CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida on Thursday night carrying Israel’s first lunar lander on a mission that if successful will make the Jewish state only the fourth nation to achieve a controlled touchdown on the moon’s surface.
The unmanned robotic lander dubbed Beresheet – Hebrew for the biblical phrase “in the beginning” – soared into space from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at about 8:45 p.m. EST (0145 GMT Friday) atop the 23-story-tall rocket.
Beresheet, about the size of a dish-washing machine, was one of three sets of cargo carried aloft by the Falcon 9, part of the private rocket fleet of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s California-based company SpaceX.
The rocket’s two other payloads were a telecommunications satellite for Indonesia and an experimental satellite for the U.S. Air Force.
Beresheet was jettisoned into Earth orbit about 34 minutes after launch, followed 15 minutes later by the release of the two satellites, according to a SpaceX webcast of the event.
In addition to a textbook launch and payload deployments, SpaceX scored yet another success in its pioneering technology for recycling its own rockets.
Just minutes after blastoff, the Falcon 9’s nine-engine suborbital main-stage booster separated from the upper stage, flew back to Earth and landed safely on a drone ship floating in the Atlantic Ocean more than 300 miles (483 km) off the Florida coast.
As seen from the launch site, the distant glow of the returning booster rocket was visible in the sky just as the moon appeared over the horizon. The spectacle drew cheers from mission control engineers.
The encouraging moment came on the eve of a key hurdle for SpaceX to clear in the company’s quest to help NASA revive its human spaceflight program.
On Friday, NASA is expected to decide whether to give its final go-ahead to SpaceX for a first, unmanned test flight on March 2 of a new capsule the company designed for carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
FROM EARTH TO THE MOON
Beresheet is slated to reach its destination on the near-side of the moon in mid-April following a two-month journey through 4 million miles (6.5 million km) of space.
A flight path directly from Earth to the moon would cover roughly 240,000 miles (386,242 km), but Beresheet will follow a more circuitous route.
If all goes according to plan, the spacecraft’s gradually widening Earth orbit will eventually bring the probe within the moon’s gravitational pull, setting the stage for a series of additional maneuvers leading to an automated touchdown.
So far, only three other nations have carried out controlled “soft” landings on the moon – the United States, the former Soviet Union and China.
Spacecraft from several countries, including India’s Moon Impact Probe, Japan’s SELENE orbiter and a European Space Agency orbital probe called SMART 1, have intentionally crashed on the lunar surface.
The U.S. Apollo program tallied six manned missions to the moon – the only ones yet achieved – between 1969 and 1972, with about a dozen more robotic landings combined by the Americans and Soviets. China made history in January with its Chang’e 4, the first to touch down on the dark side of the moon.
Beresheet would mark the first non-government lunar landing. The 1,290-pound (585-kg) spacecraft was built by Israeli nonprofit space venture SpaceIL and state-owned defense contractor Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) with $100 million furnished almost entirely by private donors.A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Israel’s first spacecraft designed to land on the moon lifts off on the first privately-funded lunar mission at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
Beresheet is designed to spend just two to three days using on-board instruments to photograph its landing site and measure the moon’s magnetic field. Data will be relayed via the U.S. space agency NASA’s Deep Space Network to SpaceIL’s Israel-based ground station Yehud.
At the end of its brief mission, mission controllers plan to simply shut down the spacecraft, according to SpaceIL officials, leaving Beresheet as the latest piece of human hardware to litter the lunar landscape.
The article was published on Reuters
EIPA welcomes US withdrawal from Iran accord as Sober, rational and game changing.
The decision this evening by President Trump to withdraw from the Iran deal is a courageous one. It takes maturity and sobriety to acknowledge that something is fundamentally flawed and beyond repair.
Tonight President Trump hit the reset button.
This withdrawal offers a game changing opportunity for a frank and rational re-assessment from all signatories of relations with Iran. As a starting point European leaders can and should impose restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program that ‘sunset’ under the agreement and tackle the Iranian ballistic missile program.
As an agitator, instigator and supporter of terror and violence across the Middle East, the Iranian regime has undoubtedly been emboldened by the deal. It has not been reined it – as the deal envisaged – but instead has expanded its influence, most notably in Syria, in its support of Hezbollah and as a key supporter of Hamas.
EIPA encourages the EU to face facts, put pride to one side and urgently and earnestly re-assess their commitment to what is, in essence, in practice, on the ground and on paper, a bad deal.
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
It looks like the EU is anxious to try and fill the US’ role as a peace mediator. From the EU External Action website:
Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide and EU’s High Representative Federica Mogherini have decided to convene an extraordinary session of the international donor group for Palestine, the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC).
There is an urgent need to bring all parties together to discuss measures to speed up efforts that can underpin a negotiated two-state solution.
Furthermore it is necessary to enable the Palestinian Authority to execute full control over Gaza, based on the Cairo agreement from 12 October 2017.
The meeting will be held in Brussels on 31 January 2018 at Ministerial level, hosted by the European Union and chaired by Norway.
The impression one gets from this is not that the EU particularly expects to gain any more traction towards peace than it has in the past 69 years. Instead, it feels like the EU sees an apparent vacuum created by the US — and wants to fill that vacuum by giving Palestinians more money, and by tacitly agreeing with them that Jerusalem belongs to them as a basis for negotiations.
In this case, peace isn’t the goal. In reality, the EU is using the conflict to make itself look more relevant.
Because if the EU wanted peace, taking Jerusalem off the table and admitting that the city is Jewish is the single most effective move that the EU could make towards pushing Palestinians to compromise — rather than insisting on acting like a victor that can impose its terms on the region.
The Article was Published on The Algemeiner
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
Europe Israel Public Affairs applauds the decision of US President Donald Trump to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.
The move comes after more than two decades after the adoption by the US Congress of Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, urging the federal government to relocate the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Every 6 months the sitting American President would sign a waiver from that bill.
President Trump opened his historical address stating “It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done”
Czech Republic followed suit becoming the first EU country to break the bloc of Member States and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.
EIPA Director Alex Benjamin observed that despite differences between EU and Israel over the 1967 imposed borders, and most vehemently over the settlements issue, more EU countries should consider acknowledging the de facto status of Jerusalem as capital of Israel. “We fail to see the reasons for High Representative Federica Mogherini ‘serious concerns’. The US announcement does not prejudge nor impose borders for Jerusalem, which are still subject to final status talks. It merely reflects the historical accuracy of the last five decades, during which Jerusalem functioned as Israel’s capital.”
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, EIPA Founder added “Historical evidence attests our Jewish presence in Jerusalem dating way back to 3000 years ago. Jerusalem has always been our home. It is about time state leaders catch up with history and acknowledge this indisputable fact.”
The European Parliament Committee on Security and Defencewill discuss the Security situation in the Middle East next Monday 25th September.
An exchange of views on the situation in the Middle East with a focus on US-Israel relations and perspectives is scheduled in the presence of experts including:
- Mr Marco Morettini, Deputy Head of Division for Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Regional Policies, EEAS (European External Action Service)
- Mr Reuel Marc Gerecht, Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, U.S.
- Mr Yossi Kuperwasser, Senior Fellow, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, former Director General of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, Israel
The debate will emphasize the need for a common strategy between the EU, US and Israel to implement talks on the peace process and setting up a common position for the security and stability of the Middle East.
HERE you can follow the live broadcast of the event from 3.00 P.M.
US Vice President Joe Biden denounced those in the international community and in the Palestinian Authority who have failed to condemn Palestinian terror attacks against Israel.
“Let me say in no uncertain terms the US condemns these acts and condemns the failure to condemn these acts,” Biden said in Jerusalem on Wednesday at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Force was a US veteran who had served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan only to be killed on the Jaffa boardwalk by the Mediterranean sea on Tuesday evening.
The attack occurred just a short distance away from where Biden was meeting former president Shimon Peres.
Biden noted that his wife and his grandchildren who have joined him on this trip, were having dinner on the beach nearby.
“It just brings home that [terror] can happen anywhere at any time,” Biden said.
When the issue of the attack came up during his meeting with Netanyahu, they had wanted to jointly visit with the other Vanderbilt students who had been with Force, but learned that the group had departed or were departing.
Such violence, he said, “can not be accepted. This can not be viewed by civilized leaders as an appropriate way to behave. It is just not tolerable in the 21st century.
“They are targeting innocent civilians, mothers, pregnant women, grandfathers [and] American citizens.
“There can be no justification for this violence. The US stands firmly behind Israel’s right to defend itself,” Biden said.
Force is the second US citizen to be killed while visiting Israel since the wave of terror began. In November, Ezra Schwartz, 18, was killed by a Palestinian terrorist who shot at cars that were stuck in traffic at the Gush Etzion junction in the West Bank.
Netanyahu thanked Biden for his strong support and denounced the PA for failing to condemned his people’s terror attacks against Israelis, including the one in which Force was killed.
“Unfortunately President Abbas has not only refused to condemn these terrorism attacks. His Fatah party actually portrays the murderer of this American citizens as a Palestinian martyr and a hero. This is wrong. This failure to condemn terrorism should be condemned itself by everyone in the international community,” Netanyahu said.
Palestinian society itself persistently incites against the Jewish states and glorifies those who kill its citizens, Netanyahu said.
Civilized societies must stand together to fight terrorism, said Netanyahu who added that his country had not better partner in this battle than the United States.
“I look forward to continuing to work together with you and President Obama to strengthen the remarkable and unbreakable alliance between our two countries,” Netanyahu said.
The decision to label settlement goods causes friction within the bloc and strains ties with a staunch ally.
Israel’s U.S. ambassador sent gift boxes for the 2015 holiday season containing wine, olive oil, body cream, and halva — and a defiant note calling out the European Union.
The products came from what the international community considers to be occupied territories, and Ambassador Ron Dermer was determined to make a blunt point about the EU’s recent move to instruct member countries on how to label goods produced in areas outside Israel’s 1967 borders.
“The Jewish state is singled out and held to a different standard than other countries,” Dermer wrote. “Of the over 200 unresolved territorial disputes around the world, Europe decided that only these Jewish-made products deserved to be labeled.”
“In response to this effort to cast a beacon of freedom, tolerance and decency as a pariah state, I have decided this holiday season to send you products that were made in Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights,” he added.
Dermer’s reaction reflected the anger that many in Israel felt after the EU announced that the wording such as “product of West Bank (Israeli settlement)” should be displayed on cosmetics and food products, similar to the guidelines already in place inBelgium, the U.K and Denmark.
More than one month after the guidelines were issued, the fallout continues. The decision has dogged European officials, caused friction within the European Union and strained the bloc’s ties with Israel.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini faced combined pressure, built up over several years, from the European Parliament and EU countries critical of Israel’s settlement activity to act. But now, as she tries to reassert her role as a trusted broker in the Middle East peace process, the labeling decision has made her task difficult.
“For Mogherini it’s never been the right time,” said Hugh Lovatt, the Israel/Palestine project coordinator at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “She ran out of runway and had to issue it before the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on November 16, because member states said ‘we don’t want to have to bring this up again.’”
In the immediate aftermath, Israeli canceled some meetings, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “The labeling of products of the Jewish state by the European Union brings back dark memories; Europe should be ashamed of itself.”
Then, at the end of November, Israel announced that it was suspending diplomatic contact with EU officials involved in peace efforts with the Palestinians.
“There have been a lot of gesticulations from the Israelis,” said one European diplomat, adding that particular ire had been directed at France, Belgium, Malta, Ireland and Sweden — countries traditionally seen as being more likely to criticize Israel.
But the diplomat said the EU is talking to Israel as before, pointing out that Fernando Gentilini, the EU’s Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, did not raise the issue on his recent visit to Israel.
The Israeli reaction “is an intimidation technique that the Israelis have tried and tested many times,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “For us, there’s no fundamental questioning of our relationship with Israel.”
Hostage to politics
Mogherini had a model for how not to proceed, in the previous attempt, by her predecessor, Catherine Ashton.
“It was handled badly,” a source close to this year’s deliberations said of the labeling guidelines proposed in 2013. “The Americans never heard about the proposal [before it was issued] and neither did the Israelis.”
Ashton’s push came at a time when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was trying to revitalize the peace process. Israel complained and at Kerry’s request the EU shelved the proposal, which was hardly heard from again during the rest of Ashton’s tenure.
This time around, the U.S., Israel and the Palestinians were informed before the guidelines were released. “The work of quiet diplomacy,” the source said.
Another element of the strategy employed by Mogherini’s team was to attempt to use both political and technical arguments. Unlike the Ashton move, which was handled exclusively through the European External Action Service, this time more prominence was given to the role played by the Commission’s trade directorate.
“The EEAS chose to put communication on this matter in the hands of DG Trade, and say it was purely technical,” an EU official said. “As a way to unload the burden.”
In issuing the guidelines, an EU official argued the Commission was merely responding to member states’ request for “full and efficient implementation of existing legislation when it comes to the [Israeli] settlements.”
“This notice does not create any new legislative rules,” a Commission spokesperson said. “While it reflects the Commission’s understanding of the relevant EU legislation, enforcement remains the primary responsibility of member states.”
European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskisreiterated that the labeling instructions were just “a technical issue, not a political stance.”
The problem, according to Lovatt, was that by delaying publication out of fear of stoking tensions in the region, “Ashton and then Mogherini held the labeling guidelines hostage to political considerations — so they’ve lost the legal, technical argument which they’ve had in previous situations.”
He compared the labeling fuss to the way Brussels brought in its rules for financing going to entities located beyond Israel’s 1967 borders.
“There was no attempt to intervene politically to delay the EU’s funding guidlines in July 2013,” Lovatt said. “In that case the EU stuck to its guns without having to sacrifice political capital.”
Instead, on labeling, “it has taken three years and two ministerial letters to write three pages,” one exasperated diplomat pointed out. “We organized the Crimea sanctions against Russia in three weeks! It’s unfortunate, if this had gone ahead three years ago we would have avoided the hysterics.”
This article was written by Vince Chadwick and Maia De La Baume and was published on the Politico website on 04/01/2016