News Digest — 1/17/22

Prime Minister Bennett Speaks With Texas Governor Abbott In Wake Of Synagogue Standoff

US authorities on Sunday (16th) named 44-year-old British citizen Malik Faisal as the hostage-taker in Saturday’s 11-hour standoff at a Texas synagogue.

The Dallas field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced the identification.

Four people at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville were taken hostage after a gunman entered the building during Shabbat morning services that were being livestreamed.  The livestream appeared to capture some of the incident before it was removed.

One of the hostages was released in the evening according to police.  Later in the night an elite FBI hostage rescue team breached the building and rescued the remaining captives, including the rabbi, according to local and federal officials.

Authorities said that the lone suspect died at the end of the incident. 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke with Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Sunday (16th) and thanked him for the determined and professional action by the law enforcement authorities in his state, which brought the incident to a peaceful conclusion.

Bennett told Abbott that the Israeli public anxiously followed the unfolding events and was greatly relieved that the hostage crisis ended without injury to synagogue worshipers, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.  “He further thanked the governor for his steadfast solidarity with the Jewish community in Colleyville in particular and in Texas as a whole, his support for Israel and his fight against anti-Semitism and the BDS movement.”

Bennett invited Abbott to visit Israel and the two men agreed to be in contact as necessary.



Israel Is Working To Provide Aid To Tonga After Volcano Eruption

An underwater volcano off Tonga erupted on Saturday (15th) triggering warnings of 1.2 meter tsunami waves and evacuation orders on the shores of Tonga as well as several South Pacific islands, where footage on social media showed waves crashing into coastal homes.

Internet and phone lines went down at about 6.40 p.m. local time on Saturday (15th), leaving the 105,000 residents on the island without contact.

“There are no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga as yet, although communications are limited and contact has not been established with outlying coastal areas beyond the capital Nuku’alofa and closer to the volcano,” Jacinda Ardern the Prime Minister of New Zealand told a news conference on Sunday (16th).

Tonga, an island nation, lies 1,481 miles northeast of New Zealand.

“Israel is exploring options to provide aid to Tonga after the archipelago was hit by the volcano and tsunami,” said Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday (16th).

“On behalf of the people of Israel, I send my heartfelt sympathy to the people of Tonga impacted by the volcanic eruption and tsunami,” tweeted Lapid.  “Israel is exploring options to provide assistance, including ensuring access to safe drinking water, through our aid agency Mashav.”

MASHAV was launched in 1957 to provide humanitarian aid and to share Israeli expertise in a variety of topics with developing nations to help train professionals in medicine development, education and agriculture.

Tsunami-hit Tonga remained largely uncontactable on Sunday (16th) with communications severed, leaving relatives in faraway New Zealand praying for their families on the Pacific islands.

Australia sent a P8 surveillance aircraft to Tonga Monday (17th) to assess the damage to critical infrastructure, such as ports, roads and power lines, to determine a response.

In the US, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the country stands prepared to provide support to the country also.



Israeli Air Force, US Military Hold Joint Aerial Drill Over Negev

The Israeli Defense Forces and the American military’s Central Command held a joint aerial exercise over southern Israel last week simulating airstrikes and mid-air dogfights, the IDF said Sunday (16th).

The exercise, dubbed “Desert Falcon,” was the latest one held by the IDF and the Middle East-based CENTCOM, after Israel officially moved into the latter’s area of responsibility last year.  Before then, the IDF had worked predominantly with the US European Command, as Washington feared that Arab countries in the region would oppose cooperation with Centcom if Israel did so.

According to the IDF, Israeli pilots from the 119th Squadron operating F-16 fighter jets and intelligence gathering Gulfstream G550 planes flew alongside American pilots from the 55th Fighter Squadron operating F-16 jets against the IAF’s so-called “Red Squadron,” which uses F-16 jets, helicopters and other equipment to simulate enemy forces.  The exercise was conducted out of the IAF’s Ovda Air Base, just north of Eilat, and was held primarily in the airspace over the Negev Desert.

“The Israeli air teams flew ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ with American teams and simulated joint responses to aerial threats and strikes on targets, through education, cooperation and mutual growth,” the IDF said.

“The exercise represents an important milestone in the strengthening of international-strategic cooperation between Israel and the American Air Force, and it contributes to the  readiness of our troops,” the Israeli military said.

Though partially a symbolic move, including Israel in CENTCOM is meant to allow easier direct communications between the IDF and American troops in the region and, through the US, including other militaries as well.

In November, for instance, the Israeli Navy participated in a major CENTCOM maritime exercise led by the US 5th Fleet, alongside the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

In the intermediate term, this is largely intended to improve the IDF’s ability to cooperate with the US and other countries in the Middle East to counter Iran.

CENTCOM officially assumed responsibility for the military’s relationship with Israel last September, though Israel has continued holding exercises with the US European Command.



Report: Putin To Host Iranian President In Moscow Next Week

Russian President Vladimir Putin Will Host Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for talks in Moscow next week as Russia tries to help salvage a nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran, state television channel Rossiya-1 reported on Sunday (16th).  

Rossiya-1 did not disclose when precisely the meeting between the two leaders would take place, nor the issues they would discuss.

Russia is taking part in talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which lifted some sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.

Former US President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the deal in 2018.  Iran later breached many of the deal’s nuclear restrictions and kept pushing beyond them.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday (14th) that progress had been made in the talks to revive the deal.

The report of Raisi’s upcoming visit to Moscow came after loud blasts were heard in several cities in western Iran early on Sunday (16th), according to local news agencies and postings on social media, but the nature of the blasts was not immediately known.

After several similar incidents in recent months, authorities said that the Iranian military was holding unannounced air defense drills amid rising tensions with Israel and the United States.



Iranian General: Members Of Saudi Royal Family Are Descendants Of Jews Who Fought Muhammad

In a speech on January 7, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy said that the ruling royal family of Saudi Arabia were actually Jewish, and that their conflict with Iran harkens back to the 7th century battles between Muslim and Jewish tribes.

The speech was aired on Iran’s Bushehr TV and translated by MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute.

“We cannot bear to see injustice in a Muslim country that is perpetrated by the Zionists and the seed of the Jews,” the commander, Gen. Alireza Tangsiri, said in a video recording of his speech.

“[We cannot bear to see] that Muslims are being slaughtered by people who call themselves Christians but are not,” he added, seeming to refer to the US’s assassination of former IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.

“These are the very same Jews – and I’d better say Zionists – whose hearts have never aligned with Islam, and even with the Prophet in his time,” he said, probably referring to Saudi Arabia.

“The grudge that the enemies harbored towards Hajj Soleimani resembles their grudge towards Imam Hussein in Karbala,” he said, referring to the son of Ali, the first imam of Shia Muslims, and to the battle in which he was killed, which became a formative event for Shia Islam.

“This grudge still exists,” he said.

The Iranian leadership is Shia, as opposed to that of Saudi Arabia, which is Sunni.

Tangsiri then mentioned other battles in which early Muslims fought local Jewish tribes, who were only Muslim “by name.”

“Is the Saud clan really Muslim? They are the same Jews who were in Arabia back then,” he concluded.

The House of Saud has been the ruling royal family of Saudi Arabia since 1744, composed of the descendants of Muhammad bin Saud and his brothers.

Iranian rhetoric against the US and Israel has been more fiery than usual in recent weeks due in part to the two-year anniversary of the January 3, 2020 killing of Soleimani in a US drone strike in Iraq.

On Wednesday (12th), an animation depicting the assassination of former US President Donald Trump was publish on the official website of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The video, entitled “Revenge is Inevitable” depicts Iran taking “revenge against the murderers and those who ordered the martyrdom of Soleimani,” according to the website description.  The video was created as part of a contest commemorating the deceased general.