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Latest News in Israel – 19th June

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

PM: Israel-Russia-U.S. meeting in Jerusalem crucial for regional security

Next week’s meeting in Jerusalem between the national security advisors of Israel, the US and Russia is “very important for the stability of the Middle East during these turbulent times,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

Netanyahu, speaking at a memorial ceremony for the victims of the Altalena, said that this tripartite meeting testifies strongly to Israel’s standing today among the nations.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton and his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, are scheduled to arrive early next week for talks – alongside with their Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat – expected to focus on Iran’s presence in Syria.

A White House statement earlier this month about the unprecedented trilateral meeting said that the three men will “discuss regional security issues.”

The meeting is scheduled to take place from June 24 – 26.

Netanyahu first proposed the idea at the Kremlin in February, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that dealt primarily with Iran’s presence in Syria.

At the Altalena memorial ceremony, Netanyahu also that both openly and in secret Israel is in contact with many leaders around the Arab world, and that “there are extensive ties” between Israel and most of the Arab states.

Sixteen Irgun fighters and three IDF soldiers were killed when David Ben-Gurion gave the order to fire on the Altalena Irgun arms ship in June 1948 in what has since widely been viewed as a watershed moment in placing all the country’s weaponry under one authority.

To prevent civil war, Menachem Begin – then commander of the Irgun – ordered his men not to retaliate. (Jerusalem Post) Herb Keinon

Greenblatt: Israel should hold off on annexation until peace plan unveiled

US Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt said Tuesday that Israel should not move ahead with possible plans to annex parts of the West Bank, at least before the Trump administration’s peace plan comes out.

“I don’t think anyone should make unilateral moves until we at least reveal the plan. I don’t think that’s helpful to anybody,” he told Channel 12 news.

Greenblatt confirmed to the news channel that Israeli officials will not be present at the Bahrain economic workshop, where the US is set to lay out an economic component of its plan.

“To depoliticize the issue, we have decided to not have the Israeli government there and just have the Israeli private sector there,” he said.

Greenblatt added that Israeli officials will be brought in at a later point and will “be very helpful in the ideas that are generated and [will] improve them as well.”

While expressing confidence in Israel and chiding the Palestinian Authority for boycotting the conference, he cautioned against possible West Bank annexation plans. But he did not discount a move being made once the administration’s long-awaited plan is revealed.

The Palestinians have strongly opposed the June 25-26 conference in Manama and urged Arab states to stay away, arguing it will prioritize economic issues over a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Greenblatt defended the workshop as one part of a two-part scheme meant to plan for what economic benefits Palestinians can enjoy if a peace deal is reached, and said claims that the workshop was for an economic peace only or that it was an attempt “to buy off the Palestinians” are “completely untrue.”

The idea, he said, was to showcase: “If we achieve a political agreement, here’s what could happen, here are the many great things that the Palestinians could benefit from.”

Greenblatt said he was not disappointed in the Palestinians because he was not surprised by their decision to stay away from the meeting. “They make decisions not helpful not only for peace, but also for their people,” he said.

Asked about the plan possibly failing, he said: “I do think that we have to try to work toward something, but if we fail I understand why as well.”

On Sunday, Greenblatt backed comments by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman in support of Israel retaining some parts of the West Bank.

“Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” Friedman said.

An anonymous American official later said Israel has not presented a plan for annexation of any parts of the West Bank, and no such plan is under discussion with the US.

During his campaign for the general election in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to gradually annex West Bank Jewish settlements, a move long supported by nearly all lawmakers in his alliance of right-wing and religious parties, and said he hoped to do so with US support.

Friedman, in a New York Times interview, declined to specify how the US might respond to unilateral Israeli annexation, saying: “We really don’t have a view until we understand how much, on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why does it not create more problems than it solves… These are all things that we’d want to understand, and I don’t want to prejudge.”(the Times of Israel) Staff

Abbas Orders Clerics to Bash US, Push Anti-Peace Agenda

In an official document, titled “The Deal of the Century Will Not Pass,” Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas on Monday ordered the Muslim leaders in the PA to dedicate Friday’s address to generating a unified front against what he called the US “plot.”

In the document, which TPS has seen, Abbas stresses that “Palestinian unity” and support for him as a leader should be highlighted.

The Imams and other preachers are specifically ordered to use verses from the Quran underscoring the sanctity of the land and are similarly directed to emphasize the significance of the so-called “Right of Return” and an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

“The Deal of the Century will fail and the Palestinian nation will not sell its holy land,” the document states.

Every week, the Palestinian regime, with Abbas’ direct oversight, authorizes a text which is to be read at mosques throughout the PA on Friday.

This Friday’s sermons will be a prelude to broad demonstrations Fatah is planning to protest the US-sponsored “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Manama, Bahrain.

The summit, slated for the end of June, is considered a major step toward unveiling President Donald Trump’s peace plan for the Middle East, and the PA has called on Arab countries and Arab businessmen to boycott it. (United with Israel) TPS

In first, Israel’s F-35s join massive drill simulating war with Hezbollah, Gaza

The Israeli Air Force is holding a large-scale multi-day exercise simulating combat action on multiple fronts, the army said Tuesday, with the air force’s F-35s taking part for the first time.

The drill, which began Sunday and ends Wednesday, involves fighter jets, helicopters, cargo planes, drones, air defense units and ground support forces. It simulates simultaneous fighting in the Gaza Strip, Syria and Lebanon.

It includes 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 drill is primarily focused on the northern arena, with threats posed by the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon and Iranian forces in Syria.

An Israeli Air Force F-35 is seen during an air force exercise

Forces were also being tested on their ability to carry out strategic bombings while minimizing harm to innocent people in the vicinity.

“We are training at very high intensity with a challenging, thinking enemy that possesses technology beyond what currently exists in the arena,” a senior air force official said.

The official said the new F-35s provided and added value of “lethality and multi-role capabilities…We did not have these capabilities before.”

The IAF has acknowledged receiving from the US-based Lockheed Martin defense contractor at least 14 F-35 fighter jets of the 50 that have been ordered. These are scheduled to be delivered in installments of twos and threes by 2024.

In mid-2018 the IAF announced that it had used the stealth fighter jet in combat, which it said made it the first air force in the world to do so.

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, balked at the high price tag for the aircraft: approximately $100 million apiece (Lockheed Martin says the cost is expected to go down as more countries purchase the F-35). (the Times of Israel) Staff

Netanyahu: Israel Has ‘Contacts’ With ‘Most’ Arab Countries

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said Israel had “contacts” with “most of the Arab countries.”

Speaking in Tel Aviv at a memorial ceremony for those killed in the June 1948 Altalena incident, Netanyahu said, “We are holding open and secret contacts with many leaders of the Arab world and there are ramified contacts between the State of Israel and Arab countries, with most of the Arab countries.”

Addressing the upcoming US-sponsored economic workshop in Manama, the first stage of the Trump administration’s yet-to-be-unveiled peace plan, Netanyahu stated, “Very soon there will be an important conference in Bahrain, that we welcome, at which the US will try to bring about a better future for — and resolve problems of — the region.”

“Of course, Israelis will be present,” Netanyahu said, confirming that, as was widely rumored, Israeli businesspeople would attend the workshop, although government officials were not invited.

Netanyahu also noted, “At the start of next week, there will be an historic and unprecedented meeting in Jerusalem between the national security advisers of the US, Russia, and Israel. This is a very important summit for ensuring stability in the Middle East during turbulent times.”

“What is important about this trilateral meeting of the two superpowers in the State of Israel is that it greatly attests to the current international standing of Israel among the nations,” the prime minister added. (the Algemeiner) Benjamin Kerstein

Egypt will pay a $500 million fine to Israel over failed gas deal

Egypt will pay a $500 million fine to Israel for backing out of an agreement to provide natural gas, following jihadist attacks on the pipeline in the Sinai peninsula.

Under the deal, Egypt will pay the fine over eight and a half years to the state-owned Israel Electric Corporation. The fine was cut from $1.7 billion in a settlement agreement reached on Sunday, according to Egypt’s oil ministry, Bloomberg reported.

The fine was part of a 2015 arbitration decision by the International Chamber of Commerce.

At the time that the gas supply was cut off, Egypt was supplying Israel with more than 40 percent of its natural gas needs to produce electricity.

Terrorists blew up the gas line three times during the first six months of 2011. Egypt canceled gas exports to Israel in 2012.

Selling gas to Israel was unpopular among Egyptian citizens after the opening of the pipeline in 2008. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed in early 2011, was accused of giving Israel a sweetheart deal on the gas agreement, signed in 2005. (Jerusalem Post) Marcy Oster/JTA

Medieval Jewish ritual bath (mikva) found beneath a church in Sicily

Israeli scholars have announced the discovery of a Hebrew inscription on the wall of a medieval Jewish ritual bath located deep underground beneath the Church of St. Philip the Apostle in Syracuse, Sicily.

The discovery sheds new light on the Jewish community in Syracuse during the Middle Ages, on the eve of the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from all lands under the rule of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain—which at the time included the island of Sicily.

Medieval Jewish ritual baths, known in Hebrew as mikva’ot (or mikveh in the singular), were regularly built deep below the surface, at the level of the local groundwater. These structures, a handful of which are known from throughout Europe, consisted of a long staircase leading down to a small immersion pool. The pool beneath the church in Syracuse is located over 14 meters beneath ground level, at the foot of a long spiral staircase hewn into the limestone bedrock. Fresh groundwater, once used for ritual immersion by married women after their monthly menstrual period, continues till today to flow into the pool found at the bottom of the staircase.

It was on the wall of this staircase that the Hebrew inscription was recently discovered by Monsignor Sebastiano Amenta, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Syracuse. The ritual bath and its inscription were subsequently studied by Dr Yonatan Adler, senior lecturer in archaeology at Ariel University in Israel, and a leading expert on ancient and medieval Jewish ritual baths. “This discovery provides compelling evidence that the structure beneath the church was constructed as a Jewish ritual bath prior to the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Sicily” explained Dr Adler.

The announcement was made at a conference sponsored by San Metodio Higher Institute of Religious Sciences in cooperation with the municipality of Syracuse. Dr Adler provided a detailed description of the ritual bath and of the inscription itself, which consists of only six Hebrew consonants: “a-sh-r h-f-tz”. The letters likely form the name of a medieval Syracusan Jew called “Asher Hefetz”. Dr. Nadia Zeldes, from Ben Gurion University in Israel and a leading expert on the history of Sicilian Jewry, explained at the conference that the family name “Hefetz” represents the Hebrew version of a prominent Jewish-Sicilian family named “Bonavoglia”, a clan that played an important role in the history of the island’s Jews.

Sometime after the Jews were forced to leave Sicily at the end of the 15thcentury, a church named in honour of St. Philip the Apostle was constructed over the site of the medieval ritual bath. Even after the church was built, however, the Jewish remains below were never completely forgotten. A local tradition about an early Jewish ritual bath which lay beneath the church was recorded by the early 19thcentury historian Fr.Giuseppe Maria Capodieci (1749–1828). The recently announced discovery confirms the historical accuracy of this tradition.

According to Capodieci, the pool beneath the church of St. Philip the Apostle was not the only Jewish ritual bath in the city; there were two others. One of these, which he referred to as “the baths of Bianca”, has been identified some years ago beneath what later became a hotel located not far from the church. The Jewish community of Syracuse was likely quite large, and Dr Zeldes noted that it was quite possible that there had been “more than one ritual bath, and perhaps more than one synagogue, in Syracuse”. The new finds provide the first archaeological evidence of a clear Jewish connection to one of these sites.

The Church of St. Philip the Apostle was closed in 1968 due to structural problems and reopened only in 2010 following complex architectural reconstruction. Since November 2014, the church has opened its doors for daily worship. Don Flavio Cappuccio, the local parish priest, has been highly supportive and encouraging of the archaeological studies conducted by the Israeli scholars on the Jewish remains beneath his church. “It is a great honour for me to serve as parish priest of this church which enshrines centuries, if not millennia of Syracusan history” shared Father Cappuccio. “The history which Jews and Christians share in this unique site underscores for me the fraternal bonds which unite us all in brotherhood as children one heavenly Father”. (J Wire) Newsdesk