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Israel and Saudi Arabia Close Ranks Against Iran

By Reuters

Israel and Saudi Arabia presented a united front on Sunday, issuing almost identical warnings of caution against Iranian aggression as the two countries urged the international community to punish Tehran for a myriad of activities undermining regional stability.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir closed ranks, despite their respective countries having no official diplomatic relations, as they rebuffed statements made by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif calling on Sunni Muslim Gulf states to help reduce violence in the area.

Among the accusations leveled against Iran by Israel and Saudi Arabia, who were subsequently joined by Turkey, was its involvement in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the country's President Bashar al-Assad, its development of ballistic missiles, its funding of Shi'ite rebels in Yemen and its efforts to undermine various regimes in the region.

Al-Jubeir called Tehran the main sponsor of global terrorism and a destabilizing force in the Middle East. He sidestepped a question about Israel's call for concerted action with Sunni Arab states amid growing speculation that the two countries could normalize relations and join forces to oppose Tehran, much as Turkey has done.

The six Arab members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, especially Saudi Arabia, accuse Iran of using sectarianism to interfere in Arab countries and build its own sphere of influence in the Middle East. Iran denies the accusations. "Iran remains the single main sponsor of terrorism in the world," Adel al-Jubeir told delegates at the conference.

"It's determined to upend the order in the Middle East ... (and) until and unless Iran changes its behavior it would be very difficult to deal with a country like this." The international community needed to set clear "red lines" to halt Iran's actions, he said, calling for banking, travel and trade restrictions aimed at changing Tehran's behavior.

Lieberman said Iran's ultimate objective was to undermine Riyadh, and called for a dialogue with Sunni Arab countries to defeat "radical" elements in the region. "The real division is not Jews, Muslims ... but moderate people versus radical people," Lieberman told delegates.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also criticized what he called an Iranian "sectarian policy" aimed at undermining Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. "Turkey is very much against any kind of division, religious or sectarian," he said. "It's good that we are now normalizing our relations with Israel."

Barak: The Fiasco of Netanyahu is Exposed

By & VOA News

Former Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak slammed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Sunday night for allegedly refusing to accept a peace initiative of former Secretary of State John Kerry,

"The fiasco is exposed," Barak wrote on his Facebook page. "For two years now there has been on the table a proposal for a regional conference under American auspices. Why it did not work out? What is frightening about a regional conference? What is frightening in the strengthening of Israel's position in the region and in the forming of new and important alliances? What is so frightening about John Kerry? Everything is frightening to Netanyahu."

Barak wrote that Netanyahu is weak and only concerned with his political survival. "Any fraction of a change that could undermine the foundations of the [Prime Minister's residence] paralyzes him with fear. The Zionist story is the story of courage and security against the odds, and one of triumph. Even if not every step was successful."

Barak directly addressed Netanyahu. "Bibi, this is not how leadership leads. This crying and passivity like a victim pulls us down. This is a betrayal of the public trust and what is required of a Prime Minister in Israel. Israel must retake the initiative and take its destiny into its own hands. Only when we act we can ensure true security above all else; a Jewish, democratic, and Zionist State. 'Unity of the people' before 'Unity of the land.'"

Ha'aretz claimed on Saturday that Netanyahu took part in a secret summit in the Jordanian city of Aqaba a year ago, where Kerry presented a plan for a regional peace initiative. According to the report, Kerry's plan included recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and a renewal of talks with the Palestinian Authority with the support of the Arab countries. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas did not attend the Aqaba meeting but was updated by Kerry, Ha'aretz said.

Two former top aides to Kerry confirmed that the meeting took place secretly on Feb. 21, 2016. According to the officials, Kerry tried to sweeten the 15-year-old "Arab Peace Initiative," a Saudi-led plan that offered Israel peace with dozens of Arab and Muslim nations in return for a pullout from territories captured in the 1967 Mideast war to make way for an independent Palestine.

Among the proposed changes were Arab recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, recognition of Jerusalem as a shared capital for Israelis and Palestinians, and softened language on the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees to lost properties in what is now Israel, the former officials said.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were still not authorized to discuss the secret meeting publicly, said the Egyptian and Jordanian leaders reacted positively to the proposal, while Netanyahu refused to commit to anything beyond meetings with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Jordan's King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi were present at the meeting as well, the newspaper claimed, citing former senior officials in the Obama administration who asked to remain anonymous.

In Cairo, el-Sissi's office issued a statement late Sunday that appeared to implicitly confirm that the meeting took place. It said Egypt been working toward a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "It is in this framework that Egypt has sought to bring closer the positions of the relevant parties and supported any meetings or initiatives aimed at discussing Practical ideas that would revive the peace process," said the statement without directly mentioning the Aqaba meeting.

Speaking to his ministers on Sunday, Netanyahu responded to the report by implying that Kerry had not initiated the plan, but rather he had. "Maybe I initiated the summit?" However, Netanyahu reportedly did not accept Kerry's proposal and said he would have difficulty getting it approved by his coalition. Nevertheless, according to Ha'aretz, the Aqaba summit was the basis for talks that began two weeks later between Netanyahu and opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog (Zionist Union) on establishing a unity government.

Report: Israel Warns Hizbullah of 'Colossal Retaliation' if Attacked

By Israel Hayom

Israel over the weekend warned the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hizbullah that any attack it may launch on it, be it from its bases in Lebanon or those in Syria, will meet a "colossal military retaliation," the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat reported Sunday.

According to the report, the warning was conveyed to Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah directly via a third-party Arab official. Nasrallah was reportedly warned that in the era of the Trump administration, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would be able to more easily garner the support of moderate countries in the region -- most likely in the form of tacit consent -- in the event Israel would have to mount a forceful counterattack against Hizbullah.

On Thursday, Nasrallah threatened to launch missiles at the Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona in southern Israel in the case of future hostilities with Israel. "The enemy's leadership is mistaken if it thinks it knows everything; we always have surprises," he said.

Military Releases New Details About Hamas 'Honey Trap' Plot

By Reuters and Israel Hayom

The cyber security company engaged by the Israel Defense Forces to help crack the Hamas 'honey trap' plot exposed last month has released a report about the security breach that includes new information. Hamas operatives had used fake social media profiles of alluring young women in order to entice IDF soldiers into downloading malware onto their mobile devices that would allow Hamas to collect information.

According to the report by Kaspersky Lab, the cyber attack is still in its initial stages and apparently ongoing. The report noted that the Hamas operatives behind the cyber plot were focusing mainly on soldiers and officers serving in and around the Gaza Strip, and that over 100 soldiers of various ranks had fallen prey to the attack, which turned the soldiers' personal Android mobile phones into spy machines for Hamas.

The report said that the malware soldiers were tricked into downloading gave Hamas access to information about location, conversations, correspondence and also access to the devices' microphones and cameras. The attackers also managed to send out updates to the malware that increased their abilities to manipulate the users' smartphones.

The report said that after a victim was identified on Facebook, a fictitious profile of a young woman would tempt him into downloading a fake app granting the attackers user access. One version of the malware package included an invite to a fake YouTube app, while others offered fake messaging apps. Once the user downloaded one of the apps, the malware code would be installed on the device. One malware pack titled WhatsApp Update has been identified as having the ability to both execute commands on demand and conduct automatic data mining activity. Most of the data mining took place while the soldiers were using a wireless Internet connection.

The IDF discovered the scheme when soldiers began reporting other suspicious online activity on social networks and uncovered dozens of fake identities used to target the soldiers, he said. The complaints led the IDF's Information Security Directorate to investigate the issue, with the duped soldiers' help. The soldiers were also ordered to reformat their phones, as this was the only sure way to remove the malware.

The IDF said all officers have been instructed to remind their soldiers of information security and social media use guidelines. Current military guidelines already bar soldiers and officers in certain units, as well as officers holding the rank of lieutenant colonel and above, from disclosing any information about their service on social media. Following the recent events, it is expected that the directive will be expanded to include more units, as well as officers holding the rank of major.

One of the interesting points to come out of the report is that the IDF's Cyber Unit is cooperating with the civilian Kaspersky Lab. The IDF passed on the report about Hamas' cyber attacks on military phones to civilian firms working in the field of cyber defense, an IDF official told Channel 10 News.

Poll: 93% of Israeli Jews Oppose Intermarriage with Muslims


A special survey commissioned by the Yad L'Achim organization revealed that the overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis oppose intermarriage with non-Jews, including Arab Muslims. The survey was conducted by the Maagar Mohot Survey Institute, headed by Professor Yitzhak, and was conducted among a random sample of 507 respondents constituting a representative sample of Israel's adult Jewish population (aged 18 and over). The sampling error in is 4.5%.

Participants were asked what their positions would be regarding the possibility that their children choose spouses who are not Jews. Eighty-one percent of respondents answered that they are opposed, while 44% answered that they strongly oppose. Only 4% of respondents answered that they would strongly support their children marrying non-Jews.

Respondents were also asked what their positions would be regarding the possibility that their children choose an Arab or Muslim spouse. Ninety-three percent answered that they were opposed, with 70% being strongly opposed to their children marrying Arabs or Muslims. Only 1% of respondents said that they would strongly support their children marrying Arabs or Muslims.

Rabbi Shmuel Lifshitz, one of the leaders of Yad L'Achim, said, "The survey confirms once again the firm position of the majority of Israeli Jews, who want to see their sons and daughters maintain their Jewish identity, their heritage, and the ways of the people of Israel, by choosing to marry Jews." He added that most Israelis wish to safeguard their Jewish identities "despite the voice of the liberal minority on this issue, which is sometimes louder than the voice of the majority of Israeli citizens."

Haredi Couple in Jerusalem Win Millions in Lottery


A haredi couple from Israel's capital claimed the Israeli lottery's grand prize Sunday morning, after they purchased the winning ticket Saturday night. The couple, in their mid-40s with six children, say they rarely play the lottery and only hoped to win enough to cover an outstanding electric bill of 4,000 shekels ($1,080). Instead, however, the couple ended up winning the jackpot, totaling some 12.5 million shekels ($3,375,000).

This winter, the couple said, they used a number of electric heaters to keep the house warm and their children from catching cold. But the bills from the electric company quickly piled up, leaving the family with a seemingly impossible debt.

"There were very cold days, and we used the heaters a lot so the kids wouldn't get sick. When we got the bill, we didn't know how we could ever pay these huge bills. So we said, `let's fill out a lottery ticket and pray that we win enough to pay the electric bill'." The two purchased the winning ticket at a lottery booth at the Malha Mall in southern Jerusalem for 11.60 shekels ($3.13).

"This is the third time I've ever purchased a lottery ticket, and when we found out that we had won, we didn't jump up and down – we took a book of Tehillim (Psalms) and said `thank you' to the Creator. We couldn't fall asleep. We were very happy and excited from the great gift we had received."

When asked what they planned to do with their new fortune, the couple said they planned to first pay off their debt, and then visit the graves of prominent rabbis, beginning with Rabbi Nahman of Breslov. "With the rest of the money, we will go on living a modest life as we did before we won. With God's help, we'll move to an apartment suitable for six children, and we'll support Torah scholars."

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