Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday hailed indications that world leaders were not rushing toward a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, and said he hoped “these words will find tangible expression.” Shortly afterwards, President Barack Obama said the US would “walk away” from the talks if the deal was unacceptable.
Meanwhile, Israeli senior officials continued to spar over ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s criticism of the prime minister, with Likud officials coming to Netanyahu’s defense and the Zionist Union’s Amos Yadlin backing Dagan. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the ex-intelligence chief was “wrong.”
In Israel, the leak of concessions to the Palestinians that the prime minister allegedly was willing to accept continued to reverberate. Yaakov Amidror, ex-aide to Netanyahu, said if the leak was indeed from Washington, as had been rumored, it would be a serious breach of trust and may nix future US-brokered peace talks.
At the same time, the Likud party told a newsletter over the weekend that the prime minister’s speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, in which he called for Palestinian statehood, was no longer relevant.
The Times of Israel liveblogged events as they unfolded.
PM hopes world will wait for ‘right deal’ with Iran
Netanyahu commends remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry over the weekend hinting at the possible extension of the Iranian nuclear negotiations. Kerry had said the world powers “have a critical couple of weeks ahead of us. But we are not feeling a sense of urgency that we have to get any deal. We have to get the right deal.”
In response, the prime minister says at the beginning of the cabinet meeting: “Following my speech to Congress, we heard – over the weekend – several of the major powers’ foreign ministers saying that they do not see the need to reach an agreement forthwith and that they will wait until the right agreement is found. I hope that these words will find tangible expression.”
“We will continue to take all possible action to deny the largest terrorist state in the world the ability to produce the most dangerous weapon in the world, a weapon which is aimed – first and foremost – against us,” Netanyahu adds.
Yadlin defends ex-Mossad chief Dagan
The Zionist Union’s Amos Yadlin defends ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan, after the security official came under fire from a Likud MK for criticizing the prime minister.
Dagan harshly criticized Netanyahu in a Channel 2 interview and at an anti-Netanyahu rally on Saturday night, which drew some 40,000 people.
In response, Deputy Environmental Protection Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) painted Dagan as an ingrate.
“I personally call on him [Dagan] to thank Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for saving his life while he underwent surgery,” Akunis said during an interview on Army Radio Sunday, likely referring to Dagan’s 2012 liver transplant in Belarus during which terror groups issued threats against the former Mossad chief. In response, the prime minister sent Israeli security to the Minsk hospital until Dagan could return home.
“As a Jew, I believe in showing gratitude,” Akunis said during the interview, and called Dagan’s attack on Netanyahu “personal, and not objective.”
Yadlin chimes into the debate, calling on the Likud to retract its “ugly” statements against “a great man who contributed much to the security of Israel,” according to the Ynet news website.
“Like all other issues, here to, the government is engaged in slander rather than action and decisions. All those Likud officials need to ask themselves why all the former security chiefs are coming out against their policies. The time has come that they look in the mirror and answer all the tough questions Dagan raised, instead of attacking him personally.”
Soldier fires in air during settler arrest
IDF soldiers and police enter the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin to arrest two youths suspected of involvement in violent clashes with Palestinians.
Residents surround the police vehicle to prevent them from leaving the settlement, and IDF reinforcements were called in to break up the crowd.
A soldier, who was subsequently surrounded by dozens of people, shot in the air to disperse the crowds.
‘I could be finance minister in 10 minutes’ — Kahlon
Moshe Kahlon of the Kulanu party says that he was being pressured by both the Likud party and Zionist Union to publicly back a candidate for the premiership.
“If I wanted to, I could become the [next] finance minister in ten minutes, after one telephone call,” he says, according to the Walla news website.
Kahlon also says he believes that Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid failed as finance minister.
“He claims he almost succeeded. I say that a near goal is not a goal,” he says.
More women back Likud than men — poll
In honor of International Women’s Day, Channel 2 features a poll spotlighting gender differences with regard to the upcoming elections on March 17.
According to the survey of about 1,000 respondents (both male and female), women were more concerned about security issues than men and most likely to vote Likud (18%). Their second choice was the Zionist Union (16%). For men, the top choice was the Zionist Union (23%), followed by Likud (19%).
More women than men are likely to vote for the ultra-Orthodox parties, although neither one (Shas, United Torah Judaism) has a female candidate on its slate, and 61% say that whether or not a party has adequate female representation will affect their voting choices. Still, some 60% say all parties should reserve slots for women.
Although the Zionist Union was not their top choice, on women’s issues, the majority of female respondents say Tzipi Livni would best advance women’s issues (24%). The most important gender issues to resolve are the wage gap (61%), followed by subsidies for daycare (39%), the respondents say.
As for a female prime minister, 60% of men and 60% of women say they would back a female prime minister. But 42% say that the political situation would be the same under a female prime minister’s leadership, while 27% say it would be improved.
The margin of error for the poll is 3.1%.
300 UK jihadists said to return from Syria
Around half the estimated 700 Britons who have gone to fight with Islamic State jihadists in Syria have returned home, The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reports.
The weekly broadsheet’s figures, in a story about a leaked draft of the Home Office interior ministry’s new counter-extremism strategy, goes further than previous estimates, of around 500 individuals leaving and 250 returning.
Around 320 “dangerous” jihadists have come back to Britain, the newspaper says.
The new counter-extremism plan involves targeting Muslim Sharia courts, a ban on radicals working unsupervised with children, and a requirement that job centers identify welfare claimants who may become radicalization targets, the report said.
There would also be welfare penalties to encourage people to learn English, in order to improve integration, and tighter rules on granting citizenship to ensure newcomers embrace “British values,” the broadsheet says.
The Home Office declines to comment on the report when contacted by AFP.
The Sunday Telegraph says it understood that the draft will be published before parliament is dissolved at the end of the month before the May 7 general election.
10,000 European jihadists in Syria by year’s end — French PM
As many as 10,000 Europeans could be waging jihad in Iraq and Syria by the end of this year, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warns, a three-fold increase on current numbers.
“There are 3,000 Europeans in Iraq and Syria today. When you do a projection for the months to come, there could be 5,000 before summer and 10,000 before the end of the year,” Valls told French television channel iTele.
“Do you realize the threat that this represents?” he asks.
He says there are around 1,400 people who were either already in these conflict zones, who had come back from there or who were planning to go.
“There have already been nearly 90 French people who have died out there with a weapon in their hand, fighting against our own values,” Valls says.
“We have to face a particularly high threat level in France, in Europe and in other countries,” says Valls.
Jihadi John said to apologize to family
Jihadi John, who has been identified as London resident Mohammed Emwazi, has apologized to his family for any “problems and trouble the revelation of his identity has caused,” The Sunday Times reports.
The terrorist says he is sorry for the “shame” his unmasking has caused his relatives, but does not express regret for his actions, the report says.
US will ‘walk away’ from inadequate Iran deal — Obama
President Barack Obama says the United States would “walk away” from nuclear talks with Iran if there’s no acceptable deal.
Obama says any agreement must allow Western powers to verify that Tehran isn’t going to obtain an atomic weapon, and that even if Iran “cheated,” the US and others would have “enough time to take action.”
The president tells CBS’ “Sunday Morning” that “if we don’t have that kind of deal, then we’re not going to take it.”
Iran charges woman in 10-marriage scam
A young Iranian woman accused of marrying — and divorcing — 10 men in less than two years under an elaborate con trick has been charged with fraud, state media reports Sunday.
The alleged deception was made possible under Islamic rules that entitle a woman to a financial sum agreed before marriage but retrievable “on demand” any time after a ceremony takes place.
In Iran, an Islamic republic that has followed sharia law since the 1979 revolution, a soon-to-be bride sets a Mehrieh payment with her fiance — a dowry traditionally measured in gold coins.
In the case of the 20-year-old accused — who denies the charges — she married the men and immediately demanded her payment, never consummating the relationships, according to Iran, a daily newspaper.
The men had to pay half the Mehrieh payment to avoid breaking the law, but the woman said she actually agreed a 100-110 gold coin settlement, technically less than she could have claimed.
In each case, she then pressured her husband for a divorce, the paper says.
A divorced woman in Iran can wipe her husband’s name off her identity card if she can prove — using a doctor — she is still a virgin. The woman is accused of repeatedly taking such steps to conceal her past from her unsuspecting victims.
“I don’t see why I have to answer these questions,” she defiantly told a court investigator who had summoned all 10 husbands to court, the report says.
“I’m innocent. All my marriages have been legal and all my husbands married me at their own will and then we split up based on our differences.
“Under the law, since I was still a virgin, they had to pay half the dowry, and I would agree 100 to 110 gold coins and then would legally request my ID card to be cleaned of their names.”
It remains common among Iranian women to secure their marriage with an “on demand” clause on their dowry, which often goes beyond a few hundred gold coins.
The accused’s alleged money-making scheme was eventually discovered by staff at Tehran’s public register office, who had become suspicious of her frequent visits to change her ID card.
A criminal court has charged her with fraud and scam in marriage and set a trial for her case, although no date for proceedings was published.
Suspect in Nemtsov killing said to confess
Russian news agencies say one of the suspects in the killing of leading opposition figure Boris Nemtsov has admitted involvement in the crime.
The reports cite the judge presiding at Zaur Dadaev’s arraignment on Sunday.
Dadaev is among five suspects detained in the February 27 killing, when Nemtsov was shot while walking on a bridge near the Kremlin.
The reports cite Judge Nataliya Mushnikova as saying Dadaev made a statement confirming his guilt, but did not specify his alleged actions.
US Peace Corps suspends Jordan activities
The US Peace Corps says it is temporarily suspending its program in Jordan because of the “regional environment,” highlighting growing security concerns among some foreigners after Jordan raised its profile in the battle against the Islamic State.
The Peace Corps says 37 volunteers had been working with local communities on youth development, and that all volunteers have left Jordan. Citing the “current regional environment” for the pullout, the agency says it hopes the volunteers can return later.
The Peace Corps announcement comes after the US Embassy in Jordan warned last month of a potential threat of attacks against “high-end malls” in the capital Amman.
Mustafa Hamarneh, a member of Jordan’s parliament, says there is a sense among Jordanians that US officials are exaggerating the possible risk of attacks on foreigners in Jordan. “Malls are full, markets are full,” he said. “There is no general sense in this country that we are in danger.”
Maintaining Jordan’s image as a stable country is critical for the economy, he says.
Lapid takes on PM; Zionist Union to attack Lapid
Yair Lapid says he will do everything to prevent Netanyahu from becoming prime minister, but doesn’t rule out sitting in a coalition with any party — including Netanyahu’s Likud, Israel Radio reports.
The remarks came as the Walla news website unveiled the Zionist Union’s new campaign slogan, which is a takedown of Lapid. The decision to use the slogan, “You voted for Yair, you got Bibi — and everything stays the same,” came as the party concluded that it must garner more centrist votes to beat out the Likud party, the report says.
The political campaigners for the Zionist Union have not yet decided how to run the slogan — whether anonymously, or stamped with the party logo; whether widely, or in a limited pitch — but the report maintains that one aspect has been finalized: there will be a jingle.
Ya’alon denies PM knew of offensive Likud ad
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon denies the prime minister knew about a controversial Likud campaign clip which likened Israeli workers to Hamas .
After the Likud party withdrew the clip, Ya’alon calls it “tasteless and unnecessary.”
In response, Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli slams the ruling party, according to the Ynet news website, saying that the prime minister appears at the end of the clip, indicating he knew about the video.
However, it was not immediately clear whether the footage of Netanyahu was filmed specifically for this video.
“How can you say that Bibi [Netanyahu] didn’t know about the campaign video, if he took part in it,” Shmuli says. “Either someone in Likud thinks we’re all stupid, or Likud has lost all touch with reality, which would explain why the housing prices continue to climb, the gaps get bigger, and the [diplomatic] ties with the US are destroyed.”
Israeli abducted in Nigeria is freed
An Israeli man who worked as a consultant in Nigeria was kidnapped and held for five days, the Ynet news website reports. The man, who is in his 70s, was released after his company negotiated a ransom with the abductors.
The man — whose name has not been released — failed to show up to the airport several days ago. The kidnappers contacted his employers several hours after the abduction and demanded $500,000 for his release. The final sum paid remains unknown.
The company contacted the Israeli embassy, and an Israeli security officer was involved in the ransom negotiations, the report says.
The man was freed mostly unharmed, and says the kidnappers mostly treated him well — giving him food and medications — but beat him twice.
He has since left Nigeria, the report says.
How to find your polling station
Israeli voters who have not received notice of where their polling station is for the March 17 election can text their ID number to 052-9999-555 to obtain the address.
Argentine-Israeli journalist sues companies for revealing his travel plans
The Argentine-Israeli journalist who first reported the death of special prosecutor Alberto Nisman filed a lawsuit against two state-owned companies that revealed his private data.
Damian Pacther’s lawyer files a lawsuit on Friday against the state news agency Telam and the Argentinian air carrier Aerolineas Argentinas for making public flight information indicating when he was scheduled to leave Argentina “increasing the risk that Damian had at that moment,” according to his lawyer in Argentina, Javier Teitelbaum.
“The government made my flight itinerary public so I decided to file a lawsuit against Aerolineas Argentinas and Telam,” Pachter tells TN news channel in an interview from Israel. “I won’t come back to Argentina during the current government, and also I don’t know if I will return after.”
Telam on January 24 published the details of Pacther’s Aerolineas Argentinas flight to Montevideo, Uruguay, questioning in a story whether he was leaving Argentina because he feared for his safety.
The article also reported that his flight to Montevideo had a return ticket for February 2.
Teitelbaum held the first mediation session with representatives from both companies on Friday. No agreement was signed, but the parties agreed to meet again on March 20 to continue negotiations.
The attorney also filed a petition with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, asking for security measures for Pachter if he is called on to return to Argentina from Israel to testify in the case of Nisman’s suspicious death.
Chechen ex-cop, another man charged in Nemtsov murder
A Russian court charges two men with the murder of opposition activist Boris Nemtsov, including an ex-police officer from Chechnya who confesses to his involvement in the brazen assassination.
Five suspects appear in a court in central Moscow a little over a week after Nemtsov, a longtime critic of President Vladimir Putin, was shot four times in the back as he strolled with his girlfriend along a bridge in view of the Kremlin.
Court spokeswoman Anna Fadeyeva tells the RIA Novosti news agency that three of the men who were not charged were only considered suspects at this stage. All five are remanded in custody.
Zaur Dadayev, a former deputy commander for the Chechen police, and Anzor Gubashev, who worked for a private security company in Moscow, were arrested on Saturday in the republic of Ingushetia, which neighbours Chechnya.
They are both charged with murder but Gubashev denied involvement.
“The participation of Dadayev is confirmed by his confession,” says presiding judge Nataliya Mushnikova.
However, no information has emerged as to the possible motive the men could have had in killing the charismatic opposition leader.
His allies believe his assassination was a hit ordered by the top levels of government determined to silence dissenters. The allegation has been strenuously denied.
IDF intelligence chief to visit US
Major-General Herzi Halevy, who heads Military Intelligence, will visit the US and meet with defense officials this week, Reuters reports.
This is Halevy’s first official visit to Washington since his appointment in September, it reports. Halevy is also scheduled to attend a pro-Israel benefit event during his stay.
Liberman calls for beheading of Arab Israeli terrorists
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman calls for harsher measures against Israeli-Arabs who support terror.
“Those with us, should receive everything” in terms of rights, he says, according to Channel 2. “Those against us, it cannot be helped, we must lift up an ax and behead them — otherwise we will not survive here.”
He says Israel is too “stupid, stingy, and soft” on the matter.
During this election campaign, Liberman has repeatedly called for the death penalty for terrorists.
“Israeli citizens who raise a black flag on Nakba day — from my perspective, they should get out of here, and I would willingly and with great pleasure hand them over to Abu Mazen [Abbas],” he adds, referencing his plan for land swaps in the event of a future Palestinian state, which he has argued should absorb Arab Israelis.
The foreign minister also reiterates his call for a regional peace agreement with the Palestinians, brokered by neighboring Arab states.
He says that Arab states are not too fond of the Palestinians.
“Even the Palestinians know what the Arab states think of them,” he says. “You don’t have to go far. Go to Kuwait and ask them what they think about the Palestinians. There are some states who have finally internalized that the real threat is not Israel, not Judaism, and not Zionism, but the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, the al-Nusra front, Hezbollah and Hamas,” he says. “We must take advantage of the momentum and be smart.”
He says Israel must have a “package deal” for peace with the Arab countries “which will change the reality.”
Ya’alon says ex-Mossad chief ‘was wrong’
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon tells Channel 2 that ex-Mossad chief Dagan “was wrong” in his criticism of the prime minister.
“It’s not the first time security officials have been wrong — there are those who supported the Oslo Accords, there are those who supported the disengagement [from Gaza in 2005],” he says.
Ex-aide to PM says leak could nix future US-brokered peace talks
Former Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror says that if the document outlining Netanyahu’s alleged concessions to the Palestinians was indeed leaked by Washington, as had been suggested, it would undermine the possibility of future US-brokered talks.
“There is no doubt that this leak radically impairs the possibility of serious negotiations in the future,” Amidror tells the Walla news website.
“It doesn’t matter who will be the next prime minister — Benjamin Netanyahu or Isaac Herzog — he will not be able to rely 100 percent on the confidentiality of the negotiations after a leak like this. The same is true for the Palestinians, who will ask themselves — we will agree to all these ideas, and then read about it in the papers? By us, the damage is only political, but on the Palestinian side, it could cost lives.”
“Whoever leaked this caused severe damage to the process, because both sides will not be able to rely on the American administration any longer,” he continues.
Amidror insisted that the document did not accurately represent Netanyahu’s position, but was rather an American draft proposal that “was meant to be bad enough for both sides so they could say they had reservations, without telling the Americans to ‘go to hell.’
“There is no Israeli-Palestinian agreement here, only an American attempt to create a draft that will allow both sides to go to the negotiating room and talk,” he says.
Amidror also defended Netanyahu in the face of right-wing criticism for being too conciliatory and left-wing criticism for being too passive. “I can almost instinctively say that if the right thinks there are too many concessions, and the left thinks there aren’t enough concessions — this is probably the right position.”
Struggle against Palestinian state is PM’s ‘biography’ — Likud
The Likud party tells the “Olam Katan” newsletter that the policies expressed in Netanyahu’s speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, in which he called for a Palestinian state, “have been annulled.
“Netanyahu’s entire political biography is the struggle against the establishment of the Palestinian state,” the party says, according to the newsletter, which is distributed in synagogues on the weekend.
Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-on decries the statement, posting on Facebook: “So here, for those who doubted, this is the truth about our prime minister. This is what he really thinks about the two-state solution, this is what the draft proposal revealed this week is worth… this is what can be achieved by a Likud coalition: lies, procrastination, biding time, and more lies.”
Gal-on slams the “two-faced prime minister who is bringing upon us a binational state with his bare hands.”
The right-wing newsletter sent a list of questions to all parties, with the exception of Meretz and the Joint Arab List. Shas and the Zionist Union chose not to respond, and Yesh Atid prepared answers, but did not send them in before the newsletter went to print, because Lapid did not have time to go over the answers, it says.
Mashaal invited to Saudi Arabia, Hamas says
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has been invited for an official visit to Saudi Arabia to meet with its new king, Hamas says on its website.
It notes that “no official information has been declared by the Saudi Foreign Ministry in this regard.”
In event of tie, Rivlin will push for national unity government
Channel 2 reports that in the event of a tie in the upcoming elections, President Reuven Rivlin will call on Netanyahu and Herzog to form a national unity government and urge them to pass legislation on electoral reform.
ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur described some of the challenges facing Rivlin the day after the election here.
Torch-lighters for Independence Day ceremony
The torch-lighters for the annual Independence Day ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem are announced.
The honorees include Danny Gold, the inventor of the Iron Dome missile defense system; supermarket chain owner Rami Levy; Waze founder and CTO Ehud Shabtai; and Arab-Israeli journalist Lucy Aharish.
Also: Alice Miller, who petitioned the High Court to be allowed into the air force; Israel Prize winner Prof. Marta Weinstock-Rosin; engineer Dr. Gavriel Iddan; irrigation innovator Rafi Mehudar; musician Avihu Medina; Sima Shine, the highest-ranking woman in the Strategic Affairs Ministry, formerly on the National Security Council; Gal Lusky, founder of the nonprofit organization Israeli Flying Aid; educator Malka Puterkovski; and 17-year-old Or Assoulin, the CEO of a young developers company.
Canada, Kurds disagree over soldier’s death in Iraq
The Canadian government and Kurdish officials are publicly disagreeing over the circumstances of a Canadian soldier’s death in a friendly fire incident in Iraq.
The death of Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron on Friday marked Canada’s first casualty as part of the US-led coalition’s war on the extremist Islamic State group.
Kurdish officials say that Doiron was killed after he and other Canadian soldiers showed up to the front line unannounced to call in airstrikes.
“They went to the front line to direct airstrikes because the area was attacked by ISIS the day before,” Hezhar Ismail, director of coordination and relations for the peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters, tells The Associated Press, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
Canadian Defense Minister Jason Kenney responds to allegations that Canadian soldiers were on the front line in an interview with CTV, saying that Canadian soldiers were well behind the lines when the soldier was killed. Kenney said the soldiers had just returned to an observation post behind the front line when they were mistakenly fired upon by Kurdish fighters.
“They weren’t on the front line,” Kenney says. “It was 200 meters from the front.”
The Canadian military also denies that the group was in the area to direct airstrikes.
“I can confirm it’s a big no. They were not there to conduct airstrikes,” says Daniel Lebouthillier, a spokesman for the Canadian military.
Kenney says he looks forward to hearing more after an investigation is completed.
“It’s a regrettable case of mistaken identity. Obviously we want to know what happened,” he says.
Anti-Semitic rally outside SA Zionist conference
Demonstrators outside a South African Zionist Federation conference shout anti-Semitic slogans, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies says in a statement.
Protesters in the Johannesburg suburb of Sandton shout, “You think this is Israel, we are going to kill you” and “You Jews do not belong in South Africa.”
“From the outset, it was clear that the aim of the demonstration, in the protesters’ own words, was to ‘shut down Sandton’ and ensure ‘no Zionist conference be held on our soil.’ When their attempts at doing so, failed, it became apparent that the rally was nothing more than a front to stoke up Jew-hatred in South Africa,” the Jewish group says in a statement.
“The SAJBD once again reiterates that it is every South African citizen’s constitutional right to attend events of our choosing without fear of intimidation… The SAJBD is currently compiling a video of anti-Semitic utterances during the protest, which we will distribute in due course.”
Dermer committed to withdrawal to ’67 lines — report
Channel 10 reports that several years ago Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and ex-aide to Netanyahu, signed a document committing that Israel would withdraw to the 1967 lines to make way for a Palestinian state.
Dermer was meeting with Quartet envoy Tony Blair when he signed the pledge, the report says.
Dermer on Sunday denies the report and says Israel never agreed to any plan to withdraw to the ’67 lines.
Likud officials say PM will create unity government
Likud officials tell the Globes business daily that Netanyahu is leaning toward creating a unity government with the Zionist Union party, rotating the premiership with Herzog, but not with Livni.
The unnamed officials maintain that Netanyahu will likely opt to keep Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid out of the coalition.
They add that if Herzog is at the helm, and Netanyahu is beat out in the election, the Likud party will nonetheless join the coalition.
The Likud officials say that while Netanyahu is considering a national unity government, he is keeping the plan under wraps for fear that a public announcement would cost him votes.