News Digest — 1/11/21

The Knesset Bids Farewell To Ambassador David Friedman

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, headed by MK Zvi Hauser, held a special meeting Monday morning (11th) in honor of US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

MKs bid farewell to Friedman, ahead of the transition from the Trump administration to the incoming Biden administration, set for next week.

During the event, Friedman touted the Trump administration’s achievements over the past four years in strengthening the relationship between Israel and the US.

“I’m leaving my position in nine days.  It has flown by.  I can’t believe it has almost been four years since I’ve had this post – it has been more than four years since I was nominated.”

“We’ve had an extraordinary relationship, all of us, from the President of the United States with the Prime Minister, to the cabinet secretaries of the United States to their counterparts in ministries here, to all the military and intelligence personnel who don’t appear in public, but who I have had the privilege of sitting with.”

“I think we succeeded in strengthening the US-Israel relationship…in making it stronger than ever before.”

Friedman listed the Trump administration’s accomplishments concerning Israel as: “recognizing Jerusalem, Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the non-illegality of communities in Judea and Samaria, and other accomplishments.”  

“When people ask what was the most important, I struggle because I’m asked that question so often.  People say ‘What was the most important?’”

“I think that having the benefit now of four years of perspective, I do think that the most important thing that we did was what we did early on, which was recognizing the capital of Israel.  That set the right tone, the right theme for our presidency.”

“That strengthened President Trump, not just here, but throughout the world.  It strengthened him with Iran, with North Korea, because we took the position that America will stand with its friends, America will not flinch, be afraid of its enemies or those that challenge it.  America will stand for the truth and do the right thing, and if there are consequences we’ll protect our friends, our allies and our citizens.”

“Everybody thought that in the aftermath of the recognition of Jerusalem, there would be an explosion.  And they were right.  But it was an explosion of peace, not an explosion of violence.”

“From that moment forward, we had set the track in our relationship,” he added.



Israeli Military Jets, Drones Over Lebanon

Israeli military jets carried out several low-flying flights over Beirut as reconnaissance drones buzzed overhead Sunday (10th) in what has become a daily occurrence.

Israel often carries out surveillance efforts over Lebanon and Syria, where Iran is trying to cement its foothold.  Israeli strikes on Iranian assets in Syria are said to involve flights in Lebanese airspace.

According to local media, the frequency of low-flying war planes over the Lebanese capital, where the Iranian-backed Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah has several strongholds, has intensified in the last two weeks, making residents jittery as tensions run high in the region for the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Israel and Lebanon are technically at war.  Hezbollah is a sworn enemy of Israel and the two have had a series of confrontations, including a full-scale war in 2006. 

“When the drone leaves, the war planes come, when the war planes leave, the drones return, a Twitter user wrote.

Many fear conflict may erupt in the area before Trump leaves office in retaliation for the US killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in Iran last year, or to scuttle efforts by the incoming US administration to negotiate with Iran.

On Friday (8th) the Lebanese army recorded an Israeli flight that lasted nearly six hours in the country’s south.

Israel rarely comments on reports in Arab media regarding its military operations.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon says Israel enters Lebanese airspace on a daily basis.

Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah said recently that Israel’s efforts to curb his group’s ability to acquire precision-guided missiles have failed.  He boasted that Hezbollah now has twice as many such missiles as it had last year.

Israel has in recent months expressed concern that Hezbollah was trying to establish production facilities to make precision-guided missiles.



Terror Uptick Makes December Most Violent Since 2017, Israel’s National Security Agency Reports

December 2020 was the most violent month for terrorism since 2017 with overall statistics showing violence didn’t take a break during the coronavirus pandemic, Kan News reported Saturday (9th).

Statistics released by the Israel National Security Agency showed 98 serious incidents in December, 56 of them in Judea and Samaria, 38 in Jerusalem and four coming from Gaza.

In the worst attack, a Palestinian terrorist stalked and murdered Esther Horgan, 52, a mother of six who went out for an afternoon jog.

Out of the 3,951 incidents of rock-throwing by Palestinians against Israelis and security forces reported last year, only 218 indictments were filed against the perpetrators according to data from the IDF, Kan reported, noting that only 1 in 18 rock-throwing attacks resulted in an indictment.

The attacks in December by Palestinians against Israelis included pipe-bombs, small-arms fire, arson, stabbing and an increase in fire-bomb attacks from 60 incidents in November to 84 in December with Palestinians hurling Molotov cocktails – glass bottles filled with gasoline – primarily at IDF forces and Israeli vehicles traveling on the roads in Judea and Samaria.

There were also three separate incidents of terrorists in Gaza firing rockets at Israeli towns and cities.  Also in Gaza, Hamas united the different terrorist groups, and staged a mock war against Israel in the last week of December, then issued a statement saying that “All the factions are united under one word, one rifle, one missile, which will be activated simultaneously to defeat Israel.”



Abbas To Set Date For New Elections By January 20

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is expected to announce by January 20 the dates for holding elections for the PA Chairmanship, Parliament and the Palestinian National Council (the PLO’s legislative body).

Abbas met on Saturday (9th) with Dr. Hanna Nasir, chairman of the Palestinian Central Elections Committee, and discussed preparations for holding the elections.

The committee needs at least 120 days to prepare for the elections, it said Sunday (10th).  Its staff in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is ready for the general elections as soon as Abbas announces the dates, It said.

Once Abbas sets dates, several Palestinian factions will meet in Cairo to discuss issues related to the voting.

Abbas’ renewed talks about holding general elections is aimed at sending a message to the incoming US Biden administration and the European Union that the PA leadership is serious about its intention to allow Palestinians to vote.

Earlier this month, Abbas announced that Hamas has agreed to his idea of holding separate elections for the Chairmanship, Parliament and the Palestinian National Council.

Hamas had demanded that the elections of the three bodies take place at the same time.

Abbas and Hamas have said there would be no elections without the participation of east Jerusalem residents.

The last Palestinian Leadership election was held on January 9, 2005, when Abbas was elected for a four-year-term, becoming the second PA Chairman, after Yasser Arafat.

The last parliamentary election, held in January 2006, resulted in a Hamas victory and triggered a power struggle between the Gaza-based Islamist movement and Abbas’ Fatah faction.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met on Sunday (10th) in Doha with Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and discussed various issues, including preparations for holding long-overdue Palestinian general elections. 

Sources close to Hamas expressed cautious optimism regarding the prospects of holding new elections.  Even if Abbas issues “Leadership degrees” setting dates for the elections, it would take weeks, if not months, to overcome various obstacles, they said.

The main obstacle remains the PA security crackdown on Hamas members in the West Bank, the sources said.  Another obstacle is whether Israel will allow east Jerusalem residents to participate in the Palestinian elections, they added.



PA: ‘Israel Responsible For Providing Vaccine To Palestinians’

The Palestinian Authority said on Sunday (10th) that Israel is responsible for providing vaccines against the coronavirus to the Palestinians in the West Bank.

According to the PA, international laws and conventions require Israel to purchase and distribute vaccines to the Palestinian people who are living “under its military occupation.”

In addition, the authority said, it was Israel’s duty to give the vaccine to Palestinian security prisoners held in its prisons.

The PA announcement made by the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, came amid controversy surrounding Israel’s responsibility for vaccinating the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinian officials have in the last two weeks made contradictory statements as to whether the PA had asked Israel for vaccines.

PA Health Ministry officials said in late December that they did not ask Israel to provide the Palestinians with the vaccine,  The officials said they were seeking to obtain the vaccines from various companies, with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Last week, however, a senior PA official said that Palestinians were examining the possibility of asking Israel for vaccines.

Meanwhile, the PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Israel, as an “occupying power,” was obliged to provide vaccines to the Palestinians.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates affirms the duties of Israel, the occupying power, to provide vaccines against the coronavirus to the Palestinian people, at a time when it provides these vaccines to tis own citizens,” the statement read.

It warned that if Israel ignores its “duties,” this would be regarded as “racial discrimination against the Palestinian people and a denial of their right to healthcare.”

The ministry claimed that Israel was “trying to absolve itself of its duties as an occupying power, and fully blames the Palestinian government.”

Noting that the PA was making an effort to secure vaccines from various sources, the ministry said that this does not “exempt Israel from its responsibilities towards the Palestinian people in providing them with vaccines” in accordance with international laws and conventions.