News Digest — 11/5/21

Israel Urges Travelers To Avoid Ethiopia As Rebel Forces Near Capital

The Israel Foreign Ministry on Thursday (4th) issued a travel warning for Ethiopia after the African country issued a state of emergency, a year into a civil war that now threatens to engulf the capital Addis Ababa.

The advisory recommended Israelis planning to visit Ethiopia avoid any non-essential trips and said those currently there should consider leaving.

The ministry advised Israelis in Ethiopia “to be extra vigilant and to remain updated about the progress of fighting in the country in general and the situation in the capital city in particular.”

“The Foreign Ministry recommends refraining from going to and/or staying in conflict zones, and advises listening to local instructions about curfew hours, including gatherings and limits on movement,” it added.

The advisory came as the fighting between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan rebels has intensified following a year of war that has killed thousands and displaced millions.

On Wednesday (3rd), Israeli President Isaac Herzog urged the swift extraction of any remaining Ethiopian Jews waiting to immigrate to Israel from the country.

“The longings of the past are in large part the foundation of this holy day, but it is important that we not neglect for a moment our longings for the future,” Herzog said at a ceremony in Jerusalem marking the Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd.  “Thousands are still waiting to make aliyah to Israel, and some of them are threatened and in a worrying situation.  We must continue to act and bring them over to Israel quickly.”

There are thought to be 7,000 to 12,000 Ethiopian Jews waiting to move to Israel, many living in the heart of the conflict, who left their villages years ago to eke out a living near Gondar and Addis Ababa, where the main Jewish communities are located.  



European Lawmakers Taken To Hezbollah Tunnel On Northern Border

Senior members of the European Parliament viewed a Hezbollah tunnel at the Israeli town of Zarit on the Lebanon border on Thursday (4th).

The delegation organized by ELNET-European Leadership Network, flew by helicopter from Jerusalem to the border, where they were briefed by the Israeli Defense Forces on the security situation in Lebanon.

The cross-border tunnel, plunging more than 260 feet below ground, was the largest and deepest of six passageways that Israel said members of the Hezbollah terror group had dug as part of a plan to carry out attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians.

They were sealed off in a highly-publicized 2019 operation, though Israeli military officials regularly give visiting dignitaries tours of tunnels on its borders with Gaza and Hamas to demonstrate the threats it faces.

The 12 lawmakers in the delegation – which includes a former prime minister and several former ministers – are in Israel on a five-day visit.

On Tuesday (2nd), they met with Knesset members, and on Wednesday (3rd), they had an audience with President Isaac Herzog.

They also visited Jerusalem’s Old City and Yad Vashem, where they discussed anti-Semitism in Europe.

“We are two democracies under threat – different threats,” Antonio Lopez-Isturiz White, MEP from the European People’s Party-Spain and chairman of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with Israel, said to Herzog.

“You have the survival threat against Iran and its proxies, and we have the threats raging from populism and regimes that undermine our democracy.  There are things we believe you need us for – like the Horizon program and trade.  And, we need you, for the security of Europe, and for your expertise in this fascinating time of new technology.”

The visit comes weeks after Israel and the EU finalized their agreement for Jerusalem to join the EU’s largest research and innovation program, Horizon Europe.

The EU noted that joint projects with Israel have led to breakthroughs in climate change, public health and safe transportation.



‘US Can No Longer Defend Israel’ Revolutionary Guard Chief Says

Thousands of Iranians gathered on Tehran streets Thursday (4th) for the anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the US Embassy, chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” while burning American and Israeli flags. The embassy takeover triggered a 444-day hostage crisis and a break in diplomatic relations that continues to this day.

The government-organized commemoration of the National Day of Fighting International Arrogance, long a venue for voicing anti-Western sentiment, typically draws angry crowds each year.  Last year authorities canceled the event due to the still-raging coronavirus pandemic but on Thursday (4th), state TV said that 800 cities across Iran staged demonstrations.

Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, chief of the Revolutionary Guard said, “On this day we mark the Iranian people’s great victory over the United States.”  

“The US is the global dictatorship manufacturing plant.  The world suffers from the pain the US causes across 40 points around the world.  The US defeat, as it transpired in Iran, was too difficult for the Americans to bear,” Salami said.

“The US is no longer able to defend Israel,” he added.

The commemoration marks the dramatic day when hard-line Iranian student demonstrators overran guards and pushed into the US Embassy compound on November 4, 1979, enraged that President Jimmy Carter had allowed Iran’s exiled and fatally ill Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to receive cancer treatment in the United States.

A few embassy staffers fled and hid in the home of the Canadian ambassador to Iran before escaping the country with the help of the CIA.

The fall of the US-allied shah transfixed America, as nightly images of blindfolded hostages played on television sets across the nation.  Ultimately, as Carter left office, all 52 captive American diplomats were freed.



Appeal Against Making Cave Of The Patriarchs ‘Disabled Accessible’ Rejected

The Israeli Supreme Court on Thursday (4th) rejected the appeal of the Arab Municipality of Hebron against the renovations to make the Cave of the Patriarchs accessible to disabled people.

The three judges, Isaac Amit, Ofer Grosskopf and Alex Stein, unanimously rejected the appeal against the renovations and even criticized the fact that the Cave of the Patriarchs was not made accessible before now.

“Accessibility for people with disabilities is not an act of kindness but a right that is obligatory, which is currently reflected in international conventions, and in Israeli legislation in the Equal Rights for People with Disabilities Law,” Justice Amit wrote in the ruling.

According to him, “the accessibility does not harm the sanctity of the place at all and its unique character as a sacred site and as a world heritage site.”

The judges noted that making the site accessible will also benefit the Muslims who come to pray at the holy site and wondered why the Arab municipality of Hebron had not acted to make the place accessible before now.

B’Tzalmo CEO Shai Glick, who has campaigned to make the site disabled accessible, praised the court’s ruling.

“The judges in Jerusalem have ruled that every person has human rights no matter where he lives and what his religious beliefs are.  I would like to thank all those involved and in particular the current and previous prime ministers who have approved this.  I now call on the Minister of Defense to ensure that accessibility is progressed quickly so that by Passover the place will be completely accessible to all visitors regardless of religion, race or nationality.  We will continue to work to make public buildings accessible, with an emphasis on religious sites and the tombs of the righteous,” said Glick.  



A Technology Boom And Geopolitical Change Are Helping Israel Expand Its Horizons – Gideon Rachman

For decades, Israel’s foes have predicted that the “Zionist entity” will be swept away.  But during a recent visit, the mood of buoyant optimism among the country’s political and business leaders was striking.  Israel has enjoyed more than a decade of rising prosperity and relative peace.  Its per capita income is now higher than that of Britain.  The country’s booming tech industry boasts more than 70 start-up companies valued at $1 billion or more, which is about 10% of the global total.  Venture capital is pouring into the country.

Most intoxicatingly of all, the Abraham Accords have normalized Israel’s relations with the UAE and Bahrain and, more rapidly, Morocco and Sudan.  Issawi Frei, an Arab-Israeli who is Israel’s minister for regional cooperation, predicts that more countries will join the accords soon.  

“It feels like every prominent Israeli has recently visited the UAE.  They come back enthusing about the novelty of flying over Saudi airspace and the warmth of their reception in Dubai,” said Frei.

One senior Western diplomat in Israel said that 15 years ago diplomacy was “80% Palestine, and 20% other things.  Now it is 20% Palestine and 80% other things.”  Israel’s technological prowess is key to changing its relationship with the outside world.  As the diplomat put it: “The world wants what Israel is selling.”  

Shifts in geopolitics are also working to Israel’s benefit.  The governments of China, India and Russia see Israel primarily as a tech partner and a geopolitical actor.  

However, in the Middle East, the shared fear of Iran, in Israel and the Gulf, underpinned the Abraham Accords.