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Latest News in Israel – 1st March

Rivlin trip to Australia postponed, not cancelled

Contrary to Israeli and Australian media reports, President Reuven Rivlin has not cancelled his planned visit down under, but he has merely postponed it due to developments in the region.

Various quarters in the Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry, which are both headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, felt that as much as Israel values its long and close friendship with Australia, it was of greater urgency at for Rivlin to travel to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin.

Rivlin’s people as well as Foreign Ministry personnel contacted relevant officials in Australia to apologize and reschedule at times convenient to all concerned.

The president was to have met in March with Governor- General Peter Cosgrove, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other prominent Australian political figures.             (Jerusalem Post)

Authorities nab terrorist behind gruesome mall ax attack

A Palestinian terrorist who attacked a security guard in Maaleh Adumim with an ax early Friday turned himself into Israeli authorities over the weekend and is currently in custody.

Saadi Ali Abu Hamed, 21, repeatedly struck Tzvika Cohen at the entrance to a shopping mall at around 1:15 a.m. Friday, wounding him critically. Cohen is still in critical condition, and doctors say he is fighting for his life.

The Shin Bet security agency reported that they had been pursuing the terrorist for two days before apprehending him Saturday night. Earlier that evening, a relative of the terrorist called the Israel Police, disclosed the terrorist’s location and said that he was ready to turn himself in.

Shortly thereafter, IDF and police units arrived at the house and arrested the culprit. Israeli authorities believe that the reason for the terrorist’s acquiescence was the tight closure they had imposed on the Palestinian town of Eizariya, adjacent to Maaleh Adumim, where the terrorist lived. During the manhunt, residents of the area were not permitted to go to work in Israeli towns.

Cohen, 48, is currently under sedation, and his life is still in danger, doctors at Hadassah Medical Center said Sunday. Cohen, a father of four, was supposed to attend his son’s bar mitzvah in two weeks.

After the arrest, a gruesome security video of the attack was released, showing the terrorist repeatedly striking the victim with an ax. According to Cohen’s brother Moshe, the terrorist had worked at the same shopping center that Cohen guarded, and the two knew each other. According to the brother, Abu Hamed had been working there for seven months and had received special permission to be in the shopping center at night to prepare the shop for Friday morning.

He said further that two maintenance workers had found Cohen in a pool of blood and summoned emergency medical personnel to the scene.         (Israel Hayom)

Israel says it shot dead knife-wielding Palestinian near checkpoint

Israeli authorities said on Friday that soldiers shot and killed a knife-wielding Palestinian during an attempted stabbing at a checkpoint near the West Bank settlement on Beit El.

No Israelis were injured in the incident.

Security forces began to sweep the area in order to make sure that no other potential assailants had entered the settlement.

Earlier on Friday, a security guard in Ma’aleh Adumim’s only mall was seriously wounded in what police believe was a terror attack within the West Bank settlement located just outside of Jerusalem.

Police received a call at 1:15 a.m. on Friday regarding the victim. The forces that arrived at the mall found a man, age 47, with multiple stab wounds lying on the floor. The assailant had fled.

The victim was placed on a respirator and rushed into surgery at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem.

Israel police, Border police and the Shin Bet launched a manhunt for the alleged Palestinian assailant.

Palestinian workers have been banned from entering Ma’aleh Adumim until Sunday.

On Friday morning following the attack, activity at the Ma’aleh Adumim mall returned to normal, with added security measures.               (Jerusalem Post)

First ISIS attack in Israel?

The February 7th stabbing of an Israeli soldier by a Sudanese infiltrator was inspired by the ISIS terror group, Israel’s Shin Bet security force revealed on Thursday.

The attack, which took place near Ashkelon’s central bus station, would likely be the first ISIS terror attack on Israeli soil.

A 20-year-old soldier was wounded in the attack. His assailant, 32-year-old Sudanese national Kemal Hassan, was shot and killed by security forces shortly after the attack.

The Shin Bet reported that Hassan, a devout Muslim, had ISIS materials on his cellular phone.

Hassan had a history of violence, and in 2009 was sent to the Holot detention center. He managed to escape in 2014.                  (Arutz Sheva)

Obama ignores law, accepts BDS against ‘settlements’

After signing a bill targeting anti-Israel boycotters, President Barack Obama pledged not to enforce one of the law’s clauses extending the anti-boycott protections to Israeli businesses operating in “Israeli-controlled territories”.

The law, which passed with strong Republican support, bars the US government from any cooperation with groups participating in the BDS movement against Israel and Israeli businesses.

To clarify the law’s reach, lawmakers included a clause explicitly extending the protections to Israeli businesses in “Israeli-controlled territories”.

But after signing the bill into law, Obama rejected the clause as being “contrary to longstanding bipartisan United States policy, including with regard to the treatment of settlements,” the JTA reported.

The President pledged to oppose the efforts of the BDS movement against Israel – but only within the Green Line. Beyond the Green Line, however, Obama claimed he was not bound by the law, which he said might infringe upon his constitutional prerogatives as president.

He argued that “conflating Israel and ‘Israeli-controlled territories’” was illegitimate and would “interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy”.   (Arutz Sheva)

Ya’alon warns: Iran operating ‘sleeper cells’ in Europe

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Wednesday warned that Iran is building an international terror network that includes “sleeper cells” planning to strike on command in places such as Europe and the United States.

Those “sleeper cells” are stockpiling arms, intelligence and operatives, said Ya’alon. He made the comments during a visit to Cyprus and was quoted by The Associated Press (AP).

Ya’alon said Iran aims to destabilize the Middle East and other parts of the world and is training, funding and arming “emissaries” to spread a revolution.

He said Tehran is the anchor of a “dangerous axis” that includes Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Sanaa and other cities in the region.

“The Iranian regime through the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps is building a complex terror infrastructure including sleeping cells that are stockpiling arms, intelligence and operatives and are ready to act on order including in Europe and America,” he was quoted as having said after talks with his Cypriot counterpart.

He did not, however, offer any direct evidence of such sleeper cells existing in the U.S. or Europe, but he referred indirectly to the case of a Hezbollah member who was jailed in Cyprus last year following the seizure of nine tons of a chemical compound that can be converted into an explosive.

A Cypriot court sentenced Lebanese Canadian Hussein Massam Abdallah to six years in prison after prosecutors said he admitted that Hezbollah aimed to mount terrorist attacks against Israeli interests in Cyprus.

In 2013, a Cyprus court sentenced a self-confessed member of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah to four years in prison after he was convicted of involvement in a plot to attack Israeli interests on the island.

Ya’alon said on Wednesday that Cypriot authorities had “defeated attempts by Hezbollah and Iran to establish a terror infrastructure” on the island that aimed to expand “throughout Europe.”

Yaalon’s trip to Cyprus was the first official visit by an Israeli defense minister to the east Mediterranean island, though the two countries have enjoyed closer relations in recent years.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Cyprus last July and, like Ya’alon, warned at the time that Iran poses a formidable threat to Europe with its terrorist proxy Hezbollah.

Last month, Israel, Cyprus and Greece formed an alliance focused on plans to build a gas pipeline to Europe.                       (Arutz Sheva)

Iran pledges thousands of dollars for Palestinian terrorists

Iran will pay thousands of dollars to families of Palestinian terrorists killed while carrying out attacks against Israelis, Tehran’s ambassador to Lebanon said Wednesday.

Mohammad Fateh Ali said Tehran will give $7,000 to families of “martyrs of the intifada in occupied Jerusalem” and a further “$30,000 to every family whose home the occupation has demolished for the participation of one of its sons,” according to local news reports.

Twenty-nine Israelis and three non-Israelis have been killed in a wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks and violence since October, during which over 170 Palestinians have also been killed, some two-thirds of them while attacking Israelis, and the rest during clashes with troops, according to the Israeli army.

Jerusalem slammed the announcement of Iranian financial aid to terrorists, saying it was another example of Iran’s continued aggression towards Israel.

“This is further proof of Iran’s deep involvement in support for anti-Israeli terrorism,” read a Foreign Ministry statement. “After the [nuclear] agreement with world powers, Iran has allowed itself to continue as a major player in international terrorism.”

Israeli officials frequently warned that the lifting of sanctions on Iran would free up billions of dollars that Tehran could funnel into funding terror activities.

Israel’s Channel 2 reported Wednesday that Hamas officials met recently in Tehran with Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Al-Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, and discussed Iranian funding for the terror group. He said he “kissed the foreheads” of all those thousands engaged in anti-Israel activities, the TV report said.

Tehran reportedly upped financial support to Hamas, the Gaza-based terror group, after signing of the nuclear deal with Western powers last July.

The historic agreement gave Tehran access to an estimated $100 billion dollars in frozen money and opened up the country’s economy, long hampered by sanctions, to international business.

Ali’s statements were made at a press conference attended by Hamas officials, who reportedly praised the initiative and thanked Iran for its support. However, Ali seemed to open up the terror incentives to all Palestinians, not just Hamas members.

Earlier in the day, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned that Iran was paying for and readying sleeper cells to attack targets in Israel, the US and Europe.

Earlier in the year, a Hamas official was quoted saying that Iran had stopped funding the group, a claim Tehran denied, saying it always supported Palestinian resistance.

Iran’s backing of the Gaza-based terror group has been a point of contention for the rival Palestinian Authority. In January the Palestinian Authority ambassador to Riyadh said the PA would back Saudi Arabia over Iran in an ongoing political row, due to Tehran’s support of Hamas.

“The Iranian government doesn’t support the Palestinian Authority, which is at the forefront of confronting the Israeli enemy,” Basem al-Agha told the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Al-Agha went on to say that “the Palestinians have suffered from Iran’s actions and strange behaviors, which aim to undermine the legitimate Palestinian powers and to create ‘conglomerates’ against these legitimate powers.”

In November, near the beginning of the current wave of terror attacks, Khameini accused Israel of perpetrating “the worst kind of terrorism for the last 60 years,” noting that it was far more “barbaric” than the Paris terror attacks two weeks ago by Islamic State militants that killed 129.

In a letter addressed to Western youth in the wake of terror attacks in Paris, the supreme leader said there was no violence as “atrocious” as Israeli settlement construction.

“The oppressed people of Palestine have experienced the worst kind of terrorism for the last sixty years,” he wrote. “If the people of Europe have now taken refuge in their homes for a few days and refrain from being present in busy places it is decades that a Palestinian family is not secure even in its own home from the Zionist regime’s death and destruction machinery.

The supreme leader also accused the Jewish state of “state terrorism,” and charged that Jerusalem “every day” demolishes Palestinian homes.

Israel demolishes the homes of Palestinians who allegedly carry out attacks, which it claims as a deterrent measure.             (The Times of Israel)

Terrorist wanted by Israel murdered at Palestinian Embassy in Bulgaria

A fugitive Palestinian terrorist wanted by Israel was found dying in the yard of the Palestinian Embassy in Sofia on Friday morning. Some Palestinian groups claimed Israel killed him, an accusation that Jerusalem firmly denied.

Bulgarian radio reported that Omar Nayef Zayed, 51, had fallen from the fourth floor of the embassy. He died later in the hospital.

A senior Palestinian Authority official said he “was discovered with serious torso injuries and died before emergency services arrived,” official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported. PA officials said they were investigating the circumstances of his death.

The Bulgarian prosecutor’s office said it was told by the embassy Friday morning of a death resulting from violence on the territory of the embassy. The Palestinian ambassador granted access to the investigators, it said, adding that the cause of death had not been established yet.

Bulgarian Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov said the body was found outside the embassy by a Palestinian embassy staffer as he parked his car. Zayed was still alive when an ambulance arrived, and there were no gunshot wounds. He died at the scene before paramedics were able to take him to a hospital. Tsatsarov suggested a possible cause of death was that he had fallen from the embassy building.

Zayed, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), had been living in Bulgaria for the past 20 years. Even though the body bore no bullet wounds, the PFLP claimed he had been shot in the head.

Palestinian Ambassador Ahmed al-Madbuh told reporters Friday that the death was murder and said it was “a result of the continuing persecution by Israel.” He added: “Omar is one of the Palestinian fighters who led the struggle against the occupation and fulfilled his duty to his land and his people.”

Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said, “This is not an Israeli issue.” Officials at the ministry were quoted denying any involvement, and saying Israel had first learned of Zayed’s death from the media.

Israel Radio quoted “a security source” as saying that “Israel has no interest in striking at an elderly terrorist, especially if it involves danger or committing resources.”

The death came hours after Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov returned from a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority where he discussed the extradition of Zayed with the Israeli prime minister and senior Palestinian officials.

“I told all sides that our prosecution had received a request for extradition and now a court was to decide whether he will be extradited or not,” Borisov told Parliament Friday.

In 1986 Zayed was convicted in the murder of yeshiva student Eliyahu Amedi — whom he stabbed to death in Jerusalem’s Old City — along with two other Palestinian assailants. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Four years after beginning his sentence, Zayed began a hunger strike and was moved to a Bethlehem hospital facility, from which he managed to escape. He fled to Bulgaria in 1994 and married a local woman with whom he had three children.

In December of 2015, Israel submitted a request to Bulgarian authorities to extradite him. Late last year Bulgarian authorities agreed to examine the Israeli request but a December 14 hearing was postponed because Zayed was not at his address, the Bulgarian interior ministry said.

He had fled to the Palestinian Embassy to seek sanctuary there, and had been staying there ever since.

According to a report on the Ynet news website, Israel, Bulgaria and Palestinian officials had been holding discussions since that time to facilitate Zayed’s surrender.

The Palestinian Authority’s minister of prisoner affairs, Issa Qaraqe, said Israel was behind Zayed’s death. PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced the formation of a special commission of inquiry to look into his death, Wafa said.

His brother, Ahmed Zayed, was among those released in a 2011 swap for Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, who was held hostage by Hamas in Gaza for five years                 (The Times of Israel)

IDF nabs Hevron terror cell behind numerous attacks

The IDF, along with the Israel Security Agency (ISA, also known as the Shin Bet or Shabak) and Israel Police have arrested a number of terrorists from Hevron, including two brothers, who were involved in a number of attacks.

Over recent months, the group shot at civilians and soldiers in the area and wounded four Israelis in total.

The attacks were notable for their religious aspects. They shot two Jewish men while the were praying and frequently attacked IDF soldiers near the Tomb of the Patriarchs. After each attack, they hid their weapons in the al-Mujahideen Mosque in Hevron.

During interrogation, the suspects gave up the makeshift sniper rifle that was used in the attacks, as well as a “Carl Gustav” style sub-machine gun.

The two brothers are identified as 23-year-old Nasser Faisal Mohammed Badawi, a member of Hamas, and 33-year-old Akhram Faisal Mohammed Badawi.

Nasser was detained for questioning last month, after which Akhram continued shooting at civilians in order to make authorities think that they had caught the wrong person. (Arutz Sheva)

Minister Elkin: PA collapse not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’

Minister for Immigration and Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) gave a talk at Bar Ilan University this morning (Monday), in which he presented his approach to the challenges that will face Israel once Mahmoud Abbas no longer runs the Palestinian Authority.

“The current wave of terror is a preview for the collapse of the PA. Most of the likely scenarios for the day after Abu Mazen [another name for Mahmoud Abbas] will lead to a lack of organized inheritance, to an internal fight for succession, to anarchy and the dismantling of the PA,” he said. “The ones who will have to pay the price for anarchy in the PA are Israeli citizens, particularly the communities in Judea and Samaria. We must prepare for even worse attacks.”

Elkin added that “the question is not if the PA collapses but when it is going to collapse. This is the reason we must prepare our security and stop the futile discussions over whether or not it is good for the State of Israel. The PA will collapse whether we like it or not and the State of Israel had better accept that the train has left the station. At the moment, sadly, it seems that we have not yet internalized the new situation and we are not properly preparing ourselves.

He further noted, “The international community must also stop trying to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, because it is just an attempt at resuscitation that will blow up in our faces. It’s true that there are a number of scenarios, but the most likely scenario to me is that anarchy will result from the lack of a clear successor to Abu Mazen, due to his unwillingness to hold elections for the presidency and the surplus of legal and illegal weapons in the PA’s territory. There is no point in trying to revive the PA, and instead we should make a fitting headstone for its grave, along with that of the Oslo Accords. The Palestinian Authority was born with Abu Mazen, who initiated and pushed for Oslo, and the PA will disappear with Abu Mazen when he goes.”

Despite this, he does not believe that even elections could change the outcome. “Most of the Fatah candidates will never win an election against Hamas. The only one who will is in Israeli jail – Marwan Barghouti.” Regardless of how it happen, though, “if the PA collapses the world will blame Israel.”

Elkin explained his attitude towards the Oslo process: “The mistaken concept in Oslo lead us to today’s reality. We made a mistake when we brought the PLO leaders out of Tunis, we made a mistake when we though that they would deal with terror and incitement, and we made a mistake when we allowed them to run their education system, media and sermons without supervision. All of these led to the building of a generation filled with a burning hate for us and cause a 13-year-old girl to leave her school and stab Jews to death.

“In order to fight against the ongoing wave of terror,” he concluded, “We must treat it with antibiotics and not with aspirin. We need to understand that today’s terror was born from 23 years of neglect, ever since the Oslo Accords. Therefore, we must reach down to the roots, which are incitement in schools, in the media and especially in sermons. In addition, we must prepare for our security and to understand the new field. The source of authority is not excessive hierarchies and institutions, it’s identifying the new players below the surface in a timely manner. If we know how to identify them quietly, we can deal with the situation. There’s no doubt that this is a ticking bomb that can still be dismantled, if only we can wake up in time.”            (Arutz Sheva)

Netanyahu to Cameron: If not for Israel, terrorists would destroy Jerusalem’s holy places

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waded into an escalating row with Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday, accusing him of “forgetting” that only Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem is keeping Islamic extremism at bay and safeguarding the city’s holy places from destruction by terrorists.

Cameron, long a firm public supporter of Israel, on Wednesday castigated Israel in remarks in the House of Commons for its “shocking” construction of Jewish homes in and around contested East Jerusalem, at the expense of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu, hitting back, said Cameron had evidently forgotten that “only Israeli sovereignty prevents Islamic State and Hamas from setting aflame the holy places in the city, as they are doing across the Middle East.”

Furthermore, Netanyahu added, “only Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem ensures the rule of law for Arab residents and for all.”

Netanyahu made his comments at a parlor meeting with a local council chief, rather than in an official statement, but ensured that they were recorded on camera, Israel’s Channel 2 reported. Israel’s Foreign Ministry had refused to respond to Cameron’s remarks throughout Thursday, because of the British prime minister’s long record of friendship with Israel, and because he had been answering a “provocative” question raised by a Muslim member of Parliament, the Israeli TV report said.

Earlier Thursday, Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat also hit out at Cameron, questioning his knowledge of the region and pointing a finger at the UK for its policies during the pre-state British Mandate.

On Wednesday, Cameron had told Britain’s Parliament that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem was “genuinely shocking,” even as he insisted that he was a “great friend of Israel” and defined Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“I am well known for being a strong friend of Israel, but I have to say the first time I visited Jerusalem and had a proper tour around that wonderful city and saw what had happened with the effective encirclement of East Jerusalem, occupied East Jerusalem, it is genuinely shocking,” Cameron said during a weekly question-and-answer session.

Barkat said Cameron’s statements were “incorrect, based on a lack of awareness of facts and the reality on the ground,” in a statement released by the Jerusalem municipality.

The mayor rhetorically asked what it was that specifically shocked Cameron, highlighting investment in schools, infrastructure and community centers in East Jerusalem.

Cameron’s comments were likely referring to a 2007 trip he took before being elected prime minister and before Barkat was elected mayor. During that visit he toured several parts of Jerusalem and the surrounding area, including a promenade that skirts the Jerusalem seam line.

Jerusalem’s municipality is often accused of failing to provide equal services to Arab and Jewish parts of the city, something Barkat has claimed he is working to remedy.

The city’s response included a pointed criticism of Britain’s own administration of Jerusalem from 1923 to 1948.

“The quality of life for East Jerusalem residents is constantly progressing and is far superior to the quality of life for residents in any of our neighboring countries, certainly better than the time of the British Mandate in Israel,” read the Barkat statement in Hebrew.

Notably, however, the reference to the British Mandate was left out of the English translation of statements circulated by the municipality.

A spokeswoman for Barkat said it was normal practice to edit comments in translations in order to make statements appropriate for different audiences.

“Sometimes we add some explanation and sometimes we take things out,” she told The Times of Israel. “In this case, we didn’t need to include the statements on the British Mandate in English as you can assume that the British public know about the Mandate and what went on. Those comments were directed at Israelis who may not.”

Some 200,000 Israelis live alongside about 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem, most of them in Jewish neighborhoods built after 1967.

While Israel maintains it has the right to build anywhere in the capital, the international community never recognized its annexation of East Jerusalem, and building there is frequently condemned.

Cameron said on Wednesday: “What this government has consistently done and gone on doing is saying, ‘Yes, we are supporters of Israel but we do not support illegal settlement, we do not want to support what is happening in East Jerusalem, and it’s very important that this capital city is maintained the way it was in the past.’”

Barkat encouraged Cameron to visit Jerusalem again instead of speaking out against it.

“I invite Prime Minister Cameron to work with us to advance the development of the city of Jerusalem, rather than work to build walls and sharpen divisions in the heart of Jerusalem.”

Last week group of British lawmakers on a visit to the region clashed with senior Palestinian Authority officials Wednesday during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, after a PA representative blamed the MPs, as Britons, for causing the entire Israel-Palestinian conflict with the British Mandate.

A lunch meeting between a delegation from the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) and veteran PA negotiator Nabil Shaath turned hostile with Shaath and other Palestinian officials hurling accusations against the group for their implicit support of the 1923-48 British Mandate in Palestine.

That was “years and years before I was even born,” said one of the MPs wryly later.

(The Times of Israel)

Israeli drone may be helping Assad

An image released Sunday appears to show an Israeli-made drone flying over Syria. Israel Air Industries (IAI) sold the same model of drones to Russia, which may explain the aircraft’s presence in the country. Thus, in a stroke of irony, an Israeli drone is helping the Assad regime and its allies, Iran and Hezbollah, to maintain its rule and beat the rebels.

Syrian social media accounts claimed that the Israeli drone was sold by Russia to Assad’s army, but the photo and information were not published in official media outlets, so the accuracy of this claim is unclear. The medium-sized drone was designed for reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering missions at ranges of dozens t hundreds of kilometers.

Drone[1] (3)

On the second day of a ceasefire in Syria, a tense quiet has settled over much of the country. But there have already been multiple reports that the fragile ceasefire has been broken. Russian monitors claimed that 9 violations had occurred within 24 hours.

Russian air forces attacked six cities in the Aleppo area on Sunday morning and Arabic-language Sky News reported that Syrian opposition groups intended to file a complaint at the United Nations over the airstrikes, which reportedly killed 11 civilians. Russia also struck Homs’s northern suburb.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a Sunday morning government meeting that he welcomed attempts to reach a ceasefire in Syria. “Anything that stops the horrible destruction is important, but first and foremost any settlement must include an end t Iran’s aggressiveness towards Israel from Syrian territory.” The prime minister added that “we will not allow the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah and we will not allow the creation of a terrorist front in the Golan Heights. These were the red lines we set and they remain Israel’s red lines.”              (Ynet News)

Turkish FM: We’re close to reconciliation deal with Israel

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Turkish cabinet ministers last week that efforts to finalize a reconciliation deal with Israel were close to being completed, the Turkish Hurriyet newspaper reported on Monday.

According to the report, Cavusoglu said Turkey and Israel might make a joint statement “in the coming days.”

The once-close relationship between Turkey and Israel soured after the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, in which eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American were killed when Israeli naval commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara vessel, which was seeking to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. A 10th Turkish citizen died later of his injuries.

Under a U.S.-brokered arrangement in 2013, Israel apologized to Turkey for the deaths and agreed to compensate the victims’ families. But subsequent efforts to restore ties have stalled.              (Israel Hayom)

Boy finds ancient figurine during Beit She’an outing

A 7-year-old boy uncovered a 3,400-year-old figurine during a hiking trip to the Beit She’an Valley in northern Israel.

Uri Grinhot was climbing in the area with his friends and parents when he stumbled across the statue at the Tel Rehov archaeological site, apparently after accidentally kicking it as lay in the ground. The rare clay figurine is of a naked woman and was most probably prepared by pressing the soft clay material into a mold.

The boy and his family handed the figurine over to the Israel Antiquities Authority, which awarded him a certificate for good citizenship, the Walla news website reported Thursday.

figurine[1]

“Uri came home with the impressive statuette, and we were extremely excited,” said his mother Moriah. “We explained to him that it was an antique and that the Antiquities Authority looks after such findings for the general public.”

Amihai Mazar, professor emeritus at Hebrew University and head of archaeological excavations at Tel Rehov, examined the statue, saying that it is “typical of Canaanite culture from the 15th to 13th centuries BCE.”

He said: “Some researchers believe that the figure depicted here is a flesh and blood woman, while others see it as Astarte, goddess of fertility, known from Canaanite and the Bible. There is a high probability that when the term ‘idol’ is mentioned in the Bible, it in fact refers to figurines such as this.”

IAA officials visited Uri at his school in Sde Eliyahu to present him with his award and to discuss the statue he had found, Channel 2 television said.

“Archaeologists came into the classroom during a Torah class, just as we had learned that [Biblical matriarch] Rachel had stolen the idols of her father Lavan,” teacher Esther Ladelle told the TV station.                    (The Times of Israel)

The Consequences of American Retreat from the Middle East

by Efraim Inbar                     BESA ( Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies ) Center Perspectives/ Middle East Forum

http://www.meforum.org/5870/american-retreat-from-the-middle-east

The US, under President Barack Obama, has signaled its intent to reduce its presence in the Middle East. The US fought two unsuccessful wars in the region – a frustrating lesson about the limits of its power. At the same time, US dependency upon Middle Eastern energy has been reduced thanks to domestic progress in fracking technology. Moreover, Washington has decided to “pivot” to China, an emerging global challenger, and also to cut defense expenditures, leaving fewer military assets available for projecting power in the Middle East. (For a while during President Obama’s tenure, the US had no aircraft carriers in the eastern Mediterranean or in the Gulf at all, an unprecedented situation.) In addition, the American campaign against ISIS has been extremely limited, and has met with little success.

Unfortunately, this disengagement signals both fatigue and weakness.

Washington also has desisted from confronting Iran and has gone to great lengths to accommodate it. President Obama’s contention is that by completing a nuclear deal with Iran, he resolved one of the outstanding security issues in the region before leaving office. However the deal legitimizes a large nuclear infrastructure in Iran, and ignores the cardinal national security interests of at least two US allies: Israel and Saudi Arabia. The subsequent removal of international economic sanctions – with no reciprocal requirement for any change in Iranian regional policy – positions Iran to reap great financial benefits at no cost. President Obama’s Iran policy has occasioned a dramatic change in the regional balance of power, yet Washington appears largely unperturbed.

Whereas US policy on Iran has been guided primarily by wishful thinking, the apprehensions of regional actors with regard to Iran’s hegemonic ambitions have multiplied in response to the nuclear deal. While Washington claims to be confident that Iran will play “a responsible regional role,” leaders in Ankara, Cairo, Jerusalem, and Riyadh see Iran as almost entirely unaltered from its pre-deal state in any meaningful political sense, with the potential to produce nuclear bombs in a short time.

The gravest consequence of the US policy of disengagement from the region is the increased probability of nuclear proliferation. Powers contending for regional leadership, such as Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia will not stand idly by in the nuclear arena, particularly as the US is no longer seen as a reliable security provider. US attempts to convince regional powers to rely on an American nuclear umbrella in an attempt to prevent nuclear proliferation are likely to fail. The emergence of a multi-polar nuclear Middle East, which is a plausible consequence of the American nuclear accommodation with Iran, will be a strategic nightmare for everyone.

An emboldened Iran, which traditionally acts through proxies rather than through military conquest, might intensify its campaign to subvert Saudi Arabia, possibly by playing the Shiite card in the Shiite-majority and oil-rich Eastern province. The loss of that province would considerably weaken the Saudi state and might even bring about its disintegration.

Iran could use subversion, terrorist attacks, and intimidation of the Gulf states to evict the thinning American presence completely from the Gulf. In the absence of American determination and ability to project force, Iranian superior power might “Finlandize” the Gulf countries. We could also see also the Finlandization of the Caspian basin, where Iran shares the coast with important energy producers like Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. The Caspian basin and the Persian Gulf form an “energy ellipse” that contains a large part of the world’s energy resources.

Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are very fearful of growing Iranian influence. Those countries, which adopted a pro-Western foreign policy orientation after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, might decide to return to the Russian orbit, because Russia appears at present to be a more reliable ally than the US.

Russia is fully alive to the potential for a reassertion of a Russian role in the region in the wake of American retreat. To that end, it has taken the major step of intervening militarily in Syria to assure the survival of Assad’s regime. The Syrian littoral is a vital base for enhanced Russian naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean, and this preceded Russian air participation in the Syrian civil war. In addition, Russia wants to protect energy prospects that depend on Assad’s survival. It already has signed exploration contracts with the Assad regime with regard to the recent gas discoveries in the Levant basin.

Syria has been an ally of Iran since 1979 – the longest alliance in the Middle East. The preservation of the Assad regime is critical to Iranian interests because Damascus is a linchpin to its proxy, the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Russia’s efforts on Assad’s behalf thus directly serve the interests of the Iranian regime. If successful, those efforts will further Iranian influence in the region.

Outside Syria, we may see Iran join Russia in supporting Kurdish political ambitions in order to weaken Turkey, Iran’s rival for regional leadership. The Kurds are a thorn in Turkey’s side. Iran and Turkey are supporting opposing sides in the civil war in Syria, where the Kurds are carving out autonomous regions. Depending on how the war transpires, Kurdish national dreams might benefit from the power vacuum created by the disruption of the Arab statist structure and the American exit from the region.

As to Egypt, American reluctance to support the al-Sisi regime plays into Russian hands. The Russians are selling weapons to Egypt, negotiating port rights in Alexandria, and supplying Egypt with nuclear reactors. In Iraq too, we see the harbingers of a Russian presence in coordination with Iran, as American influence in that state continues to wane.

The rise of a more aggressive Iran – a direct consequence of the US retreat – may bring about greater tacit cooperation among Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel. The big question is whether Turkey will join such an anti-Iranian alignment.

US weakness in the region inevitably will have ripple effects in other parts of the globe. American credibility is now subject to question, and allies elsewhere may determine that it would be wise to hedge their bets. Greater challenges await the US beyond the Middle East.

BDS movement: Idealism or anti-Semitism?

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-bds-movement-idealism-or-anti-semitism/

by Fred Maroun      The Times of Israel

Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war

Some well-meaning people say that they support the BDS movement because they want the Palestinians to have a state of their own just like the Jews do, and BDS offers a non-violent approach towards that goal. That sounds so nice. Does it not? Your eyes almost water imagining a non-violent movement led by the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi for the benefit of the poor Palestinians who are oppressed by the big bad Israelis!

Which person with any social conscience at all would not support that?

But is this really what BDS stands for? Let us examine the facts.

Let us start by hearing what the BDS advocates themselves say that they want. The website bdsmovement .netstates their demands:

“Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” – This means the unconditional removal of all IDF presence from the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, and the removal of all Jews from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“Dismantling the Wall” – This means the removal of the security barrier that was built to keep suicide bombers from entering Israel from the West Bank.

“Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality” – The meaning of this is obvious, but since Arabs already have equal rights in Israel (unlike Jews in the Arab world), this “demand” is nothing but an attempt to mislead the reader into believing that such an equality does not already exist.

“Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194” – UN resolution 194 states that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so”, and although the interpretation of this text is disputed, it has been widely interpreted by the pro-Palestinian side (which the BDS movement is part of) as meaning the unlimited migration of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants (currently estimated at over 5 million) into Israel which has a little over 6 million Jews and a little less than 2 million Arabs.

It is not very hard to predict what would happen if Israel complied with all of the BDS demands:

Hamas would take over the West Bank and East Jerusalem through elections or by force, whichever method is more convenient to them, and once in place, they would impose an autocratic one-party rule just as they have done in Gaza.

The Syrian regime, Hezbullah, Daesh, or a combination of the three would take over the Golan Heights since these are the factions currently battling in Syria.

Any Jews left in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (even the ones who had simply returned to the areas from which their families were expelled during the War of Independence) would be killed or deported to Israel, just as in the War of Independence.

Hamas would have better success at receiving advanced weapons from Iran, and perhaps even dirty bombs that use nuclear material, just as they have been trying to do since their violent takeover of Gaza.

Hamas attacks on Israel from the West Bank and amplified attacks from Gaza would render Israel’s airports inoperable, would devastate Israel’s economy, and would likely result in many Israeli deaths. To defend itself, Israel would have to use extreme force that would result in many Palestinian deaths, and it would undoubtedly face severe international condemnation and likely a weakening of its supply of weapons.

While Israel is busy fighting Hamas, it would face higher risks of attacks from other hostile sources (such as Hezbullah, Daesh, and Iran) since Israel would be in a weaker position that could be exploited and since it would have lost the strategic advantage of the Golan Heights.

Jews would become a minority in their own country, and within years they would face deportation (if some countries are willing to take them) and pogroms at the hands of Arabs, just as they have faced everywhere else in the Middle East (which resulted in over 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands, higher than the number of Palestinian refugees from Israel).

BDS leaders know these very likely consequences as well as I do. Some even admit it publicly, such as Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the BDS movement who said, “No Palestinian will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine”.

Even if we ignore the anti-Semitism widely promoted by BDS advocates on university campuses, social media, and elsewhere, the stated demands of the BDS movement alone show the truth about the BDS movement. It relies on the support of naïve people who have not thought through the consequences of BDS demands and on the support of outright anti-Semites who know very well the consequences of the demands. The BDS movement presents an image of respectability, but its objectives are indistinguishable from Hamas’ objectives.

Not only is the BDS movement anti-Semitic, but since its objective is the destruction of Israel, the killing of Jews, and the return of the remaining Jews to the stateless and precarious status that they had before May 1948, the BDS movement represents an anti-Semitism at par with Hamas, and the worst form of anti-Semitism since Nazi Germany.

Only Separation Can Lead to a Two-State Solution

by Isaac Herzog    The New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/29/opinion/international/only-separation-can-lead-to-a-two-state-solution.html?mwrsm=Facebook&_r=1

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its post-1967 incarnation has been raging for nearly 49 years, with no solution in sight. Several Israeli prime ministers, including Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, made great efforts to reach a permanent agreement, only for the Palestinians to decline, while Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was met not by peace and quiet, but by rockets and terror tunnels. The terror wave of recent months, in which Israeli civilians have been victims of stabbings, shootings and car attacks, has further eroded the faith of Israeli moderates in the prospects of attaining peace.

All of this has served as an excuse for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make no substantial progress in working toward a two-state solution. Meanwhile, President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority leader, is Mr. Netanyahu’s mirror image, also doing nothing.

A majority of Israelis see a two-state solution as the only feasible way to end the conflict and retain Israel as both a Jewish and a democratic state. But for good reason, a majority of Israelis also see this as unrealistic right now. The hatred and distrust between the two peoples, fueled by extremists on both sides and compounded by the reluctance of leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah, has forced me to conclude that a breakthrough toward an agreement is not foreseeable.

The standstill threatens to lead to the formation of a binational, one-state reality with two warring nations perennially at each other’s throats. Such a situation would suit the Israeli far right, which wishes to annex the West Bank along with its inhabitants. It would also serve the interests of those Palestinians who seek the demise of the Jewish state. But the lack of progress will destroy the aspiration of the moderate majorities on both sides.

It’s time to look reality in the eye: Continuing on the same path will not only fail again but will further erode Israelis’ and Palestinians’ faith in a two-state solution, convince the Palestinians that they can achieve statehood without negotiating and provide oxygen to the enemies of peace on both sides.

That is why last month I introduced an interim plan that was overwhelmingly endorsed by my party’s conference. The plan reaffirms our strong commitment to a two-state solution by way of calling for immediate political and security measures, namely, the separation of Israelis and Palestinians. This, along with other steps I have proposed, will generate the climate necessary for productive negotiations in the future.

My plan focuses on four concrete steps.

The largest settlements, known as settlement blocs, are adjacent to the 1967 lines, constitute a tiny percentage of the West Bank’s territory and hold the vast majority of settlers. These are essential to Israel’s security. Most stakeholders accept that they will remain part of Israel in any permanent peace agreement, in return for land swaps. The security fence currently being built around these blocs should be completed, yet with allowance given to ensure the territorial contiguity of Palestinian lands and prevent the isolation of Palestinian villages.

Twenty-eight Arab villages to the north and east of Jerusalem must be physically and politically separated from the city’s municipal boundaries, leaving a unified, strengthened capital. This would also mitigate the spate of Palestinian knife attacks that have originated in no-man’s-land neighborhoods and are facilitated by free access into the city.

Beyond the major settlement blocs, Israel should stop settlement activities and remove outposts that are illegal under Israeli law. We should also transfer civilian powers and responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority. This will empower it, improve its ability to counter terrorist activities in the West Bank and facilitate institution building. The Israeli military will remain the only army in the territories up to the Israel-Jordan border.

A regional security conference, including those nations with whom Israel shares mutual interests, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, should be convened in order to formulate a plan to defeat the spread of extremism and terrorism emanating, separately, from the Islamic State and Iran. Such a conference, focused on our shared goal of defeating these twin threats, would help build the trust and working relationships necessary for future collaboration on an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

Additionally, we must address the issue of Gaza. The goal should be to establish a long-term cease-fire, an integral part of which must be preventing the armament of Gaza and incentivizing its demilitarization. The Palestinian Authority should be part of this deal, and regional partners must help with Gaza’s economic development. Israel will maintain its right to take action when terrorist organizations develop infrastructure aimed at harming our civilians, such as terror tunnels.

This is essentially an emergency plan. A negotiated two-state solution remains the goal of Israel’s Zionist Union, but in the meantime we cannot and should not sit by idly. We must build trust. We must take measures toward having each nation dwell in its own territory, stopping terrorists and generating economic development and governance in the Palestinian territories. We must isolate those who work against the interest of peace and show the Palestinians a route to a better life, while creating a de facto two-state reality.

Polls show that our separation plan has earned the support of over 65 percent of Israelis. At the end of the road, a negotiated two-state solution, recognizing Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the nation state of the Palestinian people, remains the only way in which both sides can realize their aspirations. For this to be achieved, the process of managed separation must begin now.

Isaac Herzog is the leader of the opposition in Israel’s Knesset and chairman of the Zionist Union and the Labor Party.

Israel’s disappearance from Arab media scene

http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/885871

by ABDULATEEF AL-MULHIM                Arab News

Does anyone in the Arab world know what is happening in Israel? Do we know what weapons systems their defense forces are acquiring or developing? Do we know who is who in the Israeli policymaking circles?

The answer to the above questions is: We don’t know. Yes, we really don’t because at present, we don’t see or hear much about Israel in the Arab media. Israel has almost disappeared from headlines and many people no longer consider Israel as a threat. This is a reality that we have to learn to live with.

The day the so-called Arab Spring erupted, Israel became invisible in the Arab media. Arabs are too preoccupied with so many issues plaguing their own lands. Today, we don’t read much about Israel in the newspapers or see any reports about the Middle Eastern country in the electronic media. This is not a case of sudden disappearance. From referring to Israel as the Zionist enemy, the Arab media changed the tone by calling it the Israeli enemy, then we became aware of the term “hostile Israel” and then it was referred to as state of Israel and now Israel has simply vanished from the Arab media. It appears to be no longer on our radar.

In the past few decades, we only heard about one enemy of the Arab world ­ Israel. Ironically, more wars have taken place between Arab countries than between Israel and Arabs. As a matter of fact, wars between the Arab world and Israel are considered less severe compared to wars between the Arab countries and clashes within some Arab countries. The major Arab-Israeli conflicts took place in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and this doesn’t include minor conflicts and battles such as the clashes in southern Lebanon. But, overall, the wars were clear, people knew who was who in the battlefield and the casualties were not as high as people would see in other wars. In addition to that the wars were brief. And please don’t get me wrong, I hate wars and the loss of one life does matters. That is, however, a different issue.

The question remains, why has Israel disappeared from our media? Even it is no longer part of our living room discussions. Could the answer be that the Arab world has its hands full with internal issues or is it something else?

It is true that the Arab world has its hands full with other issues but there could be another reason for that. Simply put, some of the Arab leaders used the Palestinian issue just to portray themselves as heroes. Ironically, Israel is the one that invented many fake heroes and dictators in the Arab world. Just look at Lebanon’s Hassan Nasrallah who hijacked and destroyed Lebanon initially using anti-Israel propaganda. Similarly, we have seen Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Syria’s Hafez Assad and many others who became instant heroes because they showed hostility toward Israel. They also (mis)used the Palestinian misery and in due process they simply forgot to build their countries and neglected improving the living standards of their people.

Now the Arab media is drawing comparisons between the devastation caused during wars with Israel and the current regional scenario particularly the events taking place in Syria ­ a country whose own people are bent on its destruction. People are asking as to why during full-scale wars with Israel, we never saw destruction of archeological, historical or religious sites. In the past, we talked about Palestinian refugees, now we are dealing with a new wave of refugees emanating from Syria and other parts of the region. The Arab media now has no time or space to talk about Israel and to raise the issue of Palestine or Palestinians.

And let us not forget Iran, which is not an Arab country, but it is also silent about Israel. A few years ago, they wanted to wipe Israel out from the map but now there is no mention of Israel in the Iranian media. Perhaps, due to the fact that Saudi Arabia has replaced Israel as Iran’s number one enemy.

Instead of reading about Israel, Arabs want to discuss ways to promote better education, improved health-care facilities, social equality and better infrastructure.

At the end of the day, no matter what we write about Israel, the Israelis don’t care. They know we are busy.

The Knife and the Message: The Roots of the New Palestinian Uprising – Hirsh Goodman and Yossi Kuperwasser, eds. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

The latest wave of Palestinian violence against Jews is something new, an insidious wave of seemingly un-orchestrated attacks, perpetrated by unlikely assailants, and generally untraceable to any particular organization.

These attacks were also characterized by brutality, viciousness and randomness, and the purposeful use of the knife, to drive home the intent of bringing a new and unrelenting wave of slaughter to the Jews; a message to all Israelis that neither they, nor their children, will ever be able to live in this land in peace.

As this document will show, the Palestinian president and those under his authority are indeed instructing young Palestinians what to do, goading them into action through deliberate messaging, distortion and fabrication, aimed at keeping the conflict alive and portraying the Palestinians as the victims in a whitewash of terror.

There is a guiding hand in all this, the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian faction that leads it, Fatah. What is being witnessed today is the end-game of a strategy adopted by Fatah in 2009 and culminating in Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the UN General Assembly on September 30, 2015, when he announced that the Palestinians are no longer bound by the Oslo (peace) Accords.

A carefully calibrated policy of incitement and cynicism has brought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a new level, one that generates terror without fingerprints, but which adroitly serves Fatah’s strategy of an endless war of attrition, by varying means, against Israel.