News Digest — 1/3/23

Ben-Gvir Visits Temple Mount: ‘Israel Will Not Give In To Hamas Threats’

Israel’s new government “will not give in to threats from Hamas,” National Security Minister Ben-Gvir said as he arrived at the Temple Mount on Tuesday morning (3rd) for his planned pilgrimage to the Jerusalem holy site.

“The Temple Mount is the most important site for the Jewish people,” the minister said in a statement made following his trip there.  “We will maintain freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians,” Ben-Gvir stressed, but added that “Jews will climb the mountain.”

“Those who make threats will be dealt with an iron fist,” the minister further warned.

Opposition head and former prime minister Yair Lapid had previously warned that such a visit would spark tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank, saying “Bibi must stand up and tell Ben-Gvir not to visit the Temple Mount.”

On Sunday (1st), Ben-Gvir said he would visit the Temple Mount in the near future.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Ben-Gvir on Monday (2nd) about his intention to visit the site.  The Likud confirmed that, following consultations with security establishment officials, Netanyahu did not object to the pilgrimage.

This is Ben-Gvir’s first trip to the Temple Mount since the November election.

Palestinian Authority (PA) officials warned the national security minister on Monday (2nd) that such a trip to the Temple Mount would lead to an escalation of violence in the area.

“The repeated Israeli threats to change the historic status quo in the Aqsa Mosque would have serious consequences for everyone,” PA leader spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said.  He reiterated the Palestinians’ opposition to allowing Jews to pray at the site.

On Tuesday morning (3rd), the Palestinian Foreign Ministry stated that it “strongly condemns the storming of Al-Aqsa mosque by the extremist minister Ben Gvir and views it as an unprecedented and a dangerous escalation of the conflict.”

Jordan said on Tuesday (3rd) it condemned in “severist” terms the visit by Ben-Gvir to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.   

“Jordan condemns in the severest of terms the storming of the Aqsa mosque and violating its sanctity,” said a statement by the foreign ministry.

The compound is Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina, and Judaism’s most sacred site, a vestige of two ancient temples of the faith.



Azerbaijan Appoints First-Ever Ambassador To Israel

Azerbaijan announced this week the appointment of its first-ever ambassador to Israel.

According to state news outlet, Deputy Minister of Science and Education Mukhtar Mammadov has been appointed to the role.

The news was welcomed in Israel, with Israeli Ambassador to Baku George Deek tweeting, “Congratulations and good luck to the first Azerbaijani ambassador to Israel.”

Born in 1983 in Baku, Mammadov worked in the Foreign Ministry from 2005 to 2013, including work at the Azerbaijani Embassy in Belgium from 2009 to 2013.

Since 2013, under the Education Ministry, Mammadov has been head of the international cooperation department.  In April 2021, he became the deputy Minister of Science and Education.  In this capacity, Mammadov supervised projects of innovation cooperation with Israel in the field of science and education.

Mammadov is fluent in Russian, English and Turkish.

“I warmly congratulate my colleague Mukhtar Mammadov on being appointed as the first ambassador of Azerbaijan to Israel,” tweeted Mammad Talibov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, and Honduras.  “I wish you the best and greatest success in your endeavors and in your new role.”

The announcement comes after Azerbaijan announced in November that it would open an embassy in Israel.  A month earlier, then-Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited Azerbaijan to discuss policy, and foster defense cooperation.

Last April, Azerbaijan opened a tourism office in Israel for the first time and signed a cooperation agreement.  The month also marked the 30th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties between the two nations.

Both Israel and Azerbaijan see Iran as a threat.  According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Israel buys 40% of its oil from Azerbaijan and supplied 27% of Azerbaijan’s major arms imports from 2011 to 2016, including 69% from 2016 to 2020.



US Air Force Temporarily Deploys Six Fighter Jets To Israeli Air Base

The United States Air Force on Monday (2nd) deployed six fighter jets to an Israeli Air Force base in southern Israel, as part of a military tactic to constantly disperse its aircraft at various airbases.

According to the IAF, during the deployment at the Nevatim Airbase, the six F-15s would conduct joint drills with Israel’s fleet of F-35 stealth fighters and a squadron of intelligence gathering Gulfstream G550 planes.

The drills, set to take place this week, would simulate strikes deep in enemy territory, the IAF said.

The deployment by the US Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) is part of a doctrine called “agile combat employment,” under which aircraft are dispersed at forward operating positions in allied countries around the globe, rather than at the US’s traditional main overseas bases.

The doctrine seeks to both deprive enemy forces of opportunities to damage the US Air Force, and to enable it to more quickly respond to events, according to American defense officials.

It was not immediately clear how long the AFCENT jets would be stationed at Nevatim.

In November, the Israel Defense Forces and the US military held a series of joint aerial exercises, simulating strikes against Iran and its regional terror proxies.

IDF Chief Aviv Kochavi that month said joint activities with the US military in the Middle East would be “significantly expanded.”

Israel has been pushing for the US to prepare military contingency plans in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Jerusalem opposes US President Joe Biden’s attempts to revive a nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers that traded sanctions reliefs for curbs on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

But that issue has been less relevant lately, as nuclear talks have fizzled and the US has chosen to focus on addressing the ongoing protests in Iran against the regime.

Biden has said he is prepared to use military force if necessary, but still prefers to exhaust the diplomatic route first.

Amid the growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the deal, the past two years have seen the IDF ramp up efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear sites.

While Iran long has maintained its program is peaceful, non-proliferation experts warn Tehran has enough 60 percent enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.

Israeli officials have also warned of Iran’s proxies across the region, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Houthis in Yemen, as well as other groups based in Syria.



Iranian Regime Has Lost Control Of The Universities – Tom Brown

The Iranian regime has ‘lost control of the universities,” according to leaked documents that show paramilitary guards sharing fears the Islamic theocracy can no longer quash dissent among its educated young people.

Akef, a student from Tehran, described how his resistance unit started out small in scale, tearing down posters of the Supreme Leader or leaving anti-government graffiti scattered in back alleys.  With more students joining every day, the units are taking on bigger targets, using firebombs or fireworks to harass Iranian forces.  “Our only goal is to liberate our country and overthrow the regime.  Work and life are not really worth it for us now.  Our whole goal is to continue this uprising,” said Akef.



Telegraph: Britain To Proscribe Iran’s Revolutionary Guard As Terror Group

Britain will officially declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which has arrested seven people with links to the United Kingdom over anti-government protests, as a terror group, the Telegraph reported on Monday (2nd), citing sources.

The move, which will be announced within weeks, is supported by Britain’s security minister, Tom Tugendhat, and Home Secretary Suella Braverman, the report said.

Proscribing Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group would mean that it would become a criminal offense to belong to the group, attend its meetings, and carry its logo in public.

The UK Home Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Telegraph report.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard last week arrested seven people with links to Britain over anti-government protests that have rocked the country following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian who was arrested for wearing “inappropriate attire” under Iran’s strict Islamic dress code for women.

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday (12/28) urged Iran to stop detaining dual nationals, saying the practice should not be used to obtain “diplomatic leverage.”

Meanwhile, leaders in the British Jewish community have been urging the government to ban the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) under terrorism legislation.

Noting the violent organization’s support for terrorism and its attacks on Jewish targets internationally, the leaders’ call occurred as Foreign Secretary James Cleverly confirmed that the IRGC has been placed under sanctions “in its entirety” by the British government, the Jewish Chronicle reported.

The IRGC has been listed as a foreign terrorist entity by the United States since 2019.

In December, several countries in the European Union demanded that the EU designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization.  Among the countries leading the demand were Germany, and the Netherlands, with Germany accusing the IRGC of being behind multiple attempted terrorist attacks against synagogues.



Exiled Chief Rabbi Says Jews Should Leave Russia While They Can – Stephen Burgen

Moscow’s exiled chief rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who left Russia in July after refusing to back the Russian invasion of Ukraine, told the Guardian:

“When we look back over Russian history, whenever  the political system was in danger you saw the government trying to redirect the anger and discontent of the masses towards the Jewish community.”

“We saw this in tsarist times and at the end of the Stalinist regime.  We’re seeing rising antisemitism while Russia is going back to a new kind of Soviet Union, and, step-by-step, the Iron Curtain is coming down again.  This is why I believe the best option for Russian Jews is to leave.”

Today about 165,000 Jews remain in the Russian Federation out of a total population of 145 million.