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Israel Working at Top Speed to Convert Boeing 767 into a Long-Flight Refueling Tanker

By DEBKAfile

US defense and air industry sources report that the Israeli Air Force may give up on the US Boeing's KC-46A Pegasus as its future refueling tanker for long-range flights because of delays in its delivery. Israel had first planned to take the Pegasus to replace its converted Boeing 707 when delivery was first to the US Air Force was scheduled for August 2017. But this week, the company put the date back by another eight months and the price increased by half a billion dollars.

American sources point out that if Israel wants to retain the option of attacking Iran's nuclear facilities when Barack Obama exits the White House in January 2017, it can't wait for the brand-new US Pegasus tanker, which doubles as a military transport plane, to come off the Boeing production line and be delivered to its air force.

The Boeing 707 in current service, after a multibillion investment in its conversion to a long-flight refueling tanker, no longer meets the fluctuating conditions in the Middle East. Work is therefore going ahead on the conversion of the Boeing 767 as its replacement.

On July 22, DEBKAfile's military sources revealed a mammoth transaction for Iran to purchase Russian UL78 MK1 (Midas) tankers with a range of 7,300 km. (The distance from Iran to Israel is 1,200km). Each tanker is capable of spontaneously feeding 6-8 fighter craft. This purchase represented Tehran's aspiration - not just to draw level with Israel but to outdo its air force in range and fueling capability.

This transaction no doubt spurred the decision by Israel's defense chiefs to go ahead on its own project, instead of waiting for the American KC-46A to become available. Israel Aerospace Industries [IAI] is therefore working at top speed on the Boeing 767, a long-range, wide-body, twin-engine jet airliner with a range of 7,000 to 11,000 km. The converted aircraft will be designated 767-200ER MRTT.

In an interview published by the German newspaper Der Spiegel on August 8, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said: "Ultimately it is very clear, one way or another, Iran's military nuclear program must be stopped. We will act in any way, including taking military action, and are not willing to tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. We prefer that this be done by means of sanctions, but in the end, Israel should be able to defend itself."

Gay Pride Stabber Sent to Psychiatric Ward


Gay Pride parade stabber Yishai Shlissel has been admitted to a psychiatric ward in order to assess whether he is fit to stand trial, Channel 10 reported Monday. Shlissel stabbed six people, fatally killing 16 year-old Shira Banki, during the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade several weeks ago. He had just been released from prison after serving a 10-year sentence for a similar attack in 2005.

Shlissel's very presence at the event has been increasingly revealed to be due to a series of major failures by the Israel Police and Israel Prison Services. He has repeatedly refused to recognize the Israeli government or participate in any way in legal proceedings, leading the Jerusalem Magistrates Court to sentence him for a psychiatric evaluation last week.

Later Monday, Channel 10 reported that Shlissel had, in fact, experienced a psychotic episode in 2009 and undergone extensive treatment in a special facility, and was being forced to take medication since. It is unclear whether this was ever mentioned to investigators.

Even before the parade, Shlissel was labeled by intelligence as a "danger to the event." However, he was never summoned to report to police before or during the march and was never questioned before the fact regarding his intentions.

Arabs Busted Over 'Protection' Scheme for Kotel Visitors


Just like in Al Capone-era Chicago, Israelis visiting the Kotel have been forced in recent months to pay money demanded of them by a "protection racket" based in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem – or risk damage to their cars, or persons. Police have launched an investigation, and several members of the gang were recently arrested – but the gang is still operating, witnesses said.

The gang works outside the Dung Gate, the entrance to the Old City that leads directly to the Kotel, according to the Kikar Hashabbat website. The gate is used by thousands of people daily, and is the main access point for tourists, many arriving by bus or rented car.

Parking on the street is usually difficult to find, with the spots near the entrance usually taken by buses and security vehicles. Drivers of rented cars and Israelis arriving in their own vehicles usually need to park some distance away from the gate – out of view of police and security officers. It is these drivers that the gang targets, offering them some "friendly advice to pay a security fee to 'watch' their vehicle," said one security source.

It's truly "an offer they can't refuse," because if they do, the visitors often find their vehicles damaged when they return – and the gang awaiting them, giving them a beating for failing to pay up.

So far, two residents of the Silwan neighborhood, aged 17 and 20, have been arrested, after an undercover agent who tried to park his vehicle outside the Gate was approached and offered "protection." The officer identified himself and the two started to run, but he was able to catch them. Police said they expect to make further arrests in the case.

Rabbis Set Up 'Independent' Conversion Courts, Sans Rabbinate


A group of rabbis from the Religious Zionist movement have set up a "competing" independent of Jewish Court of Law (Beit Din) which will exclusively handle conversions. While it isn't a "revolution," say its backers, the group is an innovation, conducting conversions that the Chief Rabbinate has preferred not to get involved with. Candidates for conversions by the court will undergo religious education at one of several institutions participating rabbis are involved with, with the support of the Jewish Agency.

The group said that it would work with the Rabbinate on a case by case business to ensure that their conversion candidates are accepted as Jewish by all government agencies, where possible. The group expects the majority of those it converts to be the children and grandchildren of families of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Although they are Israeli citizens, many of these children are the products of "mixed marriages," with their parents marrying in the Soviet Union and immigrating to Israel. Most of the children speak Hebrew fluently and serve in the IDF.

According to the group, the new court is absolutely necessary, as these children are already well-integrated in Israeli society. "It is our moral obligation to ensure that these immigrants are absorbed into Israeli society, for their sake and the sake of the Jewish people."

In a statement Monday, Natan Sharansky. chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency, welcomed the establishment of the courts. "We all wish to continue the process of ingathering the exiles from throughout the world in an era of lost identities and growing assimilation," said Sharansky. "In order to keep the gates of Israel open to all who wish to join our people in accordance with halakhah (Jewish law), it is important that rabbis who have been authorized by the Chief Rabbinate to conduct conversions participate in this process, and this new initiative will enable them to do so."

However, Rabbi Haim Druckman, considered the dean of Religious Zionist rabbis in Israel, sharply criticized the establishment of independent religious courts (batei din) that would circumvent the Rabbinate and conduct conversions on its own. Speaking to Arutz Sheva Monday, Rabbi Druckman said that the conversion process must remain within the purview of the Rabbinate, in the same way that kashuth supervision and marriage and divorce were their responsibility. "I am totally opposed to any alternative conversion processes even if they are done properly under Jewish law. Such actions will injure religious life in Israel."

Israeli Hamburger Chain Pilloried for Sexist Ad


A new online advertising campaign for an Israeli hamburger chain created a social media backlash over the weekend. The Agadir ad shows a young and slim blonde woman in a bikini leaning on an elderly and seemingly wealthy man, with the slogan "Rich Taste." According to the campaign's critics, the ad actually redefines the boundaries of good taste.

One of the suggested ways of protest was to give the chain's restaurants only one star in online reviews in order to prevent other diners, who are unfamiliar with Agadir's food, to visit the place. "This campaign makes me want to puke," one protestor wrote. "Goldstar's sexist campaign at least showed the beer. Where's the hamburger in this photo?" another person asked. And someone else wrote, "Agadir is breaking records with repulsive ads."

"They are turning to a new market segment of rich elderly men with their escort girls. Good luck with losing customers," one person wrote, and another added: "I have never eaten there before and I probably never will."

Agadir owner Eitan Tarablos, who is currently on vacation, appeared unfazed by the storm he created and clarified that he had no regrets over the campaign and had no intention of cutting ties with the chain's advertising agency, as some critics suggested. On the contrary, he added, the online campaign would be joined by a cellular campaign in the future. He said, however, that many surprises expected in the future would balance the picture.

"I'm vacationing in Ibiza," he said in a telephone conversation Saturday. "I have no Internet access, but the storm the ad created is delusional. Wait, it's only the teaser. I suggest that people wait for the entire campaign, and then things will be clarified. I am reflecting an existing situation here, so what's the problem? It's rich taste, and there's nothing wrong with that. Everyone has suddenly become politically correct here."

But all your campaigns are sexist. Last time you issued a calendar featuring your waitresses in underwear. "Our campaigns are not sexist, they're sexy, and that's a huge different. The waitresses were all glad to be part of it and enjoyed it, because we are a workplace which pays its employees an excellent salary. Agadir is a bold, happy and sexy brand which sells excellent food and a sexy and fun atmosphere, and so are our campaigns."

Tel Aviv vs. Berlin: The Same Hotel – More Than Double the Price


Israelis thinking of traveling to Berlin this summer in order to check the prices of pudding, for example, should know that the trip could easily turn out to be cheaper than a vacation in Tel Aviv. Much cheaper, in fact.

A Yedioth Ahronoth inquiry reveals a significant price gap between a hotel in the Israeli metropolis and a hotel belonging to the exact same chain in the German capital, so that even if you add the price of a flight to Berlin – the vacation abroad will still cost you less.

There are two reasons for the major price gap: Tel Aviv is considered one of the most expensive cities in the world, its hotels have high occupancy rates and the prices rise accordingly. Berlin, on the other hand, is considered cheaper than many cities in Europe. Moreover, due to the high supply of hotels and the construction of new ones, the occupancy rates there are low and so are the prices.

We checked the room prices at the Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv City Center versus the new Crowne Plaza Berlin - Potsdamer Platz. We also checked ticket prices among the three leading airlines offering flights from Tel Aviv to Berlin (El Al's low-cost company UP, Air Berlin and easyJet).

The prices were checked for several dates in August on a room-only basis. In the Tel Aviv price we also included the local VAT (which is not paid by tourists who visit Israel). The results revealed that an Israeli wishing to fly to Berlin during August will pay for both the flight and the hotel less than the price he will be required to pay for the hotel alone in Tel Aviv. The gap sometimes reaches more than $400, a sum which will allow you to take another passenger along.

For the UP and easyJet flights we only considered the price of the ticket without luggage and without an allocated seat and food.

We also checked hotel prices in Rome and London. In the Italian capital we discovered that the Crowne Plaza St. Peter's is cheaper than the Crowne Plaza in Tel Aviv, sometimes by hundreds of dollars. In London, on the other hand, the prices at Crowne Plaza – The City and Crowne Plaza – Kensington remain significantly higher than the Crowne Plaza in Tel Aviv.

Five nights at the Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv City Center from July 28 to August 2 were offered for $1,096 (room only). During the same dates, the price for a room at the Crowne Plaza Berlin is only $536. A week at the Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv City Center on August 11-18 or August 18-25 was offered for $1,440. At the exact same dates, the price for a room at the Crowne Plaza Berlin is only $599.

We also checked room prices at the Sheraton Tel Aviv versus the Sheraton Berlin. Here too, we found huge price differences: $1,632-2,448 for the Tel Aviv hotel compared to $646 for the Berlin hotel.

If you fly to Berlin on a cheap flight on August 11 (returning August 18) and stay at the Crowne Plaza in Berlin for seven nights, you will pay $1,033 – compared to $1,440 for the hotel alone in Tel Aviv. Adding $434 will allow you to take along another passenger, so that the whole package to Berlin will cost two people $1,467.

It should be noted that Berlin has another Crowne Plaza hotel near the Kurfürstendamm shopping street, which is slightly more expensive. But Tel Aviv also has another Crowne Plaza hotel on the beach, which is also more expensive.

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