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Latest News in Israel – 20th March

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Samaria terrorist who killed two neutralized in shootout with IDF forces

Omar Abu Leilah, the terrorist who killed two Israelis in Sunday’s attack at two junctions in Samaria has been eliminated in a shootout with Israeli forces near Ramalllah.

The Shin Bet reportedly discovered the terrorist’s hiding place and sent a SWAT team in to capture him, at which point the terrorist started fired on the Israeli forces.

Arab media reports the terrorist was neutralized.

The Israeli Defense Forces has not confirmed the report.

On Sunday, Leilah attacked IDF soldier Gal Qeidan at the Ariel junction, stabbing him and then stealing his rifle.

Video footage shows him walking slowly along the side of the road and then breaking into a sprint toward a hitch-hiking post where he attacked Qeidan, who died of his wounds.

The terrorist then opened fire at civilians at the junction using Qeidan’s rifle, hitting Rabbi Ahiad Ettinger, who doubled back to engage the terrorist, drawing his weapon but not succeeding to fire before being shot in the head.

Ettinger died of his wounds Monday morning, leaving behind a wife and 12 children.  (WIN)

Car ramming attack near Jerusalem injures Border Policeman

A Border Policeman was injured after being hit by a Palestinian driving a stolen vehicle.

According to the Border Police Spokesperson’s Unit, the officer was hit at a checkpoint near Jerusalem.

The stolen vehicle was coming from the West Bank and heading toward the holy city. When the vehicle reached the checkpoint, the driver sped up, hitting the officer.

The Border Police and the IDF are in pursuit of the attacker.

Police located the vehicle after it was abandoned by the culprit between Al Khader and Battir, two towns in the West Bank, not far from Jerusalem.

The soldier was evacuated to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem for treatment.         (Jerusalem Post) David Issac

IDF strikes Hamas terror cells in Gaza in response to incendiary balloons

The IDF has struck several targets in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday evening, in a response to the renewed launching of incendiary balloons from the Strip into Israeli territory, the IDF reported.

Balloon terrorism has returned in recent weeks with several launches at communities in the Gaza vicinity. One incendiary balloon was reported to have been found in the Eshkol Regional Council on Tuesday. Residents reported the incident to security personnel, and an examination conducted on the ground found the balloon not to be a threat. A message in Arabic was attached to the balloon.

Shortly after, the IDF launched an initial airstrike, attacking the position from which the balloon was launched, in the northern Gaza Strip, followed by another strike, the IDF spokesperson reported.

Riots broke out simultaneously at the border fence, in which three Palestinians were injured, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said.

Earlier Tuesday, the IDF Spokesperson stated that soldiers identified three suspects crossing the border fence In the southern Gaza Strip, placed a flag on it and returned immediately to the Strip.

IDF soldiers arrested a number of suspects who crossed the security fence south of the Gaza Strip on Monday. The Palestinians were unarmed and transferred to security forces for questioning. (Jerusalem Post) Staff

Saudi report: Iranians hacked the phones of Yair and Sara Netanyahu

Israel’s Shin Bet, the country’s national security agency, denied a report Iranian hackers succesfully breached the private cellphones of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s family, shortly after a Saudi Arabian paper carried the claims on Tuesday.

Independentarabia published a report claiming that Iranian Intelligence has hacked the phones of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair and wife Sara.

According to the report, the breach was done several months ago, and that it is not yet clear what information was leaked through the tapping of their phones.

The report also connected it to the breach of the phone of Blue and White Party leader and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, yet it claimed that the hacking of Gantz’s phone was done years ago and only surfaced now to be used for internal Israeli election affairs.

The Prime Minister’s office reacted to the report, and claimed that “after an inquiry made with security officials, it never happened.”

The Shin Bet also backed the Prime Minister’s claim, and denied the reports that the phones were indeed hacked.

In response to the report, Yesh Atid member Karin Elharar was quick to tweet that “A Prime Minister that cannot prevent the hacking of the phones of his family members wishes to be in charge of the security of the whole country?”             (Jerusalem Post) Staff

Military experts refute UN report on IDF ‘war crimes’

In testimony delivered at the United Nations on Monday morning, retired U.S. Lt. Col. Geoffrey S. Corn and renowned retired British commander Col. Richard Kemp refuted a U.N. Human Rights Council report that accuses Israeli soldiers of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip.

Joining a panel of four experts hosted by independent human rights group U.N. Watch, Corn and Kemp accused the Commission of Inquiry of promoting false claims in its report, and warned diplomats and member states that the biased report will only further incentivize Hamas’ exploitation of Gazans and increase the chance of other illicit armed groups enlisting against Israel, the United States and its allies in the future.

Simultaneously in the morning plenary session, the U.N. Human Rights Council called on the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights “to manage the dossiers on alleged perpetrators [IDF soldiers], to be provided to … the International Criminal Court.”

Several member states welcomed the UNHRC report, including some of the most serious human rights abusers – Saudi Arabia, Syria, Venezuela, Iraq, Russia and Pakistan.

Providing testimony on the report, Corn – a former U.S. Army senior law of war adviser, author and research professor – presented findings from a Jewish Institute for National Security of America report, written by top former commanders of the U.S. Army, and responded to structural, legal and operational fallacies in the UNHRC hearing.

“By omitting from the UNHRC inquiry reports the use of human shields by Hamas, the report incentivizes these terror tactics in the future, and the risk posed to the civilian population of Gaza is exacerbated. If we are really concerned about mitigating harm done to civilians, we should be condemning Hamas’s actions and this report,” he said.

Kemp, a national security expert, author and former commander of British forces in Afghanistan who testified before the UNHRC investigation in December and has visited the Gaza border himself, agreed.

“The United Nations has played directly into Hamas’s hand, and the UNHRC is but an instrument of Hamas terrorism. This report, as well as countries that vote for it, encourage Hamas towards further terrorism in the future,” he said, adding that his personal testimony to the commission of inquiry had been completely ignored in the production of the report.

Also providing testimony were Einat Wilf, co-author of “The War of Return” and an expert on the Palestinian narrative of the “right of return,” and Joe Truzman, a researcher, investigative journalist and editor for the “GroundBrief” Middle East newsletter.

Wilf explained that understanding the Palestinian marchers’ motivation for rioting on the Gaza border was crucial in order to properly understand the Israeli response.

“Those who come to the border marching in the name of the so-called ‘right of return’ are not rioting against Israel’s blockade, but rather, are coming to destroy Israel. This needs to be understood clearly as a declaration of war and nothing less than that,” she explained. “The Israeli response cannot be understood if this is not understood.”

Truzman presented evidence exposing a number of false accusations as well as the omission of key facts in the UNHRC Commission of Inquiry, including evidence that five of the “victims of IDF gunfire” named by the inquiry were actually members of terrorist groups, including Hamas in Gaza.

“At least five militants killed at the March of Return are mentioned in the COI report, without reference to their militant background. Some children in [the] COI report were members of militant groups. Contrary to [the] COI report, Palestinians present during ‘March of Return’ demonstrations and riots were armed. Such militant activity is still present within Palestinian border units,” said Truzman.

Following the testimony, hundreds gathered to take part in a “Rally for Equal Rights” to protest the UNHRC’s unprecedented assault on Israel that saw the organization present several reports accusing Israel of war crimes. The rally was organized by a coalition of 24 organizations that oppose anti-Semitism and anti-Israel prejudice. (Israel Hayom) Staff

David’s Sling missile defense system passes key trial, ministry says

Israel’s midrange missile interceptor, David’s Sling, managed to thwart a series of threats, passing a key test on its way to becoming operational, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

The ministry said the aerial defense system passed a drill “simulating future threats that the system may face in a confrontation,” the ministry said in a statement.

A spokesperson declined to specify what the test or the threats entailed.

Missile Defense Directorate head Moshe Patel said the capabilities tested in the drill would now be deployed by the air force, which operates the system. He did not elaborate.

The David’s Sling interceptor is designed to deal with missiles coming from between 40 kilometers (24.85 miles) to 300 kilometers (186.41 miles) away, making up the middle tier of Israel’s advanced air defense array.

“The success of the series [of tests] constitutes an important milestone in the State of Israel’s operational ability to defend itself against existing and future threats in our arena,” the Defense Ministry said.

The trials were carried out by the ministry’s Israel Missile Defense Organization in conjunction with the US Missile Defense Agency.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the US for the support in a statement.

“Israel continues to be a global pioneer in the development of missile defense systems,” he said.

In July, two David’s Sling interceptor missiles were fired at rockets launched from Syria, in what was the first known operational use of the system, though the rockets were not intercepted.

The Israel Defense Forces defended the deployment of the interceptor missiles at the time, saying its forces had acted correctly given the short amount of time there was to act.

However, the army said that the technical reasons for why the missiles failed to hit their targets could not be published due to security concerns.

The system is aimed to protect the country against missiles like the Iranian Fateh 110 and its Syrian equivalent, the M600, both of which have seen extensive use in the Syrian civil war and are known to be in the Hezbollah terrorist group’s arsenal.

Israel also has the Iron Dome system for short range projectiles, and the Arrow 3, which is designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles.  (the Times of Israel) Jacob Magid

Tel Aviv Ranked 10th Most Expensive City on Earth

Tel Aviv has been ranked the 10th most expensive city in the world, surging up the list by 18 slots in just five years, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s yearly “Worldwide Cost of Living survey.”

The flourishing Mediterranean seaside city tied with Los Angeles.

Ranking cities based on price comparisons across 160 products and services, the report found that average prices have risen, and that the cost of purchasing insuring and maintaining a car cost 64 percent more than in New York.

The report found that the average price of a 1 kilogram loaf of bread in Tel Aviv has risen from $4.16 to $5.09 in the past 10 years, a women’s hairdo has risen from $83.57 to $93.59, and a two-piece business suit has soared from $1,124.33 to $1,940.58

The most expensive city in the world was a three-way tie between Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Between the top three and Tel Aviv were listed Zurich, Geneva and Osaka (tied), Seoul, Copenhagen and New York (tied).

Caracas in Venezuela, Damascus in Syria and Tashkent in Uzbekistan were rated the three cheapest cities in the world.

Caracas has suffered nearly a million percent inflation since the establishment of a new currency in an attempt to thwart hyperinflation last year amid the economic and political turmoil throughout Venezuela.  (the Algemeiner) Staff

Iranian couple arrested in Buenos Aires carrying fake Israeli passports

An Iranian couple who arrived in Argentina from Spain was arrested Saturday after it was revealed the two used fake Israeli passports in order to enter the country.

It was further revealed Monday that the couple carried four fake passports — two with which they boarded an Air Europe flight from Spain, and two Israeli ones which they used to enter Argentina, reported Clarin, an Argentinean newspaper.

The two — 27 year old Sajjad Naserani and 30 year old Mahsoreh Sabzali, presented themselves as Netanel and Rivka Toledano, but used poorly faked Israeli passports with blunt spelling mistakes. Border control officers discovered the passports were stolen, but sent the two on their way and notified authorities.

Argentinean officials said the name Toledano raised the authorities’ suspicion, since during the 1990’s, an Israeli diplomat named Toledano worked in the Buenos Aires Israeli embassy.

The Argentinean Interior Ministry updated authorities in Jerusalem, who quickly discovered the passports were stolen from an Israeli couple — Brigitte and David Asulin — and that both photos and fingerprints of the couple don’t match the original passport owners.

The couple was arrested in their hotel room in Buenos Aires, and is questioned by the counterterrorist unit. The man claimed he was a photographer, while the woman said she was an engineer and an architect, and the two said they escaped Iran through Turkey, Greece and then Spain — where they got the fake passports.

Investigations revealed the couple changed hotels three times in three days and used pseudonyms before they were seized. They also made an 85-seconds -long phone call from one of their cell phones, and authorities are still trying to determine who they talked to. Since the two speak no Spanish, it’s likely they called a Farsi speaker, perhaps a member of the Iranian community in Argentina.

A camera, two cell phones and a laptop were seized from the couple, and police forces were able to get some information from one of the hacked phones.

Naserani and Sabzali were arrested two days before the anniversary of the bombing that took place in the Israeli Embassy in the city in 1992, which killed 29 people. (Ynet News)

Benjamin Netanyahu’s views on a Palestinian state, explained

by Ben Sales     JTA

Benjamin Netanyahu’s views on a Palestinian state, explained

It wasn’t so long ago that most major Israeli politicians supported establishing a Palestinian state.

Now it’s not clear that any of them do, including the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu began his political career in the 1970s opposing a Palestinian state, an idea that once had been off the table but was gaining traction. Three decades later, in 2009, he gave a pivotal speech endorsing the idea in principle. In 2015, however, Netanyahu retreated from the idea on the eve of the last Israeli election.

Since then, he has made his position clearer: The prime minister opposes full Palestinian statehood, including Israeli withdrawal from any of the West Bank. In Netanyahu’s meetings with his ally, President Donald Trump, both leaders have avoided committing to the idea of a two-state solution. Netanyahu’s right-wing partners are even more opposed to Palestinian statehood, instead pushing Israeli annexation of the West Bank settlements — perhaps with an “upgrade” of Palestinian autonomy with borders and military affairs still controlled by Israel.

Netanyahu’s rivals also haven’t come out in support of a Palestinian state. Blue and White, the centrist coalition running against Netanyahu in the upcoming April elections, has not endorsed the idea. One of Blue and White’s leaders is a longtime opponent of the two-state solution.

Here’s a short explanation of how the solution that was once taboo, then seemed inevitable, has faded from Israeli politics.

Does Benjamin Netanyahu support a Palestinian state?

Netanyahu was against a Palestinian state. Then he was for it. Then he was against it again.

In 1978, as a 28-year-old private citizen, he argued against a Palestinian state in a debate on local Boston television.

“The real core of the conflict is the unfortunate Arab refusal to accept the State of Israel,” he said, using the Americanized name Ben Nitay. “It is unjust to demand the creation of the 22nd Arab state and the second Palestinian state at the expense of the only Jewish state.”

As Netanyahu shot up the ranks of Israel’s right-wing Likud party over the next 15 years, his position did not change: He saw a Palestinian state as an unacceptable danger to Israel’s security and territorial integrity.

“I fear for my home, for my land, I even fear for my son,” he said in a speech to supporters following the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, which was meant to lead to permanent-status talks on the issues of borders, refugees and Jerusalem. “What is at issue here is the essence: The land of Israel is at issue, and we are all standing for the land of Israel.”

That changed in 2009. He returned to office that year, and endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state under certain conditions.

[I]f we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state,” he said in a landmark speech at Bar-Ilan University.

But actual negotiations toward a peace treaty went nowhere. A short round of talks in 2010 ended after a few weeks, and a longer nine-month negotiation in 2014 was just as fruitless. Then came the kidnapping of three Israeli teens and the 2014 Gaza War. Since then, there have been no negotiations.

All along, Israeli West Bank settlements have expanded. Even during a 10-month settlement freeze in 2009, Netanyahu said, “You might think we’re going to dismantle the settlements, but you must understand that we’re going in the exact opposite direction.”

In 2015, Netanyahu was in a tough race to win another re-election. To rally his right-wing base one day before the election, he came out against a Palestinian state, again.

“Anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and withdraw from territory is giving territory to radical Islam to attack the State of Israel,” he told the Israeli news site NRG. Asked whether that meant a Palestinian state wouldn’t be established on his watch, he replied, “Indeed.”

So what does he believe now?

Netanyahu says he wants Palestinians to have autonomy, but not a fully independent state.

In October, well before the current election campaign, he said he wanted a Palestinian “state-minus, autonomy-plus, autonomy plus-plus.”

And that means?

“A potential solution is one in which the Palestinians have all the powers to govern themselves but none of the powers to threaten us,” he said at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. “West of the Jordan” — that is, in the disputed areas where 2.5 million Palestinians and 623,00 settlers live — “Israel and Israel alone will be responsible for security.”

Netanyahu added: “It’s not just a question of hot pursuit. It’s also having the ability to be there all the time.”

That means Israel’s military will stay in the West Bank, where a Palestinian state has been envisioned. Netanyahu has also said he will not uproot any Israeli settlements. Palestinians have long demanded a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank as a condition of a peace treaty.

Many of Netanyahu’s allies on the right want to go further. Education Minister Naftali Bennett for at least six years has supported formal Israeli annexation of all the settlements. Now plenty of politicians in Netanyahu’s own Likud party also support annexation, which would make the settlements — but not Palestinian cities — officially part of Israel.

So do Netanyahu’s opponents believe in Palestinian statehood?

That’s unclear. Benny Gantz, the main rival to Netanyahu in next month’s elections, wants a peace agreement with the Palestinians. But like Netanyahu, he has stopped short of endorsing a Palestinian state.

The Blue and White platform, in fact, sounds a lot like Netanyahu: promoting economic development, strengthening the large settlement blocs and a “security border” in the Jordan River Valley, which is on the eastern edge of the West Bank. The platform says the party will stay open to an agreement in the future, but also rules out a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank.

One of Blue and White’s senior politicians, former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, explicitly opposes Palestinian statehood.

Does that mean Israelis don’t want peace with the Palestinians anymore?

Israelis as a whole still want peace. But they don’t believe it will happen anymore.

A majority of Israelis (57 percent) want negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which has civil administrative and security responsibility in parts of the West Bank. But only 23 percent believe those negotiations will go anywhere, according to a December survey by the Israel Democracy Institute, a think tank.

Support for the two-state solution has also fallen among both Israelis and Palestinians. As of last August, only 43 percent of both populations supports independent Palestinian and Israeli states existing side by side.

That’s “the lowest in almost two decades of joint Palestinian-Israeli survey research,” according to the groups that conducted the survey — Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

So what should I expect after the Israeli election?

Israelis go to the polls on April 9. As of now, no one knows who will win. But no matter who the next Israeli prime minister is, he probably won’t come into office explicitly supporting a Palestinian state.

Experts Reveal Major Fallacies in UN Gaza Report – Eliana Rudee (JNS)

In testimony delivered on Monday at the UN, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Geoffrey S. Corn (ret.) and British commander Col. Richard Kemp refuted a UN Human Rights Council report that accuses Israeli soldiers of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” on the Gaza border.

Corn said, “By omitting from the UNHRC inquiry reports of the use of human shields by Hamas, the report incentivizes these terror tactics in the future, and the risk posed to the civilian population of Gaza is exacerbated. If we are really concerned about mitigating harm done to civilians, we should be condemning Hamas’ actions and this report.”

Kemp said, “The United Nations has played directly into Hamas’ hands and the UNHRC is but an instrument of Hamas terrorism. This report, as well as countries that vote for it, encourage Hamas towards further terrorism in the future.” He added that his personal testimony to the Commission of Inquiry was completely ignored in the production of the report.

Dr. Einat Wilf, a former member of Israel’s Knesset, explained that “Those who come to the border marching in the name of the so-called ‘right of return’ are not rioting against Israel’s blockade, but rather, are coming to destroy Israel. This needs to be understood clearly as a declaration of war and nothing less than that. The Israeli response cannot be understood if this is not understood.”