News Digest — 10/19/21

6 Magnitude Quake Hits Under Mediterranean Rattling Israeli Coast

An earthquake underneath the eastern Mediterranean Sea close to the Isle of Crete on Tuesday morning (19th) was felt in parts of central Israel and the coastal region.

The United States Geological Survey said the tremblor measured 6 on the Richter scale and was at a depth of 37 kilometers.  The Geological Survey of Israel said it measured the quake at 5.8.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

There was no tsunami warning issued following the quake.

Residents of the cities of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Petah Tikvah, Givatayim and Holon all reported feeling the tremor.  The Reuters news agency said it was also felt in parts of Egypt and Lebanon.

Minor quakes  have rattled Israel in recent years as concerns grow about the country’s level of preparedness for a larger quake.

In 2019, an earthquake measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale was felt throughout Israel, causing no injuries or damage.  In 2018, more than a dozen small but noticeable earthquakes shook northern Israel near the Sea of Galilee.  At least four measured higher than 4 on the Richter scale, with some felt as far away as Jerusalem.   A similar amount occurred in 2013.

Israel is situated along the Syrian-African rift, a tear in the earth’s crust running the length of the border separating Israel and Jordan.  It is part of the Great Rift Valley, which extends from northern Syria to Mozambique.

The last major earthquake to hit the region was in 1927 when a 6.2 magnitude tremor killed 500 and injured 700.

Northern Israel and areas around Jerusalem and the Dead Sea are at high risk of a quake measuring 5 to 6 on the Richter scale, according to the World Health Organization, with the central and southern coastal areas and the Negev Desert at medium risk of a quake in the 4 to 5 range.

Experts have warned that a large earthquake could strike Israel in the near future, and the government has begun funding projects for buildings to be bolstered against tremors.



Bennett To Ask Putin To Keep Iran Away From Golan Heights

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is set to ask Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to lean on Iran regarding its forces stationed in Syria near Israel’s northern border, when the pair meets later this week.

Bennett is slated to travel to Moscow on Friday (22nd) for his first meeting with the Russian premier since taking office earlier this year.

According to Israel Hayom, Iran will be the subject of main concern when the leaders meet, with Bennett planning to enlist Russia’s help to rein-in Iran’s efforts to develop terrorist infrastructure along the Israeli-Syrian border.

Over the weekend reports emerged that Israel had killed Madhat al-Saleh on Saturday (16th).  Al-Saleh was a senior adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad and former director of the Golan Affairs Office.  He was believed to have been instrumental in helping Hezbollah entrench its positions in the region, with a view to carrying out attacks against the Golan Heights.

Moscow is said to be unhappy about the attack, but diplomatic officials have indicated that an Israeli-Russian status quo, not to interfere with each others’ operations in Syria, will continue.

Israel’s interests in Syria do not wholly align with Russia’s, as both compete over influence and resources in the region.  Russia backs Assad, while Israel is more closely aligned with Western interests who have sought to topple him.

However, Moscow also doesn’t see eye to eye with Tehran on Syria, opposing the Islamic State’s use of the country as a potential launch pad for a future offensive against Israel, giving Israeli strategists reason to believe that Russia may prove an ally on this matter.

Bennett and Putin are also expected to discuss Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the attempt by Western states, notably the US, Germany and Britain among others, to persuade Tehran to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal.

It is understood that Bennett will be accompanied on his trip by Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a Soviet immigrant who previously accompanied former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to act as translator during meetings with Putin.  Elkin also brings an in-depth understanding of the relationship between Israel and Russia to the table.



Hezbollah Leader Declares His Group Has 100,000 Fighters

The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah declared for the first time Monday (18th) that his powerful militant group has 100,000 trained fighters.

Hassan Nasrallah disclosed the size of the Shiite group’s militant arm in his first speech since seven people were killed in gun battles on the streets of Beirut on Thursday (14th).  The confrontation erupted over a long-running probe into last year’s massive port blast in the city.

Verifying the numbers of the largely secretive militant group is difficult.  If true, it would be larger than Lebanon’s armed forces, estimated at 85,000.

Nasrallah’s speech comes at a time of heightened tension in Lebanon over the clashes and the course of the investigation into the August 4, 2020 blast that killed 215 people.

Hezbollah and its allies have criticized the judge leading the investigation, asking that he be removed.  The violence Thursday (14th) came as officials from Hezbollah suggested the judge’s investigation is leaning toward holding them responsible for the gigantic explosion.

Thursday’s (14th) clashes saw gunmen battling each other for several hours with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades in the streets of Beirut.  It was the most violent confrontation in the city in years, echoing the nation’s darkest era of the 1975-90 civil war.



IDF Official: Israel Expects Hezbollah To Fire 2,000 Rockets A Day In Wartime

Israel does not want war with Hezbollah, but is prepared to face about 2,000 rockets a day from the terror group if conflict breaks out, a senior Israeli military official told AFP.

During the 11-day May conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian terror groups fired around 4,000 projectiles towards the Jewish state.  The Iron Dome air defense system intercepted around 90% of the rockets headed for populated areas, while just under 300 hit inhabited districts.

Cities like Tel Aviv and Ashdod experienced the “highest number of rocket fire toward them in the history of Israel,” said Uri Gordin, chief of the army’s Home Front Command.  “We saw a pace of more than 400 rockets fired toward Israel on a daily basis.”

Gordin said that in the case of a future “conflict or a war with Hezbollah, we expect more than five times the number of rockets fired every day from Lebanon to Israel.”

“Basically, we are looking at between 1,500 and 2,500 rockets fired daily towards Israel,” he told AFP.

The IDF’s Home Front Command is in charge of civil defense, meaning it is responsible for readying the country in case of threat, conflict or disaster.  The unit was criticized for its response to the 2006 war with Hezbollah, which killed more than 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis.

That war was a “wake-up call” for the Home Front Command, Gordin said, adding that it had since beefed up its liaison units, which are now active across 250 Israeli municipalities to provide assistance in case of attack.

An Israeli security source told AFP  that the IDF is hoping for “stability” with its northern neighbor, which is mired in a crippling economic crisis, and on Thursday (14th) saw deadly sectarian clashes in the capital Beirut that left seven dead, including Hezbollah members.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah is “the source of instability in Lebanon,” the security source said, adding that the group “exploits the state’s resources for Iranian interests.”

“Israel, however, is preparing for any and all options and scenarios, including military capabilities – we must always be ready,” the security source said.



Stop Enabling The Anti-Semites – Ammiel Hirsch

→ The Jewish people is and has always been the perfect scapegoat around which to organize and rally people to extreme political causes.  Communists could accuse the Jews of being capitalists.  Capitalists could accuse the Jews of being communists.  The hard left can accuse the Jews of being white and complicit in racial inequality, and the extreme right can accuse the Jews of being an insidious enemy of the white race.

→ The recent explosion of anti-Semitism awakens in me a dire, depressing, demoralizing dread.  If there is one lesson to absorb from the Holocaust, it is when someone proclaims an intention to exterminate the Jews, believe them.  Take them seriously.  Iran threatens Jewish extermination all the time.  Hezbollah threatens Jewish extermination all the time.  Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad threaten Jewish extermination all the time.  What in the world are progressives doing supporting such people?

→ I am not opposed to legitimate criticism of Jews or the Jewish state.  Yet it is undeniable that hatred of Israel foments hatred of Jews.  Attacks on Israel lead to attacks on Jews.  The extent and manner of the single-minded, blind obsession with Israel often bleeds into hatred of Jews, and normalizes Jew-hatred to an extent not seen since the darkest days of the 20th century.

→ Wild accusations of ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and genocide – against the only actual democracy in the Middle East – are blood libels, different only in form, but not in substance, from Jews poisoning the wells.

→ I am a liberal rabbi leading a Reform synagogue composed of mostly liberal Jews.  And in my view, many liberal Jews are misled by the high-sounding rhetoric of anti-Zionist professors, thought leaders, influencers, and media personalities.  Pro-Palestinian activity is often led by those who do not seek accommodation with Israel, but its annihilation.  That is anti-Semitism.

→ More than half of all Jewish children in the world live in Israel.  Threats to destroy the Jewish state are threats to destroy the Jewish people.

The writer, senior rabbi of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan, is former executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America.