JERUSALEM — Israel's prime minister and defense minister tried to move their country closer to an attack on Iran in 2010 but military and security chiefs resisted, an Israeli television program reported Monday.
The Channel 2 television magazine “Fact” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the military to enter a level of preparedness termed P Plus, reportedly code for preparing for a military strike.
It remained unclear whether they intended to follow through with a strike or just wanted to signal that Israel was prepared to make such a move. Ultimately the instructions to the military were dropped.
In a taped interview that followed the segment, Netanyahu told “Fact” that he was “not eager to go to war” and would be “very happy” to see international sanctions force Iran to rein in its nuclear program, which Tehran says is peaceful in intent but Israel, the U.S. and others fear will produce a nuclear weapon.
“At the end of the day, as prime minister of the Jewish state, the responsibility is mine to prevent the threat to our existence,” Netanyahu said.
In the feature, which aired Monday night, veteran investigative journalist Ilana Dayan reported that the order was given somewhat casually, at the end of a ministerial forum convened on a different matter.
But Gabi Ashkenazi and Meir Dagan, then army chief of staff and head of Mossad, respectively, resisted the instruction, said Dayan's report. Ashkenazi reportedly said the army wasn't ready; Dagan contended that only the security Cabinet could authorize such a step because it might lead to war. Both men have since left their posts.
The report highlights the continuing disagreement between Netanyahu and some of his top security officials on the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear program, a topic that in recent years has become a permanent fixture on the agenda in Israel.
JERUSALEM -- Two new outposts of settlers have gone up in the West Bank in recent months, according to a report by the Israeli anti-settlement organization Peace Now.
The organization noted that unlike the usual makeshift set-up of such outposts, the new ones come complete with paved roads and infrastructure connections to electricity and water, suggesting official support.
"They wouldn't have been able to do this without the authorities' assistance," Hagit Ofran of Peace Now told Israeli media. The group said these are the first outposts to enjoy such official backing since 2005.
Danny Dayan, chairman of the Yesha Council, the settler umbrella group, dismissed the report as "nonsense," saying neither outpost was new or illegal and that both were built inside existing settlement boundaries.
The Civil Administration, a branch of the Israeli military, was aware of the two locations and has begun procedures to stop work on the site and issue demolition orders, according to Israeli media.
JERUSALEM -- Tensions along the Gaza Strip intensified Wednesday as a sustained barrage of rockets fired into Israel prompted an Israeli airstrike, marking an escalation in the latest round of fighting in the region.
In a morning barrage, Palestinian militants fired more than 50 rockets into Israel, officials said, with several making direct hits on farms and residences. Three immigrant Thai farm workers who were injured in the attacks were airlifted for medical treatment.
School was canceled throughout Israeli communities bordering on the Gaza
Strip, and residents were instructed to remain near shelters and
Israel retaliated with an airstrike on Gaza, the fourth in 24 hours.
"The [Israel Defense Forces] will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians and will operate against anyone who uses terror against the state of Israel," said an army statement that held Hamas, which seized control of the seaside territory in 2007, "solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip."
JERUSALEM — A leading Israeli radio station's decision to ban for broadcast a protest song is stirring controversy and underscoring the sensitive intersection of art, politics and freedom of speech in the country.
"A Matter of Habit," recently released by veteran Israeli musician Izhar Ashdot, describes the slippery slope Israeli soldiers go down, from fear and confusion to complacency, until "killing is a matter of habit." The lyrics, written by Ashdot's life partner, novelist Alona Kimhi, reportedly were inspired by her tour with Breaking the Silence, an organization of former combat soldiers whose website says it is dedicated to exposing the "reality of everyday life in the occupied territories."
The song was welcomed by liberals as a protest of Israel's actions in the West Bank but fiercely criticized by others, who defaced Ashdot's official Facebook page last month, with one angry reader referring to Ashdot as a "draft-dodging dog" — though he didn't evade mandatory service.
Army Radio stuck by an advance invitation that Ashdot perform in its studios but expressly vetoed the playing of this song. The station later issued a statement saying there was no room on the military station for a song that "denigrates and denounces those who have sacrificed their lives for the defense of the country."
"I am worried when songs are banned for broadcast in a democratic country," Ashdot told Israeli media, adding he was shocked by the "incitement" against him that the statement encouraged. The decision and statement were issued by Yaron Dekel, a veteran journalist appointed to be the station's military commander in February.
JERUSALEM -- The day after an unidentified drone penetrated Israeli airspace and was shot down by the Israeli air force Saturday, speculation continued about the origin of the small craft or its assignment.
According to statements from the Israeli military, the drone was spotted before entering Israeli airspace and remained under surveillance of both ground and air forces until being downed in the northern Negev, a relatively remote area chosen to avoid damage to civilian areas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the military's response and stressed Israel would continue to protect its "land, sea and air borders" on behalf of its citizens.
The drone entered Israeli airspace Saturday along the country's southern Mediterranean coast. Despite emerging from the direction of the Gaza Strip, the army does not believe it was launched from the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave. Theories abound as to the make and mission of the drone -- described by Israeli media as sophisticated.
"The immediate suspect is Hezbollah," according to one theory published in Haaretz. The Lebanese-based, Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militia is believed to have used drones against Israel before, although coming from the south presents a twist. Another commentator on the website ynetnews.com raised the possibility it was headed toward Dimona, site of Israel's nuclear reactor, to photograph the area, and that this was a message from Iran, testing Israel's capabilities.
JERUSALEM -- A man opened fire in an Israeli hotel Friday morning, killing one man before being shot and killed by a counter-terror unit called to the scene.
Witnesses said the incident took place as the breakfast hall at the Leonardo Club Hotel in the southern resort town of Eilat was filling with guests. Michal Buaron, vacationing at the hotel with her family, told Channel 2 TV they were on their way to the dining hall "when people started running out like a hurricane" and guests were ordered to return to their rooms and stay there.
Israeli media reported that the shooter was a former employee who came to the hotel to have words with another employee with whom he'd fallen out during his employment. When an armed hotel security guard arrived on the scene to intervene, the man reportedly grabbed the guard's handgun and ran into the kitchen, fatally shooting one man.
A counter-terror unit was quickly dispatched to the hotel, as police issued instructions to guests over a public address system to remain in their rooms. After a short standoff, the shooter was killed.
The circumstances are under investigation, but local media said the shooter was an American citizen in his early 20s and that his victim was a 50-year-old man.
Media reports said the shooter had arrived in Israel on a program for American Jews.
The shooting took place during one of the busiest times of year in Eilat, a Red Sea resort town that attracts many local tourists on vacation during the Jewish holidays.
JERUSALEM -- A Christian monastery near Jerusalem was defiled overnight by vandals, who set the front door on fire and spray-painted insults to Christianity, including "Jesus is a monkey" on the outside walls.
A monk sleeping in one of the guest rooms at the Trappist monastery of Latrun awoke from the noise outdoors and extinguished the flames, while the guard called the police, according to Israeli media accounts.
Graffiti in Hebrew included the words "Ramat Migron" and "Maoz Esther" -- the names of two unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank recently removed by Israeli authorities.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attack, calling for severe punishment for the perpetrators.
"Freedom of religion and freedom of worship are among Israel's basic foundations," Netanyahu said in a statement after meeting with the ministers of public security and defense to discuss what actions were being taken to apprehend the vandals.
JERUSALEM — The six-year legal battle over Migron came to an end Sunday as the flagship Jewish outpost in the West Bank quietly emptied of its residents, leaving security forces to deal with outside pro-settlement activists on the site throughout the morning and Defense Ministry crews to pack their belongings.
"Jews do not expel Jews," supporters of Migron chanted at the special police units filing into the outpost in the morning, carrying shields in case of possible clashes. By late afternoon, officials were satisfied with the operation. Some families had left overnight, others early in the morning in cooperation with authorities, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told reporters.
Police roadblocks deployed overnight kept most protesters out; the few activists holed up in vacated homes were carried out by police, who arrested eight people. No injuries were reported. The roadblocks will remain another day while the site itself is turned over to government authority.
Rosenfeld said the police would step up patrols over the next 24 hours to counter possible backlash from Jewish extremists, including small-scale retaliation in the West Bank or blocking roads in Jerusalem.
JERUSALEM -- Two weeks after the brutal beating of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem, nine Jewish teenagers were indicted Tuesday in a Jerusalem court on charges of incitement to violence and commiting racially motivated assault.
Earlier this month, 17-year-old Jamal Julani was walking in downtown Jerusalem with a group of friends doing holiday shopping toward the end of Ramadan. His evening out ended in a hospital bed and serious injury after a group of Jewish teenagers attacked him without provocation, authorities said, brutally beating him unconscious.
Those indicted, according to Israeli media, were Shimon Simantov, 19; and eight minors including a 15-year-old girl released to house arrest. According to the indictment, the group moved between several downtown flash points that evening looking to pick a fight with Palestinians, chanting racist slurs and intimidating Arab youths they encountered. Most hastened out of their way after being cursed, pushed and kicked, the indictment said.
Three Palestinian youths managed to escape at the beginning of the assault but Julani was beaten relentlessly and kicked while he lay unconscious on the ground, authorities said. The assault was almost fatal; Julani's heart stopped and he had to be resuscitated, according to a justice ministry statement on the indictments.
The incident drew widespread condemnation across the political spectrum, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who declared Israel would "not tolerate racism" or "the combination of racism and violence," and President Shimon Peres, who expressed "shame" over the attack.
It also sounded an alarm among educators, headed by Minister of Education Gideon Saar, who said the education system would take a stand that would be "sharp and clear," and directed schools to discuss the incident with students upon their return to school this week.
An editorial in the liberal daily Haaretz had scolded Israeli society for feigning shock and wrote that the perpetrators, "children and teens ... absorbed hatred for Arabs from their environment," including the educational and political systems.
A recent poll conducted by Tel Aviv University among high school seniors found that more than half of them did not want to live next door to Arabs and most supported deporting African refugees from the country.
This month's beating of Jamal Julani, widely described by mainstream Israeli media as a "lynching," was defined as an "altercation" by Honenu, a right-wing organization that aids Jews in legal trouble for "defending themselves against Arab aggression or due to their love for Israel," including in this case.
While Julani was recovering in a Jerusalem hospital, his mother told local media that she pitied her son's attackers -- and their mothers. "Who could be proud of a child who does a thing like this?" she asked.
She believed her son's assailants would feel more shame and regret as they grew up. After his arrest, one of the teens had said that Julani could die for all he cares, explaining,"He's an Arab."
JERUSALEM — A protest in Tel-Aviv on Saturday night took an unsettling turn when an Israeli man set himself on fire. "The state of Israel stole from me and robbed me. It left me helpless," 57-year-old Moshe Silman wrote in letters left at the scene before dousing himself with gasoline.
As Silman fights for his life with third-degree burns covering at least 80% of his body, protest leaders, politicians and the public are trying to understand the act of desperation and its meaning for the calls for "social justice," the slogan of the socioeconomic protests now into their second summer in Israel.
Silman's fall began with failure to repay a small debt that ballooned and cast him into poverty, exasperating dealings with bureaucracy and ultimately, despair. "I shall not become homeless," he wrote, accusing the government of humiliating and weakening its citizens, "taking from the poor and giving to the rich." Demonstrators read his letter out loud after the incident.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended wishes for Silman's recovery and instructed Housing and Welfare ministers to examine his case, which he called "a great personal tragedy."
Leaders of the protest — which began last summer as a call for affordable housing and quickly evolved into a movement protesting the high cost of living in Israel — reject personalizing Silman's case. This was "an extreme act of a person broken by the cruelty of the system," said Daphni Leef, a young film-school graduate and a movement founder.
Economic insecurity coupled with the collapse of the country's welfare services causes citizens' "fear of falling into poverty, hunger and living in the street," she told reporters after the rally, adding that "the government that does not care for its citizens" is responsible. Saying she did not want to see more "victims of the government's policy," Leef said the lesson is that the protest needs "to achieve results and fast ... because more and more people are losing what they have."
Silman's act echoes the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian man who set himself on fire in December 2010, sparking revolt in his country that led to the removal of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and triggered the Arab Spring.
"Will Bouazizi's Israeli equivalent inspire the government to do some soul-searching? Will he inspire some kind of rehabilitation for the system that pushed him to this terrible act?" asked commentator Or Kashti. He noted that the Tunisian man who had become a symbol did not kill himself to bring democracy but out of desperation after local municipal authorities confiscated his fruit stand and he lost his livelihood.
Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovitch said that increasingly strict criteria for public housing and the absence of a safety net for citizens brought Silman and others "to a dead end of despair." But the Labor Party leader, a veteran advocate of equal and accessible socioeconomic rights, warned on her website that Silman's attempted suicide "must not be seen as the symbol of the social protest."
In 2005, a woman set herself on fire in protest of Israel's plan to uproot settlements and "disengage" from the Gaza Strip. Yelena Bosinova died 10 days later but did not become a symbol of the campaign against the disengagement plan.
Saturday night's rallies in Tel-Aviv and other cities marked a year since the formation of the social justice movement, dubbed the "J14" protest. Although participation is down from last summer's demonstrations, which had 1 million people in the streets at their peak, protests have revived in recent weeks with many activists claiming nothing has changed.
According to a government website allowing the public to track implementation of the Trajtenberg Committee recommendations for reducing the cost of living in Israel (passed by the government last year), two-thirds of the 138 recommendations are at various stages of implementation.
Although Netanyahu's promise that changes in taxation, increasing competition and changing economic priorities would eventually "lead to Israelis being able to ... do more with their money" isn't yet being felt in people's pockets, it's been "[a] good year for the social protest," the editorial opined. They haven't achieved everything they wanted, the liberal daily Haaretz editorialized, but the movement caused a genuine change in public awareness and "changed the balance of power between the public and the government."
Others have warned of backlash, saying the country's economy should brace itself for "capitalist protest," in which politicians' intervention in the economy will drive investors away and Israeli money out and take a toll on Israeli economy. Certain sectors are already hurting, most notably advertising and advertising-dependent media, as mega-companies branded as "tycoons" are keeping a lower public profile. The Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange also showed a decline this past year.
Netanyahu's government must take into account the changed social climate as it negotiates economic policies, especially entering an election year. Israel recently doubled its deficit target in order to minimize raising taxes.