News Digest — 10/24/19

Gantz Receives Mandate To Form Government

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin gave the mandate to form the next government to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz Wednesday night (23rd).

The mandate was passed on to Gantz after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he was unable to form a coalition and returned the mandate to the president earlier this week.

At a press conference in Jerusalem, Rivlin called on political parties to make “concessions” while Gantz promised to “try to form a liberal union government.”

“We must behave responsibly towards Israeli citizens and avoid new elections,” Gantz said, adding that there would be room for “all elements of Israeli society” in his coalition.

Gantz will have 28 days to assemble the government, and he will not be able to request a further extension.



Iranian Government Spokesman: Israel Is ‘Illegitimate Element’ In Middle East

This past weekend, an Iranian spokesman said Israel is an “illegitimate element” in the Middle East, reports Iran’s Fars News Agency.

“The Israeli regime is an unwanted and illegitimate element in the region and its viewpoints are not crucial for Iran and the security of the Persian Gulf,” Ali Rabiyee said.

The Iranian news agency also reported that during last week’s 141st Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani urged those present to herald the grievances of the Palestinians.

“The plight of Palestine has undermined the Muslim world,” Larijani said at the Assembly, an organization which claims as its mission the promotion of democracy.

 He also emphasized that Iran cannot be eliminated from the equation in Middle East security affairs.

On October 10, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the rising Iranian threat to Israel at a memorial service of the IDF soldiers that died during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“The current focus of aggression in the Middle East is the Iranian regime in Tehran.  Iran is striving to tighten its grip on Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said.

“Iran threatens to wipe us off the map.  It says explicitly: ‘Israel will disappear.’  Time and time again, it tries to attack us, so we must stand ready to protect ourselves from the danger,” he added.

The prime minister reaffirmed that under his leadership Israel will always protect itself preemptively from any threats levied upon the Jewish State.

“We always remember and apply the basic rule that guides us.  Israel will defend itself, on its own, in the face of every threat.  The IDF is prepared to preempt any threat, defensively and offensively, with its overwhelming power in weaponry and its spirit,” he said.



‘This Has Been One Of The IAF’s Busiest Operational Years’ – Lilach Shoval

“Earlier this year we thought the IAF will have to reduce its operations across the Middle East, but reality dictated differently,” a senior Israeli Air Force officer told Israel Hayom recently.

Col. G., commander of the Ramon Airbase southwest of Beersheba, from which a considerable number of the IAF’s offensive missions embark, said that, operationally-speaking, “This has been one of the most intense years we’ve had since the onset of the campaign between the wars.  We’ve mounted hundreds of strikes.”

The “campaign between the wars” is a strategic concept employed by the IDF that encompasses a host of covert and low-intensity military and intelligence efforts to prevent enemy states and terrorist organizations from becoming stronger.  This effort focuses primarily on disrupting the force build-up of the Iranian-Shiite axis throughout the Middle East.

According to G., while the military would like to scale back the scope of its activities, “The rate at which we operate stems from the challenges posed by the other side.”

Commenting on both confirmed and alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria, G. noted that “over the past year alone, the number of surface-to-air missiles fired from Syria at Israeli aircraft has exceeded their number in wars.  They’ve fired hundreds of missiles, everything they have.” As for the possibility that the Russian S-300 air defense system, which was delivered to Syria earlier this year, will impede the IAF’s operational leeway in the northern sector, G. said he believes that “If necessary, we will know how to deal with it as well.  Naturally, we have to make sure it doesn’t violate our operational freedom.”

He noted that there have been cases when the IAF aborted missions en route because Russian jets had crossed into the target airspace – a lesson learned from the 2018 incident that saw Syrian air defenses down a Russian plane while attempting to counter Israeli missile fire.  

Commenting on the controversy over the necessity of the “campaign between the wars,” he said that shelving this strategy may jeopardize the IAF’s operational freedom.

“I don’t know if we could gather intelligence in Lebanon the way we do if we hadn’t been operating this way since 2013.  If the Lebanese Army was equipped with air defense systems and suddenly decided that they wouldn’t stand for it anymore, it would become difficult.  They currently don’t have this capability.”

On the other hand, he said, “This strategy’s primary objective, even at the cost of an operational failure, is to avoid war.  If we go down to war then something has gone wrong because that’s not what we intended to do – except in a case where a red line has been crossed,” he said.

This “red line” mainly concerns Iran’s attempt to smuggle advanced, game-changing weapons to its regional proxy Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon, as well as Hezbollah’s efforts to locally produce precision missiles.



Kurdish Children Being Treated At Israeli Hospital

After being bombed and attacked by both the Turkish Army and its allied Free Syrian Army Forces in Afrin last year, Aram (name changed for security reasons) and her family – Kurds who were native to northern Syria – were forced to flee to Iraqi Kurdistan, much like the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have recently become refugees due to the Turkish military operation.

When Aram arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan, her three and a half year old son, Ajwan, required open heart surgery that was unavailable in Kurdistan, but an American doctor working there told her that Ajwan could be treated in Israel.

“I was not afraid to come to Israel, even though I was warned I could lose my Syrian passport,” Aram told the Jerusalem Post.

Within a short time, Ajwan was connected to the Jerusalem-based Christian Zionist NGO Shevet Achim, which arranged visas for Aram and Ajwan, and heart surgery for Ajwan at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer.

The goal of Shevet Achim is to help non-Israeli children receive life-saving medical care in the Jewish state.  Efforts are continuing despite recent escalations, the NGO head Jonathan Miles explained to the Post.  In the last 10 months, they have arranged treatment at Sheba and visas for 41 Iraqi Kurdish children, as well as three from Syria.  Despite recent escalations, efforts are continuing. Two new patients are slated to arrive from the war-torn areas on Sunday (27th), according to Miles, though he could not disclose further details.

The program is specifically focused on heart surgeries for children.

“For a Kurdish child to come here, his visa has to cross the desk of the interior minister, who limits entry to those who need life-saving medical care,” Miles said, noting that the families have to fly through Jordan to Israel.

He said that with as many as 200,000 to 300,000 Kurds who have sought – or are seeking – refuge in northern Iraq, he assumes another 20 to 30 children with congenital heart diseases will need to be treated, and “Israel will have an opportunity to reach out a hand in this way.”

Meanwhile, Aram said, “I am thankful for all the help, and especially the doctors at Sheba for saving my son, Ajwan.” 



 Pennsylvania Flags To Fly At Half-Staff On Anniversary Of Tree Of Life Attack

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed a proclamation calling for a day of remembrance and ordering state flags to half-staff to mark the one-year anniversary of the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue building that left 11 worshipers dead.

The proclamation extends the City of Pittsburgh’s resolution declaring the “Remember Repair Together Day” across the whole state, according to local reports.

It also orders the state flag on all commonwealth facilities, public buildings and grounds to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on October 27, 2019, the one-year anniversary of the attack.  The United States flag will remain at full staff.

“A year has passed, but I continue to carry sorrow for the victims and their families of this heinous attack,”Wolf said on Friday (18th) when he signed the proclamation.  “We must honor them by remembering, and through our thoughts, prayers and actions. I ask all Pennsylvanians to spend October 27 doing the same in their honor.”

Wolf honored the 11 victims of the attack last month while on a visit to Auschwitz, including writing their names in the guestbook at the memorial site.

“My visits to Holocaust sites reaffirmed my belief that we need to work everyday to stop anti-Semitism and hate from growing in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said.  “By reaching out to cultivate bonds of friendship and understanding, we observe the one-year mark of the attack at Tree of Life with action that helps strengthen our commonwealth and prevent hate from growing.”