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.

U.S., Israel differ over how to resolve Iran nuclear issue


U.S. and Israeli officials differed over Iran's nuclear program on Wednesday as Israel called for its effective dismantlement and the United States suggested safeguards could show that it is peaceful rather than military.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke as they began talks ostensibly about Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations but which appeared likely to be overshadowed by Iran.

“Iran must not have a nuclear weapons capability, which means that they shouldn't have centrifuges (for) enrichment, they shouldn't have a plutonium heavy-water plant, which is used only for nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told reporters.

“They should get rid of (their amassed) fissile material, and they shouldn't have underground nuclear facilities, (which are) underground for one reason – for military purposes.” He called Iran's program the region's foremost security problem.

Iran says it is enriching uranium solely for electricity and medical treatments, not nuclear weapons.

Kerry, whose aides are exploring a diplomatic solution to rein in Iranian nuclear activity, took a tack different from Netanyahu by suggesting Iran could show its program was peaceful by adhering to international standards followed by other nations.

“We will pursue a diplomatic initiative but with eyes wide open, aware that it will be vital for Iran to live up to the standards that other nations that have nuclear programs live up to as they prove that those programs are indeed peaceful,” Kerry said as he and Netanyahu began a meeting at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Rome.

“CRYSTAL CLEAR” STANDARD

“We will need to know that actions are being taken which make it crystal clear, undeniably clear, fail-safe to the world that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program,” he told reporters.

Six global powers held talks with Iran last week in Geneva to test whether a diplomatic resolution might be reached, their first such negotiations since moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's election in June opened up possibilities for a deal after years of increasing confrontation.

A second round of these talks, which include Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, is scheduled for early November, also in Geneva.

Iran cites a right to refine uranium for peaceful purposes under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a 1970 global pact to prevent the spread of nuclear arms.

But the United States has said Iran does not automatically have this right under international law because, it argues, Tehran is in violation of its obligations under counter-proliferation safeguards.

A series of U.N. Security Council resolutions since 2006 has demanded that Iran suspend all enrichment and heavy water related activities.

But Western experts say, and some diplomats privately acknowledge, that it is no longer realistic to expect Iran to halt all its enrichment, as the Islamic state has sharply expanded this work in the last seven years and it is seen as a source of national pride and prestige.

Instead, they say, any deal should set strict, verifiable limits on the number of centrifuges that Iran can have and on the production of low-enriched uranium.

Writing by Philip Pullella, editing by Mark Heinrich

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.

Israel lobbying U.S., EU to support Egypt’s military government


The Israeli government is pressing its efforts to convince the United States and the European Union to support the military-backed government in Egypt.

The New York Times reported late Sunday that Israeli ambassadors in Washington and the European capitals will lobby foreign ministers, and that Israeli leaders will urge diplomats to see the Israeli viewpoint that the Egyptian military will prevent a further deterioration of the situation in Cairo.

The newspaper cited an unnamed “senior Israeli official involved in the effort.”

“If you insist on big principles, then you will miss the essential — the essential being putting Egypt back on track at whatever cost,” the official told the Times. “First, save what you can, and then deal with democracy and freedom and so on. At this point it’s army or anarchy.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered government officials to refrain from publicly discussing the situation in Egypt.

Israel reportedly has been lobbying American officials hard to sustain the annual $1.5 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt. President Obama has threatened to withhold the aid over a violent government crackdown on demonstrations in support of ousted President Mohamed Morsi that has resulted in more than 800 deaths since last week.

Last week, Obama canceled a planned joint military exercise with Egypt over the bloodshed.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the military coup that ousted Morsi, developed close ties with Israel when he headed Egypt’s military intelligence, according to the Times, and has remained in close contact with Israel throughout the recent violence and bloodshed.

Obama condemns violence in Egypt, cancels military exercises


President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that the United States is canceling joint military exercises with Egypt next month, saying normal U.S. cooperation cannot continue in light of the armed forces' bloody crackdown.

“The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt's interim government and security forces,” Obama said on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard, where he is on vacation.

“We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest,” he said in his first remarks since the crackdown began early Wednesday. At least 525 people have been killed and thousands wounded.

Washington provides $1.3 billion in military aid and about $250 million in economic aid to Egypt every year, which it has been reluctant to cut off for fear of losing leverage there and in the broader region.

Stopping military exercises in Egypt was one clear way the White House could show its displeasure. Other than a previously announced decision to halt delivery of four U.S.-made F-16 fighters, it was the first significant U.S. move to penalize Egypt's military rulers.

Obama said the United States had informed Egyptian authorities it had canceled the joint military drill named “Bright Star” that had been scheduled for next month. He said the state of emergency should be lifted in Egypt and a process of national reconciliation started.

“While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” Obama said.

“Going forward, I've asked my national security team to assess the implications of the actions taken by the interim government and further steps we may take as necessary with respect to the U.S.-Egyptian relationship.” He did not elaborate.

The military drill, which dates back to 1981, is seen as a cornerstone of U.S.-Egyptian military relations. It began after the Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel.

Obama, who departed for a game of golf shortly after making his statement, vented frustration that both sides in the Egyptian conflict were blaming the United States for the turmoil in the country since the military ousted Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, on July 3.

The United States has insisted it is not taking sides. But it chose not to condemn Morsi's ouster or call for his reinstatement, leaving the impression that it had tacitly sided with the military and accepted a coup.

“We've been blamed by supporters of Morsi. We've been blamed by the other side as if we are supporters of Morsi. That kind of approach will do nothing to help Egyptians achieve the future that they deserve,” Obama said.

“We want Egypt to succeed. We want a peaceful, democratic, prosperous Egypt. That's our interest. But to achieve that, the Egyptians are going to have to do the work.”

CALLS FOR END TO AID

On Thursday, hundreds of supporters of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood stormed a government building in Cairo and set it ablaze as fury over a security crackdown on the Islamist movement that killed hundreds of people spilled on to the streets.

Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, is of strategic importance because of its peace treaty with close U.S. ally Israel and its control of the Suez Canal, a vital waterway for trade and for the U.S. military.

Held every two years, the “Bright Star” exercise also was canceled in 2011 because of the political turmoil in Egypt following the ouster of longtime autocrat and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak.

Several thousand U.S. troops were slated to participate in the exercise, which was due to begin Sept. 18, said Max Blumenfeld, spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and central Asia. He said past exercises focused on integration of naval forces, airborne operations, field exercises and disposal of explosive ordnance.

Some analysts and lawmakers questioned whether the cancellation of military exercises was enough.

“This falls well short of the fundamental rethinking and reorientation that is necessary right now,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research for the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings.

“If the US wants to reestablish its leverage it will actually have to do something to show it is serious. The first serious step would be cutting aid, then there would be no doubt that finally the US is serious about using its leverage.”

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee in charge of foreign aid, said that military aid to Egypt should stop under a U.S. law that triggers an aid cutoff if a military coup has taken place. The administration has repeatedly said it has not determined whether the military's actions in Cairo amounted to a coup.

“While suspending joint military exercises as the president has done is an important step, our law is clear: aid to the Egyptian military should cease unless they restore democracy,” Leahy said in a statement.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee late last month voted to tie aid to Cairo to the restoration of a democratically elected government in Egypt. But the legislation is still working its way through Congress and has not become law.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason in Martha's Vineyard; additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Lesley Wroughton, Susan Heavey, Susan Cornwell, Andrea Shalal-Esa and Tabassum Zakaria in Washington; Editing by Warren Strobel and David Storey

U.S. senators urge Egypt dialogue, prisoner release


Two senior U.S. senators delivered a strong message on Tuesday to the Egyptian military, saying it should release political prisoners, start a national dialogue and return the Arab nation swiftly to democratic rule.

Republicans Lindsey Graham and John McCain were sent to Cairo by U.S. President Barack Obama to help resolve the crisis brought on by the army's overthrow of elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

They urged Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, many of whose leaders have been jailed including the deposed president himself, to avoid resorting to violence and to join a dialogue on a political way forward.

The two men's mission reflected Washington's anxiety at events in Egypt, a bulwark of its Middle East policy and the first Arab state to make peace with Israel.

But their comments after meeting army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei and interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi fell well short of an endorsement of their actions.

“The people who are in charge were not elected. The people who were elected are in jail. The status quo is not acceptable,” Graham told a news conference.

They also described Morsi's overthrow as a coup – a definition that is hotly disputed by the rival Egyptian sides and among U.S. officials, and could trigger a cut-off off in the $1.3 billion U.S. military aid Egypt receives each year.

However, “cutting off aid would be the wrong signal at the wrong time,” McCain said.

Addressing both sides, he said: “If you think you can restore legitimacy by violence, you are wrong. Violence will only marginalize you. If you think you can only negotiate with people in jail, that's a huge mistake.”

COOL RESPONSE

A spokesman for the interim government, Sherief Shawki, gave a cool response to the senators' words.

He rejected their characterization of Morsi's overthrow as a coup and said the new authorities, installed by the army, had spelled out a plan for a political transition and new elections.

“There is a roadmap which means that what happened was not a coup and that it was Egyptian people who decided on the roadmap put (forward) by the military and which represents the Egyptian people. We don't want foreign intervention to be imposed on us.”

The government would stick by that plan, he said. He also rejected the call to release jailed Brotherhood members, saying they would be dealt with by the courts.

Egypt has been dangerously divided since the overthrow of Morsi on July 3 following huge demonstrations against his rule.

He became Egypt's first freely elected president in June 2012, 16 months after the overthrow of U.S.-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled for nearly 30 years.

Morsi is now being detained at an undisclosed location and thousands of his supporters remain camped out at two protest sites in Cairo which the government has pledged to break up.

Almost 300 people have been killed in political violence since the overthrow, including 80 shot dead by security forces in a single incident on July 27.

A diplomatic push led by envoys from the United States, the European Union, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates has so far helped to hold off further bloodshed between Morsi's backers and the security forces but not achieved a breakthrough.

McCain said the senators also met members of Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“All parties should be part of a national dialogue and reconciliation is the only way to bring out peace in this country, but also in order to take part in that national dialogue those parties should renounce violence,” he said.

U.S. QUANDARY

The crisis has put U.S. policy in a quandary. Mubarak was a close ally who kept Islamist militants under heel and maintained peace with Israel.

Washington was slow to support the popular uprising that ousted him and cautiously welcomed Morsi's election.

But fears that Morsi was trying to establish an Islamist autocracy, coupled with a failure to ease economic hardships afflicting most of Egypt's 84 million people, led to mass street demonstrations, triggering the army move.

On Monday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and European Union envoy Bernardino Leon met jailed Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat El-Shater in the prison where he is being held.

They tried to persuade him to recognize that there was no realistic prospect of Morsi being reinstated and to accept a political compromise. A Brotherhood spokesman said Shater had insisted they should be talking to Morsi and the only solution was the “reversal of the coup”.

Government political adviser Mostafa Hegazy said on Tuesday the authorities would have to deal with the protesters at the Brotherhood camps at Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda Square.

“The crowds exist not to find a solution or to enter political life but to disrupt everyday life and endanger the future of the nation,” he told the MENA state news agency.

Security forces have promised the protesters safe exit if they quit the camps but have warned their patience is limited.

It is thought unlikely that they would take action before Sunday, the end of Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the close of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Writing by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Mike Collett-White

Jewish vets urge action against sexual abuse in U.S. military


Jewish war veterans are calling for meaningful action to be taken to combat sexual abuse in the U.S. military.

“The Jewish War Veterans of the USA (JWV) condemns the continued prevalence of reported and unreported male and female sexual misconduct in the military and calls for an independent process to review and prosecute these cases,” according to the Spring 2013 Jewish Veteran magazine.

The magazine called the number of unwanted sexual contacts reported by the Pentagon “alarming” and “seriously understated.”

In the past three years, the military has seen a 35 percent increase in victims of unwanted sexual contact, from 19,300 victims in 2010 to 26,000 victims in 2012. The vast majority of the cases go unreported; 3,374 were reported in 2012.

According to the JWV, of the total number of active-duty service members affected by unwanted sexual contact, 38 percent of women and 17 percent of men indicated that the offender was someone of higher rank or grade who was not in their chain of command, and 25 percent of women and 27 percent of men indicated that the offender was within their chain of command.

Under current military law, victims of sexual misconduct have no recourse to appeal decisions that provide leniency for their offender and no alternative way to ensure that the attacker pays for his crime. 

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.

Boston suspect won’t be treated as enemy combatant, White House says


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the ethnic Chechen college student suspected in the deadly Boston Marathon bombings, will not be treated as an enemy combatant in the legal process, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

“He will not be treated as an enemy combatant,” Carney told reporters at a briefing. “We will prosecute this terrorist through our civilian system of justice. Under U.S. law, United States citizens cannot be tried in military commissions.”

Reporting By Mark Felsenthal; editing by Christopher Wilson

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.”

U.S., Israel finish largest-ever joint military exercise


The U.S. military and the Israel Defense Forces concluded Austere Challenge 2012, called the largest joint exercise ever held by the two countries.

The exercise ended Tuesday following a two-day, live-fire exercise that was deemed a success by military observers from the U.S. European Command and the IDF.

The three-week exercise, which began last month and involved more than 2,500 American service personnel and 1,000 Israeli soldiers, was designed to improve interoperability between the U.S. and Israeli militaries and was conducted as part of a long-standing strategic agreement to hold bilateral training exercises on a regular basis.

“We made great strides in improving our tactics and our command and control processes,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, the commander of Joint Defense Forces-Israel during Austere Challenge 2012, said in a statement. “Most importantly, though, we reinforced our already strong U.S.-IDF relationships. From our most senior commanders to most junior enlisted troops, we proved once again that there is clearly no substitute for training side by side with our Israeli partners.”

The exercise was not in response to any current specific tensions in the region, according to the IDF.

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.

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


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

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

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

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

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

Iron Dome anti-missile system installed in Tel Aviv


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

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

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

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

Egypt 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.

How Charedi draftees affect the military


Professor Yagil Levy of the Open University in Israel discusses the Charedi draft, and an alternative direction on Iran. ‎

You have claimed that the religious community has a growing amount of influence ‎in the Israeli military – why is this a negative thing? Does it impair the army’s ‎operational capabilities, and in what ways?‎

There is nothing wrong in the growing presence of religious soldiers in the ‎IDF. The problem is with the attempts of the soldiers’ leadership to impair the ‎military’s autonomy in several areas, such as: exclusion of women from many ‎roles in field units, the expansion of the role of military chaplains – from the ‎traditional role of providing religious services to the religious socialization of ‎secular soldiers, and many instances in which religious solders refused, or ‎threatened to refuse, to carry out orders to evacuate settlements in the West ‎Bank. ‎

Read more at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

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

Netanyahu disbands haredi draft committee


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded the committee charged with formulating a new law on haredi Orthodox military service.

The dissolution of the Plesner Committee comes after the resignation of several of its members, including from the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party.

“Unfortunately, the Plesner Committee did not succeed in reaching an agreed-upon outline and it cannot formulate recommendations that would achieve a majority in the Knesset,” he said, according to Israeli reports.

In February, the Israeli Supreme Court declared that the Tal Law, which allowed haredim to defer service indefinitely, to be unconstitutional, and set Aug. 1 as the deadline for a new law to be passed.

Netanyahu said that if the Knesset does not pass a new law by the deadline, the military would formulate its own solution.

The largest party in the Knesset, Kadima, joined Netanyahu’s governing coalition in May with the stated objective of formulating a new military service law.

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.

Germany’s Jewish patriots find a home in the military


In an office amid a labyrinth of hallways in Germany’s Ministry of Defense, a short jaunt from where Claus von Stauffenberg was executed in 1944 for trying to kill Adolf Hitler, sits Bernhard Fischer, lieutenant colonel and Jew.

What’s a nice Jewish guy doing in a place like this?

“The history of this place is clear to me. But life is normal today,” said the 59-year-old protocol officer, surrounded by souvenirs from Israel and elsewhere. “Germany is a democratic country and one can live here—and live here well.”

Of course, Fischer would be the first to admit it’s much more complicated than that for Jews in the Bundeswehr, modern Germany’s military. No one knows the exact number, but insiders guess there are some 200 Jews in a military of about 200,000.

Many of them, such as Fischer, have complex family histories. His mother’s family moved from Germany to South Africa prior to World War II. She returned to Germany in 1945 and married a Catholic German. “But our Jewish identity was always there,” he said.

In 1971, while visiting relatives in Israel, Fischer met his future wife, whose family had made aliyah from Tunisia. They moved to West Germany in 1975 and have three children.

Until the postwar obligatory conscription was dropped last year, Germans whose parents or grandparents were victims of Nazi persecution were exempted from military service.

Nevertheless, some chose to serve. Michael Fuerst signed up in 1966 and is likely the first Jew to do so in West Germany. The Jewish community called him “the shmuck from Hanover who joined the army,” he recalls with a laugh.

To Jews from the outside, such patriotism may seem odd. But like all social and legal institutions in West Germany (which carries over to today’s unified Germany), the military was remade in a democratic image.

One major difference is that soldiers are empowered to disobey a command if they believe it would lead to a criminal act. And unlike in Hitler’s day, soldiers do not swear allegiance to the Fuehrer “but to uphold the constitution and defend the freedom of the German people,” Fischer said.

The earliest records of Jews in Germany go back to the fourth century. Lt. Col. Gideon Romer-Hillebrecht, the co-editor with 1st Lt. Michael Berger of a new tome on “Jewish Soldiers-Jewish Resistance in Germany and France,” says Jews may have fought in Germanic troops as early as the 13th century. But it wasn’t until Napoleon’s conquest of the western regions that Jews were granted equal rights—including the right to be drafted, Romer-Hillebrecht told JTA.

In World War I, more than 100,000 Jews served—that was about a fifth of the total Jewish population at the time—and about 12,000 died on the front. Hitler later blamed Germany’s defeat on Jewish soldiers.

Fuerst, an attorney who has chaired the Jewish Association of the State of Lower Saxony since 1980, said his grandfathers and uncles served in World War I, “but nobody was protected by that.” Some of his relatives fled Nazi Germany to the United States, but his paternal grandfather died in the Riga ghetto. His mother survived Theresienstadt.

“I am a German patriot, but you know, I know exactly what happened here,” Fuerst said. “That is the difference between the normal patriot and the Jewish patriot.”

Fuerst was born in 1947 in Hanover, his father’s hometown. In 1966 he signed up to become a paratrooper—the only one of his Jewish friends to join the Bundeswehr.

“I always heard from my other friends that I am German, so there were no discussions in my family about whether I would go to the army or not,” he said.

During the 1967 Six-Day War, he considered fighting for Israel. “For me it was not so easy. I thought, ‘How can I get to Israel?’ But after five days I did not have to think about it anymore,” Fuerst said.

“I have no dual loyalty,” he adds. “I have loyalty only for Germany and for my Jewishness.”

Still, his fellow soldiers sometimes admired him simply because they looked up to Israeli paratroopers, Fuerst says with a laugh.

Fuerst says he rarely experienced anti-Semitism, either before or during his service. But he balked during an early military apprenticeship when a captain told the trainees, “Don’t be so loud: You’re not in the Jew school.”

Fuerst asked to be transferred to another course. The captain responded, “It is good that you request this because I have to tell you, I am an anti-Semite … All the problems we have in Germany were brought to us by the Jews.”

The captain was dismissed from his post the next day.

Romer-Hillebrecht, 46, whose mother was Jewish, joined in part “to heal my own family history.” His Jewish ancestors “lost their whole identity, their belief in the German state.”

While serving recently in Afghanistan, he either received kosher rations from the American forces or ordered frozen meals from a glatt kosher caterer back in Frankfurt.

“Sometimes the others were jealous,” joked Romer-Hillebrecht, deputy chair of the Association of Jewish Soldiers, a 6-year-old group with about 25 members and functions like a “virtual memorial” to the history of Jewish soldiers.

One member, Rainer (Reuven) Hoffmann, 64, has contributed articles in two books the group has published.

Probably the main reason his Jewish mother survived the war, Hoffmann says, is because she married a non-Jew—Hoffmann’s father—in 1933. The rest of her family was scattered throughout Europe. A brother died in Auschwitz; two other siblings survived.

“But my mother did not speak about this time,” he said.

During the height of the Cold War, Hoffmann’s sense of patriotism surged. “We had the Soviet army at the border,” he said. “I felt we needed to defend our country and our political system.”

Like Fuerst, he considered fighting for Israel in June 1967. “I thought perhaps I am serving in the wrong army. But it was over too fast.”

After 15 years in the military, Hoffmann returned to school and became a consultant to various industries. He also took part in political and Jewish life in his hometown of Duisburg, particularly after far-right arsonists attacked a synagogue in Luebeck in 1994.

At the time, his father advised him “to leave Germany because the Nazis will come back. I told him, ‘No, they won’t come back. We will stay here.’ ”

Spiffy in his uniform at the recent book presentation, Hoffmann took the chance to chat with Jewish soldiers whom he rarely sees.

“Even Jews don’t know that there are other Jews in the army,” Hoffmann joked with Batya Goetz, a 35-year-old medical officer specializing in anesthesiology.

Goetz, who converted to Judaism in 2003 after completing a medical internship in Israel, joined the military medical corps at the end of 2010. She is stationed at the military hospital in Berlin.

“Yes, I love my country,” the young doctor said. “I would not want to live anywhere else. But at the same time, I am a European [citizen]. And the Bundeswehr recognizes that. It’s a very international army.”

It’s also a multicultural army, says Goetz, who tries to take off for Jewish holidays. “But I have worked every Christmas since I started,” she says with a smile.

In today’s Bundeswehr, soldiers of all stripes face the same risks. But for many “Jewish patriots,” the past is always present.

“I have had the chance to do all those things that my Jewish ancestors could not,” Hoffmann said. “I feel satisfied. But probably this work of remembering will never be done.”