Report: Massive morale problems aboard US Navy ship


(CNN) Morale aboard a US warship operating in the Pacific reached such a low ebb that one sailor described serving aboard the ship as being akin to being on “a floating prison,” according to surveys obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

The Navy Times obtained three command climate surveys featuring hundreds of pages of anonymous comments from sailors revealing widespread morale issues aboard the USS Shiloh, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser based in Yokosuka, Japan.
Two Navy officials told CNN that the information reported from the surveys was accurate.
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According to the obtained surveys only 31% of the sailors who responded to the survey said yes to the prompt: “I trust that my organization’s leadership will treat me fairly,” compared to 63% under the previous commanding officer.
Additionally, only 37% agreed with the statement “I feel motivated to give my best efforts to the mission of the organization,” compared to 69% agreeing to the statement under the previous leadership.
The Navy officials added that the poor results of one climate survey caused Navy leadership to increase the frequency of which such surveys were conducted to help prompt the commander, Capt. Adam Aycock, to improve his performance.
One of the officials said they could not explain how Aycock managed to retain command in the face of the poor survey results.
Aycock served as the Shiloh’s commanding officer from June 2015 to August 2017 and is now at the US Naval War College.
One official said that Aycock remains on active duty and was not prematurely reassigned from his command of the Shiloh.
The survey responses also showed that junior sailors were concerned about receiving harsh punishments from Aycock, including being placed in the brig and fed only “bread and water,” an arcane form of punishment that is still available to commanding officers.
“Even the taxi drivers on base know us for being the ‘USS Bread and Water,'” one survey respondent said.
Language prohibiting that form of punishment was placed into the current version of the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act.
The Shiloh is part of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet which has been beset by a series of problems including two deadly collisions involving the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John McCain.
Officers in the 7th Fleet have faced a range of disciplinary actions and the Navy took the rare step of relieving the fleet’s commander, Vice. Adm. Joseph Aucoin.
The Shiloh, like the McCain and the Fitzgerald, is also equipped with the Aegis Missile Defense system which is capable of shooting down hostile missiles from adversarial states like North Korea.
The ship made headlines in June when a US sailor who was thought to have gone overboard for seven days and was presumed dead was found aliveaboard the ship after prompting a major search operation. The sailor was later subjected to a non-judicial punishment.

Google Leak ‘Confirms’ New Pixels Are Massive

Evan Blass has done it again. Following the weekend’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL specification motherlode and just 36 hours before the big launch, Blass has given us our best look yet at GoogleGOOGL -0.68%’s new smartphones – and confirmed both are massive in very different ways…

Writing on VentureBeat Blass declared “These are the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL” and based on the high resolution images which match up exactly with previously leaks, I have no reason to doubt this. Blass also has a famously impressive track record behind him.

As for the images themselves, what is most striking is how massive the new Pixels are in entirely different ways. The Pixel 2 XL has a massive 6-inch display (up from 5.5-inches in the Pixel XL) while the Pixel 2 has disappointingly massive top and bottom bezels wrapping a 5-inch display just like its predecessor. Those bezels are sure to be the number one target for detractors everywhere.

Meanwhile Google also looks set to redesign the Android homescreen, putting the search bar at the bottom below the dock. I’d argue docked apps are used more often than Google searches and the bar is arguably unnecessary when the excellent Google Assistant can be called up from any location by holding the home button (or even squeezing the sides). So if this can’t be moved I suspect there could be another backlash.

But there is good news.

Firstly I think Google has nailed the size of the Pixel 2 XL. Made by LG, it mimics the superb 6-inch LG V30 and its new 18:9 aspect ratio means it will actually be shorter, narrower and therefore better for one handed use than the 5.5-inch Pixel XL. Secondly, Google has equipped both phones with dual front firing stereo speakers – a much loved feature that was controversially dropped after Google ended the Nexus range.

In addition to this the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL will match the specs of most major 2017 Android flagships. Inside both new Pixels will be a Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 835 chip, 4GB of RAM, 64GB and 128GB storage options and 12 megapixel cameras. There is also talk of bigger batteries.

Interestingly Google hasn’t gone down the dual camera route of its rivals. But having raised the smartphone camera bar with the original Pixel and Pixel XL thanks to some truly remarkable image processing, hopes will be high Google can do it again with the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.

As for the bad news, Blass reveals Google had hoped to fit both new Pixels with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 836 chip (an iterative upgrade like the Snapdragon 821 chip in the 2016 Pixels). Meanwhile 6GB of RAM would’ve been nice in the Pixel 2 XL to compete with the OnePlus 5 and Galaxy Note 8, and Google has dropped the headphone jack just a year after its Pixel campaigns mocked Apple for doing the same thing.

Meanwhile Blass claims Google will stagger the release of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL with the former going on sale on October 19th but the latter delayed until November 15th. If true, this is a shame because the Pixel 2 XL will be the hot ticket item. Even if it won’t come cheap.

Then again the new Pixels could be well worth the wait because their promise of truly stock Android and instant updates makes them unique in the smartphone world. Last year this combination also delivered phones with a level of responsive real world performance no Android rival could match (and arguably still doesn’t).

The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL won’t be the only new devices Google launches this week, but they are easily the most anticipated. That won’t change even if we now know almost everything



BOGOTA – Israel has offered its expertise in the “very humanitarian” effort of helping Colombia clear its countryside of anti-personnel mines, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said Wednesday after meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the palatial Casa de Nariño presidential residence in the city.

After Afghanistan, there are more anti-personnel mines in Colombia – which is just emerging from a 52-year war between the,government and the Marxist-Leninist FARC terrorist organization – – than any other country in the world, he said. An estimated 25,000 people have been killed by these mines over the last 25 years.

Last September, a week after the signing of the historic agreement between the government and FARC that earned Santos a Nobel Peace Prize, an eight-member delegation arrived in Israel to receive instructions from the Defense Ministry’s National Mine Action Authority.

“Your country has been a friend and ally of Colombia, and recently a great ally in the construction of peace in the country,” Santos said. “We would like to strengthen this magnificent relationship.”

Netanyahu arrived in Colombia late Wednesday afternoon for a three hour visit that Santos said was greatly appreciated.

“We are honored to have you visiting here, and are grateful you have chosen Colombia as one of the countries in your first visit to Latin America,” he said.

Santos said that Colombia can learn from Israel how to channel and tap into the the innovation of its people.

The president acknowledged that Israel and Colombia have worked closely in the past on security matters, and that there is an interest in strengthening that cooperation.

Netanyahu – who said that he was in Bogota for one night some 30 years ago as Israel’s ambassador to the UN, said that the relationship between the two countries has been a “remarkable” alliance.

The prime minister said that Israel was “excited” about the “post-conflict” possibilities for cooperation: first in agriculture, secondly in water management, and thirdly in the area of cyber security. He announced a project whereby a number of Colombians will come to Israel to learn about the field.

Regarding Colombia’s agricultural needs, the country is keen on assistance in replacing the coca plant that was widely grown in areas under FARC control and is responsible for much of the world’s cocaine with other crops.

As he did in all his public speeches in Argentina, Netanyahu also highlighted Iran’s spread of terrorism around the world.

The threat of radical Islamic terror, he said, “has created new relations between Israel and the Arab states, which no longer see Israel as an enemy but as an essential ally against these forces who seek to bring humanity back from a brilliant future to a barbaric one.”

Iran, he said, “is sending its terrorist wings in all directions, including to Latin America. We believe that all countries should unite, just as Israel cooperates with the Arab states in order to prevent the spread of Iranian aggression and terrorism to other continents.”

Colombia was the second-leg of Netanyahu’s three-country Latin American tour, before going to the US on Friday, where he is scheduled to meet US President Donald Trump on Monday, and address the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

Netanyahu met briefly at Bogota’s airport with representatives of the small Jewish community and some non-Jewish supporters of Israel.

After Colombia he flew to Mexico, where he arrived just before midnight.

On Thursday he is scheduled to attend an economic event aimed at boosting Israeli-Mexican business ties, and in the afternoon meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Original WW2 Footage: Massive 72 Ton Jagdtiger Tanks Last Mission in Germany, 1945 (Watch)



The Herman Jagtiger tank destroyer was the heaviest armored vehicle produced during World War II. It weighed 72 tons and had a 128 mm gun. It was powered by an engine originally intended for a Tiger I tank.

The engine, powerful as it was, was the Jagtiger’s weakness – it was too weak for this massive vehicle. It was assigned to only two units, the 653rd, and 512th Heavy Panzerjäger Battalion, and only 80 were built.

The 512th Battalion was formed at Dollersheim in February 1945, with 20 tank destroyers. By 1945, the Allies were invading Germany itself, both from the east and the west, and the Germans needed powerful weapons to resist the Allied tanks.

It fought at the Battle of Remagen in 1945 and fought successfully, though it took ten days to reach the front on account of communication breakdowns and plane attacks.

In April 1945 the Battalion attacked many United States Sherman tanks. In the last attack, they destroyed 16 tanks and 30 other lightly–armored or unarmored targets. Some of the enemy tanks had been destroyed from a distance of two and a half miles.

The company of Jagtigers in this video belonged to the 512th Battalion. It was under the command of Hauptmann Albert Ernst. You can see them surrendering to the Americans. The date is April 15, 1945. They had been defending the German city of Iserlohn and lost only one Jagtiger. This had been destroyed by a squadron of Allied P-47 fighters.

You can see the Jagtigers, with armored trucks and personnel carriers move slowly through the town square to surrender to U.S. Army 9th Infantry Division. Civilians look on.

Robocop Reality: Massive Military Drones Could Start Replacing Police Helicopters


According to the defense contractor that developed the Predator and Reaper drones for the United States military’s operations in the Middle East, drones will have begun to replace piloted law enforcement helicopters by the year 2025.

On Monday, it was reported that the contractor, General Atomics (GA), is pressing hard for the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to change its regulations on unmanned flight over American soil.

“The federal rules that govern aircraft in U.S. airspace are much stricter than those that cover U.S. military drones overseas,” Defense One wrote“Many of the Federal Aviation Authority’s regulations were drafted for manned aircraft, long before unmanned flight across the United States was even a possibility.”

As such, defense contractors have a vested interest in seeing the FAA adopt regulations that, as Defense One reports, would “open the floodgates” on a brand new aviation market. But GA, which has developed a cousin of its Reaper drone for domestic surveillance use, is ahead of the pack in terms of FAA certification.

In August, after receiving a special waiver from the FAA, GA put on a demonstration of its new MQ-9B drone, flying it 275 miles from Yuma, Arizona, to GA’s private airfield in Grey Butte, California. During the demo, members of the media, including Defense One’s Patrick Tucker, got to see what the machine is capable of:

“During the MQ-9B test in Grey Butte, journalists peeked out the door of the ground-control trailer to the tiny, barely visible plane overhead. Back inside, the monitors showed that we could easily distinguish each another, pick out clothing patterns, discern other markings, etc. It looked like a view from 30 feet up, not 2,000.”

GA is aiming for FAA certification of its MQ-9B by 2025. If the contractor has its way, the door will officially be open for military-style unmanned craft to be used by police departments across the country.

Naturally, the possibility has privacy advocates greatly concerned, as it has since its injection into the public conversation. This concern was voiced once more by Jeramie D. Scott, director of the Domestic Surveillance Center Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, to Defense One when speaking of the MQ-9B:

“Drones make indiscriminate and persistent aerial surveillance feasible and can easily be equipped with technologies like facial recognition. Without proper restrictions, drone surveillance will become the norm of public space, undermine our constitutional rights and chill First Amendment activities.”

Over 125 Victims Reveal Massive Child Molestation Conspiracy and Cover-Up Within USA Gymnastics


A massive case involving over a hundred women and girls is shining a light on the horrid sexual abuse and cover-up taking place within the USA Gymnastics program. For decades children were “sacrificed” and their abusers “protected,” according to one of the victims.

Last week, former gymnast Rachael Denhollander called for a regime change within the organization. Denhollander is one of more than 125 victims, including US Olympic champion and three-time gold medalist, Aly Raisman, who are coming forward with evidence of cover-ups and abuse.

Larry Nassar was a team doctor for USA Gymnastics for almost 30 years. Photograph: Robert Killips/AP

As USA Today reports, in a joint interview with USA TODAY Sports and the Associated Press on Saturday, Raisman said revelations of widespread abuse by longtime team physician Larry Nassar and the reaction by the governing bodies has colored how she views her sport.

“The people at the very top, that work at the office every single day at USA Gymnastics, they need to do better,” Raisman said.

“It’s making me sad,” she added. “I’m here to support my teammates because we got inducted to the Hall of Fame and I’m here to support the girls who are competing. I love the Olympics, I love gymnastics, I love the sport. But I don’t support how USA Gymnastics is handling everything right now.”

As the Guardian reports, Nassar spent nearly 30 years as an osteopath with the USA Gymnastics program and is now in prison in Michigan after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. Nassar is still awaiting trial on separate criminal sexual conduct charges in addition to being sued by over 125 women in civil court who claim he sexually assaulted them under the guise of treatment.

Denhollander and another former gymnast, Jamie Dantzcher, are demanding the leadership of USA Gymnastics be removed immediately.

“The painful reality is that no one on the board of USAG can be trusted on the issue of sexual assault,” Denhollander said.

“Culture of abuse at USAG had created institutional dynamics where over and over and over again predators were protected and the children were sacrificed.”

According to ABC 7, they are asking for USAG Chairman Paul Parilla, Vice Chairman Jay Binder and Treasurer Bitsy Kelley to be removed. The gymnasts are not only accusing the leadership of ignoring the suspected abuse, but trying to cover it up.

“No one from USA Gymnastics has apologized nor accepted any responsibility for Nassar’s assaults on dozens of USA gymnasts,” Dantzcher said.

The board denies covering up the abuse of over 125 girls, however, the odds of that many girls all conspiring to form a false case are fairly slim — not to mention all the cases of abusers who’ve already been sentenced.

In a statement to ABC 7, the USAG said, “We are confident our board officers will continue to lead us through the coming months while we strengthen our culture that has safe sport as a top priority throughout our organization.”

“What people don’t realize is that this doctor was a doctor for 29 years,” Raisman. “Whether or not he did it to a gymnast, they still knew him. Even if he didn’t do it to you, it’s still the trauma and the anxiety of wondering what could have happened. I think that needs to be addressed. These girls, they should be comfortable going to USA Gymnastics and saying ‘I need help, I want therapy. I need this.’”

What these former victims are exposing is also backed up by an investigation by the IndyStar which revealed that top executives at one of America’s most prominent Olympic organizations failed to alert authorities to many allegations of sexual abuse by coaches — relying on a policy that enabled predators to abuse gymnasts long after USA Gymnastics had received warnings.

According to the investigation, USA Gymnastics would not disclose the total number of sexual misconduct allegations it receives each year. But records show the organization compiled complaint dossiers on more than 50 coaches and filed them in a drawer in its executive office in Indianapolis. 

During a 2013 lawsuit, two former USAG officials admitted under oath to routinely covering up sexual abuse allegations. Because of this case, the contents of all the complaint dossiers mentioned above remain sealed. The IndyStar is seeking to make them public.

The reality is that USAG officials have been raping and abusing girls for decades and they were allowed to do so under the cover of the organization. Only after a handful of the predators became so active in their abuse were they caught by law enforcement.

One such case, involving William McCabe, revealed how USAG covered for him for nearly a decade while he preyed on young girls. Mulitple complaints were swept under the rug as the man preyed on children — despite one gym owner warning the USAG in 1998 that McCabe “should be locked in a cage before someone is raped.”

He wasn’t arrested until the mother in the 2013 lawsuit went to the FBI with concerns over McCabe emailing her then-11-year-old daughter.

As the IndyStar reports, McCabe was charged with molesting gymnasts, secretly videotaping girls changing clothes and posting their naked pictures on the internet. He pleaded guilty in 2006 in Savannah, Georgia, to federal charges of sexual exploitation of children and making false statements. He is serving a 30-year sentence.

The price of having one of the best gymnastics teams in the world is apparently steep.

Shelley Haymaker, an Indiana attorney who represents abuse victims in child welfare cases, said USA Gymnastics’ approach “sickens” her, according to the IndyStar.

“USAG may not have been the hand that ultimately abused these innocent children,” Haymaker said, “but it was definitely the arm.”

This article originally appeared on The Free Thought Project.

Microsoft’s new Xbox Wireless Adapter is no longer a massive USB stick


Microsoft today announced a new Xbox Wireless Adapter, for connecting an Xbox controller to your Windows PC, that is much smaller than the previous model. The old adapter looked to be about two times the size of a regular USB thumb drive, making it cumbersome and bulky protruding chunk of plastic and circuitry.

The new adapter, however, is 66 percent smaller, the company says. It looks no different than your standard modern-day thin USB stick. Like its predecessor, the new adapter supports up to eight controllers simultaneously, as well as four chat headsets or two stereo headsets. (Some Verge staffers report that, with the old adapter, connectivity gets a bit finicky with that a large number of devices hooked up.)

Still, Microsoft has kept a similar price, with the new model going on sale starting August 8th for $24.99. You can preorder it today from Microsoft’s website. Microsoft says on its preorder page that the adapter only works with PCs running Windows 10 — the company’s Xbox functionality support page has conflicting information indicating Windows 7 support — and it’s compatible with any Xbox One controller. The unit does not work with Xbox 360 controllers, Microsoft says.

What To Know About the Massive Cholera Outbreak in Yemen

Yemen is currently experiencing the worst cholera outbreak in history, and health experts warn that the disease is not under control. Here’s what you should know about the issue.

What is cholera?

Cholera is a bacterial disease characterized by diarrhea and extreme dehydration. Every year, up to 5 million cases occur worldwide, and 100,000 people die from the disease. Typically the infection is relatively mild, though it can be severe, especially without rapid treatment. About 10% of people infected will have a severe form of cholera, with symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea and cramping. This can lead to dehydration and shock. If cholera is not treated quickly, people can die within hours.

A person can get cholera by drinking water or food that has been contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. During a large outbreak, experts say the source is usually the feces of an infected person that has contaminated drinking water and food. Places with weak sanitation and inadequate water treatment are at a higher risk for cholera. There is a vaccine for cholera, but it is not always regularly distributed in areas already afflicted. Though 1 million doses of the vaccine had been set aside from a global stockpile for Yemen, the delivery was recently suspended. “In an outbreak setting, the impact of [oral cholera vaccine] is greatest when used to protect communities that are not yet affected…There are few such areas in Yemen now,” a WHO spokesperson told Science Magazine.

What is happening in Yemen?

Yemen is experiencing an outbreak of “unprecedented scale,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Since April, more than 400,000 people have been infected, and close to 2,000 have died. More than 5,000 Yemenis are estimated to contract the disease, or have symptoms of cholera, on a daily basis. Children under age 15 account for more than 40% of all cases, and people over age 60 make up a third of all deaths from the disease.

Why has it gotten so bad?

“This outbreak is being driven by conflict, the collapse of the basic public services and malnutrition,” said WHO director general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement to the U.N. Security Council in July.

Two years of civil war in the country has spurred the spread of disease and made stopping it substantially harder. Bombings have destroyed critical infrastructure; about half of the country’s medical facilities have been closed or destroyed due to air strikes. WHO estimates that about 15 million people are without access to basic health care, and a similar number do not have regular access to clean water and sanitation, which compounds the problem. There is also a shortage of doctors and health care workers. Many have fled the country, and an estimated 30,000 local health workers who are working on the epidemic haven’t been paid in nearly 10 months.

Rising rates of malnutrition have also made children even more vulnerable to the disease. United Nations officials have described the conflict as the “world’s largest food security crisis,” with 17 million Yemenis considered food insecure.

How is cholera treated?

Cholera is prevented by replacing fluids, often with oral rehydration solutions. These are a mixture of sugars and salts that can be added to water to be consumed by a person who has been infected. Some cases may also need intravenous fluid, and antibiotics can also shorten the duration of the disease. Lack of access to clean water and few established health care resources make treatment more difficult in Yemen.

What is the international response?

WHO has sent hundreds of thousands of bags of intravenous fluids to the country since April. The organization has also provided 525 beds with cleaning supplies and 112 kits for treating cholera. In partnership with UNICEF, WHO has established 2,924 diarrhea treatment beds as well as several oral dehydration therapy areas. Still, the number of treatment beds is 40% short of the 5,006 planned beds.

In his statement to the UN Security Council in July, Tedros of WHO said that donors that have agreed to provide funding to the crisis need to fulfill their promises and do so in a flexible manner so that health workers can be paid. “WHO, UNICEF and partners are doing all that we can to save lives and support the health system,” he said. “But without peace, there will be no end to the suffering of the people.”

Operation Good Neighbor: Israel reveals its massive humanitarian aid to Syria


GOLAN HEIGHTS – The Israeli military on Wednesday unveiled the scope of its humanitarian assistance in Syria that has dramatically mushroomed over the last year to include treating chronically ill children who have no access to hospitals, building clinics in Syria, and supplying hundreds of tons of food, medicines and clothes to war-ravaged villages across the border.

Since Syria disintegrated in a brutal civil war that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, Israel has struggled with how to deal with the humanitarian disaster taking place just across the border, a dilemma made even more complicated by the fact that Israel and Syria remain officially at war.

Israel initially responded by providing medical treatment to Syrians wounded in the war, treating more than 3,000 people in field hospitals on the border and in public hospitals, mostly in northern Israel since 2013.

But on Wednesday the army revealed that since June 2016 it has quietly been working on Operation Good Neighbor, a massive multi-faceted humanitarian relief operation to keep starvation away from the thousands of Syrians who live along the border and provide basic medical treatment to those who cannot access it in Syria because of the war.

In the year since the operation was launched, over 600 Syrian children, accompanied by their mothers, have come to Israel for treatment. Hundreds of tons of food, medical equipment and clothing have also been sent across the border to Syria, clearly bearing Hebrew labels from Israeli companies.

IDF soldiers stand next to food supplies being prepared as humanitarian aid for Syrian's impacted by the civil war in their country, July 19, 2017. (AFP/MENAHEM KAHANA)

The IDF is also currently facilitating the construction of two clinics within Syria, which will be run by locals and workers from NGOs. This includes logistical coordination and sending over building materials and medical equipment, according to the army.

These clinics are meant to support 80,000 Syrians living in the area near the Syrian city of Quneitra, just across the border.

Inside Israel, another clinic is also being constructed. This one, being built at an army outpost that currently carries the bland name Outpost 116, will be guarded by the IDF but staffed entirely by NGO officials. It will be operated only during the day and is therefore meant to be used to treat Syrians suffering from less severe injuries.

As part of the operation, the army has also stepped up the amount of humanitarian aid it transfers to Syria, in some cases dramatically.

According to IDF figures, the quantity of food sent to Syria has increased tenfold in the past year, from a few dozen tons between 2013 and 2016 to 360 tons in 2016 to 2017 alone.

The amount of clothes, baby formula, medical supplies, diesel fuel and generators being transferred to Syrians have also significantly increased in that time.

In this undated photo provided on July 19, 2017, IDF soldiers help a Syrian child as part of the army's 'Good Neighbor' program to provide humanitarian aid for Syrian civilians on the Syrian Golan Heights. (IDF spokesperson)

While the officers involved in the operation stressed Wednesday that there is no mass starvation on the border, they said there are food shortages, which drives up the price of bread and other essentials.

Israel, therefore, sends over hundreds of tons of flour, oil, sugar, salt, canned beans and dry goods. It has also sent 12,000 cases of baby formula and 1,800 packages of diapers.

Israel has also seen fit to send over eight cars and six mules, the military said.

According to the IDF, most of this humanitarian aid was donated by NGOs, but some was also provided by the Israeli government directly.

In this undated photo provided on July 19, 2017, an IDF officer attends to a Syrian child as part of the army's 'Good Neighbor' program to provide humanitarian aid for Syrian civilians on the Syrian Golan Heights. (IDF spokesperson)

A senior officer in the Northern Brigade, who asked to remain nameless, would not provide a specific figure on how much this operation has cost the military, but said it was “huge.”

Buses, breakfast and hospital care

On a nearly weekly basis, dozens of children and their mothers arrive at the border fence. There they are picked up on buses and brought to a waiting area where they are greeted with a breakfast and refreshments before they are taken to Israeli hospitals for treatment.

They stay in the hospital for anywhere from a few days to up to six months, as was the case with one child who suffered from a particularly rare disorder that required specialized care, army officials said.

In this undated photo provided on July 19, 2017, an IDF soldier attends to a Syrian infant as part of the army's 'Good Neighbor' program to provide humanitarian for Syrian civilians on the Syrian Golan Heights. (IDF spokesperson)

According to Col. Barak Hiram, head of the army’s Bashan Brigade, which is stationed on the Golan border, in addition to being helpful for obvious nutritional reasons, this welcoming breakfast also serves a more important function: showing the Syrians that the Israeli soldiers are not monsters.

Hiram, along with the lieutenant colonel who runs Operation Good Neighbor, said the Syrians often come to Israel with the view that Israel is “Satan.”

The lieutenant colonel, who asked that his name not be published for security reasons, said that altering that view is one of the peripheral goals of this operation, and stressed that the humanitarian concerns were the prime motivating factor.

The officer said he hoped providing this humanitarian aid would serve to sow “seeds of peace,” bringing down the level of hatred felt by Syrians against the Jewish state.

The Operation Good Neighbor commander said that he’d personally already seen the fruits of this year-old operation, recalling instances of grateful mothers thanking him, hugging the female soldiers involved and telling him that they’d never forget the care they received.

In interviews with Syrian civilians released by the IDF, they told of their enormous gratitude for the aid that came from a country they had believed was their enemy.

“Israel is the only country that has done something like this with the Syrians,” a wounded Syrian man who had been brought to Israel for treatment said. “Israel is the friend of the Syrian people, a humanitarian country.”

In this undated photo provided on July 19, 2017, IDF soldiers prepare humanitarian aid as part of the army's 'Good Neighbor' program to provide humanitarian aid for Syrian civilians on the Syrian Golan Heights. (IDF spokesperson)

“They teach us that Israel is the country that hates us the most,” a Syrian woman who had received treatment said. “We came and saw with our own eyes what they are giving us here. Israel is everything to us as a result of what it is giving us.”

“In this difficult situation Israel stood by our side, helped us with everything that we need. We very much respect the people in Israel,” another woman said.

The names of the Syrian civilians were not given in the report to protect their identities.

Nothing to hide

The officers involved were hesitant Wednesday to discuss how exactly the coordination is conducted with Syrians across the border, but they said that this were done partially through NGOs in the area. Of course, an operation of this magnitude cannot be carried out from solely within Israeli borders.

The Operation Good Neighbor commander said he also maintains direct contact with civilian leadership on the other side of the Syrian border.

In this undated photo provided on July 19, 2017, IDF soldiers evacuate a wounded Syrian in the area of the Golan Heights. (IDF spokesperson)

The senior officer in the Northern Brigade who asked to remain nameless said that Israelis are “always suspected of having something to hide” in terms of their motivations for providing humanitarian aid. He said that in this case, the Israeli government and military have no ulterior motives.

“We don’t have anything to hide. We have something to be proud of. And if that happens to improve our stability in the region, that’s also good,” he said.

Officers involved in the operation noted that the IDF does not gather intelligence from the Syrians who cross the border in order to make it clear that this is purely a humanitarian issue and to ensure that future wounded and sick Syrians do not feel discomfort at crossing into Israel for treatment.

The Operation Good Neighbor commander also said the determination to ensure the project is recognized as being on the up and up is also the reason why he and his soldiers focus on providing care to children.

In this undated photo provided on July 19, 2017, IDF soldiers treat a wounded Syrian in the area of the Golan Heights. (IDF spokesperson)

Nearly from the start of the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, there have been claims that Israel has been quietly backing rebel groups, specifically in southern Syria. There have even been allegations that Israel is backing rebel groups affiliated with the Al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorist groups.

While there have been more credible reports that Israel is secretly providing aid to moderate rebel groups that are fighting both the Islamic State and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, Israel has officially remained entirely mum on the issue.

By focusing Operation Good Neighbor on children, the army can avoid similar allegations about its current humanitarian aid efforts.

“No one can say we’re helping terrorists,” the officer said simply.

The decision to treat children also came from a pragmatic reason, he added, namely that adults tend to have more complicated medical conditions than children.

For instance, he offered, a child might suffer from asthma, but be otherwise healthy, while an adult will suffer from asthma and sleep apnea and diabetes. By focusing on children’s simpler medical issues, he said, this humanitarian aid will not put as much of a strain on the Israeli health care system.

While the Israeli officers involved in the operation said that helping people is their prime concern, they recognized that there is a need to differentiate between wounded civilians and wounded combatants.

Col. Hiram would not specify how exactly Israeli officials identify the people who show up to the border fence to receive medical care, but said that they were taking care to ensure that no members of terrorist groups were being treated inside Israel.

Hiram did, however, recall an instance in which a pro-Assad Syrian was brought to Israel by a friend after he stepped on a landmine in order to receive medical attention. “The Syrians weren’t happy that we ‘kidnapped’ a Syrian citizen,” he said.

After the man was treated, he was returned to Syria.

The same is true of every Syrian person who comes to Israel for care. According to the head of Operation Good Neighbor, no Syrians have ever asked to remain in Israel. They’ve all wanted to “go back home,” he said.

IDF vehicles driving along the road parallel to the border fence separating the Israeli and Syrian regions of the Golan Heights, July 19, 2017. (AFP/MENAHEM KAHANA)



For the second time in three weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be spending Shabbat this week in Europe, traveling to Paris on Friday afternoon for a Sunday morning ceremony marking 75 years since a massive Nazi roundup in Paris of Jews, and a meeting with new French President Emmanuel Macron.

He will spend three nights in Paris before going to Budapest for another three nights to attend a summit of the Visegrad group, made up of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.


Netanyahu flew to Strasbourg on Friday, June 1, to take part in an interment ceremony for former German chancellor Helmut Kohl the next day. He briefly met Macron there.

Anticipating likely public criticism regarding why Netanyahu needs to fly out Friday for a Sunday morning event, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office said that Macron invited the premier to take part in the Paris ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup of more than 13,000 Jews in the city.

The event is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m., and Netanyahu will also be meeting Macron in the afternoon.

Explaining the necessity of leaving on Friday, something that will cost the taxpayers much more than if he was to leave on Saturday night, the official explained that Netanyahu is prevented from flying on Shabbat, which on Saturday night will not end until 8:30.

“Manning the positions at the airport by the staff cannot take place, in the best situation, before 9:30, and the staff, the security personnel and the journalists are asked to get to the airport at least two hours before the flight, which means that takeoff would be around midnight,” the official said. “Arrival at the hotel would only be at 5:00, and then there’s the need to wait for luggage. The ceremony is at 9:30.”

According to the official, it is fitting that the prime minister, his staff and even the journalists arrive “refreshed and ready for an important day.”

From Paris, Netanyahu is scheduled to travel on Monday to Budapest for a meeting with the heads of the Visegrad group.

Netanyahu’s visit to Budapest will be the first visit there of an Israeli prime minister since the country emerged from Communist rule in 1989. He is expected to hold both bilateral talks with the leaders of each of the four countries, as well as a joint meeting as well.

Netanyahu is scheduled to fly back to Israel on Thursday, July 20.