1. The assassination of Palestinian engineer Fadi al-Batsh in Malaysia this past weekend is back on the agenda following a bombshell report claiming the incident was part of a broad Mossad campaign against Hamas efforts to send experts abroad for technical training and weapons acquisitions.
- The New York Times report is based on multiple unnamed Middle Eastern intelligence officials who said the wide-ranging Mossad operation against Hamas’s overseas efforts was ordered by the agency’s chief, Yossi Cohen.
- The intelligence officials said Batsh himself, an expert on drones and the nephew of Gaza’s police chief Tayseer al-Batsh, traveled to Malaysia to “research and acquire weapon systems and drones for Hamas,” the Times reported.
- Israel has a longstanding policy of not commenting on claims about Mossad operations. There has been no official statement about the killing of Batsh from Israeli officials, with the exception of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman hinting that he may have been a victim of an intra-Palestinian feud.
2. The Times report indicates that the timing of the assassination was no accident, as it occurred on a day in which Batsh was scheduled to travel to Istanbul, ostensibly for an academic conference.
- An intelligence official told the Times, however, that Batsh was to meet a Hamas official in the city.
- Batsh was reportedly also heavily involved in smuggling weapons systems to Hamas, helping to facilitate the sale to Gaza of North Korean technology used in guided munitions.
3. It’s not often that the main newspaper headlines deal with the weather, but then again, it’s also not often that hailstorms pound down on half the country and flooding forces the shutting of major highways — at the end of April.
- Two teenagers were killed in separate incidents after they were swept away by flash floods.
- Due to the flooding, parts of routes 40 and 90 in southern Israel were closed to traffic, police said. Roads across the country were submerged and dozens of cars damaged. The Sde Dov air field in Tel Aviv was also shut for two hours. In Rishon Lezion, a mall flooded after a ceiling collapsed.
- Despite the tough weather conditions, the Israel Water Authority said every drop of rain was “important, blessed and good,” but the the heavy precipitation could not make up for the drought-like conditions in recent years.
4. Following in the footsteps of US President Donald Trump, Czech Republic leader Miloš Zeman announced his intention to begin moving the country’s diplomatic missions in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
- The three-staged move, according to Zeman, will start next month with the appointment of an honorary consul in Jerusalem and is to conclude at an undetermined time with the relocation of the embassy. It remains unclear if and when Prague will actually open its mission in the holy city.
- Israeli politicians hailed Zeman’s speech, despite the fact that as president, he has limited executive power. Acting Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis is opposed to a full-fledged relocation of the embassy, saying he does not want to break with EU policy.
- Zeman’s intentions aside, the Czech Foreign Ministry has issued a statement clarifying Prague’s actual policy on the reported embassy move, saying that the country “fully respects common policy of the European Union, which considers Jerusalem as the future capital of both the State of Israel and the future State of Palestine.” The statement does not mention the country’s embassy or any plans to move it from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
5. Speaking of embassy moves, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday thanked his Romanian counterpart Viorica Dancila for her government’s stand on possibly moving its diplomatic mission to Jerusalem as well.
- Earlier this month, Liviu Dragnea of the Social Democratic Party, which effectively runs Romania’s government, said Bucharest is ready to follow the US and move its embassy to Jerusalem.
- However, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who is from the center-right and has frequently clashed with the government, protested that he had not been informed and emphasized that any such move could only happen after Israel and the Palestinians had agreed on the status of Jerusalem among themselves.
- Caught in the middle of the argument between the two men, Dancila has sought to explain that her government was trying simply to create a “platform for discussions” on the possible transfer of the embassy.
6. French President Emmanuel Macron, who arrived in Washington this week to plead for a more comprehensive “new agreement” with Iran over its nuclear program, concedes that the American leader may pull out the deal for domestic political reasons.
- “I have no inside information” on what decision Trump will make on the agreement, Macron told journalists. But “I listen to what President Trump is saying and it seems to me that he is not very eager to defend it.”
- Macron yesterday told the US Congress that Iran will “never” be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. “Our objective is clear,” Macron told lawmakers on the final day of a state visit. The French leader however also advocated for striking another deal with Tehran to address the concerns Trump outlined with the agreement made by the Obama administration with P5+1 powers in July 2015.
- Trump — a fierce opponent of the agreement signed by Tehran and international powers — must declare if he will essentially walk away from the existing deal when the renewal deadline arrives on May 12, or stay in.