+61 3 9272 5644

Latest News in Israel – 1st February

Three IDF soldiers wounded in West Bank shooting attack, terrorist shot dead

A Palestinian gunman opened fire on Israelis at the Focus checkpoint near Bet El in the West Bank on Sunday morning.

Three IDF soldiers were injured in the attack, and the terrorist was shot dead by security forces at the scene. The military said it has notified the families of the victims.

The terrorist approached the checkpoint in a vehicle, and opened fire from inside his car.

A Palestinian Authority police officer was the assailant who carried out the terror attack, security forces confirmed.

The gunman was the driver of Ramallah’s chief prosecutor and was named as 34-year-old Amjad Amjad Sukkari Abu Amar, from Kalkilya.

MDA paramedics evacuated the three victims in their twenties to Jerusalem hospitals; one in serious condition with a gunshot wound to the upper body, one in moderate to serious condition with a gunshot wound to a limb, and a third in light condition with a gunshot wound in a limb.

A few hours before he died, Sukkari shared some of his final thoughts in a Facebook post.

“Unfortunately, I do not see anything that deserves to live as long as the occupation, that takes over our souls and kills our brothers and sisters,” Sukkari wrote.

“May allah have mercy on our martyrs, heal our wounds and break the chains of our imprisonment. Our ancestors who were martyred before us we will join you, inshallah,” he wrote.

Hamas released a statement following the attack in which it said that the attack proved that there are people within the Palestinian Authority who oppose the security coordination with Israel.

MDA emergency paramedic Elad Sheli reported finding the three fully conscious injured men in their 20s at the shooting scene. “Our goal was to get them to the surgery room in the hospital as fast as possible,” he said.

“We immediately got them into ambulances and with the assistance of an IDF medical team that was on the scene, we gave them initial medical care. During the journey to hospital, we provided life-saving medical care,” Sheli said.

Later on Sunday, at about 2:30 p.m., a terrorist attempted to run over soldiers on Route 443. Security forces shot and seriously wounded the attacker.

A car with Palestinian license plates approached the Bet Ur A-Tahta checkpoint near Route 443 and attempted to run over IDF soldiers carrying out security missions in the area. No soldiers were injured in the attack. Soldiers opened fire and wounded the terrorist who was subsequently evacuated to hospital for treatment.

On Saturday evening  a 17-year-old Jewish youth was lightly wounded after being stabbed in the back by an Arab terrorist while walking with a friend outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate toward the end of Shabbat.

One of the Palestinians wanted in the stabbing attack against the teen surrendered to authorities, Israel Radio reported on Sunday.

The suspect, a 16-year-old from east Jerusalem, turned himself in to police once he realized that officers were on their way to arrest him.

Overnight Saturday, Israeli security forces arrested eight wanted Palestinians in the West Bank. Two of the suspects were accused of involvement in terror acts and disturbing the peace.

Five of the suspects, including three Hamas activists, were arrested in Hebron.                       (Jerusalem Post)

Revealed: US, UK infiltrated Israeli intelligence

A shocking revelation on Friday morning shows that the US and Britain have infiltrated Israeli intelligence for the last 18 years, spying on imagery sent by drones on sensitive missions in the Middle East back to their home bases in Israel.

The revelation comes from documents and images exposed by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden and published for the first time on Friday by Yedioth Aharonoth.

The infiltration of Israeli intelligence has been going on for the past 18 years from a fortified base in Cyprus, according to the documents.

In the breach, Israeli coding was cracked by the US and Britain, allowing them direct access to imagery broadcast by a large fleet of Israeli UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) flying sensitive missions in Gaza, Judea and Samaria, as well as throughout the Middle East back to their home bases including Tel Nof, Palmachim and Ein Shemer.

According to the revelations, the Israeli drones even flew missions to gather information so as to plan a bombing of Iran’s nuclear program. Two of the drones were revealed to be armed with missiles and bombs, allowing them to be used in precise assassination missions against terrorists.

Thanks to the hacking, the US and UK were able to see Israel’s targets, preferences and abilities, all from the eyes of Israel’s own drones.

A senior Israeli intelligence official exposed to the revelation told the paper that “this is an earthquake.”

“Apparently none of our encoded communications processes are secure from them,” he said. “This is the most serious leak in the history of Israeli intelligence.”

The revelation casts the case of Jonathan Pollard in a light of even greater hypocrisy. Pollard was jailed by the US for 30 years – half his life – on charges of spying for Israel after he passed information about regional threats to the Jewish state. Even after recently being paroled, he continues to suffer unprecedented draconian parole conditions.

Israel the main target

The infiltration mission, entitled “Anarchist,” has been up and running since 1998. Its goal was to crack and intercept the broadcasts of major armies in the Middle East, along with their air forces and advanced weapon systems and radars.

In the framework of the mission, the codes of advanced combat and tracking systems of Hezbollah, Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Syria were cracked.

However, at the center of the operation was one state which the majority of the resources and efforts were invested in – Israel, the supposed ally of the US and UK.

“Anarchy” was operated by the American NSA and the British GCHQ from two bases. One was a base in Menwith Hill, in northern England, that is jointly run with the US, and the other a British base located on the peak of the Troodos Mountains, the highest point in Cyprus. The base is massive, full of antennas, receivers and decoding equipment, with portions of the base dug underground.

The Snowden files include screenshots from intercepted broadcasts from Israeli drones in the midst of their operations. All that the powerful cameras of the UAVs picked up was transmitted to the American and British spies.

Also in the files were presentations prepared for internal lectures and training, including reports apparently addressed to senior commanders about the progress of the infiltration operation.

Members of the “Anarchist” operation were also able to locate where the drone footage was shot in a portion of the instances, whether by identifying the landscape such as that of an Arab village near the security barrier in Judea and Samaria, or else by cracking a special part of the broadcast in which the UAV updated its base regarding its location.

In one instance on June 24, 2009, the members of the base in Cyprus documented the movement of Israeli drones near Shechem (Nablus) in Samaria. In April 2010, they were able to figure out that the drones were near Atil in northwestern Samaria, not far from the 1949 Armistice line and Netanya.

“Critical access”

A British intelligence document from 2008 notes that “this access is irreplaceable in order to understand the Israeli army and its operations, and therefore it gives us the ability to understand future developments in the region.”

The document further stated that “in times of crisis, this access is critical, and at times may be the only way to provide information and support to the operations of the United States and its allies in this arena.”

Not mentioned in the document is the fact that Israel is itself a declared ally of the US and the UK.

The US invested serious resources in tracking Israeli preparations for a strike on Iran, as revealed by the documents which also showed great American concerns that Israel would conduct significant military actions in the region without coordination with the US causing instability.

The documents and pictures, published for the first time Friday in Yedioth Aharonoth as well as The Intercept and the German Der Spiegel, include images showing missiles that are said to be able to weigh up to a ton hanging from the wings of the Eitan drone. The images likewise show the takeoff and landing of the drone, also known as the Heron. (Arutz Sheva)

Steinitz ‘disappointed’ in 18-years of US spying

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) responded on Friday to the morning’s report revealing that the US and UK have infiltrated Israeli intelligence for the past 18 years, hacking into the video broadcasts of Israeli drones conducting sensitive missions in the region.

Steinitz, who served as Intelligence Minister in the last government, said he was disappointed by the revelation, made by Yedioth Aharonoth from documents and images exposed by National Security Agency (NSA) whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

“We are not surprised. We know that the Americans spy on everyone including us, their friends,” he told Army Radio.

“It’s disappointing nonetheless because of the fact that for decades we haven’t spied or gathered intelligence or broken codes in the United States.”

Steinitz’s comment refers to the case of former US Navy intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard, who was arrested in 1985 and jailed for 30 years – half his life – before being paroled recently. Pollard was charged with spying for Israel, after passing information on regional threats to the Jewish state, and even now he suffers from unprecedented draconian parole conditions.

The American and British spying operation, called “Anarchist,” focused on Israel and saw codes cracked allowing access to broadcasts from drones to Israeli bases in various areas, including in Iran ahead of an apparent planned attack on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Despite Israel being an ally of the US and UK, they also penetrated F16 fighter pilots’ heads-up display, in one case showing the aircraft tracking a target on the ground.

“It’s as if they sat with them in the cockpit,” wrote Yedioth Aharonoth. “It’s a look into the secret Israeli combat world. Potential targets, aims, priorities and capabilities, from Israel’s view of its enemies. The United States and Britain profited from Israel’s superb intelligence abilities and saw everything that Israel saw.”

A senior Israeli intelligence official exposed to the revelation told the paper that “this is an earthquake.”

“Apparently none of our encoded communications processes are secure from them,” he said. “This is the most serious leak in the history of Israeli intelligence.”     (Arutz Sheva)

Israeli lightly wounded in stabbing attack by Palestinians in Jerusalem

A 17-year-old Jewish boy is in light condition after being stabbed in the back by two Arab terrorists while walking near the Old City’s Damascus Gate in east Jerusalem Saturday evening, toward the end of Shabbat.

Both suspects, described as minors, were arrested roughly one hour after the stabbing in the Old City following an intensive search.

According to Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, the attack took place at approximately 5:45 p.m. on Sultan Suleiman Street, a few meters away from the Old City entrance.

“While he was walking in the area, the two teenaged terrorists stabbed him in the back and fled the scene when the victim collapsed to the ground,” said Rosenfeld shortly after the incident.

“Police in the area administered first aid until Magen David Adom arrived to treat him and rushed him to Hadassah University Medical Center on Mount Scopus, in light-to-moderate condition.”

A hospital spokesperson said the victim, who is fully conscious, is in the emergency room receiving treatment.

According to Rosenfeld, both suspects were apprehended without incident while hiding in the Old City.

“They are being questioned now to determine how they arrived here and who else may be involved,” he said.             (Jerusalem Post)

UN chief Ban ‘alarmed’ over Hamas vow to rebuild Gaza tunnels

In a statement delivered by his spokesperson, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Saturday that he was “alarmed” by the recent statements from the Hamas leadership in Gaza stating their intention to continue building tunnels and firing rockets at Israel.

“Such statements and actions put at risk reconstruction, humanitarian and development efforts by the international community and Palestinian and Israeli authorities,” Ban said. “They also do a serious disservice to the long-suffering people of Gaza.”

The secretary-general added that “after three major conflicts in the past seven years, people in Gaza and the people of southern Israel deserve a chance for peace and development.”

He also reiterated that he condemns terrorism “in all its manifestations” and added that every effort must be made to improve the living conditions of the people of Gaza.

During a funeral for seven Palestinian Hamas operatives who were killed when a tunnel they were digging had collapsed on them earlier this week, senior official Ismail Haniyeh vowed on Friday that the Islamist organization will continue in building its network of underground passages.

“The Hamas military wing will continue with its preparations both underground and above ground,” the former prime minister of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip said. “On land and at sea, we will not stop until the liberation of the holy places [in Jerusalem].”

Hamas announced on Thursday that seven members of its military wing, Izzadin Kassam, were killed when a tunnel collapsed.

The announcement came 24 hours after Hamas said that it had lost contact with 11 who were working inside a tunnel.

The seven men were identified as Thabet al-Rifi, Ghazwan al-Shobaki, Izzadin Kassam, Mahmoud Bassal, Jaafar Hamadeh, Nidal Odeh and Wassim Hassuneh.

Hamas said that another four of its men survived the tunnel collapse.

A statement released by Izzadin Kassam in the Gaza Strip said that one of its units was carrying out reconstruction work at the tunnel east of Gaza City when it collapsed on Tuesday night as a result of the weather conditions.

The statement said that the seven men had “participated in heroic and qualitative operations” during the last war with Israel. It said that Hamas would not have been able to inflict pain on Israel were it not for the men involved in digging the tunnels.

Following the incident, Hamas officials issued instructions to Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip warning them against publishing details about the identity of the men working in the tunnels or the groups they belong to.

The officials also criticized the rival Fatah faction for mocking the smuggling tunnels.

Fatah-affiliated websites reacted to the collapse by denouncing Hamas leaders as “merchants of war who know nothing about life other than burying their youths in the sand.”

Hamas officials said that they were “proud that hundreds of our men are working quietly to prepare for defending and protecting our people over and under the ground.”

“The Gaza Strip has built twice the number of resistance tunnels that were built in Vietnam, a subject which is studied in military schools,” Haniyeh said on Friday. “The military wing has built tunnels around Gaza in order to defend it and to liberate the al-Aksa mosque and the holy places.”

Haniyeh said on Friday that Hamas would also continue its efforts to perfect rocket and missile fire.

“In eastern Gaza, heroes are digging tunnels underground, and in western Gaza heroes above ground are conducting test launches of rockets,” Haniyeh said.

Haniyeh said that the armed factions in Gaza are preparing for the next round of fighting with Israel.

“The military wing and the other resistance groups continue with their preparations as part of their obligation both above ground and underneath,” he said. “Today, Gaza bids farewell to martyrs of the preparation who worked underground along the path to liberation.”

Haniyeh said that the participation of thousands at the funerals of the seven men served as a referendum on the Islamist group, which he claimed has managed to successfully cope with the Israeli siege on the territory.

“Hamas has managed to overcome its weaknesses thanks to will and determination,” he said. “We will continue to conduct our preparations, and nobody will stop us.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Cabinet approves ‘historic’ decision to create Western Wall egalitarian prayer space

In what is being hailed as an historic landmark for Jewish pluralism and the non-Orthodox movements in Israel, the cabinet on Sunday voted to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall and to anchor the arrangement in law.

Leaders of the Reform and Conservative Movements in Israel and North America welcomed the agreement as a breakthrough in their struggle for formal recognition in the Jewish state and their campaign to demonstrate an alternative to Orthodox Judaism in Israel.

The haredi leadership however, along with parts of the conservative national-religious leadership, strongly denounced the agreement and voted against it in the cabinet vote, but did not fight against it or threaten to bring down the government as they could have.

The plan adopted by the cabinet will see the current prayer platform for non-Orthodox prayers at the Robinson Arch area at the southern end of the Western Wall significantly upgraded from its current status.

Prayer in the egalitarian section will be mixed gender but will include space for women’s only prayer as demanded by Women of the Wall. It will be fully accessible and visible to all visitors to the Western Wall from the main entrance to the site, another key demand of Women of the Wall.

It will also constitute a “fully functional and operational” prayer space with the requisite infrastructure and will provide prayer books, prayer shawls, Torah scrolls, and other necessities for regular prayer services.

The egalitarian section will be governed by a committee headed by the chairman of Jewish Agency, and include representatives from Women of the Wall, the Reform Movement, the Masorti (Conservative) Movement, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Israeli government, with an administrator appointed by the prime minister.

During the time it will take to upgrade the site and make the necessary changes in the current infrastructure at the Western Wall site, Women of the Wall will continue to pray in the women’s section of the main Western Wall plaza.

Once the changes are implemented and the provisions of the cabinet decisions anchored in the Law for the Holy Sites 1981 Women of the Wall will then agree to move their services to the egalitarian section.

Under the terms of the deal, the current men and women’s prayer sections will continue to be run in accordance with Orthodox custom and will remain under the authority of the administrator of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites, currently Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

However, the clauses in the Law for the Holy Sites that until 2013 were used to prevent members of the Women of the Wall prayer group from praying with prayer shawls and tefillin will be erased.

Additionally, the upper plaza behind the men and women’s section will be formally designated as a space for national and military ceremonies. Unlike the current situation, women will be able to speak or sing in these formal ceremonies.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the head of the Reform Movement in Israel, described the agreement as a compromise but nevertheless an historic moment in which the prayer services and customs of the non-Orthodox denominations will for the first time receive official status and standing in Israel law.

He also described it as a crucial landmark in advancing the idea of Jewish pluralism in Israel.

“This will be the best symbol that there is more than one way to be a Jew in the State of Israel,” Kariv said.

“In the holiest place for Jewish people it will be legislated that there is an egalitarian, progressive place of worship and this signals that such places of worship can spring up everywhere else around the country.

“We are in an ongoing battle for recognition of our communities and denominations, and this is a starting point for our legal and moral demand for full equality.”

Kariv said that the WOW and the non-Orthodox movements had conceded in allowing the main Western Wall plaza to defined as an Orthodox prayer space, but said that WOW had been “brave” in taking this decision.

President and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America Jerry Silverman said he was “thrilled” with the agreement, also describing it as an historic departure for Israel.

Silverman said it was a major step forward for Israel-Diaspora relations which have frequently been strained over prayer rights at the Western Wall.

“This is victory for the Jewish people,” he said “The promise of the Jewish state is that it will be the Jewish state of all the Jewish people, and the Kotel should be a space for all Jewish people to pray in the way they want to pray.”

Silverman praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his commitment to finding a solution, as well as Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and WOW leader Anat Hoffman in particular.

He added that pressure from the Diaspora was critical in bringing the issue to front and center of the agenda for Israel-Diaspora relations, in particular from the Reform and Conservative movements in north America.

Rabinowitz said he accepted the plan “with a heavy heart” saying that the Women of the Wall had turned the Western Wall into a place of “constant fighting,” adding that “the desecration of God’s name this group and its supporters has caused is awful and will require many years to rectify.”

“My personal opinion on the issue is known: prayer in general, and in particular at the Kotel, should be in accordance with Jewish law and the traditions of the Jewish people which have been transmitted to us through the generations.

He said the reason why Sunday’s agreement was accepted by himself and the haredi leadership was because of “legal pressures” and the fear that continuing the battle would create “an even worse situation in the struggle which has broken through the walls of holiness and has desecrated the name of Heaven.”

Haredi members of the government decried the agreement despite the fact that they had chosen not to fight against it. Senior United Torah Judaism MK and Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni railed against the non-Orthodox movements saying they would never gain official recognition in the State of Israel.

“The Reformers are a group of clowns who stick a knife in the holy Torah,” said Gafni, using the word “Reformers” as a catch-all for all non-Orthodox groups. “There will never, ever be recognition of this group of clowns, not at the Kotel and not anywhere else.”

Interior Minister and Shas chairman Aryeh Deri said before the vote that “The State of Israel runs according to traditional Judaism. This whole problem of the Reform and Conservatives has not existed in the State of Israel until now and I have no intention that it will occur now. There is nothing to compromise over here.”      (Jerusalem Post)

France to recognize Palestine if deadlock with Israel not broken

France will recognize a Palestinian state if its efforts in coming weeks to try to break the deadlock between Israelis and Palestinians fail, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Friday.

“France will engage in the coming weeks in the preparation of an international conference bringing together the parties and their main partners, American, European, Arab, notably to preserve and make happen the solution of two states,” he said.

Fabius said that as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, France had a responsibility to try to keep up efforts to find a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.               (Jerusalem Post)

Israel slams French peace plan as encouraging Palestinian intransigence

Israel said on Friday that it will reject any French initiative to re-start peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Jerusalem reacted shortly after French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that his government will recognize a Palestinian state if its efforts in coming weeks to try to break the deadlock between Israelis and Palestinians fail.

“France will engage in the coming weeks in the preparation of an international conference bringing together the parties and their main partners, American, European, Arab, notably to preserve and make happen the two-state solution,” he said.

A French diplomatic source added that Paris intended to launch this conference by the summer.

The Middle East peace process has stalled because of differences over borders and settlements. There have been no serious moves to resume the peace talks between Israel and Palestinians.

If this last attempt at finding a solution hits a wall, “well…in this case, we need to face our responsibilities by recognizing the Palestinian state,” Fabius said.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Fabius added that France had a responsibility to try to keep up efforts to find a solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

“We see that unfortunately colonization continues and that recently, the Israeli prime minister went so far as to reproach the UN secretary-general for encouraging terrorism on the basis that he had reminded of colonization’s illegality and asked that it cease,” Fabius said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday described Israel’s settlements as “provocative acts” that raised questions about its commitment to a two-state solution, nearly 50 years after occupying lands the Palestinians seek for a state.

The United States, European Union and the United Nations have issued unusually stern criticism of Israel, provoking a sharp response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and raising Palestinians’ hopes of steps against their neighbor.

A diplomatic source in Jerusalem said that Paris is essentially encouraging Palestinian intransigence by signaling its willingness to recognize statehood, thus prejudicing the outcome of negotiations.

“The foreign minister’s statement offers incentive to the Palestinians to reach a deadlock,” an Israeli official said. “It is not possible to conduct negotiations or to achieve peace in such a manner.”                           (Jerusalem Post)

Obama administration reissues labeling order on West Bank products

The US customs agency reiterated its policy that goods from the West Bank must be labeled as such.

The move signals the Obama administration’s continued resistance to folding recognition of settlement products into goods made within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

The Jan. 23 statement by the US Customs and Border Protection says the reiteration “is to provide guidance to the trade community regarding the country of origin marking requirements for goods that are manufactured in the West Bank.”

Mark Toner, the State Department spokesman, said Thursday that the customs agency reissued the statement on policy because of a number of recent complaints that products from the West Bank are mislabeled. Such reminders are rare.

The statement quoted from a 1997 decision by the Treasury Department that ruled “goods produced in the West Bank or Gaza Strip shall be marked as originating from ‘’West Bank,’ ‘Gaza,’ ‘Gaza Strip,’ ‘West Bank/Gaza,’ ‘West Bank/Gaza Strip,’ ‘West Bank and Gaza,’ or ‘West Bank and Gaza Strip.’

“It is not acceptable to mark the aforementioned goods with the words ‘Israel,’ ‘Made in Israel,’ ‘Occupied Territories-Israel,’ or any variation thereof,” the 1997 decision adds, and notes the penalties for failing to comply.

In the daily media briefing, Toner said, “There’s nothing new, this is simply a reissuance of guidance. All this simply is a restatement of requirements regarding settlements; we don’t differentiate between settlements and anything else in the West Bank. It in no way represents a boycott or anything like that.”

The Obama administration has resisted entreaties recently from the pro-Israel community and some lawmakers in Congress to oppose the new European Union policy of labeling products from the West Bank. State Department spokesmen have said that do so would run counter to US policy.

The 1997 policy was made in the wake of the establishment of limited Palestinian sovereignty in parts of the West Bank following the Oslo Accords. The policy as stated then includes exceptions, for instance, allowing goods manufactured in Qualifying Industrial Zones — areas established through the consent of all sides where Israeli and foreign businessmen establish enterprises employing Palestinians. Products from the zones may be labeled as made in Israel.

Two US trade representatives under President George W. Bush — Rob Portman, now a Republican senator from Ohio, and Susan Schwab — in 2005 and 2009 respectively issued orders broadly expanding the qualifying zones exception, allowing “Made in Israel” labeling to include any product manufactured anywhere in the West Bank.

The Obama administration’s policy appears to be a return to the intent of the regulation as drafted in the days of the Clinton administration, strictly reserving such exemptions for products manufactured in the qualifying zones.

Toner in his remarks Thursday did not say what allegations were brought to the Customs and Border Protection agency, except to say there were nine or 10.

The agency did not return JTA’s requests for comment.    (Jerusalem Post & JTA)

Israelis flock to nature by the thousands

The Mount Hermon ski site was closed to visitors on Saturday because of congestion for the second time in two days. The site’s director said the congestion was not at the site itself, but rather on the roads leading to it.

The congestion began in the early morning, when thousands of skiers waited for the ticket booth to open at 8:00 AM.

Police decided to close routes leading to the site at 11:30 AM, and shortly afterwards the site announced it was closed to further visitors.

The site’s operators said the slopes can host about 10,000 people simultaneously and that it was not yet full – but that traffic congestion was too much of a strain on the roads. They added that the site could be reopened later in the day. The site was closed at around noon on Friday when it filled to maximum capacity.


Icicles dangle from a tree in Merom Golan

Low temperatures throughout Israel are an advantage for the site. Even though snow hasn’t fallen on Mount Hermon since Tuesday, the cold has ensured that skiing conditions are still excellent.

Meanwhile, thousands of hikers went south to participate in the traditional march among the poppies in memory of singer Shoshana Damari and mark a decade since her death. (Ynet News)

Herzog’s new plan: A brave attempt to redefine Israel’s peace camp

Isaac Herzog’s new peace paradigm could make or break the Labor Party, and even Israel.


By Ari Shavit                 Ha’aretz

Isaac Herzog is not your typical macho Israeli man. Bravery isn’t the main trait one would associate with him. But the move the opposition leader started advancing in the past week is an extremely courageous one.

Herzog is trying to redefine the peace concept, the peace process and the peace camp. If the move fails, the Labor Party’s leader will have to look for another job. But if it succeeds, it may give new life both to Labor and its leader. More importantly, it may bring about the great ideological upheaval required to create a vital political upheaval in Israel.

The old peace paradigm was forged in 1977. It consisted of a solid Egypt, a generous Israel, Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin, a historic visit, a historic peace summit and that’s it – a final, comprehensive peace. For 20 years, Labor, Meretz and the peace movements told the Israeli public that the tremendous success story of the American-Israeli-Egyptian Camp David summit could be reenacted with an American-Israeli-Palestinian peace conference that would end the conflict once and for all.

But the Israeli public isn’t stupid. It understands that Palestine isn’t Egypt, Mahmoud Abbas isn’t Sadat and no diplomatic summit will solve the refugee problem, the Jerusalem problem, the Jewish State problem and the Hamas problem in two weeks. Even if (surprisingly) an Israeli Menachem Begin is found and even if Israeli generosity is found (sensational), there’s no Palestinian leadership or Palestinian body that could do what Egypt did in 1977.

So it’s been clear for a long time that a new paradigm is needed – the one of 1975. Not an ultimate final-status arrangement Begin-Sadat style, but gradual interim agreements Yitzhak Rabin-Sadat style. Not an abrupt act to end the conflict in Jimmy Carter’s spirit, but a slow, creative process of abating the conflict in Henry Kissinger’s spirit.

But until last week no political parent could be found for the new paradigm. Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Zehava Galon and even Yair Lapid continued talking about a final arrangement vision of one sort or another. Time after time one leader or another would go for a photo-op in Ramallah, and time after time the photo-op played into the settlers’ hands. Since the center-left didn’t come up with a realistic, relevant way of renewing the peace process, the Israeli majority was swept to the right.

This week a new leaf has been opened. Herzog started talking about dividing the land in another language. He returned to the sober realism of David Ben-Gurion and Rabin. He admitted the self-evident – there will be no final, utopian peace here in the next decade. He began to outline an alternative way – separating from the Palestinians, converging to our side of the separation line and creating a new reality while preserving the Jordan River as Israel’s security border.

For the first time in the current century, an incumbent Labor leader has broken away from the rhetoric of peace around the corner and tomorrow Abbas and the day after tomorrow hummus in Jenin. Herzog is separating from the approach of all or nothing, he has stopped waiting for the Palestinian Godot and is offering Israel to redefine its border and take its fate into its own hands.

But Herzog has a weakness. He has difficulty using exclamation marks. Even when he does the right thing he doesn’t know how to sharpen, intensify and inspire. So his immediate challenge is to turn his new message into a clear, seminal statement. To create a formative event that will do for him what the Bar-Ilan speech did for Benjamin Netanyahu. Not to make small gestures but take large steps. Not to be tactical and political, but to act strategically like a statesman.

Does Herzog have the required greatness to do so? Days will tell. Days will also determine if Labor still has the necessary vitality to propel itself back to center stage – to restart the peace.

Using Israel’s gas to cement ties

Decades after saying that it has no natural resources, Israel is now emerging as a regional gas power, in the enviable position of having to decide what exactly to do with its natural gas.


by Herb Keinon                The Jerusalem Post

It’s all about the gas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood at the podium at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia on Thursday – along with the leaders of Greece and Cyprus – and spoke about the historic nature of their three-way summit and the emerging alliance of these three eastern Mediterranean nations.

This was a summit with countries that have for decades been Israel’s largest detractors in Europe. It would be the equivalent of Israel forging a strategic alliance in the future with presently hyper-critical Sweden and Ireland.

The change of attitude of the Greeks and Cypriots did not come about because the leaders of those two countries suddenly woke up and saw the light.

Indeed, Greece is now being ruled by Syriza, a radical left-wing party.

These new ties are not the result of a sudden discovery of long-hidden sympathy and empathy with Zionism. Instead it is a result of the discovery of gas, which has created common interests.

While some trace Israel’s flourishing relations with Greece and Cyprus to 2010 and the Mavi Marmara incident, which led to a nosedive in Jerusalem’s then-strategic relationship with Turkey – Greece and Cyprus’s historic enemy – the true turning point started a couple years prior, when gas fields were discovered in the eastern Mediterranean.

The gas changed everything, and has formed the cement of this new alliance. Decades after saying that it has no natural resources, Israel is now emerging as a regional gas power, in the enviable position of having to decide what exactly to do with its natural gas or – more precisely – where to export it.

There are three options. The first is to export to Egypt for its needs. The second is to export to Turkey, a country facing acute energy anxiety because of its tension with Russia, one of its major energy suppliers.

And a third option is to extend a pipeline to Cyprus and then to Greece – something that was discussed at the Nicosia summit on Thursday. This option is by far the most expensive, with costs likely to reach at least four times the $2 billion estimated to create the infrastructure to export the gas to Egypt or Turkey. This Cyprus-Greece option is also the least strategically important.

It’s about Gas

It's about Gas[1]

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades (center) and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras shake hands outside the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus

After the United States, Israel’s relationship with Egypt is arguably the most important relationship it has with any country in the world. And providing Egypt with gas is a way of cementing that relationship and taking it to another level.

Good relations with Turkey are also strategically important, considering its geography, although these ties are perhaps less critical than they were in the past, because Ankara’s standing in the region has deteriorated so dramatically. Nevertheless, Israel would like to move its relationship with Turkey back to a more solid footing, and supplying it with gas is one way of doing that.

And then there is the Cyprus-Greece option.

This, too, is an important relationship for many different reasons, including having two southern European states as close allies inside the EU, where they could be expected to speak out for Israel in institutions where policy on Israel is taken by a consensus among the 28 EU states. Granted, these two countries are not Germany and France, but they still have a voice.

With its current natural gas capacities, Israel can only chose two of the options. That could change, however, if other gas fields are discovered.

There was much talk among the leaders at Thursday’s summit about regional stability – something that in these days of earthquakes roiling the Middle East seems extremely far-fetched.

But gas has the ability to cement ties and bring together countries that have not historically had close, or even good, ties. Israel’s new alliance with Greece and Cyprus is a case in point.

Gaza prepares for war

Islamist terror group has more than 1,000 people working around the clock, six days a week, to dig attack tunnels into Israel

As it rebuilds its attack tunnels, Hamas vows it will operate ‘inside the territory of 1948’ in the next round of fighting with Israel

by  Avi Issacharoff                  The Times of Israel


After quite a few attempts at concealment and denial, Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, on Thursday released the names of “the seven heroes, men of Allah” who were killed earlier in the week in the collapse of an attack tunnel in the Tufah neighborhood in the northeastern part of Gaza City, only a few hundred yards from the Israeli border.

At first, Hamas leaders tried to hide the fact that any of its members had been killed in the tunnel. Then they claimed that the men were merely missing. Finally, they released the names of seven of the 11 excavators who were there at the time of the collapse.

Hamas’s statement read in part: “We trod the path of death for your lives’ sake.”

Several days earlier, Faiz Abu Smala, a journalist with close ties to Hamas, wrote on his Facebook page about a meeting with the local commander of Hamas’s military wing: “He admitted to me that they were still working night and day, around the clock, and that the battle they faced would be a matter of the utmost importance, of life and death, and that they had no alternative but to work under all conditions.”

The seven Hamas operatives who were killed were not the first victims Hamas’s tunnels have claimed during their post-2014-war construction and reconstruction. Last month, one of Gilad Shalit’s captors was killed inside a tunnel that collapsed near Khan Yunis. According to sources in Gaza, 12 other Hamas operatives were killed in tunnel collapses last year.

According to the commander, Hamas has already restocked its rocket supply and is ready for a new war. He also said that in the next round of fighting, Hamas would operate “inside the territory of 1948.” This was a broad hint that Hamas plans to engage in terror attacks inside Israel using, among other means, its new and restored cross-border tunnels.

Some might say that these are empty threats of the kind that Hamas makes every so often. But a close look at what is happening right now in the Gaza Strip gives the opposite impression: 18 months after the last war, someone in Gaza is preparing the ground on the public level, and making preparations below ground on the military level, for large-scale escalation leading to another conflict with Israel.

The question is when and under what circumstances.

The numbers throw into sharp relief Hamas’s determination to rehabilitate its tunnel project, which was badly damaged during Operation Protective Edge: Hamas has more than 1,000 people working around the clock, six days a week, to dig more and more attack tunnels under the border and into Israel. The inclement weather has not slowed the pace of the work, as the incident in Tufah demonstrates. This is because the tunnel project is deemed central, since Hamas believes it can use the tunnels (among other weapons) to carry out an “opening strike” that will give the impression of victory in any future round of fighting with Israel.

There are a few tunnels estimated to be crossing into Israel, but there may be more. Hamas is using concrete to line the tunnel walls, as it did in the past, and has sufficient access to such materials.

These tunnels are not the antiquated ones that were built along the Philadelphi Route at the beginning of the past decade; those were dug by amateurs at a medium depth of 7-8 meters. These new tunnels are being dug 30 meters deep, with sophisticated engineering equipment and more advanced technological support, including engineers’ blueprints.

Hamas probably does not want an escalation or another round of war at this time, as former Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh hinted in his latest speech. But not everyone in Hamas hangs on to Haniyeh’s every word.

For the military wing, it is crucial to restore Hamas’s image, which took a serious hit in the last war. That is why an “opening strike” is almost obligatory, certainly in light of the state of affairs in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas’s popularity is steadily dropping because of the economic situation, among other reasons.

Other high-ranking Hamas officials, such as Yahya Sinwar, prefer the military wing’s urgent approach to Haniyeh’s more patient one. In their view, maintaining the status quo is untenable in Gaza, where rising unemployment and poverty rates, closed borders, and the erratic supply of electrical power could damage Hamas’s ability to survive, particularly in light of the Egyptian embargo and the cutback in support from Iran.

gaza tunnel[1]

A Palestinian youth crawls in a tunnel during a graduation ceremony for a training camp run by the Hamas movement on January 29, 2015, in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip.

Gaza keeps surprising us. Every time it seems that the situation has never been worse, it plummets even further. One example is this week’s storm, which set a new record for electricity consumption in Israel. In Gaza, it caused a particularly long power outage. Instead of eight hours with electricity followed by 16 without, the people there had four hours on and 20 hours off.

The cold was particularly bad in Shejaiya, Beit Hanoun and several other neighborhoods, where thousands of people whose homes were destroyed in the last war are living in prefabricated mobile homes with no proper insulation. Many homes were flooded in Khan Yunis, Hiza’a and several other places that had already been reduced to rubble during the last war with Israel. Almost everywhere in the Strip, groups of people could be seen huddling over burning barrels, trying to warm themselves in the frigid weather.

“The animals in your safari in Ramat Gan have it better than the people here,” said Hisham, a resident of Gaza City, who visited the animal park near Tel Aviv in the 1990s.

Gaza has never been in such a bad humanitarian situation, residents say, calling it much more difficult than it was on the eve of the last war.

“Nobody is working, there are no construction materials in the market, and there is no money because there are no salaries,” said H., also a resident of Gaza City. “Hamas officials do not receive regular pay; rather, they receive NIS 1,000 to 1,200 shekels (about $300) every 50 days. The members of Islamic Jihad have no money either.

“This is going to lead to an explosion,” said H. “It will be a miracle if 2016 ends without a war. It’s not up to Hamas or Israel anymore.”

Gazelle Valley – Jerusalem’s Urban Nature Reserve