News Digest — 1/24/23

US, Israel Launch Major Air Force Exercise In Message To Iran

The United States and Israel on Monday (23rd) launched what one US official described as the allies’ most significant joint military exercise to date, involving thousands of forces, a dozen ships and 142 aircraft, including nuclear capable bombers.

The “Juniper Oak Drills,” which will run through Friday (27th), are meant to demonstrate and deepen integration between the US and Israeli militaries, the senior US defense official said, and comes at a time of growing tension over Iran’s nuclear program.

Although the drills will likely draw interest from Tehran, the US official said there would be no mockups of Iranian targets and that the exercises weren’t oriented around any particular adversary.

“I do think that the scale of the exercise is relevant to a whole range of scenarios, and Iran may draw certain inferences from that,” the officer acknowledged.

“It’s really meant mostly to kick the tires on our ability to do things at this scale with the Israelis against a whole range of different threats.”

The exercises will include live fire and involve 6,400 US forces, many of which will be aboard the US aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush strike group.  Some 450 troops are on the ground in Israel, the official said.

Beyond B52 bombers, the US aircraft will include F-35s, F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s.  Drills will take place over large distances, involving land, sea, air and space, the official said.

The planning for the exercises began only a couple of months ago, before conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regained top office on December 29. 

The senior US official said America’s commitment to Israel’s security was “ironclad.”

”We have Israeli governments of one flavor or the other.  They come and go.  But what doesn’t change is our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security,” the official said.

“So this is a sign that we continue to have Israel’s back at a time where there’s a lot of turbulence and instability across the region.”

“I think it’s fair to say Iran’s nuclear program is more advanced now than it’s ever been.  Their breakout timelines are more compressed.  Their knowledge and know-how have gone up,” the official said. “So the challenge has gone up.”

The official said the drills would show how the United States could effectively surge large numbers of battle-ready forces into the Middle East, even as Washington focuses on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and intensifying competition with China.

“As our adversaries and competitors are sizing up the US military, I suspect they will take note of our ability to do this because, frankly, no other military on Earth could do this,” the official said.  “Not while they’re doing everything else that we’re doing around the globe.”



Report: Israeli Minister Makes Secret Visit To UAE Ahead Of Possible Netanyahu Trip

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer made a secret visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday (22nd) according to the Israeli news site Walla.

The report stated that one of the main goals of the trip was to discuss a possible visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been scheduled to visit Abu Dhabi multiple times, including in 2021 when he was last in the Prime Minister’s Office, but ultimately did not make the journey.

Netanyahu was expected to visit the Gulf state in the first few weeks of his new government but the trip was canceled following a visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

The UAE joined other Arab countries in condemning the event, including Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who all issued statements criticizing the first ascent to the holy site by a government minister in five years.

Dermer’s visit to the UAE is the first by a member of Netanyahu’s new governing coalition.

The minister was an instrumental figure in the formation of the Abraham Accords during his tenure as Israeli ambassador to the United States, which brought normalized relations between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem in 2020.



Israel’s Holocaust Survivors Fight Their Last Battles As Generation Dwindles

Around 150,000 Holocaust survivors currently live in Israel, the Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority said this week in a report published ahead of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27.

According to data, over 21% of the survivors have passed the age of 90, and about 1,100 are over the age of 100.  In the past year, 15,123 Holocaust survivors died.  Numbers also showed that 60% of Holocaust survivors in Israel are women, with an average of 85.9.

Sixty-three percent were born in Europe: 55,300 (37%) in the Soviet Union, 17,000 (11%) in Romania, and 7,800 (5%) in Poland.  In addition, 37% were born in Asia or North Africa, including 28,300 from Morocco and Algeria who were also subjected to persecution.

Additionally, 16,500 survivors are originally from Iraq and were affected by the violent Farhud riots against the Baghdad Jewish community in June 1941.  Another 10,200 were born in Tunisia or Libya where they were discriminated against and sent to labor camps.

A third of survivors immigrated to Israel in 1989 during the major immigration wave from the Soviet Union, with Haifa having absorbed the highest number of arrivals, followed by Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Netanya, Beersheba, Petach Tikva, and Rishon Lezion.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Deputy Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office Uri Makley said.  “There remain tens of thousands of survivors…and the Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority makes every effort to provide the best service for them.  As they aged, the services provided to the survivors became more geared toward personal health and community-related needs at the highest level.”

“We will continue to see how to act for further improvements, and will continue to optimize the services provided to all survivors, who survived such atrocities.”



Grandson Of Nazi And Of Other Grandfather Who Saved Jewish Lives Opens Synagogue In Hospital

At first glance the Orthopedic Waldklinik Eisenberg Hospital in Thuringia, Germany looks more like a fancy hotel than a hospital.  It’s located in one of the greenest and most beautiful places in the area and its inside is just as impressive as its outside.

Lately, the hospital earned the title of the best orthopedic hospital in the country.  For the CEO David Ruven-Thies, this is his life’s work that includes a fascinating story.

Ruven-Thies’ grandfather was a Nazi who took part in the invasion of Poland in WWII.  His other grandfather helped Jews hide in his merchant ships to get them out of the country.

In an interview with Maariv, Ruven-Thies explained that his unusual past helped him decide to build a synagogue in the hospital and include a kosher kitchen in the establishment.

“I have a Jewish name,” he said.  “My parents wanted people to think of Jews and work toward equality for all.  When I lived in Italy during my childhood, I felt the need to learn about Judaism.  When I opened the hospital here, I knew that I had to give Jews the right treatment.”

Ruven Thies gave the interview shortly after the hospital opened a synagogue to which a Torah scroll was donated by the area’s residents, most of whom are not Jewish.  Among the participants in the project was the regional council head who donated his own money toward it.

The kosher restaurant that was opened in the hospital is managed by German chef Tim Foller and has a permanent Kashrut supervisor – Rabbi Moti Waitsman.

Alexander Mayerhofer, key accountant manager in the hospital, said that the place feels like a hotel.

“We don’t call people here patients, we call them guests,” he said.  “At every stage of treatment, you get an experience akin to being hosted in a five-or four-star hotel.  There are private rooms for every guest and there are people whose job is to organize comfortable flights for our guests and families.  A Jewish guest came to us for a diagnosis, and he explained that he can only eat kosher food.  When we showed him the kashrut supervisor and made it clear that we were ‘kashrut strict,’ he was delighted.”

“Through my support of Judaism, I hope to atone for my one grandfather‘s sins and at the same time, be a source of pride for my other grandfather,” Ruven-Thies said.

“I invite Jews both from Israel and around the world to come to us and get treatment for comfortable prices.  We are located between Berlin and Leipzig, so it’s an attractive location,” he concluded.  



Lebanese Army And UNIFUL Block IDF Border-Work In The North  

The Lebanese Army and UNIFIL on Monday (23rd) blocked IDF soldiers, engineers and bulldozers from continuing various border-setting activities.

Videos showed a standoff at Wadi Hunin in the North with Lebanese soldiers, IDF soldiers and UNIFIL personnel all standing in extremely close proximity to one another after the Lebanese side insisted that Israel halt its activities.

Another video showed IDF personnel and vehicles withdrawing from the disputed position.

Although Israel and the Lebanese government have generally agreed on “the Blue Line” as a border between the countries, Hezbollah does not recognize this line.

Disputes between the IDF and Hezbollah have led Israel to take actions to add fences and other physical boundaries to better secure its side of the Blue Line.

However, due to the nature of the physical lands involved, it is not always possible to build these obstacles exactly on the UN-set line, which sometimes leads to additional disputes even with the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL.

Often though, such disputes are handled in three-way meetings beforehand and not suddenly in the field.

Senior IDF commanders on the northern border recently told The Jerusalem Post that such activities were critical to securing the border from Hezbollah and that they would not hesitate to carry them out.

The IDF has not yet responded to inquiries regarding the Monday (23rd) incident.