Netanyahu said to be eyeing joint slate with Bennett’s New Right party
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AG concludes talks on PM graft cases, will declare charges before election: TV

Mandelblit reportedly set to announce bribery indictment in Case 4000, fraud in Case 1000; Netanyahu accuses him of caving in to ‘immense pressure’ from left, media

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, confers with then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on December 20, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, confers with then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on December 20, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen during the inauguration of the newly-arrived foundation platform for the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, about 130 kilometers (81 miles) west of the coast of Haifa, on January 31, 2019. (Photo by Marc Israel SELLEM / POOL / AFP)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen during the inauguration of the newly-arrived foundation platform for the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, about 130 kilometers (81 miles) west of the coast of Haifa, on January 31, 2019. (Photo by Marc Israel SELLEM / POOL / AFP)
  • Illustrative image of a hacker, via Shutterstock.
    Illustrative image of a hacker, via Shutterstock.
  • Ethiopian-Israeli protesters at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, January 30, 2019. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
    Ethiopian-Israeli protesters at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, January 30, 2019. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
  • A Harpoon cruise missile strikes a decrepit cargo ship as part of an exercise in January 2019. (Screen capture: Israel Defense Forces)
    A Harpoon cruise missile strikes a decrepit cargo ship as part of an exercise in January 2019. (Screen capture: Israel Defense Forces)

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

All activists arrested in Ethiopian-Israeli protest released from custody

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court orders the release of all the 11 activists arrested yesterday in the Ethiopian-Israeli community’s protest against police violence and discrimination against them, which turned violent toward its end after hours of peaceful demonstration.

The rally at Rabin Square, which followed a march that shuttered major thoroughfares and junctions, turned violent when a few dozen of the protesters began a vandalism spree down Ibn Gabirol Boulevard.

Police described the rioters as a “a small minority” and said six police officers had been lightly wounded trying to quell the disturbances. Eleven of the protesters were arrested.

Police asked for the detainees to be remanded for six days, but the judge, Alaa Masarwe, rules that their actions don’t justify their continued detention.

“Almost all the suspects are without criminal background and their actions, despite their severity and without making light of them, were committed in a specific situation that cannot be disconnected from the wider context,” Masarwe says.

“It was a quiet protest that escalated toward its end, and some of the actions aren’t of high severity,” he adds.

In Bundestag, Israeli Holocaust survivor calls Germany bulwark against intolerance

A prominent Holocaust survivor calls Germany a bulwark against intolerance, saying the country has changed a lot from the Germany that murdered 6 million Jews in gas chambers.

Speaking at a special parliamentary session commemorating the victims of the Holocaust, Israeli historian Saul Friedlander asks Germans to “continue fighting for tolerance and inclusiveness, humanity and freedom, in short for true democracy.”

The 86-year-old, who survived the Shoah in a Catholic boarding school in France and whose parents were killed in Auschwitz, warns that anti-Semitism and authoritarian regimes are on the rise again.

Friedlander says he first hesitated whether he should speak in the German parliament but then agreed because “since the war, Germany has become a bulwark against the threats I’ve mentioned.”

From left, Israeli Historian Saul Friedlander, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrive for a remembrance event of the parliament Bundestag to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust at the Reichstag building in Berlin, January 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

— AP

Gabbay: Netanyahu will be unseated if Gantz, Lapid vow not to join his government

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay repeats his call for fellow center-left party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid to explicitly promise they will not join a government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the upcoming elections.

“I am happy for new people joining politics and boosting the [center-left] bloc, and it can be boosted even more,” Gabbay tells mayors from his party at a conference in Haifa, referring to rising star Gantz who gave his maiden political speech this week.

“But to bring about change we need to commit to a government change,” he adds. “If there is such a commitment, I promise you that on April 9 Netanyahu won’t be prime minister. There will be a new prime minister, a new government, a government of hope.”

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay speaking at a conference in Haifa on January 31, 2019. (Elad Gutman)

Saudi Arabia, Arab allies end days of discussions in Jordan to coordinate policy

Top diplomats from Saudi Arabia and its allies wrap up two days of talks in Jordan’s Dead Sea resort on coordinating policy on the multiple conflicts gripping the region.

The closed-door meetings were a “consultation between brothers and friends,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi says in a terse statement shortly after they ended.

They were a forum “to exchange views on our regional issues and ways of cooperation to overcome regional crises,” he says, without providing any details.

Yesterday, when the six ministers held six hours of talks, Jordan’s King Abdullah II highlighted the “importance of coordination on the various issues and crises facing the region.”

The talks, which also involved the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, come just two weeks before a planned US-Polish conference on the Middle East where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to speak.

The Dead Sea meeting also comes amid debate over the return of Syria to the Arab League, which suspended Damascus’s membership in November 2011 as President Bashar Assad has emerged victorious from nearly eight years of deadly conflict.

— with AFP

Deaths from traffic accidents down 13.2% in 2018

The number of traffic accidents dropped significantly in 2018, as did deaths and casualties from such accidents, according to a report by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The report says last year there were 12,167 accidents with casualties in Israel, compared to 13,335 in 2017, an 8.8 percent decrease.

In those accidents, 316 people died compared with 364 in the previous year — a drop of 13.2%.

There were 1,962 people seriously injured in crashes last year, an 11.9% drop from 2017 when the number was 2,226. Those who suffered mild injuries numbered 20,070, compared with 21,983 the previous year — an 8.7% drop.

UN envoy Danon urges European allies to step up fight against anti-Semitism

United Nations ambassador Danny Danon says Israel appreciates the support of its newfound allies in Eastern Europe but expects “stronger actions” when it comes to their stance against anti-Semitism.

Danon says that the former communist nations have played a key role in blocking anti-Israel measures in the European Union and other international forums. But he says they have to improve their approach toward Jews and accurately portray the memory of the Holocaust.

Danon is leading a delegation of fellow ambassadors to the UN in Israel.

Lithuania, Ukraine, Hungary and others are among those swept up in a wave of World War II-era revisionism that seeks to diminish their culpability in the Holocaust while making heroes out of anti-Soviet nationalists involved in the mass killing of Jews.

— with AP

Iranian social media bot army trying to affect Israeli elections — report

Iran is operating hundreds of fake social media accounts in an attempt to affect Israel’s parliamentary elections, according to a media report citing findings by a US-based tech company.

Vocativ, founded by Israeli entrepreneur Mati Kochavi, says in its new report that Israel’s Facebook, Twitter and Telegram scenes are seeing increased activity by bots operated from the Islamic Republic in an attempt to focus the discourse on divisive issues, the Ynet news site reports.

Those issues reportedly included sexual harassment in Israel, criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, social inequality, anti-democratic legislation, poverty, violence against women and more.

The estimated 350 fake accounts have a potential reach of 500,000 Israelis every month, the report says. Their activity has significantly intensified since the December announcement of Knesset elections on April 9.

Netanyahu said earlier this week that Israel is facing “daily” cyber-attacks originating from Iran.

Lebanon’s daily Al-Mustaqbal closes its print edition

Lebanon’s daily Al-Mustaqbal, which is owned by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s family, says it is ceasing its print edition and turning into a digital newspaper.

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, speaks during a press conference, in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Al-Mustaqbal was founded in 1999 by Hariri’s father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated by a massive truck bomb in Beirut six years later. Since then, the paper has been a mouthpiece of the Western-backed coalition in Lebanon, which is opposed to Hezbollah and other groups allied with Iran and Syria.

Several Lebanese newspapers have stopped printing in recent years as they struggle to compete with digital media.

The newspaper says its Thursday print edition, which carries pictures of Hariri and the six bodyguards killed with him, will be its last.

— AP

As IDF rescuers end search mission in Brazil, Bolsonaro thanks ‘brave troops’

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro thanks Israeli rescuers who have been searching for survivors of a natural disaster, saying their mission is over after almost a week.

A 130-strong Israeli military and search-and-rescue team landed in Brazil on Sunday and has been working to find survivors of a dam collapse last Friday around a mining operation in a rural area of the Minas Gerais state.

The dam collapse left 65 people confirmed dead and nearly 300 missing.

“The brave Israeli troops, sent by the Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, today ended their mission in Brazil,” Bolsonaro tweets in Portuguese.

“Thank you, on behalf of the Brazilian people, for your services.”

Germany: Sausage museum planned at former concentration camp

German media are reporting on plans to build a sausage museum on the site of a former Nazi concentration camp for Jewish slave laborers.

Public broadcaster MDR, news agency DPA and others report that the German Bratwurst Museum will be moved to the site, on the outskirts of the eastern town of Muehlhausen.

About 700 Jewish women from Eastern Europe where imprisoned at the camp during the Nazi era. It was a satellite site for the much larger Buchenwald concentration camp, which was liberated by the US Army in April 1945.

Inmates of both camps were deployed as slave laborers at local arms factories.

MDR reports that the association operating the museum was unaware of the location’s history, but said it was willing to commemorate the past appropriately.

— AP

Iran welcomes expected new EU trade entity as ‘first step’

Tehran cautiously welcomes as a “first step” the expected launch of an EU trade entity aimed at saving Iran’s nuclear deal by bypassing US sanctions.

The special payment mechanism “is the first step within the set of commitments the Europeans have made to Iran which I hope will be fully implemented and not be incomplete,” says deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi, according to state news agency IRNA.

The formal announcement of the new payment vehicle is expected to be made today by the German, French and British foreign ministers in Bucharest.

— AFP

Israeli Navy conducts rare test of sea-to-sea missiles to protect gas platforms

The Israeli Navy this week simulated an attack on the country’s natural gas platforms, including a rare live-fire test of sea-to-sea missiles, fired from four ships simultaneously at an old cargo freighter acting as an enemy vessel, the military says.

Sa’ar-4.5 model corvettes participated in the week-long naval exercise, dubbed “Raging Sea.”

“We simulated an enemy ship coming to harm our strategic facilities and, with coordination at sea and in the air, we destroyed it,” says Col. Guy Goldfarb, commander of the navy’s gunship fleet.

The navy says the cargo ship — the Eyal, which was due to be scrapped — was meant to simulate an enemy ship transporting fighters to a natural gas platform in order to blow it up.

Due to the complexities of a live-fire test that sinks a ship, this type of exercise has not been conducted by the Israeli Navy in approximately 20 years.

“This kind of exercise requires two and a half months of preparations. It was a highly irregular exercise in its scope and size — all of the gunship fleet was in the water,” Goldfarb says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Ultra-Orthodox faction removes ban on women from running on its slate

The ultra-Orthodox Knesset faction Agudath Israel — one of the two factions that make up the United Torah Judaism party — announces its top names on its slate in the upcoming elections.

The current leader, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, remains in the top spot, followed by MK Meir Porush, Yaakov Tesler and MK Yisrael Eichler. The next spots will be determined at a later date.

Tesler is the only new face on the ticket, a younger member of the Vizhnitz Hasidic dynasty replacing MK Menachem Eliezer Mozes, who has been a lawmaker for 10 years.

The faction’s central committee has also unanimously decided to remove a clause that prevented women from being featured on the faction’s slate — a move required by the High Court of Justice, but which party leaders have said will not have any effect in practice.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at the PM’s office in Jerusalem, on June 3, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

24 al-Shabab jihadists killed in Somalia airstrike, US says

The United States military says it has killed 24 al-Shabab jihadists with an airstrike in Somalia.

The US Africa Command says the airstrike was carried out yesterday near an extremist camp near Shebeeley in the central Hiran region north of the capital, Mogadishu.

The US carried out nearly 50 such airstrikes last year in Somalia against the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab.

The extremist group claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on a hotel complex in Kenya’s capital earlier this month. It often targets high-profile areas of Mogadishu with suicide bombings.

The US statement says the airstrikes are meant to support Somali forces as they increase pressure on al-Shabab and its recruiting efforts in the region, especially in southern and central Somalia.

The statement says no civilians were killed or injured.

— AP

Netanyahu hails ‘revolution’ as Leviathan gas field gets new platform jacket

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz go to sea to mark the arrival of the platform jacket for Leviathan, a major step in the “revolution” the massive gas reservoir is expected to generate.

“The Leviathan gas field is the greatest natural treasure that has been discovered in Israel and the arrival of the platform foundation symbolizes our entry into the final stage of its development,” says Steinitz, quoted by a government statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks alongside Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, and Noble Energy’s Vice President for Major Projects George Hatfield during the inauguration of the newly-arrived foundation platform for the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean, west of the coast of Haifa, on January 31, 2019. (Photo by Marc Israel SELLEM / POOL / AFP)

The 98-meter (322 foot) high structure is designed to support the giant offshore oil platform’s deck and “topsides” — heavy equipment and facilities kept above the water line.

The jacket was built in Texas and arrived over the weekend on a huge barge after a 28-day journey across the Atlantic, according to US firm Noble Energy and its Israeli partner Delek, the Leviathan consortium’s lead partners.

The government statement quotes Netanyahu speaking on board a ship near the platform.

“Completion of the Leviathan gas platform and the pumping of gas from this field later in the year is a critical component of the strategic, energy, economic and diplomatic strength of the State of Israel,” he says.

“A gas pipeline will run from here and will link us to the gas economy of Europe. It will reach our Arab neighbors.”

Leviathan will also supply “clean energy” to Israel that will replace coal and boost the state’s coffers with “billions of shekels,” Netanyahu says.

“This is a great revolution,” he says.

Steinitz notes agreements are in place with Egypt and Jordan to sell surplus gas.

— AFP

European Union launches sanctions-busting Iran payment vehicle

Britain, France and Germany launch a trade mechanism to bypass US sanctions on Iran.

The three countries — the European signatories to the 2015 deal that curbed Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief — launch the device, which has been in preparation for months, at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Bucharest.

Iran cautiously welcomes the news as a “first step,” but US officials dismiss the idea that the new entity will have any impact on efforts to exert economic pressure on Tehran, and fire a fresh warning at anyone thinking of trading with the Islamic Republic.

While the new institution, called INSTEX — short for Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges — is a project of the three governments, it will receive the formal endorsement of all 28 EU members.

The company was registered in Paris on Tuesday with an initial 3,000 euros in capital and a supervisory board with members from France and Germany, and chaired by a Briton.

“INSTEX will support legitimate European trade with Iran, focusing initially on the sectors most essential to the Iranian population — such as pharmaceutical, medical devices and agri-food goods,” the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France — Jeremy Hunt, Heiko Maas and Jean-Yves Le Drian — say in a joint statement.

In the longer term, INSTEX aims to be open to third countries wanting to trade with Iran, the statement says — an ambition unlikely to please Washington.

— AFP

Lebanon forms government after 9 months of deadlock

Lebanese political factions have agreed on the formation of a new government, breaking a nine-month deadlock that only deepened the country’s economic woes.

Rival political groups have been locked in disagreement over the make-up of a new government since May, after the country’s first parliamentary elections in nine years.

The breakthrough comes after rival factions worked out a compromise allowing representation of Sunni lawmakers backed by the powerful Shiite jihadist group Hezbollah.

The main pressure appears to be Lebanon’s deepening economic woes.

The country is dealing with soaring public debt of $84 billion, or 155 percent of the gross domestic product, and unemployment believed to be around 36 percent.

Secretary General of the Council of Ministers Fouad Fleifel announces the new government, headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

— AP

UN envoy meets Palestinian official to discuss ouster of observers from Hebron

The United Nations envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, meets Palestinian Authority diplomat Saeb Erekat to discuss Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to suspend operations of an international observer force from the West Bank city of Hebron.

In a tweet, Mladenov says the two also discussed efforts to create a new Palestinian government after the previous one handed its resignation earlier this week.

Mandelblit ends talks on PM graft cases, will declare charges before election, reports say

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and his team have concluded their discussions regarding the corruption cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and intend to announce the decision before the elections, according to TV reports.

Mandelblit intends to notify Netanyahu today or tomorrow that he rejects his demand to hold off on announcing an intention to file charges pending a hearing until after the April 9 vote, Channel 12 (formerly the Hadashot news outlet) reports.

The rival Channel 13 says Mandelblit has decided to announce bribery charges in Case 4000, involving regulatory favors in exchange for positive coverage, and fraud and breach of trust charges against the premier in Case 1000, which involves receiving gifts from billionaire benefactors.

Mandelblit’s team is reportedly in disagreement on what charges to press in Case 2000, which involves an alleged quid pro quo deal with a newspaper publisher.

PM said to escalate attacks on Gantz, says he’ll form government backed by Arabs

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu steps up his offensive against Israel Resilience party chief Benny Gantz, who has emerged as his main competitor in the upcoming elections.

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi at the Knesset on October 23, 2017 (Alster/FLASH90)

According to television reports on Channels 12 and 13, Netanyahu has told his associates in closed meetings that Gantz will form a left-wing government, alleging that Arab MK Ahmad Tibi has vowed to support such a government.

Gantz “doesn’t have an option to form a government without relying on the Joint List and Ta’al,” Netanyahu is quoted as saying, referring to the two Arab Israeli Knesset parties due to run in the April poll.

“Ahmad Tibi has committed to that with his own voice,” he claims. Tibi earlier this month split from the Joint List party and heads his Ta’al party.

Netanyahu accuses Mandelblit of caving in to ‘immense pressure’ from left, media

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to reports that Mandelblit will before the elections announce corruption charges against him, including bribery, by saying he “caved to pressure from the left and the media to file an indictment at any cost.”

“In the most critical decision in the history of Israel’s legal system, they are squeezing an 18-month process into several days,” the prime minister’s office says.

“We hope the left’s immense pressure on the attorney general won’t subdue him again when he has to decide whether to regard two-and-a-half stories in Walla as bribery,” the statement says.

US-North Korea summit details to be announced next week

US President Donald Trump says the details of his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will be announced next week — and that a date and place have been settled.

“We’re going to announce it very soon. We’ll be announcing early next week and they very much want the meeting,” Trump tells reporters in the White House.

US President Donald Trump, right, meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island in Singapore, June 12, 2018. (Evan Vucci/AP)

“I think most of you know where the location is. I don’t think it’s a great secret,” he adds, touting what he called the “tremendous progress” made with Pyongyang.

Trump held a historic first summit with Kim in Singapore in June to try to persuade the reclusive North Korean strongman to give up the country’s nuclear weapons.

The US president has come under fire at home from critics who say that Kim has not taken enough concrete steps toward denuclearization to be given a second summit.

US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Tuesday that North Korea would resist pressure because its leaders see nuclear weapons capability as “critical to regime survival.”

Trump is pushing back against intelligence leaders, who publicly disagree with his foreign policy positions on North Korea, Iran and Syria.

“I disagree with certain things that they said, I think I’m right,” he says. “Time will prove me right probably.”

— AFP

Netanyahu said to be eyeing joint slate with Bennett’s New Right party

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly examined the possibility of teaming up with Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s New Right party, despite past animosity between them.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 31, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

After the opposition’s rising star Benny Gantz’s maiden political speech and talks of merges in the center-left bloc, the premier is eyeing a similar right-wing alliance, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

A scenario where Bennett becomes Netanyahu’s no. 2 is said to be beneficial for both, enabling the merged party to beat any center-left alliance, according to surveys ordered by Netanyahu’s Likud.

Conversely, the surveys reportedly show that Likud teaming up with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party would cause the right-wing to lose votes.

US expected to announce pullout of arms treaty as early as tomorrow

The Trump administration is expected to announce as soon as tomorrow that it will withdraw from an arms treaty that has been a centerpiece of superpower arms control since the waning days of the Cold War.

Some analysts worry that the treaty’s demise could fuel a new arms race.

An American withdrawal, which has been expected for months, follows years of unresolved dispute over Russian compliance with the pact, signed in 1987 and known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

It is the first arms control measure to ban an entire class of weapons — ground-launched cruise missiles with a range between 500 kilometers (310 miles) and 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles).

The US asserts that Russia has deployed a missile in violation of the treaty. Russia denies this.

— AP

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Netanyahu said to be eyeing joint slate with Bennett’s New Right party

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly examined the possibility of teaming up with Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s New Right party, despite past animosity between them.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 31, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

After the opposition’s rising star Benny Gantz’s maiden political speech and talks of merges in the center-left bloc, the premier is eyeing a similar right-wing alliance, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

A scenario where Bennett becomes Netanyahu’s no. 2 is said to be beneficial for both, enabling the merged party to beat any center-left alliance, according to surveys ordered by Netanyahu’s Likud.

Conversely, the surveys reportedly show that Likud teaming up with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party would cause the right-wing to lose votes.