News Digest — 11/23/20

Netanyahu Secretly Visited Saudi Arabia

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly visited Saudi Arabia Sunday (22nd).

An Israeli source claimed that Netanyahu accompanied US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the city of Neom in Saudi Arabia Monday (23rd).  Mossad chief Yossi Cohen was also present, the source claimed.

The three met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, according to the Israeli official cited in the report.

Netanyahu traveled to Saudi Arabia in a private airplane owned by Israeli businessman Ehud ‘Udi’ Angel.  

Air traffic reports showed that Angel’s plane took off from Ben Gurion International Airport at 10:00 p.m. Sunday, flying directly to Neom, Saudi Arabia.  The plane then returned to Israel five and a half hours later.

The Prime Minister’s Office has refused to comment on the report.

On Sunday (22nd) Pompeo tweeted that he was set to meet with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, but did not mention Netanyahu.  The tweet was published at approximately the same time Angel’s aircraft departed for Neom.

“In Saudi Arabia where I’ll meet with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, I look forward to discussing our efforts to counter terrorism, deter Iran’s malign influence, promote respect for human rights, and expand our two-way trade relationship.”

After the meeting Pompeo tweeted, “Constructive visit with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in NEOM today.  The United States and Saudi Arabia have come a long way since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz Al Saud first laid the foundation for our ties 75 years ago.”

The night trip to Neom took place at the time when a coronavirus cabinet meeting had been scheduled.  On Saturday night, (21st) Netanyahu announced that the meeting would be postponed until Monday (23rd).



Iran Vows To Crush Any Israeli Attempt To Hit Its ‘Advisory’ Role In Syria

Iran on Sunday (22nd) vowed to defeat any Israeli attempt to harm its role in Syria, saying the era of “hit and run” attacks by Israel there was over, days after Israel carried out airstrikes on Syrian army and Iranian paramilitary targets in the country.

Israel, which views Tehran as its biggest security threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets and those of allied militia in Syria, where Tehran has backed President Bashar Assad and his forces against rebels since 2012.

On Wednesday (18th), an Israeli military spokesman said eight targets were attacked, including an Iranian headquarters at Damascus International Airport and a “secret military site” that served as a “hosting facility for senior Iranian delegations when they come to Syria for operations.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a virtual weekly news conference: “The Zionist regime is well aware that the era of hit and run is over, and therefore they are very cautious.”

Iran denies having military forces in Syria and says it has sent commandos to the country as military advisers to Syria for as long as necessary.

“Iran’s presence in Syria is advisory, and naturally, if anyone disrupts this advisory presence, our response will be a crushing one,” Khatibzadeh said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said at least 10 people, including five Iranians from the Quds Force, a branch of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards responsible for operations outside of Iran’s own borders, were killed during the attack.

“I do not confirm the martyrdom of Iranian forces in Syria,” Khatibzadeh said.



Netanyahu To Gaza Border Communities: $335 Million In Aid On The Way

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday (22nd) promised a $335 million financial aid package for the Israeli towns and cities bordering the Gaza Strip.

In a video conference with the local heads of regional councils and mayors, Netanyahu said the government’s plan was to strengthen civilian resilience in the city of Sderot and the communities in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip.  Those areas have for years been hard-it by terrorist rockets from Gaza and more recently incendiary balloons that have caused hundreds of fires.

“The plan includes…tax benefits and property tax discounts, creation of growth engines such as development of the agritech sector, the boosting of social services, strengthening personal security, and investing in education and infrastructure development,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

Earlier this month the government announced plans for the new town of Hanun in the Negev region bordering the Gaza Strip – the first new community there in decades that is planned to have 500 families on lands east of Kibbutz Sa’ad and about 3.6 miles from the Gaza border.  At the time, Netanyahu called the new town “an external message… for enemies who want to uproot us and we are revealing that not only are we not being uprooted – we are planting, building and producing.”

Netanyahu said the government intends to announce later in the week assistance for the city of Ashkelon, which has been hit by several terrorist rockets recently.

“According to what we are seeing, in both the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and in Ashkelon, there is a growing demand for apartments.  People want to come, including to the new community.  I think that this says everything,” Netanyahu noted.

Since the Iran-backed terror group Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in a bloody 2007 military coup, the region bordering it has been subject to increased attacks from missiles, rockets, incendiary devices and terror tunnels.

Although from the outside, Israel’s south is something seen as being a dangerous place to live because it borders Hamas-controlled Gaza, however, there is a waiting list to get into the new town.

“All of the communities are full and thriving.  People ask me, ‘what is the secret?’  I tell them ‘Community, education, strength, Zionism and assistance.’  These things together are bringing all of Israel to us,” Sdot Negev Regional Council Chairman Tamir Idan said earlier this month, noting that even before work has started he has a waiting list with over 1,000 families who want to move to Hanum.



IDF Conducts Surprise Military Drills On Gaza Border

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began a surprise exercise Sunday morning (22nd) to improve the capability and readiness of the Southern Command for combat scenarios in the Gaza Strip.

The exercise was planned in advance and will continue until Wednesday (25th), the IDF said in a statement.

Residents can expect to see an active movement of security forces, vehicles, and aircraft in the area around the Gaza border.

Both regular and reserve forces will take part in the drill, which was designed to test the Gaza Division’s abilities to deal with a variety of developing events while maintaining cooperation between various organizations and branches of the military.

The IDF emphasized that the exercise will take place under the guidelines for preventing the spread of the coronavirus, and procedures will be followed to maintain the health of all participants.

IDF Chief Aviv Kochavi entered quarantine for the third time last week after exposure to someone who tested positive for coronavirus.

Due to his quarantine, Kochavi will manage the exercise remotely through classified military communications, while Deputy Chief of Staff Eyal Zamir will manage the situation on the field.

The current exercise is the fifth in a series of surprise “Chief of Staff Assessment” drills ordered by Kochavi.

Previous exercises tested the IDF’s readiness to handle a kidnapping in Judea and Samaria, a large-scale cyber attack on military computer systems, a war against Hezbollah along Israel’s northern border, and a sea-based attack along Israel’s northern coast.

Though planned in advance, the exercises occur amid rising tensions along the Gaza border.



Israel Strikes Hamas Targets – Responds To Saturday Night Rocket Fire

Israeli Air Force fighter jets and helicopters struck several Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip during the early hours of Sunday morning (22nd), hours after rockets fired from Gaza on Saturday night (21st) damaged an empty warehouse in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon.

“Two rocket ammunition manufacturing sites, some underground infrastructure, and a military compound,” were targeted, according to the IDF’s official Twitter account.  Hamas has yet to report any casualties.

Although no group has officially claimed responsibility for the launch, the IDF tweeted that they “hold Hamas responsible.”

A statement issued by the IDF added that the military takes “all terror activity against Israel very seriously and is prepared and willing to act as resolutely as necessary against attempts to harm Israeli citizens and its sovereignty.”

The military is reportedly investigating why the Iron Dome missile defense system did not intercept the rocket fire, which struck the building in Ashkelon.

Last week, two rockets fired at Israel from Gaza fell in open areas, causing no casualties or damage.



Israel To Send Millions Of COVID Vaccines To PA

Israel will transfer three-to-four million coronavirus vaccines for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a senior official in Ramallah told Israel Hayom Saturday (21st).  According to an official with Ramallah’s Health Ministry, the move is part of a deal Israel has reached with pharmaceutical companies producing the vaccine.

Israel has already reached agreements with the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies in the development of a coronavirus vaccine, including Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.

The official noted that the distribution plan was a “strategic goal” that was the result of a collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian healthcare professionals.  However, the Palestinians claim that they will be short several million doses needed to vaccinate the entire population even after receiving the vaccines from Israel and the millions of vaccines the United Nations promised them.

The Gaza Strip has recently experienced a spike in coronavirus cases.  On Sunday (22nd), Gaza’s health Ministry reported 684 new cases and three deaths.

The new cases bring the total number of cases since the beginning of the outbreak to 14,768, with the death toll rising to 65.

On Saturday, (21st) about 595 new cases were reported in the West Bank, with 51 patients in serious condition and 10 deaths.

Overall, 82,780 cases have been reported since the beginning of the outbreak in PA areas of the West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza.