Following the Palestinian bid to have Israeli officials convicted on war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court, Jerusalem sought international support in defunding the tribunal. Meanwhile, Israeli security agencies announced the arrest of seven residents of northern Israel on suspicion of forming an Islamic State cell with the aim of carrying out terrorist attacks in Israel. Top politicians from Japan and Canada visited, and the pre-election campaign continues to heat up.
An Israeli helicopter strike in the Syrian Golan Heights killed as many as ten Hezbollah and Iranian officials. Among the dead was Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh, a senior Hezbollah commander killed in Damascus in 2008. Jihad Mughniyeh had been serving as the Shi’ite terrorist group’s Golan District commander, and was reportedly plotting attacks against Israel. The Times of Israel liveblogged developments through Sunday.
Israel urges allies to pull funds from ICC
After the International Criminal Court announced that it would begin launching a probe into possible Israeli war crimes during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, Israel says it’s lobbying its allies who are members of the ICC to try to defund the tribunal in retaliation.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman tells Israel Radio on Sunday that Jerusalem “will demand of our friends in Canada, in Australia and in Germany simply to stop funding it,” Reuters reports.
“This body represents no one. It is a political body,” Liberman says of the ICC in the Hague. “There are a quite a few countries — I’ve already taken telephone calls about this — that also think there is no justification for this body’s existence.”
Liberman is set to meet with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird in Jerusalem on Sunday, where he’s expected to raise the issue.
Pivoting East, PM touts ties before Abe visit
With anti-Semitism on the rise in Europe, Israel is looking for trading partners in the East, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says ahead of a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday.
“Western Europe is undergoing a wave of Islamization, of anti-Semitism, and of anti-Zionism. It is awash in such waves, and we want to ensure that for years to come the State of Israel will have diverse markets all over the world,” he tells the cabinet during its weekly Sunday meeting. “I put emphasis on markets to the East not because we want to give up on other markets. But we definitely want to reduce our dependence on certain markets in Western Europe.”
Abe and Netanyahu are set to meet Sunday and discuss expanding economic ties between Japan and Israel. The two met last year in Tokyo.
Abe will arrive with the heads of several major Japanese corporations.
Liberman, Baird powwow in Jerusalem
Foreign ministers John Baird and Avigdor Liberman sit down in Jerusalem. Earlier in the afternoon, Baird’s car was pelted by eggs in Ramallah. Liberman is expected to discuss defunding the ICC with the Canadian envoy.
— Derek Stoffel (@DerekStoffelCBC) January 18, 2015
Air force said to fire into Syrian Golan
An Israeli aircraft fired two missiles into the Syrian Golan Heights on Saturday, unconfirmed Lebanese reports say.
There are no immediate reports of casualties.
IDF declines comment on Syria strike
The IDF declines to comment on Lebanese media reports that an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at ground targets in the Syrian Golan Heights near the town of Quneitra.
Al-Mayadeen, a Hezbollah news outlet, reports that two Israeli reconnaissance aircraft were patrolling the area at the time of the airstrike.
Earlier in the day, Lebanese state media reported that three Lebanese soldiers suffered respiratory problems after Israeli soldiers threw tear gas grenades over the border.
Livni taps reporter Svetlova for Hatnua list
After former Hatnua MK Elazar Stern joined Yesh Atid earlier today, Tzipi Livni reserves a slot for Russian-Israeli journalist and Arab world expert Ksenia Svetlova on her joint list with the Labor Party for the upcoming elections.
Svetlova, an Arab affairs pundit with Channel 9 and fellow with the Mitvim foreign policy institute, will be given a realistic spot in the list. Her inclusion is seen by Channel 2 political correspondent Amit Segal as a “explicit appeal to the immigrant community in light of [Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor] Liberman’s weakening.”
Japan PM Abe lands in Israel
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives in Israel for his first official visit. He’s slated to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later today.
Abe landed after paying state visits to Egypt and Jordan and is heading a delegation of 100 government officials plus 100 heads of leading Japanese global companies.
PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at Ben-Gurion Int'l Airport for his first official visit to Israel. pic.twitter.com/wYVCmHEJxU
— Avi Mayer (@AviMayer) January 18, 2015
‘Israel hits rocket-launching cell in Syria’
The Israeli helicopter that struck the Syrian Golan Heights targeted a cell that was preparing to launch rockets into Israeli territory, Lebanon’s MTV news outlet reports.
Netanyahu could give Dichter 11th Likud slot
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly weighing the possibility of giving Avi Dichter one of the reserved spots in the Likud party list for the upcoming elections in a bid to resolve the conflict between Dichter and Tzipi Hotovely over the 20th slot in the list, NRG reports.
Dichter beat out Hotovely for the 20th spot in the Likud primaries by a hair, a result which Hotovely has threatened to appeal. Should the results change, Dichter, a former public security minister and Shin Bet security service head, would slide to 26th place, considered out of Knesset range.
By giving Dichter the eleventh spot in the Likud list, which is one of the seats reserved for a Netanyahu appointee, both Hotovely and Dichter would get a seat in the Knesset.
UK minister urges action to beat anti-Semitism
Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May has urged fresh action to combat anti-Semitism amid fears in the Jewish community following the terror attacks in Paris.
May said Sunday the hostage siege on the Jewish supermarket was a chilling reminder of anti-Semitic prejudice.
Speaking at a commemoration for attack victims, May said that she “never thought I would see the day when members of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom would say they were fearful of remaining here in the United Kingdom.”
May says efforts to combat anti-Semitism must be redoubled because Jews are integral to Britain.
“Without its Jews, Britain would not be Britain, just as without its Muslims, Britain would not be Britain — without its Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and people of other faiths, Britain would not be Britain.”
Israeli official confirms strike on Syria
An Israeli security source confirms that an IDF helicopter carried out a strike Sunday against fighters in the Syrian sector of the Golan Heights who were thought to be preparing an attack on Israel.
The source tells AFP the strike took place near Quneitra, close to the ceasefire line separating the Syrian part of the Golan Heights from the Israeli-occupied sector, confirming a report by Lebanon’s Al-Manar television.
IAF strike may have targeted armed convoy
Unconfirmed reports indicate that the target of a reported Israeli airstrike in the Syrian Golan Heights earlier in the day was an armed convoy.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cites local sources saying the Israeli helicopter strike targeted armed vehicles, but it remains to be seen, however, who the armed vehicles belonged to — Hezbollah, the al-Nusra Front or the Syrian Army.
There were unconfirmed reports of casualties in the strike.
Israel said to target Hezbollah officer
Lebanese news outlet El Nashra reports that the reported Israeli airstrike in the Syrian Golan Heights targeted a senior Hezbollah commander.
The report gives no indication of the man’s identity, or whether there were casualties in the strike.
35 Syrian soldiers die in plane crash
At least 35 Syrian soldiers are killed overnight when an army cargo plane crashed in bad weather in the northwest of the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syrian state media say.
The plane crashed after hitting electricity lines in heavy fog in Idlib province.
But Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front claims on Twitter that it shot down the aircraft.
Syrian state media report the crash without giving a death toll.
Liberman calls for Abbas’s removal
Israel’s foreign minister says the Palestinian Authority president must be removed for peace talks to proceed after the International Criminal Court announced it was opening a probe into alleged Israeli war crimes.
Avigdor Liberman says President Mahmoud Abbas must “pay the price” for initiating the ICC probe. Liberman tells Israel Radio that “we must get rid of Abu Mazen (Abbas)” for diplomacy to prevail. He says the US must stop its financial assistance to the Palestinians.
Friday’s ICC announcement comes after the Palestinians acceded to the court’s treaty and recognized its jurisdiction dating back to before the last Gaza war. The probe could target alleged crimes by both Israel and the Palestinians.
Son of senior Hezbollah man said killed
At least one Hezbollah commander was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Syria on Sunday, a Lebanese news report says.
The report says that Jihad Mughniyeh, son of Imad Mughniyeh, a senior Hezbollah commander killed in Damascus in 2008, was the person killed in the airstrike.
LBCI cites unnamed sources saying that the Israeli strike on Syria targeted a Hezbollah convoy.
— LBCI News English (@LBCI_News_EN) January 18, 2015
At least four killed in Israeli airstrike
The Israeli strike on a Hezbollah target in the Syrian Golan Heights killed four, the Lebanese Daily Star reports.
Reuters reports that five Hezbollah fighters were killed.
5 Hezbollah members killed in Israeli air strike in Syria – Reuters
— Allyn Fisher-Ilan (@AFilan) January 18, 2015
Hezbollah confirms fighters killed in IAF strike
Shiite militia Hezbollah says members were killed in an Israeli strike on the Syrian Golan Heights.
There’s still no confirmation of their identities.
Unconfirmed reports say Jihad Mughniyeh, the Shiite terrorist group’s Golan District commander, was among those killed.
Mughniyeh killed in airstrike, Hezbollah says
Hezbollah says that Israeli strikes in Syria have killed a “number” of its fighters, including Jihad Mughniyeh, son of a slain top military commander.
The group says it will announce the names of the fighters after their families are informed.
‘Iranian officer killed in Israeli strike on Syria’
Lebanese news outlet al-Jadeed reports that an Iranian field commander named Abu Ali al-Tabtaba’i was among the five killed in the strike.
In addition to Jihad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s commander in the Syrian Golan Heights, the Lebanon Daily Star reports that an Israeli airstrike also killed Hezbollah field commander Mohammad Issa.
The Daily Star’s source confirmed Tabtaba’i death, and said that one Hezbollah vehicle was destroyed and another damaged in the bombing.
Ex-IDF general hints at strike’s timing with elections
Former IDF Southern Command chief Yoav Galant tells Channel 2 on Sunday, shortly after the reported Israeli airstrike on Syria, that it’s not impossible to rule out connecting the timing of the attack to the elections campaign.
“Based on past events, you can learn that sometimes there’s timing that’s not unconnected to the elections,” he says, pointing to the Israeli assassination of Hamas strongman Ahmed Jabari a few months before the 2013 elections.
Hezbollah mobilizes as northern Israel fears fight
Hezbollah has reportedly mobilized its fighters on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel following an airstrike that has killed a senior Hezbollah commander in Syria, a Lebanese security source told the Turkish state news agency.
The Lebanese Shi’ite militia’s raised alert comes amid growing concerns in northern Israel of an escalation of hostilities. Authorities have yet to give the order to open bomb shelters, however.
Hezbollah’s Syria commander said killed in strike
Abu Ali al-Tabtaba’i, one of the men said killed in an Israeli airstrike on Syria earlier on Sunday, is reportedly commander of Hezbollah’s operations in Syria.
‘6 Iranians, 5 Hezbollah killed in Israeli strike’
The Turkish state news agency says that six Iranians and five Hezbollah fighters were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Syria. Among the latter is Jihad Mughniyeh.
Nasrallah to deliver speech following airstrike
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah will deliver an address on Sunday evening following a reported Israeli airstrike that killed at least five Hezbollah fighters, including two commanders, earlier in the day, Lebanese media says.
WATCH: Palestinians egg Canadian FM in Ramallah
A video of Palestinians throwing eggs at Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird during his visit to Ramallah on Sunday surfaces on YouTube. Hecklers can be heard booing Baird as eggs splatter against his Toyota SUV. Riot-control cops clash with protesters on the ground.
Fighting rages near site of Israeli airstrike
The Local Coordination Committees in Syria report intense shelling and machine gun fire in the demilitarized zone separating the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria.
The fighting is taking place near where, earlier in the day, an Israeli helicopter reportedly fired missiles at a Hezbollah convoy, killing at least five of the Lebanese militia’s members, including a senior commander.
القنيطرة : قصف عنيف بالرشاشات الثقيلة يستهدف منازل المدنيين في الصمدانية Qunitra: Fierce shelling with heavy… http://t.co/xZGASDiJBP
— LCCSY (@LccSy) January 18, 2015
Hezbollah death toll rises to nine — report
The Lebanese Daily Star reports that the Hezbollah death toll in a reported Israeli airstrike along the border with Syria has risen to nine.
Hezbollah fighters along border on high alert
Hezbollah guerrillas in towns and villages along the border with Israel went on high alert, said an official from the group. In the Shiite-dominated areas of south Lebanon and Beirut the streets emptied quickly, as residents feared an escalation.
Hezbollah-run al-Manar TV warned that Israel was “playing with fire that puts the security of the whole Middle East on edge.”
Belgium to ask Greece to extradite terror suspect
Belgium will request the extradition of a suspect arrested in Greece who could be linked to a jihadist cell smashed by Belgian security forces earlier this week, federal prosecutors said Sunday.
“Out of two suspects arrested, there is one who could be linked” to the group, the prosecutors’ spokesman Thierry Werts told RTL television. “There are sufficient elements to seek his extradition,” he said.
He declined to comment on the identity of the suspect or his alleged role in the cell, which, according to Belgian police, was planning to kill police officers.
Syria says Israeli airstrike a ‘serious mistake’
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi tells the Lebanese al-Manar news station that “today Israel made a serious mistake by attacking Syria. The attack shows that it’s cooperating with terrorist organizations and Jabhat al-Nusra.”
‘Mughniyeh planned, launched attacks on Israel’
Unnamed Western intelligence officials tell Ynet that Jihad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah commander killed in a reported Israeli airstrike in the Syrian Golan Heights, “already planned serious and deadly terrorist attacks, and had a few in the chamber, against Israel in the Golan Heights. Attacks which include rocket fire, infiltration, explosive charges, anti-tank fire and the like, whose objective was to kill soldiers, harm Israeli towns in the Golan Heights, and kill Israeli citizens.”
Planned hit or preventative move?
It’s still not clear whether the Israeli airstrike on the town of Mazraat Amal near Quneitra Sunday was a planned assassination or a hastily thrown-together operation.
On February 16, 1992, an Israeli Apache helicopter tracked the car of Hezbollah leader Abbas Moussawi and released a missile, killing him, his wife, his son, and four other people. It was Israel’s first assassination by helicopter.
The operation was not fully planned. It had begun as intelligence work and had morphed, hastily, into a targeted killing.
Something similar may have happened today.
“I don’t think this was a targeted killing,” says Professor Shlomo Shpiro, the head of the political studies department at Bar-Ilan University and a senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
Instead, he says, it appears to be a preventative move, meant to thwart a developing attack. “The Golan Heights is flammable enough without this sort of thing,” he said.
He suggested that the senior Hezbollah commanders may have been on an officer’s patrol, a pre-operation reconnaissance, and said the situation was akin to the Syrian fighter jet that crossed into Israeli air space — a threat too near and too grave to ignore.
— Mitch Ginsburg
‘The enemy has gone crazy’
The Hezbollah-linked al-Manar TV station reports that “the enemy has gone crazy because of Hezbollah’s growing capabilities and it could lead to a costly adventure that will put the Middle East at stake,” according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, a Lebanese columnist writes that it will be difficult for Hezbollah to ignore the strike, which, he argues, was a direct response to Nasrallah’s speech Thursday.
“Killing the son of Mughniyeh is dangerous. I do not think that the group can be quiet now, now that the father and the son are killed. I expect that it will do something,” Nabil Boumonsef writes.