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Latest News in Israel – 16th November

Netanyahu says he told Putin Israel not bound by Syria ceasefire

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed Russian President Vladimir Putin that Israel will not adhere to a ceasefire deal that includes the expulsion of foreign fighters from Syria, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office said Tuesday.

The comment came hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the ceasefire agreement did not include a Russian commitment to ensure Iran-linked militias would be pulled out of the country, a key Israeli demand.

In a brief statement, the Israeli official said Netanyahu told Putin “Israel will continue to look out for its security interests in any situation.”

The Israeli Air Force has carried out numerous airstrikes in Syria on weapons convoys bound for the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia, though it rarely acknowledges individual raids.

The PMO did not say when Netanyahu spoke with Putin. The agreement was announced Saturday by the US and Russia in a joint statement calling for “the reduction, and ultimate elimination” of foreign fighters from southern Syria.

In addition to the United States and Russia, Jordan is also a party to the deal.

In his first response to the agreement, Netanyahu said Monday he told both Washington and Moscow that Israel would continue operating in Syria.

“I have clarified to our friends in Washington and our friends in Moscow that we will operate in Syria, including southern Syria, in accordance with our understanding and in accordance with our security needs,” Netanyahu said, describing Israel’s security policy as “the right combination of firmness and responsibility.”

Although reports have said the deal applies to Iranian proxies fighting on behalf of Assad’s regime, which would be required to leave the border area and eventually Syria, Reuters quoted an unnamed Israeli official on Monday saying under the deal, militias associated with Iran would be allowed to maintain positions as close as five to seven kilometers (3.1-4.3 miles) to the border in some areas.

Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have long said Israel will not tolerate an Iranian presence along the Golan nor allow Iran to entrench itself military in Syria.

On Tuesday, Lavrov said Iran maintained a “legitimate” presence in Syria, according to the Interfax news agency.

It was not clear if Lavrov’s comments related to reports that the deal would place restrictions on how close to the Israeli-Syrian border Iran-backed groups would be allowed to remain.

As Israel has raised concerns over the agreement, officials from the US National Security Council arrived in Israel on Tuesday for talks with Israeli security heads.

US officials confirmed the meetings would primarily cover the recent ceasefire deal.

Satellite image of alleged Iranian base in Syria from October 2017 (Airbus, Digital Globe and McKenzie Intelligence Services/BBC)

In addition to the Syria agreement, the officials are likely to discuss Iran’s alleged construction of a military base less than 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Israel’s Golan border.

On Friday, the BBC, citing a Western security official, reported that Iran was setting up a permanent base on a site used by the Syrian army near el-Kiswah, 14 kilometers (8 miles) south of Damascus, and 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Israeli border.  (the Times of Israel)

Netanyahu Tells U.S. Jews He Remains Committed to Egalitarian Prayer Space at Western Wall

In his address to attendees of the Jewish Federations’ General Assembly on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he was fully committed to the establishment of an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, and revealed that Israel had offered humanitarian assistance to Sunday’s Iranian and Iraqi earthquake victims via the Red Cross.

The Q&A session with Board of Trustees Chair Richard Sandler via satellite video marked the closing of the three day convention that included an extremely well attended address by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. The event’s venue was markedly less full for Netanyahu’s session on Tuesday.

Netanyahu’s audience was generally sympathetic, despite the growing tension between parts of the American Jewish community and the Israeli government over the government’s backtracking on its promise to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and over its consideration of a bill that would legalize the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over conversions performed in Israel.

On Monday the federation leadership passed a fairly bold resolution that slammed the Israeli government’s backtracking, and called on it to reverse the freeze, citing the damage it has caused in the relationship between the American Jewry and the State of Israel.

Sandler referred to the resolution in his first question to Netanyahu, but did not confront him on the issue: “We passed a resolution at the GA yesterday requesting that the [Kotel] resolution be implemented,” said Sandler, and asked Netanyahu what should he tell those in the community who feel that as reform or conservative Jews they are not fully welcome in Israel.

“You are fully welcome,” he responded. “Israel is the home for all Jews and it must remain so…The 2016 decision wasn’t to create a prayer space, but to improve the existing space. We are moving forward with construction to ensure just that. I hope you will see the improved space before next year.

“I remain committed to moving forward,” he continued, “I believe that Israel is the home for all Jews and that all Jews should have access to pray at the Kotel.”

Sandler’s following questions were equally as fluffy and non-confrontational, and avoided challenging the prime minister on topics of key importance for many of America’s Jewish community, such as the issue of pluralism in Israel or the non-existing peace process with the Palestinians. Instead they discussed Israel’s achievements and future goals.

The Iranian nuclear deal was also discussed: “Iran should not get a nuclear weapon,” the prime minister declared.  He said hat one positive outsome of the tensions with Iran was that it had bought Israel “closer to its neighbors.”

The Prime Minister also thanked U.S. President Donald Trump for his stance on the Iran nuclear deal, and Ambassador Nikki Haley for her pro-Israel stand in the U.N.

At the end of his talk Netanyahu announced that Israel had approached the International Red Cross and offered to send humanitarian assistance to both Iraq and Iran following the earthquake that took place on Sunday.  At least 530 people were killed on Sunday in an earthquake that struck the Iranian-Iraqi border, and over were 1,700 reported injured.

“Our humanity is greater than their hatred,” he said.

A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu’s remarks were part of his strategy “to communicate directly with the Iranian people” and to make the distinction between the regime in Tehran and the Iranian people. It said that Israel offered humanitarian assistance to Iran, but was immediately rejected.  (Haáretz)

Netanyahu vows Israel will act alone against Iran if given no choice

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised on Tuesday that Iran would not gain a foothold in Syria by which to attack Israel. The premier spoke via video to American Jewish leaders just hours after Russia clarified the it had no intention of pushing Tehran’s military forces out of the country.

“Iran is scheming to entrench itself militarily in Syria. They want to create a permanent air, land and sea military presence, with the declared intent of using Syria as a base from which to destroy Israel. We are not going to agree to that. I have said very clearly that Israel will work to stop this,” Netanyahu told the Jewish Federation of North America’s General Assembly which is meeting in Los Angeles.

“We must all work together to stop Iran’s aggression and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. If we stand together we will achieve it. But if we have to we’ll stand alone. Iran will not get nuclear weapons. It will not turn Syria into a military base against Israel,” the premier asserted.

Further stressing Israel’s dismay over the Iran nuclear deal, Netanyahu said: “We must ensure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon. That is the bottom line and the most important. The Iran nuclear deal does not achieve that. On the contrary, after about a decade, it will leave Iran able to produce hundreds of nuclear weapons in a very short time, because the deal rescinds all the limitations on Iran’s enrichment capacity. They can have hundreds of thousands of centrifuges and they plan to.”

Both Israel and the United States believe that the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, designed to limit Iran’s nuclear capacity, is dangerous because it leaves Tehran with the ability to create nuclear weapons.

Outside of the US, Russia, China, Great Britain, Germany and France signed the document, but none of those five countries have expressed interest in changing the document.

Netanyahu has said that safeguards against Iran can be put in place, without changing the text.

US President Donald Trump has created an opportunity for the the five world powers to address the flaws in the document, the prime minister said.

“You have to correct it [the Iran deal], either by fixing it or nixing it,” Netanyahu continued, adding that he has previously encouraged world leaders to take action to improve the document.

“Iran is dangerous because of its fanatic ideology of global conquest, its growing power, its unflagging commitment to destroy Israel [and] its unvarnished aggression.

“Iran has already spread conflict around the Middle East, in Yemen, in Iraq and Syria and Lebanon. We are far from alone in recognizing the Iranian threat to the Middle East. The leading Arab countries, Saudi Arabia, see things exactly as we do. They are right,” Netanyahu concluded.  (Jerusalem Post)

Lebanese website reveals details of Israeli-Saudi peace deal

A secret correspondence between the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman reveals the draft of a possible peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Lebanese website Al-Akhbar claimed Tuesday.

Al-Akhbar posted what it said was the full text of the document which lists five basic principles supposedly agreed upon between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which would constitute the framework for a regional agreement and the end of the Arab Israeli conflict.

The five principles are:

Jerusalem – “The Annexation of Jerusalem to international sovereignty as per the 1937 and 1947 partition plans – two international agreements which have recommended that the city not be annexed to either the Arab or Jewish entities.”

Palestinian Refugees – “Saudi Arabia affirms its aspiration to settle Palestinian refugees in their countries of residence. The Kingdom can contribute to this effort by supporting innovative solutions such as cancelling the Arab League’s decision from the 1950s by which no Arab nation is to settle Palestinian refugees within their borders, as well as divert efforts to the redistribution and settlement of Palestinian refugees throughout the Arab states.”

American Mediation and Agreed Upon Principles – “The United States and Saudi Arabia will reach agreements regarding the main principles for ending the conflict, after which President Trump would summon the foreign ministers of the region to a summit in order to obtain their agreements, and only after all have agreed to the same basic principals, would the actual negotiations begin.”

Saudi Influence – “Saudi Arabia’s most effective and important role is to recruit others to support this deal, which will usher in a new era of peace and prosperity between Israel and the Arab and Muslim worlds. At first, normalization of relations with Israel will not enjoy wide public support throughout the Arab world, But Saudi Arabia believes that the combination of Israeli technology and the Gulf state’s economic power and energy markets could bring out the Middle East’s full potential and obtain peace, prosperity and stability.

Iran – The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the longest lasting conflict in the region. Over the years, it has served as a justification for the actions of extremists, and has also distracted the major players in the region from focusing on the central threat to its stability – Iran. In accordance to the deal, both Israel and Saudi Arabia must commit themselves to an effective cooperation in order to stop Iran.

The letter opens with a statement that Saudi Arabia is the most powerful and most important entity in the Arab world, and that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be supported by the Kingdom in order to gain legitimacy in the Arab world. It continued to state that dealing with Israel is extremely problematic in the eyes of the Arab world, and that the kingdom would only take such a risk if America was serious in its intentions to act against Iran, and stop them from destabilizing the region.

Furthermore, the letter stated that Israel is the only country in the Middle East possessing nuclear weapons, and that any relations between the two countries must be based on mutuality and a balance of power. To remedy this situation, the Saudis propose that either the Kingdom be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, or alternatively, that Israel dismantle its arsenal.

According to the Lebanese report, the document was signed with the official seal of the Saudi Foreign Minister, however it did not post the original version of the document.

Speculation about a regional deal has been rife since US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May and was strengthened by Arab reports, since denied by Saudi officials, of a secret visit to Israel by the Crown Prince in September, where, according to reports, he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  (WIN)

J Street U: Calling for Israel’s Destruction Isn’t Always Antisemitic

The president of the student group J Street U has argued that it is “unfair” to describe all those who seek to end Israel’s existence as antisemitic.

Zoe Goldblum’s comments were sent last week “on behalf of the leadership of J Street U” to the House Judiciary Committee, as it held a hearing on antisemitism on US college campuses.

A senior at Stanford University, Goldblum heads the National Student Board of J Street U — the campus group of the lobbying group J Street, which describes itself as “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.”

In her letter, Goldblum acknowledged that antisemitism “is a real and serious problem on some of our college campuses and in communities across our country.”

“Yet applying the label of ‘anti-Semite’ to all those who oppose the existence of the State of Israel is unfair and unhelpful overreach that ignores the nuances and sensitivities of a complicated political debate,” she argued.

Goldblum cautioned that such an effort would position “supporters of Israel as enemies of free speech,” thereby empowering “anti-Israel voices on our campuses.”

Her comments were pointed out by Arsen Ostrovsky, executive director of the Israeli Jewish Congress, who wrote on Twitter, “Quite astonishing, yet hardly surprising, that @jstreetdotorg @jstreetu, which considers itself ‘pro-Israel’ & paragon of virtue, does not believe calling for Israel’s destruction is Antisemitic. Shame on you!”

The pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon echoed these criticisms, saying calls for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state and the denial of Jewish rights to national self-determination “invokes age-old antisemitic tropes in a slightly newer package.”

“Most of the modern antisemites claim that the Jewish people are not a people to begin with, in order to justify that they don’t have the same human rights of other peoples,” the blogger noted.

“There is no nuance in saying that Israel should not exist,” Elder of Ziyon continued. “It demands that Jews in Israel be treated the way that Jews in all the Arab nations are treated — meaning that they would be largely expelled from the region.  It is advocating ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Middle East.”

J Street did not respond to a request for comment by press time.  (the Algemeiner)

Is Israel ready for the next big earthquake?

Sunday night’s tremors not only gave Israelis a bit of a shake-up, it also served as a wake-up call to both the public and private sectors to get their acts together to ensure people’s safety and reinforce structures and infrastructures.

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the border of eastern Iraq and the northwest border of Iran on Sunday night and killed some 400 people in both countries, according to the US Geological Survey.

Aftershocks were reported throughout the Middle East and could be felt in parts of Israel, even though it is some 1,300 kilometers away from the point of impact.

On Monday morning, as the death toll continued to rise, the State of Israel sent condolences to both countries on their losses.

Israel is also not immune to earthquakes, and since it’s located along the Syrian-African fault line (a line that runs along the border between Jordan and Israel), a major earthquake is statistically due in the region, with a serious one arriving every 80-100 years.

The last major earthquake to hit Israel was in 1927, which claimed some 500 lives and registered 6.2 on the Richter scale.

In light of Sunday night’s shake-up, Tamir Levy, chief engineer for the Association for Better Housing, warns that most homes would not withstand a powerful earthquake.

“A large number of the residential homes in Israel will be damaged by a large earthquake regardless of when they were built,” Levy said in a statement released on Monday, adding: “It is not possible to prevent earthquakes, but it is possible to prepare for them and thus reduce the damage they cause. Since earthquakes cannot be predicted, we should be prepared at all times. Preparedness means, first and foremost, to ensure that the buildings in which we live and work meet the stringent building standards required to protect against earthquakes.”

The association stated that it works in cooperation with the Home Front Command, providing civilians and families with workshops and emergency planning techniques to further prepare citizens for a possible natural disaster.

Every summer, security forces and emergency services conduct a four-day drill to improve cooperation among these groups in the event of a major earthquake.

Following the 2012 drill, then-OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Eyal Eizenberg said that “an earthquake in Israel is more dangerous than war,” as it would result in “damage to life and property on a much more significant scale.”

The government has begun funding earthquake preparedness projects, and the Home Front Command in recent years released a software application for earthquake preparedness, but according to a report by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s Home Front Readiness Subcommittee, if Israel were to be struck by a 7.5 magnitude quake, an estimated 7,000 people would be killed, another 8,600 injured and 377,000 left homeless. In addition, the country could face damage to the tune of up to NIS 200 billion.

In addition to buildings being destroyed, the damage to critical infrastructures such as electricity, water and communication is expected to be great.

According to the National Emergency Authority, there are 80,000 buildings, including schools and hospitals, over three stories high that were built before 1980, meaning they were not constructed to meet current standards. And only 2,700 of those buildings have received approval for the government’s Tama 38 reconstruction program.

The goal of Tama 38 is to reinforce buildings built after 1980, particularly those built along the Great Rift Valley, a location highly vulnerable to earthquakes. However, in a statement released by TamaFix, most of the work done for this project has been in major cities, thus leaving thousands of families in places like Arad, Tiberias and communities close to the Jordan River unprotected in the event of a natural disaster.

“The big one can happen anytime, and it is not good that the local governments are not doing enough to encourage people to reinforce their structures,” Eliran Simani, CEO of TamaFix Israel, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

As of August, only 13 buildings located in the periphery have been reinforced and brought up to code in the event of an earthquake, as opposed to the 4,385 in major cities like Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem since Tama 38 was established in 2005.

According TamaFix co-CEO Lior Gozes, “The amount required to prevent the collapse of an apartment in the periphery is NIS 84,000.”

He added that “this sum is based on calculating the cost of constructing a housing unit that holds 12 families at a rate of NIS 1 million, which includes construction costs, taxes, architect and engineer costs, and more.” (Jerusalem Post)

An unforgettably Jewish politician

By Gil Hoffman                        The Jerusalem Post


At the height of traditional Jewish weddings, the groom recites an unforgettable verse from Psalm 137: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning.”

Labor leader Avi Gabbay recently has been acting like an overly eager groom desperately seeking the bridal dowry of Center-Right voters – he has been wooing them with his right hand, while trying to forget that he still has a hand on the left.

Gabbay has said lately that there would be no need to evacuate settlements in a peace deal; that he would not sit in a coalition with the Joint (Arab) list; that he was not sure if there was a partner on the Palestinian side; and that “the whole Land of Israel is ours, because it was promised to our patriarch Abraham by God.”

When Gabbay recalled to students in Beersheba on Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had whispered that “the Left forgot what it means to be Jewish” in the ear of the late Sephardi kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Kadourie 20 years ago, he was not just being nostalgic. Gabbay was staying on message, following his political strategy of shifting the Zionist Union rightward.

“Do you know what the Left did in response to [what Netanyahu said]?” Gabbay lamented to a questioner at the event.

“It forgot what it means to be Jewish. They said: ‘They say it about us but now we are just liberals; It is not true. We are Jews, and we must speak about our Jewish values.”

It was not the first time Gabbay has cited Netanyahu’s infamous statement to Kadourie. He has used it whenever he has briefed journalists about his political strategy.But the statements of Netanyahu and Gabbay were different in three ways.

Avi Gabbay

First of all, Netanyahu whispered to an elderly rabbi, hoping no one else would hear. Gabbay spoke loud and clear, hoping someone would notice – on a Monday when Netanyahu gave a speech at the Knesset that Gabbay overshadowed, overcoming his disadvantage of not having the platform of an MK.The second difference was the context.

Netanyahu’s second sentence to Kadourie was “they want to abandon our security to the hands of the Arabs.”Netanyahu’s definition of “what it means to be Jewish” was to maintain land in Judea and Samaria. Gabbay was referring to having pride in Jewish values.

The third difference is that, 20 years ago, Israel was relatively divided between the Right and Left. Netanyahu defeated incumbent Shimon Peres in the 1996 election by just 29,457 votes.

Since then, the percentage of Israelis who define themselves as left-wing has fallen dramatically, persuading the last three Labor leaders to define themselves as anything but Left.

Netanyahu received advice ahead of that election from his strategist, the late Arthur Finkelstein, who found that when asked to choose between being Jewish and Israeli, a majority of centrist, undecided voters picked Jewish. The result of Finkelstein’s research was the “Bibi is good for the Jews” slogan in the crucial final days of the victorious campaign.

Ahead of the next election, there will be plenty of available votes in the Center of the political map. Some will be self-defined traditional Jews who voted Likud in the last election. Others will be those who voted for Shas, which may not cross the electoral threshold.

Gabbay has been speaking their language in a way his primary rival for centrist votes, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, cannot because of Lapid’s secularist image. Lapid unfairly inherited the image from his father, the late Shinui leader Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, and he cannot shake it.

Anything Jewish Lapid does looks less than genuine. Gabbay might not keep kosher any more than Lapid, but because of his right-wing, religious upbringing and family, it looks believable.

In the last few elections, voters to the left of Likud have joined together backing whichever candidate they believed had the best chance to beat Netanyahu. If Gabbay can persuade them he has a better chance than Lapid, it could mean an additional 10 mandates.

But, ironically, to win those voters, Gabbay must turn to the right, not the left. In fact, he must temporarily forget that his left hand is there.

If he wins the bride – and the election – he could find that hand again after the wedding

‘Peace and love’ as Miss Israel and Miss Iraq pose together on Instagram

‘This is Miss Iraq and she’s amazing,’ gushes Israel’s Adar Gandelsman as the two Miss Universe representatives of enemy states try to bridge the gap

In an unusual display of coexistence emanating from a divided Middle East, the Miss Universe international beauty pageant, the contestants from Israel and Iraq, which are officially enemies, posed together for selfies they posted to Instagram and Facebook.

“Get to know, this is Miss Iraq and she’s amazing,” enthused Miss Israel Adar Gandelsman in her Instagram post. “Practicing bringing world peace,” she wrote on Facebook, in time-honored beauty queen style. (the Times of Israel)

Miss Israel & Iraq

Back to Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations? – Some Basic Truths – Alan Baker (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Any genuine and serious peace negotiating plan for Israel and the Palestinians should naturally be seen as a welcome alternative to the present situation of impasse in the peace process. However, the American peace plan should not be overestimated or idealized by exaggerated media hype and political manipulation.

To succeed, there is the necessity to correct many of the existing factors that are presently feeding an atmosphere of hatred, distrust, and suspicion among the political leaderships and general publics of the two sides.

First and foremost, the ongoing Palestinian diplomatic offensive against Israel is incompatible with any claim by the Palestinian leadership that it desires peace with Israel or that it intends to return to any negotiating mode.

Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership repeatedly deny both the historic rights of the Jewish people as well as the very right of Israel to exist. They cannot claim that they are willing to negotiate and live in peace with Israel, while at the same time openly denying the very right of Israel, the other party to any bona fide negotiation, to exist.

They cannot pretend to be open to reestablishing a neighborly relationship with Israel while, at the same time, deliberately discouraging any existing efforts at normalization of relations with Israelis. Their “denormalization” policy is anathema to any idea of developing good neighborliness between the two peoples for their mutual benefit.

The Palestinian-generated international BDS campaign aimed at harming and undermining Israel economically and culturally through boycotts and social propaganda is a further example of the very antithesis of any genuine intention to seek a peaceful mode of co-existence.

If Abbas and the Palestinian leadership genuinely intend to return to a negotiating mode with Israel, they cannot continuously and systematically alienate the Israeli public through incitement to terror and violence, false accusations, and hostile propaganda in violation of their Oslo Accord commitments.

The writer, a former legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians.