Category: Israel

The rabbi, the lost ark and the future of Temple Mount

By Jake Wallis Simons

7:00AM BST 12 Sep 2013

Rabbi Chaim Richman shows me into a darkened room, strokes his beard and pulls out his smartphone. He has a specially designed app that works the lights. The room illuminates. He taps the screen again, and a heavy curtain slides open. There, resplendent in brilliant gold – and rather smaller than I expected – lies the Ark of the Covenant.

“This isn’t the real lost ark,” he says. “The real one is hidden about a kilometre from here, in underground chambers created during the time of Solomon.” I look at him askance. “It’s true,” he says. “Jews have an unbroken chain of recorded information, passed down from generation to generation, which indicates its exact location. There is a big fascination with finding the lost ark, but nobody asked a Jew. We have known where it is for thousands of years. It could be reached if we excavated Temple Mount, but that area is controlled by Muslims.”

Welcome to the Temple Institute exhibition, in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. A plush, hi-tech gallery, spanning 600 sq ft, it hosts a collection of vestments and sacred vessels to be used by the Jewish high priest. This is not a museum, insists Rabbi Richman, 54, the international director of the organisation. Apart from the Ark of the Covenant, every artefact on display has been painstakingly created in accordance with Biblical instructions and is intended for actual service in a “third Jewish temple”, which will be built as soon as possible.

Central to the collection is a high priest’s costume made out of azure and gold thread with a breastplate featuring 12 large gems. Cost: £160,000. There are also intricate silver trumpets and wooden lyres, pans to collect the blood of the sacrificial lamb and a large stand for the ritual bread. Outside, on a platform overlooking the Western Wall, stands an ornate 1.5-ton candelabra covered in 90kg of gold worth £1.3 million.

All have been designed in consultation with 20 full-time Talmudic scholars, who the institute pays to study the elaborate, 2,000-year-old laws governing the construction of temple artefacts. But, before you accuse Richman and his colleagues of being old-fashioned, the Temple Institute has drawn up plans for the new temple that include two very contemporary features: a monorail, to transport visitors right to the door, and a 6ft-high computerised water dispenser with 12 taps so that an entire shift of priests can wash their hands at once. This, Richman tells me, has been designed so that a twist of the tap will release the precise amount of water stipulated in Jewish law.

 “There is no reason why we shouldn’t use technology, which is the modern miracle, alongside the heavenly miracles,” the rabbi tells me. “It’s part of our vision of [the temple] as a realistic potential in our times. I’m sure it will have elevators, underfloor heating and a car park.”

This may sound fanciful, but in the febrile atmosphere of Jerusalem – a holy city for three world religions – Richman’s ideas are highly inflammatory. The proposed location of the new temple is the Temple Mount (or Haram al-Sharif in Arabic), one of the most disputed places on the planet. The First Temple, built by King Solomon 3,000 years ago, stood on this site, says Richman, and the Third Temple must be erected in the same place. Unfortunately, the area is already occupied – by an Islamic shrine known as the Dome of the Rock, the shimmering gold roof that dominates the Jerusalem skyline, and the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest place in the world for Muslims.

Many Palestinians fear that Israeli extremists are plotting to destroy both and with a certain amount of justification; in 1984, a plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock by a group called the Jewish Underground was uncovered by police. Other Palestinians believe the threat comes from the Israeli government itself. In 2000, the then Israeli opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, visited the site to underline Israel’s control over the area, a move that sparked the second intifada, during which 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians died. And recently, a string of religious and political figures, including Richman, have asserted the right of Jews to pray on Temple Mount, a request that – if granted – would lead to violent clashes, say Palestinian leaders, and provide Israel with an excuse to place the area under military control.

 “The Israeli strategy is to take it over,” says Mahdi Abdul Hadi, chairman of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs. “We don’t want to share, not because we don’t accept them, but because we don’t trust them.” The Palestinian Authority has been even more forthright. “[The Jewish desire for the area is] totally unacceptable, and could transform the region into a powder keg,” said president Mahmoud Abbas in May. Sheikh Mohamad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, agreed. “Muslims in Palestine and elsewhere will never accept this provocation and will try to thwart it by all means necessary,” he said. “This is the ultimate red line for us. The Israelis and the world should listen carefully to what I am saying.”

Overall, Richman’s institute has spent more than $30 million – thanks mostly to donations from private Jewish philanthropists – and upgraded to its new hi-tech gallery in May after 22 years in a smaller premises down the road. And, although its exhibits are only open to the public by appointment, it is by no means short of punters: a million people have visited over the past 12 years.

Nevertheless, even among the religious Jewish community there are those who view Richman and the Temple Institute with suspicion. Michael Melchior, an Orthodox rabbi and former member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, refers to the organisation as “irresponsible”.

“We pray for holiness, but we also need to be careful of others’ desire for holiness,” he told the Jewish Post newspaper. “The moment you want to translate that into building a temple, you upset the sensitive balance we’ve created here, by which we exist.” Richman refutes such claims, pointing out that he isn’t calling for the destruction of either the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa mosque; he is simply asserting that it is a central Jewish obligation to prepare for the rebuilding of the temple. Nevertheless, his continual trips to the disputed area, along with other Jewish activists, have generated huge resentment and the rabbi has been arrested by Israeli police many times – sometimes for “weeks on end”.

Today, he is making yet another visit. As the heat of the day approaches, Richman takes me up a rickety wooden ramp and onto Temple Mount, protected by an armed police escort. The atmosphere is tranquil, even ethereal. Palestinians are strolling across the forecourt, milling around the entrance to the Muslim shrine, and relaxing in the shade. Yet as soon as the rabbi is spotted cries of “Allahu akbar” ring out. Our policeman adjusts his weapon and directs us into a less conspicuous corner. Shadowing our small party is a representative of the Waqf, the Islamic trust that administers the Temple Mount. His job is to make sure that the rabbi does not attempt to pray.

From Richman’s point of view, this is a complete infringement of his constitutional rights. The Temple Mount is believed to be the site of the Foundation Stone, the Holy of Holies, from where God gathered the dust to create Adam. But ever since the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in AD70, Jewish entry has either been banned or severely restricted by Christian and Islamic rulers. Even after Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, the area was considered so sensitive that Palestinians were allowed to retain day-to-day control.

 “Jews believe that even mentioning a sick person’s name in this place is an amazing thing for healing,” says Richman. “Yet I am not allowed to pray, in the holiest place of my own homeland. So I have to do things like this.” He breaks abruptly into mumbled Hebrew liturgy, gesticulating with his arms as if continuing the conversation. The Waqf man eyes him suspiciously, and the Israeli policeman eyes him in turn. (Other visitors have been even more overt – singing and lying on the ground to pray.)

For these reasons, the rabbi refers to himself as a “displaced person”. Contrasted with the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and the continued Israeli presence on the West Bank, this could be perceived as, well, a bit rich.

“That’s just a distraction,” he says. “This is about God’s territory. Islam took advantage of our exile and began to squat on Temple Mount and deny that Jews were ever here. We have a birthright to this place, and I don’t see why we should be embarrassed about it.” Although the rabbi expresses his views with certainty, many of his facts are disputed. There is no agreement, for example, about the location of the Ark of the Covenant. Shimon Gibson, a biblical archaeologist at the Albright Institute in Jerusalem, believes that when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 587 BC, they removed the gold from the ark and burned the wooden frame along with the rest of the wood from the temple. Other scholars believe it was taken to Africa.

There is also precious little archaeological evidence for the location of the First Temple, although the location of the Second Temple, built in 516 BC, is more certain. Razed by the Romans, one wall of the courtyard that surrounded the temple – the Western Wall – remains and has become a focus of Jewish prayer.

I ask Richman whether his plans involve the demolition of the Dome of the Rock. He pauses. “I don’t like to speculate about highly sensitive matters,” he says. “But there is only one place where the temple will be built, and it is where the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque are currently standing.” This sounds like a veiled ambition for war, especially against the backdrop of new peace negotiations when extremists on both sides feel threatened and are in volatile mood. “That’s not what I meant,” says Richman. “A prophecy indicates that one day, the Islamic world will accept the idea of a Jewish temple here, become harmonious and usher us in.” Another miracle, I ask? “Right.”

This may seem like the words of a zealot. But although much mainstream public opinion believes Richman and his associates to be troublemakers, such is the potent mixture of religion, culture and politics in the Holy Land that a sizeable portion of Israeli right-wing opinion is sympathetic to his position.

Jewish visits to the Temple Mount plaza rose 30 per cent in 2012, according to estimates by Jewish worshipper groups, due, partly, to the fact that several scholars have identified specific areas of holiness on the plaza. (According to tradition, it is sacrilege for a Jew to set foot on the spot where the Holy of Holies stood, but some areas of the Temple Mount have now been deemed “safe” to walk on.)

The issue began to be framed as a campaign for religious equality and a time-sharing scheme was proposed, allocating certain hours for Jewish worship, in a similar way to a scheme already in existence at Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs, also a holy site for both Muslims and Jews. Arieh Eldad, a right-wing politician who proposed this plan, accused Palestinians of using the threat of violence to keep the plaza to themselves. The Israeli Supreme Court then upheld the right of Jews to pray on the plaza, but only if such action did not incite “a disturbance to public order” (which the Waqf says is what Rabbi Richman’s praying does). Following this logic, the Mount was closed to non-Muslim visitors during Ramadan in July and August.

Moshe Feiglin, a member of parliament for the ruling Likud party, registered his anger by staging a protest visit. “I call for everyone who hears us to come here, to understand that they are giving the very heart of Jerusalem to foreigners, to Islam,” he told Israeli media. “We need to understand that there needs to be sacrifice here, that 1,000 people show up ready to make sacrifices, ready to be arrested”. His clarion call was not answered in quite these numbers, but scores did come and protested in silent prayer outside the locked Temple Mount gate before dispersing.

Richman, for his part, says he is no longer looking to get arrested. “It’s not that I’ve lost my fire,” he says. “It’s just that at the age of 54, I want to see my children at night.”

The rest of our tour of Temple Mount is conducted in a stop-start rhythm, dictated by the nervy policeman. The rabbi is mainly concerned with showing me how in his view, Palestinian “temple deniers” have attempted to destroy all evidence of the Israelite temple, in an effort to undermine the Jewish claim to this place. There, he says: a broken marble pillar. There, a collection of discarded cedar beams. There, the remains of a staircase.

“We are ready to restore this place to its former glory,” says Richman. “And we have priests who are ready to serve in the Third Temple. That would be a much smaller miracle than the establishment of the state of Israel. Here we are, in our homeland, and we have the power to build the temple whenever we want! God must be wondering what we are waiting for.


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Holy work or troublemaking? Laying the groundwork for a Third Temple in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (JTA) – No praying. No kneeling. No bowing. No prostrating. No dancing. No singing. No ripping clothes.

These are the rules that Jews must abide by when visiting the Temple Mount, the site where the First and Second Holy Temples once stood, located above and behind the Western Wall in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Although the area is under Israeli sovereignty, the mount — known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif — is controlled by the Islamic Wakf, a joint Palestinian-Jordanian religious body. As the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, whose golden dome overlooks the city, the Temple Mount attracts daily crowds of Muslim worshipers.

Under Wakf regulations, Jews may only access the mount for 4 1/2 hours per day and are forbidden from praying there.

But when Rabbi Chaim Richman stands only feet from the Dome of the Rock, surrounded by Muslim visitors, he whispers a chapter of Psalms.

“God will answer you on your day of trouble,” he mutters on a recent visit. “The name of the God of Jacob will protect you.”

On previous visits to the mount, Richman says he’s sung the entire Hallel prayer under his breath.

A frequent presence on the mount who knows the guards by name, Richman is the international director of the Temple Institute, an organization based in the Old City with a singular goal: to rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Ahead of Tisha b’Av, the fast day next week that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples, the institute released a video showing Jewish children donning tool belts and leading their fathers out of synagogue to begin construction of the Holy Temple.

“Our goal is to fulfill the commandment of ‘They shall make a Temple for me and I will dwell among them,’ ” Richman says, quoting Exodus. “The basis of a Torah life is action.”

Following the Second Temple’s destruction in 70 C.E., most rabbis adopted the position that Jewish law prohibits reconstructing the Holy Temple prior to the age of messianic redemption, or that the law is too ambiguous and that the messiah must come first.

The Temple Institute takes a different position.

“There are no Jewish legal barriers” to rebuilding the temple, Richman says, only political ones.

The institute isn’t shy about advocating what many see as a radical goal: replacing the mosque at the Dome of the Rock with a new Jewish Holy Temple. A painting in the institute’s exhibition depicts this scenario, with the city’s light rail line taking residents to the Temple Mount. The Temple Institute is dedicated to laying the groundwork for this vision.

The organization has formulated a program for where the temple will stand and what its vessels will look like, aided by 20 men who study Temple law full-time. The products of this research — 40 ritual objects — are on display in Plexiglas cases at the institute’s headquarters in the Old City.

Silver trumpets to be blown by priests and a wooden lyre are perched next to two deep pans with long handles — one for collecting blood from small sacrificial offerings and another for large sacrifices like the Passover lamb.

In another room, mannequins with beards wear the respective vestments for deputy priests and the high priest. The high priest’s outfit, with azure weaves, gold thread and a breastplate with 12 precious stones, took 11 years of research and $150,000 to complete. Next to it stands a massive 12-spigot sink with electric faucets — technology that Richman says will be permitted in the Third Temple.

The institute’s crowning achievement — the Temple’s golden, 200-pound, seven-branch menorah — stands outside in a case overlooking the Western Wall. Unlike art or history museums, the institute’s goal is to remove the objects from their cases and bring them to the mount for use as soon as possible.

Many Israelis view the goal as a danger to the status quo that has kept this site holy to Muslims and Jews from turning into a tinderbox.

In 1984, Israel’s security services stopped a group of Jewish terrorists conspiring to blow up the mosque at the mount who reportedly got very close to achieving their goal. Ever since, authorities say they have kept a close watch on any attempts to disturb the peace on the mount.

Though observant Jews pray thrice daily in the Amidah prayer for the Temple to be rebuilt, few do anything about it. That’s as it should be, says Michael Melchior, an Orthodox rabbi and former Knesset member who is considered a religious moderate.

“We pray for holiness, but we also need to be careful of others’ desire for holiness,” Melchior said. “The moment you want to translate that into building a Temple, you upset the sensitive balance we’ve created here, by which we exist here.” He called Temple construction advocates “irresponsible.”

Given the obstacles to breaking ground on a Holy Temple, the institute also has taken up a more modest cause: expanding Jewish rights on the Temple Mount to allow unrestricted access and prayer. In that endeavor, Richman is joined by several right-wing Knesset members and a group of archaeologists who say the Wakf is reckless with archaeological remains at the site.

“It has exceptional historical importance,” Eilat Mazar, a Hebrew University archaeologist, said of the site.  “There needs to be access for everyone. Authorities don’t take care of it.”

Moshe Feiglin, a nationalist Likud Knesset member, made a practice of visiting the Temple Mount monthly until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu banned him from the site in order to prevent provocations there. Last month, Feiglin wrote on Facebook, “Whoever turns his back on the Temple Mount is also giving up on construction in the city.”

Richman says support for the institute’s goals is growing. For him, the issue involves far more than politics, archaeology or even Jewish legal research. The Temple Institute, he says, is doing God’s work.

“The point is that we can’t live without the Temple,” Richman says. “It’s not about building, it’s about a concept: the idea that all of human experience can be elevated to a sense of divine purpose.”


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New Oil Field Could Yield Rich Returns for Israel

A newly discovered field off Israel’s coast may have a significant amount of light crude oil – the kind of oil that international producers use to make most of the world’s gasoline. The Shemen company informed the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange Monday that the Yam 3 field, where drilling has been going on for several months, shows signs of light crude under the sea bed, at a depth of about 5,500 meters.

So far, the oil field appears to be have a depth of about 90 meters, although drilling is continuing. Drillers have also seen strong signs of natural gas as well. There was no numerical estimate on the amount of oil or gas that might be in the field.

Shemen said that it would wait until the drilling project was finished before determining whether to commercially develop the field.

If the field is commercially viable, it could be an important one for Israel. Light crude is the most popular among oil refiners, and its properties make if preferable for refining into gasoline and diesel fuel. It fetches a higher price than heavy crude on commodity markets.

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Israel and the Gulf states: It’s complicated

In February 2009, a few days after Israel concluded its Operation Cast Lead against Gaza terrorists, the chief of protocol at Qatar’s Foreign Ministry invited Roi Rosenblit, who at the time headed Israel’s interest office in Doha, for a meeting in his office. Rosenblit knew exactly what awaited him: a few days earlier he had seen how then-Qatari prime minister Hamad bin Jassim, angry over Palestinian casualties, announced live on al-Jazeera that the period of normalization with Israel needed to end.

The Qatari diplomat welcomed Rosenblit, friendly as always, served him tea with za’atar, and then handed him an envelope. In the letter, the government of Qatar politely yet determinedly informed the Israeli that he had one week to close down the Israeli mission on 15 al-Buhturi Street, and leave the country.

Since then, Israel no longer officially maintains diplomatic relations with any of the Arab states in the Gulf — or does it?

It is widely believed that Jerusalem still maintains some sort of engagement with various states in the Persian Gulf region. Yet the government is extremely careful not to publicly admit such ties — in order not to jeopardize them. One thing is certain: Jerusalem is vocally advocating for stronger ties with the overwhelmingly Sunni Gulf states in the Gulf, hoping both for commercial opportunities and geo-strategic advantages. On July 18, the Israeli Foreign Ministry opened a Twitter channel exclusively “dedicated to promoting dialogue with the people of the GCC region.” The GCC, short for Cooperation Council of Arab States in the Gulf, includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait. (Never mind that Israel still officially considers Saudi Arabia an enemy state and prohibits its citizens from entering the country.)

Within less than a month, the “official channel of the virtual Israeli Embassy to GCC countries” picked up more than 1,100 followers. On Tuesday, on the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr holiday (which marks the end of Ramadan), the channel hosted a live chat with Foreign Ministry director-general Rafi Barak. The top diplomat mostly stuck to slogans, saying that Israel is interested in peace and neighborly relations with all its neighbors. One Kuwaiti wanted to know how he could visit Israel in the absence of an Israeli embassy; “You can apply for a visa in any Israeli mission abroad,” Barak responded, suggesting citizens of Arab states turn to the Israeli embassy in Amman.

Benoit Chapas, a EU official dealing with the Gulf states, wondered whether Israel had any “plans to reopen” its offices in the area. “We will be happy to,” Barak replied.

He might as well have said: “we already did,” because, since earlier this year, Israelis know that the Foreign Ministry has recently taken a symbolically meaningful and potentially significant step indicating that ties between Israel and the Gulf are warming up again. A carelessly edited version of the 2013 state budget revealed that Israel opened a diplomatic office somewhere in the Persian Gulf. On page 213 of the document, readers learn that between 2010 and 2012, Israel opened 11 new representative offices across the globe, including one in the Gulf. Foreign Ministry sources in the know said they asked the Finance Ministry to remove the sensitive clause from the budget, but it is still there for anyone to see.

The exact nature of that mission — where it is, how many diplomats are or were stationed there, and whether it is still open — remains unclear. Unsurprisingly, the Foreign Ministry is unwilling to comment any further on the issue. “Others in the Foreign Ministry disagree with me, but as I see it, talking about it publicly would serve absolutely no purpose, other than risking whatever cooperation we have,” an Israeli diplomat well-versed in Jerusalem’s relationship with the Arab world said.

Indeed, the secrecy surrounding Israel’s mysterious office in the Gulf goes so far that even senior diplomats, including those dealing on a daily basis with the GCC, gave The Times of Israel conflicting information about it. Some asserted that “we have absolutely nothing” in the Gulf and that the line in the budget must have been an error. Others admitted that there is — or was — something but declined to detail.

“This ‘virtual activity’ will put our tangible activity at risk,” one diplomat opined

Not everyone in the Foreign Ministry is happy with the idea of establishing a “virtual embassy” to openly engage with the residents of the Gulf states via social networks. “This ‘virtual activity’ will put our tangible activity at risk,” one diplomat opined.

Israel and the Arab world have been engaging for decades, in various, mostly clandestine ways. In the 1990s, in the wake of the Oslo Accords, trade and political ties grew stronger, so much so that the Israeli chamber of commerce published a guide in Hebrew on how to do business in the Gulf. In 1994, then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin visited Oman, where he was greeted by Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said (who is still reigning in Muscat). In 1995, a few days after Rabin was assassinated, then-acting prime minister Shimon Peres hosted Omani foreign minister Yusuf Ibn Alawi in Jerusalem.

In January 1996, Israel and Oman — which has always been Jerusalem’s best friend in the GCC — signed an agreement on the reciprocal opening of trade representative offices. “Oman believes that the current step will lead to continued progress in the peace process, and increased stability in the region,” the Israel Foreign Ministry declared at the time, adding that the office’s main role will be “to develop reciprocal economic and trade relations with Oman, as well as cooperation in the spheres of water, agriculture, medicine, and communications.”

Four months later, Peres visited Oman and Qatar to officially open “Israel Trade Representation Offices” in both capitals.

At the airport in Doha, the Israeli prime minister reviewed an honor guard before heading to the Royal Palace for a meeting with Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani (who ruled until last month, when he abdicated the throne in favor of his son).

Headed by a small team of three Israeli diplomats, the offices in Muscat and Doha functioned “basically like a regular embassy — just without the Israeli flag,” an official stationed in both missions recalled.

The overt ties with Oman didn’t last for even half a decade. In October 2000, in the wake of the Second Intifada, Omani rulers felt the public opinion turned against Israel, suspended relations and closed the mission. The Israeli Foreign Ministry expressed regret at the decision, emphasizing that the cessation of contact and dialogue does nothing to advance the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. “In days of crisis, it is especially important that lines of communication between countries be kept open,” the ministry declared.

However, despite shutting down the Israeli representative office, located on Muscat’s Al-Adhiba Street, the government of Oman quietly encouraged Israeli diplomats to stick around, as long as the ongoing engagement between the two countries stayed secret.

Official diplomatic relations with Qatar survived for nine more years, until Emir Hamad’s rage (or perhaps that of his subjects) led him to ask the Israelis to close up shop. But just like the ruler of Oman, the Qatari leader also hinted that, while the official channel needed to be closed, he would not mind if Israeli diplomats in his country continued their work, as long as they do it under the radar.

A few months after Qatar had expelled the Israeli mission, the country’s rulers twice offered to reestablish ties — including a reopening of the office in Doha. In return, the Qataris demanded that Israel allow the small Gulf state to take a leading role in the rebuilding of Gaza. They also demanded Jerusalem publicly express appreciation for the state’s role and acknowledge its standing in the region.

According to Haaretz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was initially inclined to accept the offer but eventually declined, mainly because the Qataris also demanded to be allowed to bring large amounts of cement and other construction material into Gaza, which Israeli officials said ran counter to the state’s security interest. The Qataris cannot hope “to restore cooperative relations with Israel without agreeing to reopen the trade office,” a senior Israeli official said at the time, according to a secret diplomatic cable published by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

So far, Oman and Qatar are the only GCC states that agreed to openly maintaining diplomatic contacts with Israel. Yet it is well-known that Jerusalem had (and might still have) contacts to probably most other states in the region. These clandestine ties are mostly the domain of the Mossad. On its website, the spy agency openly states that one of its key goals is “Developing and maintaining special diplomatic and other covert relations” and one can safely assume that Israeli agents are in touch with officials from at least a handful of Arab states in the region that would never admit to having any contacts with Israel.

Take Bahrain for example. Jerusalem and Manama never maintained diplomatic relations, but, in 2005, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa boasted to an American official that his state has contacts with Israel “at the intelligence/security level (i.e., with Mossad),” according to a different secret US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks. The king also indicated willingness “to move forward in other areas, although it will be difficult for Bahrain to be the first.” The development of “trade contacts,” though, would have to wait for the implementation of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the king told the ambassador.

Other WikiLeaks documents show that senior officials from both countries have spoken in recent years, such as a 2007 meeting between then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni and Bahraini foreign minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa in New York. The Bahraini foreign minister in 2009 also signaled that he was willing to meet Netanyahu to try to advance the peace process, but ultimately decided not to go ahead with the plan.

It is not difficult to figure out why the Gulf states would be interested in closer cooperation with Israel. Most importantly, the Jewish state is a regional superpower, widely assumed to possess an impressive nuclear arsenal, and has openly vowed to prevent Iran from acquiring such weapons. The Gulf states, some of which have decades-old territorial disputes with Tehran, are just as scared as Israel is of a nuclear-armed Iran.

“In the Gulf, there is a particular concern over Iran and what appears to be the lackluster performance in Obama’s administration in stopping them from getting nuclear weapons,” said Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum, senior research associate at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. “This will lead, if it hasn’t already, to closer cooperation between Israel and the Gulf states.”

Indeed, Arabs in the Gulf believe in Jerusalem’s role in fighting Iran “because of their perception of Israel’s close relationship with the US, but also due to their sense that they can count on Israel against Iran,” then-Foreign Ministry deputy director-general (and current ambassador to Germany) Yacov Hadas-Handelsman said during a briefing with senior US officials in 2009. ”They believe Israel can work magic.”

But it’s more than just Iran. Israel and the Gulf states also have in common their fear of extremist political Islamism, such as practiced by Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hezbollah. While it is true that Qatar has good ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas — last year, the emir became the first head of state to visit Gaza since it was taken over by the Palestinian terrorist group in 2007 — the GCC states in general are afraid of political and religious extremists that threaten their rule, especially from Shiite elements. (Qatar is unique in the sense that it manages good relations to all players in the region and even the US).

According to experts, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, are more worried about the Muslim Brotherhood than about Iran. “Israel and Gulf states seek stability and they work together to further this stability. This leaves lots of room for common tasks, as long as they keep it secret,” said Teitelbaum, whose research focuses on political and social development in the Arab world and the Persian Gulf in particular.

If the GCC and Jerusalem are in the same camp, geo-strategically speaking, why the need to sweep any sort of cooperation under the rug? “Why should they cause problems when there are none?” Teitelbaum said. “They have so many other issues to deal with, the last thing they need to is to publicly call for cooperation with Israel.”

Public opinion in the Arab world was always against Israel, and Qatar and Oman could only allow themselves to open up to Israel after Rabin’s peace process had come into gear. As soon as Israeli-Palestinians violence flared up, they cut all official ties.

‘The Gulf States couldn’t care less about the 1967 borders. It is the conflict that bothers them, because it strengthens the radical forces in the region’

Perhaps ironically, the Arab Spring does not make easier for the Gulf states’ autocratic leaders to get closer to Israel again, experts say. For the first time in history, public opinion has become a determining factor of the Arab world’s political system, and the rulers in the Gulf will think twice before admitting any sort of engagement with the Zionist entity.

It’s not so much about the Gulf nations’ love for the Palestinians. “The leaders of the GCC states couldn’t care less about the 1967 borders,” said a Jerusalem source intimately familiar with GCC politics. “For all that matters to them, the Green Line could be somewhere between Ohio and Maryland. It is the conflict that bothers them, because it strengthens the radical forces in the region.”

The recent resumption of Israeli-Palestinians peace negotiations, unlikely as they are to yield any results, will not be enough to allow the Gulf states to openly reengage with Israel. There are ways, however, in which Israel could make it easier for them to work towards an détente, Teitelbaum suggested. For example by speaking positively about the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative – in which the entire Arab world offered normal diplomatic relations with Israel in return for a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians – or making a similar proposal to reach regional peace.

In the mean time, the GCC states will just stand on the sidelines and go on with business as usual — covert cooperation in the economic and intelligence fields but no official rapprochement. “Unless there is an official treaty with the Palestinians, I don’t think we can expect anything like formal relations,” Teitelbaum said. “That’s just how they are. From their perspective, it just doesn’t much sense…they have everything to gain from keeping it the way it is currently.”

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Syria naval base blast points to Israeli raid

BEIRUT, July 9 (Reuters) – Foreign forces destroyed advanced Russian anti-ship missiles in Syria last week, rebels said on Tuesday – a disclosure that appeared to point to an Israeli raid.

Qassem Saadeddine, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Council, said a pre-dawn strike on Friday hit a Syrian navy barracks at Safira, near the port of Latakia. He said that the rebel forces’ intelligence network had identified newly supplied Yakhont missiles being stored there.

“It was not the FSA that targeted this,” Saadeddine told Reuters. “It is not an attack that was carried out by rebels.

“This attack was either by air raid or long-range missiles fired from boats in the Mediterranean,” he said.

Rebels described huge blasts – the ferocity of which, they said, was beyond the firepower available to them but consistent with that of a modern military like Israel’s.

Israel has not confirmed or denied involvement. The Syrian government has not commented on the incident, beyond a state television report noting a “series of explosions” at the site.

According to regional intelligence sources, the Israelis previously struck in Syria at least three times this year to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry from President Bashar al-Assad’s army to Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon.

Such weaponry, Israeli officials have made clear, would include the long-range Yakhonts, which could help Hezbollah repel Israel’s navy and endanger its offshore gas rigs. In May, Israel and its U.S. ally complained about Moscow sending the missiles to Syria. Israel said they would likely end up with Hezbollah. The Lebanese group has said it does not need them.

Asked about the Latakia blasts, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters: “We have set red lines in regards to our own interests, and we keep them. There is an attack here, an explosion there, various versions – in any event, in the Middle East it is usually we who are blamed for most.”

A former senior Israeli security official, who declined to be named, told Reuters that the area of Latakia in question was known to have been used to store Yakhont missiles.

Technically at war with Syria, Israel spent decades in a stable standoff with Damascus while the Assad family ruled unchallenged. It has been reluctant to intervene openly in the two-year-old, Islamist-dominated insurgency rocking Syria.

But previous air strikes near Damascus, on Jan. 30, May 3 and May 5, made little attempt to conceal Israel’s involvement. (Reporting by Mariam Karouny, Khaled Oweis and Dan Williams; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)


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Photos suggest Saudis targeting Iran, Israel with ballistic missiles

According to the report, images analyzed by experts at IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review have revealed an undisclosed surface-to-surface missile base deep in the Saudi desert, with capabilities for hitting both countries.

The British daily said analysts who examined the photos spotted two launch pads with markings pointing north-west towards Tel Aviv and north-east towards Tehran. They are designed for Saudi Arabia’s arsenal of lorry-launched DF 3 missiles, which have a range of 1,500-2,500 miles and can carry a two-ton payload, the experts said.

The report said the base believed to have been built within the last five years, gives an insight into Saudi strategic thinking at a time of heightened tensions in the Gulf.

The newspaper mentioned that while Saudi Arabia does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel, it has long maintained discreet back channel communications as part of attempts to promote stability in the region.

“The two countries also have a mutual enemy in Iran, though, which has long seen Saudi Arabia as a rival power in the Gulf. Experts fear that if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would seek to follow suit,” the report said.

According to The Telegraph, analysts at IHS Jane’s believe that the kingdom is currently in the process of upgrading its missiles, although even the DF3, which dates back to the 1980s, is itself potentially big enough to carry a nuclear device.

The report said the missile base, which is at al-Watah, around 125 miles south-west of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, was discovered during a project by IHS Jane’s to update their assessment of Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities.

The missiles are stored in an underground silo built into a rocky hillside. To the north of the facility are two circle-shaped launch pads, both with compass-style markings showing the precise direction that the launchers should fire in, according to the report.

The Telegraph noted that the Chinese-made missiles, which date back to the 1980s, are not remotely-guided and therefore have to be positioned in the direction of their target before firing.

One appears to be aligned on a bearing of approximately 301 degrees and suggesting a potential Israeli target, and the other is oriented along an azimuth (bearing) of approximately 10 degrees, ostensibly situated to target Iranian locations,” said the IHS Jane’s article cited in the report.

Robert Munks, deputy editor of IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review, was quoted by The Telegraph as saying: “Our assessment suggests that this base is either partly or fully operational, with the launch pads pointing in the directions of Israel and Iran respectively. We cannot be certain that the missiles are pointed specifically at Tel Aviv and Tehran themselves, but if they were to be launched, you would expect them to be targeting major cities.

“We do not want to make too many inferences about the Saudi strategy, but clearly Saudi Arabia does not enjoy good relations with either Iran or Israel,” he said.

David Butter, an associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, the London-based foreign affairs think-tank, said there was “little surprise” that the Saudis had the missiles in place.

“It would seem that they are looking towards some sort of deterrent capability, which is an obvious thing for them to be doing, given that Iran too is developing its own ballistic missiles,” he said.

He added, though, that the Saudis would know that the site would come to the attention of foreign intelligence agencies, and that the missile pad pointed in the direction of Israel could be partly just for “for show.”

“It would give the Iranians the impression that they were not being exclusively targeted, and would also allow the Saudis to suggest to the rest of the Arab world that they still consider Israel a threat,” he said.


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Oldest inscription found in Jerusalem, but no one can read it

An ancient inscription dating back to the time of King David, recently discovered in Jerusalem, has researchers scratching their heads.

The 3,000-year-old text comes from the top of what remains of a large earthenware jug and is the earliest alphabetical written text ever uncovered in the city, according to a statement from Hebrew University, whose researchers found the artifact.

Dated to the 10th century BCE, the artifact predates by 250 years the earliest known Hebrew inscription from Jerusalem, from the period of King Hezekiah at the end of the 8th century BCE.

The new inscription was found around the top of a jug, but only the first letter and last few now remain. Although the characters are legible, it is in an unknown Canaanite language.

The pottery was found in December 2012 but details of the discovery were only published on Wednesday after initial examinations of the find were completed.

Archaeologist Eilat Mazar, who is leading the dig that found the inscribed fragment, speculated that the text names the owner of the jug, its destination, or perhaps its contents.

Mazar reckoned that the text comes from the Jebusite people who lived in the area at the time, or some other Canaanite tribe that called Jerusalem home at the time of King David, around 1000 BCE. The date makes the discovery the oldest known text to be found in Jerusalem after the Israelite arrival in the city.

Reading from left to right, the text contains a combination of letters approximately 2.5 cm tall, which translate to m, q, p, h, n, (possibly) l, and n. Since this combination of letters has no meaning in known west-Semitic languages, researchers are boggled as to what the letters say.

According to Mazar, the inscription, in the Canaanite language, is the only one of its kind discovered in Jerusalem and an important addition to the city’s history.

Researchers from the Hebrew University found the artifact at a dig along the southern wall of the Temple Mount enclosure.

The southern wall meets the Western Wall, a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Temple courtyard, at a corner that has been extensively explored by researchers and developed as an archaeological park.

The jug, along with pieces from six other jugs typical to the period, was found beneath the floor of the remains of a large structure where they were apparently placed in ancient times to shore up the floor.

king david

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Did Israel Attack Syria Again?

The IDF is refusing to comment on reports that Israel attacked the Al-Miza military airbase near Damascus last night, which if true could lead to a Syrian response and a massive escalation of the 27 month conflict.

A Syrian television station sympathetic to anti-Assad rebels reported that Israel was responsible for the strike on a facility west of Damascus, which targeted advanced weapons and radar systems.

“Eyewitnesses said that the explosions were large and that neither the Assad regime nor the rebels had the capability to create explosions of such a magnitude,” reports the Jerusalem Post.

“My house overlooks the airport. At a certain point we saw armored vehicles enter the airport,” an opposition source told YNet News. “They were probably equipped with mobile radar systems. Then we heard the sound of a missile striking the vehicles. It was the same sound we heard in Mount Qasioun (site of the alleged airstrike in May).”

“The explosion was like a volcano. The flames reached the sky. The sound was the same one that was heard in Qasioun,” added another eyewitness.

Other reports claimed that the attack was a result of a car bomb carried out by rebels, an explanation embraced by the Assad government.

Israel’s policy after it carried out previous attacks on Syria is to neither confirm or deny involvement.

If Israel’s complicity in the attack is confirmed, it could prompt a Syrian response that would serve to pour fuel on the fire of a conflict already rocked by news last week that the United States will formally seek to arm opposition rebels despite their close ties with Al-Qaeda.

Following attacks on several facilities in Syria last month, President Bashar Al-Assad vowed to “respond in kind” to any future acts of Israeli aggression, after criticism that his reaction had been muted.

Days prior to this threat, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon warned that the Israeli military was prepared to strike shipments of advanced Russian weapons sent to Damascus, commenting, “If God forbid they do reach Syria, we will know what to do.”

Analysts have warned that an escalation of the conflict could ignite World War 3.

Israel has offered tacit support to opposition militants despite their jihadist creed, setting up field hospitals to aid injured rebels while also sending military vehicles into Syria to pick up wounded fighters before patching them up and sending them back into battle.

A huge Israeli air strike on the Jamraya military facility on May 5 was coordinated with opposition rebels, according to Egyptian and Jordanian intelligence sources.

With the Syrian Army scoring key battlefield victories in recent weeks, Israel and the United States’ efforts to destabilize the Assad regime are expected to accelerate.

Last week, the Obama administration announced that it would seek to arm the Syrian rebels after claiming President Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons, crossing a so-called “red line”.

In pledging to increase military support for Syrian rebels while also preparing a no fly zone, the Obama administration is openly aiding terrorists who have sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda.

By launching attacks that weaken and distract Damascus from its focus on defeating western-backed insurgents, Israel is aiding the very same rebels who have burned Israeli flags in public and vowed to crush the Zionist regime once they are finished toppling Assad.

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Imminent: Israel’s Capitulation to the Vatican

A long-awaited agreement between the Vatican and Israel appears to be near finality.

The two main points revolve around the Church’s requests to build two centers in Israel: a church in a section of the Caesaria National Park where a site dedicated to Paul once stood, and the use of a plot on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

The structure on Mt. Zion, the highest point of Jerusalem, is known as the Cenacle, where the Last Supper is believed to have taken place, and according to the deal which will be signed in the coming months, it will become open to Catholic worship once again.

The Vatican asks Israel to allow the Church to build a passageway through the Diaspora Yeshiva, which takes care of the area known as David’s Tomb, and to enable thousands of Christian worshipers to access the Last Supper Room more easily .

The area has strategic value, since it is a few hundred yards from the Temple Mount, so the Catholic Church will turn it into the international center for Catholics all around the world.

As the New Sanhedrin stated in 2009, those in the Vatican who initiated the concept of the “Holy Basin”, which is pivotal in this agreement, intended to remove exclusive Jewish sovereignty from the Temple Mount and the Old City and – in effect – aimed at “the total removal of Jewish sovereignty”.

Father Athanasius Macora, secretary of a Franciscan commission monitoring holy sites, declared that “Franciscan control of the Last Supper room would open the site to regular Christian prayer services, Masses and other ceremonies”. Now the Franciscans are permitted to have a mass only twice a year: on the day of Pentecost and on the Holy Thursday. Christian pilgrim groups have there a short silent prayer when visiting.

Recently Father Peter Stravinskas told Vatican Radio: “It is unfortunate that this site of the Lord’s last supper is not accessible to Christians for worship. It is controlled by the Israeli civil authorities. In fact when Pope John Paul went to Jerusalem there had to be a special permission for him to be able to celebrate mass in the Cenacle. There is some talk now, of course, that perhaps there’s a negotiation going on in order to return the Cenacle to the care of the Church”.

That’s why the Franciscans, who will benefit from Israel-Vatican deal, claim the title of “Guardian of Mount Zion”. Pope Francis is very close to this order, which established political links with the PLO in Jerusalem. In his first significant appointment to the Roman Curia, Pope Francis has taken the highly unusual step of naming the actual head of the Franciscan order, Father Jose Rodriguez Carballo, as Secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated life.
Those who will be in charge of the Cenacle on Mount Zion have been among the most ardent partisans of a Palestinian Arab State.
Born in Lodoselo, Spain, Carballo was ordained priest in Jerusalem in 1977.

We have to remember that in 2002, the “Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land” criticized the demand by the U.S. Congress that Jerusalem be recognized as the capital of Israel, calling it “a decision that does not respect Israeli-Palestinian peace talks”.

Those who will be in charge of the Cenacle on Mount Zion have been among the most ardent partisans of a Palestinian Arab State.

In 2000, before the suicidal Camp David talks, Yasser Arafat met Islamic and Christian clergymen at his offices in Ramallah to get their backing for Arab sovereignty over Jerusalem. Among the clergymen who attended the meeting were Diodoros I, Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, Torkom II, patriarch of the Armenian Orthodox Church, Catholic Patriarch Michel Sabbah and officials from the Custody of the Holy Land. This is the same order which will be in charge of the Mount Zion structure.

All of the Christian churches currently standing in Jerusalem are seen as the product of the destruction of the Jewish people, their dispossession and exile. It is the Christian exile which Christianity glorifies in as being everlasting.

There is the risk that the new church on Mount Zion will be used to foment a political war on the rest of the Jewish Jerusalem.

The very spirit of Israel’s capitulation to the Vatican lies in the Franciscans order’s definition of Mount Zion: “The place that is traditionally known as the place of the Last Supper and of the bestowing of the gift of the Holy Spirit is today occupied by a Yeshiva or Jewish religious school”.

Will Israel dismantle this “occupation” as it did in Gush Katif? In 2005, while the synagogue of Netzarim was burned by Arab terrorists, the Catholic Church stood silent despite Israeli rabbis’ pleas to condemn the torching.


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Francis could organise peace meeting between world’s three major religions, in Rome

Israeli government sources say the Pope spoke to President Shimon Peres in a meeting between Jews, Christians and Muslims, aimed at speaking out against violence. Rabbi Rosen has asked for steps to be taken to bring peace to the Holy Land


Israeli government sources claim Francis is apparently thinking of calling a meeting between leaders and faithful of the world’s three biggest monotheistic religions, in Rome, to launch a message of peace, countering violence and the use of God’s name to justify hatred and terrorist acts. The sources say the Pope announced his intention to call a meeting, during an Audience last 30 April. But there was no mention of this in the communiqué the Holy See’s issued after the Audience.  

  President Peres “told the Pope that there are people who use God’s name to justify terrorism” and religious leaders should “say out loud that God did not give anyone permission to kill their neighbour.” According to the information contained in a summary of the Audience received by the Israeli government, Francis told Peres he “whole-heartedly supported” his appeal against violence and that “he wanted to promote a meeting between religious leaders and faithful of the three major religions” founded by Abraham, “in Rome”. The aim would be to “make people see” that the religions “oppose violence and terrorism.”

  If these statements were indeed made during the Audience, it looks like the Pope is thinking about possible peace initiatives that would be restricted to the world’s three major monotheistic faiths. It would not be an interreligious meeting involving all faiths, like the Assisi gatherings organised by John Paul II and then by Benedict XVI in 2011. Readers will remember that in January 2002, just a few months after the 9/11 attacks in the U.S., Pope John Paul II convened a special meeting of religions in Assisi, in order to make it crystal clear that in no way could violence and terrorism be justified on theological grounds.

  But in Israel, there are those who would like religions to nudge politicians to come up with viable solutions to the conflict in the Middle East. The President of the International Council of Christians and Jews (Iccj), Rabbi David Rosen, has asked the Pope to help leaders of the Jewish and Muslim religions to promote an initiative for peace in the Holy Land. Speaking to a group of Italian journalists, Rosen suggested the Pope convene a meeting between the Holy Land’s religious leaders, in Jerusalem, to pray for peace in the region. “2015 could be a perfect time to do this as it will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of “Nostra Aetate”, the Second Vatican Council declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-<wbr></wbr>Christian Religions”. The Rabbi said an initiative like this was important as it would “boost political efforts to resolve conflicts in the region.”

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