Israel launches ground operation into Gaza Strip, says will target underground Hamas tunnel network used for mass-casualty terror attempt


The Israeli government issued a statement late Thursday revealing that the country's military had sent ground troops into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip as part of Operation Protective Edge, hours after Israeli forces thwarted an early morning terror attempt in which Hamas commandos - emerging from an attack tunnel emptying roughly 250 meters inside Israel - sought to infiltrate and inflict mass casualties on an Israeli community of roughly 150 people. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) posted pictures of the weapons dropped by the intercepted Hamas fighters, which included anti-tank weapons and high-capacity Kalashnikovs. Jerusalem's statement - attributed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon - indicated that the IDF would "commence ground action to strike at the terrorist tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory," and noted that "the directive for ground action was approved by the Security Cabinet after Israel agreed to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, whereas Hamas rejected it and continued firing rockets at Israeli cities." Analysts had already called attention to how the defensive dimensions of Hamas's vast underground tunnel city might eventually trigger an Israeli ground operation. Hamas uses the network as a de-facto fortified storage facility for its rocket arsenal, making its ordnance politically though not militarily invulnerable to air strikes. The activation of the tunnel infrastructure for mass-terror offensive operations was widely assessed as all but forcing the Israelis to deploy ground forces in order to degrade that infrastructure. Speaking on a morning conference call organized by The Israel Project, Col. (res) Miri Eisin - a former deputy head of the IDF's combat intelligence corps and a former assistant to the director of military intelligence - explained that the infiltration had flipped the Israeli political debate in favor of the attack, and that Israel was "talking much more about the fact that what may be happening today... will be a limited incursion to take care of these tunnels, [at a] mile- to two-mile depth to see that [Hamas] won't be able to continue entering into Israel."


The State Department on Thursday shot down claims, published earlier that day in Al Monitor’s Congress Pulse, that Secretary of State John Kerry told a group of lawmakers earlier that day that new sanctions on Iran could trigger a breakthrough in nuclear talks between Tehran and the West. Al Monitor called the statements, made during a breakfast meeting between Kerry and Jewish lawmakers, “a complete reversal from the policy of the President Barack Obama administration until now.” State Department Deputy Secretary Marie Harf took to Twitter to walk back Kerry’s statements and criticize the Al Monitor scoop, echoing comments posted minutes earlier on the social media site by State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki that “[i]t should come as no surprise that members of Congress attending breaksfast [sp] this morning raised their own proposals for triggered sanctions.” Among those in attendance was Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman, who spoke to Buzzfeed Thursday afternoon and, per the outlet, ‘insisted Secretary of State John Kerry told Jewish lawmakers that he is open to a package of triggered Iran sanctions.’ More details from the meeting became public later in the day, with the Washington Free Beacon reporting that Kerry responded positively to a proposal by Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) that Congress would pass new sanctions on Tehran that would be put into effect only if negotiations failed – the Secretary’s exact comments, conveyed to the Free Beacon by a member of Congress, were “Well that might give us some additional leverage” and that he was “going to check with the White House and see what the admin policy is.” Administration officials have in recent days been pressed over statements made last year and earlier this year to the effect that the White House would work with Congress to pass additional sanctions on Iran should the West not reach a comprehensive deal by the July 20 expiry of the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA). Diplomats this week told  the Associated Press that the parties involved in the negotiations plan to extend talks past the weekend, noting that it is unlikely that a final deal will be reached by the deadline.


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was sworn in for a third seven-year term yesterday, and used his inauguration speech to blast Arab and Western nations for supporting opposition elements in the war-torn country, threatening that “countries who backed terrorism will pay the price.” Assad’s inauguration comes a month after the elections – held only in portions of the country under regime control – that saw him take nearly 89 percent of the vote. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki at Thursday’s press briefing denounced last month’s election and noted that “Syrians are starving and besieged in Damascus, dodging barrel bombs in Aleppo, fleeing across Syria’s borders from refuge, and enduring unspeakable abuses in regime prisons and detention facilities” while “Assad and his regime…indulge in this charade.” In his inaugural address, Assad thanked foreign powers, including Tehran, for longstanding support of the regime. Assad has for years been bolstered by Iran, which has among other things supplied Damascus with weapons, funds, and troops over the course of the Syrian conflict. Assad’s allies were on Wednesday described by The Atlantic as a group “that reads like the Axis of Evil, 2014 edition, including Iran and Hezbollah.”


A new report confirms Israel’s role as one of the top cyber defense exporting countries in the world. According to the Israel National Cyber Bureau (INCB), Israel exported an astonishing $3 billion worth of cyber related products so far in 2014. This places Israel second only after the US in cyber export. The number of Israeli cyber-defense companies stands at over 220. In early 2014, multinational players IBM, Cisco, EMC, Lockheed Martin RSA and Deutsche Telekom all announced plans to set up cyber-research facilities in CyberSpark, Israel’s new cyber-security technology park in Beersheva. According to the INCB report, blue-and-white cyber firms raised $165 million in investment money, equivalent to 14.5% of worldwide investment within the cyber field. (via Israel21c)

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