Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi becomes the Israel Defense Forces’ 22nd commander; ‘To defend our national home, we need a sobered outlook, a fit military force, the willingness to use that force, discretion and determination,’ says Kochavi.
Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi entered the office of the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff on Tuesday morning in the beginning of a new era.
The 22nd IDF chief started his day with a ceremony at the Kirya IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, where he received the rank of lieutenant general from Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“‘I swear.’ This is what I called out alongside my fellow soldiers in front of the Western Wall, which was for us a wall of support and protection. It has been 2,000 years, and this wall of protection has expanded and become the Israel Defense Force. I swore in front of generations of soldiers and became another link in the chain of generations that come each in turn to defend the state,” the new IDF chief Kochavi said.
“‘I swear,’ every soldier calls out, and packs into these two words the relinquishing of the private for the national. The national home is a wonderful creation like no other in the history of nations, but it is planted in a region that for religious and national reasons is trying to reject its natural roots. To defend our national home, we need a sobered outlook, a fit military force, the willingness to use that force, discretion and determination,” he said.
To his predecessor Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Kochavi said, “In this spirit, Gadi, the IDF acted under your leadership and has repeatedly proven its abilities as the defender of the borders and the interior, using its long arm to destroy any threats. During your tenure, the IDF bolstered its units and increased its preparedness. I stand at the head of the military and on behalf of all of its soldiers and commanders, I thank and salute you.”
Concluding his remarks, Kochavi went back to his sworn oath at the beginning of his service in the IDF. “Like every soldier in his swear-in ceremony, I vowed at the time to dedicate all of my efforts to defending the homeland. Now, as the head of the General Staff, while I have national security and the good of the state before me, I make a new vow. There is much work to be done, good luck to us all,” Kochavi said.
Eisenkot summed up his own service in his remarks. “At the end of 40 years of service and four years as the IDF chief, I conclude a path that became my life’s mission,” he said.
Describing his objectives as IDF chief, Eisenkot said he sought to leave behind “a fit, prepared and powerful military that bolstered its strength with wisdom and determination.”
To Kochavi, Eisenkot said, “Proudly I seek to pass on to you the command over the most precious asset of our nation—the Israel Defense Forces. The command over the military is passed on today to you, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, a commander worthy like no other to stand at the head of the Israel Defense Forces.”
“The military I give to you today is advanced and remains true to its roots and spirit. Over the many years in which we worked together in the field and in the General Staff, it has been my privilege to get to know you as a commander with immense fortitude and leadership and command abilities. Your determination and extensive experience will be dedicated in full to bolstering the IDF’s preparedness and strength, maintaining its character and values, and nurturing the pride in the heart of its soldiers.”
Prime Minister and Defense Minister Netanyahu began his remarks by thanking Eisenkot for his 40 years of service.
“Over the past four years, we have dealt with great challenges: the changing fronts in Gaza, Syria, Lebanon and other places. But there has also been on main element facing us: Iran and its terror proxies. We acted responsibly and with discretion to stop those who seek to harm us from growing stronger,” Netanyahu said.
“All of the actions we’ve taken in recent years to build up the IDF’s power were meant to bolster the military’s readiness and achieve one goal: victory in war. And the stronger we are, the more we increase the chances of peace,” he said.
Netanyahu boasted about the warming ties with Muslim nations, saying that “Thanks to our intelligence, operational and technological capabilities, our ties with the Arab world are growing stronger than ever before. Leading Muslim nations are getting closer to us. They realize we’re not their enemy, but a vital ally to lean on. By growing our military, our economy and our diplomacy, we have turned Israel into a rising world power.”
Eisenkot, he said, was a part of it as he met with his counterparts from Arab nations.
“Lt. Gen. Kochavi, you have a red beret on your shoulder, which symbolizes the special spirit of the Paratroopers: the steadfastness, the order ‘after me,’ and constantly striving for excellence,” he said.
“As an experienced military leader, you will now carry the grave responsibility of ensuring that the IDF fulfills its missions,” Netanyahu said. “The objective is clear: To ensure our superiority over our enemies and to increase the qualitative edge we have over them. First, we’ll work to bolster our offensive capabilities even more. We will ensure we have a crushing fist to attack our enemies with, both close and far.”
Concluding his remarks, the prime minister said that “if we are prepared to defend our country with all of our might, we might not have to fight an all-out war. And if we do, the IDF will handle this challenge, as will the citizens of Israel who will be united, and together we will ensure Israel’s eternal existence.”
Kochavi and Eisenkot will later travel to Jerusalem to visit the National Hall of Remembrance on Mount Herzl and the Western Wall, and then have lunch at the President’s Residence. After that, Kochavi will join the IDF’s General Staff for a toast and a goodbye from Eisenkot at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv, including an honorary guard for the outgoing IDF chief.
Kochavi, who was born in 1964, grew up in Kiryat Bialik. He is the second of the three children of the late Riba, who was a physical education teacher, and Shaul, a shop owner.
He began his IDF service in the Paratroopers’ Brigade, excelled at infantry officers’ course and went on to serve as the commander of the 101st Battalion, the commander of the Paratroopers’ Brigade, the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate (MID), the GOC Northern Command, and the deputy IDF chief. He has a bachelor’s degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a master’s from Harvard University.
The article was published on Ynet
Lawmakers expected to pass law in all three readings on Wednesday, setting the stage for a three-month campaign leading up to the national poll
Three and a half years after its first sitting following the 2015 elections, the 20th Knesset is set to come to an end on Wednesday as lawmakers vote on a bill to dissolve parliament and set new elections for April 9.
A day after government ministers approved pushing ahead with the move, the Knesset will be host to a frantic series of committee debates and votes on the bill to dissolve parliament in an attempt to complete work on the move by the end of the day and officially start the election campaign for the 2019 election.
According to the decision of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, the bill — which is expected to pass by a large margin — will face all three plenary readings on Wednesday in an accelerated legislative move reserved for emergency measures.
The first business of the day therefore began at 9.30 when members of the Knesset House Committee gathered to pass a motion allowing the dissolution bill to be pushed through the Knesset in one day and not be subject to the six-week waiting period that regular legislation normally faces after being proposed
Following the unanimous vote in favor of the motion, the bill now faces a first plenary debate and vote currently scheduled for 11 a.m. If the vote passes, the bill will return to the House Committee for final deliberations before once again being sent back to the plenum.
In the plenary’s second session, the bill faces two separate votes: the first on each of the two clauses in the bill, and the second on the bill as a whole. If the final vote passes with even a simple majority of 1-0, the Knesset will automatically disperse.
The first clause of the no-frills bill states the 20th Knesset will “dissolve itself ahead of elections,” and the second sets the date, agreed upon by coalition and opposition parties, for April 9th.
While the bill is not expected to face opposition, it could be held up by the head of the Knesset House Committee, MK Miki Zohar, who on Tuesday called for delaying the dissolution of the Knesset, arguing that lawmakers need more time to pass essential legislation before the elections and suggesting that he will use his position to block the bill.
Zohar cited two laws he said needed to be passed before the Knesset dissolves — his own bill to limit access to pornography online and a proposal by Likud MK Amir Ohana to ease access to the Israeli bar exam.
While elections have traditionally been held at least 90 days after the dissolution of the Knesset, by law, there is no minimum waiting period. If the Knesset votes to dissolve Wednesday, it will leave 105 days until elections, while immediately freezing any bills working their way through the Knesset.
Given the 15-day cushion, Zohar said there was no need to rush the bill to dissolve parliament and prevent legislative work from continuing.
“The Knesset must serve the State of Israel and not the politicians,” he said, telling his colleagues to “open up your calendars and set the date accordingly.”
Zohar, an acolyte of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has proposed and overseen a number of controversial pieces of legislation. said that the parliament should remain in full swing until the last possible opportunity, which falls on January 9.
According to Knesset bylaws, as chairman of the committee which would oversee the preparation of the bill, Zohar could in theory hold up the proposal indefinitely with no obligation to hold a vote within any specified time frame.
Speaking at Wednesday morning’s committee meeting, Zohar said that he agrees with the date of the national poll, but thinks the Knesset should wait to officially call elections.
“The date has been agreed upon by all factions and I support it,” he said at the opening of the debate. “But there are tax laws that are very important to those who sent us here and we can finalize the legislation on a number key issues.”
Coalition chairman David Amsalem, however, said that the bill to dissolve parliament would be passed in all three readings Wednesday and other legislation would be passed during special recess sessions that can be called during the election campaign.
Netanyahu on Monday called the early elections for April, setting the stage for a campaign clouded by a series of corruption investigations against the long-serving Israeli leader.
With the Likud leader holding a commanding lead in the polls, all eyes are on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and whether he will decide before the elections on whether to press charges against the longtime leader on a series of corruption allegations.
A first major round of polls on Tuesday found that Netanyahu is the strong favorite to win the upcoming race, though he is not hugely popular among voters.
The polls found that most Israelis do not think Netanyahu should be the next prime minister, though even fewer think any one of his rivals should be. In Israel’s multi-party system, however, even middling support is usually enough to win the premiership.
The article was published on The Times of Israel
Man disembarks from vehicle, opens fire and flees scene, witnesses say ■ Israeli forces search for assailant ■ Hamas, Islamic Jihad praise ‘heroic’ attack ■ Israel seals off Ramallah
Two Israeli soldiers were killed and another soldier and a civilian woman were seriously wounded Thursday in a shooting in the West Bank, near the settlement of Ofra.
Israeli army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said a man disembarked from a vehicle on Route 60, opened fire and fled the scene.
Manelis added that soldiers are canvassing the area in search of several assailants as well as setting up checkpoints, and that the army has sealed off roads leading Ramallah.
One of the fatalities was identified as 20-year-old Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef, originally from Ashkelon. He served in the Netzah Yehuda Battalion in the Kfir Brigade and is survived by his parents and three sisters. The other fatality was identified as 19-year-old Sgt. Yosef Cohen, originally from Beit Shemesh.
The wounded, a male soldier and a woman, were treated by emergency services and evacuated to hospitals in Jerusalem for further treatment. The man suffered a gunshot wound to the head and is in severe condition, the hospital said. The woman’s condition remains serious but has stabilized, doctors said, adding that as of now, her life is no longer in danger.
Later on Thursday, the Israeli army reported two suspected car-ramming attacks in the West Bank, one near Ramallah and one near the settlement of Kochav Yaakov.
The IDF is focusing mostly on Ramallah in its search efforts. An abandoned vehicle has been located and the military is inspecting whether it was used by the shooters.
In addition, the Shin Bet security service is using its field agents and technological tools in its investigation in order to trace the shooters’ tracks and their escape route.
The defense establishment had no intelligence pointing to a planned terrorist attack. This is yet another shooting attack that the security forces did not manage to prevent.
“There was massive fire, bullet after bullet, but not in bursts,” said one witness, adding that the shooting lasted several seconds.
The deaths extend a violent week that began with a shooting outside a West Bank settlement on Sunday, resulting in the death of a baby who was delivered prematurely after the attack, and continued with the killing of two Palestinians wanted in that and another attack on Israelis in the West Bank.
The military’s West Bank Division is currently better staffed than usual due to the security situation, with 14 battalions in the West Bank alongside special units such as Duvdevan, border police’s Arab-speaking undercover counterterror unit and the police’s special anti-terror unit that has been working in the area in the past few days.
Habayit Hayehudi member and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel along with MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) threatened to leave Netanyahu’s fragile coalition, calling for a meeting to discuss immediate security measures to protect West Bank residents.
At the same time, the regional councils of Mateh Binyamin, Samaria and Beit El called for a strike, demonstrating in front of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem to demand that the government take additional steps against acts of terror. The local councils will close road in the West Bank in addition to demonstrations by dozens of people that already took place on Thursday near the Kerem Shalom junction off Route 60.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the latest round of violence in the West Bank, criticizing both militant attacks and the tough Israeli response.
Abbas’ office issued a statement on Thursday accusing Israel of creating a “climate” conducive to violence through its frequent military operations in Palestinian cities. Abbas also accused Israel of incitement against him.
His statement says that “the absence of the horizon of peace is what led to this series of violence, which we condemn and reject, and for which both sides pay a price.”
The statement also added: “Our permanent policy is to reject violence, incursions and terror of the settlers, and the need to stop incitement and not to create an atmosphere that contributes to the aggravation of the situation.”
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman took to Twitter, condemning the attacks, asserting that the PA “maintains laws that will compensate these terrorists and their families for their heinous acts. The PA can be a political body OR a sponsor of terror, not both.”
A paramedic at the scene, Shalom Galil, said: “When we arrived at the location we saw four young people with gunshot wounds near the hitchhiking stop.” According to Galil, a man and a woman in their 20’s, were evacuated to the hospital in serious condition. Two others in critical were left at the scene and treated by Israeli army paramedics.
A senior Israeli army officer told Haaretz “Hamas is investing a lot of effort into establishing terror infrastructures and units for attack in the West Bank. We’re dealing with this in Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus and other places. We often succeed, but some events end harshly.”
“I don’t know to confirm nor refute” the possibility that members of the group involved in Thursday’s attack weren’t also part of the one that exacted the one on Sunday, Manelis said, referring to the incident as a “copycat” of the drive-by shooting near Ofra.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad praised the attack, with the former’s spokesman saying the organization welcomed “the heroic action which is a response to the crimes of the occupation and its behavior,” adding that “the youth of the West Bank will continue to fight.”
Hamas’ political wing chief Ismail Haniyeh said that “what happened today in the West Bank means the situation is starting to change and a new chapter has opened with the occupier through bloody resistance. The blood of Barghouthi and Na’alwa are a point of light for the next generations.”
Haniyeh was referring to Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti whom Israel sentenced to five consecutive life sentences for involvementin terror attacks and Ashraf Walid Saliman Na’alwa, who carried out the shooting attack in the Barkan industrial area in October.
On Wednesday night, Israeli troops shot a Palestinian man near the West Bank city of Ramallah as part of an ongoing manhunt for the assailants beind Sunday’s drive-by shooting near Ofra. The man later died of his wounds at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.
The site of the incident is south of the settlement of Ofra, where six Israelis were wounded and a baby, who was delivered after his mother was shot in the attack, died.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed Salah Barghouti, a Palestinian suspect wanted in the drive-by shooting in a bus stop near Ofra.
Thursday’s shooting came hours after Israeli security forces tracked down and killed a Palestinian accused of killing two Israelis.
Early on Thursday, Israeli security forces said Ashraf Saliman Na’alwa was killed after he was located armed near the West Bank city of Nablus. Na’alwa was said to be behind the attack that took the lives of Kim Yehezkel-Levengrond and Ziv Hajbi on October.
The article was published in Haaretz
The recent discovery of Hezbollah’s invasion tunnels has removed a critical component of the organization’s — and Iran’s — plan for war against Israel. The discovery robbed them of the ability to surprise Israel through an offensive (under)ground assault into Israeli territory, which was to be a central element in creating a shock to the Israeli psyche and challenge to the country’s security. Israel’s aggressive measures are compelling Hezbollah and Iran to reassess their perception of the entire conflict.
In addition, the raids have again embarrassed Iran and its proxies because they exhibit Israel’s superior level of intelligence, following the exposure of Iran’s nuclear archive.
The question right now is to what extent Israel will succeed in leveraging this intelligence disclosure to turn the situation on the northern border to its advantage, with an emphasis on the following objectives:
1. Teaching Lebanon and the international arena that Hezbollah, as an Iranian proxy, is not the “shield of Lebanon,” but in reality a huge danger to that country. Hezbollah is developing strong offensive capabilities against Israel from within Lebanese civilian facilities, and is even working beyond the international border (inside Israeli territory) to serve Iranian interests only. Hezbollah acts in a manner that is a clear violation of Israeli sovereignty and justifies a sharp Israeli response that will cause harm to the country of Lebanon and its citizens. Israel’s recent activity should also be presented as an Israeli effort to prevent damage to Lebanon. The ones putting Lebanon in danger are Hezbollah and Iran, while the one who is looking after it is Israel.
3. Educating Europe that any attempt to differentiate between the military wing and the political wing of Hezbollah is ridiculous. Does anyone really believe that a handful of rebellious, diligent Hezbollah terrorists decided independently to dig a complex system of tunnels, which demanded so many resources and extended into Israeli territory? It is amazing to see how the Europeans have confirmed the existence of the tunnels and expressed their support for Israel’s right to destroy them, yet refuse to blame Hezbollah and acknowledge that there is no distinction between the military and political wings of the organization. A change in the European position would lead to a significant shift in Hezbollah’s ability to manipulate the Lebanese system, and would penalize it with the heavy and appropriate price they should pay for their violation of Israeli sovereignty.
4. Encouraging UNIFIL to finally implement UN Resolution 1701, asserting that only the Lebanese army is allowed to operate in southern Lebanon, and to make use of the extension of its mandate that it received in 2016. So far, UNIFIL has confirmed the existence of the tunnels, but it has refrained from asserting that Hezbollah has thereby significantly violated Israel’s sovereignty.
5. Intensifying focus on Iran’s role as the master dictating Hezbollah’s activities. It is clear that the buildup of Hezbollah’s forces, especially since the Second Lebanon War, including the invasion tunnels, is intended to serve Iranian purposes and enable Iran to strike at Israel.
The high media profile that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot have given to this operation is intended to influence international, Israeli, Arab, Lebanese, and Iranian opinion. However, it needs to be accompanied by diplomatic activity to achieve these objectives. The problem is that European cynicism is creating a significant obstacle to realizing these goals, and the tense relationship between the United States and Europe is eroding the power of American leverage in this regard.
The article was published on The Algemeiner
In the middle of the last night of January 2018, Mossad agents broke into a secret vault on the outskirts of Tehran, while their commanders watched from afar. The agents encountered an unexpected problem, a “rich people problems,” according to a person familiar with the details of the operation.
The large room contained 32 huge Iranian-made safes, each 2.7 meters in height. The safes were loaded onto heavy container-like installations, on wheels that can carry massive weight.
The documents were secreted behind two different doors—a heavy iron door inside the facility and another iron door equipped with an alarm system and cameras at the facility’s exterior wall.
This is where the Iranian Ministry of Defense decided to keep one of the greatest secrets of the Islamic Republic. In fact, only a handful of people in Iran even knew that the Iranian nuclear archive was inside this warehouse, in the heart of a sleepy suburb in the capital.
But it did not remain a secret.
The agents knew how to disable the alarm system and break through the iron doors, but they also knew they did not have time to break into all the safes. They would have to make do with less than ten, and look for three types of folders: those containing Iran’s correspondence with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); those detailing the construction of nuclear sites and acquisition of nuclear equipment; and most importantly, those detailing the design and production of the nuclear warhead (which has never been completed).
But then, inside the safes’ room, agents found something else, besides folders: CDs, piles of them—a massive amount of DVDs and computer discs, most of them unmarked.
So what the hell were they going to do now? Should they ignore the potential secrets these CDs may hold? Or take a calculated risk with a new variable that might complicate the operation? The agents received an explicit order from the command room: take everything, including the CDs.
At one minute to five in the morning, the agents left the warehouse. When the break-in was discovered, about 12,000 Iranian security personnel went on the pursuit in an attempt to figure out who stole the nuclear archive from under their noses.
In the end, despite the unexpected piles of CDs, all of the material was extracted from Iran, and no one got caught. The Iranians could only guess who was behind the heist, but until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s famous press conference on April 30, they didn’t know for sure what really happened to “the filthy secrets of the Iranian regime,” as dubbed by Mossad director Yossi Cohen.
A few weeks later, when the material arrived in Israel, dozens of translators, experts and analysts—assisted by Persian speakers from Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate’s (MID) Unit 8200—started digging through the piles of material. It was then that it became clear how important was the decision to risk everything and take the CDs.
The written material comprises of 114 folders, containing more than 55,000 pages, of which 8,500 were handwritten documents, many of them authored by senior government officials, and some by nuclear personnel who died in operations attributed to the Mossad.
But the biggest surprise was the massive amount of information stored in the 182 disks. A Mossad case officer told me he would have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for one CD like this.
The Iranians documented everything: the equipment, the construction of secret plants and sites, the experiments, detailed presentations on the project’s progress, goals and stages, and even themselves, during nuclear experiments.
The bottom line is clear: it was a mega-scam, a state-level deception, in which senior Iranian officials and hundreds of others have taken part for years.
For two decades, Iran denied having a military nuclear program. But the contents of the safes tell a different story, a completely different and undeniable account: for years, Iran has been engaged in a covert nuclear project aimed at producing five nuclear bombs, with a yield of 10 kilotons each. And this was only stage one.
According to a Western intelligence source, “over the years, we have seen all sorts of programs, but we have not always understood their overall context. Until we saw these documents, we didn’t really understand how projects that were part of AMAD (the secret project’s code name—RB) were translated into secret projects under the Ministry of Defense, or open projects with a hidden agenda within SPAND (the later, public name, of the project—RB). The material Israel had obtained solved these mysteries.”
“The sweeping Iranian denial “is really comical at this point,” the source added.
The documents don’t just expose the Iranians’ deceit. It also demonstrates the weakness of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which Iran signed and the IAEA failed to enforce.
The archives show that under the UN agency’s nose—despite repeat warnings, the information obtained by the Mossad and other espionage agencies, and media exposés—Iran has succeeded in conducting a secret military nuclear program over a long period of time (and Israel claims Tehran continues to do so even today).
Iran continues to deny everything even now; claiming the entire story of the seized archive is fabricated and serves an Israeli-American agenda aimed at canceling the nuclear agreement. This response was to be expected. What might have been less predictable is the lukewarm international response to the material uncovered in the Israeli operation.
The reactions ranged from claims the material was “old news” to assertions it does not uncover any “smoking guns” to prove Iran is currently violating the nuclear agreement.
But if the Islamic Republic is not violating or planning to violate the agreement, why keep such a detailed archive allowing Iran to resume its nuclear effort from where it left off (assuming they actually stopped)?
For many years Israel, the United States, France, Britain and Germany have been collecting intelligence about the Iranian nuclear project. Some of this material has been handed to the IAEA over time in the hopes it would provoke an appropriate response. The intelligence gathered was classified by the IAEA into 12 different topics— referred to as “the PMD,” the acronym for “Possible Military Dimensions”— each depicting research, production or other experiments related to the bomb.
Over the years, Iran has vehemently denied dealing with any of these topics. The condition for signing the nuclear agreement was that Iran would make a full disclosure of its progress in each of the 12 PMD issues. Before signing the agreement, Yukiya Amano, the Japanese diplomat who heads the IAEA, promised senior Israeli officials, according to their testimony, that “he will never sign the deal” before receiving satisfactory answers on all 12 topics.
At the end of 2015, Amano published a report practically accepting the Iranian denial of ever having a military nuclear project. Now, in light of the material discovered by the Mossad, it appears his report was based on false information.
The intelligence uncovered in the operation was revealed to the Americans, the Chinese, the Russians, the French, the British, the Germans, and of course to IAEA officials.
With the exception of the US (and, of course, Israel), it seems the world wasn’t floored by the discoveries, and Amano himself has kept quiet.
This is despite the fact that the sensitive material includes documentation of advanced stages of practical field research, experiments and timetables for the production of an atomic bomb and its adaptation to the warhead of the long-range Shahab ballistic missile.
Holger Stark, the deputy editor of the German Die Zeit newspaper, contacted the IAEA in Vienna for a response. The agency refused to comment.
Quite a lot has been written about the Mossad operation. However, media reports in Israel and abroad dealt less with the archive itself, and more with the difficult questions it poses.
Here is a glimpse into the secret intelligence gathered from Iran’s safes room. These are the facts; the questions they raise are for the world to answer.
So what is this “Iranian nuclear archive” that Mossad agents managed to transport thousands of kilometers, all the way to Israel?
Iran’s secret military nuclear program began to take shape in 1992 or 1993, when the Iranians became interested in acquiring technologies for the production and operation of centrifuges for uranium enrichment. Tehran acquired much of its knowledge from Pakistan’s nuclear project director, Abdul Qadeer Khan, and later from other elements, some of them Chinese.
The first centrifuges were designed at a site called Damāwand. Israel warned the international community about the construction of the nuclear enrichment facility, so Iran decided to dismantle it and build another one in its stead.
This was the site that would later become well known, the Natanz nuclear facility. In internal Iranian documents, the site was called “Kashan,” and it houses an increasing number of centrifuges.
At first, Israel was alone in its intelligence campaign against Iran. The intelligence it brought to the attention of IAEA and Western countries was greeted with indifference. Even the United States failed to act at first, and didn’t recognize the authenticity or the importance of the material the Mossad collected on Iran. Only at a later stage, when intelligence ties with Israel strengthened and additional information about Kashan was brought to their attention did the Americans start to act.
Meanwhile, the Iranians secretly set up their military program to produce an atomic bomb, entitled “The AMAD Project.”
Who gave the orders? This is one question the archive answers unequivocally: the Iranian leadership. The material does not include direct instructions from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who, after strongly denying that Iran has a nuclear program, apparently made sure his name will not be tied to the project. Nevertheless, the archive contains, without doubt, documents signed by the defense minister at the time and current Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani.
And he’s not alone. “The plan was approved by the Cognitive Sciences and Technologies Council,” the header of one document states. This is a codename for the senior group of executives who manage Project AMAD, which included the president at the time, Mohammad Khatami; then-head of the Supreme National Security Council, Hassan Rouhani (the current Iranian president); then-Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani; and the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) at the time, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh.
So what is the purpose of the AMAD Project? The answer to this question too can be found in the archive. According to the material obtained in the Mossad operation, the Iranian plan is to produce five warheads with a yield of 10 kilotons each, and develop the ability to assemble these warheads on the Iranian-made Shahab 3 missile.
Incidentally, nuclear experts who examined the documents say that the Iranian leaders’ plan lays out far more extensive infrastructure than what is needed to produce “only” five bombs.
The making of a nuclear bomb and the ability to launch it is a very complex project that requires a state effort and coordination between all Iranian army and intelligence forces.
One particularly colorful presentation, which was discovered in one of the CDs, shows the complexity of the Iranian nuclear project. According to the presentation, the plan is based on a joint effort of various Iranian bodies: the Intelligence Ministry, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (including its Aerospace Force), and the Quds Force—the Guards’ secret unit, which is currently waging war with Israel at the Syrian border.
The documents mention time and again the person who is both the manager and the brains behind the nuclear program—Prof. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. The nuclear archive includes countless documents with Fakhrizadeh’s signature, including documents addressed to him, or approved by him.
For example, one letter addressed to Fakhrizadeh, dated January 19, 2001, and written by the director of the explosive mechanism developing team, delineates a long list of features needed to fit the mechanism to the rest of the nuclear bomb (which is comprised of numerous parts). Fakhrizadeh thanked the director at the bottom of his letter and gave him further instructions.
According to foreign media reports, Israel considered Fakhrizadeh as a preferred target for intelligence gathering, and even seriously considered harming him, especially during the tenure of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and the late Mossad director Meir Dagan. Since Fakhrizadeh is still alive, the assassination plan has yet to materialize. It appears Olmert decided to halt the operation, and so Fakhrizadeh’s life was spared. If the former prime minister is indeed behind such a decision, there are those who to this day believe it was a mistake.
However, someone—Iranian intelligence sure it was the Mossad—was able to reach various Iranian nuclear scientists whose names appear in the seized documents.
In his handwriting, Dr. Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, a senior nuclear program official, inscribes a long technical document to Fakhrizadeh, who replied at length.
Dr. Abbasi-Davani is the Chair of the physics department at Tehran’s Imam Hossein University and a key figure in Iran’s nuclear program. On November 29, 2010, his colleague Majid Shahriari was assassinated.
An assassin on a motorbike tried to kill Davani as well by attaching a bomb to his car window while he was driving, but Davani managed to escape at the last minute and survived. Iran’s president at the time, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appointed Davani as his deputy to show his appreciation for the doctor’s “contribution to the Islamic Republic and for his courage.”
One may feel some discomfort when diving into the piles of Iranian documents, since there’s something eerie about them. For example, the radical state’s dream of creating weapons of mass destruction becomes an orderly and meticulous timeline in Microsoft Project, including information on the program’s budgets, personnel, experiments, and more.
At times, the nuclear documents receive a more personal flair. For instance, in one of the archive’s CDs, agents found “selfie” photos of an Iranian nuclear expert, the heavyset Dr. Mahdi Tranchi, wearing protective goggles and posing for the camera at the “Taleqan 1” nuclear test site.
What happened to all this effort? All those people, information, and experience gathered? Did they all just disappear?
The nuclear sites
It was not only the people who worked on the Iranian nuclear project that the documents expose. They also expose the places and sites where the nuclear plot was devised, some of which were new discoveries for the Israeli intelligence community (“I wish I had this information in real time,” said a former Israeli intelligence chief when exposed to the material), including nuclear experiment sites, uranium mines located across the country, tunnels (dug to cover up their real purpose), and more.
According to the material, the Iranians were looking for an underground nuclear testing site. It goes without saying that to conduct such an experiment, they needed to first build a bomb, which the Iranians have not yet done.
Furthermore, a nuclear experiment does not depend solely on scientific ability, but mostly on the decision of the political leadership. An underground experiment would have certainly been detected by the West. Such a test would essentially constitute a declaration by Tehran that it had indeed developed a bomb.
In the meantime, until the Iranians develop a nuclear bomb, the Iranians are getting ready, and according to the documents they have already examined various possible sites and even attempted to detonate small explosives deep underground to test the ground, its durability and their own ability to record the measurements of the explosion at that location.
The Israeli intelligence community also discovered new information about some known nuclear sites. For example, the site in Fordow, near the city of Qom, is well hidden at the heart of the mountain, and is extremely resistant to bombs.
The Israeli, French, and American intelligence communities exposed it in 2010, but the archive’s documents established its importance as part of the Ghadir Project (another code name for the Iranian secret nuclear program).
Another example of the scale of the Iranian fraud can be found in the Taleqan testing facility, located in an area called Parchin. IAEA reports raised serious suspicions about the site, but Iran’s denials made it difficult to substantiate these suspicions.
The IAEA demanded that its inspectors be allowed to visit the site, but the agency’s requests have been repeatedly denied. When the IAEA threatened to accuse Iran of violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, its inspectors were allowed to enter Parchin months later, only to discover that the site had been cleared, and everything in it was carefully removed from the area.
What was there before? One of the crucial steps to building a nuclear bomb is the development of an explosion mechanism that will create critical mass. In the past, Western intelligence agencies circulated sketches of the experiment sites used to build the explosion mechanism. Photos of the site taken by the Iranian scientists look exactly like the sketches.
The Iranian nuclear archive proved how much these sketches were in line with reality: it was an accurate record of the sites, bunkers, test tanks, and equipment that Iran has denied, and still denies using in Parchin / Taleqan, or anywhere else in Iran for that matter.
The archive material contains many drawings, presentations, written documents, and photographs. Not just technical images, but also photographs of the nuclear scientists themselves. The scientists must have felt they were a part of Iranian history. Most probably none of them imagined that his pictures would ever find their way to Israel.
Many of these photographs record the nuclear experiments. Iran has denied for years that it is conducting experiments on all PMD topics. For instance, Iran has claimed it did not have any neutron detection equipment, but an archive presentation shows otherwise (with colorful text explaining its uses). Apparently the equipment is located next to the Parchin explosives test site.
In the next slide, dated February 2002, there is a description of the nuclear experiment with an exact record of the DU3, the scientific term for the neutrons’ source, whose collision with nuclear fuel atoms creates a chain reaction that ends with an atomic explosion.
The archive’s documents also reveal that at a nearby site, the Iranians built another tank for testing high explosives; this time with flash X-ray equipment surrounding it. This equipment made up of a sophisticated camera of sorts that can record, with a precision of nanoseconds, the moment of detonation to guarantee that all explosives go off at the same time. This is critical for making explosive lens: a simultaneous explosion of several charges around the fissile material—for example, enriched uranium at a level of 90%—will start a nuclear fission chain reaction.
A special contract signed by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and Tehran’s Defense Ministry lays out the transfer of part of the enrichment project from the organization to the ministry, in order to produce highly-enriched uranium at a military level of 90%.
The cover-up: the Dark Side of SPND
In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, and Tehran feared they were next in line; at the same time, the “National Council of Resistance of Iran,” an Iranian opposition group, published material on the Natanz nuclear facility that led to harsh criticism and sanctions against Iran.
The Iranians were worried and so the Scientific Council decided to make some changes and close the AMAD Project, only to reopen it under a different name. This development was interpreted differently by Israel and the United States. The latter determined that closing the AMAD Project brought the nuclear program to a halt. Israel, on the other hand, claimed that it’s an Iranian scam, and that the two projects are one and the same.
The documents from the archive show that Israel was right. These documents record how the general decision to close one project and reopen another became a complex bureaucratic process in August and September 2003.
The purpose of all this was to deceive the world and develop a project that will continue where the AMAD Project left off. The new project was titled “the SPND Project,” and unlike its father, AMAD, which was entirely secret, SPND has two sides: the overt and public side, which allows the Iranians to claim the nuclear program is meant for peaceful purposes (medicine, etc.), and the covert side, which allows Iran to continue developing nuclear weapons.
SPND, by the way, is still active today.
“Following new instruction by the honorable Minister of Defense (Ali Shamkhani—RB), intensive meetings of Project 110 technical committee (one of the main projects of AMAD—RB) were held in order to accommodate the activities to the instructions. In the new outline, the work would be divided in two: covert (secret structure and goals) and overt (regular structure),” reads one Iranian document.
What would the covert part include? For example, the documents show that the secret SPND project will include the nuclear testing facility Sareb-1, the warhead integration facility Sareb-2, and Sareb-3, the facility for the production of a nuclear warhead for Shahab 3 missiles.
According to the documents, all management personnel and 70% of the entire workforce are to transfer from “AMAD” to “SPND.” The scheme was meticulously planned: the documents include a letter written by Abbasi-Davani, to the project’s chief, Fakhrizadeh, on March 3, 2003: “We must make a distinction between overt and covert activities.”
One of their colleagues wrote on January 9, 2003: “Overt activities are those that can be explained as part of something else, and not as part of the project (to produce an atomic bomb) itself, so we have an excuse to do them.”
Dr. Masoud wrote in March 2003: “Neutron research cannot be considered ‘overt’ and must be covert. We have no way of rationalizing this activity (neutron research) as related to defensive measures. Neutron operations are very sensitive and we cannot explain them.”
Dr. Mahdi Tranchi, the ‘selfie’ enthusiast, wrote: “Let there be no mistake—the manpower of the overt and covert parts will not be reduced. The whole operation will not be reduced, and every sub-project will oversee both the overt and covert parts.”
And so the Iranian project continued from 2004, under SPND, until the signing of the nuclear agreement in the summer of 2015.
At some point, a senior American source told Yedioth Ahronoth, the countries negotiating the nuclear agreement with Tehran decided to “let the past go, even though everyone knew very well that the Iranians were lying, and focus on the future. It was clear to everyone that after the spiritual leader said there was no military project, he would never take it back and admit he lied. The risk was losing the entire deal because insisting on the 12 PMD topics would have led to the collapse of the negotiations.”
After the nuclear agreement was signed, two parallel axes were in play. In one, Iran submitted some material, which led to an IAEA report on the PMD in December 2015. This report, which in effect ignores the questions left open, enables implementation of the nuclear agreement.
In the other, Tehran began to do everything in its power to hide everything it had on its nuclear program. This was unlike other cases of complete nuclear disarmament. Both South Africa and Libya, for example, truly ended their nuclear programs: they either destroyed all the information, so there was nothing left of their archives, or deposited everything they had—their knowledge, documents, and experience, to IAEA inspectors.
The Iranians did the exact opposite: they collected information from countless sites, including private archives and all the material of the AMAD Project, and gathered it it in the Defense Ministry’s archive.
Since the agreement gives the IAEA the right to visit any suspicious site (Tehran currently denies that they have agreed to visits at military sites), the Iranians feared the Defense Ministry archive might also be a target for inspection. So in February 2016, the Iranians moved the archive to an obscure site in a remote suburb of Tehran. The facility is almost entirely unguarded, and therefore does not attract attention. Even the people guarding the facility don’t know what it is that they are protecting.
Israeli intelligence had been tracked the “AMAD archive” closely, and had been meticulously planning the operation since early 2017. One Mossad agent responsible for planning the operation said it was “Ocean’s Eleven Style.”
In most Mossad operations of this type, the agents usually infiltrate a building, photograph the material inside, and leave unnoticed. This time, Mossad Director Yossi Cohen decided the material must be physically seized. The reason is twofold: to limit the time agents had to spend inside the building, and to prevent Iran from spreading disinformation and claiming the documents are forged. In this manner, Israel could expose the documents to the scrutiny of the international community.
Over the course of two years, hundreds of people from all branches of the Mossad participated in the operation, and fewer than two dozen agents took part in the break-in itself.
The operation team in Israel did not sleep for several nights, during which the agents gathered inside Iran to prepare the equipment and scope out the area.
Then, on the evening of January 31, the agents entered the vault. When the operation ended and all agents were out of danger, Cohen called Netanyahu and informed him of the operation’s success.
And it was, indeed, a success: The agents retrieved about half a ton of intelligence material that is worth its weight in gold. There has been very few times in the history of intelligence services since World War II when one agency has been able to obtain so much of the enemy’s secret intelligence material at once.
“Israel didn’t sign the JCPOA. The Mossad didn’t sign the nuclear agreement,” Mossad Director Cohen said in a closed forum. “I have one agreement, with the people of Israel, in which I commit not to allow the Iranians to have a nuclear bomb. That’s it.”
But like everything else, politics got in the way here as well. Since the operation, various claims were made in Israel and abroad against the way the material was presented.
Some believe the documents from the archive justify Netanyahu’s claim that the nuclear agreement is a bad deal based on lies.
A Western intelligence source that was exposed to the material summed it up thus: “The nuclear archive is in fact an effort made by the Iranian Ministry of Defense to preserve the knowledge achieved in the ‘AMAD Project’ from 1998 to 2003, and to hide it from the international community, especially from the IAEA, for possible future use.”
Others, on the other hand, claim these documents prove how close Iran was to producing a nuclear bomb, and so the existence of an agreement that freezes the program and puts the SPND Project under close supervision is a good idea.
The article was published on Ynet
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to fly to Vienna later this month to meet with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, in what will be the first official visit to Austria by an Israeli premier in more than two decades.
“It is my distinct pleasure to welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu for an official visit to Austria!,” Kurz tweeted Wednesday.
Netanyahu will hold a bilateral meeting with the Austrian leader and attend a “conference on the fight against anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism” hosted by Kurz on November 21-22.
Netanyahu’s forthcoming visit to Vienna will be the first trip to Austria by an Israeli prime minister since 1997, when Netanyahu visited the country during his first term.
Member of parliament Martin Engelberg, a member of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s center-right Austrian People’s Party (OVP), announced the Israeli premier’s planned visit earlier Wednesday during a pan-European conference on anti-Semitism in Brussels.
“[Netanyahu] is going to come to Vienna in two weeks, and there will be a summit, a quite high-ranking summit…on fighting anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, also including BDS [the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement] and protecting and securing Jewish life in Austria and in Europe,” Engelberg told i24NEWS.
Ties between Israel and Austria have strengthened over the past year, despite the inclusion in Kurz’s coalition government of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), which has a past stained by frequent anti-Semitic incidents and instances of Nazi propaganda.
Israel’s foreign ministry has maintained a “boycott” of the Freedom Party ministers, who preside over the foreign and defense ministries, since they joined Kurz’s government late last year government, instead conducting all governmental matters through lower-level civil servants.
But it appears the Israeli government is eager to maintain good relations with Austria, as the reaction paled in comparison with that in 2000, when the Freedom Party first joined a coalition government and Israeli authorities withdrew the Ambassador from Vienna.
The Austrian chancellor visited Israel in June and met with Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September.
“It’s a very clear sign of the close friendship not only between Israel and Austria, but also on a personal level between the Israeli prime minister and our Austrian chancellor,” Engelberg said of Netanyahu’s planned reciprocal visit.
Engelberg told i24NEWS that it was the “right” of the Jewish community to decide to boycott ministers of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), but noted that nonetheless, “the relationship between Austria and Israel has never been as close as it is now.”
He added that “nobody is pressing” Israel to change its policy regarding FPO ministers.
“Austria is a member of the European Union…and whether or not the Israeli government has contact with Austrian ministers of the Freedom Party does not really bother us,” he said.
“I’m more interested that the Freedom Party really takes the right steps and we will charge them by their deeds, as we say,” Engelberg said.
During his visit to Israel this summer, Kurz expressed remorse at the American Jewish Committee’s conference in Jerusalem for Austrian participation in Nazi crimes during the Holocaust.
Engelberg said that over the past 30 years there has been a “strong decline” in what he called “classical anti-Semitism” in Austria, meanwhile claiming that levels of anti-Semitism in the country’s Muslim population were much higher than in the general population.
“We are talking about, according to the polls, a level of anti-Semitism [within the Muslim population] of 40, 50, or 60 percent sometimes, whereas in the general population we tend to come down from 30 percent to 10 percent,” he said, without citing from which polls he had drawn the figures.
Founded in 1956, the FPOe emerged from the short-lived Federation of Independents, launched after World War II by former Nazis who had been stripped of their voting rights.
The party, whose first chief was an ex-officer from the Waffen SS, also drew pan-Germanists — believers in unifying with Germany like in the Third Reich — and liberals fed up with the ruling centrist establishment.
The party rose to prominence in the late 1980’s under Joerg Haider, the charismatic but controversial son of a former Nazi party official, positioning itself as a formidable populist force thriving on xenophobic and anti-EU slogans.
Today, the part is led by Heinz-Christian Strache, a former member of a radical student fraternity who has a past stained by frequent anti-Semitic incidents and instances of Nazi propaganda.
Strache has dismissed former associations with neo-Nazi groups as youthful dalliance and has attempted to position himself as a vocal advocate and friend of Israel.
Strache has traveled to Israel a number of times and developed ties with representatives of the Israeli right. In one of his last trips, however, late Israeli President Shimon Peres had refused to meet him.
i24NEWS correspondent Polina Garaev contributed to this report.
The article was published on I24
Germany’s long-term Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Israel yesterday evening, ahead of several meetings between her and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and their respective country’s ministers.
Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, hosted the German chancellor at their official Jerusalem residence yesterday and have held inter-governmental meetings (G2G) today. This is the seventh such meeting between the German chancellor and Israel’s prime minister – and ministers each of their countries – in the last decade.
Chancellor Merkel had threatened to cancel her long-planned trip if Israel went ahead with its planned evacuation of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar – a claim denied by both Israeli and German officials. This government-to-government meeting, supposed to be an annual event to showcase the closeness of ties between the two countries, was postponed from May 2017 because of German displeasure at Israel’s settlement policies and its position on the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
The inter-governmental consultations will focus – inter alia – on security, scientific, economic, cultural and cyber cooperation. There will also be a series of discussions and the signing of MOUs the goal of which is to strengthen bilateral relations.
The expected presence of Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israel’s National Security Council at the meeting between the two leaders was a hint that the discussions were likely to focus on Iran and the developing situation in Syria.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that since the February 15, 2016 inter-governmental (G2G) consultations in Jerusalem there has been significant progress in various fields including security, trade, culture and community affairs.
In addition to her meetings with Netanyahu, Chancellor Merkel visited Yad Vashem, the world Holocuast memorial center. She laid a wreath in the hall of remembrance, where an eternal flame burns and where the names of all the Nazi-run labor, concentration and extermination camps are etched. She also visited the hall of names, in which Yad Vashem holds as much information as they can find about Holocaust victims – and she signed the visitors’ book.
PM meets with his Egyptian counterpart al-Sisi on sidelines of UN General Assembly to discuss regional developments and the situation in Gaza; only an Egyptian flag was put in the room; Egyptian spokesman: ‘the two stressed the importance of renewing cease-fire talks with Hamas.’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Wednesday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
The two leaders met amid continued efforts of Egyptian intelligence to mediate a possible long-term ceasefire arrangement between Israel and Hamas.
Netanyahu’s talks with Sisi late on Wednesday focused on “regional developments”, the Israeli Prime Minister wrote on Twitter without elaborating.
A spokesman for the Egyptian president issued a statement saying that the two leaders “discussed the peace process, and stressed the importance of renewing negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis in order to form a comprehensive and just solution to the Palestinian problem.”
He added that resolving the problem would create a new reality in the Middle East, one “in which all peoples enjoy stability.” According to the spokesman, Netanyahu thanked al-Sisi for his efforts in fighting terrorism.
Netanyahu and al-Sisi met publicly for the first time in September of last year, also in New York. Last month, Ynet learned that the prime minister held a secret meeting with al-Sisi.
The information came from a foreign diplomatic source, but the Prime Minister’s Office refused to comment on the matter.
According to Channel 10 News, the meeting took place on May 22 when Netanyahu flew with a small delegation of advisors and security guards. He stayed in Egypt for a few hours and participated in the breaking of the Ramadan fast before returning to Israel late at night.
Egypt plays an important role in a cease-fire talk between Israel and Hamas.
Last Saturday a delegation of senior Egyptian intelligence officials arrived in the Gaza Strip for a brief visit as part of Egypt’s effort to renew the internal reconciliation talks in Gaza as well as ceasefire negotiations with Israel.
The Egyptian intelligence officials who entered Gaza through the Erez Crossing met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh for a “significant and crucial” meeting, Palestinian sources said.
“Egypt’s main interest is to reach an intra-Palestinian reconciliation in accordance with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’s demand that he is the only legitimate representative of the Palestinians with whom any understandings can be reached.
“Hamas, however, is interested in promoting a ceasefire agreement with Israel before an intra-Palestinian reconciliation is achieved, in order to take credit for easing the Israeli blockade over Gaza,” the Palestinian sources elaborated.
“Egypt views the dead end (in ceasefire talks with Israel) as pushing Gaza towards a dangerous military escalation on the border fence. Nevertheless, Egypt is not willing to promote calm only to please Hamas since it has bigger international and intra-Arab interests. Egypt will need to decide how to overcome this obstacle” the sources explained.
According to The Associated Press, after the Egyptian delegation left Gaza, senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said their indirect cease-fire talks with Israel have halted. Abu Zuhri added that his Islamic militant group is escalating its protests in new locations along Gaza’s border with Israel.
Egypt has been working to broker a long-term ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s dominant Hamas Islamist movement amid frequent violence along the Israel-Gaza border.
Since March, thousands swarmed the security fence as part of “The Great March of Return,” weekly protests.
Egypt and the United Nations have been working to mediate in order to avoid another large-scale round of violence.
Egypt was the first of a handful of Arab countries to recognize Israel under a 1979 peace treaty and the two countries maintain close co-ordination on security as well as energy ties.
On Thursday Israeli and Egyptian companies announced that they would buy into a pipeline that would enable a landmark $15 billion natural gas export deal to begin next year.
Netanyahu and Sisi convened for their previously announced talks several hours after US President Donald Trump said he wanted a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in what had appeared to be the clearest expression yet of his administration’s support for such an outcome.
But later on Wednesday Trump told a news conference that he would be open to a one-state solution if that was the preference of the parties themselves, a position he had previously stated.
The article was published on Ynet
As the world marks 17 years since the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the time has come for Western governments to join in “the strong and clear effort by the Trump administration against the terrorist regime in Tehran,”Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday.
Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu took European leaders to task for “appeasing Iran,” something he said “helps the relentless assault on the values and security of free societies.”
Netanyahu again noted the irony that during the same week in June when an Iranian terrorist cell tried to carry out an attack against an Iranian opposition group in Paris – an attack that Israeli intelligence helped to thwart – European leaders were trying to “appease” Iran and looking for ways to reconcile with it, and soften the fallout from the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal.
Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group that carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks, has “passed the torch” of radical Sunni terrorism on to Islamic State, while the radical Shia variety of terrorism is being led by Iran, the premier said.
It is doing so to a certain degree against Islamic State, but it is not doing so against Iran – the opposite is the case,” he said.
Netanyahu also used the start of the weekly cabinet meeting to once again praise the Trump administration for its decision on Monday to close the PLO office in Washington.
Netanyahu called this the “correct decision,” saying that at a time when the Palestinians refuse to negotiate with Israel and are attacking it with false claims in international forums, Israel “very much appreciates” American actions designed to make clear to the Palestinians that their tactics not only fail to promote peace, “but are also certainly not making things better for the Palestinians.”
The article was published on The JPost
Many questions remain about what led to the deaths of up to 58 Palestinians on Monday. One of the key issues surrounds how the protests are organized. Based on observation and discussions with sources close to the protests, the following presents a clearer picture of what has occurred over the last weeks, and attempts to paint a picture of how the May 14 protests unfolded.
Since the end of March, there have been mass protests along the Gaza border. These protests have been well organized and planned as part of an eight week “Great March of Return,” from the Palestinian Land Day on March 30, to the “Nakba Day” on May 15.
On May 14, the mass protests, which coincided with the US opening its embassy in Jerusalem and came a day before what was supposed to be the last day of the protests, resulted in 58 Palestinians killed and up to 2,700 wounded, according to Gaza-based Palestinian reports.
The protests have been organized around five locations next to Israel’s security fence. Over the eight weeks of demonstrations, protesters used a variety of different tactics and methods. For instance, protesters began lighting massive fires and burning tires during the second Friday, in early April. Then they began launching burning kites to ignite Israeli farmland. They also tore down a section of barbed wire of one of the fences between Israel and Gaza on April 27. It was during this protest that a reliable source provided some insight into the methods employed by Hamas and the protesters.
The protesters have gathered every Friday with tens of thousands participating. At the very back of the protest, hundreds of meters from the fence, are tents and field hospitals, prayer areas and families. This is where some of the Hamas officials will show up in the morning or early afternoon to rouse the people and encourage them in their protest. Speeches will be made and prayers offered. It is well organized. Buses bring people to the protests. There are people selling food. There is even a macabre element of this, with protesters saying they’ll have a meal before they become “shahid” or a martyr at the front.
The masses of protesters who approach the actual fence are generally made up of young men and teenagers, including youth and children. There are very few women in the area closest to the fence. The protesters know how the Israeli security forces have been operating; they expect to be shot or are cognizant that this is a distinct possibility. There are ambulance teams and medics, as well as numerous spontaneous volunteers, ready to take away the injured, many of them shot in the legs.
As the young men burn tires, and others prepare Molotov cocktails or slingshots, some prepare kites to fly. The goal of the protesters is to get to the fence and, with select groups of young men who have brought wire cutters, to cut through. Most of them don’t make it this far, but some of them do.
Gazans who attempt to reach the main security fence first have to deal with other obstacles. There is a barbed-wire fence in sections to deter protesters from reaching the main fence. Israel has continuously warned since March that anyone approaching this kind of buffer zone would be shot. A section of barbed wire fence was torn down and dragged away in late April. The Palestinians cheered as they brought it back to the protest camp. A sign of victory.
According to reports, it takes about thirty seconds running between the barbed-wire fence and the main security fence.
But what happened in late April was not just the spontaneous chaos of rioters at the fence. Some of those wounded and killed by live fire, as shown on videos, have not been directly threatening the fence, but there are others groups whose sole purpose is to penetrate the fence.
The actual attempt to get closest to the fence and break through it has involved planning and coordination on the Palestinian side. Hamas members, unarmed but clearly directing some of the young men, are in the crowd. They watch for an area of burning tires and people, where the protesters have managed to get close to the fence or breach the first line of barbed wire.
Some of these professional activists are on motorcycles and they may come and go or drive along the line of protests or observe them from a high point. When they sense that a breach can be made, they gather together groups of young men, men who have prepared beforehand for the assault.
Like some kind of First World War charge of death, the young men then rush as a group toward the fence.
During the April 27 events, up to 700 men were reported by IDF spokesman Col. Jonathan Conricus to have assaulted the fence “in a way that we have not seen them assault it before,” according to a New York Times report.
An earlier Times report titled “300 Meters in Gaza: Snipers, Burning Tires and a Contested Fence,” summarized well the planning and details of the protests and confirmed later accounts.
Planning began ahead of the May 14 protests. Joe Dyke, the AFP correspondent in Gaza, wrote on May 10 that, at a “briefing to foreign media, Gaza head of Hamas told journalists today he would support thousands of Palestinians breaking through the border fence next week.”
On Sunday the IDF dropped leaflets on Gaza warning protesters to stay away from the fence. On May 14 Dyke, in Gaza, tweeted: “literally as the US embassy inauguration is beginning, loud speakers east of Gaza City are calling on protesters to prepare to seek to breach the border fence.”
By the end of the day, 58 had been killed.
The article was published in The JPost
rime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a massive cache of secret documents, obtained in an exceptional Israeli intelligence operation this year, showing that Iran had developed a secret nuclear weapons program and that it lied when it claimed otherwise.
“Iran lied big time,” Netanyahu said at a dramatic press conference on Monday night in Tel Aviv that involved props and a slide show.
Netanyahu held a microphone and walked back and forth on the stage as if conducting a class.
To catch international attention, Netanyahu spoke in English as he described a massive Israeli intelligence coup by which some 100,000 documents – weighing around half a ton – were brought from Tehran to the Jewish state.
“In 2017, Iran moved its nuclear-weapons files to the Shorabad district in southern Tehran. Few Iranians knew where it was, very few, and also a few Israelis,” Netanyahu said. “From the outside the vault looked like a dilapidated warehouse. It contained Iran’s secret atomic archives locked in massive files.”
“A few weeks ago, in a great intelligence achievement, Israel obtained half a ton of the material inside these vaults,” Netanyahu said.
He explained that these included 55,000 pages of documents and another 55,000 files on 183 CDs.
The documents focused on the secret Iranian nuclear program that was developed from 1999 to 2003 called Project Amad. When Iran entered the 2015 nuclear deal, it denied that such a program existed.
Netanyahu made the presentation as part of his continued campaign against the deal. He said the documents proved that the deal itself was based on falsehoods and that Iran continued with its nuclear program after the deal was signed.
He spoke less than two weeks before the May 12 deadline that US President Donald Trump had set to decide whether or not to scrap the deal, which the US signed along with five other world powers: Russia, Germany, China, the UK and France.
Meanwhile, the Knesset gave the power to declare war to the security cabinet, instead of the wider cabinet. Netanyahu and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked have been pushing for the passage of the bill.
IN WASHINGTON, Trump lauded Netanyahu’s presentation.
“I don’t know if everybody has seen it, but I got to see a little bit of it, and that is just not an acceptable situation,” he said, referring to the nuclear deal.
“So we’ll see what happens, Trump said. “I’m not telling you what I’m doing. But a lot of people think they know, and on or before the 12th we’ll make a decision. That doesn’t mean we won’t negotiate a real agreement. It’s a horrible agreement for the US.”
Israel had known for years that Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program from 1999 to 2003 called Project Amad, Netanyahu said.
“We can now prove that Project Amad was a comprehensive program to design, build and test nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said.
“Iran is secretly storing Project Amad material to use at a time of its choice to develop nuclear weapons.”
The project’s mission statement was to “design, product and test five warheads, each with 10-kiloton TNT yield for integration on a missile. You do not have to read Farsi to see ‘10 kiloton’ here,” he said.
“That is like five Hiroshima bombs to be put on ballistic missiles,” Netanyahu said.
He showed a spread sheet that spoke of yellowcake production, centrifuge enrichment process, warhead project, simulation project and tests.
“Project Amad had the five key elements of a nuclear weapons program,” said Netanyahu.
This included designs for enriched uranium as well as the development of nuclear cores and photographs of a secret underground facility to produce these cores.
Israel found photographs of a system to build a nuclear implosion system and a map with five key testing sites in eastern Iran, Netanyahu said.
“We have many more such documents,” said Netanyahu.
There were also documents that showed how to integrate nuclear warheads on missiles, including for Shahab-3 missiles.
“Here is the warhead, here is the bomb,” said Netanyahu, pointing to different points on a diagram.
Iran is continually expanding the range of its nuclear-capable missiles and can reach Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Moscow.
“But they are working on far greater ranges,” he said.
“These files conclusively prove that Iran is brazenly lying when it said it never had a nuclear weapons program,” Netanyahu said.
In 2003, Iran was forced to shelve Project Amad, but not its nuclear ambitions. It split its program into an overt program and a covert one that continued the nuclear work under the title of scientific knowhow development, Netanyahu said.
It continued this work in a series of organizations and in 2018 it is carried out by SPND, an organization inside Iran’s Defense Ministry led by the same person who led Project Amad – Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Netanyahu said.
Many of SPND’s key personnel worked with Fakhrizadeh on Project Amad, Netanyahu said.
The files Israel uncovered also dealt with the Fordow uranium enrichment facility, which Netanyahu said was designed from the start to be part of Project Amad.
“You will not be surprised that Iran insisted on keeping Fordow and the nuclear deal enabled it to do it. But Iran was required by the International Atomic Energy Agency to come clean about its nuclear program.
“This was an explicit condition for implementing the nuclear deal. In December 2015 the IAEA published its final assessment of the military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program. This was Iran’s chance to fully come clean to the IAEA. They could tell the truth,” Netanyahu said.
But instead, Iran denied the existence of a coordinated program and specifically denied the existence of the Amad plan, Netanyahu said.
He also showed photographic evidence that Iran conducted metallurgical work specifically designed for a nuclear device.
“This is just a fraction of the total material that we have,” Netanyahu said.
One has to ask, he said, “Why would a terrorist regime hide and meticulously catalogue its secret files if not to use it at a later date?”
“Iran lied about never having a nuclear weapons program, it continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons knowhow for future use,” Netanyahu said.
He played a tape of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad
Javad Zarif stating that Iran had never had a nuclear weapons program.
“Yes you did,” Netanyahu said. “And the atomic archive proves it.”
“In a few days’ time, Trump will make a decision of what to do with the nuclear deal. I am sure he will do the right thing for the US, for Israel and for the peace of the world,” he said.
FOR HIS PART, the US president acknowledged growing expectations that he will pull out of the accord by May 12. If the European powers fail to come up with “substantial” fixes to some of the agreement’s most controversial provisions, Trump says he will allow for nuclear sanctions to snap back into place, effectively withdrawing the US from the 2015 agreement by default.
Trump said scrapping the non-proliferation agreement would send “the right message” to North Korea in upcoming negotiations over its own nuclear work, given “new information” that had
come to light on Monday.
But if Trump is indeed preparing for a withdrawal next month, not all of his cabinet members are yet on board. Asked on Monday after Netanyahu’s speech whether he is satisfied the JCPOA can handle incidents of Iranian cheating, James Mattis, the US defense secretary, said “yes.”
Mattis met with his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Liberman, last week in Washington, primarily on Iran policy, the two departments said.
The president also claimed the current deal “frees” Iran to develop nuclear weapons in seven years. The letter of the agreement commits Iran never to construct nuclear weapons – a pledge it originally made in joining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in the 1970s. But Netanyahu’s point was that Iran’s commitments were based on lies, raising questions over whether their weapons program had ever ceased and over what sort of agreement with Iran would ever be considered of good faith.
The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehen
sive Plan of Action, put caps on Tehran’s enrichment of uranium that phase out between 10 and 15 years. As those “sunset clauses” are reached, Iran will be allowed to grow the size and efficiency of its program, installing advanced models of uranium-enriching centrifuges in place of decades-old technology, in greater numbers and at more facilities.
That will shrink the “breakout time” Iran would need to develop fissile material for nuclear bombs, should it make the political decision to proceed.
Trump wants a deal that will grant UN inspectors snap access to Iran’s military facilities, where much of their past nuclear weapons work took place; an end to their program
on ballistic missiles, designed to deliver nuclear warheads; a permanent extension of the “sunset clauses”; and commitments from world powers to thwart Iran’s military ambitions across the Middle East.
NETANYAHU RECEIVED praise from coalition and opposition politicians after his presentation of Iran’s nuclear violations.
Deputy Minister Michael Oren (Kulanu) said Netanyahu presented impressive intelligence accomplishments for Israel. He said the international community must demand unlimited oversight over Iran’s nuclear program, including in closed military sites and prevent the development of Iranian ballistic missiles.
Former defense minister Amir Peretz (Zionist Union) said the evidence Netanyahu presented proved that Iran is obsessively seeking nuclear weapons. He said Israel must demand more inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites, the maintenance of Israel’s qualitative military edge, and immediately work to fix security flaws in the Israeli home front.
But Joint List MK Dov Henin called Netanyahu’s presentation an election speech.
“What were all of those empty binders, disks and English for?” Henin asked. “He merely warmed old noodles that were cooked years before the nuclear deal was signed.
A leader facing corruption charges was trying to persuade another leader facing corruption charges to inflame a conflagration whose price would be paid by the people who live here.”
Iran’s foreign minister said Israel’s accusations were “old allegations” that had been dealt with by the United Nations nuclear watchdog in the past.
“Pres. Trump is jumping on a rehash of old allegations already dealt with by the IAEA to “nix” the deal. How convenient. Coordinated timing of alleged intelligence revelations by the boy who cries wolf just days before May 12. But Trump’s impetuousness to celebrate blew the cover,” Zarif tweeted.
Iranian state TV said Netanyahu’s
accusations were propaganda.
“His remarks were not new… full of baseless accusations… and propaganda against Iran’s nuclear work,” state TV said.
Netanyahu spoke to Trump by telephone on Sunday and met in Tel Aviv with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Prior to the presentation, the security cabinet met.
On Monday, he spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the cache of docume
nts and promised to send professional teams to their countries to explain the material. Netanyahu also held a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and he plans to update the British and Chinese leaders as soon as possible.
Over on Capitol Hill, response to the presentation was muted. Senator Bob Corker, the Republican from Tennessee who serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and who drafted the 2015 law that provides Congress with review powers over the nuclear deal, said Netanyahu revealed “nothing new” that was not known prior to the conclusion of the agreement.
The article was published on The JPost
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a speech at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, brandished a piece of the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle that Israel downed a week ago after it entered Israel’s airspace and warned Iran “not to test Israel’s resolve.”
Israel, Netanyahu said at the conference that was attended by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, “will act not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself.”
Zarif, who addressed the conference later in the day, dismissed Netanyahu’s presentation as a “cartoonish circus, which does not even deserve a response.”
Netanyahu, who said Zarif “lies with eloquence,” warned the conference participants that Zarif will “brazenly deny Iran’s nefarious involvement in Syria.”
“Iran also denies that it committed an act of aggression against Israel last week, that it sent a drone into our airspace to threaten our people,” Netanyahu said, pulling out the Iranian prop from behind the podium and holding it high up with one hand.
“Well, here’s a piece of that Iranian drone, or what’s left of it after we shot it down. I brought it here so you can see for yourself. Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You should. It’s yours.”
Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to have ever addressed this prestigious conference, and the overwhelming majority of his 15-minute speech and 15 minutes of Q and A, dealt with Iran.
With former US secretary of state John Kerry, one of the key architects of the Iranian nuclear deal, sitting in the front row, Netanyahu ripped into the accord as he has done many times in the past, saying that the inspection regimen is completely insufficient, and that when the sun sets on the agreement in some 10 years’ time, the Iranians will have an “open highway” to build not only one nuclear device, but an entire nuclear arsenal.
To have nuclear weapons, Netanyahu said, “you need a gun, bullets, and gunpowder.”
The gun is the ballistic missiles that the Iranians are developing, unchecked by the nuclear deal and undeterred by UN Security Council resolutions, he said.
“They should be stopped and slammed with the most crippling sanctions to prevent them from continuing the development of these [nuclear] delivery systems, these guns,” he said.
Furthermore, the Iranians are hiding the “casings for the bullets” in military sites, which the nuclear deal has placed out of bounds to inspectors, he said.
And the third element – the gunpowder – is the enriched uranium, “which is the toughest thing to make for a nuclear weapon, because it is the most difficult to manufacture, requires big plants and precision engineering.” When the sun sets on the agreement, he said, Iran will be given “free rein to enrich uranium without limitations.”
Lifting Iran’s limitations on uranium enrichment should not be linked to a calendar, Netanyahu said, but rather to Iran’s behavior, which as a result of the deal has gotten worse and more aggressive in the region, not better.
Netanyahu predicted that the Iranians would “do nothing” if the nuclear deal is not either “fixed or nixed.”
FURTHERMORE, he said, the countries of the world would have to decide whether they prefer dealing with the US or with Iran, which – despite the fact that it has some 80 million people as compared to Israel’s 8.5 million – has an economy about the size of Israel’s.
“I think the time to stop them is now,” he said.
Netanyahu said that Iran, through nefarious moves in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, is trying to change the status quo in the region.
If they do change the status quo, he said, the rule he will follow is one established by the early Zionists when dealing with problems: “They said nip things in the bud, stop them before they get big. That’s basically what our policy is.”
Netanyahu also conveyed a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad, stressing that Israel’s decision to stay out of the Syrian civil war for the last six years, except to grant humanitarian aid to thousands of Syrians in Israeli hospitals, could change.
Assad understands that if he invites Iran to entrench itself militarily inside his country, he is challenging Israel, he said. “If Mr. Assad invites Iran in militarily, that changes our position. So that is up to Iran and to Mr. Assad.”
Zarif, in addition to dismissing Netanyahu’s presentation as a “cartoonish circus,” said the recent shooting down of an Israeli F16 after it bombed an Iranian site in Syria had shattered Israel’s “so-called invincibility.”
“Israel uses aggression as a policy against its neighbors,” Zarif said, accusing Israel of “mass reprisals against its neighbors and daily incursions into Syria, Lebanon.”
“Once the Syrians have the guts to down one of its planes, it’s as if a disaster has happened,” Zarif said.
“What has happened in the past several days is the so-called invincibility [of Israel] has crumbled.”
He accused the United States of using the conference to “revive hysteria” against Iran and denied that Tehran was seeking “hegemony” in the Middle East.
Zarif also poked at Netanyahu for his legal problems, saying, “Israel’s major problems are its years-long criminal occupation policies, and I’m not even talking about its corruption.”
Kerry, meanwhile, said at the conference that it was wrong to assume that Iran would obtain a nuclear weapon as soon as the scope of the deal ends.
“If your house is on fire, are you going to refuse to put it out because you are concerned it will light on fire again in 15 years? Or are you going to put it out and use the intervening time to prevent to ever catching fire again?” he asked.
Before addressing the conference, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, visited a memorial to the 11 Israeli Olympic athletes killed in Munich in 1972.
“There is [a] special meaning to the fact that we are standing at the place where 11 of our athletes were murdered just because they were Jews and Israelis. Millions were slaughtered here just because they were Jews,” he said. “The great difference is that we have a state and this state has acted, and is acting today, against terrorism and those who would destroy us.”
Netanyahu then led the members of his delegation in singing “Hatikva.”
The Article was published on The JPost
Will Netanyahu come in like a lion and leave like a lamb?
They say that March, the third month of the year, comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.
This is the third New Year’s Day for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since his election to his fourth term as prime minister in March 2015. The year ahead for Netanyahu is expected to come in like a lion, continue like a lion, and go out like a lion.
The developments that will make this year particularly ferocious for the prime minister include the criminal investigations of Netanyahu and his wife Sara, controversial legislation in the Knesset, and diplomatic developments set to be advanced in the year ahead by US President Donald Trump.
Perhaps such challenges would be less problematic for Netanyahu if he still had capable former coalition chairman David Bitan at his side. But Bitan has been neutralized by his own criminal investigations, in which he is set to be questioned by police a dizzying three times this week.
Bitan’s replacement David Amsalem is as despised in the Knesset corridors as Bitan is beloved. His ability to defend Netanyahu from his powerful and sensitive post will be hindered by his lack of grace, charisma, and ability to work well with people of differing views.
After yet another delay, the police are expected to recommend in March to indict Netanyahu for breach of trust and perhaps bribery in Case 1000, the “Gifts Affair,” and Case 2000, the “Newspaper Collusion Scandal.”
As Netanyahu and his associates constantly remind people, the police recommendations have no legal significance. Only Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will decide Netanyahu’s fate, and if the police do not ask for more time, that will happen sometime by the end of 2018.
But when the police recommendations are leaked to the press, there will be tremendous pressure on Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to remove his Kulanu party from the coalition, as Ehud Barak threatened to do with his Labor Party when police recommended indicting Ehud Olmert.
Chances are that Kahlon will stay, and Netanyahu will succeed in passing up David Ben-Gurion to become the country’s longest-serving prime minister on September 23, 2018.
But there is always a chance that Netanyahu himself could initiate an election before then if he decides it would serve him tactically.
What could throw everything off is if the police decide at any given point to declare Netanyahu a suspect in the much more serious Submarine Affair, Case 3000. With all due respect to newspapers and cigars, if Netanyahu traded Israel’s national security for money for his confidant, that would blow the other two cases out of the water.
The Jerusalem Post’s legal correspondent Yonah Jeremy Bob reported on Friday that the Police Recommendations Law, which passed last week, is completely unclear about whether the police could issue recommendations about Netanyahu in Case 3000.
There are also investigations of Netanyahu’s wife Sara for alleged misuse of public funds, which could either make the political year even more intense or perhaps calm it down if she becomes the legal scapegoat who gets thrown in the fire while her husband is cleared of charges.
While the focus all year will remain on the probes, there will be controversial legislation in the Knesset almost every week when the parliament is in session. The most problematic politically for Netanyahu will be over matters of religion and state, where his coalition is especially divided.
But there will also be bills that will change how political campaigns are financed, the role of deputy ministers, and whether land in Jerusalem can be relinquished in a diplomatic agreement. And that’s just in the Knesset.
The Likud central committee and other party institutions will also be making decisions that could tie Netanyahu’s hands before talks with the Palestinians could potentially begin.
While the Palestinians are currently saying they will not negotiate with Israel as long as Trump is president and the US is the mediator, they will come under tremendous pressure to back down from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, and his American counterpart, Jared Kushner.
“Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime – I see a real hope for change,” Netanyahu said himself when Trump came to his residence in Jerusalem.
If that happens, perhaps Netanyahu’s coalition could be unraveled from the Right or from within the Likud.
But then again, maybe Netanyahu will be able to tame all those potential lions and march into 2019 politically unscathed.
If that happens, he will definitely have what to celebrate a year from now.
The article was written by Gil Hoffman and was published on The JPost
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement condemning the “horrific and criminal terrorist attack” in Sinai and sent condolences to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian people and the families of those murdered.
“Terrorism will be defeated more quickly if all countries act against it together,” he said.
Other Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum also condemned Friday’s attack and sent condolences.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein spoke to Egypt’s ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat, and expressed his shock while asking the ambassador to express the sympathy of the Knesset and the people of Israel in the parliament in Cairo.
Education Minister and Bayit Yehudi party leader Naftali Bennett suggested a new world order is being created in which “the distinction is between terrorism supporters like Iran and ISIS and supporters of humanity.”
Bennett called for an international coalition to include Russia, Europe, the US, Israel and the Arab world, saying, “we have all been hurt by terror.”
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter: “We must all stand together in the fight against this indescribable evil.”
Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon claimed that “the axis of evil had struck a heavy blow today in Egypt” and stated: “together we can defeat it.” Ya’alon said terrorism is a shared enemy for all people and states who favor peace and tolerance.
Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog wrote in Arabic on his Twitter page expressing his condolences: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Egypt.”
Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz tweeted that the El-Arish attack is “a terrible human tragedy” and wished, on behalf of the people of Israel, “a quick recovery to those wounded and consolations to families of the hundreds of those killed.”
“This is the time for solidarity with the Cairo government and the people of Egypt. To increase [our] security cooperation and push back against those seeking to shake [our] regional stability,” Peretz said.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan expressed his deepest sympathies with the people of Egypt and called for a united front against radical Islamic terrorism.
MK Oren Hazan [Likud] called on Israel to send immediate humanitarian aid to Egypt and, using social media to address Netanyahu, reminded the prime minister: “After the earthquake, you offered humanitarian aid to Iran despite it being an enemy country and a terrorism exporter – it is, therefore, our moral duty to aid our neighbor [Egypt] with whom we have a peaceful relationship.”
The Article was Published on The JPost website
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife Sara, attended the funeral of former German chancellor Helmut Kohl at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France on Saturday.
Kohl died at the age of 87 on June 16.
The burial ceremony was also attended by world leaders including current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and former US president Bill Clinton.
The prime minister was reportedly asked to speak during the ceremony, but respectively declined due to the Shabbot observance.
Netanyahu thanked Merkel before the funeral for concluding procedures ahead of the signing of a memorandum of understanding for security assistance between both nations after Germany’s National Security Council reportedly approved the sale of three advanced submarines to Israel on Saturday.
According to the report, Israel will receive three more Dolphin submarines in a $1.5 billion deal with German shipmaker ThyssenKrupp.
Macron also told Netanyahu that he expects the premier to attend an event in Paris marking the 75 anniversary of Jewish expulsion from France scheduled in two weeks. Netanyahu along with Macron are both expected to speak at the event.
Following the late German leader’s death, Netanyahu praised Kohl’s “commitment to Israel’s security” during his tenure as chancellor, and expressed appreciation for his “empathy” for the Jewish state.
“His sympathy for Israel and Zionism is reflected in my many meetings with him,” Netanyahu continued, “and his position was always firmly in favor of Israel, which has been steadily present in Europe and in other international forums.”
The article was published on The JPost
Jerusalem continues outreach to subregional groups.
Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to Budapest next month for a meeting with the heads of the four central European countries that make up the Visegrad group, as Israel continues to try to build relationships with various regional subgroupings around the world.
Netanyahu is expected to meet with the heads of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia at the summit on July 18-19.
This visit will come less than a month after Netanyahu met with the heads of Cyprus and Greece in Thessaloniki, with Israel having developed a close alliance with those EU countries. And in early May, Netanyahu went to Liberia to take part in a summit there of 15 West African states.
With Jerusalem’s relationship with the European Union often strained because of the Palestinian issue and the desire of some key voices in Brussels to link development of ties to that issue, Israel has adopted a policy of forging close ties with specific countries or groupings of countries inside the EU who are more sympathetic to Israel’s position and are also interested in having close bilateral relations.
For instance, the energy issue has bound Israel much closer to Cyprus and Greece, and the Visegrad countries find themselves interested in forging closer ties because of economic, security and energy issues as well. These countries forums, as well as inside discussions in EU institutions in Brussels.
The same dynamic is at work in Africa. With Israel having been boxed out of any formal status in the African Union, largely because of the opposition of South Africa and the Arab North African countries, it has made inroads instead with African organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States, or even ad hoc groupings, as Netanyahu did last July when he met the leaders of seven East African countries.
Netanyahu’s visit to Budapest will be the first visit there of an Israeli prime minister since the country emerged from Communist rule in 1989. He is expected to hold both bilateral talks with the leaders of each of the Visegrad countries, as well as a joint meeting as well.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto was in Israel in May. The V4, as the Visegrad group is known, is a political and cultural alliance aimed at facilitating the integration of the four countries in European and Euro-Atlantic structures.
Szijjarto told the Hungarian news agency MTI when he was in Israel that the three most important aspects of economic cooperation with Israel were in the areas of automobile navigation, water management and energy.
“The automobile industry provides the backbone of the Hungarian economy, and the future development of this sector of industry fundamentally determines the growth of the Hungarian economy,” Szijjarto highlighted.
Close cooperation with Israel could make Hungary the European center for the testing and development of self-driven vehicles, he said.
“Based on the buying up of certain companies, it has become clear that Israel will be one of the global centers for the development of [autonomous vehicles]. Israeli company NavNGo is one of the Hungarian government’s strategic partners, employs hundreds of GPS software engineers in Hungary and is one of the world leaders within the field of developing such software, and plays an extremely important role in making self-driven cars a reality,” he said.
Audi, Opel and Suzuki exports make up a huge percentage of the country’s overall exports, and Europe’s largest engine manufacturing plant is located in the country.
With regard to energy, the foreign minister – referring to Israel’s offshore operations – said: “Israel’s natural gas deposits could play a significant role in the energy security of Europe and Hungary. If extraction begins according to schedule in 2019-20, Hungary will have an interest in purchasing gas [either via a pipeline or in the form of liquefied natural gas] in view of the fact that we would like to purchase natural gas form as many sources as possible.”
The article was published on The Jerusalem Post
Government looking for ways to solve escalating situation, even as PM calls matter an ‘internal Palestinian dispute’ between Hamas, PA
Israel is in talks with Egypt and the European Union to head of an impending humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip amid an escalating dispute over electricity supply to the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave, according to a report on Wednesday.
Sources in Israel told the Israeli daily Haaretz that discussions were underway with Cairo and with European countries on ways to solve the power supply to the Strip, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to distance Israel from the situation by saying the matter was an internal Palestinian dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Netanyahu’s comments came a day after the Israeli security cabinet decided Sunday night it would cut the amount of power it supplies to Gaza, at the request of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who is seeking to ramp up pressure on Hamas, the ruling party in the Strip and his Fatah party’s bitter rival.
Egypt, meanwhile, which has tense relations with Hamas, has offered the terror group more freedom at its border and much-needed electricity, in exchange for it agreeing to a list of security demands, Arab media reported Tuesday.
The list of includes a demand that Hamas hand over 17 men wanted by Cairo on terrorism charges, more protection by Hamas at the border, the cessation of weapons smuggling into the Sinai, and information on the movement of militants into Gaza via underground tunnels, the London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat reported.
Gazans currently receive only three or four hours of electricity a day, delivered from the territory’s own power station and others in Israel and Egypt. In April, the PA told Israel that it would only pay NIS 25 million ($11.1 million) of the NIS 40 million ($5.6- 7 million) monthly bill. Israel currently supplies 125 megawatts to Gaza, around 30 percent of what is needed to power Gaza for 24 hours a day.
The Israeli cabinet decision would see a reduction of about 45 minutes to the amount of time every day during which Gaza receives electricity, Hebrew media reported.
Hamas responded to the decision by saying it would have “disastrous and dangerous” results that could lead to an outbreak of violence.
Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel was not seeking a confrontation with Hamas.
“The issue of electricity in Gaza is a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony to launch a major housing construction drive in the central Israeli town of Be’er Yaakov. “Hamas is demanding that the PA pay for the electricity, and the Palestinian Authority is refusing to pay. It is an internal Palestinian dispute.”
“In any case, I want to make it clear that Israel has no interest in an escalation [with Hamas] and any other speculation is wrong. But we have an interest in security, and our policy is clear on the subject of security and it won’t change,” he said.
The power cuts, as well as a number of other steps taken by the PA since last month, are aimed at forcing Hamas to cede control of the Strip, or begin footing the bill itself.
Both Israel and the PA charge that Hamas would have the money to supply Gaza’s power needs if it didn’t expend a large part of its resources on armament and preparation for future conflict with the Jewish state.
Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, took control of Gaza in 2007 after a violent conflict with the Fatah party. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.
The enclave’s only power plant stopped running in April, after Hamas ran out of fuel and refused to purchase more from the Palestinian Authority over what it said were high taxes.
Egypt also provided a small amount of power to Gaza, but those power lines have been malfunctioning.
According to Major General Yoav Mordechai, who heads COGAT, the Defense Ministry unit that administers civilian manners in the Palestinian territories, Israel currently supplies Gaza with 125 megawatts monthly — around 30 percent of what is needed to power Gaza for 24 hours a day.
After the new decision is implemented, Israel will supply Gaza with only 75 megawatts a month.
The article was published on The Times of Israel
US president says meetings in Saudi Arabia with King Salman and other Arab leaders gave him ‘new reasons for hope,’ adding ‘We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security, stability and peace to this region and its people.’
Upon his arrival in Israel on Monday, US President Donald Trump delivered a message of hope for peace, saying his meetings in Saudi Arabia with King Salman and other Arab leaders gave him “new reasons for hope.”
“We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security, stability and peace to this region and its people,” Trump said. “Of defeating terrorism and creating a future of prosperity and peace.”
He stressed that “we can only get there working together, there is no other way.”
Trump concluded his brief speech by affirming US commitment to Israel, saying “We love Israel, we respect Israel… the people of the United States of America are with you.”
President Trump landed in Israel midday to much fanfare at Ben-Gurion International Airport, where he was welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, and other dignitaries.
Upon deplaning, the American president walked the red carpet and reviewed an honor guard. The IDF’s band played the American national anthem followed by the Israeli one.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed Israel’s commitment to peace, listing as examples its long-lasting peace with Jordan and Egypt.
“Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all our neighbors, including the Palestinians,” Netanyahu declared. “The peace we seek is a genuine and durable, one in which the Jewish state is recognize, security remains in Israel’s hands and the conflict ends once and for all.”
The prime minister added that he looked forward to working with Trump in the future “to advance security, prosperity and peace. I’m confident that under your leadership, the remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States will become ever stronger.”
In his own speech, President Rivlin focused on the bond between Israel and the United States.
“Your visit is a symbol of the unbreakable bond between Israel and America. You are the President of Israel’s greatest, most important ally. You are a true friend of Israel, and of the Jewish people,” Rivlin said.
And while he thanked Trump for his “commitment to Israel’s ability to face the threats of today and of tomorrow,” the Israeli president made the point that while the world, the Middle East, and Israel all need a strong United States—”the United States also needs a strong Israel.”
“In the Middle East—an area that suffers from terrorism and madness—the alliance between the United States and Israel shines like a beacon of liberty and progress,” Rivlin explained.
“The bond between us is a bond between states, but also between people. We share common values, as we share the hope for peace,” he added.
Rivlin also thanked Trump for recognizing the significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, adding “Jerusalem is the beating heart of the Jewish people: as it has been for 3000 years.”
Also attending the welcoming ceremony were Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh, Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman, Israel’s Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau, and government ministers.
Many of the ministers initially did not want to attend the ceremony as they were insulted when they learned they would not get to shake President Trump’s hand. After learning about this, an angery Prime Minister informed them they are required to attend.
Following the ceremony, President Trump and First Lady Melania will head to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, where they will be welcomed by President Rivlin and his wife Nechama. After the American president signs the guest book, the two leaders will hold a private meeting following which they will make statements to the press.
Rivlin and his wife will then take Trump and the first lady to the garden at the President’s Residence, where an almond tree was planted to mark the visit. A sign near the tree bears a quote in Hebrew, English and Arabic from the Song of Ascents in the Book of Psalms: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.'”
From the President’s Residence, Trump will head to the Old City for a private visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He will then visit the Western Wall, where he will be accompanied by Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch and joined by wife Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, without any Israeli government officials.
The entire Western Wall plaza will be closed off for Trump, who will be the first president to visit the holy site while in office.
Meanwhile, First Lady Melania will join Prime Minister Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, on a visit to the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Karem. They will talk with the medical staff and meet with children in the play area for a joint artistic activity.
After the visit to the Western Wall, Trump will head to the fortified King David Hotel, where he will be staying during his visit.
He will meet in private with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the King David Hotel at around 6pm, following which their teams will join the meeting.
At 7:15pm, Trump, Netanyahu and their wives will travel to the Prime Minister’s Residence for dinner, which will be cooked by Israeli chef Moshe Segev. Singer Shiri Maimon will perform two songs, one of them being the Frank Sinatra version of “New York, New York.”
Following the dinner, the two leaders will give statements to the press but will not take questions.
The Article was published on Ynet
Israel’s emergence as a center for automotive technology got a vote of confidence on Monday when Intel Corp. said it would pay $15 billion for Mobileye NV, a Jerusalem-based maker of chips and software for driverless cars. It will be the largest takeover of an Israeli tech firm and follows a series of deals and partnerships inked in recent years by major tech and auto companies.
“The deal proves in a dramatic manner that our vision is coming true. Israel is becoming a global technology center, not only in cyber, but also in the automotive area,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a text message. Israel had already singled out the automotive technology sector as a possible economic boon, allotting it 250 million shekels ($68 million) for the next five years.
At least five major car manufacturers have made investments in Israel. Ford Motor Co.bought computer vision and machine learning company SAIPS AC in August and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG invested in transit app Moovit in 2015. Daimler AG and General Motors Co. have also opened research and development centers in the country.
The Mobileye deal went far beyond the $4.7 billion sale of fiber-optic company Chromatis Networks Inc. to Lucent Technologies Inc. in 2000, which was the country’s biggest tech deal before Mobileye. Founders Ziv Aviram, who is also the Chief Executive Officer, and Chairman Amnon Shashua, will share just under $1 billion from the sale, according to data compiled by Bloomberg as of Dec. 31. Shmuel Harlap, the largest shareholder, will make $1 billion, according to Bloomberg data as of April 1, 2016.
Netanyahu’s Director General Eli Groner said the autonomous tech sector could potentially boost economic growth by 50 percent.
Israel is not renowned for its car-making industry, once turning out fiberglass-shelled cars that were briefly popular in Israel in the 1960s and 1970s. However, the country is now benefiting from the automobile industry’s increasing focus on software rather than hardware.
In Israel, the automotive technology sector currently counts about 350 startups, according to industry monitor IVC Research Center, with the potential, according to Gruner, to grow bigger than the cybersecurity industry, which drew 15 percent of global capital raised by the sector in 2016, according to Start-Up Nation Central, a group that promotes Israel startups.
Argus Cyber Security, based in Tel Aviv, in January announced a partnership with Qualcomm Technologies to protect cars from hackers. Otonomo Technologies Inc., a data platform that tells users when to stop driving due to a malfunction and can call emergency services when there is an accident, is working with nine car manufacturers, including Daimler. Aquarius Engines, which has designed and developed an engine to generate electric power, is working with Peugeot SA and three other automobile companies.
Gal Fridman, chairman and chief marketing officer of Aquarius Engines, said the deal “definitely makes our lives easier.”
“It validates Israel’s ability in technology in the automotive industry, traditionally American and German and not at all Israeli,” Fridman said. “Mobileye has dramatically helped us open the door wider into this industry.”
The autonomous sector is expanding even as Israel’s tech sector suffers from growing pains. Although the country’s tech industry grew faster than gross domestic product nearly every year between 1998 to 2009, in the five years following it surpassed national growth only once, in 2012. The Finance Ministry acknowledged in a report last year that the industry that fueled Israel’s economy for the past two decades was stagnating.
Mobileye has also had its issues. Last year, Elon Musk’s electric carmaker Tesla Inc.stopped using Mobileye’s systems and the two companies argued publicly about the breakup.
After the Mobileye acquisition was announced, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who have been reducing corporate taxes, announced they would consider further cuts.
“We view this deal as an indication that the more attractive Israel is for foreign investors, the more tax revenue we will generate,” Groner said in a phone interview.
Tax breaks are already part of the government’s program to encourage global technology companies to do more research and development in Israel as other countries vie for companies like Intel to put down roots on their soil.
“The deal will increase the attention and funding for the already burgeoning Israeli cohort of next generation autonomous driving technology startups,” said Jon Medved, founder of OurCrowd, an equity crowdfunding platform based in Jerusalem.
The Article was published on Bloomberg.com on the 14th of March 2017.
When no one understands, that’s usually a good sign that you’re wrong.” – Victoria Schwab
And so it was this past week. As a lobbyist I spend a lot of time speaking to people. And the chorus from my friends, acquaintances and the occasional barman leaning over the counter was the same: “Alex, seriously, why does Israel thinks that this is good idea, and how can you possibly defend it?”
The people asking this are not loony leftie Israel haters, or BDS supporters. In fact the overwhelming majority were pro-Israel, even if they don’t shout it from the rooftops. And that was the scariest bit. When those who usually side with you pull you to one side and say, look this is a bridge too far for me, you better sit up, listen and act.
And it got me wondering if the Israeli government is suffering from a collective bout of Hans Christian Andersen’s the Emperor’s New Clothes. Is there nobody around to reign them in and say people, this is nakedly hostile, unnecessary and wrong?
I am of course talking about the recent bill that gives a green light for Israel to appropriate Palestinian land in the West Bank by paying for it, regardless if it is for sale or not.
Everyone here in EU institutions, restaurants, bars and newspaper shops can see it for what it is. And even in Israel the Prime Minister didn’t even vote for it, nor seek to properly explain it.
This week I spoke to a group of students from the Hebrew University. The represented a broad range of Israeli society, some religious, some not, some pro-settler, some not. But I got a very strong impression that the majority just want the Israeli supreme court to rule it out so that we can all get back to normal.
But as I explained to them it’s not that easy. When things like this happen, it undoes so much of our good work on presenting Israel in the best possible light in the EU Institutions. We build beautiful political structures around high tech, Israeli medicinal advances, environmental wonders, agricultural genius, cybersecurity miracles etc, etc. in short we show the EU the Israel that we love, the Israel that we want the world to see, the one that makes us puff out our chests with pride.
But then a big self-inflicted political tremor like this Knesset Bill just comes and shakes the whole edifice to smithereens, meaning we have to spend a long time rebuilding.
But do you know what the most frustrating thing is? Yesterday, we saw the Mahmoud Abbas motorcade roll into Brussels , having come from Paris, with another few stops scheduled after dropping past the EU capital. He got to put his side of the story, unhindered, unchallenged to a receptive audience.
We didn’t see a single Israeli politician in Brussels this week. So we lost. Again. By default . Or sheer bloody mindedness on the part of our ‘emperors’.
Things don’t have to be this way.
“I believe that if Israel were to put an end to the settlements in the West Bank tomorrow, as it did in Gaza, there would still be reluctance on the part of the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish secular democracy.”
Alan Dershowitz is right. The Settlements are an excuse by the Palestinian Authority for inaction and continued incitement. Anybody with half a brain knows that Arik Sharon’s ballsy Gaza pull-out in 2005 was ample proof that the problem of getting the Palestinians engaged in a peace process run much deeper than housing developments past the 1967 borders.
But for the EU the settlement issue has become ‘the’ principal impediment to peace.
Whether we like it or not, these are the rules of the game here. We try and push back on them, we try to get the focus elsewhere, but this is one enormous, stubborn political boulder that can’t be shifted for now. But it could be, relatively easily.
We need high ranking Israeli representation in Brussels to properly articulate the issue. To explain it properly, warts and all. To show the EU Institutions the erroneousness of the PA position. That settlements are an excuse and absolutely not the main obstacle to peace.
That’s why throwing the Knesset Bill into the political debate makes Donald Trump’s visa ban look like a supremely well-oiled bit of political manoeuvring.
How did we get here? There was a time when Israel’s leaders and politicians looked outwards and sought to show the best of Israel, a country that makes us, and our supporters proud. The late great Shimon Peres was a great advocate of this approach, and possible the best lobbyist that Israel could ask for.
Is this Knesset bill – that will almost certainly be quashed by the supreme court anyway – really the best we can do? I’ll leave any Israeli politicians reading this with a quote from Leo Tolstoy to ponder: “Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.”
Can we get back to being right again? No more tremors please. We got some serious rebuilding to do. And we need your help to do it.
Israel and the European Union senior officials held this week their 2nd counter-terrorism dialogue at the Israeli foreign ministry in Jerusalem. They discussed challenges in the field of counter-terrorism in Israel and Europe.
The Israeli delegation was led by the Head of Division for Strategic Affairs at the foreign ministry and the Head of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau at the National Security Council.
The EU delegation was headed by Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Pedro Serrano and the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove.
The delegations included representatives of different agencies that deal with counter-terrorism from a wide range of perspectives such as defense, legislation, intelligence and law enforcement.
Israel considers itself as a key player in efforts to stem a rising tide of Islamic terrorism.
During a recent visit to the Netherlands, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said : “Europe as a whole is undergoing changes. It faces very great challenges over the spread of radical Islamic terrorism.’’
He discussed Israel’s “central role” as the “most stable and most stabilizing element in the Middle East,” one that contributes greatly to preventing the spread of terrorism.’’
Manuel Valls, in Israel to advance his country’s plan for Mideast summit, says he has ‘a genuine desire to help the situation’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Monday the French initiative for an multinational conference to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, telling French Prime Minister Manuel Valls that direct negotiations were the only path forward toward a lasting agreement.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Jerusalem before a closed-door meeting with Valls, Netanyahu said a multilateral effort would replace bilateral talks and not bring about any agreement.
“Peace is not achieved in international UN-style conferences, nor through international diktats that come of meetings of countries around the world sitting to decide our fate,” Netanyahu said. “Peace is achieved through direct negotiations where the Palestinian Authority would face a historic choice: recognize a Jewish state side by side with a demilitarized Palestinian sate, or try to eliminate it.”
The meeting with Valls came as part a two-day trip to the region by the French premier that began Sunday, aimed at advancing his country’s plan for the summit in the face of opposition from Netanyahu.
The Israeli prime minister claimed Monday that the international conference was being used by the Palestinian leadership as a way to prevent direct talks with Israel.
“The Palestinian Authority does not see the French initiative as an inducer for negotiations, but as a way to avoid them,” he said.
Instead, Netanayhu said, he would be willing to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “in Paris or wherever,” and hold face-to-face negotiations without international mediation. “Every difficult issue will be on the table,” he said.
Abbas has welcomed the French initiative to hold a meeting of foreign ministers from a range of countries on June 3, without the Israelis and Palestinians present.
According to the plan, another conference would then be held in the autumn, this time with the Israelis and Palestinians in attendance. The goal would be to eventually restart negotiations that would lead to a Palestinian state.
Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.
Earlier Monday Valls met with President Reuven Rivlin, who, in his first public statements on the French initiative, also criticized the plan, saying “there are no shortcuts in the Middle East.”
Preempting Netanyahu’s comments, he said that Israel was weary of such international efforts as they absolved the Palestinians of responsibility to negotiate.
Valls told both Rivlin and Netanyahu that France had Israel’s best interests in mind.
“France has a genuine and real desire to help the situation between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said in his statements to both Rivlin and Netanyahu.
Before his meetings with senior Israeli officials, Valls visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial where he laid a wreath in memory of the six millions Jews killed during the Holocaust. He also went to the Givat Shaul ceremony in Jerusalem cemetery to visit the graves of four French citizens killed in the January 2015 attack on the Hypermarche Kosher supermarket in Paris, and whose bodies were bought for burial in Israel.
After meeting with Netanyhau Valls will travel to Ramallah for a series of talks with Palestinian Authority officals, including meeting with Abbas.
Valls’s visit comes at a time of political turbulence in Israel, with Netanyahu expected to soon finalize coalition negotiations with the Yisrael Beytenu party, led by hardliner Avigdor Liberman, who is detested by the Palestinians.
Liberman, who lives in a West Bank settlement, is expected to take on the key role of defense minister.
On Sunday, Netanyahu told his cabinet that adding Liberman to the coalition would not negatively impact peace efforts.
“A broad government will continue to strive for a diplomatic process with the Palestinians and we will do so with the assistance of elements in the region. I personally deal with this a lot, in many places, and I intend to continue to do so,” he told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
To watch the meeting with PM Netanyahu klick HERE
The Article was published on The Times of Israel on 24 may 2016.