Kahlon: US said no rollback of Iran sanctions
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Netanyahu meets Putin, claims Iran ramping up efforts to attack Israel

PM plays up personal ties with Russian leader, but Putin, showing up over two hours late, says only that he hopes whoever is elected will move bilateral relationship forward

Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Vladimir Putin meeting in Sochi, Russia on September 12, 2019. courtesy)
Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Vladimir Putin meeting in Sochi, Russia on September 12, 2019. courtesy)

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

PMO calls claim that Israel spying on White House ‘a lie’

The Prime Minister’s Office has issued a statement on a report in Politico alleging that Israel has been spying on US President Donald Trump, calling it “a blatant lie.”

According to the report, the Trump administration has concluded Israel is responsible for the placement of cellphone surveillance equipment near the White House and at other sensitive locations in Washington DC.

“There is a longstanding commitment, and a directive from the Israeli government not to engage in any intelligence operations in the US. This directive is strictly enforced without exception,” the statement reads.

New Saudi oil czar calls for OPEC unity

Saudi Arabia’s new energy minister is reiterating calls for “cohesiveness” in OPEC ahead of a key meeting in Abu Dhabi.

“To achieve market stability, it’s imperative we maintain a high degree of cohesiveness within OPEC and within also our partners in OPEC,” Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman says at a meeting of the organization’s Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

— AP

Kahlon: US said no rollback of Iran sanctions

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon says a visiting senior US treasury official told him that sanctions against Iran would remain in full force.

“I just finished an excellent working meeting with Sigal Mandelker, the under secretary of the treasury,” he writes on his Twitter account.

“I was happy to hear from her that contrary to media reports there is no change in US sanctions policy toward Iran and they will continue at full strength.”

A Bloomberg report on Wednesday suggested US President Donald Trump was considering easing sanctions to woo Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to a meeting.

— AFP

Foreign Ministry hops on spygate denial train

Foreign Minister Israel Katz is also denying Jerusalem is spying on the White House, after an official denial from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Transportation Minister Israel Katz attend the inauguration ceremony for a new train station in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi, September 17, 2018. (Flash90)

“Israel does not have any spy operations in the US. The US and Israel share much intelligence, and act together to thwart threats and strengthen both countries,” he says in a statement.

Survey shows Likud soaring to 36 seats, Otzma Yehudit out

A poll published by the Knesset Channel shows Likud surging to 36 seats and far-right Otzma Yehudit left out by the curb.

According to the iPanels online survey, the right-wing religious bloc would snag 60 seats, leaving it one shy of a ruling coalition.

The survey shows Blue and White with 32 seats followed by the Joint List with 10 and everybody else in single digits.

Most polls in recent days have shown Likud and Blue and White neck and neck at around 31-32, and Kahanist Otzma Yehudit squeezing in with four votes.

Netanyahu in Russia: No truth to Politico story

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has landed in Sochi, Russia, for high level meetings there, but first addresses a much more pressing matter, denying again anything to do with reported spying on US President Donald Trump.

“A total lie,” he harrumphs about the Politico story. “There’s not a smidgen of truth. Bupkes.”

Greenblatt hints he may not be done with peace brokering yet

Despite announcing his departure from the White House to spend time with his family, US Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt says he may stay on to see his peace proposal through.

“If the plan is launched soon, I will stay. And if the plan is launched and we get traction, I hope to stay longer — and I have my family’s support for it,” he told an event in New York, according to Jewish Insider.

US envoy Jason Greenblatt breaks down the last remaining wall in front of the Pilgrim’s Road at a ceremony in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on June 30, 2019. (Facebook/Screen capture)

Greenblatt also hints that the plan may not be released right after next week’s election, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed.

“I think there’s a good possibility that we will put it out after the election,” he said. “But I think we have to wait and see what happens with the election and what happens in the weeks following the election — in terms of what the coalition-building looks like. So no decision has been made yet.”

Saudi king rejects Netanyahu annexation pledge in call with Abbas

Speaking to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Saudi King Salman says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise to apply Israeli sovereignty over significant parts of the West Bank, if he is given another term in office, is “null and void,” the official PA news site Wafa reports.

Abbas and Salman held an “important and long” phone call on Thursday, the Wafa report states.

Salman told Abbas that Saudi Arabia supports the Palestinians, the report adds.

“We support you, and we, with your wise leadership, will get through this crisis together,” the Saudi monarch says, according to the report. He adds that support for the Palestinian cause is unwavering.

— Adam Rasgon

Disused Wales synagogue to be turned into Jewish museum

The spectacular Merthyr Tydfil Synagogue in Wales has been purchased by preservation activists who hope to open there the first major museum of the history of the Jews of Wales, the Foundation for Jewish Heritage says.

The 1872 Gothic Revival-style building, which last functioned as a synagogue in 1983, is considered one of the United Kingdom’s most important Jewish religious structures and has been awarded Grade II listed status out of three distinctions ranked in ascending order of significance.

The Old Synagogue in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. (Foundation of Jewish Heritage)

The tall and narrow building, whose imposing double spires form a vestibule of sorts in front of the main hall, used to be the heart of a community with some 400 members in the first half of the 20th century.

It was sold in 2006 and has not been used since, as much of the community moved away to larger cities.

Merthyr Tydfil is 23 miles north of Cardiff.

— JTA

Mnuchin: No Trump-Rouhani talks, yet

US Treasury chief Steve Mnuchin says a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is not going ahead as of now.

“As of now, there is no plan for the president to meet with him, although the president has said that he is prepared to meet with no conditions,” Mnuchin tells CNBC.

Mnuchin says the US is keeping up its sanctions-heavy maximum pressure policy on Iran, despite a report Wednesday that Trump had mulled easing sanctions to make a meeting happen.

“There’s no question that it’s working. We have cut off their money,” he says, crediting it with pushing Iran towards talks. “And that’s the reason why if they do come back to the negotiating table, they are coming back.”

Rouhani has said bilateral talks with the US are useless unless sanctions are lifted first.

Rivlin tells French envoy to tell Lebanon to tell Hezbollah to check its terror

President Reuven Rivlin tells the new French ambassador that Lebanon needs to rein in the Hezbollah terror group or face war.

“In recent weeks we have seen evidence of growing Iranian activity in Syria and Lebanon. Lebanon bears sovereign responsibility for all Hezbollah action. We say clearly to the Lebanese government and its allies around the world: Hezbollah’s aggression must be stopped before we find ourselves dragged into a conflict that neither Lebanon nor Israel want. Israel will not tolerate threats to the safety of its citizens,” Rivlin tells Eric Danon during a credentialing ceremony.

“The government of Lebanon cannot make excuses that it is not their responsibility. Hezbollah is part of Lebanon, part of the government of Lebanon, part of the people of Lebanon.”

A man fixes a Hezbollah flag at the ‘Garden of Iran’ Park in the Lebanese village of Maroun al-Ras on September 1, 2019, as fires blaze on the Lebanese side along the border following an exchange of fire with Israel. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

France played an active role last week in attempting to cool tensions after a series of incidents between Israel and the Iran-backed group.

Rivlin also received the credentials of ambassadors from Holland, Lithuania, Georgia and Slovenia.

Netanyahu meets Russian defense chief

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting in Sochi with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, and is scheduled to meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin in an hour.

The meetings are expected to focus on defense matters, particularly Israel’s air campaign in Syria, which runs the risk of getting tangled with Russia’s military, in the country in support for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second left, meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on September 12, 2019, in Sochi, Russia. (GPO)

“It’s a matter of seconds some times,” a defense official on the trip tells The Times of Israel. “The Syrians are going crazy, shooting wildly, sometimes they bring down a Russian plane, as we saw. The coordination works well in general.”

— Shalom Yerushalmi

 

 

New US ambassador to UN shows up for first day of work

US Ambassador Kelly Craft has taken up her post at the United Nations, nine months after the departure of her high-profile predecessor Nikki Haley.

Craft, 57, served previously as US ambassador to Canada where she was involved in negotiations on a new US-Mexico-Canada free-trade agreement.

She declined to speak with reporters on her arrival at UN headquarters, making her way to the 38th floor offices of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Kelly Craft, takes up the United State’s seat at the Security Council at UN headquarters on September 12, 2019 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

Haley, who unlike Craft held cabinet rank, emerged as a strong voice of American foreign policy under the US President Donald Trump.

After she stepped down at the end of last year, the role was filled by her number two, Ambassador Jonathan Cohen.

— AFP

Figures show spike in Jewish construction in East Jerusalem since 2017

Data obtained by the Peace Now settlement watchdog group shows that Jewish construction in East Jerusalem has spiked since 2017.

Peace Now found that in the first two years of US President Donald Trump’s term in office, authorities approved 1,861 housing units in Jewish East Jerusalem neighborhoods, a 60% increase from the 1,162 approved in the previous two years. The figures show that 1,081 permits were issued in 2017 alone, the highest annual number since 2000. A total of 1,233 housing units were approved for Palestinians in 2017 and 2018, according to Peace Now.

This photo taken Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, shows the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

The figures are for construction permits issued by the municipality, the final step of a costly bureaucratic process that can take years to complete. The figures show that since 1991, the municipality has issued 21,834 permits for housing units in Jewish areas of East Jerusalem and just 9,536 for Palestinian neighborhoods.

Spokesmen for the Israeli government and the municipality did not respond to requests for comment.

— AP

Netanyahu meets Putin in Russia

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The lightning trip to Russia comes less than a week before Israel goes to the polls. Netanyahu’s Likud party has attempted to sway Russian-speakers away from the Yisrael Beytenu party.

Meanwhile, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman mocks Netanyahu on Channel 12, saying he thinks the premier will take care of terror emanating from Gaza after he annexes the Jordan Valley and “meet Boris Yeltsin.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu drew guffaws when he accidentally said he had met with Yeltsin, who died in 2007, instead of the UK’s Boris Johnson.

Netanyahu says Russia talks focused on coordinating anti-Iran air campaign

In a short video, Netanyahu says his talks with Russian officials are focusing on ensuring “freedom of movement for our forces working to prevent Iran from gaining a foothold in our area.”

Netanyahu credits the “human bridge” of Israel’s 1 million-plus Russian speakers for creating the conditions for close ties with Moscow “and contributing to our security.”

Netanyahu’s trip comes days before Israelis go to the polls. He has focused considerable effort on campaigning for the votes of Russian speakers in a bid to attenuate Yisrael Beytenu’s influence.

Netanyahu not meeting Putin yet, twiddling thumbs in Sochi

Correction: Netanyahu is not yet meeting Putin. Instead, the meeting has been pushed off by a couple hours as the Russian president visits Dagestan to mark 20 years since the war in the region with Chechen separatists.

While Netanyahu waits, he can check out Sochi’s sites, like Josef Stalin’s old dacha, and maybe get some decorating ideas. According to a website called Trip101, “Visitors get the chance to explore this house in the woods and get deep into the mind of Stalin. Details like the lack of carpets so that he could hear footsteps if someone was trying to approach him, an exterior painted in green to camouflage against attacks and an indoor swimming pool help learn about his character.”

UK says Jordan Valley annexation will elicit ‘response’

A United Kingdom government spokeswoman says that the implementation of any plan to annex any part the West Bank will elicit “a response.”

“Any proposal to annex any part of the occupied Palestinian territories or any step in that direction concerns us,” spokeswoman Alyson King says in short Arabic-language video clip posted on her Twitter. “We must be clear that if any such proposal comes to fruition, there will be a response.”

King makes the statement after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Tuesday to apply Israeli sovereignty over significant portions of the West Bank, if he is given another term in office following next week’s national elections.

She does not elaborate on the nature of what such a response would be.

— Adam Rasgon

PM says Israel-Iran stepping up activities against each other — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly told Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu that Israel is stepping up attacks against Iran-backed forces.

“Israel has ratcheted up its activities recently because Iran has increased its attempts to attack Israel from Syrian territory, and so there is a need to step up our defense cooperation,” Netanyahu said, according to Hebrew media reports.

Speaking to Russia’s RBK teleivison, Netanyahu claims his close relationship to Putin is key to Israel having Russian backing for its anti-Iran air campaign.

“This coordination [between the two countries’ militaries] has become possible only because President Putin and I respect each other. We talk as peers, openly and without a hint of dismissiveness. We speak frankly, calling a spade a spade,” he says, according to a translation by Sputnik.

IDF tells families of suspects in terror killing it will raze their homes

The Israeli military has informed the families of two Palestinians suspected of murdering Israeli student Dvir Sorek last month that it plans to demolish their homes.

On August 7, Nazir Saleh Khalil Atafra and Qasem Araf Khalil Atafra are believed to have stabbed to death the 18-year-old Sorek outside of his religious seminary in the West Bank settlement of Migdal Oz. The two were arrested two days later, following a manhunt.

The army says the families were informed that they “have the ability to file an injunction against the demolition.”

— Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu-Putin meeting begins, finally

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has begun his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, some 2.5 hours after it was first scheduled to take place.

Netanyahu says Iran stepping up efforts to hit Israel

Ahead of their meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu tells Russian President Vladimir Putin that “in the last month, there has been a very sharp uptick in the scale of efforts by Iran to hit Israel from Syria and to deploy precision missiles against us.”

Netanyahu also claims that strong Israel-Russia ties and coordination of Israeli military activities in Syria are a result of their personal relationship. He thanks Putin for saying that Israel’s security is important to him.

Speaking before Netanyahu, Putin, however, does not mention Israeli security other than that Israel knows the challenges of terror.

Putin also does not mention their personal relationship. He says “Russia cares a lot about who will be elected to the Knesset and I hope that whoever enters the Knesset will continue bilateral ties between the countries and will push out relationship forward.”

Putin says he will visit Israel to dedicate an Auschwitz memorial and possibly a memorial commemorating the siege of Leningrad.

AG repeats warning to ministers against legalizing outpost

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has issued a legal opinion opposing Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to legalize the Mevo’ot Yericho outpost in the Jordan Valley at the Sunday cabinet meeting, saying the proposal was drawn up with “electoral consideration.”

Mandelblit releases the opinion hours after signing off on a similar recommendation made by the Defense Ministry’s legal adviser to government ministers, in which he warned them that “there is legal impediment to this decision during an election period.”

The attorney general writes that while the government has a right to advance decisions to strengthen Israeli settlement in the West Bank, doing so when it is in a transitional stage is more problematic.

“During an election period, the outgoing government is obliged to act with restraint when it comes to the decisions taken and the allocation of resources,” Mandelblit says.

He argues that the reasons for this are twofold, saying that a transitional government should avoid making irreversible decisions unless absolutely necessary. Moreover, he argues that “one must be wary” of ministers electioneering with such decisions.

— Jacob Magid

New poll has Blue and White passing Likud

A poll by the Kan public broadcaster shows Blue and White inching ahead of Likud 33 to 31.

The poll shows the right-wing bloc still short of a majority, with only 59 seats, including Otzma Yehudit bashing its way to the door with four seats.

The survey also has Yisrael Beytenu down to seven seats; most polls have shown the right-wing secularist party with closer to nine spots.

Baltimore gets giant inflatable rat ready for Trump visit

Protesters in Baltimore are preparing for a visit by President Donald Trump by inflating a giant rat carrying a cell phone and adorned with yellow hair and a red tie to make clear their mocking intentions.

Trump is making his first visit to the city since describing it nearly two months ago as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”

Trump won’t be inspecting conditions in the city, though. Instead, he’ll be speaking to congressional Republicans attending an annual retreat in a hotel on the city’s waterfront.

Hundreds of protesters are expected to gather nearby, and many have already shown up.

The White House says the president has no plans to explore Baltimore beyond his speech, which will focus on accomplishments during his first two-plus years in office and priorities for the year ahead.

— AP

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Kahlon: US said no rollback of Iran sanctions

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon says a visiting senior US treasury official told him that sanctions against Iran would remain in full force.

“I just finished an excellent working meeting with Sigal Mandelker, the under secretary of the treasury,” he writes on his Twitter account.

“I was happy to hear from her that contrary to media reports there is no change in US sanctions policy toward Iran and they will continue at full strength.”

A Bloomberg report on Wednesday suggested US President Donald Trump was considering easing sanctions to woo Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to a meeting.

— AFP