The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s developments as they unfolded.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief says Israeli annexation of West Bank land would “inevitably have significant consequences for the close relationship we currently enjoy with Israel.”
Josep Borrell says such a step “would negatively affect regional stability, our relations with Israel and between Israel and Arab states, and potentially the security of Israel.”
Though he states that he will not “prejudge the specific impact,” he stresses that “the European Union has its own obligations and responsibilities under international and European Union law.”
He admits that there is a lack of “unanimity” among European nations on what would be the appropriate response, but adds there is a “strong majority” against any unilateral action that will harm the prospects of a two-state solution.
Borrell says he has relayed EU concerns in talks with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz as well as with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Jordanian FM Ayman Safadi is in Ramallah today on a surprise visit to coordinate the fight against Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
A Palestinian source tells Haaretz that Safadi is updating Palestinian Authority leadership on King Abdullah’s conversations on the subject with Arab leaders
The source says PA leaders believe the pressure on Israel and the US by the international community is starting to bear fruit.
Safadi’s visit to Ramallah is the first by a high-level foreign official since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which shut borders across the world.
— with AFP
Iran test-fired cruise missiles today in a naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman and northern Indian Ocean, state media reports.
The report by the official IRNA news agency says the missiles destroyed targets at a distance of 280 kilometers (170 miles). It says the tests came during a naval drill by Iran’s navy in the Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean.
It says the missiles’ range can be extended but gives no details.
The report is the first of a drill since May, when a missile fired during an Iranian training exercise mistakenly struck an Iranian naval vessel instead of its intended target in waters near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, killing 19 sailors and wounding 15 others.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau says there won’t be any furthering easing of coronavirus restrictions until a recent spike in infections goes back down.
There is no doubt that we need to stop the disease,” Netanyahu says at a ceremony to install a new director-general at the Health Ministry. “The disease is coming back and we have, for the time being, finished with opening up more of the economy.”
Netanyahu says there will be semi-lockdowns enforced on areas that have high infection rates.
“There is no choice, we need to change the public’s habits and if it doesn’t help we will take more aggressive measures,” he warns. “We will do everything needed to halt the continued spread of the disease — as we did at the start.”
A Knesset employee has been diagnosed with coronavirus, officials at parliament say.
The woman’s contacts during the past two weeks are now being retraced, and any who came into contact with her since June 4 are instructed to act according to Health Ministry guidelines.
Some 200 Israelis stranded in Central America will fly to Israel today on a special El Al flight, Hebrew media reports.
The flight from Panama will be the first-ever direct flight between the country and Israel.
Israelis taking the flight are flying into Panama from several other countries including Colombia and Costa Rica.
Iran announces 87 new deaths from the novel coronavirus as authorities move to tighten measures to stop its spread in some of the country’s worst-hit provinces.
Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari says the overall toll in Iran’s outbreak stands at to 9,272 with 197,647 confirmed cases.
Five of Iran’s 31 provinces — Bushehr, East Azerbaijan, Hormozgan, Kermanshah and Khuzestan — are currently “red,” the highest level on the country’s color-coded risk scale.
East Azerbaijan is set to reimpose restrictive measures, according to state news agency IRNA. Hormozgan has also shut down all non-essential businesses, parks and government organisations, and reimposed an inter-city travel ban at least until Saturday.
Khuzestan was the first province to see a reimposed lockdown over a worsening situation after the government gradually lifted protocols from April in order to reopen its sanctions-hit economy.
Other provinces such as Golestan as well as Kohgiluyeh and Boyerahmad have also reimposed measures such as checkpoints at city entrances.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz has told defense officials he will not support annexation of West Bank territory in areas “with many Palestinian residents,” Channel 12 news reports.
He added that he intends to bring any planned move before defense professionals to get their positions.
He also said he was “certain the prime minister will not endanger the peace deal with Jordan and strategic relations with the US in an irresponsible move.”
Donald Trump has no guiding principles and is unfit to be president, his former national security adviser John Bolton says in an interview to promote his explosive book.
“I don’t think he’s fit for office. I don’t think he has the competence to carry out the job,” Bolton tells ABC News.
“There really isn’t any guiding principle that I was able to discern other than ‘What’s good for Donald Trump’s reelection.'”
BREAKING: "I don't think he's fit for office," former national security adviser John Bolton says of Pres. Trump. "I don't think he has the competence to carry out the job."
— ABC News (@ABC) June 18, 2020
— with AFP
German prosecutors file murder charges against a Russian man accused in the brazen daylight slaying in Berlin of a Georgian man, and say that the Russian state ordered the killing — adding to tensions between the two countries.
The case prompted Germany in December to expel two Russian diplomats, citing a lack of cooperation with the investigation of the Aug. 23 killing. Russia’s ambassador was called in to the foreign ministry in Berlin again today.
The victim, Tornike K., who also has widely been identified in reports on the killing as Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, was a Georgian citizen of Chechen ethnicity who fought against Russian troops in Chechnya. He had previously survived multiple assassination attempts and continued to receive threats after fleeing to Germany in 2016.
Federal prosecutors say that at some point before mid-July last year, “state agencies of the central government of the Russian Federation” tasked a Russian citizen they identified as Vadim K. with “liquidating” the victim.
The EU’s top court rules that curbs imposed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on foreign-funded organizations violate European law.
The European Commission referred Hungary to the court following the adoption in 2017 of a law that is one of many that the EU says do not meet the standards of European rule of law.
“Hungary’s restrictions on the funding of civil organizations by persons established outside that member state do not comply with the Union law,” the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice says in a statement.
According to critics, this law targeted Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros, who in 1984 created the Open Society Foundation, a harsh critic of Orban.
It is not immediately apparent what the implications of the ruling will be.
— with AFP
Hydroxychloroquine can be ruled out as a treatment for hospitalized COVID-19 patients — but the World Health Organization says it is aware of ongoing trials into its value as a preventative measure.
A decades-old malaria and rheumatoid arthritis drug, hydroxychloroquine has been at the center of political and scientific controversy.
On Wednesday, the WHO decided to halt its trials of the drug for novel coronavirus patients in the hospital, after evidence from its own work and others that it had no effect on reducing the mortality rate.
But the UN health agency says non-WHO trials into whether it might be useful in guarding against the virus have not yet concluded.
“As far as the use of hydroxychloroquine for prophylaxis or prevention of COVID-19 — either before or after exposure — the last word is not yet out,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan tells a virtual press conference.
Jean Kennedy Smith, the last surviving sibling of US president John F. Kennedy and a former ambassador to Ireland, died Wednesday, her daughter confirmed to The New York Times. She was 92.
Smith died at her home in Manhattan, her daughter Kym told the Times.
Smith was the eighth of nine children born to Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy, and tragically several of them preceded her in death by decades. Her siblings included older brother Joseph Kennedy Jr., killed in action during World War II; Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, who died in a 1948 plane crash; the president, assassinated in 1963 and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, slain in 1968. Sen. Edward Kennedy, the youngest of the Kennedy siblings, died of brain cancer in August 2009, the same month their sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver died.
Smith, who married Kennedy family financial adviser and future White House chief of staff Stephen Edward Smith in 1956, was viewed for much of her life as a quiet sister who shunned the spotlight.
She served as ambassador to Ireland in 1993-1998 and played a role in the Northern Ireland peace process.
US President Donald Trump dismisses former top aide John Bolton’s explosive accusations about the White House in an upcoming book as “pure fiction.”
In a tweet calling the former national security advisor a “sick puppy,” Trump says the book is “a compilation of lies and made up stories, all intended to make me look bad.
“Many of the ridiculous statements he attributes to me were never made, pure fiction,” Trump says.
Bolton’s book, which is getting terrible reviews, is a compilation of lies and made up stories, all intended to make me look bad. Many of the ridiculous statements he attributes to me were never made, pure fiction. Just trying to get even for firing him like the sick puppy he is!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2020
The White House is seeking an injunction to prevent distribution of “The Room Where it Happened,” which details what Bolton says is proof that Trump is not “fit for office.”
The Education Ministry has petitioned the National Labor Court to force the Secondary School Teachers’ Association to have members work for nine additional days after the completion of the school year, amid an ongoing fight over the demand, Walla news reports.
The entire education system was shuttered for two months during a lockdown that began in mid-March, with lessons taking place remotely. As a result, the school year has been extended into July, but union officials for middle school and high school teachers have pushed back on Education Ministry requirements to continue teaching into the summer months.
The Finance Ministry has warned it will reduce the salaries of teachers who refuse to teach for the additional nine days.
Israel expects that the global health crisis will bring in its wake a wave of “post-coronavirus” immigration, once the Jewish state reopens its borders to non-residents.
“By the end of 2021, we can expect the arrival of 90,000 immigrants, compared to the 35,463 of 2019,” Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata told the Knesset yesterday.
Like thousands of other French Jews, Dan Bocobza had for years been contemplating aliyah, or immigration to Israel, but when coronavirus hit France, he decided to make his move.
“France’s mismanagement of COVID-19 played a role, but above all it was feeling that suddenly the doors were closed,” says Bocobza, an entrepreneur and father of seven.
A 25-year-old man is in critical condition after being electrocuted in the Drom HaSharon Regional Council in central Israel.
The man is reported to be a worker in a local field. The cause of the electrocution is not immediately clear. He was rushed to Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba for treatment.
Education Minister Yoav Gallant says he will not allow “anarchy” in the education system fueled by “petty aspirations.”
Ahead of a National Labor Court session on the ministry’s demand that teachers be forced to teach for nine additional days into the summer vacation due to the lengthy coronavirus hiatus, Gallant says: “We all are required to put our shoulders to the wheel and do our part.”
In his new book, former US national security adviser John Bolton says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed doubts to him about the assignment of Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to be the chief architect of the administration’s Middle East peace plan, CNN and the Wall Street Journal report.
Bolton says that before joining the White House, he had a conversation with Netanyahu in which the latter “was dubious about assigning the task of bringing an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict to Kushner, whose family Netanyahu had known for many years.
“He was enough of a politician not to oppose the idea publicly, but like much of the world, he wondered why Kushner thought he would succeed where the likes of Kissinger had failed.”
Ending his meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi says Israel’s annexation plan in the West Bank is “a destructive, unprecedented move” that will “destroy all foundations of the peace process.”
Safadi says Amman will do everything to thwart the plan.
“If Israel carries out annexation, it will have chosen escalation and conflict instead of peace, and will bear the consequences,” he says.
Abbas appears to signal he will not attempt to control any potential Palestinian popular uprising in response to the move.
“The Palestinian people will choose what they want,” he says.
US President Donald Trump fires an extraordinary broadside at the US Supreme Court’s “horrible & politically charged” decisions, after it rules against his bid to scrap protections for hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants.
In two tweets, Trump brands the nation’s highest court biased against conservatives, saying their decisions are “shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans.”
“Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?” Trump asks.
These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives. We need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd. Amendment & everything else. Vote Trump 2020!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2020
The judgement on a five-to-four vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the court’s four liberal members, stresses that it is not an assessment of the correctness of the 2012 DACA program itself. Instead, it says the Trump administration violated official government procedures in the way it sought to quickly rescind DACA in September 2017, based on weak legal justifications.
The ruling suggests there are legal administrative methods by which Trump could cancel DACA, putting the onus back on the administration if it wants to pursue the issue.
Palestinian health authorities say that the sources of some of the new coronavirus infections in the West Bank are still unclear — a possible indicator of community spread.
“The second wave will be more dangerous than the first, given the number of virus hotspots whose origins remain unknown and the number of healthcare professionals affected,” Palestinian Health minister Mai al-Kaila says.
The PA reports an increase of 34 cases since this morning, mostly in and around Hebron.
— Aaron Boxerman
Two top IDF officers are promoted to the rank of major general as they prepare to enter newly-created positions on the General Staff as part of the military’s multi-year plan, the army says.
Former fighter pilot Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman, who was promoted from brigadier general, is slated to lead the Strategy and Iran Directorate, an entirely new position on the General Staff, which will focus principally on Israel’s fight against the Islamic Republic, which the military refers to as the “third circle” (the first being small terror groups on Israel’s borders, like Hamas, and the second being larger threats, like the Syrian army and Hezbollah).
The other officer, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, will take command of the IDF’s rejiggered Planning Directorate, which has been renamed the Force Design Directorate and is tasked with overseeing the development of new combat and weapons techniques, specifically in tactics and techniques that require cooperation between the various branches of the military.
The creation of these positions, along with other changes to the structure of the Israel Defense Forces, is part of the military’s multi-year Momentum Plan.
“The creation of these two directorates will help focus the entire IDF on two matters: the first, strengthening the process of multi-dimensional force-building, which represents a force multiplier in the multi-year Momentum Plan; and the second, directing attention to the field of strategy and to ‘third circle’ countries,” IDF Chief Aviv Kohavi says at the promotion ceremony.
— Judah Ari Gross
North Korea remains an acute threat to the Indo-Pacific region, a senior Pentagon official says, after Pyongyang blew up its liaison office with South Korea.
“As we’ve been starkly reminded in recent days, North Korea continues to present an extraordinary threat to the region and which demands our continued vigilance,” says David Helvey, the acting assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs.
“It’s hard to tell what’s going to unfold over the next few days and weeks. But I do think that it’s important to say that we remain vigilant against any types of threats and provocations,” says Helvey.
The demolition Tuesday of the liaison office in the Kaesong Industrial Zone — just across the border in Northern territory — came after Pyongyang vehemently condemned Seoul for anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent by defectors into the North and raised tensions on the Peninsula.
The Health Ministry issues its latest coronavirus data, showing 215 new cases in the last 24 hours, with Israel just shy of the 20,000 cases mark.
There have now been 19,998 confirmed cases in all since the start of the pandemic, of which 4,177 are active cases.
There are 38 seriously ill patients, 28 of them on ventilators. Meanwhile, 42 patients are in moderate condition.
The death toll remains at 303.
In response to John Bolton’s claim that Benjamin Netanyahu doubted Jared Kushner as the US administration’s pointman on Middle East peace, the Prime Minister’s Office says Netanyahu “has complete faith in Jared Kushner’s abilities and resolve, and rejects any description to the contrary.”
Kushner, it says, “has greatly contributed to furthering peace in the Middle East. The US administration’s Middle East team, led by Kushner, successfully formulated President Trump’s principles into the Vision for Peace, offering the most realistic blueprint for peace in our region.”
He also “contributed to President Trump’s historic decisions to recognize Jerusalem, move the US embassy to Israel’s capital and recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights” and “helped advance Israel’s relations with the Arab world.
“With these accomplishments alone and under President Trump’s leadership, Kushner has already achieved what others before him did not accomplish.”
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi appoints a senior diplomat as the new director-general of the ministry.
Alon Ushpiz, the ministry’s former political director and a former ambassador to India, will replace the outgoing Yuval Rotem, who has served in the post in the past four years.
Ushpiz’s appointment must still be confirmed by the cabinet.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz met today to try to resolve their disagreements over whether to pass a one-year or two-year state budget.
Netanyahu supports passing a single-year budget only, while Gantz wants to stick to coalition agreements that require a two-year budget, the report says.
The two met today with Finance Ministry officials, who all backed Netanyahu, Channel 12 reports, citing the instability and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus crisis.
But Gantz is believed to fear Netanyahu wants to leave himself the option of creating a crisis surrounding the next budget in 2021 in nine months’ time, to allow him to break up the government and call new elections.
The two agreed to meet again in the coming days to try to resolve the matter.
An Israeli soldier who shot and killed a Palestinian fisherman near the Gaza frontier in 2018 has been given 45 days of community service after an army investigation concluded he fired without authorization, the military says.
The military says a group of Palestinians had approached the fence but were far away when the paratrooper opened fire, striking one of them. Its statement did not identify the soldier or the Palestinian, or say whether he was killed.
Nawaf al-Attar, a 23-year-old fisherman was shot and killed by Israeli troops near the northern beach frontier on November 14, 2018, when the military said the shooting occurred.
It happened a few hours after a cease-fire took effect following a brief round of fighting between Israel and Palestinian terror groups. The area near the fence had seen weekly protests at the time that often turned violent, but there were no demonstrations that day.
The military says the soldier reached a plea bargain in which he pleaded guilty to charges of negligence and reckless endangerment. He received a suspended sentence and was demoted to the rank of private.
During his visit to Ramallah today, the Jordanian foreign minister told Palestinian Authority chief Abbas that he must speak to Trump directly in a bid to stop annexation, Channel 13 reports.
The network says Jordan has made such appeals to Abbas before, but he has refused, fearing Trump would leak the conversation and humiliate him. It was not known how he responded today.
The PA cut ties with Washington in December 2017 over the White House recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocation of its embassy there.
Channel 13 says among the moves Jordan is planning should annexation move forward are the following: Recalling its ambassador from Israel; downgrading diplomatic relations; reevaluating the peace agreement; and taking legal action against Israel in international forums.
Facebook has removed ads by the Trump campaign that featured a symbol similar to that used by the Nazis to designate political prisoners at concentration camps.
The red inverted triangle was used by Hitler’s regime to denote communists and other undesirables it imprisoned.
The Trump ad spoke out against the “dangerous mobs of far-left groups…causing absolute mayhem.”
— Media Matters (@mmfa) June 18, 2020
Facebook says it removed the posts after being notified of them, stating that they violated “our policy against organized hate… Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group’s symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol.”
The Trump campaign says the triangle is a symbol used by radical group Antifa — though it is not clear that there is much evidence of this. The group’s symbol is generally known to be two red and black flags.
Police have handed out 6,600 fines this month to Israelis not wearing masks in public as required by coronavirus regulations, the Ynet news site reports.
The report says that with the weekend starting, police will this evening hold a large enforcement operation, focusing on event halls and bars.
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch is calling to revive the Shin Bet security agency’s controversial tracking of coronavirus carriers, after a report said Israel has entered a second wave of coronavirus and could soon see hundreds of new deaths from COVID-19.
“The only automated tool that is immediately available to use for disrupting the infection chain is in the hands of the Shin Bet,” Kisch, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, writes on Twitter.
He adds: “Immediate action is needed for expedited legislation in the Knesset, and we should allow the use of the tool in order to save lives and minimize the economist toll on Israel.”
The Shin Bet program, which raised privacy concerns for its use of sensitive data to track people infected with coronavirus and those they’ve been around, lapsed earlier this month after ministers declined to advance legislation anchoring it in law.
TEHRAN — Iran’s currency has dropped to its lowest value ever at 190,000 rial for each dollar, amid severe US sanctions against the country.
The Iranian currency has tumbled from a rate of 32,000 rials to $1 at the time of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The rial unexpectedly rallied after US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United Stations from the nuclear deal and reimpose crippling trade sanctions over two years ago.
US sanctions have caused Iran’s oil exports, the country’s main source of income, to fall sharply.
Last week, Senior Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said that Iran’s oil revenues have plummeted to $8 billion from $100 billion in 2011.
Iran recently sent five tankers with at least $45.5 million worth of gasoline and similar products to Venezuela.
It was a way to bring money into its cash-starved Iran and put its own pressure on the US, which under Trump has pursued maximalist campaigns against both nations.
WASHINGTON — A federal judge rules former US national security adviser John Bolton can move forward in publishing his tell-all book despite efforts by the Trump administration to block the release because of concerns that classified information could be exposed.
The decision from US District Judge Royce Lamberth is a victory for Bolton in a court case that involved core First Amendment and national security concerns. But the judge also makes clear his concerns that Bolton had “gambled with the national security of the United States” by opting out of a prepublication review process meant to prevent government officials from spilling classified secrets in memoirs they publish.
The ruling clears the path for a broader election-year readership and distribution of a memoir, due out Tuesday, that paints an unflattering portrait of US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy decision-making during the turbulent year-and-a-half that Bolton spent in the White House.
Nonethless, Lamberth frowns upon the way Bolton went about publishing the book. Bolton took it “upon himself to publish his book without securing final approval from national intelligence authorities” and perhaps caused irreparable harm to national security, Lamberth says.
But with 200,000 copies already distributed to booksellers across the country, attempting to block its release would be futile, the judge writes.
“A single dedicated individual with a book in hand could publish its contents far and wide from his local coffee shop,” Lamberth writes. “With hundreds of thousands of copies around the globe — many in newsrooms — the damage is done. There is no restoring the status quo.”