Opposition Chairman and Labor leader, MK Yitzhak Herzog, accused Prime Binyamin Minister Netanyahu of "insensitivity or plain stupidity" over his decision not to attend Nelson Mandela's funeral.
In a Facebook post, Herzog said that he has spoken with the heads of the Jewish community in South Africa and that they are incensed by Netanyahu's behavior. "We learned this week that the prime minister does not necessarily understand when it is proper to save money and when it is not," he explained.
"I wonder if his behavior and that of his bureau regarding Nelson Mandela's funeral stems from insensitivity or plain stupidity. The heads of the Jewish community in South Africa are furious over the prime minister's behavior, his zigzagging and the declaration that he will not come because of the financial cost."
"This is interpreted as a dismissive attitude toward South Africa," Herzog accused. "On top of all that, there is a lack of diplomatic common sense here; the prime minister would have been able to meet the heads of the world's most important states and instead he chose to intensify the Israeli feeling of isolation."
After the president and prime minister announced that they could not attend the funeral, Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud-Beytenu) took off for South Africa instead, to represent the Jewish state at the head of a five-MK delegation.
The reasons cited for Netanyahu's decision not to attend the funeral were the high costs involved as well as the complex security considerations. President Peres suffered from influenza recently and his health was cited as the reason for not attending.
Netanyahu has come under fire from the Israeli press in recent weeks for allegedly spending too much on household expenditures as well as on travel.
South African Jews have found themselves in a somewhat uncomfortable place regarding the legacy of the country's late president, with many admiring him for leading the fight against apartheid but less enamored by his close relationship with anti-Israel figures such as Yasser Arafat and Muammar Gaddafi.
A report in Haaretz quoted Dorron Kline, deputy director of Telfed, the South African Zionist federation in Israel, as saying that: "When Nelson Mandela was in power, South Africa was far more balanced in its approach to Israel. I think it was his personality and his outlook that kept things balanced. We will feel his loss particularly in that sphere."
South Africa is currently a hotbed of anti-Israel activity, with hostility to the Jewish state permeating through to senior government officials.
The South African BDLive website noted that the country's Cabinet announced in November that it does not have a ban on government officials travelling to Israel, a week after International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said the country’s ministers were not going to Israel as a sign of solidarity with the Palestinians.
In November, Nkoana-Mashabane publicly criticized Israel’s "illegal occupation" of "Palestine," saying: "That arrangement there in Palestine [sic] keeps us awake ... the last time I looked at the map of Palestine, I could not go to sleep. The struggle of the people of Palestine is our struggle.
"(Government) ministers of South Africa do not visit Israel currently ... our Palestinian friends have asked us in formal meetings to not engage with the (Israeli) regime. We have agreed to slow down and curtail senior leadership contact with that regime until things begin to look better," she said.
This prompted a furious reaction from Israel. Avigdor Liberman, then-Chairman of the Knesset's Committee for Foreign Affairs and Defense and currently the Foreign Minister, was quoted as saying: "The government of South Africa is creating an atmosphere of anti-Israeli sentiment and anti-Semitism that will make a pogrom against Jews in the country just a matter of time."
He called on all Jews who live in South Africa "to immigrate to Israel immediately, without delay, before it’s too late".
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the South African Zionist Federation issued a statement in November expressing outrage at Nkonana-Mashabane’s remarks, but said Lieberman’s comments were "alarmist and inflammatory."
The Israel Defense Forces announced Tuesday that Commander Orna Barbivai of the Personnel Branch has decided to resume exploration in the areas where soldier Guy Hever was seen on the day of his disappearance in 1997, in hope of discovering new findings that will shed light on the case.
IDF officials explained in a press release stating that the army will continue to do everything in its power "to resolve the case of the missing soldier and to find out what happened."
"It is the IDF's ethical and moral obligations to restore all missing soldiers to their families," the statement said, "Over the years there have been many efforts to locate the missing soldier Guy Hever. These efforts continue today."
"We are focusing intently on the investigation, searches and scans and intelligence reasons," the statement concluded.
Hever was last seen on August 17, 1997, at the base in the Golan Heights where he served. No information has surface in more than 15 years about his whereabouts.
In the first days after his disappearance, his commanders thought that Hever had decided to commit suicide over a dispute which had broken out between him and his commanding officer and for which he was court-martialed.
However, his last whereabout where just 1 kilometer from the Syrian border - leading to theories over the intervening years that he has been held in the embattled country ever since.
According to the 'Find Guy Hever" website, Syrian groups claimed in 2007 that they had information about the missing soldier; in 2009, a new campaign was launched under Prime Minister Netanyahu assigning a special representative to the case and seeking new means of attaining information. The website does not hold updates on those plans.
Unfortunately, the Syrian Civil War has prevented a detailed investigation over international lines.
A defense bill proposed Monday by US lawmakers would increase the budget on homeland security to $9.5 billion and allow for more aid to US-Israel military cooperation, according to the Chicago Tribune. The bill would go into effect in the beginning of 2014.
The measure authorizes $173 million in added funding for US-Israeli cooperative missile defense programs, including nearly $34 million to improve the Arrow weapon system and $22 million for work on developing another, more advanced interceptor. The move signals further cooperation between Boeing and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
$117.2 million will go toward development of the David's Sling short-range ballistic missile defense system, which is being developed jointly by Israel's state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and the US's Raytheon.
The system, which is designed to intercept medium range missiles from nearby Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon, was tested in November with great success. It is slated for deployment in 2014.
The measure also backed US President Barack Obama's request of $220 million for Israel to buy additional Iron Dome short-range interceptor missiles and the batteries they are launched from. An additional $15 million will be directed for US co-production of Iron Dome components. Raytheon has a joint marketing agreement with Israeli state-owned manufacturer Rafael Advanced Defense Systems for the Iron Dome system.
The move follows statements made by US President Barack Obama at Saturday's conference at the Saban Center for Middle Eastern Policy, where he reassured Israel that the US holds Israel's security as "sacrosanct."
"The US military cooperations with Israel have never been stronger. Our intelligence cooperation has never been stronger. Our support of Israel's security has never been stronger," Obama stated.
A US investigative journalist has charged President Barack Obama with knowing that a Syrian rebel group had the capability to produce chemical weapons - but ignoring it and placing blame on Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime instead, according to the Business Standard.
Veteran journalist Seymour Hersh published a scathing article in the London Review of Books this week accusing the President of "deliberate manipulation of intelligence" in the chemical weapons case to justify intervention in the conflict.
The United Nations investigative teams examined the attack site and wrote a report following the news, eventually confirming that sarin gas had been used but not blaming either side for the attack.
While Hersh states that Assad's forces are still responsible for the August 21 chemical attack, which left at least 1,400 dead outside of Damascus, he maintains that the US government purposely obfuscated the facts for its own reasons.
"[Obama] had claimed to have an iron-clad case but suddenly agreed to take the issue to Congress, and later to accept Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical weapons," writes Hersh, toward the end of the article. "It appears possible that at some point he was directly confronted with contradictory information: evidence strong enough to persuade him to cancel his attack plan, and take the criticism sure to come from Republicans."
According to Buzzfeed, Hersh's reports are based on a secret cable sent to a senior official at the Defense Intelligence Agency in July, allegedly stating along with later documents that the Al Nusra Front had the ability to produce sarin gas.
Hersh's claim are detailed, describing how the knowledge moved up the entire chain of command in the US government, how the US allegedly conducted studies determining the best way to clear both sides of their chemical weapons stash, and declared that a full-blown initiative into Syria would be too costly - both financially and for the war-weary US public.
He cites a number of top military and government officials, confidential documents, and suspicious excerpts from Obama's speech in August regarding the attack.
Hersh also notes that the government has preyed on public ignorance on the nature of Sarin. "You don't store sarin - you store the chemicals to make Sarin," he stated, in an interview with Democracy Now. "It's far too volatile to store."
He claims that a warning system is in place in Syria - a covert surveillance network - which allows the US to monitor chemical weapons production, and that Israel is also privy to that information.
Administration officials denied the charges and said there was no evidence to support Hersh's claims.
"The suggestion that there was an effort to suppress intelligence is simply false," said Shawn Turner, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
According to the Huffington Post, Hersh originally sent the article to The Washington Post, but was rejected for "not being up to standards." Hersh is a Pultizer-Prize winning journalist who exposed the 1969 My Lai Massacre and cover-up, as well as the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Gharib in 2004.
The report surfaces as the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) begins preparations to destroy most of Assad's chemical weapons stash later this month.
For an in-depth interview with Hersh, see below.
Yesh Atid Chairman, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, lowered the tensions Monday evening between him and his political ally, Finance Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party.
Lapid explained in a meeting with his party's MKs that reports of his statements about pushing Jewish Home out of the Coalition chose "to stress various strange political scenarios."
While there is still anger at Lapid over his thinly veiled threat, made in the course of a speech on Sunday, to replace Jewish Home with another party in order to facilitate a "peace" deal with the Palestinian Authority (PA), he and Bennett are still coordinating political moves, according to daily newspaper Yisrael Hayom.
"The diplomatic speech that I delivered expresses the deep commitment of our party to advancing the political process," Lapid said at the start of the party session. "Regrettably, there was a choice "to stress various strange political scenarios.
"The crux of what I said was that Yesh Atid will do anything to advance the process and will not let anyone 'melt it' away."
Minister Bennett reacted briefly to Lapid's explanatory statement of his Facebook page, writing that Israel should "bring down prices and not take down communities." Senior party members said that they do not see Lapid's statement as a political threat or a reason to break the pact between the parties.
However, MK Yoni Chetboun (Jewish Home) was not mollified, saying that "Ever since Lapid failed to take care of the middle class, he is going from one whipping boy to another. One time it is the hareidim, another time it is Jewish tradition, and now it is the Jewish Home.
"Instead of busying himself with impulsive 'spinology', I call on the Finance Minister to address the real subjects, of the price of living and lowering prices," Chetboun added. "But if petty politics are so important to him, he is welcome to leave the government."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also felt the need to make peace between the parties. "What will determine whether or not a deal is reached is not the makeup of the Coalition," he said at the start of the Likud party session.
Speaking at a conference Sunday, Lapid had said, "I am determined to prevent what seems to me as an ongoing attempt to hobble and delay the diplomatic process currently taking place vis-à-vis the Palestinians. If both the Israeli Left and the Israeli Right continue to say, over and over again, the prophecy might fulfill itself and the sides might leave the negotiations table in mutual recrimination."
"That is the easy solution," he said, "and there will be many people, on both sides, who will be happy if it happens, but I will do everything – anything! – to prevent the failure of negotiations."
Lapid and Bennett are often jokingly referred to as "brothers," ever since Bennett's election campaign began referring to Bennett as "a brother" – an expression that reflects his affable and dependable nature, and which is often used in Israel's military, of which Bennett is a senior member.
The unofficial alliance between the two made the current Coalition possible, and left hareidi parties out of the government. Bennett's willingness to sever the traditional ties to hareidi parties helped secularist Lapid politically, while Lapid's entry into the Coalition helped keep out more leftist parties, which is what Bennett wanted.
A French Islamist who fought as part of a jihadi rebel faction in Syria has said that foreign fighters with a "9/11 ideology" could return to the West, where they would pose a definitive security threat.
In an interview with the BBC the anonymous former rebel fighter told of how he had fought for an unnamed Islamist brigade, before leaving after it pledged its allegiance to Al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS), saying that he opposed the brutal methods of the group - but not necessarily its vision for Syria.
The interview offers an intriguing insight into the mindset, ideology and motivations of the increasingly dominant Islamist rebel movement in Syria, which has eclipsed the more secular Free Syrian Army. It also once again highlights the growing security concerns shared by most Western countries over the increasingly large number of Western-born Islamists fighting in Syria - and the prospect of there return to their countries of birth at some point in the future.
Western states have recently opened diplomatic channels with the largest such faction - the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF) - in a bid to gain their support for upcoming peace talks in Geneva. The move has also been seen as an attempt to drive a wedge between the non-Al Qaeda-aligned factions fighting under the banner of SIF, and Al Qaeda franchises such as Al Nusra Front and ISIS, with whom they sometimes coordinate operations, particularly in the north of the country.
But such efforts are fraught with risks.
As the unnamed fighter, who chose to hide his identity, presumably out of concerns for his safety after publicly declaring his desertion, explained to his interviewer, whilst he and other Islamists in Syria did not support the killing of "blasphemers" or even the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, "the final goal is an Islamic state".
"We are all Al Qaeda in the sense of ideology and mindset," he declared.
Illustrating his point, he explained how his unit did not view members of the Shia Islamic sect as Muslims, and viewed the conflict through the prism of a religious sectarian war.
Echoing sentiments made by Al Qaeda leaders, he said that the Syrian civil war is "Definitely a fight against the Shia. Shia is not a sect of Islam. The difference between Sunni and Shia are so huge that they are not related to our religion in any way."
Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is a member of the Alawite sect - an offshoot of Shia Islam whose adherents make up around 10% of the Syrian population. His forces are backed by pro-government Shia and Alawite militias raised from within Syria itself, as well as foreign Shia jihadis from Iraq and Lebanon - most notably Hezbollah.
Shia Iran has provided crucial support to the Assad regime, including sending members of its own armed forces to train and fight alongside regime troops.
Relating how his brigade would treat members of Syria's tiny Shia minority in the areas they controlled, the former rebel said they found it so "irritating" to hear Shia referring to themselves as "Muslims", that "in areas we controlled we would force them to stop calling themselves Muslims."
Neither the interviewer nor the former jihadi revealed which precise brigade he had been fighting with, but given his description and the fact that it is said to have "pledged allegiance" to ISIS it was likely to have been the Nusra Front, which did precisely that back in August of this year. Many within the Nusra Front were unhappy about the decision to effectively merge the two groups at the time, and resisted it - causing some tension between different factions within the group ever since.
He also revealed how many Islamists are motivated to join the conflict and were encouraged on the battlefield itself by a saying - or "Hadith" - attributed to Mohammed, the founder of Islam, in which he declared that "if Islam in the Greater Syria region is corrupted, there will not be any correct Islam anywhere in the world."
The fact that such fundamentalist religious sentiments are shared by Al Qaeda-linked and independent Islamist rebel groups alike illustrates just how easy the ideological journey into the fold of Al Qaeda would be for many foreign fighters - a trend he claimed is on the increase.
And crucially - despite saying that he himself did not share such beliefs - he warned that "the same people with the same 9/11 ideology" existed among the large contingent of European Muslim extremists currently fighting in Syria. Alarmingly, he claimed that "Europeans" were the third-largest group of foreign jihadis in Syria, after "the Saudis and Chechens".
"Yes, I think they would be a danger to the West," he said, "I wouldn't want them to go back."
The Knesset approved late Monday night the second and third readings of the amendment to the law to prevent infiltration of illegal immigrants.
30 MKs voted in favor of the legislation and 15 opposed it.
The purpose of the law, presented by Interior Minister Gideon Saar (Likud), is to prevent the entry of illegal infiltrators into Israel's borders and add tools to deal with the phenomenon of the illegal infiltrators already residing in Israel.
The law would allow police to jail illegal migrants for up to 12 months in special detention facilities.
The new law follows the cancellation of a previous law that allowed illegal migrants to be held for up to three years. That law was overturned by the High Court as unconstitutional. It is estimated the new law will cost 500,000 shekels ($140,000) to implement.
The law passed its first reading several weeks ago and, with the passing of the second and third readings, is now officially enacted.
The vote was preceded by a heated debate, as the leftist parties in the Knesset reiterated their objection to the bill, just as they did during the debate that preceded the first reading.
Those opposed to the legislation say that the illegal infiltrators are genuine refugees, ignoring the fact that almost all of them come to Israel to look for jobs.
Residents of southern Tel Aviv, as well as those of other cities like Eilat, have been suffering from endless harassment, fear and violence perpetrated by the many illegal Eritrean and Sudanese infiltrators who enter Israel to find employment and come to live in their working class neighborhood.
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), who heads a Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, slammed the law during the debate on Monday night, accusing the government of “spreading lies” about it.
“The lies the government has been spreading in recent days about the ‘infiltrators’ law are not just in contempt of the High Court - they are also a disgrace to the Israeli public,” she charged.
“The bill the Knesset wishes to pass tonight is a web of lies which violate human rights, deceive the residents of southern Tel Aviv and solves nothing about the issue of refugees in Israel. Personally I am ashamed, and collectively we will all regret this day,” said Rozin.
Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Galon also slammed the bill and said, “This law is one of the biggest insults that will stain the Israeli law book. Have we gone crazy? What is this incitement? Refugees are referred to as a disease, as if they are a demographic threat to Israel. This law also fails to meet the standards of the High Court, and it does not seem to bother anybody.”
MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) argued that the new law would make the situation in southern Tel Aviv even worse.
“Even if the bill passes, and even if it is not rejected by the High Court, and it will be possible to lock up asylum seekers for a year without trial - all these detention facilities together will hold 5,000, while an additional 50,000 will remain on the streets of southern Tel Aviv,” he claimed. “This law is immoral for the Knesset to specifically approve on International Human Rights Day, and beyond this it will not solve any problem but only worsen the existing problems.”
Responding to the critics, MK Miri Regev (Likud) said, “Residents of southern Tel Aviv and Eilat also have human rights. Enough with this beautification.”
Regev accused Rozin of “protecting criminals who illegally cross our borders, not the residents of Tel Aviv. Shameful. I’m sure the High Court will not reject this law. It is proportionate.”
Minister Saar said during the debate, “The facts are that there are tens of millions today in Africa, who are looking for a Western country to migrate to. The equation is simple but brutal: If we raise our hands in despair or decide consciously that we should be the most liberal country in the West in dealing with the phenomenon of infiltrators - we will lose our only state. The second question is whether we act to reduce the volume of illegal infiltrators in Israel or accept the status quo?”
Saar declared, “We are determined to prevent infiltration into Israel and reduce the volume of infiltrators residing in Israel.”
Responding to calls from the opposition against the law, he said, "You oppose all measures and all laws related to the infiltrators. You strive for us to have a state of infiltrators. You want us to give up, and we will not give up.”
Saar also told those opposed that “this law serves the interests of the state and its residents - Jewish and Arab alike.”
Talks between the governments of Romania and Israel were scuttled when Israel refused to accept Bucharest's demand that construction workers from Romania not be employed beyond the "Green Line," reported IDF Radio Tuesday.
According to the military radio station, the Foreign Ministry has been working for several months vis-à-vis Romania, to sign an agreement that would make it possible to bring in Romanian construction workers to Israel.
However, in the course of the negotiations, Romania demanded an Israeli commitment that the workers brought to Israel would not be employed in Judea and Samaria. Israel refused to accept this condition and the talks were stopped.
The British government released new guidelines last week warning its citizens not to engage in business activities with Jewish businesses in Judea and Samaria and even with individuals, according to updates on the United Kingdom Trade and Investment (UKTI) website.