Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Photo courtesy of downtowngal/Wikicommons.

Bomb threats shut down three L.A. synagogue locations on Shabbat


Three Los Angeles synagogue campuses were shut down following a series of online bomb threats, disrupting normally scheduled Shabbat activities on June 10.

The Glazer and Irmas campuses of Wilshire Boulevard Temple as well as University Synagogue in Brentwood were closed shortly after 8 a.m., according to Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Officer Mike Lopez. By about 12:45 p.m., LAPD cleared all locations to reopen.

“K9 units responded to the locations to make sure to render all locations safe,” Lopez said. “At this time we have no credible threats.”

Rabbi Morley T. Feinstein of University Synagogue said a staff member “found an email that was beyond nasty — horrific language, and threatening” in a temple email account and its executive director, Lisabeth Lobenthal, called the police.

About 10 police officers answered the call. The building was empty at the time, Feinstein said.

Don Levy, the director of marketing and communications at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, said a threat came in Saturday morning via an online submission form on the synagogue’s website. LAPD was notified immediately and the synagogue’s campuses were shut down. Levy said no one was at either the synagogue’s Irmas Campus in West L.A. or its flagship Koreatown building, the Glazer Campus, at the time the threats were made.

“While a communication like that can come in through something as innocuous as an online submission form, we take them all seriously,” he said. “We take any threat seriously and investigate it thoroughly to protect everybody’s safety.”

The June 10 shutdowns follow a wave of more than 160 threats to synagogues and other Jewish buildings between January and March made by phone and email, including two against the Westside Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. Two separate arrests have been made in connection with that series of threats.

Lopez, the LAPD officer, urged communities to exercise vigilance, and to use LAPD’s iWatch phone application to notify the police of any suspicious activity.

“We just want to remind the community to be aware of their surroundings,” he said. “If they see something, say something.”

Feinstein of University Synagogue said the only scheduled activity for the morning was a Torah study group. When participants arrived, they found the building under lockdown and retreated about a block, continuing their Torah study on the sidewalk.

The lesson of the day is, Feinstein said, “We never stop the study of Torah — no matter what.”

ISIS logo featured on threatening note to Jewish sports club vandalized in Argentina


A Jewish sports club in Argentina was the victim of a threat that included the Islamic State logo.

A threatening note with the logo was attached to a plastic bottle filled with cement that was thrown through a window of the Maccabi Jewish Community Center and sports club in Santa Fe City, the capital of the Santa Fe province.

The note read “This is a warning, the next one will explode” and “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic.

“This is the first time the ISIS flag has been used in an attack in Argentina,” Ariel Gelblum, a representative of the Wiesenthal Center in Latin America, told JTA. “The influence of ISIS is growing in Latin America and this could be a consequence of the spread of ISIS hate messages.”

The National Institute Against Discrimination expressed “deep concern” about the attack “written in Spanish and in Arabic with a motto used by fundamentalist groups,” according to a statement issue by its Santa Fe office.

The Santa Fe representative of the Argentine Jewish political umbrella DAIA, Horacio Roitman, met with police and security authorities to strengthen surveillance of the institution and to put in place preventive measures. Roitman denounced the attack in interviews with local and national media.

The JCC said on social media that its activities will continue as usual. Maccabi is celebrating this month its 60th year, as well as the 30th year of its headquarters in Santa Fe City.

Argentina was hit by deadly bombings in Buenos Aires of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and the AMIA Jewish center in 1994. Iran, through the Hezbollah terrorist group, has been accused of plotting the attacks, though no one has been brought to justice.

The late special prosecutor Alberto Nisman charged that the Argentine government was involved in covering up Iran’s role in the AMIA bombing. He was found shot to death in January 2015 in his Buenos Aires apartment; the official cause of death has yet to be determined.

In March, the murder of a Jewish businessman in Uruguay by a gunman who yelled “Allahu Akbar” was seen as marking the arrival of Islamist terrorism from the Middle East to South America.

 

Al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists urge attacks on ‘American or Jewish’ malls


A threat on “American or Jewish” shopping centers by the terrorist group responsible for the deadly 2013 attack on a Kenya mall has the U.S. security apparatus calling on the public to be vigilant.

Al-Shabab, a Somali group affiliated with al-Qaida, posted a video over the weekend about the Nairobi attack, which killed 67. The video concluded with a masked fighter encouraging followers to attack shopping centers around the world.

“If just a handful of mujahedeen fighters could bring Kenya to a complete standstill for nearly a week, just imagine what the dedicated mujahedeen could do in the West to American or Jewish shopping centers across the world,” the masked person said.

He specifically named the Mall of America in Minnesota, the West Edmonton Mall in Canada, Oxford Street in London and two malls in France.

According to the Christian Post and Wikipedia, the Ghermezian family, which owns both the Mall of America and the West Edmonton mall, along with numerous other shopping malls around the world, is of Iranian-Jewish descent.

Security was increased at the Mall of America, UPI reported, and the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security were working with malls to prevent attacks.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said the global war on terror has entered a “new phase” and urged the public to be “vigilant.”

“Groups like ISIL [Islamic State], al-Shabab, AQAP (al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula) are now publicly calling for attacks either through the Internet, through videos, through publications,” Johnson said on ABC News. “Which means that we need to respond militarily, but we also have to have a whole government approach through law enforcement, homeland security and frankly countering violent extremism efforts here in the homeland in communities.”

Israeli gets jail time in Sweden for terrorism threats


An Israeli citizen who threatened to commit terrorism in Sweden after his asylum request there was denied has been sentenced to two years in prison.

Amram Ivri, 43, was sent to jail and made to pay $14,080 in fines and legal fees Friday for actions he committed last month, the news site exponerat.net reported. The Stockholm District Court also handed a deportation order banning him from, re-entering Sweden until 2024 after his release.

On June 19, Ivri holed up at a local nonprofit working with refugees and threatened to blow himself up with explosives because Sweden’s Migration Board, which handles asylum applications, had denied his request. A belt he said was packed with explosives turned out to be a dummy.

“The fact that the man claimed to be part of a terrorist attack and displayed a bomb belt is particularly reckless,” Tomas Zander, a judge who oversaw the case, said.

Media reports on the sentence did not say whether Ivri — whose name means “Hebrew” in that language was Jewish or why he was seeking asylum in Sweden.

Besides threatening to blow up the offices of the Civil Rights Defenders organization, he also threatened to set off two additional bombs at the offices of two large Swedish parties: the Social Democrats and the Moderates.

During the bomb scare, police blocked large parts of Stockholm to traffic as negotiators tried to talk Ivri, who had at least one hostage inside the building, into surrendering himself. He finally left the building after five hours.

Ivri used to be a citizen of Armenia, the news site reported, though he claims that he relinquished his Armenian passport years ago in Moscow.

Threatening caller to Toulouse school gets jail term


A man who made death threats against the Jewish school in Toulouse where Mohammed Merah killed four people last year was ordered jailed for a year.

Lucien Abdelrhafor, 20, in an expedited court procedure Monday also received an additional year’s suspended jail term for phoning in the threats to the  Ohr Hatorah school, the French daily L’Express reported.

According to SPCJ, the French Jewish community’s security service, the man called the school on Sept. 16 and told a secretary, “I am Mohammed Merah’s cousin and I’m coming over tonight to kill you.”

Merah in March 2012 gunned down a rabbi and three children at the school, which changed its name from Ozar Hatorah after the attack.

Abdelrhafor in the call claimed to be a “cousin” of Merah — a false claim, according to SPCJ.

SPCJ said police have arrested several callers who threatened violence against the school following the shooting.

French police believe Merah planned the shooting with his older brother, Abelkader, who is in prison awaiting trial.

Netanyahu urges ‘military sanctions’ threat against Iran


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the international community on Wednesday to threaten Iran with “military sanctions,” saying economic measures are failing to curb Tehran's nuclear drive.

“I believe it is incumbent upon the international community to intensify the sanctions and clarify that if Iran continues its program, there will be military sanctions,” Netanyahu said.

He did not, in a statement released by the prime minister's office, specify what military measures he envisages.

“I don't think there are any other means that will make Iran heed the international community's demands,” he said, in his first remarks on the issue after two days of nuclear talks between Tehran and world powers in the Kazakh city of Almaty.

Netanyahu has long said that only a credible military threat, coupled with tough economic sanctions, could dissuade Iran from acquiring what Israel and the West believe is a capability to build atomic weapons.

Iran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes only.

In Almaty, the first negotiations between Iran and six world powers in eight months ended without a breakthrough on Wednesday. They agreed to meet again at expert level in Istanbul next month and resume political talks in Kazakhstan on April 5.

Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, has strongly hinted it might attack Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to halt its nuclear program.

Netanyahu, setting a “red line” at the United Nations last September, has said Iran could by the middle of this year reach the point where it has enriched enough uranium to move quickly toward building an atomic bomb.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Ori Lewis

Statement from Wilshire Blvd. Temple on bomb threat


[NEWS UPDATES HERE]


Early this morning, we received a bomb threat specific to the Temple campus in the Mid-Wilshire district. Our immediate action was to close the facility and make sure all of our families and staff who attend school and work there were informed of the closure, and stayed at home. As a result, the Mid-Wilshire campus is empty. We are currently assisting LAPD and other law enforcement in their investigation.

Before opening the Irmas Campus on the Westside this morning, our security team conducted a complete search to make sure it was safe. We did so out of an abundance of caution—the threat was specifically focused on the Mid-Wilshire location. Operations there are running smoothly, and we remain extremely vigilant to ensure everyone’s safety.

We will continue to keep the congregation updated.

Rabbi Steve Leder

Barry Edwards
President

Howard Kaplan
Executive Director

Former IDF commander: Iranian nuclear threat not imminent


Gabi Ashkenazi, the former Israeli military chief of staff, said that the threat to Israel from a nuclear Iran was not imminent.

Ashkenazi, who was chief of staff from 2007 until February 2011, was filmed saying at a recent lecture: “Anyone who thinks that there’ll be an Iranian nuclear weapon when we wake up tomorrow morning – well, we aren’t there yet.”

The footage, obtained by the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon, was broadcast on Channel 2 News on Thursday. “This threat that emerges in the east, and all the darkening on that horizon – we aren’t there yet,” Ashkenazi was also filmed saying.

Israel should maintain a multi-pronged strategic approach — “a covert campaign” to thwart the Iranian nuclear drive; “diplomatic, political and economic sanctions; and a credible, realistic military threat,” he said. “We have to hope that this combination will keep Iran from going for the bomb.”

The comments marked Ashkenazi’s clearest expression to date of opposition to the imminent strike reportedly being contemplated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, has also advised against a strike. Amos Yadlin, a former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, recently wrote in the Washongton Post that Israel had no choice but to prepare for a a possible strike on Iran.

Yisrael Hayom, another Israeli daily, reported that Shelly Yachimovich, chairperson of the Israeli Labor Party, met this week in Paris with French President Francois Hollande in Paris. She reportedly asked him to tighten the European Union’s sanctions on Iran.

Israeli soccer team under ‘severe threat’ in Hungary, coach says


The Israeli national soccer team was warned of a “severe threat” to their safety in Budapest where they played a friendly match against Hungary on Wednesday, Israel’s coach said.

After returning to Tel Aviv on Thursday, coach Eli Guttman said the Israeli delegation had been warned by security officials that they were at risk in Budapest.

“I don’t know how much was known about this in Israel, the players were aware, but there were very severe warnings of a possible attack,” Guttman told reporters at Ben Gurion airport.

No major security incidents were reported during the match at the Ferenc Puskas Stadium in the Hungarian capital which ended in a 1-1 draw.

Guttman gave no give further details. Hungarian police said the Israeli team, which had their own security detail, had not been under threat but did not elaborate.

“There was no terror threat towards the Israeli soccer players,” police spokeswoman Bettina Kovacs said.

Guttman said that after the match, the team’s official bus left the stadium empty, as a decoy, and the players were taken to their hotel in another bus later.

“Our bus was sent out of the stadium after the match with a police escort and sirens sounding so that people would think it was us. We were asked to stay behind and we left later in a bus with the blinds drawn,” Guttman said.

Israelis traveling abroad are regularly told to lower their profile and be aware of potential threats to reduce risks to their safety.

Last month a suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists when he blew up a bus in a Bulgarian resort city on the Black Sea.

In 1972, 11 Israeli athletes, coaches and judges were killed after being taken hostage by Palestinian gunmen at the Munich Olympics.

Additional reporting by Krisztina Than and Sandor Peto in Budapest, Writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Robert Woodward

No immediate threats for High Holy Day security, but warnings to stay vigilant


The Los Angeles Jewish community is not facing any security threats related to the High Holidays, but local institutions should still be vigilant, the Anti-Defamation League’s Pacific Southwest division said at a community briefing Tuesday.

“We want to be open and welcoming, but we also want to be safe and secure at the same time,” ADL associate regional director Ariella Schusterman said appearing at a recent ADL security briefing for the Jewish community. “The question is, ‘Can these two things be married together?’ And the answer, actually, is ‘Yes.’”

Held at the Century City headquarters of the ADL-Pacific Southwest, the security seminar’s theme focused on suspicious behavior: what qualifies, and how to respond to it. A national agency that emails security alerts, security bulletins and non-alerts to institutions and oversees regional offices that partner with law officials on security issues, the ADL holds this security briefing annually, always prior to the High Holy Days. The agency invites community leaders, security personnel and others to the event. 

It’s important to focus less on a person and more on a person’s behavior, said Jason Pantages, assistant federal security director at the Transportation Security Administration at Los Angeles International Airport. “People aren’t suspicious—their behavior is suspicious,” Pantages, the program’s main speaker, told the group.

Pantages provided examples of suspicious behavior, such as a person leaving a bag behind or parking an unfamiliar vehicles in an prohibited area; an unfamiliar person photographing loading docks, security cameras or other building features; or a stranger who is unusually curious about an institution’s’ security and asks questions about it.

Both speakers gave individual presentations. It’s important to maintain “domain awareness,” which is the knowledge of what’s normal activity at your institution and what’s abnormal, Pantages said. That baseline will help you identify suspicious behavior, he said.

And always trust your instincts, Schusterman said. “If it looks wrong, if it feels wrong, then do not be afraid to contact somebody, whether it be your security person, or whether it be the police,” she said.

During the High Holy Days, police “are all on higher alert,” Schusterman said, to the question of audience member Joanne Feldman, assistant office manager for the Pacific Jewish Center, who asked if it’s a synagogue’s responsibility to liaison with police for extra security on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But, if an institution wants additional security – such as a patrol vehicle or a decoy vehicle parked in front of its location when services are taking place – it’s the institution’s responsibility to coordinate that with police, Schusterman said.

Approximately 60 people from various synagogues, schools and other organizations attended, including Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, the Skirball Cultural Center, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; the Los Angeles Jewish Home and IKAR, as well as police officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Burbank Police Department and Beverly Hills police.

For further information on ADL security measures—including the online security manual, “Protecting Your Jewish Institution”—visit adl.org/security.

Ahmadinejad: World goal must be to ‘annihilate’ Israel


Many thousands of Iranians shouted “Death to America, death to Israel” during state-organized protests on Friday and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told them there was no place for the Jewish state in a future Middle East.

Iran, penalized by tough Western sanctions, faces the threat of an Israeli or U.S. military strike on its disputed nuclear facilities. With popular uprisings reshaping the region, the Islamic Republic is also trying to prevent the overthrow of its closest Arab ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“You want a new Middle East? We do too, but in the new Middle East … there will be no trace of the American presence and the Zionists,” Ahmadinejad told worshippers at Tehran University in an event broadcast live on state television.

The Iranian leader, whose own authority is under challenge from hardliners as well as reformers, was restating Tehran’s familiar goals as the Middle East undergoes a very different upheaval from the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah and brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power.

“Saving the existence of the Zionist regime (Israel) is a joint commitment by most arrogant Western governments,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech to mark the annual Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day decreed by Khomeini and held on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.

He called for Muslim unity to foil Western support for Israel, which he described as a “cancerous tumor” for its occupation of Palestinian land.

But there was little unity on display at an Islamic summit in Mecca earlier this week when the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation suspended Syria despite Iran’s objections.

Speaking at the emergency summit, Ahmadinejad said Western powers could never be a role model for the Islamic world.

“Freedom and democracy will not come from the barrels of NATO guns and the interference of Western nations,” he said.

Shi’ite Iran has watched in dismay as rebels drawn mainly from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority try to oust Assad, whose country has been a vital part of Iran’s “axis of resistance” against Israel, Sunni-ruled Arab states and the West.

“I think the enemies have been successful to a certain extent in creating regional conflicts,” Ahmadinejad acknowledged, without naming Syria.

Iran accuses the United States and its allies in the Middle East of backing Assad’s opponents to try to relieve pressure on Israel by destroying the “axis of resistance” between Tehran, Damascus and the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah movement.

State television said millions of Iranians joined the al-Quds Day marches across the country and showed large crowds chanting slogans and carrying portraits of Khomeini and his successor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Some bore a coffin decked with pictures of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders. Demonstrators burned American and Israeli flags.

Israel, thought to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power, sees Iran’s nuclear activities as a threat to its existence and has repeatedly threatened military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the issue. Iran denies seeking a bomb and says its nuclear work has only peaceful purposes.

Reporting by Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Russia tells Syria Chemical Arms Threat Unacceptable


Russia has told the Syrian government clearly that it is unacceptable to threaten to use chemical weapons, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday in its strongest condemnation of a recent warning by a Syrian official.

In a meeting with Syria’s ambassador to Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov “laid out in an extremely clear form Russia’s position on the inadmissibility of any threats of the use of chemical weapons”, he ministry said.

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi acknowledged on Monday that country had chemical weapons, saying it would not use them to crush rebels but could use them against forces from outside Syria.

Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya

Iran says test-fires missiles over threats of attack


Iran said on Tuesday it had successfully tested medium-range missiles capable of hitting Israel as a response to threats of attack, the latest move in a war of nerves with the West.

Israel says it could attack Iran if diplomacy fails to secure a halt to its disputed nuclear energy programme. The United States also has military force as a possible option but has repeatedly encouraged the Israelis to be patient while new economic sanctions are implemented against Iran.

The Islamic Republic announced the “Great Prophet 7” missile exercise on Sunday after a European embargo against Iranian crude oil purchases took full effect following another fruitless round of big power talks with Tehran.

Iran’s official English-language Press TV said the Shahab 3 missile with a range of 1,300 km (800 miles) – able to reach Israel – was tested along with the shorter-range Shahab 1 and 2.

“The main aim of this drill is to demonstrate the Iranian nation’s political resolve to defend vital values and national interests,” Revolutionary Guards Deputy Commander Hossein Salami was quoted by Press TV as saying.

He said the tests were in response to Iran’s enemies who talk of a “military option being on the table”.

On Sunday, Iran threatened to wipe Israel “off the face of the earth” if the Jewish state attacked it.

Analysts have challenged some of Iran’s military assertions, saying it often exaggerates its capabilities.

Senior researcher Pieter Wezeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said Iran’s missiles were still relatively inaccurate and of limited use in conventional warfare. With conventional warheads, “their only utility is as a tool of terror and no more than that”, he said by telephone.

He added, however, that they could be suitable for carrying nuclear warheads, especially the larger ones.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in a 2010 report that all Tehran’s ballistic missiles were “inherently capable of a nuclear payload”, if Iran was able to make a small enough bomb.

Iran denies Western accusations that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons capability. The world’s No. 5 oil exporter maintains that it is enriching uranium only to generate more energy for a rapidly growing population.

OIL MARKETS ON EDGE

Iran has previously threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which more than a third of the world’s seaborne oil trade passes, in response to increasingly harsh sanctions by the United States and its allies intended to force it to curb its nuclear research programme.

Fars said dozens of missiles involved in this week’s exercises had been aimed at simulated air bases, and that Iranian-built unmanned drones would be tested on Wednesday.

Iran repeated its claim to be reverse-engineering the sophisticated U.S. RQ-170 drone that it says it brought down during a spying mission last year.

“In this drone there are hundreds of technologies used, each of which are valuable to us in terms of operations, information and technicalities,” General Amir Hajizadeh was quoted by the ISNA news agency as saying.

Wezeman said Iran had a large standing armed force, but that its weapons were generally outdated. “And those weapons only get older and older and they don’t have access to new technology because they are under a United Nations arms embargo.”

In his first comments since the European Union oil ban took force, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said sanctions would benefit Iran by lessening its dependence on crude exports.

“We must see the sanctions as an opportunity … which can forever take out of the enemy’s hands the ability to use oil as a weapon for sanctions,” Fars news agency quoted him as saying.

Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme continued in Istanbul on Tuesday with a meeting of technical experts from Iran and six world powers.

The discussions follow a round of political talks in Moscow last month at which the sides failed to bridge differences or agree on a further round of talks at that level.

The experts have no mandate to strike agreements but the six powers – the United States, China, Britain, Germany, France and Russia – hope that by clarifying technical aspects of Tehran’s work they can open way for more negotiations in the future.

Diplomats in Istanbul said discussions in the Turkish capital were “detailed” and would most likely be followed by a meeting between a senior negotiator from the European Union and Iran’s deputy negotiator Ali Bagheri. Such a meeting could, at a later date, be a prelude to talks on a political level, diplomats have said.

“We hope Iran will seize the opportunity … to show a willingness to take concrete steps to urgently meet the concerns of the international community,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said ahead of the meeting. Ashton and her team represent the six powers in dealings with Iran.

As a priority, the powers want Iran to stop enriching uranium to levels close to weapons-grade, ship out any stockpile, and close a secret facility where such work is done.

Iran denies its programme has a military dimension and wants relief from economic sanctions before it makes any concessions.

IRANIAN CALL TO SHUT OIL LANES

On Monday, Iranian parliamentarians proposed a bill calling for Iran to try to stop tankers taking crude through the Strait of Hormuz to countries that support the sanctions.

However, the Iranian parliament is relatively weak, analysts say, and the proposal has no chance of becoming law unless sanctioned by Iran’s clerical supreme leader.

That is seen as unlikely in the near term given that Western powers have said they would tolerate no closure of the Strait while Iranian leaders, wedded to strategic pragmatism for the sake of survival, have said they seek no war with anyone.

“It’s a gesture at this stage,” said independent British-based Iran analyst Reza Esfandiari.

“They want to emphasise that Iran can make life difficult for Europe and America. I think this is more of an attempt to offset falling crude prices. Financial markets are very sensitive to such talk.”

On Tuesday, the price of Brent crude, which has been on a downward trend for the last three months, broke $100 for the first time since early June.

“A lot depends on nuclear talks,” said Esfandiari. “If there’s no progress and the initiative is deadlocked, then these kind of actions will intensify.”

Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Kevin Liffey and Michael Roddy

Israel’s counterterrorism bureau upgrades Tunisian threat


Israel’s counterterrorism bureau has reiterated a travel advisory to Tunisia, despite plans to reinstate an annual pilgrimage to the grave of a Jewish mystic.

The National Security Council bureau said Thursday that there was a “high concrete threat” to Israeli visitors and Jewish targets, and called on Israelis to avoid visiting there.

Each year, Jewish pilgrims from France, Israel and elsewhere come to the El Ghriba synagogue to join with local Jews in celebrating the yahrzeit, or anniversary of the death, of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the second-century Torah scholar and author of the Zohar. This year, the annual Lag b’Omer pilgrimage falls on May 9 and 10.

The festival surrounding the pilgrimage was canceled last year due to the revolution that swept the country’s longtime autocrat, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, from power.

Some Tunisian Jews have been unsettled by demonstrations there in recent months in which fervently religious Salafi groups with alleged ties to al-Qaida called on Muslims to kill or wage war against Jews.

In April, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki visited the El Ghriba synagogue to mark the 10-year anniversary of the 2002 al-Qaida truck bombing that killed 21 people. Marzouki in his speech called for Jews to be welcomed to the annual pilgrimage.

Israelis advised to steer clear of Jordan and Egypt, among other travel spots


Jordan and Egypt, due to “concrete terrorist threats,” are singled out on a travel advisory for Israelis during Passover and other upcoming holidays.

Israel’s National Security Council Counter-Terrorism Bureau in Israel came out with the advisory on Wednesday.  It also called on Israelis in Sinai to leave there immediately.

Passover, Israel Independence Day and Lag b’Omer, according to the advisory, “are liable to provide incentive for terrorists around the world to attack Israeli and Jewish targets abroad.”

In light of several terrorist attacks and attempted attacks this year, the warning said, “Iran and Hezbollah are stepping up their efforts to perpetrate additional attacks.”

It also advises Israelis not to go to the Tunisian island of Djerba in May on Lag Ba’omer to celebrate the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Tens of thousands of Israelis visited before last year’s revolution there.

Turkey, once a favorite holiday spot for Israelis, joined Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Ivory Coast, Togo, Burkina Faso and Mali as countries where there is a “concrete high threat.”

Polls: Most in U.S. see Iran as threat; majority of Israelis against Iran strike


A poll showed 87 percent of registered American voters believe that Iran’s suspected illegal nuclear weapons program is a threat to the United States.

The poll commissioned by The Israel Project also found that 88 percent of respondents believed that Iran is a threat to Israel.

In addition, three-quarters of the poll’s respondents viewed Iran in a negative light and 82 percent of supporters backed sanctions to stop what Israel, the United States and many Western countries believe to be Iran’s nuclear program. Iran insists the program is for civilian purposes, although it has steadfastly resisted transparency. 

Pollster Neil Newhouse, who oversaw the survey, said “it is clear that Americans see Iran as a threat to the West.”

“The overwhelming support for sanctions is a strong indication that voters believe the U.S. must take an active role in confronting this challenge,” he said.

[Rosner’s Domain: There’s a new Israel-US survey, but don’t be fooled by the headlines]

The poll also showed that a majority of American voters continue to view Israel favorably, with 56 percent of respondents having warm feelings for the Jewish state.

Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research conducted the poll on Feb. 26-28; it has a margin of error of 3.46 percent.

A separate poll conducted by the University of Maryland found that Israelis were wary of a potential airstrike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

According to the poll, only 19 percent of Israelis favored a unilateral action by the Israel Defense Forces, while 42 percent supported a strike only if there was U.S. backing. The same poll found that 34 percent of respondents were opposed to an airstrike.

Shibley Telhami, the Sadat chair for peace and development at Maryland, conducted the poll and said in a news release that “Israeli leaders may decide to strike without U.S. support, but a detailed analysis of the poll suggests that their public wants them to follow Washington’s lead, and Israelis appear to be influenced by America’s judgment.”

The poll was conducted by Israel’s Dahaf Institute on Feb. 22-28 and has a margin of error of 4 percent.

GOP candidates: Make threat against Iran clearer


Three of the four Republican presidential candidates said the United States should make a more explicit threat of military action against Iran.

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich agreed in the CNN debate on Wednesday in Arizona that the measures taken by President Obama to isolate Iran have not gone far enough.

“This is a president who has made it clear through his administration in almost every communication we’ve had so far that he does not want Israel to take action, that he opposes military action,” said Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, to nods of agreement from Santorum and Gingrich. “This is a president who should have instead communicated to Iran that we are prepared, that we are considering military options. They’re not just on the table. They are in our hand.”

Obama has hewed to language first expressed by his predecessor, George W. Bush in 2006, that “all options are on the table” when it comes to Iran, and has refused to make the threat any more explicit, although Israeli leaders have become more pronounced in threatening a strike.

“I do believe there are moments when you pre-empt,” said Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, answering a question about whether he would give Israel the go-ahead for a pre-emptive strike. “If you think a madman is about to have nuclear weapons and you think that madman is going to use those nuclear weapons, then you have an absolute moral obligation to defend the lives of your people by eliminating the capacity to get nuclear weapons.”

The three candidates also said the Obama administration should do more to bolster the opposition in Syria, in part because it is Iran’s proxy.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) dissented, saying the war with Iran that would likely ensue from a strike would be a moral, constitutional and economic disaster.

“Ask the people and ask the Congress for a declaration of war,” Paul said. “This is war and people are going to die. And you have got to get a declaration of war.”

EU bans Iranian oil, Tehran responds with threats


The European Union banned imports of oil from Iran on Monday and imposed a number of other economic sanctions, joining the United States in a new round of measures aimed at deflecting Tehran’s nuclear development program.

In Iran, one politician responded by renewing a threat to blockade the Strait of Hormuz, an oil export route vital to the global economy, and another said Tehran should cut off crude shipments to the EU immediately.

That might hurt Greece, Italy and other ailing economies which depend heavily on Iranian oil and, as a result, won as part of the EU agreement a grace period until July 1 before the embargo takes full effect. Angry words on either side helped nudge benchmark Brent oil futures above $110 a barrel on Monday.

A day after a U.S. aircraft carrier, accompanied by a flotilla that included French and British warships, made a symbolically loaded voyage into the Gulf in defiance of Iranian hostility, the widely expected EU sanctions move is likely to set off yet more bellicose rhetoric in an already tense region.

Some analysts say Iran, which denies accusations that it is seeking nuclear weapons, could be in a position to make them next year. So, with Israel warning it could use force to prevent that happening, the row over Tehran’s plans is an increasingly pressing challenge for world leaders, not least U.S. President Barack Obama as he campaigns for re-election in November.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has voiced skepticism about the chances of Iran being persuaded by non-military tactics, called the EU sanctions a “step in the right direction” but said Iran was still developing atomic weapons.

Israel, assumed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, views the Iranian nuclear program as a threat to its survival.

Meeting in Brussels, foreign ministers from the 27-state EU, which as a bloc is Iran’s second biggest customer for crude after China, agreed to an immediate ban on all new contracts to import, purchase or transport Iranian crude oil and petroleum products. However, EU countries with existing contracts to buy oil and petroleum products can honor them up to July 1.

EU officials said they also agreed to freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank and ban trade in gold and other precious metals with the bank and state bodies.

Along with U.S. sanctions imposed by Obama on December 31, the Western powers hope that choking exports and hence revenue can force Iran’s leaders to agree to curbs on a nuclear program the West says is intended to yield weapons.

EU SEEKS TALKS

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed plans for a visit next week by senior inspectors to try and clear up suspicions raised about the purpose of Iran’s nuclear activities. Tehran is banned by international treaty from developing nuclear weaponry.

“The Agency team is going to Iran in a constructive spirit, and we trust that Iran will work with us in that same spirit,” IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in a statement announcing the December 29-31 visit. “The overall objective of the IAEA is to resolve all outstanding substantive issues.”

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said of the new sanctions: “I want the pressure of these sanctions to result in negotiations … I want to see Iran come back to the table and either pick up all the ideas that we left on the table … last year … or to come forward with its own ideas.”

Iran has said lately that it is willing to hold talks with Western powers, though there have been mixed signals on whether conditions imposed by either side make new negotiations likely.

The Islamic Republic insists it is enriching uranium only for electricity and other civilian uses.

It has powerful defenders against the Western action in the form of Russia and China, which argue that the new sanctions are unnecessary, and can also probably count on China and other Asian countries to go on buying much of its oil, despite U.S. and European efforts to dissuade them.

Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, classifying the EU embargo among “aggravating factors,” said Moscow believed there was a good chance that talks between the six global powers and Iran could resume soon and that Russia would try to steer both Iran and the West away from further confrontation.

Italian police probing Holocaust-denying teacher over threats


Police in Turin are investigating a high school teacher who threatened in a Facebook post to massacre Jews and go “target shooting” against African immigrants.

Police searched the home of Renato Pallavidini Jan. 6 and seized computers, a flash drive and CDs. He could be charged with racial hatred.

Five years ago Pallavidini was penalized for Holocaust denial.

The Italian media last week reported that on Dec. 29, Pallavidini posted a picture of Adolf Hitler and Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini shaking hands, with a post reading, “Warning to dirty bastard Jews who control us from the land of s—- and fags called California. If you remove this picture, I will go to the synagogue very near to my house, with my pistol, and gun down some parasite Jews.”

He also reportedly published a post on Dec. 23 asking who would join him in “target shooting” against African immigrant street vendors near his home.

The picture and other material on Pallavidini’s home page were removed.

It was the latest in a series of anti-Semitic and racist incidents in Italy over the past two months. They ranged from a Facebook attack on a Jewish website to the murder of immigrant vendors in Florence.

“This is the umpteenth case in recent weeks of a resurgence of anti-Semitism, and more generally speaking, intolerance, in Italian society, that in particular takes advantage of the web and blogs to disseminate messages of hate and create and coordinate organizations,” Giacomo Kahn, the editor of the Jewish monthly Shalom, wrote on the Rome Jewish community website.

Ehud Barak boosts Obama amid U.S. threats on Iran


Israel’s defense minister extolled what he called Barack Obama’s resolve and risk-taking on Thursday, remarks likely to help the U.S. president’s re-election bid after the Pentagon beefed up warnings to Iran over its nuclear program.

The comments by Ehud Barak, lone centrist in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative coalition, also appeared to dampen speculation the Israelis could defy U.S. remonstrations by attacking their arch-foe’s nuclear facilities unilaterally.

In back-to-back interviews this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his top military officer, General Martin Dempsey, made unusually strong statements about U.S. willingness to use force to deny Iran the means of developing an atom bomb.

“The change of emphasis … is a very important development, because it makes clear a fact that was already known to us from closed-door (discussions),” Barak told Israel Radio. “It makes clear to Iran that it faces a real dilemma.”

Panetta said on Monday the secretive Iranian nuclear program—which the Islamic Republic says is purely peaceful—could potentially yield a bomb within a year, a move that would be a “red line for us and … obviously, for the Israelis”.

“If we have to do it, we will deal with it,” Panetta said on CBS television. Asked whether he meant military steps, he replied: “There are no options off the table.”

The hazy diplomatic code leaving open the possibility of preemptive air strikes, and often echoed by Israel, was honed on Tuesday by Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“We are examining a range of options,” he told CNN. “I am satisfied that the options that we are developing are evolving to a point that they would be executable if necessary.”

Barak sidestepped a question on whether Obama, whose testy ties with Netanyahu have not gone over well with pro-Israel voters in the United States, might see talking tough on Iran as a means toward securing a second term in the White House.

ASK BIN LADEN

But the defence minister, a former Israeli premier, advised against underestimating Obama and “the internal consistency that stems from being a leader … with the circumspection that comes from seeing, above, only the heavens and one’s own conscience”.

Citing Obama’s ideologically tinged 2009 speeches in Cairo and on the occasion of winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and this month’s U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Barak said: “Ultimately you cannot deny he has a certain degree of consistency.”

“You may not like what he does (but) you discern a man who is capable and ready to undertake the fiercest of political risks to his survival, in order to make good on what he believes in,” said Barak, who met Obama in Washington last week.

“We are asked, sometimes, whether Obama is really a soft appeaser. To that, I say: ‘Go ask Osama bin Laden.’”

U.S. special forces killed the long elusive al Qaeda leader in a lightning raid on his Pakistan hideout last May.

Reputed to have the region’s sole nuclear arsenal, Israel sees an existential menace in Iran’s uranium enrichment, ballistic missile projects and vitriol against the Jewish state.

The Obama administration, which is spearheading international efforts to rein in Tehran through sanctions, has come out against the possibility of its main Middle East ally lashing out alone against the Iranians because of the risk of reprisals against U.S. Gulf assets and shocks to energy markets.

“My biggest worry is they (Iran) will miscalculate our resolve,” Dempsey said on CNN. “Any miscalculation could mean that we are drawn into conflict, and that would be a tragedy for the region and the world.

“We are trying to establish some confidence on the part of the Israelis that we recognize their concerns and are collaborating with them on addressing them,” added Dempsey, who has said there was no guarantee Israel would inform Washington in advance about any sneak attack on Iran.

Barak said Israeli-U.S. defense coordination was “absolutely fine” and played down tension between Obama and Netanyahu.

“They don’t have to love each other. It’s enough that they respect and understand that no one works as if they were alone, in a bubble.”

Writing by Dan Williams

Iran warns against rumored Israeli military strike


Iran’s top military chief warned that his country would retaliate harshly against an Israeli strike on its nuclear sites, as Israel successfully test fired a new ballistic missile.

Responding to reports that Israel was preparing to launch an attack against Iran, the Islamic Republic’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hassan Fairouz Abadi on Wednesday reportedly told Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency that Iran would strike back hard against Israel and the United States.

“America knows that a Zionist military strike in Iran would cause it major damages in addition to the damages caused to this regime,” Abadi said.

A report by the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is due next week, and reportedly will offer new details about Iran’s nuclear program.

Also on Wednesday, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview on Israel Radio that most reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are pushing the Cabinet to approve an attack on Iran “have no connection to reality.”  Reports to that effect had surfaced the previous day in the Israeli and international media and have caused “tremendous damage,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman also said that Iran continues to pose a dangerous threat to the entire world and that Israel expects the international community to do “much more” regarding Iran, including imposing sanctions.

Saying that the test of a new ballistic missile was preplanned and had no connection to a possible attack on Iran, the Israeli military successfully test fired a ballistic missile Wednesday from Palmachim Airbase in central Israel, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry.

Foreign media believe Israel has missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

Israel Police on high alert ahead of Yom Kippur


Israel Police have been holding talks with Israeli Arab representatives in bid to diffuse tensions ahead of Yom Kippur, after the burning of an Upper-Galilee mosque earlier this week. Police hope that calm will be restored in time for Yom Kippur on Saturday.

Security forces sealed off the West Bank on Thursday at midnight, and the blockade will last for 48 hours until Yom Kippur at midnight. The blockade can only be lifted for humanitarian or medical reasons and with the permission of the civil administration.

The Taba border crossing and the Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan River border crossings to Jordan will shut down at noon on Friday and reopen on Saturday at 9 P.M. The Allenby terminal will close at 11 A.M.

Air traffic to and from Israel will halt from 1 P.M. on Friday to 9:30 P.M. on Saturday and the border crossings to Jordan and Gaza will close down. The weather forecast bodes well for fasters, with comfortable temperatures.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

US aid threat not deterring Palestinian UN option


As seen on The Media Line

Palestinian plans to petition the United Nations for recognition and membership as an independent Palestinian state are going forward despite intense diplomatic pressure to back down. On Thursday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told foreign journalists that efforts by Israel and the U.S. are “too late” and that even if Israel would present a package of incentives for returning to the bargaining table, “We would first go to the UN and then negotiate.”

While questions remain about the Palestinian gambit and how UN procedure applies to the membership request, it has become increasingly apparent that beneath the downplaying of concern over the UN option by Israeli officials, Jerusalem is, indeed, anxious about an impending diplomatic defeat framed by acceptance of the Palestinian effort by at least 140 nations. According to Abbas, the application for membership will be submitted on or about September 19th to the Security Council and General Assembly even though “many countries do not agree with us and do not like this idea, but we will go there.”

Foremost among those not liking the idea is the United States, which has reiterated its intent to veto any relevant resolution submitted to the Security Council. Lurking overhead are threats by Congressional leaders to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if the UN gambit proceeds. Officials in Ramallah speaking under condition of anonymity have told The Media Line that US foreign aid has become crucial to the PA because of its dependability in large part because of the continued failure of Arab nations to make good on their pledges of funding. Asked by The Media Line whether the UN scenario is worth the risk of losing American largesse, Abbas replied, “We can’t pay our people now so what will be different?” Others suggested confidence that while President Obama will exercise the American veto in the Security Council, he will not take the more draconian step of cutting off aid and risk being accused of propelling the PA and the Palestinian people into deeper fiscal distress. Abbas denied that the Americans have so far issued any threat to suspend funding. He told reporters that US officials “didn’t talk about aid. They talked about some sort of confrontation, which means there will be big differences between the Palestinian attitude and the America attitude, which means there will be a confrontation. We told them we don’t want a confrontation either with Americans or anyone else.”

In explaining confidence that funding will continue, Palestinians point to the multi-tiered system of dispersing US aid, the majority of which is tied to projects overseen by international organizations and unlikely to be part of any suspension of aid. Only about $50 million in direct aid to the PA budget pledged for this year is in the pipeline. Dr. Mohammad I. Shtayyeh, Minister in charge of the Palestinian Economic Council and member of the Palestinian delegation to negations told The Media Line that, “In 2006, when the American Congress tried to boycott and put sanctions on the Hamas-led government, it’s the year we got the most money from the world.”  Shtayyeh added that “Israel can’t afford to push [the PA] into chaos because they will pay the consequences if security forces are not paid.”

Asked by reporters whether he was willing to back away from Turtle Bay if Israel presented a new package of ideas to resume talks prior to September 20th, Abbas replied that the US and Israel are too late, and that if such a package was presented, the Palestinians would proceed first to the UN and only then consider returning to negotiations.  According to Abbas, “They wasted all this time from the beginning of the year. From the day we went to Washington to talk with Netanyahu… they wasted all this time. Now when they come here to tell us, ‘we have this idea,’ we have this package and don’t go to the United Nations, we will not accept.”

The Israelis seemingly agree that time has been wasted, but the two sides place the blame on the other for the delay.  Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Netanyahu,  told The Media Line that, “We’ve wasted two and a half years… had the Palestinians agreed to start talking peace with Israel directly, we’d be closer today to peace and independent Palestinian statehood than we are.” He quoted Netanyahu as calling for Abbas to engage in non-stop talks with him, “talks that should be continuous, talks that should be on-going until reaching an agreement; until reaching a breakthrough.”

Referring to the split between Fatah and Hamas, Abbas was asked whom he will be representing at the United Nations. His reply was that, “I represent all the Palestinian people.” Abbas told The Media Line that while “There is a problem between us and [Hamas] concerning the government…the reconciliation between us…is working and Hamas doesn’t reject the notion of the United Nations.” When pressed about the PA’s ability to control the Gaza Strip, Abbas replied that, “Whether there is Hamas or not, we are responsible, they are our people. There are 1.5 million, the territory is ours and we have split it between us, we will manage it.”

When asked whether the Israeli demand for recognition as a Jewish state was still a major issue, Abbas responded as he often does by saying, “It is not our business,” arguing that the demand for Jewish recognition was not part of its treaties with either Egypt or Jordan.

Iran biggest world threat, Barbour says


Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, during a speech in Israel called Iran the biggest threat to world stability.

“We must recognize and focus on Iran as the crucial strategic issue in the region,” Barbour said Wednesday at the prestigious Herzliya Conference, an annual policy and strategic gathering.

Barbour, who is visiting Israel as a guest of the Republican Jewish Coalition, also told reporters following his speech that he supports U.S. military aid to Israel.

“I always have,” he told the Weekly Standard, referring to support of the $3 billion in aid that the United States provides annually to Israel.

The RJC had hosted Barber in Israel in 1994, when he chaired the Republican National Committee.

He is the third potential Republican 2012 presidential candidate to visit Israel in recent weeks. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee were in the Jewish state last month.

Barbour, like Romney and Huckabee, was scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli government officials.

N.J. man arrested for threatening ADL official


A New Jersey man with ties to neo-Nazi organizations was arrested and charged with threatening an Anti-Defamation League official.

A New Jersey man with ties to neo-Nazi organizations was arrested and charged with threatening the director of the New York regional office of the Anti-Defamation League.

Jacques Pluss, 57, of Ridgewood was arrested Wednesday by New Jersey State Police following a SWAT team raid on his apartment, according to reports.

Pluss was charged with bias intimidation and harassment, and for weapons possession after he was found to possess three rifles despite a restraining order that prohibits him from owning weapons. He also frequently visited neo-Nazi websites, police told the Ridgewood News.

He allegedly sent several threats to the director of the New York regional office of the Anti-Defamation League.

Netanyahu: Only ‘credible’ military threat led by U.S. can stop nuclear Iran


Only the convincing threat of military action headed by the United States will persuade Iran to drop plans to build an atomic bomb, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

Speaking to foreign journalists, he said that although the latest round of international sanctions were hurting Iran, they would not be enough to force a u-turn on nuclear weapons.

“You have to ratchet up the pressure and … I don’t think that this pressure will be sufficient to have this regime change course without a credible military option that is put before them by the international community led by the United States,” he said.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Jewish institutions reassess security following bomb attempt


Jewish institutions throughout the United States are reassessing their security following last Friday’s mail bombing attempt of two Jewish institutions in Chicago.

On Tuesday, some 200 representatives of Jewish community institutions took part in a conference call with FBI experts on security measures.

“The situation with bombs this weekend certainly reminded us that all our institutions can be vulnerable to threats of this type,” said Bonnie Michelman, the community security chairwoman of the Anti-Defamation League, which organized the call.

Michelman, the security director at Massachusetts General Hospital, went on to outline specific signs that people should look for to identify suspicious packages.

The FBI announced Tuesday that no synagogues exist at the addresses on the two bomb packages but urged the need for continued community vigilance.

“Terrorists will continue and diversify their attacks,” a representative from the FBI’s Washington field office said during the conference call.

Senior leadership from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were set to begin holding teleconferences on the same topic with senior Jewish organizational leaders across the country beginning Wednesday afternoon.

Security experts are still trying to determine the actual targets of the two explosive-packed printer cartridges intercepted last Friday. It was unclear whether they were meant for the planes carrying the packages or the Jewish institutions to which the packages were addressed. U.S. authorities have refused to confirm the identities of the institutions targeted.

One of the packages was intercepted in Dubai and another in London. Al-Qaida is believed to be behind the two bombs.

After the bombs were discovered, a Homeland Security team arrived Sunday in Chicago, according to Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, the national agency for Jewish communal security. SCN operates under the auspices of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The Homeland Security representatives are contacting Chicago Jewish institutions for security training in conjunction with the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. SCN will notify other communities in advance of the Homeland Security calls, which will extend through the week.

“They’re providing training and resources to ensure the community feels safe and has the tools it needs,” Goldenberg said.

Of particular concern in this case, Goldenberg noted, is that the package bombs were addressed to American Jewish institutions, indicating that terrorists are treating them as proxies for Israel and thus legitimate targets.

“We don’t know when the bombs were intended to go off, but the fact remains they were going after American Jews, not Israeli consulates,” he said. “They targeted American synagogues. That was the message.”

Last Friday, SCN sent out two e-mail notifications to its national network outlining how to handle suspicious packages and alerting people to key addresses and other signs of a potential terrorist mail threat. The Orthodox Union and Union for Reform Judaism, both members of the SCN network, also sent out security alerts to their member congregations.

The SCN notification advised Jewish organizations to watch for large packages, particularly coming from abroad.

“Organizations that believe they have received a suspicious package should not open it, [should] evacuate the area and call 911 immediately,” it said.

Steve Sheinberg, who oversees the ADL’s Jewish community security program, said now that the first wave of emergency information has gone out, it’s time to regroup and engage in a careful, ongoing reassessment of each institution’s security measures.

“Our security messages are very measured,” he said. “Our goal is to inform, not panic. There is no need for panic. This is an occasion to look at security measures in place, make adjustments as necessary and move forward.”

In Chicago, Jews are calm but wary following the bomb threat.

“The schools are all being very vigilant, without getting everyone nervous,” said Rolly Cohen, education director of the Board of Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago.  “They’re stepping things up a bit, making sure doors are locked, checking to see who’s there before opening them, putting security measures back in places they might have become more lax about.”

“The need to take security precautions is not new,” said JUF Executive Vice President Michael Kotzin, who praised national and local security agencies for their professionalism and alacrity in responding to this incident. “This was a very traumatic example of that. There’s generally been a sense of calm, not fear and panic but a kind of resignation that we need to be alert—as Americans, and as Jews in particular.”

The Chicago federation and the ADL scheduled a security conference for Thursday in Chicago bringing together heads of local Jewish institutions with representatives of Homeland Security, the U.S. Postal Service and local law enforcement.

Comparing this week’s efforts to those following the shooting of six people at the Seattle Jewish federation three years ago, Goldenberg distinguished between the actions of “a lone wolf” like the Seattle shooter and the current situation.

“Now we are dealing with the potential of one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world targeting Jewish institutions,” he said.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, said operations at his synagogue “continued as usual” last Shabbat, although security was enhanced and worshipers were instructed to be extra vigilant.

“We had a bar mitzvah and no one was afraid to come to shul. I think it even drummed up business—one man told me his wife said, ‘You have to go to shul,’ ” Lopatin said.

“You think Chicago is under the radar screen, then you realize no one is immune if you are a part of a community,” the rabbi added.

(For detailed information on recommended security precautions, visit http://www.scnus.org or http://www.adl.org/security. The Chicago Jewish News contributed to this report.)

Turkey declares Israel ‘central threat’


Israel is seen as “a central threat to Turkey” in a policy paper written by Turkey’s National Security Council.

At the same time, the security council removed Syria, Bulgaria, Georgia and Armenia, as well as Iran, from the list of countries that pose a threat to Turkey, according to Turkish media outlets cited late Saturday by the Israeli media.

“The region’s instability stems from Israeli actions and policy, which could lead to an arms race in the Middle East,” the policy paper, known as The Red Book, reportedly said, according to Israel’s Channel 10.

It was the first time that Israel was seen as a threat to Turkey since 1949, according to Channel 10.

Meanwhile, in light of the policy paper, Israel’s tourism minister on Sunday called on Israelis to refrain from traveling to Turkey. 

Turkey must be “boycotted totally as a tourism destination” in order to preserve Israel’s national honor, Stas Mesezhnikov said.

Relations between Israel and Turkey began deteriorating following the monthlong Gaza war in the winter of 2008-09. Relations further deteriorated following Israel’s interception of a Gaza-bound flotilla on May 31, which led to the deaths of nine Turkish nationals, including one Turkish-American dual citizen.

Turkey has demanded that Israel apologize for its interception of the flotilla and pay compensation to the victims.

Abrams: U.S. must address Iran’s threat to Israel


A former Bush administration official said he hopes the United States will address the Iranian president’s threat to “wipe Israel off the map.”

“Israelis are living under the threat of annihilation every day,” Elliot Abrams, the Bush administration’s National Security Council senior director for Near East and North African Affairs, said April 25 at the Baltimore Zionist District’s “U.S.-Israel Relations In A New Era” symposium, the Baltimore Jewish Times reported. “If the world does not act, I believe Israel will act, and I hope the U.S. will.”

“We keep saying it’s unacceptable for Iran to have a bomb, but we don’t mean it. We mean it’s terrible, we don’t want it. But when Israel says it’s unacceptable, they mean it.”

Steve Rosen, director of the Middle East Forum’s Washington Project and a former top staffer at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, agreed with Abrams’ assessment

“The majority of Americans support force on Iran, yet there’s a taboo against saying we must force them now,” Rosen said at the seminar. “The U.S. would be more efficient than Israel at suppressing Iran. We have to have the ability to stare directly into the light bulb.”

Time Is Not on Our Side in Meeting Iran Threat


Time is not on our side in trying to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

A nuclear-armed Iran not only would threaten Israel’s very existence, it would destabilize the entire region and pose a direct threat to the national security and interests of the United States.

These threats are not theoretical. They stem directly from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who not only has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the map, he has promised the same fate for the United States.

Yet the longer our efforts focus on establishing a dialogue with the Iranian Islamic republic, the easier it is for Iran to attain its nuclear weapons goals. Talk is fine if it is premised in achieving realistic goals, but the Iranian regime has used past efforts at negotiation to delay and divide efforts by the United States and our allies to turn Tehran away from nuclear enrichment programs that clearly could be used for nuclear bombs.

In fact, when asked about Iranian uranium enrichment efforts, Adm. Mike Mullen, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, publicly said recently that Tehran already has enough nuclear material on hand to build at least one weapon. And, because of missile imports from North Korea and its own missile development efforts, Iran has the means to deliver such a weapon.

When President Obama last week offered increased dialogue and a better relationship with Iran, what was Tehran’s reaction? Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the world cannot block “the path of Iran’s nuclear progress.”

Fortunately, President Obama on March 12 announced he was extending existing U.S. sanctions against Iran for one year. A number of factors suggest that now is a good time to not only extend current sanctions on Iran but to increase them.

First, with the price of crude oil at about one-third of last year’s record, Iranian oil revenues have dropped dramatically.

Second, while Iran is the world’s fourth-largest crude oil producer, because of limited Iranian refining capacity, Iran has to import gasoline to meet its domestic demand.

Third, one-third of Iran’s people are not ethnic Persians and have been chafing under Tehran’s authoritarian regime.

Fourth, there is also considerable unrest among some of Iran’s young people, who also are resisting the rigid and oppressive policies of Iranian theocracy.

That is why I am an original co-sponsor of the Iran Threat Reduction Act, H.R. 1208. This important bill would not only extend current U.S. sanctions until the president certifies Iran has dismantled its weapons of mass destruction program and ceased its support for international terrorism, it would significantly increase U.S. pressure on Tehran to do both.

The bill would sharply increase U.S. efforts to stop the shipment of refined petroleum and natural gas products to Iran, as well as materials needed for building or maintaining oil and gas pipelines. Also, the bill completely prohibits U.S. importation of most Iranian products. It also denies U.S. foreign tax credits to Americans engaged in business activity with Iran that is prohibited by U.S. law.

March 17 marked the 17th anniversary of the bombing by Iranian proxies of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 and wounded 242. It is but one of hundreds of attacks Iran has made against Israel and the United States in a war Iran seems committed to continue.

Without direct Iranian support, Tehran’s proxies, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, would be far less formidable foes for Israel. Without Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Iranian weapons, the United States would have suffered hundreds of fewer casualties in Iraq.

The United States should increase the pressure on Iran to end its war upon us and our ally Israel once and for all. Quick passage of the Iran Threat Reduction Act would be an important step in that direction.

Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly represents Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in Congress and is a senior member of both the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees.

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