Jerusalem mourns schoolchildren killed in accident

A truck driven by an Israeli-Arab man hit a bus filled with Palestinian school children at the Adam Square, a major intersection north of Jerusalem between highway 60 and highway 437, on Thursday, killing several children and one of their teachers. “They had very little time to escape the bus from the moment of impact. A fire broke out very soon afterward,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post. “The bus is completely burned-out on the inside.” Driving rains and low visibility were blamed for the accident, but the driver of the truck is scheduled to be questioned by police as soon as he recovers from the injuries he sustained. Israeli and PA medics cooperated in treating the victims, who were taken to hospitals in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Israeli officials offered their condolences and full support to the families of victims, but some PA officials tried to blame Israel for the accident, saying that the IDF did not respond quickly enough and/or prevented Palestinian rescuers from reaching the scene of the accident.

New Dehli bombing investigation points to Iran
Intelligence and security personnel involved in the investigation of Monday’s ‘sticky bomb’ attack against on the vehicle of Tal Yehoshua-Koren, wife of the Israel defense attaché, in New Delhi, told government officials on Thursday that the attack was definitely carried out by a “foreign bomber” who could be “an Iranian affiliated to a Shi’ite terrorist group.” Police are investigating students and tourists in New Dehli from Iran and Lebanon, as well as Palestinians. Indian officials have been slow to point a finger at Iran, saying it is still too early to make a determination. Elsewhere, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iranian proxy terror militia Hezbollah gave a televised interview on Thursday in which he vehemently denied involvement in the attacks, despite the fact that his group has been threatening to carry out such attacks for years.

Israel art museum receives prestigious award
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art has won Best Museum Award in the prestigious Travel and Leisure Magazine Award 2012 for their new Herta and Paul Amir Building, which opened last November 2. "In contrast to many dramatically shaped new art museums, it succeeds in being at once breathtaking and deferential to the art on display," said Travel and Leisure’s citation. "The Tel Aviv museum is quite a piece of sculpture, but it is a sculpture that accepts art," agreed architect Billie Tsien, who was on the committee that judged different museums for the magazine.

Snow forecast for the weekend in Jerusalem
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat visited the city’s Snow Preparedness site at the Municipal Center in Givat Shaul on Thursday afternoon, part of light hearted preparations for the possibility of heavy snowfall in the capital over the weekend. The predictions were supported throughout the week by heavy rains in several areas, as well as snow on Mount Hermon in the north. The Sea of Galilee, which has been in a crisis for years, is 17 centimeters above the bottom red line. “The city is longing for a storm and for snow,” Barkat told The Jerusalem Post. “The kids in Jerusalem love snow and pray and long for snow, and the challenge is what can we do to convince the weather to have snow? That’s the biggest challenge.”

Australian groups accused of aiding terrorists
The Israel Law Center, a civil rights group, sent legal warnings on Wednesday to two Australian organizations, World Vision Australia and AusAID, accusing them of providing financial aid to the Gaza-based Palestinian organization, Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) which is, in fact, a front for the terrorist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP.) The UAWC lists World Vision, a Christian relief, development and advocacy group, and AusAID, the Australian government agency for managing the country’s overseas aid program, as its supporters. “The Union of Agricultural Work Committees is an integral part of the proscribed terror organization, the PFLP, that Australian citizens and corporations are prohibited from providing support to,” said Australian solicitor Andrew Hamilton on Wednesday. “By providing aid to the UAWC, organizations such as World Vision and AusAID are in fact aiding and abetting Palestinian terrorism, and thereby violating Australian and United States anti-terrorism laws.”

Netanyahu doubts Iran sanctions are working

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters during his historic visit to Cyprus on Thursday that  “if anybody needed a reminder that the sanctions have not stopped the nuclear program, it was the guided tour by Iran’s president (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) in the centrifuge hall yesterday.  I hope they work, but so far they have not.” He added that the regime in Teheran “breaks all the rules” because it “send children into mine fields, they have suicide bombers, they send tens of thousands of rockets into our cities and towns. Such a regime should obviously not have an atomic bomb, and I believe that the international community is becoming aware by the day of what it means for Iran [to have nuclear potential].” During the visit, Netanyahu and Cypriot President Demetris Christofias also announced enhanced cooperation in the development of natural gas fields in the Mediterranean.

Netanyahu’s assessment was supported on Thursday by Lt.- Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency.

“Iran today has the technical, scientific and industrial capability to eventually produce nuclear weapons,” Gen. Burgess told the US Senate Armed Services Committee.  “While international pressure on Iran has increased, including through sanctions, we assess that Tehran is not close to agreeing to abandon its nuclear program.”

Adding that Iran posseses plenty of option for disrupting oil exports out of the Persian Gulf, carrying out terrorist attacks and asymmetrical warfare in the Gulf, but “the agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict.”

“We believe that the decision would be made by the Supreme Leader [Ali Khamenei] himself and he would base that decision on a cost-benefit analysis,” agreed Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. “I don’t think he’d want a nuclear weapon at any price, so that I think plays to the value of sanctions.”

He added that he did not think Israel had made a firm decision on attacking Iran in the spring as has been widely reported, and that the US and Israel “largely agree” in their assessments of Iran’s nuclear progress.

“Iran and al-Qaida have, to a certain extent, a shotgun marriage,” he added. “The Iranians may think that they might use perhaps al-Qaida in the future as a surrogate or proxy.”

Elsewhere, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the House Appropriations subcommittee that;

“The international community has sent a very clear message (to Iran.) We will not tolerate this. You’ve got to change your ways. You’ve got to come into the international community. You’ve got to abide by international laws, rules and regulations.”

“We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. (However) intelligence does not show they’ve made the decision to proceed with developing a nuclear weapon. That is the red line that would concern us and that would ensure the international community, hopefully together, would respond.”

 “We are open … to negotiations with them to try to find a diplomatic solution to these issues, but we do keep all options on the table in the event the red lines, I just made very clear, are crossed,” Panetta said.

A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center showed high support for an Israeli military attack on Iran’s renegade nuclear program if it should become necessary. The same poll showed low levels of faith in the efficacy of sanctions.

Assad condemned by UN General Assembly

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told reporters in Austria that crimes against humanity had almost certainly been committed by the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad on Thursday, shortly before the the 193-nation UN General Assembly in New York passed a non-binding resolution condemning the regime and endorsing an Arab League plan calling for him to abdicate in favor of a transitional government, a measure vetoed in the Security Council by Russia and China on 4 February. The vote passed with 137 votes in favor, 17 abstentions and 12 against, including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. "Today the UN General Assembly sent a clear message to the people of Syria - the world is with you," US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said. "An overwhelming majority of UN member states have backed the plan put forward by the Arab League to end the suffering of Syrians. Bashar Assad has never been more isolated."

"We have deep concerns vis-a-vis the real intentions of the countries that have co-sponsored this draft, particularly that these countries are leading a political and media aggression against Syria," said Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari. Those countries "all media, financial and political support to the armed terrorist groups and securing them coverage in international fora."

Meanwhile, troops loyal to the regime launched fresh attacks against opposition strongholds in the southern city of Daraa on Thursday, while keeping up a steady bombardment of Homs and Hama.

Elsewhere, it has emerged that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has continued to supply diesel fuel to Assad’s regime, despite Western sanctions and the growing international consensus.

"The aggressions against Syria are continuing," Chavez said in an address last month. "It's the same formula they (the West) used against Libya - inject violence, inject terrorism from abroad and later invoke the United Nations to intervene."

Meanwhile, on Israel’s southern border, the Muslim Brotherhood has warned that the government it has recently come to dominate will review the 1979 peace treaty with Israel if the US cuts financial aid to Cairo over a crackdown on democracy promoting NGO’s, including the arrest of several US citizens.

“We [Egypt] are a party [to the treaty] and we will be harmed so it is our right to review the matter," Essam El Erian, a senior Brotherhood leader, told Reuters. "The aid was one of the commitments of the parties that signed the peace agreement so if there is a breach from one side it gives the right of review to the parties."

Iranian warships make solidarity trip to Syria

Warships of the Iranian Navy sailed into the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday, docking in Syria’s port of Tartus in a demonstration of support for the besieged regime of president Bashar Assad. An Iranian official triumphantly declared that the two ship flotilla would show “the might” of the Islamic Republic to regional countries while also conveying Tehran’s “message of peace and friendship.” The Iranian port call had little visible effect on the escalating violence between troops loyal to Assad and opposition forces over the weekend, with large clashes breaking out in the heart of Damascus and massive bombardments of Homs and Hama continuing. Two senior regime officials were assassinated in the northwestern province of Idlib, joining a long list of casualties over the weekend as the Egyptian ambassador in Damascus became the latest diplomat to be recalled and an official newspaper in China published an editorial accusing Western powers of fomenting civil strife in Syria for their own purposes.

Public Diplomacy Ministry prepares for ‘Israel apartheid week’
Israel’s Public Diplomacy Ministry has announced a plan called “Faces of Israel” to dispatch 100 citizens, representatives from all different parts of Israeli society, to events at universities abroad connected to the upcoming “Israel Apartheid Week” to represent and defend the Jewish State. The participants, including Israeli-Arabs, West Bank settlers, artists, immigrants and security experts, will travel to events in New York, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Toronto, Montreal, Dublin, London, Madrid, Johannesburg and Cape Town. “Most of those who hate Israel have the same disease: ignorance,” Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein said. “We are sure that the answer to the attempts to de-legitimize Israel is not just to give facts and data, but to bring Israel to them.” Edelstein added that he hopes students meeting real Israelis will be able to see past the stereotypes and  stop the “messages of incitement and hatred that, at the end of the day, could reach students that are the leaders of tomorrow.”

‘Price tag’ attack directed against church
Graffiti including “Death to Christianity” and profanity about Jesus was spray painted on the walls of the Baptist Narkis Street Congregation in Jerusalem overnight on Sunday, as well as the words "price tag." The tires on three vehicles parked at the church were also slashed. "Officers are investigating a strong possibility of a (Jewish) nationalist motive but no one has been apprehended yet," said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. The vandalism follows a similar incident two weeks ago at the 11th-century Monastery of the Cross.

MDA gives aid to African refugees
The Magen David Adom headquarters in Tel Aviv turned into an improvised shelter over the weekend for some 100 homeless refugees from African countries who would otherwise have been out in the cold and wet weather. Many of the refugees from Sudan and Eritrea live in tents and other flimsy shelters in Levinsky Park, near the central bus station. The MDA doctors examined the refugees and volunteers provided hot food, showers, blankets, clean clothes and other necessities. An Arabic-speaking MDA staffer also gave the refugees a first-aid course. Ahmed Isaman, one of the refugees who fled from Darfour four years ago, said “I have no words to express my thanks.”

Iron Dome to be deployed in Gush Dan
Reports surfaced over the weekend that the IDF’s newly formed Air Defense command will deploy an Iron Dome battery in the Gush Dan/Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area for a drill in the near future simulating missile attacks on the city. "The Iron Dome is in the process of being made operational as part of which the battery is being placed in various locations from time to time," said a statement by the IDF spokesperson’s Office, stressing that the move is part of a routine and pre-scheduled training program without any special significance.

Jerusalem ‘blizzard’ falls short of expectations
Israel had another wet weekend including light snow in several areas and several centimeters of rain, although the hopes of Jerusalem schoolchildren for heavy snow to play in failed to materialize. The Israel Meteorological Service reported that 20-25 centimeters of snow fell in the northern Golan Heights, along with several centimeters in Hebron and Gush Etzion. About 14-18 cm. of rain fell in the southern Golan and the northern Galilee, raising the level of the Sea of Galillee another 16 cm. to 212.67 meters below sea level on Sunday morning. Heavy rains and gusty winds also hit many areas of the center and northern Negev regions. Water Authority officials stressed that although the precipitation has been significant, Israel is still in the midst of a severe drought and urged residents to use water carefully. Meanwhile, forecasts call for another wet weekend starting on Thursday.

Dempsey offers cautious tone on Iran

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey appeared on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” over the weekend, declaring that “I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us. I think that the economic sanctions and the international cooperation that we’ve been able to gather around sanctions is beginning to have an effect. I mean, fundamentally, we have to be prepared. And that includes, for the most part, at this point, being prepared defensively. Asked if Iranian leaders were acting rationally, Dempsey replied: “We are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor. And it’s for that reason, I think, that we think the current path we’re on is the most prudent path at this point.” Dempsey gave the interview even as US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem for talks focused on Iran. British Foreign Secretary William Hague added his own similar warning in an interview on Sunday with the BBC.

Hague warned that if Iran’s renegade nuclear program proceeds, “either, they [Iran] will be attacked, and there will be a war, or there would be a cold war, in which Iran for the long term would be subject to very intensive economic sanctions. They would find that other nations in their region developed nuclear regions, and they would be in permanent standoff with those countries…like the Cold War, but without many of the safeguards against accidents and misunderstandings that we had in the Cold War.”

Meanwhile, UN nuclear inspectors headed to Iran on Sunday for talks.

“We hope to have a couple of good and constructive days in Tehran,” Herman Nackaerts, deputy director general of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the Vienna airport, as the five-member team prepared to depart. “The highest priority remains, of course, the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.” Another envoy in the delegation frankly admitted “I’m still pessimistic that Iran will demonstrate the substantive cooperation necessary.”

“In these negotiations, we are looking for a way out of Iran’s current nuclear issue so that both sides win,” Iranian state television quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying on Sunday.

"I'm not optimistic that Iran will provide much more information because I think any honest answers to the IAEA's questions would confirm that Iran had been involved in weapons-related development work and Iran wouldn't want to admit that for fear of being penalised," Mark Fitzpatrick of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies told AFP.

Israel waiting to see results of Palestinian unity talks

An Israeli diplomatic source confirmed on Sunday that talks with the Palestinian Authority which ended last month without any tangible signs of progress will not be renewed until the dust settles from the recent agreement signed in Doha, Qatar between the PA and the Islamist terror militia Hamas. The possibility of Hamas, which makes no effort to hide its antipathy to Israel and unwillingness to recognize the Jewish State’s right to exist, could join the PLO and become part of a unity government with the PA has put relations between the PA and Israel in deep freeze. The source added that Israel expects the PA to return to the UN for another try at gaining statehood recognition from the Security Council in a matter of weeks. The source further stated that the proposals the PA put forward in Amman “harmed confidence,” and that no Israeli government could “accept them.”

The political agreement between Fatah, the largest party in the PA, and Hamas has been fragile from the beginning, with disputes also arising within each group. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who signed the agreement in Doha, have both been criticized by rivals who say they didn’t have the authority to sign an agreement without consulting other members of their respective leadership teams. Hamas leaders also denounced a statement by Abbas over the weekend that the future unity government would honor all agreements that were signed between the PLO and Israel, including the Oslo Accords, saying they had never agreed to this.

“The [unity] transitional government’s task would be restricted to rebuilding the Gaza Strip and preparing for elections,” said Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan. “After we hold elections, the new elected government will decide on its future steps in the political arena.”

In related news, the large number of rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in recent days has led to urgent requests from the IDF for a large-scale ground incursion and not just retaliatory air strikes. “There is no need to wait for a provocation to launch an offensive against terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip,” a senior officer in the Southern Command explained. “The ongoing attacks – by rockets and along the border – are cumulatively more than enough to justify immediate action.”

IDF prevents terrorist bombing

Units of the IDF and Israel Police conducting routine anti-smuggling operations near the Egyptian-Israeli border overnight Monday discovered a large improvised explosive device which they believe could have been intended for a terrorist attack. The incident occurred against the backdrop of a threat issued by Mohammad Hejazi, deputy head of Iran’s armed forces, who told the semi-official Fars news agency Tuesday that "our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran's national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions." Iran has long sponsored terrorist proxy militias in the Gaza Strip and south Lebanon and occasionally used them to strike Israel. Hajazi’s threat was widely interpreted as meant to deter an Israeli military strike on the Islamic Republic.

Controversy raging over award for Palestinian pastor
Christian and Jewish organizations in Germany have called on officials of the Media Control organization to rescind a humanitarian award it plans to give to Bethlehem-based Lutheran pastor Mitri Raheb, who told a conference in 2010 that “Israel represents Rome of the Bible, not the people of the land.” Karlheinz Kögel, the founder of the prize, wrote in an email to The Jerusalem Post on Friday that a “deep conflict has unfolded and we do not want to boost it,” while admitting that he had “received hundreds of protest emails.” Raheb responded in an interview with the daily Frankfurter Rundschau last week, complaining that “most of the accusations are not coming from Jews, but rather from Christian Zionists. They do not want a Palestinian to receive a prize in Germany.”

Peres receives mixed response in Nazareth
Israeli President Shimon Peres was in Nazareth on Monday in an effort to build bridges with the Biblical city’s 80,000 Arab residents, drawing a mixed response. While Peres was welcomed by an official delegation from the municipality, a crowd representing the Balad Party and the Islamic Movement (the Moslem Brotherhood branch among Israeli Arabs) staged a protest outside the municipal cultural center where Peres spoke. Two protesters were arrested for disturbing the peace and attacking police. “I say he should come, though he is not loved here,” Riad Sahdal, a local resident, told The Jerusalem Post.

Iran accused of meddling in Saudi Arabia
The Interior Ministry in Saudi Arabia issued a statement on Monday that violence in its eastern provinces, largely populated by Shi’ites, will be crushed. The statement also blamed the problems on “foreign-backed troublemakers” which is a widely recognized reference to Iran. "It is the state's right to confront those that confront it first... and the Saudi Arabian security forces will confront such situations... with determination and force and with an iron first," the ministry said. "Some of those few [who attacked security forces] are manipulated by foreign hands.” In related news, an Iranian man sought by police in Thailand on suspicion of involvement in a recent terrorist plot to attack Israeli diplomats is believed to have fled to Iran. Thai police declared that they “will seek him through diplomatic channels.”

Air Force looking to improve amid tight budgets
Despite tight budgets and ongoing problems with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the Israel Air Force is proceeding with plans to secure a second squadron of the aircraft to be delivered starting in 2020. Israel finalized the order for its first squadron of 20 F-35s in a $2.75 billion deal with the Pentagon and American defense giant Lockheed Martin in October, 2010.

French Agricultural experts tour Israel
A group of top agricultural experts from France toured the Beit Dagan facility as guests of Israel’s Agriculture Ministry on Monday, part of efforts by the Jewish State to share knowledge and technology to improve the quality of life for citizens of friendly countries. The tour was organized by the France-Israel Foundation, a French organization working to effect reconciliation in the sometimes rocky relationship between Israel and France. The tour will also include visits to Jerusalem and several kibbutzim, as well as Israeli NGO’s and educational centers dedicated to agricultural research. “French agriculturalists are interested to know how this country that is in drought was able to become an agricultural producer,” Nicole Guedj, president of the France-Israel Foundation, told The Jerusalem Post. “Israel gets a lot of interest in this world precisely because Israel has done the proof that it is capable of introducing solutions and anticipating problems that the French agricultural world knows today.”

Violence in Syria spreading to heart of Damascus

The carnage gripping Syria took another turn for the worse on Tuesday as forces loyal to the regime of president Bashar Assad used live ammunition on protesters in the capital of Damascus in the latest sign of the deteriorating situation in the heartland of the country. Until this week, the violence had mostly occurred in outlying areas, leaving the rich merchants and other pillars of regime support largely unscathed. But violence in Damascus in recent days has led many analysts to question how much longer the regime can cling to power in the face of rising discontent among his remaining supporters. Meanwhile, clashes between regime loyalists and an increasingly powerful opposition continued in several areas, claiming dozens of new casualties on both sides.

Meanwhile, a “Friends of Syria” group comprised of Western and Arab countries trying to reign in Assad is reportedly preparing an explicit show of support for opposition groups. Representatives of the group gathered in Tunisia over the last days to decide on a plan, even as Assad continues to enjoy support from Iran, Russia and China, although there were indications on Tuesday that at least some of that support might be wavering.

"There are indications coming from China and to some extent from Russia that there may be a change in position," Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told a news conference in Cairo.

"It seems to me that it would be possible now to take concrete steps aimed at resolving humanitarian issues, relying on the fact that very recently, a few days ago, Damascus allowed the International Red Cross to deliver humanitarian aid to certain regions that ended up in the conflict zone," Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, told state-run Rossiya-24 television in an interview. "It can be expected that in the coming days, Russia will put forward certain proposals on that account in the Security Council."

China’s Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, published an editorial on Monday saying; “If Western countries continue to fully support Syria’s opposition, then in the end a large-scale civil war will erupt and there will be no way to thus avoid the possibility of foreign armed intervention.”

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, asked about the Iranian move at briefing in Jerusalem, said Assad was receiving generous support from Iran and its terrorist proxy, the Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah, and that Russia and China had given him “a license to kill.”

Iranian military forces start air defense exercise

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran initiated a large-scale military exercise on Monday in a show of force designed to warn against a strike on the Islamic Republic’s renegade nuclear program. IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari told state TV station IRINN that the drills, along with a recent coastal defense exercise in the Persian Gulf, were designed to protect the entire region, presumably including Iran’s Arab neighbors who have spent the last several years begging Western countries to send military force to the region to protect them from Iran. The drills, dubbed "Sarollah," a word borrowed from the Arabic meaning "God's vengeance," started on the same day as a team of experts from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrived in Teheran for talks aimed squarely at determining "the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program," according to the delegation's leader, chief UN nuclear inspector Herman Nackaerts.

Also on Monday, Iran’s oil ministry threatened to cut exports to more EU countries after announcing a boycott of sales to Britain and France over the weekend. EU officials responded to the threat with a collective shrug, declaring that it would not cause too many problems since there are alternative sources of supply.

"In terms of immediate security of stocks, the EU is well stocked with oil and petroleum products to face a potential disruption of supplies," said a spokesman for EU policy chief Catherine Ashton.

"Undoubtedly, Iran is very imaginative with regards to provocation. It is not Iran that decided to cut off its deliveries, we are the ones who decided to terminate our orders," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters. "It makes one smile."

Nevertheless, the price of oil on world markets hit nine-month highs on the news, with Brent and New York contracts reaching $121.15 and $105.44 a barrel in early trading.

"The crisis they have provoked in the region has led to a hike in oil prices, and they are feeling the impact," Jafari said. "By deploying their military forces to the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, they are are trying to control the crisis. But the more they display and deploy their forces, the worse the effect becomes."

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) in Washington says that in 2010 four Asian states took around two-thirds of all the crude oil exported by the Islamic Republic, with China buying 20 percent, Japan 17 percent, India 16 percent and South Korea 9 percent.

As the war of words escalates, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak emerged from a two-hour meeting Monday with visiting US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon to tell members of his ‘Independence’ political party that Israel and the US are “two sovereign countries, each one responsible in the final analysis for the decisions it takes for itself and about its future.”

Report; ‘Iran tried to assassinate Barak in Singapore’

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida reported on Thursday that police in Singapore cooperated with Israel’s Mossad to break up an Iranian plot to assassinate Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak during his recent visit to the Asian city-state. The report added that three alleged assassins were in custody including operatives from Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah. The report comes amid a series of attacks and attempted attacks against Israeli diplomats in Georgia, India and Thailand, believed to be linked to the four year anniversary of the assassination of Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh. Elsewhere, US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters on Wednesday that there is a threat of Hezbollah attacks in North America, especially Jewish sites such as synagogues, schools and community centers.

Israel sends humanitarian aid to Moslem neighbors
Israel facilitated the transfer of three prematurely born Palestinian infants from Gaza into Israel for medical treatment this week. The triplets were born to parents who had resorted to in vitro fertilization at a Gaza hospital after years of unsuccessful attempts to conceive. At the same time, Israel dispatched an aid and recovery team to the Turkish city of Van this week to continue in efforts to assist the area recover from the severe earthquake it suffered three months ago. "After the severe earthquake that struck here, you the Israeli arrived with a lot of equipment and willingness to help, and for that I am deeply thankful from the bottom of my heart," said vice governor of the Van province, Mr. Ahmet Kazankiya. "You are true allies and this here is evidence of that. Only true allies assist so quickly and considerately."

France looks to increase trade with Israel
French Trade Minister Pierre Lellouche told reporters during a visit to Tel Aviv on Wednesday that there is much room for growth in trade links between his country and the Jewish State. Trade volumes increased 11% to 2.29 billion Euros in 2012, Lellouche said, “but this is still not enough for us.” He added that with a large community of French speaking Israelis there was already a strong basis for growing ties, and that he would push the idea with French companies that they can do business with Israel without alienating Arab clients.

Egypt to hold presidential vote sooner
The state-owned Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram reported on Wednesday that a decision had been made to hold Egypt’s first presidential elections since a the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak at the end of May, moving the schedule up slightly amid growing anger at the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and demands that it surrender power to a civilian government. But the SCAF got a boost on Wednesday when the powerful Muslim Brotherhood gave it support in its standoff with the US over funding for pro-democracy NGOs. 16 Americans and 27 others have been arrested in the crisis and 6 of the Americans have been barred from leaving the country. The Brotherhood said it “rejects all forms of pressure the US is exerting (and) will not tolerate any officials if they decide to succumb to the pressure or cover up the accusations or interfere in the business of the judiciary.”fearing a loss of trade with Arab countries.

Report; ‘Iran increasing Latin American outreach
A former US State department official issued a warning on Wednesday that Iran’s ambitious plans to make inroads into Latin America are growing, as Teheran’s main ally in the region, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, battles cancer. “Certainly the Iranians are happy with the platform they have so close to US borders. They’d love to hang on to Venezuela, but if that isn’t convenient for whatever government that succeeds Chavez, they’ll have look elsewhere,” said Roger Noriega on a conference call sponsored by The Israel Project ahead of his testimony before the US Senate on Thursday.

IDF launched air strikes in response to rockets
IDF aircraft struck terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip overnight Wednesday, in response to a barrage of five rockets that were fired into Israel earlier in the day. "The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli citizens or IDF soldiers, and will continue to act against any terrorist activity against the State of Israel," the IDF said. "Hamas is a terrorist organization, and bears all responsibility." Yair Farjun, head of the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council, told the Jerusalem Post "we can't accept this drizzle of rockets. We live in a bizarre reality. We switch from emergency and then back to routine. We've lived like this for many years." The violence on the Gaza border followed clashes between Israeli border police and Palestinian rioters near Ofer Prison just outside Ramallah on Wednesday. The Palestinians had gathered to demand the release of a prisoner named Khader Adnan.

For the latest intelligence report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, click HERE (PDF)


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