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Netanyahu slams reports of ‘secret clause’ to sell UAE F-35s and drones as part of peace deal – CNN

(CNN)Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed reports the US will sell stealth fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates as part of the agreement to normalize relations between Israel and the Gulf nation, tweeting that they are “completely fake news.”

Netanyahu was responding Tuesday to a report in one of the country’s leading newspapers alleging the existence of a “secret clause” in Israel’s deal to normalize relations with the UAE — one that would allow the UAE to buy billions of dollars in advanced military hardware from the US, including drones, F-35 stealth fighters and other weaponry.
The story raised hackles in Israel because of the potential threat to Israel’s military superiority in the region. Israel has long opposed sales of strategic weapons systems to other countries in the Middle East and repeatedly raised concerns about the possibility in the weeks before the normalization deal was reached.
In Washington, an official at the White House’s National Security Council directed CNN to the written announcement of the deal, which contains no clauses or references to weapons deals. “The deal is the joint statement we released on Thursday,” the official said, referring to the 556-word statement on the White House website.

Surprised reactions

In other corners of the US capital, reports of the alleged deal were met with surprise.
Officials in the State Department office that handles US arms sales to foreign countries were startled by the reports, two State Department officials said, adding that if there is any such agreement, they had not been briefed on it.
If there were a sale to the UAE, the State Department would be in charge of overseeing the process. During that process, which requires congressional approval to finalize, the US must ensure Israel retains its qualitative military edge in the region, a requirement written into US law in 2008. The State Department directed inquiries to the White House.
On Capitol Hill, Republican and Democratic aides said relevant Hill committees have not been notified about a deal of this nature and don’t have any new transfers to the UAE before them for review at this time.
Netanyahu’s office backed up his tweet with a lengthy statement categorically denying the deal included any understanding of US arms sales to the UAE.
“The historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates did not include Israel’s consent to any arms deal whatsoever between the United States and the UAE,” the statement said. “From the outset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed the sale of F-35s and other advanced weaponry to any country in the Middle East, including Arab countries that have peace agreements with the State of Israel.”
Netanyahu’s rebuttal follows a story in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, which said UAE Crown Prince and de-facto leader Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan had demanded a clause be included in the agreement that would enable the Emirates to buy billions of dollars worth of F-35 fighter jets, drones and other advanced weaponry. The report cited unnamed US and Emirati officials.
The US, Israel and the UAE announced the plan to normalize relations August 13. Since then, phone lines have been opened between the two countries and business deals announced.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who’d only just been released from hospital following back surgery, decided the story warranted a press conference. He said the proliferation of the F-35 was “not good for Israel,” adding: “We need to talk to the Emiratis, to the Americans, and make sure our security interests are being upheld.”
The reports triggered widespread reaction for several reasons.
First, there’s the way the UAE-Israel deal was done. Unusually for an agreement of this nature, Netanyahu kept his foreign minister and defense minister (who just happen to be from rival parties) in the dark, telling Israeli media he did so at the request of the US.
According to Israeli newspaper reports, the first time the two ministers heard about Israel agreeing to suspend plans to annex parts of the West Bank in exchange for normalization with the UAE was when the agreement was announced.

An ideal drone customer

Second is the advanced weaponry itself. The UAE is seen as an ideal drone customer and was the client some US officials cited as a potential beneficiary, following the recent easing of the drone export regulations.
Some US defense officials have also expressed interest in getting the UAE the F-35 after Turkey was kicked out of the program, leaving more than 100 jets without a customer. The UAE military is seen as potentially more capable of integrating and operating the advanced aircraft, as opposed to other regional militaries, such as Saudi Arabia.
The third reason the story has caught hold may be an August 14 interview that US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman gave to NPR. Asked if the UAE-Israel deal would mean Abu Dhabi would now get hold of advanced American weaponry, he replied, somewhat cryptically: “The more the Emirates becomes a friend of Israel, becomes a partner with Israel, becomes a regional ally of the United States, I think obviously that alters the threat assessment and could work out to the Emirates’ benefit on that issue.”
And finally, there is Netanyahu’s statement, which indicates that Israel repeatedly raised concerns about the possibility of advanced arms sales to “any country in the Middle East” in July and August — and that the prime minister himself had told Friedman they would not be acceptable.

Explicit objections

“In his 7 July conversation with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Prime Minister Netanyahu was explicit in Israel’s opposition to the sale of F-35s and other advanced weaponry to any country in the Middle East, including those with peace agreements with Israel,” the statement said.
“On 8 July, the Prime Minister sent a letter — via Ambassador Friedman — to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which he reiterated that Israel’s position remains unchanged even following the reaching of peace agreements,” the statement continued.
It goes on to say that on August 3, at Netanyahu’s direction, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer met with Pompeo and once more “underscored Israel’s opposition to the sale of F-35s and other advanced weapons systems to any country in the Middle East.”

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Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu appears in court on corruption charges – The Guardian

Defiantly railing against attempts to “overthrow” him before donning a face mask to enter court, Benjamin Netanyahu sat for the first day of his high-profile corruption trial, which threatens to put Israel’s longest-serving leader behind bars and open deep divisions within the country.

Speaking in the corridors of the courthouse ahead of the hearing, Netanyahu decried police and prosecutors he accused of attempting to topple him. “When there is a strong rightwing leader like me, everything is permitted to bring him down,” he said, flanked by loyal ministers. “This is an attempt to overthrow us.”

At the start of the hour-long proceedings, one of the judges – also in face masks and behind clear plastic screens – asked Netanyahu if he had read and understood the charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He responded: “Yes, your Honour.”

His lawyer argued for the court to grant a three-month delay to deal with the huge caseload of evidence. The case, with hundreds of witnesses, could last months if not years.

Public interest in the trial is so intense that police closed off streets around the court in Jerusalem to prevent crowds from gathering too close.

The Israeli PM is embroiled in four cases involving allegations of bribery and misconduct. He denies wrongdoing in every instance.

Case 1000 is an investigation into gifts received on a regular basis by Netanyahu and his family from two wealthy businessmen, including cigars and pink champagne.

Case 2000 is examining whether Netanyahu behaved improperly during a taped conversation with a newspaper publisher in which he appeared to try to negotiate more sympathetic coverage in return for lowering the circulation of a rival paper.

Case 3000 is an inquiry into alleged kickbacks in a deal to buy German submarines. Netanyahu is not a suspect, but he was closely involved in the deal and the case has ensnared members of his inner circle. 

Case 4000, the most serious, involves allegations that Netanyahu offered incentives to the Israeli telecoms company Bezeq in exchange for positive stories in an online news website it owns, Walla.

Netanyahu chaired the first official cabinet meeting of his new unity government, sworn in a week ago on Sunday morning. By the afternoon, he had become the first sitting Israeli prime minister to fight criminal charges in court.

A poster has been hung above the main highway in Tel Aviv with a photo of the prime minister. “Israel is ashamed,” it said.

Netanyahu, 70, has forcefully denied the allegations, calling them a politically motivated witch-hunt. Perhaps fearing negative visuals from courtroom, his lawyers tried and failed to have him exempted from appearing.

Barak Ravid
(@BarakRavid)

Benjamin Netanyahu is a politician with a huge awareness for history. No matter what he does from now on as the Prime Minister of Israel this iconic picture will forever be in the history books pic.twitter.com/1kd3tnQuCO

May 24, 2020

Ahead of the trial, he battled the allegations outside court, smearing the domestic media and judiciary as conspirators against him, often to the point that he has been accused of stirring up public hatred.

Within earshot of the court, supporters of Netanyahu – who has been in power for more than a decade – shouted out his nickname: “Bibi! Bibi! Bibi!”

“Wake up the people of Israel,” shouted one protester, Sarit Ayalon, 58, an academic. “The media became a voice for one side,” she said, holding an Israeli flag.

Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, who indicted Netanyahu, filed police complaints this month over what he said were coordinated death threats. At the pro-Netanyahu protest, a sign had been erected on which the attorney general’s face had been cut and pasted on to the image of a man in jail.

Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, compared the vitriol against the judiciary to rightwing politicians’ goading of Yitzhak Rabin in the 1990s. After months of incitement for his efforts to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, the former prime minister was murdered by an ultranationalist extremist.

“The campaign that has been mounted against the justice system … is reckless and dangerous,” Barnea wrote. “Netanyahu and his associates … are shutting their eyes as to what this campaign is liable to lead to. They are playing with fire.”

Indicted last year in three separate cases, Netanyahu faces more than a decade in prison if convicted. He is accused of accepting expensive gifts including champagne, jewellery and cigars, and colluding with Israeli media magnates to publish favourable stories about him while smearing his political opponents.

Unlike one of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert, who stepped down after it appeared he would be indicted, Netanyahu has refused to leave power, and his role as head of the new unity government has bolstered his position.

Crucially, the coalition deal he signed affords him extra protection, exempting him from a rule that obliges ministers to resign if charged with a crime.

Yuval Shany, vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute, warned of a vast conflict of interests in having a prime minister up in court while still in office.

“If, God forbid, we have a war, is it because there is a security threat or this is a wag the dog type of moment when you want to distract public attention?” he said. “This is in itself a very unhealthy situation.”

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Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu corruption trial – everything you need to know – Fox News

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial for three corruption cases will begin on Sunday,  more than two months after Israel’s unprecedented third election in less than a year, which ended inconclusively and led to the formation of a unity government. Netanyahu is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to go on trial.

What are the charges?

Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three different controversies.

The allegations against him included suspicions that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in champagne and cigars from billionaire friends, offered to trade favors with a newspaper publisher and used his influence to help a wealthy telecom magnate in exchange for favorable coverage on a popular news site.

When was Netanyahu formally charged?

After a three-year investigation, Netanyahu, who has served as prime minister for 11 years, was indicted in November.

“A day in which the attorney general decides to serve an indictment against a seated prime minister for serious crimes of corrupt governance is a heavy and sad day, for the Israeli public and for me personally,” Israel’s attorney general Avichai Mandelblit told reporters after Netanyahu was formally charged.

Netanyahu, in response, said the indictment stemmed from “false accusations” and a systematically “tainted investigation.” He claimed to be the victim of a witch hunt involving political rivals, the media, police and prosecutors, all pressuring a “weak” attorney general, The Times of Israel reported.

ISRAELI PM BENJAMIN NETANYAHU ACCUSED OPPONENTS OF ‘ATTEMPTED COUP’ AFTER CORRUPTION CHARGES 

Mandelblit rejected suggestions that the indictment was politically motivated, saying it was a “heavy-hearted decision” based solely on professional considerations.

Did the COVID-19 outbreak impact the trial? 

Netanyahu’s trial was supposed to begin in March, but was delayed when his justice minister closed most of the court system because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Israel’s new government was sworn in on May 17 following three national elections in under a year, which all ended inconclusively with neither Netanyahu, nor his rival Benny Gantz, in control of a required parliamentary majority.

Given the coronavirus outbreak and the desire to avoid yet another election, Gantz dropped his opposition to sitting in a government with the indicted Netanyahu. Under their power-sharing deal, the two will rotate the prime minister’s job during the next three years — with Netanyahu in the role for the first 18 months.

According to the agreement, Gantz and Netanyahu control an equal number of government ministries and parliamentary committees and essentially hold veto power over most key decisions.

Does Netanyahu have to step down as prime minister given he has been indicted?  

Netanyahu is not legally required to resign while under indictment.

The unity government created a new position of “alternate prime minister,” which like the premier is not required to resign under indictment. This position would allow Netanyahu to stay in office throughout a trial and potential appeals process that could last several years.

What happens next?

On Wednesday, an Israeli court ordered Netanyahu to appear for the opening of his criminal trial in Jerusalem on Sunday.

His attorneys had asked the court for an exemption from appearing at the arraignment, arguing that Netanyahu’s presence was “not essential” given he had “read this indictment several times already.” They also argued that his bodyguards’ presence would violate Health Ministry social distancing requirements during the coronavirus pandemic.

The court rejected the request, saying that Netanyahu “must, like all other accused, appear and give his statement before the court.”

The trial will take place in Jerusalem District Court where evidence will be presented before a three-judge panel.

Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman will be heading the panel, which will also include Judges Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham, Haaretz reported, adding that the majority of the judges are known to be tough on corruption.

The newspaper noted that Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth Israeli newspaper; Shaul Elovitch, the former owner of the Bezeq telecommunications company, and his wife Iris have also been charged in the cases.

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The Jerusalem District Court noted that social distancing orders by the Health Ministry must be followed and, therefore, people in the courtroom will be required to wear face masks and sit more than 6 feet apart, The Times of Israel reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this rep

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