Shin Bet chief: Foreign state planning hack of upcoming elections
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Shin Bet chief: Foreign state planning hack of upcoming elections

At public event, Nadav Argaman says intelligence points to a specific attack being planned; military censor issues gag on further details, lawmakers fret about ‘Putin’

Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman attends a Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on March 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman attends a Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on March 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

EU puts Iranian intel agency on blacklist over foiled plots

BRUSSELS — Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen says the European Union has agreed to put an Iranian intelligence service on its terror list after Denmark and France alleged Iran was plotting to kill opposition activists on European soil.

Samuelsen says EU government ministers on Tuesday “agreed to enact sanctions.”

He says it is a “strong signal from the EU that we will not accept such behavior in Europe.”

Paris alleges that Tehran’s Intelligence Ministry’s internal security section was linked to the alleged attempt to bomb a rally of opponents on June 30 outside Paris. The Danes say Iran in October was planning to kill in Denmark a member of the group that Tehran has blamed for a September 22 attack that killed at least 25 people.

— AP

Turkey appears to snub US over Syria’s Kurds

ANKARA, Turkey — A senior US official trying to negotiate the safety of Kurdish allies in northeastern Syria is apparently rebuffed by Turkey’s president who says there would be “no concession” in Ankara’s push against “terror” groups in the war-torn country.

White House national security adviser John Bolton meets for roughly two hours with his Turkish counterpart Ibrahim Kalin and other senior officials at Ankara’s presidency complex on Tuesday but gets no assurances on the safety of Syrian Kurdish allies — a condition for US President Donald Trump’s planned withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria.

Bolton relays Trump’s insistence that Turkey refrain from attacking Kurdish forces that fought alongside US troops against the Islamic State group, a guarantee Turkey appears unwilling to grant.

“They had a productive discussion of the President’s decision to withdraw at a proper pace from Northeast Syria,” spokesman Garrett Marquis says in a statement, adding that direct military to military talks would continue Tuesday.

Shortly after Bolton’s meetings and in an apparent snub to the US diplomatic push, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Ankara’s preparations for a new military offensive against terror groups in Syria are “to a large extent” complete.

“We cannot make any concessions,” Erdogan says, and also slams Bolton over comments suggesting the United States would prevent attacks on Kurds.

— AP

Amid right-wing criticism, PM backs Shin Bet’s ‘professionalism’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backs the Shin Bet security service amid criticism of its handling of an alleged Jewish terrorist cell in the West Bank.

After praising the Shin Bet and security forces for the early morning capture of a Palestinian believed responsible for the deadly shooting of two IDF soldiers and the injuring of another Israeli, Netanyahu says the agency is the “best terror thwarting organization in the world.”

“We owe it a lot; it does its work with professionalism and commitment,” he says. “Attacks on it are unacceptable.”

Netanyahu’s remarks came a day after a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s own Likud party said the Shin Bet was using “KGB investigation methods” and “torturing Jewish boys” as it probes the October death of Aisha Rabi, a mother of eight killed by a rock thrown at her vehicle in the West Bank on October 12.

Right-wing politicians and activists have lambasted the intelligence agency over its arrest and detention without attorneys last week of several youths studying at the Pri Haaretz yeshiva in the West Bank suspected in the attack.

President defends Shin Bet amid right-wing criticism

President Reuven Rivlin backs the Shin Bet security service amid right-wing attacks over the detention last week on terror suspicions of several Jewish youths in the West Bank.

At a swearing-in ceremony for 29 judges at the President’s Residence today, Rivlin says:

“The Shin Bet is under fire at the moment. There can be no democracy without criticism. But we must take care to avoid irresponsible attacks on those whose job it is to protect and defend Israel’s security from domestic and foreign threats.

“I know the people of the Shin Bet, and I know that the security of the State of Israel and its citizens is the only thing that guides them. That is how they act, under the professional and inspiring leadership of Nadav Argaman and his predecessors.”

He adds: “From here, I want to express my support for those who serve in all the security forces, and particularly the men and women of the Shin Bet. They save lives day and night, and because of their service we and our children can sleep peacefully.”

Likud lawmaker Nava Boker on Monday accused the Shin Bet of using “KGB investigation methods” and “torturing Jewish boys” as it probes the October death of Aisha Rabi, a mother of eight killed by a rock thrown at her vehicle in the West Bank on October 12.

Right-wing politicians and activists have lambasted the intelligence agency over its arrest and detention without attorney visits last week of several youths studying at the Pri Haaretz yeshiva in the West Bank suspected in the attack.

US-led coalition pounds IS-held village in eastern Syria

BEIRUT — US-led coalition warplanes and artillery are pounding a village held by the Islamic State group in the last area under their control in eastern Syria.

Tuesday’s bombardment of the village of Shaafa in Deir el-Zour province comes a day after a war monitoring group said nearly two dozen US-backed fighters were killed in the area.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said IS fighters took advantage of bad weather on Monday and launched a counteroffensive against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, killing 23 fighters and wounding others.

The group said nine IS fighters were also killed.

DeirEzzor 24, an activist collective, also reports heavy bombardment of Shaafa on Tuesday.

The SDF says it repelled the IS attack and gained more ground from IS near the Iraqi border.

— AP

3-year-old boy goes missing on West Bank hike

Police are looking into a report of a missing 3-year-old Israeli boy in the northern West Bank.

According to the report, the boy and his father went on a hike from the Itamar settlement. The father has not seen his child in over two hours.

Rescue forces are currently searching for the boy.

— Jacob Magid

Nazi-looted painting returned to Jewish heirs in Germany

BERLIN — Officials return a painting looted by the Nazis to heirs of a Jewish French politician and resistance figure who was executed during World War II.

“Portrait of a Seated Young Woman” by Thomas Couture, which belonged to Georges Mandel, was discovered in late collector Cornelius Gurlitt’s art trove while German authorities were investigating a tax case in 2012.

The reclusive Bavarian collector inherited the 1,500-piece collection from his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, an art dealer who traded in works confiscated by the Nazis. Many are thought to have been looted from their original Jewish owners, but provenance research has been slow and only a handful has been restituted.

Culture Minister Monika Gruetters pledges at Tuesday’s handover to Mandel’s relatives to do everything possible to return stolen art to rightful owners.

— AP

Thousands attend funeral for former defense minister Moshe Arens

Thousands attend the funeral of former defense minister Moshe Arens at his home town of Savyon in central Israel.

Attendees include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who began his career as Arens’s protege, as well as President Reuven Rivlin and senior Likud officials.

Arens, who passed away Monday at 93, was an English-speaking aeronautics engineer and defense industry executive who served as defense minister three times, as foreign minister and as Israel’s envoy in Washington. He is widely credited with helping to develop Israel’s indigenous defense industry.

Gal Hirsch becomes latest general to launch a political party

Retired brigadier general Gal Hirsch, a controversial former candidate to be Israel’s top cop, announces today the formation of a new political party that will run in the April 9 elections.

The party will be called Magen Israel, or “Shield of Israel.” Hirsch held the first gathering of party activists and supporters yesterday, Hebrew-language media report.

Hirsch announced last week he would enter politics. He did not say which party he would join, but media assessments linked him to a yet-to-be-announced party or the ruling Likud.

Hirsch has faced numerous controversies in recent years linked to his business interests — concerns that torpedoed his nomination for police commissioner in 2015.

Police and the Israel Tax Authority are expected to recommend indicting Hirsch on tax evasion, it was reported last week, two days after he announced he would run for Knesset.

Hirsch reacted angrily to the report and called it a “predictable response” to his announcement.

“It appears we are watching a rerun. The same police that three and a half years ago illegally thwarted my candidacy for the role of police commissioner are now even trying to thwart my candidacy for the Knesset through the same improper means and leaks that are completely unsubstantiated,” he said in a statement.

Hirsch claimed police were trying to pin “baseless” tax charges on him in order to justify their initial decision to investigate him.

Former aide Nachman Shai recalls Arens’s ‘fascinating and busy’ life

MK Nachman Shai, the former spokesman of the late defense minister Moshe Arens, eulogizes Arens as a sensitive man who “leaves this world without a single enemy.”

Arens, a three-time defense minister, foreign minister and ambassador to Washington, passed away yesterday at the age of 93. Thousands are attending his funeral underway in the central Israeli town of Savyon.

“Your journey, Misha,” Shai says at the funeral, using Arens’s nickname, “comes to an end today, after 93 fascinating and busy years. In all the great projects in which you were engaged, you always saw the person, the individual who stands in the back, without whom you can’t achieve anything. You leave this world without a single enemy. Thank you.”

Iran behind two assassinations in Netherlands – Dutch minister

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Iran was likely behind the murders of two Dutch citizens believed to be dissidents against the regime in Tehran, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok says.

The Dutch secret service “has strong indications that Iran was involved in the assassinations of two Dutch nationals of Iranian origin in Almere in 2015 and in The Hague in 2017,” Blok says in a letter to parliament.

“These individuals were opponents of the Iranian regime,” he says.

— AFP

Missing 3-year-old found in good health in northern West Bank

Police say that the three-year-old Israeli boy who had gone missing in the northern West Bank about three hours ago has been found in good health.

He has been released to his parents.

The boy went on a hike with his father near the settlement of Itamar, but the two lost contact. Rescue services and volunteers searched for the boy for two hours.

— Jacob Magid

Syrian Kurds ‘ready to fight Turkey’

ANKARA, Turkey — A top Syrian Kurdish official says his fighters are prepared to confront Turkish forces if they enter northeastern Syria.

Shahoz Hasan, co-chair of the largest Kurdish group in Syria, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, says it’s clear from Ankara’s latest statements that Turkey has a plan to enter northeastern Syria.

He says: “We will be ready.”

Hasan speaks to The Associated Press as White House national security adviser John Bolton is in Turkey to negotiate the fate of America’s Kurdish allies amid a planned US troop withdrawal from Syria.

Shortly after Bolton’s meetings and in an apparent snub to the US diplomatic push, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Ankara’s preparations for a new military offensive against terror groups in Syria are “to a large extent” complete.

— AP

Official accuses PM of trying to ‘deceive public’ over graft probes

A senior law enforcement official accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of trying to “deceive the public” and disrupt the criminal investigations against him with his demand to face the state witnesses who have testified against him, saying the prime minister was hoping to intimidate them into changing their testimony to police.

In a live statement on prime time television yesterday evening, Netanyahu demanded that police allow him to face his former aides and colleagues who have reportedly provided incriminating evidence against him in the three graft cases in which he is a suspect.

“Netanyahu wants to assert his power, influence and status to disrupt the investigation,” Army Radio quotes a “very senior official” in the state prosecution as saying. “In a confrontation with him, those state witnesses could give a different testimony to the one they gave police. They were forced to tell the truth as it is known to them, and they could easily surrender once again to Netanyahu’s influence when he appears in front of them.”

The official adds: “The Israeli public is being deceived, and not for the first time, by Netanyahu, who is making use of the masses’ naivete — meaning their lack of knowledge in those subjects,” the unnamed official is quoted as saying. “Anyway, no suspect has a right to a confrontation [with witnesses during the investigation stage] and it is inappropriate to hold an unnecessary and damaging confrontation.”

— Michael Bachner

Netanyahu lashes his graft investigators as ‘afraid of the truth’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects criticism of him by an unnamed official in the state prosecution, saying the official’s comments show the prosecution is “afraid of the truth” in his case.

The senior law enforcement official accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier today of trying to “deceive the public” and disrupt the criminal investigations against him with his demand to face the state witnesses who have testified against him in three graft probes, saying the prime minister was hoping to intimidate them into changing their testimony to police.

In a live statement on prime time television yesterday evening, Netanyahu demanded that police allow him to face his former aides and colleagues who have reportedly provided incriminating evidence against him in the three graft cases in which he is a suspect.

“Yesterday I asked, what are they afraid of,” Netanyahu writes on Twitter a short time ago, sharing an Army Radio report on the official’s comments. “Now it’s clear that they are afraid of the truth. I demand a confrontation with the state’s witnesses now. The public must know the whole truth.”

The “very senior official” in the state prosecution had told Army Radio: “Netanyahu wants to assert his power, influence and status to disrupt the investigation. In a confrontation with him, those state witnesses could give a different testimony to the one they gave police. They were forced to tell the truth as it is known to them, and they could easily surrender once again to Netanyahu’s influence when he appears in front of them.”

The official adds: “The Israeli public is being deceived, and not for the first time, by Netanyahu, who is making use of the masses’ naivete — meaning their lack of knowledge in those subjects. Anyway, no suspect has a right to a confrontation [with witnesses during the investigation stage] and it is inappropriate to hold an unnecessary and damaging confrontation.”

— Michael Bachner

Two Jewish minors under arrest for stoning death of Palestinian woman meet lawyers

The two minors nabbed in the second round of arrests as part of the Shin Bet’s investigation into Aisha Rabi’s murder met with their lawyers for the first time this afternoon.

Following their Saturday night arrest, the Shin Bet issued an order barring them from meeting with their attorneys.

Israeli law allows authorities to delay by up to 21 days an attorney visit for an individual arrested in a terrorism-related crime.

The two suspects who are being allowed counsel visits today had been initially detained last Thursday during a settler protest against the arrests of the first three suspects. They were released that night before being rearrested two days later.

The three other suspects were allowed to meet with their attorneys for the first time on Saturday night, nearly a week after their arrest.

On Sunday, the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extended the remand of all five suspects until Thursday.

— Jacob Magid

Arab Joint List splits as MK Ahmad Tibi leaves with his Ta’al party

Arab Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi formally requests the splitting of the list, which united four Arab political parties that ran together in the 2015 elections.

In a letter to Knesset House Committee chair MK Miki Zohar, Tibi asks the committee to approve him taking his Ta’al faction, whose name is an acronym for “Arab Movement for Renewal,” out of the Joint List.

Tibi is expected to run in the April 9 elections on his own after his bid to lead the Joint List failed.

Palestinian media says youths crossed border, set fire to IDF listening post

Palestinian media report that several Palestinian youths crossed the Israel-Gaza border fence and set fire to an IDF listening post near Jabalya.

None of the vandals were hurt, the reports say.

There is no immediate confirmation of the claim by Israel.

Three pipe bombs found next to Border Police post in West Bank

Three pipe bombs are found next to a Israeli Border Police post in the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, next to Jerusalem.

The bombs are located in a sweep after another pipe bomb exploded yesterday near the base.

JNF Canada audited over donations linked to IDF

MONTREAL — The Jewish National Fund of Canada is audited by Canadian tax authorities for using donor money to fund projects linked to the Israeli military.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported last week that the audit was carried out by the Canada Revenue Agency as the result of a complaint filed in the fall of 2017 by Independent Jewish Voices Canada referring to dozens of JNF Canada projects linked to the Israel Defense Forces, including infrastructure projects on military bases in Haifa and the Negev.

Canadian tax rules prohibit Canadian charities from funding the armed forces of another country.

Independent Jewish Voices Canada, which supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, has tried in the past to have JNF Canada’s charitable status revoked.

JNF Canada informed donors last year of the Canada Revenue Agency audit and said it stopped funding IDF-linked projects in 2016. “To be clear, we no longer fund projects located on IDF land,” JNF Canada CEO Lance Davis said. He called the complaint a “rehash.”

It remains unclear what sanctions if any JNF Canada, the nation’s largest and oldest Jewish charity, might face in the wake of the audit.

According to the website charityintelligence.ca, JNF Canada raised $9.5 million in 2017.

— JTA

Brazil excuses Jewish students from exams, classes on Shabbat and holidays

RIO DE JANEIRO — A new Brazilian law allows students to skip school exams and classes for religious reasons.

They will be able to be absent on any date in which, according to their religious precepts, the exercise of activities is prohibited, according to the legislation. For Jewish students, it means Shabbat and holidays such as Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“It’s a legitimate demand from the part of the Brazilian population that keeps the Sabbath. It is yet another important victory for the Jewish community and all those involved in this struggle, including the Adventists,” Fernando Lottenberg, president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, told JTA on Monday.

Effective in 60 days, the law was signed Thursday by Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing non-Jewish politician who is ardently pro-Israel and a friend of much of the Jewish community.

Absences must be requested in advance. Missed exams and classes must be provided on an alternative date or replaced by written assignments or research activities, according to the law.

In 2016, some 76,000 Sabbath-observant applicants of Brazil’s annual national high school exam were confined to classrooms from 1 P.M. to 7 P.M. on Saturday in order to start the test after sunset without the possibility of cheating.

In 2017, the exam was moved from Saturday and administered on two different Sundays, after a long-running campaign by Jewish groups and members of other religions.

— JTA

American man said held in Iran on unspecified charges

A US military veteran is being held in Iran where he was visiting his girlfriend, a report says, posing a fresh issue in the two countries’ thorny relations.

Michael R. White, 46, from Imperial Beach, California, never boarded a return flight via Dubai in July, his mother tells The New York Times.

The US State Department says it is “aware of reports” of the detention but declines details, citing privacy considerations.

“We have no higher priority than the safety and security of US citizens abroad,” a State Department spokesperson says.

White’s mother, Joanne White, tells the Times that her son had visited Iran “five or six times” to see an Iranian woman described as his girlfriend. She says she learned from the State Department that he was imprisoned in Iran on unclear charges.

White would join at least three other US citizens, two of them of Iranian descent, in being detained in the clerical-led country.

— AFP

Palestinian man crosses Gaza-Israel border, is caught by IDF

A Palestinian man is caught near the Gaza-border community of Be’eri after crossing the border fence into Israel.

The IDF says it saw the man cross the border and launched a sweep of the area to intercept him.

There are no immediate indications about his motive for crossing the border.

Angela Davis says pro-Palestinian stance cost her civil rights award

Pro-BDS civil rights activist Angela Davis, 74, says her “long-term support of justice for Palestine” was the reason the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama rescinded her human rights award.

Davis calls the decision “regrettable” and “not primarily an attack against me but rather against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice.”

The institute had announced Davis as the recipient in September. In a statement over the weekend announcing the change, the institute did not specify which “supporters and other concerned individuals and organizations, both inside and outside of our local community, began to make requests that we reconsider our decision.” The statement did not specify the reasons for the requests to reconsider.

But Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who criticized the museum and research center’s decision, said in a statement that the complaints came from the Jewish community.

Davis in a statement published Monday on the anti-Israel Mondoweiss website said the institute refused her requests “to reveal the substantive reasons” for withdrawing the award, but she later learned that “my long-term support of justice for Palestine was at issue.”

The statement acknowledged that she has been critical of Israel. “I have indeed expressed opposition to policies and practices of the state of Israel, as I express similar opposition to US support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and to other discriminatory US policies,” she said.

Davis noted that in high school in New York City and in college at Brandeis University in the late 1950s and early ’60s, “I learned to be as passionate about opposition to anti-Semitism as to racism. It was during this period that I was also introduced to the Palestinian cause.”

— JTA

Chemical watchdog deploys team to probe Syria ‘gas attack’

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The world’s chemical watchdog says it has deployed a fact-finding team to look into allegations of a chlorine attack in the Syrian government-held city of Aleppo in November last year.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons received information shortly after the alleged November 24 attack which sparked retaliatory air strikes by Russia.

“In early December an advanced team was deployed to Syria to collect further information. Since then consultations with the Syrian authorities have been ongoing,” the Hague-based OPCW says.

“The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) deployed in early January to further establish facts regarding the allegation,” it adds in a statement.

The FFM is to report its findings to the OPCW’s member states, the chemical arms control body says.

Damascus formally requested the OPCW in November to probe the attack which Syrian officials and rights groups said left scores of people struggling to breathe.

Both the Syrian regime and its ally Russia have blamed “terrorist groups” — a term which Damascus uses to mean both rebels and jihadists.

Russia at the time said the shelling came from an area of the buffer zone controlled by the jihadist-dominated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance.

A rebel coalition denied any involvement, but neither the HTS, nor the Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Deen group present in the area at the time commented on the alleged attack.

It was the latest accusation of a chemical attack in Syria’s grinding civil war, which has killed at least, and probably much more than, 360,000 people and displaced millions since 2011.

— AFP

MK Lapid blasts ‘dangerous’ Netanyahu at election campaign launch

At a speech in Tel Aviv marking the launch of the Yesh Atid campaign for the April 9 elections, party leader MK Yair Lapid says it is “dangerous” to let an indictment-rattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retain his seat.

“We’re here to win,” Lapid says, adding “there is too much at stake. We will win because most of the citizens of Israel don’t want a prime minister who is only interested in his own indictments. They’re honest. They understand that it’s dangerous that he’s trying to take apart the rule of law.”

“It’s dangerous that he’s attacking the attorney general that he appointed, the state prosecutor he appointed, the chief of police he appointed, the states’ witnesses who were the people closest to him, the police, the courts, even the officers of the IDF. He attacked me as well. I’m proud to be part of that list,” Lapid says.

He mocked Netanyahu’s prime time televised demand last night to confront the state’s witnesses who testified to police against him. “Did you see him yesterday on TV? Yesterday we got the final proof that someone suspected of serious crimes cannot be prime minister. It wasn’t a ‘dramatic’ announcement [as Netanyahu called it], it was a hysterical announcement. I’ve known Bibi for years, he’s cracking under the pressure. A country with complex challenges cannot afford a prime minister with frayed nerves. We won’t let him drag the country down with him.”

“After yesterday,” Lapid says, “it’s clear that we can’t carry on like this. He won’t address anything that affects the real lives of real people. It doesn’t interest him. It does interest us. It’s the only thing that interests us. We will win because we work on what’s actually important…. Give us the keys, everything is ready…. Reduce the traffic jams, reduce waiting times in hospitals. Restore our deterrence in the face of Hamas. To go to a regional conference and start to separate from the Palestinians. To put an end to Haredi coercion. We will cancel the mini market law, bring back the equality of national burden bill, bring back the study of English and math.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Shin Bet chief said to reveal information ‘that could affect election’

In an unusual report, Hadashot television news says tonight that Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman revealed on Monday information that “could affect the election,” in the words of Hadashot’s Amnon Abramovich.

Abramovich says in a live prime time news broadcast that the military censor has issued a gag order on Argaman’s comments.

This comes despite the fact that the comments were made at a public event hosted by the Friends of Tel Aviv University.

“Let’s hope the censor comes to its senses and lets us broadcast those comments,” Abramovich says.

Shin Bet chief: Foreign nation planning hack of upcoming Israeli elections

Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman says a foreign state “intends to intervene” in Israel’s upcoming elections on April 9.

According to a report by Hadashot television news, Argaman made the statement last night at an event in Tel Aviv hosted by Friends of Tel Aviv University.

Though the comments were made in a public forum, the military censor has placed a gag order on much of what Argaman said.

But it allowed the following quotes to be made public, Hadashot says.

“I can’t say at this point for whom or against whom” the intervention will come, “but it involves cyber and hacking.”

In a quote carried by another news outlet, the words were framed as, “100% that [unreportable foreign state] will intervene in the upcoming elections, and I know what I’m talking about, I just don’t know in whose favor.”

Argaman indicated the impending attack on Israel’s elections wasn’t merely an assessment or expectation, but that the Shin Bet had information pointing to a specific opponent preparing a specific attack.

US envoy Zinni, working on Gulf crisis, resigns

AMMAN, Jordan — A US envoy tasked with trying to solve the dispute between Qatar and a Saudi-led group of countries announces his resignation, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo toured the region.

Retired general Anthony Zinni tells US news network CBS he had quit “because of the unwillingness of the regional leaders to agree to a viable mediation effort that we offered to conduct.”

His resignation was confirmed by State Department spokesman Robert Palladino.

“General Zinni’s mission was to help introduce the concept of the Middle East Strategic Alliance and start a conversation with leaders in the region,” Palladino told AFP.

“This is happening and well underway thanks to his efforts. The administration… will carry the mission forward,” Palladino said in Amman where he accompanied Pompeo on the first leg of his regional tour.

The Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) is a NATO-style security pact which Zinni had been asked to introduce to regional leaders.

Zinni, according to CBS, feels there is no need for his involvement in MESA since other members of the US administration of President Donald Trump are already involved in implementing it.

Zinni was appointed by former secretary of state Rex Tillerson in August 2017, two months after the dispute between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc erupted.

On June 5 of that year, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut ties with key US ally Qatar, accusing it of supporting “terrorist groups” and advocating improved ties with their rival Iran.

Qatar, home to a huge US air base, has denied the claims.

— AFP

Meretz chief: Make sure Putin doesn’t steal our election

Meretz chairwoman MK Tamar Zandberg says in a statement, “We demand that the security services make sure that Putin doesn’t steal the elections for his friend, the tyrant Bibi.”

Zandberg issued the statement in response to Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman’s claim that a certain country is actively planning to hack and influence Israel’s upcoming elections, scheduled for April 9.

Argaman spoke last night at an event in Tel Aviv, but the military censor has prohibited Israeli media from naming the country revealed by Argaman yesterday in a public forum.

Zandberg’s comment referred to Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia.

MK calls on Knesset to convene urgently over election hacking claim

Zionist Union MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, a member of the cyber subcommittee of the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, calls to convene the committee for urgent discussions after Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman reveals a foreign power is planning on disrupting Israel’s upcoming elections.

Hamas says it arrested 45 ‘collaborators’ linked to Israeli special forces op in Gaza

Hamas says it has captured 45 “collaborators” in the counter-intelligence operation that followed an Israeli commando operation in Gaza on November 11.

An IDF officer, Lt. Col. “M,” and seven Hamas fighters were killed when the Israeli cell, dressed as Palestinians, was exposed on the outskirts of Khan Younis.

The operation then degenerated into a gunfight in the street and a frenetic car chase, and sparked a massive retaliation by Hamas in the form of more than 400 rockets and mortar shells fired at Israeli towns and villages on November 12 and 13. The flare-up was followed by an intense wave of Israeli airstrikes against Hamas targets in the Strip, before Israel and Hamas acquiesced to an Egyptian-proposed cease-fire.

The cease-fire in turn led to the resignation of then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman in protest, followed by a week of political chaos as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to hold his razor-thin majority coalition together and avoid early elections.

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