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Ministers Approve Release of 26 Terrorists

By & The Times of Israel

The ministerial committee headed by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon met Sunday evening and approved the release of 26 terrorists as part of a gesture to the Palestinian Authority, in order to get it to resume peace talks with Israel. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not attend as he was recovering at home from his emergency hernia surgery.

Fourteen of the terrorists to be released will be exiled to Gaza, and the remaining 12 will be transferred to PA-assigned areas of Judea and Samaria. Eight of the terrorists on the list were to be released over the next three years, two of them in the coming six months.

Netanyahu's office said that the terrorists will be released about 48 hours after the publication of the list. It was emphasized that if one of the terrorists resumes hostile activity against the State of Israel after his release, he will be returned to prison to continue serving his sentence.

Earlier on Sunday, families of victims of terrorism marched through Jerusalem in a protest against the government's plan to approve the release of 26 terrorists. They marched from the central memorial for terrorism victims, located in Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, to the Supreme Court building, where the court is to hear a petition against terrorist release filed by the Almagor organization.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) had harsh criticism Sunday for the government he is a part of, over the decision to release the terrorists. "I am angry at the approach that says that releasing terrorists brings peace nearer, and building a kindergarten prevents peace," he said – in a reference to the "peace camp" and its criticism of construction for Jews in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.

He noted that the highest salary paid by the Palestinian Authority is that paid to terrorist murderers in Israeli jails. While a person serving in the PA security forces makes about 3,000 to 4,000 shekels per month ($850 to $1,150), the salary of a terrorist prisoner is between 10,000 and 12,000 shekels ($2,850 to $3,400)."

What is even worse, Elkin added, is that the more serious a terrorist's crime was, the higher his salary. "There is a very problematic educational message here," he said drily.

Likud MK Urges Police to Allow High Holiday Prayer at Temple Mount

By The Times of Israel

The police should prepare for the arrival at the Temple Mount of Jewish worshippers and tourists during the upcoming High Holidays, MK Miri Regev (Likud) urged on Sunday. Speaking at a meeting of the Knesset's Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, which she chairs, Regev led a discussion on police readiness and deployment at the site ahead of and during the planned events. Leading public and religious figures present also questioned the police's recent restrictions of Jewish prayer at the holy site during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Regev, a vocal advocate of expanding Jewish rights to pray at the site, claimed at the meeting that the state should do away with regulation of prayer at the Temple Mount, regardless of the religious affiliation of those seeking to pray. "The issue of the Temple Mount is neither political nor religious," Regev said. "The rights of Jews visiting the Temple Mount should be no different than those of the Palestinians."

Regev went on to criticize the police for imposing restrictions on non-Muslim entry to the mount during Ramadan, and to request that police officials outline their plans to prepare for the High Holidays at the site.

Last month, the Jerusalem Police closed the Temple Mount to Jewish and Christian visitors in an effort to prevent clashes between different religious groups. The closure order came on Tisha B'Av, the Jewish day of mourning that marks the destruction of the Jewish Temples that stood at the site, which this year fell during Ramadan, when many Muslims pray at the Dome of the Rock.

"Security assessments were made, and the decision was made by the Israel Police to close the Temple Mount to all visitors, in order to prevent disturbances," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Times of Israel after the site's closing in July.

Is a Free Kurdistan, and a New Israeli Ally, Upon Us?

By The Times of Israel

In late July, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party in Syria, also known as the PYD, revealed its intention to declare some form of self-rule in majority Kurdish areas in northeastern Syria. PYD leaders clarified it was only for the duration of the Syrian civil war, but the move was part of a larger pattern in which the group has been taking advantage of the power vacuum caused by the two-year-old conflict to push out rival opposition fighters and move closer to autonomy.

The announcement caught the attention of neighboring countries, perpetually nervous about the prospect of full Kurdish independence. "It's not possible to accept any de facto declaration of an autonomous entity in Syria," said Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, "and that could only lead to further crisis."

Turkey, home to the world's largest Kurdish population and skittish about any moves that could re-ignite unrest in the country, streamed more troops to its border with Syria after the PYD statement, announcing that it had "a parliamentary mandate to intervene in the Syrian territories if there is a serious risk."

While Turkey, Iraq, and other countries balk at indications of increased Kurdish self-rule, an independent Kurdish state in the Middle East would be a gift for Israel, many Kurdish and Israeli experts believe. "Kurds are deeply sympathetic to Israel and an independent Kurdistan will be beneficial to Israel," argued Kurdish journalist Ayub Nuri in July. "It will create a balance of power. Right now, Israel is one country against many. But with an independent Kurdish state, first of all Israel will have a genuine friend in the region for the first time, and second, Kurdistan will be like a buffer zone in the face of the Turkey, Iran and Iraq."

The Kurds are the world's largest stateless nation, numbering well over 30 million spread across Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq, according to figures in the CIA Factbook, though exact population numbers are hard to pin down. Iraq's 6 million Kurds have achieved the greatest measure of independence; they run the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, within the federal Iraqi system since 2005 (though de facto autonomy began after Saddam's army was forced out of the region during the 1991 Gulf War). But despite a booming economy and striking freedom of action, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq still has presented no concrete plans for independence.

Will it be Syria's Kurds who lead the way toward a Kurdish state? Syrian Kurds, the largest ethnic minority in the country, make up some 9% of the country's 23 million people, according to US government figures. Their loyalties in the conflict are split, though Kurds have managed to carve out a once unthinkable degree of independence in the northeast of the country, where they constitute a majority. They've created their own police forces, issued their own license plates and have thrown off restrictions on their language and culture.

The announcement of autonomy followed the capture of the multi-ethnic Syrian border town of Ras al Ayn from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front rebels. The Sunni extremist group had tried imposing its strict form of Islam on the more moderate Kurds. Clashes between Kurdish gunmen and Islamists belonging to al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant over the past weeks left dozens of gunmen dead on both sides. Kurdish commanders charged that the mainstream Free Syrian Army commanders are also sending fighters to join the al-Qaeda-linked groups in fighting the Kurds, hinting at the possibility of an Arab-Kurdish mini-war breaking out in Syria.

However, it is still unclear if the Syrian Kurds declared autonomy with an eye toward eventual independence.

PYD officials tried to play down the significance of the declaration. "This is not a call for separation," PYD leader Salih Muslim maintained in an interview with France 24. "It's just that for a year now we have been on our own in our own territories and people have needs, they want some kind of administration to run their issues, they can't be left like that."

According to Kurdistan expert Ofra Bengio of Tel Aviv University, independence is not on the Syrian Kurds' agenda any time in the near future. "The PYD is not talking about independence now and will be reluctant to use such terminology in order not to antagonize any of the governments or the international community," she said. "Autonomy is the safer goal now. Things may change according to changes on the ground."

But Syria might be so far gone that the Kurds will never agree to rule from Damascus, even under a federal system. "The idea of independence is also likely, because I don't see the PYD having friendly relations with the future government in Damascus that is run by the current opposition fighters," said Nuri. "I think the Syrian Kurds as a people have independence as their ultimate goal," he continued, "but at this point it is not up to them to decide."

Even if the PYD isn't planning for imminent independence, its growing autonomy and its influence on the Kurdistan Regional Government's calculations in Iraq could be an important development. The autonomous Kurdistan Region in Iraq borders Kurdish areas in Syria and the two populations' connections run deep.

Iraq's Kurds and their leaders are deeply sympathetic to the Syrian Kurds, and have been eager to help their brethren across the border avoid the political mistakes they made, some of which resulted in a bloody Kurdish civil war in Iraq almost twenty years ago.

While Syria crumbles, the KRG in Erbil continues to help Syrian Kurdish doctors and teachers find employment in the Kurdistan Region. Kurdish students from Syria are allowed to enroll in universities in the KR, despite the fact that Bashar Assad refused to grant them passports. Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds have fled to the Iraqi Kurdish city of Duhok since the civil war started.

When the move to independence does finally come, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq will be hostile to the development. Israeli interests run counter to the current American position. Ties between Israel and the Kurds run deep. A Mossad officer named Sagi Chori was sent to help his close friend, the late iconic Kurdish leader Mulla Mustafa Barzani, manage the Kurds' battles against the Iraqi army in the 1960s. (The partnership has been well-documented in Kurdish and Israeli media.) And reports of Israel training Kurdish commandos continue to surface. Nationalist Kurds tend to see Israel as a role model for an independent Kurdistan, a small nation surrounded by enemies and bolstered by a strategic partnership with the United States.

Israel has long developed alliances with non-Arab countries on the periphery of the Middle East. Today, that policy rests on partnerships with Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria, and Caucasian and central Asian countries. Kurdistan fits perfectly into that framework.

The new Kurdish country will likely open full diplomatic relations with Israel. "The Kurds are the only nation in the region that has not been filled with hatred toward Israel and America," said Saadi. "The way Kurds see the world is different from Arabs… Generally, Islamists are more powerful in the Arab world, they think that Islamic Sharia is the solution. However, the majority of Kurds believe in a European style of government. The problem is they don't know how to get there. They don't have experience."

With few friends in the region, the Kurds will likely look to Israel to help them gain security and closer relations with the United States. As Arab governments in the Middle East totter and fall, and Islamists look to exploit the chaos, the alliance is one that both countries may find beneficial to pursue.

New Deal to Connect Israel to European Electric Grid


Israel's Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom signed a memorandum of understanding on Thursday with Cyprus and Greece to lay an underwater electric cable connecting the three countries' electric grids, paving the way for a connection to the European grid.

If the plan is realized, it would mean that Israel could export energy to Europe, and in times of crisis could fall back on European electricity. "This agreement is a testament to the close and continuously improving ties between the countries," Shalom said.

Israel Among Leading Arms Exporters In 2012

By Aviation Week
In the competition to market weapons internationally, Israel ranks among the world's top exporters. In 2012, Israeli defense exports soared to a record of $7.47 billion, making it the world's sixth-largest exporter of arms. The 30% increase in global arms sales—compared with 2011 levels—positions Israel's total weapons exports behind the U.S., U.K., Russia, China and Germany and ahead of France and Italy. "I wouldn't speculate on our exact position," said Shmaya Avieli, head of Israel's defense exports agency Sibat, "but I could safely say that we're well among the top 10 exporters." The figures represent the total of defense contracts signed in 2012 by all Israeli defense and security companies. Countries in Asia continue to be the Israeli defense industries' leading market with 50% of sales, or $3.7 billion, concentrated there. India is the leading customer. Sales to Europe have increased dramatically, to $1.6 billion, as the result of a $1 billion offset contract signed with Italy. In return for Israeli procurement of Aermacchi's M-346 advanced jet trainer, Italy committed to buy two Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)/Gulfstream G550 Special Electronic Missions Aircraft (SEMA), as well as IAI's optical reconnaissance satellite. In early 2012, Germany also signed a contract to buy additional Rafael Spike anti-tank missiles, totaling several hundred million dollars. Missile technology and air defense systems represent 25% of Israel's overseas sales. IAI's Barak-8 naval air and missile defense system continues to generate revenues through an ongoing $1.4 billion contract with India. Israel has refused to confirm reports that the long-range naval missile was also sold to Azerbaijan, in a contract estimated at $800-900 million. Surprisingly, Israel's Iron Dome counter-rocket system, which scored remarkable results during recent conflicts between Israel and Gaza, has not yet translated combat success into sales. Despite intensive marketing efforts by Rafael to South Korea and India, neither country has selected the system, although South Korea did acquire the Iron Dome's multi-mission radar (MMR) for rocket detection and warning. The Iron Dome system has reportedly been sold to Singapore, but Israel maintains a veil of secrecy on all defense contracts with the Asian city-state. The third-largest market for Israel is the U.S. and Canada, with $1.19 billion sales in 2012. Attempts by scores of Israeli companies to close significant security contracts in Brazil before the upcoming soccer World Cup and Olympics achieved little success. Overall sales to Latin America totaled $604 billion.

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