Israel unveils Rafael’s new advanced bunker buster missile, ‘Rocks’

Posted February 20, 2019 by josephwouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Source: Israel unveils Rafael’s new advanced bunker buster missile, ‘Rocks’ – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

The air-to-surface missile can be fired from a significant standoff range, reducing exposure of the aircraft.

 FEBRUARY 20, 2019 14:14
The "Rocks" system deployed on an F-16 fighter jet

With tensions still high between Israel and Iran a new air-to-surface long-range missile designed for to destroy targets deep underground in heavily defended areas has been developed by Israeli defense giant Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

Dubbed “Rocks,” the innovative missile is being presented this week for the first time at the Aero India Air Show in Bangalore, India.

Earlier in February, a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander threatened to “raze Tel Aviv and Hafia to the ground” if the United States attacked the Islamic Republic.
According to a statement released by Rafael, the new missile is equipped with a penetration or blast fragmentation warhead that is capable of destroying targets above the surface or deep underground in heavily surface-to-air defended areas.
It can be used against quality targets, whether stationary or mobile, and even in areas where the enemy uses countermeasures against GPS systems.
“‘Rocks’ uses its INS/GPS for mid-course navigation while homing on to the target is performed by using its EO seeker and advanced image processing algorithms, which ensures hitting targets with great precision, overcoming GPS jamming or denial,” read the statement.
“Rocks” will be launched from a significant standoff range, far beyond the usual coverage areas of enemy air defense systems. It performs a high velocity trajectory toward the target, reducing the exposure of the aircraft as well as improving the chances of successfully hitting targets.
“‘Rocks’ provides a cutting edge and cost-effective solution that combines several combat-proven technologies inherited from our latest generation SPICE system. “Rocks” effectively answers a growing demand for long range, GPS-independent Air-to-Ground precision strike capability,” said Yuval Miller, Executive Vice-President and General Manager of Rafael’s Air & C4ISR Systems Division.
“Aero India is an excellent opportunity to present this new system, and we can proudly say that today Rafael is well-situated in India with a broad industrial base, joint-ventures, indigenous companies and a substantial supply-chain,” Miller added.
Also on Wednesday, Rafael businessman Avihai Stolero announced that the company had finalized a merger agreement to acquire Yavne-based unmanned aerial systems (UAV) manufacturer, Aeronautics in a deal worth some NIS 850 million ($235m.).
Under the terms of the acquisition, the companies will seek to retain the employees of Aeronautics, who will receive a total of NIS 8.5 million ($2.35m.) as part of the deal.
Aeronautics will then become a full subsidiary of a new company jointly owned by Rafael and Stolero, and will be de-listed from the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

Eytan Halon contributed to this report.


Abbas rejects all tax revenues from Israel over terror payment deduction

Posted February 20, 2019 by josephwouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Source: Abbas rejects all tax revenues from Israel over terror payment deduction | The Times of Israel

Dramatic move means PA is giving up $222 million every month, up to a third of its budget, putting it in danger of collapse

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with Palestinian leaders at the Muqata, the Palestinian Authority headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on February 20, 2019 (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with Palestinian leaders at the Muqata, the Palestinian Authority headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on February 20, 2019 (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected all tax revenue payments transferred to the PA by Israel, in response to Jerusalem withholding over $138 million of the amount over Ramallah’s payouts to Palestinian attackers and their families.

The dramatic move means the PA is rejecting a large portion of its monthly income, which could lead to its financial collapse. Palestinian officials said Israel currently collects and transfers NIS 803,282,580 ($222 million) to the PA every month, Reuters reported.

Israel’s security cabinet on Sunday approved withholding NIS 502,697,000 ($138 million) from a year’s worth of taxes that Israel is slated to collect on the PA’s behalf.

The security cabinet’s decision was an effort to start implementing a new law that permits Israel to withhold tax money due Ramallah over payments it makes to security prisoners held by Israel and the families of slain attackers, including terrorists.

“We refuse to receive all of the tax funds. We don’t want them. Leave them over with them,” Abbas told a delegation of US Congress members and the dovish Jewish organization J Street at the PA presidential headquarters in Ramallah on Tuesday.

“I tell you honestly that if we only had 20 or 30 million shekels, which is what is paid [monthly] to families of martyrs, we will give them to the families of martyrs. I mean if the [Palestinian] Authority doesn’t have anything other than that [amount], I will pay it to the families of martyrs and prisoners and wounded persons. This needs to be understood,” he said, according to recordings of comments aired Wednesday on Voice of Palestine, the official PA radio station.

Palestinians hold portraits of relatives jailed in Israeli prisons as they protest to demand for their release during a demonstration to mark the Prisoners’ Day in the northern West Bank city of Nablus on April 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)

“In addition, I will turn to all international institutions to complain. Perhaps the world will hear me,” Abbas added.

A high-ranking Palestinian official insisted on Tuesday that the Palestinians cannot stop its payments to security prisoners or the families of slain attackers, calling such a move “political suicide.”

“These payments are one of the most sensitive issues in Palestinian society,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel. “If the PA were to get rid of them, it would be committing political suicide, especially considering the difficult political situation.”

Palestinian officials have condemned Israel for moving to withhold the half billion shekels, arguing it amounts to “piracy” of Palestinian funds.

Israeli officials have defended the security cabinet’s decision, arguing that the PA’s payments incentivize violence and terrorism.

Avi Dichter, the chair of the Knesset Defense Committee, has said Israel will spread out the withholding of the tax money over 12 months.

If Israel continues to collect a sum of taxes equivalent to that provided in the Reuters report, it will withhold approximately five percent of what it now transfers to the PA on a monthly basis.

Abbas’s rejection of all tax revenues could mean a PA forfeiture of hundreds of millions of shekels each month – several billion a year, and perhaps as much as a third of the PA’s total budget, as Times of Israel analyst Avi Issacharoff pointed out this week.

“It could mean, in other words, the de facto collapse of the PA,” he wrote. “When the PA threatened to do so in the past, Israel caved each time, fearing a spike in violence that could ensue after the PA’s disappearance. But Israel is now in the middle of an election, in which a right-wing incumbent government could find itself politically unable to appear to cave to the Palestinian threat.”

Polls have found that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians oppose the PA suspending its payments to security prisoners, including terrorists who have killed Israeli civilians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, February 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Pool)

A survey published in July 2017 by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 91 percent of Palestinians were against halting the payments.

Israeli security officials have long supported strengthening the PA and have argued that initiatives to weaken it could destabilize the situation in the West Bank and hinder the ability of PA security forces to fight terrorism.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.


US voices unease over Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon cabinet

Posted February 20, 2019 by josephwouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Source: US voices unease over Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon cabinet – Israel Hayom

Hezbollah continues to violate Lebanon’s policy of noninvolvement in regional conflicts by fighting in “at least three countries” and continues to make its own “national security decisions,” U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Richard tells Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri.

Associated Press and Israel Hayom Staff // published on 20/02/2019
A Hezbollah march in Lebanon 

The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon expressed concerns Tuesday over Hezbollah’s growing role in the country’s new cabinet, saying it does not contribute to stability.

Iran-backed Hezbollah, which also takes part in elections, has named a health minister and two other posts in Lebanon’s cabinet. U.S. officials have called on Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s new government to ensure the terrorist group does not receive support from public resources.

At a meeting with Hariri on Tuesday, Ambassador Elizabeth Richard said Hezbollah continues to violate Lebanon’s policy of noninvolvement in regional conflicts by fighting in “at least three countries.” She was apparently referring to Syria, where the group fights alongside the Bashar Assad regime, Iraq and Yemen, where Iran supports local armed groups.

“I was also very frank with the prime minister about U.S. concern over the growing role in the cabinet of an organization that continues to maintain a militia that is not under the control of the government,” Richard told reporters after the meeting.

She added that Hezbollah continues to make its own “national security decisions” that “endanger the rest of the country.”

The U.S. views Hezbollah as a terrorist group, but is a strong supporter of Lebanon’s national army, supplying it with arms worth hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years. Last week, the American Embassy said the U.S. had delivered laser-guided rockets valued at more than $16 million to the Lebanese army.

Richard said last year alone, the United States provided more than $825 million in assistance, an increase from the year before. She said the U.S. has also supported education and development programs to help Lebanese communities “deal with the unprecedented demands placed on them when their Syrian neighbors fled.”

Lebanon is home to about a million Syrian refugees – a quarter of the tiny Mediterranean country’s population – putting pressure on its crumbling infrastructure.

Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Gharib briefed President Michel Aoun and Hariri on Tuesday about his visit to Syria the previous day, telling reporters that Syrian officials “were very positive and showed interest in facilitating” refugees’ return.


A window of opportunity in Egypt 

Posted February 20, 2019 by josephwouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Source: A window of opportunity in Egypt – Israel Hayom

Itzhak Levanon

After eight years, the Foreign Ministry’s director general decided to keep Israeli embassy staff in Egypt over the weekend instead of returning them home. This was a welcome decision; the staff’s permanent presence in Cairo allows it to develop and maintain continuous diplomatic work, as expected of any embassy.

The attack on the embassy by an enraged mob in late 2011 and the staff’s consequent hasty withdrawal left Israel without a building for its embassy, with a very minimal team in place, and diplomats who return home to Israel every weekend. As a result, Israel’s diplomatic mission in Egypt has taken a hit. This unacceptable reality has persisted, as stated, for eight years. And although the Foreign Ministry’s decision is a step in the right direction, the embassy will still only function on a semi-normal basis.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, an authority on Egyptian affairs, says it isn’t viable to lean the countries’ relations on one leg (security-intelligence); and that two legs are needed to ensure stability. The current Egyptian regime, headed by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, doesn’t hide its good relations with Israel and is fostering a positive atmosphere. This provides a window of opportunity to implement full-fledged, proper diplomatic relations. The Egyptian parliament’s decision to extend el-Sissi’s term in office for many more years opens the window even further, allowing the country’s time to stabilize their relationship on more than just the one leg.

To restore diplomatic relations to pre-2011 normalcy, Israel must quickly find a new building for its embassy and staff, including a consular services department working to encourage mutual tourism and promote Israeli interests in Egypt – precisely as the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv operates. The staff has to be the same size as before, to pursue and strengthen the countries’ diplomatic ties. In the stormy Middle East, close relations between Israel and Egypt are vitally important.

The Foreign Ministry, to be sure, always has to contend with complex challenges across the globe, but Israel’s relations with Egypt need to be prioritized. We must not miss this window of opportunity or squander the current regional climate to re-establish the Israeli presence in Cairo, as it was before 2011. The Israeli-Egypt peace accord includes agreement on fully operational embassies. With el-Sissi firmly in power for a long time to come, we must move forward with determination to bring this to fruition.

Itzhak Levanon is the former Israeli ambassador to Egypt.

Russia and its regional aspirations- Jerusalem Studio 398 

Posted February 19, 2019 by josephwouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Off Topic:  With sights set on the moon, Israel to launch privately funded spacecraft Friday

Posted February 19, 2019 by josephwouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Source: With sights set on the moon, Israel to launch privately funded spacecraft Friday | The Times of Israel

Beresheet set to touch down in the Sea of Tranquility on April 11; $100 million project, paid for mostly by Jewish donors, would make Israel 4th country to land a craft on the moon

Yariv Bash, right, Yonatan Winetraub, middle, and Kfir Damari, the founders of SpaceIL, inserting a time capsule into the Beresheet spacecraft, December 17, 2018 (Yoav Weiss)

Yariv Bash, right, Yonatan Winetraub, middle, and Kfir Damari, the founders of SpaceIL, inserting a time capsule into the Beresheet spacecraft, December 17, 2018 (Yoav Weiss)

Israel hopes to become the fourth country in the world to land a spacecraft on the moon, with the launch of the unmanned spacecraft Beresheet from Florida’s Cape Canaveral this Friday. If successful, the 160-kilogram (350 pounds without fuel), four-legged spacecraft will also be the smallest and cheapest spacecraft to land on the moon.

The $100 million (NIS 370 million) spacecraft is a joint venture between private companies SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, funded almost entirely from private donations from well-known Jewish philanthropists including South African billionaire Morris Kahn, Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, Lynn Schusterman, and others.

Previously, Russia (as the Soviet Union) and the United States have landed on the moon. China landed an unmanned spacecraft on the far side of the moon in 2013.

Beresheet will lift off from Cape Canaveral at approximately 3:45 a.m. IST on Friday (8:45 p.m. Thursday EST), catching a ride on one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX commercial space launches.

Once airborne, the spacecraft will detach from Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket after about half an hour and begin its seven-week journey to the moon. Beresheet will circle Earth six or seven times in a series of growing ellipses before jumping into the moon’s orbit on April 4.

Beresheet will land on the moon in between the detritus left from the Apollo 12 and 15 missions in the Sea of Tranquility, on April 11 around 8 p.m., give or take an hour, according to SpaceIL CEO Dr. Ido Anteby.

“This is the first mission of a small country to the moon, but it’s a non-government mission to the moon, which is privately financed,” Anteby said on Monday at a press conference in Tel Aviv ahead of the launch. “It will open new horizons to the moon for commercial opportunities.”

“Usually, these kinds of projects come from government agencies of major superpowers,” Anteby added.

SpaceIL was the only Israeli contestant in the international Google LunarX PRIZE competition, which offered participants a chance to win $20 million by landing an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. Google ended the contest officially on March 31 with no winner. But the group behind SpaceIL decided to continue its mission, turning to donors to help fund the bare-bones operation.

The Beresheet spacecraft will measure magnetic fields on the moon, data which will be transferred to the Weizmann Institute to help scientists study how the moon was formed millions of years ago. Beresheet will send information for approximately two to three days before the sun’s rays are expected to melt parts of the communication system, ending the mission.

Although scientists are interested in the hard data that Beresheet is expected to gather, Dr. Ofer Doron, the general manager of the Space Division at Israel Aerospace Industries, said one of the main goals of the spacecraft is education.

The Beresheet team hopes that the excitement around Israel’s first moon landing will have an “Apollo effect,” when space travel in the 1960s inspired hundreds of thousands of children in America to study science and aerospace engineering.

“The most exciting part is getting Israeli kids super excited about technology, to see that they can do everything,” said Doron. “It’s a great technological achievement, but it’s also a huge educational achievement.”

The Beresheet team is rolling out a number of educational initiatives along with the Education Ministry to help students follow the spacecraft’s journey, including special kits for teachers and a free smartphone app.

President Reuven Rivlin will host a pajama party with students on Thursday night, staying up until 3:45 to watch the launch at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. The project employs more educators than engineers, in an effort to ensure that the spacecraft’s journey and moon landing reach as many students as possible, said Daniella Geron, a ground segment system engineer responsible for coordinating between the various teams and the spacecraft.

The spacecraft is carrying a Hebrew Bible inscribed with nanotechnology on a small metal circle the size of a 5 shekel coin, and a time capsule with Israel’s Declaration of Independence and national anthem, the memories of a Holocaust survivor, children’s drawings of space and the moon, the Traveler’s Prayer and a note from the late former president Shimon Peres.

The founders of SpaceIL and members of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) displaying the time capsule that was inserted into the Beresheet space craft scheduled to land on the moon in 2019; Dec. 17, 2018 (Yoav Weiss)

The Beresheet Command Center is in Yehud, about 10 miles southeast of Tel Aviv, where the spacecraft was built and tested, including spending 10-day periods in a massive vacuum that blasted the spacecraft alternately with extreme heat and cold in order to ensure it can stand up to the wide temperature fluctuations in space.

In order to cut down on cost and weight, the Beresheet does not have duplicate systems. Most spacecrafts carry duplicate solar panels, communication systems, and other technology, so that if there is a failure, the backup system can kick into place and the mission can continue. With Beresheet, if any piece of equipment fails, the whole project is lost.

Beresheet will travel at speeds of 36,000 kilometers per hour. When it is at its farthest point, approximately 400,000 kilometers away from Earth, the team will be able to communicate with the spacecraft only if  Beresheet’s location can be pinpointed within a few meters. A team of engineers is currently training with NASA satellites to help prepare them for the lunar landing.

The team will have just one opportunity to land on the moon, though it might be able to try again if it misses the first window, Anteby said.

The project almost didn’t happen, a near-casualty of US President Donald Trump’s extended government shutdown. The spacecraft was packed and ready to go in Israel in late December, but still waiting for customs clearance, when disagreements over Trump’s border wall shuttered the American government for 35 days.

If Beresheet hadn’t arrived in America in time to be assembled for the SpaceX launch, the entire project would have fallen apart, said Morris Kahn, the 89-year-old president of SpaceIL. Kahn worked a number of contacts to obtain approval from US Customs despite the government shutdown, and the spacecraft arrived in Florida in time to make the launch.

The moon landing also opened new avenues for cooperation with Israelis and NASA, which is excited about the project’s low cost and hopes to make it a prototype for future moon landings if the operation is successful.

In 2011, Israeli President Shimon Peres gave SpaceIL a biblical verse to insert into the time capsule. It says: “And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.” (Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 15)

“How much hutzpah [arrogance] is it to think you can get to the moon with $100 million?” Doron asked. “Maybe we should have named it hutzpah instead of Beresheet.” The public chose the name Beresheet, the Hebrew name of the Book of Genesis, in a poll run by SpaceIL in July 2018.

SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries have also signed agreements with German space agency OHB in addition to NASA.

“There is a trend that now a lot of space agencies want to go back to the moon, so there’s an opportunity here for commercialization,” said Doron. He noted that Israel’s moon landing will bring enhance national pride as well as bring commercial opportunities.

Space travel is going the way of Uber and the sharing economy, with international space agencies looking to cut costs by using “ride shares” to hitchhike into space on existing commercial launches.

The Falcon 9 rocket launch that brings Beresheet into space will also launch a large geo-communication satellite and other equipment for the US Air Force. While Musk has cornered the market on commercial rocket launches, SpaceIL and IAI are hoping to find a niche in inexpensive moon landings, so space agencies or, one day, private individuals or organizations, could send cameras and research equipment to the moon for their own purposes.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket transporting the TESS satellite lifts off from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, April 18, 2018. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

For now, though, the team of engineers and educators has their eyes set on April 11, which is conveniently after Israel’s elections, set for April 9.

Doron said the Beresheet team chose the date before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called elections.

For now, the 25 engineers are in crunch time, making last-minute adjustments before Friday’s launch.

“We will have about half an hour of contact with the spacecraft every four hours,” explained Geron, the coordinating engineer. Beresheet’s team will use satellite dishes spread across the world in Hawaii, Chile, Sweden, Australia, South Africa, Germany, the continental United States, and Israel, to track the spacecraft, using satellite dishes with diameters of up to 74 meters (240 feet), Geron said.

She noted that the project is about more than just the data they hope to gather about the moon’s magnetic field. “It’s about gaining knowledge that will stay in Israel,” she said. “Everything we went through, all of the connections, all of the late night emails, we learned so much and next time it will be faster and more efficient,” she said. “We needed to find so many creative solutions, ways to make the communication work as the spacecraft is moving and we are moving. We are accumulating all of this knowledge, and also the education branch will inspire so many children.”

Geron said when the engineering team needed a break from the intensive work, they would head out to schools to give lectures about the project, and come back inspired by all of the interest generated by the Beresheet project.

“The moment we connect with the spacecraft after landing, we’ll be able to breathe again,” said Geron. “And it will all be worth it.”


Exclusive: Iran charts active plans for fighting “Trump’s economic war” 

Posted February 19, 2019 by josephwouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Source: Exclusive: Iran charts active plans for fighting “Trump’s economic war” – DEBKAfile

Tehran is deep in hectic discussions on ways to fight crippling US sanctions – whether by terror or fast-tracked nuclear development, DEBKAfile’s exclusive military and intelligence sources reveal.

The first inkling of these deliberations came on Monday, Feb. 18 from Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani when he complained that “economic war is more difficult than military war.”  The heads of the Islamic Republican regime and military chiefs decided some weeks ago that it was time for action when they saw reports on the disastrous state of Iran’s economy and on the rising anti-regime disaffection in the streets over extreme hardship and shortages.

Rouhani spoke at the inauguration of new oil refineries at Bandar Abbas on the Gulf coast, an important port and the seat of several Revolutionary Guards command posts. His reference to “economic war” indicated that the regime’s discussions are focusing on a form of belligerence in reprisal for US sanctions. “Iran must fight Trump’s war with war,” is the precept put forward by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Guards chief, Gen. Ali Jaafari with majority support. After weeks of parley, they are close to a decision on tactics. Should Iran resort to the military or the nuclear path – or both?

For the revolutionary regime, “military” would translate as a wave of terrorist attacks on American forces and facilities across the Middle East. This was first attempted on Feb. 2 when three Iranian missiles were caught pointing ready to fire at the US Ain Al Asad air base in western Iraq near the Syrian border.

The nuclear path would mean fast-tracking Iran’s nuclear weapons program as a provocation for raising war tensions with the US and Israel.