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.”

Israel urges Assad to ‘throw out’ Iranian forces: ‘They only harm you’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

LIBERMAN: ‘WE DID NOT CROSS IRAN’S BORDERS. THEY CAME HERE’

Israel urges Assad to ‘throw out’ Iranian forces: ‘They only harm you’

Defense minister reassures residents of the north that things are ‘back to normal’ following massive airstrikes in Syria

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (C) meets with Golan Regional Council head Eli Malka (L) and Katrzin Regional Council head Dmitry Apartzev (R) during a tour of the Golan Heights town of Katzrin on may 11, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (C) meets with Golan Regional Council head Eli Malka (L) and Katrzin Regional Council head Dmitry Apartzev (R) during a tour of the Golan Heights town of Katzrin on may 11, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Speaking in the north of Israel on Friday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman sent a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad, telling him to “throw” Iranian forces out of his country.

Liberman visited the northern city of Katzrin to debrief residents following Israel’s largest air campaign in Syria in more than 40 years, in which it says it bombed over 50 Iranian targets.

The sortie came after Iran fired 20 missiles toward Israel just after midnight on Thursday morning, the IDF said, forcing residents of the north into bomb shelters. Four of the missiles were knocked down by the Iron Dome air defense system and the rest fell short of Israeli territory, according to the military.

Liberman urged Syria to expel the Revolutionary Guard’s al-Quds Force, which Israel blamed for the missile attacks early Thursday morning.

“I want to use this opportunity to give Assad a message,” he said. “Throw out the Iranians, throw out Qassem Soleimani and the Quds force. They don’t help you, they only harm you, and their presence causes only problems and damage.”

Liberman also told Israelis they should not let the threat from Syria deter them from visiting the north. “You can come, you can return to the bed and breakfasts, to tour, to hike,” he said. “There are truly amazing views and among the most beautiful places, and there is no problem. We are back to normal.”

He said that it was a mistake to think that Thursday morning’s attacks on the Iranian bases had completely solved the problem, but that the army was ready for anything and would continue to do whatever necessary to ensure Israel is secure.

“I don’t think it’s all over,” he said,” but we certainly have our finger on the pulse.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 9, 2018. (Sergei Ilnitsky/AFP)

Liberman said Israel was in a unique position of being able to speak with the leaders of both the US and Russia, though he refused to say whether Israel was responsible for Russia refusing to send better air defense systems to Syria.

The defense minister welcomed Iran’s statement that it did not want an escalation between the two countries and stressed that Israel was also not looking for more confrontation with anyone.

“We did not cross Iran’s borders,” he said. “They came here.”

He reassured residents that if anyone was planning to launch missiles against Israel the IDF would try to carry out preemptive strikes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday Iran had “crossed a red line” and that Israel’s bombardment against targets in Syria “was a consequence.”

Israel has long warned it will not accept Iran entrenching itself militarily in neighboring Syria, where the Islamic Republic backs Assad’s regime in the country’s seven-year civil war.

Israel was blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that have killed Iranians, though it has not acknowledged those raids.

The Jewish state said it had conducted dozens of operations in Syria to stop what it says are advanced arms deliveries to Iran-backed Hezbollah, another key foe of Israel.

Amid a series of retaliation threats from Tehran, Israel had been preparing itself for weeks for possible Iranian retaliation.

READ MORE:

Officials warn of impending Iranian missile strike on northern Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Defense officials warn of impending Iranian missile strike on northern Israel

TV reports say Tehran looking to retaliate for Israeli raids in Syria without causing all-out war, likely with rockets at IDF bases rather than civilian targets

Iranian military trucks carry surface-to-air missiles during a parade on the occasion of the country's Army Day, on April 18, 2017, in Tehran. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

Iranian military trucks carry surface-to-air missiles during a parade on the occasion of the country’s Army Day, on April 18, 2017, in Tehran. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

Iran is planning to retaliate for recent deadly airstrikes in Syria attributed to the Jewish state by having its proxies fire missiles at military targets in northern Israel sometime in the near future, defense officials warned on Sunday.

Tehran vowed revenge after the T-4 army base in Syria was struck in an air raid on April 9, killing at least seven members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The strike was widely attributed to Israel, though Jerusalem refused to comment on it. (T-4 was the base from which Israel said Iran launched an attack drone into Israel in February.) Late last month, a second strike, allegedly conducted by Israel, against an Iranian-controlled base in northern Syria was said to have killed more than two dozen Iranian soldiers.

On Sunday, all of Israel’s nightly news broadcasts reported that the Israeli military and intelligence services had identified preliminary efforts by Iran in Syria to carry out its reprisal, using its IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), the Hezbollah terrorist group and local Shiite militias to launch a barrage of precision-guided missiles, likely at Israeli military targets in the north.

“Israel has recently identified with certainty Iranian preparations to fire at the north,” Channel 10 said. “We are not on the eve of war with Iran… but Iran is very determined to carry out an attack” to avenge the T-4 strike and the deaths of its military personnel, it said.

Israel Radio said the Iranian planning for an attack was at “an advanced stage.”

The understanding in the defense services is that Iran is looking to conduct its retaliation in such a way as to avoid full-fledged war with Israel, and will therefore likely not target civilian locations, according to the reports, which did not attribute the information to any specific source.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on May 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM HOLLANDER)

No special instructions were given to residents of northern Israel. Indeed, the heads of local councils in the north have reportedly been told to tell citizens not to take any specific precautions and to go about their daily lives as usual.

Israel was working to prevent or counter such an attack, but was also preparing for the possibility that the Iranians “succeed in hitting a base in the north with missiles,” Channel 10 reported. The Israel Defense Forces was threatening to hit all Iranian targets in Syria if Tehran launched an attack on Israeli territory, the TV report said.

Seeking Russian pressure on Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to present the information in Tehran’s preparations to strike Israel to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting Wednesday in Moscow, the reports said.

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu said that while Israel is not interested in a military escalation with Iran, if there has to be a fight, he would prefer it be now, rather than later.

“We are determined to block the Iranian entrenchment, even at the cost of confrontation,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “We don’t want an escalation, but we are prepared for every scenario. We don’t want confrontation, but if there needs to be one, it is better now than later.”

The prime minister also suggested Iran could directly launch a strike on Israeli territory.

A satellite image showing the results of an alleged Israeli airstrike on a reported Iranian base outside the northern Syrian city of Hama the day before, on April 30, 2018. (ImageSat International ISI)

“In recent months, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards transferred to Syria advanced weaponry in order to attack us both on the battlefield and the home front, including weaponized UAVs, ground-to-ground missiles and Iranian anti-aircraft batteries that would threaten air force jets,” he said.

Sunday night’s warning about Iran’s plans to attack, as disseminated on the TV news broadcasts, appeared to constitute an attempt by Israel to show the Iranians that it was aware of their plans and was prepared to respond if they went through with the reprisal.

A Hadashot TV report said the warning was aimed both to deter Iran and to make it plain to the Iranians that Israel knows what they are planning, and that it will not be fooled if the missiles themselves are fired by Syrian militiamen.

A mainstay of Iran’s defense strategy is the use of proxies to conduct its bidding across the Middle East — the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq, as well as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. This is seen as an effort to limit Iranian casualties and keep any fighting limited to outside the Islamic Republic.

Last month, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel was prepared to strike the Iranian homeland. “If they attack Tel Aviv, we will strike Tehran,” he said.

The unnamed defense officials on Sunday did not specify when the Iranian attack was expected to take place. The Channel 10 report said Iran’s preparations had been going on for weeks, but had been disrupted in recent days because of several strikes on targets in Syria, including on missile stocks in the Hama area, attributed to Israel. “But the Iranians have not given up,” the report said.

It added that missiles had been brought from Lebanon to Syria for use in the intended attack against Israel. “The idea is to use heavy Iranian missiles, including the Fateh-110” — under the command and with the advisory work of Hezbollah but “without an IRGC presence,” Channel 10 said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech on files obtained by Israel he says proves Iran lied about its nuclear program, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, on April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Iran has been taking a number of heavy blows of late, including Israel’s seizure of its nuclear weapons archives from under its nose in Tehran, Channel 10 noted, and is determined to strike back but not for confrontation to escalate into war.

Last month, a member of the coalition supporting Iran’s ally, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, told The New York Times that the reprisal would likely not come before the Lebanese parliamentary elections, which began on Sunday.

Further stoking tensions, this week US President Donald Trump is expected to determine the fate of the Iran nuclear accord, which he has repeatedly threatened to leave. On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that if America abandoned the Iran deal, it could lead to a war.

Earlier on Sunday evening, Israel’s security cabinet held a three-and-a-half-hour session to discuss recent developments in the region, including the tensions with Iran in Syria and the upcoming decision by Trump regarding the nuclear deal. Channel 10 said this meeting was not a routine meeting, but it was prevented by Israel’s military censorship from explaining why.

Sunday’s warning was not the first intimation by Israeli defense officials of a potentially imminent retaliatory attack by Iran. Shortly before Israel’s Independence Day, the military prepared for the possibility of a direct attack from the IRGC’s air force.

The Times of Israel learned at the time that Israel’s defense establishment believed the Iranian revenge attack would likely be carried out with surface-to-surface missiles or armed drones. Others have speculated that an Iranian retaliation could come in the form of a cyber attack.

A map of Syria, provided to Israeli media, shows the approximate locations of five bases that Israel believes to be controlled by Iran.

In an apparent effort at deterrence, the IDF last month provided Israeli media with a map showing five Iranian-controlled bases in Syria that would likely constitute potential targets for an Israeli response, should Iran carry out any kind of attack. Satellite photographs of bases were also provided.

Those were Damascus International Airport, through which Iranian transport planes bring in weapons and military gear; the Sayqal air base; the T-4 air base; an airfield near Aleppo; and a base in Deir Ezzor, which was recaptured from the Islamic State terror group by the regime last year.

Israeli intelligence believes the sites are used by Iran for its missions in Syria, as well as to transport weapons to its proxies in the region, including Hezbollah.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards al-Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani (YouTube screenshot)

Israel believes Iran’s retaliatory effort is being led by Major General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC’s Quds Force, which operates around the world, with assistance from the head of the IRGC air corps, Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh; the head of its surface-to-surface missile program; Col. Mahmoud Bakri Katrem Abadi; and the head of its air defense operations, Ali Akhbar Tzeidoun.

The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Air Force Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh. (Fars news)

Soleimani has repeatedly warned Israel, and threatened to “wipe out the Zionist entity” in February over the assassination of a Hezbollah leader, which has been attributed to the Mossad and America’s CIA.

Iran has access to a variety of surface-to-surface missiles, from short-range Fajr-5 rockets to medium-range Fateh 110 missiles, which have a range of approximately 300 kilometers (190 miles), to long-range Shehab ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets over 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) away.

To counter those threats, Israel has a multi-tiered missile defense system consisting of the Iron Dome for short-range rockets and mortar shells, the David’s Sling for medium-range missiles, and the Arrow for long-range ballistic missiles.

Israel sees Iran, which has vowed to destroy the Jewish state, as its main enemy in the region. Israeli officials have repeatedly stated that Israel will not allow Iran to entrench itself in Syria, marking it as a “red line” that it will fight militarily if necessary.

READ MORE:

Palestinian youths set Gaza’s own gas line

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

Palestinian youths set Gaza’s own gas line on fire at weekly fence protests

7,000 Gazans protest along security fence, fly dozens of ‘firebomb kites’ into Israel, fail to breach border; Hamas claims hundreds injured, no fatalities; two IDF drones go down

  • Palestinian medics and protesters evacuate a wounded man during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, on May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
    Palestinian medics and protesters evacuate a wounded man during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, on May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
  • A Palestinian man prepares an incendiary device attached to a kite before trying to fly it over the border fence with Israel, on the eastern outskirts of Jabalia in the Gaza Strip, on May 4, 2018. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
    A Palestinian man prepares an incendiary device attached to a kite before trying to fly it over the border fence with Israel, on the eastern outskirts of Jabalia in the Gaza Strip, on May 4, 2018. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
  • A picture taken on May 4, 2018 from the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz across the border with the Gaza Strip shows a general view of clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians, with land scorched by incendiary kites seen in the foreground (bottom) and smoke from burning tires set ablaze by protesters in the background. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
    A picture taken on May 4, 2018 from the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz across the border with the Gaza Strip shows a general view of clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians, with land scorched by incendiary kites seen in the foreground (bottom) and smoke from burning tires set ablaze by protesters in the background. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
  • Palestinian protesters run for cover from teargas fired by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, on May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
    Palestinian protesters run for cover from teargas fired by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, on May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
  • Palestinian paramedics carry a wounded man during a demonstration at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
    Palestinian paramedics carry a wounded man during a demonstration at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
  • A Palestinian man uses a slingshot during weekly protests along the Gaza border near the city of Khan Younis on May 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
    A Palestinian man uses a slingshot during weekly protests along the Gaza border near the city of Khan Younis on May 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
  • Palestinians take part in weekly clashes along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabaliya, on May 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)
    Palestinians take part in weekly clashes along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabaliya, on May 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)
  • Palestinians pose behind kites before trying to fly them over the border fence with Israel, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 4, 2018. Palestinians taking part in weekly clashes on the border have adopted a new tactic of attaching firebombs to kites to fly over the border fence into Israel. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
    Palestinians pose behind kites before trying to fly them over the border fence with Israel, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 4, 2018. Palestinians taking part in weekly clashes on the border have adopted a new tactic of attaching firebombs to kites to fly over the border fence into Israel. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Dozens of Palestinians broke into the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and the Hamas-run Strip on Friday evening, setting fire to the gas pipeline that supplies fuel to the Strip, the army said.

The Gazans, who did not break through to the Israeli side of the border, trashed their own supply infrastructure, Israeli military officials said.

The incident came amid the protests along the Gaza border, the sixth week of demonstrations, as part of the “March of Return.” At least  431 Palestinians were injured, Gaza officials said, as some 7,000 took part in the demonstrations, flew dozens of kites with petrol bombs into Israel, hurled stones at soldiers and tried to breach the border fence.

The IDF shared video of the Kerem Shalom incident, during which Palestinians broke into the Palestinian side of the crossing and damaged pipelines carrying gas and oil into Gaza, which already suffers from a large energy shortage.

“This is a cynical act that harms the welfare of Gaza residents and the humanitarian efforts carried out by Israel and many other countries,” the army said.

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Kerem Shalom is the main crossing for goods and humanitarian aid to pass into Strip from Israel.

Elsewhere, there were two mass attempts to damage and breach the security fence around the central Gaza Strip during the protests, the army said.

Israeli soldiers who were called to the scene of those attempts forced back the demonstrators using less-lethal riot dispersal weapons and live fire.

“Two attempts by a group of rioters to damage the fence and cross into Israeli territory from the central [Gaza] Strip were thwarted a short while ago,” the army said on Friday evening.

In total, 431 Palestinians were injured during the protests, including some 70 from live fire, the Hamas-run Gaza healthy ministry said.

There were no Palestinian deaths reported as of Friday evening, unlike in previous weeks. The IDF does not confirm Palestinian casualty figures, but it put the number of protesters at 7,000.

Thousands of Palestinians protest along the Gaza border with Israel, in the sixth ‘March of Return’ demonstration on May 4, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

During the Friday demonstrations, two small Israeli army drones crashed in the Gaza Strip. The military said the drones were not being used in an operational capacity before they fell, but were filming the protests. From video footage, at least one of the drones appeared to be a civilian model in use by the Israel Defense Forces.


It was not clear what caused the drones to crash. Palestinians claimed to have downed them.

According to the army, the 7,000 or so demonstrators were spread out among five main locations along the Gaza Strip. The protest began following the mid-afternoon prayers.

Though the first two weeks of demonstrations saw tens of thousands of protesters, the past month has seen far lower levels of participation.

Protesters rolled burning tires toward the Gaza security fence and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the Israeli troops on the other side of the border, the army said.

Palestinians hurl burning tires at the Gaza security fence during the sixth ‘March of Return’ demonstration on May 4, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The soldiers responded to the more violent demonstrators with less-lethal riot dispersal weapons, like tear gas, and also with live fire in some cases.

An army spokesperson said soldiers used live rounds against “main instigators” in accordance with its rules of engagement.

According to the Hamas health ministry, 48 Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30 and hundreds of others have been wounded from gunfire.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group which seeks to destroy Israel, acknowledged that five of its terrorists were among the fatalities after the first Friday demonstration, but has since refrained for acknowledging whether its men are among the dead. Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups.

Illustrative: Black smoke rises from tires burned by Gaza protesters at the border with Israel, with Israeli soldiers seen in the foreground, April 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence and attacks.

Organizers of the protests said part of Friday’s plans included attempting to fly dozens of kites, some carrying firebombs, over the border fence.

A Guy Fawkes mask strapped to his belt and a Palestinian flag around his neck, Abdullah Issa, 22, said they hoped to send dozens of kites with Molotov cocktails over the fence.

“We will put Molotov cocktails on the Israeli farms,” Issa told the AFP news agency.

“They have no solution for the kites.”

According to the IDF, there was only one case of a kite making it over the border.

An Israeli soldier holds a kite flown over the border from Gaza in a tactic recently used by Palestinian protesters to start fires in Israeli on the Israel-Gaza border near the kibbutz of Kfar Aza on April 24, 2018. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)

These kites, dubbed “terror kites” by some in Israel, have posed a significant challenge to Israeli security services.

The fires started by these kites have destroyed some 800 dunam (200 acres) of wheat and barley fields, according to local Israeli farmers, who turned to the Tax Authority for compensation as “victims of terrorist activities.”

The military has yet to devise a comprehensive response to the threat posed by these kites. For now, soldiers track the kites after they cross the border and attempt to extinguish the resulting fires before they spread.

This has not always been successful. On Wednesday, dozens of acres of grassland were burned in the largest fire yet caused by these kites.

The “March of Return” is an eight-week-long set of protests that began on March 30 and is due to continue until at least mid-May. Though they were initially planned as non-violent demonstrations, the protests were apparently coopted by the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza and whose leaders have said their goal is to erase the border and “liberate Palestine.”

A Palestinian man uses a slingshot during weekly protests along the Gaza border near the city of Khan Younis on May 4, 2018. (Said Khatir/AFP)

These weekly, sometimes daily, demonstrations have often turned violent, with Palestinians throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops on the other side of the border, who retaliate with live fire and less-lethal riot dispersal weapons like tear gas and rubber bullets.

The military has faced international and domestic criticism over its use of live fire, with the United Nations and European Union calling for an independent investigation rejected by Israel.

Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, poses for a photo during the INSS conference in Tel Aviv, January 30, 2018 (Jack Guez/AFP)

Last week, the UN’s special envoy to the region, Nickolay Mladenov, told the UN Security Council that both Israel and Hamas had to do more to prevent the deaths.

“There has also been an increasing number of dangerous incidents at the fence, including the planting of improvised explosive devices — at least one of which has detonated — the throwing of Molotov cocktails, and attempts to breach the fence,” he said.

“Israel must calibrate its use of force and minimize the use of live fire. Lethal force should be used only as a last resort,” he continued. “Hamas and the leaders of the demonstrations must keep protesters away from the Gaza fence and prevent all violent actions and provocations.”

Earlier this week, the IDF defended its rules of engagement in Israel’s High Court of Justice, saying that they were in line with both domestic and international law.

Last Friday, four Palestinians were killed and over 300 hurt during a particularly violent demonstration along the border, which included a large-scale rush of the security fence.

Mourners carry the body of Palestinian journalist Ahmed Abu Hussein, who died after being shot by Israeli troops while covering a border protest during his funeral in the Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Thursday, April 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Israel says Hamas uses the marches as cover for terrorist attacks.

“In recent weeks, we’ve once again seen the complexity of the situation, when our forces found themselves facing mass protests that served as cover for terrorist actions, attacks on soldiers, attempts at kidnapping, attacks on military posts, and attempts to infiltrate [Israeli] towns,” IDF chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said Tuesday.

Israel has repeatedly expressed concern over the possibility of a mass breach of the Gaza fence, in which Palestinians would stream across with terrorists among them, wreaking havoc. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has vowed in the past that protesters would “breach the borders and pray at Al-Aqsa,” referring to the major Muslim shrine in Jerusalem.

The demonstrations are due to continue until mid-May, which will mark the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, planned move of the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and Nakba Day, a commemoration of what Palestinians consider to be the expulsion from their land.

These “March of Return” protests are so named for the “right of return” demanded by Palestinians from Israel, which would allow them to go back to their native towns and cities.

At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, this “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.

No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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Israel-You Must Stand On Higher Ground And Not Abuse It

Israel-You Must Stand On Higher Ground And Not Abuse It

 

As almost all of my regular readers probably know all ready, I am very much a ‘Pro-Israel’ believing type of person, but, this does not mean that I give the people of Israel nor the government of Israel carte Blanche status.

 

As the people of Israel know, a couple of years ago an IDF Soldier shot and killed a wounded unarmed Palestinian man laying in the street. About a month ago in the Times Of Israel Paper I read that the Soldier had been sentenced to 20 months in jail but that he was going to be getting out about 4 months early because of good behavior while in jail. So, the Government of Israel decided that for this crime (my total opinion is that this was a case of first degree murder) the punishment was about 16 months in prison. Would justice have been counted the same by the people of Israel and the Government of Israel if a Hamas Member or Hezbollah Member killed an Israeli Soldier in like manner? Since the Sentence has been handed down, and the Time has been served the Sergeant should face no further jail time. Israel, the world is watching you. If you are a “godly” people, you are under the obligation toward God to prove it by your righteous.

 

The failed Government of Hamas, they do what failing Governments have done for thousands of years, they create a war. I know that Hamas’s war is rather unique in the fact that they have been at war with Israel ever since they began as an Islamic Movement. There is also the fact that Hamas has never actually had anything approaching a quality infrastructure. This past month with Hamas’s sponsored “March Of Return” (which is destined to either total victory, or total defeat, no draws) there is no doubt that the Rulers of Hamas are desperate. Yet the IDF Soldiers at the Fence area must use restraint whenever possible. This is just a personal idea, but what do you think of it? Each IDF soldier be issued one ten round clip each day of rubber bullets, then all the rest of the clips with live rounds. If a Soldier fires any live rounds they must have video of why they had to fire 10 rubber rounds, and why they felt they had the right or the necessity to use any live rounds. Do not kill if it is not required that you have to kill. Israel, take the High Ground, always!

Iranian drone shot down in northern Israel in February was armed with explosives

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Iranian drone shot down in northern Israel in February was armed with explosives

Thwarted attack was first direct Iranian targeting of Israel; drone was sent from T-4 base in Syria, where 7 Iranians were killed in alleged devastating Israeli airstrike this week

The remains of an Iranian drone that was shot down by the Israeli Air Force after it penetrated Israeli airspace on February 10, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The remains of an Iranian drone that was shot down by the Israeli Air Force after it penetrated Israeli airspace on February 10, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel revealed on Friday that an Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace in February after launching from an airbase in Syria was carrying explosives. The base was attacked on Monday, allegedly by Israel, in a strike that reportedly targeted Iran’s entire attack drone weapons system — prompting soaring tensions between Israel and Iran.

The Iranian drone shot down in February was carrying enough explosives to cause damage, military sources said. Its precise intended target in Israel was not known, they said.

The February incident marked an unprecedented direct Iranian attack on Israel. Israel’s acknowledgement of the nature of the drone’s mission “brings the confrontation” between Israel and Iran “into the open” for the first time, Israel’s Channel 10 news noted Friday.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a speech on Holocaust Remembrance Day this week to warn Iran: “Don’t test the resolve of the State of Israel.”

Iranian officials, for their part, have been vowing a response to the Monday airstrike, and an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader on Thursday threatened Israel with destruction.

The alleged Israeli attack this week on the base from which the drone was despatched is understood to have targeted Iran’s entire drone weapons system at the Syrian base, which was protected by surface-to-air missiles and other defenses, the TV report said.

“This was a harsh blow” to the Iranians, it added. “It is clear they will react.”

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on Monday April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

“An analysis of the flight path and operational and intelligence research performed on parts of the Iranian UAV that entered our territory on February 10 shows it carried explosive material and its mission was to carry out a destructive operation,” the Israel Defense Forces revealed Friday.

“The drone’s interception by attack helicopters thwarted the attack and the Iranian intention to carry out an operation on our territory,” it added.

The drone was tracked from Syria and shot down by IAF Apache helicopters 30 seconds after it crossed into Israeli airspace.

The army said that because it tracked the unmanned aerial vehicle throughout its flight, it did not pose any danger while in Israeli airspace.

Immediately after shooting down the Iranian drone on February 10, Israel carried out airstrikes against a number of Iranian targets in Syria, including on the T-4 base in central Syria where the Iranian operator of the drone was located.

During the aerial raids, an Israeli F-16 was downed by a Syrian anti-aircraft battery, crashing to earth in Israel, prompting further Israeli retaliatory raid against Syria’s anti-aircraft systems. Both the Israeli pilots ejected.

In this image made from video provided by Yehunda Pinto, the wreckage of an Israeli F-16 is seen on fire near Harduf, northern Israel, February 10, 2018. (Yehunda Pinto via AP)

The statement from the army Friday came after the airstrike in Syria this week — blamed on Israel by Syria, Iran and Russia — reportedly killed 14 people, including seven Iranian military advisers, one of whom was a colonel in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps air force.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon’s Iranian-armed Hezbollah terror group, said Friday that the alleged Israeli airstrike on the Iranian air base in central Syria was a “historic mistake” that has brought Israel into direct conflict with Tehran.

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Hamas leader: Protests mark beginning of our return to ‘all of Palestine’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hamas leader: Protests mark the beginning of our return to ‘all of Palestine’

Palestinians ‘will not agree to keep the right of return only as a slogan,’ Haniyeh says at ‘March of Return’ event in Gaza

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya flashes the victory gesture during a demonstration near the border with Israel east of Gaza City to commemorate Land Day on March 30, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya flashes the victory gesture during a demonstration near the border with Israel east of Gaza City to commemorate Land Day on March 30, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Demonstrations Friday along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip mark the beginning of the Palestinians’ return to “all of Palestine,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a speech at the scene.

“We are here to declare today that our people will not agree to keep the ‘right of return’ only as a slogan,” he said. Haniyeh added that the so-called “March of Return” was also aimed at sending a message to US President Donald Trump to the effect that the Palestinians will not give up their right to Jerusalem.

His comments came as several Palestinians were reported killed and hundreds were wounded by Israeli live and rubber bullet fire in border clashes as a series of massive protests kicked off along the security fence surrounding Gaza, according to Palestinian sources.

Thousands of Palestinians massed at the Gaza border to take part in the “March of Return” protests, the Israel Defense Forces said, with more expected to participate throughout the day. The army said it fired on “instigators” of protests at the border fence. An Israeli TV report said one of the Palestinians killed was suspected of trying to plant an explosive device at the fence.

Organizers of the protest had claimed it would be peaceful, but Israeli officials and the IDF had braced for the anticipated flare-up along the border of the Hamas-run enclave.

The main sites for protests at or close to the Gaza border were at Rafah and Khan Younis in the south, el-Bureij and Gaza City in the center, and Jabalya in the northern portion of the coastal enclave.

The military said protesters were burning tires and throwing rocks at the soldiers on the other side of the security fence.

Israeli officials repeatedly warned Palestinians not to approach the security fence during the protests through social media, leaflets dropped from airplanes and statements to news outlets.

Hamas leaders had said in the past few days that the protests would be “peaceful” and “non-violent.” However, they also warned that Palestinians will not sit idly by if Israel used force to disperse the protesters.

A statement issued by Hamas, a terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, on Thursday called on Palestinians “to effectively take part in the Great March of Return and remain peaceful to achieve the objective of this event.”

Khalil al Haya, a senior Hamas official, said that the Palestinians were not afraid of Israel’s threats to stop the demonstrators from approaching the border.

Palestinian protesters fly kites during a demonstration near the Gaza Strip border with Israel, in eastern Gaza City, March 29, 2018. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

The Palestinians are determined to return to their lands and homeland, Haya said, during a tour of tents set up by the protesters near the border with Israel. The Palestinians refer to the tents as the “Tents of Return.”

“Our people will not be intimidated by the Israeli threats,” he said. “We have waited for too long to return to the lands from which our grandparents were expelled 70 years ago.”

At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.

No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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