Australian PM praises Israel upon Netanyahu visit, first by an Israeli PM

 

G’day, mate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed in Australia on Tuesday for an official state visit, marking the first such visit to Australia by an Israeli prime minister. He was warmly welcomed by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who wrote an op-ed in The Australian praising Israel as a fellow democracy.

“Our friendship is as old as the state of Israel itself,” the op-ed began. “Our peoples are bound together first and foremost by the values we share – a mutual commitment to democracy and the rule of law.” Turnbull continued, “Israel is a miraculous nation. It has flourished despite invasion, conflict and an almost complete lack of natural resources, other than the determination and genius of its people. And yet in a region wracked by war, it succeeds as the sole liberal democracy, a world leader in every field of science and technology, its culture of innovation the envy of the world.”

Turnbull also made clear that his government “will not support one-sided resolutions criticising Israel of the kind recently adopted by the UN Security Council and we deplore the boycott campaigns designed to delegitimise the Jewish state.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his delight at visiting Australia and said at a joint press conference that his visit “celebrates, really, 100 years of friendship of Australia to the Jewish people and their state.”

The two countries will sign agreements to enhance direct air travel between them and to cooperate in the fields of technology and innovation.

Netanyahu’s visit to Australia comes directly on the heels of a two-day trip to Singapore.

 

No justice, no freedom. Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi — leaders of the 2009 pro-democracy “Green Movement” protests in Iran — will not be released from house arrest as previously promised, according to a Los Angeles Times article published Tuesday. Their freedom was a campaign pledge made by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani before winning office.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rejected calls for “national reconciliation,” effectively ensuring the opposition leaders’ perpetual detainment. He denounced efforts to mend ties with Green Revolution dissenters as “meaningless.”

“Previous Iranian leaders placed under house arrest never reemerged — including Mohammad Mossadegh, ousted as prime minister in a CIA-backed coup in 1953, and Hussein-Ali Montazeri, a leader of the Islamic Revolution who was marginalized after a falling out with Khamenei,” notes The Times. Both died while under house arrest.

 

Crushing teenage dreams. Dorsa Derakhshani, an 18-year-old chess grandmaster, was kicked off Iran’s national team after she failed to wear the Islamic hair covering known as the hijab at the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival 2017, Radio Free Europe reported. Her 15-year-old brother, Borna, was also booted from the national team after playing against an Israeli opponent at the same competition.

Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh, head of the Iranian Chess Federation, told Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency on Sunday that the siblings “will be denied entry to all tournaments taking place in Iran, and, in the name of Iran, they will no longer be allowed the opportunity to be present on the national team.”

Iran not only enforces the hijab on its own nationals but also requires that non-Iranian women wear the hijab when competing in the country. Nazí Paikidze-Barnes, the reigning American female chess champion, withdrew from the 2017 Women’s World Chess Championship after it was announced that it will be held in Iran and that participants would be forced to cover their hair.

“Some consider a hijab part of culture,” Paikidze-Barnes said in announcing her decision. “But, I know that a lot of Iranian women are bravely protesting this forced law daily and risking a lot by doing so. That’s why I will NOT wear a hijab and support women’s oppression.”

All women in Iran are required to wear headscarves, a law that is enforced with an iron grip. About 40,000 cars were confiscated in the first half of 2015 because drivers or passengers were not wearing their headscarves properly. Many women were pulled over and beaten on the ground, only to be arrested afterwards.

 

This time for Africa. Israel and the Word Bank will sign three agreements to cooperate in the fields of water, cybersecurity, and agriculture in African nations. In a statement, Israel’s Economy Minister, Eli Cohen, said, “Cooperation with the World Bank is an opportunity for us to showcase some of the capabilities and innovation that Israel can offer to developing countries.”

World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim visited Israel last week, meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, and Cohen. In his meeting, Rivlin said to Dr. Kim, “We are cooperating on so many projects especially in agriculture and water conservation. Israel is committed to advancements in these fields for all peoples around the world and it is an honor to be your partner for the benefit of all humanity.”

Last year witnessed a series of diplomatic breakthroughs for Israel, especially with African nations. Netanyahu embarked on a historic tour of East Africa in July, restored diplomatic ties with the Muslim-majority nation of Guinea, and met with 15 African heads of state and ambassadors at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

 

Iranian leader urges “holy jihad” against “cancerous tumor” Israel

 

If you don’t have anything nice to say… Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for a violent Palestinian uprising against Israel, which he denounced as a “cancerous tumor” in remarks Tuesday at the Iranian regime’s sixth conference in support of a Palestinian intifada. Khamenei said that the wave of terrorism Palestinians launched against Israelis beginning in October 2015 was “moving forward in a bright and hopeful manner.” He continued, “And by Allah’s permission, we will see that this intifada will begin a very important chapter in the history of fighting and that it will inflict another defeat on that usurping regime.”

Referring to Israel, Khamenei said, “From the beginning, this cancerous tumor has been developing in several phases until it turned into the current disaster.” He praised Palestinian terrorists, saying, “The Palestinian intifada continues to gallop forward in a thunderous manner so that it can achieve its other goals until the complete liberation of Palestine.” Khamenei denounced the two-state solution, which he called “compromise strategies,” and instead urged an all-out “holy jihad.”

Khamenei also said that the creation of Israel was “one of the dirty chapters of history that will be closed, with the grace of God.” 

Delegations from about 80 countries attended the two-day conference.

 

Anti-Semitism rising. For the fourth time in five weeks, Jewish community centers (JCCs) across the United States were evacuated after receiving bomb threats on Monday. At least 10 JCCs were targeted.

This is the latest incident following a series of ominous threats. As listed by The Times of Israel, “A total of 48 JCCs in 26 states and one Canadian province received nearly 60 bomb threats during January. On Jan 31, some 17 JCCs across the United States were targeted with bomb threats. On Jan. 18, some 30 Jewish institutions in at least 17 states received bomb threats. On Jan. 9, such threats were called into 16 JCCs across the Northwest and South, forcing the evacuation of hundreds.”

“America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. #JCC,” tweeted Ivanka Trump, a convert to Judaism and daughter of the president.

Earlier, the White House responded to a reporter’s query about the latest string of bomb threats called in to Jewish community centers by saying “these actions are unacceptable.”

 

Game-changer. The Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah has reportedly acquired advanced anti-ship missiles, Ynet reported Sunday. The Russian Yakhont missile has a range of up to 300 kilometers. This would be a “game-changing” development.

The missiles would present, The Times of Israel reported, a “serious threat to Israeli interests in the Mediterranean; endangering both Israeli commercial vessels sailing in shipping lanes off the Lebanese coast and the ability of Israeli Navy ships to operate in and around Lebanese waters.” The article continued, “Most significantly, the missiles would give Hezbollah the ability to strike Israel’s gas production platforms in the Mediterranean, a threat Israel reportedly intends to counter by installing maritime versions of the Iron Dome missile defense system on naval vessels.” Ynet added that Hezbollah would also be able to use the missiles to target U.S. Navy vessels of the Sixth Fleet, which operate in the Mediterranean.

On Monday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah repeated threats to attack Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona and its ammonia storage tank near Haifa – an attack on the latter would, according to an Israeli expert, represent a catastrophe on the scale of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

 

Times are changing. After years of encountering disproportionate anti-Israel criticism and bias at the United Nations, the United States “will not turn a blind eye to this anymore,” new United States Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said on Thursday. Her remarks are available on video.

Haley described her first meeting of the UN Security Council: “The Security Council is supposed to discuss how to maintain international peace and security. But at our meeting on the Middle East, the discussion was not about Hizballah’s illegal build-up of rockets in Lebanon. It was not about the money and weapons Iran provides to terrorists. It was not about how we defeat ISIS. It was not about how we hold Bashar al-Assad accountable for the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of civilians. No, instead, the meeting focused on criticizing Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East. I am new around here, but I understand that’s how the Council has operated, month after month, for decades.”

Haley proclaimed that the U.S. is “determined to stand up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias,” and will not “repeat the terrible mistake” of failing to veto anti-Israel resolutions, such as what happened last year with Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Hamas rejects aid for peace deal

 

No aid for peace. A senior Hamas official on Friday rejected Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s offer of “massive” assistance to the people of Gaza predicated on the condition that Hamas give up its rockets and attack tunnels, and release three Israeli men the organization is believed to be holding hostage.

Hamas spokesperson Mahmoud al-Zahar flatly refused the offer and said if Gaza wanted to be like Singapore (read: a thriving, economically stable nation), it would have done so already.

“The moment Hamas gives up on tunnels and rockets, we will be the first ones to invest and build [Gaza’s residents] a seaport, an airport, and industrial zones by the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings,” Liberman said. “We are able to immediately create about 40,000 jobs for the residents of Gaza.”

 

The northern front. In an op-ed appearing in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Mark Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C. think tank, urged the U.S. to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which were acquired in a defensive war against Syria in 1967. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked President Donald Trump and his administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in a meeting on Wednesday and at a breakfast with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday.

Israel expressed willingness to cede the Golan in negotiations with Syria over decades; however, as the authors of the piece noted, “Had Israel ceded the Golan to Syria, Islamic State, al Qaeda or Iran would be sitting on the shores of the Galilee across from the Israeli city of Tiberias” due to the effects of the civil war in Syria. For the Trump administration, which has expressed a desire to split Iran off from its ally Russia, such a move “would show that the U.S. will take a tougher line in the provision of arms and intelligence to Iran and Hezbollah.”

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization, have attempted in recent years to establish a terrorist infrastructure on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Israel is deeply concerned about such a development, particularly in the aftermath of military victories by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Prof. Asher Susser, a senior fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, told BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus, “The changes in Syria [due to  the civil war] have brought Iran closer to Israel’s borders than ever before.”

 

Presents from Tehran. Iran has sent “game-changing” weapons to its proxy group Hezbollah, which has been actively building tunnels and fortifications along Lebanon’s border with Israel, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported Wednesday, citing Lebanese media.

Ibrahim al-Amin, chairman of the pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar, wrote in an editorial on January 24 that “a vast supply of advanced, state-of-the art weapons of various kinds, including weapons provided by Iran” have flown into Hezbollah’s depots since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. He also asserted that while Israel targeted convoys transporting sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah, “dozens if not hundreds of convoys managed to [get through and] bring the necessary [weapons] to the resistance bases in Lebanon.”

“Israel reads the map and realizes that Hizbullah’s weapons arsenal has steadily grown, and is now several times larger than it was in 2006, and that the kind of weapons that the enemy tried and is still trying to prevent the resistance from acquiring – namely, what Israel calls ‘game-changing’ weapons – is available to it in great amounts,” al-Amin claimed.

Al-Amin observed that Hezbollah fired 4,300 rockets into Israel during the 2006 war between the two. Now, Israel estimates that Hezbollah would be able to fire 1,500 rockets at it each day, but “these are the enemy’s estimates, and they are surely wrong,” he wrote.

A separate report on Hezbollah’s preparations for another confrontation with Israel appeared several days earlier in Al-Mustaqbal, which is owned by Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’d Al-Hariri, aa rival of Hezbollah. The paper confirmed that Hezbollah was operating in southern Lebanon, in violation United Nations Security Council resolution 1701. “Hizbullah has concealed forward positions on the international border [between Lebanon and Israel], including tunnels it dug over 10 years ago, especially in the Al-Labouna area, south of Al-Naqoura. [This area] overlooks the Palestinian coast and the [Israeli] towns of Shlomi and Nahariya,” Al-Mustaqbal noted. The report also claimed that Hezbollah has shared its tunnel digging expertise with Hamas.

 

Noah’s Ark is said to have saved many animals from extinction. Now, veterinarians at the Zoological Center Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan Safari, together with experts from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Germany, are using innovative techniques to create a DNA tissue bank for animals – especially those expected to become extinct in the next few years. The Israel-German Ark of Life is a frozen zoo comprising animal DNA samples kept in special tubes at a constant -196 degrees Celsius. The forward-thinking conservation project uses modern means to prepare for future advances in saving animals. “Today we can take the genes to conserve. The tissues can be used in the future for several reasons, whether to reproduce species of animals that become extinct or maybe reproduce organs for transplants,” Dr. Yigal Horowitz, chief veterinarian at the Safari and head of the project, tells ISRAEL21c. (via ISRAEL21c)

Former Israeli Ambassador to U.S. highlights Arab cooperation, Iran threat

 

Roger that, Michael Oren. In a conference call held by The Israel Project on Thursday, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren weighed in on President Donald Trump’s meeting Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking about the possibilities of Israeli cooperation with Arab states and the threat from Iran. Ambassador Oren told journalists, “Saudi Arabia implicitly backed Israel during our recent military engagements both with Hamas and with Hezbollah. And there’s been a visit of a former high ranking Saudi general to Israel.” While the Saudi government has to be discreet about such cooperation because of popular opinion, “as long as we can keep it under the radar and do not demand that they be public about it, we can get a tremendous amount of cooperation from the Saudis and the Gulf states.”

Ambassador Oren highlighted the dangers presented by Iran, which “is complicit in the murder of a half million Syrians” and spreading its influence in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. “This is an Iran which is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror…which is systematically violating UN restrictions on missile development.” Many of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program that are in the nuclear deal reached between the global powers and Iran in 2015, such as the quantity and quality of centrifuges and enriched uranium, come off after 10 to 15 years, at which point Iran “can make not one nuclear weapon but two hundred nuclear weapons in a very short period.” He emphasized the importance of U.S-Israeli cooperation in the face of this threat.

 

Out and about. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized the threat of a rising Iran during a series of meetings with congressional leadership on Wednesday.

Netanyahu met one-on-one with Congress’ top legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.), and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Though specific reports of these closed-door meetings were mostly not made public, Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying that “the prime minister discussed the issues of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Palestinians.”

Netanyahu’s meeting with Ryan had more details publicized. “Prime Minister Netanyahu and I redoubled our commitment to strengthening the historic alliance between the United States and Israel,” Ryan said in a statement. “We discussed the need to hold Iran accountable for its actions, bolster Israel’s qualitative military edge, and push back against international efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state. The special relationship between our nations has been an anchor of stability during uncertain and dangerous times. It must remain a cornerstone of American leadership today. I want to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for his unwavering friendship and support.”

Netanyahu also met with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday morning. The two pledged to “work together in a systematic manner” to combat anti-Israel bias at the United Nations, a member of Netanyahu’s delegation told the Times of Israel.

 

Going nuclear. The chief of Hezbollah threatened to attack Israel’s nuclear reactor, located at Dimona in the country’s Negev Desert, in a speech on Thursday. “I call upon the Israelis not only to evacuate the ammonia tank from Haifa, but also to dismantle [the] Dimona nuclear facility,” said Hassan Nasrallah. “The Israeli nuclear weapon that represents a threat to the entire region, we will turn it into a threat to Israel.” On Sunday, an Israeli court ordered Haifa Chemicals to empty an ammonia tank at Haifa’s port – this came a couple of weeks after a report was released by Prof. Ehud Keinan, a chemistry expert at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which explained that an attack on the ammonia tank would “cause a disaster whose effects could exceed that of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.” (The court’s injunction to empty the tank was later delayed after a petition by Haifa Chemicals). 

Nasrallah continued, “We will hit the tank wherever it is…Of course, Haifa would be easier but we will hit it anywhere.” The Hezbollah leader threatened last February to launch strikes at the tank. “This would be exactly as a nuclear bomb, and we can say that Lebanon today has a nuclear bomb, seeing as any rocket that might hit these tanks is capable of creating a nuclear bomb effect,” Nasrallah said.

The speech Nasrallah gave was on the occasion of the 9th anniversary of the death of Imad Mughniyeh, who was the chief military commander of Hezbollah before being killed. Mughniyeh was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and others on behalf of Iran; he was the mastermind of the 1983 attack on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.

 

The results are in. A staggering 71% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Israel, according to a new Gallup poll released Wednesday. This represents the fourth straight year that Israel’s favorable rating has been 70% or higher. Only about one in four Americans view Israel unfavorably.

Gallup also concluded this month that Americans are “tepid” on Palestinian statehood, with 45% of Americans in support and 42% opposed. Americans’ support for an independent Palestinian state is essentially unchanged from last year, but the percentage opposed is up five percentage points – the highest level seen in Gallup’s trend.

Sixty-two percent of Americans say they sympathize more with the Israelis compared with 19% who sympathize with the Palestinians, similar to the past several years. Another 19% express no preference, including 5% who say they sympathize with both equally, 6% who sympathize with neither and 8% who have no opinion.

Trump: Palestinians must stop the hate if they want peace

 

Stop the hate. Speaking in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House Wednesday, President Donald Trump was crystal clear: Palestinians must end their indoctrination of anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in order for peace to be possible.

“They’re taught tremendous hate. I’ve seen what they’re taught,” said the President, adding that such acculturation “starts at a very young age and it starts in the school room.” Many Palestinian educational materials glamorize Hitler and the killing of Jews (not to mention the destruction of Israel). 

Trump also indicated a shift in American policy towards an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Rather than insisting on a two-state solution, as his two immediate predecessors did as official policy, Trump was more ambivalent, stating, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.” The key takeaway from Trump’s remarks was that ultimately it will be up to the two parties to negotiate and come up with the solution they find best. 

His meeting in Washington with Netanyahu was the earliest of its kind—no administration has met with the Israeli premier so soon into its term.

 

United we stand. The Trump administration has been in talks with Sunni Arab states to form a NATO-like mutual defense organization to counter Iran and ISIS, which would share intelligence with Israel, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The coalition would consist of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan; other Arab countries would be able to join as well.

An Arab diplomat told the Journal, “They’ve been asking diplomatic missions in Washington if we’d be willing to join this force that has an Israeli component. Israel’s role would be intelligence sharing, not training or boots on the ground. They’d provide intelligence and targets. That’s what the Israelis are good at.” The Journal continued, “In talks with administration officials over the past two weeks, Emirati and Saudi officials have expressed admiration for Israeli security and intelligence capabilities, tacitly agreeing to pool intelligence with the Israelis if the alliance is formed.” Saudi Maj. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said, “With Israel, we don’t have official relations…[But] the Israelis are facing the same Iranian threat, exactly like us.”

The Arab countries have reportedly said they would welcome “overt cooperation with Israel” if the latter halts settlement construction, and such cooperation would also be contingent upon the U.S. not moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often mentioned warmer relations between Israel and Arab countries. On Wednesday, during a joint press conference with President Donald Trump at the White House, Netanyahu said, “For the first time in Israel’s lifetime and my lifetime, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy but as an ally.”

 

To infinity, and beyond! India launched 104 nanosatellites via a single rocket into orbit Wednesday—two of them Israeli. The launching of the 104 satellites set a new record, trumping Russia’s previous feat of sending 37 satellites in a single launch in 2014.

One of the Israeli satellites—slightly larger than a milk carton—will study climate change and scientific phenomena from space. It was developed by Ben Gurion University in collaboration with the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space, and will be the first time that any Israeli university will have access to data from an Israeli nanosatellite for research purposes.

Indian-Israeli ties are steadily growing closer. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is planning a trip to Israel in 2017—the first ever of its kind. The announcement came last month after the two countries celebrated 25 years of diplomatic relations.

 

New evidence found in ancient Judean clay jars shows Earth’s geomagnetic field has been fluctuating for thousands of years and that there is no reason to be worried about its current welfare, even though it is diminishing and some scientists suspect it is about to flip. In a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers from Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and University of California-San Diego cite data obtained from the analysis of 67 well-dated Judean jar handles. These heat-impacted ceramic pots, which bear royal stamp impressions from the eighth to second centuries BCE, show evidence of changes in the strength of the geomagnetic field over the years. “The period spanned by the jars allowed us to procure data on the Earth’s magnetic field during that time — the Iron Age through the Hellenistic Period in Judea,” said Erez Ben-Yosef of TAU’s Institute of Archaeology, the study’s lead investigator. Scientists don’t entirely understand the function of the geomagnetic field, but some suspect there’s a correlation between magnetic pole flips, which leave the planet vulnerable to cosmic radiation, and mass extinctions. “This new finding puts the recent decline in the field’s strength into context. Apparently, this is not a unique phenomenon – the field has often weakened and recovered over the last millennia,” said Ben-Yosef. (via Israel21c)