Netanyahu to ToI’s Chinese site: I hope Beijing’s ‘superb’ relations with Israel will affect its UN votes

BEIJING — Israel’s increasingly strong economic relations with China may yet change the country’s traditionally anti-Israel voting patterns at international organizations such as the United Nations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview for The Times of Israel’s Chinese site on Wednesday.

Speaking to ToI’s diplomatic correspondent Raphael Ahren and Chinese editor Yifeng Zhou as he wrapped up his visit to Beijing, Netanyahu said he raised the issue during his meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping. “It is my hope that over time we’ll see a greater consonance between China’s superb relations with Israel on the bilateral side and its votes in multinational forums,” Netanyahu said.

Speaking to The Times of Israel on the 18th floor of Beijing’s St. Regis hotel, the prime minister made no claim to have changed China’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian nuclear agreement, which are markedly at odds with Israel’s own. But he did see bilateral relations strengthening, and noted that “President Xi said he believes that strong economic ties help diplomacy.”

Stressing the economic part of the trip, he talked at length about how Israeli technology can dramatically improve the lives of the 1.3 billion Chinese people. Giving just one example, Netanyahu said there are 100 million cars in China, which causes traffic jams, accidents and heavy pollution. “All of that is changing with new technology, a lot which emanates from Israel,” he said, referring to Mobileye, a Jerusalem-based company that computer chip giant Intel bought last week for the staggering amount of $15 billion, and Waze, a crowd-sourced innovation app that was acquired by Google in 2013.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and China's President Xi Jinping (R) shake hands ahead of their talks at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on March 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Etienne Oliveau)

Netanyahu’s trip was officially timed to mark 25 years since Israel and China established diplomatic relations, and was replete with ceremonial elements. Arriving on Sunday, Netanyahu was welcomed at Beijing airport by an honor guard. Before his meeting with Prime Minister Li Keqiang in the Great Hall of the People, the national anthems were played. Israeli flags fluttered on lampposts at Tiananmen Square throughout the three-day visit. On Tuesday, Netanyahu and his wife Sara laid a wreath at the Monument to the People’s Heroes, making him the first Israeli leader to be granted such an honor.

But the ceremonial aspects were not the focus of the visit. Rather, Netanyahu and his delegation — which included four ministers and dozens of businesspeople — signed more than a dozen bilateral agreements, agreeing to cooperate chiefly in the fields of technology and innovation.

“Israel is renowned, precisely as President Xi said, as a leader in technology,” Netanyahu told The Times of Israel. “In many of these areas, we can have a very fruitful cooperation between Israeli technology and Chinese marketing and industrial power.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center left, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stand on the podium as they listen to the national anthems during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Monday, March 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

On Tuesday, Beijing announced the creation of a China-Israel “innovative strategic partnership.”

“As President Xi himself said, this particular designation applies only to Israel, and to Israel only,” Netanyahu enthused. “And it shows the primacy of Israel’s position in innovation. We’re a small country (of 8.6 million people). We could fit twice, or maybe even more, into Beijing (21.5 million) or Shanghai (24.5 million), in terms of population. But we have a predominance in many areas of technology that are changing the lives of people.”

Here is a full transcript of our interview:

The Times of Israel: President Xi Jinping said you told him Israel is hoping for China to take a more active role in Middle East affairs. What exactly do you have in mind?

Prime Minister Netanyahu: Well, actually I was talking about the economic side and the logistical possibility. China wants to increase the access of Asia — China specifically — to the world. There are two ways of doing it: One is the mutual exchange of Israeli technology with Chinese business. I think we’re well en route to doing that. A third of the investment in Israeli high technology is Chinese. We welcome more. And we would like to advance the free trade association, which would enable a two-way movement to proceed. We agreed that we’d accelerate it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a business / economic in Beijing, China, March 20, 2017 (Haim Zach/GPO)

Secondly, there is a transportation route that we’re planning now, which is a rail connection between Asia and between the Red Sea and Mediterranean ports (such as Eilat and Ashdod). We think it could be of interest to China. So we’ve been discussing that as well.

But you envision no role for China in the Middle East peace process?

Well, we’re going to a pursue our attempt to achieve both a broad peace with the Arab states and Palestinian-Israeli peace. And China is always seen as a valued supporting party.

The Chinese president said he “appreciates Israel’s adoption of the two-state solution.” In recent weeks you have refrained from using this terminology. Was that a point of contention?

‘President Xi said he believes that strong economic ties help diplomacy’

First of all, I’d say that the overwhelming part of our conversation talked about economy and technology and the various possibilities of Israeli-Chinese cooperation. To the extent that we discussed this, I reiterated my position that the Palestinians would have to recognize a Jewish state and that Israel would have overriding security control over the territory west of the Jordan. These are not new positions. I have said that for many years; that hasn’t changed. But the thrust of our conversation overwhelmingly was on economic and technological cooperation.

When can we expect the excellent scientific and technological relations to be translated into diplomatic support at international forums such as the United Nations?

I raised my hope that extraordinary bilateral relations would also be reflected in multinational forums. President Xi said that he believes that strong economic ties help diplomacy. It is my hope that over time we’ll see a greater consonance between China’s superb relations with Israel on the bilateral side and its votes in multinational forums.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at the Monument to the People's Heroes in Beijing on March 21, 2017. (Haim Zach / GPO)

You said at the UN last year that in 10 years, the UN will cheer Israel. You’ve since said it could happen even sooner. How long will it take until China switches its traditional voting patterns in the UN [which consistently support Arab-sponsored anti-Israeli initiatives]?

I wasn’t speaking specifically of China. But I was speaking of a great number of countries that we see dramatically broadening and deepening relations their relations with Israel. And I expect, there, to see a change fairly quickly. I was specifically talking about the large mass of African countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with heads of China's largest corporations in Beijing, March 20, 2017. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

We discussed, quite apart from that, the possibility that Israel and China will have trilateral cooperation in third countries. We specifically spoke about Africa. China is in Africa, it has a big presence in Africa. And Israel’s coming back to Africa with great dynamism. In fact, I intend to take a second trip to Africa in a few months, this time to West Africa. We’re already cooperating with other countries, like Germany and Italy. There’s no reason why Israel and China shouldn’t cooperate, bringing our mutual expertise to the help of African countries. We agreed that our respective foreign ministries would begin discussions to that effect.

Let’s speak about Iran, which is a strong ally of China. After your meeting with Prime Minister Li, a senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official told reporters that Beijing still believes the 2015 nuclear agreement “will be very conducive for regional and international peace.” Clearly you disagree with this characterization.

Yes, that’s no secret. I made my views known in every forum possible, from the United Nations to the US Congress. And I obviously have not changed my view. And Iran’s actions since the signing of the agreement have not lessened this concern. Not to me or to many of the countries of the region, who view Iran as a source of a great deal of aggression.

To what extent were you able to convince the Chinese of your assessment? They plainly don’t see Iran as destabilizing factor but rather as a stabilizing factor.

Time will tell. But I have not changed my mind.

What benefits do you see Israel reaping from the innovative strategic partnership with China that was announced on Tuesday?

‘Every part of life, every area of human affairs, is now being technologized. This is what Israel specializes in’

It’s a remarkable announcement. It gives Israel a unique position. As President Xi himself said, this particular designation applies only to Israel, and to Israel only. And it shows the primacy of Israel’s position in innovation. We’re a small country. We could fit twice, or maybe even more, into Beijing or Shanghai, in terms of population. But we have a predominance in many areas of technology that are changing the lives of people.

We have [expertise in] such areas as water, digital health, cybersecurity, agriculture. Israel is renowned, precisely as President Xi said, as a leader in technology. In many of these areas, we can have a very fruitful cooperation between Israeli technology and Chinese marketing and industrial power.

In fact, I would say, and I recognize now a clear understanding of this in the leadership of China, that once you’ve established basic infrastructure — roads, utilities, factories — the way that you can sustain growth is only by consistently adding value to your products and services. The only way to do that, beyond a certain point, is with the addition of technology.

Every part of life, every area of human affairs, is now being technologized. This is what Israel specializes in.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (third from left) meets with Intel Corp. CEO Brian Krzanich (to his left) and Mobileye founders Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram , respectively first left and first right; (Courtesy: Haim Zach, GPO)

We had a lengthy discussion over a very fruitful dinner about the changes that are happening for example in the car industry. China has a 100 million cars. There’s a problem of congestion. Road accidents. Air pollution. The new automotive technology — autonomous vehicles — and the computer networking makes driving a lot more efficient. All of that is changing with new technology, a lot of which emanates from Israel.

Intel just bought an Israeli company [MobilEye] for $15 billion that deals with driverless car technology. But there are hundreds of other such companies in Israel. So it’s become a world leader in this effort.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Monday, March 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

China is a classic, perhaps the preeminent country, that could apply this technology for the benefit of its people. Fewer road accidents. Less pollution. And you get more quickly to your destination, without the need to spend exorbitant amounts of money on a clumsy car that costs a bundle and is 95 percent of the time idle. These changes are all the products of technology. So it’s one of the areas that we spoke about.

We also spoke at great length about digital health, which means for example that the medical records of all Chinese citizens could be computerized so that every time you go to a different hospital you don’t have to go through the whole battery of tests to establish your medical record.

We in Israel have a computerized card, so that’s not necessary. You can go to any doctor, anywhere, and he knows instantly your medical record; what medicines you need, what medicines you should avoid. This is a tremendous saving and a tremendous improvement in health.

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Netanyahu denies Russia told Israel to halt airstrikes in Syria

BEIJING — Russia has not changed its policy on coordination with the Israeli air force in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, denying reports that Moscow had told Israel to end airstrikes in the war-torn country and vowing to continue attacking weapons convoys.

“It’s simply incorrect to say the Russians are changing their policy toward us,” he said.

The report on Russia changing its stance came after an Israeli airstrike on Friday to which Syria responded by firing anti-aircraft missiles at the departing Israeli warplanes. The Israeli strike reportedly nearly missed a Russian asset and Moscow summoned the Israeli envoy following the exchange.

Netanyahu said that he told Russian President Vladimir Putin during a March 9 meeting that Israel will continue to thwart attempts by Iran and its terrorist proxies, such as Hezbollah, to smuggle advanced weapons to Lebanon via Syria.

“My policy is consistent, and this is also what I told Putin,” the prime minister said during a visit to China. “We will not allow Israel to be attacked from Syrian territory and we will not tolerate the transfer of advanced weaponry of those entering Syria — Hezbollah — to the extent that we detect it.”

Netanyahu said Israel was targeting Iranian attempts to move advanced arms within Syria, and that he had told Putin as much during their Moscow sit-down.

“It’s our policy to strike at the convoys of sophisticated weaponry, and the Iranians continue with them. We will continue to attack whenever the Iranians smuggle advanced arms. Therefore we need this personal connection [with Putin], which is important for Israel’s national security,” Netanyahu said.

“If there’s intelligence and operational feasibility, we strike, and so it will continue,” he told reporters in his Beijing hotel as he wrapped up the official part of his three-day visit to Chinese capital.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting in Moscow on March 9, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Pavel Golovkin)

Israel reportedly launched several attacks on targets in Syria in recent days, one of which on Friday nearly hit Russian troops stationed in the area. Less than 24 hours later Moscow summoned Israel’s ambassador to Russia, Gary Koren, to note its protest. Syria’s ambassador to the UN later said that Russia had changed its policy and no longer grants Israel freedom of action over Syrian skies.

Israel officially acknowledged one strike on Syrian territory.

Israel does not inform the Russian forces stationed in Syria ahead of attack there, out of fear for the Israeli pilots, according to an Israeli source.

“It’s not simple. We are very careful not to hit whoever is not supposed to be hit,” Netanyahu told reporters travelling with him in China.

The Israeli-Russian process to prevent an accidental clash, in which officials from both sides ensure that each others’ forces do not get in each other’s way, requires constant maintenance, he added. “I am not traveling to Moscow simply to chat,” he said.

The Israeli military said its aircraft on Friday struck several targets in Syria and were back in Israeli-controlled airspace when several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria toward the jets. One incoming missile was shot down by an Arrow defense battery, while two more landed in Israel, causing neither injury nor damage.

The army said the Arrow was deployed — a first for the system — against the Syrian surface-to-air missile because the projectile “behaved like a ballistic threat.”

The Arrow 3 missile defense system that was delivered to the Israeli Air Force on January 18, 2017. (Defense Ministry)

Syria complained to the United Nations secretary-general and to the director of the UN Security Council calling the Israeli attacks a violation of international law and of Syrian sovereignty.

The Syrian army said the Israeli strikes were conducted to support “[Islamic State] terrorist gangs and in a desperate attempt to raise their deteriorating morale and divert attention away from the victories which Syrian Arab Army is making in the face of the terrorist organizations,” a statement read.

Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering mostly sporadic incidents of spillover fire that Israel has generally dismissed as tactical errors by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Israel has responded to the errant fire with limited reprisals on Syrian positions.

The skies over Syria are now crowded, with Russian and Syrian aircraft backing Assad’s forces and a US-led coalition striking Islamic State and al-Qaeda targets.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations.

Netanyahu chief of staff heads to US to sort out settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz left for Washington on Sunday to discuss settlement building with the Trump administration.

He will join Ron Dermer, Israel’s Washington ambassador, to continue discussions with US special envoy Jason Greenblatt in an attempt to reach an understanding between Israel and US President Donald Trump’s administration about building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu left Israel on Saturday night for a three day trip to China, and the fact that Horowitz did not accompany the prime minister but went instead to Washington highlights the importance of the negotiations with the US.

Greenblatt visited Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan last week to gain a deeper understanding of the situation. Despite two meetings with Netanyahu during the course of the visit, no agreement was reached on settlement construction.

Netanyahu and Greenblatt made “progress on the issue of Israeli settlement construction following up on President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement in Washington last month to work out an approach that reflects both leaders’ views,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office issued after the second three-hour meeting Thursday night.

“Those discussions are continuing between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office,” it said.

Netanyahu and the Trump White House have been trying to reach an understanding on Israeli settlement activity since last month’s meeting between the Israeli leader and the US president, who in a joint press conference told Netanyahu that he wanted him to “hold back” on the settlements.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Netanyahu has been trying to get the White House’s approval for the construction of a new settlement — the first in some 25 years — to replace the illegal outpost of Amona, which was evacuated and demolished last month.

Last month, he indicated to members of his security cabinet that the government may have to back off the pledge, drawing vociferous protests from the settlers and their allies in the coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's special representative for international negotiations, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

The Israeli prime minister has also been actively trying to avoid friction on other fronts related to settlements, pushing to postpone a Knesset committee vote next week on a bill that calls to annex the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

On Thursday, Greenblatt sat down for an unprecedented session with a delegation from the settler umbrella group the Yesha Council, led by Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi and Shomron Regional Council head Yossi Dagan — a meeting that according to Channel 2 was coordinated with Netanyahu.

Ahead of Greenblatt’s trip to Israel, Dagan told Likud ministers that a Netanyahu agreement to rein in settlement construction, or to a partial freeze of settlements, would lead to political crisis, Channel 2 reported, adding that the settler movement has argued that the freeze imposed by the administration of former president Barack Obama constituted “a breach of their human rights.”

A statement from the Yesha Council following the meeting with Greenblatt described it as “fruitful and positive,” and added that the council “looks forward to continuing this important dialogue.”

Channel 10 reported that officials who have met with Greenblatt over the past several days came away with a sense that the administration is determined to make progress on a regional peace accord, with talk of convening a possible regional conference in the coming months, and that White House efforts to get Israel to rein in settlements would come into play then.

Netanyahu said earlier Thursday that Israel was “in the middle of a process of dialogue with the White House and it is our intention to get to an agreed-upon policy on construction in the settlements.”

He noted that it was preferable to reach such understandings quickly rather than engaging in drawn-out negotiations.

Many on the Israeli right had anticipated that Trump would be more supportive of the settlement enterprise than his predecessor Barack Obama. However, last month, at a joint White House press conference with Netanyahu, Trump asked the prime minister to “hold back on settlements a little bit.” He also said in a newspaper interview that Israeli settlements “don’t help” in negotiating a peace agreement.

Netanyahu, Italian FM talk expanded cooperation between nations

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano in Jerusalem Wednesday, and the two discussed expanded cooperation between the two countries.

That included “the possibility of widening bilateral economic cooperation in Africa in order to assist African countries in finding solutions to water, agricultural and other problems,” according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

While the two “expressed their deep appreciation for the state of bilateral relations,” Netanyahu did allude to Italy’s abstention on October’s UNESCO resolution that failed to acknowledge Judaism’s connections to Jerusalem — in line with other EU nations. Netanyahu said Israel would like to see Italy voting against similar resolutions in the future.

Following that vote, Italian then-prime minister Matteo Renzi called the resolution “incomprehensible, unacceptable and wrong.” He explained that Italy voted according to its traditional position along with the EU bloc. Renzi promised to seek to influence other European nations on such matters in future, and said he would consider breaking EU ranks in future votes of such a nature.

However, Renzi has since left office following his defeat in a national referendum on constitutional reform.

Alfano, for his part, spoke of Rome’s “obligation to defend the Italian Jewish community against incidents of anti-Semitism,” according to the statement from the PMO.

In November, Netanyahu told visiting Italian President Sergio Mattarella that Israel was “gravely disappointed” by Italy’s abstention.

Although Israel was disappointed by Italy’s abstention from voting on the UNESCO resolution, Netanyahu said he was encouraged by Renzi’s statement that Italy would change its voting position on future resolutions.

Iranian foreign minister calls Netanyahu’s Purim story ‘fake history’

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gesturing during his speech at Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Feb. 19, 2017. (Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “fake history” for saying that Iran sought the annihilation of the Jews, just as had ancient Persia in the Purim story.

“To sell bigoted lies against a nation which has saved Jews 3 times, Netanyahu resorting to fake history & falsifying Torah. Force of habit,” Zarif tweeted.

To sell bigoted lies against a nation which has saved Jews 3 times, Netanyahu resorting to fake history & falsifying Torah. Force of habit.

On Saturday, Netanyahu visited an Israeli synagogue, where he told children celebrating Purim that Iran seeks to kill the Jews just as the Persians did. Purim started Saturday night, with costumes and street parties around Israel.

In an image attached to his tweet, Zarif wrote: “Once again, Benjamin Netanyahu not only distorts the realities of today, but also distorts the past — including Jewish scripture. It is truly regrettable that bigotry gets to the point of making allegations against an entire nation which has saved the Jews three times in its history.

“The Book of Esther tells of how Xerxes I saved Jews from a plot hatched by Haman the Agagite, which is marked on this very day,” he wrote, referring to the Persian king known in the Purim story as Ahasuerus.

Jews see Queen Esther as the heroine of Purim for dissuading Ahasuerus from killing all the Jews in the kingdom, as his viceroy Haman initially convinced him to do.

Zarif also credited Cyrus the Great, who he called an “Iranian king,” with saving the Jews during their exile in Babylon and Iran with “gladly” accepting Jews who “were being slaughtered in Europe” during World War II. Iran has often been accused of denying the Holocaust.

Earlier Sunday, the speaker of Iran’s parliament said “apparently, [Netanyahu] is neither acquainted with history, nor has read the Torah,” according to the semi-official Fars News Agency. Netanyahu “has distorted the Iranians’ pre-Islam historical era and attempted to misrepresent events. Of course, nothing more than presenting such lies is expected from a wicked Zionist.”

In a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow Friday, Netanyahu said Iran sought to “destroy the state of the Jews” in the same way ancient Persia had plotted to “destroy the Jewish people.” But Putin rejected the parallel, saying the story of Purim occurred “in the fifth century BCE” and suggesting they discuss the “different world” of today.

TOP TRUMP ADVISER GREENBLATT TO MEET TODAY WITH NETANYAHU, ABBAS

 

Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Monday, three days after Trump’s phone call with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about ways to advance the Middle East diplomatic process.

Greenblatt is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, and with Abbas in Ramallah.

In addition, he is also scheduled to meet in Jerusalem with President Reuven Rivlin, acting National Security Council head Yaakov Nagel and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories head Maj.-Gen.Yoav Mordechai.

As first reported in The Jerusalem Post last week, Greenblatt is coming to discuss guidelines to govern Israeli construction in the settlements, an issue that was a constant source of friction with the previous administration. Netanyahu and Trump agreed during their meeting in Washington last month to establish a mechanism to work out these guidelines and Greenblatt is to head that mechanism.

Jason Greenblatt. Credit: CourtesyJason Greenblatt. Credit: Courtesy

Israel’s ambassador to the US Ron Dermer is currently in the country as well to take part in the discussions with Greenblatt.

The talks with Greenblatt, however, are expected to be wider than just the settlement issue and to include looking at ways to move the long-stalled diplomatic process forward.

According to the White House’s readout of the 10-minute-long conversation between Trump and Abbas on Friday, Trump “emphasized his personal belief that peace is possible and that the time has come to make a deal.” He stressed that such a deal would have to “be negotiated directly between the two parties,” and that the US could not impose a solution. Trump also invited Abbas to the White House “in the near future.”

Greenblatt, an Orthodox Jew from Teaneck, New Jersey, is a graduate of Yeshiva University and also studied for a year at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut. He has worked for Trump over the last two decades as a real estate lawyer.

In the heat of the presidential campaign last April, Trump announced that Greenblatt, and another one of his top Jewish lawyers, David Friedman, would be his top Israel advisers. Friedman is expected to be approved by the Senate as the ambassador to Israel in the coming days.

In an interview with JTA last April, Greenblatt said that he supports a two-state solution, as long at it is negotiated by the parties and not imposed from the outside.

Greenblatt was called unexpectedly by Trump to a meeting the then-presidential candidate was having with Jewish reporters last April. When Trump was asked about the settlements, he deflected the query to Greenblatt, who said, “I think the settlements should stay, but I think they have to work something out so that both sides are able to live in peace and safety.”

GERMAN NEWSPAPERS: NETANYAHU IS A MAD DICTATOR LIKE KHAMENEI

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Two German tabloids in Hamburg and Berlin wrote on Friday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the world’s seven most insane dictators, prompting the Israeli Embassy to slam the report as antisemitic.

In unsigned articles titled “The seven looniest dictators of the world,” the papers included Netanyahu on a list with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syria’s Bashar Assad, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

 

The article listed the initials of the author as MKR.

The Hamburger Morgenpost and Berliner Kurier, part of the same publishing house, wrote under a picture of Netanyahu that he “long refuses to agree to a two-state solution. He continues to carry out construction of settlements and thereby provokes his Palestinian neighbors. In the long-running troubles with Iran, he tried without success to pressure Barack Obama to launch an air attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. With Trump that could turn out differently.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the embassy immediately responded to a Post query on Saturday.

The Israeli Embassy in Berlin told The Jerusalem Post: “The fact that the elected prime minister of a Western democracy – that has been struggling for its life ever since it was founded – is placed in the same category as some of the worst dictatorships in the world, bears witness more than anything to the newspaper’s level of understanding about what is happening in the world today or about something much worse, that should have disappeared from the world long ago: antisemitism.”

Volker Beck, a Green Party deputy in the Bundestag, wrote to his more than 73,400 Twitter followers that the articles are “simply outrageous.” One can criticize Netanyahu but whoever prepared the list “lost all sense of proportion.”

The Morgenpost has a daily circulation of nearly 73,000 in the northern city of Hamburg. The paper also criticized Israel as a travel destination, writing, “Israel brutally represses the Palestinians in occupied West Jordan [sic]. Vacation in Israel is an experience, but a matter of taste for critical travelers.”

Carsten Ovens, the scientific spokesman of the Christian Democratic Union in Hamburg, told the Post that “Israel is, in fact, a great travel country. How one can as the editorial department of a German daily paper combine an unreflective and one-sided criticism of the only democracy in the Middle East with a negative travel recommendation is highly questionable. I will on Monday invite the editorial management of the Mopo [Morgenpost] to a personal conversation.” Ovens is a politician in the Hamburg legislature who has led the fight against boycotts of Israel in the city.

Claudio Casula, the author of the popular pro-Israel blog Spirit of Entebbe, was one of the first to draw attention to the article, on Twitter. He told the Post that “it is a joke to include the elected prime minister of Israel on the list of the seven insane dictators.” He said Israel’s democracy is ranked at 36th of 167 countries in the world, according to the Democracy Index.

Casula, a longtime observer of German media coverage of Israel, added that the list failed to include Sudan President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The Mopo tweeted on Saturday evening: “The classification of Netanyahu in the list was incorrect. We apologize for that.”

The Morgenpost and the Kurier did not immediately respond to Post inquires.

Netanyahu tells Putin that Iran must not replace IS in Syria

http://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-tells-putin-that-iran-must-not-replace-islamic-state-in-syria/

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that his talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin were focused on keeping Iran from filling the vacuum left by the Islamic State in Syria and combating Iranian-sponsored radical Islamic terrorism.

“One of the things that we are fighting against together is radical Islamic terrorism. Of course, there was significant progress last year in the fight against the terrorism of radical Sunni Islam led by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and Russia has a very important contribution,” Netanyahu said ahead of his meeting with the Russian president.

“It’s obvious that we wouldn’t want this terror to be replaced by radical Islamic Shiite terror led by Iran,” he said.

While Russia has played a major role over the last year in Syria combating the Islamic State and the Syrian rebels, Israel is concerned that the Kremlin not allow Iran, Russia’s ally in supporting Syrian strongman Bashar Assad, a permanent foothold in the country.

After their meeting, Netanyahu said Putin had “internalized” his warning, telling Israeli reporters that he expressed Israel’s “strong opposition to Iran’s entrenchment Syria.”

Iran is “seeking to build its military forces, military infrastructure, in order to establish itself in Syria, including an attempt to build a seaport,” Netanyahu said, calling this “grave for Israel’s security.”

During their discussion, Netanyahu said he also brought up the Golan Heights, telling the Russian leader that Israel will never leave the area. “He already knows this issue,” Netanyahu said, indicating that he has discussed the matter with Putin during their previous meetings.

The prime minister further said he asked for Putin’s help in bring back from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip two missing Israeli civilians and the bodies of fallen soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who died in the 2014 Gaza war. Netanyahu said Putin “promised to do anything in his power to help us with this.”

Absent from the discussion, however, was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Moscow’s possible interest in Jerusalem as a channel of communication to the White House was also not mentioned, Netanyahu said. “We talked about Israeli interests,” he indicated.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) during their meeting in Moscow on March 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Pavel Golovkin)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) during their meeting in Moscow on March 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Pavel Golovkin)

Following their talk, at the Kremlin, Netanyahu thanked Putin for his wishes ahead of the Jewish festival of Purim, which starts Saturday night, noting that modern Iran now threatens the Jews as the ancient Persians did then.

“Twenty-five hundred years ago in ancient Persia, there was an attempt to wipe out the Jewish nation that was unsuccessful, which is being marked with this holiday,” the prime minister said.

“Here today in Persia’s successor, Iran, there is another attempt to wipe out the Jewish state. They say this as clearly as possible. They inscribe it on their ballistic missiles,” he said.

Netanyahu said that Iran was a threat not just to Israel, but to the whole region.

“Today, Israel is a state with an army and we are able to defend ourselves. But the threat of Shiite Islamic extremism is not just a threat to us, but rather to the entire region and world peace. I know that we share the desire to prevent any victory for radical Islam from any direction,” he said.

During the meeting, Putin said he was “very pleased” with his “close and trusting contact” with Netanyahu.

“We meet regularly in person, are regularly in contact by telephone, and work together at the ministry and agency level,” Putin said. “You often come to Russia right on the eve of holidays, and so I want to take the opportunity to congratulate you on the upcoming Purim holiday and wish everyone in Israel happy holidays and prosperity.”

Netanyahu was on a whirlwind visit to Moscow for his third meeting with Putin in a year, and headed straight home on Thursday evening.

He was greeted at the airport by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. On the tarmac, Bogdanov, Moscow’s point man for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, warmly embraced his Israeli guest.

Ahead of the visit, Netanyahu’s office said: “The prime minister will express Israel’s strong opposition to the presence of Iranian forces, and those of its proxies, on our northern border and in the Mediterranean Sea in the context of the talks on a settlement of any kind.”

“The prime minister also intends to reiterate to President Putin the fact that the [Syrian-held] Golan Heights is not part of the discussion on any outline” of a peace agreement, his office said in a statement.

Netanyahu and Putin were also expected to discuss the ongoing military coordination between the two countries to ensure their forces don’t clash over Syria’s skies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Arrives in Moscow ahead of his meeting with Russian President Putin.

A source close to Netanyahu reportedly said Wednesday, hours before he arrived at the Kremlin, that “Moscow allows us to act against Hezbollah in Syrian airspace.”

Russian and Israeli authorities denied the report. “There is just no such agreement or coordination,” a senior official in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel.

Israeli officials have long accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guards of trying to build an anti-Israel front on the Syrian Golan, alongside Hezbollah forces and local Druze opposed to Israel. Netanyahu has sought Russia’s help in seeking to thwart the attempts of Iran and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah to use Syria as a base from which to attack Israel.

PM Netanyahu arrives at Moscow airport ahead of a meeting with President Putin of Russia, March 9, 2016 (courtesy)

PM Netanyahu arrives at Moscow airport ahead of a meeting with President Putin of Russia, March 9, 2016 (courtesy)

Last week, Chagai Tzuriel, the director-general of the Intelligence Ministry, told The Times of Israel that keeping Iran and Hezbollah from getting a foothold on the Golan was at the top of the agenda for Israel’s security apparatus.

“Since Russia began intervening in the Syrian war a year ago, Russia became an important actor in Syria itself,” said Eyal Zisser, a Middle East expert from Tel Aviv University. “But of course this intervention has to do with the strategic interest of Israel. Russia became a neighborhood country, so you need to coordinate, you need to establish open channels of communication in order to ensure that no accidents will occur along the border.”

Russia partnered with Iran to assure the survival of the Syrian regime, which gives Netanyahu and Putin much to discuss, Zisser said, especially as the civil war appears to be at a turning point. Forces of President Basher Assad have recently recaptured the city of Aleppo from the rebels and it is currently unclear what the Syria-Russia-Iran alliance will attempt to achieve next.

File: Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, shakes hand with Syrian President Bashar Assad as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, looks on in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, October 20, 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

File: Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, shakes hand with Syrian President Bashar Assad as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, looks on in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, October 20, 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

“The future of Syria might be dictated by Russians, Turks and Iranians. And Israel probably wants to share with the Russians its ideas and concerns about such a process,” Zisser said.

The Golan Heights, which are close to Damascus, pose a particular headache for Israel, he added.

“The Syrian regime, with the support of the Iranians and Hezbollah, might want to make a comeback and recaptured those territories which were lost several years ago to the rebels,” Zisser predicted.

An IDF Merkava tank drives near the border with Syria on the Golan Heights, on November 28, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ)

An IDF Merkava tank drives near the border with Syria on the Golan Heights, on November 28, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ)

Forces affiliated with the Islamic State group are making territorial gains on the Golan Heights’ south, which also worries Jerusalem, although they are careful not to engage in a direct confrontation with Israel, he said. “They have other priorities, such as fighting each other and fighting the regime. But IS on the border is not something Israel is happy with.”

Netanyahu, who flew to Moscow in a small jet, taking with him no press and a small number of advisers, is expected to return to Israel on Thursday evening, leaving Russia immediately after his meeting with Putin. He is accompanied by Minister Ze’ev Elkin — who also serves as his personal translator — acting national security adviser Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Jacob Nagel, his chief of staff staff Yoav Horowitz, his Military Secretary Brig.-Gen. Eliezer Toledano and the head of the IDF’s intelligence branch Herzl Halevy.

Netanyahu and UK’s Boris Johnson spar over settlements

Visiting British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu butted heads publicly on Wednesday over whether Israeli settlements hinder the peace process.

Speaking before Government Press Office cameras ahead of their meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Netanyahu welcomed Johnson and said he looked forward to visiting London later this year to celebrate the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, which laid key diplomatic groundwork for Jewish statehood.

Johnson recalled the time in his youth when he worked in a kibbutz and joked about his “not-very-substantial contribution to the Israeli economy back then.” On a serious note, he went on to say that Prime Minister Theresa May and the rest of the UK government are “rock-like supporters of Israel.”

“What we want to see is an Israel that is at peace with its neighbors,” said Johnson, who had just come from meetings with Palestinian officials in Ramallah. “I should remind you that the policy of my government is for a two-state solution, which is what we want to achieve and help to bring about in a modest and humble way. And obviously we want to help remove the obstacles to that.”

He then briefly changed the topic, stating that Israel has “an absolute right to live in security, and the people of Israel deserve to be safe from terrorism. That’s our absolute priority.”

Jerusalem and London cooperate in various areas to “ensure the stability of the entire region,” Johnson said, only to return to the thorny issue of settlements. “And of course we must also try to remove obstacles to peace and progress, such as the settlements, which you and I have discussed before.”

The foreign secretary then addressed plans between Israel and the UK to negotiate a new free trade agreement, following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union last year. He hailed growing bilateral commercial ties: “We have the fastest growing Aston Martin dealership anywhere in the world here in Israel. We’ve done some fantastic export deals with you. But you’ve also greatly contributed to our economy.”

Netanyahu spoke up again, saying that he and Johnson evidently agree “on most things but not on all things.” The reason peace has been elusive for 100 years is not the settlements, he insisted. “It’s the persistent refusal to recognize a nation state for the Jewish people in any boundaries. If you want to solve a problem, go to the core of the problem.”

Posting a photo with Netanyahu from the encounter later on his Twitter account, Johnson called his conversation “friendly & frank.” He also related that the discussion focused on the two-state solution, trade and “concern over illegal settlements.”

Friendly & frank talks w/ PM @netanyahu in . Discussed Two States solution, trade & concern over illegal settlements

Earlier on Wednesday, Johnson had toured settlements with the leftist group Peace Now.

Here is UK Foreign Secretary @BorisJohnson checking out what he calls “illegal settlements” in the West Bank with leftist Peace Now group https://twitter.com/PeaceNowIL/status/839494791859666946 

He also traveled to Ramallah for meetings with the Palestinian leadership.

“The policy of our government in the UK is absolutely unchanged,” Johnson told reporters in Ramallah, standing next to Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki on a podium near a “State of Palestine” seal.

“We remain committed to a two-state solution, to that vision, for the resolution of this conflict. You know, I really think it is possible,” he said.

Johnson criticized Israeli settlement building in his comments in Ramallah, but also spoke out against Palestinian violence.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

“There is of course the need for the Israeli people to feel that they can live in security without the fear of terrorism and violence,” he said.

During an interview with Israel’s Channel 10, he indicated that the US administration was concerned by Israel’s recent expansions of West Bank settlements.

“So I think the very clear message that I got from the press conference between Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and President Trump [on February 15] is that I think there is anxiety in the White House, as there has been for a long time, about the pace of settlements and illegal settlements on the West Bank.”

The UK has “not deviated from our traditional view that a two-state solution is the way ahead,” he said. “We really want to encourage that. And we do think that settlements are illegal and get in the way of it.”

Netanyahu:Israel prepares to annex most of Syria to secure the jewish future

 

During a recent meeting with Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan,Netanyahu said Israel would prepare to annex most of Syria to Israel= to secure the jewish future.

Signs of war are clearly evident when peering into Syria from the Israeli side of the Golan Heights: bombed-out villages, forests hastily chopped down for firewood, refugee encampments. But above all there is the desolation and quiet.

One village sitting almost on the border line seems to be deserted, save for an incongruous shepherd and his flock and, eventually, one or two trucks moving in the distance. This is a change from previous years, when “war tourists,” Israeli and foreign, flocked to this frontier for front-row seats to the worst show on Earth: plumes of gray smoke from mortar shells, sounds of gunfire, multi-vehicle offensives by one Syrian rebel group or another.

Especially at the start of the Syrian civil war, when such things were novel, Israeli military officers would sit at the Coffee Annan café on Mt. Bental, overlooking the vast Golan plain, and through binoculars observe what one officer termed “the laboratory of terror” below. The “experiments” in this laboratory sometimes crossed into the Israeli side, with rockets over villages, roadside bombs on the border fence, and small arms fire; several Israeli army personnel have been seriously injured and at least one civilian has been killed.

Until a few errant mortars and an unidentified drone caused some excitement last month, however, the frontier with Israel appeared to have gone almost wholly quiet—despite the fact that the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra are known to be on the border.

As one senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer from the Northern Command told me during a recent visit, “Lebanon might be the most explosive arena, and Gaza might be the most immediate, but the Golan Heights is the most dynamic.”

This “dynamism,” indeed, explains how it is that after years of anarchy and warfare inside Syria, the rebels – whether moderate, jihadist, or ISIS—have yet to fire at Israel in anger. It may also explain the relative quiet of recent months and Israel’s evolving strategy vis-à-vis its Golan front. After half a decade sitting out the civil war, is Israel about to pick a side?

When it comes to the Golan Heights, dynamism for the IDF takes many forms, but none perhaps so personal for many officers as the imposing mountain of Tel Hara, which rises out of the Golan plain several kilometers inside Syria. Tel Hara was, for decades, a strategic command position for the Syrian army and a major focal point for Israeli war planners.

“I trained for years to take that hill, a lot of sweat went into it,” the senior IDF officer told me, pointing at it wistfully from the border line. “And the [Syrian] rebels took it with a few dozen people” in late 2014 after a protracted siege.

After Israel conquered the territory in the 1967 war, the Golan Heights remained for nearly 40 years Israel’s calmest border. Limited Syrian and Israeli forces eyed each other warily across a demilitarized zone presided over by a UN peacekeeping force (UNDOF, or UN Disengagement Observer Forces). Yet the Assad government in Damascus as well as successive Israeli governments in Jerusalem kept a tenuous quiet, if not peace, as proxy conflagrations raged in neighboring Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories.

On several occasions in the last two decades it seemed like an actual peace deal was in the offing, with Israel purportedly ready to trade the Golan for a full normalization of ties with Syria. The 40,000-or-so Israeli citizens and Druze residents living in the territory are thankful these efforts ran aground. Indeed, those days of peacemaking seem like a strange vestige of a bygone era, given the charnel house Syria has become.

The IDF forces responsible for the Golan were, prior to the Syrian civil war, made up of an armored division that mostly focused on training. With its live-fire zones, farmland, and old fenced-in minefields, the Golan’s wide open spaces were an ideal location for large-scale maneuvers. “There are more mines than cows, and more cows than people,” a local once quipped to me.

If rusty reservists were for decades responsible for securing the border, since 2014 a dedicated regional division (the “Bashan”) was set up on the Golan, consisting of armored and artillery units, special intelligence-gathering elements, and elite combat infantry (most recently from the Paratroopers Brigade). The old rickety border fence was replaced with a formidable high-tech barrier, replete with advanced sensors and thick metal.

Standing close to the new border fence, the senior IDF officer remarked upon these changes—and more recent ones.

“You haven’t seen one [IDF] patrol, have you?” he asked rhetorically. “Patrols are exposed and vulnerable. We’re now ‘off the fence.’”