News Digest — 2/14/24

Rockets Hit Northern Israel As Hezbollah Ramps Up Strikes

Rocket sirens sounded across Israel on Wednesday morning (14th) as Hezbollah ramped up its attacks on Israeli cities.

Sirens were heard in Safed, Meron, and across the upper Western Galilee.

There were initial reports of a direct hit in Safed, and Magen David Adom stated that they were providing medical aid to six people – three in moderate condition and three in light condition.  The wounded were transferred to Ziv Medical Center in Safed.

The head of Lebanon’s powerful armed group Hezbollah said on Tuesday (13th) that his faction’s cross-border shelling into Israel would only end when Israel’s “aggression” on the Gaza Strip stops.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah threatened to displace more residents from northern Israel, where tens of thousands have already been evacuated from months of Hezbollah rocket fire, and said that if Israel’s military widened the war, his group would do the same.



IDF Chief: Military Achievements In Gaza Are Considerable But Still A ‘Long Way To Go’

“The Israeli Defense Forces achievements in the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip are greater than had been expected at this stage, but are still not enough to complete the campaign’s goals,” the army’s chief of staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said Tuesday (13th).

“We have been fighting for about four months and there is still a way to go,” Halevi said in a press conference from the Gaza border, vowing to continue fighting until the goals are reached.

“In the past decades, there has not been an army that maneuvered in an area that is urban and dense, with high buildings and tunnels below the surface of the ground.  IDF soldiers are dealing with this with great success and the military achievements are extraordinary, Unfortunately, there is also a price in casualties,” he added.

The IDF has lost 569 soldiers since the beginning of the war on October 7, when Hamas terrorists launched an unprecedented attack on southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 253.  Of the IDF’s casualties, 231 were killed in the ground invasion in Gaza.

Meanwhile, Halevi said, the war was continuing across Gaza in varying levels of intensity.  Using the intelligence it gathers, the army is still fighting in the north of the Strip at locations where there is terrorist activity.

“We come back for the second and third time to targets, to kill more enemies, destroy more terror infrastructures and deepen the achievement,” he said.

Responding to a question by The Times of Israel on when Palestinian civilians could return to northern Gaza, from where they were evacuated at the beginning of the ground offensive, Halevi responded that it was not yet safe enough for them to return.

He said that at the beginning of the war, there had been some 15,000 Hamas terrorists in the north and that while they and their infrastructure had been mostly cleared, Hamas was still active there “nearly every day.”

“We don’t want to create a situation in which the residents of the Gaza Strip mix with the enemy, thus risking their lives.  That is why we are still isolating the north of the Strip,” he said.

He promised that residents would be allowed to return as soon as the army was sure it had eradicated the terrorism in the area.

In southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, Halevi said, “We are reaching places that the enemy did not imagine we would reach, destroying all the strategic assets of Hamas in a city that was considered the terror capital of the organization.”

The chief of staff added that throughout the war, the IDF had killed 10,000 terrorists, including Hamas commanders and leaders, adding that the senior leadership still needed to be targeted.

He also said the IDF would work to evacuate civilians from southern Gaza’s Rafah before it launched its offensive there.

“We know that it is more difficult for us to fight in an environment where there are over a million people and another 10,000 Hamas operatives,” he said.

He said he appreciated other countries’ advice on the challenge, but that the IDF has shown that it is capable of targeting enemy forces in such complex environments.

As part of the IDF’s activity in the south of the Strip, troops successfully rescued Louis Har and Fernando Marman on Monday (12th), but Halevi said they did not know for certain that the daring rescue operation in Gaza’s Rafah would be successful.

“Every week, we carry out special operations, while risking troops’ lives in complex conditions with great uncertainty, to try and return hostages home,” he said.  “This time we were successful.  There were more operations that did not succeed or failed.  We will not stop trying, and we will do it  with great responsibility.”

He added that the army is determined to bring home the rest of the hostages still held captive in Gaza.

Halevi also promised to restore security and residents’ faith in the communities close to Gaza that were targeted on October 7.

He said the security situation is “far better”today than it was on the eve of Hamas’ onslaught, and that the major difference is that the enemy is significantly less powerful because the IDF is destroying its capabilities.

“We are building a far safer reality,” said Halevi.  Residents of the so-called Gaza envelope area, who have been living mostly in hotels for more than four months, will be able to return with security, he promised.



 Pompeo In The South: ‘This Is My Most Heartbreaking Visit To Israel’

Former US Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo, on Tuesday (13th), toured Southern Israel with Israeli businessman and philanthropist Yossi Sagol, on a solidarity mission to Israel’s southern communities.

The tour began in Kibbutz Kfar Aza and a briefing from the IDF, before Sagol and MK Danny Danon accompanied Pompeo to the site of the Nova festival in Re’im, on the southern border of Israel, where they personally witnessed the devastation inflicted by Hamas and paid tribute to the victims.

Their visit concluded in Ofakim, where they received detailed briefings from Mayor Itzik Danino.  During a briefing, Secretary Pompeo spoke with Mayors from Judea and Samaria, the Southern communities and Israel’s Central communities and heard about the challenges they face on a daily basis and particularly post October 7.

The meeting was followed by a gathering with hundreds of IDF soldiers at the Cultural Center in Ofakim.  They also had the opportunity to speak to hostage families whose loved ones remain in captivity in Gaza, and hear the accounts of survivors from October 7 at the site of the Nova festival in Re’im.

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “I’ve been to Israel on numerous occasions.  But this visit has been the most poignant and the most heartbreaking.  What happened on October 7th was so shocking and so sadistic that the trauma is felt constantly, everywhere by everyone.  And yet their resilience is truly inspiring.  Every Israeli continues to sacrifice and give so much to help their countrymen and defend their nation.  The ongoing tragedy of hostages held in Gaza demands our collective efforts to bring them home.  I stand with Israel.  I stand with the Jewish people, and I support the resolute victory of Israel in this war against evil.”

Secretary Pompeo’s visit to Israel was extended through the invitation of his close friend, businessman Yossi Sagol, who said, “Secretary Pompeo and his wife Susan’s visit to Israel during these times underscores the depth of their connection and dedication to the people of israel.  I firmly believe that his firsthand observations are essential to highlighting the tragic realities faced by Israel’s citizens and will further enhance the opportunities to effectively convey the events of that fateful day.  We sincerely appreciate the unwavering support of Secretary Pompeo and Susan during these challenging times.”

MK Danny Danon, Israel’s former Ambassador to the UN, said,: “I thank former US Secretary of State Pompeo  for his visit to Israel and his steadfast support and moral clarity against the evil forces we are facing.  The innocent people still being held captive, and the destruction and devastation in Israel’s southern communities, continue to inflict a nightmarish reality on our citizens.  We have no choice but to persevere and fight for victory and the complete eradication of Hamas who is unyielding in its genocidal mission.  It is crucial to recognize that Israel cannot emerge victorious with one hand tied behind its back.  We seek the support of the US because although we are currently battling this enemy, it threatens both our nations and the entire world.”



Israel Invests 150 Million Shekels Into Armored Vehicles For Border Towns

The Defense Ministry plans to spend NIS 150 Million on more than 200 armored vehicles for communities near the Gaza border, the northern border, and in the West Bank.

Local security groups near Gaza and the northern border have been under the threat of anti-tank weapons for years.  During the October 7 terror attack, they had no independent patrol or maneuvering capability that could resist gunfire.

Had they had such vehicles, it would not have averted the entire tragedy by a long shot, but it could have saved many lives and prolonged some of the battles until IDF reinforcements arrived.

So far, there has been no similar specific anti-tank missile threat in the West Bank, where the IDF has much better control and oversight over weapons smuggling.  Since October 7, however, there has been growing concern regarding the threat of even smaller-scale terrorist invasions.

A recent Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) operation that eliminated a terrorist cell in a West Bank hospital was ordered, to preempt an invasion of a settlement.

Plasan Reem and Fight Tech Engineering Bar-Lev won the tender to supply the vehicles after a competitive bidding process, and they are due to be provided to the local security groups in the coming months.

“Purchasing armored vehicles for local security groups constitutes a significant component in strengthening security for villages on the frontlines,”said Ground Forces Col. Yaniv Walfer, head of protection.

Avi Mashiach, deputy director for Ground Forces acquisition, said the armored vehicles would supplement additional weapons, other defense equipment, and safes for keeping weapons secure within local security individual’s houses.

An additional error on October 7 that led to the loss of lives was that local security group’s guns were kept in a central location, and the members were killed on their way to get them.

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) said it would distribute more than NIS 7.5 million in the coming weeks toward the purchase of nine armored security vehicles for border communities.

“Well before the onset of this terrible war, we had been working to address the security needs of Israel’s communities, and it is therefore a source of pride and comfort to see how that investment helped save countless lives on that fateful October day,” IFCJ President Yael Eckstein said.  “With that knowledge and experience, we see it as our responsibility, opportunity and privilege to further expand our support in ways that we know will now help on the northern border.  While we pray for safer and better days very soon, the IFCJ is actively assisting in all ways possible to defend our country and support the diverse needs of our people during these deeply challenging times.”



Al Jazeera Journalist Outed As Hamas Commander

The IDF has revealed that a Palestinian journalist working for Al Jazeera is a Hamas officer, citing documents recovered by the military during operations in the Gaza Strip.

“In the morning, he’s a journalist on the Al Jazeera channel, and in the evening, he’s a terrorist in Hamas,” Lt. Col Avichay Adraee, the IDF’s Arabic language spokesman, tweeted on Sunday (11th).

According to Adraee, troops operating in northern Gaza several weeks ago found a laptop at a Hamas base that belonged to Mohamed Washah, who has appeared in Al Jazeera broadcasts since the October 7 massacre.  

Information on the laptop showed that Washah, 37, from central Gaza’s Bureij neighborhood , is a “prominent commander” in Hamas’ anti-tank missile unit.  In late 2022, he began working on research and development in the terror group’s air force.

“Who knows how many details we will reveal about the presence of other terrorists in journalistic garb in the near future,” wrote Adraee.

The government on Monday morning (12th) moved to shutter the Al Jazeera offices in Israel.  A draft bill to close the local bureau passed in a telephone vote.

The Qatari network is vehemently anti-Israel and incites hatred and violence against the Jewish state in the Arab world, the Israeli government has long-maintained.

Last month, the IDF presented evidence that two Palestinian journalists killed in Gaza in an Israeli airstrike were terrorist operatives, and said that they were operating drones that put soldiers at risk.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during his Middle Eastern diplomatic swing called the deaths of Hamza Wael Dahdouh, the son of Al Jazeera’s Gaza correspondent, Wael al-Dahdouh, and Mustafa Thuria an “unimaginable tragedy.”  The statement came as Al Jazeera reported that two of its employees were killed.  The Qatari state media accused Jerusalem of deliberately targeting the freelance journalists.

However, a document that the IDF posted to social media appears to prove that Thuria was a Hamas operative.  The document lists him as a deputy squad commander in a battalion of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the terror group’s “military wing.”

Other documents found by the IDF indicate that Dahdouh was a Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative whose specialty is electronic engineering and who previously served as deputy commander of a platoon in the Zaytoun Battalion.  Before his death, he was in charge of a section of PIJs rocket unit.

Additionally, Israel said that Dahdouh had carried out terrorist attacks against Israel.