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Latest News in Israel – 1 August

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

IDF conducts large exercise in preparation for next Gaza war

The IDF completed a four-day exercise named “Four Seasons” on Wednesday designed to prepare it for the next clash with the terrorist-run Gaza Strip.

At the conclusion of the exercise, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said he was “impressed by the preparedness which was of a very, very high level.”

“We’re not going to let the calm confuse us,” Kochavi said. “We will continue with the process of preparation on the assumption that from within Gaza a clash can burst forth any day.”

He tweeted a similar message on Wednesday.

Israel media report that the IDF’s plan in the event of a confrontation with Hamas in Gaza, (generally viewed by defense officials as inevitable) is not to destroy the terror group, but to hit it with a strong blow.

This was the policy in Operation Protective Edge (2014) and Operation Pillar of Defense (2012).

However, Ma’ariv reports that unlike in the case of at least one of those operations, Protective Edge, which focused on destroying terror tunnels, the IDF is preparing to move against a broader range of terrorist targets, including Hamas’ chain of command.

In recent months, a significant number of IDF battalions have been assigned to take part in fighting terror groups in the Gaza Strip, training in a series of exercises, Ynet reports.

The exercises are part of Chief of Staff Kochavi’s plan “to improve the competence and adapt operational plans to the possibility of a major military operation in the Gaza Strip,” says Ma’ariv. (WIN)

Senior White House official denies report of Trump summit with Arab leaders

No summit with Arab leaders is currently being planned by Washington, a senior White House official said on Wednesday in reaction to a report that US President Donald Trump was planning just such a summit at Camp David sometime before the September 17 election.

“No summit has currently been planned,” said the official. “The Middle East team will report back to the president, the vice president, the secretary of state and the National Security Council upon returning to discuss the many potential next steps to expand upon the success of the Bahrain workshop.”

Kushner is in the region, leading a US delegation to the Middle East to finalize details of a proposed $50 billion economic development plan for the Palestinians, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, an administration official said on Sunday. He and his team are scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday night.

Kushner’s arrival came on the same day that the Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronot published a report claiming that the Trump administration will host an Israeli-Palestinian peace summit at Camp David before Israel’s September elections. Kushner is is planning to personally invite the Arab leaders during his trip to the Middle East.

At the summit, Trump is expected to lay out his vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in general terms, the Yediot report said.

Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer were reportedly involved in planning the summit. Dermer reportedly flew to Israel to discuss it with Netanyahu. However, a source in Washington told Yediot that Netanyahu will not attend the summit because it will make it harder for Arab leaders to participate.

Though details of what will be discussed at the summit remain unclear, it was reported that Trump will speak not about a Palestinian state but an entity and that he will refer to an Arab presence in East Jerusalem, but not about it serving as a capital for a future Palestinian state. This would allow Netanyahu to commend the US president for his efforts but also express some reservations.

The Palestinians are expected to reject the plan immediately. However, the mere presence of Arab leaders at the summit would be considered an “election gift” for Netanyahu, wrote Yediot, and could potentially help him negotiate a unity government with Blue and White after the Sept. 17 election.

On Wednesday night, Kushner arrived in Israel via Amman, where he held talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II about economic plan and the “Deal of the Century,” said an administration, official who was quoted by the Arabic news outlet Al Arabiya.

Abdullah reportedly met Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sissi and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed ahead of his meeting with Kushner.

The meeting was attended by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ayman Safadi, the King’s Advisor for Communication and Coordination, Dr. Bishar Al-Khasawneh, and US Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, along with US Special Representative on Iran Brian Hook and Kushner aide Avi Berkowitz.

During his meeting with Kushner, the king stressed that what is needed is a “just, lasting and comprehensive peace on the basis of a two-state solution that guarantees the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the lines of June 4, 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital, to live in peace and security alongside Israel,” according to the official Jordan News Agency.

The deal would need to be “in accordance with the Arab peace initiative and relevant international resolutions,” he continued.

The American delegation will continue its mission with visits to Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, according to Al Arabiya. (Jerusalem Post)

After okaying Palestinian homes, Netanyahu vows Jewish settlements are ‘forever

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Wednesday that no West Bank settlement homes would be demolished on his watch, after plans he advanced to grant permits for new Palestinian construction raised hackles among settler leaders.

“No settlement or settler will be uprooted. That is over,” Netanyahu said during a tour of the Efrat settlement, just south of Bethlehem. “What you’re doing here is forever.”

Netanyahu told Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi, one of the few settler leaders to voice support for the new construction permits for Palestinians, that he would advance plans for a further 8,250 housing units to be built in Efrat.

The premier inaugurated a new promenade alongside Revivi, who unveiled a plaque praising Netanyahu as “a builder and loyal partner of Efrat.”

In addition to the 700 building permits for Palestinians in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank, the security cabinet approved on Tuesday 6,000 such licenses for homes in neighboring settlements.

The approvals came ahead of the arrival this week of a US delegation led by senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, who is slated to visit Israel and other countries in the region in order to promote US President Donald Trump’s administration’s peace plan.

In Efrat, Netanyahu, who is running for reelection, touted the advancement of new settlement construction during his tenure and what he said was his deep familiarity with the American public.

“You can’t do this without two significant things: a lot of experience, alongside a true ability to influence public opinion in the United States. Therefore we succeeded in acting and succeeding resolutely and wisely, even when the government was against us,” he said, in an apparent shot at the Obama administration.

“If there is no capability for public diplomacy and opposition in the United States, there will be concessions and capitulations,” Netanyahu added.

The prime minister has frequently boasted on the campaign trail of his close ties to Trump, who has been far more tolerant of settlement construction than his predecessors.

Most of the international community opposes Israel’s military and civilian presence in the West Bank, which it considers to be part of the territory of a future Palestinian state.

Left-wing NGO Peace Now called the approval of the Palestinian homes a “mockery,” alleging in a statement that the goal was to “promote the annexation of Area C and harm the chances for a Palestinian state.

“This is a step meant to advance the de facto extension of sovereignty by implementing planning steps according to the right-wing settler interests.”

Also Wednesday, Netanyahu’s chief election rival Benny Gantz toured the Jordan Valley, which he vowed would remain under Israeli control in any peace agreement, echoing one of the prime minister’s talking points.

“This is the eastern defensive shield of the State of Israel,” the Ynet news site quoted the Blue and White party leader as saying.

Gantz, a former military chief of staff, called for plans to improve infrastructure at settlements in the area, while saying the Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley would be allowed to stay.

“We won’t move Palestinians from the valley. We’ll provide for them all their needs, but we’ll fight against all the water theft and lawbreakers,” he said.

Gantz has vowed to make reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians a top priority if he’s elected prime minister, but has avoided explicitly endorsing the two-state solution formula favored by most countries. (the Times of Israel)

Revolutionary blood test will detect stage 1 lung cancer

Of all cancers, lung cancer is the deadliest, largely because it is so difficult to diagnose early on. With very few nerve endings in the lungs, this type of cancer doesn’t cause painful symptoms until a tumor has grown quite large – and by that time, it’s often too late.

“If the cancer is detected at stage 1, the survival rate is 80 percent,” explains Giora Davidovits, CEO of Israeli startup Savicell, which is developing a new blood test to diagnose lung cancer.

Davidovits explains that most lung cancers found early are usually the result of a patient undergoing radiological imaging for an entirely different issue.

“If the cancer is not detected until stage 2, the survival rate drops to 13-14%,” he adds.“By stage 4, it’s down to just 4 percent.”

When a physician suspects lung cancer, a CT scan is done. If a lump (nodule) is found, a biopsy is the only way to really know what’s going on. However, since 95% of nodules are benign, and since the biopsy is a risky, highly invasive procedure, doctors prefer to wait and see if the CT finds changes over time. If it does – and it is cancer – the final diagnosis can be at a tragically late stage.

Savicell’s alternative, a simple blood test that can detect lung cancer, is part of a fast-growing specialization known as “liquid biopsy” – a market worth some $1.2 billion in 2018, according to Zion Market Research.

Most liquid biopsies are based on sequencing a patient’s genetic material (such as DNA and RNA) to search forany cancerous material that a tumor secretes. That can be hard to find.

“These kinds of tests are very good at defining disease and showing which genetic segments have been impacted,” Davidovits explains. “But they have difficulties when it comes to early detection at stages 1 and 2.”

Immunometabolism

Savicell takes an entirely different approach. Rather than gene sequencing, Savicell measures the metabolic state of immune cells circulating in the blood – that is, how energy is used by the cell.

This new field – known as immunometabolism – has revealed that immune cells take on specific metabolic “signatures” when they encounter different diseases.

Savicell has developed a diagnostic kit with 384 “wells,” each containing one of 16 chemical stimulants in increasing concentrations. When immune cells drawn from a patient’s blood come in contact with the stimulants, they use energy (i.e. their metabolism is activated) differently.

If the pattern matches, Savicell’s Well-Shield platform can identify lung cancer “with 91 percent sensitivity,” Davidovits says.

Savicell is not the only company looking at immunometabolism, but other companies focus on activating immune cells as part of the therapeutic process. Savicell is unique in using immunometabolism for diagnosis.

Diagnose lung cancer in hours

Savicell can diagnose lung cancer in a matter of hours, rather than the days or even weeks required for gene-sequenced liquid biopsies, says Davidovits.

That naturally raises comparisons with Theranos, the Silicon Valley blood-testing startup that raised over a billion dollars in what turned out to be the largest biomedical fraud in US history. Theranos also promised results from its in-pharmacy diagnostic machine in hours.

Davidovits dismisses any superficial similarities with Theranos. “They weren’t scientific,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “They never published.”

While Theranos eventually did publish a single paper in 2017 – some 14 years after the company was founded – the results from Savicell’s research with 200 patients in Israel appeared in the medical journal Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy in 2018.

Giora Davidovits started Savicell with his brother Eyal in 2013. Giora received his BA in biochemistry from Brandeis and an MBA from Cornell. He has worked in the healthcare industry for 25 years, including management stints at Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson.

Eyal, Savicell’s COO, worked for many years in finance and marketing positions for Intel and has a BS in manufacturing engineering and business studies.

The technology behind Savicell was initially developed by Tel Aviv University Prof. Fernando Patolsky, who doubles as the company’s principal investigator. When Savicell took on commercialization of Patolsky’s research, it was already at a clinical stage with a working proof of concept.

It is not yet commercially available; development and clinical studies are continuing. For a non-invasive diagnostic test, however, the time to market can be relatively short.

Savicell has raised $9 million and has R&D labs in Haifa, headed by Eyal, with a US office in Boston headed by Giora.

Among other players in the liquid biopsy space is an Israeli firm, Nucleix, which uses DNA sequencing to detect cancer cells. The company was founded in 2008 and has raised $11.4 million. Nucleix’s Lung EpiCheck can detect non-small cell lung carcinomas, the most common type of lung cancer, with 83% accuracy at stage 4 but only 59%at stage 1.

Savicell is focused today on lung cancer, but the same immunometabolism approach should work with other types of cancer, as well as autoimmune conditions. The company has already done preliminary research on developing a diagnostic kit to identify breast cancer via blood test. (Israel 21c)

Iran continues efforts to surround Israel with missiles and hostile forces

Despite U.S. sanctions cracking down on its economy, Iran isn’t giving up its hegemonic aspirations, and is now focused on using Iraq for its purposes.

by Yaakov Lappin JNS

Iran is facing severe economic pressure due to U.S. sanctions, yet recent reports indicate that the Islamic Republic is still investing significant resources in building up attack capabilities throughout the Middle East, with a new focus on Iraq.

According to the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat, Israel struck two Iranian military sites this month in Iraq. The report, citing Western diplomatic sources, said Israeli stealth F-35 jets hit an Iranian rocket depot northeast of Baghdad on July 19, and on July 28, a base in Iraq that lies just 80 kilometers from the Iranian border in an airstrike. That base reportedly contained a shipment of Iranian ballistic missiles, as well as Iranian “advisers,” the report stated.

Iran’s apparent shift to Iraq comes after an intensive Iranian push in recent years to turn Syria into a missile, drone and terrorist launchpad against Israel. That attempt ran into a brick wall, in the form of hundreds of Israeli airstrikes that largely prevented the rise of an Iranian war machine in Syria. Iran already established a forward division in Lebanon in the form of Hezbollah, and Israel has no intention of allowing Iran to replicate that success in Syria.

Iran appears to have responded to Israel’s intelligence superiority by repositioning itself in Iraq. If the latest reports are true, Israel is signaling that it is prepared to use the same effective combination of intelligence and precision firepower to thwart Iranian threats as they form in Iraq, just like it did in Syria.

In addition, it seems that the shadow war between Tehran and Jerusalem in Syria is far from over. Last week, Israeli jets reportedly struck a target in southern Syria’s Tel al-Hara, apparently to stop Iranian-backed forces from seizing control of a strategically important hill that can be used to gather intelligence on Israel.

Reports also surfaced last week of a Hezbollah operative—a Syrian-Druze resident of the village of Khadr, near the Israeli border—being killed after his car exploded as it drove in south Syria.

And on Sunday, rebel media sources in Syria released images of smoke rising from a Hezbollah headquarters building north of Damascus in what could be an additional strike.

Israel’s “War Between Wars”—the low–profile campaign designed to stop Iran from setting up attack and weapons bases in Syria and beyond—seems to remain highly active. It is a direct response to Iran’s own intensive attempts to build up threats against Israel, including the attempt to flood Syria with missile factories, rocket launchers, drone bases and terror cells.

Iran has failed to achieve many of its central goals in Syria, so the Iranian Quds Force, led by the notorious Qassem Soleimani, looks determined to set up some of the missile bases on Iraqi soil instead.

From a practical perspective, Iran’s commitment to expanding its forces around the region while its economy crumbles makes little sense. But Iran’s fundamentalist Shi’ite ideology and hegemonic ambitions have fused to keep this effort going.

Iran working to construct land bridge to Mediterranean

In this context, reports that a new border crossing that links Syria to Iraq is set to open deserves special attention.

According to a July 25 report published by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, preparations are underway to open the Albukamal border crossing in the coming two months.

The Meir Amit Center identified why this crossing is critical to Iran’s ambitions, noting that it is “vital for the land bridge Iran seeks to construct between its territory and the Mediterranean Sea. The route allows Iran to send forces, supplies and weapons through Iraq to Syria and from there to Lebanon. It can be assumed that Iran is of the opinion that the land bridge will enable it to reduce its dependence on risky aerial and naval routes. The new crossing, when it opens, will enable larger numbers of vehicles to enter Syria and make it easier to preserve secrecy.”

In June 2018, reports surfaced of unidentified planes striking Iranian-backed militias in the Syrian border town of Albukamal, resulting in many casualties.

With the new border crossing under construction, it seems difficult to believe that Israel would allow Iran to create its long-desired land bridge.

The Meir Amit Center assessed that “it is likely that the new crossing is being constructed with Iranian aid, and possibly with Iranian involvement. In addition, Iran participates in securing the area between Albukamal in Syria and al-Qa’im in Iraq by using Shi’ite militias deployed permanently in the region.”

Hezbollah and Shi’ite militias backed by Iran seized Albukamal in November 2018, remaining active on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border.

It seems unreasonable to believe that after putting a dent in Iran’s scheme to flood Syria and Lebanon with arms by trafficking them in planes, Israel would simply agree to those same arms entering the area by road.

Ultimately, it is the Israeli Air Force that acts as Israel’s “police force” in the skies of the Middle East, enforcing Jerusalem’s red lines against Iranian entrenchment.

To be able to achieve this, its personnel must function in a very high operational tempo and remain with a finger on the pulse of the rapidly changing geopolitical reality. The challenge is enormous.

Nevertheless, the IAF has been highly successful in waging Israel’s active defense campaign as it maneuvers in the most dangerous and sensitive regions in the world. Syria alone has the most densely crowded air-defense network on the globe, and is also the scene of intense Russian military activity.

Operating largely behind the scenes, the IAF has been able to protect Israel’s vital security interests, roll back Iran’s presence, and so far, delay the outbreak of the next major war.

In future Gaza war, Israel said aiming to weaken Hamas — but not topple it

IDF completes four-day drill that is Gaza Division’s biggest since 2014 war; soldiers exercise response to attempted takeover of Ashkelon, evacuation of residents

by Michael Bachner The Times of Israel

The Israeli military’s plan for a potential future conflict in the Gaza Strip is to hit Palestinian terror group Hamas hard, but not to attempt to defeat it entirely, leaving it weakened but still capable of controlling the Strip, military officials told Hebrew-language media on Wednesday at the conclusion of a large-scale drill.

The exercise was the biggest in the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza Division since Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 Gaza war fought five years ago.

During the drill troops took to the streets of the city of Ashkelon in the middle of the night to simulate Gaza’s urban environment. Other scenarios included a possible terrorist attempt to take over Ashkelon and other locations via the sea; the evacuation of casualties in helicopters; evacuating residents from their homes; and taking over a neighborhood in the Strip.

The four-day drill tested a new doctrine pushed by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, who took office in January.

“A very comprehensive and serious process has been carried out here, and my impression is that the level of preparedness for a possible battle in the Gaza Strip is very, very high,” Kohavi said at the drill’s conclusion.

The plan is to diversify the military’s courses of actions in order to give the government more options and flexibility, and to limit the scope and duration of the fighting.

It takes into account two weapons that Hamas now has which it did not possess five years ago: drones which can gather intelligence and potentially carry explosives, and short-range mortars and rockets capable of carrying hundreds of kilograms of explosives each.

Another change was the introduction of a range of tools and technologies to counter Hamas network of defense tunnels inside the Strip, where Hamas fighters are believed to be planning to surprise troops in the event of a ground offensive.

The construction of a subterranean barrier against cross-border attack tunnels is being sped up, and is expected to be completed by May or June of 2020.

Another challenge is the presence near the border of Hamas’s “restraining forces,” who are armed but are not necessarily considered an enemy since they help prevent escalation in border protests. Soldiers have been urged to use their judgement and not shoot immediately — as in a recent case where the IDF issued a rare statement saying a Hamas member was shot by accident.

Acts such as launching incendiary balloons, briefly breaching the border fence before returning to Gaza and violent border protests are all considered to be “grey terrorism” and the army is instructing its soldiers to adopt a restrained response, while doing everything to protect the Israeli side of the border.

Meanwhile, a senior commander told the 101.5 FM radio station Wednesday that there also exists a threat of Hamas anti-tank missiles being fired directly at high-rise buildings in the city of Sderot.

Lieutenant Colonel Gideon Elistem, deputy commander of the Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade, said the army knows how to deal with that threat, and has trained to evacuate residents from their homes in cooperation with local and regional councils. “There is a very clear and organized plan for how to protect the city of Sderot with ground forces,” he said.

The beginning of 2019 saw dramatic increase in the level of violence along the Gaza border, with near nightly riots and airborne arson attacks, but the violence has waned in recent weeks, due to a de facto ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

However, Wednesday saw the first fire in two weeks sparked in Israel by an incendiary balloon launched from Gaza.

The fire broke out near Kibbutz Alumim in the Sdot Negev region, burned down ten dunams (2.5 acres) of land and was extinguished, with an expert with the Israel Fire and Rescue Services determining that it was started by a balloon carrying a flaming device.

Last month, the Air Force held its first-ever exercise with new American F-35 stealth fighter jets, which simulated simultaneous fighting in the Gaza Strip, Syria and Lebanon.