Netanyahu: 'Israel Struck Iranian Targets in Syria'

On a visit to Israel’s northern border Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that reports of an Israeli strike on Iranian targets in Syria Saturday evening were accurate. "Israel attacked an Iranian armory at the Damascus International Airport, that reflects our determination to stop Iran's military buildup in Syria, and we will strike harder in Syria if needed," he said. "The IDF also uncovered a sixth Hezbollah terror tunnel, which has so far been the biggest. This brings Operation Northern Shield to its successful end, we will continue to monitor Hezbollah's and Iran's activity."

"Everyone understands how this war would have looked like if Hezbollah fighters managed to infiltrate into the Galilee regions while facing Iranian forces in the Golan Heights," he continued. "We prevented this. And we will continue to prevent it. I think everyone understands that a serious threat has been removed. Hezbollah's operational plan was to use the tunnel weapons, to infiltrate between 1,000 and 2,000 terrorists into the Galilee, and occupy land."

Elsewhere, outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Lt. General Gadi Eizenkot was quoted in the New York Times on Sunday as saying that Israel has “dropped over 2,000 bombs” on Iranian targets in Syria over recent years in an ongoing effort to prevent the Islamic Republic from building up a force which could present Israel with an existential threat on its northern border.

“Operation Northern Shield deprived Hezbollah of the unique offensive abilities it had built for years as part of its planned attack on Israeli territory,” the IDF said in a statement, adding that “the operation reflected advanced operational and intelligence technological capabilities and multi-stage detection of underground areas that have developed even more over the past few weeks…troops and the tunnel-finding laboratory will continue serving permanently along the Lebanese border. The IDF is determined to protect the citizens of Israel and will continue to operate in the area and to monitor possible underground activity.”

Likud and Labor Hold Pre-Election Conventions

The Likud and Labor parties, historic rivals in Israel’s political scene, held their pre-election conventions on Thursday in Tel Aviv and Eilat, respectively. While the Likud event was festive and included few events dedicated to official business, the Labor convention was rocked by rebellious heckling and  speeches by MK’s unhappy with the leadership of chairman Avi Gabbay. MK Eitan Cabel, who recently told a radio interviewer that Gabbay would have been fired long ago if he was running a private company the way he’s running the Labor faction, gave an angry speech in which he said, among other things, that “We can’t sacrifice the party for one man,” adding: “We can’t be silent when you are killing the only chance for the wonderful people sitting here – who got 24 seats last time – to continue their work.”

PA Demands UN Renew ‘Zionism is Racism’ Resolution
The Palestinian Authority announced on Thursday that it is calling on the UN to renew a resolution declaring that “Zionism is racism” because of a road being built connecting Jerusalem to the suburb of Ma’aleh Adumim and running through an area the PA wants for a future state. “To all those who are defending the state of occupation, it’s time to drop the claim that its the only democracy in the Middle East now that it has opened the apartheid road, which separates Israeli and Palestinian drivers,” PLO Executive Committee member Ahmed Majdalani said.

US Withdrawal from Syria Scrutinized by Lawmakers
Senior US military officials testified on Capitol Hill Thursday regarding plans to implement President Donald Trump’s order for US forces to be withdrawn from Syria. Senate Armed Services Committee  chairman Jim Inhofe, (R-Okla.) told reporters he had asked the Administration to ensure allies including Israel and U.S.-backed Kurdish factions “are well taken care of on this — and I believe they will be.”

Elsewhere, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke in Cairo on Thursday, saying among other things that "It's time for old rivalries [in the Middle East] to end, for the sake of the greater good of the region…(the US) will use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot" from Syria and will bolster efforts "to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people."

Eilat Listed as Must-Visit Tourist Destination
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered another dramatic defeat on Thursday when the The New York Times published a list of “must-visit” tourist destinations including the Red Sea resort city of Eilat. The article specifically mentioned the newly opened Ramon International Airport in Timna Valley, just 20 minutes north of Eilat, which allows visitors to come to the city directly from major European airports.

Israel Wins Some and Loses Some Military Export Deals
Israel’s Elbit Systems announced a multi-million dollar sale of state-of-the-art SkyStryker attack drones to the armed forces of Azerbaijan on Thursday, just a day after another Israeli defence manufacturer, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, said it had landed a large order from the US Army and Marine Corps for its Trophy active protection systems (APS) to be installed on M1 Abrams battle tanks. However, the Defence Ministry was obliged to announce this week that a $500 million deal to sell used Israeli F-16 jets to NATO member Croatia has fallen through due to “unforeseen problems” of an unspecified nature.

“The Ministry of Defense attaches great importance to the deepening of cooperation between Israel and Croatia, and initiated the project of the F-16, which includes Israeli know-how and technology, which was conducted professionally in the framework of the GTG deal between the two countries,” said director-general of the Defense Ministry Udi Adam while on a recent visit to Zagreb. “Croatia has acted professionally and judiciously all along the way. Unfortunately, we have not been able to realize the deal because of problems that could not have been expected and are not under the control of the countries.”

Today’s video gives a brief look at Israel’s strategic challenges

Iranian Leader Calls US Officials ‘First-Class Idiots’

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a fiery speech in Teheran on Wednesday in which he said, among other things, that "Some U.S. officials pretend that they are mad. Of course I don't agree with that, but they are first-class idiots." The speech was followed by a statement Thursday morning by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif that the Islamic Republic would continue its space program, widely assessed to be a cover for the development of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, despite warnings from the US and elsewhere that it violates UN Security Council resolutions.

In related news, social unrest in Iran continues to be a major concern of the regime, as unemployment rates have skyrocketed in recent months, according to Omid Ali Parsai, chairman of the Iranian Statistical Center (ISC), who announced this week that as many as 27% of Iranian youth are jobless, including 40% of university graduates. Unofficial estimates are that the unemployment rate in Iran much higher.

Here is a video about sanctions placed on Iran by the EU

Jewish Minors Released to House Arrest
The Rishon Lezion District Court issued a ruling Thursday morning that four of five Jewish minors being held by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) on suspicion of their involvement in terror attacks against Arabs, including a stoning attack on a car which resulted in the death of Aysha Rabi last October, are to be released to house arrest. The Shin Bet issued a statement saying that there has been a campaign of slander against it in connection with the case.

Israeli Political Season Creating Drama
The Likud Party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began its convention in the Red Sea resort city of Eilat Thursday morning ahead of elections scheduled for 9 April. The party, which currently enjoys a comfortable margin of support in most polls, will be watching as former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz fills out the rolls of his own recently launched political party and another highly popular former IDF COS, Gabi Ashkenazi, continues to be courted by several parties for a Knesset run.

Terrorist Given Reduced Sentence as Part to Pleas Deal
The Jerusalem District Court accepted a plea agreement with lawyers representing 57-year old eastern Jerusalem resident Jameel Tamimi this week which will see him serving an 18 year prison sentence for murdering Hannah Bladon, a 20-year-old British exchange student, by stabbing her as she rode the Jerusalem Light Rail on 14 April, 2017. The sentence was influenced by court-ordered psychological tests which showed Tamimi was mentally unstable.

Arab-Israelis Dissatisfied with Political Representation
A Midgam survey published by Yediot Aharonot on Thursday contained more bad news for the Joint (Arab) List party a day after one of its component factions spllt off and announced it would run independently in upcoming elections. The poll said 46% of Israeli-Arab voters were dissatisfied with the party’s performance in the outgoing Knesset session, while 52% said the party does a poor job of representing the interests of the Israeli-Arab public which voted for them four years ago.

“There is no doubt that these are surprising results which are likely to change the public agenda in Israel's Arab society," Ihab Kadah, manager of Midgam's Arab department, told Yediot Aharonot.

Israel Pounded by Heavy Rains and Freezing Temps

Israelis from Dan in the north to Ber Sheeva in the south were bundling up and staying inside as much as possible Wednesday as the latest winter storm dumped rain, snow, sleet and hail over large swaths of the Holy Land. The Sea of Galilee has seen a noticeable rise and the Golan Heights are covered in a thick coat of snow which will slowly melt in the spring, releasing even more water into the Sea. However, hopes for snow in Jerusalem have so far proven elusive.

Political Manoeuvres Continue Ahead of Elections
The bad news for Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay continued on Tuesday when Henrique Cymerman, a candidate for Labor in the upcoming elections, disclosed to the Jerusalem Post that he had organized several trips for Gabbay to visit Arab countries in the last 18 months, leading to outrage among Labor Party members to whom Gabbay had said he was sick at home during the time he was actually on some of those trips. 

“We received an impression that there is much to be done by reaching out to countries who are interested not just in the Israeli government but also in the opposition,” Cymerman explained. “They want relations not just with the government but also with the Israeli people.”

Elsewhere, MK Ahmad Tibi's Ta'al (Arab Movement for Change) party received approval from the Knesset on Wednesday to withdraw from the Joint (Arab) List faction. The move came a few days after party stalwarts MK Haneen Zoabi, Balad MK Jamal Zahalka and United Arab List MK Masud Gnaim and Dov Henin of Hadash communicated to the media that they would not be running in the upcoming elections.

“Netanyahu is the one who would like to see the Joint List break apart most, and the extreme Right would love to divide and rule the Arabs,” Joint List leader Ayman Odeh tweeted. “I am proud to be a part of a political party that puts their ideologies before personal interests.”

Erdogan Enraged by US Position on Kurds
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted furiously Tuesday to a statement by US National Security Advisor John Bolton that America’s withdrawal from Syria will be conditioned on, among other things, a Turkish guarantee of protection for US-backed Kurdish forces in eastern Syria. Erdogan told Turkish media that “Bolton has made a serious mistake and whoever thinks like this has also made a mistake. It is not possible for us to make compromises on this point.”

Israeli Spy Convicted
Gonen Segev, who previously served as Israel’s energy and infrastructure minister before being convicted of drug smuggling, forgery and fraud and going into self-imposed exile in West Africa, was convicted by the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday morning on charges that he engaged in espionage against Israel on behalf of Iran. The conviction was part of a plea bargain, with the sentencing hearings scheduled for 11 February.

Kraft Receives Genesis Prize
Robert Kraft, owner of the NFL’s New England Patriots and the main sponsor of the Kraft Family Israel Football League, among other interests, was named the 2019 2019 Genesis Prize Laureate by the Genesis Prize Foundation on Wednesday. The so-called “Jewish Nobel Prize” recognizes people for “their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity, and commitment to Jewish values and Israel.”

Today's video gives some analysis of US policy in the Middle East

BDS Campaign Suffers Several Defeats

The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered several devastating setbacks this week, starting with the prestigious Consumer Technology Association (CTA) in America naming the Jewish State as a global “innovation champion” at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Also this week, major Israeli companies announced mega-deals with counterparts in Brazil, the US, UK and other countries as the government announced that 2018 broke all records for Israeli exports.

On Wednesday, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Brazilian company Santos Lab announced the launch of a collaborative effort to develop and deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and advanced analytics for precision agricultural applications.

"This system will allow farmers to take conscious decisions on how to better manage their crops in the most efficient manner, introducing precision agriculture on a large industrial scale throughout Brazilian fields," said Santos Lab CEO Gabriel Klabin. "The use of this technology can positively impact the whole cycle of food production and consumption, even enabling people to eat at a lower cost, and this is just the beginning."

Elsewhere, ADAMA, the world’s leading generic crop protection company, opened its state-of-the-art global research and development center on Tuesday in the southern industrial zone of Ne’ot Hovav. The center will initially employ over 100 scientists and technicians, with plans to rapidly expand.

“This is a unique platform that will enable a strong connection between academic research and industry,” said Dr. Elad Shabtai, ADAMA’s VP Innovation, Development, Research and Regulatory Affairs. “It will attract academics and researchers, professors and students from Israel and around the world, who will produce a range of partnerships that will enable the utilization of scientific knowledge in the company’s advanced products.”

Earlier this week, on Monday, Intel’s Mobileye announced a new partnership with Great Britain’s national mapping agency Ordnance Survey to map and track road conditions in the UK in real time.

“Using maps to improve operations between businesses and cities will help bring us closer to the realization of smart cities and safer roads,” Prof. Amnon Shashua, president and CEO of Mobileye, said.

Finally, the Foreign Trade Administration (FTA) at the Ministry of Economy and Industry published initial forecasts on Tuesday including an estimate that Israel exported over $110 billion worth of goods and services in 2018, around 7% more than in 2017. 

“During a year in which the world trade market was shaken up, I am particularly pleased to see that Israeli exports have continued to grow as they have in recent years and, as reflected in the data, we expect another record year for Israeli exports,” said Ohad Cohen, head of the FTA.

EU Hits Iran with New Sanctions

The EU issued a decision to sanction Iran late Tuesday over the Islamic Republic’s campaign of terror and assassination of anti-regime dissidents in Europe over recent years. “This is an important first step by the #EU, combating Iranian aggression,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry tweeted. “The newly imposed sanctions offer some hope that a growing number of countries are willing to take an active, clear stand against #Iran's global campaign of #terrorism.”
“EU just agreed to enact sanctions against an Iranian Intelligence Service for its assassination plots on European soil. Strong signal from the EU that we will not accept such behavior in Europe,” Denmark’s Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said on Twitter.
Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok tweeted that the “The EU and the Netherlands take strong action against Iranian unlawful interference in Europe. Targeted sanctions and a clear message underline that this behavior is unacceptable and needs to stop immediately.”
“#Iran and Hizballah have terrorized Europe since 1979. By taking action today, European nations sent Iran a clear message that terrorism will not be tolerated. The U.S. strongly supports the new sanctions and stands with our European allies as we counter this common threat,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted.

Here is a video offering some analysis of Pompeo's trip to the Middle East

Hamas Threatens to Attack Israel

The Islamist terror militia Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, sent a message to Israel through Egypt and the UN that it will have no choice but to attack the Jewish State unless Jerusalem convinces the Palestinian Authority to ease up on the pressure it has recently begun to exert. The PA has taken a number of steps in recent days that Hamas considers hostile amidst a growing rhetorical battle between the two Palestinian factions. Elsewhere, reports emerged in Arab media outlets on Monday that UN Special Coordinator of the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov has given Hamas assurances that a tranche of money from Qatar will be delivered to the Gaza Strip in exchange for quiet on the security front, despite statements from Israel that such transfers will no longer be allowed. A rash of terror attacks against Israelis carried out by Hamas-linked operatives has also raised tensions between the group and Israel.

Shin Bet Investigation Into Jewish Minors Continues
The emerging saga surrounding the arrest of several Jewish minors by the Shin Bet on suspicion of their involvement in terror activity against Palestinians in the West Bank, including the stoning of a car which resulted in the death of Aysha Ravi, a mother of nine children, last October, got more complicated Tuesday morning when the suspects were allowed to meet with lawyers for the first time. On Monday when it emerged that a senior national religious Rabbi, Dov Lior, issued a ruling that it is permissible to break Shabbat in order to assist such suspects to resist Shin Bet interrogations.

Report Shows Dire Situation for Israeli Children
Vered Windman, CEO and head of the legal department of the National Council for the Child, gave a public statement Monday following the release of a report showing a dire situation for many of Israel’s children. She lamented the hig finding that nearly 1 in 3 Israeli children lives below the poverty line, despite a booming economy,  as well as high numbers of children being abused or neglected by their parents, as well as alarmingly high rates of sexual abuse of minors in all sectors of Israeli society.

Labor Looking for New Partner Ahead of Elections
Labor leader Avi Gabbay, who recently terminated the partnership his faction had been in with the Hatnua party of MK Tzipi Livni, is reportedly seeking a new partnership with the Meimad party ahead of elections scheduled for 9 April. The party, which was founded 30 years ago and has run together with Labor in the past, was defunct for the last several years but recently re-emerged on the scene and has been courted as a potential partner by several parties, according to officials.

US Government Shutdown Impacting Israel
US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) is leading an effort in the Senate to block movement on legislation to authorize the $3.3 billion in U.S. security assistance included in the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries. The legislation, dubbed the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act” also includes provisions to increase sanctions on the Assad regime in Syria, renew military cooperation with Jordan and increase stockpiles of precision munitions in America’s forward deployed caches in Israel. But Schumer says the legislation, along with other vital bills that are pending in the Senate, should be set aside until the government shutdown has been addressed.

Today’s video gives some commentary on recent events regarding the Palestinians

IDF Hits Hamas in Retaliation for Rocket Strike

IDF units deployed along the border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip were on alert Monday morning following heavy strikes by warplanes and helicopters on Hamas terror infrastructure in retaliation for a rocket strike into Israel from Hamas-controlled territory Sunday evening. The Iron Dome system intercepted the rocket over the city of Ashkelon and the IDF issued a statement saying it “will continue to defend the citizens of the State of Israel and is determined to act against any terrorist act from the Gaza Strip." In related news, reports have emerged that Hamas has taken over control of the Rafah Crossing into Egypt after the Palestinian Authority (PA) relinquished control of it in an announcement last Sunday. Egypt immediately moved to close the crossing pending an investigation of the new arrangement.

Shin Bet Makes Arrests in Murder of Palestinian Woman
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced on Sunday that they’ve arrested several Jewish youths in recent days on suspicion of their involvement in various crimes, including the murder of Palestinian woman Aysha Ravi, who was hit in the head by rocks as she rode in her family’s car near the Tapuah Barrier in the West Bank on 12 October of last year. “Since the arrests, the Shin Bet has identified a continuous and active effort from interested parties to slander the organization and its agents and to delegitimize its activities,” said the Shin Bet.

Heavy Rains and Floods Hammer Israel
The ski resort on Mount Hermon was closed over the weekend as heavy snows and high winds made conditions too dangerous for visitors. Heavy rains and freezing temperatures made life uncomfortable for residents in many other parts of the country as well, as meteorologists predicted harsh winter weather would continue through the week and reports continued of damaged buildings, roads and other infrastructure, along with a handful of injuries and one fatality.

Arens Dead at 93
Israelis were in mourning Monday morning at the passing of Moshe Arens, who served as Israel’s Ambassador to the US as well as Defence Minister during the premierships of Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Benjamin Netanyahu as well as foreign minister under Shamir. He was 93. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was a political protégé of Arens, said he loved him “like a son loves a father.”

“There was no greater patriot than he. The great contribution of Moshe Arens to our nation and our state will forever be remembered,” Netanyahu said.

Today’s video shows another way Israel is blessing the world

Bolton Visits Amidst Regional Tensions

US National Security Adviser John Bolton and several other Trump Administration officials were in Jerusalem over the weekend for high-level meetings covering a range of bi-lateral issues including the ongoing struggle with Iran and tri-lateral relations between the US, Israel and China. Of particular concern to the US, Bolton told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, is the management of the Haifa Port by a Chinese company with strong links to the government in Beijing. The Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) is majority-owned by the Chinese government, but Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz issued a bland statement that "The State of Israel is dealing with all aspects connected to the establishment and management of infrastructure by foreign companies in Israel."

Another issue dealt with by the two officials was the impending US withdrawal from Syria and the implications for Israel, particularly on the Golan Heights.

“The Golan Heights is tremendously important for our security,” Netanyahu said Sunday evening during a joint press appearance with Bolton. “President Trump has said repeatedly that he backs Israel’s right to self-defense. He says it proudly and unequivocally,” Bolton said. “And I would just say to any nation in this region – or not in this region – that has any doubt about America’s support for Israel’s self-defense – it better think about it again.”

In previous comments to the press, he also spoke about another American ally in the region, saying; “We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States – at a minimum so they don’t endanger our troops, but also so that they meet the president’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered.”

Earlier on Sunday, Bolton, who was accompanied on his visit to Jerusalem by US ambassador David Friedman, and Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, visited the Western Wall and other nearby historical sites in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Here is a video of a joint press appearance with Bolton and Netanyahu on Sunday

Here is the video of Bolton's visit to the Western Wall

Internal Disputes Costing Israeli Left Voter Support

Israel’s raucous political debate intensified even further on Thursday morning when longtime Labor party activist and member of the outgoing Knesset Eitan Cabel gave an interview on Army Radio in which he suggested that party chairman Avi Gabbay should quit his position. "In the business world, he would have returned the keys a long time ago," Cabel said. "We can't let the Labor Party perish." Meanwhile, fresh polls showed the Zionist Union faction losing support among likely voters. Elsewhere, reports emerged throughout the day that an internal effort within the rank and file of the Zionist Union to oust Gabbay as Party leader were gaining support.

Iran’s ‘Moderate’ President Meets with PIJ Leader
Reports emerged in the Iranian media this week that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met with the Secretary General of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Ziad al-Nakhala in Tehran on Tuesday, telling his guest among other things that “The Zionist regime, thanks to support from the new rulers of the White House, is seeking to assert control over the entire region; and Palestine is a part of such a complex plot.” al-Nakhala is reported to have dutifully replied that “Iran’s support and principled policies have played a major role in thwarting attempts aimed at stripping the Palestinian nation of their rights.”
Here is a video about internal politics in Iran

Amona Outpost Evacuation Turns Violent
An attempt by the border police to enforce a court-ordered eviction of two structures recently erected on the site of the former West Bank Amona outpost on the outskirts of the Ofra settlement turned into a violent melee Thursday morning, with twenty three officers and many more civilians suffering injuries while at least two people were arrested. The incident was quickly seized on by various political factions who asserted that it proved the superiority of their proposed policies over the existing policies of incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian Factions Engage in War of Words
The Palestinian Islamist terror militia Hamas and the Fatah party which dominates the Palestinian Authority have engaged in a heated exchange of rhetorical threats and insults over recent days, amidst a rash of arrests and detentions by activists from both groups by the other in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many analysts opined that the war of words meant it was unlikely that reconciliation efforts would bear fruit anytime soon.

Today's video gives a report on Hezbollah's connextion with Latin American drug cartels


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