Israel: Parents say they alerted PA, Israel before deadly stabbing of Fuld

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Terrorist’s parents say they alerted PA, Israel before deadly stabbing of Fuld

Palestinian official says stabber’s father informed PA forces of son’s disappearance, while IDF says mother told soldiers that her son planned to commit an attack

17-year-old Khalil Jabarin, who fatally stabbed Israeli Ari Fuld in a West Bank terror attack on September 16, 2016 (Screenshot/Twitter)

17-year-old Khalil Jabarin, who fatally stabbed Israeli Ari Fuld in a West Bank terror attack on September 16, 2016 (Screenshot/Twitter)

The parents of a Palestinian teenager who carried out a deadly terror attack in the central West Bank on Sunday warned both Palestinian Authority and Israeli security forces about their son before the lethal stabbing, according to a senior PA official and Israeli military sources.

On Sunday, 17-year-old Khalil Jabarin of Yatta, a village south of Hebron, fatally stabbed 45-year-old Ari Fuld, an American Israeli resident of the Efrat settlement and a father of four, outside a shopping mall at the Gush Etzion Junction.

A senior PA official based in the southern West Bank said Jabarin’s father warned PA security forces that his son had gone missing Sunday morning, after he fought with him about going to school.

“The father and his son got into a fight this morning. The father wanted his son to go to school, but he refused and eventually the father beat him,” the official, who asked not to be named, told The Times of Israel. “The son then ran away and the father told the security forces that his son went missing. The security forces tried to find him, but they weren’t able to before [the stabbing].”

Ari Fuld, who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist outside a West Bank shopping mall on September 16, 2018. (Facebook)

When asked if the PA security forces informed their Israeli counterparts that Jabarin had gone missing, the official said that the father had only informed them that his son had disappeared and not that he was planning to carry out an attack.

“All we knew was that the boy had run away. So we did not inform the Israeli side,” the Palestinian official said. “We did not know he was planning to carry out a stabbing.”

Jabarin’s mother, however, went to the nearby Meitar checkpoint in the southern West Bank and told soldiers, at approximately the same time the stabbing took place, that her son planned to commit an attack, according to the Israeli army.

She did not provide specific details about where or when she believed Jabarin would carry out an attack, the army said.

Israeli security forces planned to arrest members of the terrorist’s family in order to further investigate what information they had about his plans before he carried out the attack, the IDF added.

Shortly before noon on Sunday, Jabarin stabbed Fuld in the back, as they stood on the sidewalk outside the shopping mall, which is frequented by both Israelis and Palestinians.

Despite his wounds, Fuld chased and shot his attacker before collapsing to the ground. Fuld was rushed to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center in serious condition. After resuscitation efforts failed, doctors there pronounced his death.

Jabarin was shot by Fuld and another armed civilian at the scene. He was taken to Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus in moderate condition with multiple gunshot wounds, hospital officials said.

Ari Fuld, father of four, and resident of Efrat. Fuld was a member of the emergency squad in Gush Etzion, pictured here at a celebratory event on October 31, 2017, carrying his rifle with. He was killed by a Palestinian terrorist in a stabbing attack at the Gush Etzion junction on September 16, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/FLASH90/File)

Jabarin’s grandfather, Jamal, who is also the principal at the school where Jabarin studied, said family members were concerned when the teenager did not show up to school Sunday morning.

“Nobody knows what happened exactly. At 7 a.m., the boy was missing, and we started searching for him everywhere. We even notified the Palestinian security forces and the coordination services with Israel [the Israeli Civil Administration],” Jamal Jabarin said.

“He told his mother he was going to train, and he wore sports clothes,” the principal added. “She waited for him to return.”

The family was stunned by the attack, he said, calling Khalil “a quiet boy, learned, respectful, conscientious.”

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Top Hamas official: Ceasefire talks with Israel in ‘final stretch’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Top Hamas official: Ceasefire talks with Israel in ‘final stretch’

Kahlil al-Hayya tells Lebanese TV Hamas wishes to reach a long-term accord with the Jewish state

Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya is seen in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)
Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya is seen in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)

Negotiations for a long-term ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas are in “the final stretch,” a senior member of the terror group said Friday.

Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen TV quoted Kahlil al-Hayya as saying the deal would follow understandings reached at the end of the 2014 war between the sides. He did not elaborate.

Al-Hayya added that Hamas supports reaching an accord.

The Hamas leader was speaking from Cairo, where a Hamas delegation was said to be discussing the deal being mediated by Egypt and the UN.

On Friday thousands of Gazans demonstrated along the Israeli border in weekly Hamas-backed ‘March of Return’ demonstrations. Hamas leadership had urged the public to participate in Friday’s protests.

Palestinian protesters demonstrate at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on August 17, 2018 (AFP/Said Khatib)

Rioters hurled rocks, improvised bombs and Molotov cocktails at soldiers and burned tires to create a smokescreen. Others launched incendiary balloons towards Israel.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza reported that two men had been killed and around 250 injured, of which at least 25 were said hit by live fire.

On Thursday Al-Mayadeen reported that the long-term deal taking shape will last for a year and see the establishment of a cargo shipping connection between Gaza and Cyprus. Israel will have security control over the sea traffic between the Palestinian coastal enclave and Cyprus, according to the report from the TV channel, which cited sources familiar with the details.

Hadashot TV news reported Thursday that the head of the Shin Bet security agency has warned cabinet ministers that excluding the Palestinian Authority from the accord in Gaza will send a message that terrorism is rewarded.

Head of Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense committee meeting at the Knesset on July 12, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“Pushing aside [Abbas] from the process [of reaching an] agreement will strengthen Hamas in the West Bank and prove terror pays,” Nadav Argaman was quoted as saying. “Such a move would also weaken the moderates and prove to Palestinians that only the path of violence achieves results.”

Hamas and the PA have been at odds since the terror group violently took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. A number of reconciliation agreements between them have failed to patch up their differences, most recently an Egyptian-sponsored deal signed in October.

Recent months have seen repeated rounds of intense violence between Israel and Hamas, along with weekly border protests at the Gaza border that have regularly included rioting, attacks on Israeli troops and attempts to infiltrate and sabotage the border fence.

At least 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the weekly protests began, a Hamas ministry says. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.

One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.

In addition to the border clashes, southern Israel has experienced hundreds of fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons flown over the border from Gaza. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

Hamas has long made access to a sea port a key strategic goal. Under the conditions of Israel’s naval blockade, goods heading to Gaza are currently shipped to Israeli ports and then trucked into Gaza.

Trucks carrying goods enter the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom Crossing after it was reopened by Israel on August 15, 2018. (Flash90)

Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, seized the territory from the PA. It says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel in the last decade.

Sources told Al-Mayadeen that the forthcoming deal will include Qatari funding for Gaza’s electricity bills in cooperation with Israel, and Qatari payment of civil service employees’ salaries in Gaza in cooperation with Egypt.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman pitched the idea of setting up a floating dock for Palestinian sea traffic in Cyprus when he met with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in June, Hadashot news reported at the time.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting at the Knesset on July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The plan was conditional on the return of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers held by Hamas, the television report said.

Two apparently mentally ill Israeli civilians — Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — who entered Gaza of their own volition in 2014 and 2015, respectively, are currently being held Hamas, along with the remains of two slain IDF soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

According to a Channel 10 report Thursday, Liberman met with Qatar’s envoy to Gaza during his trip to Cyprus, and the two discussed efforts to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and Qatari proposals to improve humanitarian conditions in the Strip, as well as the return of the Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers’ bodies.

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Egypt said to warn Hamas: Israel will renew assassinations if fire persists

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Egypt said to warn Hamas: Israel will renew assassinations if fire persists

Terror group’s leaders have reportedly turned off their phones, gone underground over fears of targeted killings by Israeli military

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar attend a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the terror group's founding in Gaza City, on December 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar attend a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the terror group’s founding in Gaza City, on December 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

Egypt has warned Hamas that Israel will seek to assassinate the terror group’s leaders if rocket fire from the Gaza Strip does not cease, according to an Israeli television report on Thursday.

Egyptian intelligence cautioned Hamas that Israel could renew targeted killings if the terror group further exacerbates tensions on the Gaza Strip border, Hadashot television news said.

Previous media reports in recent months have indicated that Israel conveyed similar threats to Gaza rulers Hamas through Egyptian channels during periods of increased violence on the border.

Separately, Israel Radio on Thursday night quoted Hamas officials as saying political and military leaders from the terrorist group have turned off their cellphones over the last day and went into hiding for fear of being assassinated.

Hamas leaders were also signaling they were not responsible for a rocket attack targeting the southern city of Beersheba earlier on Thursday, Hadashot reported, in an apparent attempt to defuse the tensions.

The reported Egyptian warning to Hamas came amid a major flare-up in tensions on the Gaza border, with over 180 rockets and mortar shells fired at southern Israel since Wednesday night.

The projectiles injured at least seven people and caused damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure throughout the region, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

In response, the Israeli Air Force struck over 150 Hamas “terror sites” in the Strip, the army said. Palestinian officials said a pregnant woman and her infant daughter were killed in the Israeli strikes, along with one Hamas fighter, who was reportedly in a car used by a rocket-launching Hamas cell that was targeted by an IDF aircraft.

The Hamas-run health ministry named the woman as Aynas Abu Khamash, 23, and her daughter, 18-months-old, as Bayan. According to Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for the ministry, they were killed in an Israeli strike on the central Gaza Strip early Thursday morning. Mohammed Abu Khamash, Aynas’s husband, was seriously injured in the strike, he said.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the IDF, said he could not comment on the specific case of the Abu Khamash family, but stressed that the army targeted “only military sites” in its raids.

On Thursday evening, the Israeli Air Force flattened a five-story building in northern Gaza that served as a headquarters for Hamas’ internal security service, the army said.

The IDF said the strike on the building in the northern Gaza Strip, which also served as a cultural center in the coastal enclave, was in response to “rocket fire by the Hamas terror group against the city of Beersheba earlier in the day.”

The military threatened that the attack was “an expression of the IDF’s intelligence and operational capabilities, which will expand and intensify as necessary.”

Eighteen Palestinians were wounded in the Israeli strike, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. The degree of their injuries was not immediately known.

The attack on the building was one of the IDF’s first strikes on a site deep inside a city in Gaza since the 2014 war. Most of the strikes previously conducted by Israel targeted facilities outside major population centers. In addition, the Rimal neighborhood in which the building was located is one of the more upscale areas of Gaza City.

This decision was seen as an attempt by the military to show Hamas that it was prepared to step up its attacks against the terror group if rocket and mortar fire continued to strike southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.

The site where a mortar shell from the Gaza Strip hit an apartment building and cars in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, on August 9, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Minutes after the Israeli strike on the building began, incoming rocket sirens blared in the Eshkol region of southern Israel, sending thousands of residents into bomb shelters, where they had already spent much of the day in light of frequent attacks from the Gaza Strip throughout the previous two days.

A second wave of sirens were triggered shortly after the IDF confirmed that it had conducted the strike at 8:00 p.m. A third round of sirens went off an hour later.

There were no injuries or damage caused by any of those rocket attacks, Israeli officials said.

The renewed rocket attacks came amid a period of heightened tensions along the Gaza border, following months of clashes and exchanges of fire.

Earlier this week, there had been reports of intensive talks between Israel and Hamas for a long-term ceasefire.

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PM walks out on Druze over criticism from leader who had warned of ‘apartheid’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

PM walks out on Druze over criticism from leader who had warned of ‘apartheid’

Incensed over Facebook post from last month in which Amal As’ad said Israel was headed toward ‘apartheid,’ Netanyahu ends summit meant to solve nation-state law crisis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 2r, meets with the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Muafak Tarif, 2l, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 27, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 2r, meets with the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Muafak Tarif, 2l, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 27, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily walked out of a meeting with Druze leaders on Thursday evening when a prominent Druze activist and former IDF brigadier general angrily criticized the controversial nation-state law passed last month.

The tense meeting, which included ministers Yariv Levin and Ayoub Kara, came two days before a planned mass protest in Tel Aviv organized by Druze activists and fellow opponents of the nation-state law in its current iteration.

At the meeting, held in the IDF headquarters compound in Tel Aviv, Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal As’ad told Netanyahu the Druze weren’t interested in a new benefits package, but in feeling like part of the nation.

Netanyahu then stood up, insisted he would not allow disrespect of an Israeli prime minister or the state, and suggested the meeting continue in his office in a smaller forum that included the community top spiritual leader, Sheikh Muafak Tarif, and mayors of Druze towns, but without As’ad and other Druze former top IDF officers who are leading the campaign against the law.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal As’ad in Tel Aviv on August 2, 2018. (Hadashot TV screen capture)

According to As’ad, who spoke to Hadashot television news after the meeting, Tarif refused the smaller meeting, and Netanyahu left the room.

The Druze leaders then walked from the Kirya compound to Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, where preparations for the Saturday night demonstrations are already underway.

Netanyahu was apparently angered by a recent Facebook post from As’ad in which he accused the prime minister of leading Israel on a trajectory of becoming an “apartheid state,” and called the law “evil and racist.”

Initial reports from the Prime Minister’s Office had indicated that As’ad repeated the apartheid claim during the sit-down with Netanyahu, sparking the walk-out, but As’ad said late Thursday those reports were wrong.

“The word ‘apartheid’ was not used during the meeting with the prime minister at all,” he said in a Facebook post. “The solution to the crisis is in the hands of the prime minister and I’m confident he can solve it if he wants.”

As’ad, a former infantry commander and veteran of multiple wars who lost a brother in fighting in the Gaza Strip, in the past expressed support for the Likud party. He has been active in initiatives to commemorate the sacrifices of Druze IDF soldiers.

Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid charged in a tweet Thursday that Netanyahu “has once again shown that what he wants is not a nation-state law, but a fight over the nation-state law” for ostensible narrow political gain.

Sheikh Muafak Tarif, spiritual leader of the Israeli Druze community, attends a conference of the Zionist Druze Movement in Herzliya, on July 16, 2018. (Flash90)

The meeting between Druze leaders and the prime minister followed two weeks of anger and protests among the Druze community over the Knesset’s refusal to include any mention of equality for minorities in the nation-state law, which attempts to enshrine Israel’s character as a Jewish state.

While Netanyahu met the Druze leaders, the law’s original sponsor, Likud MK Avi Dichter, faced the community’s rage at a ceremony to honor Druze veterans at a college in the northern town of Carmiel.

“You dog, you racist,” one man shouted at Dichter, bursting onto the auditorium stage. The man was later identified as Amir Hanifas, head of the newly-formed Forum Against the Nation-state Law.

Activists and supporters of the Druze community in Israel hold a protest tent against the nation-state law passed by the Knesset in July 2018, in Tel Aviv on August 1, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Dichter’s security guards attempted to intervene, but the lawmaker, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, pushed the guards away.

“Look at these kids,” Hanifas yelled at him, pointing to the young veterans. Hanifas told Dichter he “should be ashamed” and “shouldn’t appear before the Druze.”

Hanifas then reportedly called Dichter a “Nazi,” leading the lawmaker to shout back, “I won’t be called Nazi. I lost family to the Nazis, when they murdered my mother’s family. I’m called Avraham Moshe for my grandfather who was murdered by Nazis.”

Dichter’s encounter took place at a ceremony handing out scholarships to 80 Druze IDF veterans from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews at Carmiel’s Ort Braude technical college. The academic scholarships are named for the late Salim Shufi, a Druze former member of the Sayeret Matkal commando unit.

כאן חדשות

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פעילים בני העדה הדרוזית התפרצו לנאומו של ח״כ אבי דיכטר בטקס הענקת מלגות לימודים לסטודנטים בני העדה בכרמיאל. דיכטר, מיוזמי חוק הלאום, נשאר על הבמה. הפעילים קראו לדיכטר להתבייש ואמרו לסטודנטים שהיה עליהם לסרב לקבל את המילגה @nitzanglusman

Hanifas was detained by police after the incident.

In a statement before the Carmiel ceremony, the Fellowship said the meeting between Dichter and Druze veterans would be “an opportunity for open and honest dialogue with the youth of the [Druze] community about the nation-state law and the controversy it has sparked.”

Netanyahu has been trying to placate Druze anger at the new law with a package of benefits.

A concession plan envisions new legislation to anchor the status of the Druze and Circassian communities in law and provide benefits to members of minority groups who serve in the security forces, the PMO said in a statement Wednesday. Support of Druze religious, education, and culture institutes would also be included in the legislation.

In addition, recognition of the contribution made by all minorities and communities that participate in the defense of the state would be written into the country’s Basic Laws, which, similar to a constitution, underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with representatives of the Druze community at his office in Jerusalem on August 1, 2018. (Prime Minister’s Office)

Unlike Arab Israelis, members of both the Druze and Circassian minorities are subject to Israel’s mandatory draft and serve in large numbers alongside Jewish soldiers in some of the IDF’s most elite units.

Since the beginning of the week, several Druze IDF officers have said they will resign their commissions in protest of the legislation, which was passed as a Basic Law on July 19.

The nation-state law — which for the first time enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people” — has sparked widespread criticism at home including from Israel’s minorities and opposition political parties, and from the international community and Jewish groups abroad. It also downgrades the status of Arabic so that it is no longer an official language in Israel.

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IDF shoots down Syrian fighter jet that entered Israeli airspace

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

IDF shoots down Syrian fighter jet that entered Israeli airspace

Two Patriot missiles fired at Sukhoi aircraft that penetrated two kilometers into Israeli territory, military says

Smoke trails from two Israeli Patriot interceptor missiles that Israel says shot down a Syrian fighter jet are seen in northern Israel on July 24, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Smoke trails from two Israeli Patriot interceptor missiles that Israel says shot down a Syrian fighter jet are seen in northern Israel on July 24, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Israeli Air Force shot down a Syrian fighter jet that traveled two kilometers into Israeli airspace on Tuesday afternoon, the military said.

“Two Patriot missiles were fired at a Syrian Sukhoi-model fighter jet,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

The IDF said the aircraft was monitored as it approached the border with the Golan Heights.

“It penetrated two kilometers into Israeli airspace and was shot down,” the army said.

According to Sky News Arabia, the plane crashed inside southwest Syria, in the Yarmouk Basin, an area still under the control of the Islamic State terrorist group. It was not immediately clear if the pilots ejected before the fighter jet was shot down or what their condition was.

The official Syrian news outlet SANA confirmed that Israel had shot at one of its fighter jets, but said the plane was inside Syrian airspace at the time it was targeted.

According to SANA, Israel fired at “one of our war planes, which are leveling [terrorist] encampments in the Saida region on the outskirts of the Yarmouk Basin, in Syrian airspace.”

A military source quoted by SANA accused Israel of aiding “terrorists” in the country’s southwest, where the Syrian air force has been conducting extensive bombing raids throughout the day against a number of opposition groups.

File: A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber lands at the Russian Hmeimin military base in Latakia province, in the northwest of Syria, on December 16, 2015. (Paul Gypteau/AFP)

It was not immediately clear if the plane was a Sukhoi-22 or a Sukhoi-24, two different types of Russian-made fighter jets in use by the Syrian Air Force, the Israeli military said.

The IDF said it had noticed increased air force activity in southwestern Syria, near the border, since the morning.

“We have passed a number of messages, in a number of languages, in order to ensure that no one violates Israeli air space,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

The spokesman said Israel has been in regular contact with the Russian military, which operates extensively in southwestern Syria, in order to prevent any conflict with Moscow.

According to the IDF, the fighter jet took off from the Iran-linked T-4 air force base in central Syria, which Israel has bombed in the past, and traveled “at high speed” toward the Golan Heights.

Conricus said there was no “confusion” about the fact that this was a Syrian fighter jet. In the past, Israel has hesitated in shooting down incoming aircraft out of concerns they might belong to Russia.

Israel stressed that it will continue to enforce the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement, which requires Syria to abide by a demilitarized zone between the two countries

A Syrian fighter jet is seen in flames after it was hit by the Israeli military over the Golan Heights on September 23, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/JALAA MAREY)

This was the first time that Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet since 2014, when another Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jet entered Israeli airspace and was targeted with a Patriot missile.

“Israel has a very clear policy: No plane, and certainly not a Syrian plane, is allowed to enter our airspace” without the appropriate authorization, Israel’s former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told Army Radio soon after Tuesday’s incident. “Any plane identified as an enemy plane is shot down,” he said.

In February of this year, the Syrian military shot down an Israeli F-16 fighter jet as it was taking part in a bombing raid against an Iranian-linked airfield in central Syria after an Iranian drone penetrated Israeli airspace, according to the IDF. The F-16’s pilot and navigator were injured as they bailed out of the aircraft, which crashed to ground in northern Israel.

Tuesday’s breach of Israeli airspace and the interception set off incoming rocket alert sirens throughout northeastern Israel, sending thousands of residents rushing to bomb shelters for the second day in a row.

An Israeli man watches the smoke trail of a David’s Sling interceptor missile in the northern Israeli city of Safed after the interceptor was fired toward a Syrian SS-21 missile, on July 23, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Residents of northern Israel reported seeing white trails in the sky.

The Safed municipality told residents that air defense systems in the area had fired interceptor missiles and said there were no special safety instructions in light of the situation.

The alarms could be heard in the Golan Heights and Jordan Valley regions, the army said.

The sirens came a day after Israel launched two David’s Sling interceptor missiles at a pair of Syrian surface-to-surface missiles carrying approximately a half ton of explosives each that appeared to be heading toward Israel, but ultimately landed inside Syria. The Israeli interceptors did not strike the Syrian missiles: one was self-detonated by the IAF; the second reportedly fell to earth inside Syria.

The military’s air defense systems that detect and track incoming missiles and rockets are less accurate immediately after a projectile is launched, as they have less information on its trajectory. As the missile or rocket flies, the systems can better predict where it is likely to land.

Monday’s incident, which ultimately turned out to have been a false alarm, was the first known operational use of the David’s Sling system, which was declared operational last year.

The David’s Sling makes up the middle tier of Israel’s multi-layered anti-missile defense network.

In recent weeks, sirens in northern Israel have been triggered by the military shooting down unmanned aerial vehicles entering Israeli airspace from Syria.

On July 13, the Israeli military used an anti-aircraft Patriot missile to shoot down a Syrian army drone that was flying over the demilitarized zone separating Israel from Syria. Two days earlier, a Syrian military unmanned aerial vehicle penetrated some 10 kilometers (six miles) into Israeli territory before it too was shot down by a Patriot missile. The IDF said it had allowed the drone to fly so deeply into Israeli territory as it was not immediately clear if it belonged to the Russian military.

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Israel launches ‘wide-scale attack’ against Hamas, after Israeli soldier killed near Gaza fence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Israel launches ‘wide-scale attack’ against Hamas, after Israeli soldier killed near Gaza fence

Jerusalem (CNN)The Israeli Air Force launched a “wide-scale attack” against Hamas military targets in Gaza on Friday, after an Israeli soldier died after being hit by gunfire from the coastal enclave, according to the Israeli military.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the shooting attack took place Friday during a Palestinian protest along the fence separating Gaza and Israel.
It’s the first Israeli soldier killed along the Gaza fence since the last war between Israel and Hamas in 2014, the army said.
The IDF responded first with tank and artillery fire, killing four people according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Hamas said in a WhatsApp message to journalists that three of the four people killed were members of its armed Qassam Brigades.
In addition to the shooting incident, there were also multiple explosives thrown toward Israeli soldiers during the unrest, the IDF said.
Later Friday, the army said at least three rockets were fired toward Israel from Gaza. Two of the launches were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system, the military said. There are no reports of any casualties from the rocket fire.
In its most recent round of airstrikes, the Israeli military said it attacked dozens of military targets located in a Hamas battalion headquarters in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. The IDF said it had “eliminated the battalion’s command and control capabilities, the battalion commander’s office, as well as unique aerial defense capabilities.” In addition, the air force said it targeted a drone warehouse, aerial defense systems, observation posts and a factory used for underground infrastructure manufacturing.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s chief Middle East envoy, called on the two sides to step back from further escalation.
“Everyone in Gaza needs to step back from the brink. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Right NOW! Those who want to provoke Palestinians and Israelis into another war must not succeed,” he tweeted.
A fireball illuminates Gaza City's skyline as the Israeli military launches a "wide-scale attack" on targets in Gaza.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Mladenov in a phone conversation that if Hamas continues to fire rockets toward Israel, the response will be “much stronger” than they think.
“The responsibility for the destruction and the loss of life will be on Hamas,” Lieberman said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement: “Attack will be met with attack. Our people will continue until they get their rights and end the blockade, because they have the right to live freely.”
Tension along the fence has been simmering for months, at times erupting into violence. Recent weeks have also seen a sharp increase in arson attacks in Israel from balloons and kites launched from Gaza.
The violence has also stymied international attempts to alleviate conditions for the two million people living in Gaza.
Israel has maintained a land, sea and air blockade on the coastal enclave since June 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza.
The blockade effectively locks the more than 2 million Gaza residents inside the territory and is seen by the UN as a major contributor to the deterioration of living conditions there. Israel says it’s a necessary security measure.

Bipolar Hamas Fires Dozens Of Rockets Into Israel: IDF Then Pounds Gaza

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

As dozens of rockets hit Israel, IDF pounds Gaza in heaviest strikes since 2014

Palestinians fire over 100 projectiles at Israel; In Sderot, 3 Israelis wounded, empty synagogue damaged by rocket; 2 Palestinians said killed as IAF hits Hamas complex

A picture taken on July 14, 2018 shows a smoke plume rising following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

A picture taken on July 14, 2018 shows a smoke plume rising following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Israeli aircraft on Saturday attacked more than 40 targets in the Gaza Strip in the most extensive daytime assault since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge as Palestinian terror groups fired repeated salvos of rockets and mortar shells into Israel.

Three Israelis were moderately wounded when a rocket hit a house in Sderot. Palestinians said two teens were killed and 14 injured in the Israeli strikes.

The surge in violence intensified after midnight Friday-Saturday as the Israel Defense Forces hit an attack tunnel and Hamas training bases in Gaza in response to the moderate wounding of an IDF officer by a hand-grenade thrown during a border riot on Friday.

During the night, Palestinians fired more than 30 projectiles into Israel and kept up the attacks on Saturday, firing a further 100 rockets and mortar shells. Residents of Israeli border communities spent the night in bomb shelters and were cautioned to remain close to the shelters during the day.

In the evening, several rockets were fired toward the town of Sderot. Iron Dome intercepted several of them. Two rockets fell in the town, hitting a house and an empty synagogue. Three people were moderately wounded by shrapnel and evacuated to the hospital, the Magen David Adom rescue service said.

The air force said Saturday it had bombed a multi-story Hamas training complex in the Gaza Strip, completely destroying the building and exposing a tunnel complex underneath. Palestinians reported that two teens were killed in the bombing.

The Hamas-run health ministry identified the dead as 15-year-old Amir al-Nimra and 16-year-old Louay Kahil. It said 14 others were wounded in the more than 40 Israeli strikes throughout the day.

The army said civilians were warned to leave the building before the strike.

The IDF said Iron Dome intercepted at least 20 projectiles that were headed for residential areas in total.

A picture taken on July 14, 2018 shows Palestinian rockets being fired from Gaza City towards Israel. ( AFP PHOTO / BASHAR TALEB)

Israel’s political leadership is considering a range of possibilities for trying to halt the rocket fire, including targeted assassinations of Hamas terror chiefs, the use of ground forces, and a ceasefire mediated by Egypt and/or others, but no decision had been made as of Saturday late afternoon, Hadashot TV news reported.

The primary target of the IAF strikes Saturday was the Hamas battalion headquarters in Beit Lahia, in the north of the Strip, the army said.

An aerial illustration of the Hamas Battalion headquarters in Beit Lahia. (IDF Spokesperson)

“The focus of the attack is a wide-scale strike of the Hamas Battalion HQ in Beit Lahia, which includes urban warfare training facilities, weapon storage warehouse, training compounds, command centers, offices and more,” the IDF said in a statement.

“In addition, a weapons manufacturing site and storage facilities housing various types of weapons, including Hamas’ naval capabilities, were struck,” it said.

The air force also attacked a Palestinian terrorist cell launching mortars. Palestinian media said the IDF had shelled the home of a senior Islamic Jihad leader, but there was no confirmation from the army.

The IDF spokesman said the aim of the operation was to “restore a sense of security” and that the military would “respond as necessary” to a wide range of scenarios.

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The Hamas-run health ministry said it had not received any reports of injuries in the Israeli strikes.

According to IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the operation had three aims: To end the incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza, end the large-scale border protests, and end the rocket and mortar fire.

IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis (screen capture of National Assembly footage)

“There are three factors occurring that we view seriously and cannot allow to continue,” he said, adding that this was the largest daytime Israeli strike on Gaza since the 2014 Gaza War.

Media reports said that Egyptian intelligence services had contacted the Hamas leadership in Gaza to try to prevent a further escalation of violence.

In the Saturday afternoon salvo, Palestinians fired more than 60 rockets and mortar shells and sirens wailed frequently in southern Israel. Army Radio reported that at least one projectile was intercepted, with the remainder falling in unpopulated areas.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

A farm building was lightly damaged in one border community, with no harm to any animals reported.

Local residents, who had earlier been told they could return to their usual routines after an earlier barrage overnight Friday, were instructed to remain close to bomb shelters, and large gatherings of people were to be canceled.

The day of tension and violence came after terrorists fired more than 30 rockets and mortars toward Israel overnight Friday in the wake of IDF strikes on a number of Hamas targets in Gaza in response to violence along the border.

No injuries or damage were reported but warning sirens wailed for much of the night in border communities including the Sdot HaNegev Regional Council area and the town of Sderot.

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The army earlier on Saturday said it targeted two Hamas attack tunnels as well as other military compounds in the Strip, including those involved in the spate of incendiary kite and balloon attacks.

Even as the airstrikes were being carried out, the IDF said rockets were fired toward Israel.

According to the IDF, six projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system. One rocket landed inside a kibbutz in the Shar HaNegev Regional Council area.

Hamas on Saturday said the barrage of rockets and mortar shells into Israeli territory overnight was fired by the “resistance” to “stop Israeli escalation.”

The spokesman for the terrorist group, Fawzi Barhoum, also said the projectiles were an “immediate response” that was meant to “deliver the message” to Israel.

The army said it held Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from Gaza, which the terror group has ruled since 2007.

“The Hamas terror organization is responsible for the events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it and will bear the consequences for its actions against Israeli civilians and Israeli sovereignty,” the army said, adding that “the IDF views Hamas’ terror activity with great severity and is prepared for a wide variety of scenarios.”

The IDF said aircraft had attacked “an offensive terror tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip, in addition to several terror sites in military compounds throughout the Gaza Strip, among them complexes used to prepare arson terror attacks and a Hamas terror organization training facility.”

The IDF published video of its air strikes.

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The latest round of violence has threatened to spark a further conflagration after weeks of tensions along the volatile border.

Israel in recent weeks has repeatedly warned Hamas that while it has no interest in engaging in the kind of conflict that led to the sides fighting three wars over the past decade, it would not tolerate its continued efforts to breach the border fence and its campaign to devastate Israeli border communities with incendiary attacks.

On Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered near the Gaza border for their near-weekly protest. The army said protesters attacked soldiers with grenades, bombs, Molotov cocktails, and rocks.

A 15-year-old Palestinian who tried to climb over the fence into Israel was shot dead, media reports in Gaza said.

Later the IDF said an Israeli officer was moderately wounded by a grenade thrown at him during the clashes at the border.

On Saturday, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza announced that a 19-year-old succumbed to his wounds sustained at the clashes a day earlier.

It was not clear whether the two deaths were tied to the attack that wounded the Israeli officer.

Gaza officials said 220 others were hurt in Friday’s riots. Most were treated at the scene, while several dozen were taken to hospital. The violence was held under the banner of “Identifying with Khan al-Ahmar,” a West Bank Bedouin village whose planned demolition by Israel is being debated at the High Court.

Since March 30, weekly clashes have taken place on the Gaza border, with Israel accusing Hamas of using the demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks and attempt to breach the security fence. The “March of Return” protests have also seen Palestinians fly airborne incendiary devices toward Israeli territory, sparking hundreds of fires in southern Israel and causing millions of shekels in estimated damages.

The Israeli army reportedly notified Hamas in recent days that if the incendiary kite and balloon attacks from the Gaza Strip don’t cease, Israel would respond with major military action.

Palestinians prepare a kite with flammable materials that they will fly into southern Israel from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 22, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

On Monday, Israel announced it was shutting down the Kerem Shalom border crossing — the Strip’s main crossing for commercial goods — in response to the endless stream of incendiary and explosive kites and balloons that have been flown into southern Israel, sparking fires that have burned thousands of acres of land and caused millions of shekels in damages. Humanitarian and essential supplies continue to enter Gaza.

The IDF has sought to avoid an escalation of hostilities on the southern front despite the attacks, but according to the Haaretz daily, the political pressure to act has been building as the economic and psychological harm caused by the fires takes its toll.

On Wednesday, incendiary kites and balloons sparked 19 fires of varying sizes in Israel, according to local government officials. Fifteen of them occurred in the Eshkol region, which abuts the southern Gaza Strip. The other four occurred in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, which lies to the northeast of the coastal enclave.

In response, the Israeli military conducted an airstrike against a group of Palestinians it said was launching incendiary balloons toward Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, east of the city of Rafah. There, too, no injuries were reported.

After shuttering Kerem Shalom, the army said humanitarian aid, notably food and medicine, would still be allowed into Gaza, but would require special permission from the military liaison, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, to the Palestinians.

The military said the closure would continue so long as Palestinians persist in launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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Gaza tensions flare: IDF strikes 8 more Hamas targets as rockets barrage south

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Gaza tensions flare: IDF strikes 8 more Hamas targets as rockets barrage south

18 rockets fired from strip in a number of separate incidents; four intercepted by the Iron Dome while an unspecified number fall in Israeli territory

An explosion is seen in Gaza City after an airstrike by Israel on June 18, 2018. (AFP/ MAHMUD HAMS)

An explosion is seen in Gaza City after an airstrike by Israel on June 18, 2018. (AFP/ MAHMUD HAMS)

Tensions flared on Israel’s border with Gaza early Wednesday morning as the IDF carried out a second round of overnight airstrikes on Hamas targets in response to a barrage of rockets fired from the Strip towards Israeli territory.

The IDF said fighter jets struck eight further “terror targets” on three separate Hamas military bases in the south of the Gaza Strip, in addition to several other sites that were targeted earlier in the night.

In total, 18 rockets were fired towards Israeli territory in a number of separate incidents, the army said. Of those, four rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system while an unspecified number fell in Israeli territory.

There were no immediate reports of injuries on either side of the border.

Earlier, Palestinians fired five rockets at southern Israel after Israeli aircraft hit  Hamas targets in the south of the coastal enclave in response to numerous arson attacks launched across the border by Palestinians, the military said.

The overnight incidents mirror several rounds of rocket fire and IDF strikes on Monday in which Israeli aircraft bombed Hamas positions in the southern Gaza Strip after a group of Palestinians launched incendiary balloons at southern Israel.

Following those strikes, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned that Israel would not allow Palestinian terror groups to continue launching incendiary devices into Israeli territory, the likes of which have caused hundreds of brush fires and burned thousands of acres of land in recent months.

“If anyone thinks it will be possible to continue with the daily kites and fires, they are wrong,” Liberman said during a tour of Israel Aerospace Industries, the country’s primary aerospace manufacturer.

An explosion is seen in Gaza City after an airstrike by Israel on June 18, 2018. (AFP / MAHMUD HAMS)

The Monday rockets were the first to be fired at Israel in over two weeks, breaking a tacit ceasefire that has largely held since a day-long flareup in late May.

Before the rocket attack, Israeli fighter jets carried out strikes on three military compounds and one weapons manufacturing plant in northern Gaza belonging to the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The army said it hit a total of nine targets spread out between the three Hamas facilities, in response to flammable and explosive-laden kites and balloons launched from Gaza that have wreaked havoc in Israel over the past several weeks.

“The attack was carried out in response to the launching of incendiary and explosive kites and balloons at Israeli territory. This is terrorist activity that endangers the lives of southern residents and has damaged large amounts of land,” the military said.

The army warned that it had the “intelligence knowledge and operational capability” necessary to conduct further strikes in Gaza if the balloon and kite attacks did not stop.

A masked Palestinian man launches a balloon loaded with flammable materials toward Israel, east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

The airstrikes on Hamas facilities appeared to be a new tactic by the military to deter Palestinians from flying the airborne arson devices into Israel, after its previous attempts to do so by firing warning shots at kite-flyers failed to yield results.

The Palestinian rocket fire appeared to come in response to the airstrikes.

The projectiles shot at Israel triggered sirens in the Hof Ashkelon region and the city of Ashkelon’s industrial area, sending thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters. The alarms were triggered in two waves, first at 4:40 a.m. and then again shortly after 5 a.m.

The Iron Dome missile defense system did not appear to have been activated, indicating the two incoming rockets that cleared the border struck open fields, where there was no risk to life and thus no need to intercept them.

Israel’s airstrikes in the Strip and the subsequent Palestinian rocket fire followed a day of airborne arson attacks by Gazans, who launched dozens of balloons laden with incendiary devices and explosives at southern Israel, sparking at least 20 fires, some of them large.

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HOW DOES ISRAEL’S MILITARY COMPARE TO IRAN?

(THIS ARTICLE SI COURTESY OF NEWSWEEK)

 

HOW DOES ISRAEL’S MILITARY COMPARE TO IRAN?

Relations between Israel and Iran are at breaking point. The multinational nuclear deal signed with Iran is on the verge of collapsing—partly thanks to Israeli lobbying against it. Iranian leaders have warned that if it fails, the country will resume its uranium enrichment program, a step Israel considers a threat to its very existence.

Meanwhile, multiple Israeli strikes have sought to dislodge Iranian forces from Syria, where Tehran enjoys increasing influence. Israeli leaders are fighting hard to stop Iranian soldiers deploying along its northern border.

Though it would appear that neither nation wants a full-scale war, the potential for miscalculation and escalation remains. Both nations have considerable military clout, and any prolonged confrontation between them would be bloody.

RTS1IFO9Israeli forces are seen near a border fence between the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan Heights and Syria, on November 4, 2017. Israel is wary of Iran’s growing influence across its northern border.REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD

Iran is a much larger country with a far higher population than Israel, but numbers alone do not dictate military capability—combat technology and experience are vital factors too. Technological capability is even more important in an era where technology is changing the way war is waged, allowing nations to hit each other harder, from further away and with less human involvement.

A small nation with a population of just 8.5 million, Israel’s military punches significantly above its weight. Formed amid a war with seven Arab neighbors, the country’s short history is punctuated with conflicts fought for its survival. This tough history combines with a burgeoning technology sphere and close relations with powerful western nations to create one of the world’s most formidable fighting forces.

According to Global Firepower, Israel has approximately 170,000 active personnel with a further 445,000 in reserve. Conscription exists for all non-Arab citizens of Israel over the age of 18, giving the country a large and well-trained pool of fighters to call up in the event of war.

Though less sophisticated than Israel, the Iranian military is a force to be reckoned with. Its large population—around 82 million—enables Tehran to maintain a standing force of around 534,000 soldiers, with a further 400,000 in reserve, making it the largest force in the Middle East.

In a drawn-out engagement, national manpower becomes an important issue. Iranian available manpower is around 47 million compared with just 3 million for Israel. Of course, how important this is will depend on the nature of any war being fought.

RTXYQI5Members of Iranian armed forces march during the Army Day parade in Tehran on April 18, 2013.REUTERS/HAMID FOROOTAN/ISNA/HANDOUT

In 2017, Israel spent $16.5 billion on its armed forces, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Iran was not far behind on $14.5 billion. Though this does not seem like a big gap, the fact that Israel is spending billions more than Iran on a smaller military indicates the gulf in the quality of equipment used.

Israel fields more tanks than Iran—2,760 compared to 1,650. Israel wins this matchup on quality as well as quantity, the latest version of its Merkava tank being one of the best and most heavily defended in the world. Iran is mostly using second-rate tanks, though it has announced the development of the new Karrar platform, which it claims will be able to compete with top-class opponents.

The Israeli air force is one of the best in the world, equipped and trained to the highest level. Its pilots are experienced too, having regularly conducted missions against targets in Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and even Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Its 250 or so fighters include a handful of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft, one of just four fifth-generation fighter planes in the world. Israel will eventually have 50 F-35s.

By contrast, Iran fields around 160 fighter jets, none of which are as advanced as the F-35. Furthermore, its pilots are less well-trained and experienced than their Israeli counterparts.

Neither nation is a significant maritime power. Iran has more than 30 submarines, five frigates, three corvettes and more than 200 patrol craft. Israel currently has five submarines, three corvettes, eight missile boats and 45 patrol boats. Considering the geography, the naval theater is unlikely to play any significant role in a potential conflict.

RTX2UPSIAn Israeli soldier sits inside a F-35 fighter jet after it landed at Nevatim air base in southern Israel on December 12, 2016.REUTERS/AMIR COHEN

In the event of an all-out war, Israel holds the nuclear trump card. Notoriously secretive about its nuclear arsenal, the country is believed to possess between 75 and 400 warheads. The weapons can be delivered using Israel’s Jericho ballistic missiles, submarine-launched cruise missiles or even fighter planes.

Iran has no nuclear capability. Even if talks break down, it will take many years before Tehran joins the nuclear club. Iran is working hard to improve its ballistic missile arsenal, already one of the most potent in the region and well-able to hit Israel.

But Iran has other tricks up its sleeves. Financial and military support for anti-Israeli militant groups across the Middle East give it an unconventional way to hit its rival in the event of conflict. The Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah group, especially, is a worry for Israeli leaders. Hezbollah has a well-trained and well-equipped military, far more powerful than the Lebanese army and able to operate freely.

Hezbollah’s experience fighting alongside regime forces in Syria has given it vital combat exposure. The group maintains a huge rocket arsenal, and its weapons can hit anywhere in Israel. Iran also provides support to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad groups in Gaza, which maintain smaller, but still significant, rocket capabilities.

The ONLY ONES To Blame For The Gaza Deaths And Injuries Are The Hamas Leaders!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

(THE EDITED TITLE ABOVE IS FROM THE OWNER OF THIS BLOG SITE (OLDPOET56) THE TITLE BELOW IS FROM THE ‘TIMES OF ISRAEL’)

Israel lost the PR battle over Gaza. Was it unwinnable or just mismanaged?

The IDF spokesperson is taking heavy flak for his handling of last week’s border clashes; some say he’s a scapegoat

Judah Ari Gross

Palestinians wave their national flag as they demonstrate near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabaliya, on May 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

Palestinians wave their national flag as they demonstrate near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabaliya, on May 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

While the army of Israel succeeded in fending off repeated infiltration attempts from the Gaza border during mass protests and clashes over the past seven weeks, the State of Israel lost the fight for public opinion — resoundingly, according to some.

“There’s a war being waged, and we’re not even on the battlefield,” Deputy Minister for Public Diplomacy Michael Oren told The Times of Israel.

The story accepted by much of the world appears to be one of largely peaceful Palestinian protests met by overwhelming, disproportionate lethal force by the powerful Israel Defense Forces, said Oren. This beat out the Israeli narrative that says this was a military campaign by the Hamas terrorist group, which regularly calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, using human shields as a cover for its attacks along the fence with the intention of getting as many of its own civilians shot by Israeli troops as possible, he said.

Universal sympathy for Israel was never likely.

Israeli officials repeated that Hamas was trying to get mobs of Gazans through the fence, including its own gunmen, potentially to carry out attacks inside Israel, and that the IDF’s prime obligation was to ensure this did not happen. But precisely because it didn’t happen, this was a mere claim on Israel’s part — and it was set against actual pictures of dead and injured Gazans.

Palestinian mourners surround the body of Yazan al-Tubasi, wrapped in the flag of the Hamas terror group, after he was killed during clashes in Gaza the previous day, during his funeral in Gaza City on May 15, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Over 100 Palestinians, including two journalists, have been killed by the IDF since the border clashes began on March 30, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, while there has been just one Israeli casualty reported — an IDF soldier, who was lightly wounded by a rock.

During these weekly riots, most of the demonstrators keep away from the security fence, staying in tents a few hundred meters back, but there are thousands who approach the border, hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers on the other side or damaging the security fences and trying to break through them. So-called “terror kites” laden with containers of burning fuel were also flown into Israel, setting fire to hundreds of dunams of farmland and fields.

In response, Israeli forces have used tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds, which were aimed at the legs unless there was a direct, immediate threat to life, in which case shots were aimed at the torso. The army maintains that snipers adhered to strict rules of engagement and required approval from a commander in order to shoot. Israeli human rights groups have questioned the legality of the army’s rules of engagement, taking the issue to the High Court of Justice, where the case has yet to be resolved as of time of writing.

Some weeks have also seen direct clashes between armed Palestinians and Israeli forces.

Though a coalition of various organizations in Gaza proposed the march, the Hamas terror group, which has ruled the coastal enclave since taking it over in 2007 in a violent coup, quickly coopted it — providing free buses to the border, offering money to those who were injured, and sending its operatives to the fences disguised as civilians.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City, on May 18, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

“The idea was ours, but the real situation is another story,” Ahmad Abu Artema, a Palestinian activist generally credited with starting the march, told the Financial Times newspaper last month, after the first riots.

While Artema and the original organizers maintain that the protests were meant to be nonviolent, Hamas leaders made it clear that this was not their aim. “We will tear down their border and tear out their hearts from their bodies,” Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s chief in Gaza, shouted during a rally on April 6.

At least one-fifth of the people killed were actively engaged in armed clashes with IDF troops — either using firearms or explosives — when they were shot. According to the army, a number of Palestinians were also shot dead as they tried to plant improvised explosive devices along the security fence, though the IDF would not provide an exact figure.

But the majority of those killed appeared to be unintended fatalities, who died from what were meant to be nonlethal wounds to the legs or were struck by bullets that missed their target.

A picture taken on May 14, 2018, from the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz across the border with the Gaza Strip shows Israeli soldiers keeping position and Palestinian protesters gathering along the border fence with Israel. (AFP/JACK GUEZ)

While this disparity in the number of casualties between the two sides is the result of the military actions to prevent infiltrations on the border, and not a lack of deadly intent by Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Strip, it nevertheless exists.

And though the vast majority of the Palestinians killed were identified as members of terrorist organizations, either by the IDF or by the groups themselves, this information came out only after the fact.

Similarly, the fuller story of one of the more enduring images of the violence — the funeral of an eight-month old Gaza baby purportedly killed after inhaling tear gas — emerged only after hours of headlines and TV news reports last Tuesday; her family acknowledged she had a congenital heart disease, which a Gaza doctor indicated to the Associated Press was the more likely cause of her death.

“Bloodbath” and “massacre” appeared in headlines in major American and European newspapers on articles about Monday’s border clashes.

“Hamas can’t cut through the fence, so it wants to get people killed in order to delegitimize Israel. And the press plays into that, the press enables Hamas to win,” Oren said in an interview Friday.

In the aftermath of Monday’s border riots, Israel came in for sharp criticism, not only in press reports, but also in international fora.

A day after the clashes, the United Nations Security Council held an emergency session on the border violence and was only blocked from releasing a statement against the “killing of Palestinian civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest” by a United States veto.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, gestures during a special session of the UN Human Rights Council to discuss ‘the deteriorating human rights situation’ in the West Bank and Gaza Strip following clashes on the Gaza border. (AFP Photo/Fabrice Coffrini)

On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council approved an independent inquiry into the deaths of the Palestinians on the border, with only the US and Australia voting against it.

The Palestinian Authority also contacted the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel for potential war crimes on Monday.

In the aftermath of these blows, some Israeli politicians and officials have looked for someone to blame, and many found it in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, which played the central role in Israel’s official public relations efforts surrounding the Gaza border clashes.

But others say the army and its spokesperson Ronen Manelis are being used as a “scapegoat,” taking unfair flak for losing an unwinnable battle or, in the view of Oren, absorbing all the guilt for what is actually a deeper, national problem.

Who’s to blame?

One of the first to remark on the ostensible public relations failure was Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who told Israel Radio there was “criticism that could be heard” regarding the army’s public relations efforts.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, he said, “could have operated better, maybe ahead [of the riots].”

Veteran Israeli military correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai also published a scathing critique of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit’s handling of the Gaza clashes last week, titled “The PR failure on the Gaza fence.”

Criticism of the unit ramped up after the leaking of a phone briefing between the head of the IDF’s international media department, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, and representatives from the American Jewish communities last week, in which the officer said the dramatic images emerging from Gaza of wounded protesters had given Hamas an “overwhelming victory, by knockout” in the fight for public opinion.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on May 18, 2018, at al-Omary mosque in Gaza City. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

On Friday, former IDF spokesman and current Labor Party MK Nahman Shai condemned the unit for publicly acknowledging what was already clear to all: that Hamas had won the narrative battle.

“Hamas wanted the casualties, Hamas wanted people to die. Hamas wanted the pictures of the wounded and the overflowing hospitals and everything else,” Conricus was recorded as saying.

“It’s been very difficult to tell our story,” he told the American Jewish leaders, acknowledging, “Some of that, I’m sure, is my fault.”

Nothing that Conricus said would be much of a surprise to followers of the Gaza coverage, though he was perhaps more candid than spokespeople are expected to be. The IDF also said in a statement that the recording released by Haaretz was edited and removed important context for his remarks.

Shai criticized the officer for “giving out compliments to Hamas.”

Scapegoats

Malcolm Hoenlein, the longtime executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, defended Conricus and his commander Manelis, saying they were being unfairly criticized.

IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis. (Israel Defense Forces)

“You see them getting knocked in some press reports, and it’s just not understandable,” he said.

“They become scapegoats,” Hoenlein said.

Hoenlein, who is generally seen as a major figure on Israeli and Jewish issues, described as insurmountable the challenge facing Manelis and Conricus of selling the IDF’s narrative in light of what he regarded as bias in the international media, either against Israel or against US President Donald Trump, whom many blamed for the violence in Gaza over his decision to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last Monday, the day of the deadliest clashes.

“There was a bias that they started out against, which was not based on any facts. You could give the media all the information, but they were out to get [Israel]. Some of it is anti-Trump, some of it is other stuff,” Hoenlein said in a phone interview.

“I think they were doing a good job,” he said.

Executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein in Jerusalem, February 19, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

In addition to the phone call that was leaked, Conricus and Manelis made several calls to representatives from over 100 American Jewish organizations in order to provide them with information about the army’s Gaza operations and intelligence on Hamas’s efforts, which was passed on to the groups’ members and used in their lobbying efforts.

According to Hoenlein, this was an unprecedented level of contact with the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

This can be seen as both the army taking initiative and other national bodies — the Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Strategic Affairs, Prime Minister’s Office — dropping the ball, which prompted the army to fill the vacuum.

“Other parts of the government could take a lesson from them in terms of how responsive they’ve been, how much they try to address our concerns and how available they’ve been for briefings on very short notice,” Hoenlein said.

MK Michael Oren. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Deputy Minister Oren, who has criticized Israel’s handling of the public relations surrounding the Gaza riots since they started, said IDF Spokesperson Manelis and his unit were being used as a whipping boy, though he too said there was room for improvement.

“I feel bad for Ronen. He is being made into a scapegoat for a far, far deeper problem,” the deputy minister said.

According to Oren, the government has not made public diplomacy a priority, as many lawmakers and senior officials feel that “‘they’ just hate us, so it won’t help.”

I feel bad for Ronen. He is being made into a scapegoat for a far, far deeper problem

For instance, Oren noted that the government had not prepared a list of talking points and messages for Israeli diplomats to use in interviews ahead of the first round of demonstrations on March 30, despite having had ample time to do so.

“A couple weeks ago, when these riots started on a Friday, people were calling me, saying ‘What are our messages? What are our messages?’ My response was, ‘Wait a minute, we’ve had months to prepare for this, months. And you’re preparing messages now, after the riots? Are we insane?’” Oren said.

“I propose we set up a multi-agency body, with powers and budget, of which the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit is a part, but not the crucial part,” said Oren, who as deputy minister of public diplomacy would likely lead such an outfit.

Concrete steps

While the deputy minister said the real criticism should be focused more on the government’s disinterest in public diplomacy, and not Manelis and the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, he said there were concrete steps that the army could have taken to better express Israel’s messages.

The first was for the spokesperson’s unit to be faster, particularly in distributing visual materials.

IDF footage showing a group of five Palestinian men damage and break through the Gaza security fence, before one of them is shot dead, during a protest in Bureij, in the central Gaza Strip, on April 3, 2018. (Screen capture)

There is typically a delay, from a few hours to a few days, before the military releases photographs and videos. In the case of images made by army photographers, this is because the materials need to be reviewed and approved up the chain of command before they can be disseminated. In the case of footage from surveillance cameras or other operational equipment, there are also technical stopgaps — meant to prevent sensitive information from being leaked — that can hold up the distribution process.

These are issues that do not exist on the Gaza side of the security fence.

“What I need from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit is to release pictures in real-time,” Oren said.

The second issue, also mentioned in Ben-Yishai’s article, was the army’s refusal to allow reporters to embed with troops along the border or even approach it, with very few exceptions.

The military forbade journalists from getting closer than a few hundred meters from the fence during the “March of Return” protests. While few Western reporters approached the border from the Gaza side, they were able to speak with participants and photograph the riots.

On the Israeli side, the only soldiers who could talk to the press were those farther back, guarding the nearby Israeli communities. They were also technically prohibited from speaking to journalists, though some did so off-record.

Israeli snipers prepare for massive protests by Palestinians in Gaza and the potential for demonstrators to try to breach the security fence on March 30, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF said the riots were violent, with participants trying to breach the fence and throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, but refused to allow journalists to see it firsthand.

The photographs distributed by the IDF of soldiers along the border also appeared to have been taken in the calm before the riots, before protesters set tires on fire, filling the skies with inky black smoke, and before the army started dropping tear gas, which was regularly blown back into Israel.

“You don’t see what it’s like to be an 18-, 19-year-old kid seeing people coming at you and know that if you let a breach of the fence happen, you’ve got 2,000 people armed with knives in Nahal Oz,” Oren said, referring to an Israeli community located less than a kilometer from the Gaza border.

“So the only perspective you get is the Palestinians’,” he said.

Palestinian demonstrators dressed in striped T-shirts resembling internment camp outfits hold up signs with slogans written in Hebrew reading ‘Soldiers, we are not objects, we are humans,’ ‘Gaza is the biggest and the ugliest prison in the world,’ ‘Gaza is a Nazi victim,’ and ‘Humanitarian disaster in Gaza, we want a solution,’ during a demonstration near the border with Israel east of Gaza City on May 13, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The IDF is generally loath to allow reporters to embed with soldiers during operational activities, though some exceptions have been made over the years, always under a tight watch by spokespeople.

This aversion comes, in part, from the last time the military allowed reporters such close contact with army units, during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Following the conflict, the spokesperson’s unit faced significant criticism for the practice, as some tactical information was accidentally published in the media, along with internal army gossip, according to officers from that time.

In the past, the army has also had concerns that individual soldiers could face legal trouble abroad if they are identified in the media — as in the case of Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, who could not get off a flight to London in 2005 for fear that he would be arrested and tried for war crimes upon debarking. (The British foreign secretary later apologized for the affair, and the arrest warrant was withdrawn.)

The military was thus unlikely to alter this policy on its own, and “no one told them” to change it, Oren said.

Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, speaks to foreign correspondents, in his office in Gaza City, May 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

On Monday, Manelis accused the world of “falling for Hamas’s lies,” in an opinion piece published by the Wall Street Journal.

He brushed off all criticism of the spokesperson’s unit.

“Some of Israel’s greatest friends might have preferred that we had looked better in the media this past week, but between vanity and truth, the IDF always chooses truth,” Manelis wrote.

“The IDF will win where it matters — protecting our civilians in the face of terror,” Manelis wrote.

This seemed to prove Oren’s central criticism, that the military did not appreciate the importance of garnering — or at least not losing — public opinion, which can ultimately have an impact on the army’s ability to wage war.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaks at the 2018 California Democrats State Convention Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

“We think the primary battleground is the battleground. The primary battleground is not the battleground. The primary battleground is (US Senator) Dianne Feinstein and the Europeans. And that’s why we’re losing it; we’re not even fighting the right battle,” Oren said, referring to the Democrat lawmaker from California who last week supported an independent United Nations investigation of Israel’s actions on the Gaza border.

According to the deputy minister, however, the diplomatic and, potentially, legal fallout from the Gaza border violence will be a “pinprick” compared to what might come from a war with the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon, which has tens of thousands of rockets and missiles stored in and around the homes of Lebanese civilians.

“The goal of the rockets — yes, it’s to cause us damage — but the main goal of the rockets is to get us to kill the people in the houses,” Oren said.

“Hezbollah and Hamas do not have a military strategy. They have a military tactic that serves a media, a diplomatic and a legal strategy,” he said.

“They know they can’t beat tzahal,” Oren said, using the Hebrew acronym for the army. “What they can do is create a situation where tzahal can’t act, where the tanks can’t roll and the planes can’t act.”

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