News Digest — 12/12/22

MK Yariv Levin To Become Israel’s Temporary Knesset Speaker Monday

Likud MK Yariv Levin will become the temporary Knesset speaker on Monday (12th), the Likud said Sunday (11th).

The party held a virtual vote and unanimously agreed to choose Levin, who will take over the mantle from Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy.

Levin, who is leading the Likud’s coalition negotiating team, will likely be Likud chairman and prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s choice in the party’s faction meeting scheduled for 2 p.m., prior to the Knesset’s 4 p.m. plenum session.

Assuming Levin is chosen, his name will be put forward in a vote in the plenum.

Levin is also a candidate for justice minister and will resign as speaker if he becomes a minister.  It is not clear who will replace him, but the appointment enables the Likud to control the pace of legislation without Netanyahu having to decide on a permanent speaker, a source from the Likud said.

The law states that there needs to be a supermajority of 90 votes to replace the speaker once he is chosen.  If Levin does not become a minister, he will remain as permanent speaker, the source said.

The Knesset speaker controls the plenum’s agenda.  If chosen, Levin will likely begin the process to fast-track legislation that the Likud’s soon-to-be coalition partners are demanding as preconditions to forming a government..  These include an amendment to the Basic Law: The Government, which will enable Shas party chairman MK Arye Deri to serve as a minister; and an amendment of the Police Law so that incoming national security minister and Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir  receives broader control over the police.

In recent weeks, a number of other Likud MKs expressed their interest in becoming permanent speakers, including MKs Danny Danon and David Amsalem.  Other candidates included MKs Amir Ohana and Ofir Akunis.

Danon reportedly demanded that Monday’s (12th) vote within the Likud faction meeting be held anonymously, which he claims would raise his chances of receiving the position.



IDF Said To Strike Syrian Golan, Dropping Threatening Flyers

The Israel Defense Forces dropped threatening pamphlets in southern Syria on Sunday (11th) warning Syrian soldiers to stop cooperating with Hezbollah, opposition media reported, hours after it reportedly conducted missile strikes on a Syrian military site.

The flyers, which were said to have been written in Arabic and addressed to “Syrian Arab Army soldiers,” matched the style of similar leaflets that have been dropped in Syria in the past and included the silhouette of an eagle – the symbol of the IDF’s 210th Bashan Division, which is tasked with defending Israel’s frontier with Syria and the Golan heights,  The IDF refused to comment on the matter.

In the pamphlet, the Israeli military appeared to take responsibility for recent overnight strikes.  The IDF usually does not publicly acknowledge carrying out strikes in Syria, under its general policy of ambiguity regarding its efforts against Hezbollah in the country.

“Time after time you have been responsible for the harm caused by your decisions.  The continuing process of Hezbollah in the area of Tel al-Qalib and collaboration with it has brought, and will bring you nothing good.  The presence of Hezbollah in the area has brought you humiliation and you are paying the price for that,” the flyers read.

The late Saturday night (10th) strike against a SAA radar system in the Tel al-Qalib area, near As-Suwayda, was reported by opposition-affiliated media in Syria.  There was no comment by Syria’s official SANA news agency or other regime-affiliated outlets.

The IDF has repeatedly accused Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s military of actively assisting Hezbollah and warned it against this, both through flyers dropped along the border and through overt, public appeals, in some cases naming the Syrian and Hezbollah officials involved, including officers from Syria’s 90th Brigade and 1st Division.

While Israel’s military does not as a rule comment on specific strikes in Syria, it has admitted to conducting hundreds of sorties against Iran-backed groups attempting to gain a foothold in the country, over the last decade.

The IDF says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups, chief among them Lebanon’s Hezbollah.  Additionally, airstrikes attributed to Israel have repeatedly targeted Syrian defense systems.



Surprise Israeli Military Drill Simulates War With Hezbollah

The Israeli Defense Forces launched a surprise military drill simulating war with Hezbollah from Lebanon.

The exercise began on Saturday night (10th) and will continue until Tuesday (13th).  Military officials said the exercise is intended to “boost the readiness” of the military to meet “sudden events and various scenarios” in the north related to Hezbollah and other Iranian proxy groups.

An IDF statement said the exercise was pre-scheduled and not related to any current developments.

During the exercise, the forces will practice how to manage a sudden deployment in the face of operational scenarios in the northern arena, with an emphasis on logistics network readiness and cooperation between units of the land arm,” the statement said.

It added that 8,000 serving soldiers and another 5,000 reservists were participating in the drill, referred to as “Warm Winter 2.”

Israel has launched numerous strikes on Iranian military infrastructure and weapons in Syria for several years.  The most recent strike presumed to be carried out by Israel was an attack on an undisclosed location in southern Syria Saturday (10th).

Separately, according to a widely cited Arab media report on Saturday (10th), Israel threatened to bomb the Beirut International Airport over Iranian weapons deliveries being made on civilian flights.  Israeli officials have not commented on the report, which was published in the London Asharq-al-Awsat.



Report: Iran Cuts Funds To PA Terror Groups

Iran has stopped funding several Palestinian terror groups, sparking a major cash shortfall, a Palestinian newspaper  reported on Sunday (11th).

Al Quds cited unnamed sources in Lebanon as saying that Iran made the decision three months ago.

The ongoing, nationwide anti-regime protests in Iran also started three months ago after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who was arrested by the morality police for not wearing a hijab properly.

The sources did not name the groups affected by the decision to cut funding, but Iran is known to funnel money to Gaza-based terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) as well as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

According to the report, Iranian money was used to pay salaries to terror leaders as well as pay for their “various activities.”

The financial crisis triggered by the Iranian’s move has impacted factions both in the Gaza Strip and overseas, even to the degree that some of them were unable to cover basic expenses including electricity bills, the sources said.

The cuts are also likely to negatively impact media outlets run by the terror factions, the sources said.

A Palestinian Islamic Jihad source in the Gaza Strip recently told the Al-Monitor news website that the terror group’s leaders were greatly concerned over the sweeping protests in Iran.

“We are concerned the protests will also affect the future of Iran’s financial and military support,” the source said.       



Hanukkah In Wartime: The Challenge Of Celebrating Hanukkah In Ukraine

A week to go until the holiday of Hanukkah (Sunday, December 18—Monday, December 26) and Ukraine’s Jewish communities are preparing for the Festival of Lights.  The heads of the Jewish communities face a dilemma: How do you celebrate when there is a non-stop war going on; when most of the country’s civilians spend most of the day in total darkness, and many of them are under curfew?  Or in short, how can you celebrate Hanukkah while keeping up good relations with neighbors who don’t go out to celebrate during the war and are without light most of the day?

In recent weeks the community rabbis and Chabad emissaries began preparing to give out thousands of Hanukkah kits: A Hanukkah book for children, Hanukkah gelt (coins), an explanatory booklet for adults, a menorah and candles, dreidels, packaged sufganiyot (jelly donut), chocolate coins and sweet snacks.

The Hanukkah kits are now being sent to the Jewish communities by JRNU, Chabad’s rescue center in Ukraine, and will be packed in each community by volunteers.  In addition the communities’ Jews will receive special food packages that will light up their holiday.

The Jewish communities’ biggest problem is whether or not to celebrate Hanukkah in the way they do every year: by erecting big menorahs in public places.  For the past decades, menorahs lit up public places, in Ukraine and all over the world.

With the on-going war, the challenge is substantial.  On one hand, is the will to celebrate the ancient Jewish holiday and to cheer up the communities’ Jews – on the other hand, during a war, the erection of a menorah can be seen as a lack of consideration for the rest of the citizens who are under the terror of war.

There are currently municipalities that have permitted Chabad emissaries and community rabbis to erect menorahs to show a sense of “business as usual” and not to let the situation darken citizens’ moods.  Despite this, some cities are not permitting any citizen to place signs of happiness and celebrations in the streets.

“We received permission this morning from city hall and we will put up a menorah like we do every year in the center of town,” said one of the rabbis.  “This time, as opposed to other years we will light the menorah using a small gas balloon which will last for two or three hours.”

Rabbi Levi Stambler, rabbi of Kamianske, received special permission to erect a menorah in the city.  “We received special permission from the municipality and from the local military security to put up billboards to publicize the Jewish miracle, too,” said Rabbi Stambler,”On the signs, we are publicizing the message: “A little bit of light defeats a lot of darkness.” 

In one of the cities, which is seeing constant fighting, and is in total darkness for most hours of the day, the military governor decided to grant permission to the community’s rabbi to erect a menorah,  “I will come to see the lighting of the menorah personally,” he said.  “We see great importance in doing everything to save our citizens’ normal routines, traditions, and joy.”

Despite the special permission to light menorahs in certain cities, public Hanukkah parties will not be held, due to the situation.

Some of the Chabad emissaries have found a temporary solution, to put up a menorah in the synagogue’s front yard and not in the streets.  “We explained to the government officials and all citizens that we were taught that light defeats darkness,” said Rabbi Avraham Wolf of Odessa, “Therefore putting up a menorah now gives a message of light and hope.”

He added that, “We launched a campaign to explain that the message of the menorah, this year, even more so, is that everyone can light up the world by adding light, everyone where they are, and this is the best way to overcome the hardships.  If someone helps his neighbor heat up water, or helps bring water to a neighbor who doesn’t have any, he sends out light and makes the world a better place.  In the meantime, we will all pray that by Hanukkah, the war will end and we won’t have any dilemmas.”