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Latest Israel News – 28th August

Netanyahu says meeting with Kushner ‘helpful, meaningful’

Bibi and Kuchner

L-R: Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman meet in Tel Aviv

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday evening that meetings with a high-level delegation of US officials earlier in the day were “helpful and meaningful.”

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell met with Netanyahu as part of a visit to the region in a bid to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

In a statement, the prime minister said he and the visiting US delegation “discussed ways to promote peace and prosperity in the region.”

“The talks were helpful and meaningful,” the Hebrew statement said, adding that Netanyahu “expects the talks to continue in the coming weeks.”

The statement added that “the Prime Minister expressed his appreciation to President [Donald] Trump and the Trump administration for its strong support of Israel.”

Trump hailed Kushner and Netanyahu after the three-and-a-half hour meeting, writing in an Instagram post that “there is no doubt that our relationship with you is stronger than ever! See you soon.”

“Lets advance #Peace, #Prosperity and #Security in the area,” he wrote.

Speaking alongside Kushner before the start of their meeting at IDF Headquarters in the Kirya military headquarters compound in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said he believed peace was “within our reach.”

“We have a lot of things to talk about. How to advance peace, stability and security in our region — prosperity too — and I think all of them are within our reach,” he said.

“So I am happy to see you and the effort you’re leading on behalf of the [US] President [Donald Trump] with Jason [Greenblatt] and other members of your team,” the prime minister said. “I think this is a sign of the great alliance between us and the great goals that guide us.”

Kushner told Netanyahu that Trump is “very committed” to help broker a peace deal and thanked the prime minister for working with the White House toward that goal.

“The president is very committed to achieving a solution here that will be able to bring prosperity and peace to all people in this area,” he said. “We really appreciate the commitment of the prime minister and his team to engaging very thoughtfully and and respectfully in the way that the president has asked him to do so.”

Kushner also said “the relationship between Israel and America is stronger than ever and we really thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for his leadership and his partnership.”

The US delegation’s visit to the region comes as Palestinian figures have become more vocal in expressing disappointment in Washington’s unclear approach to peace efforts so far.

Kushner was meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday night.

A spokesman for Abbas called the meeting “important and crucial”.

A US official said earlier that Trump “remains optimistic that progress toward a deal can be achieved.”

A couple dozen Palestinians protested the visit on Thursday in Ramallah, burning the Israeli flag and pictures of Trump.

After initially welcoming the election of Trump, the Palestinians have expressed increasing frustration with what they say is a failure by the US president to offer a clear vision for peace. Specifically, they are seeking a halt in Israeli settlement construction on occupied lands, and an American commitment to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state as part of a peace deal with Israel.

“The US envoys come empty handed,” said Mahmoud Alloul, a top official in Abbas’ Fatah movement. “That’s why we will ask them whether they have answers about the basic issues. We will not deal with marginal issues.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told the Voice of Palestine radio station on Thursday that the Palestinians would be seeking “clear answers” from Kushner on settlements and independence.

“Their answers to these questions will enable us to say if we have a historical chance for a peace process that can end the occupation or these visits are no more than a waste of time,” Malki said.  (the Times of Israel)

US denies Kushner’s team told Abbas a settlement freeze would topple Netanyahu

A senior White House official vehemently denied on Saturday reports that a US delegation tasked with trying to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that a West Bank settlement freeze was impossible and would result in the toppling of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

“This is nonsense,” a senior administration official said “These comments were never made.”

The pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat reported earlier on Saturday that the Trump team, led by senior adviser Jared Kushner, told Abbas during a Thursday meeting in Ramallah that getting Israel to place a moratorium on settlement construction could not be a precondition for resumed peace talks and that building would continue.

Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, along with peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell, met with Abbas on Thursday as part of a trip to the region aimed at looking at trying to renew peace negotiations, which Trump himself has labeled a “top priority” for the administration.

Channel 10 reported Saturday night that the Palestinians, for their part, made clear to the Americans that they do not intend to halt their payments of stipends to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. But this report, too, was denied by US sources, who said the subject was not discussed.

For weeks, Palestinian officials had expressed pessimism at US peace efforts, and Abbas had reportedly sought a US commitment to endorse the two-state solution.

Despite a State Department spokesperson declining to endorse a two-state solution a day before the meetings, and saying that would “bias” the US role in trying to mediate a resolution to the conflict, Abbas still gave the Washington officials his vote of confidence in remarks after the meeting.

Abbas expressed optimism that a deal with Israel could be reached with the help of “sincere” efforts from the Trump administration.

L“We affirm that this delegation is working toward peace, and we are working with it to achieve soon what Trump called the ‘peace deal,’” Abbas said.

In his remarks carried by the official PA news outlet, Wafa, Kushner did not mention a two-state solution and only offered vague sentiments about peace in the future.

“President Trump is very optimistic and hopes for a better future for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people,” Kushner said. “We hope they can work together and live together for many years and have a much better life.”

A joint statement issued after the Ramallah talks stated: “The Palestinian Authority and the US delegation had a productive meeting focused on how to begin substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Both sides agreed to continue with the US-led conversations as the best way to reach a comprehensive peace deal.”

Before meeting with Abbas on Thursday, the delegation met with Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, where Kushner told the prime minister that Trump is “very committed” to help broker a peace deal.

Kushner also said “the relationship between Israel and America is stronger than ever and we really thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for his leadership and his partnership.”

Netanyahu in response said he believed peace with the Palestinians was “within our reach.”          (the Times of Israel)

IDF maintains readiness as soldiers drill for urban combat in Gaza

As Israel’s enemies continue to build up their arsenals, hundreds of Golani soldiers participated in a large scale exercise on Wednesday simulating urban combat in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Soldiers from Golani’s 12th battalion began the two-day drill with an overnight march from the northern city of Meitav to their destination of Harish some 30 kilometers away late Tuesday night.

“The soldiers were ambushed during their march and had to fight off their enemies and deal with their injured comrades,” a senior Golani officer in charge of the exercise said while taking a short break from the drill.

The IDF has significantly stepped up the scope and frequency of its combat training and while most drills take place in the Ramat HaGolan, this drill took place in the growing town of Harish, a one hour’s drive from Tel Aviv.

The Post visited Harish as soldiers were training on taking over half-built buildings and engaging the enemy who lay in wait to ambush them from a ditch.

IDF soldiers take part in a drill simulating urban warfare in Gaza, August 23, 2017 (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)IDF soldiers take part in a drill simulating urban warfare in Gaza, August 23, 2017 (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

“This is the perfect place to hold a drill simulating urban combat,” the senior officer said as a young boy pedaled by on his bike, “the biggest challenge for the soldiers in this drill was to differentiate between the enemy and civilians.”

Hovering above the town throughout the drill was a Skylark Drone, the IDF’s smallest drone which operates on all fronts for tactical surveillance. But according to the senior officer the Skylark was not the only unmanned aerial vehicle taking part in the drill.

Once soldiers succeeded in taking over a building, they launched quadcopters in order to see what may be ahead of them. Launched by one or two soldiers and able to be operated on the roof of buildings or in the back of armored personnel carriers, the quadcopters provide live-video to operators once airborne, giving them a clear view of their next goal.

While Golani operates under GOC Northern Command, its units are sent to combat zones on a number of different fronts including the north, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The IDF believes that any future conflict, whether it be against Hezbollah in the north or Hamas in the south, soldiers will have to fight their heavily armed enemies entrenched in the middle of built-up civilian areas.

According to the senior officer, while the terrain between the northern front and Gaza are completely different, there are many similarities between them, namely that soldiers will face high numbers of civilians during urban combat.

“For a soldier to enter an enemy house in Gaza or Lebanon, it’s the same thing,” the senior officer said, “but it is who is inside that is different.”

While the current IDF assessment is that Hezbollah and Hamas do not seek a conflict with Israel at this time, both groups are continuing to invest enormous resources into building up their arsenals.

At the end of February, Golani troops held a large war drill in the Golan Heights where troops practiced storming a village, seizing an open hilly area, dealing with incoming artillery fire and moving around in the Namer armored personnel carrier (APC) which can transport eleven soldiers to enemy territory under heavy fire.

Equipped with the Trophy active defense system which can intercept missiles fired in its direction, the Namer “is the one thing which will allow us to beat the enemy,” the senior officer said, pointing to two jeeps which acted as Namers during the drill.

According to the senior officer, another significant challenge of the exercise was to bring all necessary equipment to Harish, including mental health officers to train commanders on how to treat soldiers who act as if they are shell shocked.

“When you put all the pieces together it completes and increases our capabilities,” the senior officer said, stressing that “there is no way that a soldier stands alone in front of the enemy.”

“The commanders will be in the front. That’s what I expect of myself and of other commanders.  That’s what the soldiers and their families expect of us. There is no dilemma,” he told the Post before putting on his helmet to rejoin his troops.

“I really hope my soldiers will not need to go to war, but if we have to, the soldiers are ready.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu slams ‘unacceptable’ Western Wall body searches

Body searches of female worshipers at the entrance to the Western Wall are “unacceptable,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday.

Netanyahu asked Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to look into accusations that at least four female rabbinical students were subject to body searches while attempting to enter the Western Wall Plaza, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The students from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, including two Americans, were on Wednesday asked to lift their shirts and skirts for security before being allowed to enter the Western Wall plaza, where an egalitarian prayer service was being held.

The four said they were questioned and pulled aside into a private room. The women were among a group of 15 rabbinical, cantorial and Jewish education students from North America and Australia who joined about 200 men and women in an egalitarian service held Wednesday morning on the plaza behind the men’s and women’s sections. The egalitarian service took place following the monthly Rosh Hodesh service of the Women of the Wall group.

Erdan told Netanyahu that no complaint had been filed with police, the statement said. Erdan also said that if a complaint is filed it will be “thoroughly checked.”

Netanyahu and Erdan “agreed that if this indeed took place as described, it is unacceptable and will be addressed in accordance with the law and the instructions of the court,” the statement also said.

The IRAC said Wednesday it would submit formal complaints about the body searches on the students.

Western Wall security did not say what they were looking for, according to the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform movement. Western Wall officials in the past have detained women and searched for Torah scrolls and other religious items they consider inappropriate for women to bring to the wall.

In January, the High Court of Justice ruled that women are not to be subjected to intense body searches when entering the Western Wall.

Leaders of the Reform movement said in a statement Thursday that they sent a letter to Netanyahu, calling on the prime minister to “issue a swift and clear denunciation” of what they called the “degrading” searches  (the Times of Israel)

Israeli doctors return smile to African children’s faces

It’s an operation that only takes one hour, but it allows hundreds of children to face the future with a smile.

That’s the contribution of two plastic surgeons from the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, who recently returned from Africa where they were on a mission to correct facial deformities in local children.

Doctors Omri Emodi, a craniofacial surgeon, and Zach Sharony, a plastic surgeon, were working in Ghana on a mission organized by Operation Smile, a US based humanitarian organization, along with a team of surgeons and medical staff from 12 countries.

“If a child has a facial deformity, it can affect eating, drinking, speaking and, of course, his or her own self-image,” explained Emodi. “You walk with a sign on you, especially in Africa. You could easily be an outcast.”

Their patients ranged in age from a few months old to young men and women in their 20s. They came from all over Ghana, some as far as 500 miles away. Most of the operations were on cleft lips and palates, while others dealt with more complex surgeries on facial deformities

The doctors worked non-stop in seven makeshift surgery rooms in the city of Ho, and, together with an international team of surgeons, technicians, nursing staff and anesthesiologists, completed 155 operations in eight days.

“You work with a team that you do not know and who come from another culture. But once you get into the rhythm, everyone becomes one team, motivated by the desire to help these people,” said Emodi.

Dr. Omri Emody with a patient and his mother in Ghana

“It takes only less than one hour to carry out the operation,” Emodi said, but can change the life of a child. “The mission is so satisfying,” he added, smiling. “It’s like a gift from God.”

The procedures are done at no cost to the children or their families, and are funded by the NGO.

The challenge, a statement from the organization said, is to reach as many people as possible in the short time available.

“In Ghana — with a population of 20 million people — there are only 20 qualified surgeons who can perform these operations,” said Emodi.

Emody and Sharony have a long tradition of taking part in missions to Vietnam, Ethiopia, the Philippines and other countries, treating dozens of patients wherever they go.

At the Rambam hospital in Haifa, they also treat a wide range of patients, including Palestinians and those from war-torn Syria and neighboring Arab countries. (the Times of Israel)

8-year-old girl stumbles upon ultra-rare 2,000-year-old ‘half-shekel’

After an 8-year-old girl picked up her little sister from kindergarten, she picked up a little something else from the ground on her way back home — an extremely rare 2,000-year-old “half-shekel” coin.

When she returned to her home in the settlement of Halamish that day last May, Hallel Halevy did a Google search for “ancient coins” and came up with something that looked like a match. So, she of course put it in her special little box where she kept her prized little mirror and her favorite necklace. “Childhood treasures,” laughed Hallel, a rising fourth grader, in conversation with The Times of Israel on Thursday.

And there the coin stayed until about a week ago, when her 11-year-old sister glimpsed it and advised her to show their father.

“I recognized that it may be a genuine ancient coin,” said father Shimon, a lawyer. But lacking the proper education to confirm it, he took a picture on his cell phone and sent it to the wife of a local scholar, Bar-Ilan University Prof. Zohar Amar.

Amar, a historian of ancient Land of Israel flora and fauna, had actually written an essay on the wine presses in the nearby archaeological site, Chubalta, near which the coin was found. Amar was intrigued by what he saw and asked Shimon to bring the coin to his house so he and his wife, Tamar, who is also knowledgable on such subjects, could study it.

At first glance, the Amar couple thought it was a full shekel coin.

The couple compared it to several examples of shekels, but decided to test its authenticity by weighing it. Disappointed, they found that it wasn’t the expected 14 grams, rather exactly half of it. Then they realized that meant it was instead a half-shekel coin, which was used for Temple purposes.

Amar believes the coin was minted during the Great Jewish Revolt (66-70 CE) against the Romans prior to the destruction of the Second Temple. More precisely dating it may be tricky, however, because only one side is clearly legible. The other could have been un-minted, or was rubbed off with age. On the visible side is is an image of a three-pronged pomegranate, around which is written “Holy Jerusalem” in First Temple Hebrew lettering.

Matching examples of half-shekel coins found in the book, “A Treasury of Jewish Coins” by renowned expert Yaakov Meshorer, indicate that the coin is not from the first year of the Revolt because the words are written in “full form” — with the letters “yud” and “vav.” Interestingly, the use of such First Temple period lettering is thought to have been intentional to raise nostalgic feelings for the earlier Jewish monarchy. Such lettering was known during the Second Temple period, but was not typical of it. In addition to coins, a small portion of the biblical Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran were written in this font, and recently a non-biblical scroll was discovered in this type as well.

According to Temple Mount Sifting Project archaeologist Zachi Dvira, “These half-shekel coins were used to pay the Temple tax during the Great Revolt, replacing the Tyrian shekel used previously. It appears that these half-shekel coins were minted by the Temple authorities on the Temple Mount itself.

“This half-shekel tax for the sanctuary, mentioned in the Book of Exodus (30:13–15), required every male to pay half a shekel to the Holy Temple once a year,” said Dvira. The half shekel donation was not only a means of filling Temple coffers, but was also used as a census as during the Second Temple; every Jewish male paid his tax once a year on the first of the Hebrew month of Adar. (In the New Testament’s Book of Matthew, Jesus, who lived circa 4 BCE-33 CE, is reported to pay the Temple tax through the miraculous discovery of coinage in the mouth of a recently caught fish.)

Amar told Israel National News that “the Jews minted such coins against the coins minted in Tyre in order to stress the symbolism and nationalism, and in the Temple they used only these coins because they are a very high quality of silver.” It was the first time that Jews used silver for coinage.

Later, after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the custom of donating the half shekel lingered and is today customarily given before Purim.

Amar said that while these coins are found elsewhere in Israel, “the discovery at [Halamish] raises interest because the area was a very large center and according to Josephus, Jews participated during the revolt and there is evidence that supports this report.”

Founded 40 years ago, modern Halamish (also known as Neve Tsuf) is located in southwestern Samaria at what was once a crossroads of the Roman empire in the Holy Land, a highway of sorts for those traveling between Caesarea and Jerusalem. The archaeological site, located a few hundred meters from where Hallel found the coin, has evidence of settlement during the Roman period — which includes the Jewish Revolt — up through the early Islamic period.

“This is an area where the pilgrims passed through on their way to Jerusalem. The Romans understood that if they wanted to conquer Jerusalem they should first oppress the Jews here on the way to Jerusalem,” Amar told Arutz Sheva.

The location where Hallel found the coin is also only about 200 meters from where Yosef Salomon (70), daughter Chaya Salomon, 46, and son, Elad Salomon, 36, were murdered on July 21.

“After all that we went through recently, the discovery is very interesting because the Romans wanted to kill us, but we came back here, and this year we will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the settlement of Neve Tsuf,” said Amar.

On Wednesday, the coin was handed over to the archaeological unit of the Civil Administration, or COGAT, which overseas Israeli government activities in the West Bank. According to Israeli law, all archaeological finds must be turned over to the government. Hallel received a certificate of appreciation for her find.

Hallel said she was a little sad at first to turn over the coin, but got over it. And as for the feeling of holding something so historic in her hand, she said, “I felt that wow! It was written on it ‘Jerusalem the Holy City.’ That’s really exciting.” (the Times of Israel)

Kushner’s first big challenge: getting Mid-East sides to talk

by  Rory Jones, Paul Sonne                  The Australian/ The Wall Street Journal

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/wall-street-journal/kushners-first-big-challenge-getting-mideast-sides-to-talk/news-story/6d847928c75e6c133e37260c6f16aeb3

Donald Trump, who has pledged to broker the “ultimate deal” between the Israelis and Palestinians, faces major obstacles to getting them to even negotiate as his adviser Jared Kushner arrives in Israel.

The White House says the discussions will focus on “the path to substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks,” combating extremism and economic and humanitarian issues in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Kushner’s delegation was set to meet with Israeli and then Palestinian officials separately today.

But the US has not received assurances that the two sides will talk to one another — let alone take steps to resolve the decades-long conflict. A White House official emphasised that the US is still in the initial stages of the process and has yet to formally propose a new peace dialogue.

The Palestinians’ quest for statehood is among the biggest hurdles to direct negotiations.

Many Israeli officials won’t support the creation of a Palestinian state; Palestinian officials don’t want to negotiate without statehood as the goal. The White House hasn’t said how it plans to bridge the gap, Israelis and Palestinians say.

The deadlock underscores the tough task the US President faces in forging Middle East peace — a signature foreign-policy goal that has eluded American leaders for decades. Trump in February backed off the US’s longstanding commitment to a two-state strategy, saying he would support whatever solution both parties prefer.

Trump has deputised his son-in-law Kushner, 36, who has no experience negotiating foreign conflicts, to head the peace push.

Accompanying Kushner on the trip is Jason Greenblatt, a former Trump Organisation lawyer turned White House special representative for international negotiations, and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell.

Palestinian officials said they were initially encouraged by Trump’s eagerness to get a deal done, but now say they are disappointed with his administration’s early steps.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israeli legislators on Sunday that he had met 20 times with Trump officials but still had no clear idea on its direction for peace.

The US is “not willing to say” that the Palestinians’ basis for negotiation is the establishment of a state, said Esawi Freij, an Israeli legislator who met with Abbas.

The White House official said the administration has developed a strategy that it will begin discussing with the relevant parties this week.

White House negotiators, including Kushner, made several trips this year to develop relationships and gather advice from Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region. But progress slowed when a crisis erupted last month over a contested Jerusalem holy site and tensions mounted between Israel and Jordan after an attack at the Israeli embassy in Amman, the official said.

“The President remains optimistic,” the official said. “And the administration remains engaged.”

Disagreements over West Bank settlement housing also are roiling the waters. Since Trump took office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued a significant increase in construction tenders for such housing and agreed to build the first new stand-alone settlement in more than 20 years.

In February, Trump asked Netanyahu to halt settlements. But White House officials have refrained from condemning them, in contrast with the Obama administration which frequently did. Trump appointed David Friedman, his longtime lawyer who has financially supported settlements, as US ambassador to Israel.

The Trump administration “has made clear that unrestrained settlement activity does not advance the prospect for peace”, the White House official said. “At the same time, the administration recognises that past demands for a settlement freeze have not helped advance peace talks.”

Israeli officials have said they don’t believe settlements are an impediment to peace with the Palestinians or the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu’s government is also pressuring the US to persuade the Palestinians to end a system of payments to the families of prisoners and Palestinians killed by Israel in clashes or while attacking Israelis, arguing it is an incentive for terrorism. Palestinian officials have said the payments are a form of social welfare.

Palestinians sense that US officials agree with Netanyahu’s positions on the conflict, feeding mistrust, Palestinian officials said. Netanyahu knows Kushner’s father and once stayed in the younger Kushner’s childhood bedroom in New Jersey during a visit.

Israeli politics also play a role in the process. Members of Netanyahu’s government have warned against entering peace talks based on a two-state solution at risk of destroying the fragile governing coalition.

Netanyahu’s ability to advance peace talks has been constrained by police probes into corruption allegations.

Israeli and Palestinian security officials have long co-operated in tamping down potential violence and sharing information on dangerous individuals. But after the crisis erupted last month over the contested Jerusalem holy site, the Palestinian Authority cut security relations with Israel.

Resuming this co-ordination could be the only realistic goal of the US visit, said Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of research in Israel’s military intelligence division.

“Security co-operation,” Kuperwasser said. “This will be the main practical issue that this delegation can take care of.”

Iran, not so far away

With Iran seemingly gaining more and more power in Syria, Israel has to take action to ensure Tehran will never make it to the Israel-Syrian border. This plan must include a multi-layered approach that will enlist the US, Russia and Syrian allies, as well as the understanding that an overt confrontation between Israel and Iranian forces will mean nothing short of war.

by Giora Eiland   Ynet News

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5007463,00.html

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Moscow visit on Wednesday can be seen to signal a change for the worse and a significant, national security risk in the making. The civil war in Syria is nearing an end, and it appears that the coalition of President Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah, Iran and Russia has won. If this victory would lead solely to the stability of Assad’s regime, Israel should have been able to accept this. The problem is that Iran demands compensation for the many resources it invested in the war: already the de facto ruler in Lebanon through its control over Hezbollah, Iran is now looking to recreate a similar power dynamic for itself in Syria.

In concrete terms, the Iranians want to establish a second Hezbollah, a force of Shiite militias that will be deployed on the Golan Heights along the border with Israel, and which will get its instructions from Tehran. When such a situation occurs, any confrontation with Hezbollah will lead to a wider confrontation that will include the Syrian arena. Moreover, Assad, who, weakened, finds himself grateful to Iran, will be committed to helping in this endeavor. As such, a confrontation with Hezbollah could quickly lead to a full-scale war between Israel and Syria.

Israel’s response to this dangerous possibility is limited. Countries act according to self-interests. It will not help us explain to the American administration or to the Russians why Iran’s expansion all the way to the Mediterranean is bad for us. Nor will it necessarily help if we explain to Putin that strengthening of Iran’s presence in Syria contradicts Russia’s interests in the long term. Communicating to all the Sunni states, and namely Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, that Iran’s establishment in Syria interferes with their own prerogatives, won’t be enough to block Iran’s advancement, as these states are too weak to manage such a feat.

The way Iran is for Israel to push a four-pronged approach. First, it needs to convince the US to agree to a deal with Putin that would have the US cancel the economic sanctions it has placed on Russia, while also recognizing Russia’s presence in eastern Ukraine, in return for Russia’s preventing the Iran’s continued presence in Syria.

Second, Israel must make it clear to Russia that the IDF will take action to prevent Iran from building any kind of military force of its own near the Golan Heights border. In the past two years, Israel and Russia have managed to reach a quiet understanding that apparently enabled the Israeli Air Force to attack inside Syria while Russia turned a blind eye. After Russia has achieved what it wants in Syria and has no interest in another military escalation that would jeopardize its achievements. A firm and credible Israeli message on this issue will oblige Putin to take it into account.

Third, Israel will have to explain to both its allies and its enemies that if Hezbollah starts a military campaign against us, it will not be fought only against Hezbollah alone, but as an all-out war between the countries of Israel and Lebanon. This approach is both just and wise: it is just because the Lebanese president has openly claimed that Hezbollah is part of Lebanon’s defensive force. And it is wise because no one, certainly not Saudi Arabia, Europe and the US, but even Syria or Iran, would want Lebanon to be destroyed.

Fourth, it would benefit Israel to exploit the hatred of those living in the Syrian Golan against Iran and Hezbollah. Israel can and should discreetly strengthen its ties with these people far beyond the aid it gives to Syrians wounded it the country’s civil war. Israel has so far refrained from becoming too involved in Syria’s internal conflict, but in light of the changing reality, the need to cultivate true allies who are close to the Golan Heights border is growing fast.

 

For the first time in many years, Israel is in danger of facing a detrimental regional development, and it is therefore warranted to dedicate all the attention and efforts required to properly address this situation.

Palestinians: Taking Journalists Hostage

by Khaled Abu Toameh         The Gatestone Institute

https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/10891/palestinians-journalists-hostages

Hamas and Abbas have turned Palestinian journalists into weapons in their internecine war. Palestinian journalists are now being targeted not only for expressing their views and reporting in a way that angers their leaders; they are also arrested and tortured in the process of the settling of scores between Abbas and Hamas.

The Palestinians indeed live under two dictatorial regimes, where freedom of expression and freedom of the media are violated on a daily basis.

By taking journalists hostage, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas have demonstrated that they are operating more as militias than as governments. We have before us a preview of the deadly drama of any future Palestinian state.

Palestinian journalists have once again fallen victim to the continuing power struggle between the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has jurisdiction over parts of the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamist movement that is in control of the entire Gaza Strip.

Neither the PA nor Hamas is any champion of human rights, especially freedom of the media. The two parties regularly crack down on their critics, including journalists who do not toe the line or dare to report on issues that are deemed as reflecting negatively on the PA or Hamas.

The past few weeks have been particularly tough for Palestinian journalists. In this period, several journalists found themselves behind bars in PA and Hamas prisons, while others were summoned for interrogation and had to spend hours in interrogation rooms facing and detention centers.

To make matters even worse, a new Cyber Crime Law passed by the PA paves the way for legal measures against Facebook and Twitter users who post critical or unflattering comments about President Abbas and his senior officials. Critics say the law is a grave assault on freedom of expression and it will be used as a tool in the hands of Abbas and his henchmen to silence their critics or throw them into prison. In addition, the PA has blocked more than 20 news websites that are affiliated with Hamas and Mohammed Dahlan, an ousted Fatah leader who has long openly challenged Abbas.

The PA-Hamas war is hardly a secret. The two entities use every available method to bring each other down. Abbas’s PA has not hesitated to take extreme measures against the two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. These measures include depriving the Gaza Strip of medical supplies, electricity and fuel, as well as forcing thousands of PA civil servants into early retirement and cutting off salaries to thousands of others.

Hamas’s retaliatory capacity towards the PA for these punitive steps is limited — by Israel. Fortunately for Abbas and the PA, Israel is sitting in the middle between the West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Had Israel not been so situated, Hamas and its Gaza Strip followers would have marched into the West Bank and taken over Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority, and overthrown Abbas’s PA.

In the absence of options, Hamas has sought help from Abbas’s arch-enemy, the ousted Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan, who has been living in exile in the United Arab Emirates for the past six years.

Dahlan has caused Abbas many sleepless nights; Abbas has developed a particular paranoia against Dahlan. Abbas believes that Dahlan has only one goal: to remove him from power and end his regime. Abbas may not be wrong.

Hamas is now prepared to swallow a condition it has been trying to avoid for a long time: an alliance with Dahlan, a man it has despised for two full decades. What is Hamas hoping to gain from this reluctant alliance? Given Dahlan’s strong ties with Egypt and some wealthy Gulf countries, Hamas is probably hoping for an end to its isolation in the Gaza Strip.

While awaiting the return of its presumptive “savior,” Dahlan, Hamas, which is beginning to feel the impact of Abbas’s sanctions against the Gaza Strip, has bared its fangs towards journalists, who are not known for their sympathy for the Islamist rulers there.

In a bid to exert pressure on Abbas to halt his punitive measures, Hamas’s “Internal Security Apparatus” arrested Fuad Jaradeh, a correspondent for the PA’s Palestine TV in the Gaza Strip. The charge? “Security-related offenses.”

Palestinian journalists and family members take a different view of the incarceration, however. In their view, the arrest was aimed at pressuring Abbas to backtrack on his sanctions against the Gaza Strip. Abbas is indeed hoping that the sanctions will drive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to revolt and bring down Hamas.

The 82-year-old PA president remains mired in the humiliation he suffered when Hamas expelled the PA from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007.

Abbas holds a personal grudge against Hamas because he also believes that before expelling the PA from the Gaza Strip, Hamas had planned to assassinate him by detonating explosives in a tunnel under his motorcade. The alleged plot was foiled when a Hamas official defected and revealed the plan to Abbas.

So, the Palestine TV correspondent, Jaradeh, was actually taken hostage by Hamas. Several operatives belonging to Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction in the Gaza Strip were also targeted by Hamas, which detained some or summoned them for lengthy interrogation.

Enraged by the Hamas measures, Abbas ordered a crackdown on journalists employed by Hamas-affiliated media outlets in the West Bank. The result was that seven journalists found themselves in detention on charges of working for “hostile and unauthorized” media organizations.

This charge is transparently absurd, because Hamas-affiliated television stations and news websites have been operating under Abbas’s PA for years. Besides, all the journalists rounded up by Abbas’s security forces have been working in public and their identities are well known to his security forces.

The arrest of the seven journalists was a direct effort to squeeze Hamas into releasing the television correspondent, Jaradeh.

In other words, the Palestinian Authority took the seven journalists hostage in order to secure the release of its own newsman from a Hamas prison. The PA certainly did not awaken one morning and discover that there are Hamas-affiliated journalists and media organizations in the West Bank. It is not even charging the journalists with membership in Hamas.

As it turned out, the PA hostage-taking paid off, and Hamas was forced to release Jaradeh after 70 days in detention. In return, the PA security forces released six of the seven journalists, who were even allowed to return to their jobs and resume their work under the PA. Suddenly, these journalists were no longer a security threat and their working places were no longer “hostile” and “unlicensed.”

After their release from Abbas’s prisons eight days later, the journalists who had been held hostage talked about having undergone physical and verbal abuse.

Mahmoud Hamamreh, one of the released journalists, recounted:

“Some of us were beaten and humiliated. We were held in tiny cells and treated as criminals. The officer in charge of the investigation told us that we were being held hostage until Hamas releases journalists it is holding.”

Hamas and Abbas have turned Palestinian journalists into weapons in their internecine war. Palestinian journalists are now being targeted not only for expressing their views and reporting in a way that angers their leaders; they are also arrested and tortured in the process of the settling of scores between Abbas and Hamas.

The Palestinians indeed live under two dictatorial regimes, where freedom of expression and freedom of the media are violated on a daily basis. By taking journalists hostage, the PA and Hamas have demonstrated that they are operating more as militias than as governments. We have before us a preview of the deadly drama of any future Palestinian state.