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EZEKIEL 47:14

Thu, 09/27/2018 - 02:50

In biblical Hebrew, the word for ‘inheritance’ is nachalah. The root of this word, nakhal, means ‘a flowing stream’, as in Deuteronomy (8:7), “a land with streams and springs and fountains.” These two ideas are connected: Just like a stream of water flows downward, so too, the inheritance of a precious legacy passes from one generation to the next. Such is the connection between the Children of Israel and the Land of Israel. Their inheritance was given to Avraham (Abraham) to be passed down to Yitzchak (Isaac) and to all subsequent generations.

The American Government Confronts the PA House of Cards

Thu, 09/27/2018 - 02:00

There are times when a state, especially a world power, realizes that it has been played for a fool over a long period of time and, infuriated, acts like anyone who is sick and tired of blackmail and chicanery. That is exactly what has been happening lately to the relationship between the US government and the PLO, the organization in charge of the Palestinian Authority.

President Trump, who thinks like a businessman, keeps on asking himself: Is there anything to be gained from continuing the present situation?  Or is maintaining it causing more damage? The answer to his question is what gave rise to his recent decisions. In other words, if something is worthwhile, he is willing to fund and back it, but if nothing is going to come of it, the thing to do is abandon it as soon as possible and stop throwing good money after bad.

That is how Trump views a good many international issues: The nuclear agreement with Iran, signed during his predecessor’s term, the understandings with North Korea which previous governments kept up for the benefit of a string of dictators who ran that strange country, the trade agreements with China and North American states and others. He feels totally free to “recalculate,” to paraphrase Waze, on a cost-benefit basis. This is his businessman’s contribution to American foreign policy – and that is exactly what happened with regard to the Palestinian Arab issue.

When it came to Jerusalem, Trump realized that more than twenty years have gone by since Congress passed a law mandating the US embassy move to Jerusalem, and although every president elected since then – Clinton, Bush and Obama – postponed the move again and again, there has been no progress on Jerusalem . In fact, Jerusalem has become the insurmountable bone of contention blocking any agreement between Israel and the PA.

He also realized that the Palestinian demand to make Jerusalem the capital of its proposed state does not make sense historically, because there has never been a king, Caliph, Sultan or Emir, Arab or Muslim, who made Jerusalem his capital. In contrast, there are Jewish, Greek and Roman sources documenting Jerusalem’s being the capital city of the Jewish people. Trump came to  the conclusion that putting off the embassy move serves no purpose, and moved the embassy to Jerusalem without exacting (at least so far) any price from Israel.

Trump then realized that the money the US has invested in the refugees since the late 1940s is being used to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem. Every other country with a refugee problem in the 1940s, after WWII,  solved it by means of returning to former homes, settling in their new location or immigrating to another. The only refugees still extant from that period are the Arab ones from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, and they are also the only ones who passed on their refugee status to three generations of offspring with no end in sight. No one understands why the American taxpayer should continue funding a problem that will never be solved especially as this funding is what allows it to continue on forever. Trump said to himself: Let’s stop funding the refugees and they will realize that each one of them is responsible for solving his own problems, and putting an end to the issue. The Arab states that invaded Israel one day after it declared its independence are those who brought about the 1948 war and the resulting refugee problem, so why should the US pay for an Arab problem caused by the Arab nations?

It is quite possible that Trump received reports describing what UNRWA does with the money it gets – for example, payng the salaries of workers in Gaza who give part of their wages to Hamas, meaning that American taxpayers are funding a body their government designated as a terror organization

This means that instead of investing the American money in development and improving the lives of Gazans, it is being invested in digging tunnels and producing rockets meant to attack Israel, a US ally. Can there be anything more absurd?  Previous US governments allowed this absurdity to continue and purposely ignored the information they received about what was being done with American taxpayers’ money.

In case no one remembers, Hamas is a terror organization which ran in the January 2006 elections for the Palestinian legislative council, garnering the majority of its seats. There have been no elections since that date, so that Hamas still has the – democratic! – right to pass laws in the Palestinian Authority, despite being defined as a terror organization. Is there any reason for the US to fund an authority whose laws are passed by terrorists? And why does Europe continue to do so?

When discussing Palestinian elections, it is useful to remember an important sentence penned by Shimon Peres in his book “A New Middle East” (1996), p. 154: “The only way open to the Palestinian organizations if they want to overcome Hamas is through elections. An armed, extremist minority must be met by the authority of an elected majority.” Peres, who held key offices in the State of Israel – Foreign Minister, Minister of Defense, Prime Minister and President – did not even consider the possibility that Hamas would use the elections to take over the Palestinian Authority of which he was a major founder and for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize. If someone so blind to reality and to what the future might hold served in such important positions in the State of Israel, what does that say about Israeli wisdom?

In addition, Trump is not happy with the transfer of US funds to cover Palestinian Authority activities because of the rampant corruption in its every governmental department and because Mahmoud Abbas’ two sons, Yasser and Tarek, have become “partners” in every PA business deal. Funding the PA security operations is even worse – they do the minimum demanded by Israel, leaving the IDF to deal with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other terrorists. If the IDF is the real PA defense force, why should America fund security operations that do not provide security?

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Interestingly, Trump also stopped supporting so-called Palestinian “Peace organizations” which run activities for Palestinian Arab and Israeli youth meant to create an “atmosphere of peace” between the two sides. It seems that Trump understood that these organizations are an entire industry whose raison d’etre is to provide jobs and collect donations from well-meaning Europeans and Americans who have little understanding of the situation.

These donors are willing to hand over millions of euros and dollars to create something that is impossible to create as long as the official Palestinian Authority media spews incitement, delegitimization and dehumanization of Israel in particular and all Jews in general.

Do you get it? The PA creates an atmosphere of hate so that Palestinian organizations can hold meetings to create an atmosphere of peace – with US and European money, of course. About a year ago, a reliable and well known source told me that there are hundreds of these Palestinian “peace” groups as anyone who wants an easy income establishes an organization, prints promotional material using texts taken off the internet and approaches the Europeans and Americans for monetary aid. If a woman runs the organization, her chances are even better, and what is strangest of all, it seems that American Jewish organizations are the first to give money to these income-generating organizations.

Trump also stopped funding hospitals serving the Arab population in Eastern Jerusalem. He may have felt that if Jerusalem is a united city and Israel’s capital, the responsibility for running these hospitals is Israel’s. Perhaps Trump is telling the Israelis: You wanted a united Jerusalem? Well, you’ve got it now, so pay for the hospitals which are now under your jurisdiction.” This is a healthy and proper, purely business attitude based on the concept of responsibility: whoever is responsible has to foot the bills.

In essence, with the moves he has taken against the PLO and PA, Trump is intimating that he has done his part, and now wants to know what Israel is going to do to put the PLO and PA where they deserve to be. Is Israel going to continue giving artificial respiration to these dead bodies? Is Israel going to continue keeping the hallucinatory agreements with terrorists signed by people like Peres and Beilin? Or is it going to join Trump and begin thinking rationally?

The Palestinian issue has direct bearing on the Iranian problem, because Trump is surely asking himself: If Israel, justifiably, is constantly warning about the danger facing it from Iran, how does it allow a terrorist organization to control the mountains overlooking Israel from Dimona and Beer Sheva in the south all the way up the coastal plain to Afula and Beit Shean in the  north? Every schoolchild knows that the Palestinian Arabs will launch rockets against Israeli communities as soon as they are able to. Isn’t there a contradiction between Israel’s vehemence against Iran and its attitude towards the Palestinians? And if Israel creates dangerous situations for itself, why should America act against Iran and the agreements signed with that country?

It seems that the proverbial penny has dropped in Washington and the US government has begun behaving rationally with regard to the delusionary Palestinian State, putting it out to dry economically and ending decades of keeping it alive by artificial means.  The Palestinian State can now find its rightful place in the history books as another march of folly.

The only problem is that all this is reversible and a different US government can easily turn back the clock and begin pressuring Israel to leave Judea and Samaria in favor of a judenrein Palestinian Arab state. Israel, therefore, must take advantage of the Trump era by creating a new reality, one that is almost impossible to change or dismiss:  Israel must cancel the Oslo Agreements and all the others that followed those Accords,  knock down the Palestinian house of  cards, send the criminals it brought from Tunisia back to where they came from, starting with Mahmoud  Abbas and his sons – and create independent emirates in every Arab city in Judea and Samaria  run by local clans and their natural, local leaders.

Israel must remain in the village areas forever and offer Israeli citizenship to those living in those areas who make up about 10% of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria.

This is the only solution based on local sociological reality. Only this solution can bring stability, growth and peace to the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria, security to Israel. This is the solution to which Trump’s steps can lead.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Israel National News

“We Are Bigger than Your Jesus!” Muslim Persecution of Christians, March 2018

Thu, 09/27/2018 - 01:00

Muslim Slaughter of Christians

Pakistan: In a Lahore hospital, a throng of Muslim doctors, security guards, and medical staff beat Christian family members—one to death—because they tried to prevent another doctor from beating their pregnant sister.   According to Anil Saleem, the pregnant woman’s brother, once they took her to the emergency labor ward, “Kiran [the pregnant woman] went to the doctor on duty, Dr. Saira, who was playing with her cell phone while sipping on tea.  Dr. Saira told Kiran to wait outside until she finished her tea. We waited for some time, but since Kiran was experiencing severe pain, she again went inside the ward to request for immediate attention.”  The doctor instantly began cursing the pregnant woman for bothering her. “When my sister protested against the rude behavior, the doctor started slapping her, throwing her on the floor.  She asked my sister how dare a Chuhri [a derogatory term for Christians] question her order?”

On hearing the commotion, Anil, his brother, brother-in-law and a cousin entered the ward.  Once she saw them, Dr. Saira shouted to the other doctors and security guards to lock the ward’s doors from the inside and “teach these Christians a lesson,” continued Anil: “Around 15 to 20 paramedical staff and security guards and eight to 10 young doctors … lunged at us with iron rods, chairs, leather belts and other things and started beating us.”  The men were severely injured; Anil’s brother, Sunil, died for lack of medical attention:  “Most of the doctors fled after the incident, while those who were present paid no attention to our cries to help our dying brother.” Sunil leaves behind a wife and four children, the eldest ten, the youngest barely three months old.

Although the assaulted Christian family filed charges with police, they arrested no one.  Instead, police  “wanted to take us to the same hospital where we had been subjected to torture and also lost our brother,” Anil said. “Moreover, we have registered a murder case against the doctors and other staff members, so how could the police even think that the hospital staff will treat us fairly?”

Speaking of this incident, a human rights lawmaker said “It’s shocking that even doctors, who are supposedly educated and have taken an oath to save lives regardless of caste, color or faith, have resorted to such acts of religious intolerance and violence.” “I am still trying to digest the fact that doctors took the life of an innocent man,” said another rights activist. “What hope can one have for justice to the family if police have been unable to arrest even one of the accused?”

Separately, in a move criticized by Christian activist groups, after “giving them the benefit of doubt,” a court freed 20 Muslims suspected of immolating a Christian couple, says a report, adding: “Shahzad and Shama were burned alive in a brick kiln by a frenzied lynch mob ─ incited by announcements made from mosques in the area ─ ranging between 400-1,000 people for their alleged role in the desecration of the Holy Quran in Nov 2014….  [T]he woman, a mother of three, was pregnant at the time.”

Nigeria: After a group of Christians tried to rescue two girls who were earlier kidnapped and forcefully converted to Islam, Muslims, some armed with AK-47s, rampaged through the would-be rescuers Christian town; they murdered 12 Christians, wounded another 20, and torched Christian property. Many of the slain were members of Pentecostal, Baptist, Assemblies of God and Seventh-day Adventist churches. “The case was reported to the police, and the girls were not rescued, so some Christians decided to rescue the girls, but the Muslims in the town attacked them,” explained a local.  “The Muslims did not just attack the Christians that went to rescue the girls, but also went around town attacking Christians they sighted and burned houses belonging to Christians.”  Another local said,  “This is the practice by Muslims in Kaduna state. They abduct small Christian girls and force them to become Muslims, and when Christians reject this, they attack them ….”

Separately, armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen murdered 20 Christians, including a pastor.  According to the report, “The killings reportedly came in retaliation for an unspecified attack on Fulani families by young men from the predominantly Christian Bachama tribe who have formed militias in response to violence by Islamic extremist group Boko Haram and heavily-armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen.”

Egypt:  Although the military said it was suicide, a  young Christian conscript “was in fact killed by his commanding officer,” says a report.  Matthew Samir Habib, 22, was pronounced dead on March 14.  The military told his father, Samir, that Matthew had shot himself—apparently twice.  But according to a relative,  “Matthew told us many times before that the colonel in his military unit, Ayman Mohamad Ahmed El Kabeer, was always persecuting and insulting him because of his religious identity.  Matthew, however, was patient and endured it all. His friends from the same unit told us that there had been a quarrel between Colonel El Kabeer and him on the day of the incident, when he had objected to something the colonel said.”  He is the latest of about nine Christian soldiers to be killed in recent times by Muslim officers and soldiers on account of their faith.

Iraq:  A few days after gunmen shot Samir Younis, 28, a Christian father of two, four other men broke into the house of Hisham al-Maskouny, a Christian doctor, and stabbed him to death on March 10. When his wife and her mother tried to intervene, they too were slaughtered. Although the home was looted, local Christians say they were targeted because of their religious identity.    Discussing these murders, Father Biyos Qasha said, “This means that there is no place for Christians. We are seen as a lamb to be killed at any time.”  Others in Baghdad voiced the same sentiment: “As a Christian, life is good so long as you don’t have enemies,” said one resident. “(Also you shouldn’t) bring attention to yourself… I feel depressed because of what happened for Hisham and his family, even (though) it is something that has happened so often since 2003, but it still makes me sad.”

Somalia: Orphans whose Christian parents are killed for their faith are growing in number and in need of care, said the pastor of an underground church.  “Last year we lost a Christian family killed by the Al Shabaab, and the number of children rose from 30 to 35.  The Al Shabaab are now hunting down the children in Mogadishu, and we have moved the care center to a bit safer location….  The children look devastated and malnourished, so we as a secret church do appeal to our brothers and sisters in the free world to consider extending a hand to these persecuted children.”

Muslim Attacks on Christian Churches

Turkey: A report briefly notes that on March 6 around 6:30 pm, a man in his forties opened fire on the Saint Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon.  It was just the latest in several attacks on the church. Less than a month earlier, a makeshift bomb was thrown at the church’s garden; in 2016 Muslims crying “Allahu Akbar” vandalized the church, including with sledgehammers;  in 2011 the church was targeted and threatened for its visible cross; and in 2006 its priest was slaughtered during an armed attack.

Indonesia: Less than a month after a radicalized student stormed a church and started hacking at its worshippers and statues with a machete, six unknown persons firebombed St. Zechariah Church shortly after midnight on March 8.  According to the report, the “vandals blew a hole through the wall of the church, consecrated just last March 4 [2017] by Msgr. Sudarso. The strangers then destroyed a statue of the Virgin and stacked some chairs setting them on fire. The noise woke the faithful who live nearby. They rushed to extinguish the flames, while the thugs fled from the place of worship.”

Pakistan:    On March 8, around 15 armed Muslims, led by local strongman Muhammad Sharif, stormed the King Jesus Church during Sunday service; they terrorized and beat the worshippers and injured at least seven.   According to the  pastor, “Some of our church elders were trying to install a flex signboard in connection with the upcoming Easter festival on the wall in front of the church but they were stopped by Sharif’s sons.  Sharif is a local tough who has previously grabbed a piece of the Christian cemetery in our colony and built a cattle shed on the graves….  Suspicions also arose when these Muslim youths started hanging out near the church during service timings and began teasing our girls.”

Things came to a head when Sharif’s sons accosted some elders for trying to post a Christian sign on church property.  “The elders tried to reason with the youths,” said the pastor, “but it seems that the Muslims intentionally wanted to pick a fight with us.  The Muslims snatched the church’s sign and tore it into pieces.”  When “one of our church elders told the Muslims that they had desecrated biblical verses inscribed on the flex sign,” they retorted  “We are bigger than your Jesus.”  It was then that the Muslim youth stormed the church compound and beat the worshippers.  “Some of them whipped out their weapons and opened fire on the church members, who ran to save themselves.  I immediately telephoned the police and headed out to try and defuse the situation. However, I was also beaten up, my service robe torn and my mobile phone smashed to the ground. I think we were fortunate that none of us suffered a fatal bullet injury during the clash.”

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In a similar but separate incident, on Sunday, March 18, an armed Muslim mob attacked another Christian church for having an Easter related banner hanging outside the building.   Seven Christians were left needing medical attention.   According to the pastor,  “I was conducting a worship service when [a group of men, including a government official], equipped with firearms, barged into the church. As soon as they entered, [two of them] forcibly took down gospel verses written on banners, while shouting abusive words, tore them into pieces and then denigrated them by throwing them down.”

Finally, on the pretext of a land dispute, a Muslim mob beat five Christians for trying to build a wall to protect their church.  According to the pastor of Pakistan Gospel Assemblies Church, “Our church elder, George Masih, who is 70, was overseeing masons and laborers who were constructing the wall. We were praying [inside the church] when we heard shouting and yelling, and, when we rushed outside, we saw about 20 men, armed with clubs and axes, [who] were beating Masih and others…  Then our women tried to intervene but they too were beaten and their clothes were torn.”

Algeria: Three more churches were shut down.   First, local authorities in Oran closed two churches “amidst growing pressure on Christians in the Maghreb country,” says a March 1 report. “The two churches … were sealed off by police on Tuesday, 27 February.” A separate report from March 22 says that the “village church in Azagher, near the town of Akbou, was forced to stop all activities on 2 March. The church had been running for over six years…..  The church is the fourth forced to close in the past four months.”  Commenting on this uptick of church closures, an advocacy group said that they were part of a “coordinated campaign of intensified action against churches by the governing authorities.”

Separately, two Christian brothers were fined $900 each for transporting over 50 Bibles in their car.  The brothers said the Bibles were for church use but authorities insisted that they were meant for evangelizing.

Egypt: Muslims blocked the legalization of yet another church, this time in the village of al-Tout.  According to the report, “The small 10-year old church of the Holy Virgin, which serves some 400 Coptic villagers, was built as a village house in the midst of a collection of some 70 Copts’ houses, and was used for worship even though it had never been licensed as a church. This was a very common situation in Egypt: Copts resorted to worshipping in unlicensed churches owing to the dire need of the growing population and the near-impossibility of obtaining license to build a church.”

Then a celebrated law dedicated to easing restrictions on churches passed in 2016, and the al-Toud church was among the very first churches to be inspected by a committee for approval.  But then “village Muslims got wind of the matter,” says the report. “Egged on by calls broadcast through mosque microphones in the village, thousands of them held angry demonstrations against there being a church in the village. Screaming “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the Greatest) and angry slogans against the church, they attacked the Copts’ houses with stones and rushed to hastily build a wall blocking access to the street leading to the church and, in the process, placing the Copts’ homes under siege. When the committee members arrived, they were forced away under the pretext that there was no church in that place.”  If any measure of peace between Muslims and Christians is to prevail, no church can exist in the village, local Muslims said, adding,  “The only houses of worship that can ever be built in this village are Muslim places of worship for Allah.”

A separate report offers more general information, including why the “decision to legalize 53 churches did little to impress Egypt’s Christian minority.  One of the reasons is that they are just a fraction of the unlicensed churches in Egypt…”  Another reason, according to a human rights activist, is that “The Christians are afraid to pray at hundreds of churches … because they know that the prayers will incite the radicals and cause bloodshed.  There is total frustration among Christians because of the failure of the government to legalize the churches.” The report adds that, “although the population of the Christian minority is estimated at 9 million … there are only 6,000 churches in the country. Many Christians must travel long distances to reach a church.”  And although the majority of Christians live in the more rural parts of southern Egypt, about 150 villages there “do not have access to a church at all and most of Egypt’s churches are concentrated in Cairo, Giza province and Alexandria.”

Muslim Attacks on Christian Freedom and Dignity

Indonesia:  Two Christians were publicly flogged in front of a mosque for playing a children’s game said to violate Islamic law.  According to the report, “The game [unspecified] is seen by authorities in the conservative Muslim province [of Banda Aceh] as ‘gambling’ and therefore it violates Islamic Sharia law.  Some 300 people jeered and held up their mobile phones to record when Dahlan Silitonga, 61, and Tjia Nyuk Hwa, 45, were flogged six and seven times respectively.  The pair had been arrested along with a third man for playing a game at a children’s entertainment complex that lets users exchange coins for prizes or vouchers, including cash.  They were among five people—including a couple whipped two dozen times each for showing affection in public—receiving between six and 24 lashes with a rattan stick.”

Nigeria:  After kidnapping 110 school girls in Dapchi, the Islamic jihadi organization, Boko Haram, ended up releasing them all, except for one Christian girl, Liya, because she refused to convert to Islam.  According to her father, “they said she is a Christian and that is why they cannot release her. They said if she wants to be released” she must “become a Muslim and she said she will never become a Muslim.”   After all the other girls were released and returned to their parents, he described the mood in Dapchi as one of “jubilation,” whereas “I am very sad but I am also jubilating too because my daughter did not denounce Christ.”

Egypt:  Magdy Farag Samir, 49, a Christian teacher, was arrested on March 14  and charged with “contempt for religion”—more colloquially known as the blasphemy law—three months after he administered a multiple choice test revolving around prophet Muhammad.  This outraged some Muslim students and parents.   “Many Copts are being charged with contempt of religion and jailed for nothing…because the revolution dropped the Muslim Brotherhood but left their ideology unchanged,” explained a local human rights activist in the context of this case.  “Egypt’s law of contempt of religion only applies to one side—Islam. Crimes of contempt in Egypt only refer to contempt of Islam.”

Uganda:  A Muslim family attacked a male member with boiling oil for becoming Christian.  A week earlier, on Sunday March 4, Gobera Bashir, 27, had accompanied a friend to church in a different village; during service he accepted Christ and a pastor gave him a Bible, adding,  “Be cautious when reading the Bible, since your family is a Muslim family.”  Four days later his young sister walked into his room while he was reading the Bible.   “Why are you reading the Bible? You know our family only reads the Koran,” she said.  He replied that he was merely trying to gain knowledge, but word soon spread that he was in possession of a Bible.  On March 10, around 9:30 pm, a group of people began knocking on the door of his home.  When he refused to answer, they broke in.    “As they entered the house, they found me in the sitting room and began tying my arms and legs with robes and shouting, ‘Shame! Shame! You are bringing a bad omen to the family with your bad Christian religion. Our family is a Muslim family.’”  Although the men were masked, he determined that some, including his uncle, were related to him.  “There and then,” continues Gobera “one of them poured a hot liquid from a thermos flask on me, and then they dragged me out of the house” to a nearby swamp.  “As they pulled me, I felt a lot of pain and screamed for help as one of the attackers blocked my mouth, and there I lost consciousness.  I only gained consciousness around midnight.”  A nearby Christian family took him in.  He received medical treatment at a health center for four days.  Burns covered 40% of his body.  Most were on his legs and buttocks, caused when his persecutors forced him to sit on the scorching oil.

Saudi Arabia:  The   United States Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a statement on March 24 saying that it “is disappointed to find inflammatory content in Saudi textbooks that was previously thought to have been removed.”  A study conducted by the commission  “uncovered content promoting violence and hatred toward religious minorities and others. While the Saudi government has been engaged in textbook reform for the last 15 years, the presence of these passages makes clear how little progress has been made and highlights an immediate need for the Saudi government to more seriously address this issue, as well as the exportation of these textbooks internationally, as a part of its ambitious reform process.”  Previous studies have found that Saudi school textbooks regularly dehumanize non-Muslims, Christians and Jews chief among them.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Raymond Ibrahim

Giving Air-Defense System to Syria Threatens Broader War

Thu, 09/27/2018 - 00:00

The delivery of Russian S-300 air defenses to Syria threatens to broaden the war, as these advanced systems could allow wider scope for a conflict with Israel.

By announcing this delivery, to be made in the coming two weeks, the Russian military appears to be on the side of Iran and hostile to Israel, neither of which is part of President Vladimir Putin’s approach to the Middle East or, for that matter, to the future of Russia.

Russia saved the Syrian regime from collapse by bringing in air power and encouraging the Iranians and their allies the Lebanese Hezbollah to provide renewed muscle for ground fighting. Russia brought in its top aircraft including the Su-35, protected its main base Khmeimim with the formidable S-400 Triumf missile defense system and worked out a deal with Israel. Iran contributed large numbers of Shiite mercenaries, including jihadi fighters, Pakistanis, and Afghans led by Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers.

An Israel-Russia deal instituted a “deconfliction” system so Israel could maintain certain red lines in Syria without encountering Russian fighter aircraft or missiles launched from Khmeimim.

The deal was recently upgraded to keep Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah forces away from the border with Israel.

Israel’s Interests

One Israeli red line is the acquisition by Hezbollah of sophisticated missiles. Iranians transport missiles to Hezbollah through Syria because the military part of the Damascus airport is heavily defended unlike Beirut (the alternative option) and because the airbase is better protected against commando operations.

Israel has focused on staging areas and warehouses, many of them clearly under the control of the Syrian military. To keep Israel away, some of the warehouse roofs have been painted with UN symbols or with DHL logos. This backfired, however, as it makes it easier for Israel to find its targets.

Israel is looking for missiles manufactured primarily by Iran, but also those from China, North Korea or re-transferred to Syria but made in Russia. Some are based on Russian designs and others on Chinese rockets such as the WS-1 Weishi (Guardian). While most are unguided, they represent a threat to Israeli communities, especially in the north, and include large cities such as Haifa, which has already suffered missile attacks from Hezbollah.

Russia has Not Interceded

Other Israeli operations appear to have targeted Iranian troops – including Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers. Some have been killed. Last July, Israel allegedly destroyed an Iranian Revolutionary Guard center near Aleppo. In January 2015, Israel hit a convoy, killing six Hezbollah soldiers and Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, a Brigadier General in the Quds Force of the IRGC.

The Quds Force is an elite commando force of the Revolutionary Guards that reports directly to Ayatollah Khamenei. Its commander is Major General Qasem Soleimani. The same strike killed Jihad Mughniyah, an important Hezbollah leader.

One possible option for Israel is to surround Iran’s military forces including proxies and force Hezbollah to fight with them. In this way both forces could potentially be defeated, even liquidated. Israel has been carrying out extensive military training and planning, and has been carrying out military drills that include even a war scenario where Russia is directly involved.

The Americans have now been added to the mix.

Last August, National Security Adviser John Bolton said Putin would like to see the Iranians leave Syria but lacks the influence to get rid of them (whether that is true or not, it is a signal from Putin). Putin has sent other signals about his concern about the Iranians, because Iran could very well threaten Russia’s interest in Syria or force Russia into a war it does not want or need. Just this week Bolton laid down an American red line, announcing that the US would remain in Syria as long as there were Iranian troops and their proxies there.

Bigger War Brewing?

This is the bigger war that is potentially brewing in Syria – mostly engaging Israel and Iran. The Russian response to losing its Il-20M aircraft to Syrian fire appears to bring that war closer instead of postponing it, and could jeopardize Russia’s ability to remain in Syria.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to telephone the Russian President about the incident. Shortly after, Putin made it clear that the shooting down was “a chain of tragic accidental circumstances,” and not Israel’s fault. He also directed his military to keep the deconfliction mechanism in place.

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An Israeli delegation in Moscow provided a detailed account of its mission in Syria on the night the plane was shot down. Even so, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced Russia was moving its S-300 air defense system to Syria. Shoigu noted that Russia had suspended the delivery of the S-300 system in 2013 “at the request of Israel.” He said Syrian gunners were already trained and the S-300 would soon arrive in Damascus within a fortnight. The minister made clear this was retaliation.

Most important, Shoigu added that Russia would henceforth “jam satellite navigation, onboard radars and communication systems of combat aircraft that attack targets in the Syrian territory, in the regions over the waters of the Mediterranean Sea bordering with Syria.”

Jamming communications would automatically shut down the ability to use the deconfliction system and avert emergencies.

The S-300

Israel probably has tactics to deal with the S-300. The Pentagon has confirmed that Iran tested and deployed the S-300 which was delivered in 2016 and took two years to become operational. Israel and the US believe these missiles have boosted Iranian air defenses at least a full generation.

A similar system in Syria may take time to become operational, despite the training back in 2013 of Syrian operators – unless, of course, the Syrians bring in Iranians to do it for them. This would be a game changer and could be enough to trigger a broader war.

This would put the Russians in a much more dangerous position. Instead of Syrian missiles being only an incidental target when they engage Israeli aircraft, the S-300 could potentially become a target of the Israel Air Force.

That would be bad news for Putin, who wants to stabilize Syria, retain his bases there and avoid more war. Putin’s strategic objective would seem to be to work a deal, principally with the United States but with Israel’s agreement, that would recognize Russia’s long-term interest in Syria as a “guardian” of whatever future Syrian government is agreed. Iran is a big sticking point and the S-300 could make matters much worse.

Putin in the Middle

Putin, to stay in power, has to maneuver carefully between any cronies who may be seeking power, and by the Russian military, which he has been feeding as best he can with new weapons.

It is unclear if the Russian military might be willing to risk a confrontation with Israel. While upset about the destruction of the Il-20M, they have long wanted to be considered a top power like the US. Putin shares these concerns, but he also has to worry about the impact of precipitous military decisions on the whole Russian state.

To have any hope of delivering an end to the war in Syria that preserves Russian bases and influence, Putin has to keep the Iranians away from the S-300 in Syria, or delay its delivery into the unforeseeable future.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Jewish Policy Center

Photo Album: Sukkot Priestly Blessings at Western Wall

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 08:59

A growing custom in Israel is for the priestly blessing to take place on one of the intermediate days of both Pesach (Passover) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). Today, tens of thousands of Jews packed the Kotel (Western Wall) plaza to be part of this ancient ritual.

Orthodox Jewish men hold the four spices next to Jerusalem’s Western Wall. (Credit: Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz/Breaking Israel News)

 

 

US Ambassador David Friedman waits to say the priestly blessing along with hundreds of other Kohanim. (Credit: Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz/Breaking Israel News)

 

 

Hundreds of people hold the four species during Sukkot prayers. (Credit: Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz/Breaking Israel News)

 

Jewish men circle a Torah scroll at the Western Wall. (Credit: Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz/Breaking Israel News)

 

Sunrise silhouettes Jerusalem’s Old City walls. (Credit: Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz/Breaking Israel News)

Hezbollah’s Growing Partnership with Lebanon’s Army Provides Operational Cover

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 07:12

Hezbollah and Lebanon’s official military – the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) – are increasingly cooperating with one another, Israeli military sources say, and this relationship is helping the Iranian-backed terrorist organization run southern Lebanon.

“We actually see them working together,” an IDF official said earlier this month during a briefing to reporters near the Lebanese border. “We see them go the same villages together. We know who is who. Sometimes the Hezbollah personnel wear LAF uniforms. The LAF, of course, are allowed to be here.”

The cooperation also takes the form of joint vehicle patrols, and the LAF never enters a southern Lebanese village without gaining prior Hezbollah approval.

This relationship helps Hezbollah get around UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which forbids it from moving armed units into south Lebanon.

Resolution 1701 does, however, permit the LAF to be in the area, enabling the Lebanese military to act as a cover for Hezbollah’s activities.

With the Syrian civil war beginning to wind down, Hezbollah, armed with a formidable rocket and missile arsenal, is preparing to bring its highly trained units in Syria back home to Lebanon. Many will head to the southern Lebanese front with Israel, according to IDF assessments.

The close cooperation with the LAF could allow the Shi’ite organization to deploy its forces even more effectively, as they prepare for potential war with Israel.

“The LAF has lost its independence a long time ago,” Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, a former IDF Military Intelligence research division chief, and a former director-general of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

“Not just LAF – but all of the Lebanese security apparatus – has lost independence. We see it in ongoing cooperation in intelligence, operational, and security activities – in all of these fields. This is an area of concern,” he said.

Many in the international community “want to think about the LAF as a body that is part of the system that can be worked with, and which is not contaminated by terrorism,” Kuperwasser said. “But in reality, there are many doubts that this is in fact the situation. That should worry everyone, because no one wants to see Hezbollah get more capabilities than it already has.”

Kuperwasser noted that, despite their growing cooperation, Hezbollah and the LAF do not view everything eye to eye. The LAF has a commitment to the Lebanese state, while Hezbollah has many identities, he noted, including Lebanese, Shi’ite, jihadist, and Iranian, as well as being heavily invested in Syria.

“Hezbollah operates on many fronts. Hence, as soon as it becomes connected with the LAF, this projects on the LAF’s conduct,” the intelligence expert said.

“We see an Iranian willingness to assist the LAF. We see that the LAF is supposed to be the organization deployed in southern Lebanon, according to Resolution 1701, and ensures that there is no Hezbollah presence in the area. But in actuality, because of the cooperation with Hezbollah, this has turned into a fiction,” he added.

Due to such trends, Israel has repeatedly warned that it can no longer make a clear distinction between Hezbollah and the Lebanese state or the LAF.

Should any potential security escalation occur, the IDF source said during the briefing earlier this month, the IDF’s response would “mostly depend on how the LAF behaves.”

“If we see the LAF move back and give us space, we will not attack them. If they take part in hostilities, we will have to attack,” he cautioned.

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On a regional level, the Hezbollah/LAF cooperation has also caused significant damage to Lebanon’s relationship with the Sunni Arab powers, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah maintains cooperation with Yemen’s Houthis forces, who are engaged in a major armed conflict with the Saudis.

“Nasrallah does not care about the Lebanese state. From Lebanon, he operates in a way that endangers the Sunni moderate states, and the U.S.,” said Kuperwasser. “And all of this happens in Lebanon with the knowledge of the LAF. This must cast a shadow on the willingness of the West and the pragmatic Arab states to cooperate with Lebanon.”

Hopes that further cooperation with Lebanon can “save the situation, and foster a different attitude, making the LAF act differently” still exist in the international community, said Kuperwasser. “But Hezbollah does not read the situation this way, and neither do the Lebanese, who are continuing their cooperation with Hezbollah.”

Hezbollah’s three components

Hezbollah’s cooperation with the LAF is just one aspect of its larger Lebanese military operations, which are made up of three main components.

The first involves defensive units, embedded in every southern Lebanese village, and in open areas. These units are tasked with challenging a potential Israeli ground offensive and also have access to underground bunkers and tunnels. The units maintain war readiness, equipment, and weapons.

A second component is Hezbollah’s offensive firepower, which is estimated to exceed 120,000 missiles, making it one of the largest collections in the world. This arsenal places almost every area in Israel within range. Hezbollah is expected to focus its heaviest firepower on northern Israeli border regions and Israeli military targets, but it can fire thousands of rockets at greater Tel Aviv, and beyond, paralyzing the Israeli home front.

Its third component is an elite ground attack force, called “Radwan,” which would seek to use newly gained battle experience from Syria, and cross the border into Israel, where, according to IDF assessments, its mission would be “to kill as much as they can in villages and bases, and symbolically attack in Israel, so that after the war, Hezbollah can claim: ‘We won.'”

The IDF is closely studying these threats and drawing up preparations of its own, designed to crush Hezbollah in an unprecedented manner should a conflict erupt.

The fate of the LAF, it would seem, in any such scenario, would depend on its ability to stay out of the fighting.

Reprinted with author’s permission from The Investigative Project on Terrorism

PSALMS 105:45

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 07:06

Psalm 105 reviews the early history of the People of Israel, from the promise to give the Land of Israel to Avraham (Abraham) and his descendants through the exodus from Egypt. It is framed as a praise to Hashem, and the first twelve verses express gratitude to God for all His wonders, His miracles, and bestowing the land to the Children of Avraham as an inheritance. After a detailed account of the plagues and emergence from Egypt, the final verses remind us of the reason why the Land of Israel was given to the Children of Israel: So that the Nation of Israel will observe Hashem’s laws and protect His holy Torah (Bible).

US Ambassador Takes Part in Massive Priestly Blessing at Western Wall

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 07:03

More than 50,000 people gathered on Wednesday at Jerusalem’s Western Wall for the biannual priestly blessing. As per his custom since even before he was the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Melech (king) Friedman was on hand to perform his kohanic (priestly) duties.

The priestly blessing is normally said as part of the regular morning prayer service on weekdays and twice during the Sabbath and festival morning prayers. On chol hamoed (the intermediary days) of Pesach and Sukkot, it has become a custom in Israel to perform a massive version of the ritual at the Kotel (Western Wall).

US Ambassador David Friedman waits to say the priestly blessing along with hundreds of other Kohanim. (Credit: Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz/Breaking Israel News)

 

Approximately five percent of Jewish men have a family tradition that they are descended from the priestly class, so hundreds of kohanim (Jewish men descended from Aaron, the Biblical High Priest) were on hand to bless the masses in a manner that is powerfully reminiscent of the glory that was once part of the Temple service.

The custom is gaining in popularity and this year, the Western Wall Plaza was full to overflowing with crowds standing in the pathways overlooking the area.

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Before saying the blessing, men from the tribe of Levi wash the hands of the kohanim. The ritual may only be performed by a kohen and only in the presence of a quorum of ten Jews. A kohen who is under the influence of alcohol or in mourning may not perform the blessing.

The blessing is performed by the priests holding their hands up with the fingers spread in the manner made famous by Leonard Nimoy (a kohen) when he played Spock on the television series Star Trek. The fingers of both hands are separated so as to make five spaces between them; spaces are between the ring finger and middle finger of each hand, between the index finger and thumb of each hand, and the two thumbs touch each other at the knuckle.

The priests then recite Numbers 6:23-27:

May the LORD bless you and guard you,

May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you,

May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace.

Former Envoy: Israel-Russia Crisis Artificial, Driven by Anti-Semitism

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 05:50

The crisis between Israel and Russia resulting from a Russian military aircraft being shot down over Syria last week is “calculated and artificial, unrelated to reality or the facts, because the Russians want payment,” former Israeli Ambassador to Russia Zvi Magen said in an interview.

Now a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, Magen underscored that “it doesn’t matter what Israel does. From the moment the other side wants a crisis, there’s no way of preventing one. The media blamed Israel on the day of crisis in a well-timed orchestrated manner, filled with anti-Semitic elements. This wasn’t random.”

According to Magen’s analysis, the Russian defense establishment never changed its stance, even after Israeli Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin visited Moscow to present Israel’s findings on the incident.

The Russian plane was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles trying to repel an Israeli strike in Latakia.

The Russians claimed on Sunday that Israel failed to give them enough advance warning and “misinformed” the Russian command about the exact location of the strike. The Russian Defense Ministry blamed Israel “entirely” for the downing of the plane, which killed all 15 crew members.

However, the findings presented by Norkin suggested that Israel had given Russia plenty of advance warning and had acted entirely in line with the “deconfliction” agreements between Israel and Russia.

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“The same evening after those meetings concluded, they blamed Israel, just as they did the day the plane was shot down,” said Magen. “True, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin took a more moderate line, playing the role of the responsible adult. But until that moment, it was unclear whether that was really his position or not, or whether it was a coordinated gambit between him and Russian Defense Minister [Sergei] Shoigu, where one was playing good cop and the other the bad cop.”

Magen said there are two opposing voices in Russia when it comes to Iran.

“One sees it [Iran] as a threat, and is somehow pleased that Israel did the work for Russia in dealing with Iran in Syria. The Russian defense establishment, on the other hand, as usual, sees the Iranians as a kind of ally against the U.S. and the West. So it doesn’t like Israel’s actions against Iran in Syria.

“In addition, three years after entering Syria, Russia wants to finish things and leave. As far as that goes, Israel’s activity, which is destabilizing to Syria, is a hindrance,” he said.

Magen believes that the crisis with Russia over the downed plane was artificially constructed and designed to help Russia achieve gains.

“The Russians only have 16 planes in Syria, which is very few, and they know that Israel can cause serious damage and means what it says. They don’t want another clash,” he said.

Family of Ari Fuld, Thanks Friends and Followers

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 05:04

Ari Fuld’s family thanked friends and followers for their generous donations. To date, more than $1 million has been raised to help provide for his wife, Miriam, and four children.

A Look Back at Netanyahu’s Memorable UN Moments

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 04:42

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departed for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) yesterday. The prime minister has spoken at the UNGA several times – and each time it has been a memorable event. Sometimes flamboyant, sometimes gimmicky, Netanyahu is an exceptional public speaker.

Heal O’Israel, What Can be Done for a Case of Sepsis?

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 04:19

I am a 77-year-old man. About 18 months ago, I was treated for sepsis, and before that, I felt very tired and had little energy. I spent five weeks in the hospital for treatment. A doctor told my wife that I would probably die from this illness. I still feel very tired, and can do very little, insofar as work is concerned. I am taking 10 different medications, some for a heart condition, I had a coronary bypass operation about 11 years ago. There are times now when my heartbeat is very slow and my blood pressure is low. Is there anything that can be done concerning this? D.G., via email

Prof. Charles Sprung, a sepsis expert and head of the critical care unit at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, answers:

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection and occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight the infection trigger inflammatory responses throughout the body. This inflammation can trigger a cascade of changes that can harm multiple organ systems, causing them to fail.

If sepsis progresses to septic shock, blood pressure drops dramatically, and this may lead to death. While anyone can develop sepsis, it’s most common and dangerous in the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. Early treatment of sepsis, usually with antibiotics and large amounts of intravenous fluids, improves chances for survival.

Patients with sepsis have at least two of these symptoms: a body temperature above 101 F (38.3 C) or below 96.8 F (36 C); a respiratory rate of more than 20 breaths a minute; and a heart rate faster than 90 beats a minute. Severe sepsis also involves at least one of these symptoms: much less urine output, a sudden change in mental status, respiratory difficulties, abdominal pain, abnormal heart pumping, or a lower platelet count.

Sepsis can cause several long-term problems, some of which you describe. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know what is the cause without a serious medical consultation. The answers may be determined by a complete history and a physical exam by a conscientious physician with a lot of time and patience.

My mother, who is 97 years old, fell on her backside four weeks ago and was told by the doctor that her tail bone is broken. She must rest and also must try to move a bit and walk a bit to activate her healing. She can hardly walk and can’t sit for long. She tells us that she suffers from a burning pain. She was told to take Panadol to ease the pain. What can we do to help her: M-T.H., Mauritius

 Dr. Steven Velkes, head of the orthopedic department at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Israel’s Petah Tikva, replies:


Unfortunately, there is not much they can do besides symptomatic treatment with analgesics (painkillers) and to move her about as much as possible to prevent pressure sores and pneumonia.

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I am a 33-year-old African woman. Please, I need medical help – I am suffering from an ulcer. E.O., Nigeria

Prof. Shimon Bar-Meir, head of gastroenterology at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, Israel, says:

Describing your symptoms may lead your doctor to suspect that you have a peptic ulcer, but it probably won’t help determine the type of ulcer, because the symptoms of stomach and duodenal ulcers are so similar. To make a specific diagnosis, your doctor may conduct several tests.

Endoscopy, in which a flexible fiber-optic tube is inserted down the throat to give the doctor a direct view of the inside of your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum, is the most accurate diagnostic test to diagnose a peptic ulcer. This makes it possible for the doctor to determine the presence and cause of bleeding and test for any bacterial infection. During this exam, your doctor may also conduct a biopsy to check for cancer.

For people who can’t have an endoscopy, a barium swallow (or upper gastrointestinal series of X-rays) can also allow your doctor to identify and locate the ulcer and determine its type and severity. The test requires you to drink a “barium milkshake,” which has a liquid that will show up on an X-ray. You may be asked to eat only bland, easily digestible foods for two or three days before the test. After drinking the chalky liquid, you lie down on a tilting examining table, which evenly distributes the barium around your upper digestive tract and allows the X-ray to capture images at different angles.

The chief goals of treatment are reducing the amount of acid in the stomach, strengthening the protective linings that come in direct contact with gastric acids, and – if your ulcer is caused by bacterial infection — treating the H. pylori infection with medication.

 

Your doctor will likely prescribe triple therapy, which is a combination of antibiotics, such as amoxicillin and clarithromycin, along with a proton pump inhibitor, such as omeprazole (Prilosec) or esomeprazole (Nexium). Metronidazole (Flagyl) can be substituted for amoxicillin in patients who are allergic to penicillin. In patients who have been repeatedly exposed to these antibiotics, or in areas where there is resistance to clarithromycin or metronidazole, quadruple therapy with bismuth (Pepto-Bismol), a proton-pump inhibitor, and 2 antibiotics (like metronidazole and tetracycline) is more effective. Regardless of the regimen, all medications should be taken for 10 days to two weeks.

I hope such treatment is available where you are.

If you want an Israeli expert to answer your medical questions, write to Breaking Israel News health and science senior reporter Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at judy@israel365.com with your initials, age, gender and place of residence and details of the medical condition, if any.

Trump Targets Iran at UN Address, Calls for Continued International Isolation

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 03:59

U.S. President Donald Trump called for Iran’s continued international isolation during his combative address at United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. It prompted a response from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that the United States sought to topple his government.

In Trump’s second appearance at the General Assembly, he also took aim at adversaries closer to home, including Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro – as well as international institutions such as the UN-backed world court.

Hours before Rouhani took to the dais, Trump condemned the theocratic leadership of the Islamic Republic for sowing “chaos, death and destruction,” while he defended his controversial decision to tear up an internationally-brokered nuclear deal.

“We cannot allow the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism to possess the planet’s most dangerous weapons,” Trump said, alluding to Tehran’s support for Islamic militant movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

“We ask all nations to isolate Iran’s regime as long as its aggression continues.”

The U.S. Administration withdrew from nuclear deal in May, after Trump’s (and other’s) assessment that it did nothing to inhibit Iran’s nuclear ambitions – and, in fact, seemed to reward Iran, through trade deals etc. without ensuring the curtailing of its sponsorship of terrorism.

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In his address, Rouhani ridiculed Trump as a “preposterous” leader, who had only succeeded in isolating himself and the United States. That supposed isolation was exemplified by the reaction of the other five signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – China, Russia, Germany, Britain and France – who announced their intentions to keep business alive with Iran.

Rouhani also nixed the idea that Iran would resume talks with the U.S. saying that nobody was fooled by Washington’s assertions that it did not seek regime change.

“It is ironic that the US government does not even conceal its plan for overthrowing the same government it invites to talks,” Rouhani said.

The European Union also indicated its willingness to challenge U.S. sanctions, a move that drew the consternation of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Addressing an anti-Iran pressure group he said he was “disturbed and indeed deeply disappointed” by the EU announcement.

Several world leaders emphasized the need for multilateralism – including French President Emmanuel Macron and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Turkish strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country has experienced a cooling of its relationship with Washington, spoke obliquely about how it was “very easy to create chaos but difficult to re-establish order,” although he left no-one in doubt that he was referencing President Trump.

Russia-Turkey Agreement to Prevent Syrian Invasion of Idlib, for Now

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 02:00

Russia and Turkey signed an agreement to prevent a Syrian regime offensive in Idlib this week.

The agreement will create a large demilitarized zone and is supposed to lead to “radical terrorist groups” being removed from parts of Idlib by October 15. The full text of the agreement was published on Wednesday by The National. Iran was not a party to the agreement, signaling to Washington, Israel, and others that Iran’s role in Syria may have been sidelined. However, the agreement does not spell out how “terrorist” groups will be removed from parts of Idlib or which groups must be removed, leaving open the possibility of future conflict.

Signed on September 17 in Sochi between Russian and Turkish delegations, a copy of the agreement was made in English and Russian and sent to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley on September 18. A copy was also sent to UN Secretary-General Antonia Guterres by Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian Federation’s representative to the UN. The name of the document is the Memorandum on Stabilization of the Situation in the Idlib De-Escalation Area.

Russia and Turkey made the agreement and are guarantors of the “observance of the ceasefire.” This is important because other players in Syria are not listed. Iran, which is an ally of the Syrian regime, is not a guarantor. Neither is the United States or the Coalition which plays a role in eastern Syria. Neither is the Syrian government of Bashar Assad or the various Syrian rebel and extremist groups in Idlib. This represents the degree to which the Syrian conflict has been outsourced to Turkey and Russia, and they have become the guarantors of both sides. Russia is the Syrian regime’s main ally and Turkey is the main ally of the Syrian rebels. Turkey controls several areas in northern Syria, including in Idlib, Afrin and near Jarabulus.

The document says it follows similar “de-escalation” agreements that have been in place in Idlib since 2017. They have helped reduce the fighting in northern Syria and allowed the Syrian regime to concentrate on defeating rebels in Damascus and the south. After the regime successfully took back areas near Jordan and the Golan, it has wanted to re-conquer Idlib from the rebels and extremist groups. However the US has warned Assad against using chemical weapons, and the UN has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe that could affect millions.

According to the 10 points of the agreement, “the Idlib de-escalation area will be preserved and Turkish observation points will be fortified and continue to function.” In addition, Russia says it will take all necessary steps to avoid military operations and attacks on Idlib.

A demilitarized zone (DMZ) 15-20 km deep will be established and the exact lines of the zone will be determined in the future. “Radical terrorist groups” will be removed from the DMZ by October 15. According to point six of the document, “all tanks, MLRS [Multiple Rocket Launch Systems], artillery and mortars belonging to conflicting parties will be withdrawn from the demilitarized zone by October 10.” There will be coordinated patrols and drones will be used to monitor the DMZ. Of particular importance to the Syrian regime transit on route M4 from Aleppo to Latakia and M5 from Aleppo to Hama will be restored by the end of the year.

The document has two key points that appear difficult to carry out in the time provided. By October 10 it envisions heavy weapons being withdrawn and by October 15 “terrorist groups” will be removed. The document doesn’t specify which groups but Russia and the Syrian regime view Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) as the main terrorist group in Idlib. HTS is linked to what used to be Al-Qaeda in Syria. The US also views HTS as a terrorist group and Turkey labeled it a terrorist group in late August. However Turkish observation points in Idlib are in areas where HTS is present. By not mentioning HTS directly the document allows for some flexibility, but it is not clear how Turkey will remove HTS or other extremist groups.

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The depth of the DMZ takes up a large part of Idlib province, almost twenty percent of the area currently under the control of the rebels and extremists. It is also unclear how the M4 from Aleppo to Latakia will be opened to traffic, but if the agreement is adhered to, it means that “free movement of local residents and goods” will begin between the government and rebel-controlled areas. This will reduce the humanitarian catastrophe that many warned about in the lead-up to any sort of regime offensive in Idlib.

The agreement represents a major step in northern Syria and shows how Turkey and Russia have grown closer. It also shows how Iran has been excluded from the table. Iran was part of the Astana discussions and has played a key role in other agreements, but it was not present in Sochi. This may be merely symbolic, but it also shows how Moscow and Ankara now view themselves as the main deciders of Syria’s future. For the US and Israel, this is preferable development since both Washington and Jerusalem have opposed Iran’s role in Syria.

The Idlib agreement leaves unresolved what will happen to Afrin, the mostly Kurdish area north of Idlib. In January Turkey launched an offensive into Afrin with the support of the Syrian rebels. Ankara said it was trying to clear Afrin of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) which Ankara views as a terrorist organization linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But Kurds have been dismayed by changes in Afrin and complain of abuses. When the Syrian regime was planning the Idlib offensive, some Kurds were hopeful the regime would retake Afrin and they could return to some kind of autonomy. Now with that off the table, the Kurds in eastern Syria who are working closely with the US will see that the regime cannot fulfill its promises of retaking Afrin.

Previous agreements like this have come and gone over the course of the Syrian conflict. For instance, there was supposed to be a de-escalation zone in southern Syria, including a ceasefire signed by the US and Russia and Jordan in July 2017. The regime, with its Russian ally, tossed away the agreement when Damascus decided to launch its offensive in the summer of 2018.

Time will tell if the Idlib agreement lasts as long as the southern Syria ceasefire.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Middle East Forum

Are American Jews Really Horrified About Israel?

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 00:00

Dana Milbank, an American author and political op-ed columnist for The Washington Post, has horrified me by his latest article for his newspaper: “America’s Jews are watching Israel in horror” (washingtonpost.com 9/21/18) There’s been much talk about American Jews pulling away from Israel, which has undeniably occurred as Israel has become a partisan issue, with Jews consistently voting Democratic by a 3:1 ratio.

In 1978, Republicans and Democrats were roughly equal in supporting Israel against the Palestinian Arabs. But since then, long before Donald Trump became president, Democrats have trended towards sympathizing equally with the Palestinians as they are with Israel. Now, support for the Jewish state among Republicans is nearly three times higher than among Democrats, according to a Pew Research poll released this past January. (timesofisrael.com)

This fact became painfully apparent to me during the 2012 Democratic Convention (I saw it on TV in real time). There, Convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa took three roll call votes (vocal yeas and nays) before falsely declaring that the two amendments had passed; he was booed when he did so. The amendments intentionally left out were: faith in God and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Both of these had been included in previous Democratic platforms. It was shockingly obvious  to me that the Democrats attending the Convention mostly shouted “nay,” an unfortunate harbinger of things to come. (boston.com 9/5/12)

I am upset by “America’s Jews are watching Israel in horror” and herein offer my rebuttal. First of all, Milbank approvingly quoted his rabbi, Danny Zemel, who sermonized at Temple Micah in Washington DC during Yom Kippur. According to the temple website, Rabbi Zemel’s dream is that, “the community of Temple Micah be a carrier and creator of an inspiring message about God, faith, humanity and the Jewish People.”

Yet the rabbi’s sermon, given at the time of the year when his temple is probably its most crowded, is that Israel’s current government is anti-Zionist! Zemel preached that Benjamin Netanyahu, the most popular prime minister since David Ben-Gurion, has fostered “ultranationalism tied to religious extremism … The current government in Israel has, like Esau, sold its birthright.” Not an inspiring message in my opinion.

Milbank says that similarly anguished sentiments can be heard in synagogues and in Jewish homes throughout America. It’s hard for me to believe that. Mentioning 70 years of American Jews’ support for Israel, Milbank opined, “Now we watch in horror as Netanyahu, with President Trump’s encouragement, leads Israel on a path to estrangement and destruction.”

Milbank must know that Netanyahu has been elected three times to lead Israel. In next year’s election, his Likud Party will almost surely win because of the electorate’s belief that Netanyahu is the best qualified leader by far to head the government. The common mistake that the author and his rabbi make is that Jewish American ideals and needs and Israeli ones are the same. But the ideals and needs aren’t necessarily congruent, because of the vastly different environments each group resides in.

It is Netanyahu, Milbank opines, who, “is dissolving America’s bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in favor of an unstable alliance of end-times Christians, [O]rthodox Jews and wealthy conservatives such as Sheldon Adelson.” He then states that Netanyahu shares President Trumps “usual result: division.” The truth is that Israel is not divided almost equally into “left” and “right” factions, as America appears to be. Most Israelis approve of their government, even if it almost always includes a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) component. Because there is no majority party in Israeli politics, every government has been a coalition of assorted parties which have their own constituencies and their own “musts.”

Milbank then avers that the Trump/Netanyahu duo, “…have split American Jews from Israelis, and America’s minority of politically conservative Jews from the rest of American Jews.” American Jews should know better than to conflate disapproval of their president with positive, wildly appreciated actions of this administration in the UN and in Israel. Milbank then gives poll results to support his position:

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The June poll for the American Jewish Committee found that, “77 percent of Israeli Jews approve of Trump’s handling of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, [while] only 34 percent of American Jews approve. Although Trump is popular in Israel, only 26 percent of American Jews approve of him. Most Jews feel less secure in the United States than they did a year ago.” And most Israeli Jews feel more secure with Netanyahu as prime minister.

Milbank notes that just a month before the AJC poll, Israel passed a law to give Jews more rights than other citizens [sic], “betraying the country’s 70-year democratic tradition.” As I have expressed in more than one recent article, the Nation State Basic Law does no such thing. What I surmise Milbank means is that the Democratic Party feels betrayed because Israelis are very happy with the support the current American administration has shown for Israel, in stark contrast to the previous administration, which declined to veto a UN Security Council resolution basically undermining Israel’s legality and denying it Judaism’s most holy sites in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. (jcpa.org)

Milbank then approvingly quotes Hebrew University sociologist Eva Illouz’s recent article in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper (the small-circulation ultra left paper regularly quoted by Western papers for its anti-government stance) which states that Netanyahu has undertaken a “profound shift in the state’s identity as a representative of the Jewish people to a state that aims to advance its own expansion through seizure of land, violation of international law, exclusion and discrimination.”  Milbank evidently agrees with Illouz that Israel “will be able to count only on the support of a handful of billionaires and the ultra-Orthodox” in America.

Has Netanyahu moved toward authoritarianism and away from negotiated peace as Milbank states? For sure, Netanyahu and the great majority of Israelis strongly doubt that “peace” can be negotiated with the Fatah or Hamas parties, who rule the Palestinian Authority and Gaza respectively. This is hard for American Jews to accept, but it is unfortunately realistic. The Palestinian Arabs and other Islamists show no desire for peace, as evidenced by the PA’s refusal to accept even the most generous offers that two former Israeli prime ministers proffered, instead continuously glorifying terrorism against Jews and even giving monetary support for families of terrorists.

Milbank concludes, “American Jews can’t appreciate the daily threat Israelis face from Hamas and Hezbollah. [true] But if the answer is an ultranationalist apartheid state [not true], American Jews have a duty to tell Israelis that support cannot be sustained here — nor should it be.”

Misinforming American Jews about Israeli society is inexcusable. It’s journalists like Milbank (perhaps well-meaning but badly mistaken) who help drive a wedge between Jewish Americans and Israelis. Naturally Israelis more militant than American Jews, because we face severe threats from the north (Hezbollah), from the east (Syria), further east (Iran), and south (Hamas).

Expecting Israelis to act against their own interests to appeal to distant American Jewish sensibilities is unreasonable. Dana Milbank’s Yom Kippur column exacerbates the rift between the two Jewish communities, rather than promoting understanding between them.

IDF Soldier Shot on Gaza Border: “I Was Saved by a Miracle”

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 06:46

Lt. Bar Vaknin of the elite Givati Brigade who was shot in the stomach by a Hamas sniper in July said in an interview that he was, “saved by a miracle.”

Vakhnin was stationed on the security fence separating Israel from Gaza, protecting Israel from the Hamas-led ‘March of Return’ that has brought tens of thousands of Gazans to riot along the border. A group of children gathered at his section of the fence and began to approach the border. Vakhnin fired several shots in the air to disperse the crowd.

“I shot a few bullets into the air and after the third shot, I felt they had fired at me. I felt an explosion in my stomach,” he said. “I fell backwards down the embankment. The first thing I did was to call on the radio while I was still falling. I called out, “Vakhnin is hit, Vakhnin is hit!’ I remember everything after that. I was fully conscious until they brought me to the operating room.”

Vakhnin is prohibited from discussing many of the details of the event pending the completion of an IDF review of the incident, but he was thankful for his comrades’ quick reaction.

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“I can say that everyone involved in the incident functioned precisely as expected,” Vakhnin said.

Walla News released an audio of the telephone conversation between Vakhnin and his father recorded while the soldier was being transported to the hospital.

“Father, I love you,” Vakhnin said.

“What happened?” his father said, clearly anxious.

“I got shot,” Vakhnin said. “Everything is okay.”

“Where are you?” his father asked.

“I don’t know, father. Somewhere. In the hospital.”

Vakhnin was released from the hospital on the eve of Yom Kippur but faces a long period of rehabilitation. In a recent interview with Walla, he expressed his determination to return to his army unit.

“I will do everything to return to my brigade,” he said, “even if they lower my medical profile.”

Five days before Vakhnin was shot, Aviv Levi, Vakhnin’s friend who also served in Givati, was shot and killed by a sniper. Levi was wearing a bulletproof vest but it is believed that the sniper used a special armor-piercing rifle and ammunition provided by Iran.

“Aviv was a friend of mine, we were doing our job,” Vakhnin said. “No matter how many others are wounded, we will continue to do it. As for me, I was saved by a miracle.”

Poll: 40% of British Jews Consider Emigration, 90% Cite Anti-Semitism

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 05:48

Due to rising anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom, 40 percent of British Jews have considered leaving the country, up from 31 percent in 2017. With 90 percent of British Jews citing issues associated with the Labour Party, many of them acknowledged considering or taking concrete measures to emigrate.

According to the annual Antisemitism Barometer study by the Campaign Against Antisemitism, a nonprofit organization that fights anti-Semitism, 82 percent of the 2,103 respondents said politicians were “doing too little to fight anti-Semitism,” and 84 percent blamed the uptick in anti-Semitism on “recent political events.”

Just 22 percent of British Jews say they currently feel welcome in Great Britain, and 49 percent believe that Jews have a long-term future in the United Kingdom, a decrease from 59 percent in 2017 and 62 percent in 2016, which is when the Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis surfaced.

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“Most British Jews who would ordinarily wear Jewish clothing and symbols said that they now conceal them when out in public,” the Campaign Against Antisemitism said in a statement. “British Jews also revealed that now they felt more threatened by the far-left than by the far-right.”

“It is clear that the current political climate has created an environment in which many have British Jews have considered leaving and some have even begun to take concrete steps to leave. Britain is our home, and for decades, it has been one of the best places in the world to be Jewish, but that is no longer assured,” said Campaign Against Antisemitism chairman Gideon Falter. “Now British Jews live in fear of the institutionally anti-Semitic Labour Party and its anti-Semitic leader [Jeremy Corbyn] coming to power. Once a community starts to take flight, it becomes almost impossible to remedy the situation.”

Falter added that “this polling shows that we are now at the 11th hour: Many British Jews are mentally, if not physically, packing their bags.”

Did Russia Just Declare Electronic War on Israel?

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 05:02

In the wake of one of their planes being shot down by Syrian missiles during an Israeli airstrike, Russia announced that within the next two weeks, they will be supplying Syria with the advanced S-300 missile defense system. The presence of the Russian missiles will seriously curtail Israel’s ability to cope with the Iranian military presence along their northern border and raises tensions in the region several notches.

A previous commitment by Russia to provide Syria with the S-300 system in 2013 was cancelled after a request from Israel and several of its Western allies. Earlier this week, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu explained the turnaround in decision.

“Now, the situation has changed,” Shoigu said to the media. “And it’s not our fault.”

The Russian change of mind comes as a result of an incident last week when Syrian aerial defenses reacted to an Israeli missile attack and inadvertently shot down a Russian military airplane, killing all 15 people aboard.

“The command posts of Syrian air defense forces and units will be equipped with automated control systems only supplied to the Russian armed forces,” TASS News Agency quoted Shoigu as saying. “This will facilitate centralized control over all forces and resources of the Syrian air defense, monitor the situation in the air and ensure operative issuance of orders. Most importantly, we will guarantee the identification of all Russian aircrafts by the Syrian air defense systems.”

Initially Russia blamed Israel for the incident claiming Israel did not give them adequate warning of the attack. One day after the incident, Russian President Vladimir Putin assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone that his government considered the downing of the Ilyushin Il-20 tobe the result of a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”

The Russians changed their minds again, deciding finally to blame Israel for the death of their airmen. In a phone call on Monday, Putin reportedly told Netanyahu that the Russian Defense Ministry concluded that Israel was indeed to blame for the incident.

“The information provided by the Israeli military… runs counter to conclusions of the Russian defense ministry,” Putin reportedly told Israel’s prime minister. “The Russian side proceeds from the fact that the actions by the Israeli air force were the main reason for the tragedy.”

“The actions of the Israeli fighter pilots, which resulted in the loss of life of 15 Russian servicemen, either lacked professionalism or were an act of criminal negligence, to say the least,” a Russian defense ministry spokesman added

During the phone conversation, Putin went on to assure Netanyahu that the S-300 system in Syria was “primarily intended to thwart any potential threat to the lives of the Russian military service members.”

Netanyahu was reported to have responded that “providing advanced weapons systems to irresponsible actors will magnify dangers in the region.”

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Netanyahu also related to the primary focus of Israeli military operations in Syria.

“[Israel is] determined to stop Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and the attempts by Iran, which calls for the destruction of Israel, to transfer to Hezbollah lethal weaponry [to be used] against Israel,” Netanyahu told Putin.

The new S-300 system will not only enhance the Syrian army’s ability to respond to attacks but will also seriously inhibit Israel’s ability to operate in the region.

“Russia will jam satellite navigation, on-board radars and communication systems of combat aircraft, which attack targets in the Syrian territory, in the regions over the waters of the Mediterranean Sea bordering with Syria,” Shoigu said.

Shoigu emphasized that if these measures “fail to cool hotheads, we will have to respond in line with the current situation.”

The IDF made an announcement recently saying it has carried out more than 200 attacks against Iranian targets in Syria over the past 18 months.

Debka, an Israeli military intelligence website, suggested that the use of the system in such a manner might be a high-tech declaration of war.

“The crucial measure he announced is not the arming of Syria for the first time with S-300 systems – which Moscow withheld in the past at Israel’s request – but the jamming of navigation,” Debka reported. “DEBKA file’s military experts point out that this the first time a major world power has declared electronic war against any country. After rejecting Israel’s version of the Ilyushin crash with 15 Russian servicemen aboard as untruthful, Moscow has thrown down the electronic gauntlet before the IDF and pitched the dispute onto a much higher elevation.”

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton blamed the entire incident on Iran.

“There shouldn’t be any misunderstanding here,” Bolton told reporters in New York. “The party responsible for the attacks in Syria and Lebanon and really the party responsible for the shooting down of the Russian plane is Iran.”

Bolton also said Russia’s decision to provide the S-300’s was a “major mistake” that would cause a “significant escalation” of tensions and put out a request that the Russian government reconsider this decision.

Channel 10 News quoted a senior American official who said that the S-300 system could endanger U.S. Air Force jets operating against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

“Bringing more anti-aircraft missiles into Syria won’t solve the Syrian army’s unprofessional and indiscriminate firing of missiles and won’t mitigate the danger to aircraft flying in the area,” the unnamed official said.

Christians Around the World Pray for Return of Abducted IDF Soldiers

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 03:56

Thousands of Christians around the world prayed on Sunday, September 23  in congregations, churches, communities, and organizations for the return of  Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt.Oron Shaul – the IDF soldiers killed and abducted by Hamas during a humanitarian ceasefire on August 1, 2014, in the midst of Operation Protective Edge.

The international initiative has been promoted by the Goldin family that sent a petition in August to several Christian churches and organizations from various denominations around the world asking them to join the initiative ahead of the United Nations General Assembly meeting set for Tuesday, September  25.

The prayer began in Australia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and India, continued to Israel, Africa, Europe and ended in the United States, Costa Rica and Brazil.

In Israel, prayers were held at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, in a church in the Christian village of Fassuta in the Galilee and in the Greek Orthodox Church in Capernaum – the biblical village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Also at the Christ Church in Jerusalem, close to Jaffa Gate in the Old City, Pastor David Pilgi led four prayers during the day in Hebrew and English in front of a sukkah that opened in the church.

According to Amit Barak, a consultant on relations between Israel and Christian world, the initiative was born out of the importance of the Christian world, as well as of the recognition that their influence in several countries is increasing

“Christians undoubtedly have an influence. Solidarity and human action have an important place in Christian theology, and the Christian world.” Barak told TPS.

“After the initial appeal was sent out we issued another appeal and every day [since] we have received requests from churches and other organizations who have continued to join, as well as requests from individual Christians,” he said.

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Barak added that “Churches and organizations from  Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Philippines, Israel, Kenya, South Africa, Taiwan, Ghana, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Costa Rica, Brazil and more joined the pray as well as private individuals and families from Australia, New Zealand, France, Guatemala, Holland and other countries.”

A church in Houston, Texas (USA)  dedicated two trees in a memorial to Goldin and Oron, and a Christian organization in Germany held the prayer throughout Sunday singing verses from the Psalms (in German).

“We even received pictures and videos from believers and churches who did not inform us in advance,“ Barak said.

The first to join the initiative, Pastor Becky Keenan of the Gulf Meadows Church in Houston, Texas, said: “There are certain human conventions that are universal. The return of the bodies of those who fell after an armed conflict is one such moral act. The families deserve to give a proper burial of their loved ones. To hold back their remains for political manipulation is very obscene. We strongly support the International Day of Prayer and encourage decision-makers to quickly return Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.”

Pastor Kent Lerher of the Deerfield Presbyterian Church, New Jersey, said: “We were happy to join the prayers for Oron and Hadar. It would be great joy and relief if the effort of this prayer would bring a solution to the heartbreaking situation of the families.”

Michael Dirks, chairman of Friends of Israel Christians in Northern Germany said: “We have to stand by Israel in full solidarity. In word and deed, and of course in prayer. That is why we call upon all of Israel’s friends in northern Germany to join forces in prayer on September 23.”

Carmielin Ashkar and Elias Zarina of the Brit Achim Association and the Jerusalem Initiative added: “As Israeli Christians who encourage the recruitment of Christians and their integration into Israeli society, we saw great importance in joining the initiative together with our Christian brothers and sisters from all over the world.”

Hillel Neuer at UNHRC: “Why Are You Silent on Murder of Ari Fuld?”

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 03:43

UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer took the floor at the UN Human Rights Council, and asked: “Why are you silent after a Palestinian terrorist stabbed to death American-Israeli citizen Ari Fuld? Why won’t you condemn the PA for incentivizing the murder of Jews by paying rewards to the families of terrorists?”