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Latest Israel News – 2nd March

Families of fallen soldiers demand answers after Gaza report

Families of soldiers who were killed during the 2014 Gaza war reacted angrily to the findings of the state comptroller’s reports on the conflict published Tuesday, calling on the government to take responsibility for their sons’ deaths.

The reports found significant gaps in the military’s intelligence in the lead-up to the war, as well as a lack of clearly defined operational plans for how to destroy Hamas’s network of tunnels. Those failings may have led, the report said, to the unnecessary deaths of Israeli soldiers during the 50-day conflict.

But the Prime Minister’s Office bore the brunt of State Comptroller Yosef Shapira’s criticism, for its failure to sufficiently brief members of the security cabinet about the subterranean threat.

In a letter, read out to Israel’s parliament by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, the relatives urged lawmakers to “fully adopt the reports’ conclusions” in order to ensure that the next “threat does not turn into another war.”

As “it was you who sent our sons to war, the moral responsibility to apply the lessons learned falls upon you,” the letter said.

The letter noted the reports’ description of “the tremendous failures in the conduct of the security cabinet, the National Security Council and the Shin Bet” in preparing for the tunnel threat. The families accused those agencies and panels of “not taking responsibility” for the shortcomings in preparedness ahead of the conflict.

The families also wrote that “we deserve answers” and “we deserve leadership that takes responsibility.”

In addition to the letter, a number of families issued separate statements in which they voiced anger over the state comptroller’s conclusions.

The family of Oron Shaul, who the army determined was killed in action during the war, and whose body is being held by the Gaza’s Hamas rulers, said the report “confirms our cries that sometimes sounded absurd and not realistic,” the Hebrew-language Walla news site reported.

“The prime minister of Israel and the former defense minister abandoned [the soldiers], concealed, and covered up. That’s how the war in Gaza, which lasted for more than 50 days, was managed and that’s how it was with the declaration — so rash and so contrary to Jewish law — that Oron was killed in action.

“Once again, we ask the prime minister: Do not abandon Sgt. Oron Shaul, a Golani [brigade] fighter, who is in the hands of Hamas,” the family said.

Ilan Sagi, the father of Erez Sagi, who was killed in action in a cross-border attack launched through one of the Hamas tunnels, told Channel 2 News in an emotional interview that the government conduct was “shameful.”

“I don’t need to read the report, I paid the heaviest price on the subject of this report. It’s shameful, shameful. The blood of my son cries out from the earth and the politicians party,” Sagi said. “They behave in an insulting manner. Each of them tries to evade responsibility. My son died for our country, for our people, and those who failed should pay the price.”

“People of Israel, wake up, open your eyes, and don’t say, ‘It won’t happen to me,’” Sagi continued. “We cannot accept this silently. There must be a state commission of inquiry and those found guilty must be punished. This is blood that was shed, not water. People of Israel, get up, shout! The government played with the blood of our soldiers!”

While the reports were only released to the public on Tuesday, most of the critiques they contain have been reported on widely for months, as versions of the scalding documents circulated among relevant politicians and defense officials — and were leaked by them — as early as May 2016.  (the Times of Israel)

Israeli ministers spar over Hamas tunnel threat

Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, who faced off during Operation Protective Edge when they were both in the security cabinet, continued their battle over the Gaza War Tuesday in how they perceived State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s report.

Bennett said he saw it as vindicating his point of view that a plan for destroying the tunnels needed to be prepared and only was made ready because he pushed for it.

In briefings given to Bayit Yehudi MKs and activists, he highlighted passages from the report indicating that the operation could have taken less time and fewer lives would have been lost had his advice been taken to send ground forces sooner to tunnel entrances in Gaza, rather than destroying buildings over them by air.

Livni said the tunnels were indeed a threat but they were not the only threat and were not the reason for the operation. She criticized Shapira for focusing only on the tunnels and downplaying other key issues.

“Steps should have been taken against the tunnels long before the operation that would have made the operation unnecessary,” she said. “Israel did not want this operation. Just like now, there are tunnels and there is no operation; that could have also happened before. During the operation, I said there must be a solution other than sending in troops, like an engineering solution. The IDF wasn’t ready with the non-military solutions being used now.”

Bennett’s associates pointed out that Shapira wrote that there was no engineering solution available, which made entering Gaza a necessity. He said he, too, wished there had been an engineering solution that would have made the invasion unnecessary.

Livni accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and ministers on the Right of preventing the operation from being used as an opportunity to begin a diplomatic process with the Palestinian Authority. She said Netanyahu and the ministers prevented an effort to seek a United Nations vote for Gaza rehabilitation in return for demilitarization and negotiations between Israel and the PA without preconditions. Bennett deflected blame and said he supported such a diplomatic maneuver.

She expressed satisfaction that she blocked American efforts to adopt a cease-fire proposal pushed by the Turkish and Qatari foreign ministers who were negotiating on behalf of Hamas.

“There were absurd demands that we pay Hamas for them stopping to fire at us with a Gaza port or anything else,” she said.

But Livni lamented that lamented that the operation led to indirect talks between Israel and Hamas that were a victory for the terror organization that sought international legitimacy for its control over Gaza.

“Looking back it was a huge missed opportunity,” she said. (Jerusalem Post)

Sharansky to extend term by a year to see Kotel deal through

Long-time chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky has agreed to extend his term by another year, upon the request of the board of governors.

Sharansky had previously stated his intention to step down at the end of his second four-year term in June. American members of the board, however, were keen for him to stay on in order to see through unresolved issues pertaining to the various religious Jewish streams.

Sharansky was mulling the request and his final decision was announced Tuesday at the closing plenary of the board of governors’ winter meetings.

A statement released by the Jewish Agency noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also expressed his support for Sharansky’s continued service as the organization’s chairman.

“Our work is very important and very inspiring and it is the best guarantee of the future of the Jewish people. Although I was skeptical of the value of remaining for an additional year, what has taken place in recent months has convinced me that it is important that I remain,” Sharansky told the board members.

Sharansky spearheaded the agreement to create a state-recognized pluralistic prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall, which has yet to be implemented, constituting a major source of frustration – an issue he addressed on Tuesday.

“Our ongoing discussions with the government on the Western Wall and related matters have reached a sensitive point, and I will do everything necessary to ensure that the successful negotiations of recent years bear tangible fruit. The prime minister has signaled his intention to move toward a conclusion of the matter of the Western Wall by appointing [Regional Cooperation] Minister Tzachi Hanegbi as the coordinator of this important effort. Additionally, the events of recent months have resulted in a deep polarization between some Jews in America and some in Israel, and it is imperative that we do whatever we can to unite our people,” he said. “That will be our task in the year to come.”

The board of governors also elected Michael D. Siegal, former chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America, as chairman of the board of governors and David Breakstone, former vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization, as deputy chairman of the executive.

Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel is World Likud’s candidate to replace Sharansky, but earlier this month The Jerusalem Post learned that American members of the board of governors had rejected his candidacy. Likud sources told the Post that Netanyahu was seeking a candidate experienced in Diaspora affairs who can heal his relationship with American Jews in a way Kashriel cannot.

But it appears as though Kashriel is keen to prove otherwise. On Tuesday, he met with American members of the board and on Wednesday released a statement shortly after the Jewish Agency did, demanding an explanation from Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett regarding the disruption of Women of the Wall’s Rosh Hodesh prayer service in the women’s section on Monday morning.

Haredi men jostled the women as they entered, disrupted the service in various ways and national-religious high-school girls were also brought to the Western Wall as a form of protest by hardline national-religious organizations against Women of the Wall.

In addition, Kashriel expressed his dismay that a bat mitzva ceremony in the women’s section was disrupted.

The statement stressed that Kashriel is an “ardent supporter for the immediate implementation” of Sharansky’s plan for an egalitarian prayer space by the Robinson Arch. “In this, the 50th year since the reunification of Jerusalem, Jews worldwide from all streams in Judaism must feel comfortable at the Western Wall, regardless of their affiliation,” the mayor emphasized.  (Jerusalem Post)

Herzog: Get ready for mass aliya from US due to anti-Semitism

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to get Israel ready in case there will be massive immigration from the United States due to ongoing incidents of anti-Semitism across America.

Speaking to his Zionist Union faction, Herzog expressed outrage over cemeteries that have been vandalized in Missouri and Pennsylvania and said they required immediate action by the Israeli government.

“I  want to express my shock and strong condemnation for the outbreak of incidents of anti-Semitism in the United States, France and other places around the world,” Herzog said. “I call upon the government of Israel to urgently prepare a national emergency plan for the possibility that we will see waves of immigration of our brothers to Israel.”

Herzog said he was convinced that US President Donald Trump’s administration would do everything possible to stop such incidents. But other MKs said they saw Herzog’s statement as an attack on the president, who was initially reluctant to condemn rising anti-Semitism.

When Trump was asked about anti-Semitic incidents since his election in a joint press conference with Netanyahu, he spoke about his Jewish grandchildren, and the prime minister defended him.

“I’ve known the President and I’ve known his family and his team for a long time, and there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump,” Netanyahu said. “I think we should put that to rest.”

Herzog’s associates stressed that he was not calling upon American Jews to make aliya due to the incidents.

Officials working in the field of aliya said they were not aware of any expected “waves.”

Jewish Agency Spokesman Avi Mayer responded to Herzog’s comments saying: “As Abba Eban once said, quoting Niels Bohr, prediction is very difficult, especially when it’s about the future. Neither our data nor our field professionals indicate an impending wave of aliya from the United States.”

Yael Katsman, Director of Communications at Nefesh B’Nefesh echoed this. “We have been experiencing natural growth with regards to aliya interest and as such have not identified any unexpected spikes,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “Our organizational model is equipped to service all those interested in making aliya.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett said he trusted the American government to take care of the problem.

“They are responsible for the security of their citizens,” Bennett said. “I know the president, his administration and Congress care deeply about American Jews and will ensure their welfare.”

Former ambassador to the US and current deputy minister Michael Oren (Kulanu) said Herzog’s statement revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of American Jewry.

“As the nation-state of the Jewish people, we, of course, welcome Jews from around the world but a strong American Jewish community is a paramount interest of Israel,” Oren said.

When Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was asked about the incidents in the US at his Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting Monday, he said there was no connection between anti-Semitism around the world and the policies of the Israeli government.  (Jerusalem Post)

Top US Senator Reintroduces Bill to Cut Off American Funding of Palestinian Authority Over ‘Barbaric’ Practice of Monetarily Rewarding Terrorists and Their Families

A prominent US senator reintroduced legislation on Tuesday that would cut off American funding of the Palestinian Authority if it continues to pay monetary rewards to terrorists and their families.

“Not only are Israelis victims of this barbaric practice; American citizens like Taylor Force are victims of this practice,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said at a Capitol Hill press conference on Tuesday, referring to the 28-year-old West Point graduate who was murdered in a stabbing attack carried out by a Palestinian terrorist in Tel Aviv last March and for whom the bill was named. “We’re going to change this. We’re going to get the Palestinian Authority’s attention by withholding their money.”

Graham was joined at Tuesday’s event by Republican Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, as well as Republican Congressmen Doug Lamborn of Colorado — who is behind the House companion bill to the legislation — and Lee Zeldin of New York. Taylor Force’s parents also traveled to Washington from South Carolina to be in attendance.

“What the Taylor Force act will do is give the Palestinian Authority a clear choice — to either stop doing what you’re doing or you won’t have our money, at least, to do it with,” Blunt said.

“Taxpayer dollars are no longer going to subsidize the murder of American citizens, or Israeli citizens,” Cotton stated. “We’re going to do everything in our power to make this bill into a law.”

Stuart Force — Taylor’s father — said, “This is not a partisan issue. It’s the right thing to do. And I urge you, in all the different states, all the different senators and congressmen, please show your support for the Taylor Force Act.”

Force went on to say that he hoped his next visit to the nation’s capital would be for the White House signing ceremony when the bill becomes a law.

Graham noted he was “confident” that President Donald Trump would approve the bill if it is passed by Congress.

Asked to address concerns about the implications of the bill for the stability of the Palestinian Authority, Graham said, “Security is never going to be achieved by paying young people to kill Taylor Force. If you want a secure Palestine, how do you get it by killing this man?”

Graham said he had briefed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) about the bill. “They support it in concept; they want some changes,” he stated. “We’re open for business, but we’re closed-minded to doing nothing.”

Furthermore, Graham said, the Taylor Force Act is “our way of pushing back” against rising antisemitism.

“I want people to understand who America is when it comes to the one and only Jewish state,” Graham declared.     (the Algemeiner)

US urges UN Human Rights Council to end ‘obsession with Israel’

The United States on Wednesday called on the UN Human Rights Council to drop its “obsession with Israel” amid reports that the Trump administration is considering quitting the body.

In a speech before the Geneva-based council, US envoy Erin Barclay said the United States’ commitment to human rights “is stronger than ever.”

“Regrettably, too many of the actions of this council do not support these universal principles. Indeed, they contradict them,” said Barclay, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs.

She cited ongoing abuses in Syria and North Korea, and noted in particular the top UN human rights body’s “consistent, unfair and unbalanced focus” on Israel, which she said “deeply troubled” Washington.

“No other nation is the focus of an entire agenda item… The obsession with Israel… is the largest threat to this council’s credibility,” said Barclay, a career diplomat. “It limits the good we can accomplish by making a mockery of this council. The United States will oppose any effort to delegitimize or isolate Israel.

“When it comes to human rights no country should be free from scrutiny, but neither should any democratic country be regularly subjected to unfair, unbalanced and unfounded bias,” she added.

The council’s annual rebuke of Israel has been a particular source of irritation for both Republican and Democratic US administrations.

The US declined to seek a seat on the 47-member council when it was formed in 2006, citing skepticism about the membership of some authoritarian states. It joined the council in 2009, after Obama’s election, and has played a key role rallying like-minded nations in condemning human rights abuses around the globe.

She said the United States is dedicated to protecting and promoting universal human rights, including freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.

“As we consider our future engagements, my government will be considering the council’s actions with an eye toward reform to more fully achieve the council’s mission to protect and promote human rights,” Barclay said.             (the Times of Israel)

On Netanyahu’s historic visit to Australia

by   Alex Ryvchin                 The Jerusalem Post

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/On-Netanyahus-historic-visit-to-Australia-482846

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic visit to Australia, the first by a sitting Israeli prime minister, made a lasting mark on the Australian Jewish community and on the Australia-Israel relationship. On the ground for a mere four days, the Israeli leader leaves a business and political leadership eager to capitalize on Israel’s increasing engagement with the Asia-Pacific region, and a Jewish community further invigorated in its support for Israel.

The Australian public learned much of the common bond of nations, of shared values and destinies as liberal democracies and secular states governed by the rule of law. And of Australia’s hand in the formation of the Jewish state in 1948. It was the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade that captured Beersheba on October 31, 1917, dealing a critical blow to the Ottoman Empire’s hold on the neglected backwater that had become Palestine.

Just two days later, the British foreign secretary delivered the famous Balfour Declaration which supported returning Palestine to the Jews, nearly two millennia after the collapse of the last Jewish kingdom there at the hands of Rome.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has accepted an invitation by his Israeli counterpart to attend events in Beersheba later this year marking the centenary of that fateful battle.

Australia also played a lead role in establishing support for the creation of a Jewish state at the United Nations. H. V. “Doc” Evatt, a former judge of the Australian High Court and leader of the Australian Labour Party, chaired the United Nations’ ad hoc committee on Palestine that in 1947 recommended partition and two states for two peoples. Australia then cast the first historic vote as the General Assembly ratified the partition plan.

The ensuing Israeli declaration of independence was a thing of beauty that saw, for the first time in human history, an exiled, displaced nation return to its ancestral home to exercise national self-determination once more. Meanwhile, the united Arab declaration of war was a tragedy of enormous proportions that unleashed a fresh hell on the Jewish people and their infant state of pioneers and Holocaust survivors. It also precipitated an unceasing state of Palestinian grievance and entitlement, not to mention a refugee problem largely of their own making.

The conflict, to be sure, could be solved tomorrow if the mutual political will existed and the Palestinians were prepared to give up on the delusion, nurtured by the Western far Left, that if they “resist” for long enough they will one day have everything “from the river to the sea.”

Indeed, the only notable protest against the visit of the Israeli prime minister, held in Sydney the evening after Netanyahu addressed over 2,000 people at Central Synagogue, featured familiar chants to that effect. The event took on a particularly sinister tone as protesters carried banners of two proscribed terrorist organizations, Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Bibi at Central

But the visit of the Israeli prime minister was about the future and much more than the future of the Palestinian conflict. It was about opportunity. Israel is a technological marvel. It has to be. It is bereft of natural resources, is dominated by desert and surrounded by autocrats and populations who pray daily for its destruction. Israel’s advancements in biotech, cyber-security, emergency response, medicine, defense, water, all have the capacity to materially improve the lives of Australians. Israel now does more business with China, Japan and India than with its staunchest ally the United States. In recent years it has turned to Asia and deepened its engagement with Singapore, Vietnam and even Indonesia. Israel has not been sluggish in diversifying to meet the challenges of a changing Europe and an unpredictable United States.

The engagement between states need not be on a strictly government-to-government and business-to-business basis. There is an abundance of common experience and much we can learn from each other.

There may be no country in the world that places a greater premium on the lives of its soldiers than Israel. We have seen the country trade convicted terrorists of the worst kind for the corpses of its fallen and release 1,027 killers for a single, doomed tank-gunner. The Israeli emphasis on reintegration of returned servicemen and women into society is a model that Australia should follow. Soldiers are given subsidies for education and incentives to purchase homes following their discharge. Combat soldiers are snapped up by start-ups and the high-tech sector that see the appeal and adaptability of fresh minds and eager bodies. There is a reverence of the combat soldier in Israel that does not exist in Australia, to our shame.

The visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his retinue of business luminaries will elevate the importance of the Israel-Australia relationship across our two societies, energize Australia’s tech and start-up scene, and will deliver tangible benefits for Australia from better securing our troops to better securing our online shopping. Perhaps there will also be an unexpected benefit for the peace process. While the Palestinians invariably use any increase in their diplomatic or political status to promptly harangue Israel in international forums, Israel’s ever-deepening ties with the world show that it will not sit idle while Palestinian leaders refuse to even recognize a Jewish state or negotiate over the terms of their own long-awaited statehood.

The author is director of public affairs at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

From the U.S. to Australia with Bibi

by Ron Weiser

As Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “Wow!”

What a fantastic week for Israel, Australia and the Jewish People!!!

Kol Hakavod to Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Benjamin Netanyahu – and the entire delegations on both sides – on a historic occasion replete with warmth, great friendship, shared values, understanding, intersections of history and a desire to even further deepen the relationship on multiple levels.

Wow!

==========

This year we will celebrate the 120th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress which took place in Basel in 1897 to consider Theodore Herzl’s plans to guide the re-establishment of the Jewish State. The third Jewish Commonwealth.

The final language of the Congress was very specific and whilst other wording was hotly debated in those days in late August, through various committees headed by people such as Max Nordau and with many vocal delegates including Leo Motzkin, one cornerstone principle did not change and emerged intact – the declaration that:

“Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael”.

It was clearly recognised that the Jewish State had to be in the Jewish homeland, whilst adhering to the rule of law and democracy. At the same time, it was also well understood that how large the Jewish State would be and how much of Eretz Yisrael it included, was a question to be influenced by a number of very important factors both internal and external.

The main principle underpinning and behind the whole enterprise, the actual purpose of the establishment of the Jewish State, was that after millennia of powerlessness, the Jewish people should finally be able to determine their own future.

For that to happen whilst maintaining Zionism’s founding principles, in order to have the ability for Jews to shape their destiny, all Israeli Prime Ministers have understood and aimed for a sufficient Jewish majority inside the State of Israel, to be able to do so.

Now nobody knows what that magic figure is, but more or less since her founding there has been a remarkably stable demographic where approximately 70 to 80% of Israel’s population is Jewish.

Therefore the challenge that has faced all of Israel’s leaders is how to achieve the twin and competing aims of demographic and physical security.

Demographic security to retain the ability to determine the Jewish future and the physical security to be able to survive to do so.

On the one hand, whilst people are wary of the two state solution because of physical insecurity, others oppose a one state solution on the basis of demographic insecurity.

If we move across the spectrum from one side to other, we can begin with the virtually sole Jewish voice of President Ruby Rivlin.

Speaking on the 13th of February this year President Rivlin said he supports the full annexation of the West Bank in exchange for complete Israeli citizenship and equal rights granted to Palestinian residents.

“It must be clear: If we extend sovereignty, the law must apply equally to all. Applying sovereignty to an area gives citizenship to all those living there.”

This of course is the ultimate one state position, but because of the demographic danger is not even supported by Naphtali Bennett or any other significant leader.

Bennett looks at the map of the West Bank, which is divided into Areas A, B & C and wants to prevent an additional state between Israel and Jordan for reasons of physical security.

Area A is under Palestinian civil and security control and Area B is under Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli/Palestinian security control. No Jews live in these areas.

All of the Jews who live in the West Bank do so in Area C. As well, there are about 50,000 Palestinians in Area C by Bennett’s calculations.

According to Bennett, Israel should ultimately annex Area C, giving Israel physical security and causing minimal damage to Israel demographic security by having to give full citizenship to the 50,000 Arabs therein, absorbing them into a population of over 8 million Israelis.

So this is not a one state solution, but almost certainly blocks the two state solution.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defence Minister Lieberman, Lapid, Herzog et al – that is the vast bulk of Israel – remain very clear about the demographic security aspect and for that reason still adhere to the two state solution. In the US for his various meetings Netanyahu said:

“I said it before, and I will repeat it here again: I don’t want to annex close to 2.5 million Palestinians to Israel. I do not want them to be our subjects.”

But on condition that Israel’s physical security can be ensured.

And that is the sticking point. The Palestinians, by not being willing to accept Israel as a Jewish State and all of the ramifications flowing from that – as well as bitter experience – have convinced almost the entire spectrum across Israel, that physical security cannot be achieved at this point in time with/by a two state solution.

Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump produced a changed dynamic in a number of critical ways.

1 – If we weave in and out of what President Trump said, and if he remains consistent, Trump has put the onus back on direct negotiations between the two parties:

“I’m looking at a two state and one state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I could live with either one. I thought for a while the two state looked like it may be the easier of the two, but honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”

This means that whilst the two parties need to agree on the solution, there will be no outside imposition of a resolution as the Palestinians had been hoping for. The Palestinians will actually have to do what they have forever been avoiding – sitting down with Israel and negotiating on the key issues with the aim of ending the conflict.

Trump put the ball back in the Palestinians’ court – negotiate or not, up to them. But if not, the US will not pressure Israel to make further one sided concessions.

2 – During their joint press conference Trump light heartedly teased Netanyahu and said that Israel:

“would have to hold back on the settlements for a little bit and would have to compromise too.”

“You realise that, right?”

Which presents us with the second change. Whilst settlements are no longer considered the impediment to a resolution, Trump considers any new settlements or the expansion of settlement footprints to be a hindrance.

This is a return to the Clinton/Bush policy – unlike Obama who opposed building even in the blocks – and something that Israel has in the main adhered to in any case for years and years.

The irony is that those who claimed that Israel was building new settlements during Netanyahu’s term are now shouting that if Israel sets up a new settlement for the evicted residents of Amona it will be the first for 25 years. That is, despite the noise, the reality is that Israel has not built a new settlement in the West Bank for decades.

But again the onus is thrown back on to the Palestinians by Trump.

Trump will ask Israel to continue to show restraint on settlements for a while, but if the Palestinians refuse to negotiate, well then they may lose the lot says Trump – up to them.

3 – A recognition that the ills of the Middle East do not stem from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and that whilst it needs resolving, a regional plan may be the better way forward.

By refocussing on Iran and how she fosters terrorism and the wide spread destabilisation of Arab regimes as the central issue – leaving the hope for an alignment of interests between Israel and the moderate Sunni regimes to push the Palestinians to come to the table as part of a regional deal.

All three of these points lead the Palestinians in one direction. As far as the US is concerned, the Palestinians are no longer the central issue, Israel is no longer the main obstacle and the two state solution is preferable but no longer imperative.

And time is not on the side of the Palestinians.

It may be that in his own way, Trump may actually have hit on a way to force the Palestinians to come and face reality.

As far as Israel is concerned Netanyahu and Lieberman are doing what they can to hold the two state solution open but are no longer pressured to compromise physical security.

If there is no resolution then the debate in Israel about demographic and physical security and the appropriate balance between them, will heat up.

Why didn’t IDF, Shin Bet report that air power wouldn’t beat Hamas tunnels?

By Yonah Jeremy Bob                        The Jerusalem Post

http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Why-didnt-IDF-Shin-Bet-report-that-air-power-wouldnt-beat-Hamas-tunnels-482833

An air attack on Hamas’s tunnels was never going to work, and the defense establishment knew it all along.

As politicians try to portray State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s 2014 Gaza war report as a battle – one between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett over who is the better “Mr. Security” and who should lead the Right in Israel – that simple truth should not be lost.

Cutting through the politics, the real battle over how Israel handled the tunnel issue during the war is between former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and most of the defense establishment on one side, and Shapira, Bennett and the IDF’s former southern commander on the other.

The central questions in 2014 for Ya’alon, former IDF chiefof- staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yoram Cohen and others were: Should we deal with the tunnels with air strikes or ground troops? How much information should we share with the security cabinet on the issue?

The report reveals that, leading up to the war, top defense establishment figures were in near-unanimous agreement that air strikes would be ineffective in blowing up the tunnels and rendering them unusable.

In fact, the main view was that air strikes might even make later attempts to fully eliminate the tunnels more difficult; impact from the strikes would not completely destroy them, but could impede ground forces entering and maneuvering inside them for that purpose.

In joint meetings in 2013 – on January 31 and May 16 – Cohen told Netanyahu that air strikes would only be partially effective against Hamas’s tunnels.

In a letter to Netanyahu on March 21, 2013, Cohen told the prime minister that Hamas showed a trend of returning and rehabilitating tunnels which were hit from the air.

In a March 24, 2014, military intelligence memorandum, it was noted that an air attack on the tunnels was problematic.

In summarizing conclusions from a June 30, 2014, defense establishment status meeting on Operation Brother’s Keeper chaired by Ya’alon, the defense minister said he “accepts the position that was presented not to use air strikes against… tunnels due to the limited value [of such an attack] and the damage which is liable to be caused.”

Yet, when the issue was presented to the security cabinet on the eve of the war, all the security chiefs supported air strikes without even mentioning their prior reservations.

Naftali Bennett even asked multiple times about whether air strikes would be effective on tunnels and his objections were rebuffed.

How could this possibly be justified or make any sense? And how does attacking the comptroller for being “political” address this glaring contradiction? Netanyahu passed the buck, telling the comptroller it was complicated, but that, ultimately, he followed the recommendations of Ya’alon and Gantz.

Ya’alon explained to the comptroller that the original purpose of attacking the tunnels from the air was not to neutralize them entirely, but to pressure Hamas into a cease-fire, without the need of sending ground forces into Gaza (as was done in the 2012 Gaza war).

Gantz and the current IDF spokesman explained that air strikes were the best, or the only, available option in trying not to use ground troops.

He added that the security cabinet knew the air strikes might damage the ability of ground troops to clear the tunnels later – though the ministers say they did not know this, and Shapira takes the ministers’ side on the issue.

Curiously, Cohen is the only one who told the comptroller he had changed his recommendation, and the only one who said it was because the Air Force, until July 2014, said it had acquired new, better, and more useful capabilities for striking tunnels.

In contrast, former IDF Southern Commander Maj.-Gen. Sami Tourgeman is on record as having been against using air power on the tunnels and wanting to go in with ground forces to deal with them from the start, since the IDF didn’t always get that opportunity. However, his concerns were raised within the army, and his superiors did not pass those concerns on to the cabinet.

Meanwhile, Bennett was asking questions along the same lines of Tourgemon’s and the defense establishment’s earlier doubts, but was stonewalled by Ya’alon.

The comptroller says – straight out – that Ya’alon and company messed up in deciding to use air strikes, and in not sharing their doubts with the security cabinet.

This is the crux of the battle over the tunnels between Ya’alon, Gantz, the IDF and Cohen on one side and Bennett, Tourgemon and the comptroller on the other.

In short, it appears the defense establishment stonewalled the security cabinet on certain aspects of the tunnel threat, such as the limited effectiveness of air strikes, because they wanted to delay or avoid a ground war at almost all costs – a war that Bennett thought was necessary from the start.