News Digest — 1/26/21

US CENTCOM Commander To Visit Israel This Week To Talk Iran, Normalization With Arab States

The Commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, will visit Israel on Thursday (28th) for the first time under the new US administration.

Israel’s news site Walla reported Sunday (24th) that sources have indicated the visit will be an important one, due to ongoing regional tensions and in particular the likely reopening of US negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

Also, likely on the agenda will be expanding Israel’s burgeoning relationships with Sunni Arab and Muslim states, four of which have recently normalized relations with the Jewish state.

The visit comes shortly after former President Donald Trump transferred responsibility for issues related to Israel from the US European Command to CENTCOM.

McKenzie’s visit comes among heightened high-level military coordination between Israel and the US.

Last month, Gen. Mark A Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Israel for the third time in a year.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi is reportedly holding video conferences once a month with Milley, and twice a month with McKenzie.



IAI To Sell Advance Drones To Central Asian Country

Israel Aerospace Industries on Monday (25th) announced the sale of advanced Heron MKII unmanned aerial vehicle systems to an unnamed Asian country.

In a press release, IAI said the sale includes reconnaissance payloads, Heron MKII drones and land arrays.  The deal is said to be worth tens of millions of dollars.

The Heron MKII reaches an altitude of 35,000 feet, has a maximum speed of 140 knots, and can stay in the air for up to 45-hours.  Its design includes a wider and stronger chassis, enabling for quick and easy maintenance without affecting the UAV’s net weight.

According to IAI, the drone enables the use of new configurations and has a long-range reconnaissance sensor and radar.  It can carry a range of additional payloads like communications intelligence and electronic intelligence-gathering equipment.

The UAV’s advanced systems allow it to gather intelligence on its targets from a long distance, meaning it has no need to cross borders.  In addition, the Heron MKII boasts improved avionics and an improved and reinforced engine.

IAI Military Aircraft Group chief Moshe Levy told reporters, “I commend the signing of the two Heron MKII deals.  The systems will operate in a land configuration and will carry out different missions, border protection among them.  The Heron MKII UAVs can land on any airstrip and can maneuver under extreme weather conditions.  I am certain that these deals will open the door to additional Heron MKII deals.”



Defense Ministry To Dedicate Monument In Honor Of South Lebanon Army Soldiers

Twenty-one years after the IDF withdrew from Lebanon, the Defense Ministry announced plans to commemorate the South Lebanon Army soldiers that fought alongside the IDF.

A monument, set to be completed in around two months time, will salute SLA soldiers’ contribution to Israel’s security.  It will serve as a heritage site for the South Lebanese Army, which disbanded when Israeli forces pulled out of the area in May 2000.

A monument to the SLA’s fallen soldiers was previously erected atop a mountain in the Lebanese district of Marjayoun, opposite the Beaufort Castle, ahead of the IDF’s withdrawal.  Two days later, Hezbollah forces blew up the site.

Despite repeated requests from former SLA fighters and their families, this was the only time a monument was erected in honor of the SLA until now.

Michael Biton, who serves as deputy minister for civilian and social affairs in the Defense Ministry, hosted a recent meeting attended by ministry officials, SLA representatives, and Maj. Gen. Itai Veruv, who heads the IDF’s military colleges.  In the meeting, it was agreed that, in accordance with a decision by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Biton, a memorial would be erected for $730,000, using Defense Ministry and Jewish National Fund Financing. 

There will be a museum established adjacent to the monument and dedicated to the SLA and the fighting in Lebanon by the historic IDF-Lebanon Liaison Unit.

The cornerstone for the memorial to the hundreds of SLA fighters that perished in action, was laid in 2017.  Construction of the site is set to conclude in two months time.

Israel is now helping 400 SLA fighters, now living in Israel, with a housing crisis to ensure that they are able to live their lives in Israel with dignity.

“For many years, SLA forces fought shoulder to shoulder with IDF troops in southern Lebanon to defend the residents of the north.  SLA soldiers now residing in Israel have earned their place in society with blood, body and spirit, and the State of Israel owes them a great moral debt.  I’m glad that on our watch, we at the Defense Ministry have the privilege of making this just and historic recognition,” said Michael Biton.



At Least 15 Wounded In Northern Gaza House Explosion

At least 15 people were moderately wounded Saturday morning (23rd) in an explosion that rattled a house in the town of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip, while circumstances surrounding the blast remain unclear.

The house, whose residents are yet to be identified, was severely damaged, as were nearby structures.  Eyewitnesses said that the blast was heard across the northern part of the Strip with smoke billows seen from afar.

The Hamas military organization that controls the Strip closed off the scene and is investigating, with speculation ranging from a blast inside the house to a rocket launched from the enclave that accidently hit the structure.

A hospital in Beit Hanoun said that some of the wounded were brought in with cuts and shrapnel injuries.

Meanwhile the Israeli military said the explosion is a result of storing ammunition and weapons in homes in the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces’ spokesman in Arabic, Avichay Adraee, wrote on Twitter that “….this house, like many others in the Gaza Strip, was turned into a storehouse for weapons, ammunition, rockets and military equipment for terror organizations, with innocent residents being the ones who eventually pay the price.”



Anti-Semitism Is Expected To Rise Significantly Around The World In 2021

Anti-Semitism is expected to rise sharply around the world as a result of conspiracy theories against Jews and the State of Israel regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s annual anti-Semitism report.

The main forum for the expression of anti-Semitism in 2020 changed from the physical realm to the online one, the report said.

The 140-page document noted an increase in anti-Semitism in the US, caused by the novel coronavirus crisis in the country, political polarization surrounding the presidential election, the dissemination of various conspiracy theories and racial injustice protests.

As well as noting concern in the US, the report cited the problems of far-right anti-Semitism in Germany, where it said authorities have taken 380 legal measures against far-right activists in German police forces.  

Investigators found evidence that police officers put on Nazi uniforms and symbols and exposed “many scandals related to antisemitism and racism in the ranks of the German police.”

The document also highlighted the recent ruling by the European Court of Justice, which upheld a ban by the Flanders regional government in Belgium on religious slaughter without stunning, a ban that makes the production of kosher meat impossible.

The EU court ruling represents “an institutional threat to Jewish religious freedom in Europe for the first time since the Holocaust,” the report said.  

“The ruling represents a dangerous precedent and raises concerns about other restrictions, such as circumcising boys,” it said.

For thousands of years, the Jewish people were the scapegoat for the ills of the world, and unfortunately, anti-Semitism has not skipped over the current pandemic,” Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch said.

“If anti-Semitism is a global phenomenon, then the war against it also must be global,” she said. 

She called for a “determined and uncompromising struggle to defeat this plague.”