IDF chief: Iran now ‘the most dangerous country’ in the region
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IDF chief: Iran now ‘the most dangerous country’ in the region

Aviv Kohavi says Tehran’s nuclear program ‘is no longer the only threat,’ warns against its conventional military capabilities, support for terror groups near Israel’s borders

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony in the military's Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv on June 18, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony in the military's Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv on June 18, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

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

British police say deadly stabbing rampage was a terror attack

READING, England — British police say they are treating a stabbing rampage in a park that killed three people as a terrorist attack.

Dean Haydon, the UK’s coordinator of counterterrorism policing, says counterterror detectives are taking over the investigation into the attack in the town of Reading, west of London.

Police had earlier said they were keeping an open mind about the motive.

Three people were killed and three others seriously wounded in stabbings in Reading’s Forbury Gardens Park yeserday evening. A 25-year-old man is in custody.

— AP

South Korea sees continued resurgence in new virus cases

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea continues to struggle to contain a resurgence in the coronavirus that has seen some of the country’s hard-won pandemic gains erased since social distancing rules were eased in mid-April.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 48 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the national caseload to 12,421 infections, with 280 deaths.

The agency says 24 of the new cases are in the Seoul region, which has been the center of the country’s outbreak since late May. Ten of the new cases, however, are from the central city of Daejeon, indicating the virus is beginning to spread more broadly.

Some experts say the country should reimpose stronger social distancing guidelines, but officials are reluctant to do so in fear of hurting an already fragile economy.

— AP

Settler leader to Netanyahu: Don’t ‘surrender’ to Gantz on annexation

The head of an umbrella group of settler leaders urges Prime Minister Netanyahu to not “surrender” to his Blue and White coalition partners on the issue of West Bank annexation.

“We’re in one of the most critical weeks for settlements. This week the decision will likely be made on extending sovereignty. We say to the prime minister: Don’t surrender to [Joint List MK Ahmad] Tibi. Don’t surrender to [Joint List MK Ayman] Odeh. Don’t surrender to [Defense Minister] Benny Gantz. Don’t surrender to [Foreign Minister] Gabi Ashkenazi,” Yesha council chief David Elhayani is quoted saying in a statement.

He adds: “We also say no to a [settlement building] freeze and no to a Palestinian state.”

While Netanyahu has vowed to begin annexing areas of the West Bank designated for Israel under the Trump administration’s peace plan on July 1, Gantz and Ashkenazi have signaled opposition to annexing lands without international support.

Bill to legalize cannabis use clears first hurdle

A bill to legalize cannabis use is approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, passing its first hurdle on the way to becoming law.

Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman of the ultra-Orthodox United Judaism Party and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Rafi Peretz of the national-religious Jewish Home both vote against the bill, according to Channel 12 news.

The bill, sponsored by Blue and White MK Ram Shefa and Likud MK Sharren Haskel, also includes proposed reforms for medical marijuana.

It is expected be voted on later this week by the Knesset in the first of three readings it must clear to become law.

“For the first in the State of Israel’s history, my legislative move is officially beginning to regulate the cannabis market in Israel,” Haskel writes in a Facebook past. “I’m proud to bring good news to over one million cannabis users and tens of thousands of sick people.”

Likud’s Steinitz calls for bringing back Shin Bet tracking of virus carriers

Another member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party is calling for the reauthorization of the Shin Bet’s tracking of coronavirus carriers, citing the rising number of new COVID-19 cases.

During today’s cabinet meeting, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the controversial tracking program is needed “so it will be possible to return to interrupt the infection chain within a few hours and not after days,” the Walla news site reports.

Steinitz reportedly added that until an effective alternative is developed, “we can’t give up the tool that has proved itself as the most efficient” in helping prevent further spreading of the virus.

According to a newspaper report yesterday, Netanyahu is interested in reviving the program, which expired earlier this month after the new government decided not to advance legislation anchoring it in law.

Litzman on cannabis legalization bill: We can’t bow to public pressure

Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman says fellow ministers are bowing to public pressure by advancing a bill to legalize cannabis use, which he voted against it.

“It’s a dangerous drug and we can’t lend a hand to pressure from the public. If someone needs it as medicine they can get it through a prescription,” Litzman, who heads the United Torah Judaism party, is quoted saying by Hebrew media.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Rafi Peretz says that while he supports reforms to ease sick people’s access to medical marijuana and decriminalize cannabis use, he opposes full legalization.

“I demanded to make sure the state doesn’t abandon youths to the world of drugs. It begins with marijuana and ends with harder drugs,” Peretz writes on Twitter.

According to the Kann public broadcaster, UTJ and fellow ultra-Orthodox party Shas haven’t committed to backing the bill, though its sponsors expect them to obey coalition discipline.

Yad Vashem chairman to retire after 27 years at Holocaust memorial

A spokesperson for Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, confirms chairman Avner Shalev will step down later this year.

Shalev, 81, has led Yad Vashem for 27 years.

“Clearly, it was not easy for me to reach this decision, which has entailed thorough self-examination. Of course, I will share with you further details relating to my retirement once they are known, including regarding transition with my successor, yet to be designated,” he writes in a letter to employees.

Fatah official announces West Bank protests against Israeli annexation

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub says protests against Israel’s plans to annex West Bank lands will go ahead as planned tomorrow, clarifying “national assemblies” are exempt from the coronavirus lockdown implemented over the weekend.

“I fervently hope to see participation by all Palestinians, whether in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip or in Jerusalem, in the Palestinian diaspora – each according to his circumstances,” Rajoub says.

The main protest will take place in Jericho, Rajoub says, with representatives from the European Union, the United Nations, and Jordan in attendance.

“Our participation in the march will absolutely be in accordance with Health Ministry instructions, with regard to social distancing, masks, and gloves and obedience to all safety guidelines,” Rajoub says.

Rajoub also calls for protests in the Palestinian diaspora tomorrow outside of Israeli and American embassies.

“This mobilization is not Fatah’s, nor is it Hamas — it belongs to the entire Palestinian people, from all levels of society,” Rajoub says.

— Aaron Boxerman

In new book, Bolton says Kushner blocked Netanyahu’s calls to Trump on possible Zarif meeting

Prime Minister Netanyahu tried numerous times to speak with US President Donald Trump to implore him not to meet with Iran’s foreign minister on the sidelines of the 2019 G7 meeting in France, but his calls were blocked, former US national security adviser John Bolton writes in his new book.

In “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” Bolton says Netanyahu called US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after hearing Trump could meet with Mohammad Javad Zarif, asking to speak to the US president. The prime minister and Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the US, also tried to call Bolton, according to the book.

“[Trump’s senior adviser Jared] Kushner was on the phone to David Friedman, US Ambassador to Israel, telling Friedman that he was not going to allow Netanyahu’s call to go through… When he hung up, Kushner explained he had stopped this and an earlier effort by Netanyahu because he didn’t think it was appropriate for a foreign leader to talk to Trump about whom he should speak to,” Bolton writes.

He says Trump considered holding a private meeting with Zarif, which he advised him against doing. Bolton adds he told Pompeo he may resign if such a meeting took place.

“The next day, Monday, August 24, I concluded, amazingly, there had been no meeting. There was certainly no media coverage of a meeting… When I talked to [White House of chief of Staff Mick] Mulvaney just before Trump’s first bilateral that morning, he said he didn’t think there had been a meeting with Zarif. I emailed this news to Pompeo at about ten thirty a.m., saying I couldn’t rule out a phone call, and I also wasn’t sure whether Kushner or [Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin might have met or spoken with Zarif, to create a future channel of communication,” Bolton says.

Elsewhere in the book, Bolton says Trump told him he would back Israel if Netanyahu decided to order an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

“On Iran, I urged that he press ahead to withdraw from the nuclear agreement and explained why the use of force against Iran’s nuclear program might be the only lasting solution. ‘You tell Bibi that if he uses force, I will back him. I told him that, but you tell him again,’ Trump said, unprompted by me,” Bolton writes.

Top health official won’t punish deputy for waiving billionaire’s quarantine requirement

Chezy Levy, the new director-general of the Health Ministry, says he won’t take punitive action against his deputy for approving a billionaire’s request to be exempted from self-quarantine upon arriving in Israel, Hebrew media reports say.

Levy, who took up the post last week, tells Itamar Grotto in a letter that he accepts his apology for having let Teddy Sagi skip quarantine.

Grotto came under fire after Israeli TV revealed he granted the exception to Sagi, who reportedly attended a rooftop party in Tel Aviv that apparently violated the Health Ministry’s guidelines on large gatherings.

800 British Jews sign petition against Israel’s new pick for ambassador to UK

A British group opposed to Israel’s military rule of the West Bank is organizing a petition against the nomination of Likud Minister Tzipi Hotovely as the new Israeli ambassador to the UK.

According to the Guardian, 800 British Jews have signed the Na’amod petition, which says Hotovely has an “appalling record of racist and inflammatory behavior” and calls for the UK to reject her nomination.

Among other reasons, the petition cites her support for unilaterally annexing parts of the West Bank.

Hotovely, who was previously deputy foreign minister, currently serves as settlements minister.

Tzipi Hotovely at her office in Jerusalem, February 19, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Iran reports over 100 new virus deaths for third day in a row

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian health authorities report over 100 new deaths from the novel coronavirus for the third day running, stressing the outbreak hasn’t yet peaked in the hard-hit country.

Iran reported its first coronavirus cases on February 19 and has since struggled to contain the outbreak, the deadliest in the Middle East.

The Islamic Republic recorded its lowest single-day death toll in early May, before seeing a new rise in cases in recent weeks.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari says the 116 deaths reported today brought the country’s overall COVID-19 toll to 9,623.

Health Minister Said Namaki, however, denied the country is facing a second wave of the respiratory illness and says “the peak of the disease has not passed.”

“Even in provinces where we think the first coronavirus wave is behind us, we have not yet fully experienced the first wave,” he is quoted as saying by semi-official news agency ISNA.

Iranian authorities have not imposed a mandatory lockdown on the population but closed schools, cancelled public events and banned movement between the country’s 31 provinces in March, before gradually easing restrictions starting in April.

According to Lari, four provinces — Khuzestan, Hormozgan, Kermanshah and East Azerbaijan — were currently “red,” the highest level on the country’s color-coded risk scale.

She adds that 2,368 new infections had been confirmed, bringing to 204,952 the total number of cases in the country.

There has been skepticism at home and abroad about Iran’s official figures, with concerns the real toll could be much higher.


Knesset committee to reportedly debate proposed benefits for alternate PM

Defense Minister Benny Gantz is expected to have his salary raised to match that of Prime Minister Netanyahu as part of the perks he’ll receive in his role as alternative prime minister, Channel 12 news reports.

Under the coalition deal between Netanyahu and Gantz, the two will switch off as prime minister, with whoever is not currently premier having the title of alternative prime minister.

According to the report, a document outlining the new arrangements says Gantz will be able to store possessions from his home on the state’s dime and will receive an official residence, among other benefits.

Another clause in the document reportedly says Netanyahu will be granted a retroactive tax breaks for the period between 2009, when he returned to the prime minister’s office, to 2017.

Ronen Peretz, the acting director-general of the PMO, asked the Knesset Finance Committee to deliberate the proposal on Tuesday, the Walla news site reports.

Likud on Netanyahu’s reported request for retroactive tax benefits: He’s not seeking special conditions

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party responds to a report he’s seeking retroactive tax benefits amounting to hundreds of thousands of shekels, which it doesn’t deny.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu isn’t demanding special conditions. The [Knesset] Finance Committee will require taxes of Netanyahu just like previous prime ministers. There was a scandalous and personalized effort to require taxes of Netanyahu that weren’t required of any other prime minister,” Likud says in a statement.

New top health official says worried by ‘change in infection level’

Chezy Levy gives his first press conference since becoming director-general of the Health Ministry, as the number of new coronavirus infections rises to some 300 a day.

“Over the past week, we’ve seen a change in infection level. This worries us,” he says.

Levy, who took up the post last week, says younger people make up a higher percentage of the sick relative to the period between March and May. New infections have been detected in over 50 communities, which he says indicates “broad communal spread.”

To contain the virus, Levy emphasizes the need to explain social-distancing guidelines to the public.

“There is no alternative to this,” he says.

He also calls for increasing enforcement of these rules.

Levy says anyone who has any symptoms, even if mild, should go get tested and emphasizes the importance of testing.

During the press conference, Levy was asked if he supports the re-impostion of sweeping lockdown measures.

“I don’t think we need a lockdown,” he says, but warns it depends on observance of social-distancing rules.

Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, at a press conference at the Health Ministry on June 21, 2020. (Screen capture: Facebook)

Ombudsman rejects request to probe appointment of AG Mandelblit

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman on Sunday rejected a request from a Likud lawmaker to launch a probe into the appointment of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Mandelblit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former cabinet secretary, was tapped by the Likud leader for the job in 2016. During his tenure, he has charged the incumbent premier with the bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges for which he is currently on trial. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and he, and his supporters, allege a conspiracy by law enforcement and the media of seeking to force him from power.

As Mandelblit moved to indict Netanyahu, his followers and supporters have attempted to discredit him by raising his role in the so-called Harpaz Affair a decade ago, for which he was cleared of any suspicion by Israel’s top court.

Gantz says he’ll forgo alternate PM’s residence, economic benefits for family

Alternative Prime Minister Benny Gantz tells the Knesset Finance Committee he will forgo the official residence promised to him as part of his coalition agreement with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

In a letter to United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, the chair of the committee, Gantz says he will also waive proposed economic benefits for his wife and family members who live with him.

Trump campaign blames protesters for poor turnout at Tulsa rally

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign blames the disappointing crowd at his Tulsa rally on protesters creating a hostile atmosphere and blocking supporters from getting into the arena.

The White House had promised that the much-hyped event — Trump’s first rally in three months — would be flooded with up to 100,000 people, but television images showed large sections of empty seating in the 19,000-capacity BOK Center.

An outdoor event for the overflow crowd was canceled because no one showed up, despite the campaign hyping huge interest ahead of time, with more than a million ticket requests.

Senior Trump campaign aide Mercedes Schlapp tells “Fox News Sunday” that attendees were unable to get into the BOK Center.

“There were factors involved, like they were concerned about the protesters who were coming in. There were protesters who blocked the (attendees),” Schlapp says.

“And so we saw that have an impact in terms of people coming to the rally.”

Schlapp goes on to say there were families that “didn’t want to bring — couldn’t bring — their children because of concerns of the protesters.”

Schlapp was echoing an explanation first offered Saturday night by Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh, who said protesters were “even blocking access to the metal detectors, which prevented people from entering.”

But reporters on the ground said they saw no problems for people trying to get in.


In recordings, Shin Bet chief heard opposing tracking of virus carriers

Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman pushed back strongly during cabinet meetings against having his security agency use sensitive personal data to track coronavirus carriers, according to recordings aired by Channel 12 news.

“In a situation where there is very widespread infection and there’s isn’t another solution, it would be right to transfer this to the [Shin Bet],” Argaman says in the recordings, referring to the controversial tracking program.

The network said in other parts of the recordings it could not air for censorship reasons, Argaman explains what technologies the Shin Bet is using to track sick people and why it should only be employed in extreme cases.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, however, insisted to Argaman that tracking program was needed.

“The ships are coming one after another and we’re refusing to believe,” Netanyahu is heard saying in the recordings, referring to outbreaks of COVID-19. “And they say nothing will happen. Our responsibility is to stop this pandemic. The pandemic is returning! Returning! The question now is how much we’re prepared to do about this thing, which will quickly reach us.”

The network didn’t say when the recordings were made.

The report came as Netanyahu is said to be interested in renewing the Shin Bet’s tracking powers, which lapsed earlier this month after the new government declined to anchor them in law.

Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend an awards ceremony at the Shin Bet’s headquarters in Tel Aviv honoring agents who excelled in intelligence operations in 2017 and 2018, on December 4, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Health minister joins calls to revive Shin Bet tracking of virus carriers

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein becomes the latest member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party to call for the revival of the Shin Bet’s use of sensitive personal data to track coronavirus carriers.

“The [cellphone] location is very important. It’s preferable that the information be in the hands of the Shin Bet than a private company,” Edelstein says in a statement after meeting with top ministry officials. “We’re in critical days and quickly interrupting the infecting chain… is very important in order to flatten the curve while leaving the economy open.”

According to Hebrew media reports, the so-called coronavirus cabinet is set to discuss passing legislation reviving the controversial tracking program when it convenes tomorrow.

IDF chief: Iran’s conventional military capabilities also a threat

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi warns about Iran’s conventional military capabilities, saying despite the Islamic Republic’s physical distance from Israel, it can still pose a threat along the Jewish state’s borders.

Speaking at a ceremony for the appointment of new commanders, Kohavi says despite Iran being physically removed from Israel, it can still pose a threat

“Iran has become the most dangerous country in the Middle East,” Kohavi says at a changing-of-the-guard ceremony for top commanders, according to an IDF statement. “It’s made significant progress with its nuclear program, but the nuclear [threat] is no longer the only threat. Iran also possesses conventional weapons.”

He notes that Iran’s funding of terror organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, while accusing it of working to carry out terror attacks against Israeli targets.

Chief rabbi of Iran says Israeli government ‘doesn’t care about Judaism,’ hails Soleimani

The chief rabbi of Iran’s Jewish community charges that Israel’s government “doesn’t care about Judaism at all” and hails Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed earlier this year in a US drone strike, as a national hero.

In a Hebrew interview with Al-Monitor published today and broadcast on Israel’s Channel 12, Rabbi Yehuda Garami denies any connection between Judaism and Zionism.

“People tend to get confused, but there is a big difference between Zionism and Judaism. Judaism is a religion that is 3,300 years old, while Zionism is a national and political movement that is just 100 years old. As a country, the State of Israel has nothing to do with religion in general and Judaism in particular,” he says.

Garami denies that the conflict between Iran and Israel is a religious one and takes a shot at the Israeli government.

“The Israeli government doesn’t care about Judaism at all. Everything that they supposedly give to the Orthodox is because of some political deal or other, and not because of their religious approach,” he says.

He also defends making a condolence call to the family of Soleimani, who headed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force.

“What the Western world does not fully understand is that Soleimani is an Iranian national hero. He is really admired in our country. He showed great bravery in the Iran-Iraq War. Then, in the war in Syria, it was Soleimani who defeated the Islamic State, and this was very important to the people of Iran,” Garami says.

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