Russian fighter did barrel roll over U.S. reconnaissance plane

A Russian jet fighter intercepted a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane on Friday in an “unsafe and unprofessional manner” over the Baltic Sea, the Pentagon said, and CNN reported the Russian pilot did a barrel roll over the U.S. plane.

The U.S. Air Force RC-135 plane was flying a routine route in international airspace when it was intercepted by the Russian SU-27 fighter, the Pentagon said, in the latest in a series of similar incidents between the U.S. and Russian militaries.

The Russian fighter came within about 100 feet (30 meters) of the American plane as it performed the dangerous, high-speed maneuver, CNN reported, citing two U.S. defense officials in the Baltic Sea region.

“This unsafe and unprofessional air intercept has the potential to cause serious harm and injury to all aircrews involved,” Pentagon spokesman Commander Bill Urban said in a statement.

“More importantly, the unsafe and unprofessional actions of a single pilot have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries,” he said.

Earlier this month, Russian jets buzzed a U.S. guided missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, in the Baltic Sea. A photo released by the Pentagon appears to show the Russian jet passing at an extremely low altitude over the ship's bow.

“There have been repeated incidents over the last year where Russian military aircraft have come close enough to other air and sea traffic to raise serious safety concerns, and we are very concerned with any such behavior,” Urban said.

Russia accused the United States of intimidation by sailing the Cook close to Russia's border in the Baltics and warned that the Russian military would respond to any future incidents.

NATO plans its biggest build-up in Eastern Europe since the Cold War to counter what the alliance considers to be a more aggressive Russia.

The Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which joined NATO in 2004, have asked the alliance for a permanent presence of battalion-sized deployments of allied troops in each of their territories. A NATO battalion typically consists of 300 to 800 troops.

Moscow denies any intention to attack the Baltic states.

US court orders Iran to pay $10.5 billion for alleged 9/11 role

A U.S. judge ordered Iran to pay more than $10.5 billion in damages to families of people killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and to a group of insurers.

U.S. District Judge George Daniels in New York issued a default judgment Wednesday against Iran for $7.5 billion to the estates and families of people who died at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. It includes $2 million to each estate for the victims’ pain and suffering plus $6.88 million in punitive damages, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday.

Daniels also awarded $3 billion to insurers including Chubb Ltd. that paid property damage, business interruption and other claims.

Earlier in the case, Daniels found that Iran had failed to defend itself from claims that it aided the Sept. 11 hijackers and was therefore liable for damages tied to the attacks. Daniels’ ruling Wednesday adopts damages findings by a U.S. magistrate judge in December. While it is difficult to collect damages from an unwilling foreign nation, the plaintiffs may try to collect part of the judgments using a law that permits parties to tap terrorists’ assets frozen by the government.

“For over a decade, we’ve wanted to hold accountable those who assisted the September 11 terrorists in their attack on the United States. That day has finally arrived,” said Fiona Havlish whose husband, Donald, perished on the 101st Floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Iran has consistently denied any involvement in the 2001 attack, which Western intelligence agencies said was the work of the Sunni terrorists from the Al-Qaeda group.


Pentagon notifying 100 U.S. troops threatened by Islamic State

The Pentagon said on Monday it was notifying 100 U.S. troops that a group claiming ties to Islamic State militants had posted their names, addresses and photos on the Internet and was calling for American sympathizers to kill them.

Asked about the kill list, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the Pentagon took “the safety of our people very seriously” and that the posting of the list on social media was the sort of “vile” behavior that caused the United States to be determined to defeat Islamic State militants in the first place.

Carter, speaking at Camp David after a meeting with Afghan leaders, rejected claims that the group, which identified itself as the Islamic State Hacking Division, had stolen the information by breaking into U.S. military servers, databases and emails.

“The information that was posted by ISIL was information taken from social websites and publicly available. It wasn’t stolen from any DoD (Defense Department) websites or any confidential databases,” Carter said, referring to the group by an acronym.

Navy Commander William Urban, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines had begun notifying the 100 named service members that their personal information and photos had been posted online.

“The safety of our service members is always a primary concern. We take all threats against service members seriously,” Urban said, adding that the notifications would take place according to procedures specific to each service.

Urban said the FBI was assessing the credibility of the threat to the service personnel.

The Pentagon would not publicly identify any of the troops on the list or where they were stationed.

The list first appeared on social media last week. The New York Times quoted officials as saying the list appeared to have been drawn from personnel mentioned in news articles about air strikes on Islamic State.

The group's forces control parts of Syria and Iraq and have been targeted in U.S.-led air strikes.

Obama expected to nominate Ashton Carter to lead Pentagon

Former Pentagon official Ashton Carter emerged on Tuesday as the expected nominee to replace Chuck Hagel as U.S. defense secretary, sources familiar with the situation said.

Carter, a former deputy secretary at the Department of Defense, would have the task of breaking into the tight-knit White House inner circle that President Barack Obama has leaned on to run national security policy.

His influence would be tested as the United States wrestles with a growing list of international crises – from the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to troubled ties with Russia and a still-resilient Taliban enemy in Afghanistan.

A variety of sources inside and outside the administration said Carter was the front-runner and was expected to be the nominee. One person familiar with the situation said his nomination was “almost certain.”

An announcement was expected in the coming days, an administration source said. The White House and the Pentagon had no comment.

Hagel resigned under pressure last week after less than two years at the helm of the Defense Department. Whoever replaces him will be Obama's fourth defense secretary.

Hagel had privately expressed frustration with his inability to influence major questions of U.S. security strategy, including the fight against Islamic State. His relationship with Obama's inner circle at the White House was strained.

Carter, 60, served for four years in senior Pentagon jobs and was the No. 2 official at the Pentagon from October 2011 to December 2013, when he stepped down. Previously, he was the Pentagon's chief arms buyer, giving him deep knowledge of defense procurement and weapons policy and control over billions of dollars in spending.

He also served as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy under President Bill Clinton.

The top job may fall to him by default. Another top candidate, former Pentagon official Michele Flournoy, abruptly withdrew from consideration last week, as did Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

Administration sources said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had been a candidate but was no longer in the mix. Former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig and Kurt Campbell, a former assistant secretary of state, had also been seen as contenders.

Carter has bachelor's degrees in physics and medieval history from Yale, a doctorate in theoretical physics from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar, according to the Pentagon website.

Islamic State fight now costing U.S. $8.3 million per day

The Pentagon said in updated figures on Monday the average daily cost of the fight against Islamic State militants has risen to $8.3 million, or a total of $580 million between Aug. 8 and Oct. 16.

The new average reflects an increase in the intensity of U.S. operations against the group in Syria and Iraq. The Pentagon said a week ago the average daily cost was $7.6 million, or a total of $424 million since Aug. 8.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Doina Chiacu

Obama leads U.S. in remembrance of Sept. 11 victims

Led by President Barack Obama, Americans commemorated the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on Thursday by observing moments of silence for the thousands killed that day at New York City's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

In what has become an annual ritual, relatives began slowly reciting the nearly 3,000 names of the victims at a ceremony in lower Manhattan, from Gordon Aamoth Jr. to Igor Zukelman.

Readers would occasionally pause as a silver bell was rung to mark the exact times when each of the four planes hijacked by al Qaeda militants crashed at the three sites and when each of the World Trade Center's twin towers collapsed. With each bell, a moment of silence was observed.

Obama spoke at the Pentagon during a private ceremony for relatives of the 184 people killed in the attack on the U.S. Department of Defense headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, several miles from the White House.

He laid a wreath of white lilies and chrysanthemums, and kept his hand on his heart as “Taps” played.

“Thirteen years after small, hateful minds conspired to break us, America stands tall and America stands proud,” Obama said.

In New York, the voice of Tom Monahan, a 54-year-old man with salt-and-pepper hair and broad shoulders, cracked when he talked about the brother and cousin he lost in the attack.

“Everything is fine until you get here,” he said before waving his hands as if to signal he could not talk anymore. He emerged from the security checkpoints an hour later and showed a reporter a message he had sent on his cell phone to his sister. “9-12 couldn't come soon enough,” it said.

The Tribute in Light is illuminated on the skyline of lower Manhattan on Sept. 10. Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Beyond the checkpoints, an invitation-only crowd stood beneath an overcast sky in the memorial plaza at the heart of the new World Trade Center, which is nearing completion in lower Manhattan. Some of those in attendance were dressed in military uniform, others wore T-shirts and sneakers.

Many people held up posters with smiling photographs of their dead relatives. Red roses and American flags poked up from the bronze plates bearing victims' names that ring the two waterfalls that now trace the footprints of the fallen towers.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and two former mayors, Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani, were among the mourners.

The high fences blocking off public access to most of the World Trade Center site finally came down in May.

While lower Manhattan may look different this year, the threat to the United States represented by the Sept. 11 attacks remains. Washington and its allies see Islamic State, a group that began as an offshoot of al Qaeda, as an increasing danger.

On Wednesday, Obama said he had ordered an aerial bombing campaign targeting the group, which has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria and released videos of beheadings of two American journalists.

“It definitely drives home the fact that there are certain things that haven't changed since September 11th,” Brendan Chellis, who was working on the 30th floor of one of the twin towers at the time of the attack, said outside the New York ceremony.

The only ceremony open to the general public was at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where one of the four hijacked airliners crashed after a struggle between passengers and the hijackers.

George Meyers, a 43-year-old paralegal, was living in Shanksville 13 years ago.

“I felt the ground shake the day it happened,” he said during a visit to the memorial, set amid bucolic rolling fields. “It's hard to come outside and see grieving families but it's nice to see them smile at the memorial that's been built.”

Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York, Roberta Rampton in Washington and Elizabeth Daley in Shanksville, Penn.; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Doina Chiacu

U.S. confirms death of al Shabaab leader Godane in Somalia air strike

The Pentagon confirmed on Friday that Ahmed Godane, a leader of the al Shabaab Islamist group, was killed in a U.S. air strike in Somalia this week, calling it a “major symbolic and operational loss” for the al-Qaida-affiliated organization.

“We have confirmed that Ahmed Godane, the co-founder of al-Shabaab, has been killed,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.

Godane was a co-founder and leader of the group, which has carried many bombings and suicide attacks in Somalia and elsewhere, including the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013 that killed at least 39 people.

Godane publicly claimed responsibility for the Westgate attack, saying it was revenge for Kenyan and Western involvement in Somalia and noting its proximity to the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

His death left a huge gap in al Shabaab's leadership and was seen as posing the biggest challenge to its unity since it emerged as a fighting force eight years ago.

Abdi Ayante, director of the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, said Godane's death would be “a game changer in many ways for al Shabaab.”

“What is likely to happen is a struggle for power,” he said a day before the Pentagon's confirmed Godane's death. Ayante said fragmentation was also possible in the absence of a leader with Godane's experience and ruthless approach to dissent.

U.S. forces carried out the military operation targeting Godane in Somalia on Monday, but the Pentagon did not confirm his death until Friday, saying it was still assessing the results of the air strike.

Kirby said in his statement that “removing Godane from the battlefield is a major symbolic and operational loss to al Shabaab.”

A separate statement from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the operation that killed Godane was the result of “years of painstaking work by our intelligence, military and law enforcement professionals.”

Earnest said the administration would continue to use financial, diplomatic, intelligence and military tools to address the threat posed by al Shabaab.

The U.S. State Department declared al Shabaab a foreign terrorist organization in 2008.

Somalia's government, with support from African peacekeepers and Western intelligence, has battled to curb al Shabaab's influence and drive the group from areas it has continued to control since it was expelled from Mogadishu in 2011.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey

Destroy Hamas? Something worse would follow, Pentagon intel chief says

A top Pentagon intelligence official warned on Saturday that the destruction of Hamas would only lead to something more dangerous taking its place, as he offered a grim portrait of a period of enduring regional conflict.

The remarks by Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, came as Israeli ministers signaled that a comprehensive deal to end the 20-day-old conflict in the Gaza Strip appeared remote.

At least 1,050 Gazans – mostly civilians – have been killed, and 42 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have died.

Flynn disparaged Hamas for exhausting finite resources and know-how to build tunnels that have helped them inflict record casualties on Israelis. Still, he suggested that destroying Hamas was not the answer.

“If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse. The region would end up with something much worse,” Flynn said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“A worse threat that would come into the sort of ecosystem there … something like ISIS,” he added, referring to the Islamic State, which last month declared an “Islamic caliphate” in territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.

Confined in the crowded, sandy coast enclave of 1.8 million, where poverty and unemployment hover around 40 percent, weary Gazans say they hope the battle will break the blockade that Israel and Egypt impose on them.

Israeli officials said any ceasefire must allow the military to carry on hunting down the Hamas tunnel network that criss-crosses the Gaza border.

Flynn's comments about the conflict came during a gloomy, broader assessment of unrest across the Middle East, including in Syria and Iraq. Flynn said bluntly: “Is there going to be a peace in the Middle East? Not in my lifetime.”


Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Ron Popeski

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

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

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

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

Reporting by Phil Stewart

Hagel to meet Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak in D.C.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is scheduled to be the first foreign defense minister to meet with newly confirmed U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

The two men will meet at the Pentagon on Tuesday, Reuters reported, citing an unnamed U.S. official.

The meeting will take place following Barak's speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference, which begins Sunday and ends on Tuesday.

The two defense chiefs, who have known each other for more than a decade, will discuss the Iranian threat during their meeting, according to Reuters. It is also expected that they will talk about cuts in U.S. assistance to Israel due to sequestration. It is not known yet exactly how much those cuts will amount to, but the figure could be as high as $300 million and affect the Iron Dome anti-missile system. 

Barak will soon leave his position, since he did not run for reelection and other parties who will join the new government will want the position for themselves.

Senate clears way for vote on Pentagon nominee Chuck Hagel

The Senate cleared the way on Tuesday for the likely confirmation of Chuck Hagel as President Barack Obama's new secretary of defense.

The Senate voted 71-27 to end debate and move forward, almost two weeks after Republicans launched a filibuster to block Hagel's nomination. It was the first time such a procedural tactic had been used to delay consideration of a nominee for secretary of defense.

More than 15 Republicans joined with Democrats to open the way for a vote by the full Senate, now scheduled for 4:30 p.m. EST.

The vote virtually guarantees Hagel's approval: The entire Democratic caucus — 55 out of 100 senators — is committed to his confirmation, and only a simple majority is required to confirm the nomination.

A number of centrist Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, had expressed concerns about past Hagel comments, particularly his claim in 2006 that a “Jewish lobby” “intimidates” Congress, as well as his skepticism of sanctions and military moves that would keep Iran from advancing its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said after the vote to end debate that a vote to confirm Hagel could come as soon as Tuesday afternoon.

Some have also raised questions about whether Hagel is sufficiently supportive of Israel or tough enough on Iran.


Some of Hagel's most vehement opponents made a last-ditch appeal on the Senate floor for his nomination to be stopped before the vote on Tuesday. They argued that Hagel would be weakened in running the defense department because he will not be confirmed with strong bipartisan support.

James Inhofe, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had even called Leon Panetta, the retiring secretary of defense, and asked him to remain at the Pentagon.

Panetta, 74, who has made no secret of his desire to retire to his home in California, declined.

Faulting a range of Hagel's past statements on Iran, Israel and other matters, Inhofe also pledged to work for the quick confirmation of another potential nominee if Hagel were withdrawn.

“We have a lot of them out there who would be confirmed in a matter of minutes,” he added, naming Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy, and Ashton Carter, the current deputy defense secretary, as more acceptable alternatives.

But Democrats blasted Republicans for the delay, when the country is at war and facing a budget crisis, and pushed for the vote to go ahead.

“Politically motivated delays send a terrible signal to our allies and to the world. And they send a terrible signal to tens of thousands of Americans serving in Afghanistan. For the sake of national security, it's time to set aside this partisanship,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing By David Storey, David Brunnstrom and Cynthia Osterman

Jewish Agency asks Obama to grant clemency to Pollard

The Jewish Agency in a resolution called on President Obama to grant clemency to spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard.

The agency's Board of Governors passed the resolution unanimously on Tuesday during its annual meeting in Jerusalem calling for Pollard's release on humanitarian grounds.

It notes that Pollard is completing his 28th year of a life sentence in a U.S. federal prison and claims the sentence is “overly harsh.” The resolution also refers to Pollard's “various illnesses and deteriorating health.”

The resolution was passed one month before Obama is scheduled to make his first visit to Israel as president.

“Twenty eight years is more than enough,” said Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency. “Today, when there is a growing consensus in favor of Pollard’s release amongst former Pentagon and CIA officials, American figures, legal authorities, the Israeli government, and American Jewish leaders, the time has come to vigorously and loudly demand his freedom. ”

On Monday afternoon, Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, spoke to Pollard during a meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem with Pollard's wife, Esther.

Esther Pollard went to the Knesset to meet Lapid and ask him to speak with Obama about clemency. Jonathan Pollard called his wife in the middle of the meeting and she gave the phone to Lapid, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The timing of the call was coincidental, Esther Pollard said, since her husband is restricted on his telephone usage.

“I was in tears,” Lapid told reporters after the meeting. “He is in poor shape. He is desperate and broken. We will do everything we can to help him.”

Senators assail Obama’s Hagel nomination, question judgment

Republican lawmakers harshly attacked Chuck Hagel on Thursday at a contentious hearing over his nomination to become the next U.S. defense secretary, questioning his judgment on war strategy and putting him broadly on the defensive.

In one of the most heated exchanges, influential Senator John McCain aggressively questioned Hagel, interrupting him and talking over him at times. He openly voiced frustration at Hagel's failure to say plainly whether he was right or wrong to oppose the 2007 surge of U.S. troops in Iraq.

“Your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about it is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether to vote for your confirmation or not,” McCain said.

Hagel, who like McCain is a decorated Vietnam War veteran, declined to offer a simple yes or no answer, responding: “I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out.”

As President Barack Obama's choice to lead the Pentagon in his second term, Hagel may yet win Senate approval with help from majority Democrats, but he appeared to pick up little fresh Republican support as his hours-long hearing wore on.

Hagel's fellow Republicans dredged up a series of his past controversial statements on Iran, Israel and U.S. nuclear strategy, trying to paint him as outside mainstream security thinking. Even in polarized Washington, the grilling was highly unusual for a Cabinet nominee.

Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina laid into Hagel for once accusing a “Jewish lobby” of intimidating people in Washington, comments Hagel repeatedly said he regretted. Asked whether he could name one lawmaker who had been intimidated, Hagel said he could not. It was one of the many times he appeared uncomfortable.

“I can't think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship between the United States and Israel and the Senate or the Congress than what you said,” Graham said.


If he is ultimately confirmed, Hagel would take over the Pentagon at a time of sharp reductions in defense spending, but with the United States still facing major challenges, including China, Iran and North Korea.

Hagel, speaking publicly for the first time since the attacks against his nomination began, at times seemed cautious and halting. He sought to set the record straight, assuring the panel that he backed U.S. policies of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and supporting a strong Israel.

“No one individual vote, no one individual quote, no one individual statement defines me, my beliefs, or my record,” Hagel said in opening remarks to the packed hearing room.

“My overall world view has never changed: that America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world.”

In an unusual reversal of partisanship, Democrats, more than his fellow Republicans, gave Hagel sympathetic support and time to air his views.

The committee's Democratic chairman, Carl Levin, said his concerns, especially over Hagel's past comments about unilateral sanctions on Iran, had been addressed. “Senator Hagel's reassurance to me … that he supports the Obama administration's strong stance against Iran is significant,” Levin said.

Despite the harsh tone from many Republicans, some senators from the party approached Hagel more collegially.

Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia called Hagel by his first name and exchanged jokes with him during his testimony. He served alongside Hagel in the Senate. Roy Blount of Missouri had a cordial exchange about the strength of the country's industrial base.

But Hagel years ago angered many Republicans by breaking with his party over the handling of the Iraq war.

It was one of several contentious chapters of modern U.S. history that surfaced during the session, from the Vietnam War, where Hagel served as an infantryman and was wounded, to President Ronald Reagan's call for nuclear disarmament.

Hagel also was questioned on his view of the Pentagon budget. He is known as an advocate for tighter spending controls.


Even before Hagel started speaking, James Inhofe, the panel's senior Republican, called him “the wrong person to lead the Pentagon at this perilous and consequential time.”

“Senator Hagel's record is deeply troubling and out of the mainstream. Too often it seems he is willing to subscribe to a worldwide view that is predicated on appeasing our adversaries while shunning our friends,” Inhofe said as the hearing opened.

McCain's harsh attitude toward Hagel – who he also singled out for opposing Obama's surge of forces in Afghanistan – was a far cry from their past, warm ties. McCain campaigned for Hagel in 1996, and Hagel was national co-chairman of the Arizona Republican's unsuccessful 2000 presidential bid.

On Thursday, McCain said that concerns about Hagel's qualifications ran deep.

“Our concerns pertain to the quality of your professional judgment and your world view on critical areas of national security, including security in the Middle East,” he said.

In the entire Senate, which would vote on Hagel if he is cleared by the committee, only one of the 45 Republicans – Mississippi's Thad Cochran – has said he backs Hagel.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida on Thursday joined the list of Republicans who said they will vote against Hagel.

In written responses to wide-ranging questions submitted by lawmakers ahead of the hearing, Hagel said that if confirmed, he would ensure that the military is prepared to strike Iran if necessary but stressed the need to be “cautious and certain” when contemplating the use of force.

Hagel told lawmakers all options must be on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon – language used to suggest the possibility of a nuclear strike.

“My policy is one of prevention, and not one of containment,” he said.

Hagel also voiced support for a steady U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan, pledged to ensure equal treatment for women and homosexuals in the military and assured the committee that the United States would maintain an “unshakeable” commitment to Israel's security.

Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Warren Strobel and Jackie Frank

Pentagon lifts U.S. ban on women in combat

The Pentagon lifted its ban on women in front-line combat roles on Thursday in a historic step toward gender equality in the U.S. armed forces after 11 years of nonstop war, during which the front lines were often not clearly defined.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed an order at a Pentagon news conference rescinding the rule that prevented women from serving in direct combat jobs.

“They serve, they're wounded, and they die right next to each other. The time has come to recognize that reality,” Panetta said, noting that 152 women in uniform had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Over more than a decade of war, they have demonstrated courage and skill and patriotism,” he said.

The move topples another societal barrier in the U.S. armed forces, two years after the Pentagon scrapped its “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

President Barack Obama expressed strong support for the new policy, as did top civilian and military officials.

“Today every American can be proud that our military will grow even stronger with our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters playing a greater role in protecting this country we love,” Obama said, calling the decision a “historic step.”

The decision to lift the ban came with important caveats, and sweeping change will not happen overnight for women, nearly 300,000 of whom have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

The decision could open 237,000 positions to women in America's armed forces and expand opportunities for career advancement. But acceptance into the newly opened jobs will be based on gender neutral performance standards.

“Let me be clear. We are not talking about reducing the qualifications for the job,” Panetta said. “If they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation.”

“There are no guarantees of success,” he added. “Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier. But everyone is entitled to a chance.”


A senior defense official said Panetta's goal “is to open everything” to women. Service chiefs will have to ask for exceptions if they want to keep some positions closed, and any exception would have to be approved by the defense secretary.

Panetta made the decision lift the ban after the Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded it was time to integrate women “to the maximum extent possible,” according to a statement.

Gender-neutral performance standards will be developed for all the new jobs opening to women, officials said. But whether that means the physical requirements become more or less rigorous remains to be seen, they added, cautioning that they would depend on the actual demands of the position.

An example of a physically demanding job that may be out of reach of women without significant upper body strength could be in front-line tanks, where soldiers need to lift and load heavy ammunition in confined spaces using mainly their arms.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the changes would be gradual. The service chiefs have until May 15 to offer plans to implement the new policy by Jan. 1, 2016.

“The secretary understands with a change of this magnitude it does take some time,” the official said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a suit in November seeking to force the Pentagon to end the ban on women in combat, applauded the decision.

For many women service members, the move is belated acknowledgement of the realities of the past decade of war, in which there were often no clearly defined front lines. Of those who served in the wars, 152 have been killed, including 84 in hostile action, and nearly 1,000 have been wounded.

Women serve in combat roles for the armed forces of a few developed nations, including Canada and Israel, but officials say demand from women for such jobs in NATO nations is very low. In 2010, Britain decided after a review that it would not change rules excluding women from infantry or combat teams.

“I feel like it's beyond time,” said Staff Sergeant Tiffany Evans, a soldier stationed at Fort Hood, Texas.

The United States is drawing down its some 66,000 remaining forces from Afghanistan through the end of 2014, when only a small residual force is expected to remain. It is possible that some women may see themselves in new combat roles before that withdrawal is complete.

“I don't think we can exclude that possibility,” one senior defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Editing by Doina Chiacu

As the Hagel battle intensifies, Pentagon nominee gets key support from Jewish Dems

Even as critics intensify their efforts to depict him as unfit to protect the U.S.-Israel relationship, Chuck Hagel has convinced several of the most prominent Jewish Democratic lawmakers to endorse his nomination to lead the Pentagon.

Since rumors of his nomination first surfaced in December, opponents have argued to varying degrees that Hagel is anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic. At the center of many of the attacks has been his 2006 comment to an interviewer that the “Jewish lobby” intimidates many people in Washington.

In recent days, Hagel has secured endorsements from three of the most identifiably Jewish and pro-Israel Democratic lawmakers: U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), as well as U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

The endorsements follow several discussions with lawmakers during which Hagel is said to have expressed regret for the “Jewish lobby” comment. In those discussions, he also assured lawmakers that he is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“In our conversation, Sen. Hagel made a crystal-clear promise that he would do 'whatever it takes' to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including the use of military force,” Schumer said in a statement regarding his Monday meeting with Hagel. “He said his 'top priority' as Secretary of Defense would be the planning of military contingencies related to Iran.”

Obama’s formal nomination of Hagel on Jan. 7 only intensified the battle lines over the former Nebraska senator and Vietnam War hero.

That day, one of his most prominent critics, Elliott Abrams, told NPR that Hagel “appears to be” an anti-Semite. Less than a week later, on the Jan. 13 broadcast of “Meet the Press,” one of Hagel’s more prominent defenders, Colin Powell, called such attacks “disgraceful.”

Powell’s rejoinder was all the more extraordinary because he and Abrams were the top shapers of foreign policy in the George W. Bush administration — Powell as secretary of state in the first term and Abrams as the deputy national security adviser who took the lead on Middle East issues.

“When they go over the edge and say because Chuck said Jewish lobby he is anti-Semitic, that’s disgraceful,” Powell said. “We shouldn’t have that kind of language in our dialogue.”

There was little sign that the sharp exchanges would fade ahead of confirmation hearings likely to take place as early as next month. The Emergency Committee for Israel, a group that has consistently opposed Obama’s Israel policies and backed only GOP candidates, ran a full-page ad in The New York Times on Tuesday urging readers to call Schumer and the junior senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, also a Democrat, and tell them not to confirm Hagel.

“Ask them to put country ahead of party,” the ad said.

The Zionist Organization of America and Christians United for Israel continue to advocate against Hagel on Capitol Hill and through social media. On Tuesday they were joined by one of the preeminent political action committees, NORPAC, which asked its activists to tell their senators that they oppose Hagel’s nomination.

Liberal Jewish groups such as Americans for Peace Now, J Street and the Israel Policy Forum have backed Hagel. Centrist groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee at one time seemed poised to fight the choice — but not now.

For example, in letters to Democratic senators before the formal nomination, AJC pressed them to urge Obama not to nominate Hagel. Since the nomination, however, the group has said it is 'concerned' but does not formally oppose the nomination.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has not made any public statement on the matter, and Hill insiders say its officials also have been silent on Hagel in their private encounters. Josh Block, the former AIPAC spokesman who now runs The Israel Project, has been directing reporters to material critical of Hagel, but from his private email account.

Hagel, meanwhile, has barely granted any interviews — a JTA request is pending — but has reached out to top Jewish lawmakers to explain what appear to be past equivocations on Iran policy and to apologize for remarks in which he referred to an “intimidating” Jewish lobby.

Calling the term “Jewish lobby” a “very poor choice of words,” Hagel said in a letter to Boxer that “I used that terminology only once, in an interview. I recognize that this kind of language can be construed as anti-Israel.”

He delivered a similar apology over the phone last week to Wasserman Schultz, a flag bearer for Jewish causes among Democrats — it was her freshman legislation that in 2006 established Jewish Heritage Month.

“He realized some of the things he had said previously were offensive and inappropriate,” Wasserman Schultz told JTA.

Hagel already had the backing of two leading Jewish senators, Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif,), but insiders considered Schumer’s endorsement critical. Schumer has noted repeatedly to Jewish audiences that his name derives from the Hebrew word “shomer,” or guardian, and that he sees Israel’s security as his calling.

Boxer also is a go-to Jewish lawmaker — she was the lead on a bill last year that enhanced the U.S.-Israel security relationship.

“After speaking extensively with Sen. Hagel by phone last week and after receiving a detailed written response to my questions late today, I will support Sen. Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense,” Boxer said in a release late Monday. “First and foremost, he has pledged without reservation to support President Obama’s polices — policies that I believe have made our world safer and our alliances stronger.”

Beyond his remarks regarding a “Jewish lobby,” the issues that had exercised Boxer and Wasserman Schultz — as well as some pro-Israel groups — had to do with Hagel's past skepticism of the efficacy of unilateral sanctions as a means of keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, as well as his wariness of a military option in the same case.

In his letter to Boxer, Hagel reiterated his preference for multilateral sanctions, noting his past support, but added that unilateral sanctions in some instances were “necessary.” He did not mention the possibility of a strike.

But Wasserman Schultz said that in her phone call with Hagel, “he said that all options should be on the table, including a military option.”

In both interactions, Hagel also noted his solid Senate record voting to fund defense assistance to Israel.

Wasserman Schultz pressed Hagel to explain why he had not signed a number of letters organized by the pro-Israel and Jewish communities, particularly an American Jewish Committee-backed letter in 1999 asking Russian Jewish President Boris Yeltsin to address the rise of violent anti-Semitism. The letter drew 99 signatories out of 100 senators; Hagel was the only one to pass.

The Florida lawmaker told JTA that she was satisfied with his response — that as a senator he preferred not to write foreign leaders, but over the years wrote Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to express his concern about anti-Semitism overseas.

Nonetheless, his insistence on standing apart apparently gave Wasserman Schultz pause.

“I told him, when it's 99 to 1, everybody can't be wrong,” she said.

Left untreated in Hagel’s interactions with Wasserman Schultz and Boxer was the hostile worldview that critics have said holistically underpin Hagel’s history with Israel and its supporters.

“This is not a mere choice of words,” wrote Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s conservative blogger, referring to Hagel’s apology to Boxer for using “Jewish lobby.”

“Hagel said that the Jewish lobby ‘intimidates’ lawmakers,” wrote Rubin, a mainstay of the effort to keep Hagel from the top defense post. “Which lawmakers? Was he intimidated?”

Hagel made the “Jewish lobby” comment in an interview with Aaron David Miller, the author and former U.S. peace negotiator. Hagel also told Miller in the same interview that he was an “American senator,” not an Israeli one.

In her JTA interview, Wasserman Schultz paused before answering whether she agreed with Hagel that the pro-Israel lobby intimidates. She repeated the question and then said, “In our conversation he expressed regret and was apologetic that the reference was hurtful.”

Boxer in a conference call said those who read imputations of disloyalty against pro-Israel groups into Hagel’s remarks “were reading too much.”

“I don't think he thinks people are less loyal,” she said, adding, “I don't agree with what he said; I was concerned with what he said.”

Boxer noted that Hagel's letter to her had arisen out of a conversation she had with Hagel. She thought it was important to get his thoughts in writing, and he agreed.

“He told me, if there's one thing in his life that he could take back, it's that,” the California senator said.

Writing to Boxer, Hagel did not precisely retreat from his impassioned comments in 2006, when he said during Israel’s war with Hezbollah that “extended military action is tearing Lebanon apart, killing innocent civilians, devastating its economy and infrastructure.”

Instead, he said that in that war, “Israel was defending itself” but added, “these attacks were not perpetrated by the Lebanese government, which remains an important partner to the United States.”

Israel reportedly told Pentagon about Syria poison gas

Israel notified the Pentagon that Syria was preparing a chemical believed to be deadly sarin gas and loading it into dozens of 500-pound bombs destined for airplanes.

Israel's warning to the United States at the end of November, involving intelligence showing up on satellite imagery, brought together the U.S., Arab states, Russia and China to deal with Syria's deadly civil war, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The quick action put a halt to the bomb preparation and reduced the threat to the Syrian rebels for the time being, but the bombs could be put to use at any time, according to the newspaper.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly traveled to Jordan in recent weeks to discuss how to deal with Syrian weapons if they were transferred to Hezbollah in Lebanon, where they could be shot at Israel, The New York Times reported, citing Israeli media.

Obama nominates Hagel as Defense Secretary, Brennan for CIA

President Barack Obama on Monday nominated former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as his next defense secretary and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the CIA, potentially setting up a Senate confirmation battle on two fronts and establishing a tough tone to start his second term.

Mindful of the concerns about both Hagel and Brennan on Capitol Hill, Obama spoke at length about each in a White House ceremony, then turned over the microphone to outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and acting CIA Director Mike Morell to provide testimonials about their chosen replacements.

Obama urged the Senate to move quickly in confirming Hagel, a military veteran who served in Vietnam, and Brennan, who spent 25 years at the CIA.

“I hope that the Senate will act on these confirmations promptly. When it comes to national security, we don't like to leave a lot of gaps between the time that one set of leaders transitions out and another transitions in. So we need to get moving quickly on this,” Obama said.

If confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, Hagel and Brennan would fill out a national security team that Obama is building for his second term in office. He has already nominated Democratic Senator John Kerry as his secretary of state to replace the well-regarded Hillary Clinton.

Hagel clearly faces the toughest fight.

While senators are normally inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to someone from their ranks, this was not the case with Hagel, a maverick former senator from Nebraska.

As Hagel's name was floated for the post in recent weeks, many Republicans and some Democrats reacted with alarm, expressing deep concerns about past statements the moderate Republican has made. He has offered controversial views on key U.S. ally Israel, once complaining about the power of “the Jewish lobby” in Washington and urging direct talks with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

Past remarks seen as disparaging to gays have drawn the ire of gay rights groups. A group called the Log Cabin Republicans published a full-page ad in The Washington Post that attacked “Chuck Hagel's record on gay rights.”

Obama could also face opposition from human rights groups over his choice of Brennan, a CIA veteran who withdrew from consideration for the spy agency's top job in 2008 after questions were raised about his views on “enhanced interrogation techniques” – which are widely considered to be torture – that were used on terrorism suspects during the Bush administration.

Brennan would succeed retired General David Petraeus, who resigned in November after he was brought down by a sex scandal that involved an extramarital affair with his biographer.

Nuclear plant in Iran nearing full operation, country’s energy minister says

Iran's energy minister said his country's first nuclear power plant will be fully operational in the next two months.

Najid Namjou was quoted Thursday by the Islamic Republic's semi-official Fars news agency about the Bushehr plant, according to Reuters.

The same day, the Pentagon confirmed that Iran fired on a U.S. drone flying in international airspace 15 miles off the coast of Iran and east of Kuwait on Nov. 1. The drone was not hit.

Russia said two months ago that the Bushehr plant was completely online. Work on the plant reportedly was completed by Russia more than 30 years after construction was started by German companies in 1975. The plant started adding electricity to Iran's national grid in September 2011. It is believed that the refined uranium produced by the plant also could be used to power a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon told CNN that the drone was on a routine maritime surveillance and that the incident involves sensitive intelligence matters.

It is unclear whether Iran intended to hit the drone. It is believed to be the first time that Iran has fired on a U.S. drone.

Iranian warplanes fired on U.S. drone over Gulf, Pentagon says

Iranian warplanes fired at an unarmed U.S. drone in international airspace last week but did not hit the aircraft, the Pentagon said on Thursday, disclosing details of an unprecedented incident that triggered a formal warning to Tehran through diplomatic channels.

The November 1 intercept was the first time Tehran had fired at an unmanned American aircraft, in a stark reminder of how tensions between the United States and Iran could escalate quickly into violence.

If Iran had hit the drone, as the Pentagon believes it was trying to do, it could have forced American retaliation – with the potential consequences that entails.

According to the timeline provided by the Pentagon, two Iranian SU-25 “Frogfoot” aircraft intercepted the American drone at about 4:50 a.m. EST as it conducted a routine, but classified, surveillance mission over Gulf waters about 16 nautical miles off the Iranian coast.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said the aircraft fired multiple rounds at the Predator drone and followed it for at least several miles as it moved farther away from Iranian airspace.

“We believe that they fired at least twice and made at least two passes,” he said.

International airspace begins after 12 nautical miles and Little said the drone at no point entered Iranian airspace. Last year, a crashed CIA drone was recovered inside Iran.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was quickly notified of the incident, as were members of Congress and the White House, Little added. The United States also sent Iran a warning through diplomatic channels, saying it would defend its military assets and would keep sending aircraft on such surveillance operations.

“There is absolutely no precedence for this,” Little said. “This is the first time that a (drone) has been fired upon to our knowledge by Iranian aircraft.”

Many questions about the incident remain, including why Iranian warplanes could not manage – if they wanted – to shoot down an unarmed drone, which lacks advanced capabilities to outmaneuver them.

Asked whether the Iranian aircraft were simply firing warning shots, Little said: “Our working assumption is that they fired to take it down. You'll have to ask the Iranians why they engaged in this action.”

There was no immediate comment by Iranian officials.


President Barack Obama has resisted calls from inside the United States and Israel for military action against Iran, focusing instead on crushing rounds of sanctions, which were tightened again on Thursday.

The United States imposed sanctions on Iran's communications minister and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance for jamming international satellite broadcasts to Iran and censoring and closing newspapers and detaining journalists.

The sanctions are part of broader efforts to isolate Tehran, which denies U.S. accusations that it seeks to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of its civilian atomic program.

In an effort to drive Iran to compromise, the United States and the European Union have gone for the jugular – Iran's oil exports – over the past year.

The United States and Israel, which regards a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence, have also hinted at the possibility of military strikes on Iran as a last resort.

Obama has said the United States will “do what we must” to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and has repeatedly said that all options are on the table – code for the possibility of using force.

Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Peter Cooney

Air Force Flies New Tolerance Guidelines

Just in time for the High Holidays, U.S. Air Force officials are disseminating new guidelines for religious tolerance, in hopes of improving an atmosphere that some airmen say is unwelcoming to religious minorities.

However, while some are calling the new regulations a good first step, others remain concerned that little will change at the Air Force Academy and bases around the country.

The guidelines, issued last month by the Pentagon, say Air Force commanders should try to comply with religious accommodations, and need to be sensitive to the fact that personal expressions of faith might be viewed as official statements.

The new regulations come amid reports from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., that religious minorities felt pressure to prioritize their military duties over religious observance, and that they felt they were obliged to perform their duties in an overtly Christian atmosphere. Chaplains at the school reportedly spoke of evangelizing to the “unchurched,” and the football coach made references to Jesus.

The new regulations are for the entire Air Force, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said recently that they could be replicated throughout the military.

“It’s one piece of a broader initiative that will, I hope, allow for a real clarification of the real vision in the military,” said Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, a retired military chaplain who was hired by the Air Force in August to oversee implementation of “values and vision.”

The regulations focus on the need for sensitivity toward people of all faiths or no faith. Chaplains are reminded that they’re obligated to minister to people of other faiths and those without religion.

“They must be as sensitive to those who do not welcome offerings of faith, as they are generous in sharing their faith with those who do,” the guidelines say. “In addition, they must remain sensitive to the responsibilities of superior rank, and they should respect professional settings where mandatory participation may make expressions of religious faith inappropriate.”

Resnicoff said the message was clear to chaplains that they have to respect the rights of all in the military.

“A chaplain has to understand that he or she cannot do certain things as a chaplain that a clergy person can,” he said. “We give power to people in uniform to accomplish a mission. We do not give them power to change the religious beliefs of others.”

The guidelines say all requests for religious accommodation should be approved, unless precluded by military necessity, and commanders should try to avoid scheduling conflicts with major religious observances, including presumably the Jewish High Holidays, but also Muslim observances, as well. Public prayers are outlawed outside of volunteer worship services, but nonsectarian prayers are allowed during “nonroutine military ceremonies and events of special importance.”

Resnicoff said the guidelines would be incorporated in all Air Force training, and he expects changes to be seen imminently. Already, he said, time has been set aside on Fridays and Saturdays for religious services. Previously, services were scheduled only on Sundays, and Jews and others had to seek special permission to attend services on other days.

Some members of the armed services are underwhelmed by the new guidelines. Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force veteran who has two children in the service, said he believes they contain “very nice language” but would do little to end religious hostilities at the academy — which his son attends — and elsewhere in the service.

“They’re making this up as they go along,” Weinstein said. “They’re just pretty words that mean nothing.”

He would like to see the Air Force Academy call on one chaplain to recant recent comments suggesting that he still intends to evangelize to the “unchurched.”

Others are encouraged by the changes. Marc Stern, general counsel for the American Jewish Congress, called the guidelines a “huge step forward.”

“Given the opposition the Air Force takes to any restrictions, it is even a larger step forward,” Stern said. “But there are some places where they have glossed over some problems.”

The rules also were welcomed by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and by Reps. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) and Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who have been critical of the military on this issue.

“Obviously, the real test of these regulations will be their implementation,” Capps said. “It is absolutely critical that the Air Force leadership ensure that these regulations are well understood and strictly enforced, especially at the Air Force Academy.”













































Nation & World Briefs

London, Tel Aviv Bombing Link

One of the terrorists in the July 7 London transit-system bombings reportedly knew one of the bombers in a 2003 Tel Aviv terrorist attack. Mohammed Siddique Khan knew Omar Sharif, one of the two British terrorists to attack Mike’s Place, a Tel Aviv restaurant, in April 2003, Britain’s Independent newspaper reported. Khan, 30, one of the four suicide bombers whose attacks on London’s transport system killed more than 50 people and injured more than 700, was friendly with Sharif.

In February 2003, Khan visited Israel for one day, leading to speculation that he may have been on a reconnaissance mission for the Mike’s Place attack. Sharif’s accomplice, Asif Hanif, blew himself up, killing three people; Sharif failed to detonate his explosive belt in the attack. He escaped only to be found dead in the sea some days later.

Sharon’s Son Indicted

The son of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was indicted on charges of illegally financing his father’s Likud Party primary campaign. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz filed charges against Omri Sharon on Tuesday, prompting the Likud lawmaker to forfeit his parliamentary immunity.

According to media reports, Mazuz and Omri Sharon had discussed a possible plea bargain, but the negotiations collapsed when the latter demanded that he serve no jail time.

Mazuz cleared the prime minister and two senior advisers in connection with the case in February. Omri Sharon, who also is charged with fraud, breach of trust and perjury, could be sentenced up to seven years in prison, but media reports said any prison time would be much less, probably months.

Pentagon Sells to Israel

The Pentagon plans to sell Israel’s air force up to $600 million of equipment and maintenance. The contract would cover service for Israel’s F-15 and F-16A/B fighter jets for 10 years, the Pentagon said last Friday.

“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the U.S. by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been, and continues to be, an important force for economic progress in the Middle East,” the Pentagon said in a notice to Congress.

Congress has 30 days to block the sale, but is unlikely to do so.

Ambassador to Israel Named

The White House named Richard Jones as U.S. ambassador to Israel. Jones, a former ambassador to Kuwait and Lebanon, was named to the post Monday. He most recently served as a senior adviser and policy coordinator on Iraq at the State Department. Jones replaces Daniel Kurtzer, who has served in the post for four years.

Group Calls for Niger Aid

The American Jewish Congress-Council for World Jewry called on the international community to urgently address the prospect of mass starvation in Niger. Monday’s call comes after the inaugural meeting last week of the group’s Consultative Committee on Africa-Jewish Relations at the United Nations. In a statement, the AJCongress-Council for World Jewry noted 2.5 million people, including 800,000 children are in dire need of emergency food aid.

Chabad Founder’s Son Converted Out?

Recently discovered documents in Belarus appear to confirm rumors that the son of Chabad’s founder converted to Catholicism. According to a recent Ha’aretz report, Hebrew University Professor Shaul Stempfer discovered documents in the national historical archives in Minsk that chronicle the conversion of Moshe Zalmanovitch, the youngest son of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, about 180 years ago. The files, which once belonged to the Catholic Church, contain a letter written by Moshe in 1820 in which he professes his Roman Catholic faith. According to the documents, Moshe was mentally unstable, and after a stint as adviser to the czar, ended his life in a mental hospital in St. Petersburg. Chabad historian Yosef Kaminetzky responded to the Ha’aretz story by saying the Minsk documents are forgeries, and Catholic authorities in Minsk tried to convert Zalmanovitch against his will.

Israelis Triumph at Maccabiah

Israeli athletes won the largest number of medals at the 17th Maccabiah Games. Athletes representing the Jewish state won 381 medals, including 146 golds, in the open competition at the games, which ended July 21. The U.S. team finished second with 156 medals. Russia finished third with 48 medals, and Canada fourth with 28.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


AIPAC Staffers Go to Grand Jury


Top officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have appeared before a grand jury and two senior staffers have been placed on paid leave in the latest developments in the federal investigation of the pro-Israel lobby for allegedly passing classified information to Israel, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the case.

At the same time, the Pentagon staffer at the center of the allegations, accused of espionage by the FBI and then pressured into an alleged FBI “sting” against AIPAC, has been quietly rehired by the Pentagon, over the FBI’s objections.

Sources close to the investigation, while confirming these details, say they do not foresee an imminent resolution before AIPAC’s annual policy conference, which begins May 22. Rumors that something might happen sooner have been swirling around Washington in recent weeks.

The investigation came to light last August with an FBI raid of AIPAC’s Washington headquarters. Files belonging to two senior staffers, policy director Steve Rosen and Iran specialist Keith Weissman, were confiscated.

News of the raid was leaked to CBS News as it was happening, igniting worldwide media coverage and speculation about a “nest of Pollardites,” a reference to the American Jewish naval analyst who was convicted of spying for Israel in 1986.

Allegations soon surfaced that Rosen and Weissman had accepted classified information on Iran from Larry Franklin, an Iran analyst for the Pentagon, in 2003.

The FBI launched another raid on AIPAC headquarters in December 2004. It also issued grand jury subpoenas to four top staffers: Howard Kohr, the group’s executive director; Richard Fishman, the managing director; Renee Rothstein, the communications director; and Raphael Danziger, the research director.

In late January or early February, sources say, several of the four testified before the grand jury. AIPAC would not comment on the proceedings of the grand jury, which was convened by U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty, the federal prosecutor in eastern Virginia.

Rosen and Weissman were placed on paid leave in January. At around the same time, Franklin returned to the Pentagon in a “nonsensitive position,” sources said.

Franklin, who had been threatened with an espionage indictment by FBI assistant director David Szady’s counterintelligence division, was pressured into acting as an FBI informant against AIPAC, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the FBI’s tactics against Franklin. In an earlier case involving a CIA staff attorney, Szady had been publicly accused of targeting Jews with security investigations.

“I think that shows that Franklin was never any sort of espionage threat,” a source close to Franklin said. Franklin has been described as overeager but intensely patriotic.

“Franklin was obviously more of a victim than a threat,” said one source intimately familiar with the government’s case against Franklin.

Szady told a contact that Franklin’s rehiring by the Pentagon was not “our call,” and was done over the FBI’s strenuous objections. An FBI spokesman refused to comment on the rehiring.

Franklin has not been called to testify before the grand jury, nor have there been significant discussions or even contacts about a plea or a resolution, according to sources familiar with the Justice Department’s case against Franklin.

“Nothing is happening, and Franklin is back at work,” said a source familiar with the FBI’s investigation.

Rumors have swirled that something was about to happen in the case before AIPAC’s policy conference, but key sources familiar with the case say no resolution of the case “seems possible” by then, barring an unforeseen development.

Scheduled out-of-state travel for key people could make settlement negotiations difficult, sources say. Multiple sources associated with Franklin and the prosecution’s cases confirm that genuine settlement discussions are not yet even underway.

AIPAC also was clamping down on any speculation about the latest developments.

Earlier statements from the organization, repeated as recently as December, asserted that “neither AIPAC nor any member of our staff has broken any law, nor has AIPAC or its employees ever received information they believed was secret or classified.”

Under a new gag order by defense attorneys, AIPAC spokesmen have declined to repeat the original statement. The standard reply now is, “It is not appropriate for AIPAC to comment on any issue related to any ongoing investigation.”

An AIPAC spokesman added that the statement should “not be construed as a no-comment.”

The FBI and prosecutor McNulty refused comment.

Senior FBI officials, stung by criticism of Szady, are trying to understand exactly what conduct the agency is investigating. Two FBI agents recently talked to a senior Jewish communal leader, not to extract potential evidence but “simply to understand how AIPAC works,” according to one participant.

The leader explained how the American Jewish community relates to its ancestral homeland. The conversation was characterized by the participant as “extremely congenial.”

The investigation grew out of a sting last summer by Szady’s counterintelligence division after Franklin, the Pentagon analyst, was observed at a Virginia restaurant in June 2003 sharing a classified Iran policy draft with an AIPAC staffer, according to multiple sources aware of the prosecution’s case.

Such sharing of in-progress drafts with outside think-tanks and experts is common in Washington foreign policy-making circles. In this case, however, Szady’s surveillance agents were watching, the sources say.

About a year later, the sources say, the counterintelligence division used the technical violation observed in the restaurant to pressure a frightened Franklin into becoming an undercover informant.

Sources confirm that while Franklin was without defense counsel, Szady’s agents threatened him with a long prison term for espionage, which would have ruined his family financially. Franklin was placed on unpaid leave and forced to take odd jobs to support his five children and wheelchair-bound wife.

Under FBI pressure, Franklin agreed to feed AIPAC’s Rosen and Weissman bogus information about plans to kidnap Israelis in Kurdistan, the sources say. AIPAC officials reportedly passed that information to the Israeli Embassy in an attempt to save lives, sources say.

Franklin also allegedly was directed to sting a group of other Washington figures associated with the controversial Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, and with neoconservative circles. Those efforts apparently went nowhere.

On Aug. 27, 2004, FBI sources leaked details of the investigation to CBS News just as federal agents executed search warrants for hard drives and files at AIPAC headquarters. That night, CBS News led with an explosive story about an Israeli mole in the government, a story that since has been discredited.

Shortly after the FBI’s alleged scheme to set up AIPAC became public last fall, Franklin secured prominent defense lawyer Plato Cacheris, who ended Franklin’s cooperation with the government.

Rosen hired defense counsel Abbe Lowell, who represented former President Clinton during his impeachment proceedings.

It remains to be seen whether Rosen, Weissman and AIPAC will emerge from the investigation intact.

The entire Jewish community is watching closely.

As one Jewish leader who asked not to be identified said, “If AIPAC is targeted in this fashion, it is not good news for the rest of us. AIPAC would be only the beginning.”

New York Times best-selling journalist Edwin Black, author of the award-winning “Banking on Baghdad,” first revealed charges of anti-Semitism against FBI personnel and other details of the FBI’s ongoing investigation of AIPAC.


Is Israel Spy Claim a Neocon Backlash?

Hours after CBS News first reported that federal officials were investigating a possible Israeli "mole" at the Pentagon, the first analysis hit the wires claiming that the emerging scandal wouldn’t damage U.S.-Israel relations.

It was quick journalistic work, but it wasn’t worth the bytes it was written on. The plain fact is, the scandal will affect Jewish and pro-Israel interests in myriad ways — even if the federal investigation fizzles and no charges are brought. And any proof that Israel was spying on the Pentagon, with the cooperation of the pro-Israel lobby, would be devastating both for Israel and for the Jewish community here.

At the very least, the fast-moving controversy highlights the many gray areas created when two close allies share military and strategic information through a web of formal and informal contacts.

Jewish leaders believe the leaks that produced the CBS story and the exaggerated talk of a mole may have been triggered by the bitter struggle between administration neoconservatives — many of them Jewish, many in the top ranks of the Pentagon organization chart — and the traditional conservatives and military and intelligence professionals who fear the neocons have led America into a military debacle in Iraq and want to do the same in Iran.

In particular, these forces have been critical of Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, a hawk’s hawk and the boss of the man at the epicenter of the controversy, Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin.

This week, unnamed officials told reporters that the premature revelations had compromised their investigations, and that Franklin’s status remained "murky." But, on Tuesday, there were reports federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., the site of a number of recent high-profile spy and terror prosecutions, were nearing a decision on legal action.

But even if the investigation produces no arrests and no evidence American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) went beyond the bounds of legal lobbying, it has the potential to cause damage to Israel, to Jewish interests here and to U.S.-Israel relations.

The accusation of a "mole" — that term made sensational headlines, but it wasn’t borne out by later reporting — plays into the ongoing belief by many on both ends of the political spectrum that a cabal of Jewish neoconservatives led America into a destructive war in Iraq, not because of America’s interests — but Israel’s.

The charge lacks credibility for several reasons, including President Bush’s obvious determination to topple Saddam Hussein from the earliest days of his administration and the fact that Israel never considered Iraq its most dangerous enemy.

But it has been persistent and damaging, and it is bound to gain new currency with this week’s barrage of news stories, some of which implied that pro-Israel neocons improperly gave Israel input into U.S. decision making on Iraq, as well as Iran. As the story spun out in the press, the Iraq references faded, but they are unlikely to be forgotten by those eager to blame the Jewish state and its American friends.

The scandal will refocus attention on a group of Jewish neoconservatives who have been polarizing figures both inside and outside government circles, including Feith and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

The charges, even if unsubstantiated, could impede the widespread military cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem — ties that are even more important as the allies fight the terrorist forces that have targeted both nations. At the political level, there may be little impact, but the taint of even discredited spy charges could sow suspicions and fears that will make day-to-day cooperation at the working level more difficult.

The charges will also have a chilling effect on countless Jews serving in important government positions.

The new spy scandal is also bad news for the one American jailed for spying for Israel: Pollard, now in his 19th year of incarceration. This week’s stories will re-energize the military and intelligence officials who have worked so hard to prevent his release and make this president and the next one even warier about the political fallout from a Pollard pardon.

There is also the potential human tragedy of a non-Jew who cares about Israel whose reputation and career could be destroyed by a trial in the press, not the courts. It may turn out that Larry Franklin simply "mishandled" government documents in the course of routine, perfectly acceptable contacts with Israeli representatives — a far cry from espionage.

If there is evidence of improper actions by pro-Israel lobbyists and by Israeli officials, the results could badly undercut the good work done by years’ worth of pro-Israel activism and fan the fires of anti-Semitism based on the fallacious charge that Israel distorts U.S. policy to serve its own interests.

But even if the charges are quickly revealed as overblown, the fact that they have exploded in the middle of an emotionally charged presidential campaign and as protests proliferate over the Iraq war could adversely affect the Jewish community and Israel. Jewish leaders are worried — and they are right to be.

Sept. 11 Report: Israel Was a Target

Long before the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda was planning terrorist attacks against Israeli and American Jewish sites.

That, at least, is one conclusion of the 9/11 Commission Report, which was released Thursday.

The report shows that American intelligence agencies received signals that Al Qaeda was looking to attack Israel or U.S. Jewish sites in the months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

It also shows that several of the hijackers, as well as Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, were motivated in part by hatred of Israel and anger over the support it receives from the United States.

While much of the information already had been released through public testimony and media stories, the report emphasizes the ties between the terrorist attacks in the United States and U.S. policy in the Middle East.

It also paints a chilling portrait of what might have been, by detailing Al Qaeda proposals to attack Israeli and U.S. Jewish sites that the group either rejected or postponed.

The report shows that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, considered the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, was motivated by his "violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel," according to his own admission after being captured in March 2003. Mohammed was interested in attacking Jewish sites in New York City, and sent an Al Qaeda operative to New York early in 2001 to scout possible locations.

He also brought a plan to bin Laden to attack the Israeli city of Eilat by recruiting a Saudi air force pilot who would commandeer a Saudi jet.

Bin Laden supported the proposals, but they were put on hold while the group concentrated on the Sept. 11 plan.

American intelligence officials believed throughout the spring and summer of 2001 that Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian member of Al Qaeda, planned to attack Israel.

The terrorist leaders also considered playing off developments in the Middle East. Mohammed told investigators that bin Laden had wanted to expedite attacks after Ariel Sharon, then leader of Israel’s opposition, visited Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in September 2000, and later when Sharon, who by then had become Israel’s prime minister, met with President Bush at the White House.

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said the report doesn’t provide information that is new to Israeli intelligence officials.

"There’s very good intelligence cooperation between the two countries," Regev said, noting that counter-terrorism communication is particularly good.

He said that while Israel is used to facing terrorism, it has been spared the type of "mega-terrorist attack" the United States suffered on Sept. 11.

The report is being viewed in the American Jewish community as confirmation of what they’ve been hearing privately for years.

"We didn’t need this report to tell us that Jews were and are a target," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "Throughout the years there were evidence and alerts and knowledge of specific times and threats."

The report comes as some Jewish leaders are working to secure federal dollars to make security improvements for Jewish sites. Charles Konigsberg, the United Jewish Communities’ vice president for public policy, said the report will "absolutely help us to make the case" for federal funding.

Other Jewish groups and some lawmakers fear that giving federal aid to houses of worship at risk of terror attacks would violate the separation of church and state.

The report reaffirms what many who follow the issue have believed, that anti-Semitic views were a key motivation for the Sept. 11 plotters.

"In his interactions with other students," the leader of the hijackers, Mohammed Atta, "voiced virulently anti-Semitic and anti-American opinions, ranging from condemnations of what he described as a global Jewish movement centered in New York City that supposedly controlled the financial world and the media, to polemics against governments of the Arab world," the report says.

In original plans for the attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was to hijack a plane himself, land it, kill all the male passengers and then deliver a speech that would include criticism of U.S. support for Israel, the report says. However, that plan was scaled down, and Mohammed did not participate in the Sept. 11 hijackings.

In their report, commission members say U.S. support for Israel, as well as the war in Iraq, has fed anti-American sentiment among Muslims. While not critiquing U.S. policy, the report suggests the United States must do more to justify its actions and communicate with the Arab world.

"Neither Israel nor the new Iraq will be safer if worldwide Islamist terrorism grows stronger," the report says.

The report recommends changing the U.S. relationship with Arab states with the goal of improving America’s image. While acknowledging that those who become terrorists likely are impervious to persuasion, bettering America’s image among the general Arab public could minimize support for terrorists.

It also recommends a closer examination of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. Commission members suggest political and economic reform must be stressed, as well as greater tolerance and cultural respect.

"Among Saudis, the United States is seen as aligned with Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians, with whom Saudis ardently sympathize," the report said. "Although Saudi Arabia’s cooperation against terrorism improved to some extent after the Sept. 11 attacks, significant problems remained."

JTA intern Alana B. Elias Kornfeld contributed to this report from New York.

Reform Leader Angers Orthodox

U.S. Orthodox Jewish leaders are outraged by an Israeli Reform leader’s comments drawing comparisons between fervently Orthodox Jews and the Islamic fundamentalists who attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

But Rabbi Uri Regev, the outspoken director of the Israel Religious Action Center — an organization that promotes religious pluralism in Israel — is standing by a speech he gave recently at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in suburban Cleveland.

In the speech, which was reported in the local Jewish newspaper, Regev spoke about the dangers of Islamic terrorism.

“In Israel we have our own religious extremists who feel they have the right to rule other people’s lives, spreading the venom of religious fundamentalism,” Regev said.

Regev asserted that some fervently Orthodox Jewish leaders in Israel have used hate-filled and violent language to describe liberal and secular Jews and their institutions.

He also said fervently Orthodox Jewish individuals are believed to be behind recent acts of vandalism and arson against liberal Jewish institutions.

“We need to band together to fight religious zealots on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides,” Regev was reported as saying. “If we don’t learn from the Sept. 11 loss of human lives, we haven’t learned anything.”

Orthodox leaders, who quickly circulated the article by e-mail, bristled at the comparison with Muslim terrorists.

“How can you even think about comparing a Jew of any sort to the Arabs who flew into the World Trade Center and killed 5,000 innocent people?” asked Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.

Lerner, who is calling for Regev’s resignation, said no fervently Orthodox Jews have been proven guilty of vandalism against liberal Jewish institutions.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, described accusations that fervently Orthodox Jews had vandalized institutions as “apocryphal.”

Regev is “comparing murderers, hateful murderers, with people who simply want to maintain the standards of the Jewish religion with regard to things like conversion and Shabbat,” Shafran said.

Regev is “co-opting the horror the whole world is feeling against Islamic terrorists in his fight against religious Jews,” Shafran said.

Comparing fervently Orthodox Jews to “these evil people who murdered thousands is beyond the realm of comprehension,” said Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, a Chabad rabbi in Yorba Linda.

“Regev has crossed all boundaries in modern Jewish life,” Eliezrie said. “He is sowing the seeds of hatred and division when we need unity and understanding. Instead of participating in a meaningful theological debate about real issues, he lowers himself to the playground, using name- calling.”

Reached by telephone in Jerusalem, Regev clarified that he was not criticizing all of Orthodoxy or even all the fervently Orthodox, as the Cleveland article implied. Still, he said, he stands by his speech.

“The point that I made is that we are waking up too late when we express our concern and outrage when the actual assault takes place,” he said. “What we need to understand is that it’s the religious fundamentalist hate speech that precedes those outbursts that we should be more conscious of, concerned about addressing.”

Regev said he was particularly concerned about a Sept. 7 article in the Israeli edition of the fervently Orthodox newspaper, Yated Ne’eman, which described Reform and Conservative Jews as “destroyers of religion,” “criminals” and “enemies of God.”

He also pointed to a sermon one of Israel’s chief rabbis, Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, gave in 1996, in which he defended the violence of the biblical zealot Pinchas, and suggested that bloodshed in defense of Judaism is “like a doctor who spreads blood with his scalpel, but saves the patient.”

Rabbi Daniel Allen, president of the Conservative movement’s Masorti Foundation, another advocate for Jewish pluralism in Israel, said he is “not into Orthodox-bashing,” but shared Regev’s concerns about the language and tactics used by some fervently Orthodox Jews in Israel.

“Jews killing other Jews or using terror is an aberration,” Allen said. “They’re smart enough to use the terror of the Knesset Finance Committee,” he said, referring to fervently Orthodox political leaders who recently blocked public financing for a joint conversion institute that would have been operated under the auspices of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis.

People of All Faiths Find Solace in Prayer

The attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center seemed to have had the perfect combination of factors needed to dismantle people’s religious beliefs: an atrocity committed in the name of religion and God, coupled with so many dead and wounded that even for those of strong faith, the idea of a benevolent or caring God was seriously challenged.

And yet, rather than turning away from God and religion, people of all faiths have flocked to centers of worship and have engaged in private prayer.

It marks, perhaps, the coming together of psychology and religion, as people turn both inward and outward toward their larger communities and the community of humankind to find solace and meaning in dreadful times.

Whether it was President Bush’s call for a National Day of Prayer or an overwhelming impulse to go to shul, the Friday night after Sept. 11 saw synagogues packed.

At Sinai Temple that week, about 2,500 young people attended Friday Night Live service, which usually sees about 1,500, said Rabbi David Wolpe. "I think there is something about praying, feeling solidarity in community that’s very powerful," Wolpe told The Journal.

At University Synagogue in Brentwood, 700 people showed up, in contrast to the 150 who might usually come on a Friday night.

"In the 30 years which I have served University Synagogue, I do not remember as many people coming as we had on Rosh Hashana morning. It was amazing to witness and experience," said Rabbi Allen Freehling.

Freehling wasn’t surprised by the turnout.

"Any time in which there is a life crisis, people either have a tendency to move toward or away from prayer and worship and reliance upon their synagogue as a safe haven," Freehling said. "In this particular crisis, I am finding a dramatic number of people who are involving themselves in personal prayer and worship services, as well as coming to synagogue and meeting with clergy to clarify their own feelings and to focus on ways in which they can get through these ordeals."

Freehling likens the response to the religious or spiritual yearnings that are awakened in reaction to a serious illness or a death.

"In this particular instance, it’s as if at least the whole nation, if not the world community, has suffered a profound death in the family," Freehling said.

Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple told Time magazine that since the terror, "the intensity of the [religious] experience has heightened." The article, "Faith After the Fall," examined whether the return signified a revival or was just a "quick hit of community."

Wolpe told The Journal that he doesn’t know how long the "return" to prayer will last. "There’s a lot of speculation about all sorts of things … and the fact that we don’t know adds to our uncertainty — how people will react depends on what happens," he said.

Dr. Leonard Felder, a psychologist and author of seven books, has spent much of the past month speaking at synagogues where Jews have sought guidance.

"I think the idea of being trapped in a burning building — which was on fire because of a suicide bomber — is so off-the-charts horrible, and we realized there are so many things in life that we cannot control, that we couldn’t just go back to business as usual or normal rationalizations. We had to go deeper," said Felder, whose most recent book, "Seven Prayers That Can Change Your Life" (Andrews McMeel, 2001), is about using prayer in a therapeutic way.

People began searching for more meaning in their own activities.

"One of the things people feel is that their lives and daily chores are insignificant compared to what they were seeing on CNN. But when they would pray and ask to have the energy to rise up and be of service, they got clues as to how to be useful," he said. "They realize that wiping their children’s runny nose or helping an aging parent living alone is just as important as what they are seeing on TV."

Felder said that Jewish prayer is uniquely equipped to move people to action. In Judaism, supplicants do not ask God for miracles, or to take action on their behalf.

"Jews pray to get guidance on how to be a good person and to be useful and helpful in the world. Prayer is like a wake-up call to bring out the best in yourself," he said. "We don’t ask for God to take care of all this stuff for us, we tend to ask God or some source of strength to inspire us to do good in the world."

Felder also notes that even if people hadn’t thought through why they were turning to prayer, it may have just given them a "quiet, centering moment" as the chaos around them unfurled.

But even more than the need for quiet introspection, Freehling of University Synagogue has seen people tap into the support of community.

"There is this sense of kinship, which is even stronger than comradeship," Freehling said. "When people are coming now, they seem to be gaining an extra measure of strength and comfort because they know they are in the company of others who are feeling similar kinds of emotions."

People wanted to share those emotions, using actions and language that are comfortable and familiar.

"What they are displaying is an almost palatable hunger for the lifting up of their spirit through the words of the rabbi and the songs of the cantor," Freehling said.

That impulse was probably magnified by the fact that the attacks coincided with the High Holy Days, when even sometime worshippers spend hours in synagogue.

"The words we read in the prayer book or sang during the services seemed to have an ability to resonate within the congregants perhaps as never before," Freehling said.

For Felder, the same holds true for his daily prayers, such as "Sim Shalom," asking God for peace, or "Modeh Ani," thanking God for restoring the soul to the body.

One prayer in the daily "Amidah" has brought Felder to tears. The prayer praises God as a sustainer of life who "supports the fallen, heals the ill, frees the captives and renews faith among those who sleep in the dust."

Felder said that finding such moments in the day could change a life. In his book, he points to small prayers that can make a tremendous difference. Reciting "Modeh Ani" in the morning, thanking God for life, can compensate for the human tendency to look for incompleteness.

"The human brain doesn’t notice what is complete and good. For that you have to manually override your problem-solving brain," with a prayer of gratitude such as "Modeh Ani," he said.

Freehling hopes this crisis-driven experience with prayer will open up more Jews to the power of prayer.

"Any of us who have been involved not only in the leading of public worship, but also in the encouragement of private prayers, try to impress upon people that under all circumstances, whether good or bad, prayer and worship validate life and raise people to a whole new level of appreciation and activity," Freehling said.

Felder said he hopes more psychologists refer clients to those who can help in spiritual healing, and that more rabbis teach their congregants more about prayer.

The effects of this one event, Felder said, could be long lasting, if people take the time to hold on to their initial reaction and go deeper.

"I’m hoping that if people were brought to tears this year by prayer, that maybe we won’t wait till the next crisis before we study ‘what are these prayers and why do they affect me so strongly?’"

Terror Strikes Home

September 11, 2001
LOS ANGELES – Word of the terrorist attacks reached Angelenoswhen they turned on their radios at breakfast time and theJewish community immediately went on heightened alert.

The Jewish Federation building, the nerve center of theJewish community, was partially staffed by senior personnel, whileits agencies serving school children, the elderly and synagogueswere fully operational, said John Fishel, president of the JewishFederation.

Since three of the suicide planes were headed for LosAngeles, Fishel feared that the impact on the community in lostlives will be severe. However, he assumed that lists of victimswould not be available for another 24 hours. (Phone numbers given out for victim reports on are,for United Airlines, 800-932-8555; for AMERICAN, 800-245-0999.) Nina Lieberman, the executive vice president of Jewish CommunityCenters of Greater Los Angeles reports that doors will remain open atJCCs citywide, providing the routine gamut of early childhood andafter-school services, while coordinating with the Jewish Federationand other agencies on plans for further services and responses to theday’s events. One such option, she says, could, if needed, be to hostblood banks at centers throughout the cities. She says that JewishFamily Services is planning to offer counseling to those who mayrequire it.

Although the centers are on heightened alert, she says,the security precautions put in place after the shootings at theNorth Valley JCC two years ago are considered adequate for thepresent. “This is a profound and terrible tragedy,” she says, “and wehave not yet felt its full impact and ramifications. Obviously wewill make our premises available if the community requires a place toconvene.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, together with its Museum ofTolerance and the adjoining Yeshiva of Los Angeles, was closedas a security precaution.

Offices of the Anti-Defamation League remained open. Itsregional director, David Lehrer, said that his office had checkedlast week with Jewish institutions on points of securityvulnerability, but, “No one could anticipate a tragedy on thisscale.”

The Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills plans to hold a memorialservice after the evening service at 7.30 pm tonight (Tuesday). RabbiRichardCamras reports one member of his congregation has already learned helost a second cousin in the World Trade Center, and anticipates manymore members will, by day’s end, discover they know someone who waskilled. He said “We wanted the congregation to know there would be amemorial because as Jews we respond to pain with prayer and study andcoming together to support each other. We should withhold judgementand calls for revenge. It’s not about those things, but about how welive with pain and the sense of our own vulnerability.”

At the Stephen S. Wise Elementary School, teachers weretold to conduct classes as normally as possible and not to turnon radio or TV sets. However, if a child were to ask about theattacks, teachers were to respond calmly.

At the Temple Beth Am¹s Pressman Academy, older students were informedabout the attack in a special assembly. Teachers and adminstratorsencouraged students to ask questions and speak about their fears. Yuval Rotem, the Israeli consul-general in Los Angeles, saidthat he would need “a new vocabulary to express his feelingsand outrage at this time.”

He compared his emotions to the ones experienced in 1991,at the beginning of the Gulf War, when Israelis heard the firstsirens heralding the impact Scud missiles launched by Iraq. Most Arab-American and Muslim leaders were out of town orunavailable. One veteran spokesman, Don Bustany, termed theattacks “horrendous,” but asked that judgment on thenationalities of the perpetrators be suspended until more definitefacts were available.

Los Angeles Hebrew High School, which operates out of theUniversity of Judaism on Sundays and Agoura Hills on Tuesdayevenings, cancelled the Agoura session. Program Director Bill Cohensaid the decision to close did not stem from concerns for studentsecurity but because he felt students should remain with family “toprocess this historic event psychologically.” He said the schoolwould do its part at some later date to help them process thetragedies on a communal level.

Chabad of Agoura will hold an evening or prayer at it’s CanwoodAvenue premises. Rabby Moshe Bryski told the Journal that theSheriff’s department has already contacted the institution, lettinghim know that it will be affording heightened security for the HighHolidays. “We all come out of a week in which the fingers of theworld, centered in Durban, pointed to Israel as the seat of all humanevil. This occurred while plans were no doubt underway to launch thishorrendous attack upon the U.S. The time may be right,” says Bryski,”for another conference, this time focused on ridding the world ofterrorism.”

Temple Etz Hayim of Thousand Oaks will hold a memorial unitymeeting tomorrow night at 8 pm. At least one congregant reportshaving lost a friend en route for a visit from Boston. Preschool thismorning continued uninterrupted but temple officials have receivedcalls from concerned parents and are contemplating cancellingafter-school Hebrew classes today.

Agoura High School reports nothing amiss. An officer from theSherrif’s office has been assigned to the campus at least for theday. Deputy Principal Brad Benioff says school and peer counselorsare standing at the ready to assist any students requiringassistance. Only a few parents so far, he say, have pulled studentsfrom class.

The Agoura Hills Jewish Community Center, in effect a day carecenter, remains open but its director declined to discuss mattersfurther.

Surreal in the City

Even for North American Jews used to thinking about security issues at home — and confronting terrorist acts in Israel — the series of horrific acts that struck Tuesday came as a devastating, unimaginable blow.

“This is surreal. This whole situation seems surreal,” said Martin Raffel, the associate executive vice chair of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, whose offices are located in midtown New York, a safe distance from the destroyed World Trade Center.

Before the initial shock wore off from the hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon near Washington, Israel was offering help, U.S. Jewish groups were reacting with anger and Jewish communities across North America were holding prayer vigils.

Fire raged and smoke billowed around the towers after the two attacks, which occurred around 9 a.m. Tuesday.

The two towers collapsed by mid-morning, wreaking more havoc, claiming even more victims and hampering rescue efforts.

Reports said that more than 250 passengers were on board the four hijacked planes at the center of the day’s horrific events — two hit the World Trade Center, one hit the Pentagon and one crashed in western Pennsylvania — but at press time, there were no reliable reports of the number killed or injured.

However, New York officials estimated that there could be thousands of casualties from the World Trade Center explosions alone.

The attack was described as the worst on American soil since the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor. By comparison, 2,400 people were killed on that day — Dec. 7, 1941 — which President Roosevelt described as a “date which will live in infamy.”

Speaking Tuesday morning, President Bush described the crashes as an “apparent act of terrorism” and vowed to use the “full resources” of the U.S. government to “hunt down and find those folks who committed this act.”

Two Jewish groups are housed near the site of the New York attacks, but efforts Tuesday to reach Agudath Israel of America and the Orthodox Union were unsuccessful.

The Educational Alliance, a Jewish-run community center in downtown New York, treated people suffering from light injuries and shock.

“People were wandering in the streets coming from the World Trade Center, disoriented,” said Ben Rodriguez, director of administration services for the Educational Alliance.

“People were streaming in for a few hours,” he said, but by late afternoon, things had quieted down.

Some Jewish groups in New York, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the United Jewish Communities, evacuated their offices as part of building-wide evacuations.

Jewish and non-Jewish businesses and facilities were closed in various cities across the United States, from Philadelphia to San Francisco, in fear of further attacks.

The UJC promised to resume business as soon as possible.

“This has been a tragic day for our country,” the UJC said in a statement. “We express our condolences to the families of the individuals who lost their lives.”

Israel, which closed Ben-Gurion Airport to foreign planes, evacuated all its diplomatic missions around the world. In an ironic turnabout, some Israelis were scheduled to hold a solidarity rally with the American terror victims on Tuesday night.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared a state of mourning in Israel on Wednesday, and said the terror attacks would prove “a turning point in the war against terrorism.”

President Moshe Katsav conveyed to Bush Israel’s “deep sorrow,” and the Health Ministry launched a blood drive.

“All of us in Israel embrace you, would like to express our condolences, and add our best wishes for a speedy recovery to those who have been injured,” Katsav said. “Everything must be done to defeat this phenomenon in which insane people will stop at nothing to disrupt daily life.”

Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer approved the dispatch of rescue units to the United States. He also canceled a visit to Washington that was planned for later in the week.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat sent the “condolences of the Palestinian people to American President Bush,” but many of his people did not seem to share Arafat’s remorse.

Thousands of Palestinians celebrated the attack throughout the West Bank, chanting “God is great” and distributing candy. In Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, gunmen fired into the air in celebration.

In Argentina — where two Jewish institutions were hit by bombs in the 1990s — authorities pledged to increase security at Jewish sites. In Berlin, the Parliament was evacuated and the Jewish Museum was closed, just two days after it officially opened.

American Jewish groups strongly condemned the attack and “pledged to double check already tight security,” in the words of one Jewish spokesman who asked not to be identified.

“We are outraged and unequivocally condemn today’s terrorist acts against the United States,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement that was echoed by other groups.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Tuesday’s events would force the United States to step into Israel’s shoes.

“My feeling is that the American government has always understood Israel’s dilemma” in fighting terrorism, but “now America, too, will have to struggle with, ‘How do you respond, how do you prevent’ ” this kind of thing, Foxman said.

Though no direct links have been established between the attacks and U.S. support for Israel, some worried about that prospect.

“Will the blame be placed on Israel? Will the blame be placed on the fact of American support?” wondered Foxman, who along with thousands of others across the country was stranded at an airport when the attacks occurred.

“The United States has been brutally attacked today, and we must consider that our nation is at war,” David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement.

But exactly who would be the target of that war remained unclear.

Spokesman for several radical Palestinian groups denied reports that they were behind the attacks. Speculation focused on Osama bin Laden, but there was no initial evidence linking the Saudi terrorist mastermind to the attacks.

Manhattan Jews were horrified by what had happened — and impassioned about how America ought to react.

It’s outrageous that America “has been brought to its knees by terrorists,” said Larry Kowlowitz, vice president of PK Furriers in midtown Manhattan. “It’s time for the dog to wag the tail, not for the tail to wag the dog. We should use our muscle and make these smaller nations understand that we have the power. Like the Bible says, ‘An eye for an eye.’ Even if innocent people are killed.”

Anger was only part of the Jewish response, however; others began attempts at prayer and healing.

In New York — and elsewhere in North America, from L.A. to Montreal — prayer vigils were scheduled to be held as early as Tuesday evening.

“Our community felt the need to get together for spiritual reasons,” said Mark Finkelstein, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Des Moines, Iowa.

The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism said it would send out a special packet of prayers for its congregations.

Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan urged its members to donate blood and provide shelter for victims of the attacks.

Meanwhile, the attacks caused the cancellation of a major pro-Israel solidarity rally planned for Sept. 23 in New York.

Exploding American Complacency

Terrorism, a part of everyday life in Israel for decades, exploded in the face of a complacent America with the twin terror attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11 and left a gaping, charred hole in the Pentagon in Washington.

The bombings could have huge implications for Jewish groups and for a U.S.-Israel relationship that some may blame for provoking the terrorists.

Jewish groups, which have often unsuccessfully tried to warn policymakers that this nation could face the kinds of horrors that Israeli citizens live with on a daily basis, will play a major role in what is certain to be a fierce debate over terror preparedness and over the correct balance between basic civil liberties and measures to protect Americans from violence.

"This was a huge intelligence failure," said Shoshana Bryen, special projects director for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). "After past incidents, we’ve retreated into a ‘fortress America’ mentality. We won’t be able to do that any more."

At press time, U.S. officials had still not identified likely perpetrators (several people were detained), but there was widespread speculation that the attack was related to the Middle East conflict, possibly through the notorious super-terrorist Osama bin Laden.

If that speculation becomes fact, it could have varied repercussions for U.S. relations with Israel and involvement in that part of the world, Jewish leaders say.

"There is a danger of people saying, ‘if we didn’t support Israel, those people would have no reason to dislike us,’" Bryen said. "We have to make the case that that’s not true; they don’t like us because of who we are. One thing Americans need to know is that the same people who hate Israel hate us and hate all democracies. If there was no Israel, they would still hate us."

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that while some Americans will blame the strong U.S.-Israel relationship for the disaster, history suggests that the nation will reject that argument.

"The last time it happened was during the oil embargo in the 1970s," he said. "There were those who tried to blame America’s friends and allies; it was a very anxious moment for Israel when the Arabs made it clear they were boycotting America because of its support for Israel."

But the nation’s leaders held firm, he said. "The American government stood by its friend and ally, and said: nobody can tell us who our friends should be, nobody can blackmail us."

Making sure that message penetrates the anger and anxiety most Americans feel in the wake of the terror onslaught will be a top challenge for Jewish leaders in the difficult days ahead, Foxman and others say.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said an even bigger challenge will be preparing the American people for "certain changes in our way of life in order to mount a sustained and credible defense against terrorism."

Harris, whose group has focused heavily on the fight against terror in recent years, said Israel has a lot to offer traumatized Americans about how to live under the terrorist threat — "a debate our community has a huge stake in."

The first lesson from Israel, he said, "is that there is no substitute for solid intelligence — human and other. And we have to understand this is a permanent war; it ebbs and flows, but it goes on, and it’s dirty."

That is a lesson Israelis have learned the hard way over the decades — as they have learned the need for an "unbreakable national will," Harris said. "One purpose of the terrorist is to break that will."

And the Israel experience teaches that the fight against terrorism demands changes to everyday life changes that will certainly be inconvenient and may run afoul of current civil rights protections.

"It means that checks at airports are serious, not cursory," Harris said. "It means that citizens must become aware of potential security threats and dangers. It requires a whole different level of awareness, which Israelis have and Americans need to copy. "

If the terror is revealed as Mideast related, it could have a number of implications for the current Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Short-term, Jewish leaders say it will bring Israel and the United States closer together.

"It will bring home to people the reality of what Israel has been living with on a day to day basis at a very high price," Foxman said.

Other analysts say the attack could add to the options available to Israeli leader Ariel Sharon as he tries to subdue the yearlong surge of Palestinian terrorism.

"Let’s just say that for a few days, at least, he has a lot more latitude to go after Palestinian terrorists," said a leading pro-Israel activist. "It’s hard to imagine the State Department calling any Israeli action against terrorists ‘provocative,’ at least not while the taste of these bombings is in their mouths."

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, perhaps fearing just that response, was quick to condemn the bombings. "We completely condemn this serious operation," he told reporters in Gaza. "We were completely shocked. It’s unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable."

But Jewish leaders say a much more indelible statement was made by the Palestinians who celebrated the carnage with spontaneous street demonstrations in Nablus, East Jerusalem and in Lebanon.

Arab-American and Muslim groups also condemned the bombings, and urged Americans not to jump to conclusions about the perpetrators.

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, agreed.

"We urge all Americans not to form opinions until all facts are known, and to avoid blaming any group for the actions of individuals," he said.

But Jewish and Arab-American groups will quickly find themselves locked in bitter disagreements as lawmakers seek to toughen U.S. anti-terror laws — which Muslim and Arab-American groups say are already damaging to fundamental civil rights.

The dramatic, rapid-fire developments produced a tidal wave of rumors and speculation in the capital. Media outlets broadcast reports of additional bombings that were later revealed untrue. There were persistent and incorrect reports of other hijacked airliners waiting to be directed at new targets — one reason the congressional leadership was evacuated from the city.

The airliner that slammed into the Pentagon just as many workers were arriving produced an immense fireball, and an explosion that was heard at a reporter’s office 12 miles from the huge building.

The Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., and consulates around the country sent all but essential personnel home immediately after the news of the World Trade Center catastrophe broke. Then, after reports that additional attacks could be forthcoming and that the embassy might be a target, the Washington facility closed entirely.

By Tuesday afternoon — with the Pentagon still burning — the embassy was back in operation with what a spokesman described as a "skeleton" crew.

Israeli ambassador David Ivry expressed Israel’s condolences to administration officials and offered the use of a team of Israeli specialists to help hunt for victims.

"Unfortunately, we have a lot of experience with buildings being destroyed," said an embassy spokesman.