05/01/13: Reuters reports Israel responded favorably on Tuesday to an apparent softening by the Arab League (AL) of its 2002 peace plan after a top Qatari official raised the possibility of land swaps in setting borders between the Jewish state and an independent Palestine. “Israel welcomes the encouragement given by the [AL] delegation,” a senior government official said after talks in Washington on Monday. After meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said any agreement “should be based on the two-state solution on the basis of the 4th of June 1967 line, with the [possibility] of comparable and mutual agreed minor swap of the land.” Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, designated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be his chief peace negotiator with the Palestinians, said news of a change in the AL position was “very positive.”
04/28/13: The Miami Herald reports an Israeli Cabinet minister has called on the US to intervene in the Syrian civil war after intelligence reports of chemical weapons use there. The US has warned such weapons cross a ‘red line’ and last week said the weapons were probably used. Israel says they were used. Environment Minister Amir Peretz said Sunday action should have been taken long ago due to the high civilian death toll. “We expect whoever defines red lines will also do what is needed, first and foremost the US and of course the entire international community,” he said. His remarks do not reflect Israeli policy. The White House says it is still trying to pin down definitive proof of the use of chemical weapons.
04/15/13: BBC News reports Israel’s military announced it will not order a criminal investigation into the bombing of a house in Gaza last year which killed twelve civilians. Ten members of one family and two neighbors were killed on November 18, 2012 when the house was hit by a missile. The Israeli Defense Forces said that the deaths were “regrettable,” but concluded the strike was justified as it happened during an attempt to target a senior militant, although Yahia Rabia, described as the head of a Hamas rocket unit, escaped unharmed. Those killed included Mohamed Dalou, a Hamas policeman, nine members of his family – including four children – and their two neighbors.
04/15/13: The New York Times has this piece discussing the uncertain future in Palestine after Saturday’s resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Fayyad, the internationally respected Palestinian politician and economist, is widely credited with ending the chaos in the West Bank and putting things in order in his six years in office. But his resignation over the weekend, the result of internal power struggles, has left the Palestinian Authority suspended in political ambiguity and confusion. By accepting Fayyad’s resignation, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has put himself in a political bind just as the Obama Administration has been trying to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, because the vacuum created by Fayyad’s resignation presents an opportunity for renewed reconciliation efforts between Abbas’ Fatah party and its bitter rival Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza. Healing the rift would be a popular course of action among Palestinians, but it could complicate peace efforts and cause some Western donor nations to consider withholding much-needed funds, fearing that they could be used by Hamas. The group is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and the European Union, and it seeks the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state.
04/04/13: The New York Times reports Israeli-Palestinian tensions rose sharply on Wednesday, with a resumption of clashes at the Gaza border as Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails declared a three-day hunger strike to protest a fellow inmate's death, saying Israel was responsible. In response to rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel, apparently in support of the Palestinian prisoners, the Israeli military said it carried out an airstrike in Gaza late Tuesday night, its first since a cease-fire that ended eight days of fierce cross-border fighting in November. Warplanes struck two open areas in northern Gaza, causing no damage or casualties, the military said. Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, called the airstrikes a clear violation of the cease-fire. “We call on international parties to intervene immediately to end the Israeli escalation and also the violations against the prisoners,” he said in a statement. The rocket fire from Gaza was the third such violation of the cease-fire brokered by Egypt in November, evidence of its fragility. There have also been several episodes of Israeli gunfire directed at fishermen and farmers approaching newly relaxed security perimeters, sometimes with deadly consequences. An Islamic extremist group in Gaza, the Mujahedeen Shura Council — Environs of Jerusalem, claimed responsibility for the rocket fire, saying in a statement that it was in support of the Palestinians held by Israel. The group criticized other Palestinian factions for their inaction on the prisoner issue. On Wednesday morning, Gaza militants fired two more rockets into southern Israel. One landed at the entrance of the Israeli border town of Sderot, according to the police, and the other fell on open ground. No one was hurt. The death of the prisoner has also stirred unrest in the West Bank. On Wednesday night, a Palestinian youth was fatally shot and three others were wounded in a clash with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank town of Tulkarem, according to Palestinian news reports. The Israeli military said that several Palestinians had attacked a military post with firebombs and that soldiers responded with live fire. A spokeswoman said the episode was being reviewed.
04/01/13: The Miami Herald reports the Gaza Strip’s Hamas ruler has met with Egypt’s intelligence chief to discuss Palestinian reconciliation and the cease-fire between the militant group and Israel. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met with Rafaat Shehata on Sunday, a day after arriving in Egypt. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi mediated a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel last year. Relations between Egypt and Hamas are high on the agenda for Haniyeh’s visit. Hamas, a Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood – the group from which Morsi hails – has come under attack by some in Egypt who accuse it of harboring militants that operate in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is also in Egypt.
03/25/13: The Washington Times reports a new manual commissioned by NATO’s cyberwarfare center says the cyberattack by the US and Israel that crippled Iran’s nuclear program by sabotaging industrial equipment constituted “an act of force” and was possibly illegal under international law. The Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare says, “Acts that kill or injure persons or destroy or damage objects are unambiguously uses of force.” The international group of researchers who wrote the manual were unanimous that Stuxnet — the self-replicating cyberweapon that destroyed Iranian centrifuges that were enriching uranium — was an act of force, but were divided on whether its effects were severe enough to constitute an “armed attack,” which would trigger hostilities under the UN Charter and allow Iran to retaliate in self-defense. Neither Israel nor the United States has publicly acknowledged being behind Stuxnet, but they are widely believed to have been responsible.
03/25/13: The Miami Herald reports that after two major breakthroughs in less than a week – an accord to end a three-year squabble with Israel and a landmark step by a jailed Kurdish leader to settle a 30-year insurgency – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s star appears to be rising, and with it, the country’s role as a major regional power. Erdogan seemed matter-of-fact and serious on Saturday as he voiced hope that the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation that President Barack Obama brokered on Friday might even help resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute. Israel, for the first time in memory, formally apologized for a military operation and promised compensation to families of eight Turks and one Turkish-American killed in the attack on a ship bringing supplies to civilians in Gaza in July 2010 that ran Israel’s blockade.
03/24/13: Reuters reports Israeli officials said Sunday that Tel Aviv did not commit to ending its Gaza blockade as part of reconciliation with Turkey and could clamp down even harder on the Palestinian enclave if security is threatened. After a US-brokered fence-mending announcement on Friday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Israel had met his demands to apologize for killing nine Turks aboard a Gaza-bound activist ship in 2010. But although Erdogan has also insisted on fully ending the blockade, Israeli officials said Hamas, the Islamist faction that governs Gaza, was still trying to bring in arms, and thus “the blockade is as necessary as always.” Although Israel has relaxed curbs on overland civilian imports to impoverished Gaza, it signaled that the naval cordon, imposed during a 2008-2009 offensive, would remain.
03/24/13: BBC News reports Israel’s military has destroyed a machine-gun nest inside Syria after troops were shot at twice in the Golan Heights. An Israeli military spokesman said the shots had not been stray fire from fighting in the civil war between the Syrian government and rebels but had intentionally targeted Israeli soldiers, who responded by firing a guided missile at the Syrian position. Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since the 1967 Six-Day War. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said his country will not let “Syria’s army or any other element” violate its sovereignty. The military said that although the shooting hit army vehicles, no Israeli soldiers were hurt.
03/18/13: Reuters reports Israel’s new housing minister said Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s incoming cabinet would keep expanding Jewish settlements to the same extent as his previous government. The remarks came two days ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama who has urged Israel to halt settlement on land that Palestinians seek for an independent state. Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a member of the pro-settler Jewish Home party (and himself a settler) said in a television interview that building in the occupied territories “will continue in accordance with what the government’s policy has been thus far.” Using the biblical names for the territory Israel captured in 1967, Ariel said the government “will build in Judea and Samaria more or less as it has done previously. I see no reason to change it.”
03/18/13: The Miami Herald reports Iran’s judiciary has indicted eighteen suspects on charges of involvement in the killing of nuclear scientists. Since 2010, at least five Iranian nuclear scientists, including a manager at the Natanz enrichment facility, have been killed. Tehran has accused Israel’s Mossad, the CIA, and Britain’s MI6 of being behind the assassinations; Washington and London have denied the allegations, while Tel Aviv has not commented. Iranian state media said Sunday that authorities have issued indictments against the eighteen suspects, who will be tried in the coming months. In 2012, Iran hanged a man for the 2010 killing of a nuclear physicist.
03/15/13: The New York Times reports President Obama told an Israeli television station on Thursday that his administration believed it would take Iran “over a year or so” to develop a nuclear weapon, and he vowed that the United States would do whatever was necessary to prevent that from happening. Less than a week before his first visit as president to Israel, Mr. Obama pledged to continue diplomatic efforts, but he promised that the United States would keep all options on the table to ensure that Iran did not become a nuclear threat to its neighbors. Mr. Obama’s estimated timeline contrasts with Mr. Netanyahu’s stated belief that Israel and its Western allies are likely to have to intervene by the spring or summer, when, he says, Iran’s scientists will have enriched enough uranium to become a nuclear threat. Iran denies that its nuclear program has any military aim. Mr. Obama has rarely been so specific about how long American intelligence agencies estimate it will take Iran to build a bomb. In defining the problem as he did — when Iran could get a weapon, rather than when it could have the capability to build one — he subtly indicated that he and Mr. Netanyahu still saw the problem in very different terms.
03/11/13: Al Jazeera reports Egypt’s interior ministry told police in the Sinai Peninsula to raise a state of emergency Saturday after obtaining intelligence that “jihadists” might attack their forces there. Officials have expressed growing worries about security in the desert region which borders Israel and is home to a number of tourist resorts. “The Minister of Interior has raised the level of emergency in north and south Sinai after receiving information that jihadist groups intend to attack police buildings there,” an interior ministry official said on state media. Last August, attackers killed at least fifteen Egyptian policemen in an assault on a police station at the border between Egypt and Israel before seizing two military vehicles and attempting to storm the border. It was the deadliest incident in Egypt’s tense Sinai border region in decades.
03/10/13: The Space War blog reports French President Francois Hollande and his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres said on Friday sanctions on Iran over its contested nuclear program are biting but need to be strengthened further. “I have said how much we want the sanctions to be beefed up, which are already efficient,” Hollande said after meeting Peres. Iran last month held talks with the five UN Security Council permanent members, plus Germany, in Kazakhstan. “I was very glad to hear from [President Hollande] that he plans to take more measures because if we can end this danger without military use, it will be better,” Peres said. Although Hollande and Peres both hold the title “President,” the latter is a figurehead; the real power in Israel lies with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Peres’ former political rival.
03/04/13: The Miami Herald reports Gaza’s Hamas rulers say they will begin a new campaign to find Palestinian collaborators with Israel. Colonel Mohammed Lafi of Gaza’s Interior Ministry said Monday that the campaign aims to protect Palestinian militant groups battling Israel and will also warn other Palestinians of the dangers of spying. Israel security officials have long relied on a network of informants in the Palestinian territories to keep tabs on militants, but since Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007, it has taken a tough line on Palestinians accused of collaboration with Israel. Gunmen have assassinated more than twenty-four suspected collaborators and jailed twenty suspects. Colonel Lafi says the campaign, including TV ads and offers of amnesty, will begin on Wednesday.
02/25/13: The New York Times reports Israel’s Health Ministry said Sunday night that preliminary autopsy findings could not determine the cause of death of 30-year-old Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat, which Israeli officials had at first attributed to a heart attack. But Palestinian officials said the lack of heart damage coupled with bruising on the man’s chest, back, and neck suggested that he was tortured during interrogation. “The signs that appeared during the autopsy show clearly that he was subjected to severe torture that led immediately to his death,” said Issa Qaraka, the Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs, at a news conference in Ramallah. The 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli jails refused meals on Sunday to protest Jaradat’s death, and hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in several cities and villages in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
02/25/13: The Miami Herald reports Israel and the US on Monday carried out a successful test of the next-generation Arrow 3 missile defense system, for the first time sending an interceptor into outer space, where it could destroy missiles fired from Iran. The Arrow 3 is part of a multilayered system that Israel is developing to protect against a range of missile threats, from short-range rockets in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon to medium and longer-range missiles in the hands of Syria and Iran. The Arrow is designed to stop sophisticated Iranian-made Shahab ballistic missiles. Israel’s Defense Ministry said it was the first flight test of the Arrow 3 interceptor. It was conducted at an Israeli test range over the Mediterranean Sea. The system is about three years away from becoming operational.
02/13/13: Reuters reports Egyptian forces have flooded smuggling tunnels under the border with the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip in an effort to shut them down. The network of tunnels is a vital lifeline for Gaza, bringing in an estimated 30 percent of all goods that reach the enclave and circumventing a blockade imposed by Israel for more than seven years. “The Egyptians have opened the water to drown the tunnels,” said Abu Ghassan, who supervises the work of thirty men at one tunnel some 220 yards from the border fence. An Egyptian security official said the campaign started five days ago. Dozens of tunnels have been destroyed since last August following the killing of sixteen Egyptian soldiers in a militant attack near the Gaza fence.
02/11/13: Reuters reports Israel gave final approval Monday for ninety new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, a move likely to drive another wedge into a rift with the US ahead of a visit by President Barack Obama. The dwellings will be built in Beit El, a major Jewish settlement north of Jerusalem, the Defense Ministry said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged that 300 new homes will eventually be erected in Beit El, where thirty settler families were evicted last June after the Supreme Court ruled they were living illegally on private Palestinian land. Israel has come under international criticism, including from Washington, over its construction policy in the West Bank, territory it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and which the Palestinians want for their future state.
02/10/13: Al Jazeera reports a close ally of Israel’s Prime Minister has called peace with the Palestinians “impossible,” saying their conflict with Israel can only be “managed” rather than solved. Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman Saturday linked the more than two-year-old impasse to political turmoil in the Arab world. “It is not possible to solve the conflict here. The conflict can be managed and it is important to manage the conflict ... to negotiate on a long-term interim agreement.” A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Lieberman was expressing his own opinion in the interview. The ultranationalist Liberman’s role in the next coalition government is unclear, as he faces trial for corruption. He resigned from his post as Foreign Minister after he was indicted, but says he is innocent and would like to return.
02/10/13: The Miami Herald reports Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama will focus on Iran’s nuclear program, the violence in Syria, and the stalled peace process with the Palestinians. Speaking at a government meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said he had agreed with Obama on the issues to be discussed. Obama is expected to visit Israel along with the Palestinian Authority and Jordan next month. The visit has raised expectations that peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which collapsed about four years ago, can be resumed. Netanyahu welcomed Obama’s trip, his first visit to Israel as president.
02/04/13: Reuters reports Israel arrested twenty-three Hamas members in the occupied West Bank on Monday, some of them lawmakers. Hamas said in a statement that lawmakers Ahmed Attoun, Hatem Qafisha, and Mohammed al-Talhad had been detained in the early hours of the morning, as well as several local leaders. An Israeli military spokeswoman would not confirm whether Hamas lawmakers had been arrested and did not provide any of the men’s names or say why they had been detained. “Twenty-five Palestinians were arrested, twenty-three of them belonged to Hamas,” she said. Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, won the last Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006. In 2007, after a unity government collapsed, it seized control of the Gaza Strip from Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement.
02/04/13: The Washington Times reports Iran has rushed to the defense of its regional ally, Syria, and vowed Israel will regret its “latest aggression,” the airstrikes over Syria last week. The comments from Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, came a day after Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared to acknowledge that Israel carried out a strike in Syria last week. Reports indicate the Israeli air strike was aimed at a convoy of trucks transporting weapons by the Syria-Lebanon border. Jalili promised that Iran would not allow a Western attack against Syria.
02/03/13: The Miami Herald reports Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak indicated Sunday that his country was behind an airstrike on Syria that US officials said targeted anti-aircraft weapons bound for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. It was the first public comment by an Israeli official on the Wednesday strike; Israel generally refuses to comment on military operations. “I cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria several days ago,” Barak said, but he added, “I keep telling frankly that we said – and that’s proof when we said something we mean it – we say that we don’t think [Syria] should be allowed to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon.” Israel worries Syria’s civil war will cause President Bashar al-Assad to lose his grip on the country and on its arsenal, including chemical weapons.
01/30/13: BBC News reports Israel has strongly criticized Argentina for its decision to work with Iran to investigate athe 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires. The “truth commission” will be made up of five independent judges, none of whom will be from the two countries. But an Israeli spokesman said the move was tantamount to “inviting a murderer to investigate his own killing.” Argentine Ambassador was Atilio Norberto Molteni was also summoned by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Argentine courts have blamed Iran for the bombing of the center run by the Israeli-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA), which killed eighty-five people. Tehran has always denied any involvement, but Argentine prosecutors say the attack was planned and financed by Iran, and carried out by the Lebanese Shi’a Islamist group Hezbollah.
01/30/13: The Miami Herald reports Lebanon’s military said Wednesday that Israeli warplanes have sharply increased their activity over Lebanon in the past week, including at least twelve sorties in less than twenty-four hours in the country’s south. The flights come amid Israeli concerns about the civil war in neighboring Syria and fears that advanced weapons could reach hostile groups in Syria or the militant anti-Israel Hezbollah group in Lebanon. Among Israel’s chief concerns is that Hezbollah could get its hands on Syrian chemical arms and anti-aircraft missiles. If that happened, it would change the balance of power in the region and hinder Israel’s ability to conduct air sorties in Lebanon. A Lebanese army statement said the last of the sorties took place at 2 AM local time Wednesday. There was no immediate comment from Israel.
01/27/13: The New York Times reports outgoing Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview published Friday that the Pentagon had prepared sophisticated blueprints for a surgical operation to set back Iran’s nuclear program should the United States decide to attack, possibly indicating that Israel might have shelved any plans for a unilateral strike, at least for now. Last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was pushing hard for the Obama Administration to set clear “red lines” on Iran’s nuclear progress that would prompt the United States to undertake a military strike, infuriating the administration. The Pentagon declined to comment, but a senior defense official said, “The US military constantly plans for a range of contingencies we might face around the world, and our planning is often quite detailed.”
01/02/13: The New York Times reports for the first time in five years, Israel on Sunday allowed 20 truckloads of building materials into Gaza for use by the private sector, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials. One of the first tangible concessions under a cease-fire deal reached after eight days of intesnive fighting in November, it signaled a shift in Israel’s approach to the Palestinian enclave. Israeli officials said that construction materials would now be allowed in on a daily basis via the Kerem Shalom crossing on Israel’s border with Gaza. The shipment on Sunday came in addition to 34 trucks of gravel that crossed into Gaza over the weekend from Egypt, which also had Israel’s approval. The materials from Egypt were earmarked for housing complexes and other construction projects.
12/05/12: NPR reports Israel’s ambassadors to Britain, France, Denmark, Spain and Sweden were summoned Monday to hear opposition to the newly announced E1 settlement plan. It calls for Israel to build 3,000 housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. While the international community opposes all Israeli settlement building, construction near Jerusalem is particularly sensitive because the Palestinians seek the eastern part of the city for a future capital, and this plan could bisect the West Bank and greatly undermine efforts for a two-state solution. The US has called the plan “counterproductive,” and now the Europeans have weighed in with even more pointed criticism. Israel also announced Sunday that it would withhold $100 million in tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority and use it to repay what the Palestinians owe to Israel’s electric company.