News Digest — 12/16/21

Syrian Soldier Killed In Alleged Israeli Airstrike In Syria

A Syrian soldier was killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike targeting sites in southern Syria Wednesday night (15th), according to the Syrian state news agency SANA.  Material damage was also reported.

The report claimed that most of the Israeli missiles were shot down by Syrian air defenses.

A military cargo flight from Tehran reportedly landed in Damascus earlier on Wednesday (15th).  Israeli airstrikes often take place after flights between Tehran and Damascus, as the flights often carry military equipment to Syria meant for pro-Iranian militias in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The latest airstrike comes just over a week after an alleged Israeli airstrike targeted containers at the Latakia port in northwestern Syria.  The Latakia area is a stronghold for Russian forces in Syria, with the Russian Khmeimim Air Base located near Latakia.

Last week, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad warned that Syria would respond to Israeli airstrikes, saying that such attacks “could not go unanswered.”

In November, a number of alleged Israeli airstrikes targeted Syria, with casualties reported.

Over the past year, while Israeli strikes have intensified in Syria, the response time by Syrian air defense batteries has become quicker, leading the Israeli Air Force to change how it acts during such operations, including by having larger formations so that more targets can be struck at once, instead of having jets return to the same target.

Iran has begun deploying advanced anti-aircraft missile batteries to the region in an attempt to challenge Israeli jets.



12 Ambassadors To The UN Arrived In Israel

A delegation of 12 ambassadors to the UN and their spouses arrived in Israel Wednesday (15th) for a week’s visit.  The envoys from Albania (who will begin serving on the UN Security Council in January), Argentina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Ecuador, Hungary, Nauru, Palau, South Korea, Samoa, Uruguay and Zambia, are guests of Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan and the American Zionist Movement.

According to a statement put out by Erdan’s office, all participants in the delegation have received a COVID-19 booster shot and have been approved by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to enter Israel.  There are strict COVID-19 protocols in place and the ambassadors entered isolation immediately upon arrival in Israel.

“The delegation of ambassadors is a very important opportunity.  I have set a goal for myself to bring to Israel as many ambassadors to the UN from different countries as possible so they can see Israel with their own eyes and learn about our challenges and contributions to the world,” said Erdan.

The ambassadors are slated to meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog, tour historical sites, including the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and Yad Vashem, high-tech innovation and development centers, and more.  They will visit the Northern and Southern Commands, receive security briefings from IDF officials, tour a Hezbollah terror tunnel, and visit an Iron Dome battery.



Shin Bet Catches Hamas Agents Spying In Israel

The Shin Bet and Israel Police caught two Hamas agents who were spying in Israeli territory in November, the agency announced on Thursday (16th).

The agents, Hussein Biari, an Israeli citizen with family in the Gaza Strip, and Mahmoud Ahmad, a resident of the Gaza Strip with a trade permit to enter Israel, were arrested on November 29.  Evidence showed that they were recruited by a Hamas network that was handling spies in Israel. 

The network was directed by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip, including Muhammad Khalawa, who had been found connected to other busted spy rings.

The investigation found that the two suspects met with Hamas operatives while staying in Gaza in order to receive missions, and maintained ongoing secret-operational contact with their handlers.

Ahmad was recruited to the spy network in 2019 and worked to gather information about the Iron Dome batteries throughout the country.  He also worked to secretly photograph IDF soldiers at the Ashkelon Central Station.

Biari joined the network in the past year and managed to carry out information-collection missions on military bases, IDF soldiers and Iron Dome batteries.  He was also tasked with inciting the Arab population in Israel against the state, and with obtaining weapons and carrying out a terrorist attack in Israel.

The Shin Bet stressed that this investigation shows that Hamas is taking advantage of border crossings to promote terrorist activity in Israel and causing citizens to endanger their families and the Gaza Strip.

Indictments with charges of serious security offenses were filed against the two suspects on Thursday (16th).

“The Shin Bet takes very seriously any direction of terrorist and espionage activity from the Gaza Strip and will continue to work together with Israel Police and the IDF in order to detect and thwart any hostile activity by these organizations in advance,” said the agency.



Illicit Antiques Seized By Police Likely Spoils Taken By Bar Kochba Fighters

A hoard of antique treasures confiscated from three illicit antique dealers in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem last week are believed to have been the spoils of war, seized by Bar Kochba rebels while fighting Roman soldiers.

Among the remarkable finds were two ornate 2,000-year old bronze censers that would have been used to burn ritual incense, a bronze wine jug decorated with a Roman banqueting scene, an ornate tripod bowl, clay lamps and hundreds of coins dating from the second to third centuries CE.

Bronze findings are fairly rare as metal was an expensive commodity and seized items were often melted down for reuse.  These items were likely seized by Bar Kochba rebels and then stashed away in the Judean mountains for safekeeping.  The pagan images and symbols decorating the items would have prevented the Jewish fighters from using them, as to do so would have violated Jewish laws on idolatry.

The items were discovered by chance when detectives from the Lev HaBira police station in Jerusalem spotted a car heading the wrong way on a one-way street.  When detectives stopped and searched the vehicle, they were astonished to discover a box-crate containing the items.  Investigations into the three men in the car revealed that they were antique dealers.

Inspectors from the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Robbery Prevention Unit were called to the police station and immediately identified the finds as being from the late-Roman Age.  It is believed that they were stolen from an archeological site with the intention to sell them.

The director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Eli Eskozido, said the IAI “is working day and night to combat illicit excavations at antiquities sites around the country, in cooperation with the Israel police and other law enforcement agencies.  These ancient finds embody the country’s history, but for robbers and dealers they are merely a commodity sold to the highest bidder for pure greed.”

“It is tremendously important to prevent any attempts to deal in illegal antiquities, to recover valuable finds and to return them to the public and the State.  When legal proceedings against the suspects are complete, the Israel Antiquities Authority will ask the court to confiscate the finds and hand them to us for conservation and further research.” 

Amir Ganor, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Robbery Prevention Unit, commented: “We recently identified unauthorized archaeological excavations at a site from the time of the Bar Kochba revolt, located near the Tarqumiya border crossing.  The information was passed on to the IDF and the Archeology Department of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria.  They launched an operation in an attempt to capture suspects, but unfortunately the robbers managed to escape.  When they fled, they left behind ancient finds that are similar to those now recovered in the suspects’ possession.  We believe that the finds that were recently discovered in Jerusalem were taken from this site.”

Ganor added: “I would like to commend the actions of the detectives from Lev HaBira police station in Jerusalem, whose vigilance led to the finds’ recovery and the success of the investigation, thus thwarting the attempted sale of unique antiquities in this instance.”



Israeli Tech Reaches Record $82.4 Billion In 2021, A 520% Surge

M&As and IPOs by Israeli companies surged to an unprecedented figure totaling $82.4 billion in 2021.  According to the PwC Israel High Tech Exit Report, this represents a 520% increase from 2020, when the figure was $15.4 billion.

With the addition of over $25 billion raised by startups, the total sum entering Israeli tech in 2021 crossed the $100 billion mark.

PwC reported a total of 171 deals (M&As and IPOs) during 2021, compared to 60 last year.  The average deal over the past year reached $482 million – 190% growth over 2020, when the average value per deal amounted to $257 million.

Even though there was a relatively low amount of deals signed during 2020 due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the figures registered in 2021 are still significantly higher than those of previous years.  This year’s IPO record has been exceptional, with 72 offerings, totaling approximately $71 billion.  There were 21 offerings completed by Unicorns, in which companies were valued at over $1 billion.  20 of the 21 Unicorns went public on Wall Street, with fintech company Nayax the exception, after entering the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

The highest-valued offering of the year was ironSource, which was valued at $11 billion.  Next was SentinelOne, valued at $9 billion, and, valued at $6.8 billion.  There was also an increase in the number of IPOs on the local stock exchange, with 45 tech companies going public, the primary of which were Nayax (valued at $1 billion) and Glassbox (valued at $350 million).

Yaron Weizenbluth, Partner and Head of High-Tech Cluster at PwC Israel, said: “We’ve managed to narrow into a year a process that was expected to take a decade in terms of humanity’s recognition of the importance and technological need.  In 2022 the valuations will be challenged, and we will see another wave of acquisitions and IPOs in the second half of the year.”