News Digest — 12/18/23

IDF Uncovers Largest Terror Tunnel In Gaza

On Sunday (17th), the IDF uncovered the largest terror tunnel in northern Gaza extending close to the Erez Crossing between Gaza and Israel.  

The Tunnel extends 2.5 miles and is 165 feet below ground.  It is sufficiently wide enough to allow passage of vehicles.

In a video statement, the commander of the Gaza Division’s Northern Brigade, Col. Haim Cohen said, “Its width indicates that it was intended to have been used for vehicle-borne raids against civilians in the Gaza border communities.”

Although the tunnel did not extend into Israel, it did stretch to over 1312 feet  from the Erez crossing, which is used by Palestinian civilians to go to Israel for work or medical care.

The tunnel involves a complex network of branches and includes plumbing, electricity, and lines of communication as well as blast doors to prevent entry by IDF troops.

During the ground war, attacks against the IDF were launched from inside the tunnel and several Hamas terrorists situated in the tunnel were killed by the IDF.

Over the last few weeks, the Combat Engineering Corps’ elite Yahalom unit and the Gaza Division’s Northern Brigade used “advanced intelligence and technological means” to uncover the “strategic” tunnel network, scan it, and clear it of any “potential threats.”  

In addition to discovering the tunnel, the IDF found footage of Hamas engineers and builders constructing the tunnel, which was directed by Muhammad Sinwar, the commander of Hamas’ southern brigade, and brother of Hamas’ Gaza leader Yaha Sinwar.

Dozens of Hamas terrorists were responsible for the construction of the tunnel and “came especially for its reconstruction from Khan Yunis, in the southern Strip, to the north of the Gaza Strip,” according to the IDF video.

It is estimated that the terror tunnels cost many millions of dollars to construct.

Since the beginning of the Gaza ground war, the IDF has been locating and destroying terror tunnels; as of last week, 800 tunnel shafts were discovered and 500 destroyed.



Gallant Warns Hezbollah: Israel Can Do In Beirut What It Is Doing In Gaza

If Hezbollah wants to step up attacks on Israel, the IDF will preemptively increase its operations fivefold, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned in a visit to reservists stationed in the northern city of Metula on Sunday (17th).

In his visit to the 91st Division, Gallant stressed that the Israeli government will do everything in its power to bring civilians back to their homes in northern border communities, saying that  “we will not allow their displacement for much longer.”

The defense minister said that Israel “will bring everyone back, whether it is through force or a diplomatic agreement.  We do not want war but we will not keep this situation going.  If Hezbollah wants to take this up a level, we will take it up five levels,” he added, in a direct warning to the Lebanese terror organization.

Gallant told reservists that Israel can “copy and paste” what it is doing to Hamas in Gaza onto Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“What we are doing in Gaza, we can do in Beirut,” the defense minister said in Metula.  “If we will be dragged into a violent conflict, a war, Hezbollah will pay a heavy price.”

On Saturday (16th), the IDF announced that Yehezkel Azaria, 53-years-old from Petah Tikva, fell during operations on the northern border with Lebanon on Saturday (16th).  Two other IDF soldiers were also wounded during the incident, which took place during a barrage of drones fired from across the Lebanese border into Israel.

It was reported last week that Israel was “close to reaching  a diplomatic solution” to move the Hezbollah terror organization away from the northern border with Lebanon.

There were at least three rounds of exchanges of fire between Hezbollah and Israel on Sunday (17th).

As has occurred throughout the conflict, Hezbollah fired rockets and anti-tanks missiles, while the IDF responded with a mix of artillery fire and airstrikes.

As in recent days, there was a more detailed description by the IDF of more comprehensively attacking certain Hezbollah command and terror infrastructure areas along with Killing some of the terror group attack crews before they had the opportunity to fire. 

Both sides have appeared to flex their military muscle more in the last week, seemingly in anticipation of seeking to stake out as aggressive positions as possible before the terms of the conflict end in the North, and when the Israel-Hamas war concludes in the South.



IDF Reservist Stabbed, Moderately Wounded By Palestinian At West Bank Gas Station

A 49-year-old IDF reservist was stabbed on Sunday (17th) by a Palestinian attacker at a gas station near the West Bank’s Rantis checkpoint.

The suspect was later arrested by IDF troops, and the reservist was said to be moderately wounded, and taken to the hospital for further treatment.

According to the IDF, the assailant fled after the stabbing, and was detained a short while later by troops in the nearby town of Rantis, not far from the Israeli city of Elad.

Security camera footage from the gas station shows the reservist paying at the counter when the assailant ran up from behind and stabbed him. The attacker then fled.

Hebrew media outlets reported that the soldier, who was said to be the father of seven children, managed to shoot at the fleeing attacker, although the stabber succeeded in getting away.

The Kan public broadcaster identified the stabber as Rami Hamze Ballut, and said he had identified with the Hamas terror group, and was a resident of Rantis.

He had a permit to work in the Israeli West Bank settlement of Shiloh according to Kan, which reported that he left behind a note before the attack in which he expressed his solidarity with Hamas.

Tensions in the West Bank have soared since Hamas’ October 7 onslaught against southern Israel.  Israel troops have carried out dozens of raids in terror hotspots in the northern West Bank in recent months.

The IDF said earlier Sunday (17th) that at least four Palestinians were killed in overnight drone strikes in the Nur Shams camp near the West Bank city of Tulkarem.  The military said that during the raid, reservists and Border Police officers arrested four wanted Palestinians, seizing their firearms, and that IDF engineering vehicles uncovered explosive devices planted under and on the sides of the roads in the camp, which were intended to be detonated against troops.

Last week, the IDF conducted an unusual 60-hour raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin in which it said 60 wanted Palestinians were arrested, 50 weapons were seized and hundreds of explosive devices were confiscated during the incursion which began late Monday (11th).

The IDF said the troops also found more than 10 tunnel shafts, seven labs used to manufacture explosive devices, and five war rooms used by local terror operatives to monitor IDF operations.  It said that 10 armed Palestinians were killed during the raid and others were wounded. 

Israel says that the Palestinian Authority has lost control of areas of the northern West Bank, allowing terror groups to entrench themselves and launch attacks on Israelis on both sides of the Green Line.

Since the October 7 onslaught by Hamas against Israel, troops have arrested over 2,400 wanted Palestinians across the West Bank, including more than 1,200 affiliated with Hamas.  According to the Palestinian Authority health minister, some 280 West Bank Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces.



Hundreds Of U.S. Synagogues Receive Bomb Threats As Spree Continues Despite Arrests

JTA – Hundreds of synagogues and Jewish institutions across the United States received bomb threats by email this weekend, in a substantial acceleration of a months-long spree of hoax threats.

The Secure Community Network, which coordinates security for Jewish institutions nationwide, said early Sunday (17th) that it had tracked 199 threats over the past 24 hours, with nearly 100 in California and 62 in Arizona.  Synagogues in at least 17 states plus Washington, D.C., were affected, according to local media reports.

None of the threats were deemed credible after local investigation.  But some of them caused significant disruption: A Boulder, Colorado synagogue evacuated its Shabbat morning services on Saturday (16th), for example, while a congregation in western Massachusetts canceled its Sunday (17th) religious school.

In Alabama, the state’s only Jewish lawmaker, Philip Ensler, posted a video to social media showing the moment that the Torah reading at his synagogue was interrupted and everyone in attendance was ushered outside.  “This is exhausting,” he tweeted.  “I pray for the day we can worship and live in peace.”

Ensler, who is also executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central Alabama, later said in a federation statement that six of seven Jewish institutions in his area had received the threats.

The surge in threats comes at a time of high anxiety for American Jews, amid a spike in reports of anti-Semitic incidents, and during Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, triggered by the terrorist group’s October 7 massacre in Israel, in which thousands of terrorists killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took about 240 hostages of all ages.

It also follows multiple arrests of people who have been charged with sending bomb threats targeting Jews and other institutions, including a minor in California last week, and a man from Peru in September.

Hundreds of synagogues have received bomb threats since the last spree began over the summer, including during the High Holidays.  The arrests do not appear to be blunting the threats.

“Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that this nationwide trend will continue in the foreseeable future,” the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey told community members in an email on Sunday afternoon (17th) sharing news of at least five threats in the area.



Questions Of Morality In The Gaza War – Amb. Dror Eydar

The truth has to be told.  Some of our soldiers were killed because we were trying to be moral.  The pressure on the IDF because of collateral damage to the civilian population is reflected in the softening of preparatory bombardments before ground forces go in.  Our soldiers find themselves in great danger because we avoid certain actions before the infantry forces enter the fray.

We see how Hamas exploited humanitarian gestures to improve their positions.  Most of the food that entered Gaza was forcefully taken by the terrorists and did not reach the population.  Most of the fuel reached Hamas and helped ventilate their terror tunnels and provide electricity to the metalworking machines that produce more weapons to be used against us.

We are told that the Palestinian Authority is the sane alternative to replace Hamas, but the Palestinian Authority pays murderers of Jews with salaries dependent on the number of people they murdered.  A comparison of the Hamas and Fatah charters shows us that they both share the goal of destroying Israel and the Jewish people.

The Palestinians have fired tens of thousands of rockets at Israel that could have killed thousands of people.  The fact that we managed to block them does not change the goal of those who fired them: murder of Jewish people in their homeland.

In this war, our victory must be clearly seen and understood by the enemy, in no uncertain terms or subject to interpretation.  When it comes to the dilemma between our lives and the lives of our enemy, our answer must be clear and resounding: our lives come first.  

The writer served as Israel’s Ambassador to Italy. (israel Hayom)



Iran Hoped To Profit From Israel-Hamas War, But Big Gains Still Elude It – Laurence Norman

Tehran has yet to reap tangible strategic gains from the Israel-Hamas conflict.  Iran’s diplomacy with the West, aimed at easing US sanctions, has halted due to its support for Hamas.  Billions of dollars that the US had pledged to Iran in a prisoner-release deal sit effectively frozen.

Iran is urging Arab countries that had established diplomatic ties with Israel to renounce them, but none has.  At the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Tehran’s proposals for economic reprisals against Israel were rejected by Gulf countries, Egypt and Jordan.

Iran has long called for US forces and influences to be expelled from the Middle East, but the Gaza War has also rekindled America’s mission of defending its interests in the region.

Moreover, Israel is now for the first time intent on destroying Hamas, and doing so would deprive Iran of an important member of its anti-Western alliance.  “The complete destruction of Hamas would be an embarrassment to Iran and create concerns among Iran’s partners in the region that perhaps the Iranians aren’t as reliable as they thought,” said Emile Hokayem of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.  (Wall Street Journal)