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US Intelligence: Arms Shipments from Iran into Syria May be Used Against Israel

By the Jerusalem Post

US intelligence is monitoring shipments of weapons systems from Iran into Syria that might be used by Bashar Assad or Iranian forces, CNN reported on Wednesday. According to the report, the United States and Israel fear the cargo could contain arms that may eventually be directed against Israel. The flights were tracked in the days following the US's April 14 strike on Syrian regime targets.

According to the CNN report, at least two flights by Syrian Air Force IL-76 cargo jets, as well as one Iranian cargo jet, "caught US attention." Weapons shipments from Iran to Syria are not uncommon. The US Treasury Department has already blacklisted Iran Air, Mayan Air and Yas Air for supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

In 2013, Reuters reported that Iran had been smuggling weapons into Syria through Turkish airspace to Beirut, and from there to Syria by truck. Once there, the arms would be distributed to government troops and pro-regime militias such as Hizbullah.

A Western intelligence report seen by Reuters in 2013 states that the equipment transferred from Iran to Syria "included light arms and advanced strategic weapons. The more sophisticated gear includes parts for various hardware such as unmanned aerial vehicles, shore-to-sea missiles and surface-to-surface ballistic missiles." According to the report, there were about five tons of arms on each flight, which happened on a "near-weekly basis."

Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the growing Iranian presence on its borders and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hizbullah from Tehran to Lebanon via Syria, stressing that both are redlines for the Jewish state.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman flew to Washington to meet with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser John Bolton, as well as with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Discussions are focusing on the close security coordination between Israeli and American defense establishments against negative developments resulting from Iranian expansion in the Middle East, with an emphasis on Syria and additional mutual security concerns.

Liberman's visit came a day after Gen. Joseph L. Votel, head of US Central Command, arrived in Israel for an official visit, meeting with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and with Israeli National Security Council members as well as senior IDF officials to discuss several regional issues, including Iran and Syria.

According to an IDF statement given to The Jerusalem Post, Votel is in Israel "in order to strengthen the connection between the armies and discuss security issues in the region. This is the first time that CENTCOM commander has visited Israel," the statement added.

Last week, aerial photos of Iranian bases in Syria were released, showing that Tehran has increased its scope of the military relationship with the Assad regime under the auspices of the IRGC's air force commander, Brig.-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh. The source stated that both civilian and cargo airlines Simorgh and Pouya Air are used by the IRGC as a front for military transport flights bringing in soldiers and weaponry to bolster Iran's military presence.

According to the pictures, Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps has established several bases in Syria, including one military base in the Deir al-Zor province in eastern Syria seen with Ilyushin planes transporting weapons from Iran to Syria. The aerial intelligence photos showed five other air bases with IRGC presence: T4, Aleppo, Deir al-Zor, Damascus International Airport and an additional airfield south of the capital.

The aerial intelligence photos supposedly illustrate how Tehran remains capable of flying in surface-to-surface missiles as well as unmanned aerial vehicles to the war-torn country under the guise of humanitarian aid. The photos were released as tensions between Israel and Iran have increased following an alleged Israeli strike on Syria's T4 Air Base. According to The Wall Street Journal, the strike targeted an advanced Iranian air-defense system recently installed at the base.

Germany Agrees with Palestinians: Jerusalem Not Israel's Capital

By United with Israel

Germany is refusing to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Indeed, while its foreign ministry acknowledged that every country has the right to name its own capital, it said that this is not the case for Israel, insisting that the status of Jerusalem can be settled only through negotiations with the Palestinians.

"As a matter of principle, every state has the right to determine a city in its territory to be its capital," Niels Annen, a minister of state in Germany's Foreign Ministry, said in response to a query by a lawmaker from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party last week, The Times of Israel reported. "Since the eastern part of Jerusalem that Israel occupied in 1967 contrary to international law is not part of Israel's sovereign territory, the international community, including Germany, has not recognized this declaration," he added.

He based his position on the 1980 United Nations Security Council's (UNSC) Resolution 478, which proclaimed that Israel's declaration on united Jerusalem being its capital "constitutes a violation of international law," as well as on clauses for the 1995 Oslo Peace Accords. "The federal government shares the view that the status of Jerusalem, just like other final status issues, can only be settled through negotiations to be durable and acceptable," Annen affirmed.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel similarly stated, in an interview with Israel's Channel 10, that Berlin will not move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Petr Bystron, who submitted the query, responded that "the German government's answer was almost identical with that of the Palestinian Authority, which has been protesting US President Donald Trump's decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem." Since Trump's announcement in December that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and will move its embassy there, a number of countries have followed suit.

Bystron said he was "amazed that, even 70 years after the founding of the State of Israel, the German government has no idea what its capital is." He was especially surprised, he said, that Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who had just visited Jerusalem and emphasized Germany's "special responsibility for, and solidarity with, the democratic, Jewish state of Israel," was unwilling to support Israel's position. "Considering the special responsibility the German government keeps emphasizing it has toward Israel, it is strange they keep repeating the arguments of Israel's enemies."

2,000-plus Germans Attend Kippah Rallies in Berlin and Other Cities

By JTA, & Israel Hayom

More than 2,000 Jews and non-Jews attended "Wear a Kippah" rallies in Berlin and other German cities to protest anti-Semitism. The protests on Wednesday come in the wake of a Syrian asylum seeker's attack on a non-Jewish man wearing a skullcap in the German capital last week. Jews were joined at the rallies by Christians, Muslims and atheists, many of whom wore kippahs in solidarity.

Berlin drew the largest crowd, but hundreds showed up in cities such as Cologne, Erfurt, Magdeburg and Potsdam, The Associated Press reported. The German daily Tagesspiegel, which has a circulation of about 100,000, printed a kippah in Wednesday's paper that readers could cut out and wear to the rallies. "We must never allow anti-Semitism to become commonplace in Germany again," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the paper on Wednesday before the event took place in Berlin.

A video of the incident last week showed the assailant yelling "Yehudi!" or "Jew" in Arabic. In response, German Chancellor Angela Merkel lamented that Arabic refugees have brought a "different type of anti-Semitism into the country."

On Tuesday, the head of the main Jewish umbrella in Germany said that Jews should not "openly wear a kippah in the metropolitan setting of Germany." At the Berlin rally, he emphasized that his statement was that individuals should not go out alone with a kippah and said he felt misunderstood and wanted to clarify. At the same rally, the city's mayor, Michael Mueller, struck a different tone. "Today, we all wear kippah[sic]," Mueller said, according to AP. "Today, Berlin is wearing kippah."

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, who is on a political visit to Berlin, arrived Wednesday evening for the "kippah march" in the city. Lapid, who is in Germany as part of a campaign he is waging to make Hizbullah illegal in Europe, said that he decided to come and express solidarity with the Jewish community in Berlin, to wear a kippah and march with head held high along with the other participants.

"I came to Berlin as part of our concerted effort to get the EU to define Hizbullah as a terrorist organization and to stop the money earmarked for terror. The moment I heard that the head of the community here told Jews not to walk around with a kippah in the streets because of anti-Semitism, I went and bought the biggest kippah I could find in Berlin. I wore it and came to a demonstration against anti-Semitism with hundreds of Jews and non-Jews who all wore a kippah and told anti-Semites, 'You will fear us, we will not fear you,'" Lapid said.

"It is inconceivable that Jews would be afraid to wear kippot in Germany in 2018. I will not accept that we and our children are afraid as our parents and grandparents were afraid. Anti-Semitism has always been and always will be; the question is what the Jews do. We have a state, because of that we have an army, because of that I can march today in Germany and tell anti-Semites to go to hell."

Josef Schuster, the head of Germany's Central Council of Jews, told broadcaster Radioeins Tuesday that wearing a kippah is right in principle, but that he was advising individuals "against showing themselves openly with a kippah in a big-city setting in Germany, and wear a baseball cap or something else to cover their head instead."

Schuster suggested three years ago that Jews should not wear skullcaps in areas with large Muslim populations. But he stressed that there is increasing anti-Semitic sentiment among non-migrants.

Germany: Bavaria Orders Christian Crosses in State Buildings


The premier of Germany's Bavaria state sparked an uproar Wednesday after his cabinet ordered that Christian crosses be fixed in the entrance halls of all public buildings.

Markus Soeder, whose conservative CSU party faces a far-right challenge in state elections in October, declared that "the cross is a fundamental symbol of our Bavarian identity and way of life." It should be seen as a cultural rather than a religious symbol, added Soeder of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Critics pointed out Germany's constitutional separation of church and state, while some religious leaders charged Soeder was playing politics with a sacred symbol. The satirical website Der Postillon suggested that Soeder's next move would be to decree that a copy of the German Basic Law be used as a doormat in front of all administrative buildings.

The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, said that "we Muslims have no problem with the cross" or the appreciation of religion in society, but that "the state's neutrality should always be respected." He also warned against the "double standard" of banishing Muslim or Jewish symbols from the public sphere, in comments to national news agency DPA.

Protestant church leader Heinrich Bedford-Strohm said the cross should not be used to exclude others, and that Christian values such as helping the weak should apply to Germany's refugee policy. The CSU has strongly pushed for Germany to limit its refugee intake and step up immigration controls following a mass influx of more than one million mostly Muslim asylum seekers since 2015.

Twitter users mocked the hardening "theocracy" in Bavaria, where crosses already hang in classrooms and court houses, and poked fun at a picture Soeder had posted of himself holding a cross. Under the hashtag #Kruzifix, they asked whether public swimming pools would soon be filled with holy water, or whether the tax office would issue Catholic "letters of indulgence" to forgive fiscal sins. Some suggested it would be more useful for Bavarian state offices to install public Wi-Fi servers.

Soeder's predecessor, Horst Seehofer, recently became Merkel's cabinet minister for a re-branded "interior and homeland" ministry, where he was quick to revive a long-running debate by stating that "Islam is not part of Germany."

Unprecedented: Haredi to Do National Service in the Mossad


A 22-year-old Lithuanian-haredi young man will perform his National Service in Israel's Mossad, Kikar Hashabbat reported. While haredim have been performing National Service for years, this is the first time a haredi volunteer will serve in the Mossad. According to the National Civic Service Authority, a second haredi volunteer, age 21, is slated to join the first next year, Kikar Hashabbat noted.

National Civic Service Authority Director General Sar Shalom Jerbi said, "We congratulate the Mossad on opening its gates to National Service volunteers. I have no doubt that this is just the first part of the volunteers' security activities in the Mossad, and that the organization will know how to recognize the qualities and abilities of haredi volunteers."

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home), who is also in charge of National Service, said, "The National Service is the State of Israel's social commando unit. Among the volunteers are the best of our sons and daughters, who serve in key positions, as well as leadership positions, in every field. The fact that this volunteer joined the ranks of an elite organization such as the Mossad is proof of his talents and of the personal development the Authority provides its volunteers with. I wish him and all the volunteers much success."

Disobedience' Aims to Accurately Portray Lesbian Love in the Orthodox Jewish Community


Sebastian Lelio, the director who recently won the Academy Award for best foreign film for "A Fantastic Woman," grew up Catholic in Chile knowing almost nothing about observant Jews. So when the Jewish actress Rachel Weisz approached him a couple of years ago and suggested he co-write and direct "Disobedience," a film that depicts how a lesbian relationship affects a close-knit Orthodox Jewish community, he had some trepidation. Actually more than some. "I was terrified," Lelio told JTA in a telephone interview from Santiago. "I didn't know how I was going to deal with `Disobedience' because it takes place in such a specific and often secretive world."

But Lelio was deeply intrigued by Naomi Alderman's 2006 novel of the same name. He eventually sought the advice of 10 rabbis and other consultants before writing a script with the acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz, who co-wrote the 2016 foreign film Oscar winner "Ida." The result, which hits American theaters on Friday, is a nuanced portrait of lesbian love, religious devotion and what happens when those worlds collide.

In the film, Ronit (played by Weisz) is a photographer and daughter of a rabbi who flees her childhood Orthodox community in London for New York. When the lapsed Jew learns that her father has died, she returns home for his funeral, but not without hesitation. The rav's congregants had rejected Ronit as the black sheep of the community, and the rabbi himself had disowned her.

When Ronit returns to North London, she is greeted mostly with suspicion — except by her childhood friend, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), now a rabbi and her late father's protégé. Tensions flare when Dovid's wife, Esti (Rachel McAdams) – with whom Ronit had a teenage lesbian romance – rekindles their relationship. Their torrid affair has a profound impact on the lives of all three main characters.

"It's intuitive, but I really connect to the stories of strong female protagonists defying the establishment somehow, and willing to pay the price to be who they really are," Lelio said. "I like to explore these characters from every possible angle; to go through the emotional spectrum, to see them fall and then stand up again and survive." As for why, he said, "I grew up surrounded by strong women, and that was a very strong influence."

"Disobedience" — Lelio's first film in English — struck him as a story in which "the contrast between the eternal values of Judaism and the in-flux condition of the characters creates tension." But he insists the film does not promote disrespect for observant communities. "I discovered that there is a beauty to this ancestral tradition, and while it is old, it remains so alive," he said. "I didn't want the community to be the antagonistic force. … If you watch the film carefully, you'll see that what's really stopping each character from moving into the next level is not the community; it is something within themselves."

Unlike other Hollywood films that portray observant Jews in a more negative light, such as "A Stranger Among Us" and "A Price Above Rubies" from the 1990s, "Disobedience" depicts a more human and detailed portrait of an Orthodox community whose members do not appear as the villains of the film.

The project launched when Weisz optioned the rights to Alderman's book some years ago — she had warmed to the story featuring two strong female characters. Unlike Lelio, Weisz is no stranger to Judaism: Her Hungarian-Jewish father fled the Nazis in 1938, and her Austrian-born mother, a Catholic, also escaped Hitler and later converted to Judaism. She also grew up close to Golders Green, a London neighborhood with a large Orthodox population.

Lelio said he has not received any complaints from Orthodox viewers about the depiction of his film's fictional enclave — nor the explicit sex scene between the two female protagonists that has been making headlines for its portrayal of desire from a female perspective. (Weisz thought the original cut of the scene contained "too many orgasms.")

"The tension between law and desire is at the center of that sequence, which is also what I think the film is about," the director said. "It was so important that that scene was extremely sensual, extremely physical. Through that, it paradoxically becomes spiritual."


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