News Digest — 2/24/23

Report: Explosions Heard In Karaj, Iran –  Air Defenses Activated

Explosions were heard in Karaj near Tehran in central Iran on Thursday night (23rd), with initial reports indicating that air defenses in the area were activated.

The official Iranian IRNA news outlet claimed that the explosions and the activation of air defenses were part of an IRGC defense exercise near Karaj.

Video reportedly from the scene shared on social media showed air defense batteries firing towards unseen targets.

The background of the incident is yet unclear.

The incident comes just a few weeks after suicide drones targeted an IRGC facility in Isfahan.  Iran has blamed Israel for that attack and claimed that no significant damage was caused.

Defense facilities in and near Karaj have been targeted by attacks repeatedly in recent years.

In July 2021, Iran accused Israel of a sabotage operation that targeted a building belonging to Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) in Karaj, the month before.

In September 2021, a fire broke out at the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group missile base in Karaj, near Tehran, killing two workers and injuring one at the facility.  The IRGC-affiliated Sobh-e-Sadegh newspaper later reported that the fire was caused by an Israeli attack. 

In June 2022. An explosion shook western Tehran, with satellite imagery shared by the Intelli Times website appearing to show damage to the roof of a structure at the Shahid Hemmat Base, indicating that the base had been targeted for a second time.



Israel Remains Concerned Russia Will Capture Its Military Secrets, Honorary Consul In Ukraine Says – Ben Cohen

Concern that secrets of Israel’s military technology could be captured by Russian forces, in Ukraine, rather than fear of a military reprisal is what is driving the country’s reluctance to supply the government in Kyiv with an air defense system, Israel’s honorary consul for Western Ukraine said on Thursday (23rd), as the world prepared to mark the first anniversary of the Russian invasion.

In an article for the Pravda Ukraine news outlet, Oleg Vvshnyakov – a businessman who has served as Israel’s honorary consul in the western city of Lviv since 2014 – argued that while Israel was drawing closer to Ukraine in diplomatic terms, military assistance may still be a step too far for Jerusalem.

“Does this mean that Israel will share its air defense assets?  I think no, and the issue here is not the fear of deteriorating relations with Moscow, but the fact that in the event of the capture of these systems by the Russian army, secret Israeli know-how will definitely fall into the hands of the Iranians.” Vvshnyakov wrote.  Russia and Iran have fostered a close military alliance over the last year.

Vvshnyakov pointed to the recent visits to Ukraine of Israel’s foreign minister and two prominent members of the Knesset as evidence that Jerusalem and Kyiv are drawing closer together.  Commenting on the commitments made by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen last week, Vvshnyakov highlighted Israel’s support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s 10-point peace plan, its agreement to provide Kyiv with $200 million in credit guarantees for health and infrastructure projects, and its intention to supply Ukraine with an early warning system to ward off Russian aerial attacks within the next six months.  He also pointed to the statement of visiting Knesset members Yuli Edelstein, and Ze’ev Elkin expressing “support for practical cooperation between Israel and Ukraine in the field of air and missile defense, as well as in the areas of defense cooperation.”

While he did not believe that Israel would follow through on the military side, “I have no doubts that there will be support in other issues”, Vvshnyakov wrote.

Separately, there has been growing speculation in Kyiv that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will join the growing list of Western leaders to visit Ukraine in recent weeks.

While no date has been set, Ukrainian and Israeli officials both confirmed that the prospect of a visit was being explored.  

As Ukraine marked the eve of the first anniversary of the Russian invasion on Thursday (23rd), Zelensky vowed to “hold to account all those who brought this evil, this war to our land.”

In a special address, the Ukrainian leader declared that “Russia has chosen the path of the murderer.  The path of the terrorist. The path of the torturer.  The path of the looter.  This is the state choice of Russia, and there will be state responsibility for the terror committed.”

Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin again ratcheted up his bellicose rhetoric, pledging in a Fatherland Day speech – commemorating Russia’s wartime dead – to further develop Moscow’s nuclear arsenal.

“Our troops are heroically fighting the neo-Nazism that has taken root in Ukraine, protecting our people in our historic lands, and are fighting courageously and heroically,” Putin claimed in his video address.



Israel Thanks Oman For ‘Significant And Historic’ Decision Granting Flyover Rights

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Thursday (23rd) thanked Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said for opening Oman’s airspace to all carriers, including Israeli airlines, which will now be able to offer shorter routes to Asia.

“It’s a historic and significant decision for the Israeli economy and the Israeli traveler,” Cohen said.

Oman’s civil aviation authority on Thursday (23rd) said the sultanate’s airspace will be open for all carriers that meet the authority’s requirements for overflying.

“Enforcing international and local requirements against discrimination in dealing with civilian aircraft, the Civil Aviation Authority confirms that the sultanate’s airspace is open to all carriers that meet the requirements of overflying,” the CAA said in a statement posted on itsTwitter account.

Saudi Arabia, which gave tacit approval to the US-brokered pacts inked by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in 2020, has allowed airlines, including Israeli carriers, to overfly its territory on flights to and from the two countries.

Opening Saudi Arabia’s airspace to flights to and from Israel was put into effect in July when Riyadh made the official announcement that it would allow overflight rights to all airlines, including Israeli. 

Despite this, Israeli officials had said the corridor could not be implemented until Muscat (Oman’s capital) consented because it would also entail flying over Oman.

Israel’s national carrier El Al said several months ago that once that hurdle was removed, it would cut about 2.5 hours from flights to India and Thailand and save fuel costs.  Present routes to those popular destinations bypass Saudi airspace by flying south over the Red Sea around Yemen.

“We are planning to reschedule  our network around that new  (shorter) route,” CEO Dina Ben-Tal said at the time, adding that El Al was also looking into new non-stop routes to destinations such as Australia.  “It definitely will have a huge efficiency benefit around our network.”



Rock-Throwers Attack Mother, Three Children In Samaria

Three young children and their mother were lightly wounded on Thursday (23rd) in a Palestinian rock-throwing attack near the Tapuach Junction in Samaria.

Heftziva Shani was driving with her children, aged 2, 5 and 6, to shop for Purim, when their car was struck.

“I was traveling with three children when they threw rocks at us, one rock hit my daughter directly on the cheek.  We continued straight to Tapuach Junction,” said Shani. 

“I felt that God was watching over us,” she added.

Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan said it was a “miracle” that the family was not injured more seriously.

“We demand that the government increase the punishment for rock-throwers and review the open-fire regulations,” he said.

Dagan said that the incident once again proved that rock-throwing is not a “prank” but constitutes terrorism.  Nevertheless, he noted, the IDF had recently issued a directive to troops to be prudent when opening fire at rock-throwers.

Dagan said that in 2021 there were 5,500 instances of rock-throwing in Judea and Samaria, and most perpetrators receive plea bargains and a maximum of two years in prison.

“This situation must stop.  The government must instruct the military echelon to step up its enforcement against rock-throwers.  Otherwise, disaster is only a matter of time,” added Dagan.

Earlier Thursday (23rd), armed security guards thwarted an attempted stabbing at a checkpoint at the entrance to Maale Adumim, east of Jerusalem.

The assailant, a woman, approached the guards with a knife drawn, police said in a statement.  The guards opened fire, “neutralizing” her.  She was evacuated to the hospital in moderate to serious condition.  No Israelis were injured.



As Lebanon Disintegrates, Nasrallah Incites War – Baria AlaMuddin

In recent days, a rash of angry demonstrations have torn across Lebanon’s urban centers, with banks the focus of particular outrage after the lira lost 98% of its value.  With this background, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made a televised address on Feb. 16, 2023, to praise the Iranian people’s “massive participation” in nationwide rallies celebrating the Islamic Revolution’s anniversary, disregarding the civil disorder in his own nation and the continuing anti-regime protests across Iran.

Nasrallah revealed that all of Lebanon’s travails are the fault of the “Great Satan,” thundering: “I tell the American government that if they want to sow chaos in Lebanon, you will lose everything.  If you push Lebanon into chaos, we are ready to use our arms against your protege, Israel….We are ready to resort to the option of war.”  But at a time when most Lebanese citizens are consumed by trying to ward off starvation for their families, such warmongering is grotesque.

Lebanon has undergone one of the most severe economic implosions of any nation in modern history.  Does Nasrallah seriously believe that Lebanon is in any shape for embroilment in a wholesale conflict with the amassed armies of America, Israel and the remainder of the Western world?

In Lebanon’s current reality, even the middle classes have been reduced to considering sending their children to orphanages for their own survival, while people die due to a lack of medication for preventable diseases.  Meanwhile Hezbollah commanders – with their luxury SUVs, access to dollars and foreign goods – having grown fat on narcotics smuggling revenues, are insulated from economic ruin.  But their opulent lifestyle in upmarket Beirut neighborhoods will abruptly end if war were really to reach Lebanon’s shores.  (Arab News -Saudi Arabia)



Maryland Schools Report Nine Antisemitic Acts In 5-Day Period

A school district in Maryland is dealing with nine reported antisemitic incidents that occurred over a five-day period beginning last Friday (17th).

Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Monica McKnight told a virtual news conference on Wednesday (22nd) that the multiple antisemitic acts had taken place at four elementary, middle and high schools late last week and this week, according to NBC Washington.

“To have nine incidents happen within our school system says that this is absolutely unacceptable,” McKnight said.

She warned that students who commit acts of hate would face punishment, including having the incidents permanently on their school records.

“It will document the student who engaged in the act, it will indicate their grade level…and it will identify what the act was,” McKnight said.

In one of the cases, a student wrote “KKK” on the front steps of Westbrook Elementary School in Bethesda after the school held a “Chalk the Walk” rally on Monday night (20th) in solidarity with the Jewish community against antisemitism.

Other incidents that occurred this week included a swastika scrawled on school grounds and students sharing images of swastikas.

Montgomery County Council President Evan Glass called for the creation of an anti-hate task force that would bring together community members.

“We have to do everything we can to make sure people  feel safe, seen and heard for being who they are – their true, authentic selves,” he said.