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Bibi meets with Clinton

Latest News in Israel – 27th September

Clinton to PM: I’ll oppose any outside solution to conflict

If elected president, Trump said he would recognize Jerusalem as the “undivided capital” of Israel.

Bibi meets with Clinton

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in New York

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday that, if elected, she would oppose any attempts to impose an outside solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as any one-sided action at the UN.

In a meeting in New York, Clinton said she was committed to countering efforts to delegitimize Israel and to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, CNN reported.

The two met for about an hour at New York’s W Hotel. Clinton’s campaign said in a statement that the two had an “in-depth conversation.” She stressed that “a strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States” and “reaffirmed unwavering commitment” to the relationship.

According to her campaign, Clinton stressed her support for the 10-year, $38 billion military aid package signed between the two countries earlier the month and opposition to efforts to boycott Israel. They also discussed Iran, the conflict in Syria and other regional challenges, including her support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict negotiated by the two parties — not an outside organization like the UN Security Council.

A senior campaign aide told Bloomberg News that Clinton said she intended to further boost the countries’ defense and intelligence cooperation. She also said she would work closely with Israel to ensure Iran sticks to its obligations under the 2015 accord, and to combat Tehran’s support of terrorism against the Jewish state.

The pair know each other well, having held many diplomatic discussions during Clinton’s term as secretary of state between 2009-2013.

According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu laid out Israel’s positions on regional issues to the former secretary of state, and detailed “its efforts to achieve peace and stability.”

He also thanked her “for her friendship and support of Israel.”

Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer was in attendance, as was Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan.

Earlier Trump told the Israeli premier that if elected president, he would recognize Jerusalem as the “undivided capital” of Israel.

Trump’s camp said the candidate and Netanyahu discussed a wide variety of issues, including Israel’s experiences in building walls, during a meeting between the two at the billionaire businessman’s office in Manhattan, New York.

“Mr. Trump said that under a Trump administration, there will be extraordinary strategic, technological, military and intelligence cooperation between the two countries. Mr. Trump recognized Israel as a vital partner of the United States in the global war against radical Islamic terrorism,” a statement from the Trump campaign read.

“The United States, under a Trump administration, will finally accept the long-standing Congressional mandate to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel,” the statement added.

Trump also said the two discussed “at length the nuclear deal with Iran, the battle against ISIS and many other regional security concerns.”

The two convened for an hour and 20 minutes in Trump Tower, in Manhattan.

Netanyahu’s bureau released a statement saying the prime minister “thanked Mr. Trump for his friendship and support of Israel.”

Bibi & Trump

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump meeting at the Trump Tower in New York

“Prime Minister Netanyahu presented to Mr. Trump Israel’s stance regarding regional issues related to Israel’s security and its efforts to bring peace and stability to the region,” the prime minister’s statement read.

Also present at the meeting with the two were Dermer and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew who advises the candidate on Israel.

According to Israeli sources, the meetings were set up after the Trump campaign spoke to Netanyahu’s staff on Friday. Netanyahu’s office then reached out to the Clinton campaign in a bid to avoid the appearance of favoring the GOP candidate.

Trump has been a fierce critic of the Iran nuclear agreement and promised during a speech to AIPAC earlier this year that he would deepen ties between the two countries if he were elected president, adding the days of “treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on day one.” But he also raised eyebrows when he questioned Israel’s commitment to a peace deal last year and said he didn’t want to show any bias in favor of one side or the other.

Clinton has supported a negotiated two-state solution in the region, vowed to enforce the Iran nuclear agreement and help defend Israel’s security. The former secretary of state suggested in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 earlier this month that the Islamic State group was “rooting for Donald Trump’s victory” and he had helped strengthen the hands of extremists by his provocative statements about Muslims.

The meetings will also come after the US recently completed a 10-year, $38-billion military aid package for Israel. Clinton said in a statement that it would help “solidify and chart a course for the US-Israeli defense relationship in the 21st century as we face a range of common challenges.”               (the Times of Israel)

Netanyahu: No matter US election results, we’ll have a friend in the White House

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Army Radio Monday morning, following his meetings with presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The prime minster spoke of his meetings with the presidential candidates as well as recent comments made by former prime minster Ehud Barak.

Netanahu stated the he will not intervene in American politics and that both candidates are “well versed in Israeli affairs.”

“It is important for Israeli citizens to know no matter the election results we will have a friend in the White House. The next president will continue the strong alliance between Israel and the United States,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu continued, stating that the strong alliance between the two nations was seen with last week’s historic $38 billion military aid agreement and that it is important for the two countries to continue their alliance, working together on the challenges in the Middle East.

In the interview, Netanyahu also spoke about Ehud Barak’s recent criticism of the premier stating that, “Ehud Barak should not preach on how to run the country.”

Barak responded in a separate interview with Army Radio later Monday morning, stating, “History will judge the success of the prime minister, I am not afraid.”

“I wish that those who incited against [former prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin would focus on changing things for citizens instead of harassment,” Barak continued, “Personally I will continue working to open the eyes of the public to Netanyahu’s conduct.”

“My children and grandchildren motivate me, I worry about the country’s future.”

Netanyahu however stated that he was prepared to continue his job as long as he has something to contribute.

“We have made so many big changes, breaking into new markets, we formed an agreement with Japan for the protection of investments, we worked on special relations with Russia,” stated Netanyahu.

“We broke down the automatic block against us affecting our position in the United Nations,” Netanyahu continued, “I want to break down our isolation in the international arena.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli official: Gaza underground wall to be done in months

A senior Israeli military official on Sunday said a massive underground barrier being built along the Gaza border to defend against Hamas tunnels should be finished in a matter of months, dealing what he said would be a serious blow to the Islamic militant group.

The Southern Command official said the structure was at the forefront of a new effort meant to rob Hamas of one of its most potent weapons.

During a 2014 war, Hamas militants on several occasions made their way into Israel through a tunnel network, though they did not manage to reach civilian areas. Israel destroyed 32 tunnels during that conflict, and since then has made neutralizing the tunnel threat a top priority.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity under military briefing guidelines, said Hamas is now trying to restore its military capabilities, with its primary focus on building a subterranean warren of tunnels to hide from Israeli strikes and sneak into Israel to carry out attacks in a future round of fighting.

In recent weeks, Israel is believed to have begun work on a 60-kilometer (40 mile) underground barrier expected to stretch dozens of meters (yards) deep. Work crews have been spotted digging trenches and installing infrastructure in the ground.

In a briefing with reporters Sunday, the Israeli official showed video footage of heavy machinery raking the sandy border area, a series of holes drilled deep into the ground, a stretch of land the army has flooded, and some controlled explosions. The army also showed a photo of simulated tunnels where soldiers train for subterranean combat.

He declined to discuss specific features of the barrier being built, calling it a key strategic project. But he said the new wall will defend Israel’s border with Gaza both above and below the ground. The army’s goal, he said, is to turn the underground battlefield into a “death trap” for Hamas.

“It will take time to build it. It’s a big project. But it is a main goal,” he said.

Since the war, Israel has announced the discovery of several more tunnels. Israel has already surrounded Gaza with a sophisticated above-ground fence fortified with sensors, cameras, barbed wire and watch towers.

Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction, seized power of Gaza in 2007. Since then, the sides have fought three wars.

During the 2014 fighting, the group fired several thousand rockets and missiles into Israel. More than 2,200 Palestinians, over half of them civilians, were killed in the fighting, along with 73 people on the Israeli side.

The official said Hamas has been steadily rebuilding its capabilities since the fighting, though Israeli officials do not believe the group is looking for another round of hostilities for the time being.

Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas official in Gaza, said the Israeli efforts would fail.

“They must realize that they will not enjoy security as long as the Palestinian people don’t enjoy it,” he said. “The language of threats no longer terrifies our people.” (the Algemeiner)

IAF helicopters hold two-week drill in Greece

The Israel Air Force held a drill in Greece over the past two weeks in which Israeli transport helicopters simulated several types of missions in the Olympic mountain range.

Israeli CH-53 Sea Stallions and CH-60 Black Hawk squadrons, responsible for transporting units and inserting them into combat areas, evacuating soldiers and civilians, and conducting naval rescue operations took part in the exercise, together with helicopters from the Hellenic Air Force.

Flying through the Greek mountains and conducting mock missions in this rugged terrain enabled the IAF squadrons to simulate a “complex combat arena that is not available in Israel,” an IDF source said Sunday, adding that the Israeli aircraft landed and took off from Mount Olympus during the training.

In April 2015, the IAF completed a similar drill. According to IAF sources, experience gained in such drills can be used for short and long-range future missions.

Flight crews experience unknown terrain, as they would if they had to fly over some enemy territory.

Israel’s flat terrain offers limited opportunities for mountain training for IAF crews, while Greece’s 2,918-meter tall Mount Olympus allows aircraft to fly and hide in the challenging terrain.

In last year’s exercise, Apache attack helicopters as well as IAF Hercules and Super-Hercules transport planes took part. They were joined by Beechcraft King Air aerial intelligence aircraft.

Greek helicopter pilots have arrived in Israel for joint training as well in the past, while Hellenic Air Force pilots have taken part in Israel’s Blue Flag international air drill over southern Israel in 2015.   (Jerusalem Post)

Orthodox male Israeli soldiers allowed to opt out of serving with women

Israel Defense Forces soldiers can request to not serve alongside women and to be excused from any military event that goes against their beliefs, according to a new directive.

The new directive by Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, published Sunday and distributed to all units, comes as Eisenkot has decided not to establish any additional Nahal Haredi battalions, made up exclusively of Haredi Orthodox soldiers, and integrate them into regular units, Walla reported.

Soldiers can now request not to serve with women and not to share living spaces.

Formal events, such as Independence Day and Memorial Day ceremonies, Holocaust Remembrance Day, services for fallen soldiers, and Rabin’s memorial day, will still be required and more difficult for soldiers to get out of, according to the new directive.

Other events, such as cultural or educational ones, including where females sing in front of men, will be at the discretion of the unit’s commander, according to the directive.  (JTA)

Palestinian Celebration of Munich Olympic Massacre shows they are not ready for peace

The world must insist that Palestinian leaders refrain from praising past and present acts of terror

by  Michael Oren   Newsweek

http://europe.newsweek.com/palestinian-celebration-munich-olympic-massacre-shows-they-are-not-ready-peace-501539

The 2016 Olympics remembered the 11 Israeli athletes massacred by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich games, but the Palestinian Authority (PA) is praising the atrocity. The International Olympic Committee erected a memorial in Rio to the slain Israeli sportsmen and honored them at the closing ceremony. Yet on September 5, the anniversary of that horrific event, the official website of Fatah, the organization headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, hailed the outrage as an “heroic operation” and “one of the most important actions in modern history.”

The Munich Massacre took place on September 5, 1972, when members of Black September, a Palestinian terrorist group closely allied with al-Fatah, infiltrated the Olympic village with explosives and automatic weapons. They took 11 Israeli athletes hostage, brutally beat and tortured them, while shooting two of them to death. The rest they killed with gunfire and grenades when German forces attempted a rescue. A German policeman was also murdered.

And the PA takes pride in that as indeed it does in all acts of terror against Israelis. Recently, after the stabbing and shooting of three Israeli civilians—among them Richard Lakin, an American citizen and devoted peace activist—the PA lauded the Palestinian killers as ”heroic martyrs” who promptly “ascended to heaven.”

PA officials have named summer camps, scouting troops, and even soccer tournaments after terrorists. According to Palestinian Media Watch, the name of Dalal Mughrabi, who led a single attack that killed 37 Israelis, including 12 children, today adorns West Bank streets and public squares as well as two elementary schools, a community center, and a kindergarten.

Official Palestinian support for the killing of Jews intensified over the past year in which at least 33 Israelis and two American tourists were murdered, many of them by young Palestinians wielding knives. The PA and Fatah websites encouraged these youths to embark on stabbing rampages that in most cases resulted in their deaths. Like the murderers of Richard Lakin, these suicide terrorists were branded “martyrs.” Extoling violence against Israelis in their nation’s capital, Abbas declared: “I welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem.”

By closely monitoring Palestinian websites and other intelligence methods, Israel’s security forces have preempted many of these attacks. But the PA’s determination to instill hatred in Palestinians erases hopes of resolution. Bred on a constant curriculum of denying Israelis the right to life, much less to freedom in their homeland, generations of Palestinians are unlikely to reconcile with them. Israel, by contrast, names its streets and schools after Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and other champions of peace. While we prepare our people for co-existence, the PA is educating Palestinians for bloodshed.

Such incitement must and can be stopped. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner publicly condemned the “Fatah Facebook post that glorified the terrorist attacks on the Munich Olympics where 11 innocent Israeli athletes were killed.” Shortly after Toner’s denunciation, Fatah took down the post.

The world must follow America’s example. After rightly memorializing the Munich massacre at the Rio games, the international community must insist that the PA refrain from praising all acts of terrorism, past and present. Only then can Palestinians be truly educated about peace.

Michael B. Oren, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. and a member of Knesset (the Israeli parliament), is the author of Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide.

Bibi’s Realpolitik

The Real Middle East Story

by Walter Russell Mead    The American thinker

http://www.the-american-interest.com/2016/09/23/the-real-middle-east-story/

Precisely because he has a colder view of international affairs than Obama, Netanyahu’’s leadership has made Israel stronger than ever.

Peter Baker notices something important in his dispatch this morning: at this year’s UNGA, the Israel/Palestine issue is no longer the center of attention. From The New York Times:

They took the stage, one after the other, two aging actors in a long-running drama that has begun to lose its audience. As the Israeli and Palestinian leaders recited their lines in the grand hall of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, many in the orchestra seats recognized the script.

“Heinous crimes,” charged Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. “Historic catastrophe.”

“Fanaticism,” countered Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. “Inhumanity.”

Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu have been at this for so long that between them they have addressed the world body 19 times, every year cajoling, lecturing, warning and guilt-tripping the international community into seeing their side of the bloody struggle between their two peoples. Their speeches are filled with grievance and bristling with resentment, as they summon the ghosts of history from hundreds and even thousands of years ago to make their case.

While each year finds some new twist, often nuanced, sometimes incendiary, the argument has been running long enough that the world has begun to move on. Where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once dominated the annual meeting of the United Nations, this year it has become a side show as Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas compete for attention against seemingly more urgent crises like the civil war in Syria and the threat from the Islamic State.

Baker (and presumably many of his readers) don’t go on to the next, obvious question: What does this tell us about the relative success or failure of the leaders involved? The piece presents both Netanyahu and Abbas as irrelevant. They used to command the world stage, but now nobody is interested in their interminable quarrel.

What the piece doesn’t say is that this situation is exactly what Israel wants, and is a terrible defeat for the Palestinians. Abbas is the one whose strategy depends on keeping the Palestinian issue front and center in world politics; Bibi wants the issue to fade quietly away. What we saw at the UN this week is that however much Abbas and the Palestinians’ many sympathizers might protest, events are moving in Bibi’s direction.

There is perhaps only one thing harder for the American mind to process than the fact that President Obama has been a terrible foreign policy president, and that is that Bibi Netanyahu is an extraordinarily successful Israeli Prime Minister. In Asia, in Africa, in Latin America, Israel’s diplomacy is moving from strength to strength. Virtually every Arab and Middle Eastern leader thinks that Bibi is smarter and stronger than President Obama, and as American prestige across the Middle East has waned under Obama, Israel’s prestige ­ even among people who hate it ­ has grown. Bibi’s reset with Russia, unlike Obama’s, actually worked. His pivot to Asia has been more successful than Obama’s. He has had far more success building bridges to Sunni Muslims than President Obama, and both Russia and Iran take Bibi and his red lines much more seriously than they take Obama’s expostulations and pious hopes.

The reason that Bibi has been more successful than Obama is that Bibi understands how the world works better than Obama does. Bibi believes that in the harsh world of international politics, power wisely used matters more than good intentions eloquently phrased. Obama sought to build bridges to Sunni Muslims by making eloquent speeches in Cairo and Istanbul while ignoring the power political realities that Sunni states cared most about ­ like the rise of Iran and the Sunni cause in Syria. Bibi read the Sunnis more clearly than Obama did; the value of Israeli power to a Sunni world worried about Iran has led to something close to a revolution in Israel’s regional position. Again, Obama thought that reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood (including its Palestinian affiliate, Hamas) would help American diplomacy and Middle Eastern democracy. Bibi understood that Sunni states like Egypt and its Saudi allies wanted Hamas crushed. Thus, as Obama tried to end the Gaza war on terms acceptable to Hamas and its allies, Bibi enjoyed the backing of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia in a successful effort to block Obama’s efforts. Israel’s neighbors may not like Bibi, but they believe they can count on him. They may think Obama has some beautiful ideas that he cares deeply about, but they think he’s erratic, unreliable, and doesn’t understand either them or their concerns.

Obama is an aspiring realist who wanted to work with undemocratic leaders on practical agreements. But Obama, despite the immense power of the country he leads, has been unable to gain the necessary respect from leaders like Putin and Xi that would permit the pragmatic relationships he wanted to build. Bibi is a practicing realist who has succeeded where Obama failed. Bibi has a practical relationship with Putin; they work together where their interests permit and where their interests clash, Putin respects Bibi’s red lines. Obama’s pivot to Asia brought the US closer to India and Japan, but has opened a deep and dangerous divide with China. Under Bibi’s leadership, Israel has stronger, deeper relationships with India, China and Japan than at any time in the past, and Asia may well replace Europe as Israel’s primary trade and investment partners as these relationships develop.

The marginalization of Abbas at the UN doesn’t just reflect the world’s preoccupation with bigger crises in the neighborhood. It reflects a global perception that a) the Sunni Arab states overall are less powerful than they used to be and that b) partly as a result of their deteriorating situation, the Sunni Arab states care less about the Palestinian issue than they used to. This is why African countries that used to shun Israel as a result of Arab pressure are now happy to engage with Israel on a variety of economic and defense issues. India used to avoid Israel in part out of fear that its own Kashmir problem would be ‘Palestinianized’ into a major problem with its Arab neighbors and the third world. Even Japan and China were cautious about embracing Israel too publicly given the power of the Arab world and its importance both in the world of energy markets and in the nonaligned movement. No longer.

Inevitably, all these developments undercut the salience of the Palestinian issue for world politics and even for Arab politics and they strengthen Israel’s position in the region and beyond. Obama has never really grasped this; Netanyahu has based his strategy on it. Ironically, much of the decline in Arab power is due to developments in the United States. Fracking has changed OPEC’s dynamics, and Obama’s tilt toward Iran has accelerated the crisis of Sunni Arab power. Netanyahu understands the impact of Obama’s country and Obama’s policy on the Middle East better than Obama does. Bibi, like a number of other leaders around the world, has been able to make significant international gains by exploiting the gaps in President Obama’s understanding of the world and in analyzing ways to profit from the unintended consequences and side effects of Obama policies that didn’t work out as Obama hoped.

Bibi’s successes will not and cannot make Israel’s problems and challenges go away. And finding a workable solution to the Palestinian question remains something that Israel cannot ignore on both practical and moral grounds. But Israel is in a stronger global position today than it was when Bibi took office; nobody can say that with a straight face about the nation that President Obama leads. When and if American liberals understand the causes both of Bibi’s successes and of Obama’s setbacks, then perhaps a new and smarter era of American foreign policy debate can begin.

When Palestinians acknowledge defeat to Zionism, peace will follow

The Israeli left must accept that while our right to national self-determination is not exclusive, as long as the Palestinian nationalist movement denies it, we will seek its defeat. And then we will make peace.

By Einat Wilf                  Ha’aretz

http://www.haaretz.com/misc/article-print-page/.premium-1.743623

The Zionist left wants to see the defeat of the Palestinian national movement just as badly as the right wing does. Only when it admits that, will the left be able to lead the state of Israel to a peace deal, if and when that becomes feasable. That is because a peace agreement based on dividing the land will be possible only when the Palestinian nationalist movement acknowledges its defeat to the Jewish nationalist movement – Zionism.

In general, the left prefers not to think or talk in terms of victory and defeat. The people on the left prefer to think that they are decent folk, people of compromise. The left views its support for dividing the land as a fair compromise, in which each party acknowledges that because of the other’s existence, one side can’t have it all.

Unfortunately, what the left perceives as a fair compromise is perceived on the Palestinian side as a humiliating defeat.

From the Palestinian perspective, the compromise suggested by the left is not essentially  different from the right’s dreams of empire. Both insist, for some reason, on the insane idea that the invented Jewish people have some unclear entitlement to self-determination in Arab Palestine, and it does not matter if it’s over 17% of the area west of the Jordan River (the Peel plan), 55% (the partition plan), 78% (the 1967 boundaries) or 100%.

The Palestinian national movement remains committed to the idea of liberating all of Palestine, from the sea to the Jordan River. There is no sign that it and its leaders are prepared to recognize that the Jewish people, as a people, have an equal right to self-determination in this land, which is its birthplace too.

The main indication of the Palestinian national movement’s commitment to continuing the struggle for all of Palestine is its continued cultivation of the illusion of return ­ in particular,  the perception that any Palestinian at all, including fourth-generation offspring of refugees living in Ramallah, will eternally have the non-negotiable, individual “right” to return to the motherland; to return anywhere in the land between the Jordan River and the sea. Holding onto the “right of return” enables the Palestinians to continue to believe that even if they lose a battle, the war isn’t over. And if the war isn’t over, there’s no need to admit to defeat, no need to sign an agreement of surrender.

The right of return thus creates the broadest base of consensus on both sides: the Palestinians, in supporting it, and the Zionists  in opposing it. People on the left, like me, who are committed to dividing the land based on the 1967 borders, are also unwilling to accept the principle of the right of return.

It isn’t only the Zionists: Non-Zionist left wingers who promote the vision of a single state, like Rogel Alpher for example, are not prepared to accept the right of return either, and urge the Palestinians to stop handing down a heritage of nakba from generation to generation, in exchange for abolishing the Israeli right of return.

Meanwhile, judging by the exchange of letters between Alpher and the Arab Israeli rapper Tamer Nafar, the non-Zionist left is prepared to forgo the right of return (for Jews) but expectations of Palestinian reciprocity in the form of forgoing their right of return, have been dashed.

The people of the Zionist left need to look in the mirror and admit this to themselves: We aren’t nice, we aren’t generous, we aren’t fair. We, no less than the right, want the Palestinians to be defeated. We, no less than the right, demand they surrender and acknowledge that they aren’t going to get the whole of Palestine. We insist on our right to self-determination in our homeland. Our right is not exclusive and is not supreme, but as long as the Palestinian nationalist movement denies it, we will seek its defeat. And then we will make peace.

Dr. Einat Wilf, a senior fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute, served in the 18th Knesset where she was a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

As Gaza spirals downward, the IDF watches, digs in for the next fight

Palestinians in the Strip facing growing economic despair, arrested reconstruction and no hope for the future, senior officer says

By Judah Ari Gross                  The Times of Israel

http://www.timesofisrael.com/as-gaza-spirals-downward-the-idf-watches-digs-in-for-the-next-fight/

The Gaza Strip and its residents are barreling towards disaster, brought on by crippling unemployment, a nonexistent economy, water and electricity shortages, a growing population and the “Islamic dictatorship” of Hamas, while the IDF is trying — and thus far succeeding — to keep the coastal enclave’s terrorist leaders deterred and contained, a senior IDF officer from the Southern Command said Sunday.

The army official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, rattled off worrying statistics from the Gaza Strip: 41.2 percent unemployment, the highest unemployment rate in the world, according to the World Bank; a per capita GDP of NIS 6,488 ($1,725), which if Gaza were a country, would put it near the lowest in the world, between Haiti ($1,750) and Burkina Faso ($1,724), according to the International Monetary Fund; an economy that is mostly made up of foreign aid and charity from international organizations; and a population of 1.9 million — and growing.

Moreover, reconstruction following the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, has been slow, in part because Hamas has siphoned off a substantial portion of the reconstruction materials in order to create new attack, defense and smuggling tunnels, according to Israeli authorities.

“Hamas is not rebuilding Gaza, it’s rebuilding its military capabilities,” the officer told reporters.

As Hamas is working around the clock to rearm and dig deeper fortifications and attack tunnels, the IDF and Defense Ministry are shoring up Israel’s protection against the threat of terror attacks and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and preparing for the next round of conflict, he said.

Though many details of the project remain secret, Israel is in the process of creating “a barrier that will provide a response to above-ground and below-ground threats,” the officer said.

The barrier will include an underground concrete wall to prevent tunneling at certain depths, along with a sensor-laden fence.

“If the budget comes at the right rate, then the barrier will be built in a matter of months,” the officer said.

The IDF is also working to improve its subterranean fighting tactics, along with its strategies to defend — and potentially evacuate — Israeli communities along the Gaza border.

“We’re turning the underground into a death trap for Hamas. We’re putting a lot of effort into that,” the officer said.

“We’re preparing to protect communities during an operation and improving the defenses. We’re also preparing a plan to evacuate communities. There will be flexibility in making decisions of if we have to evacuate communities, and which ones,” he added.

In June, a senior Defense Ministry official (who was almost certainly Avigdor Liberman) told reporters that Israel could not stomach a drawn-out war of attrition so “the next confrontation must be the last in terms of Hamas’s regime.”

The senior officer in the IDF’s Southern Command would not confirm that the army’s battle plans include the ousting of Hamas from the Strip, but said the next bout would be “heavy” and would deliver a “harsh blow” to the terrorist organization.

Beyond that, the officer would only say that “the plans were are preparing will follow the instructions that are set for us on the political level.”

The senior officer, echoing claims made with other defense officials and politicians, noted that a worsening economic and social situation in Gaza creates a sense of desperation, that “there is nothing to lose.”

In what has become a constant refrain over the past two years, the officer added: “An outburst, in our opinion, is just a matter of time.”

However, he stressed, for now Hamas is deterred.

Despite Israeli and international attempts to control the flow of building materials, cement coming into the Strip, first goes to the military wing of Hamas where they “take what they need” and from there it goes to civilians, the official said.

As such, only a fraction of the buildings that have been approved for construction have actually been built, the officer said.

In addition to the illicit pilfering of materials and funds coming into the Gaza Strip, Hamas has also levied “draconian taxes” on the people of Gaza, charging NIS 5 ($1.33) for every package of cigarettes and NIS 30 ($8) on every carton of fruit, according to IDF figures.

Hamas’s alleged commandeering of building materials and funds further disincentivizes Israel from easing the restrictions on imports into Gaza and allowing residents of the Strip to enter Israel to work.

“Hamas is using every alleviation we give for its own interests,” he said, pointing to recent attempts to illegally bring cars and electronics into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom and Erez Crossings.

“People who leave through Erez, pass messages [to Hamas operatives in the West Bank] and direct attacks, and Kerem Shalom is being used for smuggling,” the officer said.

Besides the beleaguered Strip’s economic woes, Gaza is on track to almost entirely run out of potable water by 2020 and become “uninhabitable,” according to a 2015 United Nations report.

The postponement of elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip only adds to the atmosphere of desperation and unrest in the coastal region, the senior officer said.

When asked about some residents of the Strip who reportedly cross into Israel with weapons, not to carry out attacks, but specifically in order to get arrested, the official responded: “As they say, sometimes an Israeli prison is better than life in Gaza.”

Two weeks ago, in a “abnormal” incident, an 8-year-old Palestinian child entered Israel, the officer said, only to be picked up by security forces and eventually returned to Gaza.

The calmest in decades

Though Israel’s military sees conflict with Hamas as a matter of when, not if, the years since Operation Protective Edge have seen little violence emanating from the Gaza Strip.

“The past two years haven’t been the quietest in a decade, they’re the quietest in decades,” the officer from the Southern Command said.

Since the 2014 war, Israeli forces have wounded hundreds of Hamas members and killed 34, the majority of them in clashes along the security fence; yet there has only been one case of Hamas hitting back — a few shots fired at troops in the Gaza Strip as they uncovered and destroyed a tunnel into Israel.

“That points to deterrence,” the officer said.

None of the 40 rockets from Gaza that have hit Israel have been fired by Hamas, but rather by Salafist and other more extreme groups, usually as a result of “internal conflict,” according to the officer.

The Israel Air Force strikes Hamas installations in response to the rocket fire, regardless of its origin, in order to force Hamas to better control the “rebellious groups” in Gaza, the official said.

“We’re trying not to hit civilians, and we’re trying not to hit civilian infrastructure,” he said.

Brushing off the allegation that Israel strikes “sand dunes” in Gaza, the officer showed slides of recent targets, including antennae, factories that produce concrete structures for tunnels and military outposts.

Over the past two years, those retaliatory air and artillery strikes have been more measured, with the notable exception of a massive aerial bombardment in August against key Hamas strategic assets, after a rocket struck Sderot.

“We took advantage of an opportunity” — i.e., the rocket attack on Sderot — “to both send a message and to test some of our capabilities,” the officer said, being deliberately vague about what those capabilities were.

With no end to Hamas or permanent solution for Gaza in sight, the officer had little hope to offer, other than the vigilance and preparedness of the IDF for the war to come.  (the Times of Israel)

Ben Shapiro explains why the left supports Radical Islam

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