The challenge of defining Charedim


The Iranian nuclear issue and Palestinian peace talks may be dominating the news about Israel nowadays, but if discussions within the Jewish state focused on any social challenge this year, it was the question of how to integrate the Charedi Orthodox population into Israel’s workforce and military.

A new centrist party, Yesh Atid, won 19 Knesset seats in January promising to cut subsidies and draft exemptions for the Charedi community. As the government has pushed legislation cutting Charedi benefits, Charedi leaders have debated how to respond.

But observers assessing trends and responses among Israel’s Charedim first need to ask a crucial question: Whom do we count as Charedi?

This week, the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel came out with a novel way to define the community that departs from previous measures used by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Existing studies define Charedim based on whether they attended advanced yeshivot, and whether they avoided army service or eschewed college. Families with too many college degrees or too many soldiers were placed outside the Charedi box.

This method becomes a problem when you’re trying to measure, say, a rise in Charedi college attendance or army service. The Taub Center’s methodology avoids those pitfalls by choosing metrics that set Charedim apart from other Israelis while avoiding statistics that it’s trying to track (like Charedi presence in the workforce).

Instead, the Taub Center looked at recent electoral maps and identified precincts that voted in high numbers for Charedi political parties — a traditional measure of communal loyalty. The center found that in those districts, 80 percent of families were Charedi.

But how to separate that 20 percent? Answer: TV sets. Surveys of the Charedi community have found that fewer than 10 percent of Charedim watch any television at all, and that those who do watch TV watch very little — perhaps only outside of the home. Taub’s conclusion: If you live in a Charedi-voting district but own a TV, you’re almost definitely not Charedi.

If the political and social forces pushing for Charedi integration succeed, military service, academic degrees and employment will become increasingly less relevant to the task of classifying Charedim as time goes by. But until “The Voice” becomes popular in Me’ah She’arim, the Taub Center’s methodology seems safe.

Obama sees possible breakthrough in Syria weapons proposal


U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday he saw a possible breakthrough in the crisis with Syria after Russia proposed that its ally Damascus hand over its chemical weapons for destruction, which could avert planned U.S. military strikes.

But Obama, speaking in a series of television interviews, remained skeptical and pushed ahead to persuade a reluctant and divided Congress to back potential U.S. action, saying the threat of force was needed to press Syria to make concessions.

In an extraordinary day of diplomacy over the war-wracked Middle Eastern country, Russia seized on an apparently throwaway public remark by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to fashion a new approach that could save face for all sides.

“My preference consistently has been a diplomatic resolution to this problem,” Obama told NBC. He said an agreement for Assad to surrender his chemical weapons to international control would not solve the “underlying terrible conflict inside of Syria.”

He added: “But if we can accomplish this limited goal without taking military action, that would be my preference.”

“It's possible that we can get a breakthrough,” Obama told CNN, although there was a risk that it was a further stalling tactic by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has presided over more than two years of civil war.

“We're going to run this to ground,” he said. “John Kerry and the rest of my national security team will engage with the Russians and the international community to see, can we arrive at something that is enforceable and serious.”

In Congress, Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid pushed back a Senate test vote on possible U.S. strikes that had been scheduled for Wednesday as lawmakers evaluate the Russian plan.

The vote is still expected this week, and a more contentious vote would later be held in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Obama has argued that Assad, fighting to continue his family's four-decade rule, must be punished for what Washington says was a poison gas attack on rebel areas that killed over 1,400 people on Aug. 21.

The dramatic diplomatic twist in weeks of high-tension international wrangling came when Kerry was asked by a reporter during a visit to London whether there was anything Assad's government could do or offer to stop a U.S. military strike.

“Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week – turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting. But he isn't about to do it and it can't be done.”

The State Department later said Kerry had been making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility of Assad turning over chemical weapons, which Assad denies his forces used.

RUSSIAN PROPOSAL

Less than five hours later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had put what sounded like Kerry's proposal to his visiting Syrian counterpart during talks in Moscow. Walid al-Moualem said Damascus welcomed the Russian initiative – while not spelling out whether Syria would, or even could, comply.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has blocked U.N. action against Assad and says Obama would be guilty of unlawful aggression if he launches an attack without U.N. approval.

Lavrov said: “If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons … makes it possible to avoid strikes, then we will immediately get to work with Damascus.”

Lavrov said Russia was also urging Syria to eventually destroy the weapons and become a full member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Rebels fighting Assad's forces on the ground, where hundreds are being killed by conventional bullets and explosives every week, dismissed any such weapons transfer as impossible to police and a decoy to frustrate U.S. plans to attack.

Kerry later called Lavrov to tell him that while his remarks had been rhetorical and the United States was not going to “play games,” if there was a serious proposal, then Washington would take a look at it, a senior U.S. official said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took up the same theme, saying that he might ask the Security Council to end its “embarrassing paralysis” over Syria and agree to act.

Asked about Lavrov's proposal, Ban said: “I'm considering urging the Security Council to demand the immediate transfer of Syria's chemical weapons and chemical precursor stocks to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed.”

Britain and France, permanent members of the Security Council with Russia, China and the United States, both tentatively welcomed the Russian proposal.

WEAPONS BANNED BY 1925 TREATY

U.N. chemical weapons inspectors were in Damascus at the time of the August attack, which Assad and Putin have blamed on rebel forces. Ban said that if the evidence they were able to gather – after lengthy bargaining over their movements with Syrian officials – proved the use of toxins, the world must act.

Syria, which has never signed a global treaty banning the storage of chemical weapons, is believed to have large stocks of sarin, mustard gas and VX nerve agents – the actual use of which is banned by a 1925 treaty to which Damascus is a signatory.

White House officials were skeptical of the feasibility of the Russian proposal. Syria is a battleground where access for foreign experts would be dangerous. And it would be very hard to verify whether all sites had been sealed.

Years of cat-and-mouse maneuvering between U.N. weapons inspectors and Saddam Hussein in neighbouring Iraq show how difficult it might be to enforce any arms control orders on a timetable that would satisfy Washington in the midst of a war.

Qassim Saadeddine, a rebel commander in northern Syria and a spokesman for the Supreme Military Council of Assad's opponents, said: “It is a trap and deceitful maneuver by the Damascus regime and will do nothing to help the situation.

“They have tons of weapons hidden that would be nearly impossible for international inspectors to find.”

Putin, however, would see major diplomatic advantages to any plan that bolstered Russia's role in brokering international settlements and thwarted strikes in which Obama may have French military support.

CONGRESSIONAL LOBBYING

Obama said he was pressing ahead to secure approval in Congress for limited and targeted strikes against Syria, aware of the strong opposition of most Americans after a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I don't think that I'm going to convince … the overwhelming majority of the American people to take any kind of military action, but I believe I can make a very strong case to Congress, as well as the American people, about why we can't leave our children a world in which other children are being subjected to nerve gas,” he said on PBS.

Kerry said he was confident of the evidence that the United States and its allies had presented to support their case that Assad's forces used poison gas, a charge that Assad denies.

But Kerry said he understood wariness among Americans lingering from accusations against Saddam that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and later proved to be false.

A survey by the newspaper USA Today found majorities of both houses remained uncommitted – reflecting broad and growing public opposition to military action.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Monday showed Americans' opposition to a U.S. military strike against Syria was increasing. The poll, conducted Sept. 5 to 9, indicated that 63 percent of Americans opposed intervening in Syria, up from 53 percent in a survey that ended Aug. 30.

Tapping into concerns in the West about the role of Islamist militants in the rebel forces, Syrian Foreign Minister Moualem said: “We are asking ourselves how Obama can … support those who in their time blew up the World Trade Center in New York.”

Assad himself warned of reprisals – if he were attacked Americans could “expect every action”, he told CBS television.

Brent crude oil futures sank more than 2 percent on Monday, as the prospect of a wider war in the Middle East appeared to recede. “This has thrown some sand into the wheels of military preparation in the U.S.,” said Michael Lynch of Strategic Energy & Economic Research.

“At the very least, it means the debate is going to be stalled while we wait and see if it works out.”

Inside Syria, government forces launched an offensive to wrest back control of a historic Christian town north of Damascus on Monday, activists said. In the past six days, the town of Maaloula has already changed hands three times between Assad's forces and rebels, some of whom are linked to al Qaeda.

Writing by Alastair Macdonald, Claudia Parsons and David Storey; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Jim Loney

The debate we should be having on Syria


On Tuesday evening, President Barack Obama boarded Air Force One, departed for Sweden and left behind a looming political disaster. Despite the endorsement of Republican and Democratic House leaders, many members of Congress remain deeply skeptical about the president's proposal to carry out cruise missile strikes in Syria. And they should be.

A few dozen missile strikes will not alter the military balance in Syria's civil war. They will not punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the point where it moves him to the bargaining table. The Syrian autocrat is engaged in a ruthless fight for survival. Obama is not. As long as that dynamic continues, limited military action will have a limited impact.

Tomahawk cruise missiles are the latest wonder weapon to be used to lull Americans into thinking they can have war without cost. (For now, they've replaced drones.) In a sign of just how limited the American effort will be, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee drafted a resolution Tuesday night that would limit any military action to sixty days, with one thirty day extension.

Under the best-case scenario outlined by administration officials, American destroyers will lob a few dozen missiles at Syria late next week. Washington's credibility will be magically restored. And there will be little pain, risk or casualties for Americans.

That is wishful thinking.

At the same time, opponents of military action on the left and right argue that we can ignore what is happening in Syria. The Sunnis who make up 70 percent of Syria's population and their Gulf backers will give up, some argue. Or if Assad wins, a magnanimous Hezbollah and Iran will not be emboldened by his successful use of chemical weapons.

In truth, Syria is on a path to become a failed state split between Sarin-wielding Alawites and Sunni jihadists. The largest refugee crisis in the world since Vietnam will destabilize Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and potentially ignite a regional war. And America's true red lines – Israel's security and the steady flow of Middle Eastern oil into the global economy – will be threatened.

A gaping hole in the president's response to Syria is that it does not grapple with the core question: what should America's role in the Middle East be? Defender of chemical weapons bans? Defender of oil flows? Defender of Israel and no one else?

Political realities, of course, limit what type of military action Obama can propose. War weary Americans want no part of another conflict in the Middle East. But they deserve a realistic, clear-eyed strategy in the region. President George W. Bush's invasion-centric approach to countering militancy clearly failed. But Obama's hands-off approach is not working either.

For six years, Obama has successfully struck a middle ground in foreign policy, using drone strikes and a time-limited troop surge in Afghanistan to appear tough but anti-war. His plan to strike Syria could be the straw that breaks the back of Obama's split-the-difference approach.

Barring a major personal lobbying effort by the president, a skeptical House is likely to reject Obama's request for an authorization. An ABC News poll released Tuesday found that 60 percent of Americans oppose a unilateral US missile strike on Syria.

To be fair, an array of factors beyond Obama's control have come together to turn Syria into the administration's perfect storm. Assad's depravity, Russian President Vladimir Putin's cynicism and a fractious Syrian opposition make up a rogue's gallery of stubborn opponents and unappealing allies. And the war in Iraq – which Obama opposed – has created sweeping isolationism.

Obama also has himself to blame. Traits that have been steadily building in his administration for the last several years have made Syria harder to solve.

First, it is unclear how deeply Obama, in fact, wants to act in Syria. A famously detached president seems half-engaged. Instead of Obama making impassioned speeches last week to the American people, Secretary of State John Kerry did. After making a surprise announcement on Saturday that he would seek a congressional authorization to strike Syria, Obama went golfing.

Tracking the president's personal involvement in the debate ahead will show his true intent. If Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and others remain the primary administration voices lobbying Congress, it is a sign of Obama's ambivalence.

In an ominous sign for the White House, opposition to the strikes is growing on the far right and left. Lead by Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, libertarians say no vital U.S. interests are at stake in Syria. Citing Iraq, liberals who enjoy generous security and rights at home blithely dismiss the idea of enforcing international norms abroad.

As historian Douglas Brinkley noted, one of the oddest things about the American response to Assad's chemical weapons attack is the lack of moral outrage. Beyond Kerry, few Americans have expressed anger at a barbaric attack that killed 1,400 people, including 400 children. Yes, we must not repeat the mistakes of Iraq. But that does not absolve us from seriously grappling with the nightmarish scenarios that are emerging in the Middle East.

There are no quick or easy solutions in Syria. Even if the U.S. acts, it will not stabilize the country. But we need a comprehensive strategy.

At this point, the best of several bad options is to mount extensive U.S. strikes, arm the moderate opposition and try to negotiate a political settlement with Russia and Iran. A Tomahawk-created peace is a fantasy.


David Rohde is a Reuters columnist.

IDF chief warns Syria against more attacks on Israel


The Israeli military’s chief of staff,  Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, warned that Syria would pay the price if it continues to attack Israel.

Syrian President Bashar Assad “guides and encourages the widening of activity against Israel, in various dimensions and via the Golan Heights,” Gantz said Tuesday, hours after Syria fired on and damaged an Israeli army jeep, and Israel retaliated with a missile attack. “We will not allow the area of the Golan Heights to become a comfortable place for Assad.

“If Assad impairs the situation in the Golan Heights, he will have to bear the consequences,” the military chief warned at ceremony at Haifa University.

No one was injured when Syria opened fire on an Israeli army patrol early Tuesday morning in the Golan Heights, the Israel Defense Forces said. It was the third time this week that Syria targeted Israeli positions.

In retaliation, the IDF said an Israeli missile struck the source of Tuesday’s gunfire.

The IDF lodged a complaint with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, a peacekeeping force that was established in 1974.

The Syrian military claimed in a statement issued Tuesday that its military destroyed an Israeli military vehicle and its occupants. The statement said the jeep crossed the cease-fire line in the Golan Heights.

Gantz said that the nighttime patrol was clearly patroling along the border fence and did not cross into Syrian territory. Earlier Tuesday, Gantz toured the Israeli-Syrian border and talked with the soldiers and commanders of the Nahal Brigade who are stationed there.

Israeli troops manning a border observation point in the Golan Heights were fired on Sunday and Monday. The Israelis did not retaliate but lodged a separate complaint with the U.N. observer force.

Also Tuesday, Israel transferred an injured Syrian national from the border to a hospital in northern Israel for surgery to treat shrapnel wounds.

Thousands protest in Jerusalem against haredi draft


Thousands of haredi Orthodox Israelis protested in Jerusalem against plans to enlist haredi men into the military.

The protesters gathered Thursday night near the city’s military draft bureau to hear rabbis warn that army service would irreparably harm their way of life.

“The government wants to uproot and secularize us,” Rabbi David Zycherman said, according to Reuters, “They call it a melting pot, but people cannot be melted.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government has committed to expanding the draft to include haredi men, most of whom receive exemptions on religious grounds.

The strong showing in January’s election by Yesh Atid, the party of Finance Minister Yair Lapid, was attributed in large part to pledges to resist demands by Orthodox parties and spread the burden of army service and taxation more evenly across Israeli society.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said at least 20,000 protesters took part in Thursday’s demonstrations. There were about a dozen arrests after protesters hurled bottles and stones at officers, some on horseback, Rosenfeld said. Police used stun grenades to quell the unrest. A water cannon was also deployed when protesters set a garbage bin on fire. At least six officers required medical treatment and two were taken to hospital, Rosenfeld said.

Most Israeli women and men are subject to two to three years of mandatory military once they turn 18. Exceptions are made for most Arab citizens of Israel as well as haredi Orthodox men and women.

U.S. to provide Israel with advanced weapons, Hagel announces


The United States will make available to Israel advanced new military capabilities, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said.

The advanced weapons include anti-radiation missiles, advanced radars for its fleet of fighter jets,  KC-135 refueling aircraft  the V-22 Osprey, which the US has not released to any other nation, Hagel told reporters Monday following a meeting in Tel Aviv with his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Yaalon.

Hagel said the new equipment, as well as Israel's participation in the joint strike fighter program “ensures that Israel will maintain air superiority for the next generation.”

“These decisions underscore that the military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel is stronger than ever and that defense cooperation will only continue to deepen in the future,” Hagel said.

When questioned about Iran, the two leaders stressed that the Islamic Republic must be prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“All military options and every option must remain on the table when dealing with Iran,” Hagel said. “Our position is Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon,” he added.

Hagel reiterated Israel's right to defend itself in the face of Iran's nuclear aspirations. “Israel is a sovereign nation. Every sovereign nation has the right to defend itself. That calculation has to be made by the sovereign nation,” he said. He added that the United States and Israel “are not only in complete agreement on the policy about Iran but also we are in total agreement on if a time should get to a point here where we will then have to develop other strategies or other options, and I don't think there is any daylight there, any gap.”

Israel's strategy regarding the military nuclear aspirations of this Iranian regime is very clear,” Yaalon said. “By one way or another, the military nuclear project of Iran should be stopped. Having said that, we believe that the military option which is well discussed should be the last resort anyhow.”

“But without a credible military option, there is no chance that the Iranian regime will realize that he has to stop the military nuclear project. And in certain circumstances the military option should be exercised. So this is our very clear policy, and of course we keep our right, and capability, to defend ourselves by ourselves,” Yaalon added.

Hagel met Monday evening with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

He is scheduled to visit Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates during this Middle East trip.

Hagel reassures Jewish leaders on Iran, Israel’s edge


Chuck Hagel in a meeting with Jewish organizational leaders affirmed his commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge.

“Sen. Hagel met with the leadership of several major American Jewish organizations at the White House as a part of his ongoing outreach,” said a Jan. 22 statement from Hagel's office at Georgetown University, where President Obama's defense secretary nominee is a professor.

“He discussed his commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship, including his determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, to maintaining Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, and to sustaining the Obama Administration’s unprecedented security cooperation with Israel. He appreciated the opportunity to have a constructive, informed and wide-ranging discussion.”

A four-sentence statement on Jan. 21 issued by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations described the Jan. 18 meeting as “an important opportunity for a serious and thorough discussion of key issues of importance to all of us.”

The statement, which also noted the presence at the meeting of Vice President Joe Biden as well as the leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, did not further elaborate.

The meeting came days after Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, conferred with top Jewish Democrats and apologized for a 2006 comment in which he described the “Jewish lobby” as “intimidating.” He also reassured the lawmakers that despite his past skepticism of some sanctions on Iran and wariness of a military strike to keep the Islamic Republic from obtaining a nuclear weapon, he now was on board with Obama's stances on those issues.

Hagel in his conversation with the Jewish Democrats also said he was a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship and elaborated on the context of his past criticisms of Israel.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

U.S. Army to build large security complex near Tel Aviv


The U.S. Army is preparing to supervise the construction of an underground military complex near Tel Aviv.

The five-storey complex, dubbed “Site 911,” is expected to take more than two years to build and will cost up to $100 million, according to a report in the Washington Post Thursday by national security journalist Walter Pincus. It will be situated inside an Israeli Air Force base.

The construction of the facility, to be supervised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will have classrooms on Level 1, an auditorium on Level 3, a laboratory, shock-resistant doors, protection from nonionizing radiation and very tight security.

Only U.S. construction firms are  allowed to bid on the contract and proposals are due Dec. 3, according to the paper, which quoted the latest Corps of Engineers notice.

Within the past two years the Corps, which has three offices in Israel, completed a $30 million set of hangars at the IAF Nevatim base, the paper reported.

Site 911, which will be built at another base, appears to be one of the largest projects undertaken by the Corps in Israel. Each of the first three underground floors is to be roughly 41,000 square feet, according to the Corps notice.

The lower two floors are much smaller and hold equipment.

Poll: Majority of Americans say Israel’s Gaza offensive is justified


A majority of Americans believe Israel's military action in the Gaza Strip is justified, according to a CNN poll released on Monday.

The CNN/ORC International poll indicated that 57 percent of Americans support Israel's offensive against Hamas, while 25 percent of U.S. citizens believe Israel's attacks on Gaza are unjustified.

Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense entered its sixth day on Monday. The IDF attacked more than 1,350 targets in the Gaza Strip since the start of the operation, while more than 1,000 rockets were fired at Israel.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Israeli general tells mayors to prepare for weeks of fighting


Israel’s Home Front Command reportedly has instructed municipalities around Gaza to prepare for a fighting period of up to seven weeks.

The news site Ynet reported Friday that GOC Home Front Command Eyal Eisenberg told subordinate officers and mayors of southern and central municipalities to prepare for “up to seven weeks of fighting.”

On Friday, the third day of Israel’s operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, thousands of Israel Defense Forces troops arrived at military bases in Israel’s south for possible preparation for a ground incursion into Gaza. Hundreds of military trucks arrived carrying munitions, fuel, water and equipment alongside tank carriers and army jeeps in roads around the Gaza Strip, Ynet reported.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has called up 16,000 reserve troops. On Thursday, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said a ground incursion was “definitely an option.”

Report: Iranian fears of Israeli attack led to military mishaps


Iranian fears of an Israeli airstrike on its nuclear facilities reportedly led the Iranian military to mistakenly fire on civilian airplanes and its own military aircraft several years ago.

The 2007 and 2008 attacks, in which the civilian aircraft were fired on and intercepted by Iranian fighter jets, were documented in a classified U.S. intelligence report from 2008 titled “Operational Mishaps by Air Defense Units,” The New York Times reported Wednesday. The newspaper said that a new book recently examined the report.

The Iranian military reportedly became nervous after Israel bombed a nuclear reactor under construction in Syria in September 2007, and after Israel held a major air exercise over the Mediterranean the following year that looked like it was simulating an attack on Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant.

At least four civilian airliners were fired on by Iranian air defense units in 2007 and 2008, as was an Iranian F-14 fighter jet. The Iranian military also began training for an attack on Israel using firing ranges that resembled the northern Israeli city of Haifa and the Dimona nuclear facility, according to the report.

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.

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.

Egypt broadens Sinai campaign against militants


Egypt’s military said on Wednesday it would broaden its offensive against militants in the Sinai Peninsula, a campaign that has raised concerns in Israel about the movement of heavy armor into the area near its border.

After militants attacked and killed 16 border guards on Aug. 5, Egypt launched an operation using the army and police to raid militant hideouts, arrest suspects and seize weapons, including rockets and other arms, that are rife in the area.

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. This has alarmed Israel.

Israeli officials have privately voiced concerns about heavy equipment being sent to areas where there are restrictions on weapon deployments under a 1979 peace treaty.

Egypt has sent hundreds of troops, along with tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters into the North Sinai region since the start of military operations there on Aug.8.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi told Reuters on Monday in his first interview with international media that Egypt was committed to all treaties and, without naming Israel, said no other states should worry about its actions in Sinai.

“As of the morning of Aug. 29, in continuation of the military operation, there will be a redeployment of forces in various locations in Sinai to complete the hunt for terrorist elements,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

A military source told Reuters this would involve spreading security forces over a wider area to root out militants.

The campaign is led by the defense minister and head of the armed forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, appointed by Morsi in a shake-up of the military top brass on Aug. 12. The Islamist president has promised to restore order.

Sisi briefed Morsi on the Sinai operation on Monday.

The ministry statement on its website said 11 militants had been killed and 23 arrested in the campaign. It said 11 vehicles had been seized, along with ammunition, including five boxes of Israeli-made ammunition, but did not give details.

WEAPONS SMUGGLING

The 1979 peace treaty limits the military presence in the desert peninsula though in recent years Israel has agreed to allow Egypt to deploy more forces there to stem weapons smuggling by Palestinian gunmen and crime.

An Egyptian security source said on Wednesday tanks were being withdrawn from the border area in a move that could calm Israel’s concerns. Three other security sources confirmed this and said the tanks were being moved to another part of Sinai, without giving further details.

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

Leaders of the Cairo-based Jihad Group, which fought against Mubarak but has since renounced violence, met earlier in the week in Sinai with members of the Salafi Jihadi Group in an attempt to defuse tensions.

“We went to prevent a new rivalry with the state,” said Magdy Salem, a member of the Cairo group. He said the visit was approved by Morsi.

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.

Mubarak’s military-backed government worked closely with Israel to keep the region under control. Diplomats say security contacts continued after Mubarak’s fall. But Egyptian security sources said Israel should not expect day-to-day reports.

As Charedi draft begins, no problems


The controversy had sparked a national debate, raucous protests in the streets and the collapse of a historic government. That came in the months after the Israeli Supreme Court had nullified a law exempting Charedi Orthodox Israelis from military service and giving the government until Aug. 1 to draft a replacement law. 

More than one week after the law’s implementation, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has yet to encounter any significant problems in putting Charedi men through the draft process, according to a military source with knowledge of the issue. 

The IDF had no official comment on the new process.

In previous weeks, thousands of Charedim had gathered in the streets, holding protest signs declaring that they would rather spend their lives in prison than serve in the “Zionist army.” Another protest in Tel Aviv declared that secular Israelis, who had always served, would no longer be “suckers.”

But political stalemate won out. No law was passed, and a broad government coalition created to solve this issue broke up.

The day before the Aug. 1 deadline, Defense Minister Ehud Barak sent out a news release stating that the IDF had one month to formulate guidelines on Charedi military service that would accord with the Military Service Law of 1986, which subjects Charedim to the same service requirements as all other Jewish Israelis. Charedim have been subject to the law since Aug. 1, and will remain so until the Knesset passes a new law on Charedi service. 

Under the 1986 law, 18-year-old Charedi boys — until now exempt from the military draft while studying in a yeshiva — are eligible for the draft; their summons may come even before their 18th birthday. The penalty for refusing the summons: three years in prison.

The law includes a clause on religious exemptions from military service for women who observe Shabbat and keep kosher, but they do not apply to men. Men up to the age of 26 may be drafted, Charedi or not.

Now Charedi men born in 1994 and 1995 are or soon will be undergoing competency tests in math, Hebrew and general knowledge, as would any draftee. The first language of many Charedim is Yiddish, not Hebrew, and their schools do not focus on math or general studies.

The military source could not give any details on the formulation of guidelines for Charedi enlistment, but said the month-long period was granted in part to allow the army time to prepare for absorbing thousands of Charedi soldiers.

According to Haaretz, there are 54,000 Charedi men of enlistment age who have not served in the IDF.

But even as the protests have died down, observers on both sides of the issue do not expect the controversy to be solved or a new law to be passed anytime soon.

“Right now there’s not a general feeling that something major is going to happen because of the political consternation,” said Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, a columnist for Mishpacha magazine, a major Charedi publication.

Rosenblum, of Jerusalem, said that when the coalition broke up, “the sense of panic diminished considerably” in the Charedi world.

Although the Military Service Law is in effect, Rosenblum was not worried that any of his seven sons, including a 17-year-old, would be putting on a uniform. Would the IDF be “subjecting them to military trial and imprisonment? No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think the government has a plan. There was nobody who was talking about putting people in jail.”

During government negotiations on a new law on the matter last month, the major proposals suggested fines for draft dodging, while others eschewed the idea of personal penalties.

A leading official in Hiddush, an Israeli organization that advocates for religious pluralism and equality, also does not expect new legislation — and a Charedi draft with teeth — to move forward soon, despite his best hopes.

“The government won’t draft one yeshiva student,” said Shahar Ilan, Hiddush’s vice president. “The government isn’t doing anything. “This is a huge violation of the law.”

Ilan said that though most of the Knesset wants to see a new law enacted, no one is willing take the necessary political risks.

“Netanyahu does not want to hurt the Charedi parties” in his coalition, Ilan said. “There’s a majority for a mandatory draft but it’s theoretical because the parties that support a mandatory draft are not ready to break up the government for it.”

Rosenblum said that even were such a law to pass, the IDF would not have the resources or will to absorb so many Charedi youth, whose strict observance of Jewish law puts them in special circumstances.

“There’s no way in the world that the vast majority of Charedi boys are going to go into mixed units,” he said. “There’s no way in the world that the army is going to put in place Charedi-accommodating units within 30 days.”

New emigres joining the military land in Israel


A charter aliyah flight carrying 127 young men and women who will be joining the Israel Defense Forces landed in Israel.

The special Nefesh B’Nefesh-Friends of the Israel Defense Forces flight, carrying a total of 350 new emigres to Israel, arrived early Tuesday morning in Israel.

Hundreds of families and friends as well as Israeli dignitaries gathered at Ben Gurion Airport for an arrival ceremony featuring an address by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Each of the 350 people who have made aliyah today have decided to link their personal future with the future of the Jewish state and the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said. “But you’ve decided to do something else. You’ve decided to defend the Jewish future, and to have the opportunity to do so is a great privilege. It wasn’t accorded to previous generations of Jews.

“In previous times, for almost two millennia, the Jews could not defend themselves. This is the great transformation that occurred in our time—that we can regain our destiny and defend our future—and this is a privilege that you have now decided to practice personally, thereby altering your lives and the Jewish future as well.”

The prime minister asked Nefesh B’Nefesh founder Tony Gelbart to arrange a meeting with the new soldiers in three years, when they have finished their military service, to salute them again.

The flight was organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel and Tzofim Garin Tzabar.

The Friends of the IDF and Nefesh B’Nefesh are working to expand their existing partnership, which provides comprehensive support for Lone Soldiers, who serve in Israel though their families live in the Diaspora. The program offers assistance before and during army service, as well as with post-army acclimation into Israeli life.

More than 2,700 Lone Soldiers from around the world are now serving in the IDF, including more than 900 from North America, 625 from Russia, 390 from Ukraine and 250 from France.

More than 4,800 American, Canadian and British Jews have or will be making aliyah this year, which marks Nefesh B’Nefesh’s 10th anniversary.

Egypt’s Islamist president removes top generals


Egypt’s new Islamist president Mohamed Mursi dismissed Cairo’s two top generals on Sunday and cancelled a military order that curbed his powers, in a dramatic move that could free him of some of the restrictions of military rule.

It was not clear how far the measures were agreed with the dismissed Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, whose Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had taken over when Hosni Mubarak was deposed – nor how far they would shift the power balance between the generals and Mursi’s long-suppressed Muslim Brotherhood.

A member of the military council told Reuters that Mursi, a moderate Islamist popularly elected in June but with constitutional powers sharply circumscribed in advance by the generals, had consulted Tantawi, 76, and General Sami Enan, 64, the military chief of staff, before ordering both men to retire.

However, coupled with what Mursi’s spokesman described as the cancellation of the constitutional declaration issued just before Mursi’s election, by which Tantawi and his colleagues curbed presidential powers, the surprise move seemed to indicate a substantial reordering of Egypt’s political forces as it waits for a new constitution after six decades of unbroken army rule.

“Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi has been transferred into retirement from today,” presidential spokesman said in a statement, appointing in his place as armed forces chief and defense minister General Abdellatif Sisi.

Enan was replaced General Sidki Sobhi. Both retirees were appointment as advisers to the president.

Enan, long seen as particularly close to the U.S. military which has been the main sponsor of Egypt’s armed forces, and Tantawi, who was Mubarak’s defense minister for 20 years before helping ease him out in the face of street protests 18 months ago, were both appointed as advisers to Mursi.

The changes were effective immediately, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said.

General Mohamed el-Assar, who sits on the military council, told Reuters: “The decision was based on consultation with the field marshal, and the rest of the military council.”

Mursi, whose victory over a former general prompted concerns in Israel and the West about their alliances with Egypt, also appointed a judge, Mahmoud Mekky, as his vice president. Mekky is a brother of newly appointed Justice Minister Ahmed Mekky, who had been a vocal critic of vote rigging under Mubarak.

Mursi, who has said he will stand by Cairo’s treaties with Israel and others, has shown impatience with the military following violence in the Sinai desert that brought trouble with Israel and the Palestinians’ Gaza Strip enclave this month.

The president, whose own Brotherhood movement renounced violence long ago, sacked Egypt’s intelligence chief last week after an attack in which Islamist militants killed 16 Egyptian border guards before trying to storm the Israeli border.

On Sunday, Egyptian troops killed five Islamist militants after storming their hideout near the isolated border with Israel, security sources and eyewitnesses said.

The troops found the militants in the settlement of al-Goura, about 15 km (10 miles) from the frontier, as they searched for jihadists who killed the 16 border guards a week ago.

The latest clash is part of a security sweep that began on Wednesday and is the biggest military operation in the region since Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel was followed by a 1979 peace treaty which opened the way for massive U.S. aid to Cairo. No one has claimed responsibility for killing the border guards.

Additional reporting by Yasmine Saleh and Marwa Awad; Writing by Alastair Macdonald

Pentagon, Lockheed reach agreement on using Israeli systems for F-35s


The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin Corp. have reached an agreement to integrate Israeli systems into the F-35 fighter jet.

The $450 million program will enhance electronic warfare equipment on the jets, according to sources familiar with the negotiations, Reuters reported.

The deal, to be finalized in coming weeks, marks a big step forward for Israel’s $2.75 billion agreement, signed in 2010, to buy 19 F-35 jets; it includes options for up to 75 of the radar-evading fighters, according to Reuters.

The agreement will allow increased participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program by Israeli companies, including Elbit Systems Ltd. and Israel Aerospace Industries, which will start building wings for the radar-evading warplane, Reuters reported.

Journalist Uri Blau convicted of holding classified military documents


Uri Blau, the Haaretz journalist who accepted classified documents from an Israeli soldier, was convicted under a plea bargain.

As part of the plea deal, Blau agreed to admit to holding secret intelligence without intent to harm national security, according to Haaretz. The Tel Aviv District Court will be asked to sentence Blau to four months imprisonment, which will be converted to community service.

“This affair took over my life,” Blau said Tuesday in court, Ynet reported. “It’s hard for me to accept the outcomes of this case. I am a journalist, and as such must provide the public with the maximum information in order to allow it to judge and understand reality.”

It is the first time a journalist in Israel has been tried for possession of classified information.

Blau had faced up to seven years in prison on charges of “severe espionage,” which means that he allegedly obtained or kept secret information without authorization, but without intent to harm state security.

Last month, Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said he would indict Blau for being in possession of thousands of military documents, many of them top secret.

Blau allegedly accepted more than 1,500 classified military documents on a disk on key from Anat Kamm, 22, who is serving a 4 1/2-year prison term after accepting a ple

Senate affirms commitment to Israeli military’s qualitative edge


The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation that reaffirms U.S. security commitments to Israel.

More specifically, the measure says that the U.S. will provide Israel with the capabilities to preserve its military’s qualitative edge, expand military and civilian cooperation, and encourage Israel’s neighbors to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the state of the Jewish people.

The Senate passed the measure by unanimous consent last Friday. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) authored the legislation, which had 69 co-sponsors.

In a joint news release, the bill’s authors praised the bipartisanship of the Senate to expeditiously pass the legislation. Boxer said in the statement that the bill “reaffirms the important bond between the United States and Israel, and helps ensure that Israel has the necessary tools to defend itself in this time of dynamic change in the Middle East.”

Isakson added that the quick and unanimous passage of the bill demonstrates the “strong, unwavering commitment to Israel and its security and self-defense” by the United States.

In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed companion legislation that was sponsored by Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) by a bipartisan vote of 411-2.

The bill will now be reconciled by both houses of Congress in a conference committee before moving to President Obama for his signature.

“I am hopeful that this bill will pass the House with strong support and will be on the president’s desk for his signature very soon,” Isakson said in the news statement.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbied for both pieces of legislation during its annual policy conference in March and praised the passage of the Senate bill.

“As the United States faces an increasingly dangerous environment in the Middle East—the mounting threat posed by Iran, instability in Syria and the strengthening of the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, whose reach stretches into the Western Hemisphere—now is the time to enhance our strategic cooperation with our stable, democratic ally Israel,” AIPAC said in a news statement on Friday.

Egyptian military’s anti-democratic moves may benefit Israel


Egypt’s military coup is now nearly complete.

That may be distressing for Egyptian democracy, but it could help the Israel-Egypt relationship.

Sunday’s decision by military rulers in Egypt to rewrite the country’s constitution – a move that strips much of the power of the Egyptian presidency — confirms what many skeptics had warned about since Hosni Mubarak was deposed in February 2011: This wasn’t so much a revolution as a military coup.

It was the Egyptian army that played the decisive role during the 2011 uprising, siding with the people against the regime and overthrowing Mubarak. It was the military’s leaders who then assumed control of the country. And it was the army that again intervened this week in the middle of a presidential election that would have delivered control of the country to the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi.

A few days before this weekend’s presidential vote, in which Morsi edged Ahmed Shafik, a former Mubarak-era prime minister and air force general, the military dissolved the country’s Islamic Brotherhood-dominated parliament. It did so by declaring that up to one-third of the legislators were elected illegally. The Brotherhood controlled 47 percent of seats in the body after Islamist parties captured more than 65 percent of the votes In Egypt’s first real democratic elections six months ago.

The moves against the parliament and the presidency make clear that Egypt’s military rulers are unwilling to cede power to a democratically elected government, especially if elections empower the Muslim Brotherhood.

“With this document, Egypt has completely left the realm of the Arab Spring and entered the realm of military dictatorship,” Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said in widely quoted comments.

“It is a soft military coup that unfortunately many people will support out of fear of an Islamist takeover of the state,” Bahgat told The Associated Press.

That may be bad news for democracy and the Egyptian revolution, but it could be good for Israel.

Ever since Mubarak was overthrown, Israeli leaders have wrung their hands over increasingly bellicose signals from its neighbor to the south, once a key ally and broker between Israel and the Palestinians. Leading Egyptian political figures have threatened to cancel or promised to “review” the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

In April the state-owned Egyptian gas company canceled its contract to supply Israel with natural gas; its pipeline to Israel has been attacked 14 times since the country’s revolution. Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has been used as a staging ground for terrorist attacks against Israel, including a deadly one on Monday.

If the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent organization of Hamas, were to have taken control of Egypt, Israelis feared that things could get much worse.

After Israel was struck last Friday by Grad rocket attacks, unnamed Israeli security analysts told Haaretz that the Muslim Brotherhood had encouraged the attack. It’s not clear whether the analysis is true or who actually launched the rockets. Neither was it immediately clear who was behind a border attack on Monday that killed an Israeli contractor; Israeli forces returning fire killed two of the attackers from Egypt.

Despite this latest move, it’s far from clear whether Egypt’s military rulers – led by army Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, or SCAF – have successfully fended off the challenge by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Many Egyptians have denounced the dissolution of parliament and unilateral rewriting of the country’s constitution by the military leaders as illegal.

“The SCAF has become a state above the state with wide legislative and executive powers, a veto on constitutional and other political matters, and stands immune to any challenges,” a liberal member of Egypt’s Parliament, Amr Hamzawy, wrote in Arabic comments posted to Twitter and then reported by Egypt’s daily Al-Ahram. “We need to use all peaceful means to challenge this dangerous scenario, as it is a national duty and a necessity.”

Still, the election gives the Brotherhood’s Morsi some modicum of authority. Whether the Brotherhood will use that authority to challenge the army or seek some sort of accommodation with Egypt’s military rulers remains unclear.

For new Israeli coalition, haredi army exemptions issue is front and center


Israel’s new unity government may not alter Jerusalem’s strategy for curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons program or do much to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

But it could dramatically change something at home about which a huge number of Israelis care deeply: haredi Orthodox exemptions from military service.

For years, haredi issues have been something of a third rail in Israeli politics. Nearly every government in recent years has needed the haredi parties to cobble together a governing coalition, rendering haredi entitlement programs like the military exemption politically untouchable.

This long has irritated Israelis who serve in the army and resent that the haredim, by and large, do not serve yet draw all sorts of entitlement payments from the state.

But with Shaul Mofaz’s decision to bring Kadima and its 28 seats into the ruling coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu no longer needs the haredi parties to keep his government in power. They could pull out, and it would make no real difference—at least, until the next elections, scheduled for October 2013.

The question now is how far Netanyahu will go in taking advantage of a historic opportunity to end this special treatment afforded to haredi Israelis.

The question is likely to hinge on political considerations.

There already is movement on putting together an alternative to the Tal Law, which granted haredi Israeli men military exemptions but was struck down several months ago by Israel’s Supreme Court. The court ordered that an alternative to the law be put into place by Aug. 1.

Crafting an alternative to the Tal Law is one of the top four priorities set forth by the new government coalition. The other three are passing a comprehensive budget, reforming the structure of government and making progress toward peace. The budget issue is expected to be resolved one way or the other, as budgets generally are, but there is something pie-in-the-sky about the other two priorities.

That leaves the Tal Law alternative as the potential historical legacy of this 18-month alliance between Netanyahu and Mofaz.

On Tuesday, that alternative began to take shape.

The Jerusalem Post reported that, under the Mofaz-Netanyahu deal, haredi exemptions from the army would be replaced by a Basic Law—the Israeli equivalent to a constitutional amendment—requiring all citizens to perform military or civilian service.

Last month, Kadima proposed instituting a universal military draft within five years. Under the Kadima plan, all Israelis either would serve in the military or do national service in one of a variety of fields, among them education, health and domestic security. Those who fail to comply would be barred from receiving any state funding.

The question is whether such a plan—which would radically alter the relationship between the state and its rapidly growing haredi Orthodox population—could survive opposition from Israel’s haredi Orthodox parties.

On the one hand, Netanyahu doesn’t need them to survive in office until the next elections. Indeed, if he were to push through such legislation, it could earn his Likud party much broader support, including from secular and more centrist voters, the next time Israel goes to the polls.

On the other hand, it could cost Netanyahu in October 2013 if his Likud party wins the election, Kadima fares poorly and Netanyahu needs the haredi parties to form a coalition.

Those considerations, say political analysts, will mitigate whatever changes are made to haredi exemptions.

There are some other factors at play.

For one thing, while in principle most Israelis would like haredim to be subject to the same requirements of service demanded of all other Israelis, in practice the army does not want a sudden flood of tens of thousands of new haredi recruits. The Israel Defense Forces lacks the infrastructure to absorb them, both in numbers and operationally. What would the army do with 10,000 new recruits who are religiously opposed to significant interaction with female instructors?

For another thing, a sudden, dramatic transformation of the relationship between haredim and the state would run up against opposition not only from haredi parties in the Knesset, but from haredi citizens. They would see the sudden change as a broadside against their way of life, and mass demonstrations and even riots likely would ensue. It would make the haredi riots against parking lots opening on the Sabbath and a Modern Orthodox girls’ school in Beit Shemesh seem like child’s play.

The reality is that Israel doesn’t want all these haredim in the army; what Israel wants is more haredi men working, paying taxes and integrated into Israeli society.

Under the current system, haredi men must stay in yeshiva until their 30s to keep their military exemption (religious women are currently granted exemptions from army service upon request). That has helped bankrupt the haredi community and nurture a black market economy in which many haredi men work surreptitiously and do not pay taxes.

Changing the rule would help drive haredim into the workforce and into better-paying jobs. That would help Israel’s tax rolls, reduce haredi dependency on welfare and help integrate haredim into Israeli society.

There is great debate within the haredi community about whether or not to welcome these changes. Some haredim see it as key to the economic and social survival of their community. But other haredi leaders see it as opening up a slipperly slope away from the yeshiva and Jewish observance and toward the dangerous temptations of modern, secular Israel.

Ultimately, whatever change comes to the haredi community is likely to come gradually.

Kadima has proposed exempting 1,000 haredi yeshiva students from the military draft and allowing others to defer military service on a year-by-year basis while they are studying in yeshiva. According to a report in The Jerusalem Post, Likud is likely to propose an alternative that instead would establish a minimum number of haredi participants in national service programs that would increase every year, without a cap on those claiming yeshiva-related exemptions from service.

For now, the haredi parties appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach.

“There can’t be a situation in Israel in 2012 where someone who wants to study Torah will not be able to do so,” Yakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party told the Post. “But as long as the principle of ‘torato Omunato’ [Torah is one’s work] is preserved, UTJ will remain in the coalition.”

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.

Israeli military doctor saves Palestinian baby brought to base


An Israeli military doctor saved a 12-day-old Palestinian baby girl who had stopped breathing.

Lt. Michael Findler, 28, the lone doctor at the Halamish military base near Ramallah in the West Bank, resuscitated the baby with CPR. Following an exam, the baby was taken by Palestinian ambulance to a hospital in Ramallah. The mother had brought the infant to the gates of the base at 3 a.m. Monday seeking help.

It was the seventh time since Findler arrived at the base two months ago that he had provided emergency services to Palestinians from area villages, and third in the past two weeks, he told JTA. Last week he cared for a 4-year-old Palestinian girl that he diagnosed with meningitis, as well as a young woman with intracranial bleeding. He also delivered a Palestinian baby in his clinic.

All of the outcomes have been good so far, he said, adding that it can sometimes be difficult to find out what happened to his patients after they are taken away by a Palestinian ambulance.

Findler said it is “very common” for Palestinians to come to the base seeking medical care.

“The Palestinians know that in our base they get the emergency medical treatment they need,” he said.

The base is located near the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, which is the site of weekly protests by local residents and activists against the West Bank settlement of Halamish, which locals say has taken over their land. Findler says he has cared for Palestinians injured during the often violent demonstrations.

He sees so many Palestinian cases at Halamish, Findler says, because PA ambulances have a difficult time reaching the villages and they do not have paramedics on board when they arrive.

“In our area we are the most capable medical clinic,” he said.

Israel, Azerbaijan ink $1.6 billion military deal


A state-run Israeli company will has inked a $1.6 billion deal to sell sophisticated military technology to Azerbaijan.

Under the deal, Israel Aerospace Industries will sell drones, anti-aircraft and missile defense systems to Azerbaijan, Iran’s neighbor to the north.

Israeli defense officials told international news services that the deal has been in process for a long time and is not a response to recent allegedly Iranian attempts to kill Israeli diplomats or any potential Israeli plans to strike Iranian nuclear sites.

Palestinian Khader Adnan tests limits of Israel’s system of military detention


As his weight dropped and his face grew gaunt, Khader Adnan became the latest Palestinian cause celebre.

Israel arrested Adnan, a 33-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank village of Arraba, on Dec. 17 and placed him in administrative detention. The former spokesman for the terrorist group Islamic Jihad was one of thousands of Palestinians over the years who have been arrested and held by Israel for months on end without charges.

What made Adnan’s case different was the hunger strike he launched after his arrest, galvanizing Palestinians and some Israeli human right activists, and catching the attention of international media.

On Tuesday, after 66 days without eating and with his condition reportedly critical, Adnan agreed to end his hunger strike after Israel said it would release him when the order for his administrative detention ends in mid-April—if no new evidence is brought against him.

The deal with Israel’s state prosecutor came less than an hour before the Israeli Supreme Court was to hold a hearing on Adnan’s case and as Israeli security officials warned that Adnan’s death could spark a wave of violent demonstrations throughout the West Bank.

“I always dreamt of marrying someone strong, someone who struggles in defense of his country,” Adnan’s wife, Randa, told Al Jazeera. “When I married him I knew I should expect anything. I am proud of him, whether he is under the ground or above it.”

Adnan’s case ignited a debate in Israel about the issue of administrative detention. Over the past few weeks, thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have held rallies to support Adnan, and several dozen Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv last week calling for Adnan’s release and an end to the practice of administrative detention.

The legal basis for Israeli administrative detention is a British mandate law from 1946, part of a Law on Authority in States of Emergency. Administrative detention orders are issued for a maximum of six months, although they can be easily renewed. A military judge must confirm the order.

Israel often uses administrative detention when the evidence against a defendant is based on information from the security services. In many cases, Israeli officials say a public trial could reveal sensitive security information, such as the identities of Palestinian informers or Israeli security agents who have infiltrated Palestinian organizations.

“It’s always a dilemma,” said Jonathan Livny, a lawyer and former military judge for more than 20 years. “I never felt like I had the tools to make a decision on whether to uphold an administrative detention order. Most often I upheld or shortened it, but rarely canceled it.”

Livny says that cases based solely on Palestinian informants can be suspect, as Palestinians sometimes will provide false information to Israeli security agents if they bear a grudge against another Palestinian.

“I always asked the security agents, “Do you know the informant? How reliable is his information?’ ” Livni said. “But at the end of the day I never really knew.”

There are 309 Palestinians in administrative detention among the nearly 4,800 Palestinian prisoners in Israel, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. One prisoner has been held in administrative detention for more than five years, the group says, and 17 have been held for two to four years.

Adameer, a Palestinian human rights group, says that some 20,000 Palestinians have been held under administrative detention orders since 2000.

“Administrative detention is a draconian measure,” B’Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli told JTA. “You’re taking away a person’s liberty without due process, without a trial and without the person being able to fight against these charges.”

Michaeli said that while administrative detention is not illegal, it should be used only in very limited circumstances, not for widespread detention of hundreds of Palestinians.

Some in Israel defend the use of administrative detention as an effective means of preventing terrorist attacks against Israel.

“Administrative detention is a tool used when information pertaining to a case is based on sensitive sources that cannot be released,” said Israel Defense Forces spokesman Eytan Buchman. “Defendants retain the right to appeal the court order, both to the military court and to the High Court of Justice.”

Administrative detention has been used occasionally against Israelis, including in the aftermath of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. But it is most often used against Palestinians.

Many Israeli politicians support administrative detention.

“We have seen periods when buses were blowing up in Jerusalem. Administrative detention helps secure the well-being of Israelis,” said the Likud Party’s Danny Danon, a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

But several Israeli human rights groups say that the practice of administrative detention contradicts international law and must be ended. Amnesty International had launched a campaign urging Israel to free Adnan and to stop the practice of administrative detention.

“Under administrative detention, detainees’ right to a fair trial as guaranteed by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) are consistently violated,” Amnesty wrote in a statement.

This isn’t the first time Adnan has been in prison. Palestinian reports said Adnan had been detained eight times by Israel and once by the Palestinian Authority, in 2010. It’s not clear whether his current detention is related to any direct involvement in terrorist attacks. In his village of Arraba, Adnan reportedly owns a bakery.

U.S.-Israel anti-missile exercise rescheduled for around October


The United States and Israel have rescheduled their joint military exercise for around October.

Top U.S. military officials will arrive in Israel later this month to plan the anti-missile exercise, the largest of its kind, after pushing it back in December from a scheduled spring launch. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak requested the delay for budgetary reasons.

Bibi bypassing Cabinet on extending yeshiva students’ military service law


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will bring a vote on extending a law that allows yeshiva students to delay their military service directly to the Knesset floor, bypassing his Cabinet.

Netanyahu’s office said Thursday that the Cabinet will not vote on extending the Tal Law at its regular meeting on Sunday. Netanyahu had said last week he would ask the Cabinet to extend the law, which was adopted 10 years ago to allow haredi Orthodox students to delay military service and then make the transition to a shorter service, for five more years.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said he would like to end the Tal Law ended and have a fairer system put into place.

The Tal Law allows yeshiva students older than 22 to take a year off their studies for professional training without being drafted. In doing so they must commit to a shorter army service or a year of national service, or return to yeshiva studies.

Also Thursday, Israeli reserve soldiers set up what they are calling a “suckers camp” in Tel Aviv to protest a decision to extend the Tal Law. Politicians, high school students about to be drafted and university students visited the camp, Haaretz reported.

Israeli military bans a dozen settlers from the West Bank


The Israel Defense Forces has issued orders banning 12 settlers from the West Bank.

The right-wing activists—residents of Yitzhar, Havat Gilad, Elon Moreh and Ramat Migron—may not enter the West Bank for periods of three to nine months. They are accused of violence against Palestinians.

The 12 also are accused of planning and executing attacks against Israeli soldiers.

They were served with the restraining orders early Thursday.

Israeli military chief apologizes for gaffe


The chief of Israel’s armed forces apologized for joking about boycotts by some religious soldiers of female entertainment troupes.

During an inspection of Golan forces Tuesday, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz was asked by Defense Minister Ehud Barak about the duties of several female soldiers standing nearby.

“They sing during recesses. We bring them over during recess to sing,” Gantz quipped as television cameras rolled.

Barak responded by pointing to one of his civilian aides and saying, “She can sing. She’s not in uniform.”

That drew a bawdier joke from the local commander, Col. Ofek Buchris: “As long as she’s not in uniform, but she’s wearing clothes, it’s OK.”

The exchange, aired on national television, touched a nerve given the military high command’s efforts to curb complaints within the ranks that performances by conscripted female singers offend Orthodox Jewish sensibilities. The controversy has flowed into a wider debate as to the growing influence of religious soldiers in the armed forces.

Gantz exacerbated the affair by telling reporters who observed the Golan repartee that they should not publish it.

The Israel Defense Forces issued a statement Wednesday saying Gantz “clarifies that his remarks were made jovially and that the interpretation appended to them contradicts the chief of staff’s outlook and his record of advancing women in the IDF.”

“The chief of staff has further emphasized that he apologizes before anyone who took offense at his words.”