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Latest News in Israel – 13th November

Evidence Netanyahu took bribes growing

There is increasing evidence to support bribery charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in corruption Case 1000, according to media reports.

On Thursday, the Lahav 433 National Crime Unit questioned Netanyahu for over four hours at his official residence in Jerusalem. During the questioning, Lahav 433 confronted Netanyahu with the testimony of Hollywood movie mogul Arnon Milchan, Channel 10 News reported on Friday night.

In Case 1000, the “gifts affair,” it is suspected that Netanyahu improperly accepted expensive gifts from different businessmen.

Milchan has confirmed that he regularly sent cigars and other gifts to the prime minister and his wife, Sara.

Police are investigating several situations where Netanyahu may allegedly have used his power for the benefit of Milchan.

The first is an initiative nine years ago to establish a free trade zone near the Jordanian border. It is suspected that Milchan asked Netanyahu to promote the project. The request was said to have been made following consultation with Indian billionaire Ratan Tata, whom Israeli police recently questioned. The initiative never came to fruition.

Police questioned Netanyahu about his part in the initiative, Channel 10 News reported.

Netanyahu reportedly answered: “It could have been very profitable for the country, and would have created many jobs for both Palestinians and Israelis. I did not know that Milchan was involved in this [project].”

However, Milchan allegedly told the police that he worked with Netanyahu to advance this initiative.

Police also asked the prime minister why he had helped Milchan to secure an American visa, and if doing so, had anything to do with the gifts received.

Netanyahu is said to have answered: “There is no connection between the two.

My relationship with Milchan goes way back. He is a long-time friend of mine.

I tried helping him because of his contribution to the State of Israel, just like I helped many others.”

Both the police’s and the state prosecution’s suspicion of bribery is getting stronger, Channel 10 News reported.

Netanyahu has acknowledged accepting gifts from Milchan, but maintained they were presents exchanged between friends and did not constitute bribery or a breach of trust. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.

“It is allowed – according to the law – to receive gifts from friends… Arnon Milchan and I have been friends for over 20 years. We are good friends, our wives are good friends,” he said at the Knesset in January.

Netanyahu is expected to be questioned at least twice more by police.

Channel 2 News reported on Saturday that police sources said that Netanyahu was unable to refute the allegations presented during his questioning.

A senior police source had said that great progress had been made in the investigation and that if there were no major developments, they would begin the final phases of the investigation next month.

Police officials would not confirm the report.

“We are not conducting our investigations or any other procedure within the media, only in the interrogation rooms,” a police spokesman said.  (Jerusalem Post)

Intelligence minister: Israel planning UN action against Iran

Following the surprising resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister, Israel is planning a diplomatic offensive to step up pressure on Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah at the United Nations, a senior Israeli government minister said Thursday.

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz says he believes conditions are ripe to take a stand against Iranian actions in the region, including its support for the Lebanese Shiite militant group.

In particular, he said that Israel wants the world, after years of inaction, to tightly enforce a 2006 cease-fire agreement that called on Hezbollah to disarm and stay away from Israel’s border.

“The resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister [Saad] Hariri exposes Hezbollah’s real face,” Katz said. “Iran is taking over Lebanon. Hezbollah is taking over Lebanon.”

Israel has long considered Iran to be its greatest foe, citing the Islamic republic’s hostile rhetoric, suspect nuclear program, development of long-range missiles and support for anti-Israeli militant groups.

It has been closely watching Iran’s involvement in the war in neighboring Syria and is deeply concerned that Iran, along with Hezbollah, will maintain a permanent presence in post-war Syria. It fears that Iran could use Syrian territory to stage attacks on Israel or create a land corridor from Iran to Lebanon that could allow it to transfer weapons more easily to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah and Israel battled Israel to a stalemate in a month long war in 2006 that ended in a U.N.-brokered cease-fire.

The agreement, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, called for the disarmament of militant groups in Lebanon and an end to arms transfers to them. The only armed forces allowed in southern Lebanon were the Lebanese national army and U.N. peacekeepers.

The cease-fire, however, has been poorly enforced, and Israel believes Hezbollah has amassed an arsenal of some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel, much of it stockpiled near the border.

“We don’t need a new resolution. We just need to implement an existing one,” said Katz, who will head to the United States later this month to press Israel’s case.

“I think Hariri’s resignation allows Israel to lead a process with the United Nations, with the Security Council, United States, France and other countries and demand to implement Resolution 1701,” he said. “That first of all is a process we plan to lead.”

Announcing his resignation last Saturday in a pre-recorded speech from Saudi Arabia, Hariri accused Iran of meddling in Arab affairs and Hezbollah of holding Lebanon hostage. Hezbollah has members in the Lebanese unity government that Hariri formed last year.

Hariri’s surprise resignation has thrown Lebanon into turmoil, with many accusing Saudi Arabia of carrying out a power play aimed at wrecking the unity deal with Hezbollah. On Thursday, Hariri’s party in Lebanon demanded he return from Saudi Arabia, implying he was being held against his will.

Katz spoke before Thursday’s accusations against Saudi Arabia but discounted the possibility that the kingdom was behind his resignation, saying, “I don’t think they forced him to resign. The threat against him in Lebanon is concrete.”

Israel has long sought better enforcement of the U.N. cease-fire. But Katz said changing circumstances make the time ripe for diplomatic action. He cited the strong support for Israel by the new U.S. administration, the international jockeying for influence as the Syrian war moves toward an end and what he called Israel’s “shared interests” with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries who also feel threatened by Iran.

In a sign of progress for Israel, the Security Council renewed the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon in September with new orders for more patrols and detailed reports on run-ins with Hezbollah.

Israel has largely stayed on the sidelines throughout the six-year Syrian war. But officials have acknowledged carrying out dozens of airstrikes inside Syria against suspected weapons shipments bound for Hezbollah. Israel has been lobbying both the U.S. and Russia, Syria’s strongest ally, for safeguards that Iran and its allies will remain far from its borders in post-war Syria and that sophisticated weapons will not be able to reach Hezbollah.

Katz said Israel prefers diplomatic arrangements but is ready to use military action if necessary.

“Israel has made clear what its red lines are and we will stand by those red lines,” he said. (Israel Hayom)

Patriot missile intercepts drone on Israel’s border with Syria

A Patriot missile intercepted a drone Saturday that approached the Golan Heights on Israel’s border with Syria, according to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

The intercepted Unmanned aerial aircraft, which is believed to have been gathering intelligence for the Syrian regime, fell over the demilitarized zone in the northern Golan Heights around 11am.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman stated that the State of Israel views any violation of its sovereignty with “great severity” and reiterated Israel would respond to any provocation with force.

“We view the Syrian regime as responsible for all firing and violations of our sovereignty and call on it to restrain all elements operating from its territory,” he said.

“We will not allow the establishment of the Shiite axis in Syria as a forward-operating base,” Liberman said.

The interception comes amid heightened tensions on Israel’s northern border.

Israel has in the past used the Patriot system against suspicious aerial vehicles, most recently in September when Israel intercepted an Iranian-built Hezbollah-manned drone that was close to the “Bravo line” that marks the Syrian demilitarized zone.

While the drone did not at any point cross into Israeli territory, “the IDF will not allow any infiltration or attempt to infiltrate by any Iranian elements, be it Hezbollah or Shia militia groups, to the Golan Heights. We will respond to every action very clearly and we will act to prevent any future attempt,” IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis stated at the time.

In April, another drone, which had flown into Israel from Syria hours after Israel allegedly struck a Hezbollah arms depot near Damascus International Airport, was intercepted by the system.

The system was also used in July 2016, when two Patriot missiles were fired at a suspicious drone that crossed into Israeli airspace from Syria.  Both missed their targets and the unmanned aircraft returned to Syria. In August 2014, a Patriot missile successfully shot down a drone that entered Israeli airspace from the Quneitra region in Syria, close to the Israeli border.

In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, Commander of the Aerial Defense Division Brig.-Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch stated UAVs are a big challenge due to their size, speed and low flying altitude. Nevertheless, Israel’s aerial defense systems “are flexible enough” to counter any threat, including UAVs.

In mid-August, Israel carried out a test of its Patriot system focusing on the threats posed by UAVs and firing multiple interceptor missiles toward aerial targets over central Israel.

With the Iron Dome, the Arrow and David’s Sling, Israel’s aerial defense system provides a comprehensive protective umbrella able to counter the growing missile threats from short-range rockets to longer-range ballistic missiles fired at ranges between 40 to 300 km.  (Jerusalem Post)

Hamas slams PA resumption of security coordination with Israel

A Hamas spokesman on Thursday expressed disapproval of a Palestinian Authority official’s announcement that the PA has resumed full security coordination with Israel.

On Wednesday, Police chief Hazem Atallah told foreign journalists that all branches of the PA security forces fully restored security cooperation with Israel two weeks ago.

In July, PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced that security coordination was halted in response to Israel’s placement of metal detectors near the entrances to the Temple Mount.

However, in practice, only certain elements of security coordination were suspended. It is unclear exactly which elements were halted.

“Hamas is surprised by the PA in the West Bank’s resumption of security coordination and cooperation with the Zionist enemy, which is the equivalent of the greatest danger to the Palestinian people, its unity and its legitimate rights including the right to resist the occupation,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement.

Both Israel and the PA carry out almost daily arrests of Hamas operatives in West Bank, which Hamas officials contend is a result of security coordination.

Barhoum added that security coordination “distorts the reputation of the Palestinian people, and its struggles and history.”

Security coordination is highly unpopular in the Palestinian territories.

Seventy three percent of Palestinians supported Abbas’s decision to suspend security coordination with Israel in July, a September poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found.

Nonetheless, PA security officials have defended the policy, asserting that it serves Palestinian interests.

Atallah said of security coordination on Wednesday: “Mostly, this is for our people, the safety of our people and for the rights of our people.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Israel wants a big cut from the Jewish National Fund

American Jews dropped nickels and dimes into the Jewish National Fund’s blue charity boxes to help Zionists build the Jewish state.

More than a century later, the JNF, known in Hebrew as Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, is rich. It owns 13 percent of all the land in the country and brings in some $3 billion a year, most of it from land sales.

Israel now wants a big cut of that revenue to help fund state-run national infrastructure projects, and the government is pushing legislation that would force JNF to pay up. But JNF is holding out, saying it is doing a fine job developing the country on its own.

The government feels entitled to JNF’s money, which according to its mission is held in trust for the Jewish people. While JNF is not state run, the government appoints many of its officials and a public agency, the Israel Land Authority, manages and sells its land. In the past, the government has often drawn on JNF funds to meet its needs, and is currently seeking to fund its two-year budget.

“The JNF sells lands every year and receives billions of shekels in return,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday at an emergency government meeting on the issue. “It is very important that this money be channelled to the needs of the State of Israel.”

In response, the JNF argues that it has earned the right to independence. Founded in 1901, it bought land and founded settlements on which Israel was established in 1948. Famed for planting hundreds of millions of trees in Israel, the not-for-profit group also focuses on land reclamation and development of communities outside central Israel.

“Mr. Prime Minister, KKL-JNF invests billions every year in strengthening the periphery, education and the environment,” JNF head Dany Atar tweeted Tuesday, using an acronym that includes its Hebrew name. “It’s a shame that you, Bibi, are fulfilling Zahalka’s dream of dismantling the JNF.”

Jamal Zahalka, a Knesset member from the Arab Joint List party, is among those who criticize JNF for selling land exclusively to Jews.

Some would like to see JNF reformed for other reasons.

In January, a scathing state comptroller report characterized JNF as wasteful, opaque and possibly compromised by conflicts of interest. According to the report, over the 15 months leading up to November 2015, the JNF spent just a third of its revenue on public projects to develop land compared to 43 percent to “expand its own financial assets.” The comptroller recommended expanded government oversight of the organization.

In response, JNF issued a list of planned reforms in May that Atar said would “deal courageously with the failures and the criticism and use this low point to create a significant turnaround in the life of the organization.”

Under pressure from the government, Atar agreed last month to hand over 2 billion shekels, or $570 million, in two installments — one this year and one the next. But the JNF board of directors rejected the deal and instead offered to make just the first payment.

That led government ministers to advance legislation Tuesday that would require JNF to transfer 80 percent of its revenue to the Finance Ministry every year or lose its tax-exempt status. Coalition chairman David Bitan reportedly told ministers that the government must collect the money or it could collapse, forcing new elections.

Nonetheless, several coalition members opposed taking a hard line against the venerable Zionist institution, and later Tuesday, the Knesset Finance Committee lowered the legislation’s demand to 65 percent of JNF’s annual revenue.

For the time being, JNF has declared a freeze on the marketing and development of housing projects on the land it owns. On Thursday, the leaders of the World Zionist Organization, which is affiliated with JNF, will hold an emergency meeting to discuss the situation.

As it happens, the American branch of the JNF will also host its annual conference this weekend in South Florida. However, the event will probably do little to address the situation in Israel. JNF-USA has stopped sending money from blue boxes, or pretty much anywhere else, to its Israeli counterpart, and largely funds its own distinct projects. (JTA/the Times of Israel)

British Jews Fear Long term Fallout From Row Over UK Government Minister’s Undisclosed Meetings With Israeli Leaders

British Jewish leaders fear that the public row over a UK government minister’s undisclosed meetings with Israeli leaders while on a family vacation in Israel will have negative implications for their community that will last for several years.

Priti Patel, the minister concerned, announced on Wednesday she was resigning from her post as international development secretary in the government of Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May. Patel held meetings with 12 senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, without disclosing these to the foreign office in London — a major violation of protocol. Some of the meetings were facilitated by Lord Stuart Polak, the head of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) lobby group, who has been accused along with Patel of giving contradictory accounts of the timing and frequency of these meetings.

Patel’s resignation has not ended the speculation about which of her seniors in the British government knew about her meetings, and exactly when they acquired this knowledge. According to The Jewish Chronicle, May’s office was alerted to Patel’s meeting with Netanyahu through a conversation that Michael Oren, a deputy minister in Netanyahu’s office, held with one of Patel’s ministerial colleagues on the same day.

The Jewish Chronicle also claimed that Patel was instructed by May’s office not to disclose her meeting with a senior Israeli official in New York in September, “as it would embarrass the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.” The paper’s editor, Stephen Pollard, said such revelations “mean that there are some serious questions for Number 10 to answer about who knew what, when — including the PM.”

A signature piece of US anti-terrorism legislation is scheduled to be “marked up” by the House Foreign Affairs Committee next…

Yet Jewish leaders are concerned that the affair will gravely damage British-Israel relations and encourage the further spread of antisemitic conspiracy theories. One official was quoted as saying, “This will set us back 20 years.”

“This will feed into the conspiracy theories,” a Jewish MP said. “It needn’t damage UK-Israel relations, but it will make many people more wary.” (the Algemeiner)

(Many in Israel are asking if she would suffered the same fate if she met unofficially and did not disclose any meetings with say German or Dutch politicians        RW)

Meet the Ambassador: Australia’s new envoy loves to roam Jerusalem

When he presented his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin on August 8, Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan brought with him his 11-year-old twin sons Alex and Nicholas, who were vacationing in Israel.

The boys live in Brussels with Cannan’s ex-wife who is also a diplomat and deputy head of mission at the Australian Embassy in Belgium. They receive a well-rounded education in that they are absorbing European culture in Belgium, and when they visit their father they imbibe a multi-cultural Middle Eastern experience.

They absolutely loved it when they were here for the summer, says Cannan in an interview with The Jerusalem Post while recovering from the hectic pace of the very recent visit to Israel by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

It’s not often that a new ambassador tumbles into an event of such magnitude as an historic visit by his Prime minister with a large entourage and a highly detailed and complex itinerary.

Of course Cannan knew before taking up his post that Turnbull would be coming to Israel at the end of October to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba and to join in the inauguration of Beersheba’s ANZAC Museum.

He just wasn’t fully aware of the extent to which he would be personally involved in the arrangements leading up to the visit, as much of the preliminary work had been done by his close friend and colleague, former Australian ambassador Dave Sharma, who returned to Israel for the occasion.

Sitting over coffee in a Jerusalem hotel, the affable Cannan, who quickly gets on first name terms with people, and who has an impressive and varied Foreign Service background, tells the Post that for a first time ambassador, Israel is an ideal posting. “This is a geo-politically important part of the world.”

He also mentions the large Australian military presence in the Middle East, the constant flow of Australian start-up entrepreneurs who come to Australia’s launching pad in Tel Aviv as well as the many Australian parliamentarians who come to Israel to learn more about the region.

During Turnbull’s visit, there was the signing of a defense industry Memorandum of Understanding and there was an agreement to hold annual defense strategic talks, which Cannan says is “something long overdue because of common interests in stability and security as well as a shared agenda on terrorism.”

The MoU and the annual talks provide a real opportunity for building up defense and security relations, he says, adding that this includes a cybersecurity dialogue with the participation of leading figures from business, government and academia.

Curiously, he is the fourth consecutive Australian ambassador since 2006 for whom Israel is a first time ambassadorial posting. The others were James Larsen, Andrea Faulkner and Sharma.

The Middle East was not previously in Cannan’s portfolio.

In fact the first time he set foot in Israel was when he got off the plane as ambassador designate.

But he’s quickly learning the ropes, and was almost instantly impressed with Israel’s energy, informality and general goodwill toward Australia.

“That makes my job a lot easier,” he says.

President Rivlin with Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan and the envoy’s twin sons after accepting his credentials on August 8

Cannan says that Turnbull’s visit and the anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba in which Australian and New Zealand soldiers played such a pivotal role proved to be “a great opportunity” for talking about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Australia earlier this year, Turnbull’s then upcoming visit to Israel and Australia’s contribution to the eventual establishment of the State of Israel, which was “a great way to start a conversation.”

Checking and double checking on arrangements for the centennial event also enabled him to meet with key figures in the country at a very early stage in his ambassadorship.

A senior career officer with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT ), Cannan, before taking up his present posting, was responsible for Australia’s aid investments in health, education and climate change funds, and also for the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Some of his other roles have included: chief of protocol, and head of Staffing Branch (responsible for the recruitment, training, deployment and welfare of Australia’s foreign service officers). As head of the Environment Branch, Cannan was DFAT ’s lead negotiator at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

He has also worked on bilateral issues relating to South East Asia and Europe; international security and arms control, public affairs; and financial management.

As a very junior diplomat he began his overseas career in Vienna. Although he loves Israel’s informality, he admits that he did enjoy the occasional black tie and white tie ballroom affairs in Vienna.

“I’m not much of a dancer, but every Viennese knows how to waltz.”

He has also served in Manila, and was senior civilian monitor with the Australian Defense Force and led the Bougainville Peace Monitoring Group. From 2010 to 2011 he was head of donor relations at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Geneva.

Originally from Australia’s internationally renowned wine state of South Australia, Cannan moved to Canberra, Australia’s federal capital, more than 20 years ago, but continues to support the Adelaide Crows, a team in the Australian Football League.

A keen swimmer, he is well disposed to Israel’s beaches, especially the beach in Herzliya Pituah which is within walking distance of the ambassador’s residence.

Among his many duties is the promotion of Australian wines.

Like that of his predecessors, his job description includes advancing and protecting Australia’s interests, developing business contacts and security relations, engagement with the local community at all levels and supporting Australian citizens in need of assistance.

He is amazed, he confesses, at the number of Australians living in Israel. His interviewer, who also comes from down under, tells him that many Israelis are also surprised when informed that there are more than 12,000 Australians living in Israel, because Australian immigrants tend to be self-reliant and are not constantly running to immigrant absorption agencies to ask for help. They merge easily into the communities in which they live.

Cannan says that the Australians that he’s met in Israel for the most part retain ties with Australia; and the Jewish community of Australia has a very strong relationship with Israel, with members coming frequently for business and family reasons, in addition to which there are numerous Zionist organizations in Australia such as the Jewish National Fund, which financed the ANZAC Museum, WIZO, the United Israel Appeal and many more, all of which help to strengthen the ties between the two countries.

Later this month Cannan will again have the opportunity to talk about Australia’s role in paving the way for Israel’s statehood and independence, when Israel, on November 29, celebrates the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Resolution on the Partition of Palestine.

Dr. Herbert Evatt, who was a brilliant Australian politician with strong Zionist sympathies, was president of the United Nations General Assembly and chairman of its Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine. As such, he resisted British efforts to get the Australians to either abstain or vote against the Partition of Palestine. Instead, Australia cast the first “yes” vote. Cannan is not sure whether there is sufficient awareness of this in Israel, and it is one of the issues he intends to address.

While current relations between the two countries are at a peak, Cannan is determined to make them even better.

One of the most helpful elements toward this goal, he says, is the Israeli frankness which he happily reciprocates, saying that in a conversation with Israelis, “you know where you stand.”

When his sons were in Israel, he took them on tours all over the country, but mostly to Jerusalem which he frequents often, not only for meetings with officials, but also because he loves to roam around the Old City “where there is so much history.” His boys loved it too.

“You could see them appreciate the history and the importance of religious and political tolerance in Jerusalem.

It’s a terrific place for children to learn about the world.” His boys loved Israel so much he says, “they can’t wait to come back.”

He takes all important visitors from Australia to the Old City, and most find it “mind boggling” to see the contrasts between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem which are only an hour’s drive from each other.

Still, Cannan is very careful not to give the wrong impression when asked about the possibility of an Australian Embassy move to Israel’s capital. Although many countries did have embassies in Jerusalem before 1967, Australia was never one of them. Cannan notes that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has ruled out moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and declines to say more on the subject.

Cannan has not yet had the opportunity to study Hebrew, though he has picked up a few essential words.

However, he’s on the verge of taking Hebrew lessons.

In his extremely limited spare time, he has enjoyed the Israeli lifestyle, the food with its many refreshing innovations, and even the way people dress.

He hasn’t yet had a chance to absorb Israeli culture in terms of music, theater and dance, but intends to make up for that.

As for his job: “It’s incredibly busy, but never boring.” (Jerusalem Post)

For first time in 100 years, Luftwaffe in Israel’s skies in huge air drill

Way down, down in the Negev Desert — or, more accurately, in the skies above it — the countries of Falcon Land and Nowhere Land are waging a vicious aerial war, with dozens of fighter jets dogfighting and bombing each other’s infrastructure.

So far there have been no casualties in these air battles — and that’s just how the two sides would like to see it.

The Falcon Land-Nowhere Land war is the centerpiece of the Israeli Air Force’s biennial Blue Flag exercise, in which seven foreign countries are participating and many more are scheduled to visit.

The fictional Falcon Land, the so-called “blue team,” is made up of the seven foreign countries — India, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Greece and the United States — and Israeli Air Force squadrons. Their opponent, Nowhere Land, is led by the IAF’s Red Squadron, a unit of F-16 fighter jets that are used in exercises to mimic enemy aircraft. The Red Squadron is joined in Nowhere Land by a surface-to-air missile battery and drone units.

The 11-day exercise, which kicked off on Sunday, will include over 1,000 people, five different types of fighter jets, dozens of aircraft and hundreds of sorties in what will be the IAF’s largest aerial exercise to date and the largest in the world in 2017, according to the Israeli military.

It is Israel’s third time hosting Blue Flag, which began in 2013 and has grown larger each time.

Israeli Air Force officials said the objective of the exercise was three-fold: strengthen diplomatic relations between the countries, expose the participating militaries to new tactics and techniques, and improve military cooperation by forcing the air forces to work together.

Located an hour’s drive north of Eilat and two-and-a-half hours south of Beersheba, the Ovda air base is about as remote as you can get in geographically tiny Israel. With few buildings in the barren landscape, pilots had the opportunity to fly low and fast over the “high-tech aerial playground” where the exercise is being conducted, said Col. Itamar, the base’s commander who for security reasons can only be identified by his first name.

The dogfighting and surface-to-air attacks are all simulated, but some of the bombing is real, though the targets are empty patches of desert, rather than actual military installations, Col. Itamar told journalists who were flown down to the exercise from Tel Aviv by the IDF.

Luftwaffe, Indian commandos and Patriots

In addition to being Israel’s largest aerial exercise, this drill is also marked by a number of firsts.

The Indian, German and French delegations are all here for the first time, while Poland, Greece, Italy and the United States have all participated in previous exercises.

India sent a C-130J Hercules transport plane and a contingent of special forces soldiers. They will both take part in Blue Flag — one mission will require the “blue team” to drop commandoes behind enemy lines and retrieve them — and they will travel to central Israel in order to conduct training exercises with their IDF counterparts.

Meanwhile, the Germans sent six Eurofighters; the French sent five Mirage 2000AD fighter jets; the Italians sent five Tornado jets of two different variations; and the US, Poland and Greece sent seven, six and five F-16 fighter jets, respectively.

While Israel and Germany have trained together before, this was the first time in nearly 100 years, since World War I, that Luftwaffe fighter planes flew over Israel, then-Ottoman Palestine.

Col. Itamar recognized that the notion of German fighter planes bearing the Iron Cross flying over the Jewish state symbol evoked mixed feelings among Israelis because of the Holocaust and the German military’s role in it.

“Seeing the Luftwaffe airplanes entering our hangars — it’s something I’ll always remember,” Col. Itamar said.

A German Eurofighter jet takes part in the international Blue Flag exercise at the Ovda air base in southern Israel in early November 2017.

“It’s sensitive. It’s emotional. The past can’t be changed,” he added, but noted the close military and diplomatic ties the two countries have enjoyed in recent decades.

Lt. Col. Gero von Fritschen, who led the German delegation, recognized the symbolism of their participation, referring to it as “aerial diplomacy.”

“I’m honored to be here,” von Fritschen said. “We’ve had a warm welcome. Even when we are just sitting in the lobby of our hotel in Eilat in our uniforms, people come up and talk to us.”

The Indian participation is seen as a sign of strengthening ties between New Delhi and Jerusalem. In July, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel, making him the first Indian premier to do so. A month before, India, which is  a central importer of Israeli military equipment, helped sponsor the renowned Israeli Defense Expo in Tel Aviv. And in May, three Indian Navy ships docked in Haifa  for an official visit, marking 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two counties.

According to Col. Itamar, more air forces wanted to participate, but the IAF capped the participation at eight countries.

In order to coordinate the large exercise, the air force brought in a private contractor to handle the logistics, a fairly uncommon measure for the resource-rich Israeli Air Force.

“Sometimes you need a little extra help,” Col. Itamar said.

Israel ascribed strategic importance to the exercise, which brought together countries that don’t often cooperate in real-world missions or share the same enemies.

For Israel this type of cooperation, which is “without a specific target or mission, but is based on friendship,” is increasingly important, as many existing international organizations and alliances that are focused on a specific goal are “falling apart,” Col. Itamar said, referring to groups like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

This year’s Blue Flag exercise was also the first one in which the Patriot air defense system was deployed, though there were no live fires, only simulated launches.

A Patriot missile defense battery sits in the desert in the Ovda air base in southern Israel during the international Blue Flag exercise on November 9, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The battery, which is normally stationed near Dimona, provided the surface-to-air cover for Nowhere Land, and according to its commander, has been “very successful in the armount of interceptions we’ve had.”

“Everything we’ve been allowed to target, we’ve knocked down,” he said, on the second full day of the exercise.

Working to counter the Patriot battery were the Falcon Land’s Italian Tornado fighter jets, which are designed for electronic warfare to take out enemy air defenses.

The lieutenant colonel who led the Italian delegation (his name cannot be published) said it was a challenge to take on the Patriot system and that they would be trying different tactics to defeat it.

“Our perspective is, let’s learn what we can do and then share it [with the other participants],” he said.

Keeping it non-specific

The IAF specifically designed the Blue Flag exercise to be generic, rather than geared toward a specific scenario — hence the fictitious combatants “Falcon Land” and “Nowhere Land,” as opposed to “The Coalition” and “Iran,” for instance.

Officials said the Red Squadron, which can mimic the capabilities of Russian Sukhoi and MiG fighter jets with their F-16s or adopt the tactics of different countries’ air forces, did not simulate a specific country in this exercise, but instead used a variety of techniques in order to challenge Falcon Land.

“They imitated the tactics that will give our ‘blue guys’ the best exercise,” said Col. Itamar.

Incidentally, Likud MK Yoav Kisch, an F-16 fighter pilot in the Red Squadron, participated in some of the exercise, flying bombing runs against Falcon Land, he told The Times of Israel on the flight back to Tel Aviv from Ovda.

The bulk of the 11-day exercise will center around this fight between Nowhere Land and Falcon Land. But for two days, November 9 and 11, the “blue team” will be divided into two and square off against itself.

In order to emphasize the international cooperation, each side will include representatives from every participating country, Col. Itamar said.

Keeping it safe

Approximately 100 sorties will be flown each day of the exercise, some during the day and some at night.

Especially for the visiting air forces, this high intensity flying comes with safety concerns. “Flying at night, in a foreign land, in a foreign language — it’s dangerous,” said Col. Itamar.

Last year, for instance, a fighter jet and a helicopter crashed during the US Air Force’s Red Flag exercise in the Nevada desert, in which the Israeli Air Force participated.

No significant safety violations have yet been reported at the Blue Flag exercise, though there have been some minor issues, like pilots flying slightly outside their designated airspace, Col. Itamar said.

Looking ahead to the Blue Flag exercise scheduled for 2019, the Ovda base commander said that he hopes the F-35 stealth fighter jet will be able to participate, as both the US and Israel possess the state-of-the-art aircraft.

According to Col. Itamar, the fifth generation fighter jet, which is still in the stages of being integrated into the IAF, did not take part this year because it “just wasn’t ready yet.”

Throughout the exercise, which ends on November 16, the air forces will keep track of interceptions and successful missions in order to see which side wins. However, Col. Itamar said that information would not be publicized, as it could compromise how candidly the participating militaries speak during debriefings.

“Our aim is not to win or lose, but to learn,” the Ovda base commander said.

“You can say anything in a debriefing room, and it needs to stay that way. Like the Americans say, ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,’” he said   (the Times of Israel)

Israeli Researchers Find That Brain Takes a Nap When Sleep-Deprived

A new collaborative study conducted by Israeli and American researchers has uncovered how sleep deprivation negatively affects brain activity.

The study — published in the Nature Medicine biomedical research journal — was led by researchers at Israel’s Tel Aviv University (TAU) in cooperation with the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Researchers found that losing sleep causes neural activity in the brain’s temporal lobe to slow down, triggering visual impairment and memory loss. They observed that neurons in the brain rest, essentially taking a nap, after being adversely affected by slow brainwaves.

“When we’re sleep-deprived, a local intrusion of sleep-like waves disrupts normal brain activity while we’re performing tasks,” said Yuval Nir, of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience, who directed the study.

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Throughout the study, researchers logged the brain activity of 12 epilepsy patients who had previously shown little or no response to drug interventions at UCLA.

In order to record neural activity, the patients were hospitalized for a week and had electrodes implanted to identify the area of the brain where seizures originate. The patients were kept awake for a whole night in order to accelerate the investigation.

As the brain became more sleep-deprived, specific areas of the brain “caught some sleep,” said Nir. “Most of the brain was up and running, but temporal lobe neurons happened to be in slumber,” causing various behavioral lapses, he said.  (JNS/the Algemeiner)

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(Ynet News)