News Digest — 12/21/20

Security Forces Hunting Killer Of Mother Of 6, Esther Horgan

Security forces’ original suspicion that Samaria resident Esther Horgan, who was killed while out running near her home in Tel Menashe on Sunday (20th), was the victim of a terrorist attack is gaining traction, security officials told Israel Hayom on Monday (21st) after an investigation into Horgan’s death had been underway for half a day.

Early Monday morning (21st), police reported that the body of a woman, reported missing, had been discovered in the Reichan Forest in Samaria.

Security officials suspect that Horgan’s killer was an Israeli Arab, rather than a Palestinian. 

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday (21st) that security forces were “operating to capture the loathsome murderer.”

In a tweet on his personal account, Gantz expressed his condolences to the Horgan family and said, “We will never accept a reality in which a person’s life is forfeit.”

Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan said that Horgan had left her home at about 1 p.m. Sunday (20th) for a run in the forest.  A few hours later, when she had not returned, her husband alerted security forces.

By the evening volunteers from the Samaria-Jordan Valley search and rescue squad of the Judea Samaria Police, along with IDF and Border Police personnel, a K9 unit, and civilian volunteers, had begun searching for her.  After several hours, around 1 a.m. Monday (21st), the search and rescue team discovered her body.  Magen David Adom paramedics, who scrambled to the scene, declared her dead.

Paramedic Assaf Tapuchi said, “When we arrived, we were led to the place where a woman about 52-years-old was lying, unconscious.  We examined her, but she wasn’t breathing, she had no pulse or any other signs of life, and shortly thereafter we were forced to declare her dead.”

Police and forensics experts were combing the site where Horgan’s body was discovered, hoping to find evidence.

Dagan said Horgan was “goodhearted and helped people.  How can a woman go out for a work-out a minute away from her house and be murdered by scum in such a brutal way?  To smash the face of a 52-year-old woman with a rock, what kind of evil are we facing?  You will never break us – Samaria’s settlements will flourish and grow and be built-up along with the State of Israel.”



Israel Halts Foreign Travelers From UK Over Fears Of Mutating Virus

After a late-night meeting Saturday (19th) in the Ministry of Health, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided that no foreigners other than diplomats will be able to enter Israel for the time being from the United Kingdom due to a mutation of the Covid-19 virus first reported in that country.

The Population and Immigration Authority informed airlines of the ban Sunday morning (20th), which also includes those merely using a UK airport as a travel hub from other locations

The Health Ministry recommended on Sunday (20th) that people from South Africa and Denmark be prevented from entering Israel as well.  Denmark made news in November when it announced it had culled 17 million minks after the ferret-like animals, raised for their fur, were found to harbor a mutation of the virus.

The Health Ministry also recommended that those returning from Australia and New Zealand be sent to quarantine hotels.  Brazil has been floated as a candidate for tighter restrictions but was not mentioned in the ministry’s recommendations.

“The British Mutation causes more rapid infection,” explained Health Ministry Director General Hezy Levy on Kan Reshet Bet, explaining the precautions.

Lab tests in Britain have shown the new strain in more than 1,100 cases since last September.  On Saturday night (19th), British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a “stay at home” order which started Sunday (20th) at midnight for all residents of London and much of south and east England due to the new circumstances.

Wales is also going to enter lockdown at the same time, while mainland Scotland is expected to join the day after Christmas.

This particular variant has been on the UK radar since September, said a report.  According to Microbial Genomics Prof. Nick Loman of the University of Birmingham, this variant has a “striking” 17 mutations.  It will continue to be closely watched as most of the gene changes are encoded for the spike protein – the part of the virus’ so-called crown, or corona, that enables it to enter and infect human cells.

Scientists in Great Britain who are part of the UK Covid-19 Genomics Consortium have been tracking mutations of the coronavirus almost since its appearance in the West a year ago, using a method known as genetic sequencing.

It is natural for a virus to change over time, they said, and this one is no different.  In fact “thousands” of mutations have already been discovered, according to Consortium Director Prof. Sharon Peacock, The Jerusalem Post reported.   



‘US, Israel Will Work Together To Address Common Threats’

Defense Minister and alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz met Friday (18th) with the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark A. Milley.

In the meeting, which IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi also attended, Gantz and Milley discussed challenges and recent changes in the operational situation in the Middle East, as well as the question of Iran.

At the end of the meeting, Gantz told Milley: “We will act in partnership in the face of any scenario on the Iranian front.  We will work together to address our common threats in order to maintain stability in the Middle East together with our allies.”

Gantz also stressed the importance of maintaining US pressure on the Iranian regime, and the IDF’s readiness to address any regional aggression and Iran’s attempts to secure nuclear weapons.

Gantz also thanked Milley for the US’s commitment to Israel’s security and welcomed the close cooperation between the IDF and the US military, which he said protected the two countries’ interests and those of their allies in the region.

Gantz told Milley that the presence of US forces in the Middle East was an important component to regional stability.



Suspected Iranian Cyber Attack Targets Israel Aerospace Industries

The hacker group Pay2Key claimed Sunday night (20th) that it had successfully hacked a range of Israel defense industry companies, including the largest Israeli airpower defense corporation, Israel Aerospace Industries.

There were signs on social media and elsewhere that the hack was part of an ongoing and concentrated Iranian campaign to hack Israeli companies.

The IAI said the subject is currently being investigated.

Check Point has referred to Pay2Key as an elite hacker group that steals data and threatens to leak it if its target does not cooperate.

Pay2Key has already posted information relating to IAI, including to its cyber chief.

Earlier in December, the giant insurance company Shirbit was hacked by a group called Black Shadow.

Over several dramatic days, Black Shadow steadily leaked customer data to try to get Shirbit to pay it ransom money.

The insurance agency never paid, though its future as a business is now deeply uncertain, since Israeli defense officials are discussing switching to a different insurer.

Check Point also published a report in early December that 141 Israeli companies had been cyber-attacked in November and 137 in October, a major spike in attacks.

Some view this as Iran’s response to Israel’s alleged involvement in recently assassinating Iran’s nuclear program chief Mohsen Fakhrizadeh as well as other assassinations and sabotage.

It is unclear how and whether Israel will respond to these latest cyber strikes or if Jerusalem is hoping that showing restraint will end the current cycle of attacks.



French Family Attacked After Playing Hebrew Music In Car

French police have arrested two adults and two minors suspected of an anti-Semitic hate crime, in which they allegedly verbally assaulted a Jewish family near Paris in their car.

The incident happened Thursday (17th) in the northern Paris suburb of Aubervilliers, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on Twitter Friday (18th).  No one was hurt in the incident, Le Parisien reported.

“Yesterday night, during Hanukkah, a family from Aubervilliers was assaulted because they are Jewish.  In France, in 2020.  The perpetrators were apprehended very swiftly by law enforcement.  They will have to be punished in relation to the seriousness of these facts,” Darmanin wrote.

Initial reports said that the incident happened at 8:40 p.m. and that the perpetrators screamed anti-Semitic insults at the family, rocked the car back and forth and hurled bottles at it, French media RTLbroadcaster reported.  Prior to the assault, music with songs in Hebrew was heard in the family’s car, Le Parisian reported.

The Union of Jewish French Students, or UEJF, in recent years has reached out to non-Jewish young residents of Seine-Saint-Denis, the administrative region where Aubervilliers – a poor and heavily-Muslim municipality with a large Jewish school – is situated.

Last year, UEJF brought residents from the region to experience Sukkot with the Jewish community of Aubervilliers.

The incident Thursday (17th) “recalls the insecurity of Jews who self-identify as such in France, despite our outreach work,” UEJF President Neomie Madar told Le Parisian.