The Guardian reports: The Israeli military has cleared its forces of wrongdoing in a string of deadly incidents that took place during the 2014 Gaza war – including an airstrike that killed 15 members of a single family and the bombing of a United Nations school.
Israel’s investigative process is at the heart of a Palestinian case to press for war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The Palestinians say that Israel has a poor record of prosecuting wrongdoing in its ranks.
In a statement on Wednesday, the military said it had closed a total of seven investigations without filing charges after a special team collected testimony from Gaza residents and Israeli officers. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The Israeli military has launched dozens of strikes on Gaza in an unusually strong response to a rocket fired from Gaza that landed between two houses in the Israeli community of Sderot.
Responsibility for the rocket attack on Sunday was initially claimed by Ahfad al-Sahaba, one of the small Salafi groups – ultra-conservative Sunnis – that have recently become more active in Gaza, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It prompted a wave of up to 50 retaliatory attacks, according to Israeli military sources, hitting several of Gaza’s armed Palestinian factions.
A security source said raids targeted Hamas’s Izzedin Qassam Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s Quds Brigades and the PFLP. Artillery shells also hit the area of al-Bureij in central Gaza and Beit Hanoun in the north. Several Palestinians, including a 17-year-old boy, were reportedly wounded.
The raids broke the pattern of limited Israeli retaliation during periods of relative quiet, leading the Islamist group Hamas to accuse Israel of escalating tensions. According to reports, the Israeli response came in two waves, the first immediately after the rocket attack, the second during the night, involving three Israeli jets and tank fire. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: Citing a raft of deep systemic failures, human rights group B’Tselem has announced that it will no longer cooperate with Israel’s military law enforcement system.
For the past 25 years, B’Tselem, which documents Israeli human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories, has served as a “subcontractor” for the system by submitting complaints about soldiers’ alleged misconduct, gathering relevant documents and evidence, and requesting updates for affected Palestinian families.
While the goal was to help to bring justice to Palestinian victims and deter future misconduct, the reality has been the opposite, B’Tselem said in a scathing report released on Wednesday. [Continue reading…]
Gideon Levy writes: And here they come, those new-old sensitive heroes, soldiers who shoot but cry over it, a 2016 version of the Six-Day War soldiers featured in “The Seventh Day: Soldiers Talk about the Six-Day War.” In the Six-Day War, they were soldiers who shot and cried and were therefore considered moral. After the second intifada that broke out in 2000, there were the old-boy “gatekeepers,” (the former Shin Bet security service directors) who suddenly sobered up and were deemed men of conscience.
Now it’s the turn of the most senior commanders in office who are sobering up and sounding the alarm, the threesome of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan. It could have impressed and inspired respect had it not been for one tiny problem. The three aren’t doing a thing to change the situation that they are taking exception to.
These nice and principled military figures are beloved on the center-left, which has always dreamed about ethical generals who make eloquent Holocaust Remembrance Day speeches, but they are nothing more than empty salves to the conscience of the purportedly enlightened tribe.
Ya’alon, Eisenkot and Golan said some things that are correct and resounding. Ya’alon warned against the army becoming bestial. For his part, Eisenkot doesn’t want soldiers to empty their ammunition cartridges on 13-year-old girls. And last week on Holocaust Day, Golan said he saw concerning signs reminiscent of pre-Holocaust Germany in Israel.
It’s hard not to appreciate their courage, but we cannot ignore the fact that these are not three observers from the sidelines. All three bear direct and heavy responsibility for the situation that they are criticizing and have contributed for years to bringing it about.
They head the IDF, which is one of the most major agents of damage to Israeli society. They are in charge of an army most of whose operations consist of maintaining the occupation through brutal force. And anyone who heads an occupation army, who has commanded some of its worst military operations, lacks the necessary moral authority to preach morality — unless they have truly changed. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The deputy head of the Israeli military has been forced to backtrack after appearing to compare some attitudes in present-day Israel to “nauseating trends” in 1930s Germany.
In a hard-hitting Holocaust memorial day speech on Wednesday evening, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) deputy chief of staff, Maj Gen Yair Golan, made remarks that he felt compelled to clarify overnight on Thursday, insisting he had not “intended to compare Israel to Nazi Germany”.
Both the timing – on the day that marks the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis – and the perceived comparison, touch on the most sensitive of issues in Israel.
Golan told an audience including a government minister and survivors of the Holocaust: “The Holocaust must lead us to think about our public lives, and even more than that, it must guide anyone who has the ability, not only those who wish to bear public responsibility.
“Because if there is anything that frightens me in the remembrance of the Holocaust, it is discerning nauseating trends that took place in Europe in general, and in Germany specifically back then, 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and seeing evidence of them here among us in the year 2016.
“After all, there is nothing simpler and easier than hating the foreigner, there is nothing easier and simpler than arousing fears and intimidating, there is nothing easier and simpler than becoming bestial, forgoing principles and becoming smug.” [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: Amateur video appearing to show an Israeli soldier killing an already wounded Palestinian attacker sparked uproar in Israel on Sunday, reflecting the deep divisions in the country following six months of violence.
As the Israeli military pressed on with an investigation, nationalistic politicians accused the army of abandoning the soldier, while political doves bemoaned the erosion of the nation’s morals. Palestinians, meanwhile, said the shooting proved their claims that Israel is guilty of using excessive force and carrying out extrajudicial killings.
The shooting took place last Thursday in Hebron, the volatile West Bank city that has been a focal point of the latest wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The military said two Palestinians stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops shot and killed the pair. [Continue reading…]
Human Rights Watch reports: The B’Tselem volunteer who filmed the video, Imad Abu Shamsiyyeh, told Human Rights Watch in a phone interview that Israeli forces had threatened him both at the scene and later, when he went to give a statement to the military. A few minutes after he filmed the shooting from the roof of a nearby building, he said, “more journalists gathered on the roof, and the Israeli soldiers noticed us. They pointed their guns at us and screamed at us to get down. Soldiers came into the building and told the [owner] not to allow people there or the family would pay the price.”
Abu Shamsiyyeh said that after B’Tselem shared the video with military investigators, the military asked him to give a statement. During questioning at a military office in Hebron, Abu Shamsiyyeh said he felt the interrogator was trying to intimidate him to make him say that he had not filmed the video:
He told me, ‘How will you benefit from this video? It got a lot of publicity. Your name is known to everyone. Who is going to protect you and your family from right-wing Israelis? Remember you live in [Tel Rumeida], surrounded by Israeli settlers, who will be able to protect you there?’ I felt that I was being threatened. They took the original footage from me.
Abu Shamsiyyeh said he had received two phone calls on March 24 from a Hebrew-speaker, calling from a private number, but did not understand what was said. “I feel in danger and my children are afraid,” Abu Shamsiyyeh told Human Rights Watch. “I’m not letting them out of the house. I’m afraid of walking in the street.” [Continue reading…]
Anshel Pfeffer writes: It was a moment made for television. Abed Fatah al-Sharif could be seen lying on the ground in Hebron, after he and a friend had been shot while trying to stab Israeli soldiers. Still moving, 21-year-old Sharif lay there without receiving medical attention for several minutes, until a helmeted Israeli soldier, in the presence of his officers, walked up and shot him in the head.
Just like that – what looks like a summary execution in the middle of the day, on camera.
You would have expected the killing of Sharif to be headline news around the world, not only an internal debate over the battlefield morals of the Israel Defense Forces, as it has in the last four days. The IDF Spokesman Unit was prepared for a media onslaught, notified in advance through operational channels of the incident.
By the time the footage, taken by a field worker of human rights NGO B’Tselem, landed in the journalists’ inboxes, a statement had already been prepared announcing that the soldier had been arrested and his actions, which were contrary to “the IDF’s values,” were under criminal investigation. It took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a few hours but eventually he came out with a similar statement, distancing the IDF and its values from what was seen on the screen.
But as far as the foreign media was concerned, they need not have bothered. The foreign correspondents stationed in Israel dutifully filed their reports, but in a week in which Europe was still in shock from the devastating Brussels attacks their story barely had a chance. Add to the continent’s news agenda that day the conviction in The Hague of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for charges of genocide and the American media’s preoccupation with Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency as well as with their current president, Barack Obama, watching baseball in Cuba and doing the tango in Argentina, while trying to get as far as possible from the Middle East.
When the officials in charge of Israel’s global PR saw on Friday the daily summaries of the previous 24 hours in the world media, they heaved a sigh of relief. With the exception of Al Jazeera, the Hebron killing didn’t feature prominently on any of the main news channels, in the news bulletins of major networks or on the front pages of influential newspapers. It was relegated deep in to the inside pages and low down on the websites’ home pages.
“My report got quite a lot of clicks” said one reporter for a top news-site. ”But it didn’t make it into our top-ten news stories. There was just way too much happening elsewhere.” And if the media isn’t interested, then foreign politicians and diplomats won’t be making much of a fuss either. Perhaps even if it hadn’t taken place on a such a heavy news day we may have been surprised at the relatively low level of international media interest. After all, the global audience has become inured in the last three years to much more distressing images of ISIS beheadings, immolations and explosions of prisoners.
The improved professionalism in recent years of the IDF Spokesman’s Unit’s foreign media branch also played a role. They didn’t try to duck the issue or stonewall the reporters. Any hint of a cover up would probably have generated a few more headlines. But then after all, the world has also grown sick of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and hardly expects better of us anymore.
Some Israelis are certainly happy that the world has more burning issues to deal with and may even be experiencing a feeling of schadenfreude that this time the Europeans have too many dead bodies of their own to be interested in those here. Not only is such an attitude ugly and callous, but Israelis may find that living in one of the areas where the world media has lost interest in its cruelties is not such a great a thing, even if the coverage is sometimes biased and disproportional.
A world which is no longer shocked by Israeli cruelty towards Palestinians probably won’t be that excited when the cruelty goes the other way either. [Continue reading…]
U.S. has spent over $3.3 billion providing Israel with one of the most advanced missile defense systems in the world
The Washington Post reports: A joint exercise now being conducted between thousands of Israeli troops and the U.S. European Command represents a final test before Israel begins to deploy one of the most sophisticated missile defense systems in the world.
When it is complete, Israel’s multibillion-dollar rocket and missile air defense system will be far superior to anything in the Middle East and will likely rival, and in some ways surpass, in speed and targeting, air defenses deployed by Europe and the United States, its developers say.
The United States has provided more than $3.3 billion over the past 10 years to support the defensive system, which will be able to knock down not only ballistic missiles but also orbiting satellites.
Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama have had a strained relationship, rubbed raw by their deep disagreement over the Iran nuclear deal, U.S. spending on Israel’s air defenses has soared in the past decade, from $133 million in 2006 to $619 million in 2015. [Continue reading…]
According to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar, Samir Qantar, a Lebanese commander who had become a high-profile figure in the group, was killed by an Israeli airstrike in Damascus on Saturday.
Israeli officials welcomed the news but did not confirm responsibility for the attack.
While Hezbollah had no hesitation in accusing Israel, as Raed Omari notes, Syrian officials have been more circumspect:
Remarkably enough, the Syrian account of the incident resembled to a greater degree that of Israel – no confirmation and no refuting.
But the Syrian statements on Qantar’s killing were worded with a heavy Russian military presence in the background and they were inseparable from new political developments on Syria and the new international coalitions in the making.
It can’t be that the Israelis launched an airstrike on Syria now without coordination with their Russian allies who now control Syria’s airspace. And if the Syrians confirmed that Israeli jets killed Qantar, then they would appear as either having prior knowledge of the plan or have no sovereignty over their country.
Who actually killed the 54-year-old Qantar? In my opinion, Israel is a likely perpetrator but the question is how its jets flew over Syria now without being spotted by the Russian satellites and space power. The Russian silence on the incident is also worth-noting.
Meanwhile, a Syrian rebel group has released a statement claiming that they were responsible for Qantar’s death.
The New York Times quotes a Druze militia group that said the building which was targeted had been hit by “four long-range missiles.”
An Israeli columnist quotes “Western sources” claiming that Qantar was a “ticking bomb.”
The sources said Kuntar had recently not been working on behalf of Hezbollah, but rather acting with increasing independence alongside pro-Assad militias in Syria.
The attack in Damascus comes at a moment when, according to Israeli sources, “Iran has withdrawn most of the Revolutionary Guards fighters it deployed to Syria three months ago.”
Assuming that this was indeed an Israeli airstrike, it appears to have not only been aimed at an individual, but also intended to send some additional messages: that Israel is not unduly constrained by Russia’s air operations in Syria and that the Hezbollah fighters propping up the Assad regime are more expendable than their Iranian counterparts.
Creede Newton writes:
Regardless of who fired the missile, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, has already made his decision: this was Israel. Now, the question is, how will Nasrallah respond to another high-level assassination?
Some think Hezbollah’s falling popularity with the Sunni majority in the Middle East due to its meddling in the Syrian conflict could use a boost, and a conflict with Israel would help.
Others say Hezbollah is stretched, and a war with the powerful Israeli military is the last thing the Shia group needs.
Nicholas Blanford writes:
The current situation mirrors the immediate aftermath of an Israeli pilotless drone strike on 18 January in the Golan that killed Jihad Mughniyeh — son of former Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh — an Iranian general and five other Hezbollah fighters. Hezbollah struck back 10 days later with an anti-tank missile ambush against an Israeli army convoy at the foot of the Shebaa Farms hills, killing an officer and a soldier.
Following the ambush, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech that the rules of engagement that had defined the tit-for-tat conflict between Hezbollah and Israel were over.
“From now on, if any Hezbollah resistance cadre or youth is killed in a treacherous manner, we will hold Israel responsible and it will then be our right to respond at any place and at any time and in the manner we deem appropriate,” he said.
Nasrallah is due to speak Monday night and will probably reaffirm that commitment, which will ensure a state of tension along Israel’s northern border in the coming days.
The concept of reciprocity is a cornerstone of Hezbollah’s defense strategy against Israel, which may offer a clue as to the party’s response to Kuntar’s assassination. In the years following the 2006 War, Nasrallah has articulated on several occasions Hezbollah’s strategy of retaliating in kind for Israeli actions against Lebanon in a future conflict — if Israel bombs Beirut, Hezbollah bombs Tel Aviv; if Israel blockades Lebanese ports, Hezbollah will blockade Israeli ports with its long-range anti-ship missiles; if Israel invades Lebanon, Hezbollah will invade Galilee.
Even on a tactical level, Hezbollah has sought to achieve reciprocity against Israel. In October 2014, Hezbollah mounted a roadside bomb ambush in the Shebaa Farms that wounded two Israeli soldiers in response to the death a month earlier of a party military technician who died when a booby-trapped Israeli wire-tapping device exploded.
The January anti-tank missile attack against the Israeli convoy in the Shebaa Farms also sought to echo Israel’s deadly drone missile strike in the Golan 10 days earlier.
“They killed us in broad daylight, we killed them in broad daylight… They hit two of our vehicles, we hit two of their vehicles,” Nasrallah said at the time.
Al Jazeera reports: An elite Israeli military force that operates undercover stormed the al-Ahli Hospital in Hebron and shot dead a 27-year-old Palestinian, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said.
Abdullah al-Shalaldeh was killed by five rounds fired early Thursday after 21 members of the elite unit – known as Mustaarabin – barged into the hospital room of his cousin, Azzam al-Shalaldeh, a ministry statement said.
The commandos wanted to question Azzam – who required surgery after earlier being shot by Israeli security forces – and his cousin tried to prevent them from doing so when the Israelis opened fire. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: The U.S. closely monitored Israel’s military bases and eavesdropped on secret communications in 2012, fearing its longtime ally might try to carry out a strike on Fordow, Iran’s most heavily fortified nuclear facility.
Nerves frayed at the White House after senior officials learned Israeli aircraft had flown in and out of Iran in what some believed was a dry run for a commando raid on the site. Worried that Israel might ignite a regional war, the White House sent a second aircraft carrier to the region and readied attack aircraft, a senior U.S. official said, “in case all hell broke loose.”
The two countries, nursing a mutual distrust, each had something to hide. U.S. officials hoped to restrain Israel long enough to advance negotiations on a nuclear deal with Iran that the U.S. had launched in secret. U.S. officials saw Israel’s strike preparations as an attempt to usurp American foreign policy.
Instead of talking to each other, the allies kept their intentions secret. To figure out what they weren’t being told, they turned to their spy agencies to fill gaps. They employed deception, not only against Iran, but against each other. After working in concert for nearly a decade to keep Iran from an atomic bomb, the U.S. and Israel split over the best means: diplomacy, covert action or military strikes.
Personal strains between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu erupted at their first Oval Office meeting in 2009, and an accumulation of grievances in the years since plunged relations between the two countries into crisis.
This Wall Street Journal account of the souring of U.S.-Israel relations over Iran is based on interviews with nearly two dozen current and former senior U.S. and Israeli officials.
U.S. and Israeli officials say they want to rebuild trust but acknowledge it won’t be easy. Mr. Netanyahu reserves the right to continue covert action against Iran’s nuclear program, said current and former Israeli officials, which could put the spy services of the U.S. and Israel on a collision course.
In early 2012, U.S. spy agencies told the White House about a flurry of meetings that Mr. Netanyahu convened with top security advisers. The meetings covered everything from mission logistics to the political implications of a military strike, Israeli officials said.
U.S. spy agencies stepped up satellite surveillance of Israeli aircraft movements. They detected when Israeli pilots were put on alert and identified moonless nights, which would give the Israelis better cover for an attack. They watched the Israelis practice strike missions and learned they were probing Iran’s air defenses, looking for ways to fly in undetected, U.S. officials said.
New intelligence poured in every day, much of it fragmentary or so highly classified that few U.S. officials had a complete picture. Officials now say many jumped to the mistaken conclusion that the Israelis had made a dry run.
The U.S. Air Force analyzed the arms and aircraft needed to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities and concluded Israel didn’t have the right equipment. The U.S. shared the findings, in part, to steer the Israelis from a military strike.
The Israelis weren’t persuaded and briefed the U.S. on an attack plan: Cargo planes would land in Iran with Israeli commandos on board who would “blow the doors, and go in through the porch entrance” of Fordow, a senior U.S. official said. The Israelis planned to sabotage the nuclear facility from inside.
Pentagon officials thought it was a suicide mission. They pressed the Israelis to give the U.S. advance warning. The Israelis were noncommittal.
Israeli officials approached their U.S. counterparts over the summer about obtaining military hardware useful for a strike, U.S. officials said.
At the top of the list were V-22 Ospreys, aircraft that take off and land like helicopters but fly like fixed-wing planes. Ospreys don’t need runways, making them ideal for dropping commandos behind enemy lines.
The Israelis also sounded out officials about obtaining the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, the U.S. military’s 30,000-pound bunker-busting bomb, which was designed to destroy Fordow.
White House officials decided not to provide the equipment.
Messrs. Obama and Netanyahu spoke in September 2012, and Mr. Obama emerged convinced Israel wouldn’t strike on the eve of the U.S. presidential election.
By the following spring, senior U.S. officials concluded the Israelis weren’t serious about a commando raid on Fordow and may have been bluffing. When the U.S. offered to sell the Ospreys, Israel said it didn’t have the money.
Former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who championed a strike, said Mr. Netanyahu had come close to approving a military operation against Iran. But Israel’s military chiefs and cabinet members were reluctant, according to Israeli officials. [Continue reading…]
AFP correspondent, Andrea Bernardi, writes: It’s fairly common to see Israeli agents infiltrate the crowds of Palestinian stone throwers during demonstrations. I’ve witnessed this plenty of times in Jerusalem. The goal of these “mustarabiin” — literally “those who disguise themselves as Arabs” — is to stop the protesters. They usually take out their weapons without using them, or, more often, point them into the sky, as if they were about to shoot into the air.
But today, I filmed these undercover agents for the first time firing live bullets into a crowd of protesters.
I showed up to cover a “Day of Rage” that Palestinian students staged at the Bir Zeit University in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank. At the end of the demonstration, the protesters headed toward the DCO checkpoint near the Bet-El settlement, which has often been the scene of clashes between the two sides. [Continue reading…]