News Digest — 9/22/20

Benny Gantz In Washington To Discuss Sale Of F-35 Jets

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz headed to Washington on Monday night (21st) for talks with his US counterpart on maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) following its historic normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates.

Since the agreement was announced last month, the UAE has made no secret about its desire to acquire F-35 warplanes and other advanced US-made weaponry.  Israel is the only US ally in the Middle East to possess the stealth fighter jet.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially said he opposed the sale of the planes to any other nation in the region, even an Arab country at peace with Israel.  But since then he has softened his line, signaling he will trust the US to honor its commitment to ensure Israel’s military edge in the region, even if the UAE obtains F-35s.

Gantz’s office said he would meet with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other top Pentagon officials.  It said the trip would include “meetings to discuss maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge, international policy concerning Iran, and strategy for stopping its expansion and entrenchment in the Middle east, as well as discussion on defense cooperation and procurement.”

Gantz, a former Israeli chief of staff, said he was not informed of the deal with the UAE until after it was reached.

Benny Gantz and his team of advisers will return to Israel on Thursday (24th).



Honduras To Move Embassy To Jerusalem By End Of 2020

Honduras will move its embassy to Jerusalem this year, and Israel will open an embassy in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, the Prime Minister’s office said in a statement released Monday (21st). 

The two new embassies will open by the end of 2020, the statement said.

The announcement followed a Sunday (20th) conversation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

“With their flags flying in the capitals of the two countries, Israel and Honduras declare their intention to complete the action plan before the end of the current year, with a mutual opening and inauguration of their embassies in the national capitals, Tegucigalpa and Jerusalem,” the statement said.

Israel opened a representative office in the Honduran capital last month.

Honduras has the second-largest population of Palestinians in Latin America, after Chile.

Mattenya Cohen, Israel’s ambassador to Honduras and Guatemala, told Army Radio on Monday morning (21st), “I was told there was no chance that Honduras would move its embassy because there is a large Palestinian community there.  But, I didn’t give up.  We started with quiet contacts behind the scenes, with ministers, with parliament members, and the community.”

During their Sunday morning (20th) phone call, Hernandez congratulated Netanyahu on the normalization agreement signed by Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last week, which he called a “revolution of peace in the region,” the statement read.

Netanyahu vowed to strengthen the “true friendship” between the two countries with tourism, investments, technology, agriculture, education and trade.

So far, only the US and Guatemala operate full-fledged embassies in Jerusalem.  A number of countries operate trade, defense or cultural missions in the city, including Honduras, Colombia, Brazil, Australia, and Hungary.

Honduras recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in August 2019 and a month later opened a commercial office in Jerusalem as an extension to Honduras’ embassy in Rishon Lezion.

In January 2020, Honduras officially declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization in a move praised by Jerusalem.



Erdan To UN:  Choose Between Supporting ‘Iran And Terror’ Or ‘Israel And Peace’

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, called out the United Nations for backing Iran and its support of terrorism, and the lack of support for Israel on his Facebook account, while he was in New York for the 75th UN General Assembly this week.

“This year we got a seat in the front row of the assembly, but it doesn’t say anything about the continued bias against Israel,” he began.

“I think of this hall that has seen many Jewish events, from the vote on the establishment of the Jewish State, to the deterioration of accusing Zionism of being racist, and the inability to act against Iran and terrorist organizations,” Erdan said.

“Last week I attended the signing of the peace agreements in Washington and today I am at the opening assembly in New York, and the gap cries out,” he lamented.  “The United Nations which easily condemns Israel on almost every issue hardly addresses the huge event that occurred on peace between Israel and two Arab states.”

Erdan called on the key countries of the UN to decide if “they want the UN to be a body that promotes peace and security in the world, or be a body that is swayed by countries that violate human rights and support terrorism?”

He added, “I, my dear friends and colleagues, will be here on your behalf, to represent my beloved country, Israel, with power and pride, and to fight for the UN to address the real dangers to world peace and security.”



Hezbollah Terrorists Get Life For Killing Israeli Tourists

A judge in Bulgaria sentenced two suspected Hezbollah members to life in prison Monday for the 2012 bus bombing at the Burgas airport that killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver.

The two men, Meliad Farah, 39, a dual citizen of Lebanon and Australia, and Hassan El Hajj Hassan, 32, who had dual Canadian-Lebanese citizenship, were found guilty by Judge Adelina Ivanova for their roles in blowing up the bus at the airport in the Bulgarian Black Sea resort city of Burgas on July 18, 2012.

Evidence found at the scene linked the two men to the crime. But the two have never been apprehended and the attackers were tried in absentia.

The two were convicted of helping the bomber, a dual French-Lebanese citizen named Mohamad Hassan El Husseini, who loitered beside the bus with a backpack before putting it inside the luggage compartment where it exploded.

Bulgarian officials said the terror cell had arrived a month before the attack.  They said the cell members were sophisticated and well-trained.

Farah and Hassan left Bulgaria the day after the attack.

The Israeli tourists killed were all in their twenties except for Kochava Shriki of Rishon Lezion who was 42 and pregnant.  Another 38 were injured in the bombing.

A 2012 New York Times report quoted American security officials, who identified the suicide bomber as a member of a cell from the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, which was operating in Bulgaria and looking to attack Israeli targets.

Forensic investigators found that all of the fake drivers licenses used by the terrorists were printed on the same printer at a Lebanese University and that the suspects received money from people linked to Hezbollah.

The two convicted terrorists are still at large and are on Interpol’s most wanted list.



Israeli Touchless Technology will Make Touchscreens COVID-19 Proof

Israel-based Touchless.Ai has started deploying a voice solution that can transform any digital kiosk into a touch-free device.  The solution was significantly designed to help prevent touching public or commercial devices that could spread  the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The technology takes into consideration public spaces and has been optimized for noisy conditions, helping businesses implement it into their existing interactive systems.  Touchless.Ai shows numbers on a screen that correlate to options, allowing people to make selections without touching public interfaces and risking their physical health.

“Our system will help bring customers back to restaurants, points of sale, airports, medical centers, theme parks, and other public spaces,” said Roy Baharav, co-creator and CEO of Touchless.Ai in a statement.  “We solved the problem of voice experience in commercial environments with an Al-driven interface that really works.”

Touchless.Ai has started trials in the US and some European countries and supports English, Japanese and Hebrew.

According to the company, the solution can be modified to work in any language and supports all web-based apps, and is software compatible with IOS and Android.  It operates without identifying the user’s face or voice and does not store personal data.

Touchless.Ai was founded in 2020 by Hi Auto, inventor of the first audio-visual commercial solution for speaker separation and speech enhancement in vehicles.  Hi-Auto was founded by Baharav, Eyal Shapira, who serves as the company’s CEO, and Zohar Zisapel, who is currently the acting chairman.