Tag Archives: Israel

Off to Israel — and Buffalo

I am leaving early this morning for a two week trip to Israel. On my way back I will be stopping in Buffalo, New York for two nights to give lectures at the Niagara Aerospace Museum on Wednesday, December 12 at 7 pm, and then again to the Niagara Frontier Section of AIAA on Thursday, December 13. The first is definitely open to the public.

I will be posting from Israel, but my schedule will be somewhat confused, considering the travel times and all. This is especially frustrating because the next two weeks will be jam-packed with interesting space events, from OSIRIS-REx’s arrival at Bennu to numerous rocket launches. Nonetheless, I will be posting, regardless, even if those posts will happen at odd hours.

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SpaceIL gets $5 million for its lunar lander/rover

Capitalism in space: SpaceIL, the Israeli non-profit building a lunar lander/rover that had been a finalist in the Google Lunar X-Price, announced today that it has received a $5 million donation from a Canadian billionaire.

SpaceIL announced Monday that [Sylvan] Adams would be joining their groundbreaking project and donating $5 million to the effort. The nonprofit organization’s spacecraft is due to be launched in early 2019 and reach the moon two months later, making Israel only the fourth country to soft-land on the lunar surface.

“This contribution to strengthening the Israeli space program, and encouraging education for excellence and innovation among the younger generation in Israel, is the best gift I could have asked for,” said Adams, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, as he announced his contribution at the Israel Aerospaces Industries (IAI) MBT Space Division in Yehud, where the spacecraft is being assembled.

SpaceIL has said it’s mission is focused on education and inspiring Israel’s youth. If so, it seems to me that it is missing the boat. There is money to be made marketing their ability to build inexpensive planetary spacecraft.

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Netanyahu visits Oman, which calls for acceptance of Israel

Some good news on a bad day: After Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu completed a secret visit to the Muslim country of Oman this week, its leaders called for the Arab region to accept Israel as a nation.

In a speech he delivered at the IISS Manama Dialogue security summit in Bahrain, Omani Foreign Minister Yousuf bin Alawi said, “Israel is a state present in the region, and we all understand this. The world is also aware of this and maybe it is time for Israel to be treated the same [as other states] and to also bear the same obligations.”

Netanyahu traveled to Oman at the invitation of the country’s leader, Sultan Sayyid Qaboos bin Said Al Said, so that the two could discuss regional issues. The visit, which was kept secret until after Netanyahu’s return to Israel on Friday, came just two days after a Palestinian delegation led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Oman. Abbas also met with Sultan Qaboos.

Oman is offering ideas to help Israel and the Palestinians to come together but is not acting as mediator, Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, the sultanate’s minister responsible for foreign affairs, told the IISS Manama Dialogue security summit in Bahrain. “We are not saying that the road is now easy and paved with flowers, but our priority is to put an end to the conflict and move to a new world,” bin Alawi told the summit.

It appears, based on details in the article, that the diplomacy of the Trump administration is helping to make this possible.

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Palestinian Authority arrests Palestinian-American for property sale to Jews

The true Middle East bigots: The Palestinian Authority has arrested a Palestinian-American for aiding in the property sale of a house in Jerusalem to a Jewish organization that provides housing to orthodox Israelis.

“The 55-year-old man, who is a US citizen, is being interrogated by the Palestinians security agencies in Ramallah for his role in the sale of an Arab-owned house in the Old City of Jerusalem to a Jewish organization,” the sources told The Jerusalem Post. They said the man was suspected of acting as a “solicitor” between the owner of the house and the Jewish organization that bought the house.

A senior PA security official in Ramallah refused to comment on the arrest of the US citizen.

The Post has obtained a copy of the man’s US passport, but due to the sensitivity of the case has chosen not to publish his name.

US government officials said they were aware of the arrest and expressed concern that he would be treated fairly. They said the State Department was in touch with the PA regarding the arrest.

Last week, the Palestinian Islamic religious authorities in east Jerusalem reaffirmed a fatwa (religious decree) prohibiting Palestinians from selling their houses and lands to Israelis. Some Palestinians have called for imposing the death penalty on those who violate the ban. [emphasis mine]

1. If any American tried to outlaw the sale of a piece of property to anyone, solely because of their religion, we would call them a bigot.

2. This property is in Jerusalem, which is entirely under Israeli jurisdiction. That Islamic leaders are trying to impose their bigoted views on that country, despite its own laws forbidding religious discrimination, tells us all we need to know about Islam.

3. The arrested man might live in Israel, or in the West Bank, but he is also a U.S. citizen, and I suspect the Trump administration will not take kindly to this.

4. Finally, expect the Israeli authorities to step in. Already they have arrested three Palestinians for organizing a kangaroo court aimed at punishing everyone involved in the property sale.

Last week, Palestinian activists in east Jerusalem summoned Atari [the supposed Palestinian buyer] and a representative of the Joudeh family [the sellers of the property] for what some Palestinians described as a kangaroo court in an attempt to find out who sold the house to Ateret Cohanim [the Jewish organization]. A video of the “court” hearing that was later posted on Facebook has gone viral, with many Palestinians calling for the “execution” of those involved in the transaction for “high treason.”

On Thursday, the Israel Police arrested three east Jerusalem residents on suspicion of incitement for their role in organizing the “court” hearing and threatening Atari. The three are: Abdullah Alqam, Fadi Mtur and Kamal Abu Kweider. The three were arrested hours before the second “court” session was scheduled to convene on Thursday evening.

This whole story could get hot, as it reveals the bigoted and discriminatory behavior of the Palestinians, something I have written about previously. It also is occurring during a Trump administration that has decided to no longer look the other way when it comes to Palestinian corruption or injustice.

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Israeli private Moon mission delayed by SpaceX

Because of a launch delay announced by SpaceX, the launch of a private Israeli Moon lander has been delayed from December until early 2019.

SpaceIL said Elon Musk’s SpaceX firm, whose rockets are set to carry the unmanned probe into space, had informed it of “a delay of a number of weeks to the beginning of 2019.”

SpaceIL stressed that the delay was SpaceX’s decision, noting in a statement that tests on their craft, shaped like a pod and weighing some 585 kilograms (1,300 pounds), were proceeding successfully.

As a secondary payload, the SpaceIL mission is at the mercy of SpaceX’s primary mission. It is unclear why SpaceX delayed the launch.

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NASA signs agreement to work with SpaceIL’s privately built lunar rover

Capitalism in space: NASA, the Israeli space agency, and the private Israeli space company SpaceIL have signed a cooperative agreement to work together when SpaceIL’s privately built lunar rover is launched to the Moon in December.

NASA will contribute a laser retroreflector array to aid with ground tracking and Deep Space Network support to aid in mission communication. ISA and SpaceIL will share data with NASA from the SpaceIL lunar magnetometer installed aboard the spacecraft. The instrument, which was developed in collaboration with the Weizmann Institute of Science, will measure the magnetic field on and above the landing site. The data will be made publicly available through NASA’s Planetary Data System. In addition, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to take scientific measurements of the SpaceIL lander as it lands on the Moon.

This agreement is the first step in the transition from having the government build planetary probes to it becoming a customer, buying these probes from private companies that build them for profit.

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SpaceX gets contract to launch private lunar rover missions

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has won a contract for two launches of lunar rovers built by a private Japanese company.

okyo-based lunar-exploration startup Ispace has signed up for launches on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in 2020 and 2021. The first will carry a lunar lander into orbit around the moon, and the second aims to put one on the moon’s surface so it can deploy a pair of rovers, Ispace said Wednesday. “We share the vision with SpaceX of enabling humans to live in space, so we’re very glad they will join us in this first step of our journey,” Ispace Chief Executive Officer Takeshi Hakamada said in a statement.

SpaceX already has a contract for another private lunar rover, built by the Israeli company SpaceIL, that is set to launch as a secondary payload in December.

Both companies are former competitors in the Google Lunar X-Prize competition. Based on these contracts, as well as the pending launch of Moon Express’s private lunar rover on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket, it appears that private commercial planetary missions are about to become routine.

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Trump administration to shutter PLO office in DC

As part of its hard-nosed approach to PLO intransigence, the Trump administration has decided to shut down the Palestinian offices in DC.

National security adviser John Bolton is expected to announced Monday that the U.S. will shutter the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in Washington, D.C., The Wall Street Journal reported. “The Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” Bolton is expected to say, according to a draft of his speech reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

This is on top of cutting off all U.S. funding to the PLO.

Though I like this decision, as it ends U.S. support for these terrorist organizations, I doubt it will do anything to change PLO policy. The petty dictators who are in charge of Palestinian affairs, the PLO and Hamas, require the selling of hatred of Jews and Israel to survive. Everything else they have done has bankrupted the lives of the people living in the West Bank and Gaza. The second they change their tune, the people there might suddenly realize how bad their leadership is, and could very well string them up, much as the Italians did to Mussolini at the end of World War II.

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Trump administration cuts $200 million of Palestinian aid

The Trump administration today announced an additional $200 million cut of Palestinian aid.

“At the direction of President Trump, we have undertaken a review of U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority and in the West Bank and Gaza to ensure these funds are spent in accordance with U.S. national interests and provide value to the U.S. taxpayer,” the department said. “As a result of that review, at the direction of the president, we will redirect more than $200 million … originally planned for programs in the West Bank and Gaza.”

“This decision takes into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance in Gaza, where Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza’s citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation,” the notice said, without providing additional details.

As long as the terrorist leadership in Gaza and the West Bank refuse to accept the right of Israel to exist, they simply do not deserve any American aid. This is a reasonable position, and it is also one that follows laws that Congress itself has passed.

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Laid off workers supported by Hamas, take over UN refugee headquarters

Chaos in Gaza: Union workers for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) have seized control of its headquarters in protest of lay-offs caused by the withdrawal of financial support by the United States.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced last month more than 250 staff in Gaza and Judea and Samaria would lose their jobs, after a $300 million cut in annual funding from the United States. The redundancies have prompted daily protests by the agency’s labour union in the enclave, which UNRWA’s Gaza head said have led to security concerns. “They have taken over the compound where my office and other offices are,” said Matthias Schmale.

The agency’s Gaza chief admitted UNRWA does not have full control over the site, in Gaza City, explaining he has not been able to access his own office for more than two weeks. “I am the captain of the ship which has 13,000 sailors on it and they have basically thrown me off the bridge and consigned me to my captain’s quarters,” he told AFP, referring to the number of employees in Gaza.

Schmale accused the labor union of multiple incidents of “threatening and intimidating other fellow Palestinian staff. For me that crosses a red line. … I am very concerned about the safety and security of my Palestinian colleagues,” he added.

It appears the take over is backed by Hamas.

What we are seeing here is the possible collapse of the entire UN/Arab structure that has for decades used the Arab refugees from Israel — and their descendants — as political pawns. Rather than repatriate these people into Egypt or Jordan, both countries as well as the entire Arab world, with the help of the UN and sadly a lot of U.S. money, forced them into refugee camps and thus used them as a hammer against Israel

Without U.S. financial support, however, this ploy cannot work. The protests and violence coming from Gaza in the past year has been a response to this collapse. Hamas has depended on that funding to keep itself in power. Without it, it cannot pay off its supporters.

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Israel’s former Google Lunar X-Prize contestant to launch in 2018

Capitalism in space: Despite a failure of all contestants to to win the Google Lunar X-Prize, Israel’s competitor announced today that they still plan to launch, and will do so in December of this year.

The SpaceIL spacecraft will be launched from the United States on a Falcon 9 orbital launch vehicle, built by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX. At a press conference on Tuesday, SpaceIL representatives announced that the unmanned lunar landing craft will be transferred to the US in November, with a launch date in December.

According to SpaceIL, the unmanned space vessel will reach the moon and complete the lunar landing on February 13th next year.

They say the lander will plant an Israeli flag on the Moon, but the images at the link, as well as the announcement, suggests that the lander will no longer have the ability to rove, as required for the X-Prize. It appears to me that they have simplified the mission in order to fly it quickly and gain the public relations such a flight will give them.

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Israel considers a loosening of its gun laws

The Israeli government is considering a relaxing of its gun laws in order to allow more ordinary citizens the ability to own and carry guns for self defense.

Israel is mulling relaxing gun rules that will allow up to 40,000 more people to get weapons, the local media reports. Gun-lobbying politicians hope the measure will help ordinary citizens to neutralize “terrorists.”

The Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan proposed to allow any Israeli citizen who passed rifle training in the IDF to apply for a gun license, Tel-Aviv-based daily Haartez reported on Sunday. According to the paper, the required level of training for the license will be equivalent to the one of an IDF combat infantry soldier. If introduced, the measure will be a win for Israel’s gun lobby that had been fighting to lower the bar for gun ownership in order to help regular citizens defend themselves during terror attacks.

“Sending the citizens of Israel to protect themselves with pizza trays, selfie sticks, guitars and umbrellas is a crime of the state against its citizens,” politician Amir Ohana, who leads the gun lobby caucus in the nation’s parliament told Haaretz. “A law abiding citizen, who has the basic skill required, is entitled to be able to defend himself and his surroundings.”

It is simple common sense. It is the same common sense the required all citizens in the American west to know how to use a gun or rifle, and to be armed. Unfortunately, Israel does not have a second amendment, so the right to bear arms is something that the government can give or take, depending on who wins elections.

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Why Google blurs surface images of Israel, and why that blurring could end

Link here. A 1997 U.S. law requires that all satellite imagery of Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank be blurred. The law also sets the resolution standard based on the best images produced by other commercial companies outside the U.S.

NOAA is now reviewing the law, since high resolution European commercial images have been available since 2012. If it decides this is the new standard, high resolution views of this very politically hot region could become publicly available for free.

The article focuses on the wonderfully good things in science and research this change would bring. It completely ignores the use that terrorist organizations, set on killing as many Israelis as possible, could put to such images.

In general, I prefer freedom and the wide distribution of information. In this case I am torn.

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U.S. suspends payments to Palestinian Authority

Years late: According to one Israeli news source, the United States has suspended all aid to the Palestinian Authority, beginning in May.

I24 News, which is based in Israel, reported Monday that the U.S. froze funding as part of the Taylor Force Act, which requires Palestinian officials to end payments to terrorist groups and take steps to stop those groups’ behavior.

The news outlet, citing a White House official and a Senate aide, also reported that certain Palestinian programs have been put on hold because the West Bank and Gaza office of USAID have not received a budget for the coming year. USAID provides funding for foreign development projects.

An official with one of those programs told i24 News that the U.S. stopped transferring funds at the end of May.

It appears that the Trump administration did this to underline the Palestinian leadership’s continuing support of terrorism and its unwillingness to accept any peace deal with Israel. It also appears that the Trump administration has successfully garnered the support of many Arab nations in this effort.

Without funds, the corrupt leadership in both the West Bank and Gaza will find itself very vulnerable. We could therefore see some very interesting and I think positive developments in the next year.

One more note: It is a disgrace that neither Bush nor Obama had the courage to do this earlier, even though it has been obvious for years that the Palestinian leadership was using U.S. aid to support terrorist acts. Their lack of action in this area suggests that neither was ever very serious about negotiating a peace deal.

Update: More information here concerning the Trump administration’s cuts to aid to Gaza.

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Dozens killed, including armed terrorists, in Gaza border violence

They also call this cutting off your nose to spite your face: Dozens have been killed today in riots along the Gaza-Israreli border as thousands of Gazan protesters attempted to invade Israel.

More than 35,000 protesters amassed at a dozen locations along the security fence, with many engaging in skirmishes that pushed the death toll Monday to the highest in Gaza since a 2014 cross-border standoff between the militant group Hamas and the Jewish state, according to the Associated Press.

Gaza health officials told the news agency that 41 people so far have been killed in Monday’s violence, and at least 772 have been wounded.

The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv, a key campaign promise of President Trump, has infuriated the Palestinians, who seek east Jerusalem as a future capital.

“Moments ago, an IDF patrol foiled a bomb-laying attack by a cell of three armed terrorists near Rafah, close to the border,” the Israeli military said Monday. “This is a particularly violent protest point. The troops responded with fire at the terrorists. The terrorists were killed.”

You want to live in peace? You show others that you mean it. You want others to see you as violent and a killer? You do things that prove it.

These demonstrations prove the latter. In the seventy years since Israel’s founding, that nation has shown, time after time, that it is more than willing to work with the Arabs, the Palestinians, the international community, anyone, in order to establish peaceful relations with its neighbors. Israel even unilaterally walked out of Gaza in order to show the world and the Palestinians that they are willing to allow an independent Palestinian state to exist side-by-side with Israel.

The Gazans here once again prove that they are unready to do so. They only hate, and want to kill, emotions that are hardly a good foundation for a reliable peace treaty.

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Riots prompted by Hamas have left Gaza with fuel crisis

This is called shooting oneself in the foot: The riots that the Hamas leadership of Gaza have been pushing this week have left the territory without cooking gas or diesel fuel, and no way to obtain more.

In Friday night’s attack, a large crowd broke into the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel, badly damaging a fuel and gas terminal and a conveyor belt for aggregate and animal feed.

Israel closed Kerem Shalom, saying it would take weeks or months to repair several million dollars in damages. It was not clear when the delivery of consumer goods by trucks would resume, said an army spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, adding that six trucks with medical supplies entered Gaza on Sunday.

There has been widespread speculation about the motives for the vandalism, with Israel holding Gaza’s rulers from the Islamic militant Hamas group responsible. Friday’s attack was the second on Kerem Shalom in a week, raising questions about why Hamas did not try to protect a key installation.

They estimate that Gaza only has about 7 to 10 days of fuel remaining.

It is unclear if Hamas leaders prompted the riot that destroyed the depot, or if the rioters themselves went out of control. No matter. It illustrates a madness in Gaza that has existed since Israel unilaterally left, giving them control of their own territory so they could rule themselves.

Rather than demonstrate that they were ready for their own state, the residents of Gaza have since chosen a terrorist organization as their leaders, destroyed the profitable infrastructure and businesses that the Israelis left them, and instead devoted their efforts to building missiles and bombs to fling at Israel.

This new destruction is merely par for the course. The riots that I expect tomorrow, when many Gaza residents will try to breach the border, under pressure from or in support of the Hamas leadership, is only going to cause more harm to those residents, and accomplish nothing good.

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The Middle East following Trump’s rejection of Iran deal

Many pundits had predicted that Donald Trump as president would lead to war with North Korea.

They were wrong. Completely, utterly, and foolishly. Instead, Trump’s hardline approach finally forced North Korea’s allies to force that nation to come to the negotiating table. For the first time in decades it appears we are going to see some substantive and positive changes in North Korea’s relations with the world.

This same pundit class, all operatives of the Democratic Party, have for the last few days been screaming that Trump’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal would also lead to war. Will these predictions be right this time? At this moment it is hard to say. Almost immediately after Trump’s announcement Iran and Israel exchanged missile fire. Overall, however, that exchange has turned out badly for Iran, the world’s biggest financier of terrorism and the instigator of most of the problems that presently exist in the Middle East.

First, it appears that militarily Iran did badly in the missile exchange, with Israel doing their capabilities in Syria serious harm. Second, Iran apparently did not tell anyone in Syria it was going to do use that country as a military launch site, and this is already causing them problems with their allies. For example, Russia announced today that it will not deliver new missiles to Syria, despite an earlier promise to do so.

Finally, a host of Arab Middle East countries have not only celebrated Trump’s actions, it has prompted some to reveal support for Israel, something that would have seemed impossible only two years ago.

It remains unclear if Trump’s actions will have the same positive effect on Iran as his actions did on North Korea. The two situations are not identical. Iran’s leaders have more flexibility and options that North Korea’s. Still, what Trump has accomplished is to get some important Arab nations to move to our side against Iran, and in doing so to increasingly ally themselves with Israel as well. This cannot be a bad thing.

Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic leader of Hamas announced yesterday that the protests next week in Gaza will be “decisive” and that many will die. Whether this really happens, it is apparent that such protests are not garnering Hamas the same worldwide support they once did. The same Middle East countries that have celebrated Trump’s actions have also made it clear they no longer support the terrorist tactics of the leaders in both the West Bank and Gaza. These Arab nations have quietly made it clear that they actually back Israel now.

Trump’s actions in the Middle East appear to have shifted the balance of power, and that shift has been in favor of Israel, the only democratically-elected nation in the area. This cannot be a bad thing.

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A detailed analysis of the recent seemingly pro-Israel remarks by the Saudi leader

Link here. The analysis takes a close look at what Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman really said about Israel’s right to exist, and found that, while much of what he said was hopeful, it was couched in enough vagueness that no one should celebrate too wildly.

In short, Muhammad said nothing revolutionary. He bore no glad tidings of a strategic shift in the Saudi Islam or in the manner that the Saudis relate to the world, including the Jews.

Which brings us back to the main question. What did we learn from this interview? The most significant thing that came out of the interview is that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is very keen to cooperate with the US and with Israel in everything related to defeating what he refers to as the “triangle of evil.”

The three sides of his triangle are Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the terrorist groups the Muslim Brotherhood has spawned, including al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

Saudi Arabia is still an Islamic country run by the corrupt and violent Arabian culture. As noted elsewhere in the article,

The problem is that Muhammad’s regime is built on shaky foundations. Muhammad instigated a blood feud with powerful forces within his family when he carried out a string of arrests last year. Among those arrested were several prominent princes.

Rhode [a Middle East expert] explains that the Saudi ruling clan divvied up the organs of government among branches of the family. For instance, one branch controls the Defense Ministry, another controls the Education Ministry, and so on down the line.

“In the Islamic world, humiliation is worse than death,” Rhode notes. “When Muhammad arrested the other princes, he humiliated them,” Rhode says. “And they will never forgive him. They will wait for the day they can exact revenge for their humiliation even if it only comes when their great-grandchildren have succeeded them.”

We cannot trust them very much, but we can take advantage of their internal conflicts to push them in a more reasonable direction.

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American embassy opens in Jerusalem in May

In order to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israeli independence, the Trump administration today announced that the American embassy will officially open in Jerusalem in May 2018.

Officials told Fox News the embassy would initially be located in the neighborhood of Arnona on a compound that currently houses the consular operations of the U.S. Consulate General Jerusalem. Initially, the embassy will consist of the Ambassador and a small team. Nauert said that the Consulate General would “continue to operate as an independent mission with an unchanged mandate” from its Agron Road location.

An official also told Fox News that the hope is for the U.S. to develop only a “footprint” there in May, with a target of a fuller complement and facility by the end of 2019.

Much of this is therefore symbolic, but symbolism in diplomacy is often everything. More important, this action lends weight to the likelihood that Trump is firm in keeping this campaign promise, a campaign promise that every past Republican president since the 1990s failed to keep.

You might not like Trump, but an honest appraisal has to give him credit for one thing. He keeps his campaign promises. He said he’d cut taxes. He cut taxes. He said he’d shut down illegal immigration. Everything he has done indicates a sincere effort to do so. He said he’s cut regulation and neuter the EPA. He has done so, in a manner not seen by a president in my lifetime.

While I can certainly criticize Trump for a number of things, including his unwillingness to really cut spending and waste in the federal government, I would dishonest if I did not credit him for this.

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Tiny crowded Israel

Journeying through northern Israel

Much of the world’s political troubles are centered on the question of Israel in the middle of the Middle East. In both the Arab world as well as in some western intellectual circles, there are whole campaigns to make it go away (some peaceful, some genocidal). Politicians, pundits, and intellectuals argue incessantly about the rights of the Palestinians and the Jews, the best solution of achieving peace, and even the question of whether the Jews who have immigrated there have a right to stay.

I have just returned from spending two weeks in Israel, a trip I do somewhat regularly to see family. Each of these visits has given me an on-the-ground close-up look at the situation there, something that is difficult to get from the typically shallow media coverage of the region. And from each of these visits comes at least one essay, something I think is required because of Israel’s significance in much of the world’s political turmoil.

This year, we took a three day sightseeing trip to northern Israel, to visit some Roman ruins, the Sea of Galilee, and an incredible nature preserve that is the springtime home for thousands upon thousands of migrating birds. This excursion thus made this particular Israel visit far different from my half dozen or so previous trips, in that it was the first time I spent a considerable time in Israel proper. All my previous trips visiting family had me spend almost all my time going from one West Bank settlement to another. (That experience resulted in a series of essays on what those settlements are really like, which not surprisingly has no resemblance to their portrayal in the western press. My previous essay, A look at some Israeli West Bank settlements, provides a good summary, but it also provides links to all the previous essays, which are definitely worth the time to read if you want to find out what it is really like in the West Bank. I will give you one clue that might shock you: Hitchhiking is one of the most popular ways to get around.)

Anyway, this three-day trip allowed me to get my first look at Israel itself. The map above shows our route, as indicated by the dotted red line. The numbered Xs were our stops, of which I will discuss below.
» Read more

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The dying Palestinians in Syria

Link here. If you want to really understand the corrupt and evil nature of the Palestinian leadership, you need only read this one article.

A Palestinian refugee camp has been under siege for more than 1,660 days. Hundreds of the camp residents have been killed, while tens of thousands have been forced to flee from their homes.

Those who have remained in the camp — mostly the elderly, women and children — live in unspeakable sanitary conditions and drink polluted water. More than 200 Palestinians from the camp, which has been under siege since 2013, have died as a result of lack of food or medicine. The conditions in the refugee camp, by any standard, are horrific.

Why have most of us not heard about the hair-raising “living” conditions that characterize this camp? Because it is not located in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. The name of the camp is Yarmouk, and it is located about five miles from the Syrian capital of Damascus.

More than 100,000 Palestinians used to live in the 2.11 square-kilometer Yarmouk camp before the civil war erupted in Syria in 2011. By the end of 2014, the number of the camp residents had plummeted to 13,000.

And what has Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas done about this?

While his people are being killed, starved, displaced and denied medical treatment in Syria, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appears to be more concerned about US President Donald Trump’s recent announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Picking a fight with the US administration has become a daily national sport for Abbas and his top officials in Ramallah. Hardly a day passes without another Palestinian Authority statement strongly denouncing Trump and his administration’s policies toward the Palestinians. But when it comes to the suffering of Palestinians in Syria, Ramallah is mute.

Palestinian leaders who hold regular meetings in Ramallah simply ignore the atrocities their people face in the Arab countries, especially Syria. Instead, the leaders devote most of their time to issuing condemnations of Israeli settlements and the Trump administration, as if Palestinians are not being killed by the thousands in an Arab country.

The 82-year-old Abbas, meanwhile, has made clear where his priorities stand. Instead of searching for ways to help his people in Syria and the Gaza Strip, where hospitals are facing a deathly shortage of fuel and medicine, Abbas has just spent $50 million to purchase a “presidential plane.” [emphasis mine]

Remember the last detail highlighted above the next time Trump announces that he is cutting funds to the Palestinian Authority. It is clear that any money given to them is not going where it should, and should therefore be cut off.

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Palestinian condemnation, from a Saudi Arabian

Link here. The story is about a Saudi Arabian video blogger who posted a two minute rant condemning the Palestinians as forcefully as can be imagined.

“You are the ugliest page in our history – like a bad memory that we’d like to forget. We want to tear this page out of [our history] and get rid of it completely, now and forever.

We’ve had to sacrifice having ties with Israel – the most advanced country in the Middle East because of you and your problems and your use of our religion, language, and the fact that you’re Arabs. [emphasis mine]

This quote is only a small part of the rant. I highlight it specifically because it reveals a recognition in Saudi Arabia of the reality that Israel is a far better ally for the Saudis than the Palestinians. For an Arab to say kind words about Israel in a public forum is quite astonishing, considering the history of the past sixty years. Furthermore, this blogger would not be saying it if he did not know that his government approves. There is no free speech in Saudi Arabia.

This is one more indication that a major shift is about to occur in the Middle East, with certain countries possibly abandoning the Palestinians as their leadership is presently constituted, two corrupt terrorist organizations with no interest in living in peace with their neighbors.

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Is Iran on the edge of collapse?

Link here. This short essay outlines a range of financial, economic, and fundamental problems facing Iran’s government that might lead to that country’s entire collapse.

Before we wax too eloquent about the democratic aspirations of the great Iranian people, we should keep in the mind that the most probable scenario for Iran under any likely regime is a sickening spiral into poverty and depopulation. Iran has the fastest-aging population of any country in the world, indeed, the fast-aging population of any country in history. It has the highest rate of venereal disease infection and the highest rate of infertility of any country in the world. It has a youth unemployment rate of 35% (adjusted for warehousing young people in state-run diploma mills). And worst of all, it has run out of water.

We might be observing the birth of Iranian democracy in the protests of the past few weeks, but it is more likely that we are watching the slow-motion train wreck of a once-great nation in all its gory detail. As I noted in an Asia Times analysis this morning, the most violent protests, e.g. the burning of a police station near Isfahan captured on this video, happened in the boondocks where water has run out. The river that runs through Isfahan, a legendary city of gardens in the desert, literally has run dry. Some Iranian officials warn that tens of millions of Iranians will have to leave their homes for lack of water. The country has used up 70% of its groundwater and its literally drying up major rivers to maintain consumption. It’s the worst ecological disaster in modern history.

If this analysis is even close to correct, things are going to get deadly interesting in the coming years. And it might not be just Iranians who face death. Iran will be like a cornered animal. The world, the Middle East, and especially Israel, will be in great danger because this particular cornered animal will have nothing to lose by doing very evil and violent things.

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Aryeh and Gil Gat – The Sound of Silence

An evening pause: I think this song is fitting for the last night of Hanukkah. For Jews, this verse well describes perfectly what it is like when they try to express their point of view in a harsh and hostile world:

“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

The two singers are brothers and rabbis, and are performing here for an Israeli television show modeled after American Idol called Rising Star.

Hat tip Jim Mallamace.

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Trump declares Jerusalem Israel’s capital, delays moving embassy

President Trump today declared that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, though the move of the U.S. embassy to that city will be delayed for several more years.

Since the 1990s, when Congress passed a law that said the embassy should move but allowed presidents to waive that move repeatedly, every president issued a waiver because it was thought such a move would hurt the so-called peace process. Trump’s comments addressed this.

The President repeatedly addressed concerns about a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians being hindered as a result of the recognition. He argued failing to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as verified by law and Congress through the Jerusalem Embassy Act, has done nothing to move the region closer to a peace deal. “We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past. Old challenges demand new approaches,” Trump said. “The record is in, after two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a peace agreement.” [emphasis mine]

Trump is correct. We are no closer to Middle East peace now than we were in the 1990s. And I think the reason is illustrated by how the Palestinians (and their enablers) have responded to today’s announcement, with their usual grace and good will:

Gee, doesn’t the Palestinian response now kind of remind you of the gentle response of the Islamic community to some cartoons that were critical of Mohammad?

As I have written repeatedly, you can’t negotiate with someone who wants to kill you. When the Palestinians finally accept the fact that an Israeli state exists and will continue to exist, we will finally have peace. Not before, no matter how many deals get brokered by politicians.

I should also add that this announcement today does not fulfill Trump’s promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. It only makes believe that it does. Only when that embassy actually moves will Trump have done what he (and every previous Republican president or candidate since the 1990s) has promised.

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Israeli competitor for X-prize faces shutdown due to lack of funds

Capitalism in space: SpaceIL, the Israeli finalist in the Google Lunar X-Prize competition, must raise $20 million in the next two weeks or face shutdown, even as they are about to complete testing on their rover.

This is the second of five finalists facing shutdown due to an inability to raise enough investment funds. With a third depending on a rocket that might not be operational by the March 31, 2018 deadline, the prize looks increasingly like no one will win it.

This does not mean that none of the companies will succeed, only that at least one or two might fly after the deadline. If they do, they will still demonstrate that they have the ability to launch a scientific planetary mission for pennies (compared to what the government has been spending). At that point I would expect them to become very viable and profitable spacecraft companies. Thus, it would actually be a good investment for some rich person to put their money behind these projects. In the case of SpaceIL, however, the problem might be that it is a non-profit. It appears it is not designed to be a profitable company down the road, but to merely serve propaganda purposes now.

Anchored in the “can-do”, innovative approach and creative energy that has characterized the Jewish State since its founding, SpaceIL aims to replicate the “Apollo Effect” in Israel, inspire and motivate the next generation of Israelis to pursue a future in STEM professions. Since its establishment as a nonprofit, SpaceIL has pledged to donate the $20 million in prize money, if it wins, to the promotion of science and scientific education in Israel, and to thus contribute to Israel’s economy and security.

Since its founding, many have contributed to the project. The main donor is the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson Foundation. Additional supporters include Morris Kahn, Sami Sagol, Lynn Schusterman and Steven Grand, among others. The project formed exceptional collaborations between the private sector, the academia and governmental companies. Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), the Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel-Aviv University, Israel Space Agency, Israeli Ministry of Science, Bezeq, dozens of engineers and hundreds of volunteers are among SpaceIL’s partners. Over the years, SpaceIL volunteers have reached half a million children and youths throughout the country.

All of this has wonderfully good intentions, but I think they would be better served to focus on making money. A successful and profitable space company will do far more to inspire Israel’s children than mere propaganda.

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A review of the Saudi purge taking place this week

Link here. The analysis here is the best I’ve seen, and suggests once again that we might be seeing a significant shift taking place within the Arab Middle East.

It is in the context of Saudi Arabia’s reassessment of its interests and realignment of strategic posture in recent years that the dramatic events of the past few days in the kingdom must be seen.

Saturday’s sudden announcement that a new anti-corruption panel headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the near simultaneous announcement of the arrest of more than two dozen royal family members, cabinet ministers and prominent businessmen is predominantly being presented as a power seizure by the crown prince. Amid widespread rumors that King Salman will soon abdicate the throne to his son, it is reasonable for the 32-year-old crown prince to work to neutralize all power centers that could threaten his ascension to the throne.

But there is clearly also something strategically more significant going on. While many of the officials arrested over the weekend threaten Mohammed’s power, they aren’t the only ones that he has purged. In September Mohammed arrested some 30 senior Wahhabist clerics and intellectuals. And Saturday’s arrest of the princes, cabinet ministers and business leaders was followed up by further arrests of senior Wahhabist clerics.

At the same time, Mohammed has been promoting clerics who espouse tolerance for other religions, including Judaism and Christianity. He has removed the Saudi religious police’s power to conduct arrests and he has taken seemingly credible steps to finally lift the kingdom-wide prohibition on women driving.

There’s a lot more, including details about how the Obama administration was dishonestly aiding the wrong side. Read it all

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Hamas agrees to hand Gaza to Palestinian Authority

Don’t count those chickens just yet: Hamas today agreed to a deal with the Palestinian Authority to hand over control of Gaza to their West Bank rivals.

Nothing is really agreed to yet. They now will form committees to determine exactly how control will be transferred.

A major sticking point has been the Hamas military wing and its arsenal. Abbas has said he would only return to Gaza if Hamas hands over power, while Hamas has said the military wing is not up for discussion. Hamas officials have assured the Fatah negotiators that the military wing would maintain a low profile as part of any deal.

I can’t imagine any deal here. The leaders of both groups come from terrorist organizations. The Hamas leadership would consider it literal suicide to give up control over its military force. Similarly, the leadership of the Palestinian Authority would consider it literal suicide to allow an independent military force to operate within it.

The link notes two key aspects to this deal. First, it was partly prompted by the Arab boycott of Qatar, which had been supporting Hamas. Second, it has been brokered by the Egyptian government led by al-Sisi.

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Egyptian leader demands Palestinians accept Israel in UN speech

While the main buzz in the American press has been President Trump’s UN speech this week, no one has noticed that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in his own UN speech called for the Palestinians to accept the existence of Israel and to co-exist with it.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on Tuesday urged Palestinian Arabs to overcome their differences and be ready to co-exist with each other and with Israelis in safety and security. “I tell the Palestinian people it’s extremely important … to overcome the differences and not to lose opportunities and to be ready to accept co-existence with the other, with Israelis in safety and security,” Sisi said in a speech before the UN General Assembly, as quoted by Reuters.

Sisi also had his first pubic meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu this week. Furthermore, earlier in the week the king of Bahrain endorsed an event at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles by sending his prince as a representative, while simultaneously calling for an end to the Arab boycott of Israel.

[Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center,] told The Times of Israel in a phone interview Monday that he was in Dubai on a mission for his organization when the king personally invited him to visit his palace. While the meeting took place in February, Hier said that he was ready now to discuss its contents after receiving “a clear signal” from the king that the royal meant business. In this case, the signal was that Bahraini Prince Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa attended a large event for the Weisenthal Center on Thursday, and also visited the unabashedly pro-Israeli Museum of Tolerance, also located in Los Angeles.

There have been other indications recently that the covert cooperation that has existed in recent years between Israel and some Arab nations against Iran and Islamic terrorism is about to become more public. If so, we might be on the cusp of some real positive change in the Middle East. (I realize I am being absurdly optimistic with this statement, but one can always hope.)

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California iman calls for genocide against all Jews

Can’t we all just get along? The Friday sermon of a California iman called for the killing of all Jews because Israel had the nerve to put up metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

And why did Israel do this? Because three Arabs murdered two Israeli policemen in cold blood at the site.

The bottom line here is that the Islamic world wants to kill Jews, and will find any excuse to do it, even excuses as silly as an Israel effort to prevent further violence. Listen to this guy’s sermon at the link. He makes it very clear that this is a Muslim requirement — from the Koran — to kill Jews. And Israel should negotiate with these fanatics?

I want to also point out that this iman was making his speech in California, a place that increasingly fashions itself a haven for fascists and the power-hungry. Note also these details about the mosque from which he made this speech:

The Islamic Center of Davis in Northern California is located about 15 miles from the state’s capital, Sacramento. It has, in the past, hosted events featuring Waleed Idris al-Menessey, who has also called for Muslims to kill Jews and impose Sharia law on non-Muslims law worldwide. Al-Meneesey’s Minneapolis-based Islamic center has produced five recruits for the Islamic State terrorist organization. On its online resources page, the Islamic Center of Davis links to several known Muslim Brotherhood front groups, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the Muslim Students Association (MSA).

If I, a Jew, lived in Sacramento I would not feel safe.

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