Netanyahu in hot water over praise of Trump’s wall

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to his Croatian counterpart Andrej Plenkovic (unseen) as they deliver joint statements in Jerusalem, in this January 24, 2017 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 30 January 2017
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Netanyahu in hot water over praise of Trump’s wall

JERUSALEM: When Benjamin Netanyahu sent a tweet in support of President Donald Trump's plan for a wall along the Mexican border, the Israeli prime minister can barely have expected it would be retweeted 40,000 times and cause a backlash at home and abroad.
Already under arguably the greatest pressure he has faced in his 11 years as prime minister, with police questioning him in two criminal probes into abuse of office, aligning himself with Trump may further undermine his standing.
The tweet, sent from his personal account shortly before the Jewish sabbath officially ended on Saturday, was very clear: "President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great Success. Great idea," Netanyahu wrote, appending pictures of the Israeli and US flags alongside each other.
Netanyahu was referring to a steel fence Israel has built along its border with Egypt, mainly to keep out migrants fleeing conflicts in Africa, including Somalis, Sudanese and Eritreans.
Israel has also built a steel-and-concrete barrier along its border with the occupied West Bank, which it says is to prevent militants crossing into Israel. Palestinians see the barrier, which has drawn international condemnation, as a land grab.
On the one hand, Trump's election as president was seen as a blessing for Netanyahu, the first time in four terms as prime minister that he would have a Republican in the White House.
As well as the Republicans being more ideologically aligned with Netanyahu's right-wing coalition, Trump has already shown a willingness to turn a blind eye to Israel's settlement building in the West Bank, which Barack Obama's administration frequently criticized, casting a pall over US-Israeli ties.
On the other hand, Trump is an unpredictable actor who in just nine days in office has sewn division across the US and shocked capitals around the world with a series of executive actions that are overturning decades of US policy.
The adverse reaction to Netanyahu's tweet, which was retweeted by Trump and drew far more attention than Netanyahu's tweets usually do as a result, appeared to be an early sign of the danger Netanyahu faces with aligning himself with Trump.
The Mexican government was outraged that he would involve himself in what it regards as a bilateral issue.
"The Foreign Ministry expressed to the government of Israel, via its ambassador in Mexico, its profound astonishment, rejection and disappointment over Prime Minister Netanyahu's message," the ministry said in a statement.
"Mexico is a friend of Israel and should be treated as such by its prime minister."
Dan Shapiro, who served as ambassador to Israel under Obama until nine days ago and still lives in the country, ditched diplomacy to question Netanyahu's motives in sending the tweet.
"Hard to explain this intervention on a hotly debated issue in domestic US politics. Unless this endorsement is Trump's demand of Netanyahu for something Netanyahu wants," he wrote on Twitter, suggesting it may be linked to Trump's promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
"To me, it looks like Trump is already squeezing Netanyahu hard."
Opposition politician Yair Lapid, who is ahead of Netanyahu in recent opinion polls, was also scathing. Whereas Lapid has shied away from criticizing Netanyahu over the police investigations into him, this time he didn't hold back: "A serious mistake by Netanyahu," Lapid tweeted in Hebrew.
"It is a needless declaration of war on Mexico and Hispanics and a rupture with the Democrats (including the majority of US Jews). It doesn't matter what we think of the wall, don't we have enough troubles of our own?"
Though Netanyahu has not deleted the tweet, Israel's Foreign Ministry immediately sought to nuance its content.
The prime minister was referring to Israel's "specific security experience", the Foreign Ministry spokesman said, adding: "We do not express a position on US-Mexico relations."


In Jordan’s ancient Petra, sirens warn of flash floods

Updated 37 min 55 sec ago
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In Jordan’s ancient Petra, sirens warn of flash floods

  • Earlier this month, sirens blared minutes before a torrent fed by heavy rains approached the UNESCO World Heritage site
  • The last fatal flash flood struck Petra in 1963 when 22 French tourists and a local guide were killed by rapidly rising waters

PETRA, Jordan: In ancient times, Arab tribesmen dug diversion tunnels to protect their low-lying trading post of Petra against desert flash floods. More than two millennia later, an alarm system warns visitors if flood water rushes toward what has become Jordan’s main tourist attraction.
Earlier this month, the alarms were activated for the first time, said Hussein Al-Hasanat of the Petra Development & Tourism Region Authority. Sirens blared minutes before a torrent fed by heavy rains approached the UNESCO World Heritage site carved into rose-hued rock face.
Hundreds of tourists were able to seek higher ground and were later evacuated, he said.
Amateur video posted online at the time showed visitors running through a steep, narrow canyon leading to the Treasury, Petra’s main draw, as guides urged them to hurry. Later, visitors were seen standing on a higher patch near the Treasury as knee-high water poured through the canyon.
Elsewhere in Jordan, such alarms are still missing. Thirty-four people were killed in flash floods in late September and early November.
The last fatal flash flood struck Petra in 1963 when 22 French tourists and a local guide were killed by rapidly rising waters. In response, Jordan’s Department of Antiquities built a dam to keep water from entering the canyon leading to the Treasury.
In 2014, the alarm system was installed as added protection, with sirens set to go off when flood water rises above four meters (yards).
On Nov. 9, the system was triggered for the first time, through a computer in the Petra Authority’s control room. The computer is connected to eight rain forecast systems and two water detection stations placed in the area, within 8 kilometers (5 miles) of Petra.
The network generates instant data allowing officials to measure possible danger and warn people by the time the water reaches Petra.
Omar Dajani, a meteorologist at the Arabia Weather company, said alarms should be installed in all vulnerable areas in Jordan.
He said urban sprawl has exacerbated the flood risk, which is particularly high in dry areas.
“Now towns have spread so much and many of them were not built with respect for the geography of the region, such as valleys for example, where the water has naturally caused floods for millions of years,” Dajani said.