Kidnapping crisis puts focus on Hamas terrorism, Palestinian unity deal


Israeli authorities on Monday expanded their search for three teenagers thought to have been abducted by terrorists last week, as Israeli and U.S. officials converged on the assessment that elements from the Palestinian Hamas faction - which recently came together with its long-time rivals in the Fatah faction to agree to a single unity government - were behind the crime. The unity pact had been defended by Fatah leaders and by swaths of the international community as a necessary prerequisite to establishing a robust peace deal with Jerusalem, and had been blasted by Israeli leaders for among other things emboldening Hamas and providing it with a lifeline. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had in the aftermath of the kidnappings linked the act to a reinvigorated Hamas. Secretary of State John Kerry had over the weekend joined Netanyahu in emphasizing that there were "many indications point[ing] to Hamas' involvement," a stance echoed Monday by State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki. Meanwhile both The New York Times and the Times of Israel quoted multiple top Fatah and PA figures seeking to assure the Israelis and the international community that in fact they were engaged in trying to repair the situation, opposite a range of indicators suggesting that mid-level Fatah officials supported the kidnappings. Fatah leaders who spoke to the Times of Israel went so far as to assure veteran Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff that they would abrogate the unity pact guiding the sitting cabinet if it turned out that Hamas was responsible for the abductions. By Monday night Reuters reported that  Netanyahu was "prepar[ing] Israel for a long drawn-out operation to find three missing teenagers as troops expanded the search into a crackdown on" Hamas.


A Monday morning interview between Yahoo! News and Secretary of State John Kerry generated a firestorm of controversy - along with a series of retractions and clarifications from various Obama administration officials - after Kerry seemed to imply to interviewer Katie Couric that he was open to cooperating militarily with Iran to halt an ongoing Iraqi offensive by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Asked whether he could see the U.S. "cooperating with Iran militarily" against the Al Qaeda offshoot, Kerry responded "I wouldn’t rule out anything that would be constructive to" a range of possibilities and conditions. His remarks came a few days after murmurs started emerging in corners of the foreign policy community - and more pointedly from the State Department - suggesting that the U.S. might benefit by cooperating with Iran in suppressing ISIS. The policy argument has a long pedigree stretching back to the immediate post-Sept. 11 era, but had fallen out of use after a decade of intelligence revealed that Iran had actively destabilized Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently the State Department's 2014 country-by-country terrorism report had assessed that "despite its pledge to support Iraq’s stabilization, Iran trained, funded, and provided guidance to Iraqi Shia militant groups" and further emphasized that Iran was even facilitating the transit of Sunni jihadists. Nonetheless over the weekend leaks started to emerge that Washington would indeed seek to engage Tehran on sectarian violence in Iraq. Analysts were blunt with their criticism. Washington Institute Managing Director Michael Singh described the move as "misguided" and later expanded that "more Iranian involvement will inflame sectarian tensions," declaring that the U.S. needed "less Iranian involvement in regional conflicts, not more." Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Michael Doran was even harsher, emphasizing on a policy level that U.S. intelligence had linked Iran to ISIS and on a geopolitical level that engagement risked abandoning long-time U.S. allies. The Pentagon quickly and flatly denied the possibility, with Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby telling journalists "there is absolutely no intention and no plan to coordinate military activity between the United States and Iran ... there are no plans to have consultations with Iran about military activities in Iraq." By the early afternoon State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki was walking back some of Kerry's statements, declaring that "we’re not talking about coordinating any military action in Iraq with Iran." By the middle of the afternoon veteran Associated Press diplomatic correspondent Matt Lee dryly noted that while Kerry did not rule out U.S.-Iran military cooperation, "everyone else in Washington does."


As talks between Iran and the P5+1 global powers resumed this week in Vienna, the Los Angeles Times published comments from one senior State Department official stating that “significant gaps” remain between the parties and that the administration “[does] not have illusions about how difficult it will be to close those gaps” in order to reach a comprehensive deal by the time that the July 20 deadline set by the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) passes. Negotiations have in recent weeks reportedly stumbled over issues ranging from uranium enrichment capacity to Tehran’s refusal to come clean over past military dimensions (PMDs) of its nuclear program. Among the sticking points facing negotiators this week will be the amount of centrifuges and the stockpile of enriched uranium that the Iranians will be allowed to maintain, as well as the fate of the Islamic republic’s heavy water production facility at Arak. Top Iranian officials have threatened to reverse Tehran’s concessions on uranium enrichment if a deal is not reached by July 20. The Associated Press on Saturday conveyed remarks from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that “the sanctions regime has been broken” and “conditions will never go back to the past.”


Bonus Biogroup, a regenerative medicine company in Israel, has found a way to grow human bone from a patient’s own fat, culled during liposuction. Following successful pre-clinical testing, clinical trials will begin within the next year in Europe or in Israel on applications ranging from growing bones for dental surgery to replacing bone tissue lost through trauma or illness. The new innovation pioneered by Bonus evolved from years of research and development at the NASDAQ-traded company Pluristem Therapeutics, which Meretzki founded previously. The technology involves extracting stem cells from a person’s own fat tissues, and transferring them to a special matrix that coaxes the cells to grow into real human bone. The impact could be enormous. Bone transplantation following hip and knee injuries and fractures amounts to two million bone grafts costing some $15 billion a year. A second application with winning potential is in grafting bone for making dental implants. When the technology is made available, perhaps four years down the line, a bone graft is expected to cost several thousand dollars, most of which should be covered by healthcare insurance. Bonus founder and CEO Shai Meretzki says he is indebted to contributions in the field from leading Israeli research centers such as the Technion Institute of Technology and the Weizmann Institute of Science, as well as biomedical researchers around the world. Meanwhile, Meretzki’s Pluristem, a company specializing in stem-cell regenerative medicine, is now in advanced clinical trials on its first product for treating arterial disease. (via Israel21c

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