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Israel Tests Ballistic Missile Defense System Amidst Tensions

Reports from opposition groups in Syria early Tuesday estimated that as many as 12 Iranian Revolutionary Guards troops were killed by Israeli air strikes on targets in and around Damascus international airport earlier this week. A handful of troops serving in other Iranian-allied factions were also killed in the strikes, with many more wounded. In related news, the IDF and US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) carried out a successful test Tuesday morning of the Arrow-3 air defense system, which forms a crucial part of Israel’s plans to defend itself against attacks by long-range ballistic missiles.

In related news, the German government on Monday evening revoked the license of Mahan Air, an Iranian airline partially owned by the state which is widely suspected of being a front for the transport of weapons and equipment for various Iranian-backed terror groups around the world.

"It cannot be ruled out that this airline could also transport cargo to Germany that threatens our security,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said. “This is based on knowledge of past terrorist activities by Iran in Europe."

Israel Celebrates Opening of Ramon Airport
Israelis were heartened on Monday at the inauguration of the new Ramon Airport in the Timna Valley north of Eilat, named for Ilan Ramon and his son Assaf, who both served in the Israeli Air Force and died in accidents while serving their country. “The Zionist vision is being realized here, from the foundations up to the rafters: planting a root into the earth of the homeland – and at the same time taking off to the peak of success, on the wings of great imagination,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the inauguration ceremony.

“Here, in Timna, we are fulfilling three key national goals: first, the advancement of national aviation; second, the blooming of the Negev and Arava; and third, adding layers to the building of our relations with the countries of the world.”

Israel Blesses the World
A study was recently published by researchers at Tel Aviv University giving hope to millions of people around the world who suffer or are at risk from various forms of cancer and other health problems. The research shows a connection between levels of the protein ubiquilin - 4 can have a destabilizing effect on the human genome, which can cause various health issues including cancer but also genetic disorders and chronic diseases. Health professionals can use the new research to develop more effective treatments and prevention programs for patients.

EU Issues Rare Rebuke of Palestinian Authority
The heads of European Union diplomatic missions in Ramallah took a highly unusual step on Monday, calling on the Palestinian Authority to conduct free and fair elections in the near future and expressing concerns over various irregularities in the PA’s administration of the Palestinian population in the West Bank. The statement noted that election are “crucial” to the “establishment of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.”

Today’s video tells the story of an Israeli rescue at sea

Netanyahu Returns from Diplomatic Mission in Chad

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in N’Djamena, capital of the central African country of Chad, over the weekend to sign an agreement of mutual formal diplomatic recognition between the two countries. Netanyahu told reporters that the move had come with the encouragement of Arab governments, despite efforts by Iran and Palestinian factions to derail it. “The breakthroughs with the Arab world help us in the Muslim world,” he said. “And also, the Muslims want our help in dealing with the Arab states.”

“We are making history,” Netanyahu said. “We are turning Israel into a rising world power. There are those who tried to prevent this, but without success…it is significant for us that Chad is a country with a Muslim majority that seeks friendship with Israel. There are other such countries, but in Africa this is particularly significant.”

On the way back to Israel Sunday morning, Netanyahu made another symbolic breath through when his aircraft was allowed to fly through the airspace of South Sudan, despite being controlled by the regime in Khartoum which has traditionally been very unfriendly towards the Jewish State.

Palestinian Authority Renounces Financial Aid from US
In a dramatic move, Palestinian Authority Rami Hamdallah sent a diplomatic letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the weekend informing him that the PA formally renounced all financial aid from the US, including for security, so as to avoid liability for US court decisions holding the PA financially liable for terrorist attacks committed by its subjects against US citizens. The decision by the PA came following the passage of the 2018 Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ACTA, P.L. 115-253) last October and its going into effect at the end of January.

Ukrainian President Visiting Israel
In yet another defeat for the effort to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko landed in Israel this week along with his Economy Minister Stefan Kubiv to sign a Free Trade Agreement with the Jewish State. The first official meeting was with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who thanked him for Ukraine’s support of Israel in various international forums.

Israel Blesses the World
Researchers at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and their colleagues at Harvard Medical School announced a breakthrough this week in their efforts to identify a mechanism that the human body uses to attack cancer cells. A recent study published in the medical journal Nature gave details of their findings, which give hope to millions of people around the world who suffer or are at risk for a variety of illnesses, including lung and skin cancer.

Today’s video shows how Tu Bishvat is celebrated in Israel

Israel Strikes Iranian Targets in Syria

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech Monday at a ceremony marking the opening of the Ilan and Asaf Ramon Airport in the Arava Desert north of Eilat, referencing IDF strikes on Iranian targets in Syria earlier in the day and declaring that Israel is “operating both against Iran and against the Syrian forces that are abetting the Iranian aggression. We will strike at anyone who tried to harm us. Whoever threatens to eliminate us will bear full responsibility."

The Israeli strikes came in response to a rocket that was fired at the Israeli zone of the Golan Heights and photographed by dozens of skiers and other visitors to Mount Hermon. Photos and videos of the incoming rocket, which was destroyed in-flight by an Israeli Iron Dome air defense unit, appeared within minutes on social media.

“The firing of the missile yesterday, a launch that could have killed civilians, was fired by Iranians out of Damascus within an area that we were promised that there would be no Iranians,” IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis told reporters Monday morning.  “The bottom line is that such a missile fired by Iranians from an area where there they are not supposed to be is an Iranian attempt to attack Israel, to endanger civilians lives and military targets. Iran is exploiting Syria, and Syria is paying a heavy price for facilitating Iranian actions.”

“The Iranian attack on Israeli territory yesterday is yet another clear proof of the intention behind the attempts to establish Iran in Syria and the danger they pose to the State of Israel and regional stability,” the IDF said in a separate statement. “The IDF will continue to act decisively and firmly against the Iranian establishment in Syria.”

The commander of the Iranian Air Force issued a statement Monday following the strikes, which were reported as being unsuccessful by several Arab and Russian media outlets, by declaring that his forces were prepared to carry out a merciless campaign against Israel, "which will bring an end to the IDF's attacks on Syria" adding that "Our armed forces are prepared for a war that will bring the crushing destruction of Israel. We are ready for the day when we will see the end of Israel."

Here is a video giving some analysis of Iran’s relationship with Europe

Arab League Chief De-emphasizes Palestinian Issue

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abu al-Gheith recently gave an interview to an Egyptian TV news analysis program in which he said, among other things, that following several years of regional turmoil which has seen several Arab governments fall, Turkey and Iran becoming more assertive and the re-entry of Russia, the decades long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has become less of a priority. However, he added, “it is still a pressing circumstance that we [Arab states] must strive to resist.”  Some Arab commentators denounced the statement as part of a “conspiracy” to normalize relations with Israel.

Israeli Security Official Meets with Indian President
The campaign to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered another defeat on Thursday when National Security Council chief Meir Ben-Shabbat returned to Israel from a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on an Air India flight which overflew Saudi air space. The meetings were favourably covered in Indian media, giving a strong indication of the close ties between the two countries.

Israeli Feminists Wary of Women’s March
The Women’s March  scheduled for this Saturday will happen without many of its most enthusiastic initial supporters, including Rachel Druck, who helped organize the 2017 event held in Tel Aviv. “I could not justify participating as a Jewish woman or asking other Jewish women to come out for something that has become so dismissive of Jewish women and the Jewish experience generally and it has become really painful,” Druck told The Jerusalem Post. These sentiments were echoed by other Israeli women who said they would be participating in alternative events Saturday not connected to the main event in the US.

US Army to Acquire Iron Dome Batteries
Reports emerged this week that the US Army has moved to acquire two batteries of the battle-proven and Israeli produced Iron Dome air defence system and hope to have them ready for action by the end of 2020. "The Iron Dome system provides the best value for the US military in terms of the timetable for its acquisition and deployment," according to media reports.

Today's Video shows some of the IDF's recent Anti-Terrorism efforts

Netanyahu Likely to Face Indictment Before Election

Israel’s Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit issued a statement late Thursday apparently rejecting a request from lawyers representing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a decision on whether or not to pursue corruption charges against Netanyahu be delayed until after elections scheduled for 9 April. Most political analysts agree that it is likely an indictment pending a hearing will be announced sometime in February. In other political developments, several parties launched their initial campaign videos on social media platforms Thursday, including a somewhat humorous statement by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party.

Gantz’s campaign slogan, unveiled in the video, was “Israel before everything” and included a statement that he had “decided to reenlist” in public life four years after retiring from the IDF because he felt like he could make a positive change in the direction of the country. The Yesh Atid faction also posted a video featuring party leader Yair Lapid shredding files marked with the names of several unpopular budget items and laws passed by the Knesset in recent years, concluding with a declaration by the party that What they broke, we will fix.”

The videos were parodied in counter-videos put out by other parties, including Labor and Likud.

Finally, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who along with Education Minister Naftali Bennet recently broke with the Bayit Yehudi Party to form the “New Right” party, made a statement THursday in reaction to calls for her to step down in light of the “sex for judicial appointments” scandal involving Efi Nave, the recently resigned head of the Israel Bar Association and a close political ally of Shaked.

“In recent days, there has been an unrestrained false attack of incitement against me, including false and fabricated accusations,” she said at a legal conference in Jerusalem. “The left-wing political attacks will not weaken me. I plan to continue as justice minister for another four years until I finish the revolution I started.” She added that she was “disappointed” by attacks on her from female MKs from Left wing parties.

“They know me well. We disagree ideologically, but I saw them as work friends. They are all women. And this is what disappointed me. They have exploited this affair to make an ugly and personal political campaign against me.”

Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, erstwhile leader of the opposition, responded by saying  “It is regrettable that instead of repenting for her sin, searching her soul and apologizing for her part in glorifying Efi Nave and placing unbridled power in his hands, Shaked is doing what she does best: attack. The stain is on the wall and it will not be erased. Her expectation that female Knesset members will not attack her simply because she is a woman is distorted.”

Here is a recent video giving some analysis of the upcoming Israeli elections

Heavy Snow Fails to Appear in Jerusalem

Although there was plenty of rain, wind, hail and low temperatures overnight Wednesday, Jerusalemites woke up Thursday morning to see only small patches of quickly melting snow here and there as the municipality announced that schools and offices would operate normally. Large amounts of rain also fell on the coastal plain and in the north, with the Sea of Galilee reporting a rise in level of 6 cm, according to the Meteorological Service.

Iranian IRGC Leader Threatens Israel with Annihilation
Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Mohammad Ali Jafari responded to a warning the day before from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to remove Iranian forces and proxies from Syria by saying Israel should “fear the day when Iranian precision missiles hit you and take revenge of all the blood of oppressed Muslims which you have shed…be sure, we do not take into account your ridiculous threats. You know that if we have chosen to wait against your hostile measures, some considerations lies behind it. Don't play with the lion's tail."

In related news, an attack in the Syrian town of Manbij claimed by the Islamic State (IS) terror militia killed four US troops and wounded three others on Wednesday, according to a US official. Other unofficial reports gave different numbers of US troops and others killed and wounded in the incident.

Netanyahu Hosts AIPAC Delegation
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a large delegation of representatives and officials from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Jerusalem on Wednesday, telling them among other things that "The most important thing that happened in the last year in the Middle East was President Trump's decision to leave the nuclear deal which led to a weakened the Iranian economy. The nuclear deal put money in Iran's pocket and from there the money went straight to Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Another dramatic event was our military operation to remove Iran's military foundation in Syria."
 
Here is a video from the meeting


 
Legal Establishment Engulfed in Scandal
Israel’s legal establishment was rocked late Wednesday by the arrest of Bar Association chairman Effi Naveh and several other prominent lawyers and judges on suspicion of their involvement in a scheme to trade sexual favors for judicial appointments. Naveh, who is the main suspect in the case, is facing charges of bribery, fraud, breach of trust, and obstruction of justice. The case has cast a shadow over the political future of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, with many of her political opponents attempting to attach blame to her for the incidents which have occurred on her watch.
 
Today’s video introduces the incoming IDF Chief of Staff Avi Kohavi

Scandal Over ‘McJesus’ Sculpture Widens at Haifa Museum

Following violent street protests by hundreds of Arab Christians and several complaints by senior clergy against a display at the Haifa Museum of Art entitled “Sacred Goods” which includes the “McJesus” sculpture by Finnish artist and BDS-supporter Jani Leinonen, the Ministry of Culture attempted to defund the Museum on Tuesday before being blocked from doing so by the Department of Justice. “It is forbidden to block funding to cultural institutions because of the content they exhibit,” Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber wrote in a letter to Culture Minister Miri Regev Tuesday.

Regev wrote a letter to the Museum in which she said, among other things, that the sculpture, as well as some other displays which are part of the “Sacred Goods” collection, makes a “mockery of the crucifix, the most important religious symbol for Christians around the world…this work does not belong in a cultural institution supported by state funds.”

DeSantis Issues Directive to Discontinue Use of Airbnb
Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis issued a directive this week that state employees are not to use the online travel lodging service Airbnb while on official business following that organizations announcement in November that it will de-list apartments in Jewish settlement communities in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. “We have a moral obligation to oppose the Airbnb policy. It does target Jews specifically. I think that’s wrong,” DeSantis said. “Airbnb claims it’s a company of inclusion and yet this policy only affects Jews who have homes on the West Bank. It doesn’t appear to apply to anyone else on the face of the earth.”
 
In related news, the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered another defeat this week when Komatsu, the Japanese industrial conglomerate, inaugurated a project in cooperation with the New Feldman company in the Jewish State. The inauguration was attended by over 1,000 people, including members of a large delegation of Japanese business leaders who are in Israel this week looking for investment and trade opportunities.
 
Here is a video of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeting members of the delegation



Turkey to Set up ‘Security Zone’ in Northeast Syria
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Tuesday that he will accept a request from US President Donald Trump to establish a "security zone" in northern Syria as an alternative to a feared invasion of the area which many feared would involve massacres of US-allied Kurdish factions, which Ankara considers terrorists. “Comparing Turkey’s presence in Syria with that of any other state or power is an insult to both history and our civilisation,” Erdogan said, in response to accusations that he was planning to invade and occupy a large section of his neighboring country.

“We could create such a safe zone if coalition forces especially America provide logistical and financial support,” Erdogan added. “That would also entirely prevent an influx [of refugees].” 

Iranian Nuclear Chief Boasts of Enrichment Capabilities
Ali Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told a local news agency on Tuesday that despite the clerical regime’s oft-repeated insistence that it is complying with the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement, “If we want to come out of the nuclear deal and produce, within four days we could start our 20 percent. But we already have stockpiles of 20 percent, and the capability.”

Israeli Labor Party Suffers Major Setback

Labor MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, a highly popular lawmaker who has publically opposed many policies of party chief Avi Gabbay, announced Wednesday morning that she won’t be a candidate for the upcoming Knesset elections, citing the dramatic changes in the Labor Party. Analysts were quick to speculate about the possibility that the move would erode Labors support in the elections scheduled for 9 April. "I started working in politics when I was 20-years-old and I will continue to work in politics," Nahmias-Verbin wrote her supporters. "Despite the great support I receive, my home is not the same home it was before." She added a re-iteration of her strong opposition to Gabbay’s decision to terminate Labor’s partnership with the Hatnua party led by Tzipi Livni, saying it was a "strategic mistake that will cause great harm to chances to replace the government."

Her announcement was met with statements of regret from many of her colleagues and Labor Party activists.

Gabbay spent Tuesday at campaign events for and with Labor candidates at different events around the country, including an event at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv alongside candidate Henrique Cymerman, with whom Gabbay has travelled to visit several Arab countries over the last several months. At that event, he promised to open a dialogue with the Arab League if he becomes Prime Minister in order to discuss options for moving forward with a regional peace plan.

“The diplomatic stalemate does not bring us more security but rather endangers us,” Gabbay said. “The fruit of such an agreement would be secure lives for Israeli citizens, opportunities for socioeconmic cooperation, and true normalization with a significant amount of Arab and Muslim countries.”

Here is a video in which some analysis is given on the upcoming elections

Gantz Sets Off Political Firestorm with Brief Comment

Israel’s pre-election scene was in an uproar Tuesday following a brief statement by former IDF Chief of Staff and leader of the new Israeli Resilience Party Benny Gantz, who told a group of leaders from the Druze community that he would work to “fix” the ‘Jewish Nation-State Law’ passed last year in the Knesset. The statement, the first by Gantz as he attempts to launch a political career, set off a firestorm of praise and criticism from his opponents all over the political map. "Gantz's first statement in politics makes it clear - Gantz is a member of the Left," tweeted a spokesperson for the “New Right” Party led by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. "The Nation-State Law is a historic achievement that reestablishes the state's national, Jewish and Zionist character in the face of ongoing erosion caused by the High Court of Justice. The Gantz plan to change the Nation-State Law clarifies his position."

"When Gantz attacks the Nation-State Law and Tzipi Livni commends him for it, everyone knows what was obvious: Gantz is Left, just like Lapid," said a statement by Likud.

"Remember that day when the Likud turns the Declaration of Independence into something of the Left," Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni said. "The Hatnua Party under my leadership is fighting for a state that is both Jewish and democratic, something that isn't obvious anymore. That is what this election is about."

"Gantz, you are right - equality must be added to the Nation-State Law," Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay said, "but it can't be done from within a Netanyahu government. I know, I was there. Do not despair, you can make a change. Commit not to sit in Netanyahu's government."

Later on Monday, a recording was leaked to the media in which Gabbay pronounced that "We have no problem with Gantz. He speaks the same language, has the same values and stances as us. But those screaming bloc, bloc bloc weaken themselves, and don’t believe in themselves."

In other political news, MK Bezalel Smotrich was elected leader of the National Union party Monday evening by the factions central committee, defeating Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel by receiving more than twice as many votes.

“I call on my friends in Bayit Yehudi: Let’s reconnect,” Smotrich said. “This is the time for unity. I hope that our friends in Bayit Yehudi will steady their ship quickly, build their list and reconnect [with the National Union]…My friends, we go from here to unite religious Zionism, to consolidate it and to bring it home.”

Netanyahu Warns Iran to ‘Get Out of Syria’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a direct warning to Iran Tuesday morning during remarks at the swearing in ceremony for incoming IDF Chief of Staff Lt. General Aviv Kochavi, bluntly telling the clerical regime in Teheran to remove its forces from Syria. "I'm telling you, get out of there fast,” he said. “We wont stop attacking." He also mocked an Iranian denial that Israel struck its forces in Damascus last Friday and a coralating denial by that Iranian official that Teheran even has any forces in Syria to be struck.

"The Israeli claims of attacking 200 Iranian targets in Syria are false and baseless reports, that is an Israeli attempt to conceal their ongoing failures in the area," Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi declared in a public statement late Monday. "Iran has no military presence in Syria."

In related news, Iranian Communications Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari issued a statement Tuesday morning that an attempt to launch a satellite into orbit around the earth failed as the rocket carrying it, which Israel and many other Western intelligence services believe is a cover for a program to develop nuclear capable intercontinental missiles, “failed to reach the required speed in the third stage, even though it succeeded in the first two stages of the launch."

Here is a video about Iran’s attempts to attack Israel along its northern border



PA Demands UN Peacekeepers be Deployed Against Israel
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in New York on Monday to preside over the PA’s assumption of the chairmanship of the Group of 77, the largest bloc of member states within the UN which nearly always votes together in the General Assembly. Before assuming the new role, Abbas gave a speech in which he demanded that the UN deploy international peacekeeping troops to protect Palestinians from what he described as Israeli aggression.

Israel Blesses the World
Israel-based Health Tech company MobileODT recently saw its Automated Visual Evaluation (AVE) machine learning algorithm given a stamp of approval from the National Cancer Institute and National Library of Medicine in the US. The machine is credited with giving doctors a powerful new tool for the early detection of cervical cancer, enabling more effective treatments and higher survival rates.

Israeli Group Receives Grant from Canada and EU
The latest defeat for the effort to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel came this week in the form of a $9.6 million grant from the European Union and the Canadian government to the Israeli-led international iReceptor Plus project to improve genomic and health-data sharing. “The project will make data more standardized and accessible,” iReceptor Plus coordinator and Bar-Ilan University Associate Prof. Gur Yaari told The Jerusalem Post. “Through our system, we will enable them to have the same standards and equal access to the data.”

Kochavi Takes Over as IDF Chief of Staff
Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi was sworn in as the IDF’s 22nd chief of staff on Tuesday at the IDF’s Kirya Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv, with his wife and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pinning the star on his uniform and newly retired Lt.-Gen. (res) Gadi Eisenkot on hand to hand off command. The orderly transition of command authority was also witnessed by officials and diplomats from several allied countries.