Israel has greenlighted plans for over 8,000 new homes in the West Bank, with over a third for “immediate” construction, the defense minister revealed on Sunday, making it the largest expansion of Jewish settlements in the area in 25 years.
According to Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, 3,651 settlements were approved last week, Haaretz reports. The minister noted that “What we’ve approved on June 6 and 7 is the maximum that can be approved.”
Plans for 8,345 new housing units have been approved by the Israeli authorities so far this year, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency writes, citing Liebermann. Out of these, 3,066 have been given final approval and will soon be built.
“The numbers for the first half of 2017 are the highest since 1992,” Lieberman said, as cited by local media and news agencies.
The defense minister also praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for its aggressive stance on expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
“There was no better government in terms of settlement construction,” he said, according to Haaretz.
For some, however, the plans appear to fall short of expectations.
“I respect the defense minister very much but unfortunately the numbers he mentioned aren’t correct,” Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council, said, according to the newspaper. According to Dagan, most of the approved units “are counted five or six times,” essentially putting the “real number” under 2,000 housing units.
However, according to Lieberman, pushing for more would “stretch the rope beyond its limit, and thus put the entire settlement enterprise at risk.”
Nearly 400,000 Jewish settlers are estimated to be living in the West Bank along with 2.8 million Palestinians. Another 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, an area claimed by Palestinians.
The construction of settlements in the region is considered illegal under international law. The international community has long voiced concerns over the controversial constructions while condemning the deteriorating security situation between Israelis and Palestinians.
The government of Israel stopped building official settlements in 1992, according to Israeli monitoring group Peace Now. That, however, did not stop the construction of unauthorized settlements in the West Bank.
Anti-ballistic missile technology will be the focus of continued military cooperation between the US and Israel, as both militaries prepare to test an Arrow 3 missile from Alaska in late summer or early fall, marking a first in the long-time close relationship between Israel and the US.
The US Missile Defense Agency and Israel will carry out the test on Kodiak, a remote island about 400 miles from the state capital of Anchorage, to ensure maximal safety in the event that the missile ends up producing unwanted shrapnel, Jerusalem Online reported.
The US could stand to gain quite a bit for its missile defense if the Arrow 3 winds up fulfilling its task. The Pentagon’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD) has been nothing short of a colossal failure. The Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog, issued a report on the GMD, stating that it “has demonstrated a limited capability to defend the US Homeland from small numbers of simple intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic missile threats launched from North Korea or Iran.”
The idea behind the Arrow 3 is to thwart Iranian Shahab-3 intermediate range missiles, Defense News reported in January, when Moshe Patel of the Israel Missile Defense Organization announced that Arrow 3 had become operational. In September 2016, Washington pledged to send $5 billion to Israel over the period spanning fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2028, the news outlet added.
Jerusalem Online noted that Arrow 3 operates in the exosphere, implying that even if a ballistic missile was armed with a nuclear warhead, the explosion would be predominantly muted with little effect to populations and infrastructure on the ground. Arrow 3 may eventually be used to destroy satellites in outer space, the news outlet said.