- Controversy erupts after Iranian president-elect describes Israel as "wound"
- Kerry: Egyptian army was "restoring democracy" in moving against Muslim Brotherhood-linked government
- U.S. lawmakers send letter slamming Turkish prime minister for anti-Semitism
- U.S. and Israel hold joint naval and air exercises, underscoring military ties
What we’re watching today:
- A Twitter-driven media controversy erupted this morning over an Al-Quds Day speech given by incoming Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, in which the president-elect described Israel as a "wound" on the "Muslim body." Al-Quds Day is an annual tradition invented in 1979 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who explained at the time that it was meant to target the "usurper Israel." Original reports published by state-linked Iranian outlets indicated that Rouhani also called Israel a "wound" - also translated in some places as a "sore" - that needed to be "removed." The stance would echo the one expressed yesterday via the official Twitter feed of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But other Iranian state-linked outlets later clarified that Rouhani merely limited himself today to calling the Jewish state a "wound," without explicitly calling for its removal. The distinction caused some journalists to declare that Rouhani was actually "remarkably mild, compared to others in Iran," an effort at interpretation that was openly mocked by foreign policy analysts. Other observers were even more blunt, accusing some journalists of "manufacturing another Iranian regime mistranslation controversy."
- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday emphasized that Egypt’s military was "restoring democracy" last month when it responded to a week of mass anti-government protests by stripping then-president Mohammed Morsi of power. Kerry said that the army acted in response to the requests of "millions and millions of people." Agence France-Presse today emphasized that the army's actions enjoy ongoing popularity, citing media reports trumpeting popular support. Egyptian outlet Al-Akhbar carried columns of support for army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, including exhortations to join anti-violence rallies that Sisi has urged Egyptians to engage in. For his part Sisi has continually emphasized the need for the army to transfer power to a civilian government in an orderly manner. Sitting Egyptian Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei gave an interview this week in which he expressed confidence that Sisi is not planning to run for president and that he "understands that there has to be a political solution."
- Forty-six U.S. lawmakers have sent a letter to Turkish President Abdullah Gul slamming Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for making anti-Semitic statements and calling on Gul to "publically condemn the use of anti-Semitic rhetoric by government officials." The bipartisan letter was prepared by Reps. Brad Schneider, Randy Weber, Lois Frankel, and Mark Meadows and cited numerous statements made by Erdogan in recent months. The signatories specifically singled out Erdogan's description of Zionism as a "crime against humanity." More recent statements, including the prime minister's repeated statements that an "interest rate lobby" was behind political unrest inside Turkey, also came in for criticism. The letter described the rhetoric as "a thinly veiled reference to Jews." Turkish diplomats were recently forced to scramble after past anti-Semitic statements by Erdogan reemerged, generating renewed speculation that his diplomatic conflicts with Israel were grounded in something other than the promotion of objective Turkish national interests.
- The Israeli Defense Forces and U.S. European Command yesterday concluded two weeks of military exercises as part of regularly scheduled training exercises between the allies. Juniper Stallion 13 and Noble Melinda 13, the concurrent air force and navy exercises that took place, were according to the IDF intended to "improve the interoperability and cooperation between the U.S. and Israeli air forces." The exercises come roughly a month after EUCOM Commander General Philip M. Breedlove met with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz to enhance military-to-military cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem. Recent months have seen a a sharp increase in exchanges designed to deepen U.S.-Israeli defense ties, with multiple top-level delegations traveling between the two countries. Top defense officials from both countries insist that those ties have never been stronger.
Jerusalem, Mar. 10 – A series of videos filmed by Syrian rebel fighters shows them closing in on the Israeli-Syrian border, firing rounds in the air and openly threatening to launch attacks against Israel.
“We are now in front of the occupied Golan, the blessed land sold by Hafez Assad…For 40 years, not a single gunshot has been fired on this land. For 40 years, not a single gunshot has been fired towards Israel….We will free the Golan and it will return to the free Syrian people, with the help of Allah,” the group’s representative told the camera.
One of the videos was symbolically shot at a United Nations sign demarcating the “Area of Separation” between Syria and Israel where “No Military Forces are allowed.” (sic)
Current president of the Security Council, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the security situation between Israel and Syria is also being compromised by "a very new and dangerous phenomenon," armed groups operating out of the Golan Heights. The UN peacekeeping troops – the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) – patrol the area, but do not have jurisdiction to intervene.
Given this limited jurisdiction of U.N. peacekeepers on the Golan Heights, Israel is concerned by the approach of rebels towards the Israeli frontier.
"Unfortunately there is nothing in the UNDOF mandate that allows them or equips them to deal with that situation because they are unarmed observers," noted Churkin.
Israel is attempting to guarantee the safety of workers who are constructing a new fence along the Syrian border.
The Israel Defense Forces fears the possibility of attacks similar to those that targeted building work on the recently-constructed fence between Israel and Egypt.
That, however, is not the only threat posed to Israel’s defenses. Jerusalem is closely watching Syria’s chemical-weapons arsenal. As Syria’s continues to grow increasingly unstable, Israel fears these arms could fall into the hands of Hezbollah or Al-Qaeda affiliates operating in Syria.
Israel has made clear it will not tolerate such a situation and has given warning that it will act if necessary. Foreign media reports have claimed Israel was behind the Jan. 29th attack on a convoy in Syria, aimed at preventing Iranian-backed Hezbollah from acquiring advanced SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles from the crumbling Assad regime.
Jerusalem, Feb. 10 – Israeli military officials fear the escalating civil war in Syria may soon bring an end to the relative quiet along the 80 km border with Syria. Decades of anti-Israel aggression fostered by Syrian leaders Bashar Al-Assad and his late father Hafez combined with massive infiltration by jihadist fighters have increased the likelihood of terror attacks on what has essentially been Israel's most tranquil border.
Over the past months the explosions and gunfire on the Syrian side of the border have been heard clearly on an almost daily basis, and several artillery rounds fired from Syria have exploded in Israel – fortunately causing no serious injuries.
The war in Syria has been joined by thousands of terrorists from Al-Qaida and jihadist groups from around the region. While their short-term goals are the overthrow of Assad and the establishment of an Islamic state in Syria, their long-term aims include holy war against Israel.
To counter the threat, Israel has reinforced its forces along the frontier and is feverishly working to complete a new border fence with advanced surveillance and alert features. Over the past few months the Israel Defense Forces apprehended six suspects in the area believed to be on reconnaissance missions.
“We're gearing for all scenarios in the sectors. The build-up is underway,” said the IDF’s Colonel Yehuda Fox, whose troops are moving into the area along the Israel-Syria border.
Another unknown parameter in the already complex equation is what authority – if any – the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), entrusted since 1973 with enforcing the Israel-Syria ceasefire, would retain. The collapse of the Damascus regime would leave the future UNDOF in doubt, and the U.N. force is carefully following developments.
Faced with Hamas's militarized civilian facilities - mosques, schools, hospitals, and homes - the IDF has developed some of the world's most sophisticated tactics for minimizing risk to civilians caught in combat zones. Here are a few videos showing the risks that the IDF voluntarily takes, and the military disadvantages that it voluntarily incurs, in response to Hamas's war crime of using civilian shields.
Click on any of the photos to go directly to the video, or view TIP's full collection of videos on what makes the IDF genuinely the world's most moral fighting force: TIP's Collection On IDF Tactics To Protect Civilians.
Mortar bombs fired from Syria hit an Israeli community and an Israeli army position Sunday, prompting the Israel artillery to fire a warning shot at a Syrian army position.
“A short while ago, a mortar shell hit an IDF post in the Golan Heights adjacent to the Israel-Syria border, as part of the internal conflict inside Syria. No damage or injuries have been reported,” an IDF statement said. “In response, IDF soldiers fired warning shots towards Syrian areas. The IDF has filed a complaint through the U.N. forces operating in the area, stating that fire emanating from Syria into Israel will not be tolerated and shall be responded to with severity.”
Earlier Sunday, a mortar bomb exploded in the Israeli community of Alonei Habashan as a result of fighting between the Syrian army and rebels, although no damage or injuries were reported.
In the past few months there have been dozens of incidents of explosives and gunfire hitting Israel during fighting between the Syrian army and rebels trying to topple the regime of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Some of the fighting has been right along the border, and last week three Syrian army tanks violated the ceasefire line and entered the demilitarized zone, firing back into Syrian territory before withdrawing.
Hamas's rocket barrage against Israel on Monday marked an escalation in the group's ongoing war against Israel, both quantitatively in the amount of rocket fire, and qualitatively in Hamas's willingness to claim responsibility for the attack.
The attack has triggered broad concerns that the terror group is returning to its posture of late June 2012, when Palestinians launched over 80 rockets at Israeli towns and communities over a four-day period. The comparisons have some traction: June 20 was the last time any Palestinian group launched more than 30 rockets into Israel in one day, and that month was also the last time Hamas explicitly took responsibility for rocket fire.
The more troubling possibility, however, is that Hamas is reverting not to its June 2012 stance but to December 2008, when the group categorically refused to renew a long-standing ceasefire with Israel and subsequently fired more than 100 rockets and mortars at Israeli towns and cities. Israel eventually responded by launching Operation Cast Lead to halt the ongoing attacks. The war lasted weeks.
There are worrying parallels between Hamas's December 2008 infrastructure and strategy and its reinvigorated aggression:
(1) Militarized Civilian Infrastructure
Hamas has remilitarized civilian and religious infrastructure in Gaza. The IDF's response to Monday's attacks included targeting an example of that infrastructure, a mosque that had been turned into a Hamas post.
Before and during Cast Lead, Hamas transformed up to 100 mosques into depots and bases, and the IDF even discovered a Hamas map outlining how fighters should position themselves next to mosques, homes, and gas stations to achieve maximum carnage.
Hamas's military redeployment to mosques indicates that the group is again preparing to target civilians during hostilities with Israel.
(2) Political Leadership of "Resistance" Groups
Hamas has politically reunited what it terms "the resistance factions" behind it. The group launched Monday's attack jointly with the Iranian-aligned Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Al-Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Obeida emphasized through Palestinian outlets the "high-level of coordination between the resistance factions in the management of the confrontation with the Zionist occupation." Arab sources report that Hamas and PIJ have set up a joint “war room.”
Before and during Cast Lead, Hamas forcibly stamped out all political opposition, continuing a practice it had begun when it seized power by shooting out the kneecaps of political opponents and pushing them off buildings.
Recent analysis had suggested that Hamas was distancing itself from Shiite-aligned Gaza factions and aligning with the Sunni countries fighting a proxy war in Syria against Iran. That analysis was never completely sound: Hamas leaders including Mahmoud al-Zahar gathered in Iran in September to coordinate moves against Israel with other groups, while leaders such as Khaled Mashal, who opposed Iranian involvement in Syria have been marginalized. Regardless of whether the analysis was misguided or Hamas has recalibrated, the result is the same.
(3) Explicitly Aggressive Military Posture
Hamas has militarily taken control of attacks on Israel, explicitly claiming responsibility for the escalation. The group had not claimed rocket fire since attacking Israel in June.
Before and during Cast Lead, Hamas repeatedly attacked Israel and rejected ceasefire offers. Hamas miscalculated, issuing "a united stance" that a long-lasting truce would not be renewed and taunting that Gaza would become "a graveyard for Israelis" if the IDF responded to rocket fire. The result was Cast Lead.
(4) Targeting Vulnerable Israeli Infrastructure, Including Children's
Hamas has returned to bombing vulnerable civilian infrastructure, especially infrastructure involving children. Monday's attacks scored a direct hit on a children’s petting zoo, killing several of the animals inside but fortunately not hitting any children.
Before and during Cast Lead, Palestinian groups had openly bragged about timing their attacks to when Israeli schoolchildren were traveling to school.
Washington, Sept 21 - Terrorists, including one wearing a suicide vest, attacked Israeli soldiers building a security fence along the Egyptian border today (Sept. 21) and tried to enter Israel, but the Israeli army blocked them and killed the three attackers. One Israeli soldier died and one was wounded in the firefight, the IDF said.
The IDF said in a statement it had foiled a major terrorist attack: “A number of terrorists opened fire on an IDF artillery force stationed along the border to protect the construction of the border fence. A force of the Karkal (Wildcat) Battalion, which was stationed nearby, engaged the terrorist squad.”
The Jerusalem Post reported that the terrorists were heavily armed and that during the firefight, a suicide bomb belt around one of the terrorists went off.
The IDF statement added: “According to initial findings, the IDF force successfully prevented a large-scale attack on Israeli civilians. No terrorists managed to infiltrate into Israel.”
The Sinai Peninsula, which is part of Egypt, has turned into a largely lawless zone since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak early last year. Intelligence reports say organizations, some linked to al-Qaeda, are trying to establish a presence there, forming alliances with fellow terrorists in Gaza.
The incident occurred in a mountainous area of the border where Israel has yet to complete building its security fence. Defense officials said the plan was to finish building the fence in that area within two months.
In August, terrorists killed 16 Egyptian soldiers at a border post and then tried to crash an armored vehicle across the border fence to attack Israelis. IDF forces stopped them and killed the terrorists. That was the most serious in a string of recent attacks that has focused attention of the growing threat the region poses to both Israel and Egypt.
In July, terrorists opened fire on a bus carrying soldiers near the Israeli-Egyptian border. There were no injuries but the bus was damaged. In June, a civilian was killed in a combined shooting and mortar attack while working on the border fence. A previously unknown Jihadi group called “Magles Shoura al-Mujahddin”posted a video claiming responsibility. It said it was linked to al-Qaeda and planned more attacks to kill Israelis.
On August 18, 2011, eight Israelis were killed on a desert border road near Eilat by gunmen who infiltrated from the Gaza Strip via Egypt's neighboring Sinai desert. Seven of the attackers were killed by Israeli forces and Egypt said five of its men died in the crossfire. The State Department’s annual report on terrorism worldwide released last month said that the situation in the vast and sparsely populated Sinai Peninsula has approached a crisis point.
“The smuggling of humans, weapons, cash, and other contraband through the Sinai into Israel and Gaza created criminal networks with possible ties to terrorist groups in the region. The smuggling of weapons from Libya through Egypt has increased since the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime,” the report said.
Mubarak’s ouster in early 2011 created a power vacuum in Sinai that was quickly filled by jihadists. According to Michael Herzog of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, they joined local Bedouin, many of whom felt alienated from the central government.
These Bedouin, especially those in the northeast and the mountainous central areas, are well armed and increasingly influenced by extreme Islamist ideology. They cooperate closely with Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups from Gaza, which have established a foothold in Sinai by recruiting local tribesmen for various operations.
Jerusalem, Sept. 6 — The Israeli army on Thursday morning launched a pre-emptive strike on Palestinian terrorists as they planted an explosive along Gaza’s border with Israel – the latest attempt by terrorists to harm Israelis. The operation killed three of the perpetrators. Overnight, the army killed three other terrorists in Gaza as they were about to launch rockets at Israel.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, the same terrorist cell involved in planning the rocket attacks took part in other rocket launches at Israel. The terror groups based in Gaza all profess an ideology which commits them to destroying Israel.
The two attempted attacks on Israel occurred within 12 hours of each other. Despite an unofficial ceasefire with Israel, terrorist groups in Hamas-controlled Gaza have been firing rockets at Israel almost daily. As of Thursday, the total number of rockets, mortars and missiles launched at Israel since Jan. 1 stood at 552, according to a daily count maintained by The Israel Project. That total compares to 653 for all of 2011. Many of the rockets have been aimed at major cities like Ashdod and Beersheba, both with populations of over 200,000.
Rather than condemning the attempted violence, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who controls the West Bank accused Israel of stepping up tensions between the two sides.
Meanwhile, Hamas security forces on Wednesday reportedly detained 20 of their own members. Hamas, though implacably committed to the long-term goal of eradicating Israel, has adopted a short-term policy of avoiding major confrontations. This may be because they do not want to risk a repeat of Israel’s 2008/2009 Cast Lead operation which destroyed much of their infrastructure or it could be because Iran wants Hamas to retain its military capabilities for use at a later date.
Hamas has smuggled thousands of weapons through tunnels from the Sinai and has been steadily increasing the reach and sophistication of its arsenal. It now has missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv.
In a statement, the Israeli army said: “The IDF will not tolerate any attempt by terrorist groups to target Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers, and will continue to operate against those who use terror against the State of Israel. The Hamas terror organization is solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip.”
Jerusalem, Aug. 5 – Terrorists staged a massive attack on the Israeli border Sunday night, firing rockets and mortars at Israeli towns as cover for two stolen Egyptian armored vehicles in an attempt to crash through the security fence into Israeli territory where they were counter-attacked and stopped by Israeli forces.
The attack apparently began on the Egyptian side of the border with Israel and the Gaza Strip when terrorists attacked an Egyptian security post. Initial reports indicated at least 16 Egyptian security personnel were killed,the Al-Arabiya newspaper reported.
The terrorists hijacked two Egyptian armored vehicles. The first one was loaded with explosives and detonated on the border fence to blow an opening. The second vehicle drove into Israel where it was attacked and stopped by Israeli forces with at least 3 terrorists killed, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said in a radio interview.
Senior security officials said that the terrorists who tried to infiltrate Israel were carrying out a major terror attack. "Should they have succeeded, it could have been a very serious terror attack. A major disaster has been prevented," the YNET news service reported.
Tens of thousands of Israeli civilians were ordered to stay in their homes as Palestinians in neighboring Gaza fired mortars and rockets at Israeli towns in the area as an apparent cover for the attack. Only one injury was reported on the Israeli side as forces scoured the area to ensure there were no other terrorists.
“We are in contact with the Egyptians. I think this incident is no less serious for them as it is for us,” Mordechai said. In June terrorists attacked the border fence between Israel and Egypt only a few kilometers away from where Sunday’s attack to place, killing an Israeli civilian.
Jerusalem, July 20 — The bodies of the five Israelis killed in Wednesday’s bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria were flown back to Israel and buried today in funerals across the country. U.S. and Israeli officials blamed Iran-backed Hezbollah for the bombing, which also killed a Bulgarian tour guide.
Throughout last night’s official state ceremony, audible cries from the victims’ family members could be heard over those officiating. Flag-draped coffins were carried from the plane by Israel Defense Forces soldiers, who placed them in front of a crowd gathered for the duration of the ceremony.
Bulgarian media reports initially identified the bomber as a Swedish citizen, but Swedish and Bulgarian authorities have denied that claim. Authorities are now using the bomber’s fingerprints, DNA and fake Michigan driver’s license to identify him. American officials said yesterday that the bomber was a Hezbollah operative, backing up claims that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made since the attack was carried out.
“For over a year, Iran, along with its protégé Hezbollah, has been waging an international terror campaign,”Netanyahu said in a television message yesterday, calling Iran “the world’s number one exporter of terror” and Hezbollah its “long arm.”
Yesterday, Netanyahu released the second statement in two days that ultimately blamed Iran for the suicide attack: "Yesterday's attack in Bulgaria was perpetrated by Hezbollah, Iran's leading terrorist proxy. This attack was part of a global campaign of terror carried out by Iran and Hezbollah. This terror campaign has reached a dozen countries on five continents. The world's leading powers should make it clear that Iran is the country that stands behind this terror campaign.
He added, “Iran must be exposed by the international community as the premiere terrorist-supporting state that it is. And everything should be done to prevent Iran, the world's most dangerous regime, from developing the world's most dangerous weapons. Israel is a strong country and the people of Israel are a strong people. We'll continue to fight the terrorists and to exact a heavy price from those who support them.”
The U.N. Security Council issued a statement yesterday condemning the attack, calling it a
“heinous act.” The Security Council “reaffirmed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.”
The attack occurred at about 5:30 p.m. local time, shortly after the group of 154 tourists landed at Burgas’ Sarafovo Airport on a flight from Tel Aviv and boarded several buses to travel to the city’s Globus Hotel. Bulgarian media reported that 44 people were on the bus that was attacked, and that the buses were still in the airport terminal at the time.
Wednesday marked the 18th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Argentine Jewish Centre in Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people were killed and more than 600 were injured in Argentina’s largest terrorist attack. No one has been charged in connection with the bombing, but evidence points to involvement by Iran and Hezbollah.
Burgas, which lies along the Black Sea, is Bulgaria’s fourth-largest city and is known as a cultural and tourist hub.