Son of fallen Israeli astronaut killed in F-16 crash
Israel suffered a national tragedy on Sunday when the son of Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, was killed when his F-16 fighter jet crashed near the Judean town of Hebron.
Ilan Ramon perished in 2003 with the rest of the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia as it broke up upon reentry over the US. His son, Assaf Ramon, vowed to follow in his father's footsteps. Earlier this summer, Assaf graduated Israel's Air Force flight program with honors and became an F-16 pilot, just as his father was when he participated in the 1981 raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor.
The circumstances surrounding Assaf's crash remain unclear, but investigators believe some form of human error, possibly a loss of consciousness, was the culprit. He was engaged in a training exercise with another F-16 at the time of the accident.
On Monday, as a shell shocked nation looked on, Assaf was buried next to his father in Nahalal in northern Israel. His distraught mother said she had no more strength to endure such tragedies.
International media outlets that are typically hostile toward Israel took a surprisingly sympathetic approach to the story.
France's top newspaper Le Monde referred to Assaf as "the son of an Israeli national hero," and expressed its condolences to the Israeli people; CNN noted that Ilan Ramon had become an admired figure in the US following the Columbia tragedy, and that Assaf's death had "stunned many Americans"; even Arab media like Al Jazeera refrained from taking shots at Israel and simply reported the story in a matter-of-fact manner
Security and Defense: Israel goes ballistic
On Sunday, the USS Higgins
hauled up its anchor and sailed out of Haifa Port where it had docked for a short visit.
An Arrow 2 missile test.
An Arleigh Burke class destroyer - one of the largest and most powerful naval vessels built in the United States - the Higgins
is one of 18 American ships with an Aegis interceptor system, capable of destroying enemy ballistic missiles above the atmosphere.
In just a few weeks, additional Aegis vessels will arrive here to participate in the biennial Juniper Cobra missile defense exercise that the IDF has been holding with the US European Command (EUCOM) and Missile Defense Agency
This year's drill, scheduled for mid-October, is being described as the largest joint exercise ever held by the countries. During it they will jointly test four ballistic missile defense systems.
In addition to the Aegis, the MDA and EUCOM are sending THAAD and Patriot 3 missile defense systems - America's most-advanced - for the first time.
While the Higgins
has not yet needed to use its Aegis system to intercept missiles fired into Israel, its crew is intimately familiar with the country's various security issues, particularly along the northern border.
The ship is named for US Marine Col. William R. Higgins, who was kidnapped by Hizbullah in southern Lebanon in 1988, while serving as a commander of a UN peacekeeping mission. In August 1989, a cell linked to Hizbullah murdered him in response to the IDF kidnapping of Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, a senior cleric and leader of the guerrilla group who was involved in the kidnapping. His body was dumped, over a year later, on a Beirut side street.
Israel had planned to use Obeid to obtain information regarding the fate of IAF navigator Ron Arad. Obeid was released in 2004 in exchange for the bodies of three soldiers - kidnapped in October 2000 - as well as shady businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, in a large prisoner swap with Hizbullah.
The cooperation between Israel and the US on missile defense dates back to the mid-1980s when they began to jointly develop the Arrow missile defense system. Since then, the US government has spent close to $3 billion on the Arrow, which is manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries and Boeing. Earlier this year, Congress approved additional funding for the development of the Arrow 3, a larger version with greater range and the capability of intercepting missiles at higher altitudes.
The cooperation peaked ahead of the 1991 Gulf War when the first Bush administration sent Patriot missile batteries
to help defend the country against Saddam Hussein's Scud missile attacks.
Last October, the Bush administration gave Israel a farewell gift in the form of the X-Band radar, which is deployed in the Negev and is capable of detecting targets thousands of miles away, providing five to seven minutes of warning before an Iranian missile strikes. This is in contrast to the 10 seconds the residents of Sderot have when a Kassam rocket is launched from the Gaza Strip.
Juniper Cobra, senior defense officials said this week, is aimed at creating infrastructure in case Israel is attacked and the US decides to send the Aegis or THAAD to bolster the Arrow. The exercise spans several days and involves hundreds of Israeli and American soldiers, mostly from the air force
The primary focus of the Juniper Cobra exercise held in 2007, for example, was integrating the lower-altitude US Patriot missile systems with the higher-altitude Arrow-2. This year, the integration will focus on improving the interoperability between the Arrow, THAAD and Aegis.
Officials said that the exercise may include live fire by the systems - most likely the Patriot - but the teams will mainly conduct computerized simulations of various threat scenarios launched from fictitious countries. The threats are then tracked and engaged by the various systems and the teams jointly write doctrine and staff procedures.
For Israel, the exercise could not have come at a more important time. Since the beginning of the year, Iran has made some impressive leaps with its ballistic missile development, culminating with the February launch of its first homemade satellite - called Omid - as well as the successful launch in May of a new missile, the Sajil, that has a range of more than 2,000 kilometers, easily reaching most of Eastern Europe.
This is impressive considering that just 10 years ago, the Iranians only had Scud B and C missiles. Today, they have their own production line of Shihabs and Sajils, for which they are building underground silos. In addition, Israeli assessments are that the Iranians will soon be capable of independently manufacturing their own version of the BM25 missile which they received from North Korea and has a range of more than 3,000 km.
According to the assessments, the launch of the Omid demonstrates that Iranian scientists have also made breakthroughs in guidance technology which has also likely been applied to its ballistic missiles.
According to Uzi Rubin, founder of the Arrow missile and a former head of the Homa Missile Defense Agency, Iran can also take unguided rockets like the Zelzal - which are also in Hizbullah's hands - and turn them into guided rockets with ranges topping 220 km.
"This is an original Iranian project; we don't see it anywhere else," Rubin noted in a recent briefing at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
The second major breakthrough is in the propulsion systems, which Iran has succeeded in upgrading from liquid to solid fuel. The main difference is that a missile that operates on liquid fuel needs to be fueled very close to launch, making it easier to discover with surveillance satellites or hovering aircraft. Solid-fuel missiles have a significantly longer shelf life and can be stored in underground silos for a long time, allowing the Iranians to just lift their cover and launch.
It is not an easy task though to assess Iran's progress in missile development.
On May 19, the EastWest Institute, a New York-based think tank that monitors global security, issued a report claiming that there was "no reliable information" on Iran's success in developing a solid fuel rocket. The next day, on May 20, Iran test fired the Sajil, proving without a doubt that it had independently mastered the capability.
These developments indicate as possible reversal in roles between Iran and North Korea. If Teheran bought technology from Pyongyang two decades ago, today the flow of technology is believed to have reversed.
'Terrorist wanted for Kenya attacks in 2002 killed in raid'
One of two people killed in Somalia when suspected foreign troops in helicopters opened fire on a car on Monday is believed to be Kenya-born Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a terrorist wanted over the 2002 bombing of the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in Mumbasa and simultaneous, botched missile attack on an Israeli airliner leaving Kenya's Mombasa airport, witnesses and a Somali government source told Reuters.
A file photo of Saleh Ali Nabhan, wanted over the 2002 terror attacks in Kenya.
Photo: Channel 2
A senior Somali government source told the news agency that the fugitive had been in a car with other senior Islamist gunmen when they were attacked near a village in Barawe District, 250 km south of the capital Mogadishu.
"Nabhan and four other top foreign commanders of militant groups were killed in the raid," the source was quoted as saying.
In November 2002, three suicide bombers rammed their car into the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, killing Noy and Dvir Anter, 12 and 13, Albert DeHaville, 60, plus nine others, and wounding 80.
At approximately the same time, terrorists fired at least two missiles at an Arkia airliner carrying 261 passengers as it took off from Mombasa's airport heading toward Israel. The missiles narrowly missed and the plane landed safely at Ben-Gurion Airport about five hours later.
"These young fighters do not have the same skills as their colleagues in Afghanistan or elsewhere when it comes to foreign airstrikes," the government source reportedly stated. "They are in confusion now. I hope the world takes action."
The ruins of the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, after the terror attack there in 2002.
According to the report, residents of the Somali town where the recent attack took place said foreign soldiers in four helicopters fired from the air and hit a car, killing two people and taking two wounded men with them.
A local man at the scene said the commandos who carried out the raid were wearing French flags on the shoulders of their uniforms, but a spokesman for the French Defense Ministry, Christophe Prazuck, denied the involvement of any French soldiers.
"We don't have any military presence in that region... there are no forces in that territory," Prazuck told Reuters in Paris.
ABCTVreported that the US had carried out the raid and that Nabhan's body was in American custody.
A Channel 10 analyst, identifying Nabhan as an al-Qaida operative, said there was "someone systematically hunting down al-Qaida men" around the world.
In 2002, a previously unknown terrorist group, 'The Army of Palestine,' issued a statement in Beirut claiming responsibility for the double strike on Israeli targets. However, the complexity of the attacks cast suspicion on Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, which bombed two US embassies in east Africa killing 231 people.
The anti-Semitic blogosphere 'Jews harvesting Algerian kids' organs'
The anti-Semitic blogosphere and many Arab and Muslim media outlets are aflutter in recent days over accusations of an international Jewish conspiracy to kidnap Algerian children and harvest their organs.
The Web site for Al-Khabar
Unlike the multiple conspiracy theories about Jews circulating among radical fringe organizations online, this one seems to be gaining momentum on mainstream Arab and Muslim Web sites.
According to the story, first reported by Algeria's Al-Khabar
daily, bands of Moroccans and Algerians have allegedly been roaming the streets of Algeria's cities kidnapping young children, who are then transported across the border into Morocco. From the Moroccan city of Oujda, the children are then purportedly sold to Israelis and American Jews, who then harvest their organs for sale in Israel and the United States. The organs are said to fetch anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000.
The source for the Al-Khabar
report seems to be a Dr. Mustafa Khayatti, head of the Algerian National Committee for the Development of Health Research. Khayatti reportedly claimed that several Jews were arrested in New York in connection with the trade. He claimed Interpol knew of the situation and was leading the investigation into the abductions.
"The arrest of Jewish organ trafficking gangs does not mean that the danger has gone; top officials and specialists in this issue assert that there are other Jewish gangs who remain active in several Arab countries," Khayatti was quoted as saying.
Picking up on the Algerian report, the official Iranian news agency PressTV claimed that the Jewish group "is said to be connected to Israeli Rabbi Levi Rosenbaum, who was recently arrested in New Jersey for the direct involvement in importing human organs."
The report also ran without scrutiny on certain American news outlets, including the Web site of the California-based American Arab weekly Watan
With its rapid online dissemination, the report has begun to draw fire from those worried about the ease with which such a story, lacking any evidence, can spread in the Muslim world.
The report "sounds as Dr. Khayatti is well connected within the FBI and has access to Interpol documents," but this was not the case, wrote Hassan Masiky, a reporter for the American Moroccan news service MoroccoBoard.com.
"Needless to say, neither Al-Khabar
nor PressTV provided a source for their story, other than an obscure low-level Algerian bureaucrat," Masiky complained.
"What is dangerous in this work of fantasy is the plot to package the true story of the arrest of Rabbi Levi Rosenbaum in New Jersey with the nonsense, nightmarish tale out of Algeria," he said.
Masiky noted that the Algerian-Moroccan border was closed and carefully watched by the countries' armies. It was therefore difficult to ascertain how such a plan could be implemented without help from the Algerian state.
"To their credit, the Algerian authorities, up until now, did not ask their Moroccan counterparts for an official investigation, as most Algerians ask themselves: Who are these kidnapped children? Where are their parents? Who conducts these organ harvesting operations? How are the children and the organs transported from Morocco to Israel? And more importantly, how can the Algerian army allow such illicit traffic to go unabated?" Masiky wrote.
The Iranian PressTV noted in its coverage that the report followed claims made in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet
last month of an IDF conspiracy to harvest organs from kidnapped Palestinians.
The connection indicated "a possible link between the Israeli military and the mafia of human organs detected in the US," the Iranian report said.
, too, did not offer evidence in its article, relying on claims by a handful of Palestinians who spoke to the reporter
Archaeologists Uncover Route to Temple Mount
JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists have been excavating a stepped street south of the Temple Mount, believed to have been the path used by pilgrims during Second Temple times to ascend to the holy site.
The path connects the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount.
The City of David excavation, financed by the Elad foundation in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority, is being jointly led by Haifa University archaeologist Prof. Roni Reich and IAA archaeologist Eli Shukrun.
" where Second Temple pilgrims began their ascent by foot," Prof. Reich said.
"This is the southern tip of the street, a section of which is exposed along the western side of the Temple Mount.
In a three-year excavation more than a century ago, British archaeologists Frederick Bliss and Archibald Dickie uncovered the route to the Temple Mount. After excavating the passages to their satisfaction, they reburied the street to protect it.
Two other digs, one in 1937 and another conducted from 1961 to 1967 excavated portions of the route, recovering the street to preserve it until it could be further explored.
Two years ago, IAA archaeologists uncovered a drainage canal near the route to the Temple Mount.
Iran, Turkey Seek Closer Ties
TEHRAN - Iran and Turkey are seeking closer ties, according to FARS, Iran's state news agency.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met over the weekend to expand "bilateral and regional consultations" and "mutual cooperation in transportation, energy and investment," FARS reported.
In his remarks following the meeting, Mottaki said that legitimate struggle against occupation "should be excluded" from conventional definition of terrorism.
Mottaki "slammed the unilateral approach...in fighting terrorism," condemning "the terrorist acts by the Zionists, specially their recent crimes against the Muslim people of Palestine," saying that "Israeli actions set an example for terrorism," according to the Iranian news agency.
Meanwhile, in a separate posting, FARS reported that U.S. President Barack Obama offered Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a $2.5 billion deal on 20 new Boeing passenger airlines, with spare parts.
"Obama's messages for delivering these airplanes to Iran were sent after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran's president," FARS quoted an "informed source" as saying.
"The minimum price of these airplanes stands at $75 million and their maximum price is $120 million and their number is estimated at 20," the source said, claiming that the funds to purchase the aircraft is coming from "Iran's blocked assets in the U.S."
According to the report, the planes were manufactured in 2009 and are all "brand-new."
Netanyahu: We're ready for peace, but won't be 'suckers'
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said that while his government is ready to go to great lengths to make peace with the Palestinians and other Arab neighbors, he and his ministers won't be fooled and won't be "suckers."
Speaking at a pre-Rosh Hashanah event for Likud activists at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, Netanyahu's remarks were in response to concerns that his acquiescence to Western demands for a settlement freeze marks the end of the Zionist vision in the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria, even if the Arabs do not reciprocate.
Netanyahu said he will not allow international pressure to halt the normal flow of life in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and that regardless of what future concessions he may make, he will never allow those areas to become a Hamas stronghold as Gaza did following the Israeli withdrawal there.
Netanyahu's speech came just a day after US State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said Israel should stop building new homes for Jews on the eastern side of Jerusalem, as well as in the rest of Judea and Samaria.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also saw Netanyahu's new willingness to implement a temporary settlement freeze as an opportunity to up the ante, and declared that all Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria are illegal, according to his interpretation of international law.
In fact, it was international law, in the form of the San Remo Resolution passed in 1920 by the League of Nations, precursor to the UN, that legalized "close Jewish settlement" in the region that today encompasses Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan