News Digest — 1/4/22

IAF Pilots Killed In Military Helicopter Crash Identified

Two Israeli Air Force officers were killed on Monday evening (3rd) when an IDF Atalef-type helicopter crashed off the shores of the city of Haifa during a training flight.

On Tuesday (4th), the Israeli military identified the two crew members killed in the crash as 38-year-old Lt.-Col. Erez Sahiyani of Ramat David, and 27-year-old Major Chen Fogel of Haifa.

Sahiyani served as deputy commander of the Ramat David air force base southeast of Haifa.  He is survived by his wife and three children.

Fogel served as a helicopter pilot and deputy commander of the 193rd Squadron (Defenders of the West), and was posthumously promoted from the rank of captain to major.

Three crew members were on the helicopter, a patrol officer and two pilots.  The patrol officer was rescued and evacuated in moderate condition to Rambam hospital.  The two pilots were pronounced dead after resuscitation attempts.

Both Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Naftali Bennet were saddened by the disaster and offered condolences to the families of the dead and wounded.

The cause of the crash remains unclear at this stage.



Nasrallah Rails Against US, Saudi Arabia & Israel On Soleimani Anniversary

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah railed against the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel during a speech on Monday evening (3rd), marking the second anniversary  of the US assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

On January 3, 2020, Soleimani and al-Muhandis were killed in a US drone strike near the Baghdad International Airport.

“The assassination incident established a new stage of awareness, insight and conflict,” said Nasrallah, “and the people who ordered and carried out the assassination will receive their reward in this world before the hereafter.”

Nasrallah blamed the US for creating ISIS and claimed that America looted and tyrannized Iraq, adding that Iran “was the first to stand by the Iraqi people in the face of ISIS.”

“The martyr Qassem Soleimani resisted the American occupation and contributed to the establishment of the Iraqi resistance factions and provided them with money, weapons, strength, vigor, hope, confidence and enthusiasm until the great victory and the expulsion of the American forces from Iraq,” said Nasrallah.  “Is there a sane equation between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which supported and protected Iraq?”

Nasrallah expressed outrage at the intention of the US military to leave advisers in Iraq after it withdrew combat forces.  He said the US’ “fate” was to leave the region.

In reference to Israel, Nasrallah claimed that the US “is responsible for all of Israel’s crimes in Palestine and in the region because it is the one that funds, supports, arms, protects and forces the world to normalize with Israel.”

Nasrallah additionally referenced Hisham Abu Hawash, a Palestinian held in administrative detention by Israel who has been on a hunger strike for 140 days.

The Hezbollah leader questioned how Lebanese people saw the US as a friend considering it stands behind Israel.

Referring to Saudi Arabia and the civil war in Yemen, Nasrallah claimed that Saudi Arabia is a “tool” being used by the US in Yemen.  The Hezbollah leader additionally accused Saudi Arabia of supporting ISIS in Syria and holding “thousands of Lebanese“ hostage in the Gulf.

Nasrallah rejected statements by Saudi officials calling his movement “terrorist,” saying that Saudi Arabia is terrorist for its action in the war in Yemen and that Hezbollah is defending its homeland.

In response to recent critical statements from Hezbollah-ally the Free Patriot Movement (FPM) against the group, Nasrallah stressed that Hezbollah is keen to reach an understanding with the FPM and is still committed to the understandings already reached with the movement.  

Nasrallah added that he would address internal issues within Lebanon on another occasion.



Gunshots Fired From Gaza Into Israel, Military Says

Gaza Strip militants opened machine gun fire from the Palestinian enclave into Israel, the military reported on Monday (3rd).

A military spokesman said the shooting had only set off an alarm on the Home Front Command’s phone app in an open area in southern Israel near the border with Gaza and did not trigger sirens in nearby towns.  No casualties or damage were reported in the incident.

This is the third such incident in the area over the past week, as tensions between Israel and Gaza terrorist factions are simmering.

Hamas militants launched rockets into the Mediterranean Sea off central Israel, prompting Israel to carry out airstrikes on military targets in Gaza early Sunday (2nd).

The Israeli military said it struck “a rocket manufacturing site and military posts” belonging to Hamas in the Gaza Strip in response to Saturday’s (1st) rocket fire.

On Wednesday (12/29), Palestinian militants shot and wounded an Israeli contractor working along the border fence and Israel responded with artillery fire targeting military posts, ending a month’s long calm along the southern frontier.   

At the Sunday (2nd) Israeli cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, “Whoever points missiles at Israel bears responsibility.”  He also dismissed Hamas’ claims that the rockets had been launched and triggered by a thunderstorm, saying “All this talk about lightning causing the rockets’ launch are irrelevant.”



Defiant In War And Isolation, Hamas Plays Lone Game In Gaza – Joseph Krauss And Fares Akram

Some 2,000 truckloads of fuel, cement and other goods entered Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah crossing in September, nearly twice the monthly average in 2019 and 2020.  Hamas collects tens of millions a month in taxes and customs at the Rafah crossing to pay its 50,000 civil servants and support its powerful armed wing, while international aid covers most of the basic needs of Gaza’s 2 million residents.

UN agencies have spent more than $4.5 billion in Gaza since 2014, including $600 million in 2020.  Qatar has sent $1.3 billion to Gaza since 2012 and its largesse can be seen in Gaza City, where Qatari funds were used to build a seaside promenade and expand a main road that runs past a Qatari-funded housing complex and the Qatari diplomatic mission.  It all looks very prosperous, with families strolling past beach cafes, amusement parks and even luxury hotels.  But the average Gazan only has 13 hours of electricity a day and tap water is undrinkable.

There has been almost no public opposition to Hamas within Gaza because Palestinians see no viable alternative.  The Palestinian Authority is seen by many as corrupt and authoritarian.  A poll in December found that 47% of Gazans would vote for Hamas if parliamentary elections were held, compared to 29% who would vote for PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah.



Israeli Doctors Restore Blind Woman’s Vision In Breakthrough Procedure

A 60-year-old blind woman from Nazareth is now able to see thanks to revolutionary surgery performed in Israel.

Physicians came up with the innovative idea to use material from the woman’s shin bone to form a new cornea after concluding Hanane Awad was not a candidate for a synthetic cornea transplant, the conventional treatment for her condition.

“There [are] …no good solutions nowadays in the world except for artificial corneas,” Dr. Eitan Livni explained to i24NEWS.

A team of four doctors from Rabin Medical Center in Petach Tikvah restored the woman’s vision in what was a 14-hour procedure.

“I’ve seen hundreds of doctors in several hospitals, and all of them told me they couldn’t help me,” Awad said.

They told me it was over, and I had to remain blind for my whole life.  But here in Beilinson [Rabin Medical Center], I was told that I could get surgery, and I found new hope.”

Following the operation, Awad was able to see the face of her grandson for the first time.

“I was so moved.  Until now, all I could do was touch and hug him, and now I eventually saw him,” the woman said.

“At the end of the day, there was light,” she said.  “And in the end, I saw the light.”



Syrian Official Slams Russia For Silence Over Alleged Israeli Strikes

The strikes on Syria in recent weeks, which have been attributed to Israel by Syrian officials, have led to friction between the country’s military and their Russian counterparts, the Lebanese daily Al Akhbar reported on Monday (3rd).

A senior Syrian official who spoke to the paper, which is affiliated with the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, slammed Russia for essentially ignoring the alleged Israeli attacks and tacitly giving Jerusalem a green light to carry on such strikes as long as no Russian troops are hurt.

“The Israelis target sites that are inside Russian-controlled areas and they [the Russian troops] don’t even fire interceptors at the missiles,” the official lamented.  He continued, saying, “The blood boils over Russia’s silence when it comes to Israel taking advantage of airborne Russian cargo and reconnaissance planes as they carry out attacks [supposedly hiding behind their radar signal], and this prevents the Syrian air defense from engaging the attackers.”

The unusual comments come amid reported tension between Iran and Syria.  The latter, according to an Al-Arabiya report, wants Iran’s influence in the country scaled down as it is a potentially destabilizing factor.  According to sources who spoke with the network, Syria is considering actions that would severely curtail Iran’s activity, mainly along the coast.