News Digest — 12/9/21

Dozens Of IAF Warplanes To Take Part In Simulated Attack On Iran

The Israeli Air Force is currently in the midst of preparations for a broad-ranging exercise in which dozens of airplanes will participate, in preparation for a possible attack on Iran.

According to a report on Channel 11, the exercise will take place in the next few months over the Mediterranean Sea and will be held openly.  Enhanced budgets have been allotted toward this exercise, which involves, among other things, flights of over 621 miles in length, similar to what pilots would be traveling if they were headed to Iran.

Three months ago, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi announced that the IDF was accelerating its plans for scenarios involving attacks on Iran – the announcement was made partly as a message to the world in order to convey Israel’s intentions and the seriousness with which it regards the current situation.

Meanwhile, Wednesday night (8th), Defense Minister Benny Gantz departed for Washington D.C., where he will be holding talks with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on possible military options for destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities, in the event that diplomacy fails.

Gantz is expected to request of the United States that it continue to exert pressure on Iran – via retaining substantial armed forces in the Middle East, as well as taking steps to display its might against the Islamic regime.  Israel is working under the assumption that such steps will be seen as more significant if they occur within the timeframe of the nuclear talks in Vienna, which will resume Thursday (9th), and that with the talks appearing to have stalled, a show of force could prove effective.

Gantz has also assessed that now is the right time to advance what in the United States is known as “Plan B” – that is, sanctions along with a credible military threat.  Prior to leaving for Washington, Gantz met with Kochavi and also with the head of IDF Military Intelligence, in order to be updated on the latest developments with regard to the Iran issue.

Commenting on the aerial exercise, Housing and Construction Minister Zeev Elkin told Kan News, “The aim is for us to prepare for every eventuality.  Israel needs to be ready for any scenario; we will not allow Iran to go nuclear.  Unfortunately, Israel has shown weakness in the past, and it’s vital that we address the situation alertly now.”

“Anyone with eyes in his head can see that the Iranians are trying to entrench themselves in Syria,” Elkin added.  “We are doing everything that we can do so far, we have had a large number of successes.  I’m not going to relate to anything specific, but Israel has red lines,” he concluded.



Iran, Syria To Take Center Stage When Russian FM Arrives In Israel Next Week

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is set to visit Israel on Sunday (12th), marking the official’s first such excursion in three years.

During his trip, Lavrov is expected to meet with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Discussions between the officials will reportedly focus on Iran’s nuclear talks, the situation in Syria, and other areas of concern, The Times of Israel reported.

The topics were previously introduced to Lavrov by Lapid during the latter’s trip to Moscow in September, and Israel’s concerns on the subjects have been reiterated several times by the country’s officials since.

During the September visit, Lapid highlighted Israel’s worries regarding Tehran, declaring that “Iran is the world’s number one exporter of terror, and it threatens us all.”

In October, PM Naftali Bennett traveled to Russia for talks in Sochi with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where similar discussions occurred on the developments in Iran and Syria.

While in Sochi, Bennett praised Putin as “a true friend of the Jewish people,” underscoring Israel’s “trusting relationship” and “unique ties” with Russia.

However, Iran, who shares close relations with Russia, is prompting concern from Israel by advancing the country’s nuclear program.

On Sunday (5th), Bennett called on world powers to “take a strong line” against Iran’s further enrichment of uranium.



Snow Fell On Mt. Hermon, Kinneret Drops By Half A Centimeter

Snow fell on Mount Hermon for the first time this season on Wednesday night (8th), as stormy weather hit northern and central Israel.

Over two inches of snow accumulated in the upper part of the Hermon ski resort overnight, with temperatures at 30F as of Thursday morning (9th).

IDF commander of the Hermon sector, Lt. Col. Nof Brown, told Army Radio on Wednesday morning (8th) that the soldiers have been making intensive preparations for snow for the past two months, distributing equipment and heating systems.

“There are systems here that allow us to observe the area, and an evacuation unit with vehicles that allow movement in the snow,” said Brown.  “Our goal is that people can come and enjoy the site.  The connection to the land raises the vigilance of our people, and there is excitement from being here and guarding this place.”

Despite the storm’s heavy rainfall, Lake Kinneret’s water level dropped by half a centimeter, placing it at 210.74 meters below sea level, 1.94 below the upper red line which marks a full lake.  The lake is 2.26 meters above the lower red line.  It may take a few days for the recent rainfall to affect the lake’s water level.

 Heavy rainfall in recent winters has caused the Kinneret to reach high water levels. In the past two years, hopes were raised that the Degania Dam could be fully opened for the first time in over two decades, allowing water to flow into the Jordan River.

Until only 16 years ago, the lake was one of Israel’s primary sources of drinking water, as the country’s first large-scale desalination facility in Ashkelon only became operational in 2005.



Synagogue Where Deadliest Attack On Jews In US History Took Place To Receive $6.6 Million

The Pittsburgh synagogue which was the site of the deadliest attack on Jews on American soil will be given $6.6 million in funding by the State of Pennsylvania, for a project to redevelop the house of worship.

The funding given to the Tree of Life synagogue will “transform the site of the worst anti-Semitic attack in US history into a new place of hope, remembrance, and education,” Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said in a statement.

“You’ve given the Tree of Life synagogue a very generous Hanukkah present.  Your timing is impeccable,” said the synagogue’s rabbi, Jeffry Myers, during a news conference on Monday (6th).

Architect Daniel Libeskind, who helped plan the World Trade Center rebuild after the September 11th attacks, will be the chief creative force behind the synagogue’s redesign.

In October 2018, Robert Bowers, a lone gunman, burst into the synagogue yelling, “All Jews must die.”  He then opened fire, killing 11 people, including a 97-year-old grandmother.

Bowers was shot several times by police but survived and is currently in jail.  No date has been set for his trial, and his attempts to strike a plea deal with prosecutors in exchange for the death penalty being taken off the table, have failed.

“After the attack on the congregations in the Tree of Life Building three years ago, many noted that our community had joined a club that nobody wants to be in: those devastated by hate-driven violence,” said local politician Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny.

“This funding allows the site of that trauma to become something more – a place of remembrance, healing and education for all,” Frankel added.

USA Today reported that the redesign is expected to include a memorial to victims of the massacre, educational and worship facilities, as well as a wing set aside for use by the Pittsburgh Holocaust Museum.



Anti-Semitic Messages, Palestinian Flag Scrawled Outside University Of Wisconsin Hillel

Anti-Semitic messages were chalked on the sidewalk outside the Hillel building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison last week, prompting pushback from the Jewish community on campus.

The messages, “Happy Hanukkah & happy day of int’l solidarity with the Palestinian people,” with an image of a Palestinian flag, and the hashtag “Palestine Day,” were drawn after UW Jewish students celebrated the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, according to photos shared by Hillel.  The incident came months after Madison’s Jewish community experienced a rise in reported hate crimes.  

UW student Rachel Rosen, a leading member of the Badger Alliance for Israel, told the Badger Herald  campus newspaper last week that the act was “purposeful” and “disrespectful.”

“These sorts of anti-Semitic attacks are trying to disguise themselves as social justice protests,” she said.  “Using the language of ‘Free Palestine,’ they’re trying to frame it like ‘we’re not anti-Semitic, we’re just standing up for what the Israeli government is doing to Palestinians.’  But we can see that if their intention really was to help Palestinians, they would be acting differently.”

Responding to the incident on Instagram, UW Hillel said, “No religious celebration should be used as an opportunity to promote divisiveness, and to attempt to hold our diverse Jewish community responsible for the actions of others, is a modern manifestation of anti-Semitism.”

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time that our building has been targeted for such political messaging,” the group added.

In a statement to the Badger, University of Wisconsin spokesman John Lucas said the university’s goal is “to create an environment where everyone is at home and feels welcome.  We encourage respectful and courteous dialogue in our community.”

Rosen argued that the incident ultimately fostered more cohesion among Jewish UW students.

“I think that by targeting a group, you end up bringing them closer together because people find unity in the group,” she said.  “So if this person’s intention was to weaken the Jewish community in some way, I think it honestly will have just the opposite effect.”