News Digest — 12/31/20

Israeli President Holds Traditional New Year’s Reception For Heads Of Christian Denominations

President of Israel Reuven Rivlin held the traditional New Year’s reception for heads of the Christian denominations in Israel, this year online, Wednesday (30th).

“This is the last time that I will have the privilege of sending my New Year’s blessings to you and your communities, as President of the State of Israel.  I wish I could do so in person, in a festive meeting.  Unfortunately that is not possible due to corona, which knows no difference between countries, peoples and religions,” said the president at the beginning of the event.

“Despite the physical distance, I am deeply thankful for the close relationship we have built.  Thank you for your cooperation and friendship.  The State of Israel will always remain committed to freedom of religion, and will always be proud of the strong Christian communities in the Holy Land,” he added.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III said, “We would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to you, Mr. President, for your steadfast support of the multi-ethnic cultural, and multi-religious character of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.”

“We have deeply appreciated the personal concern that you have shown us by speaking individually to each of the Heads of the churches during the pandemic.  We wish to extend to you, Mr. President, our greetings and best wishes for this holiday season, in which the Abrahamic faith traditions keep festivals of light and life.”



US Sends Iran Clear Message With Bomber Mission Over Persian Gulf

The United States Air Force dispatched B-52 Stratofortress bombers to fly over the Gulf on Tuesday (29th) in an apparent effort to deter Tehran amid fears of a possible Iranian attack on US assets in the region.

US Central Command said that aircrews from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, made a “deliberate appearance” in the Middle East to underscore America’s  commitment to regional security, and the ability to rapidly deploy to the region as needed.

The veteran B-52 Stratofortress is a long-range heavy bomber that is capable of flying at high subsonic speeds and at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet.  It can carry nuclear or precision-guided conventional ordnance with global-reach precision-navigation capability.

“The United States continues to deploy combat-ready capabilities into the US Central Command area of responsibility to deter any potential adversary, and make clear that we are ready and able to respond to any aggression directed at Americans or our interests,” said Gen. Frank Mckenzie, the head of US Central Command.

“We do not seek conflict, but no one should underestimate our ability to defend our forces or to act decisively in response to any attack.”

The bombers were refueled in the air over the Eastern Mediterranean by KC-135 Tanker aircraft.  They were spotted near Gibraltar as they flew to their rendezvous point off Cyprus.

The B-52s’ 30-hour round-trip mission was carried out by at least two of the giant aircrafts.

This was the third such strategic bomber deployment into CENTCOM’s area of operation in the last 45 days.

The US has sent B-52s to the region in the last months as tensions grow with Iran, and their presence is seen as sending a message to Tehran.

Iran has threatened the US and Israel over the last year, especially in the wake of the US’ killing of IRGC Quds Force head Qassem Soleimani in January.

Iran has warned in the past about the US deploying B-52s to the region and considers them part of a heightened series of US moves.  In turn, the US has warned Iran-backed militias against firing rockets at the US Embassy in Baghdad.



Trump Administration Working On Another Normalization Deal In January

The US is pushing for another Arab or Muslim state to normalize relations with Israel in the three weeks before US President Donald Trump leaves office, a Trump administration source said Wednesday (30th).

“We’re working very hard on making it happen,” said the source, who has been involved in negotiations for the Abraham Accords, as the agreements are called.  A second Trump administration source confirmed the ongoing efforts.

In the past four months, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have all joined the Abraham Accords establishing – or in the case of Morocco renewing – open and official diplomatic ties with Israel.

Sources in Jerusalem and Washington have said in recent weeks that Indonesia, Mauritania, Niger or Oman could be next to join the accords.  All four have had a certain level of secret or unofficial ties with Jerusalem in the past.  There have also been persistent reports of progress with Pakistan.

Secret ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia have been warming in recent years and months, to the extent that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met in the Saud city of Neom last month.

The Trump administration approved the sale of $290 million in precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia this week, and Israeli officials have speculated that the Saudis would seek maximum benefits from the US in exchange for normalization.

Vice President Mike Pence’s planned visit to Israel in a week and a half, which could have been the occasion to announce a new Abraham Accords agreement, has been postponed, Israeli media reported.



Israeli Students Develop System To Prevent Friendly Fire Incidents

Friendly fire incidents, tragic yet common in war, have claimed the lives of hundreds of soldiers in Israel’s military campaigns.  One of the worst such cases  of friendly fire occurred during the First Lebanon War, when five Armored Corps Soldiers lost their lives.

In every army in the world, friendly fire is considered an embarrassment and is often hidden or ignored.  In the IDF, despite its history with such incidents, the scope of the effort to examine and mitigate them has been lacking over the years.

As part of a hackathon competition hosted last week by the Jerusalem College of Technology (Lev Academic Center), a group of students came together to try finding a solution to the problem of friendly fire disasters.  The hackathon or technology competition, is in its fifth year running.

For 48 hours the students contended with numerous complex challenges posed by the biggest companies and organizations in the country, among them : Amazon, Intel, ExLibris, the Zomet Institute, Ezer Mitzion and Elbit Systems.

The team comprised combat soldiers and high-tech professionals in reserve military duty, along with third-year students in the fields of electronics, optics, and industrial engineering and management.

One of the team members was Benaya Zuckerman, a third-year industrial engineering student who personally experienced a terrible friendly fire incident during his military service.

“My friend’s squad opened fire at our squad during a complicated operation in northern Gaza and one of our soldiers was shot and killed.  Beyond the heavy cost of life that we pay for in these incidents, the soldiers who do the shooting and the families of the casualties have to cope with post-trauma and other emotional distress,” Zuckerman told Israel Hayom.

To meet the challenge before them, the team members built a system capable of distinguishing between friend and foe and telling the soldier in real-time whether he is aiming at an enemy or not.

Boaz Lifschitz from Elbit Systems, who mentored the team during the competition said: “It was very interesting to see how the team members coped with the challenge.  They displayed creativity and deep-thinking.  Such people are needed in Israel and these solutions have a tremendous impact on the national level.  I hope the solution goes far and solves one of the central problems facing the security establishment.”



Researchers Predict Massive Earthquake Will Hit Israel

A devastating 6.5 magnitude earthquake is likely to strike Israel in the near future according to a groundbreaking study which analyzed data gathered by drilling hundreds of meters into the bottom of the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv University (TAU) announced Sunday (27th).

“I do not want to cause alarm, but we are living in a tectonically active period.  The geological record does not lie, and a major earthquake in Israel will come,” said Prof. Shmeul Marco, head of TAU’s Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.

Marco said his conclusion is based on a statistical projection and there is no way to know exactly when an earthquake will occur.

“Unfortunately, I am able to say that an earthquake that will cause hundreds of casualties will hit in the coming years,” he said.

“It could be in 10 years or several decades, but it could also be next week, and we must prepare for that,” said Marco.

In 2010, with the assistance of the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP), a rig was placed in the center of the Dead Sea and began drilling into the bottom to a depth of hundreds of meters, allowing an analysis of some thousands of years of Dead Sea geology.

According to Marco, sediment settles onto the bottom of the Dead Sea in distinct light and dark layers every year.  Earthquakes disturb these layers, swirling them together in accordance with the magnitude of the quake.

This study found that a 6.5-magnitude earthquake occurs in Israel every 130-150 years, but there have been cases  where the gap between one earthquake and another was only a few decades.

The last earthquake of this size struck the Dead Sea Valley in 1927, killing around 250 people and injuring hundreds more in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jaffa and Amman.

The study also found that larger 7.5 magnitude earthquakes, once thought to occur about every 10,000 years are actually much more frequent, occurring about once every 1,300 to 1,400 years.

Researchers estimate that the last earthquake of this size struck Israel almost 1,000 years ago.