Israel short on gas masks as war looms

Amid reports that the Israeli government has essentially given up on the extremely expensive and often delayed project of providing gas masks to the public, the IDF Home Front Command sent letters to reservists this week urging them to get a mask as soon as possible. “There are a limited number of gas masks left and if you do not get one now you could be left without one,” Col. Sagi Tirosh wrote in the letter. A little more than half of Israel’s citizens have received a gas mask since the collection and refurbishment effort was launched in 2006, even as the threat of unconventional attack’s on the Jewish State from Iran or the crumbling Syrian regime have escalated. Meanwhile, the IDF is reported to have increased training for mobilization and action under rocket fire, as a growing number of assessments project that a surprise attack by large numbers of rockets and missiles on Israeli cities is the most likely scenario in the next war.

Iranian opposition looks for renewal
An Iranian opposition group calling itself the Coordination Council of Green Path of Hope has called for silent rallies in Teheran and other major Iranian cities on 14 February, hoping to revive the revolt against the clerical regime which raged for several months in late 2009 and into early 2010 before being brutally crushed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.  The group is accusing the government of wasting the countries resources on a futile and pointless struggle against the West, even as the poverty rate among ordinary Iranians has skyrocketed. “We're in a very difficult and dangerous situation," Green Path of Hope spokesman Ardeshir Amir Arjomand told Radio Farda. "The economy is mismanaged, there’s growing poverty, [and] economic structures are collapsing."

Saudi Arabian police raid Christian prayer group
The BBC reported on Tuesday that a group of 35 Ethiopian Christians, among the millions of guest workers in Saudi Arabia, have been arrested by police and face deportation for the crime of “illicit mingling” of unmarried men and women, although there is no law in Saudi Arabia prohibiting such gatherings and the government publicly promised in 2006 to end official harassment on non-Moslems. The Ethiopian group, including 29 women and 6 men, were arrested while taking part in a prayer meeting in a private residence in the city of Jedda in Western Saudi Arabia. According to the report, the Saudi police strip searched the women while the men were beaten and cursed for being “unbelievers.”

Heavy rains raise level of Sea of Galilee
A wet January which saw several days of heavy rain and snow have raised the level of the Sea of Galilee by 55 centimeters, although it remained 10 centimeters below the “bottom red line” and is not yet out of danger. Rains continued in many parts of the country on Wednesday giving Israelis hope that the Sea and other main sources of fresh water in the country will make a further recovery from years of severe drought.

Ban urges Israel to make ‘goodwill gestures’ to PA
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Israel on Wednesday fresh from a trip to neighboring Jordan, where he urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give the Palestinian Authority some “goodwill gestures” in order to coax the PA back to the low-level talks that began in Amman last month but were abruptly cut off by the PA last week. “Of course, it will also be required that the PA comes to [the] dialogue table,” he added. Israeli officials responded by issuing a statement that they were studying reciprocal gestures, primarily in the economic sphere. Meanwhile, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported Wednesday that there was a clash between Palestinian stone throwing youth and Israeli security forces in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya Tuesday evening. Several Israelis and Palestinians were wounded in the exchange.

Israelis honor Ramon
In honor of the life and death of Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut who was killed nine years ago Wednesday in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster , the Fisher Institute in Tel Aviv hosted the Seventh International Ilan Ramon Space Conference this week, bringing space related scientific delegations from around the world together to share knowledge and experience. "I am very excited to partake in a conference in memory of a true Israeli hero," said General William Shelton, Commander of the US Air Force Space Command."As one of only ten nations on the planet capable of indigenous space launch, Israel is well aware of the advantages that space provides." IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Ido Nechushatan also addressed the conference, along with several Israeli engineers, scientists and industrial leaders.

IAEA inspectors end fruitless mission in Iran

A team of specialists from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has finished a short visit to Iran, during which several rounds of discussions with senior Iranian officials failed to produce a breakthrough in tensions over the Islamic Republic’s renegade nuclear program. Ahead of the inspection team' visit, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had declared that the "onus is on Iran...to prove themselves that their nuclear development program is genuinely for peaceful purposes, which they have not yet done." Despite the apparent lack of progress, and the fact that the IAEA team "did not visit any of the nuclear centers and facilities" in Iran according to the official ISNA news agency, the talks were characterized as “constructive” by an Iranian official and Iranian media said the two sides agreed to hold further talks but did not give a date.

In related news, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei slammed American "interference" in the internal affairs of Syria on Tuesday, ignoring widely reported incidents of Iranian snipers murdering civilians in support of the Assad regimes brutal crackdown on protests and intercepted shipments of Iranian weapons on their way to Damascus. On a more cautious note, Khamenei added that he hoped Assad would institute reforms in Syria, as a way to avoid giving the Arab League and Western countries an excuse to take action either at the UN or independently with military force.

“When one looks at the developments in that country ... America's plans for Syria are evident and unfortunately some foreign and regional countries take part in America's plans," Khamenei said.

Elsewhere, CIA director David Petraeus told a Senate intelligence committee hearing on Tuesday that sanctions on Iran "have been biting much, much more literally in recent weeks than they have until this time. What we have to see now is how does that play out, what is the level of popular discontent inside Iran, does that influence the strategic decision making of the Supreme Leader and the regime, keeping in mind that the regime's paramount goal in all that they do is their regime survival."

He explained that Saudi Arabia has increased oil production to compensate for shortfalls from Iran and China has reduced its imports of Iranian crude, adding "it remains to be seen whether that continues. It appears that Saudi Arabian production is ramping up and can fill some of the demand that might have been met by Iranian exports now that there are the sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran."

Netanyahu wins Likud primary

Israel’s democracy was on display Tuesday as the Likud party primary ended with a solid victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who declared victory in the chairman’s race late Tuesday evening and thanked everyone who had voted. "Today the real Likud won,” Netanyahu told supporters at the Tel Aviv fairgrounds. “We proved that our strength is in our unity. We will continue to lead responsibly for better education, economy, and security for all the citizens of the State of Israel. Likud turns Israel into one of the most developed nations in the world, in education, culture, and environmental protection." Netanyahu also declared that there is no rush for a new round of general elections, defying the expectations and hopes of many opposition parties.

Netanyahu’s rival in the race for party chairman, Moshe Feiglin, conceded his loss on Wednesday morning while declaring that his candidacy had proven an important point about the essential “Jewish, national and proud” nature of the party and the widespread support for “settlement in the entirety of the land” of Israel.

Although there were problems reported at various polling stations the elections were relatively hassle free, with supporters of the two main candidates for the most part maintaining civility and nearly 50% of eligible voters turning out, despite rainy weather.

Aside from the chairmanship, both candidates supporters endorsed an identical slate of candidates for the Likud central committee.

“The agreement was a good idea, because it ended tension in the Likud branch in Jerusalem,” said Elisha Peleg, the only Likud member on Jerusalem’s city council. “But I know that the agreement decreased the motivation a lot of people had to vote because both races were already decided.”

Likud primaries held in Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud rival Moshe Feiglin squared off for the chairmanship in Likud party primaries on Tuesday, along with slates of candidates for other positions within the party. Feiglin made an early statement that reported shortages of ballots in Judea and Samaria, was "not an innocent mistake, but rather an attempt to sabotage the vote in places where Feiglin wins wide support." Party leaders dismissed these claims, while Netanyahu urged party members to participate in the elections because "if the inactive majority stays home, we get an inaccurate picture" of what party activists want. "If everyone comes and votes, we get a clear picture." The winner of the race will call a press conference when final results are available, estimated to be after midnight.

Netanyahu has virtual chat with Arabs on Facebook
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held an online chat session via the Prime Minister's Office Facebook page in Arabic on Monday, going over the heads of Arab governments directly to the people who live in the countries surrounding Israel, including Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, the Gulf states and northern Africa, as well as the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Arab sector. The questions covered a broad range of topics and reflected curiosity about the Jewish State and Netanyahu’s stance on regional issues. Answering a question about Iran, he said "Iran is developing nuclear weapons in order to control the entire Middle East and beyond.  This is a direct threat to peace." In answer to a question about the Arab Spring he said "Increasing freedom within these countries will aid their prosperity.  Increasing freedom of information could aid peace because at the moment, the Arab world still has stigmas and stereotypes about the State of Israel that have no bearing on reality."

Hundreds die in Syria as UN Security Council set to meet
Forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar Assad fought vicious street battles with opposition forces and army deserters in the outskirts of Damascus on Tuesday as top diplomats from several Western and Arab countries gathered in New York to make the case for Assad’s removal to the UN Security Council, even as the regime continues to issue defiant statements that it will not be defeated by “foreign plots.” Russia has objected to the wording of the proposed resolution condemning Assad, and China has also hinted that it might use its veto to protect Assad. Meanwhile, on Israel’s southern border, a spokesman for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced on Monday that the SCAF is looking for ways to speed up the transition to civilian rule, including moving up the date for presidential elections, following weeks of protests.

Israel well prepared for Cyberwar
According to a recently published study by the Brussels-based Security and Defense Agenda think tank, Israel is one of the most prepared countries in the world for the new era of conflicts in cyberspace, despite a recent high profile series of attacks against Israeli websites. The study included statistics that Israeli websites are attacked around 1,000 times a minute, but national defense strategies and Israeli technology have so far managed to fend off most of the attacks. Meanwhile, the IDF continues to improve its ability to defend the Jewish State in the real world, as the Jerusalem Post reported on Monday that the tempo of covert operations far from Israel’s borders has significantly increased in the last year, including ops in places such as Sudan, Lebanon and Iran, as well as on the high seas.

Canadian FM blasts ‘new anti-Semitism’
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird opened the 12th-annual Herzliya Conference on Monday night with a rousing speech, telling the conference that Canada was proud to call Israel a friend and “to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is popular, convenient or expedient” adding that Israel is “a beacon of light in a region that craves freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.” Blasting the international campaign to delegitimize Israel as “the new anti-Semitism” he explained that by “harnessing disparate anti- Semitic, anti-American and anti-Western ideologies, it targets the Jewish people by targeting the Jewish homeland, Israel, as the source of injustice and conflict in the world, and uses, perversely, the language of human rights to do so.”

IAI and Boeing team up to help defend South Korea
The ‘Arrow’ air defense system jointly produced by Israeli aircraft industries and US aerospace giant Boeing is already protecting the Jewish State from the threat of incoming missiles and is rumored to be deployed on the West coast of the US. Soon it might be protecting other countries, starting with South Korea. “There’s still a long way to go, but we and our Israeli partners are working very persistently to be able to provide this phenomenal capability to South Korea, an important U.S. ally,” said Roger Krone, president of Boeing Network & Space Systems. Singapore, India, and several other Asian countries have also expressed interest in air defense technology.

US Senate set to tighten Iran sanctions

The US Senate Banking Committee was preparing to vote on a new round of sanctions targeting Iran's energy sector on Tuesday, with the hope of clamping down even further on the money available to the Islamic Republic’s renegade nuclear program. "Iran's continuing defiance of its international legal obligations and refusal to come clean on its nuclear program underscore the need to further isolate Iran and its leaders," said Senator Tim Johnson, a sponsor of the legislation. The House of Representatives passed similar legislation in mid-December. But even as the new sanctions make progress towards becoming US law, reports have surfaced that Iran has found many new ways to circumvent existing measures, including by renaming and repainting cargo vessels and tankers and registering them in foreign countries, allowing them to move weapons, oil, nuclear-related equipment and other contraband around the globe.

The information on Iran’s smuggling efforts was included in a comprehensive report on global incidents of illegal trafficking in weapons and narcotics published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on Monday. According to the report, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line (IRISL) has renamed a total of 90 out of its 123 ships since 2008.  “The Iranian ships are being shuffled like a deck of cards in a Las Vegas casino,” explained Hugh Griffiths, of SIPRI. “There is a constant game of cat and mouse being played and the renaming and reflagging of vessels of different states is a way of trying to avoid inspection because of sanctions.”

Meanwhile, India and several other Asian countries have expressed reluctance to join in the international campaign to boycott Iranian oil.

"You know Iran is an important supplier of petroleum crude," Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee recently told reporters in Chicago. "We import around 105 million tons of crude per year. It is increasing. The last import last year was 105-106 million tons imported. Iran contributes substantially…and it is not possible for India to take any decision to reduce the import from Iran drastically."

Hamas leader embarks on regional tour amidst hardship

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the Islamist terror militia Hamas in the Gaza Strip, set out on a regional tour Monday which will take him to Iran and the Gulf state, seeking to capitalize on the recent changes in the region to bring Hamas back into the regional mainstream, and also looking for new sources of support after a dramatic fissure with Iran over support for the Assad regime in Syria. A Hamas spokesman nevertheless confirmed that Haniyah had been invited to Teheran as a guest of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A diplomatic source told Reuters that the $300 million a year Iran previously supplied to Hamas “has been in suspension since August." There have been rumors that Turkey has promised to replace this funding, but the government in Ankara vehemently denies it.

Hamas has found itself in an increasingly difficult position in recent months, as the Sunni Moslem Brotherhood, of which it is the Palestinian branch, has been slow to promise support despite winning recent elections in Egypt. Additionally, tensions between Sunni and Shi’ite dominated governments in other parts of the region have led to Hamas, which has allies in both camps, has found itself in an akward political situation, even as its longtime headquarters in Damascus has become inhospitable as the Assad regime battles against a growing insurgency, including elements of the Syrian branch of the Brotherhood.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian official told AFP on Sunday that negotiations in Amman between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were terminated by the PA because Israel had offered an “impossible” border.

"They said to us, Jerusalem is out of the question. Large numbers of settlers will stay in the West Bank. They were talking about impossible borders," the official said. "They didn't specifically mention the wall, but the details can be interpreted as them using the wall for the border."

"All their positions are based on the premise that the settlers and the Palestinians have equal rights to the West Bank," he continued. "The whole Israeli vision is based on this. The territory is not occupied, it's disputed, and both communities have equal claims to it. Of course, this only applies to the West Bank, they don't think we have any claim to Haifa."

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of stalling the talks.

"The Palestinians refuse to even discuss with us Israel's security needs," he said at the beginning of his weekly cabinet meeting. "The signs are not particularly good, but I hope they will come around and that they will continue talks in order to make progress towards negotiations."

Netanyahu urges greater scrutiny of PA

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore on Sunday that incitement against Israel by the Palestinian Authority is poisoning the atmosphere and making it nearly impossible for progress to be made towards any kind of permanent settlement. The PA recently broke off the talks with Israel which were taking place in Amman, Jordan because of Israel’s refusal to freeze settlement construction and agree to the June 4, 1967, lines as the basis for negotiations, conditions Israeli officials say would leave Israel with nothing to negotiate about. Meanwhile, Netanyahu lamented that PA officials “refuse to even discuss Israel’s security needs.” An example of PA incitement was on display last week, as the official Palestinian Authority TV station sent greetings to Hakim Awad and his cousin Amjad, the murderers of the Fogel family, including the parents and three young children, in Ithamar nearly a year ago. In a program called ‘For You’ the host took a call from the Hakim Awad’s mother and Aunt, who praised the murderers as “heroes” and “the legend” to which the host added “we, for our part, also convey our greetings to them.”


Iranian-Canadian man sentenced to death
Iran’s Fars News Agency reported over the weekend that Saeed Malekpour, a Canadian resident of Iranian origin who was arrested during a trip he took to the Islamic Republic to visit his dying father, has been sentenced to death. Malekpour was arrested on charges of operating a pornographic website, despite his explanation that he only developed the software that allows pictures to be uploaded to the internet, and is not responsible for the misuse of the software by others. A lower court had earlier annulled the death sentence, but prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court, which confirmed it. The Canadian government has condemned the sentence, and Malekpour’s sister Maryam has appealed to the international community to help save him, adding that the televised confession on which the prosecution’s case rested was obviously obtained under torture.

Palestinian forming ‘civil guard’ units
The IDF has expressed alarm over a trend in the West Bank Palestinian communities of forming “civil guard” units which have the ostensible purpose of protecting against so-called “price tag” attacks by settlers and right-wing extremists. The groups are unarmed, but the IDF worries that their presence raises the possibility of violence. “These are people who are simply trying to protect their homes,” a senior IDF officer said. “Our concern is what happens if a group of Jews enter the village and are caught by the units.”

Israel hosts medical conference
The Israeli Air Force hosted a conference on Aviation Medicine last week, bringing together experts and state of the art technology from around the world. "Medicine in the IAF is extremely unique," explained head of manpower, Brig. Gen. Ilan Boger. "This is a professional and important field with great influence on human life." Flight medicine is a crucial part of IDF military medicine because "its purpose is to save lives and maintain preparedness for battle," said Chief Medical Officer, Brig. Gen. Izik Kryce. "We must advance military medicine in the IDF, and specifically aviation medicine."

Israel acts to remove land mines
Israel’s Defense Ministry budgeted NIS 60 million on Sunday to clear landmines left over from decades old conflicts. The money will be used to hire a private company which will work in the regions south of the Dead Sea and along the border with Jordan. The land mines were placed there in the 70’s and 80’s by Israel and Syria, and represent a small fraction of the mines on 12,950 hectares (32,000 acres) of land in Israel known or suspected of being minefields.

Norway apologizes for Quisling government’s Nazi collaboration
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg recently took the opportunity provided by a ceremony commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day to apologize for Norway’s participation in the persecution and discrimination of Jews. "It is time for us to acknowledge that Norwegian policemen, civil servants and other Norwegians took part in the arrest and deportation of Jews,” he said. “Today I feel it is fitting to express our deepest apologies that this could happen on Norwegian soil." Norway’s infamous Nazi collaborator, Vidkun Quisling, in 1942 ordered the arrest of the country’s 2100 Jews, of whom a third were deported to the death camps. Scholars have documented other acts by Norwegian authorities in cooperation with the Nazi invaders, beyond what could be explained by duress.

Ahmadinejad calls Israel ‘Western plant to control oil’

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed a conference of Iranian youth on Sunday, rhetorically asking his young audience “Why did they install the Zionist regime (Israel)?” and answering his own question by declaring it was “to gain control over oil, as well as the popular and revolutionary uprisings in the Middle East! It is clear that this was a historical scheme.” As he was speaking, a team of inspectors from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) landed in Iran to investigate “suspected” military aspects of the Islamic Republic’s renegade nuclear program. Iranian officials declared that they were looking forward to the inspections but would not cooperate if it appeared that they were becoming a "tool" for outside powers.

To read the latest intelligence report on Iran, click HERE (PDF)

"This visit is a test for the IAEA. The route for further cooperation will be open if the team carries out its duties professionally," declared Iran's parliament speaker, Ali Larijani. "Otherwise, if the IAEA turns into a tool (for major powers to pressure Iran), then Iran will have no choice but to consider a new framework in its ties with the agency." Elsewhere, Iran's Deputy Oil Ministry Ahmad Qalebani warned of “$120 to $150 oil price per barrel in future," if current EU sanctions on Iran remain in place.

Despite the Iranian rhetoric, IAEA officials expressed optimism about the inspections.

"In particular we hope that Iran will engage with us on our concerns regarding the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program," IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts told reporters before departing from Vienna airport.

Also on Sunday, Iran’s parliament delayed a vote on a proposed bill to immediately cut oil deliveries to Europe in retaliation for an EU oil embargo. The EU’s recently passed sanctions are scheduled to take effect on 1 July, in order to give countries time to line up new suppliers, but Iran would like to attempt to force the issue in order to push back.

Finally, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that initial tests of the Pentagon’s 13,600-kg. “mass ordnance penetrator” (MOP) bomb, which was specifically designed to be able to take out Iranian and North Korean nuclear facilities buried deep underground, showed that the weapon is not capable of completely destroying the latest Iranian facilities. The Pentagon is continuing work on the project.

Bloodiest weekend yet in Syria

Tanks and mechanized forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar Assad assaulted several neighborhoods in the suburbs of Damascus over the weekend, killing dozens of civilians and turning entire city blocks into heaps of rubble. Opposition troops in the area also claimed to have killed a large number of loyalist troops, even as they beat a hasty retreat from several neighborhoods and residents attempted to flee. The Arab League monitoring mission suspended operations over the weekend, citing the mounting violence and the failure of the regime to guarantee the safety of monitors. Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby left for New York on Sunday, where he will brief representatives of the UN Security Council on Tuesday in hopes of getting support for an Arab peace plan that calls on Assad to step aside. Meanwhile, reports have surfaced in various media that Assad is receiving help in murdering Syrian civilians from Iranian troops and Hizbullah gunman.

In related news, the Islamist Palestinian terror militia Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip but has long had its main offices in Damascus, issued a statement over the weekend denying reports that it was abandoning the city, even as reports surfaced out of Gaza that Hamas security forces had broken up protests against Assad. However, a diplomat from the region told AFP that “our belief is that Hamas will not announce a departure from Syria even if it happened.”

“France vigorously condemns the dramatic escalation of violence in Syria, which has led the Arab League to suspend its observers’ mission in Syria,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday. “Dozens of Syrian civilians have been killed in the past days by the savage repression taken by the Syrian regime... Those responsible for these barbarous acts must answer to their crimes.”

Meanwhile, even Iranian officials called on Assad to allow steps toward elections on Sunday, in the latest sign of stress in the relationship between the two allies.

"They have to have a free election, they have to have the right constitution, they have to allow different political parties to have their activities freely in the country. And this is what he has promised," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said at a news conference on the sidelines of an African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. "We think that Syria has to be given the choice of time so that by (that) time they can do the reforms."

"If any vacuum happens suddenly in Syria, nobody can anticipate the outcomes...the consequences could be even worse because there may be internal wars, internal clashes between people," Salehi said. "We have to avoid the worst and give enough chance to the government of Syria to carry on with its reforms. We cannot deny that some people in Syria, a portion of people in Syria are looking for their legitimate rights just like any other people in any other country. But we also cannot deny the outside interferences in Syria."

Holocaust memorial day observed in Israel

Friday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, with commemoration events at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and in many other locations around the world. One memorial was held at the Kibbutz Yad Mordechai Holocaust Museum on Thursday, where survivor Aliza Vitis-Shomron told a crowd including the children and grandchildren of survivors who came to the kibbutz after WWII about her experience. She related that in the closing days before the allied armies liberated the camp she was in, there was a rumor that the prisoners would be liquidated by their guards as a final act of barbarism. “Panic and fear spread quickly,” recalled the Polish-born Israeli gradmother who survived the Warsaw Ghetto and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. “Just as we were at the point of despair, two American tanks came rolling down a hill and saved us. We were crying with joy. The American soldiers didn’t know what to do and they showered us with chocolates and cigarettes.” Giving some thoughts on what has happened in the years since that day, she continued by saying “what happened accompanies me, but I try to live and live well. I try to teach humanitarian values to our youths. We must never do upon others what was done to us.”

For a look at events commemorating International Holocaust Memorial Day, click HERE

Israeli Jewish religiosity increasing
A study entitled “A Portrait of Israeli Jews: Beliefs, Observance, and Values of Israeli Jews,” was published on Thursday by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) in conjunction with the Avi Chai Foundation. It examined levels of religious observance among Israeli Jews over the past 20 years. The study showed a marked increase in affinity for religious holidays, symbols and nomenclature. “In 2009, we can say that Israeli Jews are interested in the role of religion in the State of Israel and in the significance of a ‘Jewish State,’ and express positive attitudes toward expression of religion and tradition in the public realm,” the report says. “However, they seek to preserve freedom of personal choice, especially with regard to Shabbat observance in public.” “The results of the survey are evidence that Israeli Jews are committed to two significant values: preserving Jewish tradition on the one hand, and upholding individual freedom of choice on the other,” said Dr. Eli Silver, director of Avi Chai–Israel. “This fascinating combination is a source of tension, but it is also the basis of a broad Israeli-Jewish consensus.”

Israel’s Hacker War heats up
The shadow war between Israel and Iran was joined by a private group of Israeli hackers on Thursday, launching attacks on dozens of Iranian websites in response to an attack on Israeli sites the day before. "If the Arab hackers thought that the attack on the Israeli websites will pass in silence, I have to said all Arab hackers: You have a mistake," said a statement posted on a popular web forum by a group calling itself "Israel Defense Force Team" adding "Ahmadinejad what do you have to say about that?" The Iranian sites were blacked out except for the image of a waving Israeli flag and the words "we love Israel. Hi Arabs, you have been hacked by IDF Team."

Assad’s troops carry out another massacre in Syria
Turning a deaf ear to the growing chorus of criticism against its brutal actions, the Assad regime in Syria ordered security forces to storm Douma, a flashpoint suburb of Damascus on Thursday, with loyalist troops going house-to-house and clashing with army defectors, civilians and anyone who got in their way. In this and other incidents around the country at least 34 civilians were killed and many more injured, according to opposition groups. Among the dead this week were reportedly a Red Crescent volunteer and a Syrian priest. Despite the ongoing violence, large crowds turned out in several cities to show their support for Assad. Meanwhile, reports surfaced in the Iranian media that 11 Iranian “pilgrims” who were in Syria on a “spiritual journey” were kidnapped on their way to Damascus on Thursday.

Israel assists in Palestinian olive harvest
The IDF Civil Administration announced this week that the olive harvest in the West Bank has been completed with a very healthy 80 kilograms of olives being produced per dunam this year. Around 45% of Palestinian agriculture consists of olive production, totaling around 530,000 dunams and close to 8 million olive trees from which provide employment and sustenance for more than 100,000 Palestinian families. Israeli and Palestinian farmers and officials agreed that this year’s harvest was marked by high levels of cooperation. "Every District Coordinating Office conducts joint meetings and discussion with representatives from the police, Palestinian Agriculture Department and Palestinian Olive Council, in cooperation with local Palestinian authorities," Lt. Col. Sharon Ben-Ari of the Civil Administration said about preparations for olive harvest season. "We see that over time, in comparison to previous years, there has been a marked decrease in complaints and friction."


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