Tuesday, December 29, 2015
IDF CHIEF PLEDGES HARSH RESPONSE TO HEZBOLLAH THREATS.
State suspects security breach by ousted missile defense chief-Yair Ramati, fired Sunday for holding classified documents at home, reportedly held intel on his phone, showed it to others-By Times of Israel staff December 28, 2015, 9:43 pm
The Defense Ministry is investigating a possible security breach of its missile defense program, after the respected head of the program was booted from his post amid allegations that he improperly maintained state secrets.According to a report by Channel 2, Yair Ramati — who was responsible for developing Israel’s Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow missile defense systems — may have inadvertently “leaked” the classified information he held on his home computer. Ramati also held the secret information on his cell phone, and is said to have shown the documents to people who were not authorized to see it, the TV channel reported.Sources in the Defense Ministry told the TV station that Ramati’s actions “damaged Israel’s security.”Channel 2 said he had also kept classified material on his mobile phone and showed it to others.Underlining the severity of Ramati’s actions, the ministry said that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had approved his termination. “It went straight to the defense minister before such a dramatic and significant decision was made,” sources said.Channel 10 news reported that Ramati “was warned twice” before he was fired, while Haaretz reported that the Defense Ministry was tracking his actions for more than a month without his knowledge before he was shown the door.It said there was no suggestion that Ramati had deliberately done anything to harm Israeli interests.Officials gave no specific information as to what Ramati did to prompt his dismissal. However, media reports suggested he was found to have classified documents on his personal computer.There was no comment from Ramati.The surprise move came after a month that saw two new successes in the missile programs under Ramati’s purview.On December 10, the Arrow 3 interballistic missile defense system passed its first full test, downing a target in space. The system is slated to replace the Arrow 2 defense array.A week later, Ramati announced that the David’s Sling system, meant to protect against medium-range threats, had finished the testing phase and would begin to be deployed by the Israeli Air Force.Ramati has worked on Israel’s missile program since 1981, after he left the military. He headed the Homa missile defense directorate within the Defense Ministry since 2012.In 2003, he won the Israel Defense Prize for work in developing the Arrow 2 program.
To skirt terror, Birthright trades exotic markets for malls-Heavy travel restrictions in Jerusalem disappoint participants, but the possibility of violence demands adaptation-By Judah Ari Gross December 28, 2015, 10:30 pm-THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
Throughout the coming weeks, the streets of Israel will fill with Jewish American college students and young adults, visiting the Holy Land on Taglit-Birthright Israel trips.But as terror attacks continue, those streets have become increasingly dangerous. Bus stops, public markets and commercial areas have all been the sites of stabbings, car-rammings and shootings since the current iteration of violence began earlier this fall.As a result, Taglit-Birthright severely limited its participants during their stop in Jerusalem, canceling visits to the capital’s Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall and Mahane Yehuda market, both of which have been common sites for terror attacks over the years.Though most of the participants have never been to Israel before and therefore have no way to compare their experience, there is still a sense of dissatisfaction among the groups in light of these changes, according to a staff member for one of the groups who asked not to be named.“Our students weren’t allowed to go to the shuk, which they were incredibly disappointed about,” the staff member said, using the Hebrew word for the market. “They knew that they were missing out on something that was supposed to be a part of the birthright experience.”The trips’ regular night out in the downtown area was also changed to a night in either Jerusalem’s Cinema City movie theater or one of its shopping malls.“Taking them to Cinema City was a crazy, crazy letdown. They had to wait in ridiculously long lines for food because there were so many Birthright trips there,” the staff member said.But the changes to the groups’ itineraries were not baseless, the Taglit-Birthright staffer said. The ongoing violence in Jerusalem and the rest of Israel is a legitimate source of concern for participants and their families back in the United States.In loco parentis, the university students and young adults who travel to Israel are under the watchful eyes of their program leaders, who must be mindful of the threat of attack but still provide an educational and enjoyable experience for participants.“All of us have been affected by the security situation in Jerusalem. Obviously, in my perspective it’s for the best because I want my participants to be safe,” the staff member said.Earlier this month, the US State Department even issued a travel warning for Israel, due to the frequency of Palestinian terror attacks, which are occurring at a rate unseen in over a decade.“The security situation can change day to day, depending on the political situation, recent events, and geographic area,” the warning said. “A rise in political tensions and violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank has resulted in injuries to and deaths of US citizens.”One American student, Ezra Schwartz, spending a year a yeshiva in Israel between high school and university, was killed in the ongoing violence that has rocked Israel since October 1, when Naama and Eitam Henkin at the hands of a terror cell that gunned them down in their car in the West Bank while the couple’s four children were in the backseat.Schwartz was shot and killed by a Palestinian terrorist in late November while riding in an un-armored bus after a visit to a settlement outpost in the West Bank. His death has already raised concerns over the security protocols of some international programs in Israel, principally why the bus he was traveling in was not bulletproof in light of the high chance of a terror attack in the West Bank. Fortunately, the trip providers are accustomed to running their programs through terror waves and rocket fire and plan accordingly.For multiple reasons, both security-related and political, Taglit-Birthright trips do not travel beyond the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 border, into the West Bank or into East Jerusalem, save for a visit to the Western Wall.As the trips are just 10 days long, the participants are rarely set loose on their own, and even during free nights when participants are allowed to explore, they are accompanied by a staff member and a guard, a Birthright Israel spokeswoman said.However, if participants opt to remain in Israel after the trip, they take responsibility for their own safety, the spokeswoman added.As a matter of course, the groups’ itineraries are approved each day by the Education Ministry’s security department. If needed, those schedules can be changed, as happened with this winter’s round of Taglit-Birthright trips.The last time that happened, during the 2014 Gaza conflict, when large swaths of Israel were under rocket fire, Taglit-Birthright shifted its itineraries to avoid the south of the country and focus more on northern and central Israel.“None of our trips even heard a rocket siren,” the spokeswoman boasted.But the ongoing terror wave has not yet forced Birthright to change any of the proposed trip itineraries, as their plans already take a certain threat of violence for granted. “We’re ready for everything,” the spokeswoman said.“We’ve never had any security issues, and we’ve had over 500,000 participants,” she added.
IDF chief pledges ‘harsh’ response to Hezbollah threats-Senior Israeli official said to confirm airstrike on shipment of advanced Russian-made missiles bound for Lebanese militia-By Judah Ari Gross December 28, 2015, 9:24 pm-THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
In response to a threat of an imminent attack on Israel by Hezbollah, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot fired back at the terror group Monday, promising swift retaliation and “harsh results.”Eisenkot warned the Iran-backed Lebanese militia that “we stand ready for every challenge.” His remarks followed a speech Sunday night by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who vowed revenge for the alleged Israel Defense Forces airstrike that killed terrorist Samir Kuntar last week.“The retaliation for Samir’s assassination will inevitably come,” regardless of the “repercussions,” Nasrallah said, in a lengthy televised address marking a week since the death of Kuntar, according to a translation by Lebanese news site Naharnet.In his speech Monday, Eisenkot admitted that Israel was now in a “complex defense reality,” but said the IDF was prepared to counter any threat.“Even across our borders, in the face of the threats heard in the north, we stand ready for every challenge. And as we’ve proven in the past, we know how to find those who wish us ill. Our enemies know that if they try to disturb the security of Israel — they will be faced with harsh results,” the army chief said, during a ceremony celebrating the army’s top units for 2015 held in Gelilot, outside of Tel Aviv.Kuntar shocked the Israeli public in 1979 when he killed 31-year-old Danny Haran in front of his four-year-old daughter Einat, before killing her by bashing her head with the butt of his rifle, in a terror raid on the northern Israeli town of Nahariya. During the attack, Danny’s wife, Smadar, hid with their second daughter. But as she attempted to keep the little girl quiet by covering her mouth, she accidentally suffocated the two-year-old.Kuntar was released in 2008 as part of an exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, being held by Hezbollah.Eisenkot did not refer to the terrorist group by name, instead only alluded to it as a threat from the north. The IDF has not taken credit for the airstrike that killed Kuntar, though Israeli officials have approved of the result, claiming that the terrorist was planning fresh attacks against the Jewish state.The strike against Kuntar, which also killed some eight other operatives, was the latest in a string of alleged Israeli actions in Lebanon and Syria in recent years.Although officials rarely acknowledge the scope of its actions in Syria, or admit to specific strikes, one official on Monday reportedly confirmed that the Israeli Air Force had struck a Syrian shipment of advanced Russian-made missiles bound for Hezbollah“We won’t allow such things,” Foreign Ministry Director Dore Gold was quoted as saying in an interview with the Saudi newspaper Elaph. “Israel won’t allow damage to its sovereignty and won’t allow advanced Russian anti-aircraft weapons, SA-22 missiles, which can threaten our aerial supremacy, to be transferred to Lebanon.”Shortly after the Elaph report came out, the Foreign Ministry denied that Gold had admitted to the strike. “In the interview with the Saudi newspaper, Dori Gold clarified that Israel won’t allow the transfer of game-changing weapons to Hezbollah and won’t let it be fired upon from Syria,” the ministry said in a statement.
Haredi MKs stay away as first openly gay Likud MK sworn in-In maiden speech, Amir Ohana voices identification with downtrodden in Israel; Netanyahu ‘proud’ to have him on board-By Marissa Newman December 28, 2015, 10:03 pm-THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
MK Amir Ohana, the Likud party’s first openly gay lawmaker, was sworn in to the Knesset on Monday afternoon.Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers skipped the ceremony, with a source in the United Torah Judaism party quoted by Channel 2 as saying that they plan to “ignore him, today and altogether.”In his opening remarks to the Knesset plenum, Ohana, who replaces former interior minister Silvan Shalom, identified himself as a “Jew, Israeli, Mizrahi, homosexual, a Likud member, a security buff, a liberal and a man of the free market,” in no particular order.When people cry “Death to the Jews,” Ohana said, using the Arabic phrase, “I am a Jew first.“When they shoot, boycott, label, and expel — I am a settler. When they try to blur cultures, to minimize and ignore — I am Mizrahi. When they defame IDF soldiers and security forces — I am a soldier,” said Ohana. In the latter example, the fresh MK was referring to the recent controversy over the Breaking the Silence NGO, which documents alleged abuses by IDF soldiers.Ohana also sided with the residents of south Tel Aviv, who have long complained about the influx of African migrants from Sudan and Eritrea.“When entire neighborhoods are not as they were, and the elderly are forced to live out the remainder of their lives in fear — I am a south Tel Aviv resident. And when the outside appearance of a man is considered a good reason to hate him, to distance him from neighborhoods and employment — I am an ultra-Orthodox Jew who is not afraid,” he added.“When a baby is burned with his relatives, dammit, I’m with you, brothers,” Ohana said, finishing his sentence in Arabic. Ohana was referring to the fatal Duma firebombing in July, in which three members of the Palestinian Dawabsha family were killed.“And when a young girl is stabbed to death at a parade of love and tolerance — I am gay,” he concluded, referring to the murder of Shira Banki in the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade last summer.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Ohana to the Knesset, and said he thinks “he will be an excellent MK and a bridge between the various elements of the public.” Alluding to Ohana’s sexual orientation, he added that he was “proud” to have him in parliament.Ohana replaced Shalom, the erstwhile interior minister, in the Knesset after the longtime lawmaker resigned last week in the wake of over a dozen sexual harassment complaints.Ohana is a lawyer by training, who is also a major in the reserves and a veteran of the Shin Bet domestic security service.
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem greeted in Bethlehem by hail of stones-PA reportedly arrests 16 ‘Salafi radicals’ who were planning to carry out terror attack against tourists celebrating Christmas-By Times of Israel staff December 25, 2015, 7:18 pm-THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
The car taking Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, head of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, was struck Friday, Christmas Day, in Bethlehem by rocks thrown by Palestinian rioters.None of the passengers in the patriarch’s vehicle was injured in the incident, but his car sustained damage, according to a Ynet news report.Clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian demonstrators erupted following his departure from the city, known as the birthplace of Jesus, the news site said.Meanwhile, Palestinian security forces said Friday that they arrested two suspected Islamic radicals for burning a Christmas tree in the northern West Bank.A Palestinian security officer said Friday the suspects set fire Wednesday to the tree in Zababdeh, a village near Jenin populated mainly by Christians. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to reporters.He said both suspects were under investigation for possible ties to extremist Islamist groups.He also said Palestinian security forces arrested Wednesday about a dozen suspected radical Islamists in Bethlehem.A report in the Palestinian Ma’an news agency put the number of detainees at 16. According to the report, the group are Salafi radicals who were preparing to carry out a terror attack against Western tourists arriving in Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas there.The report did not identify the detainees as being affiliated with any known jihadist groups.A report in the Hebrew-language daily Ma’ariv said that senior PA officials met in Bethlehem earlier this week in order to formulate a strategy against the threat posed by extremists to the Christian celebrations in the city.At least four people are being held in detention without trial in Bethlehem and four others, supporters of Islamic State, were arrested elsewhere in the West Bank. It was not clear where eight other people were being held.On Thursday night, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the authority’s prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, participated in a midnight mass at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, Ma’an reported.In a statement released by his office before the visit, Abbas praised Palestinian Christians for their role in creating a “rich and diverse society.”“ This year, we witnessed more churches around the world supporting the call for recognition of the State of Palestine, and an increasing number of Christian groups campaigning to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of our land,” Abbas said.The Christian Palestinian population dwindled significantly over the past years. Christians today make only 2 percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank.AP contributed to this report.
Russia reportedly to begin delivery of S-300 to Iran in coming weeks-First shipment to be delivered by February; Iranian technicians to undergo 4-month training course at Russian base-By Times of Israel staff December 25, 2015, 6:04 pm-THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
Russia will begin delivering the S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense system to Iran next month, a Russian news agency reported on Friday.“The process of delivery of the first regiment of the S-300PMU-2 air defense systems is planned to begin in January and to be completed in February,” an unnamed source was quoted by TASS as saying.“Iran is due to receive the second regiment of these systems in August or September 2016,” the source said, adding that “Russia will thus fulfill its obligations” to Iran.Some 80 Iranian specialists will travel to the Mozhaisky Military Space Academy to train on using the system for four months as part of the contract.The first regiment of S-300 system was sent to the Kapustin Yar range in southern Russia, near the border with Kazakhstan in September, to be tested. From there, they will arrive at the port of shipment in the Russian part of the Caspian Sea from where they will be delivered to Iran by maritime transport, Russian officials said.Iran signed an $800 million deal with Russia for the system but in 2010 Russia banned its delivery due to international sanctions against Iran, and returned Tehran’s first payment. But Iran sued Moscow for breaching the two countries’ contract, seeking $4 billion in compensation.Earlier this year, following the agreement reached by Iran and world powers over Tehran’s nuclear program, Russian President Vladimir Putin lifted the ban. The nuclear deal signed in July in Vienna paved the way to resume the sale and earlier this month Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters that as the first installment of the S-300 is delivered, Iran will revoke its lawsuit.The S-300 is a system capable of engaging multiple attacking aircraft at long range and is intended to protect sensitive ground installations. It is widely held to be one of the top systems of its kind in the world.Israel strongly opposed sale of the system to Iran, arguing that it is meant to defend Iranian nuclear facilities. Tehran has consistently insisted that its nuclear facilities are intended for peaceful purposes.In May this year, IAF pilots conducted joint drills with Greek pilots and the Greek army, and later media reports quoted military officers as saying that some of the training included the Israeli pilots learning how to “trick” the S-300’s radars. The system in use belongs to the Greek army and is deployed on the island of Crete.Greek officials later denied the report.Earlier this year, the commander of the IAF Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said the challenge posed by the S-300 to Israeli fighter jets was “formidable but not insurmountable.”
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