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Latest News in Israel – 17th February

Terror attack thwarted at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate for third straight day

A potential stabbing attack was thwarted at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning, according to police. The incident marked the third attempted attack thwarted by police in the area in the past three days.

Police stationed in the area identified a suspicious Arab man and approached him to perform a security check. A bodily search of the suspect uncovered a knife hidden up the sleeve of his shirt.

Police confiscated the knife and arrested the suspect, a 26-year-old from the Jenin area in the northern West Bank.

The police commander in charge of the post said that “the alertness and operational skills of the officers prevented an attack on security forces and innocent bystanders.”

On Monday afternoon, police thwarted a stabbing attack by a female teenaged Arab assailant near Damascus Gate.

At approximately 3:30 p.m., police patrolling the east Jerusalem entrance to the Old City spotted the unidentified suspect behaving suspiciously and took action, according to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

“An officer stationed by Damascus Gate approached the female Arab teenager and asked her for identification, at which time she pulled out a knife and attempted to stab the officer,” Rosenfeld said minutes after the attack.

“Police were able to push her back and disarm her without anyone being injured. After searching her bag, a second knife was found,” he said.

On Sunday night, shortly after 11 p.m., two Palestinian terrorists from the West Bank armed with improvised automatic weapons were shot dead in the same area after one of them fired on police personnel.

“After the terrorists arrived near Damascus Gate, a police officer made eye contact with one of the suspects who was carrying a large white bag and proceeded to pull him over to ask him for his identification and search the bag for weapons,” said Rosenfeld.

“The terrorist opened the bag and pulled out an improvised automatic weapon and at that point the officer opened fire and killed him. The second terrorist then opened fire on police from 100 meters away, and units in the area responded by opening fire and killing him.”                      (Jerusalem Post)

Home-made guns compromise Israeli security

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The machine gun seized from Palestinian teen at a Shuafat checkpoint, June 29, 2015.

The gun that killed Hadar Cohen was not carried into the Palestinian territories through tunnels or smuggled past guards at a checkpoint. It was an improvised firearm, probably home made in a basement or kitchen somewhere in the West Bank.

The 19-year old rookie Border Policewoman was killed and a colleague wounded in a combined stabbing and shooting attack at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate at the beginning of the month. The three attackers, Palestinians in their early 20s from the northern communities in the West Bank, had been approached and questioned because they were acting suspiciously, prompting their deadly reply.

Neither of the guns used in the attack – described as Carl Gustav submachine guns – were the ubiquitous Kalashnikov assault rifles favored by the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah.

“We’re not talking about military grade, manufactured weapons. These are weapons that are being produced in homemade factories,” Micky Rosenfeld, spokesman for Israeli police told The Media Line. Improvised or not, Cohen’s death demonstrates that such tools’ lethality cannot be underestimated. “These firearms are reaching the level of military made weapons. They fired like an AK47 or M-16,” Rosenfeld noted.

Photographs of the two firearms seized in the incident appear to show that they were both customized from the original bodies of conventional weapons – one a Kalashnikov AK47 and the other the American standard, the M-16. Both weapons fired 5.56 ammunition, Rosenfeld said.

Two weeks later, the scene almost repeated itself, underscoring the growing use of the improvised weapon. Shortly before midnight on a Sunday evening, police patrolling – again in the area of the Old City of Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate — ordered a man said to be acting suspiciously to stop. The suspect responded by drawing a weapon and was shot dead by the officers. A nearby attacker then opened fire on the police patrol and was also killed, but only after firing scores of rounds at police with his weapons — an improvised M-16 variant and a second home made gun — on “automatic.”

Occurring late in the evening after traffic had died down, the gunfire was heard across central Jerusalem.

Weapons of this nature have a long history of use in conflicts involving non-state actors, Nick De Arrinaga, European editor at IHLS Jane’s Defense weekly magazine, told The Media Line. Resistance fighters in France and Poland during World War II; the underground organizations Haganah and Etzel during Israel’s war of independence; and more recently, Chechens seeking to push out the Russian Army, all used improvised weapons, De Arrinaga said.

“There’s a huge breadth of quality when it comes to improvised weapons: Some are very basic, not reliable and potentially dangerous to the user,” the editor said, noting that at the other end of the spectrum are, “essentially underground factories producing standardized weapons.”

Cohen’s killers came into Israel illegally from the West Bank and so it is likely that their weapons were produced there, rather than inside the 1967 borders, and provided to the assailants prior to the attack. The Israeli army, responsible for security in the West Bank, declined to comment on issues relating to the infrastructure used to manufacture and distribute this sort of weapon.

“It’s fairly complicated and it takes time. But the fact is if it’s made by a close circle (of people), the time that it takes them is maybe a couple of days or weeks,” Rosenfeld said. Ammunition is not hard to come by in the West Bank, he said, suggesting that rounds in the possession of the Palestinian security forces can easily fall into the hands of those seeking to shoot Israelis.

Which begs the question, “Why is anybody making improvised firearms when conventional weapons seem to be in no great shortage in the West Bank?”

Availability and cost are the first two reasons that a group might choose to make their own weapons, De Arrinaga said. If it’s difficult to procure weapons or the cost of doing so is prohibitively high, then an organization might choose to build their own. A third reason, De Arrinaga suggested, is to remain unnoticed by security forces.

Homemade guns do not have serial numbers which can be traced. In addition, if they were to be made by a small group of people capable of keeping a secret they could stay beneath the radar and surprise Israel’s security forces.

The fact that improvised weapons are still being made despite the abundance of guns in the West Bank also shows that the individuals using such weapons are not connected to the mainline terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Brigadier-General Nitzan Nuriel, former head of Counter Terrorism to the Israeli Government, told The Media Line.

The individuals making these weapons, “are not connected to any terror groups and want to keep a low profile,” Nuriel said. If a person were to decide they want to conduct an attack against Israelis they might inadvertently tip off security forces if they began by attempting to purchase a weapon. Constructing one at home avoids this problem, according to Nuriel who warned that this is something that is only going to become easier as technology improves.

Instructions for making these weapons is readily available on the internet and most of the items needed to produce them can be easily acquired because they have dual purposes, like agricultural fertilizer used to make explosives, Nuriel explained.

Further complicating these factors is the emergence of new technology in the form of the 3-D printer, a system which allows production of solid plastic objects using a computer file and a specialized printer, and is being developed for firearms production in the United States.

According to Nuriel, 3-D technology has not yet been seen among Palestinian organizations, but it is something they are interested in. “I’m from the group that believes it is only a matter of time until we see more and more improvised explosives and weapons attacks,” the former counter-terrorism chief concluded.           (Jerusalem Post)

Hezbollah found missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad’s personal items

New revelations about Ron Arad, the Israeli Air Force navigator who was taken prisoner in Lebanon in 1986 and whose fate remains unknown, were reported in the Lebanese media on Tuesday.

Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported that Hezbollah’s former defense and operations chief, Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated in 2008 in an operation attributed to Israel, formed a special unit to find information on Arad to potentially be used in a prisoner swap deal with Israel. According to the report, the unit found Arad’s parachute and uniform.

Arad and his pilot evacuated their plane due to a technical failure during an IAF mission to hit terrorist targets in the Lebanese city of Sidon in 1986. The pilot, Yishai Aviram, was found and rescued by the IAF while Arad was taken prisoner.

During his imprisonment, three letters and one picture were sent to Israel. However, no contact has been made since 1987, when the Red Cross was last given access to Arad.

Al Akhbar ran a profile story on Mughniyeh Tuesday to mark the anniversary of his death, revealing his interest in prisoner swaps. Senior Hezbollah official Haj Wafik Safa told Al Akhbar that “the release of prisoners from Israeli prisons greatly interested Mughniyeh.”

Safa said that “there were many attempts to abduct Israeli soldiers in order to swap them for Lebanese, Palestinian and Arab prisoners, and many [Hezbollah] fighters were killed during these attempts.”

Safa said that Mughnniyeh was among the leaders of prisoner exchange negotiations with Israel after Hezbollah captured the bodies of three IDF soldiers in 2000.

He said that Mughniyeh saw the issue of Ron Arad as having the potential to win a mass prisoner release from Israel. “Mughniyeh formed a special team whose role was to investigate the traces of Arad from 2004 to 2006.”

Safa claims that the team “succeeded in finding some of his belongings: like a parachute, his weapon and his uniform.” Mughniyeh then began carrying out negotiations with Israel for the return of the items.

Mughniyeh was killed in 2008 during negotiations on a prisoner swap which eventually saw the bodies of IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser returned to Israel in exchange for the bodies of hundreds of Lebanese fighters and five live prisoners, including arch-terrorist Samir Kuntar. The Al Akhbar report did not specify if Arad’s personal belongings were returned as part of the deal.

Hezbollah told a United Nations negotiator in 2008 that Arad had been killed 20 years earlier, however the information has never been verified.                   (Jerusalem Post)

PM Netanyahu to Leave for Germany and Meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel; meets with Icelandic & Norwegian Foreign Ministers and with US UN Ambassador Samantha Power  (Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Advisor)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will leave shortly for Germany where he will, tomorrow (Tuesday, 16 February 2016), meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the framework of a G2G meeting between the Israeli and German governments.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, this morning (Monday, 15 February 2016), met with Icelandic Foreign Minister Grunnar Bragi Sveinsson. They discussed strengthening bilateral relations and increasing cooperation in the spheres of knowledge and technology.

Afterwards, Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brede. They discussed bilateral relations as well as recent developments in the Middle East and Israel-Palestinian Authority (PA) relations.

Prime Minister Netanyahu also met with US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon and US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro also attended the meeting. The delegations discussed – inter alia – the wave of terrorism and the Palestinian incitement that feeds it.

At all three meetings, the Prime Minister showed a video clip showing Palestinian incitement in schools, official PA media and by the leadership.

He emphasized the direct connection between incitement and the terrorism and violence, and called on the international community to demand that the PA stop the incitement.

Israel’s Dore Gold to meet Russian FM Lavrov in Moscow

Foreign Ministry Director- General Dore Gold will travel to Moscow on Wednesday for a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other high-level officials.

The visit comes amid heightened tension between the world powers over the situation in Syria, and as there is increasing talk – including by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday – of a return to the Cold War.

Jerusalem and Moscow have been in close contact since Russia stepped up its involvement in Syria in September, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flying to Moscow that month to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to establish a deconfliction mechanism to ensure that Israel and Russia do not accidentally engage one-another in Syria.

The two leaders have spoken on the phone a number of times since, and have agreed to continue their dialogue regarding the situation in Syria and other regional issues.

The tension between Moscow and Washington presents somewhat of a challenge for Jerusalem, which is keen on maintaining a good working relationship with Russia while at the same time not doing anything that could in any way damage its ties with the US

In a speech Sunday night to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu – who spoke of how Israel was interested in expanding its international alliances – said: “I want to say emphatically that we have no illusions that America remains the best friend of the State of Israel. The United States and Israel are the greatest allies.”

Gold will fly to Moscow from Berlin, where he is currently accompanying Netanyahu and four other ministers taking part in a government- to-government meeting with their German counterparts. Netanyahu is scheduled to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, both for a private discussion and during a wider joint-cabinet meeting.

Before leaving for Berlin on Monday, Netanyahu met visiting US envoy to the UN Samantha Power for a discussion the Prime Minister’s Office said focused on “the wave of terrorism and the Palestinian incitement that feeds it.”

Netanyahu showed Power a brief video of examples of Palestinian incitement in the schools, in the PA media and by PA leaders – the same video he has begun showing all the foreign leaders he meets. He also showed that video on Monday to the visiting foreign ministers of Iceland, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, and Norway, Borge Brende, with whom he met separately.

Netanyahu was joined in the meeting with Power by Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, and US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.

At all three meetings, Netanyahu drew a direct connection between incitement and the increase in violence and terrorism, and called on the international community to demand that the PA halt incitement.

Power also met Monday with President Reuven Rivlin; visited the bilingual Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem; and addressed a UN Model Conference at the American International School in Even Yehuda where she said Israel is “just not treated like other countries” in the UN.

She pointed out the absurdity that every year there is one resolution in the General Assembly directed at Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime, and that against Israel – “again, there are legitimate criticisms that one can make, and you hear us make criticism of settlements and other aspects of Israeli policies” – there are 18 aimed at Israel.

“Part of our posture in New York is dedicated to trying to ensure that criticism of Israel are about policies, and not the existence of the state itself, which is what it feels a lot of that criticism is motivated by,” she said.

“Remember, there are many countries that still either whisper, or even say outright, that they wish Israel did not exist, and we will always defend Israel from those kinds of attacks and always stand up for its security,” she added.

Netanyahu’s office said his meeting with Iceland’s foreign minister focused on strengthening bilateral relations and increasing technological cooperation, while the talks with Norway’s foreign minister focused on bilateral ties, as well as the diplomatic process with the Palestinians and developments in the region.                (Jerusalem Post)

US envoy to UN censures world body for anti-Israel bias

The US ambassador to the United Nations accused the world body of harboring a bias against Israel, while speaking in Tel Aviv on Monday night.

Samantha Power, addressing a group of Model UN participants at a school in Even Yehuda, east of the coastal city of Netanya, pointed to the rejection of rescue organization ZAKA as proof of the world body’s singling out of Israel for criticism.

“Bias has extended well beyond Israel as a country, Israel as an idea,” she said of the UN and particularly the UN Human Rights Council.

“Israel is just not treated like other countries,” she added during a Q&A session, while also maintaining that there are legitimate criticisms of the Jewish state.

Israeli officials have long complained that the United Nations is biased against the Jewish state. Newly minted Israeli envoy Danny Danon recently accused Turtle Bay of being anti-Semitic in its criticism of Israel.

But Power said the issue wasn’t the world body but the countries that make it up, expressing hope that it can improve.

“When we see bias, injustice or the continuation of strife within the United Nations, it is not because the UN created all of this, it is because the UN gathers governments and gathers problems, and being in the UN doesn’t change the biases of those governments,” she said.

Power, whose visit was seen by some analysts as a sign of renewed US interest in jump-starting peace talks, admitted that the situation was not ripe for new negotiations, though the US would continue to pursue a two-state solution.

“I would expect that pursuit to continue, and right now we hope the parties will take steps to move them closer again to restart negotiations, which is not a position they are in now,” she said. “We will dedicate ourselves to that as long as we are in office.”

Power also expressed hope that students participating in the Model UN would soon be able to sit behind a “Palestine placard,” backing the importance of a two-state solution.

“You must strive to wade side by side into the toughest issues, because it is you and your children and the generations following them who will reap the benefits of the peace you’ve built, or else endure the suffering of ongoing strife,” she urged the students.

Earlier in the day, Power met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who urged her to spur the world to take action against what he said was official Palestinian incitement to violence, spurring a wave of fighting that has rocked the country for the last several months.

Power also met with President Reuven Rivlin, who asked her to pass on a message to Abbas that Israel wanted new peace talks.

“He must understand the conflict between us — the tragedy between us — can only be solved through direct negotiations. No solution can be imposed on either side, and we must negotiate to come to an understanding.”

Power told Rivlin she wanted to hear his ideas for bringing the sides back to the negotiating table.

“At a time of difficult and tragic violence, in which so many Israeli and Palestinian families have suffered, I am keen to hear your thoughts about how tensions can be calmed, and how we can get back on track in the hope that a solution can be negotiated,” she said, according to a statement from Rivlin’s office.

The US has reportedly put new peace negotiations on the back burner as President Barack Obama plays out his presidency. US officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have been involved in efforts to calm spiraling tensions in recent months.

On Saturday, Power met in Ramallah with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to discuss regional security and humanitarian issues, as well as moving forward on a two-state solution.

“Ambassador Power underscored our continued support for the Palestinian people, condemned recent violence, and urged leaders on both sides to take measures to reduce tension and restore calm,” a statement from her office read.

Before speaking in Even Yehuda, Power toured the Hand in Hand Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem, meeting with both first-grade and high school students, and participating in a music lesson, a talk with the teenagers, and a soccer game.

Speaking to a panel of six high school students — Jewish, Christian, and Muslim — Power praised them for being the “best ambassadors peace can have.”

Power — who visited the school with US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro — asked the students about their experiences outside the classroom, when they return home to their respective Jewish or Arab neighborhoods, and how they felt after their school was targeted in an arson attack in 2014 by Jewish extremists.

“Fear is natural,” she said, noting the recent terror wave since October 2015, in which over 30 Israelis have been killed in almost-daily stabbings, shootings, and car-ramming attacks.

“We in the US just experienced a terror attack in California,” she added, referring to the San Bernardino shooting. “People start to worry, start to profile people, because for us it’s new.”

But the way to overcome fear, Power said, “is to see people’s faces.

“It’s breaking down the walls, the echo chambers” that will be the most important in reaching a long-term peace agreement, she said.

While addressing the students, who hailed the school for fostering coexistence, Power was cut off by the school bell — an unobtrusive, soft and slow-paced tune. That bell, quipped the US envoy in response, “tells you everything you need to know about the school.”                   (The Times of Israel)

Ya’alon: Arab states are seeking out nukes in wake of Iran deal

Israel is “seeing signs that states in the Arab world are preparing to get nuclear weapons, because they are unwilling to sit quietly with a nuclear Iran, or an Iran on the verge of a nuclear bomb,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told fellow defense ministers at the Munich security conference on Saturday.

Israel is closely monitoring the enforcement of the nuclear deal reached between world powers and the Islamic Republic, Ya’alon said, warning that even if Tehran keeps to the agreement, “15 years [when it expires] is around the corner.”

Asked to comment on Ya’alon’s warning, Dr. Emily Landau, who heads the Arms Control Program at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said some Arab states will have more motivation to go down the nuclear path, following the deal reached with Iran.

“I believe that the motivation in some states to go down the nuclear path has increased” she told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

Landau added: This “doesn’t mean they will all become nuclear states, but I believe it means they want to be better positioned in the nuclear field. The three states that are often mentioned as those who would have the strongest motivation to become nuclear states if Iran were to cross the threshold are Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, because of the implications of Iran going nuclear for regional leadership and hegemony. Saudi Arabia has made some strong statements about its intent to have whatever capabilities Iran does.”

Arab states are showing an interest in developing civilian nuclear programs, which they are entitled to do as parties to the Nonproliferation Treaty. This would set them up for military programs should they decide to develop nuclear weapons capabilities in the future, Landau said.

“The first step is to set up a nuclear infrastructure that is civilian in nature. All of the proliferators have gone this route – developing a military capability under the guise of a civilian one, and all under the cover of the NPT,” she noted.

“The interest in a number of states in the Middle East became apparent about 10 years ago when half a dozen states across the region submitted requests to the IAEA. It was at a time when it seemed that the international powers might not be able to stop Iran, and the interest in setting up these programs has continued since then.

“We periodically hear about certain states in the region considering, and also signing deals with states that can supply them with what they need,” Landau said.      (Jerusalem Post)

Morocco’s king dispatches Jewish aide to push Israeli-Palestinian talks

The king of Morocco has reportedly sent a veteran Moroccan Jewish negotiator to push for a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in order to renew peace talks.

Mohammed VI is making efforts to facilitate the meeting using Sam Ben-Shitrit, Channel 2 news reported Monday.

Ben-Shitrit is the founder and chairman of the World Federation of Moroccan Jews, and has on a number of occasions acted as a middleman between Israel and Morocco, which do not have official diplomatic relations.

According to the TV report, Ben-Shitrit has arranged a meeting between several unnamed high-level PA and Israeli public officials to take place later this week. Both Netanyahu and Abbas gave the okay for the meeting and even reportedly expressed willingness to meet each other.

Morocco kingNetanyahu reportedly told Ben-Shitrit that the king’s plan is an opportunity to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In a recent meeting with Ben-Shitrit, Abbas, for his part, said he would be willing to meet with Netanyahu without agreed-upon preconditions for restarting negotiations, Channel 2 said.

After that meeting, Ben-Shitrit is said to have sent a letter to Netanyahu quoting Abbas as saying, “At the beginning of next month, I will write a personal letter to Netanyahu proposing a meeting with him.”

The Israeli and Palestinian leader have not held an official meeting in over five years; they were last photographed together in November 2015, shaking hands on the sidelines of the climate change conference held in Paris. After a group photo of more than 150 world leaders attending the conference, Netanyahu and Abbas could be seen exchanging words in a meeting that lasted no more that a few seconds.

“It’s important for the world to see that we’re ready to talk,” Netanyahu said later, stressing, however, that it was merely an act of “protocol” since they happened to be standing close to each other. “On the other hand, we have no illusions about Abu Mazen (Abbas). Incitement plays a central role in [fostering] terrorism and Abu Mazen must stop his incitement,” he added.

The prime minister has accused Abbas of inciting against Israel, lying about ostensible Israeli plans to change arrangements on the Temple Mount, and thereby playing a role in encouraging the ongoing wave of Palestinian terror attacks on Israelis.

The king of Morocco’s reported efforts to facilitate a new meeting come as a number of international players are also pushing for a renewal of peace talks.

Meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power reiterated her country’s commitment to advancing a two-state solution, as well as a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Friday, representatives of the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers announced plans to try to kick-start long-moribund negotiations between the two sides.

In a joint statement by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN’s Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, they said they will prepare a report on the current situation between Israel and the Palestinians, with an eye toward resuming peace talks.

The new report would include “recommendations that can help inform international discussions on the best way to advance the two-state solution.”                  (The Times of Israel)

Israel hears details of French peace initiative, slams Palestinian objection to talks

French envoy presents further information on initiative to convene a peace conference in Paris this coming summer, with the aim of relaunching the stagnant diplomatic process.

Israel still supports the prospect of direct diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians despite their “predisposition to oppose attempts” at reaching peace, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

“This principle, which has accompanied the process from its beginning, has won the support of the international community over the years and also stood as the basis for peace negotiations with Jordan and Egypt,” the ministry said in a statement.

The remarks came following a meeting between French Ambassador to Israel Patrick Maisonnave and the head of the Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic office Alon Ushpiz.

During the convening, the French envoy presented the Foreign Ministry with details on a French initiative to convene a peace conference in Paris this coming summer, with the aim of relaunching the diplomatic process that last broke down in April 2014.

The meeting between the French and Israeli officials came the day after a senior Palestinian Authority official rejected the possibility of a return to the negotiating table.

On Monday during a visit to Japan, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said the Palestinians would never reengage in direct talks with Israel.

In January, outgoing French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius originally presented the French initiative, threatening that Paris would formally recognize a Palestinian state should its efforts to renew the peace process fail.

“France will engage in the coming weeks in the preparation of an international conference bringing together the parties and their main partners to preserve and achieve the two-state solution,” Fabius told a conference of French diplomats in Paris.

In response, Israeli officials blasted the initiative as “an erroneous approach” that gives Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas an excuse not to negotiate with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli officials said Netanyahu would decide whether or not to participate in the conference only after receiving an invitation.

Meanwhile, Abbas has welcomed the latest French initiative.              (Jerusalem Post)

Jewish leader: Meeting with Egyptian President was ‘eye opening’

Stephen M. Greenberg, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, spoke to Arutz Sheva on Monday about the Jewish leaders’ recent visits to Turkey and Egypt.

Greenberg described the meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with whom Israel is trying to re-establish diplomatic ties, as a “bridge building meeting” and a “very good meeting”.

“[Erdogan] certainly indicated that there was a thaw in the relationship between Turkey and Israel, and he said the thaw would get a little warmer as time went on,” he added.

The meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi was “eye opening”, Greenberg said.

“The meeting with President Sisi, to me, was something I had never envisioned,” he added. “[Sisi] was overtly clear about the strong ties between Israel and Egypt.”

The Egyptian president also replied “I’m in” when told about a possible Middle Eastern alliance involving Israel, Greece and Cyprus, said Greenberg.

The Egyptians were “overly gracious”, he continued, describing the Turkey meeting as “good” and the meeting with Sisi as “excellent”.

Greenberg called for more support for Sisi’s government by both Israel and the United States.

“I also think it would be very important for the American administration to welcome President Sisi at some point to the United States. That would be a major boost to them,” he added.

Greenberg said the United States should “exert whatever assets what we have” to have more influence on the Middle East.

“That was the message we got from both [Egypt and Turkey]. They really would like there to be a closer relationship between what’s going on in this part of the world and the United States of America.”                   (Arutz Sheva)

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah outraged by Sunni states’ warming Israel tie

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke out on Tuesday against Israel’s warming ties to Sunni Arab states in the region, and boasted that Hezbollah and Lebanon have nothing to fear from a future conflict with Israel.

Speaking in a televised address, Nasrallah said “The Israelis believe that they are before two opportunities. The first is establishing relations and alliances with the Sunni Arab states through taking advantage of the confrontation with Iran, and the other is changing the regime in Syria.”

Iranian-backed group Hezbollah is fighting in Syria alongside the Allawite regime’s army and Shi’ite Iran’s revolutionary guard forces against Gulf-backed Sunni rebels. Despite the bloody and complex nature of the conflict, which has seen around 400,000 deaths since 2011, Nasrallah was outraged at the idea that the Jewish state could be considered a friend to Arab countries over Iran.

Challenging the growing consensus that Israel and Sunni Arab states are increasingly aligned in the region, Hezbollah’s chief asked rhetorically, “Do you accept a friend occupying Sunni land in Palestine? Can you become friends with an entity that has committed the most horrible massacres against the Sunni community?”

“You are free to consider Iran an enemy but how can you consider Israel a friend and an ally? This issue must be confronted in a serious manner,” he said.

Talking up Hezbollah’s deterrence, Nasrallah addressed his Lebanese constituency, saying “There is no need to fear an Israeli war, because after the First and Second Lebanon wars, Israel decided that it would only wage war if a quick victory is guaranteed.”

“When Israel knows that there is a force in Lebanon that can prevent it from achieving a quick victory, it will not engage in such a war,” he claimed.

Nasrallah has rarely been seen in public since the 2006 Second Lebanon War with Israel, and reportedly lives in a highly fortified bunker in Lebanon. However Lebanese media reported on Monday that the charismatic leader arrived in Iran on Sunday to receive urgent medical treatment for cancer, after his condition recently deteriorated.

In his wide-ranging address, Nasrallah stated that “The Saudis, Turks and Israelis are paralyzing the (Syria) negotiations. They are putting preconditions and raising the ceiling of the demands, the thing that even the US has started to criticize.”

“They want to partition Syrian into four states – a Sunni state, an Alawite state, a Druze state and a Kurdish state,” he claimed.

Israel has no representation in the ongoing negotiations attempting to achieve a ceasefire in Syria aimed at ending the five year civil war, and they haven’t actively joined their allies in airstrikes.

Addressing other aspects of the deepening regional conflict, Nasrallah said, “What is happening in Syria has opened the doors to developments that might have repercussions on the region and even the entire world. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are considering sending ground troops under the excuse of fighting ISIS, and this is a very important development.”

“Turkey has also suffered the fall of its ‘new Ottoman empire scheme’ and the Saudi plot in Syria has also failed.”

In Nasrallah’s absence from Lebanon, local politician Saad Hariri vehemently attacked Hezbollah’s chief on Monday. Speaking on the 11th anniversary of the assassination of his father, Rafik Hariri, Saad Hariri claimed that Hezbollah is the main party responsible for the presidential vacuum in Lebanon that has lasted 21 months.                (Jerusalem Post)

UK Government to prevent publicly funded bodies from boycotting Israeli goods

Publicly funded authorities in Britain will be prevented from boycotting Israeli goods under new government procurement guidelines.

The new regulations will be announced by Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock during an upcoming visit to Israel, the Guardian reported Monday.

According to the guidelines, such boycotts are considered by the government ministers to be “inappropriate, outside where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the government,” the Guardian reported.

Plans for the guidelines were first announced in October.

“We need to challenge and prevent these divisive town hall boycotts,” Hancock said, adding that the guidelines “will help prevent damaging and counterproductive local foreign policies undermining our national security.”

A spokesman for Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told the Jewish Chronicle that the guideline plan is “an attack on local democracy.”

“People have the right to elect local representatives able to make decisions free of central government political control,” the spokesman said. “That includes withdrawal of investments or procurement on ethical and human rights grounds.”

The spokesman added: “This government’s ban would have outlawed council action against apartheid South Africa.”

Corbyn has been accused of being anti-Israel. He has publicly endorsed a blanket arms embargo on Israel and the boycott of its universities involved in weapons research.

Among the publicly funded bodies affected by the guidelines are councils, universities and National Health Service trusts.                         (JTA)

Bus driver suspected of tampering with investigation of fatal crash

The driver of the bus involved in a collision that left 6 people dead Sunday night was ordered kept in custody for three days, on suspicion of negligent manslaughter and of tampering with the investigation of the accident.

In court on Monday, police said that in the 40 minutes between the time the accident happened and police placed him under arrest, Chaim Biton managed to remove the bus’s tachograph – which records the vehicle’s speed – and then put it back again after removing a disc.

Police also said the driver made a series of phone calls and they are working to access the numbers that he dialed.

The arrest warrant for Biton, a Jerusalemite, says the police case so far is based on forensic evidence, testimony from three sources: Biton, the truck driver he hit, and multiple witnesses.

Police said that while driving his 402 Egged bus on Highway 1 from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak, “for reasons that remain unclear, he left the right lane and began driving on the shoulder and did not notice a disabled truck on the side of the road and struck it with great force.”

Police said that at the last moment he apparently did notice the truck because he swerved to the left, causing the bus to hit the truck mainly on its rear left side.

Almost all the passengers sitting on the right side of the bus were killed or hurt as a crane mounted on the back of the truck gutted the right side of the bus. Speaking at the Jerusalem Traffic Court on Sunday, police said the accident “looked like a terrorist attack.”

Biton was arrested at the scene of the accident at 7:30 Sunday night, some 40 minutes after the collision. Police continued to investigate the scene until 2 a.m., and questioned Biton until 6:30 a.m.

The accident bore a striking resemblance to another involving Biton in December 2013. In the earlier collision Biton was driving the 402 line on Highway 1 from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak when he hit a truck from behind, leaving 18 passengers lightly hurt.

A frequent passenger on the 402 line told Channel 2 that Biton often drove recklessly, traveled at excessive speed, failed to stay focused on the road and maintain a safe distance from other vehicles.

The names of the victims of the accident were cleared for publication on Monday morning. They include Yisrael Weinberg, 26, Yaakov Meir Hashin, 27, Aharon Mordechai, 18, Leah Malmud, 50, Hannah Frenkel, 23, all from Jerusalem, and Levi Yitzhak Amdadi, 17, from Yavne’el.

The victims were buried in funerals beginning late Sunday night. Hanna Frenkel’s husband Mordechai was wounded in the crash but left the hospital to attend her funeral at the Mount of Olives.

Mordechai said his wife, who was pregnant, “was a righteous woman and all she wanted in life was to study Torah, that’s what made her happy. She was a modest, righteous woman; God willing, all of the people of Israel will learn from her.”

The youngest victim, 17-year-old Levi Yitzhak Amdadi was buried Sunday night in his hometown of Yavne’el. His father, Hillel Amdadi, said of his son, “God wanted him to be in his yeshiva in the heavens” On Monday, less than 24 hours after the wreck, 12 people were lightly wounded in an additional collision between a bus and a truck in Ashdod.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said Monday, “It is totally clear that on that road, it’s not an area that needs to be renovated. It is obvious there was a distraction and police are currently investigating it.

“The infrastructure is good and no one else can be blamed,” Katz told a Knesset Economics Committee meeting.

Katz also said that, starting in November, all buses and trucks will be required to use a “life-saving warning system,” and he will try to move that up.

However, Knesset Caucus to Prevent Traffic Accidents chairman Hamad Amar blamed the problem on the shoulders of most roads not being wide enough.

“Although the Transportation Ministry set aside NIS 2b. to take care of dangerous sites like these, the plan was not implemented fully nor fast enough, and as a result, we regularly see killer accidents on these roads,” Amar said.

Amar said that traffic accidents are not fate, and called for a change in national priorities to prevent them by budgeting for additional traffic police, enforcement and education.         (Jerusalem Post)

Diplomatic visits: A dose of Middle East reality

As though people still believe that resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict constitutes the magic panacea which will bring everything else into place.

By David Newman     The Jerusalem Post

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/BORDERLINE-VIEWS-Diplomatic-visits-A-dose-of-Middle-East-reality-444998

A brief visit to Israel by the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, is followed by an even shorter visit by the British minister responsible for Middle East affairs, Tobias Ellwood. Despite the fact that much larger events are taking place in our region, not least the implosion and destruction of an entire state in Syria, the war against Islamic State, the formation of a Kurdish state and the mass flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees, the term “Middle East Peace process” still has only one connotation for many observers – the desire to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The visits by these two leading diplomats is an attempt to show to their own constituencies back home that Israel-Palestine, the longest ongoing unresolved conflict on the face of the earth, has not been forgotten. As though people still believe that resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict constitutes the magic panacea which will bring everything else into place.

Even if that were ever true in the past, which is highly unlikely, it is obvious that it is no longer the case. No one realizes that better than Israel itself, with no real desire or urge on the part of our leaders (or the Palestinians for that matter) to make any significant move on the diplomatic front.

Given the daily changing geopolitical conditions in our region, the present government is able to harden its stance toward the Palestinians, to renege on its former commitments to territorial withdrawals, while some of the more hardline ministers no longer feel inhibited about publicly renouncing the two-state principle. Education Minister Naftali Bennett openly proposes the formal abrogation of the Oslo Agreements, arguing in favor of Israel retaking direct control and administration over Area C which has been under Palestinian autonomous control for almost 20 years.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not go out of his way to criticize Bennett’s comments, in itself a form of silent agreement to the re-emergence of these more intransigent positions on the part of Israel’s government. Netanyahu is able to portray himself to the diplomatic visitors as being a moderate player in a government which has outflanked him on the Right, reflecting changing public opinion within Israel. The Left has moved to the Center, the Center to the moderate Right and the moderate Right to the extreme Right and this is reflected not only in the composition of the government but equally in the acceptance of the increasingly intransigent anti-peace statements made by its senior representatives, not least the Foreign Ministry incumbent.

The latest bout of terrorism on our streets, a mini-intifada at the very least, has only served to harden the hearts of the Israeli public even further. Last week’s publication of the monthly peace index by the Israel Democracy Institute shows a clear decline in support for the two-state solution among the Israeli public – either because they no longer see it as implementable, or because they are no longer prepared to give it a chance in the wake of increased terrorism and violence.

So what exactly is it that these key diplomats, representing major world powers, seek to accomplish on their present visits? As relatively new players in the Middle East arena, where so many before them have failed, they will seek to learn and see firsthand – a fact-finding mission. They will meet Israeli and Palestinian policy makers and will perhaps visit critical locations, such as the settlements or the separation barrier. But they will also hear the same old, tired, two state mantra, from government officials, think tanks and representatives of NGOs, as though nothing has changed during the past decade and that all it takes is for the two sides to agree to sit around a table together and negotiate in good faith, and everything will miraculously be resolved.

But almost 50 years on since the Six Day War of June 1967, and 20 years since the short-lived euphoria of the Oslo Agreements, just about everything has changed.

Settlements have grown to a point where, within a few more years, they will approach half a million people in the West Bank (and this figure does not include east Jerusalem), while a younger generation of both Israelis and Palestinians have become far more radicalized than their parents’ generation. A growth in religious fundamentalism and political radicalism, along with a reality of territorial separation of the West Bank from Israel, has resulted in the cessation of Israeli-Palestinian encounters (even under conditions of political and economic asymmetry), meaning that the next generation of leaders and opinion makers on both sides will have even less knowledge of what makes the other tick than did their parents’ generation.

As part of the recent FP7 EUROBORDERS research project, consisting of a consortium of universities and research institutes in 21 European and neighboring countries, a Ben-Gurion University team recently completed a short documentary video looking at the impact of the Separation Barrier/Wall/Fence on the attitudes of young Israelis and Palestinians living on each side of the wall, especially within the Hebron-Kiryat Arba area, a micro-region within the West Bank where emotions and animosities are among the most extreme anywhere in the conflict. These young, astute and eloquent children, aged 10-13, display different attitudes and understandings of the conflict than their parent generation. Where the Palestinian parents spoke Hebrew (if only because they had worked as menial laborers in the Israeli workplace before being replaced by foreign workers), their children no longer speak or understand the language of the occupier – and the same is true for the smaller number of Israelis who took it upon themselves to learn Arabic and to shop in the kasbahs and markets of their Palestinian neighbors than in the past.

When asked to describe what is on the other side of the wall, both the Palestinian and Israeli children portray almost mirror-like images of evil and violence, a fear of the unknown and the invisible which takes place just a few hundred meters from where they live, but which they no longer visit or encounter, unless it is accompanied by heavily fortified security patrols. If, until the outbreak of renewed violence in the past few months, we had been led to believe that the security barrier resulted in a an era of relative security, then it is clear, listening to these children, that the invisibility and lack of knowledge about the other side which has also resulted from the construction of the physical barrier has created a much deeper feeling of fear and insecurity among the younger generations. They only perceive darkness, violence and threat on the other side. If this is the atmosphere within which the next generation of young adults and leaders are growing up, we will be even further away from returning to something remotely resembling negotiations or peace talks than we have been during the past 20 years.

A new generation of diplomats, eager but somewhat naively believing in an ability to kick-start the peace process from its present situation of total stagnation, have to understand these important structural and generational changes which have taken place and which are becoming stronger daily. Simply returning to the 20-year-old mantra, two states for two peoples, with a clear line of demarcation separating the two from each other in some miraculous cartographic invention in which each is equally dissatisfied with the outcome, is no longer an option, even for all those with good intentions. Our visitors have to be made aware of what is really happening on the ground, not just what the official representatives of the state and the think tanks roll out in conference after conference and report after report.

My generation who took part in years of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and Track II discussions believed that we would eventually bring peace to the region through a process of networking and mutual understanding.

While we succeeded in creating important networks which last and are effective until today, we failed dismally to bring peace any nearer. It is incumbent upon a new generation of diplomats and future political leaders to hear the frustrated and radicalized voices of the new generation of Israelis and Palestinians who will be tomorrow’s residents of the region and for whom yesterday’s attempts at peace making are no more than a lesson in history.

The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and chair of geopolitics at Ben-Gurion University.

Obama Offers Israel New 10-Year Aid Package, But There’s a Catch

Expanded Top Line Funding Aims to Avoid Annual Haggling, Plus Ups

By Barbara Opall-Rome               Defense News

http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/international/mideast-africa/2016/02/13/obama-israel-aid-package-netanyahu-iran/80265988/

To facilitate Israel’s long-term planning and spending needs, US President Barack Obama’s administration is offering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a consolidated aid package that essentially guarantees expanded top-line funding from State Department and Pentagon accounts each year for the next decade, starting in 2018.

The proposed package, a follow-on to the $30 billion, 10-year memorandum of understanding signed in 2007, would grant Israel more leeway – including reprogramming authority – over a considerably larger amount of grant aid than that provided in the current agreement.

There’s just one catch: Israel will have to forgo annual plus-ups to the president’s budget from Congress except for extreme emergency cases.

“The benefit is we won’t need to haggle every year, first with the administration and then with Congress. We’ll have a pretty much guaranteed top-line that will help us enormously in long-term planning,” a recently retired senior Israeli security official said.

“The downside, of course, is we’ll lose the ability for annual plus-ups on missile defense, anti-tunnel capabilities and other programs funded by the Pentagon in all but the most-extreme cases,” he added.

Israel is the largest recipient of US security assistance, taking in about 55 percent of the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) budget worldwide. US aid accounts for about 25 percent of Israel’s overall defense budget.

In recent years, congressional plus-ups for Israeli aid have exceeded the president’s budget request by much more than 100 percent. US sources calculated that since the start of the current 10-year agreement in fiscal year 2009, congressional plus-ups to Israel exceeded Pentagon budget requests by some $1.9 billion.

Last December, for example, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that appropriated $487 million for US-Israel missile defense programs — more than three times the amount contained in the Pentagon’s budget request.

It also appropriated $40 million in funding for a new US-Israel tunnel detection program that had not been included in the Pentagon budget.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), in a published statement on the omnibus appropriations bill for the 2016 fiscal year, commended Congress “for key provisions to help Israel address critical security challenges.”

The premier pro-Israel US lobbying group noted that the bill provided $3.1 billion in FMF as stipulated under the current MoU; added an additional $400 million over two years to the more than $1 billion in US materiel prepositioned in Israel; and extended Israel’s ability to use existing US loan guarantees for an additional four years. The bill also “expressed support for negotiating a new US-Israel memorandum of understanding,” according to the AIPAC statement.

Under the consolidated, two-track package proposal, Israel would continue to receive an as-yet-undetermined annual amount of FMF grant aid, which is funded through the State Department’s Foreign Ops account.

Israel’s annual FMF under the current MoU is $3.1 billion, which is dispersed in one lump sum at the beginning of each fiscal year. Israel is required to spend all but 26.3 percent of that amount in the US; a caveat that will not change in the follow-on MoU, sources here said.

In parallel, it would receive another as-yet-undetermined top-line amount for R&D and procurement programs traditionally earmarked as distinct line items within the Pentagon’s budget.

An Israeli cabinet minister told Defense News that the Obama administration’s proposed package would start at $3.8 billion for the first two or three years and grow incrementally until it reached a combined 10-year total of “more than $40 billion.”

His numbers could not be confirmed by other Israeli or US officials, who declined to discuss details other than to acknowledge that the sides have not yet reached agreement on ultimate funding levels.

“We’re committed to concluding a package that meets Israel’s very real security requirements and addresses our very real budgetary constraints,” a US official here told Defense News.

“Without getting into numbers, I can assure you it will be the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in US history. The president has pledged to support Israel’s security needs and it’s in our interest that we do so,” he added.

Early last week, Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper reported that Netanyahu told his security cabinet that wide gaps remained between the American offer and the amount needed to meet Israel’s expanded security requirements. If negotiators could not reach a top-line funding level satisfactory to Israel, Netanyahu reportedly said he would wait to conclude a deal with the president who succeeds Obama.

Israeli reports in recent months have cited $5 billion per year as the amount needed to preserve Israel’s congressionally mandated qualitative military edge (QME) over regional adversaries, especially Iran.

Israeli officials have publicly and repeatedly cited the lifting of sanctions associated with the so-called P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran, which will enable Tehran to reinvest in arming its own military and that of its regional terrorist proxies. Moreover, concern over a resurgent Iran is driving accelerated military modernization in Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf states, something officials here say Israel must take into account regardless of the unofficial thaw over the common Iranian threat.

“Yes, there’s a convergence of interest on some key issues between us and many of the Gulf states. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore the tremendous amount of sophisticated military hardware that is flowing into a region where instability is rife and regimes can change,” said an Israeli Foreign Ministry official.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month, Netanyahu said whatever aid levels Israel manages to negotiate with Washington would pale in comparison to the funds available to Iran as a result of the nuclear deal.

“Iran’s going to get about $100 billion now,” Netanyahu told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. “The American assistance to Israel is about $3.1 billion and we’re talking about a bigger package. But remember that even over a 10-year period, it pales in comparison to the enormous funds Iran gets.”

Netanyahu did not mention, nor did Zakaria clarify that funds to become available to Iran as a result of the nuclear deal were Iranian funds frozen due to sanctions.

“This is a real discussion that’s taking place as we speak about a follow-on aid package for Israel … We’re talking about military support, not the economic support; I’ve ruled that out. In fact, in my first term as prime minister, I ruled out economic aid and said we’ll be able to carry our own weight. We don’t need economic welfare. We know how to build our own economy. But in terms of protecting Israel … I think we’ll probably reach a successful agreement; I hope in the coming months,” Netanyahu said.

In a Feb. 8 interview on Israel Army Radio, Zeev Elkin, a cabinet minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party, said Israel still awaits a “realistic” offer from the US.

“When the accord with Iran passed, the US president pledged that he would do everything to provide a proper response for Israeli security,” Elkin said. When pressed, Elkin acknowledged the “possibility” that Netanyahu would wait for the next president to conclude the follow-on deal.

“Without the right number, we won’t sign,” a former Cabinet member told Defense News. “But if the number is good enough, we should conclude the agreement with this administration. We started with them and we should try to finish it with them.”

In response to the Ha’aretz report, former two-term US ambassador Martin Indyk tweeted, “Always dangerous to think next president will give you a better deal. That was one of [Yasser] Arafat’s mistakes!”

Israel Calls on World Nations to Regulate Anti-Semitism in Social Media – Sam Sokol (Jerusalem Post)

Akiva Tor, director of the Israel Foreign Ministry’s Department for Jewish Communities, speaking to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on Monday, asked why platforms such as Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are “tolerating” violent incitement.

“How is it possible that the government of France and the European Union all feel that incitement in Arabic on social media in Europe calling for physical attacks on Jews is permitted and that there is no requirement from industry to do something about it?”

Israel is working with European partners to push the technology sector to adopt a definition of anti-Semitism so its constituent companies can “take responsibility for what they host.”

While Facebook has said it will take down material that violates its terms of service following a complaint, Tor asked why the social-networking giant could not self-regulate and use the technology at its disposal to identify and take down offending content automatically.

“If they know how to deliver a specific ad to your Facebook page, they know how to detect speech in Arabic calling to stab someone in the neck.”

Following the Foreign Ministry’s Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism last year, it called for the scrubbing of Holocaust denial websites from the Internet and the omission of “hate websites and content” from web searches.

Last October, 20,000 Israelis sued Facebook, alleging the social media platform is disregarding incitement and calls to murder Jews being posted by Palestinians. The plaintiffs argued that Facebook “has the ability to monitor and block postings by extremists and terrorists urging violence, just as it restricts pornography.”

The women that sacrifice everything to keep Israel safe