News Digest — 6/18/20

Cabinet Majority In Favor Of Sovereignty Ensured, As Hendel Says Yes

There is a certain majority in the Cabinet for applying Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, after Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel said Thursday (18th) that he would vote in favor of the move regardless  of Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s position.

“I will vote in favor of applying the law,” Hendel said on Army Radio.  “My stance was and remains in all my years supporting applying law to Judea and Samaria or parts of it…to support it in the Cabinet, in the Knesset, in this interview, and anywhere else.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc currently has a majority in the Cabinet, but the coalition agreement states that arrangements would be made for there to be parity in the Cabinet between the pro-Netanyahu side and the pro-Gantz bloc.

Hendel is a member of the Gantz bloc, and his latest comments mean that even if Blue and White pulls the parity card, there will be a majority in the Cabinet for extending Israeli law to settlements.

“I think the Jordan Valley is very significant.  I think settlement blocs should have been part of Israel long ago.  And I think, more than anything, that the gaps between the sides are not so big …,” Hendel stated.

Hendel’s remarks came the morning after Netanyahu presented a range of options for where Israel could extend its sovereignty next month, in a meeting with Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Knesset Speaker Yaris Levin.

The scenarios, as reported in Israeli media, range from the full 30% of the West Bank that US President Trump’s peace plan would allow, to a more symbolic, smaller area.  

Netanyahu did not tell Gantz and Ashkenazi which option he prefers.



Petition Against Freeing Murderers Of Jewish-American Journalist Daniel Pearl Gets Over 10,000 Signatures

A petition being circulated urging Pakistani leaders not to free the killers of Jewish-American journalist Daniel Pearl has over 10,000 signatures and was praised by the murdered journalist’s father on Tuesday (16th).

Pearl was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2002 while on assignment for The Wall Street Journal.  He was beheaded by his kidnappers shortly after and a video of the execution was widely broadcast on the internet, becoming the first in a series of such videos released by Muslim terrorists.

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was sentenced to death for the murder and three others received life in prison.  In April, however, a Pakistani court commuted the death sentence and found the other three not guilty for lack of evidence, though all four have remained in prison.

Pearl’s father, Judea, who is challenging the ruling, said of the petition on Twitter, “Extremely gratified to see the petition exceeding 10,000 signatures.  I hope the Pakistani Supreme Court takes notice and reverses the ruling to free the murderers of my son Daniel.”

The petition – which is addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan, as well as President Arif Alvi and Minister of Law and Justice Farogh Naseem – says of Pearl, “His martyrdom is a symbol.  He was assassinated as a free man, as a journalist seeking to establish the truth, as an American, as a Jew.  He was the first hostage whose beheading was staged and filmed by Islamic terrorists.  Many more were to follow.”

“Impunity granted to Daniel Pearl’s murderers would be a terrible signal,” it added.  “Murderers would roam freely, whereas innocent people who neither killed nor harmed  anyone would stay in prison and risk death.”



Navy, Shin Bet Thwarted Attempted Weapons Smuggling Into Gaza

The Israeli Navy and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) thwarted an attempt to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip from the northern area of the Sinai Peninsula, according to a release the military cleared on Wednesday (17th).

“The intelligence and operational activity was conducted following joint operational and intelligence efforts of the Israeli Navy and the Shin Bet along with the IDF Intelligence Directorate,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement.

The joint operation took place recently after Shin Bet officers identified suspects involved in the smuggling ring, and in cooperation with the military and Shin Bet, enabled the detection of a vessel being used to smuggle weapons into the blockaded coastal enclave.

The maritime intelligence operators of the Israeli Navy then located the vessel and dispatched Navy troops to pursue and intercept it.

Following the interception, two terrorist operatives on board were arrested and detained for interrogation.  One of the detainees was identified as Mahmoud Bakir, a senior smuggler who has worked with terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.

“His arrest is a significant operational achievement,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement, adding that he was indicted in the Beersheba District Court June 4.

During the investigation, the two revealed that the weapons were intended for use by Hamas.  They also shared details of Hamas’ use of the sea for smuggling as well as details about other smugglers and equipment used by Hamas.

“This operation joins a series of thwarting activities intended to prevent armament shipments to the Hamas terror group and the ongoing effort to thwart terror activity of any kind against Israeli civilians.  The IDF and Shin Bet will continue operating to stop terror activity and naval smuggling intended to strengthen terror groups in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said.

In February, Israel’s Navy intercepted a vessel suspected of smuggling weapons into Gaza that were intended for use by Hamas’ naval commando unit.



Israel Supercharges F-35 Fighter Jets

The already advanced stealth system of Israel’s Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets is set to be further upgraded when a special F-35 test aircraft sent from the United States lands in Israel July 4.

Although all of Israel’s F-35 warplanes, referred to in Israel as “Adir,” have been retrofitted with some locally made advanced technology, the arrival of this test aircraft gives Israel the opportunity to install its latest technology designed for the jet’s most sensitive systems.

Eitan Ben Eliyahu, former commander of the IAF, told Breaking Defense how important these aircraft are to Israel’s Air Force (IAF).

“The stealth, of course, is the obvious one and it is crucial in an area where different forces deploy advanced anti-aircraft systems,” Ben Eliyahu said.

“The second-capability is the one that allows this aircraft to receive and distribute all kinds of combat data from a long list of sensors,” he said.  “This is very important for an air force that is performing combat missions almost on a daily basis.”

Out of the select few allies who have signed F-35 deals with the US, only Israel has been granted permission to modify major parts of the craft, reports Yahoo News.

The fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets are the world’s most advanced stealth aircraft, with real-time processing, control, and situational awareness abilities.  Its electronic warfare capabilities enable the warplane to locate and track enemy forces, jam radio frequencies, and disrupt attacks with unparalleled precision.

In November, another three F-35s are scheduled to arrive, bringing the IAF’s total to 27 out of the 50 purchased from the United States.



Greek Leader Visits Israel In First Post-Corona Trip, Talks Tourism With Netanyahu

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis picked Israel for his first post-corona foreign visit on Tuesday (16th).  He was greeted at the airport by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Mitsotakis at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Jerusalem in the framework of a meeting between the governments of Israel and Greece.

“We are looking into the possibility of reopening tourism to Greece and Cyprus.  The target date is August 1 – depending on the extent of morbidity,” Netanyahu said.

Mitsotakis said, “We need to prepare for a second wave of corona.  We need to be vigilant.  It’s important for us to open Greece for tourism from July 1.  If things go according to plan, Israeli tourists will be able to fly to Greece from August 1 – and we expect them.  We have very rigid medical procedures to ensure the safety and health of tourists.”

At the same time, Defense Minister Benny Gantz met Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagioyopoulos.  They discussed ways to strengthen security cooperation between the two countries, emphasizing the protection of air and maritime space from radical elements and promoting joint projects for their military industries.

Greece and Israel both share a concern about Turkey.

Panagiotopoulos recently went so far as to declare his country’s “readiness for military conflict with Turkey.”

Following the meeting, three Memoranda of Understanding – on cyber, agriculture and tourism – were signed between the two countries.