News Digest — 10/23/20

Two Rockets Fired From Gaza At Ashkelon, One Intercepted – IDF Strikes back

Two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at the city of Ashkelon and nearby communities north of the Gaza Strip on Thursday night (22nd) the military said, following months of relative quiet along the border.

The Israel Defense Forces said one projectile was intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.  The second appeared to land in an open field.  No injuries or damages were reported.

The attack triggered sirens throughout Ashkelon and several communities south of the city.

Video footage showed the interception by the Iron Dome system took place over Ashkelon.

In response to the rocket attack, the IDF struck sites belonging to Hamas, including underground infrastructure and a site used to manufacture weapons.

The attack came two days after a single rocket was fired at Israel, drawing a reprisal raid.  A Gazan rocket was also fired at Israel on Friday (16th).

Tuesday’s rocket attack occurred hours after the military announced uncovering what it said was a Hamas “attack tunnel” inside Israeli territory that had been dug from the Gaza Strip.

The terror tunnel had been constructed from the southern Gaza City of Khan Yunis toward the Israeli community of Kibbutz Kissufim.

The military said Wednesday night (21st) that they determined Hamas had built the tunnel based on the manner of construction.  It did not offer any details.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas.

Meanwhile, shortly after Thursday (22nd) night’s rocket fire, Ahmed Al-Mudallai, a senior member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) stated that “the Palestinian resistance is in a state of complete readiness for any confrontation or escalation, and the equation of ‘bombing for bombing’ is still in place and will be met,” according to Palestinian media. 



Benny Gantz, Mark Esper Sign Joint Declaration Of Strategic Commitment

Alternative Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz met US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper at the Pentagon Thursday (22nd) and signed a joint declaration confirming the latter’s strategic commitment to maintaining qualitative military edge (QME) in the Middle East, according to a defense ministry press release Thursday.

Both Gantz and Esper delivered remarks on the importance of the meeting.

“It was important for me once again to reaffirm the special relationship between our two countries, the commitment we have made to Israel’s security, based on our shared values, our shared history, and I want to thank you for your personal efforts in the past few weeks,” Esper said.

Gantz thanked Esper for his commitment to Israeli security, saying in a statement “Indeed over the last few weeks, you and I led, together with other people, very good and very important discussions that reassure the bipartisan commitment to Israel’s QME.  I want to thank you and your people, and the American administration, for supporting it.”

“Now that we are entering an era of positive normalization processes in the Middle East, which actually can face an aggressive Iran across the region, this ability of continued cooperation is so very important, and I am looking forward to hosting you in Israel.  I want to thank you, the Administration, and everyone else who has helped in enabling this very important peace, which is causing the future to be even brighter,” Gantz added.

A source said that the meeting went well, with an agreement formulated on further Israeli acquisitions of American arms.

“We are in a very good position regarding relations with the United States and the commitment of Israel’s relative advantage being maintained in the region,” the source added.



Hamas Operating Secret Headquarters In Turkey

Western intelligence services claim that the Hamas terrorist organization has established a secret cyberwarfare and counter-intelligence ops headquarters in Turkey, according to a report by The Times.

The intelligence sources say that the Gaza-based terror group opened a clandestine cyberwar headquarters in Istanbul about two years ago.

While the Turkish government allows Hamas officials to operate in the city, Turkey is unaware of the cyberwarfare headquarters, the intel sources say.

The cyberwarfare and counter-intelligence operation is reportedly separate from the Hamas Istanbul office, which deals primarily with securing funding for the terror group.

According to the report, the Istanbul cyberwar team is directed by Samakh Saraj, and is answerable directly to Hamas leaders in Gaza, with Yahya Sinwar, Hamas chief, monitoring the unit’s operations.

Hamas’ secret Istanbul unit reportedly runs the terror group’s operations against Hamas rivals across the Arab world, including against the Palestinian Authority, and against Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates embassies in the Middle East and Europe.

The unit is also said to be responsible for internal surveillance within Hamas, monitoring members suspected of disloyalty.



PA Arabs Sue Britain Over Balfour Declaration

Palestinian lawyers on Thursday (22nd) filed a complaint to sue the British government for the 1917 declaration setting out London’s support for a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.

The lawyers filed a complaint in Nablus that claimed “the suffering of the Palestinians” stemmed from this document.

The Balfour Declaration signed by the then British foreign secretary, Arthur James Balfour, is seen as a precursor to Israel’s creation in 1948.

“The British mandate is at the root of the suffering of the Palestinian people and has paved the way for the violation of their rights and the plunder of their land,” Munib al-Masri, head of the Federation of Independent and Democratic Trade Unions, told a news conference in Ramallah.

As well as the trade union’s group, the complaint was filed on behalf of the International Commission to Support Palestinian People’s Rights and the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate.

The Balfour Declaration was published on November 2, 1917, a year before the end of World War I.

In one sentence it announced the British government’s backing for the establishment within Palestine, then a region of the Ottoman Empire, of “a national home for the Jewish people.”

The PA has always condemned the declaration, which they refer to as the “Balfour Promise,” saying Britain was giving away land it did not own.



Arab Leaders Want The US To Support Israel – Walter Russell Mead

→ As the US has reduced its regional footprint and ambitions, the Middle East has begun to change on its own.  Saudi Arabia has opened its airspace to commercial flights from Tel Aviv to Dubai, while the UAE has shifted from not recognizing the Jewish state to building a warm peace and economic partnership with Israel.

→ In the new Middle East, the younger generation is turning its back on religious radicalism, and Arab public opinion is moving to accept the presence of a Jewish state.  The Palestinians have lost their position at the center of Middle East politics, and it is Turkey and Iran, not Israel, that Arab rulers are most concerned to oppose.

→ President Trump’s peace plan, which many longtime Middle East experts dismissed as a ghastly blunder that would destroy the American role in Middle East peace negotiations, has turned out to be relatively popular on the Arab street.  A Zogby survey found majorities in favor of the “Deal of the Century” in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.  56% considered America “an ally” of their country, up from a low of 35% in 2018.

→ US national security adviser Robert O’Brien, told me the key Arab leaders have embraced the idea that better relations with Israel are critical to their states’ security and even survival.

→ It is Turkey even more than Iran that keeps some Arab leaders awake at night.  President Erdogan has aligned himself closely with the Muslim Brotherhood, a regional Islamic movement.  Iran can only call on the minority Shiites for religious support, but Turkey can attract supporters from the Brotherhood’s networks within the Sunni majority.

→ Ironically, the current Arab nightmare is that the next US administration won’t support Israel enough.

The writer is Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities at Bard College.