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Israel Blows Lid Off Proposed Russian Arms Sale to Syria

By Reuters and Israel Hayom

Israel has warned the U.S. that Russia plans to sell advanced ground-to-air missile systems to Syria despite Western pressure on Moscow to hold off on such a move, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday. The newspaper said U.S. officials had confirmed they were analyzing the Israeli reports, but would not comment on whether they believed the sale of S-300 missile batteries was near. No comment was immediately available from officials at the Pentagon or State Department.

Similarly, The New York Times also reported on Wednesday that the delivery of the Russian S-300 missile batteries would represent a major qualitative advancement in Syria's air defenses. The system is regarded as highly effective and would limit the ability of the U.S. and other nations to operate over Syrian airspace or impose a no-fly zone, the Times reported.

The leaks come less than a day after U.S. officials said Secretary of State John Kerry would "make another stab" at seeing if the U.S. and Russia could work together to find a political solution to end Syria's ongoing civil war during his visit to Moscow this week, a visit that ended on Tuesday. According to foreign reports, Israel conducted two air raids on Syria last Thursday and then again on Saturday, despite widespread reports that Syria's air defenses are considered fearsome and extremely advanced.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been seeking to purchase the advanced S-300 missile batteries, which can intercept both manned aircraft and guided missiles, from Moscow for many years. Western nations have repeatedly urged Russia to block the sale, which they argue could complicate any international intervention in Syria's escalating civil war.

The Journal said the information provided to Washington by Israel showed that Syria had been making payments on a 2010 agreement with Moscow to buy four batteries for $900 million, including a payment made this year through Russia's foreign-development bank, known as the VEB. The paper said the package included six launchers and 144 operational missiles, each with a range of 125 miles (200 kilometers), with an initial shipment expected in the next three months.

While the effectiveness of Syria's aging air force is unclear, most experts believe that its air-defense missile system, which was upgraded after a 2007 Israeli strike on a suspected nuclear site, remains quite potent.

Meanwhile, the White House said Wednesday that President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had spoken by telephone about regional security issues and Middle East peace. The White House said the two leaders had agreed to continue their "close coordination."

China Offers Netanyahu Subtle Signals of Encouragement

By The Times of Israel

China's media, directed by its government, used the simultaneous visits by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this week to highlight the country's ostensibly growing role in the Middle East – in accordance with the effort by its new leaders to expand China's profile in the international arena. The government's handling of the visits, meanwhile, signaled Beijing's desire to be seen by both parties as a fair-minded player, with Netanyahu the recipient of a few subtle bonuses.

As the world's second-largest economy and the largest crude oil importer from the Middle East, China naturally has vital interests in the region, but traditionally it has been reluctant in seeking the spotlight. In recent years however, with its economic rise and its growing global trade footprint, that reticence is changing. The fact that the US has begun shifting its focus on Asia and downsizing its presence in the Middle East has also created space for China to enter.

China understands that in order to play a weightier role it needs to have Israel's ear, but it also wants to maintain its close ties with the Arab countries. With both Netanyahu and Abbas ready to visit, the hosts found a typically Chinese polite solution that served their desire for increased influence: invite both leaders, at short notice, to come at almost the same time — Abbas from May 5-7, Netanyahu from May 6-10; kindly offer to arrange a meeting between them should they wish to hold one (a first such gesture by China); but make sure they won't have to meet if they don't

As true masters of ceremony, Beijing did not leave anything to chance. China made sure Abbas arrived first, underlining its support for the Palestinian cause, but granted Netanyahu more "face time" with key figures, and highlighted China's wish to deepen ties with Israel through actual cooperation in areas such as economy and technology.

In his meeting with Abbas, President Xi Jinping proposed a four-point plan to settle the Palestinian issue, including endorsing the "just cause" of the Palestinians, support for a two-state solution, a demand to halt settlements, and backing the land-for-peace formula. However, seeking to assert its credentials as an honest broker, Xi also made a gesture to Israel by noting "Israel's right to exist and [that] its legitimate security concerns should also be fully respected," mirroring the formulations used by American officials.

While Abbas gave an interview to China Radio International, Netanyahu was invited to hold a live chat with Chinese netizens on Xinhua's website, and gave a speech at the Central Party School, the main academic institution that trains the Communist Party's future leaders

The Chinese media, owned and controlled by the government, follows a tight script for such high-profile visits; every detail, including photo opportunities — and the subsequent use of the photos — is choreographed to express China's position. Both Xi and Premier Li Keqiang in turn received Abbas and Netanyahu at the Great Hall of the People and with full military guard. But the article by Xinhua, China's official news agency, included several photos of a visibly relaxed, smiling Li welcoming Netanyahu — China's other state news agency, China News Service, ran a whole series of photos — whereas the Xinhua story covering Li's meeting with Abbas limited itself to two relatively toned down photos.

Nor was the symbolism limited to photo ops. While Abbas gave an interview to China Radio International, Netanyahu was invited to hold a live chat with Chinese netizens on Xinhua's website, and gave a speech at the Central Party School, the main academic institution that trains the Communist Party's future leaders. Not every foreign leader is invited to speak at the school. Indeed, Netanyahu is only the second leader this year to speak there, after Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong.

These are not minor niceties. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June last year attended the annual economic summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Beijing, the protocol-conscious Chinese didn't invite him to hold a press conference while in the capital. When he talked to students at Peking University, he read from a prepared statement, and was not allowed to take questions.

Netanyahu came to China directly after reported strikes by Israel against Syrian military sites holding missiles en route from Iran to Hizbullah. In order not to spoil the visit, Chinese spokeswoman Hua Chunying expressed restrained criticism of the strikes without naming Israel, arguing that any country's sovereignty needs to be respected. But Xi and Li didn't mince words in their respective meetings with Netanyahu. Both leaders repeatedly stressed the need to "create the conditions" to restart negotiations with the Palestinians and said that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict holds the key for peace for the entire region.

The Chinese media dutifully highlighted what it called China's objective position on the Middle East and praised its more proactive diplomatic stance. But it's an open question as to what role, if any, China will actually play.

For now, it has signaled an intention to get more involved at some stage. Its hosting of the two simultaneous Abbas and Netanyahu visits marked a fairly deft first step.

Samaria Establishes Its Own Foreign Ministry


The Shomron Regional Council has decided not to wait for others to take the lead on diplomatic efforts, and has established its own Foreign Ministry Department. The Shomron Liaison Office has been effectively reaching out to elected officials in the EU and elsewhere to provide them with a balanced picture of the realities in Judea and Samaria.

Over the past months, Shomron leaders Gershon Mesika and Yossi Dagan have led a number of diplomatic delegations meeting with European officials in Brussels, Berlin, Stockholm, London and Paris. For the first time ever, leaders in those countries have had opportunities to hear directly from the leaders of the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria (aka "the West Bank settlements") and learn their side of the story that has drawn so much extended attention in the international political arena.

Many representatives in EU houses of parliament where amazed to learn that thousands of Palestinian Authority Arabs are employed in industry in the Jewish towns (settlements), and found it hard to understand why Israel's opponents are working so hard to mark and boycott products that are manufactured there.

This diplomatic initiative has caused an immediate buzz in many European capitals, and this interest has encouraged many officials to come see this for themselves. Over the past week and a half, the Shomron Regional Council has hosted parliamentary delegations from four different countries.

Last week, MEP Dr. Fiorello Provera, Deputy Chairman of the EU Parliament's Foreign Committee, visited the Shomron. He visited the Ariel University of Samaria and the Barkan Industrial Park where 3,000 Jews and 3,000 Arabs work together. Provera also visited the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem, as a guest of Samaria's Regional Council. He met with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin and Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett.

"I don't support restrictions in this area (the settlements) because they can harm factories where Israeli and Palestinian employees work together, have similar salaries, make the same sacrifices and have the same possibilities for attaining a good standard of living in dignity," The Jerusalem Post quoted Provera saying during his visit to Israel. "Harming these factories' ability to function would damage coexistence," he added.

"Coexistence on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians is a good example of practical policy. I'm in favor of this bottom-up coexistence," Provera said. "Most European Parliament members do not know what's happening in Israel. Since I've been exposed to the settlement movement in Samaria, I feel a responsibility to open up my fellow European Parliament members to the reality here."

Provera said that the best way to fight settlement product labeling in the EU is to make sure members of the European Parliament are informed. "Information is crucial for us to make up our minds and have an opinion," he said. "Without real information, we cannot decide what is right and wrong."

Facebook in Talks to Buy Israel's Waze for Up to $1 billion

By Reuters and Israel Hayom

Facebook Inc. is said to be in advanced talks to acquire Israeli mobile satellite navigation startup Waze for $800 million to $1 billion, the Israeli business daily Calcalist reported on Thursday. Due diligence is underway after a term sheet was signed, Calcalist said, adding that talks began six months ago.

Waze uses satellite signals from members' smartphones to generate maps and traffic data, which it then shares with other users, offering real-time traffic info. Officials at Waze declined to comment on the report.

Waze and Facebook partnered in October 2012 when Waze released its updated version that allows users to share their driving information with their Facebook friends. If it goes ahead, this will be Facebook's third acquisition in Israel. It bought Snaptu in 2011 for $70 million and in 2012 for $60 million. In the last year, Waze has tripled its user base to 45 million. In March alone, 1.5 million users downloaded the free mobile navigation app, Calcalist said.

Israeli Scientists May be Closing in on Cause of Alzheimer's

By The Times of Israel

Researchers from Tel Aviv University are tentatively positing that they may have discovered the origin of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

Despite immense amounts of research into dementia and other cognitive diseases that affect vast numbers of people around the world, and significant progress in addressing the illnesses, there are no known cures. The Israeli research points at a protein in the brain called Tomosyn as a possible key to the diseases, Israel Radio reported Thursday.

Memory and motor problems are often the cause of problematic communication between cells. When communication is disrupted between the cells, memory and movements slow down, and in some cases communication can be totally cut off. Tomosyn is one of the active components in the cells' communication process.

Headed by Prof. Uri Ashery from the Sagol School of Neuroscience, a group of researchers injected Tomosyn into the brains of mice, and saw Alzheimer-like syndromes, indicating the disease could be caused by too much of the protein. Expressing caution, the team said there was still a long way to go before confirming the theory.

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