Israel airstrike left Syria arms warehouse in ruins, satellite images show

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL NEWSPAPER)

 

Israel airstrike left Syria arms warehouse in ruins, satellite images show

Syrian soldiers reportedly arrested in connection with downed spy plane; IAF commander to fly to Moscow to present the findings of Israel’s investigation into the incident

A before and after photo of an ammunition warehouse which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on a Syrian base in Latakia, September 18, 2018 (ImageSat International (ISI/Ynet)

A before and after photo of an ammunition warehouse which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on a Syrian base in Latakia, September 18, 2018 (ImageSat International (ISI/Ynet)

A munitions warehouse in a Syrian military facility appears to have been completely obliterated in an Israeli airstrike in the Syrian port city of Latakia late on Monday, satellite images released Wednesday show.

A Russian military reconnaissance plane was shot down by Syria during the Israeli strike, killing all 15 crew members.

On Wednesday Syria released video footage from the site of the attack, reiterating its claim that Israel targeted an aluminium factory, not a weapons warehouse in Monday’s strike, according to the Ynet news site. The veracity of the footage could not be independently verified.

On Monday, Syria accidentally shot down the Russian reconnaissance plane when its air defenses swung into action against the Israeli strike on Latakia. The Russian defense ministry initially blamed Israel, saying the IAF jets used the Russian plane as cover.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin later told reporters that the downing of the plane by Syrian air defenses was a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”

The remains of a Syrian ammunition warehouse which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on a base in Latakia, September 18, 2018. (ImageSat International (ISI/Ynet)

On Wednesday, the Russians approved Prime Minister Netanyahu’s proposal to fly air force commander Major General Amiram Norkin to Moscow to present the findings of Israel’s investigation into the incident.

Syrian media and opposition sources reported Wednesday that several Syrian soldiers who were involved in the downing of the Russian spy plane were arrested and interrogated.

The fighters from the air force base in Latakia were reportedly arrested by members of the Russian military police. A Syrian unit was also reported to have taken part in the arrest, according to Hadashot TV.

Meanwhile, the remains of another plane, a Boeing 747 aircraft that was destroyed in an earlier alleged Israeli strike at Damascus airport on Saturday, and believed to be in the use of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, can be seen in separate images provided by ImageSat International (ISI).

The remains of a suspected Iranian aircraft which was hit in an Israeli airstrike, Damascus, September 18, 2018. (ImageSat International (ISI/Ynet)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the rising tensions between the two countries in the wake of Monday’s airstrike.

In the call, the Israeli leader “noted the importance of the continued security coordination between Israel and Syria that has managed to prevent many casualties on both sides in the last three years,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

The Kremlin said that Putin emphasized that the Israeli attack violated Syria’s sovereignty and also breached the Russian-Israeli agreements on avoiding clashes in Syria. The Russian leader urged Netanyahu “not to allow such situations in the future.”

Israel said its jets had attacked a Syrian military facility that manufactured “accurate and lethal weapons,” which were “about to be transferred, on behalf of Iran, to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Netanyahu told Putin that Israel was “determined” to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syria, and the attempts by Iran, which calls for the destruction of Israel, to transfer to Hezbollah lethal weaponry to be used against Israel.

Netanyahu also reiterated that Israel would completely share all the information it had on the circumstances of the raid and suggested sending Israel’s air force chief to Moscow to “deliver all the needed information.”

The conversation came on Tuesday evening just before Israel began observing Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.

Earlier Tuesday, Putin confirmed that Israel did not shoot down the plane, rejecting any comparisons with the downing of a Russian jet by Turkey in 2015.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) attends the inauguration ceremony for Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyaninin on September 18, 2018. (AFP/Sputnik/Alexey Filippov)

“An Israeli jet did not shoot down our plane,” the Russian leader said.

The Russian defense ministry on Tuesday morning had blamed Israel for the accident and warned of reprisals.

Putin said he had signed off on the defense ministry statement. “No doubt we should seriously look into this,” Putin said, speaking at a news conference after talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Israel said its deputy ambassador in Moscow Keren Cohen-Gat was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said there would be no comment on what was discussed.

Putin also said Moscow would beef up security for Russian military personnel in Syria as a priority response. “These will be the steps that everyone will notice,” he said, without providing further details.

He expressed condolences to the families of the victims, calling the accident a “tragedy for us all.”

The incident was the worst case of friendly fire between the two allies since Russia’s game-changing military intervention in September 2015.

The Russian plane was downed by a Russian-made S-200 air defense supplied to Syria.

The Israeli military on Tuesday acknowledged conducting the airstrike the night before and “expressed sorrow” for the deaths of the 15 Russian airmen.

In a statement, however, the IDF denied all responsibility for the downing of the Russian spy plane, saying that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah were the ones at fault.

“Israel expresses sorrow for the death of the aircrew members of the Russian plane that was downed tonight due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire,” the IDF said, and noted that the Russian plane that was hit “was not within the area of the operation.”

A photo taken on July 23, 2006 shows an Russian IL-20M (Ilyushin 20m) plane landing at an unknown location.
Russia blamed Israel on September 18, 2018 for the loss of a military IL-20M jet to Syrian fire, which killed all 15 servicemen on board, and threatened a response. (AFP PHOTO / Nikita SHCHYUKIN)

The Israeli strike was conducted at approximately 10 p.m. by four F-16 fighter jets, according to the Russian military.

Syrian air defenses opened fire at the incoming missiles, at the attacking aircraft and — according to Israel — at nothing in particular. The Russian Il-20 was shot down in the air battle.

“The Syrian anti-air batteries fired indiscriminately and, from what we understand, did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air,” the army said.

According to the IDF, the target of its Monday night strike was a Syrian military facility that manufactured “accurate and lethal weapons,” which were “about to be transferred, on behalf of Iran, to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Explosions seen in the Syrian city of Latakia after an attack on a military facility nearby on September 17, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The target of the Israeli strike was identified by Syria as a subsidiary of its defense ministry, known as the Organization for Technical Industries, which has suspected ties to the country’s chemical weapons and missile programs.

“These weapons were meant to attack Israel, and posed an intolerable threat against it,” the army said.

Though Israeli officials have said, generally, that the military conducts operations inside Syria against Iranian and Hezbollah targets, the IDF rarely acknowledges specific airstrikes, preferring instead to adopt a formal policy of neither confirming nor denying the attacks attributed to it.

The military said its initial investigation found that its strike was completed before the Russian plane entered the area of the operation and that the reconnaissance aircraft was shot down after the Israeli fighter jets had returned to Israeli airspace.

“Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane, fully responsible for this incident. Israel also holds Iran and the Hezbollah terror organization accountable for this unfortunate incident,” the army added.

This appeared to refute the claim made by Moscow that the Israeli pilots used the surveillance plane as cover for their attack.

A Russian military official gives a briefing on the downing of an IL-20 military plane near Syria on September 18, 2018. (screen capture: Sputnik)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also accused Israel of failing to inform the Russian military of its plans, which he said would have been in the “spirit” of Israeli-Russian coordination in Syria. The Russian defense ministry said Israel warned them of the impending strike “less than a minute” before it began, which left them insufficient time to clear their personnel from the area.

The Israeli and Russian militaries maintain what they call a “deconfliction mechanism,” which is meant to coordinate their activities in Syria in order to avoid incidents like this one. Until Monday night, these efforts had largely succeeded in preventing direct or indirect clashes since Russia became more deeply involved in the Syrian civil war three years ago.

The Israeli military said it had coordinated with Russia ahead of the attack, though it did not address Moscow’s specific claims about the amount of time between the notification and the airstrike itself.

The IDF also said it would “share all the relevant information with the Russian government to review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”

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

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Figures show 14.7 million Jews around the globe

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL NEWS)

 

Ahead of Rosh Hashanah, figures show 14.7 million Jews around the globe

Jewish population growth rate remains far below global average; Israel’s 6.6 million Jews is world’s largest community; but Diaspora still has more Jews, with 5.7 million in US

Jewish people take part in the priestly blessing ceremony during the Passover holiday at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 13, 2017. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

Jewish people take part in the priestly blessing ceremony during the Passover holiday at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 13, 2017. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

On the eve of the Jewish New Year 5779, there are some 14.7 million Jews in the world, a rise of about 100,000 since last year, with the vast majority of them in Israel and the United States.

According to figures released by Hebrew University demographer Sergio Della Pergola, Israel is home to the world’s largest Jewish population, with some 6.6 million Jews in Israel.

Another 8.1 million Jews live outside Israel, with some 5.7 million living in the US. Other significant populations include France (453,000), Canada (391,000), and the UK (290,000).

According to studies conducted by Della Pergola, the world’s Jewish population has been rising by about 100,000 per year. The 0.7 percent growth rate is significantly lower than the overall global population growth rate of 1.1 percent.

The criteria used to define Jews were anybody who defined themselves as Jewish and did not identify with another religion. However, the research also found that there are 23.5 million people who would qualify to emigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.

Israel’s Law of Return gives every Jew, or child or grandchild of a Jew, the right to Israeli citizenship on demand.

According to Della Pergola, Arab and Muslim nations are home to just 27,000 Jews, with 15,000 in Turkey, 8,500 in Iran, and 2,000 in Morocco. The Muslim world was home to an estimated 850,000 Jews before the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

Moroccan Jews and Israeli Jewish tourists participate in Simchat Torah festivities at a synagogue in Marrakesh on October 12, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / FADEL SENNA)

In contrast, Germany is today home to 119,000 Jews, up from some 37,000 Jews immediately after the Second World War. Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

There are a total of 98 countries that are home to 100 or more Jews, the new data established.

Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola (courtesy/Sergio DellaPergola)

Israel is now home to 8.907 million citizens in all — 162,000 more than a year ago, according to data published Tuesday by the Central Bureau of Statistics. Israel’s Jewish population numbers 6.625 million people — 74.4% of the country’s population. Some 1.864 million, or 20.9%, are Arab, and the remaining 418,000 are other minorities.

The country’s population is expected to reach 10 million in late 2024, according to the data.

Some 44.3% of Israelis define themselves as secular, while 21.4% are traditional, 12.3% are traditional with religious leanings, 11.5% are religious, and 10.2% are ultra-Orthodox.

Israel’s fertility rate, at an average of 3.11 children born per woman, continued to be the highest among member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). About 175,000 babies were born and 43,000 people died during the past year, with 25,000 people making aliyah.

President Reuven Rivlin released an English-language greeting Saturday to mark the Jewish new year in which he emphasized the importance of the connections between Jewish people, noting the shared root in the Hebrew words for “friend” and “connection.”

“The bonds that hold us together stretch across the world today and deep into our shared history. I know we are at a time when some see the things that divide us more clearly than those that unite us,” said Rivlin.

“For some, it can be hard to see what we have in common. I know that there are times when we do not agree with each other. I know there are times when we do not feel like friends. So, as we approach this Rosh Hashanah, let us reflect on what we share, on the links that bind us together,” he said.

His message comes following a year that has seen bitter disputes between Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities, particularly over a decision to suspend a 2016 decision to guarantee non-Orthodox Jews permanent access for pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall.

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Iraqi cleric shows Iran’s part in killing US troops

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Decade-old interrogation of Iraqi cleric shows Iran’s part in killing US troops

Recently declassified testimony of Shiite militia leader Qais al-Khazali details Iranian efforts to stoke 2007 attacks that killed or wounded hundreds of Americans

This file photo taken on January 8, 2016 shows Qais Al-Khazali, the head of the Iraqi Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, speaking at a press conference in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. (AFP Photo/Haidar Mohammed Ali)

This file photo taken on January 8, 2016 shows Qais Al-Khazali, the head of the Iraqi Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, speaking at a press conference in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. (AFP Photo/Haidar Mohammed Ali)

Interrogations by US-led forces in Iraq of a top Shiite military and religious figure a decade ago are bringing to light the scale of Iran’s involvement in Iraqi Shiite militias’ attacks on US troops in the years following the American invasion.

Qais al-Khazali, who now heads the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia that won 15 parliamentary seats in the country’s May elections, detailed the scale of Iranian involvement in the country in the 2007 interrogation, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing recently declassified documents.

Khazali was under arrest at the time on suspicion of organizing an attempted kidnapping of US soldiers in the Iraqi city of Karala that left five Americans dead.

Khazali’s testimony from that period, declassified earlier this year by the US military’s Central Command, is especially damning.

Though he is now a critic of Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs, a decade ago his statements to US interrogators depicted Iranian assistance as key to the ability at the time of Iraqi Shiite militias to carry out their ongoing campaigns of bombings and other attacks against US troops. The report also comes amid rising tensions between Tehran and the Trump administration after the latter’s withdrawal in May from the nuclear deal.

Khazali and his group are also now being considered by the US for designation as terrorist entities.

American soldiers at a base complex in Iraq, December 29, 2014. (AFP/ALI AL-SAADI)

In one interrogation report cited by the Journal, from June 18, 2007, Khazali said his militia was among those that received training from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah in military bases near Tehran.

“There are Iranians and Lebanese Hezbollah conducting the training at these bases,” the report was quoted as saying, citing Khazali’s comments in the interrogation.

“The Iranians are experts in full scale warfare while the Lebanese are experts in urban or guerrilla warfare,” it added.

Some of the ordinance key to the campaign against US troops, including explosively formed penetrators that killed and injured hundreds of Americans, were delivered by Iran, he claimed.

As the report says, “Detainee said that anyone can receive EFP training and Iran does not care who gets it. This is because of the availability and low cost of EFPs.”

This frame grab from video provided on Dec. 8, 2017, by Asaid Ahl al-Haq’s TV station al-Ahd, shows Iraqi militia commander Qais al-Khazali of the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, speaking in front of a wall that was built by Israel at the Fatima Gate border point in the southern village of Kfar Kila, Lebanon. (Al-Ahd TV station via AP)

Even the attack at Karbala that led to his capture was planned by Iran, he said.

He also detailed how he traveled personally to Iran to raise funds and support for his militia, and met with Iranian officials including top IRGC general Qassem Suleimani.

The US-led coalition released Khazali to Iraqi officials in 2009 after he promised to lay down his arms. US forces left Iraq in 2011.

Khazali’s group angrily denied the claims in the interrogation reports, with Qassim al-Darraji, a member of its political bureau, telling the Journal, “It seems that the US is leading a campaign against Asaib Ahl al-Haq and its leader Sheikh Qais al-Khazali because he strongly rejected foreign interference in Iraqi affairs.”

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Satellite photos said to show new Iranian missile factory in Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Satellite photos said to show new Iranian missile factory in Syria

Noting facility’s apparent similarity to Iran’s Parchin complex, report says site likely spared from Israeli strike due to nearby Russia anti-aircraft battery

Satellite photos published Thursday purported to show the establishment of an Iranian surface-to-surface missile factory in Syria, raising fresh concerns over the extent of the two countries’ military cooperation on Israel’s northern border.

The photos, which were taken by ImageSat International and published by Channel 10 news, were said to show a facility outside Wadi Jahannam in northwest Syria resembling Iran’s Parchin facility, which has been linked to the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

Beyond noting an apparent surge in construction work at the site and the building’s seeming similarity to Parchin, Channel 10 did not say how it was identified as a missile factory.

Unlike other Iranian facilities in Syria that have been targeted in Israeli airstrikes, the report said the site was likely spared due to its close proximity to a Russian S-400 ant-aircraft battery, which is considered to be one of the most advanced air defense systems in the world.

Satellite image of the Parchin facility in April (photo credit: Institute for Science and International Security/AP)

Satellite image of the Parchin facility, April 2012. (AP/Institute for Science and International Security)

In July, Israeli jets reportedly targeted a missile production facility in nearby Masyaf, where a leading Syrian chemical weapons and missile scientist was killed earlier this month in a car bombing attributed to Israel.

According to a New York Times report, Israel believed that Dr. Aziz Asbar was leading a classified weapons development program called Sector 4 at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, and was busy rebuilding an underground weapons factory to replace the one said destroyed by Israel.

Israel did not comment on its alleged involvement in the July airstrike on the facility, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement following the raid that Israel “will not stop taking action in Syria against Iran’s attempts to establish a military presence there.”

Iran has been one of the top military backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in the over sever-year-long civil war in the country, as has been its Lebanese proxy, the Hezbollah terror group.

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows Syrian president Bashar Assad, right, meeting with Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami, in Damascus, Syria, on August 26, 2018. (SANA via AP)

Both Israel and the United States have called for the removal of all Iranian-backed forces from Syria. Russia, which like Iran is fighting on behalf of Assad, has expressed support for this goal but said it can’t force Iranian forces out of the country.

Iran for its part has vowed to remain in Syria, and earlier this week the two countries signed a defense agreement during a visit by Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami to Damascus.

Hatami said the pact would include the rebuilding of Syria’s military and defense programs.

Netanyahu this week reiterated that Israel will continue to take action against Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria, and issued an emphatic warning against those who call for Israel’s annihilation, such as the Islamic Republic.

“Whoever threatens us with destruction puts himself in similar danger, and in any case will not achieve his goal,” Netanyahu said during a ceremony at the nuclear research facility in Dimona.

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Hamas leader: We’ll fire hundreds of rockets at central Israel if talks fail

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hamas leader: We’ll fire hundreds of rockets at central Israel if talks fail

Yahya Sinwar says no deal reached yet, but talks continue; reportedly warns terror group can make alarm sirens wail in the Tel Aviv region for six months straight

Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, speaks during a protest east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, speaks during a protest east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar on Wednesday said there was no concrete ceasefire agreement yet with Israel, but warned that if hostilities resume the terror group could launch hundreds of rockets deep into the Jewish state.

“Until now, there is no final text for a ceasefire. What is being circulated is proposals and ideas,” Sinwar told Palestinian writers and analysts in Gaza, according to the Hamas-linked Shehab news agency. “We decided to end the siege on our people, who have the right to live a dignified life.”

Sinwar warned that if talks broke down Hamas would fire hundreds of rockets in Israel.

“What the resistance launched in 51 days in the last war, it can launch in five minutes during any [future] Israel aggression,” he said, referring to the 2014 conflict.

Illustrative: Flames from rockets fired by Palestinians are seen over Gaza Strip heading toward Israel, in the early morning of May 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

The Hebrew Walla news site quoted him as saying that “Hamas could set off rocket warning sirens in the Tel Aviv region for six months straight.”

Indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel have reportedly included discussion on easing the blockade, but by no means a complete lifting of it. Israel says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.

Sinwar said that talks on a prisoner exchange were progressing on a separate track and were not connected to the ceasefire agreement. Hamas holds the bodies of two Israeli soldiers and two civilians. Israel has said in the past it would not ease the blockade until they are released.

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

Around 170 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the weekly protests began, a Hamas ministry says. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.

One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.

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

Sinwar also warned the Palestinian Authority against taking steps to foil the nascent deal.

“Any punitive measures the PA imposes on the Gaza Strip will be in violation of the rules of the game. We respond to any such measures appropriately,” he said.

His comments come after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly lambasted the potential ceasefire agreement, saying such a deal would only be reached “over my dead body.”

“If the agreement is signed without the PA’s permission, it is illegal and constitutes treason,” Abbas said in private conversations, according to Hissein al-Sheikh, a senior member of Abbas’s Fatah party.

“Over my dead body will there be a ceasefire and calm between both sides,” Abbas said, according to al-Sheikh.

Regarding intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks, which have stalled recently, the Fatah member said disagreements between the factions were mounting and that such a deal “never looked more distant.”

Abbas was also said to be furious at Egypt, which has been brokering Israel-Hamas truce talks, for being willing to sit down with members of the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip without his presence.

“The Egyptians aren’t reading the map correctly and are harming the Palestinian national interests,” al-Sheikh said. “Talks with Hamas, which took control of Gaza by force and without the consent of the Palestinian Authority, are unacceptable and are an act of defiance against Palestinian leadership.”

Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas have been deeply divided for more than a decade. Hamas, an Islamist terror group which openly seeks to destroy Israel, seized control of Gaza from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in 2007 and several attempts at reconciliation since then have failed.

Palestinians wave the national flag during a demonstration in Gaza City on December 3, 2017, in support of the reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

The PA government has been putting pressure on Hamas to reach a reconciliation deal that would return Fatah rule to Gaza, and earlier this year began to scale back electricity payments and other financial support in an effort to force Hamas to cede ground in Gaza.

Abbas is demanding that Hamas hand over complete control of Gaza to the PA, and that the switch be conducted in a single stroke rather than in stages.

He has warned against a reported deal taking shape between Israel and Hamas for a long-term ceasefire in Gaza if it does not include the PA.

Hamas responded to the criticism with a rare statement slamming the PA and saying that there is a “national consensus” among the Palestinian people in favor of a long-term Gaza ceasefire with Israel.

The terror group was referring specifically to a deal that would lift the blockade of Gaza, which would ostensibly require some sort of agreement with Israel.

“We aren’t moving toward a political agreement or a part of an international deal that gives up our lands, recognizes the occupier or destroys the national project, as you did,” Hamas said, addressing the PA. “We didn’t recognize the Zionist entity and sanctify the security coordination, as you did at the expense of our people.”

Hamas spokesperson Abdel Latif al-Qanua dismissed the PA criticism as “worthless” and added they were “not fooling anybody — the people still supports the resistance and we will keep our hand on the trigger to defend the Palestinian people from the Zionist occupation.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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Supreme Court increases jail sentence of tycoon Nochi Dankner to 3 years

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Supreme Court increases jail sentence of tycoon Nochi Dankner to 3 years

Dankner, once one of Israel’s richest men, and co-defendant Itay Strum, each have year added to sentence for securities fraud after appeal rejected

Former Chairman of IDB Group Nochi Dankner seen at the Supreme court in Jerusalem on April 23, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former Chairman of IDB Group Nochi Dankner seen at the Supreme court in Jerusalem on April 23, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Supreme Court has increased the sentence of one of the country’s most prominent businessmen to three years in prison for securities fraud.

The court ruled Wednesday that former IDB Holding Corp. controlling shareholder Nochi Dankner will begin serving his prison term on October 2 for his role in carrying out millions of dollars’ worth of fraudulent transactions in an attempt to influence the share price of the troubled company.

Dankner had been given a two-year prison sentence in 2016.

Dankner — once one of the richest men in Israel — was also given a one-year suspended sentence and ordered to pay a fine of NIS 800,000 ($209,000).

His co-defendant, Itay Strum, owner of a company that manages assets for wealthy families, had been sentenced to a single year behind bars, a year’s suspended sentence and a NIS 500,000 fine ($130,760).

Nochi Dankner (left) and Itay Strum, both sentenced for insider trading, at the Tel Aviv District Court on October 30, 2016. (Flash90)

However, both men appealed their sentence. In Monday’s ruling the court increased Dankner’s sentence to three years and Strum’s to two years.

In the ruling Judge David Mintz said that their actions had harmed public confidence in the stock market, adding that it increased suspicion that trading prices for securities do not accurately reflect the economic activity of the economy or the market.

The judges said that they felt the initial sentence was not commensurate with the severity of the crimes.

“A review of the sentence showed that even though it used harsh language against the actions of Dankner and Strum, and even stressed the clear need to eliminate white collar crime in general and within the capital market specifically, this approach was not adequately expressed in the sentence and the punishment,” they wrote in their ruling.

Both men had been convicted for their involvement in insider trading in the run-up to a stock flotation for Dankner’s holdings company, IDB Group, in 2012.

Dankner had sunk into massive debt with the banks and had met a brick wall trying to raise cash or get further loans.

IDB took on millions of dollars in debt following a series of bad business deals. The courts wrested control of IDB from Dankner as a result.

Dankner, a favorite of Israel’s business community, was often credited with helping rescue Israel’s economy at the height of a Palestinian uprising. Under his leadership, IDB became Israel’s largest holding company and Dankner became a celebrity.

During his original trial, Dankner did not deny his “failures and poor decisions,” but tried unsuccessfully to convince the court that his actions had not been criminal. He tried to put much of the blame for IDB’s collapse on reforms in the cellular market introduced by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in his previous cabinet role of communications minister.

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US set to announce it rejects Palestinian ‘right of return’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

US set to announce it rejects Palestinian ‘right of return’ — TV report

Israel’s Hadashot News says Trump Administration will also declare it opposes UN criteria for determining Palestinian refugees, and will move to further weaken UNRWA refugee agency

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks while US President Donald Trump listens before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks while US President Donald Trump listens before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)

The Trump Administration will announce in the next few days that it rejects the long-standing Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for million of refugees and their descendants to Israel, an Israeli television report said Saturday night. The US will announce a policy that, “from its point of view, essentially cancels the ‘right of return,’” the report said.

The “right of return” is one of the key core issues of dispute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians claim that five million people — tens of thousands of original refugees from what is today’s Israel, and their millions of descendants — have a “right of return.” Israel rejects the demand, saying that it represents a bid by the Palestinians to destroy Israel by weight of numbers. Israel’s population is almost nine million, some three-quarters of whom are Jewish. An influx of millions would mean Israel could no longer be a Jewish-majority state.

According to the Hadashot TV report Saturday, the US in early September will set out its policy on the issue. It will produce a report that says there are actually only some half-a-million Palestinians who should be legitimately considered refugees, and make plain that it rejects the UN designation under which the millions of descendants of the original refugees are also considered refugees. The definition is the basis for the activities of UNRWA, the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

The US — which on Friday announced that it had decided to cut more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians — and has also cut back its funding for UNRWA — will also ask Israel to “reconsider” the mandate that Israel gives to UNRWA to operate in the West Bank. The goal of such a change, the TV report said, would be to prevent Arab nations from legitimately channeling aid to UNRWA in the West Bank.

Created in 1949 in the wake of the 1948 War of Independence, UNRWA operates schools and provides health care and other social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

Employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and their families protest against job cuts announced by the agency outside its offices in Gaza City on July 31, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Hadashot said the new US position represented a further endorsement of Israel’s positions, months after the administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocated the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The TV report said officials at the Trump Administration National Security Agency were refusing to comment on the story, but that the officials said that “the administration will announce its policy on UNRWA at the appropriate time.”

US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner (right) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 22, 2018. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem/Flash90)

Earlier this month, Foreign Policy reported that Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, has been pushing to remove the refugee status of millions of Palestinians as part of an apparent effort to shutter UNRWA.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called in the past for UNRWA to be “dismantled.” Last July, for instance, he accused the organization of inciting against Israel while doing nothing to help the plight of Palestinian refugees. He asked why they needed a specific body, when the UN High Commission for Refugees has helped tens of millions of displaced persons since World War II. “The time has come to dismantle UNRWA and have its parts be integrated into the UN High Commission for Refugees,” he said, accusing the body of “perpetuating” the plight of Palestinian refugees.

On Friday, the head of UNRWA suggested that the United States had been slashing his budget to punish the Palestinians for their criticism of the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and warned that the Palestinian refugee issue would not go away.

In this Aug. 23, 2018 photo, the head of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) Pierre Kraehenbuehl speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

“One cannot simply wish 5 million people away,” Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the UNRWA commissioner, said.

On Friday, the State Department announced a cut of more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians, indicating that those tax-payer funds no longer served American interests.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the move as an attempt to “blackmail” the Palestinians into abandoning their demand for East Jerusalem and the Old City to serve as the capital of their hoped-for independent Palestinian state.

Friday’s move was the declared result of a review of US assistance to the Palestinian Authority that Trump ordered in January, following Palestinian outrage over his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there.

“As a result of that review, at the direction of the president, we will direct more than $200 million … in Economic Support Funds originally planned for programs in the West Bank and Gaza,” a State Department official said. “Those funds will now address high-priority projects elsewhere.”

This is not the first time Trump has cut longstanding aid bound to the Palestinians. In January, the White House announced it also would withhold $65 million in assistance to UNRWA.

Earlier this month, the administration released millions of dollars in frozen aid to the PA, but only for Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, an administration source said.

The funds withheld Friday are directed toward health and educational programs, as well as initiatives to make Palestinian governance more efficient. They are used both in the PA-administered West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The Trump administration said the terror group’s control of Gaza was one of the main reasons it wanted to cease its aid to the coastal enclave.

A Palestinian woman sits with a child after receiving food supplies from the United Nations’ offices at the United Nations’ offices in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, February 11, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

“This decision takes into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance in Gaza, where Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza’s citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation,” the State Department official said.

The official did not give an exact amount of the funds to be cut, but said it is more than $200 million that was approved in 2017. The US had planned to give the Palestinians $251 million for good governance, health, education, and funding for civil society in the current budget year that ends September 30. But with just over a month to go before that money must be used, reprogrammed to other areas, or returned to the Treasury, less than half has actually been spent.

Washington’s withdrawal of the aid comes as Trump’s team tasked with brokering an Israeli-Palestinian accord is expected to release its long-awaited peace plan.

Kushner and Trump’s special envoy for Middle East peace Jason Greenblatt are expected to roll out the proposal in the near future, though they have provided no timetable for when that might happen.

Friday’s move was immediately castigated by the Palestinians, who said the cuts were “cheap blackmail.”

PLO Executive Committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi said the Trump administration “has already demonstrated meanness of spirit in its collusion with the Israeli occupation and its theft of land and resources; now it is exercising economic meanness by punishing the Palestinian victims of this occupation.”

Liberal US Jewish groups also cast the cuts as detrimental to efforts, and said they would exacerbate Palestinian suffering.

The left-wing Middle East advocacy group J Street said Trump’s decision would “have a devastating impact on innocent women, children, and families,” arguing that they were intended to “cruelly punish Palestinian civilians and marginalize and undercut Palestinian leadership.”

US President Donald Trump salutes his supporters after speaking at a political rally at Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia on August 21, 2018. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

On Tuesday, Trump told a campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia, that Israel will “pay a higher price” and the Palestinians “will get something very good” in any future negotiations in return for the US having recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“It was a good thing to have done,” Trump said of his recognition of Jerusalem and the relocation of the US embassy to the capital, “because we took it off the table. Because every time there were peace talks, they never got past Jerusalem becoming the capital. So I said, let’s take it off the table. And you know what? In the negotiation, Israel will have to pay a higher price, because they won a very big thing.”

Later, seeking to allay Israeli concerns, senior US officials told Israel’s Channel 10 that “the US will not impose unacceptable conditions on Israel in its peace plan.”

UNRWA grants refugee status to all descendants of Palestinians who left or fled Israel with the establishment of the state in 1948, swelling the number to an estimated five million at present, when the number of actual refugees from that conflict is estimated to be in the low tens of thousands. In peace talks, the Palestinian leadership has always demanded a “right of return” to Israel for these millions — an influx that, if accepted by Israel, would spell the end of the Israel as a majority Jewish state.

Israel argues that the Palestinian demand is an UNRWA-facilitated effort to destroy Israel by demographic means. The Palestinians also seek an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. Months of ongoing violent protests fueled by Hamas at the Gaza border with Israel were initiated in March under the banner of a “March of the Return,” and encouraged by Hamas leaders with the declared ultimate goal of erasing the border and destroying Israel.

Israel often argues that an independent Palestinian state, if agreed upon in negotiations, would absorb Palestinian refugees and their descendants, just as Israel absorbed Jewish refugees from Middle Eastern and north African countries over the decades.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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New carbon-dating tool could pinpoint ancient eruption, gauge if tied to Exodus

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

A NEW CHRONOLOGY

New carbon-dating tool could pinpoint ancient eruption, gauge if tied to Exodus

Calibration technique aims to show exactly when Thera erupted on Santorini, some 4,000 years ago. Volcanic blast has been linked to rise and fall of civilizations, even the Plagues

  • Assistant professor of dendrochronology Dr. Charlotte Pearson in her lab at the University of Arizona. (Robert D. Demers)
    Assistant professor of dendrochronology Dr. Charlotte Pearson in her lab at the University of Arizona. (Robert D. Demers)
  • Ancient wood sample used by assistant professor of dendrochronology Dr. Charlotte Pearson in her lab at the University of Arizona. (Robert D. Demers)
    Ancient wood sample used by assistant professor of dendrochronology Dr. Charlotte Pearson in her lab at the University of Arizona. (Robert D. Demers)
  • Image of Akrotiri, a Minoan Bronze Age settlement on Greek island of Santorini where the volcano Thera erupted, wiping out the island. (Gretchen Gibbs)
    Image of Akrotiri, a Minoan Bronze Age settlement on Greek island of Santorini where the volcano Thera erupted, wiping out the island. (Gretchen Gibbs)
  • In a May 26, 2018 photo, area residents, the media and national guard flock to what is now the end of Leilani Avenue to take in the fiery show at fissures 2, 7 and 8 of the Kilauea volcano near Pahoa. (George F. Lee/The Honolulu Advertiser via AP)
    In a May 26, 2018 photo, area residents, the media and national guard flock to what is now the end of Leilani Avenue to take in the fiery show at fissures 2, 7 and 8 of the Kilauea volcano near Pahoa. (George F. Lee/The Honolulu Advertiser via AP)
  • The Crossing of the Red Sea by Nicolas Poussin, 1634 (Public Domain)
    The Crossing of the Red Sea by Nicolas Poussin, 1634 (Public Domain)

The ancient eruption of Thera on the Greek island of Santorini has long been a font for popular flights of fancy. The volcano’s devastating blast — volcanic rock has been discovered as far away as Greenland — was thought by Plato to be the source of the famous Greek legend of Atlantis. With black ash-filled skies, pillars of fire, and disastrous tsunamis that may have reached the shores of Egypt, the eruption’s potential fallout is used as “scientific” source material by some theorists to explain the Book of Exodus plagues, and even the parting of the Red Sea.

While these theories do not currently get much mileage in academic circles, the allure and mystery of the very real eruption of Thera is abiding among scholars attempting to pinpoint its actual occurrence. And because it was such a terrifically cataclysmic event in the Mediterranean, if scientists are able to accurately date the blast, other ancient “floating,” or unattributable, dates may fall into place in its wake.

Now, a University of Arizona study on carbon dating methodology could catalyze a shift in the timeline for ancient Mediterranean chronology, and potentially set a firm date for the natural disaster.

In a new article published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances called “Annual radiocarbon record indicates 16th century BCE date for the Thera eruption,” an interdisciplinary team led by dendrochronologist, or tree-ring expert, Dr. Charlotte Pearson attempts to use high-resolution radiocarbon dating methods to firm up the Thera blast, one of the most elusively undated events of the ancient world.

Using the study of tree-rings’ radiocarbon-14 molecules, alongside a new proposed annual radiocarbon calibration curve (as opposed to the current decade-averaging approach), Pearson’s team aims to arrive at a more precise dating for the blast.

Assistant professor of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona Dr. Charlotte Pearson. (Peter Brewer)

This data, along with radiocarbon dates of several organic samples frozen in time immediately preceding the volcano’s eruption, will then be synchronized with archaeological evidence from sites where Thera pumice was discovered, including the Aegean, Egypt, and the Levant — in particular Israel’s Tel Ashkelon and Tel el-Ajjul in Gaza.

The Odeon at Ashkelon was shaped in a semi-circle and probably held either city council meetings or musical events – or both. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am, at Tel Ashkelon)

“What we are trying to do is be part of the global realization that the radiocarbon calibration method is ready for an improvement. Because now the technology is there to measure the radiocarbon in every single tree ring, and we’re just pulling out one treasure from the box — in this instance the carbon-14, and seeing how that can be applied to improve the way we date material in the Mediterranean… and anywhere in the world,” said Pearson, in a video explaining her project.

The Crossing of the Red Sea by Nicolas Poussin, 1634. (Public Domain)

One of the ongoing problems in dating the Thera eruption is that the timings derived from radiocarbon dating and archaeological evidence do not currently match up: The radiocarbon testing of contemporary organic material consistently results in a date of the late 17th century BCE. However, when archaeological evidence is also taken into account, two schools of thought are formed — a “high” or “low” chronology — which place the blast date about 100-150 years apart, from 1650-1500 BCE.

Now Pearson proposes that the calibration curve may be shifted to an annual resolution to resolve the discrepancy.

“We can use the annual precision of tree rings in combination with carbon-14 to underpin some big questions in terms of the rise and fall of civilizations,” said Pearson. “We can look at the tree rings as a timeline and connect with people that lived in the past, and I think that gives us more of a sense of who we are, but also a sense of where we’re going and perhaps ways to deal with some of the issues that we might collectively face.”

How does C-14 dating work?

Radiocarbon testing was developed by an American former Manhattan Project scientist, physicist Willard Libby, as a tool for archaeologists to date ancient organic material in the wake of World War II. In theory, when radioactive atmospheric rays hit nitrogen in the atmosphere, they form radiocarbon, an isotope that is distinctive in that it has eight neutrons and an atomic mass of 14 (thus the term “C-14”).

In the atmosphere, the C-14 is mixed with oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide, which is then “inhaled” by plants through photosynthesis. The plants are ingested by animals and transported through their bodies. When the flora or the fauna die, the C-14 also begins to decay. The smaller the amount of C-14, the older the sample, which is then assigned a date according to a calibration scale.

The current iteration of the calibration scale, called IntCal13, was crystalized in 2013 and is increasingly seen as a not fully reliable measure for assigning dates. The curve is based on securely dated findings taken from trees, usually oaks or conifers, from the northern hemisphere. But a recent study from Cornell University’s Prof. Sturt Manning asks whether these hardy northern trees are a good source or have the same growing patterns as, for example, olive, which is grown in arid regions such as the Levant.

Prof. Sturt Manning coring an example multi-century old Juniperus phoenicea tree near Petra in southern Jordan of the type employed in the Taybet Zaman buildings. (Sturt Manning, Cornell University)

An additional wrinkle, says the new Pearson study, is that the decadal or semi-decadal approach used by most labs today averages and flattens spikes in data. In her study, Pearson pushes for a more high-resolution, single-year focus, instead of taking decades of data and averaging them, so anomalies such as the Thera eruption could be more precisely addressed.

Pearson explained in an email to The Times of Israel that her team attempted to create an annual average plateau from the C-14 records gleaned from individual securely dated tree-rings, such as Irish oak trees and the North American bristlecone pine.

The next stage was to study how annual tree rings’ C-14 readings were affected during “spike” events, and how the calibration curve could be improved to accommodate these one-off occasions.

View of the damage caused by the eruption of the Fuego Volcano in village of San Miguel Los Lotes, in Escuintla Department, about 35 km southwest of Guatemala City, taken on June 5, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Johan ORDONEZ

“Such events have already been shown to have a powerful role as anchor points for synchronizing chronologies. But we also wanted to test, given the large amount of annual data that are now being published, how such data might contribute to the onward improvement of the radiocarbon calibration curve. I.e., is there any point in spending time and money on a lot of annual 14C measurements? Could it help improve calibration?” asked Pearson.

In general, the team found there would not be massive shifts in radiocarbon dating calibration using this annual approach — except for cases of catastrophic events such as the Thera eruption.

A radiocarbon ripple effect

The Thera eruption, the focus of the study, was a “spike” in radiocarbon evidence, and its dating could potentially be improved with an annual calibration — to the benefit of many other ancient Mediterranean chronologies.

“The event has been intensively studied from archaeological and paleoenvironmental perspectives because it provides a geological marker that, if precisely dated, could synchronize Bronze Age histories of the Aegean, Egypt, and the Near East and anchor a wide range of contemporary environmental data,” according to the paper.

Assistant professor of dendrochronology Dr. Charlotte Pearson in her lab at the University of Arizona. (Robert D. Demers)

One such example of how dating Thera could influence other cultures is the dating of pharaonic Egypt: It is possible the Thera eruption was noted in contemporary or close-to-contemporary documents found in Thebes.

Recently, new readings of ancient Egyptian inscriptions have led scientists to propose an Egyptian documentation of the disaster. On the Tempest Stela, the Pharaoh Ahmose describes a major catastrophic climactic event, including loud explosion, earthquakes, and darkness, according to Nadine Moellerassociate Professor of Egyptian Archaeology at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.

“It is now time to consider the possibility that the Tempest Stela is indeed a contemporary record of the cataclysmic Thera event,” Moeller wrote in a 2014 article.

According to a 2014 University of Chicago press release about the Stela, Ahmose was the first pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, which marked the beginning of the powerful New Kingdom. For decades, scholars have debated the actual start-date of the New Kingdom era. Assuming the Tempest Stela is dated in close proximity to the Thera eruption, then Egyptian pharaonic chronology would have a new “anchor” for its timeline.

The Pearson article writes that “evidence indicates that the eruption occurred after the start of the New Kingdom in Egypt, which, according to proponents of conventional, archaeologically based chronology, is considered to be sometime after c.1550 to 1500 BCE.”

A picture taken on September 9, 2017 shows Egyptian archaeologist restoring a wooden sacrophagus at a newly-uncovered ancient tomb for a goldsmith dedicated to the ancient Egyptian god Amun, in the Draa Abul Naga necropolis on the west bank of the ancient city of Luxor, which boasts ancient Egyptian temples and burial grounds.(AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI)

However, according to the Pearson study, “direct radiocarbon evidence for the Thera eruption currently places this event multiple decades earlier than the earliest possible start of the New Kingdom.”

For example, in 2006, an olive tree on Santorini that was buried under volcanic ash was radiocarbon dated, and found to pinpoint the Thera eruption between 1621-1605 BCE. While this discrepancy is a blink in terms of the historical record (or the current lifespan of the State of Israel), it causes a clear conundrum for archaeologists and historians.

But is Pearson’s annual approach to solving spikes such as Thera earth shattering?

In her study, she writes, “No definitive calibrated radiocarbon range for the Thera eruption is currently possible, but the altered position of the 14C plateau indicates that improved calibration has much to offer chronological synchronization of human and environmental timelines in this period.” To paraphrase, while she cannot arrive at a solid timing for Thera, the methodology of the calibration curve may still benefit.

Cornell University’s Goldwin Smith Professor of Classical Archaeology in the Department of Classics and director of the Cornell Tree-Ring Laboratory Sturt Manning. (courtesy)

Fellow dendrochronologist Sturt Manning, a professor at Cornell University, told The Times of Israel that the Pearson study has an “impressive dataset” and that the results were “a little bit of a surprise,” for which he awaits confirmation from other labs.

“I suspect when other labs have run data on 1-year samples in this period the ‘real’ picture will be somewhere between the previous one and the Pearson et al. findings. So some change but rather less dramatic,” Manning said.

“Even so, Pearson et al. over-claim. Their revised curve, even if right, does modify dates just in this period, yes. But where there are sequences of 14C dates from longer order series, whether archaeological, or from the series of Pharaohs, etc., then it will make much less difference as the rest of the calibration curve is not changed they say,” he wrote.

A source for Exodus?

The new dating doesn’t only affect the timing of the eruption of Thera or Pharaoh Ahmose’s reign and the start of the New Kingdom. It could also help assign dates to other important events such as the end of the Babylonian Empire, as well as the rise and fall of the Anatolian Hittites and the mysterious Semitic-speaking people called Hyksos.

The Exodus: Illustration of Moses leading the Children of Israel out of Egypt in the Kaufmann Haggadah, 14th century. (Wikimedia Commons)

Some theorists say dating Thera could solidify the natural source of the Exodus narrative as well.

Asked whether she sees her study as having implications on the dating of the roots of the biblical Exodus story, Pearson questioned her qualifications to answer. In an email she wrote, “All I can say is that continued work to improve chronological frameworks is essential for the study of past civilizations!”

Image of Akrotiri, a Minoan Bronze Age settlement on Greek island of Santorini where the volcano Thera erupted, wiping out the island. (Gretchen Gibbs)

There is no doubt the eruption was an event of biblical proportions. According to Greek archaeologist Christos G. Doumas who excavated on Santorini from the 1970s to 1990s, “When the volcano literally ‘blew its top,’ the sides of the mountain collapsed into the abyss; then the sea poured into this great caldera — 32 square miles of it… The blast was so powerful that the eruption column reached an estimated height of 20 miles, sending particles of dust hundreds of miles away,” writes Doumas in a 1991 Biblical Archaeology Review article.

Every decade or so, there is a scholar or ostensible scholar willing to go on record and state that the Thera blast may have caused the Exodus narrative. In the 1980s, Johns Hopkins Prof. Hans Goedicke was lauded by the New York Times, then raked over the coals for his suggestions.

An entertaining, if not entirely drily factual, 2006 documentary called “The Exodus Decoded” by Canadian “Indiana Jones” filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and producer/director James Cameron caused waves of backlashin scholarly circles.

In general, the theories state that Thera jump-started tsunamis that could have caused the parting of seas (location is subject to change depending upon the scholar). Additionally, it may have sparked a pillar of fire in the sky visible as far as Egypt.

Other environmental effects of the Thera eruption likewise may have caused “some major hemisphere-wide climate episodes” that could link to the plagues, wrote Cornell’s Manning in an email outlining the more popular theories. Some scientists tie the dating to the Israelites in Jericho, based on radiocarbon dating of the city’s destruction.

The linkage between Thera and the Exodus narrative is fodder for numerous articles, books, and even conferences, including the one held in 2013 at UC San Diego called “Out of Egypt: Israel’s Exodus Between Text and Memory, History and Imagination” where University of Edinburgh’s Dr. Mark Harris, a former physicist and current theologian, delivered the lecture “The Thera Theories: Science and the Modern Reception History of the Exodus.”

In his witty 20-minute talk, Harris broke down the various “Thera theories,” and noted that, regardless of their pseudo-scientific questionable veracity, the “volcano remains a rich resource for the imagination.”

The theologian said that implementing it as an interpretation of the miracles is as legitimate as reading the text through a feminist lens or through liberation theology.

“The Thera theories give us ‘scientific readings.’ They challenge or inspire the imagination without necessarily requiring a firm historical commitment that this is what really happened,” said Harris.

He personally does not think Thera had a role in the Exodus, but clearly fathoms the impulse of those who do.

“There is a fascination with the Bible in the popular imagination, and there’s a fascination with science, and when the two get together, you literally get an explosive combination,” said Harris.

Putin’s Kremlin subverting Israeli democracy?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

(FOLKS, THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT ARTICLE, PLEASE TAKE A FEW MOMENTS TO READ THIS)

Is Putin’s Kremlin subverting Israeli democracy? A Russia expert thinks so

A devastating, complacency-shattering interview with Ilya Zaslavskiy, one of the world’s leading experts on Moscow’s overt and covert designs on the West

Main image by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

WASHINGTON, United States — Despite the global headlines about Russian meddling in foreign elections, Israeli experts have thus far expressed little concern that it could happen here.

At Tel Aviv University’s CyberWeek cybersecurity conference in June, for instance, Israeli officials made light of the impact of fake news and foreign influence campaigns on Israeli society. Fake news is a “nuisance,” Eviatar Matania, head of the National Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office, told a panel at the conference, not a major threat. Other speakers said they had seen no signs of Russian influence campaigns targeting Israel.

But the recent release by researchers at Clemenson University of three million Russian troll tweets created by Russia’s Internet Research Agency between 2012 and 2018 paints a different picture.

Reporters from Israel’s Channel 10 News found that tens of thousands of the tweets dealt with Israel and the region and some were written in Hebrew, indicating they were indeed targeting Israelis and people who care about Israel.

Ilya Zaslavskiy, a Washington, DC-based expert on Russia and head of research at the Free Russia Foundation — a nonprofit led by Russians abroad that says it “seeks to be a voice for those who can’t speak under the repression of the current Russian leadership” — told The Times of Israel that he would be extremely surprised if Russia weren’t carrying out covert influence campaigns in Israel.

“We now know for a fact that Russia has been interfering on a massive scale in US, German and UK elections and referendums,” said Zaslavskiy, who is also a member of the advisory board at the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative and an academy associate at Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) think tank.

Ilya Zaslavskiy (Courtesy)

“We know that they intervened in the Catalonia referendum as well as a referendum on Ukraine in Holland. They continue to interfere in the US midterms and they have been meddling in all sorts of local elections in Eastern Europe. and the post-Soviet space,” he said. “So why wouldn’t they interfere in Israeli elections when Israel is so important to their strategic interests?”

Asked why Israel is of interest to Russia, Zaslavskiy, who is Jewish and immigrated to the United States from Russia as a young adult, said that “Israel is of strategic importance to the Kremlin  — because Israel is actually one of the forces that could contain Russia, could prevent some of the abuses that Russians are carrying out.”

He cited, for instance, developments in Syria. “Israel is not a great friend of Assad, but now the Israeli government has sort of accepted that Russians uphold him and have got a foothold in Syria,” he said. Asked how things could have been different, Zaslavskiy replied “Israel could have been more vocal and critical about Russia’s role in Syria.”

This December 11, 2017 photo shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syrian President Bashar Assad watching troops march at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

More generally, “you could have expelled some of the Russian oligarchs, you could have prevented some of the money laundering,” he said. “You could actually impose some sanctions on Russia and limit their influence in your country.”

Why hadn’t that happened? During a deeply disconcerting interview in the US capital Zaslavskiy offered some insights. And as the conversation developed, he moved rapidly beyond election meddling to a wider, nightmare vision of an ascendant Russia, with Western democracies weakened and outflanked. Regarding Israel specifically, he described covert, Russian-led processes already unfolding that he believes are undermining the rule of law and democracy itself, and set out specific measures that he believes must urgently be taken if the decline is to be halted and contained.

An existential danger

Zaslavskiy believes that both Israel and the West face an existential danger from Russia unless the problem of covert and overt Russian influence is fully acknowledged and decisive measures are taken to combat it. He says most of the West fails to grasp the gravity of the threat, which includes not just efforts to meddle in elections but the exporting of corruption and criminality from post-Soviet countries to the West, thereby undermining democracy itself.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP/ Pool/Yuri Kadobnov)

In a recent report for the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative entitled “How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West,” Zaslavskiy argues that the West did not in fact win the Cold War and that its norms and values, like democracy and the rule of law, are very much in peril.

“When the Soviet empire collapsed in 1991, it was widely believed that Western-style democracy and liberal capitalism based on free elections, separation of powers and the rule of law would eventually take root in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and other regions emerging from the Cold War,” he writes. “Even when ex-Communist Party leaders and representatives of Soviet security services returned to power throughout the former Soviet Union (FSU) in the late 1990s to mid-2000s, mainstream political thought never once doubted the inevitability of democracy’s march across the globe. Experts debated speed and direction, but rarely questioned the ultimate destination.”

The West has largely failed to export its democratic norms and is instead witnessing an increasingly coordinated assault on its own value system

In reality, Zaslavskiy goes on, “the West has largely failed to export its democratic norms and is instead witnessing an increasingly coordinated assault on its own value system. This destructive import of corrupt practices and norms comes not only from post-Soviet kleptocratic regimes like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia, but also from China and other countries around the world whose ruling elites now possess far-reaching financial and political interests in the West.”

The new norms being exported to the West, which he dubs neo-Gulag norms, include the idea that those in power are the only real and rightful decision-makers and that the rest are ultimately “prison dust.”

Another such norm, he writes, is that “everything and everyone is for sale, or at least susceptible to manipulation or some form of control.” And finally, the Russian ruling elite believes that “individual human life does not matter anywhere, unless it is someone from their inner circle or equally as powerful as they are.”

The Times of Israel sat down with Zaslavskiy at a cafe in Washington, DC, to discuss the connections between Putin, Israel, organized crime, election meddling and the decline of democracy in the West.

The Times of Israel: There has been a lot of talk about Russian influence campaigns and Russian interference in elections. What aspect of this threat do you think people in the West are failing to grasp?

Ilya Zaslavskiy: They are failing to grasp two main things. First they think that the corruption, criminality and anti-democratic developments that happen in a place like Russia have very little to do with their own life or their own country. That’s the first delusion.

Today, everything is so much more integrated. When criminal groups supported by security services are allowed to do things in their own country, they immediately export their practices and values to the West, to safe havens where they can actually not only keep their money but can continue their activities.

There are many oligarchs of Jewish background from the post-Soviet space, from Russia, Kazakhstan and the Caucasus, who earned their money in a very dirty way in the 1990s and 2000s, and now they’ve moved to Israel

The second thing people fail to realize is that, unlike during the Cold War, there are open channels of business that these kleptocrats can exploit to export their norms and practices legally.

You see a lot of money from kleptocratic countries pouring into the West and paying for lawyers, lobbyists, PR people, even journalists, as well as former security people and security companies. In Soviet times this was not possible. Today, a Russian kleptocrat can continue his criminal activities in the West in broad daylight, without being prosecuted and hardly being covered by the press.

How might this be happening in Israel, and how might Israelis not be aware of it?

There are many oligarchs of Jewish background from the post-Soviet space, from Russia, Kazakhstan and the Caucasus, who earned their money in a very dirty way in the 1990s and 2000s, and now they’ve moved to Israel.

Some have Israeli citizenship and operate abroad and some operate in Israel. It’s not only that they have a luxurious lifestyle, throw fancy parties and buy amazing real estate. That’s another delusion in the West. Many Westerners believe that oligarchs bring their dirty money to their new country but merely as consumers.

In fact, they start to invest in assets — in strategic assets, in politics and in newspapers.

The vast majority of oligarchs can be hired on an ad-hoc basis by the Russian state or Kazakh state, and can be exploited for political purposes by this kleptocratic state.

I recently co-authored a report — “How to Select Russian Oligarchs for New Sanctions?” — that explains why and under what criteria the US government should add oligarchs like the Alfa Group oligarchs to sanctions.

There are very powerful figures with lots of money, lobbyists and PR support in Israel. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu shows up at events with some of them.

Let’s say you have an oligarch who is close to Putin. What would they be doing in Israel? Why should Israelis care?

They can do multiple things. First, they can normalize Kremlin narratives about Israeli interests.

For example, the way they present Russia’s place in the Syrian conflict, in relations with enemies of Israel like Iran, or concerning the Soviet diaspora in Israel.

I’m sure they help promote Kremlin propaganda about the Second World War and Russia’s [ostensibly] almost exclusive role defeating the Nazis. And they peddle the Jewish veterans’ theme with the orange and black St. George ribbon. It’s a ribbon that commemorates the Soviet victory over Nazism that has come to be associated with Russian propaganda against Ukraine and against the West — how the West never really stood up to the Nazis, for example. These are not just historical narratives; they are very useful for today’s politics.

Above and photo at top: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, on May 9, 2018. Both men are wearing the orange and black St. George ribbon (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

But the other thing oligarchs can do in Israel is to co-opt the elite, under the guise of cultural and charity events. They can throw fancy parties with caviar and beautiful women and invite politicians. They have held these receptions around Western capitals. I have followed some of these in London, as well as here in Washington.

Why would a Russian oligarch own a newspaper or TV station?

They may have financial interests and hope to make money but for many of them it is not done for commercial purposes. The reason is to support politicians through the media, and that allows you to get a foothold in the government. You do nice things for the government and then they do nice things for you in return. You establish a relationship and it’s a long-term thing.

It’s all very interconnected. The payback is not immediate but it’s a very solid investment.

Let’s say a Russian oligarch moves to Israel and starts investing in all kinds of businesses and giving money to charity. Why not just assume he’s retired?

No one from that world of state security or organized crime is off the hook because the Russian state has too much compromising material on them, as well as incentives. Also, if you don’t comply you can be eliminated. There is now a book on how Putin most likely ordered killings of dozens of people inside Russia and outside Russia who did not comply with his interests, including from his own security services or organized crime.

A file photo taken on September 14, 2004, shows Alexander Litvinenko (L), a former Russian intelligence agent, speaking at a press conference in London. (AFP PHOTO / MARTIN HAYHOW)

For example, he first used polonium not on Alexander Litvinenko but most likely on Roman Tsepov, who was part of the organized crime group in St. Petersburg in the 1990s that allegedly worked closely with Putin during his rise to power. It’s easier for anyone to comply. There are many oligarchs abroad that he uses on an ad-hoc basis. It’s switch on, switch off. It’s not too demanding or too crazy, and it’s actually acceptable to most of these people.

What’s the connection between the Russian state and organized crime?

In Soviet times there were three worlds that were distinct — with separate, even contradictory, goals. There was the Communist Party, the security services and organized crime. Organized crime was more or less antagonistic to the Soviet regime.

Organized crime and its networks have become part of the Kremlin’s political instruments abroad, including in Israel

Under Putin these three worlds collided and fused and learned from each other. Security services now oversee the businesses of organized criminal groups. Organized criminal groups carry out the political building and conduct operations for the Kremlin. The ideology of the Communist Party was thrown down the drain but the cynical and pragmatic practices, like co-opting the far right, co-opting the far left, co-opting Christianity or Judaism, remained.

You co-opt whoever is important to you in any given country. You can even contradict yourself in different countries but just divide and rule through all these channels — through ideology, through organized criminal groups, through corruption. Organized crime and its networks have become part of the Kremlin’s political instruments abroad, including in Israel.

If there were a Georgian or Russian oligarch who wanted to open hundreds of call centers throughout Israel and scam people abroad out of money, is that something that co-opting the elite would allow them to do?

Yes. But compared to corruption in Russia which involves billions for a single road or pipeline, binary options and forex are a relatively small-scale fraud. Russia as a state is also involved in hacking and dodgy cryptocurrencies; we now know that for a fact from Robert Mueller’s investigation. Russia as a state, especially its security services and associated oligarchs, are involved in all sorts of dodgy things, including in the digital realm.

Someone like Putin would not follow specific criminal activities like binary options, but he sits at the top of a pyramid and there might be levies that make their way from an Israel-based criminal enterprise all the way to the top.

Why would a Georgian or Russian criminal decide to put call centers in Israel of all places?

For a variety of reasons. Corrupt Russian money penetrates any vulnerable spot in the world. The criminality has not just penetrated Israel. It’s in Europe, in Asia, the Middle East and the US.

Why do there seem to be many Jewish oligarchs?

It’s a very useful topic to anti-Semitic circles and it’s not true. Maybe in the late 80s and 90s indeed there were a lot, perhaps too many, visible Jewish oligarchs because of the legacy of the Soviet era and tsarism. Jews had been marginalized and pushed into the black market. They traditionally had math skills, due to the way they were raised, and they helped each other, as does any minority network; ethnic minorities tend to help each other.

Under Putin, I think it’s a specific propaganda tool to expose Jewish oligarchs much more than the rest of the oligarchs. “Oligarch” is actually no longer a useful term in my view, because it suggests that they still have some power. They lost all their power to Putin. Their only currency today is loyalty, it’s not dollars.

Half of the major Jewish events that I see here in Washington, the fancy ones where you can co-opt elites, are co-sponsored by Russian oligarchs

Whatever dollars they have in their accounts can be taken away from them at a snap. Yes, they can store their money offshore but they can’t stop working for the Kremlin. Most of them still own too much in Russia and there are too many hooks and levers on them.

There is no distinction between public and private property in Russia. Everything is owned in one way or another by the Kremlin. So the money that they give as donations, very often they are asked to give the donation. And they have no choice but to give it.

Actually, the Russian state tries to present some of these oligarchs as if they are no longer with the regime, as if they are now in the West. It’s all very misleading. I could count actual Russian oligarchs who are completely removed from the Russian state with one hand.

What about Leonid Nevzlin?

Well, Nevzlin is one of the exceptions. He was ousted from Russia. Mikhail Khodorkovsky too.

I don’t like the term oligarch. I prefer the term handlers, operatives, maybe agents, rich agents. Many of them are actually front men for the money that they ostensibly have. It’s not actually considered fully their money. I’m sure they’re representing some of the Kremlin money, just under the guise of it being their money.

Just to return to your question about the Jewish oligarchs. Currently there are many rich and powerful security people around Putin. They are mostly Russian or a variety of nationalities, but they are secretive and very well protected. Some of the federal ministers as well. Most of the Russian Duma and government are millionaires. They’re just officials but they have the lifestyle of a mini-oligarch.

Should we feel sorry for the oligarchs? It sounds like they can’t escape their gilded cages.

Well some of them managed to escape and these are very exceptional, but obviously at a very high cost to themselves.

There are actually many whistleblowers and refugees from the Russian regime, some of them reformed, some of them not. London has a lot of people like that. Some of them managed to take out some money while others didn’t. They lost a lot, some involuntarily because they fell out of the system. Only few deserve any kind of empathy. Otherwise it’s a very complicated and dark world.

Why do oligarchs give so much money to Jewish and Israeli charities, especially religious ones?

It’s co-option and soft power, and they may be even be using these charities to give political donations.

For themselves, it’s reputation-laundering and legitimacy. It also allows them to advance narratives that are useful to the Kremlin — like about World War II.

If you look at the list of art galleries, museums, and all sorts of Jewish organizations, in New York, Europe and Israel that are associated with Putin’s oligarchs, you will be absolutely amazed

For instance, this whole debate about Ukraine. Russia tries to say the current government is a Nazi government, and how all of western Ukraine and their parties are anti-Semitic, how the West opened a second front in World War II at too late a stage and did not help Russia. The Kremlin can co-opt Jews to promote these narratives.

And then there are the May 9th celebrations [V-Day, commemorating the surrender of the Nazis in 1945] by Russia around the world, including in Israel on a large scale now.

Funding Jewish charities also gives them access to people. If you have a high-level event at the Metropolitan Museum or the Museum of Jewish History, you get access to politicians so you can co-opt them. If you look at the list of art galleries, museums, and all sorts of Jewish organizations, in New York, Europe and Israel that are associated with Putin’s oligarchs, you will be absolutely amazed and stunned. MOMA, the Metropolitan Museum, operas, Carnegie Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Gallery. The list is endless.

Half of the major Jewish events that I see here in Washington, the fancy ones where you can co-opt elites, are co-sponsored by Russian oligarchs.

I’m sure that Russian oligarchs have managed to co-opt many politicians in Israel.

Look at [the rise in Russia of] Chabad. People in Chabad say, “We are just promoting the Jewish legacy. At least there is no anti-Semitism under Putin.” They find all sorts of excuses [to be supportive of Putin]. Before Putin, Chabad was a marginal group, at least in the former Soviet Union.

Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman seen with Russian-Israeli World War II veterans, as they take part in the Veterans Day parade in honor of the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany, at the Knesset. May 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

What is the Russian ruling class’s goal in Israel?

To create an environment — a political environment and economic environment — where it’s too difficult for Israel to resist some of the strategic interests of the Kremlin in the region. Not to oppose Russia’s interests.

But they’re also interested in subverting democracy. A strategic goal for the next few years is to subvert democracy in the West. In some ways they have already succeeded, and the appetite comes with food, as they say. So once they subvert democracy, the goal is to advance more corruption, more vested interests and then just turn the whole West into a corrupt world.

Why do they want to turn the West into a corrupt world?

Because then you can engage in what Russians love, which is realpolitik. Whoever is strong gets his own zone of influence and no one else can interfere. Russia would like to divide the world into zones of interest.

Look at what they did with influencing the American elections and possibly Brexit.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) and US President Donald Trump talk as they attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. (AFP/Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev)

By the time of the 2016 elections in the United States, Russians already had all sorts of Putin understanders and supporters in the press, in the lobbying groups, in business circles, in chambers of commerce, among politicians, even in Congress. They have all these people who are associated with Russia through attending events at the Russian Embassy, going to conferences in Russia and Europe, sitting on boards of Russian companies or galleries associated with Russian money. It’s all done through open channels.

There are several think tanks in Washington which are completely subverted by Russians and that put forward narratives useful to the Kremlin about everything — from Ukraine, to Israel, to corruption. That acts as a force against an independent press, independent thinking, because you can pollute the whole policymaking and debating environment

They also influence think tanks and their debates and narratives about Russia. There are several think tanks in Washington, for example, which are completely subverted by Russians and that put forward narratives useful to the Kremlin about everything — from Ukraine, to Israel, to corruption — and that acts as a force against an independent press, independent thinking, because you can pollute the whole policymaking and debating environment.

Why does Putin want to destroy democracy? Because it competes with his patronage system?

Yes. If I had to judge, I think it’s just his enormous lust for power and he’s a control freak. He just can’t get enough. But maybe, some people suggest that his circle pressures him. I would imagine they pressure each other and it’s a constant game of power, so he has to stay afloat and show benefits.

You’ve said you think journalists are not writing enough about Putin and his oligarchs?

I see it as a huge problem that the Western press is just incapable of covering many of these topics. The press has been marginalized by the internet, so it’s a global trend. Newspapers have lower budgets, they struggle more for advertising, there is much more private and partisan ownership of media outlets. These are all global trends but they influence coverage on Russia also.

Even high-level, big outlets like The New York Times and Guardian face extremely aggressive, litigious teams of lawyers and lobbyists of these oligarchs who have infinite pockets and can afford long legal fights.

Many newspapers don’t have proper foreign country correspondents. If they do, they have to write quick articles, like one per week without delving into difficult topics. Then there is a vicious cycle where complicated cases about Russia are not covered in the West and so there is no interest about them. And since there is no interest there is no coverage.

The first stage is that you lose transparency, democracy and good governance. Israel is already losing that

Very often I found that I wasn’t able to put important topics out there just because it was too complicated for the journalist to write. Not even because of libel issues or because of time constraints. He or she would say, “My editor will not take it through because it’s too complicated. It delves too much into Russian detail.”

Most amazingly, most major media outlets do not have a full-time Russian translator and researcher who can fully devote his or her time to the most basic background research for the few investigative journalists that these outlets struggle to support.

What will happen to Israel if it does nothing about the corrupt kleptocratic influence you describe?

The first stage is that you lose transparency, democracy and good governance. Israel is already losing that. There is no longer separation of powers. There is prevalence of the executive. There is organized crime and no one takes action against it. The police do nothing. This is the first step.

Israel may give up many of its positions in Syria very soon. I can’t exclude that.

What definitely will happen if we continue on the current trajectory is that the entire West will turn into some kind of Hong Kong. where superficially it is democracy. It has some kind of elections, it looks capitalist and there is modern technology, but in reality a corrupt, non-democratic government actually runs it.

For the average person what does that mean? That you’re either a criminal or you’re poor?

Exactly, if you don’t become part of the corrupt network, you’re much worse off. You’ll be on the sidelines, as happens now in post-Soviet states. There will be growing income inequality, shady deals, no social mobility and all these problems that are associated with semi-corrupt authoritarian states.

There may still be some semblance of democracy. The press will do fewer and fewer investigations and more entertainment and brainwashing. It will be much more partisan — so the only differences of opinion you can get is from vested interests, not from independent and objective civil society.

What can be done?

It’s a very harsh, difficult choice. The first step is acknowledgement of what is going on, followed by investigations and revelations of all these things.

I am not even sure what can trigger such acknowledgement and exposure. Even the meddling in US elections has not triggered the United States enough, although at least something is happening.

After this acknowledgement happens, you need a very robust policy of containment. There is no other choice.

People walking near Red Square in Moscow, Russia. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Some money flows have to be stopped; some people have to be kicked out of your country, or even stripped of their Western citizenship. There must be much stricter anti-money laundering and due diligence of companies, and auditors should hire Russian or Georgian or Chinese translators to look into the background of people trying to buy assets in the West.

Security services have to have a major say in any strategic purchase related to security, defense or the national interest.

And then obviously there should be more funds for independent investigative reporters. I am friends with an organization called the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). They tell me that to train one proper investigative journalist and to keep him safe and to keep him protected from libel suits, you have to have a budget of about $300,000 a year, maybe $400,000.

If your readers care about Israel, about keeping it democratic, there should definitely be some civil society efforts

When societies start investing in investigative journalism like that, that’s when the job will be done. And it can’t be one investigative journalist. You have to have dozens.

If your readers care about Israel, about keeping it democratic, there should definitely be some civil society efforts, some donations, some Kickstarters. Ultimately people should understand that this will hit them back in terms of their own welfare and their access to democratic institutions, but ultimately even economically.

It could happen in very unexpected ways. Your child could end up in a war with Syria, or some conflict instigated by Russia somewhere in the world. In a way this is a repetition of the 1930s. No one thought that events in Nazi Germany would have any repercussions for the United States. But then the country ended up fighting the Germans when it was too late.

Could this covert Russian influence constitute a factor in a future Israeli war?

The West is like a small clean lake, or relatively clean lake, in the middle of a swamp. And the floodgates have been opened

What people in general in the West should understand is that the West and NATO are now becoming a minority force in the world; the power of the United States is declining. These large authoritarian states are taking over if not the world then at least Eurasia, countries like China and Malaysia that are not going to become democratic any time soon. The richer they get, the more authoritarian and the more aggressive and expansionist they become.

Democratic countries are becoming like an oasis in the desert. A better metaphor is that the West is like a small clean lake, or relatively clean lake, in the middle of a swamp. And the floodgates have been opened. It’s not like the small lake will clean up the swamp. It’s the other way around. So unless you close the doors and put some filters in place, you will be taken over as a swamp as well.

It won’t be easy. Consumption in the West will have to be scaled back from those money flows from Eurasia. Some industries will have to suffer, especially those that benefit from gas and oil contracts, as well as lobbyists, PR people, lawyers, all offshore accountants and real estate people. They will have to suffer; they will not make as much money.

But the society as a whole will benefit and be able to hold on to its values, like due diligence and good governance.

In terms of Israel specifically, if this does not happen, then I think the NATO alliance will be marginalized and might have to be involved in conflicts it doesn’t want. And then Israel will be much more on its own against its foes, and might not receive as much American help as it might hope to in such circumstances.

So all this has direct security implications for Israel as a society, and Israel as a state, unfortunately.

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