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Latest News in Israel – 19th April

Police: Jerusalem public bus explosion caused by bomb

In an unnerving reminder of the terrorist attacks on buses during the second intifada more than a decade ago, 21 people were injured, two critically, when a bomb exploded on Egged bus number 12 in Jerusalem’s Talpiot industrial area Monday afternoon causing a huge blaze.

Remarkably, no deaths were reported following the carnage on Bar-Am Street, where two Egged buses and a third vehicle were reduced to skeletons of charred steel.

After initial confusion about the cause of the inferno, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a forensics team, aided by bomb disposal experts at the site, confirmed the fires were ignited by an explosive device.

Reports circulated Monday night that one of the critically injured passengers was the one who detonated the bomb. “What we confirmed is that the remains of an explosive device were found on one of the buses,” said Rosenfeld.

“We are still questioning people who are in the hospital to determine what happened moments before the explosion… We’re working carefully and cautiously to confirm whether it was a terrorist attack.”

Rosenfeld said police were reluctant to confirm the explosion was a terrorist attack until an investigation by police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) was officially finalized.

A first-responder said that the fires were reported at 5:45 p.m.

“When the first call came in, it was involving two buses, and we immediately declared it a mass casualty incident,” said Daniel Katzenstein, an EMT and spokesman from United Hatzalah, while standing a few meters from the burned buses, and a charred blue car that caught fire.

“We got there when the buses were fully engulfed, and it was not clear if the fire was from an explosion or some kind of [malfunction]. Volunteers from around the area rushed to scene.”

Katzenstein said the victims were initially treated by ambucycle paramedics because ambulances were trapped in heavy traffic caused by the explosion.

He said that all the victims were treated on site, and promptly transferred to Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Hadassah-University Medical Center in Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus. Late last night, 18 people were still hospitalized, seven in moderate condition and the rest lightly wounded.

At the scene, dozens of officers and IDF personnel cordoned off the area for one kilometer in all directions, while over 100 paramedics, firemen and forensics specialists secured and investigated the area.

A sea of white foam used by firefighters to put out the blazes remained next to the charred remains, surrounded by shattered glass from the buses’ windows. Hundreds of passersby stood nervously outside police lines attempting to learn what happened.

Jerusalem Fire Department Team Leader Aric Abouloff, whose face was partially covered in soot, said six fire trucks, a tanker and rescue vehicle were dispatched to the scene.

“The moment we got here we saw that one of the buses was completely on fire, and a private blue car next to it was also on fire,” he said.

“A second bus behind the first bus also caught on fire, so we immediately started to put out the fires using foam, and after we put it out made a quick search inside the buses and vehicle to make sure that no one was trapped inside.”

Abouloff said it took 30 minutes to put out the blazes, adding that he was astonished that no one was killed.

“There was a lot of luck here today,” he said. “It could have been much worse.”

On Monday night, Hadassah- University Medical Center spokeswoman Hadar Elboim said seven victims are being treated at its Ein Kerem hospital and three are at the Mount Scopus hospital.

“Four of the patients at Ein Kerem are in moderate-to-serious condition and the three being treated at Mount Scopus are in light condition,” said Elboim.

Meanwhile Shaare Zedek Medical Center spokeswoman Shoham Ruvio said one unidentified man, who is in critical condition, was undergoing emergency surgery at 9 p.m. “One man is in very, very critical condition, and we have two others in moderate condition and seven other in very light condition,” she said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the explosion and fires to a stunned crowd during a speech marking the founding of the Irgun he delivered in Binyamina on Monday evening.

“We will find whoever prepared and dispatched the explosives, as well as those who helped them,” he said. “We will settle accounts with these terrorists.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyhau after Jerusalem bus explosion: We will settle accounts with terrorists

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed a stunned crowd of the suspected Jerusalem bus bombing during a speech he delivered in Binyamina on Monday evening marking 85 years to the founding of the Irgun.

“We will find whoever prepared and dispatched the explosives, as well as those who helped them,” he said. “We will settle accounts with those terrorists.”

Police confirmed that a bus explosion in the industrial area of Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood early Monday evening that wounded 21 people, including one critically, was the result of a bomb, but still stopped short of declaring it a terrorist attack.

President Reuven Rivlin offered his prayers for those wounded in the incident. He referred to the IDF’s uncovering in the morning of a tunnel leading from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.

“On a day like this when in the morning, our dedicated security forces uncover a tunnel of destruction in the South and then in the evening shocked civilians are taken to the hospital at the end of a routine day, it is clear to everyone that our fight against terror will not end. We will chase and catch any person that seeks to do us harm until quiet is achieved,” Rivlin said.

Head of the Joint List Ayman Odeh condemned the attack as well but he also attacked Netanyahu.

“I forcefully condemn the explosion today in Jerusalem in which many civilians were wounded. Harming civilians is unacceptable and it also harms the just Palestinian struggle to end the occupation,” Odeh said.

“The Netanyahu government feeds the cycle of violence, and is fed by it. Desperation is the fertile ground for terror and only a diplomatic settlement will bring security to the two nations,” he added.           (Jerusalem Post)

A return to the bad old days?

by David  Brinn    The Jerusalem Post


Whether this was a one-time aberration or a hint of things to come, one thing is for certain. When we get on our bus Tuesday, we’ll have something new to think about.

For anyone who lived through the second intifada, Monday afternoon’s bus explosion in Jerusalem brought the past back to the present in an alarming fashion.

It was the same routine that became a ghastly second nature more than a decade ago – the media pounced on the story, the murky details began to emerge, the numbers of injured and their conditions were updated by the minute, their efficient evacuation to area hospitals were covered like a sporting event play-by-play.

During that first hour or so, the only hope that could be grasped to like a lifeline was the possibility that a malfunction led to the blaze on the Egged bus whose shell sat like a scarred skeleton on one of Jerusalem’s main thoroughfares.

That would have been a horrible tragedy, but it was one we could deal with rationally.

But as the smoke cleared, literally and figuratively, and it became apparent that this was a terrorist attack caused by an exploding bomb, the gruesome memories of the relentless string of bus attacks from the past flooded back.

Only days after security briefings pointed to a noticeable drop in knife-intifada terrorist attacks in recent weeks, but also warned of a possible uptick ahead of Passover, the worst-case scenario came true.

It could have been much worse, with major loss of life. But the body count isn’t as important as the psychological effect.

No matter how many knifings or rammings took place in the last few months, there was still a sense of security – we have fences, walls, barriers and checkpoints. Buses don’t blow up anymore.

On Monday, that illusion was shattered. Whether this was a one-time aberration or a hint of things to come, one thing is for certain. When we get on our bus Tuesday, we’ll have something new to think about.

IDF uncovers Hamas tunnel stretching from Gaza into Israel

The IDF detected a deep Hamas cross-border tunnel in recent days, stretching from the southern Gaza Strip into Israel. The discovery of the tunnel was kept under a media ban until Monday morning.

The tunnel is 30 meters deep, and was likely dug after the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, according to IDF assessments, though this has not been fully verified.

A senior security source said a “systematic, intelligence-based, technological, engineering, and operational” approach resulted in the finding of the tunnel. “We have to turn this event, of finding a tunnel, into a technique, and find more tunnels,” he added.

“The challenge is very big. The tunnels are very deep. We have capabilities that do not exist anywhere else in the world. We can detect, at depths of 30 to 40 meters,” the source said. “It is a very complex process.” He declined to discuss the technological detection techniques, which remain classified, saying only that “we have developed all sorts of capabilities in recent years, and they have reached the fruition stage.” According to defense sources, prior to Operation Protective Edge, the defense establishment was able to find tunnels through randomly drilling holes next to each other along the Gaza border.

“This [the discovery] was not random, but the result of a pattern. It is a technique that identified their tunnel,” the source added.

A second defense source said Israel is “in a different place” compared to where it was prior to the 2014 conflict when it came to finding tunnels.

The Israeli defense establishment assesses that Hamas is digging several additional attack tunnels, and that these have likely come to within a few meters of the border, but have not yet crossed it.

Diggers could be ordered to tunnel under the Israeli border when an escalation looks imminent. With Israel’s new detection capabilities in place, however, it remains unclear how worthwhile it is for Hamas to continue to invest millions of shekels and hire thousands of diggers for its tunnel networks.

The IDF’s Gaza Division, which belongs to the Southern Command, has placed counter-tunnel measures – detecting and destroying them – as its number one priority in 2016. Many units, some of them technical, have been engaged in overt and covert capabilities as part of the effort.

“The tunnels are a very serious threat,” the source said, though he added that it “is not a strategic threat.” “In this case, we proved our ability to identify a deep space and to strike it. We know how to strike it, and this is a huge challenge,” he added.

He described a process that fused intelligence, engineering, and operational capabilities to locate and destroy the subterranean threat from Gaza. “If we can do this, detect and destroy them, and achieve it without reaching an escalation, that is our set mission. If this does lead to an escalation, it will not deter us either,” the source said.

“Or enemy is sophisticated. Hamas is not a group of idiots,” the officer warned. “Hamas draws lessons.” He added that the IDF is “always operating under the severe assumption that there are more intrusive tunnels out there.” The latest tunnel is similar to the “family of tunnels” the IDF exposed in Operation Protective Edge, the officer said.        (Jerusalem Post)

Ya’alon: Israel will deliver ‘very hard hit’ if Hamas seeks escalation in South

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Monday warned Hamas against seeking a new confrontation with Israel after it was revealed that a tunnel crossing the Gaza border was found in Israeli territory.

“We have no illusion when it comes to Hamas’s intentions. Even before Operation Protective Edge, during the operation, and of course, after it, we dedicated many efforts – technological, intelligence, and operational – to discovering tunnels from the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Ya’alon added that throughout the years, Israel discovered “many tunnels,” adding that “we are continuing to focus huge efforts toward that.”

In tunnel detection missions, most of which are hidden from view, the best of the state of Israel’s forces are involved, from the IDF, the Shin Bet, and defense industries.”

Tunnel detection is at the top of the defense establishment’s priorities, Ya’alon said.

In recent months, Hamas has suffered from the collapse of a number of tunnels, the defense minister noted, saying that “diggers were killed during their work. And now a tunnel has been detected. Nevertheless, we do not delude ourselves that Hamas will draw the lesson and stop dealing with this, and that it will turn to assisting and improving the fabric of life in the Gaza Strip, or tend to the welfare of residents there.”

Israel is not seeking a confrontation, Ya’alon said, “but if Hamas tries to challenge the State of Israel, or disrupt the lives of Gaza border residents, it will be hit very hard. We will not tolerate such attempts.” The defense minister called on southern residents living near the Strip to “continue with their daily routines,” and urged the remainder of Israeli citizens to “visit the south of the country during the coming holiday.”

Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett also responded to the discovery, saying: “Like we warned, Hamas was not deterred from building itself up in the two years that have passed since Operation Protective Edge.”

“Hamas defined tunnel-digging a ‘national project,’ with the goal of infiltrating into Israel,” he said. “It’s a national goal for them, and it’s time we internalize that.”

The minister continued, saying that Hamas strives to strike Israel with “a surprise multi-faceted attack – a sort of ‘Yom Kippur’ scenario of terror,” which would weave in elements of infiltration, kidnapping, and murder.

“It is Israel’s duty to restore a sense of security to citizens of the South, and prevent this from happening – at any price,” Bennett said. “Israel can’t count on the assumption that Hamas is deterred.”

In addition, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman responded to the reports that a cross-border tunnel from Gaza to Israel was uncovered by the IDF.

“The recently uncovered tunnel is a hard hit to Israel – and further proof that the leadership of Netanyahu and  Ya’alon enables Hamas to continue building up its resources and grow stronger, endangering the lives of citizens of the south and the security of Israel.”

“This probably isn’t the only cross-border tunnel that infiltrates into Israel,” he added. “If our policy doesn’t change, Hamas will continue digging and arming themselves – threatening our security.”

Yesh Atid MK Haim Jelin, who formerly served as the head of the Eshkol Regional Council and is a resident of the Gaza border community of Nahal Oz, called on Israel to work to destroy such tunnels, while also advancing a diplomatic initiative on a parallel track.

“This tunnel must be destroyed immediately, we shouldn’t wait, we should destroy every tunnel that enters Israel. To destroy every tunnel that we know they  have started to build, just as we assassinate terror cells that are set to fire rockets into Israel.”

Jelin said that Hamas must be stopped from digging tunnels, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take action. “Mr. Prime Minister, this is your responsibility. We are strong and prepared to take a lot, on one condition: that there will be a diplomatic horizon for the whole region.”

“You need to hit them before they come out of the ground, and at the same time to initiate a long-term  ‘hudna’ agreement with the moderate Arab states, the US and Europe,” he said, using the Arabic word for truce.                       (Jerusalem Post)

Syrian official answers Netanyahu: We will use all available means to recapture the Golan

Syria is prepared to use military means to recapture the Golan Heights, Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad said on Sunday, shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel will never leave the strategic area.

Netanyahu’s comments came during a first-ever cabinet meeting held on the Golan Heights, a symbolic move designed to underscore Israel’s claim to the area as UN-led peace talks on the future of Syria are being held in Geneva.

“The time has come for the international community to recognize reality,” Netanyahu said at the opening of the meeting held at Ma’aleh Gamla. “First, that whatever will be on the other side of the border, the border will not change.

“Secondly,” Netanyahu added, “the time has come, after 50 years, for the international community to finally recognize that the Golan Heights will remain forever under Israeli sovereignty.”

Israel took the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six Day War, and in 1981 extended Israeli law to the region, thereby de facto annexing it.

“I decided to hold this meeting on the Golan Heights to send a clear message,” he said. “The Golan Heights will always stay in Israeli hands, Israel will never leave the Golan Heights.”

Miqdad, however, said in an interview with the Lebanon- based Al-Mayadeen television channel that “the Syrian Golan is an occupied Arab land according to the UN Security Council’s resolutions, and the presence of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Forces proves this.

“We have never renounced the resistance and we are ready to recapture the Golan in all possible ways, including military ways. Israel wants to provoke us, but we will never surrender,” Miqdad added.

Netanyahu said the Golan was an integral part of Israel during antiquity, a fact borne out by the archeological remnants of dozens of synagogues there. And, he added, the Golan – which he said now has some 50,000 residents – is an integral part of Israel during the modern era.

“For the 19 years that the Golan was under Syrian occupation, it served as a place for bunkers, barbed wires, mines, and aggression – it was used for war,” he said. “In the 49 years that the Golan has been under Israeli control it was used for agriculture, tourism, economic initiatives, building – it was used for peace.”

Netanyahu said he spoke on Saturday night with US Secretary of State John Kerry, and told the American diplomat he doubted that Syria would ever return to what it was before the civil war there began five years ago.

“It has persecuted minorities, like the Christians, Druse and Kurds, who are fighting justifiably for their future and their security. And, on the other side, there are terrorist forces, especially Islamic State, Iran, Hezbollah and others, who want to impose radical Islam on Syria and the region, and from there to continue on to impose it throughout the world.”

Netanyahu said he told Kerry that Israel would not oppose a diplomatic agreement in Syria, “on the condition that it does not come at the expense of Israeli security.”

That means, he added, that, at the end of the day, Iranian, Hezbollah and Islamic State forces will be removed from Syrian soil.

The prime minister is expected to raise this issue on Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he is scheduled to meet in Moscow. Putin is a key international backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Russia is involved in the Geneva talks.

Miqdad, meanwhile, said Damascus is in close contact and cooperation with Moscow.

“We believe that the Russian policy leans on international law and on UN Security Council resolutions,” he said. “Neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor any other president in the world would have accepted the indecent Israeli logic regarding the Golan.”

The cabinet ministers flew to the Golan in two helicopters, one that left from Jerusalem, and the other from Tel Aviv. Once they landed near Moshav Yonatan, most of them piled into a minibus for the short drive to Ma’aleh Gamla. The exceptions were Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who were driven in their own vehicles, with National Infrastructure, Water and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz joining Netanyahu in his car.

The ministers were met at the entrance to Ma’aleh Gamla by a small group of demonstrators protesting against oil drilling on the Golan Heights.

They also met with local council heads. Netanyahu pledged to strengthen the communities in the region.   (Jerusalem Post)

Jordan abandons plan to install cameras on Temple Mount

Following fierce Palestinian protests and threats, Jordan said on Monday that it has abandoned its plan to install security cameras at the Temple Mount.

The decision to drop the plan was announced by Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour.

The security cameras were supposed to be installed at the Temple Mount in accordance with an agreement reached late last year between Israel and Jordan under the auspices of US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Ensour said that Jordan would “always remain at the forefront of those defending Palestine, its cause, people and holy sites.”

Last week, Palestinian activists distributed leaflets at the Temple Mount warning Jordan against the installation of the security cameras. The leaflets urged Palestinians to break the cameras when and if they are installed.

The Islamic Movement – Northern Branch in Israel, headed by Sheikh Raed Salah, has also voiced strong opposition to the installment of the security cameras at the Temple Mount.

The Palestinians argue that the cameras would be used by Israel to identify and arrest Muslim worshipers and activists opposed to visits by Jews to the Temple Mount. In recent months, scores of male and female activists calling themselves murabitoun and murabitat have been harassing non-Muslims touring the Temple Mount under police protection.

The Jerusalem Police has detained several activists, some of whom have been served with orders barring them from entering the Temple Mount compound for weeks and months for security reasons.

Last month, the Jordanian government announced that the security cameras would be installed “within days.” The Jordanians even dispatched a team of engineers and technicians to the site to prepare for the installation of the cameras.

The announcement came shortly after Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh met in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and discussed with him the crisis surrounding the cameras. After the meeting, Abbas voiced support for the Jordanian initiative.

However, many Palestinians said that they would prevent the Jordanians from installing the cameras at the Temple Mount. The Palestinians rejected Jordan’s assurances that the cameras would not be installed inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque and would not be used by Israel to crack down on activists.

Ensour said that the goal of the cameras was to document “recurring assaults” by Israelis on the sanctity of the holy site. He said that the cameras would have brought legal, political and media benefits” to the Muslims.    (Jerusalem Post)

Pollard lawyers mock US intel chief’s warning that ex-spy still poses threat

James Clapper: Pollard could “damage national security”

US director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s support for strict parole conditions for Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard faced mockery by his attorneys, in a letter that was revealed over the weekend.

The US District Court in the Southern District of New York granted Pollard’s request Tuesday to reopen his appeal against the parole conditions. The terms, which were set ahead of his November 20 parole after 30 years in prison, require him to be monitored by a GPS device that forces him to violate Shabbat and holidays and his computers to be monitored, which has prevented him from being employed.

Documents submitted as part of the request revealed that Clapper wrote Judge J. Partricia Wilson Smoot that some of the information to which Pollard had access, and in some cases compromised, remains classified.

“Further disclosures of such classified information would cause the damage to the national security,” Clapper wrote the judge. “Given these circumstances, the intelligence community believed [in November] and still believes, that the imposition of special conditions would be an appropriate means to mitigate concerns of future unauthorized disclosures of classified information by Mr. Pollard.” Pollard lawyers Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman sent the judge a letter a week later dismissing Clapper’s claims.

“Even assuming some information is still ‘classified’ as a practical matter, it is extremely unlikely that Mr. Pollard remembers, or could possibly remember, the details of 30-year old information to an extent that it could be of any value to anyone,” the lawyers wrote.

“There is nothing before the commission to indicate that Mr. Pollard ever memorized the documents he delivered, or that he could possibly remember any usable details 30 years later.”

Lauer and Semmelman wrote that it is “inconceivable” that anyone could memorize the details of the kind of documents he retrieved at the time of their disclosure, let alone remember meaningful details 30 years later. They wrote that Clapper did not explain how Pollard’s parole conditions could prevent him from disclosing information.

“The special conditions would not have prevented Mr. Pollard from committing his underlying offense, nor would they have aided law enforcement officials in detecting his criminal activity,” they wrote.

“They would similarly have no impact on Mr. Pollard’s ability to disclose any information he might retain today, even though he has no such information and has no intention of jeopardizing his freedom.”

For example, Lauer and Semmelman wrote that Pollard’s GPS device allows the probation office to watch a blip of his location move around the Southern District of New York, but does nothing to physically prevent or deter him from having a conversation at a coffee shop, within the confines of his apartment or in a public park.

They wrote that the conditions’ only effect is to burden and stigmatize Pollard and impair his ability to reintegrate into society. “There simply is no relationship between the underlying offense and the need to monitor Mr.

Pollard’s whereabouts, where the commission’s supposed concern is a conversation that could theoretically occur anywhere,” they wrote.

“Subjecting Mr. Pollard to an arbitrary curfew would not mitigate the risk of disclosure, since Mr. Pollard’s ability to disclose supposedly confidential information could occur at any time of day. And the monitoring of Mr. Pollard’s computer use would not prevent him from disclosing the classified information in person, over the phone, or via regular mail.”         (Jerusalem Post)

Big name music stars to headline Tel Aviv solidarity concert for Hebron IDF shooter

The family of the IDF shooter, who is expected on Monday to be indicted for manslaughter for the shooting death of an incapacitated Palestinian terrorist last month, is organizing a solidarity event in Tel Aviv for their son with the participation of some big name Israeli singers.

The soldier is currently restricted to open detention on his army base.

The Tel Aviv event for the soldier is set for the city’s central Rabin Square with the participation of star singer Eyal Golan, the rapper Kobi Shimoni, (a.k.a. Subliminal), David D’or and others.

Politicians were quick to react after the news of the concert broke on Channel 2.

“Justice will be done in accordance with the values of the IDF in the courtroom, and not in the town squares,” Zionist Union MK and former justice minister Tzipi Livni told Channel 2.

“What Israel needs right now are not artists singing what the crowd wants to hear in the square, but rather a leader that stands together with the IDF, its commanders and values and the legal system,” Livni added.

Eyal Golan, one of the most popular singers in Israel, wrote words of support for the soldier on social media.

“The soldier is like the son of the entire nation of Israel and on Tuesday I will be coming to support him and his family,” he wrote.

MK Erel Margalit (Zionist Union) called on Golan to cancel his participation in the event.

“Eyal do not go from a national singer to a nationalistic singer. I call on you Eyal to cancel your performance that weakens the IDF and that does damage to the judgment of the commanders,” Margalit wrote.

“To my dismay, the prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] has given the go ahead for the masses to set the tone on the matter of this soldier, and Eyal Golan is perpetuating the spirit that Netanyahu has created,” he added.

The incident, that took place in Hebron, was picked up on a video distributed by B’Tselem, went viral online and has dominated the airwaves with a war of words over the soldier’s guilt or innocence pitting Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who condemned the soldier, against various politicians on the Right, who say they rushed to judgment.  (Jerusalem Post)

Lebanon pushes for French mediation in its maritime border dispute with Israel

The Speaker of Lebanon’s Parliament Nabih Berri asked French President Francois Hollande to help Lebanon resolve its maritime border dispute with Israel, the daily Lebanese newspaper al-Mustaqbal reported Saturday.

According to the report, during his meeting with Hollande Saturday, Berri “required France to play a role in order to help Lebanon demarcate its maritime borders with Israel and protect its offshore oil treasures.”

The maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon revolves around Lebanon’s rejection of the maritime agreement signed between Israel and Cyprus in 2011. According to Berri, this agreement enabled Israel to “seize Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone.”

In this light, Israel opposes Lebanon’s recurrent attempts to grant many international oil companies licenses to explore for oil and gas in the disputed region, which enrages Lebanon, who views investment in this area as vital to its economy.

“If the situation remains as it is, it might ignite a new war against Israel that would unite all Lebanese citizens who would reclaim the honor of their nation, as happened in 2006,” Berri stated, urging the international community to help resolve the dispute.

France’s president arrived in Lebanon on Saturday for a two-day visit, during which he is scheduled to meet senior Lebanese officials and visit a group of Syrian refugees. Upon his arrival in Beirut, Hollande stated that France would provide immediate additional military aid to Lebanon and urged politicians to end a long-running crisis by electing a president as soon as possible.   (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli aid workers join relief efforts in quake-rattled Japan, Ecuador

Dozens of Israeli aid workers are working to provide support on the ground in Japan and Ecuador after multiple deadly earthquakes recently rattled the two countries.

The Israeli humanitarian aid agency IsraAID announced on Sunday evening that it already has a delegation in southern Japan, where over 40 people were killed and thousands were injured in a pair of large scale tremors that have struck the Kumamoto province since Thursday.

Israeli relief workers have been distributing goods and opening child care centers in the affected Japanese communities, IsraAID said in a statement.

Meanwhile, an IsraAID team was expected to leave Sunday night to assist with emergency efforts in Ecuador after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake ravaged the Andean country, killing at least 272 people.

The Israeli team in Ecuador was prepared to offer medical treatment, psycho-social outreach and child resources.

“In addition to the dozens of volunteers of IsraAID who are working hard to provide support to the teams on the ground IsraAID plans to provide on going support to both countries and regions in need,” the organization said.

Both countries are located on the seismically active “Ring of Fire” that circles the Pacific, but according to the US Geological Survey large quakes separated by such distances would probably not be related.                 (Jerusalem Post)

Singapore PM on historic visit to Israel

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will arrive in Israel for the first-ever official visit by a Singaporean head of state.

Lee will be accompanied by a 60-member delegation, including his foreign minister and water resources minister, the Government Press Office said in an email.

The trip includes a reception at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where Lee will receive an honorary doctorate. He will also visit the flashpoint Temple Mount holy site in the city during his five-day trip.

He is also set to tour the Old City of Jerusalem, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and Jaffa, and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition leader Isaac Herzog, President Reuven Rivlin and former president Shimon Peres.

He will also travel to Ramallah in the West Bank to meet with Palestinian leaders.

Lee’s visit marks the first for a Singaporean leader since Israel and Singapore established diplomatic relations in 1969.

Last March, Rivlin traveled to Singapore to pay his respects at the funeral of the country’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who died at 91. The funeral concluded the president’s four-day trip to Singapore, marking the first visit of an Israeli president since Chaim Herzog to the prosperous island country in 1986.

Israel worked with Lee’s government to play a major role in the country’s development, as Israeli generals were tasked with setting up the country’s armed services after major unrest caused it to become independent from Malaysia in 1965. Today, much of the country’s military is based on the Israel Defense Force’s model of training, conscription and reserve duty.                (The Times of Israel)

Birthright to launch obligatory geopolitical lessons to give better understanding of region

Starting this summer, young Jewish adults who go on Birthright trips will undergo mandatory geopolitical programming as part of their visit to Israel, in order to get a better understanding of the complexity of the situation in the country and the region.

Dr. Zohar Raviv, Birthright’s international VP of education, told The Jerusalem Post that although geopolitics was always addressed on the trips, the initiative’s goal is to “systemize, professionalize and upgrade” the discussion on the topic.

Birthright offers free 10-day heritage trips to Israel for Jews, aged 18–26.

The revised module, titled, “The geopolitical reality in Israel and the Middle East,” will consist of a two-hour expert presentation and a two-hour field experience in a relevant site that corresponds to the subjects discussed with the expert.

Birthright’s pool of experts includes diplomats, journalists, intelligence officials and army veterans.

The topics for discussion include the 2003 Iraq War to Islamic State and Hezbollah, as well as the role of Turkey in the region.

“The geopolitical reality in Israel and the Middle East” will become the only mandatory item for trip organizers to include in their itineraries.

Raviv explained that the need for such programming came from his observation that oftentimes, Birthright participants lack a good understanding of the context and the nuances that make up the security, political and social situation in Israel.

“They really don’t understand this volatile reality in its deeper context,” he told the Post. “And beyond that, when it comes to Israel, many of them demonstrate a disparity between low levels of knowledge and very high levels of opinion.”

Stressing that he does not mean to express judgment but rather observation, Raviv said most young people taking Birthright trips today seem to be part of a generation of “surfers and not divers.

“They surf. They have great access to information but they sometimes lack the attention span to dive into knowledge in depth,” he told the Post. “They scan things and they form their opinions based on surfing.”

To remedy to this, he explained, the goal of the geopolitical program is to take trip-goers through “an education process that is humbling.

“The mandate is to take young adults who are intelligent, curious, engaged people who care about things, and give them a serious, responsible, well-grounded platform to form more intelligent opinions about things.

“I always tell the trip organizers and educators that our role is one and one only: to turn their exclamation points into question marks again, because they arrive with a lot of exclamation points.”

Referring to the fact that Birthright critics often say that the program aims to sell Israeli propaganda to participants, Raviv told the Post that the argument is “the cheapest form of manipulation” and that while Birthright does have an agenda, it does not engage in propaganda.

“I don’t take offense to it as much as I think that our participants should take offense to it,” he said. “Anyone who says that Birthright is propaganda basically says that Birthright, in 15 years, has managed to fool and manipulate half a million young Jewish adults, which means there are half a million idiots out there who fell for it.

“It’s an insult to the participants’ intelligence,” he said.

Raviv made clear that the goal of the geopolitical module is not to feed participants a version of the facts in Israel as the ultimate truth, but rather to allow them to “revisit their preconceived assumptions and help them rearticulate these assumptions in more nuanced, intelligent and self-reflective terms.

“I want to broaden their horizons of their appreciation of this reality instead of further entrench them in their preconceived notions of what it is.”

In light of the wave of terrorist attacks in Israel over the past months, the organization has also stressed it will add a second security guard to each group visiting Israel.   (Jerusalem Post)

Sailing through the Straits: The Meaning for Israel of Restored Saudi Sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir Islands

By Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman and Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum                      The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies         (BESA Center)


The fact that Saudi Arabia has now undertaken to uphold in practice the obligations assumed by Egypt under its peace treaty with Israel, means that Israel’s place in the region is no longer perceived by Arab leader Saudi Arabia as an anomaly to be corrected. This is a far cry from normalization of Saudi relations with Israel, but it is nevertheless a welcome ray of light, demonstrating the benefits of cooperation and coordination in a region beset by violence.

For Israelis above a certain age, mentioning the name of Tiran and Sanafir islands is enough to send a thrill – or a chill – down their spines, bringing to mind the proud refrain of a popular song, written in the tense days just before the Six Day War: “We shall make our way/ at nighttime or day/ with our flag, blue and white/ through the Tiran Straits.”

Indeed, the Straits were the casus belli back in 1967, when Gamal Abd al-Nasser cast all caution (and international norms) to the wind and closed them to Israeli shipping. Eilat is a strategic asset and the terminus of Israel’s trade with much of Asia and Africa. Even the secretive Protocol of Sèvres signed by Britain, France and Israel in October 1956 had included an explicit reference to Israel’s needs concerning the two islands.

Israel captured the islands in the Six Day War, but the 1979 Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt enshrined Egypt’s commitment to international norms regarding the freedom of navigation and the islands were returned. One of the region’s neuralgic points was thus removed for many years from the headlines and from the field of conflict.

Will it now re-emerge again as a source of tension? The answer, at least for the foreseeable future, can be deduced from the circumstances of the dramatic announcement this week. It came as the culminating achievement of Saudi King Salman’s historic visit to Cairo, which cemented the vital relationship between these two pillars of regional stability and saw the promulgation of a long list of bilateral agreements on economic and strategic cooperation.

Having played a major role in sustaining the present Egyptian regime against political and economic challenges, the Saudis were now in a position to finalize the restoration of their sovereignty over the islands, control of which they have ceded to Egypt back in 1949 in the context of the latter’s better ability to utilize them in the struggle with Israel – which has by now become irrelevant. Their legal case was apparently unassailable, and it was thus more a matter of when rather than whether they will actually assert their claim.

This came as no surprise to Israel. Back in July 2015, the “Cairo Declaration” issued during the visit of Salman’s activist son, Muhammad – serving as Saudi Arabia’s Defense Minister – included an explicit reference to the need to settle certain questions of maritime demarcation between the two countries – which could only mean the two islands. Egypt took care to explain its decision to Israel and to allay any fears that this may have any effect on the freedom of navigation. The Saudis did so as well, according to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, albeit in their own way, while asserting that no direct coordination with Israel can be expected (nor is it necessary).

Israel’s freedom of navigation in the Straits was guaranteed in the deal, said Ayalon. And indeed, the restoration of sovereignty serves to bolster the Saudi commitment to Egyptian stability – which goes a long way towards explaining the rage expressed by the Muslim Brotherhood at this breach of Egypt’s “national rights.” With the need to confront Iran high above all other considerations in the Saudi and Egyptian national security playbook – and in Israel’s – any major step that helps bring together the “camp of stability” in the region under joint Egyptian-Saudi leadership will also serve Israel’s interests.

Moreover, despite the disavowal of any direct contacts over this issue – and other important issues – over the years, the very fact that Saudi Arabia now undertakes to uphold in practice the obligations assumed by Egypt under the peace treaty means that Israel’s place in the region is no longer perceived by Arab leader Saudi Arabia as an anomaly to be corrected. This is a far cry from “normalization” (tatbi`) – which remains a dirty word in the Arab dictionary. But it is nevertheless a welcome ray of light, demonstrating the benefits of cooperation and coordination in a region beset by so much violence.

Israel’s crisis with the US won’t end when Obama leaves

Netanyahu fears a diplomatic move from Obama toward the end of his presidency, but it’s not certain that America’s next leader won’t have similar ambitions.

By  Udi Segal                             The Jerusalem Post


Ahead of Passover, in which we mark the Exodus from Egypt and boast of our thriving political independence, it is interesting to take note of the degree to which Israelis are in denial of the fact that this independence is limited. Israel is an independent and sovereign nation, a true wonder in which Jews do everything for themselves – but our diplomatic and security dependence on the United States was and remains the keystone of our relations to the world.

The knowledgeable ignorance of most Israelis in regard to the important and dramatic ties with the US enables us to view in a lightly amused air the elections in America: to be angry at Obama, to mock American naivete and to ignore the ever-growing gap between us and them.

Before diving into this relationship, it must be noted that the numbers don’t lie: they show stability and even a rise in the US public’s support for Israel, especially versus the Palestinians, to a tune of approximately 70 percent approval. Our main problem is that among liberal Democrats – who represent the elites – there has been a decline in support.

So we can snort in contempt at the trend and tell ourselves that we’re better off focusing on the Bible belt of the white majority who love Jesus and Jews, and not on the annoying professors at Berkeley and the sanctimonious politicians in Washington. But we must also think how we can stop this slide, and take into account its consequences. Because the elites, both there and here, manage relations and bureaucracy, and the feeling is that Israel has become a sort of annoyance.

Take for example the main diplomatic issue facing the prime minister – negotiations on an American military aid package for the next ten years. It’s stuck. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and his staff speak of needs, but Benjamin Netanyahu did not travel to the US because there is a problem. The problem is political. Netanyahu set an unreachable goal.

In closed conversations he spoke of a dramatic increase in aid. Today, the aid stands at about $3.6 billion a year. That means that if the US is prepared to give us 34 billion dollars in the next decade – that would maintain the current situation, more or less. Netanyahu spoke about being able to get $50 billion. Since then he has hinted or suggested that that he was misunderstood, but that was the impression he gave. It was a strategic error, because now any smaller amount will be considered a failure.

Netanyahu loves to win, so he is waiting for the negotiations to turn in his favor. He says he wants to reach the deal with Barack Obama, but it’s not certain that this is true. The prime minister is especially concerned with a possible diplomatic move by Obama in the final months of his tenure, from November to January. By then it will already be clear who the next president will be and Obama will still be in the White House, with no political price to pay for his actions. Various scenarios have been rumored, including a UN resolution, defining the parameters of an agreement with the Palestinians, or perhaps a presidential speech.

What scares Netanyahu is the connection between the money and the political brazenness of Obama. The more generous the Obama administration is with military aid, the harder it can allow itself to kick the prime minister’s political butt. Who can speak out against a president who gave $45 billion for Israel’s security? Thus, Netanyahu’s negotiations are accompanied by a justified diplomatic fear. There are even those who claim that Netanyahu does not want to close the deal with Obama because he doesn’t want to give him the legitimacy of supporting Israel after the nuclear deal with Iran. They say he wants a situation in which Israel can delegitimize Obama’s every diplomatic move, so it is perceived as personal, not professional, and unacceptable.

Netanyahu has not forgotten that the biggest slap in the face Republican darling Ronald Reagan gave Israel – America’s recognition of the PLO – was carried out during the last two months of his tenure. Obama can be just as creative. He can declare that, regardless of diplomatic negotiations, the settlements must be dismantled. He can talk about a division of land or say that a Jewish state is mere whimsy.

Beyond this: Obama will continue to be a very influential figure in the coming years. He’s young, energetic and constitutes the American liberal camp’s shiny new symbol. He will influence the Democratic party’s elections and the elections to Congress and Senate, and there will not be a candidate that doesn’t want his blessing and help. If Hillary Clinton ends up in the White House, he can be very active, as a special envoy, or just as a consultant or confidant behind the scenes – if that’s what he wants. Therefore, the personal animosity and the ideological differences will not expire at the end of the year.

Maybe that’s the reason that most Israelis want to see something different in the White House, and like many Americans have been charmed by Donald Trump.

Trump’s anti-Obama approach may explain the fact that the Republican candidate closest in his positions to Netanyahu and the Israeli Right, Ted Cruz, is not perceived here as the best candidate for Israel. Far from it: as part of a Ruderman Foundation survey dealing with Israeli attitudes regarding the US presidential elections, the respondents were asked who they thought was the most pro-Israel candidate. Trump received 33% and Clinton received 31%, while Cruz and Bernie Sanders received only six percent and five percent respectively.

Trump is the most anti-Obama candidate, but it’s not certain that he is the most pro-Israel candidate. He claims to be a tough negotiator and that he’ll get a  Middle East peace deal within six months. Imagine Trump meeting Netanyahu a year from now, and telling him pleasantly – “Bibi, take $60 billion for the next decade, but get out of the Palestinian territories within two months. Good?” What would the prime minister do? Because Trump could also say, if he doesn’t accept, there’s no aid.

As a rule, American presidents don’t tend to throw money around lightly during the first year of their tenure. An elected president must fulfill election promises. On top of this, there is a general feeling of anger, not only among Democrats, that Israel acts ungratefully toward the United States. That it doesn’t know how to say thank you, that it isn’t gracious. Ask Condoleeza Rice and George Bush, or American Jews. The Ruderman Foundation survey found that 84% of Israelis expect American Jews to lend their support to Israel, but only 53% believe that we should consider them in matters of legislation in Israel. Here the gap widens. This is the real danger.

Forty percent of Israelis agree with the claim that Netanyahu has damaged relations with America. This exposes Netanyahu in his safest place. If in the run-up to the next elections in Israel US leaders succeed in getting across the message that they have failed to deliver thus far – that Netanyahu is problematic for Israel’s most important relationship – it could change the picture. This is why Netanyahu is being doubly careful not to interfere in the US election. He’s in the crosshairs, and he has no intention of helping the hunters get to him any easier.

MK Tzipi Livni: ‘What Is Your Suggestion — That We Live With All These Antisemites Together in One State?’