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Latest News in Israel – 18th January

Israeli mother of six murdered by terrorist in her home in front of three of her children

A Palestinian terrorist stabbed to death Dafna Meir, 39, in front of three of her children at the entrance to their home on Sunday evening in the West Bank settlement of Otniel.

The attacker then fled the scene in the South Hebron Hills and remained at large, as security forces launched a large-scale search.

It is the first time Palestinian terrorists have executed an attack inside a settlement since March 2011 when five members of the Fogel family were stabbed to death in their home in Itamar.

“I want to give strength to all the children of the family. All of us are hurting and share in the painful grief. We will find the terrorist, and he will pay the full price for this heinous murder,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Meir, mother of six, worked as a nurse in the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba.


According to an initial security assessment, the terrorist entered Otniel, came the Meir home, and stabbed her to death before fleeting the scene. Security forces set up roadblocks and conducted searches in surrounding areas.

Police said they were checking whether the attacker worked in Otniel, and whether the stab victim prevented him from entering the home, blocking his path at the entrance.

Paramedics at the scene attempted to revive Meir but eventually declared her dead.

A senior MDA paramedic, Noam Bar, who arrived at the stabbing scene, described encountering a difficult scene. “We saw a woman aged around 30 who was unconscious, with no breath or pulse. She suffered from stab wounds to her upper body. We attempted to resuscitate her for a lengthy amount of time, at the end of which, we were forced to pronounce her dead,” he said.

A second MDA paramedic, Haim Rubin, who resides in Otneil, described heartbreaking scene in which the response team had to move the woman’s children to another room as they attempted to save their mother’s life.

“An army force is [currently] pursuing the terrorist,” the IDF Spokesman Unit said in a statement.

The incident comes hours after a Palestinian knife attacker was shot dead while trying to stab Israelis at Hativa Square near Nablus, near the headquarters of the Samaria territorial Brigade. There were no injuries among soldiers in the attack. The attacker was shot dead by a Samaria Brigade unit that was guarding the area.

The IDF has been bracing for the possibility of increased intrusions by terrorists into settlements.

“This will not end tomorrow. The wave of terrorism will continue – no one can predict for how long,” a security source said in recent weeks

Commenting on the attack, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said “the murder today teaches us again about the kind of cruel and relentless enemy we are dealing with. Security forces – the IDF, Shin Bet, and Israel Police – will place their hands on the murderer and those who sent him, if someone sent him. We will not rest until we settle accounts with the terrorist, wherever he is.”

The struggle against Palestinian terrorism requires Israelis to be “determined, have a hand of iron, alongside patience, and sound judgment, as it places us before a complex challenges. Security forces are working day and night in this struggle, and will strike this terror too, as we have done to past attempts to harm the State of Israel and its citizens.”

President Reuven Rivlin called the South Hebron Hills Council head Yohai Damari and said,“”This is a horrific tragedy, and I am with you with all of my heart. This is shocking and terrible. At this time of grief, disbelief, and pain, I am sure you are focused on doing all that is needed in order to help the family and all the residents of the community.”              (Jerusalem Post)

Erdan: Lifting of Iran sanctions ushers in ‘new and dangerous era’

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that the implementation of the he Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) marks “a new and dangerous time in which Iran is free of most economic sanctions, without having to stop its nuclear plan and without having to give explanations about its military activity, as it had to in the past.”

Erdan pointed out Iran continues supplying arms to Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist groups, intervening in Gulf States’ internal affairs and violating UN Security Council decisions about developing ballistic missiles.

“This is a difficult day for all the countries in the region, which hoped that Iran will not be able to obtain nuclear weapons and stop its negative intervention in the area,” he said. “Israel will continue following and demand from the international community not to ignore Iranian violations, in order to ensure that they won’t be surprised like in the case of North Korea.”

World powers relieved sanctions on Iran after international monitors concluded the first phase of their landmark nuclear deal complete, marking the formal commencement of the accord, or “Implementation Day,” foreign ministers declared in Vienna on Saturday.

Implementation of  JCPOA– the formal name for the nuclear deal reached between world powers and Iran last summer– marks Tehran’s reentry into the global marketplace after decades cast in pariah status. The Islamic state will now have full and immediate access to tens of billions of dollars in unfrozen assets, a surge in business opportunities, and will be reconnected to the Society for the Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, or SWIFT, the world’s largest financial transactions network.

Iran’s greatest relief will come from the end of secondary sanctions imposed in 2010, which penalized non-US entities conducting business in Iran by cutting them out of the US financial sector. Tehran will particularly benefit from relief on its transportation and energy sectors, including the end of restrictions on the movement of its oil revenue and on its ability to purchase new aircraft.                       (Jerusalem Post)

Jewish-American Robert Levinson not included in prisoners released from Iran

Jewish-American Robert Levinson was not included in a prisoner exchange with Iran that came as the UN nuclear watchdog confirmed Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal and the West rolled back sanctions.

Iran on Saturday released five Americans it was holding in its prisons or in detention, four of them as part of a prison swap which included the release of Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist detained on espionage charges since 2014.

The exchange comes on “implementation day” of the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal Iran concluded last year with the United States and five other major powers.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, on Saturday confirmed that Iran has complied with the nuclear rollback component of the deal, which will trigger immediate sanctions relief.

President Obama and the European Union immediately ordered the suspension of a range of sanctions that had been imposed on Iran because of its suspected nuclear weapons program.

As part of the deal, Interpol removed 14 Iranians from its wanted list. A number of news agencies initially speculated that some of those named were suspected of involvement in the deadly deadly bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center, but this proved untrue and the reports were retracted. “Speculation that any of the 14 fugitives was at all connected to the bombing in Argentina is patently baseless and untrue,” a US official told JTA. “The fugitives faced sanctions or export control violations.”

Levinson, 68, of Coral Springs, Fla., has been missing for close to nine years. CNN quoted Levinson’s family as expressing happiness for the other families, but saying it was “devastated” that he was not among those released.

His family has acknowledged in recent years that Levinson, a father of seven, had been working for the CIA in a rogue operation at the time of his disappearance from Iran’s Kish Island.

Levinson is a private detective and former FBI agent. For years it had been reported that he was working as a private investigator when he disappeared.

Iran denies official involvement in his disappearance and the Washington Post quoted an anonymous US official as saying that as part of the exchange deal, Iran “committed to continue cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Robert Levinson.”        (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli troops kill two Palestinians in Gaza stone-throwing clash

Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians in a stone-throwing clash near the Gaza border on Friday, a Palestinian medical official said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said dozens of Palestinians had been rioting in the area and some had tried to breach the border with Israel. She said soldiers fired warning shots in the air before shooting at people across the fence.

Spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry Ashraf Al-Qidra said the two men killed, one an 18-year-old and the second aged 26, had been throwing stones along with dozens of others near the border.

Since the start of October at least 147 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, 93 of them as they tried to attack Israelis, according to Israeli authorities. Most of the others died in clashes with Israeli security forces.

In the same period, Palestinian stabbings, car-rammings and gun attacks have killed 24 Israelis and a US citizen.

The wave of such attacks has been fueled by Palestinian frustration over the collapse of peace talks, the growth of Jewish settlements on land Palestinians seek for a future state and Islamist calls for the destruction of Israel.

Also stoking the violence has been Muslim opposition to increased Israeli visits to Jerusalem’s al-Aksa mosque complex, which is one of the holiest sites in Islam and is revered in Judaism as the location of two biblical temples.              (Jerusalem Post)

EU: Agreements with Israel only apply within 1967 borders

Israel is battling an EU proposal that will be tabled next week in a meeting of European foreign ministers, which calls for all European Union countries to restrict its international agreements with Israel to within the 1967 borders, thus excluding the settlements.

Two months after introducing labeling for products imported from Israeli settlements, the EU is planning to further differentiate between the areas on either side of the Green Line.

The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council, which brings together European foreign ministers, is expected to approve on Tuesday a proposal that is liable to levy new sanctions against Israeli settlements and undermine their international legitimacy.

The proposal calls on all European Union countries to restrict their international agreements with Israel to within the 1967 borders, thus excluding the settlements.

The European External Action Service stands behind the initiative, and Christian Berger, an Austrian diplomat and the head of the Middle East department at the European Commission, has been particularly instrumental in its development.

Israel claims that Berger has for some time been leading an anti-Israel line and is pushing for sanctions against the settlements. Berger was a leading figure in the move to label settlement products.

The Foreign Ministry has received reports that Sweden adopted a decisive role in moving the proposal forward, during an already tense period in Israeli-Swedish relations in the wake of controversial remarks made by the Swedish foreign minister. Ireland, France and Finland are also pushing strongly for harsher wording against Israel.

The draft proposal, which was distributed to the EU’s 28 member states at the end of the week, stipulates that the EU will continue with the line that a clear distinction should be made between Israel and all the territory that was conquered in 1967, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The proposal also states that all international agreements between Israel and the 28 EU member states will apply only to Israeli territory inside the Green Line and not to the West Bank.

The wording of the proposal also ratifies the previous decision regarding labeling of settlement products, clarifying that the move does not constitute a boycott of Israel and that the EU opposes such an action.

The EU will also implicitly condemn Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s NGO transparency bill and will warn of the silencing of civil society, indicating that it will be forced to take measures to preserve the feasibility of the two-state solution.

Israel views the wording of the proposal with great concern and is working behind the scenes in order to soften the proposal. The Foreign Ministry has distributed guidance to Israeli ambassadors in Europe on how to respond to their contacts regarding the issue.

Policy officials in Israel said that the wording in the new proposal proves that the labeling initiative was never about consumer protection, as the EU claimed, but was in fact a political maneuver to fight against the settlements.

“This proves just how divorced from reality the European diplomatic service is,” said one official. “We want to prevent this document at all costs. It is liable to bring about new sanctions.”

A senior Israeli ambassador in Europe estimated that the chances of blocking the strong wording of the proposal are very low, and that it comes in response to Israel’s retaliation against the labeling initiative – a response that in effect froze collaborative efforts to advance European projects in the Palestinian territories.                        (Ynet News)

New surface to surface rockets going operational in the IDF

New surface-to-surface GPS-guided rockets are becoming operational in the IDF.

The Romach rockets, which can hit targets up to 35 kilometers away, will give the IDF’s Artillery Corps faster ways to respond to sudden security incidents on Israel’s borders, according to their manufacturer, Israel Military Industries (IMI).

Within seconds of an ‘open fire’ order, the Artillery Corps’ MLRS Battalion can use them hit enemy targets, including those whose coordinates have been pre-programmed into a target database, Eli Reiter, who heads IMI’s Rocket systems Division, said recently.

Reiter, a former senior IDF Armored Corps officer and ex-commander of Division 36, said these types of accurate surface to surface rockets can change the way the IDF deploys its firepower, creating new and faster alternatives to air strikes.

Romach rockets can strike targets within an accuracy range of under ten meters, and carry a 20-kilogram warhead.

The Romach will, for now, be loaded onto pods used by the IDF’s mobile M270 multiple launch rocket system. In the future, the IDF may acquire IMI’s truck-mounted artillery rocket launcher, called Lynx.

Lynx, which automatically recognizes which rockets have been loaded into it, can fire a range of guided projectiles with various ranges and warhead sizes.

The Romach is part of the IDF’s gradual increased reliance on guided surface to surface firepower provided by the Ground Forces.

Last summer, a senior IDF officer provided details to The Jerusalem Post about the Artillery Corps Pere platform, which is designed to look like a tank from the outside, but is in fact an armored guided-missile launcher that can strike enemy targets up to 30 km. away.

The Pere platform, which was converted from the M48 (Magah) tank by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, has been in existence since the early 1980s, when it was deployed to meet the threat of massive Syrian tank formations. But it is only now that the IDF is prepared to officially acknowledge it.

During Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, the Pere fired 433 missiles at Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza.

At no time did the Pere cross the border into Gaza, as all of its targets were within range of its Tamuz [Spike non line of sight] guided missiles.

The IDF Northern Command has in the past called on the Pere to strike targets in Syria, in response to cross-border fire or terrorist attacks launched by Hezbollah.    (Jerusalem Post)

Israel’s air force bids adieu to trusty old warhorse – the Skyhawk

The year was 1969. Ran Goren, an IAF pilot who flew the Skyhawk, was given a rare mission for those times. In a briefing held by the commander of his squadron, Ezra Dotan, Goren was instructed to lead an aerial assault on the heart of Cairo, with the target being a military encampment there.

“This was a pretty rare attack,” Maj.-Gen. (res.) Goren recalled. “Usually those kinds of missions were carried out by Phantoms, and there were times when they would throw some crumbs at Skyhawk pilots.”

“The squadron in which I served as deputy commander received a one-off mission to attack an encampment in Cairo,” he said. “We were given two planes, and the commander of the squadron assigned himself and me to the task. And he surprised me when he said that I would be the one leading the attack.”

“We flew without escort deep into Egyptian territory at low altitude at great risk to our lives,” he said. “We dropped the bombs, and returned safely.”

This week, the Israel Air Force officially retired its fleet of Skyhawks – or, as it was known by its Hebraized version, the Ayit (“eagle”). It marks the end of an era that spanned 48 years – nearly half-a-century in which the fighter jet served Israel’s air force in both an operational and instructional capacity.

Three former air force pilots – current IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel; Planning Branch director Maj.-Gen. Amikam Nurkin; and the Personnel Directorate commander Hagai Toplansky – strapped themselves into the cockpit of three Skyhawks for one last honorary flyover in the skies above Israel and its air force bases.

“The eagle has landed for the last time,” Eshel announced on the military’s official broadcast communications after his plane touched down at Hatzerim air force base near Beersheba.

That remark was the final exclamation point for an airplane that was directly responsible for some of the Israeli air force’s most spectacular success stories. It’s a fighter jet whose place in Israel’s military history is secure – from taking part in key battles to push back Syrian and Egyptian fighter planes to other missions in which the pilots knew that they were operating a piece of war machinery that offered numerous advantages as well as disadvantages.

“The Skyhawk is a workhorse,” Goren said. “It’s an airplane that can carry a great deal of ammunition relative to its weight. It can fly great distances and it is very fuel-efficient. But it does have a disadvantage in that it doesn’t have any afterburners, and this hinders it when it comes to dogfights and avoiding surface-to-air missiles. This is why a number of them were shot down during the Yom Kippur War.”

“Also, its speed is not that great, but its ability to carry a large payload across vast distances together with the ease in which it was maintained made it a very efficient tool of war.”

The Skyhawk marked the start of the Israel Defense Forces’ use of American military hardware, which became a necessity following the French arms embargo imposed on Israel by then-president Charles de Gaulle in 1967, shortly before the Six-Day War.

“For years, we dreamt of getting our hands on American planes, which were the best planes out there of all air forces,” said Lt.-Col. (res.) Yossi Sarig, the commander of the 102nd squadron, Israel’s first squadron of Skyhawks.

“When we first flew the planes, we immediately understood its great potential and capabilities,” he said. “One Skyhawk was capable of doing the work of five French planes. It carried a great deal of ammunition. It flew long distances.”

“This was the first time that the air force was capable of flying anywhere in the world since it had an ability to refuel in the air,” he said. “It’s a small plane, but it was lightning quick and it had great momentum.”

“We discovered capabilities that we never dreamed of. To get the first batch of planes was like a kid walking into a toy store and not knowing what to pick due to sheer excitement.”

The Skyhawk’s biggest contribution came during the War of Attrition, just two years after it was first integrated into the air force.

“At the time, there were four squadrons that were flying sorties at an unbelievable rate, round the clock,” said Goren. “I flew primarily to the Suez Canal, day and night, irrespective of weather conditions. We carried out dangerous missions under the moonlight and we attacked artillery batteries, infantry encampments, and surface-to-air missile silos that were moved to the front.”

“The Skyhawk did the heavy lifting in that war, certainly from a quantity standpoint,” he said. “When the Yom Kippur War came around, the Phantom was now in widespread use, but the Skyhawk was still active. It was deployed to help out the ground operations, and it played a major role in stopping the advancing forces on both the Syrian and Egyptian fronts in the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula, respectively.”

Video link of Israeli Skyhawks in action

(Jerusalem Post)

Navy: Hezbollah may strike Israeli ships from Syria with Russian made missiles

“Syria possesses Russian-made Yachont missiles, and there is the feeling that they have also made their way into the hands of Hezbollah,” a senior Israel Navy officer told The Jerusalem Post’s Hebrew-language sister publication Ma’ariv.

“In any event, our working assumption is that [the Lebanese Shi’ite organization] will launch those missiles from Syria,” the officer said.

The naval commander listed a number of maritime threats with which Israel must contend, ranging from Hezbollah and Syria in the north to ISIS and Hamas in the south.

When asked if ISIS or any other rejectionist group poses a threat to Israel, the official said: “We are taking into account that anyone holding a weapon will use it at some point.”

The official said that the defense establishment believes the Yachont poses the greatest threat to Israel’s ships and submarines, adding that the supersonic cruise missiles are being housed in facilities controlled by the Assad regime.

According to foreign reports, Israel has thwarted several attempts by the Assad regime to transfer weapons to Hezbollah, considering it a red line that cannot be crossed.

The senior official added that the missiles pose the greatest threat to strategic assets controlled by Israel and is deeply concerned that it could elude the newly developed Barak 8 missile defense system.

“Hezbollah has in its possession a broad spectrum of missiles” in its arsenal, the official stressed. “Any ship that leaves our docks is now at threat.”

Not a week goes by in which the Navy does not practice against such attack scenarios, the official said, adding that the Navy also conducts training exercises that protects Israel from possible infiltration , attacks on its ports and  underwater vessel hijackings                   (Jerusalem Post)

In the absence of a foreign minister

Boycotting IKEA is not the answer to Sweden’s comments against Israel. The European Union is not our enemy. By realizing this, Yair Lapid got Mogherini to declare she opposes the BDS movement. Why can’t the government realize it too?

by  Ben-Dror Yemini              Ynet News


The European Union is not the enemy. There is extensive cooperation between Israel and the EU, and the advantages of this cooperation to the Israeli economy are priceless. There is no boycott against Israel, nor on settlement products. There’s a labeling of products, which is annoying, unnecessary, and is a result of encouragement from the BDS campaign, among other reasons. But it’s not a boycott.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini declared that she opposes the BDS movement at a meeting with Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid. Why is it, one wonders, that none of the ministers of the Israeli government were able to get such a statement from her?

The answer is obvious – the government has no foreign minister. But Lapid has been operating as a foreign minister over the past few months. Not Israel’s, nor the government’s. That’s not his job, the punctilious would say – and they’re right. But he serves the national interest, and that’s what’s important. His positions on settlements, for example, are well known. He is merely proving that you can be against the government and in favor of Israel. That’s something the left-wing is unable to comprehend, and that’s a shame.

The real problem is the EU’s large-scale support of organizations and entities that back the BDS movement. Most of the EU’s parliament members don’t know about this support. The decisions are mostly made by the European Commission. This is the reign of the bureaucrats.

In that sense, Mogherini’s declaration must lead to action: Stopping EU support of the BDS movement. It is, after all, absurd – more than absurd – that the EU provides backing to organizations that support the destruction of Israel.

The usual excuse from EU spokespeople is that the EU’s support is only of human rights projects. That’s feigning innocence. These organizations’ main activity is in the campaign for the destruction of Israel through the demand for the “right of return” and through demonization.

The EU can be persuaded, but not with counter-boycotts. Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s call to boycott IKEA products because of Sweden’s controversial statements against Israel is akin to scoring a goal against your own team. If the Swedish foreign minister’s comments justify a boycott against her country, then the occupation provides justification for the boycott against Israel.

Israel needs to reconcile with the heads of the EU, not call for war. They can sometimes be irritating, but they’re not our enemies. Yair Lapid can understand that, and is achieving something. It’s unclear why the Israeli government refuses to understand that.

How (and Why) Palestinian Leaders Scare the World

by Khaled Abu Toameh               The Gatestone Institute


Abbas has perfected the art of financial extortion. Every Monday and Thursday, as it were, the Palestinian Authority (PA) president has threatened to resign and/or dissolve the PA. This tactic has a twofold aim: cold hard European and American cash, and a gaze directed away from the PA’s turmoil.

The PA wants the following response from the international community: “Oh my God, we must do something to salvage the peace process. We need to put even more pressure on these Israelis before matters get out of hand.”

Abbas wants the world’s eyes on Israel — and Israel alone. That way, the fierce behind-the-scenes battle for succession that has been raging among the top brass of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank will stay far from the limelight.

The PA seeks a solution imposed upon Israel by the international community. Why negotiate when Western powers are prepared to do everything to see Israel brought to its knees?

What do you do when your home has become hell?

If you are Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, you divert attention from the mess as fast as possible.

For a start, Abbas is trying to scare the international community into believing that without increased pressure on Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) will be forced to resort to unilateral measures, such as attempting to create new “facts on the ground” in the West Bank.

Next, Abbas is threatening to renew the Palestinian call for convening an international conference for peace in the Middle East and to step up rhetorical attacks against Israel.

Finally, Abbas has perfected the art of financial extortion. Every Monday and Thursday, as it were, the PA president has threatened to resign and/or dissolve the PA. This tactic has a twofold aim: cold hard European and American cash and a gaze directed away from the PA’s turmoil.

Abbas wants the world’s eyes on Israel — and Israel alone. That way, the fierce behind-the-scenes battle for succession that has been raging among the top brass of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank will stay far from the limelight.

This week, Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, announced that the Palestinian Authority was coordinating with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in order to create “facts on the ground” to establish a Palestinian state.

This announcement was designed to tighten the international screws on Israel. The threat to “create facts on the ground” was a direct message to the US and the EU that they had better push Israel farther — and faster — or the Palestinians would be left with no recourse but to build in Area C of the West Bank, currently under exclusive Israeli control.

Yet Palestinian building in Area C is not just a threat. In fact, and thanks to the financial and logistical aid of the EU, Palestinians have already begun building that project in some parts of the West Bank.

What the PA wants is the following response from the international community: “Oh my God, we must do something to salvage the peace process. We need to put even more pressure on these Israelis before matters get out of hand.”

The PA seeks a solution imposed upon Israel by the international community. This has been quite clear for some time, but the PA spokesman’s recent announcement leaves no room for doubt. Abbas has no incentive whatsoever to return to the negotiating table with Israel. Why negotiate when Western powers are prepared to do everything to see Israel brought to its knees?

As part of this strategy, Abbas last week renewed his call for an international conference to discuss “ways of solving the Palestinian cause.” According to the PA president, the international community that has reached understandings that Syria, Libya and Iran should be able to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This is nothing but an Abbas scare-tactics redux. Radical Islam and terrorism, so we are to believe, will be conquered by solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The president of the PA desires to implant in the minds of the West a direct link between the Islamic State terror group (ISIS) and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But Abbas might have done well to check in with his sources. ISIS and the other terror groups currently destroying the Arab world do not give a damn about Israeli settlements or checkpoints. Nor is a two-state solution on their docket. These groups have a different agenda — to conquer the world and establish an Islamic empire. En route to achieving their aim, the Muslim terrorists will kill “apostates” and “infidels” including Abbas and other Arab leaders.

“President Abbas’s call for an international conference reflects the state of confusion and wallowing he is in,” remarked former Palestinian cabinet minister Hassan Asfour. “The appeal is designed to search for an unclear and jellied formula and it has no legitimacy.” Asfour noted that there was no need for such a conference, in light of the fact that the UN already recognized a Palestinian state in 2012.

So what exactly is Abbas trying to achieve? For the most part, Palestinian political analysts are convinced that the eighty-year-old president, who is about to enter the eleventh year of his four-year term in office, is simply seeking to hold onto the reins of power. The best way to do so, they argue, is by keeping up the buzz about international conferences and potential Palestinian unilateral moves on the ground.

In order to run the Palestinian show until his last day, Abbas needs to divert attention from the battle of succession that has hit the spotlight in the past few days. Top Fatah officials have been pushing him to appoint a deputy president, in the hope of forestalling a power vacuum upon his departure from the scene for one reason or another.

These officials have long censured Abbas for running the PA as if it were his private fiefdom. Among the critics are Jibril Rajoub, Tawkif Tirawi, Mohamed Dahlan, Salam Fayyad and Yasser Abed Rabbo — all of whom regard themselves as potential successors to his seat.

Meanwhile, Abbas’s preferred candidate for deputy president appears to be none other than Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s chief negotiator who was recently upgraded to the post of PLO Secretary-General. This choice, however, is not going down well with Fatah officials, many of whom have expressed their opposition to the attempt to pave the way for Erekat to become the next Palestinian president.

A direct link does exist, then, but it is not, as Abbas contends, one between ISIS and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The true direct link is between the urgency Abbas feels at home to prop up a crumbling empire and his intimidation of the international community. In other words, when Abbas feels the heat, Israel is thrown into the fire.

When the world’s newest Islamic republic honors the Jewish state

by Raphael Ahren                   The Times of Israel


A month after Gambia declared itself an “Islamic Republic,” its longtime ruler this week warmly hosted the ambassador of the world’s only Jewish state.

Israel’s Ambassador Paul Hirschson on Tuesday inspected a presidential honor guard in the capital Banjul before he handed his letters of credentials to Vice President Isatou Njie Saidy. The next day, he sat down for an hour-long chat with President Yahya Jammeh, who has been leading this tiny West African nation since taking power in a 1994 coup.

Gambia made headlines in early December when Jammeh officially changed his country’s name to the “Islamic Republic of the Gambia” in what he explained was a bid to better reflect the country’s religious identity. More than 95 percent of Gambia’s 1.9 million citizens are Muslims. Unsurprisingly, Banjul sympathizes with the Palestinians, but it has maintained cordial relations with Jerusalem over the years.

“They were warmly welcoming of my presence,” Hirschson said Thursday after concluding a three-day visit to Gambia, the smallest state on continental Africa. (Hirschson is based in Dakar, Senegal, and has ambassadorial responsibility for several countries in West Africa.) “They have good relations with the Palestinians and with the entire Arab and Muslim world, but they’re not shy to put a headline in the newspaper saying that the new Israeli ambassador was here and presented his credentials to the president.”

Hirschson, who was born in South Africa, was interviewed twice by local television stations during this week’s visit, and his photo appeared in several newspapers, including one front page.


“They’re absolutely not shy about their ties with Israel,” he told The Times of Israel from Dakar. “The president told me, ‘If we didn’t want you here, you would not be presenting your letters of credentials.’ That’s a verbatim quote. He is fully aware that this is a public decision that he took.”

The people Hirschson met on the streets of Gambia all knew he represented Israel and were all friendly and forthcoming, the ambassador added.

In his conversation with the Gambian president — who is addressed as His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh Babili Mansa — Hirschson discussed, among other things, the current turmoil shaking the Middle East and large parts of Africa.

“He definitely told me that there is a hell of a lot of instability in our region and that we [Israel] should do our part to try to calm things down,” Hirschson said. “This reflects a genuine concern not only in Gambia but across the region that there is some sort of instability overload, reaching from here [West Africa] to Iran, with a few islands of stability, including Israel. People are on edge about this.”

The leader of the world’s newest Islamic state candidly told the Israeli envoy that while Gambia and Israel are friends, Banjul does not always agree with all of Jerusalem’s policies. According to Hirschson, Jammeh holds both Israelis and Palestinians responsible for the deadlock in the peace process. “He also has criticism about the Palestinians and the Arab world, and he voices that as well,” the Israeli envoy said. “He said he is friends with both and that he’s neutral in the conflict. By that, I think he meant he supports both sides.”

What’s in a name?

In a world feeling acutely threatened by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and with the Islamic Republic of Iran widely recognized as a leading state sponsor of terrorism, why did President Jammeh choose this moment to add “Islamic” to his country’s name?

To hear the president, the decision was straightforward. “Recently, I pronounced the Gambia as an Islamic State and Republic on the basis that the majority of Gambians are Muslims and the need to uphold the country’s Islamic identity and faith in an environment where the rights of all citizens would be safeguarded and respected,” he explained during his annual New Year’s address.

Jammeh, who calls himself the “Chief Custodian of the Sacred Constitution of the Gambia,” further called on Muslims and Christians to “work in harmony for the common good of the country regardless of our ethno-linguistic differences” and to “eradicate tribalism” because it is shunned by Allah. “Let us live as one strong and united family,” he said, “and be each other’s keeper; be devout Muslims and patriotic citizens as well.”

Gambia’s change of name may be more than mere semantics, however. On January 4, the president decreed that women who work for the government — the country’s single largest employer — must cover their hair during work hours, though they were allowed to go bareheaded after they concludes their shifts. By Thursday, Jammeh had reportedly rescinded the executive order.

There is also talk of changing the country’s flag to reflect its new identity. Naturally, Gambia’s tiny Christian minority “is beginning to get worried,” Sidi Sanneh, a former Gambian diplomat and prominent dissident, told the Economist newspaper last week.

But Hirschson, who is also Israel’s ambassador to Senegal, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau, is convinced the name change does not indicate a desire to become a more deeply religious or radical regime.

“When we hear this term — Islamic state — it conjures all kinds of images of Iran and ISIS,” he said. That was not the impression Hirschson got during his three-day visit. “This is no fundamentalist society by any means. They are religious and conservative, but they are also open and friendly and welcoming. Alcohol is being sold freely and tourists and women in bikinis walk around. There’s music in the streets and everybody is perfectly laid back.”

Citing the president, Hirschson said the name change mainly served to distance the state from its colonial past — in 2013 Jammeh left the Commonwealth for the same reason — and to embrace the religious identity of a large majority of its citizens.

But there are likely other reasons for Jammeh’s move as well, including some having to do with his country’s dire poverty: The recent Ebola outbreak drove tourists away. And due to the state’s poor human rights record, financial assistance from European states has halted. Officially declaring the republic an “Islamic state” may helps endear Gambia to wealthy Arab states, especially in the Gulf region.

Also, the country is currently bidding to host the 2018 summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a major event that could boost its economy tremendously. Gambia’s new moniker certainly won’t hurt in that effort.

Still, Hirschson cautioned against dismissing Gambia’s re-branding as economic opportunism.

“You press a button and you never know how it’s going to play out,” the Israeli diplomat said, hinting that calling yourself an “Islamic state” could yet prove a slippery slope with unforeseen consequences, he posited. “You’re not really the master of your future. These things sometimes take on a life of their own.”