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Report: US and Israel Formulate a Plan to Jointly Stop Iran

By the Jerusalem Post

Top US and Israeli national security officials reached an agreement two weeks ago in Washington on a joint work plan to counter Iranian activity in the Middle East, Channel 10 reported on Thursday. The document marks the beginning of a new cooperative effort against Iran, a senior US official told The Jerusalem Post.

The document, characterized by a US National Security Council representative as an informal "framework," follows on President Donald Trump's speech in October outlining a new American policy approach to the Islamic Republic, where he announced that he would not recertify the Iranian nuclear deal. "It's more precise to say that it is a framework document, and not a done and dusted plan," the US official told the Post. "It is a framework for future cooperation. It is not the end result of a process, it's more of a beginning."

The White House declined to comment on whether the agreement commits the US to coordinate its forthcoming strategy on the Iran nuclear deal with the Israelis. But "our goal is to deny Iran all paths to a nuclear weapon," the official said. "Obviously, there was a major strategy that was announced a few months ago, and there have been meetings subsequent to that shaped by that new strategy," the official continued. "And obviously Israel is one of our closest allies."

A spokesman in the Prime Minister's Office, when asked about the report, would only say that "there was a meeting in Washington." The Israeli team was led by National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat, and the US team was led by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Senior defense, intelligence and diplomatic officials from both sides took part in the meeting.

According to the report, an agreement was reached on regional goals in the region and several working groups were set up, including one to deal with joint covert and diplomatic steps to prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons and to monitor and verify that it is not violating the nuclear deal signed in 2015. This group will also focus on placing additional pressure on the Islamic Republic through both covert and diplomatic steps.

Another group was set up to counter Iran's activity in the region, specifically its support for Hizbullah. This group will also formulate a joint policy regarding Syria after the end of the civil war. A third group is to work to counter Iranian ballistic missile development and the manufacturing of precision missiles in Syria and Lebanon, and a fourth is to address joint preparation for various scenarios of escalation in the region, be they with Iran or with Hizbullah

Israel Banking on 'Digital Shekel' Cryptocurrency?

By the Jerusalem Post and Israel News Faxx Sources The Finance Ministry and Bank of Israel are considering issuing a digital currency, a possible response to the frenzied cryptocurrency and bitcoin craze. The digital shekel would record every transaction by mobile phone and make it more difficult to evade taxation, according to a finance official who spoke to The Jerusalem Post on condition of anonymity.

For several months now, regulators have been examining the possibility of a state-sponsored currency, and the government could review a tentative legal framework in January. The digital shekel would be identical in value to the physical shekel currently in use. With cash, you make a transaction immediately, unlike with a bank transfer or check, which takes a few days to clear. Digital currency would act similarly to cash by not passing through a bank-clearing system, but rather changing hands immediately. "You can imagine that instead of giving you a piece of paper saying the Bank of Israel on it, I can send you a piece of digital code that was issued by a central bank," the official said, with the digital currency being stored in a digital wallet.

It is unclear where the digital wallet would be located – either in a Bank of Israel account or on your mobile phone. And if somebody stole your phone, what would happen to your digital wallet? It is possible that central banks may see digital currencies as a threat, undermining the centralized bank-clearing system. In that light, state-sponsored digital currencies may be an attempt to compete with decentralized cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. It remains to be seen how digital currencies will affect the lives of consumers.

With bitcoin running on blockchain technology – a digitized and decentralized public ledger that allows you to reliably authenticate transactions – the Bank of Israel is also considering incorporating blockchain into its operations. Yet bitcoin has faced daily volatility, with double-digit fluctuations in bitcoin-to-dollar conversions. "Early on, when new things emerge, and people struggle to understand how to value it, you get high volatility," said Lou Kerner, a partner at CryptoOracle, a venture-capital firm and bitcoin investor. "That doesn't mean that it's not a thing and it doesn't mean that it should be outlawed."

Kerner, who visited Israel earlier this month, weighed into the recent Israel Securities Authority decision to bar bitcoin-related companies from trading on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. "Governments have two options," said Kerner. "They can either roll out the red tape or roll out the red carpet – and they roll out the red tape at their own peril. So, it turns out, these [bitcoin-related] companies will go somewhere else. And the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange loses out. It's like saying, `We won't allow Internet companies to trade.'"

A state-sponsored digital currency doesn't exist anywhere in the world, not even in Sweden, which has made the most progress so far in shifting away from cash. For two years, the Knesset has considered how to reduce the use of cash, according to TheMarker. Various constituencies in Israel, which are more prone to dealing in the black market, have pressured their politicians to forestall the move. To issue a state cryptocurrency, the Bank of Israel's plans would need to be approved by the Knesset, the finance official added. "There's a lot that people need to think about before going through with this reform," the official said. "We're looking at the legal, financial, regulatory and money- laundering sides of this."

Unlike bitcoin, where the set number of bitcoins is fixed, sovereign governments can print and issue however much state currency they desire. That hypothetically makes bitcoins more resistant to inflationary pressure – like gold – in terms of store value. It may take some time for bitcoin to catch up, as the market capitalization of gold worldwide stands at some $8 trillion. The total value of all bitcoin in circulation is around $200 billion, according to Kerner. "Gold has been a store [of] value for 5,000 years," Kerner said. "It turns out that nothing lasts forever. And now we have something that is a far better store of value, in that it's much easier to transmit and send and buy and sell than gold is. You can take all your bitcoins with you in a way that's very hard for you to take your gold. A sovereign nation can take your gold, but it can't take your bitcoin."

And given that bitcoin is only the most famous application of blockchain so far, it's just a matter of time before a niftier, more efficient cryptocurrency replaces it. Kerner analogized bitcoin's role to how the social-media site Friendster was eclipsed by MySpace, which was then replaced by Facebook. "In terms of a store of value, bitcoin is better than the dollar, and something theoretically could come along and be better than bitcoin," Kerner said.

10% of Proceeds from Auction of Hitler's Car for Holocaust Education

By the Jerusalem Post

A rare, luxury 1939 Mercedes-Benz ordered by, specially built for and used by Adolf Hitler is to be sold at auction in January, with 10% of the sale price going towards Holocaust education. Described by auctioneers as the "most historically significant automobile ever offered for public sale", the Mercedes-Benz 770K is the product of the detailed demands of Hitler and his primary chauffeur, Erich Kempka. It is one of five surviving Offener Tourwenwagen models, of which three are in private hands.

The world famous handcrafted "Super Mercedes," an expression of German pride in its engineering capabilities, was equipped with bullet-resistant laminated glass and armor plating to provide maximum protection for its passengers. Its primary role was as a guest car for visiting heads of states. "We are acutely aware of the responsibility attached to presenting such an impactful piece of history for public sale," said Rod Egan, Principal and Auctioneer at Worldwide Auctioneers. "It is an artifact that continues to stand and serve as a singular piece of irreplaceable living history and as a reminder that the evil which is a part of its history must never be permitted to recur," added Egan.

The vehicle, which made several high-profile appearances between its public debut in December 1939 and May 1941, was seized by the US Army in 1945 following the conclusion of World War Two and used by US Army Military Police stationed in Le Have, France. A private owner acquired the vehicle in 1946 and transported it to the US, where he donated it for use in parades involving Veterans of Foreign Wars and Gold Star Mothers. The vehicle, however, subsequently fell into disuse and was moved into storage. In 2004, the Mercedes-Benz was sold to a European owner along with 21 other Mercedes-Benz vehicles, becoming the most valuable private transaction in the world of classic cars. The record still stands today.

Ahead of the vehicle's January 17, 2018 auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, the auctioneers announced that 10% of the car's auction price will be donated towards Holocaust education. "Our hope is that [the car] will be used in a setting such as a public museum or collection where it can be shown and used to continually educate generations to come," said auctioneer Egan. Several items associated with Hitler have also been sold at auction in recent years.

In June 2016, a pair of socks belonging to the Nazi leader sold for approximately $21,000 at auction. In March 2016, Hitler's personal copy of his autobiography Mein Kampf, bearing the signatures of the American soldiers who found it, sold at auction for more than $20,000. In 2011, two pieces of Hitler's personalized bed linen, complete with embroidered swastikas and Hitler's initials, brought in $3,000 at auction in Britain.

Hitler used the car during the victory parade of the Nazi army in Germany and on his travels throughout the country, including the famous victory campaign in Berlin after the surrender of France in 1940, and during his visit to Italy to meet with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Some criticized the attempt to sell Hitler's car, which they say glorifies the Nazi leader. The auction house denied that the move was intended to glorify Nazi policy in a statement and said that the sale was strictly about the automobile. "The purpose of this show is certainly not to glorify Hitler and his destructive policies, but to show one of the most amazing cars of the century, built by gifted people and representing the highest level of art," the auction site said. The identity of its current owner is unknown.

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