July 6, 2018

In News Surrounding Israel by The Friends of Israel

Mossad brings home wristwatch belonging to legendary Israeli spy Eli Cohen

The Mossad agency has recovered a wristwatch belonging to legendary Israeli spy Eli Cohen who executed in Syria, and brought it back to Israel after a recent special operation, the Prime Minister’s Office announced Thursday.

Cohen infiltrated the top levels of Syria’s political leadership in the years before the 1967 Six Day War, and information he obtained is credited with playing a key role in Israel’s stunning success in that war.

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen presented the watch to Eli Cohen’s family a few weeks ago at a ceremony marking the anniversary of his death. It will be displayed at the Mossad headquarters for the next few weeks “in memory of the legendary warrior,” and on Rosh Hashana it will be returned to the family, the statement said.

Cohen was executed by Syria in 1965, and his watch was held “by an enemy state” ever since, the PMO said, without giving details.

Once the watch was brought back to Israel, special research and intelligence operations determined unequivocally that it was the watch that had belonged to the spy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the intelligence service for the operation.

“I commend the fighters of the Mossad for the determined and courageous operation, the sole objective of which was to return to Israel a memento from a great fighter who greatly contributed to the security of the state,” he said.

Nadia Cohen, Eli Cohen’s widow, told Channel 10 news that it was very emotional for her to have the watch back.

“The watch has been in Israel for several months. It was very emotional to be told of this. It was something that was placed on Eli’s skin,” she said. “God willing, perhaps his body will also be returned to Israel.”

The Mossad head said Cohen will never be forgotten.

“His heritage, of dedication, determination, courage, and love of the homeland is our heritage. We remember and have maintained a close connection over the years with his family, Nadia and the children,” the Mossad chief said.

“This was Eli Cohen’s watch that he wore in Syria until the day he was caught,” he added. “The watch was part of Eli Cohen’s operational image and part of his fabricated Arab identity.”

Mossad agent Cohen was put on trial and executed by the Syrian government for espionage on May 18, 1965, after he successfully infiltrated the Syrian government under the alias Kamel Amin Thaabet for four years. The intelligence conveyed to Israel during that period was credited by then-prime minister Levi Eshkol as greatly assisting Israel during the Six Day War.

Over the years, Nadia Cohen unsuccessfully made several appeals to the Syrian government to release her late husband’s remains. In 2008, a former bureau chief of late Syrian leader Hafez Assad claimed that no one knew where Cohen was buried.

“The grave was moved after a day or two,” Monjer Motsley said in an interview. “We were scared that Israel would send forces to take away the body.

“It is difficult to find Cohen’s bones,” he added. “Assad promised to return Cohen’s bones, but when he asked about it security officials told him: ‘Sir, we don’t know where the grave is,’ so he couldn’t promise.”

In March, Nadia Cohen told Israel Radio that the late Mossad chief Meir Dagan had sought the assistance of the United States as late as 2011, after the Syrian civil war broke out, to help bring his remains to Israel for burial.



Israeli technology providing vital communications link to cave-trapped Thai boys

Rescuers working to save a Thai youth soccer team trapped deep inside a flooded cave are using an Israeli technology to maintain communication with the 12 boys and their coach.

Maxtech Networks told The Times of Israel Thursday that its system is providing a voice, data, and video link to the boys who have been stuck in the cave for nearly two weeks, and were only located earlier this week.

The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach entered the sprawling Tham Luang Nang Non cave in the northern province of Chiang Rai after a soccer game on June 23. They were found by two British rescue divers on July 2, nine days after they disappeared.

In the Israeli system, a string of small devices, similar to handheld radios, pass wireless communications between each other, enabling a link in places regular radios won’t work, such as where there are major obstacles blocking the line-of-sight between the two ends of the line.

“It is like a daisy-chain,” explained Uzi Hanuni, CEO of Maxtech.

It took 19 of the devices to complete the link to the boys in the cave. They have enough battery power for 10 hours’ use at a time.

“It is a very complex scenario inside the cave,” Hanuni explained.

Some sections of the perilous, twisting, passageway, estimated to be over a kilometer in length, are also submerged beneath the rainwater floods that trapped the youths. Hanuni said that data cables were used to traverse those parts of the cave.

After an Israeli acquaintance who runs a rescue team in Thailand and was involved in the early efforts to find the boys contacted Hanuni, Maxtech employee Yuval Zalmanov flew out to Thailand on June 25, bringing the equipment with him in a suitcase.

“We are happy to be able to help,” Hanuni said and added he expects an attempt to extract the children to be made in the coming days. Others have said it may take weeks or months till such an attempt would be made.

Authorities said the boys, who appeared skinny but in good health in several videos released by the Thai navy, were being looked after by seven members of the Thai SEALs, including medics, who were staying with them inside the cave. They were mostly in stable condition and have received high-protein drinks.

Officials have said they prefer to get the boys out as soon as possible because heavy rain is expected to start by Saturday, which almost surely will raise water levels again in the cave, making passage in some areas even more difficult if not impossible.

Following their success in Thailand, Hanuni said he now wants to set up a quick response team, equipped with their technology, which would be ready to travel to emergencies all over the world.



Yad Vashem slams ‘highly problematic’ Israeli-Polish Holocaust statement

The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center on Thursday slammed an agreement between the governments of Israel and Poland regarding the latter’s record during the Holocaust, saying it would stifle free research on the subject.

A joint declaration issued by Warsaw and Jerusalem “contains highly problematic wording that contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge in this field,” the institution said in a press release.

The statement is an embarrassing blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week hailed the agreement and the joint statement that was issued on the occasion as safeguarding “the historic truth about the Holocaust.”

Also on Thursday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett rejected the Polish-Israeli joint statement as factually inaccurate, saying that it will not be taught in Israel schools. Bennett further called on Netanyahu to rescind the statement or bring it to a vote in the cabinet for approval.

On June 27, Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki signed an agreement that ended the spat between the two countries over a controversial Polish law that criminalized any accusation of the Polish nation of being “responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich.”

Minutes after the Polish parliament passed legislation to remove the troubling passages and President Anderzej Duda signed it into law, the Israeli and Polish governments issued a joint statement on the Holocaust and Poland’s role in it.

It declared that the term “Polish death camps” is “blatantly erroneous” and that the wartime Polish government-in-exile “attempted to stop this Nazi activity by trying to raise awareness among the Western allies to the systematic murder of the Polish Jews.”

The joint declaration, issued last Wednesday simultaneously by Netanyahu and Morawiecki, also rejected anti-Semitism and “anti-Polonism.”

Most controversially, it condemned “every single case of cruelty against Jews perpetrated by Poles during…World War II” but noted “heroic acts of numerous Poles, especially the Righteous Among the Nations, who risked their lives to save Jewish people.”

Presenting the agreement and the statement in Tel Aviv last week, Netanyahu thanked Yad Vashem’s chief historian Dina Porat for “accompanying the work” that led to the agreement.

Earlier this week, The Times of Israel reported that while Porat was indeed involved in the secret negotiations with the Polish government, she did not get to see the final draft of the statement. Yad Vashem, which had issued a statement welcoming Warsaw’s annulment of the law’s controversial paragraphs, was disappointed about the wording of the joint statement, according to the source.

On Thursday, Yad Vashem released a long press release in which its historians detail why they not only contest the joint statement’s historical veracity, but are also dissatisfied with the Polish amendment to the controversial law.

“A thorough review by Yad Vashem historians shows that the historical assertions, presented as unchallenged facts, in the joint statement contain grave errors and deceptions, and that the essence of the statute remains unchanged even after the repeal of the aforementioned sections, including the possibility of real harm to researchers, unimpeded research, and the historical memory of the Holocaust,” the statement read.

Indeed, the statement “contains highly problematic wording that contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge in this field,” the statement continued.

The joint Israeli-Polish declaration “effectively supports a narrative that research has long since disproved, namely, that the Polish Government-in-Exile and its underground arms strove indefatigably — in occupied Poland and elsewhere — to thwart the extermination of Polish Jewry.”

However, the Israeli historians add, the London-based Polish government-in-exile and its representatives in Nazi-occupied Poland “did not act resolutely on behalf of Poland’s Jewish citizens at any point during the war. Much of the Polish resistance in its various movements not only failed to help Jews, but was also not infrequently actively involved in persecuting them.”

While the joint declaration — which Poles are actively promoting through full-page ads in newspaper across the globe — appears to give the same balance to Poles who helped Jews and those who persecuted them, Yad Vashem’s statement argues that “decades of historical research reveal a totally different picture: Poles’ assistance to Jews during the Holocaust was relatively rare, and attacks against and even the murder of Jews were widespread phenomena.”

There were Poles who made “impressive” efforts to rescue Jews, but this “cannot be projected onto Polish society as a whole,” the historian argued.

“The attempt to amplify the relief that was extended to the Jews and portray it as a widespread phenomenon, and to minimize the role of Poles in persecuting the Jews, constitutes an offense not only to the historical truth, but also to the memory of the heroism of the Righteous Among the Nations.”

Furthermore, the historians “vehemently reject the attempts to juxtapose the phenomenon of antisemitism with so-called ‘anti-Polonism.’” While terms such as “Polish death camps” are indeed misleading, the term anti-Polonism “is fundamentally anachronistic and has nothing whatsoever to do with antisemitism.”

The cancellation of the section of the controversial Polish law that stipulated criminal sanctions for people accusing the Polish nation of complicity in Nazi crimes “is undoubtedly important,” Yad Vashem’s statement notes.

However, the repeal “reverses the explicit exception that was made for academic research and artistic endeavor in the wording of the amendment,” it lamented. Furthermore, those who accuse Poland of complicity are still liable for civil prosecution, the statement pointed out.

In response, Joseph Ciechanover and Yaakov Nagel — the two Netanyahu confidants who negotiated the agreement with the Polish government — said that Porat, Yad Vashem’s chief historian, had been involved in the process since its inception and that she approved the joint declaration’s historical assertions.

“The joint declaration signed by the Polish government includes an explicit reference to the fact that the ability to carry out research freely was preserved and that no law prevents it or will prevent it in the future,” they said in a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Last week, as they presented the agreement and the statement in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu and his two confidants took great pride in their effort, say they had “stood on guard to protect the truth.”

“We upheld our prime duty to ensure the historic truth about the Holocaust and we will continue to do so,” Netanyahu said at the time.

Early critics of the agreement were leading Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer, who called it “a betrayal of the memory of the Holocaust and the interest of the Jewish people,” and MK Yair Lapid, who argued that Israel must not negotiate with Poland matters related to the Holocaust.

On Thursday, Bennett, the education minister, and several other opposition MKs joined the chorus of condemnation.

“Israel’s joint declaration with the Polish government is a disgrace that is full of lies and harms the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust,” Bennett tweeted, arguing that it “lacks factual and historical validity” and vowing it will not be taught in the education system.

The joint declaration was not presented to the government and does not represent the opinion of cabinet minister, he added. “It is unacceptable to me and as education minister I demand the prime minister immediately change or cancel it, or alternatively bring it to a vote in the cabinet, where I am sure it will rejected.”

Lapid, too demanded that Netanyahu rescind the agreement.

“The statement that Netanyahu has signed together with the prime minister of Poland is a disgrace and a scandalous embarrassment to the memory of Holocaust victims,” he said.



Politicians demand new approach to peace process

The two-state solution was a failed concept from the get-go, former Minister of the Interior and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar asserted on Wednesday night in Jerusalem.

The Likud politician slammed the two-state solution in an address to an audience at the Menachem Begin Center. The center hosted the Israel Victory Project, an initiative spearheaded by the Middle East Forum, a conservative think tank.

The initiative asserts that in every show-down with the Arab world, Israel has won decisively and should act accordingly during peace negotiations.

“A final resolution to any conflict or disagreement demands the will and mutual understanding of both parties. It can’t be accomplished unilaterally. The two-state solution on a practical level was never more than a two-state slogan or idea, and not even successful at that,” Sa’ar said.

His remarks were in line with the theme of the evening which highlighted the pitfalls of the Oslo Accords. The event, called “Oslo Failed, Victory Now” hosted discussions about how, despite marking 25 years since that fateful milestone, not much has been accomplished in its wake.

Former director-general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, a panelist at the event, didn’t mince words when he slammed the accords.

“Oslo failed due to a combination of willful ignorance, sheer stupidity and some sort of wishful thinking mixed with naiveté. The Palestinians never hid their intention or narrative. They say it out loud every day,” he said.

“Do we see that Israel is more secure? Is Israel closer to peace? Do we see that the average Palestinian life has improved? The answer to these questions is no,” said Likud MK Avraham Neguise, who heads the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs and is co-chair for the Knesset Israel Victory Project Caucus.

Former MK Einat Wilf, however, claimed that dismissing the Oslo Accords as “stupid” is a little too simplistic and that, given the optimistic euphoria of the 90s, the treaty seemed part of the “anything is possible” spirit that imbued the decade.

“Oslo emerged from victory. The feeling of the 90s let us remember what it was like. The Soviet Union collapsed overnight. Apartheid ended. There was peace in Northern Ireland. What seemed impossible the day before was seen as inevitable the day after,” she said.

However, Wilf said, while taking context into account is important, it doesn’t detract from the fact that Oslo did not achieve its ultimate goal.

As such, the Israel Victory project has spent the past year since its launch shoring up support in both Jerusalem and Washington – and across party lines – to encourage lawmakers to adopt a new approach to the peace process: before any negotiations will take place, the Palestinians must concede defeat and recognize the Jewish state’s legitimacy.

“Palestinians have much to gain from their defeat. If they want to crawl out of almost a century of rejectionism, then they should acknowledge that the jig is up and they lost,” Prof. Daniel Pipes, Middle East Forum founder said, adding that the Israel Victory Project is not advocating for any specific solution.

“We are solution-agnostic. Whatever [the solution] is – one state, two states or going back to ‘67 boundaries – it should be about convincing the Palestinians that they lost. We are open to every idea,” he said.



Netanyahu delays legalization of 70 settler outposts, politicians charge

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed work on the authorization of 70 West Bank settler outposts for over a year, the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee charged on Monday, and demanded that he speed up the process.

The committee called on the government to create a list of outposts it plans to authorize as new neighborhood of existing settlements.

The committee also called for a diplomatic arrangement in the next few months that would allow the authorization of those 20 of those outposts.

The Defense Ministry’s secretary of settlement affairs, Kobi Eliraz, said that these 20 are problematic and a “government decision is needed” for action to be taken, he said.

This is a diplomatic decision that has to be “co-ordinated overseas,” Eliraz said.

His words hinted that the best way to do so was to authorize them as new settlements and that such a step would need US approval.

In May 2017, the Security Cabinet allocated NIS 10 million for the creation of a special team headed by veteran settler leader Pinhas Wallerstein to plan for the legalization of the 70 outposts.

But the Prime Minister’s Office submitted a request for half of the funds to hire staff member only last week – some 14 months later – making it impossible for the team to operate.

Yesha Council head Hananel Dorani said, “We’re in a situation where we have a team leader without a staff. Essentially he sits alone at a table. It’s as if the decisions by the Civil Administration [of Judea and Samaria] and Prime Minister’s Office’s decisions were never made. He is working alone and the result is that nothing happens.”

“There are those who act as if there is a state within a state. Judea and Samaria’s legal advisor, acts according to his own policies, which are contrary to the government’s.

“To my sorrow, at this which is contrary to government policy,” Dorani said.

“At this point the only thing that can be done is to put out fire and if no change is made in the [advisor’s behavior], the fires will continue to burn.”

Left-wing politicians warned the Internal Affairs Committee against legalizing the outposts.

The “occupation enterprise was trampling on almost any possibility of for a future agreement [with the Palestinians],” MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) warned.

Such a move is illegal under international law and serves only a small minority of people, Bahloul added.

Meretz MK Michal Rozin said the best way for settlers to legalize their homes was to “make aliyah” to sovereign Israel.

Former prime minister Ariel Sharon had promised the international community he would remove the outposts, but Netanyahu has worked to authorize them.

South Hebron Hills Regional Council head Yochai Damri warned that action must be taken before it’s too late. Politicians should take advantage of the combination of a right-wing government and a favorable diplomatic climate.

“We are still crying over the lost opportunities of the past,” Damri said.

Some things are already lost, such as Areas A and B of the West Bank, which have already become part of a de-facto Palestinian state with an anthem, a flag and government ministers, Damri said.

But Area C is still under Israeli rule, Damri added.



Russia will move embassy to Jerusalem–but only after city is split

Russia’s embassy in Israel might be moved from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, but only after Israel and an independent Palestinian State have settled all their issues, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said in an interview with Kan, Israel’s Public Broadcasting Corporation.

After claiming that “There are no Iranian forces in Syria,” Mikhail Bogdanov, who insisted the images of civilians killed in Syria are staged propaganda, and hailing Iran’s contributions to the solution of unrest in Syria, the Deputy Russian Foreign Minister told his Israeli interviewer:

“You know our official stance which was reaffirmed again in April 2017. We recognize West Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel and East Jerusalem as the capital city of the would-be Palestinian state, taking into consideration that in the future both sides should be guided by the principle that they have to agree on all the issues, including the final status.”

“Only after that, we will make a decision on our embassy move,” Bogdanov said.

TASS, which reported on the interview, explained that “Jerusalem is a major thorn in the side of Palestine’s relations with Israel that occupied the city’s eastern part in the 1967 war. They (the Israelis, apparently) insist Jerusalem is ‘the eternal, indivisible capital’ of Israel. The Palestinians, in their turn, are striving to have the city’s eastern part as their capital.”



IDF reinforces armor and tanks on Golan in response to Syrian escalation

The IDF reinforced the Golan on Sunday with armored units, tanks and artillery, in response to heavy fighting on the Syrian side of the border between the military of President Bashar al Assad and rebel forces.

“The IDF attaches great importance to maintaining the separation of forces agreement between Israel and Syria of 1974,” the DF said in a statement.

This agreement established two disengagement lines, and a buffer zone that would be monitored by UNDOF (The UN Disengagement Observer force). On Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to renew for six months its mission to observe the ceasefire in the Golan Heights, calling for armed groups to leave the area separating Syrian and Israeli forces.

“In addition, the IDF will continue to insist on the principle of non-involvement in what is happening in Syria, alongside a policy of resolute response to the violation of Israel’s sovereignty and risk to its residents,” the IDF said in its statement. “Humanitarian assistance has been provided by Israel for years and continues today as needed.”

Fighting has intensified in the last two weeks as Assad regime troops attempt to regain control of the southern province of Daraa, forcing an estimated 160,000 people to flee their homes. Both Israel and Jordan have stated that they will not accept refugees, but have provided humanitarian aid to the displaced people.