The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.
Hector Timerman, Jewish former FM of Argentina, dies
Hector Timerman, a Jewish former foreign minister of Argentina, has died at age 65, according to local media reports.
Timerman served as top diplomat from 2010 to 2015 under controversial president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and was instrumental in establishing a much-derided truth commission with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center.
Timerman, who had been suffering from cancer, was arrested late last year and accused of taking part in a cover-up of Iran’s role in the bombing. He was later released to house arrest but prevented from flying to New York to receive treatment.
Timerman earlier served as ambassador to the US. His father Jacobo Timerman was an ardent Zionist who lived for several years in Israel after being exiled by Argentina’s military junta. Hector Timerman lived during that time in New York.
Putin tells Netanyahu he hopes for ‘constructive’ ties in 2019
Russian President Vladimir Putin is hoping for a turnaround in Israeli-Russian relations, after several months that have seen ties suffer due to differences over Syria.
In a New Year’s message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Putin expresses “hope that in the upcoming year Russian-Israeli relations will be developing in a constructive manner as a partnership for the benefit of the peoples of both states and in the interest of strengthening peace, security and stability in the Middle East.”
Israel has been working to repair ties since the downing of a Russian spy plane by a Syrian air defense battery responding to an Israeli airstrike in October. Last week, Russia responded with uncharacteristic ferocity to an Israeli airstrike reported to target Iranian positions near Damascus.
Polls close in Bangladesh vote marred by deadly violence
Polls have closed in a Bangladesh general election on Sunday that was marred by the deaths of at least 12 people in vote-related clashes.
Voting ended at 4 p.m. local time in the election, which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to win but which has been overshadowed by a crackdown on opposition activists.
Timerman death brings Nisman killing back to fore
Some in Argentina are not exactly mourning the death of Hector Timerman, given his role in the alleged Iran terror cover-up and the still unsolved death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman.
After one person tweets that Timerman was killed, Javier Navia, an editor at the La Nacion newspaper asks “would you say that about Nisman?” and others also note that Timerman’s government tried to portray Nisman’s death as a suicide.
“They killed Nisman. Hector Timerman died and will only be remembered for covering up an attack and betraying his homeland,” another twitter user writes.
Another Argentine journalist, Alejo Schapire, tweets that “negotiating the immunity of those who killed your own [people]. That has a name.”
Javier Timerman, Hector Timerman’s brother, tweets a heartfelt goodbye. “Soul brother. Thank you for everything you did for me. I admire you so much. I miss you more than you can imagine.”
Uri Ariel may leave Knesset pending National Union leadership battle
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel will reportedly run to keep his position as head of the National Union-Tekuma party that makes up half of Jewish Home, but will not be a candidate to be part of the faction’s Knesset slate.
What this means is that if he loses to expected rival Bezalel Smotrich, another lawmaker, he will leave the Knesset. However, if he wins, he is expected to negotiate a higher profile role in Jewish Home, which lost two of its top ministers Saturday.
Jordanian envoy summoned to Jerusalem over flag-treading incident
The Foreign Ministry says it has summoned Jordanian envoy Mohammed Hamiyad for a dressing down in Jerusalem after an incident in which a Jordanian minister trod on an Israeli flag placed on the floor of a building in Amman.
Ghassan Majali, Jordan’s newly appointed ambassador to Israel, is out of the country.
The flag had been placed on the floor of the country’s trade union headquarters — a body deeply opposed to normalization of relations with Israel — for a government meeting held there. Video of the incident emerged over the weekend.
Jumana Ghunaimat, Jordan’s minister for media affairs and communications, was praised on social media for being among those who chose to step on the flag as she arrived for the meeting.
“The Foreign Ministry takes a severe view of the incident,” the ministry says in a statement. “The Israeli embassy has lodged a strident protest [with Jordan].”
Third suspect in possible Jewish terror plot arrested
A third Israeli teen has been arrested in connection with a major security probe whose details are under gag order, according to the Honenu legal aid organization, which is representing two of the suspects.
The latest suspect was arrested in the town of Modiin.
The investigation is being conducted jointly by the Shin Bet security service and the police’s nationalistic crime unit, which are probing the incident as a possible Jewish terror plot.
Earlier this morning, a squad of Shin Bet agents and officers in the Yasam police SWAT unit raided a yeshiva in the northern West Bank and arrested a suspect, who has since been prevented from speaking to a lawyer, a Honenu spokesman said.
An additional teen was arrested on his way to the yeshiva and has also been prevented from meeting with an attorney, his lawyer Itamar Ben Gvir said.
— Jacob Magid
Britain may establish new military bases in Asia, Caribbean after Brexit
Britain’s defense secretary says the country could establish new military bases in the Caribbean and Far East after Britain leaves the European Union.
Gavin Williamson tells the Sunday Telegraph the expansion would be part of a strategy for Britain to become a “true global player” after Brexit. Britain is set to leave the EU in March.
“This is our biggest moment as a nation since the end of the Second World War, when we can recast ourselves in a different way, we can actually play the role on the world stage that the world expects us to play,” Williamson says.
He does not elaborate.
The defense secretary predicts a strong shift in Britain’s political focus after Brexit, with deeper relationships with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Africa and the Caribbean emphasized.
Poll shows new New Right stealing scads of votes from Likud
A poll published by the Makor Rishon newspaper shows a new political party formed by ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked would win a stunning 14 seats were elections held today, with Likud sinking to 25, an all time low in recent polling.
The poll shows a denuded Jewish Home sinking to five seats without the pair, who jumped ship Saturday to form the New Right party.
Most polls before the split showed Likud getting around 30 seats, with Jewish Home in the low teens.
The poll was conducted by the Direct Polls firm, which surveyed 628 people using “digital methods,” likely meaning text messages and online questionnaires.
According to the survey, Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party would garner 15 seats, while Yesh Atid would get only 10 and Zionist Union would fall to 9 seats. The Arab Joint List would get 12 seats.
Ramon Airport to open next month
Israel’s newest international airport, outside of Eilat, will open next month, Transportation Minister Israel Katz says, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.
The airport is named for astronaut Ilan Ramon and fighter pilot Asaf Ramon, whose wife and mother Rona Ramon died last week.
The opening will be done in stages, according to Katz.
New Right may snag momentum from Gantz-Ya’alon gambit
A fresh poll published by Walla news shows modest gains for The New Right, the new party formed by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, with the faction gaining 10 seats if elections were held today.
Unlike a Makor Rishon poll, this survey shows Likud remaining strong with 28 seats. Rather, much of the New Right’s strength comes from Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, which drops to only 11 seats, perhaps indicating Israeli voters just want something new, regardless of ideology.
However, the survey assumes Israel Resilience is joined by fellow former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon, which could also be a reason for its drop in popularity as Ya’alon would shift the party rightward.
Yesh Atid, meanwhile, would get 15 seats.
The survey of 580 respondents, with a margin of error of 4.3 percent, has Jewish Home taking a swan dive to four seats. Most of the other results dovetail with other recent surveys.
Netanyahu: Bolsonaro told me embassy will move to Jerusalem
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is telling Jewish leaders in Rio de Janiero that Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro promised him moving the country’s embassy to Jerusalem is a question of “when, not if,” according to a participant.
The comments echo those of Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo Bolsonaro to Jared Kushner last month.
Netanyahu met with Bolsonaro on Friday.
Bolsonaro had appeared to waver on the issue in recent weeks under domestic and international pressure after making the promise during his campaign.
He is scheduled to meet with Christian supporters of Israel later Sunday and with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez Sunday night.
— with Raphael Ahren
New Right shakes things up with new logo
The New Right has unveiled its logo, a light blue and dark blue getup featuring their name in Hebrew and half a Jewish star.
Interestingly, maybe (or maybe not), the bottom of the logo notes that the slate is headed by Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett, in that order, despite Bennett being the more senior politician.
— חדשות עשר (@news10) December 30, 2018
Saudi-owned website says Israel could have assassinated Assad
The Saudi owned Elaph news site is quoting a senior Israeli source as saying that the IDF could have targeted Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and other top regime officials but chose not to.
The source is quoted as saying that incoming IDF chief Aviv Kochavi had recommended taking out the Assad regime as the only way to ensure that Iran did not gain a foothold in the country.
The source casts doubt on non-military efforts to distance Iran from the country.
While Elaph is owned by Saudi businessman and journalist Othman Al Omeir, the website itself is blocked in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, the outlet has been seen as a way for Israel to communicate with the kingdom, albeit indirectly.
Brazil’s Bolsonaro to visit Israel in coming months — Netanyahu
Netanyahu says Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro has accepted his invitation to visit Israel in coming months, according to a statement from his office.
In conversation with Jewish leaders in Rio, the prime minister says Bolsonaro told him he would visit before March, weeks before Israel is slated to hold national elections.
The statement also confirms that Netanyahu said Bolsonaro told him he would move the embassy to Jerusalem, with it being a question of when, not if.
Netanyahu says ties between the two countries will expand, with Israel sending security, agricultural and water know-how to South America.
“President Bolsonaro and I decided that in the coming months several delegations will visit here to map out the full breadth of cooperation between Brazil and Israel on security, defense, agriculture, water and all the other industries,” Netanyahu told a group of Jewish leaders in Rio, according to a statement from his office.
Assad gives Iraq free reign to attack IS in Syria
Syrian President Bashar Assad has authorized Iraqi forces to attack the Islamic State group inside Syria without waiting for permission from authorities in Damascus, state news agency SANA says, as the two allies coordinate their fight against extremists ahead of a planned US withdrawal from Syria.
The announcement highlights the close relations between the two neighboring Arab countries that are both allied with Iran. IS once controlled large parts of both countries when it declared a caliphate in 2014.
Iraqi warplanes and artillery have in the past pounded IS positions inside Syria after getting the green light from Syrian authorities.
Bennett: New party ensures right bloc’s victory
Seemingly answering critics who say his formation of a new party will balkanize the right-wing and hurt it at the polls, Naftali Bennett writes on Twitter that his move is just the Big Bang-like wallop the right needed.
“The burst on the right, with the creation of the New Right, secures the victory of the right-wing bloc,” he writes.
Minister accuses top Arab lawmaker of supporting terror
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is calling fellow lawmaker Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List of Arab-led parties, a “criminal who supports terror,” in an official response to a Knesset ethics panel.
Erdan was responding to a complaint filed against him by Odeh to the committee, according to Hebrew-language reports.
Last week, the two traded barbs in the Knesset, with Odeh calling Erdan a “failed” minister and Erdan saying that the “day you are put back in jail is the day this will be a normal country.”
Erdan, whose ministry controls the police, has repeatedly accused Odeh of supporting terror and in May asked the attorney general to open a probe into his alleged support for terror.
Lawyers for suspected Jewish extremists appeal to see their clients
Lawyers for the three suspected Jewish extremists wanted in connection with a possible terror attack have asked a Lod District Court to allow them access to their clients.
The three minors were arrested Sunday in a major investigation into a security incident, though much of the case remains under gag order.
The Shin Bet security service has refused to grant them visits from counsel, according to legal aid group Honenu, which is representing two of the suspects.
Honenu reports that the security service has refused to update the suspects’ families regarding there well-being or whereabouts.
Following the Lod hearing, the three will be brought before the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing.
The investigation is being conducted jointly by the Shin Bet security service and the police’s nationalistic crime unit.
— with Jacob Magid
Polls show no gain for New Right, collapse of Jewish Home
Polls published by Israel’s main news broadcasts show little no to gain for The New Right, the new party formed by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, and the near total collapse of the Jewish Home party they left.
A poll by Hadashot News shows New Right getting six seats and Jewish Home with just four seats, while a Channel 10 poll has New Right getting eight seats and Jewish Home falling below the threshold to enter the Knesset with just three seats.
The Hadashot poll shows Likud getting 28 seats and Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience with 14 seats. Channel 10 meanwhile has Likud with 30 and IR with 14, as well.
Polls published earlier in the day had shown stronger results for New Right at the expense of Likud and IR.
Deputy AG rejects Netanyahu claim of police bias
The deputy attorney general has rejected a request by Netanyahu’s lawyers to delay legal proceedings against him and his wife Sara Netanyahu.
Lawyers representing the Netanyahu family on Tuesday asked the attorney general to reexamine evidence collected by the former head of the police anti-corruption unit, claiming that Maj. Gen. Roni Rittman was biased against the prime minister and his wife.
The letter to Avichai Mandelblit claimed that Rittman, who served as the head of the Lahav 433 anti-fraud unit, believed the Netanyahus were behind the sexual assault allegations that forced his resignation earlier this year, and his investigation was not objective.
In a reply, Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber says, while Rittman was connected to the Netanyahu investigations, there is nothing to show the probes were influenced by his biases.
Netanyahu likely to only face breach of trust charge in gifts probe — report
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is leaning toward indicting Netanyahu with the lesser charge of breach of trust in one of three graft cases he he is suspected in, Channel 10 news reports, citing a judicial source.
According to the TV channel, Mandeblit does not think he can get a bribery charge to stick in Case 1000, which revolves around gifts Netanyahu received from Israeli producer Arnon Milchan and others, since it would also necessitate charging Milchan.
The report says law enforcement officials also believe that Netanyahu’s defense that he and Milchan are friends makes a bribery charge harder to prove, but strengthens breach of trust suspicions.
The other two cases against Netanyahu are seen as having more solid grounds for bribery charges.
Army responds to New York Times report on death of Gazan medic
The Israeli military has responded to a New York Times report that questioned use of live fire in an incident along the Gaza border on June 1, in which a Palestinian medic was killed, when a soldier fired into a crowd of protesters.
The IDF says the army’s internal investigations body is “probing to clarify the reasons behind the death of Razzan al-Najjar. The results of the investigation will be sent to the military advocate general upon their completion.”
Putin says he is open to meeting with Trump
Russian President Vladimir Putin has told US President Donald Trump in a New Year’s letter that the Kremlin is “open to dialogue” on the myriad issues hindering relations between their countries.
The Kremlin published a summary of Putin’s “greeting message” to Trump on Sunday. The summary states that the Russian leader wrote: “Russia-US relations are the most important factor behind ensuring strategic stability and international security.”
Trump canceled a formal meeting with Putin scheduled for December 1 at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, tweeting “it would be best for all parties” given Russia’s seizure days earlier of three Ukrainian naval vessels.
Since then, the Kremlin has repeatedly said it is open to dialogue.
The message to Trump was among dozens of holiday greetings Putin sent to other world leaders, each tailored to reflect a bilateral theme.
‘Savior’ Netanyahu speaks to Evangelicals, presented with stamp
Speaking to Evangelical Christians in Brazil, Netanyahu praises the community for its strong support of Israel.
The country’s large Evangelical population — up to a fifth of the country, according to experts — was credited with sweeping President-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s to power earlier this year.
“President Bolsonaro says we are brothers. We are brothers and we will grasp the future together,” Netanyahu says.
Celebrating Netanyahu’s visit, the Brazilian state of Amazonas has issued a commemorative stamp with a picture of the prime minister on it, dedicated by Christian Israel supporters in the city of Manaus.
The stamp includes a mention of Israel’s 70th birthday, the words “Mazal Tov” and the word “savior” written on a Jewish star, presumably referring to Netanyahu.
Evangelicals accused of links to Zionists arrested in Iran
Nine Evangelical Christians have been arrested in Iran in recent days, accused of “spreading deviant thoughts,” with the help of a “Zionist network,” according to reports in Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
The news outlet, linked to the hard-line IRGC, reports that the nine were arrested in Alborz province, near Iran, including five on December 26.
Earlier this month, Iranian news outlet Mehr reported that a group of so-called “Zionist Christians” were arrested and accused of trying to weaken Islam.
Former top US general urges rethink of Afghanistan pullout
The former top US commander in Afghanistan says withdrawing up to half the 14,000 American troops serving there would reduce the incentive for the Taliban to negotiate a peace deal after more than 17 years of war.
Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal says the US has “basically traded away the biggest leverage point we have.” McChrystal’s comments come in response to reports that President Donald Trump had ordered the Pentagon to develop plans to withdraw thousands of American troops by next summer.
The US and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in 2014, but American and allied troops remain, conducting strikes on the Islamic State group and the Taliban and working to train and build the Afghan military.
“If you tell the Taliban that we are absolutely leaving on date certain, cutting down, weakening ourselves, their incentives to try to cut a deal drop dramatically,” McChrystal said on ABC’s “This Week.”
State prosecutor vows threats will not deter work on Netanyahu graft cases
State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan says that no one will succeed in intimidating the legal teams reviewing three cases of alleged corruption by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to prevent them from carrying out their duty.
“We will not be afraid and we will not be deterred by anyone,” Nitzan says at an economic conference.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is in the process of deciding whether or not to indict the prime minister. Last week comments attributed to a senior Likud party official reportedly threatened that he “will become the target of a merciless attack” by party officials.
Also last week, television news reported that Mandeblit’s security detail has been increased following an assessment by Israel Police and Justice Ministry officials.
The report came a day after it emerged that the gravestone of Mandelblit’s father was vandalized earlier this month, sparking condemnation from Israeli leaders and calls for a swift probe by police.