News Digest — 1/19/24

IDF Strikes Islamic Jihad Leader Released In Gilad Shalit Deal

Deputy Head Of Propaganda for terror organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Wael Makin  Abdallah Fanounah, was targeted and killed by the IDF in an airstrike on Thursday (18th), the military announced on Friday (19th) in a joint statement with the Israeli Security Service (Shin Bet).

Fanounah was originally arrested in Israel on December 12, 1989, and was sentenced to three life terms for his terrorist activities but was released in 2011, as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner deal.

Fanounah then served as deputy to Khalil al-Hayya, the Northern Gaza Strip Commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  Since 2017, before assuming his role as deputy head of the organization’s  Propaganda Unit, Fanounah was responsible for producing terror videos related to rocket attacks on Israeli territory and creating and disseminating documentation of Israeli captives as part of the psychological warfare conducted by terror groups in Gaza against Israeli residents.

IDF troops are continuing to operate within Gaza, coordinating with the Israeli Air Force to conduct precise strikes based on the information received from the ground.

Soldiers from the 179th Armored Brigade “Ram” came under fire from terrorists armed with RPGs in central Gaza on Thursday (18th).  Subsequently, the soldiers scanned the area and the structure where the terrorists were operating, discovering RPG launchers, Kalashnikov rifles, and military equipment.

In the northern sector of Gaza, the 5th “Sharon” (reserve) Infantry Brigade neutralized several armed terrorists involved in recent attacks on IDF troops that occurred in northern Gaza.  The soldiers attacked and killed the militants with the assistance of tank fire and aerial support from the Air Force.



Prime Minister Netanyahu: ‘Stopping War Now Will Harm Israeli Security For Generations’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a press conference on Thursday (18th), during which he clarified that Israel has no intention of stopping the war against Hamas in Gaza until the terror organization is eradicated.

“Contrary to what they say, the war continues on all fronts, and the war will continue on all fronts until we reach all of our goals – we will destroy the evil of Hamas,” Netanyahu stated.

He added, “In the past 48 hours our troops have been fighting fierce battles in Gaza and have eliminated hundreds of terrorists.  We destroyed a giant facility for manufacturing rockets, and it’s not the only one.  The war continues on all fronts and will continue until we reach all of our goals.”

“Victory will take additional long months, but we are bent on obtaining it.  We strive for a total victory,” the Prime Minister declared.

He noted: “While our soldiers are sacrificing their lives to complete the victory against Hamas, I hear that there are those in the news studios who claim that it is impossible to win and others who are trying to weaken them.  I reject this outright, Israel under my leadership will not allow anything less than victory over Hamas.  Stopping the war before reaching its goals will harm Israeli security for generations.”

“Total victory requires the elimination of Hamas’ leaders, the annihilation of Hamas, the return of the hostages, the disarming of Gaza, and Israeli control over everything that enters the Gaza Strip – those are our basic conditions for the day after.  I wish to emphasize: the day after is the day after the elimination of Hamas, and it will be achieved when we stay unified.”

He affirmed: “I pledge, for the sake of our troops, the bereaved families, and the families of the hostages, we will not stop and we will not finish the war before total victory and the return of our loved ones.”  



Hezbollah Refuses To Implement UN Resolution 1701, To Withdraw From Israeli Border

Hezbollah has rejected the Israeli demand, put forward by Washington, that it move its forces away from Israel’s northern border in order to tamp down the current, low-scale fighting between the two sides, Reuters reported Thursday (18th).

The report said US negotiator Amos Hochstein had posed the idea, as well as others, to Lebanese officials in his indirect talks with the Iranian terror proxy in Beirut last week.  Citing an unnamed Lebanese official, the report said that all the proposals had been shot down, with the official calling them unrealistic.

While the terror group, which is an official part of the Lebanese government, says it will not stop its rocket fire on Israel until a ceasefire is declared in the Gaza Strip, “Hezbollah is ready to listen” regarding other possibilities to prevent all-out war with the Jewish state, the senior official said.

Hezbollah has been showing its support for Hamas by raining a drizzle of rockets almost every day since the Gaza terror group Hamas sparked a war by invading Israel on October 7 and massacring 1,200  people in the worst attack on the Jewish state in its history.

Earlier this month, Hezbollah stepped up its air attacks, targeting an Israeli air defense base, and the IDF Northern Command headquarters in addition to the dozens of towns and villages that Israel had evacuated, moving tens of thousands of people to greater safety in hotels and guest houses further south.

Most of the rockets have been shot down by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, and all terrorist attempts to infiltrate the border on the ground with small teams of fighters, and through the air using UAVs, have been repelled.  The IDF has also retaliated strongly, with the IDF announcing recently that it had destroyed 750 Hezbollah targets in the last three months, including many rocket launching sites and command centers.

Hezbollah itself has admitted to the loss of some 180 of its men in these counter attacks.

Still some 20 Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers have been killed

Hezbollah has been using anti-tank fire, which can hit targets up to eight kilometers away.  While it packs a much smaller punch than rockets, these projectiles fly low, quickly, and on a straight line rather than in an arc, so Israel’s defense systems cannot strike them down in mid-air.

This is one of the reasons Israel has been insisting that Beirut finally implement the internationally-binding UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War.  The resolution calls for a full cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, disarmament of the terror group, and its replacement in southern Lebanon with Lebanese Army troops and UN peace-keeping forces. 

Hezbollah was to withdraw to areas beyond the Litani River in Lebanon.  However, although part of the River meanders eight or more kilometers away from the border, its course also takes it much closer in several areas, meaning that the danger from anti-tank fire would not be completely eliminated.



Pro-Israel, Anti-Iranian Banners Hung In Tehran City Center

In the center of Iran’s capital of Tehran, citizens hung banners reading “We stand with Israel” and other anti-regime messages on Thursday (18th).

Citizens also displayed banners reading “Vahid is our voice,” a reference to Vahid Beheshti.  Beheshti is an anti-regime activist who recently visited Israel and spoke in the Knesset.

“Soon you will have to deal with the elephant in the room, which is the Iranian government, and you should not be afraid of attacking Iranian bases in Iran.  This is the only language they understand,” Beheshti told the Knesset Israel Victory Caucus on January 2nd.  “The good news is that you have an army of 80 million Iranians who are thirsty for freedom and democracy, who since 2009 have been trying to overthrow the government but have not yet succeeded, because of the barbaric violence of the Iranian regime.  If you support the Iranian people, you will see how they will lower the head of the octopus and we will all experience peace.”

“The Iranian government is at its greatest weakness in 44 years.  They were aware of the attack on the 7th of October in advance, they thought that after the terrible attack, they would achieve a total ceasefire within two months, but it did not happen.  Help us overthrow the government, try to imagine what the Middle East would look like without the Iranian government, just imagine,” Beheshti concluded. 

Following the hanging of the banners in Tehran on Thursday (18th) Beheshti said: “Once again, the brave people of Iran risked their lives and sent a clear message about their unequivocal support towards the people of Israel, and towards my messages following my five -day visit to israel, in which I spoke at the Israeli Parliament (Knesset), and conveyed the message of the people of Iran.”



How Israelis Lost Empathy For Palestinians  – Dr. Michael Milstein

The October 7 massacre and the war that followed undermined many basic assumptions that prevailed in Israel: it became clear that those who were not considered an existential threat to the state caused one of the most serious atrocities.  Until October 7, there was a perception among some Israelis that the majority of Palestinians in Gaza are different from Hamas, which controls them through fear and oppression, and that they share a universal human longing for a good life.  This led to the assumption that by improving their situation it would be possible to ensure security stability.

The horrors of Oct. 7 shattered these perceptions.  Thousands of the Gazan public took an active part in the massacres, kidnappings, rape and looting, and participated in the victory celebrations that included abuse of the kidnapped and the bodies of Israelis.  The testimonies of survivors and hostages  describe teenagers who participated in the war crimes, women who had held hostages, and bargaining by civilians with Hamas members for the sale of Israeli captives.

In addition, the reality revealed by the IDF in Gaza showed the presence of weapons, tunnel shafts and rocket launchers in many homes, embodying the merger of the civilian and military realms into a single entity whose focus is jihad against Israel.  Israelis understand that the broad Gazan public sympathizes with Hamas.  It is therefore not surprising that the long-standing distinction made by Israelis between the Gazan public and Hamas, let alone the empathy expressed for their suffering in the past, have greatly diminished.

Israelis are required to recognize that there is a profound cultural difference between the two communities when it comes to morality, truth, acceptance of the “other” and the value of human life.  For change to occur, it would only come from within Palestinian society.  In the meantime, Israel must establish a buffer between the two communities in a way that will not compromise its security.

The writer is head of the Palestinian Studies Forum at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University  



Demolition Of The ‘Tree Of Life Synagogue’ Begins

Demolition got underway Wednesday (17th) at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the site of the deadliest anti-semitic attack in U.S history, as part of the effort to reimagine the building to honor the 11 people who were killed there in 2018.

The demolition work began slowly,with crews picking away at the building’s exterior.

Most of the building will be removed, although portions of the sanctuary walls will be preserved.  The new building will include spaces for worship, a museum, an education center, and a movie theater.

Carole Zawatsky who heads the new nonprofit overseeing the project, was at the site as demolition began.  She said she had a mix of emotions, including feeling bittersweet knowing why the old building was being demolished but also feeling tremendous excitement about seeing the project moving forward.  It was sobering and a physical manifestation of healing, she said.

“The building has held decades of important moments, including weddings, weekly services, and bar and bat mitzvahs,” said Alan Hausman, the president of the Tree of Life.  “To see it be demolished is difficult, but it also lays the foundation for the beginning of groundbreaking work the congregation hopes to accomplish,” he said.

Andrew Stewart’s family has belonged to the synagogue for more than 60 years.  His bar mitzvah was one of the first events held in the social hall, which was the last addition to the main building and was one of the first sections to be demolished.

“The synagogue means so much to so many.  It’s an institution in the community,” said Stewart, who was the chairman of the construction working group.  “It’s time to say goodbye to it, to let go of it and to create something that is fitting to memorialize the lives that were tragically lost and – more – to create worship space and to bring forth an institution that can make a dent in hatred and can help educate people about anti-Semitism.

The October 27, 2018, attack claimed the lives of 11 worshipers from three congregations meeting at the synagogue – Dor Hadash, New Light, and Tree of Life.  The three have been meeting at nearby synagogues since then.

In a related project, a memorial to the victims is being planned for a site just outside the synagogue.  The process of planning that memorial was left to representatives of the congregations and victims families.

The design calls for a walkway that will lead visitors into a garden memorial with 11 sculptured forms of open books, each representing one of the people who were killed.   They are to represent the “Book of Life”, where, according to Jewish tradition, the righteous are named.

The man who killed the congregants was sentenced to death last year, after the conclusion of a long-delayed federal trial.