Richard Gere in New York on March 3, 2015. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Richard Gere: ‘The occupation is destroying everyone’


Richard Gere’s recent visit to Israel left him with a less-than-rosy picture of the political situation there.

“As we all knew, the occupation is destroying everyone,” Gere said, following a visit to the Jewish state to promote his latest movie, “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.”

In the film, which is directed by Israeli Joseph Cedar, Gere plays a Jewish fixer who befriends an up-and-coming Israeli politician.

The 67-year-old actor, who is a practicing Buddhist, lamented the impact of the occupation on both Palestinians and Israelis in an interview with The Associated Press published Thursday.

“The Palestinians are becoming more depressed and desperate and with that desperation, most likely, there’s going to be more violence. Because they have no other way of expressing themselves,” Gere said.

“On the Israeli side, you see what’s happening to these young soldiers, and they’re doing things that they don’t want to do, they’re seeing things that they shouldn’t see. And the violence that’s coming from the Israeli side is something that’s destroying Jewish soul – which is by nature incredibly compassionate and forgiving and nurturing,” he continued. “So I see both sides, both cultures, being destroyed in this process. And I don’t see leaders on either side who are speaking the will and the needs of their people.”

Gere also had some harsh criticism for President Donald Trump, slamming him for talk about moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv nd for choosing David Friedman — a supporter of Israeli settlements who has expressed doubts about the two-state-solution — to serve as envoy to the Jewish state.

“He’s winging it in a completely incompetent way from the beginning,” Gere said of Trump’s Israel policy.

This isn’t the first time Gere has slammed Israeli policies. In a recent Haaretz interview, the actor said “[t]here’s no defense of this occupation.”

“Settlements are such an absurd provocation and, certainly in the international sense, completely illegal — and they are certainly not part of the program of someone who wants a genuine peace process,” Gere told Haaretz.

Watch excerpts from Gere’s interview with The Associated Press below:

Among Jerusalem embassy backers, varying views on when and how


This post originally appeared on jewishinsider.com.

Immediately following President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday, chatter has surfaced in Washington and Jerusalem regarding the future of the U.S. Embassy in Israel. White House Spokesman Sean Spicer issued a statement on Sunday saying, “We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject.”

Among those who support the idea of moving the Embassy to Jerusalem, some are urging decisive, immediate action. The U.S. Embassy should be relocated “as soon as possible,” Mike Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute told Jewish Insider. “There will be some gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes and then it will be forgotten, but the longer we drag it out the more it becomes an issue,” he added.

Referring to the 1995 Congressional bill calling for the transfer of the Embassy, Professor Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor at Northwestern University and Senior Fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum told Jewish Insider, “The law has said that the Embassy should be relocated to Jerusalem since 1995. So, 22 years too late is the latest it should be. I see absolutely no reason for delay.”

However, Daniel Gordis, Senior Vice President at Shalem College, advocates for a more “gradual” approach. “If it happens in a month, or six months or a year, I don’t think makes much substantive difference,” he explained to Jewish Insider.

Since 1995, U.S. Presidents have signed a waiver citing National Security every six months delaying the relocation of the Embassy to Jerusalem. Former President Barak Obama last approved a waiver in December 2016. If Trump were to merely not sign such a waiver, which expires June 1, then by law the Embassy would be required to move to Jerusalem. The Orthodox Union’s Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament noted that this would be an appropriate symbolic time since June 2017 is “just in time for the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.”

The Palestinians have vehemently protested the Embassy’s transfer. The move could “destroy the peace process” and send the region to a “path of chaos, lawlessness and extremism,” Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat warned in December.

How should the Embassy be moved? Kontorovich notes that “there is a large modern diplomatic facility in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of Jerusalem. Repurposing that for an Embassy would be both expedient and convenient.” Doran believes that the move can be done quickly given the U.S. Consulate already exists in Jerusalem. “Just change the sign on the consulate from consulate to Embassy,” he said.

Some argue that the Trump Administration should adopt a more minimalist approach to the transfer. “If the U.S. has a huge ribbon cutting ceremony with Bibi and Trump getting on the podium and making all sorts of pronouncements, I think it puts Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. in a very uncomfortable position because they can’t not respond to something like that,” Gordis explained.

Instead, Gordis advocates for a policy where the next U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, would initially work out of the Consulate in Jerusalem and slowly move Embassy staff to Israel’s declared capital. “Over the course of time, you can create a reality on the ground. By the time it is declared, everybody has gotten used to it,” he contended.

At the same time, Kontorovich thinks that the notion of an aggressive response by Arab gulf states has been exaggerated. “The Palestinian issue is not as burning for them as it used to be and they are otherwise engaged against Iran. If Trump combines greater toughness on Iran with a move for the Embassy that is a big net win for the Arab states,” he said.

Involving the Palestinian leadership is a critical way in reducing tensions during the Embassy transfer, Gordis cautioned. He proposes discreet conversations with President Mahmoud Abbas offering the PA ruler with certain financial offers or building permits, if the Fatah leader doesn’t “fan the flames.” However, Palestinians would lose out on these concessions if Abbas incites violence, he suggested.

Refuting the objections of many in the Arab world towards the Embassy move, Doran emphasized, “It’s ridiculous that there is this much opposition to it. In no conceivable, realistic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has anyone ever suggested that West Jerusalem will not be the capital of Israel. So what’s the big deal?”

Member of Knesset (Likud) Sharren Haskel– who attended the Washington inauguration — told Jewish Insider that the Trump Administration transfer of the Embassy “would be greatly appreciated.” She emphasized that the move would “send a strong message to the rest of the world.. that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and Jerusalem will always stay the capital of Israel.”

In response to some suggesting imminent violence if the Embassy were transferred, Professor Kontorovich cited the 1998 attacks on the US Embassy in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people. After the strike, Congress substantially increased its funding for security of diplomatic compounds across the globe. Noting the potential similarity with Jerusalem, he said, “It would be a contradiction of American leadership and role in the world to have a heckler’s veto by terrorists on where US diplomatic facilities can be located.”

GOP senators introduce bill forcing president’s hand on moving embassy to Jerusalem


Three Republican senators have introduced a bill that would force the president to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

The bill introduced Tuesday by Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Dean Heller of Nevada and Ted Cruz of Texas would remove the presidential waiver from the 1995 law passed by Congress recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and mandating the move from Tel Aviv.

Successive presidents have exercised the waiver every six months, most recently President Barack Obama in December. They cite national security reasons over concerns that a move would lead to Islamist and Arab nationalist attacks on Americans and their allies in the region.

The bill would slash in half the funds that Congress disburses to the State Department for building, securing and maintaining embassies until the embassy opens in Jerusalem.

President-elect Donald Trump has said he would move the embassy to Jerusalem, but his transition team said declaring a timeline for a move would be inappropriate until Trump becomes president on Jan. 20.

Rubio and Cruz lost to Trump in the Republican presidential primaries.

Report: Trump transition team checking possible locations for Jerusalem embassy


The transition team for President-elect Donald Trump is already checking into possible locations in Jerusalem for the U.S. Embassy, according to an Israeli news channel.

Channel 2 reported Monday night that officials from Israel’s Foreign Ministry had begun checking into possible sites on behalf of the Trump team. The news came hours after Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump adviser, told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt during his show that moving the embassy was a “big priority” for Trump.

“It is something that our friend in Israel, a great friend in the Middle East, would appreciate and something that a lot of Jewish Americans have expressed their preference for,” Conway said. “It is a great move. It is an easy move to do based on how much he talked about that in the debates and in the sound bites.”

Foreign Ministry officials last week reportedly met with officials from the Immigrant Absorption Ministry to discuss the availability of the Diplomat Hotel in the Talpiot neighborhood, a privately owned building that is home to 500 elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union, according to Channel 2. The building reportedly will not be available until 2020, however.

Some political and security officials in Israel are expressing concern over Trump’s expected move to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem because of the expected response of the Arab world, Channel 2 reported. The report also said the action is being undertaken without coordination with the current administration of the U.S. State Department, which does not agree with the move.

Maen Rashid Areikat, the chief representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United States, told The Wall Street Journal that the Palestinians hope the incoming Trump administration will keep the embassy in Tel Aviv. He said moving the embassy would make it more difficult to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We expect the incoming administration and the president-elect to understand the sensitivity of the issue of Jerusalem and to understand that Jerusalem hasn’t been recognized by any administration, Republican or Democrat, as the capital,” he told the Journal.

On Tuesday at a news conference in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a Trump decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem would be “great.”

Congress passed a law mandating the move in 1995 that included a presidential waiver that lapses every six months. Each president since then has exercised the waiver, with President Barack Obama doing so as recently as last week, less than two months before he leaves office.

The waiver requires that the president assess that moving the embassy would pose a national security risk to the United States. U.S. administrations for decades have said that such a move would precipitate anti-American violence in Muslim lands.

Obama renews waiver delaying Jerusalem Embassy relocation


This article originally appeared on “>position paper on Israel, released six days before the election, Trump’s advisors suggested that even before negotiations take place between the two sides, “the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.”

But in an “>interview with Jewish Insider, former ADL national director Abe Foxman suggested that the Trump administration should “move the process gradually rather than as a dramatic act.”

Hillary Clinton in 2000: Move embassy to Jerusalem


Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump made headlines last week when he announced his plan to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem if elected as president. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) made this a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.

But it appears that Hillary Clinton was the first 2016 presidential candidate to publicly support moving the embassy to Jerusalem.

In 1999, then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said “she considers Jerusalem to be the ‘eternal and indivisible capital of Israel’ and will be an active advocate – if elected to New York’s Senate seat – to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem,” CNN “>wrote: “If I am chosen by New Yorkers to be their senator, or in whatever position I find myself in the years to come, you can be sure that I will be an active, committed advocate for a strong and secure Israel, able to live in peace with its neighbors, with the United States Embassy located in its capital, Jerusalem.”

Congress’s Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 said that the U.S. Embassy should be moved to Jerusalem by May 1999. But in June 1999, President Bill Clinton used his waiver authority to freeze building funds and delay the move of the embassy to Jerusalem for what he said were national security reasons. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have since issued waivers at six-month intervals.

In July 2000, President Clinton told Israeli television that he is “considering the embassy’s relocation by the end of the year,” in what was described by The Associated Press as a move to help Hillary in her Senate bid. Hillary “has seized on the issue, staking out a pro-Israeli stance that goes beyond her husband’s,” AP reported. “Hillary Clinton said Saturday that the embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem before year’s end.”

“>showed that 24 percent of Americans support moving the Embassy to Jerusalem, 20 percent disagree with this proposal, and 56 percent don’t know enough about it to have an opinion.

Mrs. Clinton hasn’t taken a position on the issue – or for that matter on Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – in 2016. In fact, on her 2008 campaign website – under the heading “Standing with Israel against terrorism” – her position paper “>page does not exist in the revamped 2016 campaign site.  Instead, a message pops up: “Oops, that link wasn’t what it was quacked up to be,” with a picture of Bill and Hillary posing with Donald Duck.

The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

BREAKING: Home-made bomb explodes near Israeli embassy in Cairo


A home-made bomb exploded in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Tuesday, security sources and the website of state-run Al-Ahram newspaper said.

Security sources said the explosion targeted a police car parked near the embassy, rather than the embassy itself and did not cause any injuries.

Reporting By Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Michael Georgy and Robin Pomeroy

Kenya widens mall attack probe, alert for UK ‘White Widow’


Interpol issued a wanted persons alert at Kenya's request on Thursday for a British woman who has been cited by British police as a possible suspect in the attack on a Nairobi shopping mall that killed at least 72 people.

The alert was issued as Kenyan police broadened the investigation into the weekend raid by the al Qaeda-aligned Somali al Shabaab group, the worst such assault since the U.S. Embassy was bombed in the capital by al Qaeda in 1998.

Interpol – which has joined agencies from Britain, the United States, Israel and others in the Kenyan investigation of the wrecked mall – did not say when Nairobi requested a so-called “red alert” notice for Samantha Lewthwaite, 29.

The widow of one of the suicide bombers who attacked London's transport system in 2005 is believed to have evaded arrest two years ago in the port city of Mombasa, where she is wanted in connection with a plot to bomb hotels and restaurants.

Interpol's “red alert” cites the previous 2011 plot.

Police in Mombasa, a tourist hub, said they were also tracking four suspected militants, following the siege of the swanky Westgate mall in Nairobi which militants stormed on Saturday armed with assault rifles and grenades.

The mall attack has demonstrated the reach of al Shabaab beyond Somalia, where Kenyan troops have joined other African forces, driving the group out of major urban areas, although it still controls swathes of the countryside.

Al Shabaab stormed the mall to demand Kenya pull its troops out, which President Uhuru Kenyatta has ruled out.

Many details of the assault are unclear, including the identity of the attackers who officials said numbered about a dozen. Speculation that Lewthwaite, dubbed the “White Widow” in the British press, was triggered by witness accounts that one of raiders was a white woman.

FORENSIC WORK

But Kenya's government and Western officials have cautioned that they cannot confirm the reports she was involved, or even that there were any women participants in the raid.

The government said five of the attackers were killed, along with at least 61 civilians and six security personnel.

Eleven suspects have been arrested in relation to the attack, but it is not clear if any took part.

Although the Red Cross lists 71 missing people, the government said it does not expect a big rise in the death toll.

Part of the Westgate mall collapsed in the siege, burying some bodies and hindering investigations, although forensic experts have started work while soldiers search for explosives. Officials said some blasts on Thursday were controlled ones.

“The army are still in there with the forensic teams,” said one senior police officer near the mall.

Mombasa police said they were tracking a network of suspects linked to al Shabaab in the coastal region, home to many of Kenya's Muslims, who make up about 10 percent of the nation's 40 million people. Most Kenyans are Christians.

“We have four suspects within Mombasa who we are closely watching. They came back to the country after training in Somalia,” country police commander Robert Kitur told Reuters.

Another counter-terrorism officer, who asked not to be named, also said four suspects were being tracked and added that two well-armed suspected militants killed in an August operation could have been planning a similar attack in Mombasa.

“I will be surprised if they don't link the Nairobi attackers to those terrorists we killed in Mombasa,” he added.

DENTED IMAGE

The mall attack has dented Kenya's image as a tourist destination, damaging a vital source of revenues. But rating agency Moody's said that although the attack was “credit negative” it would not affect foreign direct investment or a planned Kenyan Eurobond later this year.

In 1998, al Qaeda bombed the U.S. Embassy, an attack that killed more than 200 people. Since then, Kenya has faced other smaller attacks, many claimed by al Shabaab, particularly along the border region next to Somalia.

On Thursday, al Shabaab claimed responsibility for killing two policemen in an assault on a administrative post in Mandera county next to Somalia. The border has been closed.

Experts say the insecure border has allowed Kenyan sympathizers of al Shabaab to cross into Somalia for training.

“They are coming back because our armed forces destroyed their training ground there,” said Kitur.

The coastal region also has been the target of attacks by a separatist movement, the Mombasa Republican Council, although that group has long denied it has connections with al Shabaab.

Additional reporting by James Macharia, Duncan Miriri, Richard Lough, Kevin Mwanza and Edmund Blair in Nairobi, Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa and Carolyn Cohn in London and Alexandria Sage in Paris; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Angus MacSwan

U.S. diplomatic posts in Israel reopen, 19 others in Mideast to remain closed


The U.S. diplomatic missions in Israel reopened after a daylong closure due to what was deemed a credible al-Qaida threat.

While the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, and the consulates in Jerusalem and Haifa reopened on Monday, the State Department issued a statement Sunday extending the closure of several diplomatic missions in the Middle East through Aug. 10 “out of an abundance of caution.”

“This is not an indication of a new threat stream, merely an indication of our commitment to exercise caution and take appropriate steps to protect our employees including local employees and visitors to our facilities,” said the statement issued by State Department spokesman Jen Psaki.

Diplomatic posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa, Tripoli, Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali and Port Louis will remain closed this week, according to the statement.

The State Department on Aug. 3 issued a global travel alert for American citizens. The alert warned of possible terror attacks by al-Qaida operatives and affiliated terror groups from Sunday through the end of August.

Senior Obama administration officials met Saturday to discuss the terror threat. The meeting reportedly was led by National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and included Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; Secretary of State John Kerry; Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; and CIA director John  Brennan.

“There is a significant threat stream, and we’re reacting to it,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also reportedly attended the meeting, told ABC on Sunday.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” said the electronic chatter among terror suspects about a possible attack was “very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11.”

“This is the most serious threat that I’ve seen in the last several years,” he said.

U.S. shuts embassies in Israel, elsewhere Aug. 4


Israel is among a number of Middle Eastern and Muslim nations where the United States plans to shut its embassies on Aug. 4 in the face of a terrorist threat.

“The Department of State has instructed certain U.S. Embassies and Consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, August 4,” said a notice that was sent to U.S. citizens in Israel. “The Department has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations, indicates we should institute these precautionary steps. It is possible we may have additional days of closings as well, depending on our analysis.”

NBC quoted unnamed “U.S. officials” as saying that the threat was al-Qaida related.

Reports on Twitter said similar messages had gone out to Americans in Afghanistan, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan, and NBC also listed Bangladesh, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.

The email message did not specify the threat, but linked to a February posting on the State Department’s website that lists al Qaida and Hezbollah as potential threats to Americans in the region.

U.S., Israeli officials: Obama visit is on


U.S. and Israeli officials said President Obama would not delay his trip to Israel in the event that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unable to form a government.

“We have no scheduling changes to announce,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday. “The president is looking forward to, very much, his trip to Israel and the region, and we’re on course planning that trip.”

An Israeli Embassy official in Washington described as “baseless” reports in the Israeli media earlier this week that Obama would delay his trip should Netanyahu fail to meet a March 16 deadline to form a government, a few days before Obama is due to arrive. 

The official told JTA that preparations for the trip were continuing apace and there was no sign of a postponement.

Suicide bomber kills guard at U.S. embassy in Turkey


A far-leftist suicide bomber killed a Turkish security guard at the U.S. embassy in Ankara on Friday, officials said, blowing open an entrance and sending debris flying through the air.

The attacker detonated explosives strapped to his body after entering an embassy gatehouse. The blast could be heard a mile away. A lower leg and other human remains lay on the street.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the bomber was a member of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), a far-left group which is virulently anti-U.S. and anti-NATO and is listed as a terrorist organization by Washington.

The White House said the suicide attack was an “act of terror” but that the motivation was unclear. U.S. officials said the DHKP-C were the main suspects but did not exclude other possibilities.

Islamist radicals, extreme left-wing groups, ultra-nationalists and Kurdish militants have all carried out attacks in Turkey in the past. There was no claim of responsibility.

“The suicide bomber was ripped apart and one or two citizens from the special security team passed away,” said Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

“This event shows that we need to fight together everywhere in the world against these terrorist elements,” he said.

Turkish media reports identified the bomber as DHKP-C member Ecevit Sanli, who was involved in attacks on a police station and a military staff college in Istanbul in 1997.

KEY ALLY

Turkey is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East with common interests ranging from energy security to counter-terrorism and has been one of the leading advocates of foreign intervention to end the conflict in neighboring Syria.

Around 400 U.S. soldiers have arrived in Turkey over the past few weeks to operate Patriot anti-missile batteries meant to defend against any spillover of Syria's civil war, part of a NATO deployment due to be fully operational in the coming days.

The DHKP-C was responsible for the assassination of two U.S. military contractors in the early 1990s in protest against the first Gulf War and launched rockets at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul in 1992, according to the U.S. State Department.

Deemed a terrorist organization by both the United States and Turkey, the DHKP-C has been blamed for suicide attacks in the past, including one in 2001 that killed two police officers and a tourist in Istanbul's central Taksim Square.

The group, formed in 1978, has carried out a series of deadly attacks on police stations in the last six months.

The attack may have come in retaliation for an operation against the DHKP-C last month in which Turkish police detained 85 people. A court subsequently remanded 38 of them in custody over links to the group.

“HUGE EXPLOSION”

U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone emerged through the main gate of the embassy shortly after the explosion to address reporters, flanked by a security detail as a Turkish police helicopter hovered overhead.

“We're very sad of course that we lost one of our Turkish guards at the gate,” Ricciardone said, describing the victim as a “hero” and thanking Turkish authorities for a prompt response.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the attack on the checkpoint on the perimeter of the embassy and said several U.S. and Turkish staff were injured by debris.

“The level of security protection at our facility in Ankara ensured that there were not significantly more deaths and injuries than there could have been,” she told reporters.

It was the second attack on a U.S. mission in four months. On September 11, 2012, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three American personnel were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The attack in Benghazi, blamed on al Qaeda-affiliated militants, sparked a political furor in Washington over accusations that U.S. missions were not adequately safeguarded.

A well-known Turkish journalist, Didem Tuncay, who was on her way in to the embassy to meet Ricciardone when the attack took place, was in a critical condition in hospital.

“It was a huge explosion. I was sitting in my shop when it happened. I saw what looked like a body part on the ground,” said travel agent Kamiyar Barnos, whose shop window was shattered around 100 meters away from the blast.

CALL FOR VIGILANCE

The U.S. consulate in Istanbul warned its citizens to be vigilant and to avoid large gatherings, while the British mission in Istanbul called on British businesses to tighten security after what it called a “suspected terrorist attack”.

In 2008, Turkish gunmen with suspected links to al Qaeda, opened fire on the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, killing three Turkish policemen. The gunmen died in the subsequent firefight.

The most serious bombings in Turkey occurred in November 2003, when car bombs shattered two synagogues, killing 30 people and wounding 146. Part of the HSBC Bank headquarters was destroyed and the British consulate was damaged in two more explosions that killed 32 people less than a week later. Authorities said those attacks bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda.

Additional reporting by Daren Butler and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul, Mohammed Arshad and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Stephen Powell

Obama’s likely takeaway from Israeli election: More two-state advocates


With the Israeli election results split evenly between the right-wing bloc and everyone else, no one in Washington is ready to stake their reputation on what the outcome means for the U.S.-Israel relationship and the Middle East.

Except for this: The next Israeli government likely will include more than two lawmakers committed to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

In mid-December, resigned to what then seemed to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s certain reelection at the helm of a hard-right government, staff at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv drew up what they believed would be the most likely new governing coalition. Then they researched each member and counted the lawmakers who had expressly committed themselves to a two-state solution.

They came up with a grand total of two: Netanyahu and Carmel Shama HaCohen, a real estate agent from Ramat Gan and a political up-and-comer.

HaCohen is unlikely to claim a seat in the next Knesset. He’s No. 32 on the Likud Beitenu list, which is projected to take 31 seats, though some ballots have yet to be counted. But the prospect of more than two two-staters on the governing side has risen dramatically with the split Knesset, while apprehension within the Obama administration about a Netanyahu driven into recalcitrance by hard-line partners has likely diminished.

White House spokesman Jay Carney eagerly took a question on Jan. 22 on what the elections meant for peace prospects, even before official results were in and when exit polls projected Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc emerging with a razor-thin majority.

“The United States remains committed, as it has been for a long time, to working with the parties to press for the goal of a two-state solution,” Carney said. “That has not changed and it will not change. We will continue to make clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis address all the permanent status issues that need to be addressed and achieve the peace that they both deserve: two states for two peoples with a sovereign, viable and independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel.”

The language was boilerplate, but the context was not: Just a week ago, the narrative was that President Obama had all but given up on advancing peace while Netanyahu was prime minister, believing that “Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are,” according to a report by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic.

David Makovsky, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank with close ties to the major Israeli parties and the White House, said the Obama administration was likely to proceed with cautious optimism.

“We're entering into a period of uncertainty where Israeli politics will look like a Rubik’s cube,” Makovsky said. “But from Washington’s perspective, there might be more cards than a couple of weeks ago.”

The Obama-Netanyahu drama of recent years, arising from tensions over Israel’s settlement building and how aggresively to confront Iran, may not soon disappear. In his post-election speech, Netanyahu said preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon remains his No. 1 priority.

Obama also wants to keep Iran from having a nuclear bomb, which the Islamic Republic has denied it is seeking. But the two leaders have disagreed on the efficacy of sanctions and the timing of a possible military option.

Additionally, there is a sense among Israeli rightists that Obama’s remark was leaked to Goldberg in a bid to bring down Netanyahu’s poll numbers, although no evidence has emerged to support the claim.

The upside for Obama, however, is that Netanyahu will likely first court the centrist parties in coalition talks. According to news reports, he called Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, shortly after the polls closed on Jan. 22 and told him they had great things to do together. In his own speech, Netanyahu said he could see “many partners” in the next government.

Lapid, the telegenic former journalist whose new party snagged an unexpected 19 seats, was the surprise winner in the balloting. He backs negotiations with the Palestinians and withdrawal from much of the West Bank, although he also aggressively courted some settlers. More piquantly, his chief adviser is Mark Mellman, a pollster ensconced in Washington’s Democratic establishment who has close White House ties.

Netanyahu’s pivot to the center is to be expected, said Josh Block, who directs The Israel Project, a group that disseminates pro-Israel materials to journalists and opinion makers.

“Predictions of Israeli voter apathy and of a rightward shift in the Israeli electorate, both of which reached the status of conventional wisdom on the eve of the election, seem to have been incorrect,” Block said in an email. “The voting, which was marked by near-historic turnout, appears to show an Israeli electorate reflecting a practical centrism: a desire for strong security and peace with Palestinians, a focus on economic issues and needs of the middle class, and a commitment to free markets and religious secularism.”

Much of the election was fought on the widening income gaps in Israel, as well as on the role of the haredi Orthodox in Israeli affairs. Those issues likely will predominate in coalition negotiations, said Peter Medding, a political science professor at Hebrew University whose specialties include U.S.-Israel relations.

Medding said the negotiations could take weeks, particularly because of Lapid’s emphasis on drafting haredi Orthodox students and removing Orthodox influence from the public sphere.

“The kind of policies Lapid has been putting forward does not sit well with some of the right’s natural coalition partners, particularly Shas,” the Sephardic Orthodox party that won 11 seats.

U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv bans non-essential staff travel to the South


Citing new violence between Israel and Gaza, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv told staff members not to travel to the South and encouraged U.S. citizens “to exercise caution.”

“Non-essential official travel by Embassy staff to the south of Israel remains prohibited,” said the advisory sent Thursday, the second night of bombing exchanges between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The statement also said the embassy would have low staff on Friday and that embassy families should keep their children home from school on that day.

One of the more than 250 rockets fired from Gaza since hostilities intensified on Wednesday hit close to Tel Aviv.

Israel has not shut down schools in the city, although it has ordered no school within 25 miles of the Gaza Strip.

Sixteen Palestinians, including two children and a top terrorist leader, and three Israelis have been killed in the exchanges. The three Israelis were in an apartment building hit by a rocket in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi.

“U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise caution and take appropriate measures to ensure their safety and security in light of the escalating level of violence in Gaza and Israel,” the embassy advisory said.

“U.S. citizens should pay close attention to their surroundings and news reports, and follow the civil defense guidance provided by the Home Front Command.”

Foreign policy: In favor of Romney


[Related: In favor of Obama]

Mitt Romney likes to recount a conversation he had with Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, back when he was governor of Massachusetts. Peres told him that “America is unique in the history of the world for its willingness to sacrifice so many lives of its precious sons and daughters for liberty, not solely for itself but also for its friends.” What Peres said has been echoed by Gen. Colin Powell, who once remarked that the only land the United States ever asked for at the end of a war was enough to bury our dead.

American foreign policy is indeed unique, and it is our commitment to liberty — more, even, than our military might — that has made us the leader of the free world. Unfortunately, over the last four years, the character of our role in the world has changed, and not for the better.

We are failing to meet some serious challenges. 

In the Middle East, the Arab Spring has given way to an Arab Winter. Iran is racing to acquire nuclear capability. Syria is slaughtering its citizens by the thousands in a bloody civil war that shows no signs of abating. Our ambassador to Libya has been murdered, our embassies stormed by protesters chanting Islamist propaganda and bearing the black flags of al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, the Chinese are ramping up military production while intimidating their neighbors, and the Russians are bullying our allies in Eastern Europe and stymying our efforts in the U.N. to contain Iran. 

Some have suggested that the time of American hegemony on the world stage has simply come to an end. We no longer wield the influence we once held, and with our stagnant economy, we are in no position to reclaim it. 

President Obama has governed as if this were the case. He has sought to engage Iran’s ayatollahs without preconditions and declined to support the green revolution that erupted in the streets of Iranian cities in 2009. His choices did little more than give Tehran more time to pursue the atomic bomb. He has pursued a reset with Russia, one that involved a betrayal of our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic on the critical issue of missile defense. 

Although President Obama has demonstrated remarkable “flexibility” with America’s adversaries, he has kept some of our allies, particularly Israel, at arm’s length. The president has sought to put “daylight” between the two countries. He has refused to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu. He has been caught on an open microphone insulting the prime minister, and he refuses to call Jerusalem the capital of Israel. 

These failures of President Obama on the world stage are not only failures of policy; they are failures of leadership. In fact, some of President Obama’s positions are not all that different from those of his harshest critics. The problem is that his words are seldom backed up by action. Our foreign adversaries neither fear nor respect him. Thus, President Obama loudly declares that Iran must not acquire a nuclear weapon, and the ayatollahs greet his declaration with a shrug as they accelerate their nuclear program. The Chinese continue to cheat on trade with no fear of repercussions. The Russians block our efforts to end the slaughter in Syria without a second thought. The list goes on. 

This points to one of the more significant differences between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Mitt Romney has an unbroken track record of carrying out his promises. No one will doubt a President Romney when he says that he has Israel’s back. Tehran will not doubt America’s resolve to stop it from gaining a nuclear capability. With a firm American policy, the days of Bashar al-Assad will be numbered. Governments around the Middle East will know that if our embassies are attacked and our personnel killed, they will suffer consequences. Certainly American taxpayer dollars will not continue to flow to governments that undermine us. 

Most importantly, Mitt Romney will restore the sinews of American strength. We cannot maintain a strong position on the world stage with an economy mired in stagnation. Mitt Romney has a comprehensive plan to put our country back on the path of economic growth and create jobs for all who seek them. 

Similarly, we cannot maintain a military commensurate with our stature if we fail to repair our economy. As things stand, President Obama has already cut $500 billion from our armed forces, and even deeper cuts are on the way. Mitt Romney understands that we must reverse these cuts, that weakness invites aggression, and that if we are to stand by our allies in the Middle East and around the world, we need the forces to back up our words. 

Mitt Romney also understands that American power is much more than our combined economic and military might. Rather, the power of our ideas, of our principles, our commitment to human liberty, is what has made us so influential around the world. If we are to retain our influence, we cannot bend from our principles. We must stand up for our ideas, and for those around the world who share them. 

American leadership is needed now more than ever. And if we are to make our foreign-policy goals a reality, we need a president who has the strength of conviction to follow through on his words. We haven’t had that these last four years. It is time that we did. Mitt Romney is the leader we need in this moment of opportunity and danger.

French Jewish communities condemn Muhammad cartoons


The president of the representative body of France's Jewish communities has condemned the new publication of caricatures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

The publication Wednesday of the caricatures in the French weekly Charlie Hebdo  “in the current context” is “irresponsible,” Dr. Richard Prasquier, the president of the Jewish umbrella body CRIF, said in a statement.

The weekly published the caricatures in a defiant move it said was meant to celebrate freedom of seech after deadly riots that broke out in Muslim countries over the recent release of an anti-Muslim film titled “the Innocence of Muslims.”

The front page cartoon of Charlie Hebdo  showed an ultra-Orthodox Jew and a Muslim saying: “No mocking.” It was titled “Untouchables 2,” a reference to a French film.

“Considering the fatalities [in riots connected with the film] we disapprove of the initiative of Charlie Hebdo,” Prasquier added. “The critics of religion must themselves heed criticism – not of their principles but of the timing of their actions.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius criticized the publication as a provocation and said he had ordered security beefed up at French diplomatic offices in the Muslim world.

Charlie Hebdo's Paris offices were fire bombed last November after it published a mocking caricature of Muhammad.

Over 30 people have been killed in the violent backlash over a 14-minute YouTube trailer for the film, titled “Innocence of Muslims,” believed to have been produced by a small group of extremist Christians in the United States.

In 2005, Danish cartoons of the prophet sparked a wave of violent protests across the Muslim world that killed at least 50 people.

Israel wary as protests engulf Muslim countries


Israel stepped up security after a controversial American film, “Innocence of Muslims,” sparked protests at U.S. embassies in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Sudan, as well as violence in Lebanon. In Libya, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other diplomats were killed.

Several dozen protesters from the Islamic Movement’s northern branch demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv on Sept. 13 and held posters with slogans such as “A film that demeans the Prophet Muhammad is a despicable and contemptible act,” “We love Muhammad,” and “We will sacrifice our blood and souls for Muhammad.”

Jerusalem police forces reinforced their presence in the capital due to the expected expansion of the protests. Hundreds of policemen secured the al-Aqsa mosque and other areas within the city. Protests also took place in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called on the U.S. to apologize “before the affront to the Prophet Muhammad in the film in question ignites a revolution in the Islamic nation to preserve the prophet’s honor.”

The intelligence leading up to the embassy attacks will be examined to “see if there was any way of forecasting this violence,” House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in an interview Sept. 13.

President Barack Obama, speaking at a campaign event in Colorado, also vowed that the perpetrators would be punished. “I want people around the world to hear me,” he said. “To all those who would do us harm: No act of terror will go unpunished. I will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.”

As of Sept. 13, there was no intelligence indicating that what happened in Benghazi was planned, according to two U.S. officials briefed on the investigation into the attack. Intelligence officials said they believe it was more likely that the attack was “opportunistic or spontaneous,” with terrotists taking advantage of the demonstration to launch the assault. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation publicly.

There is also no evidence that the attack was tied to the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, one of the officials said. But the Libyan-based terrorist group Ansar al Shariah is the leading suspect for carrying out the violence, possibly with help from al-Qaida’s main African-based offshoot, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The officials said it may be hard to determine definitively which group was responsible, because many terrorists are members of both.

As far as protests go, it is virtually impossible to predict when a crowd might form and turn violent, according to retired U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who served as chief of mission at five posts, including Iraq, and is a former director of national intelligence.

“These things can be mobilized on the spur of the moment, set off by a spark,” especially in places such as Egypt and Libya where the ruling strongmen have just fallen, Negroponte said. “When you get rid of authoritarian regimes, there’s little or no institutional framework left …That’s why there's disorder and chaos” that is so easily hijacked, he said.

Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood called for demonstrations after Friday prayers Sept. 14, as did authorities in Iran and the Gaza Strip. The White House said it was prepared for more protests but stressed that any violence would be unjustified.

“It is important to note that as these protests are taking place in different countries around the world, responding to the movie, that Friday, tomorrow, has historically been a day when there are protests in the Muslim world,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters in Colorado. “And we are watching very closely for developments that could lead to more protests. We anticipate that they may continue.”

Around the world, U.S. missions issued warnings to Americans about demonstrations that could turn violent. More than 50 embassies and consulates released such alerts, the State Department said.

Jewish reaction

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations condemned the attacks, saying there is “no justification and no legitimization for such violence.”

“We hope that all parties, governmental and non-governmental alike, will strive to restore calm and prevent the exploitation of the situation by extremist elements,” the Conference of President said in a statement. 

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said the group affirms “the U.S. government’s statement that those responsible must be held accountable for their actions and brought to justice.”

“The Jewish tradition is unequivocal in its belief that taking one life is akin to destroying the entire world,” Schonfeld said in a statement.

Jewish Council for Pubic Affairs President Rabbi Steve Gutow said, “As a rabbi, American, and human being, I am shocked and heartbroken by this heinous attack.”

“People of goodwill everywhere should stand up and unequivocally condemn these cold blooded murders,” he said in a statement.

Filmmaker’s identity

Sam Bacile—the name of the alleged producer of “Innocence of Muslims”—is a pseudonym, and the real producer is neither Israeli nor Jewish, according to reports.

“I don’t know that much about him,” said Steve Klein, a home insurance salesman from Riverside, Calif., who has been described in several media accounts as a consultant to the film, according to the Atlantic. “I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He’s not Israeli, no. I can tell you this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved, Terry Jones (the fundamentalist Christian pastor) is not involved. His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he’s Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign.” 

Californian Coptic Christian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, confirmed that he was involved with “Innocence of Muslims.” Although he denied being Sam Bacile, a phone number called by the Associated Press matched Nakoula’s address. These findings suggest that the film may have been produced by Coptic Christians to protest their persecution in Muslim countries.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Bacile had originally identified himself as a 52-year-old Israeli-American real estate developer from California who raised $5 million from Jewish donors to make the film. News outlets were unable to contact Bacile to confirm his identity. 

Egypt security forces, protesters clash outside U.S. Embassy


Security forces fired teargas to disperse stone-throwing demonstrators near the U.S. embassy in Cairo late on Wednesday, some 24 hours after protesters scaled the walls and tore down the flag over a film insulting the Prophet Mohammad.

State news agency MENA said some of those present had been injured, but gave no further details.

Live television showed hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the embassy, where late on Tuesday around 2,000 protested outside after some illegally entered the compound, ripped down the flag and burned it.

Washington has a big mission in Egypt, partly because of a huge aid programme that followed Egypt's signing of a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. The United States gives $1.3 billion to Egypt's military each year and offers the nation other aid.

Clashes between security forces and protesters continued in side streets near the building into the early hours of Thursday. Reuters witnesses saw protesters carrying petrol bombs and saw smoke billowing from one of the streets leading to the embassy.

MENA said earlier Egypt had arrested four people after Tuesday's demonstration in which protesters blamed the film on the United States.

It said the four people were transferred to the prosecutor's office, adding that security forces were still searching for others who scaled the walls of the U.S. mission.

<i>Writing by Edmund Blair and Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Alison Williams</i>

Canada closes embassy in Iran


Canada has closed its embassy in Tehran, listed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism and expelled all Iranian diplomats from Canada.

“Canada’s position on the regime in Iran is well-known,” John Baird, the country’s foreign minister, told reporters while in Russia for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-Operation Summit. “Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today.”

He added, “The Iranian regime is providing increasing military assistance to the Assad regime” in Syria and “refuses to comply with UN resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program. It routinely threatens the existence of Israel and engages in racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide. It is among the world’s worst violators of human rights and it shelters and materially supports terrorist groups, requiring the government of Canada to formally list Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism.”

Alluding to speculation about an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations, which Tehran refuses to open to international inspectors, he added, “Unequivocally, we have no information about a military strike on Iran.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu applauded the decision.

“The determination which Canada demonstrates is extremely important so that the Iranians understand that they cannot continue in their race to achieve nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in a statement, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “This practical step must serve as an example to the international community [as regards to] moral standards and international responsibility.”

American Jewish groups also applauded the move. American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris said, “Other democratic countries should follow Canada's laudable example and also break ties with Iran.”

Iran hasn't had a full ambassador in Canada since 2007. That followed a breakdown in relations in the wake of an Iranian-Canadian photographer being tortured and killed in Iran in 2003.

Egyptian court sentences 76 in Israeli embassy attack


An Egyptian court sentenced 76 citizens in last September’s attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.

Seventy-four of the convicted protesters were given one-year suspended prison sentences on Sunday. One was sent to a juvenile detention center, while a former police officer who fled the country after criticizing the Mubarak regime was sentenced to five years in prison in absentia, the Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm reported.

More than 1,000 Egyptians demonstrated at the embassy Sept. 9, 2011, many after an Egyptian Facebook group called on protesters to gather at the embassy and “urinate on the wall.” During the demonstration, protesters tore down the Israeli flag from the high-rise building’s roof for the second time in a month.

Three people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in the riots.

The protesters broke down the 8-foot-high security wall surrounding the embassy compound and entered the building, requiring the evacuation of Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, embassy personnel, their families and Israelis staying at the embassy.

Six security employees stranded in the building were later removed by an Egyptian commando unit during a rescue operation.

The riots took place after six Egyptian security personnel were killed in August 2011 as Israel pursued the bombers of a civilian bus near Eilat.

Michael Oren: Iran targeted Israeli Embassy


UPDATE (9:09 p.m.): On previous occasions, Israeli officials have suggested that Israel is considering a massive, crippling attack on Iran before it can move its nuclear facilities to safety deep underground. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren did not use that language in his interview with WTOP as represented in an earlier version of this article.

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, said Iran targeted his embassy.

Oren said last year’s alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Abel Al-Jubeir at a Washington restaurant also included plans to blow up the Israeli Embassy, WTOP radio in Washington reported Wednesday.

The complaint against Manssor Arbabsiar, who is charged with plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, also states that Arbabsiar “discussed the possibility of attacks on a number of targets. These targets included government facilities associated with Saudi Arabia and with ‘another’ country and these targets were located within the United States.”

Oren told WTOP Wednesday morning that Israel was that other country.

Obama extends Israel embassy waiver


President Obama extended a waiver for an additional six months that delays moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Obama’s waiver, issued June 1, follows in the footsteps of predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who also extended the waiver every six months since a law was passed in 1995 mandating moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Presidents are permitted to delay the move on national security grounds.

Some Jewish groups have pushed for the United States to move the embassy as a way to bolster Israeli claims to the city. Those favoring the use of the waiver say that moving the embassy would anger the Arab world and put the United States in the position of taking sides on an issue that should be settled in peace talks.

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, has privately told Jewish leaders he would not commit to moving the embassy as president.

Israel blames Iran after attacks on Embassy staff


Israel accused arch-enemies Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of being behind twin bomb attacks that targeted Israeli embassy staff in India and Georgia on Monday, wounding four people.

Tehran denied involvement in the attacks, which amplified tensions between two countries already at loggerheads over Iran’s nuclear program, and accused Israel of carrying out the attacks itself. Hezbollah made no comment.

In the Indian capital New Delhi, a bomb wrecked a car taking an Israeli embassy official to pick up her children from school, police said. The woman needed surgery to remove shrapnel but her life was not in danger.

Her driver and two passers-by suffered lesser injuries.

Israeli officials said an attempt to bomb an embassy car in the Georgian capital Tbilisi failed, and the device was defused.

Israel had put its foreign missions on high alert ahead of the fourth anniversary this past Sunday of the assassination in Syria of the military mastermind of Hezbollah, Imad Moughniyeh – an attack widely assumed to be the work of Israeli agents.

Israel is believed to be locked in a wider covert war with Iran, whose nuclear program has been beset by apparent sabotage, including the unclaimed killings of several Iranian nuclear scientists, most recently in January.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed both Iran and Hezbollah, accusing them of responsibility for a string of recent attempted attacks on Israeli interests in countries as far apart as Thailand and Azerbaijan.

“Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are behind each of these attacks,” said Netanyahu, who dismisses Iran denials that it is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. “We will continue to take strong and systematic, yet patient, action against the international terrorism that originates in Iran.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast rejected Netanyahu’s accusation, saying it was Israel that had carried out the attacks as part of its psychological warfare against Iran.

“It seems that these suspicious incidents are designed by the Zionist regime and carried out with the aim of harming Iran’s reputation,” the official news agency IRNA quoted Mehmanparast as saying.

Israeli officials have long made veiled threats to retaliate against Lebanon for any Hezbollah attack on their interests abroad, arguing that as the Islamist group sits in government in Beirut, its actions reflect national policy.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters in Washington that the United States had no information yet on who was responsible, adding: “These incidents underscore our ongoing concerns of the targeting of Israeli interests overseas.”

MOTORCYCLE ATTACK

The New Delhi blast took place some 500 meters (yards) from the official residence of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

B.K. Gupta, the New Delhi police commissioner, said a witness had seen a motorcyclist stick a device to the back of the car, which had diplomatic registration plates.

“The eyewitness … says it (was) some kind of magnetic device. As soon as the motorcycle moved away a good distance from the car, the car blew up and it caught fire,” said Gupta.

The Iranian scientist killed in Tehran last month died in a similar such attack by a motorcyclist who attached a device to his car. No one has claimed responsibility for that, although Iran was quick to accuse agents of Israel and its U.S. ally.

Israel named the injured woman as Talya Yehoshua Koren, who worked at the embassy and was married to the defense attache.

“She was able to drag herself from the car and is now at the American hospital, where two Israeli doctors are treating her,” an Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman said.

Thailand said last month its police had arrested a Lebanese man linked to Hezbollah, and that he later led them to a warehouse stocked with bomb-making materials. Also last month, authorities in Azerbaijan arrested two people suspected of plotting to attack Israel’s ambassador and a local rabbi.

In a speech on January 24, Israel’s military chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, accused Hezbollah of trying to carry out proxy attacks while avoiding direct confrontation.

“During this period of time, when our enemies in the north avoid carrying out attacks, fearing a harsh response, we are witnesses to the ongoing attempts by Hezbollah and other hostile entities to execute vicious terror attacks at locations far away from the state of Israel,” Gantz said.

“I suggest that no one test our resolve.”

Israel and Hezbollah fought an inconclusive and costly war across the Lebanese border in 2006.

Additional reporting by Krittivas Mukherjee, Annie Banerji and Arup Roy Choudhury in New Delhi, Zahra Hosseinian in Tehran, Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by Crispian Balmer, Mark Heinrich, Alastair Macdonald and Kevin Liffey

Israeli embassies on high alert following anthrax scare


Israeli embassies and consulates have raised their alert level after several in missions in the United States and Europe received envelopes with white powder in them.

The missions received white envelopes with the word “anthrax” written on them, according to reports; the powder inside was found to be flour.

Among the embassies and consulates that received the envelopes Monday were The Hague, Brussels and London in Europe, and New York, Boston, and Houston in the United States.

Hazardous materials crews arrived Monday at the Boston consulate and ordered it closed for the rest of the day. The powder was tested on site and found to be harmless, the Boston Globe reported. The powder was to be further tested and then disposed of, the newspaper reported.

Cairo embassy rioters given suspended sentences


Dozens of people involved in rioting at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo were given suspended jail sentences.

An Egyptian military court on Monday handed down the six-month suspended sentences to 73 of the protesters for using violence against military officers, according to reports.

More than 1,000 Egyptians demonstrated at the embassy Sept. 9, many after an Egyptian Facebook group called on protesters to gather at the embassy and “urinate on the wall.” During the demonstration, protesters tore down the Israeli flag from the high-rise building’s roof for the second time in a month.

The protesters broke down the 8-foot-high security wall surrounding the embassy compound and entered the building, requiring the evacuation of Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, embassy personnel, their families and Israelis staying at the embassy.

Six security employees stranded in the building were later removed by an Egyptian commando unit during a rescue operation.

Three people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in the riots.

The riots came after six Egyptian security personnel were killed in August as Israel pursued the bombers of a civilian bus near Eilat.

Israeli diplomats return to Cairo embassy


Four Israeli diplomats and security personnel have returned to Israel’s embassy in Cairo after being evacuated amid violent protests.

The envoys—a consul, an adviser and the chief of security and his deputy, according to reports—returned to Cairo to a new building and will deal only with low-level issues in an effort to retain Israel’s diplomatic presence in Egypt, Ynet reported.

They left nearly two weeks ago after Egyptian demonstrators stormed Israel’s embassy in Cairo, necessitating the emergency rescue of its staff by Egyptian commandos.

Ambassador Yitzhak Levanon is not returning to Egypt at this time, Ynet reported.

The envoys’ return comes amid reports by the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram that the protesters were paid to attack the embassy.

Protesters questioned by Egyptian security reportedly said they were offered money to whip up the riots. The participants were bused to the area, then given dinner and envelopes containing money, according to the newspaper.

Israeli ambassador returns to Jordan after demonstration


Israel’s ambassador to Jordan returned to Amman after being withdrawn in advance of an anti-Israel protest.

The ambassador returned Friday, two days after Israel withdrew its embassy staff from the Jordanian capital as a safety precaution.

According to reports, only about 200 protesters turned out on Thursday in Amman for what had been billed as a “million man-march” against Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel. Jordanian police prevented the protesters from marching on the embassy.

The decision to remove the staff in Amman came several days after Egyptian demonstrators stormed Israel’s embassy in Cairo, necessitating the emergency rescue of its staff by Egyptian commandos.

Israel evacuates Jordanian embassy ahead of protest


Israel evacuated its embassy in Jordan, amid fears that a planned anti-Israel protest could turn violent.

The ambassador and staff of the embassy, located in Amman, returned to Israel Wednesday night. Jordanian activists have called for a “million man march” against the embassy for Thursday. The protest was organized on Facebook. A similar demonstration in Egypt lead to the evacuation a week ago of Israel’s embassy in Cairo and the emergency rescue of several members of the embassy’s security staff.

The staff of Israel’s Jordanian embassy regularly return to their homes in Israel on Thursday for the weekend. Their families reside in Israel. The evacuation order sent them home one day earlier, with plans to return on Sunday, according to reports.

Security near the embassy reportedly has been increased.

Jordanians protest at Israeli embassy in Amman


Several hundred Jordanian protesters on Thursday called on their government to close the Israeli embassy in Amman and scrap an unpopular peace treaty with the Jewish state.

Dozens of demonstrators chanting: “No Zionist embassy on Arab land” gathered near a mosque in the Rabia district of the Jordanian capital close to the Israeli embassy.

Scores of police blocked roads to the embassy complex to prevent protesters from marching to the heavily protected mission.

The protesters, a mix of leftist, liberal and Islamist opposition activists, chanted slogans urging the authorities to sever diplomatic ties with neighbouring Israel.

“The people want to bring down the Wadi Araba peace treaty,” said a protester, referring to the country’s peace accord with Israel signed in 1994, the second that was concluded by an Arab country with Israel after Egypt’s own deal in 1979.

Jordan has long maintained close security cooperation with Israel but has been critical of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians and fears a spillover of violence if Israel does not broker peace with the Palestinians.

The call for large scale protests organised on Facebook this week prompted Israel to temporarily withdraw its ambassador to Jordan. Israeli diplomatic sources said Ambassador Daniel Nevo and his senior staff, who routinely spend weekends in Israel, were brought back early .

In Egypt, the Israeli embassy was stormed by demonstrators on Saturday, forcing its evacuation. The countries are in talks on reactivating the Cairo mission.

Most of Jordan’s seven million citizens are of Palestinian origin and have close family ties with their kin on the other side of the Jordan River.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Editing by Rosalind Russell

Egypt, Israel seek normality after embassy storming


Egypt and Israel said on Sunday they wanted a return to normal diplomatic activities after the Israeli ambassador flew home following the storming of the embassy in Cairo during violent protests.

Egypt’s army, which took over when Hosni Mubarak was ousted on February 11, has struggled to quell public fury against Israel since five Egyptian border guards were killed last month when Israel repelled cross-border raiders it said were Palestinian.

The United States called on Egypt to protect the mission. Washington has given billions of dollars in military and other aid since 1979 when Egypt became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

Israel said it was in talks about returning Ambassador Yitzhak Levanon and his staff but wanted security assurances.

“The security in front of the embassy has been enhanced,” cabinet spokesman Mohamed Higazy told Reuters. “Returning back to normalcy is the objective for both sides.”

About 16 trucks full of police and security personnel, three buses of military police, two armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles were parked near the embassy on Sunday.

Protesters marched on the embassy on Friday in the second major flare-up since the shooting.

First they tore down a wall erected to protect the embassy. Then they stormed it and clashed with police through the night.

“Those who rip down flags … they are negating peace and the country,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet. He said Israel would stick to the peace deal.

“I am glad there are other forces in Egypt, including the Egyptian government, that are interested in advancing peace.”

An Egyptian security source said Egyptian guards exchanged fire on Sunday with suspected smugglers in the same border area where guards were shot last month. The source said there were no injuries and the group fled into Egyptian territory.

MONITORING THE SCENE

Traffic passed smoothly through a junction that a day before had been strewn with bits of concrete and debris. Charred police vehicles were in a side street near the embassy, located on the upper floors of a tower block next to the Nile.

The front pages of Israeli newspapers carried photographs of jubilant Egyptian flag-waving demonstrators on the balcony of the embassy. Other photos showed a tense Netanyahu, in a polo shirt, monitoring the scene on television.

Some Egyptian newspapers showed scenes of the protests. Al-Akhbar showed protesters breaking down the wall around the embassy with a metal pole and smoke coming from what it said was a document store room in the embassy.

Other newspapers carried photos of army vehicles deployed to secure the area.

In Iran, a fierce opponent of Israel which it refers to as the Zionist entity, one newspaper headline read: “Egyptian revolutionaries seized the den of Zionists.” Media compared it to the 1979 seizure by students of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

“All Muslim governments should close down embassies of the Zionist regime in their countries, before their nations take an action similar to Egyptian revolutionaries,” Iranian MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi was quoted by Fars news agency as saying.

Egypt said it would try those behind the violence swiftly in emergency state security courts. Egypt has detained 111 people in connection with the incident, the official state news agency reported. Three people were killed and more than 1,000 injured.

Many Egyptians sympathize with the sentiments of those demonstrating against Israel, but activists, politicians and ordinary citizens have also criticised the violence.

“I don’t want him (the ambassador) to come back because Israel doesn’t respect anyone, but if they are in our country, then we should be able to protect them,” said Mohamed Kamhawy, 28, an engineer working two blocks from the embassy site.

Ahmed Amr, 23, another engineer, said: “Tearing down the wall was right. They shouldn’t have built it in the first place. But invading the embassy was wrong.”

Some Egyptians are frustrated that Egypt did not take sterner measures against Israel after the border shooting. At the time, Egypt said it would withdraw its ambassador but did not carry through with the threat.

Israel has stopped short of apologising, saying it is still investigating the Egyptian deaths, which occurred during an operation against gunmen who had killed eight Israelis.

Israel is finding itself increasingly at odds with formerly sympathetic states in the region. It is embroiled in a feud with Turkey, once the closest of its few Muslim allies, over an Israeli raid last year that killed nine Turks on a flotilla bound for Gaza.

Egypt’s ties with Israel, though never warm, were a pillar of Mubarak’s foreign policy and buttressed his claim to be a regional mediator. Under Mubarak, displays of hostility to Israel were swiftly crushed by security forces.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Parisa Hafezi in Tehran; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Heavens and David Cowell