Change Region:New Zealand


Iranian Leader Threatens Israel Amidst Confrontation with US

Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who currently serves as Expediency Council Secretary thundered on Sunday that the Islamic Republic will “wipe out Israel” if the US responds to threatened Iranian actions to retaliate for last Friday’s assassination of former IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani. Also on Sunday, senior officials of the clerical regime which rules Iran announced further withdrawals from the JCPOA nuclear deal and a large crowd attended Suleimani’s funeral in Teheran, where his daughters and various officials made threats against the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Britain and a longish list of their other opponents.

US President Donald Trump has threatened to strike dozens of Iranian targets, including cultural sites, with massive conventional military power if Iran carries out any of its threatened terrorist attacks. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared on several US news shows throughout the day on Sunday to clarify these remarks, saying on one that the consequences of Iranian actions “will be borne by Iran and its leadership itself. Those are important things the Iranian leadership needs to put in its calculus as it makes its next decision."

Meanwhile, experts and pundits weighed in over the weekend, with heavyweight former CIA director and US Central Command leader General David Petraeus telling influential news magazine Foreign Policy that “It is impossible to overstate the importance of this particular action. It is more significant than the killing of Osama bin Laden or even the death of [ISIS leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi.” He further praised the assassination as a “very significant effort to reestablish deterrence,” against Iranian aggression.

However, Iraq’s parliament passed a non-binding resolution on Sunday requesting that foreign military forces leave the country, while large demonstrations were held in Iraqi cities including speeches demanding that both the US and Iran withdraw their forces and stop fighting a proxy war against each other on Iraqi soil. However, Sunni and Kurdish factions boycotted the parliamentary session in which the resolution was passed and leaders of those factions expressed fears of a return to civil war if the US-led coalition troops left while Iranian forces would be sure to stay under any circumstances.
Here is a video of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu responding to news of the strike

Hezbollah Leader Predicts Dire Consequences for US
Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah, issued a fiery statement Sunday warning that US soldiers stationed in the Middle East would be slaughtered by Iran following what he characterized as the foolish and criminal “murder” by US forces of IRGC-Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani last Friday. Adding that Soleimani was “the glue that held the Resistance Axis together,” Nasrallah said that “our confrontation has already begun, from the night of the assassination.” However, he added that while US military personnel were fair targets, US civilians in the Middle East were not.

BDS Movement Suffers More Setbacks
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered more defeats in recent days as Aliyah and Integration Minister Yariv Levin presented statistics to the Cabinet on Sunday including an estimate that 4.5 million tourists had visited the country in 2019, a new record. "We have received more than NIS 22 billion from tourism, and created more than 13,000 new jobs, resulting in a total of more than 150,000 jobs created due to the influx of tourists," he said. "I think the [tourism] industry is catching on as a central element of the Israeli economy." In another hopeful sign for the economy, 1 January saw a recently signed free trade agreement between Israel and Panama come into force.

Jerusalem Zoo Sends Supplies to Assist Australian Wildlife
Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo sent a donation of veterinary medical supplies to Australia over the weekend to assist efforts to rescue animals injured and displaced by the massive wildfires there. Press reports indicate catastrophically large numbers of animals have died as a result of the fires while large swaths of natural habitats for many species have been destroyed.

Floods Kill 4 in Israel Over Weekend
A strong winter storm hit many areas of Israel over the weekend bringing floods that resulted in the deaths of four people and widespread property damage. Also resulting from the storm was a dense covering of snow on Mount Hermon, leading to the ski resorts opening for visitors on Monday.
Today's video shows a recap of recent developments between Israel and the Arab World

Friday Feature – Israelis Awake to a New Strategic Reality

Israelis awoke Friday morning to two big news stories which carried enormous implications for every single person living in the Jewish State and for many people living in the surrounding countries as well. The first news item which dominated the headlines of all the major news outlets was the death of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and his protégé’, Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in a US airstrike near Baghdad’s International Airport in the early morning hours.

"At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization," the Pentagon's statement read. "General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region," the statement continued. "General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more."

"General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week," the Pentagon added. "This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world."

The strike on a convoy of vehicles carrying the two terrorist leaders, which also killed ten other people and wounded others including, according to unconfirmed reports, a senior Hezbollah field commander, prompted hysterical demands for revenge on the US and Israel from senior leaders of Iran and its terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East. Iraqi PMF spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi issued a statement declaring that "The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qasem Soleimani." This call was echoed by officials of other Iraqi Shi’ite militias and the Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a formulaic statement Friday calling for revenge and warning that his followers would now have even more motivation to destroy Israel and America.

However, some analysts pointed out that similar statements were made following Israel’s 2008 assassination in Damascus of Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh, but little ever came of them in large part because Mughniyeh was the only terrorist leader who had the competence and charisma needed to organize and carry out the kind of attacks threatened by Hezbollah in revenge for his assassination.

Also, the denunciations of the strike from some groups and government’s which have been occasional and/or mild supporters of the clerical regime in Teheran were rather subdued, indicating that along with eliminating two of its most competent terrorist leaders, the strike did serious damage to Iran’s diplomatic and political value in the eyes of some of its erstwhile friends. 

Another piece of diplomatic fallout from the strikes might be an increase in the respect and popularity of the US among Iraqis, Lebanese and others in the Middle East as Soleimani was widely feared and hated as the leader and symbol of Iran’s attempt to dominate its neighbors. Protests against those Iranian efforts have broken out in Lebanon and Iraq in recent weeks, featuring violent attacks on Iranian diplomatic missions in several cities including Basra, in the Shi’ite dominated south of Iraq.

Analysts have long warned that Israel’s security is closely tied to the degree to which it’s main ally, the US, is feared and respected in the Middle East. Therefore, the American elimination of two of Iran’s most senior terrorist leaders is sure to incur diplomatic and security benefits for Israel as well, at least in the short term.

Here is a video of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu responding to news of the strike

However, the other piece of news making headlines in Israel on Friday will also bring many benefits to the Jewish State, and those benefits will probably last much longer. That other piece of news was the signing on Thursday evening by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of a pact, along with his colleagues Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, to build a pipeline to carry Israel’s natural gas reserves to the European market.

“This is a historic day for Israel, because Israel is quickly becoming an energy superpower, a country that exports energy,” Netanyahu said upon signing the agreement. “We opened the Leviathan gas field days ago. It brings us great outputs, but with the exports that will be possible by way of this pipeline, we will have hundreds of millions of shekels in income for Israeli citizens, for welfare, health, young people and the elderly, for everyone.”

Energy, Water and Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz, who accompanied Netanyahu on his trip, told Channel 11, “This is the first time Israel and Europe are cooperating on a major infrastructure project. Israel will become one of Europe’s energy suppliers.”

Far beyond the large amount of money that will come into the Israeli economy and the large number of jobs which this infusion will produce, Israelis can look forward to improved strategic, political and diplomatic relations with the European Union as the Jewish State becomes a major supplier of energy. The pipeline is scheduled to begin transporting around 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year by 2025, with a forecasted doubling of that capacity by the end of the decade.

Here is a video of Netanyahu's remarks in English and Hebrew at the signing ceremony

Taken together, these two pieces of news meant that Israelis awoke Friday morning to a new strategic reality. Their most dangerous enemy has suffered a great strategic setback while Israel’s strategic alliance with the Western countries who have been its traditional friends and allies has been greatly strengthened. Although Israelis know they must still be watchful and project strength, as shabbat approaches the nation will be able to take a deep breath of relief and look forward to better times in the future.

Netanyahu Requests Immunity from Prosecution

Israel’s incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caused yet another wrinkle in the upcoming third round of Knesset elections on Wednesday evening when he submitted a written request to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein for immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases pending against him. “I will come to court and quash all the ridiculous libels against me,” Netanyahu said in a speech shortly after submitting the request. “The immunity law is intended to protect elected officials from manufactured cases, and guarantee that those elected by the people can serve the people according to their will and not the will of the legal officials.”

Nonetheless, the request was met with statements of derisive outrage by Netanyahu’s political opponents.

Archeologist Warns of Damage to Hasmonean Site
Bar-Ilan University archaeologist Dvir Raviv warned recently that remains of a site built during the Hasmonean Dynasty (2nd century BC) are being poorly managed by the Palestinian Authority, which exercises civil administrative control over the part of the West Bank where the site is located. “Since the site was discovered, it has been suffering from antique robbery,” Raviv told Ynet. “This is a very isolated spot in Area B, and the scope of the Israeli authorities’ law enforcement is limited. As soon as Palestinian residents of the area identified the archaeological site, they began to systematically search and dig ancient coins from the Second Temple period, which have tremendous value in the black market.”

Here is a recently posted video about archeology in Israel

Israel Preparing for Historic Energy Deal
US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday evening to thank him for Israel’s support in light of the recent attack by Iranian-backed militia groups on the US Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. The call came ahead of Netanyahu’s departure Thursday for a summit with leaders of Greece and Cyprus to discuss cooperation on building natural gas infrastructure in the Mediterranean. “The gas pipeline that we are now going to promote…will revolutionize Israel’s energy picture,” Netanyahu told reporters on the tarmac en route to Athens.

Israel Continues to Beef Up Defenses
A potentially game changing new laser system designated “Light Blade” and designed to shoot down incendiary devices sent into Israel attached to kites and balloons from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip for the purposes of starting fires was unveiled by security forces this week. The system has the potential to be used to defend against drones as well, and was developed by a cooperative effort between the IDF, Israel Police, Ben Gurion University and private industry. Meanwhile, the IDF announced the formation of a new, highly mobile combat unit this week.

Friday Feature - The Knock on Bibi

Israel entered the most uncharted waters recently when, for the first time ever, a sitting prime minister was indicted on criminal charges, even while the nation – again for the first time – is entering an unprecedented 21-day free-for-all in parliament to form a new government or face an unparalleled third national elections in a row.

Benjamin Netanyahu – still clinging to power as interim prime minister since last November – came out swinging last night against the indictments for fraud, breach of public trust and bribery announced by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. Denouncing the charges as a “coup” cooked up by the Left, the biased media and corrupt police elements, Netanyahu also blasted the timing of the indictments. Indeed, they came just as the Knesset begins a untried three-week process in which any MK can present the president with a list of 61-members willing to join his coalition and thereby avoid a third round of elections.

Until now, Netanyahu was still holding out hope he could lean on a united bloc of 55 nationalist and religious MKs to ensure him immunity from prosecution and somehow find a way to stay in office. But that option may no longer be workable, as the state’s top prosecutor contended last night that Israeli law does not allow a Knesset member under indictment to receive a mandate from the president to head a coalition government.

It may take a few days for the new reality to set in, but it does look like Benjamin Netanyahu’s ten-year reign as Israel’s premier is coming to an end. He has a decent chance to eventually fend off the charges and could make yet another political comeback one day. But petitions to the Supreme Court are already being drafted to force him to resign, and even within his own Likud party the jockeying to replace him as chairman has begun.

The Bane of Bad Press

How did ‘Bibi’ get here? There are three criminal cases against him. One involves the ‘improper gifts’ (expensive cigars, pink champagne) he received from wealthy friends allegedly in return for favors. The other two are centered around his efforts to get better press: the Yediot/Israel Hayom affair and the case involving Bezeq/Walla, which carries the most serious charge of bribery and presents the biggest evidentiary challenge to Netanyahu.

Now I strongly believe it is a slippery slope to start criminalizing attempts by anyone to get better media coverage. The press is unelected, unaccountable, elitist, increasingly partisan, and abusive of its own powers. All too often, they are the ones selling ‘access’ for profits. But it is clear that Netanyahu (and his family) had grown extremely frustrated with the continual sniping against them in the Israeli press, and he was looking for ways to change that which he must now answer for in court.

The current scandals came to a head amidst an atmosphere in Israel where Netanyahu was widely portrayed as corrupted by his many years in power, as feeling entitled to privileges as if he were a hereditary king. Over the past decade, the Israeli Left has been reeling, devoid of a leader who could capture the Center again by offering the public a viable peace agenda with the Palestinians. Instead, it was an anti-Bibi agenda that gained traction, leading to the rise of Blue & White and his present predicament. The media played a major role in the piling on of Netanyahu.

In retrospect, Benjamin Netanyahu has always faced certain unfair criticisms and misperceptions that he has had to overcome during his rise to the top and prolonged stay there. Here are some of the more potent (though often hidden) examples which contributed to the poisoned atmosphere against him in recent years.

The Shadow of Yoni

Growing up, Benjamin Netanyahu and his brother Yonathan were grouped among the ‘young princes’ of Likud – the sons of the party’s founding generation who were destined for positions of national leadership (along with Benny Begin, Dan and Sallai Meridor, and Ehud and Yossi Olmert). But Yoni Netanyahu’s date with destiny was cut short when he fell in battle as the commanding officer during the epic Entebbe raid in July 1976.

“Yoni” instantly became a national hero. He had already shown such promise as a natural leader. Bright, handsome and courageous – a philosopher/warrior whose men would follow him anywhere. That romanticized view of Yoni Netanyahu remains undiminished by the years, as evidenced by the recent Netflix film Follow Me! And by all accounts, that lionization of Yoni is well placed.

However, it also meant his younger brother Benjamin would always be dogged by the hugely unfair perception that he is a lesser man. From the start of his public career as a gifted young Israeli diplomat at the UN, the ‘knock’ on Bibi was that Yoni would have been a truly great leader and the nation got stuck with second best. Sure, Benjamin Netanyahu has proven over time to be amazingly articulate and highly competent in geo-strategic and economic affairs – to the point of being widely admired as a generational statesman for the entire Western democratic world. But inside Israel, many still see him as standing in his brother’s shadow, or even worse of exploiting Yoni’s popularity and tragic death to advance his own career. This has been an immensely unjust and personally painful hurdle for him to overcome.

The Shadow of Rabin

As Netanyahu quickly rose within the Likud ranks, he became party chairman and Opposition leader in 1995, just as the Oslo process became a bitterly divisive issue in Israel. When Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was cruelly assassinated by a Right-wing extremist, the Left blamed Bibi for fueling the incitement that led to his death. They cited the chants of “traitor” and posters of Rabin in Yasser Arafat’s keffiyeh at the Right’s anti-Oslo rallies. The accusations were unfair and he has spent many years denying them. But the Left’s loathing of Netanyahu over Rabin’s death has lingered to this day.

At the recent official memorial ceremony on the anniversary of Rabin’s passing, Netanyahu was probably as forthcoming and contrite as he has ever been on the subject. He conceded that there indeed was a lot of hateful incitement against Rabin in those days and he should have done more to confront it, but he insisted that he never called Rabin a “traitor” and that he always rejected the notion that Oslo was an act of treason.  

Nevertheless, lurking in the background of the present drive to oust Bibi is this odious claim that Rabin’s blood is on his hands – yet another immensely unjust and personally painful hurdle for him to overcome.

The Shadow of Ben-Gurion

The Left did manage to drive Netanyahu from power once before, in 1999, using some very underhanded tactics. Humbled, he took a time out from politics and then staged a comeback in 2005 when Ariel Sharon abandoned Likud to form the centrist Kadima faction ahead of the Disengagement from Gaza. It took a few more years, but Netanyahu returned to the premiership in 2009 and has stayed in office for over a decade now. This remarkable achievement means that he has now eclipsed founding father David Ben-Gurion as modern Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. The Left has resented this and had hoped to oust him before it happened. Their efforts fell a few months short but they now look to be finally carrying the day.

This particular ‘knock’ on Bibi runs deeper than most realize. Ben-Gurion, more than any other single person, shaped Israel into a nation built on the model of European socialism. The kibbutzim are testimonies to the utopian idealism of those days, that Israel would be this egalitarian society where everyone would share in its success and seeking individual wealth was seen as taboo. Ben-Gurion himself lived an austere lifestyle and never wore a tie.

Over recent decades, Israel has transformed itself into the innovative ‘Start-Up Nation” modeled more on American capitalism. Israeli entrepreneurs are inventing cutting-edge paywalls and traffic apps and then cashing out in the billions – something which would have been frowned upon here in the 1950s and 60s. Netanyahu, more than any other single person, has overseen this socio-economic transition by his championing of free markets and Israel’s hi-tech wizardry.

With their dream of Israel as an ideal model of socialism gone, many in Israel’s Left and even the Center are now striving to preserve a sense of Israel as a model of pure, upright democracy. That is an honorable goal! But they believe Bibi has tarnished Israeli democracy with his corruption and constant maneuvering to retain power. Whether those criticisms are accurate will now be tried out in a court of law. But when you add everything up, he does have a legitimate point that he is being unfairly run out of office.

The legacy of Benjamin Netanyahu is still being written. But it cannot be disputed that he already stands on rarefied grounds as an orator and statesman, is profoundly competent in geo-strategic and economic affairs, and also has mastered the rough-and-tumble of Israeli politics. The fact that he has managed to retain his seat as prime minister over the turbulent course of the past year is testament to all of these extraordinary skills.

But if the Israeli people want to change the way politics is done here and offer the world a truly pure model of democracy, then a lot more has to change than simply ditching Netanyahu. And the nation needs to examine whether the current push to oust him is really rooted in petty jealousies and unwarranted ‘knocks’ on a truly great leader.

FRIDAY FEATURE - The Iranian UAV and Cruise Missile Threat

The Reuters news agency published an in-depth report this week about a surprise attack on Saudi Arabia in September. Riyadh and most Western governments placed responsibility for the attack, which utilized GPS-guided suicide drones and cruise missiles to make precision strikes on sensitive components of Saudi Aramco’s Khurais oil installation and the Abqaiq oil processing facility, squarely at the feet of the clerical regime which rules Iran. That regime, however, flatly denied involvement and was supported by Russia and China. Israeli leaders also responded, warning that a similar attack on Israel was probably already being planned.

The Reuters report included a claim, based on information provided by four unnamed but highly placed Iranian sources which had direct knowledge of the events described, that a meeting of high-ranking Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officers convened in Teheran four months before the strikes to discuss options for retaliating against the US for re-imposing sanctions on Iran following the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal. Several officers present at the meeting demanded that a strike must be carried out against US military forces stationed in the region, but they were overruled by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who likely feared that the American response would be more than his regime could handle.

The decision to strike at Saudi Arabia’s oil production infrastructure was settled on for several reasons, among them the hope that it would drive up the price of oil worldwide, which would automatically increase the Iranian regime’s revenue streams as most of its budget is derived from the sale of oil on world markets. Some analysts have also speculated that the IRGC officers took a calculated risk that the US would not respond kinetically to the attacks on Saudi Arabia as the alliance between Washington and Riyadh has come under significant strain in recent years for various reasons. If that is the case, the risk paid off as US President Donald Trump did indeed decline to launch a retaliatory military strike against Iran, although some press reports indicated that he did authorize the Pentagon to carry out cyber-attacks.

Meanwhile, the strikes on Saudi Arabia and their implications reverberated around the world, including by producing brief spike in the price of oil and expressions of deep concern on the part of senior officials in Saudi Arabia and other allies whose security is tied to their alliance with the US.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned specifically in early October that IRGC forces in Yemen might be working on plans to fire UAV’s and/or cruise missiles at Israel. On 25 November, General Hossein Salami, chief of the IRGC, appeared to confirm that Netanyahu’s concerns were legitimate when he told a pro-regime rally in Teheran “We have shown patience towards the hostile moves of America, the Zionist regime (Israel) and Saudi Arabia against Iran... but we will destroy them if they cross our red lines.”

During a recent press conference, the ICEJ News team spoke with Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, IDF Spokesman for Foreign Media, about Israel’s response to the strikes. He  said that Israeli intelligence and defense officials were studying the attacks closely and working on plans to defend against similar strikes Iranian forces might attempt to launch against Israel.

However, the problem of how to defend against suicide drones and cruise missiles presents many technical challenges. Unlike high trajectory ballistic missiles and rockets which Israel and the US have developed defense systems against (including the THAAD, Patriot, Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow systems) these drones and cruise missiles are designed to fly low and hit small targets with pinpoint accuracy enabled by their GPS guidance kits. This also allows them to be fitted with a relatively small and light explosive charge while a relatively small amount of fuel is needed to carry them to their target, allowing them to fly at a much higher velocity. So they’re smarter, smaller, faster and flying at significantly lower altitude than an old-fashioned rocket or ballistic missile, all of which makes them much more difficult to intercept then those old-fashioned threats.

All of this has the defense establishments in Israel and many other Western countries scrambling to figure out how Iran managed to put together such a potent weapon and how to defend against it. One commentator asked the question of whether this paradigm shift was comparable to the advent of air warfare in WWI, while another questioned whether the quantum leap forward in tactical advantage it gives to the military which has mastered it could cancel out the strategic advantage their opponents might have by possessing nuclear weapons.

In any event, the Reuters report quoted an unnamed IRGC commander who participated in the planning for September’s attack on Saudi Arabia as telling his subordinates to make plans for “the next one” which could very well mean the IRGC is planning to hit targets in Israel from their bases in Yemen and/or western Iraq and possibly even Syria. If that is the case, then the clock is ticking for Israel’s defense community to find a technical solution to this new and unexpected threat.

AG: Netanyahu Does Not Have to Resign Immediately

Israel’s Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit gave a legal opinion on Monday that effectively repudiates all the arguments made by those who are attempting to force incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of office immediately following his indictment last Thursday on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Nevertheless, a rally is being organized for Tuesday evening at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to support Netanyahu against what he has described as a “coup attempt” by Mandelblit as well as State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and the national police force.

“The rule of law must be equal, so what happened to me and to others should not happen,” Netanyahu said at a meeting with Likud mayors on Monday. “The citizens of Israel know that they should decide who will be prime minister. It is the essence of democracy that it is the majority that rules and it cannot be stopped elsewhere. Everything that is broken must be investigated. We still have a mission of forming a unity government if possible. Contacts have not stopped; they are taking place. This is necessary for reasons I cannot explain. There are immediate challenges that are not small.”

Leaders of other Knesset factions expressed their outrage at the rally and at Netanyahu’s conduct in general in public statements throughout the day on Tuesday.

Archeologists Continue to Unveil Church of Glorious Martyr
The Israel Antiquities Authority have continued unveiling their findings from a dig at the Byzantine-era “Church of the Glorious Martyr” site in Beit Shemesh. “The whole reason for the existence of this place is for the nameless martyr,” said Benjamin Storchan, director of excavation for the IAA. “It is an archaeological mystery. You can look to pilgrimage accounts of people who traveled to the Holy Land, [and there are] thousands of lists of martyrs…who died in early Christian times. We can’t yet associate this church with one specific martyr.”

Archeologists have dated the construction of the original church structure to the reign of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century CE (527-565). It underwent extensive expansion beginning in 583 AD under the patronage of Emperor Tiberius II Constantine (574-582 AD).

Here is a video about the church

Israel Blesses the World
Innovation:Africa, an organization with branches in Israel and the US, was one of three recipients of the 2019 InnoDip Award for innovative diplomacy for their efforts to bring Israel’s technological solutions in the fields of solar power, water and agriculture to rural villages in Africa. In related news, TIME magazine featured two Israeli-developed products in their recent feature about the Best Inventions of 2019. The two inventions were Watergen’s condenser units which collect vapor and turn it into drinkable water and OrCam Technologies MyEye2 “talking glasses.”

Here is a video about other ways Israel is blessing the world

Iranian Regime Organizes Rally in Teheran

The clerical regime which rules Iran organized a massive rally in central Teheran on Monday to denounce the recent anti-regime demonstrations which broke out in dozens of cities and villages around the country and support Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. General Hossein Salami, chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) addressed the rally, declaring that the US, UK, Israel and Saudi Arabia had sent agents into Iran to stir up a small number of local malcontents, adding a warning to the internal and external enemies of the regime that “If you cross our red line, we will destroy you. We will not leave any move unanswered.”

Iran's Foreign Ministry added their own condemnation of what they referred to as the "interference of foreign countries" in the demonstrations. Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi told journalists "We recommend they watch the rallies taking place these days in our country so they realize who the real people are in our country."

Here are some videos about the recent events in Iran

Here is a video about the Iranian threats against Israel


Iranian Threat Looms Large in Israeli Security Considerations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennet toured IDF positions on the Golan Heights on Sunday, with Netanyahu telling reporters that “Iran's aggression in the region and against us continues. We are taking all the actions necessary to prevent Iran from entrenching itself in the region. This includes action necessary to thwart the transfer of lethal weapons from Iran to Syria, via the air or sea…I cannot provide any more details, but this is a process taking place all the time.” Meanwhile, ‪US Army General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley was in Israel on Sunday to meet with his IDF counterparts, with Iran believed to be at the top of the agenda for those meetings.

Here is a video about the Iranian threats against Israel

In Iran on Sunday, officials were describing the leaders of the recent round of street demonstrations against the regime as "mercenaries" hired by its enemies to come to Iran and stir up trouble amongst the population which was otherwise perfectly satisfied with their lives. The demonstrations, which took place in dozens of large cities and small villages all over Iran, ended with over 100 people dead and many more injured, along with the violent destruction of scores of government buildings, police stations and vehicles, banks and other regime-affiliated landmarks.

Netanyahu Blocks Challenge from Political Rival
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu blocked efforts to hold a snap primary for leadership of his Likud Party on Sunday evening, despite explanations that it was a move that could save Israel from the necessity of holding yet another election early next year by Netanyahu’s top challenger within Likud, Gideon Sa’ar. Former Jerusalem Mayor and current Likud MK Nir Barkat also clashed with Sa’ar and made an alternative proposal to the party leadership for a vice-chairman to be elected who would serve as Prime Minister while Netanyahu was fighting his legal battles in court, while Sa’ar told the Reshet Bet radio program Monday morning that he and his family have been threatened with violence for his efforts to unseat Netanyahu.

"I am forced to go through a campaign of incitement and libel against me and my family, including threats of violence," he said. "For years, campaigns of libel have been led against me. None of it scares me. I sleep well at night and I know my family and I will have to go through a lot of slander. I knew it when I got back into politics. I think I will be able to form a government, and I think I will be able to unify the country and the nation. I followed Netanyahu in countless election campaigns, but today he is politically blocked. Unfortunately, Netanyahu cannot form a government even if third elections were to be held, he should have drawn his conclusions. Those who follow me on social networks see that I keep receiving threats of violence. None of this will deter me from doing the right thing for the Likud and the state."

EU Criticizes Syria and Russia for Bombing Idlib
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini criticized the Assad regime and its Russian ally over the weekend following reports of heavy bombardments of camps housing displaced persons in Idlib Province, the northwest portion of Syria bordering Turkey which has become the last holdout of the rebel groups opposing the regime. Meanwhile, in neighboring Lebanon, fresh demonstrations were called for Monday after security forces loyal to the government arrested a group of children for pulling down a sign supporting President Michael Aoun’s political party, the Free Patriotic Movement.

Violent street demonstrations also continued in Iraq over the weekend, with an additional six protesters killed on Sunday. Clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the southern city of Umm Qasr accounted for three of the deaths along with dozens of injuries, while a similar event occurred in Nasiriyah, a mid-sized city south of Baghdad. Western journalists observing the events said security forces fired live ammunition at demonstrators at both demonstrations.

Report Finds Inadequate Bomb Shelters in the North
Reports emerged over the weekend that over 200,000 residents of northern Israel living in the Mateh Asher Regional Council’s confrontation zone, defined as being from zero to nine kilometers from Israel’s northern border, lack adequate protection from incoming rocket attacks. The IDF Home Front Command issued a statement in response to the report saying it was aware of the situation and was working to rectify it.

South African University Rescinds BDS Motion
In another defeat for the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel, the University of Cape Town announced over the weekend that it is rescinding an earlier move to boycott Israeli academic institutions. South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) national director Wendy Kahn issued a statement to the Jerusalem Post saying the announcement sends “a resounding message of their commitment to academic freedom.”

Today’s video shows how the IDF interacts with its allies

Iranian Claims that Riots Are Over Ring Hollow

Haunting pictures of burnt out government buildings, banks and police stations began to emerge from Iran just hours after President Hassan Rouhani’s triumphant statement Wednesday that the riots which broke out last weekend following the announcement of gasoline tax increases, had ended. Rouhani said that the security crackdown which ended the riots that some analysts estimate resulted in over 200 deaths and many more injuries and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property damage, represented a victory for the clerical regime which rules Iran over its foreign and domestic enemies. However, unconfirmed reports from several cities inside Iran indicated that demonstrations were continuing even as Rouhani was speaking.

"The Iranian people have again succeeded in an historic test and shown they will not let enemies benefit from the situation, even though they might have complaints about the country's management," Rouhani said during his speech.

In related news, human rights organizations expressed outrage on Thursday following news that six environmental activists in Iran had been sentenced to lengthy jail terms on bizarre charges of “spying” on Iran for its foreign enemies.

Finally, Saudi Arabia's King Salman issued a rare public statement on Wednesday urging Iran to stop what he called its “expansionist ideology” which had negative effects on Iran’s own population.

"We hope the Iranian regime chooses the side of wisdom and realises there is no way to overcome the international position that rejects its practices, without abandoning its expansionist and destructive thinking that has harmed its own people," the king told the consultative Shura Council. He added that Saudi Arabis has also “suffered from the policies and practices of the Iranian regime and its proxies.”

Here are some videos about recent developments in Iran

Countdown to Possible Third Election Begins

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein met at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Thursday, formally initiating a 21-day period in which any MK could obtain the support of a majority of the Knesset members and form a government following the failure of Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form a governing coalition. Addressing all 120 elected MKs, Rivlin said “When the last two Knesset terms began, I asked you to set aside your election swords and clean away the dirt. I told you that political considerations must no longer be what solely guides you. You must show awareness of our sovereignty, statesmanship and responsibility for the people of this dear land. During these 21 days, consider your go obligation to the people.”

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz gave a speech on Wednesday evening, shortly after informing President Reuven Rivlin that he had failed to build a governing coalition for the 22nd Knesset and was returning the mandate to Rivlin. “Israel needs leadership with vision,” Gantz said, adding that incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “leading [Israel] down a dangerous path that will have a high, historic price, and you are responsible for it.” He also blamed the Right-wing bloc which supports Netanyahu for refusing to compromise for the greater good and reportedly also said in private conversations that some of the blame rested with his own coalition partners who also refused to make compromises which would have given him more room to maneuver in negotiations.

Elsewhere, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman was harshly criticized by leaders of the Right wing bloc. Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich said during a factional meeting at the Knesset on Wednesday that Lieberman “is unworthy to be a part of any coalition. At a press conference later in the day, United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman said that Lieberman’s statements that he would not sit in a government with Orthodox parties because they were not Zionist and were harming the country were anti-Semitic.

PA Gets Diplomatic Boost from Canada at the UN
Palestinian Authority officials issued statements this week welcoming a decision by Canada to switch its vote in the General Assembly on the question of Palestinian self-determination from “no” to “yes.” “We appreciated this principled position by the Canadian government,” a Palestinian envoy told the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee on Tuesday. “We are very disappointed that the government of Canada did not stand firm in opposition to the annual Israel-bashing ritual at the UN General Assembly,” said Jeffrey Rosenthal, cochairman of Canada’s Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs

Holland Announces Cut in Funding to PA
The Dutch government announced on Wednesday that it is cutting the usual funding to the Palestinian Authority due to the stipends it gives to jailed Palestinian terrorists and to the families of terrorists killed while carrying out terrorist attacks. The annoucnment included an explanation that talks had been held with PA officials to try and find a solution but that those talks “did not lead to the desired outcome.”

Iraq in Turmoil as Violent Demonstrations Continue
Large-scale demonstrations were reported in several Iraqi cities on Wednesday with violent confrontations between demonstrators and security services shutting down major roads and oil production facilities. "Export and import activities have stopped because trucks cannot enter Khor Al Zubair or Umm Qasr ports," one official at Basra's port authority said.

Today's media is a podcast about environmental issues in the Middle East


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