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Are We Seeing The Repentance of Ishmael?

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 09:07

The year 2018 saw a number of Arab governments speaking openly about normalizing relations with Israel. On a political level, the fresh interest in Israel by Arab countries seems to be fueled by a desire to team up against a potentially nuclear Shiite Iran. Iran is home to 70 million Shiite Muslims.

But is there something more going on, something perhaps related to the Biblical precedent of  Isaac and Ishmael working together to bury their father in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron?

According to a report on Arutz 7, Tunisian lawmaker and the head of the Liberal Tunisian Party Mounir Baator argued in April of last year that normalization of relations with Israel was in Tunisia’s best interests. He also said that Tunisia’s problems were unrelated to the issue of Israel’s relations with the Palestinians. Tunisia is 99% Sunni Muslim.

In late October, Jason D. Greenblatt, Assistant to President Trump and Special Representative for International Negotiations, tweeted that relations between Israel and Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are noticeably warming. In contrast to Shiite Iran, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are majority Sunni Muslim countries and/or have Sunni leadership.

In the last few days we have seen our regional partners #Oman, #Bahrain, and the #UAE make statements and/or gestures signaling warmer ties with #Israel. A more stable region leads to a stronger and more prosperous region. It is good for all.

— Jason D. Greenblatt (@jdgreenblatt45) October 31, 2018

Just a few weeks ago, Giorgio Cafiero of the US-based Al-Monitor wrote that “the Arab Gulf monarchies are warming up to Tel Aviv.” In the same report, Cafiero indicated that only, “Kuwait is not on board when it comes to Israel.” Al-Monitor regularly reports on regional politics in the Middle East.

Is this warming of ties between Israel and certain Arab governments a reflection of concern about Iran as a nuclear wild card in the region, an internal Sunni/Shia battle or is it perhaps an early stage echo of the Biblical repentance of Ishmael?

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In his book The Ishmaelite Exile, Rabbi Yechiel Weitzman writes, “The source of the conflict between Israel and the Ishmaelites originates at the very beginnings of history, long before the Jewish people came into existence.” He continues by recounting the story of Ishmael’s birth and the eventual sending away of Hagar and Ishmael.

She said to Avraham, “Cast out that slave-woman and her son, for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Yitzchak.” Genesis 21:10

Rabbi Weitzman makes it clear that, “the Arabic culture of Islam is identified with Ishmael, the son of Avraham. The Koran accepts this identification and sees in the Arab tribes the descendents of Ishmael. It is no surprise that in contrast to the Torah’s version of events, which has Yitzchak (Isaac) as Abraham’s favorite son whom he bound on the altar, the Muslims claim, as the Koran writes, that Ishmael was the chosen son, and that he was the one who was bound on the altar.”

Nevertheless, the Torah relates that, despite their lifelong rivalry, Isaac and Ishmael ultimately cooperated in the burial of their father Abraham. A teaching from the Babylonian Talmud states plainly that, “Yishmael (Ishmael) did teshuvah (repented) during Abraham’s lifetime, as it states in the Torah: ‘And Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the Cave of Machpelah in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which faces Mamre.’”

End Times expert Rabbi Pinchas Winston suggested to Breaking Israel News that the warming up toward Israel by some Arab countries might be more pragmatic than spiritual.

“They don’t like us anymore than they ever have,” he commented, “but they have come to realize some facts that compel them to take these steps. They realize that it is to their benefit. One Palestinian leader even has Start-Up Nation [the best-selling book about Israeli innovation] on his desk as model for their society. In the meantime, hundreds of millions still want to kill us.”

In a commentary on the Torah portion of Chayeh Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18), Rabbi David Etengoff, a student of the famous Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, connected the Biblical repentance of Ishmael with hope for peace in the region today.

“We probably will never know exactly which constellation of factors motivated Yishmael to become an entirely new individual, as evidenced by allowing Yitzhak to go before him, thereby recognizing Yitzhak as Avraham’s rightful heir. One thing we do know, however, is that Yishmael’s spiritual makeover was true and complete. He reconstructed himself into someone different in kind and degree than he had been in the past.

“If Yishmael could do this, then his present-day heirs can do the same, and cease the murder, terrorism, and wanton destruction that they relentlessly pursue. May this time come soon and in our days.”

Israel Welcomes Newest Group of Ethiopian-Jewish Immigrants

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 07:53

A group of 82 Ethiopian-Jews landed in Israel on Monday, the first of about 1,000 to be allowed to immigrate to the country as part of an October 2018 cabinet decision. The community currently numbers close to 9,000 and is concentrated mainly in Addis Ababa and Gondar, the imperial city at the center of the country’s traditional Jewish heartland.

IRGC Deputy Commander Threatens Europe if They Attempt Iranian Disarmament

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 06:25

In a Feb. 2, 2019 interview with Iran’s Channel 2 TV, Hossein Salami, deputy commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), explained the Iranian regime’s “defense and deterrence strategy” in light of the threats against it. He said: “The two pillars of our deterrence are our influence in the region and our missile capability.”

Contradicting Iranian regime spokesmen’s claim that Iran is forced to maintain missile capability and to expand in the region in order to defend itself against Western aggression, Salami revealed that Iran’s expansion in the region (which stretches as far as 2,000 kilometers from its border) is directed by the regime because “its essence is a matter of faith.” That is, active geographic expansion is “a zero-sum game” played by the regime against its enemies, instead of being for purposes of defense.

He explained that “the morale and the spirit of jihad against the controlling regime [i.e. the U.S.] and against the infidels are the internal faith of the region, [and therefore] no one can destroy the expansion of [Iran’s] influence.”

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He added: “We had two options: to remain within our geographic borders, meaning achieving the American aims, or to advance and move forward [towards countries far away from Iran].”

Iranian spokesmen emphasize the regime’s refusal to negotiate over its missile program, stating that Iran’s missiles are its defense against its enemies. Nevertheless, its missiles have a range of up to 2,000 km, indicating that the missile program is offensive, not defensive. Further underlining that Iran’s missile program is offensive was Salami’s warning in this interview that if Europe pressures Iran on this matter too much, the regime will take a “strategic leap” and will increase its missiles’ range.

“Our defensive strategy can change subject to circumstances, and also subject to changes in the behavior of the players [in the international arena]. … The structure, organization, development, quantity and quality of our missile capability are completely open-ended. We have set no limits for the development of this capability.”

Salami said that the strategy for eradicating the “Zionist regime” has been created, hinting at Iran’s regional expansion. Addressing Israel, he warned that its response to this strategy could spark a war in which its destruction is assured, that the Israelis would be destroyed before help from the United States could arrive, and that there would be no burial site for them in Palestine.

JOB 11:18

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 06:10

In Jewish culture, hope is considered one of the most potent tools at humanity’s disposal for fulfilling its mission of perfecting the world. Asher Ginsberg, better known by his pen-name, Achad Ha’am, was the founder of the movement known as “Cultural Zionism.” He envisioned the future state as a Jewish spiritual center; not merely a State of Jews, but a Jewish State. On this topic, he writes: “The national self of a nation is the link between its past and future. Memories on the one hand, and hope on the other. Our prophets, and later our sages, implanted in the Jew hope in the future, and to the Jew this was not a fantastic hope, but a reality. And this was the best spiritual food to sustain our life. Without this hope, the Torah (Bible) alone could not have preserved us.” With these beautiful words, Achad Ha’am illustrates how hope and Torah are inherently, and eternally, intertwined.

Israeli Researchers Discover Gene Pattern Shaping the Immune System

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 05:57

The first DNA sequences were made almost half a century ago, in the early 1970s. Analyses have expanded from individual genes to gene clusters, full chromosomes or the whole genomes of living creatures including humans.

Diagnosing diseases and treating them seem increasingly to require the skills of detectives and jigsaw puzzle fans. This complicated task involves DNA sequencing – determining the order of four nucleic acid bases (adenineguaninecytosine and thymine) in each cell’s DNA.

In 2001, the first copy of the three billion base pairs that assemble the human genome was published. Since then, the price of genetic sequencing has dramatically declined, and rapid sequencing of DNA fragments has become routine in biology and medical laboratories.

Knowing DNA sequences has greatly advanced not only basic biological research; the sequencing techniques have dramatically advanced and the storage of big data of their findings is growing exponentially. They are being used in a variety of applied fields such as medical diagnosis,  biotechnologyforensic biologyvirology and biological systematics.

Many studies focus on identification of genetic patterns and genes related to normal functions and disease, but certain genomic regions are still poorly characterized.

A team of researchers from Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, has developed a computational tool for analyzing genetic changes related to the immune system. With this step forward, the onset of many autoimmune diseases – such as multiple sclerosis and celiac disease – as well as infectious diseases such as hepatitis C and influenza, and various forms of cancer can be predicted.

In a just-study published that appears in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, the team of researchers led by Prof. Gur Yaari of Bar-Ilan’s Alexander Kofkin Faculty of Engineering reveal a novel computational tool it has developed to study variations in genes that determine the immune system’s dynamics and used to analyze genetic variation among 100 people. The study was conducted in collaboration with research groups from the US, Norway and Australia.

Current knowledge of the regions that determine the immune system’s function is very limited. The reason for this is the repetitive structure of those regions, which slows mapping of short DNA “reads” (each nucleotide sequences is a “read” that is used later to reconstruct the original sequence) to their exact location within these regions.

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“Despite limited knowledge about those regions, they are critically important for a deeper understanding of the immune system, as well as for prediction of diseases and development of novel tools for personalized medicine in cancer, inflammation, autoimmune diseases, allergies and infectious diseases,” asserted Yaari.

 Our immune system can adapt itself to countless living threats (bacteria, viruses and other disease-producing pathogens), even those that continuously evolve. “Among other mechanisms, this is done through a huge repertoire of receptors expressed by B and T white blood cells,” added Moriah Gidoni, a doctoral student who participated in the study.

“The human body contains tens of billions of B cells, each of which expresses a different antibody receptor that can bind a different pathogen. How can such a huge diversity of antibodies be achieved, when the genomic regions encoding for antibodies are relatively short? Diversity is achieved by each B cell expressing only a small number of DNA fragments that are randomly chosen from the entire region, which together encode for a complete antibody,” explained Gidoni.

 Similar to other human characteristics, the genomic region encoding the immune receptors varies in people, and each person has two such regions that are inherited from the mother and the father. The fragments encoding each antibody are selected in each B cell from only one chromosome, and therefore it is highly valuable to map the fragments that are found on each chromosome, which are the pool from which that person is able to encode antibodies.

For example, a person who is missing certain fragments is unable to produce certain antibodies, which can make it difficult for him or her to fight a certain germ, making him more susceptible to the disease caused by the pathogen.

 According to the researchers, an indirect way to learn about the genetic variations in these regions is to read genetic sequences of mature B cells after they have already chosen which fragments they express. From these data, the genetic variety within each person can be determined.

 The analysis showed a much richer-than-expected pattern of deletions and duplications of many genomic regions, said Yaari. “Despite the critical importance of these genomic regions for our understanding of the immune system and a wide variety of diseases, our knowledge so far has been limited to what was under the standard sequencing lamppost. Computational tools like the one recently developed by our group enable a completely different point of view on this very important genomic region that contains a large wealth of valuable biological and medical information.”

Building Bridges, Tearing Down Walls, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 05:48

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who died yesterday at his Jerusalem home, was considered a giant of interfaith dialogue. It was he, who realized the potential for increased and improved relations between Christians and Jews. After nearly two millennia of enmity and mistrust, his founding of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews in 1983 was a key point in repairing the breakdown.

Every Sunday through Friday, President and Founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ or The Fellowship), Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, sent out daily devotionals along with a scripture verse and the Hebrew Word of the Day to encourage understanding of Israel, the Jewish faith and Christianity’s Jewish roots. These devotionals have been a blessing to thousands of people over the years. Here are the summaries of Rabbi Eckstein’s top 10 devotionals of 2018:

Holy Land Moments Daily Devotionals (Click links to learn more!)

 

The Kindness Boomerang

So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back. — (Numbers 12:15)

Rabbi Eckstein told an incredible story of kindness and encouraged us all to go the extra mile when it comes to being kind. He wrote, “Kindness is like a boomerang; eventually, it will make its way back to you when you are in need.”

 

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Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, OBM, spoke at my son’s Bar Mitzvah three nights ago. Here is the moving speech. I can’t believe such a hero of the Jewish people is gone.

Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on Wednesday, February 6, 2019

God Wants to Give

“When a calf, a lamb or a goat is born, it is to remain with its mother for seven days. From the eighth day on, it will be acceptable as a food offering presented to the LORD.” — (Leviticus 22:27)


Rabbi Eckstein reflected on a seemingly “senseless cruel practice” he witnessed on a farm in northern Israel and connects it to the people of Israel’s relationship with God.  He wrote, “if we pray, and our prayers are not answered in the way that we like, we must understand that it’s not because God doesn’t love us; it’s because He loves us so much that He won’t give us something that is not good for us. God wants to give even more than our desire to receive. As we pray with that perspective, knowing that God is on our side and wanting to help us out, when the answer is “no,” we can take comfort knowing it’s because God has something even better in mind.”

From the Beginning

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” – (Genesis 1:1)

Considering that the Bible is neither a history book nor a storybook – it is an instruction manual for living – Jewish Sages have asked why the Bible begins with “in the beginning” instead of the first commandment given to man or a story with a moral. Rabbi Eckstein explained, “The Sages explain that God begins the Bible with Creation so that we would know that He created the world and has all authority over the universe. The land on this earth is His to give and His to take away. Only He has the right to do so. He states very clearly in the Bible that He gave the land of Israel, a small portion of the entire earth, to the children of Israel. No one, not even the United Nations, has the right to take that land away.”

 

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Simple Acts of Kindness

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. — (Micah 6:8)

 

Rabbi Eckstein recalled a story that aired on the news about a little boy who invited a homeless man to eat with him at a restaurant. He wrote, “Simple loving acts that bring glory to the Lord – that’s all God asks,” and encourages readers to do a simple act of kindness. He urges, “It doesn’t take much to serve God and bring glory to His name. Help a stranger, be extra kind to someone who is down, provide some words of encouragement, or even buy a stranger a meal. God doesn’t ask much from us, yet He does everything for us. The least we can do is contribute what we can.”

 

Confession is Good for the Soul

“Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged.’” — (Numbers 5:6–7)

 

“Confession is a doorway to freedom and forgiveness,” wrote Rabbi Eckstein, noting that Judaism requires confession of our sins only in the presence of one being — the presence of God. Nevertheless, we confess aloud so not so that God can hear them (after all, God knows our thoughts!). We confess so we can hear them. He added, “ Speaking is more powerful than thinking. God didn’t think the world into existence; He spoke it into existence. So, too, our words have power. When we confess our sins, we break down barriers that block our soul. We let go of toxins that poison our spirit. Most importantly, we engage God in our cleansing process, and it is only He Who can truly purify our souls.”

Hidden Blessings

“‘I myself will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled.’” — (Leviticus 26:32)


Even when God punishes us, we can find His everlasting love shining through. Everything that He causes to happen in our lives – even the hard stuff – is ultimately a blessing. Even the fact that Israel was not a desirable land for over 2,000 years has allowed the Jewish people to return as they have. Noted Rabbi Eckstein, “The lesson for us is that God is always on our side. Even when it seems like our circumstances in life are less than desirable, there is always a hidden blessing. As the psalmist put it: “your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

Give to Live

“The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.” — (Leviticus 16:32–33)

 

On Yom Kippur, why is charity singled out as one of the three components that can undo our wrongdoings and change things for the better? The Jewish sages teach that charity is so powerful that it can save a person from death. Rabbi Eckstein asked, “What is so extraordinary about giving charity?” He explained, “How we treat others is how God will treat us,” urging readers to give life and joy to others. If we do so, perhaps God will bless us with another year of life and joy as well.

Implications of Russia Delivering S-300 Missiles to Syria

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 04:28

Russia has delivered S-300 air defense batteries to Syria and placed them beside what is believed to be an Iranian weapons manufacturing facility. So, what are the implications of this? How does this bode for Israel’s’ efforts to stop Iranian entrenchment in Syria?

‘Mezuzah Week:’ A Spiritual Revolution in Tel Aviv

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 04:13

A revolutionary campaign under the title “Mezuzah Week in Tel Aviv” has recently been launched by the Central Chabad of Tel Aviv, where residents will be able to check the mezuzahs of their homes free of charge and purchase kosher mezuzahs if theirs are not.

Rabbi Joseph Gerlitzky, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s chief emissary to Tel Aviv-Jaffa, says that the goal of the campaign is to ensure that every Jew in the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo is given the opportunity to be protected and secured by checking mezuzahs and installing kosher ones.

Mezuzah is one of the most beloved mitzvot of all the Jewish people throughout the ages. It is a testimony and declaration that Jews live here proud of their Jewishness and the tradition of their forefathers,” says Rabbi Gerlitzky. “Sometimes, out of lack of awareness or lack of time, there are those who still do not have kosher mezuzahs in their homes. That is why we initiated the [program] in Tel Aviv—to give everyone the opportunity and awareness of this issue of kosher and meticulous mezuzahs.”

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As part of the campaign, huge advertisements have been placed on buses in Gush Dan, via social media and in the mail for hundreds of thousands of metro-area residents.

More than 35 Chabad centers throughout the city and its neighborhoods are participating. Homeowners can approach the nearest outpost, mezuzahs in hand, for free inspection with a certified scribe. They can also purchase new mezuzahs with a subsidy of 25 percent off the price.

Already, one day after the start of the campaign, Chabad reported a “flood” of calls to the special center set up by Central Chabad for residents who want to have their mezuzahs checked and/or order new ones at the special price.

“No Jew will not be left behind,” goes the campaign. “Everyone can participate in the spiritual revolution of Tel Aviv.”

Holocaust Survivor Joshua Kaufman Joins Congress at SOTU

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 03:03

U.S. President Donald Trump honored two Holocaust survivors during his State of the Union Address. One of them was Joshua Kaufman, a 90-year-old survivor of Dachau. He was seated alongside Herman Zeitchik, one of the American soldiers who helped liberate the camp.

New York Times Shows Double Standard in Assault Allegations

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 02:00

The New York Times and other mainstream media outlets treated sexual assault allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a Republican, very differently than allegations against Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax , a Democrat who might be poised to assume the governorship in the wake of Gov. Ralph Northam’s controversial past history on race relations.

Both women accusing both men of sexual misconduct have ties with Stanford University, yet mainstream media outlets chose not to give additional information about Fairfax’s accuser, Vanessa Tyson, who said that Fairfax allegedly sexually assaulted her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The allegations by Tyson were first reported by the conservative media company Big League Politics.

The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin dismissed the claims by Tyson as an “unsubstantiated allegation of sexual assault that a right-wing media site published amid extraordinary political turmoil in the state that has raised the possibility of Mr. Fairfax becoming the next governor.”

Martin reproduced a tweet in full from Fairfax denying the allegation, but the New York Times chose not to publish details of the allegation against Fairfax, even as the newspaper published many details about the allegations against Kavanaugh. The Fairfax tweet alleged that The Washington Post had been approached by Tyson with the story and chose not to run it.

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“The Fairfax aides said the Washington Post investigated the allegation around the time of the lieutenant governor’s inauguration in January 2018 and chose not to publish a story,” Martin writes. “A spokeswoman for The Post did not immediately have a comment on the statement.”

WUSA9, the CBS affiliate in the Washington, D.C., area, also chose not to fully report on Tyson’s allegations.

“WUSA9 is refraining from publishing further details of the claim, as key elements have not been able to be verified,” wrote WUSA9’s Mike Valerio. “Broad outlines of the claim are only being published after Fairfax’s office released an official statement now in public view.”

Reprinted with author’s permission from Accuracy in Media

Israel’s Uphill Battle with Iran in Syria

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 01:00

The ski slopes on Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights open for a brief period every winter. On January 20, an Israeli enjoying an afternoon ski was shocked to see a rocket launched by an Iron Dome air defense battery. It was one of two that streaked across the sky aimed at stopping an Iranian surface-to-surface missile fired from Syria at Israel. The recent flare-up in Israeli-Iranian tensions in Syria comes amid the planned U.S. withdrawal and the winding down of the war on ISIS. It threatens to spark a new conflict. On January 23, Russia warned Israel again about airstrikes in Syria. Yet Jerusalem insists, with Washington’s backing, that it can reduce Iran’s presence in Syria as well as degrade Iran’s weapons transfers to Hezbollah.

The rare daylight airstrikes in Syria on January 20, the Iranian retaliation, and the second round of airstrikes that took place overnight the next day were some of the most serious and public clashes between Israeli and Iranian forces in Syria since the start of the Syrian Civil War. They were also predictable. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in December 2017 that Jerusalem would not permit Tehran to ” entrench” itself in Syria and benefit from the Syrian conflict by setting up infrastructure and bases. Israel has been increasingly warning that Iran must “get out” of Syria quickly. In February 2018 Israel struck Iranian targets after a drone entered Israeli airspace and in May 2018 Israel launched widespread airstrikes in response to a rocket salvo from Syria fired by Iran. Some of the strikes in the past year have reached deep into Syria, on the road to Palmyra, near Homs and in Latakia province.

It was a September Israeli airstrike in Latakia targeting a warehouse that led to the mistaken downing of a Russian Il-20 by Syrian air defense. This caused Russia to warn Israel, after frequently remaining mum on this shadow conflict. Russia is the main backer of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime, but it does not see its role in Syria as defending Iran’s interests. Russia sent Syria the S-300 air defense system in the wake of the downing of the Il-20. Russia warned Israeli ” hot heads ” to be wary of their next moves.

Israel has increasingly telegraphed its policy and revealed the extent of the war it is waging in Syria to stop Iran. In the fall of 2017, Israel said it had only struck one hundred targets in Syria during the Syrian conflict. By 2018 that number had increased to two hundred Iranian targets in a year and a half. Former Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot then expanded that number to thousands of strikes and two thousand bombs dropped in 2018 alone, claiming there were near daily strikes in an interview with the New York Times .

As Israel divulges the extent of its airstrikes in Syria a new picture is painted of a war that was largely fought in the shadows over the last years. During the Syrian Civil War the conflict between Israel and Iran, initially designed to interdict Iranian shipments of weapons via Syria to Hezbollah, was so low-scale that it was dwarfed by the larger conflict between the Syrian regime and the rebels, and then between the U.S.-led international coalition and the Islamic State. For instance, in the first two years of the coalition’s war there were 14,000 airstrikes on ISIS. Now the Syrian Civil War has mostly ended with the Turkish-Russia agreement on Idlib keeping a ceasefire intact. The war on ISIS is also winding down in the Euphrates valley as the last remnants of ISIS are defeated near Hajin.

It is not a coincidence that the end of the Syrian conflict has dovetailed with the rise in the Israel-Iran confrontation in Syria. During the Syrian Civil War Iran initially focused on supporting the Syrian regime, recruiting militias and advising the regime through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps units Tehran sent to Syria. Iran has also constructed bases, stocked warehouses and laid down infrastructure. Last year the United States said that Iranian-commanded forces should leave Syria. But Iran seeks to benefit from the Syrian conflict by increasing or at least maintaining its presence there, using Syrian air defense for protection.

The Iranian presence in Syria is only one part of a larger network of Iranian allies in Iraq and Syria. For instance, Moein al-Kazemi, a commander in the mostly Shia Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Units, PMU) threatened on January 21 that conflict between Iran and Syria could spill over to include Hezbollah in Lebanon and pro-Iranian Shia militias in Iraq. Qais Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, a member of the PMU and former U.S. detainee at Camp Cropper in Iraq, visited Lebanon in December 2017. He peered down on Israel from the Lebanese border in a symbolic gesture to show how pro-Iranian groups from Iraq and Lebanon see the conflict with Israel as a regional one not confined to individual states. This arc of Iranian influence has been termed a ” road to the sea ” or corridor across Iraq and Syria. In June 2018, reports indicated Israel struck Kata’ib Hezbollah, another Iraqi Shia militia that has a base in Syria.

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As the conflict in Syria comes out of the shadows Israel has been more open about its strikes. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF issued a press release and map on January 21 saying that the IDF carried out air strikes as “part of the IDF’s attack targeting Iranian Quds military sites in Syria.” Israel also said that “despite clear warnings to avoid such fire,” the Syrians had used their air defense to defend the Iranians and the IDF had struck the air defense batteries, including a Russian-made Pantsir system. The strikes resulted in Syria warnings of retaliation and Russian concerns about the ” arbitrary” strikes.

Despite all the airstrikes the overall number of casualties among Syrians and Iranians in Syria remains low. The level of damage to Iran’s infrastructure in Syria is also unclear. Israel has refrained from destructive air raids that might harm dual-use infrastructure such as the Damascus international airport. Instead, it has focused on precision strikes, hitting radars, warehouses, and other sites. The high-level accuracy of Israeli munitions means that in many cases images show destruction to be relatively limited. Warehouses and military camps can be rebuilt. The number of Iranians killed has been relatively low, with a dozen IRGC personnel reported killed in the recent strikes.

Jerusalem appears to face an uphill battle in removing Iran from Syria or motivating Iran to reduce its forces through pinpoint strikes. Russia, Turkey and Iran, through frequent meetings in Astana, Sochi, Geneva and elsewhere have sought to end the Syrian conflict . This comes as the United States says it is withdrawing, which means Washington appears to have abandoned its role in confronting Iran in Syria. Nevertheless, National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other administration officials have supported Israel’s role in confronting Iran in Syria and indicated in early January that support will continue. The message to Jerusalem from Washington is that it has a free hand in Syria. But this free hand is an uphill battle.

Several Gulf states, including Bahrain and the UAE signaled that they are returning diplomats to Damascus and Syria looks set to return to the Arab League after its suspension during the early days of 2011. This indicates that stability may return to Syria and normalization will occur between it and countries that had opposed the Assad regime. The more stability returns the more scrutiny Israeli strikes will come under. Iran appears to feel that it has come out of the last half-decade of conflict in the region not only unscathed but with greater influence than before. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif regularly boasts of U.S. isolation. It does not appear intimidated by the airstrikes, whether they numbered in the dozens as they did during the first years of the Syrian Civil War, or in the hundreds and thousands, as in the last year.

This makes Israel’s decision to be more public about its strikes a complex gamble. The more public it is and the more it sets a goal of Iranian withdrawal from Syria the more there will be questions about how it will accomplish that bar. An open-ended goal could indicate a long-term conflict in Syria, but with the S-300 likely to be operational eventually, Russia increasing its rhetoric, and Syria discussing retaliation a new conflict could spiral out of control. That conflict will likely involve Hezbollah, pro-Iranian forces in Iraq, and perhaps even Gaza.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Middle East Forum

Philippines: Bombed Churches, Slaughtered Christians

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 00:00

On Sunday, January 27, Islamic militants bombed a Catholic cathedral during Mass in the Philippines.  At least 20 people were killed and 111 wounded.

At 8:45 am, two explosives were detonated about a minute apart in or near the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo.  According to the Associated Press, “The initial explosion scattered the wooden pews inside the main hall and blasted window glass panels, and the second bomb hurled human remains and debris across a town square fronting the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, witnesses said.”

Photos on social media showed human bodies and remains strewn on the street just outside the cathedral.  Last heard, the officiating priest, Fr. Ricky Bacolcol, “was still in shock and could not speak about what happened,” to quote a colleague.

After the first bomb detonated, army troops and police posted outside the cathedral rushed in, at which point the second bomb went off.  Fifteen of the slain were civilians, five military men; 90 of the wounded were civilians.

The cathedral, located in a Muslim-majority area, was heavily guarded because it had been hit before: grenades were hurled at it twice in 2010, both times damaging the building; and in 1997, Catholic Bishop, Benjamin de Jesus, was gunned down just outside the cathedral.

The Islamic State claimed this most recent attack in a statement, adding that the massacre was carried out by “two knights of martyrdom” against a “crusader temple.”  A number of Islamic terror groups, including Abu Sayyaf, operating in the southern Philippines, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Although the Philippines is majority-Christian (chiefly Catholic), about 24% percent of the population of the Southern Philippines, also known as Mindanao, is Muslim.   For decades, Islamic separatist groups have been waging a war of terrorism—replete with bombings, burnings, and beheadings (including of two Canadian men)—that has left an estimated 150,000 people dead.

In an effort to achieve peace, the central government has already granted much autonomy to Mindanao.  Arguing that Muslims must be given self-rule, otherwise Filipinos will continue to “count body bags,” former president Benigno Aquino even allowed Sharia courts to operate.  As Christians are still the overwhelming majority even in the Southern Philippines, this move was criticized: “What President Aquino is doing is treasonous to Christian communities in Mindanao,” argued Rolly Pelinggon, national convener of Mindanaoans for Mindanao.

But as seen in the most recent attack, for some separatists, nothing less than a supremacist Islamic State—modeled after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria—where the most draconian dictates of Sharia are enforced, churches are banned, Christians are subjugated, and sex slaves are openly sold, will do.

In other words, Islamic terrorism in the Philippines is not merely inspired by political or territorial grievances, real or imagined, but rather is imbued with intrinsic hate for the other—for the “infidel.”

For instance, in May 2017, a jihadi uprising erupted in the Islamic city of Marawi. A civilian bus was stopped by Muslim militants; when nine passengers were discovered to be Christian—apparently for not being able to quote the Koran—they were tied together and shot dead, execution style. (Militant Muslims in nations such as Kenya and Nigeria have also been known to separate Muslims from Christians before slaughtering the latter.)  The jihadis forced women into sex slavery and orderedChristian men to embrace Islam or be used as human shields against the army.

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Churches are especially targeted.  A few examples follow:

April 29, 2018: A bomb explosion rocked Anthony Parish Church in Mindanao during Sunday mass.  Although only two were hospitalized, fatalities could have been significant as the church was packed with people attending a mass christening. Police later described the attack as bearing “the signature of an Islamic extremist group.”

November 10, 2017: Militant Muslims desecrated and doused a Catholic chapel with gasoline in an effort to torch it in the Mindanao region. Religious images and icons were destroyed.

May 23, 2017: Muslims inspired by “a demonic ideology,” to quote a Catholic prelate, desecrated and torched the St. Mary’s Cathedral in Marawi. A video of them shouting Islam’s triumphant war cry—“Allahu Akbar” (Allah is greater)—while stomping on and destroying Bibles, crosses, icons, and statues, before burning the cathedral, can be seen here.

June 21, 2017: Militant Muslims vandalized another Catholic church.  Describing the desecration as “wicked,” the chief police inspector said the “crucifix and images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ were destroyed while the sacred hosts were thrown all over the floor.”

December 24, 2016: A grenade was lobbed at a church during Christmas Eve Mass; 16 celebrants were injured.

Violence directed against Christian house of worship has even prompted churches, such as the aforementioned St. Mary’s Cathedral in the city of Marawi, to close their doors during Easter 2018 in the Catholic-majority region.

Anti-Christian sentiment sparks in other ways.  In 2017, a former Muslim convert to Christianity was found slaughtered in his home by local Muslims for apostatizing from Islam.  A 70 year-old Irish nun living on the island of Mindanao who spent more than 30 years serving the Philippines, was gagged and repeatedly punched so badly by a masked assailant that she fell unconscious and required surgery.

Last Sunday’s fatal church blast that claimed 20 lives and wounded over 100 is the latest reminder that, as with other nations that have a sizeable Muslim minority, the Philippines is embroiled in the jihad.  While the ostensible reason behind it may be political or territorial, the sadistic hate that accompanies most attacks on Christians and their churches suggests that ideology is the ultimate cause.  In this, the jihad in the Philippines is virtually indistinguishable from its many foreign counterparts.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Raymond Ibrahim

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, A Portrait of Peace

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 13:04

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the effervescent but deeply thoughtful co-founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews died today at his Jerusalem home. He was 67.

Rabbi Eckstein’s first calling was to the rabbinate. From there, he would begin the work that would see him develop ties with the Christian community that for much of its history was openly hostile to Jews and Judaism.

Eckstein was deeply inspired by his father’s example. For decades, Rabbi Simon Eckstein was a community rabbi both in New York and then for a quarter of a century before his retirement in 1975, in Ottawa, Canada.

One of Eckstein Senior’s lifelong missions was to bridge the gap between the older and younger generations, especially of Jews. He once quoted Rabbi Berel Wein, saying: “One of the blessings of our generation is the unique role of grandparents and great-grandparents in providing a bridge as well as a perspective: a bridge to the past and a perspective on life for the present and future.”

Prior to founding the Fellowship, Rabbi Eckstein was national co-director of interreligious affairs for the Anti-Defamation League. It was in this role that he initially realized that there was a space where Christian-Jewish dialogue, after two millennia of mistrust and misunderstanding could in fact begin – and hopefully flourish.

Through his work with the Fellowship, he devoted his life to building bridges of understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews, building a broad support for the state of Israel. The Fellowship raises more than $140 million annually, via its 16 million Christian donors and has raised more than $1.4 billion for programs helping Jews in Israel, the former Soviet Union, Latin America, Ethiopia and more than 50 countries.

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Rabbi Eckstein’s compassion and help was not solely directed toward Jews. He was also a champion of religious liberty throughout the world, highlighted by his traveling to China to try and secure the release of imprisoned Christian pastors. In 1995, he brought the first Torah scroll to Uzbekistan since the Communist regime banned religious practice there.

His work was based in a thorough understanding of the Bible and other Hebrew texts. Rabbi Eckstein showed his commitment to Jewish-Christian relations by spreading a Jewish message as a leading international Bible scholar. His lessons – broadcast to millions on five continents – helped Christians deepen their bonds with the land of Israel and the Jewish people.

Eckstein was also a prolific author. His titles included: What You Should Know About Jews and Judaism; Understanding Evangelicals: A Guide for the Jewish Community; Ask the Rabbi: Five Questions Most Frequently Asked About Jews and Judaism; How Firm a Foundation: A Gift of Jewish Wisdom For Christians and Jews; The Journey Home, The One Year Holy Land Moments Devotional. Each one his books is about attempting to understand another – whether it’s an evangelical Christian, Judaism or Israel. In addition to his books, Eckstein has also recorded six Chasidic songs CDs.

Eckstein was clearly imbued with a love and passion for Israel – the land of his father’s birth – from a young age. His motivation was to aid Jews, but in particular one of the IFCJ’s driving missions is to strengthen the land and the people of Israel. The Fellowship aids poor and needy Jews in Israel, be they Holocaust Survivors, lone soldiers or widows and orphans; and in addition is a key agent in enabling Jews struggling in eastern Europe and elsewhere to emigrate there.

Eckstein made it his life’s work to take a uniquely Jewish message out into the world, particularly to evangelical Christians and lovers of Zion. A family man of many parts, his background and upbringing drove him to try and create a better more equitable world.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, IFCJ President, Dead at 67

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 12:53

News rocked Jerusalem this afternoon that Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) died, after suffering a massive heart attack.

Rabbi Eckstein was just 67 years old.

“I am shocked and devastated by the sudden loss of my friend and mentor Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and express my deepest condolences to his wife, Joelle, and daughters Yael, Talia and Tamar,” said Rabbi Tuly Weisz, director of Israel365 and publisher of Breaking Israel News.

“Yechiel, as he liked to be called, courageously forged relationships with Christians on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people at a time when no one in the Orthodox community was willing to do so.

“He was personally responsible for not only the hundreds of millions of dollars he raised for important charity work in Israel, but more importantly, for nurturing hundreds of millions of Christian friends for the Jewish people. It is because of Yechiel that today so many Christians from around the world stand in fellowship with Israel and whom now bow their heads in sadness as we, Jews and Christians together, mourn the tragic loss of a true bridge builder.”

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“Rabbi Eckstein set the standard and was a visionary in Jewish Christian relations,” said Jonathan Feldstein president of Run for Zion. “He charted a path that was bold from both a Jewish and Christian perspective. Personally he was always a thoughtful mentor and celebrated other initiatives that I brought to him for guidance when he was able to see the work he pioneered blossoming in ways I’m sure he never imagined. His death leaves a great void and big shoes to fill. His legacy is just as big.”

“Rabbi Eckstein has greatly contributed to the strengthening of relations between the various minorities who contribute to the State of Israel and served in the IDF or National Service and the Jewish majority in Israel,” said Amit Barak co-founder of the “Jerusalemite Initiative.”  As former projects manager of the Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum – Christian Empowerment Council, the representative organization that worked to integrate Aramean and Arabic-speaking Israeli Christians into the Israeli society between 2012 and 2017 and headed by the Father Gabriel Naddaf, I remember the involvement of Rabbi Eckstein and the IFCJ which was one of the largest contributors to the forum during its 5 years activity.

A statement on behalf of Yael Eckstein said, “All of us at The Fellowship are deeply saddened and shocked. Even as we give thanks to God for Rabbi Eckstein’s life, we especially ask that you pray for Rabbi Eckstein’s family, and for all of us at The Fellowship who mourn this incalculable loss, during this most difficult time.”

Eckstein is survived by his second wife, Joelle, and three daughters Talia, Tamar and Yael, global executive vice president of The Fellowship.

Trump Invokes God at SOTU, While Pelosi Misquotes Bible

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 09:12

President Trump ranged far and wide in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, referring to the myriad of issues he has dealt with in the first half of his presidency but in a manner similar to many of his other landmark speeches, the president invoked the name of God six times. This topped his inaugural address in which he invoked God’s name five times.

Perhaps the most significant mention of God came when the president addressed recent state legislation allowing late-term abortions.

“There could be no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our Nation saw in recent days.  Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth.

These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world.  And then, we had the case of the Governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth. To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb. Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life.  And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: all children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God.”

In his speech, the president specifically identified himself with the cause of Jewish suffering, invoking the name of God, albeit as a quote, when referring to the Holocaust.

“A … Holocaust survivor who is here tonight, Joshua Kaufman, was a prisoner at Dachau Concentration Camp. He remembers watching through a hole in the wall of a cattle car as American soldiers rolled in with tanks. ‘To me,’ Joshua recalls, ‘the American soldiers were proof that God exists, and they came down from the sky. They came down from heaven.’”

Trump made reference to the horrific anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October in which 11 people were murdered. One survivor of the shooting, who was also a survivor of the Holocaust, was present in the Capitol Building along with a police officer who was injured in the effort to save the remaining people trapped in the synagogue.

A larger portion of the speech dealt with border security with the president doubling-down on his campaign promise to build a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico.

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“In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall — but the proper wall never got built. I’ll get it built. This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall. It will be deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need, and as these agents will tell you, where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down.”

The president finished up the speech with a patriotic flurry of divine references.

“We must keep America first in our hearts. We must keep freedom alive in our souls.  And we must always keep faith in America’s destiny — that one Nation, under God, must be the hope and the promise and the light and the glory among all the nations of the world!

Thank you. God Bless You, God Bless America, and good night!”

The presidential references to God stand in stark contrast to a recent Democratic Biblical flub. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi frequently quotes what she claimed was her favorite verse in the Bible. In an Earth Day press release, she wrote, “The Bible tells us in the Old Testament, ‘To minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.”

She has reportedly quoted the false passage at least 11 times from the House floor since 2002, according to the Congressional Record. As most BIN readers probably know, these words do not actually appear in the Bible. When called out for her error, Pelosi remained unrepentant.

“I can’t find it in the Bible but I quote it all the time, and I keep reading and reading the Bible. I know it is there someplace,” Pelosi told the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities conference last Wednesday. “It’s supposed to be in Isaiah, but I heard a bishop say to minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.”

While Speaker Pelosi freely interpreted the Bible to suit her current agendas, President Trump praised recent efforts by several states to introduce the learning of the actual Bible.

Oceans Changing Color to Usher in New Era

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 06:58

Scientists predict the oceans will grow warmer and turn a deeper blue, which rabbis say more closely resembles the Throne of Glory.

In a report published in the scientific journal Nature Communications earlier this week, researchers predicted that the temperatures of the oceans may rise by as much as 4.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 80 years. This will lead to an increase in phytoplankton in the oceans, which will make the blues and greens more intense and vibrant.

According to the research, more than 50 percent of the world’s oceans will shift in color. Open-ocean regions are more barren and have fewer of the phytoplankton and currently appear blue. The researchers predicted that in the future, these regions will become bluer. Colder regions of the ocean, generally those near the poles, currently appear green but will, in the future appear even more vibrantly green.

“The model suggests the changes won’t appear huge to the naked eye, and the ocean will still look like it has blue regions in the subtropics and greener regions near the equator and poles,” lead author Stephanie Dutkiewicz wrote on the MIT website. “The basic pattern will still be there. But it’ll be enough different that it will affect the rest of the food web that phytoplankton supports.”

Scientists have been monitoring chlorophyll levels in the oceans since the 1990s via satellite but emphasize that a rise in chlorophyll may not be attributable to climate change.

“An El Niño or La Niña event will throw up a very large change in chlorophyll because it’s changing the amount of nutrients that are coming into the system,” Dutkiewicz said. “Because of these big, natural changes that happen every few years, it’s hard to see if things are changing due to climate change, if you’re just looking at chlorophyll.”

Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman, director of the Ohr Chadash Torah Institute, believes this could be a reminder of things-to-come.

“As we get closer to Moshiach, the revelation of God will be far more revealed and eventually totally revealed,” Rabbi Trugman said to Breaking Israel News. “The Talmud states that the color techelet (blue) is similar to the [color of ] the sea, the sea is similar to the [color of ] the heavens, and the heavens are similar to the [color of] God’s throne of Glory.”

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To illustrate the significance of the oceans in the end of days, Rabbi Trugman cited a verse from Isaiah.

For the land shall be filled with the knowledge of Hashem as the waters cover the sea. Isaiah 11:9

“The Rambam (Maimonides) brings this verse to describe what the world will be like in the days of the Messiah,” Rabbi Trugman said. “If the color of the oceans turns bluer, a person could understand this as being indicative of a process in motion that is leading to a greater revelation of God’s throne, which is symbolic of His aspect of kingship. This all ties together since in the days of the Messiah, God will be universally recognized as King as has been prophesied:

And Hashem shall be king over all the earth; in that day Hashem will be One [universally recognized] and His name One. Zechariah 14:9

A tallit whose threads incorporate the blue tekhelet dye. (Credit: Mnavon/ Wikimedia Commons)

“The symbolism of the ocean turning bluer in our day may very well be indicative of a greater sense of Godly revelation occurring, and about to occur, in the world,” Rabbi Trugman concluded.

Rabbi Yekutiel Fish,  an expert in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) who blogs in Hebrew under the title ‘Sod Chashmal,’ connected the oceanic transformation with a specific object: the thread of blue, woven into the fringes of tzitzit (Biblically mandated four-cornered garment).

Speak unto B’nei Yisrael, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue. Numbers 15:38

“The Ari Zal noted that the mitzvah (Torah commandment) of putting a thread of blue in our tzitzit (four-cornered garment) will return coincidentally with the Messiah,” Rabbi Fish told Breaking Israel News. He noted that many of the priestly garments used in the Temple utilized the techelet dye in their design. “It may be that in order for this mitzvah to return, God is changing the color of the ocean to reintroduce the color into the world, a color that has not been seen since the Temple was destroyed.”

“This phenomenon needs to be understood, Rabbi Fish said. “The tzitzit is a reminder of the mitzvoth (Torah commandments). If the color of the ocean changes to more closely resemble the original techelet, then people will be reminded of the mitzvoth, or the heavens, and of the Throne of Glory. This is certainly necessary to bring the Moshiach (Messiah).”

Netanyahu and Putin to Meet in Moscow on Iranian Threat

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 05:21

Despite tensions between their home countries, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 21 in Moscow, where the two are expected to discuss the Iranian threat.

“It’s very important that we continue to prevent Iran from entrenching in Syria,” said Netanyahu. “In many ways, we’ve blocked that advance and we’re committed to continue blocking it, preventing Iran from creating another war front against us right here opposite the Golan Heights. This is the main subject I will be discussing with President Putin.”

Relations between Moscow and Jerusalem hit a snag last September when the former blamed the latter for downing a Russian plane in Syria during an Israeli airstrike that targeted a Syrian weapons facility near the city of Latakia, which Israeli officials say was being used as a weapons clearinghouse for Hezbollah and Iran.

According to Israel, when Syrian military air defenses responded to the airstrike, they failed to hit the Israeli jets, shooting down a Russian Il-20 reconnaissance plane carrying 15 crew members instead.

Last month, Russia called on Israel to stop its “arbitrary” airstrikes in Syria, saying that they should be “ruled out.” This was in response to Israel launching a massive attack on numerous Iranian targets in Syria, such as a site at Damascus International Airport, munition storage facilities, an Iranian military training camp and an Iranian intelligence site.

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“The practice of arbitrary strikes on the territory of a sovereign state, in this case, we are talking about Syria, should be ruled out,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “We should never allow Syria, which has suffered years of armed conflict, to be turned into an arena where geopolitical scores are settled.”

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Anna Borshchevskaya said that Putin and Netanyahu want stability in the region despite their different goals.

“Putin has neither the desire nor ability to oust Iran from Syria,” she said. “For one thing, Putin’s entire Syria strategy is predicated on a partnership with Iran. Putin wants to be seen as a peacemaker in the region, someone who can talk to everyone—and indeed has worked hard to build ties with virtually everyone in the region. This is one of among several key reasons why he also wants good relations with Israel.

“But good relations doesn’t mean both sides are on equal terms. Israel for a long time now has been in a difficult position vis-à-vis Russia in this sense—for instance, Russia controls the Syrian skies,” continued Borshchevskaya. “In the context of U.S. retreat from the Middle East that began under [President Barack] Obama, Bibi has visited Moscow more frequently that Washington. Moscow’s public rhetoric towards Israel also changed after the IL-20 incident.

“Meanwhile, tensions between Iran and Israel continue to escalate,” she added. “So it’s not surprising that [Netanyahu] is visiting Moscow again.”

UAE Minister: ‘There is No Enmity Between Us and Israel’

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 04:44

Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh, a minister of state in the United Arab Emirates government, said this week in an exclusive interview with Sohrab Amari of The New York Post that “there is no enmity between us and the State of Israel,” a groundbreaking statement that would have been unthinkable in the not-so-distant past.

Nusseibeh made the comments as Christian and Jewish leaders gathered in Abu Dhabi for the first-ever papal visit to the UAE and the Arabian Peninsula.

“The invitation to the Holy Father solidifies the UAE’s status as the most responsible power in the Persian Gulf region,” observed Amari. “And it gives testament to the Emirati leadership’s determination to transcend the bloody, cruel fanaticism that has disfigured the House of Islam and brought ruin to Christians and other minorities unfortunate enough to dwell inside it.”

To back up his assessment, Amari referenced a recent YouGov poll that found that opinions in the emirate “overall are often nearer to that of Western samples than to fellow [Middle Eastern countries] when it comes to general attitudes to world religions.”

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While the UAE restricts freedom of worship for non-Islamic faiths in the public sphere, religious minorities can practice their faith in private without government interference, which has given the UAE the reputation of being the most liberal of the Gulf states.

Amari acknowledged that freedom is not absolute in the emirate. However, he asked: “Which is preferable, the joyful materialism of nouveaux riches Emiratis or the extremism of the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups of the kind?”

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, announced on Monday the construction of a new church and mosque in Abu Dhabi, calling them “beacons to uphold the values of tolerance, moral integrity and human fraternity in the UAE.”

Meanwhile, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar called for people of all faiths to unite to combat terrorism and injustice.

The Israel Project’s senior fellow, Julie Lenarz, observed in an op-ed published on Tuesday in Reaction that “the pope’s visit also comes at a time when the Arab world is increasingly engaging in a rapprochement with the global Jewish community and in particular, Israel.” The emirate, she said, “has been one of the leading exponents of this approach.”

Right-Wing Officials Back Plan to Bolster Jewish Settlements in Biblical Heartland

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 03:54

Dozens of ministers and senior lawmakers from the Likud and other right-wing parties have signed a Nahala movement petition to promote a settlement plan introduced under the government of late Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Israel Hayom has learned. The objective: to settle 2 million Jews in Judea and Samaria.

If adopted, the settlement plan would see a significant shift in government policies—from construction inside existing settlements to establishing new Jewish settlements throughout all of the territory in Judea and Samaria.

For the past two weeks, Nahala activists have protested outside of the official Prime Mminister’s Residence in Jerusalem, demanding that the next government work towards the settlement of all of Judea and Samaria, and put an end to the idea of a two-state solution.

Among members of the Likud who have signed the declaration are Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Environmental Protection and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Culture Minister Miri Regev, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, Communication Minister Ayoub Kara, Immigration and Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, and Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis.

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Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, both of the New Right Party, also signed the petition.

The Nahala movement’s declaration reads: “I hereby commit to be loyal to the land of Israel, not to cede one inch of our inheritance from our forefathers. I hereby commit to act to realize the settlement plan for the settlement of 2 million Jews in Judea and Samaria in accordance with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s plan, as well as to encourage and lead the redemption of all the lands throughout Judea and Samaria. I commit to act to cancel the declaration of two states for two peoples and replace it with the stately declaration: ‘The land of Israel: One country for one people.’”

In a statement, the Nahala movement said “the signing of the petition opposite the Prime Minister’s Residence at the height of the Likud primary election campaign and at the height of the efforts to compile the [Knesset] lists in the right-wing and center bloc and in particular ahead of the coming election campaigns constitutes an ideological and ethical loyalty test for the various contenders.”

Julian Edelman, Super Bowl LIII MVP in Israel

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 02:57

The New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman was the recipient of Super Bowl LIII’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. Edelman has for some years begun to get more in touch with his Jewish roots. This included a trip to Israel in 2015. There are rumors that he may be coming back in June. Watch this space!