US Again Threatens to Leave Human Rights Council Over Resolutions Against Israel

Jewish Telegraphic Agency; jta.org

Nikki Haley speaking at a UN meeting in New York City, Sept. 4, 2017. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

(JTA) — The United States again threatened to leave the United Nations Human Rights Council after the international body passed five resolutions against Israel.

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Iran Said to be Building Military Facilities in Syria Near Russian Positions

Tehran’s gambit is apparently based on assessment that Israel wouldn’t dare strike for fear of tangling with Moscow

By: Avi Issacharoff; timesofisrael.com

Iran’s army chief of staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, looking into binoculars, and other senior officers from the Iranian military, visit a front line in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria, October 20, 2017. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP, File)

As it works intensively to deepen its military presence in Syria, Iran is building military facilities very close to Russian forces there, The Times of Israel has learned.

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Israel Among Top 10 Most Powerful, Innovative Countries

Barely 70 years old and with a population of just 8.5 million, the Jewish state ranks up there with world powers, edging out US in innovation.

By: Brian Blum; Israel21c.org

An Israeli flag flies over Masada. Photo by John Theodor/Shutterstock.com

U.S. News and World Report has ranked Israel the eighth most powerful nation in the world. And Bloomberg News reports that the Jewish state is the 10th most innovative worldwide, edging out the United States, which fell in Bloomberg’s survey to 11th place this year.

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Israel Says it Destroys New Hamas Tunnel Network in Gaza

apnews.com

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military said Sunday it destroyed a tunnel built by the Hamas militant group.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the new tunnel was intended to connect to an old one that Israel partially destroyed in the southern Gaza Strip during the 2014 war, in what appears to be the first case of Hamas trying to “recycle” part of its devastated network.

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French Consulate Worker Arrested for Smuggling Weapons to Palestinians

“This is a very serious incident, in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign missions in Israel was cynically exploited in order to smuggle dozens of weapons…”

By: Anna Ahronheim; Jerusalem Post – jpost.com

french consulate worker
A French consulate worker alleged to have smuggled weapons to Hamas in Gaza. (Shin Bet). (photo credit: SHIN BET)

Two French Embassy workers along with five Palestinians have been indicted on charges of smuggling dozens of weapons from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip to the West Bank.

The Shin Bet (Internal Security Agency) cleared for release on Monday that 24-year-old French citizen Romain Franck, who worked as a driver in the French Consulate in East Jerusalem, was part of a cell which smuggled 70 pistols and 2 assault rifles through the Erez crossing on the Israel-Gaza border on five different occasions.

He is accused of using his diplomatic vehicle to avoid security checks at the Erez border crossing as well as using another vehicle with diplomatic plates – a Citroen which was for his personal use – to drive through the Kalandiya checkpoint to get from Jerusalem to Ramallah.

Franck was charged with importing, trading, carrying, transporting and possession of weapons, as well as with fraudulently obtaining benefits under aggravated circumstances.

“The consulate employee has smuggled weapons on several occasions in recent months, taking advantage of the consular vehicle of the French Consulate, which has facilitated the security check at the border crossing, as is customary for these vehicles,” read a statement released by the Shin Bet.

According to the Shin Bet investigation, Franck received the weapons from a Palestinian resident of the Gaza Strip employed at the French Cultural Center in the Gaza Strip, and then transferred them to a cell in the West Bank that sold them to arms dealers.

The investigation clearly showed that Franck was acting in return for financial gain, of his own volition and without the knowledge of his superiors.

According to the indictment, Franck received $700 for smuggling five or six guns, and another estimated NIS 10,500 to smuggle 17 guns and a rifle.

The investigation also found that several Palestinians arrested in relation to the case were also involved in the smuggling of money from Gaza to the West Bank.

“This is a very serious incident, in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign missions in Israel was cynically exploited in order to smuggle dozens of weapons that may be used for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces,” a senior Shin Bet source said.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj.-Gen. Yoav “Poly” Mordechai called the matter a “grave incident of cynical and never-ending exploitation of humanitarian aid and international aid by the terrorist infrastructure.”

Mordechai called for a stricter policy for granting permits to enter and leave Israel and the Palestinian territories as “the international bodies are required to carry out internal inspections to ensure aid goes to the residents of Gaza and not to terror.”

FRENCH LAWMAKER Meyer Habib, who represents French nationals living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, noted that it wasn’t the first time that the French Consulate in Jerusalem has been involved in “problematic affairs.”

Habib pointed out several incidents, including one in 2013 when a French Consulate employee was detained after attempting to use an official vehicle to smuggle a large amount of gold, tobacco and checks into Israel from Jordan.

“This is without referring to the shameful UNESCO vote on the Temple Mount or [the fact] that mail sent from the consulate to French citizens says ‘Jerusalem-Palestinian Territories,’” he added.

“For shame – even if it is a junior staff member, I have a feeling that, unfortunately, the consulate has actually become the French Embassy to the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

In addition to Franck, a resident of east Jerusalem who worked as a security guard at the French consulate in Jerusalem, as well as several Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who were living in the West Bank illegally, were arrested and indicted.

The Shin Bet investigation was conducted in coordination with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Shin Bet was in constant contact with the French authorities.

The French embassy issued a statement saying it is taking the incident “very seriously,” and is cooperating with the Israeli authorities.

The statement added that Franck was receiving “full consular protection and visits from our embassy staff in Tel Aviv, including the ambassador herself.” According to the statement, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has ordered an “immediate administrative investigation” into the matter, and conclusions will be drawn “that will allow the staff of the Consulate General to continue their important work under the best conditions under difficult circumstances.”

Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem characterized the incident as “very difficult,” and said that Israel views it with the utmost gravity.

Despite all this, the sources said that relations with France are “excellent,” and that this will not negatively impact on them. They thanked the French authorities for their cooperation in the matter.

Construction Minister Yoav Galant, meanwhile, posted a tweet saying that the arms smuggling was a deed of “double treachery – against Israel and France.”

“Israel needs to expel the French citizens to their country where they will be tried there as terrorists,” he wrote.

 

New Passenger Wing Opens at Ben-Gurion Airport as Air Travel Booms

The new passenger wing includes telescopic glass pathways, eight plane exit gates, four bus exit gates, along with shops, restaurants, a VIP lounge and maintenance and cargo services.

By: Max Schindler; Jerusalem Post, jpost.com

New passenger wing opens at Ben-Gurion Airport as air travel booms
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Ben-Gurion Airport opened the fourth passenger wing in its main terminal on Thursday, a sign that Israeli air travel continues to expand amid a growing economy and calmer security.

The new extension in Terminal 3, Wing E, will accommodate up to 1,800 more passengers per hour, allowing for dozens of additional incoming and outgoing flights daily. That should reduce the load on the other congested wings and improve service provided for passengers.
Wing E was designed by Israeli star architect Moshe Safdie and  associate architect Irit Kohavi.

“As part of a fruitful cooperation with the Israel Airports Authority, the fourth wing that my office was responsible for designing will enable the expansion of the capacity of those departing and entering Israel, thus further opening the field of tourism in Israel,” Safdie said. “I hope that work on a fifth wing will begin shortly.”

The new passenger wing includes telescopic glass pathways, eight plane exit gates, four bus exit gates, along with shops, restaurants, a VIP lounge and maintenance and cargo services. Some of the gates include double bridges, allowing for passengers to board and disembark from both the front and back of wide-bodied aircraft.

Ben-Gurion handles more than 90% of passengers entering and exiting the Jewish state, and travel through the congested airport continues to rise.

Almost 20.8 million passengers transited through Ben-Gurion in 2017, according to data from the Israel Aviation Authority, a sharp uptick from 17.9 million in 2016. The airport’s 2018 estimate is 23 million.

When Ben-Gurion sees more than 25 million passengers transit through the site, that will result in the airport being classified as among the world’s largest airports, Globes reported. That is projected to occur in 2019, barring a major security incident.

The rapid uptick in passengers takes place despite the negligible number of transit passengers. Flagship airliner El Al has not adopted a transit-friendly business model for security reasons, putting it at a competitive disadvantage to airliners like Turkish Airlines, which has turned its Istanbul hub into a major transit hub.

More than 100 airliners now service the airport, a handful of which have launched operations in the past year. The increase in competition comes after Israel signed the Open Skies agreement a decade ago, permitting many more European airliners to fly to Tel Aviv.

The airport is in the middle of a multi-year expansion plan, with recent renovations to Terminal 1, which services domestic locales, along with hosting low-cost airliners like Wizz Air, Easyjet and Ryanair.

The relatively strong local currency – with a dollar trading for NIS 3.53 at Thursday evening – has made shekel-priced flights cheaper for Israelis, along with low oil prices and more intense competition.

In 2017 a record-breaking 3.6 million tourists visited Israel, but it took three years since the Gaza war – Operation Protective Edge – for the tourism numbers to bounce back to their regular growth rate.

Safdie has helped design Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall, Yad Vashem, the Yitzhak Rabin Center, and Los Angeles’s Skirball Cultural Center.

IDF Cyber Warriors Thwart Major ISIS Aviation Terror Attack

By: Anna Ahronheim; jpost.com

Spread across the country, the online soldiers of Unit 8200 are on the front line of Israel’s cyber wars 24/7, 365 days a year to identify possible threats and effectively neutralize them.

female soldier
Female IDF soldier in the J6/C4I Cyber Defense Directorate.. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON’S UNIT)

Soldiers in the IDF’s Unit 8200 played a large role in thwarting a major Islamic State terrorist attack this past summer, which aimed to bring down a civilian airliner headed from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, the army has revealed.

In cooperation with Israel’s intelligence community, soldiers provided exclusive intelligence that they had gathered on an attack that was being planned. The intelligence led to the arrest of the suspects, who were in a very advanced stage in executing the plot, the army said.

“The thwarting of the attack led to the saving of the lives of dozens of innocent people and demonstrated that Unit 8200 is a player in the intelligence war against Islamic State,” the army said. Regarded as Israel’s equivalent of the National Security Agency in the US, the soldiers of one of the IDF’s most prestigious units, Unit 8200, intercept and collect digital communication and intelligence on Israel’s enemies.

Spread across the country, these online soldiers of Unit 8200 are on the front line of Israel’s cyberwars 24/7, 365 days a year, to identify possible threats and effectively neutralize them.

“About half of Unit 8200 is engaged in operational activity beyond Israel’s borders,” a senior officer in Unit 8200 told military reporters on Tuesday, referring to the interception and analysis of signal intelligence gathered by troops. “Because of our abilities, we are very attractive to foreign countries,” he added.

The ISIS-inspired attack against an Etihad Airways flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi was thwarted, according to Australian officials, in July. Four men were arrested in Sydney suburbs for planning two separate attacks, including one where a bomb, which was to be carried onboard the plane by an unwitting “mule,” would be detonated while in the air.

Local press at the time quoted Australian police as stating that one suspect planned to plant military-grade explosives inside a meat-grinding machine. The explosives were sent by a senior ISIS operative through international air cargo to the suspects in Australia.

The New South Wales Joint Counterterrorism Team charged 49-year-old Khaled Mahmoud Khayat and 32-year-old Mahmoud Khayat with two counts each of acts in preparation for a terrorist act for that foiled plot.

While Islamic State’s territorial “caliphate” may have crumbled, the IDF does not believe it to be the end of the threat posed by the terrorist group, as terrorists have moved from Syria and Iraq to places like Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel.

Unit 8200 soldiers were also responsible for thwarting a recent Iranian hacking attack against private and public organizations in Israel.

The attack by a hacking group was thwarted in cooperation with the defense division of the IDF’s telecommunications department by the “close monitoring of the operations of the Iranian network and the early identification of attempts to attack Israel,” the IDF said.

According to ClearSky, an Israeli cybersecurity company that has studied the malware behind cyberattacks across the region, the hacking group has been targeting multiple organizations in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries such as in Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon since 2015.

In one attack against the UAE government uncovered by Palo Alto Networks, another cybersecurity company, the hacking group sent spear-phishing emails with the subject line “Important Issue” which in reality were malware-infected documents.

A January 2017 report by ClearSky stated that the hacking group set up a fake VPN Web portal and targeted several Israeli IT vendors, financial institutions and the Israel Post since the end of 2015.

“Today, cyber is an additional front in which Israel has significant offensive and defensive capabilities,” a senior officer in Unit 8200 said Tuesday.

“Iran is a very smart country with advanced technology and a lot of motivation,” the officer said, adding that he respects the intelligence of his enemy, which is “increasing in its offensive capabilities.”

According to the senior officer, the unit has also been very effective in thwarting dozens of attacks by lone-wolf Palestinians in the West Bank since the beginning of the latest wave of violence that broke out in 2015.

“When we see talk of an attack that could happen in the next 10 minutes, we need to act in an effective and quick manner in order to stop it,” he said. “There is a lot of responsibility sitting on the shoulders of these young officers.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday evening that Israel’s intelligence service deserve thanks for not only protecting Israel, but also for “protecting people everywhere around the world.”

Netanyahu, speaking at the annual meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the downing of the plane would have led to a major tragedy and to a massive disruption of civilian air traffic.

Netanyahu said this was just one of many attacks that Israel has thwarted throughout the world.

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz Made Anti-Semitic, Racists Comments in Private Chat Group

Jewish Telegraphic Agency; jta.org

Nikolas Cruz after being arrested in Parkland, Fla., Feb. 14, 2018. (Broward’s Sheriff’s Office via Getty Images)

(JTA) — Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz made anti-Semitic and other racist comments in a private Instagram group chat.

He wrote in the group chat that he joined around August 2017 specifically that he hated: “jews, ni**ers, immigrants,” and showed that he had an obsession with violence and guns, CNN first reported on Saturday.

Cruz, 19, entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday afternoon and began shooting with a legally purchased AR-15 rifle. A former student at the school, he was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for “disciplinary reasons.” He has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

The chat group, named by Cruz, is “Murica (American flag emoji) (eagle emoji) great,” CNN reported. CNN, investigating comments the shooter may have left on a now-deleted YouTube channel, was added to the private Instagram group by one of the active members in it, the news channel reported.

In one post about his biological mother, Cruz said: “My real mom was a Jew. I am glad I never met her,” according to CNN. He also said that he hated Jews because he believed they wanted to destroy the world.

There were no signs in the chat group that Cruz or other members belonged to any white nationalist groups, according to CNN.

Cruz purchased his rifle a year ago and also owned at least 4 more weapons, purchased legally, according to CNN. He also purchased body armor, which he modeled in a photo posted in the group chat.

He asked the group whether it was legal to wear body armor to school. When asked why he replied, according to CNN:  “School shooters. I think I am going to kill people.”

 

Israel Destroys Hamas Tunnel Following Rocket Fire

The tunnel struck by Israel’s Air Force inside Gaza is the second destroyed in two days.

By: Anna Ahronheim; jpost.com

A general view of the interior of a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, near Kissufi
A general view of the interior of a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, near Kissufim, seen on January 18, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/JACK GUEZ)

The Israel Air Force struck an underground network of terrorist tunnels in the Gaza Strip overnight on Sunday, after a rocket launched from the Hamas-run enclave struck southern Israel, the IDF announced.

It was the second Hamas tunnel in Gaza to be struck in as many days, and the sixth tunnel destroyed since late October.
“Hamas is responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip, above and below ground,” the statement read. “The army will continue to act to ensure security for the citizens of Israel using all means at its disposal.”

Earlier on Sunday, incoming rocket sirens were activated in communities in the Sha’ar Hanegev region bordering the northern Gaza Strip. A rocket fell in open territory near the city of Sderot causing no damage or injuries.

According to Palestinian reports, jets fired some 10 missiles towards the Hamas tunnel. The tunnel was located in an agricultural area near the destroyed Dahiniye airport, east of Rafah in the southern part of the Strip close to the Israeli border. No casualties were reported.

The previous night, a home in the Sha’ar Hanegev community of Or Haner was directly hit by a rocket causing damage but no injuries to the family inside.

The rocket was launched several hours after four IDF soldiers were wounded – two seriously, including a combat engineer officer, and two moderately – after an improvised explosive device detonated against their military jeep as they patrolled the border fence south of the Gaza Strip on Saturday afternoon.

The IDF later confirmed that it had carried out large-scale strikes against 18 terrorist targets belonging to Hamas, including an attack tunnel in the Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City that was dug toward Israeli territory.

“Harming IDF soldiers constitutes a grave terrorist [attack],” Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, the head of the southern command, said Sunday afternoon at a military ceremony. “We will not abide by this reality of using the land around the fence for terrorism.”

“Anyone seeking to undermine Israel’s security will be met with a determined response. We have considerable power and will not hesitate to exercise it as needed, despite our desire to maintain stability and avoid escalation.”

While the security establishment does not believe that Hamas currently seeks another war, the situation is fragile, especially given the worsening conditions in the Strip. Gazans have been demonstrating on the border fence with Israel each Friday throughout recent months and the army believes that Hamas is using these weekly demonstrations as a cover to carry out terrorist attacks.

The explosive device that detonated on Saturday had been hidden inside a Palestinian flag and placed near the fence during last Friday’s demonstrations.

“This is further proof of the utilization of disturbances near the fence by Hamas and other terrorist groups as cover for terrorism. Anyone seeking to undermine Israel’s security will meet a determined response based on intelligence and aerial, land and naval capabilities,” Zamir warned.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed to eliminate those responsible for the attack, which he said was carried out by the Popular Resistance Committees organization, a group comprising several terrorist groups.

“Until we eliminate them, the score remains unsettled,” he said. “It will take two days, a week, or two weeks. We’ll eliminate anyone behind the attack’s execution.”

 

The IRS Campaign Against Israel—and Us

It took seven years for Z Street to learn the truth about why our tax-exempt status was delayed.

By: Lori Lowenthal Marcus; Wall Street Journal – wsj.com

ILLUSTRATION: BARBARA KELLEY

The first IRS viewpoint discrimination case to be filed, Z Street v. IRS,has been settled, with disturbing revelations about how the Internal Revenue Service treated pro-Israel organizations applying for tax-exempt status.

I founded Z Street in 2009 to educate Americans about the Middle East and Israel’s defense against terror. We applied for tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code in December 2009—a process that usually takes three to six months.

Instead, the application languished. In late July 2010, an IRS agent truthfully responded to our lawyer’s query about why processing was taking so long: Z Street’s application was getting special scrutiny, the agent said, because it was related to Israel. Some applications for tax-exempt status were being sent to a special office in Washington for review of whether the applicants’ policy positions conflicted with those of the Obama administration.

So in August 2010 we sued the IRS for violating Z Street’s constitutional rights, including the First Amendment right to be free from viewpoint discrimination—government treatment that differs depending on one’s political position.

Now we know the truth, and it’s exactly as bad as we thought. IRS documents—those they didn’t “lose” or otherwise fail to produce—reveal the following:

• Our application was flagged because Z Street’s mission related to Israel, a country with terrorism. Therefore, an IRS manager in our case said in sworn testimony, the IRS needed to investigate whether Z Street was funding terror.

• Some applications for tax-exempt status were indeed being sent to IRS headquarters in Washington for more intense scrutiny. They were selected because of the applicants’ viewpoint.

• In August 2010, three other Jewish organizations applying for tax-exempt status were asked by the IRS to “explain their religious beliefs about the Land of Israel.”

Our own investigation disclosed that between 2009 and 2016, while Z Street’s application was stalled, the IRS needed no special scrutiny to grant numerous applications for tax-exempt status that explicitly proclaimed donations would be spent in Gaza—a territory formally under the jurisdiction of Hamas, which the U.S. State Department designates as a terror organization.

While claiming to be investigating Z Street’s funding of terror, the IRS never asked how or where Z Street spent its money. The IRS ultimately granted Z Street’s application, in October 2016, without asking anything about terror, or money, or anything else it hadn’t known in 2010.

As the IRS knew within six weeks of our case being filed, Z Street was sent for special scrutiny by an IRS employee using an outdated list of countries affected by terror. The new list didn’t include Israel. The IRS didn’t resume processing our application after it discovered this error, and it didn’t disclose the error for six years. Because we sued, the IRS froze Z Street’s application. It stayed on ice until August 2016, when a court held the IRS couldn’t get our case thrown out until it processed our application. Two months later we got our exemption.

The “terror” error turns out to have been a pretext. Within weeks of President Obama’s inauguration, IRS and State Department officials began considering whether they could deny or revoke tax-exempt status for organizations that provided material support to Jews living across the Green Line—the nonborder that delineates pre-1967 Israel from the territories Israel acquired in the Six Day War. The theory was that a Jewish presence in those areas is inconsistent with U.S. policy. The IRS drew up lists of such organizations based on information from anti-Israel websites such as Electronic Intifada and MondoWeiss.

The New York Times and the Washington Post ran articles that advanced the policy espoused by the Obama administration and its nonprofit ally, J Street. Unnamed “senior State Department officials” were quoted as saying that Jewish activity over the Green Line isn’t “helpful” to peace efforts.

While no formal policy was released barring U.S. tax-exempt entities from supporting Jewish activity over the Green Line, Obama IRS officials tried three times between 2009 and 2012 to create such a policy, and IRS employees made sure the effort wasn’t documented. One emailed her supervisor saying that she would answer his questions about IRS policy relating to Israeli settlements only orally. “Not doing email on this,” she explained.

Even if the IRS could legitimately institute such a policy, it should not have applied to Z Street. We believe Jews should be allowed to live beyond the Green Line, but we have never spent a penny outside the U.S.

To learn the truth, we fought in the courts for seven lonely years—defeating IRS arguments that it didn’t have to obey the First Amendment, that it was immune from the suit, and that it wasn’t obliged to produce in discovery any documents revealing why its employees did what they did. During the seven years Z Street’s application was frozen, it couldn’t raise funds. If my husband and I weren’t lawyers, able to pursue justice without getting paid, there’s no way we could have succeeded.

When Z Street’s creation was announced, thousands sought to join. Then the IRS attempted to kill us. No lawsuit can remedy that assault, as the IRS knew. The settlement gives us the truth, but we can’t get back our seven years.