The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.
Israeli government officials are satisfied with the statements issued by Channel 13 and its reporter, Gil Tamary, apologizing if Muslims were offended by the broadcasting of his visit to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, while justifying it as a journalistic accomplishment, a source in Jerusalem familiar with the matter tells The Times of Israel.
Non-Muslims are banned from visiting the city under Saudi law and such a move is considered an affront to religious sensibilities.
The source declines to say whether government officials were involved in drafting the apology statements.
During his official trip to Morocco, Israeli military chief Aviv Kohavi visits the local Jewish community in the Old City of Marrakesh.
Kohavi visits the local Jewish cemetery and attends a prayer service at the Slat al-Azama Great Synagogue, the Israel Defense Forces says, adding that he met with members of the community who fought in the Yom Kippur war and later returned to Morocco.
“Kohavi paid tribute to the community members and thanked them for their contribution to the Jewish people in both the State of Israel and the Jewish diaspora,” the IDF says in a statement.
“The Kingdom of Morocco is an ally of the State of Israel, and our bond constitutes an example of a deep and special connection between two nations based on a shared heritage. I feel a sense of pride and admiration to meet you, the Jewish community of Morocco, some of who fought for the State of Israel, and are today working here for the Jewish community and to deepen the connection with Israel,” Kohavi says in remarks provided by the IDF.
Later, Kohavi and the head of the IDF’s Intelligence Research Division, Brig. Gen. Amit Saar meet with the commander of the “Ben Guerir” Air Force Base.
The IDF says the two were “briefed by the base’s commander on the local UAV threat and received a presentation regarding the base’s F-16 Fighter Jet Squadron.”
“The commanders also discussed cooperation between the two militaries’ air forces,” the IDF adds.
On the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, NASA announces that it’s shooting for a late August launch of its giant, new moon rocket.
NASA will attempt the more than month-long lunar test flight with three mannequins, but no astronauts, as early as Aug. 29. There are also two launch dates in early September, before NASA would have to stand down for two weeks.
NASA’s Jim Free notes the test flight begins “our Artemis program to go back to the moon.” The space agency’s new lunar program is named Artemis after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology.
The 30-story Space Launch System rocket and attached Orion capsule are currently in the hangar at Kennedy Space Center, following repairs stemming from last month’s countdown test. Fuel leaks and other technical trouble cropped up during NASA’s repeated launch rehearsals at the pad.
NASA officials assure reporters that the problems have been resolved and that testing is almost complete. But they caution that the launch dates could slip, depending on the volatile Florida weather and issues that might arise before the rocket is supposed to return to the pad on Aug. 18.
Fourteen teams of firefighters and six firefighting planes are working to extinguish a fire in the northern Jordan Valley, according to Fire and Rescue Services.
Boris Eisenberg, the fire chief of the Tiberias station, says efforts are focused largely on the western side of the Jordan River.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) July 20, 2022
Fire and Rescue Services say that despite battling the blaze for six hours, the flames are still not under control.
Russia’s Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov reportedly expressed displeasure at Yair Lapid becoming prime minister due to his sharp statements on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
According to a report on Channel 12 news, Viktorov has said in closed-door meetings that Lapid becoming prime minister could “cause problems” in the Moscow-Jerusalem relationship.
The report points to a series of statements Lapid made as foreign minister that were very critical of Russia’s invasion, while then-prime minister Naftali Bennett adopted a more diplomatic approach. Lapid accused Moscow of war crimes and Russian forces of “killing innocent civilians.”
The network cites a response from the Russian Embassy in Israel saying that it has noted “certain statements and comments” by Israeli officials, but that it hopes Israel “will choose an impartial, balanced and considered approach to the issue.”
Israel has avoided aligning too closely with either side as one of the few countries that maintains relatively warm relations with both Ukraine, a fellow Western democracy, and Russia, which controls the airspace over Syria, in which Israel operates to target Iranian proxies.
Israel has sent repeated shipments of aid to Ukraine including flak jackets and helmets, but not oft-requested military assistance.
Police have begun working to evacuate illegal outposts set up across the West Bank by the radical settler organization Nachala, according to eyewitnesses and activists.
Nachala claims that police are using “violence and brutality” to clear out those who showed up earlier today in attempts to establish new outposts. The movement calls on Prime Minister Yair Lapid to stop the evacuation since they claim “the public has chosen” their approach.
Hundreds of activists from Nachala briefly succeeded in setting up new illegal settlement outposts at several locations in the West Bank.
At “Nofei Yehuda” just outside Kiryat Arba, more than 100 activists, including families with children and young babies, set up numerous tents and planned to stay the night.
Police and border police subsequently order the site to be evacuated and for the tents to be dismantled. The activists do not resist and willingly fold up their tents. Their plan, one leader said, is to move on to the next site and set up Nofei Yehudah there instead, until moved on again to the next site.
Police and the IDF had earlier called on supporters of Nachala to stay away since their activity is illegal, and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said those who violate the law will be punished.
Prime Minister and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has transitioned into campaign mode, calling for “a strong Yesh Atid” as the “one thing” that can deliver a stable government “without extremists.”
“These elections have been forced upon us, but they could be a one-time opportunity to get out of the mess. To establish a broad and stable national government, without the extremists. Only one thing will allow this to happen: a great, strong Yesh Atid that will stabilize the Israeli ship,” the prime minister says in remarks preceding his party’s Tel Aviv faction meeting.
While calling on one hand for domestic unity, Lapid also distinguishes his party and its assumed political partners with those led by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
The upcoming November 1 elections, like the four that have preceded them since 2019, are quickly shaping up to be the fifth referendum on whether or not the Likud leader should be at the helm.
“The decision being placed before the citizens of Israel is not between me and Netanyahu. The choice is between the future and the past. The choice is between those who think only of their own good, and those who think of the good of the state,” the prime minister says.
At the same time, Lapid calls attention to the need to unify in the face of challenges, including the continued global pandemic, war in Ukraine, cost of living and that “Israeli democracy is in existential danger.”
“In difficult times, Israelis always knew how to put the quarrels aside and go to work together. This is what we need to do now,” Lapid says.
After many years, the Military Censor says the media can now publish that the Israel Defense Forces uses armed drones to strike targets.
“It was found that there was no impediment in publishing the IDF’s use of strike UAVs as part of its operational activities,” the censor says, after examining the issue.
For years the IDF would not state it uses armed drones, and Israeli journalists who attempted to report on it came up against the IDF censor.
Yesterday, the IDF struck a Hamas post in the Gaza Strip in response to gunfire toward a town on the border, using an armed drone.
MK Orit Strock of the Religious Zionism party arrives at the Gush Etzion staging area and gives her full support for those attempting to establish new illegal West Bank outposts.
Struck says: “I for sure support what Nachala is doing,” despite the army and police stating that such activity is illegal.
Nachala is a right-wing settlement movement organization.
“The people who came here express the principles in which I believe,” she adds. “The entire land of Israel belongs to us and it is forbidden for us to abandon it to the Palestinian Authority.
Strock accuses Defense Minister Benny Gantz of giving “free rein to the Palestinian Authority to build and take control of all the land that remains in Judea and Samaria and annex it de facto and create a Palestinian state without any agreement, just by illegally seizing land. We came here to put an end to this.”
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court extends the remand of a Palestinian man who is accused of stabbing and wounding an Israeli on a bus in the capital’s Ramot neighborhood Tuesday.
According to police, the suspect — who is currently hospitalized after being shot — will remain held until Sunday.
His detention is likely to be extended further next week.
A senior Lebanese Maronite cleric’s detention and military court summons after a trip to his parish in Israel draws indignant reactions from Christian leaders.
As the Patriarch of the Diocese of Haifa and the Maronite Holy Land, Mussa al-Hajj is, along with other Christian religious figures, allowed to cross Lebanon’s southern border and enter Israel, unlike regular Lebanese citizens.
While Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war, Hajj visited Israel because he heads a community of Lebanese Christian Maronites living there, many of whom are refugees who collaborated with Israel during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.
But he was questioned for eight hours earlier this week upon his return from Israel, local media says, before a military court summoned him for further questioning today.
Hajj has ignored the military court summons, issued for violating boycott laws imposed on Israel and for involvement in money laundering, an official close to the case says, asking for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
Britain’s Conservative Party chooses Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss as the two finalists in an election to replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The pair come first and second in a vote of Conservative lawmakers. Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt comes third and is eliminated.
The race pits Sunak, a former Treasury chief who steered Britain’s economy through the pandemic, against Truss, who has led the UK’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as foreign secretary.
The two contenders will spend the next few weeks campaigning for the votes of about 180,000 Conservative Party members around the country, who will vote by postal or online ballot. The winner of the party leadership vote will be announced Sept. 5 and will automatically become prime minister.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid meets with Haim Naim and Meshi Ben Ami, the two civilians who helped stop a terrorist who stabbed a man on a bus in Jerusalem yesterday.
“It is difficult to imagine but were it not for the two of you – civilians would be dead,” Lapid tells them. “You saved lives. This is a civic obligation.”
Lapid awards them both certificates of appreciation.
“Very few people are capable of having both the fortitude and the courage to respond,” he says. “The terrorist started stabbing and you Haim threw a rock at him and took him down, and you Meshi used your weapon and neutralized him. This was courageous and very impressive.”
The Israeli victim was moderately hurt in the attack and the Palestinian attacker was shot and wounded by Ben Ami and taken to the hospital.
State prosecutor Glenn Ivey is projected to have defeated former congresswoman Donna Edwards in the Democratic primary race for Maryland’s fourth Congressional district, which saw unprecedented spending by pro-Israel groups.
Ivey, who received an astounding $6 million from AIPAC’s United Democracy Project super PAC, has a 51 to 35 percent lead over Edwards with 68% of the vote counted, which was enough for major networks to call the race in his favor.
Edwards received her own endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as J Street, which spent more than $700,000 in the race, largely in ads attacking Ivey for taking money from AIPAC, which endorsed more than 100 Republicans who sought to overturn the 2020 election after the January 6 insurrection.
In a statement celebrating Ivey’s victory, AIPAC says “once again, Democratic voters have demonstrated that being pro-Israel is smart policy and smart politics,” adding that “our involvement in the democratic process will continue throughout this election cycle.”
Democratic Majority for Israel, which sits slightly to the left of AIPAC and donated $426,000 to Ivey’s campaign, says, “We’re pleased that Democratic voters in Maryland’s 4th District yesterday chose to look forward by electing a proud progressive pro-Israel African American leader with extensive experience on Capitol Hill and in local government, Glenn Ivey.”
Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej decries an Israeli TV report from a Jewish Israeli journalist visiting Mecca as “stupid.”
A report aired on Channel 13 news on Monday of journalist Gil Tamari visiting the holy Saudi city of Mecca — which is forbidden for non-Muslims. Tamary and the network later apologized for the report.
“I think it was stupidity, stupidity, and totally out of place just for ratings,” Frej, who is the second Muslim minister in Israeli history, tells Kan public radio. Frej says that it would only cause damage to the possibility of Saudi-Israel normalization.
“This is a holy place for Muslims… what was the point? You want a report from there, send a Muslim journalist!… the damages from this will be high.”
Prime Minister Yair Lapid meets with the president and CEO of the US pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC.
Lapid tweets that the trio discussed the recent visit to Israel of US President Joe Biden as well as “the historic Jerusalem Declaration reaffirming the unbreakable US-Israel alliance.”
“Strengthening bipartisan support for that alliance is a top priority,” adds Lapid.
I just met with @AIPAC President Betsy Korn and CEO Howard Kohr.
We discussed @POTUS's visit to Israel and the historic Jerusalem Declaration reaffirming the unbreakable US-Israel alliance.
Strengthening bipartisan support for that alliance is a top priority. ???????? ???????? pic.twitter.com/shTXJCgCYE
— יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid (@yairlapid) July 20, 2022
At least five civilians are killed and 20 wounded in northern Iraq, when shelling attributed to neighboring Turkey hit a park in autonomous Kurdistan, two officials say.
Five people were killed in Turkish shelling on the border, including a child, a woman and an Arab tourist, and about 20 others were wounded, Mushir Bashir, the mayor of Zakho, tells AFP.
A local government official gave a similar account.
The Israel Defense Forces will be holding military drills starting today and during the next few days in southern Israel.
The military says explosions may be heard in the area, and some roads may be temporarily blocked.
The drill was planned in advance, according to the IDF.
Dozens of youths participating in an operation to establish illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank arrive at the Gush Etzion Junction and prepare to move out to their designated sites.
Boys and girls as young as 13 are taking part in the operation organized by the radical Nachala Settlement Movement amid a heavy presence of armed police, border police and military personnel.
Left-wing Peace Now activists seeking to thwart a Nachala group in the northern West Bank have been ordered to return to the Green Line, they say.
Nachala’s operation has received support from Likud and Religious Zionism MKs, prominent rabbis and other public figures.
Police say there is a high volume of traffic on nearby roads and highways and call on drivers to drive carefully, listen to instructions and consider using other routes.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev says the Nachala movement’s attempts “harm the ability of the Israel Police and the IDF to protect the security of Israeli citizens,” and that those participating in “illegal actions” will be dealt with.
Israel Defense Forces chief Aviv Kohavi is expected to revoke the army pension from an officer facing 79 counts of sex crimes, the military says.
Lt. Col. Dan Sharoni, who has been indicted for filming dozens of his subordinates while they were nude without their knowledge and collecting sexual images of soldiers and some civilians over the course of at least eight years, has reached a plea deal with military prosecutors.
The arrangement, subject to the approval of a military tribunal, will see Sharoni demoted to the rank of private, and he will pay compensation to the 49 victims, totaling NIS 250,000 ($72,000), the IDF says.
Prosecutors are also demanding he be jailed for a number of years.
On Monday, Ynet reported that Sharoni’s sentencing would be delayed until he is old enough to receive the army’s lucrative pension package.
“The plea deal does not include an agreement regarding the payment of the retirement pension,” the IDF says, adding that Kohavi is likely to deny Sharoni the pension package.
COVID czar Salman Zarka reiterates his call for Israelis returning from abroad to take PCR tests after arriving home, despite them no longer being mandatory, due to concerns of a new subvariant.
Zarka says that the BA2.75 subvariant is “primarily in India, but not just there. The arrival of new variants from abroad is concerning.”
In particular, he says, those coming back from India, South Africa, Malta and Botswana should get checked after returning.
And while Zarka says he expects the current sixth COVID wave in Israel to begin receding soon, he warns that a new seventh wave is likely this fall. The timing is expected around the November 1 election, he says “and we are in dialogue with the Central Elections Commission to ensure that all citizens will be able to vote.”
To one last round of cheers from his recently mutinous MPs, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson bows out of his final setpiece event in parliament, signing off by saying: “Hasta la vista, baby!”
In a vintage blast of verbiage against his critics, Johnson defends his three tumultuous years in office — from Brexit and COVID vaccines to Ukraine — and praises the candidates battling to succeed him, as he fends off opposition attacks at his last session of Prime Minister’s Questions.
Conservative MPs give Boris Johnson a standing ovation as he leaves the Commons after his final PMQs. pic.twitter.com/ST99vpOdb7
— LBC (@LBC) July 20, 2022
Johnson, 58, says his time in office has been “the greatest privilege” of his life.
“We’ve transformed our democracy and restored our national independence… I’ve helped to get this country through a pandemic and helped save another country from barbarism — and frankly that’s enough to be going on with,” he says. “Mission largely accomplished.”
Likud MK Miri Regev calls on right-wing lawmakers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir to combine forces ahead of the November 1 election.
“We’ll do everything that we can so that Itamar Ben Gvir and Smotrich will figure things out and sit together,” Regev tells Army Radio. “If they love this country more than ego, they can solve [their] problems.”
Ben-Gvir and Smotrich ran together on the Religious Zionism slate in the last election and have been in talks this week on joining forces once again, although disagreements remain.
Likud views their union as a positive thing to ensure that neither party — which are both loyal to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu — drop below the electoral threshold.
French President Emmanuel Macron calls for a return to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in a press conference alongside visiting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The French president stresses the need for the “renewal of direct political dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” He warns that violence could break out at any time and that negotiations may be a “difficult path, but we have no other alternative.”
Macron met with Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Paris two weeks ago in Lapid’s first overseas trip in office, and made similar comments then, stating that there “is no alternative to a resumption of political dialogue.”
In his own remarks, Abbas denounces Israeli activity and the killing earlier this year of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh “in cold blood without reason.”
“Who killed her? We want them to find out who did it,” he says.
He also repeats comments similar to those he made alongside US President Joe Biden in Bethlehem last week, urging a restart of talks based on a two-state solution.
Russia’s military aims in Ukraine are no longer focused “only” on the country’s east, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says, adding that supplies of Western weapons have changed the Kremlin’s calculus.
“The geography is different now. It is not only about the DNR and LNR, but also the Kherson region, the Zaporizhzhia region and a number of other territories,” Lavrov tells state media in an interview. “This process is continuing, consistently and persistently.”
Yamina MK Nir Orbach, who was seen as dealing one of the final blows that brought down the outgoing government coalition, has issued a public call to the party’s new leader, Ayelet Shaked, to rethink her electoral approach.
“The experiment failed, it’s time to start over,” says Orbach in a campaign video circling on social media and WhatsApp. “I’m calling on my friends: There’s no more room for experiments. The national religious [movement] needs to join the home of the faithful right.”
Yamina, formerly led by Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, split from the traditional national-religious party Jewish Home to appeal to a wider set of voters, but failed to win a large piece of the electoral pie. The party is currently polling below the electoral threshold in most polls, though such surveys aren’t always reliable.
Taking pride in his role in breaking apart the coalition, Orbach’s video appears geared to two audiences: Likud and his estranged political home of Yamina.
Orbach has yet to close deals with either party, but sources familiar with the matter confirm that he still hopes to snag a ministerial role with Likud.
Likud has repeatedly signaled that it will not offer Orbach a guaranteed spot on its slate, and sources close to the issue say he will not run for a spot via primaries.
Despite past examples of Likud going back on promises to deliver ministerial posts, Orbach may pursue a course of action that doesn’t place him in the Knesset but allows for him to be externally appointed.
The European Commission urges EU countries to reduce their demand for natural gas by 15 percent over the coming winter months to overcome Russia’s energy supply “blackmail.”
In a statement, the EU’s executive arm also asks member states to give it special powers to force through needed demand cuts if Russia cuts the Europe’s gas lifeline.
“Russia is blackmailing us. Russia is using energy as a weapon and therefore, in any event, whether it’s a partial major cut off of Russian gas or total cut off… Europe needs to be ready,” Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tells reporters.
Tehran gives assurances that its nuclear policy is unchanged and that it still adheres to a fatwa banning weapons of mass destruction, after an Iranian official said the country was able to make atomic bombs.
“In regard to the topic of weapons of mass destruction, we have the fatwa,” or religious edict, by Iran’s supreme leader that prohibits the manufacture of such weapons, says foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani.
The fatwa declares the use of atomic bombs and other weapons of mass destruction to be haram, or forbidden by Islam, and it is often cited by Iranian authorities as a guarantee of Tehran’s good intentions.
“It seems that there has been no change in the view and position of the Islamic Republic of Iran” regarding the nuclear policy, Kanani tells a news conference.
His comments came in response to a question about remarks made by Kamal Kharazi, head of Iran’s strategic council of foreign relations, to Al Jazeera on Sunday about Iran’s capability to manufacture nuclear weapons.
“It is no secret to anyone that we have the technical capability to make atomic bombs, but we have not made a decision in this regard,” Kharazi said, before reiterating Iran’s position that it does not want to make a nuclear bomb.
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