Israeli security chief in DC reportedly to sign $38B defense assistance pact

Israel’s acting head of national security is in Washington, D.C., reportedly to sign a deal extending U.S. defense assistance to Israel for 10 years.

Jacob Nagel arrived Tuesday, and according to Israeli media reports, will meet with his U.S. counterpart, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, to sign the $38 billion military aid package.

The deal, called a memorandum of understanding, is expected to be rolled out officially within days, possibly as early as this week, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing unnamed sources familiar with the deal.

Nagel left for the United States on Monday night after meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, Haaretz reported. According to Haaretz, the meeting dealt with the final details of the agreement, including how it would be publicly announced.

The final package of $38 billion would be higher than the $3.1 billion of assistance provided annually in the expiring deal, but lower than the $45 billion sought by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to Reuters, the new deal will include missile defense cooperation, which had been considered separately from defense assistance. The change will make it harder for Israel to appeal directly to Congress for increases in missile defense.

Additionally, the deal over time will roll back the approximately 25 percent of the funds Israel may spend on defense equipment manufactured in Israel. Instead, the money must be spent on the U.S. defense industry.

Israel tells U.N. will defend itself against Hezbollah

Israel told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday it will take all necessary measures to defend itself after an exchange of fire between Hezbollah militants and Israel that has raised the threat of a full-blown conflict.

“Israel will not stand by as Hezbollah targets Israelis,” Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor said in a letter to the Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“Israel will not accept any attacks on its territory and it will exercise its right to self-defense and take all necessary measures to protect its population,” he added.

The attack occurred on Wednesday in the biggest escalation of fighting since a 2006 war.

Two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish peacekeeper were killed when Hezbollah fired a missile at a convoy of Israeli military vehicles at the Lebanon border. A U.N. spokesman and Spanish officials said the peacekeeper was killed as Israel responded with air strikes and artillery fire.

“Events in the north continue to unfold and Israel extends its condolences to UNIFIL and the Spanish government over the death of one of its soldiers earlier today,” Prosor said.

“I urge the Security Council to unequivocally and publicly condemn Hezbollah,” he added. “The terrorist organization must be disarmed and the government of Lebanon must abide by its international commitments and fully implement Security Council resolution 1701.”

Resolution 1701 halted the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in southern Lebanon. The south remains a Hezbollah stronghold.

Hezbollah said it carried out Wednesday's attack, which appeared to be in retaliation for a Jan. 18 Israeli air strike in southern Syria that killed several Hezbollah members and an Iranian general.

U.S. sells munitions to Israel from its surplus stockpile

The U.S. Defense Department sold to Israel munitions from its Israel-based surplus stockpile.

“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in an email Thursday to JTA. “This defense sale is consistent with those objectives.”

The weapons released were 120mm tank rounds and 40mm illumination rounds. Israel made the request July 20, which was 12 days after the launch of the current Israel-Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip. The items were released on July 23.

Kirby in his email noted that White House approval is not required for the sale of munitions in the Israel-based stockpile.

U.S. defense assistance to Israel has for years included the existence of a stockpile in the country of surplus U.S. weapons available for expedited sale to Israel.

Separately, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a phone call with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon repeated U.S. calls for a humanitarian cease-fire.

“Hagel called for the cease-fire and expressed concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths as well as the loss of Israeli lives,” said a statement by Kirby describing the phone call on Wednesday. “Hagel also reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s security and its right to self defense and said that any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorist groups.”

Congress triples Obama’s request on defense cooperation with Israel

The final version of the congressional defense budget triples the Obama administration’s request for funding for joint U.S.-Israel defense cooperation.

The $284 million in the budget released jointly on Dec. 10 by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate budget committees — up from the $96 million requested by the Obama administration — includes funding for the Arrow long-range anti-missile system and the David’s Sling and Iron Dome missile defense systems. The full National Defense Authorization Act for 2014 is virtually assured passage.

Defense cooperation funding, to which Israel contributes, is separate from the $3.1 billion Israel receives in defense assistance as part of a 10-year package.

Additionally, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation that would create a strategic energy partnership between Israel and the United States. The measure, referred to the full House on Dec. 10, amends the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and is designed to strengthen collaboration between Israel and the United States on energy development.

Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) led the charge for the countries to develop ways for long-term, strategic cooperation on energy matters.

In public shift, Israel calls for Assad’s fall

Israel wants to see Syrian President Bashar Assad toppled, its ambassador to the United States said on Tuesday, in a shift from its non-committal public stance on its neighbor's civil war.

Even Assad's defeat by al Qaeda-aligned rebels would be preferable to Damascus's current alliance with Israel's arch-foe Iran, Ambassador Michael Oren said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post.

His comments marked a move in Israel's public position on Syria's two-and-1/2-year-old war.

Though old enemies, a stable stand-off has endured between the two countries during Assad's rule and at times Israel had pursued peace talks with him in hope of divorcing Syria from Tehran and Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah guerrillas in neighboring Lebanon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had long avoided openly calling for the Syrian president's fall. Some Israeli officials now worry that radical Sunni Islamist insurgents fighting Assad will eventually turn their guns on the Jewish state.

But with Assad under U.S.-led condemnation for his forces' alleged chemical attack on a rebel district of Damascus on August 21, Oren said Israel's message was that he must go.

“We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren't backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran,” Oren said in the interview, excerpted on Tuesday before its full publication on Friday.

Assad's overthrow would also weaken the alliance with Iran and Hezbollah, Oren said.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” he said.

Oren said that other anti-Assad rebels were less radical than the Islamists.

Israel believes around one in 10 Syrian rebels are Sunni militants sworn to its destruction. Assad's Alawite sect is closer to the rival Shi'ite Islam of Iran and Hezbollah.

Oren, a Netanyahu confidant, did not say in the interview whether or how Israel was promoting Assad's fall.

Netanyahu casts Iran's disputed nuclear drive as the main menace to Israel and world stability.

Israel, which is widely assumed to have the region's sole atomic arsenal, has played down any direct Syrian threat to it but is concerned that a weak Western policy towards Assad could encourage Iran.

The Israelis have conferred closely with Washington as it first threatened military reprisals over the Damascus gas attack and then struck a deal with Russia for placing Syria's chemical weapons under international control.

Netanyahu has urged Syria be stripped of such arms, while insisting that his government was not getting involved in Assad's feud with the rebels.

Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan

Defense chiefs Hagel and Yaalon to meet in D.C.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Yaalon, will meet this week.

A Pentagon official told JTA that the two defense chiefs would meet in Washington on Friday, but did not provide further details.

Israel and the United States are closely cooperating in tracking Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program and formulating strategy over how to prevent it.

Hagel and Yaalon met last month in Israel in their first meeting since taking their posts.

U.S. publishes details of secret Israeli military base

The U.S. government published on a federal website details of a top-secret base in Israel to house the Arrow 3 missile defense system.

A 1,000-page detailed description of the project, to be built by the United States for Israel, was published on a federal business opportunities website in order to allow contractors to prepare bids on the $25 million project, McClatchy’s Sheera Frenkel reported Monday.

“If an enemy of Israel wanted to launch an attack against a facility, this would give him an easy how-to guide,” an unnamed Israeli official told McClatchy. “This type of information is closely guarded and its release can jeopardize the entire facility.”

The bidding documents were first cited in Jane’s Defense Weekly, which discussed them in a story that provides details about the new defense system.

When it becomes operational in 2015, the Arrow 3 is expected to be able to intercept ballistic missiles at a range of up to 1,500 miles outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Wesley Miller told McClatchy that the U.S. routinely publishes construction plans on the website to allow contractors to accurately estimate costs.

The facility is so top secret in Israel that the military will not confirm its exact location, which is between Jerusalem and Ashdod in the South.

The head of the Arrow 3 project, Col. Aviram Hasson, on Monday told a conference at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv that the Arrow 3 program has been accelerated due to fears of the threat from Iran.

McClatchy reported that the U.S. has built some $500 million in Israeli military facilities, including an air base, intelligence offices and underground hangars.

Meet the laser that guides the Iron Dome (soon to be made in the USA)

Six months after the Iron Dome defense system rendered Hamas rockets largely ineffective during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza,  I got a tour of the factory that produces its most vital component: a laser.

The system, which can shoot down rockets within a circumference of 65 sq. miles, takes two trucks to transport and tens of millions of dollars per unit to build. In November’s Gaza fighting, it boasted almost 90 percent accuracy.

The laser is responsible for that success rate – the machine’s brains: once the Iron Dome is in place, the laser detects every flying object and decides – based on trajectory and velocity – whether it’s a bird, a plane or a missile aimed at an Israeli town.

Then, judging from the missile’s arc, the laser can determine the two most vital pieces of information – where the missile came from, and where it’s going. Israel then fires at the launching pad. If the missile headed toward a populated area, a siren goes off warning residents while the Iron Dome shoots an interceptor missile to take out the incoming bomb.

And what decides where that interceptor missile goes, and guides it toward its target? The laser.

All of this happens, by the way, in a matter of minutes. And it’s all automatic.

“You do not have the luxury to have a person in the loop,” said Meir Conforti, head of North American marketing for Elta, the Israel Aerospace Industries subsidiary that manufactures the laser. “You have people in the loop to stop it if they see something is mistaken.”

For all of its functions, the laser isn’t lithe, and looks like a huge, smooth metallic green rectangle that towers over people’s heads. It’s not easy to transport, either. It takes several hours to a day to move it around Israel, and its movements are followed closely. Where the Iron Dome is deployed has become a way for Israelis to judge which border is tensest. Recently, following flareups in Syria, the defense system moved north.

Soon, though, part of the laser may be made in the U.S. For my tour, I tagged along on a visit from Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, widely considered a contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Elta plans to manufacture parts for the laser in a Maryland factory.

But regardless of how effective the radar is now, Conforti stressed that improving it is key to the Iron Dome’s success.

“The world is not static,” he said. “The radar of today can cope with the current threat.”

But, he added, “Kassam missiles are getting better every day.”

U.S. aims to support Israeli defense systems despite budget cuts

New U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with his Israeli counterpart on Tuesday, expressing strong support for Israeli missile and rocket defense systems despite fiscal uncertainty caused by across-the-board spending cuts.

“Secretary Hagel is committed to working with members of Congress to ensure that there is no interruption of funding for Iron Dome, Arrow, and David's Sling rocket and missile defense systems,” a U.S. defense official said.

Hagel's nearly two-hour-long talks with Israel's Ehud Barak represented his first face-to-face meeting with a foreign counterpart since he took over the Pentagon on Feb. 27.

Reporting by Phil Stewart

Israel boosts defences along Syria, Lebanon borders

Israel has deployed a third Iron Dome missile defence system near its northern borders with Syria and Lebanon, security sources said on Tuesday.

The Iron Dome systems have been deployed alongside a U.S.-supplied Patriot battery, which has been stationed in the north for years, as Israel is on the alert for weapons leaking out of the Syrian civil war that could be turned on the Jewish state.

Two Iron Dome batteries, which use radar-guided interceptor missiles to shoot down short-ranged rockets, had already been deployed there.

Israel has said it could use military action to prevent chemical weapons and advanced arms from Syria slipping into the hands of militant groups as a result of the civil war there.

It declined to comment on whether it was responsible for bombing a Syrian arms complex last week.

Israel has maintained official silence over the raid, but its defence minister said the incident showed that Israel was serious about preventing the flow of heavy weapons into Lebanon.

Syria's ally Iran said Israel would regret the air strike, but did not say whether either country planned a military response.

A military spokesman declined to give details on the Iron Dome deployment, but described it as routine.

Reporting by Dan Williams; Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

Iron Dome upgrade tests called successful

Israel said it successfully completed tests of the Iron Dome missile defense system following a system upgrade.

The announcement of the successful tests came in a statement from its Defense Ministry issued on Jan. 21.

“The series of tests is aimed at broadening and improving the capabilities and performance of the system in the face of an unprecedented array of threats,” the statement said. “The test, which was declared a success, will contribute to the improved operational capacity of 'Iron Dome.' “

The decision to upgrade Iron Dome was announced shortly before Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza in which Israel said the system intercepted more that 80 percent of the hundreds of rockets fired at southern Israel.

Ehud Barak says he’s quitting politics

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he is leaving politics after more than half a century and will not run in the upcoming elections.

Barak made the surprise announcement Monday, less than a week after Israel's military ended its Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, for which he has received accolades for his successful leadership.

He said he would leave the government after the January elections. Barak, of the Independence Party, has been courted recently by left-wing and center-left parties to join with them for the elections. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly demanded that Barak resign from the government if he decided to join another party.

Barak said he planned to spend more time with his family.

“I have never felt that politics was the height of my ambition,” he said at the Monday morning news conference. “I feel there is room now for other people to take up positions in Israel. There are many ways to contribute, but the state is not just politics.”

Barak served as prime minister in 1999, succeeding Benjamin Netanyahu, and simultaneously as defense minister. He left politics in 2001 after losing to Ariel Sharon, but returned in 2007 to serve as chairman of the Labor Party and defense minister for Ehud Olmert, and stayed on when Netanyahu became prime minister in 2009.

Barak left the Labor Party in January 2011 and formed the left-wing Independence Party to shore up Netanyahu's majority coalition government when Labor, minus Barak's faction, left the coalition. The Independence Party likely would not garner enough votes in the upcoming elections to break the 2 percent threshold to win seats in the Knesset, according to recent polls.

Former Kadima Party head Tzipi Livni is slated to announce this week her plans for the coming political season, as is former prime minister and Kadima chief Ehud Olmert.

Test of David’s Sling missile defense system deemed success

Israel successfully tested its newest missile defense system, called David's Sling.

The Israel Missile Defense Organization and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency on Sunday announced that David's Sling, also known as Magic Wand, intercepted a mid-range missile during a test-firing of the system.

The system is being jointly developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems in Israel and the Raytheon Co. in the United States. It is designed to intercept missiles and rockets with a range of up to nearly 200 miles, especially rockets fired by Hezbollah from Lebanon, according to reports.

Iron Dome, which successfully intercepted between 80 percent and 90 percent of rockets fired from Gaza at Israel during the recent Operation Pillar of Defense, is designed to intercept short-range rockets.

David's Sling is scheduled for deployment in 2014.

Pogroms interrupted: The era of Jews fighting back

As I’ve been watching images of Hamas rockets falling on Israel, I’ve asked myself: If Hamas had the ability to murder thousands of Jews, wouldn’t they? And if Israel didn’t have a strong army, wouldn’t we surely witness another pogrom? 

Since the destruction of the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago, has there been a more physically abused people than the Jews?

How many Crusades and Inquisitions and pogroms have been recorded where Jews were virtually helpless to defend themselves?

Oh sure, we always managed to survive and pull through. We were strong with our values, our Torah, our culture and our wits in adapting to whatever limits were imposed on us.

But physically? We were always at the mercy of our landlords.

My ancestors in Morocco survived only because they knew their place. You never heard of a Moroccan Jew fighting for the same rights as Moroccan Arabs. Jews were the dhimmis, the second class citizens of the state. And still, there were stories of pogroms against Moroccan Jews.

The physical abuse of Jews reached its darkest and most murderous hour with the Holocaust.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say you have to reach your own bottom before you can turn things around. Well, the Holocaust was our absolute bottom.

Perhaps not coincidentally, within a few years we were blessed with our own sovereign state. What would happen now? Would our enemies still come after us?

Indeed they did, but this time, something weird happened.

The Jews fought back.

A ragtag band of Jews fought mano a mano against five invading Arab armies and won.

That miraculous victory saved Israel and signaled a new era in the story of the Jews.

The era of Jews Fighting Back.

We’ve been in that era now for 64 years, and the truth is, we’ve become pretty good at it.

This has shocked our enemies. After 2,000 years of seeing Jews cower so as not to get slaughtered, they've seen these weak Jews transformed into fighting warriors.

This doesn't seem very “Jewish.”

Even among Jews, this success has created a lot of handwringing and intellectual agony: What shall we do with all this power? Are we using it responsibly? Will it corrupt us?

I have to confess, I’ve had very little agony over this. The Jews’ ability to finally fight back has been a source of great satisfaction for me.

Of course, I’d be a lot happier if we were at peace and didn’t have to fight in the first place– if we weren’t surrounded by enemies trying to destroy us.

I wouldn’t have to shed tears when I’m alone in my car, thinking of Israel at war, or talk to my daughter in Herzliya about bomb shelters.

But if Israel is destined to live, at least in the near term, surrounded by enemies, what are we to make of this dark circumstance?

Is it possible that all this fighting might be serving an additional purpose, beyond the essential one of defending the country?

As I’ve been reflecting on all this, the thought occurred to me that maybe Israel is more than a country.

Maybe it’s also a statement.

An official statement that says to the world: The Jews will never go away.

This statement of strength after 2,000 years of weakness is so astonishing that it needed a singular, dramatic instrument to make the point.

And what better instrument than a strong country?

A country so powerful it has managed to thrive on so many levels despite being virtually under siege for 64 years.

So, that is my Jewish take on all this ugly fighting: Our enemies need to see, once and for all, that the Jews will never go away.

Maybe only then will there be peace.

The other night, at a Technion event at the home of Frank Lunz, our Consul General, David Siegel, said: “Our enemies have tried for thousands of years to destroy us, but they’ve always failed.”

The difference now is that we’re surviving on our own terms, not by cowering but by holding our heads high.

I’m sure some people will find this tone of defiance a little unseemly, not very nuanced.

But there’s no nuance in hatred. There’s no nuance in the desire to murder Jews. There never has been.

The statement that the Jews will never go away is a statement that must be made. We can thank Israel for making that statement in the most compelling way possible, even at the risk of upsetting a world not used to seeing Jews fight back.

At the Technion event, they played a video showing some of Israel’s global accomplishments, such as finding renewable energy, curing diseases and helping crippled people walk.

We can thank Israel for that statement, too: A world in which the Jews survive is not just good for the Jews, it’s also good for the world. 

U.S. Senate resolution backs Israel’s actions in Gaza

Thirty U.S. senators have signed on to a resolution expressing support for Israel's “inherent right to act in self-defense.”

The non-binding resolution, originally drafted by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), “expresses unwavering commitment to the security of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizes and strongly supports its inherent right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism.”

The resolution, the first such proposed legislation in the wake of Israeli airstrikes launched Wednesday in retaliation for rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, may come to a vote as early as Thursday evening.

Unlike statements of support for Israel's actions from the Obama administration, the Senate resolution does not call on both sides to exercise restraint or express regret at casualties on both sides.

“We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence,” Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, told reporters on Thursday. “There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately in order to allow the situation to de-escalate.”

Sixteen Palestinians, including two children, and three Israelis have been killed in the escalated violence between Israel and Palestinian terrorists. Among the dead Palestinians is a terrorist leader, Ahmed Jabari.

A host of lawmakers have issued statements in support of Israel, and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on Wednesday briefed five senators from both parties — Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

“As a bipartisan group of Senators committed to Israel's security, we express our solidarity with Israel during this deeply challenging period and denounce the reprehensible and indiscriminate rocket attacks launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad against innocent Israeli citizens,” the senators said in a joint statement.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee praised the outpouring of congressional support.

“These statements demonstrate that America continues to firmly stand with Israel and her right to defend herself,” it said. “No nation can tolerate constant barrages of rockets against its civilian population.”

U.S. military official’s secret visit to Israel is revealed

The vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. James Winnefeld, is in Israel to discuss security and defense issues.

Winnefeld's visit, which was revealed Thursday by Israeli's Army Radio on the last day of the meetings, reportedly was kept secret due to tension between Israel and the United States over the issue of an attack on Iran's nuclear sites.

The visit came days after the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said he did not want to be “complicit” in such an Israeli strike.

Winnefeld reportedly is in Israel at the invitation of his counterpart, Brig.-Gen. Yair Naveh. The Israeli Defense Forces did not confirm the visit.

The commander of the 3rd Air Force, U.S. Air Forces Europe, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, is expected to visit Israel next week in order to prepare for next month's Austere Challenge 12, the joint ballistic missiles exercise between the IDF and the U.S. Army.

Iron Dome anti-missile system installed in Tel Aviv

An Iron Dome anti-missile system battery has been installed in metropolitan Tel Aviv.

The system, which was installed on Thursday, is expected to remain in place for several days, as it calibrates itself to the area.

The battery has previously been installed at Sderot, Ashkelon and Ashdod.

Israel and the United States will hold Austere Challenge 12, a joint ballistic missiles exercise, at the end of October.

Egypt replaces tanks with armored vehicles in Sinai

Egypt's military is deploying light armored vehicles in Sinai to replace some heavy tanks whose presence at the border area had raised concerns in Israel, security sources said on Tuesday.A source said last week the army had begun withdrawing some of the tanks, after they had been deployed as part of an operation against militants who attacked and killed 16 border guards on August 5.

Disorder has spread in Sinai since former President Hosni Mubarak's overthrow last year. Analysts say Islamists with possible links to al Qaeda have gained a foothold, which has alarmed Israel.

The unrest has occurred mainly in North Sinai, where many people have guns and where Bedouin tribes have long complained of neglect by central government. They say they have seen no benefits from the expanding Sinai tourist resorts.

Hundreds of troops, along with tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters were sent to the area in a joint operation with police to raid militant hideouts, arrest suspects and seize weapons, including rockets and other arms, rife in the area.

But Israeli officials have privately voiced concerns about heavy equipment being sent to areas where there have been restrictions on weapon deployments under a 1979 peace treaty, the first such treaty reached between Israel and an Arab state.

“Twenty tanks have been withdrawn from the central sector of Sinai toward Suez,” a security source said, adding that about 20 armored vehicles have reached Al-Arish city, the administrative centre of North Sinai.

The sources did not give a clear answer to whether the withdrawal of tanks was taken in response to Israel's concerns or say how many tanks were still in Sinai.

The army said last week it would broaden its campaign in Sinai, involving a redeployment of forces but did not specify which areas they would redeploy to.

“The operation is entering a new phase that requires different equipment capable of facing and handling the situation in Sinai,” military official told Reuters on Tuesday.

Another security source said the tanks were removed to be replaced with more “useful equipment”.

Analysts said there was no doubt that the tanks were taken out to assuage Israeli concerns. “Egypt's decision to remove tanks was taken to calm Israel after it voiced concerns about the presence of tanks near its borders,” Safwat al Zayaat, a retired army general and military expert said.

“As if the tanks were, as Egypt is saying now, not useful then why did it send them there in the first place?” he said.

A security source said security forces defused a land mine and a bomb on Tuesday planted by militants east of Al-Arish. It was the fourth such incident since last week.

No one had yet claimed responsibility for the killing of the border guards on August 5. But a Sinai-based Islamist militant organization, the Salafi Jihadi Group – which denies any involvement in the border attack – warned the Egyptian army that the crackdown would force it to fight back.

Reporting by Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia, Yasmine Saleh and Marwa Awad; Writing by Tamim Elyan; Editing by Alison Williams

Israel opens up about national cyber plans

Israel will establish a national cyber situation room as part of a national cybernetic defense concept.

National Cyber Bureau head Dr. Evyatar Mataniah also announced Wednesday at Tel Aviv University’s Second Annual International Cyber Conference that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved the budget and work plan for the bureau that was established at the beginning of the year.

The announcement came on the heels of a speech by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in which he acknowledged for the first time that Israel has launched offensive cyberspace operations. He said Israel has been working on both cyber defense and offense, but stressed that defense is more important.

“Our goal with cyber defense, which is the more important and difficult component, is to prevent damage,” Barak said, according to Haaretz. “It is more than we can benefit from an offensive action, even though both aspects exist.”

It is suspected that Israel released the Flame virus that was discovered attacking computers in Iran and the West Bank, among other places, last month. The Flame virus reportedly shares some characteristics with the Stuxnet virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and which Israel was accused of creating with U.S. cooperation.

House subcommittee set to OK $1 billion for Israel anti-missile programs

The U.S. House of Representatives defense appropriations subcommittee is set to approve nearly $1 billion for Israeli and joint Israeli-U.S. missile defense programs.

“This funding level is the highest ever appropriated in a single year for these life-saving programs,” Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), a member of the committee, said in a statement.

Some $680 million of the $947 million set to be approved Tuesday in a session of the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee will go to the Iron Dome short-range anti-missile system, a result of legislation initiated by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.), respectively the chairwoman and senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The bill was spurred by Iron Dome’s success in repelling a barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip earlier this year and the Obama administration’s readiness to consider further funds for the project.

The remaining $269 million will go to the short-range David’s Sling and long-range Arrow anti-missile programs, representing a hike from the $100 million proposed earlier this year in the Obama administration’s budget.

Those programs are joint U.S.-Israel projects, while Iron Dome is an Israeli project, although congressional appropriators have expressed interest in obtaining U.S. proprietary rights to Iron Dome.

House committee to propose Iron Dome boost

The House Armed Services Committee reportedly is proposing $680 million in additional funds for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

A number of news outlets reported over the weekend that the Republican-majority Armed Services Committee plans to increase the funding in addition to the $205 million that was appropriated under President Obama’s 2013 defense budget.

Capitol Hill sources told JTA that a final figure has yet to be determined.

Two congressional leaders pushed for the increase in funding the Iron Dome system when they introduced legislation in March.

The Iron Dome Support Act was introduced by Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and the committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). The act currently has 66 co-sponsors.

A week following the introduction of the legislation, the Pentagon announced that it would “request an appropriate level of funding from Congress … based on Israeli requirements and production capacity.”

The Armed Services Committee will begin marking up the defense budget on Thursday.

Netanyahu says sanctions hurting Iran but not enough

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that international sanctions were hurting Iran’s economy but not enough to persuade it to curb its nuclear ambitions even slightly.

“The Iranian government … is having economic troubles but it has yet to move backward, even a millimeter, in its nuclear program,” Netanyahu told a news conference he called to mark his right-wing government’s third anniversary in power.

“Will these difficulties bring the government in Tehran to stop its nuclear program? Time will tell. I cannot say to you that this will happen. I know there are difficulties, but there has yet to be a change.”

His comments came after a senior Revolutionary Guards commander was quoted as saying that the United States would not be safe from retaliation if Washington attacked Iran in an attempt to blunt its nuclear program.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to press ahead with tough sanctions on Tehran, saying there was sufficient oil supply in the world market to allow countries to cut Iranian imports.

In his own remarks, Netanyahu shed no new light on how Israel might deal with what he has said is Iran’s intention to build atomic weapons that could threaten the existence of the Jewish state.

Both Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, and its main ally, the United States, have held out the prospect of military action against Iran if sanctions do not work. Iran has said it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes.

Returning to a familiar theme in Israel’s discourse on Iran, Netanyahu contrasted the helplessness of Jews during the Nazi Holocaust to the military strength and diplomatic influence of the Jewish state founded after World War Two.

“The Jewish people did not have these capabilities seventy, eighty ears ago. We did not have these tools. Today these tools exist, and it is our duty to use them in order to thwart the nefarious intentions of our enemies,” he said, without referring directly to Iran.

A rash of public comments two months ago by Israeli officials suggesting time was running out for Israel to mount any effective military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, some of which have been moved underground, stoked international concern.

But more recently, Israel has cautiously welcomed the planned resumption later this month of big-power nuclear talks with Iran.

“I will do all I can to fend off this danger,” Netanyahu said in reference to Iran’s nuclear program, “I hope we will be able to do this together with the leading players in the international community, it is a great danger to them, but first and foremost it is a danger to us.”

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Writing by Jeffrey Heller

IDF officials: Missile attack on Israel would produce less than 300 casualties

Israel Defense Forces officials told cabinet ministers on Monday that should Israel undergo a coordinated missile attack, there would be less than 300 Israeli casualties.

The number was mentioned by IDF officials during a discussion in Israel’s security-diplomatic cabinet, Channel 10 reported on Monday, and is far lower than the number mentioned previously by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who reportedly said that a maximum of 500 Israelis would die in such an attack.

During the meeting, a senior official in the Israel Air Force told the cabinet ministers that in the event of a coordinated missile attack on Israel’s home front, missiles and rockets would be fired at Israel by the Syrian army, Hezbollah in Lebanon, terror organizations in Gaza, and most probably by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as well.


Obama administration to ask for more Iron Dome funds

The Obama administration plans to ask Congress to fund additions to Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

“The Department of Defense has been in conversations with the government of Israel about U.S. support for the acquisition of additional Iron Dome systems and intends to request an appropriate level of funding from Congress to support such acquisitions based on Israeli requirements and production capacity,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement on March 27.

The short-range anti-missile system, funded in part by a $205 million U.S. grant, helped stop as many as 80 percent of missiles launched from the Gaza Strip toward heavily populated areas during recent tensions on that border.

Republicans in Congress have slammed Obama for what they say is underfunding of Israel’s missile defense, although he has doubled the spending for this period projected by his predecessor, President George W. Bush. 

Top congressional Democrats praised the announcement and said they would back the funding through bipartisan legislation already under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), a member of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, said in a statement that he would work “to robustly fund Iron Dome.”

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee who introduced the most recent legislation with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the committee chair, called Panetta’s statement a “further step in the right direction.”

Meanwhile, an Iron Dome battery was deployed March 26 in the Gush Dan area of central Israel as part of an exercise to test the system’s ability to protect Tel Aviv from rockets and missiles.

IDF Chief of Staff Gantz: Iron Dome a game changer

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz called the success of the Iron Dome system in intercepting incoming missiles from Gaza a “serious and historical military change.”

Speaking Tuesday night in the Israeli city of Ashdod via satellite to the New York gala dinner of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, Gantz also warned that if rocket fire from Gaza continues, Israel would retaliate.

A tense calm had been holding, with limited rocket fire from Gaza and no Israeli retaliation since Egyptian officials announced that they had brokered an informal truce between Israel and the Hamas regime in Gaza. In four days of fighting before the truce took effect, Iron Dome intercepted the vast majority of the long-range missiles fire from Gaza to Israeli cities, Israeli officials said. The cross-border rocket barrages began after the IDF’s killing in an airstrike of Zuhair Qaisi, leader of the Palestinian Resistance Committees.

[10 things you should know about Israel’s Iron Dome]

“Right now it’s fairly quiet, I’m pleased to say,” Gantz said Tuesday night against the backdrop of one of Iron Dome’s anti-missile batteries. “If fire will continue we will retaliate as we did before.”

A few hours after Gantz spoke, however, Israel carried out at least two airstrikes in Gaza, which IDF officials said targeted terrorist sites in response to rocket fire on Israel.

The $1,000-a-plate Friends of the IDF dinner Tuesday raised $26 million, according to organizers.

10 things you should know about Israel’s Iron Dome

Israel used a new missile shield, Iron Dome, to shoot down rockets fired by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in recent days.

Here are some details:

  • Developed by state-owned Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd to counter rocket fire from Lebanon, which hit Israeli towns during the 2006 war with Hezbollah, and from Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas Islamists took control in 2007.
  • Each truck-towed unit fires radar-guided missiles to blow up short-range rockets, notably of the Russian Katyusha type, as well as mortar bombs, in mid-air.
  • It successfully shot down multiple rockets simultaneously for the first time in tests during July 2010.
  • In the past four days, Israeli officials said Iron Dome shot down 77 percent of those rockets it targeted coming in from Gaza. In all, Israel counted 170 incoming missiles, but the system does not target every one, only those deemed a threat.
  • Industrial sources put the base price of each battery at about $50 million. Each interception costs at least $25,000.
  • It was first deployed near Gaza in March 2011. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said 10 to 15 batteries would be needed to provide full, if not hermetic, cover.
  • Israel’s main ally Washington has underwritten development costs. U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress in May for $205 million to support the project.
  • The U.S. Army was reported last year to be interested in buying the system to protect bases overseas. India and Singapore have also expressed interest as potential buyers.
  • The system’s radar, which detects targets, has been developed in Israel by Elta. The system which calculates the aim of each interceptor is from Israeli software firm mPrest Systems. Among weapons fired by Iron Dome is the Tamir missile.
  • Among computations the system is capable of, it can launch interceptors against only those incoming rockets that are on target to hit populated areas, saving on pointless firing. It also works out the safest spot to detonate the incoming missile.

Sources: Reuters/
Reporting by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

Opinion: Israel has a legal case for striking Iran

In a world where nuclear weapons could soon be in the hands of a rogue nation like Iran, an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be fully justified. Despite its ban on aggressive war, Article 51 of the United Nations Charter clearly recognizes a state’s inherent right of self-defense. Thus, Israel has full authority to act unilaterally or collectively in its self-defense.

Yet Article 51 does not create the right to self-defense; it is an inherent right of all states under customary international law. Hence, determining when self-defense is appropriate lies, as it always has, with each state.

Under the charter, however, the U.N. Security Council is charged with lifting the burden of individual national self-defense and taking appropriate steps to restore international peace and security. One must recognize, however, that the muscular Security Council envisioned in the charter has never materialized. As such, threatened states are almost always required to make their own decisions and bear their own burdens.

Article 51 allows Israel to use aggressive force against Iran’s nuclear program if an “armed attack” occurs. Its plain language is satisfied when one state has used armed force to attack another state. Under customary international law, a preemptive strike is also permitted when an armed attack is imminent.

Thus an Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities would be legitimate for two reasons.

First, Iran already is conducting armed attacks under the plain meaning of Article 51 through Islamist terrorist surrogates Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, so a de facto state of war exists between Israel and Iran.

Second, even if one questions whether armed attacks have occurred (by discounting Iran’s use of surrogates), Iran’s development of weapons of mass destruction constitutes an imminent, existential threat to Israel.

Under customary international law, the Article 51 “armed attack” requirement that evokes a right of self-defense can occur when a state perceives that such an attack is “immediately impending and inevitable.” Thus, rather than waiting for an actual attack, a state may execute a preemptive strike on the hostile state.

Historically, two elements must be met to legitimize a preemptive strike: proportionality and necessity.

The necessity element is where attention is usually focused. The acting state must have exhausted all other alternatives of dealing with the problem, and the threat from the hostile state must be imminent. As with most preemptive strikes, imminence related to necessity will be the most contested issue in deciding the strike’s legality.

The traditional definition for imminent is when there is “some outward act that initiates the attempt to harm such that the actual harm is close at hand.” Historically an attack was considered imminent when a state could see the mobilization of enemy armed forces preparing for attack. However, according to the modern trend in international legal thought regarding imminent, the threatened attack must be perceived as “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” The hostile state must be about to launch an attack and not merely in the “preparatory stages of such an attack.”

Yet even the more “modern” definition has lagged the development of technology, particularly of WMDs and their rapid means of delivery. Under the historic definition, Israel likely would be required to wait until nuclear warheads were attached to missiles and about to be launched. But by then it would be too late. Failure to stop Iran before it reaches such a point invites disaster because of the potential destruction were such an attack to succeed.

The concept of imminence must be flexible over time, and the definition of “imminent attack” must be adaptable to modern warfare, since the traditional definition fails to account for the lethality and danger of WMDs.

If Israel deems that Iran is actively preparing for a nuclear attack against the State of Israel (an opinion amply supported by Iran’s continuous bellicose threats) and that failure to act would put Israel in grave danger of being unable to prevent that attack, the threat against Israel would in fact be imminent. As such, Israel would be justified in making a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, as long as the attack were proportional and Israel had exhausted all other meaningful alternatives.

While the general rule in international law is that a state may not initiate aggressive war toward another state, an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would not qualify as aggressive war; it would simply reflect Israel’s inherent right to self-defense.

Jay Sekulow is chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, based in Washington. Robert Ash is the group’s senior counsel.

In love and defense

I have a complicated relationship with Israel. My younger brother made aliyah last year and is currently serving as a paratrooper in an elite unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), leaving me feeling simultaneously proud, nervous and occasionally nauseous all at once. We were raised in a Zionistic home with a strong legacy of Israel support — our grandparents collected money in little blue tzedakah boxes before Israel even became a state. My own schooling taught me the importance of being informed about complex Middle East issues; as an educator, I confront the media bias and hatred of Israel and instead promote positive messages about the country and her people. Through professional work, I also lead an annual student delegation from Los Angeles to Israel, where I continually experience the Jewish homeland through my students’ eyes. 

A 2007 study by sociologists Steven M. Cohen and Ari Kelman explained that American Jews’ connection to Israel drops off with each generation, leaving many youth alienated and apathetic about Israel’s future. Since that study, Hamas has come to power in Gaza, a barrage of rockets have fallen on southern Israeli cities, the world has shouted in outrage over the flotilla incident, the controversial and emotional prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit’s release occurred, and the United Nations bid for Palestinian statehood is ever looming. Yet, the majority of American Jews have not felt compelled to get involved and advocate for Israel’s security.

I surmise the reasons for this disconnect are in one’s upbringing, lack of Jewish education (not just from day schools but without the Jewish learning provided by religious schools, supplemental programs, camps and youth groups), and absence of positive, personal experiences in Israel that bind one to the land and the people. The silence in response to threats against Israel is not just limited to the youth, however. Many parents are not imbuing their children with support for the Jewish homeland because they, too, do not believe in its importance. Too comfortable and too assimilated in American society, just as Jews were in different societies throughout history before becoming a scapegoat, these parents do not see Israel’s existence as a beautiful culmination to centuries-old longing and an integral piece of our past and future.

Since Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War,  public perception of has changed from Israel’s being the sympathetic underdog that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust to a powerful and accomplished nation. Particularly in the last decade, there seems to be a misplaced sense of liberalism that breeds exclusive concern for the Palestinians, coupled with virulent anti-Zionism (often cloaked anti-Semitism), affecting Jewish support.

Despite the 7,563 miles separating Los Angeles from Tel Aviv, my connection with Israel is strong and my commitment is unbreakable. Today I can say that I have come full circle — once a student at L.A. Hebrew High School, I’m now its program director. Israel and engagement in the Jewish community has always been a common thread in my life. Even during my college days, I was vice president of Hillel and a student leader with AIPAC. My administrative work today includes teaching a politics and values elective called Jewish Civics Initiative (sponsored by the Panim Institute), which happened to be my favorite class when I was 16 years old.  For the past four years, I also served as the Partnership Coordinator for the Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership School Twinning Program, which seeks to deepen the connection between American and Israeli teenagers to create a shared sense of Jewish identity and destiny. It has been amazing for me to head the programs that I had been involved in as a student and that had such an impact on my personal growth. Through my position, I focus on leadership training, to give the students the tools they need to be successful ambassadors for the causes that matter to them.

My students are the exception to the majority in that they understand the importance of using their voice to defend and strengthen Israel. When we returned from the Jewish Federation’s annual delegation trip to Israel in December, I was overwhelmed by the breadth of student testimonies that attest to the necessity of providing students with actual experiences that connect them to Israel. They talked about the importance of visiting and learning about the land for themselves:

“All my life I heard about Israel. How I need to be pro-Israel and love the country. My relationship to Israel was outlined by others, but now I can develop my own opinions on Israel based on firsthand experience. I own it.”

“What I loved about this experience was that I really got to connect to my Jewish roots and appreciate how we are all different but all the same.”

“Being pro-Israel means understanding its history, its present situation and most of all, protecting its future.”

“I never realized how such an amazing place can have so many problems and conflicts that seem to never end. I hope many things for Israel, but above all I hope one day this country will be at peace. I hope a day will come when all the fear will not exist and Israel can live freely and be secure.”

Many participants spoke in length about the shared values that both America and Israel stand for and how moved they were in actually looking at all accomplishments that these countries of immigrants have achieved. The group of Israeli and American teens discussed how it does not matter where you are from, Jews all over the world are bound together through their shared memories, and Israel is the center. The opportunity to actually travel to Israel cemented their feeling of Jewish unity and commitment to ensuring a strong Jewish future.

As demonstrated by these students’ thoughtful reflections, despite claims to the contrary, students do care. When an issue speaks to them, they are passionate. But when it comes to Israel, they need to first feel a sense of love and pride for the country and then be given the tools to defend her. We do not need to teach that Israel is always right or to support every policy, but our silence is inexcusable.

Many organizations are already producing effective programming and resources to explain why support for Israel is essential and well deserved. It is time for us as educators, congregations, community leaders and parents to utilize them in designing meaningful programs that educate the greater community about Israel. To create the next generation of leaders, we cannot simply provide talking points, a list of Israel’s technological innovations, or screen Israeli movies while eating falafel, nor can we expect support of Israel just because the Torah states it was our land for thousands of years. All of those activities may have an impact, but none can be done in a vacuum and expected to be successful in the long run.

There needs to be a multitiered approach to help students (both affiliated and unaffiliated) build their own relationship with Eretz Yisrael. We should teach the history of the Jewish homeland and facilitate honest dialogue about its ongoing challenges, while also celebrating its diverse culture and encouraging travel to the country. When this experiential learning occurs, as evidenced from the declarations from the students that participated in the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership program, the youth will be empowered to answer the tough questions, correct misinformation with facts, and articulately respond to the anti-Israel rhetoric in college and throughout their life.

“I will fight because no one else will do it for me, no other nation will do what is necessary for Israel to survive,” my brother once wrote in an e-mail explaining to family and friends his reasoning for enlisting in the IDF.

He is right. Our actions are what define us, and this is our opportunity to act as Israel’s guardians and ensure that the Jewish homeland we dreamed about for so long continues to survive, thrive and hold meaning for future generations. One need not make aliyah and join the army, but we must find our own way to be a voice for Israel, whether it is in the media or over the dinner table.

“Israel is the greatest story ever told,” said one student from the Partnership program during our reflection activity in Tel Aviv. It is our responsibility to be the authors of our own narrative and keep telling it to future generations. Am Yisrael Chai.

Erica Solomon is program director for Los Angeles Hebrew High School (

Obama and Netanyahu disagree, in private and in public

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree, at least in principle: Keep the talk on what to do about Iran behind closed doors. But once they’re behind those doors, they can’t agree — and they can’t seem to resist bringing their disagreements into the open.

Within hours of a long and private Oval Office meeting on March 5 that aides to both leaders said was productive, Netanyahu suggested that Obama’s sanctions-focused approach to Iran’s nuclear program wasn’t producing results. The next day Obama was warning that the United States would suffer repercussions if Israel struck Iran prematurely.

There also seem to have been some concessions from both sides.

Netanyahu told Obama and congressional leaders that he had not yet decided to strike Iran. And Obama’s defense secretary, Leon Panetta, issued perhaps the most explicit warning yet of possible U.S. military action against Iran in his address on March 6 to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference.

“Military action is the last alternative when all else fails,” he said on the conference’s last day in a round of morning addresses aimed at motivating the 13,000 activists in attendance before they visited Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers. “But make no mistake, if all else fails, we will act.”  

That formulation is more acute than the “no-options-off-the-table” language that has been the boilerplate for the Obama and Bush administrations.

Much of Panetta’s speech appeared to be a bid to persuade Netanyahu to coordinate more closely with the United States.

“Cooperation is going to be essential to confronting the challenges of the 21st century,” Panetta said. “The United States must always have the unshakeable trust of our ally Israel. We are stronger when we act as one.” 

Top Obama administration officials have tried to persuade Netanyahu that diplomatic options have not yet been exhausted in the bid to have Iran stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program. 

Netanyahu did not seem as eager to cooperate in his hard-hitting speech on Monday night, which repeatedly brought the AIPAC crowd to its feet for ovations. He stressed Israel’s right to act and expressed impatience with the pace of efforts to bring pressure to bear on Iran.

“I appreciate President Obama’s recent efforts to impose even tougher sanctions against Iran, and these sanctions are hurting Iran’s economy, but unfortunately Iran’s nuclear program continues to march forward,” Netanyahu said. “We’ve waited for diplomacy to work, we’ve waited for sanctions to work, none of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”

Responding to commentators who argue that military action against Iran would be ineffective or provoke a violent response, Netanyahu said, “I’ve heard these arguments before.” He then dramatically held up correspondence from 1944 between the World Jewish Congress and the U.S. War Department in which the latter rejected the WJC’s plea to bomb Auschwitz and the railways leading to the death camp.

“2012 is not 1944, the American government today is different. You heard that in President Obama’s speech yesterday,” he said. “But here is my point: The Jewish people is also different today. We have a state of our own, and the purpose of a Jewish state is to defend Jewish lives and secure our future. Never again.” 

He repeated the line that he had told Obama at the outset of their meeting earlier Monday:  ”When it comes to Israel’s survival, we must always remain the masters of our fate.”

Such talk appeared to frustrate Obama. The next day, in response to a question at a news conference, Obama pointedly said that military action against Iran could have consequences for the United States.

“Israel is a sovereign nation that has to make its own decisions about how best to preserve its security,” he said. “And as I said over the last several days, I am deeply mindful of the historical precedents that weigh on any prime minister of Israel when they think about the potential threats to Israel and the Jewish homeland.”

But then he added, “The argument that we’ve made to the Israelis is that we have made an unprecedented commitment to their security. There is an unbreakable bond between our two countries, but one of the functions of friends is to make sure that we provide honest and unvarnished advice in terms of what is the best approach to achieve a common goal, particularly one in which we have a stake. This is not just an issue of Israeli interests, this is an issue of U.S. interests. It’s also not just an issue of consequences for Israel, if action is taken prematurely. There are consequences to the United States as well.”

If that wasn’t enough to get the message across, Obama painted a searing picture of such consequences.

“You know, when I visit Walter Reed,” the military hospital in Washington,  ”when I sign letters to families that have — whose loved ones have not come home — I am reminded that there is a cost,” he said.

Obama insisted there was still time for diplomacy to work, and in a subtle gibe at Netanyahu said that Israel’s intelligence establishment agreed.

“It is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically,” he said. “That’s not just my view — that’s the view of our top intelligence officials, it’s the view of top Israeli intelligence officials.”

Both leaders appeared to be caught between wanting to make their case and keep some matters behind closed doors. Netanyahu started his Monday night speech to AIPAC’s policy conference by pledging, “I’m not going to talk to you about what Israel will do or not do — I never talk about that.”

A day earlier in his AIPAC address, Obama criticized what he called “loose talk of war.”

“Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program,” he said. “For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.”

The three Republican presidential candidates who addressed AIPAC on Tuesday used the opportunity to take aim at Obama’s Iran policy, accusing the president of being soft and hesitant on the issue.

“I will bring the current policy of procrastination to an end,” Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said via satellite.

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives also speaking via satellite, said that as president he would not expect a warning from Israel should it decide to strike Iran.

Rick Santorum, the ex-U.S. senator who was at the conference in person, despite it being Super Tuesday, said that differences between the U.S. and Israel over what should trigger a strike were emboldening Iran.

“There is a clear and unfortunate and tragic disconnect between how the leaders of Israel and of the United States view the exigency of this situation,” Santorum said. He accused Obama of “turning his back” on Israel.

The evening before, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader, proposed from the podium that the U.S. should openly threaten Iran with the prospect of “overwhelming force” if its nuclear program progresses past certain thresholds.

“If Iran at any time begins to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels, or decides to go forward with a weapons program, then the United States will use overwhelming force to end that program,” he said to applause, although his remarks do not reflect any AIPAC policy.

In the president’s news conference, which was supposed to be about the housing crisis, Obama pushed back against hawkish talk from his Republican critics.

“When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war,” he said. “I’m reminded of the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy. This is not a game, and there’s nothing casual about it.”

Delay of U.S.-Israel anti-missile exercise fuels speculation

The decision by Israel and the United States to delay a massive joint anti-missile exercise set off a frenzy of speculation as to what the move says about relations between the two allies amid mounting tensions with Iran.

U.S. and Israeli officials confirmed to JTA over the weekend that they had delayed until the second half of 2012 what was to have been the largest-ever joint anti-missile exercise, Austere Challenge 12.

Speaking off the record, officials in the United States and Israel confirmed published reports that Iran factored into the decision. But just how Iran factored in they would not say, and they insisted that the overriding factor had to do with preparedness for the exercise and Israeli budgetary concerns.

A Pentagon spokesman, Capt. John Kirby, said in an e-mail that the exercise was canceled for routine reasons of wanting “optimum participation” by both sides.

“It is not at all uncommon for routine exercises to be postponed,” Kirby said. “There were a variety of factors at play in this case, but in general, leaders from both sides believe that optimum participation by all units is best achieved later in the year. We remain dedicated to this exercise and naturally want it to be as robust and as productive as it can be.”

On background, Israeli and U.S. officials said that “optimum conditions” had to do with defense spending, now the subject of a fierce debate in Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure, after a summer of protests, to increase social safety net spending.

In October, Netanyahu said he would cut defense spending to fund social spending, but last week he reversed course, hiking defense allocations by $700 million.

The fluctuating positions have created uncertainty in Israel’s defense establishment, and U.S. officials confirmed an account originally reported by Laura Rozen of Yahoo News that it was Defense Minister Ehud Barak who requested the delay in December.

Critics of the Obama administration were not buying it, insisting that the delay revealed a fissure between President Obama and Netanyahu over how to handle Iran. Some suggested that the Obama administration feared the joint exercise would further ratchet up tensions with Iran.

Danielle Pletka, vice president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said the announcement fit into a pattern of what she depicted as the Obama administration’s overly cautious approach to Iran’s aggression, including its threats to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, which would cut off much of the West’s oil supply.

“Now they cancel these exercises with the Israelis and make the Israelis say they asked for it,” she said. “For the Iranians there is only one message here. That is: ‘Our tactics are working!’ ”

One Israeli report, on the country’s Channel 2, quoted unnamed Israeli officials as saying that it was the U.S. that requested the postponement, although U.S. officials and other Israelis have pushed back, insisting that it was Israel that made the request.

Pentagon officials reached out to journalists Tuesday to reinforce their claim that it was Israel, not the United States, that requested the delay. According to an unnamed senior U.S. defense official cited by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Barak requested to cancel the exercise because he feared the Israeli military lacked the resources to carry it out effectively.

The official said that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta objected, fearing that it would send Iran a signal that Israel and the United States were wavering.

“Panetta’s initial reaction was, ‘I don’t want to take this off the calendar,’ ” Goldberg quoted the official as saying. Panetta, the official said, was unwilling to cancel the exercise but agreed to a postponement.

Still, speculation regarding the exercise’s postponement reflects worries over whether the United States and Israel are on the same page when it comes to Iran.

There have been reports that Obama is pressing Netanyahu not to strike Iran—or at least to notify the United States in advance of such a strike. More recently, the U.S. condemned last week’s assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist, a killing that many commentators suggest was carried out by the Israeli Mossad intelligence agency.

One theory circulating in the wake of the cancellation of the postponement of the anti-missile exercises is that Israel may be retreating from close defense cooperation, in part because of the U.S. pressure to coordinate on Iran.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. joint military chiefs of staff, is due to arrive in Israel on Thursday and is expected to again press Israel not to strike Iran.

Eitan Barak, an assistant professor of international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, suggested that Israel’s refusal to commit to notifying the U.S. in advance of any military plans “could be an exercise to employ pressure on the United States to urge it to act against Iran.”

He said that Israel has in the past ratcheted up its defensive posture as a means of pressuring the United States and the West to confront a regional threat. He noted that during the first Gulf War, in 1991, Israel pulled its missiles out of their silos after suffering a barrage of Iraqi Scud missiles. Israel was signaling impatience with the failure of allied forces to take out Scud missile launchers in western Iraq.

“Once the U.S. satellites detected the missiles, the United States took Israel seriously” and started hitting western Iraqi targets, the Hebrew University’s Barak said. “It was a clear signal, if you don’t do something, we will.”

Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born analyst who lives in Israel, said the announcement of the decision to delay the anti-missile exercise could as easily be spun as a tale of closer Israel-U.S. cooperation.

“The preference here is for a negotiated settlement,” Javedanfar said. “Nobody in Israel wants Iran to havea nuclear bomb—this is one of the few nonpartisan issues—but we are also aware that the war with Iran could have far-reaching consequences, including our relationship with the United States.”

The decision to postpone a robust U.S.-Israel show of strength could be tied to signals that Iran is softening its position on negotiations over increasing the transparency of its nuclear program, he suggested. Western nations believe the program is aimed at building a bomb, while Iran insists it is peaceful.

Iran has invited inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit its facilities later this month, a key U.S. demand, and the Obama administration reportedly is considering a Turkish offer to broker new talks on making transparent Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

“The Israeli way of making Khameini sit with Obama is to make it clear all options are on the table,” Javedanfar said, referring to the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini. “The idea is to get Khameini to return to the table with a serious offer.”