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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu set out for President Vladimir Putin Israel's red lines against Iran's presence in Syria. This issue took up most of their three-hour conversation, in Sochi on Wednesday, Aug. 23.

He said plainly that Israel will take such action as needed. "We will not remain passive," in the face of Iran's expansionist plans to Lebanonize Syria,' he said. "Iran is attempting to establish a permanent military presence with airlifts of Revolutionary Guards as well as Hizballah. This is a serious situation for us and for many other countries in the region."

Israel is not asking for permission. "It will act in its own interest," he stressed. "In view of the rapidly-changing reality in recent weeks, the Mossad and Shin Bet directors were sent out on a mission which was received with serious attention. We want to prevent war and we are therefore giving due warning," he said.

Netanyahu pointed to the danger of planting an extremist Shiite presence in the heart of a Sunni Muslim region. Netanyahu noted that all his previous conversations with the Russian president had good results for both countries, and he was confident that this latest meeting would also produce a beneficial outcome.










Israel's red lines in Syria long crossed by Iran

DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis August 23, 2017, 9:33 PM (IDT)
Tags:  Netanyahu-Putin,  Syria,  Iranian forces in Syria,  Hizballah,  Golan,

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu set out for President Vladimir Putin Israel's red lines against Iran establishing a permanent, expanded military presence in Syria. This theme dominated their three-hour conversation in Sochi on Wednesday, Aug. 23. Netanyahu stiffened his warning with a veiled threat that should Iran or Hizballah cross those lines, there would be a regional war.

It was the first time that the prime minister had publicly threatened to go to war against Iran and Hizballah. After talking to Putin, he said to reporters that what is new today is Iran's attempt to "Lebanonize Syria." in the same way as it seized control of Lebanon through its surrogate, Hizballah. "We are looking at Tehran's future takeover of Syria through its Shiite militias. if that happens, "we will not remain passive," he said - nor if Syria becomes a link in Iran's overland corridor via Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. And we certainly can't accept Iranians and Hizballah close to the Golan.

"We told President Putin plainly that we won't put up with Iran using Syria as a military base for attacking Israel.

Putin, in the part of the meeting to which reporters had access, did not address Netanyahu's remarks about Iran's role in Syria, nor his warning of unilateral military action. The Russian president just repeated the standard Moscow line that foreign forces would not stay in Syria at the end of the war, but offered no timetable or guarantees.

The Russian leader would clearly prefer not to see an Israel war against Iran and Hizballah breaking out in Syria, debkafile's sources say, especially since Russian special forces, naval and air force contingents are deployed there - albeit not in large numbers. At the same time, he may well find Netanyahu's strong words useful for boosting Russia's clout in Syria. If Tehran believes an Israeli war against its forces and Hizballah is potential, it will be in Iran's interest to strengthen its military ties with Russia so as to gain its military and political backing.

For Putin, this would be a welcome change from the atmosphere of acrimony prevailing for some weeks between Iranian and Russian officers in Syria. Russian colonels have been posted at the most sensitive sectors in Syria, such as Aleppo, Hama, Homs and eastern Damascus. They are taking over both the military and civilian administration there and, in effect, shouldering the Iranian officers aside. In Iraq, the Iranians seized control of the country from within, by setting up armed militias and getting them integrated in the national army, as Trojan horses. Tehran knows how to manage this ruse on the quiet, without drawing unwanted attention from the powers on the spot.

In Syria, the problem Israel facing is quite different. If Netanyahu shared sensitive intelligence wit Putin that he had not known before, he can't help noticing that Israel's red lines for Iran's expansion were crossed months ago, some of them with Russian assistance.

Four instances stand out:

  1. Iran and Hizballah have already set up a chain of military bases in Syria - notably in the Qalamoun Mountains on the Syrian-Lebanese border, from which missiles can be launched against Israel.

  2. Iran has already won its coveted land bridge through Iraq to Syria. Bashar Assad's army has taken over whole sections of the Syrian-Iraqi border, and opened the door for pro-Iranian Shiite militias, Hizballah and Iraqi Shiite groups to move into strategic positions on both sides of the border.

  3. Netanyahu warned of the danger of planting an extremist Shiite entity in the heart of the Sunni Muslim region. But this is already underway. On orders from Moscow, the Syrian army's 5th Corps is in the process of absorbing the pro-Iranian Shiite militias which fought for Assad.

The prime minister did not inform Putin of any timetable for Israeli action. But the Russian leader will take it for granted that the Israeli army will not move into Syria without a nod from the Trump administration in Washington.

For now, Putin and Trump are synchronizing their operations is Syria with better results than Netanyahu's understanding with the US administration.




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Palestinian leadership considers dissolving PA, says Abbas insider

>

In face-off with Hamas, PA says it will not pay Gaza's electric bills >
Senior PA official to Britain: We want our own Balfour

ByAdam Rasgon
August 23, 2017 23:38
The announcement was made just before Trump administration officials are set to visit Ramallah.



Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attends a ceremony in Ramallah

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attends a ceremony in Ramallah. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is considering dismantling the Palestinian Authority, if there is no political horizon to establish an independent Palestinian state, Ahmad Majdalani, a confidant of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said on Wednesday, a day before senior Trump administration officials are due in Ramallah.

"This option is being discussed and considered seriously. We are studying its political, legal, administrative implications," Majdalani told The Jerusalem Post in a phone interview. "If there is no political horizon, we are not going to be agents of the occupation – we are not going to help General Poli."

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Maj.-Gen. Yoav "Poli" Mordechai, coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT), runs the Defense Ministry's unit in charge of overseeing civil affairs in the West Bank.

Al-Hayat, a London-based publication, first reported on Wednesday morning that the Palestinian leadership is weighing the possibility of dissolving the PA, citing anonymous sources.

Palestinian leaders including Abbas and top negotiator Saeb Erekat have said several times in the past that if the peace process fails to produce a Palestinian state, the Palestinian leadership would dissolve the PA. However, after the failure of negotiations in 2011 and again in 2014, the Palestinian leadership did not dissolve the PA.

Majdalani, who also is a PLO Executive Committee member, said that if the Palestinian leadership decides to dissolve the PA, Israel would become responsible for delivering services to Palestinians.

"Israel would have to take charge of providing services in security, education, health and so forth," he said.

The PA's annual budget is approximately $4 billion and much of it is expended on services for Palestinians in the West Bank, namely in areas under its control, and in the Gaza Strip.

Both COGAT and the Prime Minister's Office declined to comment on Majdalani's remarks.

Majdalani added that dismantling the PA would not spell the end of the Palestinian leadership.

"The PLO Executive Committee and the Palestinian National Council are the sole representatives of the Palestinian people and will undertake their responsibilities," he said.

The Executive Committee is the PLO's top body and the PNC is considered the PLO's parliament. Abbas, who serves as PLO chairman, is trying to organize a meeting of the Palestinian National Council to elect a new Executive Committee.

Ghaith al-Omari, a former adviser to Abbas and currently a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington, questioned the seriousness of Majdalani's comments.

"PA leaders have been threatening this option for a long time, but they know that if they dismantle PA it will spell out the end of the Palestinian national movement: The PLO is too weak to take over and Fatah has become indistinguishable from the PA," Omari said in an email, adding, "The only thing such a statement does is to further erode the already-shaky credibility of the PA among Palestinians."

Majdalani's comments come as Palestinian officials are expressing concerns about the Trump administration's plans to renew peace negotiations.

Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad told official PA television on Monday that information available to him indicates the Americans do not have a "clear" vision for reviving peace talks.

Majdalani, Ahmad and other members of the Palestinian leadership want the US to endorse the two-state solution and ask Israel to stop building settlements.

"If the administration cannot take these positions, then there will be no peace process, no negotiations, and no American patronage," Majdalani said.




Women rabbinical students asked to lift skirts, shirts at Western Wall August 23, 2017 8:05am
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Women blowing shofars at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Aug. 23, 2017. (Women of the Wall)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Four female students from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, including two Americans, were asked to lift their shirts and skirts for security before being allowed to enter the Western Wall plaza.

The women were among a group of 15 rabbinical, cantorial and Jewish education students from North America and Australia who joined about 200 men and women in an egalitarian service held Wednesday morning on the plaza behind the men's and women's sections.

The four said they were questioned, pulled aside into a private room and asked to lift their shirts and skirts. The Western Wall security did not say what they were looking for, according to the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform movement, or IRAC. Western Wall officials in the past have detained women and searched for Torah scrolls and other religious items they consider inappropriate for women to bring to the wall.

In January, Israel's High Court of Justice ruled that women are not to be subjected to intense body searches when entering the Western Wall.

Thousands enter the plaza daily after walking through metal detectors.

"There is no reason to do this to these four young women," Steven Beck of the IRAC told JTA. "It is purely an intimidation tactic."

The egalitarian service took place following the monthly rosh chodesh service of the Women of the Wall group. About 100 women participated in the service for the first day of the month of Elul. The women were able to bring a Torah scroll into the women's section and read from it during the service, according to the group. Some 15 women sounded shofars at the end, as is traditionally done in the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah.

"The shofar blowing by Women of the Wall was not a call for repentance and awakening but a call for war among the Jews," Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall, told Haaretz.

The women generally have been barred from bringing Torah scrolls into the women's section by order of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and the rabbi of the Western Wall. The group has held its monthly rosh chodesh prayer for the new Hebrew month in the women's section for more than 25 years.

Protesters disrupted the service about a half hour after it started; the group described them in a statement as "ultra-Orthodox women and girls" who "arrived shouting, whistling, spitting and cursing incessantly." Security guards at the site did not act to prevent the disruptions despite requests to do so, according to the Women of the Wall.

Beck said protesters, primarily men, also disrupted the egalitarian service..

The IRAC said it will submit formal complaints about the body searches on the students.

"This is a new low for the Rabbi of the Kotel trying to intimidate, humiliate, and exclude liberal women trying to pray at the Western Wall," Rabbi Noa Sattath, director of the Israel Religious Action Center, said in a statement.

He added: "The Government knows that the only way forward is to implement the Kotel compromise that we all agreed to."

The compromise refers to a government agreement to expand and upgrade the egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall. The agreement puts the upgraded section on equal footing with the single-sex sections; it would be run by a special committee with no input from the Chief Rabbinate.

In June, the Cabinet suspended the deal passed in 2016 as a result of negotiations between the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government. The suspension came after the government's haredi Orthodox coalition partners pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scrap the agreement. The government has said it plans to go forward with the expansion of the egalitarian section despite the freeze.










Why some Jews are paying $500 for an Italian etrog

Chabad rabbi explains etrog crisis, and why he has to be extra careful with inspections. Contact Editor
JTA, 23/08/17 08:38
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Samuel Ekstein from New York City inspecting a citron fruit in Santa Maria Del Cedro, sout
Samuel Ekstein from New York City inspecting a citron fruit in Santa Maria Del Cedro, soutAlberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

JTA - Fifty years ago, leaders of the Chabad movement tasked Rabbi Moshe Lazar of Milan with supervising the local production and export of the Calabria etrog, the citrus fruit used by Jews during the harvest festival of Sukkot.

Lazar's job is to make sure the fruit is kosher for the festival, and that local farmers aren't cutting corners or using unacceptable techniques to boost the yield and their profits for what already is Italy's most lucrative citrus product.

This year Lazar, now 83, has to be particularly vigilant. A winter frost destroyed 90 percent of this year's crop, creating the worst shortage he has seen in Calabria etrogs, which are named for the southern region where they are grown. Italy is one of only three major exporters of the fruit along with Israel and Morocco.

Prices for the kosher fruits, which in normal years can easily fetch $200 ahead of Sukkot, have doubled and tripled, making Chabad communities around the world – who strongly favor the Calabria variety – fear that they will not be able to afford or obtain a specimen to call their own.

The shortage could also tempt unscrupulous or careless farmers.

"The frost just burned the fruit-producing branches," Lazar said.

Due to the shortage, Lazar this year is picking fruit he would have deemed too homely for export in normal years, just as long as the fruit is technically kosher. To be considered as such, an etrog must at least be egg-sized, yellow, elliptical, intact (including its woody stem, or pitom) and possess a tough peel.

But even using the grade B produce, "there are not going to be enough Calabria etrogim to go around this year," Lazar said.

That's bad news for Chabad communities all over the world ahead of Sukkot, which this year begins on Oct. 4. Etrogs are among four species of plants that Jews purchase for the Sukkot holiday.

In the Ukrainian city of Odessa, Rabbi Avraham Wolff's congregants are trying to buy a single Calabria etrog for $500 via a Judaica shop in the United States.

"We're worried that even at this high price we won't be able to get one this holiday," Wolff told JTA. "So a few of the patrons of the community got together and decided to open a fund to make sure we have enough money, cost what it may, for at least one Calabria."

In previous years, the community bought five Calabria etrogs for Sukkot to be shared by Chabad institutions in Odessa, where some 50,000 Jews live. (Under Jewish law, Jews must "possess" an etrog during the festival, but a loophole allows them to be shared as "gifts" among several people. The fruits aren't eaten, but carried and held at various points during prayers.)

Other communities are able to cut out middlemen by buying the fruit directly from the farmers for about $50 apiece in normal years. But this year, farmers hiked their prices, starting at $150 apiece and all the way up to $350, according to Lazar's son, Berel, who is a chief rabbi of Russia. Berel Lazar travels to Calabria each year to pick etrogs from orchards and bring them back to Russia for distribution to communities across the former Soviet Union. The younger Lazar charges congregants only what he pays the farmers.

The day after Sukkot, the price of etrogs drops to $1 a pound, Berel Lazar said. Locals use the fruit to make jam and in the soap industry.

The yield on Calabria etrogs, which are also called Yanover etrogim because they used to be shipped from the Italian coastal city of Genoa, makes the fruit an irresistible target for manipulation, Berel Lazar said.

Some growers attempt to increase their margins at the expense of the strict kosher standards that Moshe Lazar has enforced for 50 years. One trick is to secretly graft the relativity vulnerable etrog tree onto the trunk of a hardier citrus tree, rendering it more robust but non-kosher. A cruder ruse involves gluing fruits and branches from a non-kosher tree onto a kosher one.

And while there is an atmosphere of "friendship and mutual respect" between the local farmers and the small team of supervisors working with Moshe Lazar, "sadly there is not a relationship of trust," Berel Lazar said. He noted that the lucrative etrog trade has not escaped the attention of the Italian mafia, which he suggested may be pressuring farmers to try to pass off non-kosher etrogs as kosher to increase profits.

Although etrogs are grown in Israel, Morocco and even the United States, Berel Lazar says that the Calabria etrog is "clearly and visibly superior" to those strands – including fruits that grow in Israel on trees descended from Calabria groves. But to Chabadniks, the preference for Calabria etrogs is also based in scripture.

According to Chabad traditions, the Talmud, a central text of Judaism, suggests that God bequeathed southern Italy to Esau, Isaac's firstborn and inheritor of "earth's richness," as he is designated in the book of Genesis.

"This means Calabria etrogim come from the richest soil, making them the best," Berel Lazar said.

The shortage has Berel Lazar this year is sticking to a quota of 300-500 fruits for Russian communities -- a mere fraction of the yield in normal years, when tens of thousands of etrogs leave the orchards of Calabria's approximately 100 etrog farmers ahead of the Sukkot holiday.

"I can't pick as many as I want and send them all to Russia when the rest of the world is left without," he said.

Virtually all Chabad communities eagerly await the Calabria etrogs, and demand is especially high where the movement has many followers -- primarily in Israel, France, the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Moshe Lazar said he predicts the Calabria orchards will recover fully within a year or two, making the shortage a very "temporary difficulty."

But not a new one, his son noted.

"Hasidic tradition has many stories of Russian cities where Jews struggled to find an etrog for Sukkot," Berel Lazar said. "This year we are reliving also this tradition."



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Palestinian bus driver finds $10,000, returns it to Jewish owner Arab driver in Israel returns $10,000 (8,500 euros) to a religious Jewish man who left it in his vehicle; driver says cash 'did not tempt' him as 'it is my duty morally and religiously, and to my God and my work, to return the money.' AFP|Published: 23.08.17 , 21:45

A Palestinian bus driver in Israel has returned $10,000 (8,500 euros) to a religious Jewish man who left it in his vehicle, police and the driver said Wednesday. Police spokeswoman Luba Samri confirmed that "the Tel Aviv police received the amount of $10,000 from an Arab bus driver from the area of Beit Hanina in east Jerusalem," adding that "one of the passengers had left it on the bus."



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The passenger had forgotten the cash in the ultra-Orthdox city of Bnei Brak.

Illustration: Herzl Yosef
Illustration: Herzl Yosef



The driver, 35-year-old Ramadan Jamjoum, told AFP the money was in a bundle that had fallen.



"I tried to tell him but he didn't hear me as he was on the phone, but afterwards I informed the company and submitted the money."



He said the cash "did not tempt" him as "it is my duty morally and religiously, and to my God and my work, to return the money."



Jamjoum did not receive any reward apart from a certificate of thanks from his company.


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