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Latest News in Israel – 22nd December

Gunshots fired at Israeli bus in West Bank

Multiple gunshots were fired towards an Israeli bus in the West Bank, in the vicinity of the Dolev and Talmon settlements north of Jerusalem on Monday night.

No casualties were reported by authorities. MK Moti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) said that the lack of casualties was thanks to the protection with which Egged buses operating in the West Bank are equipped.  (Jerusalem Post)

‘Israeli warships being built by company owned by Lebanese defense minister’

A company building new warships for Israel is partially owned by the family of Lebanon’s Defense Minister, Samir Mouqbel, who is allegedly connected to Hezbollah and Iran, Channel 2 reported on Wednesday.

The information was revealed in a letter that was sent to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit by MK Erel Margalit (Zionist Union). Margalit discovered the information from various sources while in Europe.

“The fact that one of the owners of the same company that is building Israel a warship is the defense minister of a country considered an enemy, and according to reports works with Hezbollah and Iran, is a security situation much more serious than normal,” Maraglit wrote.

Margalit said that three senior Defense Ministry officials pushed to change the name of the shipyard from Abu Dhabi Mar to German Naval Yard Kiel in order to conceal the identity of the real owners.

The real owners are Lebanese businessmen and brothers, who live in Abu Dhabi, Akram and Aiksander Safa.

The Defense Ministry has not responded to the report.

Earlier in December the Defense Ministry said that the construction of four Israel Navy corvettes at a shipyard owned by an Abu Dhabi-based company does not jeopardize any classified information because all combat and internal systems will be installed in Israel.

“The contract to buy protective ships was signed with the German company, with direct involvement of the German government, which is funding a third of the cost of the deal,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement to The Jerusalem Post. “Prior to the signing of the contracts, the defense establishment’s director of security carried out checks with German government officials to confirm that no classified material from the project will be transferred to any unauthorized body that has not been approved as such.

“It is important to note that the German shipyard builds only the body of the ships, all of the systems will be installed in Israel,” it added.

The ministry was responding to a report by Yediot Aharonot that the German shipyard where the new vessels are being constructed is operated by Abu Dhabi MAR.

Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, also has no formal diplomatic ties with Israel, and Israeli passport holders are prohibited from entering the country.

The construction of the four “Saar-6” class warships, which are due to arrive in Israel by 2020 to defend Israel’s offshore natural gas reserves, was agreed to in a €430 million deal between Israel and the German company ThyssenKrupp in 2015. ThyssenKrupp reportedly sub-contracted the work to German Naval Yards Kiel, which was sold to Abu Dhabi MAR in 2011.  (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu: Israel is looking to absorb injured Syrians from Aleppo

The Foreign Ministry on Tuesday began exploring ways for Israel to expand the medical assistance given to civilian casualties in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

“We see the tragedy of the terrible suffering of the civilians,” Netanyahu said at an annual New Year’s event he holds with the foreign press.

“We are prepared to take in wounded women and children, and also men if they are not combatants. Bring them to Israel, [we will] take care of them in our hospitals as we have done with thousands of Syrian civilians. We are looking into ways of doing this. It is being explored as we speak.”

Also Tuesday, Netanyahu spoke out against the attack in Berlin.

“Israel condemns what appears to be a terror attack in Germany,” Netanyahu told reporters Tuesday. “We send our condolences to the families of the victims and of course to the German government and a speedy recovery to the injured, including an Israeli citizen.”

One of the issues being explored, one government official said, is the question of how to transfer civilians from Aleppo. Up until now, he pointed out, most of the Syrians treated in Israel were from regions close to the Golan border. Transferring the wounded from Aleppo is a much more complicated logistical issue, he said.

Netanyahu said he does not see a resolution now for the Syrian situation. “Will it come together and be a unified Syria? I doubt it. I think you have enclaves there and they are not about to disappear, but the suffering is great, and the one initiative we took is to help – as I said – thousands of Syrians who are sometimes mutilated beyond belief. We help them. I offered to do more today. I don’t know if we can resolve [the crisis in] Syria, but we can help mitigate some of the suffering. That is the best that Israel can do.”

At the same time, he said, Israel will not let the Syrian war or aggression from Syria “spillover into our territory.” He said that Israel has stringently maintained its red lines on this matter.

Regarding the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu said that with the election of Donald Trump “everybody is saying, ‘How is Netanyahu going to deal with this if he does not have massive pressure on him?’ Just fine,” he said.

“This is a great opportunity to actually pursue some new ideas I intend to raise with Donald Trump when he is in the White House to see how we can solve this conflict.”

Netanyahu refuted the assertion that the settlements are the main issue, saying that while they are an important issue, they are not the core issue.

“They are not even the most important issue, because many arrangements are possible,” he said, adding that he does not think that “removing people from their homes is one of them. I think that is a bad idea, whether it applies to Jews or to Arabs.”

Netanyahu said that the Palestinians have not come forward to negotiations “because they have basically adopted a strategy of saying, ‘Okay, we won’t foster terrorism, but we won’t move toward peace, we will move toward international forums and try to get an international dictate on Israel.’” Netanyahu said he has called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “several hundred times” to enter negotiations, but Abbas refused, “betting the shop on the idea of an international dictate.

I hope that is out of his field of calculations, and if it is, he should come and talk.”

Among the diplomats who attended the event was the new Turkish ambassador, Kemal Okem, whom Netanyahu acknowledged after taking a question from a Turkish reporter about Israeli-Turkish relations.

Netanyahu, who said that it was not Israel’s decision to break off diplomatic ties with Turkey, said the recent exchange of ambassadors was a “welcome sign.” The premier said that while there are areas of common interests and challenges, “there are also differences.”

The key, he said, is to maximize the commonalities and minimize the differences. “It is better that we have this relationship than not,” he added.

A question from a Chinese journalist prompted Netanyahu to reveal that he is planning a trip to China in 2017 to mark 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties. Netanyahu visited China last in 2013, and the next trip is scheduled for late March.

He also said that he plans to visit West Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe in 2017, in addition to a trip to Australia, Singapore and Fiji planned for February.

Asked by a Spanish journalist why he has taken to sharply criticizing some journalists on his Facebook page lately, Netanyahu replied, “It’s entertaining, it’s fun, I enjoy it.”

Netanyahu said that just as journalists should have the freedom to criticize as much as they want, “Guess what, we should have the freedom to criticize them, and that is what I do on occasion, and it’s a lot of fun.”                  (Jerusalem Post)

IDF officer confirms Hezbollah using US weaponry taken from Lebanese army

Israel has informed the United States that Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in Syria are using US armored personnel carriers originally supplied to the Lebanese Army, a senior Israeli military officer said on Wednesday.

The US State Department said last month that the American embassy in Beirut was working to investigate images on social media purporting to show Hezbollah, which supports President Bashar Assad, displaying US military equipment in Syria.

Those images were widely reported to have been of US-made M113 armored personnel carriers, which the State Department said were extremely common in the region.

In an intelligence briefing to foreign reporters in Tel Aviv, the senior officer showed a photograph of military vehicles, which he said included US-made armored personnel carriers (APCs), along a road.

Hezbollah’s first-ever military parade on foreign soil, held in the Syrian city of Qusayr.Hezbollah’s first-ever military parade on foreign soil, held in the Syrian city of Qusayr.

“These APCs are of the Hezbollah, while fighting in Syria, that they took from the Lebanese armed forces,” he said in English, describing the guerrilla group as dominant in Lebanon.

“We shared this information with other countries, including the US of course, and I can even say that we recognized these specific APCs with some specific parameters that we know … these were given to the Lebanese armed forces. It’s not an assumption,” said the officer, who under the rules of the briefing could not be identified by name, rank or position.

Western diplomatic sources have said the APCs were delivered to the Lebanese Army by the United States as part of a program to equip that force.

The officer made no comment about when the APCs would have been supplied to the Lebanese Army.

The officer said Hezbollah has 8,000 fighters in Syria where more than 1,700 of the group’s combatants have been killed since 2011.

Israel and Hezbollah, which the officer said has 30,000 members, half of them combatants, last fought a war in 2006.   (Jerusalem Post)

Israel goes on strike: Schools, waste disposal to stop in protest over cuts

After overnight negotiations with the government failed, as of 6 o’clock Wednesday morning all local, regional and municipal authorities outside of Jerusalem will begin a widespread strike.

The action will hit a range of public services across the country, shutting down waste disposal and sanitation, social services, cultural institutions, municipal security, high schools and kindergartens.

Primary school teachers will not strike, however their schools will be without secretarial, sanitation and caretaker staff. Special education programs are also exempt from the strike. The Ministry of Education clarified, however, that even at institutions where teaching staff are not on strike, classes will convene only if security guards are present.

The strike has been called in response to widespread cuts approved by the government in the latest budget.

Jerusalem will be the only city not affected, as its services are funded from a different budget to the striking authorities. Schools and other services in the capital are expected to continue as normal.

The heads of the authorities on strike are set to gather at 11 o’clock on Wednesday morning, with further announcements expected following the meeting.

The strike was called after the Finance Committee approved on Sunday a flat budget cut of NIS 2.1b. Additionally, the cabinet also approved Sunday morning a surprise NIS 1.2b. flat cut, which was later also approved by the Finance Committee.

Reacting on Tuesday, head of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel and Modi’in Mayor Haim Bibas told The Jerusalem Post: “We have been in talks all day with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Finance and Interior Ministries, but as it seems right now the head of the Finance Ministry’s Budget Department is calling the shots and a strike is highly likely.”

According to Bibas, the cut will affect 190 of Israel’s socioeconomically weakest authorities which rely on the balancing budget to function.

“This hurts the weakest municipalities most of all, the peripheral towns and communities, all the authorities with residents who vote for this government. If you make the cut from a city with large reserves it makes no difference, but here we are talking about authorities that cannot balance their budget without this money,” Bibas explained.

“The truly weak authorities get cut in order to finance coalition deals. It’s a sad joke. We see hundreds of millions of shekels flying around on coalition agreements.”

The Finance Ministry disagreed with Bibas’s evaluation of the amount to be cut. A representative of the Ministry told the Post that the cut will amount to only NIS 37.7 Million which translate to NIS 189,000 average cut per authority.

This however does not entirely add up, as the cabinet’s proposed cut alone states that municipal authorities are to be cut by more than NIS 44 million.        (Jerusalem Post)

Defense Ministry eyes new ground-to-ground missiles

A security official said Tuesday that the Defense Ministry is currently undertaking strenuous efforts to acquire ground-to-ground missiles with a firing range of more than 200 kilometers, equipped with warheads weighing between 450kg and 500kg which could be used in the northern sector.

According to the official, the move has been met with opposition from officials in the IDF since it will necessitate the allocation of financial budgets earmarked for the Air Force to the bodies tasked with operating the rockets.

“A heavy rocket with warheads of 500kg can cost as much as NIS 3 million,” the official explained. “There are all kinds of rockets starting with a range of 30km to 250km so it is also a budgetary matter. The change stems from changes in the nature of operations in the north and from the need to increase capabilities to respond in ways in which we have not responded before.”

Leaving the rockets to one side, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman voiced his own opposition to truncating the mandatory service by IDF soldiers. After studying the ramifications of such a move, Lieberman said that he had concluded that “this is a cut that cannot be coped with.”

He went on to say that he hoped that at the beginning of 2017, the subject would be reopened for discussion with the finance minister, “with the intention of turning the wheel backward so that soldiers, at least those in combat units, will serve for a period of 36 months.”

In early December, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee approved second and third readings for a shortening of compulsory military service for IDF soldiers to 30 months set to begin in 2020. As of last year, all males drafted for mandatory military service began serving 32 months, instead of three years.

The source added that in recent days, efforts have been made to enlist soldiers into special forces units for a period of four years to be signed in advance to mitigate the shortcomings caused by the shortened service time.

“This way these soldiers will know exactly where they are going and that their service will include extended military service with salaries provided accordingly,” he said. “This will contribute to greater professionalism and experience on the part of the soldiers. There is no other choice.”

Turning to Israel’s enemies in the north and the south, the source said that a number of terror organizations—mainly ISIS—are trying to lay their hands on unconventional weapons such as chemical weapons from bunkers and weapons depots abandoned by President Assad’s forces in Syria.    (Ynet News)

Ethiopian Israeli women appointed judges

Ethiopian Judge

Newly appointed Judge Ednaki Sebhat Haimowitz shakes hand with President Reuven Rivlin yesterday at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem

Two women from Israel’s Ethiopian community broke through the glass ceiling on Tuesday, becoming the first to be appointed judges. They were among six women who were included in the 13 new judicial appointments as judges and registrars serving in the district, magistrate’s and traffic courts in Haifa and Tel Aviv.

Although there is no shortage of Ethiopian-Israeli lawyers, none had previously reached the bench.

At the appointments ceremony at the President’s Residence, Ednaki Sebhat Haimowitz and Esther Tafta Gardi were the last two judges to be called to make the pledge not to pervert the law or to show favor. Haimowitz has been appointed to the Central District Magistrate’s Court, and Gardi to the Haifa District Traffic Court.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said it is high time for all sectors of the population to be represented in the judiciary, though she hastened to add that they had been chosen for their qualifications and their abilities, and not to simply fill a void in the demographic mosaic of the courts.

President Reuven Rivlin told the new judges that there had been a glut of arguments lately accusing the courts of being political and handing down rulings mired in politics.

The process of appointing judges is devoid of politics, he said, and he wants to believe that all judges in Israel are appointed in accordance with their abilities and professional integrity.

“If not, and if everything is indeed political,” Rivlin asked, “what is the point of having judges in the courts?” Rivlin urged the judges to be faithful to the law, not to bow to pressure, and to pursue truth and justice in formulating their decisions.

Supreme Court President Miriam Naor followed a similar line, saying that reports in the media to the effect that judicial appointments were made on the basis of the connections of the candidates to members of the appointments committee were distorted and inaccurate. According to law, she said, all discussion about candidates is classified and free of any political considerations.

Her comments were endorsed by Shaked.               (Jerusalem Post)

Rare coin from King Antiochus’s rule discovered in Jerusalem

Nearly 30 years after the completion of excavations in the courtyard of Jerusalem’s Tower of David, outside the Old City’s walls, archeologists thought no stone was left unturned. However, during routine conservation work in the museum’s archeological garden, Orna Cohen, veteran archeologist and chief conservation officer at the Tower of David, spotted a metallic item among stones near a wall.

Upon closer inspection, Cohen determined the object was a bronze-leaf cent, once used in Jerusalem during the days of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a decidedly unwelcome guest in the history of the city.

Antiochus was a reviled king who made draconian decrees, sparking the Maccabean revolt that led to the victory of the Maccabees and the reclamation of the Temple.

The coin was found near the Hasmonean walls that cut through the center of the citadel’s courtyard, next to the tower base built during the day of Yonaton and Shimon, brothers of Judah the Maccabee.

During the original excavation of the Tower of David, ballista stones and iron arrowheads were found, evidence of the battles that took place in Jerusalem in the days when the city struggled for independence against the rulers of the Seleucids.

A portrait of Antiochus is engraved on one side of the coin, which was worth roughly 10 agorot back then. On the other side, a goddess is shown wrapped in a scarf.

coin1

While researchers are having difficulty dating the relic with precision, it is known that such coins were minted in Acre, a city on the northern shore of Israel that was once called Antiochia Ptolemais, after Ptolemy, and as such the coin is dated sometime between 172 and 168 BCE.

Eilat Lieber, director of the Tower of David, said the timing of the finding is auspicious.

“It is thrilling to hold in your hand a piece of history that brings the stories of Hanukka right up to present day,” he said.   (Jerusalem Post)

Trump’s Capital of Israel Idea

A U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem won’t hurt the chances for peace.

Wall Street Journal Editorial

http://www.wsj.com/articles/trumps-capital-idea-1482277857

As the Donald Trump era approaches, the political establishment could help its credibility if it didn’t portray every change of policy as the end of days. A case in point is the panic over the prospect that the President-elect might follow through on his campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.

Mr. Trump’s nomination last week of longtime adviser David Friedman as America’s next envoy to the Jewish state has triggered a media and diplomatic meltdown. Headlines describe Mr. Friedman, an Orthodox Jewish bankruptcy lawyer, as “hostile to the two-state solution” and an “extremist.” Yet his main offense seems to be that he is unapologetically pro-Israel—a novelty after eight years of an Obama Administration that has mistreated traditional U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe.

“I intend to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region,” Mr. Friedman said in a statement, “and look forward to doing this from the U.S. Embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both promised as candidates to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem only to renege once in office. In 1995 Congress enacted a law requiring the State Department to relocate the embassy, but successive Administrations have deferred the move. Mr. Trump seems determined to honor his campaign promise, which would end this political and diplomatic charade.

Opponents say moving the embassy would poison chances for an Israel-Palestinian compromise over Jerusalem. But the relocation would merely acknowledge the reality that Israel will never give up Jerusalem in any negotiated settlement. It might even help by sending a useful message to the Palestinians that their maximalist claims to Israeli territory are an obstacle to peace.

Neighboring Arab states might protest for public show, but they have been getting closer to Israel for their own shared strategic reasons—i.e., the common enemies of jihadists and Iran. The symbolism of the U.S. Embassy location won’t stop that cooperation.

If the location of an embassy is enough to block peace talks, then there must not be much of an underlying basis for peace. Mr. Trump says he still wants to revive talks, and if moving the U.S. Embassy reassures Israelis of U.S. support, so much the better.

Happy Channukah from the IDF