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Netanyahu appoints new defense minister
( Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has selected Likud MK (Member of Knesset) Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon as the next defense minister, amid the numerous growing threats—including Iran’s nuclear program, the Syrian civil war, the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt, and Palestinian terrorism — facing Israel today. The 62-year-old Ya’alon, who replaces Ehud Barak, is a veteran of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and later served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) elite Sayeret Matkal special forces unit. He was appointed head of military intelligence in 1995 and eventually served as IDF chief of staff from 2002-2005, during the height of the Second Intifada.
In 2005, Ya’alon retired from the military because of disagreements over Israel’s disengagement from Gaza with then-Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. Following his military retirement, Ya’alon served as an expert for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and later joined the Likud party list for the 2009 elections. After entering the Knesset, he served as Vice Premier and Minister of Strategic Affairs in Netanyahu’s government.
Known for his strong positions on security and defense, Ya’alon considers Iran’s nuclear program to be Israel’s top security threat. “The most dangerous threat today is the nuclear threat on the part of Iran, which is working to achieve regional hegemony,” Yaalon said in a recent interview, according to the Associated Press. “It is impossible to deal with the Middle Eastern instability without dealing with this threat,” he said.
Ya’alon is also skeptical of peace with the Palestinians; he does not consider Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to be a viable partner for peace. “The goals of Abbas are the same as the goals of Hamas [which wants to eradicate Israel, according to its charter],” Ya’alon has told Israel Hayom.

Israel’s latest technology will be on display for Obama
( Several of Israel’s latest technological breakthroughs will be on display for President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit. Researchers and graduates from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology will present President Obama with three of its latest projects. The Snake Robot, which was developed by Technion professor Alon Wolf, is “designed to enter spaces in areas prone to earthquakes and the collapse of buildings and to assist in location and rescue activities by transmitting pictures and voices of trapped people,” according to Technion. The famous ReWalk system was developed by Technion graduate Dr. Amit Goffer, founder of Argo Medical Technologies. The system is “a powered external skeleton that enables paraplegics to walk and perform other daily functions (sitting, standing, and climbing/going down the stairs),” Technion said. The ReWalk system gained international renown when in May 2012, a paralyzed British woman, Claire Lomas, successfully completed a marathon using the bionic assistance suit. Famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who is completely paralyzed as a result of the neurodegenerative disease ALS, declared ReWalk to be “one of the five most important machines for humanity.” Also on display will be a “waiter robot,” developed jointly by Technion researchers and Israeli high school students who won an international robotics contest in the U.S. last year. The robot is designed to assist handicapped people in their homes.

Shin Bet: Hamas seeks to step up terror attacks
( Hamas seeks to increase suicide bomb efforts, rocket attacks and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, particularly in the West Bank, according to a report by Israel’s domestic security agency, the Shin Bet. “On the surface, the four-month truce between Israel and Hamas
appears to be holding well since the cessation of last year’s eight-day conflict, but behind the scenes, senior Hamas officials in Gaza are increasing their efforts to carry out deadly attacks on Israelis,” the Shin Bet report said, the Jerusalem Post reported. Meanwhile, Hamas supporters have called for possible violence and protests ahead of President Obama’s upcoming visit to Jerusalem. “Palestinians everywhere should begin their activities with direct confrontation with the Zionists in preparation for Obama’s visit, even if this entails martyrs and injured [Palestinians] until the ominous day of the visit,” wrote Palestinian columnist Mustafa Sawwaf on the Hamas news website Al-Resalah, the Times of Israel reported.

Syria ready to use chemical weapons
( Speaking at the Herzliya Security Conference, Israeli Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is making advanced preparations to use chemical weapons, but has not yet ordered their deployment. The international community is concerned that Syria could use its vast arsenal of chemical and biological weapons against rebels or civilians. Recently, a U.S. intelligence official warned against Syria’s use of chemical weapons. “The opposition is gaining in strength; … At the same time, the regime is experiencing shortages in manpower and logistics,” said James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence, in a statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee recently.
Israel is also concerned that the terror group Hezbollah may gain access to Syria’s arsenal. In January, Israeli jets reportedly struck a Syrian military convoy containing advanced anti-aircraft missiles that were headed for Lebanon.

Israeli celebs call for Pollard’s release
( Yityish Aynaw, the first Ethiopian Miss Israel, hopes to tell President Obama, whom she calls her role model, that he “should free [Jonathan] Pollard,” who is serving a life sentence in U.S. prison on a conviction of spying for Israel. Aynaw has been invited by Israeli President Shimon Peres to attend the official state dinner welcoming Obama on March 20. Her comments about Pollard appear in an interview she gave Israel’s Channel 2 television network. Pollard, a former U.S. naval intelligence analyst, is only person in U.S. history to receive a life sentence for spying for an American ally. When she was in high school, Aynaw was involved in advocacy efforts for Pollard’s release.
Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli and former Hamas captive Gilad Shalit also signed a petition for Pollard’s release that has garnered more than 155,000 supporters. Additionally, a new campaign titled “Teens waiting for Pollard” has been launched, asking people from Israel and around the world to take pictures of themselves displaying the number 28, the number of years Pollard has been imprisoned. In the U.S., the National Council of Young Israel on Thursday sent an email asking its supporters to call the White House at (202) 456-1414 as part of a “Call for Clemency Campaign” for Pollard.

New pope respected by Jewish community
( Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was selected last week as the new pope, Francis I, by the College of Cardinals, and is the first pope elected from South America, is also well respected by local Argentinian and international Jewish leaders. He won praise for his compassionate response to the 1994 terror attack on a Jewish center that killed 85 people in his native Buenos Aires. “He was very concerned with what happened,” Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz, co-founder of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, said in 2005, according to the National Catholic Reporter. “He’s got experience.”
In 2005, Bergoglio signed a joint statement against terrorism together with Jose Adaszko of the Israel Mutual Association of Argentina and Omar Helal Massud of the Islamic Center, with an emphasis on preventing such attacks as the 1994 bombing, according to Israel National News.
American Jewish leaders were quick to praise the selection of Bergoglio.
“Pope Francis has demonstrated his profound solidarity with the Jewish community in Argentina in both times of sorrow and joy,” Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s International Director of Interreligious Affairs, said in a statement. “We look forward to continued close collaboration with the Catholic Church under his leadership, as we have been privileged to enjoy with his predecessors.”
Pope Francis’s predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, took significant steps to improve Jewish-Christian relations, as well as to establish diplomatic ties with Israel. The Jewish state and the Vatican, however, have not agreed of late on the Palestinian issue. Last year, the Vatican supported the Palestinians’ status upgrade bid at the United Nations.
“We have been encouraged by the historic progress in Catholic-Jewish relations,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said in a statement.”

Aly Raisman to compete in Maccabiah
( Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman will be bringing her talents to Israel this summer to compete in the 2013 Maccabiah Games. Raisman, a Massachusetts native, captained Team U.S.A. to overall gold in gymnastics in the 2012 London Olympics. She also won praise from the Jewish community for her public comments about the 40th anniversary of the Palestinian massacre of Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Olympics Games in Munch — which the International Olympic refused to acknowledge with an official moment of silence — and her choice to perform to the traditional Jewish song Hava Nagila for her floor routine. According to Maccabiah Chairman Amir Pered, Raisman will be honored during the opening ceremony for the games at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium on July 18. “We are very happy that an athlete like Aly Raisman, who is at the top of her game, will be coming to take part,” Pered told Haaretz.
Known as the “Jewish Olympics,” the Maccabiah games are held every four years. This year’s games are set for July 17-30 and will feature more than 8,600 Jewish athletes.

Obama criticized for not inviting Ariel students to speech
( In a letter sent to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Member of Knesset Yoni Chetboun of the Habayit Hayehudi party criticized President Obama for not inviting students from Ariel University of Samaria to his speech at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem next week, Israel Hayom reported.
The White House did not irespond to a request for comment from
Ariel University was recognized last year as Israel’s eighth full-fledged state university and the first located on the other side of the Green Line, the 1949 armistice line that served as a de facto border before 1967. The Obama administration has been a consistent critic of Israel’s decisions to expand construction in Jewish communities situated beyond the Green Line.
“Is the decision to boycott Ariel not political?” Chetboun said. “On one hand, the president says his speech isn’t political, but on the other hand, he rejects and boycotts the students from Ariel.”
Head of the Ariel University Student Union Shay Shahaf said of not receiving invitations to the speech, “We were pretty shocked about the discrimination and the way in which they are giving up on a university in Israel,” according to Yedioth Ahronoth.

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