The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tells Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Washington wants to see a verifiable pullback of Russian forces along Ukraine’s border, in order to allow a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
In a phone call between the two, Blinken “emphasized the need to see verifiable, credible, meaningful de-escalation,” the State Department says.
“While further Russian aggression against Ukraine would result in a swift, severe, and united Transatlantic response, we remain committed to the diplomatic path and believe that a window remains to resolve the crisis peacefully,” Blinken tells Lavrov, according to the statement.
Residents in towns in Israel’s North report feeling the tremors of an earthquake.
According to the Euro-Mediterranean Seismological Centre, it received reports from users in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories, and believes the tremor was “likely a moderate magnitude one (below M4.5).”
Israel Police says a 3.7-magnitude earthquake in the area of Beit She’an, south of Tiberias, is felt, and dozens of people called police. No injuries or damage are reported and there is no tsunami warning in effect.
The Geological Survey of Israel’s seismology division later updates that the earthquake was of a 3.5 magnitude on the Richter scale.
MANAMA, Bahrain — Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani tells Israeli reporters that Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa is slated to visit Israel in the near future.
Speaking at the culmination of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit to the Gulf nation, Al Zayani says: “Prime Minister Bennett invited his royal highness the crown prince and prime minister to visit the State of Israel — an invitation which was accepted, with the visit to take place in the near future.”
Al Zayani also says that Manama and Jerusalem have agreed to strengthen their economic ties as well as mutual tourism, and will cooperate in the region, including in countering Iran.
שר החוץ מודיע שבנט הזמין את יורש העצר (שהוא גם ראש הממשלה) לביקור בישראל וההזמנה התקבלה והביקור יתקיים בקרוב. pic.twitter.com/6cQIUPQb4G
— Tal Schneider טל שניידר تال شنايدر (@talschneider) February 15, 2022
The Russian military deploys long-range nuclear-capable bombers and fighter jets carrying state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles to its airbase in Syria for massive naval drills in the region amid soaring tensions with the West over Ukraine.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrives in Syria to oversee the drills that mark the biggest Russian naval deployment to the Mediterranean Sea since the Cold War times.
Shoigu met with Syrian President Bashar Assad earlier today to inform him about the drills and discuss plans for further military-technical cooperation.
The Defense Ministry says the exercise in the eastern Mediterranean that involves 15 warships and about 30 aircraft is part of a series of sweeping naval drills that started last month amid a standoff over Ukraine. It says the maneuvers are intended to train for action to “protect national interests” and “fend off military threats against the Russian Federation.”
MANAMA, Bahrain — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tells reporters at the conclusion of his trip to Bahrain that it is clear Manama is seeking close ties with the State of Israel.
“It is clear that there is a strong desire by the leadership in Bahrain to be in a significant and multidimensional relationship with Israel,” Bennett says. “The purpose of this visit was to provide substance to this tool called the Abraham Accords, with the understanding that only if there is real practical political, economic and other [steps], then this connection will remain sustainable and we can expand it.”
Bennett also says that his trip will require many follow-ups with Bahrain, in particular in terms of direct flights and travel concerns. “There are challenges and we are dealing with it.”
MANAMA, Bahrain — A senior government official traveling in Bahrain with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says that ongoing clashes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem could lead to a “regional escalation.”
“A deterioration in Sheikh Jarrah could lead to a regional escalation,” the official tells reporters accompanying Bennett on his trip. The official says Bennett has a responsibility to prevent such escalations, comparing the situation now to the clashes and tension ahead of Operation Guardian of the Walls in May. “There is a responsibility to prevent escalations that can lead to very difficult things… it’s no joke.”
The official also says that Israel is working “slowly” towards rebuilding relations with Turkey, after President Isaac Herzog confirmed today that he is planning a trip to Ankara soon. “The sides are working slowly. We’re approaching carefully, with gestures here and there, and indeed we can see that there is an increase in Turkish activity against Hamas terrorism.”
The source says that Turkey’s increased crackdown on Hamas was not based on any Israeli demand.
Families of nine victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting reach a $73 million settlement with US gunmaker Remington, in a landmark deal for a country plagued by campus massacres.
Twenty-six children and teachers were shot dead at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, by 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza.
A “settlement agreement has been executed between the parties,” says a notice from lawyers for the families.
Lanza was a 20-year-old with known developmental disabilities who lived at home with his mother when he carried out the attack. His mother, a gun enthusiast, had bought him an AR-15-style Bushmaster XM15-E2S semi-automatic rifle more than two years before the shooting. Lanza murdered his mother before attacking the school, and killed himself afterward.
The lawsuit alleged that Remington and the other two defendants are culpable because they knowingly marketed a military-grade weapon that is “grossly unsuited” for civilian use, yet had become the gun most used in mass shootings.
“When it came to the military looking for the best weapon, the most lethal weapon, the most destructive weapon and the weapon that could provide our soldiers… they chose the AR-15,” Joshua Koskoff, a lawyer for the Sandy Hook families, tells a press conference.
The same gun, he says, “was used not by a highly-trained soldier but by a deeply troubled kid, not on a battlefield abroad but in an elementary school at home, and not to preserve freedom, but to eviscerate them.”
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu calls on his supporters to attend a rally this week demanding a state investigation into allegations that police improperly spied on Israeli citizens.
Reports have swirled over the past two weeks that the Israel Police used Pegasus spyware without judicial approval to target many public officials and activists, including multiple figures central to Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial.
Supporters of Netanyahu have used the accusations to demand the trial be thrown out and that he be cleared of all charges. Prosecutors have claimed that they never received any improperly obtained information and that the allegations should have no effect on the case.
“A protest in favor of a state commission of inquiry into the spying affair against Israeli citizens that is shaking Israeli democracy,” Netanyahu proclaims. “If you don’t want to brush everything under the rug, if you want to preserve the right to privacy, if you want to ensure the future of our country — show up.”
The protest is slated to be held in Habima Square in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening. Most of the allegations of improper spying concern the period when Netanyahu was in power.
Ukraine says that the sites of the country’s defense ministry and two major state banks were hit by a cyberattack.
The announcement from Ukraine’s communications watchdog comes with the former Soviet republic fearing a possible attack from Russian forces conducting massive military drills at its frontiers.
The Religious Services Ministry has selected the same organization that oversaw the Lag B’Omer religious festival at Mount Meron last year to do so again this year.
The National Center for the Development of Holy Sites was the body in charge of the festival last year when 45 people were trampled to death in a crush during festivities in the worst civilian disaster in Israeli history.
The ministry also allowed the organization to skip the tender process and accepted its bid directly, citing “economy and efficiency.”
Family members of some of those killed in last year’s disaster slammed the government decision. A state commission of inquiry into the incident is ongoing, though it was slowed following the death of Miriam Naor, the head of the investigation, last month.
The Biden administration’s former deputy special envoy for Iran, Richard Nephew, says he stepped down from his post “due to a sincere difference of opinion concerning policy.”
Nephew left the post on December 6, with The Wall Street Journal subsequently reporting that he had sparred with Biden’s Iran envoy Rob Malley, who is viewed to take on more dovish views in Vienna — where world leaders are seeking to negotiate a joint US-Iran return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal.
Given there has been some interest in the last few weeks, I should clear up a few things. I departed the U.S. Iran team on 6 December due to a sincere difference of opinion concerning policy. I departed the State Department last week. 1/3
— Richard Nephew (@RichardMNephew) February 15, 2022
Nephew moved to another position in the State Department, but he now tweets that he has left that position as well.
“Although my views and record have been and continue to be mischaracterized by quite a few people, I do not intend to convey any further details at this time or in public, given the ongoing nature of discussions in Vienna,” he tweets.
“It was a privilege to serve in the US government again and for the Biden Administration specifically,” he writes. “I would be honored if considered for another role in government in the future but intend to return to academia.”
A tentative settlement has been reached in a lawsuit accusing Prince Andrew of sexually abusing Virginia Giuffre when she was 17 years old in which the prince will make a substantial donation to the charity of his accuser and says he never intended to malign her character, according to a court filing.
Attorney David Boies, who represents Giuffre, says in a filing in Manhattan federal court that lawyers on both sides are informing the judge that a settlement has been reached in principle and they’ll request a dismissal of the lawsuit within a month.
Meanwhile, the letter says, the judge should suspend all deadlines and hold the action in abeyance.
Giuffre sued Andrew in August. The American accused the British royal of sexually abusing her when she was 17 while she traveled with financier Jeffrey Epstein.
The European Data Protection Supervisor, an independent EU watchdog on privacy concerns, calls for a ban on Israel’s NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware within the European Union.
“A ban on the development and deployment of spyware with the capability of Pegasus in the EU would be the most effective option,” the EDPS writes in a new report. The organization says that the spyware, which infiltrates smartphones and can access all data available on the phone, is “incompatible with our democratic values.”
Spyware like Pegasus “has the potential to cause unprecedented risks and damages not only to the fundamental freedoms but also to democracy and the rule of law,” EDPS says.
NSO Group was blacklisted by the US government last year.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds a new phone call on the Ukraine crisis with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the State Department says.
After their last call on Saturday, “they agreed to stay in touch,” a senior State Department official said, without providing details of their latest conversation.
Western leaders said they were seeing positive signs that Russia was looking to ease tensions over Ukraine, after Moscow announced it was pulling back some of the troops deployed on its neighbor’s borders.
Israel sends a delegation to take part in the talks in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear program.
The delegation is headed by Joshua Zarka, the deputy director general for strategic Affairs at the Foreign Ministry.
The Israeli officials meet with Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s representative to the talks. Ulyanov tweets that he met with “Israeli colleagues from the capital and their Permanent Mission in Vienna” to discuss issues related to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“Thank you for a frank and important discussion,” Zarka tweets at Ulyanov.
— Joshua L. Zarka (@yzarka) February 15, 2022
The delegation is reportedly also slated to meet with US officials taking part indirectly in the negotiations. Zarka met yesterday with Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the IAEA.
Iranian state media Nour News tweets that “the overt and unexpected presence of the Zionists in Vienna is undoubtedly a deterrent to progress in the current sensitive situation.”
A delegation of Congressional Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has arrived at Ben Gurion Airport for a two-day trip in Israel and the West Bank where members will meet with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials.
The Middle East tour is part of a larger itinerary that includes stops in Germany and the United Kingdom.
In a statement released upon landing, Pelosi says the Israel trip will focus on “recognizing our shared democratic values and mutual security.”
The group is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is currently in Bahrain, President Isaac Herzog, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other senior Israeli leaders. They will also travel to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Pelosi is joined by Reps. Adam Schiff, Ted Deutch, Barbara Lee, Bill Keating, Eric Swalwell, Andy Kim and Ro Khanna.
Shortly before takeoff, Khanna spoke with The Times of Israel about his expectations for the trip.
Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces are reported next to Al-Quds University in Abu Dis outside Jerusalem.
Video on social media shows Israeli forces throwing tear gas toward students.
Reports indicate that students at the university held a demonstration today in solidarity with residents of Sheikh Jarrah after intense clashes there over the past few days.
במקביל לעימותים בנבי סאלח מקורות פלסטיניים מדווחים על התפרעויות באוניברסיטת באבו דיס שבאזור ירושלים. בתיעוד נראים הכוחות משליכים גז מדמיע לעבר סטודנטים. קודם לכן התקיימה במקום עצרת הזדהות עם תושבי שייח' ג'ראח@nurityohanan pic.twitter.com/RPtCYFpUjQ
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) February 15, 2022
Earlier today, a Palestinian man was shot dead during clashes with the IDF in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, according to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry.
President Vladimir Putin says Russia does not want war, after Western capitals accused Moscow of amassing troops near Ukraine with plans to invade.
“Do we want this or not? Of course, not. That is exactly why we put forward proposals for a process of negotiations,” Putin tells a press conference following talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Moscow.
Scholz says he agrees diplomatic options are “far from exhausted.” The announcement of troops being pulled back is a “good signal,” he says, adding that he hopes that “more will follow.”
Scholz adds that “for Europeans it is clear that lasting security cannot be achieved against Russia but only with Russia.”
Three journalists convicted of violating Turkey’s state secrets law return to prison after losing an appeal against their jail sentences.
The 2020 trial concerned a news report alleging that a Turkish intelligence officer was killed in Libya after Ankara provided support to the UN-recognized government in Tripoli.
In September that year, the Istanbul court sentenced Aydin Keser, Ferhat Celik and Murat Agirel — who works for the Yenicag daily — to four years and eight months in jail each on charges of violating the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) law.
It sentenced then OdaTV editor-in-chief Baris Pehlivan and reporter Hulya Kilinc to three years and nine months each on the same charges.
Agirel and Pehlivan tweet that they are returning to prison.
“A third time… We’re here, we’re going… Goodbye for now,” Pehlivan tweets alongside a selfie in front of what appears to be Istanbul’s main Caglayan courthouse.
“I am going to prison again because I called the sons who were martyred for the homeland martyrs,” Agirel tweets. “People who cannot deny anything I have written until now think they can silence me with injustice,” he adds.
President Isaac Herzog is preparing for a rare visit to Turkey next month as relations between Jerusalem and Ankara thaw.
Following complaints from area residents, the Environmental Protection Ministry announces that it has traced fuel smells to a leak of around 20,000 liters (5,285 gallons) of fuel from a tank in Ashkelon, in southern Israel, owned by the Europe Asia Pipeline Company.
A fuel leak took place in the same tank compound in late 2020.
The ministry says it will update the public further following an investigation into the leak and its severity.
The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry announces that a Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli soldiers during clashes in Nabi Saleh, a small town northwest of Ramallah.
A Fatah spokesperson identifies the deceased as Nouhad Amin al-Barghouti.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, the Israeli army says that “violent clashes” broke out in the area of Nabi Saleh, and the IDF “responded with live fire to disperse the demonstrations.”
The Palestinian Health Ministry says a Palestinian man, identified as Nahad Amin Barghouti, was shot dead during clashes with IDF troops in the village of Nabi Saleh near Ramallah earlier. pic.twitter.com/qcqZ18ZGM7
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) February 15, 2022
The Israeli Innovation Authority and the Defense Ministry will spend approximately NIS 200 million to develop Israel’s first quantum computer, the two bodies declare in a joint announcement.
According to the press release, “quantum computational ability will lay the technological foundation for an Israeli ecosystem that will lead future developments in security, economics, technology, engineering and science.”
The Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development will “establish a national center with quantum capabilities” that will collaborate with academia, industry players and all entities in dealing with developing a quantum processor.
“Quantum computing is a technology Israeli industry cannot ignore,” says IAA CEO Dror Bin. “The industry must develop knowledge and access to infrastructure in which it can develop growth engines for activities in which it will decide to lead.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa at his palace in Manama.
Bennett met earlier in the day with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, and told him, “I come from Israel with a spirit of goodwill, cooperation, of standing together in the face of common challenges.”
The prime minister made history as the first Israeli prime minister to make an official visit to Bahrain.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry says that it is sending additional staff to Ukraine to weigh the possibility of relocating its embassy in Kyiv to Lviv amid the threat of escalation.
Following a meeting of Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem to discuss the situation, the ministry says that its Kyiv embassy staff is continuing to provide consular services in the city, and has been joined by additional staff from Jerusalem. In addition, the ministry says, staff members are traveling to Lviv, in western Ukraine, further from the Russian border, to “prepare for the possibility” of moving the embassy there if necessary.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reiterates his call for Israelis still in Ukraine to leave as soon as possible. (Fewer than 2,000 of the 10-15,000 Israelis in Ukraine have flown back to Israel this week, according to TV reports.)
“I call on Israelis who still remain in Ukraine to leave the country,” he says. “The window of opportunity to leave is closing. I am proud of our diplomats in Kyiv and the reinforcements who came from Israel for the assistance they provide to Israelis who need it.”
MANAMA, Bahrain — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett concludes his meeting with Bahrain’s prime minister, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa.
Al-Khalifa tells Bennett that “all responsible peoples need to make an effort to achieve peace. Not that there has ever been a war between us, but relations between our countries have not been sound,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
“I think that if we envision a broader, conflict-free Middle East based on the principles of mutual respect, understanding and shared responsibility toward security, we will need to do more to get to know each other better and establish the Abraham Accords that are such an important historical achievement,” the crown prince says, in a statement from the prime minister.
Bennett tells al-Khalifa that “we feel the special welcome from your people and from you personally. I see a very big opportunity here… I come from Israel with a spirit of goodwill, cooperation, of standing together in the face of common challenges and I think our goal in this visit is to turn this peace from peace between governments to peace between people — and change it from something ceremonial to something meaningful.”
Saudi Arabia’s government says it supports “US efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” in comments carried by state news agency SPA, according to Reuters.
The news agency also cites the government as thanking the US for its support against attacks by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group.
Talks in Vienna with Iran and Western powers aimed at reaching a deal over Tehran’s nuclear program are ongoing, as diplomats have repeatedly warned that any agreement must be reached as soon as possible as the clock runs out.
Talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz begin in Moscow, the latest meeting in weeks of diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions over Ukraine.
“Unfortunately, we will devote a significant portion of our time to issues related to the situation in Europe and to security,” including Ukraine, Putin says during opening remarks at the beginning of the talks.
Scholz’s meeting with Putin comes a day after he traveled to Kyiv to shore up support for Ukraine during talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The meeting also follows a visit to Russia from French President Emmanuel Macron last week.
“It’s clear that we now have to talk about the difficult situation regarding security in Europe,” the German leader says at the onset of talks with Putin.
The Russian president says that energy issues would also be on the agenda.
A bomb attached to a bus carrying Syrian troops in Damascus explodes, killing one soldier and wounding 11, state TV reports.
The blast occurs during rush hour at a customs roundabout near the capital’s landmark Omayyad Square, according to the report. It gives no further details. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Such attacks have occurred in Damascus in recent months amid an otherwise calm period in the capital. Government forces captured rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of the city in 2018.
Government forces now control much of Syria with the help of President Bashar Assad’s allies Russia and Iran, while rebels are mostly cornered in the country’s northwestern province of Idlib. US and Turkish troops, meanwhile, are deployed in parts of the country’s north and east.
A Beersheba court convicts the Europe Asia Pipeline Company and its former director general, among others, in the serious contamination of the Zin stream in southern Israel when a pipe carrying jet fuel was damaged during maintenance works.
Ruling that the company, formerly known as the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company, was ill-prepared for emergency events, the court convicts the EAPC of water pollution in aggravated circumstances, discharge of toxic waste and responsibility for strong odors.
Several former senior EAPC staff are convicted of aggravated water pollution offenses and breach of the duty to supervise and prevent violations of laws dealing with cleanliness and hazardous substances.
More than 722 million cubic meters flowed into the stream and its environs as the result of damage caused to a pipe on two occasions in 2011.
Supporting The Times of Israel isn’t a transaction for an online service, like subscribing to Netflix. The ToI Community is for people like you who care about a common good: ensuring that balanced, responsible coverage of Israel continues to be available to millions across the world, for free.
Sure, we'll remove all ads from your page and you'll unlock access to some excellent Community-only content. But your support gives you something more profound than that: the pride of joining something that really matters.
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we started the Times of Israel ten years ago - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.
David Horovitz, Founding Editor of The Times of Israel