Shin Bet: Hamas stealing Turkish aid money to fund terror

 

Robbing the poor. Two Palestinian men have been charged with funneling funds from Turkish charities earmarked for Gaza reconstruction to the terrorist group Hamas, Israel’s internal security service announced on Tuesday.

The Shin Bet said that Muhammad Murtaja, the Gaza coordinator of the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA), was arrested in February as he attempted to travel from Gaza to Turkey, The Times of Israel reported. Another suspect, Mehmet Kaya, the head of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), has not yet been apprehended.

“The egotistical Hamas terror organization has robbed funds that are meant for the needy of Gaza from international organizations,” said Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, coordinator of government activities in the territories. “Hamas prospers at the expense of the residents of the Strip and uses donations meant for them to finance terror.”

According to the Shin Bet, Hamas recruited Murtaja in 2008 in order to siphon charitable funds meant for “meaningful humanitarian projects.” He is believed to have diverted “millions of shekels” in aid for needy Gazans, and instead arranged for individuals who “were apparently Hamas military operatives and their families” to receive the funds.

Murtaja carried out the embezzlement with the knowledge of Hamas’s leadership, “with Ismail Haniyeh at its head,” the Shin Bet said. Following his recruitment, Murtaja also participated in “training and military exercises, manufacturing weapons and improvised explosive devices and digging terror tunnels,” the agency added.

During his interrogation, Murtaja gave the Shin Bet “operational information” about Hamas’ network of terror tunnels, as well as its future war plans.

 

No separation. The Israel Defense Forces chief of staff declared Sunday that in the event there is a war with Hezbollah, Lebanon will bear the brunt of it. Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said at a military ceremony Sunday, “The recent declarations from Beirut make it clear that in a future war, the targets will be clear: Lebanon and the organizations operating under its authority and its approval.”

Eisenkot was referring to statements made by Lebanese President Michel Aoun last month that legitimized Hezbollah’s armaments in Lebanon. “As long as the Lebanese army lacks sufficient power to face Israel, we feel the need for (Hezbollah’s) arsenal because it complements the army’s role,” Aoun said.

Hezbollah and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) share a close relationship. In a military parade in Qusayr, Syria last November, the Iranian-backed group showed off a variety of arms and vehicles, including American M113 armored personnel carriers. The United States provides military aid to the LAF, so there is concern among Israel’s security establishment that American weapons and vehicles will continue to end up in the hands of Hezbollah. This undoing of “the separation between Hizbullah’s military power and the Lebanese army” means that Israel will face “a single force, [which] will enable Israel to operate freely against the Lebanese state, including its army and civilian infrastructures, at any time that Hizbullah acts against Israel,” wrote Brig.  Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

In The Times of Israel last month, journalist Avi Issacharoff explained that the Israeli military is increasingly concerned about the Hezbollah-LAF relationship and will take it into consideration in the next war against Hezbollah, which was the thrust of Eisenkot’s remarks on Sunday.

 

Coming soon. Israel announced on Monday that the David’s Sling weapons system, designed to tackle medium-range rocket and missile threats, is set to be operational within the coming weeks.

“In the next few weeks we will finish a long process of testing a new weapons system that will join the air force,” said Lt.-Col. Kobi Regev, the David’s Sling battalion commander.

Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch, head of the army’s Aerial Defense Command, suggested that David’s Sling could be deployed as soon as two weeks’ time. He said that the missile system will provide “more capabilities and more effectiveness” for Israel’s missile defense. However, he noted that these systems are never enough, “not hermetic.”

Once operational, David’s Sling will join Iron Dome, Arrow 2, and Arrow 3 as part of Israel’s layered aerial defense system, which has been developed in coordination with the U.S.

The Iron Dome, which was successfully deployed during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, provides protection from short-range weapons while the Arrow system is designed to counter the threat of longer range weapons, such as the Iranian Shihab-3 missiles. David’s Sling will combat medium-range threats.

Brig. Gen. Haimovitch also revealed on Monday that a Syrian anti-aircraft missile, which was intercepted by an Arrow missile last Friday, contained a significant warhead. “The Syrian missile had a 200kg warhead that threatened the security of the State of Israel and its citizens,” he said.

Maariv describes it as “the most dangerous missile since the Gulf War” to be fired at Israel.

The skirmish was one of several incidents in recent days, which have increased tensions on the Israeli-Syrian border.

On Monday, an Israeli unmanned drone was shot down near Quneitra in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights. The Syrian Defense Ministry said that its air defense unit had downed the Skylark vehicle over its territory, but the IDF would not confirm whether it had been shot down or not. (via BICOM)

 

Israelis are a happy people. Very happy, according to the United Nations’ 2017 World Happiness Report. In fact, Israel ranks as the world’s 11th happiest country for the fourth year in a row, according to the report. The global happiness survey ranks 155 countries on happiness and well-being. Norway clinched first place this year, followed by Denmark (2nd), Iceland (3rd), and Switzerland (4th). Israel placed ahead of the US (14th), Germany (16th) and the UK (19th). The UN survey is now in its fifth installment. Israel placed 14th in 2012 and then climbed to 11th place where it remains to date. (via Israel21c)

BDS founder arrested for tax evasion

 

Don’t boycott your taxes. The leader of the campaign to boycott Israel was arrested by Israeli authorities on Monday for allegedly failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income, Globes reported.

Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, is suspected of evading taxes on some $700,000 that he earned between 2007 to 2017 while serving as the director of the Ramallah-based National Computing Resources, which markets and rents ATMs and other technology within the Palestinian Authority.

Barghouti, who resides in the Israeli city of Acre, deposited the money in a Ramallah bank account to hide it from tax authorities, according to the charges. He is also believed to have deposited income from a global speaking tour and book royalties in a bank account in the United States, which was similarly hidden from authorities.

Police say that credit cards and transaction records found at his house support their suspicions.

Barghouti, a Qatari-born Palestinian, is married to an Arab-Israeli woman and holds Israeli permanent residency status. He earned a degree in philosophy at Tel Aviv University.

 

Save the matzah. The Iran-backed Palestinian terror group Hamas will “no doubt” try to launch terror attacks on Israel during the upcoming Passover holiday, the head of Israel’s internal security agency told the Knesset’s influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.

“We are just before the Passover holiday, and there is no doubt that terrorist infrastructures, mostly the established one, and specifically Hamas, will try to agitate the area and carry out attacks,” Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman testified.

“Our goal, of course, is to ensure quiet holidays for every citizen of the State of Israel,” he added.

It is not uncommon for Israeli security agencies to warn of increased terror risks prior to holidays. Jews often go up to the Temple Mount before holidays, prompting Palestinian claims that Jews are “storming” their holy places. Arrested terrorists often cite concern over the Temple Mount as a motivation for their attacks. Families who go on hikes and other outings can also be targeted.

Due to these concerns, the Israel Defense Forces closes crossing between Israel and the West Bank during major Jewish holidays.

Argaman, who was appointed to lead the Shin Bet last May, also said that his agency has been improving its ability to prevent “lone wolf” attacks, which were frequent during the “wave of terror” in late 2015 and early 2016. The Shin Bet arrested 400 would-be lone wolf attackers last year, Argaman revealed.

 

Dishonorable mention. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Sunday that he will grant his people’s highest honor to the former head of a United Nations agency that issued a widely criticized report on Israel last week, Haaretz reported.

According to a statement from the office of the Palestinian president, Abbas informed Rima Khalaf by phone that she will be awarded the Palestine Medal of the Highest Honor in recognition of her “courage and support” of the Palestinian people.

Khalaf, a Jordanian diplomat, stepped down as the head of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) on Friday, after UN Secretary-General António Guterres demanded that she remove a controversial report by her agency that accused Israel of perpetrating apartheid against the Palestinians. She had two weeks left in her term.

ESCWA is made up of 18 Arab nations, most of which do not recognize Israel. Its latest report was compiled by Richard Falk, who has repeatedly suggested that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were orchestrated by the U.S. government, and Virginia Tilley, a political scientist who authored a book in favor of the one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to ESCWA, it is the first by a UN body accusing Israel of practicing apartheid.

 

Water, water, everywhere. Using ingenuity to overcome its serious water challenges, Israel has become the go-to expert for a world facing an impending water crisis. This year’s WATEC  expo and conference, to be held in September in Tel Aviv, is expected to attract 10,000 stakeholders from 90 countries seeking Israeli solutions for water issues.Israel exports $2.2 billion annually in water technology and expertise. In addition, these commodities are shared on a humanitarian basis through training courses, consultations and projects. Keren Kayemeth L’Israel-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) often hosts delegations from around the world – most recently, from California, Argentina and the European Policy Center – to see how Israel’s system of treatment facilities and 230 reservoirs has achieved the world’s highest ratio of wastewater reuse. About 92% of Israeli wastewater gets treated and 75% is used for agricultural irrigation. Israel plans to recycle 95% of its wastewater for irrigation by the end of 2025. (via Israel21c)

In first, Israel’s arrow-3 System intercepts Syrian missile fired at Israeli jet

 

Bows and arrows. Israel’s Arrow-3 system successfully intercepted a Syrian anti-aircraft missile that was shot at Israeli jets conducting a mission in Syria on Thursday night, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. It is the first time that the Arrow-3 system is known to have been used operationally.The Syrian military claimed that four Israeli fighters carried out a raid against a target near Palmyra, a claim that the Israeli military confirmed, which it rarely does. The IDF stated that anti-aircraft missiles were fired as their jets returned to base, but that “at no point was the safety of IDF aircraft compromised.”

“Several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria following the mission and IDF aerial defense systems intercepted one of the missiles,” the statement also said. Two other missile landed harmlessly in Israel. The missiles had been fired from eastern Syria and traveled over Jordan towards Jerusalem.

The Syrian anti-aircraft missiles, which the Times of Israel reported were likely SA-5s, would not have posed a threat to people on the ground, except where its debris landed. The Arrow-3, which is part of Israel’s three-tiered missile defense system, is designed to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles emerging from outside the earth’s atmosphere. The Times reported that the use of the Arrow-3 on a more conventional target could suggest “a misidentification of the type of weapon being fired from Syria.”

This is the second time in the last six months that Syria activated its air defense system against an Israeli strike. Last September, Syrian forces fired two missiles at Israeli jets conducting a raid inside Syria, which was carried out in response to mortars that had been fired into Israel.

 

Slander. The secretary-general of the United Nations on Friday requested the removal of an inflammatory report on Israel, which was co-authored by a discredited former UN official on behalf of an agency representing Arab nations, The Times of Israel reported.UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for the report — compiled by Richard Falk, who has repeatedly suggested that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were orchestrated by the U.S. government, and Virginia Tilley, a political scientist who authored a book in favor of the one-state solution — to be removed from the website of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). The agency, which is made up of 18 Arab countries, claimed that its report was the first by a UN body accusing Israel of practicing apartheid.

Also on Friday, UN Under-Secretary-General and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf announced her resignation at a Beirut news conference, citing pressure from Guterres to withdraw the report.

Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for Guterres, said on Wednesday that the report was published without the “prior knowledge” of his boss, and that it “does not reflect the views of the Secretary‑General.”

Dujarric added that the positions taken in the report those of its authors and “do not necessarily reflect the views of the UN.”

Nikki Haley, Washington’s ambassador to the UN, said in a statement Wednesday that the U.S. was “outraged” by the report. She said its contents were “unsurprising,” given that it was commissioned by a group “whose membership nearly universally does not recognize Israel,” and that it was written by Falk, “who has repeatedly made biased and deeply offensive comments about Israel and espoused ridiculous conspiracy theories, including about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”

Haley acknowledged that Guterres distanced his office from the report, but called on the UN to “withdraw the report altogether.”

 

Can’t keep a good woman down. The late Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani may have been a founding father of the Islamic Republic’s oppressive regime, but his daughter is having none of it—and was just sentenced to jail as a result. She is being charged for “anti-state propaganda, spreading lies against the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guards Corps”, the opposition website Kalemeh reported on Friday. This her second time facing prison; she was jailed for six months in 2012 for “spreading anti-state propaganda”.Faezeh Hashemi, 55, is a women’s rights activist and former member of parliament. When her father was honored a large funeral earlier this year, she protested alongside the opposition, speaking to the crowd and flashing the victory sign.

“The desire to change and reform has not died and whenever there is an opportunity it will resurface and we will raise our voice,” said a fellow female protestor, who did not want her name to be published.

 

Jerusalem-based BwareIT picked up another trophy for BrighTap, its smart water meter sensor that monitors water temperature and consumption. The product won the innovation award at the UK Water Efficiency Product Awards 2017 at the House of Lords in London on March 7, 2017. The awards are sponsored by Waterwise, an independent, nonprofit group promoting water efficiency in the UK and Europe. BrighTap, an Internet of Things (IoT) meter, attaches to any standard water tap, pipe or hose to display water consumption and temperature in real time. It also stores that information for tracking through a monitoring system. The device is powered by the water that runs through it. BwareIT was the only Israeli company in the running for the awards, which are sponsored by Waterwise, an independent nonprofit group promoting water efficiency in cooperation with water authorities in the UK and Europe. There is great demand for BrighTap in Europe, said BwareIT CEO Konstantin Berezin, speaking to ISRAEL21c from the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Johannesburg. (via Israel21c)

Tillerson to UN Human Rights Council: Shape up or we’re shipping out

 

Make changes or else. The United States will withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) unless the agency undertakes significant reforms, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote in a letter to advocacy groups this week.

The letter, which was first reported by Foreign Policy, states that the Trump administration “continues to evaluate the effectiveness” of the council, especially when the group’s membership includes nations with terrible human rights records.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said last month that the United States would not “turn a blind eye” to anti-Israel bias at the United Nations, decrying the fact that during her first session in the Security Council, the organization’s hearing “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.”

The UN has long been accused of having a systemic bias against the Jewish state. In 2016, the General Assembly adopted 20 resolutions against Israel and only six on the rest of the world combined, according to the monitoring group UN Watch.

In December, then-Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged his organization’s bias against Israel, saying, “Decades of political maneuvering have created a disproportionate number of resolutions, reports and committees against Israel.” Ban also criticized the UNHRC’s singular focus on Israel shortly after assuming his post in 2007, saying that he was “disappointed at the council’s decision to single out only one specific regional item, given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world.”

 

Brotherhood with the Brotherhood. The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has been seeking legitimacy and money in Europe by leveraging networks affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, its parent organization, Avi Issacharoff reported Tuesday in The Times of Israel.

One of the goals of this campaign, which is ongoing in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, is to replace the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominating faction Fatah as the sole legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people. “Hamas, in this way, is slowly but surely establishing a global infrastructure of supporters who are providing not only encouragement and legitimacy, but also quite a bit of financial assistance,” Issacharoff wrote.

More of these “semi-official” events for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood are hosted in the United Kingdom than anywhere else in Europe. Many of them are carried out under the cover of the innocuous sounding “Global Anti-Aggression Campaign.”

While many of these Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated organizations do not acknowledge their ties with the Egyptian group, they nonetheless “operate according to the long-established model of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas,” according to Issacharoff.

According to Dr. Ehud Rosen, an expert on political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Brotherhood-related groups in Europe lack “a centralized command structure or a prominent commander,” but “there are definite networks here, with major nexuses, such as London or Germany. They cooperate with the official Muslim Brotherhood and with Hamas.”

“Hamas’s place in the enormous organization known as the global Muslim Brotherhood is growing right now,” Rosen explained. “Hamas is the movement’s own flesh and blood, and it wants to take control of the PLO. This is why its global activity has taken on a new importance. The Palestinian organization is trying to re-invent itself, with a new platform and a supposedly more moderate direction, but they are still the same organization.”

 

Common concerns. Turkey shares Israel’s fears about Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions, the Turkish ambassador to Israel said Wednesday. Iran’s “nuclear file is a concern for everyone,” said Ambassador Kemal Okem. Turkey does differ with Israel in wanting to contain and not isolate Iran, however: “We have a common border [with Iran] for hundreds of years which remain unchanged. They see us as a strategic competitor…We saw the need for engaging and containing their ambitions.”

When Ambassador Okem presented his credentials to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in December, he said, “This is a new beginning in our bilateral relations and in our joint efforts, in this region in which we have close ties, historical ties.” He pledged, “I will do my best to enhance our relations in every field – regardless of any difficulties that we may face, we will be able to overcome together with our partners and friends Israel.”

Turkish-Israeli ties had been strained since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, when a flotilla under the control of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation—a group designated as a terror organization by the Netherlands and Germany—attempted to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. IDF troops faced an “organized and violent” assault from a group of passengers after boarding the ship, according to a UN report. Ten crew members were killed in the ensuing fight, and several Israeli soldiers were injured.

After the reconciliation agreement was reached this past June, Israeli leaders noted the significant economic potential of closer ties. “Trade between Israel and Turkey has more than doubled from the Marmara event up until today,” said Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, adding that the deal will bolster that growth with “joint projects in government level. People are speaking about gas and there are other issues that might emerge.”

 

The Seventh International Jerusalem Winner Marathon is all set for tomorrow, March 17th, 2017, with an expected 30,000 runners to take part in seven routes. The Jerusalem Marathon includes the full marathon (42.2 km), half-marathon (21.1 km), 10 km race, competitive 5 km race, popular 5 km race, family 1.7km race and an 800m community race. “Every year, I am newly invigorated to see the thousands of runners, young and old, who come from all over the country and around the world to participate in the Jerusalem Winner Marathon. “Each year, participants run through the very streets where kings and prophets walked, against the backdrop of Jerusalem’s cultural and historical landscapes. It is a unique and breathtaking experience,” Barkat said in his greeting to the marathon. (via Israel21c)

Sixth anniversary of the onset of the brutal Syrian civil war

 

Anniversary of horrors. Wednesday marks the sixth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Syria, which began with peaceful anti-government protests but, due to the massively violent response of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, quickly spiraled into an armed conflict that continues to this day. In response to rallies against the regime, government forces fired into the crowds and arrested opponents of the government in the tens of thousands. The fate for many of them was bleak: Amnesty International reported last month that, at just one Syrian prison north of Damascus, as many as 13,000 people were hanged between 2011 and 2015.

To maintain control, Assad has carried out a campaign of systematic torture and indiscriminate murder of civilians through the use of barrel bombs, massacres, deliberate targeting of hospitals and schools, intentional starvation as a tactic of war, and chemical weapons attacks, which has led to the deaths of more than 400,000 people and the world’s largest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

While he was once thought to be on the ropes, Assad has stayed in power due to the loyal support, and even guidance, of Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia—actors who have played a crucial part during turning points of the war in which Assad gained the upper hand, such as the Battle of Qusayr in spring 2013 and the fall of Aleppo in December 2016.

Israeli security officials are deeply concerned about an Iranian and Hezbollah presence on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights in the aftermath of military victories of the Assad regime. 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.” Ehud Yaari, a veteran Arab affairs analyst, said, “The strategic objective of the Iranians today is to establish a land corridor between Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, to reach the Mediterranean and the Israeli frontier…This is strategically the major threat to Israel today.”

 

That’s a first. In a rare move, the U.S. Department of Justice announced an extradition request to try Ahlam Tamimi—a woman connected to multiple murders in the August 9, 2001 Sbarro Pizza suicide bombing in Jerusalem. Fifteen civilians—including 7 children and a pregnant American woman—were killed in the attack, which took place in broad daylight. One hundred and thirty were wounded. This is the first request for the extradition of a terrorist who killed people during the Second Intifada.

Tamimi was responsible for scouting a target before leading the bomber to the restaurant. She served time in Israeli jails, but was released in the 2011 Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange. The extradition request is addressed to Jordan, where she is currently a television host. She has bragged about the murders on air.

 

If businesses could have dual citizenship… Intel’s record-breaking $15 billion acquisition proposal for the Israeli automotive technology company Mobileye demonstrates the company’s belief in Israel as a major business and technology center, the Fortune 500 company’s chief executive said Tuesday.

“We think of ourselves as an Israeli company as much as a US company,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said at a press conference in Jerusalem, which also included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mobileye founders Ziv Aviram and Amnon Shashua.

The acquisition is by far the largest in Israeli history, and is also the second-largest in Intel’s history, Krzanich said. He stressed that Mobileye will continue to operate from Jerusalem, led by Shashua, who will “lead Intel’s overall autonomous vehicle efforts, across the whole company, not just here in Israel. We will be folding in operations in the U.S. underneath the operations here.”

As part of the deal, Intel will move its autonomous driving operations to Israel, meaning that Israel will be able “to lead how these autonomous vehicles go out on their own, interact with cities, interact with government agencies and really set the standards for how this gets implemented into the world.”

“The future belongs to those nations who innovate,” Netanyahu said at the press conference—repeating one of his favorite expressions.

 

Team Israel had a great run at the World Baseball Classic tournament while it lasted. The ballplayers with a David vs. Goliath approach came out swinging hard and stunned the world with four consecutive wins in the preliminary and second rounds. But two losses in a row – today’s 8-3 loss to Japan and a 12-2 clobbering by the Netherlands (March 13) – made advancing to the finals a dream for the next global tournament. The World Baseball Classic is a tournament in which the best baseball players in the world compete. Team Israel had bookers betting against it even making the main event. But the blue-and-white uniformed ballplayers, who were ranked 41st going into the Classic, not only made it to the preliminary rounds but won an astounding four in a row at the tournament. Dubbed the Cinderella team of the contest, Team Israel stunned Cuba 4-1 in the first WBC quarterfinal game at the Tokyo Dome and before that swept the first-round of games by beating South Korea, Taiwan and the Netherlands.  “The players love playing for Israel,” Israel Association of Baseball President Peter Kurz told ISRAEL21c. “A lot of them want to come and visit after the tournament or after they retire.” For fans, that the ballplayers are proud to wear “Israel” on their uniforms and represent the country is more than enough. Team Israel will also be remembered for its hilarious mascot, Mensch on the Bench, a stuffed doll that was the Jewish answer to the popular Christmas toy and story “Elf on the Shelf.” (via Israel21c