Israel Launches New Spy Satellite Against Iran

A plane passes in front of the full moon as seen from Curitiba, Brazil on March 9, 2020. - The supermoon is visible as the full moon coincides with the satellite in its closest approach to Earth, which makes it appear brighter and larger than other full moons. Photo: Heuler Andrey / AFP
PHOTO USED TO ILLUSTRATE STORY: A plane passes in front of the full moon as seen from Curitiba, Brazil on March 9, 2020. – The supermoon is visible as the full moon coincides with the satellite in its closest approach to Earth, which makes it appear brighter and larger than other full moons. Photo: Heuler Andrey / AFP

 

Israel launched a new reconnaissance satellite early Monday, the defence ministry said, its latest asset to be deployed against arch-enemy Iran.

“The Israel Ministry of Defence and Israel Aerospace Industries have successfully launched the ‘Ofek 16’ reconnaissance satellite” at 4:00 am local time (0100 GMT), the ministry said in a statement.

The “electro-optical reconnaissance satellite with advanced capabilities… will undergo a series of tests,” it added.

Minister of Defence and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz hailed the development.

“The successful launch of the ‘Ofek 16’ satellite overnight is yet another extraordinary achievement” for Israel’s defence sector, he said.

“Technological superiority and intelligence capabilities are essential to the security of the State of Israel… We will continue to strengthen and maintain Israel’s capabilities on every front, in every place.”

Neither statement gave further details on the satellite’s mission, but Israeli public radio said it would be used to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities.

Israel has long sworn to prevent its nemesis from obtaining atomic weapons.

The Islamic republic denies its nuclear programme has any military dimension.

 

AFP

Two Rockets Fired From Gaza At Israel

File: An Israeli missile is launched from the Iron Dome defence missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod on November 12, 2019, to intercept rocket launched from the nearby Palestinian Gaza Strip.  Jack GUEZ / AFP

 

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets at neighbouring Israel on Sunday, the Israeli army said, but there was no immediate indication of where they fell.

“Two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli territory,” said a brief military WhatsApp message that did not elaborate.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Warning sirens sounded in southern Israel but media said that the Iron Dome missile defence system was not activated, implying that the rockets were not headed for populated areas.

Hamas warned Israel in late June that its planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank amounted to a “declaration of war”.

The following day two rockets were fired at the Jewish state from  Gaza, triggering a punitive Israeli air raid on Hamas installations in the Palestinian enclave.

On July 1, Hamas fired a volley of rockets into the sea as a warning to Israel not to go ahead with annexation, sources in the Islamist organisation told AFP.

Israel’s proposal to annex its settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley forms part of a broader US peace plan released in January.

The proposals foresee the ultimate creation of a Palestinian state on the remaining West Bank territory and the Gaza Strip.

But the plan falls far short of Palestinian aspirations, with a state on reduced territory and without east Jerusalem as its capital.

Hamas and Israel have fought three wars in recent years, with the latest conflict in 2014 killing 2,251 Palestinians and 74 people on the Israeli side.

 

Netanyahu Warns Assad To Keep Out Iran

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday he would be “risking the future” of his regime if he allowed Iran to be entrenched militarily in his country.

“We will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria,” he told reporters alongside visiting US pointman on Iran policy, Brian Hook.

The two men called for an extension of an arms embargo on Iran, archfoe of both their countries, that expires in October.

“I say to the ayatollahs in Tehran: ‘Israel will continue to take the actions necessary to prevent you from creating another terror and military front against Israel'” in neighbouring Syria, the premier said.

“And I say to Bashar al-Assad: ‘You’re risking the future of your country and your regime,” Netanyahu said.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of its civil war in 2011, targeting government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

It rarely confirms details of operations in Syria, but says Iran’s presence in support of Assad is a threat to the Jewish state and that it will keep up such attacks.

“We are absolutely resolved to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in our immediate vicinity,” said Netanyahu.

Hook focused on the arms embargo, put in place as part of a multilateral nuclear accord signed by Tehran, Washington and other major powers in 2015.

A lifting of that embargo would allow Iran “to freely import fighter jets, attack helicopters, warships, submarines, large-calibre artillery systems and missiles of certain ranges”, the US envoy said.

“Iran will then be in a position to export these weapons and their technologies to their proxies such as Hezbollah, (Palestinian groups) Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Shiite militia groups in Iraq and Shiite militant networks in Bahrain and to the Huthis in Yemen,” Hook said.

“The last thing that this region needs is more Iranian weapons.”

The US unilaterally pulled out of the Iran nuclear accord in 2018.

AFP

Israel Tests 100,000 To Prevent Pandemic ‘Second Wave’

 

Israel has launched a campaign to test 100,000 people for novel coronavirus antibodies as the country prepares for a possible “second wave” of cases, a top official said Thursday.

The initiative is one of the world’s largest schemes and aims to test Israel’s “collective immunity” against the COVID-19 disease.

“We have started… It should not be too long before we see some interesting trends,” said Yair Schindel, a senior official on the government’s task force tackling the pandemic.

The government is trying to determine how widely the virus has spread and who is most at risk going forward.

In parallel to the national campaign, authorities are also running separate surveys of “high-risk areas”.

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, while other focus groups include hospital staff treating coronavirus patients.

READ ALSO: US COVID-19 Death Toll Surpasses 100,000 As Pandemic Rages In Latin America

“We need to understand how many of them were actually exposed and created antibodies,” said Schindel, who co-founded aMoon, a venture capital firm specialising in biomedical start-ups.

The World Health Organization, however, said last month there is no evidence that those who have recovered from COVID-19 are protected from future infection.

– Low death rate –

Israel has gradually relaxed its anti-coronavirus measures in recent weeks, reopening schools, beaches and restaurants.

The country has registered 281 deaths from COVID-19 and more than 16,800 cases in a population of around nine million, according to official figures.

But despite Israel faring relatively well compared to some countries, the government is already preparing for a spike in cases that could hit this winter or even sooner.

The government has bought around 2.5 million tests for the antibodies scheme, Schindel said.

These are being distributed to the country’s four health insurance companies, before the samples are brought together for analysis.

“I have not heard about another large-scale national survey yet,” said Schindel.

Israel’s blood testing scheme, which Schindel hoped would be taken up by other countries, was first revealed earlier this month by the New York Times newspaper.

Around 70 percent of Israel’s novel coronavirus infections are linked to a case from the United States, according to a Tel Aviv University study, while the rest can be traced to European cases.

Israel enforced strict measures at the start of the pandemic, shutting its borders to visitors and ordering residents to stay at home.

The use of telemedicine, allowing healthcare workers to monitor patients from a distance, also had a positive impact, according to specialists who spoke to AFP.

“Another thing that is unique… is that the Israeli population is very used to going from routine day-to-day to an emergency situation,” said Schindel.

“Usually it is not because of a pandemic, it is because we have missiles coming in,” he added, referring to rockets fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza.

The enclave has been under a crippling Israeli blockade for more than a decade.

AFP

Netanyahu’s Corruption Trial Set To Open

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

 

A new page in Israeli history opens Sunday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu becomes the first sitting premier to face criminal charges, accused of a string of corruption allegations he denies.

After more than 500 days of electoral deadlock in which he fought for his political survival Netanyahu is to take his seat in the Jerusalem District Court for a new battle — to stay out of prison and avoid a stain on his legacy.

The 70-year-old is used to setting precedents: he is the first Israeli prime minister born after the foundation of the state in 1948 and the longest-serving in its history.

But the impending trial is a deeply-unwanted first.

In 2009, prime minister Ehud Olmert stepped down after police recommended he be indicted for graft.

He was later tried and convicted of taking bribes and sentenced to 27 months in prison but was paroled after less than a year and a half.

Like Netanyahu, Olmert came from the right-wing Likud party, although he subsequently defected to the centrist Kadima.

Netanyahu is fighting tooth and nail to avoid Olmert’s fate.

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Among the charges he faces is that he sought to illegally trade favours in exchange for positive coverage for himself in Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s top-selling newspaper.

He is also accused of accepting cigars, champagne and jewellery worth 700,000 shekels (180,000 euros) from wealthy personalities in exchange for favours.

Perhaps most serious of all is the claim that Netanyahu offered media mogul Shaul Elovitch regulatory changes worth millions of dollars to his telecom giant Bezeq in exchange for favourable reporting on the Walla! news website.

That charge is also the most complex, said Amir Fuchs, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, who says it differs from “classic” bribery cases where money changes hands.

– ‘Political death warrant’ –

In this case, Fuchs argued, the allegation is that Netanyahu “is getting only media coverage,” rather than cash.

“It is unprecedented,” he told reporters.

But in the Bezeq case, Fuchs adds, Netanyahu, is accused of doing far more than seek flattering write-ups.

“It was actually complete editorial control of this site even on the specifics of which posts to make, or which pictures to make.”

Netanyahu denies all the accusations and claims he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media and legal officials.

After months of suspense and repeated police questioning of Netanyahu, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in January filed charges against the premier.

Many commentators considered this the premier’s political death warrant.

But Netanyahu retained the Likud leadership and after three inconclusive general elections managed to hammer out a power-sharing deal with his chief rival Benny Gantz.

Under the agreement, Netanyahu will continue to lead the government for 18 months before handing over the premiership to Gantz.

 

– ‘Conflict of interest’ –

Netanyahu’s trial had been due to open in mid-March, but the COVID-19 pandemic lead to a postponement to May 24, and the proceedings will be marked by social-distancing and other hygiene measures.

Netanyahu’s lawyers requested that he be excused from appearing in person on Sunday afternoon (1200 GMT) at the opening of a trial that will stretch over months or even years with possible appeals.

They argued that his attendance, to hear the formal reading of the charges against him and confirm that he has read and understands them, was merely technical.

But the court rejected the request, citing a clause in Israeli criminal law stating that “a person may not be tried on criminal charges except in his presence.”

Under Israeli law, a sitting prime minister does not have automatic immunity from prosecution but also is not obliged to resign when charged, only when convicted and after all avenues of appeal have been exhausted.

Yuval Shany, professor of law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, argues that there is “a basic incompatibility” between Netanyahu’s role as head of the government and his status as a criminal defendant.

In the latter role, Shany says, the premier will be “fighting very aggressively and maybe effectively to weaken the government authorities that are prosecuting him”.

“There is a very serious conflict of interest situation,” he said.

Once the trial is underway the three judges selected by the Supreme Court will be able to demand Netanyahu’s presence in court when they consider it necessary.

At any time before the verdict Israeli law allows Netanyahu to change his plea in exchange for lesser or fewer charges.

Such plea bargains are common in Israeli courts.

AFP

Chinese Ambassador To Israel Found Dead At Home – Police

Members of the police gather at the entrance of the residence of Israel’s Chinese ambassador on the outskirts of Tel Aviv after he was found dead on May 17, 2020. – The Chinese ambassador to Israel, Du Wei, who had arrived in Israel in mid-February, was found dead in his residence in the Herzliya district on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, police said. Jack GUEZ / AFP.

 

China’s ambassador to Israel, Du Wei, was found dead at his residence on the outskirts of Tel Aviv on Sunday, police said.

The 57-year-old envoy, who had arrived in Israel in mid-February, was found dead in his home in Herzliya, north of the city, spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, adding that police were investigating.

Du’s wife and son were not with him in Israel.

The Chinese foreign ministry said it would only comment when it had “solid” information.

Israeli police and forensics teams could be seen at the residence, a property guarded by a low wall and shaded by a leafy garden, AFP reporters said.

Du had previously served as ambassador to Ukraine, according to his biography on the embassy’s website.

The Haaretz daily said initial reports said staff had found Du dead in his bed and that there were no signs of violence.

It quoted Israel’s emergency medical service Magen David Adom as saying the cause of death appeared to be a cardiac incident.

A spokesman for the medical service would not provide any official information.

Du had undergone a 14-day home quarantine on arrival in Israel because of the new coronavirus outbreak, according to an interview with local media in May.

On April 2, Israel Hayom, the top-circulation Hebrew newspaper, published an editorial by Du on the theme that “Collaboration is the Cure for the Virus”.

READ ALSO: Israel Under Netanyahu: Key Dates

China and Israel, a strong US ally, have boosted cooperation in the high-tech and other sectors, leading Washington to urge Israel to limit Chinese investment in its strategic sectors.

Chinese embassy spokesman Wang Yongjun in a recent Jerusalem Post commentary rejected the claim and called Sino-Israeli cooperation a “win-win” situation.

AFP

Israel Eases COVID-19 Movement Restrictions

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on December 17, 2017. ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP

 

Israel began easing movement restrictions on Sunday while pointedly avoiding announcing any exit from an ongoing lockdown to forestall the spread of coronavirus.

A cabinet vote in the early hours of the morning approved several measures, including a reopening of high street shops, schools for children with special educational needs and a resumption of small scale prayer meetings, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.

Most of the measures take effect from Sunday, while the selected schools will reopen their doors to pupils on Tuesday, according to the education ministry.

Prayer gatherings of up to 19 people at a time will be allowed, on condition that they take place in the open air with people wearing masks and at least two metres apart — higher than a limit of 10 people initially proposed by the prime minister on Saturday.

As part of social distancing, places of worship for all faiths had previously been closed and from April 12 wearing face masks in public became mandatory.

In a televised address on Saturday, Netanyahu had outlined “a responsible and gradual” plan allowing the return of some workers to offices and industry.

With Ramadan set to begin in the coming days, the premier urged Muslims in Israel to have “meals only with your nuclear family.”

Israel, which has a population of around nine million, confirmed its first coronavirus patient on February 21.

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Israel has more than 13,360 confirmed cases of the illness, with 171 fatalities.

Its health ministry says that more than 3,500 patients have recovered and been discharged from hospital.

The past few days have seen a slowdown in new confirmed cases.

But Netanyahu warned that if infection rates started climbing again there would be a fresh clampdown.

“If we see that in two weeks’ time the improving trend continues, there will be further easing,” he said.

“If there should be an additional outbreak of corona(virus), we shall be obliged to backtrack.”

Finance Ministry Director-General Shai Babad spoke in the same broadcast.

“It is important to stress that this is not the start of an exit strategy, we are not returning to normal,” he said.

Israel was an early and tough responder to the health crisis.

In late February it started barring travellers arriving from virus hotspots, gradually extending restrictions to a near-total air travel ban.

Then came regulations barring Israelis from leaving their homes except to go to the supermarket, pharmacy or hospital.

Netanyahu stressed that Israel’s rapid and tough response had proved effective compared to other states that were slower to impose restrictions.

“In Belgium, which is more or less the same size as us, there are over 5,000 deaths… these are not pointless comparisons,” he said.

AFP

Israel’s Netanyahu Under Precautionary COVID-19 Quarantine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on December 1, 2019.
Abir SULTAN / POOL / AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his close aides have been placed under quarantine after a staffer within his office tested positive for COVID-19, a statement and Israeli media said.

“Before the epidemiological investigation was completed and to dispel any doubts, the prime minister decided that he and his close staff would be in confinement until (tests) were completed,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office.

The statement did not mention the positive test of a staffer, but multiple Israeli media outlets have reported the case, which was confirmed to AFP by separate sources.

AFP

PHOTOS: Israel Evacuates Over 270 Citizens From Abuja, Embassy Officials Included

Israeli citizens at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja on March 29, 2020. Channels TV/ Sodiq Adelakun.

 

 

The Israeli government has commenced the evacuation of its citizens resident in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

According to the government, this comes as part of efforts to protect its citizens from contacting coronavirus (COVID-19) which has killed thousands of people around the world.

The evacuation was supervised on Sunday by Mr Yotam Kreiman, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy in the nation’s capital.

READ ALSO: Nigeria’s Coronavirus Cases Rise To 97 As NCDC Confirms Eight More Infections

He told reporters at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja that the evacuation became necessary due to the global increase in cases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A private Nigerian airline is airlifting the Israeli nationals on a direct flight to Israel, which is the first time there will be a direct flight to the country from Nigeria.

A total of 274 Israelis made up of embassy staff and others working for private companies in Abuja were onboard the flight.

See more photos of the evacuation below:

Israeli citizens at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja on March 29, 2020. PHOTOS: Channels TV/ Sodiq Adelakun.

 

Netanyahu’s Ally Resigns As Speaker Of Israel Parliament

FILES) In this file photo taken on May 16, 2018 Israeli parliament (Knesset) speaker Yuli Edelstein gestures prior to attending a session of Questions to the government at the French National Assembly in Paris, as part of his state visit to France.  Eric Feferberg / AFP

 

A right-wing ally of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped down as speaker of parliament on Wednesday in a blow to the embattled premier, the latest development in a months-long political crisis.

Yuli Edelstein’s resignation paved the way for Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz, who is trying to form a government, to place an ally in the powerful post.

That could spell new risks for the premier as he faces trial for alleged corruption.

Lawmakers who oppose Netanyahu have pushed for a law blocking him from remaining prime minister while facing the charges, all of which he denies.

Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, had refused to schedule a speakership vote until a new government was formed, resigning instead after the Supreme Court set a Wednesday deadline for the vote.

“The High Court ruling constitutes a crude and arrogant intervention of the judiciary in the matters of the elected legislature,” Edelstein said.

“I won’t allow Israel to descend into anarchy. I won’t lend a hand to civil war,” he said as the court’s deadline approached.

“I hereby resign from my position as Knesset speaker.”

His departure, however, would take effect only in 48 hours.

That means he remains bound to call the vote on Wednesday in line with the Supreme Court order, according to attorney general Avichai Mandelblit.

Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party petitioned the Supreme Court, seeking to have Edelstein held in contempt.

But Edelstein doubled down, insisting he would not schedule the vote for Wednesday.

“My conscience does not let me obey the ruling, which is why I resigned,” he told the court on Wednesday, noting his replacement could decide on the matter.

“I have no desire to hold the esteemed court in contempt, but in the light of its ruling, I have found myself in an impossible position, which is why I resigned,” he said.

In an address later Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin said it was “the duty of every one of us to obey the rulings of the courts, and that it is inconceivable that anyone would not do so.”

Political turmoil 

The latest drama came after a year of political turmoil that has seen three inconclusive elections, followed by Netanyahu imposing strict legal and security measures against a novel coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 2,000 Israelis.

Anti-Netanyahu forces claimed 62 seats in the 120-member Knesset in the March 2 election, with the premier’s right-wing party and its religious allies winning 58.

Gantz has been tasked with trying to form a government.

That proved impossible following two previous elections last year, given the deep divisions within the anti-Netanyahu bloc which includes the mainly Arab Joint List and its bitter rival, the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party.

There was no guarantee Gantz would fare better this time, fuelling calls from many sides for a short-term unity government to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the divides within the anti-Netanyahu camp, it has been unified in backing legislation that would bar anyone under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister.

Removing Edelstein as a speaker could expedite that legislation.

But Netanyahu has made a series of offers to Gantz on forming a unity government, including deals that would see the premier’s job rotate between the two men.

“There’s deep unrest among all parts of the nation, we must put it aside,” he said in a televised address late Wednesday focusing on anti-coronavirus measures.

“I call for the immediate formation of a national unity government to deal with the crisis.”

As he announced his resignation, Edelstein also said Israel needed a unity government “as a pandemic endangers us from without”.

“We all need to act like human beings, to act, to unify, to rise above,” he said.

AFP

Israel Postpones Netanyahu Graft Trial By 2 Months Over Virus

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on July 8, 2018. ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial has been postponed until May 24 due to concerns about coronavirus, Jerusalem’s District Court said Sunday.

Netanyahu, the first Israeli premier ever to be indicted in office, had been scheduled to stand trial from Tuesday over alleged bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

In a statement, the court noted that given the coronavirus pandemic it had been instructed to hear “only urgent matters”.

“We have decided to postpone the first hearing (in Netanyahu’s trial) until May 24,” the court said.

Israel has 200 confirmed cases of the virus with tens of thousands of people in home quarantine.

Netanyahu has been charged with a range of offences including receiving improper gifts and offering a media mogul lucrative regulatory changes in exchange for favourable coverage.

He denies wrongdoing.

Despite the indictments, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party won the most seats in March 2 elections and he is aiming to form a new government.

But Likud and its allies fell short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the Knesset, or parliament. It was Israel’s third inconclusive vote in less than a year.

Netanyahu has called on his main challenger Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party to form an emergency, national unity government to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

Gantz has said he is open to discussing the proposal, with negotiations set for this week.

UN Calls For ‘Two State’ Solution To Be Respected In Middle East

UN Security Council meeting on September 26, 2018 in New York on the sidelines/ AFP

 

The UN Security Council made a rare show of unity Monday when it called on all parties to maintain their support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. 

“Council Members reiterated their support for a negotiated two-state solution … where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders,” said a statement released by Belgium, which holds the rotating presidency, and supported by all 14 other members, including the United States.

“All parties should refrain from undermining the viability of the two states solution in order to maintain the prospects for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace,” the statement added, an allusion to Israel’s recent threat to build thousands of more homes in East Jerusalem, in an area claimed by the Palestinians.

The council also “stressed the need to exert collective efforts to launch credible negotiations on all final status issues” and expressed “grave concern about acts of violence against civilians.”

The statement came after two days of rising tensions in the region after the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad fired rockets at Israel, following the killing of three of its members in the Gaza Strip and Syria.

AFP