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Latest News in Israel – 22nd March

IDF plane carrying bodies of Istanbul victims lands in Israel

The bodies of three Israelis killed in a suicide bombing in Istanbul arrived in Israel on Sunday afternoon in an IDF airplane, along with several wounded in the attack.

The victims were identified as Yonathan Suher, 40, Simha Dimri, 60, and Avraham Goldman, 69. Suher and Goldman were also named as United States citizens by the State Department.

Dimri will be laid to rest on Monday at noon in her hometown of Dimona, according to the Ynet news website. The funeral arrangements for the other two victims have not yet been announced.

Eleven more Israelis were hurt in the bombing on Istiklal Caddesi, a bustling two-kilometer-long pedestrian street usually thronged with shoppers, tourists and buskers.

Turkish medical officials said that among the Israeli wounded, two were in critical condition, two were in moderate condition and six were lightly injured. The condition of one more injured Israeli was not immediately clear.

Five wounded were transported to Israel on the IDF plane on Sunday, including one woman who was in critical condition. The five were taken to the Tel Hashomer Medical Center, Beilinson Hospital, Soroka Medical Center, and Assaf Harofeh Medical Center for treatment.

Most of those injured in the blast on the pavement, outside a local government building, were also foreigners.

By Sunday morning, 19 people were still being treated in hospital, eight of them in critical condition, the health ministry said.

Five of the Israelis who were lightly wounded in the attack were already returned to Israel in two flights overnight. The IDF teams that arrived in Istanbul Sunday brought back the remaining Israelis who were injured in the attack.

The Israeli victims were part of a 14-member group on a culinary tour of Turkey.

The Magen David Adom rescue service said the return of the seriously injured Israelis was delayed in order to enable them to recover enough to travel.

Foreign Ministry Director Dore Gold landed in Istanbul Sunday afternoon, for meetings with Turkish officials and Israeli diplomats, the highest-level visit since 2010.

Gold is expected to meet with Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin and Jewish community heads during the one-day visit.

The families of Dimri, Suher, and Goldman were reportedly flown to Istanbul late Saturday, where officials took them to identify the bodies of their loved ones.

Dimri, a retired kindergarten teacher and grandmother from the southern city of Dimona, was survived by her husband, Avi, who was moderately wounded in the attack, as well as three sons, a daughter and several grandchildren.

Dimri’s sons Nadav and Ben flew to Istanbul late Saturday, joining a Magen David Adom delegation so they could be at their father’s side.

Dimona Mayor Benny Biton said Saturday the Dimris were a well-known family with a long history in the city.

“The city feels the pain and shares the grief of the Dimri family,” Biton said in a statement, saying the Dimris were “well-known as contributors to the needy and to city institutions, sometimes anonymously.”


Simha Dimri (L), 60, Yonathan Suher (C), 40, and Avraham Goldman (R), 69, the three Israelis who were killed in a suicide bombing in Istanbul

Suher, a resident of Tel Aviv, was in Istanbul to celebrate his 40th birthday. His wife, Inbal, was one of the two Israelis critically wounded in the attack. He was survived by two children.

Goldman, from Ramat Hasharon, was a Jerusalem tour guide, specializing in VIP trips to the city. He was survived by his wife, Nitza, his three children, and eight grandchildren.

Turkish officials named Mehmet Ozturk, a Turkish jihadist with links to the Islamic State, as the suicide bomber.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Ozturk, who was born in 1992, was identified by DNA traces found at the scene, Dogan news agency reported.

Another alleged IS member, Savas Yildiz, had been initially named by Turkish media as the suspected bomber.

The minister said five people had been arrested on suspicion of links to the attack. Dogan reported that Ozturk’s father and brother were among those held.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed to track down those responsible for the attack.

“We will fight with determination and perseverance until all forms of terrorism are eradicated,” Davutoglu said in a statement Saturday.

Davutoglu also offered his condolences to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the death of the three Israelis.

“I want to express my condolences to the families of Israeli citizens who lost their lives in the despicable attack and to the people of Israel, and I wish the injured a speedy recovery,” Davutoglu said. “The attack shows us again that the international community must fight aggressively against the lowly goals of terrorist organizations.”

In all, at least four people were killed and 36 injured in the attack. A fourth victim killed in the attack was identified by Turkish officials as Iranian national Ali Reza Razmhah.

In televised comments after an emergency meeting in Jerusalem Saturday night, Netanyahu said officials were investigating whether Israelis had been specifically targeted in the bombing, and said intelligence pointed to it having been an Islamic State attack.

The attack was the sixth major terror bombing in Turkey since July. Over 200 people have been killed in the terror wave.

IDF medical and rescue teams landed in Turkey Sunday in order to treat several Israelis injured in the attack, and transport the wounded and the bodies of those killed back to their home country.

“Israeli diplomats in Turkey worked all night to prepare the ground for the arrival of the IDF teams, treat the wounded, and coordinate with the authorities in Turkey,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday morning.                 (The Times of Israel)

Suicide bomber in Istanbul stalked group of Israelis

According to the Turkish media outlet Haberturk, security cameras revealed that the terrorist who perpetrated the attack that killed five people including three Israelis in Istanbul on Saturday followed the group before he detonated himself.

The attack, in which 36 people were wounded, took place on the popular Istiklal pedestrian mall.

Turkish media has reported that the terrorists followed the Israelis from the moment they left their hotel.

Turkish authorities identified the suicide bomber behind the attack as a member of Islamic State born in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep, Interior Minister Efkan Ala said on Sunday.

“We have determined that Mehmet Ozturk, born in 1992 in Gaziantep, has carried out the heinous attack on Saturday in Istanbul. It has been established that he is a member of Daesh,” Ala told a news conference broadcast live on television.

The attack appeared similar to a January suicide bombing in another tourist area of Istanbul. In the previous attack, which the Turkish government attributed to the Islamic State, a pedestrian suicide bomber blew himself up among a group of German tourists near the city’s historic center.

Saturday’s suicide bombing was the fourth such attack in Turkey this year, bringing the death toll to more than 80. Responsibility for the past two attacks, both suicide car bombings in the capital Ankara, was claimed by a PKK offshoot.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote a letter of condolences to President Reuven Rivlin Sunday, saying he was “very sorry” to hear that three Israelis were killed and 10 wounded in the Istanbul attack.

“That cruel attack proved again that the international community must unite in its struggle against terrorism that threatens all of mankind and our basic values, and represents a crime against humanity,” he wrote.

Erdogan wrote that the courage demonstrate against terrorist organizations that want to sow fear, gives us strength in our struggle.

“I want to send my deepest condolences to the Israeli people and the families that lost their loved ones in this traitorous attack in Istanbul, as they were visiting the city and wanting to get to know our culture better. I wish a speedy recovery to the wounded.”                  (Jerusalem Post)

Gold in Istanbul:‘Too early to tell’ whether normalization of ties will come from crisis

Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold flew to Istanbul on Sunday, the highest-ranking Israeli official to visit Turkey since the Mavi Marmara raid in 2010 sent the previously strong relations between the two countries into a tailspin.

Gold met with his counterpart, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu. The two met last year in Rome and Geneva to discuss a reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey.

One Israeli official said that it was “too early to tell” whether Saturday’s suicide bombing attack in Istanbul in which three Israelis were killed, and the cooperation between the two countries that came in its wake, will lead to a breakthrough in efforts to reach such an accord.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a caustic critic of Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have not spoken since the bombing Saturday. Erdogan condemned terrorism in a speech on Sunday, and expressed sympathy for the victims. Netanyahu did, however, receive a condolence letter Saturday night from Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, currently in Brazil, was asked during an Army Radio interview whether he thought the attack would facilitate reconciliation.

Bennett, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said that Israel has an interest in strengthening its relations with all the countries in the region, “but I think it takes two to tango.

“We need to see whether Turkey really made a strategic decision on this matter, or whether it is too early,” he said.

Netanyahu said Saturday that there were substantive issues still preventing the signing of a reconciliation agreement.

The biggest obstacle is the continued Hamas terrorist operations in Turkey, with Israel conditioning a normalization of ties with Ankara to its kicking Hamas out of the country.

Upon his arrival, Gold met with Istanbul Gov. Vasip Sahin. The two discussed the Turkish media’s focus on details of the attack and its aftermath.

Gold thanked leaders of Istanbul’s Jewish community for the assistance they gave the wounded Israelis during the ordeal, and met with the Israeli diplomatic corps to express his appreciation for their work following the bombing.                   (Jerusalem Post)

PM says ‘insufferable’ Breaking the Silence is ‘being dealt with’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the cabinet meeting on Sunday that efforts by Breaking the Silence activists to get former IDF soldiers to reveal classified military information “is insufferable, and is being dealt with by the relevant authorities.”

On Thursday night, soon after a Channel 2 report on the organization’s tactics was aired, Netanyahu issued a statement saying that the group had “crossed a redline,” and the matter was being investigated.

Breaking the Silence is a nongovernmental organization founded by IDF veterans in order to collect testimonies of soldiers who served in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to document allegations of abuse or mistreatment of Palestinians.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely also took the organization to task as a result of the report, saying that while for years Breaking the Silence has defamed Israel in the eyes of the world, the report showed that in addition to causing problems for Israel’s image, it was also causing security problems.

Hotovely called for an immediate police investigation and to reveal “for once and for all the truth behind this organization.”

In response to the prime minister’s comments, Breaking the Silence said, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon have turned the security services of Israel and the IDF into a tool for political witch-hunts. This crosses a dangerous redline and should be investigated. The IDF is the army of the people and is not against the people.”

The NGO added that it works closely with the IDF’s Military Censor in order to determine what it is able to publish and that “dangerous attempt by the Netanyahu government to silence soldiers and civilians in Israel who are opposed to the occupation and the policies of the government should be the source of great concern for all those who worry about democracy and the future of Israel.”

MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) on Saturday accused Netanyahu and his government of going after left-wing groups for political reasons, saying, “If they are breaking the law, they will be investigated and punished, but I won’t take part in this hate fest which is meant to garner political dividends.”

She added that the campaign against Breaking the Silence and other NGOs “is meant to distract from the fact that the government hasn’t found a solution to the 200 terrorist attacks in a year, and that there’s no solution for dealing with our external enemy.”

In the segment aired on Thursday night on Channel 2 – which was broadcast after it was cleared by the Military Censor – hidden camera footage shows members of the organization interviewing right-wing activists from the group Ad Kan, posing as former soldiers giving testimony about their time serving on the Gaza border.

The segment also shows a left-wing activist at a protest in the West Bank who says that before she enlisted in the IDF’s Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria for her military service, a member of Breaking the Silence told her to expect to have information for the group after her service is over.

On Friday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that he had instructed the IDF to open an investigation into the alleged leak of classified information by soldiers to Breaking the Silence.

“Following the article on Channel 2 on the activities of Breaking the Silence, I have directed the IDF to conduct an investigative inquiry into soldiers’ release of classified information from their army service,” Ya’alon posted on Twitter.

Maariv Online reported on Friday that the Military Advocate-General’s Office, the Information Security Department and the Military Police would summon soldiers for an investigation on Sunday, but a spokesman for Breaking the Silence said late afternoon Sunday that it had not been contacted by the army since the Channel 2 segment aired. Regarding whether soldiers had been or would be brought in for questioning, the IDF Spokesman’s Office responded that “The matter is being examined.”              (Jerusalem Post)

At AIPAC, Biden slams Abbas for failing to condemn terror

US Vice President Joe Biden condemns Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for failing to condemn terror.

During his visit to Israel earlier this month, “I condemned [Palestinian terror] attacks, not just those that happened when I was there, all of them. And I condemned the failure to condemn these atrocious acts of violence. No leader has the right to tolerate terrorism,” Biden tells the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual Policy Conference on Sunday night Washington time.

“That’s exactly what I said to President Abbas when I met him in Ramallah,” he adds.

“No matter what legitimate disagreements the Palestinians may have with Israel, there is no legitimate excuse for killing innocents or remaining silent in the face of terrorism.”

Biden uses his speech before some 18,000 delegates gathered at Washington DC’s Verizon Center to reiterate the American commitment to Israel’s security.

“We’re all unyielding, and I mean that literally, in our commitment to the security and survival of Israel,” he tells the appreciative crowd.

But that does not mean he is uncritical.

“In my view, after doing this for 42 years, there is no political will among Israelis or Palestinians to move forward with negotiations,” he laments, calling that fact “incredibly disappointing.”

“The only way in my view to guarantee Israel’s identity as a democratic and Jewish state” is to have two states for two peoples.

It’s also “the only way to ensure the dignity and self-determination of the Palestinians as well,” he continues, calling for a new “will to create a fundamentally different future.”

“That means terror attacks must stop, the rhetoric that incites violence against pregnant mothers, babies, grandfathers, must stop. And acts of retribution and revenge must stop.”

But, too, it means Israel’s settlement building must stop, he says.

“To be frank, the Israeli government’s steady process of expanding settlements and expropriating land is eroding the possibility of a two-state solution. Bibi [Netanyahu] thinks he can accommodate it. I don’t. Because trends on the ground are moving toward a one-state solution, and I feel that’s dangerous.”

Biden also offers “heartfelt condolences” to the victims of Saturday’s suicide bombing in Istanbul. “So many of the victims were Israeli citizens,” he notes, “and two were Israeli-Americans.”

The US “stands with our allies” against those “thugs” who seek to wage terror. “Terrorists cannot and will not, I promise you, prevail.

“The United States will constantly and forever have Israel’s back.”

Biden also insists last July’s Iran nuclear deal, an agreement opposed by AIPAC during last year’s policy conference, has made the region safer.

“The stakes for the United States and its partners are immense. The stakes for Israel are existential,” he notes, but adds, “this year we’re no longer dealing with hypotheticals” when it comes to the results of the deal.

“More then two-thirds of Iranian centrifuges have been removed” since the deal was signed. “Enough enriched uranium for six nuclear bombs has been shipped out of the country. The core of the plutonium reactor has been removed, filled with cement so it can’t be used to make bombs.” There are “unprecedented inspections,” he continues.

“Iran is much, much further away from obtaining a nuclear weapon than they were a year ago. Whatever your feelings were about the deal, I hope you’re as happy about this as I am, that they are further from the possibility.

“We’re watching Iran like a hawk. Under this agreement, Iran will never be allowed to pursue nuclear weapons, never, never, never.”

And, he says, the US will not let Iran violate the deal. “Let me assure you that what we said all along still holds. If Iran violates the deal, the United States will act. Our commitment is unambiguous. It will be impossible for the next president not to honor it.”

Sunday night’s plenary marks the start of a three-day gathering that will see four of the five primary candidates deliver speeches, including Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich.   (The Times of Israel)

UNHRC to debate boycotting Israeli settlements

The UN Human Rights Council is set to debate on Monday a resolution that, in its initial draft, called on its member states to boycott Jewish communities over the pre-1967 lines in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The resolution would include halting the exportation of products to UN member states as well as creating a database of all Israeli businesses over the pre-1967 lines.

This is one of five anti-Israel resolutions that the UNHRC in Geneva will discuss as part of its 31st session that ends March 24.

Four of the resolutions, including one that calls on Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria, have already been posted on the UNHRC website. The fifth one on the topic of settlements has yet to be published, however the nongovernmental group UN Watch posted a draft of the resolution.

It urged all states “to ensure that they are not taking actions that either recognize or assist the expansion of settlements or construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem.”

In the draft, the UNHRC explained that member states should be “preventing any products originating in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem from entering their markets, consistent with their obligations under international law.”

The Foreign Ministry had no response to the UNHRC debate.

It will be held under Agenda Item 7, which mandates a debate on Israel at every council session. Israel is the only country for which there is such a mandate.

Israeli officials have refrained from addressing the UNHRC during the Agenda Item 7 debate.

But this year, a coalition of pro-Israel NGOs plan to rally outside the UNHRC building in Geneva while the debate is taking place. It includes Stand- WithUs, the World Zionist Organization, the Israel Allies Foundation and the World Union of Jewish Students.

Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid plans to address the rally and to call on UN member states to stop funding the human rights body.

“The UNHRC lost its legitimacy long ago,” he said on Sunday, as he noted that the body of 47-member states was marking its 10th anniversary this year.

“Tomorrow, the council will meet to discuss a series of anti-Israel resolutions and we will stand opposite with a show of force of hundreds of people from across Europe. We will make our voices heard.

“We will be the voice of Israel, of our soldiers, of the victims of terrorism and their families – because we cannot be silent any longer,” he said.

“In the past decade the council has condemned Israel more times than all the other countries of the world combined; that’s hypocrisy. It is an anti-Semitic organization which no longer even pretends to act according to the facts,” he said.

A spokesman for the Yesh Atid party said that since the council’s inception it had issued 62 resolutions against Israel, but only 55 for other countries around the globe.

During the March session, the UNHRC had only one resolution on Syria and one on Iran.

Lapid noted that this year, the anti-Israel resolutions were being debated amid a wave of terrorism, in which Palestinians were executing almost daily attacks against Israelis.

“The UN is giving backing to the murders instead of the victims.

I’m traveling to Geneva because I believe that we should stand up of our rights. I believe that we have every reason to be proud of Israel and our soldiers,” he said.

But the five resolutions on Israel and the Palestinians, filed by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, spoke of Israel as the aggressor and the Palestinians as the victim.

The resolution draft on the settlements called on Israel to reverse its settlement policy in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. New settlers should not be allowed to move to the West Bank nor should natural growth be permissible, the resolution stated.

It added that the UNHRC did not recognize the Israeli status of “state land” in the West Bank and called on it to stop expropriating Palestinian property and to stop dumping “waste materials in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan.”

Any construction plans for the unbuilt area of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement, known as E-1, should be discarded, and “all [business] operations that aid in the establishment or maintenance of settlements” should be suspended, it said.

In addition, it stipulated that the database on settlement businesses should be updated annually.

Another resolution called on Israel to halt its demolitions of unauthorized Palestinian structures and homes, particularly in the South Hebron Hills, the Jordan Valley and the areas around Jerusalem. It also said Israel should “facilitate the return of those Palestinian communities already subjected to forcible transfer or eviction to their original dwellings and to ensure adequate housing.”

The UNHRC on Monday will also hears reports on Israeli actions over the pre-1967 lines compiled by the UN secretary- general and the high commissioner for human rights.  (Jerusalem Post)

Some of the last Jews of Yemen brought to Israel in secret mission

Some of the last Jews living in Yemen were brought to Israel in a secret mission overnight Sunday, Channel 2 has reported.

Clandestine activity of the Jewish Agency culminated in the aliya of the 17 Jews according to the report.

The US State Department was reportedly involved in the mission and helped coordinate the complex transfer of the Jews after the group faced persecution on its way to Israel.

Among the new immigrants was Rabbi Saliman Dahari who arrived with his parents and his wife and met his children upon arrival at the absorption center in Israel. The rabbi brought with him an 800-year-old torah scroll.

Yemen’s Jewish community numbered over 40,000 until 1949, when Israel organized their mass transfer to the newly-established state in Operation Magic Carpet. In 2010 there were an estimated 150 Jews in the country.

Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky said hailed the mission as a “significant moment in the history of Israel and of aliya.”

“From Operation Magic Carpet in 1949 until the present day, The Jewish Agency has helped bring Yemenite Jewry home to Israel. Today we bring that historic mission to a close. This chapter in the history of one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities is coming to an end, but Yemenite Jewry’s unique, 2,000-year-old contribution to the Jewish people will continue in the State of Israel,” Sharansky said.                     (Jerusalem Post)

No minute of silence, but ceremony set for Rio Olympics to honor Israelis murdered in Munich

The eleven Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists during the Munich Olympics in 1972 will be honored at a ceremony led by Brazilian and Israeli officials during the 2016 summer Olympic Games.

The August 14 ceremony will take place at the Rio City Hall led by the Israeli Olympic Committee and the Israeli consulate. The widows of weightlifter Yosseph Romano, who was kidnapped, castrated and murdered by the terrorists, and Andre Spitzer, who was a fencing coach, will light eleven candles at the Rio ceremony, reported Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.

“As Brazilian, Jewish and Zionist, we are deeply moved by the International Olympic Committee initiative. The fact it will happen in Brazil is very remarkable to all Brazilian Jews,” Israel’s honorary consul in Rio, Osias Wurman, told JTA. “We must remind the world that killing Israeli Jews was not a practice restricted to Munich. Nowadays, the suicide terror once again stabs innocent Jews in the land of Israel.”

The IOC had already announced a special area in the Olympic Village in Rio to commemorate the memory Olympians who have died, including the Israeli athletes. In addition, a “moment of reflection” in honor of all dead Olympians will be held during the closing ceremony.

“There will be no minute of silence at the opening ceremony,” read an IOC note, frustrating a longtime request of families. “We will dedicate a moment during the closure ceremony to allow everyone at the stadium and everyone watching at home to remember their loved ones that have passed away.”

Israel so far has 20 qualified athletes for the Rio games, to be held August 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro. This is the 16th Olympic Games attended by the Israeli national team since 1948. To date, Israel has won seven Olympic medals, including one gold, one silver and five bronze.                (Jerusalem Post)

Bill upping penalty for burning Israeli flag clears early hurdle

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved on Sunday a bill to update the penalty for burning an Israeli flag of 300 lira, worth about 10 agorot in a currency no longer in use, to NIS 50,000.

The bill by MK Nava Boker (Likud) would also increase the possible prison sentence for burning a flag from one year to three.

Like in most laws in which the prison sentence listed in the law is up to a year, judges currently have the option of fining a flag-burner up to NIS 29,200, even though the specific law against it lists a penalty worth less than a shekel.

Flag burning[1]

The Justice Ministry rejected other articles in Boker’s draft of the bill, such as making flag burners’ ineligible for unemployment benefits or government-funded scholarships. Boker lamented the move, saying it is blocking a deterrent and “the Justice Ministry still does not realize we are at war.”

“Whoever burns a flag must pay the price and not receive benefits,” she stated. “At the same time, I think enforcing the prison sentence will deter flag-burners and stop the inciting demonstrations among Israeli Arabs.”               (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli rocket technology will help explorer ease onto Mars

Man’s latest attempt to search for life on the Red Planet has a critical blue-and-white component – a propulsion system that will gently guide the newly-launched ExoMars spacecraft to the surface of Mars when it gets ready to touch down sometime in 2018.

The craft’s propulsion system was developed by Rafael, the same company that developed, among other things, the Iron Dome missile defense system.

While known for its defense systems, Rafael is also active in the space business, specifically as the manufacturer of controllable propulsion and reaction control systems (RCS), which help “brake” the landing of satellites and missiles. This ensures that their fuel tanks do not crash into the ground as they land and ignite an explosion.

When ExoMars, launched Monday, gets to its destination, it will release a descent module called Schiaparelli which will land on Mars. During the descent phase, a heat shield will protect the payload from the severe heat flux. Parachutes, thrusters, and damping systems will reduce the speed, allowing a controlled landing on the surface of Mars.

The module’s fuel tanks are equipped with Rafael-supplied mini-rockets that will spring into action when the craft gets ready to land on the surface of Mars, according to Zvi Zuckerman, a Rafael engineer who helped develop the system. In comments to Yedioth Ahronoth, Zuckerman said that the landing “will be a dramatic moment, because if anything goes wrong, the spacecraft could explode” due to the impact of landing.

According to Zuckerman, the European Space Agency, which is sponsoring the mission along with Russian space agency Roscosmos, chose Rafael’s propulsion system for the job “because our propulsion tanks are lighter, and use cleaner fuel,” which ensures a smoother landing.

The inclusion of Israeli technology in the mission, Zuckerman added, was especially noteworthy as the ESA prefers to use only Europe-developed and manufactured systems for its missions. The Rafael tanks are manufactured at the Rafael facility in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Yam.

ExoMars is far from Rafael’s first foray into space. The company’s propulsion modules have been used in dozens of satellites (30 of them currently active), among them the OFEQ, EROS and TecSAR satellites. The positive-expulsion propellant tank technology present on ExoMars has been used on Proteus, Galileo-GIOVE-B, Spirale, Prisma, Myriad/Astrosat-100 and other satellites, many of which were launched by the ESA.

The ESA is not the only space-exploring body to use Israeli technology. Last October, Israel signed a cooperation agreement with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (COPUOS). Under the agreement, Israel will develop protocols and systems to use satellite technology in a number of projects, including using satellites to take photos of areas where natural and other disasters take place, and the distribution of photos to rescue agents for use in locating and identifying survivors.

According to Minister of Science, Technology and Space Danny Danon, last year’s agreement was “a small step into the UN agency, and a big step for Israel. This agreement proves that Israel is a leader in space technology, and that it has a great deal to contribute to humanity in this area, especially in satellite development and research.”                 (The Times of Israel)

Netanyahu stymies funding Pollard for life

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office intervened on Sunday to prevent the advancement of a bill that would have required the state to fund the expenses of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard for the rest of his life.

The measure, sponsored by Knesset House Committee chairman David Bitan (Likud), called for the state to pay Pollard a monthly stipend and cover his medical expenses and the cost of his housing, which, according to his parole conditions, must currently be in New York.

The legislation was expected to be approved on Sunday by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. But Netanyahu’s bureau chief David Sharan asked Bitan to postpone the vote, for “diplomatic and security reasons.”

A source close to Netanyahu said the decision was made at the request of security officials.

On November 20, Pollard was paroled from prison after serving 30 years of a life sentence.

He is waiting for a ruling from a New York District Court judge about whether his parole conditions will be relaxed.

Sources close to Pollard welcomed the postponement of the bill, saying that Pollard and his wife, Esther, preferred to live out of the spotlight and did not want to draw attention.

“At the moment, we need to keep quiet and let the lawyers do their job the best they can,” the source said.

Due to the strict nature of Pollard’s parole conditions, which require monitoring of computers he uses online, he has not been able to start working yet, despite receiving a job offer.

Bitan insisted the bill had been postponed and not canceled and would be passed when the time was right.

“We have an ethical obligation to Pollard, especially after he sat in prison for 30 years while the State of Israel failed to get him out,” Bitan said.

“After everything Pollard has been through and contributed to the state, it must ensure that he can live with dignity.”             (Jerusalem Post)

Israel and Turkey inch closer together, but bombing won’t restore ties

With sides still wary, increased cooperation in wake of suicide attack won’t necessarily give way to warmer relationship, experts say

By  Raphael Ahren                          The Times of Israel


Will Saturday’s devastating terror attack in Istanbul lead to an improvement in bilateral ties between Ankara and Jerusalem?

Those looking for a silver lining to the tragic event in which three Israeli civilians (and an Iranian) were killed can point to the smooth cooperation and the sympathetic messages exchanged by officials from both countries. But while several signals indicate that some sort of detente is in the offing, experts on Israel-Turkey ties warn that a full-fledged reconciliation might still not be around the corner.

The coordination between Israeli and Turkish officials dealing with the immediate aftermath of the attack on Istanbul’s pedestrian Istiklal avenue was excellent, according to people on the ground.

“The Health Ministry, Prime Minister’s Office, the hospitals — even the funeral homes were amazing,” said diplomat Shira Ben Tzion, who was in charge of Israel’s Istanbul consulate at the time of the attack. “We are used to hostility on the streets,” she told Yedioth Ahronoth, “but in this case, from the moment we said we’re from the Israeli Consulate, they embraced us straight away and treated us nicely.”

Even on a much higher level, Saturday’s attack seemed to bring the two sides closer together. On Saturday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a letter of condolence from his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoğlu, a man not usually know for his high regard for Israel’s current political leadership.

“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,” Davutoğlu wrote. “I would like to convey my condolences to the families of the Israeli citizens who lost their lives in the heinous attack which happened in Istanbul and to the people of Israel, and wish a speedy recovery to the wounded.”

Davutoğlu’s missive came less than one week after Netanyahu condemned a large-scale terror attack in Ankara, expressing “solidarity with the Turkish people in the war against terrorism.” That statement was newsworthy because Netanyahu had refrained from speaking out on previous attacks rocking Turkish cities, reportedly due to his anger at Ankara’s refusal to condemn the wave of terror currently rocking Israel.

On Saturday night, in another gesture unprecedented in recent years, Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold aborted a trip to Washington (where he was supposed to participate in the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC) and instead made his way to Istanbul. In Turkey, he was set to meet with local politicians and members of the city’s Jewish community and is rumored to be slated to powwow with his current counterpart and former foreign minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu.

Gold’s arrival, on Sunday afternoon, marked the highest-level visit to Turkey from an Israeli official since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, which had sent bilateral ties into the abyss.

When İrem Aktaş, a member of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling AK Party, tweeted on Saturday that she wished for the death of the Israelis wounded in the attack, the party quickly initiated disciplinary proceedings against her.

“These are all things that we haven’t seen before in bilateral relations,” said Nimrod Goren, a Turkey expert at Hebrew University. “Look for example at Davutoğlu’s letter to Netanyahu. It represents some sort of direct communication, if not verbal, between the two leaders, and that is something we haven’t seen in a long time.”

This, together with Gold’s visit and the efficient cooperation by the authorities on the ground, are clear signs that “the diplomatic mechanism is working,” said Goren, who also heads Mitvim — The Israeli Institute Regional Foreign Policies.

“The level of cooperation, on a working level but also on a diplomatic level, is more intense that it had been in the past. And apparently it’s going quite well; so far we’ve heard no complaints from one side about the other.”

That fact that Aktaş’ hateful tweet was quickly and forcefully rejected by higher-ups in Erdoğan’s party indicates that verbal attacks against Israel are being delegitimized in today’s Turkey, Goren added. “All of these developments together form a picture showing open lines of communication and that Turkey is trying to project a better atmosphere,” he said.

And yet, this cautious rapprochement by no means guarantees that Jerusalem and Ankara will soon finalize a reconciliation agreement and fully normalize diplomatic ties, he believes. “There are concrete disagreements before it can be signed, and they are not removed by the most recent events. But what this development does achieve is creating a more relaxed atmosphere to conduct these negotiations in.”

Addressing reporters in the Foreign Ministry’s situation room Saturday night, Netanyahu reiterated that Israel is constantly trying to reach an agreement that will lead to normalization of ties with the Turks. “This matter is being delayed not because of frivolous reasons,” he said, “but because of fundamental issues about which we are trying to reach an understanding with them. There was a certain progress, and I hope that it will continue.”

Netanyahu is referring to Gaza — Ankara requests Israel lift its naval blockade of the Strip, which Israel opposes adamantly — as well as Jerusalem’s concern over senior Hamas leaders based in Turkey. Israel demands Turkey prevent any Hamas activity from its territory as a precondition to normalization. In addition, some important players in the region — Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Russia — are skeptical over an Israeli detente with Ankara.

Indeed, an overly hurried reconciliation might not necessarily be in Israel’s best interest, argued Efrat Aviv, a Turkey expert at Bar-Ilan University.

It is true that the events of the last few days testify to an increased closeness between Ankara and Jerusalem, she said. “But,” she added, “I wonder if we really need this right now, a final reconciliation agreement.”

During a recent visit to Turkey, Israeli diplomats told her that the status quo is actually not so bad. Trade relations are good, she explained, tourism is up, and Israel is participating in cultural festivals in Turkey and generally has little to complain about. “Why do we need to pay the price and give in to Turkey’s demands to improve ties, given Turkey’s current volatile state?”

Israel did well to apologize for the Marmara incident, when IDF troops boarded a Gaza-bound aid ship and, when attacked, killed nine Turkish citizens, and to pledge to pay reparations to the families of the deceased, she said.

“We needed to do that because we’re a moral country. But I suggest not rushing into signing a reconciliation agreement. Maybe it’s not nice to take advantage of another country’s weak situation, but we need to look out for our national interests. Turkey is struggling with terrorism and we could help them. Turkey thus needs us more than we need them. The way things are today, it is not in Israel’s strategic interest to rush to fix ties with Turkey.”

While Erdoğan is keenly interested in restoring ties with Israel, Aviv continued, he is giving Israel few reasons to believe he is sincere about true reconciliation. “If tomorrow there’s another war with Hamas, will he again say that we’re worse than Hitler? Why do we rush to normalize relations with a country that supports Hamas, promotes anti-Semitism and terrorism?”

Even if Jerusalem and Ankara were to sign an agreement in the near future, “there won’t be a honeymoon” as long as an unreformed Erdoğan is power, Aviv ventured. “There is a lack of trust here, and that is not going away so fast.”

Eventually, she allowed, restoring full diplomatic ties is desirable. “But let us take some time. Let’s build up bilateral relations slowly. Let them prove that they are really interested in reconciliation. Let’s first see a real change in their behavior.”

The failed effort to halt Palestinian incitement

Israel tried and failed to interfere with Hamas TV’s signal and is now focusing on social media; we can certainly expect this violence to continue for many months.

By  Ron Ben-Yishai               Ynet News


The IDF and the Shin Bet’s efforts are currently focused on keeping the “lone wolf intifada” from turning into an all-out popular uprising. The security services and government are especially worried about the increasing use of homemade firearms and improvised explosives. Furthermore, the incitement in Palestinian social media and on the Hamas affiliated Al-Aqsa television station are other extremely worrying developments.

Efforts are focused on monitoring Facebook, which is flooded with incitement. There are 1.7 million Facebook users in the West Bank, about half of whom are women. This fact helps to explain why there has been an increase in the number of women and teenage girls carrying out attacks. The IDF, in coordination with Palestinian security forces, has stopped dozens of lone wolf attacks by monitoring various Facebook pages.

Incitement not only occurs on social media, but also on Palestinian mass media outlets such as radio and television. The owners of private radio and TV stations in the West Bank were warned by security forces to stop broadcasting incitement, and as a result, some owners are voluntary requesting official confirmation that their broadcasts are not crossing the line into incitement. Some have even toned down the rhetoric in what they broadcast.

However, it recently came to light that the primary source of incitement is not coming from the West Bank, but from the Hamas affiliated Al-Aqsa TV station, which openly calls for the start of a new intifada and the murder of Jews.

A pilot project was carried out by security forces to try and disrupt  Al-Aqsa TV’s signal. However, the initiative failed once it became clear that the channel is broadcasted via internet and satellite, thereby making the project ineffective.

In fact, it is impossible to shut down the internet and satellite broadcasts.

Contrary to what Israeli officials may imply, it is difficult to define the Palestinian Authority’s broadcasts as incitement, and even in Israel people know that the PA has very little influence over the young people in the West Bank. Hamas TV and radio, however, are followed closely.

Over the past few weeks, the IDF and Shin Bet have been carrying out operations in the West Bank to confiscate home-made weapons and the materials used for making them. The operations take place every night everywhere, from small towns to large cities such as Nablus.

The results are yet to be seen on the ground – incitement continues and terrorists continue to use homemade firearms in their attacks.

Perhaps the results of these efforts will be seen in the coming months, and there will be a decrease in the number of attacks carried out. At least, this is the hope of both the Israelis and Palestinian Authority, which is also worried about the possibility of this “lone wolf intifada” turning into a full-fledged popular uprising.

This is the hope, but people in the know are predicting a much gloomier result. We can at least say for sure that this “lone wolf intifada” will be with us for at least several months.

Israel Unbound

Israel’s Global Influence Unprecedented

by Shlomo Ben Ami               Project Syndicate

Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, is Vice President of the Toledo International Center for Peace.


Israel’s persistent occupation of Palestinian lands is irreparably damaging its international standing – or so the conventional wisdom goes. In fact, Israel currently enjoys a degree of global influence unprecedented in its history, as a slew of new international challenges give its foreign policy, long held hostage by the single issue of Palestine, significantly more room for maneuver.

Recognizing mounting popular opposition to unequivocal support for Israel in the West, Israel has been looking elsewhere for economic, and ultimately political, partners. From 2004 to 2014, Israeli exports to Asia tripled, reaching $16.7 billion last year – one-fifth of total exports.

Israel now trades more with the once implacably hostile Asian giants – China, India, and Japan – than it does with its leading global ally, the United States. Neither Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who visited Israel a few weeks after his reelection in December 2014, nor the leaders of China, now Israel’s third-largest trading partner, bother to link their economic ties with Israel to the success of peace talks with the Palestinians.

With India, defense cooperation is the order of the day. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon visited India in February last year, and Indian President Pranab Mukherjee reciprocated with a historic visit to Israel in October. The election of the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in May 2014 may be accelerating cooperation. Already, Israel is India’s second-largest supplier of military technology.

Beyond Asia, Israel is cozying up to Russia, purely on the basis of strategic considerations. With Russia now setting the geostrategic tone in the Middle East through a show of nineteenth-century-style power diplomacy, Israel has pursued an understanding with the Kremlin concerning the lines that must not be crossed in Syria. (That understanding was undoubtedly facilitated by Israel’s neutrality on Russia’s annexation of Crimea and arming of separatists in Ukraine.) Earlier this month, speaking before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Israel’s ambassador to Moscow praised the “flourishing in an unprecedented manner” of the bilateral relationship.

Even Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, an irascible interlocutor in the past, is now seeking reconciliation. Turkey – locked in conflict with Russia, estranged from Egypt and Iran, and pursuing policies on Syria, the Islamic State (ISIS), and the Kurds that clash with those of its NATO allies – has lately found itself increasingly isolated in a sea of chaos. Having drawn no strategic benefits from the Palestinian cause, Erdoğan finally admitted in January that Turkey needs “a country like Israel.”

Interestingly, that statement came upon Erdoğan’s return from a visit to Saudi Arabia, another key regional actor that maintains discreet security links with Israel on the basis of a similar logic. For Saudi Arabia, Iran’s escape from global isolation, losses in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen, the specter of an ISIS onslaught, and America’s non-committal regional policies are far higher priorities than the Palestinians. Other Sunni Gulf monarchies and Egypt are also cooperating with Israel to contain Islamist terrorism and Iran’s regional rise.

Even European countries have found new reasons to engage with Israel. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who was fiercely hostile to Israel while in opposition, has become a close ally, having visited the country twice within three months in 2015. In exchange for gas, defense technology, and military intelligence, Greece is now offering its airspace for Israeli air force training. Moreover, Greece and Israel are cooperating with Cyprus in creating a geostrategic counterweight to Turkey.

So strong is Greece’s interest in building its relationship with Israel that Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias has declared that the country will not honor the European Union’s latest guidelines regulating the labeling of goods produced by Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. No wonder Nabil Shaath, a former Palestinian foreign minister, complained to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in January about Greece’s “betrayal of Palestine.”

But Greece is not alone in opposing the EU’s new labeling guidelines: Hungary, too, has come out against them. And, in fact, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu edges Israel toward illiberal democracy, he is counting on Eastern Europe’s increasingly illiberal governments to help shield Israel from adverse EU initiatives.

Clearly, Israel faces a multitude of new foreign-policy opportunities, which offer far-reaching potential benefits. But Israel’s new friends simply cannot replace its Western allies. With the Asian giants, Israel lacks the shared global outlook that is essential for a true strategic alliance.

As for the Palestinian question, Israel’s new alliances surely will not help advance a resolution. On the contrary, they reflect a changing global political agenda that has relegated the question to a lower tier of importance, which is likely to weaken Israel’s incentive to rethink its suppression of Palestine. As a result, the possibility of a two-state solution is more remote today than at any time since the start of the peace process 25 years ago.

This is no reason for Israel to rejoice. After all, the suppression of Palestine has, and will continue to have, fatally corrosive effects on Israeli society. Insofar as Israel’s new foreign-policy opportunities allow for the continuation of that suppression, they are not good for Palestine or Israel.

Palestinian Society Supports Terror – Ronni Shaked (Ynet News)

Terror cannot exist in the long term without support from the society from which it emerges and in whose name it operates. Palestinian society, on all levels, is giving the current wave of terrorism a warm embrace, and maintaining its momentum.

President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership justify terror attacks as “popular resistance” in statements of support of the supposed “martyrs,” who are looked up to as heroes and whose families receive financial benefits.

Full color posters with their pictures are distributed in cities and villages.

The funerals of these “martyrs” include escorts fit for a king – accompanied by an armed and uniformed honor guard and surrounded by thousands of supporters chanting slogans supporting the “struggle.”

There are rallies about once a week on university campuses in support of the “heroes.”

In this atmosphere, there is no chance that Mahmoud Abbas or any other Palestinian leader will condemn terror, let alone call for an end to violence.