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Latest News in Israel – 30th June

Security cabinet approves Turkey reconciliation deal 7-3

The security cabinet on Wednesday approved the reconciliation deal with Turkey, with seven ministers voting in favor of the agreement and three voting against.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) voted against the deal.

The deal is next scheduled to go before the Turkish parliament, where it is expected to easily pass.

With the passage of the deal, the two countries, who are ending a six-year diplomatic crisis, are expected to begin the process of exchanging ambassadors in the coming weeks.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud), Transportation Minister Israel Katz (Likud), and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) had been undecided prior to the vote, but in the end approved the agreement.

Kahlon said Tuesday that he was bitter there had not been serious discussions in the security cabinet on Turkey until now, and angry at Netanyahu for reaching a deal before convening the committee.

Opposition to the deal centered on two matters: substance and procedure. On a substantive level, the deal has been criticized largely on grounds that Israel should not be paying $20 million compensation to the families of victims on the Mavi Marmara, who violently attacked IDF soldiers after they boarded the ship to keep it from breaking the Gaza blockade.

On the procedural level, as echoed by Kahlon, the opposition is bothered that the cabinet was not kept appraised of the deal, and is being asked essentially to be a rubber stamp to a deal that Netanyahu negotiated through his interlocutors.

On the issue of who will serve as ambassador to Turkey, It is not clear whether Netanyahu will select his own candidate – a political appointment similar to the ambassadors in Washington and at the UN – to fill the Ankara position, or whether it will be filled from within the ranks of the Foreign Ministry.

Although this post has never been filled by a political appointment in the past, its heightened sensitivity may lead Netanyahu to want to select someone on his own for the position.

(Jerusalem Post)

Hamas official: Turkey already mediating prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas

Shortly after the Security Cabinet on Wednesday approved the reconciliation deal with Turkey, a senior Hamas official claimed that Turkey is currently mediating a prisoner swap between the Palestinian terror organization and Israel.

The reconciliation accord was met with a massive clamor of objection by the families of Hamas prisoners held in Israel.

In an interview with the Saudi news site al-Khaleej Online on Wednesday, an anonymous Hamas official said that his organization and Israel have started negotiating on a prisoner swap regarding the return of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, the two Israeli soldiers whose bodies were held by the terrorist group after they were killed during the 2014 Gaza war.

“An important meeting between a big delegation of Hamas and Turkish intelligence took place in Turkey a few weeks ago to discuss a number of Palestinian issues related to the Gaza Strip, among them a possible prisoner swap,” the Hamas official said.

“Turkey is currently acting as a mediator to conclude a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel. It is making important moves and holding important talks, and it went to great lengths in order to reach a good launch point that will enable the parties to conclude a deal,” the official added.

“Many obstacles prevent the parties from reaching an agreement, mainly Israel’s foot-dragging on giving Turkey official assurances regarding the prisoner swap,” the Hamas official said.

According to the senior Hamas official, in any future prisoner exchange with Israel, all Palestinian prisoners who were arrested after being released as part of the Gilad Schalit deal in 2011 must be freed.

The official added that “an announcement on a prisoner swap may take place during the upcoming months,” stating that the reconciliation deal concluded between Israel and Turkey will greatly contribute to the consolidation of a prisoner deal.                    (Jerusalem Post)

Liberman wants carrot and stick policy in West Bank

The IDF should pursue a “differential” security policy, by which it would act with a “firm hand” in Palestinian areas from which many terrorist attacks originate, and ease conditions in areas that have not generated many attacks, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday.

He spoke after touring Central Command, where he received a briefing from OC Central Command Maj.-Gen.Roni Numa and other senior officers.

In areas that have been quiet, the military should ease conditions on a larger level and for individual Palestinian civilians, Liberman said. “This way, everyone will know that there are consequences for both directions,” the defense minister said.

Liberman, who resides in the settlement of Nokdim, thanked the Central Command for its many efforts to secure residents. He issued the statement “as a resident of Judea, who has lived in the area for many years, and drives on the roads of Judea and Samaria.”

Many of the Palestinian terrorists who have carried out attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers in recent months have come from specific areas of east Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Hebron region, and the village of Yatta in particular, have become hot spots for violence and the source of attackers traveling to other areas to perpetrate attacks.

The Sarona Market attack, in which four Israeli civilians were killed and numerous others wounded earlier in June, was just one of many incidents in which Yatta residents have contributed to what has been dubbed the “stabbing intifada.”

Most terrorist acts since October 2015 have been unorganized.

Liberman’s call for a differentiated security policy reflects the Israeli security and political establishment’s struggle with balancing incentives for Palestinians on the one hand, such as expanded work visa allocations, with stricter measures such as house demolitions.                (Jerusalem Post)

PM to visiting UN chief: Help get soldiers’ bodies back from Hamas

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to use his position in the international community to help secure the release of the remains of Israeli soldiers held by Hamas as well as Israeli civilians believed held captive in the Gaza Strip.

“I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for agreeing to meet with the Goldin, Shaul and Mengistu families,” Netanyahu said at a joint press conference ahead of their meeting together at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

The families of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul, both killed in the 2014 war in Gaza, as well as Avraham Abera Mengistu, who disappeared into the Strip later in 2014 and who is believed to be still alive, have long called for the government to make sure the return of their sons was included in the agreement. A fourth unidentified Israeli man is also being held in Gaza, according to Israeli officials.

Calling Hamas a terrorist organization with “genocidal aims,” Netanyahu said the group “is cruelly and illegally holding the remains of our soldiers and holding our citizens. I ask you to use your standing to help return home these soldiers and these citizens.”

The issue has leaped to the top of the Israeli agenda in recent days amid a detente agreement with Turkey that does not include Gaza giving up the bodies and prisoners, as had been hoped by the families of the four missing Israelis.

Netanyahu also thanked Ban for his acknowledgement of the bias Israel faces in UN institutions.

“I remember well when you came to Israel in 2013, you said that Israel and the Israeli people face some bias. That’s an understatement,” Netanyahu said. “But you also said that Israel must be treated equally at the UN. I appreciate your candor and this clear moral stance.”

Netanyahu added: “The singling out of Israel and the unfair treatment that it receives is a palpable threat to the future of the UN and not just for the interests of our country,” as it undermined “the credibility of the UN.”

Ban said he understood Israel’s frustrations and fears about resolving the conflict with the Palestinians but urged Netanyahu to pursue a two-state solution for reaching peace.

“I encourage you to take the courageous steps necessary to prevent a one-state reality of perpetual conflict,” Ban said. “No solutions to the conflict will be possible without the recognition that both Palestinians and Jews have undeniable historic and religious connection to this land. No solutions can come through violence. It must be based on mutual respect and recognition of the legitimate aspirations of both peoples.”

Ban said he understood Israel’s frustration that “sometimes your country is held to a different standard at the United Nations, the fear that your country and people are under constant threat.”

He also seemed to back the Israeli position of direct talks being the only way to solve the conflict with the Palestinians, though he added the international community can help.

“No solutions can be imposed from the outside, they must be based on direct negotiations on the final status issues,” he said. “The international community can and must support all these efforts.”

Ban pledged to keep working until his last day in office on behalf of “peace and justice and dignity” for the people of Israel and Palestinians.

Earlier Tuesday, Ban visited the Gaza Strip, including a stop at a Gaza school, where he bemoaned the plight of Gazans, saying that “the closure of Gaza suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction efforts.”

“It’s a collective punishment for which there must be accountability,” the secretary-general added, apparently endorsing a key Palestinian claim about Israel’s blockade of the territory.

Israel says it imposed the blockade to prevent Hamas from importing weapons.

Ban visited the region as part of a global tour during his last year as the head of the UN.   (the Times of Israel)

Three separate terror cells uncovered in Arab village

Three separate terrorist cells were broken up recently by security forces in the Palestinian village of Beit Fajjar, near Gush Etzion in Judea, it has been cleared for publication.

19 terrorist cell members – several of whom were younger than 18 years old – have already been indicted on terror charges.

The wave of arrests came after a massive increase in terrorist activity in the are in recent months, including shooting attacks and firebombings, many of which targeted the Jewish kibbutz of Migdal Oz, which is located next to Beit Fajjar.

Homemade guns – which have been used in many recent terror attacks, including the deadly shooting spree in Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market – were fired into Migdal Oz itself from the Arab village. At times, the terrorists approached the kibbutz by car, hurled firebombs at homes and then drove back into Beit Fajjar before security forces could respond.

Security services formed a special investigations unit to crack the terror cell responsible, and using numerous intelligence methods investigators were able to identify several key suspects.

As mentioned, a total of three separate terrorist cells were uncovered and broken up as a result, including the terrorists who approached Migdal Oz by car, a separate firebombing cell, and another cell responsible for a number of shooting attacks.

Indictments were recently served against all 19 terrorists at an IDF military court.                                      (Arutz Sheva)

Despite Turkey-Israel accord, gas deal complex

The deal signed by Israel and Turkey on Tuesday to restore ties is believed to pave the way for a possible gas deal, however logistical, political and financial obstacles could mean such a project is still a long way off, if at all doable.

National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz welcomed the agreement, saying it was a sign the two countries had chosen “the way of peace.”

He said the deal “will continue the development of Israel’s natural gas market as well as the possibilities of finding and developing more gas fields beyond Leviathan.”

Meanwhile, Yossi Abu, CEO OF Delek Drilling, which owns a 22.6 percent share in Leviathan, said Tuesday he was closely following “recent developments” with Turkey, saying they could “help promote bilateral cooperation in the field of natural gas.”

He called the Turkish market “substantial… along with Jordan and Egypt.” He added that the country is also a connection to the European market Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen Paran questioned whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have reconciled with Turkey if not for “pressure from the gas companies and business magnate Yitzhak Tshuva. Though she is very much in favor of an agreement with Turkey, she opposes this one, which is “written by the gas companies.”

The MK also charged that the agreement was reached “for the sake of Tshuva and Noble Energy so they can move ahead with exporting natural gas to Turkey.”

Netanyahu is only concerned with “stealing Israel’s natural resources,” Cohen Paran chided, rather than negotiating for the remains of kidnapped soldiers.

Yossi Dorfman, who heads the natural gas campaign for environmental NGO Green Course, countered claims he attributed to Netanyahu that Israel could be a gas superpower, with plenty to spare for exports.

“It’s amazing how much the prime minister cares about gas for the Turks and Europeans instead of developing the Israeli market.”

Amir Foster, an energy consultant, told The Jerusalem Post that from an engineering prospective, it is doable, but first Turkish and Israeli companies would need to agree on the commercial conditions.

He has heard that talks between Cyprus and Turkey occupied Northern Cyprus are advancing, which would allow the plan to build a pipeline to Turkey to go forward. “A deal to build a pipeline to Turkey would benefit everyone.”

The diplomatic deal between Israel and Turkey overcame a major obstacle and now talks can move forward, added Foster.

A veteran senior energy analyst in Israel, who did not want to be identified, told the Post that large projects of the size of a prospective gas pipeline to Turkey would require lots of financing from institutions that would seek to guarantee future profit.

“It is an economic question. If it can be financed and institutions feel secure they would get their money back with profits,” then the project will go forward, he said.

A pipeline to Turkey would be “very risky,” he said, though noted that some financiers have a higher appetite for risk.

Asked about the possibility of a pipeline bypassing Turkey and going through Cyprus to Greece, the source responded that everyone he has spoken to about this says it must go to Turkey, and that Greece is not a possibility.

Questioned about the possibility of using Liquefied Natural Gas, he said this had been talked about back in 2011-2012, but ever since the potential farm-in of Woodside to Leviathan was abandoned all talk of LNG has disappeared.

On the political obstacles to advancing a gas deal with Turkey, Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told the Post, “I am not happy with the deal because it implies gas sales to Turkey, which strengthens the Erdogan regime – supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.”

“Moreover, by building a pipeline to Turkey via Cyprus we would become Turkey’s hostages.”                (Jerusalem Post)

Jewish Agency slams Rabbinate’s rejection of prominent US Rabbi’s conversion

The Jewish Agency for Israel’s governing body and chairman slammed the recent rejection by an Israeli rabbinical council of conversions performed by Haskel Lookstein, a prominent Orthodox rabbi in the United States.

The condemnation came in a statement issued from the Jewish Agency chairman, Natan Sharansky, that was endorsed Tuesday by the board of governors convening in Paris.

It came a week after the international media, including The New York Times, reported that a rabbinical court in Petach Tikvah, near Tel Aviv, in April declared invalid the conversion of a woman who Lookstein converted last year. The rabbi also converted Ivanka Trump, the daughter of Republican presumptive presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The Lookstein incident occurred amid a power struggle between the ultra-Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the modern Orthodox movement, as well as Reform and Conservative streams.

“Again and again, people who know nothing about world Jewry and Orthodox Jewry decided they cannot accept the conversion of an esteemed rabbi, usually one who works hard to connect Jews to Israel,” said Sharansky, who brought the declaration to a vote.

The issue “drew international attention because of the connection to the Trump family, but for us that is not the issue,” he said. “For us is whether we can accept the constant undermining of the legitimacy of the Diaspora faith communities.”

The more than 200-member board of governors, which convened in Paris for the first time to show solidarity with the embattled Jewish community, passed the statement unanimously. It said the rejection of Lookstein’s conversion was “not based on halachic reasons,” in a reference to halacha, the Orthodox Jewish law. Sharansky said non-recognition of such conversions “harms Israel’s standing in the Jewish world.”

The board also unanimously passed a resolution urging the government of Israel to implement a plan to resolve interdenominational disputes over the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Approved in January, the plan envisaged the opening of an egalitarian section at the wall, where presumably women would be able to pray together with men. But the plan has not been implemented amid objections by Orthodox opponents.

According to the resolution, the delay is “increasing the tension and impatience of world Jewry around the Kotel,” the board said, using the Hebrew for the Western Wall.

A third resolution called on France to void its diplomats’ vote in April in favor of a United Nations resolution that critics say ignored Jewish ties to Jerusalem. The UNESCO resolution refers to the Temple Mount solely as Al-Aqsa mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif, except for two references to the Western Wall Plaza that were put in parentheses.

Amid an uproar by French Jews and Israeli officials, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said France should not have voted in favor of the UNESCO resolution. In its resolution, The Jewish Agency noted his rejection of a vote “that should have been avoided.”

“These types of statements, the denial of Jewish history by our best allies,” Sharansky said in reference to France’s UNESCO vote, “is an extremely dangerous phenomenon that we cannot leave unanswered.                                 (the Times of Israel)

Germany to lease advanced drones from Israel

A preliminary agreement was signed between the German army and the Israel Air Industries (IAI) last Thursday which will see the lease of up to five large Heron TP (Eitan) drone systems. The drones, which will cost a total of 600 million euros, will be sent to Germany and will become operational until 2018.

The German Chief of Staff, General Volker Wieker, who visited Israel a few weeks ago, prefered the Israeli ‘Heron’ drone over its American competitor – the ‘predator’ and the ‘Raptor’ – both of which were created by the CIA and the Pentagon and which are used by the US to eliminate targets from the air.

According to a German report, what makes this deal particularly interesting is that the drones which will be leased is not only that they can be armed with rockets and bombs in order to attack ground targets, but that hey will be stationed in, and operated from, Israeli territory.

Israel has not confirmed, hitherto, that it has been building drones capable of carrying weapons or that the Israel Air Force (IAF) utilizes such drones during attacks. A previous deal between the IAI and the German army oversaw the transfer of drones explicitly intended for aerial intelligence-gathering missions.

The drones which Germany was leased then, also of the Heron model, were used by the German air force in Afghanistan for intelligence operations. Now, the Germans have set their sights on the giant drones which can carry a load weighing more than one ton. Indeed, the German defense minister indicated as much in January 2016.

Making the drones operational from Israeli territory is intended to circumvent a variety of difficulties which could arise from flight license complications in relation to this model in German air space. Moreover, given Israel’s strategic location in the Middle East and its proximity to Asia, operation from Israel is also in Germany’s strategic interest.           (Ynet News)

Unmanned sea vessel fires first torpedo

Seagull[1] (1)

ELBIT’S SEAGULL, seen here in Haifa harbor after its recent initial test, is an unmanned vessel capable of detecting mines and firing torpedoes.

A Israeli-made unmanned sea vehicle, which will likely enter service in the Israel Navy, held its first torpedo launch test at Haifa port recently.

Until now, only manned sea platforms have been able to fire torpedoes.

The Seagull Unmanned Surface Vessel, made by Elbit Systems, fired light-weight torpedoes, which could be used to target enemy submarines, during the trial.

The Seagull is designed to protect critical sea areas and high-value assets from underwater threats like subs and mines.

The navy can use the vessels to help defend Israel’s offshore gas drilling rigs in the Mediterranean Sea against Hezbollah mines, or Iranian submarines.

The navy already deploys the unmanned Rafael-made Protector sea vehicles, that come with on-board sensors, and a remote control weapons station.

Ofer Ben-Dov, vice president of Naval Systems Business Line at Elbit System’s ISTAR Division, said that “the test highlighted Seagull’s unique capacity to detect and engage submarines, in addition to its ability to detect and destroy sea mines.”

He added, “This new and important capability has, to date, only been available to navies through manned vehicles.”

Elbit first unveiled Seagull in February, describing it as an anti-submarine platform which can also detect and blow up submerged mines by sending robots and interceptors deep underwater.

“We are witnessing the proliferation of submarines, both conventional and nuclear, and sea mines. The cost and risk of dealing with these threats is high,” Ben-Dov said earlier this year. “We consider the Israel Navy and Defense Ministry to be advanced potential milestone clients.”

A submarine’s advantage lies in its covert presence, and radar is ineffective in discovering it, he said. Costly task forces, made up of sonar planes and helicopters, or frigates that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and operate, have traditionally been used to detect and neutralize such threats.

Seagull, which costs tens of million dollars, “changes the balance of power between defender and submarine,” he argued.

Seagull is made up of two vessels. One carries two sonar sensors located in the bow and stern, and if suspected mines are detected, a second vessel lowers a robot into the water, to investigate further.

Once a threat is confirmed, Seagull launches a miniature torpedo-like weapon to destroy the threat.                (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu: How the Agreement with Turkey Serves Israel’s Interests (Prime Minister’s Office)

In announcing the agreement with Turkey on Monday in Rome, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said:

“Israel has reached an agreement of strategic importance for the State of Israel, for security, for regional stability and for the Israeli economy….The world and the Middle East are in turmoil and my policy is to create centers of stability in this unstable and stormy region….Israel and Turkey are two major powers in the region and the break between us is not good for our vital interests.”

“The first thing in this agreement is protection for IDF commanders and soldiers from criminal and civil claims, both those being prosecuted now and those that might be prosecuted in the future….The agreement…stipulates that the Turkish parliament will pass a law cancelling all of these processes in Turkey.”

“The second thing that this agreement gives is maintaining the maritime security blockade of the Gaza Strip….This interest is vital to prevent the strengthening of Hamas….Of course, we are allowing ships to dock at Ashdod port and unload civilian and humanitarian cargoes there for the Gaza Strip.”

“The third thing that this agreement does, along with maintaining the security arrangement, is to allow for dealing with humanitarian issues in the Gaza Strip, subject to Israel’s security procedures and considerations….Beyond the humanitarian consideration, this is also an outstanding interest of Israel’s, especially in two areas – water and electricity.”

“An additional thing that the agreement gives is a commitment to prevent all terrorist or military activity against Israel from Turkish soil, including collecting funds for these purposes.”

“This agreement opens the way to cooperation on economic and energy matters, including the gas issue…creating markets for the gas that we are extracting from the sea….[Israel’s] Leviathan [gas field] could supply both the Egyptian market that we intend to work with and also the Turkish market, as well as the supply of gas through Turkey to Europe.”

The regional impact of normalization

 

by Eyal Zisser                  Israel Hayom

http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=16547

In a cost-benefit analysis of the Israel-Turkey reconciliation deal, both countries benefit from the success of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in resolving their strained relationship and putting it back on track.

As in any diplomatic deal, there was compromise. Each side conceded certain things to the other. Israel apologized for the deaths of Turkish citizens but did not accept responsibility for the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla incident — instead it simply expressed regret for the end result. The compensation that Jerusalem is willing to pay Turkish victims of that incident is negligible when compared to the potential scope of economic benefits Israel could reap from renewed relations with Turkey. Turkey, for its part, has withdrawn all its initial diplomatic demands and is now willing to fully cooperate with Jerusalem, within the window that Israel has set for any international body interested in providing humanitarian aid to Gaza.

While the deal will not change any world order in the region, nor will it set off a honeymoon period between the two countries, there is no doubt that the diplomatic, security and economic benefits both countries will gain as a result of normalizing relations are worth so much more than the price of compromise.

It is equally important to take note of the big losers in this deal. This list includes Iran, Hezbollah and even Hamas, which failed in their efforts to turn the crisis between Jerusalem and Ankara into an unbridgeable rift and to turn the diplomatic tension into a cold war that could have devolved into political, economic or even military conflict. Ultimately, Israel succeeded in preventing this dangerous possibility.

In this context, it’s important to note that, contrary to what most Israelis believe, Hamas is not in Ankara’s pocket and does not blindly follow its dictates. Likewise, the fact that Hamas has representation in Moscow does not mean that Russian President Vladimir Putin is Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal’s master. Ankara, Moscow and Riyadh are part of a system of political backing sought out by Hamas against which Israel must operate. All this means that Israel’s ability to extract concessions from Hamas as part of the deal with Turkey was limited or non-existent to begin with. Therefore, any talks or negotiations with Hamas must be carried out directly or through a mediator. There is no logic in subordinating Israel’s regional relationships to Mashaal and his fellow Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

This deal will not take Israel and Turkey back to the days of the strategic alliance that existed between them about two decades ago. But what it can do is redraw the familiar Middle Eastern lines, dividing those states and radical groups that share a common hatred for Israel and moderate states like Israel, Egypt and Turkey alongside Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which engage in strategic dialogue and even foster economic ties and security cooperation.

The need for understandings between Israel and Russia, Egypt and even Greece and Cyprus, may have delayed the deal, but they were essential to maintaining the regional balance of power. In fact, Russia, too, avoided cutting off relations with Ankara after a Russian plane was brought down by the Turkish army about a year ago; and Greece even has an operational embassy in the Turkish capital. In other words, the normalization of relations between Israel and Turkey is not a process likely to damage Jerusalem’s ties with its old and new friends in the region.

Yes, Egypt still views Turkey as a bitter enemy and is not prepared to normalize relations with it, but even Cairo is willing to admit that the importance of the reconciliation deal between Israel and Turkey is less about Israeli-Turkish relations and more about Turkey. Turkey can no longer use the Israeli issue, in the name of Islam, to impose its will on the Arab and Muslim world. From now on, Turkey must be conscious of its limitations and its national interests, which often require restraint and pragmatism, and moreover, also commit it to dialogue with Israel.

What do Beyoncé and Lady Gaga have in common? Both of them wear Israeli-designed fashion!

Check out Israel’s creative fashion scene that’s making a statement both in Israel and abroad.               (MFA)

Israeli Fashion – a colorful celebration of creative design