News Digest — 2/28/20

Hezbollah Militant Killed In Alleged Drone Strike In Southern Syria

A man was killed in an alleged Israeli drone strike as he was driving his car near the village of Hadar in the southern Syrian province of Quneitra on Thursday morning (27th).

According to initial reports, the man was identified as Emad al-Tawil, a Hezbollah operative active in establishing and entrenching covert forces in the Syrian Golan Heights, designed to act against Israel when given the order.

The Golan Project has its headquarters in Damascus and the Lebanese capital of Beirut where there are tens of operatives working in the Syrian towns of Hadar, Quneitra and Erneh, who collect intelligence on Israel and military movement on the Israeli Golan Heights. 

According to the IDF, the Hezbollah militants involved in the clandestine project focus on familiarizing themselves with the Syrian Golan Heights and on gathering intelligence on Israel and the border area.  They are also working to establish intelligence gathering capabilities against Israel, operating from civilian observation posts and regime military positions near the border.

The IDF believes that the next war on the northern border will not be contained to one front, but along the entire northern border with both Lebanon and Syria.  The military also expects that during the next war Hezbollah will try to bring the fight to the home front by infiltrating Israeli communities to inflict significant civilian and military casualties.  In July, Mashour Zidan, a resident of the Druze village of Hader in the Syrian Golan Heights, was killed after an IED planted in his car exploded as he was driving near the Syrian town of Sasa in southern Syria.  According to a report by Ha’Aretz, Zidan was responsible for recruiting volunteers from villages near the border with Israel in order to gather intelligence about IDF movements and hide explosive devices, light weapons, machine guns and anti-tank missiles in their homes.

Two days before Zidan was assassinated, the Daily Beast published a report with several Hezbollah commanders saying that the majority of deployment had taken place on the Lebanese side of the border, and that the group had also bolstered its forces on the Syrian Golan Heights, bordering Israel.

Israel has remained mum on the attacks, but the Jewish State has made it clear that it won’t accept Hezbollah’s growing presence in the Syrian Golan.

Meanwhile Syrian television reported late Thursday night (27th) that Israeli helicopters attacked Syrian army targets in the Quneitra area. 

The aircraft reportedly came from the Golan Heights area.  It was also reported that three Syrian soldiers were injured in the attack. 

Israel is not commenting on the report.



Coronavirus Breakthrough?  Israeli Researchers Make Discovery That Could Lead To Vaccine

Israeli researchers at MIGAL Institute have developed an effective vaccine against avian Coronavirus Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV) and are adapting it to create a human vaccine against coronavirus (COVID-19), which is rapidly spreading around the globe.

After four years of multi-disciplinary research funded by Israel’s Ministry of Science and Technology in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture, the MIGAL Galilee Research Institute has achieved a scientific breakthrough that may lead to the rapid creation of a vaccine against coronavirus in the coming weeks.

This discovery was identified as a by-product of MIGAL’s development of a vaccine against IBV, a disease affecting poultry, which effectiveness has been proven in pre-clinical trials carried out at the Veterinary Institute.

MIGAL has made required genetic adjustments to adapt the vaccine to COVID-19, the human strain of coronavirus, and is working to achieve safety approval that will enable pre-clinical testing and the initiation of production of a vaccine to counter the coronavirus epidemic.

Commenting on the news, David Zigdon, CEO of MIGDAL, said that “given the urgent global need for a human coronavirus vaccine, we are doing everything we can to accelerate development.  Our goal is to produce the vaccine during the next 8-10 weeks, and to achieve safety approval in 90 days.”

The vaccine will be oral making it particularly accessible to the general public.



IDF Cancels Joint Exercise With US European Command Due To Coronavirus Fears

The IDF on Thursday (27th) decided to postpone an annual joint military exercise with the US European Command scheduled for next week due to the coronavirus epidemic, the Israel news site Walla reported.

The cancellation was reportedly prompted by the spread of the disease to Italy and the Israeli Health Ministry’s recommendation against any unnecessary foreign travel.

However the IDF will hold its biannual Juniper Cobra drill with the US military, which takes place inside Israel itself.  The IDF said in a statement that all visiting US soldiers who had come from Italian bases would be sent home to prevent contagion.

“The IDF is making regular and up-to-date assessments on the issue in order to ensure the health of the regular and reserve soldiers who take part in the exercise,” the army stated.

Thus far, 93 IDF soldiers have been quarantined due to fear of infection,, most of whom had either returned from trips abroad or been in contact with a South Korean delegation that recently visited Israel.

The IDF is also postponing the departure of its”witnesses in uniform” delegations, as part of which Israeli soldiers travel to Poland to take part in Holocaust commemoration and education activities.  Other official visits to Europe are also being put off for the time being.



Iran Sends Proxies To Fight In Last Syrian Rebel Province – Carmit Valensi, Neta Nave and Ofek Mushkat

→ Since January, Iran has been beefing up forces in Syria’s rebel Idlib province, including units from Hezbollah and other Shiite militias.  After the targeted killing of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, Iran wanted to relay a message of continued support for Bashar al-Assad, and quash assessments that it intends to reduce its forces and intervention in Syria.  It is also possible that Iran wants to redeploy its forces to areas in northern Syria like Idlib in order to reduce potential harm to them from Israeli attacks.

→ The Iranian intervention in Idlib might also be predicated on the assumption that completing the operation there will free-up the regime to clean up the area in eastern Syria and thus accelerate the evacuation of American forces there.  On January 30, Ali Akbar Velayati, adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said: “The Syrian government and its allies from the resistance front will go from Idlib to the eastern Euphrates to expel the Americans.”

→ The Assad regime’s main ally in Idlib has been Russia, which has provided broad military and logistical assistance to Syrian military forces.  The Russian interest is to end the war in Syria, reduce expenses, and hand full control of the country over to Assad. In addition, Russia has an interest in restoring control of Idlib to the Syrian regime due to its proximity to Latakia, site of the Russian airbase of Khmeimim, which has been hit more than once by fire from local rebels.

→ Until recently, Russia and Syria were satisfied with Iranian abstention from the Idlib campaign, given their interest in lowering the Iranian profile and the Assad regime’s dependence on Iran.  Yet with the military campaign bogged down and with the growing need to restrain and counterbalance Turkey, the door is opened to Iranian involvement. 



Alan Dershowitz: ‘Sanders Victory Would Give BDS Momentum’

Attorney Alan Dershowitz on Friday (28th) said he believes that if Bernie Sanders is elected as Democratic Party candidate, it would give impetus to the BDS movement.

Speaking at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs about the war on BDS, Dershowitz stated that if Sanders was elected, he, Dershowitz, will not vote for the Democratic party and will even campaign against it.

In his estimation, many in the Jewish community will not vote for the party, but he believes the percentage of Jewish support will exceed the 50% threshold.

“He called Netanyahu a racist, but he did not refer to Ilhan Omar,” Dershowitz said.

He called Sanders the “Corbyn of the United States,” adding that “the idea that the United States will be led by a Jewish Corbyn arouses horror.  He’s a Jew but only from his parents.”

Speaking on President Trump’s Mideast initiative, Dershowitz said, “The world doesn’t care about the Palestinians.  There are two populations that care about them – the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Kurds, on the other hand, have a more legitimate claim for a state than the Palestinians.”