Home Blog Page 2

Israeli jets strike outside Damascus – Syrian media

Syrian media reported that Israeli aircraft targeted a Syrian Army convoy bearing weapons for the Hezbollah terrorist group early Wednesday morning.

The strike was said to have occurred northeast of Damascus, in the Qalamoun Mountains, along the Lebanese border.

No injuries were reported.

The pro-government al-Masdar news service quoted a Syrian Army source as saying that the Israeli aircraft flew first through Lebanon and then into Syria.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson refused to comment on the strike.

Israel has said in the past that it will conduct airstrikes in Syria and Lebanon in order to prevent Hezbollah from getting its hands on “advanced weaponry.”

Earlier this week, it was reported that Hezbollah had obtained advanced Russian Yakhont anti-ship missiles.

In December, Syria blamed Israel for a missile strike on the Mezzeh Military Airport, located in a suburb of Damascus, which was apparently being used as a weapons depot.

A general view shows flames and smoke at the Mezzeh military airport on the southwestern outskirts of the capital Damascus following an explosion early on January 13, 2017. (AFP)

A general view shows flames and smoke at the Mezzeh military airport on the southwestern outskirts of the capital Damascus following an explosion early on January 13, 2017. (AFP)

In recent days, Hezbollah and Lebanon have ratcheted up their rhetoric against Israel.

Last week, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened the Jewish state, warning that his group’s missiles could reach Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona.

He doubled down on those comments on Tuesday, saying there would be “no red lines” in a future conflict with Israel.

“In the face of Israel’s threats to destroy Lebanon’s infrastructure, we will not abide by red lines, especially regarding Haifa’s ammonia and the nuclear reactor in Dimona. Hezbollah possesses the full courage for this,” he said, according to an English translation of his comments reported by the Naharnet website.

And Saturday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun — an ally of Hezbollah — warned that his country would meet any perceived threats by Israel with an “appropriate response,” after the Israeli ambassador to the UN complained about his statements regarding Hezbollah.

“Any attempt to hurt Lebanese sovereignty or expose the Lebanese to danger will find the appropriate response,” Aoun said in an official statement, according to Reuters.

Initial report: Israel Air Force strikes Damascus overnight

Reports claimed on Wednesday morning that the IDF struck targets in the Syrian capital overnight at least twice.

According to Lebanese media, the targets that were hit are affiliated with the Assad regime and are on the outskirts of the capital.

Be the first to know – Join our Facebook page.

The report also claimed that the IDF struck from within Lebanon so as not to be blocked by the Russian defense systems operating in the area.

Syrian media reports suggest that the attack was aimed at Hezbollah weapons. Syrian witnesses have attested to hearing “loud explosion sounds” in the early morning hours.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit declined to comment on the reports.

The alleged attack comes after a week during which Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah made several aggressive statements in an appearance on Iranian television as well as in interviews with the Lebanese media.

The terror organization’s leader threatened to attack Israel in the near future, saying that “Hezbollah will have no red lines in the next war with Israel,” and also warned Israel from entering into a conflict with Hezbollah: “Israel should think a million times before it goes to war with Lebanon.”

Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin

Jewish governor of Missouri, Muslim activists pitching in to repair vandalized Jewish cemetery

The Jewish governor of Missouri, Eric Greitens, said he will volunteer to help repair a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery where at least 170 gravestones were toppled over the weekend.

Meanwhile, two Muslim activists have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $20,000 for repairs. The launchgood drive started by Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi had brought in $17,750 as of Tuesday afternoon.

Be the first to know – Join our Facebook page.

They said any remaining funds after the cemetery is restored will go to fixes for other vandalized Jewish centers.

“Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America,” the activists wrote. “We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event”

The Missouri governor in a news release Tuesday cited the concept of “tikkun olam,” or repair of the world, and asked helpers to bring rakes, garbage bags, wash rags and more cleaning supplies.

“My team and I will be there tomorrow, and I’d invite you to join us,” he said.

The governor had previously condemned the vandalism on the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in University City and called on people to “fight acts of intolerance and hate.”

“Disgusted to hear about the senseless act of desecration at the cemetery in University City. We must fight acts of intolerance and hate,” Greitens wrote in a tweet Monday evening after the vandalism was discovered.

The attack on the cemetery took place sometime between Friday night and Monday morning, when the damage was discovered.

Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery Executive Director Anita Feigenbaum told The New York Times that between 170 and 200 headstones were toppled, with some being broken and damaged.

The headstones are in the cemetery’s oldest section, dating from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, she told the Times.

“I just am quite shocked — it affects so many people, so many families, so many generations,” Feigenbaum told the newspaper. “This cemetery was opened in 1893.”

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Lt. Fredrick Lemons of the University City Police Department declined to classify the vandalism as a hate crime.

“Right now, everything is under investigation,” Lemons said. “We’re looking into all possible leads.” The police are reviewing cemetery surveillance cameras, according to the report.

Greitens, a former Navy SEAL whose military awards include the Bronze Star, was elected the first Jewish governor of Missouri in November.

In a post on Facebook he called the vandalism a “despicable act of what appears to be antisemitic vandalism.”

“We do not yet know who is responsible, but we do know this: this vandalism was a cowardly act. And we also know that, together, we can meet cowardice with courage,” he wrote. “Anyone who would seek to divide us through an act of desecration will find instead that they unite us in shared determination. From their pitiful act of ugliness, we can emerge even more powerful in our faith.”

Immediately following the announcement of the vandalism, the Chesed Shel Emeth Society, which owns the cemetery, posted a message on Facebook informing families with relatives buried there that it is “assessing the locations and damage and will post names that are affected as soon as we are able. Many monuments are facing down and we won’t be able to read the names and see if there is any damage until we lift the stones.”

In an update Tuesday afternoon, the society said a local monument company had begun to replace the monuments on their bases. It said it would try to have a comprehensive list of the toppled monuments posted by Wednesday.

A local church, the All Nations Church, launched an appeal to help repair the damage caused by the vandals. The church said on its website that it would match up to $500 in donations to the cemetery.

“Destruction of Jewish headstones is a painful act of anti-Semitism,” said Nancy Lisker, director of the American Jewish Congress in St. Louis. “We feel the pain of the families whose grave sites of loved ones were desecrated and look to the authorities to apprehend and bring to justice those responsible for this heinous act.”

Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin

Comment: Justice done

The trial that tore apart the country is over… except for a possible appeal and the specter of a pardon spurred by agenda-driven politicians. Eighteen months in prison, another year of probation and a demotion in rank was the sentence for Sgt. Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier who shot and killed a wounded and neutralized Palestinian terrorist in Hebron last year.

And it seems like the extremes of Israeli society are not very happy with the sentence – not those that think the 19-year-old is a cold-blooded killer and deserves a hefty sentence, and not those think who think he is “our son,” an IDF hero who should be praised for his actions.

Be the first to know – Join our Facebook page.

As is often the case, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, and no amount of reasoning and persuasion will change the points of views of the Left and the Right on the matter.

That’s why we have judges, and in this case, they rose to the occasion with a painstaking and nuanced explanation that took into account the myriad factors of the case and the implications of the sentence.

Presiding Judge Col. Maya Heller said the court found that Azaria’s actions had harmed the values of Israeli society and violated the “purity of arms” of the IDF’s ethical code.

There has been much discussion over the past year of Azaria and these values, whether the country has drifted away from its core of high moral standards or whether we were “abandoning” one of our own within a murky area in which there’s no absolute right or wrong.

But taken out of the dusty Hebron street and examined objectively, things begin to become clear.

As Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, wrote in these pages last month, the fact that Azaria is indeed “our son” does not excuse his actions.

“Being our child demands love, loyalty, care and compassion. It does not demand that we morally acquiesce and accept everything that our children do. In fact, we are derelict in our duty as parents and family if we do so. Sgt. Azaria is our son, but he is a rebellious son, a son who broke the law and our moral code,” wrote Hartman.

The question of whether this culture of law-breaking is more widespread, and the strong possibility that this incident only came to light because it was filmed, are issues that need to be probed at the deepest level.

But the fact that we undergo this wrenching, soul-searching process when one of our sons strays is a testament to the still-strong moral base at the core of Israeli society.

The Azaria trial didn’t really tear apart the country, it just exposed the already-deep divisions among its citizens.

But it also reconfirmed that the stringent and very vocal histrionics on the Left and Right extremes are no match for the quiet dignity of those people who strive for a justice that is unclouded by ideology.

Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin

Cabinet musical chairs continues after Netanyahu’s latest reshuffle

Since the complicated and at times messy process of finalizing his cabinet after the March 2015 elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has never gone too long without changing his ministerial personnel, constantly making minor adjustments in a continuous reshuffle.

On Monday, the latest period of calm was broken with the government announcement that Netanyahu would resign from his ancillary position of communications minister amid a High Court petition and a criminal investigation into his alleged collusion with major media outlets.

Speaking to reporters on his flight back from a state visit to the United States last week, the prime minster said that Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, himself only appointed to that position in December, would replace him as communications minister for an interim period of three months.

Netanyahu’s resignation letter, however, which stated that the resignation will take place “according to article 22 of The Basic Law: The Government,” means he will not be able to designate a temporary replacement. While he could reappoint himself in the future, his resignation was permanent and a permanent minister must be designated in his place.

But with Hanegbi, who two months ago was a minister without portfolio, now set to take on his second full ministry, the music has started again in Netanyahu’s everlasting game of cabinet musical chairs.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with MK Tzachi Hanegbi during a Likud party meeting in the Knesset on February 8, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with MK Tzachi Hanegbi during a Likud party meeting in the Knesset on February 8, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Minister without portfolio Ayoub Kara said Tuesday that if Hanegbi becomes Minister of Communications he “expects” Netanyahu to take the Ministry of Regional Cooperation from him and give it to Kara.

“It’s not logical that I am being attacked for the prime minister appointing me as a minister without portfolio when he has two ministries,” Kara told The Times of Israel, referring to criticism of the practice of appointing someone to the cabinet without giving them a ministerial portfolio.

From the hospital to the cabinet

“I set up and managed the ministry for regional affairs and even got praise from the government for succeeding in all of its projects,” Kara said.

Kara has been lobbying for a ministerial portfolio since before the formation of the coalition but has been repeatedly disappointed, at times with sensational consequences.

Likud MK and then-Deputy Minister for Regional Affairs Ayoub Kara. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Likud MK and then-Deputy Minister for Regional Affairs Ayoub Kara. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

In May 2015, having threatened to vote against the new coalition if he wasn’t given a post, a dramatic scene played out on the day of the government’s swearing in with Kara rushed from the Knesset to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital after complaining of pains in his chest. While Netanyahu had derided his threats as “toothless,” with a then-slim 61-seat coalition in the 120-member Knesset, he needed Kara on board and in the parliament to vote.

Almost miraculously, Kara arrived at the Knesset just in time and announced he had been appointed deputy minister of regional cooperation with “the status of a full minister.”

In December, when Hanegbi was put in charge of the ministry, Kara renewed his fight to become a full minister, lobbying his Likud colleagues to put pressure on the prime minister to promote him, according to coalition sources. While the campaign apparently worked, with Kara being made minister without portfolio last month — Israel’s second ever Druze cabinet member — he now has his eye on running the ministry he just left.

“I expect and am relying on the prime minister to appoint me,” he added Tuesday.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office told The Times of Israel, however, that there are no plans for any further cabinet changes.

Kara has caused controversy in the past. In November he posted to his Facebook page details of a security-related incident involving the Jewish state, all details of which are still under a gag order. The post was quickly taken down, but not before journalists and others saw the information.

MK Ayoub Kara (center) and his family arrive at the opening of the 18th Knesset, Jerusalem, February 24 2009. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

MK Ayoub Kara (center) and his family arrive at the opening of the 18th Knesset, Jerusalem, February 24 2009. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A month earlier Kara drew condemnation from the Foreign Ministry when, during a visit to Italy, he suggested that powerful earthquakes in that country were divine retribution for anti-Israel actions in the United Nations.

Kara’s statement, made days before a state visit by Italian President Sergio Mattarella to Israel, provoked outrage in Italy. He later apologized for the comments and was summoned for a talking to by Netanyahu.

His latest comments, while far from causing a diplomatic crisis, are also likely to irk the prime minister as they threaten to further destabilize the fragile peace in his sometimes chaotic coalition.

Balancing egos

In the 21 months since Israel’s 34th government was sworn in, Netanyahu has made no less than 18 changes to the make up of his cabinet and dozens of other adjustments to the specific roles of various ministers.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan attends a press conference in Tel Aviv, January 26, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan attends a press conference in Tel Aviv, January 26, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The first changes came just over a week after the swearing in ceremony, with Likud heavyweight Gilad Erdan agreeing to join the cabinet following a dispute over which role he would receive. In the end, he was given charge of the Public Security and Strategic Affairs Ministries, pushing aside Likud colleagues Yariv Levin and Ze’ev Elkin who had to settle for other postings. Erdan’s addition also meant that veteran lawmaker Benny Begin had to resign from the cabinet after just 17 days due to coalition agreements on the number of ministers per party.

But Elkin, who was only left with the immigration and absorption portfolio, was not happy and weeks later was assigned the additional position of Jerusalem Affairs Minister, despite Netanyahu having promised Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to not entrust the office to a cabinet member other than himself.

A year later, Elkin lost the Immigration and Absorption Ministry to Yisrael Beytenu MK Sofa Landver in a coalition-building maneuver that saw Avigdor Liberman replacing Likud’s Moshe Ya’alon as defense minister and bringing his Yisrael Beytenu party into the government. Ya’alon resigned from politics in protest, even though he was said to have been offered the Foreign Ministry, which was and still is held by Netanyahu.

In June this year, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who leads the Kulanu party, took on the economy portfolio, allowing Elkin to receive the Environmental Protection Ministry which had been held by Kulanu’s now-resigned (and running for Labor Party leader) Avi Gabbay.

The Economy Ministry had been held by Netanyahu since Shas leader Aryeh Deri resigned from the position in November 2015. Deri later took up the Interior Ministry in January 2016 after Likud veteran Silvan Shalom resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct. Kahlon had been holding the Environmental Protection Ministry since May 2015, when Gabbay resigned in protest over the appointment of Liberman as defense minister.

Newly appointed Minister of Internal Security, Gilad Erdan (R) speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Minister of Immigrant Absorption Ze'ev Elkin at the Knesset assembly hall, May 25, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Newly appointed Minister of Internal Security, Gilad Erdan (R) speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Minister of Immigrant Absorption Ze’ev Elkin at the Knesset assembly hall, May 25, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last month, at the same time that Hanegbi was appointed regional affairs minister, MK Eli Cohen of Kulanu was put in charge of the Economy Ministry, taking over the post from Kahlon.

Perhaps the simplest of all personnel changes was when Science Minister Danny Danon resigned to become Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and was replaced by fellow Likud member and then-minister without portfolio Ofir Akunis.

Throughout the life of the coalition, Netanyahu has faced pressure to give up some of his own portfolios, which at various points included the ministries of economy, health, regional cooperation, communications and foreign affairs, in addition to the premiership.

In 2015 the High Court of Justice ruled 4-1 that the prime minister could continue holding all four portfolios, but justices said that it was hard to believe that Netanyahu could properly manage so many ministries and that the situation was not appropriate in a democracy.

Soon afterwards, Netanyahu gave the health portfolio to Yaakov Litzman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party after that party’s rabbinic leadership, for the first time, gave its approval to one of its members officially sitting at the cabinet table of the Israeli government.

Benjamin Netanyahu, center, at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 19, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi/POOL)

Benjamin Netanyahu, center, at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 19, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi/POOL)

With Monday’s announcement that he is giving up the Communications Ministry, Netanyahu is now just prime and foreign minister, two positions he is determined not to cede.

Each time someone is given a new title or some powers are transferred from one minister to another, the careful balance of power between the different personalities and parties in the coalition is disturbed. With every promotion, a new compromise must be reached with some other power broker in order to keep everyone happy.

And that is what may happen with Kara — some form of compromise position allowing him to claim victory without forcing yet another re-calibration of the careful balance of ministerial egos. At least, until the music starts again.

Sa’ar: No concessions for regional effort

Israel should not be forced to pay a diplomatic price for security cooperation with moderate Sunni states in the region, former minister Gideon Sa’ar said Tuesday at an international conference on Strategic Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean,organized by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and B’nai B’rith International, at Bar-Ilan University.

The statement was seen as critical of those who have called for a regional approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid.

Be the first to know – Join our Facebook page.

“The joint strategic goal of Israel and moderate Arab regimes must be to build a joint security effort that would create a wide regional front against Iran and Islamic terrorism,” Sa’ar said. “This front will cooperate with Western forces under the leadership of the United States. It would be a strategic change in direction that would answer the needs of the times and bring about strategic cooperation between Israel, moderate Arab states, the United States and Europe.”

Sa’ar said the effort would be based on overlapping interests on the security level and that the Arab regimes depend on such cooperation no less than Israel does.

Therefore, he said there was no reason for Israel to have to give up anything on the diplomatic front to persuade them to take part in the effort.

“Not only will adding a diplomatic political component not strengthen the security structure, in some ways it could harm it,” Sa’ar said “One way or another, Israel does not have to pay a price for this cooperation with fundamental concessions that harm our essential interests on the Israeli- Palestinian front. A diplomatic aspect can only exist if moderate Arab countries are interested in cooperating, in solving the conflict and not in placing the responsibility for solving it and putting all the pressure on Israel.”

He added that the establishment of a Palestinian state that would be “another non-functioning Islamist state, near Bar-Ilan and Tel Aviv,” would be a bad idea, whether it happened in a regional process or in direct talks.

Sa’ar went head to head at the event with the new Turkish ambassador to Israel, Kemal Okem. “Turkey is no longer a stabilizing force in the region,’’ he said. “It is not, today, a democracy.”

Sa’ar said there is a need to strengthen minorities in the Middle East, like the Kurds, in order to contain radical Islam in the region.

“Even if Mr. Erdogan won’t like this, I think it is important to support the Kurds,” he said.

A Panels Research poll broadcast Tuesday on the Knesset Channel found that Sa’ar was one of the top choices of the general public and right-wingers to replace Netanyahu if he is forced to step down due to criminal investigations.

Among self-proclaimed right-wingers, Sa’ar would tie with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett with 21%, defeating the five other candidates: Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi.

Among the general public, Sa’ar would win with 29%, much more than six other candidates.

Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin