News Digest — 1/22/21

Syrian Media Reports Israeli Airstrikes Near Western City Of Hama

Syrian state media reported Israeli airstrikes near the western city of Hama in the pre-dawn hours of Friday morning (22nd).

Syrian official news agency SANA said Syria’s air defenses confronted “Israeli aggression” near the city.

The agency quoted a military source as saying the attack had come from the direction of the city of Tripoli on Lebanon’s coast.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damages.

The Israel Defense Forces did not immediately comment on the late-night strikes, in accordance with its policy to neither confirm nor deny its operations in Syria, except for those in retaliation for an attack from another country.

The IDF has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 against moves by Iran to establish a permanent military presence in the country and efforts to transport advanced, game-changing weapons to terrorist groups in the region, principally Hezbollah.

Friday’s (22nd) strikes appear to be the first such attacks since the new U.S. administration took office on Wednesday (20th).  The Biden administration is expected to take a more conciliatory approach to Iran than former President Donald Trump.

Earlier this month, massive Israeli airstrikes targeted a number of sites in Syria near the Iraq border, an area with a major Iranian military presence that is believed to be used by Tehran to move weapons throughout the region, Syrian media reported.

The strikes, which reportedly targeted more than 15 Iran-linked facilities, were the fourth reported attack by Israel against Iranian targets in Syria in weeks, a significant increase from the normal rate of such strikes.  

Unverified reports said 57 fighters were killed.

In December, a series of airstrikes, attributed to Israel hit weapons-manufacturing facilities near the town of Masval, also in the area of Hama.



IDF Planning Large-Scale War Games For Summer

The IDF said Wednesday (20th) that it is planning to conduct large-scale military exercises this summer in drills meant to simulate a war on multiple fronts.

“The structure of the exercises, which are being prepared, will include scenarios on several fronts in the north and the south,” the IDF said in a statement.

The exact date and nature of the exercises are still under review with coronavirus restrictions presenting a major challenge in how the military plans for the exercises.

The army said the purpose of the massive drill is “to improve the readiness and ability of the IDF.”

Conscript and reserve units from each regional command, branch, and directorate will take part in the exercise, which will cover scenarios “in the air, at sea, and on land.”

The drills will be observed and evaluated by representatives of the cabinet and the Defense Ministry.

“The exercises will simulate large-scale coordinated ground maneuvers behind enemy lines, based on the capabilities of the General Staff, as well as special forces operations,” the military said.

In November, the IDF kicked off a surprise four-day military exercise where soldiers participated in a mock war scenario in the Gaza Strip.

Four surprise training missions have already been organized since the appointment of Lt. Gen Aviv Kochavi as chief of staff in January 2019.

Previous exercises included testing the military’s ability to handle a West Bank kidnapping; a war against Hezbollah in northern Israel; countering a massive cyber attack; and responding to maritime threats from the north.



Why I’m A Zionist – Douglas J. Feith

There are negative reasons to be a Zionist – that the Jews need a state because they need a refuge.  That argument launched the Zionist movement in the 19th century and it remains valid to this day.

There are also affirmative reasons that relate to Jewish civilization.  They boil down to the conviction that Jewish culture is an invaluable inheritance that only in the Land of Israel, in a state with a Jewish majority, can be developed fully and perpetuated reliably.  As an adult, I came to appreciate the positive reasons to be a Zionist.

To be a Zionist is to revel in the ways Israel has integrated Jewish principles and traditions into the daily life of a large, modern, democratic society.  Israel is where Jewish collective interests prevail, so they enjoy the dignity of self-reliance and self-defense.  Hebrew is the main language.  Jewish history inspires the geographical names.  Jewish subjects have a special place in the schools.  The Jewish religious calendar influences the rhythm of life.

In general, the American political tradition is averse to official privileges for particular ethnicities or faiths.  But the way Americans practice democracy is not the only way.  Most liberal, democratic countries were founded on an ethnic basis.  Most give special consideration to the majority population’s cultural interests.

The writer, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, served as U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (2001-2005)



Austria Presents National Strategy Against Anti-Semitism

The Austrian government on Thursday (21st) presented a national strategy on fighting rising anti-Semitism that includes improving the protection of synagogues, improved education about Judaism and stricter prosecution of hate crimes against Jews.

The Alpine country’s Europe Minister, Karoline Edtstadler, stressed Austria’s responsibility to fight anti-Semitism regardless of whether it comes from the far-right, far-left, immigrants or anybody else, Austrian news agency APA reported.

“The new measures intend to battle anti-Semitism in all its forms and wherever it expresses itself – from online chat groups to hate speech in corner bars, or expressions of hatred against Jews at public protests such as the current rallies against coronavirus regulations,” Edtstadler said.

The president of the Jewish community of Vienna, Oskar Deutsch, welcomed the government’s initiative.

“Jews are always the first ones who are affected, by discrimination,” Deutsch warned, adding that “the fight against anti-Semitism needs to be an effort by the whole of society, not just the Jewish community.”

“In 2019, Austria recorded 550 anti-Semitic incidents,” Edtstadler said.

“That is twice as much as five years ago,” she added.



Yad Vashem Unveils Digital Exhibits For International Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 27 marks the day the world officially remembers those who perished during the Holocaust.  This year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.

Approximately 1.1 million souls perished in Auschwitz.

This year, Yad Vashem is marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day with a plethora of digital exhibitions, from the “My Lost Childhood” exhibit to the “IRemember Wall” and a virtual tour of the “Block 27” memorial at Auschwitz.

“We have dozens upon dozens of photos of children from their homes,” Yona Kobo, the curator at Yad Vashem, who created the “My Lost Childhood” exhibition, said.  “If you look at the photos, they look so happy, smiling and dancing.  But behind those happy, smiling faces, there are a lot of tragedies.”

Child survivors from Poland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Germany and France were placed into homes where they could regain a sense of normal life, as well as return to their Jewish faith.

“We bridge the gap between the happy faces and what they went through,” Kobo said.  “We want people to understand what it means to be a child survivor.  They were robbed from everything from family members to school.  People they met usually wanted to kill them.”

Many of the child survivors, once they were old enough to do so, moved to Israel in the Jewish State’s early years.

The anecdotes that Yad Vashem includes in this exhibit are highly detailed, telling not only stories of survival, but of triumph amid the worst of all scenarios.  One of the heartwarming stories is of the “Buchenwald Boys,” who were moved to the children’s home in Ecouis, France after the war.

“One of the stories told is about Zvi Unger, who was about 14-years-old,” Kobo said.  “He came from a family of nine siblings, and he lost all of them.  He found himself alone at Auschwitz.  He said he became some kind of an animal, only listening to his instinct and listening to no one.”

The IRemember Wall is enhanced this year to personalize the experience of remembering people who perished during the Holocaust.  People who register for it can either be randomly matched with someone’s name and memory, or they can pick a specific victim who they are related to or have a personal connection with.  Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names includes more than 4.8 million Jewish people who died during the Holocaust.

Finally, the digitization of Block 27 is something that Yad Vashem never did before.  The block is a memorial in Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was prepared by Yad Vashem and debuted in 2013.  It boasts galleries, a massive book of names of people who perished, and a room dedicated to the memory of children who were murdered.

“Although we have Yom HaShoah, this is something that goes beyond Israel,” Kobo said.  “We’re not only talking about the Jewish tragedy, because this happened to mankind.”