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Latest News in Israel – 31st July

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Israel said to hit Iranian sites in Iraq, expanding strikes on missile shipments

Israel has expanded its operations against Iranian targets to Iraq, where Air Force jets have struck twice in ten days, a report said Tuesday morning.

Israel commonly conducts strikes in Syrian territory, targeting Iranian missile shipments meant for Lebanese terror group Hezbollah to use against the Jewish state, but strikes in Iraq by Israel have not been reported since the 1981 bombing of a nuclear reactor.

Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic-language newspaper published in London, cited Western diplomatic sources as saying an Israeli F-35 plane was behind a July 19 strike on a rocket depot in a Shiite militia base north of Baghdad.

The IDF has not commented on the report.

The Saudi-based al-Arabiya network reported at the time that members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah had been killed in the strike. It said the base had shortly before the strike received Iranian ballistic missiles, which had been hidden inside trucks.

Iraq’s military said at the time that one fighter was killed and two Iranians wounded, saying the strike was carried out by an unmanned drone. The United States denied involvement.

Asharq Al-Awsat also said that Israel was behind another strike in Iraq carried out Sunday at Camp Ashraf, the former headquarters of the exiled People’s Mujahedin of Iran, located 40 kilometers northeast of Baghdad and 80 kilometers from the Iranian border.

That strike targeted Iranian advisers and a ballistic missile shipment, the report cited sources as saying.

The report also mentioned a strike in Syria last week blamed on Israel, in which nine were killed including six Iranians fighting for the Syrian regime, claiming it was meant to prevent Iran from taking over a strategic hill in the Daraa province in the country’s south.

Israeli missiles targeted “military positions and intelligence facilities belonging to Iran and [pro-Iranian] militias” in the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra early on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at the time.

The other three killed in the strike were pro-regime Syrian fighters, it added.

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, targeting Iranian and Hezbollah forces in the country, as well as those loyal to the Assad regime, as part of a stated policy to prevent arms transfers to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the entrenchment of Iranian military forces across from Israel’s northern border.

Israel does not usually comment on specific reports of strikes, but does insist it has the right to defend itself by targeting positions held by Iran and Hezbollah.

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi boasted last week that Israel is the only country in the world that has been “killing Iranians.”

In a speech to the UN General Assembly last September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that “Israel will do whatever it must do to defend itself against Iran’s aggression. We will continue to act against you in Syria. We will act against you in Lebanon. We will act against you in Iraq. We will act against you whenever and wherever we must act to defend our state and defend our people.” An excerpt from that speech was utilized in a recent Likud election campaign clip.                 (the Times of Israel) Michael Bachner

Arabs riot at Joseph’s Tomb, bomb defused

Arabs rioted at Joseph’s Tomb as 1,200 Jewish pilgrims arrived at the site located in Shechem on Monday night. (WIN) Staff

Watch the short video clip:

Israel’s UN envoy urges world to defund UNRWA over alleged misconduct

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday appealed to the international community to defund the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and their descendants after an ethics report revealed alleged mismanagement and abuse of authority at the agency’s highest levels.

The internal report by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s own ethics department, a copy of which was seen by AFP, includes allegations of sexual misconduct, nepotism and discrimination.

“The report reveals alarming, but not surprising, findings. In addition to propagating false information about its refugee population, UNRWA has in recent years worked to redirect world funds to continue this corruption industry that has served its leadership,” said Ambassador Danny Danon.

“The international community, which generously finances UNRWA, must immediately suspend the budgets assigned to the agency. The aid money should be gradually transferred to the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees), instead of helping the UNRWA leadership continue engaging in a series of ethical offenses,” the Israeli diplomat added.

Israel and the US have long accused UNRWA of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by extending refugee status to millions of descendants of Palestinians who fled or were forced out of homes in today’s Israel at the time of the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, rather than limiting refugee status only to the original refugees as is the norm with most refugee populations worldwide.

The agency disputes that and says the vital services it provides would otherwise not be available to Palestinians who benefit from them.

The Netherlands and Switzerland on Tuesday said they were suspending funding to UNRWA.

The Swiss foreign ministry told AFP in an email that it had already made its annual contribution of 22.3 million Swiss francs ($22.5 million, 20.2 million euros) to UNRWA. But Bern said it was “suspending any additional contributions” to UNRWA — already in crisis due to US funding cuts — pending the findings of United Nations investigators who are examining the ethics report.

The Netherlands, which funds UNRWA to the tune of about $15 million annually, will suspend its contributions “until we get satisfactory answers,” Sigrid Kaag, the Netherlands’ minister for international aid, told the NOS broadcaster.

UNRWA, led by Swiss national Pierre Krahenbuhl, has declined to comment in detail on the internal report while the UN probe is ongoing.

But the document describes “credible and corroborated” allegations of serious ethical abuses, including involving Krahenbuhl.

It says the allegations include senior management engaging in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.”

UNRWA was set up in the years after more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled their lands during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

It provides schooling and medical services to millions of impoverished refugees and their descendants in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

But the ethics report paints a picture of a small number of mostly foreign senior leaders centralizing power and influence while disregarding UN checks and balances.

Krahenbuhl is alleged to have been romantically involved with a colleague who was appointed in 2015 to a newly created role of senior adviser to the commissioner-general after an “extreme fast-track” process, the report says.

The report was sent to the United Nations secretary general in December.

UN investigators have since visited UNRWA’s offices in Jerusalem and Amman, collecting information related to the allegations, sources familiar with the matter said.

Last year, US President Donald Trump’s administration cut all funding to UNRWA, and has called for it to be dismantled, with its services handed over to countries hosting the Palestinians and NGOs. (the Times of Israel) Staff

Security cabinet approves plan granting Palestinians 700 building permits

The security cabinet on Tuesday approved a plan introduced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that will grant 700 building permits to Palestinians in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank, alongside 6,0000 such licenses for homes in neighboring settlements, a spokesman for one of the ministers present confirmed.

The unanimous approval came after two lengthy meetings of the high-level ministerial body on Sunday and Monday on the politically sensitive matter.

Palestinians are rarely granted building permits in Area C, and recent years have seen the total number of approvals remain in the single digits, compared to the thousands of green-lighted homes for Israeli settlers.

One of the ministers present lauded his colleagues for the move, telling the Kan public broadcaster that the new cabinet “is more practical than the one before it.”

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is one of the security cabinet’s newest members and is considered be one of its most hawkish, voted in favor of the plan.

He took to Facebook shortly after the vote, penning a lengthy post explaining his decision to back a proposal opposed almost across the board by settler leaders and even by the pro-settlement NGO Regavim, which he once helped establish.

Smotrich said the cabinet was advancing the construction of thousands of settlement homes and further rooting Israeli presence beyond the Green Line, while at the same time granting Palestinians who had been living in Area C before the 1994 Oslo Accords the right to build and develop “only in places that do not compromise settlement and security and do not… produce a de facto Palestinian state.”

It wasn’t clear, though, whether the permits are for new construction or for buildings currently slated for demolition.

The developments came days before a US delegation led by senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is slated to arrive in Israel and other countries in the region in order to promote US President Donald Trump’s administration’s peace plan.

It was not immediately clear why Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, brought the plan to a security cabinet discussion, given that only his approval is required (followed by that of a bureaucratic body within the Defense Ministry) for the granting of building permits in the West Bank.

As Israel girds for elections in September, several right-wing parties have vowed to prevent Palestinian expansion in areas of the West Bank that they hope Israel will annex.

The last time a plan for Palestinian building permits was brought for its approval, the security cabinet froze it indefinitely. That plan related to the expansion of the Palestinian city of Qalqilya, just bordering the Green Line. Then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman had introduced the proposal in 2017, hoping to allow for the crowded Palestinian city surrounded almost entirely by the security barrier to expand within the space still available.

But after settler leaders got wind of the program, they launched a campaign to pressure ministers to refrain from “rewarding terror” and managed to stop the plan.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee — the Defense Ministry bureaucratic body that authorizes West Bank construction — had been slated to convene this month to advance the latest batch of settlement homes, as the subcommittee does four times a year. However, that meeting has yet to take place.

According to the Oslo Accords, Israel has full military and administrative control over Area C, which comprises about 60 percent of the West Bank’s territory. (the Times of Israel) Jacob Magid

Roman Abramovich donates to combat climate-change effects in Negev Desert

Israel’s largest environmental organization, Keren Kayemet LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), received a significant donation this week from businessman, philanthropist and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich to combat the effects of climate change in the Middle East, including afforestation, forest rehabilitation and fighting desertification in the Negev in southern Israel.

Abramovich made aliyah last year with his family.

With the donation, a new forest will be established in southern Israel to help combat the area’s rising desertification and aid in increasing nature tourism in the area. It will be established in the memory of Lithuania’s Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

Currently, a significant portion of the designated area is made up of damaged forested land that endured wildfires several years ago, and will now undergo rehabilitation and replanting.

“This generous support from Mr. Abramovich will help continue to carry out the critical work of fighting desertification and making the Israeli desert bloom,” said KKL-JNF World chairman Daniel Atar.

As the organization responsible for establishing and maintaining Israel’s forests, KKL-JNF has planted more than 240 million trees across the country. Following decades of vast experience in afforestation in dry or arid land, Israel and its agencies are considered a global leader in combating desertification through forestation. (JNS) Staff

Israeli imaging technique could help doctors predict Alzheimer’s, cancer

Doctors may soon be able to compare brain scans taken over time from the same patient and to differentiate between healthy and diseased brain tissue without conducting an invasive or dangerous procedure, thanks to new research by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Dr. Aviv Mezer and his team at HUJI’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences successfully transformed an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Image) from a diagnostic camera that takes pictures of our organs, bones and nerves into a device that can record changes in the biological makeup of brain tissue. This new MRI could help doctors more quickly determine the onset of disease and begin treatment.

Mezer said that MRIs have long been used as a way to analyze the brain.

“Because we know how to measure water in a very efficient and accurate way, we can now see the other aspect: how water interacts with the environment,” Mezer explained. “In that sense, we are measuring the molecules’ makeup.”

He said that this is a new level of information that was previously hidden to the medical community.

Mezer compared this new way of reading MRIs with taking a blood test.

“When we take a blood test, it shows us the exact number of white blood cells in our body and whether that number is higher than normal due to illness,” Mezer said.

This new analysis provides such information for the brain.

“We know that when we look at the brain post-mortem there is a huge difference in the macromolecules in different diseases – but now we can only see these changes post-mortem,” said Mezer. “The hope is that with our new approach, we’ll be able to see those macromolecules in the brain and detect the onset of neurogenerative diseases while people are still alive.”

Specifically, Mezer believes that the new MRI technique will provide a crucial understanding into how our brains age. “When we scanned young and old patients’ brains, we saw that different brain areas ages differently.  For example, in some white-matter areas, there is a decrease in brain tissue volume, whereas in the gray-matter, tissue volume remains constant.  However, we saw major changes in the molecular makeup of the gray matter in younger versus older subjects.”

The result, he believes, is that patients will more likely receive correct diagnoses earlier, speeding up when they begin treatment, which potentially could help them maintain an improved quality of life for longer – all via a non-invasive technique.         (Jerusalem Post) Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman

This is not the right-wing merger Netanyahu wanted

PM fears that United Right, led by Ayelet Shaked, a popular ex-minister, could siphon votes away from Likud, and is concerned that other votes for fringe hardliners could be lost

by Raoul Wootliff                The Times of Israel


In Israel’s fraught political arena, something needs to change for the outcome of September’s redo election to be different from the stalemate created by April’s national vote.

In the previous election, both the ruling Likud and challenger Blue and White parties gained 35 seats in the 120-seat Knesset but, without the support of Yisrael Beytenu’s stubborn leader Avigdor Liberman, neither was able to form a majority coalition. The former foreign and defense minister has now said he will only join a government that includes both rivaling parties, a prospect that seems dead in the muddied waters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal investigations, as Blue and White has rejected the prospect outright.

Both sides are therefore relying on some form of voter swing to give their potential center-left/right-wing coalitions enough seats to form a coalition without each other and Yisrael Beytenu, come September.

That explains the motivation behind Netanyahu’s frantic efforts to prevent right-wing votes being “wasted” — that is, from going to smaller parties that fail to cross the electoral threshold, and thus reduce his chances of gaining the support of at least 61 of the 120 eventual Knesset members.

To avoid such wastage, Netanyahu has been encouraging smaller right-wing parties to merge with each other ahead of the Thursday deadline for parties to register for September’s elections. But the Monday announcement that a pair of religious, right-wing parties — New Right and Union of Right-Wing Parties — had successfully closed a deal to merge into a single electoral slate, led by popular former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, was condemned by Netanyahu’s Likud as a “dangerous mistake” that risks the prime minister’s continued rule, rather than safeguarding it.

Though desperate to see the various right-wing parties folded into his political calculations, this is not the merger Netanyahu had hoped for.

Instead of gathering the fringes of Israel’s right-wing, the new union has, so far, just brought together the mainstream factions on the right, all but guaranteeing their own political survival, but not necessarily Netanyahu’s. At the same time, it has specifically boosted two of his own rivals on the right, whom he had hoped to eliminate in April.

“If this is the end of the merging process on the right, while all the Arab parties have united, the right-wing bloc will be at risk. Bennett, Shaked, and Smotrich intentionally left out 5-6 mandates on the right — and they are knowingly jeopardizing the continuation of a right-wing government. It’s not too late to fix this dangerous mistake,” a Likud statement read, suggesting that the extremist Otzma Yehudit, Moshe Feiglin’s quasi-libertarian hard-right Zehut, and the anti-LGBT Noam party are all worth roughly four to five percent of the vote (180,000-216,000 votes), and worthy of being his political partners.

Before the April vote and again this time around, Netanyahu has actively lobbied to include the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party in the union, believing that its hard-line voters can boost the entire right-wing bloc. He succeeded last time around, but for now, the faction remains out of the merger deal confirmed on Monday.

The joint slate, to be named the United Right, will see only Shaked and former education minister Naftali Bennett run alongside the Jewish Home and National Union factions that form URWP. The two former ministers bolted the Jewish Home last December to form the New Right, which championed “secular-religious partnership,” but failed to cross the electoral threshold in the April elections, while URWP won five seats.

A thorn in Netanyahu’s (right) side

Announcing in December that they would be leaving the Jewish Home party to form the New Right, Bennett (who led the party at the time, but gave up the top spot ahead of the new elections) and Shaked lamented that they had lost their influence over Netanyahu, and claimed they needed a new political platform to have a real impact.

Since first taking control of Jewish Home in 2012, Bennett has always pitched himself as the right-wing force keeping a flaky Netanyahu from drifting leftward. “We need a strong Jewish Home to keep the government on the right path,” he had argued during both the 2013 and 2015 election campaigns, and again, ahead of the April election.

Unveiling the New Right party last year, the pair slammed the premier for a series of  policy decisions they denounced as having “strayed from the path of the right.” In so doing, Bennett and Shaked appeared for the first time to be making a bid to replace him — or at least to run an election campaign that directly challenges him.

Bennett and Shaked both began their political careers as senior aides to Netanyahu, when he was head of the opposition in 2006, but abruptly left Likud in 2008, amid rumors of personal disagreements with the Netanyahu family. Their move to Jewish Home — engineered in part by Avichai Ronsky, a settler leader and the former chief rabbi of the IDF, who died last year — was based on the idea that the religious right needed to be reinvigorated and that this must include cooperation with Israelis who are not Orthodox.

This approach also sidelined the last vestiges of the old National Religious Party, in favor of a more energetic version even less beholden to democratic rule and willing to toy publicly with explosive ideas — like backing vast judicial reform and pushing an aggressive plan to annex settlement blocs.

They initially succeeded in reaching new audiences, boosting the party from just three seats to an impressive 12 in the 2013 elections. While they were on the path to a similar result in the 2015 elections, however, Netanyahu’s warnings about the dangers of a Zionist Union victory led voters to flock to Likud, leaving the Jewish Home with just eight seats. In April, the same tactic succeeded in pushing the New Right below the electoral threshold altogether, while Likud swelled from 30 to 35 seats.

Now, concerned that a New Right-URWP merger under a reinvigorated Shaked will take away votes from Likud, Netanyahu and his wife Sara have not just pushed for a different sort of right-wing union, but have worked aggressively against the merger.

While he wants to save right-wing votes, such as those for Otzma Yehudit, from oblivion, the union headed by Shaked could end up being a direct threat to his own support. It may boost the right-wing bloc somewhat, but it is just as likely to drain support from the Likud in favor of the new United Right, with many Likud voters likely amenable to Shaked and the type of party she is forming.

In a joint statement announcing the deal, New Right and URWP said they would recommend to the president that Netanyahu form the next coalition after the elections, (a compromise by Shaked and Bennett, who had balked at the commitment in recent weeks, but ultimately agreed to the URWP demand).

For Netanyahu, that may not be enough.

What Unites Palestinians other than Hatred of Israel? – Aaron Kliegman (Washington Free Beacon)

PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has said numerous times that the Palestinians will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. In other words, the Palestinian president explicitly rejects the foundation of a two-state solution: two states for two peoples, one Arab and one Jewish. Perhaps that is why the Palestinians have, for decades, repeatedly rejected offers of statehood. They seem to care more about hurting Israel than helping themselves.

Palestinian hatred toward Israel and Jews is at the core of the Palestinians’ collective identity. Try to think of anything unique that defines a positive Palestinian nationality and distinguishes the Palestinians from the rest of the Arabs of the Middle East beyond opposition to Israel. Indeed, Palestinian national identity is based on seeking Israel’s demise, rather than positive attributes of the Palestinian people.

Before 1948, Jewish residents in British Mandatory Palestine were called “Palestinians.” The Arabs living in Palestine were called Arabs. No one called the Arabs living in Palestine at the time the Palestinian people, including the residents themselves. In fact, many were migrants, or descendants of migrants, who came from the surrounding Arab countries from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century.

Between 1949 and 1967, when Jordan controlled the West Bank and Egypt occupied Gaza, the Palestinian Arabs did not seriously seek to create a Palestinian state and no one tried to do so because Palestinian nationalism did not really exist. Indeed, UN Resolution 242 after the 1967 Six-Day War did not mention “Palestine” or “Palestinians.”

Later, a Palestinian people with a distinct nationality emerged, but as an opposition movement against Israel, offering no vision other than destroying Israel and replacing it. Palestinians need to question what Palestinian nationality really entails. They have created a national identity whose only clear pillar is blindly opposing Israel.

Yes, there are countless Palestinians who are kind, wonderful, talented, and deserve to live in dignity. And yes, the Palestinians should one day have their own, independent state, existing next to Israel in peace. But that will never happen if the collective identity that defines the Palestinians is only about the “evils” of Israel and not about the Palestinians themselves.