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For first time in 50 years, Israeli diplomat presents credentials in Chad

Nonresident Ambassador Ben Bourgel takes up post following resumption of relations between Jerusalem, N’Djamena in 2019 after ties cut in 1972

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Ambassador Ben Bourgel presents his credentials to Chad President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno on May 17, 2022. (Foreign Ministry/Twitter)
Ambassador Ben Bourgel presents his credentials to Chad President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno on May 17, 2022. (Foreign Ministry/Twitter)

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

After 50 years, Israeli diplomat presents credentials in Chad

An Israeli diplomat presents his credentials to the president of Chad for the first time in 50 years.

Ben Bourgel, the non-resident ambassador to a host of African nations, including Senegal, Gambia and Guinea, presents his credentials to Chad President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno.

“This marks an important benchmark in the deepening of the relations between Chad and Israel since their resumption in 2019,” tweets the Israeli Embassy in Senegal. “Ambassador Bourgel and his team will work to strengthen the cooperation between the two countries in areas of common interest such as climate changes, agriculture, water management and health.”

Israel and Chad announced the reestablishment of diplomatic relations in January 2019, after Chad severed ties with Israel in 1972 due to pressure from Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

Iran unveils new drone production line in Tajikistan

Iran says it has inaugurated a production line for manufacturing a new military drone in Tajikistan, a first for both nations.

A report by the official IRNA news agency says the ceremony took place during a visit to the Central Asian nation by Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces.

The move is seen as an effort by Iran to address the balance of power in the region: Afghanistan under its Sunni Muslim Taliban rulers poses a threat to its two neighbors, predominantly Shiite Iran and secular Tajikistan.

The report said the drone is dubbed the Ababil-2 after a bird in the Quran. It is capable of carrying out attacks, as well as surveillance missions, from a range of 200 kilometers (124 miles) with 1 1/2 hours of flight time, the report said. It did not reveal other details such as the capacity of the production line.

The announcement marks the first time that Iran has launched a military production line abroad.

Zandberg: Israel’s marine protected areas to double

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg announces that she will soon declare a new marine protected area in the Mediterranean Sea, doubling the size of such areas within Israel’s Exclusive Economic Zone — a band of water stretching 200 miles into the sea.

The Palmachim Disturbance lies 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) west of Tel Aviv and its depth varies from 450 to 1,200 meters (1,500 to 3,900 feet). In geology, a disturbance is a linear zone of rock strata that reflects processes of folding and faulting.

US reportedly slated to take part in IDF drill of Iran strike

US military forces will take part in a major IDF drill later this month simulating a widescale strike on Iran, reports Channel 13 news.

The large-scale air maneuvers, including a simulated attack on Iranian nuclear targets, will take place starting May 29.

Earlier today, Michael Kurilla, head of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), arrived in Israel on Tuesday for his first official visit.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz is slated to take off tomorrow for Washington to meet with his American counterpart, Lloyd Austin, at the Pentagon in Washington.

Police nab armed Haredi extremists who intended to damage Meron infrastructure

Police officers arrest a group of men and women earlier today suspected of planning to vandalize the facilities constructed for tomorrow night’s Lag B’Omer celebrations on Mount Meron in northern Israel, the police say.

The suspects were in possession of four bags “full of wirecutters, utility knives, hammers, paint, and gloves that are suspected of having been meant to be used to vandalize the electrical system for the communications equipment, loudspeakers and screens that had been set up,” police say.

Police say that some of the suspects belonged to “an extreme Haredi sect,” without specifying which.

“Damage to the facilities — besides threatening the event and causing discomfort to the revelers — is liable to cause a real threat to people at the site if they were to damage the command-and-control infrastructure of the event,” police say in a statement.

As ties warm, Erdogan pays condolence visit to UAE

Turkey’s president visits the United Arab Emirates to pay respects to the federation’s late ruler and congratulate his successor, deepening a rapprochement between the countries after a bitter rivalry in the wake of the 2011 Arab uprisings.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan praises Abu Dhabi’s ruler Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on his elevation to power after nearly a decade as de facto leader. From a gleaming reception hall at Abu Dhabi airport, he offers condolences on the death of the long-ailing late UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Turkish government says.

In a scene unthinkable just a decade ago as ties between the countries frayed over Turkey’s support for Islamist groups around the Middle East, Erdogan pulls Sheikh Mohamed in for a big hug.

Erdogan’s trip today marks his second to the UAE this year as Turkey, diplomatically isolated and in desperate need of foreign currency and investment, seeks to mend fences with old foes — including most recently with Saudi Arabia.

Biden calls US white supremacy theories ‘a poison’

US President Joe Biden calls out what he says is the “poison” of white supremacist ideology behind a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York.

“White supremacy is a poison running through our body politic and it’s been allowed to fester right in front of our eyes,” Biden said, condemning “those who spread the lie for power, for political gain and for profit.”

“What happened here is simple and straightforward terrorism. Domestic terrorism,” Biden says.

Health minister changes rule, allows artificial insemination access to ‘chained’ women

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz changes his ministry’s policies to allow so-called “chained women” to be given access to artificial insemination and other fertility treatments, following years of efforts by activists.

Until now, such options were all but off-limits for “chained” women — those whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce, known in Hebrew as a get, leaving them in a state of religious and legal limbo — as Health Ministry guidelines required the consent of a married woman’s partner before she could use them.

Horowitz is now revising those guidelines, despite stiff opposition from the Chief Rabbinate.

“On this matter as with any medical issue, the only consideration that the Health Ministry must take into account is the professional medical consideration,” Horowitz says. “Non-medical considerations are not relevant to the ministry’s guidelines and we will remove them.”

Elad terrorists reportedly say they weren’t inspired by Sinwar

The two terrorists who carried out a recent deadly attack with an axe and knife in the city of Elad say they were not inspired by a speech by Hamas in Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar, reports Army Radio.

As’ad Yousef As’ad al-Rifa’i and Subhi Emad Sbeihat, who killed three people in a terror attack on Independence Day, reportedly told police investigators that they did not even hear a speech by Sinwar — said before their attack — calling on Palestinians to use axes against Israelis.

According to Army Radio, the pair said they set out to kill Israelis as revenge for two of their friends who were killed by IDF fire.

Iran detains protesting bus drivers amid strike

Iran has arrested a number of bus drivers who have staged protests in Tehran for the second consecutive day over their living conditions, according to local media reports.

“A number of drivers were detained yesterday during a gathering in front of the central office of the Tehran Bus Company,” Mohsen Bagheri, a company official is quoted by the ILNA news agency. “A number of drivers were also arrested during today’s protest,” he adds.

Bagheri did not say why the drivers were arrested, only expressing hope that they would be released soon.

“The workers do not want anything beyond the law; their demand is a legal increase in wages,” Bagheri says.

Striking bus drivers chanted slogans describing Tehran’s mayor as “incompetent” and called on him to resign at a protest on Monday, the reformist Shargh newspaper writes on Twitter.

Last week, Iran’s government announced a series of measures to tackle mounting economic challenges, such as changing a subsidy system and raising the price of staples including cooking oil and dairy products. Hundreds have taken to the streets in a number of Iranian cities in the past week to protest against the moves, including in Tehran province, IRNA reported.

Prosecutors say 600 indictments filed in connection to last May’s Arab-Jewish violence

More than 600 indictments have been filed since the unprecedented intercommunal violence that shook Israel’s mixed communities during the Gaza war in May last year, according to a new report by the State Prosecutor’s Office.

According to the report, 89% of those indicted were Arab, and about a quarter were minors.

The Mossawa Center, an NGO that works to protect Arab rights, says that the report proves there is “selective enforcement” by police and prosecutors, and that those who attacked Arab citizens during the violence have not been brought to justice.

Finland, Sweden to submit NATO membership bids tomorrow

Finland and Sweden will submit their bids to join NATO together tomorrow at the military alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, says Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

“I’m happy we have taken the same path and we can do it together,” Andersson says during a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.

Knesset advances legislation aimed at paving way to enter US Visa Waiver Program

The Knesset advances legislation required for Israel’s entry into the US Visa Waiver Program.

The bill, which passes its first reading, gives US authorities limited access to Israeli criminal records in order to adjudicate visa requests. It is one of several pieces of legislation countries are required to pass in order to join the VWP.

“Another step toward getting visa waivers to the United States,” tweets Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. “Props to Minister Ayelet Shaked for her hard work on the matter.”

The development is only an initial step in the process as the legislation still needs to pass through two more readings. Moreover, the much larger hurdles of lowering the visa application rejection rate below three percent and guaranteeing reciprocal treatment for Palestinian Americans at Israeli border crossings remain.

US and Israeli authorities have expressed hope that Israel will join the VWP in 2023.

CENTCOM chief arrives in Israel on official visit

Michael Kurilla, head of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), has arrived in Israel for his first official visit.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, the visit will focus on “the ongoing operational cooperation between the State of Israel and the US, maintaining regional stability and dealing with joint operational threats and challenges in the region.”

Tomorrow, Kurilla will meet Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF chief Aviv Kohavi, and observe a major military exercise from IDF headquarters.

IDF to hold drill simulating widescale strike on Iran

The Israel Defense Forces will simulate conducting a widescale strike in Iran, during the military’s monthlong Chariots of Fire exercise.

The drill will take place during the fourth and final week of the exercise, starting May 29.

Last September, IDF chief Aviv Kohavi said the army had “greatly accelerated” preparations for action against Iran’s nuclear program.

In call with Bennett, Macron expresses concern over new settlement construction

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks by phone with French President Emmanuel Macron, and thanks him for support for Israel in the face of the recent wave of terror attacks.

Bennett also congratulates Macron on being elected for a second term, which began last week.

According to a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office, the two leaders discuss “the regional security situation, with an emphasis on Iran.” They also speak about the implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and opportunities for further cooperation on a range of issues.

The French-language readout of the call from the Elysee is much less rosy.

“While welcoming once again the recent normalization of Israel’s relations with several countries in the region, the President of the Republic expressed his concern about the recent Israeli announcements in terms of settlements, and his desire to contribute to a revival of peace efforts in the Middle East,” it reads.

Macron also brings up the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and, while not blaming Israel, stresses France’s desire for the investigation to be brought to a rapid conclusion.

Earlier today, Bennett paid a visit to the West Bank settlement of Elkana and touted settlement as the answer to violence, lauding the recent approval of “the largest volume of construction at once” in the settlement.

US charges Venezuelan man with creating ransomware used by IRGC contractor to target Israel

The US Department of Justice is accusing a Venezuelan cardiologist of having developed the Thanos ransomware used by state-sponsored Iranian hackers to target Israeli companies in 2020.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York announces that it has unsealed a Brooklyn federal court indictment against Moises Luis Zagala Gonzalez on charges of attempted computer intrusions and conspiracy to commit computer intrusions.

“The multi-tasking doctor treated patients, created and named his cyber tool after death, profited from a global ransomware ecosystem in which he sold the tools for conducting ransomware attacks, trained the attackers about how to extort victims and then boasted about successful attacks, including by malicious actors associated with the government of Iran,” US Attorney Breon Peace says in a statement.

Zagala used a number of online aliases, including “Nosophoros,” “Aesculapius” and “Nebuchadnezzar” — the Babylonian king who conquered Jerusalem in 597 BCE.

The Justice Department says Zagala publicly discussed his awareness that his clients used his Thanos ransomware, even linking to a news story about the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps contractor “MuddyWater’s” cyberattack on Israeli companies ClearSky and Profero.

The two firms said at the time that they identified and thwarted the attacks before any harm could be inflicted, but were raising an alarm to the methods used, indicating that they could have been employed in earlier hacking attacks that might have gone unnoticed.

Zagala’s current whereabouts are unknown, but the FBI has requested that a warrant be issued for his arrest. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.

Bennett in settlement visit: Our greatest need right now is unity

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pays a visit to the West Bank settlement of Elkana and urges unity.

“This is the greatest need of the people of Israel right now — unity,” says Bennett. “Unity is about coming into contact with other people, even if they’re left-wingers.”

At a ceremony marking 45 years since Elkana was established, Bennett says that “in the face of violence from the enemy, the Zionist answer has always been settlement, security and immigration.”

Ex-Israeli diplomat on Russian state TV: Moscow could bomb UK ‘back to Stone Age’

Yaakov Kedmi, a Moscow-born former Israeli diplomat, says that Russia possesses the capability of bombing the UK “back to the Stone Age.”

In an appearance on Russian state TV, Kedmi — who previously served as the head of Nativ, Israel’s liasion group with Jews in the former Soviet Union — suggests that Russia could deploy the hypersonic Zircon missile against the United Kingdom.

“About 50 or 60 of Britain’s power stations will be gone in 10 minutes,” says Kedmi, who has in recent years become a public pro-Kremlin cheerleader. “And all of Britain will be back to the Stone Age.”

ICC dispatches its ‘largest ever’ team of investigators to Ukraine

The International Criminal Court deploys a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support staff to Ukraine to probe war crimes and crimes against humanity, its prosecutor says.

“This represents the largest ever single field deployment by my office since its establishment,” ICC prosecutor Karim Khan says in a statement.

Ex-Mossad chief: Israel must decide if it wants to remain Jewish, democratic state

Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo issues a stark warning about the future of the country, saying that Israel must have a difficult discussion about how it wants to solve its decades-long control over millions of Palestinians.

“What will happen here in 30 years?” Pardo asks at a symposium at Reichman University in Herzliya. “The answer is not clear. Israel… can decide on one state. It is unthinkable that someone would agree to live without rights in the territory in which he resides. We can decide we want one state – for some it would be the end of the Zionist dream, and for some it would be the fulfillment of a dream.”

Pardo headed the Mossad from 2011 to 2016.

“We are not alone in this territory,” he continues, “and to think that someone will run away — we have seen for 74 years that it won’t happen. We must spark the conversation — what do we want, a Jewish democratic state with a firm majority? Or a different type of state, in which we are the minority?”

Herzog meets Israeli NBA star Deni Avdija: ‘You’re an inspiration’

President Isaac Herzog meets with Israeli NBA player Deni Avdija in Jerusalem and congratulates him on his impressive season with the Washington Wizards.

“You’re a huge inspiration — I know that being young and popular is not an easy thing,” Herzog tells Avdija. “You’re a major source of pride, in both your personal behavior as well as the love of Israel that you have.”

A few weeks ago, during a game against the Orlando Magic, Avdija wrote “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The Jewish people live”) and drew Stars of David on his sneakers amid a series of terror attacks in Israel.

Avdija gifts Herzog with a jersey bearing his name “as a sign of appreciation for hosting me.” According to Herzog’s office, Avdija says he “feels the love of fans in Israel and around the world and I appreciate it a lot.”

Police chief slams MKs who clashed with police: ‘We’re not part of a political game’

Police chief Kobi Shabtai tacitly criticizes two Joint List MKs who have recently clashed with Israeli Police: “Police cannot become part of a political game.”

Speaking at the Knesset, Shabtai says that he will not allow such behavior to become the norm: “I will not allow an agenda of blatantly and forcefully harming police officers who are doing their job on behalf of the state and for its citizens,” he says. “Certainly not on the part of those who are supposed to serve as an example and model of law-abiding behavior for their constituents.”

“The police and police officers cannot become part of a political game and a target for provocations,” he adds.

Police yesterday submitted a request to the attorney general to formally investigate Joint List MKs Ofer Cassif and Ahmad Tibi over their recent behavior.

Cassif was filmed hitting a police officer over the weekend after security forces blocked his vehicle as he tried to reach a protest in the West Bank, while Tibi is accused of obstructing police and helping a suspect escape during an attempted arrest in Jerusalem last week.

Mansour Abbas: Our party in government is model for Israeli-Palestinian relationship

Ra’am chief MK Mansour Abbas says that his party’s inclusion in the current government is a realization of the goal of Arab political integration into Israeli society.

“We want to make this relationship a goal in itself, not an instrument,” says Abbas, speaking at a symposium at Reichman University.

“It’s beyond the day-to-day,” he says. “This is valid for relationships between citizens, but if we succeed in this model… then we can deal with the more complex and hard issue, the Palestinian-Israeli relationship.”

Abbas repeats that it’s important to maintain a long-term perspective, as there are and will continue to be stumbling blocks along the way. “Progress isn’t in one direction, it can also go backwards,” he says.

In particular, the Ra’am leader points to last May’s outbreak of violence in several Arab-Jewish mixed cities, in parallel with Israel’s military operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“We formed the coalition two to three weeks after the events stopped,” he says, adding that negotiations succeeded because Ra’am was committed to taking an active role in Israeli politics.

Bennett taps Kahana to oversee Lag B’Omer celebrations at Meron

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has formally appointed Matan Kahana to oversee Wednesday night’s Lag B’Omer celebrations on Mount Meron, Kahana’s office says.

Kahana had been given official responsibility for the event — following last year’s deadly disaster  in which 45 people were killed — in his capacity as religious services minister. However, he stepped down from his ministerial position on Friday in order to return to the Knesset in a political maneuver aimed at shoring up the government’s control in the parliament.

He has since been named deputy religious services minister and continues to lead the ministry in practice. In order to give him formal control over the Mount Meron event, Bennett signs a document allowing Kahana to act “in his name with anything that has to do” with the Lag B’Omer festivities.

Kahana visited the site yesterday and told reporters that the state is investing a great deal more funds this year “to ensure that the general population can come, enjoy and get home safely.”

First appeal hearing held for Israeli sentenced to death in UAE

An attorney for the Israeli woman sentenced to death on drug charges in the United Arab Emirates says the first appeal hearing was held in the UAE today, and the case was postponed until next year.

In a video message published by the Kan public broadcaster, Ahmed Almazrouei, an attorney for Israeli Fidaa Kiwan, says he appeared in court today alongside her.

“Today was our first hearing for the appeal,” says Almazrouei, adding that the court has now “postponed the case to next year.”

The attorney says that he is working on “a new strategy” for Kiwan’s defense, and “hopefully the sentence of death will be canceled.” He noted that under UAE law, the death sentence will be frozen as the appeals process is carried out.

Kiwan was sentenced to death last month in Dubai after she was convicted of possessing half a kilogram of cocaine.

Taliban shuts down Afghanistan’s human rights body

Taliban authorities say they have dissolved Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission as it is “not considered necessary.”

“We have some other organizations to carry out activities related to human rights, organizations that are linked to the judiciary,” deputy government spokesman Inamullah Samangani tells AFP, without elaborating.

The work of the rights commission, which included documenting civilian casualties of Afghanistan’s two-decade war, was halted when the Taliban ousted a US-backed government last year and the body’s top officials fled the country.

The National Security Council and a reconciliation council that promoted peace were also shut down over the weekend as the government announced its first annual budget.

“These departments are not considered necessary, so they have been dissolved. But in the future if they are needed then they can resume their operations,” Samangani says.

Sandstorm blankets Tehran, shutting schools and government offices

Schools and government offices are shut in the Iranian capital and elsewhere in the country after yet another sandstorm blanketed Tehran, state TV reports.

The report says the air quality is very poor and that the pollution from the dust is high. It is the third severe sandstorm in Iran since mid-April.

Last week, authorities also shuttered schools in Tehran and other provinces because of a similar sandstorm but today marks the first time government offices closed in Tehran due to a sandstorm.

Yesterday, airports in western Iran saw dozens of flights canceled or delayed.

Court orders Netanyahu family to testify in libel suit against Olmert

A court orders the Netanyahu family to take the witness stand in its libel case against former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Channel 13 reports.

According to the report, members of the opposition leader’s family will be forced to testify in the case, in which Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife and son, Yair, are suing Olmert for questioning their sanity.

The judge in the libel case has also reportedly rejected a request from Netanyahu’s lawyers to toss out the list of witnesses summoned  by Olmert, including the family’s personal doctor.

The next hearing is slated for June 12 in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court.

IDF testing air raid sirens in southern Israel amid ongoing drills

The Israel Defense Forces says it is testing air raid sirens at military bases near Kiryat Gat in southern Israel.

The sirens may be heard in nearby towns.

A similar siren test will be held tomorrow on bases near the Gaza Strip, also at 2 p.m.

The drills come amid a month-long exercise — dubbed “Chariots of Fire” — involving nearly all units of the IDF.

Final Ukrainian holdouts in Mariupol steel plant being evacuated after ‘surrender’

Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters defending the last holdout in Mariupol are being evacuated to areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists and officials are working to get the rest out, signaling the beginning of the end of a siege that became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Russia calls the operation a mass surrender, while the Ukrainians avoid using that word — but say the garrison has completed its mission.

More than 260 fighters — some severely wounded — were pulled from a steel plant yesterday that is the last redoubt of Ukrainian fighters in the city and were transported to two towns controlled by separatists, officials on both sides say.

Other fighters — their precise numbers unknown — remain inside the Azovstal steelworks that sprawl over 11 square kilometers (4 square miles) in a city otherwise controlled by Russian forces.

The complete capture of the plant would mark a significant milestone. It would give Russia its biggest victory of the war yet and could help free up forces for offensive action elsewhere in the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine that is now Russian forces.

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