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Latest News in Israel – 17th March

IDF chief: Our offer to scale back West Bank activity is not in lieu of peace talks

Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot said a recent covert Israeli offer to end IDF operations in parts of the West Bank was part of an effort to bolster security measures and is unconnected to formal peace initiatives.

The back-channel talks were a first step toward “enhancing the effectiveness of security in the region while examining the possibility of reducing the number of IDF forces operating in the Palestinian-controlled Area A of the West Bank,” Eisenkot told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday.

“The ongoing dialogue is taking place on the ground and is unconnected to negotiations on a political level,” he said.

On Monday, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel the proposal — news of which was first published by the Haaretz daily — was raised as part of ongoing talks between Palestinian Authority and Israeli officials in recent weeks regarding the continuation of security coordination in the West Bank.

PA officials rejected the offer as contrary to the Oslo Accords, and demanded that Israel present a comprehensive timetable for a full cessation of military activities in Palestinian-controlled territories.

Speaking to The Times of Israel on Monday, sources familiar with the talks said that while the Israeli side aimed to merely improve the security situation in the West Bank, the PA wanted to progress toward a political process aimed at a final-status agreement.

During his appearance in the Knesset Tuesday, Eisenkot also discussed the economic situation in the West Bank, saying it played a “significant” role in the recent surge of violence, and warning that banning Palestinian laborers from working inside Israel or West Bank settlements would only serve to exacerbate tensions.

He underscored that some 65 percent of IDF battalion troops were deployed in the West Bank, so “we aren’t skimping on manpower in protecting civilians.” He added that “the IDF is preparing for a possible escalation in the situation, such as a major attack, in any case.”

Maintaining security cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces was an interest shared by both parities, he said.

As per agreements reached under the Oslo Accords, Palestinians maintain civilian and security control of territories in the so-called Area A, including Ramallah, Jericho and other major Palestinian population centers. However, Israeli forces often stage raids in those areas, often with the tacit support of the Palestinians, to arrest terror suspects, among other purposes.

Even as diplomatic ties have withered and amid the ongoing wave of violence and Palestinian terrorism, officials in Israel and the PA have expressed interest in continuing security coordination.

Both sides see the security cooperation as key to keeping Hamas and other terror groups that could threaten Fatah’s control of the PA in check.   (The Times of Israel)

Israel builds underground defense system to tackle tunnels

Following Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, a great deal of attention shifted to Israel’s need to develop a technological solution to the underground tunnel problem. Now, according to Foreign Policy magazine, it appears Israel has found that solution.

Under the headline “Israel is Building a Secret Tunnel-Destroying Weapon,” Foreign Policy reported last week that “according to intelligence officials, Israeli engineers are working tirelessly to develop what’s being called the ‘underground Iron Dome’ — a system that could detect and destroy cross-border tunnels.”

Israel’s solution, says Foreign Policy, is a network of underground tunnels it is digging near the Gaza border, equipped with seismic sensors that can monitor underground vibrations.

Foreign Policy also reported that the Israeli government has spent more than $250 million on the project since 2004, and that the United States has “appropriated $40 million for the project in the 2016 financial year.”

The goal, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Christopher Sherwood told Foreign Policy, “is to establish anti-tunnel capabilities to detect, map, and neutralize underground tunnels that threaten the U.S. or Israel.”

Sherwood also noted that although the majority of the work in 2016 will be done in Israel, “the U.S. will receive prototypes, access to test sites, and the rights to any intellectual property.”

Among the Israeli companies working on the tunnel-detection project, according to the report, are Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, both of which declined to provide any details due to security reasons.

Meanwhile, Palestinian media outlets on Monday reported yet another tunnel collapse in central Gaza, killing a senior Hams field commander.

Overnight Monday, a rocket fired from Gaza exploded in an open field in southern Israel, causing no injuries or damage to property. Over the weekend, the Israel Defense Forces attacked targets in Gaza after terrorists in the coastal enclave fired four rockets at Israel.

In Egypt, news outlets reported that Hamas representatives, meeting Egyptian intelligence officials in Cairo, asked that Egypt stop flooding underground tunnels in the Rafah area, which Hamas says has led to many Palestinian deaths.                   (Israel Hayom)

Russian envoy reassures Israel over pullout from Syria

Israeli officials are consulting with Moscow over its unexpected decision to return home the bulk of Russian troops in Syria, possibly complicating a mechanism to coordinate military action agreed upon by the two countries last fall, officials from both governments said on Tuesday.

Russia’s military intervention in Syria last year on behalf of its embattled Alawite president, Bashar Assad, originally concerned Jerusalem, which routinely conducts covert raids into Syrian territory in order to disrupt shipments of Iranian arms and missiles to Lebanese Hezbollah. But in October, Russia and Israel agreed on methods of communicating that would allow Israel’s defense operations to continue.

Russia’s ambassador to Israel, Alexey Drobinin, said the two governments have an “ongoing dialogue” on both the military and diplomatic levels, specifically regarding Syria operations. Those channels of communication will remain open, he said.

“We will try to ensure that this crisis is resolved, and we will also do everything so that Israel’s national security interests are not harmed in this process,” Drobinin said on Tuesday, the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of Syria’s civil war. “Israel is a neighboring country. It cannot be indifferent to what is happening in Syria. We take this into account, of course.”

President Reuven Rivlin will seek an understanding of how Moscow envisions the future of Syria when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on Wednesday.

“There is a need for coordination with Russia regarding the current situation,” Rivlin told reporters en route to Russia on Tuesday. “Everyone understands that Islamic State is a danger to the entire world, but the Shi’ite fundamentalist Islam of Iran is for us no less a threat,” One senior Israeli official said Israel does not understand what was behind Putin’s surprise announcement.

According to the official, the central goal of Rivlin’s talks with Putin will be to discuss the day after Syria’s civil war ends and the efforts in Geneva to negotiate a political solution to the ongoing crisis.

“We don’t want Iran or Hezbollah to come out of this process strengthened,” the official said. “President [Rivlin] will stress these points and discuss how to ensure that this will not happen.”

According to the official, Israel understands fully well the Russian interests in the region, and the Russians also understand Israel’s concerns.

“This is not a zero-sum game,” the official said. “Russia has interests similar to ours. They also do not want to see a strong Iran that will spread terrorism on Russia’s southern border.

The Russians also understand that it will not be good if Hezbollah remains and becomes established in Syria.”

Hours before leaving for Russia on the state visit – reportedly planned well in advance of Moscow’s announcement of the troop pull-back, despite the trip having necessitated his postponing a wellplanned- in-advance official visit to Australia – Rivlin spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot to coordinate positions. He also received an intelligence and military briefing in the morning before heading for Moscow.

Eisenkot told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that there was no advance intelligence about Russia forces leaving Syria, unlike when they entered.

He said the Russian troops are likely to withdraw gradually and not fully, with the Russians maintaining two naval bases in Syria.

“At this point we need to be careful and modest in trying to understand the developments in the Syrian arena with Russian forces’ departure from the region,” Eisenkot said.

The chief of staff added that Russian involvement strengthened Assad, allowing him to approach talks in Geneva from a position of power.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will also travel to Moscow next week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, over the intra-Syrian negotiations now under way in Geneva.

The talks, which began on Monday, are the first serious diplomatic effort on the Syrian crisis in more than two years. World powers and the UN seek to outline a political transition for the war-torn country, to be followed by nationwide elections within 18 months.

While that road map has been agreed upon in principle by the two sides of Syria’s civil war – on the one hand, Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, opposed by a loose group of rebel militias supported by Turkey, the Gulf Arab states and Western powers – the sticking point remains the future of Assad himself, whose refusal to vacate his presidential palace overlooking Damascus has led his country into ruin.

Since the war began there in March 15, 2011, when peaceful protesters in Dara’a, south of Damascus, were met with government bullets, there have been chemical weapons attacks on civilians, countless imprecise barrel bombs dropped from helicopters, migrants flows into Europe unseen since World War II, invasions by at least four foreign armies and over a dozen air forces, and the metastasizing of Islamist terrorist organizations.

More than 300,000 people have been killed. Syria’s population has shrunk to just 16.6m, down from a prewar level of around 22m, and half of those are now homeless internal refugees.

“With the cessation of hostilities largely holding, Russia’s announcement yesterday that it will remove half of its forces immediately and more perhaps from Syria, and with the political negotiations reconvening this week in Geneva, we have reached a very important phase in this process,” Kerry said, noting the world is marking the fifth anniversary of the war faced with “the best opportunity that we’ve had in years to end it.”

Kerry’s spokesman, John Kirby, said on Tuesday the US had no advanced warning of Russia’s decision to withdraw any of its assets in Syria. Moscow’s thinking behind the decision is “difficult to discern, he said, noting that the pullout is only partial.

But the development may ultimately serve to maintain the cessation of hostilities on the ground, now two and a half weeks old, and may further the diplomatic process,” he added.

“This is a moment to seize, not waste,” Kerry said. “We have at this moment the ability to finally take a step towards ending this war and the bloodshed.”

In Geneva, the UN’s special envoy to the crisis, Staffan de Mistura, continued meeting with both Assad regime and rebel delegates for a second day. He praised Russia’s decision to withdraw with a prepared statement on Tuesday morning.

“The announcement by President Putin on the very day of the beginning of this round of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva is a significant development, which we hope will have a positive impact on the progress of the negotiations in Geneva aimed at achieving a political solution of the Syrian conflict and a peaceful political transition in the country,” de Mistura said.

The negotiations are set to take place over three, two-week long sessions: The first, lasting until March 24, followed by a second beginning in early April, and a final round toward the end of the month.

By the end of April, the world will know whether a political solution is viable for Syria, noted de Mistura. “As far as I know,” he said before the talks began, “the only Plan B available is return to war, and to even worse war than we had so far.”

One negotiator with the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiating Committee said they expect detailed proposals from the Assad regime that will prove their seriousness as the talks progress. The HNC, said another delegate, is willing to negotiate directly with the government it seeks to topple.

“We are not against direct talks, but you know de Mistura decided to start with indirect talks,” said Salim al-Muslat, a spokesman for the main Syrian opposition alliance.

The UN is conducting “proximity” talks between the two sides – shuttling between Assad and HNC delegates, camped out in different conference rooms.             (Jerusalem Post)

Israel Navy developing new command and control system

The Israel Navy is developing a new command and control system for its vessels, which will enable it to strike targets on shore from the sea in less time, and play a larger part in air defense, a senior source said this week.

The source, from the navy’s C4i (Command and Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence Unit), said the new system, will replace the current one, which has seen six upgrades since being introduced in the 1990s.

The new system will become operational on the four Sa’ar 6 warships the navy will receive from 2017 to 2019. It will also be extended to all vessels. The Sa’ar 6 ships will be the largest in the navy and will help it protect offshore gas drilling rigs in the Exclusive Economic Zone. The arrival of the ships is also a growth engine for research, development and funding for the C4i Branch, the source said.

“This is a historical era for us,” the source said, adding, “It is an opportunity to refresh and develop new systems. We are in the C4i era. Everything is connected to networks.

Interconnectivity between military branches is the key. There is a single information flow.”

Made up of young engineers and programmers, the navy’s relatively small C4i branch is developing the system in-house. Components of it will become operational within a year, and it will be operational in three years, the officer said.

“When online, the system will process “much more information,” handle more weapons, electronic warfare defenses, detection of threats and radar feeds,” he stated.

“The new command and control network will also link up navy missile ships, patrol boats, and submarines to the rest of the military in ways not possible before,” he said.

“We are developing a version that can talk to the whole military, to the air force and the ground forces.

We are not there yet,” he said.

That means that sea-based weapons, like guided missiles and long range canons, will become an intrinsic element in the IDF’s firepower.

“We will reach full integration much faster,” the source said.

Referring to the participation of navy vessels in striking Hamas targets in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, he said, “What we had then was the opening stage.

We will know how to provide solutions for every target on shore.”

The network will also enable the navy to better link up its Barak 8 air defense systems and radar which will be on the Sa’ar 6 missile ships and is currently on board the INS Lahav Sa’ar 5 missile ship, to the air force’s national air defense systems.

“We are already today, working on this integration,” the source said.

The navy’s C4i Branch is responsible for building up cyber defenses, and protecting weapons systems from enemy hacking capabilities. A navy missile ship has more weapons systems on board than any other military platform, meaning that it requires more cyber defenses, the source explained.

“Once, a missile ship was an island, cut off from the world. Now, it’s all part of the network,” he said.

“Sure, our enemies want to arrive [at the position of being to hack the navy’s systems]. Our goal is to prevent this. We are developing increasing numbers of capabilities to do this,” he said, without going into details.

The new command and control system will enable unmanned sea vehicles (USV) to play bigger roles in future naval operations, thanks to long-range remote capabilities.

In addition to the currently serving Rafael-made protector, the navy has purchased a new type of USV, and it will be able to carry more payloads on board, the source said, meaning more missions can be conducted without endangering sailors, and the navy will become more flexible.

“Many of the young programmers and engineers could be working in hi-tech firms and making a lot of money,” the source said. “But they have chosen to sign on for six years of service instead.”

“They are filled with Zionism and the motivation to develop systems that will provide defenses,” he said.

“The systems they are working on, and their complexity, do not exist in many other places. This is what puts the wind in their sails.”   (Jerusalem Post)

Homeless man mistaken for terrorist puts north Tel Aviv on war footing

A report of a suspected stabbing attack on an IDF soldier spurred a manhunt across north Tel Aviv Tuesday afternoon before it was determined there was no terrorist attack and that the so-called assailant was most likely a homeless man who had an altercation with the soldier.

Following the deadly stabbing attack on the Jaffa beachfront less than a week ago, however, the report was enough to put police and Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) in emergency-response mode with mounted officers and detectives combing Hayarkon Park while a helicopter circled overhead. Further north, police on scooters sped through neighborhoods such as Ramat Aviv and several undercover security officers with assault rifles patrolled outside the entrance to Sde Dov airport.

The first report of the alleged stabbing came in around 12:30 p.m., with police stating they received a call that a soldier was attacked at a bus stop outside Sde Dov air force base in north Tel Aviv by a man who drove up to the bus stop and pulled a knife on the soldier when he approached the vehicle. According to the initial report, the soldier fled on foot and was not harmed, while the alleged assailant drove off, launching a manhunt.

Within a half hour or so, however, police were able to determine that there was no vehicle, and that the incident happened several blocks away at a bus stop on the eastbound side of Rokach Blvd. near the corner of Ibn Gvirol.

Initially, there was some suspicion that the Air Force soldier made up the story for unknown reasons, and he could be seen being questioned by a Shin Bet officer and plainclothes police officer in Hayarkon Park next to a paddle boots rental stand.

Barely two hours after the initial report, Tel Aviv police put out a statement saying they had checked surveillance camera footage from the area and determined that the incident was not a terrorist attack, and that the assailant most likely was a homeless man.

Police were still investigating the incident, the statement said. No arrests have been made, it added.

Last Tuesday, 22-year-old Bashar Masalha from Kalkilya stabbed and killed American tourist Taylor Force on the Jaffa promenade and wounded more than 10 other people before he was shot and killed by a volunteer police officer.    (Jerusalem Post)

Terror attack thwarted in the capital

Border Police officers at a surveillance point in the northern Shuafat neighborhood of Jerusalem on Wednesday morning thwarted a terror attack.

The officers spotted a 14-year-old Arab terrorist trying to climb over the revolving gates at the entrance to the neighborhood, in an attempt to leave towards the center of the capital without going through the security checkpoint.

A team of soldiers arrested him and found a knife on his person. An initial investigation revealed he was setting off to conduct an attack.

The terrorist has been transferred to security forces for investigation.

“A team of fighters was directed to the minor, identified and arrested him. In a search of his belongings a knife was found,” read a Jerusalem district police statement.

The commander of the Jerusalem region Border Police’s northern brigade praised the officers, saying, “the fighters are working in a high state of readiness which proves itself each day.”

“The alertness of the fighters at the surveillance point and their professionalism led to the arrest of the suspect and prevented harm to innocents. We continue in our activities that are important for the security of the capital.”   (Arutz Sheva)

Herzog: There must be immediate disengagement between Jews, Palestinians

On a hilltop in Jerusalem’s Shuafat refugee camp, with sweeping vistas of the western portion of the capital, opposition leader and Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog got right to the point on a windy Monday afternoon.

“There needs to be a disengagement between us and the Palestinians,” Herzog said, “not by withdrawing from the territories, but by separating us physically, with security fences that should have been completed long ago, and with steps on the ground that would ease the tension dramatically.”

As the capital’s security situation continues to deteriorate, Herzog, who unsuccessfully challenged Netanyahu for the premiership a year ago, emphasized in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post that measures must be taken immediately to put an end to the ongoing violence.

“This is one of the worst periods between Jews and Arabs in the land,” he said on a tour of east Jerusalem locations with members of his faction.

“What we need to do is take major security steps to fight terror on the one hand, and on the other hand take steps in the region – for example, a regional security conference and empowerment of the Palestinians beyond the fence.”

The MKs were briefed by Col. (res.) Shaul Arieli, a commentator and member of the Peace and Security Association, a group of former army, police and intelligence community officials promoting a political solution to the Israeli- Palestinian dispute.

Asked what could be done right now, Herzog said that all violent Palestinian neighborhoods should be fenced off from Jewish neighborhoods.

“Complete the fence around settlement blocks and put up the fences between the Palestinian villages around Jerusalem, which are not really a part of the city that we prayed for, and the city itself,” he said.

Such Palestinian communities, he clarified, included “major villages that have no attachment at all to Israel, but on the other hand, where youngsters are coming in and trying to stab Jews day in and day out.”

Zionist Union MK Omer Bar-Lev, who has served on the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and is working closely with Herzog on a viable separation plan, told the Post there was no question that Israel was in the midst of a third intifada.

“Of course this is an intifada,” said Bar-Lev, a former commander of Sayeret Matkal, the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, the IDF’s most elite special-forces unit.

“It’s different from the second one, and the second one was different from the first one, but it’s been going on for almost six months and it doesn’t seem that it is vanishing,” he said. “And this is a fact – I don’t see that it will disappear.

You know, maybe there will be changes, like more shootings than stabbings, but the only change from this moment is for the worst.”

Moreover, Bar-Lev said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition had yet to present a viable counter-proposal for separating Palestinians from Jews.

“They are not presenting a solution,” he said. “In fact, the IDF, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the police are doing their utmost, but they are saying that they really don’t have an answer to a high-school boy or girl who wakes up in the morning and decides to stab someone.”

Compounding the security dilemma, Bar-Lev asserted, was the random and unstructured actions of the young terrorists.

“You know, it’s not an organization that you can try to get into their network and know what’s going on,” he told the Post. “Most of it is individuals that just make a personal decision in doing what they’re doing. The answer is separation, not the status quo.”

Despite repeated requests, no one from the Likud was available to comment on Herzog’s plan, which the party has deemed unacceptable.

However, during the party’s Knesset faction meeting Monday afternoon at Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center, Netanyahu asserted that peace with the Palestinians would come if Israel improved relations with the greater Arab world.

“If someone thought earlier that a breakthrough with the Palestinians would lead to improved relations with the Arab world for us, the opposite is happening, and will continue to happen,” he said. “The Arab world softening its views toward us will help us when the time comes to reach a real and lasting agreement with our Palestinian neighbors.”   (Jerusalem Post)

‘State of Palestine’ becomes member of Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague announced on Tuesday that the State of Palestine has joined it, becoming its 118th member state.

It is unclear how significant an achievement joining the PCA is with the Palestinians likely to brandish it as supporting their joining the International Criminal Court and Israel likely to underplay it.

At press time, the Palestinian Authority had not responded to inquiries and the Foreign Ministry responded, “this is a legal body which is not among the more important ones. What a waste that the Palestinians continue to invest efforts to be accepted into these kinds of bodies instead of returning to the negotiating table.”

Israel opposes any recognition of Palestine as a state outside of bilateral negotiations.

The ICC Prosecution in January 2015 accepted Palestine as a state for purposes of opening an examination of the 2014 Gaza war crimes allegations and of the settlements enterprise, but Israel has been trying to convince it to back away from this position.

Tuesday’s news only complicates Israel’s efforts, even as the PCA is much less prominent now than the ICC.

The PCA was the first international organization for peaceful civil dispute resolution between states through arbitration, and is nearly 50 years older than the International Court of Justice and 100 years older than the International Criminal Court, having been established in 1899.

Arbitration is an alternative to civil litigation, but the arbitrator, in place of a judge, can still usually bind the sides to follow his decision.

Like the ICC’s explanation of accepting Palestine as a state, the PCA’s explanation was very technical.

A statement by the PCA said that at its March 9 and 14 meetings, “the PCA Administrative Council discussed the status of the State of Palestine in relation to the 1907 Hague Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes.”

It noted that Palestine became a member by virtue of a vote of 54 in favor and 25 abstentions.

Further, the statement indicated that, “the Council concluded its consideration by taking note that the State of Palestine is a Contracting Party to the 1907 Hague Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, and a Member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, in accordance with the letter of the depositary of the Convention, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands, dated 13 November 2015.”

Essentially, the PCA said that since Palestine has already joined related international conventions and the Netherlands, which is responsible for deciding to accept letters of membership, accepted Palestine’s letter to join it, granting membership was almost automatic.     (Jerusalem Post)

A time for unity against dangerous new Obama initiatives

A display of unity would go a long way toward defanging much of the poison of our adversaries, who allege that Israel’s foreign policy is a product of right-wing extremists.

By Isi Leibler     The Jerusalem Post

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Candidly-Speaker-A-time-for-unity-against-dangerous-new-Obama-initiatives-448034

US President Barack Obama continues to ignore the catastrophic global repercussions of his flawed policies toward the Middle East, where hundreds of thousands of Arabs have been butchered in civil wars and millions displaced from their homes. The situation would have been different had he acted with a modicum of fortitude and leadership in lieu of groveling to rogue states.

But ominously, and counter to most predictions, over the past few weeks the supposedly lame-duck president has signaled a probable intention to launch yet another initiative to pressure Israel to make concessions. This at a time when the Palestinians are engaged in a frenzied campaign of stabbings and other forms of murder of Israeli civilians. And while the Palestinian mullahs and media sanctify the killers as national heroes and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continues to praise the “martyrs” and provide pensions to their families.

Obama unburdened himself in a lengthy interview with his favored Jewish journalist, Jeffery Goldberg, when he referred to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “one of his deepest disappointments” in the Middle East, being “too fearful and politically paralyzed” to advance the peace process.

This prompted former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren to comment in The Algemeiner: “Really? Netanyahu is one of Obama’s ‘deepest disappointments’ as a Middle East leader? More disappointing than Syrian President [Bashar] Assad? Than former Iranian President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad? Than ISIS [Islamic State] chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?” I would also add to Oren’s list our “peace partner” Abbas, who blesses the blood of those who murder us. Not to mention the Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whom Obama has befriended despite his repeated calls for the destruction of Israel.

In the same week, The Wall Street Journal outlined alternative White House initiatives to impose punitive measures on Israel before Obama vacates office.

These include a United Nations Security Council resolution to force Israel to make concessions or, even worse, defining the future parameters of an agreement with the Palestinians without consulting Israel or ensuring its basic security needs – a step that the US had until now repeatedly vetoed.

Obama is also said to be actively encouraging European intervention, such as the French initiative that would endorse recognition of a Palestinian state if negotiations failed. The Wall Street Journal reported that Obama is also contemplating a joint statement exerting pressure on Israel from the Middle East Quartet – comprising the US, UN, European Union and Russia.

Vice President Joe Biden apparently paved the ground for this during his recent visit to the region when he proposed an initiative based on recognizing east Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital, an end to all settlement activity, Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and Palestinians forfeiting the Arab refugee right of return.

Even setting aside the current PA incitement to murder Israelis, no government could possibly contemplate accepting such proposals, which would dramatically endanger Israel’s security. To implement this would be utterly irresponsible, bearing in mind that in the absence of the Israel Defense Forces, Hamas and/or ISIS are poised to take over the corrupt and despised PA.

However, the Palestinian media has already announced that Abbas rejected Biden’s proposals – which clearly demonstrates that it is the elimination of Jewish regional sovereignty rather than attaining statehood that motivates the Palestinian leadership.

Strains in the relationship are also evident in the consistently hostile remarks against Jewish settlement even within the neighborhoods and areas of east Jerusalem that are 100% Jewish and will always be retained by Israel. Yet, aside from a vague indirect statement by Biden after a US tourist was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist, the administration has refused to condemn the PA or Abbas for their incitement to kill Jews and sanctification of murderers as heroes.

On top of this, there appear to be complications in the negotiations of the complex 10-year military aid package and Biden conveyed the message that Israel would not obtain the level of support it sought.

Under these circumstances and bearing in mind how Obama sandbagged him on his last visit, it is not surprising that Netanyahu is now reluctant to meet with the US president. Contrary to US administration press leaks, the White House was informed that Netanyahu is unlikely to come at this time to Washington, even if the pretext that he would be accused of intervening in the elections was flimsy.

These tensions with the US are concomitant with the enormous pressure that is building up against Israel in Europe and at other international levels.

This is also at a time when anti-Semitism – often expressed as anti-Israelism – in Europe and elsewhere has assumed tsunami levels. It is burgeoning at universities, including campuses in the US that have witnessed acts of anti-Semitic incitement and violence that have impacted heavily and for the first time even traumatized some American Jewish students. This has been aggravated by the fact that a number of alienated Jews have been promoted to the forefront of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and other anti-Israel campaigns.

Over the next year, Israel and the Jewish people may well be facing the greatest challenges since the Yom Kippur War. The chaos associated with the US elections only further complicates the issue.

One of the most frequent propaganda tactics employed against Israel is the false allegation that the barrier to a peace settlement is the fact that Israel is currently governed by the most right-wing government in its history. That Netanyahu has compromised far beyond the red lines drawn by the late Yitzhak Rabin, who is currently portrayed by the Left as the man of peace, is conveniently ignored.

Likewise, the international community does not appreciate that despite major differences concerning domestic social, economic and religious issues, each of the Zionist opposition parties, if empowered, would assume basically similar foreign and security policies to the current government. The overwhelming majority of the nation opposes annexation of the territories and remains committed to separating themselves from the Palestinians. However, there is broad consensus across all the Zionist political parties that, so long as the current Palestinian hatred and regional turmoil prevails, an independent Palestinian state cannot be contemplated.

A display of unity would go a long way toward defanging much of the poison of our adversaries, who allege that Israel’s foreign policy is a product of right-wing extremists. It would also provide a major impetus for Diaspora Jewry to act more courageously and decisively. In addition, it would neutralize the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) extremists threatening to bring down the government over issues such as access of non-Orthodox groups to the Western Wall or mikvehs, which would lead to further erosion of ties between Israel and American Jews in the midst of this crisis.

I have repeatedly maintained that there is a dire need for a broad unity government during these critical times. MKs Isaac Herzog, Yair Lapid and other opposition politicians provide fuel for our enemies by castigating the government. They would have a tremendous positive global impact were they to act responsibly and alter their approach, making it clear that the nation is united in its refusal to make further concessions that could undermine Israel’s security. Surely leaders of the principal opposition Zionist parties could temporarily maintain the status quo on domestic issues, suspend their parochial personal ambitions and agree to unite and confront our adversaries as a united people.

Besides, political leaders demonstrating a willingness to set aside short-term political advantage in order to promote the national interest would be acting in accordance with the desire of most Israelis and would gain considerable standing and support from the public. In our dysfunctional political system, accountability to the electorate is minimal. But under the present circumstances, public pressure could have an impact.

History will judge harshly those political leaders who, despite a virtual consensus, refuse to act in what is clearly the national interest.

Now is the time for our political leaders to stand up and be counted.

This information is compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman, Board Member of the Zionist Council of NSW