AMERICA’S ELECTION: IMPLICATIONS ON FOREIGN POLICY IN EUROPE, THE MIDDLE EAST AND BEYOND

The November, 2020 American elections are viewed as the most consequential in a generation. 

It was our great pleasure to have Senior Vice President for Research, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, DR. JONATHAN SCHANZER with us in a special webinar we have organised for politicians and diplomats from all over Europe and the US.

Ambassador Shapiro was taking us through the way this Presidential election will frame America’s foreign policy in the next 4 years and the way the changes in Congress will help set the tone in Washington


NSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE: SEEKING PEACE BETWEEN ISRAEL,ITS ARAB NEIGHBORS AND THE PALESTINIANS

It is fair to say that the American peace plan has caused a stir in diplomatic circles with a lot of heat but not much light being shed on the subject. With this in mind we were delighted an honoured to host the Honorable Jason Greenblatt, the principle architect of the plan, former White House special envoy for the Middle East and former adviser to President Trump to brief the European diplomatic corps in Brussels, Washington and Israel on the actual mechanics of the deal how it came about and what it contains in detail.

Our webinar was very well attended with 23 out of the EU 27 countries in attendance.


Israel must be ready for November 4

Analysis: Both candidates are committed to Israel’s security, but will act differently; Biden is unlikely to reverse recognition of Jerusalem but will likely reinstate settlement policies, while Trump could flip on Iran if he sees chance for deal

Regardless of who wins the American presidential election, the U.S. stance on Israel’s security and its position within the international community would remain mostly as is.
Both U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee former vice president Joe Biden have proven their deep commitment to keeping Israel a sovereign and democratic nation, with a strong and stable Jewish majority.
And although both candidates’ policies seem to have little to no difference on some issues, Israel must be ready for the morning after the elections, especially on key topics.
Iran nuclear deal
Both Trump and Biden are interested in a reworked nuclear deal with the Iranians and an end to their missile production and cover regional actions. Both are very worried by the latest developments coming out of the Islamic Republic regarding atomic production.
Tehran has accumulated a large amount of enriched uranium and is developing state of the art centrifuges, stating that if the U.S. can break the agreement – so can they.
Both candidates know that the eventual results of this creeping development could lead to a scenario where the Iranians take the “Samson route” – toughing out any new sanctions while speeding up the development of their first ever operational nuclear warhead, all the while holding a loaded gun to the West’s temple.
When and if this happens, America’s chief allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia, will turn to the White House and demand it meet its obligation to preventing any Iranian nuclear weapons.
The U.S. administration will find itself in a dilemma: either forfeit to the Iranians or launch an all-out military intervention.
This possible scenario is both Trump and Biden’s worse nightmare and they will do anything they can to prevent it from coming to pass.
Both candidates’ foreign policy calls for a reduction in American military presence in the Middle East to the absolute minimum (with China and Russia now the main strategic challenge for Washington) and definitely not bring any more American soldiers back home in caskets.
Logic for both candidates and their advisers dictates that after the elections, regardless of which of them wins, the Iranians will want to go back to the negotiating table to save their citizens from economic collapse, brought forth by the incumbent’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran.
This assessment also leads them to believe that Tehran will be willing to make concessions.
The Islamic Republic’s current position, voiced straight from Iranian upreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s close circle, is that the U.S. must first end its sanctions and compensate for the economic damage caused – and maybe then talks can resume.
The conservative ayatollahs who are set to replace the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani in the 2021 elections emphasize that Iran has learned to live with the sanctions, and that they do not believe the U.S.
Meanwhile Rouhani, whom Trump portrayed as a naïve leader, remains silent.
So what does all mean?
For starters, it seems that both Trump and Biden are willing to reach a compromise to get the Iranian issue off their backs in the coming years.
Both are willing to tone down the U.S. demands on Iran’s nuclear and missile developments and its covert operations in the area.
Tehran, on the other hand, has presented very stringent terms for returning to the negotiating table and is prepared to conduct fierce and unrelenting deliberations on all matters.
Israel must make doubly sure that whoever ends in the Oval Office will not compromise with the Iranians at the expanse of its national security interests and that of the moderate Sunni Arab nations.
If Biden is elected and Benjamin Netanyahu remains Israel’s prime minister, the possibility for a diplomatic clash only worsens. During Biden’s tenure as vice president, there was a lot of bad blood between Netanyahu and the White House.
The prime minister and Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer – a former Republican operative – have managed to totally position Israel within the GOP. Any intimate conversation between Netanyahu and Biden will be difficult.
With Trump, Netanyahu found an intuitive and attentive partner. But the unpredictable and narcissistic businessman, reigning
for a second and final term, might turn on Israel in a flash if he smells a hint of a “good deal” with Iran.
With reelection no longer relevant, the Evangelical vote and support from Sheldon Adelson become inconsequential beside
the prospect of a legacy as a master statesman, with the tantalizing hope for a Nobel Peace Prize drowning out any cries of anguish from Jerusalem and Riyadh.
Palestinian issue
A second Trump government is likely to wait for Mahmoud Abbas’ disappearance from the Palestinian political scene and an end to the subsequent infighting to decide on the identity of his heir.
In the interim, senior White House advisor and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner will continue to persuade more Arab nations to reach normalization agreements with Israel in preparation for a post-Abbas Palestinian Authority.
When that day arrives, a consolidated, rich and moderate Arab camp will be at hand to “help” bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table with Israel on the basis of Trump’s “deal of the century” peace plan.
For the time being, there will be a freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and no annexation. However, settlements will be allowed to expand to meet the needs of a growing population, which has been a long standing arrangement understood by multiple administrations.
A Biden administration will probably not reverse the steps taken by his predecessor to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
But with influence of the more liberal wing of his party, Biden is expected to revive the policy labeling the West Bank settlements as a breach of international law.
He is expected also to champion the idea that the basis for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is based on a two-state solution, along the 1967 lines with some border concessions and a corridor connecting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
A Biden White House and a Netanyahu-led government would essentially be a rerun of the Obama administration. It would probably not happen immediately, with the former vice president and his cabinet first having to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the trade war and tensions with China, a new disarmament agreement with Russia and many other pressing issues.
Only then – assuming the Iranians do not make any serious headway in their nuclear development plans – will Biden deal with the Palestinian issue, possibly more than a year into his presidency.
Mideast arms sales
A second Trump term will maintain its current policy of weapons sales to Middle East countries: sell as much and as quickly as it can to U.S.-friendly nations who are all threatened by Iran and are able to spend tens of billions of dollars on weapon systems (mostly aerial) that would bring prestige and influence to their leaders.
Trump will give them all they want without any unnecessary moral considerations in order to create more jobs and money for the American economy in general and the arms industry in particular.
Biden will probably take the more selective and calculated route, opting to refrain from selling F-35 fighter jets, advanced security systems and long-range drones to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Turkey and Kuwait, which Trump has already authorized for the UAE.
During the Obama administration, the U.S. refused to even instruct the Emiratis on how to operate these systems.
However, Biden will most likely authorize the sale of defense-oriented weapon systems such as advanced alert systems, UAVs, advanced radars, anti-missile installations, naval defenses and logistical systems.
In any case, the IDF will still retain its qualitative military edge regardless of any future weapons sales in the region.
Even if the results on November 4 are clear cut and do not deteriorate into a legal battle, the U.S. will remain a divided nation long afterwards. Every decision by the future president regarding a controversial issue could whip up a storm and even lead to violent clashes on the streets.
It is likely that the president will be reluctant to make unpopular decisions on fateful issues for fear of public reaction, especially on social media. A president who does not enjoy public trust and support is a lame duck, especially when it comes to foreign and security affairs.
The Russians, Chinese and Iranians understand this and are trying to increase the mistrust in the American authorities – especially the president – and deepen the division among the people with a stream of “fake news” directed at American social media.
And a weak America is a nightmare for Israel’s security.
The article was published in Ynet

Moving White House ceremony starts to relegitimize a precious little word: Peace

26 years after the Israel-Jordan treaty, a whole generation of Israelis and Arabs witnesses something it had simply never seen before

(L-R) Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan hold up the documents they signed at the Abraham Accords ceremony where Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognized Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. (Avi Ohayon / GPO)

“In Israel’s entire history, there have previously been only two such agreements. Now we have achieved two in a single month. And there are more to follow.” Thus spoke US President Donald Trump near the start of his remarks to hundreds of people at the White House, and untold numbers around the world, watching on Tuesday as Israel established relations simultaneously with both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Our first, earth-shattering peace agreement came in 1979, when Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat — having restored his country’s self-respect in the 1973 war, after its six-day humiliation in 1967 — shattered three decades of intransigent Arab hostility to the very fact of Israel’s existence and signed the Camp David Accords with prime minister Menachem Begin.

And then came… nothing.

Israel had wanted to believe that after Egypt, the floodgates of normalization would open. Instead, Egypt was boycotted by the rest of the Arab world for its crime in legitimizing Israel, and Sadat was soon gunned down.

Only 15 years later, in 1994, did Jordan’s King Hussein dare to become our second full peace partner, liberated to publicly acknowledge his hidden alliance with Israel because prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had pledged to try to resolve the Palestinian conflict and had warily shaken hands with Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.

And then came… nothing. Nothing, this time, for a full quarter century

Until Tuesday’s dual wedding.

And so, when Trump noted that he was overseeing the doubling of Israel’s entire history of peace alliances, he was also telling a whole generation of Israelis and of Arabs — a generation that has simply never witnessed such a ceremony before — that, yes, Israeli-Arab peace is actually possible. It can be achieved here and now. It’s not something that happened a couple of times long ago and then froze over, or that dreamers talk endlessly about being almost within reach.

And it’s hopefully not something that, after it is ostensibly attained, disintegrates into conflict and bloodshed, as was the case with the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” and the strategic Palestinian terrorist onslaught of the Second Intifada.

For once, “let us put all cynicism aside,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his remarks. And for a rare few hours, in the midst of a pandemic, and even as Hamas tried to spoil the show with rocket fire from Gaza, everything about the ceremony encouraged us to do precisely that.

What Netanyahu called “the pulse of history” was tangible in the warmth of the separate interactions between Trump, the two Gulf foreign ministers, and Netanyahu that preceded the main event. If Tuesday’s widening of the circle of peace was insufficient, Trump vouchsafed to Netanyahu that “five or six” other states are waiting in line. “Frankly, we could have had them here today,” he said, but that would have been disrespectful to the UAE, which had shown the courage to go first, and to Bahrain, which had been so determined to join the festivities.

It was tangible in the content of all the leaders’ speeches — their individual declared commitments to genuine and lasting peace between our peoples — and the sincerity and warmth with which they delivered their remarks.

It was tangible in the little-noticed moments, such as when UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Al Nahyan, having completed his address, walked over to where Netanyahu was standing, and, with attention focused elsewhere, they smiled at each other and exchanged a few words. Or when everybody — and especially the joyful star of the show Al Nahyan — laughed good-naturedly at the logistical complexities that inevitably arise when two-to-four leaders are signing and/or witnessing three accords.

If Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel was the first vital step toward the acceptance of modern Israel’s revival in the Jews’ ancient homeland, Tuesday’s ceremony may come to signify our belated acceptance by those further afield who, as Trump noted, have for decades been fed lies and falsehoods about Israel, and especially Israel’s ostensible religious intolerance.

The Palestinians are still absent, of course, dismally led in the West Bank by President Mahmoud Abbas into what appears to be a deepening alliance with the Gaza-ruling terrorists of Hamas. Still, the US president who brokered these accords remains insistently optimistic that, as he told the press pack during his Oval Office session with Netanyahu, “at the right time, they’ll be joining too.”

“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history,” Trump said at the very start of his speech. “After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” he went on, and “thanks to the great courage of the leaders of these three countries, we take a major stride toward a future in which people of all faiths and backgrounds live together in peace and prosperity.”

Trump delivered these hitherto mind-boggling claims in tones that were almost matter-of-fact. These new peace allies are “going to work together; they are friends,” he said, as though this was the most normal thing in the world.

But for a whole generation, 26 years after any of us last saw anything like it, Tuesday’s ceremony was anything but normal. It was, rather, unprecedented, surprising and heartening. For once in the tortured context of Israel and the Arab conflict, it was a pleasure to put all cynicism aside.

For after 26 years, Tuesday’s ceremony tentatively relegitimized that precious little word: Peace.

The article was published on The Times of Israel


UAE-Israel agreement followed many years of discreet talks

In-depth: Agreement between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem comes as little surprise to those closely following the nuances of Mideast politics, with Trump almost single-mindedly pushing deal without resolution first to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Secret talks and quiet ties: That’s what paved the way for last week’s deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalize relations.

Touted by President Donald Trump as a major Mideast breakthrough, the agreement was in fact the culmination of more than a decade of quiet links rooted in frenzied opposition to Iran that predated Trump and even Barack Obama, as well as Trump’s avowed goal to undo his predecessor’s Mideast legacy.
And the deal leaves behind what had been a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the region: resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The effort to achieve that goal picked up speed 17 months ago at a U.S.-led conference in Warsaw, according to officials involved.
That February 2019 meeting, originally conceived as an anti-Iran gathering, morphed into a broader Mideast security endeavor after European objections to its agenda. Many countries opted not to send their top diplomats, and Russia, China and the Palestinians skipped it entirely. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended, however, as did the foreign ministers of key Arab states.
At the summit, diplomats from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain spoke of the threat Iran posed to their security and its use of Shiite proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. They stressed that confronting Iran had become the top priority — ahead of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — in comments appearing in leaked video, whose authenticity was confirmed by a U.S. official who attended the gathering.
Netanyahu followed, echoing similar concerns.“Iran was very high on the agenda because Iran’s foreign policy is the biggest driver of instability in today’s Middle East,” the U.S. special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, told The Associated Press.
Four months after the summit, a secret meeting between the UAE and Israel took place on June 17, 2019, in Washington.
The trilateral focused on regional, cyber and maritime security, as well as diplomatic coordination and disrupting terror finance, according to a U.S. official who participated but was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
More meetings followed in the U.S., Israel and the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi, culminating in Thursday’s Trump announcement that his administration had brokered a deal between Israel and the UAE to establish diplomatic relations and exchange embassies. The UAE said Israel also agreed to halt its controversial plans to annex large areas of the occupied West Bank sought by the Palestinians.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, told White House reporters that discussions for the deal took place over the past year and a half.
“Look, at the end of the day, it’s an inevitability, right?” Kushner said, adding later: “No Israeli has ever killed an Emirati, right? There’s not that hatred between the people.”
To be sure, Israel and the UAE have never fought each other in war and do not share borders. Still, the agreement was far more warmly welcomed in Israel than the UAE, where the public has long viewed Israel with suspicion. But criticism has been muted, in part because of government suppression of free speech.
The UAE, composed of seven emirates run by hereditary rulers led by Abu Dhabi, will be only the third Arab nation, after Egypt and Jordan, to have full ties with Israel. By doing so, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed laid a path for countries like Morocco, Bahrain, Oman or Sudan to potentially follow.
There are many, though, who shun any Arab embrace of Israel. To the Palestinians, who say they had no prior notice of the deal, the UAE turned its back on the longstanding Arab consensus that recognition of Israel can only come after Israeli concessions in peace talks lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
“I think the UAE is least beholden to these old formulas of solidarity … which gives them more strategic flexibility,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, a scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
“There’s no question that among the broader Arab and Gulf public, this will be a very unpopular move,” she said, adding that the agreement also leaves the UAE vulnerable to whatever decisions Israel makes in the future.
For the UAE, however, the calculus to build relations with Israel carries a number of strategic advantages beyond countering Iran and suspending West Bank annexation.
Through Israel, the UAE can build stronger ties with both Republicans and Democrats — a crucial hedge considering the uncertainty of Trump’s reelection chances against former Vice President Joe Biden in November’s U.S. presidential elections.
Another impetus was the perception among Arab Gulf states that U.S. dependability had waned, from the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, to Trump’s unpredictability in foreign policy. Their views on the matter have been reflected in state-linked newspaper columns and in quiet grumbling at private gatherings.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE were also barred by Congress from purchasing billions of dollars in U.S. weapons due to the humanitarian toll of their war in Yemen, before Trump vetoed the measures.
“Their first preference is to have the United States heavily involved in the Middle East as their primary ally. If they can’t get that, which … under Trump they absolutely cannot, then they’re going for second best, and Israel is second best,” said Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst and now Mideast expert at the American Enterprise Institute.
The Saudis and Emiratis want to build up military strength and want the U.S. to give them more freedom of maneuver in places like Libya, Yemen and the Horn of Africa. With a stronger Emirati-Israeli alliance, “they can count on the Israelis to also make that case in Washington,” Pollack said.
Hook argues it was the Trump administration’s aggressive Iran policy and decision to withdraw the U.S. from the nuclear accord that helped seal the latest deal.
“Israel and UAE felt betrayed by Obama’s Iran strategy. With us, they knew we stood with our allies and partners, and that trust was a critical factor in getting this peace agreement done,” said Hook, who was involved in the trilateral talks.
At a time when the coronavirus pandemic has eroded vital oil and tourism revenue, the UAE will look to its ties with Israel to deepen trade links, security cooperation and technology sharing. Already, the UAE has deployed Israeli spyware against dissidents, according to a lawsuit brought against the company in Israel.
UAE efforts to seek better ties with Israel as a means of improving its standing in Washington dates back to 2006, according to Sigurd Neubauer, author of the book “The Gulf Region and Israel: Old Struggles, New Alliances.”
It began with a public-relations crisis over Dubai port operator DP World’s failed bid to manage major ports in the U.S. The longtime UAE ambassador to the U.S., Yousef Al-Otaiba, held his first meeting with an Israeli official in 2008 and a diplomatic channel was established to focus on Iran, Neubauer said.
The relationship hit a snag in 2010 when the UAE accused Israeli Mossad operatives of assassinating Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel.
Nearly a decade later, then-Culture Minister Miri Regev stood in Abu Dhabi and sang her country’s national anthem at a judo competition, shook hands warmly with Emirati officials and toured the emirate’s grand mosque in a public spectacle of warming ties.
In January, when Trump unveiled his Mideast plan — it was rejected by the Palestinians — the ambassadors of the UAE, Bahrain and Oman attended the White House ceremony, which featured Netanyahu.
Senior Emirati diplomat Anwar Gargash said the relationship with Israel grew “organically” over the last 15 years or so.
“Through engagement with the Trump administration, the idea … developed and percolated, and it was right to do it,” he said.
The article was published on Ynet

‘We Share Your Pain’: Israel Offers Aid to Lebanon After Beirut Port Blast

President Rivlin tweets in Arabic: ‘We sincerely reach out to offer our aid at this difficult time’

Israel has offered humanitarian assistance to Lebanon after a massive explosion rocked its capital Beirut on Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said.

“Israel has approached Lebanon through international security and diplomatic channels and has offered the Lebanese government medical and humanitarian assistance,” a written statement from Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said.

The international mediators Israel employed were the United Nations’ peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, and France.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister asked National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat to reach out to the UN envoy to the region, Nickolay Mladenov, on this matter.

President Reuven Rivlin also offered his assistance, tweeting: “We share the pain of the Lebanese people and sincerely reach out to offer our aid at this difficult time.”

A damaged vehicle is seen at the site of an explosion in Beirut, August 4, 2020.
A damaged vehicle is seen at the site of an explosion in Beirut, August 4, 2020. Credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR/Reuters

The Israeli army’s spokesman in Arabic, Avichay Adraee, tweeted in Arabic about the Israeli offer, adding: “This is the time to transcend conflict.”

Several Israeli lawmakers also posted messages of support on social media after Lebanese authorities reported thousands of casulaties in the blast.

Dr. Salman Zarka, director of the Ziv Medical Center, near Israel’s border with Lebanon, said in a Facebook message in Arabic: “We are ready to provide medical assistance as we did before with the people of south [Lebanon] and the people of Syria.”

An Israeli political source denied that the country had any connection to the incident, which came amid tensions with Hezbollah. Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said they had used international mediators UNIFIL and France to offer humanitarian and medical assistance to Lebanon.

The blast flattened much of the city’s port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. Hours later, ambulances were still carrying away the wounded and officials said Beirut’s hospitals were full. Army helicopters helped battle fires raging at the port.

Abbas Ibrahim, chief of Lebanese General Security, said the blast might have been caused by highly explosive material that was confiscated from a ship some time ago and stored at the port. Local television channel LBC said the material was sodium nitrate.

Beirut governor Marwan Abboud said the city was a “disaster area” and the scale of the damage was “enormous.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared Wednesday would be a national day of mourning for the victims, the state-run National News Agency reported.

Other countries, including the U.S., U.K., Turkey, Jordan and Iran have all also offered their assistance to Lebanon in the aftermath of the blast.

The article was published on Haaretz


Poll: Israel’s foreign relations are a success

Most Israelis think that Israel has succeeded in its diplomatic activities in the US, Europe and the Arab countries.

A public opinion poll conducted by the Rafi Smith Institute ahead of the elections to the 22nd Knesset examined how the public sees the outgoing government’s performance on major foreign policy issues.

77% of respondents thought that the State of Israel was successful in its relations with the US, while only 12% thought it failed. 47% of respondents said that relations with Europe are also successful and 33% thought that the policy vis-à-vis the EU has failed.

On the issue of relations between Israel and Arab states, 46% of respondents say that government policy was successful and only 35% think it failed.

When asked about Israeli-Palestinian Arab relations, only 17% think government policy was successful and 65% thought it was unsuccessful.

The poll also found that 12% of those surveyed preferred to see Yair Lapid as Foreign Minister. He is followed by Binyamin Netanyahu with 9% and far behind them is Naftali Bennett with 4%, Gideon Sa’ar with 4%, Avigdor Liberman with 3.5%, and Yisrael Katz with 3%. However, 40% of the respondents replied that they did not have a clear opinion as to who should serve in that role.

Another question that arose in the survey was about the decline in the status of the Foreign Ministry and whether it was detrimental to Israel’s national security. 26% answered that there was no decline in the status of the ministry, and 9% claimed that there was a decline, but this did not compromise national security. A similar number stated that even if there was a decline in the status of the ministry, it has done very little damage to national security. Another 30% opined that alongside the decline in status, there has also been a great deal of devaluation of national security.

The article was published on Arutz 7


Israel’s first lunar lander launched into space from Florida

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 Deal

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.


NETANYAHU UNVEILS SECRET IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM

“Iran’s leaders repeatedly deny ever pursuing nuclear weapons,” said Netanyahu. “Tonight I’m here to tell you one thing: Iran lied.”

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


Does Europe Want Peace — or Political Relevance?

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


A BIG YEAR AHEAD: WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN ISRAELI POLITICS IN 2018

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


EIPA applauds Trump decision on Jerusalem

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.”


European Parliament on Security situation in the Middle East

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.


Biden: US condemns international failure to denounce Palestinian terror attacks

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.

He spoke just one day after a Palestinian terrorist went on a stabbing spree in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, killing a Vanderbilt graduate student, Taylor Force, 29, and wounding 12 others.

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.


How one phrase divided the EU and Israel

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.

An Israeli settler prepares olive oil containers at the Achia Olive press factory in the Jewish settlement of Shilo in the occupied West Bank on November 12, 2015. The European Union announced that goods from settlements -- Jewish communities built in areas occupied by force in 1967 -- must be specifically labelled, infuriating Israel. The EU ruling affects products imported from settlements in the occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Golan Heights, all taken by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

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