Archive for April 2021

Israel’s ambassador to the US: We won’t be bound by Iran deal

April 30, 2021

After Biden says US coordinating with allies on reentering pact, Gilad Erdan says Washington respects Jewish state’s need for ‘freedom of action’

US President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on April 28, 2021. (Melina Mara / POOL / AFP)

US President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on April 28, 2021. (Melina Mara / POOL / AFP)

After US President Joe Biden made only brief mention of Iran’s nuclear program during his first speech to Congress, Israel’s Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan said Thursday that Jerusalem will not allow its security to be dependent on or bound by an international agreement that it is not a party to.

Erdan’s comments came hours before he was slated to attend a meeting with Mossad spy agency chief Yossi Cohen and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that was expected to touch on the efforts to breathe new life into the limping 2015 Iran deal.

He said that although the Biden administration is seeking to reenter the deal and bring Iran back to compliance, the US accepts Israel’s right to defend itself, a value that Israeli officials drove home during talks in Washington this week.

Israeli defense officials told their US counterparts that “the freedom of action of Israel to prevent Iran from becoming an existential threat is a freedom of action that will be preserved,” he said.

It is a demand that “the current government respects,” Erdan added and noted that Israel’s self-defense needs, including against other regional threats, has been backed in recent White House statements.

He said Israel is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons “in any way possible and I think the international committee led by the US understands that.”

Erdan said that during the Washington talks, where Israeli and US officials discussed ongoing negotiations in Vienna among the parties to the Iran deal, it was agreed that there would be clear communication between the sides.

Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan speaks at the UN in New York. (Shahar Azran/Israeli Mission to the UN)

“We agreed on the principle of transparency and not to surprise each other and I think we are both keeping to it,” he said.

Erdan conceded that Israel and the US have different opinions on the Iran deal — Israel has staunchly opposed the pact from the start — but said that is the only difference on security matters between Jerusalem and Washington.

“Beyond that, all the cooperation activities are continuing as usual,” he said.

Commenting on Biden’s speech to Congress, which made only a brief mention of Iran’s nuclear program and none of Israel by name, Erdan said the US president has made it clear that he will prioritize dealing with the coronavirus outbreak and economic recovery ahead of international issues, which are anyway dominated by economic concerns related to China.

“I think we can all be very, very encouraged that his commitment to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons was mentioned in his speech,” Erdan said. “There is a lot to be optimistic about.”

During his speech, Biden said: “On Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs that present a serious threat to America’s security and the security of the world – we are going to be working closely with our allies to address the threats posed by both of these countries through diplomacy as well as stern deterrence.”

Israeli and American national security advisers met in Washington on Tuesday to discuss concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and US efforts to reenter the deal between Tehran and world powers.

Israeli officials, including Ambassador Gilad Erdan (R), National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat (2R) meet with US officials Brett McGurk (L), US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (2L) and Barbara Leaf (3L) at the Israeli embassy in Washington DC on April 27, 2021 (Embassy of Israel)

The meeting between National Security Council chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat and his counterpart, Jake Sullivan, marked the first in-person meeting in the United States of high-level officials from the two countries since Biden entered the White House. Erdan was also at the meeting.

“The United States and Israel agreed on the significant threat posed by Iran’s aggressive behavior in the region, and US officials underscored President Biden’s unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself,” the White House said in a statement after the meeting.

Ben-Shabbat and Sullivan head the bilateral strategic group aimed at Israeli-US cooperation in the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The group has convened virtually twice in recent months.

Ahead of their departure to Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the defense officials participating in the mission to voice objection to the US return to the Iran nuclear deal, but not to hold talks on the issues.

Netanyahu emphasized in a meeting with the delegation last week that Israel is not a party to the nuclear agreement with Iran, and not committed to it.

“Israel is committed to its own security interests only and will act accordingly,” an unnamed Israeli official reportedly said.

Meanwhile, indirect talks are taking place in Vienna between Iran, the US and other major powers aimed at reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which has been on life support since Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018. Trump’s administration subsequently issued a host of sanctions against Iran as part of its “maximum pressure” strategy aimed at coaxing Tehran into a stricter agreement to curb its nuclear weapons program.

Biden has sought to reenter the US into the JCPOA, but has refused to do so until Iran returns to compliance with the agreement. Following Trump’s withdrawal, Iran engaged in a rush to enrich uranium, recently ramping up levels to an unprecedented 60 percent, in a policy that has been vehemently opposed by the international community.

Blinken, Yossi Cohen meet in Washington as Israel presses its case on Iran

April 30, 2021

Israeli officials say US ‘respects’ Israel’s ‘freedom of action’; US says it’s acting with ‘transparency’ toward Jerusalem, both nations ‘share a common interest’ on Iran

Secretary of State Antony Blinken participates in a virtual bilateral meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (Leah Millis/Pool via AP)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken participates in a virtual bilateral meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (Leah Millis/Pool via AP)

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met Thursday in Washington with visiting Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and Israel’s ambassador Gilad Erdan, as Israel sought to convince Washington to seek an improved deal to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons rather than reenter the limping 2015 accord.

The two-hour meeting was the second this week in Washington involving senior officials from the two countries and underscored Israel’s unease with ongoing indirect nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States in Vienna, the officials said. Although other issues were discussed, Israel used Thursday’s meeting to “express strong concerns” about Iran, one of the officials said.

Blinken attended Thursday’s meeting along with his newly confirmed deputy, Wendy Sherman, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan and two other senior officials, Brett McGurk from the National Security Council and Derek Chollet from the State Department. Cohen and Erdan represented Israel.

The State Department declined to comment on the meeting or even to confirm that it had happened, but said the Biden administration is committed to coordination and transparency with Israel in its nuclear diplomacy with Iran.

Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a cyber conference at Tel Aviv University on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Earlier Thursday, Erdan said the US understood Israel retained “freedom of action” to act against Iranian activities that threatened the Jewish state.

“The freedom of action of Israel to prevent Iran from becoming an existential threat is a freedom of action that will be preserved,” Erdan said, adding that “the current government respects” that Israeli demand.

As the officials met in Washington, Israel’s intelligence minister, Eli Cohen, joined the chorus of Israeli officials sounding the alarm on Iran and insisting on Israel’s operational freedom.

Israeli warplanes, Cohen said, “can reach everywhere in the Middle East — and certainly Iran.”

He warned that “a bad deal will send the region spiraling into war. Anyone seeking short-term benefits should be mindful of the longer term. Israel will not allow Iran to attain nuclear arms. Iran has no immunity anywhere.”

Cohen also urged international pressure on Iran’s other activities, including its “destabilizing other countries.”

Mossad chief Cohen and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat have been in Washington for the past few days for high-level meetings with American counterparts seeking to clarify Israel’s position and needs as the Biden administration works to rejoin the 2015 deal imposing limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of US and international sanctions.

State Department Spokesman Ned Price on Thursday would not confirm the Cohen-Blinken meeting, but said the two countries were coordinating closely on the Iran issue.

“We have, as you’ve heard from State Department officials, updated our Israeli counterparts before every round of negotiations, after every round of negotiations and we’ve been consulting with them during these negotiations as well,” Price said, according to The Hill.

“So, we have conducted ourselves with a great deal of transparency knowing that the United States and Israel share a common interest here, of course, and that is seeing to it that Iran is verifiably and permanently prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

A Tuesday meeting between Ben-Shabbat and his American counterpart Jake Sullivan also dealt with the “significant threat” of Iran’s behavior in the region, the White House said at the time.

Israeli officials, including Ambassador Gilad Erdan (R), National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat (2R) meet with US officials Brett McGurk (L), US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (2L) and Barbara Leaf (3L) at the Israeli embassy in Washington DC on April 27, 2021 (Embassy of Israel)

Price also told reporters on Thursday that US Special Envoy on Iran Robert Malley joined in on the Ben-Shabbat-Sullivan meeting to brief the two officials on efforts in Vienna to bring the US and Iran back to the table.

The two national security advisers agreed at the meeting to establish an interagency working group dealing with the threat to Israel and other US allies in the region from Iranian drones and precision-guided missiles.

The Biden administration has said returning Iran to compliance with the nuclear deal was a priority after former president Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in 2017.

US Senate confirms Colin Kahl, a shaper of Iran deal, to senior defense post

April 29, 2021

Republicans and right-wing pro-Israel community strongly objected to the nomination

Colin Kahl, delivers a speech during a panel discussion as part of the US-Islamic World Forum in the Qatari capital Doha on June 1, 2015. (AFP via Getty Images)

Colin Kahl, delivers a speech during a panel discussion as part of the US-Islamic World Forum in the Qatari capital Doha on June 1, 2015. (AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Senate confirmed Colin Kahl to be undersecretary of defense for policy, a Biden nomination that survived a fierce challenge from the pro-Israel right, which targeted Kahl for his role in shaping the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Kahl was confirmed 49-45 in Tuesday’s vote along party lines.

Republicans, spurred by the right-wing pro-Israel community, targeted Kahl principally for his role when he was national security adviser to then-Vice President Joe Biden in shaping the Iran deal, which traded sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program.

Biden, now president, wanted Kahl back in government as the administration seeks to reenter the agreement. Former president Donald Trump left the deal in 2018, agreeing with conservatives who said it did not do enough to contain Iran.

Since the US pullout, Iran has accelerated its nuclear program, and Biden thinks the deal’s framework is the best means of keeping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Then Vice President Joe Biden, center, flanked by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, left, and National Security Adviser to the Vice President Colin Kahl, at the Blair House in Washington, February 24, 2016. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Christians United for Israel launched a six-figure ad buy in West Virginia targeting Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who sometimes votes with Republicans.

It didn’t work, as Manchin said he was on board with Kahl. Three Israeli generals who worked with Kahl when he was with the Obama administration effectively endorsed him, as did a cadre of Democrats who are close to the pro-Israel community.

US eyes major rollback of Iran sanctions to revive nuclear deal

April 29, 2021

American officials open to lifting penalties tied to terrorism, missile development, human rights; relief would likely anger Israel, Gulf states

People walk in front of a currency exchange shop in the Iranian capital Tehran on August 8, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

People walk in front of a currency exchange shop in the Iranian capital Tehran on August 8, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is considering a near wholesale rollback of some of the most stringent Trump-era sanctions imposed on Iran in a bid to get the Islamic Republic to return to compliance with a landmark 2015 nuclear accord, according to current and former US officials and others familiar with the matter.

As indirect talks continue this week in Vienna to explore the possibility of reviving the nuclear deal, American officials have become increasingly expansive about what they might be prepared to offer Iran, which has been driving a hard line on sanctions relief, demanding that all US penalties be removed, according to these people.

American officials have refused to discuss which sanctions are being considered for removal. But they have stressed that they are open to lifting non-nuclear sanctions, such as those tied to terrorism, missile development and human rights, in addition to those related to the nuclear program.

Biden administration officials say this is necessary because of what they describe as a deliberate attempt by the Trump administration to stymie any return to the deal. Under the 2015 agreement, the United States was required to lift sanctions tied to Iran’s nuclear program, but not the non-nuclear sanctions.

Abbas Araghchi, political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, is leaving the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ after the closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna on April 16, 2021, where diplomats of the EU, China, Russia and Iran hold their talks. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

When former president Donald Trump re-imposed sanctions after withdrawing from the deal in 2018, he not only put the nuclear sanctions back in but also added layers of terrorism and other sanctions on many of the same entities. In addition, the Trump administration imposed an array of new sanctions on previously unsanctioned entities.

This has put the current administration in an awkward position: Iran is demanding the removal of all sanctions. If the US doesn’t lift at least some of them, Iran says it won’t agree to halt its nuclear activities barred by the deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

But if the Biden administration makes concessions that go beyond the nuclear-specific sanctions, Republican critics and others, including Israel and Gulf Arab states, are likely to seize on them as proof that the administration is caving to Iran. Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo has led the charge among Trump alumni to denounce any easing of sanctions.

Former Trump administration officials say all the sanctions are legitimate. Gabriel Noronha, a former State Department senior adviser on Iran, said all the Trump-era sanctions had been approved by career Justice Department lawyers and would have been rejected if they weren’t legitimate.

On the eve of renewed sanctions by Washington, Iranian protesters burn a dollar banknote and a US makeshift flag during a demonstration outside the former US embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran on November 4, 2018, marking the anniversary of its storming by student protesters that triggered a hostage crisis in 1979. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

But a senior State Department official involved in the negotiations said officials now “have to go through every sanction to look at whether they were legitimately or not legitimately imposed.”

The official, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks, also said the US would be prepared to lift sanctions that would otherwise deny Iran the benefits it’s entitled to under the deal, not just those specifically related to nuclear activity. Those sanctions could include restrictions on Iran’s ability to access the international financial system, including dealing in dollar-based transactions.

“There are sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA and as we have said, if Iran resumes its compliance with the nuclear deal … we would be prepared to lift those sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said last week. He declined to elaborate on what might be “inconsistent” with the deal.

Despite the reticence of Price and the senior official, their comments suggested that sanctions imposed on Iran’s Central Bank, its national oil and shipping companies, its manufacturing, construction and financial sectors are on the block. Deal critics briefed on aspects of the Vienna negotiations say they suspect that is indeed the case.

This image taken from the Twitter account of President Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump, shows what looks like a movie-style poster that takes creative inspiration from the TV series ‘Game of Thrones’ to announce the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran. Trump tweeted a photo of himself with the words ‘Sanctions are Coming’ Nov. 5. The US sanctions on Iran had been lifted under a 2015 nuclear pact, but they are taking effect on Monday. (Donald J. Trump Twitter account via AP)

That’s because the bank, oil, shipping and other sanctions, all ostensibly imposed by the Trump administration for terrorism, ballistic missile and human rights concerns, also affect nuclear sanctions relief.

Current officials say no decisions have yet been made and nothing will be agreed in Vienna until everything regarding sanctions relief and Iran’s return to compliance with the nuclear deal has been settled.

But critics of the nuclear deal fear the administration will go beyond even what has been suggested by the administration’s oblique comments. They suspect that sanctions on people, companies, government agencies or other entities identified for nuclear sanctions relief in the 2015 deal will be cleared; even if they were subsequently penalized on other grounds.

“The administration is looking to allow tens of billions of dollars into the coffers of the regime even if it means lifting sanctions on major entities blacklisted for terrorism and missile proliferation,” said Mark Dubowitz, a prominent Iran deal critic and CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“They’re even looking to give the regime indirect access to the US dollar through the US financial system so that international companies can clear transactions with Iran through the US dollar,” said Dubowitz, who is frequently criticized for his hard-line stance on Iran but has also been asked for his views on sanctions by the administration.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, August 6, 2018. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The State Department spokesman’s reply to such concerns only increased the worries of the critics.

“The JCPOA, that original agreement, spells out precisely what is allowed, precisely what is prohibited in order for a country to be in compliance with it. That remains the blueprint for all of this,” Price said.

The Obama administration grappled with much the same issue after the conclusion of the nuclear deal in 2015. It took the position that some sanctions previously imposed by it and former President George W. Bush’s administration for terrorism reasons should actually be classified as nuclear sanctions and therefore lifted under the deal.

Still, many countries and international companies were hesitant to jump into the Iranian market for fear that the sanctions relief was not clear-cut and that a future US president could re-impose the sanctions. Now, that that has happened, and even before an agreement has been concluded in Vienna, that concern has resurfaced.

Already, Republicans in Congress and opponents of the Iranian government are stepping up efforts to codify Trump’s hard-line stance on Iran with new legislation. Although a law to bar a return to the nuclear deal is unlikely to pass, there is wide bipartisan support for resolutions encouraging the administration to take a tougher line on Iran.

Such a resolution was introduced on Wednesday with more than 220 Democratic and Republican co-sponsors. In it, they call for the administration to recognize “the rights of the Iranian people and their struggle to establish a democratic, secular, and non-nuclear Republic of Iran while holding the ruling regime accountable for its destructive behavior.”

In DC, Israel’s top spy and security wonk face a mission impossible on Iran

April 28, 2021

Meir Ben-Shabbat and Yossi Cohen are well-regarded in Washington, but their trip is unlikely to prevent the Biden administration from barreling toward deal with Tehran

Lazar Berman
Yossi Cohen, then the national security adviser, is seen in a committee meeting at the Israeli parliament on December 8, 2015, sitting behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yossi Cohen, then the national security adviser, is seen in a committee meeting at the Israeli parliament on December 8, 2015, sitting behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Senior Israeli national security officials are in Washington for their first face-to-face meetings in the United States with their Biden administration counterparts. The focus of the conversations is squarely on the terms of the US return to the 2015 nuclear deal, which Iran has been gradually and openly violating.

Though they are senior figures and well-respected in Washington, Mossad agency chief Yossi Cohen and National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat face a difficult task. As talks on the future of the deal progress in Vienna, it is becoming increasingly clear that the US and Iran will eventually reach an agreement — and there’s nothing Israeli officials can do to stop it.

The question, then, is what the officials wish to achieve, and whether they stand a chance to influence American policy.

“I think they can move the needle a bit,” said Eran Lerman, vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and past deputy director of Israel’s National Security Council. “I don’t think it’s going to change the direction.”

Both the US and Israel are seeking to avoid the bitter diplomatic fight that unfolded publicly in the lead-up to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran deal is formally known.

“The pattern is that before and after each round in Vienna, the US wants to consult Israel,” explained David Makovsky, Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Each side is trying to learn the lessons of 2015.”

Israeli National Security Council chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat (right), and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. (Flash90, AP)

The nations set up a strategic group, which last convened on April 13, to coordinate their efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms. The group is led by Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Ben-Shabbat, who met on Tuesday in Washington.

Though ongoing updates are important, Israel is more concerned about what comes next.

The major gap between Israel and the US, one that may well be unbridgeable at this point, is around the question of whether there is any value in returning to the original JCPOA. Though Biden administration officials have promised to deal with Iran’s missile production and activities across the Middle East in subsequent talks, the first step in their eyes is to get Iran back into compliance with international demands on its nuclear program.

A return to the original deal “is the floor and not the ceiling,” said a source familiar with the administration’s thinking on the talks. “It doesn’t stop there.”

This approach offers tangible and immediate benefits. To return to compliance, Iran would have to hand over enriched uranium it currently possesses in violation of the JCPOA limits.

“The US approach is to say, by locking in the current deal, they’re going to have to get rid of over 2,000 kilo — almost two bombs worth — of low-enriched uranium,” Makovsky said.

David Makovsky (screen capture: YouTube)

The next phase of talks – over issues like missiles and support for armed proxies – would then begin with Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium back down to 300 kilograms.

“The administration’s view is let’s first lock in what we have, and ensure that a follow-on deal is not a high-stakes gamble where they keep accumulating and accumulating,” Makovsky said.

Israel contends that in order to get Iran to return to the original deal, the US will have to give up its main source of leverage – sanctions reinstated by former president Donald Trump that have devastated Iran’s economy — rendering a new agreement reining in its missile activity and support for proxies even less likely.

There is certainly no guarantee that a new and improved deal – “JCPOA 2.0” – will ever actually come about.

“The president and the secretary of state keep saying that they want a longer and stronger deal,” Makovsky said. “So the question is, is 2.0 real, or is merely aspirational? And if it’s real, what is the economic leverage that will ensure that Iran will sign up for 2.0?”

“Longer” refers to extending the “sunset clauses” in which limits on uranium enrichment end in 2025 and 2030. Though the deal technically prohibits Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon, detractors of the agreement say these clauses will allow Iran to do so with impunity once the sanctions against the regime end. “Stronger” means more access for inspectors and limits on Iranian activities beyond its nuclear program.

As the Biden administration focuses its efforts on sealing an agreement for a return to the original deal, it is avoiding speaking publicly about its plans for a follow-on deal so as not to add any further obstacles to the talks in Vienna. But this understandably unsettles Israel and its strategic partners in the region, and increases the fear that the US won’t have enough leverage left once it removes most sanctions.

Ben-Shabbat and Cohen are likely also trying to understand how two looming deadlines are affecting America’s approach to the negotiations. In May, a “temporary bilateral technical understanding” between Iran and the IAEA will end, which would drastically scale back inspectors’ access to Iranian nuclear sites. The next month, Iran will hold presidential elections, in which many expect a hardline candidate to prevail.

Abbas Araghchi, political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, leaves the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ after the closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna on April 16, 2021, where diplomats of the EU, China, Russia and Iran hold talks. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

The Israelis, for their part, are sharing new intelligence with their American counterparts on Iran’s nuclear program, and will argue that their ongoing alleged covert strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities and on Tehran’s proxy forces in the region should not be curtailed as talks move forward in Vienna.

“I think they will make the case very forcefully…that the freedom of action that Israel maintains is an asset, not a liability for the Americans,” said Lerman.

A non-trip?

Despite the senior-level visits to Washington, it’s hard to ignore a inescapable sense of futility. The fundamental disagreement between Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu and the US under Joe Biden is real and too wide to be bridged.

“You have this Israeli delegation that’s preaching a certain gospel, and a group of senior Americans who really couldn’t care less,” argued Ori Goldberg of the IDC Lauder School of Government.

Israel, with its predilection toward tactical brilliance, seems to think that there is some piece of intelligence it has garnered — however impressively — that could sway the Biden administration. But the American president and his advisers have made a political determination based on their own approach and worldview, not on a particular fact or intelligence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Mossad head Yossi Cohen during a toast for the Jewish New Year on October 2, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO)

To compound the inefficacy of the Israeli mission, the two senior figures who made the trip are seen as Netanyahu loyalists in the eyes of an administration that is no fan of the prime minister. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi earlier this week dropped out of the trip, ostensibly because of escalating rocket fire from Gaza, removing the figure least identified with Netanyahu and with interlocutors in the Pentagon least affected by the political change in Washington.

“Both Yossi Cohen and Meir Ben-Shabbat at this stage are political operatives,” said Goldberg. “They’re not greeted with elation by senior officials in the Biden administration. “

“It’s a non-trip,” he added, arguing that instead of a coordinated trip, this was a set of disjointed individual visits.

“There is a problem to some extent,” agreed Lerman, “because some Israelis in high places feed the perception that essentially we are talking about a political posture rather than a professional message. That detracts from the effectiveness of the mission.”

At the same time, Lerman emphasized, Cohen and Ben Shabbat “represent serious, effective, professional establishment figures. They are not their master’s voices in any sense of the words.”

Others see no issue with the top Israeli officials making the trip, but believe that it is their US counterparts who make the visits unlikely to bear much fruit.

Danielle Pletka (photo credit: AEI, courtesy)

“The Israeli government is the Israeli government and these are its senior-most national security officials,” emphasized Danielle Pletka, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.

“As to whether the Biden administration will listen to them, these are the same people who were in the Obama administration. There’s no reason to believe they would act any differently than they did then.”

IDF probing why air defenses didn’t intercept Syrian anti-aircraft missile

April 24, 2021

Incoming projectile exploded in mid-air overnight, sending debris crashing down in southern Israel; reverberations of an explosion were felt in central Israel, Jerusalem

An SA-5 interceptor missile on display at the Ukrainian Air Force Museum. (George Chernilevsky/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0)

An SA-5 interceptor missile on display at the Ukrainian Air Force Museum. (George Chernilevsky/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Israel Defense Forces launched an investigation to determine why its air defenses failed to intercept an errant surface-to-air missile fired from Syria that landed in southern Israel on Thursday morning.

The Syrian missile exploded in mid-air, sending fragments crashing down, with pieces landing in the community of Ashalim, some 40 kilometers from the nuclear reactor in Dimona, without causing injuries or significant damage.

“The IDF worked to prevent a potential strike on critical assets in the State of Israel. A SA-5-model of surface-to-air missile was fired, passed through the area. There was an attempt to intercept it, which did not succeed. We are still investigating the event,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said at a press conference in Tel Aviv.

“Normally we see different outcomes,” Gantz added.

Shortly after 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, Israeli fighter jets conducted a series of airstrikes on targets in the Syrian Golan. In response, Syrian air defense units fired a large number of anti-aircraft missiles, notably SA-5 missiles, at the attacking Israeli planes, according to Syrian state media.

An Israeli soldier uses a mask to hold a piece of debris from a Syrian surface-to-air missile that landed near the Dimona nuclear site in Israel’s southern Negev desert, on April 22, 2021. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Israeli radar detected that at least one of the SA-5s — also known as S-200 missiles — was on a trajectory that would have it land in the northern Negev desert, which both triggered sirens in the area and prompted Israeli air defense troops to fire an interceptor missile at the incoming projectile.

According to the IDF, the interceptor failed to shoot down the Syrian anti-aircraft missile, a massive projectile with a 200 kilogram (440 pound) warhead. The military said it was launching an investigation into the matter.

Fragments of a Syrian SA-5 missile fired toward Israel, which landed in a swimming pool in the community of Ashalim in the northern Negev, on April 22, 2021. (courtesy)

Pieces of the projectile were recovered from Ashalim. A number landed in the community’s swimming pool.

The IDF has refused to identify which of its air defense systems was used in the effort. Video footage of the launch of the Israeli interceptor was widely shared on social media (below).

Residents of Jerusalem and central Israel reported feeling reverberations of an explosion. It was not clear if it was caused by the impact of the Syrian missile on the ground or by the failed interception attempt.

In response to the launch of the surface-to-air missile, the Israeli military conducted a second round of airstrikes in Syria, targeting Syrian air defenses, including the battery that fired the SA-5 that struck southern Israel.

Syrian state media reported that four soldiers were injured in the Israeli attack. Syrian news outlets reported that one of the four troops was killed in the strike, though that was not immediately confirmed by official Syrian sources.

Though they are primarily designed to intercept aircraft and projectiles in the air, SA-5 missiles are capable of causing considerable damage if they strike the ground by virtue of their large size.

In 2019, in a similar case, a Syrian SA-5 missile that was fired at an Israeli jet crashed in northern Cyprus, causing a large explosion and starting a fire.

Fragments of a Syrian SA-5 missile fired toward Israel, which landed in the community of Ashalim in the northern Negev, on April 22, 2021. (courtesy)

Israel has regularly accused the Syrian military of wildly firing large amounts of anti-aircraft missiles in response to its strikes.

The predawn incident came amid peak tensions between Israel and Iran, weeks after an attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear site earlier this month, which has been widely attributed to the Jewish state. Iran has vowed to retaliate for the alleged Israeli sabotage.

IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman stressed that the military did not believe the overnight incident was a deliberate attack on the country or its nuclear facility.

“There was no intention of hitting the nuclear reactor in Dimona,” Zilberman told reporters.

‘Errant Syrian missile’ fired at Israeli jet explodes near Dimona nuclear site

April 24, 2021

IDF says missile was fired during IAF airstrike, was not a deliberate attack on reactor; in response, Israel targets battery that launched projectile; 4 Syrian troops hurt

An Israeli soldier uses a mask to hold a piece of debris from a Syrian surface-to-air missile that landed near the Dimona nuclear site in Israel's southern Negev desert, on April 22, 2021. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

An Israeli soldier uses a mask to hold a piece of debris from a Syrian surface-to-air missile that landed near the Dimona nuclear site in Israel’s southern Negev desert, on April 22, 2021. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Incoming rocket sirens were triggered in the northern Negev in the predawn hours of Thursday morning, followed by massive explosions that could be heard throughout much of the country, as a Syrian surface-to-air missile crashed to earth near the Dimona nuclear reactor.

The Israel Defense Forces said the sirens were set off not by a directed attack on a target within Israel but by an errant Syrian anti-aircraft missile fired at an Israeli jet during an IAF airstrike on targets in the Syrian Golan Heights.

“A launch was detected of a surface-to-air missile from Syrian territory toward Israeli territory, which fell in the Negev region,” the IDF said.

There were no reports of injuries or damage.

Israeli soldiers stand at a position near Moshav Sha’al in the Golan Heights on April 22, 2021. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

IDF troops launched an interceptor missile at the incoming projectile to try to shoot it down, apparently unsuccessfully. The IDF said it was still investigating the matter as of Thursday morning. The Israeli military refused to identify which of its air defense batteries was used.

Pieces of the Syrian surface-to-air missile landed in open areas of the Ramat Negev region of southern Israel, local authorities said in a message to residents, with some pieces reportedly striking some 30 kilometers from the Dimona nuclear reactor.

In response to the launch of the surface-to-air missile, Israeli jets conducted a second round of airstrikes in Syria, bombing the battery that fired the projectile, as well as other air defense systems, the IDF said.

According to Syrian state media, four soldiers were injured in the Israeli strike and material damage was caused.

The incident came amid peak tensions between Israel and Iran, after an attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear site earlier this month, which has been widely attributed to the Jewish state. Iran has vowed to retaliate for the alleged Israeli sabotage.

Fragments of a Syrian SA-5 missile fired toward Israel, which landed in a swimming pool in the community of Ashalim in the northern Negev, on April 22, 2021. (courtesy)

IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman stressed that the military did not believe this was a deliberate attack on the country or its nuclear facility.

“There was no intention of hitting the nuclear reactor in Dimona,” Zilberman told reporters.

According to Zilberman, the projectile appeared to be a Russian-made SA-5 surface-to-air missile, a particularly large projectile, weighing several thousand kilograms with a 200-kilogram warhead.

Residents of Jerusalem and central Israel reported feeling reverberations of an explosion. It was not immediately clear if this was caused by the impact of the Syrian missile or by a failed interception attempt.

According to Syrian state media, the Israeli attack began at 1:38 a.m., with IDF jets conducting strikes on targets in the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights.

The missile set off the sirens three minutes later near Abu Qrenat, an area between Beersheba and Dimona, as well as the military’s large Ariel Sharon Base nearby, locations that are not generally targeted by rocket fire.

Roughly an hour later, Israeli fighter jets conducted a second round of strikes on Syrian air defense batteries near Damascus, according to Israeli and Syrian sources.

Though uncommon, Syrian surface-to-air missiles fired at Israeli fighter jets have in the past caused damage and triggered sirens as they fell back to earth.

In 2019, an SA-5 missile that had been fired at an Israeli aircraft landed in northern Cyprus, causing an explosion and a large fire in a village there.

In 2017, two SA-5 missiles that were launched at Israeli jets landed in eastern Israel, while a third landed in Jordanian territory, without causing injury or damage. In that incident, the IDF fired an Arrow 2 interceptor at the incoming projectile in what was the first operational use of the system.

Israeli delegation to DC to oppose US nuke deal revival, but won’t talk details

April 24, 2021

Netanyahu instructs top security officials to emphasize that Israel not bound by any agreement, committed only to its own security interests and ‘will act accordingly’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi during an event for outstanding soldiers as part of Israel's 71st Independence Day celebrations, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, May 9, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi during an event for outstanding soldiers as part of Israel’s 71st Independence Day celebrations, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, May 9, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Ahead of an Israeli delegation traveling to Washington DC next week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the security officials participating in the mission to voice objection to the US return to the Iran nuclear deal, but not to hold talks on the issues.

Netanyahu emphasized in a meeting with the delegation on Thursday that Israel is not a party in the nuclear agreement with Iran, and not committed to it. Clarifying that “Israel is committed to its own security interests only and will act accordingly,” an Israeli official said.

“The instructions to the senior security officials that are flying to Washington for talks is to present Israel’s opposition to the agreement in Iran and not to negotiate over it, because we are talking about a return to the previous agreement that is dangerous for Israel and the region,” the official said speaking on condition of anonymity.

“If in the future there are serious contacts on Iran’s part over an improved agreement, Israel will state its position on the characteristics and content that such an agreement should have,” the official added.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, part of the delegation, will travel Sunday to meet with a number of top US defense officials, in his first trip to the US since entering his position.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi during an event honoring outstanding IDF reservists, at the President’s residence in Jerusalem on July 1, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Kohavi will be joined on the trip by his wife, Yael, as well as the IDF defense attaché to the US, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, the head of the IDF’s Iran-focused Strategic and Third Ring Directorate, Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman, and the head of the IDF’s foreign relations department, Brig. Gen. Effi Defrin.

In the coming weeks, a number of other top Israeli defense officials were slated to visit the United States, including National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and Military Intelligence commander Tamir Hayman.

Kohavi, Ben-Shabbat, Cohen and Hayman all met with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday to coordinate their messaging to their American counterparts.

Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat during a ceremony before boarding an El Al plane to Bahrain to sign a series of bilateral agreements between Jerusalem and Manama, at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, October 18, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL via FLASH90)

Israel is generally concerned that the US is rushing too quickly to return to the 2015 accord, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and is ignoring the concerns of Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, notably those in the Gulf.

Israel’s ambassador to the United States and United Nations, Gilad Erdan, told the UN Security Council on Thursday that he firmly rejects the nuclear deal in its current form.

“For Israel, Iran poses an existential threat,” Erdan said. “That is why we will not see ourselves bound by any agreement that does not fully address the threat against the existence of the State of Israel. And every one of you would do the same if you were in our shoes, particularly in light of the Holocaust,” he added.

Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan speaks at the UN in New York. (Shahar Azran/Israeli Mission to the UN)

“The Biden administration also understands that the 2015 agreement was bad, we just disagree on the right way to reach a deal that will stop Iran,” Erdan told the Kan public broadcaster on Friday.

Israel and the US set up a strategic group, which last convened on April 13, to coordinate their efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms. The group is led by Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Ben-Shabbat.

Earlier this week, Kan news reported that Israel was lobbying the US to push for improved international oversight of Iran’s nuclear program, having concluded there will not be significant changes to the treaty but nonetheless seeking to slightly improve the terms of the pact, which is being negotiated in Vienna, with Europeans acting as intermediaries between Washington and Tehran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that 60-70 percent of issues had been resolved in Vienna.

A spokesman for the US State Department indicated that Washington was backing down from a key prerequisite for its return to the deal.

Illustrative: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran, January 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno, File)

The Biden administration had repeatedly said that it would only return to the nuclear deal if Iran first returns to compliance. However, on Tuesday, US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said at a press conference that Washington would only need to be sure that Iran intended to return to compliance.

Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, have adamantly opposed the US returning to the nuclear deal, putting Jerusalem openly at odds with the new White House administration.

Critics have long denounced the deal’s so-called “sunset clauses,” aspects of the agreement barring Iran from certain nuclear activities that end after a certain number of years. Though the deal technically prohibits Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon, detractors of the agreement say these clauses will allow Iran to do so with impunity once the sanctions against the regime end.

The agreement is also narrowly focused solely on the nuclear issue, ignoring Iran’s development of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that can reach Israel and parts of Europe, as well as its constant funding and support of terror groups like Hezbollah.

Proponents of the agreement generally argue that while the deal is imperfect, it was the best possible deal that could be struck under the circumstances and at least postpones the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Gr

US official says sanctions will stay until Iran commits to nuclear deal – report

April 24, 2021

Brett McGurk tells Jewish leaders Washington will not take pressure off until it is clear program will be capped and ‘back in a box,’ Forward reports

Brett McGurk, then-US envoy for the global coalition against Islamic State, at a news conference at the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, June 7, 2017. (Hadi Mizban/AP)

File: Brett McGurk, then-US envoy for the global coalition against Islamic State, at a news conference at the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, June 7, 2017. (Hadi Mizban/AP)

A top US official spoke to American Jewish leaders Friday on US efforts to revive the nuclear deal with Iran, telling them that no sanctions would be removed from the Islamic Republic before Washington gets clear commitments on Iran’s return to the 2015 accord.

“Until we get somewhere and until we have a firm commitment, and it’s very clear that Iran’s nuclear program is going to be capped, the problematic aspects reversed and back in a box, we are not going to take any of the pressure off,” the National Security Council’s Brett McGurk told leaders, according to quotes provided to the Forward by several individuals on the call.

McGurk is the NSC’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.

He said that with talks resuming in Vienna Monday, “there’s a very long way to go and this process is complicated.” But he stressed that the US is “not going to pay anything upfront just to get a process going. We have to see from the Iranians a fundamental commitment and agreement to put their nuclear program back in a box that we can fully inspect and observe.”

Diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran and Russia have been meeting in a luxury Vienna hotel to discuss a return to the deal, while US envoys are participating indirectly in the talks from a nearby hotel.

Journalists wait in front of the Grand Hotel Wien where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (AP /Florian Schroetter)

Iran has pressed for the United States to lift all sanctions imposed under former president Donald Trump before it rolls back the steps Tehran took away from the 2015 deal in protest.

The Biden administration had repeatedly said that it would only return to the nuclear deal if Iran first returns to compliance. However, on Tuesday, US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said at a press conference that Washington would only need to be sure that Iran intended to return to compliance.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that 60-70 percent of issues had been resolved in Vienna.

Israel is worried that the US is rushing too quickly to return to the 2015 accord, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and is ignoring the concerns of Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, notably those in the Gulf.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi will travel to the United States on Sunday to discuss the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and its entrenchment throughout the region. Top Israeli officials are expected to go to Washington in the coming weeks to discuss Iran, amid reports of growing disagreements between the governments as to how to best handle the situation.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a memorial ceremony on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl national cemetery on April 11, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

McGurk told the Jewish leaders that the administration has ” worked with the Israelis every day in the security realm, in terms of their freedom of action — protecting themselves — as something fundamental to us.

“Where we have some disagreement internally there is no disagreement on where we want to go: Iran can never get a nuclear weapon, period. There’s some disagreement about the kind of tactics you might use to get there. But we agree on a lot more than we disagree.”

He said consultations with Israel were “quite constructive.”

“At the end of the day, should we be able to deal with this problem diplomatically, which is our objective, I think the agreement will be very strong and give us confidence for where this is going to go over the many, many years ahead.”

Israel’s ambassador to the United States and United Nations, Gilad Erdan, told the UN Security Council on Thursday that he firmly rejects the nuclear deal in its current form.

“For Israel, Iran poses an existential threat,” Erdan said. “That is why we will not see ourselves bound by any agreement that does not fully address the threat against the existence of the State of Israel.”

Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan speaks at the UN in New York. (Shahar Azran/Israeli Mission to the UN)

Erdan told Kan news on Friday: “The Biden administration also understands that the 2015 agreement was bad, we just disagree on the right way to reach a deal that will stop Iran,”

Israel and the US set up a strategic group, which last convened on April 13, to coordinate their efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms. The group is led by President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat.

Earlier this week, Kan news reported that Israel was lobbying the US to push for improved international oversight of Iran’s nuclear program, having concluded there will not be significant changes to the treaty but nonetheless seeking to slightly improve the terms of the pact, which is being negotiated in Vienna.

Proponents of the agreement generally argue that while the deal is imperfect, it was the best possible deal that could be struck under the circumstances and at least postpones the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

36 rockets fired at Israel overnight; IDF hits Gaza terror targets in response

April 24, 2021

Rocket salvos fired after Hamas calls for attacks on Israel over Jerusalem unrest; barrages, reported in real-time by terror group, mark worst assault from Strip in many months

  • A police sapper inspects the scene where a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip fell near houses on a kibbutz in southern Israel on April 24, 2021 (Flash90)
    A police sapper inspects the scene where a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip fell near houses on a kibbutz in southern Israel on April 24, 2021 (Flash90)
  • Israeli soldiers block a road near the Gaza border on April 24, 2021 (Flash90)
    Israeli soldiers block a road near the Gaza border on April 24, 2021 (Flash90)
  • Remains of a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip near houses on a kibbutz in southern Israel on April 24, 2021 (Flash90)
    Remains of a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip near houses on a kibbutz in southern Israel on April 24, 2021 (Flash90)
  • Israeli police officers walk on Zikim Beach close to the Gaza border after it was closed to visitors, on April 24, 2021 (Flash90)
    Israeli police officers walk on Zikim Beach close to the Gaza border after it was closed to visitors, on April 24, 2021 (Flash90)

Terrorists fired 36 rockets toward Israel from the Gaza Strip overnight with six projectiles intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the Israel Defense Forces said Saturday morning.

The barrages were the worst assault from the Strip in many months and while there were no Israeli injuries, the rockets did cause damage in a number of communities.

In response, the Israeli military struck multiple Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Saturday morning, including rocket launchers and underground infrastructure, the army said, in response to several salvos of rockets fired into Israel overnight.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in the Gaza strikes.

Sirens sounded in numerous Israeli communities near the Strip overnight, including Ashkelon and the Eshkol, Sdot Negev, Sha’ar Hanegev and Hof Ashkelon regional councils.

The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted six of the projectiles. Some fell in communities while others landed in open areas.

Iron Dome is programmed to not deploy when rockets are projected to hit non-populated areas — it was unclear why it had not activated to intercept the projectiles that landed in the border towns.

Two terror groups in Gaza took responsibility for the rocket fire — Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades. Israel has stressed in the past it holds the ruling Hamas terror group responsible for all violence emanating from Gaza.

“We will burn the occupation’s settlements for you, O Jerusalem. The greatest has yet to come,” a spokesperson for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade said.

Official Hamas media tracked the launch of rockets across the Gaza Strip, reporting their firing in real-time, leading some to speculate that Hamas was covertly involved. The terror group did not take responsibility for the rocket fire, however.

“The Palestinian resistance is ready to respond to aggression, even the score with the occupation and prevent its violations against our people,” Hamas spokesperson Abd al-Latif al-Qanou said.

The attack followed days of tensions and clashes in Jerusalem and the West Bank that involved Palestinian and Israeli civilians as well as Israeli security forces.

Illustrative — An Iron Dome missile defense system fires an interceptor at a target during an exercise in early 2021. (Defense Ministry)

Before the morning strikes, the military had not responded to the rockets throughout the night, except for a single tank strike after the first volley, that targeted a Hamas post.

The Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command initially instructed residents in areas under threat to remain close to shelters, ordered the closure of Zikim beach, banned outside gatherings and agricultural work near the security fence and limited groups to under 100 people indoors. However, it later removed the restrictions.

Additionally, the Sdot Negev Regional Council recommended residents avoided going to synagogue on Saturday morning.

Miriam Rainan, a resident of the Nahal Oz border community, said the rockets meant residents had to stay home just as the easing of coronavirus restrictions was letting them return to normal life.

“It was a bad night and we slept in the bomb shelter. There was a lot of noise and one rocket fell on the kibbutz’s livestock. This is wrong, Iron Dome does not work properly,” she told Channel 12 news. “We were stuck at home because of the coronavirus [pandemic], and now we are stuck at home because of Hamas.”

An IDF tank is seen near the Gaza Strip on May 15, 2018. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

The rocket barrages came hours after Hamas held a series of protests in the Strip and called for violence against Israel in the wake of fierce clashes Thursday in Jerusalem between police, extremist Jewish activists and Palestinian protesters.

Addressing the Gazan protesters, senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar condemned the decision of some Arab states to normalize relations with Israel last year and lashed out at the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank for continuing its security coordination with Israel.

“After a long series of protests and demonstrations, we have reached the conclusion that without weapons, we cannot liberate our land, protect our holy sites, bringing back our people to their land or maintain our dignity,” he said.

Palestinians shout slogans around a model of the Dome of the Rock, during a rally in Gaza city on April 23, 2021, condemning overnight clashes in Jerusalem and calling for an armed struggle. ( MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

The attacks came during a general lull in violence from the Gaza Strip in recent months, amid a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and as the enclave grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

A single rocket was fired into Israel from Gaza last Friday. Another was fired the day before. Neither rocket caused injuries or damage, and the IDF hit Hamas targets in response.

Last month, a rocket was fired toward Beersheba as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a campaign stop in the southern city ahead of the March 23 elections.

The last time a rocket barrage hit Israel was in September, when Palestinian terrorists fired 13 rockets in response to Israel signing peace deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Two Israelis were hurt when a rocket hit Ashdod, one moderately and another lightly.

Prior to that, the last major flareup occurred in November of 2019, after Israel killed Baha Abu al-Ata, a senior commander in the military wing of the Islamic Jihad terror group. The assassination led to days of rocket fire in which hundreds of projectiles targeted Israeli cities.

In both cases, Israel retaliated with waves of airstrikes in the Strip.