Is Tehran spying on Southern California?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES)

 

Is Tehran spying on Southern California? Feds say O.C. waiter and ‘Chubby’ from Long Beach were agents of Iran

Is Tehran spying on Southern California? Feds say O.C. waiter and ‘Chubby’ from Long Beach were agents of Iran
Authorities allege that two Iranians were operating in Orange County as spies on behalf of Iran. One of the men, Majid Ghorbani, worked at Darya, a popular Persian restaurant in Sana Ana, for more than 20 years. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

They seemed an unlikely pair of spies.

The older man, Majid Ghorbani, worked at a posh Persian restaurant in Santa Ana’s South Coast Village Plaza. At 59, he wore a thick gray mustache and the weary expression of a man who had served up countless plates of rice and kebab.

The younger man, Ahmadreza Mohammadi Doostdar, was a Long Beach native who held dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship. Round-faced and bespectacled, the 38-year-old answered to the Farsi nickname “Topol,” or “Chubby.”

Yet even as the men sipped coffee at a Costa Mesa Starbucks, chatted outside an Irvine market, or made trips to Macy’s at South Coast Plaza, they were doggedly trailed by federal agents.

Despite the pair’s disarming appearance, U.S. authorities allege they were operating in Orange County as agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran — an accusation that has alarmed many in the local Persian community because it suggests tensions between the U.S. and Iran have spilled over into Southern California.

The men’s goal, authorities say, was to conduct surveillance on Israeli and Jewish facilities in the U.S., and to collect information on members of the Mujahedin Khalq, MEK, an Iranian exile group that has long sought to topple the regime in Tehran and enjoys newfound support among members of the Trump administration.

Within the span of a year — from the summer of 2017 to the spring of 2018 — authorities say the men crisscrossed Orange County and the United States, videotaping participants at MEK rallies in New York and Washington, D.C., and photographing Jewish centers in Chicago.

During that time, the men also flew back and forth between Iran and Los Angeles International Airport, and appeared to be assembling “target packages” — dossiers that would “enable an intelligence or military unit to find, fix, track and neutralize a threat,” according to documents filed in Washington, D.C., federal court.

In at least one instance, the pair were recorded by an FBI listening device as Ghorbani briefed Doostdar on a New York MEK event in September 2017, according to court documents.

“I took some pictures and collected some information of them and some senators that they are working with,” the waiter said, according to court documents. “I have prepared a package, but it is not complete.”

::

The target of the alleged spying, the MEK, is a shadowy organization with a militant past. Up until 2012, it was deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Although few Americans have heard of it, the group has vexed the Iranian government since the revolution of 1979, when members helped to overthrow the shah.

Led by a husband-and-wife power couple — Massoud and Maryam Rajavi — the group was sheltered and armed by Saddam Hussein for nearly 20 years. Known for its female-led military units, the MEK was disarmed after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Massoud Rajavi went missing that same year and is believed to be dead.

Despite a long history of lobbying U.S. lawmakers and officials for support, few have taken the group seriously — up until now, that is.

President Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, is not only a prominent hawk on Iran, he has championed the MEK. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, has also supported the group.

“The MEK in recent years has spent time and money building political capital,” said Daniel Benjamin, director of Dartmouth College’s Center for International Understanding. “Bolton has been the MEK’s most dedicated long marcher.”

Although the Trump administration has not explicitly stated that it seeks regime change in Iran, it has reimposed tough economic sanctions and pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal. These actions, as well as new, cozier relations with the MEK, have apparently worried Iran enough to act against the group.

In a case similar to the one in Orange County, two Iranians in Albania were arrested in March after allegedly surveilling the MEK. In July, an Iranian diplomat in Germany was arrested on suspicion of plotting to bomb a MEK rally in Paris.

“This is escalation of Iran attempting to attack us,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, the U.S. deputy director of the National Council of Resistance of Iran — an MEK-linked organization.

::

It is unclear how Ghorbani and Doostdar first came into contact, but investigators believe their first physical meeting occurred behind Darya, the Persian restaurant where Ghorbani had worked for more than 20 years.

Doostdar was born in Long Beach but left at a young age to move to Canada and then Iran. An energy tech consultant, Doostdar had visited the U.S. on only a few occasions, court documents say. His wife gave birth to a baby girl in late August and was hoping to bring her to the U.S.

Ghorbani, whom neighbors and co-workers described as quiet and easygoing, was born in Iran but immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. He kept mostly to himself and lived with his brother and a Pomeranian dog in a quiet Costa Mesa apartment complex not far from the restaurant.

A fellow employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she wasn’t authorized to speak on behalf of the restaurant, said Ghorbani was well-liked and generous. On one occasion, Ghorbani lent money to a co-worker who was struggling, the employee said.

Investigators said Ghorbani also infiltrated meetings the MEK held at Darya. During one meetup in early August, Ghorbani met with MEK members as they discussed sending three American senators to evaluate the group’s base in Albania, according to the indictment.

Rene Redjaian, a spokeswoman for Darya, said the restaurant owners had no idea that Ghorbani was allegedly involved in spying. “Our owners love America and knew nothing about the events that took place at Darya,” Redjaian said.

As time went on, the men continued their alleged covert operation, unaware that federal agents were closing in.

In December 2017, Doostdar returned to Iran allegedly to hand over the intelligence Ghorbani had collected. Unbeknownst to him, FBI agents searched his checked luggage at LAX and found an orange and white CVS pharmacy envelope. Inside the envelope, FBI agents found photos of Ghorbani standing next to people who were at the New York City MEK rally from September 2017. Many of the photographs had names and positions of the individuals written on the back, including one photograph that had “Dr. Ahmad Rajavi, the brother of Massoud,” written on it, prosecutors said in court documents.

In March 2018, Ghorbani traveled to Iran to conduct an in-person briefing about ways to take photos for an upcoming conference supported by the MEK, prosecutors allege.

When he returned April 17, authorities found tucked in his luggage a list written in Farsi that detailed his future tasks, including deeper infiltration into the MEK and recruiting a second person, according to court documents.

The pair never succeeded in allegedly recruiting another operative, however.

On Aug. 9, FBI agents swarmed Darya restaurant and arrested Ghorbani in front of stunned co-workers.

Doostdar was arrested the same day in Chicago.

Both men have been accused of acting as agents of a foreign government without prior notification of the U.S. attorney general and with providing services to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. Both men have pleaded not guilty and remain in custody.

Ghorbani’s lawyer has declined to comment on the case. Doostdar’s attorney, Thomas Durkin, said he’s suspicious about the timing of his client’s arrest considering it comes on the heels of Trump reimposing sanctions against Iran.

“There’s political machinations going on between the Trump administration and Iran. Why did the government all of a sudden decide to arrest these people?” he said.

::

The arrests of Ghorbani and Doostdar have left many in Orange County’s Persian community shaken.

“There is a sense of fear in the Iranian community that the regime in Iran are sending people to USA and keeping track of movements,” said Mike Kazemi, an Irvine immigration lawyer.

For those in the Persian community who are against the Islamic Republic but also disagree with the Trump administration’s policies toward Iran, the escalation in tensions has been disconcerting. They say it serves as a reminder of how both American and Iranian officials view members of the Iranian diaspora with suspicion.

“We are in the middle of two hard places,” Kazemi said.

Yet others in the community say they are refusing to allow geopolitics to interfere with their day-to-day lives.

Nasrin Rahimieh, a professor of humanities at UC Irvine, said she understands how recent developments might cause some Persians to feel scared of being too visible.

Throughout her career, Rahimieh said, she has been chastised for either appearing pro-Islamic Republic or anti-Islamic Republic.

But those experiences have left Rahimieh emboldened to speak out against what she said is the fear-mongering rhetoric present in today’s political environment.

“There is such rabid desire to show Iranians as bad actors and as bad agents that it’s had the opposite effect on me,” Rahimieh said. “To paint all Iranians with the same brush is something that needs to be protested.”

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Israel Said Set To Seek $250b Compensation From Arab Countries Plus Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel said set to seek $250b compensation for Jews forced out of Arab countries

After 18 months of research, first claims being finalized for reported $35b from Tunisia, $15b from Libya, for assets Jews left behind when kicked out after establishment of Israel

Jews of Aden, Yemen, awaiting evacuation to Israel on November 1, 1949. (GPO/Public domain)

Jews of Aden, Yemen, awaiting evacuation to Israel on November 1, 1949. (GPO/Public domain)

Israel is preparing to demand compensation totaling a reported $250 billion from seven Arab countries and Iran for property and assets left behind by Jews who were forced to flee those countries following the establishment of the State of Israel.

“The time has come to correct the historic injustice of the pogroms (against Jews) in seven Arab countries and Iran, and to restore, to hundreds of thousands of Jews who lost their property, what is rightfully theirs,” Israel’s Minister for Social Equality, Gila Gamliel, who is coordinating the Israeli government’s handling of the issue, said Saturday.

According to figures cited Saturday night by Israel’s Hadashot TV news, compensation demands are now being finalized with regards to the first two of the eight countries involved, with Israel set to seek $35 billion dollars in compensation for lost Jewish assets from Tunisia, and $15 billion dollars from Libya.

In total, the TV report said Israel will seek over $250 billion from those two countries plus Morocco, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Iran.

Yemenite Jews walking to Aden, the site of a reception camp, ahead of their emigration to Israel, 1949. (Kluger Zoltan/Israeli National Photo Archive/public domain)

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), an international umbrella group of Jewish community organizations, has estimated that some 856,000 Jews from 10 Arab countries — the other two were Algeria and Lebanon — fled or were expelled in 1948 and after, while violent Arab riots left many Jews dead or injured.

For the past 18 months, utilizing the services of an international accountancy firm, the Israeli government has quietly been researching the value of property and assets that these Jews were forced to leave behind, the TV report said.

Immigrants from Iraq soon after landing at Lod Airport, summer 1951 (Teddy Brauner, GPO)

It is now moving toward finalizing claims as the Trump Administration prepares for the possible unveiling of its much-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal. A 2010 Israeli law provides that any peace deal must provide for compensation for assets of Jewish communities and individual Jews forced out of Arab countries and Iran.

Yemeni Jews aboard a plane to Israel in operation Magic Carpet, 1949 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Yemeni Jews aboard a plane to Israel in operation Magic Carpet, 1949 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“One cannot talk about the Middle East without taking into consideration the rights of the Jews who were forced to leave their thriving communities amid violence,” said Gamliel, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“All the crimes that were carried out against those Jewish communities must be recognized.”

The Palestinian Authority has sought over $100 billion in compensation from Israel for assets left behind by Arab residents of what is today Israel who fled or were forced to leave at the time of the establishment of the Jewish state, and presented documentation to that effect to the United States a decade ago, the TV report said.

The Palestinians have also always demanded a “right of return” to what is today’s Israel for the few tens of thousands of surviving refugees and for their millions of descendants. This demand would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state and has been dismissed by successive Israeli governments. Israel argues that Palestinian refugees would become citizens of a Palestinian state under a permanent peace accord, just as Jewish refugees from Arab lands became citizens of Israel. It also argues that by extending refugee status to Palestinian descendants, the relevant UN agencies artificially inflate the issue, complicating peace efforts. The latter view is shared by the Trump administration, which last year announced it was halting funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA.

Israel has never formally demanded compensation for Jews forced out of Arab lands and Iran, and although many of those Jews arrived in Israel with next to nothing, they did not seek formal refugee status from the international community.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon giving the opening remarks at an official UN event commemorating Jewish refugees from Arab lands, on December 1, 2015. (Shahar Azran)

At the time, the newly established Jewish state was struggling to attract migration from the world’s Jews and to project its legitimacy as a sovereign state, able to care for its own people. Its first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, would not have wanted Jews returning to their “historic homeland” classed as refugees, according to Meir Kahlon, chairman of the Central Organization for Jews from Arab Countries and Iran.

Monies obtained from the eight countries would not be allocated to individual families, the TV report said, but would rather be distributed by the state via a special fund. Gamliel is coordinating the process, together with Israel’s National Security Council, which works out of the Prime Minister’s Office.

In 2014, Israel passed a law making each November 30 a day commemorating the exit and deportation of Jews from Arab and Iranian lands, which involves educational programming and diplomatic events aimed to increase international awareness of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran, and of their right to compensation.

That year, at the first such events, Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin issued calls for financial reparations.

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a ceremony marking the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries. November 30, 2014. (photo credit: Courtesy)

“It is not for nothing that this day is marked on the day after the 29th of November,” Netanyahu said on November 30, 2014, in reference to the anniversary of the UN adoption of the Palestine partition plan in 1947. “The Arab countries, which never accepted the UN declaration on the establishment of a Jewish state, compelled the Jews living in their territories to leave their homes while leaving their assets behind… We have acted – and will continue to act – so that they and their claims are not forgotten.”

Read: The expulsion that backfired: When Iraq kicked out its Jews

In his address at that first ceremony, Rivlin appealed for greater Sephardic representation in Israeli society, as well as for compensation for their suffering. He acknowledged that the troubles of Middle Eastern Jews were not mitigated upon their arrival in Israel, where European Jews were firmly entrenched in power.

“Their voices were muted, but the words were in their mouths all along, even if they were said in Hebrew with a Persian or Arabic accent, which in Israel were thought of as enemy languages and viewed as a source of shame,” he said.

“The voice of Jews from Arab countries and Iran must be heard within the education system, in the media, in the arts, and in the country’s official institutions, as it needs to be heard in the international arena as well, in order to mend the historical injustice, and to ensure financial reparations,” Rivlin said.

Kahlon said that “nearly 800,000 came here (in the years after the establishment of the state) and the rest (around 56,000) went to the United States, France, Italy and elsewhere.”

Kahlon himself came to Israel as a child from Libya and spent his first years in the Jewish state in one of the tent camps set up to shelter the flood of newcomers.

Barber Rachamim Azar, a new immigrant from Baghdad, carries out his trade in the tent he shares with his wife and two children at a maabara (immigrant camp) in central Israel in summer 1951. He told a Government Press Office photographer that he intended to move to a kibbutz (Teddy Brauner, GPO)

In March 2014, Canada formally recognized the refugee status of the Jewish emigres who fled or were expelled from Arab countries after Israel’s founding.

Some of the migrants to Israel say privately that the issue is being promoted to give Israel a bargaining card in negotiations with the Palestinians, to set against Palestinian compensation claims for property and assets left behind in what is now Israel.

READ MORE:

US official says top Hezbollah brass hit in alleged Israeli strikes in Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

US official says top Hezbollah brass hit in alleged Israeli strikes in Syria

Defense Department source tells Newsweek commanders were targeted after boarding a plane bound for Iran; advanced weaponry also destroyed

A screenshot from video on social media purporting to show airstrikes near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

A screenshot from video on social media purporting to show airstrikes near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

An alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria Tuesday night hit several senior Hezbollah officials as they boarded a plane bound for Iran, Newsweek reported Wednesday morning, citing a Defense Department source.

The unnamed source told the magazine he had received the information from top Israeli military brass.

He said strategic Iranian munitions were also targeted, including advanced GPS components for weaponry.

Syrian state media said the strikes, beginning at about 10 p.m., were carried out from Lebanon and that a number of targets were intercepted. It said its own air defenses had opened fire on “enemy targets,” shooting them down.

Syrian TV quoted a military source saying weapons warehouses were hit, and three Syrian soldiers wounded.

A screenshot from video purporting to show a Syrian surface-to-air missile being fired near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Syrian media said Wednesday morning that Israel hit a base used by Hezbollah in Al-Dimas, a weapons depot at a base belonging to the Syrian army’s 4th division in Sabura and the military’s 10th Division command in Qatana.

Additionally, Syrian air defenses in Attal and the 68th Brigade and 137th Battalion in Khan-al-Sheikh were also reportedly attacked, Hadashot reported.

Israel said it had deployed air defenses against a missile fired from Syria as Damascus attempted to repel the alleged airstrikes.

The Israel Defense Forces said there was no damage or injuries from the surface-to-air missile fired from Syria at Israel.

“An IDF aerial defense system activated in response to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria,” the army said in a statement.

It did not say where or even if the missile was successfully intercepted.

Pictures shared on social media showed an air defense missile being fired near Hadera, a city some 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the Syrian border where residents had earlier reported hearing a loud explosion.

Embedded video

Observer IL – 🅾️🅱️🔺@Obs_IL

Dashcam footage from Road 6 of the launch of an AD missile earlier near following this evening airstrikes in . @Intel_sky @IsraelD_Heb @edrormba @BabakTaghvaee @Dannymakkisyria @IntelCrab @IdeologyWars @TheWarOfNow @intellipus

23 people are talking about this

Syrian eyewitnesses and video on social media showed what appeared to be intense fire on targets near the capital.

Embedded video

Zaid Benjamin@zaidbenjamin

Syrian News Agency says the “Aggression on ” continues “from the Lebanese airspace” and air defenses are responding.

20 people are talking about this

“It’s an Israeli raid,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

“Missiles fired from Israeli planes targeted… arms depots southwest and south of Damascus that belong to Hezbollah or Iranian forces,” Abdel Rahman said.

Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that Israel Air Force planes were operating over southern Lebanon.

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

: explosions heard over province. Air defenses fired missiles moments ago.

View image on Twitter

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

. Air defenses in action tonight over W. province. pic.twitter.com/xrYqMYX1E1

Embedded video

57 people are talking about this

News reports made a connection between the strike and the earlier arrival of an Iranian cargo jet in Damascus. The 747, belonging to Iran’s Fars Air Qeshm, had landed in Syria just after 7 p.m.

The civilian company has been accused on multiple occasions of smuggling Iranian arms to Hezbollah, and media speculated that its cargo had been the target of the strikes.

It was not clear whether the jet was the one which Hezbollah officials had allegedly boarded.

Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside its proxies and Russia is fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

The number of airstrikes in Syria attributed to Israel has dropped noticeably in recent months, after a Russian military plane was downed by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli attack on Latakia, killing all 15 servicemen aboard.

Russia blamed the Israeli military for that incident — a charge rejected by Jerusalem — and has supplied Syria with the advanced S-300 air defense system.

The S-300 systems were delivered to Syria last month, but they are not yet believed to be in use, as the Syrian air defense teams still need to be trained to operate them.

Israeli defense officials have met with Russian counterparts a number of times in recent weeks in an effort to re-establish a deconfliction mechanism that will allow Israel to recommence its air campaign.

Russia reportedly wants significant warning period ahead of any Israeli airstrike, something Israeli officials have been said to refuse.

READ MORE:

Israel fires at missile from Syria; IDF jets said to pound Damascus arms depots

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

(Peace, no peace, ever, there is to much inbred hate and distrust on all three sides, Sunni, Shiite and Judaism,  but thats just my thought on this issue.) (oldpoet56)  

Israel fires at missile from Syria; IDF jets said to pound Damascus arms depots

No injuries or damage in Israel; Israeli planes said to be behind attack near Syrian capital against Hezbollah or Iranian depot; Damascus claims to shoot down ‘enemy targets’

A screenshot from video purporting to show a Syrian surface-to-air missile being fired near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

A screenshot from video purporting to show a Syrian surface-to-air missile being fired near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Israel said Tuesday night it had deployed its air defenses against a missile shot from Syria as Damascus attempted to repel an alleged Israeli airstrike against Hezbollah or Iranian targets near the capital.

The Israel Defense Forces said there was no damage or injuries from the surface-to-air missile fired from Syria at Israel.

“An IDF aerial defense system activated in response to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria,” the army said in a statement.

It did not say where or even if the missile was successfully intercepted.

Pictures shared on social media showed an air defense missile being fired near Hadera, a city some 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the Syrian border where residents had earlier reported hearing a loud explosion.

Embedded video

Observer IL – 🅾️🅱️🔺@Obs_IL

Dashcam footage from Road 6 of the launch of an AD missile earlier near following this evening airstrikes in . @Intel_sky @IsraelD_Heb @edrormba @BabakTaghvaee @Dannymakkisyria @IntelCrab @IdeologyWars @TheWarOfNow @intellipus

23 people are talking about this

Syrian state media said its own air defenses had opened fire on “enemy targets,” shooting them down, in what was reported to be an Israeli airstrike.

Syrian eyewitnesses and video on social media showed what appeared to be intense fire on targets near the capital.

Embedded video

Zaid Benjamin@zaidbenjamin

Syrian News Agency says the “Aggression on ” continues “from the Lebanese airspace” and air defenses are responding.

20 people are talking about this

SANA said the strikes beginning at about 10 p.m. were carried out from Lebanon and that a number of targets were intercepted.

“It’s an Israeli raid,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

“Missiles fired from Israeli planes targeted… arms depots southwest and south of Damascus that belong to Hezbollah or Iranian forces,” Abdel Rahman said.

Syrian TV quoted a military source saying weapons warehouses were hit, and three Syrian soldiers wounded.

Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that Israel Air Force planes were operating over southern Lebanon.

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

: explosions heard over province. Air defenses fired missiles moments ago.

View image on Twitter

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

. Air defenses in action tonight over W. province. pic.twitter.com/xrYqMYX1E1

Embedded video

57 people are talking about this

News reports tied between the strike and the earlier arrival of an Iranian cargo jet in Damascus. The 747, belonging to Iran’s Fars Air Qeshm, had landed in Syria just after 7 p.m.

The civilian company has been accused on multiple occasions of smuggling Iranian arms to Hezbollah.

By midnight the flight was en route back to Iran.

Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside its proxies and Russia is fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

In this August 27, 2013, photo, a Russian air defense system missile system Antey 2500, or S-300 VM, is on display at the opening of the MAKS Air Show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, file)

The number of airstrikes in Syria attributed to Israel has dropped noticeably in recent months, after a Russian military plane was downed by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli attack on Latakia, killing all 15 servicemen aboard.

Russia blamed the Israeli military for that incident — a charge rejected by Jerusalem — and has supplied Syria with the advanced S-300 air defense system.

The S-300 systems were delivered to Syria last month, but they are not yet believed to be in use, as the Syrian air defense teams still need to be trained to operate them.

Israeli defense officials have met with Russian counterparts a number of times in recent weeks in an effort to re-establish a deconfliction mechanism that will allow Israel to recommence its air campaign.

Russia reportedly wants significant warning period ahead of any Israeli airstrike, something Israeli officials have been said to refuse.

READ MORE:

Israel’s Government Collapses Amid Corruption Charges and Trump’s Mideast Chaos

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE BEAST’ NEWS)

 

Israel’s Government Collapses Amid Corruption Charges and Trump’s Mideast Chaos

The specific issue that brought down Bibi’s government was subsidies for ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers. Still, he thinks he’ll win at the polls again in April.

Amir Cohen/Reuters

JERUSALEM — In the most expected surprise declaration of 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced the dissolution of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and elections to be held in early April.

The move comes days after U.S. President Donald Trump roiled the region with the startling announcement he was immediately withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, and as his long-anticipated plan to renew peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians appears to be have shriveled.

A 2019 electoral campaign was inevitable, in fact. Netanyahu’s four-year mandate runs out in November 2019, but Monday’s unforeseen move became inescapable when Netanyahu was unable to muster the necessary votes to pass a popular law levying heavier fines against orthodox Jewish seminary students who dodge Israel’s otherwise universal draft of 18-years-olds on religious grounds.

Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition members opposed the law, and two opposition parties that had initially hinted at support withdrew it due to fears Netanyahu and his religious political partners had cut a secret deal providing financial compensation to counterbalance fines imposed on draft dodgers.

Elections have been in the air since Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation last month, which left the survival of Netanyahu’s coalition hanging by a single Knesset vote.

Lieberman has since taunted Netanyahu for his “government for survival,” but the prime minister remains the most popular leader in Israel’s rambunctious multi-part political process.

The next three months will see Bibi, as Netanyahu is widely known, confront unprecedented tests, none more challenging than his own precarious legal predicament.

Following police and state attorney recommendations that he be indicted on several corruption charges, senior Israeli jurists say his prosecution appears inevitable.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, an essential partner in any future Netanyahu government, restated on Monday that no minister, and no prime minister, can continue to serve if indicted.

Israel’s Justice Ministry issued a rare statement reassuring the public that its work in sifting through the legal recommendations will continue “as usual” despite the announcement of elections.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee who will make the final determination, said at a conference last week that Israeli law has not yet had to decide whether a sitting prime minister may remain in office if facing legal prosecution.

In recent years, both a president and a prime minister resigned when facing almost certain indictment,. Both eventually served time in prison.

Speaking to a quickly assembled meeting of his parliamentary faction, and ignoring the legal drama, Netanyahu forecast victory in the April vote and said the coalition he currently leads—the most right-wing in Israeli history and one of the most volatile— is “the seed” for his future government.

Listing his administration’s achievements, Netanyahu ignored instability in the financial markets that saw the Tel Aviv stock exchange lose more than 5 percent of its value since U.S. President Donald Trump’s startling decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, where they have provided crucial support for Israeli efforts to contain and halt Iranian entrenchment.

Lauding his government’s “four full years of achievements,” Netanyahu praised Israel as “a growing power, with flourishing diplomatic ties” with continental powerhouse nations such as India, Brazil and Australia, far from Israel’s historic allies.

After extolling ties with “west and east Europe, and central Europe, and Latin America,” Netanyahu extolled Israel’s alliance “with the United States that has never been stronger, with the historic decision made by President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy to Jerusalem.”

“Israel has the eighth most powerful military on earth,” he boasted to his followers. “It is hard to believe, Israel is not a large country, but serious institutions rank us that high.”

Full text of James Mattis resignation letter to Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Treat allies with respect: Full text of James Mattis resignation letter to Trump

In devastating note stressing importance of America’s alliances, Pentagon chief tells US president he should pick a defense secretary ‘whose views are better aligned with yours’

Part of US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' resignation letter to President Donald Trump is photographed in Washington, on December 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

Part of US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation letter to President Donald Trump is photographed in Washington, on December 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

The full text of the resignation letter US Defense Secretary James Mattis submitted to President Donald Trump on December 20, 2018.

Dear Mr. President:

I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.

I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong US global influence.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.

I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.

I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.

READ MORE:

Jordan King Meets Abbas

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Jordan King Meets Abbas, Stresses Need to Break Peace Deadlock

Wednesday, 19 December, 2018 – 10:00
A handout picture released by the Jordanian Royal Palace on December 18, 2018, shows Jordanian King Abdullah II (R) meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at Basman Palace in Amman. Yousef ALLAN / AFP / Jordanian Royal Palace
Amman – Asharq Al-Awsat
Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Tuesday stressed during talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the need to break the stalemate in the peace process by launching serious and effective peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.

The Royal Diwan said the King reiterated that negotiations should be based on a two-state solution.

During the talks, which were held at the Basman Palace, the King also stressed “Jordan’s rejection of unilateral Israeli actions, including building settlement units and expropriation of Palestinian-owned lands in the occupied West Bank, which are a real obstacle to achieving just and lasting peace based on the two-state solution.”

He called on the international community to assume responsibility and put pressure on Israel to cease its practices that breed more violence, said the Royal Diwan in its statement.

King Abdullah also reiterated that Amman stands by the Palestinian people “to restore their legitimate and rightful demands,” vowing to exert all efforts along with influential parties and the international community for a solution “that serves Palestinian interests and the rights of the Palestinian people”.

He underscored the importance of maintaining the status quo in Jerusalem as a key to achieving peace in the region, stressing that “Jordan continues to carry out its historic and religious role of safeguarding Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem in line with the Hashemite Custodianship over these shrines.”

IDF Soldier Seriously Injured In Another Terrorist Attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

Palestinian seriously wounds soldier in West Bank attack before fleeing Army launches search for assailant near Beit El settlement, says serviceman taken to hospital with stab wounds, severe head injury By JUDAH ARI GROSS and TOI STAFF Today, 10:02 am 5 593 shares Illustrative: Israeli soldiers guard the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90) Illustrative: Israeli soldiers guard the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90) A Palestinian man stabbed an Israeli soldier and bashed his head with a rock, seriously injuring him, at a military post outside the Beit El settlement in the central West Bank on Friday, the army said. The assailant then fled the scene, prompting a manhunt. The Israel Defense Forces said a fight broke out between the two after the Palestinian attacker broke into the military position near Beit El, outside Ramallah, where Israeli forces have been searching for the terrorist who committed a shooting attack on Thursday, killing two soldiers and seriously injuring a third serviceman and a civilian woman. Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Edition by email and never miss our top stories FREE SIGN UP “During [the fight], a terrorist struck the soldier with a rock from a short range,” the army said. The military later added that further investigation revealed that the assailant had stabbed the soldier as well. According to the IDF, the assailant was also injured in the attack, though it was not immedately clear to what degree. “The investigation is continuing,” the army said. The 21-year-old soldier was taken to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in serious condition. The serviceman was unconscious and hooked up to a ventilator. Doctors said he was in life-threatening condition. Troops launched searches in the area to find the attacker. Embedded video חדשות עשר ✔ @news10 אירוע חמור ליד בית אל: מחבל חדר, השליך אבנים – ופצע חייל קשה • @OrHeller עם הידיעה המלאה >> https://www.10.tv/news/178301 3:04 AM – Dec 14, 2018 See חדשות עשר’s other Tweets Twitter Ads info and privacy The attack took place close to the site of Thursday’s deadly terror shooting, at a bus stop near the Givat Assaf outpost. The soldier who was injured in the shooting attack remained in critical condition Friday, while doctors said the condition of the woman who was seriously wounded had improved. The Israeli military launched a manhunt in the Ramallah area for the terrorists and sent additional forces to the West Bank to assist in the search, as well as to boost security near settlements and roads. During overnight raids, soldiers arrested 40 Palestinians throughout the West Bank who were suspected of involvement in terror and rioting, 37 of whom the Israel Defense Forces said were known Hamas operatives. Thursday’s attack came on the heels of a shooting Sunday by Palestinian terrorists outside the Ofra settlement, in which seven Israelis were injured. Among the wounded was a pregnant woman whose baby died after being delivered prematurely. A senior IDF commander indicated the same Hamas terror cell carried out the two drive-by shooting attacks, which occurred along the same highway. Israeli soldiers, medical officials and police inspect the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90) Additionally, a Palestinian stabbed two Border Police officers in Jerusalem’s Old City early Thursday before being shot dead. Late Wednesday night, Israeli security forces conducted a series of raids in the Ramallah area to find the terrorists responsible for Sunday’s shooting. At least four suspects were arrested and one, Salih Omar Barghouti, 29, was shot dead after troops said he tried to attack them while attempting to escape in the village of Kobar, outside Ramallah. Hamas later claimed Barghouti as a member. Hours after the Givat Assaf shooting attack, the army said a Palestinian man attempted to ram his car into a group of soldiers who were taking part in the effort to find the gunman outside the town of el-Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah. The troops opened fire, killing the man, later identified by Palestinian officials as Hamdan al-Arda. One soldier was lightly injured. The Palestinian man’s family denied the army’s claims, saying it was not an attack, but rather a traffic accident. Arda, a 56-year-old aluminum factory owner, was hard of hearing, his relatives told the Haaretz daily. Separately, Israeli troops located a terrorist who killed two Israelis in October at the Barkan industrial zone after a two-month manhunt. The suspect was killed in a shootout with troops overnight Wednesday-Thursday. There has been an increase in the number of attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers in recent weeks, after months of relative calm in the area, raising concerns of a potential renewed outbreak of regular, serious violence in the region. READ MORE: Israel & the Region IDF Israel Defense Forces West Bank Beit El 593 shares COMMENTS ISRAEL MEDIA REVIEW The coming storm: 8 things to know for December 14 Thursday’s deadly attack in the West Bank underlines warnings about the flammability of the West Bank, but responses don’t come without controversy By JOSHUA DAVIDOVICH Today, 9:51 am 0 19 shares Road blocks in the West Bank following a terror attack where two Israeli soldiers were shot by Palestinian terrorists, and two more seriously injured, December 13, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/FLASH90) Road blocks in the West Bank following a terror attack where two Israeli soldiers were shot by Palestinian terrorists, and two more seriously injured, December 13, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/FLASH90) 1. Headed for an explosion? Is Israel on the cusp of another inexorable slide into violence with the Palestinians, this time in the West Bank? That’s the question on many people’s minds the day after a shooting near Ramallah left two soldiers dead and another fighting for his life. Unlike the 2015 so-called lone-wolf intifada, there is a sense (likely filtering from the IDF down to the loyal army of military correspondents) that what is happening in the West Bank is different. Top down rather than grassroots, and the work of cells rather than solitary assailants operating on impulse. That’s thanks to an army assessment that thinks there may be a connection between the group who carried out the attack outside the Ofra settlement and those involved with the shooting attack outside the Givat Asaf outpost. Analyst Yossi Yehoshua in Yedioth Ahronoth calls the “wave” (his word), “the realization of warnings from the military to government, which alerted them over fears of an increase in violence if the political stalemate with the Palestinians continues.” (Such a warning is a near-constant fixture of army assessments, often because it’s true, but also because nobody wants to be the officer who said everything is swell right before a fresh outbreak of violence.) “It’s hard to be surprised by the wave of terror this week in the West Bank,” Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor writes. “Anyone who has followed the statistics over the last months has seen a clear trend: attempts to carry out attacks were on a constant upswing, and only operations by the Shin Bet and IDF have prevented a mass of casualties until now.” Haaretz’s Amos Harel notes that an officer giving a briefing Thursday appeared uncharacteristically shaken, giving the impression that the West Bank is facing another wave of violence. “The ability to stop this trend in the coming days, before it spreads, depends mainly on the forces in the field – on whether a wave of copy-cat attacks will translate into another success for terror,” he writes. 2. Collective punishment on the table: During the last wave of violence, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (and later Avigdor Liberman) was praised for making efforts to keep collective punishment against the Palestinians to a minimum. It seems however that Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be taking a different tack, with the army already making the rare move of putting up a cordon around Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government. In 2015, most attackers were captured or killed on the spot. That has not been the case this time around, with the terrorist who carried out the Givat Asaf attack getting away, and reportedly making off with the gun of one of the victims. “The army is determined at this point to stop the wave of terror and find the terrorist, even at the price of hurting Palestinians daily lives,” Amir Bohbot writes in Walla, describing large traffic jams around the West Bank thanks to the cordon around Ramallah and checkpoints set up in other spots. The biggest loser, according to Bohbot, is the Palestinian Authority, which is watching the army hem it in while Hamas gets to brag about successes against the occupation. “The PA got hit doubly this week,” he quotes an officer telling him. In Yedioth, Nahum Barnea writes that there are arguments both for and against collective punishment. While noting that only oppressive regimes such as colonialists or genocidal leaders have seen any success from punishing a population as a whole (and even that is limited), making sure that innocent Palestinians are not harmed has also not been proven as a salve against popular uprisings, such as the First Intifada, which occurred at a time of relative prosperity in the West Bank and Gaza. “In general, the decision has been made on the basis of politics, not security,” he writes. With the defense minister doubling as the prime minister and likely soon to enter a fight for his political life, one can see where this is leading. 3. Build, baby, build: Another response has been for the government to increase building in the West Bank as a form of punishment (never mind that the fact that Israel uses settlement building as a punitive measure says clearly what it thinks of the enterprise). Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Edition by email and never miss our top stories FREE SIGN UP On Thursday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit officially approved the use of a legal tactic that will allow for the de-facto legalization of roughly 2,000 illegally built Israeli homes throughout the West Bank. The move came after Netanyahu vowed to increase building as a response to the attacks, saying in a statement that beffudled many that he would “legalize thousands of homes in communities in Judea and Samaria that were built in good faith and which have yet to be legalized, some for decades.” There’s more too. Haaretz reports that, “On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation is expected to discuss a bill to legalize a series of outposts and settlements. The proposal seeks to supply settlements whose status has yet to be confirmed with services that would prevent their demolition until they receive official status.” But there’s also some confusion: “It is not clear what the full implications of the bill would be. Most established outposts are already connected to water and electricity, largely via nearby settlements. The authorities refer to such outposts as recognized localities; budgets from both ministries and West Bank regional councils are transferred to them on an ongoing basis,” the paper reports. 4. Pressure builds: A sign of the political pressure Netanyahu is under because of the attacks was on display Thursday night, as some one thousand right-wingers rallied outside his residence in Jerusalem and called for his resignation. Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan told the crowd that he wasn’t seeking resignation, but action: “I call on Netanyahu to wake up! The people elected you to head a national government, but this government is behaving like the Barak government at the beginning of the Second Intifada,” Dagan said, referring to former prime minister Ehud Barak, on whose watch the uprising erupted in 2000. “We hope to see you crush the terrorist authority.” At the same time, settlers near Givat Asaf and elsewhere in the West Bank rioted and hurled rocks at Palestinian cars as they raged over the attacks. 5. Settlements as strategic bases: In Israel Hayom, Gershon Hacohen, a former high-ranking military officer, writes that there is a strategic importance as well to approving more building as a response to security challenges. “Without wide swaths of Jewish settlement, as there is in the West Bank today, the IDF would have a hard time maintaining a presence in the area and doing its job effectively,” he writes, pointing to the role Jewish settlement ringing Nablus played for soldiers taking part in 2002’s Operation Defensive Shield. “Where there are Israeli settlements near Nablus, they are used by Israeli forces as a protected launching point for repeated operations within Nablus. The IDF works to protect settlers, but mostly its operations there are to protect the coastal areas and the Tel Aviv region.” Not all settler leaders are enamored with the idea of building being tied to terror, as ToI’s Jacob Magid explained in September. 6. Soldiers remembered and rumors debunked: The two soldiers killed in Thursday were named as Yovel Mor-Yosef, 20, and Yosef Cohen, 19, both from the Netzach Yehuda brigade made up of more religious soldiers. Some reports Thursday indicated that Cohen, from an ultra-Orthodox background, had been disowned by his family for enlisting, and they had already mourned him (some ultra-religious families will sit shiva for a family member who leaves the fold). However, Haaretz reports that in fact his step-father, who heads a yeshiva that encourages work alongside Torah study, encouraged him to join the army, and his mother eventually accepted his choice as well. “These rumors are unspeakably evil and low,” mother Adele Cohen is quoted as saying, regarding the reports that the family had already mourned him. “I don’t know if I can forgive anyone for that. It never happened. I’m amazed at how brazen people can be, lying and inventing things that give people a bad name. I don’t know how anyone could devise such a thing.” Mor-Yosef, meanwhile, is praised for insisting on volunteering for combat duty the morning he was killed. “He spoke with his father this morning and Yovel said that he was supposed to go home after being on duty all night, but volunteered to switch with other people so they could rest,” his uncle tells Hadashot news. “This was ordained from heaven.” 7. ‘Noah didn’t stop telling his story’: Buried among all the security news Thursday was the death of Noah Klieger, 92, a sports journalist, editor, historian and Holocaust survivor who was well-known in Israel as a chronicler of the horrors of that period and the struggles afterward. Yedioth, which employed Klieger since the 1950s as an editor and columnist (he continued to write until recently) runs a series of appreciations, including from President Reuven Rivlin, Netanyahu, former IDF chief Benny Gantz and others. “Thanks to him, and a few others like him, the Shoah remains an institution in Israel and around the world. Every speech he gave in every place raised the memory of the Holocaust,” Eitan Haber, a Yedioth columnist, writes in one obituary. The paper also runs a full translation of a speech that Klieger gave to the UN last year that drew wide attention (or as wide attention as speeches at the UN about the Holocaust go). While Klieger was well known in Israel, he is nearly unknown in the English-speaking world. By coincidence, just last month, Harper’s Magazine happened to run a profile of Klieger which had been translated from German and is worth a read to get a sense of who the man was. “Noah’s the driven man who never gave up, who was never able to stop talking about Auschwitz, who swore to himself seventy years ago: If I get out of here alive the world must know, because then all this won’t have been in vain. He continues to confront his memories today, despite the fact that so many of his fellow survivors chose never to talk about their experience again, never to relate the horrors—not even to their children,” Marco Lauer writes. 8. Losing the memory-keepers: Together with Elie Wiesel and Aharon Appelfeld, Klieger marks the third writer whose life was marked by perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust to die in the last two years, underlining the intensive efforts to make sure survivors are heard as time runs out. The Associated Press reports that another loss Thursday was Alter Wiener, 92, who recently appeared before lawmakers to press for mandatory curriculum about the Holocaust and genocide in Oregon, where he lived. Wiener was killed while crossing a street near his home, according to the AP. “He spoke to thousands of Oregonians about his experiences, making nearly 1,000 appearances at schools, libraries, churches, conferences and charitable events,” the agency notes. READ MORE: Israel & the Region Israel media review Hebrew media review West Bank terror attacks 19 shares COMMENTS

Another Terrorist Attack In Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

2 soldiers killed in West Bank terror shooting; civilian, serviceman hurt

Attackers flee, prompting manhunt; incident occurs near site of Sunday drive-by in which seven Israelis were hurt, including a pregnant woman whose baby later died

By JUDAH ARI GROSSToday, 11:41 am  8

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Israeli soldiers, medical officials and police inspect the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers, medical officials and police inspect the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Two Israeli soldiers were killed and two people were injured — a serviceman critically and a civilian woman seriously — in a terrorist shooting attack in the central West Bank Thursday, close to where another terror attack occurred earlier in the week, officials said.

The perpetrators fled the scene of the attack, which occurred at a bus stop along the highway near the Palestinian town of Silwad and the Israeli settlement of Ofra, north of Jerusalem, prompting a large-scale manhunt, the army said.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, one gunman exited a vehicle along the Route 60 highway and opened fire at a group of Israelis at the bus stop, among whom were both soldiers and civilians, before running away.

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According to Palestinian media, the vehicle used in the attack was abandoned nearby, and the two suspects — the driver and the shooter — continued on foot. The IDF said they fled in the direction of Ramallah.

Two of the victims, soldiers in their early 20s, were declared dead at the scene.

The injured soldier, 21, was in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head, according to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem.

“His condition is very serious. There is a threat to his life,” a Hadassah spokesperson said.

The female civilian was seriously injured with a gunshot wound to the pelvis and taken to Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s trauma unit in Jerusalem for treatment, the hospital said.

Doctors there said her condition stabilized after she received blood transfusions, and she was taken into surgery to repair the damage caused by the bullet.

The military censor initially prevented publication of the fact that three of the victims were soldiers until their families could be notified.

The servicemen were guarding the bus stop when the shooting occurred.

Thursday’s attack took place on Route 60 near the Givat Asaf outpost, some two kilometers (1.25 miles) from Ofra, where on Sunday a number of terrorists driving in a white car opened fire at a group of people standing at the settlement’s bus stop, hitting seven of them, including a seven-months pregnant woman who was critically injured and whose baby later died as a result of the attack.

Israeli soldiers, medical officials and police inspect the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

It was not immediately clear if the two attacks were carried out by the same group — according to the army, only some of the perpetrators of Sunday’s shooting have been apprehended — or if it was a “copycat” attack, according to IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.

The Hamas terror group praised Thursday’s attack, but did not claim responsibility for it.

“The heroic Silwad operation is a response to the Zionist occupation’s crimes and behavior in the occupied West Bank,” Abdelaltif al-Qanou, a spokesman for the terror group, wrote on Twitter. “The West Bank’s youth and men will remain rebels against the occupation and continue to clash with it until it is banished.”

The IDF said it closed off the entrances to the nearby city of Ramallah and set up roadblocks throughout the area in an effort to locate the perpetrators. The army said it was not yet sure how many people were involved in the attack.

Palestinian media also reported that Israeli troops launched raids in the Ramallah suburb of el-Bireh.

Israeli soldiers guard the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Additional infantry battalions were sent into the West Bank both to defend roads and settlements and to conduct additional searches and arrests, the army said.

The West Bank has seen a significant increase in the number of attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers in recent weeks, after months of relative calm in the area, raising concerns of a potential renewed outbreak of regular, serious violence in the region.

The military blamed the increase in attacks both on terror groups’ ongoing efforts, the “copycat” phenomenon and a number of significant dates coming up this week, notably the anniversary of Hamas’s founding.

On Wednesday night, the Israeli military arrested a number of suspects who were believed to have carried out Sunday night’s shooting attack and shot dead a third, who security officials said tried to attack Israeli troops during an escape attempt. On Thursday, the army said the search for additional perpetrators was ongoing.READ MORE:

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COMMENTS

‘Europe is finished,’ leading lawyer says as he leaves UK for Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

‘CORBYN MOVED THE ROCK, AND THE ANTI-SEMITES CRAWLED OUT’

‘Europe is finished,’ leading lawyer says as he leaves UK for Israel

‘It’s time to wander again,’ Mark Lewis tells fellow Jews facing rising anti-Semitism in Britain and across Europe

Mark Lewis (L) and his partner Mandy Blumenthal in an interview with the BBC. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Mark Lewis (L) and his partner Mandy Blumenthal in an interview with the BBC. (Screen capture: YouTube)

A top British lawyer and his partner immigrated to Israel this week, citing rising anti-Semitism in Europe.

“Europe in my view is finished. Every day you see people being attacked in one way or another across Europe,” Mark Lewis told Israel’s Channel 10 news, which accompanied his arrival, together with partner Mandy Blumenthal, at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport.

“You see people murdered in museums in Belgium, people murdered in schools in France, people attacked in England. There is only one place for Jewish people to go,” Lewis added.

Lewis, 54, one of the UK’s leading libel lawyers, said he has been increasingly subjected to hate speech and threats for being Jewish, including being subjected to regular abuse and death threats online.

The decision to leave Britain did not come easily, the couple has said, but they feel it was inevitable. “We’re a wandering people, and it’s time to wander again. People just don’t want to see it,” Lewis said of his fellow British Jews.

Mark Lewis, right, and Mandy Blumenthal arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, December 5, 2018. (Channel 10 screen capture)

“We’ve accelerated our decision of moving to go to Israel because of anti-Semitism being so institutional and accepted in mainstream life,” Blumenthal charged.

“So many people have these ideas about Jews being responsible for every disaster that’s ever happened in the world.”

Lewis and Blumenthal first publicized their intention to leave for Israel in an interview with the BBC in August. They said they knew other people who are considering leaving the country because of anti-Semitism.

In the interview, the couple also blamed the leadership of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn for creating an atmosphere that allows anti-Semitic feelings to bubble up, and largely dismissed Corbyn’s assertion that anti-Semitism is not tolerated in the party.

“Jeremy Corbyn moved the rock, and the anti-Semites crawled out from underneath the rock. They’re not going back,” said Lewis.

“There’s been a total climate change. It’s become acceptable to be anti-Semitic. It’s brought out people’s feelings to the surface,” Blumenthal said.

She said though Corbyn and Labour are not solely responsible for the recent anti-Semitism, they have a “very loud part” in its rise.

“It’s not just Jeremy Corbyn and it’s not all of the Labour party. But it’s a very, very loud part of it that’s actually enabled this anti-Semitism to foster here in the UK and go throughout society,” she said.

Lewis said while anti-Semitism was a fringe phenomenon in the past, it is has become more prominent due to social media.

“Social media has caused so much harm,” he said. “Fifteen years ago there was still anti-Semitism but it was an obscure thing. Fifteen years ago somebody painted a swastika on my garage door in Manchester, that was a message. But it was a one-off, it was something you could almost laugh off. Now with the effect of social media, it’s almost every day.”

Lewis, who in an interview with The Times of Israel last year said he likes to take on anti-Semitic trolls on social media, said he has also faced anti-Semitism when trying to raise the issue.

“If you complain about anti-Semitism, the most anti-Semitic thing is said back to you: You’re making it up, it’s all a smear, you haven’t even got the right to complain,” he said.

He said he was bombarded with messages of hate from “people who claim to represent [grassroots Corbyn backing group] Momentum, who claim to represent the Labour Party.”

Lawyer Mark Lewis arrives at a media ethics inquiry at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, Thursday, November 24, 2011. (AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Explaining the couple’s decision to move to Israel, Lewis said “there is only so much you can take.”

“The online abuse might continue, the Israelis might not like me because I am too left, might not like me because they think I am too right, whatever their view. But they are not going to dislike me because I am Jewish. And there is only so much you can take – when you are getting threats to kill you.”

“When you are getting threats from people that they want you to be ill, etc. It’s a drip drip effect,” said Lewis, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. “And where do you say ‘actually, enough is enough.’”

In response to the couple’s interview, a Labour spokesperson said Corbyn is a “militant opponent” of anti-Semitism and committed to uprooting it from the party.

Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival in Tolpuddle, England, on July 22, 2018. (Ben Birchall/PA via AP)

Blumenthal, however, said she did not believe Corbyn’s expressed commitment to addressing Labour’s anti-Semitism problems.

“Words are cheap. I honestly believe that when I hear Jeremy Corbyn’s words, they’re cheap, they’re excuses, they’re not actually expressing his true feelings. I don’t believe him,” she said.

In August, Corbyn faced renewed criticism after the Daily Mail newspaper published photos of him holding a wreath during a 2014 ceremony at a Tunisian cemetery. It appeared from the snapshots that Corbyn was standing near the graves of Palestinian terrorists involved in the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

The scandal is only the latest round in a long-running crisis for the Labour Party, with a constant stream of members and prominent officials being forced out or chastised for making anti-Semitic and virulent anti-Israel comments, and Corbyn himself criticized for tolerating and/or being part of the problem.

The fracas has seen excoriation from rabbis, including Britain’s chief rabbi, as well as from some of Labour’s own MPs, charging that the party and its leader seem unable or unwilling to decisively excise anti-Semitic members and sentiments from Labour’s ranks.