3 Israelis killed, at least 11 others hurt in Istanbul bombing
Turkish officials said three Israelis were among the five people killed in a suicide bombing that rocked a main pedestrian thoroughfare in the heart of Istanbul on Saturday. At least 11 Israelis were among the 36 injured in the explosion.
Turkish authorities identified another of the people killed as an Iranian national.
Israeli officials named one fatality as Dimona-native Simha Damri, 60, who was in Istanbul as part of a culinary tour with her husband Avi, who was also injured in the attack.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that two Israelis had been killed and said it was possible there was a third Israeli fatality.
Speaking to the Israeli press after an emergency meeting, he said officials were investigating if Israelis had been targeted in the bombing, and said intelligence pointed to it being an Islamic State attack.
Six of the Israeli injured are slated to land back in Israel overnight Saturday. The worst-hurt, however, will remain in Istanbul hospitals until they are well enough to be put on a plane.
Turkish Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said that 36 people were wounded in the bombing, seven of them seriously. Two of the Israelis injured in the blast were seriously hurt, and one was undergoing surgery in an Istanbul hospital, Channel 2 reported.
Two Magen David Adom ambulance planes left Israel Saturday evening for Istanbul to retrieve those injured in the attack and bring them back to Israel for treatment. Foreign Ministry Director Dore Gold was to fly to Istanbul Sunday as well in coordination with Turkish authorities.
Ten other Israelis known to be in Turkey were out of contact with Israeli authorities.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul were monitoring events. Turkey has remained a popular destination for Israeli tourists, despite a years-long freeze in ties between the two countries.
“This is a suicide attack, a terrorist attack,” Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin told reporters at the scene, saying the bomber was also killed.
It wasn’t immediately clear who was behind the bombing, but Turkish officials pointed the finger at either Kurdish groups or the Islamic State group, both of which have been accused of carrying out attacks in Turkey recently.
The Jewish community in Istanbul reportedly received warnings of potential terror attacks.
The city’s Great Synagogue was forced to evacuate this morning during Sabbath morning prayers after news of the bombing, which took place around 11 a.m., Makor Rishon reporter Zvika Klein says.
“A few days ago the Jewish community was updated that apparently there would be a terror attack and that we should take precautions,” a member of the community tells the NRG website. “There were warnings as such.”
Turkish media identified the suicide bomber as Savaz Yildiz, 33, from the Turkish city of Adana, who was known to Turkish authorities. It wasn’t clear to which organization he belonged, however.
CCTV footage published online by the private Dogan news agency appeared to show the moment of the blast, with a fireball erupting near a handful of passersby and sending them rushing for cover.
One of the wounded Israelis, Naama Peled, spoke to the Hebrew-language media from hospital after the attack, while tour guide David Califa confirmed on social media that he had also been hurt. A spokesman for the Joint (Arab) List Knesset faction said that six Arab Israelis were wounded in the attack.
“To all those dear people who are worried, I am sorry that I cannot answer you,” Califa wrote in Hebrew on Facebook. “Naama and I are lightly wounded and being treated. The rest of the group members are dispersed among four hospitals. Please pray with us for their well being.”
The wounded Israelis were part of a 14-strong group, led by Califa, who had traveled to Turkey on a culinary tour.
A waiter working in a nearby restaurant told AFP he heard “a loud explosion.”
“When I came out, people were running in every direction, but I ran towards the blast site to see what happened,” said the waiter who gave just his first name Mustafa.
He described scenes of “carnage” with “people lying all about.”
Police sealed off the street in the heart of the European side of Istanbul for several hours after the attack.
Deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus was among the first senior officials to react, telling reporters he expected “unqualified support from those who call themselves Turkey’s friends” — apparently referencing recent criticism in Europe of hardline President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu condemned the suicide bombing as “inhumane” and vowed to continue to fight “centers of terrorism.”
“The investigation is ongoing, we’ll understand the incident as soon as possible. This bitter incident shows once more the rightness of our approach,” he said in a statement.
The US embassy in Turkey said on Twitter it was “saddened” and “shocked” by the attack, which French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called “despicable and cowardly” in a statement.
Not all officials condemned the attack though.
An official from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, Irem Aktas, was reportedly fired after tweeting shortly after the attack: “I wish that the wounded Israeli tourists were dead,” and her account was subsequently removed from social media.
The bomb exploded near a shopping mall, but Sahin, the Istanbul governor, said the intended target was a local authority building in the Beyoglu neighborhood, where Istiklal Caddesi is situated.
The street, which adjoins Taksim Square in the European part of the city, was evacuated after the attack, an AFP journalist at the scene said. Armed police sealed off the area while a police helicopter hovered overhead and a forensic team was at the scene.
Television images showed several ambulances ferrying the injured to hospitals.
Turkey is on edge following two recent suicide bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, which were claimed by a Kurdish militant group, an off-shoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
The most recent attack came on March 13, when a suicide car bomb ripped through a busy square in central Ankara, killing 37 people and wounding 125 others.
Turkey had heightened security in Ankara and Istanbul in the run-up to a Kurdish spring festival on March 21.
On Thursday, Germany had closed its embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul, citing “very serious” indications of planned attacks against its missions in Turkey.
The US embassy in Ankara had also warned its citizens in Turkey to avoid public gatherings ahead of Kurdish Nevruz (New Year) celebrations on Sunday and Monday, a rallying point in the past for pro-Kurdish protests.
Embarrassed by accusations of security lapses, Erdogan has lashed out at journalists, activists and intellectuals who criticize his renewed battle with the PKK and the suffering it has brought to parts of southeast Turkey, calling them “accomplices” of terror.
In July, the PKK resumed its three-decade-long insurgency against the Turkish state following the collapse of a shaky two-year ceasefire.
The conflict has claimed some 40,000 lives. (The Times of Israel)
Israel checking if suicide bomber targeted Israelis
Israel was attempting to find out whether a terror attack in central Istanbul that killed three Israelis specifically targeted the country’s citizens, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday night.
The suicide bombing on a main thoroughfare in central Istanbul was roundly condemned in Israel and abroad, and came as Turkey has suffered a wave of deadly bombings and amid an ever-present fear of Israelis being targeted abroad.
“We are of course trying to get intelligence on whether the terror attack was targeted against Israelis,” Netanyahu said at a press conference Saturday evening hours after the attack, which left at least five people dead and another 36 injured, including some 11 Israelis, according to Turkish officials.
Netanyahu confirmed two Israelis were killed and said there were fears a third Israeli had been killed as well. One was named as Simha Damri, 60, from Dimona.
Speaking at a situation room in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said officials in Jerusalem and Turkey were in constant contact, though he had not spoken to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Israel and Turkey are in the midst of détente talks to repair once warm ties that have been frozen for the last several years. Netanyahu offered condolences over a terror attack in Ankara earlier this month, a noted departure from silence over past attacks.
Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media from the Foreign Ministry building in Jerusalem on March 19 2016. (Screen capture Channel 20)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media from the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on March 19, 2016. (Screen capture Channel 20)
Despite chilly relations, Turkey has remained a popular tourism destination for Israelis, and a group of 14 people from the Jewish state on a culinary tour were apparently standing near the bomber when he blew himself up.
Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack, though Netanyahu said it looked like the Islamic State group was responsible. IS has been accused of several attacks in Turkey in recent months, including a suicide bombing near the Blue Mosque in January, in which 12 German tourists were killed.
Several media outlets named the alleged perpetrator of Saturday’s attack as Savas Yildiz, a 33-year-old Turkish radical.
IS was also blamed for an attack that left 103 people dead at a pro-Kurdish peace rally in Ankara in October.
Of the 36 injured, Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said 12 were foreigners. Six were Israelis, two were Irish and the four others from Germany, Iceland, Iran and Dubai, his office said.
CCTV footage circulated by Turkish media showed a man wearing a long coat presented as the bomber approaching a small group of people outside a local government building directly before the blast.
Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said the government building appeared to be the intended target.
A Western diplomatic source said the attacker may also have had tourists in his sights.
Israel’s counter-terrorism bureau issued a travel warning Saturday calling on Israelis to avoid leisure trips to Turkey.
Netanyahu on Saturday evening hinted the travel warning may be escalated on Sunday to calling on Israelis to avoid trips to the country whether for business or pleasure.
Israelis abroad have been targeted before, specifically by the Hezbollah terror group. In 2012, a suicide bomber blew himself up in Burgas, Bulgaria next to a bus full of Israelis, killing five Israelis and a local driver.
Two Magen David Adom planes and an IDF plane were on the way to Istanbul to bring back the dead and wounded.
Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold, who led negotiations in Geneva meant to restore ties between Israel and Turkey, cut short a visit to the AIPAC conference in Washington and was making his way to Istanbul Saturday. When he lands, he will be the highest ranking official to visit the country in years.
Gold will visit Israelis hospitalized in the city and then meet with high-level Turkish officials, the Hurriyet Daily News quoted Turkish sources as saying.
The paper quoted Israeli Embassy sources as praising the ongoing collaboration with Turkish officials in the aftermath of the attack.
Former foreign minister and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who has been critical of Netanyahu’s role as both prime and foreign ministers, said that the terror attack “shows how necessary the Foreign Ministry and its trained staff are. Whenever there is a problem, the Foreign Ministry is without substitute.”
Liberman said that “usually, in such cases there is full cooperation regardless of the diplomatic or political situation. Erdogan has every reason to cooperate.”
Opposition leader and head of the Zionist Union party Isaac Herzog wrote on Facebook that he was “praying for the healing of the wounded… and embracing the families in Israel who lost loved ones in the terrible terror attack in Istanbul; may their memory be blessed.”
President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement his heart “ached” for the victims of the blast.
“We send our condolences to the families in mourning, pray for the well-being of the injured and hope for their swift return to Israel,” he said. “May the hands of the search and rescue teams be strengthened, along with the representatives of the Foreign Ministry in Israel and in Turkey, in their efforts to bring relief and information to the worried families.” (The Times of Israel)
Two Israeli-Americans Identified Among Victims of Istanbul Suicide Attack
A suicide bombing in Istanbul on Saturday killed two American citizens, the White House said in a statement, with an Israeli official later confirming that the two held dual Israeli citizenship, raising the potential Israeli death toll in the attack to three.
“We are in close touch with Turkish authorities and reaffirm our commitment to work together with Turkey to confront the evil of terrorism,” White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
Later, asked whether he could confirm the two victims, whose names have not been released, were dual Israel-U.S. nationals, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said “yes.”
CCTV: Moment of suicide blast in central Istanbul
The suicide bomber killed at least two Israelis and two other people in a busy shopping district in the heart of Istanbul, the fourth such attack in Turkey so far this year. Another victim was reportedly an Iranian national.
One of the Israeli victims has been named as 60-year-old Simcha Damari, a mother of four. Her husband was wounded in the attack, according to reports.
The blast took place shortly before 11 A.M. on Istiklal Street, a major shopping and tourist district in central Istanbul, and sent panicked shoppers scurrying into side alleys off the long pedestrian avenue, a few hundred meters from an area where police buses are often stationed.
Thirty-six people were wounded, among them eleven Israelis, two of whom are in serious condition. The Foreign Ministry said that the Israelis who were wounded in the blast were part of a 14-member tour group.
“Today’s attack in Istanbul has shown us once again that the international community as a whole should act in a resolute manner against the ignoble objectives of terrorist organizations,” Turkish Prime Minister Davutoğlu said in a letter sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Turkish foreign minister said in response to the bombing that the “fight against terrorism to continue with full force.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, which two senior officials said could have been carried out by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), fighting for Kurdish autonomy in the southeast, or by an Islamic State terrorist. (Ha’aretz)
Three wounded Israelis arrive from Turkey
Magen David Adom Director General meets Istanbul attack victims
A delegation of Israeli doctors and paramedics from Magen David Adom landed in Istanbul on Saturday night, where it will assist in treating Israelis who were injured in the terrorist attack in the city.
The delegation is equipped with advanced medical equipment that enables the doctors to provide treatment to the victims even during a flight.
Three of the wounded Israelis have already landed in Israel and were taken to hospitals around the country upon their arrival.
Upon the arrival of the Magen David Adom delegation to Istanbul, they met with representatives of the Turkish Red Crescent and were brought into contact with the three victims who were later flown to Israel. The delegation then went to the three hospitals in Istanbul where the injured are hospitalized in order to examine them and bring them back home as quickly as possible.
Magen David Adom said it continues to be constantly in constant contact with local officials in Turkey, with the Prime Minister’s Office in Israel, the Foreign Ministry, the IDF, other relevant government agencies and the International Red Cross.
Magen David Adom Director General Eli Bin said on Saturday night, “Immediately after news of the attack in Istanbul was received, Magen David Adom immediately dispatched a rescue team of doctors and paramedics. We have contingency plans for these situations which allowed us to get organized quickly, and within hours the delegation landed in Turkey. The delegation includes doctors and paramedics who will conduct an initial assessment of the medical condition of the wounded Israelis.”
“As the prime minister instructed us, we will fly them home as soon as possible,” continued Bin. “We are working in full coordination with the Foreign Ministry and the Turkish Red Crescent. Magen David Adom is doing everything to bring the wounded Israelis home as quickly as possible.”
In addition to the wounded Israelis, three Israelis were killed in the attack in Istanbul. One of them was named as Simcha Damari, 60, from Dimona. Her husband, Avi, sustained moderate injuries and is one of 10 Israelis who were wounded in the blast. He suffered leg fractures as well as a punctured lung and underwent an operation in Turkey.
The couple were in Turkey as part of a culinary tour. (Arutz Sheva)
NGO Breaking the Silence collected classified information on IDF
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said that left-wing NGO Breaking the Silence had “crossed a red line” after an investigation revealed that the organization was potentially collecting classified information on the IDF, according to a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Channel 2 on Thursday aired a special investigative report alleging that the left-wing NGO was gathering intelligence information on the IDF after obtaining undercover footage depicting activists asking soldiers questions pertaining to intelligence and operational activities.
The footage was gathered by Ad Khan, who had infiltrated the ranks of Breaking the Silence over the last two years, according to Channel 2.
Shortly after the Channel 2 report aired, Netanyahu said that the group had “crossed a red line” and added security services would be investigating the allegations.
Breaking the Silence is an Non Governmental Organization established by IDF veterans. The stated aim of the organization is to collect the testimonies of soldiers who have served in the West Bank and Gaza, detailing alleged “cases of abuse towards Palestinians” and documenting the conduct of IDF soldiers, according to the group’s website.
Reached for comment by Channel 2, Breaking the Silence CEO Yuli Novak denied that he was collecting classified information, adding: “there are several organizations, together with members of the Knesset from the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi, who are working to silence whoever tries to criticize the government and the occupation.”
In addition to Netanyahu, a number of figures from across the political spectrum came out against the group’s alleged activities.
Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein called for an “investigation to clarify which sensitive information (Breaking the Silence) has in its possession.”
Meanwhile, Yesh Atid chairmen Yair Lapid said: “While Israel is fighting terror, Breaking the Silence is taking information and using it against the state.” He added that “Israel must do all it can to protect its soldiers, and this organization has no right to exist in a state that is battling daily for the safety of its citizens.”
Zionist Union MK Revital Swid said that “Breaking the Silence had lost all of its legitimacy” adding that “it was time to condemn all extremism no matter” what side of the political aisle they were on.
Members of the security establishment also commented on the potential fallout of the NGO’s suspected actions, including former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Avi Dichter and Avi Mizrahi, former head of GOC Central Command.
“Bringing in soldiers to retrieve information about the army and its (operational intelligence) is a serious incident,” Mizrahi said. “If there are more cases, then it’s much worse,” he added. (Jerusalem Post)
Ya’alon orders to investigate Breaking the Silence’s ‘spying’
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) has ordered the Military Advocate General to launch an investigation following the investigative report published by Channel 2 on Thursday regarding the radical leftist organization Breaking the Silence.
The report by the nationalist Ad Kan group revealed how Breaking the Silence, which claims to be a “human rights organization,” tried to gather classified intelligence about sensitive IDF operations along the Gaza border with Hamas.
Already on Thursday night Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that Breaking the Silence would be investigated, warning that it had “crossed another red line.”
A large number of MKs from all sides of the political spectrum condemned the group, with some noting that the attempt to collect classified intelligence is tantamount to spying. The radical organization for its part chose to lash out at Netanyahu, saying that he should be investigated for wanting to investigate them.
In parallel to the investigation launched by Ya’alon, MK Moti Yogev (Jewish Home) on Friday morning submitted a question to Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud), noting how the report revealed Breaking the Silence activists “establishing a methodical system to gather information about IDF forces on the borders of the country.”
Likewise he pointed out that the activists were shown to have planted a female soldier in a particular unit so as to gather military information about the unit from her.
“I was informed that a request was made to the security services and the police regarding this matter several months ago. I want to ask: was a search/investigation conducted by the police? What happened to the classified materials in the hands of the organization? Were criminal steps taken against Breaking the Silence members?,” asked Yogev. (Arutz Sheva)
Border Police officer wounded in stabbing attack near Cave of Patriarchs in Hebron
A Palestinian assailant stabbed and lightly wounded a Border Police officer near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron on Saturday morning.
Magen David Adom paramedics were treating the man, in his twenties, who was lightly injured with stab wounds to his upper body and were evacuating him to hospital in Jerusalem.
An initial investigation of the attack showed that the suspect, a resident of Hebron, arrived at the Pharmacy Checkpoint at the entrance to Kiryat Arba, and when Border Police forces at the crossing asked him to identify himself he pulled out a knife and attacked one of the men with it.
The forces shot and killed the 17-year-old Palestinian suspect.
The commander of the Border Police forces at the checkpoint praised his unit’s reaction.
“We are witness to repeated attempts to harm civilians and security forces personnel who secure the Hebron area. The alertness of the forces and their professional and rapid reaction prevented attacks on others, and brought the event to a conclusion with only minor wounds,” the commander said.
On Friday, Israeli authorities said soldiers and police thwarted two potential stabbing attacks in the West Bank, resulting in the death of one knife-wielding Palestinian assailant and the arrest of two others.
At the beginning of the week, on Monday, near the scene of the Saturday morning stabbing attack, three Palestinian terrorists launched two separate gun and car ramming attacks and were shot dead by the army. (Jerusalem Post)
Dennis Ross: Next US administration will want to improve ties with Israel
Regardless of the problems that existed under the Obama presidency, the next administration’s initial instinct will be to improve ties with Israel, Dennis Ross said this week.
Ross, who dealt with Middle East issues under George H.W.Bush, as well as under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said whoever takes over the White House in January will realize that “you don’t need a problem with Israel when dealing with all the other problems in the region.”
“I don’t see that at a time when the Middle East is characterized by all this trouble, you are going to have an American president say, ‘Gee this is a time we should also have a problem with Israel. I just don’t see that,” he said.
Speaking Wednesday night in Jerusalem to the Jewish People Policy Institute, Ross said that nobody really knows what Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s position is on Israel.
“I know what he says,” continued Ross, who will be speaking at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York on May 22.
“He says that no one has been a better friend of Israel. Then he says he is neutral on Israel and the Palestinians. And when he says that, it is because he is talking about a deal, because he thinks that is what you do when you do deals.”
Trump is expected to lay out in at least a bit more detail his policies on Israel when he addresses the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington next week.
Speaking of the political mood in America, Ross said that while there is a great deal of anger and frustration coming out in the US presidential campaign, that does not mean that there is an appetite in the US for withdrawing from the world. In fact, he noted, while Obama’s favorability ratings are now at 52 percent, those numbers drop to 36 percent regarding his handling of foreign policy.
“There is an image, fairly or not, that the US is not playing the role internationally that creates respect for the United States, and there is a reaction to that,” he said.
Ross said that neither Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Trump, nor any other Republican candidate is talking about retreating from the world.
Ross, who spoke about his book Doomed to Succeed, which traces the US-Israel relationship from Truman to Obama, noted that during that period American policy-makers have held three basic assumptions regarding Israel.
The first assumption is that if the US would distance itself from Israel, it would gain from the Arabs.
“Five administrations have done it: Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, [George H.W.] Bush and Obama,” he said. “Every single administration that engaged in distancing never produced what they expected from the Arabs; rather than gaining from the Arabs they typically produced more Arab demands.”
The second assumption, a corollary to the first, is that “if you cooperate with Israel, you lose with the Arabs.”
This, too, has proven false, Ross said, since the Arabs regimes are interested in a close, strong relationship with the US because it has ensured their own security and survival.
“They were never going to make our relationship with Israel something that would undercut their relationship to us, because that would undercut their security and survival,” he said. “We consistently misread what had been the most important priority to the Arab leaders.”
And the third assumption, which recent events in the region has also proven to be false, is that “you can’t transform the region, or America’s position in the region, unless you solve the Palestinian issue.” If the Palestinian issue would be solved tomorrow, he said, all the other issues plaguing the region would still remain.
Ross said that there is a need to continue solving the Palestinian- Israeli issue for the sake of Israel and the Palestinians, but not because of an expectation that the US can “fix” the region by a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal. (Jerusalem Post)
Chabad rabbi rescues Israeli backpackers stranded in Himalayas
A Chabad rabbi in Nepal joined a medical evacuation helicopter he arranged to rescue two stranded Israeli backpackers who were suffering from hypothermia at an altitude of 15,500 feet.
Rabbi Chezki Lifshitz, 42, flew with the helicopter crew Tuesday to rescue Maya Butbul and Sharon Nachumi from their predicament on a ridge in the Himalayas, 100 miles from the capital Kathmandu, he told JTA.
The female backpackers messaged him an SOS signal with a satellite phone they borrowed from a Chabad House in Kathmandu, reported the rabbi, who co-directs Chabad of Nepal with his wife, Chani. “Hypothermia had set in, and every minute was precious,” he said.
The Lifshitzes, who were born in Israel, have rescued dozens of backpackers, Israelis and others, during their 16-year residence in Nepal. In the wake of the massive earthquake that devastated the country last April, the rabbi flew to the hardest-hit areas, rescuing stranded Israeli hikers and tourists and bringing aid to locals. Approximately 9,000 people died in the catastrophe, including one Israeli.
Thanks to Chilik Magnus’ rescue squad, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and fellow Israeli backpackers trained in first aid, who cared for the women until the chopper arrived, Lifshitz said the women were brought from the Annapurna range in the Himalayas to a hospital in Kathmandu, where they are currently being treated.
The GPS devices that the rabbi used to locate the women are linked to satellite phones donated by the family of Nadav Shoham, an Israeli hiker killed in a freak blizzard in 2014, to enable other hikers to reach the Lifshitzes in an emergency. (Jerusalem Post)
On Golan Heights, IDF fights to keep Israel safe and out of Syria
Syrian rebels, Hezbollah, IS and other extremist terror groups threaten the tense quiet on the northern border, senior officer says
By Judah Ari Gross The Times of Israel
The relative quiet on Israel’s border with Syria can be shattered by Hezbollah, the Islamic State or another fringe jihadist group seeking to make a statement about its dedication to the fight against Israel, a senior IDF official warned on Monday.
For almost 40 years the Israeli-Syrian border was one of the country’s quietest, with a United Nations presence, in the form of UNDOF soldiers, helping to keep the peace.
But in the five years since the outbreak of the bloody Syrian civil war, which according to some estimates has claimed the lives of nearly half a million people, that border has become a powder-keg.
Intentional and inadvertent attacks by the larger rebel groups, as well as the potential for small terror cells to take advantage of the lawlessness and mayhem in Syria to carry out attacks against the Jewish state, threaten to plunge Israel’s northern border into a conflict no one would want.
The larger groups — the al-Nusra Front and the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade — which control the areas surrounding the Syrian border, have little incentive to attack Israel at this stage, the officer from the IDF’s Northern Command said.
The more immediate threat comes from jihadi organizations that are less interested in capturing territory, and more interested in either anti-Israel ideology or a desire to please Iran by carrying out attacks against the Jewish state, the officer said.
Hezbollah, for instance, has a small presence in the Assad-controlled city of Hader, but has much less infrastructure there than it does in Lebanon. That makes it a prime base of operations, as there’s less for the IDF to destroy in retaliation for an attack.
“It’s kind of a no-man’s land, so you can [carry out attacks] without having strong actions taken against you. That will keep up their story that they’re still fighting the IDF and still fighting Israel, but without very harsh consequences,” the officer said.
To stay out of that morass, but still stay safe, Israel must strike a balance between keeping its cool in the face of accidental spillover, while maintaining its vigilance against deliberate attacks, the senior IDF official said.
Our neighbors to the north
Al-Nusra has captured the northern parts of the border with Israel, while the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade controls an area surrounding the southern portions of the border.
The two have been preoccupied fighting each other for dominance, in addition to their struggle against the Assad regime, putting Israel relatively low on their priority list, analysts have said.
‘They know better than we do, how strong we are and how hard we can hit them’
The precise number of fighters in these rebel groups is difficult to ascertain, as these organizations frequently both join forces and fall apart. But according to most estimates, the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade has several hundred to one thousand members, while al-Nusra has several thousand fighters.
“Now the strongest organization, which has a few tanks and some light machinery, is al-Nusra. But we don’t see al-Nusra starting a fight against Israel. They know better than we do, how strong we are and how hard we can hit them,” he said.
But al-Nusra is known to have ties with the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, and in a bid to remind its benefactors of its devotion to the destruction of Israel, their fighters could carry out a surprise attack against troops or civilians, the officer said.
The Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, meanwhile, has reportedly aligned itself with the Islamic State, which makes it one of the primary threats to Israel on the Syrian border, according to the IDF.
“They have an ISIS ideology, even if they’re not getting orders from ISIS. We consider them the most extreme Islamic group on the border, even though they are not pursuing actions against Israel today,” the officer said.
Just a matter of a decision
Looking out across the Golan Heights orchards on the cloudy, blustery day, past the border fence and into Syria, the senior Northern Command official pointed out just how close the pastoral Israeli countryside is to the brutal violence that has rocked the Syrian people for five years — and how easy it would be for Israel to be dragged into the conflict.
“In Qahtaniya, just over the border line behind Quneitra, ISIS used a car bomb against some Nusra rebels,” the officer said, referring to a late 2015 attack by the Islamic State.
This month in the village of al-Ashe, farther south in the Quneitra Province, a car bomb also reportedly killed 18 al-Nusra members, though no group has officially taken responsibility from the attack, according to Al-Jazeera.
“The decision to bring that car bomb from deeper in Syria and use it against local rebels or to explode it on our border crossing — it’s just a matter of decision. We can’t exclude that possibility,” the IDF officer said.
‘You don’t see the all the tanks and the missiles and the drones — but they’re here.’
“But if you ask me where I prefer to face the enemy, it’s on the border. I’m a lot more prepared to do that here than in Tel Aviv. You don’t see all the tanks and the missiles and the drones— but they’re here,” he said, referring to the thick morning fog that impaired our visibility.
“And if they need to operate across the border, they’ll do that,” he added.
There have already been some deliberate attacks against Israeli forces and civilians, mostly in the form of light gunfire at IDF jeeps, in addition to the occasional errant mortar or missile fire on the Golan Heights.
In July 2014, a 15-year-old Israeli teenager was killed when the car he was traveling in was struck by an anti-tank missile, in what the IDF described at the time as an “intentional attack.”
But occasional sniper fire or RPG is only the tip of the iceberg of possible terrorist attacks from Syria. Car bombs, kidnappings and large improvised explosive devices have all been identified as potential forms of attack that could be carried out against Israel, the IDF has said.
“[Terrorists] can drive a car up to the border and decide if they want to fire a rocket at an Israeli target or cut the fence, come in and try to kidnap a local farmer,” the officer said.
“That’s why we keep good intelligence and good control, to be prepared for that scenario,” he added.
Lighting the powder-keg with errant fire
The threat from Syria is not only intentional attacks, but also spillover from both the rebel infighting and the battles against Assad’s forces, which has the potential to escalate the current tense quiet into conflict.
While Israel does not want to be dragged into the chaos of the Syrian civil war, the IDF cannot abide breaches of Israeli sovereignty in the form of errant mortar fire or other spill-over from the fighting in the Quneitra Province.
“Just a year and a half ago, a rocket hit a winery and spilled like 10,000 litres of wine in the kibbutz here,” the officer said.
An Israeli man was injured by shrapnel in that August 27, 2014 incident, but only lightly.
“We didn’t retaliate because we understand that it’s a complicated situation and we don’t want to start a fire exchange because of something that’s happening inside Syria,” the officer said.
But Israel does have its limits. An intentional attack or a particularly extreme case of errant fire will warrant an Israeli response, the officer said.
“If someone gets hurt or they hit an Israeli village and we see the tank that did it, we’ll destroy it,” he said.
“We’ve done it in the past and we’re upholding our right to do that.”
The EU’s illegal settlements
Through its illegal settlements policy, the EU is conducting a stealth war against Israel.
by Melanie Phillips The Jerusalem Post
For those who bash Israel, it is axiomatic that Israel is building illegal settlements in Judea and Samaria, otherwise known as the West Bank, against international law.
This is peddled ad nauseam by the EU and the myriad anti-Israel NGOs it funds, and is the basis of the EU’s policy of labeling goods from the “occupied territories.”
Illegal EU funded Palestinian structures in the area of Kfar Adumim.
Yet astoundingly, the EU itself is behind the building of illegal settlements there.
Last year, it announced it was providing €3.5 million to fund infrastructure projects in Area C, the section of the disputed territories under Israeli control.
These settlements, which fly the EU flag and display its logo on their structures, are to be found in more than 40 locations in Area C. According to the Israeli NGO Regavim which maps this activity, between 2012 and 2014 more than 400 of them were constructed within the Adumim area near Jerusalem alone.
Under the Oslo Accords, Area C is administered by Israel. The EU settlements, constructed without Israeli permission and against Israeli zoning laws, are therefore illegal squatter camps.
Israel regularly demolishes these structures.
Last month, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nikolay Mladenov, complained to the UN Security Council that, since the beginning of this year, Israel had demolished on average 29 Palestinian-owned structures per week, three times the weekly average for 2015. “These actions run directly counter to the idea of peace,” he said.
The EU maintains that it is merely providing humanitarian aid for the Palestinians.
This is clearly disingenuous. The Arabs living in the disputed territories are not living in starvation or destitution, the proper focus of true humanitarian aid.
No, the EU has another objective in mind altogether – one it barely troubles to conceal.
It is using settlement construction to reshape demographic reality and undermine Israel.
It elides the “humanitarian imperative” with its belief that Area C would be “part of any viable future Palestinian state.” By assisting Arab development in Area C, it is creating facts on the ground to bring that state into being. Its officials actually say so.
When the EU announced its settlements funding program last year, Michael Köhler, the European Commission’s director for South Neighborhood, said it demonstrated the EU’s “solid commitment to support the Palestinian government in various sectors toward building a future Palestinian state.
Through this funding we are targeting Area C where the Palestinian Authority is facing serious limitations in promoting social and economic development of Palestinian communities there.”
The European Union Representative John Gatt-Rutter added: “Area C remains an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory and compromises crucial natural resources and land for a viable Palestinian state. Without this area, the two state solution – that we have invested in for years – will be impossible.”
This brazen mission creep is politicizing aid. The European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid requires “the autonomy of humanitarian objectives from political, economic, military or other objectives.” It other words, aid must not be used as a tool of foreign policy.
Some Eurocrats are troubled that, under the Lisbon Treaty in particular, that condition is generally becoming eroded. Funding the Palestinian settlements would seem to drive the proverbial coach and horses through it.
It is also illegal. Prof. Eugene Kontorovich from the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, says: “There’s no question, the EU is openly in violation of international law.”
This is because the Oslo Accords, an international treaty witnessed by the EU, give Israel exclusive civil jurisdiction over Area C. James Carver, a member of the EU Committee on Foreign Affairs, has also complained that the EU is helping violate the Oslo agreement. He adds that some of this construction is taking place in nature reserves in both Area C and the Negev where building is strictly forbidden and where it causes severe damage to the natural habitat.
Regavim has tried to take legal action against the EU on the basis that it is undermining international agreements. The EU has dodged court action, however, by claiming diplomatic immunity. Regavim suggests this itself may be improper, since the Vienna Convention states that in return for immunity against action by a state, diplomats must not “interfere in the internal affairs of that state.”
The breathtaking double standards by the EU and the NGOs it funds expose the humanitarian aid claim as transparently bogus. Oxfam, for example, claims that Israel is preventing Palestinians from building homes and schools, turning down virtually all building permit applications in Area C.
“Palestinian communities in Area C are some of the poorest in the West Bank,” said a spokesman. “The international community has a responsibility to support vital projects for marginalized communities in Area C, which are legal under international humanitarian law.”
But the EU and NGOs claim that Israel has the legal duty to provide for these Palestinians, while simultaneously maintaining that they have the right to interfere with that duty.
Moreover, Israel has repeatedly tried to provide precisely such assistance. It wanted to deal with the illegal Beduin shanty towns in the Adumim area by building them a town nearby with proper sanitation, housing, education and welfare services.
Yet whenever it attempts such initiatives, the EU and NGOs complain this amounts to “forced transfer” of the Palestinians.
This is more than a bit rich, considering that over the past few years France and Italy have deported tens of thousands of Roma to Romania, Bulgaria and Kosovo. In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that France had violated the Roma’s human rights by these deportations.
The EU is making similar use of the Beduin to change the demographic reality within Israel itself. Dozens of EU-funded NGOs are helping the Beduin expand and solidify illegal settlements in the Negev and the Galilee. Regavim estimate that some 65,000 illegal structures had been constructed there by the end of 2012, with around 2,000 new ones being set up every year.
This strategy is linking thousands of such squatter communities across the northern Negev between Beersheba, Arad and Dimona.
This is creating, in effect, one contiguous illegal Beduin territory on indisputable Israeli sovereign land.
To give some idea of the scale of what is happening. Regavim estimates that while 205,000 residents in Beersheba inhabit only 3,500 hectares (8,650 acres) of land, 211,000 Beduin now lay claim to about 60,000 hectares (148,260 acres).
“Aid to the Beduin” is Palestinian Authority policy intended to expand its control over Area C and undermine Israel. It is quite obvious that the EU is not only assisting it in that aim but is also seeking to create a Beduin state within a state inside Israel itself.
Both the UN and the US condemn Israeli settlements as illegal and accuse Israel of expropriating Palestinian land. Yet they fail to condemn the EU for its illegal and colonialist activities.
Such outrageous and manipulative meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state incontestably illustrates the EU’s true agenda.
Through its illegal settlements policy, the EU is conducting a stealth war against Israel.
Melanie Phillips is a columnist for The Times (UK).
Is Obama Israel’s greatest enemy?
By Madison Gesiotto – – The Washington Times
President Obama claims to be a supporter of Israel, but his repeated refusals to help our struggling ally in the Middle East, despite rising tensions and continued attacks in the region, say otherwise.
From lifting sanctions on Iran to calling for Israel to return to its indefensible 1967 borders, Mr. Obama has spent the past seven years betraying America’s treasured friend.
A long time, loyal supporter of the United States, Israel has shared intelligence, cooperated on counterterrorism efforts and has continued to serve as a monument of democracy in a region of instability.
Yet, the Obama administration has allowed billions of dollars in taxpayer money to be provided to the Palestinian National Authority, despite the Authority’s alignment with the terror group Hamas.
And while Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel, killing men, women and children, Mr. Obama continues to support the Palestinian National Authority.
As U.S. Rep. Trent Franks put it in 2014, “his flushed and breathless rush to embrace terrorists launching rockets at Israeli children is an unprecedented act of cowardice and betrayal.”
And, unfortunately, the betrayals do not stop there.
Just last month, Mr. Obama issued a rare statement expressing his refusal to enforce two provisions in the Trade Promotion Authority and Customs Enforcement bills that would penalize trade partners who boycott Israel.
Leaders on both sides of the aisle have since expressed their outrage with Mr. Obama’s statement, which seemed to be a clear move in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“Such actions run counter to longstanding U.S. policy,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a joint statement released by Mr. Reid and five of his Democratic Senate colleagues this month.
Israel needs America, and Mr. Obama refuses to stand by its side, exposing himself as a hypocrite through his repeated anti-Israel actions that run counter to his verbal statements of support for the country.
Mr. Obama should not turn his back on our greatest ally when our country’s support is needed the most.
As Mr. Obama has shown us, actions speak much louder than words.
We must now, more than ever before, stand with our ally Israel by recognizing the damage that Mr. Obama has caused and take into consideration the importance of improving U.S.-Israeli relations as we prepare to choose our nation’s next leader.
Israel Is the Unsung Hero in Water Management
Israel is the world’s leader in water conservation. Indeed, Israel is one of the only countries in the world that has created such an efficient infrastructure of water supply and conservation that it can now function without rain.
Desalinization plants are a key piece of the puzzle, embellished by rather extreme rationing, low flow everything, and high public awareness of the value of every drop. Not to mention, a sophisticated network of over 250 storage tanks and large reservoirs that provide water during the dry, hot summer months.
Many of these infrastructure projects were built with private U.S. funds coming mainly from the Jewish National Fund (JNF). “Israel has become the world’s leader in water reuse – recycling approximately 80% of its water,” JNF President Jeff Levine explained. (Huffington Post)
Video: Israel Cannot Withdraw from West Bank and Golan Heights – Col. Richard Kemp
At a Jerusalem Center briefing on Feb. 17, Col. (ret.) Richard Kemp, former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, slammed the international community for advising Israel to do things they would never suggest to their own governments. Kemp said, “Israel has to have strategic depth with which to defend itself. Israel cannot possibly, at any stage, withdraw from the West Bank or the Golan Heights.”
“Gen. Allan, America’s military envoy in relation to the recent negotiations on peace with the Palestinians, came up with a solution as to how Israel could withdraw from the West Bank and perhaps replace its presence with international forces including American forces and technology. But I know for sure that if he had been asked to advise America, his own country, on how to deal with a similar problem on their borders, he would never have advocated what he is advocating here. Never. And if he had, he would have been fired by the President. So I think it was completely unrealistic.”
“So many members of the international community, including the U.S. and the EU, are desperately keen to tell Israel what it must do, but they certainly would not consider taking the same action with respect to themselves. When you look at rocket fire from Gaza, for example, and how Israel mustn’t retaliate in the way it does to defend itself, no country in the world would restrain itself when faced with that situation. Britain was faced with that situation back in 1943-44. We didn’t just sit back and watch it. We pummeled the hell out of the Nazis who were developing rockets.” (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)