.

“Car manufacturers for the last 100 years simply built cars and were very good at doing that. Cyber security is generally not their core competence,” he said. “This is where it comes back to Israel.”                (Reuters)

IDF creates new, cutting edge unit to combat unconventional weapons

Against the backdrop of a changing battlefield, the Israel Defense Forces is in the process of establishing a new company within the Engineering Corps’ elite Yahalom (“Diamond”) commando unit to combat the threat of chemical weapons on land.

According to an officer familiar with the details, the decision to create the Sayfan (“Gladiolus”) company was based on the IDF’s most up-to-date intelligence assessments. The new unit’s mission will be to detect, identify and treat unconventional materials in a combat zone.

The officer said soldiers in the new unit will have a very high security clearance and a unique and advanced set of capabilities, and will use technology that the IDF has never had until now.

“We need fighters who are responsible enough to operate this equipment; fighters who know how to think on their feet and use good judgment,” the officer said.

Recruitment to the elite company began some eight months ago, and in another eight months the first class of recruits will complete their professional training. Soldiers in the specialized training course are required to undergo chemistry and biology studies.

The decision to create Sayfan was made after the IDF decided, over a year ago, to change the mission of the Engineering Corps’ unconventional weapons unit, the 76th Battalion, which had been tasked with “identifying and cleansing” areas contaminated by chemical and biological weapons on the battlefield. One IDF official told Israel Hayom that the decision to shift the battalion’s designation was made because the “threat of chemical weapons isn’t what it used to be.”

With that, defense officials have said recently that despite the fact that most of the chemical weapons prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention have been removed from Syria, it is reasonable to assume that the country still has “residual capabilities,” and it is impossible to know where these materials will end up amid the chaos in Syria.

The officials also said that not all of the chemical materials in Syria are prohibited by the CWC, and that all the factions fighting in Syria — including the regime, the Islamic State group and other rebel groups — have varying degrees of ability to use them. For instance, various factions in the country are using non-lethal neutralizing chemical agents, such as chlorine, which is not prohibited according to the CWC. These chemical materials are considered less effective than the more classic chemical agents, but have proven battle-effective nonetheless. According to assessments in Israel, chemical agents like chlorine are used in Syria on an almost daily basis. On a slightly more comforting note, it is believed that Hezbollah does not possess this type of weapon in Lebanon.

The decision to create Sayfan is just one in a series of significant changes to Yahalom. In the past year, as part of the lessons learned from Operation Protective Edge, the decision was made to substantially increase the elite unit’s scope and size. Additionally, command of the unit will now be assigned to a full colonel, rather than a lieutenant colonel. As such, Col. Yaron Beit-On was recently appointed to the lead the unit.     (Israel Hayom)

Indonesian delegation to Israel: We are going to retell your story

As Gadi Yarkoni, head of Eshkol Regional Council, finished an emotional account of his endeavors to protect his region in the face of Hamas rockets during 2014’s Israel- Gaza conflict, losing both his legs in the process, the room broke into applause.

Yarkoni spoke to a group of disaster and emergency experts taking part in a six-day seminar in Israel. Victor Rembeth, one of six Indonesian emergency relief experts, followed Yarkoni’s words with a simple message: “We Indonesians are blessed with your story and we are going to retell it.”

Individuals from India and Sri Lanka joined the Indonesian experts in a visit that marks a big step in the growing interaction between Israel and Muslim-majority states outside the Middle East.

Indonesian Delegation

Organized by Project Interchange – an educational institution within the American Jewish Committee – the delegation traveled around the main areas impacted by Operation Protective Edge, from the Hosen Trauma Center in Sderot to the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.

Despite the negative portrayal of Israel that the Indonesian delegation members frequently see in their local media, the opportunity to visit the country was highly appealing to them.

Iswar Abidin, a disaster management consultant from Jakarta, revealed that his reaction to the opportunity of visiting Israel was one of disbelief.

“It was very shocking, but immediately I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ I think it’s something new and challenging,” he said.

Similarly, for Trinirmala Ningrum, secretary-general of the National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, all she had heard of Israel before her invitation to take part in the seminar “was war.” This view was one echoed time and time again by the Indonesian participants, the majority of whom were Muslim.

Immensely humorous and eager to chat, they mentioned how they turned to “professor Google” to read up on Israel and Judaism in general. Though freedom of religion is permitted in Indonesia’s constitution, only six religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism) are officially recognized, meaning that for many, knowledge of Judaism is limited to news about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The Indonesian contingent’s participation in the program stems in no small part from the efforts of Rembeth. As national manager of Disaster Resource Partnership Indonesia, he invited various colleagues from the disaster and emergency relief profession to attend.

Though many turned the offer down, in Rembeth’s view the benefit of the seminar lies in how “things like this can work,” noting how the program’s “people-to-people approach” has the potential for engendering a change in relations between Israel and Indonesia.

Accompanying the group was AJC Asia-Pacific Institute’s assistant director Nissim Reuben, who suggested that the reality of the delegation reflected the fact that “Asia is the new frontier for Israel and the global Jewish community.

They don’t have the baggage of anti-Semitism that some European countries have. Most of these countries benefit from Israeli expertise in agriculture, water management, soil management and disaster mitigation.”

The delegation’s visit to the Barzilai Medical Center proved to be eye-opening for the participants. The hospital’s CEO and medical director, Dr. Chezy Levy, explained the issues of running a hospital in the face of incessant rocket attacks, emphasizing his four key needs for dealing with any disaster: “cooperation, coordination, leadership, and training.” Upon leaving, Ningrum explained that she had “never heard the impact of the conflict from the Israeli side before.”

Though only the second day of the seminar, the impact of gaining a different understanding of Israel was considerable on the participants. Muhammad Ali Yusuf, chairman of the Climate Change and Disaster Management Institution of the Nahdlatul Ulama (the largest independent Islamic organization in the world), said he hoped to organize an event where he can tell the Indonesian National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction of their findings in Israel.

Though Israel does not currently have any diplomatic relations with Indonesia, recent initiatives – such as the current week’s events and developments and the announcement of Israel establishing a diplomatic presence in Abu Dhabi last November – point toward a change in Israel’s relationships with countries that have previously refused to establish diplomatic ties.   (Jerusalem Post)

Aliya from England rose 25 percent in 2015

Aliya from England rose by twenty-five percent over 2015, the Jewish Chronicle reported on Tuesday.

Citing figures provided by the Jewish Agency, the British newspaper stated that 774 Jews moved to Israel over the course of 2015, up by 145 over the previous reporting period.

According to the report, an average of around 500 people make the move every year.

However, a report issued in November by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research showed that Israeli emigration to the UK surpassed British immigration to the Jewish state by three-to-two, offsetting any Israeli population gains caused by aliya.

Based on data from the 2011 British census and other sources, the think tank asserted that this “net migratory dividend for Britain’s Jewish community” actually contributed to keeping Jewish population levels there stable during the previous decade.           (Jerusalem Post)

With oleh dentistry reform complete, Elkin looks ahead

Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin took a figurative victory lap Tuesday, the day after measures making it easier for immigrant dentists to be allowed to treat patients in Israel received the last committee authorizations they needed before going to a final Knesset vote next week.

Elkin was satisfied that after months of political wrangling a joint session of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health and Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora committees adopted his demand for a blanket exemption from a qualifying exam for immigrant dentists with at least five years of experience.

Supported by Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, the exemption would be written into the law and not left to the whims of Health Ministry bureaucrats.

“This is one of the first initiatives that managed to break through [the Health Ministry’s] tough attitude and be considerate of immigrants,” Elkin said.

Nearly 16,000 doctors moved to Israel in the last three years, and like most olim, or immigrants, they face language barriers, which make it very difficult for them to pass Israeli certification tests that are available only in Hebrew. As a result, 68 percent of immigrant doctors do not pass the certification test the first time. Currently, there is no legal way to exempt any dentists who make aliya from the exam, which even dentists with decades of experience often fail.

Elkin recounted that, entering the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, he “knew that dentists, mostly from France, came with experience, sometimes of decades, and here they were treated like rookies and had to pass practical exams. It caused a lot of unpleasantness.”

In recent months, the problem gained attention via immigrants from France – the country from which the most people made aliya in the past two years, with 7,900 immigrating in 2015. After failing the practical exam twice, Dr. David Tibi, a successful dentist and expert in transplants with 25 years of experience who made aliya, wrote a viral open letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling for his certification to be recognized, or he will have to move back to France to make a living. Meyer Habib, a French parliamentarian that represents expats in Israel, among other places, and a close friend of Netanyahu, pushed the issue, threatening to discourage aliya.

Elkin said he met with Litzman and Health Ministry staff many times to discuss the issue, and while Litzman was amenable to easing conditions for immigrant dentists, his staff was less so. Even when the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved Elkin’s proposal, he had to fight for it to actually move forward to the Knesset, because Health Ministry bureaucrats were holding it up.

According to Elkin, Netanyahu also spoke to Litzman several times to make sure the measure moved forward.

Two weeks ago, the bill passed a first reading, and Elkin went to the joint committee to make sure it would continue to exempt dentists with five years of experience, instead of 14 years of experience like Health Ministry staff wanted. Elkin convinced Litzman and MKs to follow his lead, after raucous debates both behind the scenes and in the committee meeting.

“Originally, the bill said the Health Ministry may exempt dentists, but the MKs decided they didn’t want to rely on the ministry, because the bureaucrats were skeptical, and instead, they wrote set parameters into the law and changed the government bill,” Elkin explained. “They went with a far-reaching version that went against Health Ministry bureaucrats.”

With the help for dentists under his belt, Elkin now has his eye on other professions.

For example, there is a short list of countries from which medical doctors with over 14 years of experience (including residency) can be exempt from practical exams after a sixmonth internship-like “adjustment period,” including the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and France.

Elkin said the list is “from the time of the establishment of the state” and doesn’t include many countries where the medicine is up to par, like Germany.

He has asked Litzman to update it.

In addition, following Elkin and Litzman’s cooperative efforts, doctors who fail their exam can now appeal the grade, which they were unable to do previously.

As for immigrant lawyers, who may only join the Bar Association after an internship and an exam in Hebrew, Elkin said the situation is more complex, because the government does not certify lawyers, the Bar does.

“I hope we will find a solution.

We are in a dialogue with them to try to make it easier for olim and make exams available in other languages,” he said.

Meanwhile, Elkin emphasized that any professionals seeking to move to Israel take advantage of an underutilized tool on the Immigration and Absorption Ministry’s website: an online system allowing them to send in their professional certifications in advance, before they move to Israel, and receive answers about what they need to do to be authorized to work in Israel.

“Instead of coming here and finding out you have to go through a complex process, start checking there,” he said.

“Not enough people do it, and that is unfortunate.”

In addition, Elkin said, the Immigration and Absorption Ministry offers subsidies for new immigrants to translate their professional certifications and have them notarized, which can often be a costly endeavor.                (Jerusalem Post)

‘Security cooperation between Russia and Israel to continue’

Officials in the West and Middle East reject Daily Beast report that Hezbollah is getting arms directly from Russia with ‘no strings attached,’ citing agreements reached between Putin and Netanyahu that prevent such a thing.

by Ron Ben-Yishai             Ynet News


Officials in the West and the Middle East have expressed doubt over a Daily Beast report on Monday that Russia is directly arming Hezbollah as part of its aid to President Bashar Assad in Syria.

According to the report, Moscow is providing the Lebanese terror organization with long-range tactical missiles, laser guided rockets, and anti-tank weapons, but the officials insist: “This report is baseless. This is an awkward attempt by Hezbollah to plant disinformation via a respected Western news site in order to muddy the waters between Israel and Russia.”

Last September, when Moscow became involved in the civil war in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed on Russian-Israeli military cooperation to prevent “unnecessary accidents.” The details of this agreement were ironed out in meetings between a Russian delegation led by the Russian deputy chief of staff and an Israeli team led by IDF deputy chief Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan.

The Russian team visited Israel about three weeks ago, when it stressed to the IDF that as long as Israel doesn’t get in the way of Russia protecting its vital security interests in the region, Russia would not get in Israel’s way when it seeks to protect its own security interests.

The story in The Daily Beast cites Hezbollah field commanders fighting alongside the Assad regime in Syria, who claimed the supplies from Russia are given to them with “no strings attached.” They also claimed the co-dependency between Moscow and Hezbollah is increasing.

“We are strategic allies in the Middle East right now – the Russians are our allies and give us weapons,” said one of the Hezbollah field commanders, who dubbed himself Commander Bakr, adding that the Russian airstrikes in Syria changed the conditions of fighting on the ground.

Except that these claims entirely contradict the agreements reportedly reached between Putin and Netanyahu in September. Netanyahu, it was later implied, also received the green light to launch a campaign to prevent military escalation on the northern border as a whole – not just with Syria, but with all of the countries in the radical Shi’ite axis led by Iran, with whom Russia is now allied and is in constant dialogue.

If indeed there were agreements reached about setting up a mechanism for coordination between the Russian forces operating in Assad’s “smaller Syria” and the IDF, and if such a mechanism has indeed been set up and has begun operating, it could be an indirect channel not just between Israel and Russia, but also between Israel and the Syrian army, Hezbollah, and even the Iranians.

Either way, Moscow has yet to comment on the reports about its alleged cooperation with Hezbollah, or on reports it plans to put boots on the ground in Syria. Hezbollah did not issue an official response to the report either.

Shadow of anti-Semitism is stalking Europe again

A growing fear of anti-Semitism is leading Europe’s Jews to think twice about wearing yarmulkes in public. Meanwhile, French police are examining whether the murder of prominent Jewish figure Alain Ghozlan in Paris is due to anti-Semitism.

by Itamar Eichner and Rachel Cadars                  Ynet News


Jews across Europe are taking off their yarmulkes and prayer shawls and hiding their Star of David necklaces as the fear of anti-Semitic violence continues to grow across the continent, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said.

At the same time, Zvi Ammar, the head of Marseille’s Jewish community, has called on the city’s Jewish residents to stop wearing yarmulkes in the wake of an attack on a Jewish teacher on Monday morning.

Benjamin Amsalem,

Benjamin Amsalem, who was attacked with a machete in Marseilles

Benjamin Amsalem, an ultra-Orthodox resident of the southern French city, was attacked with a machete by a 15-year-old Turkish citizen of Kurdish origin, who was caught after a brief chase.

In his interrogation the stabber said that he had attacked Amsalem in the name of Islamic State and that he was also planning to attack police.

“The stream of events means that we need to take exceptional decision,” Ammar said. “Life is more sacred than anything else. We need to hide a little.”

The head of the Department for Combating Anti-Semism in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gideon Bachar, said: “There is a sense of growing fear and worry among Europe’s Jews.

“Many Jews feel that their Jewish identity is a threat to them. We know that many have stopped going to synagogue on holy days for fear of terror attacks. To our regret, Jewish life is taking place more and more behind walls, armed guards, police and security cameras.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on European governments to increase the level of security for Jewish communities and institutions throughout the continent, including synagogues, community centers, schools and kindergartens.

The rise in aliyah from Europe to Israel is also testament to the growing impact of anti-Semitism on European Jews. Aliyah has also grown from countries such as Canada, the US and Australia. “We are seeing a lot of Jews leaving France making aliyah, or leaving France and Europe. The numbers are not huge but there is a clear phenomenon,” Bachar said.

Meanwhile, police in France are investigating the murder of Jewish politician Alain Ghozlan, who was found dead in his home on the outskirts of Paris on Tuesday morning, was motivated by anti-Semitism.

Ghozlan, a prominent figure in the French Jewish community and a resident of Créteil – a predominantly Jewish suburb of the French capital – failed to show up to his synagogue on Monday evening or Tuesday morning, arousing his brother’s suspicions.

Alain Ghozlan, who was found murdered in his apartment.

Police are investigating whether anti-Semitism lies behind the murder

Arriving at Ghozlan’s apartment, his brother found the body, which showed signs of violence. The initial indication is that Ghozlan was beaten to death.

Ghozlan’s credit cards and car had disappeared, but according to local media the French police have not rejected any line of enquiry and are investigating possibilities from robbery to anti-Semitism.

Ghozlan was a member of the Créteil local council as well as of the local Jewish community.

The police are also investigating the possibility of anti-Semitism due to the current rise in such incidents in France.

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