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Latest News in Israel – 11th July

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Palestinian commander: We will capture Gaza border towns in future war

“We will take the settlements bordering Gaza. In any future war, the enemy must expect groups behind enemy lines to enter and control those settlements,” said a commander of one of the terrorist groups in Gaza to the Lebanese Al Akhbar newspaper on Wednesday.

The commander added that scuba units will also play a “very important role” in an upcoming conflict.

Israel has recently completed the construction of an underwater barrier to prevent infiltration from Gazan commando scuba units.

During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, five Hamas frogmen tried to infiltrate Kibbutz Zikim. Armed with automatic weapons, fragmentation grenades and several types of explosive devices, they were engaged and killed by the IDF in a combined attack from the sea, ground and air.

In 2015, the IDF began deploying dozens of sensors as part of a new system named “Aqua Shield,” which can detect and alert the navy to suspicious underwater movement. The sensors were placed on the sea floor near both Gaza and Lebanon’s water borders with Israel.

The last round of fighting in May is a “slight fraction of what the enemy might face in the future, especially since this round exposed Israeli weaknesses,” said the Palestinian commander.

These “weaknesses” include the ability to target the Iron Dome batteries directly and the ability to target IDF soldiers by dropping bombs from Gazan drones, which the Gazan commander claimed Israeli intelligence did not know about until they were put into action.

One of the most significant lessons that the Gazan terrorist groups learned from the 48-hour escalation in May, is that the Iron Dome could be overcome and even targeted directly in some places. According to the commander, 700 rockets were fired in the last round of fighting, with the Iron Dome only succeeding to intercept 240 rockets. The terror groups in Gaza found that, “if shells are fired from areas close to the [Gaza] border, there is a weakness in the [Iron Dome’s] response,” the commander told Al Akhbar.

The terrorist groups also found that if more than 10 rockets are fired at once, the Iron Dome’s performance is also weakened – but that the rockets must be fired in a period of no longer than five minutes for this to work. They implemented this practice by launching “very heavy bursts of rockets – up to dozens of rockets in one burst – towards one target,” in order to allow one or two missiles to get past the Iron Dome and hit residential areas, he said.

The commander claimed that the success of this practice was reflected in the amount of damage and number of casualties caused by Gazan rockets in Israeli cities and towns.

Five Israeli deaths were attributed to the last round of fighting, and 21 rockets hit civilian homes.

The commander also claimed to know the exact locations where the Iron Dome batteries have been deployed.

Earlier this year, former deputy military intelligence chief, Brig.Gen. Meir Elran, said that while “Iron Dome has proven to be an effective means of saving lives, which also improves the flexibility of decision makers in Israel,” it is clear that the system as currently constituted cannot provide Israel with sufficient protection in the event of a wider conflict.

Uzi Rubin, one of the pioneers of Israel’s earliest attempts at missile defense, told JTA that based on the publicly available data, it appears that the Palestinians “tried to tax the system as much as they could, but the system as a whole held well.”

The commander also addressed the Kornet anti-tank missiles that were used in the last round of fighting, which resulted in the death of Israeli civilian Moshe Feder, when Gazan terrorists fired a Kornet missile at his car outside of Sderot. Hamas apparently also tried to use Kornet missiles to target an Israeli armored vehicle, but missed.

Hamas also used drones to gather intelligence on the movements of IDF forces during the last round of fighting, according to the commander.

Arms shipments have continued to enter the Gaza Strip despite Israeli and Egyptian attempts to prevent this, and arms manufacturing continues. The commander admitted that arms shipments were impacted by ISIS in the Sinai Desert, but told Al Akhbar that the Palestinian terrorist groups conducted “security operations” in response targeting ISIS.

Israeli losses were estimated at 60 million shekels, the commander told Al Akhbar.

The publication reported on Wednesday that Israel attempted to conduct “soft assassinations” of Gazan terrorists after the botched operation in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip last November, including an attempt to poison a senior commander in Gaza and another attempt to assassinate a military official with a parcel bomb. Both attempts were detected and prevented by Gazan terrorist groups, according to the newspaper.

The November raid in Khan Yunis left an IDF lieutenant-colonel dead and another officer moderately injured. Six Hamas terrorists, including Khan Yunis commander Nur Barakeh, were also killed in the firefight.

According to an investigation into the incident, the exchange of fire between Hamas and the IDF lasted about a minute and a half. Following the shootout, it was decided to call in an air force helicopter to extract all the soldiers, including the dead officer.

Israel is also pursuing prisoners who were freed in the deal that freed IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, according to Al Akhbar, especially those who live in the Gaza Strip.

The paper also claimed that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) was attempting to recruit agents in Gaza by extorting them or offering financial incentives. (Jerusalem Post) Tzvi Joffre

South sees stark drop in number of fires caused by Gaza arson attacks

The Israeli military on Wednesday reported a fivefold drop in the number of fires sparked by balloon-borne incendiary devices from the Gaza Strip over the past year and an even greater decline in the extent of the damage caused by the flames.

The tactic of launching balloons carrying explosive and arson devices from Gaza into Israel emerged last year as part of a series of protests and riots along the Strip’s border, known collectively as the March of Return. The simple and cheap method of attack by Palestinians proved effective against the far more powerful Israel Defense Forces, which despite its technological and military might initially struggled to counter the threat posed by balloons and inflated condoms.

From April to June 2018, Israeli firefighters extinguished 1,954 fires started by arson attacks in the fields, forests and grasslands around the Gaza Strip. They fought 383 blazes over the same period in 2019.

In addition, throughout 2018, approximately 34,000 dunams — 8,400 acres — of Israeli land were burned in arson attacks, according to statistics from Israel’s Fire and Rescue Services, Jewish National Fund and Nature and Parks Authority.

Though 2019 is only half over, the current figures show a dramatic decrease in the amount of damage: As of June, 1,400 dunams — 345 acres —  of land were damaged by incendiary devices from the Strip.

The IDF did not provide one specific cause for the drop. Instead, a number of factors appeared to have contributed to the decline, including faster response times by firefighters and an improved ability to intercept balloon-borne incendiary devices.

The military did not provide figures on the most important factor: the number of balloons launched from Gaza. Therefore it was not clear from the figures released Wednesday if the decrease in the number of fires was due only to Israeli actions or if Palestinians launched fewer balloons in 2019 compared to the previous year.

According to IDF statistics, there were an average of two “fire events” each day in 2019, compared to nine the year before. The peak in 2018 was 30 events in a single day, compared to 10 this year.

For Fridays, when Palestinians in the Strip hold weekly protests and riots, the number of “fire events” dropped from 21 each day in 2018 to two in 2019, army figures showed.

Over the past year, the military improved its fire-watching abilities — by both soldiers and technological means — leading to faster response times, which meant firefighters were able to extinguish blazes before they went out of control. Civilians have also grown more wary of the risk and increasingly call in firefighters.

The response time to the blazes by firefighters dropped from eight minutes in 2018 to five in 2019, according to IDF statistics.

The firefighters from the Fire and Rescue Services, Jewish National Fund and Nature and Parks Authority also improved their techniques and tactics, allowing them to extinguish fires more quickly in 2019 than in the previous year.

In addition, over the past year, the army upgraded its balloon interception systems, namely drones and other technological measures, which prevented many arson devices from reaching Israeli territory in the first place.

Late last month, Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group reached a new ceasefire agreement, which was aimed at halting the launch of balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices from the Strip into southern Israel and reining in the general level of violence along the border, in exchange for a number of economic concessions.

Since the truce went into effect last month, there has been a marked drop in the number of airborne arson attacks, though they have not stopped completely.

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also the defense minister, has faced considerable criticism from southern residents and politicians on both sides of the aisle for what they say is a failure to adequately respond to ongoing violence by Hamas and other terror groups from the Gaza Strip, either militarily or via a long-term truce.

Since violence along the border began picking up last March, residents of the Gaza periphery have also held a number of protests throughout the country in response to what they see as government inaction in the face of terrorism.

Earlier this week, the prime minister defended his record, dismissing the complaints by political rivals as insincere, partisan attacks.

“I’m not impressed by the propaganda of the ‘experts.’ Many of them give us advice they themselves did not implement when they were on duty,” Netanyahu said ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, referring to statements made by politicians who had formerly served as defense and army chiefs.

“And make no mistake, they will also be the first to criticize us after we embark on a large-scale military operation, which we may be forced to do. So what guides me is only one thing — the security of the State of Israel,” the prime minister said.  (the Times of Israel) Judah Ari Gross

The opportunity the Palestinians choose to miss

It is more important for Abu Mazen to go down in history as one who stood firm against this eventuality rather than to take practical measures that would ease the hardships of his people

by Zalman Shoval                        The Jerusalem Post


‘The Palestinians never miss an opportunity… to miss an opportunity,” – or to use a more common idiom, “to shoot themselves in the foot” – the late Abba Eban quipped in his day. And commentators in Israel and around the world have never tired of repeating it. This time, too, some of them made this observation after the Palestinian rejection of the economic part of US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” and their refusal to attend the event in Bahrain.

They are wrong – that is, both the commentators and Eban – since that is precisely the Palestinian leaders’ true intention: from the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammed Amin al-Husseini in the 1940s to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, a.k.a. Abu Mazen – namely, to thwart in advance any Israeli or international initiative that would put them on the road to genuinely and ideologically accepting the existence of the State of Israel, which could be interpreted as a final and historic confirmation of the Jewish people’s right to a state in any part of Palestine.

It is more important for Abu Mazen to go down in Palestinian history as one who stood firm against this eventuality rather than to take practical measures that would ease the hardships of his own people – even if those measures would have eventually led to a political solution in the spirit of the proposals for establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Jared Kushner’s lament in a post-Bahrain conference call to Arab journalists, that the Palestinian leadership had made a “strategic mistake” by boycotting the conference, was thus a misreading of the Palestinians’ strategy (as was his generous but a bit over-the-top statement that Mahmoud Abbas had devoted his life to making peace). Mr. Abbas claims that he is opposed to terrorism, and apparently genuinely so – but his basic ideology is no different from that of the terrorist organizations.

An important book entitled 1947, written by the Swedish journalist and historian Elisabeth Åsbrink and published last year, tells the story of how the international inquiry committees – first the joint Anglo-American one and then the one at the UN, which visited Palestine and the region in 1947 in order to draft a proposal for a political agreement between the Jews and the Arabs in the country – were met by an absolute refusal on the Arab side even to meet with them. This was as they had been ordered by the mufti under threat of death.

However, the members of the Jewish community – leaders and ordinary residents alike – responded gladly to every approach from the members of these committees, touring the country with them and showing them what had been built and established over the years. The majority conclusion of the UN committee was that the Jews in Palestine were capable of running a state, and the Arabs were not.

During the negotiations with the Palestinians after the Madrid Conference, chairman of the Israeli team Elyakim Rubinstein and I were invited to an unofficial dinner with the head of the Palestinian delegation, Haidar Abdel Shafi, a doctor from Gaza, at the home of Swiss ambassador Edouard Brunner (who was also the representative of the UN secretary-general). The conversation was halted at first, until – after a good-natured appeal by Abdel Shafi – the host replaced the unceasing flow of orange juice with a bottle of good Scottish whisky. From then on, the conversation flowed, in a very different vein from the Palestinians’ Orwellian double-speak during the official talks.

By the by, I said to our Palestinian interlocutor: “Among us, too, there were those who thought that the first stage of the effort to establish a Jewish state should be a ‘charter’ – in other words, an international political declaration. But others believed that if we concentrated on creating facts on the ground in all areas of public life, the economy, the administration, and so on – then the concrete foundations for the future state would be established, and so it was. But you, the Palestinians, insist on an agreement in advance on political formulas, most of them unrealistic, which leads you nowhere.”

I had the impression that deep down, Abdel Shafi, who hated Yasser Arafat, agreed. But if there had been any chance whatsoever of a change in the Palestinian positions, the Oslo Accords and the return of the PLO and Yasser Arafat to the territories put paid to that idea.

By the way, the recent meeting in Bahrain had a precedent: the Casablanca Conference following the Oslo Accords. There, too, politicians and businesspeople gathered from all over the world, including a few Arab countries – and there, too, was euphoria. The Israeli delegation, which included ministers and prominent businesspeople, even prepared detailed plans for economic cooperation with all the parties, the Palestinians first and foremost. But the unofficial Palestinian representatives (there were no official ones) announced right from the start: “No cooperation with Israel.”

Thus, Shimon Peres’s vision of the “New Middle East,” the main project of that conference, died before it was born. As then, so now: the Palestinian leaders care nothing for the logical assertion that economic advantages do not cancel out the option of future political gains – which means that US President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s generous and balanced plan is doomed to become another link in the chain of Palestinian rejectionism.

Speak softly and carry no stick: Herzog’s plan to unite the Jewish people

Head of the Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog hopes to bridge the Israel-Diaspora gap through quiet discussions with Israeli lawmakers and by appealing to a Jewish ‘silent majority’

by Ben Sales         The Times of Israel


When he ran against Benjamin Netanyahu for Israeli prime minister in 2015, Isaac Herzog tried to win with moderation and a soft-spoken campaign. He lost the election.

Now he is the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which is tasked with connecting Israel and the Jewish Diaspora. And he thinks the strategy that failed him in 2015 can unite the Jewish people today.

American Jews, who are largely liberal, have different sensibilities from Netanyahu’s right-wing government and its bear hug of President Donald Trump. But even though he says Israelis and American Jews won’t see eye to eye on everything, Herzog hopes to bridge that gap through quiet discussions with right-wing Israeli lawmakers and by appealing to a Jewish “silent majority” he thinks is out there.

“One of my main objectives in life is to prevent a Jewish split, an irreversible Jewish split,” he said last week in an interview at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s offices in New York. “I don’t disregard the fact that young millennials in the United States feel alienated, and I don’t disregard the fact that there are winds that are extremely disturbing on both sides.

“On the other hand, I think there is a silent majority, as you say, within the family that wants the bonding, and we have to strengthen that bonding.”

When Herzog took the Jewish Agency post in 2018, American Jewry and Israel were drifting further apart. Trump’s pro-Israel policies notwithstanding, only a minority of American Jews embraced him. Movements of millennial left-wing Jews, like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, were taking to the streets to protest Israel’s control of the Palestinians. A poll found that a majority of American Jews both support Israel and disapprove of its government’s policies.

American Jewish organizations, meanwhile, felt betrayed by the freezing of an agreement that would have provided more space to non-Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall. In 2017, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said U.S. Jews are “people that never send their children to fight for their country” and that “most of them are having quite convenient lives.” This week, Israeli Education Minister Rafi Peretz reportedly called intermarriage in America a “second Holocaust.”

The quasi-governmental Jewish Agency is usually described as the functional bridge between Israel and the Diaspora, getting a significant portion of its funding from Jewish federations and communal funds. It has traditionally been tasked with facilitating aliyah, or Jewish immigration to Israel. In addition, it helps fund long-term programs to bring Diaspora Jews to intern or study in Israel, and sends a network of Israeli emissaries to countries abroad. Within Israel, it operates programs that aid disadvantaged populations.

Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog helps a participant in a bar and bat mitzvah for deaf teens to unwrap his tefillin at the Nitzanim Synagogue in Jerusalem on May 20, 2019.

Herzog sees education as the key to getting Israeli and American Jews to understand each other beyond international news reports. He wants to bring more American Jews to travel, intern and study in Israel. And he wants Israeli schoolchildren to learn about Diaspora Jewry in class. He also mentioned a “reverse Birthright” that would bring Israeli Jews to experience the American Jewish community firsthand.

He noted that in Israel, even right-wingers support causes that are considered liberal in America, like universal health care or reproductive rights.

“If people drill down into the very heated political debate in Israel now, they will find out that there is a huge group in Israeli society out there that is aligned with their views,” he said. “Because of the perception as if the [Israeli] right is fully aligned with the Republicans or with the president, etc., etc., people don’t understand that there’s a variety of views in Israel.”

But what about when Israel’s prime minister condones the extreme right, as Netanyahu appeared to do in the run-up to April’s election? Or when Netanyahu endorses Orthodox control of marriage, divorce and holy sites to soothe his coalition partners? Will dialogue and education be able to explain to alienated American Jews what Netanyahu sees as political realities?

“I can’t prevent it all, I can’t,” Herzog said. “There are extremists, for example, in Israel, zealots that do not symbolize the rank and file of Israeli society, and there are other voices on the extreme left, for example, in the United States.

“But that doesn’t resemble most of the rank and file of Jews. Most of the rank and file of the people know there is a complexity and want to deal with it.”

Herzog also places some of the responsibility for the divide on Diaspora Jews. He says Jews outside of Israel should be grateful that the state exists, enabling them to feel proud to be Jewish in their own countries.

“The story of Israel is what enabled them to flourish in recent generations because of the fact that Israel was all of a sudden a major source of pride for them and a beacon unto the world,” he said. “You are benefiting enormously from the fact that there is a Jewish state out there.”

Before 2015, Herzog had a successful political career, rising through the ranks of the Labor Party. He was Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s government secretary in 1999, and served 15 years in the Knesset, including as a government minister. He says one of his talents is being able to work a room of politicians with contradicting views.

Herzog tried to apply that talent to the 2015 campaign, but says he should have gone against his instincts and been more aggressive. He also wishes he had tried to find more allies on the right. He said his preference in Israel is for unity governments between the left and right.

“There are many times I think, perhaps, I should have been more aggressive,” he said. “Since I believe elections are won from the center, we tried to be as centrist as possible while advocating peace.”

Much has changed since Netanyahu’s victory over Herzog. The prime minister has moved further right, now supporting Israeli annexation of West Bank settlements. He is facing indictment on bribery and breach of trust allegations. And he has adopted elements of Trump’s rhetoric — attacking the media, those investigating him and the courts.

Netanyahu essentially tied with his current rivals — the centrist Blue and White party — in the April election, and will face off with them again in September after failing to form a governing coalition. But amid all of the vitriol and turmoil, Herzog isn’t too worried about Israeli democracy. He hopes, as always, that cooler heads will prevail.

“It keeps me up at night to make sure that all these are not eroded, it definitely keeps me up at night,” he said. “But so far, so far, I think the system’s proven resilient. And we should respect it.”