News Digest — 11/4/19

Iran Marks 1979 Takeover Of US Embassy, Hostage Crisis

Reviving decades-old cries of “Death to America,” Iran on Monday (4th) marked the 40th anniversary of the 1979 student takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the 444-day hostage crisis that followed as tensions remain high over the country’s collapsing nuclear deal with world powers.

Demonstrators gathered in front of the former U.S. Embassy in downtown Tehran as state television aired footage from other cities across the country.

“Thanks to God. today the revolution’s seedlings have evolved into a fruitful and huge tree whose shadow has covered the entire Middle East,” said Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi, the commander of the Iranian army.

However, this year’s commemoration of the embassy seizure comes as Iran’s regional allies in Iraq and Lebanon face widespread protests.  The Iranian consulate in Karbala, Iraq, a holy site for Shiites, saw a mob attack it overnight. Three protesters were killed during the attack and 19 were wounded, along with seven policemen, Iraqi officials said.

Associated Press video showed a fire burning the consulate’s gate as demonstrators threw gasoline bombs and climbed its walls, some waving an Iraqi flag.  Iranian media only reported a “protest outside” of the diplomatic post, adding that things had returned to normal.

Demonstrators at other rallies on Monday (4th) cried: “Death to America” and “Death to Israel!”  Lawmakers in parliament echoed those cries after approving the outline of a bill that would include anti-American teachings in school textbooks.  Others at protests burned U.S. flag replicas and waved signs mocking President Trump and America.

The U.S. has increased its military presence across the Mideast, including basing troops in  Saudi Arabia for the first time since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. However, both Saudi Arabia and the neighboring United Arab Emirates are believed to be talking to Tehran through back channels to ease tensions.

On Sunday (3rd), Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated his opposition to negotiations with the U.S., saying Tehran had outmaneuvered America in the four decades since its Islamic Revolution.



Netanyahu: We Have No Better Friends Than Our Christian Friends

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Christian journalists and dignitaries from around the world Sunday (3rd), as the 2019 Christian Media Summit kicked off in Jerusalem.

“The Jewish people are the only people in the world who live in the same land, speak the same language, have the same capital, and have the same religion and with the same name as they had 3,000 years ago,” said Netanyahu, citing the book Bible and Sword by Barbara Truchman.

“Jerusalem is the city where the Jewish kings ruled, where the Jewish prophets preached, and where the people of Israel prayed and the people of Israel continue to pray.  ‘If I forget thee O Jerusalem’ – we never forgot and we came back.”

Netanyahu pledged to block any plan to divide the capital, saying that Jerusalem would remain united under Israeli sovereignty. “It will never be divided again – not as long as I have anything to do with it.  It’s not going to happen.” 

The prime minister also touted the shared ‘Judeo-Christian’ values of Israel and the Christian world, saying, “We have no better friends in the world than our Christian friends.”

“It is no accident that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christians are free to practice their faith.”

The summit, which continues from Sunday (3rd) to Wednesday (6th), is being held at the Orient Jerusalem Hotel in the capital, and includes 150 media figures and dignitaries from 30 countries.

Sunday’s (3rd) opening ceremony of the summit included the gala unveiling of the new Friends of Zion Museum, along with a new online ‘institute’ offering resources on Israel for journalists around the world.

Along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, the event was attended by US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, and other Israeli government and Knesset members.  Friends of Zion founder Mike Evans also addressed the gathering.



Palestinian Killed In Israeli Counter Strikes In Gaza

Israeli military carried out a wave of pre-dawn airstrikes in Gaza Saturday morning (2nd), in response to a barrage of rockets fired by Palestinian militants at Israeli communities bordering the Hamas-controlled enclave Friday evening (1st), according to IDF officials.  Gaza health officials said the strikes left one Palestinian dead and three others wounded.

Although it was not immediately clear whether the dead man belonged to Hamas’ military wing, the terror group issued a statement, threatening to respond to “Israel’s crimes and aggression against our people and their courageous resistance.  It is a dangerous escalation that violates the rights of innocent civilians – Israel will bear the consequences of its actions,” said the terror group.

The Israeli military said that Palestinians fired 10 rockets from Gaza into Israel late Friday (1st), eight of which were intercepted.  Police said a home in Sderot sustained a direct hit, causing damage but not casualties.

In response, the military said, a series of Israeli strikes targeted sites belonging to Hamas, the Islamist military group which rules Gaza.

None of the armed groups in Gaza claimed responsibility for firing the rockets.  The Israeli military said Hamas was ultimately responsible for the attack.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars over the past decade, and cross-border tensions are high and flare-ups are not rare.



ISIS In Sinai, Sitting On Israel’s Doorstep, Swears Allegiance To New Islamic State Leader

The ISIS branch in Sinai posted pictures of about two dozen fighters standing among trees, with a caption saying they were pledging allegiance to their new leader.

Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi was named head of ISIS after al-Baghdadi was killed in a raid by U.S. special forces in northern Syria, where he was hiding out in a compound close to the Turkish border.  A Thursday (10/31) audio message announced Quraishi would lead ISIS and confirmed Baghdadi’s death. It also vowed revenge against the U.S.

The ISIS Sinai branch is a threat to both Israel and Egypt.  ISIS has tried to attack Israel from Sinai but has failed due to Israel’s intelligence capabilities.

The ISIS threat has led to unprecedented cooperation between Egypt and Israel to root-out the terror group.

The New York Times reported in Feb. 2018, “For more than two years, unmarked Israeli drones, helicopters and jets have carried out a covert air campaign, conducting more than 100 airstrikes inside Egypt, frequently more than one a week – and all with the approval of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.”

Egypt has been doing everything it can to crush an insurgency in Sinai that began with the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.  It started with a Bedouin insurrection and morphed into a group calling itself Sinai Province, which declared its fidelity to ISIS.

Violence escalated after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was brought down by Egypt’s military in 2013.



F-35 Stealth Fighter Joins International Air Exercise In Israel For First Time

The fourth biennial Blue Flag aerial exercise began in southern Israel on Sunday (3rd), with over 1,000 participants from four countries taking part in the first cooperative training of its kind that included the F-35 stealth bomber.

Over the course of 12 days, air crews, technical and support personnel from the United States, Greece and Italy will train with dozens of Israeli aircraft out of the Uvda airbase, north of Eilat.

They will simulate various operational situations, including joint air-to-air and ground combat scenarios, develop flight techniques together, and undergo after-action reviews that will strengthen their military cooperation.

It will also be the first time that the most advanced stealth fighter in the world will participate in such an event.

“This will be the first international ‘Fifth Generation’ exercise held in Israel involving the F-35 aircraft,” the IDF statement said.  “The exercise is of paramount strategic importance and will have a significant impact on the Israeli Air Force, the IDF and the State of Israel.”

“The IAF is practicing and will continue to practice in collaboration with foreign air forces to maintain its competence and readiness, to strengthen the ties and interests between the forces and to encourage and strengthen the joint-learning between the forces,” said the statement.  But it also “offers the opportunity to strengthen relations between countries.”

The Blue Flag exercise has been held biennially in Israel since 2013, with as many as seven countries participating at a time (2017).  The IDF said that other countries not directly participating are sending observers.