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Leaks reveal Mossad less alarmed by nuclear Iran than PM

Spy agency reportedly had more conservative assessment than Netanyahu even several weeks after famous ‘nuclear duck’ address at UN

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu draws a red line for Iran's nuclear program during his address to the UN General Assembly in September 2012 (photo credit: AP/Seth Wenig)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu draws a red line for Iran's nuclear program during his address to the UN General Assembly in September 2012 (photo credit: AP/Seth Wenig)

A series of cables between intelligence agencies was published by Al Jazeera on Monday, appearing to show that the Mossad assessment on Iran’s nuclear progress was more conservative than that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Earlier, the Israel Electric Company announced it would be limiting supplies to the Palestinians over a huge debt by the PA and the East Jerusalem Electric Company. Power outages lasting an hour were reported in Nablus and Jenin.

Earlier, the Shin Bet announced that it arrested 11 Hamas operatives last month. According to a statement, the group was planning to carry out a terror attack in early December in Hebron.

The Time of Israel blogged events as they unfolded.

Hamas cell leaders planned massive hit on IDF

The main suspects apprehended last month in Hebron are Suhaib Mamoun Saltan, 20, and his cousin Salem Abbas Saltan, 28. Salem was imprisoned in the past few years and was also held in administrative detention for an additional period of time.

In early December 2014, the two tried to carry out an attack in Tel Rumeida in Hebron. They reportedly wanted to detonate a small bomb in order to lure Israel Defense Forces soldiers to a location where a much more powerful explosive device was hidden. Due to a technical malfunction, the device failed to explode.

Deri says PM must accept Shas terms if he wants to stay in the job

With little under a month until election day, ultra-Orthodox parties are already playing the coalition game:

Shas leader Aryeh Deri says that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not agree to the Shas conditions for entering the government, “he will not be prime minister,” Israel Radio reports.

Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri, Jerusalem, December 30, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri, Jerusalem, December 30, 2014 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Deri may be punching above his weight, considering that Shas is polling at around seven Knesset seats and it is as yet unclear how votes will be divided between the party and Yachad, its splinter established by former Shas leader Eli Yishai after he was booted from Shas.

The Shas leader said he “prefers Bibi to be the next prime minister because this would be the natural choice of his electorate,” but added that Netanyahu would have to agree in advance to the basic demands of Shas.

Deri wants to raise the minimum wage to NIS 30 per hour and lower the value-added tax on basic food products.

IPS guard hurt as prisoner attacks with metal cord

A prisoner affiliated with Islamic Jihad attacked an Israel Prison Service guard with a metal cord. The attack occurred when the prisoner was being transferred to another facility.

The guard was lightly wounded.

Egypt shuts embassy in Yemen over ‘bad’ security

Egypt shut down its embassy in Sanaa and recalls all its staff due to deteriorating security, state media says, joining a diplomatic exodus since Shiite militia seized the Yemeni capital.

Long on the front line of the US war against Al-Qaeda, Yemen has descended into chaos since the Shiite Huthi militia swept into Sanaa from their mountainous northern stronghold last year.

“The Egyptian diplomatic mission in Sanaa headed by Ambassador Youssef al-Sharqawi returned to Cairo on Monday due to the bad security situation in Yemen,” the official MENA news agency reports.

“The Egyptian embassy in Sanaa was closed after the departure of the mission,” it adds.

— AFP

Iran says key differences remain in nuclear talks

A senior Iranian official in talks on the country’s disputed nuclear program has said differences remain on key questions at the ongoing negotiations in Geneva, state media reported Monday.

“The gap still exists, differences exist, and all parties are negotiating with seriousness and determination, but we haven’t found solutions to key questions,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said.

He was speaking after three hours of talks on Sunday night between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and their Iranian counterparts Mohammad Javad Zarif and Ali Akbar Salehi.

The US and Iranian officials began their talks on Friday.

— AFP

Israel Electric Corp. to reduce power flow to PA

CEO of the Israel Electric Corporation Yiftach Ron-Tal says that the IEC will begin reducing current flow to the Palestinian Authority from Monday afternoon, Israel Radio reports.

The Palestinian Authority owes more than NIS 2 billion (more than $500 million) to the utility company.

Ron-Tal was speaking at a conference held by B’Sheva, a newspaper mostly read by national religious Israelis.

‘1,600 IS men killed in coalition strikes so far’

US-led airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria have killed more than 1,600 people, mainly jihadists, since they began five months ago, a monitor said on Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said almost all of those killed were jihadists from IS and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate al-Nusra Front, though it also documented the deaths of 62 civilians.

The Britain-based monitor said the strikes that began on September 23 had killed 1,465 members of the Islamic State group, most of them non-Syrians.

Another 73 fighters from al-Nusra Front were killed, along with a man from a rebel group being held prisoner by IS in the group’s de facto capital Raqaa.

— AFP

Al Manar says IDF shoots at Lebanese farmers

Al Manar television reports that IDF troops opened fire at Lebanese farmers near Maroun a-Ras. The station said no one was hurt in the shooting. There was no confirmation from the IDF. Al Manar is a network affiliated with Hezbollah.

Electricity cut for 45 minutes in Jenin and Nablus

The Israel Electric Company (IEC) halted supply to Jenin and Nablus for 45 minutes over a debt of nearly NIS 2 billion by the Palestinian Authority and the East Jerusalem Electric Company.

The IEC said its representatives alerted government ministries over a long period of time on the inflating Palestinian debt and the immediate need to arrange a framework of payments, but the sides have so far not reached an agreement.

Bank of Israel lowers interest rate to 0.1%

The monetary committee of the Bank of Israel, chaired by governor Karnit Flug, announces lowering the interest for March by 0.15 percent to the lowest level in the history of the country – 0.1%. Many analysts were surprised by the decision, as some thought the bank would not change the interest rate or at most lower it by one or few hundredths.

Following the announcement, the Tel Aviv 25 Index rose by 0.5% to a record-high 1,500 points. Other bonds, including long-term government bonds, jumped by as much as 0.85%. The US dollar, traded this morning at NIS 3.85, now trades at NIS 3.91, 1.4% higher.

“The monetary committee believes that in light of the increased speed of revaluation and its possible effects on activity and inflation, lowering the interest rate to 0.1% is the best decision at this time if one want to stay true to policy targets,” the bank said in a statement.

Car bomb hits Shiite stronghold near Damascus

Syrian media outlets report multiple dead and wounded in a car bomb on the outskirts of Damascus. The attack takes place near Sayeda Zainab, a mosque holy to Shiites. The mosque is known as a Hezbollah stronghold.

Likud allowed to air ‘ISIS’ video

Justice Salim Jubran, head of the Central Election Committee, rejects an appeal that sought a ban on a Likud campaign video featuring actors playing Islamic State terrorists, Ynet reports.

Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, also serving as head of the Central Elections Committee, in the Knesset, December 16, 2014. (photo credit: Isaac Harari/Flash90)

Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, also serving as head of the Central Elections Committee, in the Knesset, December 16, 2014. (photo credit: Isaac Harari/Flash90)

Jubran says that “the clip is defensible as an exercise in political freedom of expression” and adds that as head of the committee his “authority does not include banning campaign videos even if they leave one feeling uncomfortable.

“It would be preferable for Likud to convey this message positively and not in a negative manner, not by using motifs that seem to create a link between the political left and a terror organization,” Jubran adds.

Lebanese satirist in court over claims he defamed Islam

A Lebanese satirist appears before a prosecutor in Beirut, after the country’s top Sunni religious authority filed a judicial complaint against him for allegedly defaming Islam.

Charbel Khalil found himself in hot water after he shared a photo on social media last week that was perceived by some as insulting to Islam.

The photo shows a woman wearing a short dress under a black robe, sitting on a black bed-cover with the Islamic slogan “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his Prophet” on it in white Arabic letters. The cover resembled the banner of the extremist Islamic State group, which has seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria.

The photo was accompanied by the words: “sexual jihad under the Prophet’s umbrella??”

— AP

Missing man’s belongings possibly found

A jacket and a set of keys are recovered north of Ein Gedi’s David stream, near the Dead Sea. Rescue forces say the items likely belong to Shay Yaacov Noam, 31, who has been missing since Friday morning.

The rescue forces in the area say the jacket and car- and house-keys were found not far from where Noam was last seen.

Rescue forces looking for Noam, now for the fourth consecutive day, are considering several possible scenarios for his disappearance. One is that he hitched a ride to friends and is staying with them, unaware that he is considered missing. According to another scenario, Noam was injured in a fall from one of the cliffs near the Dead Sea, and is either unconscious or unable to move. According to a third scenario, he was swept away in a flash flood. According to a fourth scenario, he went swimming in the Dead Sea and drowned there.

Israeli wins German singing competition

Israeli mezzo-soprano Hagar Sharvit wins the international “Das Lied” competition in Berlin, as well as the public’s favorite prize. Sharvit graduated from the Buchman-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University.

Sharvit joined the Deutsche Oper am Rain during the 2012-2013 season and snagged roles in several operas. She sang under the baton of many renowned conductors, including Zubin Mehta and Placido Domingo.

She was accompanied by Amiel Bushkevitz, who was co-winner of a prize for piano accompaniment. Sharvit won a prize of 15,000 euros.

‘Menny Naftali took boxes full of food to in-laws’

A resident of Afula files a complaint with police claiming that Menny Naftali, former caretaker of the Prime Minister’s Residence, transferred cartons full of food items to his relatives on a weekly basis between 2011 and 2012.

Menny Naftali, the former Prime Minister's Residence manager, seen during a press conference in Tel Aviv, February 17, 2015. (Photo credit: Flash90)

Menny Naftali, the former Prime Minister’s Residence manager, seen during a press conference in Tel Aviv, February 17, 2015. (Photo credit: Flash90)

The complainant, Avi Gabay, lived in the past few years close to the home of Naftali’s in-laws. He says Naftali would come every week and bring between five and seven boxes full of groceries.

“I used to stand at the window of my house and see Mr. Naftali as well as the boxes he was carrying, sometimes to his father in law, sometimes to his mother in law. Some of the boxes were open and so I could see from above what was inside them,” the complainant said.

Gabay does not claim to know where the boxes came from, but his complaint at Afula police was filed on allegations of theft.

A representative of Naftali says “it is bizarre that just after the latest development Mr. Gabay decided to suddenly recall events that took place three or four years ago. His statement is false, there is no evidence of any criminal offense. If he had evidence that Menny Nafatali stole the goods, why not say so in his statement to police?”

Russia accuses US of bringing ‘chaos’ to ME

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accuses the United States of plunging the Middle East into chaos and fueling the rise of extremists because of its drive to dominate the world.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (photo credit: AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (photo credit: AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Lavrov levels the fierce criticism of Washington’s policies at a special UN Security Council debate on maintaining international peace and security.

The foreign minister cites the US-led air strikes in Syria, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2011 military intervention in Libya as examples of “violations of the fundamental principles of the United Nations.”

“All of this is the result of attempts to dominate global affairs, to rule over all, everywhere, to use military force unilaterally to push one’s interests,” Lavrov tells the 15-member council.

“These have plunged the Middle East and North Africa into instability and chaos, and to a large extent have created a breeding ground in which extremists thrive,” he says.

— AFP

Charlie Hebdo team bites back with new issue

More than a month after jihadist gunmen massacred much of the Charlie Hebdo editorial staff, the magazine is back at work with another savage swipe at its favorite enemies.

The cover of the latest issue due out Wednesday depicts the pope, a jihadist, former president Nicolas Sarkozy and far-right politician Marine Le Pen as a pack of enraged animals chasing after a dog with a copy of Charlie Hebdo clamped in its jaws.

“We’re back!” reads the headline.

The team has lain low since rushing out a “survivors’ issue” a week after the attack that killed 12 people, including five of France’s best-loved cartoonists, on January 7.

“We needed a break, a rest… There were those who needed to work again straight away, like me, and those who wanted to take more time,” says Gerard Biard, the paper’s new chief editor.

“So we reached a compromise, and agreed on February 25… to start off again on a weekly basis.”

— AFP

‘Netanyahu should take Herzog to DC’

Top Channel 2 Middle Eastern affairs analyst Ehud Yaari regards the details of the emerging deal between world powers and Iran as very bad news for Israel.

“In light of the agreement as it looks now, it is not inappropriate that Prime Minister Netanyahu will call on opposition leader Isaac Herzog to go with him to Washington and address Congress side by side with him,” he says.

Former Likud minister Haim Corfu dies, 94

Haim Corfu, a former Likud MK and minister of transportation, dies at age 94.

Corfu was born in Jerusalem in an ultra-Orthodox family. At age 16 he joined the Etzel movement. He also played soccer for Beitar Jerusalem.

Corfu was behind several attacks against officials in the British mandate. When captured, he was exiled to Sudan and lived there and in Kenya. He only returned to Israel with the establishment of the state in 1948.

Corfu was a Jerusalem city council member from 1967 to 1969 and in late October 1969 was appointed a Knesset member for Herut, the party from which Likud later evolved. He was an MK until 1992 and served as transportation minister in the 10th and 11th Knessets.

US jury rules PA responsible for terror attacks

A US jury decides that Palestinian authorities – the PLO and the Paletinian Authority – should be held responsible for terrorist attacks in Israel that killed or wounded Americans.

Jurors also awards the victims $218.5 million in damages. The jury reaches the decision at a civil trial in a federal court in Manhattan. The US Anti-Terrorism Act could allow for that to be tripled.

The plaintiffs sued the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority in 2004 under the US Anti-Terrorism Act. The law allows victims of US-designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation.

The plaintiffs said internal documents showed that the Palestinian authorities sanctioned six attacks from 2002 to 2004 that harmed 10 American families. Defense attorneys argued that the attackers acted on their own.

Read the full story here.

— AP

‘Israeli jets fly over Quneitra’

Israeli jets were seen flying in Syrian airspace near Quneitra in the Syrian Golan Heights, Israel Radio reports. Battles between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad are ongoing there.

Steinitz says deal would leave Iran ‘weeks away’ from producing fissile material

“Reports of a deal that will allow Iran to operate 6,500 centrifuges immediately and within several years to improve uranium enrichment facilities are worrying,” says Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz addresses the seventh Annual INSS conference in Tel Aviv, Wednesday, January 29, 2014 (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz addresses the seventh Annual INSS conference in Tel Aviv, Wednesday, January 29, 2014 (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

“Such a deal would make Iran a nuclear threshold state, one year away from fissile material according to this interim deal and within reach of fissile material in only a few weeks within 10-12 years, sufficient for the production of several dozen nuclear weapons. We hope the powers that be in the P5+1 will prefer not to sign such an agreement,” Steinitz says.

‘Spyleaks’ cables: Mossad less sure than PM on Iran’s intentions

Mossad held a view contradicting that of Prime Minister Netanyahu on Iran’s nuclear progress, even a mere month after Netanyahu’s address at the UN General Assembly where he held up a diagram of a cartoon-like bomb and marked it with red lines to show Iran’s progress toward a weapons.

Netanyahu's nuclear diagram, presented at the UN General Assembly on Thursday (photo credit: IBA screenshot)

Netanyahu’s nuclear diagram, presented at the UN General Assembly in September 2012. (photo credit: IBA screenshot)

According to secret documents that Al Jazeera claims to have acquired, Mossad sent a cable to South Africa on October 22, 2012 that laid out a “bottom line” estimate on Iran’s level of nuclear development.

While Netanyahu assessed during his address that Iran was around a year or 18 months at most from being able to make a bomb (“by next spring or next summer”), the Mossad cable to the South African intelligence agency said that the Islamic Republic’s scientists are “working to close gaps in areas that appear legitimate such as enrichment reactors.” Such activities, however, can “reduce the time required to produce weapons from the time the instruction is actually given”.

Also among the revelations from the documents acquired by Al Jazeera: In October 2012, Mossad estimated that Iran had 100 kilograms of uranium enriched to a level of 20 percent.

Iran expanded that stockpile in 2013, but then agreed to neutralize or destroy that material under an agreement with the P5+1 group.

Germany wants Jews to stay, promises security efforts

Germany says it wants Jews to stay and promises to ensure their security following a deadly attack on a Danish synagogue and calls from Israel for European Jews to emigrate.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits a Siemens Industrial electronics factory in Amberg, southern Germany on February 23, 2015. (photo credit: Armin Weigel/DPA/AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits a Siemens Industrial electronics factory in Amberg, southern Germany on February 23, 2015. (photo credit: Armin Weigel/DPA/AFP)

Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany was “glad and also grateful” to have a Jewish community, when asked about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s renewed appeal following Sunday’s attack in Copenhagen.

The German government and other officials will do everything possible to ensure the safety of Jewish institutions and citizens in Germany, Merkel tells reporters after Sunday’s election in the northern city-state of Hamburg.

“We’d like to go on living well together with the Jews who are in Germany today,” the chancellor adds.

— AFP

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Electricity cut for 45 minutes in Jenin and Nablus

The Israel Electric Company (IEC) halted supply to Jenin and Nablus for 45 minutes over a debt of nearly NIS 2 billion by the Palestinian Authority and the East Jerusalem Electric Company.

The IEC said its representatives alerted government ministries over a long period of time on the inflating Palestinian debt and the immediate need to arrange a framework of payments, but the sides have so far not reached an agreement.