News Digest — 12/15/23

IDF Retrieves Body Of Hamas Hostage From Gaza

Israel’s special forces have recovered the body of 28-year-old hostage Elia Toledano, who was held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas since its Oct. 7 rampage in southern Israel, the military said in a statement on Friday (15th).  Later on Friday morning, the IDF announced that it had retrieved the bodies of Corp. Nick Beiser and Sgt. Ron Sherman.

The IDF said that an “identification procedure” had been carried out by medical officials, military rabbis and forensic experts.

Soldiers from the 551st Brigade and Unit 504 in the Intelligence Division, under the command of Division 162 helped rescue the bodies from Hamas captivity, the IDF announced on Friday morning (15th).

Toledano was taken by Hamas from the Re’im music festival that turned into a massacre, Israeli media reported.

He was kidnapped alongside his girlfriend Mia Schem who was released from captivity last month as part of the hostage-prisoner deal between Israel and Hamas.

Beiser, from Beersheba, was kidnapped while serving as a driver at the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration.  Sherman, from Lehavim, was kidnapped while serving as a coordination and liaison officer at the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration.

More than 130 hostages remain in Gaza.  Some have been declared dead in absentia by Israeli authorities.



October 7th Mastermind Yahya Sinwar’s ‘Days Are Numbered,’ Says US Official

Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar’s “days are numbered,” a senior American official said Thursday (14th), adding that the US, like Israel, is seeking “justice” against the terrorist leader.

The senior US official, who spoke with reporters Thursday (14th) on condition of anonymity, responded to questions regarding National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s meeting with top Israeli officials in Tel Aviv. 

“Sinwar’s days are numbered,” the US official said of the mastermind of the October 7th invasion of Israel and subsequent massacres.

“I also think it’s safe to say it doesn’t matter how long it takes… justice will be served.”

“Sinwar,” the official added, “has American blood on his hands.”

A total of 38 American nationals were murdered in the October 7th invasion.  Eight more are still being held captive in the Gaza Strip.

The 61-year-old Hamas leader is believed to have fled from his home in Gaza City shortly after Israel’s ground operation in Gaza began, taking advantage of a humanitarian corridor established by Israel for civilians to flee to the southern Gaza Strip.  Sinwar is now reportedly hiding in the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis.



IDF Spokesman: Hamas Terrorists Won’t Be Safe Underground

IDF Spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, during his nightly press briefing Thursday evening (14th), discussed the most recent developments  in the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“Tonight we are revealing documentation from a special operation by the IDF and the ISA.  The operation took place during the past days, targeting terrorists inside Hamas tunnels.  Our soldiers planted explosives in an underground tunnel, identified  the terrorists using cameras, and eliminated several terrorists in the incident.  Hamas terrorists, and their leaders in particular, choose to hide underground – this is Hamas’ method.  They hide underground while using the civilians above them as human shields.  We have new combat methods that we will deploy to kill terrorists.  We will enter, plant explosives in locations we know terrorists frequent, and will wait for the right moment to kill them underground.  The terrorists won’t be safe underground,” Admiral Hagari began.

He spoke about the visit by IDF Chief of General Staff Herzi Halevi with the soldiers and commanders of the Golani Brigade in the Gaza Strip Thursday (14th).  “The Golani Brigade is currently fighting in Shejaiya and Zaytun.  Even at this hour, the brigade continues to operate decisively, courageously, achieving additional objectives and eliminating terrorists.  The mission of Golani and of all the IDF brigades that are fighting, is to weaken and to eradicate the terror on the other side of the border, allowing civilians to return safely to their homes.

Today, December 14th, marks the 36th anniversary of Hamas’ founding.  Instead of the usual military parade pictures, we saw pictures of dozens of terrorists, emerging from their hiding place in Jabalya hospital with raised weapons, surrendering themselves to the IDF and the ISA for investigation.  Today, we killed terrorists in Shejaiya and the Khan Yunis areas – this is what the anniversary of Hamas’ founding looked like.  We will continue our battles against  the Hamas terror organization.  We have many more objectives to achieve and there will be more tough battles in the days to come, but we will continue with determination to further our achievements, and to put pressure on Hamas, “ he said.

Addressing the continuing attacks by the Hezbollah terrorist organization on northern Israel, Hagari said that “IAF fighter jets and tanks struck a series of Hezbollah infrastructures in southern Lebanon – IDF forces struck a terrorist cell attempting to fire anti-tank missiles and responded to the source of the fire.”

He added, “In Judea and Samaria, we are conducting dozens of operations in the heart of refugee camps across the region – arresting wanted individuals, foiling attacks, and seizing many weapons.  IDF forces, alongside Border Police and the ISA, completed a comprehensive brigade operation today in the Jenin refugee camp.  As we have operated since we entered the refugee camp in Jenin, we will continue to operate determinedly to thwart terror within the camp.”

“Even tonight, we do not forget for a moment that 135 hostages, abducted on October 7th, are still held in the Gaza Strip.  We will continue to do everything – everything – to bring all the hostages home.  Our hearts are with the families,” he said.

“Tonight (Thursday, 14th) we light the eighth and final candle  of Hanukkah.  This final candle will be lit by IDF soldiers in the field – on all our borders and inside Gaza, as they fight for our home.  They too, will light Hanukkah menorahs so that we can live here securely.  Happy Holiday,” the IDF Spokesperson concluded.



Denmark’s Jews On Alert After Mossad Takes Down Hamas Terror Cell

Danish intelligence services and the Copenhagen Police made several arrests on Thursday (14th) in a coordinated effort against a suspected terrorist attack.  Israeli authorities said the suspects had been acting on behalf of Hamas, with the aim of killing civilians on European soil.

“In recent years, and even more so after the murderous attacks on October 7, Hamas strives to expand its operational capabilities around the world, and in Europe in particular,” Israeli authorities said, “to realize its ambitions to strike Israeli, Jewish, and Western targets at any cost.”

“The arrests were “carried out in close collaboration with our foreign partners,” Fleming Drejer, who heads Denmark’s Security and intelligence service, said, according to the AP.  “Persons abroad have been charged.”

“This is extremely serious,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said to reporters at the European Union Summit in Brussels.  “It is of course, completely unacceptable in relation to Israel and Gaza, that there is someone who takes a conflict somewhere else in the world into Danish society.”

Denmark currently has its terror threat set to “serious,” the second-highest out of five.  Drejer said that the country was not planning to change that assessment in response to this threat.

Rabbi Jair Melchior, Denmark’s Chief Rabbi, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday (14th): “We are very pleased with the vigilance shown by our intelligence and police forces and the strong collaboration with local authorities.  It’s a relief that they acted in time.”

“As for the situation for Jews in Copenhagen since October 7, “the rabbi said, “Over the past two months, there’s been a noticeable increase in anti-Semitic incidents, a trend that’s evident worldwide.  However, the situation here is unique.  There are indications of ties to international terrorist groups.”

“In Denmark, the community has received widespread political support across the entire political spectrum.  In response to the rise in anti-semitic incidents, the Danish justice minister has visited our community five times since October 7.  The prime minister has attended two of our events.”

“We organized an event following the October 7 attacks, which even saw participation from the far-left in a show of solidarity.  This was an extraordinary event.  Despite this, we remain concerned about the ongoing situation.”

Denmark ordered its military to protect Jewish and Israeli sites earlier this month, deploying soldiers to guard both Israel’s embassy and Copenhagen’s synagogue.  “The terrorist threat against Denmark is serious,” the country’s justice minister, Peter Hummelgaard said at the time.  “And the conflict in the Middle East has led to a completely unacceptable rise in anti-Semitism and more uncertainty among Jews in Denmark.”

Police resources were already stretched thin as security forces worked to contain both large protests over the war in Gaza and controversial events at which participants were burning the Quran.  Denmark moved in September to ban the burning of religious books, sparking controversy over free speech rights and religious sensitivity.



Oakland Hanukkiah Destroyed In Anti-Semitic Act Of Vandalism

Oakland police have launched a hate crime investigation into the toppling of a menorah at Lake Merritt, near downtown Oakland.

Standing at 11 feet tall, the Chabad of Oakland assembled and placed the menorah for Oakland’s 18th annual public Hanukkah ceremony,  The Mayor of Oakland, Sheng Thao, and other officials attended the ceremony on Sunday (10th) and delivered remarks.

The Hanukkiah was destroyed sometime between Tuesday night (12th) and Wednesday morning (13th).  Pieces of the Hanukkiah were cut up, strewn across the sidewalk and tossed into the lake.  Graffiti was left on the base, where the Hanukkiah once stood, including curses directed at Chabad and the words “free Palestine” in Arabic.

According to the Jewish News of northern California, Chabad leader Rabbi David Labkowski said he received morning texts about the destroyed menorah, which was discovered by passersby and went “rushing” to the scene.

“I felt outraged,” he said.  “There’s crime in this city, but it just hit a new level of Anti-Semitism.  Together with this crime – it just makes you feel hopeless.” 

The Mayor of Oakland issued a statement that what happened to the Hanukkiah on Lake Merritt was “not just an attack on Oakland’s Jewish community but our entire city and our shared values.”

According to Oakland’s website, the city is the cultural center of the East Bay of California. The website highlights Oakland’s high concentration of universities and scientific laboratories, labeling it as an important center of intellectual resources and technical innovation.

Several Universities have seen immense pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protests in Oakland.  UC Berkeley of Oakland, was sued in late November by The Louis D. Brandeis Center, arguing that the university’s “inaction” against anti-Semitism violates Jewish students’ religious and equal protection rights under the Constitution and federal civil rights laws.



For Israel, The Existential Question Returns – Eliot Cohen

In 1948. Israel’s population consisted of roughly a million Jews.  In 2022, the population had burgeoned to nearly 10 million, over seven million of them Jews.  The Israel of 1948 was poor.  It is now one of the technology powerhouses of the world.  And it did this while absorbing millions of immigrants from around the world, of all skin colors, languages and traditions, while fighting chronic campaigns against its neighbors and terrorist groups committed to Israel’s extermination.

The uncertainties of the moment are immense, but a few things are clear.  The first is the striking resilience of Israeli civil society.  Hundreds of thousands of Israelis fled not abroad, but home, many of them to don uniforms and join reserve units.  Civil action groups have filled in all kinds of gaps – from supplying soldiers to replacing labor on Israeli farms.

For nearly half a century, the existential question hasn’t been on the table for Israel.  After October 7, however, Israelis live under the constant threat of an unshakably hostile and eliminationist coalition led by Iran and including Hezbollah, Hamas, Yemen’’s Houthis and kindred groups that will use any means to weaken and eventually destroy their state.

Once again, as in Israel’s first quarter-century, they may have to live under perpetual siege, building a strong society while keeping one wary hand ever on the sword, for at least the foreseeable future.  The first Israelis accepted that challenge and still managed to thrive.  Their spirit thus far suggests that one should not doubt that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are capable of doing the same.  

The writer, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, holds the Arleigh Burke chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.