News Digest — 1/3/24

Report: Hamas Deputy Leader Abroad, Saleh al-Arouri, killed In alleged Israeli Strike In Lebanon

Hamas’ deputy leader abroad Saleh al-Arouri was killed in an Israeli strike in the Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh on Tuesday (2nd), the Hezbollah-linked al-Mayadeen reported.

Israel has not commented on the alleged strike.

At a press conference in November, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had “instructed the Mossad to act against the heads of Hamas wherever they are” in the wake of Hamas’ October 7 assault on Southern Israel.  At the same press conference, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said “all Hamas leaders are living on borrowed time… The struggle is worldwide.”

Based in Lebanon, al-Arouri, 57, was deputy head of the terror group’s political bureau and considered the de facto leader of Hamas’ military wing in the West Bank.

Israeli intelligence officials believe that al-Arouri also helped plan the June 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens – Gilad Shaar, Eval Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel – as well as numerous other attacks.

He had served several terms in Israeli jails, and was released in March 2010 as part of efforts to reach a larger prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit, an IDF corporal kidnapped by Hamas in 2006.  Arouri went on to be involved in sewing up the deal that provided for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in return for the freeing of Shalit in 2011.

He then relocated to Istanbul but was forced to move when Israel patched up ties with Turkey that had ruptured over an IDF raid on a solidarity flotilla heading to Gaza in which nine Turkish nationals were killed during a violent melee on a ferry boat.

After spending time in Syria, al-Arouri eventually moved to Beirut.  From there he managed Hamas military operations in the West Bank, pushing terror activities and arranging the transfer of funds to pay for terror attacks.

He was also one of the Hamas officials most closely connected to Iran and the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.  While there, al-Arouri had established a local Hamas force from activists in Lebanese refugee camps.  The group has military training and a rocket arsenal, though not on the same scale as Hezbollah’s.



Gallant: ‘We’re Not Stopping – Without Victory We Won’t Be Able To Live’

Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant entered the Gaza Strip Tuesday (2nd) together with deputy Chief of the General Staff, Maj.-Gen.Amit Baram, to conduct an operational and situational assessment together with the troops of Division 99, led by Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Barak Hiram.

Minister Gallant spoke about the importance of holding the Salah-al-Din route in order to strengthen achievements in the northern area of the Gaza Strip while focusing efforts in the area of Khan Yunis.

Minister Gallant spoke with reserve troops in Brigade 646 and expressed his appreciation for their operations during the war.

Speaking to the troops, he said: “I sincerely appreciate all that you do – your ability to operate and fight over the past three months, while your wives and childrens are at home.  I am also filled with gratitude for our fallen soldiers..”

“There is no mission worthier than the one we currently seek to achieve.  Israel was brutally attacked – the intent of the perpetrators was to discourage us from living here.  Three months ago, this attack involved the murder of children and babies and the rape of women – things that no country can allow, most certainly not the State of Israel,” he said.

”We must emerge victorious for two reasons: first in order to extract a price from the terrorists, and to ensure that anyone living near the Gaza Strip may do so safely.  In addition – a scenario in which 1,500 people are killed or taken hostage, must end with clear-cut deterrence and victory, otherwise we cannot live in the Middle east.  As such, we are determined to achieve our goals.”

“You [referring to the troops] are on the route, which means that various types of operations will soon be conducted all around you in the north, we destroyed 12 Hamas battalions.  This does not mean that we have eliminated all the terrorists –  but the scenario in which a terrorist may pick up binoculars, report back, shoot mortars, and then a battalion commander sends over terrorists – this scenario is irrelevant here.  There are terrorists left, several thousands out of 15-18 thousand that were in this area.  A large number of terrorists were eliminated, while some fled to the south.  This means that in this place, tactically speaking, we will operate via firepower, some maneuvering, and special operations, and if necessary we will hold this area for a period of time.  The goal is to exhaust the enemy [Hamas terrorists] and eliminate them.”



Israel Slams Qatar For UN Exhibit Rejecting Jewish State’s Existence

Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations and International Organizations in Geneva blasted the Qatari regime on Sunday (12/31/23) for sponsoring a UN exhibit that denies the existence of the territory of the Jewish State, including Jerusalem as the capital.

The Swiss news outlet Blick first reported on the latest anti-Semitism scandal involving Qatar’s regime: “The exhibit claims the Israeli cities of Jerusalem, Beersheba and Jaffa are Palestinian cities,” it said.

“This is a denial of Israel’s territorial integrity and our right to exist,” Eilon Shahar said, adding that the UN “is spreading propaganda and false information.”

The ambassador sent a formal letter of complaint to the UN’s Director General in Geneva, Tatiana Walowaja, Blick reported.

Qatar sponsored the anti-Israel exhibit that shows six cities, including cities within Israel, as Palestinian territory.  Eilon Shahar said the Qatari exhibit strips the “Jewish people of their historical connection to Jerusalem by declaring it a Palestinian city.”

She also took the UN in Geneva to task for allowing an anti-Semitic brochure to circulate in the UN building titled “The Story of Fire and Blood.”

The ambassador said the brochure “glorifies terrorism and portrays Jews with big noses and propagates anti-Semitic conspiracies,” and called on the UN to investigate it.  Blick said that the UN told them, regarding Eilon Shahar’s criticism, that “We are aware of this matter.”

Blick wrote that “The anti-Semitism in Geneva’s guise is symptomatic of the double game that the desert state of Qatar has been playing for years, cheerfully adding fuel to the fire.”

Qatar’s regime did not respond to a Blick press query.  State-controlled media outlets Al Watan and Al Jazeera have glorified Palestinian terrorism and the Hamas massacre on October 7, according to translations of reports and TV broadcasts conducted by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).



Rockets Hit Synagogue, Kill 7 Jewish Tribe Members In India

Seven members of the Bnei Menashe group, a tribe that claims Jewish ancestry back to the “Tribe of Manasseh,” were killed when a rocket hit their synagogue in Manipur India, the Knesset Diaspora Affairs Committee reported on Tuesday (2nd).

Although the group does not seem to have been targeted because of Jewishness, the tragedy emphasizes the danger of their situation and bolsters their claim to be allowed to emigrate to Israel, according to Diaspora Affairs Committee members.  MK Oded Forer, who is head of the committee pointed out that there are 5,500 Bnei Menashe in Northern India, many of whom would like to join the 5,000 who are already living in Israel.

Forer criticized the Aliyah and Integration Office for not making the immigration of Bnei Menashe a higher priority given the escalating conflict in Manipur.

The synagogue attack is only one  of the many violent incidents that have erupted in Manipur between two groups, the Kuki and the Metei, since last May.

Bnei Menashe, who claim to be descended from the ‘lost Israelite tribe of Menashe (Manasseh), is part of the Kuki tribal umbrella.

According to Reuters, 180 people have been killed in the conflict between the two tribal umbrellas since May, and before the most recent synagogue attack, another synagogue was burned killing one Bnei Menashe member.

Although the Jewishness of the Bnei Menashe was verified by then Sephardic chief rabbi Shlomo Amar in 2005, Bnei Menashe members are required to undergo an orthodox Jewish conversion before being allowed to settle in Israel.



Israel’s Population Reaches 9.84 Million At Beginning Of 2024

Israel’s population grew by 1.9% over the past year to 9.842 million, the Central Bureau of Statistics reports.  7.208 million (73.2%) of Israel’s citizens are Jewish, 2.080 million (21.1%)  Arabs and 545,000 (5.7%) others including Russian-speaking immigrants who are not Jewish.

The 1.9% growth in the population during 2023 was lower than the 2.2% growth in 2022, mainly due to decreased immigration.  72% of population growth was attributed to births and 28% due to immigration.

During the year 179,000 babies were born, and 45,000 immigrants came to Israel, 75% of them from Russia and Ukraine.  49,500 Israelis died in 2023 including 2,500 Israelis who had been living abroad for more than a year.



Why Is The Gaza War Different? – Jonathan Spyer

• The closest recent parallel to the current Gaza war, both in terms of the action that triggered it and the way it is being conducted, is the U.S.-led Coalition’s war against Islamic State in 2014-19.

• I am one of the small group of journalists who covered the ISIS war from close up and who is currently reporting on the Gaza war.  Both the similarities in the wars and the enormous difference in Western perception of them are striking.

• In each case, an Arab movement of Sunni political Islam set out on a campaign of wholesale slaughter against a non-Arab and non-Muslim population: Kurdish-speaking Yazidis in the case of ISIS, Israeli Jews in the case of Hamas.

• The current Israeli campaign in Gaza particularly resembles the Coalition’s battle against ISIS in the Iraqi city of Mosul, the largest urban center that the ISIS jihadis controlled.  Getting them out of there took nine months of fighting.  The Mosul fighting involved the slow enveloping by conventional infantry and armored forces of a well-dug-in jihadi enemy, closely resembling the Israeli ground incursion in Gaza.

• Estimates suggest that there were between one and four civilians killed in Mosul for each ISIS fighter slain.  Insofar as can be currently ascertained, the ratio of civilian to  military dead in Gaza appears to broadly resemble that of Mosul.

• Yet no one demonstrated for the civilians killed by Coalition bombing during the ISIS war.  There were no furious crowds in Western cities denouncing “genocide.”  Most in the West understood that the deeds of Islamic State and its ideology made it necessary that it be removed from power, in spite of the deaths of innocents that this would involve.

• It is difficult not to conclude that the reason for the furious demonstrations today is because Jews are involved.

The writer is director of research at the Middle East Forum and director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.