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Gantz says he’d form ‘liberal’ unity government without ‘extremists’

Appearing to rule out coalition with religious parties, Blue and White chief condemns Israel’s prime ministers for having ‘surrendered to the blackmail of sectoral parties’

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

After Hezbollah flareup, Netanyahu says Israel achieved all its goals

The last few days were tense but Israel reached all its goals, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, referring to a flareup at the northern border following an attack by the Shiite Hezbollah terrorist organization.

Netanyahu also announced plans to hold another tripartite meeting with senior officials from Israel, the US and Russia, to be held in Jerusalem, to discuss Iran’s military presence in Syria.

“We had a few tense days on many fronts. We could have opened this week totally differently, but we acted with a combination of assertiveness and discretion, and achieved all our objectives,” he tells his ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

On Sunday, Hezbollah fired an anti-tank missile at Israeli military vehicles. No one was hurt, but Israel responded by attacking Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon. The tit-for-tat had the potential to escalate, as both sides vowed not tolerate fire by the other side, but a tense calm returned to the north yesterday.

— Raphael Ahren

Lebanese bank hit by US sanctions over Hezbollah ties says deposits are insured

BEIRUT — A Lebanese bank targeted by the US Department of the Treasury for “knowingly facilitating banking activities” for the Hezbollah terror group says it will remain open and guarantees all deposits are insured at the time they are due.

Last week, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Jammal Trust Bank, adding it to its list of global terrorist organizations.

The bank’s statement today also confirms its commitment to abiding strictly by the rules and regulations of the Central Bank of Lebanon and denies all allegations against it.

The bank says it’s continuously coordinating with Lebanon’s central bank “to overcome the current crisis and will do everything possible to clear its good name.”

The US has been imposing sanctions on officials from Hezbollah, which Washington considers a terrorist organization.

— Agencies

People walk past a branch of Jammal Trust Bank in Beirut, Lebanon, August 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Teen charged for firing air gun at Blue and White event

A teenager from Rehovot has been indicted for firing an air gun at an event held by the Blue and White party in the central Israeli city.

The indictment filed today includes charges of assault resulting in injury, obstruction of justice and unruly behavior in public against the 16-year-old.

According to the indictment, the teenager fired the air gun from a car window and later ditched it in some bushes. He is also alleged to have erased messages on his phone after learning that the incident was reported on in the media.

A 26-year-old Rehovot resident who was also arrested over the air gun fire was not charged.

Two party activists were hit by plastic pellets fired from the air gun, which came as Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid gave a speech to party members and supporters last week.

On Sunday, the 16-year-old’s family said in a statement that the gun was fired as a prank.

Iran warns it can return to 20% uranium enrichment within 2 days

Iran is able to resume enriching uranium to 20 percent within two days, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran warns.

“If the Islamic Republic of Iran decides, it can have 20% enriched fuel within one to two days,” Behrouz Kamalvandi is quoted saying by the Fars news agency.

Uranium needs to be enriched to 90% to be used in a nuclear weapon and 20% purity is considered an important benchmark toward reaching weapons grade level.

Under the 2015 deal with world powers, Iran is allowed to enrich uranium up to 3.67% but the UN atomic watchdog has confirmed Tehran is enriching uranium up to 4.5%.

The comments from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran spokesman comes as the country threatens to further violate the accord unless it receives economic relief from the deal’s European signatories following US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the pact last year and re-imposition of sanctions on Iran.

Israelis arrested in Crete for suspected rape released — lawyer

Two Israelis arrested in Greece on suspicion of raping a German tourist have been released from custody, a layer for one of them says.

Kobi Kamer says the two, ages 29 and 35, are on their way back to Israel from Crete.

“This was an attempted sting,” Kamer is quoted saying by Channel 13 news.

According to Kamer, the release came after the accuser “disappeared from the island.”

After initial denial of entry to US, Palestinian student arrives at Harvard

BOSTON — A Palestinian student originally denied entry to the United States just days before he was scheduled to start classes at Harvard University has been admitted to the country.

The family of Ismail Ajjawi, currently living in Lebanon, says in a statement: “We truly appreciate the efforts of so many individuals and officials in Lebanon, Washington, Massachusetts and at Harvard that have made it possible for our son Ismail Ajjawi to begin his studies at Harvard.”

Ajjawi was denied entry August 23 after spending eight hours in Boston Logan International Airport. The 17-year-old freshman said the denial had to do with politically oriented social media posts by friends.

Amideast, a nonprofit that awarded Ajjawi a scholarship, says the US Embassy in Beirut reviewed Ajjawi’s case and resissued his visa.

— AP

Iranian oil tanker pursued by US turns off tracker near Syria

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An Iranian oil tanker pursued by the US has turned off its tracking beacon, leading to renewed speculation today that it will head to Syria.

The disappearance of the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1, follows a pattern of Iranian oil tankers turning off their Automatic Identification System to try and mask where they deliver their cargo amid US sanctions targeting Iran’s energy industry.

The Adrian Darya, which carries 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude worth some $130 million, switched off its AIS beacon just before 16:00 GMT Monday, according to the ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com. The ship was some 45 nautical miles (83 kilometers) off the coast of Lebanon and Syria, heading north at its last report.

Earlier, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had alleged the US had intelligence that the Adrian Darya would head to the Syrian port of Tartus, just a short distance from its last reported position.

The actions of the Adrian Darya follow a pattern of other Iranian ships turning off their trackers once they reach near Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea, says Ranjith Raja, a lead analyst at the data firm Refinitiv.

Based on the fact Turkey has stopped taking Iranian crude oil and Syria historically has taken around 1 million barrels of crude oil a month from Iran, Raja says it was likely the ship would be offloading its cargo in Syria. That could see it transfer crude oil on smaller vessels, allowing it to be taken to port, he says.

The oil shipment website Tanker Trackers similarly believes the Adrian Darya to be off Syria.

“It is now safe to assume she is in Syria’s territorial waters,” Tanker Trackers writes on Twitter.

— AP

French FM says ‘still lots to work out’ to preserve Iran nuclear deal

PARIS — French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says that several issues were still hindering a French-led bid to save a landmark 2015 accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program.

“There is still lots to work out, it’s still very fragile,” Le Drian tells journalists in Paris regarding the talks between Tehran and three European countries — France, Britain and Germany — to keep the nuclear deal alive after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord last year.

Trump later re-imposed harsh sanctions that have pummeled the Iranian economy, hoping a strategy of “maximum pressure” would force Tehran to accept a stricter accord to curtail its nuclear ambitions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, shake hands for journalists at the start of their meeting in Tehran, Iran, on March 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

“The president [Emmanuel Macron] sensed that President Trump was open to softening the strategy of maximum pressure, to find a path that could allow a deal to be reached,” Le Drian says.

He says talks were now focused on a possible guaranteed credit line for Tehran in exchange for oil, in exchange for Iran promising to adhere to the terms of the 2015 deal.

Tehran would also have to commit to easing geopolitical tensions in the Gulf region, and participate in Middle East talks on improving regional security, Le Drian says.

“That all supposes of course that President Trump allows waivers on some points” of the new US sanctions on Iran, he adds.

— AFP

Dutch mole planted infamous Stuxnet virus in Iran’s nuclear program — report

It was a mole operated by the Dutch intelligence agency AIVD that planted the infamous Stuxnet virus at an Iranian nuclear research site in 2007, sabotaging uranium enrichment centrifuges in what is widely regarded as the first ever use of cyber-weapons, Yahoo news reports today.

At the request of the CIA and Israel’s Mossad spy agency, the Dutch recruited the mole, an Iranian engineer, brought the virus program into Iran’s Natanz enrichment facility four intelligence sources familiar with the details tell the news site.

The report apparently provides the answer to one of the mysteries about the Stuxnet virus story — how the malicious program was introduced into Iranian control systems at Natanz that were not connected to the internet.

“The Dutch mole was the most important way of getting the virus into Natanz,” a source tells Yahoo.

The Stuxnet virus was uncovered in 2010 and was widely reported to have been developed together by US and Israeli intelligence. It penetrated Iran’s rogue nuclear program, taking control and sabotaging parts of its enrichment processes by speeding up its centrifuges.

— Stuart Winer

Justice Ministry: PM can’t deal with Communications Ministry issues that affect his associates

The Justice Ministry clarifies Prime Minister Netanyahu is barred from dealing with issues in the communications field that affect his associates, in an apparent rebuke of the premier.

The statement comes a day after Channel 13 news aired a recording from late 2017 in which Netanyahu can be heard directing matters at the Communications Ministry, even though he resigned as head of the ministry earlier that year due to a corruption investigation into his dealings with media outlets.

“Even after his resignation as communications minister, it was clarified that owing to his position as prime minister, Netanyahu is permitted to deal with issues pertaining to various government ministries, including the Communications Ministry, and the fact that he no longer serves as communications minister does not rule out his involvements in the field of communications in his role as prime minister,” the Justice Ministry statement says.

It adds that Netanyahu’s dealings with the media are still bound by a conflict of interest agreement that bars him from dealing with the issues that concern Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch, whose ties with the prime minister are at the center of one of three graft cases the premier is a suspect in.

In the recording, Netanyahu can be heard demanding from then-communications minister Ayoub Kara to shutter the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, the public body that oversees cable and satellite stations in Israel.

The council also oversees the satellite television provider Yes. Netanyahu is suspected of having pushed former Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber to approve a merger of Yes with telecom giant Bezeq, a development that eventually went through, earning Elovitch hundreds of millions of dollars.

Netanyahu can also be heard in the recording demanding that Kara “save” the right-wing Channel 20, which lost its bid to produce, manage, and broadcast the Knesset channel following a court appeal by competitors in late 2017.

Iran building new military base on Iraq-Syria border — report

Iran is building a new military facility in Syria that can house thousands of soldiers, Fox News reports.

Quoting Western intelligence sources, the US cable network says the base is near the Syria-Iraq border and its construction is being overseen by the Quds Force, the overseas branch of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Satellite photos of the base, known as the Imam Ali compound, shows what appear to be five recently constructed buildings that can store precision-guided missiles, according to ImageSat International.

ImageSat, an Israeli satellite imagery analysis firm, says the photos also show other structures at the facility that can be used for storing missiles.

The photos also appear to show construction on a new border crossing that Iran is building near the existing al-Qaim border crossing.

Last week, a drone strike blamed on Israel targeted a convoy of Iran-backed Iraqi militiamen near al-Qaim that was reportedly transferring weapons.

UK’s Johnson loses parliamentary majority as MP defects to Lib Dems

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson loses his working parliamentary majority ahead of a crucial Brexit vote today after Conservative MP Phillip Lee defected to the pro-EU Liberal Democrats.

“The Liberal Democrats are delighted to announce that Bracknell MP Phillip Lee has joined the party,” the Lib Dems say in a statement.

— AFP

Israel dispatches firefighters to help Brazil battle Amazon fires

Israel says it will be dispatching a team of firefighters to assist Brazil with combating the fires that have consumed large swaths of the country’s Amazon rainforest.

The Foreign Ministry says today that after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had discussed the matter with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, the 11-member team would depart in the evening to assist Brazilian authorities with search-and-rescue and wildfire operations.

Israel and Brazil have strengthened bilateral ties since Bolsonaro took office earlier this year. Netanyahu made the first state visit by an Israeli leader in December 2018, days before Bolsonaro’s inauguration, then rolled out the red carpet for the far-right Brazilian in April.

August saw the highest number of fires in the Brazilian Amazon since 2010, and a sharp increase compared to the year before.

— AP

Israel exposes Hezbollah facility allegedly used for guided missile production

The Israel Defense Forces announces today that it has identified a facility in southern Lebanon being used by Hezbollah to convert and manufacture precision-guided missiles.

The compound located near Nabi Chit in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon was established several years ago by Iran and Hezbollah for weapons manufacturing, the army says in a statement, which came less than two weeks after a drone attack in Beirut attributed to Israel had reportedly damaged key components of the project.

Shortly before the IDF lifts a self-imposed embargo on its finding, international media spokesman Jonathan Conricus tweets that the army would be exposing another one of Hezbollah chairman Hassan Nasrallah’s “lies.”

In a speech televised on Saturday, Nasrallah said that while his Iran-backed organization has precision missiles, “We do not have precision missile factories. This is a lie and a pretext that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is adopting to carry out aggression.”

The army says the site it exposed has recently established “a dedicated assembly line for precision weapons” and contains several machines supplied by Iran “designed to manufacture the motors and the warheads of missiles with an accuracy of less than 10 meters.”

“This facility is of superior importance to the Hezbollah precision missile project, which is why Hezbollah, in fear of strikes, evacuated precious and unique equipment from the compound to civilian locations in Beirut,” the army says, appearing to hint at the reasoning behind the August 25 strike attributed to Israel.

The IDF details that the exposed factory is divided into sections for motor production, quality assurance, manufacturing of explosives for warheads and logistics.

— Jacob Magid

An aerial photo of what the IDF says is a Hezbollah facility designed to manufacture engines in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli envoy to UN warns Hezbollah actions could ‘bring disaster to Lebanon’

Israel’s envoy to the United Nations submits a letter to the Security Council stating that Hezbollah anti-tank missile fire from Lebanon toward Israeli territory violated resolutions passed by the UN body.

“The terror attack by Hezbollah was carried out from within UNIFIL mandated territory,” Ambassador Danny Danon writes, referring to the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.

Danon says Israel has previously warned the world of Hezbollah’s efforts to boost its military prowess and produce prescision-guided missiles, which he called a violation of UNSC resolutions 1559 and 1701.

The ambassador also accuses Lebanese leaders of knowing about Hezbollah’s missile project but doing nothing to stop it.

“The top Lebanese leadership is aware of the precision [missile] project, hasn’t taken steps to end it and in certain senses has even helped to camouflage it,” he says.

Danon adds that the Security Council should inform Lebanon that it is responsible for preventing its territory from being used to launch attacks on other states.

“The offensive actions of the Hezbollah terror group and the backing it receives from the Lebanese government could bring disaster to Lebanon,” the ambassador warns.

Further rollback of Iran nuclear obligations would send ‘bad signal’ — French diplomat

PARIS — Any further rollback by Iran on its commitments to curb its nuclear ambitions would send a “bad signal,” a French diplomat says today after Tehran threatened further breaches of a landmark 2015 deal.

France is leading efforts to try save the deal after the US pulled out of the accord last year.

The source says that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s threats of a third breach of the deal “will make the [mediation] work more complicated.”

— AFP

4th person sentenced in plot to bomb NY Muslim community

ROCHESTER, New York — The last of four young men who authorities say planned to use homemade explosives against an upstate New York Muslim community has been sentenced to seven years in prison.

Twenty-year-old Vincent Vetromile appears in Monroe County Court. He had pleaded guilty in June to a weapons charge.

Vetromile, 20-year-old Brian Colaneri, 19-year-old Andrew Crysel and a 16-year-old were accused of planning an attack on Islamberg, a community of about 200 people in Delaware County.

Colaneri and Crysel were sentenced last month to four to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to terrorism conspiracy. The youngest defendant, who’s now 17, was sentenced to seven years.

Investigators say the Rochester-area residents had access to 23 rifles and shotguns and three homemade explosives when they were arrested in January.

— AP

Gantz says he’d form ‘liberal’ unity government without ‘extremists’

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz vows to form a “liberal” unity government if tasked with putting together a coalition after upcoming elections, appearing to rule out joining forces with ultra-Orthodox and national religious parties.

“I promise that immediately after the elections we’ll establish a liberal unity government that will be based on the majority, not extremists and extortion,” Gantz says at an event in Beersheba.

“Prime ministers have surrendered to the blackmail of sectoral parties instead of worrying about what the majority needs,” he adds.

Though Gantz did not explicitly mention the ultra-Orthodox or national religious, his comments echo Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman, who has vowed to force Likud and Blue and White to form a unity government without religious parties if neither is able to cobble together a ruling majority without him.

Netanyahu says Hezbollah’s precision missiles ‘aimed directly at Kiryat Ata’

Prime Minister Netanyahu tells members of a family in Kiryat Ata that Hezbollah’s precision-guided missiles are aimed directly at them.

“The IDF exposed another facility in Lebanon for precision missiles. These precision missiles are aimed directly at Kiryat Ata,” Netanyahu says during a visit to a family’s home in the northern Israeli city.

The prime minister is commenting on the Israel Defense Forces’s publication of information on a facility in Lebanon that it claims is being used by Hezbollah to produce precision missiles.

Netanyahu: Trump peace plan to be released ‘immediately’ after elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says US President Donald Trump’s peace plan will be released “immediately” after Israel’s upcoming elections.

Netanyahu makes the remark at a Likud campaign event in the northern city of Kiryat Ata in the context of assailing his political rivals for their positions on Iran and an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

He doesn’t give a specific date for the proposal’s release, which the Trump administration has said will be sometime after Knesset elections in Israel on September 17.

Judge to discuss unsealing new trove of Epstein court papers

A federal judge will discuss plans for unsealing a new trove of court records involving sexual abuse allegations against Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who took his own life last month while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

US District Judge Loretta Preska scheduled the hearing after an appeals court in New York ordered her to carefully review the records and release “all documents for which the presumption of public access outweighs any countervailing privacy interests.”

While it’s not clear who is named in the records, an attorney for a John Doe warned in court papers yesterday that the documents may contain “life-changing” disclosures against third parties not directly involved in the litigation. The attorney, Nicholas Lewin, requested the opportunity to be heard on the matter, citing his unnamed client’s “reputational rights.”

— AP

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