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Fears of flooding persist as storms move into central Israel

Northern cities see heavy damage from rains; 100 students rescued from Nahariya school

A military truck evacuates Israeli citizens through a flooded road in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya, on a stormy winter day, on January 8, 2020. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)
A military truck evacuates Israeli citizens through a flooded road in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya, on a stormy winter day, on January 8, 2020. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.

Iran says it won’t give Americans crashed plane’s black boxes

Iran’s aviation authority says it will not hand over to Americans the recovered black boxes of a Boeing 737 that crashed Wednesday, killing all 176 passengers and crew.

“We will not give the black boxes to the manufacturer (Boeing) and the Americans,” Iran Civil Aviation Organisation head Ali Abedzadeh says, quoted by Mehr news agency.


Blue and White’s Gantz rejects bid to merge with left-wing parties

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz rejects a proposal by Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz to merge with his party and the left-wing Democratic Camp.

“There is no time or room for spin. I met this morning with Labor leader Amir Peretz and Democratic Camp leader Nitzan Horowitz. I clarified to them both that Blue and White will continue to be alternative ruling party in the center of the political map and it will not team up with any party — neither to the right nor to the left. I expect them to act responsibly and take the right action,” says Gantz.

Gantz: Iran will be met with ‘painful’ response if it targets Israel

Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, is also warning Iran not to strike Israel in retaliation for the US drone strike that killed top general Qassem Soleimani.

“The Iranian strike on an American military base proves once again that Iran is a danger to the entire world and to the stability and safety of the Middle East,” says Gantz. “The IDF is the strongest army in the region and I would not recommend that anyone drag Israel into a clash that it isn’t involved in and test it. If they try to drag us in,  I am convinced the response will be powerful, harsh, painful and decisive.”

Uri Geller applies to work for UK government, offering his ‘psychic powers’

Uri Geller reveals he has applied to work for the British government after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser called for “weirdos and misfits” to apply for jobs.

In an application sent to Johnson’s unorthodox top aide Dominic Cummings, the British-Israeli spoon-bender offered up the use of his “genuine psychic powers.”

“You say you want someone on the ‘frontiers of the science of prediction’? Well look no further,” Geller, 73, writes in a cover letter seen by AFP which begins “Dear Dom.”

“I have genuine psychic powers — just ask Mossad, the CIA and the Pentagon,” he adds, referring to longstanding claims he has worked for US and Israeli intelligence services.

“I am currently busy organizing the opening of The Uri Geller Museum in Israel but would consider a move back to Britain for the right position,” the British-Israeli illusionist says.


Kuwait denies US troop pullout, says news agency hacked

Kuwait denies reports that the United States had decided to withdraw its troops from the Gulf state, saying the Twitter account of its official news agency had been hacked.

The state-run Kuwait News Agency tweets that the Kuwaiti defense minister had been informed by the commander of US forces in the emirate of their intention to withdraw from the Arifjan base within three days.

The news, published in both Arabic and English, was deleted within minutes.

“The (Twitter) account of Kuwait News Agency was hacked… The report about the intention of the US troops to pull out is untrue,” government spokesman Tareq al-Mazrem says in a statement.

KUNA also says it had been hacked and notes that the report was not published on its general wire.


Syria supports Iran on missile strike against US

The Syrian government is expressing full solidarity with Iran, saying Tehran has the right to defend itself “in the face of American threats and attacks.”

The foreign ministry says in a statement that Syria holds the “American regime responsible for all the repercussions due to its reckless policy and arrogant mentality.”

The statement comes after Iran fired more than 20 missiles overnight at bases in Iraq used by US troops in retaliation for the US killing of Iran’s top military commander last week in Baghdad.

Syria is Iran’s strongest ally in the Arab world, and Tehran sent thousands of Iran-backed fighters to join President Bashar Assad’s forces in the country’s civil war.


UK’s Johnson urges Iran to pursue ‘urgent de-escalation’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday calls on Iran not to repeat rocket attacks on Iraqi bases housing coalition forces after a US strike killed one of Tehran’s top commanders.

Johnson tells parliament: “Iran should not repeat these reckless and dangerous attacks but should instead pursue urgent de-escalation.”


Peretz stung by Gantz’s rejection of merger

Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz lashes Blue and White’s Benny Gantz over his rejection of a proposal under which the centrist list would merge with two left-wing political parties.

“Blue and White would prefer to be pulled after the agenda of Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hausner instead of pursuing a groundbreaking move to build a government of hope and change,” says Peretz, referring to two right-wing MKs on the Blue and White slate.

“We are liable to wake up to a government in which [Naftali] Bennett, [Bezalel] Smotrich and [Ayelet] Shaked are dictating the policies,” he adds, naming right-wing leaders.

Iraq speaker condemns ‘Iranian violation of Iraqi sovereignty’

The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mohammed al-Halbusi, condemns a salvo of retaliatory Iranian missile strikes on Iraqi bases housing US-led troops as a “violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”

Halbusi, the most senior Sunni Arab in Iraq’s confessional power-sharing system, calls for urgent measures to stop Iraq being turned into a proxy battlefield for outside powers, including Shiite Iran.

“While we condemn the Iranian violation of Iraqi sovereignty at dawn today… we confirm our absolute refusal to the conflicting parties to use the Iraqi arena to settle scores,” he says.


Quake hits near Iran nuclear plant, injuring seven

A magnitude 4.5 earthquake rattles an area less than 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant near the country’s Gulf coast, a US monitor says.

The quake, which has a depth of 10 kilometers, strikes 17 kilometers south-southeast of Borazjan city at 6:49 am (0319 GMT), the US Geological Survey says on its website.

State news agency IRNA says the earthquake is felt in Bushehr.

There are no reports of any damage to the nuclear facility.

But seven people are injured, including four who were hospitalized, IRNA reports, citing the head of Bushehr’s crisis management centre, Jahangir Dehghani.

“The crisis management team is in the region and assessing the damage” to buildings, he says in the report published hours after the earthquake strikes.

The latest quake comes exactly a fortnight after a magnitude 5.1 earthquake hit the same area, without causing any casualties or major damage.


Cyprus will host US rapid response unit for any Mideast evacuations

Cyprus says it has accepted a US request to station a rapid response team on the island in case American diplomatic personnel or civilians need to be evacuated in the region amid rising US-Iranian tensions.

Cyprus “gave its consent for the temporary stationing in Cyprus of a rapid response unit whose task will be to evacuate US diplomatic missions to the region, as well as US citizens, if necessary,” says government spokesman Kyriacos Koushos.

He stresses that the request was accepted “for exclusively humanitarian operations.”


Knesset legal adviser rejects claims of conflict on Netanyahu cases

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon rejects claims by Likud that he has a conflict of interest over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s parliamentary immunity proceedings, after it emerged that his wife had worked on the prime minister’s criminal cases in the state prosecution.

“I reject this claim entirely,” writes Yinon in a letter to Likud MK Miki Zohar and Justice Minister Amir Ohana. “It is my hope that public officials will be treated with respect… by senior politicians, even if their professional opinions are not to their taste.”

Iran president: ‘We don’t retreat in face of America’

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says the Islamic Republic’s response on Wednesday to a US strike that killed one of its general shows “we don’t retreat in the face of America.”

“If America has committed a crime… it should know that it will receive a decisive response,” Rouhani says in a televised address, hours after Iran fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops.

“If they are wise, they won’t take any other action at this juncture.”


32-year-old man killed by flooding in northern Israel

The body of a 32-year-old man who went missing in the northern city of Nahariya after his vehicle overturned on a flooded road has been found.

The city has been seen massive flooding as heavy rains pound much of the country.

IDF extracting pedestrians trapped in Nahariya flooding

Israel Defense Forces trucks are rescuing pedestrians in the northern city of Nahariya as massive flooding grips the city, the Ynet news site reports.

Photos from the scene show industrial vehicles and tractors picking up residents caught in the waters.

Lebanese prosecutors to summon Nissan’s fugitive ex-boss over Israel visit

A Lebanese prosecutor says Nissan’s fugitive ex-boss, Carlos Ghosn — who fled to Beirut from Japan — will be summoned “in the coming hours” over a visit to Israel more than 10 years ago, according to the state-run National News Agency.

Two Lebanese lawyers had submitted a report to the Public Prosecutor’s Office against Ghosn last week, saying he violated Lebanese law by visiting Israel. The two neighboring countries are technically in a state of war. Prosecutor Ghassan Khoury meets with the two lawyers who filed the case on Wednesday and asks them to bring additional evidence, adding he would summon Ghosn in the coming hours.

Ghosn visited Israel in 2008 and met officials including the prime minister and the president. At the time he announced the launch of electric cars in Israel.


Man drowned in Nahariya was trying to help others

The man who was killed in the Nahariya flooding was trying to save other people when he drowned, Hebrew reports say.

The victim has not been identified.

According to Channel 12, he had attempted to help a father and son trapped in the rising waters.

Trump to address the nation amid showdown with Iran

US President Donald Trump faces one of the greatest tests of his presidency after Iran launched ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops. It was Iran’s most brazen direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the US Embassy in Tehran.

The strikes pushed Tehran and Washington perilously close to war and put the world’s attention on Trump as he weighs whether to respond with more military force. The Republican president huddled with his national security advisers on Tuesday night but offered no immediate indication of whether he would retaliate. “All is well!” he said in a tweet.

The White House says Trump plans to address the nation at 11 a.m. EST Wednesday.


Golan Heights schools out due to snow

Students in the Golan Heights are let out of school early due to snowfall.

The schools will remain shuttered tomorrow, Channel 12 reports.

UN mission says Iraq ‘should not pay price for external rivalries’

The United Nations mission in Iraq says the country should not be made to “pay the price” in the escalating conflict between Tehran and Washington.

Early Wednesday, Iran launched a volley of ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases where American and other foreign troops are based, in retaliation for a US drone strike last week that killed a top Iranian general.

The UN mission says in a statement that the latest strikes “again violate Iraqi sovereignty” and adds: “We call for urgent restraint and a resumption of dialogue. Iraq should not pay the price for external rivalries.”


Pew survey: Trump viewed negatively in many countries (but not Israel)

US President Donald Trump is viewed negatively by the public in many countries, but the image of the US itself is generally favorable, according to a survey published by the Pew Research Center.

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed outside the US said they do not have confidence in Trump to do the right thing in foreign affairs, while just 29 percent expressed confidence in the US leader.

The survey looked at public opinion in 33 nations and was conducted among 37,000 people between May and October 2019.

Trump is viewed particularly poorly in Western Europe, Pew says.

Only 13 percent of those polled in Germany said they had confidence in Trump, 18 percent in Sweden, 20 percent in France, 21 percent in Spain, 25 percent in the Netherlands and Greece and 32 percent in Britain.

In Russia, 20 percent said they have confidence in the US president to do the right thing in world affairs.

In Mexico, 89 percent do not have confidence in Trump, Pew says.

In some countries, the public did express support for Trump: India (56 percent), Nigeria (58 percent), Kenya (65 percent), Israel (71 percent) and the Philippines (77 percent).


UAE says it’s unaffected by US-Iran tensions

The United Arab Emirates is seeking to allay concerns it has been impacted or is a target in tensions between its ally the United States and its regional neighbor Iran.

The Foreign Ministry on Wednesday says tensions in the region “will not affect citizens, residents or visitors.” It stresses that sectors across the country are operating normally.

Also Wednesday, the financial and tourist hub of Dubai says rumors being circulated regarding security threats targeting the emirate are fake and haven’t been issued from any official Iranian government source.

The UAE, which has supported maximum pressure on Iran, has called for de-escalation.


Nahariya flooding victim identified

The Kan public broadcaster names the victim of the Nahariya flooding as Moti Ben Shabbat, 38, a resident of the city.

Defense Ministry reveals development of laser to down rockets

Israel’s Defense Ministry announces that it is developing a laser beam capable of shooting down incoming rockets and small drones, which it will be testing throughout the coming year.

According to the ministry, this laser system is possible due to a recent unspecified “technological breakthrough.”

This laser beam is meant to complement the Iron Dome missile defense system and would allow the Israel Defense Forces to intercept incoming projectiles and drones at a far cheaper cost than with existing technologies.

The head of weapons development in the Defense Ministry, Brig. Gen. Yaniv Rotem, says each firing of the laser would cost approximately one dollar — not including the cost of the system — compared to the tens of thousands of dollars that each Iron Dome interceptor missile costs.

The downside of the laser system is that it does not function well in times of low visibility, when there is heavy cloud cover and other inclement weather.

“We can only shoot down with a laser what we can see,” Rotem says.

According to the ministry, in the coming year, the weapons development division, working with the Elbit and Rafael defense contractors, will create three versions of the laser system: a static ground-based system, one that can be loaded onto a mobile platform and one that can be attached to aircraft in order to work around the visibility issue.

“We are entering a new age of energy warfare in the air, land and sea. The research and development investments made by the [Defense Ministry] in recent years have placed the State of Israel among the leading countries in the field of high-energy laser systems,” Rotem says.

Judah Ari Gross

Trump: Iran appears to be standing down

US President Donald Trump addresses the nation.

“Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” he begins.

“I’m pleased to inform you, the American people should be extremely grateful and happy,” Trump says, addressing the Iranian missile strike.

“We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.”

“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world,” says Trump.

The US president says the US “eliminated the world’s” top terrorist, Qassem Soleimani.

Trump: Soleimani should have been terminated long ago

Trump says Soleimani was planning imminent attacks, “but we stopped him.”

“Soleimani’s hands were drenched in both American and Iranian blood. He should have been terminated long ago,” says the US president.

He says the killing of Soleimani sent a powerful message to terrorists.

Trump adds that sanctions against Iran will remain “until Iran changes its behavior.”

Attacking the “very defective” Iran nuclear deal, the US president says the missiles used by Iran last night were paid for “with the funds made available by the last administration.”

He urges other world powers that are party to the deal “to break away from the remnants of the Iran deal, or the JCPOA” and make a new deal with Tehran.

Trump says he’s going to ask NATO to become more involved “in the Middle East process.”

Trump: US has military strength, but doesn’t want to use it

Trump says the US has no interest in using its military force against Iran.

“We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent,” says the US president.

Trump also addresses the past US strike that killed the leader of the Islamic State.

“ISIS is a natural enemy of Iran. The destruction of ISIS is good for Iran. And we should work together on this and shared priorities.”

Trump says the United States seeks peace with all who want it.

US urges ‘complete cooperation’ in investigation of Iran plane crash

The United States on Wednesday urges “complete cooperation” with a probe into a Ukrainian flight’s crash in Iran, which has rejected giving the Boeing plane’s black boxes to arch-rival Washington.

“The United States calls for complete cooperation with any investigation into the cause of the crash,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says in a statement, without naming Iran directly.


Newly empowered Virginia Democrats, led by 1st Jewish speaker, promise ‘action’

A historically diverse Virginia General Assembly convenes Wednesday, led for the first time in more than two decades by Democrats who are promising to enact a litany of changes.

“Voters demanded action, and they have called for a legislature that works for them. And, this session, they will get exactly that,” House Speaker-elect Eileen Filler-Corn says.

Filler-Corn will be the first woman to serve as House speaker. She will also be the first Jewish speaker.

African-American lawmakers are set to have most power at the legislature in Virginia’s 400 year history, including leading several powerful legislative committees.

“It is our time,” Sen. Jennifer McClellan, vice chairwoman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, says Wednesday. She says the black caucus was committed to eliminate the “last vestiges of racism and white supremacy in Virginia law.”

Many Democratic lawmakers wear blue Wednesday, a nod to the November blue wave that helped them take full control of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation.


Heavy flooding drenches Haifa, could spread to central Israel

Heavy flooding is reported in the northern city of Haifa, after the heavy storms claimed a life in nearby Nahariya.

The rain is spreading to central Israel, where it could cause additional floods, reports say.

In Nahariya, 100 students are rescued from a school. The children, said to be in the first and second grades, have been trapped in the building for hours due to the floods.

Rainfall in north is record-breaking, report says

The rainfall in the north is said to be breaking records.

According to Channel 12, over the past two-and-a-half weeks, the north has seen heavy rains of over 100 millimeters four separate times.

The torrential rainfall in so short a period is “never before recorded” in Israel, the network says, adding that very heavy water flow is seen in the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee.

Aviation group says Iran plane crash should be treated as ‘shootdown event’

An aviation group suggests the fatal crash of a Ukrainian passenger plane in Iran should be treated as a “shootdown event.”

“We would recommend the starting assumption to be that this was a shootdown event, similar to MH17 – until there is clear evidence to the contrary,” highlighting photos of the crash site which they said “show obvious projectile holes in the fuselage and a wing section,” says OPS Group, as quoted by The Independent.

Details were limited Wednesday about the crash of a Ukraine International Airlines plane, a Boeing 737-800, near Tehran that killed 176 people. Iran has refused to hand over the black box to the US-based Boeing, over tensions with Washington.

Britain’s Prince Harry, Meghan to step back as ‘senior’ royals

Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan will step back as senior members of the royal family and spend more time in North America, the couple says in a historic statement Wednesday.

“We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the royal family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen,” they say in a statement released by Buckingham Palace.

“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution,” they adds.

“We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America.”


Lebanon prosecutor summons Ghosn to explain Israel trip

A Lebanese prosecutor says he is summoning former auto tycoon Carlos Ghosn due to an Interpol “red notice” over financial misconduct charges in Japan, state media said.

Ghosn is summoned to appear for questioning Thursday and would also be asked to give a statement over a complaint filed by Lebanese lawyers that he traveled to Israel as head of Renault-Nissan, the National News Agency says.

Lebanon is technically still at war with neighboring Israel.


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Gantz: Iran will be met with ‘painful’ response if it targets Israel

Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, is also warning Iran not to strike Israel in retaliation for the US drone strike that killed top general Qassem Soleimani.

“The Iranian strike on an American military base proves once again that Iran is a danger to the entire world and to the stability and safety of the Middle East,” says Gantz. “The IDF is the strongest army in the region and I would not recommend that anyone drag Israel into a clash that it isn’t involved in and test it. If they try to drag us in,  I am convinced the response will be powerful, harsh, painful and decisive.”