News Digest — 12/28/21

Airstrike at Syrian Latakia Port Reportedly Causes Massive Damage

An overnight airstrike attributed to Israel caused massive material damage early Tuesday (28th) to buildings at the Syrian port of Latakia, the state-run SANA news reported.

According to Israel’s N12 news site, Syrian reports claimed that the country’s air defense intercepted missiles fired by Israeli aircraft.

A Syrian military official announced that at 3:21 a.m. Tuesday (28th), “the Israeli enemy carried out a missile airstrike from the Mediterranean Sea, west of Latakia, on containers at the Latakia trade platform.”

The strike hit containers in the port, setting off a fire.  There were no reports of wounded.

Israel has allegedly carried out hundreds of strikes since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, although it seldom directly acknowledges responsibility for them.  Israel says it will not allow a build-up of Iranian influence in the country, including foreign militias funded by Tehran.

Earlier this month, a similar strike hit Latakia causing fires but no casualties, according to reports.  N12 noted that Latakia is considered a stronghold of the family of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Alawite sect in Syria.

This was the second attack on the Latakia port in December and the third in Syria this month.



Fearing Hezbollah Rockets, Defense Ministry Reinforces Northern Israel Communities

The Defense Ministry on Monday (27th) announced that it was expanding its effort to reinforce the defenses of the Israeli communities closest to the Lebanese border, which are most likely to be hit by rocket fire in a future conflict with the Hezbollah terrorist militia.

The effort – dubbed Shield of the North – officially began last month, when the ministry’s Engineering and Construction Division, along with the Israel Defense Forces’ Homefront Command, started installing new bomb shelters in homes in the community of Kfar Yuval, northeast of Kiryat Shmona.

On Monday (27th), the ministry said it was expanding the Shield of the North program to three more communities, Metulla, Shlomi and Shtula, all of which lie directly along the border with Lebanon.

“In the coming days, the Engineering and Construction Division, will begin setting up dozens of bomb shelters in private homes in the three additional communities,” the ministry said.

Ultimately, the ministry intends to carry out its “Shield of the North” reinforcement-plan to the 21 communities closest to the northern border. (Shield of the North is not to be confused with the IDF’s Operation Northern Shield, in which the military uncovered a number of attack tunnels dug into Israeli territory by Hezbollah).

“The civil resilience of the residents of the north is a central part of our preparedness for war scenarios.  I laud the Engineering and Construction Division and the IDF for advancing this project quickly…We will continue to reinforce the communities of the north and we will make home front preparedness a top priority for the defense establishment,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a statement.

In the coming weeks, the ministry said it plans to expand the program to four more communities: Avivim, Margaliot, Misgav Am and Manara.

This reinforcement plan came after many years of promises to improve shelters in northern communities, which were regularly found to be lacking, despite the high probability that these areas were most likely to be hit by barrages from Hezbollah.

According to some national security experts, Israel relies more heavily upon its offensive and active defense capabilities, like the Iron Dome and other missile defense systems, to quickly neutralize threats instead of building up its physical fortifications and preparing to more safely absorb an attack.

In a 2020 report, the comptroller warned that by not providing sufficient bomb shelters and other physical defenses, the government was risking civilian lives.



Israeli Foreign Minister: Iran Is Deceiving The World And Israel Can Prove It

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid revealed on Monday (27th) a new development in the ongoing shadow war between Israel and Iran.

Addressing the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, Lapid said that Israel has provided the US and other Western powers with concrete evidence pointing to Iran’s deceiving conduct on the world stage.

“In the past few months, we have held extensive debates, primarily with the United States, but also with Moscow, Paris, London, Brussels…we’ve said very clearly that we won’t allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state.  We would prefer to cooperate, but will act alone if necessary,” Hebrew language media outlet Ma’ariv cited Lapid as saying.

While Lapid was reiterating Iran’s growing threat to the world, the negotiations over a nuclear deal with Tehran resumed in Vienna, with a round of new demands made by the Islamic republic and growing concerns among participating countries over Iran’s commitment to the process, concerns that may very well be justified, as Lapid explained.

“We’ve presented our allies with concrete intelligence that proves that Iran is systematically deceiving the world,” Lapid said.  “It only cares about sanctions being lifted and money pouring into its global network of terror,” he continued.

“Israel is not opposed to all agreements.  A good agreement is a good agreement.  We oppose an agreement that does not allow proper supervision over Iran’s nuclear program, its finances and its network of terror,” he stated.

Lapid then moved on to discuss what he described as the “continued systematic erosion over the years of Israel’s Foreign Ministry due to political considerations,” suggesting that Israel’s effort to confront Iran diplomatically has been challenged by the lack of appropriate budgets and human capital.

Iran is currently insisting that the US and its allies promise to allow Tehran to export its crude oil.  Speaking to reporters in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said Iran wants the upcoming round of talks to focus on achieving the “point where Iranian oil is being sold easily and without any barriers and its money arrives in Iran’s bank accounts.”



Israel, US Oppose New UN Commission Of Inquiry

As the UN General Assembly voted December 24th to fund an unprecedented open-ended war crimes probe against Israel, Israeli UN representative Sherry Zilbergeld said: “Establishing a novel, permanent standing committee rather than a limited, temporary and well-defined Commission of Inquiry is unprecedented and dangerous,” accusing the General Assembly of funding a “mock court” against Israel.

“Countries who opposed the formation of the Commission of Inquiry…will have to pay for this mechanism next year…in 10 years and …in 100 years.”

Zilbergeld said, “Since its establishment in 2006 the UNHRC has set up 32 investigative bodies, with nine (nearly a third) of these focused exclusively on Israel.”  She noted that no Commission of Inquiry was created to investigate Hamas, an “internationally designated terror group” that has launched thousands of rockets against Israeli civilians.

The US representative said the probe “perpetuates a practice of unfairly singling out Israel in the UN and, like prior US administrations, we strongly oppose such treatment of Israel.  The US will continue to oppose this….Israel can continue to count on the US to do everything possible to shield it from discriminatory and unbalanced criticism – whether at the UNHRC or elsewhere in the UN system.” 



Israel Is The Best Thing To Happen To Christians In The Holy Land For Centuries – Robert Nicholson

Every year at Christmas, some Christian prelates warn of the fate of Christians in the Holy Land.  This year it was Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem Hosam Naoum.

But the state of Israel is the best thing to happen to Christians and other minorities in over a thousand years: a revolution for freedom against religious empires, a refuge for Jews, and a model of multi ethnic pluralism at the same time. 

To the Archbishops’ credit, they did acknowledge that “In Israel, the overall number of Christians has risen,” yet fail to note that this is the first time in 13 centuries that such a thing has happened.

There are, infact, two Christian communities in the Holy Land: a large and prosperous population of 182,000 who live as Israeli citizens from various backgrounds, mostly in the Galilee and Jerusalem areas; and a smaller group of 50,000 Christian Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.  The real crisis here is that they live under Palestinian rule.  Data from a study by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research show that 2/3 of Christians in the Palestinian territories worry about rising Islamic sentiment, which drives economic hardship, emigration and decline.

Christmas offers an opportunity to thank Israel for safeguarding Christianity.  If the Church of England wants a Christian renaissance in the Near East, it should extend a hand of friendship to the only country where that project is still viable.

The writer is president and executive director of the Philos Project in the Near East