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FRIDAY FEATURE - The Knock on Bibi

Israel entered the most uncharted waters recently when, for the first time ever, a sitting prime minister was indicted on criminal charges, even while the nation – again for the first time – is entering an unprecedented 21-day free-for-all in parliament to form a new government or face an unparalleled third national elections in a row.

Benjamin Netanyahu – still clinging to power as interim prime minister since last November – came out swinging last night against the indictments for fraud, breach of public trust and bribery announced by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. Denouncing the charges as a “coup” cooked up by the Left, the biased media and corrupt police elements, Netanyahu also blasted the timing of the indictments. Indeed, they came just as the Knesset begins a untried three-week process in which any MK can present the president with a list of 61-members willing to join his coalition and thereby avoid a third round of elections.

Until now, Netanyahu was still holding out hope he could lean on a united bloc of 55 nationalist and religious MKs to ensure him immunity from prosecution and somehow find a way to stay in office. But that option may no longer be workable, as the state’s top prosecutor contended last night that Israeli law does not allow a Knesset member under indictment to receive a mandate from the president to head a coalition government.

It may take a few days for the new reality to set in, but it does look like Benjamin Netanyahu’s ten-year reign as Israel’s premier is coming to an end. He has a decent chance to eventually fend off the charges and could make yet another political comeback one day. But petitions to the Supreme Court are already being drafted to force him to resign, and even within his own Likud party the jockeying to replace him as chairman has begun.

The Bane of Bad Press

How did ‘Bibi’ get here? There are three criminal cases against him. One involves the ‘improper gifts’ (expensive cigars, pink champagne) he received from wealthy friends allegedly in return for favors. The other two are centered around his efforts to get better press: the Yediot/Israel Hayom affair and the case involving Bezeq/Walla, which carries the most serious charge of bribery and presents the biggest evidentiary challenge to Netanyahu.

Now I strongly believe it is a slippery slope to start criminalizing attempts by anyone to get better media coverage. The press is unelected, unaccountable, elitist, increasingly partisan, and abusive of its own powers. All too often, they are the ones selling ‘access’ for profits. But it is clear that Netanyahu (and his family) had grown extremely frustrated with the continual sniping against them in the Israeli press, and he was looking for ways to change that which he must now answer for in court.

The current scandals came to a head amidst an atmosphere in Israel where Netanyahu was widely portrayed as corrupted by his many years in power, as feeling entitled to privileges as if he were a hereditary king. Over the past decade, the Israeli Left has been reeling, devoid of a leader who could capture the Center again by offering the public a viable peace agenda with the Palestinians. Instead, it was an anti-Bibi agenda that gained traction, leading to the rise of Blue & White and his present predicament. The media played a major role in the piling on of Netanyahu.

In retrospect, Benjamin Netanyahu has always faced certain unfair criticisms and misperceptions that he has had to overcome during his rise to the top and prolonged stay there. Here are some of the more potent (though often hidden) examples which contributed to the poisoned atmosphere against him in recent years.

The Shadow of Yoni

Growing up, Benjamin Netanyahu and his brother Yonathan were grouped among the ‘young princes’ of Likud – the sons of the party’s founding generation who were destined for positions of national leadership (along with Benny Begin, Dan and Sallai Meridor, and Ehud and Yossi Olmert). But Yoni Netanyahu’s date with destiny was cut short when he fell in battle as the commanding officer during the epic Entebbe raid in July 1976.

“Yoni” instantly became a national hero. He had already shown such promise as a natural leader. Bright, handsome and courageous – a philosopher/warrior whose men would follow him anywhere. That romanticized view of Yoni Netanyahu remains undiminished by the years, as evidenced by the recent Netflix film Follow Me! And by all accounts, that lionization of Yoni is well placed.

However, it also meant his younger brother Benjamin would always be dogged by the hugely unfair perception that he is a lesser man. From the start of his public career as a gifted young Israeli diplomat at the UN, the ‘knock’ on Bibi was that Yoni would have been a truly great leader and the nation got stuck with second best. Sure, Benjamin Netanyahu has proven over time to be amazingly articulate and highly competent in geo-strategic and economic affairs – to the point of being widely admired as a generational statesman for the entire Western democratic world. But inside Israel, many still see him as standing in his brother’s shadow, or even worse of exploiting Yoni’s popularity and tragic death to advance his own career. This has been an immensely unjust and personally painful hurdle for him to overcome.

The Shadow of Rabin

As Netanyahu quickly rose within the Likud ranks, he became party chairman and Opposition leader in 1995, just as the Oslo process became a bitterly divisive issue in Israel. When Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was cruelly assassinated by a Right-wing extremist, the Left blamed Bibi for fueling the incitement that led to his death. They cited the chants of “traitor” and posters of Rabin in Yasser Arafat’s keffiyeh at the Right’s anti-Oslo rallies. The accusations were unfair and he has spent many years denying them. But the Left’s loathing of Netanyahu over Rabin’s death has lingered to this day.

At the recent official memorial ceremony on the anniversary of Rabin’s passing, Netanyahu was probably as forthcoming and contrite as he has ever been on the subject. He conceded that there indeed was a lot of hateful incitement against Rabin in those days and he should have done more to confront it, but he insisted that he never called Rabin a “traitor” and that he always rejected the notion that Oslo was an act of treason.  

Nevertheless, lurking in the background of the present drive to oust Bibi is this odious claim that Rabin’s blood is on his hands – yet another immensely unjust and personally painful hurdle for him to overcome.

The Shadow of Ben-Gurion

The Left did manage to drive Netanyahu from power once before, in 1999, using some very underhanded tactics. Humbled, he took a time out from politics and then staged a comeback in 2005 when Ariel Sharon abandoned Likud to form the centrist Kadima faction ahead of the Disengagement from Gaza. It took a few more years, but Netanyahu returned to the premiership in 2009 and has stayed in office for over a decade now. This remarkable achievement means that he has now eclipsed founding father David Ben-Gurion as modern Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. The Left has resented this and had hoped to oust him before it happened. Their efforts fell a few months short but they now look to be finally carrying the day.

This particular ‘knock’ on Bibi runs deeper than most realize. Ben-Gurion, more than any other single person, shaped Israel into a nation built on the model of European socialism. The kibbutzim are testimonies to the utopian idealism of those days, that Israel would be this egalitarian society where everyone would share in its success and seeking individual wealth was seen as taboo. Ben-Gurion himself lived an austere lifestyle and never wore a tie.

Over recent decades, Israel has transformed itself into the innovative ‘Start-Up Nation” modeled more on American capitalism. Israeli entrepreneurs are inventing cutting-edge paywalls and traffic apps and then cashing out in the billions – something which would have been frowned upon here in the 1950s and 60s. Netanyahu, more than any other single person, has overseen this socio-economic transition by his championing of free markets and Israel’s hi-tech wizardry.

With their dream of Israel as an ideal model of socialism gone, many in Israel’s Left and even the Center are now striving to preserve a sense of Israel as a model of pure, upright democracy. That is an honorable goal! But they believe Bibi has tarnished Israeli democracy with his corruption and constant maneuvering to retain power. Whether those criticisms are accurate will now be tried out in a court of law. But when you add everything up, he does have a legitimate point that he is being unfairly run out of office.

The legacy of Benjamin Netanyahu is still being written. But it cannot be disputed that he already stands on rarefied grounds as an orator and statesman, is profoundly competent in geo-strategic and economic affairs, and also has mastered the rough-and-tumble of Israeli politics. The fact that he has managed to retain his seat as prime minister over the turbulent course of the past year is testament to all of these extraordinary skills.

But if the Israeli people want to change the way politics is done here and offer the world a truly pure model of democracy, then a lot more has to change than simply ditching Netanyahu. And the nation needs to examine whether the current push to oust him is really rooted in petty jealousies and unwarranted ‘knocks’ on a truly great leader.

FRIDAY FEATURE - The Iranian UAV and Cruise Missile Threat

The Reuters news agency published an in-depth report this week about a surprise attack on Saudi Arabia in September. Riyadh and most Western governments placed responsibility for the attack, which utilized GPS-guided suicide drones and cruise missiles to make precision strikes on sensitive components of Saudi Aramco’s Khurais oil installation and the Abqaiq oil processing facility, squarely at the feet of the clerical regime which rules Iran. That regime, however, flatly denied involvement and was supported by Russia and China. Israeli leaders also responded, warning that a similar attack on Israel was probably already being planned.

The Reuters report included a claim, based on information provided by four unnamed but highly placed Iranian sources which had direct knowledge of the events described, that a meeting of high-ranking Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officers convened in Teheran four months before the strikes to discuss options for retaliating against the US for re-imposing sanctions on Iran following the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal. Several officers present at the meeting demanded that a strike must be carried out against US military forces stationed in the region, but they were overruled by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who likely feared that the American response would be more than his regime could handle.

The decision to strike at Saudi Arabia’s oil production infrastructure was settled on for several reasons, among them the hope that it would drive up the price of oil worldwide, which would automatically increase the Iranian regime’s revenue streams as most of its budget is derived from the sale of oil on world markets. Some analysts have also speculated that the IRGC officers took a calculated risk that the US would not respond kinetically to the attacks on Saudi Arabia as the alliance between Washington and Riyadh has come under significant strain in recent years for various reasons. If that is the case, the risk paid off as US President Donald Trump did indeed decline to launch a retaliatory military strike against Iran, although some press reports indicated that he did authorize the Pentagon to carry out cyber-attacks.

Meanwhile, the strikes on Saudi Arabia and their implications reverberated around the world, including by producing brief spike in the price of oil and expressions of deep concern on the part of senior officials in Saudi Arabia and other allies whose security is tied to their alliance with the US.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned specifically in early October that IRGC forces in Yemen might be working on plans to fire UAV’s and/or cruise missiles at Israel. On 25 November, General Hossein Salami, chief of the IRGC, appeared to confirm that Netanyahu’s concerns were legitimate when he told a pro-regime rally in Teheran “We have shown patience towards the hostile moves of America, the Zionist regime (Israel) and Saudi Arabia against Iran... but we will destroy them if they cross our red lines.”

During a recent press conference, the ICEJ News team spoke with Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, IDF Spokesman for Foreign Media, about Israel’s response to the strikes. He  said that Israeli intelligence and defense officials were studying the attacks closely and working on plans to defend against similar strikes Iranian forces might attempt to launch against Israel.

However, the problem of how to defend against suicide drones and cruise missiles presents many technical challenges. Unlike high trajectory ballistic missiles and rockets which Israel and the US have developed defense systems against (including the THAAD, Patriot, Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow systems) these drones and cruise missiles are designed to fly low and hit small targets with pinpoint accuracy enabled by their GPS guidance kits. This also allows them to be fitted with a relatively small and light explosive charge while a relatively small amount of fuel is needed to carry them to their target, allowing them to fly at a much higher velocity. So they’re smarter, smaller, faster and flying at significantly lower altitude than an old-fashioned rocket or ballistic missile, all of which makes them much more difficult to intercept then those old-fashioned threats.

All of this has the defense establishments in Israel and many other Western countries scrambling to figure out how Iran managed to put together such a potent weapon and how to defend against it. One commentator asked the question of whether this paradigm shift was comparable to the advent of air warfare in WWI, while another questioned whether the quantum leap forward in tactical advantage it gives to the military which has mastered it could cancel out the strategic advantage their opponents might have by possessing nuclear weapons.

In any event, the Reuters report quoted an unnamed IRGC commander who participated in the planning for September’s attack on Saudi Arabia as telling his subordinates to make plans for “the next one” which could very well mean the IRGC is planning to hit targets in Israel from their bases in Yemen and/or western Iraq and possibly even Syria. If that is the case, then the clock is ticking for Israel’s defense community to find a technical solution to this new and unexpected threat.

AG: Netanyahu Does Not Have to Resign Immediately

Israel’s Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit gave a legal opinion on Monday that effectively repudiates all the arguments made by those who are attempting to force incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of office immediately following his indictment last Thursday on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Nevertheless, a rally is being organized for Tuesday evening at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to support Netanyahu against what he has described as a “coup attempt” by Mandelblit as well as State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and the national police force.

“The rule of law must be equal, so what happened to me and to others should not happen,” Netanyahu said at a meeting with Likud mayors on Monday. “The citizens of Israel know that they should decide who will be prime minister. It is the essence of democracy that it is the majority that rules and it cannot be stopped elsewhere. Everything that is broken must be investigated. We still have a mission of forming a unity government if possible. Contacts have not stopped; they are taking place. This is necessary for reasons I cannot explain. There are immediate challenges that are not small.”

Leaders of other Knesset factions expressed their outrage at the rally and at Netanyahu’s conduct in general in public statements throughout the day on Tuesday.

Archeologists Continue to Unveil Church of Glorious Martyr
The Israel Antiquities Authority have continued unveiling their findings from a dig at the Byzantine-era “Church of the Glorious Martyr” site in Beit Shemesh. “The whole reason for the existence of this place is for the nameless martyr,” said Benjamin Storchan, director of excavation for the IAA. “It is an archaeological mystery. You can look to pilgrimage accounts of people who traveled to the Holy Land, [and there are] thousands of lists of martyrs…who died in early Christian times. We can’t yet associate this church with one specific martyr.”

Archeologists have dated the construction of the original church structure to the reign of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century CE (527-565). It underwent extensive expansion beginning in 583 AD under the patronage of Emperor Tiberius II Constantine (574-582 AD).

Here is a video about the church

Israel Blesses the World
Innovation:Africa, an organization with branches in Israel and the US, was one of three recipients of the 2019 InnoDip Award for innovative diplomacy for their efforts to bring Israel’s technological solutions in the fields of solar power, water and agriculture to rural villages in Africa. In related news, TIME magazine featured two Israeli-developed products in their recent feature about the Best Inventions of 2019. The two inventions were Watergen’s condenser units which collect vapor and turn it into drinkable water and OrCam Technologies MyEye2 “talking glasses.”

Here is a video about other ways Israel is blessing the world

Iranian Regime Organizes Rally in Teheran

The clerical regime which rules Iran organized a massive rally in central Teheran on Monday to denounce the recent anti-regime demonstrations which broke out in dozens of cities and villages around the country and support Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. General Hossein Salami, chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) addressed the rally, declaring that the US, UK, Israel and Saudi Arabia had sent agents into Iran to stir up a small number of local malcontents, adding a warning to the internal and external enemies of the regime that “If you cross our red line, we will destroy you. We will not leave any move unanswered.”

Iran's Foreign Ministry added their own condemnation of what they referred to as the "interference of foreign countries" in the demonstrations. Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi told journalists "We recommend they watch the rallies taking place these days in our country so they realize who the real people are in our country."

Here are some videos about the recent events in Iran

Here is a video about the Iranian threats against Israel


Iranian Threat Looms Large in Israeli Security Considerations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennet toured IDF positions on the Golan Heights on Sunday, with Netanyahu telling reporters that “Iran's aggression in the region and against us continues. We are taking all the actions necessary to prevent Iran from entrenching itself in the region. This includes action necessary to thwart the transfer of lethal weapons from Iran to Syria, via the air or sea…I cannot provide any more details, but this is a process taking place all the time.” Meanwhile, ‪US Army General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley was in Israel on Sunday to meet with his IDF counterparts, with Iran believed to be at the top of the agenda for those meetings.

Here is a video about the Iranian threats against Israel

In Iran on Sunday, officials were describing the leaders of the recent round of street demonstrations against the regime as "mercenaries" hired by its enemies to come to Iran and stir up trouble amongst the population which was otherwise perfectly satisfied with their lives. The demonstrations, which took place in dozens of large cities and small villages all over Iran, ended with over 100 people dead and many more injured, along with the violent destruction of scores of government buildings, police stations and vehicles, banks and other regime-affiliated landmarks.

Netanyahu Blocks Challenge from Political Rival
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu blocked efforts to hold a snap primary for leadership of his Likud Party on Sunday evening, despite explanations that it was a move that could save Israel from the necessity of holding yet another election early next year by Netanyahu’s top challenger within Likud, Gideon Sa’ar. Former Jerusalem Mayor and current Likud MK Nir Barkat also clashed with Sa’ar and made an alternative proposal to the party leadership for a vice-chairman to be elected who would serve as Prime Minister while Netanyahu was fighting his legal battles in court, while Sa’ar told the Reshet Bet radio program Monday morning that he and his family have been threatened with violence for his efforts to unseat Netanyahu.

"I am forced to go through a campaign of incitement and libel against me and my family, including threats of violence," he said. "For years, campaigns of libel have been led against me. None of it scares me. I sleep well at night and I know my family and I will have to go through a lot of slander. I knew it when I got back into politics. I think I will be able to form a government, and I think I will be able to unify the country and the nation. I followed Netanyahu in countless election campaigns, but today he is politically blocked. Unfortunately, Netanyahu cannot form a government even if third elections were to be held, he should have drawn his conclusions. Those who follow me on social networks see that I keep receiving threats of violence. None of this will deter me from doing the right thing for the Likud and the state."

EU Criticizes Syria and Russia for Bombing Idlib
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini criticized the Assad regime and its Russian ally over the weekend following reports of heavy bombardments of camps housing displaced persons in Idlib Province, the northwest portion of Syria bordering Turkey which has become the last holdout of the rebel groups opposing the regime. Meanwhile, in neighboring Lebanon, fresh demonstrations were called for Monday after security forces loyal to the government arrested a group of children for pulling down a sign supporting President Michael Aoun’s political party, the Free Patriotic Movement.

Violent street demonstrations also continued in Iraq over the weekend, with an additional six protesters killed on Sunday. Clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the southern city of Umm Qasr accounted for three of the deaths along with dozens of injuries, while a similar event occurred in Nasiriyah, a mid-sized city south of Baghdad. Western journalists observing the events said security forces fired live ammunition at demonstrators at both demonstrations.

Report Finds Inadequate Bomb Shelters in the North
Reports emerged over the weekend that over 200,000 residents of northern Israel living in the Mateh Asher Regional Council’s confrontation zone, defined as being from zero to nine kilometers from Israel’s northern border, lack adequate protection from incoming rocket attacks. The IDF Home Front Command issued a statement in response to the report saying it was aware of the situation and was working to rectify it.

South African University Rescinds BDS Motion
In another defeat for the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel, the University of Cape Town announced over the weekend that it is rescinding an earlier move to boycott Israeli academic institutions. South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) national director Wendy Kahn issued a statement to the Jerusalem Post saying the announcement sends “a resounding message of their commitment to academic freedom.”

Today’s video shows how the IDF interacts with its allies

Iranian Claims that Riots Are Over Ring Hollow

Haunting pictures of burnt out government buildings, banks and police stations began to emerge from Iran just hours after President Hassan Rouhani’s triumphant statement Wednesday that the riots which broke out last weekend following the announcement of gasoline tax increases, had ended. Rouhani said that the security crackdown which ended the riots that some analysts estimate resulted in over 200 deaths and many more injuries and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property damage, represented a victory for the clerical regime which rules Iran over its foreign and domestic enemies. However, unconfirmed reports from several cities inside Iran indicated that demonstrations were continuing even as Rouhani was speaking.

"The Iranian people have again succeeded in an historic test and shown they will not let enemies benefit from the situation, even though they might have complaints about the country's management," Rouhani said during his speech.

In related news, human rights organizations expressed outrage on Thursday following news that six environmental activists in Iran had been sentenced to lengthy jail terms on bizarre charges of “spying” on Iran for its foreign enemies.

Finally, Saudi Arabia's King Salman issued a rare public statement on Wednesday urging Iran to stop what he called its “expansionist ideology” which had negative effects on Iran’s own population.

"We hope the Iranian regime chooses the side of wisdom and realises there is no way to overcome the international position that rejects its practices, without abandoning its expansionist and destructive thinking that has harmed its own people," the king told the consultative Shura Council. He added that Saudi Arabis has also “suffered from the policies and practices of the Iranian regime and its proxies.”

Here are some videos about recent developments in Iran

Countdown to Possible Third Election Begins

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein met at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Thursday, formally initiating a 21-day period in which any MK could obtain the support of a majority of the Knesset members and form a government following the failure of Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form a governing coalition. Addressing all 120 elected MKs, Rivlin said “When the last two Knesset terms began, I asked you to set aside your election swords and clean away the dirt. I told you that political considerations must no longer be what solely guides you. You must show awareness of our sovereignty, statesmanship and responsibility for the people of this dear land. During these 21 days, consider your go obligation to the people.”

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz gave a speech on Wednesday evening, shortly after informing President Reuven Rivlin that he had failed to build a governing coalition for the 22nd Knesset and was returning the mandate to Rivlin. “Israel needs leadership with vision,” Gantz said, adding that incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “leading [Israel] down a dangerous path that will have a high, historic price, and you are responsible for it.” He also blamed the Right-wing bloc which supports Netanyahu for refusing to compromise for the greater good and reportedly also said in private conversations that some of the blame rested with his own coalition partners who also refused to make compromises which would have given him more room to maneuver in negotiations.

Elsewhere, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman was harshly criticized by leaders of the Right wing bloc. Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich said during a factional meeting at the Knesset on Wednesday that Lieberman “is unworthy to be a part of any coalition. At a press conference later in the day, United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman said that Lieberman’s statements that he would not sit in a government with Orthodox parties because they were not Zionist and were harming the country were anti-Semitic.

PA Gets Diplomatic Boost from Canada at the UN
Palestinian Authority officials issued statements this week welcoming a decision by Canada to switch its vote in the General Assembly on the question of Palestinian self-determination from “no” to “yes.” “We appreciated this principled position by the Canadian government,” a Palestinian envoy told the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee on Tuesday. “We are very disappointed that the government of Canada did not stand firm in opposition to the annual Israel-bashing ritual at the UN General Assembly,” said Jeffrey Rosenthal, cochairman of Canada’s Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs

Holland Announces Cut in Funding to PA
The Dutch government announced on Wednesday that it is cutting the usual funding to the Palestinian Authority due to the stipends it gives to jailed Palestinian terrorists and to the families of terrorists killed while carrying out terrorist attacks. The annoucnment included an explanation that talks had been held with PA officials to try and find a solution but that those talks “did not lead to the desired outcome.”

Iraq in Turmoil as Violent Demonstrations Continue
Large-scale demonstrations were reported in several Iraqi cities on Wednesday with violent confrontations between demonstrators and security services shutting down major roads and oil production facilities. "Export and import activities have stopped because trucks cannot enter Khor Al Zubair or Umm Qasr ports," one official at Basra's port authority said.

Today's media is a podcast about environmental issues in the Middle East

Israel Hits Iranian Military Posts in Syria

Israeli aircraft carried out strikes on Iranian military posts in Syria early Wednesday morning in response to a barrage of rockets fired at Israel by Iranian-backed militia forces near Damascus Tuesday morning. When Assad-regime air defense units fired at the Israeli aircraft, they were also targeted. Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett declared that "the rules have changed: Anyone who shoots at the State of Israel during the day will not sleep at night. Like last week and now this week.  Our message to Iran's leaders is simple: You are no longer immune. Wherever you stretch your tentacles-we will hack them off. The IDF will continue to protect Israeli citizens "

Syrian opposition groups claimed that there were 11 people killed by the strikes including 7 non-Syrians, presumably members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force.

“The Iranian attack against Israeli territory yesterday is further proof of the current Iranian purpose in Syria. Their presence in the region is a danger to Israel's security, regional stability and to the Syrian regime,” the IDF said in a statement.

Deadline for Gantz Coalition Deal Approaching
Midnight Wednesday is the deadline for Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form a governing coalition, but as of Wednesday afternoon the prospects of such an event coming about looked dim. Gantz spoke to reporters Wednesday morning, devoting his remarks to blaming the Likud Party led by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the impasse, saying Netanyahu “would do anything to drag us to third elections." He added an entreaty to Netanyahu to "accept the election results," and to "give up the immunity and the right-wing bloc and negotiate the foundations of the two biggest parties."

Head of the Likud negotiation talks MK Yariv Levin responded by saying "The prime minister agreed to terms that would violate his rights and shorten his candidacy. Show me one concession, even a little one, made by blue and white. I have never seen negotiations being held where there hasn't been a meeting for ten days. The reason is that Blue and White are busy forming a delusional minority government. I hope that fails."

Shortly after noon on Wednesday, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman appeared to end the final hope of a unity government being formed before the midnight deadline by telling reporters that he would not cooperate with Blue and White plans to form a minority government with the support of the Joint (Arab) List party and he also wouldn’t join with the Right-wing bloc led by Likud to form a government with a slight majority. He added that both major parties were equally to blame for the imbroglio, but he still had hope that a third election could be avoided.

Pentagon Issues New Report on Threat from Iran
A Pentagon study released this week said that the arsenal of missiles possessed by Iran’s military is larger than that of any of its Middle Eastern neighbors. "Lacking a modern air force, Iran has embraced ballistic missiles as a long-range strike capability to dissuade its adversaries in the region -- particularly the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia -- from attacking Iran," the report said. Defense Intelligence Agency director Lieutenant General Robert Ashley said: "Iran sees itself as closer than ever to achieving its goals. Tehran has played the cards dealt it by the fall of Saddam [Hussein in Iraq], the uprising in Syria, the rise and retreat of ISIS, and the conflict in Yemen."

Here is a video about the threat from Iran

Massive Street Demonstrations Continue in Lebanon and Iraq
Lebanon’s titular parliament appeared to be hopelessly checkmated Wednesday by protesters who have twice this week physically prevented them from entering the capital building to hold sessions. Protesters chanting “revolution, revolution," continued to occupy the streets around the building Wednesday morning, as rumors circulated that security forces had refused orders to violently disperse them. In Iraq, protests have been more frequently violent, with protesters expressing deep skepticism at statements by lawmakers that reforms are imminent.

Today's video shows a recent panel discussion about Russia's growing presense in the Middle East

US Declares West Bank Settlements ‘Not Illegal’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a dramatic announcement at a press briefing Monday afternoon, saying that the Trump Administration has reviewed the legal arguments regarding Israeli settlement communities in the West Bank and does not view them as illegal under international law. Reactions to the announcement were swift, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying “the United States adopted an important policy that rights a historical wrong when the Trump administration clearly rejected the false claim that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are inherently illegal under international law. This policy reflects an historical truth – that the Jewish people are not foreign colonialists in Judea and Samaria. In fact, we are called Jews because we are the people of Judea.”

“I am pleased that the effort has concluded and that the secretary’s conclusions have been published,” US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Friedman told the Jerusalem Post. “I believe that they will bring truth and clarity to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and advances the cause of peace.”

Speaking for many on the Right of Israel’s political spectrum, Foreign Minister Isreal Katz (Likud) said, “The right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is indisputable. I would like to thank the Trump administration's consistent and steadfast support for Israel and its commitment to furthering peoples' relations and to creating a Middle East of prosperity and stability.”

Blue and White party head Benny Gantz also praised the announcement, saying it demonstrated Washington’s “firm adherence to Israel and its commitment to security and the future of the entire Middle East." He added that "The fate of the communities and residents of Judea and Samaria should be determined by arrangements that meet security requirements and can promote peace. [These should be] arrangements that will serve both sides, and will also reflect the facts on the ground."

Joint List Party head MK Ayman Odeh voiced his disagreement, declaring that "no foreign minister will change the fact that the settlements were built on occupied land on which a sovereign Palestinian state will be established by Israel's side." Another MK, Tamar Zandberg of the Democratic Union faction said that next "the United States will also announce that the sun rises in the west.”

Other voices, including the leadership of the settler communities and some Rightist MKs, called for Israel to immediately announce its application of sovereignty to Judea and Samaria. The Palestinian Authority denounced the decision with PA Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh summing up the PA’s position by declaring that the new US position was “void, unacceptable and condemned” as it “totally contradicts international law and resolutions that reject settlements.”

"The European Union's position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace, as reaffirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 2334," added EU Foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. "The EU calls on Israel to end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power. The EU will continue to support a resumption of a meaningful process towards a negotiated two-state solution, the only realistic and viable way to fulfil the legitimate aspirations of both parties."

Here is the video of Pompeo's statement

Rockets Fired at Israel From Syria

IDF units in the northern part of the country were on high alert Tuesday following the interception by the Iron Dome air defense system of four missiles which had been fired from inside Syria over the Golan Heights towards the Galilee region in the early morning hours. The incident occurred while IDF units in the south remained on alert following rocket attacks directed at Beer Sheva from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Monday. Meanwhile, units deployed along the border with Lebanon were also closely monitoring the possibility of spillover from the escalating street demonstrations rocking that country.

Members of Lebanon’s national parliament were physically prevented from entering the capital building in Beirut on Tuesday morning, even as confrontations including live gunfire were reported between protesters and security forces in several cities around the country.

Iran Sanctions Waivers Cancelled as Protests Rage
The US State Department announced on Monday that it is cancelling one of four sanctions waivers that allowed foreign firms to cooperate with Iran's civilian nuclear program without penalties, specifically the waivers related to the nuclear facility at Fordow, which Iranian officials recently said would be re-activated for the purpose of enriching uranium. Also on Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that the Islamic Republic’s supply of heavy water has surpassed what it’s authorized to have under the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal. The announcements came as Iranian cities remained under a harsh security lockdown following recent riots to protest unpopular new tax increases on gasoline and other grievances.

The protests, which began on Friday afternoon and have reportedly resulted in over 100 deaths and millions of dollars in property damage in several cities, had subsided by Tuesday morning according to security officials. However, videos streamed on social media sites showed intense demonstrations late into Monday evening including violent clashes between protesters and security forces, despite a warning by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that a harsh crackdown would ensue if the protests continued.

Here is a video of protests in Iran

Clock Ticking on Knesset Coalition Talks
As the clock ticks down to a midnight Wednesday deadline for Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form a governing coalition, MKs from the 55-member bloc of Rightist and Orthodox parties have put heavy pressure on Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman to drop his objections to joining a coalition led by Likud leader and incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Lieberman has met with leaders of both parties in recent days in an apparent effort to bridge the gaps between them and bring about the formation of a unity government, but at press time no breakthroughs had been reported with both large parties blaming the other for the impasse.

Argentina and Uruguay Play Friendly Match in Israel
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered another defeat on Monday when the national football (soccer) teams from Argentina and Uruguay played a friendly match at Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium. The stadium was filled to its capacity with 25,000 cheering fans, who expressed their excitement as the two legendary teams ended the game tied 2-2.

Today’s video shows highlights of one of Israel’s most prestigious universities


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