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Bolton's Israel Visit Rounds off US, Israeli Readiness Matched by Iran for a Showdown in Syria

By DEBKAfile

On Sunday, August. 19, the day US National Security Adviser John Bolton landed in Israel, Tehran announced the appointment of a new Iranian air force chief. DEBKAfile's military and intelligence sources report exclusively that Bolton's brief visit for two conversations with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was his first trip to Israel in his capacity as President Donald Trump's national security adviser. His mission was to coordinate a military operation between the US and Israel to counter the Iranian military presence in Syria. Upon arrival, Bolton said frankly, "Obviously we've got great challenges for Israel for the United States and the whole world. The Iranian nuclear weapons program [and] the ballistic missile programs are right at the top of the list." Netanyahu homed in on Israel's role when he said, "Rolling back Iran's aggression in the Middle East" – meaning Syria – topped the agenda of this meeting with Bolton. According to our sources, strategists in Washington, Jerusalem and Tehran appear to share the common assessment that the coming military showdown will consist mostly of aerial and air defense combat. It will, therefore, be shouldered primarily by Israel's air force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Nurkin and Brig. Gen. Aziz Nasirzadeh, whom supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed this week as Iran's new air force chief and who, like his Israeli counterpart, also bears responsibility for air defenses. A parallel to Bolton's visit to Israel may be found in Mike Pompeo's talks in Israel last June shortly after his appointment as Secretary of State. His departure was followed immediately with a round of Israel air strikes on Iranian military targets deep inside Syria, including most notably the bombardment on June 18 of the Iraqi Shiite Kata'ib Hizbullah militia in eastern Syria near Deir ez-Zour. From Tel Aviv, the US national security adviser flew to Geneva to meet his Russian counterpart Nikolay Patrushev. Their conversation was a sequel to the discussion on Iran's military presence in Syria that was broached by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at their Helsinki summit on July 16.

Israel Loosens Gun Laws for Army Combat Veterans

Israel eased restrictions on gun ownership Monday in a move intended to increase the number of weapons in circulation, allowing Israelis to respond to Palestinian terrorism more effectively. According to the Israeli news site Ynet, the Ministry of Public Security's new licensing policy will open up gun ownership to hundreds of thousands of veterans, although they will still be required to pass the same rigorous screening procedures in place. Only those living in the West Bank or working in professions that required weapons, such as security guards, had been eligible for ownership.

"Many civilians have saved lives during terror attacks," Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan was quoted as saying. "In an era of lone-wolf terror attacks, the more armed and trained civilians there are, the larger the chances of disrupting an attack and decreasing casualties." This is not the first time that Erdan has worked to loosen Israel's strict gun laws. In the wake of a series of lone wolf terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinians across Israel in 2015, he allowed local authorities in what are deemed "high priority" areas to grant weapons permits rather than require applicants to deal directly with his ministry. He also expanded the number of areas that fell under that designation. "Citizens with firearms training are a multiplying force for the police in their fight against terrorism, and therefore I will take measures to ease the restrictions at this time," he said at the time. Responding to Erdan's announcement on Monday, Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg tweeted sarcastically that "there is no doubt that what is missing in Israel is more weapons in the streets."

Muslims at Hajj Blame Arab Disunity for Jerusalem Embassy Move

By Reuters

Muslims at the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia criticized what they described as discordant Arab leaders for failing to block President Donald Trump's decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem after he recognized the city as Israel's capital. It was a reversal of decades of American policy and the embassy opened in May at a high-profile ceremony attended by Trump's daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, the US envoy to the Middle East. The status of Jerusalem - home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions - is one of the biggest obstacles to any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The United Nations says the status of the ancient city - whose eastern sector was re-captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war - can only be resolved by negotiations. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem for the capital of an independent state they seek. Israel says Jerusalem is its eternal and indivisible capital. "This happened with the complicity of the Arab leaders," 53-year-old Saad Awad from Sudan said on Monday as he walked east of Mecca with more than 2 million fellow Muslims from around the world. "If the Arab leaders were united and adhered to the Koran and the Sunna (Islamic practice based on words and deeds of the Prophet), it would be impossible for the Americans or anyone else to do something like this." Saudi Arabia, which stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam's holiest sites - Mecca and Medina - and organizing the hajj, has urged pilgrims to put aside political concerns and focus on spirituality. The five-day ritual, the world's largest annual gathering of Muslims, is a religious duty once in a lifetime for every able-bodied adherent who can afford it. Few pilgrims openly censured the host country, but dismay among ordinary Arabs at the embassy move has been tinged with anger at regional governments - particularly those of the oil-rich Gulf monarchies - for failing to stop, or even strongly protest against, Trump's decision last December. "The Arabs are weak and have not taken a stand on the issue of Jerusalem," said Algerian pilgrim Hilal Issa, 70.

Some critics accuse Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, of surrendering Palestinian rights for the sake of its alliance with Trump and his tough stand on Iran. While Saudi Arabia and its fellow monarchies have previously criticized the embassy decision, they have also welcomed Trump's harder line against Iran, which has cast itself as the guardian of Palestinian rights. In recent years the bitter regional rivalry that pits Shi'ite Muslim Iran and its allies against a bloc led by Sunni Muslim-majority Saudi Arabia has increasingly pushed the decades-old Arab-Israeli struggle into the background. King Salman has reassured Arab allies Riyadh would not endorse any peace plan that fails to address Jerusalem's status or other key issues, Reuters reported last month, easing concerns that the kingdom might back a nascent US deal which largely aligns with Israel. "If the Arabs were united, nobody would have dared make such a move," Yemeni pilgrim Amr Ahmed Ali said of the embassy transfer. "But God willing, the Arabs will unite, and this city will unite the Arabs and Muslims behind one cause which is the Palestinian cause."

Questioning of US Jews at Israeli Border Exposes Deeper Rift

By Israel Hayom

When young left-wing activist Simone Zimmerman arrived at the check-in window at the Israeli border with Egypt, it did not take long for her to run into trouble. Zimmerman, a Jewish American living in Israel who had taken a brief vacation in Egypt, quickly became a person of interest after telling the border agent that she worked for an Israeli advocacy group that assists Palestinians. She says that led to a series of "super-charged" questions about her professional activities and political views. The agent wanted to know why she worked with Palestinians, not Jews, and asked for the names of Palestinian contacts in the West Bank. Agents unlocked her phone, asked her opinion of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and threatened to deport her if she lied. After four hours, Zimmerman was allowed to return to Israel. A series of similar incidents at Israeli border crossings has highlighted a growing gulf between the country's hardline government and liberal Jewish Americans who say they support Israel but oppose its policies on issues including religion, President Donald Trump and what they see as the continued occupation of the West Bank. This shift already appears to be having important implications for what historically has been a close relationship built on almost unquestioning bipartisan support. Some Jewish leaders have begun to criticize Israeli policies publicly, and some predict that the Democratic Party, supported by an estimated 70% of American Jews, could soon turn away from its support for Israel. A poll published by the American Jewish Committee in June showed deep differences between U.S. and Israeli Jews on issues including Israeli settlements, religious pluralism and Trump's policies. Only 34% of American Jews, for instance, supported Trump's handling of relations with Israel, compared with 77% of Israeli Jews. A separate poll conducted by the Pew Research Center early this year found deep partisan differences in attitudes toward Israel, with Republicans more sympathetic to Israel than Democrats by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. The differences between the world's two largest Jewish communities have been in the making for years. Non-Orthodox American Jews have long identified with liberal causes, such as civil rights and social justice, and have become well-integrated into mainstream American society. They have a high rate of intermarriage with non-Jews, are less engaged in Jewish communal life than their parents and tend to hold relatively dovish attitudes in Israel's conflict with the Palestinians, according to Steven Cohen, a prominent sociologist who studies the American Jewish community. In contrast, many Israelis have more conservative views. They generally oppose intermarriage, have a more collective identity and take a harder line toward the Palestinians, Cohen said. "Essentially, you have a liberal American Jewry confronting an increasingly conservative Israeli electorate, specifically an Israeli Jewish electorate," Cohen said. Despite these differences, the American Jewish establishment — led by the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC — has firmly backed the Israeli government and its policies over the years. But a series of decisions by Netanyahu's government has begun to soften that support. Netanyahu upset many American Jews by appearing to side with Republican candidate Mitt Romney over Democratic President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election. Netanyahu openly welcomed Trump's election in 2016 and had angered many American Jews by forging a close relationship with a U.S. president they see as anathema to their values. The relationship hit a major turning point last year when Netanyahu, under pressure from religious, political partners, called off an agreement to create an egalitarian space for men and women to worship together at the Western Wall, Judaism's most holy prayer site. The Reform and Conservative movements, which represent most affiliated American Jews, slammed his decision. Netanyahu's government has also passed legislation aimed at curbing the influence of advocacy groups that oppose Jewish settlements in the West Bank, banned gay couples from receiving state-funded surrogacy services, and approved a ban on activists who support boycotts of Israel. Last month, Israel approved the nation-state law enshrining the country's Jewish character, angering many in Israel's Arab minority, who said it renders them second-class citizens. Jewish American groups have strongly condemned the law, as have Israeli liberals who saw it as undermining democracy and needlessly provoking the country's Arab minority. This week, a coalition of so-called anti-occupation Jewish groups in the U.S. pledged to demand explanations from any visiting Israeli lawmaker who supported the law. Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote in The New York Times this week that some Diaspora Jews "wonder if the nation they cherish is losing its way." He said this sentiment is especially prevalent among younger Jewish Americans. "Jewish millennials are raising doubts that their parents and grandparents never raised," Lauder wrote. "Passing the torch to this younger generation is already a difficult undertaking. But when Israel's government proposes damaging legislation, this task may well become nearly impossible."

Israel still has significant support in the American Jewish community. AIPAC continues to wield influence in Washington; the White House and Congress remain strongly pro-Israel, and the smaller but more politically engaged Orthodox Jewish minority fervently supports Israel. Elad Strohmayer, the spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said Israel and American Jews have a special bond "that Israel does not take for granted and which must always be nurtured." He said all of Israel's diplomatic missions in the U.S. are engaged in "extensive outreach to American Jews and work to strengthen the connection of all Jews to Israel, regardless of their denomination." Zimmerman, 27, said she grew up in a mainstream Jewish family in Los Angeles and was raised to show unwavering support for Israel. She only began to ask questions after heading to college, where she said she found it difficult to defend Israel against critics of its policies toward the Palestinians. This led to disillusionment with the Jewish establishment. She became involved with J Street U, the campus arm of the Jewish lobby group that opposes Jewish settlements in the West Bank. "That really for a lot of young Jews is how the process started for many of us. It was actually just about wanting the space to ask the hard questions that didn't exist in the community," she said. Three years ago, Zimmerman formed "IfNotNow," a grassroots group that opposes the Israeli settlement enterprise. The group claims to have nearly 2,000 trained activists, with chapters in 16 cities and a dozen college campuses. "Our contribution is to bring the crisis of American Jewish support for the occupation into the center of public discourse and to force a difficult conversation," she said. In recent weeks, several other vocal critics of Israeli policies have been detained and questioned about their political views when entering the country. Among them was Peter Beinart, a journalist, TV commentator and university professor well known in Jewish circles. Beinart warned that "there is no question" American Jews are growing ever more distant from Israel. "The depth of animosity and alienation has grown dramatically," he said, predicting that Israelis will be "shocked" by how critical of Israeli policies Democratic presidential candidates in 2020 will be and how much support they will get from young American Jews. When you think about how liberal American Jews think about Donald Trump, that's the way they feel about Netanyahu," he said. "That's the emerging demographic majority in the United States."

PepsiCo to buy Israel's SodaStream for $3.2 billion

By Israel Hayom
International soft drink conglomerate PepsiCo will buy Israeli company SodaStream, which manufactures home soda-making machines, for $3.2 billion, according to an agreement reached Sunday night. SodaStream was having an excellent year even before news of the deal broke. The company's stock has risen 85% since the start of 2018, and its stock price for the purchase has been set at $144 per share. PepsiCo CFO Hugh Johnston hailed his company's entry into a new market of "in-home beverage creation."

SodaStream sells its products in some 80,000 retail outlets in 45 countries. Several years ago, it was the target of political action because one of its factories was located over the Green Line. In 2013, Canadian consumers decided to boycott the company. SodaStream now manufactures its machines in Lehavim in the Negev Desert and its syrups at a factory in Ashkelon.

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