News Digest — 12/28/20

Moroccan Delegation Arrives In Israel

A Moroccan delegation was in Israel on Monday (28th) for the first time since normalization between the countries was announced earlier this month.

The delegation, which landed in Israel on Sunday night (27th) plans to work toward reopening the Moroccan liaison office in Tel Aviv, which it has held onto for the past 20 years since Rabat cut official ties.  Israel has also retained its closed office in Morocco.

During last week’s visit to Rabat by National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat and White House Special Adviser Jared Kushner who led an US-Israeli delegation to Rabat, the countries committed to reopening the offices within two weeks.

The Moroccan delegation is also expected to prepare for a high-level delegation to come to Israel at a later date that is still undetermined.

The Moroccan diplomats have meetings scheduled in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, but they do not have any public events or statements on their agenda.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited Morocco’s King Mohammed VI to visit Israel, in a phone conversation over the weekend.

Netanyahu’s office characterized  the conversation as “warm and friendly,” and taking place in French, English, Hebrew and Arabic.

“This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” Netanyahu told the king quoting from the movie “Casablanca.”

The Ben-Shabbat and Kushner delegation took the first-ever direct flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat, and Israel and Morocco signed four bilateral agreements on civil aviation, visa exemption for official passport holders, water and finance.

Morocco established diplomatic relations with Israel in December, under the framework of the Abraham Accords, by which the US negotiated normalization between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Israel and Morocco first forged diplomatic relations in 1994, though the countries had unofficial relations for decades before that.  They did not have full diplomatic ties, and the new relations are resuming from that point, moving towards full diplomatic relations.

Morocco broke off ties with Israel during the Second Intifada in 2000, but in recent years, tens of thousands of Israelis have visited the North African state each year.  Morocco’s Tourism Minister told Yediot Ahronet this week that she would like to see that number go up to 200,000.

An estimated 1million Israeli Jews have roots in Morocco.

In his call with Netanyahu, King Mohammed emphasized the importance of the ties between his country and Jews of Moroccan origin.



Hezbollah: ‘We’ve Doubled Our Precision-Missile Arsenal And Can Strike Israel Anywhere’

The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah said Sunday (27th) his group now has twice as many precision-guided missiles as it had a year ago, saying Israel’s efforts to prevent it from acquiring them has failed.

Hassan Nasrallah, in an end-of-year interview with the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV, said his group has the capability to strike anywhere in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Nasrallah said that when Israel threatened through a US official to target a Hezbollah facility in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa region, his group warned it would retaliate for any such attack.  

Israel has in recent months expressed concern that Hezbollah is trying to establish production facilities to make precision-guided missiles.

During the four-hour interview, Nasrallah said there are many matters related to his group that Israel has no knowledge of because those are kept in a “very tight circle.”

Nasrallah also said that the last few weeks of the administration of President Donald Trump are critical and must be treated with care.  He called Trump “angry” and “crazy.” 

The Iran-backed Hezbollah is a sworn enemy of Israel, with which it has had a series of confrontations, including a full-scale war in 2006.

Nasrallah repeated vows that Iran and its allies will avenge the US killing of the commander of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in a drone attack a year ago in Iraq.

“That revenge is coming no matter how long it takes,” he told Al-Mayadeen TV, sitting with a picture of Soleimani on his lap.

Nasrallah also vowed to avenge Israel’s killing of a Hezbollah fighter in Syria earlier this year.

Addressing the incoming US administration of Joe Biden, Nasrallah said that Iran would not negotiate with the US on behalf of its allies or discuss conflicts in the region.  He said Tehran would talk with Washington only about the Iranian nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew.



Israel Pounds Gaza After Palestinian Rocket Attack

Israeli aircraft struck several sites belonging to Hamas in the Gaza Strip early Saturday (26th) after Palestinian terrorists fired rockets at southern Israel.

The airstrike targets included a secret rocket manufacturing facility and training and military posts belonging to Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for over a decade.

Palestinian media reported the airstrikes shattered windows in east Gaza City.  There were no reports of casualties.

The Palestinian rockets fired on Friday (25th) were aimed at the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, but air defenses intercepted them, the military said.  No Palestinian group in Gaza claimed responsibility for the rocket fire.

Volleys of missiles from the Iron Dome defense system illuminated the sky in the northern Gaza Strip as they hit the incoming rockets.

Palestinian rocket attacks are frequent, but they have largely been subdued in recent months due to the raging coronavirus outbreak.

Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007 and fought three wars with Israel and countless rounds of smaller skirmishes, maintains an unofficial cease-fire with Israel.

 The terror group perpetrates widespread human rights abuses against its own population in addition to funding and training Palestinian terror cells in Judea and Samaria that launch terror attacks on Israeli civilians.

Hamas receives millions of dollars in aid from Iran, which funds other terror proxies in the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.



Syria Claims IDF Attacked Targets, 6 Foreigners Killed

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported missile strikes Friday (25th), claiming they were carried out by the Israel Air Force.

“At exactly 12:40 a.m. Friday (25th) the Israeli enemy launched an aggression by directing a burst of missiles from the north of the Lebanese city of Tripoli towards the Masyaf area in the western Hama region, and our air defense media intercepted the enemy missiles and dropped most of them,” a Syrian military source told SANA.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) issued a statement saying it documented human and material losses as a result of the strikes on Syrian territory.

“Israeli missiles coming from over Lebanese territory have destroyed warehouses and manufacturing centers for short-and medium-range missiles belonging to Iranian militias in the scientific research area, the ‘Defense Factories,’ within the area of Al-Zawiya in Masyaf countryside,” the organization reported, adding that two other sites in the area were hit as well.

“The strikes left six people dead of non-Syrian nationalities. It was not known whether they were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards or pro-Iranian militiamen,” the SOHR reported, adding they expected the death toll to rise.

The organization noted that the area hit has “a center for developing medium-range missiles” and that an airstrike earlier this year in the same area, also attributed to Israel, caused “heavy human and material losses.”

Israel has a longstanding policy of not allowing Iran or Iran-backed terror groups like Hezbollah to establish military infrastructure that would threaten Israel, but generally does not comment on foreign reports that claim Israel is the source of attacks on Syria.

However, Israel has publicly acknowledged several recent airstrikes against Syrian military targets after Syria violated the ceasefire agreement the two countries signed following the 1973 Yom Kippur War.



Arab Suspect In Killing Of Mother Of 6 Re-enacts Murder

The Palestinian suspect in the murder of Esther Horgan re-enacted the killing for Israeli police, showing how he threw the rock that crushed her skull.

Israeli security forces are still investigating the murder and searching for accomplices.  They are also reviewing the actions of the suspect in the days before and after the killing using footage from security cameras.

Police arrested the suspect, who is said to be 40 years old and from the Jenin area, on Thursday (24th) for the grisly killing of Horgan, 52, on Sunday (20th).

Horgan was killed in the Reihan Forest near the settlement of Tal Menashe in southern Samaria.  She was going for her daily jog around 1:30 p.m.  When she didn’t return her husband contacted the police, who found her body around 2: a.m. Monday morning (21st).

Maurice Hirsch, director of Legal Strategies at Palestinian Media Watch, a watchdog group, warned that the terrorist will receive payments from the Palestinian Authority under its ‘Pay-For Slay’ policy. 

Horgan, mother of 6 was buried Tuesday morning (22nd).

Over the weekend, IDF forces mapped-out the home of the suspect for possible destruction.