News Digest — 12/2/22

Likud, Religious Zionist Parties Sign Coalition Agreement Paving Way For New Government

The Likud and Religious Zionist Parties reached a coalition agreement on Thursday evening (1st) that clears the way for Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government backed by 64 members of Israel’s Knesset.

Under the accord, Religious Zionist Chairman Bezalel Smotrich will become Finance Minister for two years under a rotation deal with Shas party head Aryeh Deri.

The Religious Zionist Party, which has seven members of the Knesset, will also get a post in the Defense MInistry that will be responsible for District Coordination and Liaison Offices (DCI) and the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, as well as the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization, Sherut Leumi (National Service) and pre-military academies (Mechinot).  The official will act with the coordination and agreement of the prime minister.

Religious Zionist MK Ofir Sofer will be Minister of Aliyah and Integration, and MK Orit Strook will lead a new Ministry of National Mission whose areas of responsibility have yet to be determined.  Religious Zionist MK Simcha Rothman, long a champion of the campaign to rein in the power of the Supreme Court, will chair the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Shas, which has 11 lawmakers, will receive the Interior Ministry.

Likud has already reached coalition agreements with Otzma Yehudit (six MKs) and Noam (one MK).  A preliminary agreement has also been reached with United Torah Judaism, which has seven MKs.

Smotrich said after signing the deal, “Today we are taking another historic step to establish a Jewish, Zionist and national government that will restore security and governance, promote historic reform in the legal system, regulate and develop the settlement enterprise, strengthen the Jewish identity in the spirit of religious Zionism and proudly wave the flag of Zionism, the absorption of aliyah and Israeli society.”

A separate agreement, yet to be drafted, will outline the policies to be advanced by the parties in the next government.



Gantz: Iran Continues To Try And Establish Itself In Syria And In The Golan In Particular

Current Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday (1st) held a briefing with security attaches from 30 countries, with the participation of the head of the security-policy division at the Ministry of Defense, Brigadier General Dror Shalom and the Director of the Strategic Division in the IDF Iran and Strategy Directorate, Brigadier General Oren Seter.

During the meeting, the Minister of Defense held a strategic review, and in his parting words from the forum, thanked those in attendance for strengthening defense and industrial cooperation, in an unprecedented manner in recent years.

On the subject of the war in Ukraine, Gantz said, “Israel stands by Ukraine and condemns the attacks against the civilian population.  This war is a reminder that wars are a tangible thing, and that countries have an obligation to build up their strength and be ready to protect their citizens, and to strengthen the cooperation that brings regional and global stability.  I held, in recent weeks, two conversations with my counterpart, the Ukrainian Minister of Defense, and we are currently promoting the adaptation and supply of civil alert systems.”

Regarding the Iranian threat, he said, “Iran is expanding its aggressive actions in many countries in the world – and not only in the Middle East.  In the last five years, Iran has attacked more than 16 civilian targets in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf.  Just last month we saw the attack on the ship, near Oman, using a Shahed 136 type drone launched from Chah Bahar.  This is not the first time that this place has been used to launch drones against civilian targets.  Iran infringes on freedom of navigation and endangers stability in this region.  Iran also continues to try and establish itself in Syria and in particular in the Golan Heights – and Israel will not allow Iranian bases to be established within Syrian borders.  Iran has an interest in instability, and the regime there knows that the less stable the region is, the easier it will be for it to increase internal instability.”

“At the same time, Iran is increasing its enrichment capacity and making progress in its nuclear project.  We are in a situation where Iran has enough material at a 60% enrichment level to be able to reach a 90% enrichment level, and will have enough material for a bomb in about two weeks.”

“In the face of Iranian aggression, we must continue to strengthen the regional cooperation under ‘CENTCOM,’ and in particular the joint drills, the intelligence cooperation, the ‘shows of power,’ and also the exercise of force and firmness against Iranian targets in response to Iranian acts of defiance and aggression.  I repeat that Iran is first and foremost a threat to the world and the region, and not just a challenge for Israel.”

Gantz noted, “Since the Abraham Accords and Israel’s entry into CENTCOM, over 200 partnership meetings have taken place in the region.  In the past two years, approximately 140 security agreements have been signed between Israel and other countries, including groundbreaking MOU agreements.”

On the Palestinian Arab issue, he said: “We have carried out dozens of confidence-building moves in the past two years, the purpose of which was to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and improve the situation.  Unfortunately, we are seeing governance problems and terrorist attacks that require extensive actions from us,  We are trying to target them, but we will not hesitate to act to remove any threat to Israeli citizens.”

“The international community must not only condemn the terrorism emanating from Judea and Samaria, but also ‘act’ to pressure the actors into curbing it, while strengthening the civilian elements in the Palestinian Authority through various projects.  Just last week, we were on the verge of an operation to return the body of the late Tiran Fero.  The terrorist gangs that carried out this ‘kidnapping’ are also harming the Palestinian residents themselves, and Israel will continue to act against them.”



New Battalion Joins The IDF: The Panther Battalion

The 49th Panther Battalion is joining the Border Protection Corps in the Israeli Ground Forces.  The battalion was established as part of a lesson drawn from “Operation break the Wave.”  The operation outlined the need to establish a battalion that would routinely operate at the Judea and Samaria security border in place of the reserve units that were dispatched to the area for prolonged operational activities.

The Panther Battalion will include both male and female soldiers who will be trained at rifleman level 06, the highest level available to female soldiers.  The battalion’s training will be led by the Israeli Ground Forces and will last approximately six months.  The physical competence of the battalion’s soldiers will be identical to that of soldiers from other battalions and will also include additional unique skills that are required for its specific region of operation.

Thursday (1st) the first of the soldiers who will make up the new battalion enlisted in the IDF. The soldiers will begin their operational activities in the Judea and Samaria security barrier next year, after completing their training.  The battalion will specialize in defending the area of the security barrier in both routine and emergency scenarios.  The battalion will also carry out a variety of routine security missions as part of the effort to defend the State of Israel.

The decision to establish the battalion was made jointly by the Israeli Ground Forces and the Manpower Directorate , and it is being implemented following the conduction of a shared administrative work, during which the optimal conditions for its establishment were formulated.

Commanding Officer of the Border Protection Corps in the Israeli Ground Forces, BG Amit Yamin said:

“The establishment of this battalion symbolizes the IDF’s ability to quickly and efficiently adjust itself to the ever-changing operational requirements.  We invested great efforts in the planning of this battalion in order to ensure that the soldiers joining it will serve a meaningful service and contribute to the IDF’s operational purpose.”



Terror Tunnel Found Under UNRWA School In Gaza

The United Nations’ aid organization for Palestinian Arabs announced this week its discovery of a terror tunnel under one of its schools in the Gaza Strip, condemning its presence without putting the blame on any specific group.

“The Agency protested strongly to the relevant authorities in Gaza to express outrage and condemnation of the presence of such a structure underneath one of its installations,” the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said in a statement.

“The presence of a man-made cavity underneath the grounds of an UNRWA school is a serious violation of the Agency’s neutrality and a breach of international law,” it continued.  “Moreover, it exposes children and Agency staff to significant security and safety risks.” 

The organization said it has sealed the tunnel off.

It is no secret that Hamas has dug entire networks of tunnels in the coastal enclave, as it has publicly boasted of it and posted videos of its armed forces carrying rocket launchers and other weapons while walking through them.  It has spent tens of millions of dollars building this subterranean infrastructure so its terrorist operatives could move about and store munitions without being seen by Israel’s eyes in the sky.

One of the IDF’s main goals in last year’s Operation Guardian of the Walls was to destroy the dozens of miles of subterranean infrastructure it dubbed “the metro.”  In one operation alone, the air force dropped some 80 tons of explosives on tunnels in the northern part of the coastal enclave.

UNRWA said it “condemns the existence and potential use by Palestinian armed groups of such tunnels underneath its schools in the strongest possible terms.  It is unacceptable that students and staff be placed at risk in such a way.”

When UN personnel came in August 2022, before the start of the school year to check that there were no explosives or munitions at the site, Hamas police quickly arrived and demanded  that they leave.  They complied, and the police closed off the area.



 The Burgeoning Israel-India Strategic Alliance – Jonathan Spyer

India is now the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment, with exports to India constituting 46% of Israel’s total arms exports.  In agriculture and water management, Indian authorities have partnered with Israel to develop methods to cope with an emergent water crisis.  The deepening connections between Jerusalem and New Delhi in a myriad of fields are inescapable.  India and Israel are facing a challenge common to western-aligned states at a time when the US, the leader of the democratic world, is in a process of recalibrating and reducing its external commitments.

In an essay published by the Middle East Institute in July 2021, Egyptian-born strategic thinker Mohammed Soliman posited the emergence of an “Indo-Abrahamic Alliance,” bringing together the UAE, Israel and India.  The UAE is now India’s third-largest trade partner.  The alliance would be based on deepening formalized cooperation in such areas as maritime security in the Mediterranean, the Gulf and the Indian Ocean, missile defense, drones, common opposition to Islamist extremism, and data security.

A poll conducted by Israel’s Foregin Ministry in 2009 found that 58% of Indians declared themselves supporters of Israel.  Similar levels of warmth and support may easily be discerned on the Israeli side.