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Latest News in Israel – 25th March

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

At least 6 injured, including 2 babies, in Gaza rocket attack on central Israel

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck a home in central Israel early Monday morning, injuring at least six people, including two infants, and leveling the structure, officials said.

The attack triggered sirens at approximately 5:20 a.m. throughout the Sharon and Emek Hefer regions north of Tel Aviv, the army said.

According to the military, the rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip, where last week two rockets were also fired at Tel Aviv, in what was described at the time as an apparent “mistake” by the Hamas terror group.

Police said the projectile early Monday struck a home in the community of Mishmeret, on the Sharon plain, causing it to catch fire.

This was one of the farthest reaching rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip for at least several years, if not ever. During the 2014 Gaza war, the farthest attacks reached Tel Aviv, which lies some 20 kilometers closer to the Strip.

The home in the central Israeli town of Mishmeret, which was destroyed in a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip

Firefighters and search-and-rescue workers arrived at the scene to extinguish the blaze and look for any survivors who might be trapped in the destroyed building.

According to the Magen David Adom ambulance service, at least six people who lived in the building were injured in the attack, including a 50-year-old woman who sustained light-to-moderate injuries and two infants who were lightly wounded.

The Israeli military said it was investigating the source of the rocket attack.

There were no immediate reports of an Israeli retaliation. (the Times of Israel) Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu: “Thank You America”

Following is an excerpt from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks this evening, at the joint statements with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, following Us President Donald Trump’s declaration:

“Secretary Pompeo, Mike, Susan, Ambassador David Friedman, I’m so excited. We’re so excited, Sara and I, to have you here, but especially on this evening. This is the eve of Purim, and we have a miracle of Purim; we call it nes Purim.

President Trump has just made history. I called him. I thanked him on behalf of the people of Israel. He did it again. First, he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy here. Then, he pulled out of the disastrous Iran treaty and re-imposed sanctions. But now he did something of equal historic importance – he recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and he did so at a time when Iran is trying to use Syria as a platform to attack and destroy Israel. And the message that President Trump has given the world is that America stands by Israel.

We’re celebrating Purim, when 2,500 years ago, other Persians, led by Haman, tried to destroy the Jewish people. They failed then; and today, 2,500 years later, again Persians led by Khamenei, are trying to destroy the Jewish people and the Jewish state. They’re going to fail again.

We are deeply grateful for the US support. We’re deeply grateful for the unbelievable and unmatchable support for our security and our right to defend ourselves, and everything that you do on behalf of Israel and for the State of Israel in so many forms. So, it is a distinct pleasure to welcome you and Susan to our home at any time, but especially today.

Now, let me add another word about that. We had a moving visit today to the Wall. I can’t resist repeating this, but I’m going to. I said to the Secretary that the last time a Pompeo visited Jerusalem, it didn’t end that well. But this is a different time. Roman Jerusalem clashed over values, with a great tragedy for the Jewish people. But the new Rome, the United States, views itself as a new Jerusalem. We visited the original City on the Hill. We visited the hill.

There is no greater friendship than the one between Israel and the United States, and no one represents it better than Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. You and Ambassador Friedman and your delegation are exceptional champions of our alliance. I’ve called you so many times, on so many things that this evening I just want to say one word—two actually: thank you. Thank you, Mike Pompeo. Thank you, President Trump. And thank you, America. To the people of Israel, I say:

“We have a Purim miracle here. President Trump has made history. He recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, at a time when Iran is trying to use the Golan Heights as a platform to destroy Israel.

We are marking the miracle of Purim – 2,500 years ago the Jewish people defeated those who tried to destroy it, other Persians, and today just as they failed then, they will fail this time as well thanks, inter alia, to the strong support of the US and its President. We have had no greater friend in our history.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara are now hosting US Secy. of State Pompeo and his wife Susan, together with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, for dinner at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.   . (Prime Minister’s Office)

Pompeo sees ‘Lord at work’ as Trump is saving the Jews from Iran

During a recent visit to Israel, Mike Pompeo spoke with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), weighing in on the U.S.’ role in the Middle East and the Trump administration’s strategy.

CBN’s Middle East Bureau Chief Chris Mitchell posited to Pompeo during an exclusive interview, “Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?”

Mitchell’s question referenced the Biblical epoch commemorated by the Purim holiday, during which a Persian ruler and his adviser plotted to exterminate the Jewish people. Mitchell appeared to compare Purim’s hero, Queen Esther, to Trump, alluding to the present-day designs of Iran to destroy Israel.

In response, Pompeo said, “As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible,” lauding “the work that our administration’s done to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remain.”

Pompeo said he is “confident that the Lord is at work here,” issuing the comments during the same week as the Purim holiday and Trump’s announcement that the U.S. recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

During his Jerusalem stop, Pompeo visited the Western Wall with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The secretary of state also commented on Trump’s as-yet unreleased “deal of the century” peace plan, noting, “I’ve seen the details of the plan as it stands now. I’m sure there’ll be things moved just a bit as time goes on, but evangelicals of the world should know that this is a vision for what might ultimately lead to the resolution of this conflict.”

“I think this plan presents a vision that doesn’t sacrifice any of the core principles, frankly, of any of the faiths,” he told CBN. (WIN) Staff

IDF strikes two Hamas posts after aerial incendiary devices sent from Gaza

The IDF struck two Hamas posts in the Gaza Strip in response to the numerous incendiary and explosive aerial devices flown into southern Israel on Sunday.

Earlier on Sunday Israeli citizen was lightly injured after an incendiary aerial device flown from the Gaza Strip landed in his field.

According to authorities the farmer sustained injuries to his hand after a balloon carrying a Molotov cocktail fell in his field outside Kibbutz Be’eri the Eshkol Regional Council.

Several hours earlier an explosive device carried by a cluster of balloons launched from the Hamas-run coastal enclave was found in a field in southern Israel on Sunday, the morning after violent protests along the security fence.

The device, which landed in the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council in southern Israel, was removed by police sappers and caused no damage or injuries.

The explosive device was flown into Israel the morning after violent riots along the security fence with Gaza and hours after the Israel Air Force struck two Hamas positions in the southern Gaza strip in response to “the multitude of explosive devices that were thrown and exploded during the night” by rioters.

One of the devices triggered incoming rocket alert sirens in the community of Kissufim in the Eshkol Regional Council. The device fell inside Gaza, according to a statement released by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

According to local Palestinian media reports, hundreds of Gazans took part in the riots on Saturday night in five main locations along the border setting fire to tires, fired sound crackers and pointing lasers towards IDF troops deployed along the fences.

A 24-year-old Palestinian identified by the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza as Habib al-Masri succumbed to wounds on Sunday that he sustained during the riots.

Al-Masri was shot in the chest by live fire during the night confusion riots east of Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip, according to the health ministry.

Six other people were injured during the protest, while another three were injured earlier in the day after an Israeli aircraft carried out a pair of strikes toward Palestinian cells launching explosive aerial devices. The devices were launched from the El-Bureij refugee camp toward southern Israeli communities.

On Sunday, the World Health Organization (WHO) delivered essential medicines, medical consumables and equipment contributed by the European Union to the Gaza Strip. The supplies will be used to enhance 10 trauma stabilization points run by the Palestinian Health Ministry and the Palestinian Red Crescent which provide care to Palestinians injured during the border riots.

The medical aid provided by WHO “is sufficient to cover needs of about 120,000 mildly injured or 20,000 severely injured patients,” according to Palestinian news agency Wafa.

Thousands of Gazans have been protesting along the security fence on a weekly basis taking part in March of Return demonstrations which began on March 30, 2018, calling for an end of the 12-year-long Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Over the past year of riots, the timing and frequency of the clashes has changed, with Hamas increasing their frequency with large-scale riots occurring during the week as well at night. The nighttime riots include different tactics, focusing more on psychological warfare against civilians in nearby communities with loud explosives and the use of megaphones to project death threats in Hebrew.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, more than 240 Palestinians have been killed and more than 22,000 others injured since the beginning of the March of Return began, according to Israeli NGO B’Tselem. The NGO also reported that 190 demonstrators have been killed during the protests – 65% of all Palestinians killed by the IDF in 2018.

Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders said in February that a total of 6,174 Palestinians have been injured by bullets fired by IDF troops during the riots, with nearly 90% of those injured by Israeli fire suffering injuries to their lower limbs.

The Palestinian Health Ministry in the blockaded coastal enclave has warned numerous times that health facilities and services will soon be forced to cease operation due to a severe fuel crisis. (Jerusalem Post) Anna Ahronheim

Romania and Honduras commit to Jerusalem embassy move

Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila says that her country intends to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. She was speaking on Sunday at the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby annual policy conference in Washington.

She is said to have made this pledge before, but reportedly the Romanian president has stood in the way of such a move. Romania currently serves in the rotating position of president of the European Union Council.

A Romanian move of its embassy to Jerusalem would come on the heels of last year’s opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Dancila also unveiled a plan to allow those who were forced out of Romania to apply for citizenship. Romania will also begin the process of Holocaust reparations.

“We are telling you about granting special compensations and pensions for Romanian Holocaust survivors,” she said.

Additionally, there will be worldwide access to archives from the Holocaust “to make sure history is preserved.”

Also at the AIPAC event, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado said that his country would immediately set up a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, serving as a branch of the embassy currently located in Rishon LeZion, a city south of Tel Aviv.

The diplomatic mission is meant as an interim step as Honduras reached an agreement with the U.S. and Israel to work on the opening of an embassy in the city.

“Today, I announced that we are going to take the first step. I already communicated to the government of Israel that we are ready to open a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem in Israel,” Hernandez said at a press conference.

Hernandez said that he understands the move will be opposed in Honduras by what he called “radical groups.” But he believes it is the right thing to do.

A year ago, Honduras sided with Israel against a U.N. General Assembly resolution that condemned President Donald Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital. “We vote with Israel because it’s the right thing to do,” Hernandez said.

“I had the opportunity to have a fellowship in Israel,” Hernandez said. “It was life-changing.”

Hernandez added that Israel has been a major factor in Honduras’ fight against crime. When he became president in 2014, the country faced the highest homicide rate in the world.

But over the last five years, that number has significantly decreased. President Hernandez said that is partly because of Israel.

“Thanks to the help of Israel and the United States,” he said, “We stated that nobody is above the law.”

Other countries have also promised to move their embassies to Israel’s capital.

Brazil’s president said that it’s just a matter of time until his country’s Embassy moves to Jerusalem. But recent reports indicated that he is facing resistance from the “old guard” within the Brazilian establishment and the Arab world.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the AIPAC conference on Tuesday after meeting with President Donald Trump on Monday.

Netanyahu has stressed his close relationship with Trump, citing the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, and most recently, the president’s declaration of recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is expected to become official during the prime minister’s current visit to the U.S. (WIN) Staff

27% of Israelis back full West Bank Annexation, according to a poll

27% of Israelis back full West Bank Annexation, according to a poll conducted by Haaretz.

Of those, 16% of respondents said they support annexation with no political rights for Palestinians, while 11% approve of annexation with political rights for Palestinians.

Another 15% supported annexation of Area C, which encompasses about 60% of the West Bank and does not include major Palestinian cities such as Ramallah, Nablus, or Hebron. (Almost all Palestinians (98%) live in Area A, which is about 20% of the West Bank.)

This means that 42% of Israelis support some form of annexation in the West Bank.

Only 28% of respondents opposed any annexation. 30% said that they weren’t sure.   (Jerusalem Post) Staff

Top Iranian official: Islamic Republic did hack into Netanyahu family phones

Conservative Iranian Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, custodian of the holy shrine in Mashhad, confirmed Saudi reports on Friday that Iran successfully hacked the telephones of Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu’s “family,” according to Radio Farda.

“In the past few days, Iran’s cyber-attacks have resulted in hacking the mobile telephone of a candidate in Israeli elections and access to all the information,” said Alamolhoda, adding that Iran has hacked the telephones of Netanyahu’s family members.

The Saudi-based news website Independent Arabic first published the report about the hacking of Sara and Yair’s telephones early last week. However, immediately following the report, its authenticity was denied by both the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the prime minister.

According to the Saudi report, the breach was committed several months ago and it is not yet clear what information was leaked through the tapping of their phones.

The Saudis also connected the hack of the Netanyahu family’s phones to the alleged breach of the phone of Blue and White Party leader and former IDF chief of staff, Benny Gantz, which was first reported by Israel’s Channel 12. This report was confirmed by Israeli officials, but said that the hacking happened several years ago and only surfaced now in an effort to harm Gantz’s election campaign.

Iran’s foreign ministry denied the Channel 12 news report that its intelligence service had hacked the mobile phone of Gantz, who is considered the main challenger to Netanyahu. Elections will take place on April 9.

Information about Gantz’s phone has been leveraged by the Netanyahu campaign team repeatedly in an attempt to demonstrate that Gantz is a weak candidate who might be vulnerable to blackmail.

Gantz has confirmed that his phone was hacked, but said it carried no sensitive information. He has not blamed Iran.

“The (Israeli) regime’s officials are long used to spreading lies,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said about the Gantz phone-hacking report, according to the state news agency IRNA. “They use their propaganda tools to link any event in the world to Iran.”

Qasemi said the allegations were part of an Israeli “psychological war” aimed at stoking hostility.

The two arch-enemies have long been locked in a shadow war. Israel and the United States are widely suspected of deploying the Stuxnet malware, uncovered in 2010, that sabotaged components of Iran’s nuclear program.

Iranian hackers have been behind several cyber attacks and online disinformation campaigns in recent years as Iran tries to strengthen its clout in the Middle East and beyond, Reuters reported in November.

The European Union digital security agency said in January that Iran was likely to expand its cyber espionage as its relations with Western powers worsen.

Qasemi also denied reports by Australian media in February that attempts to hack into the Australian parliament’s computer network originated from Iran.  (Jerusalem Post) Zachary Keyser

Hamas inmates stab two Israeli guards

Two Israeli prison guards were stabbed by Hamas inmates on Sunday evening at Keziot prison, Prison Authority Spokesperson reported.

One was evacuated in critical condition to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva by helicopter. His condition is now stable, and he was able to speak on the phone with his family. The second was treated for mild injuries.

11 Hamas prisoners were injured as guards tried to regain control over them after the stabbing. Seven were also brought to Soroka with three of those in critical condition, according to the Israel Prison Services.

Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan, who oversees the Israel Police and Prison Services, commented that “We will continue to fight terror within the prison system and to prevent the direction of terror attacks on Israeli citizens from within the prisons.”

“I wish for a speedy recovery for the Israel Prison Service guards who were wounded and stand by the guards who act resolutely when facing terrorists,” he added.

The prison, called Ancar 3 by Palestinians and is near the Israeli border with Egypt, is under full Israeli control.   (Jerusalem Post) Staff

Rafi Eitan, ex-minister and legendary spy who captured Eichmann, dies aged 92

Rafi Eitan, a former Israeli minister, Shin Bet and Mossad officer, and the legendary spy who led the famed capture of Adolf Eichmann, died on Saturday at the age of 92.

The Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv, where Eitan was hospitalized, issued the announcement of his death to the media.

As head of the Mossad, Eitan commanded the 1960 intelligence operation that captured Nazi war criminal and Holocaust organizer Eichmann in Argentina and took him back to Israel for prosecution.

After a career that also saw him brought into the spotlight for handling American spy Jonathan Pollard, Eitan was elected to the Knesset in 2006 as head of the Gil Pensioners party, serving as pensioner affairs minister until 2009.

“I had a heart operation a year ago, I can’t see anything and I can’t hear anything, but I run every morning, I sculpt and my wife says I’m doing well,” Eitan said on becoming a lawmaker at age 79.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement on his passing calling him a “beloved person” and “hero of the Israeli intelligence community.”

“My wife Sara and I mourn alongside the people of Israel the passing of Rafi Eitan,” Netanyahu said. “Rafi was among the heroes of the intelligence services of the State of Israel on countless missions on behalf of the security of Israel.”

“He was a personal and close family friend. His wisdom, wit and commitment to the people of Israel and our state were without peer. We mourn his passing,” Netanyahu said.

President Reuven Rivlin too issued a statement, calling Eitan “a brave fighter, whose contributions to the security of the State of Israel will be taught for generations to come.”

“Rafi was a born fighter who stuck to his mission and to what he knew to be right. Our heads are bowed today in his memory, and we part from him in sorrow and thanks, and with deep appreciation for his contribution to the people and the country,” Rivlin said.

Eitan was also famous for being the handler of American-Israeli spy Pollard, who as a civilian intelligence analyst for the US Navy, passed reams of classified material to Israel from the summer of 1984 until November 1985. Eitan was head of the Bureau of Scientific Relations at the time.

Pollard was recruited by an up-and-coming Israel Air Force officer, Col. Aviem Sella, and run by Eitan. Pollard served a life sentence in US federal prison beginning in 1987 and was released in November 2015.

In a 2014 episode of the Israeli investigative TV show “Uvda,” Eitan admitted for the first time that Israel’s leadership at the time, then-prime minister Shimon Peres and defense minister Yitzhak Rabin, knew full well that Israel had a spy within the US armed forces. In the episode, Eitan also revealed that he turned his back on Pollard, giving the order to bar him from the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC in 1985 as Pollard attempted to enter and gain asylum.

Last year, Eitan made headlines when he publicly endorsed the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, in a move that shocked the Israeli diplomatic corps. The AfD, derided by critics as anti-Semitic and racist, was the first openly anti-immigrant, far-right party to enter the Bundestag since World War II.

Eitan was born on Kibbutz Ein Harod in British-ruled Palestine in November 1926 to a family of immigrants from Russia.

He was nicknamed “Rafi the Stinker” after he fell into a sewer during a military operation prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948.

After his service in the elite Palmach arm of the paramilitary Haganah organization, the forerunner of the Israeli army, he joined Mossad in the 1950s. (the Times of Israel) Staff

Snapping more selfies, Beresheet makes last pass around Earth before moon try

Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft selfie camera is continuing to click away as the satellite performs its largest elliptical orbit around Earth ahead of a planned moon landing on April 11.

On Sunday, engineers with SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries released a number of photos from Beresheet’s camera, including a selfie with the Earth from 265,000 kilometers (165,000 miles) above the planet’s surface and a video of the sunrise in space.

The four-legged Beresheet, about the size of a small car, is circling Earth in increasingly larger elliptical loops until it maneuvers into the moon’s orbit.

It is currently on the last loop around the Earth, which will take until April 4. Touchdown is planned for April 11 at the Sea of Serenity.

Aside from a few small glitches with an unexpected system reset and some problems with the star tracking navigation system, the spacecraft is on schedule to make the landing.

Also on Sunday, engineers released footage of Beresheet’s landing gear deploying. The spacecraft has four landing legs that will touch down on the lunar surface.

Last week, Beresheet’s engine was activated for 60 seconds, putting it into a new orbit that takes it as far as 405,000 kilometers (252,000 miles) from Earth.

Beresheet, which means “Genesis” in Hebrew, lifted off on February 22 from Cape Canaveral atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the private US-based SpaceX company of entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Earlier this month, Beresheet sent back a photo taken with its “selfie camera,” in which the Israeli flag can be seen 37,600 kilometers (23,000 miles) above Earth.

A plaque installed on the outside of the lunar lander depicts Israel’s national flag as well as the phrases “Am Yisrael Chai” (the people of Israel live) and “Small country, big dreams.”

The NIS 370 million ($100 million) Beresheet spacecraft is a joint venture between private companies SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, funded almost entirely by private donations from well-known Jewish philanthropists. The project launched as Israel’s entry into the Google LunarX challenge for nongovernmental groups to land a spacecraft on the moon. Google ended the contest in 2018 with no winners, but the Israeli team decided to continue its efforts privately.

With Beresheet, Israel hopes to become the fourth country in the world to land a spacecraft on the moon, following the US, Russia, and China.

If successful, Beresheet will make history twice: as the first private-sector landing on the Moon, and the first craft from Israel to reach the orb.

If Beresheet successfully lands on April 11, the spacecraft is expected to carry out two or three days of experiments collecting data about the moon’s magnetic fields before shutting down. There, all 160 kilograms (350 pounds) of the lunar lander will stay, possibly for eternity, on the moon’s surface, joining approximately 181,000 kilograms (400,000 pounds at Earth weight) of manmade debris strewn across the moon’s surface.

The distance between Earth and the moon is approximately 384,000 kilometers (240,000 miles). Beresheet’s elliptical route, which saves on fuel needs by harnessing the gravitational pull of the Earth, will cover about 6.5 million kilometers (4 million miles). The spacecraft is traveling at a speed of about 10 km/sec (36,000 km/h) on its way to the moon, or 13 times faster than the maximum speed of an F15 fighter jet.  (the Times of Israel) Melanie Lidman

Move recognises today’s reality in the Middle East

Editorial from the Wall Street Journal reprinted in the Australian

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/wall-street-journal/move-recognises-todays-reality-in-the-middle-east/news-story/db42e75de051b4f1f74f7607d0e93e7d

President Donald Trump made new US policy yesterday, as he often does these days, with a tweet recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights on the border with Syria.

This time his tweet was based on more than personal impulse and makes sense for American and Israeli interests. Israel captured most of the Golan from Syria in the 1967 war and formally annexed it in 1981. The rest of the world has never recognised Israel’s control, and US negotiators over the decades have seen it as land Israel would return to Syria as part of a broader peace settlement.

That scenario has become even more unlikely amid the chaos of Syria’s long civil war.

A country controlled by the Assad family has become a fractured cauldron of jihadist militias and Iranian proxies. If Israel didn’t control the Golan, the heights might now be dominated by Hezbollah or perhaps Islamic State. Either reality is unacceptable to Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been lobbying Trump to recognise Israel’s control of the Golan, and the timing of Trump’s tweet might help Netanyahu with elections looming.

But annexation of the Golan isn’t controversial in Israel. Arab countries will object, but that will fade as anger did when Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Recognising the Golan sends a message to Russia, Syria’s patron, that the US recognises that the civil war has changed Syrian reality. There is no returning to a non-existent status quo ante. It also tells the Palestinians that a return to pre-1967 borders is no longer realistic. They will have to allow some Israeli security presence in what they call the “occupied territories” if they want a two-state solution in Palestine.

Trump’s guiding foreign-policy doctrine of “principled realism” can be hard to discern or define amid his policy-by-Twitter, but recognising the Golan is principled in its support for an ally and realistic in recognising the Middle East as it is. Editorial Board of Wall Street Journal

The Golan Issue Does Not Echo in the Middle East

by Seth Frantzman     The Jerusalem Post

https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Does-the-Middle-East-care-about-Trumps-Golan-announcement-584223

US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights appears to have been initially greeted with more anger in Washington than in the capitals of the Middle East. That is because the region is recovering from years of conflict and instability, and Trump’s decision regarding the Golan is likely seen within the context of the rest of his unilateral action, from leaving the Iran Deal to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

After 52 years of Israeli rule on the Golan – more than twice as long as the independent Syrian government controlled the heights – Israeli rule is largely understood as a fact of life, even as regimes pay lip service to international legal concepts that would see the Golan returned to the Syrian regime.

One reason that the Golan issue does not echo in the Middle East is because the Syrian regime is not well-liked. Bashar Assad is a close ally of Hezbollah, Iran and pro-Iranian sections of Iraq. But even sites connected to this nexus of allies don’t seem to see the Golan announcement as some major new change in the region.

Al-Manar, which is linked to Hezbollah, didn’t have a tweet on it. Like most regional media, they were more focused on the tragic ferry disaster in Mosul in which 60 people were killed on Thursday. Al-Mayadeen, which supports the Syrian regime, quotes Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat as warning of instability following the Trump announcement. Surprisingly, Iran’s Tasnim and other media seemed disinterested in the announcement, with Tasnim headlining a story about rain on the Persian new year and terrorist threats in Pakistan.

Al-Ghad in Jordan mentioned the Golan announcement, but placed it alongside stories about sports and corruption. Not exactly earth-shattering coverage. Kuwait’s Al-Jarida didn’t even cover the announcement on its main homepage, preferring instead stories about the F-35 not being delivered to Turkey and details of oil prices. An article about how much the US values Kuwait’s alliance was top of the page.

The National in the UAE mentioned the decision, but also didn’t make it a major story. Al-Arabiya in Saudi Arabia considered US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments about Iran more important. Turkey’s Anadolu, which is close to the government and critical of Israel and Trump, unsurprisingly highlighted the decision.

While the announcement is seen in the US and among critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an election boost, that doesn’t seem to be a major interpretation in the Middle East. Insofar as commentators care, they have reported the decision without too much analysis. For countries that are close allies of the US, this may relate to the fact that media tends to be tightly controlled and they don’t want to ruffle the Trump administration’s feathers.

For the pro-Iranian media networks, the Golan decision may not be a major avenue to critique the administration because there are many other issues they want to highlight. For instance, Iran is busy trying to pressure the US to leave Iraq, and the Syrian regime wants the US to leave eastern Syria. The Golan is not foremost on its mind. Hezbollah is concerned about Pompeo’s upcoming visit and the fact that he is trying to pressure Hezbollah. Can the terrorist group deal with the Golan issue while it has to play ball in its own court?

Usually, decisions like the Golan might be used to deflect from the failures of regimes at home by encouraging anti-Israel rallies on Friday after prayers. But the region has changed greatly in the last decade, and Israel is not the center of every person’s concerns – local struggles and conflicts are. That includes protests in Sudan and Algeria; also mourning in Mosul and Iraq for the ferry victims. In eastern Syria they are celebrating Newroz as the last battle against ISIS in Baghuz ends. In Turkey, the people are preparing for municipal elections.

Whether the Golan decision may spark controversies in the days after its announcement remains to be seen. But given the many other issues affecting the Middle East – and coming after a long list of other major Trump decisions on Israel – it is not being seen as a ground breaking change.

Reaction to Trump’s Golan move illustrates the growing divide over Israel

Democrats aren’t cheering the president’s embrace of a consensus Israeli position, while their leading presidential contenders are boycotting AIPAC.

by Jonathan S. Tobin         JNS

https://www.jns.org/opinion/reaction-to-trumps-golan-move-illustrates-the-growing-divide-over-israel/

It was a day for Israelis to cheer the unprecedented degree of closeness between their nation and its sole superpower ally. Using his favorite form of communication, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted a clear intention to discard yet another longstanding U.S. policy in the Middle East. Trump’s declaration that he was going recognize Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights is correctly interpreted as a blatant interference in the upcoming Israeli elections on behalf of his friend and ally Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the same way his predecessors opposed the Likud Party leader.

But while Netanyahu called Trump’s statement “a Purim miracle,” his election opponents were no less enthusiastic. Yair Lapid, the No. 2 leader of the Blue and White Party called it “a dream come true.” Moshe Ya’alon, the man likely to become defense minister if Blue and White forms the next government, called it “truly good news.”

Netanyahu’s opponents have good reason to resent the timing of Trump’s announcement. But only the far-left parties like the Communists of Hadash opposed it. Support for remaining on the Golan is a consensus issue in Israel as virtually no one can envision a retreat from the strategic plateau that would allow it to become part of the chaos that is contemporary Syria. With Iranian and Hezbollah forces having occupied Syria as part of a successful intervention in the civil war that has torn that nation apart in the last eight years, Trump’s Golan message is also sending a strong signal to Tehran about his support for Israeli efforts aimed at thwarting their efforts to create a new northern confrontation front.

But the lack of support for Trump’s stand on the Golan from Democrats further illustrated the growing divide on the Middle East. Democrats have been vocal in condemning any effort to make Israel a partisan wedge issue on the part of Republicans. But we’re seeing that their idea of preserving the bipartisan consensus in support of the Jewish state not only consists of opposition to positions that are backed by a broad consensus of Israelis, but a willingness on the part of many of their leading presidential contenders to follow the lead of radicals like Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to oppose the embodiment of the mainstream pro-Israel consensus: the AIPAC lobby.

While Republicans responded to Trump’s Golan declaration with the sort of enthusiasm that matched reactions in Israel, most Democrats dismissed it, with some foolishly claiming that recognizing Israeli sovereignty undermines the virtually non-existent chances for a comprehensive peace agreement. But anyone with even the slightest grasp of Middle East reality knows that these complaints are disingenuous.

Politics is a zero sum game, and just as Republicans were always reluctant to back President Barack Obama on anything, the same is true for the majority of Democrats, who sometimes act as if they think as if the flawed president is the font of all evil. Their abhorrence for him explains their refusal to support Trump’s move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and the same dynamic is at play here now.

But there’s more going on than just the usual knee-jerk reaction in which anything good that Trump does or says must somehow be blasted as wrong. And the best indication of that is the behavior of those Democrats who are seeking the votes of their party’s base.

The chilling contrast to Trump’s statement on the Golan was news reported the same day that the leading Democratic presidential candidates were avoiding the annual AIPAC conference being held next week in Washington. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke all made it clear that they wanted no part of the gathering at which thousands of pro-Israel activists—non-Jews as well as Jews—come together to cheer as representatives of both parties voice their support for the Jewish state.

It’s true that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will address the conference as they normally do. But the pointed absence of those who are seeking the Democratic presidential nomination—both major candidates and lesser known ones such as South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigeg, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who one would have thought would benefit from showing up there sends a strong message that their party is no longer comfortable being seen cozying up to the pro-Israel community.

The problem is that many Democrats are listening more to left-wing anti-Israel groups. That’s why the House wouldn’t pass a resolution that focused specifically on Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism. That Democratic candidates are, in essence, validating the vicious attacks on AIPAC from Omar and Tlaib, and far-left groups like Moveon.org, by staying away from what has always been a celebration of the bipartisan consensus is telling.

That’s not to say that all Democrats agree. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, was the sole leading Democrat to endorse Trump’s stand on the Golan. And other House Democrats have just put forward a bipartisan anti-BDS resolution. But even that effort illustrates the divide in their party since they know that the same members who blocked their effort to censure Omar for her anti-Semitism will not vote to condemn the anti-Semitic BDS movement.

Just as Democrats backed President Barack Obama on the Iran nuclear deal for strictly partisan reasons, they are doing the same thing now by opposing Trump on Jerusalem and now the Golan Heights. For all of their criticisms of Republicans, neither stand is consistent with preserving bipartisan support for Israel.

Democrats don’t need to embrace a president they hate in order to acknowledge that Trump’s positions on Jerusalem and now the Golan are worthy of support. But as their party shifts further to the left, many of their leaders are not only unable to bring themselves to endorse mainstream pro-Israel positions, but are also following the lead of anti-Israel and arguably anti-Semitic radicals in treating AIPAC as if it were radioactive. That’s bad news for those who care about Israel, no matter where their partisan loyalties lie.

Palestinian Lives Don’t Matter unless Israel Is to Blame – Bret Stephens (New York Times)

Some media outlets are prepared to devote months of journalistic effort in order to trace the trajectory of a single bullet that accidentally kills a Palestinian – provided the bullet is Israeli. But when the shots are being fired by Hamas, the story barely rates in most Western news accounts.

The current round of demonstrations in Gaza comes in reaction to years of Hamas’ economic mismanagement. This is not for lack of funds on Hamas’ part: Since 2012, the group has taken in over a billion dollars from Qatar alone to pay the costs of fuel, humanitarian aid and civil-servant salaries.

In 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that Hamas had spent $90 million building attack tunnels into Israel, at an average cost of nearly $3 million a tunnel. The material devoted to each tunnel was “enough to build 86 homes, seven mosques, six schools or 19 medical clinics.” Three wars against Israel, each started by Hamas, have also taken their toll in lives, injuries, and infrastructure.

You shouldn’t be surprised by the scantiness of Western coverage: It would complicate a convenient narrative of the Israel-Palestinian conflict that holds that the former is the oppressor. Yet more Palestinians have died in Syria in the last decade, mainly on account of the depredations of Bashar al-Assad, than have been killed by Israel.

And Palestinians continue to be the victims of leaders who see no reason to subject themselves to regular elections, or financial audits, or criminal investigations, or any other mechanism of political or moral accountability. That lack of accountability is abetted by Western journalism that has been depressingly incurious about any form of Palestinian suffering for which Israel cannot be held responsible.

Palestinian lives and livelihoods should matter despite who harms them. A world that shrugs at Hamas’ abuse of its own people merely licenses the abuse to continue, unchecked.