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Latest News in Israel – 23rd November

PM bemoans no ‘Palestinian Sadat’ 40 years after historic Knesset speech

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lamented the lack of a “Palestinian Anwar Sadat” during a special Knesset session on Tuesday marking 40 years since the peace-making Egyptian president’s historic address to the Israeli parliament.

Netanyahu quoted Sadat as telling the Knesset on November 20, 1977, “We do not want to encircle you, or that you will attack us – with missiles meant to destroy, or bombs of hatred and enmity. I have said more than once that Israel’s existence is a fact.”

The prime minister said that this was the first step toward the peace agreement eventually hammered out at Camp David which included a clear recognition of Israel.

“This is what Sadat did,” Netanyahu added, “Unlike our Palestinian neighbors, who to this day refuse to recognize our nation-state. I say with sadness that I have not yet encountered a Palestinian Sadat to declare his desire to put an end to the conflict, to recognize the State of Israel within any borders, and support our right to live here in peace and security.”

However, opposition head Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) jabbed at Netanyahu during his speech to the plenum, which immediately followed the premier’s, saying that not only was a Palestinian Sadat needed for peace, but so was an “Israeli Menachem Begin, the prime minister at the time who reached the peace agreement with Sadat.

Herzog said that there are those who say that Netanyahu opposed the peace agreement with Egypt 40 years ago, and openly expressed that attitude at the time.

“I already said two weeks ago here in the plenum that if you were standing in Menachem Begin’s place I doubt if you would have shown the same courage that Menachem Begin displayed then,” Herzog said to Netanyahu. “Therefore, we can only hope that the opportunity will not slip away, that the doors will not be closed, and that we will not miss the opportunity until we [the Zionist Union] take over the state’s helm and lead a process like this with responsibility, determination and courage.”

Netanyahu, who met before addressing the Knesset with Egypt’s ambassador Hazem Khairat, characterized the peace with Egypt as “strong” and a strategic asset for both countries.

The prime minister said he was saddened that so few ministers and MKs took the trouble of attending the special session, suggesting the reason was possibly because “we got used to it too fast, it is something seen as a given, but it is not something that should be taken as a given.”

Netanyahu said that time has proven this agreement to be a “stable anchor” in a turbulent and bloody region.

Though not perfect, he continued, the peace serves both countries well and – despite various crises – has proven to be sustainable.

“But there is a fundamental condition for peace: Israel’s strength,” he said. “In the Middle East, alliances are made with the strong, not the weak.” To prove this, Netanyahu noted that in his speech to the Knesset, Sadat had said, “I came to make peace with a strong leader.”

Only when Israel is strong is it possible first to come to a situation of no warfare, and then from that position move on toward peace, the prime minister said.

Netanyahu said that today many Arab countries, aware of the changes sweeping the region, understand that the threats to the Middle East do not come from Israel.

“The biggest obstacle to expanding the circle of peace is not the [Arab] leaders; the biggest obstacle is the Arab street that has been flooded for years by a false presentation of Israel,” he said, adding that after many years of presenting Israel in a very negative light it is difficult now for Arab governments to present it as it truly is. This, he added, is even truer among the Palestinians, something that is preventing a “breakthrough.”

“I see certain changes in public opinion in the Arab region, and this is something that should be encouraged and developed,” Netanyahu said, “I would like to see peace with Egypt adapted to this truth, to expand the contact between the peoples and break through the wall of historical propaganda. I hope we are at the beginning of such a process,” he said.

“There is no doubt that we are in a position to expand our cooperation.”   (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu presses Putin on keeping Iran out of Syria

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone about a ceasefire deal in the Syrian civil war and Iranian presence near Israel’s borders with the war-torn country, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The conversation was the latest in a series of high-level contacts between Israel and Russia, amid a dispute between the countries over allowing Iran and Shiite militias backed by Tehran to maintain a foothold near in Syria near the Israeli border.

“The conversation lasted about half an hour and dealt with Syria, and Iran’s attempt to entrench itself in Syria,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. “Netanyahu insisted on Israeli security and reiterated his opposition to Iran’s entrenchment in Syria.”

The conversation came a day after Moscow’s envoy to Israel, said Iran’s military presence in Syria was solely dedicated to the “war on terrorism.”

“Russia respects the Israeli concerns in the field of national security,” Alexander Shein wrote in a message posted on his official Facebook page.

Earlier Tuesday, the Kremlin said that Putin had met with Syrian President Bashar Assad the day before in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The meeting in Sochi, which lasted three hours, preceded a summit between the presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey set for Wednesday at the same venue. Iran and Russia have been Assad’s main backers in the civil war while Turkey supports the opposition.

Putin and Netanyahu last met face to face in August, although they have reportedly spoken by phone several times since.

On October 17, Netanyahu met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Jerusalem, where the two men discussed the Islamic Republic’s attempt to establish itself militarily in Syria.

“Iran needs to understand that Israel will not allow this,” Netanyahu told Shoigu, according to his office.

According to an unnamed Israeli official, under the Syrian ceasefire 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, Reuters reported last week.

Last week, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel will not tolerate Iran’s presence in Syria as part of the US-Russian ceasefire deal, especially near the Israeli border.

“We simply will not allow Shiite and Iranian entrenchment in Syria. And we will not allow all of Syria to become a forward-operating base against the State of Israel. Whoever doesn’t understand that — should understand that,” Liberman said.

The day before, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that the ceasefire terms did not include a Russian commitment to ensure Iran-linked militias would be pulled out of Syria.

The Israeli Air Force has carried out numerous airstrikes in Syria on weapons convoys bound for the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, though it rarely acknowledges individual raids. Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters to help Assad’s forces put down the insurgency, which has dragged on for six years.

Earlier this month, 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)

Soldiers open fire at two Gazans crossing into Israel, hitting one

IDF soldiers opened fire at two Palestinians trying to cross into Israel from Gaza, hitting one of them, on Wednesday, the army said.

A military spokesperson said the soldiers later found that one of the suspects was in possession of a knife.

The attempted infiltration occurred along the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip.

The wounded Palestinian was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

The other was taken into custody for questioning, the army said.

Palestinians from the Gaza Strip regularly try to cross into Israel. The military is concerned that they may be planning to carry out attacks, though most seem to be entering Israel in order to find work, as there is widespread unemployment in the coastal enclave.

In most cases, if the army does not deem them to be a security threat, the Palestinians are returned to the Gaza Strip.   (the Times of Israel)

Israel intercepts massive explosives shipment to Gaza

Israel has prevented a shipment containing several tons of explosives from reaching the Gaza Strip, the Defense Ministry revealed Wednesday.

The shipment was intercepted at the Kerem Shalom crossing, through which goods enter the coastal enclave on a daily basis. The explosives were discovered thanks to an innovative laboratory set up at the crossing that tests suspicious materials.

According to available details, border inspectors recently stopped a truck that had arrived at the crossing carrying a load of cargo purported to be motor oil. Once samples of the oil were tested by the lab, it was discovered that the truck was actually hauling materials used in the large-scale production of explosives.

An official with the Crossings Directorate in the Defense Ministry lauded the find, saying the lab, which became operational only a few weeks ago, would dramatically increase Israel’s ability to intercept hazardous materials terrorist groups try to smuggle into the Gaza Strip.

“The lab’s task is to identify substances banned from Gaza over concerns that they will reach terrorist organizations,” a Defense Ministry statement said. “The lab’s ability to sample and analyze materials within a short period of time will enable the crossing to improve its services and minimize delays in the entry of goods into Gaza.”

Crossings Directorate head Col. (res.) Kamil Abu Rokun said the lab “will significantly expand security forces’ ‘toolbox’ in the relentless struggle against smuggling operations into Gaza. This technology, together with the skilled inspectors stationed at the crossing, allows us to detect any contraband that could help the terrorist groups in Gaza in their armament efforts.”  (Israel Hayom)

Jordan Holds Firm On Refusal To Reopen Israeli Embassy

Jordan will not allow the reopening of the Israeli embassy in Amman or the return of Israel’s ambassador unless the Israeli security guard involved in the killing of two Jordanians in July is brought to trial, a Jordanian government minister said Thursday.

Jordanian Media Affairs Minister Mohammed Momani issued a press release to this effect, in which he added that Jordan’s position on the issue was very firm.

Saleh al-Armouti, a Jordanian member of Parliament, told The Media Line that Israeli ambassador Einat Schlein is unwelcome in Amman because she “accompanied the murderer,” security guard Ziv Moyal, back to Israel. The appropriate response to the entire incident, according to al-Armouti, would be for Jordan to “close the embassy and cut ties with Israel for good.

“The security guard doesn’t have diplomatic immunity,” said al-Armouti, “but [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu wants to challenge Jordan.”

Al-Armouti stressed that to reopen the embassy without Moyal having been put on trial would constitute a blot on Jordan’s history.

On July 23 Moyal was reportedly attacked with a screwdriver by teenager Mohammed Jawawdeh, who had been delivering furniture to Moyal’s landlord. Moyal then opened fire, killing Jawawdeh along with the building’s

The incident prompted widespread condemnation from Jordanian citizens, who held mass demonstrations including outside the Israeli embassy, where protesters chanted “Death to Israel.” At Jawawdah’s funeral, thousands gathered to urge Jordan’s King Abdullah to cancel the 1994 peace treaty between the countries.

Moyal and Israeli embassy staff were allowed to return to Israel a day after the incident following diplomatic pressure from the Israeli government and the US. A subsequent investigation by Israel’s Shin Bet concluded that Moyal acted in self-defense and thus there were no grounds to prosecute him.

The diplomatic crisis sparked by the incident intensified when Abdullah accused Netanyahu of giving Moyal a hero’s welcome upon his return to Israel—a move by the Jordanian monarch as “unacceptable and provocative.” Jordan also strongly denounced Schlein’s presence at the event.

For its part, Israel has reportedly told Jordan that the Red Sea-Dead Sea project, a joint plan to pipe seawater from Aqaba to the Dead Sea, will be placed on hold until Schlein and her staff are permitted to return to the kingdom.

When reached by The Media Line, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon refused to comment on the issue.

Yahya Al-Saud, head of the Jordanian Parliament’s Palestine Committee and responsible for the Jerusalem file, confirmed to The Media Line that Amman will not remove the ban on the Israeli ambassador unless Jordan’s demands are met.

“I prefer to cut all relations with Israel,” al-Saud elaborated. “It is not about the latest incident. I don’t think it is important for us to have ties with Israel, period.”

Al-Saud urged that the “murderer” be put on trial as soon as possible. He clarified that all Jordanians agree with this position and not only the government.

The diplomatic crisis came against the backdrop of tensions centered on the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Mosque complex. Following the killing of two police officers at the Jerusalem holy site on July 14, Israel installed metal detectors at its entrances, a move vehemently rejected by Muslims worldwide. Two weeks of upheaval ensued, leading Netanyahu to backtrack and remove the security measures, instead deploying a special police unit of 200 officers equipped with cutting-edge technologies.  (Jerusalem Post)

With Iran on Its Doorstep, Israel Quietly Readies Game-Changing Air Power

By Yaakov Lappin                     BESA Center (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies)


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Israeli air power now has capabilities beyond any yet seen in military history. Its aerial strike capabilities are likely to prove decisive to the outcome of any military action taken against Iran in Syria.

Iran has big plans to create a military outpost in Syria, right on Israel’s doorstep. From there, the Islamic Republic could threaten and attack Israel in the future.

Israel is currently employing two tools to try and prevent this from happening: diplomacy and deterrence. Diplomatically, Jerusalem is reaching out to global powers and the international community, informing them of the consequences of Iran’s actions in a bid to create pressure on Tehran. To achieve deterrence, Israel is making clear to Iran and its agents that it has no intention of allowing them to proceed with their plans.

But what can Israel do if these prevention efforts fail, as they might? In such a scenario, Israel would have to fall back on military action. Some of that action would likely involve Israel’s new aerial strike capabilities.

These recently developed capabilities might well surpass any display of air power seen in military history thus far. They are based on an ability to use precise intelligence, combined with precision-guided weaponry, to destroy up to several thousand targets in just a matter of hours.

This is a tool that the Israel Air Force, together with the Military Intelligence Directorate of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), has been developing quietly over recent years. It is a game-changing capability that significantly boosts Israeli deterrence against its enemies. It also boosts actual war fighting capabilities, should these be called upon.

In recent weeks and months, there have been indications that Iran is testing the waters in Syria. It is seeing how far it can go, and how far it can push Israel’s red lines.

In November, a Western intelligence source shared satellite imagery with the showing a new Iranian base being built south of Damascus. The facility can house hundreds of personnel and vehicles. It is a mere 50 kilometers from Syria’s border with Israel, and represents the tip of the iceberg of Iran’s plans for Syria.

This month, during a visit to London, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the BBC in an interview that the Iranians “want to bring their air force there, right next to Israel, they want to bring Shi’ite and Iranian divisions right next to Israel. They want to bring submarines. So we will not let that happen, we will resist it.”

Israel’s Kan News broadcaster also recently reported Iranian plans to set up a division in Syria made up of 5,000 soldiers, air force bases containing Iranian fighter jets, and Iranian naval bases on the Syrian coastline.

Iran has already deployed to Syria thousands of Shiite militia members recruited from across the Middle East. They have been armed and trained by the Iranian Republican Guards Corps and the elite overseas Iranian Quds Force.

The Iranians also run militia units made up of Syrian recruits. The Commander of the Quds Force, Qassem Solemani, was recently photographed in eastern Syria with members of one such militia, the al-Baqr Battalion. The Iranians also helped build up other Syrian military forces, like the 313 Battalion.

At the same time, Iran appears to have stepped up efforts to create missile factories on Syrian soil, which it can use to arm its chief Shiite proxy, Hezbollah. One of these factories was reportedly struck by Israel last month.

As ISIS crumbles and the remainder of the Syrian Sunni rebels face defeat in Syria, Iran, which runs Assad’s ground war, will be free to shift the focus of its Syrian presence towards Israel.

Israel is prepared to deal with this threat militarily if necessary, though the intelligence challenge would be considerable. Many of the targets in question would not be clear-cut Iranian military entities, but rather proxies and militias attempting to disguise themselves or embedded into the local environment. Still, Israel’s intelligence capabilities should be up to the job of detecting and monitoring the targets and passing them on to the air force.

So far, Israel has used its precision strike capabilities for pinpoint attacks on targets that are part of the Hezbollah–Iran weapons program. But these same strike capabilities can be activated on a grand scale. The same air power can also be directed against the Assad regime, which the Iranian axis has fought for years to rescue and preserve.

In theory, Israel could inform Iran that its treasured Assad regime would be in jeopardy if Israel’s red lines are crossed in Syria.

Needless to say, any major escalation in Syria would almost certainly draw in Hezbollah in Lebanon as well, as the two fronts are interlinked. The Syrian-Lebanese border has become more of an imaginary line on a map than a real international boundary, as Hezbollah moves weapons and fighters across it on a regular basis. Any escalation on the Syrian front could easily activate the Lebanese front.

The stakes in Syria are very high, and Israel remains committed to the objective of preventing conflict on its northern fronts. So far, it has succeeded in this goal.

Russia has thus far appeared to help restrain its radical allies in Syria, but its role in any potential escalation remains unclear.

But should Iran ignore all of Israel’s warnings, Israel’s new air power will likely prove decisive to the outcome of military action in this arena.