News Digest — 1/5/24

Suspected Jordanian Airstrikes Target Iran-Linked Drug Smugglers In Syria

Jordanian airstrikes targeted several sites near the Jordanian-Syrian border on Thursday night (4th), according to the local news site Suwayda 24.

One of the sites targeted was located in the town of Al Ghariyah, while another strike targeted the home of a man named Ahed al-Ramthan in the town of Al-Shaab, both south of As-Suwayda.

Local and regional intelligence sources told Reuters that the airstrikes targeted suspected warehouses and hideouts of Iranian-backed drug smugglers.

Suspected Jordanian airstrikes in May targeted sites in the same area, killing a drug smuggler named Marie al-Ramthan in his home in Shaab.  According to opposition-affiliated media outlets in Syria, Ramthan had ties with the Syrian military and Hezbollah and used those ties to expand his drug smuggling.  It is unclear as of yet if Ramthan is tied to the Ramthan targeted in the latest reported strike.

The Jordanian Army has thwarted several drug and weapons smuggling attempts from Syria throughout the past year, including in recent weeks.  Armed clashes have repeatedly erupted between Jordanian forces and the smugglers, with one Jordanian soldier and several smugglers killed.

Chairman of Jordan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Maj.-Gen. Yousef Huneiti, pushed for the improvement of the country’s border guard units on Thursday (4th), saying that all the latest and most sophisticated equipment was being provided to the units to combat infiltrations and smuggling attempts, according to Jordan’s state news agency.

Huneiti also instructed the army to start plans to build an electronic fence along the border to deter smuggling.

Jordanian officials, like their Western allies, say that Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group and other pro-Iranian terror groups who control much of southern Syria were behind a surge in drug and weapons smuggling.

Jordan has been promised more US military aid to improve security on the border.  However, Washingron has already given around $1 billion to establish border posts since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, Jordanian officials say.

UN experts and US and European officials say the illicit drug trade finances a proliferation of pro-Iranian terrorists and pro-government paramilitary forces created by more than a decade of conflict in Syria.



Some Hezbollah Troops Retreat From Israel Border. Gallant Talks To US Envoy

Hezbollah has withdrawn its forces from the Israeli border by two or three kilometers, Maariv reported Thursday (4th), citing a report from The Economist.

It is a “tactical withdrawal” and a signal to Israel and the US that Hezbollah wants to avoid an all-out war, the report said.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday (4th) told visiting US envoy Amos Hochstein that time was running out for a diplomatic solution to moving Hezbollah’s forces in southern Lebanon away from the border with Israel.

“The window of time for a diplomatic solution is short,” he said.  “We are obligated to return the northern residents to their homes upon the changing of the security situation on the border.”

Absent a deal with Hezbollah to withdraw its Radwan forces according to UN Resolution 1701, which mostly involves being north of the Litani River, Israel would need to escalate its attacks on the terrorist group, even if that leads to a broader war, Gallant has said repeatedly in recent weeks.

More than 80,000 Israelis have been evacuated from their homes in the North since October, when Hezbollah started attacking Israel with rockets and anti-tank missiles.

In the last three to four weeks, the IDF has started to attack Hezbollah more aggressively and broadly.  It has succeeded in getting more than half of Hezbollah’s forces to withdraw to the Litani River.

Significant numbers of Hezbollah forces remain near the border, however, and the terrorist group has continued to fire missiles and rockets at Israel.

Gallant on Thursday (4th) specified the conditions that Israel could live with for a diplomatic deal with Hezbollah.

Short of a significant change in the security situation, most northern residents have said they would refuse to return to the border, something that would threaten the ethos of Zionism regarding Jews being able to live anywhere within Israel’s sovereign territory, including near hostile borders.



Blood Money: Hamas’ Money Man Who Could Replace Al-Arouri

Israeli and American officials say Zaher Jabarin, Saleh al-Arouri’s right-hand man, is in charge of maintaining the financial empire of the Hamas operations.  Jabarin, a Hamas official in charge of the prisoner affairs portfolio, attended Saleh al-Arouri’s funeral on Thursday (4th).  Now it remains to be seen whether Jabarin, seen as a Hamas economic mastermind, will step into the shoes of the “West Bank’s Mohammed Deif,” as al-Arouri was previously called. 

The Wall Street Journal wrote in a profile story on Jabarin, that in his youth in the 1980s, he led a Hamas cell and asked his mother for the money to buy weapons.  Now, he oversees an economic empire estimated by the United States to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, funding Hamas’ terrorist activities.

Jabarin, 55, manages Hamas’ financial ties with Iran.  According to American and Israeli sources, he ensures the transfer of funds from Tehran to the Gaza Strip.  He is also responsible for several companies that provide a steady income to Hamas and operates a network of private supporters and businessmen who funnel money to the terror organization.

Jabarin’s influence over Hamas’ finances is so significant that security officials in Israel and the United States believe he is the one enabling the organization to pay for weapons and soldiers, including for the execution of the October 7 attacks.

Jabarin was close to al-Arouri who was assassinated in Beirut on Tuesday (2nd).  The two assisted in establishing Hamas’ military wing in the West Bank and were considered to have close ties to Iran.

In Israel, there are concerns that even should Hamas’ terror infrastructure in Gaza be destroyed, the organization’s economic empire will remain intact.  Over the years, despite sanctions, Jabarin has successfully utilized financial systems in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the UAE, Sudan, and recently in Turkey to establish companies and transfer funds to the Gaza Strip.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Hamas operates an office in Istanbul in a building with darkened windows overseen by Jabarin.  He holds stakes in several companies, including those traded on the Turkish stock exchange.  “It’s an honor to fund Hamas,” he said in an interview, but denied being responsible for the money transfer itself, stating, “it’s an accusation, not a fact.”

He also said that Hamas has connections with many countries, including Iran, Russia, Algeria, and Turkey.  

Some in Israel said that Jabarin has maintained connections with individuals close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who aided Hamas in obtaining weapons and funding.  He also maintained ties with Hezbollah.

He received Turkish assistance in purchasing and leasing businesses and apartments, acquiring luxury cars, and using his position to fund terror attacks against Israelis.  The United States imposed sanctions against him in 2019, saying he was the mind behind “a financial network that allowed Hamas to raise and launder vast sums of money” from Turkey.”

Jabarin, who grew up in Salfit in the West Bank, led the first intifada’s youth brigade called “The Firing Squad” and was responsible for establishing Hamas’ influence in the West Bank.  He is credited with recruiting Tahya Ayyash into Hamas’ ranks, who was involved in planning the abduction of Nissim Toledano and his subsequent murder.

He was also responsible for planning a series of terror attacks.  Jabarin was arrested by the Shin Bet in 1993 and sentenced to life imprisonment and an additional 35 years.  While in prison, he learned Hebrew, earned a degree, and began writing his book.  Like Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, Jabarin was released from prison in 2011 as part of the release deal for Gilad Shalit.



 Islamic State Claims Responsibility For Blasts Near Soleimani’s Grave In Iran

Islamic State claimed responsibility on Thursday (4th) for two explosions that killed nearly 100 people and wounded scores at a ceremony in Iran to commemorate commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a US drone in 2020.

The group posted a statement on its affiliate Telegram channels.

An informed source told Iranian state media that the first explosion in Iran on Wednesday (3rd) was caused by a suicide bomber.

 His claim comes after a review of evidence, including CCTV footage.

Iranian state television reported a first and then a second explosion during an anniversary event at the cemetery where Soleimani is buried in the southeastern city of Kerman.

Iranian Health Minister Bahram Eynollahi told state TV the death toll was at 95, down from 103, and said 211 others were injured, making it the deadliest attack in the history of the Islamic Republic, which has faced similar incidents in the past from various groups, including Islamic State.



U.S.: Israel Can Eliminate The Threat Hamas Poses To The Israeli People

U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said Wednesday (3rd): “The United States remains focused on working with a range of partners to help Israel defend itself, to surge humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, and, of course, to defend our national security interests in the region.  That most certainly includes protecting the free flow of international commerce in the Red Sea.  To accomplish these goals, we have established and will continue to maintain a significant force presence in the Middle East.”

Regarding the killing of the Hamas leader in Beirut, “Al-Arouri was a noted designated global terrorist.  And if he is , in fact, dead, nobody should be shedding a tear over his loss,”  said Kirby.

“We believe that it is absolutely an attainable goal for the Israeli military forces to degrade and defeat Hamas’ abilities to conduct attacks inside Israel.  It can be done militarily.  Are you going to eliminate the ideology?  No.  And are you likely going to erase the group from existence?  Probably not.  But can you eliminate the threat that Hamas poses to the Israeli people? Absolutely.”

“We showed that with respect to ISIS and al-Qaeda; it can be done.  ISIS and al-Qaeda still exist, but they are nowhere near the kind of threats that they once posed.   So, it can be done militarily.”

Regarding South Africa accusing Israel of genocide at the International Court of Justice, “We find this submission meritless, counterproductive, and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever,” he stated.  (White House)



Toronto: Jewish-Owned Store Vandalized Before Being Set On Fire

The Toronto Police hate crime unit is investigating a fire at a Jewish-owned grocery store in the city that was also spray-painted with the words “Free Palestine,” CBC News reports.

Police said the fire is being probed as suspected hate-motivated arson.  The graffiti is being probed as a possible hate crime.

Staff Supt. Pauline Gray, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service, told reporters on Wednesday (3rd) that the International Delicatessen Foods, located on Steeles Avenue West near Petrolia Road was targeted.

“I’ve been a criminal investigator the vast majority of my career, and in most of those criminal investigations, there was a tipping point.  This is the tipping point,” Gray said near the scene.

“This is not graffiti on a bus shelter.  This is not lawful protesting protected by constitutional right.  This is a criminal act.  It is violent, it is targeted, it is organized, and it will receive the weight of the Toronto Police Service, which is exactly what it deserves,” she added. 

“We will leave no stone unturned.  We will use all the resources available to us to investigate, arrest and prosecute who is responsible for this.”

The owner of the business confirmed to CBC Toronto that he is Jewish and said he believes the vandalism is an act of anti-Semitism.

The business’ name is displayed as the acronym “IDF,”  just like the acronym for Israel Defense Forces, in large red letters above the building’s entrance.

Police and firefighters were called to the scene at about 6:00 a.m. on Wednesday (3rd).  When firefighters arrived, they saw smoke coming from the rear.  Fire crews entered the building and extinguished the blaze.

Gray said police suspect the incident was motivated by hate and believe it was committed with “bias or prejudice.”

No one was injured in the incident.

Recently published information from the Toronto Police Service shows that incidents targeting the city’s Jewish community nearly doubled in 2023

Between January 1 and December 17 there were 338 hate-motivated incidents reported of which 147 were against the Jewish community.  Between October 7 and December 17 there were 98 hate crimes reported, of which 56 were anti-Semitic.

Recent incidents in Toronto include threats to the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto – a Jewish high school in the district of North York.

The school was targeted again several weeks later when it was evacuated following a bomb threat.

Other incidents include graffiti depicting the Star of David smeared with red paint to symbolize blood, and words such as “Free Palestine” and “Soaked in Blood.” were written above it.

 In early November, an Indigo book store in downtown Toronto was vandalized with red paint and posters plastered on its front windows wrongfully accusing its Jewish founder and CEO, Heather Reisman , of “Funding Genocide.”