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Latest News in Israel – 6th November

PM warns: Iran could have substantial nuclear arsenal within weeks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out against the Iran nuclear deal at a panel on Israel’s foreign policy priorities at London’s Chatham House on Friday. The prime minister is in London to mark the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, which officially recognized the Jewish people’s right to a national home in the land of Israel.

Asked if the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is the best possible option for reining in Iran’s nuclear, Netanyahu replied that “Iran bought a few years” with the agreement. He said that once the restrictions placed on the Islamic republic as part of the deal are removed, Iran “will have enough [fissile material] for a hundred bombs within weeks if it decides to break out.”

He said he appreciates U.S. President Donald Trump’s statement saying he believes Iran is the problem in the Middle East, calling that a “big shift” in U.S. policy.

On the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Netanyahu said he hopes a U.S. peace initiative will work and praised Trump for taking a fresh approach to bringing the Israelis and Palestinians back to negotiations.

Asked if he felt that, given Trump’s involvement in peace efforts, now is the moment for peace in the region, he said: “I hope so.”

“What’s being discussed now is an American initiative. Obviously, we make our interests and our concerns known to Mr. Trump. He’s coming with a sort of refreshing ‘can-do’ [approach]. … They’re trying to think out of the box,” Netanyahu said.

Speaking with British Prime Minister Theresa May in London on Thursday, Netanyahu said he was looking forward to discussing  “concrete ideas” with her for correcting the Iran nuclear deal.

“The goal I have in mind is not keeping or eliminating the deal, it’s improving the deal and correcting its main flaws. And I think those who want to keep the deal should cooperate in correcting the deal,” he said.

“There are great things that are happening in the Middle East because many Arab countries now see Israel not as an enemy, but as their indispensable ally in the battle against militant Islam. The threat we all see is a resurgent Iran that is bent not only on dominating the region, but bent on developing nuclear weapons.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with British Prime Minister Theresa May in London, Thursday

Meanwhile, British and Israeli leaders commemorated the Balfour Declaration’s centennial with a banquet in the gilded halls of London’s Lancaster House on Thursday.

May and Netanyahu addressed guests at the dinner, which was hosted by the descendants of Lord Arthur Balfour, then Britain’s foreign secretary, and the recipient of his declaration, Jewish community leader Baron Walter Rothschild.

At the dinner, May rejected Palestinian calls for the U.K. to apologize for the declaration.

“When some people suggest we should apologize for this letter, I say, absolutely not,” she said. “We are proud of our pioneering role in the creation of the State of Israel. We are proud to stand here today, together with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and declare our support for Israel. And we are proud of the relationship we have built with Israel. And as we mark 100 years since Balfour, we look forward to taking that relationship even further.”

May rejected the BDS movement, saying, “There can never be any excuse for boycotts, divestments or sanctions; they are unacceptable.” She called for “renewed resolve to support a lasting peace that is in the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians. There will need to be compromises from each side if we are to have a realistic chance of achieving this goal – including an end to the building of new settlements and an end to Palestinian incitement too.”

Netanyahu thanked May for inviting him to mark “with pride” a great historical event.

“The history of modern Zionism is intertwined with the history of Britain, the actions and words of Britain,” he said. “It was the Balfour Declaration that galvanized international support for Zionism as never before and paved the path for Zionism’s entry on the world stage. Now, a once stateless and powerless people have found their rightful place among the nations.

“Prime Minister May, the Balfour Declaration put Britain on the right side of history. In marking that declaration today, you are keeping Britain on the right side of history. On behalf of the government of Israel and the people of Israel, I thank you.”

He also thanked May for her “unequivocal denunciation” of anti-Semitism.

Netanyahu also said, “While we mark with pride the Balfour Declaration today, Palestinian leaders call it a tragedy. But the real tragedy of the Balfour Declaration is that it took three decades to fulfill its promise – too late for one-third of the Jewish people who perished in the Holocaust. Had Israel been established in 1928 or 1938, and not in 1948, millions could have been saved. Some people mistakenly believed that there is an Israel because of the Holocaust. In fact, it’s only because there was no Israel that the Holocaust could occur, because there was no sovereign Jewish power to protect the Jewish people or to provide refuge for the 6 million murdered by the Nazis. ”

Netanyahu said that now, a century after the declaration, “Our two countries, our two democracies – Israel and Britain – are strong allies and partners. We cooperate closely on intelligence. We cooperate closely in the battle against terrorism. And we’ve saved, through this cooperation, countless lives – British lives, Israeli lives. We cooperate in cybersecurity, in technology, in business and enterprise. We share the values of freedom and democracy and peace. Israel is committed to peace, I’m committed to peace.

“A hundred years after Balfour, the Palestinians should finally accept the Jewish national home and finally accept the Jewish state. And when they do, the road to peace will be infinitely closer. In my opinion, peace will be achievable.”

Netanyahu’s call appeared to fall on deaf ears though, as Palestinians across Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip staged protests against the centennial celebrations on Thursday.

Protests in Ramallah and Jerusalem were also attended by a group of British activists who marched from London to Turkey where they boarded a flight to Israel to present to the British Consulate General in Jerusalem with a 67-word “new Balfour Declaration,” which they said calls for equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis.

In Jerusalem, protesters briefly clashed with Israeli police in front of the British Consulate after a Palestinian flag was raised. (Israel Hayom)

30 years after Thatcher’s rebuff, Theresa May celebrates Balfour with Israel

When Israel marked the 70th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration in 1987, it invited Margaret Thatcher to join its Knesset celebrations.

Despite her staunch support for the Jewish state, the Iron Lady chose to stay away. Fear of upsetting Arab states — who continued to hold Britain responsible for its seeming endorsement of the Zionist project in 1917 and all that subsequently flowed from it — had long gripped the Foreign Office and warped the UK’s relationship with Israel.

Thirty years on, Theresa May’s government has adopted an altogether more positive approach.

“Britain was more attentive [in the 1980s] to Arab sensitivities over Balfour and the threat of Arab retaliation than she is now,” argued Dr. Azriel Bermant, author of “Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East.”

On Thursday night, May joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a glittering gala dinner hosted by Lord Rothschild in central London, where she delivered an unequivocal message about Britain’s close ties with Israel, saying she was proud of Britain’s “pioneering role in the creation of the State of Israel.”

She attacked the BDS movement and the “new and pernicious form of anti-Semitism which uses criticism of the actions of the Israeli government as a despicable justification for questioning the very right of Israel to exist.”

As James Sorene, chief executive of the British Israel Communications and Research Center think tank, argued, the success of Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit can best be measured by Theresa May’s words at the Balfour Centenary dinner.

“This speech was full of pride and support for Israel and an intention to expand the bilateral relationship at every level with zero tolerance of boycotts,” he said. “Even though the visit was commemorating the history of Balfour’s great promise, the British government is clearly looking ahead to a stronger, deeper relationship far into the future.”

Typically, May’s Foreign Secretary, the staunchly pro-Israel Boris Johnson, used even more exuberant language than his boss when he addressed a parliamentary reception earlier in the week staged by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The Balfour Declaration, he suggested, “paved the way for one of the greatest political triumphs of the 20th century, the creation of the State of Israel.”

Praising Israel’s democracy and liberal society as “a beacon of hope which shares the values in which I passionately believe,” Johnson labeled the establishment of the Jewish state “an amazing achievement by humanity.”

Johnson’s words may have met with approval on the Tory backbenches – 100 Conservative MPs signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph on the day of the anniversary organized by Conservative Friends of Israel – but they will have caused raised eyebrows back at the Foreign Office.

As the diplomatic editor of The Guardian, Patrick Wintour, has suggested, the Foreign Office has long regarded the centenary as a “diplomatic minefield.”

Thus Sir Simon McDonald, a former UK ambassador to Israel who now serves as head of the Foreign Office, told a conference this week on Balfour that Britain’s relationship with Israel was both “excellent” and “complex.”

While the anti-Israel lobby in Britain is stronger and more vociferous than it was 30 years ago – when Netanyahu visited London in 2015, over 100,000 Britons signed a petition calling for his arrest for “war crimes” supposedly committed during Operation Protective Edge – changes in the political, diplomatic and economic landscape in recent years have transformed the dynamics of the relationship between Britain and Israel.

On Friday morning, the Prime Minister was at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, where he expressed optimism about President Trump’s Middle East peace push.

“He’s coming with a sort of refreshing ‘can-do’ … they’re trying to think out of the box,” Netanyahu said of the American initiative.

That confidence is not widely shared in Britain, but both the UK, and Europe more widely, are, at best, bit players in US peacemaking efforts.

Indeed, May has none of the international heft of Thatcher, whose close relationship with Ronald Reagan, Shimon Peres, King Hussein and the Saudis gave her greater clout in the region.

If Britain’s diplomatic power has declined, its economic importance to Israel has risen sharply. Netanyahu’s visit to the London Stock Exchange on Friday, where he opened the morning’s trading, underlined the fact that the UK is now Israel’s largest export market in Europe, with trade between the two countries now surging to more than £5 billion ($7.5 billion) annually.

As May scrambles for new post-Brexit deals, she will be keen to bolster British-Israel economic ties further and boost inward investment into the UK. She faces a challenge, however, with Israeli firms operating in Britain concerned that she may not be able to strike a deal with the EU to guarantee crucial access to the European single market.

Of course, London and Jerusalem have their differences. May and Netanyahu’s meeting in Downing Street yesterday focused on two of them: the Iran nuclear deal and the stalled peace process.

May repeated the UK government’s “grave concerns” about what it regards as illegal West Bank settlement construction. Unlike many of Netanyahu’s international critics, however, Britain recognizes the critical role played by incitement and terrorism in hampering the prospects of any breakthrough between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Both May and her ministers have been careful this week to temper rhetorical praise for Israel with statements underlining Britain’s belief that Balfour is “unfinished business.” On Thursday night, May urged “renewed resolve” in brokering a lasting peace “based on a two-state solution, with a secure and prosperous Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.”

At the same time, Britain has firmly declined the Palestinian Authority’s repeated demands that it apologize for Balfour (“absolutely not,” May bluntly stated Thursday night) and immediately recognize a Palestinian state. Three years ago, the UK parliament voted for unilateral recognition of Palestine, but both the Cameron and May governments have insisted they will only do so “when the time is right.”

During her meeting with Netanyahu, May also once again defended the Iran nuclear deal. The Israeli prime minister’s shift of emphasis from outright opposition to suggesting ways flaws in the six-power agreement could be fixed will have earned him a closer hearing.

His concerns about the dangers posed by Iranian expansionism and its support for Hezbollah are also not lost on London. May is reported to have expressed the UK’s willingness to support Israel in curbing the Iranian threat, although, as both sides know, the practical effect of any such pledge is limited. Netanyahu is also more focused on developing ties with regional actors which share his concerns than currying favor with Britain.

Even so, the slow thaw in the relationship between Israel and some Arab states means that Britain is less concerned than ever that a closer rapport with the Jewish state will irritate its traditional close Middle Eastern allies such as Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, whatever his own domestic difficulties, Netanyahu knows that May’s standing at home has been fatally weakened by June’s general election which robbed the Conservatives of their parliamentary majority. In recent days, her government has been further buffeted by a slew of allegations about sexual harassment in Britain’s parliament. On the eve of Netanyahu’s visit, May’s close ally, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, was forced to resign.

Israel’s ambassador to Britain, Mark Regev, suggested last month that it had “no better friend in Europe” than the UK. But relations could swiftly sour if Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn were to come to power. Once unthinkable, June’s inconclusive general election has made the prospect of a Corbyn premiership a real possibility.

Despite the implausible claims yesterday of his Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, that the Labour leader is himself a Zionist, this week the party has done little to assuage the fears of both Israelis and British Jews.

Corbyn boycotted last night’s Balfour gala, sending Thornberry in his place.

“Mr. Corbyn had an opportunity to transcend claims of hard-left anti-Semitism in the Labour party and publicly acknowledge Israel’s right to exist,” suggested The Times in an editorial. “He failed to do so.”

Thornberry’s own participation, moreover, was somewhat marred by the fact that she had declared just three days earlier that she did not believe the Balfour centenary was a cause for celebration.

Corbyn himself chose the night before Netanyahu flew into London to appear at a meeting of a controversial Muslim group which has been accused of regularly hosting “illiberal, intolerant and extremist Islamist speakers at public events” and which the Board of Deputies has said it will not work with.

The ironies of Corbyn’s decision to snub the Balfour dinner – no doubt sealed by Netanyahu’s attendance at it – abound.

Two years ago, he defended his decision to meet with representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah and greet them as “friends” by arguing: “I think to bring about a peace process, you have to talk to people with whom you may profoundly disagree.”

In Corbyn’s mind, that principle applies to terrorists, but not to the prime minister of Israel. (the Times of Israel)

Netanyahu: Lebanese PM’s plea to halt Iran aggression must be wake up call

The international community must heed outgoing Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri’s harsh words against Iranian regional aggression and act against Tehran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday night.

This should be a “wake-up call to the international community to take action against the Iranian aggression” that aims that “to turn Syria into a second Lebanon,” Netanyahu said.

“This aggression endangers not only Israel but the entire Middle East. The international community needs to unite and confront this aggression,” he said.

He spoke just hours after Hariri’s announcement from Saudi Arabia that he was resigning, fearing his life was in danger.

But as part of his statement, Hariri also attacked Iran for its destabilizing actions both in his country and others in the region.

”I point very clearly to Iran which spreads destruction and strife wherever it is, and witness to that its interventions in the internal matters of the Arab countries, in Lebanon and Syria and Bahrain and Yemen,” Hariri said.

Iran, he added, is “driven by a deep hatred for the Arab nation and strong desire to destroy it and control it, and unfortunately it has found among our fellow countrymen those who put their hands in its hands.”

Hariri’s resignation comes as Netanyahu is in London, where he spoke with the British prime minister and foreign secretary about Iran.

During a public conversation at Chatham House on Friday Netanyahu warned that “Iran is devouring one nation after the other” either by direct conquest or by proxy.

Tehran is doing this in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and is now moving into Syria where it wants to send militias with thousands of Shiites, Netanyahu said.

It has targeted Syria as part of its drive to create a land bridge to the sea, he added.

“We will block them in Syria,” Netanyahu said.

Iran wanted to “colonize” Syria economically and militarily, and as part of that plan, it wants to place military bases in Syria close to Israel’s border, Netanyahu said.

To illustrate his point, he stood up and used the map on the wall behind him to show the areas where he said Iran plans to gain a military foothold.

“They want to move their air bases to have fighter air craft within seconds of Israel. They want to put Shiite divisions within spitting distance of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Until now Israel has not intervened in Syria, Netanyahu said, save for treating the wounded from that conflict. It has also acted to prevent Iran from moving advanced weapons through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“When Hezbollah approached our border, when they tried to extend the terror front they have in Lebanon to Syria, we acted to stop them,” Netanyahu said.

The fall of ISIS has increased the danger, said Netanyahu adding that as “as ISIS contracts, Iran moves in.”

Other Arab nations are also concerned about the Iranian threat, Netanyahu said.

“We are working very hard to establish an effective alliance between Israel and the moderate Sunni states to counter the aggression of Iran, to role it back as far as possible,” Netanyahu said.

He focused in particular on the threat that Iran could build not just one nuclear weapon, but one hundred.

“There is a great danger from rogue regimes having nuclear weapons but the greatest danger to the peace of the world is when a militant Islamic regime meets nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said.

“We will not let Iran acquire nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapon. We mean what we say and we back that up with action,” Netanyahu said. (Jerusalem Post)

Israel sets conditions for Gaza authorities to search for tunnel blast casualties

A top Israeli general said Israel will not allow authorities in the Gaza Strip to search for five missing terrorists in the border area between Israel and the small coastal enclave without progress on the issue of Israelis thought to be held in Hamas’s captivity.

Israel destroyed a tunnel leading into its territory from Gaza on Monday, leaving seven dead, at least 12 injured and five missing. In the 2014 Gaza war, Palestinians used similar tunnels to carry out attacks against Israel.

At some point over the past couple of days, the Hamas-run Civil Defense in Gaza asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to request permission on its behalf from Israel to search for the missing individuals in the border region, the Hamas-linked al-Rai website reported on Thursday.

Israel maintains a buffer zone along its border with Gaza that extends dozens of meters in the Strip. According to Gisha, an Israeli human rights group, Palestinians who enter the buffer zone risk being shot.

After communicating with the Red Cross chief in Israel and the Palestinian territories Jacques De-Maio, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said in a statement on Thursday that Israel “will not allow for locating the terrorists in the tunnel without progress on the issue of missing and captive Israelis.”

Hamas is believed to be holding captive the bodies of two Israeli soldiers – Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul – as well as three Israeli civilians, Avraham Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima.

The Islamist movement has said it would like to negotiate a prisoner swap with Israel, but has conditioned those talks on Israel releasing dozens of prisoners, who were rearrested after being set free in the 2011 Schalit prisoner exchange.

Tzur Goldin, Hadar’s brother, said Israel should use the five missing people to apply pressure on the group to release his brother.

“This is the opportunity we have been waiting for to bring back Hadar and Oron,” Tzur told Channel 2 News on Thursday.

A Hamas official slammed Israel’s decision, asserting that it is not “humanitarian.”

“Setting this condition affirms that this entity [Israel] does not act in a humanitarian way. This is just another one of many Israeli war crimes,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The official also said that while he believes Israel’s position “will exacerbate tensions,” it likely “will not lead to a new confrontation.”

Since Israel destroyed the tunnel, Hamas has exercised restraint, holding off from carrying out a reprisal.

Hamas Politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh said the response to the tunnel demolition should be to advance reconciliation efforts.

If Hamas allows for renewed round of conflict with Israel, reconciliation efforts will likely collapse. Reconciliation efforts last fell apart when the 2014 Gaza war broke out. (Jerusalem Post)

IDF vows to protect Syrian Druze village after Syrian spillover

Israel Defense Force spokesperson Ronen Manelis said in a statement that the IDF will stand by the side of the Druze population as the fighting in Syria intensifies, after a resident of Majdal Shams was injured by gunfire on Friday that seems to be spillover from the Syrian war.

“In recent hours we witness the intensifying of the fighting at the area of the Druze village of Hadher in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights,” he said.

“The IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Northern Command Commander Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick and Brig.-Gen. Yaniv Ashur were holding an assessment of the situation.

“The IDF is ready and prepared to assist the residents of the village, and will prevent the harming or the conquering of the village of Hadher our of deep commitment to the Druze population.

He also maintained that the claims of Israeli involvement and assistance to global jihad elements in the fighting on the Golan Heights are groundless.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is in London to mark the Balfour Declaration centennial, posted a statement on his Facebook page reading: “We guard our borders in the north and the south and  maintain our support for our Druze brethren.”

Hundreds of Druze resident of Israel have gathered at the border to lend support to their relatives on the Syrian side.

A group of Druze men briefly pushed through the security fence, breaching the border, and crossed into Syrian territory before being pursued and corralled back. Military sources say this is a serious violation of the law. The situation was reported to be under control.

IDF officials met with Druze community leaders on Friday evening to discuss the ongoing situation in Hader. The head of the Druze leadership Sheikh Muafik Tarif, with other Druze leaders, warned their community against taking online rumors at face value and acting harshly based on false information.

In the meeting Shiekh Tarif told IDF Northern Command Commander Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick that he has “full confidence in you and in the IDF to protect the Druze [people] of Hader and return things to the way they had been before, without a Jabhat al-Nusra control [there].”

Kulano MK Akram Hasson, who is a Druze, said that there are powerful family ties between the Druze who live in the Israeli side of the Golan Heights and the Druze living in Hader.

He said that “since this [Friday] morning I had held talks with [Druze] community leaders in Hader and top-ranking IDF officers and high-officials in the [Israeli] security services and I hope that a cease-fire will be achieved soon.”

MK Hasson lost four of his family members due to the Syrian spillover in Hader.

The Golan Heights is home to a small community of Druze who have been residents of Israel since it conquered the Golan heights in 1967, many of whom still identify as Syrian nationals.

Nine Syrians were killed and about 25 wounded in a terrorist attack in Hadher, which is located four km from the Israeli border, and approximately 15 km from the city of al-Qunaitra.

It was reported that the Sunni organization Jabhat al-Nusra announced that it is launching a campaign to capture that Syrian Golan villages that are under the control of the Assad regime. It was said that the organization stressed that it will not harm the villagers, as long that they would not assist or support the Alawi regime.

The Israel Police said that due to the battles near Syrian border, as a part of the general police preparation at the Golan Heights, forces were deployed and stationed at major intersections in the north.

“The deployment of the forces is intended to protected the Israeli residents in the north,” a police statement reads.

It is unclear how Israel would seek to intervene and what response that action would draw from the Syrian regime and it’s backers Iran and Russia.  (Jerusalem Post)

Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s flagship project selects new leadership from Australia

Mosaic United, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s flagship project, has chosen new leadership to run its innovative programming.

After six months of searching, Mosaic’s search committee selected Benjamin Levy, dean of Moriah College in Sydney, Australia for the last five years, to serve as interim CEO. Levy will be joined by Alan Gill, the former CEO of the Joint Distribution Committee, who, it was recently reported, will serve as Mosaic’s Senior Advisor.

Levy was awarded the ‘Educator of the Year’ award this year for his leadership in the Australian Jewish community.

“We are very pleased with the progress of Mosaic to date and in the near term will be announcing a number of new initiatives, as well as an expansion of our steering committee to include a number of international and very accomplished Jewish lay leaders,” Chairman of the Mosaic Untied Steering Committee, Gary Torgow, said. “We look forward to Benjamin Levy joining the leadership of Mosaic.

Leaders from the Australian Jewish community applauded Levy’s appointment. President of Moriah College, Giora Friede, said in a statement that, “Levy is one of those special individuals who continues to dream big, push the boundaries, think outside the box and bring people across the spectrum of Jewish observance along with him. While we are very sad to see him leave our community in Sydney, we are excited to see him take his vision and his passion and make a significant impact on Diaspora Jewry worldwide.”

Mosaic United is a public-private partnership between non-profits and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry. Its first program launched last year on campuses has engaged over 22,000 students across 24 countries and on 300 campuses.

The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs invested $22 million in its campus efforts, which was matched by private philanthropists and partner organizations. The project focuses specifically on previously un-engaged or under-engaged Jewish students.

It recently froze a plan to create a database of all the Jewish students in the US, after Hillel International, one of the organizations involved in the wider campus initiative, objected to the program.

According to its website, Mosaic United seeks “to build a thriving, pluralistic worldwide Jewish community that will ensure the future of our people” and that it believes “there is a way for the Jewish community to be inclusive, Jewish, and united.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Hello and good-bye

By Greer Fay Cashman                Jerusalem Post


Mark Sofer, ambassador-designate to Australia, has said good-bye to old friends.

While former Australian ambassador Dave Sharma, who returned for events related to the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba, spent the week greeting old friends, Mark Sofer, ambassador-designate to Australia, was saying good-bye to old friends.

Sofer, who is due to leave for the Antipodes on November 12, had the opportunity this week to meet many members of the Australian Jewish leadership, which will certainly be a plus factor after he takes up residence in the island continent. He also attended the dinner hosted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in honor of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife, Lucy.

Sofer, who was born and raised in England, will not a have a language problem in Australia unless he becomes engaged in conversation with someone who speaks Strine, but after a while he should catch on to that, too.

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog and Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay met with Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten.

Aside from discussing political issues and strategies, both Herzog and Gabbay could discus more personal topics with the Australian political leaders. Herzog could talk about the visit to Australia by his father, Chaim Herzog, in 1986, and Gabbay, who is married to an Australian, could talk about his wife’s background.

Shorten by the way, on Monday attended a cocktail reception at the King David Hotel, Jerusalem, co-hosted by the Australian Embassy and the Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce. In his address to a packed banquet room, what was important was what he said about Australian Jews, a large percentage of whom are first-, second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors.

Shorten, who is known to have genuine affection for Israel and for the Australian Jewish community, spoke of the similar characteristics of Israelis and Australians in that both are willing to take risks, are not afraid of failure and see setbacks “not as the end of a journey but as milestones on the road to success.”

Shorten also spoke of the “wonderful Jewish Diaspora” which had come from Europe to Australia “after fleeing the Shoah” and had elevated learning, established scholarships and funded universities. “They saw the worst of times and sought to create the best of times for their children and future generations.”

IT WAS a pity that most of the people who had come from Australia missed out on seeing the inside of the ANZAC museum that was established by the Jewish National Fund of Australia in collaboration with the Beersheba Municipality. The museum, which overlooks the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, is simply not large enough to accommodate more than 100 people at most on its entrance floor. Thus, only the official party and its entourage plus the JNF leadership were able to be there for the actual inauguration, though doubtless some of the visitors from overseas waited till all the officials had left for the next event of the day so that they could see the surprisingly large amount of data that the museum’s designers have been able to incorporate into a small space.

Protection from above: Air-power diplomacy in Syrian skies

By Seth J. Frantzman          The Jerusalem Post


South of Homs on the road to Damascus there is a small town called Hassia. Beyond the village is a large industrial zone that occupies several square kilometers. On the other side of the road are a series of clusters of buildings laid out behind checkpoints and unmistakably governmental in appearance, with straight roads and gray warehouses.

According to various reports, including Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV, it was near here that witnesses claim an Israeli air strike took place on Wednesday.

The full details of what happened are clouded in secrecy, like many other alleged and acknowledged Israeli air strikes in Syria. In August, Air Force commander Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel said Israel had carried out at least 100 strikes in the last five years attempting to interdict weapons transfers to Hezbollah via Syria.

After the strike Wednesday night, the familiar dance began whereby Syria boasts that it has fired missiles and hit an Israeli aircraft, and an Israeli official makes some general statement about how Israel will continue to protect its interests. In this case it was Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz.

“Israel has previously operated and will continue to operate to prevent weapons smuggling,” he told Army Radio. There are reports about Iranian weapons factories and Hezbollah weapons storage depots in Syria.

The alleged air strikes in Syria appear to have grown in intensity in recent months, as well as in precision and in the wide area they affect. On September 7, a site near Masyaf of the Scientific Studies and Research Center was struck, igniting a large fire. This was supposedly a chemical weapons site. Syria warned of “dangerous repercussions.” On October 16, the same week that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was in Israel for a visit, a Syrian anti-aircraft missile was fired at Israeli jets that were conducting routine reconnaissance over Lebanon near the Syrian border. Israel Air Force craft struck the Syrian antiaircraft battery, 50 km. from Damascus, an IDF spokesman said.

The ongoing tensions in Syria come as Russia is making major moves to facilitate dialogue in Syria and what it describes as “de-escalation.”

This was clear from a joint statement by Iran, Russia and Turkey after the Astana international meeting on Syria on Wednesday.

The statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website emphasized the reduction of violence, the “progress in the fight against terrorism,” underlining that the conflict in Syria “has no military solution” and that there should be humanitarian aid and “confidence-building measures.”

Another Astana meeting is scheduled for December.

Russia wants to host a “Congress of the National Dialogue” in Sochi on November 18. This would include 33 parties from groups involved in the Syrian conflict. According to the TASS Russian news agency, the PYD and other Kurdish groups have been invited.

The air strike also comes as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was visiting Iran on Thursday. Along with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, Putin met with President Hassan Rouhani.

According to Reuters, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also told Putin that “our cooperation can isolate America. The failure of US-backed terrorists in Syria cannot be denied, but Americans continue their plots.”

Meanwhile, the US is still not clear on its long-term goals in eastern Syria, where the Syrian Democratic Forces it backs have crushed ISIS in Raqqa and are moving toward the Iraqi border, capturing oil fields. It has been three years since the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which formed the basis for the SDF, stopped ISIS in Kobane with the help of US air power.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has said the Assad family has no future in Syria, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that the efforts of the US-led coalition were designed to defeat ISIS, “The US does not seek to fight the Syrian government or pro-Syrian government forces.”

However, he said the US would use proportionate force to defend the US, coalition and partner forces in Syria. Lt.-Gen. Paul E. Funk, commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, told USA Today, “We need to structure ourselves to be prepared for a long-term commitment to building partner capacity in this area.” It is unclear if that includes only Iraq or also eastern Syria.

Confusing US policy, and Russia’s efforts to de-escalate tensions, leave Israel in a bind. It has worked its way out of that bind through a Clausewitz-style “war is a continuation of politics by other means.” In this case it means striking weapons destined for Hezbollah and continually emphasizing that there are red lines to these transfers.

Syria has reportedly used its antiquated SA-5 surface-to-air missiles to demonstrate the “repercussions” to Israel’s actions. According to the October 16 Reuters report, Syria also fired its anti-aircraft missiles over Lebanon, whose airspace has been reportedly violated by both sides. For now, the quiet understanding about Israel’s actions, Syria’s response, Russia and America’s policy, and Hezbollah’s grasping continue.

Palestinians: Meet Abbas’s New Partners

by Bassam Tawil                The Gatestone Institute


Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders are strongly opposed to Mahmoud Abbas’s political agenda and even see him as a collaborator with Israel.

Leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced at a rally on November 2 that they are determined to stick to their weapons “until the liberation of all of Palestine” — or, in other words, until the total destruction of Israel and the elimination of Jews.

When Zahar says that only a “crazy person” thinks he can disarm Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip, he is clearly referring to Abbas. Zahar’s statement should be seen as a direct threat to Abbas.

Abbas continues to tell the world that he is working to achieve a peaceful settlement with Israel. But will he be able to continue saying such things after he joins forces with his new partners in Hamas and Islamic Jihad? The answer is simple and clear: No.

As Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas are moving forward towards implementing their “reconciliation” agreement, we are already getting an idea of what this new partnership is going to look like.

Abbas is trying to sell the agreement to the world as a deal that enables him and his Palestinian Authority (PA) to return to the Gaza Strip and assume full control there. He and his PA officials and spokesmen have also been working hard to convince the international community that only good will come out of the “reconciliation” agreement and that Hamas is even headed toward moderation and pragmatism.

However, Abbas and the PA seem to be engaged in yet another bid to deceive and lie to the international community.

Just last week, Israel foiled another plan by Hamas to dig a terror tunnel deep into Israeli territory.

The tunnel was supposed to be used by Hamas to dispatch terrorists into Israel to kill or kidnap as many Jews as possible. The tunnel was a joint Hamas-Islamic Jihad project. The terrorists have been working on the tunnel for some time — before and after the “reconciliation” accord that was reached in Cairo last month.

This means that for Hamas and Islamic Jihad it is business as usual — “reconciliation” or not, they are determined to continue their jihad to destroy Israel. The two terror groups may allow Abbas and his Palestinian Authority to return to the Gaza Strip, but Hamas and Islamic Jihad will continue to control what goes on under the earth. They will also continue to stick to their weapons in preparation for war against Israel.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the rest of the terror groups operating in the Gaza Strip continue to make it clear as day that they have no intention to disarm as a result of the “reconciliation” agreement. Abbas and the PA are welcome to assume civilian control of the Gaza Strip, but when it comes to security and weapons, Abbas is not entitled to raise this issue at all.

On November 2, Abbas received yet another indication of what awaits him and his Palestinian Authority as a result of the “reconciliation” agreement. Leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced that they are determined to stick to their weapons “until the liberation of all of Palestine” — or, in other words, until the total destruction of Israel and the elimination of Jews.

The announcement was made during a rally held by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the town of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip to commemorate two Hamas terrorists who were killed when Israel blew up the tunnel two days earlier.

Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, told the thousands of Palestinians attending the rally: “We will continue to resist the occupier until the liberation of all of Palestine.” He also cautioned “any crazy person against trying to take one rifle from the hands of the resistance.” Zahar sent his “blessings” to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists who are preparing around the clock to wage war against Israel. “We are training our sons to dig under the temporary borders so that they can reach the occupied territories [Israel].”

Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, pictured in 2005. (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)

Islamic Jihad leader Sheikh Nafez Azzam, who spoke at the rally, also stressed his group’s adherence to its weapons. “For Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the option of jihad is a basic option. It’s a great honor to stand here today in front of our martyrs.”

These are the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders who are soon expected to become Abbas’s partners in managing the affairs of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in accordance with the “reconciliation” deal. These Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders are strongly opposed to Abbas’s political agenda and even see him as a “collaborator” with Israel. At the rally, both Zahar and Azzam repeated their vehement opposition to any peaceful settlement with Israel and said that “armed resistance” is the only way to destroy Israel. The two men should be given credit for their honesty and straight-forward talk.

Zahar’s warning should ignite a red light with Abbas. When Zahar says that only a “crazy person” thinks he can disarm Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip, he is clearly referring to Abbas. Zahar’s statement should be seen as a direct threat to Abbas. Abbas, for his part, is not oblivious to such threats and he knows, more than anyone else, that the weapons of Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip are a red line. If he crosses it, he will be buried in one of the terror tunnels.

So why does Abbas insist on proceeding with his “reconciliation” agreement with Hamas? Because he wants to look good in the eyes of his people by showing them that he cares about Palestinian “unity” and is keen on ending the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Abbas is hoping that the agreement will allow him to present himself as the president of all Palestinians, including those living in the Gaza Strip, and not just a powerless and weak president controlling small parts of the West Bank. Some Palestinians like to refer to Abbas as the “Mayor of Ramallah” – a hint at his limited power.

Abbas continues to tell the world that he is working to achieve a peaceful settlement with Israel. But will he be able to continue saying such things after he joins forces with his new partners in Hamas and Islamic Jihad? Will Zahar and Azzam allow Abbas to pursue any peace process with Israel after the “reconciliation” accord is implemented? The answer is simple and clear: No.

Abbas and the Palestinian Authority may be on their way to returning to the Gaza Strip, but nothing good will come out of this move. This is merely an internal Palestinian issue designed to benefit both Abbas and Hamas, each in their own way and according to their own interests. But at the end of the day, no dramatic changes should be expected as a result of the “marriage” between the PA and Hamas.

This is a marriage of convenience intended first and foremost for internal consumption and then for tricking the international community. It’s time for the world to listen to what Palestinian leaders are telling their people in Arabic. In Arabic, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are being very honest and frank about their dream to destroy Israel.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are indeed very serious about their intentions; they are not only talking, but are busy digging more tunnels and amassing weapons in preparation for the destruction of Israel. These are Abbas’s new partners, and the world needs to take notice.