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Latest News – 13 August

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Before election, PM aims for Trump backing for Israel sovereignty at settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a public declaration from US President Donald Trump ahead of the September elections backing an Israeli move to extend its sovereignty over Jewish settlements in the West Bank, officials in the Prime Minister’s Office told Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language site, on Sunday.

While Netanyahu cannot himself take the far-reaching diplomatic step of extending Israeli sovereignty to the settlements while he is leading the current caretaker government, the Prime Minister’s Office is lobbying for public support from Trump for such a move. This would enable Netanyahu to credibly assure right-wing voters that he can and will move quickly to apply sovereignty to the settlements if he is again elected premier.

If issued, such a declaration by Trump would mark the third far-reaching diplomatic shift by the White House in under two years, after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and moved its embassy there, and recognized Israeli control over the Golan Heights earlier this year, shortly before the previous elections.

An official in the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday told The Times of Israel that the claim that Netanyahu had asked for an US affirmation of Israel’s right to sovereignty in the West Bank is “incorrect.” The White House declined to comment on the story.

During his election campaign in April, Netanyahu pledged to gradually annex West Bank Jewish settlements, a move long backed by nearly all lawmakers in his alliance of right-wing and religious parties, and said he hoped to do so with US support.

In an interview published by The New York Times in June, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman suggested 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.

An anonymous American official later said that Israel had not presented a plan for annexation of any of the West Bank, and that no such plan was under discussion with the US, while Friedman insisted the discussion was entirely theoretical. Friedman’s comments were backed by US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, though days later the special envoy said such steps should not be taken unilaterally or before the unveiling of the Trump administration’s peace plan.

“Ahead of the elections, something will happen. President Trump will repeat the statements by Friedman and Greenblatt in his own words. It will likely be dramatic,” a source in the Prime Minister’s Office told Zman Yisrael.

Settler leaders said Sunday they would welcome a Trump statement to that effect, even if it applied only to settlements rather than much or more the entire West Bank territory, which Palestinians see as the core of their future state.

“We want to extend sovereignty over all areas of Judea and Samaria, but we’ll go out and dance if the Trump declaration speaks of the settlements alone,” sources in the Yesha Council umbrella group told Zman Yisrael, referring to the West Bank.

Yigal Dilmoni, the head of the Yesha Council, recently told The Times of Israel that support from Trump for the move was merely a matter of time.

“If I had expressed confidence a few years ago that Israel will indeed extend sovereignty here, I would have sounded delusional,” he said.

“Now, the American ambassador says it. Jason Greenblatt says it. In a second, President Trump will say it. Netanyahu says it. He doesn’t say it as election propaganda; he says it because that is what is going to happen. This thing is getting closer,” said Dilmoni.

The White House has yet to reveal the political vision of its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, though US officials have refrained from endorsing statehood for the Palestinians under a two-state framework while favoring Palestinian “autonomy.” The economic portion of the plan, which has been rejected by the Palestinians, was unveiled in Bahrain in June. (the Times of Israel)

In largest-ever drill, Israeli Navy prepares for massive, devastating quake

Thousands dead, over 100,000 injured, hospitals destroyed and national infrastructure in shambles following a powerful earthquake in northern Israel — this was the scenario simulated in a first-of-its-kind multinational exercise held by the Israeli Navy this week.

“Mighty Waves 2019” brought representatives from 10 navies and NATO to the Haifa port on Israel’s northern coast, in what Israeli officials said was its largest naval exercise ever. This was also the Israeli Navy’s first exercise dedicated solely to earthquake response.

“The goal was to learn how to give the best response possible under complicated circumstances,” Maj. Amichai Rachamim, the head of the Navy’s exercises department, told The Times of Israel last week.

“We have created an infrastructure that makes us feel comfortable that we could do this in the real world, if need be,” he said over the phone on Thursday. “There are lacunae, but the fact that we’re doing this kind of exercise is good. We need to find the problems and train around them.”

The United States, France, and Greece fully participated in the exercise, sending ships and personnel to Haifa to take part in drills alongside their Israeli counterparts. Representatives from Cyprus, Chile, Italy, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom and NATO observed and took part in non-physical aspects of the drill.

The naval drill had two main goals: to practice setting up a “sea gate,” through which the majority of the humanitarian aid Israel would need in the aftermath of a massive earthquake would pass, and, more generally, to learn how to more efficiently work with the various national and international organizations that would be involved in the disaster relief work.

In addition, the various navies taking part in the exercise also simulated search and rescue operations at sea.

Some aspects of Mighty Waves have been tested in the past, including the creation of a “sea gate” in Ashdod port as part of an exercise several years ago. But never before have the naval-related after-effects of an earthquake been simulated at this level, Israeli naval officials said.

One of the fundamental assumptions of Mighty Waves is that in the case of an earthquake or other large-scale natural disaster, the majority of humanitarian aid would come from the sea, not from the air, as even the largest cargo planes can only carry a fraction of what ships can.

Safely and quickly moving that amount of aid throughout the country, whose roads and infrastructure would presumably be damaged in the tremor, would require a massive effort by the Israeli Navy, the ports, and a number of other national emergency response services.

In order to develop the scenarios simulated in last week’s exercise, the Israeli Navy and Israel’s National Emergency Management Authority — known by its Hebrew acronym Rachel — studied the earthquakes that hit Haiti in 2010 and Japan in 2011, Rachamim said.

Israel lies along an active fault line: the Syrian-African rift, a tear in the earth’s crust that runs the length of the border separating Israel and Jordan. The last major earthquake to hit the region was in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude tremor that killed 500 people and injured 700 — and seismologists estimate that such earthquakes occur in this region approximately every 100 years.

“So we’ve got about eight more years,” Brig. Gen. Gil Aginsky, the commander of the Haifa Base, where the exercise took place, told journalists last week, quickly adding, “I’m just kidding.”

Mighty Waves simulated a 7.5-magnitude quake striking the Beit Shean Valley in northern Israel, killing 7,000 people, injuring thousands more, damaging hundreds of buildings and leaving over 150,000 homeless.

“The [simulated] earthquake caused damage to national infrastructure, including power grids, water supply, communications, roads and hospitals,” the army said.

Following such an event, Israel would declare a state of emergency and request assistance from foreign governments. For the purposes of Mighty Waves 2019, the US, France, and Greece agreed to provide this humanitarian aid, but in the case of an actual earthquake, many other countries in the Mediterranean and surrounding area would be expected to help as well, Israeli officials said.

“We have a number of friends who will stand at our side when we need it,” Rachamim said.

In the first hours after an earthquake, the navy and other relevant bodies would assess the damage to the country’s ports — the largest being Haifa and Ashdod — and determine which was in the best shape to receive the incoming humanitarian aid.

“Rachel would determine what is needed [in humanitarian aid], whether it’s tents, water, medicine, or something we haven’t even thought of, like train tracks because we don’t have enough of them,” Rachamim said.

As warships are typically much faster than commercial shipping boats, the initial humanitarian aid would likely be brought in on military vessels, Aginsky said.

We have a number of friends who will stand at our side when we need it

For Mighty Waves, the US Navy 6th Fleet’s USS Donald Cook, French FREMM Auvergne and Greek HS Aigaion filled the role of incoming aid ships.

In order to manage the relief effort, Israel would establish the Naval Coordination Center made up of representatives from the navy, Rachel, police, the ports authority, medical services and the foreign navies.

According to Rachamim, who helped plan and manage the exercise, the operation of this NCC was one of the most important aspects of Mighty Waves.

“We learned to speak a common language,” he said. “We are in a different place than we were before. We’re not in a place where we’re uncertain. We know who to speak with and how.”

He gave an example of a rescue operation at sea from the exercise that demonstrated this inter- and intra-national cooperation.

“The person who rescued the victim from the water was in an Israeli inflatable boat. An Israeli doctor on an Israeli ship gave first aid. Then a Greek inflatable boat arrived and took them to an American ship. Finally, a French helicopter transported them to an Israeli hospital,” he said.

In addition to the multi-national coordination, this rescue exercise also required the Israeli military to work with Haifa’s civilian Rambam Medical Center.

“I think we’re the first to have done this,” Rachamim said.

The naval officer said he believed that nine foreign navies and NATO decided to participate since they understood that this type of exercise is beneficial not only to the country running it — Israel, in this case — but to all nations, as there is no telling when and where disaster will strike.

“This is a shared issue. Only God — if you believe in God — or destiny knows where a natural disaster will happen,” he said.

While he acknowledged that there were still gaps in Israel’s preparedness for an earthquake — indeed a 2016 comptroller report highlighted several glaring ones that are still in effect — Rachamim expressed satisfaction with Mighty Waves.

“The increased awareness is the real achievement of this exercise. I hope [what we’ve learned] won’t be needed, but if it is, we’re ready,” he said. (the Times of Israel)

IDF tasked with dealing with post-trauma in recruits from Gaza border communities

Military and health authorities are now having to accept that a new generation of soldiers from communities bordering the Hamas-controlled enclave, who grew up under a constant threat from Gaza is plagued by post-trauma even before they’ve began their military service.

Eighteen-year-old Israelis, residents of the Gaza border communities are enlisting in military service, carry with them the weight of a lifetime under rocket fire.

Some are so severely affected that they are unable to carry out their duties as soldiers, mostly in the demanding combat units.

The scope of the problem has just now begun to come to light as parents of new recruits turned to mental health services with reports of their children’s difficulties.

“My son wanted to be a combat soldier,” said one mother. “Those are the values we instilled in him growing up.”

Throughout his childhood, signs of his trauma were noticeable but not severe, she says.

“A door slamming would make him tense up. An ambulance siren would startle him.”

But when he joined his fighting unit he was overwhelmed. His childhood and youth under fire caused too many problems. Only after being moved to a non-combat position could he begin to serve effectively.

Community leaders say they are aware of the issue.

“We see the signs a year before they begin their service. During high school they still manage to keep their feelings bottled up,” said Nuki Goldfisher, who runs the support for young inductees in the Kibbutz Movement. “But as they begin to deal with the challenges of the military, we often see they cannot carry out their duties and often drop out.”

Now the IDF and the government are being called on to address the problem and find a way to help the first generation of soldiers who were born into a reality of shelling, shelters and fear, which has had a lasting effect on their entire lives. (Ynet News)

Poster of Anne Frank Defaced With Swastika in Melbourne, Australia

A poster bearing the image of Anne Frank — the Dutch Jewish girl whose Holocaust diary was published after her death in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp — was defaced with a swastika on Friday night in the Australian city of Melbourne.

The poster was an advertisement for a dramatization of Anne Frank’s diary performed by the Peridot Theatre Company. It was defaced with a swastika painted in red, as well as the word “@LEROY.”

The theater posted a message on its Facebook page saying, “Upset, angry, disgusted. Some lowlife has sprayed a swastika on the board advertising our production of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’ This action is sickening.”

Quoting Anne Frank’s diary, the theater added, “‘I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.’ We are honored to tell Anne’s story. We say NO to hate.”

A second post stated, “The despicable vandalism just underlines the fact that stories such as Anne Frank’s still need telling. Today’s matinee was virtually sold out and the audience was hugely complimentary.”

President of the theater company Alison Knight said, “The director and cast were left very distressed at the incident, they have worked hard to bring Anne’s story to life.”

“A Jewish lady has been advising the cast on matters of religion and culture,” she added. “We believe that Anne’s story needs to be told, and we will continue telling it with even more purpose.”

“We are upset at the incident,” she said, “but have been buoyed by the support of friends in the theatre community and beyond.”

“I reported the incident to the police,” Knight noted, “they are actively investigating it, especially as there seems to be a rise in the number of antisemitic incidents in Melbourne.” (the Algemeiner)

French Jews Demand Investigation Into Alleged ‘Non-Aggression’ Pact With Palestinian Terror Group Following 1982 Massace at Paris Kosher Restaurant

France’s representative Jewish organization on Monday demanded a parliamentary investigation into last week’s revelations by a former French intelligence chief that the country’s security services agreed a secret non-aggression pact with a Palestinian terrorist group.

In a statement, Francis Kalifat — president of French Jewish organization CRIF — declared that if the revelations turned out to be true, “it would constitute an unprecedented state scandal.”

Last week,the newspaper Le Parisien reported that the former head of French intelligence, Yves Bonnet, had admitted to making a secret pact with the Abu Nidal terrorist organization, guaranteeing its operatives free movement within France in exchange for a promise of no further attacks on French soil.

According to Le Parisien, Bonnet made his sensational confession in January this year to the magistrate in charge of investigating the Aug. 9, 1982 attack by Abu Nidal terrorists on “Chez Jo Goldenberg,” a busy kosher restaurant on the rue des Rosiers in Paris. Six people were murdered and 22 wounded in the atrocity, for which no person has yet been convicted.

Kalifat said that Bonnet’s claims warranted “the establishment of a parliamentary committee of inquiry and the lifting of defense secrecy” around the investigation into the rue des Rosiers attack and its aftermath.

According to Le Parisien, the pact was allegedly reached during a clandestine meeting shortly after the rue des Rosiers attack between Bonnet and representatives of the Abu Nidal group — not the terrorists who executed the massacre, he claimed, but individuals he described as their “stooges.”

“We made a kind of verbal deal in which I said, ‘I don’t want any more attacks on French soil and in return I’ll let you come to France and I guarantee nothing will happen to you,’” the paper quoted Bonnet — a former head of the DST, the French intelligence service — as having said. The paper added that other senior French officials, including the chief of staff of then President François Mitterand, were aware of the pact with the Abu Nidal Organization — a now-extinct Palestinian terrorist organization that was supported at different times by Iraq, Syria and Libya. Along with the attack on the rue des Rosiers, the group’s atrocities also included the Sept. 1986 shooting at the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, Turkey, that killed 22 worshippers, and the December 1985 simultaneous attacks on US and Israeli airport counters in Rome and Vienna, which killed 18 people and injured 111.

CRIF president Kalifat stated that his organization was also calling on President Emmanuel Macron “to do everything possible at the diplomatic and judicial level to ensure that the terrorists responsible for this massacre, who have taken refuge in Jordan, the West Bank and Norway, will face French justice.” (the Algemeiner)

Israel’s Strategic Goal in Syria

By Yaakov Lappin BESA Center (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Israel’s shadow war in Syria is based on the strategic objective of convincing the Islamic Republic that its investment in a war machine is going to waste. Iran has so far chosen to weather the strikes and shift tactics without abandoning its Syria project.

At the start of July, media reports surfaced regarding an alleged widespread wave of Israeli strikes on Iranian axis targets across Syria. The reports serve as a reminder of the ongoing shadow war that is raging between Jerusalem and Tehran, and bring into the spotlight Israel’s long-term strategic objective.

The strikes allegedly hit Iranian and Hezbollah weapons sites. They included development, storage, and transfer facilities, some of which appear to have been embedded in Syrian regime military bases. Targets around Damascus, Homs, and western Syria were all reportedly hit, resulting in a number of casualties.

Long before the US began its policy of maximum economic pressure on Iran, Israel had been applying its own policy of maximum – yet low profile – prevention in Syria, and that policy continues.

Using advanced intelligence coupled with precision firepower, the Israeli defense establishment has prioritized the objective of disrupting the construction of an Iranian war machine in Syria. Israel has also acted on many occasions to prevent Iran from using Syria as a transit and production zone for advanced weapons, such as guided missiles, for the benefit of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

This effort involves tracking flights, weapons factories, suspicious ground convoys, and an array of Iranian weapons production and smuggling activities throughout the Middle East.

According to reports, Israel’s War Between Wars campaign has also included strikes against Iranian efforts to build a land corridor linking Iraq to Syria for the purpose of transferring weapons and Iranian-backed militias.

The reports of alleged Israeli strikes represent the tip of a very large iceberg. For every reported preventive action by Israel, it can be assumed that there are many more that go unreported and remain unknown to the general public.

Israel is determined not to allow Iran to build offensive drone bases, missile factories, and proxy terror networks with which to threaten its citizens, and the Israel Air Force operates at a high tempo around the clock to monitor and disrupt emerging threats.

Israel’s overall strategic objective in these strikes was spelled out by Mossad Director Yossi Cohen hours after the alleged July 1 attack, when he stated at the Herzliya Conference, “I believe that Iran will reach the conclusion that it is just not worth it.”

This statement reflects the wider Israeli goal, which is not limited to just physically stopping Iran’s force build-up in Syria. Rather, Israel’s goal is getting Supreme Leader Khamenei, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force to reach the conclusion that they will not be able to slip offensive capabilities into Syria without Israel’s noticing and taking action where it feels it is necessary.

Hundreds of Israeli strikes in recent years were designed to push Iran into changing its course and scaling back its Syria project. It is hoped that the net result of the strikes will be that Iran is forced to perform a cost-benefit analysis and conclude that its investments in Syria are going to waste.

Iran’s response so far has been to play cat-and-mouse with Israel: It temporarily tones down its activities before turning the volume back up and shifting the focus of its force build-up activities away from southern Syria, near the Israeli border and Damascus, and toward the deep central Syrian desert.

Cohen confirmed this in his speech, saying that Mossad has witnessed the Iranians and Hezbollah building bases further north in Syria.

This likely includes Iranian attempts to use the T4 airbase in central Syria as an alternative to Damascus’s international airport for smuggling and storing advanced weapons before distributing them onward to Syria and Lebanon.

“They mistakenly think it will be harder to reach,” Cohen said during his speech.

In recent weeks, Israel has attempted to complement its military steps with added diplomatic pressure on Iran to roll back its activities in Syria. This came in the form of a significant trilateral meeting, held in Jerusalem on June 24, which saw national security advisers from Russia, the US, and Israel meet to discuss Syria.

The results of this effort remain unclear. Publicly, at least, Russian national security advisor Nikolai Patrushev indicated that Moscow is in no hurry to disband its alliance with Iran in Syria, which has seen the two countries coordinate air and ground operations to secure the brutal regime of Bashar Assad.

“Iran has been and will be an ally and partner of ours, with which we have [been] gradually developing ties for quite some time, both bilaterally and multilaterally,” Patrushev said during the conference. “Any attempts to make Tehran look like the main threat to global security, to put it in the same basket as ISIS or any other terror group, are unacceptable. Iran has been contributing a lot to the fight against terrorism in Syria, helping to stabilize the situation. We call upon our partners to exercise restraint and to take efforts to alleviate the concerns and tensions. Efforts should be made to decrease tensions between Israel and Iran.”

Moscow’s public stance appears to suggest that while Russia is open to pressuring Iran to stay away from the Israeli border, it either cannot or will not act to oust the Iranians and their proxies from Syria. Iran’s presence is still needed to stabilize the Assad regime, and the Iranians still have a strategic role to play in Russia’s long-term Syrian project, despite the clear fractures and tensions that are emerging between Moscow and Tehran due to a divergence of interests in Syria.

Iran, for its part, is working to counteract Israel’s attempts to recruit Russia against the Iranian axis. In recent days, a member of the Iranian Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee stated that despite Russian-Israeli ties, Tehran has been able to maximize the utility of the “Russian card” in its activities in Syria, according to a report by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.

Israeli-Iranian competition over Russian influence looks set to continue, placing Moscow in the position of arbitrator in Syria – which suits Russia’s objective of returning to great power status in the Middle East.

Iran’s overall response, therefore, has been to try and weather the Israeli strikes and be flexible in its approach to building up a force in Syria, without abandoning its ambition of turning the country into an extension of the Hezbollah-Lebanese front against Israel.

In the face of increasing American economic sanctions pressure, Iran could seek to activate proxies or assets in Syria to target Israel. Iran appears to have already tried such a provocation on June 1, when two rockets were fired at Mount Hermon from Syria. The Israeli retaliation targeted Assad regime artillery guns, an air defense battery, and observation posts.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the attack left three Syrian soldiers and seven “foreign fighters” – Iranian and Hezbollah personnel – dead.

The Israeli-Iranian struggle in Syria looks set to continue. Both sides seek to recruit Russia against the other.

Crucially, Israel has shown its determination to activate military force to keep Iran in check in Syria. This determination was expressed by PM Netanyahu on July 14 during a visit to the IDF National Defense College. “At the moment, the only military in the world that is fighting Iran is the Israeli military,” he said.

Europe Poised to Put Warning Labels on Jewish-Made Products

Adam Kredo (Washington Free Beacon)

The EU is poised to mandate that Israeli products made in contested territories carry consumer warning labels. The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice recently issued a non-binding opinion arguing that EU law requires Israeli-made products to be labeled as coming from “settlements” and “Israeli colonies.”
Brooke Goldstein, executive director of the Lawfare Project, said, “The Advocate General’s opinion said that goods produced by Muslims are to be labeled from ‘Palestine,’ and goods produced by Jews labeled as coming from ‘Israeli colonies.’ Both people are living in the same geographic location, and yet Jewish goods are being treated differently.”
“This labeling fiasco will turn into a nightmare for EU importers of goods from any and all countries involved in territorial disputes. I trust the court will…reject the push to politicize labeling.”
Yaakov Berg, CEO of the Psagot winery, said, “The application of the current EU trade directive to label goods from Jewish producers, and only Jewish producers, in the West Bank is discriminatory and illegal. We are not the Israeli government. Psagot winery is not responsible for Israeli government policy.”
“But because we are Jewish owners of a winery in a beautiful and hotly contested land, we are being targeted and punished. And we are being punished precisely because we are Jews living in Judea where we have every right to be, as do the Palestinian Arabs and Druze and the Christians.”
“No one should be discriminated against because of their religion. If you support a Palestinian state, would you support a Judenrein [Jew-free] state of Palestine? That seems to be what the EU is proposing when it says Jewish businesses are illegal in Palestine but Muslim businesses are not, in the same location! Such a de facto boycott of Jewish products, the likes of which we have not seen since Nazi Germany, would definitely run afoul of U.S. law.”