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  • Comment Israël arme les dictatures à travers le monde

    Arming dictators, equipping pariahs: Alarming picture of Israel’s arms sales - Israel News -

    Extensive Amnesty report cites Israeli sales to eight countries who violate human rights, including South Sudan, Myanmar, Mexico and the UAE ■ Amnesty calls on Israel to adopt oversight model adopted by many Western countries ■ Senior Israeli defense official: Export license is only granted after lengthy process
    Amos Harel
    May 17, 2019 5:59 AM

    A thorough report by Amnesty International is harshly critical of Israel’s policies on arms exports. According to the report written in Hebrew by the organization’s Israeli branch, Israeli companies continue to export weapons to countries that systematically violate human rights. Israeli-made weapons are also found in the hands of armies and organizations committing war crimes. The report points to eight such countries that have received arms from Israel in recent years.

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    Often these weapons reach their destination after a series of transactions, thereby skirting international monitoring and the rules of Israel itself. Amnesty calls on the government, the Knesset and the Defense Ministry to more tightly monitor arms exports and enforce transparency guidelines adopted by other Western countries that engage in large-scale weapons exports.

    In the report, Amnesty notes that the supervision of the arms trade is “a global, not a local issue. The desire and need for better monitoring of global arms sales derives from tragic historical events such as genocide, bloody civil wars and the violent repression of citizens by their governments …. There is a new realization that selling arms to governments and armies that employ violence only fuels violent conflicts and leads to their escalation. Hence, international agreements have been reached with the aim of preventing leaks of military equipment to dictatorial or repressive regimes.”

    >> Read more: Revealed: Israel’s cyber-spy industry helps world dictators hunt dissidents and gays

    The 2014 Arms Trade Treaty established standards for trade in conventional weapons. Israel signed the treaty but the cabinet never ratified it. According to Amnesty, Israel has never acted in the spirit of this treaty, neither by legislation nor its policies.

    “There are functioning models of correct and moral-based monitoring of weapons exports, including the management of public and transparent reporting mechanisms that do not endanger a state’s security or foreign relations,” Amnesty says. “Such models were established by large arms exporters such as members of the European Union and the United States. There is no justification for the fact that Israel continues to belong to a dishonorable club of exporters such as China and Russia.”

    In 2007, the Knesset passed a law regulating the monitoring of weapons exports. The law authorizes the Defense Ministry to oversee such exports, manage their registration and decide on the granting of export licenses. The law defines defense-related exports very broadly, including equipment for information-gathering, and forbids trade in such items without a license.
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    The law does not include a clause limiting exports when there is a high probability that these items will be used in violation of international or humanitarian laws. But the law does prohibit “commerce with foreign agencies that are not in compliance with UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit or limit a transfer of such weapons or missiles to such recipients.”

    According to Amnesty, “the absence of monitoring and transparency have for decades let Israel supply equipment and defense-related knowledge to questionable states and dictatorial or unstable regimes that have been shunned by the international community.”

    The report quotes a 2007 article by Brig. Gen. (res.) Uzi Eilam. “A thick layer of fog has always shrouded the export of military equipment. Destinations considered pariah states by the international community, such as Chile in the days of Pinochet or South Africa during the apartheid years, were on Israel’s list of trade partners,” Eilam wrote.

    “The shroud of secrecy helped avoid pressure by the international community, but also prevented any transparency regarding decisions to sell arms to problematic countries, leaving the judgment and decision in the hands of a small number of people, mainly in the defense establishment.”

    The report presents concrete evidence on Israel’s exports over the last two decades, with arms going to eight countries accused by international institutions of serious human rights violations: South Sudan, Myanmar, the Philippines, Cameroon, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. In some of these cases, Israel denied that it exported arms to these countries at specifically mentioned times. In other case it refused to give details.
    Israeli security-related exports

    In its report, Amnesty relies on the research of other human rights groups, on documentation published in the media in those eight countries, and on information gathered by attorney Eitay Mack, who in recent years has battled to expose Israel’s arms deals with shady regimes. Amnesty cross-checks descriptions of exported weapons with human rights violations and war crimes by those countries. In its report, Amnesty says that some of these countries were under sanctions and a weapons-sales embargo, but Israel continued selling them arms.

    According to the organization, “the law on monitoring in its current format is insufficient and has not managed to halt the export of weapons to Sri Lanka, which massacred many of its own citizens; to South Sudan, where the regime and army committed ethnic cleansing and aggravated crimes against humanity such as the mass rape of hundreds of women, men and girls; to Myanmar, where the army committed genocide and the chief of staff, who carried out the arms deal with Israel, is accused of these massacres and other crimes against humanity; and to the Philippines, where the regime and police executed 15,000 civilians without any charges or trials.”

    Amnesty says that this part of the report “is not based on any report by the Defense Ministry relating to military equipment exports, for the simple reason that the ministry refuses to release any information. The total lack of transparency by Israel regarding weapons exports prevents any public discussion of the topic and limits any research or public action intended to improve oversight.”

    One example is the presence of Israeli-made Galil Ace rifles in the South Sudanese army. “With no documentation of sales, one cannot know when they were sold, by which company, how many, and so on,” the report says.

    “All we can say with certainty is that the South Sudanese army currently has Israeli Galil rifles, at a time when there is an international arms embargo on South Sudan, imposed by the UN Security Council, due to ethnic cleansing, as well as crimes against humanity, using rape as a method of war, and due to war crimes the army is perpetrating against the country’s citizens.”

    According to Amnesty, the defense export control agency at the Defense Ministry approved the licenses awarded Israeli companies for selling weapons to these countries, even though it knew about the bad human rights situation there. It did this despite the risk that Israeli exports would be used to violate human rights and despite the embargo on arms sales imposed on some of these countries by the United States and the European Union, as well as other sanctions that were imposed by these countries or the United Nations.

    In response to letters written to the export control agency, its head, Rachel Chen, said: “We can’t divulge whether we’re exporting to one of these countries, but we carefully examine the state of human rights in each country before approving export licenses for selling them weapons.” According to Amnesty, this claim is false, as shown by the example of the eight countries mentioned in the report.

    Amnesty recommends steps for improving the monitoring of defense exports. It says Israel lags American legislation by 20 years, and European legislation by 10 years. “The lack of transparency has further negative implications, such as hiding information from the public,” Amnesty says.
    File photo: Personnel of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF), assigned as South Sundan’s presidential guard, take part in a drill at their barracks in Rejaf, South Sudan, April 26, 2019.
    File photo: Personnel of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF), assigned as South Sundan’s presidential guard, take part in a drill at their barracks in Rejaf, South Sudan, April 26, 2019.Alex McBride/AFP

    “The concept by which the Defense Ministry operates is that it is not in the public interest to know which countries buy weapons here, how much and under what conditions. This is an erroneous conception that stems from the wish to conceal, using the well-worn cloak of ‘issues of state security and foreign relations’ as an excuse,” it adds.

    “The veil of secrecy makes it hard to obtain data. In our humble opinion, the information we have gathered and presented in this report is the tip of the iceberg. Most of the evidence is based on official reports issued by the recipient states, such as the Facebook page of the chief of staff in Myanmar, or the site of the Philippine government’s spokesman.”

    The authors say attempts to maintain secrecy in an era of social media and global media coverage are absurd and doomed to fail.

    “Let the reasonable reader ask himself if the powers that sell weapons are concerned about harm to state security resulting from making the information accessible, or whether this is just an excuse, with the veil of secrecy protecting the interests of certain agencies in Israel.”

    Amnesty says Israel ranks eighth among the exporters of heavy weapons around the world. Between 2014 and 2018, Israel’s defense exports comprised 3.1 percent of global sales. Compared with the previous four years, this was a 60 percent increase. The three largest customers of heavy weapons sold by Israel are India, Azerbaijan and Vietnam.

    But the report says defense industries are not the largest or most lucrative contributors to Israeli exports. According to the Defense Ministry, defense exports comprise 10 percent of Israel’s industrial exports. “Defense-related companies in Israel export to 130 countries around the world,” the report says. “Of these, only a minority are countries designated by the UN and the international community as violators of human rights.”

    These are mostly poor countries and the scope of defense exports to them is small compared to the rest of Israel’s exports. According to Amnesty, banning exports to the eight countries would not sting Israel’s defense contractors or their profits, and would certainly not have a public impact. “There is no justification – economic, diplomatic, security-related or strategic – to export weapons to these countries,” the report says.

    Amnesty believes that “the situation is correctable. Israel’s government and the Defense Ministry must increase their monitoring and transparency, similar to what the vast majority of large weapons exporters around the world do except for Russia and China.”

    According to Amnesty, this should be done by amending the law regulating these exports, adding two main clauses. The first would prohibit the awarding of licenses to export to a country with a risk of serious human rights violations, based on international humanitarian law.

    The second would set up a committee to examine the human rights situation in any target state. The committee would include people from outside the defense establishment and the Foreign Ministry such as academics and human rights activists, as is customary in other countries.

    “Monitoring must not only be done, it must be seen, and the Israeli public has every right to know what is done in its name and with its resources, which belong to everyone,” the report says.

    A policy of obscurity

    A senior defense official who read the Amnesty report told Haaretz that many of its claims have been discussed in recent years in petitions to the High Court of Justice. The justices have heard petitions relating to South Sudan, Cameroon and Mexico. However, in all cases, the court accepted the state’s position that deliberations would be held with only one side present – the state, and that its rulings would remain classified.
    File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to a military commander along the Gaza border, southern Israel, March 28, 2019.
    File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to a military commander along the Gaza border, southern Israel, March 28, 2019.Itay Beit On/GPO

    Monitoring of exports has substantially increased since the law was passed, the official said. The authority endowed to the Defense Ministry by this law, including imposing economic sanctions, prohibition of exports and taking legal action against companies, are more far-reaching than in other countries.

    “The process of obtaining an export license in Israel is lengthy, difficult and imposes onerous regulations on exporters," he added. “When there is evidence of human rights violations in a country buying arms from Israel, we treat this with utmost seriousness in our considerations. The fact is that enlightened states respect the laws we have and are interested in the ways we conduct our monitoring.”

    He admitted that Israel does adopt a policy of obscurity with regard to its arms deals. “We don’t share information on whether or to which country we’ve sold arms,” he said. “We’ve provided all the information to the High Court. The plaintiffs do receive fixed laconic responses, but there are diplomatic and security-related circumstances that justify this.”

    “Other countries can be more transparent but we’re in a different place,” he argued. "We don’t dismiss out of hand discussion of these issues. The questions are legitimate but the decisions and polices are made after all the relevant considerations are taken into account.”

    The intense pace of events in recent months – rounds of violence along the Gaza border, Israel’s election, renewed tension between the U.S. and Iran – have left little time to deal with other issues that make the headlines less frequently.

    Israel is currently in the throes of an unprecedented constitutional and political crisis, the outcome of which will seriously impact its standing as a law-abiding state. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu succeeds in his plan to halt all legal proceedings against him, legislating an immunity law and restricting the jurisdiction of the High Court, all other issues would pale in comparison.

    There is some logic to the claim that Israel cannot be holier than thou when it comes to arms sales in the global market, and yet, the Amnesty report depicts a horrific image, backed by reliable data, but also makes suggestions for improvement that seem reasonable.

    Numerous reports over the last year show that the problem is not restricted to the sale of light weapons, but might be exacerbated by the spread of cyberwarfare tools developed by Israel and what dark regimes can do with these. Even if it happens through a twisted chain of sub-contractors, the state can’t play innocent. Therefore, it’s worthwhile listening to Amnesty’s criticism and suggestions for improvement.
    Amos Harel

  • Israeli cyber firm negotiated advanced attack capabilities sale with Saudis, Haaretz reveals

    Just months before crown prince launched a purge against his opponents, NSO offered Saudi intelligence officials a system to hack into cellular phones ■ NSO: We abide the law, our products are used to combat crime and terrorism

    Amos Harel, Chaim Levinson and Yaniv Kubovich Nov 25, 2018

    The Israeli company NSO Group Technologies offered Saudi Arabia a system that hacks cellphones, a few months before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began his purge of regime opponents, according to a complaint to the Israel Police now under investigation.
    But NSO, whose development headquarters is in Herzliya, says that it has acted according to the law and its products are used in the fight against crime and terror.
    Either way, a Haaretz investigation based on testimony and photos, as well as travel and legal documents, reveals the Saudis’ behind-the-scenes attempts to buy Israeli technology.
    In June 2017, a diverse group gathered in a hotel room in Vienna, a city between East and West that for decades has been a center for espionage, defense-procurement contacts and unofficial diplomatic meetings.
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    Arriving at the hotel were Abdullah al-Malihi, a close associate of Prince Turki al-Faisal – a former head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services – and another senior Saudi official, Nasser al-Qahtani, who presented himself as the deputy of the current intelligence chief. Their interlocutors were two Israeli businessmen, representatives of NSO, who presented to the Saudis highly advanced technology.

    >> Israel’s cyber-spy industry helps world dictators hunt dissidents and gays | Revealed
    In 2017, NSO was avidly promoting its new technology, its Pegasus 3 software, an espionage tool so sophisticated that it does not depend on the victim clicking on a link before the phone is breached.
    During the June 2017 meeting, NSO officials showed a PowerPoint presentation of the system’s capabilities. To demonstrate it, they asked Qahtani to go to a nearby mall, buy an iPhone and give them its number. During that meeting they showed how this was enough to hack into the new phone and record and photograph the participants in the meeting.
    The meeting in Vienna wasn’t the first one between the two sides. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently expressed pride in the tightening ties with Gulf states, with Israel’s strength its technology. The message is clear: Israel is willing to sell these countries security-related technologies, and they forge closer ties with Israel in the strategic battle against Iran.

  • Putin’s interests in Syria and Lebanon are limiting Israel’s military options
    Playing chess with Hezbollah is one thing. Trying to figure out what Putin wants, in Syria and perhaps also in Lebanon, even as Hezbollah is trying to manufacture weapons there, is a completely different challenge
    Amos Harel - Nov 18, 2018 9:39 AM

    One reason for Israel’s exceptional caution in dealing with Hamas in the Gaza Strip is its growing concern over the northern front. Though it may sound like a threadbare excuse, this seems to be one of the considerations driving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to decide, time after time, to try to reach a cease-fire in Gaza.

    The problem Israel faces in the north, in a nutshell, is the real danger that its operational window of opportunity is closing. In recent years, Israel has exploited the upheaval in the Arab world to expand its offensive activity, most of which is secret.

    Via hundreds of airstrikes and special operations, the army and the intelligence agencies have worked to distance the danger of another war and reduce the enemy’s operational capabilities in the event that war does break out.

    In Syria and Lebanon, the campaign initially focused on preventing Iran from smuggling advanced weaponry to Hezbollah. But over the last year or so, a new mission has been added – preventing Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria. This peaked with a flurry of incidents between the Israel Defense Forces and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards last winter and spring.

    A problem may also be developing in Lebanon. In his address to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Netanyahu warned of efforts by Iran and Hezbollah to set up missile production facilities in the Beirut area. Given the problems its smuggling operations had encountered, the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force apparently decided it had to shorten the distance between the manufacturer and the customer by moving its efforts to improve the accuracy of Hezbollah’s rockets to Lebanon.

    Netanyahu’s speech did its job. In the three days between that speech and the tour of Beirut the Lebanese government conducted for diplomats to rebut it, someone worked hard to get rid of the evidence. But over the long run, Iran seems unlikely to abandon this effort.

    What’s even more worrying is that Putin has recently displayed increased interest in events in Lebanon. In the worst-case scenario, the defensive umbrella — both real and symbolic — that Russia has spread over northwest Syria would be expanded to Lebanon, further complicating Israel’s calculus.

    Even now, at least according to Arab media reports, Israel hasn’t conducted an airstrike in Lebanon since February 2014, when the IAF, apparently pursuing an arms convoy that had crossed the border from Syria, bombed a target in Janta, a few hundred meters to the Lebanese side of the Lebanon-Syria border.

    Hezbollah, which was willing to pretend the spit was rain as long as its convoys were being bombed on the Syrian side, immediately responded with a series of attacks by Druze residents of the Syrian Golan Heights.

    The cell’s commander, Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, and his successor, Hezbollah’s Jihad Mughniyeh, were both subsequently killed in attacks attributed to Israel. Since then, Israel has confined its attacks to Syria.

    But playing chess with Hezbollah is one thing. Trying to figure out what Putin wants, in Syria and perhaps also in Lebanon, even as Hezbollah is trying to manufacture weapons there, is a challenge of a completely different order of magnitude.

    Netanyahu was presumably hinting at this problem, among others, when he spoke about security considerations that he can’t share with the public, at the memorial for Paula Ben-Gurion earlier this week.


  • With Russia’s S-300 in Syria, Israel will have to think twice about the next strike
    The new missile system provided by Russia is not a total barrier to airstrikes, but Israeli jets’ freedom of action will be significantly curbed

    Amos Harel SendSend me email alerts
    Sep 25, 2018

    The two latest developments in Moscow – the Defense Ministry’s report that placed full responsibility for last week’s downing of a Russian plane over Syria on Israel, and the announcement of the transfer of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to the Assad regime – shouldn’t surprise anyone in Israel except maybe a few foolish supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. No matter how good his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin may be, Netanyahu can’t make the problem disappear.
    Russia suffered an embarrassing blow when Assad’s anti-aircraft fire shot down the plane, and it still has widespread interests to promote in Syria. It was quite clear that the affair would lead to a Russian condemnation of Israel and to demands of Israel. The bottom line still depends on Putin, who initially sufficed with a cautiously worded statement the day after the incident. For the time being it seems the result of the Russian steps will be a significant restriction of Israel’s freedom of action over Syria.
    >> Netanyahu warned Putin: S-300 air defense system in irresponsible hands will endanger region
    Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced Monday that his country would supply Syria with S-300 ground-to-air missiles. Russia, he said, would also use electronic warfare systems to prevent the activation of satellite tracking systems along Syria’s coast, making it harder for Israel to conduct airstrikes. And Russia will equip Syrian anti-aircraft units with Russian tracking and guidance systems to prevent mishaps in which Syria downs Russian aircraft.

    S-300 Air Defense System infographicHaaretz

  • Gaza protesters may have found the Israeli army’s weak spot
    Israel is operating on borrowed time in Gaza

    Amos Harel SendSend me email alerts
    Sep 23, 2018

    Demonstrations and clashes with Israeli troops along the Gaza border, which used to happen every Friday, now happen roughly every two days. The number of incendiary kites and balloons launched from Gaza at Israel is rising, and Hamas has organized new units to harass soldiers at night through infiltrations and vandalism along the border.
    The Gazans seem to have found the IDF’s weak spot: It’s hard to deal with mass demonstrations at night. Crowd-control measures are less effective, visibility is worse and snipers are more likely to hit the wrong person.

    If incendiary kites and balloons cause more fires, that could increase political pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for harsher measures against Hamas, leading to a new round of fighting. The last round, involving Israeli airstrikes and dozens of rockets from Gaza, was on August 8. Another scenario worrying the army is a large-scale nighttime infiltration under cover of a demonstration that results in Hamas operatives penetrating an Israeli community.
    Israel is operating on borrowed time in Gaza. Absent a breakthrough in the international negotiations, another escalation probably isn’t far off.

  • Israeli army warns: Danger of violence escalating into war is growing -

    With eye on recent events, military intel warn of potential war ■ Abbas may have backed himself into a corner ■ Gaza threat looms over Israelis

    Amos Harel 13.01.2018
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    The odds of a neighboring country, or one of the terrorist organizations operating inside of it, launching a war against Israel this year are almost nonexistent, according to the Israeli army’s intelligence assessment for 2018.
    Sounding remarkably similar to the 2017 assessment provided to the defense minister, the military noted there is not much left of the Arab armies, and Israel’s neighbors are mostly preoccupied with themselves, while internal problems are distracting Hezbollah and Hamas.
    Is there any difference from 2017? Well, the danger of deterioration – perhaps even to the point of war – has grown significantly, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot stated. The intelligence branch and the chief of staff, who is beginning his fourth and final year at the helm of the army, are concerned about two possible scenarios. 
    The first would be the result of a reaction by one of Israel’s enemies to an Israeli show of force. The second would stem from a flare-up on the Palestinian front. When the terrorism genie gets out of the Palestinian bottle, it takes many months or even years to put it back.
    The first scenario, which the army terms “the campaign between the wars,” might happen when Israel tries to prevent rivals from obtaining advance weaponry they might want to use during a future war, according to Eisenkot.

    Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, center, being briefed by Col. Gilad Amit, commander of the Samaria Brigade, following the murder of Rabbi Raziel Shevach, January 18, 2018.IDF Spokesperson’s Unit
    Most of these operations occur under the radar, far from Israel’s borders. Usually, such operations draw little media attention and Israel invariably dodges the question of responsibility. The previous Israel Air Force commander, Gen. Amir Eshel, told Haaretz last August there were nearly 100 such attacks under his five-year command, mostly on Syrian and Hezbollah arms convoys on the northern front.

    However, the more Israel carries out such attacks, and the more it does so on increasingly sophisticated systems (according to foreign media reports), the higher the chances of a confrontation with other countries and organizations, increasing the danger of a significant retaliation.
    A similar thing is happening on the Gaza border. Work on the defense barrier against cross-border attack tunnels is advancing, while Israel is simultaneously developing and implementing more sophisticated methods to locate these tunnels.
    At least three tunnels were seemingly located and destroyed near the Gaza border in recent months. However, this success could exact a price if Hamas or Islamic Jihad decide to try and use the remaining attack tunnels before they are completely destroyed or redundant.

    Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, accompanied by Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot during a visit to a military exercise in the Golan Heights in 2017.Ministry of Defense
    It is usually accepted practice to call out intelligence officials over mistaken forecasts. But we received a small example of all these trends on various fronts over the past two weeks. The cabinet convened for a long meeting about the northern front last Sunday. Arab media reported early Tuesday morning about an Israeli attack on Syrian army weapons depots near Damascus. A base in the same area, which Iran had reportedly built for one of the Shi’ite militia groups, was bombed from the air in early December. In most of the recent attacks, the Syrians fired at the reportedly Israeli aircraft. The Syrians also claimed recently that the attacks have become more sophisticated, made in multiple waves and even included surface-to-surface missiles.
    A few days beforehand, there was a report about an Israeli aerial attack – apparently on a cross-border attack tunnel – next to the Gaza border. Meanwhile, in the West Bank, the demonstrations to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital were dying down, out of a seeming lack of public interest. Then, on Tuesday evening, Rabbi Raziel Shevach, from the illegal outpost of Havat Gilad, was killed in a drive-by shooting attack near Nablus. The army responded by surrounding villages and erecting roadblocks around Nablus, for the first time in two years. The IDF moves were acts of collective punishment the chief of staff would normally rather avoid, but they were approved on a limited basis due to the murder of an Israeli.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted that the Shin Bet security service is close to solving the murder, but at the time of writing it was still unclear who did it. Hamas and Islamic Jihad released statements praising the deed, while, in a rare move, Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades – which has been virtually inactive for a decade – took responsibility for the attack.
    Its statement, which was posted on several Facebook pages, attributed the attack to the “Raed Karmi cell,” marking the anniversary of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades leader’s death. Israel assassinated Karmi – the military leader in Tul Karm responsible for the killing of many Israeli civilians and soldiers during the second intifada – on January 14, 2002.

    U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a more amicable time, May 3, 2017Carlos Barria, Reuters
    Woe to Abbas
    The Palestinian Authority, whose leadership has avoided condemning the murder of an Israeli citizen, is making an effort nonetheless to capture terrorists in designated areas in Nablus under its jurisdiction. The Israeli moves in the area added to the humiliation of the PA, which looks like it has navigated itself into a dead end. 
    President Mahmoud Abbas is in trouble. The Trump declaration on Jerusalem provided him with a temporary escape. Last November the Palestinians received worrisome information that the Trump administration’s brewing peace plan was leaning in Israel’s favor. Trump’s so-called deal of the century would likely include leaving settlements in the West Bank in place, and declaring Abu Dis the Palestinian Jerusalem, capital of a prospective state.
    These planks are unacceptable to Abbas. However, the Trump declaration allowed the PA leader to accuse the Americans of giving up any pretense to being an honest broker. He found refuge in the embrace of attendees at the Islamic Conference in Turkey, and in halting all discussion of renewing negotiations.
    Abbas soon discovered that rejecting a reopening of talks with Israel didn’t stop the drumbeat of bad news coming his way. UNRWA was facing a severe financial crisis well before the Trump administration threatened to freeze the U.S. share of funding for the UN agency in charge of Palestinian refugee assistance. The crisis, incidentally, also worries Jordan, which hosts at least 3 million Palestinian refugees and descendants. The flow of funds from the donor nations to the territories is dissipating, at a time that the reconciliation process between the PA and Hamas has ground to a halt, with Abbas saying he doesn’t see any benefit that can come of it.
    Meanwhile, Fatah members from activists in the field to the aging leadership are despairing of the chance of realizing the two-state solution. Israel protests the statements of senior Fatah officials about the right to wage armed struggle. It recently arrested a retired Palestinian general on the charge that he had organized protests in East Jerusalem. Fatah plans a council meeting next week, in which participants are expected to adopt a militant line.
    Abbas, who turns 83 in March, is increasingly feeling his years. His health has deteriorated and so has his patience and fitness to work, although it seems his love for travel has not faded. Claims of widespread corruption, some of which allegedly involve his family, are increasing. Other forces in the West Bank are aware of his weakened physical and political condition. Hamas is vigorously encouraging attacks against Israel, probably in expectation of humiliating the PA. Last week the Shin Bet asserted that for the first time, an Iranian agent was operating a Palestinian terror cell in Hebron.
    Meanwhile, a multiparty effort is being made to halt the violence and prevent a sliding into a military confrontation. Under the shadow of rockets by Salafi groups in Gaza, Israel and the PA announced the transfer of additional funds from the PA to pay for increasing the electricity supply from Israel to the Strip. There has not been a single rocket fired this week, but the situation remains fragile. The army increased security around communities close to the border and has stepped up exercises that simulate terrorists using tunnels to infiltrate under the border to kidnap and kill Israelis. The chief of staff watched the elite Shaldag unit going into action in such a scenario this week.

    Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants take part in the funeral of their comrade in the central Gaza Strip October 31, 2017. SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS
    The army has to stay alert because Islamic Jihad has yet to avenge the killing of its people together with Hamas operatives in a tunnel explosion on the border last October. In November, Jihad militants fired over 20 mortar shells in a four-minute span at an army outpost near Sderot (no one was injured).
    Shells were fired a month after that, probably by Islamic Jihad, at Kibbutz Kfar Aza during a memorial ceremony for Oron Shaul, who was killed in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge and whose body is being held in Gaza. Army officials expect more attempts.
    The large number of gliders the Palestinians have launched near the border recently likely attests to intelligence gathering ahead of attacks. Israeli officials are also kept awake by recent reports from Syria of a mysterious glider attack against a Russian air force base in the country’s north. Organizations in Gaza are in arm’s reach of this technology.

    An opposition fighter fires a gun from a village near al-Tamanah during ongoing battles with government forces in Syria’s Idlib province on January 11, 2018.OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP
    Syria war still isn’t over 
    The civil war in Syria, which enters its eighth year in March, has not completely died out. The Assad regime, which has restored its rule over most of the country’s population, is still clashing with rebels in the Idlib enclave in northern Syria and is preparing for an eventual attack to chase the rebels out of the border area with Israel, along the Golan. The two attacks on the Russian base in Khmeimim (artillery shelling, which damaged a number of planes and helicopters, preceded the glider attack) indicate that some of the groups are determined to keep fighting Assad and his allies.
    The war in Syria started with a protest by residents of Daraa, a town in the south, against a backdrop of economic difficulties for farmers whose incomes were suffering from desertification. The regime’s brutal methods of oppression led to the spread of protest, and things quickly descended into civil war, in which several countries have meddled until today. The war often has consequences on nature. There has been a rise in the number of rabies cases in Israel in recent months, mainly in the north. One of the possible explanations involves the migration of rabies-infested jackals from Jordan and Syria. During the war Syria has suffered a total collapse of civilian authority, and certainly of veterinary services. When there are no regular vaccinations, neighboring countries suffer as well.
    The Middle Eastern country suffering the second bloodiest civil war, Yemen, gets only a tenth as much attention as Syria. The war in Yemen has raged for three years. Some 3 million residents out of a total of 28 million have fled the country as refugees. Over half of those remaining suffer from food insecurity. The UN recently estimated that about a million residents have contracted cholera from contaminated water or food.
    Such outbreaks can erupt easily, even closer to home. The European Union is expected to hold an emergency session in Brussels about the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Israeli defense establishment has confirmed the frequent reports by humanitarian organizations of the continued collapse of civilian infrastructure, mainly water and sanitation, in Gaza. Wastewater from Gaza, flowing straight into the sea, is reaching the beaches of Ashkelon and Ashdod. I recently asked a senior Israeli official if he doesn’t fear an outbreak of an epidemic like cholera in Gaza.
    “Every morning, I am surprised anew that it still hasn’t happened,” he replied.

    Amos Harel

  • Case of Missing Lebanese Prime Minister Stirs Middle East Tensions - The New York Times

    Now analysts and diplomats are scrambling to figure out what the latest developments mean, whether they are connected and whether, as some analysts fear, they are part of a buildup to a regional war.

    Mr. Hariri, until he announced his resignation on Saturday, had shown no signs of planning to do so.

    Hours later, on Saturday evening, a missile fired from Yemen came close to Riyadh before being shot down. Saudi Arabia later blamed Iran and Hezbollah for the missile, suggesting that they had aided the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen to fire it.

    Before the world had a chance to absorb this news, the ambitious and aggressive Saudi Arabian crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the arrest of hundreds of Saudis — including 11 princes, government ministers and some of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen — in what was either a crackdown on corruption, as Saudi officials put it, or a purge, as outside analysts have suggested.

    It then emerged that the week before, Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, who has been sent on missions both to Israel and Saudi Arabia, had visited Riyadh on a previously undisclosed trip and met until the early morning hours with the crown prince. The White House has not announced what they discussed but officials privately said that they were meeting about the administration’s efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

    On Monday, Saudi officials said they considered the missile from Yemen an act of war by Iran and Lebanon, and on Thursday the kingdom rattled Lebanon by ordering its citizens to evacuate.

    No one expects Saudi Arabia, which is mired in a war in Yemen, to start another war itself. But Israel, which fought a war with Hezbollah in 2006, has expressed increasing concern about Hezbollah’s growing arsenal on its northern border.

    On Friday, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said that Saudi Arabia had asked Israel to attack Lebanon, after essentially kidnapping Mr. Hariri.

    Moreover, Israel’s war planners predict that the next war with Hezbollah may be catastrophic, particularly if it lasts more than a few days. Hezbollah now has more than 120,000 rockets and missiles, Israel estimates, enough to overwhelm Israeli missile defenses.

    Analysts say a new war in the region is unlikely but some have warned that the increased tensions could provoke an economic crisis or even start a war accidentally. Miscalculations have started wars before, as in the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

    Experts caution that Israel is often only a mistake or two from being drawn into combat.

    “It’s a dangerous situation now,” said Amos Harel, the military reporter for Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper. “It only takes one provocation, another reaction, and it can get all of a sudden completely out of control. And when you add the Saudis, who evidently want to attack Iran and are looking for action, it gets even more complicated.”

    #Guerre #Moyen-Orient #Géopolitique

  • With Lebanon no longer hiding Hezbollah’s role, next war must hit civilians where it hurts, Israeli minister says

    présenté comme d’habitude, et pour la énième fois, par le propagandiste Amos Harel,

    Lebanese President Michel Aoun paid an official visit to Cairo a month ago, ahead of which he gave a number of interviews to the Egyptian media. Aoun was only elected president after a long power struggle in which Iran and Hezbollah finally held sway, and he spoke about the fact that the Shi’ite organization continues to be the only Lebanese militia that refuses outright to disarm.

    Hezbollah is a significant part of the Lebanese people, Aoun explained. “As long as Israel occupies land and covets the natural resources of Lebanon, and as long as the Lebanese military lacks the power to stand up to Israel, [Hezbollah’s] arms are essential, in that they complement the actions of the army and do not contradict them,” he said, adding, “They are a major part of Lebanon’s defense.”

    Brig. Gen. Assaf Orion from the Institute for National Security Studies wrote recently that Aoun’s comments were a “lifting of the official veil and tearing off of the mask of the well-known Lebanese reality – which widely accepted Western diplomacy tends to blur. The Lebanese president abolishes the forced distinction between the ostensibly sovereign state and Hezbollah. Thus, the Lebanese president takes official responsibility for any actions by Hezbollah, including against Israel.”

    Aoun’s declaration also tallies with the facts on the ground. At a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this past week, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the Lebanese army is now “a subsidiary unit of Hezbollah.”

    What does that mean with regard to an Israeli response against Hezbollah in case another war breaks out on the northern front? This column recently discussed the basic difficulty that faces the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon: limited ability to deal with the threat of high-trajectory rockets directed against both the Israeli civilian population and the strategic infrastructure on the rear front. On the southern front, even though the air force lacks a proper offensive response to rockets, the missile intercept systems – chiefly the Iron Dome batteries – are enough to thwart most of the launches.

    In the north, with Hezbollah able to launch more than 1,000 rockets into Israel on a single day of fighting, the offensive solution seems partial and the defensive solution limited.

    The state comptroller’s report on the 2014 war in Gaza disappeared from the headlines within a few days, but the difficulties facing Israel in future conflicts in Gaza – and even more so in Lebanon – remain.

    At this point, it’s interesting to listen to security cabinet member Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi), whose opinions the state comptroller accepted with regard to disagreements with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Hamas attack tunnels in the Gaza Strip.

    While in the political realm Bennett seems determined to create unilateral facts on the ground (i.e., settlements in the territories) even at the risk of a potential face-off with the Europeans and embarrassing the Trump administration, it seems his positions on military issues are more complex. More than once he has shown healthy skepticism over positions taken by top defense officials, and he refuses to accept their insights as indisputable conclusions.

    Hunting rocket launchers during a war is almost impossible, Bennett told Haaretz this week, adding that he says this “as someone who specialized in hunting rocket launchers.”

    During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when he served as a reserve officer, Bennett commanded an elite unit sent deep into southern Lebanon to find Hezbollah’s rocket-launching squads.

    “When we worked in a particular area, we did reduce the teams of rocket launchers there – but they simply moved a little farther north,” Bennett related. Since then, he said, 11 years have passed and Hezbollah has learned to deploy in a more sophisticated manner. “They moved their launchers from the nature reserves, outposts in open areas, to dense urban areas [ reconnaissance éhontée d’un mensonge passé et nouveau mensonge tout aussi éhonté ]. You can’t fight rockets with tweezers. If you can’t reach the house where the launcher is, you’re not effective, and the number of houses you have to get through is enormous,” he explained.

    “After I was released from reserve duty, I read all of the books you wrote about the war,” Bennett told me. “I understood in retrospect that the fundamental event of the war took place on its first day, in a phone call between [former Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert and Condoleezza Rice.” President George W. Bush’s secretary of state had asked the prime minister not to hit Lebanon’s infrastructure, and was given a positive response. As a result, “there was no way that Israel could win the war,” Bennett said.

    “Lebanon presented itself as a country that wants quiet, that has no influence over Hezbollah,” he continued. “Today, Hezbollah is embedded in sovereign Lebanon. It is part of the government and, according to the president, also part of its security forces. The organization has lost its ability to disguise itself as a rogue group.”

    Bennett believes this should be Israel’s official stance. “The Lebanese institutions, its infrastructure, airport, power stations, traffic junctions, Lebanese Army bases – they should all be legitimate targets if a war breaks out. That’s what we should already be saying to them and the world now. If Hezbollah fires missiles at the Israeli home front, this will mean sending Lebanon back to the Middle Ages,” he said. “Life in Lebanon today is not bad – certainly compared to what’s going on in Syria. Lebanon’s civilians, including the Shi’ite population, will understand that this is what lies in store for them if Hezbollah is entangling them for its own reasons, or even at the behest of Iran.”

    At the same time, he notes that this is not necessarily the plan for a future war, but instead an attempt to avoid one: “If we declare and market this message aggressively enough now, we might be able to prevent the next war. After all, we have no intention of attacking Lebanon.”

    According to Bennett, if war breaks out anyway, a massive attack on the civilian infrastructure – along with additional air and ground action by the IDF – will speed up international intervention and shorten the campaign. “That will lead them to stop it quickly – and we have an interest in the war being as short as possible,” he said. “I haven’t said these things publicly up until now. But it’s important that we convey the message and prepare to deal with the legal and diplomatic aspects. That is the best way to avoid a war.”

    Bennett’s approach is not entirely new. In 2008, the head of the IDF Northern Command (and today IDF chief of staff), Gadi Eisenkot, presented the “Dahiya doctrine.” He spoke of massive damage to buildings in areas identified with Hezbollah – as was done on a smaller scale in Beirut’s Shi’ite Dahiya quarter during the 2006 war – as a means of deterring the organization and shortening the war.

    That same year, Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland proposed striking at Lebanon’s state infrastructure. To this day, though, the approach has not been adopted as Israeli policy, open or covert. Bennett’s declaration reflects an attempt by a key member of the security cabinet (albeit Netanyahu’s declared political rival) to turn it into such policy.

    The fact that Israel only tied with Hamas in Gaza in 2014 only convinced Bennett that he is right. There, too, Hamas finally agreed to a cease-fire after 50 days of fighting only after the Israel Air Force systematically destroyed the high-rise apartment buildings where senior Hamas officials lived.

    #Liban #Israel #Israel #crimes #criminels #victimes_civiles #impunité

  • Lieberman Is Right About the Hebron Shooting -

    Is this the first time a soldier has executed a Palestinian in cold blood, or did the fact that it was caught on film make the difference?
    Amira Hass Mar 28, 2016 1:54 AM

    Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avidgor Lieberman is right when he says the “onslaught” directed at the Kfir Brigade solider who executed Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in Hebron last Thursday after Sharif had already been subdued is hypocrisy. In other words, that the Israel Defense Forces spokesman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others who condemned the soldier’s action are hypocrites.

    It’s clear, after all, that it is only because a camera documented a soldier shooting a “neutralized” Palestinian in the head that the people at the top rushed to disassociate themselves from the act. “That’s not how the IDF operates,” they said, meaning that the IDF is usually not so negligent as to allow the actions of its soldiers to be filmed so we know that it indeed is how armed Israelis conduct themselves – executing Palestinians suspected of carrying out stabbings when they no longer pose a danger.

    Here are the contours of this hypocrisy:

    On September 25, 2015, soldiers in Hebron killed Hadeel al-Hashlamoun. She hadn’t stabbed anyone but had only gone through a checkpoint with a knife. Three bullets hit her lower body and seven her upper body while she was already lying “neutralized.” There was a foreign activist there who took still pictures that were sufficient to prove that Hashlamoun was not a threat to the soldiers. A storm of controversy ensued. An investigation was carried out and findings were released about a month after the beginning of the “stabbing wave.” The commanders found that the soldiers could have arrested Hashlamoun without killing her, but decided that they should not be punished. On November 4, I wrote: “Punishing them would have required punishing other soldiers who ‘felt that their lives were in danger’ and easily took a life.” 
I should have written “felt and will feel.”

    With the typical egoism of an occupier, the current violent escalation is marked by Israelis as beginning on October 1, when a husband and wife, Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, were murdered near the settlement of Itamar. But for Palestinians and particularly the Hebronites among them, the starting point is the date on which Hadeel al-Hashlamoun was executed in cold blood. And there are also those who mark it beginning from July 31, when the members of the Dawabsheh family were murdered in the West Bank village of Duma.

    In an analysis on Friday in Haaretz, Amos Harel defines the shooting execution in cold blood and writes: “The ... soldier [a combat paramedic] shoots the prone terrorist in the head at very close range. No one standing around [soldiers and settlers] seemed particularly alarmed by what they had just seen.” There are several possible reasons for that: 1) That is the spirit of the IDF in their view; 2) They had already been present or participated in very similar incidents or knew that that’s what everyone does, only without a camera and 3) Despite remarks by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, the army is not acting to instill the message among soldiers that killings should not happen when life is not endangered.

    Most of those who have carried out the approximately 105 incidents of stabbing, attempted stabbing or knife-wielding since October 3 have been killed by soldiers, policemen and security guards. In all the cases that were not filmed by Palestinians, did the soldiers, police and security guards really act appropriately and had no choice but to kill? In other words, that the hand of God has decided that only what runs counter to the spirit of the IDF is what will be filmed?

    Cameras actually did document the killing on October 29 of 24-year-old Mahdi al-Muhtaseb. He had fled from a soldier he stabbed, was apparently shot in the leg while on the other side of a checkpoint in Hebron and fell to the ground. While on the ground, a border policeman shot him several times until he stopped moving. Palestinians were shocked and alarmed, but the Israelis reacted as if it was the most normal conduct.

    A security official told Haaretz at the time that when Muhtaseb showed signs that he was going to get up, the border policeman shot again. “That is what is expected of a soldier, because who knows? Maybe the terrorist would blow himself up or take out a gun and shoot,” he said. Blow himself up? In the middle of a Palestinian neighborhood? But that’s precisely the line of defense being put forward by the family of the paramedic who executed Sharif in cold blood.

    A smartphone was used on October 4 to film the execution in cold blood of Fadi Alun from Jerusalem, a stabbing suspect who was already lying on the sidewalk after being shot. Palestinians were shocked and alarmed, but the Israelis reacted as if it was the most normal conduct.

    Imad Abu-Shamsiyeh of Hebron, a former volunteer with the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, was the person who filmed the paramedic executing Sharif. He told Haaretz that the solider had demanded that he move away, but he went onto a roof and took the video footage. He is active in the Hebron-based group Human Rights Defenders, but knew nevertheless that he had to turn the video footage over to B’Tselem so the Israelis could not dismiss the filmed evidence as some kind of Palestinian nonsense.

    * On Thursday, senior officials expressed shock that army paramedics had not administered medical care to the injured Palestinian. But many reports from the scene of stabbings or knife-wieldings in recent months have contained repeated accounts of the army failing to care for injured Palestinians who lay bleeding until they died. IDF spokespersons dismissed the claims as a common Palestinian fabrication.

    One may conclude that the only time there was a failure to provide medical care to Palestinians is when B’Tselem has had filmed evidence. When B’Tselem does not have such evidence, the soldiers are the Righteous Among the Nations.

  • Escalating Violence in Israel, West Bank is the Result of Failed Peace Process

    by Mitchell Plitnick and Matt Duss

    In what has almost become an annual ritual, an upsurge in violence has again put Jerusalem on edge. Originally centered on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount area in Jerusalem’s Old City, the clashes have now spread beyond, into the West Bank.

    Soldiers at temple mount

    Israeli journalist Amos Harel wrote yesterday that Israeli-Palestinian security coordination, which both Israeli and American officials have repeatedly credited with reducing violence in the past years, could now be breaking down. “It’s possible… that the current model is nearing its end,”wrote Harel. “One of the reasons is the Palestinian sense of despair with respect to the diplomatic process, which has been expressed in Abbas’ recent speeches.”

    Speaking at a symposium at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton — who as United States Security Coordinator oversaw the training of Palestinian security forces — warned that, in the absence of meaningful progress toward ending the occupation and creating a Palestinian state, Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation was in danger. “There is perhaps a two-year shelf life on being told that you’re creating a state, when you’re not,” he said. This was in 2009. Since then, the Palestinians have received little in return except for a more entrenched occupation, and the relentless growth of settlements.

    In the absence of a genuine political process that can conceivably deliver any change, both sides are engaging in provocative behaviors designed to appeal to their respective political bases. Whether it is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declaring that the Palestinians are no longer bound by signed agreements; the head of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Tzipi Hotovely, bluntly statingthat Israel will not leave the West Bank no matter what the Palestinians do; or the inflammatory rhetoric on both sides about Jerusalem’s holy sites, there is a real danger of the violence escalating even further out of control. The international community must demand an end not only to violence, but also to the occupation that drives it, and back that demand up with action.

    While both Israeli and Palestinian leaders continue to engage in unhelpful rhetoric, it’s important to recognize that the occupation itself is the most effective form of incitement there is. This reality is often overlooked in the day-to-day news coverage of the conflict, in which violence often tends to be reported as a problem only when it impacts Israelis.

    The spread of violence, with the loss of civilian lives on both sides, is unavoidable as long as Palestinians live under a system in which they are denied basic rights, and no political process to give them a hope for a better future. The Israeli and Palestinian leadership, as well as the United States and its international partners, have all failed to provide that hope. All of these parties share responsibility to stem the tide of violence, and all of them have to work together to resolve this conflict, end the occupation and bring peace and security to Israelis and Palestinians.

    To this end, it is particularly important for the United States, as Israel’s key ally and patron, to begin articulating consequences for Israel’s continued occupation and settlement construction, which violate both international law and specific commitments Israel has made to the U.S. In the absence of such consequences, we should only expect more of the same: a deepening occupation, more settlements, and periodic upsurges in violence year after year after year.

    Mitchell Plitnick is Program Director at the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Previously, he was Director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (2008-2010) and Director of Education and Policy for Jewish Voice for Peace (2002-2008).

    Matthew Duss is the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Previously he was a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, where his work focused on the Middle East and U.S. national security, and director of the Center’s Middle East Progress program.

    #israël #palestine #Moyen-orient #proche-orient

  • FMEP’s Mitchell Plitnick: the death of a Palestinian infant in an arson attack by Jewish extremists can be a wake up call, or it can be just another horrible story among decades of horrible stories.

    Why is Ali Dawabsheh Dead? On Price Tag Attacks

    By Mitchell Plitnick

    Ali Saad Dawabsheh was only 18 months old when Israeli settlers who entered his village of Douma to carry out a so-called “price tag” attack took his life away by setting fire to his home. The crime brought shock and horror to many, regardless of their views of the overall Israel-Palestinian conflict.

    But the reality is that this death is very much a part of that conflict. It cannot be understood apart from it. It is not anomalous. Ali was far from the first baby killed in this conflict, on either side.

    It is no surprise that such a horrifying act leads people to say “something more must be done.” But, of course, the conflict will not end over this incident. In a matter of weeks, Ali’s death will be just one more tragedy in a long list of tragedies in Israel-Palestine.

    Is it possible for this tragedy to move us closer to resolving the conflict? Is it possible that, even without ultimately resolving the major political issues we can make it more difficult for an atrocity like this to occur? Perhaps it is, if we ask one important question and make sure we get all the answers to it.

    Why is Ali Dawabsheh dead?

    Ali and his family were in their home at night when arsonists set it on fire. Ali’s parents and four year-old brother suffered severe burns and Ali died. The attackers spray-painted the word “nekama” in Hebrew on the resident. The word means “revenge.”

    Why is Ali Dawabsheh dead?

    Until the murderers are caught, we cannot be certain, but it is likely that this “price tag” attack was carried out in response to Israel’s demolition of two structures in the settlement of Beit El on the West Bank. After the High Court in Israel ordered their demolition, the Netanyahu government immediately granted permits for hundreds of new living units in Beit El and the East Jerusalem area. This, however, was apparently not enough compensation for those who carried out this heinous act.

    Why is Ali Dawabsheh dead?

    Given the shocking nature of the crime, the Israeli government will likely put considerable resources toward identifying and arresting the perpetrators. However, on a day-to-day basis, Palestinians in the West Bank have no protection from settlers. Israeli Defense Forces and Border Police often do not prevent settler attacks on Palestinians. It’s not uncommon to see them protecting settlers as they attack Palestinians.

    Moreover, the forces of the Palestinian Authority have no jurisdiction over settlers and cannot protect their own citizens from them. Settlers in general feel they may act with impunity. As the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem states, “In recent years, Israeli civilians set fire to dozens of Palestinian homes, mosques, businesses, agricultural land and vehicles in the West Bank. The vast majority of these cases were never solved, and in many of them the Israeli Police did not even bother to take elementary investigative actions.”

    Why is Ali Dawabsheh dead?

    In the wake of Ali’s death, the rush to express outrage was staggering. Israeli politicians across the spectrum vowed that the murderers would be brought to justice. No doubt, they are sincere in their personal outrage and in the desire to show Israelis and the rest of the world that this is something they will not tolerate as leaders.

    But their comments are universally directed at the crime itself, implying that this act was an anomalous blot on the Israeli page with no cause other than hate and extremism. The words not only of Benjamin Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and other leaders of the current government, but also those of opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Yair Lapid make no connection between Ali’s murder and the occupation, the settlement project or the increasingly anti-Arab tone of many of Israel’s leaders.

    There was scant mention of the tolerance shown to the extreme right of the settler movement over the years. As Amos Harel put it in Ha’aretz, “The forgiveness the state has shown over many long years toward the violence of the extreme right – which was also evident this week at Beit El (none of those attacking the police are now in detention) – is also what makes possible the murderous hate crimes like Friday’s in the village of Douma. There is a price for the gentle hand.”

    The decision to build hundreds of units in Beit El and East Jerusalem sent a message that the government would find ways to make the rulings of the High Court against illegal building moot in all practical ways. The bigger message that was sent in the wake of protests in Beit El where Israeli soldiers were attacked was this: violence pays, at least for the settlers.

    The occupation and settlement program are themselves a form of daily violence that dispossess Palestinians, place them under military rule and deprive them of their basic rights. It may not be easy to end the occupation, but the casual way many in Israel have turned to “managing the conflict” and given up on ending the occupation sends the message that such institutionalized violence by Israel against Palestinians is at least tolerable. Why would anyone be surprised that the more radical elements among settlers would take that a few steps further?

    Why is Ali Dawabsheh dead?

    In the wake of Ali’s death, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate this act as a war crime. But this was an act of civilian murder, even if the civilian(s) who committed it was living in a settlement deemed illegal under international law. Moreover, the ICC would not act if Israel were legitimately pursuing the perpetrators, which it certainly seems like it is doing. Politicizing Ali’s death in this manner is typical of the conflict, and thoroughly counter-productive.

    Indeed, mixed in with his words of outrage, Netanyahu also could not resist politicizing it in his own way by saying that Israel pursues such criminals while Palestinians name streets after them (In reality, Israel celebrates its own terrorists too). This was an opportunity for the two leaders to unite in condemning a crime and calling for justice. Instead, both took it as an opportunity to aggravate the differences between them.

    Why is Ali Dawabsheh dead?

    While this goes on, members of the United States Congress works to legitimize the settlement enterprise by equating it under the law with Israel itself. The White House is focused on the Iran nuclear deal and it is not yet clear what, if any action the current administration might take to improve the situation in Israel-Palestine before they leave office. In Europe, merely labeling products emanating from settlements is so controversial that the process of setting up an enforcement mechanism for a regulation that already exists in European Union law is dragging along at a snail’s pace.

    Without ending the occupation of the West Bank, it is only a matter of time before the next horrifying incident, whether it happens to a Palestinian or an Israeli child. As Noam Sheizaf of +972 Magazine wrote, “…violence is inseparable from the colonial reality in the occupied territories — without putting an end to that reality, there is no chance to properly deal with violence. Even if things cool down temporarily, the situation will only grow worse in the long run. The only solutions are the evacuation of settlements or equal rights for all.”

    And ultimately, Sheizaf’s words are the answer to the all important question:

    What can we do to prevent more deaths like Ali Dawabsheh’s?

    Ultimately, there is no way to stop these incidents without ending the occupation and the daily reality of privileged and protected Israeli settlers living in a Palestinian territory mostly populated by people who live under military occupation.

    However, this crime was entirely predictable. Crimes like it can be prevented, at least some of the time, and it does not require an end to the conflict to do so.

    Until the conflict is resolved, Israel must meet its responsibilities to protect Palestinian civilians from settlers. Both Israelis and Palestinians can treat incidents like this one as the crimes they are and refrain from politicizing them, allowing both sides to condemn them unreservedly and in unison. Finally, the United States and Europe can stop equivocating and insist that the settlement project stop immediately, and be prepared to put real pressure on Israel to make it happen.

    Ali’s death can be a wake up call, or it can be just another horrible story among decades of horrible stories. Which it will be will depend as much on people’s willingness to pressure their own governments in a productive direction as it will on those governments, in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Brussels and Washington, finding the courage to finally act. Some Israeli settlers would condemn Ali’s murder. But until the occupation and the settlement project end, tragedies like this on are inevitable. If there is to be any hope of preventing them, it has to start with people standing up to finally say “NO” to the settlements and to force their governments to do likewise.

  • The Israeli army proposes teeny steps to help Gaza’s imploding economy
    The easing of some of the harsher conditions of the closure may help as many as 100,000 Gazans, but it ignores the basic needs and rights of the other 1.7 million Palestinians in the Strip.
    By Amira Hass | Jul. 13, 2015 Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

    Israel Defense Forces officials have made an astonishing discovery which has won them much praise: The economic decay in the Gaza Strip constitutes a threat to calm and stability.

    They’ve also discovered that there is a connection between Israel’s policy and the economic downslide. They therefore advised the defense minister to ease the strict closure of Gaza. A Haaretz editorial called their recommendations “a new rational and practical strategy.”

    The plaudits are overblown. Like the old joke about the rabbi who advises the man living in the unbearably crowded house to first bring a goat into his home, then let it go, so the IDF has proposed lifting a restriction or two on Gaza — restrictions, which were put in place by the military and politicians in the early 1990s.

    Perhaps there is more to the recommendations than what my colleague Amos Harel reported (Haaretz, July 8). But according to the report, the recommendations are quite modest in scope:

    • To allow Palestinian laborers to work in the Gaza border communities. This is a turnabout from the 2005 disengagement plan, when thousands of Palestinians who still worked in Israel were laid off and a 35-year policy of permitting Gazans to work in Israel was erased. The return of several thousand to work in Israel will improve the situation for tens of thousands of people, and this is not to be dismissed lightly. At the same time, their return will be beneficial for those Israeli communities (cheap, available and good labor, especially in agriculture, perhaps also in construction). But it won’t fundamentally change the unemployment situation in Gaza or solve the problem of unemployed youth there.

    • To reopen the commercial Karni crossing (which was effectively shut down in 2007 and officially closed in 2011) and enlarge the commercial Kerem Shalom crossing. In other words, increasing the number of trucks that unload merchandise. There is no shortage of consumer goods in Gaza, so one hopes that the expansion is meant to increase the amount of construction materials that are brought into Gaza and to hasten the rebuilding effort. This is certainly a positive development. It was not specifically noted whether the IDF is recommending that Palestinians in Gaza be permitted to market their goods in Israel and the West Bank once more, but perhaps that is the intention.

    Since 2007, Israel has prohibited the sale of agricultural and light industrial products, such as clothing and furniture, outside of Gaza, causing the collapse of important manufacturing industries. One hopes that the IDF officials understand that there can be no economic recovery without rehabilitation of the manufacturing sector and the ability to market goods outside of Gaza.

    • To permit thousands of Palestinians to depart Gaza to travel abroad via the Allenby border crossing with Jordan — in other words, to permit passage through Israel and the West Bank. These “thousands” are students who’ve been accepted for study programs abroad, businesspeople, patients traveling for medical treatment, pilgrims to Mecca, Palestinians who came from abroad to visit the homeland, employees of local or international organizations taking part in conferences or training programs abroad. In other words, anyone who obtained a visa abroad, who is permitted entry by Jordan and who has the financial wherewithal for such travel. A very generous estimate puts this number at around 100,000 people per year.

    And what about the remaining 1.7 million?

    The wording of the report makes one thing very clear. IDF officials do not recommend doing the most natural thing of all: opening the Erez checkpoint so that Gaza residents could travel the 50-70 kilometers to the West Bank and so that West Bank residents could travel to Gaza. They are not recommending that Gazans be able to return to studying in West Bank institutions; they are not recommending that friends and family from the West Bank and Gaza be able to get together again, or form new family and work ties. They are not recommending what should be taken for granted: Freedom of movement for all. The IDF officials continue to treat the denial of freedom of movement for Palestinians in their homeland as the norm, as a law of nature. The difference now is in the number of exceptions to the norm that they are recommending, but is not a difference of substance.

    Despite the failure of my efforts to convey the following basic fact, I haven’t wearied of repeating it: The basic policy that has been guiding Israel’s moves since 1991 is to cut off Gaza from the West Bank and turn it into a separate, autarchic entity. The sister strategy is the creation of the Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank and the annexation of Area C (those parts of the West Bank which the Oslo Accords put under temporary full Israeli civil and security control). The IDF officials are not recommending the cancellation of this combined strategy, which is the mother of all the diplomatic failures and humanitarian, economic and security disasters of the past 20 years.

    There can be no economic rehabilitation of Gaza without the rehabilitation of the natural ties between Gazans and their sisters and brothers in the West Bank. There can be no economic rehabilitation without respecting the Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement – not only to go abroad, but within their own country. There can be no Palestinian economic rehabilitation without the restrictions on freedom of movement, and on construction and development in Area C of the West Bank being lifted.

    And another thing: Without an equal division of the water resources in the country (between the river and the sea) with the Palestinians, and the immediate addition of tens of millions of cubic meters of water to Gaza – not as charity but as an obligation and to make right the consequences of decades of theft – rehabilitation will be no more than an empty slogan, because the human and environmental disaster is already there. Here.

  • Israel’s odd partnership with Hamas in the face of Salafist escalation - Officially, Israel regards Hamas as an enemy, holds it entirely responsible for every attack from Gaza and responds harshly to every instance of fire. But practically speaking, its policy is the opposite.
    By Amos Harel | Jun. 8, 2015 Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

    The firing of rockets at the Negev from the Gaza Strip, which happened twice in three days last week, is still a localized problem. The rockets were launched by an extremist Salafi faction in the context of a local conflict with the Hamas government in the Strip, after Hamas arrested some of its activists and killed one of them. Hamas is working to stop the firing on Israel and Israel is giving it time to deal with it.

    In the meantime, there is still hope in Israel that the regime in Gaza can overcome the internal threat and ensure that it does not escalate to the point of renewed conflict with the Israel Defense Forces, as the Salafis are threatening to do.

    In the coverage of the escalation in the Israeli media, the organization that fired the rockets was prominently branded as Islamic State. That is a somewhat dubious claim. ISIS’ successes in Syria and Iraq in recent months have prompted various jihadist groups throughout the Arab world to position themselves as branches of the worldwide brand. In some places, like Sinai, a connection has been created between a local faction (Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, which has now changed its name to Sinai Province) and ISIS, and apparently money was also sent. In other places, such as Gaza, the connection seems to be symbolic.

    But the description of the Gaza group as ISIS by the Israeli security establishment serves two goals. It strengthens Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s line, which depicts extremist Islamist terror at the fences on all of Israel’s borders, and it provides an excuse for Israeli conduct. If the choice is between Hamas and ISIS (contrary to Netanyahu’s claim at the end of last summer’s war that “Hamas is ISIS” ) then there is a reason that Israel is in no hurry to topple the Hamas government.

    Meanwhile, neither Hamas nor Israel is dealing robustly with the Salafi groups. Hamas is having a hard time challenging the Salafis, although they are far fewer in number than Islamic Jihad, on which the regime in Gaza has forced it will with relative ease. It seems that the Salafis play by their own rules and are more insistent on having their way. Israel, for its part, has so far avoided direct attack on leaders of the Salafi groups.

    The worry over the recent nighttime sirens in Negev communities is completely understandable, given the events of last summer. What is not being discussed is the large gap between public declarations by Israel’s government and its actions. Officially, Israel regards Hamas as an enemy, holds it entirely responsible for every attack from Gaza, responds harshly against Hamas installations in response to every instance of fire and threatens to escalate its actions. But practically speaking, its policy is the opposite. It takes great care that its punitive attacks on Hamas do not harm anyone, seeks to strengthen Hamas control in the Strip (as long as it maintains the cease-fire) and operates new channels of mediation, much to Egypt’s displeasure.

    Egypt today is Israel’s closest regional partner. The two countries are joining forces in dealing with the local ISIS faction in Sinai and other Salafi organizations operating in the area, and they coordinate their positions on many activities. But on the question of Gaza, they do not agree. Egypt has a complete lack of faith regarding Hamas’ intentions and continues to enforce a tight siege on the Gaza Strip by keeping the Rafah border shut. It is also trying to push for greater involvement of the Palestinian Authority in the crossings.

    Israel suspects that the PA does not really want to accept any responsibility for Gaza. What is more, ties between Jerusalem and Ramallah are tense in any case in light of the dependence of the new Netanyahu government on a narrow right-wing coalition.

    For these reasons, it might be more convenient for Israel to reach indirect, general understandings with Hamas, which will not bind Netanyahu to political concessions (as long as he does not publicly concede that he has, de facto, recognized Hamas as a partner.) This is the background for the increased activity in the area by Qatari representatives, who are not dealing only with the economic rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip.

    The Egyptians also suspect that Turkey, an opponent of the generals’ regime in Cairo and partner of the Muslim Brotherhood axis in the Middle East, is increasing its involvement in the Gaza Strip. Only last summer, at the height of the war, Israel adamently refused to involve Qatar and the Turks in mediation with Hamas and faced off against the United States because of the latter’s willingness to consider a compromise proposal by those two countries. Now, it seems that Israel’s approach has changed.

    There are many players in the Gaza arena and many more that are active behind the scenes. At the moment, it seems that the Salafi rebellion against Hamas is putting at risk the relative stability attained between Gaza and Israel, though at some later stage the risk could come from the Hamas military wing, which is conducting an independent policy separate from that of the organization’s political leadership. Above all, there is the economic distress in the Strip, with unemployment at 50 percent, scarce potable water and inhabitants living with a sense of continual siege. It is hard to expect long-term stability, even if Israel has so far done more than Egypt to make possible the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip after last summer’s war.

  • Israel’s secret weapon in the war against Hezbollah: The New York Times -
    Israel is turning to the media and diplomacy to head off an almost inevitable new round of confrontation with Hezbollah. Its message: Israel won’t be able to avoid attacks on Lebanon’s civilians so long as the Shi’ite militias use them as human shields.
    By Amos Harel | May 15, 2015 | | Haaretz

    In a prominent article on Wednesday, The New York Times reported detailed Israeli allegations about Hezbollah’s military deployment in Shi’ite villages in southern Lebanon. The paper cited a briefing by Israeli military officials as its source, added an evasive response from “a Hezbollah sympathizer in Lebanon,” and noted that the Israeli claims “could not be independently verified.”

    The Times cited data, maps and aerial photographs provided by the Israel Defense Forces in regard to two neighboring villages, Muhaybib and Shaqra, in the central sector of southern Lebanon. The former, according to Israeli military intelligence, houses “nine arms depots, five rocket-launching sites, four infantry positions, signs of three underground tunnels, three antitank positions and, in the very center of the village, a Hezbollah command post” – all in a village of no more than 90 homes. In the latter village, with a population of 4,000, the IDF claims to have identified no fewer than 400 Hezbollah-related military sites.

    Throughout southern Lebanon, Israel has identified thousands of Hezbollah facilities that could be targeted by Israel, according to the report by Isabel Kershner.

    Israel, Kershner writes, is preparing for what it views as “an almost inevitable next battle with Hezbollah.” According to the IDF, Hezbollah has significantly built up its firepower and destructive capability, and has put in place extensive operational infrastructure in the Shi’ite villages of southern Lebanon – a move which, Israel says, “amounts to using the civilians as a human shield.”

    Although Kershner’s Israeli interlocutors don’t claim to know when or under what specific circumstances war will erupt, they pull no punches about its likely consequences. In such a war, the Times report says, the IDF will not hesitate to attack targets in a civilian setting, with the result that many Lebanese noncombatants will be killed. That will not be Israel’s fault, an unnamed “senior Israeli military official” says, because “the civilians are living in a military compound.” Israel “will hit Hezbollah hard,” and make “every effort to limit civilian casualties,” the military official said. However, Israel does “not intend to stand by helplessly in the face of rocket attacks.”

    The Times reports that Hezbollah, as part of the lessons it drew in the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, moved its “nature reserves” – its military outposts in the south – from open farmland into the heart of the Shi’ite villages that lie close to the border with Israel. That in itself is old news; Hezbollah began redeploying along these lines immediately after the 2006 war (as reported in Haaretz in July 2007.

    In July 2010, Israel presented similar data to the local and foreign media, which revealed in great detail Hezbollah’s military infrastructure in southern Lebanon. The village that was singled out then was Al-Hiyam.

    On all these occasions, Israel made it clear that in the event of a war it would have to operate in the villages, and that civilians would inevitably be harmed. In the current incarnation of warnings, as conveyed in this week’s Times report, the potential consequences of the situation are noted by two former senior officials of the defense establishment.

    Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, a former director of Military Intelligence, is quoted as saying that the residents of villages in southern Lebanon do not have full immunity if they live close to military targets. Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, formerly head of the National Security Council, asks why the international community is doing nothing to prevent Hezbollah’s arms buildup. A few years ago, at the instruction of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Amidror, as head of the NSC, presented similar aerial photographs and maps from Lebanon to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

    Why again now?

    The question is: Why again now? The IDF says that the briefing by the senior officer, together with the information provided to the Times, is intended to reinforce the ongoing Israeli messages to Hezbollah and to the international community. The essence of those messages is that Hezbollah is continuing to violate UN Security Council Resolution 1701 by smuggling increasing quantities of arms into Lebanese territory and by deploying its forces south of the Litani River; that Hezbollah’s military infrastructure is an open book to Israeli intelligence and that the IDF can inflict serious damage on it when needed; and that, because Hezbollah chooses to shelter among a civilian population, strikes at its military targets will entail the non-deliberate killing of innocent persons.

    An additional explanation for why these points were emphasized in the briefing to the Times lies in the spirit being dictated to the IDF by the new chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot. In his view, the army’s mission, under his leadership, is “to distance war.” This involves preparing the IDF as thoroughly as possible for the next possible confrontation – alongside an active effort, in the sphere of public diplomacy and to a degree even in the state-policy realm, to prevent war. This is the reason for the frequent emphasis on training as the IDF’s first priority, following a lengthy period of compromises and budget cuts in that sphere. Recent weeks have seen a fairly extensive series of training exercises by the ground forces, a trend that is slated to continue in the months ahead.

    Proper management of the daily risks to Israel, most of which stem from possible indirect consequences of the region’s chronic instability, could reduce the danger of an all-out war. At the same time, a higher level of fitness and readiness displayed by the IDF could help deter Hezbollah – at present, the most dangerous and best-trained enemy Israel faces – from setting in motion a deterioration of the situation that would lead to war.

    Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also hinted at this, in a talk he gave at a meeting of officials from regional councils on Tuesday. Ya’alon warned that “Israel could unite all the forces in the region against it, if it acts incorrectly.” Israel’s approach, he said, consists of “surgical behavior based on red lines, and those who cross them know we will act.” Those lines include “violation of sovereignty on the Golan Heights, the transfer of certain weapons.”

    Israel is apparently deeply concerned by Hezbollah’s effort to improve the accuracy of its rockets. The organization has in its possession vast numbers of missiles and rockets – 130,000, according to the latest estimates – but upgrading its capability is dependent on improving the weapons’ accuracy, which would enable Hezbollah to strike effectively at specific targets, including air force-base runways and power stations.

    “There are some things for which we take responsibility and others for which we don’t, but we do not intervene in internal conflicts unless our red lines are crossed,” Ya’alon reiterated. In other words: Israel is upset at the smuggling of weapons by the Assad regime in Syria to Hezbollah, but understands that launching a lengthy, systematic series of attacks is liable to affect the delicate balance in the north, generate a confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah, and, as a consequence, foment a change in the civil war in Syria. Israel does not wish to see any such change, preferring a continuation of the status quo.

    Ratcheting up the risk

    In recent weeks, the Arab media have been flooded with reports and conjectures about the imminent fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Israeli intelligence is voicing more cautious appraisals, to the effect that the war in Syria has not yet been decided. If the regime does fall, it’s likely that Hezbollah will greatly step up its efforts to smuggle out from Syria the advanced weapons systems that remain in its hands there. That scenario would ratchet up immensely the risk of a confrontation with Israel, as the latter is likely to launch a broad effort to disrupt the smuggling efforts, while Syrian rebel organizations intensify their pressure on Hezbollah and the Assad camp.

    In any event, even without the war in Syria being decided, it’s clear that a confrontation of tremendous intensity is under way, in which all the parties involved are making immense efforts, and that the clash of the blocs in the Arab world over Syria, Lebanon and also in Yemen is overshadowing other issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that appeared so central in the past.

    Israel is not alone in having to walk a thin line in the north. Hezbollah, too, is obliged to preserve a deterrent image: outwardly, in order to ensure that Israel does not act as it pleases in its backyard (which is apparently how Hezbollah perceived several assassinations and attacks on convoys that it attributed to Israel); and inwardly, to rebuff criticism within Lebanon that it is an emissary of Iran and is involving Lebanon needlessly in the war in Syria.

    An occasional terrorist attack of limited scope, on the Golan Heights or in the Har Dov area near the Lebanese border, could serve its purposes. Nor is it certain that, from Hezbollah’s point of view, accounts have been settled regarding the events on the Golan Heights in January, when six Hezbollah personnel and an Iranian general were killed in an attack on a convoy that was attributed to Israel. Ten days later, an officer and a soldier from the IDF’s Givati infantry brigade were killed in the Har Dov area when their vehicle was struck by antitank missiles during a Hezbollah ambush.

    Nevertheless, Israel is now a secondary front for Hezbollah. The organization’s main force is deployed in Syria, particularly in the fighting in the Kalamun Hills, on the border with Lebanon. Dozens of combatants from both sides are being killed there every day in battles being fought by the Syrian army and Hezbollah against the organizations of Sunni rebels. Even though Hezbollah tried to conceal its losses in Syria (the IDF estimates that more than 600 of its personnel have been killed), the casualty rate is now probably too high to keep secret.

    Last week, a mass funeral was held in Beirut for Hezbollah fighters who have been killed in the Kalamun battles, among them, according to reports, a colonel. The Arab media are describing the campaign there as “battles of retreat and advance”: one step forward, two steps back. The two sides are deployed on adjacent ridges, and at this stage, neither is apparently able to gain a significant advantage.

    The fighting at Kalamun, an important area because it is a corridor for the transfer of reinforcements and arms between the Assad regime and Hezbollah, is only a small part of the overall picture in Syria. Most of the attention lately has been devoted to the decline in Assad’s status and to speculation that he will ultimately have to flee Damascus under rebel pressure, and focus on defending the Alawite region in the north of the country. Concurrently, however, another important process is taking place. Iran is now the salient master of the Assad camp and is dictating the military strategy of the gradually collapsing regime.

    Together with thousands of fighters from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and from Hezbollah, tens of thousands of members of Shi’ite militias are pouring into Syria to take part in the religious war against the Sunnis. Those combatants are more likely to heed the Iranian Guards than the Assad regime, which is rapidly losing its reserves of potential soldiers from among the Syrian population.

    There’s an extra benefit here for Iran: Its involvement in the fighting affords it a presence in the northern Golan Heights, creating a type of border with Israel by means of which it can take action against Israeli targets.

    In the civil war in Syria, Hezbollah is the spearhead of the Shi’ite armies, and Iran’s behavior is disturbing to all the Sunni Arab states. So much so that even U.S. President Barack Obama, when opening the conference of leaders of Persian Gulf states that he convened this week at Camp David, lashed out at Iran for the negative role it is playing in the wars in the Middle East.

    #propagande #hasbara

  • For Israel, there’s good news and bad news after Iran deal -
    By Amos Harel | Apr. 5, 2015 |

    If the significance of the understandings, which are to be enshrined in a permanent agreement by the end of June, had to be summarized in one long sentence, it would be as follows. Iran’s leaders have agreed to halt their efforts to obtain a bomb (efforts they are still careful to deny) in exchange for two key benefits: a dramatic improvement in their economy due to the lifting of international sanctions and a major upgrade in Tehran’s standing in the region.

    From an Israeli perspective, the relatively good news is that Iran’s nuclear project will be monitored for at least a decade. For now, it seems that during this time Iran’s chances of developing a nuclear weapon will decline significantly.

    Even if Tehran breaks the agreement, risking renewed conflict with the international community, the restoration of its production capabilities and the monitoring of its facilities, as stipulated in the agreement, are supposed to prolong the breakout time to a bomb. This period would increase from about three months, in the absence of any agreement, to nearly a year after a permanent agreement is signed.

    The bad news is not only that Iran’s economy, which has taken a double-barreled blow from both sanctions and declining oil prices, is expected to recover quickly, but that Iran has also achieved recognition from the world powers for two elements it greatly needs. The powers now acknowledge, indirectly, that Iran is a nuclear threshold state, and no less importantly, they accept Iran as a force to be reckoned with throughout the Middle East.

  • PA holding 50 Islamic militants, fearing terror attack will give election to Likud
    Hamas officials call it the biggest round-up in years, say security coordination with Israel constitutes treason.
    By Amos Harel, Jack Khoury and Reuters | Mar. 10, 2015 Haaretz

    Palestinian Authority security services have arrested some 50 members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank over the last two days, acting out of apparent fear that a terror attack in the coming days would give the Israeli election to Likud.

    There’s a well-known precedent for this: the firebombing of a bus in Jericho on the eve of the 1988 Knesset election, which killed five Israelis, including a mother and her three children.

    In later years, that incident was cited as having cost the Labor Party the victory by shifting votes from Labor to Likud at the last moment. Shimon Peres, who was Labor’s prime ministerial candidate at the time, claimed the attack had cost the left two or three Knesset seats, and that if not for this attack, Labor would have won the election.

  • Pressure won’t thwart Military Police probe of Gaza war
    IDF objections to criminal investigations of wartime acts have been voiced for years, but petitioners rejecting this inquiry don’t get what they’re up against.
    By Amos Harel | Jan. 7, 2015 | Haaretz

    The exceptionally widespread attack against the Israel Defense Forces military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, is continuing in full force. After politicians and opinion-piece writers in newspapers have come out against the investigations of various military actions during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip – now it is the turn for petitions.

    First there was one from reservists from the Givati Brigade reconnaissance battalion, and now there is a new petition, signed by hundreds of officers and combat soldiers in the reserves. The heavy pressure is being directed not only at Efroni, but also at his superiors – who are being asked to order the MAG to stop all Military Police investigations into the latest round of fighting in Gaza.

    Objections to such criminal inquiries into military operations have been voiced in the IDF for decades, but the arguments usually begin at the stage when it looks like indictments are about to be filed against officers. This time, the line in the sand has been drawn at a much earlier stage, even before certain aspects of the investigation were officially launched.

    The current debacle erupted over the battle in Rafah following the abduction on August 1 of Lt. Hadar Goldin: At issue is Efroni’s dithering over whether to order a criminal investigation into the actions of Givati commander Col. Ofer Winter and other officers in the brigade, due to the intensity of the firepower and force they used in that battle.

    In the background, however, is a much broader debate. What is happening is an attempt to stop the criminal investigation completely – and also, indirectly, to rein in operational inquiries so they will not spill over into the drafting of serious recommendations vis-a-vis the future of those involved.

    There is a lot of holy fury surrounding this affair, but also quite a lot of ignorance and hypocrisy. It is doubtful whether all 250 of those who signed the second petition know, for example, that Efroni ordered the opening of 13 investigations, five of which deal with suspicions of looting (a matter which it seems the signatories would likely support), but only three of which concern the deaths of a large number of Palestinians during the Gaza operation.

    The need to return to operational inquiries is mentioned in the second petition, but the signers ignore the fact that Efroni opened the majority of the Military Police’s criminal inquiries based on the findings of a team involved in just such an investigation and evaluation of Protective Edge, headed by Maj. Gen. Noam Tivon.

    In the background behind all these disputes is the hostility between Efroni and the GOC Southern Command, Maj. Gen, Sami Turgeman, which broke out after the decision by the MAG to question Winter under caution in the matter of suspicions of sexual harassment and other alleged crimes in Givati’s Tzabar Battalion.

    It is hard to ignore the fact that Efroni has earned himself a large number of enemies, who today are already outside the IDF, because of his militant investigative strategy in the Harpaz affair. (In that case, a document was forged, allegedly by Lt. Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz, with the goal of smearing Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant, the leading candidate for IDF chief of staff in 2011, in an attempt to thwart Galant’s appointment.)

    Meanwhile, a number of politicians have joined in the effort to block criminal investigations of Operation Protective Edge, including Moshe Kahlon and Naftali Bennett, who has even declared that “there will be no investigation of the heroic brigade.”

    It is doubtful whether the uproar will have an effect on the MAG. Efroni is well known for being quite stubborn, and decisions to open investigations are completely within his authority. It is hard to imagine Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz intervening in those decisions, or finding a way to put pressure on Efroni. The MAG has already served in his post for three and a half years, and seems to be setting his sights on a senior civilian judicial post after he leaves the military.

  • Israel’s security brass: Abbas blocking Palestinian uprising -
    While Netanyahu and his cabinet blame the Palestinian president for the recent Jerusalem terror wave, senior defense officials see him as the primary hope for mitigating the hostilities.
    By Amos Harel | Nov. 24, 2014 Haaretz

    f you compare the declarations made in recent days by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers to the assessments of the heads of the security services, you might get the impression that each group is operating in its own alternative reality, one totally divorced from that the of other group. While Netanyahu and his ministers are describing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as bearing the primary responsibility for the recent outbreak of terror in Jerusalem, senior defense officials still see him as the primary hope for preventing this confrontation from spreading throughout the West Bank.

    After the Har Nof synagogue massacre last week, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett went so far as to call Abbas one of the greatest terrorists ever produced by the Palestinian people. Over the weekend, in a Channel 2 interview, Bennett called on Israel to stop talking about occupation and to launch an anti-terror offensive in Jerusalem and the territories. Bennett’s remarks about Abbas, like similar ones made by other ministers, were in sharp contrast to the declaration by Shin Bet security service head Yoram Cohen that Abbas is not encouraging terror, overtly or covertly.

    Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon tried to bridge this gap by arguing that Cohen’s remarks to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee were leaked to the media in a distorted fashion for political reasons. Ya’alon added: “Abu Mazen [Abbas] fears the possibility of terror in the West Bank because he understands that he will be deposed by it. On the other hand, one cannot ignore his incitement with regard to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem. There is no contradiction here: On the one hand, Abbas is not masterminding terror. On the other hand, [he] is inciting violence in Jerusalem.”

    The heads of the security services are less critical of Abbas. Somewhat unusually, there is a broad consensus among them; they are categorically against collective punishment in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and oppose bringing Israel Defense Forces soldiers into the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem (something Bennett is demanding outright), while agreeing that the religious component of the conflict – the dispute over the Temple Mount, but also the inspiration coming from the Islamic State’s atrocities – is gaining weight, though it hasn’t overwhelmed the Palestinian anger over the continuing occupation.

  • Egypt and Israel are tightening the rope around Hamas’ neck
    With both Israel and Egypt closing the border crossings and efforts to rebuild Gaza at a halt, the path to renewed violence may be shorter than it seems.
    By Amos Harel | Nov. 3, 2014 | Haaretz

    This summer’s war in Gaza continues to leave its mark on Israel’s relations with the two Palestinian camps, even though more than two months have passed since the cease-fire agreement was reached between Israel and Hamas. The serious escalation in Jerusalem has not yet subsided, while Gaza seems to be heating up again.

    In both cases, the tension stems from the complex relationship between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas (in which Egypt and Jordan are also involved), and is rooted in the events of this past summer.

    The Israel Police announced on Sunday with satisfaction that it had curbed the urban intifada raging in Jerusalem since the murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir in early July, citing the relative quiet in the city over the weekend and only a few incidents around the Temple Mount. But it seems that the calm, after last week’s assassination attempt on Yehuda Glick followed by the killing of the suspect in short order by a police SWAT team, is probably better attributed to the stormy weather that kept demonstrators off the streets, and the large contingent of police reinforcements brought to the capital from elsewhere.

    Anyone visiting East Jerusalem in recent days might get the impression that it was under aggressive military occupation, with policemen and border policemen at every corner, armored jeeps in the streets, and observation balloons in the air.

    Sooner or later the police command will have to send most of those police officers back to their home districts. And since there has been no change in the original reasons for the outbreak of rioting – decades of neglect and frustration in the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, increased Jewish settlement in those areas, and the growing national and religious tensions due to Palestinian fears that the status quo on the Temple Mount (which today favors the Muslims) might be altered – it is hard to see full-fledged calm being restored for very long.

    One can’t ignore the fact that the Palestinian Authority leadership has a strong interest in preserving the popular uprising in the Jerusalem, which is acceptable to the majority of the residents of the territories, and is not perceived by the world as real terrorism, despite the victims it has claimed, including a 3-month-old baby.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did well when he said repeatedly on Sunday that he would not allow any change to the status-quo prayer arrangements on the Temple Mount. But the Palestinians, as well as Jordan, are not only hearing Netanyahu, but also Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who promised in a radio interview on Sunday that the Temple will be rebuilt.

    If the prime minister is indeed looking to go to elections, as many political commentators seem to believe, it’s doubtful he will take any meaningful steps to rein in the right flank of his coalition. One can also assume there will be more announcements of new construction plans for Israelis on the city’s eastside.

    Meanwhile, the situation in Gaza has gotten significantly worse. The Netanyahu government, which was accused by many of its members of being too restrained when confronted with rocket fire in the days before the last war, is seeking to appear more determined this time. When a rocket was fired at the western Negev on Friday, the crossings at Kerem Shalom and Erez were closed in response.

    Israel’s move came only a few days after Egypt’s far more punishing measures: Following the killing of 33 Egyptian soldiers late last month, Egypt shut down the Rafah crossing and began to implement a contingency plan for establishing a buffer zone between the Palestinian side of Rafah and the Egyptian side.

    The bulldozers sent by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, unencumbered by a High Court of Justice or B’tselem, are destroying hundreds of homes on the Egyptian side of the border to create a “sterile” zone hundreds of meters wide, aimed at making it even more difficult to dig smuggling tunnels under the border.

    While Hamas has often sought to undermine Egyptian control in Sinai, it seems that the current Egyptian allegations that Hamas had aided the recent attacks, carried out by a radical jihadist group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, don’t hold much water. Nevertheless, the Egyptian media has no problem calling Hamas leaders in Gaza “dogs,” or threatening that even more serious measures will be taken against them.

    Hamas is now trying to appease the Egyptians while also signaling to Israel that it wasn’t their men who fired the rocket at the Negev and that the group remains committed to the cease-fire mediated by Cairo at the end of August. Hamas security forces on Saturday arrested five Gazans suspected of being involved in the rocket fire. At this point it’s not clear to which Palestinian group they belong.

    The practical result of all these developments is the same: The siege on Gaza is worsening and efforts to rebuild after the devastation left by this summer’s IDF operation have ground almost to a halt. It’s not just that the transfer of construction materials has been delayed; so far there has been no breakthrough on the reopening of the Gaza-Sinai crossings.

    Egypt and the PA want a significant presence of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Presidential Guard at the crossings, and apparently also along the Philadelphi corridor in Rafah, under which the tunnels were dug. Hamas would probably accept the presence of Ramallah officials at the crossings, but armed police are another matter.

    Somehow, these events are beginning to echo the way the escalation toward war began in the summer. Even if ostensibly no one has any interest in another round of violence, once Hamas feels the rope around it tightening, the path to a renewed outbreak against Israel may be shorter than it seems.

  • Analysis / Brazen Hezbollah renews operations along Israel border - Israel must reexamine the prevailing assumption that Hezbollah is still deterred by the IDF following the 2006 war and is not interested in a confrontation.
    By Amos Harel | Oct. 20, 2014 Haaretz

    A recent article in Al-Akhbar, the Lebanese newspaper considered close to Hezbollah, seems to back Israeli claims that the Shi’ite organization has resumed overt military activity along the Israeli border – a clear violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006. This, along with taking responsibility for the two explosive devices that blew up on Mount Dov two weeks ago, may reflect a worrisome change in Hezbollah policy that in the long term could have problematic ramifications for Israel.

    On October 7, Hezbollah activated two explosive devices alongside a group of the Golani Brigade’s Egoz unit and an Engineering Corps bomb squad operating along the Lebanese border. Two Israel Defense Forces sappers were wounded.

    Hezbollah later announced that the operation was in response to the explosion of an Israeli spy installation that a Hezbollah sapper was trying to dismantle in south Lebanon on September 5.

    Resolution 1701 (from August 2006) forbids armed Hezbollah fighters south of the Litani River. Hezbollah’s claim of responsibility for the explosion is a blatant admission that it violated the resolution, which until now the group had been careful to publicly uphold. In mid-September, the IDF distributed photos in which Hezbollah fighters could be seen near the border fence, presumably gathering intelligence on IDF troop movements.

    The Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors Arab media outlets, posted on its website a translation of the article from Al-Akhbar that appeared on October 8, the day after the explosions. The article states that the group has resumed operations south of the Litani, similar to its operations between the years 2000-2006 after the IDF had withdrawn from the security zone.

    The newspaper describes Hezbollah’s activities as a necessary response to the joint efforts by Israel and Sunni opposition groups on the Golan Heights working to depose the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

    The report, based on unidentified Lebanese sources, claims that Israel has intensified its cooperation with various opposition groups (including, it claims, even the Nusra Front, the extremist Sunni group identified with Al-Qaida). It warns that Israel is encouraging Sunni extremists to enter Lebanon through the Hermon region, and that it is planning to stir up residents of the Syrian Druze villages near Mount Hermon, which are trying to stay neutral in the civil war.

    The argument is that Israeli meddling in events in the tri-border region obligates Hezbollah to take extraordinary defensive measures. Accordingly, the explosive devices planted at Mount Dov were aimed at an IDF tank and were meant to warn Israel that it would pay a price for changing the rules of the game in Lebanon.

    The explosive charges that went off on Mount Dov were more sophisticated and deadly than those Hezbollah detonated there in March, when an IDF vehicle was damaged but there were no casualties. If the IDF forces had not acted carefully when approaching the devices this time, the incident could have ended with several deaths.

    These developments require that Israel reexamine the prevailing assumption that Hezbollah is still deterred by the IDF following the 2006 war, is further deterred by Israel’s display of military prowess in Gaza this summer, and, in general, is not interested in a confrontation with Israel because it is deeply entrenched in the Shi’ite-Sunni wars in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

    But the recent explosions were a gamble for Hezbollah. Assuming the group’s leadership expected the attack to succeed, it means Hezbollah was prepared to absorb at least one round of violence with Israel (based on its expected response to the deaths of its soldiers), if not an all-out war. This indicates Hezbollah’s self-confidence is growing, probably because its fighters are accumulating valuable battle experience in the Syrian civil war.

    There could be other reasons for Hezbollah’s actions. It might want to deflect attention from the internal struggles in Lebanon, in which the group has suffered losses at the hands of extremist Sunni groups like Islamic State. Hezbollah might also have been trying to establish a new deterrent balance with Israel, so the latter will stop attacking the group in Lebanese territory.

    According to the U.S. administration and Arab media, over the past two years the Israel Air Force has attacked several weapons convoys going from Syria to Lebanon; the most recent time, last February, the attack was on Lebanese soil. Now Hezbollah has raised the bar, Israel may have to rethink how to respond in the future.

    The question remains: what did Hezbollah expect to achieve with a direct attack on the IDF like the one at Mount Dov? Is the military experience it has gained in Syria being translated into new combat techniques and a different battle plan if there’s a flare-up with Israel? How will the group approach such a campaign, given its massive rearming with short-term rockets with large warheads over the past year – a move that could be evidence of a readiness to heavily bombard the border region?

    A whole line of senior Israeli defense officials say they do not, at this stage, see any change in Hezbollah’s interests or plans, and maintain that the group is not seeking a confrontation with the IDF. Still, it’s hard to forget that overconfidence led Hezbollah to make a bad move in 2006, when it kidnapped reserve soldiers on the border and sparked a war. One can’t rule out the possibility that such bad judgment could repeat itself.

  • Al-Qaeda rebels dangled victims’ heads to goad UN

    Les « modérés » de Amos Harel et Jack Khoury ont provoqué les soldats de l’ONU en leur exhibant des têtes coupées.

    The brutal beheadings in the Golan Heights, which have not been reported on, are described as “horrific atrocities” in the report by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

    The full horror of events that took place around the Irish and other UN troops in the area have so far been kept a closely-guarded secret by the Defence Forces and Government.

    Last week, the Irish soldiers’ representative association (PDFORRA) called for psychological support services for soldiers returning from Golan, who might be suffering from post-traumatic stress.

    However, there was no mention by senior military, Government or the representative association about the horrors the soldiers witnessed during their six-month tour inside Syria at PDFORRA’s annual conference in Sligo.

    • Ce qui me rappelle un épisode beaucoup plus ancien : il y a deux ans, des bandes « prennent » des postes frontière entre la Syrie et la Turquie, et l’Irak. Sur la vidéo de la prise de Bab al Hawa, les types agitent très visiblement le drapeau d’Al Qaeda. Il se racontait (il est possible que ça ait été repris par le ministre des Affaires étrangères syrien alors) que les types à la frontière avec l’Irak avaient terrorisé les garde-frontières irakiens en démembrant des soldats syriens sous leurs yeux.

      C’était déjà en juillet 2012, et à l’époque les usual suspects de la « révolution » armée avaient expliqué qu’il ne fallait pas tout confondre, et le JDD avait titré sur les « combattants de la liberté ».

      J’avais fait un billet :

  • Syrian rebels strengthen hold over Israel border region
    Senior Israeli official says rebels currently don’t pose a threat to Israeli security.
    By Amos Harel and Jack Khoury | Aug. 31, 2014 Haaretz

    Syrian rebel groups strengthened their hold over the Syrian side of the Quneitra Crossing — located on the frontier between Syrian and Israeli controlled parts of the Golan Heights – over the weekend and managed to repel attacks by Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

    The rebels kidnapped dozens of Fiji soldiers, members of the UN observer force stationed in the Golan Heights and are maintaining a siege on a second UN stronghold manned by Philippine soldiers. Officials in the Israeli security services said that it is a relatively moderate militia, the Free Syria Army, that controls the Syrian side of the border crossing, and that the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with Al-Qaida currently pose no threat. Despite this, Israeli forces in the Golan Heights are on relatively high alert due to the recent developments.

    Some 300 members from different groups participated in the taking of the Quneitra Crossing. This varied force was led by the Free Syria Army and with only a small number of Nusra Front members. The government forces that held the crossing before sustained losses in life and retreated to the north to areas controlled by the government. Over the weekend the Syrian army conducted several artillery barrages on the crossing area and tried to retake the area unsuccessfully. Israeli security officials characterized this attempt as "pathetic.”

  • As casualties mount, the Gaza operation threatens to become a war - Diplomacy and Defense Israel News | Haaretz

    L’étrange (et inquiétant en ce qu’il peut annoncer une multiplication des massacres) langage de #Amos_Harel, propagandiste des militaires israéliens dans le Ha’aretz

    Operation Protective Edge began as a military operation in the Gaza Strip, defined by the IDF as a limited one. By Sunday, Chief-of-Staff Benny Gantz was already talking of a ‘campaign.’ With the current intensity of the fighting and the high number of casualties, the media may soon define this, with some exaggeration, as a war.

  • No room for doubt: Assad behind unrest in north
    | Haaretz By Amos Harel | Mar. 19, 2014

    After four violent incidents on the borders with Syria and Lebanon since the beginning of the month, it is no longer an exaggeration to speak of a resurgent northern front. The wounding of four paratroopers on the Golan on Tuesday was preceded by rockets on Mount Hermon from Syrian territory, the planting of an explosive device on the Golan (which was neutralized) and the explosion of another device aimed at an Israel Defense Forces convoy on Mount Dov last Friday. There has been no such series of events in the north since the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The pace is starting to resemble the days when the IDF maintained the security zone in southern Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s.

    If the current escalation continues, Israel is liable to be drawn into a more forceful response. On Tuesday the IDF made do with artillery fire into Syrian territory, near the area in which the incident occurred. But the IDF has a lot more leeway to act, and it’s possible that it will have to set a higher price tag for attacks from the Syrian border.

    Until recently, shooting from Syria territory into Israel was regarded as unintentional misfire from the gun battles between the Assad regime’s army and the rebel forces that are part of the Syrian civil war. But the background to this latest string of events is quite different. The three incidents on the Syrian border took place in regions that are controlled by the Assad regime, or in the Druze enclaves on the slopes of Mount Hermon, where forces loyal to Assad are stationed. The fourth incident, from the Lebanese border on Mount Dov, occurred in an area where Hezbollah is active.

    Even if the exact identity of those responsible for these attacks is not clear, what is clear is that these incidents are no coincidence. The Assad camp – the regime, Hezbollah, and militias identified with Syrian President Bashar Assad – are responsible for a series of attacks that were aimed at Israel.

    There is no difficulty identifying what sparked this latest wave; it was the attack, attributed to the Israel Air Force, on February 24, which hit a weapons convoy in Lebanon, not on the Syrian side of the border. While this was a deviation of only a few hundred meters, probably out of operational considerations (such as a better chance of hitting the target), it has generated a different response from the other side. When the attacks attributed to Israel occurred in Syria, Assad generally chose to respond with restraint. But Hezbollah is a different story. Only a short time after the organization threatened to respond, the series of attacks began.

    It could be that Hezbollah general secretary Hassan Nasrallah sees himself as obligated not to leave any Israeli attack unanswered. But there could be another explanation: The relative success of the Assad-Hezbollah camp in blocking the rebel groups’ progress and the removal of an immediate threat to the regime in Damascus may have boosted both parties’ self-confidence.