The Israeli navy overnight Tuesday seized a ship in the Red Sea carrying an Iranian shipment of advanced rockets bound for the Gaza Strip. The IDF said the ship, the Panamanian-flagged Klos C, was carrying Syrian-made M-302 rockets with a range of up to 200 kilometers. The vessel was intercepted by Israeli naval commandoes in international waters more than 1,600 kilometers south of Israel, off of Sudan and Eritrea. There was no resistance from the ship's crew, and it was not immediately clear if the ship's 17 crew members were aware of the clandestine cargo. There were no Israeli injuries in the operation. The vessel was being brought to port in Eilat. Military sources said the rockets had been flown from Syria to Iran, and from there shipped to Iraq, where they were hidden inside sacks of concrete. The IDF said the smugglers intended for the cargo to be unloaded in Sudan, and from there, transported to the Gaza Strip. The interception operation followed months of intelligence gathering. IDF chief of staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz directly oversaw the operation, while the Navy chief, Rear Admiral Ram Rotberg monitored it from a ship at sea. Israel accuses Iran of supplying rockets and other arms to its enemies, and has seized ships carrying weapons in the past. In 2009, the navy's commando force stopped and boarded the Francop, a ship planning to dock in Syria containing massive amounts of Iranian arms intended for Hezbollah. In 2002, Israeli forces intercepted the Karine-A ship in the Red Sea. Captured onbard were tons of munitions en route from Iran to Gaza.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has warned the United States and other world powers not to allow Iran to retain the ability to enrich uranium, and urged Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state if they want peace. Adressing the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC's 2014 Policy Conference, Netanyahu said it is time for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke out against the deployment of foreign troops to ensure security as part of a permanent status deal with the Palestinians. He also related to the efforts to boycott Israel. he said that BDS is BS -- and paid tribute to actress Scarlett Johansson who defied pressure to boycott Israel.
After Hezbollah has threatened to retaliate against Israel for its alleged role in a strike on a weapons convoy en route from Syria to Lebanon, the IDF Northern Command decided Wednesday evening to increase the state of alert for forces stationed along the border with Lebanon, fearing of retaliatory fire.Farmers whose lands are near the border were also instructed to stay away from the border fence. The IDF refused comment. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry indirectly addressed the Monday night attack on a weapons convoy en route to Hezbollah in Lebanon that Lebanese reports attributed to Israel. In an interview with MSNBC, Kerry said the United States was aware that Syria was smuggling weapons to Hezbollah - weapons that pose a threat to Israel. The American administration is having discussions on what are the next moves to be taken to address the Syrian crisis, and includes Syria's neighbors - including Israel - in the talks, Kerry said. According to Kerry, US President Barack Obama was urging him and other administration officials to seek out other options to resolving the Syrian crisis. "No one is happy with the situation today," Kerry said. "We all understand that this is a massive humanitarian crisis that puts pressure on Jordan and Lebanon. There are threats of weapons transfer from (Syrian President Bashar) Assad to Hezbollah and this is a threat to Israel. There are challenges in Turkey. All of these states are involved in talks with us about what the next move is. I promise you the administration's working to enter these discussions and the president is not taking any option off the table." Earlier Wednesday, after a day and a half of silence, Hezbollah admitted for the first time that Israel Air Force conducted an attack on the Syrian-Lebanese border. According to Hezbollah, the attack caused damage but there were no fatalities. "The new aggression is a blatant assault on Lebanon and its sovereignty and its territory...The Resistance (Hezbollah) will choose the time and place and the proper way to respond to it," a statement on the group's Al-Manar television station. Lebanese media reporting on Hezbollah's statement said reports the attack targeted a weapons convoy were wrong, and denied reports of four fatalities. On Tuesday night, an Israeli official told TIME that the IDF is the one that conducted the strike in the Beqaa Valley. He stated the convoy that was attacked likely included missiles equipped with warheads more powerful and dangerous than what Hezbollah currently has. On Wednesday morning, security sources told the Lebanese Daily Star that the strike's target were two trucks - one carrying missiles and the other carrying a missiles launcher. According to the report, the trucks were on their way to Hezbollah missiles storage facility in Lebanon. At first, the strike was reported to have happened on Lebanese territory, but a Lebanese army official did not rule out the possibility the attack was on Syrian soil.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Thursday rebuffed US moves to extend an April deadline for nine months of talks with Israel, aimed at reaching a framework peace deal, saying Israel was acting in good faith."There is no meaning to prolonging the negotiation, even for one more additional hour, if Israel, represented by its current government, continues to disregard international law," the Palestinian official told AFP news agency, in an apparent reference to Israel's continued settlement construction in the West Bank. Army Radio reported last week that Washington will demand Israel implement a partial settlement freeze once US Secretary of State John Kerry presents his framework for extending peace talks. The New York Times reported Thursday that US President Barack Obama "plans to plunge back into" Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, beginning with an "urgent appeal" to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the two meet next month. Quoting Obama's advisors, the Times says that Obama will push Netanyahu to agree to the proposed framework agreement currently being drafted by Kerry, who is leading the current round of negotiations. Earlier this month, Erekat said that if US-brokered peace talks fail to result in an accord, the Palestinians would call for an economic boycott of Israel. American officials expressed great concern over the chief Palestinian negotiator's remarks, saying that "it's important to create a positive atmosphere around these discussions. The personal attacks, quite frankly, are unhelpful, and (Kerry) will make clear that these kinds of comments are disappointing, that they are unhelpful, especially coming from someone involved in the negotiations, indeed the lead negotiator."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated on Tuesday that there can be no reconciliation with the Palestinians without recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Speaking at a joint news conference in Jerusalem with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Netanyahu said that boycotts of Israel only push peace further away and do not help the Palestinian economy. On Iran, Netanyahu reiterated that Tehran must not be allowed to manufacture nuclear weapons. Netanyahu said the visit to Israel by Merkel and her government reflects the warm relations between the two countries and the depth of their ties. The news conference with Merkel followed a joint meeting of the leaders' respective cabinets. For her part, Merkel said that her government held an important discussion with the Israeli government, and the two countries are marking 50 years of ties. She noted that her government signed six agreements with Israel on various issues. This includes providing consular services to Israelis in countries where Israel does not have such a mission. The countries also signed an understanding to let youths from both countries work and visit for up to a year. Merkel said Germany supports the Kerry initiative to reach a two state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The German leader expressed concern over continuing settlement activity, but stressed she believes it is possible to get over this obstacle. She added that a boycott of Israeli products does not help advance the peace process. On the Iranian issue, Merkel stressed that Germany is a partner to the nuclear negotiations with Tehran. She said the Iranian program poses not just a potential threat to Israel but to all of Europe. She said she held open discussions with Netanyahu on issues over which they also disagree.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday urged world powers to stand firm in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, a day after a US official said the Islamic Republic may be able to keep some of its enrichment capabilities. "We need to dismantle Iran's ability to manufacture and launch nuclear weapons," Netayahu said during his weekly cabinet meeting. "This has yet to be achieved, and without the persistence of the world powers it will not be achieved... I hope that the powers will be firm in the demand to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-threshold country." The head of the US delegation to the talks aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear aspirations, Wendy Sherman, told reporters in Jerusalem on Saturday night that there was a possibly that a deal with the Islamic Republic could leave Tehran with some nuclear capabilities, such as limited uranium enrichment. Visiting in Israel ahead of continued talks with Iran, Sherman said it is "possible that Iran might have a small, discreet enrichment program." Elaborating on the possibility, Sherman said "the objective (of talks) is to ensure that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and that its program is exclusively peaceful. Whether, in fact, Iran will have a domestic enrichment program is part of the negotiations"
The U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman was slated to brief Israeli leaders on Sunday about the latest round of talks between Iran and six world powers. Sherman was scheduled to meet with the minister for intelligence affairs Yuval Steinitz and national security adviser Yossi Cohen. Sherman, who heads the American negotiating team to the nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers, arrived in Jerusalem over the weekend following three days of talks in Vienna with Iranian negotiators. In a briefing to reporters in Jerusalem on Saturday night, Sherman said that a comprehensive agreement could envision Iran maintaining a domestic enrichment program that answers to its practical needs. She said the program would have to be "limited, discreet, constrained, monitored and verified." Sherman said that if the Iranian domestic nuclear enrichment program does not meet these conditions there will be no agreement. She added that like Israel, the United States "would like there to be zero enrichment," but she said it is an "unlikely" expectation. Sherman noted that the six world powers and Iran have the "intent and commitment" to reach a comprehensive agreement by July 20. In an apparent reference to those calling for sanctions against Iran, Sherman said the United States hopes no one will interfere with the talks. Sherman also said it is important for the United States to hear Israel's positions on the Iranian issue. "Sometimes we agree with Israel and sometimes we don't but it's important for us to get input and ideas from Israel," she said. She said the key word in ensuring the Iranian nuclear program is completely peaceful is "verification."
Kerry, who held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris on Thursday, is trying to nudge both sides at least to agree on a framework deal by the end of April although months of negotiations have made little visible progress. Kerry says he is still seeking an overall accord to end the decades-old conflict, whose main issues include borders, security, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. "We need a stable two-state solution as soon as possible, with a Jewish state of Israel as well as a state for the Palestinians," Merkel said in her weekly video podcast on Saturday. Without such an agreement, neither Israel nor the Palestinians would have a prosperous future, she said. "We should provide as much help as we possibly can to support Secretary of State Kerry's efforts with his Middle East negotiating partners," she said, adding she would discuss what hurdles remain with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Merkel will take her cabinet with her to Israel for the two-day visit. Palestinians want a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured those areas in the 1967 war, and in 2005 pulled its troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip – land now hedged in by an Israeli blockade and run by Hamas Islamists opposed to Abbas's peace efforts.
The Palestinian leadership could recognize Israel as a Jewish state if it is done in a way that doesn't embarrass PA President Mahmoud Abbas or weakens any possible peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, a PLO official told Ma'an on Friday.PLO Central Committee member Nabil Amro said a recognition in some form is possible, but would need to be approved by a referendum. While claiming that Israel's current demand for the Palestinians to recognize it as a Jewish state is "unacceptable," Amro failed to specify what would be an acceptable form. Shapiro asserted the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is one of the ways to mark the end of the conflict, adding that the United States has always viewed Israel as a Jewish state. PA President Abbas and US Secretary of State Kerry met this week in Paris for two lengthy meetings to discuss Kerry's proposed framework to continue the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks beyond their upcoming April 29 deadline. The US State Department described the Paris meetings on Wednesday and Thursday as "constructive," and said Kerry and Abbas had agreed to stay in touch in the coming weeks. But another Palestinian official, speaking anonymously to AFP, said Kerry's ideas cannot "serve as the basis for a framework accord." "The ideas proposed cannot be accepted by the Palestinian side as the basis for a framework accord between the Palestinians and Israel as they do not take into account the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people," he told AFP. "The Palestinian position explained to Mr Kerry is that the proposed ideas, particularly the insistences on recognition of the state of Israel as the Jewish nation-state, are unacceptable," the official said. Proposals for the future of East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state, are "vague," the official added. Abbas, the official said, "restated the Palestinian position and his vision of a solution based on United Nations resolutions and the positions of the Palestinian leadership and the Arab League." Kerry, who pushed the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table after a three-year gap, has no immediate plans to travel back to Israel or the West Bank after making 11 trips during his first year in office. But he is likely to meet early next month in Washington with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of an annual conference organized by a powerful American-Israeli lobbying group
About 3,000 people, including Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Coalition Chairman Knesset Member Yariv Levin, took part Friday morning in a protest march in the Jordan Valley. Minister Sa'ar declared to the participants of the march: "We are here with a simple and clear message – the Jordan Valley is Israeli." The march was initiated by the chairs of the Lobby of the Eretz-Israel Front in the Knesset. Against the backdrop of the possibility of having the entire region included in a future political agreement with the Palestinians, the senior Likud members Sa'ar and Levin sought to declare their opposition to any territorial concession in the Jordan Valley. The interior minister added that the marchers have come to support the settlers of the Jordan Valley, who "are on a mission for the entire Israeli people." "(Israel) needs to know that the (Jordan) Valley settlement will remain and prosper for ages," the minister stressed. "The security of Israel required a strategic depth, it is unthinkable for the border to not be in the Jordan Valley; the alternative is that the border would cross through Kfar Saba and Netanya, which is unacceptable." The minister added that issue of security is the reason the Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley is crucial: "It's important for us to remember – there is no military presence without settlement. When there's settlement, there's IDF . When there's no settlement – there's no security and there's terror." MK Levin also addressed the marchers and said: "It is our indisputable right to build and be built in the Jordan Valley and all across the land of Israel. We are determined and know that our truth will prevail. We are stronger than any of the attempts to uproot us from here." Last December, the Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs approved the bill submitted by MK Miri Regev (Likud Beiteinu) asking to annex the Jordan Valley, thus securing that the territory would remain under full Israeli sovereignty even in the case of a land swap deal with the Palestinians. However, an appeal filed by Just Minister Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid minister Yair Lapid and Ya'akov Peri will most probably prevent this legislative procedure.