Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
Accidental firefight breaks out between IDF and PA security personnel in Nablus
Israeli troops exchanged fire with Palestinian security forces in the northern West Bank city of Nablus early Tuesday morning in what the Israel Defense Forces said was an apparent case of mistaken identity.
According to Palestinian media, one of the Palestinian security officers was injured. No Israeli soldiers were wounded in the exchange, the army said.
“During operations to arrest terrorist operatives in the city of Nablus, a firefight broke out between IDF soldiers and people who were identified by the troops as suspects. After the fact, it was determined that it was Palestinian security services personnel,” the IDF said in a statement.
“The incident will be investigated,” it said.
The governor of Nablus, Ibrahim Ramadan, said that Israeli forces opened fire on a Palestinian security services building and injured a member of the PA’s security forces.
He rejected the IDF’s claim that Palestinians shot at the Israeli troops as well, and said the Israeli forces fired at the building “surprisingly and unjustifiably,” the official PA Wafa news site reported.
“This is not the first time and will not be the last that the occupation army harms our people, but the dangerous part in this incident is that a Palestinian military headquarters was targeted,” Ramadan told the outlet.
The injured Palestinian security officer sustained light wounds, according to Wafa.
Israeli forces later withdrew from the city.
In overnight operations throughout the West Bank, Israeli troops arrested 18 Palestinian suspects, the army said.
The IDF said they were suspected of taking part in terrorist activities, rock-throwing and participating in riots. (the Times of Israel) Judah Ari Gross and Staff
Syria says Israel fires missiles at border town in southern Syria
Syrian state media reported early Wednesday that Israel had fired several missiles toward the town of al-Harra just across the Golan Heights border and said air defenses intercepted several of the projectiles.
There were no immediate reports of injuries and no Israeli response to the claims.
The report also claimed that Israel was jamming Syrian air defense radars in the area.
While Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria, the have usually targeted bases linked with Iran. In the rare occasions that Israel has targeted villages and towns along the Golan Heights border it has been after identifying Iranian and Hezbollah attempts to set up cells in the area.
On Saturday, two rockets were fired from Syria toward Israel’s Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights. There were no reports of injuries or damage.
The Israel Defense Forces said it was still investigating if both projectiles landed inside Israeli territory. The military was also checking if the rocket fire was intentionally directed at Israel and if so by whom. There has been no fighting reported in the area around the Syrian-Israeli border in recent days, indicating this was not likely the result of errant fire from internal battles.
The launches came less than a week after a limited clash between Israel and Syria.
On Monday, a Syrian anti-aircraft battery fired at an Israeli fighter jet that was flying within Israeli airspace. Shortly afterward, in response, the IDF attacked the battery and destroyed it, reportedly killing a Syrian officer and soldier. A military vehicle was also said damaged in the attack.
Saturday night’s rockets appeared to be a relatively long range variety, reportedly fired from the Damascus area, some 35 kilometers (22 miles) away, similar to an attack earlier this year aimed at the Hermon.
The Hermon is located in the northern tip of Israel’s Golan Heights. In addition to a popular ski resort, the area is also home to a number of military installations.
In January, Iranian troops in Syria fired a medium-range, Iranian-made missile at Mount Hermon in what the IDF said at the time was a “premeditated” attack aimed at deterring Israel from conducting airstrikes against the Islamic republic’s troops and proxies in Syria.
The incoming projectile was shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system.
Last Saturday, Syria said its air defenses shot down a number of missiles fired from Israel, a day after making a similar claim.
SANA said the Syrian military intercepted “hostile targets coming from the direction of occupied territories.” Syrian state TV said the missiles were shot down over Quneitra and near Damascus.
The night before, Syrian state TV reported sounds of explosions near the capital, and aired footage of what it claimed were air defenses intercepting missiles fired from Israeli jets seen over Quneitra.
“Aerial defenses detected hostile targets coming from the direction of Quneitra and dealt with them,” SANA quoted a military source as saying.
There was no response from the IDF to those reports. Israel rarely comments on individual strikes in Syria.
Toward the start of the Syrian civil war, the Israeli military established a number of “red lines” that if violated would result in a retaliatory strike, including any attacks — intentional or otherwise — against Israel.
They also included Iranian efforts to establish a permanent military presence in Syria and attempts to transfer advanced munitions to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group.
In recent years, Israel has acknowledged conducting hundreds of airstrikes in Syria in response to these “red line” violations. (the Times of Israel) Judah Ari Gross and Staff
Israel contracts Gaza fishing zone as arson balloons scorch south
Israel announced Tuesday it will further scale back the Gaza fishing zone from 10 nautical miles to six, in response to a number of arson attacks from the coastal enclave throughout the day.
“In light of the fires and the launching of incendiary balloons toward Israeli territory, this evening the permitted fishing zone for the Gaza Strip has been reduced to six nautical miles until further notice,” Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said in a statement.
Over the course of Tuesday, there were seven fires in southern Israel sparked by balloon-borne incendiary devices from the Gaza Strip, according to the local fire department.
The permitted fishing zone had been extended to 15 nautical miles last Tuesday, apparently as part of a ceasefire agreement between Israel and terror groups in the Strip. A day later, in response to incendiary attacks, Israel restricted the fishing zone to 10 nautical miles, where it had remained.
For the past several months, Israel has been extending and reducing the permitted fishing zone around the Gaza Strip as fewer or more incendiary balloons have been sent over the border.
Such arson attacks appear to violate the reported terms of an unofficial truce between Israel and terror groups in the Strip.
Recent months have seen heightened tensions in the Gaza Strip, including a massive two-day flareup last month between Israel and terror groups in the coastal enclave.
According to Israel’s Channel 12 news, the Egyptian-brokered agreement that ended that flareup included a Hamas obligation to halt violent incidents along the border fence, maintaining a buffer zone 300 meters (984 feet) from the border; an end to the launching of incendiary balloons at Israeli communities and nighttime clashes between Gazans and security forces; and a stop to flotillas trying to break through the maritime border between Gaza and Israel.
In return, Israel reportedly agreed to expand the fishing zone, enable United Nations cash-for-work programs, allow medicine and other civil aid to enter the Strip, and open negotiations on matters relating to electricity, crossings, healthcare and funds.
Though Israel does not formally recognize the ceasefire agreement, it has largely abided by the terms of it. Hamas, in turn, has also kept violence along the border to a relative minimum — with the exception of the ongoing balloon-based attacks (the Times of Israel) Judah Ari Gross and Staff
For first time at UN, India votes with Israel and against group with ties to terror
For the first time ever, India voted last week with Israel at the United Nations against granting observer status to a Palestinian human-rights organization named “Shahed.”
The motion at the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was rejected by a 28-14 tally.
“Thank you #India for standing with @IsraelinUN and rejecting the request of terrorist organization “Shahed” to obtain the status of an observer in #UN. Together we will continue to act against terrorist organizations that intend to harm,” tweeted Maya Kadosh, deputy chief of mission at the Israel embassy in India.
Kadosh told ThePrint that Shahed is connected to the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“This is a good sign. … India was the first country to support us amongst the Asia group, so we are very happy,” she said.
“This is a truly historic vote. By taking a principled stand at the United Nations, India has finally broken a voting pattern reminiscent of the Cold War era,” Vijeta Uniyal, founder of Indians for Israel, told JNS. “In my opinion, the position taken today by Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi’s government finally reflects the long held of wishes and attitudes of the Indian people.” (JNS)
Israel’s Mossad Foiled Hezbollah Bomb Plot in London in 2015
Israeli officials told Kan News that its Mossad intelligence agency was responsible for preventing a mass terror attack, planned by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, in 2015.
Mossad’s information led Britain’s M15 domestic intelligence agency and London’s Metropolitan Police to a north London location, where thousands of ice packs containing ammonium nitrate were found. The highly explosive materials were meant for future bombing attacks, although it is unclear exactly where these attacks were to take place.
According to sources quoted Sunday in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, which broke the story of the “Iran-linked terrorists caught stockpiling explosives in north-west London,” British intelligence claimed that in order to establish Hezbollah’s full terrorist intentions, it did not immediately disrupt the plot. The discovery followed a “tip-off from a foreign government,” the report said.
Kan clarified the next day that it was in fact the Mossad that tipped off the British authorities about the plot.
Charges were never pressed against the sole suspect in the investigation, the Telegraph reported.
It is suspected that the incident was silenced in order not to disrupt the Iranian nuclear deal, which was being negotiated at the time, according to the report.
“The Security Service and police work tirelessly to keep the public safe from a host of national security threats,” said Ben Wallace, UK minister for security and economic crime. “Necessarily, their efforts and success will often go unseen.”
The Telegraph notes that the plot was part of a larger plan to attack Israeli targets around the world, endangering not only Jews and Israelis. The terror group had stored explosive materials in ice packs in a number of previous cases, most notably in Cyprus, “where a startlingly similar plot had been busted just months before the discovery in London,” the Telegraph said.
Israel, the United States, Canada, the European Union and the Arab League have listed Hezbollah as a terror organization for decades. Britain blacklisted Hezbollah’s military wing only in 2008, and it was not until February 2019 that it banned the entire organization under the Terrorism Act of 2000. (United with Israel) Staff
Signs of a breakthrough on border — dispute talks between Israel and Lebanon
Israel and Lebanon have been in a formal state of war for more than seven decades, but the two neighbors are hopeful that significant progress on their disputed border could be near.
The United States has been quietly mediating efforts between Israel and Lebanon on delineating their maritime frontier in an area where large deposits of natural gas have been found.
These efforts are being headed by acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield, who has visited both countries several times in the last few months in an attempt to lower tensions and kick-start talks.
According to the Lebanese foreign minister, Satterfield delivered an Israeli response to Lebanese proposals, and the atmosphere was “positive.” But the Lebanese government wants the talks to cover the countries’ land border dispute, too, and Israel and Lebanon seem to be at loggerheads on this point.
The Lebanese Foreign Ministry, in a statement issued last week, said the two countries were close to establishing a framework for negotiations on demarcating their land and maritime borders. The statement added that the United Nations would supervise the talks, while Washington would be the chief mediator.
Defense and government analyst Amir Oren told The Media Line the talks had been in the works for some time.
“Perhaps the agreement has either been reached, or is in its final stages, but Lebanon wants it done under U.N. auspices,” he said.
Oren added that the international organization’s role was symbolic.
“The UN is only going to provide them the venue. It’s the U.S. that is heavily involved in the talks,” he explained.
Retired Lebanese Maj.-Gen. Hisham Jaber, head of the Middle East Center for Studies and Public Relations, told The Media Line that Beirut was insisting that the U.N. play a major role.
“This is a big development because it’s a big issue. And it’s serious because the talks are being conducted under the auspices of the U.N. and the U.S.,” he said.
Jaber added that Lebanon was adamant that the talks include both land and sea borders, saying Satterfield was conducting shuttle diplomacy between the two countries in an attempt to bridge the gap, adding that the former U.S. ambassador to Beirut was fully aware of Lebanon’s position.
“Lebanon will not accept any talks without discussion of land and maritime borders, and what is surprising is that all of Lebanon is in agreement on this,” Jaber said.
Oren told The Media Line that despite rising tensions in the region, the two countries did seem ready to talk.
“The reported progress can be attributed to the large volume of gas deposits in the disputed eastern Mediterranean,” he said, adding that the issue had the potential to become very serious because a lot of money was involved.
“It’s very significant, because the dispute over what is called Block 9 of the gas field is one of three friction points that could cause Israel and Hezbollah to escalate matters,” he explained.
Since 2012, the U.S. has made numerous attempts to bridge the gaps between the two countries, but Washington increased its efforts after Lebanon licensed its first international consortium to begin searching for oil and gas in the Mediterranean, including in an area close to contested zone.
In December 2017, Lebanon approved a bid from a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek for two of five blocks put up for tender, including Block 9, which borders Israeli waters.
Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Islamist movement, has members in the Lebanese parliament and cabinet. Its armed militia is regarded as better trained and equipped than the state’s army. Israel and the U.S. regard it as a terrorist organization.
Oren insists that the Shi’ite movement didn’t see these developments coming.
“Hezbollah was taken aback by the news,” he said.
Jaber, nevertheless, disagrees, saying Hezbollah is playing the role of spectator by choice, leaving the complex negotiations to the government.
“Let’s not forget that Hezbollah is part of the government, and nothing can go through without its approval,” the former general said.
Despite the apparent breakthrough, however, Jaber thinks no agreement is in sight.
“It’s going to take time. I don’t have high expectations. I’m not optimistic that the talks will progress quickly,” he said. (Jerusalem Post) Mohammad Al-Kassim/The Media Line
Egypt, Jordan, Morocco to attend U.S.-led Palestinian conference
Egypt, Jordan and Morocco have informed the Trump administration they plan to attend a U.S.-led conference in Bahrain in late June on proposals for boosting the Palestinian economy as part of a coming U.S. peace plan, a White House official said on Tuesday.
Egypt and Jordan’s participation is considered especially important since they have historically been key players in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. However, Palestinian leaders have vowed to boycott the June 25-26 conference and lashed out at members of the international community who have agreed to attend the conference.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have publicly declared that they will attend, along with the Bahraini hosts. The U.S. has also sent invitations to finance ministers from other Arab and non-Arab countries. The so-called workshop is scheduled to be held in the city of Manama.
Global financial bodies including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank also plan to be present.
U.S. officials have been vague about the timing for the second phase of their initiative, which would be the release of proposals for resolving the thorny political issues at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
With Israel heading for new elections in September after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to meet a deadline to form a government, uncertainty is expected to further delay the full release of the plan.
Most experts are skeptical the Trump administration can succeed where decades of U.S.-backed efforts have failed.
Saeb Erekat, executive secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told a number of Arab news outlets he expected the summit to fail.
In an interview with Almayadeen, a Lebanese news channel, Erekat said: “If I’m not going, do you know what’s best for me better than I do?” He called on all Arab and non-Arab countries that intend to participate to “reconsider” their decision.
Political analyst Ziad Abu Zayyad said the “PA is on its own,” adding: “These countries have their own interests to worry about with the United States, and they revolve in the U.S. orbit, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that these countries have agreed to attend and host the conference.”
Abu Zayyad said that other geopolitical issues in the region played a major role in how Arab governments, particularly the Gulf states, viewed the Palestinian cause these days.
“America and Israel succeeded in convincing these countries that the danger to them is coming from Iran, and because of that they will do anything they are asked by the U.S. and Israel,” he said.
The Palestinian Authority did not have the means to pressure the Arab states, he added. (Ynet News) Agencies
Labor leader Avi Gabbay says he will not contest leadership again
Labor leader Avi Gabbay will not seek to retain leadership of the party in next month’s primary race, he announced on Tuesday.
“To my supporters, to my friends, to my partners and to my dear loved ones, I want to inform you that I will not be running for leadership of the party in the elections which will be held next month,” Gabbay said on Facebook.
The decision, he said, was the next logical step in light of Labor’s poor showing in the April 9 general election, which saw the party dwindle to just six mandates.
Labor’s primary election is scheduled to take place on July 2.
Gabbay was reportedly offered a deal within the party whereby the No. 2 slot on its list would be reserved for him if he declined a primary run. The Labor central committee was expected to vote on the proposal on Wednesday.
His announcement came a day after Knesset member Tal Russo, number two on Labor’s Knesset slate and a key Gabbay ally, told supporters he was retiring from politics.
In a post on his Facebook page, Russo wrote: “I entered politics about four months ago with big plans to make changes in the Labor party and, no less, the State of Israel. In the reality in which we find ourselves, party primaries and the selection of a new party leader so close together do not allow me to do the things I so hoped to do. I do not want to be part of the battle for succession, so I’m revoking my candidacy for the position of Labor leader and from the list for the 22nd Knesset.”
Russo expressed his thanks to the party members and to the “public at large” for their support.
“I will continue to work for the public good in other ways. Good luck to us all,” he ended his message. (the Algemeiner) Israel Hayom
If Blue and White has a chance to win in September, it needs to define itself to Israeli voters
Party officials say if they receive a few more seats than Likud, then the president will ask Benny Gantz to form the next government instead of Benjamin Netanyahu.
by Dov Lipman JNS
Members of the Blue White Party: Benny Gantz , Boogie Yaalon, Gabi Ashkenazi and Yair Lapid hold a press conference at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv
Formed just months before Israel’s April 9 elections and headlined by several former generals, the Blue and White Party made a strong showing, matching Likud with 35 seats.
However, due to the poor performance of many of the parties to the left, as well as Blue and White’s inability to appeal to right-wing or religious parties, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin tasked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a government. He failed to do so, sending the country to new elections on Sept. 17.
However, does the fall election provide a new opportunity for Blue and White to defeat Netanyahu and the Likud, and be given the opportunity to form the next government? Blue and White, led by former Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, think the answer is yes.
Party officials told JNS that the working assumption is that if they receive a few more seats than Likud, then the president will ask Gantz to form the next government instead of Netanyahu. Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, No. 3 on the Blue and White list, said the party was “working on a campaign strategy to win more mandates than the Likud, which will lead to the president asking MK Benny Gantz to form the new government.”
Which leads to the question: How will Blue and White increase the 35 seats they won in April?
One potential source of votes is Labor Party voters. Labor’s leader in April was Knesset member Avi Gabbay, who comes from a more right-wing, traditional background, having served as a government minister for the center-right Kulanu in the previous government. But on Tuesday, he announced that he will not be running for the party leadership again.
Labor is holding its primaries on July 2, and a victory for the party’s young, staunchly left-wing stars—Knesset members Stav Shaffir (who has already announced that she is running) or Itzik Shmuli (who has not yet announced his intentions)—could leave centrist Labor voters without a political home. They could shift to Blue and White as a result.
But a young, strong left-wing Labor leader could also pull votes away from the moderate-left flank within Blue and White, which didn’t view Labor as an option in the April election and voted Blue and White as an “anti-Netanyahu” vote.
However, winning more votes from the center-left will not secure a victory for Blue and White. They need to be able to come to the president with a larger political bloc than the Likud, and to accomplish this, right-wing voters must shift from the Likud camp to the Blue and White camp.
So what can Blue and White do to bring votes over from the right?
One potential source could be former voters for Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party.
Kahlon had portrayed himself as the “moderate right,” which would uphold the rule of law and government institutions against attempts by Netanyahu and others on the right to limit the powers of the court and challenge some of the institutions of law as part of the struggle to protect Netanyahu from criminal prosecution.
But Kahlon chose to join Likud for the upcoming elections, essentially leaving many of his voters without a political home.
Still, even those votes likely won’t be enough to put Blue and White over the top.
Former Knesset member Ronen Hoffman, currently a professor of government and politics at IDC Herzliya, told JNS that Blue and White has no chance to win in September if it continues simply to be the “anti-Netanyahu” party without defining itself politically.
“They must come out and declare that they are the ‘liberal right’ in Israel,” he said of its leaders. “This is actually who they are—right on security issues and liberal on social issues, such as human rights and religion and state. But they are not saying it.”
Hoffman noted that “instead of saying a thousand messages one time, they must shift to saying one message a thousand times. And that message must be that they are the liberal right.”
The challenge for Blue and White, however, will be to raise this flag of social liberalism without distancing themselves from the ultra-Orthodox.
Ronen Tzur, a campaign strategist for Blue and White in the April election, told IDF Radio that among the many mistakes the party made during the previous campaign was allowing Knesset member Yair Lapid—No. 2 on the party list—to attack the ultra-Orthodox. Such attacks, he said, must stop.
“Lapid must tone down his rhetoric against the ultra-Orthodox … [such rhetoric] is foolish because it is essentially a statement from the outset that [Blue and White] cannot form a government. They are automatically pushing 17 mandates to the right,” he explained.
One indication that Blue and White may be taking the reins from Lapid is last week’s removal of longtime Lapid/Yesh Atid strategist Mark Mellman from the September elections campaign.
It’s clear that Blue and White must do something differently than it did in the lead-up to April in order not just to win more seats than the Likud, but to win by enough of a margin to be given the mandate from the president to form a government.
How they choose to do so remains to be seen.