Posts Tagged ‘Netanyahu’

Israel: No Gaza Ceasefire — Netanyahu: “We are in the midst of a campaign against terror in Gaza.”

August 13, 2018

Avi Dichter, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and former head of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), warned that only Israel will dictate military options.

 AUGUST 12, 2018 23:29

 The Gaza Conundrum: Debating the merits of an Israel-Hamas ceasefire


Did Israel agree to a Gaza ceasefire with Hamas? Likud ministers say no

A member of Hamas' military police walks through rubble at a site that was hit by Israeli air strike

A member of Hamas’ military police walks through rubble at a site that was hit by Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on August 9, 2018. (photo credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

The Israeli Security Cabinet met on Sunday for the second time within four days to discuss the Gaza violence as well as UN and Egyptian efforts for a long-term truce.

Israel demands nothing less than a complete cease-fire from Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday before the weekly government meeting.

“We are in the midst of a campaign against terror in Gaza,” Netanyahu said. “It entails an exchange of blows; it will not end in one strike. Our demand is clear: a complete cease-fire. We will not suffice with less than this. As of now, we have destroyed hundreds of Hamas military targets, and in each round the IDF exacts an additional heavy price. I will not reveal here our operational plans; they are ready.”

The prime minister said Israel’s objective is to restore quiet to residents of the South and the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip. “This goal will be achieved in full,” he added.

Netanyahu spoke as Israel is working on a three-pronged approach to Gaza: preparations for a military campaign; an understanding by which calm is restored; and the possibility of approving a long-term and extensive cease-fire deal.

The security cabinet also met on Thursday for four hours on the same issue, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Transportation Minister Israel Katz holding a heated exchange.

According to KAN News, Katz yelled at Liberman: “Whatever happened to your promise to assassinate [Hamas leader Ismail] Haniyeh within 48 hours?”

Liberman responded: “Tell me, what have you contributed exactly?”

The United Nations has continued to pursue efforts toward a permanent cease-fire that would include the reconciliation of the rival Hamas and Fatah factions, as well as an economic package for the rehabilitation of Gaza.

Egypt hopes to hold separate talks this week in Cairo with Hamas and Fatah representatives as part of its push to sway Hamas to hand over control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.

But in Israel, the debate has focused more intensely on what is happening on the ground now, and if there is an understanding with Hamas for calm, particularly given that Hamas has held its rocket fire since Thursday.

It is unclear if Hamas stopped the rocket fire as the result of a mutual understanding reached with Israel, or if it was a unilateral decision.

Sunday was calm, after lower level violence continued over the weekend, with Palestinians launching a number of incendiary kites and balloons at Israel, an IAF air strike, and the death of two Palestinians during violent border riots.

Israel has imposed tight restrictions on the border, the kind that signify a situation of continued violence. It has continued its almost two-week ban on fuel and gas into Gaza and its more than a month long ban on commercial goods.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a member of the security cabinet, told Army Radio that Israel is not negotiating with Hamas under fire, and that all the talks that have been held were between the Palestinian Authority and other envoys.

Israel is also not planning to do anything more than restore the situation that existed before the latest flare up with Hamas began at the end of March, Elkin said.

National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, also a member of the security cabinet, denied the reports of a cease-fire, telling KAN radio as much.

“In the last round [of violence] we hit the [Hamas] missile production badly,” Steinitz said. “We as a cabinet need to see the general picture – we have not signed a cease-fire agreement, and we are keeping our cards close to our chests. Ousting Hamas is an option we are closer to now than any time in the past… Not every time we are hit, we go to all-out war. Sometimes we go into smaller campaigns with acute reactions.”

Avi Dichter, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and former head of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), warned in an interview with KAN radio that only Israel will dictate military options.

“Gaza will be dismantled by political arrangement or military action,” Dichter said. “No one will determine the timing of the military campaign except for the State of Israel.”

Avi Gold contributed to this report.


Israel ‘closer than ever’ to defeating Hamas, says minister

August 12, 2018

An Israeli official has said Israel doesn’t want to start a war in Gaza, but admitted toppling Hamas was still “definitely an option.” Israel has denied it agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas following last week’s fighting.

Israeli airstrikes hit targets in Gaza (Reuters/M. Salem)

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told reporters Sunday that Israel was “closer than ever” to toppling Hamas in Gaza “if there is no other choice.”

The remarks by Steinitz, who also sits on Israel’s security cabinet, come on the back of two days of fierce cross-border violence between Hamas and Israel last week.

Steinitz also told local broadcaster Kan that Israel had not signed a ceasefire with agreement with Hamas following the latest escalations, contradicting reports coming from officials in Gaza.

Toppling Hamas was still “definitely an option,” the minister said, before adding that Israel was not interested in escalating the conflict into a full-scale war.

Gaza on the brink?

Tensions between the two sides have been mounting since March, when Palestinians in Gaza began staging regular protests near the border with Israel.

However, recent weeks have seen at least three major flare-ups. The most recent, on Thursday, saw Israel launch a series of airstrikes on Gaza after Hamas troops launched some 180 rockets and mortar rounds across the border the night before. Three Palestinians were killed by the Israeli strikes, including a mother and her 18-month-old daughter, while seven Israelis were wounded in the Palestinian rocket fire.

It marked the heaviest exchanges of fire between the two sides since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.

Read more: Hamas official on Gaza bloodshed: ‘Not expected to be like this’

Netanyahu demands Hamas ceasefire

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out for the first time about last week’s deadly flare-up on the Gaza border, demanding a “total” ceasefire from Hamas’ rulers.

“We are in the midst of a campaign against terror in Gaza,” Netanyahu said at the start of a Cabinet meeting. “It will not end with one blow.

“Our demand is clear: a total ceasefire. We shall not be satisfied with less than that,” he added.

Hardliners in Netanyahu’s Cabinet have called on the prime minister to act more strongly against the latest Hamas’ latest aggressions.

Read more: Ceasefire on Israel-Gaza border largely holds as UN warns sides are on ‘brink of war’

Little scope for a truce

The recent uptick in violence has seen UN officials and Egypt increase efforts to secure a truce deal between Israel and Hamas, albeit with little success so far.

Almost 170 Palestinian protestors have been killed by Israeli military fire during the protesters, while one Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper, since clashes began on the border in March.

Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel and much of the West, has demanded the lifting of an 11-year blockade on Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt.

Israel, meanwhile, has demanded Hamas and its followers stop launching incendiary projectiles across the border, burning swathes of Israeli territory.

On Sunday, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that officials in Jerusalem were formulating a plan to assassinate several senior Hamas leaders, although it would first wait to see the outcome of the upcoming negotiations brokered by Egypt and the UN before going ahead.

Netanyahu: Many Arabs protesting nation-state law want Israel to be a Palestinian state

August 12, 2018

Netanyahu says Palestinian flags seen at Tel Aviv rally demonstrates need to enshrine country’s Jewish nature in law

Israeli Arabs, some waving Palestinian flags, protest against the nation-state law' in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018.  (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israeli Arabs, some waving Palestinian flags, protest against the nation-state law’ in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said the protesters at a mass rally against the nation-state law who were waving Palestinian flags were seeking to destroy Israel and proved the contentious legislation was necessary.

“We have [here] conclusive evidence of the defiance against Israel and the necessity of the nation-state law,” he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, referring to the Arab-led demonstration in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday.

“Many of the protesters want to abolish the Law of Return, the anthem and the flag, and turn Israel into a Palestinian state,” he said. “It’s clearer now more than ever that the nation-state law is needed to ensure the future of Israel as a Jewish state.”

The prime minister made similar remarks Saturday night on Twitter after images and videos of the flag-waving protesters were shared on social media.

“We will continue waving the Israeli flag and singing [the national anthem] Hatikva with great pride,” he posted.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on August 12, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM HOLLANDER)

Some 30,000 Israelis packed Rabin Square for the protest march led by the Arab community against the newly passed law that critics say marginalizes the state’s non-Jewish citizens.

The law passed by the Knesset last month for the first time enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people,” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” It also defines Arabic as a language bearing a “special” status, effectively downgrading it from its de facto status as Israel’s second official language.

The government has argued the new law merely anchors the country’s existing character, and that Israel’s democratic nature and provisions for equality are already rooted in existing constitutional legislation.

But critics, both at home and abroad, say it undermines Israel’s commitment to equality for all its citizens outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

It has prompted particular outrage from Israel’s Druze minority, whose members say the law’s provisions render them second-class citizens. Last week, at least 50,000 Israelis attended the Druze-led demonstration against the law in Rabin Square.

At Saturday’s rally, dozens of activists waved Palestinian flags in defiance of a request by organizers at the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, who wanted to encourage the Jewish population to attend the march in solidarity.

Protesters carried signs in Hebrew and Arabic demanding “Justice and equality now” and others calling the law “apartheid.”

At times, some participants chanted in support of Palestine and against Israel, including cries of “In spirit and fire, we will redeem Palestine,” according to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

In Israel, Palestinian flags are often viewed with deep distrust because they are associated with the Palestinian national movement and its aim to subsume the Jewish state.

On Sunday, Culture Minister Miri Regev said she would take the issue of the Palestinian flags to the attorney general.

“There cannot be a situation where Palestinian flags are being waved in Tel Aviv,” she said. “I will turn to the attorney general [about this].”

“The fact that the left has joined up with the Arabs is absurd,” she added. “I’m sure [late prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin would turn in his grave if he saw what happened in Rabin Square.”

Arab Israelis and activists protest against the ‘Jewish Nation-State law’ in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy full citizenship rights but have long complained of discrimination in some areas like jobs and housing. They share the ethnicity and culture of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and often identify as Palestinian rather than Israeli, even if they are not per se Palestinian nationalists.

On Sunday, the leader of the Joint (Arab) List, Ayman Odeh, responded to the criticism, saying that only several dozen protesters waved Palestinian flags and the overall spirit of the rally was not nationalistic in nature

“Thirty thousand people gathered in Rabin Square to express their legitimate and just demand for equal civil rights for all,” he told Army Radio, and urged Israeli Jews to accept the Palestinian identity of Arab citizens.

“We are Arabs, and that needs to be internalized,” he said. “We have a culture, a language and a history.”

“I am a member of the Palestinian Arab people, and a citizen of Israel at the same time…. accept me as I am,” he said.

MK Ayman Odeh (R) takes part at a protest march against Proposed Nation-state Law in Tel Aviv on July 14, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Former MK Mohammad Barakeh, a longtime leader of the left-wing Hadash party who currently heads the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, told the crowd during his speech on Saturday the protest was called to “erase this abomination and remove the stain made by Netanyahu and his government called the nation-state law.”

Barakeh told a Times of Israel reporter at the event the committee had “asked the public not to bring [Palestinian] flags, but I can’t control what people do.”

On stage, Barakeh said it was the “flag of the oppressed Palestinian people, the flag they are trying to eradicate from history via the nation-state law.”

Palestinian flags at Israel nation-state law protest — Plot to kill Hamas leaders?

August 12, 2018

The appearance of Palestinian flags at a protest against the nation-state law has those on the right crowing and those in the center shaking their heads

August 12, 2018
Israeli Arabs and Jews protest against the nation-state law' in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israeli Arabs and Jews protest against the nation-state law’ in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1.Anti-flag: Israelis on the left and right saw the same protest at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square against the nation-state law Saturday night, but are drawing very different conclusions.

  • On the right, the appearance of Palestinian flags at the rally proves their point about the need for legislation enshrining the country’s Jewish character, including it’s Star of David flag, in law.
  • “Wrong flag,” reads a headline in Israel Hayom.
  • “With a protest like this, who needs to explain the law,” writes Zvi Hauser, a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the same paper, reflecting the view of many in the government (including the prime minister) who spoke out against the flags as exposing the real face of opposition to the law.
  • The nationalist Israel National News website leads its news section with the headline “PLO flags in the heart of Tel Aviv,” and the fact that it doesn’t even mention the flags in the story reflects how it takes for granted that its readers will gather all they need from just those few words.

2. Flag-flogged: And it was not even just the hard right incensed by the flags’ appearance. The populist Yedioth Ahronoth tabloid cover features a picture of a flag and the headline “Palestinians flags in the heart of Tel Aviv,” and the Walla website also notes them in its top headline.

  • Yedioth notes that while there were some Israeli flags, they were outstripped by the number of Palestinian ones. “This is my flag … I have no connection to the Israeli flag,” one protester is quoted saying.
  • The protest also says that some at the protest chanted “with blood and fire we will redeem Palestine.”
  • Mohammed Barakeh, among the organizers of the protest, told ToI’s Adam Rasgon that protesters had been asked not to bring the flags, but had not listened.
  • What results is a tongue-lashing from critics of the law who now feel their protest has been tarred by the Palestinian national symbols.
  • “Organizers made a big mistake by allowing the flags,” former prime minister Ehud Barak wrote on Twitter. He called the flags and chants a “free service” for those backing the nation-state law.
  • “They shot themselves in the flag,” Yoaz Hendel, another former Netanyahu aide, quips in Yedioth. “Those waving Palestinian flags … are not demanding equality or coexistence, but the erasure of the Jewish right of self determination in the state of Israel,” he writes.

3. Identity crisis: What these analyses are missing is the nuance needed to understand the place of the Palestinian flag and other Palestinian national symbols among Israel’s Arabs, many of whom self-identify as Palestinians, even if they are not necessarily Palestinian nationalists.

  • As a Kafr Qassem teacher told the Christian Science Monitor in 2016, “We don’t have an identity. We are the real refugees. We have a conflict between the national side and civilian side.”
  • A reflection of this unease is the lack of outcry over a protest against the law last week that saw just as many, if not more Druze flags, since Israelis don’t fear any national aspirations by the Druze. Palestinian flags, on the other hand, are viewed with deep distrust because there is a Palestinian movement, thus the reduction of the waving of a flag to a desire to subsume Israel.

4Who’s afraid of the Arabs: “The law sparked an unprecedented mass demonstration of Israeli Arabs in the heart of Tel Aviv, known as the first Hebrew city, but it also exposed the lingering duality of the Palestinian community, as it defines itself. Their show of force also demonstrated their isolation,” Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz.

  • Shalev notes the fact that mainstream Israelis showed up to the Druze protest but shunned this one shows how they are viewed within Israeli society.
  • Addressing those like Labor head Avi Gabbay who refused to show up because of Palestinian national symbols, Meretz head Tamar Zandberg wrote on Facebook: “So there will be a flag or sign you don’t agree with. So fucking what.”
  • One person who was not afraid was Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, who spoke at the rally, and whose broadsheet, the flagship paper of the Israeli left, reflects his view of the importance of the Arab-led rally.
  • The paper’s lead editorial chastises Gabbay and other members of Zionist Union for failing to show up, saying they earned a “badge of shame.”
  • “Those who rightly demonstrated against the law together with the Druze in that same square just a week earlier, yet decided to boycott a similar demonstration organized by the Arab community’s Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, missed an important opportunity to expand the protest. No excuse can obscure this,” the editorial reads.

5Swimming with sharks: The weekend saw mostly quiet on the Gaza border for a change, though Friday did see some protests and a massive fire kite managed to get tangled in the power lines of a kibbutz.

  • A picture of kids playing in a pool is used in Yedioth to represent the weekend of calm after a tense couple of days (though some may find the picture insensitive given the dire humanitarian situation and lack of clean drinking water just across the border.)
  • The calm is the fruits of Israel’s decision to reach yet another ceasefire with Hamas, despite loud protests from politicians and those on the right who see Israel as weak.
  • “Nothing has actually changed. Short of some sharp turn, which does not seem to be on the horizon, the shooting will return soon, and with it the chances for a wide operation,” writes Yoav Limor in Israel Hayom.
  • However, in Yedioth, Shimrit Meir, editor of the Arab-language al-Masdar, praises Netanyahu (a rare feat for that paper) for restraining himself rather than going to war: “One assumes we’ll have a traditional round of fighting for a few days or weeks and find ourselves picking up the phone for the Egyptian or Qatari mediator to scribble out a ceasefire. So why not just skip the days in the bomb shelters and billions spent on fighting and go straight to a long-term deal with Hamas?”

6Kill ’em all: In what may be a planned leak meant as a scare tactic to push Hamas to the table, or an actual leak of battle plans, Haaretz reports that Israel has put together a plot to assassinate Hamas’s leaders.

  • The paper writes that the army and Shin Bet see killing the top of the terror group as preferable to launching an all out-war, but notes that doing so could end up launching another round of fighting in any case, which is the understatement of the century.

7Cold Turkey: Though it has no horse in the race, Israel’s press is taking an interest in the Turkey-US spat.

  • Israel Hayom calls the words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “empty threats” precipitated by the crash of the lira.
  • In Yedioth, Nadav Eyal calls Erdogan’s decision to threaten US President Donald Trump that he’ll start looking for new allies “the worst thing he could have done.”
  • “Those around Erdogan are trying to explain to him the terrible situation Turkey is in, and what unpopular steps he needs to take,” he writes.
  • Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el, meanwhile, doesn’t see much smart policy or strategy from either leader: “The fraught relations may resemble a chess game, but the two primary players, Trump and Erdogan, don’t have the patience or the temperament required of chess players. At the same time, they still have critical shared interests that could force a reconciliation.”


Hamas fires rockets, Israel bombs Gaza — in the middle of Cease Fire talks

August 9, 2018

Palestinians fired dozens of rockets into southern Israel and Israel launched scores of air strikes in Gaza as fighting entered a second day on Thursday despite efforts to broker a truce to end months of simmering violence.

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A Palestinian man inspects a Hamas site that was hit in an Israeli air strike, in Al-Mughraqa on the outskirts of Gaza City August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Palestinian officials said three people were killed in the Israeli attacks: a member of the Islamist Hamas group that rules Gaza, a pregnant woman, and her 18-month-old child. At least five civilians were wounded, local medical officials said.

The Israeli military said seven people were wounded in southern Israel; one was identified by her employer as a Thai agricultural worker.

The exchanges, which began on Wednesday, have stayed within familiar parameters. The rocket fire from Gaza has not targeted Israel’s heartland and the Israeli military said its air strikes were limited to Hamas installations.

Yuval Steinitz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner cabinet, told Israel Radio: “We are not eager for war and are not interested in a broader confrontation but at the same time it could certainly happen because we will not make any concessions to Hamas.”

An explosion caused by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, early Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. (AP Photo)

An explosion caused by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, early Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. (AP Photo)

Netanyahu was due to convene the security cabinet later to assess the situation.

The flare-up came after officials on both sides had talked about potential progress in an effort by the United Nations and Egypt to broker a truce to end months of violence and alleviate deepening humanitarian and economic hardship in the Gaza Strip.

Rocket warning sirens sounded almost non-stop in the southern Israeli town of Sderot and other border communities from sunset on Wednesday. Many residents have a reinforced room in their homes where they can shelter. The military said more than 150 rockets and mortar bombs were fired from Gaza.

Ambulance sirens echoed through the night in Gaza, where families huddled at home as powerful explosions shook buildings. The Israeli military said its aircraft struck 140 facilities belonging to Hamas.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri blamed Israel for the escalation, citing the killing of two Hamas gunmen on Tuesday in northern Gaza which he described as unprovoked.

Israeli media reports said fire from the gunmen had apparently been part of a Hamas exercise and not directed at Israel. An Israeli military spokesman said Hamas operatives had shot in the general direction of Israel’s border.

U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov said in an overnight statement: “I am deeply alarmed by the recent escalation of violence between Gaza and Israel, and particularly by today’s multiple rockets fired toward communities in southern Israel.”

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Palestinian rockets being fired from Gaza City towards Israel

The United Nations, he said, has engaged with Egypt in an “unprecedented effort” to avoid serious conflict, but cautioned that “the situation can rapidly deteriorate with devastating consequences for all people”.

Gaza has been controlled by Hamas for more than a decade, during which time it has fought three wars against Israel, most recently in 2014.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Writing by Ari Rabinovitch and Ori Lewis; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Robin Pomeroy)


Netanyahu Holds Midnight Security Meeting Over Gaza Escalation

August 9, 2018

With rockets falling on Sderot and snipers firing from Gaza on civilians, the security cabinet was scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss a possible five-year truce with Hamas.

Now, in light of the escalating situation in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled an urgent security consultation after midnight Wednesday in Tel Aviv with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Chief of Staff Lt.-General Gadi Eizenkot, Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman, and National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat.

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Palestinian rockets being fired from Gaza City towards Israel

This was the second security cabinet meeting on the matter in five days. Wednesday’s escalation came following the IDF’s killing of two Hamas snipers on Tuesday. The IDF said that the strike on the snipers was an error, since the snipers were conducting a training drill and not firing at Israelis. Hamas pledged retaliation for that action, and the communities in the South were on alert throughout the day Wednesday, waiting for Hamas to deliver on its threat.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman, Chief of Staff Eizenkot and

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman, Chief of Staff Eizenkot and others at urgent security cabinet meeting, Aug 9 2018. (photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI / DEFENSE MINISTRY)

Wednesday night’s intense rocket fire on Sderot led to an Israeli military response before and throughout the security cabinet meeting.

Raw footage of Hamas terrorists shooting at IDF troops from an outpost in the Gaza Strip and IDF retaliation, August 7, 2018 (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

According to reports by the Israeli national new, the IDF carried out strikes against over 100 Hamas terror targets, including rocket launch pads and terror tunnels.

The incidents came even as Hamas was signaling that it was interested in a five-year truce. Hamas leaders, who met over the last few days in Gaza to discuss the cease-fire proposal brokered by Egypt and UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov, traveled back to Cairo Wednesday to deliver their response.

IDF strikes 12 Hamas terror sites, including a factory used to manufacture tunnels and a maritime terror tunnel shaft, August 8, 2018 (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Turkey’s Anadolu news agency quoted a Hamas source as saying that the deal will be revealed before the end of August. According to the report, Hamas and Israel would observe a two-week trial cease-fire as part of the deal.

Before the security cabinet meeting on the Gaza issue on Sunday, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz posted on Twitter that “the situation in Gaza is nearing a decision, either an arrangement or war.”

That characterization remains as true before Thursday’s meeting as it was on Sunday. During that meeting the cabinet ministers were briefed on the truce negotiations, and told that the failure of Hamas and Fatah to reach a reconciliation agreement is a significant stumbling block to any deal.

That cabinet meeting also dealt with various scenarios that could lead to an escalation. At the end of the meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying that the IDF “is prepared for any scenario.”

It is likely that Thursday’s meeting will also end without any conclusive decision.

The truce under consideration includes a number of phases, with the first one being an end to Hamas violence, including the incendiary kites and balloons and the violent Friday protests along the border fence.

In response, Israel would fully reopen the Kerem Shalom crossing, and Egypt would open the Rafah crossing into Gaza.

Another phase would be the building of major infrastructure projects to serve Gaza, such as a seaport and airport, in Egypt, at El Arish and Ismailia.

And the final phase would be the eventual easing of the Israeli blockade around Gaza, with suitable monitoring mechanisms in place, and international and Israel financial assistance to the coastal Strip.

The truce would also include the return to Israel of the bodies of the IDF soldiers being held by Hamas, as well as a return of the two Israeli citizens being held in Gaza. It is not clear, however, at what point of the truce this would be carried out.

Trump and Advisers Diverge on Iran: What does it mean for Israel?

August 8, 2018

“No preconditions, no, they want to meet I’ll meet, anytime they want,” President Donald Trump said.

 AUGUST 8, 2018 09:27
US President Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while addressing a joint news conference with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, US, April 30, 2018.. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

WASHINGTON — Amidst the United States of America’s sanctions on Iran, President Donald Trump says he is ready to meet with Iran without preconditions, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has preconditions.

The disconnect of recent weeks was sharpened Monday when the White House announced the reimposition of sanctions on Iran, the first to be reintroduced since Trump announced in May that he was pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Pompeo, speaking with the media on Sunday and heralding the new sanctions, insisted everything was as clear as day.

“So the president and I, too, have been very clear,” Pompeo said. “We’re very hopeful that we can find a way to move forward, but it’s going to require enormous change on the part of the Iranian regime.”

“Enormous change” was a reference to 12 conditions that Pompeo laid out in May after Trump quit the plan, which relieved sanctions on Iran in exchange for the rollback of its nuclear program. The conditions included an end to Iran’s enrichment of uranium (the 2015 deal allowed limited low enrichment, with some restrictions expiring within a decade), “unqualified access” for nuclear inspectors (under the deal, some inspections required a head’s up of several weeks, and Iran appeared ready to resist requests to inspect military sites), a cessation of Iran’s adventurism in the region as well as its ballistic missile program, and the release of all imprisoned Americans.

So those are preconditions for a new deal and not necessarily a meeting, right?

Trump and Pompeo don’t seem to agree.

“No preconditions, no, they want to meet I’ll meet, anytime they want,” Trump said July 30.

Pompeo said two hours later on CNBC: “We’ve said this before. He wants to meet with folks to solve problems. If the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their malign behavior, can agree that it’s worthwhile to enter into a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation, then the president said he’s prepared to sit down and have the conversation with them.”

So what gives? We canvassed Iran experts.

The learning curve theory

Jason Brodsky, the policy director for United Against Nuclear Iran, a group that opposed the Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action, or JCPOA, the name of the Iran deal, said Trump was a businessman learning how to be a politician and a diplomat.

“I think the president believes he has the ability by virtue of his personality and negotiating experience to be the great negotiator and to close deals he thinks are strong for the United States,” Brodsky said.

Since July 30, Trump appears to have retreated from the “no preconditions” posture.

“Iran, and its economy, is going very bad, and fast!” he posted on Twitter over the weekend. “I will meet, or not meet, it doesn’t matter — it is up to them!”

Donald J. Trump


Iran, and it’s economy, is going very bad, and fast! I will meet, or not meet, it doesn’t matter – it is up to them!

“I think after reflection this tweet is an effort to clean up or clarify it’s up to Iran and the ball is in their court,” Brodsky said.

The bluff theory

National Security Adviser John Bolton spoke Monday morning on the Fox News Channel as the announcement came that new sanctions would roll out at midnight. He suggested that Trump’s offer to meet was a means of calling the Iranian bluff.

“They flatly turned him down and I think that’s an indication they’re not serious about stopping their malign behavior,” Bolton said.

Bolton apparently was referring to a televised address Monday in which Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that any meeting would be contingent on the United States rejoining the JCPOA.

“If you stab someone with a knife and then you say you want talks, then the first thing you have to do is remove the knife,” Rouhani said, according to Reuters.

Mark Dubowitz, the director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said Trump’s gambit paid off.

“He saw it as a way of throwing the Islamic Republic off balance,” Dubowitz said. “They rejected it and did not know how to respond.”

Except maybe it’s the Iranians who are on a learning curve. Later Monday, Rouhani told Iranian television that in fact he was ready to meet without preconditions.

“I don’t have preconditions,” he said, according to CNN. “If the U.S. government is willing, let’s start right now.”

It was Bolton, told of Rouhani’s 180, who seemed to be off balance.

“Let’s see what comes of it and see if it’s just propaganda,” Bolton said Monday afternoon on CNN. “If the Iranians are really willing to come and talk about all of their malign behavior in the region and around the world, I think the president is willing to do it.”

The chaos theory

Jarrett Blanc, the former State Department coordinator for Iran nuclear deal implementation, said Trump’s actions only made sense when seen through the lens of personality, not policy.

“The only way to understand how the Trump administration has handled the JCPOA is that President Trump hated the deal because it was concluded by his hated predecessor” Barack Obama, said Blanc, who now works with Diplomacy Works, which backs the JCPOA.

That, Blanc said, led the president’s aides to scramble to explain the policy: Hawks like Bolton and Pompeo seized on the pullout to advance a regime-change agenda. Others — apologists for Trump’s erratic behavior — cast it as Trump’s style, depicting him as the guy who is always ready to make a deal.

“This administration has been forced into ex-post facto rationalization,” Blanc said.

Dubowitz disagreed, saying Trump’s toughness on Iran was of a piece with his advisers.

“Iran policy is one of the few areas in the administration where there is consistency and coherence, and there is no daylight between the president and his principals on objectives and tactics,” he said.

What happens next

The sanctions to be reimposed at midnight target Iran’s currency, its trade in gold and other minerals and mineral byproducts, and Iran’s automotive sector.

On Nov. 5, much tougher sanctions come into play targeting Iran’s ports, its oil and its financial system.

On the horizon are new tensions between the Trump administration and Europe, already exacerbated by Trump’s imposition of tariffs. The reimposed sanctions target third-party entities that trade with Iran. (Under U.S. law, U.S. trade with Iran is practically nil). Europe stands by the JCPOA, and on Monday announced measures to protect European companies that deal with Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commended Trump for the reimposition of sanctions and called on European nations to follow his lead.

“This is an important moment for Israel, the U.S., the region and the entire world,” Netanyahu, who vigorously opposed the JCPOA, said in a statement. “It represents the determination to curb Iran’s aggression in the region and its ongoing intention to arm itself with nuclear weapons. I call upon the countries of Europe, which talk about stopping Iran, to join this measure.”

There is one major event bringing the United States and Iran into the same building between now and Nov. 5: the U.N. General Assembly in September. Trump last year reportedly sought a meeting with Rouhani at last year’s G.A.; will it happen this year?

Judging from the about-faces that have taken place in the space of a week, it’s too soon to predict.

Israeli Lawmaker Slams ‘Morally Bankrupt’ E.U. for Defying Iran Trade Ban

August 7, 2018

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. AP FILE photo

Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Tuesday called the European Union (E.U.) ‘morally bankrupt’ for snubbing the U.S. and its reimposition of tough sanctions on Iran.

“The E.U. is morally bankrupt, and we need to remember that next time they try to lecture us,” Mr. Erdan told Israel Radio. “The EU, along with China, Russia, France, Germany and the UK, was also a signatory to the deal and has not withdrawn.”

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Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan

Mr. Erdan was speaking after E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc is actively encouraging enterprises to increase their business with Iran. She made the announcement on the same day renewed U.S. trade sanctions against the Islamic Republic restarted.

As Breitbart Jerusalem reported, Mogherini said it’s up to Europeans to decide who they want to trade with and not the U.S.:

We are doing our best to keep Iran in the deal, to keep Iran benefiting from the economic benefits that the agreement brings to the people of Iran because we believe this is in the security interests of not only our region, but also of the world. If there is one piece of international agreements on nuclear non-proliferation that is delivering, it has to be maintained.

The United States reimposed stiff economic sanctions on Iran on Monday, renewing pressure on the Islamic Republic despite statements of doubt from European allies, three months after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the international accord originally brokered by Barack Obama.

Mr. Erdan, who also heads the Strategic Affairs Ministry, praised the U.S. for reimposing punitive sanctions on Iran that brought back into effect the harsh penalties lifted under the Iran nuclear deal.

“It would be better if the Iranian regime would disappear entirely from this world, but it would also be a blessing to see Obama’s bad nuclear agreement replaced with a better one,” he said.

“In my opinion, there is a good chance of that. We can already see positive results from what Trump did.”

More U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector and central bank are to be reimposed in early November.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump for ratcheting up pressure on the Islamic Republic, and called on European nations to follow his lead.

“It symbolizes the determination to curb Iran’s regional aggression and its ongoing plans to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a video released Monday.

Israel minister welcomes Syria scientist killing — “He was engaged in developing chemical weapons and longer-range missiles capable of hitting Israel”

August 7, 2018

“People that talk of destroying Israel can expect that Israel will hear them.”

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Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz on Tuesday welcomed the killing of a leading Syrian weapons scientist but declined to comment on reports his government was behind the fatal bombing.

General Aziz Asbar, head of a Syrian government weapons research centre, was killed along with his driver when the bomb hit his car on Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The pro-government Al-Watan newspaper confirmed the killing in the central province of Hama.

Asbar headed the Maysaf research centre in Hama, which was hit by Israeli air strikes last month and in September last year, the Observatory said.

The New York Times on Monday quoted “a senior official from a Middle Eastern intelligence agency” as saying that Israel was behind the assassination.

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“We don’t of course comment on reports of this kind and I’m not going to comment now,” Katz told Israeli army radio.

“I can say that assuming the details of this man’s activities are correct and he was engaged in developing chemical weapons and longer-range missiles capable of hitting Israel, I certainly welcome his demise.”

An Israeli air strike targeted the research centre on July 22, Syrian state media and the Observatory reported. An Israeli military spokesman declined to comment.

A September 2017 strike caused damage to the centre, when fire broke out at a warehouse where missiles were being stored, the Observatory said.

Israel has carried out numerous strikes inside Syria since 2017, according to the Observatory, targeting government forces and their allies from Iran and Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

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Hezbollah fighters

Early 2017 marked the low point for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country’s now seven-year-old civil war with his authority confined to just 17 percent of national territory.

A succession of victories since then over both the Islamic State group and various rebel factions has extended government control to nearly two-thirds of the country.



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Syrian children being treated for exposure to chemical weapons

Execution of Syria’s Rocket Scientist Aziz Asbar — Syria, Hezbollah, Lebanon, Iran All Point to Israel

August 7, 2018

Aziz Asbar was one of Syria’s most important rocket scientists, bent on amassing an arsenal of precision-guided missiles that could be launched with pinpoint accuracy against Israeli cities hundreds of miles away.

He had free access to the highest levels of the Syrian and Iranian governments, and his own security detail. He led a top-secret weapons-development unit called Sector 4 and was hard at work building an underground weapons factory to replace one destroyed by Israel last year.

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Aziz Asbar

On Saturday, he was killed by a car bomb — apparently planted by Mossad, the Israeli spy agency.

It was at least the fourth assassination mission by Israel in three years against an enemy weapons engineer on foreign soil, a senior official from a Middle Eastern intelligence agency confirmed on Monday. The following account is based on information provided by the official, whose agency was informed about the operation. He spoke only on the condition of anonymity to discuss a highly classified operation.

The attack took place on Saturday night in Masyaf, where Syria’s military research organization maintains one of its most important weapons-development facilities. It quickly prompted finger pointing at Israel by both Syria and Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Islamic militant group whose fighters have played a major role in the Syrian civil war on the side of President Bashar al-Assad.

By David M. Halbfinger and Ronen Bergman
The New York Times

The wreckage of a building described by the Syrian Information Ministry in an April press tour as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Center compound. Credit Louai Beshara/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In this case, the accusations were well founded: The Mossad had been tracking Mr. Asbar for a long time, according to the Middle Eastern intelligence official.

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Qassim Suleimani

The Israelis believed that Mr. Asbar led the secret unit known as Sector 4 at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center. He was said to have free access to the presidential palace in Damascus and had been collaborating with Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, and other Iranians to begin production of precision-guided missiles in Syria by retrofitting heavy Syrian SM600 Tishreen rockets.

A shot from a video purporting to show a Tishreen missile being test fired. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Mr. Asbar was also working on a solid-fuel plant for missiles and rockets, a safer alternative to liquid fuel.

An official from Syria and Iran’s alliance, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to Western journalists, said he believed Israel had wanted to kill Mr. Asbar because of the prominent role he played in Syria’s missile program even before the current conflict broke out in 2011.

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Iran backed Houthi rebels in Yemen fire an Iranian ballistic missile into Saudi Arabia

Under Israeli law, the prime minister alone is authorized to approve an assassination operation, euphemistically known as “negative treatment” within the Mossad. Spokesmen for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

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Iran militia in Syria

Mr. Lieberman, however, earlier in the day dismissed suggestions in the Syrian and Lebanese news media that Israel was behind the blast, which also killed Mr. Asbar’s driver.

“Every day in the Middle East there are hundreds of explosions and settling of scores,” he told Israel’s Channel 2 News. “Every time, they try to place the blame on us. So we won’t take this too seriously.”

As one of the directors of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, Mr. Asbar had for years been active in the Assad regime’s chemical-weapons production program, working mainly in Al Safir, outside of Aleppo, and in the city of Masyaf, west of Hama, farther to the south. He was also involved in coordinating Iranian and Hezbollah activities in Syria, according to the intelligence official.

Read the rest:



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Syrian children being treated for exposure to chemical weapons

See also:

Top spy official says Mossad behind killing of Syrian rocket chief

The official quoted in The New York Times Tuesday said that Israel had been tracking Azbar for years, and had wanted to assassinate him over his prominent role in Syria’s weapons program even before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. He said it was the fourth time in three years the Mossad has assassinated an enemy weapons engineer in a foreign country.

Israel has been blamed for the killing of several scientists in recent years, including two Hamas engineers in the last 18 months.

A Hamas rocket scientist was shot dead by gunmen in Malaysia in April and a drone engineer was killed in Tunisia in December 2016. Hamas blamed the Mossad for both deaths.

Inspector General of Royal Malaysian Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun, right, shows two images of suspects in the killing of a Hamas man during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Monday, April 23, 2018. (AP)

Israel does not usually comment on reports of its alleged military operations in Syria but has repeatedly warned it would work to keep advanced weapons out of Hezbollah terrorists’ hands and has vowed to stop Iran establishing a military presence in the country.

On Tuesday, Gilad Erdan who heads the Public Security and Strategic Affairs ministries declined to comment on Israel’s involvement in Azbar’s killing, but said it was “a good thing” that he was dead.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, on July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“We obviously do not comment on these kinds of reports — neither confirming nor denying them — but we can talk about the man himself, who was responsible for putting high quality weapons in the hands of some bad people, and so we can say that the fact he is no longer with us is a good thing,” he told Israel Radio when asked about the New York Times report.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Sunday sought to downplay the possibility of Israeli involvement.

“Every day in the Middle East there are hundreds of explosions and settling of scores. Every time they try to place the blame on us. So we won’t take this too seriously,” he told Hadashot News.

An insurgent group calling itself the Abu Amara Brigades claimed responsibility for the operation. The group has previously claimed attacks targeting officials and militia commanders inside government territory.

In April 2017, the Trump administration placed sanctions on hundreds of CERS employees following a chemical attack on the Syrian rebel-held city of Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of civilians, including children.

Another CERS facility near Damascus was bombed by US, British and French forces in April after another chemical attack.

The Syrian regime has been accused of dozens of gas attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians during the war, even after it said it was giving up its stockpile.