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Bennett orders probe of alleged spyware targets before deciding on inquest

Meeting with top judicial officials, prime minister asks that 26 people named in report be ‘checked’ as police claim they only managed to hack a single phone out of three tries

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks alongside police officials and Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, left, during a visit to Rahat on December 6, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks alongside police officials and Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, left, during a visit to Rahat on December 6, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

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

Nasrallah: If Israel attacks Iran, Hezbollah won’t necessarily join fight

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is delivering a speech in which he appears to attempt to distance his movement from Tehran, while also gloating that Israel is afraid to go to war against either.

The leader of the Iran-backed Shiite terror group claims Israel is not serious about actually attacking Iran, but if it does, Hezbollah will not immediately retaliate against Israel on Tehran’s behalf, but will decide whether or not to get involved.

“Iran is a strong regional state and any war with it will blow up the entire region,” he says, according to Naharnet.

Amid domestic criticism that his group acts in Tehran’s interests and not Lebanon’s, he challenges in a speech for anyone to “tell us about a single act that Hezbollah did for the sake of Iran rather than for the sake of Lebanon.”

He claims that Hezbollah’s precision-guided missiles are spread all around Lebanon, so that Israel would need to launch a full-scale war in order to destroy them.

He says Israel is afraid to go to war against Hezbollah, which has unprecedented manpower. He also claims that Israeli drone flights over Lebanon have stopped due to Hezbollah’s superior air defenses.

He adds that he is against sharing offshore gas with Israel and doesn’t really care about negotiations between Beirut and Jerusalem over determining the countries’ exclusive economic zones.

“We do not consider ourselves to be concerned with the technical discussions about the sea border demarcation with Israel,” he says.

Germany united with France and Poland against war in Europe

Germany, France and Poland are “united” in working to keep the peace in Europe in the face of the Ukraine crisis, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says at a meeting of the three countries’ leaders.

“We are united by the goal of maintaining peace in Europe through diplomacy and clear messages and the shared will to act in unison,” Scholz tells reporters, flanked by French President Emmanuel Macron and Poland’s Andrzej Duda.

Pfizer says it raked in $36,800,000,000 in COVID-19 vaccine sales

Pfizer made nearly $40 billion from the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021, making it among the best-selling drugs in history, and expects to bring in $50 billion from the vaccine and the Paxlovid therapeutic in 2022.

Pfizer reports annual profits of $22 billion, more than double the 2020 level. Annual revenues nearly doubled to $81.3 billion, with $36.8 billion from the COVID-19 vaccine.

Chief Executive Albert Bourla describes 2021 as a “watershed year” for Pfizer, adding that the company’s efforts in the pandemic “have fundamentally changed our company forever.”

A file photo shows a view of a wastebasket with syringes and gloves after residents received a dose of the third Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, at San Jeronimo nursing home, in Estella, around 38 km (24 miles) from Pamplona, northern Spain, on Thursday, September 23. 2021. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

The company projects 2022 revenues of between $98 and $102 billion.

For 2022, Pfizer expects $32 billion in revenue from COVID-19 vaccines and $22 billion in revenues from Paxlovid.

Bourla says the company is currently working on a new vaccine candidate based on the Omicron variant of COVID-19, as well as a new “potential next-generation oral COVID-19 treatment.”

Pfizer executives describe heavy interest in Paxlovid, with ongoing contract talks with about 100 governments around the world. The treatment has so far been approved in about 40 countries.

Bourla says the sales for Paxlovid “could be way bigger” than current forecasts. The 2022 estimate of $22 billion is based on signed contracts and negotiations where there is essentially an agreement, he said.

Pfizer’s scientists “continue to monitor the COVID-19 virus and believe it is unlikely that it will be fully eradicated in the foreseeable future,” Bourla said.

“That said, we now have the tools — in the forms of vaccines and treatments — that we believe will help enable us to not only better manage the pandemic but also help countries move into the endemic phase,” Bourla said.

US architect behind New York’s High Line among Wolf Prize winners

The American architect who designed New York’s High Line urban park and renovated the Museum of Modern Art and a Stanford University researcher are among the winners of Israel’s prestigious Wolf Prize.

Elizabeth Diller, who also designed the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum, is recognized “for her exceptional and influential work connecting architecture to artistic practice, engaged in the public domain.” She shares the $100,000 prize in architecture with Momoyo Kaijima and Yoshiharu Tsukamoto.

In this March 5, 2019 photo, structures both modern and old flank visitors walking on the High Line park in New York. (AP/Bebeto Matthews)

The 2022 laureates were announced by the Wolf Foundation, a state-owned entity that issues the award to promote excellence in arts and sciences. About three dozen Wolf Laureates have gone on to win Nobel prizes in the 44 years that the prize has been awarded.

The other recipients of this year’s awards are Pamela C. Ronald in agriculture; Anne L’Huillier, Paul Corkum and Ferenc Krausz in Physics; George Lusztig in mathematics; Bonnie L. Basler, Carolyn R. Bertozzi and Benjamin F. Cravatt III in chemistry.

Bertozzi, a chemical biologist at Stanford, was recognized for work that “has opened up basic drug discovery and therapeutic targets associated with cancer, inflammation, bacterial infection, tuberculosis and most recently COVID-19,” the foundation says.

Police probe finds they barely hacked into anyone’s phones

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says an internal police investigation into allegations of police using spyware on civilians without authorization was presented to the premier and other officials at a meeting in Tel Aviv by Public Security Omer Barlev, who oversees the police.

The probe found that police only attempted to use Pegasus on three people’s phones out of the 26 named in a Calcalist report Monday, but it only worked for one of them.

Officials to check into alleged police spyware targets before decision on probe

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is ordering that the 26 people named in a report as having been targeted by police use of a phone spyware be “checked into” before a decision is made on how the government will probe the claims that police used the Pegasus program illicitly, his office says.

The statement from Bennett’s spokesman Matan Sidi does not elaborate on what a check into the 26 people entails. The names include former top officials, members of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s family, and others.

His office says the probe will be carried out in coordination with a “fundamental investigation” by a team under the direction of deputy attorney general Amir Merari, who is already looking into the allegations.

Agents from the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad spy agency will be added to Merari’s team, the statement says.

“Once all results are presented, a decision will be made on how to deal with the subject moving forward,” the statement reads.

According to several unsourced Hebrew media reports, an initial police check found that Pegasus was only deployed against three of the 26 named, and only managed to infect the phone of one of them.

Nokia dumb-phone sales jump amid Pegasus fears

The Israeli firm that imports Nokia products says there has been a 200 percent increase in sales of old phones in the last week, Army Radio reports.

The jump is thought to be driven by Israelis seeking a safe haven from sophisticated spyware like NSO Group’s Pegasus, after reports that police spied on civilians with the program.

A teacher holding up his cell phone at the entrance to an Ultra-Orthodox school in Jerusalem, on May 6, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Non-smartphones from the once-ubiquitous Finnish firm remain popular among some ultra-Orthodox in Israel who eschew access to the internet but still want to be reachable while away from home.

Bennett meets with ministers, new AG on Pegasus scandal

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is holding a meeting with top law enforcement officials over the police phone spying scandal engulfing the country.

Bennett is meeting in Tel Aviv with Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, new Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, and others.

The group is expected to hash out how to move forward with investigating the claims detailed in a Calcalist report Monday that police used Pegasus spyware to target the phones of dozens of politicians, public figures, and others.

Ministers, including Sa’ar and Barlev, called Monday for a state commission of inquiry, though there have also been signals that the government could set up its own probe.

The ministers may also choose to wait until an already created investigatory committee headed by Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari releases its initial findings. A state commission of inquiry would require the approval of the full cabinet.

Bennett touts maritime security cooperation with US

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says Israel is working with the United States and regional allies to combat growing threats at sea, during a visit to two Israeli Navy bases today.

“Recently we have seen a rise in threats on the maritime front, in sailing and shipping lanes. I certainly see this as a threat, and we must know that the target is the State of Israel, but not only [Israel]. Therefore, I am particularly pleased with the growing and solidifying strategic cooperation with the United States on joint naval exercises and with other allies in the region,” Bennett says.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett touring a naval base, on February 8, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The premier appears to be referring to recent attacks against Israeli-owned ships in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere around the world that were allegedly conducted by Iran in retaliation for reported Israeli strikes on Iranian fuel tankers.

The Israeli Navy has increasingly been working with the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which operates in the seas throughout the Middle East, to confront these threats, following Israel’s move to the area of responsibility of the US military’s Central Command last year. Israel has also been increasingly cooperating with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, with whom it normalized ties in September 2020.

Bennett makes his remarks during a visit to two Israel Navy bases, the Haifa Base, which houses the military’s fleet of missile ships and submarines, along with other vessels, and the Atlit Base, which is home to the navy’s elite Shayetet 13.

At the Haifa Base, Bennett toured a Sa’ar-6 class ship, which recently entered service, and during his visit to Atlit, the prime minister sailed out to watch a demonstration at sea by Shayetet 13, his office says.

Driver questioned by cops after being attacked in Nablus while taking car for repairs

Police say they detained a driver who entered Nablus to have work done on his car and was attacked by angry locals earlier in the day.

The driver told police he entered Nablus to have work done on his car, a common practice among Israelis who prefer cheaper prices of Palestinian mechanics across the Green Line.

A taxi damaged after a driver was attacked in Nablus, on February 8, 2022. (Police spokesperson)

However, his visit coincided with an anti-terror operation in which three suspected gunmen were killed by Israeli forces. Angry locals, who identified the driver as Israeli, attacked his vehicle with stones and other objects, leaving him with light injuries before he was able to escape to a nearby military checkpoint.

It is illegal for Israelis to enter areas under full Palestinian control, or to leave their car in the possession of a Palestinian mechanic.

“Israelis who enter Area A break the law, violate lawful order and endanger in a real way their security and wellbeing,” police say in a statement.

The man, who was detained for questioning, is granted conditional release, meaning he may be charged with a crime.

Committee chair backs antisemitism envoy nominee after senator cries foul

Before adjourning the Senate confirmation hearing, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez defends Biden’s nominee for antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt after Republican Ron Johnson said her public attacks against him disqualified her from the post.

“If we cannot call out comments for what they are, if we don’t understand that words have power to them — sometimes very negative, powerful consequences — then we can never challenge whether it be antisemitism or racism or other elements,” Menendez says.

In March, Lipstadt tweeted an article about a statement Johnson made in which he said he would have been more concerned by the January 6 insurrection had the rioters been “Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters” as opposed to Trump supporters. Lipstadt wrote, “This is white supremacy/nationalism. Pure and simple.”

Lipstadt has apologized, but Johnson said Lipstadt shouldn’t have criticized him without getting to know him and about his partnership with a Black pastor in Wisconsin.

Menendez asks Lipstadt whether if confirmed she’ll continue calling out antisemitism regardless of where it sprouts, she responds in the affirmative, adding that “after I’ve stopped this position, I still have to live with myself.”

Belarus backtracks on troop deployment to Syria

Belarus’ authoritarian president says he has no intention of sending troops to Syria to serve alongside Russian forces in the country, but is holding the door open for a potential deployment of military medics there.

President Alexander Lukashenko’s comment followed the publication of a draft agreement between Russia and Belarus that envisages the deployment of up to 200 Belarusian military personnel to Syria.

“I haven’t sent anyone there,” Lukashenko says, adding that Syria had asked for humanitarian assistance and he discussed sending military medics there at some point.

“If they need doctors, we will offer help,” he says. “But not now — we have plenty of our own problems now and the pandemic isn’t over.”

Lukashenko notes that Belarusian and Russian authorities had discussed logistics to accommodate the Belarusian personnel if they are sent to Syria.

Some observers see Lukashenko’s backpedaling on the announced deployment as part of his bargaining with Moscow for bigger financial assistance.

“Lukashenko again engages in a familiar haggling pattern, demanding pay for every step in support of the Kremlin,” said independent analyst Valery Karbalevich.

Lipstadt tells Senate hearing not all criticism of Israel is antisemitic

Asked by Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen if she considers criticism of Israel to be antisemitic, Biden’s nominee for antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt says that she does not.

“I don’t think any rational-minded person would think that criticism of Israeli policies is antisemitic,” Lipstadt says during her confirmation hearing.

However, she says that in some instances, criticism of Israel does “cross the line” into antisemitism.

She says IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism is a “helpful tool.” The classification provides a number of examples for when criticism for Israel does cross that line, such as when Israel’s policies are compared to those of the Nazis.

The definition has become more controversial in recent years though, with progressive, pro-Israel groups arguing that it is being used to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel.

Lipstadt urges using caution, saying “a lot depends on the context” and that “it’s important to be nuanced,” because “if you call everything antisemitism, when you have a real active antisemitism, people aren’t paying attention.”

Asked by Republican Senator Marco Rubio about the recent Amnesty International report accusing Israel of practicing apartheid, Lipstadt says she found the determination to to “ahistorical and unhistorical.”

Lipstadt defends Twitter record to Senate hearing

Pressed by Republicans at her Senate confirmation hearing regarding past tweets heavily criticizing GOP lawmakers, US President Joe Biden’s nominee for antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt insists that she has called out antisemitism regardless of which side of the political aisle it has been identified

Lipstadt acknowledges that she should not tweet “in the middle of the night” and that her posts  “have sometimes not been as nuanced… as I like.”

However, she says that when viewed “holistically,” her record shows criticism of members of her own Democratic Party. She also argues that her criticisms never descended to personal attacks.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson does not accept the assertion, and insists that Lipstadt’s public criticism of him had crossed a line and disqualified her for the position of antisemitism special envoy.

Last March, Lipstadt tweeted an article about a statement Johnson made in which he said he would have been more concerned by the January 6 insurrection had the rioters been “Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters” as opposed to Trump supporters.

Lipstadt wrote, “This is white supremacy/nationalism. Pure and simple.” Johnson says Lipstadt lobbed “malicious poison” at him and should have gotten to know him and his partnership with a Black pastor in Wisconsin before accusing him of being a white supremacist.

Lipstadt has apologized for the post. Johnson says he accepts the apology, but concludes his questioning by declaring that he cannot support her nomination and walks out of the hearing.

Iran says it will unveil new missile already in use

The head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps air force says it will soon unveil a newly developed “strategic missile,” Iranian media report.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh says that the missile has been in production for a while and is already being used in combat operations.

No other details are available.

Iran recently carried out a drill in which it showed off new ballistic and precision-strike cruise missiles, calling it a threat aimed at Israel.

Attacks on Jews increasing, antisemitism monitor nominee Lipstadt tells Senate panel

US President Joe Biden’s nominee for special envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt begins her opening statement at her Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing with a Hebrew blessing thanking God “who frees the captives.”

She says the prayer was recited by Jews worldwide after the 11-hour hostage standoff at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, ended with the Jewish worshipers escaping Congregation Beth Israel last month unscathed.

Lipstadt says the Colleyville standoff was “not an isolated incident” and that attacks targeting Jews are on the rise.

US President Joe Biden’s nominee for US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on February 8, 2022. (Screenshot/US Senate)

The Holocaust scholar lauds the Senate decision to elevate the position of antisemitism envoy to the ranking of ambassador, demonstrating the seriousness with which the US takes the topic. Notably, however, the purview of the post only allows the envoy to address antisemitism abroad and not within US borders.

Lipstadt is best known to the wider public from her appearance in a landmark British legal case in which she fought a libel suit brought by Holocaust denier David Irving. That experience was portrayed by superstar actor Rachel Weisz in the Hollywood feature film “Denial.”

She mentions the experience among three “life-changing moments” during which she “confronted real world antisemitism,” qualifying her for the post.

“If confirmed, I shall fight antisemitism worldwide, without fear or favor, and with that one goal emblazoned before me to make a difference,” she says.

Colleyville rabbi tells Congress houses of worship need more security funding

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker tells the US House Homeland Security Committee that synagogues and other Jewish institutions need more money to deal with security threats.

Walker is testifying at a hearing on security funding for Jewish institutions about a month after a gunman took him and others at a Colleyville, Texas synagogue hostage.

He says Congregation Beth Israel had undergone security training that helped him and others deal with the hostage situation and allow it to end with only the attacker being killed.

“I welcomed a terrorist into my congregation. I live with that responsibility,” he says, noting the Jewish precept of welcoming strangers.

“Security and hospitality can run hand in hand,” he says. “Despite all the plans and funding and courses, I still opened the door, but because of all of the plans and funding and courses… we were able to escape.”

But he notes that many small congregations like his don’t have the resources for security.

“There are far too many houses of worship that are just beginning the process we started six years ago,” he says. “Tragically we live in a world where all houses of worship need protection.”

A picture of a flyer distributed in Florida blaming Jews for COVID-19, as displayed by a rabbi on February 8, 2022. (Screenshot/C-SPAN)

Rabbi Yosef Konikov in Orlando says people are afraid to visit Jewish centers.

“Suddenly we’ve become occupied with trying to calm people from their immediate fears of physical threats. Each new attack on a place of worship only exacerbates their fears,” he says.

He says Nazis who rallied in Orlando two weeks earlier had demonstrated in front of his Chabad center for three hours late last year, scaring parishioners.

He also shares a flyer he says was distributed around Orlando blaming Jews for COVID-19.

Navy divers sickened from training in polluted river to receive disabled designation

The Defense Ministry will recognize as IDF disabled veterans any Israeli Navy veteran who was forced to swim in the heavily polluted Kishon River in northern Israel during their service and has since contracted any disease, giving them access to additional benefits and services after years of refusing to do so, it says.

Until now, these soldiers have not received this designation as a group, as investigations were unable to definitively prove a connection between their illnesses and their time in the polluted river. Some had been recognized as IDF disabled veterans, particularly those who developed their sicknesses while they were still in the military.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz calls the decision to recognize all of the so-called “Kishon divers” as IDF disabled veterans “historic justice.”

“The goal was to send a clear message to IDF soldiers: We are responsible for sending you to battle. We want to bring you home safely, and we will accompany those who are injured. This is our responsibility and it doesn’t have an expiration date,” Gantz tells reporters.

A sign warns of polluted water outside Haifa on May 18, 2013. (Shay Levy/Flash 90)

The Kishon River in northern Israel was for years used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste by petrochemical companies operating out of the port city of Haifa, turning the stream into one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country. The river was found to contain high levels of particularly toxic chemicals, like mercury and arsenic, killing off many of the fish and other wildlife that previously lived in it.

Despite this, however, the river was used as a training ground for the Israeli Navy’s elite Shayetet 13 and its scuba unit until the early 1990s, with upwards of 10,000 soldiers swimming and diving in it over the years, some of them regularly and for extended periods of time.

These “Kishon Divers” will all be recognized as IDF disabled veterans and receive the benefits that go along with that, regardless of what type of illness they have contracted. Cadets from the Israeli Naval Academy during those years who spent particularly long periods of time in the river will be fast-tracked for recognition, the Defense Ministry says.

Minister Esawi Frej in ICU after stroke

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej has been hospitalized in intensive care after suffering a stroke.

Frej, 58, was rushed from his office to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv earlier in the day for an unspecified ailment.

A spokesperson for the Meretz lawmaker tells Channel 12 news that he is doing well, and is awake and speaking.

#OscarsSoNotJewish yet again

For the second year running, the list of Oscar nominations has about as many Jews as an Alabama hog roast on Yom Kippur.

At least there’s always Steven Spielberg, whose “West Side Story” is up for Best Picture. He’s also up for Best Director for the remake of the Leonard Bernstein musical.

This image released by 20th Century Studios shows Ariana DeBose as Anita, foreground left, and David Alvarez as Bernardo in “West Side Story.” (Niko Tavernise/20th Century Studios via AP)

Ari Wegner is the second woman ever nominated for best cinematography, for her work on Jane Campion’s gothic western “The Power of the Dog.” But there’s no evidence on Google that the Australian with a Jewish sounding name is actually a Member of the Tribe.

Israel’s Oscar entry “Let It Be Morning,” was eliminated when the short list for Best Foreign Film was announced.

In 2021, few Jews were nominated for prizes and even fewer won any.

Thousands call for revenge at funerals for terror suspects

Thousands of Palestinians are participating in the funerals of three terror suspects killed by Israeli forces in an ambush today in Nablus.

“With blood and spirit, we’ll redeem you, o martyr!” mourners chant.

A gunman attends the funeral of the three Palestinians killed by Israeli forces during a raid against what Israel described as a “terrorist cell” , on February 8, 2022 in the West Bank city of Nablus. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Yellow flags affiliated with the West Bank’s ruling Fatah party dot the procession alongside green banners associated with the Hamas terror group.

“Brigades! Qassam! Revenge! Revenge!” Palestinians chant in another clip circulating on social media, referring to the armed wings of Islamic Jihad and Hamas, respectively.

Iran nuclear talks restart in Vienna with time running low

Diplomats from Iran and world powers have reconvened in Vienna to seek a deal reviving Tehran’s 2015 nuclear accord, with pressure mounting for results soon.

Negotiators from Iran and the remaining parties to the agreement — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — are back to work after a break of a little over a week to return to their capitals for consultations.

A general view of Palais Coburg, the site of a meeting where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. (AP/Lisa Leutner)

The United States has participated indirectly in the talks because it withdrew from the accord in 2018 under then President Donald Trump. US President Joe Biden has signaled that he wants to rejoin the deal.

Officials say that the talks are reaching their final stage, though it’s unclear how long that might take.

The three Western European participants have been warning for a while that time is running out for a successful conclusion of the talks.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian says talks are “currently at a crucial juncture” and that all involved “should enhance the sense of urgency.”

“As the culprit in the Iranian nuclear crisis, the US should thoroughly correct its wrong policy of maximum pressure on Iran and lift all illegal sanctions on Iran and third parties,” Zhao said. “On this basis, the Iranian side should resume full compliance.”

‘Blood will be met with blood,’ Palestinian terror group warns

In a statement widely circulated in Palestinian media, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade vows revenge for their members’ deaths.

“The blood of [our] martyrs will not be wasted, and the response will come, God willing, and blood will be met with blood,” the terror group says, according to the reports.

The Times of Israel cannot independently confirm the statement’s authenticity.

Iran’s Khamenei appears to respond to Israel with call for ‘hybrid’ offensive

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says the country must take the offensive against a “hybrid” war by unspecified enemies and wage a similar campaign of its own.

“In the face of such joint aggression, we cannot constantly remain in a defensive position and must mount an intensive and vigorous campaign in various fields, including media, security and economics in response,” he tells air force officers at an annual gathering, according to Iran’s Press TV.

The comments directly parallel those of a senior Israeli official who told reporters on Monday that Israel was engaged in a multifaceted effort against Iran that sought to bog it down at home so it cannot put resources into arming terror groups on Israel’s borders.

“Our goal is to harass them at home, so they will be busy with that,” the official said. “So they will be weaker and will have less money and energy.”

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

 

 

Belgian police arrest 13 in anti-terror raids

More than 100 Belgian police have raided multiple addresses around the port city of Antwerp, detaining 13 people suspected of links to a jihadist group.

The operation was launched under the authority of anti-terror magistrates as part of a broader investigation, federal prosecutors said in a statement.

“An Antwerp group within the Salafist jihadist milieu has come under scrutiny and the aim of this operation was to further map out the group’s activities,” it says.

“Thirteen people were deprived of their liberty and will appear in the course of the day before the investigating judge, who will decide on a possible arrest.”

The Belgian cities of Brussels and Antwerp have been singled out in the past as alleged rear bases for international jihadist extremism.

Antwerp was the base of the jihad group Sharia4Belgium, which was founded in 2010, and several of its members went on to fight for hardline groups in Syria.

PA calls for international probe into Nablus terror raid

The Palestinian Authority cabinet is calling for an international investigation into an Israeli operation that left three Palestinian terror suspects dead.

The three Palestinians, members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, were killed by Israeli forces during an ambush in Nablus. Israeli defense officials say they were responsible for a string of recent shooting attacks.

“The cabinet calls upon the United Nations and international human rights groups to condemn this heinous crime and work to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the ministers say in a statement.

Separately, Nablus governor Ibrahim Ramadan calls for a general strike tomorrow across the governorate to mourn the three Palestinians.

Fourth Nablus terror cell suspect said on loose; reports describe raid

Troops are searching for an additional member of the suspected terror cell accused of carrying out shooting attacks on Israelis near Nablus, after three others were killed by troops, according to reports.

It’s not clear if the fourth person fled or was not present when troops killed the other three Palestinians.

According to an unsourced report in Walla describing the raid, officials decided to order the raid after the terror suspects were seen getting in a car with guns and ammunition.

The report says undercover anti-terror police riding in a taxi and a car in Nablus surrounded the suspects’ car and opened fire on it. Other troops, some of whom were undercover, were also deployed to the area in case of problems.

According to an unsourced Ynet report, Israel had received intelligence that the group had been planning an attack Tuesday night, though it’s unclear if this is another way of describing the three getting in a vehicle with guns.

The news outlet claims that before being killed, the cell “acted like wanted suspects, moving between safehouses.”

Bennett: Forces prove there’s no safe harbor for terrorists

In a short statement, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett writes on Twitter in praise of a security forces who killed three Palestinian terror suspects in the West Bank.

“Our forces proved today, again, that there is no immunity for terrorists,” he says. “Whoever hurts us will be hurt.”

Hamas, Joint List MK rage against ‘execution’ of Nablus terror suspects

The Hamas terror group is calling for mass participation in the funeral of the three Palestinian terror suspects killed by Israeli troops in Nablus during a rare daytime operation.

“Let it be a march that infuriates the enemy, and sends a message that we are the righteous ones, and that resistance is our path to restore the rights that have been taken from us,” Hamas says in a statement.

Joint List MK Sami Abu Shehada also speaks out against the killing of the terror suspects, calling it an “extrajudicial execution against three Palestinian youths.”

“This is a serious crime that adds to the daily crimes of the Israeli occupation,” he says.

He also lashes out at Israeli society for supporting the “occupation’s crimes,” and the press for “accepting the army’s narrative and constantly echoing it through all media.”

Bill limiting PM to 8 years heading to Knesset for final approval

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee has voted to send a bill that would limit a prime minister to eight years in power to the Knesset for final passage.

The law, which is being pushed by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, was inspired by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in power for over a decade before being replaced in June by Naftali Bennett.

The proposal will now go to the Knesset for second and third readings to be passed into law.

Netanyahu trial hearings postponed to next week

Judges in the corruption trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu have agreed to delay another hearing this week, pushing off the trial until next week at least, after the prosecution asked for more time to look into claims that police used spyware illicitly to snoop around on their phones, according to reports in Hebrew-language press.

The prosecution now has until Sunday to provide information about the alleged spying.

The prosecution was initially given until Tuesday at 2 p.m. to provide the information, with a hearing for today called off.

Police say they opened fire when terror suspects tried to shoot

Police say they shot Palestinian terror suspects, killing three, after members of a terror cell in Nablus “tried to open fire.”

A spokesperson says the cell had two M16 rifles in its possession which were seized following the shooting. It’s unclear why the third person in the car was killed.

M16 rifles seized during a Nablus terror operation on February 8, 2022. (Police spokesperson)

Pictures from the scene show the car the three were riding in sitting behind a taxi van, its windshield riddled with bullet holes, indicating that undercover troops may have jumped out of the van and shot the occupants through the windshield.

A commander of the Yamam anti-terror police unit says in a statement that the unit worked with the Shin Bet and IDF for several weeks to thwart the cell.

“The unit’s forces and the Shin Bet worked around the clock to stop the members of the cell. The fighters acted with professionalism, adhering to the mission by working to reach them,” the police spokesperson says.

PA condemns ‘execution’ of Palestinians by Israeli forces

The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry condemns the shooting death of three Palestinian terror suspects at the hands of Israeli forces “in the most severe terms,” saying they were “executed.”

“This crime is the latest in a chain of extrajudicial executions committed by the forces of the occupation,” the Foreign Ministry says.

Ex-pope asks forgiveness for handling of sexual abuse cases

Retired Pope Benedict XVI has asked forgiveness for any “grievous faults” in his handling of clergy sex abuse cases, but admitted to no personal or specific wrongdoing after an independent report criticized his actions in four cases while he was archbishop of Munich, Germany.

“I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate,” the retired pope said.

Benedict, 94, was responding to a Jan. 20 report from a German law firm that had been commissioned by the German Catholic Church to look into how cases of sexual abuse were handled in the Munich archdiocese between 1945 and 2019. Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the archdiocese from 1977 to 1982.

The report’s authors faulted Benedict’s handling of four cases during his time as archbishop, accusing him of misconduct for having failed to restrict the ministry of the priests in the cases even after they had been convicted criminally. The report also faulted his predecessors and successors, estimating that there had been at least 497 abuse victims over the decades and at least 235 suspected perpetrators.

Gantz, Barlev lionize troops behind anti-terror op

Defense Minister Benny Gantz praises the IDF, Shin Bet and Yamam anti-terror police for an operation that took out three Palestinian terror suspects in Nablus.

“I recently ordered that preventive activities against shooting attacks and troop presence in central arteries and areas of the [West Bank] be stepped up,” he writes on Twitter. “We’ll continue with proactive operations, prevent [attacks] and capture anyone who tries to hurt people.”

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev also fetes the security forces for taking out the cell, tweeting a picture of himself and police chief Kobi Shabtai with a bunch of soldiers.

 

Report indicates the 3 Palestinians were part of Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry confirms that three Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers in Nablus’s al-Makhfiya neighborhood.

Palestinian media describe the operation as an “assassination,” saying that Israeli forces had opened fire on the car they were riding in.

According to the al-Quds news outlet, the three were part of the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, a terror group aligned with Fatah.

Pictures and video from the scene show crowds gathered around a silver Seat hatchback whose windshield is riddled with bullet holes.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

Cell was planning more attacks — source

An anonymous security source tells Kan news that the terror cell targeted by troops Tuesday was a “ticking time bomb.”

“They were planning more attacks,” the source says.

“They were responsible for at least four attacks in the last two weeks,” the source adds.

Protesters rally against planned road through Jerusalem nature spot

Demonstrators have gathered outside a meeting of the district planning committee in Jerusalem while it discusses construction of a massive two-level highway with tunnels at the Ora junction adjacent to Jerusalem.

The highway would pave the way for construction of more than 5,000 residential units on a ridge on the southwest edge of the capital called Reches Lavan, or White Ridge.

The protesters fear the road will be just the first stage in a ring road that will cut through the Jerusalem hills, destroying forests and wildlife, and damaging an important ecological corridor that allows animals to move around between built-up areas.

The area, near the city’s zoo, is popular with hikers and home to Ein Lavan, a popular natural spring and pool.

Netanyahu prosecutors expected to request delay in responding to phone spying charges

Prosecutors in the trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu are expected to request a delay in providing answers regarding police phone spying allegations, possibly further delaying the high-profile corruption case, according to Hebrew media reports.

Yesterday, the Jerusalem District Court canceled a scheduled court hearing for today, giving prosecutors until 2 p.m. to respond to questions regarding the illicit phone spying, which was used against figures in the case and members of Netanyahu’s family, according to a Monday report in Calcalist.

According to Haaretz news site, the prosecution will request more time for its response due to not having obtained new information regarding the alleged hacking of Shlomo Filber, a former Communications Ministry director general and state witness in a case Netanyahu is facing bribery charges over.

Three Palestinian terror suspects killed in clash with troops — Shin Bet

The Shin Bet security service says three suspected Palestinian terrorists were killed in a confrontation with security forces.

It says the three are part of a cell responsible for a string of shooting attacks at soldiers and Israeli civilians in the Nablus area.

No soldiers are injured in the clash with the armed Palestinians, it says.

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