Israeli Tech Firms Revving Up Engines for Self-Driving Cars

By: Josef Federman; bigstory.ap.org

In this Tuesday, 14 March 2017 photo, from left: co-founder and CTO of Mobileye Prof. Amnon Shashua, Israeli Economy Minister Eli Cohen, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and the co-founder and CTO of Mobileye, Ziv Aviram, attend a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.As the world moves toward an era of self-driving cars, Israel is positioning itself to be the Detroit of the future. The country has emerged as a global leader in the fast-growing field of driverless cars, as illustrated by Intel’s $15 billion acquisition of Israeli firm Mobileye this week. (AP Photo/Olivier Fitoussi) ***ISRAEL OUT***

JERUSALEM (AP) — As the world moves toward an era of self-driving cars, Israel is positioning itself to be the Detroit of the future.

The country has emerged as a global leader in the fast-growing field of driverless cars, as illustrated by Intel’s more than $15 billion acquisition of Israeli firm Mobileye this week.

Israel is now home to hundreds of startups that provide everything from sensors to cybersecurity to data collection for autonomous vehicles, putting it alongside Silicon Valley at the forefront of an industry that many expect to take off over the next decade.

“In the last 12 months, the global interest is rising more and more,” said Lior Zeno-Zamansky, executive director of EcoMotion, a nonprofit group that promotes the smart transportation sector in Israel. “Everyone is looking for the next Mobileye.”

She said the Israeli smart transportation sector has attracted some $4 billion in investment over the past four years, roughly half of it driven by two industry leaders, Mobileye and Waze. During that time, the number of Israeli startups in the sector has grown from 87 in 2013 to over 500.

Virtually every major auto maker has established a foothold in Israel, and senior executives visit the country regularly. General Motors has already opened a research center in Israel, while Renault and Daimler are opening facilities as well. Other companies, including Ford, Honda, Toyota, Subaru, BMW, Mazda, Hyundai, Volvo and Audi are all active in the Israeli market.

In a sign of this interest, EcoMotion’s annual conference in May is expected to attract over 150 investors, up from just 10 in 2013, said Zeno-Zamansky. EcoMotion is a joint venture of the Israel Innovation Institute, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Economy Ministry.

Michael Granoff, president of Maniv Mobility, Israel’s only venture firm dedicated exclusively to automotive technology, said the auto industry is “ripe for change.” He cited the high cost and inefficiencies of owning a car and sitting in traffic, as well as the large numbers of road fatalities around the world.

He said Israel is well positioned to lead that change, not as a builder of cars or engines, but as a technology superpower.

“What we are witnessing is the digitization of transportation, and digitization is something that Israel has been a leader in,” he said.

Israel has long billed itself as “Startup Nation” for its thriving high-tech sector and entrepreneurial spirit, powered historically by veterans of murky technology units in the military. Major tech companies including Microsoft, Apple and Google all have research and development facilities in Israel.

Seasoned executives with expertise in such fields as cybersecurity, sensors, drone technology, communications and big data are now taking their knowledge to the auto field, Granoff said.

“This is far from a one-day or one-week story,” Granoff said. “This is going to be a story for the next 10 years.”

Mobileye, which makes software that helps cars avoid collisions, is the biggest deal in the Israeli sector so far. Intel offered $15.3 billion for the company, more than double its market value when it had its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange less than three years ago. That followed Google’s more than $1 billion purchase of Waze, an Israeli GPS app, in 2013.

Jerusalem-based Mobileye, whose software processes information from cameras and other car sensors to decide where the cars should steer, has products on just about every automaker’s autonomous test fleet.

The combination with Intel adds hardware, more software expertise and data centers that the companies say will hasten deployment of autonomous technology, including wider use of automatic emergency braking and other technologies that already are on the roads.

“The deal confirms Israel’s global leadership position in autonomous driving technologies,” said Jon Medved, chief executive of OurCrowd, a venture firm with investments in the sector. “The deal will also increase attention and funding for the already burgeoning Israeli cohort of next generation autonomous driving technology startups.”

There are still a number of obstacles to overcome. Companies aren’t certain how the cars will drive in snow or other bad weather, and it will be difficult for cars to be programmed to handle numerous local traffic customs. Also, no one really knows yet when the cars will be safe enough to remove human backup drivers, or whether humans are prepared to turn over the driving to machines.

Dozens of Israeli firms are now in the race to find solutions to these and other challenges. Among the most promising companies: otonomo, which allows car makers, apps and service providers to exchange data such as speed, temperature and battery levels; Innoviz Technologies, Oryx Vision and VayaVision, makers of sensor technology; and Argus Cyber Security, which protects cars from hackers.

Levy Raiz, a partner at Tel Aviv investment firm Flint Capital, said Israel’s autonomous vehicle industry is still smaller than other industries like cybersecurity and medical devices. But he also said he sees rapid growth in the next five years.

Flint does not have any holdings in the driverless car sector but expects to make up to 12 investments over the next two years, he said. “This is the priority of our second fund, which we are launching as I speak,” he said.

Defiant Iran Successfully Tests Another Ballistic Missile

Hormoz 2 said to destroy target 250 km. away; army commander says ‘better’ Iran-made version of S-300 to be tested in May

By: Agencies and Times of Israel Staff; timesofisrael.com

Illustrative photo of Iran’s Hormoz ballistic missile. (Screenshot/YouTube)

TEHRAN — Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported Thursday that the country’s Revolutionary Guard successfully tested another ballistic missile, while boasting that Iran’s efforts to build a “better” home-made version of the Russian S-300 missile defense system were well on their way.

The Fars report quoted Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the Guard’s airspace division, as saying the missile destroyed a target from a distance of 250 kilometers (155 miles). The report said the sea-launched ballistic missile dubbed Hormoz 2 was tested last week, providing no additional details.

Fars also quoted Major General Ataollah Salehi saying that Iran was “capable of building our needed equipment and we have built and are building a system better than the S-300.”

The operational readiness of the system, dubbed as Bavar (Belief) 373, will be tested in late May, according to the report.

Last week, Iran announced that the advanced S-300 air defense system, delivered by Russia following the July 2015 nuclear deal after years of delay, was now operational.

“The S-300 is a system that is deadly for our enemies and which makes our skies more secure,” said air defense commander General Farzad Esmaili, according to state TV, also noting that the domestically manufactured Bavar 373 which was “more advanced than the S-300” would be tested soon.

Iran had been trying to acquire the S-300 system for years to ward off repeated threats by Israel to bomb its nuclear facilities, but Russia had held off delivery in line with UN sanctions imposed over the nuclear program.

The Russian-made missile defense system is one of the most advanced of its kind in the world, offering long-range protection against both aircraft and missiles.

Israel had long sought to block the sale, which analysts say could impede a potential Israeli strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities. Other officials have expressed concern that the systems could reach Syria and Hezbollah, diluting Israel’s regional air supremacy.

Iran’s activation of the defense system and recent ballistic tests come amid mounting tensions with the new US administration of President Donald Trump, who imposed sanctions after Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile in January.

Defiantly, Iran has continued with the tests, firing a pair of ballistic missiles late last month and carrying out drills that the US and Israel maintain are banned by the UN.

According to US officials who spoke with Fox News on February 27, Iran had fired two short-range Fateh-110 missiles in successive tests over the previous weekend, outfitting them with a guiding system meant to target boats.

One of the two Fateh-110 short range ballistic missiles tested successfully struck a barge floating in the Persian Gulf some 155 miles from the launch site at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps base at Bandar-e-Jask in southeastern Iran.

Although the other missile did not hit its intended target, it was said to have been “in the vicinity.”

One of the officials who spoke with Fox said that the Fateh-110 Mod 3 missiles that were launched were equipped with an “active seeker,” which allows for improved targeting of seaborne vessels.

The missiles have a range of about 250 kilometers (155 miles), meaning they could not reach Israel from Iran. However, Syria and Hezbollah are thought to posses the missiles or modified versions of them. Iran has also hinted that it may have given technology to build the missiles to the Hamas terror group in Gaza as well.

Israel has also raised concerns in recent years of missile strikes on offshore gas facilities being set up in the Mediterranean.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump held a phone conversation to discuss “Iranian aggression” in the region and the 2015 nuclear deal, which the prime minister has vehemently opposed and which the president has repeatedly attacked.

The two leaders talked “at length” about the “dangers emanating from Iran and Iranian aggression in the region and the need to work together to deal with these threats,” according to a readout from the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday.

Illustrative: A missile launched from the Alborz mountains in Iran on March 9, 2016, reportedly inscribed in Hebrew, ‘Israel must be wiped out.’ (Fars News)

Meanwhile, the US Navy has a large presence in the Persian Gulf, where its Fifth Fleet is headquartered, and Iran has threatened on numerous occasions to attack US ships operating in the area.

Earlier this week a US vessel in the Strait of Hormuz was forced to change course after being harassed by Iranian fast boats in the strategic waterway.

The harassed boat — the USNS Invincible — is a tracking ship, designed to track ballistic missile launches. It was not immediately clear if the ship was purposefully targeted by the IRGC vessels in connection to the ballistic missile tests.

After Iran test-fired a ballistic missile in January, the US imposed sanctions on a number of entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, and Trump warned the Islamic Republic it had been “put on notice.”

Although Iran maintains that the testing of ballistic missiles is not banned by the 2015 nuclear deal designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, the US said that the sanctions were imposed for Iran’s violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2331, which calls upon Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”

Since January’s test-firing of a ballistic missile, Iran has carried out a number of other tests of cruise and submarine-based missiles.

 

Syria Fires Missiles at Israeli Jets After Airstrikes

By: Ian Deitch; bigstory.ap.org

This Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016 photo shows an Israeli Air Force F-15 plane in flight during a graduation ceremony for new pilots in the Hatzerim air force base near the city of Beersheba, Israel. Anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria into Israeli-controlled territory early on Friday, following a series of Israeli airstrikes inside Syria, the Israeli military said. The military said its warplanes struck several targets in Syria and were back in Israeli-controlled airspace when several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria toward the Israeli jets. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Syria fired missiles at Israeli warplanes on a mission to destroy a weapons convoy destined for the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah prompting it to deploy its missile defense system, Israeli officials said Friday, in a rare military exchange between the two hostile neighbors.

The Israeli military said its aircraft struck several targets in Syria and were back in Israeli-controlled airspace when several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria toward the Israeli jets.

Israeli aerial defense systems intercepted one of the missiles, the army said, without elaborating. It would not say whether any other missiles struck Israeli-held territory, but said the safety of Israeli civilians and Israeli aircraft was “not compromised.”

Israel is widely believed to have carried out several airstrikes in recent years on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions. It rarely comments on such operations and the military statement detailing the raid and comments confirming the operation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were highly unusual.

“Our policy is very consistent. When we identify attempts to transfer advanced weapons to the Hezbollah, and we have the intelligence and the operational capability, we act to prevent that. That is what was and that is what will be,” Netanyahu said.

Hezbollah is fighting alongside President Bashar Assad in the brutal Syrian civil war. The Iran-backed group is sworn to Israel’s destruction and fought a month-long war with the Jewish state in 2006.

The firing of missiles from Syria toward Israeli aircraft is rare, though Israeli military officials reported a shoulder-fired missile attack a few months ago.

Israeli Channel 10 TV reported that Israel deployed its Arrow defense system for the first time against a real threat and hit an incoming missile, intercepting it before it exploded in Israel.

However, Arrow is designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles high in the stratosphere, so it remained unclear why the system would have been used in this particular incident.

The Israeli military would not comment on the type of system used.

Israel’s powerful transportation and intelligence minister Yisrael Katz told the station “our message is clear, we will not be complacent with a Syrian policy that arms Hezbollah.” Katz said “the fact that the incident developed into a situation where Israel claimed responsibility and the Syrians responded is significant.”

A Syrian military statement said four Israeli warplanes violated Syrian airspace — flying into Syria through Lebanese territory — and targeted a military position in central Syria.

Damascus said Syrian anti-aircraft systems confronted the planes and claimed one of the jets was shot down in Israeli- controlled territory and that another was hit. The Israeli military denied the claim, saying none of the jets had been hit.

There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah.

The pan-Arab Al-Mayadeen TV, which has good sources within the militant group, dismissed reports by other Arab media outlets that a Hezbollah commander, Badee Hamiyeh, was killed in one of the airstrikes. It said Hamiyeh was killed Thursday in the southern Syrian region of Quneitra, near the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

Jordan, which borders both Israel and Syria, said parts of the missiles fell in its rural northern areas, including the Irbid district. The Jordanian military said the debris came from the Israeli interception of missiles fired from Syria.

Radwan Otoum, the Irbid governor, told the state news agency Petra that the missile parts caused only minor damage.

A chunk of missile crashed into the courtyard of a home in the community of Inbeh in northern Jordan, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Syrian border.

Umm Bilal al-Khatib, a local resident, said she heard a blast at around 3 a.m. and initially thought a gas cylinder had exploded. When she went outside she found a small crater and a 3-meter-long (10-foot) cylinder.

Israeli media said the interception by the Arrow system took place north of Jerusalem.

Arrow is part of what Israel calls its “multilayer missile defense,” comprised of different systems meant to protect against short and long range threats, including the thousands of missiles possessed by Hezbollah in Lebanon and rockets used by Hamas and other Islamic militant groups in Gaza.

Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering mostly sporadic incidents of spillover fire that Israel has generally dismissed as tactical errors by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Israel has responded to the errant fire with limited reprisals on Syrian positions.

The Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011 as a popular uprising against Assad, eventually descended into a full-blown civil war, with Syrian government forces fighting an array of rebel groups. The chaos has allowed al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria and the Islamic State group to expand their reach.

The skies over Syria are now crowded, with Russian and Syrian aircraft backing Assad’s forces and a U.S.-led coalition striking Islamic State and al-Qaida targets.

 

How a Pro-Palestinian American Reporter Changed His Views on Israel and the Conflict

By: Hunter Stuart; jpost.com

A year working as a journalist in Israel and the Palestinian territories made Hunter Stuart rethink his positions on the conflict.

The author walks past Ofer Prison near Ramallah, during a Palestinian protest outside the facility in November 2015. (photo credit:COURTESY / JONATHAN BROWN)

In the summer of 2015, just three days after I moved to Israel for a year-and-a-half stint freelance reporting in the region, I wrote down my feelings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A friend of mine in New York had mentioned that it would be interesting to see if living in Israel would change the way I felt. My friend probably suspected that things would look differently from the front-row seat, so to speak.

Boy was he right.

Before I moved to Jerusalem, I was very pro-Palestinian. Almost everyone I knew was. I grew up Protestant in a quaint, politically correct New England town; almost everyone around me was liberal. And being liberal in America comes with a pantheon of beliefs: You support pluralism, tolerance and diversity. You support gay rights, access to abortion and gun control.

The belief that Israel is unjustly bullying the Palestinians is an inextricable part of this pantheon. Most progressives in the US view Israel as an aggressor, oppressing the poor noble Arabs who are being so brutally denied their freedom.

“I believe Israel should relinquish control of all of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank,” I wrote on July 11, 2015, from a park near my new apartment in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood. “The occupation is an act of colonialism that only creates suffering, frustration and despair for millions of Palestinians.”

Perhaps predictably, this view didn’t play well among the people I met during my first few weeks in Jerusalem, which, even by Israeli standards, is a conservative city. My wife and I had moved to the Jewish side of town, more or less by chance ‒ the first Airbnb host who accepted our request to rent a room happened to be in the Nachlaot neighborhood where even the hipsters are religious. As a result, almost everyone we interacted with was Jewish Israeli and very supportive of Israel. I didn’t announce my pro-Palestinian views to them ‒ I was too afraid. But they must have sensed my antipathy (I later learned this is a sixth sense Israelis have).

During my first few weeks in Jerusalem, I found myself constantly getting into arguments about the conflict with my roommates and in social settings. Unlike waspy New England, Israel does not afford the privilege of politely avoiding unpleasant political conversations. Outside of the Tel Aviv bubble, the conflict is omnipresent; it affects almost every aspect of life. Avoiding it simply isn’t an option.

During one such argument, one of my roommates ‒ an easygoing American-Jewish guy in his mid-30s ‒ seemed to be suggesting that all Palestinians were terrorists. I became annoyed and told him it was wrong to call all Palestinians terrorists, that only a small minority supported terrorist attacks. My roommate promptly pulled out his laptop, called up a 2013 Pew Research poll and showed me the screen. I saw that Pew’s researchers had done a survey of thousands of people across the Muslim world, asking them if they supported suicide bombings against civilians in order to “defend Islam from its enemies.” The survey found that 62 percent of Palestinians believed such terrorist acts against civilians were justified in these circumstances. And not only that, the Palestinian territories were the only place in the Muslim world where a majority of citizens supported terrorism; everywhere else it was a minority ‒ from Lebanon and Egypt to Pakistan and Malaysia.

I didn’t let my roommate win the argument early morning hours. But the statistic stuck with me.

Less than a month later, in October 2015, a wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Jewish-Israelis began. Nearly every day, an angry, young Muslim Palestinian was stabbing or trying to run over someone with his car. A lot of the violence was happening in Jerusalem, some of it just steps from where my wife and I had moved into an apartment of our own, and lived and worked and went grocery shopping.

At first, I’ll admit, I didn’t feel a lot of sympathy for Israelis. Actually, I felt hostility. I felt that they were the cause of the violence. I wanted to shake them and say, “Stop occupying the West Bank, stop blockading Gaza, and Palestinians will stop killing you!” It seemed so obvious to me; how could they not realize that all this violence was a natural, if unpleasant, reaction to their government’s actions?

IT WASN’T until the violence became personal that I began to see the Israeli side with greater clarity. As the “Stabbing Intifada” (as it later became known) kicked into full gear, I traveled to the impoverished East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan for a story I was writing.

As soon as I arrived, a Palestinian kid who was perhaps 13 years old pointed at me and shouted “Yehud!” which means “Jew” in Arabic. Immediately, a large group of his friends who’d been hanging out nearby were running toward me with a terrifying sparkle in their eyes. “Yehud! Yehud!” they shouted. I felt my heart start to pound. I shouted at them in Arabic “Ana mish yehud! Ana mish yehud!” (“I’m not Jewish, I’m not Jewish!”) over and over. I told them, also in Arabic, that I was an American journalist who “loved Palestine.” They calmed down after that, but the look in their eyes when they first saw me is something I’ll never forget. Later, at a house party in Amman, I met a Palestinian guy who’d grown up in Silwan. “If you were Jewish, they probably would have killed you,” he said.

I made it back from Silwan that day in one piece; others weren’t so lucky. In Jerusalem, and across Israel, the attacks against Jewish Israelis continued. My attitude began to shift, probably because the violence was, for the first time, affecting me directly.

I found myself worrying that my wife might be stabbed while she was on her way home from work. Every time my phone lit up with news of another attack, if I wasn’t in the same room with her, I immediately sent her a text to see if she was OK.

Then a friend of mine ‒ an older Jewish Israeli guy who’d hosted my wife and I for dinner at his apartment in the capital’s Talpiot neighborhood ‒ told us that his friend had been murdered by two Palestinians the month before on a city bus not far from his apartment. I knew the story well ‒ not just from the news, but because I’d interviewed the family of one of the Palestinian guys who’d carried out the attack. In the interview, his family told me how he was a promising young entrepreneur who was pushed over the edge by the daily humiliations wrought by the occupation. I ended up writing a very sympathetic story about the killer for a Jordanian news site called Al Bawaba News.

Writing about the attack with the detached analytical eye of a journalist, I was able to take the perspective that (I was fast learning) most news outlets wanted – that Israel was to blame for Palestinian violence. But when I learned that my friend’s friend was one of the victims, it changed my way of thinking. I felt horrible for having publicly glorified one of the murderers. The man who’d been murdered, Richard Lakin, was originally from New England, like me, and had taught English to Israeli and Palestinian children at a school in Jerusalem. He believed in making peace with the Palestinians and “never missed a peace rally,” according to his son.

By contrast, his killers ‒ who came from a middle-class neighborhood in East Jerusalem and were actually quite well-off relative to most Palestinians ‒ had been paid 20,000 shekels to storm the bus that morning with their cowardly guns. More than a year later, you can still see their faces plastered around East Jerusalem on posters hailing them as martyrs. (One of the attackers, Baha Aliyan, 22, was killed at the scene; the second, Bilal Ranem, 23, was captured alive.)

Being personally affected by the conflict caused me to question how forgiving I’d been of Palestinian violence previously. Liberals, human-rights groups and most of the media, though, continued to blame Israel for being attacked. Ban Ki-moon, for example, who at the time was the head of the United Nations, said in January 2016 ‒ as the streets of my neighborhood were stained with the blood of innocent Israeli civilians ‒ that it was “human nature to react to occupation.” In fact, there is no justification for killing someone, no matter what the political situation may or may not be, and Ban’s statement rankled me.

SIMILARLY, THE way that international NGOs, European leaders and others criticized Israel for its “shoot to kill” policy during this wave of terrorist attacks began to annoy me more and more.

In almost any nation, when the police confront a terrorist in the act of killing people, they shoot him dead and human-rights groups don’t make a peep. This happens in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh; it happens in Germany and England and France and Spain, and it sure as hell happens in the US (see San Bernardino and the Orlando nightclub massacre, the Boston Marathon bombings and others). Did Amnesty International condemn Barack Obama or Abdel Fattah al-Sisi or Angela Merkel or François Hollande when their police forces killed a terrorist? Nope. But they made a point of condemning Israel.

What’s more, I started to notice that the media were unusually fixated on highlighting the moral shortcomings of Israel, even as other countries acted in infinitely more abominable ways. If Israel threatened to relocate a collection of Palestinian agricultural tents, as they did in the West Bank village of Sussiya in the summer of 2015, for example, the story made international headlines for weeks. The liberal outrage was endless. Yet, when Egypt’s president used bulldozers and dynamite to demolish an entire neighborhood in the Sinai Peninsula in the name of national security, people scarcely noticed.

Where do these double standards come from?

I’ve come to believe it’s because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appeals to the appetites of progressive people in Europe, the US and elsewhere. They see it as a white, first world people beating on a poor, third world one. It’s easier for them to become outraged watching two radically different civilizations collide than it is watching Alawite Muslims kill Sunni Muslims in Syria, for example, because to a Western observer the difference between Alawite and Sunni is too subtle to fit into a compelling narrative that can be easily summarized on Facebook.

Unfortunately for Israel, videos on social media that show US-funded Jewish soldiers shooting tear gas at rioting Arab Muslims is Hollywood-level entertainment and fits perfectly with the liberal narrative that Muslims are oppressed and Jewish Israel is a bully.

I admire the liberal desire to support the underdog. They want to be on the right side of history, and their intentions are good. The problem is that their beliefs often don’t square with reality.

In reality, things are much, much more complex than a five-minute spot on the evening news or a two paragraph-long Facebook status will ever be able to portray. As a friend told me recently, “The reason the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so intractable is that both sides have a really, really good point.”

Unfortunately, not enough people see it that way. I recently bumped into an old friend from college who told me that a guy we’d both known when we were freshmen had been active in Palestinian protests for a time after graduating. The fact that a smart, well-educated kid from Vermont, who went to one of the best liberal arts schools in the US, traveled thousands of miles to throw bricks at Israeli soldiers is very, very telling.

THERE’S AN old saying that goes, “If you want to change someone’s mind, first make them your friend.” The friends I made in Israel forever changed my mind about the country and about the Jewish need for a homeland. But I also spent a lot of time traveling in the Palestinian territories getting to know Palestinians. I spent close to six weeks visiting Nablus and Ramallah and Hebron, and even the Gaza Strip. I met some incredible people in these places; I saw generosity and hospitality unlike anywhere else I’ve ever traveled to. I’ll be friends with some of them for the rest of my life. But almost without fail, their views of the conflict and of Israel and of Jewish people in general was extremely disappointing.

First of all, even the kindest, most educated, upper-class Palestinians reject 100 percent of Israel ‒ not just the occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. They simply will not be content with a two-state solution ‒ what they want is to return to their ancestral homes in Ramle and Jaffa and Haifa and other places in 1948 Israel, within the Green Line. And they want the Israelis who live there now to leave. They almost never speak of coexistence; they speak of expulsion, of taking back “their” land.

To me, however morally complicated the creation of Israel may have been, however many innocent Palestinians were killed and displaced from their homes in 1948 and again in 1967, Israel is now a fact, accepted by almost every government in the world (including many in the Middle East). But the ongoing desire of Palestinians to wipe Israel off the map is unproductive and backward- looking and the West must be very careful not to encourage it.

The other thing is that a large percentage of Palestinians, even among the educated upper class, believe that most Islamic terrorism is actually engineered by Western governments to make Muslims look bad. I know this sounds absurd. It’s a conspiracy theory that’s comical until you hear it repeated again and again as I did. I can hardly count how many Palestinians told me the stabbing attacks in Israel in 2015 and 2016 were fake or that the CIA had created ISIS.

For example, after the November 2015 ISIS shootings in Paris that killed 150 people, a colleague of mine ‒ an educated 27-year-old Lebanese-Palestinian journalist ‒ casually remarked that those massacres were “probably” perpetrated by the Mossad. Though she was a journalist like me and ought to have been committed to searching out the truth no matter how unpleasant, this woman was unwilling to admit that Muslims would commit such a horrific attack, and all too willing ‒ in defiance of all the facts ‒ to blame it on Israeli spies.

USUALLY WHEN I travel, I try to listen to people without imposing my own opinion. To me that’s what traveling is all about ‒ keeping your mouth shut and learning other perspectives. But after 3-4 weeks of traveling in Palestine, I grew tired of these conspiracy theories.

“Arabs need to take responsibility for certain things,” I finally shouted at a friend I’d made in Nablus the third or fourth time he tried to deflect blame from Muslims for Islamic terrorism. “Not everything is America’s fault.” My friend seemed surprised by my vehemence and let the subject drop ‒ obviously I’d reached my saturation point with this nonsense.

I know a lot of Jewish-Israelis who are willing to share the land with Muslim Palestinians, but for some reason finding a Palestinian who feels the same way was near impossible. Countless Palestinians told me they didn’t have a problem with Jewish people, only with Zionists. They seemed to forget that Jews have been living in Israel for thousands of years, along with Muslims, Christians, Druse, atheists, agnostics and others, more often than not, in harmony. Instead, the vast majority believe that Jews only arrived in Israel in the 20th century and, therefore, don’t belong here.

Of course, I don’t blame Palestinians for wanting autonomy or for wanting to return to their ancestral homes. It’s a completely natural desire; I know I would feel the same way if something similar happened to my own family. But as long as Western powers and NGOs and progressive people in the US and Europe fail to condemn Palestinian attacks against Israel, the deeper the conflict will grow and the more blood will be shed on both sides.

I’m back in the US now, living on the north side of Chicago in a liberal enclave where most people ‒ including Jews ‒ tend to support the Palestinians’ bid for statehood, which is gaining steam every year in international forums such as the UN.

Personally, I’m no longer convinced it’s such a good idea. If the Palestinians are given their own state in the West Bank, who’s to say they wouldn’t elect Hamas, an Islamist group committed to Israel’s destruction? That’s exactly what happened in Gaza in democratic elections in 2006. Fortunately, Gaza is somewhat isolated, and its geographic isolation ‒ plus the Israeli and Egyptian-imposed blockade ‒ limit the damage the group can do. But having them in control of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem is something Israel obviously doesn’t want. It would be suicide. And no country can be expected to consent to its own destruction.

So, now, I don’t know what to think. I’m squarely in the center of one of the most polarized issues in the world. I guess, at least, I can say that, no matter how socially unacceptable it was, I was willing to change my mind.

If only more people would do the same.

 

Fundamentally Freund: Operation Menashe 2017 is Underway

By: Michael Freund; jpost.com

The group which made aliya last week was the first to arrive in over a year and a half, and the first from the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram to move to Israel in more than three years.

NEW IMMIGRANTS upon arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport. . (photo credit:SHAVEI ISRAEL)

Last week, less than a month shy of his 50th birthday, Lyon Fanai fulfilled a dream he had been nurturing for as long as he could remember. After an arduous journey across multiple time zones and spanning more than two millennia, Fanai and his beautiful family arrived safely in Israel, part of a group of 102 Bnei Menashe who made aliya from the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram.

And thus began Operation Menashe 2017, which was launched by Shavei Israel, the organization I founded and chair, in conjunction with Israel’s Absorption Ministry.

With God’s help, over the course of the next 12 months, we aim to bring another 600 Bnei Menashe back home to Zion, more than 27 centuries after their ancestors were exiled from this land.

Yes, despite the image put forward by much of the mainstream press, there are great things happening in the Jewish state.

Indeed, the normally bustling arrivals hall at Ben Gurion Airport was even more spirited than usual, as the immigrants emerged from customs and fell into the arms of loved ones they had left behind many years ago.

Menachem Menashe, who made aliya in 2006, was reunited at last with his sister, her husband and his six nieces and nephews, whom he hadn’t seen in more than a decade.

A young man named Ariel was literally beaming with joy at the sight of his fiancé, who arrived with her family. They had not gazed into one another’s loving eyes for more than seven years. Shortly, they will stand under the marriage canopy and finally be able to start a Jewish household together here in the Jewish state.

Notwithstanding the exhaustion that was visible on their faces, the immigrants broke into song, filling the cavernous hall at the airport with echoes of Hebrew verse. Energetically dancing in a large circle, they seamlessly went from singing “Am Yisrael Chai” into a moving rendition of the prophecy from chapter 31 of the Book of Jeremiah, “And the sons shall return to their borders.”

Large blue-and-white flags were unfurled, and numerous onlookers joined in the festivities as the nation of Israel welcomed home these far-flung exiles.

The Bnei Menashe are descendants of the tribe of Manasseh, one of the Ten Lost Tribes exiled from the Land of Israel more than 2,700 years ago by the Assyrian empire. Despite being cut off from the rest of the Jewish people for so long, the Bnei Menashe continued to preserve the ways of their ancestors, observing Shabbat, keeping kosher, adhering to the laws of family purity and undoubtedly arguing a lot among themselves. But they never forgot from whence they came, nor did they forego their determination to return.

So far, some 3,000 Bnei Menashe have made aliya thanks to Shavei Israel. Some 7,000 Bnei Menashe remain in India waiting for the chance to return home to Zion.

The group which made aliya last week was the first to arrive in over a year and a half, and the first from the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram to move to Israel in more than three years.

The Bnei Menashe may not speak Yiddish or Ladino, eat gefilte fish or savor hot cholent, but that in no way makes them any less a part of Jewish destiny. They are a blessing for Israel and the Jewish people and we must do everything in our power to reunite them with our nation.

Lyon Fanai, who studied political science and graphic design at an Indian university, was a successful entrepreneur who opened an independent desktop publishing and computer-aided textile design firm in his hometown of Aizawl, Mizoram’s lush and hilly capital.

He did so after it became too difficult to observe Shabbat and Jewish festivals at his previous employer.

“Requesting a day or two off from the office for a Jewish festival was definitely a problem,” Fanai said in fluent English, adding, “I ultimately had to leave the company where I was working and that’s when I realized that the best way to be observant in India was for me to establish my own company.”

Queried by a journalist as to why he wanted to make aliya, Fanai looked surprised by the question, as though he had been asked why he desires to breathe.

“It is a mitzvah,” he said, without a trace of cynicism, telling the reporter that “it is the obligation of every Jew to live in Israel, so I am coming here to fulfill my obligation.”

Fanai’s son Shimshon, who has a BA in agricultural science, later told Israel Television that he dreams of pursuing a master’s degree at an Israeli university, “so that I can help in developing the economy of Israel.”

On a personal note, the highlight for me of last week’s aliya was when a four-year-old Bnei Menashe boy named Yoav came over to me with his parents. I picked him up and then he gave me a big hug to thank me for bringing him and his family to Israel. With that simple gesture, Yoav made all the obstacles and headaches that had preceded the aliya melt away in an instant.

The Bnei Menashe are committed Zionists and observant Jews. They work hard, proudly support themselves and their families, with the younger men all serving in the IDF and the women performing national service. They strengthen us quantitatively and qualitatively, spiritually and demographically. And with God’s help, we shall bring them all home, every last one.

 

Ambassador Nikki Haley puts UN on notice

Should the Trump administration defund the United Nations? America’s new ambassador to the UN, Nikki R. Haley, minced no words in her first remarks at UN headquarters: “You’re going to see a change in the way [the U.S. does] business. … For those who don’t have our back, we’re taking names.” After observing that “the Security Council is supposed to maintain peace and international security,” Ambassador Haley objected to its ridiculing Israel (“the one true democracy in the Middle East”) while ignoring the recent atrocities of Hezbollah, Syria, North Korea, and Iran. “Instead we will push for action on the real threats we face in the Middle East … It is the UN’s anti-Israel bias that is long overdue for change.”

Try not to stand up and cheer as you watch her four-minute statement.

In Israel, Teaching Kids Cyber Skills is a National Mission

By: Daniel Estrin; bigstory.ap.org

This photo made on Sunday Jan.1, 2017, shows a tenth grader attending a class how to investigate a computer network that has been hacked in Beit Shemesh, Israel. In its quest to become a world leader in cyber security and technology, Israel is placing its hopes in the country’s youth. (AP Photo/Daniel Estrin)

BEIT SHEMESH, Israel (AP) — In some Israeli schools, fourth-graders learn computer programming while gifted 10th-graders take after-school classes in encryption tactics, coding and how to stop malicious hacking. The country even has two new kindergartens that teach computer skills and robotics.

The training programs — something of a boot camp for cyber defense — are part of Israel’s quest to become a world leader in cybersecurity and cyber technology by placing its hopes in the country’s youth.

To that end, Israel announced this week the establishment of a national center for cyber education, meant to increase the talent pool for military intelligence units and prepare children for eventual careers in defense agencies, the high-tech industry and academia.

“You students need to strengthen us with your curiosity,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told an Israeli cyber technologies expo, sitting next to high school students in a training program overseen by the defense establishment. “Your years in the security services will be golden years for the security of the nation.”

Israel has long branded itself the “Cyber Nation” but authorities say they have been facing a shortage of cyber experts to keep up with the country’s defense needs and keep its cybersecurity industry booming.

To build up a wellspring of talent, Israel is starting young: teaching children the basic building blocks of the web.

“In the first grade, they learn the letters, then how to read and how to write. We are building the next level of knowledge — how to code,” said Sagy Bar of the Rashi Foundation, a philanthropic group running the cyber education center as a joint venture with Israel’s defense establishment and academic institutions.

The center will also oversee educational programs launched in recent years, including the Education Ministry’s Gvahim pilot program that introduced computer and robotic classes to the fourth-grade curriculum in 70 schools, and the after-school Magshimim program, which trains talented high-schoolers from underprivileged areas in college-level cyber skills.

Drawing youth into the highly technical field of cybersecurity is not a novelty, and the United States and Britain have implemented similar training programs.

The National Security Agency, America’s global surveillance and intelligence agency, co-sponsors free cybersecurity summer camps throughout the U.S. for students and teachers from kindergarten through high school. The GenCyber program seeks to improve cybersecurity teaching in schools as early as kindergarten.

GCHQ, the U.K.’s powerful signals intelligence agency, has a host of youth outreach initiatives, including an annual competition for amateurs and youngsters at dramatic venues such as Winston Churchill’s World War II-era bunker under central London.

In 2015, the competition invested in whizz kid-friendly puzzle games — including a specially designed Minecraft level — to pique children’s interest. Also, GCHQ is trying to bridge the gender gap and last month announced a national cybersecurity challenge for schoolgirls aged 13 to 15.

In Israel, the two cyber training programs feed Israel’s vaunted military intelligence Unit 8200, which intercepts digital communications and collects intelligence on Israel’s enemies across the Middle East — the Israeli equivalent of America’s NSA.

Many members of the unit eventually move on to Israel’s high-tech and cybersecurity industries. Some of the most successful technology companies have been founded by the unit’s veterans.

Military service is compulsory for most Jewish high school graduates in Israel, giving military intelligence the power to enlist the country’s best and brightest.

For military intelligence, it’s a win-win situation.

“Israeli talent comes mandatorily to the army,” Col. R, deputy head of Unit 8200, told The Associated Press over the phone.

The colonel, who could only be identified by her first initial under military regulations, said Unit 8200 is trying to encourage more girls to study computer sciences and eventually join the unit as “cyberists.”

In the Magshimim program, applicants must first pass a home quiz of riddles and challenges involving math, logic and algorithms. Previous computer expertise is not needed, and they can even look up answers online or ask a parent for help. The idea is to recruit students who are not intimidated by challenges, organizers say.

Those accepted to the program meet twice a week after school for three-hour classes, complete 10 hours of cyber-related homework a week, and participate in workshops twice a year.

During a recent workshop for 10th-graders at a school in the central city of Beit Shemesh, a group of 15 religious Jewish girls attended a lecture on artificial intelligence. One of the girls was knitting an orange yarmulke during class.

In a darkened classroom across the hall, a group of teens in sweatshirts and sweatpants hunched over laptops, playing a simulation game: a fictional network of computers had been hacked, and they had 45 minutes to learn an unfamiliar computer code, regain control of the network, and hack into the hacker’s system to determine his identity.

“I broke in!” a student suddenly exclaimed. The fictional hacker was a popular cartoon character.

Glued to his computer, 16-year-old Shalev Goodman said he hopes to use his cyber skills in military intelligence when he enlists.

“I’m not the most athletic person,” he said. “I do want to give something to the country. So cyber is a good thing to do.”

Program leaders say cyber ethics are enforced — students who use their skills to hack would not be accepted into the military and would likely ruin their future in the cyber industry.

But once in the army, the definition of ethics can become blurred. In 2014, a group of reservists in Unit 8200 signed a letter protesting its role in surveillance of Palestinians.

One of the soldiers said the unit was sometimes asked to perform ethically questionable tasks, like spying on Palestinians uninvolved in violence.

“It feels a bit like a game, like a cool computer game,” said Gilad, who could only give his first name because Israel’s military censor has prohibited the protesters from revealing their full identity.

During his compulsory army service, Gilad said he worked part time in programming. “You develop apathy, moral numbness … You are far away from the target,” he recounted of those days.

Still, the computer skills Gilad gained while in the army helped him get his current job in the high-tech industry, he said.

 

Confronting ‘Injustice,’ Pro-Israel Christians Rally Support for a US Embassy in Jerusalem

By: Sean Savage; jns.org

During the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in October 2015, thousands of evangelical Christians wave Israeli, American and other national flags as they march in a Jerusalem parade as part of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem’s (ICEJ) Feast of Tabernacles festivities. ICEJ is among the pro-Israel Christian organizations that are rallying support for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90.

Aside from its centrality to Jewish peoplehood as the home of the ancient Jewish Temples and now the modern state of Israel’s capital, Jerusalem is also synonymous with Judaism for many Bible-reading Christians. As such, prominent pro-Israel Christian organizations are lining up to express their support for President Donald Trump’s promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and to hold the president accountable for his words.

Susan Michael, U.S. director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), said Christians already understand that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and would like to see the American government follow suit. In fact, ICEJ has had its own “unofficial” embassy in Jerusalem since 1980, a point that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted in his 2016 Christmas address.

“Hundreds of millions of Christians around the world understand from their Bible the spiritual significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, and that it was established as the capital of Israel some 3,000 years ago by King David,” Michael told JNS.org, adding that Christians “believe the spiritual law of blessing established in Genesis 12 that God will bless those who bless the Jewish people….They want to see the U.S. standing in support of Israel and enjoying the blessings of doing so.”

Matthew Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel evangelical Christian organization and president of the Christians in Defense of Israel ministry, echoed Michael’s assessment.

“Support for Israel comes from both the Bible, which clearly establishes God gave the land of Israel to the Jews, and from history that confirms the continuity of the connection between Israel and the Jewish people,” Staver told JNS.org. “To deny recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is anti-Semitic.”

David Brog, the founding executive director and currently a board member of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which calls itself America’s largest pro-Israel organization with more than 3.3 million members, told JNS.org that many Christians who read the Bible “understand that Jerusalem is and has always been Israel’s capital city, and they simply don’t understand why Israel should be the only nation on Earth where we do not place our embassy in the capital.”

“Support of Israel was one of the motivating factors in the historic evangelical voter turnout for President Trump in this past election,” said Pastor Mario Bramnick, president of the Hispanic Israel Leadership Coalition, a leading pro-Israel Latino Christian initiative. “As evangelicals, we support President Trump’s resolve in moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. We believe that the land of Israel, with an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, was given by God to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by way of an eternal covenant and that no president, prime minister or monarch has any authority to take it away.”

‘Decades-long injustice’

While the historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem is obvious to many evangelical Christians, ICEJ’s Michael also explained that from a practical standpoint, pro-Israel Christians also feel the “need to right a decades-long injustice in U.S. policy.”

“Israel is the only country where the U.S. embassy is not located in the capital of that country.  This is because the U.S. government does not even recognize west Jerusalem as being part of Israel, even though it is territory Israel has controlled since 1949,” she said.

Indeed, President Harry Truman instituted de facto recognition of Israel in May 1948 (de jure recognition of the Jewish state came in January 1949), but the U.S. has never recognized Israel’s claims over Jerusalem. Those claims were limited to western Jerusalem until Israel reunified the city, capturing the eastern portion from Jordan, in the 1967 Six-Day War. In the decades following Israel’s extension of sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, the U.S. has held firm on refusing to recognize the city as the capital of Israel.

Congress, however, has taken a different position. In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which calls on the U.S. to move the embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital. But every sitting president since then has opted to sign successive six-month waivers delaying the move. Most recently, former President Barack Obama signed the waiver in December, meaning President Trump will need to decide by June 1 between another waiver or an embassy move.

As such, one proposal suggests that the U.S. relocate its embassy to western Jerusalem, which the international community widely accepts as being part of Israel in the present or under any future Israeli-Palestinian final status agreement.

“Moving the embassy to west Jerusalem has no bearing on east Jerusalem, nor does it prejudice the outcome of eventual negotiations over the city’s final status and borders, and therefore should happen forthwith,” Michael said.

At the same time, the U.S. already maintains a consulate in Jerusalem that serves the city as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is one of two American consulates, the other being in Hong Kong, that report directly to the State Department rather than to a U.S. ambassador.

Will Trump make the move?

In the early days of Trump’s presidency, his administration has made conflicting statements as to when or if the U.S. embassy will be relocated.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Jan. 23 that “no decision” has been made on the move.

“We’re at the very early stages of that decision-making process,” Spicer told reporters after being asked how the move would serve U.S. strategic issues. “It’s very early in this process. [Trump’s] team is going to continue to consult with [the] State [Department].”

Spicer’s comments came after he had said a day earlier that the U.S. was in the “very beginning stages” of discussing the embassy move. At the same time, in an interview with Israel Hayom shortly before taking office, Trump said he “did not forget” about his promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem, adding that “you know that I am not a person who breaks promises.”

Additionally, U.S. Ambassador to Israel-designate David Friedman, who has yet to be confirmed by the Senate, announced that he intends to live in Jerusalem rather than the American ambassador’s traditional residence in Herzliya.

In February, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Trump in Washington, D.C., where the leaders may discuss the issue of the embassy move, officials have said.

“The decision to move the U.S. embassy should be the product of a net assessment of potential benefits versus potential risks,” Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told JNS.org.

“It is easy to focus on the hyperbolic threats of certain Middle East actors [who oppose the embassy move] without also factoring into the equation what moving the embassy might achieve—repairing an historic injustice, fixing the fact that America currently has representation in Jerusalem for the Palestinian Authority but none for Israel, and sending the message throughout the region that America fulfills its promises to allies,” he said.

Mobilizing Christian support

CUFI sent out a Jan. 22 action alert that called upon its members to email Trump, asking him to keep his promise and move the embassy.

“Thus far, more than 20,000 of our members have emailed the White House. They reminded the president that America, the Congress and 3.3 million members of CUFI are with him and that he should ignore the voices calling on him to break his promise,” Brog said.

During the 2016 election campaign, the ICEJ mobilized several hundred Christian leaders to speak out in favor of the embassy move.

“The U.S. branch of the ICEJ wrote a letter to both presidential candidates before the election, signed by some 650 Christian leaders, encouraging this move,” Michael said. “We will do whatever is necessary in the coming months to encourage the administration and demonstrate the continued support of the American Christian community for this move.”

Michael believes that Trump should work closely with Israel and other regional U.S. allies to make sure the embassy move is carried out appropriately, to avoid violence or diplomatic strains.

“While we do encourage the U.S. administration to make this move as soon as possible, we caution that it must be done right,” Michael said. “We understand that they (administration officials) need time to consult with Israel on various aspects of such a move. They should also use this opportunity to bolster regional relationships and influence by working out a plan ahead of time with key Arab leaders, as well as build a coalition of other countries that will follow the U.S. in moving their own embassy to Jerusalem.”

Assad Says US Troops Welcome in Syria to Fight ‘Terrorism’

By: Bassem Mroue; bigstory.ap.org

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with Yahoo News in Damascus, Syria, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. Assad said, there are “definitely” terrorists among the millions of Syrians seeking refuge in the West. He said it doesn’t have to be a “significant” number of terrorists because no need for a significant “number to commit atrocities.” (SANA via AP)

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview released on Friday that the United States is welcome to join the battle against “terrorists” in Syria — as long as it is in cooperation with his government and respects the country’s sovereignty.

Speaking with Yahoo News, Assad said he has not had any communication — direct or indirect — with President Donald Trump or any official form the new U.S. administration.

But the Syrian leader appeared to make a gesture to the new U.S. president in the interview, saying he welcomes Trump’s declaration that he will make it a priority to fight terrorism — a goal Assad said he also shares.

However, Assad’s government has labelled all armed opposition to his rule — including the U.S.-backed rebels — as “terrorists.”

“We agree about this priority,” Assad said of Trump. “That’s our position in Syria, the priority is to fight terrorism.”

In this photo released on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, President Bashar Assad meets with former hostages released in an prisoner exchange with rebels, in Damascus, Syria. The “First Coastal Division” rebel faction released 55 women and children detainees on Tuesday in exchange for the government releasing 54 women prisoners of its own. (SANA via AP)

Syria’s six-year civil war has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced half the country’s population. The country is shattered and the chaos has enabled the rise of the Islamic State group, which in a 2014 blitz seized a third of both Syria and neighboring Iraq. The extremist group, responsible also for several deadly attacks around the world, has declared an Islamic caliphate on the territory it controls.

Assad also told Yahoo News that his country would welcome U.S. “participation” in the fight against terrorism but it has to be in cooperation with the Syrian government.

Assad’s comment ignored the U.S.-led international coalition, which has been targeting the Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria with airstrikes since September 2014. The U.S. also has advisers in Syria along with predominantly Kurdish fighters north of the country who are fighting against the Islamic State.

“If you want to start genuinely, as United States … it must be through the Syrian government,” Assad said. “We are here, we are the Syrians, we own this country as Syrians, nobody else, nobody would understand it like us.”

“So, you cannot defeat the terrorism without cooperation with the people and the government” of Syria, he added.

The Syrian government has always blamed the U.S. for backing opposition fighters trying to remove Assad from power. The rebels formed a serious threat to the Syrian leader until 2015, when Russia joined Syria’s war backing Assad’s forces and turned the balance of power in his favor.

“We invited the Russians, and the Russians were genuine regarding this issue. If the Americans are genuine, of course they are welcome, like any other country that wants to defeat and to fight with the terrorists. Of course, with no hesitation we can say that,” Assad said in English.

But when asked if he wants American troops to come to Syria to help with the fight against the Islamic State group, Assad said that sending troops is not enough — a genuine political position on respecting Syria’s sovereignty and unity is also needed.

“All these factors would lead to trust, where you can send your troops. That’s what happened with the Russians; they didn’t only send their troops,” Assad added.

Assad would not comment on Trump’s move to bar Syrian refugees and people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S., calling it an “American sovereignty” issue.

But he appeared to offer some veiled support at last, saying that there are “definitely terrorists” among the millions of Syrians seeking refuge in the West, though it doesn’t have to be a “significant” number.

Excerpts of Assad’s comments were aired on Thursday while the full interview with Yahoo News ran on Friday.

The Syrian president also blasted a report released this week by Amnesty International in which the group said as many as 13,000 prisoners were hanged in over four years in one of Syria’s prisons and later buried in mass graves.

“It’s always biased and politicized, and it’s a shame for such an organization to publish a report without a shred of evidence,” Assad said.

He also rejected an initiative that calls for creating “safe zones” in Syria for refugees, an idea also been floated by Trump as a substitute for resettling Syrian refugees in the U.S. and elsewhere.

“Safe zones for Syrians could only happen when you have stability and security,” Assad said. “It’s much more practical and less costly to have stability than to create safe zones. It’s not a realistic idea at all.”

In other developments Friday, the Kremlin said that Russia and Turkey have agreed to improve coordination in Syria to prevent further friendly fire incidents after a Russian airstrike killed three Turkish soldiers and wounded 11 the day before.

Turkish soldiers carry the national flag-draped coffin of Mehmet Şahin, 25, accidentally killed in a Russian airstrike around the northern Syrian town al Bab, during a memorial service before his remains’ repatriation to his hometown, at the airport in Gaziantep, southeastern Turkey, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. Sahin was among the three troops killed when a Russian warplane on Thursday accidentally hit a building in al-Bab, with Turkish soldiers inside. Russian President Vladimir Putin promptly called his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to express regrets over what the Russian leader called a “tragic incident.” (Eyyup Burun/DHA-depo Photos via AP)

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the accidental strike near the town of al-Bab in northern Syria prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to discuss better cooperation in fighting the Islamic State group in the area. In a signal that the incident hasn’t hurt a Russia-Turkey rapprochement, Peskov said that Erdogan is set to visit Russia next month.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the Turkish casualties on Thursday were the result of “faulty coordination” in Syria and showed “there is a need for a much closer coordination.”

___

Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

Arab Doctor Saves Fellow EMS Responder on His First Day

One of the newest volunteers with United Hatzalah, Dr. Issam Odeh of Jerusalem got off to an auspicious start.

By: Abigail Klein Leichman; israel21c.org

Dr. Murad Odeh, center, with the directors of Israel’s national volunteer EMS organization, United Hatzalah. Photo: courtesy

Earlier [last] month, the East Jerusalem chapter of Israel’s voluntary neighborhood-based emergency response network, United Hatzalah, welcomed new member Dr. Murad Issam Odeh at a celebratory event honoring 30 Arab volunteer emergency medical technicians, paramedics and doctors in Israel’s capital city.

During the dinner, Odeh received his United Hatzalah first responder reflective vest and medical kit. The kit was put to use just a short time later that evening when one of the EMS volunteers ate something that caused an immediate severe allergic reaction.

“I saw him begin to show signs of a severe allergic reaction. He began to develop a rash over his face and his eyes began to water,” Odeh recalled. “Before his situation could deteriorate any further, I administered an intramuscular steroid with an antihistamine and we closely observed him for 20 minutes as he began to stabilize.”

Odeh, a pediatrician who lives and works in Jerusalem, is new to EMS work. He was told about United Hatzalah by a close friend who volunteers with the organization.

“I’ve always wanted to volunteer as a first responder,” said Odeh. “It has been a dream of mine ever since I began studying medicine. For me, now is the time. I couldn’t do it while I was studying or in residency as I simply didn’t have the time. However, now I am able to go out and help as a doctor. I want to help as many people as I can.”

In the first two weeks of volunteering, Odeh has already saved lives.

“I am about to spend a week working in Tiberias. I have been in touch with the United Hatzalah chapter there as well as the other chapters of the organization in the north of the country, letting them know that I am coming and that I am available to assist if need be. That is the beauty of being a part of a national organization. No matter where I go, no matter what time of day, I can be of help to someone, even at my own inauguration party,” he said.