Palestinian-American man jailed by PA for selling land to Jews transferred to US

By: Marcy Oster; Jewish Telegraphic

Palestinian girls clean their porch, overlooking a new Jewish neighborhood in Ras El Amud in eastern Jerusalem, April 6. (Brian Hendler)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Palestinian-American man sentenced by a Palestinian Authority court to life in prison for selling land in eastern Jerusalem to a Jewish Israeli was transferred to the United States.

Issam Akel, of Bethlehem, was handed over to American authorities in the aftermath of a secret deal signed between the P.A. and U.S. officials, Israel’s Kan national broadcaster reported Thursday evening.

Akel, who had worked for the Palestinian Authority, is accused of being a middleman between the Palestinian owner of the home located in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and the Jewish organization that purchased it.

He lived in the United States for 12 years. As an eastern Jerusalem resident, Akel also holds a blue Israeli identification card. His four siblings and their families continue to reside in the United States.

Commentary: Israel Boycott Ban is Not About Free Speech

By: Zach Schapira;

Can U.S. state governments withhold public contracts or financial investments from companies that boycott Israel? Twenty-six states have laws and regulations to this effect (legislation is pending in 13 more), but the American Civil Liberties Union has recently brought suits on behalf of plaintiffs in four states who object to this condition, claiming it infringes on their freedom of speech as protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Image result for activists celebrate israel parade

Activists protest at a ‘Celebrate Israel’ parade in New York City, June 4, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

So far, a speech pathologist is suing the state of Texas because her annual contract with the school district now requires she certify that her business is not boycotting Israel. An Arkansas newspaper is suingafter a local community college conditioned continuation of its advertising contract on a similar requirement. In Arizona, the state is appealing a district court decision that ruled its statute unconstitutional. And in Kansas, a suit was dismissed after the law was amended to set financial limits, exempt sole proprietorships, and limit its scope to boycotts affecting an integral part of business sought with the state.

Meanwhile, the issue has sparked controversy in the Senate as lawmakers may soon vote on a clause affirming states’ rights to direct their contracts and assets in this way. The measure, included in the Senate’s first bill of the new Congress, is aimed primarily at the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Activists on one side of this debate have maligned anti-boycott laws as requiring a “loyalty oath to Israel,” arguing that “the government cannot force people to subscribe to a specific political viewpoint.” When so framed, these laws appear to be intolerable censorship. The First Amendment enables anyone to freely express their views without fear of government retribution – even if those views are racist or anti-Semitic. But ACTING on such views is in many cases illegal, particularly when the effect is discriminatory. So while First Amendment arguments must be evaluated in these lawsuits, ignoring the well-established distinction between speech and action grossly misrepresents the controversy.

Contrary to the challengers’ free speech narrative, these state laws do not actually impact anyone’s ability to hold, express or advocate any viewpoint. Instead, they only require businesses seeking government contracts (or investments) to certify they are not engaged in discriminatory boycotts. This is actually milder than many other antidiscrimination laws at the federal, state and local level, which require companies – regardless of their financial relationship with any government – to disregard traits such as religion or national origin in hiring practices and business dealings. The laws in question here, instead of directly regulating conduct, are intended to spare the public from subsidizing companies that act contrary to the collective interest.

The key question that free speech advocates (and the courts) have to answer is whether a boycott of Israel, in its current form, is merely a political viewpoint rather than a form of discrimination. For if such a boycott does nothing but express a political viewpoint, these laws should be struck down. The collective interest is never served by stifling one side of a genuine debate. However, if a boycott represents discrimination against a protected category, it would be on par with any other uncontroversial law safeguarding public funds from being used toward discriminatory ends.

While much discourse on this subject has uncritically assumed Israel boycotts are the former, there are good reasons to believe they’re the latter.

Most Israel boycotts today are conducted in solidarity with the BDS movement, founded in 2005. As just the latest in a long line of Jewish boycotts, BDS is arguably discriminatory in both its goals and its effect. Ignoring countries engaged in far more egregious behavior, the movement singles out Israel as exceptionally and uniquely evil among all nations of the world. It spuriously places all blame for a two-sided conflict on “Jewish colonialism.” And though there may certainly be times when Israeli policies or government actions warrant criticism, BDS does not merely target any individual Israeli policy or government. Rather, it rejects Jewish self-determination outright. Co-founder Omar Barghouti has said he opposes a Jewish state “in any part of Palestine,” which BDS sees as being a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The practical impact of BDS on Jews and Israelis in the United States is no less troubling. When companies and organizations engage in secondary boycotts of Israel, meaning they won’t do business with entities that have a relationship with Israel, this disproportionately targets both Jewish and Israeli Americans. And harm to Americans is not only economic. A team of professors at Brandeis University conducted an extensive study across 50 campuses and found Jewish students reported increased harassment, intimidation and hostility toward them on campuses with rising BDS activity. Student BDS leaders in particular have posted vile and hateful messages like “Every time I read about Hitler I fall in love all over again” and “Let’s stuff some Jews in the oven.” And ironically for a group now waving the First Amendment flag, BDS advocates regularly heckle and even shut down events organized by Jewish groups to discuss Israel.

To be sure, the U.S. Constitution protects the right of any individual to criticize Israel or engage in hate speech. And following the Kansas model, the appropriate scope of Israel boycott laws may be clarified in the months and years ahead. But to oversimplify this issue as one of censorship erases the distinction between speech and action, denies the relationship between BDS and anti-Semitism, and ignores the broad latitude state governments in the United States have to prevent discrimination.

Nikki Haley: The U.N.’s Obsession with Israel is Making Things Worse in the Middle East

Contributor: Nikki Haley –

Editor’s note: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley plans to step down from her position in January. In her final speech to the United Nations Security Council on Dec. 18, she challenged the group to stop its obsession with Israel and come up with realistic solutions for peace. What follows is the text of her remarks.

When I first came to the United Nations two years ago, I was taken back a bit by this monthly meeting. The fact that the U.N. would consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not striking. It is, after all, a matter of international peace and security. What was striking was the frequency of the discussion and the one-sidedness of it.

Members of the Security Council have heard me say this many times. The problems of the Middle East are numerous, and yet we spend a vastly disproportionate amount of time on just one of them. And the U.N. has shown itself to be hopelessly biased, as we witnessed again just two weeks ago when the General Assembly failed to condemn Hamas’ terrorist activity against Israel.

Over the past two years, I have attempted to provide more value in this monthly meeting by using my time to speak about other pressing problems in the Middle East. I have spoken about Iran’s illegal weapons transfers and destabilizing support for terrorism throughout the region. I have spoken about the barbarism of the Assad regime in Syria. I have spoken about Hamas’ illegal and diabolical use of human shields. I have spoken about Hezbollah jeopardizing the safety of the Lebanese people and its violations of Israeli sovereignty, which have come to light even more clearly in the last month. I have spoken about Iraq and Yemen, about refugees and humanitarian crises.

I have done this for two reasons. I’ve done it to illustrate that most of the region’s problems have absolutely nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And I’ve done it to encourage the U.N. to move away from its obsession with Israel. This U.N. obsession has been entirely unproductive. It’s actually worse than that. The U.N.’s obsession with this issue has been counterproductive. It has sent a loud and false message to the Palestinians that they just might be able to achieve their goals by relying on the U.N., rather than through direct negotiations. And it has sent a loud and accurate message to the Israelis that they can never trust the U.N. This biased obsession is not the path to peace. It is the path to an endless stalemate.

Today is my last time addressing this monthly session as the United States ambassador. Because it is, I’m going to deviate from my practice of the last two years. Today, I will directly address the Israel-Palestinian issue. Given my record, some may mistakenly conclude that I am unsympathetic to the Palestinian people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s how I see it.

Israel is a thriving, strong, prosperous country. It has always wanted peace with its neighbors. It has clearly demonstrated its willingness to make big sacrifices for peace, including giving up large areas of land. But Israel will not make a peace agreement at just any price, and it shouldn’t. No U.N. resolutions, anti-Semitic boycotts, or terrorist threats will ever change that. Throughout its existence, and even today, Israel has been surrounded by threats to its security. It would be foolish for it to make a deal that weakened its security. And yet, even in the face of constant threats, Israel has become one of the leading nations in the world. Israel wants a peace agreement, but it doesn’t need one.

And then there are the Palestinian people. Like the Israelis, they are a deservedly proud people. They too do not need to accept a peace agreement at any price. But the condition of the Palestinian people is very different. Economic opportunity, health care, even electricity are all scarce in the Palestinian territories. Terrorists rule much of the territory, undermining the safety of all civilians. The Palestinian people are suffering terribly while their leadership clings to 50-year-old demands that have only become less and less realistic. What awaits the Palestinian people with a peace agreement are the prospects of a massive improvement in the quality of their lives and far greater control over their political future.

It is time we faced a hard truth: Both sides would benefit greatly from a peace agreement, but the Palestinians would benefit more, and the Israelis would risk more.

It is with this backdrop in mind that the Trump administration has crafted its plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I don’t expect anyone to comment on a peace proposal they have not read. But I have read it. And I will share some thoughts on it now.

Unlike previous attempts at addressing this conflict, this plan is not just a few pages, containing unspecific and unimaginative guidelines. It is much longer. It contains much more thoughtful detail. It brings new elements to the discussion, taking advantage of the new world of technology that we live in. It recognizes the realities on the ground in the Middle East have changed — and changed in very powerful and important ways. It embraces the reality that things can be done today that were previously unthinkable. This plan will be different from all previous ones. The critical question is whether the response will be any different.

There are things in the plan that every party will like, and there are things in the plan that every party will not like. That is certainly true for the Israelis and the Palestinians, but it is also true for every country in the world that has taken an interest in this subject. Every country or party will therefore have an important choice to make. They can focus on the parts of the plan they dislike. For irresponsible parties, that would be the easiest thing to do. Just reject the plan because it does not satisfy all of your demands. Then we would return back to the failed status quo of the last 50 years with no prospects for change. Israel would continue to grow and prosper. The Palestinian people would continue to suffer. And innocent people on both sides would continue to be killed.

The other choice is to focus on the parts of the plan that you do like and encourage negotiations to move forward. And I assure you there is a lot for both sides to like.

Ultimately, as always, the final decisions can only be made by the parties themselves. Israelis and Palestinians will decide their own futures. They will decide what sacrifices they are willing to make. And they will need leaders with real vision to do it.

But my friends at the United Nations, in particular my Arab and European brothers and sisters, will also play a very important part. You will face the same choice. The choice between a hopeful future that sheds the tired, old and unrealistic demands of the past or a darker future that sticks with the proven failed talking points of the past. The world will be watching. More importantly, the Palestinians and the Israelis will be watching. Their response will be affected by your response.

To my Arab friends, I have heard privately from many of you. You’ve said that you know a solution is urgently needed. But your governments have not been willing to talk to your constituencies about what is realistic or to the Palestinian leadership about the harm they’re doing to their very own people. By taking the easy way, you are really saying that the Palestinian people are not a priority for you. Because if they were, you would all be in a room helping bring both sides to the table.

As for the American people, we have demonstrated time and again our commitment to peace in the Middle East. We will continue to offer our hand in friendship to the Palestinian people, whom we have financially supported by far more than any other country has done. The Palestinians have everything to gain by engaging in peace negotiations. But whatever it is that others decide, the world must know that America will remain steadfast in our support of Israel, its people and its security. That is an unshakable bond between our two peoples. And it is that bond — more than anything else — that makes peace possible.

My hope is that as soon as — I am soon to be an outside observer who has invested so much time on this issue — that we will not still be having the same conversation, the same old speeches, in years to come.

Nikki Haley is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The text of her speech was posted on the State Department website.

Asia Bibi’s Neighbors Want Her Dead: There is No Forgiveness for Insulting Muhammad

By: Stoyan Zaimov;

Islamic protesters march on October 31, 2018 in Pakistan after Christian mother of five Asia Bibi’s (bottom right) acquittal. | (Screenshot: AFP) Bottom Right: (Courtesy: British Pakistani Christian Association)

Asia Bibi’s former neighbors believe she deserves to be executed for allegedly insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad even though her confession was coerced. 

“She confessed her crime in front of them, how can they forgive her?” asked 50-year-old Mohammad Bota in an interview with The Telegraph on Thursday.

Ittan Wali in rural Punjab, Pakistan, is where Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was first accused nearly 10 years ago by fellow Muslim laborers of having insulted the Islamic prophet, a charge she has always denied.

The accusation of blasphemy, one of the most serious crimes in the Islamic-majority country, led to Bibi’s imprisonment on death row for eight years before she was finally acquitted by the Pakistani Supreme Court in October and granted freedom, though she is still being detained and unable to leave the country.

The controversial decision to free Bibi sparked widespread unrest and protests by Islamic hardliners in the country who declared their opposition to international pressure influencing the judges.

While persecution watchdog groups and human rights organizations have condemned Pakistan for its blasphemy laws, the villagers in Ittan Wali told the Telegraph that Bibi confessed to insulting their faith at the time and her death sentence should stand.

“I would die in the name of my religion and if someone has committed blasphemy, then they are not forgiven,” said 62-year-old farmer Shawkat Ali. “If the Supreme Court has some faith in religion and if they are Muslims, they should execute her.”

The villagers insist that after arguing with her co-workers, Bibi was sent to a local cleric to explain her words, which is where she allegedly confessed to insulting the Islamic prophet.

Qari Muhammad Salam, the cleric in question, argued that the Supreme Court’s ruling was “very disappointing,” and said Bibi “deserves the death sentence according to the law.”

“If you start forgiving people on this issue, then it will become routine that people will commit blasphemy and just ask for forgiveness,” he said.

“We wish that if she had not uttered such remarks, and she had been living like before it would have been peaceful. But if someone says this, then there’s no compromise on the dignity of the prophet [Muhammad]. Being Muslim, we believe that these are testing times and we should be ready for them.”

Bibi’s family continues to live in danger in Pakistan where they spent Christmas waiting for an asylum offer from another country.

In October, Eisham Ashiq, one of Bibi’s daughters, thanked God and Christians worldwide for praying for her mother and her family.

“Thank you everybody for praying for my mother. I’d also like to thank the brave judges and the Pakistani justice system that recognize my mother’s innocence,” Ashiq said in a video supplied by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

“Thanks God, she (Bibi) is free and I hope our entire family is finally happy and free. Thanks to all of you for praying for my mother and persecuted Christians,” she added.

Earlier this month, Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist pastor, issued a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump asking him to grant Bibi and her family asylum.

“The United States is without question the safest place of refuge for Asia Bibi and her family. We have a 230-plus year commitment to religious freedom and tolerance,” read an email by My Faith Votes, the organization seeking to encourage people to vote based on their convictions.

“That the United States isn’t being mentioned as her ultimate destination is a betrayal of those principles and an abdication of our responsibilities,” it warned.

IDF Looks Back on 2018: 865 Strikes, 20 Terror Tunnels Destroyed

By: Lilach Shoval;

Military’s annual ‎operational activity report says IAF combat squadrons conducted 2,000 ‎sorties in 2018 • Gaza terrorists ‎fired 1,000 rockets at ‎Israel’s south • There were 33 shooting and 17 ‎stabbing attacks in West Bank; 3,173 suspected terrorists arrested.

An Israeli F-15 fighter jet |
 Illustration: Dudu Grunshpan

The Israeli military on Sunday issued its annual ‎operational activity report, tallying up strikes ‎and missions alongside security incidents. ‎

According to the report, the IDF mounted a combined ‎‎865 air and ground strikes in the Gaza Strip in ‎‎2018, destroyed 15 terror tunnels breaching Israeli ‎territory from Gaza and five tunnels snaking under ‎the Israel-Lebanon border, and dealt with 87 high-profile ‎terrorist attacks across Judea and Samaria.

Seven soldiers and nine civilians were killed in ‎terrorist incidents over the passing year. ‎

The data further showed that overall, the Israeli ‎Air Force’s combat squadrons conducted some 2,000 ‎sorties, of which 600 involved IAF helicopters. The various ‎transport squadrons engaged in some 2,300 flights. ‎Overall, manned aircraft logged 32,166 flight ‎hours, with Alaska being the farthest destination. ‎

The military did not release any official numbers on its strikes in Syria in 2018, but it is believed ‎to have launched hundreds of sorties there since ‎‎2017. ‎

According to IDF data, Gaza-based terrorist groups ‎fired some 1,000 rockets and mortar shells at ‎Israel’s south, 460 of them in a span of 36 hours ‎during November’s flare-up on the border, which was ‎the worst since 2014.‎

The Iron Dome defense system intercepted 250 ‎projectiles, and an unspecified, low number of ‎rockets hit urban areas. ‎

Security forces operating across the West Bank ‎arrested 3,173 suspected terrorists in 2018. The ‎sector further saw 2,057 stoning incidents, 893 ‎firebomb incidents, 33 shooting attacks and 17 ‎stabbing attacks. ‎

For the sake of comparison, in 2017 there were 5,082 stoning incidents, 34 ‎‎shooting attacks, and five stabbing attacks. ‎

The IDF conducted four divisional maneuvers in 2018, ‎as well as 14 drills involving brigades in the various sectors and 46‎ military exercises ‎involving regular and reserves forces.

Coptic Christians Plan Protests Demanding Justice as Targeted Killings Continue in Egypt

By: Stoyan Zaimov; The Christian

Coptic Christians mourning the seven believers killed during a funeral in Egypt on November 3, 2018. | (Screenshot: YouTube/WION)

Coptic Christians will be staging protests in multiple cities at the end of the month to bring attention to the ongoing persecution their communities suffer in Egypt.

The Australian Coptic Movement Association said on Facebook Friday that protests on Dec. 30 are scheduled in at least three cities: Sydney, Melbourne, and Darwin.

The Coptic community has faced several tragedies in 2018. It’s still reeling from the murder of father and son Emad and David Kamal Sadiq who were killed on Dec. 12 by a police officer who had been tasked with guarding a Christian church.

Al-Monitor reported on Thursday that Sgt. Rabie Mostafa Khalifa has officially been charged with premeditated murder in the shooting deaths of the believers after he opened fire while guarding Nahdet al-Qadasa Church in the Minya governorate.

The shooting occurred after the officer got into an argument with the men, who were working at the time as contractors removing the ruins of a demolished house facing the church.

Hundreds of mourners attended their funerals, Middle East Eye reported, demanding justice from the Egyptian government for the series of attacks they have suffered in the past couple of years.

A similar outcry of grief and anger followed the killings of seven believers at the hands of Islamic militants near a monastery in Minya in November.

Egyptian police said at the time that they pursued the militants and killed 19 of them in a shoot-out into a desert area west of Minya province.

The victims included one Anglican and six Copts, with mourners chanting at the funerals: “With our souls, with our blood, we will defend the cross!”

The Australian Coptic Movement Association said that Christians are being forced to accept “reconciliation” instead of justice over the violence against them, and are suffering from other forms of persecution as well.

“Egyptian authorities, particularly in Southern Egypt, continued to conduct ‘customary reconciliation’ sessions between Muslims and Christians. In ALL cases, we have the Muslim majority attacking the local Christian minority and the local authorities and Muslim and Christian religious leaders at times have abused these sessions to compel victims to abandon their claims to any legal remedy,” the association added.

“Dismayingly, in some cases, Christian families have been forced to leave their villages and sell their property.”

Ahead of the protests on Dec. 30, the group made several urgent requests of the Egyptian government.

It called for the establishment of a special inquiry to examine and investigate all sectarian attacks that have occurred and bring those responsible to justice.

It demanded an end to the forced “reconciliation sessions,” and separately urged protection for Egyptian Christian women and girls, which it said are at risk of being kidnapped and forcefully converted.

“As we approach a New Year, we also take time out to remember and pray for the hundreds of families who have been impacted by previous massacres that have occurred at this time,” it said.

“From El-Kosheh to Alexandria, we have many hundreds of families celebrating New Year’s and Coptic Orthodox Christmas without loved ones at their dinner table. In the majority of cases, the murderers are roaming the streets freely as no one is ever sentenced for these terrible crimes.”

Illinois Town Cancels Trip to Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter, Creation Museum After Atheists File Complaint

By: Samuel Smith; The Christian Post –

The Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky bathed in sunset colors. | (PHOTO: ANSWERS IN GENESIS)

An Illinois town has canceled a trip to the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum and Ark Encounter in Kentucky after one of the nation’s leading atheist legal groups filed a complaint.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group that advocates for a strict separation of church and state, is hailing victory after the city of Charleston, Illinois, nixed plans for a community trip to see the creationist exhibits.

The trip was planned by the town’s parks and recreation department and was scheduled for Sept. 30 through Oct. 4, 2019.

According to a flyer, the trip would have cost each resident who wanted to go $575. The price included transportation, lodging, admission to the “new” and “stunning” Ark Encounter and admission to the “famous” Creation Museum.

Both exhibits are brainchildren of prominent Australian-born Young Earth Creationist Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis.

Additionally, the trip included visits to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and a riverboat sightseeing cruise.

In a letter sent to Charleston city attorney Rachel Cunningham on Monday, FFRF Ryan Jayne argued that the trip violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Jane contended that it’s a “fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that the government may not promote, advance or otherwise endorse religion.”

“Ham has been clear about the proselytizing nature of both attractions since their inception,” Jane’s letter reads. “It is unconstitutional for the city of Charleston to endorse Ham’s religious mission by organizing, sponsoring or funding a trip to the Ark Encounter or the Creation Museum. We request assurances that the fall 2019 event will be either canceled or altered to exclude these religious attractions.”

FFRF reported in a news release that Cunningham responded to Jane’s letter on Tuesday, assuring him that the planned event had been canceled and the flyer promoting the trip had been removed from the city’s website and online registration portal.

The Christian Post reached out to Cunningham for confirmation and explanation as to why that the trip had been canceled. A response is pending.

“It’s laudable that the city took quick action to remedy this situation,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. “Charleston has sent the message that they value and welcome all citizens, regardless of their religion.”

FFRF, which claims over 32,000 members nationwide and 900 in Illinois, regularly pressures public schools and government entities to halt practices or activities it considers to be a government entanglement with religion.

Most recently, FFRF successfully pressured an Ohio town with the threat of a lawsuit to remove a Nativity scene and Ten Commandments display from public property.

In August, FFRF pressured an Indiana school district to bar teachers from leading an elementary school’s Fellowship of Christian Students club.

In October, a Georgia school district barred a local pastor from being able to lead a high school football team in prayer after FFRF submitted a complaint.

In April, FFRF succeeded in getting an Illinois public school district to prohibit a principal from inviting parents to participate in an annual prayer gathering at the school’s flagpole.

This is not the first time the FFRF has pressured a town to cancel a planned trip to the Answers in Genesis exhibits. In February 2017, the Christiansburg Recreation Center in Virginia canceled a trip to the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum after an FFRF complaint.

PM: Thanks to Israel, Hezbollah Has Dozens of Precision Missiles, Not Thousands

By: Michael Bachner; The Times of Israel –

Netanyahu hints at Mossad involvement in operations that have thwarted the transfer of weaponry to the Iran-backed terror group

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks out of a helicopter as he arrives in northern Israel, December 6, 2018 (Amit Shabi/Yedioth Ahronoth/POOL)

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks out of a helicopter as he arrives in northern Israel, December 6, 2018 (Amit Shabi/Yedioth Ahronoth/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Thursday evening that Hezbollah currently has only several dozen precision-guided missiles, with Israeli security forces — including the Mossad spying agency — having stopped the Lebanese terror group obtaining thousands of such projectiles.

Netanyahu spoke several days after Israel launched an operation to find and destroy Hezbollah tunnels, with two such passages said uncovered so far.

The Israeli military has said it believes the tunnels were meant to be used by Hezbollah as a surprise component of an opening salvo in a future war, alongside the mass infiltration of operatives above ground and the launching of rockets, missiles, and mortar shells at northern Israel.

“Hezbollah has two tools [of attack],” Netanyahu said at an award ceremony for exceptional Mossad operatives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. “One tool is tunnels, and we are depriving them of that.

“The other weapon is rockets, an imprecise weapon, but they also want precision weapons,” he added. “This radically changes the balance of power.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York September 27, 2018, and holds up a placard detailing alleged Hezbollah missile sites in Beirut. (AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY)

“According to Hezbollah’s plans, they were already supposed to be equipped with thousands of missiles, but right now they only have a few dozen. The reason that they only have a few dozen is, among others, sitting here in this room,” Netanyahu told the Mossad servicemen and women.

“It is the combination of the Mossad, the IDF, and our entire security system. We are depriving them of that weapon as well, not absolutely, but to a very impressive extent,” he boasted.

“As someone who approves countless operations of yours, I want to tell you that I am proud of you and believe in you and [to tell you] how proud the people of Israel are of you,” he concluded. “The Mossad is fantastic and you are fantastic.”

Many shipments of advanced missiles are said to have been bombed by Israel on the way from Iran to Lebanon, mostly through Syria.

During his September speech at the UN, Netanyahu revealed the existence of what he said were three sites in Beirut that were being used by the Iran-backed terror group to hide underground precision missile production facilities.

In this April 1996 file photo, two Hezbollah fighters stand near Katyusha rockets in the southern village of Ein Qana, Lebanon (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari, file)

The Israeli military on Thursday said it had located a second Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnel in the western Galilee, after uncovering an underground passage two days earlier in the eastern part of the region.

The tunnel originated in the Lebanese village of Ramyeh underneath a number of homes and crossed into Israeli territory near the village of Zarit, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Israeli soldiers show UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col a Hezbollah tunnel that penetrated Israeli territory from southern Lebanon on December 6, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The first tunnel was discovered south of the Israeli village of Metulla in the northern tip of the Galilee panhandle.

A senior Israeli official on Thursday said the tunnels discovered inside Israel were large enough to be used by “entire battalions” to enter Israeli territory in order to “carry out killing sprees and kidnappings and to capture Israeli towns and villages.”

Netanyahu elaborated, in a briefing to foreign envoys at the northern border: “If you look at the Hamas tunnels, they’re very narrow, basically for one person. The Hezbollah tunnels are broad. They enable several people to come at one and also to put motorcycles, I’m pretty sure tractors and so on.

This, Netanyahu said, was “in order to bring in many forces, simultaneously, which means several battalions into our territory, with the purpose of cutting off communities here, towns, kibbutzim, and then going into a campaign of murder and kidnapping, which could happen simultaneously.”

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, center, visits soldiers searching for Hezbollah attack tunnels on Israeli-Lebanese border on December 4, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The number of tunnels the IDF believes the Lebanese terror group has dug into Israel, as well as other information connected to the army’s tunnel-busting operation, cannot be published by order of the military censor.

Earlier on Thursday, a senior Israeli official threatened that the IDF may be forced to extend its current tunnel-busting operation across the border and into Lebanese territory.

“It is possible that we will be required to act inside Lebanon,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Operation Northern Shield was launched earlier this week due to the fear that the details of the operation would be leaked and revealed to Hezbollah, the senior official said.

“If Hezbollah knew that we knew [about the existence of the tunnels] then this would accelerate their kidnapping efforts, and we did not want to get to a situation where the kidnappers infiltrate into Israel and abduct a soldier or a civilian, and no one would know anything about it,” the senior official said.

The decision to embark on the operation was made on November 7, and was one of the reasons the cabinet decided not to launch a major military campaign against Hamas in Gaza, the official added. “There were other reasons, too, but that was one of them,” he said.

IDF Uncovers 4th Hezbollah Tunnel Under Israel-‎Lebanon Border

By: Lilach Shoval, Associated Press and Israel Hayom Staff –

IDF says it has lined the tunnel with explosives • Tunnel, in an undisclosed location, exposed as part of Operation Northern Shield, launched Dec. 4 • Israel urges international community to impose sanctions on Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, over the tunnels.

An IDF bulldozer digs near the Israel-Lebanon border |
 Photo: Reuters

A fourth Hezbollah terror tunnel breaching Israeli ‎territory from Lebanon has been exposed, the IDF said Sunday.‎

The tunnel was discovered as part of Operation ‎Northern Shield, launched by the IDF on Dec. 4 to ‎expose and neutralize Hezbollah tunnels ‎snaking across the border into Israel under the security fence.

“Imagine terrorists digging an attack tunnel like ‎‎this toward your home, hacking away, inch by inch, ‎‎underground, in order to kill you and your family. ‎‎Israelis don’t need to imagine. It’s our job to ‎‎protect them,” the IDF posted on its English-language ‎Twitter page.‎

The IDF did not disclose the tunnel’s location, ‎saying only that it has lined it with explosives.

The IDF said any Lebanese soldiers or ‎Hezbollah operatives approaching the tunnel on the ‎Lebanese side of the border would do so at their own peril. ‎

Israel has called on the international community to ‎impose new sanctions on Hezbollah, Iran’s regional ‎proxy, in the wake of the tunnels’ discovery.‎

The IDF said Operation Northern Shield would continue until all Hezbollah tunnels ‎‎are exposed and neutralized. ‎

The Shiite terrorist group has yet to issue any ‎‎‎comment on the operation, but Lebanese President ‎‎Michel Aoun said that as long as the Israeli ‎‎operation does not infringe on his country’s ‎‎sovereignty, it is unlikely to threaten the calm on ‎the border. ‎

‎”We take this issue – the presence of tunnels at the ‎border – seriously and Israel informed us ‎via the ‎United States that its intentions are not aggressive,” said Aoun, a Hezbollah ally. He added that Israel has pledged to “continue to work” on ‎its ‎‎territory.

Australia Recognizes West Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

By: Henry Benjamin – Jewish Telegraphic Agency;

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces that his government will recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital during a speech at the Sydney Institute on Dec. 15, 2018. (Mick Tsikas-Pool/Getty Images)

SYDNEY (JTA) — Australia said it recognizes West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and is now starting a search for a suitable site for a trade office within the city.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the government’s decision while speaking at the Sydney Institute current affairs forum on Saturday.

“We look forward to moving our Embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of, and after the final status determination,” he said.

He reiterated Australia’s support for a two-state solution and added that the Australian government also recognizes “the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem.”

In the same announcement, Morrison said he plans to open a Trade and Defense office in West Jerusalem. Australia-Israel trade is over $1.3 billion a year.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry offered a lukewarm response to the announcement, focusing on the trade office and calling it “a step in the right direction.” Israel views the entire city of Jerusalem — both the Western section, which is predominantly Jewish, and the Eastern section, which is predominantly Arab — as its capital.

Saeb Erekat, a top advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, called the announcement irresponsible and noted in a statement that “all of Jerusalem remains a final status issue for negotiations.”

Meanwwhile, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit called on the Australian government “to correct its position and recognize the State of Palestine and its capital as East Jerusalem without delay. Thus, we will consider its position balanced.”

Under Morrison’s leadership, Australia last month opposed six resolutions that attacked Israel in the United Nations General Assembly.

Australia’s opposition leader Bill Shorten accused Morrison of putting his political interest ahead of the national interest. The opposition has charged that Morrison took up the issue of Jerusalem in order to pick up a seat in a parliamentary by-election in Sydney’s Wentworth region, home to a large proportion of the city’s 60,000 Jews, in order to shore up his razor-thin majority.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry in a statement praised the announcement as “a simple acknowledgement of a reality that has existed since 1950.”