Monthly Archives: December 2018

AJC, WJC Commend EU Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism

By Joel Leyden
Israel News Agency

Brussels — December 7, 2018 … The American Jewish Committee (AJC) praised the Council of the European Union unanimous adoption of a statement on combating anti-Semitism across Europe. It is the first time the Council’s 28-member states have passed a comprehensive measure aimed at coordinating counter anti-Semitism actions and to assure the safety of European Jews.

In its declaration, the EU Council acknowledges that Jewish communities in some European Union countries feel particularly vulnerable to lethal terrorist attacks, following an increase in violent attacks in recent years. It notes that anti-Semitic hatred remains widespread, as confirmed by the E.U.’s 2018 Fundamental Rights Agency report on anti-Semitism.

“The EU has taken a historic step toward fighting all forms of hatred targeting Jews,” said Daniel Schwammenthal, Director of the AJC Transatlantic Institute, the Brussels-based arm of AJC, the global Jewish advocacy organization.

“Significantly, the 28 EU member states have jointly recognized the severity of continuing threats to Jews, the need to protect Jewish institutions and communities, and the value of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Anti-Semitism.”

Schwammenthal praised Austrian Chancellor Kurz, who currently holds the EU presidency, for initiating the Council Declaration. “Chancellor Kurz has admirably made anti-Semitism an EU priority.”

The Council Declaration asks member states “to adopt and implement a holistic strategy to prevent and fight all forms of anti-Semitism.” It expresses EU determination to “ensure a future for Jewish people to live with the same sense of security and freedom as all other citizens in the European Union.” And it calls on EU member nations that have not yet adopted the IHRA working definition to endorse it.

The World Jewish Congress said in a statement that it worked for several months with the Austrian government and European institutions, as well as the EJC, to draft the declaration.  It applauded the council for passing the declaration and called on the EU to appoint a Coordinator on Combating Anti-Semitism.

WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said: “I strongly welcome the decision by the Council of the European Union to adopt this important declaration on the fight against antisemitism and the protection of Jewish communities. Just days after polling revealed that antisemitism continues to haunt Europe, and with the memory of the Holocaust fading, this declaration is a clear recognition by the governments of all EU Member States that serious action, both politically and practically, is needed to deal with the clear and specific challenges posed by this ancient hatred. We look forward to continuing to engage with both the EU institutions and the governments of the EU Member States to inform this serious work going forward.”

In 2015, AJC convened in Brussels “A Defining Moment for Europe,” a strategy conference on combating anti-Semitism. The Call to Action adopted at the groundbreaking conference was updated in June 2018.

Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu had requested that the EU adopt the working definition of anti-Semitism issued by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental organization that was founded 20 years ago.

This definition states that some criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, such as: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” or by applying double standards to Israel not demanded of any other nation.

Some EU countries were concerned that this definition could prevent criticism of Israel’s residential and commercial activities in the Jewish state’s biblical and historical land in Judea and Samaria (West Bank). A compromise was therefore reached and the final statement calls on member states to use the IHRA definition as a “guidance tool,” without making it obligatory.

Israel And The Gulf States – Speaking Peace

By Eran Lerman
Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies

Jerusalem, Israel — December 5, 2018 … Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Oman, and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev’s visit to the United Arab Emirates, which occurred within days of each other last month, were not isolated events.

A pattern of improved relations with almost all the Gulf states is emerging, backed by occasional statements by senior officials and a much livelier debate than ever in the local media about the legitimacy of Israel’s presence as a player in the region. The detractors are still numerous and vociferous: Gulf countries presumed to be friendly still walk out on Israeli speakers at international fora (as happened recently in Rome), and some, like the Kuwaiti leadership, have stayed largely out of the new game altogether. But still, as Sherlock Holmes would have said, the game is afoot, and it is driven by several factors.

Above all, the almost universal fear and loathing in the face of Iranian ambitions is steadily building a common ground between Israel and the GCC countries. Even Qatar, which shares a vast natural gas field with Iran, is far from being an Iranian proxy. The common dismay of both the Gulf leaders and Israel with the JCPOA and Obama’s policies towards Tehran further enhanced this bond, and so does the sense of now having a firm American commitment to reverse these policies. Iranian arrogance and the growing ferocity of the Yemeni war (with Iranian rockets falling on the capital of Saudi Arabia, among other targets), have added to the urgency.

A contributing factor is the possible utility of the Gulf states – and in this case, Qatar takes the lead – in supporting conflict-management aspects of Israeli policy, specifically with regard to Hamas in Gaza. The scene of 15 million dollars in well-upholstered suitcases being brought into Gaza by the Qataris with Israeli permission must have seemed to be taken from a strange hybrid of a spy film and a mafia thriller, but given the obstructions placed by Abbas and the PA, this was the only way to procure greater calm in the restive Strip.

Saudi and Gulf involvement with the “Deal of the Century” – President Trump’s pending peace initiative – may also be in the works, although just when and how this may come about remains highly uncertain. It is safe to say, however, that the existential nature of the Iranian challenge as well as the deep-set frustration of many Arab leaders toward Palestinian obstinacy and internal bickering suggest that the traditional commitment to the “cause” no longer impedes Gulf players in their pursuit of more practical relations with Israel.

In any case, the signals are there almost across the board. True, the only overt sign of real change in the Saudi Arabian position has been the permission given to Air India to fly to Israel over Saudi airspace – a minor but symbolically significant step. Behind the scenes, however, rumors abound about anything from personal meetings between Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) to the direct supply of Israeli weapons. It will be years, if ever, before the full details are known, but surely the U.A.E. and Bahrain – the Saudis’ closest allies in the GCC – would not have gone ahead without a nod from Riyadh.

Both Netanyahu and Trump have openly referred to the importance of Saudi Arabia to Israel’s security in the region: specifically, in the context of the fallout from the Khashoggi affair, they acknowledged the horror of the act and yet suggested that Iran should not be allowed to reap the fruit of this bitter affair. Indeed, unless internal dynamics now lead to MBS being pushed out, the ultimate outcome may be that he would be more cautious and less impetuous in the future, and possibly cognizant of the role Israel plays and will continue to play on the Hill in restraining the U.S. from taking irreversible decisions.

Meanwhile, relations with the United Arab Emirates are growing apace. Two Israeli ministers – both fierce Netanyahu loyalists – visited the U.A.E. recently, Miri Regev for the Judo Grand Slam and Ayoub Kara for an International Telecommunications Union conference. Israelis do roaring business there, and the country is officially represented (with an officially limited mandate) in the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency. On issues of substance ranging from Iran to the Muslim Brotherhood there is practically no daylight between the positions of Israel and those of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the U.A.E.’s effective ruler, who is often described as his Saudi counterpart’s mentor.

The visits to Oman by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (who, incidentally, also holds the Intelligence portfolio, another subject on which Israel and Oman have reportedly been close for some time) are the most salient events of this new thaw in Israeli-Gulf relations. What makes them even more striking is Oman’s recent history as a go-between at the early stages of Obama’s bid to reach a strategic understanding with Iran, a supposedly secret mission at the time, which Israel quickly discovered and to which it reacted furiously. On the other hand, Oman has long been in touch with the Israeli defense establishment, and Israel contributed significantly to the defeat of the pro-Soviet rebellion in the Dhofar region.

The last “relic” of the post-Madrid multilateral Middle East peace talks – the Middle East Desalination Research Center – has continued to operate from Oman even after all else has collapsed. In the past, there was an Israeli diplomatic office in Muscat, and two prime ministers, Rabin and Peres, visited in the ’90s. Geopolitical, cultural, and economic conditions have made Oman a highly flexible diplomatic player.

Bahrain has now been semi-officially mentioned as the next Gulf destination for Prime Minister Netanyahu, albeit without an indication of when this may happen; and in April 2019 (if the Israeli coalition does not break up by then…) the Minister of the Economy – i.e., Trade and Industry – is scheduled to attend a conference there.

Bahraini officials have occasionally expressed themselves quite openly in support of Israel’s posture toward Iran: after the skirmishes of May 2018, Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmad tweeted that Israel has the right to defend itself, a highly unusual message from a senior Arab official.

In the recent past, Bahrain also made itself notable by appointing a Jewish woman, Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, as Ambassador to the United States (and Canada), a post she held from 2008 to 2013. The close relationship between the small island kingdom and the Saudis – who came to the rescue of the monarchy there back in 2011 – suggests that all such gestures are getting the tacit support of the Saudi leadership.

On the other hand, Kuwait remains largely outside this flow of events. Kuwaiti parliamentarians assaulted and insulted Israeli colleagues in an international forum last year, and the political discourse in Kuwait remains largely hostile (with occasional exceptions). Historically, Kuwait gave whole-hearted support to the Palestinians until the breach caused by Arafat’s support for Saddam Hussein’s invasion and annexation of the country; later, efforts were made to restore relations, some 80,000 Palestinians have returned to Kuwait, and the line toward Israel remains unchanged.

Last on the list – and politically, in a category all its own – Qatar is still officially under siege by some of its neighbors and much of the Arab world. Islamist ideological imperatives play a role in Qatari foreign policy, as does the urge to assert the country’s provocative independence. A close alignment with Turkey (but not, despite Saudi assertions, with Iran – although both Turkey and Qatar tend to take an intermediate position towards Iran on some key questions) adds to the complexity.

All this does not prevent Israel from working closely with Qatari envoys on the relief of economic miseries in Gaza (salaries, fuel supply) so long as it is fully understood that the Qatari role can at best be that of the CFO (chief financial officer), while Egypt must retain political hegemony there as “CEO” of the attempts to restore calm. Within these limits, the interaction between Israel and Qatar has been effective and beneficial, but no one expects it to be translated into an Omani-style event.

Amidst all this, the firm backing of the United States has played a major role in enabling and encouraging the Gulf openings toward Israel, and hence the importance of containing the damage and properly managing the fallout from the Khashoggi affair. Over the years, AJC has played an important role as a favored interlocutor of Gulf countries eager to understand (and affect) the mood in both Washington and Jerusalem. Personal aspects of the Trump administration’s outreach to the region probably reinforce this perception.

 

Eran Lerman is the former deputy for foreign policy and international affairs at the National Security Council in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. Prior to that, he served as director of AJC Jerusalem.

IDF On High Alert As Operation Northern Shield Destroys Hezbollah Tunnels

By Joel Leyden
Israel News Agency
Jewish News Agency

Jerusalem, Israel — December 4, 2018 … Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the following announcement today:

“This morning the IDF began Operation Northern Shield, the goal of which is to uncover and neutralize terrorist tunnels from Lebanon.

We are proud of the fighters and commanders of the IDF for the complex actions and operational successes already in the early stages of the operation.

Whoever tries to attack the State of Israel – will pay a heavy price.

We are taking determined and responsible action in all sectors simultaneously. We will continue with additional actions – open and covert – in order to ensure the security of Israel.”

Netanyahu just returned from a diplomatic-security meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels.

The Prime Minister updated the US Secy. of State on Operation Northern Shield and said that the intrusive tunnels built by Hezbollah are a gross violation of Israeli sovereignty and of UN Security Resolution #1701.

Netanyahu also said that Iranian aggression had to be thwarted in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.

The IDF on Tuesday uncovered the first cross-border Hezbollah tunnel from a home in the south Lebanese village of Kfar Kila some 40 meters into Israeli territory outside the town of Metulla.

It was the first tunnel that the IDF said it had discovered as part of Operation Northern Shield.

The IDF said it took Hezbollah two years to build the 600-foot-long tunnel, which had been dug through solid rock into Israel and built some 80 feet underground and was six feet wide and six feet tall. The terror tunnel had electrical and communication lines as well as ventilation.

“The digging of the cross-border attack tunnels that the IDF has discovered, before the attack tunnels became operational and posed an imminent threat to the safety of Israeli civilians, constitutes a flagrant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty,” said IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis.

“We are prepared for all options, and the operation is only in its first day. The neutralizing of the tunnels will not necessarily take place within our territory,” Manelis said.

Operation Northern Shield will be led by IDF OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick and will include troops from the Combat Engineering Corps, the Intelligence Branch, as well as the Defense Ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT).

The Israel Defense Forces stated that a number of areas close to the security fence with Lebanon, including the community of Metulla, have been declared a closed military zone and that it has reinforced troops in the Northern Command ahead of all possible scenarios.

 

While the IDF stressed that it is prepared for any escalation with Hezbollah that could stem from the operation, there are no special instructions for the residents of the North. The IDF updated the heads of local authorities overnight and will continue to be in contact with them throughout the operation.

“We are in full control of the situation and are determined to remove the underground Hezbollah threat from the northern border. The tunnels do cross into Israeli territory, but the work on them was not complete,” the spokesman said on a call with reporters.

According to Manelis, the Lebanese government is responsible for all that occurs on Lebanese soil and the digging of the tunnels shows that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is not capable of controlling what occurs in southern Lebanon.

“This is also more proof of the grave violations by Hezbollah, which blatantly ignores UN resolutions, especially Resolution 1701, and operates from villages in southern Lebanon, while harming the state of Lebanon and its citizens,” Manelis said, adding that “The Hezbollah terrorist organization, which is behind the digging of the tunnels, continues to operate with the support and funding of Iran in order to carry out terror activity against Israeli citizens.”


IDF surprises a Hezbollah terrorist before
he could surprise Jewish civilians.

Last week, Iran backed Hezbollah released a video with satellite images and precise locations of strategic sites in Israel warning “attack and you will regret it.”

Netanyahu added: “I have a message for the people of Lebanon: Hezbollah is putting your lives in danger. They are sacrificing your well being to serve the aggressive purposes of Iran. Israel holds the Lebanese government accountable for all terror activity emanating from Lebanon against Israel.”

“Like any other nation, Israel maintains the right to defend itself. We will continue to do all that is necessary to defend ourselves against Iran’s efforts to use Lebanon, Syria and Gaza as forward terror bases to attack Israel.”

“Just as we have exposed and dismantled the terror tunnels of Hamas alongside our border with Gaza, we will expose and dismantle the terror tunnels of Hezbollah alongside our border with Lebanon.”

Netanyahu concluded: “I have asked Israel’s delegation to the UN to call on the UN Security Council to convene an urgent meeting against Hezbollah and its actions. Israel will continue to do all that is necessary to protect our people and defend our borders.”