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IDF and Russian Army on Collision Course in Syria

By DEBKAfile
The Russian Ministry of Defense leveled several grave charges against Israel on Sunday, Sept. 23 as having caused the loss of the Russian IL-20 plane with 15 members of the armed forces aboard. IDF sources responded that the Russians are hiding their military lapses with "lies" against Israel over the downing of the Russian plane by Syrian air defenses on Sept. 17. DEBKAfile reported that this exchange of insults is not helpful in the light of reports from a Kremlin source that President Vladimir Putin has decided not to let the negative MoD report mar his friendly ties with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and to let its aspersions remain in the "professional" domain. (i.e., versus the IDF and IAF). The IDF was rocked back by the Russian accusations. Israeli officers had pretended optimistically that all was well between the two militaries after Air Force Chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Nurkin's briefing to Russian officers in Moscow last Thursday. Then came the Russian report, which ignored the data he presented them from the IDF investigation. DEBKAfile' sources stress that whichever of the two armies is telling the truth and which is lying about the circumstances of the crash, overarching it all is a grave dispute that has flared between two armies belonging to opposing coalitions fighting in the same country: Russia on the same side as Syria, Iran and Hizbullah; and the IDF, aligned with the US and Western allies. This is a new landscape in the constantly changing Syrian conflict and it is loaded with inflammable elements. Putin may continue to smile at Netanyahu, while at the same time directing his defense ministry to close Syrian airspace against all foreign aircraft, not just Israeli warplanes. This would shut down Israel's air campaign for eradicating Iran's military grip on Syria – or bring it in conflict with Russian forces. This would happen if the US and Israel decided for their part, to put Putin's directive to the test. Therefore, just as Russia's air force is no doubt planning its next steps in Syria, so too are the US and Israel. DoD spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Israel's Air Force had misled Russia about the location of its planned strikes in Syria, preventing the Russian reconnaissance plane from moving to a safe zone and leading to its destruction. "During the negotiations via the deconfliction channel, the Israeli Air Force Command reported that the targets are located in Northern Syria … [whereas] the Israeli jets delivered strikes in Latakia [in the west]." Israel furthermore failed to warn Russia about the coming operation – only just when it began, in breach of the 2015 Russian-Israeli agreements for preventing clashes between our armed forces, in and over Syria," he said. Konashenkov then repeated his original charge that Israeli F-16 fighter jets had used the Russian aircraft as a "shield" against Syrian air defense fire. He contradicted the IDF's claim that its jets had reached Israeli airspace by the time the Syrian missiles hit the Russian plane, maintaining that the F-16s left the area 10 minutes after being informed of the crash. Finally, the Russian spokesman denounced the actions of the Israeli fighter pilots – either as "lacking in professionalism" or acts of "criminal negligence." The IAF and its superiors were, therefore "entirely" to blame for the Russian Ilyushin Il-20 tragedy. The Russian report on the air disaster challenged the earlier Israeli military probe on every key point. The IDF spokesman attributed the Russian plane crash to extensive, inaccurate Syrian anti-aircraft fire, which was indiscriminate and did not ensure there were no Russian planes in the air. The Israeli spokesman maintained that when the Syrian missiles struck the Russian IL-20, IAF jets were already back inside Israeli airspace and that during the Israeli air raid over Latakia, the Russian plane was not within the area of the operation.

Israel Rejects Russian Claims: 'IAF Did Not Hide Behind Any Plane'

By the Jerusalem Post

A delegation of IAF officials, led by Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin, presented the complete Israeli inquiry into last week's downing of a Russian Ilyushin-20 airplane in Syria, the IDF Spokesperson said Sunday evening. The IDF rejected Russian claims that Israel is to blame for shooting down the Russian plane or that Israel Air Force pilots used the Russian aircraft as cover during their mission. "The IAF did not hide behind any plane, and Israeli fighter jets were in Israeli airspace when the Syrians attacked the Russian plane," the statement said. Calling for the continuation of the current deconfliction mechanism between the IDF and the Russian military, which the statement described as "a common interest when facing the different challenges in the region," the IDF inquiry report also states that "providing irresponsible parties with advanced weapon systems is a danger to the region." Calling the incident "tragic and difficult" the document states that Israel "shares the grief of the Russian families and the Russian people…The safety and well-being of Russian forces stationed in Syria is a meaningful consideration when each strike is approved," the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said.

Will Jerusalem, Israel' be Written in US Passports?

Fifty-five members of Congress will ask President Donald Trump to allow Americans born in Jerusalem to have "Jerusalem, Israel," written as their birthplace in their US passports. "Despite the progress in moving the embassy, the State Department has not yet fully implemented the administration's policy of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital for purposes of registration of birth, certification of nationality, or issuance of a passport of a United States citizen born in the city of Jerusalem," the letter said. In 2015, the US Supreme Court sided with then-US President Barack Obama, criticizing Congress for "overstepping its bounds" when it tried to press Obama to have Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky's passport list "Jerusalem, Israel" as his place of birth, in a key case regarding the city's status as Israel's capital. Despite Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem and the subsequent US Embassy move, the US State Department made clear that it has not altered its policy regarding government documents provided to US citizens born in Jerusalem.

Israel Eyes 90% Mortgages to Make Home Buying More Affordable

By Reuters &

Israel's Finance Ministry is working on a plan to allow some first-time home buyers raise mortgages worth up to 90% of the value of the house they are purchasing, helping them cope with surging property prices. A report in Yedioth Ahronoth, Ynet's print sister publication, said the ministry would allow young couples to borrow 90% up to a maximum property value of 1.3 million shekels ($363,301). The Bank of Israel, or central bank, set a cap of 75% earlier this decade to slow price rises, but property values have continued to rise. The ministry told Reuters it was working on raising the limit to 90% but did not give further details. Near zero interest rates have made housing a top investment in Israel. Israel's home prices have more than doubled in the past decade to an average of about 1.5 million shekels. Apartments in Tel Aviv cost more than 2 million shekels on average, and those in Jerusalem cost 1.9 million shekels. Yedioth Ahronoth said the government would have to provide funding or guarantees for a loan above 75%. A central bank spokesman said the government had not approached the bank with a plan to raise the mortgage cap and declined to comment further. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who campaigned in the 2015 election on reducing house prices, has sought to make it simpler to obtain permits to build new homes, offered developers discounts on buying land and provided subsidies for some new building projects. The central bank said in a March report the subsidies had created a two-tier system, with some benefitting from assistance and others struggling to afford homes at free market prices. The next election is due in 2019.

Unopened Letter Sent to Anne Frank's Home Fetches $11,000 at Auction


An unopened letter that was mailed to the home of Anne Frank while she and her family were in hiding fetched more than $11,000 at an auction. Bidding on the envelope, which came from an insurance company in 1942, began at $570 ahead of the auction, which took place Friday at the Corinphila Auction House in Amstelveen south of Amsterdam. The name of the new owner was not disclosed. The letter is of "paramount importance, a testament to the most difficult period in the life of the Frank family, their underground existence," the auction house wrote in a statement. The envelope carries a red "return to sender" stamp and is addressed to Otto Frank, the teenage diarist's father and the only member of her nuclear family who survived the Holocaust. When it was sent to the family's home in Merwede Square in Amsterdam's south, the Franks were already in hiding in what is now called the Anne Frank House in the Dutch capital's west. They hid there for over two years until they were discovered and sent to concentration and death camps. Anne Frank, who was 13 when she went into hiding with her family, wrote journals during her time there. Her father later edited them into a book titled "The Diary of a Young Girl." Published in 1947, it became a bestseller and turned Anne Frank into a symbol of persecution and one of the world's best-known Holocaust victims. The unopened letter, which presumably never reached Otto Frank — he died in 1980 — was found among the belongings of stamp collector Stefan Drukker following his death in 2013, the Trouw daily reported last month. The envelope containing the weighty letter carries the logo of the British life insurance agency Gresham. Nathan Bouscher, the auction house's director, told Trouw that the envelope was found in a room containing other old envelopes that Drukker had collected for the stamps on them.

How a Chinese Fruit Became a Sukkot Symbol

The holiday of Sukkot, which started Sunday evening, isn't complete without a lulav and an etrog, the four species that Jews are commanded to wave on the harvest holiday. But according to a new book, it wasn't until the Second Temple period that Jews started using the lemon-like etrog as part of their Sukkot celebrations. In ancient times, people would simply use whichever fruits they had harvested in that season, such as pomegranates, grapes, dates and figs, says Rabbi David Moster, who has been researching the etrog for a decade and published a book on its history in April. That's because the Bible isn't quite clear about which fruit God wants the Jews to use to celebrate Sukkot. In Leviticus 23:40, God commands that Jews on the first day of the holiday "take the product of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook." The branches, boughs and willows refer to palm, myrtle and willow. But the meaning of "the product of goodly trees" is less clear — the term itself has also been translated in a variety of ways. Therefore, Jews would use whichever fruits they had available to celebrate Sukkot, according to Moster, the founder and director of the Institute of Biblical Culture, which offers online courses on the Bible. Things changed during the Second Temple period, however, when a new fruit was introduced to the Land of Israel: the etrog, or citron. Why did it become widely accepted that Leviticus was referring to an etrog? Moster says the answer lies in the fruit's journey to Israel. The fruit originated in China, where it does not appear to have been very popular, he told JTA. Eventually, the fruit made its way from East Asia to India, where it was used as a remedy for gastrointestinal issues (hence its Latin name, Citrus medica) and appeared in iconography as a fertility symbol. From there it traveled to Iran, when the Persian Empire conquered northwestern India around 518 BCE. As the Land of Israel came under Persian control in 539 BCE, the etrog spread there as well. It was one of the first foreign fruits to enter the land, Moster says, and it quickly became popular. Moster says it is impossible to pinpoint an exact date, but at some point during the Second Temple period, "the product of the goodly trees" became widely seen to refer to the etrog. From there, the etrog gained an even larger significance as a Jewish symbol, and it was used to decorate everything from burial tombs and synagogue mosaics to pendants and lamps. The idea was an exclusively rabbinic one. For example, the Samaritans, who claim to be descendants of the Israelites, did not share the interpretation. To this day, Samaritans use an array of colorful fruits in crafting their sukkahs, which look quite different than the leafy ones that Jews tend to build, and the etrog does not play a central role. As for Moster, he is a big fan of the etrog, and makes an annual trek from his Yonkers, New York, home to Brooklyn's Borough Park neighborhood, where dozens of vendors sell the fruit ahead of Sukkot. "My sukkah has instead of regular decorations of different types of fruit, we just have etrogim hanging the whole way around," he said. Asked how he affords it — etrogim typically aren't cheap, ranging from $30 to $500 — Moster explains that he buys the real thing for ritual purposes and decorates his sukkah with plastic fruit.

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