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Today's News

July 23, 2014



US, European Airlines Suspend Flights to Israel. Jewish Ingenuity Finds Creative Ways to Reach Israel Via El Al
By DEBKAfile &

On Tuesday, the Obama Administration Ordered all US airlines to suspend their flights to Israel. A number of European companies followed suit, including Lufthansa, Air France, KLM and Austrian Airlines.

The White House cited a rocket that hit a house Tuesday morning in Yahud, which is close to the landing and takeoff strips of Ben Gurion Airport and near Airport City. A Delta Boeing 747 from New York, with 273 passengers and 17 crew aboard, was flying to Tel Aviv earlier Tuesday when it turned around over the Mediterranean and flew to Paris instead.

However. hundreds of new immigrants from the United States and Canada, including about 100 children, landed in Tel Aviv on Tuesday despite the tense security situation in Israel. The new arrivals on the Nefesh B'Nefesh flight were welcomed to Israel by several officials, including Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver and Nefesh B’Nefesh co-founder Rabbi Yehoshua Fass.

“The decision to make aliyah is not a simple one, especially in the current situation it is a courageous and important one,” said Landver in her welcoming remarks. “The continuing massive aliya of families and children, especially in these times of crisis, strengthens the resolve of our nation and serves as a proof that Israel is the one and only home of the Jewish nation.”

The new immigrants on the flight include some who are part of a special initiative to settle new citizens in Israel's north and south. Those planning to live in the south were briefed on the security situation, and were granted additional resources to assist them in their transition to life in southern Israel.

Fass hailed the new arrivals for their inspiring decision to move to Israel. “Today's aliyah flight demonstrates the great resilience of the Jewish people and its determination to build the State of Israel,” he said. “These olim, who are choosing to move to Israel in these difficult times, are instilling hope, optimism and strength throughout Israel and the Jewish nation. The outpouring number of requests we received to join the flight out of solidarity for the citizens of Israel is inspiring.”

A rocket hit a home in the city of Yahud, near the airport, on Tuesday morning. Having failed to cause significant casualties due to Israel's extensive defense systems, Gaza terrorists have focused rocket fire on the area in hopes of disrupting Israeli air travel.

Shortly after that development was announced Lufthansa, Germany's largest airline, also temporarily cancelled flights to and from the Jewish state for the next 38 hours due to "security concerns". Austria Airlines, Germanwings and Swiss Airlines have also suspended flights to Israel, though it is not clear for how long.

Israeli airline El Al, however, said it would continue operating as usual. "El Al, as always, will continue regular flights from and to Israel. El Al will happily aid American companies, while still giving clear priority to passengers who purchased El Al tickets in advance," the company said in a statement.

Other airlines continue regular flights into Ben Gurion Airport. Royal Jordanian has been flying the Israel-US route for several years. Since the signing of the peace accord between Jordan and Israel, Royal Jordanian has never stopped flights to and from Israel, even in times of war.

Sources in the prime minister's office said that Binyamin Netanyahu spoke with Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday evening and requested that he act to repeal the cancellation of American flights to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport.

Shortly after Delta Air Lines , American Airlines Group and United Airlines cancelled their flights, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice prohibiting all US airlines of flying in or out of Ben-Gurion Airport for a period of up to 24 hours.

"The FAA will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation. Updated instructions will be provided to US airlines as soon as conditions permit, but no later than 24 hours from the time the NOTAM went into force," the FAA said in a statement.

Canada's largest airline has also canceled a flight to Israel. Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur said the flight Tuesday evening was canceled and they will continue to evaluate future flights. Transport Canada spokeswoman Ashley Kelahear said decisions to cancel flights are made by the airlines themselves.

The North American airlines were soon joined by several European airlines. Air France suspended its flights to Israel "until further notice." Dutch flag carrier KLM cancelled its Amsterdam-Tel Aviv flight on Tuesday. "We have cancelled our flight to Tel Aviv as a precaution because we can't secure passengers' safety," said KLM spokeswoman Joyce Veekman. "We'll review the situation every day."

Brussels Airlines has suspended flights Tuesday and three more planned Wednesday, said one of its spokesmen. "We're monitoring the situation on the spot and we will reassess the situation tomorrow," he told AFP.

The German company Lufthansa decided to halt flights to Israel for 36 hours. The decision also affects its Germanwings, Austrian Airlines and Swiss divisions.

"We are monitoring the security situation in Israel closely and we are in constant contact with responsible authorities as well as the airport in Tel Aviv (TLV). The safety of our passengers and our crew is our top priority," Lufthansa said in a statement.

Swiss International Air Lines has cancelled all flights to Tel Aviv on Tuesday and Wednesday. "As a precautionary measure given the situation we are discontinuing our flights to Tel Aviv and continue monitoring the situation very closely," Swiss International Air Lines spokeswoman Susanne Muehlemann told Reuters.

The European Air Safety Agency has issued a "strong recommendation" to avoid Ben Gurion Airport until further notice. Representatives from European airline companies in Israel said that they had no doubt that about what motivated their companies to cancel flights to Israel.

"The announcement from American companies created, in this case, a domino effect. In any case, the European teams weren't happy about the situation, and of course the hit in Yahud set off a wave of concern with or without connected to the incident with the Malaysian plane. The pressure put on the companies from the air crews played their part. When the Americans decided to suspend the flights, the Europeans rushed to join them. This is a very rare decision," they said.

Earlier this month, Hamas has warned international airlines not to fly to Ben-Gurion Airport, saying they would target the airport. "In the light of Israel's ... attacks on the residents of Gaza Strip ... The armed wing of Hamas movement has decided to respond to the Israeli aggression and we warn you against carrying out flights to Ben Gurion airport, which will be one of our targets today because it also hosts a military air base," the statement said.

It was the latest blow to Israel on a day when it announced that an IDF soldier went missing following a deadly battle in the Palestinian territory, where Israel is fighting Hamas terrorists in the third conflict in just over five years.

Palestinian terrorists have fired more than 2,000 rockets toward Israel, and several heading toward the area of Ben-Gurion Airport have been intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, but police spokeswoman Luba Samri said Tuesday's landing was the closet to the airport since fighting began on July 8.

The rocket damaged a house and lightly injured one Israeli in Yahud, a Tel Aviv suburb near the airport, Samri said. The Transportation Ministry called on the companies to reverse their decision and said it was trying to explain that the airport was "safe for landings and departures. Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded and there is no reason whatsoever that American companies would stop their flights and hand terror a prize," it said in a statement.

Jonathan Reiter, a prominent New York aviation-accident attorney, said flying into an airport after a near-miss by a rocket could be used to show that the airline was negligent. That explains why airlines are suspending service to Israel. "I'm sure it is human concern as well," Reiter said, "but I think (the airlines) feel it is wise to err on the side of caution because it is their burden to prove they are doing everything possible to avoid injuries and deaths."


IDF Soldier: Missing in Gaza or Dead?

By, Israel Hayom & DEBKAfile

The IDF finally Tuesday, July 22, listed Golani soldier Sgt. Oron Shaul, aged 20, from Poriya Elite, "missing" after an initial attempt to declare him presumed dead. Shaul was in the IDF’s APC, in which the entire squad was killed by a Hamas anti-tank missile early Sunday morning. Six bodies were recovered from the blasted and burnt tank and identified. The seventh, Oron Shaul, was not found or identified. After an exhaustive probe and tests, the army informed his parents that they had not found his remains, but there was no way Shaul could have possibly survived this devastating attack.

The IDF was anxious to nullify the Hamas claim to have taken the missing soldier prisoner, although no real evidence was offered that he was in their hands, whether alive, dead or wounded. It was important to head off the coming extortions in military or political coin for a name tag, a singed ID card or even a body part.

And indeed, Hamas - once branded “a trafficker in bodies” by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas - announced Tuesday that it would make Israel pay dear for ever scrap of information about the missing soldier. Another statement issued by Hamas later stressed that its price for information about Sgt. Shaul was separate from its terms for a ceasefire. And still, although the haggling had started, there was no proof that Sgt. Shaul had fallen into enemy hands or was even alive.

The family of the missing soldier was firmly opposed to the line taken by the IDF. A relative, Racheli Gazit made a statement to reporters, saying: “So long as the family sees no irrefutable proof of the soldier’s death, we refuse to accept it.” She added that while tests continued and no contrary evidence was forthcoming, Sgt. Oron Shaul would be deemed to be living.
This episode is just one instance of the military’s policy of fashioning a picture of events in the Gaza War for public consumption which may turn out to be contradictory and is often wide of reality.

Another insistence of this was Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s comment Monday that Israel would finish off Hamas’ terror tunnels “in a day or two.” A senior IDF officer said the next day that most of the tunnels had been found, but another “week or two” were needed to fully map the structures and demolish them.

Col, Uri Gordin, commander of the Nahal Brigade, was the first senior officer leading the war in the Gaza Strip to level with the public about the state of play in his sector, the northern area of Beit Hanoun. He confirmed that while his men had located most of the tunnels, they were not yet ready to be demolished. He went on to confirm that the IDF faced a hard fight against Hamas, which he said was a tenacious and coherent enemy. The Islamists, he said, were throwing into battle everything they had in the way of manpower and weaponry for repelling the IDF assault on their infrastructure. “We are at war,” said Gordin.

Six other Golani Brigade soldiers who were riding in the same vehicle were killed and have been identified as Sgt. Max Steinberg, 24, from Be'er Sheva (a recent immigrant originally from Los Angeles); Staff Sgt. Shahar Taase, 20, from Pardesiya; Staff Sgt. Daniel Pomerantz, 20, from Kfar Azar; Sgt. Shon Mondshine, 19, from Tel Aviv; Sgt. Ben Oanunu, 19, from Ashdod; and Staff Sgt. Erez Noach, 22, from Hoshaya.

"At this time, the remains of six of the seven soldiers involved in the incident have been identified," the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. "Given the complexity of the incident, the identification efforts concerning the seventh soldier are ongoing. The IDF is in constant contact with the families of all seven soldiers."

On Tuesday afternoon, the IDF published the name of the missing soldier -- Oron Shaul, 21 from Poria. The IDF believes there is little chance Shaul survived the attack. Hamas has claimed it abducted Shaul, but there has been no verification of this claim. IDF officials think the most Hamas might have in its possession are identifying items taken from the scene of the attack.

Nine soldiers were killed between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning in clashes with terrorists in southern Israel and Gaza Strip, bringing the death toll of Operation Protective Edge to 27. Over 150 soldiers have been wounded since the ground operation in Gaza began Thursday night.

A rocket from Gaza fell in a private yard near Be'er Sheva. A nearby structure was damaged but no injuries were reported as a result of the attack.

The first Hamas rocket barrage early Tuesday was aimed at Be'er Sheva and Ashdod. A school in Ashdod was one of the many educational institutions targeted by Hamas. There were no casualties. Iron Dome had knocked out seven rockets by 10.30 a.m.

A smugglers’ boat carrying arms from Jordan for West Bank Palestinian terrorists was intercepted early Tuesday on the Dead Sea in a combined IDF-police operation. The boat also carried a cargo of drugs.

The Dead Sea which is divided between Israel and Jordan is often used for smuggling arms and drugs to Palestinian towns on the West Bank, where going prices are high. Israel’s security authorities are clamping down on the traffic, due to the spike in violence against Israelis in Judea and Samaria since the IDF confrontation with Hamas began six weeks ago over the kidnap-murder of three Israel teens.

The battle for Shijaiyah, the Hamas stronghold on Gaza City’s outskirts, was still unresolved Tuesday, July 22, indicating that the Islamists were not giving up. Indeed, fresh Hamas reinforcements appeared to have taken up new positions in the battle zone during the night. They may have arrived through Hamas’ many-branched tunnel system.

Every few hours, the IDF spokesman releases two sets of figures: Israeli casualty statistics and the number of IDF strikes against Hamas. He has little to say about Israel’s military movements. Neither Israeli nor foreign correspondents have been permitted to accompany IDF troops fighting in the Gaza Strip – a policy the IDF has pursued since the second Lebanon war of 2006. Military leaders are therefore free to manage the data, human and electronic, coming out of the war, including images from the various fronts, without independent coverage. The public sees the same IDF surveillance footage day after day.

This policy reduces the hazards faced by Israeli forces and keeps their scale and identities secret from the enemy – and that is good for Israel’s war effort. On the other hand, it creates a widening gap between the “official version” and the real state of affairs on the battlefield. Since most people have access to relatives on the front - not to mention prolific rumor mills powered by the social media - the credibility of national war leaders suffers.

Official communiqués are studded with impressive figures. Tuesday morning, the IDF was reported to have struck 3,200 Hamas targets since the start of the operation. In the last four days, the soldiers located 23 secret tunnels and 36 shafts leading into Hamas’ subterranean complex, and killed 186 Hamas operatives in combat. Israel lost 27 officers and men in the same period. Those figures are telling in that they illustrate the hardships confronting the IDF from a ferocious enemy which refuses to crack under air or ground assault.

Because the Golani Brigades’ losses in Shijaiyah were so heavy, IDF chiefs had no choice but to disclose information about the combatants on this front. But no one, aside from the combatants and their officers, knows what is going on in the other arenas to which the five special IDF task forces have been assigned. There is no news for instance from the southern sector of Rafah and Khan Younes. or the northern towns of Shati and Zeitun. No one knows how many Hamas tunnels are left to be destroyed - and where - before the IDF claims to have completed this critical part of its counter-terror mission

By any military standard, the IDF has the edge over Hamas. But the battle still needs to be won.
This situation has stiffened Hamas’ resistance to any of the ceasefire proposals taking shape in various parts of the region in the last couple of days. Its leaders feel strong enough to carry on fighting and holding out for better terms than those on offer at present.

Hostilities are therefore likely to drag out for an indeterminate period. For Israel, the diplomatic clock is ticking too fast. As the warfare stretches out without a decisive battle on at least one Gaza front, the rising casualty toll threatens to undermine Israel’s ability to stand up to the pressures of international truce diplomacy.

Soldier: Terrorists Charged with Babies in Hand

Parents of wounded soldiers spoke to Kol Yisrael on Tuesday and shared some of the disturbing stories they had heard from their sons. They said soldiers have repeatedly seen young children in Shijaiyah, Gaza, be sent out into the streets with guns to try to attack IDF troops.

One parent reported that terrorists had run at IDF soldiers with a gun in one hand and a baby in the other, apparently in hopes that the soldiers would see the child and hold their fire. If soldiers fired, the parent added, the child’s death could be used as propaganda against Israel. “They’re continuing the same trick of using children as human shields, just as they did in Operation Cast Lead,” one father said. Women are used as human shields as well, he added.

He expressed frustration at figures on the Israeli far-left who have accused IDF soldiers of committing war crimes. Israel’s soldiers do everything they can to avoid hurting innocent people, he said. The parents’ testimony joins previous evidence of similar crimes, including reports from UNRWA that a school building was used to store rockets, and a video showing terrorists using an ambulance to escape the site of an attack. Hamas has openly boasted about the "success" of its strategy of using civilians as human shields during Operation Protective Edge.

Ban Ki-Moon Traveled to Mideast on Flight Financed by Hamas Backer Qatar

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon flew to Cairo on a Qatari-chartered plane, Newsweek reported Monday. Accepting the flight from Qatar, which sponsors the terrorist organization Hamas, puts Ban in a compromised position. Newsweek notes that when he condemned the Israeli efforts to defend itself from Hamas rockets on Sunday, it marked “the first time in two weeks that Ban did not mention rocket or other attacks against Israelis.”

Aside from coloring Ban’s statements, his coziness with Qatar also threatens his ability to arrange a long-term ceasefire that would effectively restrain Hamas. Ban’s choice of Qatar as the first Middle East capital on his trip has raised eyebrows in the region. Egypt, in particular, has bitterly criticized what Cairo’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukri, has called Qatar’s “conspiring” — along with Hamas and its other regional ally, Turkey — against Egyptian attempts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Ban’s acceptance of the flight is one more in a series of scandals that calls into question the UN’s neutrality in the conflict between Israel and the Gaza-based terror organization. Last week it was reported that the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) handed over 20 missiles it found near one of its schools back to Hamas. UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness has a record of anti-Israel activism that prompted Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, to demand his suspension.

Washington Post: While Gaza is “Mired in Poverty,” Hamas Built at Least 36 Tunnels at $1 Million Each

The Washington Post has published an overview of the resources that Hamas puts into building tunnels to allow its operatives to infiltrate Israel, as well as Hamas’ strategy for utilizing the tunnels.

Describing this emerging “tunnel war,” a Palestinian militia document obtained by the news Web site al-Monitor said the objective of the underground network was “to surprise the enemy and strike it a deadly blow that doesn’t allow a chance for survival or escape or allow him a chance to confront and defend itself.”

Analysts said the tunnels are a major prong of Hamas’s military strategy against Israel. While the Gaza Strip remains mired in poverty — the 2011 per capita income was $1,165 — Hamas is thought to have sunk more than $1 million into the excavation and maintenance of every tunnel. “Much to the misfortune of the people of Gaza, Hamas has invested far more resources in ‘underground Gaza’ than in ‘upper Gaza,’” wrote al-Monitor’s Shlomi Eldar. “The ‘change and reform’ that Hamas offered its voters was invested in its tunnels at the expense of the people of Gaza.”

The Post cited an article in Al Monitor published last October when Israel discovered a tunnel extending into its territory. The Palestinian military sources, who asked to remain anonymous, told Al-Monitor that the tunnel was one of the largest military projects in recent years and a long-term endeavor intended for a military operation to be conducted when those who built the tunnel made the decision to launch it. This suggests that the tunnel may have been intended to kidnap Israeli soldiers or for a military attack against the Israeli army, discussed previously in Al-Monitor.

At the time, analysts believed that Hamas was looking to launch a “spectacular” attack to boost its flagging fortunes.



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 Paradise Regained, Paradise Lost

By Don Canaan (Commentary)

This year marked the 29th anniversary of the return of the Sinai by Israel to Egypt--a day of mourning by many of the 2,000 settlers who settled and later were forcibly evacuated by Israeli authorities under the command of Ariel Sharon, from the seaside city of Yamit on the Mediterranean.

Yamit was former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan's dream--a projected seaport and city of 250,000 founded on the Sinai sand dunes overlooking date palm trees and the blue Mediterranean--a populated buffer between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on the other side of the Suez Canal.

Some alternate historians say Moses and the children of Israel passed near the site of Yamit 3,500 years ago as they wandered for 40 years through the Sinai Desert on their way to the proverbial land of milk and honey.

Since April 25, 1982 only the whine of the desert wind weaves its currents through the crevices of destroyed homes, businesses and monument--a memorial to the young men who died during the 1967 Six Day war.

Christians, Jews and Muslims died during three Arab-Israeli wars and battles that took place in the Sinai in 1956, 1967 and 1973--Egyptian and Israeli--young people who fought and died in that desolate, forsaken desert wasteland.

The modern-day chariot carrying Egyptian President Mohammed Anwar al-Sadat hugged the intermittently green coastline of Sinai on its historic mission to Jerusalem. Israelis glancing upward into the clear night sky saw merely a jet banking gently to the northwest.

Official Israeli government policy was that the settlers had to be removed and the army came and forcibly removed the remaining diehard residents. The Jerusalem Post described the scene: Apocalypse had arrived in Yamit and in the dust and noise and destruction one could wander freely. Dozens of bulldozers and giant mobile air hammers were loose in the city like a pack of predatory beasts."

April 25, 20011 marked the 29th anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from Yamit and Sinai and a cold peace between long-term enemies.

That gift of peace silently glided overhead as the Sabbath disappeared and the stars appeared. At 8:01 p.m. Sadat's jetliner landed at Ben-Gurion Airport and the first minutes of a then potential peace came to the Middle East.

Old enemies became new friends. The crowds roared its approval when Sadat shook hands with Moshe Dayan. A person standing nearby, according to the Jerusalem Post, said Sadat told Dayan, "Don't worry Moshe, it will be all right."

The peace treaty between the two nations was signed on March 26, 1979 and on April 25, 1982; the events that had started on a November day at Camp David came to fruition. Sinai was returned to Egypt. Yamit was bulldozed to the ground. But Anwar Sadat did not live to see that day. He had been assassinated seven months before.



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