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Mossad Chief '100% Certain' Iran Seeks Nuclear Bomb

By VOA News
The head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency is "100% certain" that Iran remains committed to developing a nuclear bomb and believes the international community must change or scrap its nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic. Yossi Cohen, who leads the shadowy spy agency, has been holding discussions about the Iranian nuclear program and delivered his assessment in a recent closed meeting with senior officials, according to a person who attended the meeting. Cohen called the nuclear deal a "terrible mistake," saying it allows Iran to keep key elements of its nuclear program intact and will remove other restraints in a few years. "Then Iran will be able to enrich enough uranium for an arsenal of nuclear bombs," Cohen said, according to the meeting participant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a classified security matter. Cohen also criticized the decision to lift sanctions on Iran, saying it has resulted in "significantly increased" aggression by Iran, and noted Iran's continued development of long-range ballistic missiles. "As head of the Mossad, I am 100% certain that Iran has never abandoned its military nuclear vision for a single instant. This deal enables Iran to achieve that vision," Cohen said. "That is why I believe the deal must be completely changed or scrapped. The failure to do so would be a grave threat to Israel's security." Cohen's comments come amid an intense international discussion about the future of the 2015 nuclear deal, in which Iran agreed to curbs and inspections on its nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions. His analysis aligns closely with that of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a time the Israeli leader is hopeful that President Donald Trump can negotiate changes to the deal. The issue has sparked some debate inside Israel's security community, with some voices pointing to positive aspects of the deal in that it has delayed Iran's nuclear development. Trump has set a mid-May deadline for changes while also threatening to withdraw from the deal. However, it remains unclear whether a compromise can be reached, and how Iran would react. Trump's disdain for the deal has been a welcome development for Netanyahu. The Israeli leader was a leading opponent of the deal, saying it did not contain sufficient safeguards to prevent Iran from reaching the capability to develop nuclear weapons as the agreement's restrictions expire. Israel and Iran are arch enemies, and Israel has identified Iran as its top threat, citing the nuclear program, its hostile rhetoric, support for anti-Israel terror groups and its development of long-range missiles. Yet the deal has also set off debate within Israel's security ranks. As head of a powerful agency and a close aide to Netanyahu, Cohen is an influential voice. Yet other officials, both active and former, have taken a more nuanced approach by focusing on the positive aspects of the deal. In a recent interview, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told the Ha'aretz newspaper that he knows of no violations of the nuclear deal by Iran, though he said Israel is closely watching and assuming Iran can operate secretly. "If its intentions change, we will know. Right now the agreement, with all its faults, is working and is putting off realization of the Iranian nuclear vision by 10 to 15 years," he was quoted as saying.

Ten Palestinians Detained, Thwarting Plot to Attack Israeli Naval Ship

By DEBKAfile & Israel Hayom

Israel Wednesday released information about a plot by a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell in Rafah, southern Gaza, to pose as fishermen and shoot up an Israeli navy vessel with a missile and seize the ship with the crew. The episode occurred last month when a Gazan fishing vessel was caught sailing out of the permitted fishing zone off the Gaza coast and spying on Israeli naval movements. Islamic Jihad operative Amin Saadi Muhammad Jumma, 24, from Rafah in the Gaza Strip, and nine other men were arrested on March 12, when the Navy's 916th Patrol Squadron stopped their boat after it left the designated Gaza fishing zone on what is believed to be a reconnaissance mission for Islamic Jihad. The investigation revealed that Jumma had been ordered by his superiors to gather intelligence ahead of a coordinated attack in which Islamic Jihad planned to fire a missile at an Israeli Navy vessel, sink it and abduct the survivors or bodies. The attack was planned as part of Islamic Jihad's retaliation against the IDF over the Oct. 30 destruction of a terror tunnel near the Israel-Gaza Strip border, in which seven operatives were killed. According to information released by the Shin Bet, Islamic Jihad planned to use three boats to lure a navy ship, fire a Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missile at it, and abduct the survivors or, if there were no survivors, their bodies, with the aim of using them as leverage in a future prisoner exchange with Israel. Jumma told interrogators that the first boat was supposed to breach the designated fishing zone so as to have an Israeli ship approach it. The second boat would have then fired a missile at the naval vessel, and the third boat would have arrived on the scene to carry out the abductions, the Shin Bet said in a statement. "In order to prepare for the attack, Jumma conducted a number of surveillance missions on navy ships and gathered intelligence about their locations and routes, the number of soldiers on them and the types of weaponry on board," the agency said. The Southern District Attorney's Office said Jumma was arraigned at the Be'er Sheva District Court on Wednesday. The prosecution said Jumma was involved in extensive terrorist activities, including several instances when he smuggled weapons and explosives from Egypt into Gaza. In 2013, he allegedly teamed with his brother to smuggle 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of explosives into Gaza, and in 2015 he was paid $6,000 to help smuggle large quantities of fiberglass into Gaza for weapon production, the indictment said. "Once again, we have proved that terrorist organizations are exploiting the relief Israel wishes to afford civilians in Gaza by easing restrictions on fishing, in order to promote terrorist attacks, in a manner that harms the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. Security forces will continue to spare no effort, on land, in the air and at sea, to thwart terrorist plots," the Shin Bet's statement said. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman lauded the operation, saying, "The IDF and Shin Bet have once again prevented a terrorist attack against our troops. The challenges on the Gaza border are varied and complex but the Israeli public have someone they can count on."

Gazans to Burn Thousands of Tires at Border

By the Jerusalem Post
Palestinians plan to engulf the Gaza border with smoke and flames from thousands of burning tires on Friday as Israel holds firm to its order to shoot any protesters who come close to the security barrier. In the past several days, groups of young Gazans have been collecting old tires around the Strip and bringing them to the border. Palestinians intend to light the tires on fire to blur the vision of the soldiers on the Israeli side of the security fence, according to a Gaza-based source familiar with preparations for what he called "the Friday of Old Tires. "The hope is that the soldiers will not be able to shoot because the thick, black smoke will block their line of vision," he said in a phone call with The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. Pictures and videos on social media showed that hundreds of tires have already been transported to the border. Last Friday, some 30,000 Gazan protesters participated in the launch of a planned six-week event called the "Great March of Return," in which Palestinians hope to break through the border to return to the sites of pre-1948 communities located within Green Line Israel. The IDF shot and killed 17 protesters who were close to the Gaza fence last Friday, including one who later succumbed to his wounds. An 18th Palestinian killed on Tuesday was buried in Gaza on Wednesday. While scattered protests have continued throughout the week, it's expected that another massive protest will take place this Friday. In an Arabic post on his Facebook page, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, warned that the plan to blind IDF soldiers with smoke will backfire. "It's the people in Gaza who will be strangled by black smoke – and green onions will not help them," Mordechai wrote, adding that the smoke is carcinogenic and is harmful to the respiratory and immune systems. Mordechai also wrote a letter asking the World Health Organization to intervene. Aside from the health issue, he wrote that he feared the burning tires could cause an ecological disaster, by poisoning plants and animals. The United Nations, the European Union and the Palestinians have called on the IDF to hold its fire. But Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has insisted that he has no plans to change his orders to use life fire if necessary. "We will act exactly we did last Friday. We are not changing our behavior. Anyone who harms Israeli sovereignty and endangers Israeli [security] infrastructure is risking their lives," Liberman told Army Radio on Wednesday evening. Those who come close to the fence are either Hamas or Islamic Jihad terrorists, or they are paid by Hamas to be there, the defense minister said. The "people in Gaza will be the first to be harmed from these tires," Liberman told Army Radio. Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman met with Egyptian General Intelligence Services Chief Abbas Kamel in Israel on Tuesday to discuss the protests, Army Radio said. Argaman asked Kamel to tell Hamas that the Jewish state has "no tolerance for what is happening" in the border area.

B'Tselem on Wednesday launched a campaign called "Sorry, commander, I will not fire" to urge soldiers to disobey their officers and to refuse to shoot Palestinian who approach the security fence. Such orders are unnecessary and illegal under international law, the NGO said. "It is a criminal offense to obey patently illegal orders. Therefore, as long as soldiers in the field continue to receive orders to use live fire against unarmed civilians, they are duty-bound to refuse to comply," the group said. Liberman has said that most of those killed were known terrorists, including two who were armed, had an explosive device and planned to carry out an attack against Israelis. Palestinians and human rights groups have argued that many of those killed were innocent, including one protester who was shot in the back.

Pro-Palestinian Hacker Targets Dozens of Israeli Websites

By Reuters & YnetNews

Dozens of Israeli websites were breached Tuesday by a pro-Palestinian hacker known by his Twitter handle "Darkcoder." The hacker launched a distributed-denial-of-service attack to disrupt access to the websites of the Israeli cities of Eilat, Acre, Netanya, Kfar Saba, Gan Yavne, Or Yehuda, Nesher and Givat Shmuel. Access to the websites of the Israeli Opera and of the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera was also disrupted. "Darkcoder" also targeted the Israel Teachers Union's website, replacing the content with images from last week's Hamas-orchestrated march on the Israel-Gaza Strip border, Palestinian flags and images of Jerusalem captioned "Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine." The Teachers Union confirmed that its website had been hacked, saying the issue was being dealt with by Daronet Internet Solutions, which maintains the site. "The Teachers Union is one of the symbols of Israel's success, and as such it is a target for hostile elements," the organization said.

Cynthia Nixon's Bid for NY Governor Sets Up a Clash over Israel

By The New York Jewish Week

The last time two Democrats appeared before a New York audience and debated Israel's actions against Palestinians was in April 2016. That was when Sen. Bernie Sanders argued that Israel used "disproportionate" force against Hamas terrorists in 2014 and Hillary Clinton replied that Hamas had erected a "terrorist haven." The two presidential contenders rocked New York politics as Sanders spoke openly about the plight of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and ripped into Israel for excessively responding to Hamas' steady stream of rocket attacks on Israel's civilian population. Never before in New York could anyone recall such a left-wing stance on Israel being articulated during a presidential campaign. And it may happen again in the state's race for governor. The entry this month of actress Cynthia Nixon against incumbent Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination raises the possibility of a faceoff over Israel and the Palestinians. Nixon, who has been described as an impassioned liberal who would lead from the left, is challenging Cuomo's progressive bona fides. Jewish voters might find it appealing that she has close ties to Manhattan's Congregation Beit Simchat Torah and that Nixon, who is not Jewish, is raising her two eldest children from her first marriage as Jews. But she will also have to defend to critics her decision in 2010 to sign a petition in support of Israeli artists who were refusing to perform in the Israeli West Bank settlement of Ariel. That will make Israel a factor in the election for Jewish voters, predicted Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant who is not aligned with either candidate. "There will be a split between the more pro-Israel Jews and those on the left — and there are more pro-Israel Jews than not," he said, a reference to studies showing explosive growth among the city's Orthodox communities. "That is an indication of the changing nature of our community." Sheinkopf said that although Nixon "probably believes she will win the East Side and the West Side, she should rethink that because the Jews there are mostly Israel supporters and not boycotters. A boycott is a boycott and that is what she supported, whereas Cuomo has been against BDS and is pro-Israel." Cuomo in July 2016 signed the first-in-the-nation executive order directing state entities to divest all public funds from any organization or group that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. Nixon's defenders say that calling for a boycott limited to a West Bank settlement is not the same as support for the broader BDS movement. Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, said that as "someone who believes that being pro-Israel requires working to end the occupation and to create a two-state reality, I view signing a letter in support of Israeli artists who oppose BDS and who do not wish to perform in the occupied territories to be a pro-Israel action." Political activists say Cuomo continues to enjoy the support of the Jewish community, which could prove decisive in a close election because of the usually large Jewish voter turnout. "Jews tend to support mainstream Democratic candidates," said Larry Levy, a Long Island political expert and former Newsday political columnist. "They will go with those who are best known to them, whose views are considered moderate and who have shown the proper amount of deference to Israel." In addition, noted author Alan Skorski, "the Jewish community has always had a comfortable relationship with the Cuomo family." Cuomo's late father, Mario, served three terms as New York's governor from 1983 to 1994. Cuomo is running for his third term as governor. In a January poll by Siena College, he had a strong favorability rating of 76% among Democrats — a figure that slipped to 53% last month perhaps because of the corruption trial of his former top aide, Joseph Percoco. Nixon's name recognition might be expected to give her a boost because of her starring role as Miranda in HBO's "Sex and the City." But the Siena poll released last week found that she is far from a household name. In fact, Cuomo led Nixon in that poll by 66% to 19% among New York Democrats. And it found that her favorable rating was only 20% — with 19% having an unfavorable view. The remaining 60% had no opinion. Law professor Alan Dershowitz has criticized Nixon for signing the boycott petition, charging her with "bigotry" and noting that the petition was initiated by the far-left Jewish Voice for Peace. Among the 150 American actors, writers, directors and other artists who signed, he said, is Vanessa Redgrave, a vocal supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a critic of Israel and "Zionist hoodlums." Others were actors Theodore Bikel and Mandy Patinkin, as well as playwright Tony Kushner. "Jewish Voice for Peace has a benign name but a malignant agenda — ending Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people," Dershowitz told The Jewish Week. (The organization itself says it is in favor of any solution that supports the national rights of both Jews and Palestinians.) "I don't care if it's Mandy Patinkin or anybody else who signed the petition circulated by this horrible anti-Zionist organization Jewish Voice for Peace," Dershowitz said. "It shows either the worst judgment or the worst form of bigotry; it is no defense to say other Jews did it. … Does she not believe in Israel's right to exist?" Nixon did not respond to numerous phone calls and messages left with her representatives.

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