News Digest — 1/25/22

Israel Concerned Joint Syrian-Russian Jet Patrol Will Limit IAF Airstrikes

Israel is concerned about the Syrian and Russian jet joint patrol carried out on Monday (24th) along Syria’s airspace and borders, including the armistice line along the Syrian border with Israel.

Officials said they wondered what caused Russia’s apparent policy change, after it had enabled the IDF to act freely against the Iranian entrenchment on Syrian soil and even increase attacks in recent months to halt the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Forces’ plan to establish a Hezbollah-like military presence.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the path of the aerial patrol included the Israeli and Syrian Golan Heights that has seen regular Israeli airstrikes against suspected Iranian and Hezbollah positions.  The ministry also said the patrol flights “will continue to operate on a regular basis.”

The joint patrol included Russia’s latest fighter jets: the Sukhoi Su-34 attack aircraft, Sukhoi Su-35 multi-mission fighter jet, A-50 command and control aircraft, as well as the Syrian army’s MIG-23 and MIG-29 aircrafts.

One possibility for such action is that the Russians estimated that a break in winter weather would prompt an Israeli attack in Syria and saw this as an opportunity to demonstratively thwart such a move.  This may indicate the Russians think that Israel has exaggerated its attacks in Syria.

But it is quite clear that pushing the Iranians out of Syria is in the interest of both Israel and the Russians.

Another explanation could be the growing tension between the United States and Russia, over the situation in Ukraine.  The Russians may want to signal to the Americans and NATO that their military capabilities include the Middle East, or perhaps even hope Israel might pressure Washington to avoid military conflict.

Israel will have to see if the Russian-Syrian alliance will affect their ability to act against threats from Syria.

Israeli and Russian military officials are currently in talks to reduce tension but the outcome may result in a new reality that would make Israel’s war against Iranian entrenchment in the region much more difficult.



Israel Gearing Up For Mass Immigration From Ukraine

With the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the US quietly evacuating embassy employees and their families from the eastern European country, Israel is gearing up for an influx of Jewish refugees.

According to Haaretz, Israeli government ministers met Sunday (23rd) in a closed-door meeting to discuss strategy for absorbing tens of thousands of Ukrainians with Jewish heritage who qualify for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

In attendance at the meeting were representatives from the Defense Ministry, Foreign Affairs Ministry, Diaspora Ministry, and the Nativ organization, which works to strengthen ties between Russian-speaking Jews and the Israeli government.

Although so far there has been no immediate uptick in Jewish Ukrainians wishing to immigrate to Israel, in 2021 aliyah increased by 4%.  In the event of an invasion, it’s unknown if eligible Ukrainians would want to move to the Jewish State, but just in case, the Israeli government is preparing for a possible “mass absorption” scenario.

The issue is extremely sensitive, as a large airlift of Jews by Israel would provide damaging optics for the Russian and Ukrainian governments, which have engaged in public relations campaigns in recent years aimed at proving to the international community that their Jewish citizens are safe.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Israel absorbed more than one million Russian immigrants.  In 2021 there were 2,123 new immigrants from Ukraine.

A travel advisory issued by the US State Department Sunday evening (23rd) indicated that families of embassy workers and nonessential staff would be evacuated from Ukraine.

On Monday (24th), the UK’s Foreign Office announced that while the British embassy will remain open, embassy staff and their dependents would be repatriated from Ukraine “in response to the growing threat from Russia.”



Iran Can Achieve Nuclear Capability Within Weeks, INSS Annual Report Says

The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) published its 2022 annual Strategic Report claiming Iran is only weeks away from achieving nuclear capability.

According to the strategic assessment presented to President Isaac Herzog, Tehran is also determined to build and empower its military options to threaten Israel, by using its proxies, like Hezbollah and Hamas, in order to launch simultaneous attacks against Israel from different borders, using surface-to-surface missiles, rockets, UAVs, and drones.

Unlike the threats in previous years, the Institute’s researchers identified several major threats challenging Israel in 2022.

Regarding the Iranian nuclear program, the report stated that the Islamic Republic poses the most serious external threat to Israel, primarily by its attempt to obtain a military nuclear capability.

But by the Islamic Republic’s belligerent actions in the region, Israel is faced with multiple problems it must address on its own, while the need to increase cooperation with the United States has grown, it will continue to do so, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations in Vienna for a return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran’s efforts of entrenchment around Israel’s borders includes the introduction of precise missile systems, drones and other technologies to its proxies in Lebanon and Syria.

INSS in its report says that none of the possible outcomes of the nuclear talks taking place between world powers and the regime in Tehran, leave Israel in a more favorable position, but should a deal be signed, Israel’s continued opposition would leave it isolated.

The report also deals with the ongoing stalemate in Israeli/Palestinian relations.  INSS regards the situation on the West Bank a danger to Israel’s future as a Jewish and Democratic country.



China Was Israel’s Leading Source Of Imports In 2021, Surpassing The U.S.

China became Israel’s largest source of imports in 2021, surpassing the United States according to data released by Israel’s National Bureau of Statistics on Thursday (20th).

Last year Israel imported $10.7 billion in goods from China, compared with $7.7 billion in 2020, a nearly 40% increase.

Israel’s imports from the United States, previously its largest import source, totaled $8.2 billion, a slight increase from 2020.  The United States remained Israel’s largest export destination.

Israel’s largest trade deficit was also with China, totaling $6.6 billion.

The new data comes shortly after Israel vowed to keep the current US administration in the loop on any major trade deals with China, in an effort to avoid further tensions.

Both the current and the former US administrations have expressed concerns about the warming relationship between Israel and China as the latter’s ties with Europe and the United States have soured.

The data also comes as Israel and China convened a joint committee on innovation on Monday (24th), signing a three-year plan to regulate cooperation and government-to-government dialogue through 2024.  That was part of events marking 30 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the countries.



Finland Should Change The Name Of Its Holocaust Remembrance Day – Risto Huvila

On January 27th, most Western countries mark the liberation of the concentration camps as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  On that very day in 1945, the Allied Forces entered the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp near Krakow, Poland, which started a domino effect that exposed the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis throughout Europe.

In 1995, The Europe Commission recommended that all its member states mark January 27th as Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Ten years later, in 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated January 27th as the International Commemoration Day in memory of the Holocaust victims.

The Government of Finland adopted Remembrance Day in 2002.  Unfortunately, they translated it in Finnish as “Remembrance Day for the Victims of Persecutions.”

It seems Finland is the only European country whose official name for the International Remembrance Day fails to refer to the Holocaust.  However, and as a notable discrepancy, the government uses the name “Holocaust Remembrance Day” in its communications in English.

For years, the Finnish Holocaust Remembrance Association has tried to lobby Finnish authorities to change the name, albeit in vain.  The argument has been that, under the existing name, people will forget the Holocaust and be able to hijack the day to mark any persecution, big or small.

Unfortunately, those fears came true a few weeks ago, when the city council of Rauma, a small city on the west coast of the country, decided that they would fly the city flag on January 27th in remembrance of current persecuted minority groups within Finland.  In the original proposal, and in the minutes of the Rauma city council meeting on December 13th, 2021, there is no reference to Jews or the Holocaust at all.  For the Jewish community and to those who care about their sufferings, this is no less than an insult and a mockery.

Hopefully, high priority will be given to resolve the name issue in order to reflect the spirit of the pledges given by the Finnish delegation at the Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Anti-Semitism in October 2021.

By ensuring Holocaust Remembrance Day specifically references the Holocaust, we are making sure that these atrocities are never forgotten.  This is an important message, not only for the Finnish government, but also for other countries around the world, especially at a time with fewer survivors left to offer first hand testimony.  It is on us, the next generations, to keep their legacy alive and to make sure that the world remembers, so that the horrors of the Holocaust will never be repeated.

The writer is chairman of the Federation of The Finland-Israel Association and Vice-Chairman of the Finnish Holocaust Remembrance Association