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

OpenAI co-founder to Netanyahu: ‘Something about Israeli way that is very conducive to field’

From left to right: Elon Musk, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Greg Brockman, and Max Tegmark during a live discussion on the social media platform X, at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, September 18, 2023. (X video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
From left to right: Elon Musk, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Greg Brockman, and Max Tegmark during a live discussion on the social media platform X, at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, September 18, 2023. (X video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In a live discussion alongside Elon Musk, OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman tells Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he has numerous Israeli employees, citing their IDF service as a factor in making them particularly cut out for the field.

“I think there is something about the Israeli way that is very conducive to this field,” Brockman says.

After stop in Qatar, Americans released in prisoner swap with Iran head to US

DOHA, Qatar — Five Americans freed by Iran today in a deal facilitated by the release of $6 billion in frozen oil proceeds have left Doha for Washington, an informed source tells AFP.

“All five US ex-detainees in Iran have departed Doha to Washington DC,” the source with knowledge of the situation says on condition of anonymity.

After shooting attack, Israelis cross West Bank barrier to confront Palestinians

A group of residents of the northern town of Meirav broke through the West Bank security barrier to confront Palestinians in a nearby village, following a shooting attack in the area earlier today.

This morning, Israeli forces carrying out a patrol on the West Bank security barrier came under fire near Meirav. Damage was caused to a military vehicle, but no soldiers were hurt.

Footage shows a group of Israelis on the outskirts of Jalbun, the Palestinian village from which the shooting was apparently carried out.

A military spokesperson tells The Times of Israel that IDF troops reached the scene and escorted the Israelis out of the village.

Attorney general says PM recusal law shouldn’t take effect until next Knesset

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to casts her ballot for the head of the Israeli Bar Association, at a voting station in Tel Aviv on June 20, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to casts her ballot for the head of the Israeli Bar Association, at a voting station in Tel Aviv on June 20, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara calls for the High Court of Justice to rule that the coalition’s prime minister recusal law will only come into effect at the beginning of the next Knesset term, that is, after new elections.

Baharav-Miara issues her opinion in a written response to petitions against the legislation, passed as an amendment to Basic Law: The Government, demanding the High Court strike down the law as an abuse of the Knesset’s power to legislate Basic Laws, due to the way the measure was tailored to prevent the court or the attorney general ordering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to recuse himself.

“A Basic Law cannot be used as a kind of private resource that removes personal problems in the realm of ethical conduct and criminal law from [someone’s] path,” the attorney general writes in her court submission.

She adds that postponing the implementation date of the law until the next Knesset, it will be possible to “shape the arrangement from a broad policy perspective, with a forward-looking view and behind a ‘veil of ignorance,’” in order to strip the legislation of its highly personal nature.

The High Court held a preliminary hearing over the law which stipulates that only the government and Knesset can declare the prime minister incapacitated from serving as premier and only for health reasons.

During the hearing, the justices made it clear they believed the law to be personally tailored for Netanyahu, and on several occasions asked whether this problem could be resolved by delaying implementation of the bill, indicating that they are considering such a ruling.

As Netanyahu defends overhaul, Musk cites ‘negative pushback’ at Tesla for speaking with him

Elon Musk and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak during a live discussion on the social media platform X, at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, September 18, 2023. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
Elon Musk and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak during a live discussion on the social media platform X, at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, September 18, 2023. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

Elon Musk asks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the judicial overhaul roiling Israel, noting the protests outside and saying that, due to his decision to speak with the premier on X, “To be frank, I’ve probably got the most amount of negative pushback from people at Tesla about this interview than anything else I’ve ever done.”

Netanyahu, in response, says many of the people protesting don’t know what the overhaul is about.

“Israel was, is and will always be a robust democracy,” Netanyahu says.

“It’s we the people, not we the elites,” he continues. “We the people rule.”

Thirty years ago, he says, the balance in Israel between the three branches of governance “began to change. And we have the most activist judicial court on the planet… Democracy is supposed to be checks and balances of the three branches on each other. In Israel, the judiciary has no checks and no balances. It just has power.”

“So there is a request to try to bring it back into line and that has been sort of boiling all the time.”

Referring to the initial package of far-reaching proposals put forward for weakening the courts, apparently the one unveiled by Justice Minister Yariv Levin days after his coalition took office, Netanyahu says, “I thought [it] was bad.” It would “reject one imbalance by creating another imbalance. If the court can rule against any decision made by the government or the parliament, then let’s not correct it by having the parliament reject any decision, with a simple majority, that the court makes.”

“I thought that was a mistake. It was moving the pendulum from one side to the other side,” he continues. Netanyahu stresses he is looking to find “a happy middle.”

“I have a majority in the parliament, in the Knesset to legislate anything, but I didn’t. I held back because I want this to be a consensus.”

He says “we made the minimal changes that would bring back a little of the balance that we had in Isrel’s first 50 years. And that’s what we’re trying to do now.”

Netanyahu also says he is looking to forge consensus with the opposition, but if not, “then I want to do it with the public. — that is to have as broad a consensus for a minor correction, basically some correction on how we choose judges, because otherwise.. we have.. in many ways 15 unelected officials. By the way, gifted people.. but they replace the government. They’re sort of unelected, and they decide everything. That’s not exactly democracy.”

He says he’s unfairly described as something between Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan. “It’s not an easy thing to be maligned.”

The premier says that when he gets back to Israel, he will be focused on finding consensus for the judicial reform.

“Certainly, the press in the US has not portrayed the reforms you mentioned in a positive light,” responds Musk, before Netanyahu gripes about The New York Times’ coverage — a “fantastic, obsessive campaign” against the overhaul. “But they usually get it wrong, so it’s not important.”

Israel, says Netanyahu, will “be a stronger democracy after the dust settles.”

The two go on to lament the falloff in the reading of books. “Who reads today?” asks Netanyahu. “That’s because people read twits, tweets,” he says, hurriedly correcting himself. “That’s what they do.”

Says Musk: “They watch TikTok videos.”

They then discuss Musk having read almost the entire encyclopedia, and move from there to the merits, or otherwise, of Wikipedia.

Musk cites the “old saying that history is written by the victors… Yes, but not if your enemies are still alive, have a lot of time on their hands, and can edit Wikipedia.”

Netanyahu says Musk ‘committed’ to speaking out against antisemitism

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes the conversation with Elon Musk to Iran, saying, “It’s a bad actor that chants, ‘Death to Israel,’ ‘Death to America.’ You don’t want them to have the ability to reach Fremont or Dallas.”

Musk recalls a very polite letter he received from Iranian officials, joking he was surprised it did not have “Death to America and Israel” written on it, leading Netanyahu to exhort him not to be “calmed” by the letter’s tone.

“These regimes are based on the ability to control the minds of their people,” says Netanyahu, adding that AI could help citizens get around regime restrictions.

Unprompted, Netanyahu praises what he says is Musk’s outspokenness about antisemitism, saying “I know you are committed to that” and that “you’ve spoken about it, you’ve tweeted about it.” He adds that AI could help fight hatred of Jews.

The prime minister says he hopes Musk will be able to help if not stop antisemitism on social media, then at least “roll it back… I hope you succeed… It’s not an easy task.”

“I am against attacking any group,” responds Musk. He says he’s in favor of that which advances civilization, and enables us to understand the nature of the universe. “We can’t do that if there’s a lot of infighting, hatred… Obviously, I’m against antisemitism, I’m against anything that promotes hate and conflict.”

“Everyone should have this view,” he continues. “All it takes is long-term thinking.”

However, Musk then adds that “free speech does at times mean that someone you don’t like is saying something you don’t like. if you don’t have that, it’s not free speech. That doesn’t mean some sort of negativity should be pushed on people.” Talking about free speech on his X platform, he says that if the platform is too “unpleasant,” people will not use it. “We want to maximize unregretted user time,” he explains, saying he wants users to learn and laugh while they use it.

Netanyahu says he does not care where antisemitism comes from, hard right or hard left, but it must be condemned: It’s “collective hatred of a people”; it’s saying “they have to be banished, they don’t have a right to exist, they don’t have a right to a state of their own.” He adds that “condemnation is separate from the question of access.”

He points to the need to prevent bots from amplifying hatred, which Musk agrees with heartily.

Musk says he is looking at implementing a small monthly payment to combat the use of bots. He says he will come out with a lower tier pricing than the current premium plan, claiming it is the only way to combat bots.

Hamas health ministry says 2 Gazans wounded in border clashes with Israeli troops

Tires burn as Palestinian rioters clash with Israeli soldiers along the Israel-Gaza border on September 15, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Tires burn as Palestinian rioters clash with Israeli soldiers along the Israel-Gaza border on September 15, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip reports two Palestinians wounded by Israeli fire and riot dispersal means during protests along the border with Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces says hundreds of Palestinians are rioting on the Gaza security barrier, hurling explosive devices and setting tires on fire.

Musk warns AI ‘potentially the greatest civilizational threat’; Netanyahu mentions Bible

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Elon Musk (not pictured) for a live discussion on the social media platform X, at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, September 18, 2023. (X video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Elon Musk (not pictured) for a live discussion on the social media platform X, at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, September 18, 2023. (X video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Seated on a stage in front of a dark blue curtain, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Elon Musk open their conversation at the Tesla factory in Fremont with a discussion of the risks of AI.

Musks calls AI “potentially the greatest civilizational threat.” He expresses doubt who would be in charge — “the computers or the humans.”

“We just want to make sure that we’re guiding things toward a positive future and not a negative one,” says Musk.

Netanyahu takes the conversation to the Bible, saying humanity will have to choose between a blessing and a curse, like the biblical Israelites were told to do by Moses. So too with AI, he says. Netanyahu talks about the potential for the end of scarcity because of AI, but also the potential for the end of democracy, AI-driven wars and crime syndicates.

“We want to increase the blessings not only for ourselves, but for all of humanity,” says Netanyahu of Israel’s AI vision.

Netanyahu then refers to a theoretical scenario in which Musk would be US president.

“You can’t be president of the US, but assume you are,” says Netanyahu.

“Well, not officially,” responds the South African-born Musk to laughs.

Elon Musk speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (not pictured) for a live discussion on the social media platform X, at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, September 18, 2023. (X video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The tech CEO says that a leading concern is what China will do with AI, and what AI will do with China. “That digital superintelligence could be in charge China, not the CCP,” says Musk.

Netanyahu asks what kind of international oversights and agreements are possible around AI. He says nuclear weapons deterrence is a model that could work to keep anti-democratic states from violating the rules. “Instead of Mutually Assured Destruction, we’d have Mutually Assured Chaos.”

He also expresses concerns about rogue individual and non-state actors. “What do we do about the bad actors?” Netanyahu muses. “Could we police the planet against the rogue actors?”

Palestinian arrested, shot by Israeli troops for throwing stones and hammer at bus

Damage to a bus, following a stone-throwing attack by Palestinians on the Route 55 highway, near the West Bank town of Azzun. (Courtesy)
Damage to a bus, following a stone-throwing attack by Palestinians on the Route 55 highway, near the West Bank town of Azzun. (Courtesy)

Israeli troops shot and arrested a Palestinian suspect who allegedly hurled stones and a hammer toward an Israeli bus on the Route 55 highway in the West Bank.

The Israel Defense Forces says troops of the 636th Combat Intelligence Collection Battalion stationed near the Palestinian town of Azzun opened fire at the suspect and then arrested him.

The bus is damaged in the attack, but no injuries are reported.

WATCH: Netanyahu and Musk meet, hold live talk on X about artificial intelligence

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with Elon Musk during a live discussion on the social media platform X, at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, September 18, 2023. (X video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with Elon Musk during a live discussion on the social media platform X, at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, September 18, 2023. (X video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara meet with Elon Musk at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California.

Netanyahu and Musk briefly hold a private meeting before beginning their live discussion on the social media platform X, with both saying the talk will focus on artificial intelligence.

Germany’s Scholz defends ambassador to Israel, ahead of meeting with Netanyahu

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks during his annual summer press conference in Berlin, Germany, July 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks during his annual summer press conference in Berlin, Germany, July 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz defends his government’s envoy against Israeli criticism for attending last week’s High Court of Justice hearing on the reasonableness law.

“The German ambassador is a very committed man with very clear principles. And I believe that everyone knows that — including in Israel,” Scholz tells journalists in New York.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock adds that it is the “everyday business of diplomats” to monitor developments in foreign countries. “It’s also normal to go to public hearings or public court cases — it’s part of his job,” she says.

Scholz and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet tomorrow on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Netanyahu arrives at Tesla factory for meeting with Musk

This handout photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara meeting with Tesla owner Elon Musk at the electric car company's factory in Fremont, California, September 18, 2023. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
This handout photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara meeting with Tesla owner Elon Musk at the electric car company's factory in Fremont, California, September 18, 2023. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, ahead of his meeting with Elon Musk.

After their talks, the two will hold a live discussion on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter that Musk owns, which will also include a pair of AI experts.

The sit-down comes as Musk faces accusations of amplifying antisemitism on his X social media platform, and is embroiled in a feud with the Anti-Defamation League.

IAEA chief warns of consequences if Iran does not reaccredit nuclear inspectors

Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks during an interview ahead of the 78th United Nations General Assembly in New York, on September 18, 2023. (Ed Jones/AFP)
Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks during an interview ahead of the 78th United Nations General Assembly in New York, on September 18, 2023. (Ed Jones/AFP)

UNITED NATIONS — The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog urges Iran to reconsider its decision to deny access to top UN inspectors, telling AFP that failure to cooperate will carry severe consequences.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Saturday that Iran had withdrawn accreditation from several inspectors, a move Teheran described as retaliation for “political abuses” by the United States, France, Germany and Britain.

“We have to ask them to review this decision,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi says in an interview with AFP.

“If they do not cooperate with the IAEA, they will not get what they want: the assurances they want to see, the confirmation they want to see, the approval of the international community.”

Netanyahu and Musk say they will discuss AI during live talk on X

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his live chat with Elon Musk, which is set to air on X at 7:15 p.m. Israel time, will focus on “how we can harness the opportunities and mitigate the risks of AI for the good of civilization.”

Musk confirms in a post on the social media platform that the two will have an “artificial intelligence discussion.”

Freed US citizens land in Qatar as Biden vows ‘to impose costs’ on Iran

US citizens Siamak Namazi (R), Emad Sharqi (L) and Morad Tahbaz (C) disembark from a Qatari jet upon their arrival at Doha International Airport in Qatar on September 18, 2023, following a prisoner swap between the United States and Iran. (Karim Jaafar/AFP)
US citizens Siamak Namazi (R), Emad Sharqi (L) and Morad Tahbaz (C) disembark from a Qatari jet upon their arrival at Doha International Airport in Qatar on September 18, 2023, following a prisoner swap between the United States and Iran. (Karim Jaafar/AFP)

Five US citizens freed by Iran landed in Qatar on Monday in a prisoner exchange facilitated by the release of $6 billion in frozen oil proceeds, an AFP reporter says.

A Qatari jet carrying the five, along with two relatives, touched down at Doha International Airport just before 5:40 p.m. local time, the reporter witnesses.

US President Joe Biden meanwhile says the United States will keep piling “costs” on Iran despite the prisoner swap deal.

“We will continue to impose costs on Iran for their provocative actions in the region,” Biden says in a statement.

Gazans burn tires near border during latest riot

Illustrative: A Palestinian clashes with Israeli soldiers near the border fence east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 17, 2023. (Yousef Mohammed/Flash90)
Illustrative: A Palestinian clashes with Israeli soldiers near the border fence east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 17, 2023. (Yousef Mohammed/Flash90)

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are again rioting on the border with Israel.

Footage published by Palestinian media shows rioters setting tires on fire close to the Israeli security barrier.

There is no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Recent weeks have seen several riots along the Gaza border, which have included explosive devices being detonated on the security barrier and a handful of cases of gunfire toward Israeli troops.

The riots come despite Israeli sanctions and a strike against a Hamas observation post over the weekend in response to recent violent protests.

Outside PM’s hotel, director of San Jose shul warns Israel ‘becoming like rest of the Mideast’

David Ginsborg (L) protests outside of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hotel in San Jose, September 18, 2023. (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)
David Ginsborg (L) protests outside of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hotel in San Jose, September 18, 2023. (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

Several dozen protesters greet Prime Minister Netanyahu outside his San Jose Hotel as the sun rises.

“It’s outrageous, it’s simply outrageous,” David Ginsborg, executive director of Temple Beth El in San Jose, says regarding Netanyahu’s remarks about the protesters teaming up with Iran and the PLO. “The man has no basis for saying this. We are supposed to be the light unto the nations, and instead we’re becoming like the rest of the Middle East.”

“I fight for Israel, an Israel that’s a democracy, religious pluralism. Netanyahu does not represent that,” he continues, arguing that the protests are pressuring Netanyahu to search for consensus.

“I want him to sit down and meet with the other side,” Ginzborg says. “Meet and build consensus.”

“Every Israeli and American citizen has the right to demonstrate for a country that is both democratic and Jewish,” says Nathalie Landesman, director at Stanford University Hillel. “He should spend his time uniting the nation and not dividing it.”

“I don’t think the protests help Israel’s standing in the world, but what harms Israel’s standing are actions of the Netanyahu government and the evil people he has gathered around him.”

Health Ministry warns of rise in whooping cough cases, urges vaccination

An illustrative photo of a man receiving a vaccine against whooping cough, in the northern city of Safed, November 6, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)
An illustrative photo of a man receiving a vaccine against whooping cough, in the northern city of Safed, November 6, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Health Ministry says the number of reported cases of pertussis (whooping cough) is continuing to grow and urges the public to vaccinate against the potentially deadly disease.

In August there were 166 new cases, 190 in July, 122 in June and 94 in May. A 10-week-old infant in Jerusalem died of whooping cough in early June after the Health Ministry warned of an alarming increase in cases over last year. Most of the new cases have been in Jerusalem and specifically among ultra-Orthodox communities, where housing is crowded and vaccination rates are lower than in other populations.

In its latest warning, the ministry says that a significant portion of the instances of the disease over the summer are occurring in other parts of the country as well. Most of the illnesses and hospitalizations are among babies younger than six months who have not yet been vaccinated and for whom the disease is most dangerous.

Pertussis is a highly contagious but preventable disease caused by bacteria that spreads easily through coughing and sneezing. It is especially dangerous for babies, who can experience severe coughing and wheezing, among other symptoms like vomiting, fever, and a runny nose. In the worst cases, apnea (pauses in breathing), cyanosis (turning blue), and death can occur.

Vaccination against pertussis involves a series of shots beginning at two months. Childhood pertussis vaccines end at 13, and adults are advised to get a booster shot after age 18 — especially medical students and healthcare workers. Pregnant women are strongly advised to receive the pertussis vaccination in their third trimester to provide protection for newborns until they can get their first dose.

Diplomat says Israel protested to Germany after envoy attended hearing on overhaul law

Germany's Ambassador to Israel Steffen Seibert at the High Court of Justice hearing on the coalition's reasonableness law, September 12, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Germany's Ambassador to Israel Steffen Seibert at the High Court of Justice hearing on the coalition's reasonableness law, September 12, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

An Israeli diplomat tells The Times of Israel that Jerusalem has expressed its displeasure to Berlin after German Ambassador Steffen Seibert shared a video of himself attending last week’s High Court hearing on the reasonableness law, the first piece of legislation passed in the government’s judicial overhaul.

“At Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s instruction, a senior Foreign Ministry official spoke with [German] Ambassador Seibert and expressed our protest on the matter. Similar messages were sent from the embassy in Berlin to Germany’s Foreign Ministry,” the diplomat says.

Germany’s Federal Foreign Office spokesman said in a statement today that “the observation of important political, also domestic, developments in their respective host countries is a central responsibility of diplomats.

“The visit of a public hearing of a partner state’s supreme court, like the visit of Ambassador Seibert, is an excellent example for this common practice,” the statement added. “The Federal Foreign Office is in permanent contact with its Israeli partners. We cannot confirm media reports about an official protest of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.”

Moscow urges UN court to toss out Ukrainian case seeking to halt Russian invasion

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Russia calls a Ukrainian case alleging that Moscow abused the Genocide Convention to justify its invasion last year an “abuse of process,” as lawyers for Moscow seek to have judges at the United Nation’s highest court throw it out.

As a series of lawyers lay out Moscow’s objections to the case, the leader of Russia’s legal team at the International Court of Justice, Gennady Kuzmin, today tells the 16-judge panel that Ukraine’s case that seeks to halt the invasion “is hopelessly flawed and at odds with the longstanding jurisprudence of this court.”

He says Ukraine’s filing is “a manifest disregard of the proper administration of justice and constitutes an abuse of process.”

Kyiv’s case, filed shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, argues that the attack was based on false claims of acts of genocide in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine and alleges that Moscow was planning genocidal acts in Ukraine.

Ukraine claimed that “Russia has turned the Genocide Convention on its head — making a false claim of genocide as a basis for actions on its part that constitute grave violations of the human rights of millions of people across Ukraine.”

Lawyers for Russia insist that the court does not have jurisdiction and that the genocide convention cannot be used to regulate use of force by nations. Ukraine’s legal team will respond tomorrow and urge judges to press ahead to hearings on the substance of its claims.

‘Netanyahu tears Israel apart’: Over 100 protesters rally against PM at San Jose airport

Protesters demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the airport in San Jose, California, on September 18, after his arrival in the United States. (Screen capture)
Protesters demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the airport in San Jose, California, on September 18, after his arrival in the United States. (Screen capture)

SAN JOSE, California — Over a hundred protesters await Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s convoy as he exits San Jose’s airport at 6:30 a.m. local time.

The demonstrators wave Israeli flags, blow horns and hold signs that read “Save our Start-Up Nation” and “Netanyahu tears Israel apart.”

A small group of protesters also rally against the premier at the San Jose hotel where he is heading.

Biden grants clemency to 5 jailed Iranians as US confirms prisoner swap

US President Joe Biden arrives for Mass at Saint Joseph on the Brandywine Catholic Church in Wilmington, Delaware, on September 16, 2023. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
US President Joe Biden arrives for Mass at Saint Joseph on the Brandywine Catholic Church in Wilmington, Delaware, on September 16, 2023. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

The United States confirms a swap of prisoners with Iran and says that American President Joe Biden had granted clemency to five Iranians jailed or awaiting trial for non-violent crimes.

A US official says that Biden, in taking the politically risky move, will also impose new sanctions on Iran’s intelligence ministry and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iranian media reports that two of the five Iranians released by the United States as part of a prisoner swap arrived today in Qatar.

“Mehrdad Moein Ansari and Reza Sarhangpour, who were released in the US-Iran prisoner exchange and were planning to travel to Iran, entered Doha,” the Tasnim news agency reports.

US denies Saudis froze talks on Israel normalization: ‘Look forward to further conversations’

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left, meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jeddah on June 7, 2023. (Amer Hilabi/Pool Photo via AP)
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left, meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jeddah on June 7, 2023. (Amer Hilabi/Pool Photo via AP)

The US State Department is the latest to deny a report in the Saudi Elaph news site claiming that Riyadh has decided to freeze talks with the US about a normalization deal with Israel due to the hard-right character of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

“The United States remains committed to furthering Israel’s regional integration, including through active diplomacy aimed at Israel-Saudi normalization. Talks are ongoing, and we look forward to further conversations with both parties,” tweets the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs Bureau.

Qatari plane carrying released US detainees has left Iran

DOHA, Qatar — A Qatari jet carrying five US citizens who were held in Iran has left the country for Doha as part of a prisoner exchange, a source with knowledge of the situation tells AFP.

“A Qatari jet has taken off with the five prisoners and two relatives accompanied by the Qatari ambassador,” sayd the informed source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Netanyahu lands in San Jose ahead of meeting with Musk

SAN JOSE, California — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lands in San Jose, ahead of his meeting at Tesla headquarters with Elon Musk.

FM Cohen to hold series of meetings with counterparts on sidelines of General Assembly

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen is flying to New York from Israel today for a series of meetings with foreign ministers on the sidelines of UN General Assembly, including with his Egyptian, Emirati, Bahraini, Turkish, Greek, Azerbaijani, and Singaporean counterparts.

He will also attend a meeting of countries supporting Sudan, and will speak at the UN Sustainable Development Goals summit in NY.

Netanyahu working to convince Musk to open AI research facility near Beersheba

Left: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90); Right: Elon Musk departs the Phillip Burton Federal Building and United States Court House in San Francisco, Jan. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Benjamin Fanjoy, File)
Left: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90); Right: Elon Musk departs the Phillip Burton Federal Building and United States Court House in San Francisco, Jan. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Benjamin Fanjoy, File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to convince Elon Musk to open an artificial intelligence R&D facility near Beersheba, a source close to the premier tells The Times of Israel.

Netanyahu is landing shortly in San Jose, before heading to meet with Musk and tour the Tesla factory in nearby Fremont.

Coalition whip accuses anti-overhaul protesters in US of causing ‘harm to Israel’

MK Ofir Katz, chairman of the Knesset House Committee, leads a hearing, March 12, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Ofir Katz, chairman of the Knesset House Committee, leads a hearing, March 12, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Coalition whip Ofir Katz of the ruling Likud party joins in criticism of anti-government protesters planning to demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his trip to the US.

“Factually, until today those who protested against representatives of the government abroad and in particular at the UN were Israel haters, in demonstrations that were accompanied by PLO flags,” Katz writes on the X platform.

“Now they are leading to the same result — harm to the State of Israel,” he adds.

Katz takes particular umbrage at demonstrators in San Francisco who projected an image onto Alcatraz of Netanyahu in orange prison clothing grasping the bars of a cell. Katz says it was the act of a “few extremists” motivated by hate.

Activists from the UnXeptable group campaigning against the Netanyahu coalition’s judicial overhaul project an image of Prime Minister Netanyahu in prison garb on the walls of Alcatraz prison, September 17, 2023 (UnXeptable protest group)

Transportation Minister Miri Regev of Likud, a longtime Netanyahu loyalist, also hits out at the demonstrators, accusing them of “shaming the State of Israel and harming the country’s legitimacy, citizens and democracy.”

“The time has come to put an end to to this — you have lost it, the public is no longer impressed,” she writes on X. “We are building and acting for the country, while they are destroying and sowing hate.”

Cyprus trial of 5 Israelis accused of gang-raping British woman to start next month

The police van carrying the five Israelis who are accused of raping a British woman, arrives at the Famagusta District Courthouse in Paralimni, Cyprus, on September 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
The police van carrying the five Israelis who are accused of raping a British woman, arrives at the Famagusta District Courthouse in Paralimni, Cyprus, on September 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The trial of five Israelis accused of gang-raping a British woman in a Cyprus hotel room is scheduled for next month, when they will enter pleas to charges including rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and abduction, Cypriot police say.

Police say the trial will begin October 5. Defense lawyers object to a prosecution request for the suspects to remain in custody until then. A Famagusta District court judge is to rule tomorrow on whether to keep the suspects in detention or release them.

Yannis Habaris, a lawyer representing three of the suspects, says there are “many contradictory” points which “undermine the veracity of the claims” in the alleged victim’s statement to police.

Habaris says his clients will plead not guilty to the charges because “as things now stand, we don’t think that any crime has been committed.”

Lawyers representing the other two suspects don’t immediately respond to attempts for comment.

A police investigator said last week that the 20-year-old British woman picked the five Israelis — three aged 19 and two aged 20 — out of a lineup as having raped her during a hotel pool party in the coastal resort town of Ayia Napa.

2 wounded in Iran after military drone veers off course during testing

TEHRAN, Iran — A military drone crashed during a test flight in northern Iran today, wounding two people and damaging buildings, state media reports.

Debris fell in different parts of the northern city of Gorgon, according to the official IRNA news agency.

The semiofficial Tasnim news agency releases a video showing white smoke rising from different areas and the sound of anti-aircraft batteries.

Defense Ministry spokesman Reza Talaeinik tells state TV that the test flight in a remote area went off track due to a “technical failure.” He does not specify the type of drone, but images of the wreckage circulating on social media suggest it was the type that carries bombs.

Iran is a major producer of both civilian and military drones, and has supplied attack drones to Russia for its war on Ukraine.

Former top defense officials: Netanyahu’s conduct could harm Israeli and US security

Anti-overhaul demonstrators protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government as the premier heads to the US, at Ben Gurion Airport, September 17, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Anti-overhaul demonstrators protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government as the premier heads to the US, at Ben Gurion Airport, September 17, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is en route to the United States, a group of former top defense officials releases a letter in both Hebrew and English warning of “significant harm” to Israel’s security from the judicial overhaul led by the government.

The letter, which also accuses Netanyahu of “deceit of the defense establishment,” is addressed to Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, who chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Among the signatories are ex-prime minister Ehud Barak and fellow former IDF chiefs Dan Halutz and Moshe Ya’alon. Other prominent signatories include Tamir Pardo and Efraim Halevy, both former heads of Mossad.

“These actions—led and promoted by Netanyahu—are transforming the State of Israel from a democracy based on the principles of our Declaration of Independence to an autocracy that harms Israel’s national strength through the dismantling the IDF, its defense establishment, economy, financial stability, and risks the social fabric of the people and the State of Israel,” they further add.

“Netanyahu’s conduct and the manner in which he makes decisions, could cause significant damage to the national security of Israel and also to the national security of Israel’s close ally – the USA.”

Traveling to US, FM Cohen calls anti-government protests abroad ‘illegitimate’

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen seen during an interview at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, June 12, 2023. (Yossi Aloni/ Flash90)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen seen during an interview at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, June 12, 2023. (Yossi Aloni/ Flash90)

In a social media post sent as he travels to New York, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen launches a fresh barb at anti-government demonstrators.

“When we were in the opposition, we never spoke out against the State of Israel in the world,” Cohen, a member of the ruling Likud party, claims on the X platform. “The protests against Netanyahu overseas and the defamation against him in Israel cross a red line and are illegitimate.”

“It’s not surprising that this is coming from the same people who call for insubordination and taking money out of the country, and thus are acting with their own hands to harm Israel’s security and economy,” the Jewish state’s top diplomat further charges.

Cohen’s post came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused protesters against the judicial overhaul of “joining forces with the PLO and Iran,” before departing Israel. Following an outcry, Netanyahu later sought to soften his remarks, asserting he was referring to the fact that the anti-overhaul protesters would be demonstrating at the same time as pro-PLO and pro-BDS activists, while making no reference to his earlier comments about Iran.

While in New York, Cohen is to hold a series of meetings with foreign ministers on the sidelines of UN General Assembly, where he will be joined by Netanyahu following the premier’s daylong trip to the San Francisco Bay Area.

IDF says Palestinian gunmen fired at troops in 3 separate attacks; no soldiers hurt

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers are seen near the scene of a shooting attack, near the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron, on October 11, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli soldiers are seen near the scene of a shooting attack, near the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron, on October 11, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Palestinian gunmen carried out three separate shooting attacks against Israeli forces in the West Bank within hours, the military says.

This morning, an army patrol driving along the West Bank security barrier near the northern Israeli kibbutz of Meirav came under fire.

The Israel Defense Forces says a military vehicle was damaged in the attack, but no soldiers were wounded.

In another attack this morning, a Palestinian gunman opened fire from the West Bank town of Dayr Sharaf toward a nearby army post, the IDF says.

The IDF says the post was hit by the gunfire, and no injuries were caused. Troops scanning the area for the suspect found several shell casings.

In a separate attack overnight, Palestinian gunmen opened fire at the Salem checkpoint in the northern West Bank.

No injuries were caused in that attack either, and the IDF says troops found shell casings in the nearby Palestinian village of Zububa.

During the past year, Palestinian gunmen have repeatedly targeted army posts in the West Bank, as well as settlements and civilians on the road.

Qatari jet waiting in Iran to ferry out US citizens as part of prisoner swap

DOHA, Qatar — A Qatari plane is waiting in Iran to carry US citizens who have been detained there, as part of a prisoner swap, a source briefed on details of the matter tells AFP.

“A Qatari jet is on standby in Iran to bring the five US citizens and two relatives to Doha,” the informed source says, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Elbit announces $95 million deal to supply suicide drones to unnamed European nation

This handout photo published September 18, 2023, shows a SkyStriker loitering munition. (Courtesy of Elbit Systems)
This handout photo published September 18, 2023, shows a SkyStriker loitering munition. (Courtesy of Elbit Systems)

Israeli defense firm Elbit Systems announces it has been awarded a contract worth $95 million to supply an unnamed European country with suicide drones.

Elbit says it will supply the SkyStriker loitering munitions over a period of two years.

The SkyStriker is capable of flying for up to two hours with a range of up to 100 kilometers, and is designed to carry different types of warheads weighing up to 10 kilograms, according to the company.

The deal comes amid increasing demand in Europe for Israeli-made weapons due to Russia’s war on Ukraine. Annual Israeli arms sales reached a new record of $12.5 billion in 2022, and are expected to be even higher by the end of 2023.

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