No love lost between Lion and Barkat in TV debate on eve of vote

In a rather unpleasant mini-TV face-off Monday, hours before polls open nationwide for municipal elections, the rival candidates for the Jerusalem mayoralty, incumbent Nir Barkat and challenger Moshe Lion, each proclaimed they have the upper hand. But polls have consistently shown Barkat heading for reelection, by anything from 7% to 20%, and Lion suffered eve-of-vote blows Monday when sections of the ultra-Orthodox leadership indicated their support for him had wavered.

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While official Likud candidate Lion was officially endorsed by the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, he has not received backing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and one important Haredi faction has insisted on fielding an independent candidate, Haim Epstein — who could cost Lion thousands of votes. On Monday morning, a letter was placed on prominent Haredi Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach’s car, threatening him with death if Epstein, who is running on behalf of Auerbach’s Bnei Torah faction, did not withdraw from the race. “Shut down your party, otherwise you’ll forfeit your life,” read the note.

On Monday evening, the Gur Hassidic dynasty, whose followers constitute one of the largest ultra-Orthodox communities in the city, withdrew their support for Lion’s candidacy. The Belz community was expected to follow suit, further improving Barkat’s chances of winning the race. Lion shrugged off the blows, insisting that “at most, 5,000 votes” were involved, and that he would still triumph.

In its Monday newscast, Channel 2 brought the two candidates together for an interview, with Barkat appearing in a suit and tie and Lion flaunting a black-and-yellow of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer scarf. A picture released later showed Lion standing alongside MK Avigdor Liberman — one of his chief backers — in the crowd at the game.

Barkat looked confident in the interview and said he was certain of his reelection. “The people of Jerusalem have made up their minds. Most residents of Jerusalem understand what transpired during my term, what I had to work with and where the city is today,” he said. “Tomorrow you’ll see… Everyone understands what the alternative is – the shady deal.”

Barkat was referring to the alliance wrought between Aryeh Deri, leader of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Shas party, and Liberman, head of the Russian-speaking secularists in Yisrael Beytenu. The two are united behind Lion, the Likud-Beytenu’s official candidate, in an effort to unseat Barkat, a right-wing but politically independent high-tech multimillionaire seen to represent the city’s slowly dwindling secular, tax-paying economic base.

“We know we’re going to win tomorrow,” Barkat said, looking squarely at the camera.

Lion was no less confident, though his choice of attire betrayed a last-ditch effort to win a few more votes. “It’s time Jerusalem had [a mayor] who can bring about a real revolution,” Lion said, explaining that he had 15 years of “action for the sake of Jerusalem, albeit quiet and understated,” behind him to back up his candidacy. “It’s a real mission for me. I hope that the truth will come to light tomorrow and that I win,” he added.

Asked why Netanyahu, the Likud party chairman, hasn’t endorsed him, Lion told Channel 2 that he had “nothing against” the prime minister, for whom he had worked in the past as PMO director general. “We have a fantastic relationship, overall,” Lion said. “To tell you the truth, I’m not at all concerned with it at the moment.”

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Asked by the interviewer if he had anything positive to say about his rival, Lion was less magnanimous. “After three months of lies and slander by his campaign managers, I don’t even have one good thing to say about him,” he said.

Asked the same question, Barkat said he wished Lion well in his future moves — indicating his conviction that Lion, who only recently relocated to Jerusalem from his home town of Givatayim, would not be taking over at City Hall.

At the end of the interview, Lion interjected with one of the staple cheers of Jerusalem soccer fans: “Yalla Beitar!” Later Monday, Lion posted on his Facebook page that, “In soccer, as in life, the heart and the soul always prevail.”

The Beitar fan base has a long history of anti-Arab sentiment, and, until earlier this year, the team was the only Israeli soccer team never to have signed an Arab or Muslim player. The team played against arch-rival Hapoel Tel Aviv on Monday — and won 1-0 with an 84th minute goal.

Some fans at Teddy Stadium describing a crowd incensed even more than usual – this time, not by Muslim players on the field, but by flyers accusing Barkat of left-wing sentiment. “That’s what Liberman and Lion would like Jerusalemites to think,” said one fan, apparently not a Lion supporter. “That’s how they ‘unite’ Jerusalem.

3.3-magnitude earthquake rattles northern Israel on Tuesday morning, no injuries or damage reported • Epicenter under Sea of Galilee • Rishon Lezion to host national earthquake drill.

A 3.3-magnitude earthquake rattled the Sea of Galilee region in northern Israel on Tuesday morning. It was the fifth earthquake to strike northern Israel in the past week.

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The epicenter of the earthquake was underneath the Sea of Galilee, 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) northeast of Kibbutz Ginosar. No injuries or damage were reported.

On Sunday, two 3.6-magnitude quakes shook the Sea of Galilee region, just four hours apart. The Geophysical Institute of Israel said that the epicenters of the two earthquakes were on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee. The tremors were felt most strongly in Tiberias, Hazor, Safed and the village of Majar. Residents of the Golan Heights reported that the second earthquake was felt there as well.

Two other earthquakes hit the same area on Thursday and Friday.

According to the Geophysical Institute of Israel, it is impossible to tell whether the series of small earthquakes indicates a stronger earthquake will take place in the near future.

“The sequence of earthquakes does not indicate anything about the future,” said institute Director Dr. Uri Frieslander. “We can’t rule out a stronger earthquake, but it is certainly possible that these small quakes will not lead to anything. Small quakes have preceded a strong earthquake in the past, but in the same vein, there were incidents in which that did not happen.”

In light of the recent string of earthquakes, Tiberias and Safed have announced they will hold earthquake exercises. Also, the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion announced on Monday that it will host a drill in three hours that will test the readiness of national emergency services for a major earthquake.

The Israel Defense Forces Homefront Command has updated its directives for the public, primarily emphasizing that during a quake it is preferable to leave buildings and get into an open space, as opposed to a missile strike, when the opposite is advised. If quickly getting to an open space is impossible, the next best option is to seek shelter in a fortified room or in the stairwell. The Homefront Command also told the public that during a quake the coast should be avoided by at least 1 kilometer, due to concerns over large waves, or to climb to at least the fourth floor of a building.

Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Subcommittee on Home Front Preparedness chairman MK Eli Yishai (Shas) said, “The wave of earthquakes hitting our region obligates us to conduct a comprehensive examination of the state and homefront’s readiness for any possible scenario that could arise as a result of an earthquake. We cannot and must not ignore from this phenomenon that is hitting us with increased strength recently.

“Moreover, I have called for a special meeting of the committee for the beginning of next week, to examine the country’s readiness, to highlight deficiencies if they exist and demand that they be fixed as soon as possible. It is our obligation to consider any possibility and not be caught complacent.”

The committee will meet to discuss the issue next Monday.

Gadi Ofer, the chief engineer for the Better Housing Association, said data for apartment buildings in Israel showed that some 60 percent would not withstand a strong earthquake. However, this figure is not accurate, and may be even higher because it disregards over 400,000 structures build prior to the legislated implementation of construction standards meant to protect against earthquakes.

“I am not certain how much we can trust buildings that were constructed even after the implementation of the earthquake standard, because these buildings plans were not professionally tested — for objective reasons — and only settled for a signed declaration by the building planner to that effect,” Ofer warned.

Better Housing Association CEO Reuven Tzadok, meanwhile, sought to alleviate concerns.

“Earthquakes cannot be prevented,” he said, “but it is possible to prepare for them and therefore minimize the damage they cause. Since it is impossible to predict the date and time of earthquakes, it is advisable to be prepared for them at all times.

“Being prepared, first and foremost, means making sure the building we live and work in can withstand an earthquake. In Israel there is a special statute (413) from 1980, which tells the engineer how he must plan the various elements of a building so that it can endure the forces created during a strong ground shift. The statute defines the minimum requirements for preventing the loss of life, but for preventing property damage. We encourage the private housing committees to make use of our engineering consultation service or consult with the center’s main office.

US shelves drone sale to Turkey over exposing Mossad spy ring

Turkish outlet Daily Taraf says Turkish military intelligence chief Hakan Fidan’s disdain for the Mossad was apparent after the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident • Turkish official: U.S. angry over $4 billion weapons contract it lost to a Chinese competitor.

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The U.S. has canceled a shipment of 10 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles to Turkey, following that country’s exposure of an Iranian spy network that worked with the Mossad, Turkish media outlet Daily Taraf reported on Monday.

The shipment of drones was reportedly shelved due to U.S. frustration with Turkish military intelligence chief Hakan Fidan ‘s intelligence cooperation with Iran.

According to the report, Fidan’s disdain for the Mossad had already been noted earlier, following the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident in which nine Turkish nationals were killed and several Israeli soldiers wounded when Israel Defense Forces commandos seized a ship that was attempting to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Turkish intelligence reportedly halted cooperation with the Mossad a year later, and then proceeded to provide Iran with information on the Israeli spy agency.

A Turkish government official was quoted as saying that the U.S. chose to announce Fidan’s role in exposing the spy ring because Turkey recently rejected a U.S. missile defense system $4 billion proposal in favor of a Chinese competitor’s.