News Digest — 1/13/21

US Official: Target Of Syrian Airstrike Was Used For Iraq’s Nuclear Program

Airstrikes near the Syria-Iraq border early Wednesday (13th) targeted sites used for Iran’s nuclear program, a senior US Intelligence official told AlJazeera Wednesday (13th).

According to the official, American Intelligence was used to execute the strike, which was aimed at a warehouse used to transfer and store advanced nuclear weapons, as well as dispatch materials used in Iran’s nuclear weapons development program.

Syrian state TV attributed to Israel the series of airstrikes that targeted several sites near the Iraqi border, saying that the area bombed has been hit before and is used by Iran as the main route to deliver weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and pro-Iranian militias in Syria.

According to the SANA News Agency, the strikes hit the areas of Albu Kamal and Deir Ezzor.  The damage was “still being assessed,” the report said.

The IDF had no comment on the report.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights later said that some 16 people were killed in the raid, adding that at least 18 strikes had targeted bases and other assets used by the pro-Iranian militias in the area.

Wednesday’s (13th) strike follows a reported Israeli raid on targets near Damascus last week.

The IDF has launched hundreds of airstrikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011, in accordance with Israel’s policy stating it will not allow Iran to establish a military presence near its northern borders.  Over the past decade, Tehran has increased its efforts to transport advanced weapons to the Lebanese-based Hezbollah, its primary regional proxy.



Iran Is ‘The New Home Base’ Of Al-Qaeda, Says Pompeo

WASHINGTON — Iran has given a new operational headquarters to al-Qaeda, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday (12th).  He added that the Islamic Republic is “the new home base” for the terror group.  “Tehran gives sanctuary to the terror group’s senior leaders as they plan attacks against America and our allies,” Pompeo added.  He noted that since 2015, “Tehran has allowed al-Qaeda figures in the country to freely communicate with other al-Qaeda members and perform many functions that were previously directed from Afghanistan and Pakistan, including authorization for attacks, propaganda and fundraising.”

Pompeo went on to say that the Iran-al-Qaeda axis poses a grave threat to the security of nations and to the American homeland itself.  The outgoing Secretary of State announced that the administration is designating two Iran-based al-Qaeda leaders, Muhammad Abbatay and Sultan Yusuf Hasan al-’Arif as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists.”

Several leaders of the al-Qaeda Kurdish Battalions (AQKB), an al-Qaeda-linked group that operates on the border between Iran and Iraq, were designated as well.  These terrorists were identified as Ismail Fuad Rasul Ahmed, Fuad Ahmad Nuri Ali al-Shakhan, and Niamat Hama Rahim Hama Sharif.

“As a result of these designations, US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with these individuals and their property – and interests in property subject to US jurisdiction, are blocked,” said Pompeo.  “In addition, it is a crime to knowingly provide, or conspire to provide material support or resources to al-Qaeda.”



Gantz At Syrian Border: ‘We Do Not Sit And Wait, We Act’

Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited the 210th Division and the coronavirus testing complex in the Golan Heights on Tuesday (12th), together with Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, Head of the Northern Command, Maj.-Gen. Amir Baram, Commander of the 210th Division, Brig.-Gen. Roman Goffman and Commander of the Northern District of the Home Front Command Col. Guy Berger.

The defense minister went up to the observation post on the Syrian front, where he was presented with a review of the IDF’s planned strategy of action from the division commander, and held a dialogue with the brigade commanders.

At the end of the visit, Gantz said that “We continue to be vigilant at all our borders.  We have acted and will continue to act against anyone who tries to challenge us from near or far.  We do not sit and wait.  We act on security, we act politically and we act economically.”

“Our enemies are not interested in the coronavirus or the elections.  I will do everything to ensure that Israel has a leadership that is engaged 24/7 in Israel’s security, health and in advancing the necessary processes in the region,” Gantz added.

Later in the tour, he visited the Golan Heights regional coronavirus testing complex, where he met with local council heads from Katzrin, Majdal Shams, Buqata, Ein Qiniyye, Mas’ade, and Golan.

Gantz spoke with them about their response to the coronavirus and the assistance programs provided by the defense establishment to fight morbidity and encourage compliance with quarantine guidelines.

After visiting the testing complex, Gantz said “This is still the time of coronavirus.  I urge everyone to continue to follow the guidelines, get tested and get vaccinated.  The virus does not differentiate between sectors.”

On vaccinations, Gantz said that “As I previously demanded, we will start the teachers’ vaccination Wednesday (13th).  All arguments on the topic are background noises that should not be allowed to interfere.”

“Hopefully we will convene the Coronavirus Cabinet in the coming days and consider bringing the education system back into full action the first moment possible – we will try to do so soon,” he added.



Blind Man Regains Sight Thanks To Israel Startup’s Synthetic Cornea

A 78-year-old man who has been blind in both eyes for 10 years has regained his sight after receiving the first implant of an artificial cornea developed by Israeli startup CorNeat, the company announced Monday (11th).

The CorNeat KPro implant is designed to replace deformed, scarred or opacified corneas, and it integrates with the eye wall with no reliance on donor tissue.

Professor Irit Bahar, head of the Ophthalmology Department at Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva, performed the procedure.

Once the bandages were removed, the patient was able to recognize family members and read text.

“The surgical procedure was straightforward and the result exceeded all of our expectations.  The moment we took off the bandages was emotional and significant.  Moments like these are the fulfillment of our calling as doctors.  We are proud of being at the forefront of this exciting and meaningful project which will undoubtedly impact the lives of millions,” Bahar said.

CorNeat KPro inventor and company co-founder Dr. Gilad Litvin said, “Unveiling this first implanted eye and being in that room, in that moment, was surreal.”

“After years of hard work, seeing a colleague implant the CorNeat KPro with ease, and witnessing a fellow human being regain his sight the following day was electrifying and emotionally moving, there were a lot of tears in the room.”



Restaurants In Portland Vandalized With “Free Palestine” Graffiti

Several Israeli-affiliated restaurants were vandalized with “free Palestine” graffiti over the weekend in Portland, Oregon, local media reported.

The Portland Police Bureau is reportedly investigating three separate incidents of such restaurants being vandalized at around the same time.  These included a vegan hummus restaurant with an Israeli chef, Tal Caspi, called Aviv, and two branches of Shalom Y’all, a restaurant that specializes in Mediterranean food, including shawarma and falafel.

Some of the graffiti spray-painted on the restaurants read: “Free Palestine,” “Hummus not Israeli,” “Falafel is from Palestine” and “Murder,” according to photos posted on social media.

Kasey Mills, Jamal Hassan and Laura Amans, the restaurant owners, described the assaults as anti-Semitic.

Ironically, the restaurants do not consider themselves exclusively Israeli, with the manager at Aviv telling local media that “most employees aren’t from Israel.”  He said, the restaurant had recently removed the word “Israeli” from its signs, trying to distance itself from any political issue.

Vandalism and other acts of blind hatred toward Jewish and Israeli restaurants seem to be becoming more frequent.  In October a kosher restaurant in Paris was defaced and vandalized with Nazi slogans.

And it seems that not being directly connected to Israeli politics is no longer enough to avoid being blindly accused of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But what can you expect from people who don’t even bother checking the origin of falafel?