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The attack on Iran that wasn’t: Ehud Barak’s autobiography

As Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak was determined to carry out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program. His book provides the tools to examine the limitations of the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the considerations Israeli leaders put into the decision to go to war.

By Shemuel Meir

“My Country, My Life: Fighting for Israel, Searching for Peace”, Ehud Barak, St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

The title of Ehud Barak’s recently published autobiography My Country, My Life declares that it is a book not just about Barak’s life, but also a first person account of some the most important moments in Israeli history, told by a politician and senior military official who was in the room. The book recounts not only achievements, but also mistakes and missed opportunities, and by presenting lessons to be learned, the book challenges the reader to take an analytical approach.

Barak discusses at length Israel’s wars, the withdrawal from Lebanon, and the opportunities missed in the peace process with Syria and with the Palestinians. Of particular interest, however, is the Iranian nuclear issue. In the book, Barak provides an important and dual point of view: firstly, the perspective of the security cabinet and its interaction with senior military officials; and secondly, that of Israel’s primary negotiator with the Americans — from the military and political echelons all the way up to Presidents Bush and Obama.

Although he at time seems to speak in riddles, through his book, Barak gives us an opportunity to examine a number of unanswered questions. What was his assessment of the Iranian nuclear program?  Is he giving us the complete picture or has he left out important stages in the Iranian nuclear crisis, and if so, why? And the biggest question: did Ehud Barak earnestly promote an Israeli attack on Iran? And if so, why did it not happen?

According to his autobiography, the Iranian nuclear issue was the reason Barak decided to serve as defense minister in the Olmert and Netanyahu governments from 2007 to 2013. From the moment he entered Ehud Olmert’s government, Barak writes that he ordered Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to prepare a plan for a “surgical strike” to destroy most of Iran’s nuclear facilities. When Barak understood that Israel did not have the capability for such an attack (it lacked of midair refueling aircraft and the necessary bunker busting bombs), he writes, “I was determined to...

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Fed up with myths, these American Jews are challenging their Israel education

They grew up on the myths of a heroic Jewish state, joined Zionist organizations, and learned the talking points. But something along the way made them question everything.

By Tom Pessah

Some of the strangest encounters I had in the years I spent living and studying in the United States were with American Jews. I often felt like I had been dropped into a musical, with people expecting me to fit the mythical image of how an Israeli was supposed to behave. The only problem: I had no idea what my lines were supposed to be.

I was asked about my time in the Israeli army or about the ins and outs of Jewish religious practice. Pro-Israel students assumed I would be there to validate their advocacy.

Many of them were visibly disappointed when I didn’t play the part. Only gradually did I begin to understand how central Israel education had been in their lives, and just how big of a stumbling block it truly was.

To understand this process better, I spoke with four Jewish American activists, all of them in their late 20s and products of mainstream American Jewish education. Over the last few years they have all joined non-Zionist and anti-occupation groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow. Michal, Susannah, Malkah, and Aaron told me how their Israel education shaped their worldview, and what led them to challenge what they had learned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

An editor’s note: Susannah and Malkah asked to use only their first names; the other two interviewees asked to use aliases, citing fears that using their real names could threaten their status in their communities and future job prospects.

Whether Modern Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative, all of the four interviewees said that Israel was an integral part of their experience in the Jewish community from a young age. None of them could remember a time when it wasn’t a part of their Jewish communal experience.

“When I was younger I went to synagogue every week. Israel would inevitably be part of divrei tora (the Rabbi’s talk on topics relating to the weekly Torah portion – T.P.),” says Michal, a former Hasbara Fellow who would eventually be banned from entering Israel because she volunteered with Palestinian organizations in the West Bank.

“On Yom Kippur there was always a plug for Israel. During ne’ila (Yom Kippur’s concluding service – T.P.), in the midst of talking about our sins, being humble, and reflecting on...

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Jailed without charge or trial: Administrative detention explained

Israel uses administrative detention to put Palestinians in prison without ever charging them with a crime. Sometimes the accusations are about a crime you haven’t yet committed. Almost always, the evidence is secret.

Video by Tal Frieden. Story editing by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man.

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Palestinian jailed for poems appeals conviction

Dareen Tatour was convicted of incitement to violence and support for terrorism in her poetry. Rescinding the charges won’t exonerate her completely, but it would allow her to continue writing.

By Yoav Haifawi

In ordinary trials, after a defendant has finished serving their sentence, one can safely assume that the legal drama is over. There is nothing ordinary, however, about the trial of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour.

Tatour was released on Sept. 20 from a five-month prison sentence, after she had already spent two-and-a-half years under house arrest. The Nazareth District Court convened on Dec. 25 to hear an appeal against her conviction for incitement to violence and support for a terrorist organization over a poem she published on YouTube and Facebook.

Tatour, 36, who hails from the village of Reineh near Nazareth, was convicted in May, nearly three years after she was first arrested for publishing her poetry on social media. She was first arrested on Oct. 11, 2015 after publishing a number of poems on her Facebook page, including “Qawem Ya Sha’abi, Qawemhum” (“Resist my people, resist them”).

That poem was published in 2015 (read an English translation here), at the height of mass Palestinian protests across Israel and the West Bank against restrictions on Muslim worshippers’ access to the Aqsa Mosque, and during a wave of so-called lone-wolf attacks against Israeli security forces and civilians, largely in Jerusalem and Hebron. A few days after Tatour posted the poem on Facebook, police stormed her house and arrested her in the middle of the night.

Despite her newfound freedom, Israeli authorities seem intent on attacking her. Just earlier this week, Culture Minister Miri Regev demanded that the Finance Ministry refrain from funding a new exhibition in Jerusalem because it includes the poem which landed Tatour in prison.

Gaby Lasky, Tatour’s attorney, spared no effort in trying to prove that the accusations against Tatour are unfounded, followed by a rebuttal from State Attorney Avital Sharoni. The panel included three judges from the District Court, headed by Judge Ester Hellman.

Judge Yifat Shitrit studied the case in advance and led the discussion throughout the hearing. Already at the beginning of the hearing, Shitrit clarified that the court intends to hold fast to the standard of criminal law according to which “if there is doubt — there is no doubt.” That is, if Tatour’s words could be interpreted differently than what...

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The IDF doesn't investigate Palestinian deaths — it whitewashes them

The Israeli army says it would like to conduct thorough investigations of the Palestinians it kills or wounds. The only problem? It is unable to do so honestly.

By Hagai El-Ad

A little over a year ago, on the last day of October 2017, Muhammad Musa and his sister Latifah drove to Ramallah to run some errands. Shortly after the two filmed a short selfie video during the ride, soldiers opened fire at their car near Halamish junction. Latifah was wounded, Muhammad was killed. He was 26.

B’Tselem’s investigation into his killing was made public about five weeks later, and included several eye witness accounts as well as testimonies from paramedics who arrived on the scene. One of these eyewitnesses, Muhammad Nafe’a, is identified by his full name, photo, address, and occupation.

And yet, the Military Police Investigations Unit (MPIU) still somehow wrote to B’Tselem, almost six months later in May 2018, that it would be grateful “to receive Muhammad Nafe’a’s full personal information in order to contact him and arrange to have him give his statement on the matter.”

Welcome to the parallel universe known as “MPIU investigations.” In this universe, “investigations” proceed at lightning speed, and the military — which fully controls the West Bank and has little trouble getting its hands on Palestinians — acts as if it cannot locate a witness without the assistance of a human rights organization, even when his details are available for all to see, along with the rest of the findings of an independent investigation published long ago.

If this were a comedy, the awkwardness and absurdity of it all would have been quite amusing. But this is reality, not theatre. Investigating killings is enormously important, both in terms of justice for the victims, and to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.

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The pitiful display in the “investigation” of Muhammad Musa’s killing is no aberration — it is part of the military law enforcement system’s longstanding policy, which affects hundreds, if not more, of cases of killings, injuries, and violence. The extensive experience B’Tselem has gained over the decades as it attempted to promote accountability has shown that the system has no real interest in advancing investigations and bringing justice to the victims. Its main objective is to create the appearance of a functioning legal system, while effectively whitewashing the offenses and protecting those who caused harm without justification.

Here are...

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The grassroots movements in Israel-Palestine that won 2018

+972 Magazine’s story of the year for 2018 is the protest movements that managed to beat the odds by forcing governments to revisit and even change their policies. The story of African refugees stopping their deportation from Israel, and Gazans using popular protests to make sure the world doesn’t forget about them.

By Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man

The global rise of nationalist and right-wing governments has not been particularly good for progressive movements over the past year. But two grassroots movements in Israel and Palestine, respectively, managed to push back against oppressive policies and, at least temporarily, achieve real victories on the ground. These stories are not only impressive, against-the-odds wins — they are also a reminder that the work of organizers and activists on the ground does stand a chance facing down governments, armies, and immensely powerful economic interests.

The first victory took place in Israel, but like most stories these days, it played out in cities, statehouses, and street corners across the globe.

Israel has been trying to quietly deport African refugees for almost as long as they have been arriving in the country. In the first few years, those efforts mostly consisted of refusing to examine asylum claims of would-be refugees, primarily those fleeing Sudan and Eritrea.

Because Israel could not deport them directly back to their home countries, it had a long-standing policy of making their lives miserable, hoping that would drive them to leave voluntarily and seek refuge elsewhere. Often, there was a few thousand dollars available to anyone willing to leave on their own. Uganda and Rwanda were quietly offered as destinations. But the asylum seekers had to agree to leave, even if that consent was given under duress.

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All that changed early this year when Israeli officials announced they had struck a deal with two unnamed African countries they said had agreed to take in the refugees, even if they were deported against their will. It was a game changer. It didn’t take long for a coalition of refugee rights activists and organizations, at times led by asylum seekers themselves, to begin organizing. With little chance of convincing the Israeli government to change its...

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From Gaza to Bethlehem: Celebrating Christmas under occupation

Photos and text by Samar Hazboun

Nisreen Antone (right) lives in Gaza. She celebrated Christmas in Bethlehem this year, with her sister, whom she hadn’t seen for three years.

Nisreen and her family are among 590 Palestinians from Gaza who were issued permits to travel to east Jerusalem and the West Bank by COGAT, the branch of the Israeli military that administers the occupation. (Last year, the permit quota announced for Christmas was 700.)

There are an estimated 400,000 Palestinian Christians worldwide: most live outside Palestine and Israel, around 123,000 are citizens of Israel, and about 50,000 live in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Gaza.

“Just because we are Christian doesn’t mean we get to leave the strip,” says Nisreen.

The quotas, which Israel considers as “goodwill gestures,” tend to be arbitrary, and are often used as another means of applying pressure on Palestinians living under occupation. Sometimes, only Palestinians who meet certain age limits are authorized to travel. Often, some members of a family receive permits while others are denied, splitting families apart for the holidays.

Photographer Samar Hazboun accompanied Palestinians from Gaza who celebrated Christmas in Bethlehem this year. Images of people celebrating the holiday around the world tend to look colorful, abundant and clearly festive. In the photos below, Hazboun tells a slightly different story, of the subtle, intimate moments that Palestinians share while celebrating Christmas under siege and occupation.

The Antone family left Gaza on December 24. It took them just over two hours to make the 74-kilometer journey from Gaza to Bethlehem, although sometimes it can take longer.

Since it’s forbidden to bring anything through the Erez crossing — even water bottles, baby food, and phone chargers — the Antones gave their young children water and took them to the toilet ahead of the trip.

“It is important that my children come to Bethlehem on Christmas,” says George Antone, Nisreen’s spouse. “Life is very difficult in the Gaza Strip and there’s very few things for children to do there. They also need to see their relatives who live outside of Gaza.”

“People need to stop referring to us as the ‘Christian community.’ We are not a community, we are a religious group which is part of Palestinian society,” George continues. “The war machine doesn’t distinguish a Palestinian by his religious beliefs.”

Yousef Tarazi made the journey from Gaza to Bethlehem alone, as his parents were refused a...

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Don't believe the hype: The Israeli right is weaker than it seems

The right had a decade to annex the West Bank, quash Palestinian aspirations, and thwart Hamas in Gaza. Yet today, more than ever, its invincibility is anything but certain.

By Meron Rapoport

The past decade belonged to the Israeli right. Since 2009, the right-wing bloc easily defeated its opponents and won elections, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became its undisputed leader and the most important political figure in Israel. In the past six years, the Jewish Home party — the rightmost mainstream political party — has held key posts in the government.

Political commentators are in near-total agreement that a solidly right-wing government will be formed after the upcoming elections, set to take place in early April. Even commentators identified with the liberal left say they have no doubt Netanyahu and the right will win. I doubt they are genuinely convinced of these predictions; rather, there are trying to avoid being seen as esoteric and out of touch with the people, as those who forecast a defeat for the right usually are.

It is true that the current polls show a clear advantage for the right. The ruling Likud party and Jewish Home win 40 Knesset seats, and just over 50 if you add the ultra-Orthodox parties. The left bloc, if we include the Zionist Union, is currently polling at 30 seats. Centrist parties and public figures such as Yesh Atid, Benny Gantz, Orly Levy, and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party are making every effort to shake off any attempt to brand them as left or center-left. Those who believe there is no point in talking about a center-left camp are right.

But the question is whether such political coherence exists on the right as well. The local elections, which took place less than two months ago, showed the nationalist camp is weaker than we tend to think. In Jerusalem, a right-wing city, the right almost lost its rule to a liberal camp that ran on a strong socially-driven agenda. In Haifa, a candidate who backs civil liberties won the mayoral race, even deciding to form a coalition with the Arab-Jewish left-wing Hadash party — despite immense pressure from the prime minister himself. In Likud strongholds such as Ashkelon and Yeruham, Netanyahu and Likud lost to Kahlon’s centrist party.

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+972 Magazine's 25 most-read posts of 2018

From Google Maps’ erasure of Palestine, to Israel’s Eurovision win, to the new Jewish-Arab movement that plans to save the Israeli left, here are the most popular articles we published this past year.

By +972 Magazine Staff

25. ‘We’ll ensure it doesn’t escalate to violence — on our end’

It’s hard to believe now, but 2018 began with a glimmer of hope for the residents of the Gaza Strip, as nonviolent activists planned mass demonstrations at the Israel-Gaza fence demanding freedom and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Ahmed Abu Artema, one of the organizers of the “Great Return March” spoke at the time to +972’s Rami Younis about why he believed hundreds of thousands of people would show up, and what message he’d like to send to Israelis. Read the interview here.

24. In memory of the first lawyer to bring the occupation to court

Felicia Langer was a Holocaust survivor, a communist, and one of the first Israeli lawyers to defend the Palestinian residents of the occupied territories in the Supreme Court. Read human rights attorney Michael Sfard’s eulogy here.

23. Who profits from keeping Gaza on the brink?

Keeping Gaza on the verge of collapse keeps international humanitarian aid money flowing to exactly where it benefits Israeli interests, writes Israeli economist Shir Hever. For the full article, click here.

22. New film uncovers ‘rotting foundation’ of U.S. Israel lobby

A new Al Jazeera documentary provides a sobering look at a lobby that continues to defend Israel’s control of Palestinian lives, despite the many Americans turning against it. Click here to read more.

21. ‘Apartheid is a process’

With the passage of the ‘Jewish Nation-State Law,’ Israel constitutionally enshrined discrimination against its Palestinian population. ‘We don’t have to keep looking for policies that resemble Jim Crow,’ Attorney Fady Khoury told +972’s Edo Konrad. Read the interview here.

20. We are all accomplices to Israel’s massacre in Gaza

On May 14, Israeli snipers gunned down 60 Palestinian protesters who took part in Gaza’s “Great Return March.” At the time, Mairav Zonszein wrote: “There has been no outrage. We all let this happen. But it is not too late to speak out.” Read the article here.

19. Arabic was an official language in Israel for 70 years, 2 months, and 5 days

Why upend the status quo of the past 70-plus years? Ask the Israeli government.

18. How...Read More

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Mahmoud Abbas and the veneer of democracy

Abbas’ decision to dissolve the parliament and hold elections within half a year is an attempt to present a friendlier, more democratic face to Palestinians in the West Bank, many of whom lost faith in their leader long ago.

By Menachem Klein

Mahmoud Abbas’ decision last week to dissolve the Palestinian parliament and hold elections within half a year are meant to give the Palestinian president a veneer of democracy and the rule of law. Abbas’ decision appears to be a response to a ruling handed down by the Palestinian Constitutional Court, yet it is clear to all that the decision to dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council was his and his alone.

The Constitutional Court, which began operating two years ago, does not have the authority to judicially review the president. Abbas appointed and defined the authority of all 18 judges, all of them members or supporters of his Fatah party. In accordance with the president’s request, the court overturned Abbas rival Muhammad Dahlan’s parliamentary immunity and ruled that Legislative Council Speaker and Hamas member Aziz Dweik could not replace the president until his successor is announced. The court is an institution that protects the ruler, rather than the rule of law.

Abbas’ announcement gives the appearance of listening to the Palestinian public while implementing the decisions handed down by various PLO bodies. Those same bodies have in recent years decided to put an end to the Oslo Accords, stop security coordination with Israel, and rescind the PLO’s recognition of Israel until the latter recognizes a Palestinian state.

Of all these options, Abbas asked Israel to renegotiate the Paris Protocol, an annex to the Oslo Accords designed to regulate all economic interaction between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Like in nearly every aspect of life, the Palestinian Authority is economically dependent on Israel. The Protocol serve Israel’s control of the occupied territories, which is why Jerusalem is unlikely to acquiesce to Abbas’ request.

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Both Abbas’ term — as well as that of the Palestinian Legislative Council — ended eight years ago. And yet Abbas is not announcing new presidential elections. Had he done so, he would have had to decide whether to keep his promise not to run for another...

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Conscientious objector freed after 107 days in military prison

Hillel Garmi, who was inspired by one of the leaders of Gaza’s ‘Great Return March,’ served seven prison terms for his refusal to join the Israeli army.

By +972 Magazine Staff

The Israeli army discharged conscientious objector Hillel Garmi on Sunday after imprisoning him for a total of 107 days. Israel has compulsory military service, and Garmi refused to be drafted due to his opposition to the occupation.

Garmi, 19, from Yodfat in northern Israel, is one of the initiators and signatories of the “Shministim letter,” published earlier this year by dozens of Israeli high school seniors who declared their refusal to serve in the Israeli army. He served seven successive prison terms since July.

Upon leaving military prison on Monday, Garmi said: “The five months I spent in prison were dedicated to the struggle against the occupation and the siege, for the sake of the five million Palestinians who actually live under the rule of the Israeli government, but do not enjoy the right to elect it.”

“In all the days and nights I spent in prison, I tried to keep in mind the Palestinians suffering from the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, which includes a shortage of drinking water, food, and medicine, or Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank, which includes land grabs, arrests and random searches,” Garmi said.

“There were people who told me that I was shirking my responsibility [to ensure] the security of the citizens of Israel, but I think that it is precisely with this act that I take responsibility for the safety of all the people affected by what I do — both Israelis and Palestinians.”

In his declaration of refusal, Garmi explained that he was inspired by Ahmed Abu Artema, one of the lead organizers of the ‘Great Return March’ protests on the Gaza border. “I was impressed to find people who prefer to deal with the situation between the Jordan River and the sea without resorting to violence,” wrote Garmi. “I, too, believe in civil disobedience – in applying nonviolent pressure to highlight a government’s lack of morality.”

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Abu Artema responded to Garmi in a letter published on +972, in...

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Palestinian Authority losing millions annually due to Israeli restrictions

The Palestinian Authority loses $350 million every year due to Israel’s violations of various agreements. It’s time to pay up.

By Sam Bahour

The Palestinian government loses around $350 million a year due to Israel’s restrictions and violations of signed agreements, according to a recent report published by the Palestinian Authority. The estimated sum amounts to almost 30 percent of Palestine’s expected budget deficit in 2018.

That means taxpayers around the world are footing the bill for Israel’s wrongdoings. Now it’s time for Israel to pay up.

The latest report, titled Stopping Fiscal Leakages, was submitted in September to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), a 15-member group chaired by Norway and co-sponsored by the European Union and United States, which serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people. Without their foreign donor support, there would be no Palestinian government as we know it.

The report is the equivalent to a summons for Israel to pay up for the fiscal damage it is causing the Palestinians. Here is a peek into the $350 million annual losses:

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Leakages resulting from lack of control over West Bank land

Based on signed agreements, Israel is authorized to levy and collect Value-Added Tax (VAT) and income tax, as well as deduct Israeli businesses’ income accrued or derived in what is known as Area C — the roughly 60-percent area of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control. The report estimates that around 2,000 Israeli businesses and individuals currently operate in and derive income from Area C. Since the year 2000, Israel ceased all tax transfers and stopped informing the PA about Israeli commercial activities in Area C, which have accumulated to around $360 million.

Leakages resulting from fees on fuel purchases

Since 1994, Palestine has imported fuel through Israeli companies. According to the report, between 1994 and 1996, the Israeli government transferred the excise tax for fuel purchases to the PA. Given the lack of administrative work involved, it did not deduct a handling fee. However, since 1996, Israel has been imposing an additional 3 percent handling fee. The report estimates that the PA is currently losing around $26 million each year as a result.

Leakages resulting from indirect...

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U.S. puts sanctions on Israeli ex-general over South Sudan arms sales

Israel Ziv, a former head of operations for the Israeli army, is accused by the Treasury Department of selling weapons to both sides of the civil war in South Sudan, on which there is an arms embargo.

By +972 Magazine Staff

The U.S. Treasury Department placed sanctions last week on Israeli businessman and retired IDF major-general Israel Ziv for his role in the civil war in South Sudan.

According to the Treasury Department, Ziv had used an agricultural company as a cover for the sale of approximately $150 million worth of weapons — including rifles, shoulder-fired missiles, and grenade launchers — to both government forces as well as opposition fighters.

“While Ziv maintained the loyalty of senior government of South Sudan officials through bribery and promises of security support, he has also reportedly planned to organize attacks by mercenaries on South Sudanese oil fields and infrastructure, in an effort to create a problem that only his company and affiliates could solve,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.

The U.S. has designated Global N.T.M. Ltd., Global Law Enforcement and Security Ltd., and Global IZ Group Ltd., all three entities in Israel that according to the Treasury are owned or controlled by Ziv, for sanctions. The U.S. also placed sanctions on former governor Gregory Vasili and businessman Obac William Olawo for helping fuel the violence.

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Ziv, who served as commander of the IDF Paratroopers Reconnaissance Unit during the First Lebanon War, and eventually served as head of IDF Operations Directorate, has denied any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, A spokesman from the president’s office in Juba told the local Radio Tamazuj on Monday that South Sudan has “never bought weapons and ammunition from the retired Israeli general because he [was] working in the agricultural sector here.”

Under the sanctions, the government will seize all of Ziv’s assets in the United States and ban any U.S.-based financial transactions with him or companies under his control. The U.S. banned the export of weapons and defense services to South Sudan in February, while the U.N. Security Council narrowly passed an arms embargo against country in July. During the Obama years, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power tried but...

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