Pentagon to move 11,900 US troops out of Germany
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Likud vows to push ahead with short-term budget over Blue and White opposition

Leading Israeli economists said to warn budget that only covers the coming months ‘will increase economic uncertainty’

Finance Minister Israel Katz holds a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on July 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Finance Minister Israel Katz holds a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on July 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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

Netanyahu: ‘There’s no place for violence for any reason’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues his first public response to suspected far-right attacks on protesters who demonstrated yesterday in Tel Aviv against the premier and his police minister.

“The investigation of the incident in Tel Aviv is underway. I expect the police to reach the truth and bring to justice those responsible. There’s no place for violence for any reason,” he writes on Facebook.

He adds: “In the same measure there’s no room for incitement or threats of murder — explicitly or implicitly — against me and members of my family, including the embarrassing threat of a crucifixion today in Tel Aviv.”

Netanyahu is referring to an exhibit placed in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square this morning depicting the prime minister eating a sumptuous meal at a banquet table, in a play on the Last Supper.

The premier accuses the media and political rivals of ignoring violence toward police and alleged threats against him, singling out Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, who earlier today blamed “incitement” by Netanyahu for the attacks in Tel Aviv.

“One of them, Yair Lapid, similar to [former prime minister] Ehud Barak, even encourages a group of anarchists whose purpose is to disturb the peace and undermine the foundations of Israeli society,” Netanyahu says, adding that violence or incitement of any type should be condemned.

Lapid to Netanyahu: We won’t stop protesting until you’re out of the PM’s residence

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid claps back at Prime Minister Netanyahu for saying he was supporting “anarchists” taking part in protests against the premier.

“Netanyahu, we’re no longer scared of you. Yes, I encourage the protesters. Yes, Yesh Atid supporters are part of the protests. Yes, we’ll continue to fight against the hate and vitriol that you spread until we remove you from Balfour,” Lapid writes on Twitter, referring to the Jerusalem street where the Prime Minister’s Residence is.

Iran Guards launch underground ballistic missiles during military drills

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard launched underground ballistic missiles as part of an exercise involving a mock-up aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz, state television reports.

It is the latest barrage in a drill that yesterday saw two American bases temporarily go on alert over the launches.

Drone footage captured by the Guard show two missiles blasting out from covered positions in what appeared to be a desert plateau in central Iran, with debris flying up in the air in their wake.

The launches took place today, says Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Guard’s aerospace division. He tells state television it was first time the Guard had done this, though the paramilitary force is known to have vast underground bases hiding its ballistic missile arsenal.

Separately, drones targeted the bridge of the fake aircraft carrier, according to the state TV report. The broadcaster doesn’t immediately air footage of the launches or the drone attack, nor does it identify the missiles used in the drill.

However, the drill clearly meant to send a message to the United States.

A semiofficial news agency close to the Guard published a graphic overnight that photoshopped the image of an American carrier into the shape of a casket with a set of crosshairs on it, with a caption quoting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledging to seek revenge for the US drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in January.

— AP

Shas backs coalition whip Zohar amid criticism from fellow Likud MKs

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party expresses support for coalition whip Miki Zohar, who is facing growing criticism from fellow members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud.

“Members of the Shas faction back coalition chairman and Likud faction leader Miki Zohar, who is doing important work in the Knesset to stabilize the coalition and for the general public,” Shas says in a statement. “We work in coordination and harmony and will continue to act together to advance laws that are important to the entire Israeli public.”

After Zohar announced disciplinary measures against a number of Likud lawmakers yesterday for allegedly breaking coalition discipline, a number of party members public criticized him and reportedly gathered signatures to oust him as faction leader and coalition whip, an effort Netanyahu put the kibosh on. Zohar, a vocal supporter of the premier, has also recently squabbled with a number of Likud lawmakers.

Likud MK Miki Zohar at the Knesset in Jerusalem on January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Gantz blames attacks on anti-Netanyahu protesters on ‘organized criminal gangs’

Defense Minister Benny Gantz alleges attacks last night on anti-Netanyahu protesters in Tel Aviv were the work of “organized criminal gangs” and says he’ll work to ensure those behind the violence are punished.

“Yesterday a line was crossed when citizens exercising their right to protest were attacked by organized criminal gangs,” he says in a statement.

Gantz vows to ensure the right to protest isn’t limited and says violence must be publicly denounced.

“Democracy is in fact tested at times of crimes; a government is in fact tested in periods like these,” he says. “I intended to convene a government meeting on the violent events and to work actively with the Israel Police to ensure the acts are dealt with… and those who sow unjustified hate, incitement and harm citizens are punished.”

Police arrest 3 suspects in attacks on anti-Netanyahu protesters

Police have arrested three suspects in connection to attacks yesterday in Tel Aviv on protesters demonstrating against Prime Minister Netanyahu and his police minister.

The three are being taken to a police station for questioning, according to a statement quoted by the Walla news site.

Rivlin condemns attacks on anti-Netanyahu protesters, says political murder not ‘an imaginary scenario’

Following suspected far-right attacks on anti-Netanyahu protesters last night in Tel Aviv, President Reuven Rivlin warns against political violence.

“I would like to say clearly in light of the violent developments in the last day: The murder of a demonstrator protesting in the State of Israel and the murder of an Israeli prime minister aren’t an imaginary scenario,” Rivlin says in a statement. “Alas for our democracy if a man’s hand is raised against his brother.”

He adds: “The expression of condemnation has become lip service. Every condemnation is attacked with a question of why didn’t you condemn another event and the essence is completely trampled.”

Denouncing yesterday’s attacks, Rivlin calls on police to bring justice to those responsible, while also condemning threats against Prime Minister Netanyahu and his family.

“We don’t have the ability to discount any threat. Our existence depends on this,” he says.

Knesset approves virus handouts for all Israeli adults

Knesset members pass into law a cash-for-all scheme championed by Prime Minister Netanyahu to help gin up the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Prior to the law’s passage in its second and third plenum readings, the National Insurance Institute says Israeli adults with children will begin receiving checks on Sunday. All other Israelis over 18 will get their payments at an unspecified later date.

Under the plan, single adults will receive a one-time payment of NIS 750 ($218). Couples with children will receive NIS 500 ($146) for each of their first four kids, with another NIS 300 ($87) from the fifth child onward.

Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz initially announced the payments would go to all Israeli adults. However, after the plan faced criticism for not linking the payments to income or whether someone was hurt economically by the government restrictions to contain the virus, it was agreed to exclude those making NIS 640,000 (approximately $186,000) per year. The grants were also initially limited to three children, but Katz agreed yesterday to increase the checks for large families after pressure from ultra-Orthodox and Arab lawmakers.

Likud, Blue and White fail to make progress in budget talks — report

Finance Minister Israel Katz meets and Defense Minister Benny Gantz fail to make headway toward an agreement on the period of time the new budget will extend for after meeting today, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

“[We’re] approaching elections,” a source involved in the meeting is quoted saying by the broadcaster.

New elections — the fourth since April 2019 — will automatically be triggered if a budget isn’t passed by August 25.

Gantz met earlier today with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, to discuss the budget. Deri reportedly urged Gantz to reach a compromise with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party and said Shas would back any agreement they reach.

“That’s unacceptable. There’s a coalition agreement and it needs to be honored,” Gantz told Deri, according to Kan.

While Gantz’s Blue and White party and Likud agreed to pass a budget extending through 2021 as part of their deal to form a government, the latter is now insisting on a budget that only runs through the end of this year. Netanyahu has cited the uncertainty linked to the coronavirus pandemic for this stance, though the passage of a short-term budget could allow him to dissolve the government without having to hand over the premiership to Gantz as agreed under the coalition deal.

Supreme Court hears appeal against ruling that accused pedophile is fit for extradition hearing

The Supreme Court concludes a hearing on an appeal from Malka Leifer’s attorneys against a lower court decision that found the former high school principal, who is wanted in Australia on 74 charges of child sex abuse, fit to face an extradition hearing.

The panel of three judges accepted the defense’s request at the beginning of the hearing that the session be held behind closed doors and that Leifer be allowed to return to her cell, rather than listening in via videoconference.

No date was given for when the top legal body will hand down its decision on the appeal.

The Jerusalem District Court that deemed her fit for an extradition hearing, which was held last week, will hand down its decision on the matter on September 21.

— Jacob Magid

Police minister cheers arrest of suspects in attack on anti-Netanyahu demonstrators

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana commends police for arresting three suspects over attacks on demonstrators protesting against Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday in Tel Aviv.

“Despite all the disagreements, there isn’t and won’t be any kosher certification for violence and each case will be dealt with the fullest severity,” Ohana, a Likud party colleague of Netanyahu’s, writes on Twitter.

He adds: “The wellbeing, security and liberty of all Israeli citizens, regardless of political views, is a paramount value and will be strictly preserved by the Israel Police.”

Yesterday’s protest in Tel Aviv began outside Ohana’s home after he was heard in a recording aired by Israeli television pressing police to crack down on ongoing protests against Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.

Twitter permanently suspends UK rapper Wiley over anti-Semitic tweets

Twitter has permanently barred UK rapper Wiley after he tweeted a series of anti-Semitic messages last week.

The social media company also apologizes for not taking action against Wiley sooner.

“Let us be clear: hateful conduct has absolutely no place on our service and we strongly condemn antisemitism,” a Twitter spokesperson is quoted saying by the Guardian. “We are sorry we did not move faster and are continuing to assess the situation internally. We deeply respect the concerns shared by the Jewish community and online safety advocates, and we will continue to work closely with government, NGOs, civil society partners and our industry peers to tackle antisemitism on Twitter.”

Facebook and Instagram permanently suspended Wiley from their platforms yesterday.

Wiley, a pioneer of grime music, claimed links between the Jewish community and the Ku Klux Klan in the offending tweets and also pushed stereotypes about Jews and money.

Grime music artist Wiley during an event in London, October 18, 2017. (Ian West/PA via AP)

Pentagon to move 11,900 US troops out of Germany

WASHINGTON — The United States will slash its military presence in Germany by 11,900 troops, relocating some to Italy and Belgium in a major shift of Washington’s NATO assets, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper announces today.

Of the 34,500 US military personnel in Germany, some 6,400 will be sent home while nearly 5,600 others will be moved to other NATO countries.

A key aim of the rotation is to reinforce NATO’s southeastern flank near the Black Sea, Esper says.

Some could also go to Poland and the Baltic states if Warsaw follows through on an agreement already sketched out by the two sides, Esper says.


Jerusalem minister to quarantine after aide tests positive for virus

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Rafi Peretz will enter quarantine after the director general of his ministry tests positive for COVID-19.

Netanyahu vows Israelis to begin receiving virus payouts next week

Prime Minister Netanyahu pledges that Israeli adults will begin receiving coronavirus stimulus payments next week, after the cash grants were approved today by the Knesset.

“Israeli citizens, the money will already arrive in your bank accounts at the beginning of the next week,” he says in a video statement.

He doesn’t specify whether all Israelis 18 and up will begin receiving the funds next week. The National Insurance Institute said earlier today that those with children would begin getting them Sunday, but those without kids will only receive them at an unspecified later date.

Netanyahu has touted the payouts, which have been criticized by economists and top finance officials, as a way to juice the virus-hit economy.

“This is another step that will make it easier for you and get the wheels of the economy moving,” the premier says.

UNIFIL probing alleged Hezbollah cross-border assault attempt

A UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon says it is investing into what the Israeli military says was an attempted cross-border attack by Hezbollah terrorists earlier this week.

UNIFIL tweets that Stefano Del Col, the head of the mission, is in touch with the sides “to contain the situation, decrease tension & preserve cessation of hostilities” between Israel and Hezbollah.

Turkey passes law tightening government’s grip on social media

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s parliament passes a controversial bill giving the government greater control of social media, a move criticized by human rights advocates as an attempt to increase online censorship.

Under the new law, social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter have to ensure that they have local representatives in Turkey and to comply with court orders over the removal of certain content or face heavy fines.

The legislation targets social networks with more than a million unique visits every day and says servers with Turkish users’ data on them must be sited locally.

If companies refuse to comply, they will face fines and restrictions making the platform unusable.

The bill was submitted by the ruling AKP and its nationalist partner the MHP, which have a majority in parliament, and passed after a night-long marathon.


Protester injured in suspected far-right attack says he asked cops for help, was ignored

A protester injured in a suspected far-right attack in Tel Aviv last night says he asked police for help after he was assaulted, but was ignored.

“When the march reached the area of the movie theater a group of some 10 people wearing black joined. They started attacking demonstrators with knives, clubs and glass bottles. I ran to help the people who were injured and then one of them attacked me with some sort of sharp object and immediately another two pounced on me,” Shay Sekler tells the Haaretz daily.

Sekler says he and other protesters ran after the assailants to film them, but were attacked with pepper spray.

“In the area of Kaplan Street I met undercover police officers — I was covered in blood — and asked them for help and that they call for medical assistance. I was ignored,” he said.

US slaps sanctions on son of Syria’s Assad

WASHINGTON — The United States slaps sanctions on the son of Syrian President Bashar Assad, extending efforts to block funds for the war-torn country’s regime.

Hafez al-Assad, 18, named after his grandfather, will not be allowed to travel or maintain assets in the United States, the State Department says.


Blue and White minister: If PM won’t honor coalition deal on budget, who can ensure he won’t break other promises?

Blue and White Minister Michael Biton explains the party’s insistence on the passage of a budget running through 2021, rather than one that only covers the rest of the year as advocated by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud.

In an interview with Army Radio, Biton notes Netanyahu promised to hand over the premiership to Gantz in November 2021 as part of the coalition deal between Blue & White and Likud. If Netanyahu won’t honor the coalition agreement’s stipulation that a budget covering all of next year be passed, who can guarantee he’ll adhere to other commitments he made, Biton asks.

2 arrested over assault on anti-PM protesters said to admit involvement

Two suspects who were arrested for attacks on anti-Netanyahu protesters last night in Tel Aviv have admitted their role in the assaults, according to Hebrew media reports.

The two said they were at a bar and saw the attacks develop and didn’t plan to assault people beforehand, Channel 13 news reports.

A third suspect arrested earlier today denies being present during the incidents.

TikTok faces US national security review, Mnuchin says

WASHINGTON — A US government national security review of the social media app TikTok is nearly complete and will deliver a recommendation to the White House this week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says.

Mnuchin tells reporters the review is being conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which deals with companies and acquisitions affecting national security.

“TikTok is under CFIUS review and we’ll be making a recommendation to the president on it this week,” Mnuchin says. “We have lots of alternatives.”

The news comes amid increasing concerns voiced by US officials and lawmakers about TikTok’s links to China and its potential use for espionage — an allegation consistently dismissed by the company.

TikTok earlier today pushed back at what it called “maligning attacks” by Facebook and others that call attention to the video app’s Chinese connections.

TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the attacks were “disguised as patriotism and designed to put an end to our very presence in the US.”

TikTok, which has grown its user base to an estimated one billion, has consistently denied any links to the Chinese government, as critics warn of potential security risks because of its Chinese-based parent firm ByteDance.


2,104 new coronavirus cases confirmed Tuesday, Health Ministry says

Statistics published by the Health Ministry show 1,943 new coronavirus cases were recorded over the past day, bringing the number of infections since the start of the pandemic to 67,734.

The ministry reports five more fatalities since this morning, raising the national death toll to 491.

According to the Health Ministry, there were 2,104 COVID-19 cases recorded on Tuesday.

Of the 34,521 active cases, there are 328 people in serious condition, with 99 people on ventilators. Another 148 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.

The ministry says 26,195 tests were performed yesterday.

Treasury head says he’ll bring short-term budget for approval next week, despite Blue and White opposition

Finance Minister Israel Katz says he’ll bring forward a budget covering the rest of the year for government approval next week, despite the Blue and White party’s insistence it run through 2021.

“It’s impossible to continue in the present situation without a budget, and the last thing needed now is elections,” Katz, a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party, tells the Ynet news site.

While Likud and Blue and White agreed to pass a budget through 2021 as part of their coalition deal, the premier is now pushing for a budget that only covers the rest of the year, citing the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. Doing so could allow him to call new elections without having to honor his power-sharing agreement with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

If no budget is passed by August 25, new elections will automatically be called.

Katz met earlier today with Gantz to discuss the budget, but the two failed to reach an agreement.

According to a Channel 12 news report this evening, a number of leading economists in Israel have warned in a letter against a short-term budget as advocated by Netanyahu, saying it “will only increase economic uncertainty” and confuse financial markets.

Among the economists who signed the letter were former Bank of Israel governor Jacob Frenkel and Menahem Yaari.

The Ynet news site meanwhile quotes unnamed Finance Ministry officials saying there’s no logic to passing a budget that only runs through December.

Hundreds demonstrate outside Netanyahu’s residence, read Tisha B’Av texts

A couple hundred people are protesting outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem as part of ongoing demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The demonstrators read aloud texts traditionally read for the Tisha B’Av fast, according to the Ynet news site.

The fast, which marks the destruction of the two Jewish Temples in Jerusalem, began this evening at sundown and ends tomorrow after nightfall.

Greece said weighing allowing Israeli tourists in despite high infection rates

Greece is considering allowing Israeli tourists into the country from mid-August despite the high coronavirus infection rates in the Jewish state, Channel 12 news reports.

Police said bracing for attacks on anti-PM protesters in Jerusalem by far-right soccer hooligans

Police are bracing for an attempt by far-right soccer hooligans to attack anti-Netanyahu protesters during a demonstration tomorrow evening outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, the Kan public broadcaster reports

The reported police preparations come after La Familia, a group of ultra-nationalist supporters of Jerusalem’s Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, called for its members to gather tomorrow evening at the First Station, an entertainment center about a kilometer from the Prime Minister’s Residence.

In a Facebook post yesterday, La Familia said “haters and destroyers of Israel are continuing… to harm every Jewish concept that exists.

“Lookout leftist rags, the rules of the game have now changed,” it warns.

Arrested Hamas member gave Israel valuable intelligence — Shin Bet

The Shin Bet announces that a Hamas operative who fled the Gaza Strip to Israel brought with him valuable intelligence on the terror group for which he worked.

Izz al-Din Hussein, 24, sought to swim to the Jewish state from Gaza on June 28 amid family problems and concerns of “persecution and defamation by senior Hamas figures,” the Shin Bet says in a statement.

Izz al-Din Hussein. (Shin Bet)

Upon crossing into Israeli waters, Hussein was promptly arrested by naval forces who transferred him to the Shin Bet for interrogation.

During his questioning, investigators learned that Hussein had enlisted in Hamas’s military wing in 2013 and began working in aerial defense in 2018, where he headed the shoulder-fired missile unit, the Shin Bet says.

He held an anti-aircraft missile in his house and was told to launch it at an Israeli military chopper if one nears his home, in order to kidnap or kill IDF soldiers, the statement adds.

Hussein has been charged with “grave security offenses” at the Beersheba District Court, the Shin Bet says.

— with Jacob Magid

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Pentagon to move 11,900 US troops out of Germany

WASHINGTON — The United States will slash its military presence in Germany by 11,900 troops, relocating some to Italy and Belgium in a major shift of Washington’s NATO assets, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper announces today.

Of the 34,500 US military personnel in Germany, some 6,400 will be sent home while nearly 5,600 others will be moved to other NATO countries.

A key aim of the rotation is to reinforce NATO’s southeastern flank near the Black Sea, Esper says.

Some could also go to Poland and the Baltic states if Warsaw follows through on an agreement already sketched out by the two sides, Esper says.