Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
US envoy says Israel has ‘right’ to annex parts of West Bank
The US ambassador to Israel said he believes the Jewish state has the right to annex at least “some” of the West Bank, in comments likely to deepen Palestinian opposition to a long-awaited US peace plan.
In an interview published by the New York Times on Saturday, Ambassador David Friedman said that some degree of annexation of the West Bank would be legitimate.
“Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” he said.
Friedman said the Obama administration, by declining to veto and thus allowing passage of a United Nations resolution in 2016 that condemned Israeli settlements as a “flagrant violation” of international law, had given credence to Palestinian claims “that the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem belong to them.” To the contrary, he said, “Certainly Israel’s entitled to retain some portion of it,” he said, referring to the West Bank.
During campaigning for the general election in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to gradually annex all West Bank Jewish settlements, a move long supported by nearly all lawmakers in his alliance of right-wing and religious parties, and said he hoped to do so with US support.
Friedman, in the New York Times interview, declined to specify how the US might respond to unilateral Israeli annexation, saying: “We really don’t have a view until we understand how much, on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why does it not create more problems than it solves… These are all things that we’d want to understand, and I don’t want to prejudge.”
In December 2017, US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It moved its embassy, headed by Ambassador Friedman, to the city in May 2018. In March, shortly before Israeli general elections, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights. Also in March, for the first time, the Trump administration ceased to refer to the West Bank as “occupied” in the State Department’s annual report on human rights around the world.
The US is set to lay out an economic component of its long-awaited Mideast peace plan on June 25 and 26 in Bahrain, where Gulf Arab states are expected to make pledges to boost the troubled Palestinian economy.
But it is not clear when the political aspects of the plan — which is expected to avoid calling for the creation of a Palestinian state — will be unveiled.
Abandoning the call for a Palestinian state would end years of US support for the so-called two-state solution, which envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Asked by the New York Times whether the Trump plan would provide for Palestinian statehood, Friedman responded: “What’s a state?”
The Palestinians have already dismissed the Trump peace plan and said they will not attend the Bahrain summit, rejecting it as heavily biased in favor of Israel.
Friedman said “There’s more blame on the Palestinian side” for the failure to resolve the conflict to date, while allowing that Israel had “made its own mistakes” too. “There were some extraordinarily generous proposals made to the Palestinians that they turned down,” he said.
He castigated the Palestinian Authority, citing its “very, very poor track record on human rights” and said its institutions “don’t give anyone in the region sufficient comfort that Palestinian autonomy is not threatening… The Palestinian leadership is really the difficulty right now.”
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat has said any Israeli annexation policy would be tantamount to “US complicity with Israeli colonial plans.”
The public comments made by administration officials so far suggest the US plan will lean heavily on substantial financial support for the Palestinian economy, much of it funded by the Gulf Arab states, in return for concessions on territory and statehood.
“The absolute last thing the world needs is a failed Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan,” Friedman said in the Times interview.
“Maybe they won’t take it, maybe it doesn’t meet their minimums.
“We’re relying upon the fact that the right plan, for the right time, will get the right reaction over time.”
Friedman, a staunch supporter of the Israeli settlements, told the Times that the Trump plan was aimed at improving the quality of life for Palestinians but would be unlikely to quickly enable a “permanent resolution to the conflict.”
Friedman said the plan would not be released at all if the administration concluded it would do more harm than good. “We don’t want to make things worse… Our goal is not to show how smart we are at the expense of people’s safety.”
He said he did not believe the plan would trigger Palestinian violence.
But he said the United States would coordinate closely with Arab ally Jordan, which could face unrest among its large Palestinian population over a plan perceived as overly favorable to Israel.
Publication of the plan already looks set to be further delayed after the Knesset called a snap general election for September, the second this year.
The plan is regarded as too sensitive to release during the campaign.
Meanwhile, Trump administration officials have been dampening expectations about the peace plan rollout. Senior White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner in an interview broadcast Sunday expressed doubts about the Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves without Israeli involvement. “The hope is that over time, they can become capable of governing,” he told the Axios news site.
On Monday, the Washington Post published leaked remarks made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who told US Jewish leaders in a closed-door conversation that the plan might not “gain traction.
When asked about Pompeo’s skepticism, Trump told reporters outside the White House: “He may be right.” (the Times of Israel) Staff
Israeli politicians react warmly to Friedman’s remarks about Judea and Samaria
U.S. Ambassador David Friedman’s remarks to The New York Times published on Sunday that Israel “has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank” elicited a strong positive reaction from Israeli politicians, who saw it as step away from the earlier U.S. position that Judea and Samaria must be reserved for a Palestinian state.
The Likud’s Gilad Erdan, who serves as minister of public security and minister of education, said on Sunday, “The world view of the Trump administration, which was expressed by Ambassador (David) Friedman, is the only one that might bring about a change and make the Palestinians understand that boycotting Israel and the United States, and their support for terror and incitement and will not bring them any achievements.”
Erdan also dismissed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as someone capable of reaching a settlement. “In the era of Abu Mazen [nom de guerre of Abbas] there already won’t be any political negotiations.
“Only if the next leadership of the Palestinians internalizes together with the public in the Authority, that Israel and the world won’t wait for them, perhaps then will grow there a leadership that’s also prepared for Palestinian compromises,” he said. “Expanding Israeli law on the settlements in Judea and Samaria is a step in the right direction that will pass the message and will move peace forward.”
Likud Minister Ze’ev Elkin told Israel Hayom, “There’s a public ripening and even among international bodies, including the U.S., that in the end, Israel intends to extend sovereignty to not insignificant parts of Judea and Samaria, if not the whole area. The ambassador said something obvious in itself on which there’s a wide consensus. In a reality in which 400,000 people live in Judea and Samaria and hundreds of thousands of others in Jerusalem — the Green Line is erased as a concept with political meaning.”
He also said, “Therefore I already said for years and worked for sovereignty, if not in a full extent at least in a gradual way. Anyone who attacks this denies reality.”
Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi also weigned in, saying “The position of the majority of the Israeli society is that any future agreement will be based on having our control over Judea and Samaria unchanged. That’s why there is a lot of wisdom and sense in Friedman’s comments.”
Minister of the Economy and Industry Eli Cohen of the Kulanu party tweeted support for Friedman, “Now, after 52 years, the time is ripe to start extending Israeli sovereignty over the settlement blocs, like Jerusalem. Sooner or later other countries will recognize it.”
Yoaz Hendel, a member of the opposition Blue and White party, also praised Friedman’s remarks. “The Trump administration deals with the Israel Palestinian conflict in a sober way. The things Friedman said are in line with the Allon Plan.”
The Allon Plan refers to a plan to annex parts of Judea and Samaria and in its initial draft, also the Gaza Strip, to Israel. It was drawn up by Israeli Minister Yigal Allon shortly after the 1967 Six Day War. (WIN) Staff
Ex-Mossad official: All of EU seeks Israeli intelligence cooperation
EU countries push hard to obtain Israeli intelligence cooperation because “they recognize our abilities,” former Mossad official Haim Tomer said on Wednesday.
Discussing intelligence cooperation with foreign countries at the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center in Tel Aviv, the former director of Tevel – the Mossad’s foreign intelligence cooperation – said that different political agendas between the EU and Israel did not harm intelligence cooperation.
Rather, he said, “the secrecy of the intelligence world allows cooperation separate from what goes on at the political” level.
At the same time, though Israeli-US intelligence cooperation has generally been considered excellent throughout recent US administrations, Tomer said there were some occasional limits on the Iran issue – once the Obama administration made the move for a deal with Tehran and the deal became a real possibility, “it became a problem sharing [related] intelligence with the US without things getting mixed with politics.”
Tomer was asked about former CIA director Michael Hayden’s statement that though the US and Israel cooperated in using the 2009-2010 Stuxnet computer virus against Iran’s nuclear program, at one point Israel went beyond what was agreed, creating tension between the two.
Tomer acknowledged that on some of these kinds of issues, “there were different ideas” between Israel and the US about what direction to move in, and that Hayden’s retrospective comments “somewhat encapsulate” the tensions.
Nevertheless, Tomer said, the cooperation “got results.”
The Stuxnet virus – which Israel has never formally acknowledged being involved in even though it has been confirmed by many foreign officials and some ex-Israeli officials by implication – is credited with delaying the development of Iran’s nuclear program for around two years.
Tomer said that despite excellent Israeli cooperation with many countries, including current public cooperation with moderate Sunni Arab countries, technological cooperation would still need to be limited because it could expose greater vulnerabilities and expose Israeli allies’ intelligence contributions. (Jerusalem Post) Yonah Jeremy Bob
Anti-aircraft missiles fired at Israel’s Mt Hermon but fall inside Syria
Several anti-aircraft missiles were fired toward Mount Hermon from Syria on Thursday, the second such incident in under a week.
“IDF radars identified a number of anti-aircraft missiles fired from Syria,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit told The Jerusalem Post, adding that none fell in Israeli territory or posed a threat.
The incident came just days after five Syrian soldiers were killed in an alleged Israeli attack on the T4 airbase in the eastern Homs province on Sunday night, a day after a limited clash between Israel and Syria.
According to an assessment by ImageSat International (ISI), the strike on T4 likely took out an advanced weapons system that had been delivered from Iran a day earlier “probably related to UAVs and possibly including a transportable ground control structure.”
On Saturday, two rockets were launched from Syria toward Mount Hermon, one of which landed inside Israeli territory. In response, the IAF struck several Syrian military positions in southwestern Damascus and Quneitra, killing three soldiers and injuring seven others.
The retaliatory strikes targeted two artillery batteries, a number of observation posts near the border, and an SA-2 air defense battery.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that he had “instructed the IDF to take strong action” in response to the rocket fire on Saturday that targeted the Mount Hermon ski resort.
“We are not prepared to tolerate rocket fire at our territory, and will respond with great force to any aggression against us,” he said, adding, “This has consistently been my policy, and this is what we will continue to do for Israel’s security.”
The rockets fired this past week are not believed to be spillover from internal fighting in Syria – as was the case in past rocket fire on Israel’s north – as there are not any Syrian operations in the area close to the border with Israel’s Golan Heights.
According to some reports, the rockets fired on Saturday night appeared to have been fired from the area of Damascus, 40 km. away, similar to a January attack against Mount Hermon that the IDF said at the time was a “premeditated” attack that Iran had hoped would deter Israel from carrying out airstrikes against their assets.
During that attack, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted the Iranian-made surface-to-surface model with a range of some 200 km. and a payload of hundreds of kilograms of explosives that was fired from the outskirts of Damascus.
Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over Iran’s presence in Syria and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah from Tehran to Lebanon via Syria, stressing that both are redlines for the Jewish state.
In April, the IDF announced that Hezbollah has been building a terrorist network in Syria’s Golan Heights. (Jerusalem Post) Anna Ahronheim
Incendiary balloons suspected as cause of brush fires near Gaza Strip
Authorities in the Eshkol Regional Council near the Gaza Strip on Monday opened an investigation into whether a brush fire that broke out adjacent to a populated area was caused by an incendiary balloon, a spokesman for the municipality said.
Several fires also broke out in the Kissufim Forest which were also believed to have been caused by incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip, Hebrew media reported.
Firefighters and KKL JNF Jewish National Fund wardens extinguished the flames. There were no injuries reported.
On Friday Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi said that an unofficial deal with Gazan terrorist groups for calm along the border was proving effective, and that there had been a decrease in the number of incendiary devices flown into Israel.
In addition, Kohavi told heads of communities near Gaza that violence along the border fence had calmed significantly from earlier this year, when clashes between protesting Palestinians and Israeli troops had been a near-daily occurrence.
Kohavi’s comments appeared to confirm the existence of a ceasefire deal with Hamas and other Gaza based terror groups.
Israel has refused to officially acknowledge the ceasefire deal, despite moves being made to ease conditions in the Strip.
Hamas, the de facto ruler in the Strip, and the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad terror group had both confirmed the internationally brokered deal.
Last week Israel again extended the permitted fishing zone off the coast of the Gaza Strip despite the ongoing launching of balloon-borne incendiary devices from the coastal enclave, after having reduced it a week earlier in response to similar attacks.
For the past months, Israel has been extending and reducing the permitted fishing zone around the Gaza Strip as fewer or more incendiary balloons have been sent over the border.
Such arson attacks appear to violate the reported terms of the unofficial truce between Israel and terror groups in the Strip.
Recent months have seen heightened tensions in the Gaza Strip, including a massive two-day flareup last month between Israel and terror groups in the coastal enclave.
According to Israel’s Channel 12 news, the Egyptian-brokered agreement that ended that flareup included a Hamas obligation to halt violent incidents along the border fence, maintaining a buffer zone 300 meters from the border; an end to the launching of incendiary balloons at Israeli communities and nighttime clashes between Gazans and security forces; and a stop to flotillas trying to break through the maritime border between Gaza and Israel. (the Times of Israel) Staff
Campaign shut downs 30 BDS fundraising accounts by revealing ties to terrorism
Israel has quietly waged a two-year financial campaign against organizations promoting a boycott of the Jewish state by revealing their connections to terror operatives, leading to the closures of dozens of fundraising accounts, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs said Monday.
The campaign targeted fundraising accounts for groups promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel which were hosted on platforms like PayPal and DonorBox.
Under the direction of the Ministry of Strategic affairs, pro-Israel activists alerted the platforms to violations in their regulations banning fundraising activities connected to terrorism.
The effort shuttered 10 accounts based in the US and 20 in Europe, the ministry said.
Pro-Israel activists involved in the effort included legal NGOs, Jewish groups based in the US and France and journalists based outside Israel, Channel 13 reported.
“For years, boycott promoters have disguised themselves as ‘human rights activists,’ managing to raise tens of millions of euros from Western countries and citizens who thought they were contributing to causes supporting justice and equality. Over time though, we have revealed that the supposed ‘human rights’ NGOs are in reality, filled with anti-Semitic operatives with deep ties to terrorist groups fixated on destroying the State of Israel,” Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement.
“As a result of our actions, countries and financial institutions are now distancing themselves from these organizations. Our efforts have drastically undermined the boycott campaign, leading to it having much less finances to operate, and barred from receiving financial services,” Erdan said.
Three accounts tied to the Samidoun international network of activists were shuttered recently after the International Legal Forum nonprofit revealed Samidoun’s ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group, the ministry said.
The Ramallah-based BDS National Committee had its crowdfunding account on DonorBox shut down after the Shurat Hadin nonprofit revealed its connections to the PFLP, Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups. Group leader Salah Khawaja served a yearlong prison sentence on terror charges, the ministry said.
The Al-Haq pro-BDS group had its credit card accounts shuttered for its ties to the PFLP. The head of the organization, Shawan Jabarin, was a senior member of the PFLP who served a two-year prison sentence for terrorist activity.
The Interpal organization’s MyDonate crowdfunding account and several credit card accounts were closed due to its ties to Hamas.
The announcement follows a report released by the ministry earlier this year accusing some Western-backed Palestinian NGOs of having close ties with current and former terrorists, some of whom have shifted to battling the country through nonviolent means.
In the 79-page report, titled “Terrorists in Suits,” the Strategic Affairs Ministry pointed to several high-profile Palestinian activists who it said were former or current members of Hamas or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, both of which are terror groups.
The ministry said in the February report that it had found more than 100 “links” between terror groups and organizations promoting anti-Israel boycotts, “including the employment of 30 current and former terror operatives.” (the Times of Israel) Staff
Why Israel has been reluctant to launch a full-scale ground operation in Gaza
It would take one to two years to destroy terrorist infrastructure, and Israel’s options after toppling Hamas are all bad, say observers. But a more limited operation is possible.
by Yaacov Lappin JNS
In the past year alone, Gaza’s terror factions fought eight rounds of conflict with Israel, signaling a collapse of the four-year period of quiet. Yet despite the frequent flare-ups, Israel stayed clear of launching a ground operation so far.
Southern Israeli cities and towns repeatedly came under mass rocket attacks, yet Israel made due with air power in its responses, unleashing waves of precision airstrikes. The Israeli Air Force destroyed assets and killed operatives of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but when the dust settled, nothing significant had changed.
There were times when it looked like a ground operation was close. During escalations in November and, most recently, in May, the Israel Defense Forces stationed infantry, armored corpse and artillery units around Gaza, preparing the option of an offensive—an option that never materialized. The move was seen by many as a flexing of muscle, rather than a real intent to move into the Gaza Strip.
“The question is always: For what do we go to war?” asked Gabi Siboni, director of the Military and Strategic Affairs Program at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “If you look at the IDF’s 2018 strategy, it has two types of approaches: decisive victory on the one hand, and prevention and influence on the other.”
So far, the Israeli cabinet has not instructed the IDF to launch an operation aimed at decisive victory, which would involve a substantial change of the strategic situation. Instead, the cabinet ordered limited manoeuvers, aimed at operations that “do not shatter the status quo,” noted Siboni.
Now, he argued, Israel has to decide where it is going in respect to its belligerent neighbor. This means setting strategic objectives and deciding ahead of time whether Israel seeks a substantial change, which would mean toppling the Hamas regime.
“What does this mean? Ending Hamas rule? Setting up [Israeli] military rule in Gaza? We have to state what we want,” said Siboni.
The option of fully occupying Gaza and destroying its terrorist infrastructure would require a year to two years of combat operations, he assessed. “It can be done, but it takes a major effort. Let’s say we do it in two years and destroy the military infrastructure in Gaza. A few attacks may remain, but the combat comes to an end. Now what do we do? Stay there and set up a military government?”
That option has long-term implications for Israel, which would, under such a scenario, become Gaza’s new ruler and take responsibility for the Strip’s services for nearly 2 million civilians.
The unattractiveness of that option has been sufficient to make Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and military chiefs stay far away from ordering a full-scale military invasion of Gaza.
A second alternative that has been brought up by observers is to bring in international forces to control Gaza, instead of Hamas, following an operation. “My assessment is that this is doomed to fail,” said Siboni. “If you look at all past experiences and combine them, we see that international elements do not have the motivation to act. This option has no value in my eyes.”
It matters little whether the international forces would be Arab, NATO or others, he added.
Another alternative would be to bring in the Palestinian Authority to rule Gaza. But the P.A. “riding into Gaza on Israeli spears” is also likely to prove a nonstarter, warned Siboni. “I struggle to see how they can do it if they don’t want to get their hands dirty. If Gaza turns into Judea and Samaria, we’d have a new status quo, but this would require giving full freedom of operation to the IDF, like it has in Judea and Samaria.”
‘There are no good alternatives’
Without the IDF launching nightly counter-terrorism raids, as it does in the West Bank, the P.A. would not be likely to survive as a regime in Gaza.
As a result, all of the options linked to decisive victory over Hamas “would need real courage because their significance is difficult, no matter how you look at it,” said Siboni. “Decision-makers could say, ‘Let’s invade and look for a solution in five years because the situation became intolerable.’ But they have to think very seriously because there are no good alternatives.”
On the other hand, continuing the pattern of operations aimed at punishing Hamas and PIJ, without toppling Hamas’s rule, would be easier to conduct and would not necessarily have to be as limited as past responses.
“Israel could do more of the same, but use the next escalation to deliver a very painful blow,” he said. “The objective would be not just to destroy immediate terrorist infrastructure.”
Instead, Israel could threaten the survivability of Hamas’s leadership. “I assume that at a certain stage, the leadership will say ‘stop. We do not want to commit suicide.’ This leaves open the option of [an Israeli] withdrawal.”
Putting the existence of Hamas’s leadership under threat and launching much harsher responses before withdrawing from Gaza is the most realistic option, assessed Siboni.
Chuck Freilich, a former deputy Israeli national security adviser, told JNS that “keeping a weakened Hamas in power is the best of the bad options. We have to think in terms of conflict management, not resolution.”
Israel has no better realistic options than living with Hamas as the governing body in Gaza, he assessed.
“Only a severe and sustained change for the worse justifies the heavy losses a ground operation would incur,” stated Freilich.
“A ground operation which will solve nothing will cost tens or hundreds of lives,” he cautioned. “Unless there is a serious diplomatic objective based on a settlement with the P.A., the objectives remain limited to a return to the status quo.”
Past Netanyahu governments have been aware of this fact, which is why they have not launched an operation to destroy Hamas, despite their rhetoric, argued Freilich.
Should this change, he added, and Israel would feel forced to launch a major ground operation, it will need “U.S. support and to the extent possible, Egyptian, Arab and international support.”