News Digest — 2/28/19

PM’s Moscow Visit Seen As Symbolic End To Tension Over Spy Plane Downing

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left late Tuesday evening (26th) for a 24-hour trip to Moscow and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that he characterized as “very important” for Israel’s security.

Israeli officials said the meeting is important not only because it will afford Netanyahu the opportunity to update Putin on Israel’s intentions in Syria, and how it plans to act against Iran’s efforts to entrench itself there, but also because of the perception of the visit.

The meeting with Putin Wednesday (27th) in the Kremlin will be a sign that relations between the two countries are back on track following the downing of the Russian intelligence plane in Syria in September that Moscow indirectly blamed on Israel.  

This will be the 11th meeting between the two since Russia became involved militarily in Syria in September 2015 to save the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.  They met four times last year alone, and over the last four years, Netanyahu has met with Putin more than any other world leader.

Netanyahu is being accompanied to Moscow by Military Intelligence Directorate head Maj.-Gen. Tamir Hayman, and Russian-speaking Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin who has long-served as translator in talks between the two leaders.



Netanyahu Calls For Action After Violent Assault On Argentina Chief Rabbi

The violent assault on Argentina’s chief rabbi overnight Monday (25th) drew widespread condemnation in Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with lawmakers and Jewish leaders, demanding that more action be taken to combat rising anti-Semitism worldwide.

At 2 a.m. Monday morning, unknown assailants broke into the Buenos Aires home of Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich and beat him severely.  The intruders, who also stole valuables and money from the home, shouted: “We know who you are, the rabbi of the Jewish community” during the attack, according to local reports.  According to medical reports, Rabbi Davidovich received nine broken ribs and a punctured lung from the beating.

Davidovich’s wife was restrained and the assailants took money and belongings from the home before fleeing.  

Netanyahu condemned the attack, saying in a brief statement Monday morning (25th) that “anti-Semitism must not be allowed to rear its head.”

“I strongly condemn the recent surge in anti-Semitic incidents and I call upon the international community to act,” Netanyahu said.

The rabbi’s son reported that currently his dad is stable but in serious condition.



IDF Concludes Large-Scale Surprise Drill Simulating War With Hamas

A large-scale IDF drill simulating various scenarios including war with terrorist groups in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip finished Tuesday (26th), the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit announced.

The surprise drill – which saw the participation of all forces throughout the military including ground troops, artillery, aircraft, the armored corps and intelligence corps – ended at the Tze’elim training base in the south of the country.

The drill was designed to examine the operational readiness of troops for various combat scenarios in the blockaded coastal enclave and included moving large numbers of troops to different regions, amassing forces in designated locations, live-fire exercises and aerial maneuvers, the military statement read.

During the exercise, the surrounding logistics, maintenance, transportation and medical support were also drilled alongside the combat troops.  The multi-arm exercise also included urban warfare and night fighting on armored vehicles as well as tanks.

While it was a surprise drill, it had been planned in advance as part of the military’s training schedule.  Nevertheless, it comes amid heightened tensions along the Gaza border fence and on the heels by the IDF’s Intelligence Directorate which warned of a high probability of a military escalation this year in both Gaza and the West Bank.

As one of his first visits as Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi went to the Southern Command and met with senior officers and approved operational plans for war, including setting up a centralized administrative unit to prepare a list of potential targets in Gaza in case a war should break out.

The drill also came as UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov told the UN Security Council that there was a growing risk of war between Israel and Gaza.



Israel Bracing For Possible Locust Swarm Invasion

After heavy rainfalls hit eastern Yemen and the Sudan-Eritrea border, locust swarms are migrating to Saudi Arabia and are possibly en route to Israel.

The Agricultural and Rural Development Ministry is gearing up for the arrival of the swarming insects in Israel, although the chances are low.

As part of the preparations, the Plant Protection and Inspection Services of the Ministry of Agriculture are in constant contact with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN in order to receive updates about locust movement in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, the ministry has begun doing inventories on pesticides – which do not pose risk to human health – in order to use them against the short-horned locusts if the need arises.

Locust swarms do not pose danger to humans or animals, but rather constitute a mere nuisance while damaging agriculture produce.

After monitoring the locust movement following the heavy rainfalls that have recently hit eastern Yemen and Sudan-Eritrea, the Agricultural Ministry said locust swarms began migrating to Saudi Arabia.

A report produced by the UN shows the locusts are enroute to Israel however they still have a long distance to go.  The movement of the insects is expected to become clearer in the coming days.

In 2013, locust swarms entered Israel from the Sinai Peninsula.  Most of the swarms were fumigated in the Negev, however, others managed to reach other areas of Israel.



Israel Named 10th Healthiest Country In World – Joseph Wolkin

Maybe it’s the falafel.  Or the Israeli salads.

The healthy lifestyle of the Jewish state keeps it in the top 10 of Bloomberg’s Healthiest Country Index.  The results released Sunday (24th), put Israel in the No.10 spot among the healthiest nations of the world.

Admittedly, it’s one spot behind Israel’s ranking 9th last year.  Norway jumped ahead of Israel and Luxembourg.

In order to determine the world’s healthiest nations, Bloomberg broke down different health variables in each country, including life expectancy.

The index also penalizes for different risk factors, “ranging from those of behavioral nature to environmental characteristics.”  These include prevalence of smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity and childhood malnutrition, among others.

It may not be surprising that Israel is in the top 10 given it shares a Mediterranean diet with the two top countries, Spain and Italy.

The Bloomberg report notes a study by the University of Navarra Medical School which said the “Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, had a lower rate of major cardiovascular events than those assigned to a reduced-fat diet.”

The Israeli diet appears to be working.  Israel received an overall health grade of 88.15, with a health score of 92.01.  Spain, the winner, earned an overall grade of 92.75 and a health score of 96.56.

The United States ranked 35th.

One hundred and sixty nine World Health Organization states were included in the Bloomberg study.