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Latest News in Israel – 27th October

Israel’s ties with New Zealand are set to improve

Israel’s ties with New Zealand are set to improve following the appointment of a new Foreign Minister in Wellington critical of New Zealand’s December sponsorship of an anti-settlement UN resolution that set back ties between the two countries.

Labor Party’s Jacinda Ardern named the New Zealand First party’s head Winston Peters as deputy prime minister and foreign minister earlier this week. After a close election, it was Peter’s decision to join a coalition with Labor and the Greens that allowed Arden to form a government, instead of her predecessor Bill English.

Peters insisted on inserting in the coalition agreement a clause noting the “lack of process” that led to New Zealand’s sponsorship of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 last year. Peters has been critical that the decision to sponsor the resolution was not taken to the cabinet for its approval.

Politik NZ, a New Zealand news and analysis web site, wrote that “the argument about the process has become a proxy for opposing the resolution altogether. Hence, Labor’s concession to Peters amounts to an indirect acknowledgement that the resolution was wrong.”

Peter’s deputy, Ron Mark, is the new defense minister. The party’s platform on Foreign Affairs said that it opposed the previous government’s sponsorship of UNSC Resolution 2334.

New Zealand’s sponsorship of the resolution badly strained ties with Israel, which withdrew its ambassador in protest. The ambassador returned to New Zealand in June.

Chris Hemsworth says he didn’t understand men’s fashion

John McCormick, the chairman of the Hawke’s Bay Province Friends of Israel in New Zealand, wrote on J-Wire, a website of Jewish news for Australia and New Zealand, that 2017 is “the first time in years if not decades” that Israel has featured positively in a party’s platform.

“Certainly it’s the first coalition agreement it’s featured in positively,” he wrote. He pointed out that both Peters and Mark are long standing members of the parliament’s Friend of Israel Group.

Labor’s other coalition partner, the Greens, has parliamentarians who are definitely not members of that group, such as Marama Davidson, touted as possibly one of its next leaders, who took part in a women’s pro-Gaza flotilla last October.

English was originally slated to come to Israel next week to represent New Zealand in the the centennial celebrations marking the 1917 Battle of Beersheba, but those plans were scuttled after he lost the elections. New Zealand will instead be represented by Governor-General Patsy Reddy.

In a related development, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is scheduled to arrive Saturday night to take part in the ceremonies next Tuesday in Beersheba. He will be joined by opposition head Bill Shorten, senior politicians, military officials, and representatives of the Jewish community.

Turnbull is arriving some eight months after Netanyahu paid the first ever visit by an Israeli premier to Australia, a country which has traditionally been a very strong supporter.

Calvary from both Australia and New Zealand took place in this pivotal Battle of Beersheba, a landmark battle that eventually led to an end to Ottoman rule of the country. (the Times of Israel)

Ex-CIA chief: Let Israel buy bunker busters to deter Tehran

Israel should be allowed to buy bunker-buster bombs – with certain restrictions – to deter Iran, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden has said.

“I’ve talked about that thought…I can imagine circumstances where the US might want to take steps to convince Iran of its seriousness,” he said in a recent interview in his Washington office, in which he did not reject the idea out of hand when questioned. “Allowing Israel to purchase them [bunker-busters] in gradations, training on them, but keeping them here” in the US.

In a worst-case scenario – to prevent Iran bringing out a nuclear weapon – giving Israel bunker-buster bombs could allow it to take out underground aspects of the program and perhaps deter Iran from trying to break out with such a weapon.

Hayden’s statement on the issue displayed significant nuance.

On one hand, his qualified support of selling Israel the game-changing weapons – which can destroy even deep underground bunkers and which the US has refused to sell Israel to date – is a substantial statement.

It is an acknowledgment by one of the US’s top former intelligence officials, one who has sized up the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, post-nuclear deal, and who thinks that at some point the US may want Israel to have an ability it thought too risky to provide until now.

On the other hand, the former CIA director still wanted to maintain a check on Israeli use, by not yet physically delivering the weapons to Israel.

He explained that Israel might otherwise “be more aggressive and pull us into something we do not want to be pulled into.” His plan would maintain US control over the weapon’s use, even as it would signal the reality to Iran of a potential Israeli air strike.

By no means does this forward thinking mean Hayden has no opinion about US President Donald Trump’s approach in decertifying the Iran nuclear deal or other decisions of his that affect the Middle East.

To help visualize Trump’s decertification strategy, Hayden drew a diagram of three boxes summarizing three Iran-related threats, labeling them “nuclear now,” “nuclear tomorrow” and “all else.”

The former spy chief said that Trump’s decertification might risk “making a big deal about the nuclear now, but missing the boat about the other two things.”

In other words, if Trump were not so stuck on the “nuclear now,” then “maybe Europe might be more serious about nuclear tomorrow,” and the West could avoid “freeing up Iran about everything else” – particularly its terrorism across the Middle East.

Hayden’s perspective on the Iran nuclear agreement is highly nuanced.

“Leave it there. It is what you’ve got.

I was never a fan of the deal, but we’ve got the deal. It has had some positive effects. But there are a whole bunch of other things Iran is doing that we have quite legitimate concerns about.

I do criticize Obama for not pushing back harder about other issues,” he said.

Hayden was concerned that Trump would completely scrap the accord, but said it appeared, ultimately, that Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, along with US armed forces chief Gen.

Joseph Dunford Jr., convinced him to “leave the nuclear deal alone” and pass the issue on to Congress.

“But the president wanted to make a speech – so he made a speech,” said Hayden, a glimmer in his eye in his typical satirical manner.

One risk of Trump’s decertification that he noted: “The president may set in motion events giving more control to Congress, Europe or even Iran, which might lead to dynamics where US interests are in a less good place.”

Connecting some of his comments to Mattis, Hayden said another longer- term risk if Trump or Congress were to completely scrap the deal is that it would hurt the ability of the US to reach complex deals in the future.

“The word of the US must mean something. If Iran is not in material breach… and Iran is not in material breach… I agree with [ex-IDF intelligence chief] Amos Yadlin that the deal is so good, why would the Iranians cheat?… then we should stay in the deal,” while simultaneously trying to raise global pressure on Iran’s ballistic missile and terrorist activities in parallel.

Hayden complimented Trump, saying it was “quite remarkable that he got [US Sen.] Tom Cotton’s agreement not to do anything dramatic for a while” in Congress so that the accord is not in immediate danger.

He also reiterated his support for pressuring Iran on a variety of nuclear and nonnuclear issues, as well as strengthening the nuclear inspections regime to have more “anytime, anywhere” authority, including the inspection of Iranian military facilities to which the International Atomic Energy Agency has had little access.

Hayden responded to comments made to the Post by former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, in which he said that as soon as the deal expires – or even before – Iran can simply get Pyongyang to transfer its ICBM-ready nuclear technology, thereby giving Iran the wherewithal to leap forward in its nuclear abilities.

Hayden said, “This is all true, but it is not a prima facie case to walk out of the deal. I get Bolton’s argument, but he is very skilled at painting the darkest picture.”

Regarding Syria, Hayden said the victory over ISIS in Raqqa was good, but that Hezbollah-Iranian-Alawite- Russian forces were piggybacking on wins by the US and its allies “to fill space in east Syria, and we seem to be indifferent to that.”

Echoing warnings by top Israeli officials about Trump’s Syria policy, he said the US administration’s indifference seemed to be “allowing not just a Shi’a arc metaphorically, but also physically on the ground [to develop from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon],” adding, “This is very important.”

Hayden elaborated: “As Raqqa falls, two American-trained armies are fighting each other in Kirkuk [the Kurds against the Shi’ites]. One of them has a very strong Iranian mobile presence. Not that this is easy [to deal with]. There are no good options. But I do not see an adequate sense of concern about those developments. We are defeating ISIS, but leaving Iran, Russia and friends in a much stronger position.” (Jerusalem Post)

US Vice President Pence to visit Israel in December

US Vice President Mike Pence announced Wednesday that he will travel to Israel and Egypt in late December at President Donald Trump’s request.

Pence made the announcement in Washington in keynote remarks at In Defense of Christians’ annual solidarity dinner for Christians in the Middle East.

He said he’ll deliver a message during the trip that now is the time to “end the persecution of Christians and all religious minorities.”

The vice president will visit Israel during Hanukkah. He’ll discuss the prospects for a Middle East peace agreement in separate meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the White House.

Pence is also expected to address US policy toward Iran and highlight Israel’s space program.

Pence will also meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and highlight US-Egypt cooperation on security issues. Pence also plans meetings with government and religious leaders to discuss combating the persecution of religious minorities – including Christians – in the broader Middle East.

On Sunday it was reported that the Trump administration would shortly unveil a formal proposal for Middle East peace that aims to enable a “comprehensive regional arrangement,” but that will not be imposed on the sides, and that will not feature a rigid timetable. An administration official said, however, that there were no imminent plans to present a proposal.

Such an approach would apparently represent a departure from previous US peace efforts, which focused primarily on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Administration officials have in the past made plain that a proposal will be put forward at some point in the near future, and that the administration will discuss its specifics at that time.

Pence, who has long been close to the pro-Israel community, has said several times that Trump would place Israel’s safety and security as a priority in any peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

He has also repeatedly said that the US president would fulfill a campaign promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

“I promise you that the day will come when President Donald Trump moves the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It is not a question of if, it is only when,” he told Christian supporters of Israel at the annual the annual CUFI conference in July.

Trump, who himself visited Israel in May, renewed a waiver in June on a law passed in 1995 mandating the move, as all of his predecessors have done, and has backed away from the pledge.

On Thursday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is stopping in Israel during a Middle East tour focused on combating terrorism.

Mnuchin, who is Jewish, is in the region to coordinate sanctions on backers of terrorist groups. He met in Riyadh on Wednesday with Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, and other top Saudi officials.   (the Times of Israel)

UN High Commissioner announces ‘blacklist’ of Israeli companies

Dozens of companies doing business in Judea and Samaria notified by UN that they have been marked for violating international law.

In recent weeks, some 130 Israeli companies and another 60 international corporations have received letters from the current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jordan’s Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, warning them that they are being “blacklisted” for “acting contrary to international law and UN decisions.”

According to Yediot Aharonot, the list in question includes well-known Israeli companies spanning different sectors, from food to services, pharmaceuticals to hi-tech. All of them, however, have one thing in common: They operate in Judea and Samaria, eastern Jerusalem, or the Jordan Valley.

Yediot Aharonot reported that the companies are currently considering taking legal action against the High Commissioner, claiming that the blacklist is politically motivated, and pointing to other “conflict areas” around the world which did not merit a similar blacklist.

According to the report, the Foreign Ministry believes that the High Commissioner received information on the companies from Israeli NGOs that monitor business activity over the Green Line.

The report noted that, while the blacklist has no immediate operational or legal consequences, it can have the long-term effect of deterring investment in the companies in question, providing fuel for the BDS movement and damaging the State of Israel economically.

Jordan Valley.

Yediot Aharonot reported that the companies are currently considering taking legal action against the High Commissioner, claiming that the blacklist is politically motivated, and pointing to other “conflict areas” around the world which did not merit a similar blacklist.

According to the report, the Foreign Ministry believes that the High Commissioner received information on the companies from Israeli NGOs that monitor business activity over the Green Line.

The report noted that, while the blacklist has no immediate operational or legal consequences, it can have the long-term effect of deterring investment in the companies in question, providing fuel for the BDS movement and damaging the State of Israel economically. (Arutz Sheva)

David’s Sling wins Technology Pioneer Award

The David’s Sling weapons system was awarded the prestigious Technology Pioneer Award at the 2017 Multinational Ballistic Missile Defense Conference in Boston, the Defense Ministry announced.

The award, presented on Tuesday in recognition of the system’s groundbreaking achievements in lower-tier ballistic- and cruise-missile defenses, is given each year by the Multinational BMD Conference’s International Program Committee in recognition of significant technical achievement in the field of missile defense.

“With a robust system-of-systems architecture and breakthrough Stunner Interceptor technologies, David’s Sling attains cutting-edge performance in protection against endo-atmospheric threats on a national scale,” read a statement by the ministry.

David’s Sling is a joint Israel- US project, with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems collaborating with American defense contractor Raytheon.

Other components of the system were developed by Elta – a subdivision of Israel Aerospace Industries – which developed the system’s multi-mission radar, and the Elisra subdivision of Elbit Systems, which developed the battle management command and control mechanisms known as the Golden Almond.

The award was given during the 30th annual Multinational BMD Conference, and was accepted on behalf of the State of Israel by Moshe Patel, the director of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization, who said that the system’s capabilities are a significant breakthrough in the world of interception technology.

“The unique characteristics of the system interceptors are astounding in every test that is done. The David’s Sling Weapons System is an important component of Israel’s operational capability to defend the country against regional missile threats. I would like to thank to our American partners on the recognition of the DSWS and the message it brings along,” he said.

Pini Yungman, executive vice president and head of Rafael’s Air Superiority Systems Division, called the system one of the world’s most advanced missile defense systems and said that the award is another testimony to the technological breakthrough that it represents.

Israel’s air defenses include the Iron Dome, designed to shoot down short-range rockets, and the Arrow system, which intercepts ballistic missiles outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. The David’s Sling missile defense system, which became operational in April, is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, medium- to long-range rockets, as well as cruise missiles fired at ranges between 40 km. and 300 km.

Together, the systems provide Israel with a comprehensive protective umbrella able to counter threats posed by both short- and mid-range missiles used by terrorist groups in Gaza and Hezbollah as well as the threat posed by more sophisticated long-range Iranian ballistic missiles.  (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli wins judo gold in UAE, which refuses to play anthem, raise flag

An Israeli judoka won a gold medal on Thursday at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam judo tournament, but had to sing his own private “Hatikvah” because the organizers refused to play the Israeli national anthem.

He also had to celebrate his victory under the International Judo Federation’s flag, because the emirate banned the display of Israeli symbols.

Tournament organizers did not play Israel’s national anthem as Tal Flicker stood on the podium after receiving his medal in the men’s under-66 kilograms (145 pounds) category.

With the medal around his neck, Flicker sang his own “Hatikvah” while the International Judo Federation’s (IJF) anthem played in the background.

On the women’s side, Gili Cohen won bronze in the under-52 kilograms (114 pounds) class. The Israeli flag was not flown on her behalf either

The entire Israeli team was required to compete without any Israeli identifying symbols, and had been told before the tournament that there would be no acknowledgement of their home country — a discriminatory policy imposed solely on the Israeli competitors.

Flicker said later that he made up his mind to sing his own “Hatikvah” on the podium from “the moment that I won the gold.”

“Israel is my country, and I’m proud to be Israeli,” he said, speaking to Channel 2 news from his hotel room. “The anthem that they played of the world federation was just background noise,” he said. “I was singing ‘Hatikvah’ from my heart.

“I’m proud of my country,” he said again. “The whole world knows that we’re from Israel, knows who we represent. The fact that they hid our flag, it’s just a patch on our flag.”

Asked whether he’d had reservations about competing in a tournament that would not recognize him and his colleagues as Israelis, Flicker said he had focused solely on winning a medal. Now that he’d done so, “I’m extremely happy.”

Ahead of the tournament on Monday, Flicker wrote on Facebook that even without the flag, “everyone in the world knows where we are from and what country we represent.”

“I am the most proud in the world to be Israeli,” he added.

The Israeli contestants were barred from wearing Israeli symbols on their uniforms at the tournament and were listed as representing the International Judo Federation.

The ban on Israeli symbols came despite the IJF’s demand before the tournament that the UAE treat Israeli athletes equally.

A letter from the IJF to the president of the UAE Judo Federation said “all delegations, including the Israeli delegation, shall be treated absolutely equally in all aspects, without any exception.”

It highlighted the body’s core ideals that “every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind.”

The letter was sent to the World Jewish Congress, which represents over 100 Jewish communities, and had asked the IJF to intervene and “protect the rights of the Israeli national judo team and keep the spirit of sport free of political discrimination.”

There was no comment Wednesday from the UAE, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel.

Muslim and Arab states or athletes often boycott Israeli competitors. An Egyptian judoka refused to shake hands with his Israeli opponent at the Rio Olympics last year. Tunisia’s tennis federation ordered the country’s top player to withdraw from a match against an Israeli opponent at a tournament in 2013.

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said it was of “utmost importance” that her country’s athletes display the flag and sing the national anthem at international competitions. She said boycotting the competition would only “play into the hands of those refusing to recognize our existence,” and would hinder Israel’s future sporting achievements.

Israeli judokas were also banned from displaying any Israeli symbols at a 2015 tournament in Abu Dhabi. (the Times of Israel)

Israel’s next challenge: Precision-guided missiles in Gaza

As part of its expansion in the region, Iran plans to produce upgraded rockets in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. In light of the Iranians’ warming relations with Hamas, Israeli defense officials believe they will seek to produce accurate missiles in the strip as well. Meanwhile, Hezbollah already has its eyes set on the day after the war in Syria.

by Roi Kais                Ynet News


The Iranian issue has recently made its way back to the top of the global agenda in general, and the Israeli agenda in particular: Starting from US President Donald Trump’s threats to walk away from the nuclear agreement, through Tehran’s involvement in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen and the warming relations with Hamas, to the growing presence of Revolutionary Guards’ representatives on the Golan Heights border.

Looking at this list as it grows longer, many Israeli defense officials believe the most significant challenge concerning Iran these days has to do with the potential for self-production of precision-guided weapons—converting simple rockets, through wingtip devices and other components, into missiles that are capable of hitting their target with an accuracy of some tens of meters. In light of the tight connection to Hezbollah and the improving relations with Hamas, this a very troubling weapon as far as Israel is concerned.

The knowledge required for upgrading the missiles already exists, and Iran’s military industry factories are advanced in this field. In addition to its expansion in the region, Iran intends to produce rockets in Syria too and set up a factory in Lebanon to perform the conversion into precision-guided missiles.

This plan isn’t limited to the Lebanese-Syrian arena. Iran wants to build similar factories in Yemen for its allies, the Houthi rebels, who still control different areas, including the capital of Sanaa, and are in a war against the Saudi-led coalition and the forces of Yemen’s official president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Against this background, Israel is watching the Gaza Strip with a great amount of concern: As part of the warming relations with Hamas, Iran will likely seek to produce precision-guided missiles in Gaza too. Only recently, during a visit by senior organization members to Tehran, the Iranian foreign minister’s advisor, Hussein Sheikh al-Islam, promised that “Iran will give Hamas whatever Hamas asks for and Iran can comply with.”

At the moment, there is no concrete operation taking place in Lebanon, Yemen or Gaza, but the planning and thought do exist. According to foreign sources, the Israel Air Force occasionally strikes in Syria to prevent the transfer of components and weapons aimed at helping in Hezbollah and Iran’s effort.

Russia caught between Assad and Israel

Furthermore, the Israeli defense establishment is concerned by a possible deployment of Iranian elements and pro-Iranian forces in the Golan Heights, a move which is likely only in its infancy. It’s still unclear who was responsible for the rockets fired into Israel from Syria on Saturday. In any event, the Syrian Golan Heights is currently filled with a mixture of elements: Some of the areas are controlled by the regime (especially in the northern and central Golan), other areas are in the hands of rebel groups sitting just along the border in the central Golan, and the ISIS-affiliated Khalid ibn al-Walid Army is waiting on the tripoint in the southern Golan.

The Syrian regime is trying to regain territory in the Golan. There have been many reports recently on massive bombings carried out by the regime near the town of Beit Jann, at the foot of the Syrian Mount Hermon. Syrian President Bashar Assad appears to be progressing in a relatively fixed manner, which has been successful in other areas in Syria too: Shelling and an ongoing siege on a village until its residents surrender.

A key role in this battle is played by Russia, the dominant element in the area known as “Assadstan” (the areas controlled by the regime, although they don’t necessarily have an abundance of members of the Alawi sect which the tyrant’s family comes from). The Russian goal is likely to reach an agreement and restore the Syrian regime’s control in the Jordanian and Israeli border areas.

As Russia has no desire to create an escalation with Israel, its interest is to pressure Iran and Hezbollah to dilute their forces in those areas. The problem is it still needs their forces as the rebels have yet to be fully eradicated.

Despite many reports of cracks in the relations between Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and the Assad regime, the cooperation continues as all parties share the same interest: To secure the Assad regime’s survival. It’s clear, however, that each party has different interests and different aspirations.

Russia is interested in preserving its port on the Syrian coast in the Mediterranean Sea. Iran is interested in expanding in Syria and creating a platform against Israel. Assad may be more committed to Tehran than in the past, but contrary to the prevalent opinion, he has yet to open all doors to them and has yet to completely give up his assets.

An interesting example emerged during a recent visit to Damascus by the Iranian military’s chief of staff, General Mohammad Baqeri. While the visit received wide media coverage, the agreements with the Syrians were apparently only in principle and no official documents were signed.

The Hezbollah enigma

The fourth element in the equation is Hezbollah, which has invested—and is still investing—many resources in the civil war in Syria, led by its elite unit, the Radwan force. The involvement in Syria has already cost the Shiite organization 2,000 fighters, almost three times the number of Hezbollah fighters killed in the Second Lebanon War.

In the past few years, it has often been reported that Hezbollah is pulling its forces out of Syria, but the organization is still there, and as its leader Hassan Nasrallah says, his people will be present wherever they are needed.

Nevertheless, they have likely started to think about the day after. It seems Hezbollah isn’t interested in continuing its massive presence in Syria, but rather in diluting its forces. An Iranian presence in the area, along with a reduction in the Russian presence, will be convenient for Nasrallah, who will have no problem stationing his people in observation posts on the Golan Heights, and this situation should concern Israel in any event.

The organization has yet to appoint a replacement to the head of its military wing, Mustafa Badreddine, who was mysteriously assassinated in May 2015 in the Damascus Airport. The two people running Hezbollah’s efforts in Syria these days are believed to be Nasrallah himself and the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, who is already being defined by some people as Iran’s “sanctum” in the Middle East.