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Latest News in Israel – 16th March

Gazan rocket explodes in Sha’ar Hanegev

A Gazan rocket exploded in an uninhabited area of the Sha’ar Hanegev regional council on Monday night. The rocket did not trigger warning sirens as its trajectory took it to an open area, security sources said. Security forces have launched a search for the rocket.

On Friday night, terrorists in Gaza fired several rockets at southern Israel, setting off warning sirens in Sderot and Sha’ar Hanegev Council. The IDF said the rockets exploded in uninhabited areas, failing to cause injuries or damages.

In response, the Israel Air Force bombed four Hamas terrorist targets in northern Gaza, the IDF Spokesman Unit said.

Following the strikes, Palestinian medical sources said fragments from a missile fired by an Israeli aircraft killed a 10-year-old Palestinian boy and his six-year-old sister in Beit Lahiya, in the northern end of the Strip.

Islamic State-affiliated Salafi jihadist organizations are behind all of the rocket and border border bomb incidents in the past year and a half, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told a Tel Aviv security conference in January.

“All of these groups challenge Hamas and seek to activate fire against us,” he said during a conference hosted by the Institute for National Security Studies.                   (Jerusalem Post)

Report tracks Western funding of Palestinian groups that support terror

Palestinian civil society organizations that receive foreign funding are inciting terrorism, according to a new report by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) and shared exclusively with The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

Palestinian organizations in the West Bank that receive funding from Western countries, institutions, and foundations, are “openly expressing support for terrorism,” said the report.

“They express this support with ceremonies exalting terrorists, with public displays of support for attacks and their perpetrators, by lionizing terrorists, and by posting inciting content on social media,” it said.

For example, The Palestinian Bar Association, the official body for lawyers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, awarded an honorary attorney certificate to Muhannad Al-Halabi, a law student, who was killed after murdering two in Jerusalem and injuring two others, including a two-year old baby in October.

The Palestinian Bar Association receives funding from the EU, EU Police Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (EUPOL COPPS), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and UN Women, noted the report.

On October 10, the Palestinian Bar Association announced: “In its meeting today, the Palestinian Bar Association decided to award an honorary attorney’s certificate to the martyred hero Muhannad Al-Halabi, and also decided that the next swearing-in ceremony [for new attorneys] will be named for him.”

The announcement also said members of the Association also made condolence calls to the Al-Halabi family.

In addition, On November 1, the Bar Association declared that all legal institutions in Ramallah and Al-Bireh area would be closed so that its members could participate in the funerals of “the hero martyrs” ‘Omar Al-Faqih – killed after he attempted to carry out a stabbing attack at the Qalandia checkpoint on October 17, 2015 – and Muhammad Shamasneh – killed after he carried out a stabbing attack on a bus on October 12, 2015.

“The report presents several examples that show how bodies supported by Western organizations engage in incitement and support of terrorism,” Batsheva Shanee, the author of the report and a research fellow at MEMRI, told the Post.

“Let me point out that the Western countries and organizations mentioned in the report very likely have every intention that their financial support be used constructively within Palestinian society. Therefore it is important to show how some of this aid reaches terror supporting bodies instead,” she added.

“We believe that funding organizations must examine the agendas of their target bodies, and make sure that their support is used for the purposes intended. We hope that MEMRI’s report will help raise awareness of this issue.”

Another example highlighted in the report is The Popular Art Centre in Ramallah which receives funding from the EU via the AM Qattan Foundation and the Taawon association, which receives some of its funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the EU, UNESCO, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the Canadian embassy in Lebanon, and more.

The Centre held a fundraiser in February in solidarity with families of Jerusalem “martyrs” whose homes had been demolished.

“One of the speakers at the fundraiser was Muhammad ‘Alian, father of Bahaa ‘Alian who, along with Bilal Abu Ghamen, perpetrated the October 13, 2015 shooting and stabbing attack on a bus in the Armon HaNatziv neighborhood of Jerusalem, in which three people were killed and seven were wounded,” said the MEMRI report.

Muahmmad ‘Alian congratulated the martyrs of each Palestinian city: “The martyrs of Hebron, capital of the ‘Honor and Strength Intifada’; the martyrs of Jerusalem, the intifada’s initiator and bride; the martyrs of Ramallah, the most beautiful of cities and the leader of the intifadas, and the martyrs of Nablus, Tulkarm, Jenin and the [refugee] camps of steadfastness and defiance…”

“We, the families of the martyrs, demand of [both] the official and the popular echelons to inculcate the culture of the martyrs and to organize culture activities dealing with the martyrs’ legacy, their stories, and their lives, [activities dealing with] each and every martyr – for each of them has a story worthy of study, examination and attention,” said the terrorists father.

Another group featured was the Shabab Al-Balad, a youth forum for culture and education operating in the Jabel Mukaber neighborhood of east Jerusalem by Taawon, the Burj Al-Luqluq association, which functions in the Old City of Jerusalem and is funded by foreign sources such as the UNDP, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNESCO, the EU, the French embassy in Jerusalem, the French Agency for Development (AFD), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the British Consulate in Jerusalem, the World Bank, and the Pontifical Mission.

Shabab Al-Balad’s Facebook page had a statement on October 4, 2015 titled “Allah, accept them as martyrs” and included pictures of Muhannad Al-Halabi and Fadi ‘Aloun, who carried out a stabbing attack in Jerusalem on October 4.                      (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu: Peace will come through Arab world

Peace with Israel’s Arab neighbors will lead to an agreement with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday as a French envoy visited Jerusalem to solicit support for an international conference on the conflict.

“The Arab world softening its views toward us will help us when the time comes to reach a real and lasting agreement with our Palestinian neighbors,” Netanyahu said.

“If someone thought earlier that a breakthrough with the Palestinians would lead to improved relations with the Arab world for us, the opposite is happening and will continue to happen.”

The prime minister spoke at a Likud faction meeting at Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center on the same day French envoy Pierre Vimont held talks with Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold and Netanyahu’s special diplomatic envoy Isaac Molho.

Gold, in the past, has spoken against the idea of international conferences to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Foreign Ministry issued a skeptical statement following Gold’s meeting with Vimont.

“The Israeli side emphasized the importance of the principle of direct negotiations,” the Foreign Ministry said. “There should be bilateral talks without preconditions.”

It added however, that the Palestinian Authority must fight against terrorism and incitement.

The Foreign Ministry said those who met with Vimont asked questions in an attempt to understand the French initiative. Vimont is scheduled to meet with senior Palestinian officials on Tuesday, including Foreign Minister Riad Malki.

Some reports suggested he also might meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The PA leadership has already accepted and welcomed the French initiative, but does not expect it to succeed.

The US Administration recently launched an effort to scuttle the French initiative, a Palestinian official said. “The Americans have made it clear that they don’t want other parties meddling in the Israel-Arab conflict,” the official said.

Another official added: “I don’t see how this is going to work when the US administration has endorsed the Israeli stance, which basically rejects the idea of convening an international conference.”

“Besides, Israel does not want the international community to play any role in the conflict,” he added.

In Brussels, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault presented his initiative to the foreign ministers of the European Union’s 28 member states.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said all the member states welcomed Ayrault’s efforts to coordinate his country’s work with theirs and that of the Quartet.

The United States has carefully made positive public statements about the initiative, but has yet to endorse it, preferring instead to see Israelis and Palestinians relaunch direct talks. The last bilateral Israeli Palestinian peace process ended without results in April 2014.

In speaking to his faction in Jerusalem, Netanyahu praised past peace deals, such as the one Begin made with Egypt, but said it was time for the international community to realize that the paradigm for peacemaking had changed.

Israel’s relations with Arab countries have improved due to threats from Iran and Islamic State, he said.

“More and more Arab countries are realizing that Israel is not the enemy of the Arab world, but rather their partner in a joint struggle against Islamic extremists,” Netanyahu said.

“We are both fighting the Shiite Islamic extremists led by Iran and the Sunni extremists led by ISIS.”

Netanyahu said he hoped such partnerships would lead to the Palestinians adopting views that are more realistic and responsible regarding a future agreement with Israel.

The New York Times on Monday weighed in on the frozen peace process with an editorial that suggested a non-binding UN Security Council resolution on the two-state solution may be the next best step to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“There are several options, but the best may be a resolution that puts the United Nations Security Council on record supporting the basic principles of a deal covering borders, the future of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, security and land swaps, but not imposing anything on the two parties,” the editorial stated.

It spoke disparagingly of the possibility that Netanyahu, Abbas and US President Barack Obama could make peace in the near future.

The paper stated that Netanyahu had “never shown a serious willingness” to progress toward a peace deal, “as is made clear by his expansion of Israeli settlements, which reduce the land available for a Palestinian state.”

Also, it described Abbas as “a weak and aging leader who has given up on peace.”

Despite Obama’s efforts, the paper said, he “may be presiding over the death of the two-state solution.”

Should the US push for a UNSC resolution, even one such as proposed by the New York Times, it would mark a break from the Obama administration’s position that direct talks between the two parties is the best way to resolve the conflict and arrive at a two-state solution.

Last fall, however, US officials in Washington said the president did not expect to arrive at a two-state solution by the time he leaves office in January. Since then, the US has pushed for a plan that would move the process forward so the next administration could best arrive at a two-state solution.

Haaretz reported on Monday that as part of effort to stabilize the situation in the West Bank, Israelis and Palestinians had held talks on stopping IDF incursions into Area A of the West Bank in pursuit of Palestinians it believed posed a security threat. The PA has full civilian control of Area A, but the IDF has the right to enter for security reasons.

The Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on the Haaretz report.

An Israeli official, however, explained that the IDF went into those areas because the PA’s security forces had failed to combat Palestinian terrorism.

“Israel would prefer not to have to conduct military operations inside Area A. From our perspective, it would be preferable that the Palestinian security services do what they are supposed to do and prevent terrorist operations against Israel from Area A,” the official said.

“Unfortunately, they are not doing that. If the Palestinian side was to fulfill its obligations and there was no need to go into Area A, no one would be happier than Israel,” he continued.

Early Monday morning, three IDF soldiers were injured in two separate terrorist attacks in the area of the Kiryat Arba settlement and the city of Hebron. Soldiers shot and killed the three Palestinian assailants.

As a result of their deaths, the PA renewed its call seeking international protection and for ending Israeli “aggression” on Palestinians, accusing Israel of “executing” the attackers.

The PA government also strongly denounced the deaths of two Palestinian children who were killed in an Israeli military raid in Gaza following the firing of rockets at Israel last weekend.

“The continued bloody escalation by the occupation requires urgent international intervention and protection for the Palestinians,” the PA government said in a statement.

It also expressed deep concern over “continued incitement” by Israeli government officials against the Palestinians, and held the Israeli government fully responsible for rising tensions.  (Jerusalem Post)

Israel to urge six world powers to punish Iran for missile violations

Israel plans to demand that the six world powers punish Iran for violations with regard to its missile program.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this evening [Saturday[ instructed the Foreign Ministry to contact the P5+1 countries and demand that immediate punitive measures be taken in the wake of Iran’s repeated and gross violations on the missiles issue,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

The six world powers are the US, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

“This is an important step in and of itself and is also a test of the major powers in enforcing the nuclear agreement,” the PMO said.

It issued the statement after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard conducted a series of ballistic missile tests last week. The United States, France and other countries said that if confirmed, the new launches of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles would violate UN Security Council resolution 2231.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon wrote in an urgent letter sent to members of the Security Council on Saturday, calling for them to condemn Iran’s test launch of two ballistic missiles last week.

“Iran continues to disregard its obligations to UN resolutions,”“This latest provocation makes it clear that the ‘smile campaign’ of the current regime is nothing more than a smokescreen to disguise the real intentions of the ayatollah regime,” Danon added.

The ambassador pointed out that the missile test is “a gross violation” of Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group (six world powers). The resolution restricts Iran from firing missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Danon noted the phrase “Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth” was written on both of the missiles, and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Brig.-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh recently declared that Iran’s missile arsenal can hit all of Israel’s territory.

According to Iranian television, Hajizadeh also said Iran’s ballistic missiles program “will not stop under any circumstances,” and that Tehran has missiles ready to be fired.

“The Security Council must not stand by in silence when one member state of the United Nations calls for the annihilation of another member state [and] continues to disregard it obligations to the international community to develop its aggressive capabilities,” Danon added.

On Friday the US said it planned to raise the issue with the UN Security Council this week.

“We will raise these dangerous launches directly at Council consultations, which we have called for, on Monday,” US Ambassador Samantha Power said in a statement. “These launches underscore the need to work with partners around the world to slow and degrade Iran’s missile program.” Power said Iran’s missile launches were “provocative and destabilizing.”

“Moreover, Iranian military leaders have reportedly claimed these missiles are designed to be a direct threat to Israel,” she said. “We condemn such threats against another UN member state and one of our closest allies.” Power added that Washington would continue to demand “full implementation of resolution 2231, which expressly prohibits third-party support to Iran’s ballistic missile program, as we also consider our appropriate national response.” The closed-door consultations on Iran will take place Monday morning.

The United States has said Iran’s missile tests do not violate the terms of an historic nuclear deal between Tehran and six major powers, which resolution 2231, adopted in July 2015, endorsed. The UN missile restrictions and an arms embargo on Iran are not technically part of the nuclear agreement.

Council diplomats say they will first await confirmation from national intelligence agencies about whether the missiles Iran has fired were nuclear-capable. They also say that Russia and China, which had opposed continuing UN restrictions on Iran’s missile program, would likely block council action.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that the tests were not in violation of the nuclear agreement, which led to lifting of sanctions in January.

Western diplomats say resolution 2231, which “calls upon” Iran to refrain from certain ballistic missile activity, offers no green light for nuclear-capable missile launches by Tehran and is therefore a clear ban.

However, they acknowledge that Russia, China and Iran likely interpret that language as an appeal to Iran to voluntarily refrain from missile activity. Tehran has also said that none of its missiles are designed to carry nuclear weapons.

While no new UN sanctions may be imminent, Western diplomats say that the United States and some of its allies could take additional punitive action in the form of unilateral national sanctions against Iran over the latest missile launches, something Washington has done previously.

When UN sanctions on Iran were lifted in January, the Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee was shut down. But council diplomats said they expect the former chair of that now-defunct committee, Spain, will take on the task of overseeing the monitoring of Tehran’s compliance with resolution 2231.             (Jerusalem Post)

Ya’alon  criticizes  Obama for going easy on Abbas, warns of Iran’s hegemony

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday that the Iranian nuclear deal has created the conditions for Iran to attain greater hegemony in the region and that President Barack Obama mishandled attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While maintaining gratitude to Obama for his support of Israel’s security, he faulted the president for not holding PA President Mahmoud Abbas accountable for his role in the breakdown of peace efforts, and also said the president bought into the incorrect notion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being the core of Middle East problems.

Ya’alon also bewailed the recent lifting of crippling oil and financial sanctions on Iran, which released more than $100 billion in frozen assets. The defense minister conveyed that while the deal has caused the Iranian regime to give up its “timetable” for acquiring military nuclear power, it has not given up its aspirations to eventually do so.

The more immediate concern for the next 10-15 years, Ya’alon insisted, was that the Iranians have created a “radical axis” throughout the Middle East that they are exploiting to gain greater dominance in the region.

“The regime in Tehran has become a central party in order to solve the problems of the Middle East,” he said.

Speaking before an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Ya’alon discussed his concerns regarding the Iranian regime’s regional activities and how that is informing the negotiations currently underway between US and Israeli officials to hammer out a memorandum of understanding that would increase US military aid to Israel for the next 10 years.

Ya’alon met with US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and other senior officials on Monday afternoon regarding the defense aid package. While Ya’alon would not comment on the state of the talks — which have been rumored to be at an impasse — he said he hoped “negotiations will be concluded very soon.”

Referring to Iran test-firing ballistic missiles last week that carried a Hebrew message saying “Israel must be wiped out,” Ya’alon said that the Israeli leadership believes Iran is now “more confident, more free to act in the region today with more money as a result of the sanctions relief, violating many UN resolutions, international resolutions regarding the proliferation of arms and terror.”

Last week’s episode also coincided with US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel.

Ya’alon told former Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Wilson Center who moderated the forum, that he was apprehensive about President Obama allowing Iran to assert its influence over international attempts to ameliorate the Syrian crisis, as Israel borders Syria to its north along the Golan Heights. “To leave us with an Iranian-dominated Syria,” he said, “we can’t agree with it.”

Furthermore, Ya’alon highlighted differences between Washington and Jerusalem over how to make progress on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, saying that Obama did not apply sufficient pressure on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“When [Abbas] closed the door in front of both Secretary Kerry in February 2014 and President Obama in March 2014, he wasn’t blamed. Why? He’s too weak to be accountable,” he said, referring to the president offering Abbas the principles for a plan to resolve the conflict and achieve a two-state outcome. “The most important value that is missing in the Middle East is accountability. When [Abbas] closed the door in front of President Obama, he should have been blamed. He should be accountable.”

Ya’alon also said the Obama administration embraced the “linkage” argument that maintains the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main conflict in the Middle East that affects all others. “We still hear that the core of instability in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that without solving it you can’t stabilize the Middle East,” he said. “It was ridiculous in the past and it is ridiculous today. What is the linkage between the uprising in Tunisia and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?”

In a recent interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama addressed the linkage theory when asked about his 2009 Cairo reset speech, titled “A New Beginning,” in which he aimed to improve US relations with the Muslim World. “My argument was this: Let’s all stop pretending that the cause of the Middle East’s problems is Israel,” Obama told Goldberg.

The president’s comments dismayed critics, including MK Michael Oren, who was Israel’s ambassador to the US when the speech was given, and who recalled the president saying no such thing. Oren told the Algemeiner on Thursday that the speech Obama gave in Cairo “nowhere mentions that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not the core of the Middle East’s other conflicts. It actually implied the opposite.”

Despite Ya’alon telling Monday’s crowd that Israel doesn’t “want to govern the Palestinians” and that it would be “happy for them to enjoy their own political independence,” he offered a grim assessment of the future of the peace process, telling Miller “it’s not going to be solved in my lifetime.”                (the Times of Israel)

Frightening Figures: The Number of Terrorists and Weapons in Gaza

Palestine Press Agency has an article listing the size of the major militias in Gaza.

According to the article, there are more than a million weapons in Gaza, and more than a million land mines. That means there is more than one weapon for every man, woman and child in Gaza. But these are spread out among some 50 militias, causing fears of a massive bloodbath should a civil war break out.

The Hamas al Qassam Brigades has between 18,000 and 24,000 fighters. (The article lists some of the weapons Hamas has, and includes the fake tank!)

Islamic Jihad’s Al Quds Brigades has between 8,000 and 14,000 fighters.

The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades (PFLP) has 3,000 fighters.

The National Resistance Brigades (DFLP) also has 3,000 fighters.

The list does not include the number of members of the Al Aqsa Brigades, the Brigades of the Mujahideen, the Dughmosh clan or the Nasser Saladin Brigades, among many other terror groups.

There are perhaps 275,000 men in Gaza between the ages of 19 and 40. This means that one in six men of fighting age is a member of a terror group.        (The Algemeiner)

Dore Gold: South Africa ‘ready to hear’ Israel’s arguments

Israel and South Africa are taking slow but steady steps to improve bilateral cooperation, Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold said Sunday, shortly after he returned from a three-day visit to the republic.

Gold’s trip to South Africa — whose government has been a vociferous critic of Jerusalem, and which is the birthplace of the Israel boycott movement — marked the first visit to the country by an Israeli diplomatic official of his rank in a decade.

A close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gold met with his counterpart in Pretoria, Jerry Matjila. He also visited the University of the Witwatersrand and Nelson Mandela’s home in Soweto and met with Christian and Jewish leaders.

“The meetings were a very important start. To say that we’re about to have a completely different relationship is premature. But there was a readiness to hear our arguments,” Gold told The Times of Israel. “There’s potential. Now, everything is in the follow-up.”

In his various meetings, he emphasized the fact that many Jews were involved in the ANC’s fight against the oppressive apartheid regime, in the hope that it would increase sympathy for the Jewish state.

“I said that we have to understand each other’s narratives,” Gold said, adding that he deliberately visited places where he could pay his respects to the country’s struggle against apartheid, like the Liliesleaf Farm, where Mandela hid and where 19 others were arrested by the South African authorities in 1963.

“It’s important for them; it’s important that I went there. It was to break ice, to acknowledge that they were freedom fighters in that period. And it was important for me to try and search for common ground.”

The fact that Israel supported the oppressive apartheid regime for decades “wasn’t brought up,” Gold said.

“We Jews understand implicitly the struggle for freedom which Nelson Mandela led here. For us, Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people,” he wrote in the guestbook at the Mandela House in Soweto.

During his visit, the two sides agreed to strengthen cooperation in various fields important to South Africa’s national interests, such as water management, agriculture and technology.

“We have agreed to promote these issues in increased government-to-government dialogue, both in South Africa and Israel,” Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, said. “I am hopeful that we will move forward this cooperation in the coming weeks and months.”

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies welcomed the two governments’ decision to cooperate in areas beneficial to the local population. “We encourage further cooperation in the future,” said Jeff Katz, the group’s chairman.

Local anti-Israel activists, however, demanded clarification and turned to the government.

“It was a consultation meeting and no agreements were signed. The meeting was taking place at an administrative level,” said Clayson Monyela, a spokesperson for South Africa’s Foreign Ministry.

“We have diplomatic relations with Israel, but that doesn’t mean we won’t support Palestine. South Africa has a big Jewish community and even some Christians go to Israel, which they see as holy ground. If we don’t have a relationship with Israel, who will take care of our people when they go there.”

Gold’s visit came amid a push by Netanyahu to cultivate closer relations with Africa.

“Israel is coming back to Africa; Africa is coming back to Israel. It’s happening in a big way,” the prime minister said last month during the launch of the Knesset’s new caucus for Israel-Africa relations. “It’s happening because it’s so clear that this is good for Africa and it’s good for Israel.”

Netanyahu announced a visit to several African countries this summer, in what would be the first trip to the continent by a sitting Israel prime minister in half a century. However, he is not expected to come to South Africa.

“Israel today is being well received in many parts of the Middle East, among the Sunni Arab countries,” Gold said. “So if Israel can go to the Persian Gulf, it can’t go to South Africa? I think the environment is changing already in many ways, and they recognize that.”

Relations between Jerusalem and Pretoria have been extremely tense over the latter’s criticism of Israeli policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians. In October, the African National Congress — the country’s ruling party — hosted a senior delegation of Hamas, leading Israel to express “shock and outrage.”

The ANC’s invitation to Hamas “provided a tailwind for terrorism and blatantly and crudely ignored the position of the international community, which considers Hamas a terror organization,” the Foreign Ministry fumed at the time.

Gold did not bring up the Hamas visit, he said. Instead, he sufficed with a general comment about the ANC having nothing to gain from associating itself with jihadist organizations, “because you come from completely different roots,” he said. “I wasn’t there to start recriminations. There weren’t either. We were looking for the future.”

Earlier this year, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, wearing his hat as ANC chief, confirmed the party’s longstanding ban on high-level visits to Israel. “We reiterate that we discourage travel to Israel for ANC leaders, members and representatives for business and leisure purposes,” he said during a January 8 speech.

But “that wasn’t what they said to me,” Gold told The Times of Israel about the ostensible travel ban. “I think they are open to developing a relationship. We just have to see where that goes.” Still, he was careful to not create expectations of a senior-level visit from Pretoria in Jerusalem any time soon. “I am not looking for direct reciprocity. What I am looking for is a way to move forward,” he said. “A number of projects were agreed upon. Let’s take one step at a time.”    (The Times of Israel)

Israeli-developed blood test may be able to identify diseases

An experimental blood test may one day be able to detect a range of diseases including cancer and multiple sclerosis, based on signatures of DNA from dying cells, researchers said Monday.

The work, described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal, is still in its early stages, but opens up vast possibilities, the study authors said.

“We view this is as a breakthrough with huge potential, but it will not be realized very soon,” said co-author Yuval Dor, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“We are working hard on this but this is far from clinical use,” Dor said in an email to AFP.

So far, the method has been tested on 320 patients and controls, and has shown success in finding diseases such as pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis, diabetes, traumatic brain injury and multiple sclerosis.

When cells die, it can mean a disease is just beginning to take hold in the body — perhaps a tumor is forming, or an autoimmune or neurodegenerative illness.

Scientists have already known for some time that dying cells release fragmented DNA into the circulating blood.

The new method can identify a unique chemical modification called methylation.

These methylation patterns reveal the specific identity of cells.

“Our work demonstrates that the tissue origins of circulating DNA can be measured in humans,” said co-author Ruth Shemer of the Hebrew University.

“This represents a new method for sensitive detection of cell death in specific tissues, and an exciting approach for diagnostic medicine,” she said.

Researchers stressed that far more work is needed before the test can be brought to the public.

Also, the range of diseases that can be detected is small, so far.

And it remains unclear how much the testing might cost. Dor said the technology is based on next-generation DNA sequencing, which is becoming less expensive every year.

“I expect the cost will not be a major factor,” Dor said.

“There are still technical improvements needed, and more testing on larger populations, in particular in a setting that can actually predict disease.”    (The Times of Israel)

New generation of terrorists may lead to much bigger escalation

Deep problems in Palestinian society are the undercurrent to the unending attacks; West Bank armed factions and even Gaza could be dragged in if nothing is done to calm the atmosphere

By Yaacov Lappin              The Jerusalem Post


On Monday morning, two Hebron residents armed with a sub-machine gun and a handgun showed up at an IDF checkpoint near Kiryat Arba, and opened fire at soldiers. Minutes later, a resident of nearby Bnei Naim rammed his car into an Israeli bus. According to the initial security investigation, the two attacks were unlinked.

Nobody told these attackers to strike where they did. No organization paid them, or recruited them into a cell.

Instead, they decided to act on their own. Two out of the three had no prior record of security offenses, and no organizational affiliation. They left no warnings or electronic communications behind that could allow the Shin Bet to pre-emptively foil their intentions.

On the tactical level, the response by security forces in dealing with the threat was as swift as it was professional. Soldiers accurately fired on the threats to their lives, and walked away with minor injuries.

On the strategic level, there is no end in sight to the drizzle of Palestinian violence. If the violence does not stop, it could turn into a significantly larger storm.

The young terrorists behind the past six months of violence represent a much deeper undercurrent of problems that are plaguing Palestinian society. In the absence of any steps to calm the atmosphere, these youths and young adults could drag the Palestinians into a wider conflict with Israel.

Israel is currently experiencing the biggest escalation of violence in Judea and Samaria since 2006; there have been 206 acts of terrorism since October.

At first, fabricated Palestinian conspiracy theories alleging Israeli plots against the Temple Mount, and religious Islamic sentiments, acted as a trigger. But that soon faded as the prime reason. Ongoing incitement – on both social media and established Palestinian media – have only served to pour more fuel on the fire.

Yet shutting down television stations run by Islamic Jihad and Hamas will not stop the violence.

In fact, there is no single counter-measure that can quickly put out the fire, which is what makes the current situation so precarious.

In addition to the murderous ideas planted in the minds of many young Palestinians, a set of personal and collective grievances are also driving violence.

These frustrations could have been turned against the Palestinian Authority itself, had Israel not formed the first and most obvious target.

If the first intifada was a popular eruption of violence and nationalistic feeling against Israel’s presence in the West Bank – which was only later joined by Hamas and other organizations – and the second intifada was planned by the Palestinian Authority, and joined by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the third and current wave of violence is a completely different situation.

There is no leadership framework at work behind the attacks, in which lone wolves, pairs and trios wake up in the morning and decide to act. There is also – so far – no mass rioting; the majority of the Palestinian people in the West Bank are staying out it… for now.

In part, according to past statements by the IDF chief of staff, this is due to the fact that at least 120,000 Palestinians, who feed and house nearly half a million people, are fully dependent on the Israeli economy (either by working in Israel or in the settlements and industrial zones of the West Bank).

Hence, tens of thousands of additional Palestinians may soon receive work permits. In the past six months, only one Palestinian with a work permit launched a terror attack.

But giving more Palestinians work permits will also not be enough to douse the flames.

What is emerging now is a new Palestinian generation, educated (many with university degrees) and plugged in to the Internet and to social media. It is a generation filled with rage over its lack of ability to convert education into job prospects. Such rage means the poisonous incitement that fills Palestinian media is falling on increasingly receptive ears.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has used his speeches to signal desperation to his people. He also fails to condemn the terrorism, but even if he were, the spontaneous violence is out of the PA’s control anyway.

Many Palestinian youths are utterly indifferent to and alienated by their own government. In the long run, that could threaten the PA’s stability.

Maintaining the PA’s stability remains a core Israeli security interest. A stable PA helps keep Hamas at bay, enables security coordination with the IDF, and saves Israel the need to micromanage the lives of 2.7 million West Bank Palestinians.

Within the ruling Fatah faction, some members have begun whispering about the “failure” of Abbas’s diplomatic pressure strategy against Israel, and relaying messages that Israel “understands only force.”

For now, Abbas has been able to keep such currents in check. The Tanzim militia has also received clear directives from Ramallah to stay out of the violence. None of these things can or should be taken for granted.

Meanwhile, in Hamas’s Islamist kingdom of Gaza, trouble is, once again, brewing. Hamas is in strategic distress, isolated and without significant allies, while its civilian population is growing increasingly frustrated with its monstrous unemployment rate and basic living conditions.

These factors could end up pushing Hamas, in the not too distant future, to start up a new conflict. Attempts at reconciliation with Fatah have stalled, yet the Gaza Strip is more attentive to the violent developments in the West Bank than ever before.

Since 2006, the West Bank and Gaza have never been as influential on one another as they are now. A raid on Islamic Jihad in the West Bank could trigger a response from Islamic Jihad in Gaza. An escalation in Hebron could result in an escalation in Khan Yunis. And while Hamas remains deeply deterred, its military wing could, before long, find that growing pressure from home may push it into another destructive round with Israel.

As a result, every lone-wolf terrorist is part of a wider chain of events that ultimately threatens to destabilize the region.

Israel is trying to introduce stability and deterrence, through a mix of carrots and sticks, while the new generation of Palestinians is seeking to achieve just the opposite.

It is not at all clear which side will ultimately get its way.

Oren: Obama has selective memory on Middle East

by Gil Hoffman                             Jerusalem Post


US President Barack Obama’s controversial interview last week in which he repeatedly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proves that he has “selective memory” about the Israel-related events of his presidency, Kulanu MK Michael Oren said Sunday.

Oren served as ambassador to the US during the first four and a half years of Obama’s presidency. He wrote the book Ally about the experience, which has just been published in Hebrew.

Obama summarized his foreign policy doctrine in the interview with his close confidant, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic. Goldberg wrote about how in a meeting with Obama, Netanyahu “launched into something of a lecture about the dangers of the brutal region in which he lives, and Obama felt that Netanyahu was behaving in a condescending fashion, and was also avoiding the subject at hand: peace negotiations.

“Finally, the president interrupted the prime minister: “Bibi, you have to understand something,” he said. “I’m the African American son of a single mother, and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House. I managed to get elected president of the United States. You think I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I do.”

Oren said the meeting in which the lecture was supposed to have taken place was in May 2011, but that could not have happened because the private meeting between the two of them happened before they spoke to the press, not after.

The former ambassador was dismayed to read Goldberg write that “Some of [Obama’s] deepest disappointments concern Middle Eastern leaders themselves,” among whom “Benjamin Netanyahu is in his own category,” because he deemed him “too fearful and politically paralyzed” to bring about a two-state solution.

“Bibi is in a category by himself?” Oren asked. “More than [the late Lybian leader Muammar] Gaddafi, [Syrian dictator Bashar] Assad, [former Eyptian president Hosni] Mubarak, and [former Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad?” Oren complained that Obama did not give credit to Netanyahu for steps he took toward the Palestinians or hold accountable Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who he did not mention in the interview, for rejecting repeated American peace initiatives.

“The article is missing the faintest reference to Abbas,” Oren said. “This shows prejudice against Arabs, as if they have no role to play and are mere two dimensional props for receiving Israeli concessions. Abbas walked away from the negotiating table. Why don’t Palestinians ever bear responsibility for a failed peace process? Why is it only on Netanyahu’s shoulders?” When Goldberg asked Obama what he had hoped to accomplish with his controversial June 2009 speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, he said “My argument was this: Let’s all stop pretending that the cause of the Middle East’s problems is Israel.”

But Oren said everything he was told by Obama and his advisers during his tenure in Washington proved that Obama indeed thought Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians was the core conflict and responsible for all the region’s problems.

“Reading the text of the speech, the case makes the opposite claim, that it is the core conflict,” Oren said. “The Obama administration’s policy was linkage- that if you solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you solve every problem in the Middle East.” Goldberg wrote that “according to [former defense secretary] Leon Panetta, [Obama] has questioned why the U.S. should maintain Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge, which grants it access to more sophisticated weapons systems than America’s Arab allies receive.” Oren said he was surprised to read that, because Obama repeatedly claimed that there was no daylight between Israel and the US on security issues. He said Goldberg should have asked Obama how ending the qualitative military edge fits that claim.

“The QME is of paramount strategic interest to Israel, especially when very sophisticated weapons being given to Arab countries,” Oren said. “For him to question keeping it is strange because it’s grounded in Congressional law.” In the interview, Obama said he was not bluffing when he threratened to attack Iran if it broke out as a nuclear power. But Oren said such a claim was hard to believe because Obama clearly sought a deal with Iran from the start of his presidency.

“The interview was a fascinating window to a man who wants to detach from Middle East and questions America’s old alliances,” Oren said. “On Israel, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen this president got it wrong. On the one issue that is crucial for our children- Iran – can we assume he will get it right?”

Israeli Arabs Caught in New Cycle of Distrust

By  Daniel Gordis                 The Bloomberg View


Israelis, unsurprisingly, are largely united on the need for their country to be a distinctly Jewish state, a report released this week by Pew Research Center found. They disagree strongly, however, as to how to preserve that Jewishness. Almost half of the survey’s Jewish respondents said that the state should rid itself of the Arab population by expelling or transferring them out of Israel.

Although it has long been recognized that tensions between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs are on the rise, the 48 percent figure is astonishingly high. In a season in which many Jews — both American and Israeli — are looking with dismay at the xenophobia in American politics, the Pew data suggested that the U.S. is not the only society wrestling with such challenges.

The challenges for Israel are both political and physical. On the same day the Pew report was released, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived for a two-day visit, and at least three cities were hit by a round of terrorist attacks, part of a cycle of violence that began in October.

The majority of the violence has been carried out by Palestinians, but there have been a few instances of Israeli Arabs killing Jewish Israelis. Ayman Odeh, the head of the Israeli Arab List in the Knesset, has not helped to ease the tension; on more than one occasion, he has said that it was not his place to tell Palestinians how to resist Israel, thus essentially giving his imprimatur to the stabbings and shootings.

Then, a month ago, several Arab lawmakers went to visit the families of terrorists from Jerusalem who had been killed by Israeli security forces while trying to attack Jews. The lawmakers joined in the observance of a moment of silence in memory of the dead attackers. Even for Israelis willing to grant the Israeli Arabs in the Knesset much latitude in expressing their loyalty to Arab causes, the public mourning seemed to go too far. In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged passage of a bill that would allow the suspension of lawmakers for “unseemly behavior.”

Yet even some Israelis who found the visit repulsive thought that Netanyahu was risking Israel’s democracy by proposing the bill. The Arab members of the Knesset, they argued, have a right to be revolting, but Israel has no right to limit their freedom of expression. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke out against the bill, and the legal adviser to the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee said that the bill was so problematic that it would face legal hurdles. As it eventually became clear that the bill didn’t have support even in Netanyahu’s coalition, it lost steam. Its future is very uncertain.

The Israeli Arab lawmakers, however, are not done courting controversy, this week denouncing a decision by the Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman) to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization. While those Arab nations were prepared to point to Hezbollah’s terrorism, Israeli Arabs reacted angrily to the designation, which they said served Israel’s interests. Jewish Israelis who pride themselves on the fact that Israeli Arabs serve as members of Knesset, Supreme Court justices and the like were shocked and outraged by the pronouncement. Netanyahu now asked whether these Arab legislators if they had lost their minds. The week’s events had many of the tell-tale signs of a fraying social fabric.

Given the history of the region, this most recent round of distrust and recrimination should sadly come as no surprise. After all, in many cases, families find themselves divided into those who are now Israeli Arabs and those who are “Palestinians.” Who is who is a function of who fled which village in 1948, and who either decided to stay or was unable to flee. The difference between Israeli Arabs and Palestinians was a line on a map, not ideology. It was that precise worry that led Israel to institute a military administration over Israel’s Arabs, which it discontinued only in 1966.

It would have taken a herculean effort by both Israeli Jews and Arabs to overcome three-quarters of a century of suspicion and hostility. This week’s proclamation by Israel’s Arabs essentially endorsing Hezbollah and the Pew Report’s data on Israeli Jews’ attitudes their Arab fellow citizens are painful reminders that neither side ever made that effort.

How Israel missed an opportunity to cut off Hezbollah’s head

A new book sheds light on an IDF plan to assassinate senior Hezbollah military officials and the man who shot the plan down.

By Yossi Melman      The Jerusalem Post


During May 2000, the IDF’s Military Intelligence branch obtained reports and photographs from observation points and aerial patrols which proved that senior Hezbollah officials were coming from their Beirut headquarters to tour south Lebanon.

The goal of the visit was to check on the IDF’s preparations to withdraw from the security belt in south Lebanon. Hezbollah believed that the IDF would withdraw in July of the same year, and the visits by the organization’s senior figures were being taken in order to come up with a plan to sabotage the withdrawal and launch an attack on the retreating troops.

Military Intelligence and Mossad managed to gather highly accurate intel on the Shi’ite organization’s intentions. “They wanted to turn the withdrawal into an inferno,” says Brig.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilboa, who wrote a new book that explores the issue, Dawn, the real story of the IDF’s withdrawal from Lebanon, (Dawn was the IDF’s codename for the operation to withdraw from Lebanon). The “repertoire” that Hezbollah’s commanders planned included rocket launches, gunfire at IDF soldiers, setting off of roadside bombs and carbombs, and sending out suicide bombers.

The IDF began a series of discussions about what could be done to stop senior Hezbollah officials from patrolling in south Lebanon. On May 21, Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Malka held a small meeting. Among those at the meeting were “Little Mofaz,” (Shlomo, the brother of then-IDF chief Shaul Mofaz), who served as the head of the terror department in Military Intelligence’s research division. The book quotes Malka as saying, “Mofaz presented information that the most senior officials in Hezbollah are coming to south Lebanon. It’s a certainty, and we have already made preliminary operational and intelligence preparations among ourselves. This is a one-time opportunity to assassinate them, or at least, their most senior member. We’ll present this to the IDF chief.” Malka intended to ask Mofaz, Shlomo’s brother. “Shlomo,” Gilboa writes, “thought deeply about it and suggested that we pass the responsibility to decide from his brother the IDF chief, to the prime minister or defense minister,” who was then Ehud Barak.

Gadi Eisenkot, current IDF chief of staff who was then Barak’s military secretary and was privy to the classified information, said that Barak was supposed to be in the North the next day, at a ceremony to inaugurate a park. It was decided that after the ceremony, he would arrive at brigade headquarters in the moshav of Shomera. The goal of the consultation was to make a decision whether to take advantage of the opportunity and try to assassinate the senior Hezbollah officials.

What Gilboa does not write in his book, and has already been published in the past by the writer of these lines, is that the senior officials in question were “the Fab Five” of Hezbollah’s military wing. This included the head of the military wing, Imad Mughniyeh, who Israel, it was claimed, had failed to assassinate on a number of occasions and in the end, succeeded in killing in Damascus in 2008; his deputies, Talal Hamia and Mustafa Badr a-Din, (Mughniyeh’s cousin and brother-in-law), who serves as the Shi’te Lebanese group’s military commander today, and two others. One of them was a senior officer in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who was supervising Hezbollah plans against Israel.

In the early evening, Eisenkot informed Barak of the issue, and he determined that the next morning, when they met at the helicopter launch pad at the Knesset in Jerusalem, he would update him on the details. At the meeting at the launch pad, “Gadi got into a car with the prime minister and the defense minister,” Gilboa writes, “and updated him on the planned assassination of senior Hezbollah officials that Malka was suggesting. Barak listened, and his face lit up when he heard the name of the most senior Hezbollah official,” (meaning Mughniyeh).

Following the conversation, Barak and Eisenkot flew to the North. Barak took part in the park inauguration ceremony and afterward continued on to brigade headquarters in Shomera. There, he was awaited by a few senior IDF officers, including Malka, Shlomo Mofaz, division commander Moshe Kaplinsky, Col. Benny Gantz, who was then the head of the IDF’s liaison unit in Lebanon, and more.

Malka presented the issue of the assassination, but it was clear to those at the meeting that Barak was distracted. He was concerned with the broader problems of planning the IDF’s withdrawal from Lebanon. After a few minutes, Barak stopped Malka. “Continue with the intelligence gathering against the object of the assassination,” he told Malka. To all of those present, his meaning was clear. Barak did not authorize the assassination, or in Gilboa’s words, “The assassination that the meeting was meant to discuss was thrown in the garbage.”

IDF officers present at the meeting, as well as senior Mossad officials that knew of the plan, were disappointed. Everything was ready for the assassination operation. The intelligence was accurate and updated. The operational feasibility was high. Drones and fighter jets were in the air. If Barak had given his approval, the entire leadership of Hezbollah’s military command would have risen skyward. Hezbollah would have been beaten and in shock, and it would have taken the group time to recover from the blow. A golden opportunity was wasted. It would take Israel eight more years and a war (The Second Lebanon War) until the intelligence information and the operational feasibility would meet again and would enable the assassination of Mughniyeh, who was then the most wanted terrorist in the world, not just by Israel, but also by the US.

According to foreign reports, the assassination of Mughniyeh in February 2008 on the outskirts of Damascus was mainly a “blue-and-white” Mossad operation, that was aided by the CIA and carried out in coordination with it in a shared operations room.

The CIA’s contribution was to smuggle in the explosives used in the car bomb that blew up next to Mughniyeh’s car parked near his safehouse in the Syrian capital. Mughniyeh was responsible for, among other things, the planning and activating of the terror attack at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which took place 24 years ago this month, in which 29 people were killed, including four Israeli diplomats, one of whom was the Mossad’s representative.

Instead of an assassination in south Lebanon in the summer of 2000, the IDF was forced to carry out what it called “an intelligence exercise,” equivalent to a “dry exercise” – an exercise in which all the elements of an operation are put into action, but without actual fire.

Barak refused to approve the action because he feared the ramifications it would have on his bigger plan. At the meeting in Shomera, and in general after he was chosen to be prime minister in 1999, his interest was to fulfill his election promise: to bring the IDF back from its 18 year presence in the Lebanese mud.

In the beginning, Barak hoped that the withdrawal from Lebanon would be carried out through an agreement or understanding reached between Israel and Syria as mediated by US President Bill Clinton. However, in 2000, after just a few months, he understood that the chances of reaching such an agreement were slim, and he ordered then IDF chief of staff Mofaz to prepare for a withdrawal without an agreement.

Barak kept the decision of the timing of the withdrawal close to his vest. It was dictated mainly by the rapid collapse of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), which the IDF gave control of some of the outposts it evacuated. When Barak understood that the SLA could not hold the outposts, he gathered the commanders of the IDF on the evening of May 22. It was on the same day in which he had earlier rejected the operation to assassinate senior Hezbollah officials. In the meeting he announced that he had ordered IDF chief of staff Mofaz and OC Northern Command Gabi Ashkenazi to complete “their preparations to withdraw all IDF forces and prepare them to redeploy starting tonight.”

“Mofaz almost fell off his chair he was so shocked,” Gilboa writes. This was the height of the drama whose director and lead actor was Barak. Eventually, due to logistical necessities, Ashkenazi succeeded in delaying the date by 24 hours.

Thanks to in house and external compartmentalization, the IDF withdrew without casualties. As a strategic decision, the withdrawal could be considered the crowning glory of Barak’s achievements as prime minister and defense minister. In all of the other fields: security, political and social, history will judge him unfavorably.

The price of the withdrawal was indeed heavy. On the one hand, it is an impressive achievement. Hezbollah did not succeed, as it had planned, to sabotage the withdrawal. However, the withdrawal revealed Israel’s betrayal of the 2,500 SLA soldiers that had worked with them for years, in cooperation and coordination, who all of a sudden, in the dead of night, found themselves running for their lives with their families to Israel.

And in the shadow of these events, the unanswered question remains: Did Barak err by not ordering the assassination of Mughniyeh and the other senior Hezbollah officials, which would have changed the reality between Israel and the Shi’ite organization from Lebanon?

Enchanting video of Jerusalem


This information is compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman, Board Member of the Zionist Council of NSW