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Netanyahu on Biden’s Iran strategy: It’s a mistake to rely solely on agreements

PM in TV interview says he told US president in their recent call that only a credible military threat and harsh sanctions will thwart Islamic regime’s nuclear weapons efforts

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with then US vice president Joe Biden at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on March 9, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with then US vice president Joe Biden at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on March 9, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.

Bahrain crown prince calls Netanyahu about return of Iran nuclear talks

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Bahrain’s crown prince spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today about the return to nuclear talks with Iran, Bahrain’s state-run news agency reports, as the US administration tries to revive the tattered 2015 nuclear accord.

Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, also the country’s prime minister, stressed to Netanyahu “the importance of the participation of regional countries in any negotiations on the Iranian nuclear file” to support “security and stability in the region,” according to the official Bahrain News Agency.

The statement marks the first response from a Gulf Arab leader to US President Joe Biden’s announcement earlier this month that he was seeking a return to nuclear negotiations with Iran. Nearly three years ago, former president Donald Trump abandoned the landmark accord and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran. His withdrawal was welcomed by Gulf nations and Israel, Iran’s foes in the region that are most directly threatened and staunchly opposed the deal.

The sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf, along with Israel, were excluded from the last nuclear negotiations and remain highly skeptical of Iran’s intentions. They have indicated they would only be open to a deal if it included limits on Iran’s non-nuclear activities, including missile development and support for rebel groups and militias in the Middle East. A main reason Trump gave for withdrawing from the nuclear deal was that it did not address those issues.

In today’s call, the Bahraini crown prince urged that any nuclear negotiations with Iran “include broader issues,” without elaborating.

The readout from Israel makes mention of Washington’s outreach to Tehran. It says only that the crown prince repeated his invitation for Netanyahu to visit Bahrain once the pandemic allows and that the kingdom is interested in investing jointly with other countries in a vaccine production factory planned to be located in Israel.

Following the United Arab Emirates, the island kingdom of Bahrain normalized relations with Israel last fall, an agreement forged out of mutual enmity for Iran.

Recent drone attack on Saudi royal palace was launched from Iraq

BAGHDAD — Explosive-laden drones that targeted Saudi Arabia’s royal palace in the kingdom’s capital last month were launched from inside Iraq, a senior Iran-backed militia official in Baghdad and a US official say.

Speaking to The Associated Press, the militia official says three drones were launched from Iraqi-Saudi border areas by a relatively unknown Iran-backed faction in Iraq and crashed into the royal complex in Riyadh on January 23, exacerbating regional tensions.

Attacks on the Saudi capital have been sporadic amid the kingdom’s yearslong war against neighboring Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Earlier this month, the rebels targeted an airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia with bomb-laden drones, causing a civilian plane on the tarmac to catch fire.

The Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, however, denied carrying out an attack that targeted Saudi Arabia’s Yamama Palace on January 23.

The comments by the senior Iraqi militia official mark the first time an Iran-backed group has acknowledged that Iraq was the origin of the attack and points to the challenge Baghdad faces in halting attacks by Iranian-backed militia factions in Iraq.

It followed a responsibility claim allegedly issued by a little-known group called Awliya Wa’ad al-Haq, or “The True Promise Brigades,” that circulated on social media, calling it retaliation for a suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group in a main Baghdad shopping district on January 21.

The militia official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly about the attack, says the drones came “in parts from Iran and were assembled in Iraq, and were launched from Iraq.” He doesn’t disclose where along the border the drones were launched and doesn’t provide more details about the group claiming the attack.

WHO: Understanding the long-term consequences of COVID ‘a clear priority’

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A senior World Health Organization official urges national authorities to make a priority of understanding the long-term consequences of coronavirus infections as some people show worrying symptoms months later.

“It’s a clear priority for WHO, and of the utmost importance. It should be for every health authority,” Hans Kluge, regional director for WHO Europe, tells a press conference.

While some studies are beginning to shed light on the illness, it is still unclear why some patients with COVID-19 continue to show symptoms for months, including tiredness, brain fog, and cardiac and neurological disorders.

“The burden is real and it is significant. About one in 10 Covid-19 sufferers remain unwell after 12 weeks, and many for much longer,” Kluge says.

Noting that reports of long-term symptoms came soon after the disease was first discovered, he says that some patients are “met with disbelief or lack of understanding.”

Kluge stresses that those patients “need to be heard if we are to understand the long-term consequences and recovery from COVID-19.”

WHO Europe calls on European countries and institutions to “come together as part of an integrated research agenda,” harmonizing data collection tools and study protocols.

The regional director also says he’ll bring together the 53 member countries of the WHO’s European region, including several countries in Central Asia, “to set out a regional strategy.”

In early February, WHO organized the first virtual seminar devoted to so-called Long COVID, in order to properly define it, give it a formal name and harmonize methods for studying it.

Haredi virus liaison warns Purim parties may end in ‘disaster’

A former IDF general tasked with leading efforts to deal with COVID-19 in the ultra-Orthodox community warns of rising coronavirus infections among Haredim ahead of Purim.

“The trend of declining morbidity among the Haredi public has halted and a worrying rise has begun,” Roni Numa is quoted saying by Hebrew media.

Numa says he’s worried about mass gatherings and parties over Purim, which begins this evening, saying they may result in “disaster.”

“Irresponsible behavior on Purim will bring us back to high morbidity and mortality,” he says.

IDF to impose Purim closure on West Bank, Gaza

The military announces it will shutter crossings with the West Bank and Gaza Strip tonight as part of a closure for the Purim holiday.

The closure is set to be lifted Sunday “pending a situational assessment,” according to the Israel Defense Forces, which says crossings for commercial goods will remain open.

“Only humanitarian, medical and exceptional cases will be possible and subject to the approval of the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories,” an IDF statement says.

Israel regularly closes the crossings during national and religious holidays.

Pfizer examining effects of 3rd vaccine dose

NEW YORK — Pfizer announces that it has begun studying a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, part of a strategy to guard against mutated versions of the coronavirus.

Health authorities say first-generation COVID-19 vaccines still protect against variants that are emerging in different parts of the world. But manufacturers are starting to prepare now in case a more vaccine-resistant mutation comes along.

Pfizer says it will offer a third dose to 144 volunteers, drawing from people who participated in the vaccine’s early-stage US testing last year. It wants to determine if an additional booster shot given six to 12 months after the first two doses will rev up the immune system enough to ward off a mutated virus.

Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, also are tweaking their vaccine recipe. The companies are in discussions with US and European regulators about a study to evaluate doses updated to better match variants such as the one first discovered in South Africa.

Qatar pledges $60 million to provide natural gas for Gaza

Qatar pledges $60 million in aid to help provide natural gas to the Gaza Strip, Doha’s envoy to the Palestinian territory says in a statement.

“This amount will be allocated for extending gas pipelines from inside the Israeli side. The European Union has pledged to provide an amount of 20 million euros to complete the extensions inside the Gaza Strip,” Qatari envoy Mohammad al-Emadi says.

Gaza has suffered from a chronic electricity deficit for more than a decade. The coastal enclave has only one power plant — which runs on imported diesel fuel — and experiences daily blackouts of between eight and 12 hours.

Transitioning Gaza from diesel fuel to natural gas is widely seen as important to solving the enclave’s electricity crisis. Talks on a natural gas pipeline have been in the works for years, without a clear timeline; the pipeline is expected to connect Gaza’s power plant to an Israeli offshore power station.

Officials said last week that they hoped the deal would be signed within the next few months.

Syria gets vaccines from ‘friendly country’ after Israel said to have bought doses for it

Syria says it has received coronavirus vaccines from a “friendly country,” according to state media, after reports Israel agreed to purchase Russian vaccines for the country as part of a prisoner exchange.

Syrian Health Minister Hassan Ghabash doesn’t specify where the vaccines are from.

As part of the Russian-brokered deal for the return of an Israeli woman who crossed into Syria, Israel agreed to buy $1 million worth of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine for Syria’s use, according to a report last week.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said no Israeli vaccine doses were sent to Syria, but didn’t explicitly deny the report.

Ministries to Israeli public: Stay away from beaches as tar cleanup continues

Government ministries urge Israelis to stay away from beaches along the Mediterranean coast due to tar pollution from a recent oil spill.

A joint statement from the health, interior and environmental protection ministries says tar continues to wash up on shore and that cleanup efforts are continuing. Israelis shouldn’t visit the beach

The ministries say they’ll provide an update on when Israelis can return to the beaches “in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines.”

Iranian policeman killed during unrest near Pakistan border

TEHRAN, Iran — An officer has been killed in an attack on a police station in southeastern Iran, state media reports, as unrest in Sistan-Baluchistan province spread to provincial capital Zahedan.

The violence began earlier this week when a clash involving fuel smugglers at the Pakistani border triggered attacks on government buildings in the nearby city of Saravan, 270 kilometers (170 miles) southeast of Zahedan, in which at least one person was fatally wounded.

Sistan-Baluchistan has a large ethnic Baluch population, that straddles the border and mainly follows the Sunni branch of Islam, not the Shiite branch followed by most Iranians.

The province has long been a flashpoint for cross-border attacks by separatists and Sunni extremists.

Zahedan county governor Abouzarmahdi Nakahei says the latest violence was fueled by “fake” reports of deaths in the unrest in Saravan.

“Following the propaganda and rumours by foreign media, criminal elements attacked Kurin police station in Zahedan with light weapons and grenade launchers,” Nakahei tells state news agency IRNA, without saying when the attack took place.

He says the assailants had acted on the “excuse of showing solidarity for the fake deaths at Saravan’s Shamsar police station.”

Police returned fire and the attackers eventually fled, but one officer was killed in the firefight, Nakahei says.

Man suspected of raping 13-year-old girl at Jaffa coronavirus hotel

A Tel Aviv court extends by five days the remand of a man from southern Israel suspected of raping a 13-year-old girl at a Jaffa hotel for coronavirus carriers.

A police representative tells the court that the suspect raped the girl twice and also choked and beat her.

Gantz to Netanyahu: Halt the transfer of vaccines to other countries

Defense Minister Benny Gantz calls on Prime Minister Netanyahu to immediately halt the transfer of coronavirus vaccines to other countries and to convene the high-level security cabinet for deliberations on the matter.

Netanyahu acknowledged yesterday that Israel is sending vaccine doses to other countries that have granted favors to Israel, without further elaborating. The premier said he made the decision to give vaccines away, leaving ministers and top health officials in the dark.

Gantz calls the vaccines a national asset and says there were never talks in “the relevant forums” on giving them away.

“This is not the first time that significant security and diplomatic decisions are made behind the back of the relevant officials, with possible harm to the security of the state, foreign relations and rule of law,” Gantz says in a statement.

KKL-JNF board advances NIS 38 million purchase of West Bank land

The board of KKL-JNF advances plans to purchase NIS 38 million of West Bank land, though the organization has yet to conclude policy discussions on buying Palestinian plots for settlement expansion purposes.

German police launch raids on suspected Islamic extremists in Berlin

BERLIN — Hundreds of German police officers conduct coordinated raids in Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg in the investigation of an organization banned over allegations of Islamic extremism.

Some 850 police, including SWAT teams, are involved in the raids of apartments linked to members of the organization known as Jama’atu Berlin, the state Interior Ministry says.

The organization, whose name translates literally as the “Berlin Group,” was banned by Berlin’s state Interior Minister Andreas Geisel ahead of the raids on the grounds it was a “very radical” group that follows the Islamic State jihadist group’s ideology.

“The ban is another clear signal to all religious extremists,” Geisel says. “We will fight the roots of terror. We will tolerate no place where terror is preached and the so-called Islamic State is glorified.”

Authorities say the organization espouses an anti-Semitic ideology and advocates “armed jihad and terrorist attacks on civilians.” The raids are meant to secure its assets and look for evidence, authorities say, and no arrests are announced.

The organization consists of two groups — one of women and one of men — who would meet regularly in private homes and parks, and spread their ideology over the internet and with flyers in public spaces, authorities say.

Azerbaijan’s Jews postpone public Purim celebrations in deference to national memorial day

Leaders of the Jewish community of Azerbaijan have postponed public celebrations of Purim because the joyous Jewish holiday coincides this year with a national day of mourning.

This is the first time in many years that Purim falls on the anniversary of the Khojaly Massacre, an atrocity that occurred on February 25, 1992, in which Armenian troops killed 613 Azerbaijanis in the city of Khojaly, according to Rabbi Zamir Isayev, chairman of Georgian Jewish community of Azerbaijan.

“This year, we are observing all the commandments of Purim indoors, but we’ve moved public displays to February 28,” he says.

On Purim, Jews are commanded to drink alcohol, and it is customary to dress up, pull pranks and give out sweets and other gifts.

This “wouldn’t be appropriate on the memorial anniversary of Khojaly,” the rabbi says.

The anniversary is a solemn affair in which schools teach about Khojaly and television channels air only documentary and memorial programs.

Children attending the two Jewish schools and the Jewish kindergarten of Baku, where most of Azerbaijan’s some 8,000 Jews live, asked students not to come wearing costumes, as they normally do on Purim, Isayev says.

“They will dress up on Sunday,” he says.

Rabbi Shneur Segal, the rabbi of Baku’s Ashkenazi community and the top emissary of Chabad to Azerbaijan, says: “We are citizens of this multinational state, and as such, the Khojaly Massacre is also our tragedy. We mourn the loss of those peaceful Azerbaijanis who were cruelly murdered.”

UK lowers COVID alert level, citing declining cases

British health officials lower the country’s virus alert level from 5 to 4, saying case numbers are falling and are less of a threat to the state-run National Health Service.

The UK’s chief medical officers and the medical director of NHS England say they have agreed “the UK alert level should move from level 5 to level 4 in all four nations,” as cases are “consistently declining” and the threat of the NHS “being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded.”

Health minister: Passover restrictions possible if mass Purim gatherings held

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein warns of possible restrictions over Passover if celebratory gatherings are held during Purim.

“If there are mass violations and infections, than on Passover we’ll all sit at home,” he tells Kan public radio.

Edelstein is also asked about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to give vaccines to other countries in return for diplomatic support. He says only a few thousand doses have been transferred and that none of them were of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine used to inoculate Israelis so far.

German cops indicted over Nazi chats, possessing explosives

BERLIN — Prosecutors in Germany have accused two brothers who worked as police officers in the central state of Hesse of spreading racist views on instant messaging apps, German news agency dpa reports.

The brothers, ages 46 and 37, are indicted on suspicion of incitement and breaching firearms laws.

Frankfurt prosecutors accuse the older man of posting pictures of Adolf Hitler and racist messages about dark-skinned people and Muslims to a WhatsApp group. He is also accused of illegally possessing explosives, firearms and Nazi memorabilia.

The suspect, who isn’t named, has been suspended from police duty.

His younger brother, who left the police force in western Hesse voluntarily, has been charged with displaying symbols of forbidden organizations, leaking confidential police information and breaking firearms laws.

Anti-racism campaigners have called for a thorough investigation into the prevalence of far-right views among German police. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, the country’s top security official, has rejected the idea that there is a “structural” problem with racism in the police, but agreed last year to commission a broader study that includes examining extremist views in the force.

Mass Purim gathering apparently being planned in Bnei Brak — TV

Pictures aired by Channel 12 news show what appear to be preparations for a mass Purim gathering this evening in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak.

The network stresses it isn’t clear if the event has since been called off due to the curfew rules set to take effect later this evening.

Ministers said likely to halt public transportation to Jerusalem during Shushan Purim

Government ministers are expected to halt public transportation to Jerusalem on Saturday night and Sunday to prevent revelers from traveling to the city for Shushan Purim celebrations, according to Hebrew media reports.

Plane carrying vaccines from Israel lands in Honduras

A plane carrying vaccines from Israel has landed in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, the Central American country’s President Juan Orlando Hernandez says.

The vaccines, which Hernandez says will go to frontline workers, were transferred to Honduras as part of a decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to give vaccine doses to other countries in return for diplomatic backing.

Israel selects CH-53K King Stallion as the IDF’s new transport helicopter

The Defense Ministry announces the selection of the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion as the new transport helicopter of the Israel Defense Forces.

The ministry says the US-made helicopter will replace the IDF’s fleet of CH-53 Sea Stallions, which have been in service since the 1960s.

800 pro-Trump rioters stormed US Capitol, says acting police chief

The acting head of the US Capitol Police says about 800 pro-Trump rioters forced their way into the halls of Congress during the January 6 insurrection.

Acting Police Chief Yogananda Pittman offers the estimate as she testifies to a House subcommittee investigating the attempt to force Congress to overturn the November election results.

Those who entered the Capitol building were a relatively small subset of the estimated 10,000 people who gathered on the grounds outside the House and Senate after marching from a Donald Trump rally earlier in the day.

Authorities say there were about 15,000 people at the Trump rally south of the White House and another 10,000 gathered outside the formal rally.

Five people died in the attack on the Capitol, including a Capitol officer.

Bahrain becomes 1st country to grant emergency use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Bahrain has become the first nation to authorize Johnson & Johnson’s new single-dose coronavirus vaccine for emergency use on Thursday, the government announces, just a day after US regulators concluded the shot offers strong protection against severe COVID-19.

The island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia says it will dole out J&J’s shot to the most vulnerable people, including older adults and those with chronic conditions, without specifying when. It is also unclear when doses will be delivered to the country, which already offers vaccines by state-backed Chinese firm Sinopharm, Pfizer-BioNtech and Oxford-AstraZeneca, as well as Russia’s Sputnik V to its roughly 2 million residents.

The move makes Bahrain’s health regulatory authority the first in the world to authorize the J&J vaccine for general use. In addition to the US, European regulators and the World Health Organization also are considering J&J’s vaccine. Worldwide, the company aims to produce around a billion doses by the end of the year.

Meriam Adhbi al-Jalahma, chief of Bahrain’s regulatory body, said authorities had conducted “an in-depth study” on “all documents submitted by the company, which included the results of the clinical trials.”

The vaccine “provides a great protection against serious infection with COVID-19,” the statement adds.

Israeli HMO: British variant likely behind jump in serious COVID cases

Clalit Health Services, Israel’s largest HMO, issues a report on the British coronavirus variant, which it says was the likely cause of a 70 percent rise last month in serious COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated Israelis.

Netanyahu suspends delivery of vaccines to other countries

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office has suspended the delivery of vaccine doses to other countries in exchange for diplomatic support.

The decision comes after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit sent a letter to National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat asking for clarifications about the program and Defense Minister Benny Gantz demanded that the initiative be halted and for the security cabinet to hold talks on the matter.

Netanyahu said yesterday he personally approved the vaccine shipments “in return for things we already received,” without further elaborating. The premier also didn’t say which countries are getting doses, but one of them was reported to be Mauritania, which has no diplomatic ties with Israel.

Honduras announced earlier today that it received vaccines from Israel and the Czech Republic said Tuesday that it got 5,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine from the Jewish state.

Nationwide curfew for Purim comes into force

A nationwide curfew for the first night of Purim takes effect, with restrictions on gatherings and travel coming into force to prevent mass gatherings and other traditional holiday revelry.

The restrictions will be lifted at 5 a.m., before resuming at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow evening. A nationwide curfew will also be in effect on Saturday evening.

UAE’s 1st ambassador to Israel expected to arrive next week

The UAE’s first ambassador to Israel will arrive in the Jewish state to take up his post, the Walla news site reports.

Mohammad Mahmoud Al Khajahi will land in the country on Tuesday and present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin the next day, according to the report.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalize relations in August as part of a US-brokered agreement.

Gantz cheers halt of vaccine deliveries to other countries: PM acted in ‘undemocratic manner’

Defense Minister Benny Gantz cheers Prime Minister Netanyahu’s suspension of vaccine deliveries to other countries, after demanding the initiative be halted.

“Netanyahu’s move was made in an undemocratic manner, bypassing the regulations,” Gantz tweets, referring to the premier’s decision to personally approve the vaccine shipments.

Gantz adds: “If there is a reason to transfer vaccines to various countries at the expense of Israeli decisions, this will only be decided in the relevant forums. Making decisions in the dark raises concerns of harming the state’s foreign relations and security.”

Netanyahu: ‘I’m sorry that we haven’t succeeded’ in preventing COVID deaths

Prime Minister Netanyahu says he’s sorry the government was unable to prevent more COVID-19 deaths, but refrains from answering whether his policies for dealing with the pandemic led to avoidable fatalities.

“Every death…. is terrible. We’re in a joint struggle… I’m sorry that we haven’t succeeded [in preventing the deaths], and together we’ll succeed… We’re the only ones who will succeed because I’ve brought vaccinations,” Netanyahu tells Channel 13 news.

Asked why Cyprus had a lower death toll proportionately, Netanyahu notes the country is an island.

“We’re not an island. We have the Palestinians in our midst. We can’t close Jenin… Thirty prime ministers have called me to say we congratulate you for the way you have handled this,” he says.

The premier repeats his claim that Israel will be the first country to emerge from the pandemic and denies Australia and New Zealand are already in the clear.

“No country is out,” he says.

“Every death is a tragedy. But for a while now, there’s no reason for anybody to die, or at least 97, 95 percent,” he says — a reference to the vaccines’ effectiveness.

Local media is always asserting blunders here, he says; international media recognizes Israel’s successes… “Tens of thousands of businesses are indeed fighting for their lives… When I try to help them [financially], I’m told by politicians and legal advisers that I can’t do that” because of the election campaign.

He rails at the Israeli media and at legal officials for opposing his spending plans amid the campaign for the March 23 elections.

He says he intends to turn Israel into “the fastest growing economy in the world.”

Asked about the network’s poll showing Likud slipping and him unable to form a majority, Netanyahu says: “There are nine Likud mandates sitting at home.” (A “mandate” is a term used in Israel for a Knesset seat.)

Netanyahu is also asked about a remark he made yesterday about building a “right-wing government without virus contagion,” and whether this meant he thinks everyone except the right is infected.

“I was talking about political contagion — rotation, alternate prime ministers and so on,” he says.

Netanyahu claims he won’t seek to evade graft trial if he forms new government

Prime Minister Netanyahu denies he is fueling divisions in Israeli society, as he is asked about past comments on Arabs, the left and other divisive rhetoric.

“I am the prime minister of everyone. I bring vaccines to all Israelis, without exception. I bring peace agreements to all Israelis, without exception. I bring economic assistance to all Israelis, without exception. I protect the security, better this year than ever, of all Israelis, without exception…. And I stop the Iranian nuclear armament for all Israelis, without exception,” he says in an interview with Channel 13 news.

He also dismisses the poll finding that 58% of Israelis don’t want him to continue as prime minister. “Wait for the real survey,” he responds, referring to the upcoming elections.

The interviewer notes: We are the country that has lost the most school days to COVID. Was it a mistake to reopen commerce before schools?: “I prioritized life above all else,” says Netanyahu. The health experts advised against opening schools fully, since this would rapidly spread contagion, with fatal consequences, he says.

Asked about telephoning Arnon Milchen, who is a prosecution witness in Netanyahu’s trial on graft charges, the premier says he doesn’t remember when he phoned him, but that “it’s all spin by the prosecution to obscure the fact that the cases against me are collapsing.

“It is permitted to talk to a prosecution witness,” he adds, dismissing the cases against him as “fabricated.”

Netayanu says that if he forms a government after the March 23 elections, he won’t use it to evade the trial through legislation or a request for immunity.

“I won’t advance any such legislation,” he says.

He is also asked if his acceptance of expensive gifts showed he has a “values” problem.

“I’ll tell you about my values. I dedicate my life, despite the endless false attacks on me, my wife and my children… to public service,” he says.

Asked why he took all those gifts from Milchan, and asked “don’t you have a ‘values’ problem, he says: “I’ll tell you about my values. I dedicate my life, despite the endless false attacks on me, my wife and my children… to public service.”

Noting it’s Purim, Netanyahu says that “2,500 years ago, a Persian oppressor arose to try to wipe out the Jewish people, and didn’t succeed…. My commitment is that today’s oppressors, these ayatollahs in Persia, who think they will destroy the Jewish state, my commitment is to again prevent their success.”

Pressed again about the gifts, he starts singing, in protest, he says, at interviewer Udi Segal’s combative questions.

Segal says he’s being contemptuous. Responds Netanyahu: “But you’re trying to deflect the conversation from the things that matter.”

PM on Biden and the Iran nuke deal: It’s a mistake to rely solely on agreements

Asked if he relies on Joe Biden when it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, Netanyahu says: “I rely on myself, on ourselves.”

Pressed again, he says: “I don’t entrust the security of Israel to anybody else… Israel must be able and determined to defend itself, by itself.”

“I told Biden — and we are friends; close friends even; he eulogized my father; I spoke to him after the death of his son… I told him, Joe… We spoke a lot about Iran… We spoke for an hour in total… I told him, with or without an agreement, my obligation as the prime minister of Israel, as the prime minister of the Jewish state, is to prevent a recurrence of the terrible things that have been done to our people.

“There is a regime whose flagship goal is to destroy us. I will do everything I can, everything in my power, to prevent it from attaining nuclear weapons.”

He’s asked: Including the use of military force?

“Including whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.”

He’s asked: Isn’t an agreement better? An improved agreement?

“An agreement with a state like that? How many times do we need to learn from history. Agreements are made. But if you rely solely on agreements, that’s a mistake…. I told President Biden, agreement or no agreement, the two things that will slow Iran’s progress to nuclear weapons, or prevent it from getting nuclear weapons, are a credible military threat and harsh sanctions.”

Israel will always maintain that credible military threat, he says, while the sanctions are to a great extent dependent on Biden. “I’ll never put Israel’s security in anybody else’s hands,” he repeats.

Netanyahu: ‘I attack the media because it deserves it’

The Channel 13 interview, nearing its end, turns to Donald Trump, whom Netanyahu praises as a great friend of Israel.

Interviewer Udi Segal says Trump lost the presidential election “because he didn’t tell the truth, crudely attacked the media, and worked to change the rules of democracy… Are you taking Israel in the same direction?”

Netanyahu: “You’ve determined the reason why he was defeated. I think there are other interpretations for his loss.”

He’s asked: Are you the Israeli Trump; you also attack the media: “I attack the media because it deserves it… While world media praises the Israeli miracle, you’re always attacking, everywhere.”

Do you think a government including far-right-wingers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich will build a good partnership with Biden? “I’ll create [that partnership]. I determine the policies… Ben Gvir won’t be in the government.”

Report: Russian soldiers search for Israeli spy Eli Cohen’s body

The London-based Arabic newspaper Rai Al-Youm, reports that Russia, in cooperation with the Syrian and under Israeli pressure, has been making “significant” efforts to locate the body of Israeli spy Eli Cohen in order to transfer it to Israel.

The report, which is based on unnamed “sources,” says that Russian soldiers arrived in the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus a few days ago for the search.

Cohen infiltrated the top levels of Syria’s political leadership in the years before the 1967 Six Day War, and information he obtained is credited with playing a key role in Israel’s stunning success in that war.

Mossad spy Eli Cohen, executed in Syria in 1965. (Israel GPO)

He was put on trial and executed by the Syrian government for espionage on May 18, 1965, after he successfully breached the Syrian government under the alias Kamel Amin Thaabet for four years.

Cohen’s body has not been returned from Syria, despite decades of appeals by his family. Israel has asked for Russia’s help in that effort, so far to no avail.

Previous reports about searches for Cohen’s body have turned out to be incorrect.

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