Back at military cemeteries, Israelis grieve fallen soldiers, terror victims

Posted April 14, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Two-minute siren commemorating 23,928 troops and victims of terror brings country to a halt; Netanyahu to address official state ceremony at Mount Herzl

This picture taken on April 13, 2021, on Yom HaZikaron (Israel's Memorial Day) shows an aerial view of female Israeli soldiers performing salutes by graves at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

This picture taken on April 13, 2021, on Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) shows an aerial view of female Israeli soldiers performing salutes by graves at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Israel came to a standstill on Wednesday morning with a two-minute memorial siren at 11 a.m. commemorating 23,928 fallen soldiers and terror victims, including 43 soldiers and civilians killed since last Memorial Day.

During the siren, traffic around the country came to an abrupt halt, as Israelis stopped driving to stand beside their cars and people at home bowed their heads in somber silence.

At 11:02 a.m., the official commemoration ceremony began at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl with a prayer for the dead by IDF Chief Rabbi Brig. Gen. Eyal Karim.

Israel’s Memorial Day is marked annually with candle-lighting ceremonies, melancholy music on the radio, and newspaper features and TV programs about those who died. This year sees a return of Israelis visiting the country’s 52 military cemeteries and hundreds of smaller military sections in civilian cemeteries nationwide after they were closed during last year’s commemorations due to coronavirus restrictions.

Israeli soldiers visit graves of fallen soldiers in Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, on April 13, 2021, ahead of Israeli Memorial Day, which begins tonight. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Wednesday morning official ceremony was joined by families of the fallen, soldiers from across the army’s units and divisions, as well as the nation’s leaders, President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, chief rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau, IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, Supreme Court chief justice Esther Hayut, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman and Mossad head Yossi Cohen.

The prime minister will deliver his main Memorial Day address at the ceremony.

A separate official ceremony honoring the 4,176 people who died in acts of terror will begin at 1 p.m. at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Female soldiers place Israeli national flags showing black sashes atop with the Hebrew word “Remembrance” on graves, at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on April 13, 2021, as they pay respects to fallen soldiers on Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day). (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Since last Memorial Day, 112 new names were added to the roster of those who died defending the country since 1860. Forty-three were IDF soldiers, police officers, and civilians, and 69 were disabled veterans who passed away due to complications of injuries sustained during their service.

The figures include all soldiers and police who died during their service over the past year, including as a result of accidents, suicide, or illness.

Screen capture from video of IDF disabled veteran Itzik Saidyan talking about his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. (Channel 12 News)

In a stark reminder of the toll of Israel’s wars, a former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder set himself on fire on Monday outside the Defense Ministry’s rehabilitation center, setting off a national reckoning. Itzik Saidyan, 26, remains in critical condition.

Memorial Day is one of Israel’s few national, non-religious holidays, during which large swaths of the Israeli public typically visit the graves of loved ones and comrades.

Unlike last year, when the pandemic saw all Memorial Day ceremonies held without audiences and smaller events planned for municipal cemeteries across the country were canceled, this year’s events will be held under few health restrictions.

The general public has nonetheless been encouraged to visit the graves of fallen soldiers earlier this week to avoid crowding on Memorial Day itself when close relatives visit.

On Wednesday, ministers approved removing some Memorial Day rules, including allowing relatives of the fallen who do not have the Green Pass to attend ceremonies. The Green Pass is given to those who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from the coronavirus, granting them entry to public venues not open to others.

People stand for a two-minute silence in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market on Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, April 28, 2020 April 28, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The new measures include raising the number of people allowed to gather outdoors from 50 to 100.  The current limit of 20 people indoors remains in place.

The Memorial Day events officially began at the Yad LaBanim center in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon, with Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin and Chief Justice Hayut in attendance.

Speaking at the ceremony, Netanyahu said Israel will make “every effort” to return its captives, which include two civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers believed to be held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

“This is a sacred mission that we’re not letting go of,” he said.

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a ceremony marking Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, on April 13, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Speaking at the official state ceremony held at the Western Wall, President Reuven Rivlin said the message of the day was that citizens of the Jewish state must not take it for granted.

“From here, I want to speak to you, the commanders, the soldiers, those soon to enlist, the young generation. I grew up as a child at a time when we did not have a state. For me, for those of my generation, the State of Israel is not something to be taken for granted. This strong and powerful country you see was established by the heroism and dedication of young people of your age,” Rivlin said.

The commemoration day, established in 1951 by then-prime minister and defense minister David Ben-Gurion, was set for the 4th of Iyar on the Jewish calendar, the day before Independence Day, which begins immediately after Memorial Day.

At 7:45 p.m. Wednesday evening, Memorial Day will end with the national torch-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl that will usher in Israel’s 73th Independence Day.

Biden to approve $23 billion sale of F-35s to UAE that followed Abraham Accords

Posted April 14, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

New administration had been reviewing foreign arms sales made by Trump, including deal to supply advanced stealth jets reached as part of Israel normalization

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks to reporters at Israel's Nevatim air base Monday, with an Israeli F-35 fighter jet in the background, on Monday, April 12, 2021 in Israel. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks to reporters at Israel’s Nevatim air base Monday, with an Israeli F-35 fighter jet in the background, on Monday, April 12, 2021 in Israel. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)

The Biden administration has told Congress it will move ahead with a massive arms deal to the United Arab Emirates, including advanced F-35 aircraft, that was signed in the wake of Israel’s normalization deal with the Gulf nation, congressional aides told Reuters on Tuesday.

A State Department spokesperson said the administration would move forward with the proposed sales to the UAE, which also include armed drones and other equipment, “even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials” related to the use of the weapons.

In January, the new administration put a temporary hold on several major foreign arms sales initiated by former US president Donald Trump, including the deal to provide 50 F-35 advanced fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, which was fast-tracked by Washington after Abu Dhabi agreed to normalize relations with Israel.

The State Department spokesperson told Reuters that estimated delivery dates to the UAE were for after 2025.

In addition to the massive $23 billion transfer of stealth F-35 fighters to the United Arab Emirates, another deal being paused is the planned major sale of munitions to Saudi Arabia. Both sales were harshly criticized by Democrats in Congress.

It was not immediately clear if the Saudi deal was also going ahead.

“When it comes to arms sales, it is typical at the start of an administration to review any pending sales, to make sure that what is being considered is something that advances our strategic objectives and advances our foreign policy,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after putting the review in place in January.

From left to right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan are seen on the Blue Room Balcony after signing the Abraham Accords during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, September 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Trump administration’s announcement on the F-35 sale came shortly after the Republican president lost the November 6 election to now-President Joe Biden and followed the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE, under which the Arab states agreed to normalize relations with Israel.

Trump had explicitly backed arms sales on commercial grounds, saying that the Saudis were creating US jobs by buying from US manufacturers.

Congressional critics have expressed disapproval with such sales, including the deal with Saudi Arabia, that then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed through after bypassing lawmakers by declaring an emergency required it. The critics have alleged the weapons could be used to aid Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which is the home of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Less than a month after the UAE sale was announced, an effort to block the deal fell short in the Senate, which failed to halt it.

Senators argued the sale of the defense equipment had unfolded too quickly and raised too many questions. The Trump administration billed it as a way to deter Iran, but the UAE would have become the first Arab nation — and only the second country in the Middle East, after Israel — to possess the stealth warplanes.

The deal was approved by the UAE during Trump’s final hour in the White House, a US official said.

The exact nature of the agreement signed that day was not clear though, nor whether it represented the contract itself. A contract would be more binding and could place financial penalties on parties who fail to follow through with the deal.

Then-Vice President Joe Biden (left) and then-Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, June 30, 2015, at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“We very much support the Abraham Accords. We think that Israel normalizing relations with its neighbors and other countries in the region is a very positive development,” Blinken said in January.

“We’re also trying to make sure that we have a full understanding of any commitments that may have been made in securing those agreements, and that’s something we’re looking at right now,” he added.

In a November interview with The Times of Israel, Blinken panned the apparent “quid pro quo” nature of the F-35 sale that immediately followed the normalization agreement.

“The Obama-Biden administration made those planes available to Israel and only Israel in the region,” said Blinken, who served as Biden’s national security adviser, deputy national security adviser to the president and deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration.

Israel and the UAE signed a US-brokered normalization deal in September. The Trump administration formally notified Congress of its planned weapons sale to Abu Dhabi two months later.

Despite the review, Israel-UAE normalization has moved ahead without any adverse effects over the last few months.

On the record, the three countries have insisted that the arms deal was not part of negotiations that brought about the so-called Abraham Accords.

But Trump officials have acknowledged that the agreement put Abu Dhabi in a better position to receive such advanced weaponry, and a source with direct knowledge of the talks told The Times of Israel that both the US and Israel knew that the arms deal was “very much part of the deal.”

Israel announced in October that it would not oppose the sale, an about-face from its previous opposition to the deal on the grounds that it would harm the Jewish state’s military edge in the region. That decision came after meetings held between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his US counterpart at the time, Mark Esper, at the conclusion of which the sides signed an agreement further codifying Washington’s commitment to maintaining Israel’s federally-protected military edge in the region.

From left, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin stand in front of an Iron Dome missile defense system at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel on April 12, 2021. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Tuesday’s news that the US would move ahead came a day after Gantz met current US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Tel Aviv. It was not clear if the sale to the UAE was a focus of their talks.

Gantz is also believed to have secured an American commitment to a substantial military package to compensate for the weapons that the Pentagon was preparing to sell to one of Israel’s neighbors.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report

Senior Iran official confirms ‘thousands of centrifuges damaged and destroyed’

Posted April 14, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Admission of scale of damage at Natanz casts doubts on Tehran’s ability to ramp up uranium enrichment to 60%, as threatened; Israeli report says whole plant still out of commission

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, in an image released on November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, in an image released on November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

A senior Iranian official confirmed Tuesday that the blast at the Natanz nuclear facility, which Tehran blames on Israel, destroyed or damaged thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium.

Alireza Zakani, the hard-line head of the Iranian parliament’s research center, referred to “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in a state TV interview. However, no other official has offered that figure and no images of the aftermath have been released.

His comments came as Iran said it was stepping up uranium enrichment to an unprecedented 60% — bringing Iran closer to the 90% purity threshold for military use, and shortening its potential “breakout time” to the bomb — and installing new centrifuges in response to the Sunday attack.

The remarks appear to confirm Israeli reports indicating the damage was widespread and Iran will have significant difficulty restoring its enrichment to previous levels in the coming months.

An Israeli TV report on Tuesday night said that Iran will only be able to enrich very small quantities of uranium to 60% since Natanz is still out of commission following the Sunday attack.

Channel 13 analyst Alon Ben David said that despite Iranian officials’ vow to start preparing Wednesday to begin the higher enrichment process, they cannot do it at Natanz, since the 6,000 centrifuges there remain “out of action.”

There are 1,000 centrifuges at Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility that can enrich to 60% in very small quantities, the Israeli analyst said, describing the Iranian threat of higher enrichment, therefore, as unlikely to be significant.

This Nov. 4, 2020, satellite photo by Maxar Technologies shows Iran’s Fordo nuclear site (Maxar Technologies via AP)

The weekend attack at Natanz was initially described only as a blackout in the electrical grid feeding above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls — but later Iranian officials began calling it an attack.

On Monday, an Iranian official acknowledged that the blast took out the plant’s main electrical power system and its backup. “From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, the head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, told Iranian state television on Monday.

“They thought about this and used their experts and planned the explosion so both the central power and the emergency power cable would be damaged.”

The comments from Davani, the former head of Iran’s atomic energy organization, came as reports in Israel and the US provided new details of the early Sunday bombing and its consequences, with assessments that the blast would set back the Iranians by 6-9 months.

The New York Times reported that the blast was caused by a bomb that was smuggled into the plant and then detonated remotely. The report cited an unnamed intelligence official, without specifying whether they were American or Israeli. This official also specified that the blast took out Natanz’s primary electrical system as well as its backup.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, is interviewed from his hospital bed on April 12, 2021, after being injured the day before in a reported fall at the Natanz nuclear facility. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The report said that Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said the explosion inside the bunker had created a hole so big that he fell into it when trying to examine the damage, injuring his head, back, leg and arm.

Nevertheless, other Iranian officials tried to play down the damage in the underground facility.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, claimed earlier Monday that emergency power had already been restored at the plant and enrichment was continuing.

“A large portion of the enemy’s sabotage can be restored, and this train cannot be stopped,” he told Iranian media, according to the Times.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said it damaged some of Iran’s first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, the workhorse of its nuclear program.

Enrichment to 60% marks a significant escalation and is a short technical step away from weapons-grade uranium. Iran had been enriching up to 20%, and even that was a short step from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said its atomic energy agency will initiate preparatory steps to ramp up enrichment on Tuesday night. The report said the damaged IR-1 centrifuges will be replaced with new machines that have a higher capacity.

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in a statement that Iran warned it will start enriching uranium up to 60% purity.

In a report to member states, the IAEA’s director-general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, “said Iran had informed the Agency that the country intends to start producing UF6 enriched up to 60 percent,” the statement said.

Israel has hinted at being involved, but not officially confirmed any role in the attack. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed never to allow Tehran to obtain a nuclear weapon and Israel has twice preemptively bombed Mideast nations to stop their atomic programs.

Iran calls Natanz atomic site blackout ‘nuclear terrorism’

Posted April 12, 2021 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

Somebody turned out the lights.

Ha ha ha

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Iran on Sunday described a blackout at its underground Natanz atomic facility an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stopped short of directly blaming anyone for the incident. Details remained few about what happened early Sunday morning at the facility, which initially was described as a blackout caused by the electrical grid feeding the site.

Many Israeli media outlets offered the same assessment that a cyberattack darkened Natanz and damaged a facility that is home to sensitive centrifuges. While the reports offered no sourcing for the evaluation, Israeli media maintains a close relationship with the country’s military and intelligence agencies.

If Israel caused the blackout, it further heightens tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider Middle East.

It also complicates efforts by the U.S., Israel’s main security partner, to re-enter the atomic accord aimed at limiting Tehran’s program so it can’t pursue a nuclear weapon. As news of the blackout emerged, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed Sunday in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Power at Natanz had been cut across the facility comprised of above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls, civilian nuclear program spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told Iranian state television.

“We still do not know the reason for this electricity outage and have to look into it further,” Kamalvandi said. “Fortunately, there was no casualty or damage and there is no particular contamination or problem.”

Asked if it was a “technical defect or sabotage,” Kamalvandi declined to comment.

Malek Shariati Niasar, a Tehran-based lawmaker who serves as spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, wrote on Twitter that the incident was “very suspicious,” raising concerns about possible “sabotage and infiltration.” He said lawmakers were pursuing details of the incident as well.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran’s program, said it was “aware of the media reports,” but declined to comment.

Natanz was largely built underground to withstand enemy airstrikes. It became a flashpoint for Western fears about Iran’s nuclear program in 2002, when satellite photos showed Iran building its underground centrifuges facility at the site, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the capital, Tehran.

Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge assembly plant in July that authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.

Israel, Iran’s regional archenemy, has been suspected of carrying out that attack as well as launching other assaults, as world powers now negotiate with Tehran in Vienna over its nuclear deal.

Iran also blamed Israel for the killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier. The Stuxnet computer virus, discovered in 2010 and widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli creation, once disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges at Natanz.

“It’s hard for me to believe it’s a coincidence,” said Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies, of Sunday’s blackout. “If it’s not a coincidence, and that’s a big if, someone is trying to send a message that ‘we can limit Iran’s advance and we have red lines.'”

Israel has not claimed any of the attacks, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly has described Iran as the major threat faced by his country in recent weeks.

Meeting with Austin on Sunday, Gantz said Israel viewed America as an ally against all threats, including Iran.

“The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East and to the state of Israel,” Gantz said. “And we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world, of the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region, and protect the state of Israel.”

The Israeli army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, also appeared to reference Iran.

The Israeli military’s “operations in the Middle East are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy,” Kochavi said. “They are watching us, seeing (our) abilities and weighing their steps with caution.”

Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that a cyberattack caused the blackout in Natanz. Public broadcaster Kan said Israel was likely behind the attack, citing Israel’s alleged responsibility for the Stuxnet attacks a decade ago. Channel 12 TV cited “experts” as estimating the attack shut down entire sections of the facility. None of the reports included sources or explanations on how the outlets came to that assessment.

In Tehran, Iranian officials meanwhile awaited the arrival of South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, the first visit by a premier from Seoul since before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran on Friday released a South Korean oil tanker held since January amid a dispute with Seoul over billions of dollars of its assets frozen there.

On Saturday, Iran announced it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 centrifuges at the plant. Officials also began testing the IR-9 centrifuge, which they say will enrich uranium 50 times faster than Iran’s first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1. The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only IR-1s for enrichment.

Since then-President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran has abandoned all the limits of its uranium stockpile. It now enriches up to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran maintains its atomic program is for peaceful purposes.

On Tuesday, an Iranian cargo ship said to serve as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces off the coast of Yemen was struck by an explosion, likely from a limpet mine. Iran has blamed Israel for the blast. That attack escalated a long-running shadow war in Mideast waterways targeting shipping in the region.

IDF’s Point Man on Iran Says Israel ‘Definitely’ Has Capacity to Destroy Nuclear Program, Biden Administration ‘Keeping Its Promises’ So Far

Posted April 2, 2021 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

Algemeiner 30 March 2021

The head of the IDF directorate tasked with dealing with the Iran nuclear issue said that the Biden administration largely sees the situation as Israel does, and is so far “keeping its promises.”

Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman, who heads the Strategy and Third-Circle Directorate and has participated in discussions with the Biden White House at the highest levels, told Israel Hayom that “the first stage is to be aligned with [the US] on the intelligence picture.”

“I think that in very high percentages they see the situation as we do,” he said.

Asked about Israel’s concern that many officials who negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vehemently opposed, have returned to office, Kalman said, “It’s true that in some of the cases these are the same people, but it’s not the same administration.”

“So far, this administration is keeping its promises,” he asserted. “It has come to listen, not rush to a new deal.”

“So, I think there’s a space of a few months to try and influence the administration’s policy,” Kalman said. “Even the Americans are clearly saying they will not allow Iran to achieve nuclear capability. Now, the question is how to act in this situation.”

Israel’s position, he added, is “we’re saying ‘yes’ to a deal that will be longer and stronger” than the 2015 agreement.

Asked whether Israel has the military capability to completely destroy Iran’s nuclear program if necessary, Kalman said, “The answer is yes. When we build these capabilities, we build them to be operational.”

“It’s not that there aren’t many strategic dilemmas, since the day after Iran can go back to the plan, but the ability exists,” he said. “Definitely.”

Regarding a possible strategy of turning the tables on Iran — which has sought to entrench itself on Israel’s borders — by positioning Israeli assets on Iran’s borders, Kalman said, “We need to strengthen that component in the set of actions we’re doing.”

One aspect of this is the Abraham Accords, which have made Gulf states bordering Iran strategic partners of Israel, he added.

“I think the Iranian leader, whose strategy is to base Iran on Israel’s borders, wakes up these days and is very concerned, because he sees potential for Israel to be based around his own borders. It’s a major change,” said Kalman.

The former fighter pilot became a major general in 2020, and took charge over the new, Iran-focused position on the IDF’s General Staff.

How the IDF invented ‘Roof Knocking’, the tactic that saves lives in Gaza

Posted April 1, 2021 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

A lengthy but fascinating article.

SMOKE RISES from the Gaza Strip following an IDF military strike, August 2014.  (photo credit: ALBERT SADIKOV/FLASH90)

December 2008 was the turning point. After a year of incessant rocket fire, the Israeli government decided enough was enough. It was time to go back into the Gaza Strip and do everything possible to take down Hamas.

While a ceasefire had been in effect for six months, sporadic rocket fire – Kassams and mortars – continued to rain down on Israel. Nevertheless, the government had initially preferred quiet. The situation was tenuous but the residents of the South were, for the first time in years, able to leave their homes with some measure of safety. The government wasn’t going to put that at risk so quickly.

In November, though, the calculation changed. The IDF received intelligence that Hamas was digging a terror tunnel across the border into Israel similar to the one that had been used two-and-a-half years earlier to kidnap Gilad Schalit, a soldier in the Armored Corps. Schalit was still being held by Hamas somewhere in Gaza and the IDF decided that the “ticking tunnel” – as it was being called – had to be destroyed.

An elite IDF force from the Paratroopers’ Brigade was sent across the border near the home under which the tunnel was being dug. In a subsequent firefight, a few Palestinian gunmen were killed. At one point, a large bomb went off in the home, bringing down the structure and collapsing the tunnel.

The Hamas response and rocket onslaught was immediate. Dozens of Kassams, Katyushas and mortar shells pounded the South, reaching as far as Ashdod. A rocket attack led to an Israeli Air Force bombing and then more rockets and more airstrikes. By mid-December the truce – tahdiya in Arabic – had completely fallen apart.

Only a handful of people knew that at the same time as Israeli diplomats were trying to salvage the ceasefire with Egyptian assistance, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the IAF were busy building a bank of Hamas targets – headquarters, arms caches, command posts, tunnel openings and rocket launchers. Homes, schools, hospitals, mosques – everything was being used by Hamas to hide their weapons and everything was being added to the IDF list.

On December 27, at 11:30 a.m., what would become known as “Operation Cast Lead” was launched with the bombing of 50 different targets by dozens of IAF fighter jets and attack helicopters. The planes reported “Alpha Hits,” air force lingo for direct hits on their targets. Some 30 minutes later, a second wave of 60 jets and helicopters struck another 60 targets, including underground rocket launchers – placed inside bunkers and missile silos – that had been fitted with timers. 

In all, more than 170 targets were hit by IAF aircraft throughout that first day. Palestinians reported more than 200 Gazans killed and another 800 wounded.

OPERATION CAST LEAD would be remembered as the first large-scale war in Gaza since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Strip three years earlier. It would also go down in history for the United Nations fact-finding mission known as the Goldstone Report that would be established and accuse Israel of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Ahead of the operation, Israeli intelligence agencies knew they had to adapt. Since the withdrawal from Gaza three years earlier, they no longer had a physical presence on the ground inside the now Hamas-controlled territory. While they could use spies and electronic sensors to identify targets, they would not be able to know – in real time – what was happening inside a specific target.

What the IDF knew was that Hamas was storing its weapons in homes, in apartment buildings and under schools, mosques and hospitals. If a war erupted, Israel had to find a way to attack the targets while, at the same time, reducing civilian casualties and collateral damage.

Recognizing the challenge, the Shin Bet did something new: it created lists of phone numbers belonging to the owners of the homes, office buildings and hospitals throughout the Gaza Strip. It was a Sisyphean effort never undertaken by another military, but Israel knew it didn’t have a choice.

While collecting the phone numbers was difficult, their use was supposed to be simple. The IDF knew that there were basically two categories of targets. The first were terrorists: Palestinians perpetrating an attack or in the midst of planning one. Those people were not going to get called before being attacked. To successfully hit them, Israel needed to retain the element of surprise even if that meant some innocent civilians would unfortunately be caught in the crosshairs.

The second category included the homes, apartment buildings, offices, mosques and other civilian buildings where Hamas and Islamic Jihad had stored their weapons, set up command posts or used as cover to hide a cross-border terror tunnel. These were the targets that would get phone calls in order to give the people inside the opportunity to leave.

“We identified thousands of targets thanks to our agents on the ground,” explained Victor Ben-Ami, a 30-year veteran of the Shin Bet, who was involved in the effort. “We had a list of warehouses, factories and buildings with the understanding that the enemy had a tactic it was using to do everything it could to blend in and hide within civilian infrastructure.”

The intelligence, Ben-Ami recalled, was incredible. “We knew what floor the target we were looking for was located, what color it was, what was there, where the air-conditioning machine was located and more,” he explained.

But because Israel knew that civilians would be inside the buildings, the IDF and Shin Bet created a new operational doctrine. Before attacking, it would take the extra precaution of contacting the building owner or occupant.

The callers had a standard text they read in Arabic that went something like this: “How are you? Is everything okay? This is the Israeli military. We need to bomb your home and we are making every effort to minimize casualties. Please make sure that no one is nearby since in five minutes we will attack.” The line would then go dead.

In every case, an Israeli drone would be hovering above, watching what was happening in the home and nearby. Once it saw people running out of the building, IAF headquarters would give the fighter pilot or attack helicopter the green light to drop their bomb. In some cases, the Palestinians claimed Israeli drones were also used to launch the missiles – although Israel has never officially confirmed that it has attack drones.

Not everyone in the IDF saw eye-to-eye on this new tactic. Col. Pnina Sharvit-Baruch was head of the International Law Department of the Military Advocate General (MAG) Unit as Operation Cast Lead was in the planning stages.

Almost every target was brought to her for approval. In one discussion, one of the other officers around the table suggested skipping the warning stage and attacking the building even at the cost of killing or wounding innocent civilians. The building, the officer explained, had been turned into a military target by Hamas and if people were inside they too were military targets.

The argument was immediately and vehemently shot down by all the participants. “That was the definite fringe minority,” she recalled.

In discussions with combat units, Sharvit-Baruch stressed two reasons why this new tactic was critical for Israel. The first was ethical. Israel, she explained, does not callously attack civilians when they can be spared. 

“It is our moral obligation,” she affirmed.

The second reason was of political and diplomatic significance. 

“A lot of dead civilians deteriorates the conflict and creates diplomatic international pressure and continues the conflict,” she said. “It harms our interests.”

Ben-Ami agreed. 

“Whether we like it or not, this is who we are and how we do things,” he explained. “There is no plan that doesn’t take civilians into consideration. This is who we are.”

FOR THE most part the tactic worked. A building would be brought by the Shin Bet to the Southern Command’s Attack Center where it would be added to the list of targets. There, on the second floor of a plain-looking gray structure in the Beersheba-based headquarters, the IDF soldiers and Shin Bet analysts would discuss what to do and how to attack.

The IDF officers would allocate the necessary attack platform and ensure it was available. Once the mission was approved, an Arabic-speaking intelligence officer would call the owner. The drone would show that the people inside the building had left, the soldiers in the IDF command center would count the number of people who had left, ensuring the number matched up with the intelligence they had received, and they would then give the IAF the green light to attack.

The type of bomb used was adapted based on the target. If it was a private home with an arms cache hidden in the basement, the bomb needed to be capable of penetrating the roof and other floors and only detonate once it hit the basement. If the target was on the second floor, it needed to be a bomb that could be launched into a window and just destroy the second floor but nothing else. Success was often measured by the number of secondary explosions, caused by the amount of explosives hidden under the home.

For the first 40 strikes, everything worked smoothly. Some officers privately wondered among themselves why the Palestinians didn’t go to the roof and try to prevent the bombing.

“We knew that if they did that we would have to call off the strike,” one of the military planners at the time recalled.

Calls were made and empty buildings were struck. But then one day, the officer’s fears came true. One of the Palestinians, whose two-story home was a known Hamas weapons storage center, told the Israeli intelligence officer that he would not leave. Word was circulating around Gaza about the new tactic and people knew that exiting the building would mean not having a home to return to.

The family climbed to the roof, knowing a drone was above, and started making indecent gestures at the Israeli aircraft.

A disagreement broke out in the command center. Some of the officers thought Israel needed to go ahead with the attack. 

“If we don’t attack we will lose deterrence,” argued one of the officers, a veteran combat soldier from the IDF’s Nahal Infantry Brigade.

Others pushed back. The Jewish state, they said, couldn’t strike a building while knowing there were still civilians inside. The commander of the Southern Command was updated and the issue eventually made its way up to the chief of staff. Both agreed the strike could not go forward. It was called off.

The next day, another Palestinian refused to leave his home and the surveillance drone showed he had also climbed up to the roof. The commanders in the Attack Center watched the live feed with curiosity. In truth they didn’t know what to do.

On the one hand, they were dealing with a legitimate military target. Yes, it had been a house or an apartment building. But once it was being used for military purposes it had morphed into a military target according to the laws of war. The question now was about “proportionality” – a rule prohibiting attacks that may cause loss of life in excess of the military gain from the attack. This was a legal question that required constant consultations with Sharvit-Baruch and her team of lawyers.

Zvika Fogel, a retired brigadier-general, was in the war room that day. A reservist, Fogel had served as deputy commander of the Southern Command in the early 2000s. When Cast Lead broke out, Fogel was called up to run the Attack Center. Every target had to be signed off by him, whether a home, mosque or terrorist on a motorbike fleeing a just-used rocket launcher.

This war hit close to home for Fogel. On January 5, an IDF Merkava tank shot a shell at a building in the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza. The tank crew had mistakenly identified movement in the structure for Hamas terrorists when they were actually Israeli infantry soldiers from the Golani Brigade. Three troops were killed; 24 more were wounded.

Fogel oversaw the evacuation of the wounded. It would be remembered as one of the more complicated evacuations in IDF history. Once the tank had fired its shell, Hamas terrorists opened fire in the direction of the tank and the building and the whole street became a war zone, making it difficult to get the wounded out of the building.

The IDF launched artillery shells to create a smokescreen and provide cover for the troops to get out of the densely populated area and into the open where helicopters were trying to land to fly the wounded across the border to Israeli hospitals.

As he was overseeing the complex operation, Fogel had no clue that one of the wounded was his own son Dor who had been inside the building when the tank shell struck. Thankfully, he sustained only light injuries.

AFTER THE first time one of the telephoned Palestinians refused to leave his home, Fogel gathered his men in the Attack Center for a consultation on what to do. The home was a legitimate target and had been authorized by Sharvit-Baruch’s team. On the other hand, Fogel knew that attacking would incur too many civilian casualties and whatever tactical gain Israel might achieve from the bombing, it would be for naught.

One of the officers recalled the “Neighbor Procedure,” a controversial tactic employed by infantry units during operations in the West Bank in the beginning of the Second Intifada.

The procedure, which was eventually banned by the High Court of Justice, involved Israeli soldiers sending a neighbor or relative of a wanted Palestinian terror suspect to knock on their door before going in themselves. The idea was that the terror suspect wouldn’t open fire if they knew their cousin or neighbor was standing outside.

While that couldn’t be applied in the same way in Gaza – IDF troops were not always going to be on the ground – the officers started throwing around different ways to achieve the same goal: minimize casualties, on the Israeli side and Palestinian side as well.

“The Neighbor Procedure was an effort used to minimize harm to our soldiers and we thought how could we take it and do something else that could reduce harm to Palestinian civilians,” Fogel recounted.  

Fogel was highly motivated to find a solution. In 1996, he was commander of an artillery brigade operating in Lebanon during Operation Grapes of Wrath, started with the objective of stopping Hezbollah rocket fire into northern Israel.

Israel was determined to fight and push Hezbollah far from the border. But seven days into the operation, artillery shells fired by another unit to provide cover for an elite commando team operating in Lebanon accidentally hit a UN compound where Lebanese civilians had sought refuge. Over 100 civilians were reported killed.

While Fogel had not been involved in the assault, what happened next taught him a lesson. Later that day, in New York, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1052, calling for an immediate ceasefire. Israel, which started the operation with a legitimate cause – to defend its own people – came under harsh international criticism. Within days, the operation was over.

Now, 12 years later, Fogel was again fighting in an operation that had been launched to defend Israeli citizens and again was facing a similar problem like in Grapes of Wrath. Civilian casualties would undermine Israel’s legitimacy to act. The world would condemn the country and the government would ultimately succumb to the pressure and stop the IDF.

A couple of days later, when another Palestinian refused to evacuate his house, one of the officers on Fogel’s team came up with an innovative idea. He suggested sending an F-15 or F-16 to dip low over the home in Gaza, to break the sound barrier and try to scare the people inside.

Another officer had a different idea. The house was next to an empty field. 

“Why don’t we have a helicopter fire some warning shots into the empty field right next to the house,” the officer suggested.

The Southern Command officers liked the idea and tried it out. It worked and the residents fled the building. The problem was that the IDF would not always have empty lots next to structures it wanted to attack. It needed to come up with a better method.

“It was kind of like what we would do with a terror suspect who refused to leave his home in the West Bank,” the former Nahal Brigade officer who was stationed in the Attack Center explained. “We would first fire a standard 5.56 mm machine gun bullet at the door. If that didn’t work, we would fire a heavier cannon and if that didn’t work, we would throw a grenade.”

After a few more times, the IDF had refined the tactic. It selected a missile developed by Israel Aerospace Industries known for being small, accurate and capable of being configured to carry a limited amount of explosives.

After calling and encountering a refusal to leave the home, the air force will first fire one of these missiles on the roof. It will usually be fired into a corner, far from where people might be standing. In some cases, the missiles can be configured to burst in mid-air, minimizing even more the chances of casualties.

Once the Palestinians experience the “roof knocking,” in almost all cases they flee the building. After the Israeli drones verify the people have left, the Air Force then drops an even heavier bomb, destroying the structure.

While the IDF doesn’t say much about the weapons it uses, pictures of unexploded ordnance circulated online by Gaza residents show a missile with “Mikholit” written on it on Hebrew next to a stamp of Israel Aerospace Industries’ MBT Missile Division. Mikholit in Hebrew is a small paintbrush, like the kind an artist would use for precise painting.

The missile looks exactly like one developed by IAI called “Sledgehammer” which the company says has a range of 20 km., can carry 15-kg. warheads and weighs just 30 kg. It is this missile that Palestinians claim is fired at them from Israeli drones.

DEVELOPMENT OF the roof-knocking tactic was similar to the way the air force adapted to the use of civilian targets in the 1970s in Lebanon. These were the days before Hezbollah when the IDF was fighting against the PLO, which was regularly shelling northern Israel from Lebanon.

At the time, the term “collateral damage” was not as prevalent as it is today. The IAF had just come out of the Yom Kippur War badly beaten – over 100 aircraft were lost – and needed to adapt to a new urban battlefield in Lebanon while rebuilding its morale and deterrence.

“In the war, we were sent to hit runways where there isn’t collateral damage to worry about,” explained retired Brig.-Gen. Uzi Rosen, a former head of the IAF’s Operations Division. “You would take 10 bombs and statistically one would land where it needed to. You didn’t care if they didn’t hit exactly because the target was a runway. Same when you attacked a Syrian battalion on the Golan Heights.”

During the war, Rosen flew in the IAF’s 107th Squadron and on one flight his F-4 Phantom was hit by an Egyptian missile. Despite losing an engine, Rosen succeeded in landing back in Israel. In total, the squadron lost five planes during the war but not a single pilot. Its pilots succeeded in downing 14 enemy aircraft.

After the war, as fighting intensified in Lebanon, Israel found itself facing a new type of enemy – PLO fighters hiding with their Katyusha rockets inside apartment buildings. It presented the IDF with a new tough dilemma.

On the one hand, not attacking meant that within a day or two those same rockets would rain down on Kiryat Shmona. On the other hand, Israel really didn’t have precision-guided munitions yet in its arsenal. Civilians were always around the apartment buildings and attacking would mean extensive collateral damage.

One officer under Rosen came up with the idea to take regular bombs, remove the explosives and fill them instead with cement. This way, the bombs wouldn’t explode but would just cause damage. In other cases, the IAF took 250-kg. bombs and removed half the explosives to minimize the radius blast.

“We were in distress,” Rosen recalled.

The cement bombs were used on hundreds of targets, sometimes successfully and sometimes not as much. But it was all the IAF had until the 1980s, when laser-guided munitions as well as the Maverick – a bomb that used an electro-optical television guidance system – came into service.

Every bomb had its advantages. Laser-guided munitions required a pilot to either be directly over the target or to have troops on the ground “lighting” it up. Electro-optical bombs needed the ability to see the targets as well and sometimes have the navigator – also referred to as the “weapon systems operator” – drive the missile with a joystick all the way to the target.

“It was always a battle between the operational need to destroy a target and the collateral damage challenge,” Rosen remembered. “But it was exactly this need that started leading the defense industries and the army to develop our own precision capabilities.”

Israel’s technological leap came in the mid-1980s with the rollout of the Popeye, developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. What made the Popeye unique was that it came with a smokeless rocket engine – meaning it did not leave a trail – it could be launched from a plane around 100 km. away from a target and could then be driven – via datalink – all the way there by an IAF navigator. Its control could even be handed off to another plane as needed.

Another missile that has become popular in the IAF is the Spike. Also developed by Rafael, Spike’s origins were also in the Yom Kippur War during which the IDF got hammered by Syrian and Egyptian tanks. While Israel ultimately held on to its territory both in the Golan and the Sinai Peninsula, it needed a new weapon to have the upper hand in the event of another conflict.

The Spike – called “Tamuz” in the army – was a secret until just a few years ago. It was operated by two elite units and was fired from armored personnel carriers. The goal was to use the missiles to surprise and stop future tank invasions. IDF bunkers were stocked with the missiles, which came in different sizes and models, and were appreciated for their high degree of accuracy and lethality.

But with warfare changing – tank battles are no longer really a threat to Israel – the IDF needed to find a new use for the Spike and it did, in the air force always on the lookout for new precision-guided munitions.

ALL OF this was done on the fly and in the midst of battle. During the three weeks of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF would go on to drop more than 2.5 million leaflets warning civilians to leave their homes and made more than 165,000 phone calls warning civilians to distance themselves from military targets. The roof-knocking tactic was used dozens of times.

It didn’t go unnoticed. In a report published by the United Nations, Israel’s use of roof-knocking was harshly criticized, with investigators concluding that the “technique is not effective as a warning and constitutes a form of attack against the civilians inhabiting the building.”

One case that drew international condemnation was in July 2018 when two Palestinian teenagers were accidentally killed in a roof-knocking operation on an empty building in Gaza. In a reconstruction of the incident, B’Tselem found that the IAF had fired four warning shots at the building and that the first one had killed the boys as they sat on the roof taking a selfie with their legs dangling over the edge.

The attack, B’Tselem said at the time, showed how roof knocking was not just a warning but was a real attack and therefore needed to conform to international rules of law.

Israel has rejected this assumption. 

“Even if warning shots are considered an ‘attack,’ it is incorrect to view them as an attack ‘against civilians’ because they are not fired at civilians, since the objective of their use is to avoid harm to civilians,” explained Sharvit-Baruch, the IDF legal expert.

Despite the criticism, Israel has continued in the years since Cast Lead to use roof-knocking in its Gaza operations, out of a combination of tactical and strategic interests.

Tactically, commanders recognize the need to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties. Strategically, Israel’s political and military leaders know that when there are fewer casualties, there is less of a chance of a wider escalation with Hamas. Both are clear Israeli interests.

With the International Criminal Court in The Hague now investigating Israel’s 2014 war in Gaza, Israel will once again have to defend its tactics and explain what precautions it takes to minimize civilian casualties, an effort in which roof knocking plays a critical role.

When looking back on the day in 2009 when the IDF came up with roof knocking, it illustrated a determination to adhere to a level of morality not often seen in the midst of battle.

Israel could have taken the easy way out and attacked without phone calls or warning strikes. But it didn’t. The IDF officers and soldiers in the command center adapted to an evolving situation without having a thoroughly thought-out or carefully crafted doctrine for what to do, nor special technology that would guarantee success.

But, they had their objective – to adhere to Jewish values of going the extra mile to protect civilian life – and they acted accordingly. That is the story of roof knocking. 

In return to pre-Trump norm, State Dep’t report refers to ‘occupied’ territories

Posted March 31, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Human rights report names chapter ‘Israel, West Bank and Gaza,’ as in Trump era, but areas themselves labeled ‘occupied’ for first time in years

Israeli soldiers stop Palestinian protesters from reaching a Jewish settler outpost, at the outskirts of the West Bank village of Mughayer, north of Ramallah on December 18, 2020. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

Israeli soldiers stop Palestinian protesters from reaching a Jewish settler outpost, at the outskirts of the West Bank village of Mughayer, north of Ramallah on December 18, 2020. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

In a partial return to a pre-Trump-era norm, the US State Department’s annual report on human rights violations around the world published on Tuesday referred to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as territories “occupied” by Israel.

However, the Biden administration did not go as far as to title the specific chapter in the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” as had been the custom for decades until the Trump administration, led by former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who pushed to have it altered to say “Israel” followed by a list of the disputed territories.

In the 2017 report, the chapter was titled “Israel, Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza. After then-US president Donald Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the 2018 and 2019 reports dropped that territory from the section title.

The 2020 report — the first during the Biden administration — uses the same chapter label from the previous two years, “Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.”

In addition to changing the chapter title, the Trump-led State Department dropped almost every mention of occupation from the bodies of the 2017, 2018 and 2019 annual reports. The 2016 report was published in the early months of the Republican president’s administration, while the more moderate Rex Tillerson was secretary of state and before Friedman began his stint as ambassador.

The 2020 chapter states that it “covers the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war.”

However, it also clarifies that “language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.”

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (4th from right) tours the Efrat settlement with settler leaders on February 20, 2020. (Courtesy)

Asked to explain the decision to leave the chapter title on Israel and the Palestinians as it was under the Trump administration, Acting Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Lisa Peterson told journalists at the report’s unveiling press conference that labeling the chapter by its geographic areas rather than the more general “Occupied Territories” was more useful to readers.

Palestinian Ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot praised the labeling shift, but said that it would not be enough on its own.

“Good that we are back on the same page regarding the status of occupied territory. The real question is: What is the Biden administration going to do about it? It’s too late for talk, we need action to hold Israel accountable and to end the occupation,” Zomlot, who used to serve as the head of the PLO’s Mission in Washington,” told The Times of Israel.

Israel rejects the claim that it occupies the West Bank, saying the territories it has ruled since 1967 are “disputed.” While it maintains a blockade over the Gaza Strip, which it says is designed to prevent the smuggling of weapons to the enclave-ruling Hamas terror group, Israel notes that it pulled its military and citizens out of that territory.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War and the Golan Heights in 1981. The US has never recognized the former move, but Trump did become the first president to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 before recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019.

The Biden administration has said it would not walk back the Trump move on Jerusalem, agreeing that it is Israel’s capital. However, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has not recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Feb. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, Pool, File)

Pressed on the issue last month, Blinken acknowledged that the area is critical for Israel’s security, and that the current situation in Assad-led Syria makes talk of Israel returning the Golan Heights irrelevant. However, “if the situation were to change in Syria, that’s something we’d look at,’ he said.

Biden himself notably pushed back against referring to Israel’s control over the West Bank as an “occupation” in the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform — a move that angered some more dovish voices in the party.

But since he’s entered office, his administration has declared that it plans to reverse several Trump administration policies deemed counterproductive and detrimental to prospects for a two-state solution, such as the cutting of aid to the Palestinians and the shuttering of diplomatic missions to them.

Much of the 2020 report is similar to prior years, cataloging human rights abuses by the Israel Defense Forces, Hamas and Palestinian Authority. However, abuses by Israel were slightly more detailed than they were during the Trump years.

Within Israel proper, the report notes “significant human rights issues,” such as “targeted killings of Israeli civilians and soldiers [by Palestinians]; arbitrary detention, often extraterritorial in Israel, of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza; restrictions on Palestinians residing in Jerusalem including arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, and home; interference with freedom of association, including stigmatizing human rights nongovernmental organizations; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; violence against asylum seekers and irregular migrants; violence or threats of violence against national, racial, or ethnic minority groups; and labor rights abuses against foreign workers and Palestinians from the West Bank.”

Palestinians attend a Hamas rally marking the 32nd anniversary of the terror group’s founding, in the southern Gaza Strip, December 16, 2019. (Fadi Fahd/Flash90)

As for Israeli abuses in the West Bank and Gaza, the State Department documents reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings of Palestinians due to unnecessary or disproportionate use of force; reports of torture; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations; and significant restrictions on freedom of movement, including the requirement of exit permits.

As for the PA, the State Department notes reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, torture, and arbitrary detention by authorities; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet — including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations; restrictions on political participation, as the PA has not held a national election since 2006; acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; violence and threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; anti-Semitism in school textbooks; violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and reports of forced child labor.

On Hamas, the State Department highlights unlawful or arbitrary killings, systematic torture, and arbitrary detention by the terror group’s officials; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation, as there has been no national election since 2006; acts of corruption; reports of a lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; violence and threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; anti-Semitism in school textbooks; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers; violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and forced or compulsory child labor.

The State Department also notes “reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, and violence and threats of violence against Israeli citizens” by Palestinians and “reports of violence and threats of violence motivated by extremist nationalist sentiment” by Israelis.

US said open to crafting road map back to Iran nuclear deal, as progress stalls

Posted March 31, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Biden administration officials quoted saying indirect communication, political disputes and Iran’s upcoming election have hindered progress, as Tehran demands full sanction removal

US President Joe Biden passes a note to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during a virtual meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, from the State Dining Room of the White House, March 12, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

US President Joe Biden passes a note to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during a virtual meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, from the State Dining Room of the White House, March 12, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

US officials believe Iran may be willing to discuss a broad road map to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, according to a report Wednesday.

US President Joe Biden has placed resumption of the nuclear deal high on his list of foreign policy priorities, but so far all of his proposals have been rejected. Most recently, the US floated a step-by-step approach back to compliance, which Tehran has turned down.

An unnamed US official told the Reuters news agency: “What we had heard was that they were interested first in a series of initial steps, and so we were exchanging ideas on a series of initial steps.”

“It sounds from what we are hearing publicly now, and through other means, that they may be … not interested in [discussing] initial steps but in a road map for return to full compliance,” the US official said.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 8, 2021 (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

“If that’s what Iran wants to talk about, we are happy to talk about it,” he added.

However, it is unclear whether Iran is indeed willing to craft a road map back to the deal, the report said.

Last week, Iran’s supreme leader reiterated the Islamic Republic’s “definite policy” that Washington must lift all sanctions before Tehran returns to its commitments under deal.

The US and Iran have not communicated directly, instead relying on intermediaries such as Britain, France, China, or Russia.

The Miracle of Osirak

Posted March 30, 2021 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

Commentary Magazine

by Meir Y. Soloveichik

In June 1981, as Israel was about to begin the holiday of Shavuot, Prime Minister Menachem Begin informed the media he had just ordered one of the most audacious operations in modern military history: the destruction, by Israel’s Air Force, of the Osirak nuclear reactor outside Baghdad. The mission had seemed impossible, as it required flying a total of 2,000 miles—and Israel did not have the ability to refuel. It was assumed that not all the pilots would make it back alive. When all returned safely, Begin ebulliently announced it to the world, insisting that only if Israel publicly claimed responsibility would the attack serve as a future deterrent to Israel’s enemies.

There was only one problem. The notion that a prime minister mere weeks away from an election might have ordered such an attack was so unthinkable that the media refused to believe it. In his biography of Begin, Avi Shilon describes how his subject waited in vain for the Israeli Broadcast Agency to bring the news to the public:

The news editors at the IBA did not believe what they had heard. Uri Porat, the new communications adviser to the prime minister, phoned to find out what was holding up the announcement, but since his voice was unfamiliar to the news editors, they were convinced that it was a hoax. Finally, journalist Immanuel Halperin, Begin’s nephew, decided to call his uncle, and thus in an intimate conversation between Begin family members, the announcement that would cause a furor throughout the world came to light. But it was broadcast, of all places, in a news flash on Radio 3—the IBA’s pop music station—at 3:30 p.m., and Begin had to wait yet another half hour to hear it in an official IBA newscast.

Only in Israel: an earth-shattering event announced on a pop station and ignored elsewhere until confirmed by an impeccable source in the leader’s mishpocha.

The year 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of the “Begin Doctrine,” according to which no enemy of Israel will be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, and that Israel will act, on its own if necessary, to ensure this remained the case.

Four decades along, it is easy to forget how unexpected the attack was and how outraged much of the world was by it. In Israel, Begin’s electoral opponent, Shimon Peres, had sent him a letter pleading to hold off, but he only convinced the prime minister to act. Shilon describes how Begin told a cabinet member, “For all I know, a month from now, Shimon Peres will be sitting in this room. From his letter it’s clear to you that he certainly wouldn’t carry out this operation, and I’m not willing to leave the stage knowing that I left this problem hovering over our children.”

The international media largely denounced the attack as state-sponsored terror, and even world leaders sympathetic to Israel came down hard. Margaret Thatcher spoke of “a grave breach to international law,” and the Reagan administration ordered Jeane Kirkpatrick (to her dismay) to support an anti-Israel resolution at the UN.

The controversy and surprise show just how this operation, which kept a nuclear weapon out of the hands of Saddam Hussein, was a testament to the unique worldview of one man. Menachem Begin was a modern Zionist, but unlike some of Israel’s other founders, he always felt the personal presence of those murdered in the Holocaust, especially of his father and mother. Again and again, Begin made clear, in the months before the attack, that the fate of his family was very much on his mind. “This morning,” he told the cabinet during an Osirak planning meeting, “when I saw Jewish children playing outside, I decided: ‘No, never again.’” In a meeting with American Jews in May 1981, Begin was asked what he thought the lesson of the Holocaust was. He replied:

First, if an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him. Don’t doubt him for a moment. Don’t make light of it. Do all in your power to deny him the means of carrying out his satanic intent. Second, when a Jew anywhere is threatened, or under attack, do all in your power to come to his aid. Never pause to wonder what the world will think or say. The world will never pity slaughtered Jews. The world may not necessarily like the fighting Jew, but the world will have to take account of him.

These Americans had no idea what Begin was planning when he said these words. He was indeed the fighting Jew, and the world certainly did not like him. Time magazine helpfully informed its readership that the name Begin “rhymes with Fagin,” and American Jewry in 1981 was told repeatedly that they must choose “between Reagan and Begin.” But Begin did not “pause to wonder what the world would say,” and the world did indeed “have to take account of him.”

At the same time, the “fighting Jew” who acted to neutralize the Iraqi threat also was a Jew of profound faith. Yehudah Avner, Begin’s speechwriter, reported that as the planes took off, Begin said to himself “Hashem yishmor aleihem,” may God protect them. And when he was informed that the strike was successful, he instinctively exclaimed two words that Jews have said every day for centuries, but that no other Israeli prime minster would have instinctively uttered: Barukh Hashem, thank God. A month later he met with the American Jewish leader Max Fisher and reflected further on the religious meaning of the moment: “Am I a believer—do I believe in Elokei Yisrael, the God of Israel? The answer is a categorical yes. How else to account for our success in accomplishing the virtually impossible? Every conceivable type of enemy weaponry was arraigned against our pilots….Yet not a single one touched us. Only by the grace of God could we have succeeded in that mission.”

Was the assault on Osirak a strategic achievement, or was it a miracle? For the prime minister, it was both. On Yom Kippur 1973, Israel had been caught napping; on Shavuot 1981, Begin announced to the world that Israel would not be caught asleep at the wheel again. And he believed that if Israel avoided somnolence, then its people would also have the right to pray to the God Who, according to the Psalms, is the protector of Israel that neither slumbers nor sleeps. No other Israeli leader so seamlessly merged the Zionist present and the Diasporic past, simultaneously making manifest Jewish independence and humble faith.

Since 1981, Israel has acted several times to prevent its enemies from acquiring nuclear weapons, and it is much stronger—both militarily and diplomatically—than it was in Begin’s day. This is a wonderful thing. But what is missed is the man—a leader who joined strong action with communion to the past, a Jew who could order an ingenious operation and then pray to God for its success.

When Peres accused Begin of ordering the operation for electoral reasons, Begin had a ready reply. “Jews!” he bellowed to the crowd at a rally. “You have known me for 40 years!” He had more to say, but that was enough. Forty years after he said those words, the legacy of Begin’s operation lives on, and many operations like it have followed. But as we remember the “fighting Jew,” we must wonder whether we will ever see a man like him again.

Israel’s Strategy To Stop Iran’s Existential Threats

Posted March 30, 2021 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

Article from 26 Feb 2021

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Israel is willing to take action to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said this week. His statement framed part of a full-court press of Israel warning of Iran’s regional threats as Tehran continues to enrich uranium. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long warned of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, but the transition to a new administration in Washington has been exploited by Iran to increase its enrichment and threats. A senior Israeli defense official laid out to me this week how seriously Israel views the threat. Tehran should listen.

Israel has acted in the past to prevent Iraq and Syria from obtaining nuclear capabilities. Netanyahu warned in a 2012 speech to the United Nations that a red line must be drawn on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Now Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei says Iran could increase the levels of enrichment to 60 percent. This is a nuclear numbers game that Iran uses like a game of chicken with the U.S., hoping the Biden administration will blink and jump right back into an Iran Deal 2.0.

For Israel, it’s essential that the U.S. understand Jerusalem’s views. Israel doesn’t want a nuclear arms race in the region. Iran is an existential threat and no matter who wins Israel’s elections next month, Israel will not accept a threat that violates its declared red lines. At the same time, Israel wants the U.S. and its Western allies to know that they can count on Israel to confront Iran’s proxies and various entrenchments throughout the region. In January 2019, former Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Gadi Eizenkot revealed that Israel had carried out more than 1,000 airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria. Since then, Israel has continued what it calls the “campaign between the wars” to stop Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and transfer of weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

There is no substitute for U.S. power and influence in the Middle East, the senior Israeli defense official told Newsweek this week. This unshakable bond with the U.S. is essential, as is bipartisan support for Israel in Congress. Part of this support for Israel also anchors the Jewish state in the region via new U.S.-brokered peace deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and it is linked to U.S. support for other important partners, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. While the Biden administration has been critical of Egyptian and Saudi human rights abuses, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently indicated in a call with his Egyptian counterpart, Israel hopes this criticism will go hand-in-hand with continued U.S. support.

The threats are too grave for the U.S. and European allies, such as France and Germany, to take their eyes off the threat. Iran’s nuclear program is connected to its broader destabilizing policies, from fueling the Houthi rebels in Yemen and arming them with ballistic missile and drone technology, to moving rockets to Iraq that threaten U.S. troops and Israel. Iran today is one of the leading countries in the world for ballistic missile technology.

The strategic paradigm for Israel today is multilayered. It wants to increase its ability to deter Iran, for instance, through acquisition of more F-35s and other aircraft from the U.S., along with its own development of new air defense capabilities. It also wants Iran to end its long-running entrenchment in Syria. An American commitment to Syria, or even a U.S. deal with Russia on Syria, might reduce Iran’s freedom of maneuver there. Any new Iranian nuclear deal must prevent future enrichment and not merely enable Iran to continue enrichment after a certain time period, as the 2015 deal did. Iran was supposed to keep stockpiles of enrichment at 3.67 percent. Instead, it has installed advanced centrifuges at Natanz and Fordow.

Iran thinks that it can use this nuclear blackmail to get the U.S. and the West to do what it wants. But Israel is messaging to Washington and others how seriously it takes the Iranian threat. Iran is becoming reckless, with recent rocket attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, and is encouraging attacks on Saudi Arabia. In Lebanon, Hezbollah even fired a missile at an Israeli drone this month.

In mid-February, days after Hezbollah fired the missile at an Israeli drone, and the day before Netanyahu and President Joe Biden first spoke by phone, Israel launched a surprise air force drill in which it simulated striking up to 3,000 targets a day. A week later, Netanyahu and Gantz warned Iran that Israel was serious about preventing a nuclear Iran. Tehran should listen.