President Barack Obama is to visit Israel this spring at the heart of a wider tour of the Middle East.
Pres. Obama to Visit Israel, Reafirm "Deep and Enduring Bonds"
"The start of the president's second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including Iran and Syria," White House Spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday. "Additional details about the trip - including the dates of travel - will be released at a later time."
"The U.S.-Israel relationship is stronger than ever, and today's announcement about President Obama's visit to Israel this spring further reaffirms this unbreakable bond between our two nations," Ambassador Michael Oren wrote on his Facebook page.
The trip will be Obama's first to Israel as US president; he visited in 2008 as a candidate.
Obama will be making "a working visit" and will not be accompanied by members of his family. An upcoming visit by newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry will also prepare the ground for Obama's arrival.
Israel Chief of Staff Awarded U.S. Legion of Merit
On Tuesday, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, awarded IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz the Legion of Merit award on behalf of the President of the United States.
|Lt. General Gantz receives the award from Gen. Dempsey.|
A letter attached to the award, signed by Gen. Dempsey and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, stated that it was awarded to Lt. Gen. Gantz for his outstanding and noteworthy command and for his military service.
Hezbollah Responsible for Terrorist Attack in Bulgaria
An investigation by Bulgaria has found Hezbollah responsible for the bombing of an Israeli tour bus in Burgas on July 18, 2012. The attack killed six civilians: five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian bus driver.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
"The Bulgarian findings announced today are clear: Hezbollah was directly responsible for the atrocity. There is only one Hezbollah. It is one organization with one leadership.
This is yet a further corroboration of what we have already known, that Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons are orchestrating a worldwide campaign of terror that is spanning countries and continents.
The attack in Burgas was an attack on European soil against a member country of the EU. We hope that the Europeans draw the necessary conclusions as to the true character of Hezbollah."
Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan:
"Bulgaria's investigation exposes Hezbollah for what it is - a terrorist group that is willing to recklessly attack innocent men, women, and children, and that poses a real and growing threat not only to Europe, but to the rest of the world.
The United States will continue to provide the Bulgarian Government assistance in bringing the perpetrators of this heinous attack to justice."
Secretary of State John Kerry:
"We condemn Hezbollah in the strongest terms for an attack which bears striking similarities to other disrupted plots of the last year.
We strongly urge other governments around the world - and particularly our partners in Europe - to take immediate action to crack down on Hezbollah. We need to send an unequivocal message to this terrorist group that it can no longer engage in despicable actions with impunity."
U.S. Treasury Department Announces New Iran Sanctions
The U.S. Treasury Department released a statement on Wednesday regarding new sanctions on Iran:
"The United States is taking a number of actions today that tighten sanctions on Iran's access to its oil revenues and further expose the Iranian government's continued abuse of human rights.
Key provisions of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (TRA)... expand the scope of sanctionable transactions with the Central Bank of Iran and designated Iranian financial institutions by restricting Iran's ability to use oil revenue held in foreign financial institutions.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury, in consultation with the U.S. Department of State, also designated one individual and four entities for their involvement in the Iranian government's censorship activities. These censorship activities restrict the free flow of information in Iran and punish Iranian citizens who are attempting to exercise freedom of assembly and expression."
Read the press release...
Iran's Supreme Leader Rejects Direct Talks with US
Iran's supreme leader has rejected proposals for direct talks with United States, quashing suggestions for a dialogue on the nuclear standoff and other issues.
Thursday's statement marks his first reaction to the proposals for the one-on-one talks, which received cautious support last week from Iran's foreign minister.
Israel's 19th Knesset Sworn In
On Tuesday, at the opening session of the 19th Knesset, the incoming 120 Knesset members declared their allegiance in the presence of President Shimon Peres. Binyamin Ben Eliezer, the most senior of the MKs sworn in to the 19th Knesset, will act as Speaker until the new Knesset elects its Speaker. Ben Eliezer: "I am one of the last of the generation that came after the founders of the state, and I have seen and am seeing a changing of the guard."
President Peres arrived at the Knesset accompanied by horsemen and motorcyclists. He reviewed the honor guard accompanied by outgoing Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. A fanfare played by the IDF military band accompanied President Peres' entry into the hall, where he opened the session. Peres addressed the plenary of the 19th Knesset, after which MK Ben Eliezer declared allegiance to the State of Israel, followed by all 120 Knesset members.
Over a third of the 19th Knesset members-48-are new, the largest turnover among MKs after a single election. The 19th Knesset will include 27 women.
Israeli Icons in Super Bowl Commercials
Two Super Bowl commercials this year featured prominent Israeli icons: model Bar Refaeli and company SodaStream.