Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
IDF soldiers shoot terrorist attempting to ram them
IDF forces on Monday shot and wounded an Arab suspected of attempting to hit them with his car.
IDF troops manning the Einav Crossing at the entrance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) city of Tul Karem shot the suspect, a man with Israeli citizenship, after he apparently tried to ram into them.
Wounded in the chest, he was evacuated by the Palestinian Red Crescent and later transferred to an Israeli hospital.
The IDF stated that the incident was under investigation.
In related news, Israeli forces carried out counterterrorism operations throughout Judea and Samaria, arresting eight operatives suspected of involvement in terrorist activities and violent disturbances against civilians and security forces. The suspects were taken for questioning.
Since October 2015, there have been 75 vehicular (ramming) attacks against IDF forces and Israeli civilians, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports.
The IDF website lists car ramming in Judea and Samaria as a “lethal threat” the country must guard against.
The terror tactic has spread around the globe, including in the U.K. and the U.S. In October 31, 2017, Sayfullo Saipov murdered eight people on a New York City bike path and injured many more by driving a truck into them. He shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he stepped out of the vehicle. (WIN) Judah Ari Gross
Palestinians claim to shoot down Israeli drone over Gaza Strip
Palestinian terrorists claim to have shot down an Israeli drone over the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday.
The Israel Defense Forces confirms a drone went down but says it’s not clear if the drone was shot down or suffered a technical failure. The IDF is investigating.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Office also said that there was no danger of the loss of sensitive information.
Israel is a world-leader in drone development and was one of the first to use drones in combat.
Only last Monday, the IDF shot down a drone that crossed into Israel from the Gaza Strip. That drone was recovered and transferred to investigators.
Hamas in Gaza has attempted to launch drones into Israel before. In 2018, the Israeli news site Ynet reported that drones had dropped explosive devices onto Israeli homes in the south, a fact that it said has been hidden by the Israeli Army.
The report raised the fear that this might become a new method of attack in the next round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. But a drone war has not yet come to pass.
“Resistance movements in Gaza have managed to develop some 10 types of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] in the past five years,” Wasef Erekat, a Palestinian military expert, told Anadolu Agency.
Erekat said that the Palestinians have two types of drones, one for collecting information and photos and the other that has an explosive charge to carry out attacks. (WIN) Staff
Two more F-35 fighter jets land in Israel, bringing IAF’s declared total to 16
Two F-35 fighter jets landed in Israel Sunday, the army said, bringing the number of fifth-generation stealth aircraft that the military says it has in its arsenal up to 16.
The Israel Defense Forces’ first two F-35 jets arrived in December 2016. Approximately a year later, the stealth fighter — known in Israel as the Adir — was declared operational, and several months after that, the head of the air force revealed that the aircraft had conducted bombing raids, making Israel the first country to acknowledge using the planes operationally.
“The capabilities of the Adir Squadron add another tier to the operational and strategic capabilities of the air force, which ensures the air force’s superiority in all its missions, namely the protection and safety of the State of Israel’s skies,” the IDF said in a statement.
The two F-35 fighter jets traveled from the United States to the Israeli Air Force’s Nevatim base in southern Israel, which is home to two F-35 squadrons.
Two new F-35 fighter jets land at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel from the United States
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tehran that Israel’s F-35 fighter jets can reach “anywhere in the Middle East,” following threats against Israel in recent weeks by senior Iranian officials.
“Lately, Iran has been threatening Israel with destruction,” Netanyahu said. “It should remember that these planes can reach every place in the Middle East, including Iran, and of course also Syria.”
The F-35 stealth jet is not believed to have an effective range to reach Iran unassisted, but it could conduct operations there with in-air refueling, a capability possessed by Israel’s air force.
Israel has agreed to purchase at least 50 F-35 fighter jets from the US defense contractor Lockheed Martin. They will be delivered in batches of twos and threes until 2024. Israel is the second country after the United States to receive the F-35 from Lockheed Martin and one of the few to be allowed to modify the state-of-the-art aircraft.
“The ongoing procurement of the Adir is another expression of the long-term military cooperation between Israel and the US, which continues to produce exceptional results in the process of strengthening and streamlining [the F-35],” the army said in its statement.
The Israeli Air Force is currently wavering between purchasing more F-35s or an upgraded version of the F-15 fighter jet.
The fifth-generation F-35 has been lauded as a “game-changer” by the military, not only for its offensive and stealth capabilities, but for its ability to connect its systems with other aircraft and form an information-sharing network.
Detractors, however, balk at the development and production delays that have plagued the aircraft, as well as its high price tag: approximately $100 million apiece. (Lockheed Martin says the cost is expected to go down as more countries purchase the F-35.)
Last month, F-35 fighter jets from Israel, the United States and United Kingdom conducted training flights over the Mediterranean Sea in the Israeli aircraft’s first-ever international exercise, the military said at the time.
The joint drill was dubbed “Tri-Lightning,” a reference to the aircraft’s official designation, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
The Israeli Air Force said it planned to hold additional international exercises with the stealth fighter jets in the future in order to “advance its capabilities.”
F-35 fighter jets from Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom take part in an aerial exercise over the Mediterranean Sea on June 25, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
Also last month, the air force held a large multi-day exercise simulating combat action on multiple fronts, the army said, with F-35s taking part for the first time.
That drill included night and day missions by fighter jets, helicopters, cargo planes, drones, air defense units and ground support forces. It simulated simultaneous fighting in the Gaza Strip, Syria and Lebanon, and included scenarios involving an enemy armed with advanced technology, such as the Russian S-300 and S-400 missile defense systems; a home front under massive missile attacks; and challenges such as damaged runways and disabled IAF communications centers. (the Times of Israel) Judah Ari Gross
Teen wounded by Gaza rocket as baby enlists to IDF’s Elite Naval Commando
In 2002, before the Iron Dome became a part of the Israeli reality, the city of Sderot was under near constant rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. That year, S., then a 16-month-old baby, suffered serious wounds from more than 147 shrapnel pieces. Years later, and after a long recovery, S. is on his way to joining the IDF’s Naval Commando unit.
“I just decided that I can do it,” S. says. I hope to set an example Sderot teens, so that they will know that we can grow up to make our dreams come true, no matter what we endure.”
- is now 18 and bares some 60 scares from the day of his injury. He hardly remembers that day, in which one of two rockets launched from Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip hit his home’s back yard, where he was playing. However, he says that his soul remembers everything.
“Every now and again, when I’m asleep or when I close my eyes, I hear noises and ambulance sirens, sounds things breaking. It’s like in a film, like a distant memory. That’s all I remember, the rest is from stories,” S. says.
“I heard a blast and I went outside looking for S.,” his mother recalls. “I saw him standing in the back yard covered in blood, then picked him up and ren outside, and paramedics took us to the hospital.”
Miraculously, the shrapnel pieces didn’t penetrate deep into S.’s body. Doctors treated him for hours and removed piece by piece, some as big as five centimeters. After a few days at the hospital, he was released, covered in bandages.
- went through all the difficult exams the Naval Commando requires, and was excited to hear he had gotten in. “I just decided that after all that I’ve been through, I can make it thought these exams,” he says.
“It was just a matter of decision, it took a lot of will power. It wasn’t easy, but I withstood the challenge,” S. says. “It’s a miracle that I’m alive and that I was able to get into the elite unit I’ve always dreamed of getting into.”
The story of S. is widely known in Sderot, and he’s become a symbol in the border town. He is often invited to schools to tell his story.
Alon Davidi, Sderot’s mayor, recently met with S. to wish him good luck. “I know S. since he was a boy, I’ve been following his story from when he was an elementary school kid, through the Yeshiva high school and now as he was able to get into the Naval Commando against all odds, in light of his injuries,” Davidi says.
“His story is an example of how one can make the best even out of the most difficult circumstances.” (Ynet News) Matan Tzuri
Archeological “megasite” found near Jerusalem
A huge ancient settlement, one of the largest of its kind in the region, has been discovered during archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority near Motza Junction.
The project which uncovered the site was initiated and financed by the Netivei Israel Company (the National Transport Infrastructure company). The excavations are being conducted as part of the Highway 16 Project which includes building a new entrance road to Jerusalem from the west, connecting the National Highway 1 from the Motza area to the southern part of Jerusalem (“Bayit VeGan” area), including two double tunnels.
Amongst others, thousands of arrowheads, pieces of jewelry and figurines produced by the people of the site have been unearthed during the excavations.
The Motza excavation site is situated 5 kilometers west of Jerusalem, on the banks of the Sorek Stream, near water fountains and close to a fertile valley and to the ancient way that led from the Shefela (foothills) region to Jerusalem.
According to Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Dr. Jacob Vardi, excavation directors at Motza on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, “this is the first time that such a large-scale settlement is discovered in Israel. At least 2,000 – 3,000 residents lived here – an order of magnitude that parallels a present-day city!”
The excavations exposed large buildings, including rooms that were used for living, as well as public facilities and places of ritual. Between the buildings, alleys were exposed, bearing evidence of the settlement’s advanced level of planning. In the buildings, plaster was sometimes used for creating floors and for sealing various facilities.
According to the researchers, “In a place where people live, there are dead people as well: Burial places have been exposed in and amongst the houses, into which various burial offerings have been placed – either useful or precious objects, believed to serve the deceased in the next world.
These gifts testify to the fact that already during this ancient period, the residents of this site conducted exchange relationships with faraway places. Amongst others, unique stone-made objects were found in the tombs, made of an unknown type of stone, as well as items made of obsidian (volcanic glass) from Anatolia, and sea-shells, some of which were brought from the Mediterranean Sea and some from the Red Sea. During the excavations, artistic hand-made stone bracelets in several styles were found.
“Due to the size of the bracelets, we estimate that they were mainly worn by children”, the researchers say. “We also found carefully crafted alabaster beads, as well as medallions and bracelets made of mother of pearl”.
In all excavation areas, many flint tools manufactured on the site were unearthed, including thousands of arrowheads that were used for hunting, and possibly for fighting as well, axes used for tree-felling, and sickle blades and knives.
In the settlement, built storage sheds were exposed, which contained a huge quantity of legumes, especially lentils. The fact that the seeds were preserved is astonishing in the light of the site’s age. This finding is evidence of an intensive practice of agriculture. Moreover, one can conclude form it that the Neolithic Revolution reached its summit at that point: animal bones found on the site show that the settlement’s residents became increasingly specialized in sheep-keeping, while the use of hunting for survival gradually decreased.
According to researchers, “the exposure of the enormous site in Motza awakens extensive interest in the scientific world, changing what has been known about the Neolithic period in that area.
So far, it was believed that the Judea area was empty, and that sites of that size existed only on the other bank of the Jordan River, or at the Northern Levant. Instead of an uninhabited area from that period, we have found a complex site, where varied economic means of subsistence existed, and all this only several dozens of centimeters below the surface. All findings were recorded using an innovative three-dimensional technology, so that we can continue to research the site at the end of the excavation as well.”
According to engineer Gilad Naor, Head of Projects Department at the Netivei Israel Company, “It is a huge privilege for us, as the Israel National Transport Infrastructure Company – Netivei Israel – that tomorrow’s transportation infrastructure projects facilitate such special discoveries in the splendid history of our country”.
According to Amit Re’em, Jerusalem District Archeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, along with the excitement and importance of the finds, the IAA is aware of the vital need to create an additional access road to Jerusalem.
In preparation for the release of the excavated area, the entire site was documented using advanced 3D technology that will enable research of every detail digitally. It is important to know that significant percentages of the prehistoric site around the excavation are preserved. In addition, the IAA plans to tell the story of the site at the site by means of a display and illustration. At Tel Moza, adjacent to this excavation, archaeological remains are being preserved for the public at large, and conservation and accessibility activities are being carried out in Tel Bet Shemesh and Tel Yarmut. (Arutz Sheva) Staff
Israel Philharmonic bids emotional farewell to Maestro Zubin Mehta
Music lovers came out Saturday night to bid an emotional farewell to Maestro Zubin Mehta on the completion of his impressive 50-year tenure as musical director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
The grassy expanse of the Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv was filled with an enormous crowd of young and old, who rose almost simultaneously as the now frail, but still charismatic maestro took the stage, opening with the orchestra’s moving rendition of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah.”
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai noted that the Indian-born Mehta had written part of the history of the State of Israel, calling the conductor the “crown jewel of Israel’s cultural life.”
The 83-year-old Mehta, who has had principal posts at the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera New York, the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, La Scala, Chicago Opera, Bavarian State Opera, and at the Salzburg Festival, has shaped and influenced the development of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra as its director for life.
“When I started my work in Israel, all the members of the orchestra were twice my age, and now everyone is three times younger,” he said jokingly, recalling his debut with the IPO in 1961.
Mehta successively became the IPO’s musical advisory in 1969, musical conductor in 1977 and director for life in 1981.
His skills were still on display at Saturday night’s performance. Over the course of his long career, Mehta has continuously been praised by critics for his precise and subtle hand gestures, which exert the utmost control over any orchestra he conducts.
This has not changed with age: The two big screens on both sides of the stage let the public view the gentle and vigorous sides of the maestro’s body language, which immediately translated into magical musical moments.
There was a thumbs up and smile on Mehta’s face as a spontaneous compliment to one of his many capable players produced cheers from the audience — evidence of the rapport between Mehta and his colleagues.
Befitting Mehta’s expertise in the operatic world, for his farewell he invited a stellar cast of internationally acclaimed singers, who are also currently on tour with the maestro with performances of “Verdi’s Requiem” at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, and the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv.
On Saturday night, American soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams, Russian mezzo-soprano Olesya Petrova, American tenor Gregory Kunde and Moldovan bass Oleg Tsybulko gave a glimpse into the vocally challenging world of arias by Puccini, Gounod, Verdi, Gershwin and Rossini.
The celebration finished with an impressive display of fireworks over the skies of Tel Aviv. (the Times of Israel) Hannah Harnest
TIME’s Interview With Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to TIME’s Brian Bennett, right, and Joseph Hincks in Jerusalem on June 25.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down with TIME correspondents Brian Bennett and Joseph Hincks at his residence in Jerusalem on June 25. The following excerpts from the conversation have been condensed and edited for clarity.
TIME: You are on track to surpass Ben-Gurion as the — as Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister. How does Netanyahu’s Israel look different from Ben-Gurion’s Israel?
NETANYAHU: Well, it has some of the same elements and foundations. First of all, Ben-Gurion established the renewed sovereignty of the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland. That’s an historic achievement. He also laid the foundations for the Israeli Army to guarantee that that reality persists. The way I’ve tried to contribute to the country — and I think it’s changed dramatically — is in the development of Israel as a global technological power. The rise of Israel among the community of nations is the rise of Israeli innovation and technology, both in the civilian field and the military and intelligence field. Israel has now become an important power in the world in these two leading respects.
TIME: What are the factors that contributed to that shift for Israel?
NETANYAHU: The most important one, and one that I’ve fought for and worked hard for, is to open up Israel’s economy, open it up to competition, open it up to the free movement of ideas and goods and people, open it up to success, and open it up to failure. Turning Israel into a free market economy I think was the second critical factor that made Israel the power, the rising power that it is among the countries. The first was the high intensity use of our most gifted men and women in our military for intelligence purposes.
TIME: What can be done to help the millions of people who live in the Occupied Territories who haven’t benefited economically or personally from that rise?
NETANYAHU: Well, I’d separate Gaza from the West Bank, from Judea Samaria, because there the Palestinian economy is on a much better footing, probably double the per capita income that they have in Gaza. Gaza is basically controlled by Hamas, which is a militant Islamic organization that really doesn’t allow any kind of real development to take place because they take all the money that comes in from international support — and there’s quite a bit of it — and they put it into turning tunnels into a terror machine. Because militarily, we’re in charge of the West Bank, we control the territory militarily. There’s no siphoning off of money for that purpose. And in fact, it’s doing better. I like to see more and more and more investments go to — in the private sector — go to the Palestinian areas for joint Israeli Palestinian efforts. Some of that is taking place any way. And I think what Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt has embarked in Bahrain could be tremendously beneficial to the Palestinians.
TIME: But the Palestinian officials wouldn’t even show up in Bahrain for that.
NETANYAHU: Let the markets do their thing. Because if we can get this ball rolling then I think it would enhance Palestinian lives, and I think it will also enhance peace. It’s not a substitute — economic development is not a substitute for political negotiations. It’s not a substitute for political solutions but it sure makes it a lot easier, and I — this automatic boycott by the Palestinians of a conference that is meant to give them a better life, and then to lay the foundations for political negotiations for peace, which is what the Trump plan is going to propose, I think that this automatic boycott is boycotting their own future. That’s what the Palestinians are doing.
TIME: Is the Trump plan going to propose annexation of settlements in the West Bank?
NETANYAHU: Well, I think we have to leave it to the plan as it comes out, and I’ll be able to respond to that when it’s —
TIME: Is there something you’re looking for in that plan?
NETANYAHU: I think everybody recognizes that under any peace proposal, any realistic peace proposal, there are areas in Judea and Samaria that have already become basically part of Israel already. And I separate that as a fact rather than as an ideological-political position. It’s a fact. Half of Jerusalem is beyond the proverbial green line. The ’67 separation. Does anyone believe that we’ll tear up half of Jerusalem? Nobody believes that.
TIME: Many say the series of taking more and more of the steps off the table has driven the Palestinians away from the peace process.
NETANYAHU: Oh, I don’t — they were offered everything, just about everything in Camp David in 2000, with President Clinton and the then Prime Minister Barak, and they walked away from that. They walk away each time. They walked away with Olmert. They walked away with Obama when President Obama and John Kerry wanted to propose a framework for negotiations. I said, you know — I was reelected. I had my reservations, but I said, yeah, I’ll go there. For peace, I’ll be there and we’ll negotiate. They wouldn’t go there. So they walk away. They serially walk away from any negotiations that will present a workable peace. And a workable peace means — it ultimately means compromise. They don’t have to announce in advance what their compromise will be. I don’t expect that from them, and they shouldn’t expect it from us. But we should be able to get into a room and begin to discuss it. They refused to enter the room.
TIME: Retired Israeli generals have suggested that any sort of annexation of West Bank settlements would result in the collapse of security cooperation imposing incredible economic and security costs on Israel. Do you disagree that that’s the case?
NETANYAHU: Well, listen, I heard the same thing about the Golan, that if the United States recognized our effective sovereignty over the Golan Heights, it would collapse any possibility of a process with Syria, and so on. It wasn’t true then, it’s not true here because the Palestinians themselves know that the areas — which are by the way a very small part, the populated areas are a very small part of the West Bank of Judea and Samaria. That that’s going to stay part of Israel. They know it. So let’s stop the pretense. How about let’s just talk straight, you know? If you want, if you are a maximalist and you demand, basically what you’re really seeking is the dismantling of Israel, the dissolution of the Jewish state. Going back to the orchards of Jaffa or Akko, these are places — Israeli towns on the seacoast — and you really want to reverse the last 70 years of history, then you’d take these positions, the maximalist positions that the Palestinians take. And nobody challenges it! In fact, they’ve been pampered too long. The reason we can’t get peace is because nobody goes to the heart of the problem, which is the persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state in any borders. And when I ask them, okay, will you sit down with us to negotiate such a compromise? And then they don’t. And that has to be addressed and challenged. And I’m glad somebody is doing it, or appears to be doing it.
TIME: Former Prime Minister Olmert still insists that Abbas is the man to make peace. Is that not the case?
NETANYAHU: Let’s see. You know? Let’s see. I don’t choose the leaders for the Palestinians. It’s not that they have exactly the same democratic functions that we have, but I don’t intervene in the choice, in the process by which the Palestinian leadership comes to the fore. But let them come, let them negotiate. Why boycott? Why say no? No to Bahrain, an economic conference that is intended to bring billions of dollars of investment. Can you imagine this? Billions of dollars to the Palestinians, and no to the Trump plan before you’ve even heard it? That’s supposed to bring a political solution? How can you do that?
TIME: First-year members of Congress, first-year Democrats, have been critical of Israel quite vocally recently. Representative Ilhan Omar said that Israel was an apartheid regime. What is your response to this?
NETANYAHU: I think it’s — I think it’s nonsense. But it’s shameful nonsense because the one true democracy in the Middle East is Israel, the one country that ensures the full civic equality of its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Anybody can be in Israel. Everyone is equal under the law. Everyone has the right to be elected, and in fact, are elected to the Knesset, to the government. So a) the legal structure is the exact opposite of what she’s describing, and it’s only so in Israel. When you look around the Middle East, you see Christians being slaughtered, synagogues and churches being destroyed. Muslims of one sect destroying Muslims of other sects, and so on. The militant Islam and its firebrands are tearing the place apart. And this is what this representative has to say? Why is she not speaking out against the torture and hanging of gays in so many parts of the Middle East. In Iran. Why is she not speaking about the executions, the wholesale executions that go on in the marketplace inside Gaza against innocent Palestinians? Why is she not speaking about the way women are treated as chattel, not only enslaved but also murdered. I don’t hear any of that in so many of the countries around us. She has to talk about Israel, the one place where we have, you know, where we have a woman Supreme Court Justice, and where we have women fighter pilots, and where we have women who are taking part in every realm, aspect of life? I mean it’s just absurd.
TIME: When you look at the economic data, Israeli Arabs have not benefited as much as other citizens of Israel from the economic boom. What do you have to say about that? What could be done?
NETANYAHU: Well, I’ve been working very hard to change that. If you actually go beyond the — all these stereotypes — and you look at what we’re doing, what my government has done is to take $15 billion shekels — that’s a lot of money in Israel — and put it into a multi-year plan that has already had a measurable effect for improving the lives, and especially the infrastructure in the Arab sector. That’s a massive amount of money for roads, for schools, for clinics, for transportation. Transportation is important inside the communities because if a woman, an Arab woman in Israel, an Arab citizen of Israel, a woman wants to go to work, it’s very hard for her to get to work if she wants to go to — have herself educated. She has to get there. And if she doesn’t have her own private transportation –. You have to take care of public transportation. I did! Well, look, can you imagine there wasn’t any in Israel for so many years? We’ve done the same in so many other fields, and I’m glad because I want to see all of the citizens of Israel — Arabs and Jews alike — to have the same opportunity to benefit in this amazing success story that’s called the state of Israel….. So this is something I’m genuinely committed to. It’s not something that I just say. We actually passed these budgets, and we don’t just create budgets out of thin air. It always comes at the expense of something else. I thought this was important. So important that I was willing to prioritize it and put it in as part of our budgets, and I’m very glad to see and to hear the Arab citizens of Israel say, “This is good! We want to be part of Israel. We want to be part of Israeli society.” Are there gaps? Sure. Are we closing those gaps? You bet.
TIME: Do you worry that down the road in the U.S. there’s going to be less support for Israel in a future administration? And are you under pressure to give now in the peace process, or give some concessions now because future administrations may be less friendly to Israel?
NETANYAHU: Uh, look, I think there’s a continual effort on the part of Israel, certainly under my government, to reach out to — first of all to the American people because ultimately in our democracies, our twin democracies, and we are exactly that, we’re twin democracies, ultimately the power rests with the public. And it rests with public opinion. And Israel has to continually make its case before American public opinion. It’s generally been successful because the support for Israel has risen dramatically, and … consistently, over the last 40 years. And it encompasses the vast majority of the American people. But we also have opposition. We also have a lot of vilification, a lot of stereotyping of Israel.
TIME: You’ve been a polarizing figure among American Jews. Do you feel like you’ve played a role in increasing the divide between U.S. and Israeli Jews?
NETANYAHU: I don’t think I’ve been a polarizing figure at all. What, more than any other prime minister that I know to incorporate the diaspora Jews, the Jews of the United States, and other countries, to make them feel at home in Israel. To make arrangements and such things as conversion, marriage. And then prayer sites. It always involves, because of our system, compromises. These are never perfect solutions. But I’ve actually incorporated into law our communal responsibility with our fellow Jews abroad. So I’m often described in some circles in the way that you describe, but it’s not true. It doesn’t reflect on — it doesn’t reflect my basic tendency. I want every Jew to feel at home in Israel.
TIME: Has the Trump Administration’s policy on Iran made Israel more unsafe?
NETANYAHU: The answer categorically is no. What has made Israel — what has challenged Israel’s security is Iran’s goal, one, to have nuclear weapons, which they intend to use to annihilate Israel. And second, their attempts to bring their Army or pieces of their Army into Syria, right in Israel’s backyard with the express purpose of destroying Israel, with those forces.
We have acted militarily against the Iranian attempt in Syria, and will continue to do so, because how would you act if you knew that somebody’s coming, right next to your neighborhood, and pledges to bring missiles and other lethal weapons to kill you and destroy you? Obviously, you’d try to stop them, which is what we’re doing in Syria. And equally, we appreciate the fact that President Trump has put crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy because what we see is those sanctions are actually drying up some of the funds that go to this war front in Syria. We see that very, very clearly. So I think on the contrary, that’s made us absolutely safer.
TIME: If Iran starts stockpiling nuclear material beyond the JCPOA and other agreements, what kind of action are you willing to take?
NETANYAHU: We’ll take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
TIME: Does that include an open strike on Iranian nuclear facilities?
NETANYAHU: Whatever action is necessary will be taken.
TIME: Are those facilities too far underground to be impacted by strikes?
NETANYAHU: Let’s consider what an intelligent journalist like you would consider an intelligent response to that. If I say yes or if I say no. I think neither one is satisfactory, so I’m just going to say we’ll take whatever action is needed.
TIME: The elections are coming up in September. One political analyst said some Israeli voters see the choice between the “indispensable Netanyahu” and “Bibi-fatigue.”
NETANYAHU: Journalists — yeah, they have Netanyahu fatigue from Day One. They didn’t have to go through these 13 years of my service in the office. They have it after 13 days. After 13 minutes. But there’s a very large majority, a very large part of the Israeli public that appreciates what we’ve been doing for the country. For its economy, for its security, for its diplomatic standing, for the state.
TIME: Have the corruption investigations weakened you politically?
NETANYAHU: I don’t think so. I think it actually works the other way around because people just don’t buy it. They think it’s concoction and I know it’s a concoction because there’s nothing there. So ultimately nothing will remain. But people by and large — my supporters — have been, if anything, energized by it.
TIME: You’ve said you don’t intend to pass legislation to protect you from criminal prosecution. Does that mean that you intend to contest the criminal trial as prime minister. And how might that detract from your running of the country?
NETANYAHU: Well, number one, I won’t pass, and didn’t intend to pass, any special immunity laws. That’s just not true. I mean it’s repeated ad nauseam. But it’s actually false.
We never intended, and don’t need it, and didn’t ask for it. We have perfectly good — there’s a perfectly good immunity law in Israel. Whether I’ll need it or not, first let’s see what happens in the hearing. I think the hearing should come to nothing. If it doesn’t, then an Israeli prime minister can serve or can ask for immunity for his period of service. And I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do.
TIME: Last question Mr. Prime Minister. What has been the key to your political survival?
NETANYAHU: That I don’t look at survival. I don’t look at my survival. I look at the survival of the country — its durability, its future. And I have done things including dozens and dozens of economic reforms and a leveraging of the special capabilities that we’ve developed here through market reforms and innovation and technology and cybersecurity; and water and agriculture and transportation; and life sciences. We’ve taken these extraordinary abilities that Israel is now producing and have transferred it to security and political alliances around the world. I think the people of Israel see this. They see this.