News Digest — 12/3/20

Report: Hezbollah’s Nasrallah To Move To Iran Amid Regional Tensions

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah plans to move to Iran, and may have already made the move, an informed source told the Kuwaiti Al-Jarida newspaper on Wednesday (2nd).

The source told the paper that intelligence services in Lebanon and neighboring countries have monitored extensive encrypted communications between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah concerning the move.  Nasrallah is meant to stay in Tehran for an indefinite amount of time and it is unclear when exactly he will return to Lebanon.

The Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar news reported that Israeli aircraft flew over Beirut at a low altitude on Wednesday night (2nd).

The move to Iran comes after the recent assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh just east of Tehran.  Tensions have risen in the region as Iranian officials blame Israel and threaten revenge.

Tensions have also been high in recent months between Hezbollah and Israel, after a Hezbollah terrorist was killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Damascus in July.  The terrorist group threatened revenge and the IDF has been on alert along the borders with Lebanon and Syria since.

The Kuwaiti newspaper reported in November that a source close to the commander of the IRGC Quds Force, Esmail Qaani, had stated that Hezbollah had managed to uncover an operation planned by Israel to assassinate Nasrallah and a number of leaders in pro-Iranian factions in Syria, Iraq, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The French-language Lebanese L’Orient-Le Jour newspaper reported earlier this week that Qaani had told Hezbollah during a recent visit to Beirut not to escalate, and Al-Jarida reported that Qaani met with Nasrallah during a visit to Beirut in the Middle of November.



After Dumping Hamas, Abbas Seeks To Restore Ties With Gulf States

A recent phone call from King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain to Palestinian Authority Leader Mahmoud Abbas came as a pleasant surprise to Palestinian officials in Ramallah, who say it is a sign of a thaw in their relations with the Gulf State.

The Bahraini monarch called Abbas to offer his condolences over the death of PLO secretary general Saeb Erekat, who died last month at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem after being diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Abbas, for his part, offered his condolences to the Bahraini king over the death of Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s long-serving prime minister, who also died last month at the age of 84.

This was the first phone conversation since the announcement that Bahrain had established relations with Israel following that of the United Arab Emirates, the first Gulf state to normalize relations with the Jewish state.

Abbas and many Palestinian officials and factions strongly condemned the rulers of Bahrain and the UAE for normalizing relations with Israel, accusing the two Gulf states of betraying the Palestinians and stabbing them in the back.  In addition, Abbas withdrew Palestinian ambassadors from Abu Dhabi and Bahrain’s capital Manama.

Recently, however, Abbas has sought to restore his relations with the two countries.  He quietly returned the two envoys and ordered Palestinian officials to cease criticizing Arab states that normalize their relations with Israel.  He has asked Egypt and Jordan, the first two Arab states to end their state of war with Israel, to help ease tensions between the Palestinians and the Gulf States.

Abbas has also banned public protests against the UAE and Bahrain.  A number of Palestinians who posted derogatory comments about the rulers of the two countries were either arrested or summoned for interrogation by Palestinian security forces in the West Bank.

Abbas’ decision to woo the Gulf states follows the collapse of efforts to reconcile his ruling faction with Hamas.

Since July, Fatah leaders, at the behest of Abbas, have been talking to Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, Turkey, Qatar and Lebanon about ways of ending their dispute and achieving national unity, as well as holding long-overdue elections for the Palestinian leadership and parliament.

Last week, Fatah and Hamas officials announced that the unity talks had failed.  Hamas said the talks failed because of Abbas’ decision to resume civil and security coordination with Israel.  But Fatah said the talks failed because Hamas is not serious about ending the division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

“Abbas has chosen reconciliation with the Arab countries over unity with Hamas,” a senior Palestinian official said.  “Abbas understands that improving his relations with the Arab countries is more important than making peace with Hamas.”

In fact, Abbas is considering a visit to the Gulf states to apologize for “insulting” their rulers and citizens in the wake of their peace agreements with Israel, PA officials revealed.



Czech Republic To Open Diplomatic Mission In Jerusalem

Czech Ambassador to Israel Martin Stropnicky on Wednesday (2nd) delivered a letter to the head of the Foreign Ministry’s strategic planning department, Alon Bar, announcing his government’s intentions to open its diplomatic office in Jerusalem.  According to the ambassador, this was a promise made by the Czech President, Milos Zeman, about two years ago.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke with his Czech counterpart, Tomas Petricek, and thanked him for the Czech government’s decision.

During the conversation, Ashkenazi expressed his appreciation for the true friendship and strong support that Israel receives from the Czech government, as well as the common commitment between the peoples to strengthen their partnership through security, economics, commercialism, tourism, technology and cooperation in the global fight against the coronavirus.

Minister Ashkenazi stated: “This is an important step that indicates the friendship between our people and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.  Jerusalem will remain our capital forever.”

“I sincerely hope that we will soon inaugurate the Czech delegation in Jerusalem and see the flags of the countries hoisted over the offices of the missions in the capitals of the two countries, as a sign of the brave friendship and strategic partnership between us.”

“This decision of the Czech government joins the wave of countries that have announced in the last 3 months the opening of embassies in Jerusalem (Kosovo, Serbia, Dominican Republic, and Malawi).”      

Minister Ashkenazi congratulated the Israel Ambassador to Prague, Daniel Maron, on the important diplomatic achievement that is the result of the diplomatic effort of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassies around the world to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.



Israeli War Of Independence Pilot Returns To Sky To Celebrate 100th Birthday

A former pilot who served in Israel’s War of Independence recently returned to the cockpit of an Israeli Air Force (IAF) plane and took flight to celebrate his 100th birthday.

South African-born Harold “Smoky” Simon, who was the IAF’s first head of air operations, flew around the Sde Teeman airfield, near Beersheba, for 20 minutes in a vintage Tiger Moth that is considered Israel’s first plane, The Jewish Chronicle reported.

His sons Saul and Dan Simon, also ex-IAF pilots, flew in vintage planes beside him as friends and the rest of the family watched from the ground.

After the flight, he called the experience “incredible” and “absolutely” epic while grinning from ear to ear.

The retired insurance magnate was one of many overseas volunteers, known as “Machalniks,” who made aliyah to Israel in 1948 and fought in the War of Independence, according to the IAF.

“My wife and I were in the first group of South Africans to come to Israel” he told the IAF in a special birthday interview.  “We saw the war clouds gathering over Palestine.  I was engaged and my future wife and I decided we would get married and go over to Israel together as volunteers.  We arrived on May 9, 1948, and enlisted in the air force the next day.”

Simon, who flew in the South African Air Force during World War II, recalled: “I had the high privilege of being on the first operational flight of the newborn Israel Air Force.  The army asked us to do a reconnaissance flight and to report on the strength of the Jordanian army.  This was a very memorable flight because when we took off from Sde Dov airbase, it was Sde Dov Palestine, and when we landed, it was Sde Dov, Israel.  That is because, at the very time of our flight, David Ben Gurion declared the Independence of the State of Israel.  It was a very historic moment.”



First Arrivals From Ethiopia Land In Operation ‘Rock Of Israel’

In the opening flight of Operation ‘Rock of Israel,’ 316 members of the Falash Mura, a community from Ethiopia arrived in Israel on Thursday morning (3rd) together with Aliyah Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata.  They were greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog and other dignitaries.

All of those who arrived on Thursday (3rd) are the children or grandchildren of members of the community that immigrated to Israel many years ago.

Approximately 100 more immigrants from the Falash Mura community will arrive on Friday (4th).  The government intends to bring a total of 2,000 immigrants by the end of January 2021.

With the arrival of the new immigrants Thursday (3rd), there are now approximately 7,000 members of the Falash Mura remaining in Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa and Gondar, who were included in the immigration parameters of government resolution 716 from 2015.

All members of this community were supposed to have been brought to Israel by the end of 2020, but due to government issues, only 2,500 have arrived since the resolution was passed.

Another 5,340 members of the Falash Mura community have claimed immigration rights since 2010, and have the backing of the Ethiopian Jewish leadership in Israel as well as prominent mainstream rabbis from the religious-Zionist community.