The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.
Ombudsman rejects Netanyahu’s request for wealthy associates to foot legal bills
The State Comptroller rejects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for permission to have wealthy associates pay his legal fees in a serious of corruption investigations.
“The financing of legal outlays arising from a criminal investigation, which includes a suspicion of criminal acts in connection with various wealthy people, should not be done by wealthy people,” the ombudsman’s Permits Committee writes in its decision.
Netanyahu had requested that Nathan Milikowsky, his cousin, and American millionaire Spencer Partrich pay his legal fees in three separate criminal probes that involve suspicions he advanced the interests of businessmen in return for gifts and positive media coverage.
Police have recommended Netanyahu be indicted in the investigations, which are known as cases 1000, 2000 and 4000.
Egyptian man who hijacked plane to Cyprus to be charged with terror
CAIRO — Egypt’s chief prosecutor says a man who hijacked a plane and diverted it to Cyprus in 2016 will face trial on terror-related charges.
Seif Eddin Mustafa, 60, was extradited to Egypt in August after a drawn-out legal battle in Cyprus. Egyptian prosecutor Nabil Sadek says he will face trial on charges of hijacking a civilian plane and taking passengers hostage.
No date has been set for the trial.
Mustafa hijacked a domestic EgyptAir flight in March 2016 using a fake suicide belt and diverted it to Cyprus, where he was arrested.
Mustafa said he did it to protest against Egypt’s government. Cypriot prosecutors say Mustafa later told authorities that his sole motive was to be reunited with his estranged Cypriot family
Lebanon says it will file Security Council complaint against Israel
Lebanon’s foreign minister has instructed his ministry to file a complaint with the United Nations Security Council over alleged Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty.
Gebran Bassil is quoted by Lebanese media of accusing Israel of violating the country’s sovereignty some 150 times each month.
The move comes amid an Israeli military operation to locate attack tunnels along the border dug by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
The Israel Defense Forces has stressed it is only operating on the Israeli side of the border but has not ruled out destroying tunnels in Lebanese territory as well.
Rivlin defends head of vetting panel under fire for rejecting top cop nominee
President Reuven Rivlin on expresses support for former Supreme Court judge Eliezer Goldberg, who has been at the center of controversy after a vetting committee he heads decided to reject the government-approved candidate to be the next police chief.
“I feel that in the heat of debate, provocative and offensive things have been said that should not be part of issues such as this, things that amount to false accusations against Justice Goldberg,” Rivlin charges during a ceremony swearing in new judges.
“One cannot appoint a committee by government decision and expect it to be a rubber stamp,” Rivlin says. “Justice Goldberg and the other members of the committee have the duty — not the right — to express their views clearly.”
The president adds he is “confident that any decision made by the committee, headed by Goldberg, stems from completely professional and practical considerations, with purely the benefit of the state driving them.”
The Senior Appointments Advisory Committee, also known as the Goldberg Committee, announced on Friday that it could not recommend Maj. Gen. Moshe “Chico” Edri as the next commissioner, citing a meeting he held during the nomination process with the lawyer of a Tax Authority whistleblower who has accused Edri of harassing him.
Following that decision, Education Minister Naftali Bennett as well as law enforcement sources this week accused Goldberg of racism.
— Michael Bachner
Opposition head accuses Netanyahu of playing up Hezbollah tunnel operation
Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of over-dramatizing the army’s discovery of Hezbollah tunnels infiltrating its territory from Lebanon for political gain.
Livni tells public radio that while she and the rest of the opposition welcomed the army’s discovery of the tunnels and their eventual demolition, “the incident must be kept in proportion.”
“We are not now in a situation where our soldiers are behind enemy lines,” says Livni, who served as foreign minister during Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah.
“We are talking about engineering activity within the sovereign territory of the state of Israel,” she adds, accusing Netanyahu of “blowing the incident out of proportion.”
Livni alleges that part of Netanyahu’s thinking was to deflect criticism made by residents of southern Israel who say he has failed to quash the threat of cross-border rocket fire from terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
“Therefore he made a defensive engineering event into a dramatic military operation,” she says.
“This was done from two reasons — either the prime minister is himself panicking or he wants to sow panic to justify his actions both in delaying elections and abandoning the residents of southern Israel.”
Livni later tells foreign journalists in a phone briefing that the international community should bring greater pressure on Lebanon over Hezbollah’s activities.
Lebanese speaker of parliament: Israel has provided no proof of Hezbollah tunnels
The speaker of the Lebanese parliament says Israel has not provided any proof to the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon regarding the existence of Hezbollah tunnels reaching into Israeli territory.
“The Israelis did not present any information,” Reuters quotes Nabih Berri’s office saying in regard to a meeting between the Israel Defense Forces, the Lebanese Armed Forces and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
Berri, a Shiite who has been speaker since 1992, heads the Hezbollah-aligned Amal Movement.
UN rights chief says international probe needed into Khashoggi killing
The UN human rights chief says an international investigation is needed into the “awful” killing of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Michelle Bachelet makes the comments at a news conference Wednesday timed for the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, alluding to similar calls from outside experts linked to the UN human rights office.
“We also call for international investigation,” she says. “We mentioned to the (UN) secretary-general that we thought it was needed, a criminal investigation — international investigation.”
She says her office doesn’t have the mandate to conduct a criminal investigation, however.
“I do believe that it’s really needed in terms of ensuring what really happened and who are the responsible for that awful killing.”
Army releases new footage from anti-tunnel operation
The Israel Defense Forces releases new footage of its efforts to locate and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels that penetrate Israeli territory from southern Lebanon.
The videos show IDF soldiers using heavy engineering equipment to dig into the ground south of the Lebanese border.
— Judah Ari Gross
Government nominee for police chief expected to drop candidacy — report
Maj. Gen. Moshe “Chico” Edri, the government nominee to be the next Israel Police commissioner, is expected to announce this evening he is removing himself from contention for the post, Channel 10 news reports.
The report comes after the Walla news site said Edri is suspected of having concealed from the committee that vetted his nomination an a priori meeting he held with the woman who gave him a polygraph test.
The nomination panel said last week it could not recommend Edri as the next police chief due to a meeting he held with the lawyer of a whistle blower who says he was harassed by Edri.
A number of coalition lawmakers sharply criticized the committee over its decision and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who nominated Edri, had vowed to push through with the appointment if the panel would not reverse its position.
Officer: Tunnels were to be used by Hezbollah for surprise attack in future war
The Hezbollah attack tunnels Israel has begun to uncover crossing into Israeli territory from Lebanon were to be used by the Iran-backed terror group for a surprise attack to kick off a future war, according to Israel military assessments presented to journalists by a senior officer in the IDF Northern Command.
The army believes the tunnel uncovered yesterday east of the Lebanese village of Kafr Kila was meant to let in Hezbollah fighters to cut off the Israeli town of Metulla, which lies directly along the border with Lebanon.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says Hezbollah planned to use the tunnels as part of a wider operation to conquer parts of Israel’s Galilee panhandle in a future conflict.
He says none of the tunnels were completed when the IDF launched its operation to find and destroy them — dubbed Northern Shield — and thus did not present an immediate threat to residents of the area.
According to the officer, Hezbollah was at least several months away from having operational tunnels.
The senior official says the army’s operation to uncover the tunnels came as a “great surprise” to Hezbollah, which had tried to keep its subterranean program a secret even within the terrorist organization, only employing a small number of workers to dig the tunnels.
— Judah Ari Gross
UNIFIL to send team to Israel to ‘ascertain the facts’ about anti-tunnel operation
Israel, Lebanon and the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL held a trilateral meeting at the Rosh Hanikra border crossing earlier today to discuss the Israeli military’s newly launched operation to uncover and destroy cross-border Hezbollah attack tunnels, UNIFIL says.
The meeting was scheduled well before the start of the operation, but provided an opportunity for the Israel Defense Forces to present information about its operation, dubbed Northern Shield.
UNIFIL says it is deploying a “technical team” to Israel tomorrow in order to “ascertain the facts” about Israel’s activities around the border area.
The Israeli military refuses to comment on what details were shared at the meeting.
Earlier today, a Lebanese government official says Israel has not provided the country, whose parliament includes Hezbollah’s political party, with its intelligence proving the existence and locations of the Hezbollah tunnels.
UNIFIL is tasked with enforcing UN Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War and required Hezbollah and all other armed groups besides the Lebanese military to remain north of the country’s Litani River — something Israel says the UN peacekeeping force fails to do.
— Judah Ari Gross
Police chief nominee denies meeting with polygraph examiner to get help with test
The government nominee for the next Israel Police commissioner denies a report that says he concealed from a key vetting committee a meeting he held with the woman who gave him a polygraph test in order to prepare for the exam.
Maj. Gen. Moshe “Chico” Edri says in a statement to Hebrew media the meeting with the polygraph examiner concerned a “medical inquiry” and was not meant to help him pass the test.
“Maj. Gen. Edri did not know the examiner and never retained her services, but met her as a certified examiner of polygraph tests,” the statement says.
It also says the meeting was held before the vetting committee decided he must undergo a polygraph.
“This is a campaign of slander and media persecution,” the statement says of the Walla news site’s report on Edri concealing the meeting from the nominations panel.
Bush’s casket leaves Capitol, heads to cathedral for funeral
WASHINGTON — Former US president George H.W. Bush’s casket has left the US Capitol for a state funeral at the Washington National Cathedral.
Family, friends, congressional leaders and others gather with military brass on the steps of the Capitol for the send-off Wednesday as cannons echo a salute and a military band plays “Hail to the Chief.”
Bush’s flag-draped coffin is carried to a waiting hearse for the procession to the cathedral. His son former president George W. Bush puts his hand over heart at the plaza.
The 41st president had been lying in state since late Monday in the Capitol Rotunda, an honor reserved for few. Hundreds of visitors, including many former White House officials, arrived to pay tribute. Bush died last week in Houston at age 94.
Egyptian actress questioned for 4 hours over revealing dress
CAIRO — It’s a dress that has shaken Egypt and the uproar continues — prosecutors on Wednesday questioned actress Rania Youssef for at least four hours on accusations of public obscenity over a revealing dress she wore to a cinema gala last week, her lawyer says.
Youssef was allowed to go free after the questioning, pending the completion of the investigation, says the lawyer, Shaban Said.
But he adds that she still faces trial on January 12, a date set by court, and could possibly face up to five years in prison, if convicted.
The initial complaint against the 45-year-old Youssef was filed by a group of lawyers with a reputation for moral vigilantism but they said they withdrew their complaint on Tuesday.
Though she stopped short of an outright apology, Youssef said she did not mean to offend anyone with her long black dress, its see-through skirt revealing her legs in their entirety. She wore the dress last Thursday for the closing ceremony of this year’s Cairo International Film Festival.
Egypt hits Muslim Brotherhood leader with another life sentence
CAIRO — An Egyptian court sentences five people, including the head of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, to life in prison on charges related to inciting violence and supporting militants.
The Cairo Criminal Court convicts Mohammed Badie and five others of providing weapons, ammunition and explosive devices to Islamic militants.
Wednesday’s sentences are not subject to appeal. The court also acquits six Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including former speaker Saad el-Katatni, in the same trial.
The suspects are also charged with inciting riots, violence and premeditated murder outside the Brotherhood’s headquarters in Cairo’s Mokattam neighborhood in 2013 that killed nine people and injured 91.
Brotherhood chief Badie has gotten several death sentences in separate trials since his 2013 arrest. Charges have included inciting violence and planning attacks against the state.
Government pick for next police chief withdraws candidacy
Maj. Gen. Moshe “Chico” Edri, the government’s choice to be the next Israel Police commissioner, announces he is withdrawing his candidacy for the post.
“Unfortunately there are many forces whose goal was to thwart my candidacy,” Edri writes in a letter to Public Security Gilad Erdan, who nominated him for the position.
The announcement comes after a report said Edri concealed from the vetting committee a meeting he held with the woman who gave him a polygraph test as part of the nomination.
Edri denied the allegations in the report, but it added further headwinds to his candidacy after the nominating panel announced last week it could not recommend him to be police chief.
Emails indicate Facebook used Israeli app to monitor competition
Facebook used a VPN application developed by an Israeli firm it owns to track the popularity of its competitors, according to emails between executives at the firm released today by the UK Parliament.
“Facebook used Onavo to conduct global surveys of the usage of mobile apps by customers, and apparently without their knowledge. They used this data to assess not just how many people had downloaded apps, but how often they used them,” writes Conservative MP Damian Collins, who chairs Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
Collins says Facebook used this information “to decide which companies to acquire, and which to treat as a threat.”
Charts compiled by Facebook that were released by the committee show that in 2013 WhatsApp had become more popular than the social media giant’s own Messenger app. Facebook later purchased WhatsApp in 2014.
Netanyahu speaks with UN chief about Hezbollah tunnels
Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres regarding Israel’s operation to locate and destroy cross-border tunnels belonging to Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says Netanyahu told Guterres he views the tunnels as a blatant violation of Israeli sovereignty and a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
“The prime minister said this is an additional part of Iran’s aggression,” the statement says.
During the phone call, Netanyahu also updated Guterres on “Operation Northern Shield,” the name given to the tunnel-finding mission, and said the international community should place sanctions on the Iran-backed Hezbollah in light of its activities.
Netanyahu allegedly requested news site run negative article on rival’s wife
Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Bezeq majority shareholder Shaul Elovitch to run a piece on the telecommunications firm’s Walla news site saying the wife of a political rival worked at a non-Kosher restaurant, Hadashot TV news reports.
Quoting unnamed associates of Elovitch, the report says Netanyahu asked him to publish an article staying that Gilat Bennett, the wife of Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, worked at a non-Kosher restaurant.
The allegation was included in a story by the network outlining Elovitch’s version of events in the so-called Case 4000, which revolves around suspicions Netanyahu advanced regulatory measures benefiting Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage from Walla.
Police on Sunday recommended both men be indicted for bribery in the case. They have both denied wrongdoing.
‘Shame on you,’ Bennett says of PM’s alleged request for negative article on wife
Education Minister Naftali Bennett calls on Prime Minister Netanyahu to apologize to his wife after Hadashot TV news aired a report alleging the premier asked the majority shareholder of Bezeq to run a negative story about her on its Walla news site.
“This is a despicable and cowardly act,” Bennett, the head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, writes on Twitter. “Shame on you.”
According to the Hadashot TV news report, Netanyahu asked Shaul Elovitch to have Walla publish a report saying Bennett’s wife worked at a non-Kosher restaurant.
“I married Gilat, a wonderful woman, an Israeli from a secular and ethical home, and together we established a wonderful religious-Zionist home,” Bennett says.
“My family is the pride of my life.”
Bennett says he is not looking for an apology from Netanyahu.
“Apologize to my wife,” he says.