The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.
Iranian FM calls Netanyahu speech a ‘cartoonist’s circus’
Iran’s foreign minister mocks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a Munich security conference as a “cartoonish circus.”
“You were the audience for a cartoonish circus just this morning which does not even deserve the dignity of a response,” says Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Zarif was speaking after Netanyahu brandished a piece of an Iranian drone that Israel shot down recently and vowed to take military action against Iran.
— Judah Ari Gross
Lebanese defense minister says country will protect itself from Israeli attacks
Lebanese Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf says his country is prepared to defend itself if Israel launches strikes on its territory.
The comments came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed off a piece of an Iranian drone shot down in its airspace, and said it would “act if necessary” against Iran and its proxies, such as the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
Sarraf tells participants at the Munich Security Conference he’d had “an Israeli drone above my head for the past 15 years” but that his country has “no belligerent intent” against anyone.
But he says “we will defend ourselves” and that “we are for peace, yet we will not stand for any threat and we will not accept any aggression. ”
Cops foil attempt by Palestinian to smuggle gun into military court
Security forces today foiled an attempt to smuggle a homemade gun into the Samaria Military Court — the third attempt in a week to smuggle in weapons at the West Bank facility.
A Border Police guard in charge of security checks at the entrance to the courthouse noticed a Palestinian man acting suspiciously outside and after searching him, found the weapon, the Israel Police say.
The man, 19, was arrested.
This comes days after stopping a group of Palestinians from smuggling pipe bombs into the court.
— Jacob Magid
Trump says Obama should have been investigated for Iran deal
US President Donald Trump is tweeting his outrage that former president Barack Obama was never investigated for the Iran nuclear deal, which released more than $1 billion in seized Iranian assets.
“Never gotten over the fact that Obama was able to send $1.7 Billion Dollars in CASH to Iran and nobody in Congress, the FBI or Justice called for an investigation,” Trump tweets.
Trump’s tweets come a day after special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians with an elaborate plot to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election through social media propaganda aimed at helping Trump.
Never gotten over the fact that Obama was able to send $1.7 Billion Dollars in CASH to Iran and nobody in Congress, the FBI or Justice called for an investigation!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018
Kerry says ‘absolutely critical’ to preserve Iran nuclear deal
Former US secretary of state John Kerry says it is “absolutely critical” to make sure that world powers’ nuclear agreement with Iran survives.
US President Donald Trump is deeply skeptical about the 2015 nuclear deal. He extended sanctions waivers in January but says he would not do so again when they come up for renewal in May unless his concerns are addressed.
Kerry, one of the leading negotiators on the deal, tells the Munich Security Conference that “this is untenable. It is not good diplomacy.”
He adds: “I believe it is absolutely critical for Europe, for the world, to make sure we hold on to this agreement. Because to go backward — we know what the world looks like without the Iran nuclear agreement. It’s not a better place.”
Polish embassy in Tel Aviv vandalized with swastikas
The Polish embassy in Tel Aviv has been vandalized with swastikas and anti-Polish graffiti, Hebrew media reports say.
Police have opened an investigation.
The act comes amid fury in Israel over a Polish bill that bars accusing the Polish nation of complicity in the Nazi crimes in the Holocasut.
Yesterday Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that “there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian; not only German perpetrators,” sparking further Israeli anger.
Iran’s leaders offer condolences over air crash
Iran’s leaders have expressed their condolences over the passenger plane crash that killed all 66 on board.
The official IRNA news agency reports that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged all related bodies on Sunday to apply their efforts “to heal the sorrow of the families and relatives of victims.”
In a message on his website, President Hassan Rouhani says he has assigned officials to investigate the case and apply measures to avoid similar incidents in future.
Aseman Airlines spokesman Mohammad Taghi Tabatabai tells state TV that all on Flight No. 3704 were killed. The plane carried was carrying 60 passengers, including one child, and six crew members.
The Aseman Airlines ATR-72, a twin-engine turboprop used for short-distance regional flying, crashed near its destination of the southern Iranian city of Yasuj, some 780 kilometers (485 miles) south of the Iranian capital Tehran.
Netanyahu talks to Polish PM, says ‘all options on the table’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he spoke with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki by phone following his comments the day before, in which he said Jews also perpetrated the Holocaust, telling the leader that Israel did not accept the remarks.
“I told him there’s no basis for this comparison, between the act of Poles and the acts of Jews during the Holocaust,” Netanyahu tells Israeli reporters following his speech at the Munich Security Conference.
Responding to the calls for Israel to return its ambassador in Poland to Israel, the prime minister says the government is trying to resolve the issue without taking such a dramatic measure, but “all options are on the table.”
The prime minister says Israel plans to send a Foreign Ministry delegation to Poland in order to clarify Israel’s issues with the recently passed Polish law, which makes it illegal to accuse the Polish government of taking part in the Holocaust.
Netanyahu stressed the differences between Jews who collaborated with the Nazis facing a certain death sentence and the gentile Europeans who volunteered to help the Nazis.
The prime minister said he spoke with the Polish leader for a long time in order to reach an understanding, this included giving a personal example of willing Polish collaboration with the Nazis.
“I gave him an example from my wife’s family. They were hidden by Poles — by righteous gentiles,” he says.
“But as the Germans were leaving the city, the Poles ran after the fleeing Germans and said, ‘There are more Jews hiding here.’ And they killed my wife’s grandfather,” Netanyahu says.
“If he says this is about investigating the truth. Here’s an example, investigate the truth,” the prime minister adds.
In its attempt to highlight the onus of Nazi Germany for the Holocaust, Poland seems to have opened the door for historical revision, he says.
“You can’t fix one distortion with another distortion,” Netanyahu says.
— Judah Ari Gross
Israeli, US officials meet over gas dispute with Lebanon
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz met Sunday with a senior United States official seeking to defuse an escalating oil and gas dispute with Lebanon, his office says.
A statement from his spokesman says Steinitz held talks with Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield about conflicting claims to energy reserves off the coasts of Lebanon and Israel.
The leader of Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah said on Friday that Lebanon was strong enough to withstand US and Israeli pressure and to put Israeli gas rigs out of action.
Last week Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in a pair of offshore zones, including one that its southern neighbor Israel says belongs to it.
Lebanese officials have said the whole zone belongs to Beirut while Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has insisted it is solidly in Israeli territory.
Sunday’s statement quotes Steinitz as telling Satterfield that “a diplomatic solution is preferable for both sides.”
Iran has no immunity if it continues to attack Israel, official says
A senior diplomatic official says Israel would have no problem justifying an attack against Iranian targets if it decided to do so, following a threat to that effect made during the prime minister’s speech at the Munich Security Conference.
“Iran attacks Israel. That’s clear. From Lebanon, from Gaza, from Syria. This is coming from Iran. Period,” the official tells Israeli journalists, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Iran has no immunity,” he adds.
Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the conference that Israel “will not allow Iran’s regime to put a noose of terror around our neck. We will act without hesitation to defend ourselves. And we will act if necessary not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself.”
The official would not comment on if that meant targeting sites inside Iran itself or, as in the case of last week, striking Iranian targets inside Syria.
On Saturday, an Iranian drone penetrated Israeli airspace near the Jordanian border before it was shot down by an attack helicopter. Israel bombed an Iranian base in Syria where the drone was operated from.
— Judah Ari Gross
Netanyahu pleased with Zarif’s reaction to drone display
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he was pleased with the response of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who called the PM’s display of a piece of a downed Iranian drone a “cartoonish circus.”
The fact that [Zarif] had to respond to it was the whole point,” Netanyahu says.
The prime minister tells reporters that the driving force behind his intense focus on Iran in his speech was to sway US President Donald Trump’s decision in two months about putting sanctions against Iran back into place.
“It was meant to address the current aggressiveness of Iran on the ground and to influence what will happen in Washington in a few months,” he says.
Last month, Trump extended sanctions relief for Iran as part of the nuclear deal, but indicated that the US was prepared to withdraw from it and put the sanctions back into place at the end of the extension in approximately two months.
— Judah Ari Gross
Netanyahu got idea for drone stunt from adviser
An official said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got the idea of displaying part of the downed Iranian drone from his communications adviser David Keyes.
During his speech at the Munich security conference Netanyahu brandished a fragment of an Iranian drone downed over northern Israel a week ago, warned that Israel could strike the Islamic Republic directly and cautioned Tehran not to “test Israel’s resolve.”
The official said Keyes helped Netanyahu by stashing the wing flap under the podium ahead of the speech.
— Judah Ari Gross
Soldier wounded in Gaza border blast moved to Jerusalem hospital
A 22-year-old IDF soldier who was seriously wounded in the bomb blast on the Gaza border yesterday is moved from Soroka hospital in Beersheeba to the Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem.
His condition continues to be serious, the hospital says, and he is being treated in the trauma center. Yesterday doctors said the injuries sustained by the soldier and three others were not life threatening.
The soldier was reportedly transferred because his father is a doctor at Hadassah.
Police seek to extend remand of suspects in Bezeq fraud
Police are asking a court to extend the remand of senior officials in the Bezeq phone company and two close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who were arrested over the weekend in a graft probe.
Police want them held for a further eight days.
They were detained over the weekend after a “dramatic” development was reported in the case. The associates cannot be named due to a gag order on the case.
“Following evidence discovered by the Israel Securities Authority in the investigation of the Bezeq case, which raised suspicions that additional offenses had been committed, a new investigation was initiated this morning by investigators from the authority and from Lahav 433,” police said, referring to the police anti-fraud unit.
Four killed during a shooting at a church in Russia’s Dagestan
Russian news agency Tass is reporting that a gunman opened fire on people leaving a church service in Russia’s Dagestan region, killing four and wounding four others.
Tass says the Sunday shooting occurred outside a church in the town of Kizlyar. The agency cited Mayor Alexander Shuvalov as the source for the number of people killed and wounded.
Woman killed by falling crane in Kfar Saba
A woman in her 40s has been killed after a part of a crane fell on her in the central city of Kfar Saba, medics say.
Medics were called when the part fell on a car. They discovered the woman in the car and were forced to declare her dead, they say.
It’s not immediately clear what caused the part to fall. Police have opened an investigation.
בשעה 16:40 התקבל דיווח במוקד 101 של מד"א במרחב ירקון על חלק ממנוף שנפל ופגע ברכב במתחם המסחרי ברחוב הצומת פינת דרך השרון בכפר סבא. חובשים ופראמדיקים של מד"א מדווחים על אישה כבת 40 ללא סימני חיים וקובעים את מותה. pic.twitter.com/hRDq06HDZd
— מגן דוד אדום (@mda_israel) February 18, 2018
Downed fighter pilot released from hospital
An F-16 fighter pilot who was seriously injured last week when he had to bail out of his jet is released from hospital and allowed to go home, a hospital spokesperson said.
The pilot and his navigator were forced to eject after the jet was apparently hit by shrapnel from Syrian anti-aircraft missiles during a raid on an Iranian base in Syria.
He was seriously wounded and taken to Rambam Hospital in Haifa where he underwent surgery.
German police probe British woman over Holocaust remarks
German police are investigating a British woman for suspected incitement after she questioned the Holocaust during a far-right protest in the eastern city of Dresden.
A spokeswoman for Dresden police says Australian-born Michele Renouf is one of two people being investigated for remarks made at a neo-Nazi rally Saturday commemorating those killed in the 1945 Allied bombing of the city.
Videos of the rally posted online show Renouf saying the only Holocaust perpetrated in Europe was against German civilians. Publicly denying the Nazis’ well-documented murder of six million Jews is a criminal offense in Germany.
Speaker Michele Renouf at the fascist #Ittner-protest in Dresden yesterday with an unbelievable Holocaust justification/denial: "It´s nomal in war time to put your 5th columnists into concentration cams." #DD1702 https://t.co/aHLadq04PG
— burning Fury (@ArtWendeley) February 18, 2018
Renouf has in the past supported Holocaust-deniers such British historian David Irving.
Dresden police spokeswoman Jana Ulbricht said Sunday that officers ordered the rally dissolved after determining that two speakers had broken the law.
Florida students to march on Washington in call for gun reform
Students who survived a mass shooting at their Florida school announce plans to march on Washington in a bid to “shame” lawmakers into reforming laws that make powerful firearms readily available.
The “March for our Lives” will take place on March 24, with sister marches planned across the country, a group of students tells ABC News, vowing to make Wednesday’s shooting a turning point in America’s deadlocked debate on gun control.
Nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a troubled former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, has confessed to killing 17 people with a legally-purchased AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the latest such atrocity in a country plagued by gun violence.
PM unaware of decision to boycott Israeli film festival in France over ‘Foxtrot’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as the country’s foreign minister, says he was unaware of the decision by the Israeli embassy in France to boycott the opening ceremony of an Israeli Film Festival in the country over the screening of the controversial “Foxtrot.”
The prime minister tells reporters he will look more into the issue now that he is aware of it, but he “always backs up [Culture Minister Miri Regev].”
Netanyahu has long faced criticism for holding both portfolios, as his detractors argue he is unable to perform the functions required of the two positions simultaneously.
Regev pressured the Foreign Ministry to withdraw its support for the March festival altogether over the film. This led many on social media to quip about the irony of Israel boycotting its own event, especially in light of the government’s staunch opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
“Foxtrot” centers on parents’ grief for their fallen son, and includes a scene in which IDF soldiers cover up the murder of four Arab youths. Regev, who has admitted to never having seen the film, has repeatedly lambasted the film, saying it “shows Israeli army soldiers in a deceptive manner as murderers and harms the good name of the Israel Defense Forces.”
The production won the Ophir, Israel’s top film prize. It was also among the movies submitted for the best foreign-language Oscar, but failed to make the final five nominee list.
— Judah Ari Gross
US environment chief cancels Israel trip over expense scandal
US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is canceling his planned visit to Israel, the Washington Post reports.
Pruitt, was set to visit Israel for a week-long trip, but has faced criticism for the cost of his travel expenses. He has been traveling first class to avoid confrontation with critics.
“We decided to postpone; the administrator looks forward to going in the future,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman tells the Post without giving a reason.
Netanyahu slams Bezeq probe as just ‘air’ drummed up by media pressure
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu is dismissing the Bezeq fraud investigation as just more “air,” instigated by media pressure.
“Another baseless investigation under pressure from the media,” a statement from Netanyahu says.”The media witch hunt continues at full force.”
“After the release of air from case 1000 and 2000, and after it became clear there was no air in case 3000, the media created massive pressure to create a new balloon, case 4000. The air will escape from it too,” the statement says, referring to the two investigations (1000 and 2000) where police have recommended indicting Netanyahu and the submarine affair (3000), in which Netanyahu’s personal lawyers are implicated.
Police today arrested a close Netanayhu adviser and senior officials at the telecom giant Bezeq in Case 4,000, which allegedly involves favorable news coverage granted to the PM in exchange for benefits for national phone company
“The justice ministry made it clear in the state comptroller report that the prime minister did not take any controversial decisions,” the statement says, adding that there was no “suspicion of conflict of interest.”
— Judah Ari Gross
Court extends remand of Netanyahu confidant, Bezeq bigwig in fraud probe
A Tel Aviv court is extending the remand of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close confidant, as well as a senior official in the Bezeq company by five days.
Police arrested them this morning, along with several other suspects, and asked the court to hold them for eight days.
They court agreed to extend their remand for five days. There is a gag order on the details of the case.
Sources: Netanyahu a suspect in Bezeq probe, likely to be questioned soon
Police sources tell Channel 10 that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a suspect in the Bezeq fraud probe and will most likely be questioned in the coming days.
They say that Netanyahu is suspected of furthering a deal in which Shaul Elovitch, owner of the Walla news site and the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq communications company, swayed coverage of Netanyahu and his family on Walla, in exchange for the Communications Ministry enacting policies potentially worth hundreds of millions of shekels for Elovitch.
Netanyahu was acting communications minister at the time.
The report says Netanyahu’s wife Sara is also expected to be questioned. The report say she pushed for the favorable coverage and that police had found correspondence between Mrs. Netanyahu and one of the suspects from Bezeq.
US said willing to keep nuke deal if Europeans commit to try change it over time
The United States is willing to remain committed to the nuclear deal with Iran if three key European allies simply express a commitment to try and change it over time, Reuters reports.
US President Donald Trump had threatened to pull out of the deal unless it was amended to meet several key demands.
But now it appears the US will accept a commitment to future change instead of actual change, the report says, quoting a State Department cable and an interview with a senior department official.
“We are asking for your commitment that we should work together to seek a supplemental or follow-on agreement that addresses Iran’s development or testing long-range missiles, ensures strong IAEA inspections, and fixes the flaws of the ‘sunset clause,'” Reuters quotes the cable as saying.
However, the report notes that the Europeans are skeptical as to what would satisfy Trump.
Trump to meet high school students following Florida shooting
US President Donald Trump will hold a listening session with high school students this week, following the deadly school shooting in Florida.
A White House schedule says Trump will host students and teachers on Wednesday. He also will meet with state and local officials about school safety on Thursday.
The White House did not immediately answer questions about which students would be attending the session.
Students who survived the shooting in Parkland that left 17 dead have focused their anger on the president, urging him and other elected officials to do something about gun violence.
The president visited the community Friday, seeking out victims at a hospital and meeting first responders.
Otherwise, his attention has been almost fully on the Russia investigation, the subject of a series of tweets he posted Sunday.
Rivlin calls Polish PM’s Holocaust comments ‘a new low’
President Reuven Rivlin slams Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s comments that there were Jewish perpetrators in the Holocaust as “a new low.”
“Saying that our people collaborated with the Nazis is a new low,” Rivlin says, speaking at the opening evening of the Conference of Presidents’ annual Israel leadership mission.
“Today, more than ever, we must work to educate the world, even some of its leaders about that dark time, the terrible crimes committed by the Nazis, and their supporters,” the President says.
On Saturday, Morawiecki exacerbated the ongoing dispute over the Polish Holocaust bill by saying “there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators.”
Hungarian leader calls Christianity ‘Europe’s last hope’
Hungary’s prime minister says that “Christianity is Europe’s last hope” and that politicians in Brussels, Berlin and Paris favoring migration have “opened the way to the decline of Christian culture and the advance of Islam.”
Viktor Orban says during his 20th annual state of the nation speech that his government will oppose efforts by the United Nations or the European Union to make migration acceptable to the world.
He conjured the image of a Western Europe overtaken by Muslims, saying that “born Germans are being forced back from most large German cities, as migrants always occupy big cities first.”
Orban claims that Islam would soon “knock on Central Europe’s door” from the west, as well as the south.
Orban will seek a third consecutive term in an April election.