ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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IDF probe blames flawed culture at top of elite Egoz unit for friendly fire deaths

Deputy commander and other officers removed from posts; detachment head to be suspended from commanding for 2 years over incident in which they showed ‘no common sense,’ army says

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Ofer Winter and Israeli army officers inspect the area where two officers from the Egoz commando unit were killed in a friendly fire accident outside a base on January 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Ofer Winter and Israeli army officers inspect the area where two officers from the Egoz commando unit were killed in a friendly fire accident outside a base on January 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Number of seriously ill COVID patients falls slightly

The number of coronavirus patients in serious condition has continued to slowly ebb, new numbers released by the Health Ministry show.

There are now 1,224 patients in serious condition, down from 1,235 earlier in the day, and over 1,260 a day earlier.

However, the death toll rises by 28 to 9,208.

Case numbers appear to continue to slump, with 26,555 new infections confirmed from midnight to 6 p.m., the ministry’s dashboard shows. A total of 52,600 cases were confirmed Sunday.

Former IDF spokesman: Probe into friendly fire deaths fell short

Former IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis says a military investigation into friendly fire that left two soldiers dead did not go far enough into probing organizational and operational flaws within the army.

“The attempt by the panel to delineate the event around just a specific day or two or something very limited raises several question marks about deeper issues,” he tells Kan. “If it’s like this in Egoz, what’s it like in other units? If it’s like this on Tuesday and Wednesday, what about the rest of the days? What is does about organizational culture, about open-fire procedures?”

“I’m not sure that a probe like this, looking into a specific unit and specific ranks and people, really probed the questions deeply,” he adds.

Iran nuclear deal ‘in sight,’ but time still running low, US says

The United States said Monday that a deal was possible at Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, but that an agreement had to be completed urgently as Tehran advances its nuclear capabilities.

“A deal that addresses all sides’ core concerns is in sight, but if it is not reached in the coming weeks, Iran’s ongoing nuclear advances will make it impossible for us to return to the JCPOA,” a State Department spokesperson said, referring to the 2015 framework agreement.

Belarus deploying 200 soldiers to Syria to bolster Russians

Belarus plans to deploy up to 200 troops to Syria to serve alongside Russian forces in the country, according to a Russian government document released Monday, a move strongly condemned by Belarus’ opposition leader.

A draft agreement between Russia and its ally, Belarus, endorsed by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin says that the Belarusian troops will work to provide “humanitarian assistance” to the population outside combat zones.

The document, which is yet to be signed by the countries’ foreign and defense ministries, states that Belarusian troops will act under operational control of the Russian military in Syria when deployed to the country.

The planned deployment of Belarusian troops’ to Syria reflects increasingly close defense ties between the two ex-Soviet neighbors and allies.

In recent weeks, Russia has moved troops from Siberia and the Far East to Belarus for sweeping joint drills. The deployment added to the Russian military buildup near Ukraine, fueling Western fears of a possible invasion.

Justice minister on spyware scandal: People should be cautious with their phones

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar blitzes evening news studios to talk about the police Pegasus spyware allegations and assure viewers that the claims will be probed and mistakes fixed.

“This won’t be covered up,” he tells Channel 12, Channel 13 and Kan separately.

“If someone did something illegal, he will be prosecuted,” he tells Channel 13.

He tells Channel 12 that the Justice Ministry did not know about the abuse beyond content from a phone having been vacuumed up as detailed in a probe by the deputy attorney general.  Details published in Calcalist Monday morning are also not known to the ministry.

“If they would have told me about this, I would say it is made up — but it needs to be checked,” he tells Channel 12.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, for a group photo of the newly sworn in Israeli government, on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite his apparent skepticism, he tells Channel 13 news that he operates with the assumption that his phone can be hacked and secrets exposed, and others should use caution as well.

Asked whether he checked to see if the Pegasus spyware was on his phone, he says no, and notes that a few years ago, when he was told a news organization may have broken into his phone, he just threw it away and got a new one.

“I think someone who lives in our time needs to be cautious,” he says. But pressed on whether Israelis should be worried they are being spied on, he backtracks and appears to suggest that only those who have access to sensitive materials need to be careful.

He tells 13 that Israel cannot abandon its police force over the scandal since “we don’t have a spare police force. There’s nobody else on the front lines against crime.”

He says the Pegasus scandal will be discussed with incoming attorney general Gali Baharav-Miara and defends the fact that he chose the relatively unknown lawyer for the role, telling Channel 13 that lawyers are generally “not celebrities,” and denies that he is in her pocket.

Sa’ar tells Channel 12 that he never discussed a possible plea bargain for former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with her.

PLO promotes Abbas loyalists to key posts

The Palestine Liberation Organization promotes two officials close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to its highest-ranking body, the Executive Committee, official PA media reports.

Hussein al-Sheikh, once of Abbas’s closest advisers, takes the position vacated by the late former PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. Al-Sheikh is one of the most powerful and controversial politicians in the West Bank; he is widely seen as one of the two officials closest to the aging Palestinian leader.

Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Commissioner Hussein al-Sheikh. (WAFA)

Erekat was widely known as the point person for peace talks and diplomatic initiatives vis-a-vis the US and Israel, though it is not yet clear whether al-Sheikh will fill that role for Abbas.

In addition, Abbas’s longtime chief economic adviser, Mohammad Mustafa, will fill the seat left by former PLO spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi. Ashrawi quit the council last year and has since emerged as a prominent Abbas critic.

The appointments take place during the convention of the PLO’s Central Committee, which has gathered to fill key leadership roles in the largely symbolic PLO.

Several Palestinian factions boycott the proceedings, accusing Abbas of seeking to further consolidate power in the PLO by packing the body with loyalists.

Executive Committee member Tayseer Khalid, who resigned during the conference, is replaced by Farid Sarou.

IDF removes officers from elite Egoz unit, punishes commander, over friendly fire deaths

The deputy commander of the elite Egoz Unit will be removed from his position and barred from command positions for the next two years, and the head of the unit will be barred from command positions after finishing his term, over their roles in the deaths of two officers in the detachment in a deadly case of friendly fire last month.

A number of junior officer are also being removed from their posts and barred for two years for the incident, which occurred as members of the unit conducted an impromptu search for night vision equipment that had been stolen the day before, the military says.

The commander of the Egoz Unit offered his resignation, but IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi refused to accept it, instead ordering that he complete his tenure in the unit but will from then on be barred from command positions for the next two years.

The names of the commander and deputy commander are barred from  publication.

Maj. Ofek Aharon, 28, and Maj. Itamar Elharar, 26, were killed on January 12 when the patrol they were in came across an officer who mistook them for terrorists. Both the larger group and the single officer tried to find the night vision goggles, but did not coordinate.

The investigation into their deaths found that the unit had a “culture of failing to report and investigate [incidents],” that the officers involved in the incident displayed “no common sense,” and set out on their wildcat patrol without planning, but with their guns loaded, with bullets in the chamber, in clear violation of IDF protocol and IDF values, according to the head of the probe, Maj. Gen. (res.) Noam Tibon.

Undated photographs of Maj. Itamar Elharar, left, and Maj. Ofek Aharon, who were killed in a friendly fire incident outside their base in the Jordan Valley on January 12, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Tibon tells reporters that severe disciplinary issues and a deeply flawed organizational culture were behind the friendly fire incident that left the two dead. He said that the unit’s chain of command could have and should have intervened.

He notes that a night before the deadly incident a soldier who thought he saw suspicious figures in the distance also fired his gun into the air without going through the necessary open-fire protocol in another violation of military norms. This came after officers from the unit had gone out to nearby Bedouin communities to search for the stolen night vision equipment, questioning people and searching homes in a clear violation of army protocol.

Both of these incidents were known to the heads of the Egoz Unit, but no steps were taken against those involved, which Tibon says could have kept the event from escalating.

Also speaking to reporters about the probe, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, the head of the IDF Central Command, which contains the Egoz Unit, repeatedly describes Aharon and Elharar, as well as the other officers involved, as “the best of our boys,” but acknowledged that in going out on their respective patrols with guns loaded and with no coordination they showed “no common sense.”

Senior Fatah official Jamal Mheisin dies at 73

Senior Fatah official Jamal Mheisin has died, Palestinian officials announce.

Mheisin, 73, succumbed to an unspecified illness, officials say.

A longtime Fatah activist from Hebron, Mheisin was a member of the Palestinian movement’s Central Committee.

Fellow Fatah Central Committee member Hussein al-Sheikh calls Mheisin “a friend and lifelong comrade” in a tweet.

Mandelblit told cops to shut down Pegasus spying program until use probed — report

Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit ordered police to suspend “offensive” use of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware until an inquiry into its use is completed, Channel 12 news reports.

Mandelblit made the decision in his last days before retiring at the end of January, according to the channel. It came alongside his decision to open an internal probe into the use of the spyware.

Police were accused of not only using the program to listen in on suspects, but to vacuum any data from phones they spied on.

The revelation comes as politicians have shifted from making do with a limited probe to calling for a full-on state inquiry into the matter, following the revelation that they too were allegedly spied on.

According to the channel, Bennett told minister earlier Monday that he did not want to do away with the tool altogether, but to regulate its use.

“You want a tool like this to fight crime families and serious criminality. Where the line is exactly needs to be figured out, that’s the takeaway from this,” he is quoted saying.

Bennett gestures Netanyahu ‘crazy’ during Knesset speech

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is being criticized for making a “cuckoo” gesture with his hands during a speech by rival Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sitting in the Knesset, Bennett first appears to try and pick his nose through his mask, then puts his hands out in a dismissive “feh” gesture, before raising a finger to his head in a circular motion to denote “crazy” as Netanyahu speaks against Bennett’s policies.

“What are kids supposed to think when they see Bennett gesturing ‘crazy’ at Netanyahu,” Religious Zionism MK Michal Waldiger exclaims. “That it’s legitimate? That you can gesture that someone is crazy like that in front of everyone?”

On Twitter, Netanyahu’s son Yair writes: “Hahahaha, are you sure you want to get into this Bennett?”

Spanish aid worker freed after being jailed by Israel for funding PFLP

A Spanish aid worker who pled guilty to inadvertently funding Palestinian terror group PFLP walked free, the Israel Prison Service said, a week after a parole board said she could go free.

Juana Rashmawi “walked out the door,” a prisons spokesperson says.

Juana Rashmawi at Ofer prison outside of Jerusalem, on November 17, 2021. (Yoantan Sindel/Flash90)

Rashmawi was arrested in April, and later pled guilty to unknowingly funding the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine via her work for a health organization. She was sentenced to 13 months, and was released early.

Putin and Macron meet to defuse Ukraine tensions as Kyiv warns Moscow

French President Emmanuel Macron has told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday that he hopes talks in Moscow can lead to an easing of tensions over Ukraine.

“This discussion can make a start in the direction in which we need to go, which is towards a de-escalation,” Macron says at the start of the meeting in Moscow.

He adds that he hopes to “avoid a war” and “build elements of confidence, stability and visibility for everyone.”

Putin hails France’s efforts to strengthen European security.

“I see how much effort the current French leadership is making to resolve the issue of security in Europe… namely, to resolve the crisis in the southeast of Ukraine,” Putin told Macron at the start of talks in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warns Moscow against trying to split Kyiv from its Western allies.

“No one, no matter how hard anyone tries in Russia, will be able to drive a wedge between Ukraine and its partners,” Kuleba says at a press conference with his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock in Kyiv.

UK  Defense Secretary Ben Wallace meanwhile announces that 350 more British troops would be sent to the Polish border, to shore up NATO’s eastern flank against any Russian aggression.

Wallace says the troops will strengthen a contingent of 100 British soldiers already there and would be a “bilateral deployment to show that we can work together and send a strong signal that Britain and Poland stand side by side.”

Netanyahu: A dark day for democracy; police using Pegasus on citizens is like IDF jets bombing Israelis

Former prime minister Netanyahu speaks out from the Knesset dais about police-spying allegations, calling the revelations a “dark day for Israeli democracy.”

“That applies to all Israeli citizens, right and left.”

He accuses police of using the “most aggressive tools in the world” to spy on citizens, comparing the use of Pegasus spyware to the IDF “using planes meant to be used against Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas to blow up Israeli civilians.”

“They exposed citizens, followed them, listened in on them, and got into their most buried secrets. Who knows what improprieties they used it for? A spying application meant to be used against terror and to fight our enemies turned into an everyday tool for police to spy on civilians, against every law and norm,” he says.

He derides hecklers who blame him for appointing former police chief Roni Alsheich, during whose tenure, possibly among those of other police chiefs, the alleged abuse of spyware reportedly took place. “So, I appointed him, so what?” Netanyahu demands. “What’s this nonsense.”

The only way to deal with the allegations, Netanyahu says, is via an independent investigation “acceptable to both sides of this House.”

Top White House scientist Lander bullied staffers, review finds

A White House review has found credible evidence that top scientist Dr. Eric Lander violated its “Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy,” but the administration plans to keep him on the job after giving him counseling.

An internal review last year, prompted by a workplace complaint, found evidence that Lander, the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and science adviser to US President Joe Biden, bullied staffers and treated them disrespectfully. That put him at odds with Biden’s day-one directive that he expected “honesty and decency” from all who worked for his administration and would fire anyone who shows disrespect to others “on the spot.”

The White House says senior administration officials had met with Lander about his actions and management of the office. It says Lander and OSTP are required to take certain corrective actions as part of the review.

“White House leadership met with Dr. Lander to discuss the seriousness of the matter and the President’s expectation that all staff interactions be conducted with respect,” the White House says. “We take this incredibly seriously and we are taking swift action to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Eric Lander, the incoming director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, participates in a swearing-in ceremony with US Vice President Kamala Harris in her ceremonial office, as his wife Lori Lander holds a 13-page fragment of a Pirkei Avot text from 1492 in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on June 2, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP)

The White House says the review did not find “credible evidence” of gender-based discrimination and that the reassignment of the staffer who filed the original complaint was “deemed appropriate.”

On Friday, Lander issued an apology to staffers in his office, acknowledging “I have spoken to colleagues within OSTP in a disrespectful or demeaning way.”

Lander, who is Jewish, was sworn into office on a 1492 edition of Pirkei Avot from the Library of Congress’ holdings, and has spoken about Jewish values guiding his work.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Senior official: Israel is weakening Iran at home

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says he told US President Joe Biden that Israel reserved the right to act against Iran how it sees fit, whether or not the sides re-enter the 2015 nuclear pact.

“I clarified, and I’m pleased that he also clarified it explicitly, that Israel will reserve freedom of action in any situation,” Bennett tells reporters in a briefing, only part of which he allows to be reported on the record.

Bennett admits that the message is not new, but says he presented it this time with a “slightly new dimensions and angles,” without elaborating.

A senior diplomatic source also tells reporters that 70 percent of Israel’s problems come from Iran, and so Israel is engaged in a long-term effort to weaken the Islamic Republic economically, in order to drain its ability to export terror to Israel’s borders.

“Our goal is to harass them at home, so they will be busy with that,” the official says, noting that Iran’s support of Hezbollah and Gazan terror groups had the same goal against Israel. “So they will be weaker and will have less money and energy.”

The official calls it a change in tactic after a previously singular focus on the country’s nuclear ambitions.

“The weakening is primarily economic, through a number of activities, financial, diplomatic, preemptory actions, covert and open, in cyberspace and other areas,” he says.

 

Likud calls for Herzog to appoint inquiry into police spyware brouhaha

Speaking to his Likud faction, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu avoids the easy dunk on the government over the police spyware scandal, instead aiming his opprobrium at Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

“He wrote a book called ‘how to beat a pandemic,’ now he should write one ‘how to lose to a pandemic,'” he yuks.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on February 7, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

But whip Yariv Levin does address the Pegasus affair, calling on the opposition to rally around urging President Isaac Herzog to get involved and appoint a state commission into the allegations, which he says “every citizen should lose sleep over.”

“This is not a right or left issue. This is abuse, in a terrible way, of the immense power given to law enforcement. Their job is to protect democratic society, not to destroy it and create a situation in which we live under shadowy regimes,” he says.

Netanyahu prosecutor says no trial evidence was gathered illicitly

Ronit Tirosh, the lead prosecutor in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says she’s confident that no evidence used in the case was obtained illegally.

“We’re confident the documents we have were gathered according to legal and legitimate orders,” she says, according to Haaretz.

Police are accused of hacking the phones of several figures tied to Case 4000, in which the former premier is accused of advancing regulatory favors in exchange for positive coverage from a news site owned by Shaul Elovitch, the former controlling shareholder of Bezeq, who is accused in the case along with his wife.

Tirosh says that police probing other alleged offenses by Netanyahu did not need a separate court order to gather evidence in Case 4000 as it “all rolled up into one criminal affair, in our view.”

Netanyahu is also accused in two other cases, involving an alleged quid pro quo with a newspaper owner and for receiving gifts from wealthy benefactors.

“We believe there was no problem with the order,” she says.

Court pauses Netanyahu trial to mull police spying ramifications

Reversing its earlier position, Jerusalem’s District Court has announced that it will delay the ongoing trial of opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu to get answers about swirling police phone spying allegations.

The court gives the prosecution until 2 p.m. Tuesday to respond to questions regarding the illicit phone spying, and judges will convene on Wednesday to discuss how to proceed, the court says.

The court earlier rejected a request from Netanyahu’s lawyers to delay the case over allegations the Israel Police used the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to hack into the phones of a wide range of public figures — including associates and family members of Netanyahu as well as multiple people currently involved in the trial — without any judicial oversight or approval.

Supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu call for his trial to be ended and an investigation opened at the District Court in Jerusalem, February 7, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to the report, which was unsourced, police hacked the phones of, among others, former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua; former Communications Ministry directors general Shlomo Filber and Avi Berger; Iris Elovitch, the wife of Shaul Elovitch, the former controlling shareholder of Bezeq, who are both defendants in Case 4000; former Bezeq CEOs Dudu Mizrachi and Stella Hendler; former Walla editor-in-chief Aviram Elad, and other journalists at Walla.

In Case 4000, one of the three graft cases for which the former prime minister is on trial, Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that immensely benefited Elovitch, in exchange for editorial control over the Walla news site. Netanyahu denies the charges against him.

 

US postpones air defense drill with Israel amid Ukraine buildup

A joint Israeli-American air defense exercise that was scheduled for next month is being postponed for a “variety of reasons,” the Israel Defense Forces says.

One of these reasons appears to be the ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, which is the current focus of the European-based American forces that were due to take part in the drill.

Recent weeks have seen major tensions as Russia appears poised to launch another offensive against Ukraine. The US has deployed additional soldiers to the region amid a military and diplomatic push to convince Moscow to call off the expected invasion.

A US V-22 Osprey takes part in a training exercise during the joint Israeli-US military Juniper Cobra air defense drill at the Tzeelim urban warfare training center in southern Israel on March 12, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The planned exercise, known as “Juniper Cobra,” is held by the IDF and the US military’s European Command every other year. The drill tests the ability of the US and Israel to respond to missile attacks, particularly the threat of long-range ballistic missiles, like those that are expected to be fired at Israel by Iran in a conflict between the two countries.

The Israeli military says the exercise will be held at a later date, “which will be announced soon.”

“IDF values and appreciates the close cooperation with the US military and expects to hold joint exercises in the future,” the military adds.

Family of German accused of terror in Iran denounces ‘show trial’

The trial of an Iran-born German national jailed in Iran since 2020 is a sham, his family says, accusing Tehran of illegally abducting him abroad while he traveled in the Gulf region.

The family of Jamshid Sharmahd, 66, says that he was abducted by the Iranian security services in 2020 while in transit in Dubai and vehemently denies the accusations against him.

He is one of over a dozen Western nationals — including American, Austrian, British, French and German citizens — still held in Iran as talks to revive the 2015 deal over Tehran’s nuclear drive reach an acute phase.

Sharmahd, dressed in a striped Iranian prison uniform, appeared in court on Sunday charged with spreading “corruption on earth,” which carries the death penalty.

“This was pure propaganda, a show trial, a kangaroo court. It is very disturbing,” his daughter Gazelle Sharmahd, who is based in the US, tells AFP.

“All of the charges are fabricated charges. They are scapegoating my dad who is innocent,” she adds.

Iran accuses Jamshid Sharmahd of being involved in the April 12, 2008, bombing of a mosque in Shiraz in southern Iran, which killed 14 people.

Ohana: I have nothing to hide about NSO spying

Likud MK Amir Ohana responds to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid demanding that he be first to be probed in an inquiry into claims that police snooped on politicians and others using NSO Group spyware, saying he “has nothing to hide.”

“Let’s both go get a polygraph: Me about NSO, and you about uyour conversations with [Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes], who was blacked out of your meeting schedule so nobody would know,” he says according to Hebrew-language media.

He then gets personal, calling Lapid a “hollow scarecrow.”

Lapid: Likud’s Ohana should be first to be investigated in police spy probe

Foriegn Minister Yair Lapid says as the government decides on what sort of commission to establish to examine the NSO police spying scandal, those at the top should not think they are immune.

Those who used to be at the top, at least.

Lapid says the first one investigated by the commission should be Likud MK Amir Ohana, who was justice minister from June 2019 to May 2020 and then public security minister until June of last year.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana at the lighting of a bonfire during the celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer on Mt. Meron in northern Israel on April 29, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Notably, all other justice ministers aside from Ohana in the last seven years have been figures in parties aligned with Lapid’s government. Gilad Erdan, who Lapid has kept on as UN ambassador, was public security minister before Ohana.

He says it will take a week for the government to decide whether to establish a government inquiry or a state commission which would have wider powers.

He also defends the police, saying “only criminals will be happy if they are dismantled,” echoing rhetoric in the US against calls to defund law enforcement there.

“But along with that, gatekeepers of the law need to be the ones who keep the rules better than anyone. Nobody is immune from investigation,” he says.

The scandal “clouds Israeli democracy,” he adds.

Liberman says he thinks police did him wrong too, wants state commission

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman says he wants to probe whether NSO spying tech was used by police against him in the past when he was investigated over a decade ago.

Liberman was charged with breach of trust and fraud in 2012 but eventually beat the charges.

“Anyone who knows the facts knows that we’re talking about serious violations done back then, and the police commissioner acted like the worst of the criminals. There was no law he did not break,” he charges.

Liberman says if true, the allegations that the phones of government officials, advisers, politicians’ family members and others were allegedly hacked, would be “an earthquake on the level of a 9 on the Richter scale.”

Liberman backs the creation of a state inquiry into the matter, joining other ministers who have suddenly upped their rhetoric and vowed to look into the scandal.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier called the allegations an earthquake, but did not specify the Richter scale severity.

The government has sprung into action hours after Calcalist reported Monday morning that politicians had been among those hacked, weeks after allegations first arose of police spying on innocent civilians and aides to Netanyahu, a former prime minister on trial for graft.

Sa’ar, Barlev call for state inquiry into police Pegasus tempest

Though the cabinet was ostensibly meeting to choose a new attorney general, ministers also spent much of the time talking up their brand-new commission of inquiry into reports that police spied on dozens of public officials, activists and citizens using NSO Group’s Pegasus hacking tech.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar says a state commission of inquiry should be established into the scandal.

Police minister Omer Barlev, who just hours earlier announced the creation of a government commission to explore the claims, says he agrees with Sa’ar on the need for a state inquiry.

Ministers swiftly okay Gali Baharav-Miara as attorney general

Ministers have unanimously approved Gali Baharav-Miara as the next attorney general, a spokesperson for Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar says.

Baharav-Miara will become the nation’s first female attorney general.

The ministers okay her after meeting for under 15 minutes, during which they also discussed the NSO police spying scandal.

Man trying to drive with cast on foot smashes into old-age home, injures baby

A man has been detained after his car smashed into the door of an old-age home in Rishon Lezion, apparently accidentally, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

Three people are injured in the incident, including a woman with head wounds and two others with light injuries. One of the two is an 8-month-old, Ynet reports.

The man, in his 60s, is suspected of endangering the public by attempting to drive despite having a cast on his foot. He is also lightly injured in the crash.

Avalanche kills at least 19 on Afghanistan-Pakistan border

At least 19 people have been killed by an avalanche on Monday while crossing a remote mountain pass from Afghanistan to Pakistan, a Taliban official says.

Scores of Afghans cross illegally into Pakistan every day through the porous mountain border in search of jobs or to buy essential goods for trade.

Najibullah Hassan Abdal, head of information for eastern Kunar province, says rescue workers are still searching at the scene of the avalanche.

“Nineteen bodies have been recovered already,” he says.

Shots fired at home of ex-Umm al-Fahm mayor

Gunmen have targeted the home of former Umm al Fahm mayor Suleiman Aghbariah, Ynet reports. No injuries are reported.

Aghbariah, who was also a senior leader in the Northern Islamic Movement until it was banned in 2015, was seriously injured in a shooting in January 2021, amid a spate of shootings against local politicians seen as tied to rising organized crime in the Arab community.

Cabinet meets to green light new attorney general pick

Cabinet ministers have begun meeting to discuss the appointment of a new attorney general, Army Radio reports.

Gali Baharav-Miara. (Courtesy)

Ministers are widely expected to confirm the selection of Gali Baharav-Miara, a lawyer formerly in the Tel Aviv DA’s office who is currently in the private sector. Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett already tipped the scales in her favor, publicly backing her over the two other candidates nominated by a search committee: Roi Scheindorf, the current deputy attorney general for international law, and Defense Ministry legal adviser Itai Ofir.

However, some have raised questions over her relative lack of experience and the fact that her work is relatively unknown. Read more about it here. 

If okayed, she’ll take over the role from Avichai Mandelblit, who retired last weel after six years, inheriting a Justice Ministry dealing with historically low public trust ratings amid a rapidly blooming scandal involving illicit police use of spying technology.

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