News Digest — 2/9/24
Top Hezbollah Commander Hit In Apparent Israeli Strike As Air Force Threatens More
An apparent Israeli drone strike Thursday (8th) in southern Lebanon targeted two Hezbollah operatives, reportedly including a senior commander in the Lebanese terror group, following repeated missile attacks that left three IDF soldiers wounded – one seriously – and damaged a house near the border.
As a rash of cross-border attacks throughout the day kept tensions at the border high, Israel’s Air Force chief threatened that hundreds of attack aircraft could be flown into Lebanon at a moment’s notice.
Video from the Lebanese town of Nabatieh, some 7 miles from Israel’s northern border, showed a car in flames after it was apparently struck from the air.
Sky News Arabic identified the high-ranking Hezbollah member as Abbas Al-Debes, while the other was not immediately named.
According to Arabic media reports, Al-Debes was tied to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and was helping Iran set up air defenses in Syria.
Hebrew media outlets said Al-Debes was also Hezbollah’s regional commander of the area from which an anti-tank missile was fired earlier Thursday (8th) at a base near Kiryat Shmona, seriously wounding a non-commissioned officer and lightly hurting two other soldiers.
There was no direct comment from Hezbollah or the Israel Defense Forces on Al-Debes, though the latter issued a statement saying it carried out a new wave of strikes on Hezbollah targets on Thursday (8th), including on a building used by the Iranian-backed terror group and other infrastructure in the towns of Khiam, Nabatieh and Kfar Hamam.
The military said fighter jets also struck a Hezbollah truck ferrying weapons.
The strikes came as Israeli Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar warned Hezbollah that Israel was prepared to significantly ratchet up its strikes against the terror group.
“Hezbollah will continue to pay with the loss of its systems. Dozens of aircraft are now operating in the skies of southern Lebanon, and as soon as the order is given, the dozens will turn into hundreds that will perform the missions within minutes of being scrambled.” Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar said at an internal IAF conference , according to a transcript published by the IDF.
Along with the attack on the base near Kiryat Shmona, Hezbollah launched several other projectiles toward Israel on Thursday (8th), one of which hit a home in the border town of Metula. There were no casualties in the incident.
Hezbollah-led forces have been attacking Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis since October 8, a day after its ally, Palestinian group Hamas, launched its October 7 massacre, killing 1.200 people across southern Israel and abducted 253 people. Hezbollah says its attacks are to support Gaza amid the war Hamas triggered.
Nukhba Commander Warns Hamas Terrorists: ‘Surrender Or Your Fate Is Death’
Senior Hamas Nukhba Brigade Commander Abu Al-Baraa told the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) during interrogations on Thursday (8th) that he had a message for the remaining Hamas fighters: “I recommend everyone surrender, your fate is death.”
The Shin Bet published parts of their investigation of Hamas operative Muhammad Nasir Suleiman Abu al-Baraa – who told them about the moments when he was captured and how he and his friends chose to lay down their arms and surrender.
The Shin Bet said that Abu al-Baraa was caught hiding behind an armored door in a tunnel deep under Khan Yunis, along with other terrorists – armed with guns, RPGs and explosives.
From the tunnel, Abu al-Baraa was transferred directly to the Shin Bet’s interrogation room where he explained he joined the organization in 2009.
When Abu al-Baraa was asked in the investigation who was arrested along with him, he gave the names of two other members: “Hamis Saafi and Iyad al-Astal.”
After that, he told the investigators what weapons the three had, “Kalashnikovs, RPGs, explosive charges, and improvised explosive devices.” However, he clarified that when the other soldiers entered the tunnel, they did not open fire.
“We came to the decision that we don’t want to fight and as soon as the army comes we will turn ourselves in,” said Abu al-Baraa.
According to him, “We sat in the room, we put all the weapons outside the room. The army came and took all the weapons. We sat and waited. When the army arrived, we raised our hands and surrendered.”
In addition, when asked to convey a message to other members of the organization who are currently in the tunnels, he said: “I recommend everyone surrender otherwise your destiny is to die.”
Israel Has Begun The Process Of Replacing UNRWA Netanyahu Says
Israel has begun the process of replacing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Wednesday night (7th) as he spoke of the organization, which is supposed to service 5.9 million ‘Palestinian refugees.’
“We will have to replace UNRWA. I directed that this process be started, and I informed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about it today,” he said.
He spoke close to two weeks after Israel provided the United Nations with data that 12 UNRWA staff members had participated in the October 7 massacre, including in kidnappings. The data also said that 190 of the UNRWA staff members were connected to Hamas.
The UN has opened two investigations into UNRWA, which operates in Gaza, the West Bank, east Jerusalem, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The first investigation deals with the allegations against the 12 staff members and the second is an overall independent review of the organization’s neutrality.
Over 16 countries have suspended funding to the agency pending the results of the investigations.
On Thursday (8th) Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said he planned to cancel the UNRWA organization’s tax breaks due to them, as a UN agency.
Netanyahu and members of his government have argued that the services UNRWA provides can be handled by other organizations. Before the allegations, opinions were split with some holding that the organization was irreplaceable as a provider of food, healthcare and education in the Gaza Strip.
UNRWA’s mandate to operate however is granted by the UN General Assembly, where the organization enjoys overwhelming support.
The bulk of the funding for its 1.6 billion annual budget comes from individual UN member states and some of the largest of those donors are among those who suspended funding. If the funding is permanently cut, that would limit the scope of UNRWA’s operations.
Amir Weissbrod, Foreign MInistry deputy Director of International Organizations, said that the intention was to transfer the services provided by UNRWA to other organizations gradually.
UNRWA said in response, “How and where UNRWA works is something discussed at the UN General Assembly. For now most member states continue to vote for the continuation of our services in our five fields of operations.”
How Iranian Cash Gets To Yahya Sinwar’s Pocket
Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant visited the IDF’s Document and Technical Means Collection Unit (Amshat), at one of the Intelligence Directorate’s bases in central Israel this week. The minister was briefed on the latest findings gathered by troops in Gaza.
Minister Gallant toured the various departments involved in sorting the materials and transferring their analysis and findings to the units operating in the Gaza Strip.
“Our troops are uncovering unbelievable findings. There are enormous volumes of material here on computers and paper. This information flows in, is decoded here by the IDF and ISA’s top experts, and then the relevant information is relayed back to our forces on the field, informing them in their operations,” Gallant stated.
“The forces are dismantling targets according to Hamas’ own instructions. We are learning some other things that are very, very interesting.”
“One of the issues we are learning about is the extent of the flow of Iranian funds to Hamas in Gaza. There is clear evidence of funds that were transferred when they arrived, and to whom they were transferred. And of course, what we see is that Yahya Sinwar takes care of himself first and foremost,” he explained.
According to the Defense Minister, “Out of millions of dollars, one million goes to him [Sinwar]. Out of tens of millions – he puts what he needs into his pocket. Take for example this envelope specially designated to Yahya Sinwar and his family – it contains cash – twenty thousand dollars. Hamas is fighting and conducting terrorism, while Yahya Sinwar is celebrating with his family. This is going to end. Yahya Sinwar has turned from the leader of a terrorist organization into a fugitive.”
The IDF’s Campaign Inside Hamas Tunnels – Ron Ben-Yishai
When the IDF began incursions into Gaza City, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar and his comrades fled from the subterranean Hamas command centers of northern Gaza to the compounds in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, where they likely remain. Now, IDF special forces are pursuing the group in the labyrinth of branching tunnels while the Hamas leadership flees and remains in constant motion with Israeli hostages as their human shields.
The main tunnel facilities are located beneath hospitals, schools, mosques, clinics and UN facilities. The tunnel network in Khan Yunis is the largest of all, not only because it’s the home base of Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif, but also because the terrain in southern Gaza, geologically, is more conducive to digging, with tunnels deeper and wider than in northern Gaza.
At the outset of the war, the IDF specifically avoided engaging in direct combat within the tunnels, concerned about the risks. The IDF later concluded that if they wanted to neutralize Hamas’ leadership, there was a need to fight within the tunnel network. In the end, the IDF developed methods to detect the enemy from a distance and advance inside the tunnels without being detected.
In one instance in Khan Yunis, IDF fighters surprised militants underground, awakened them from their sleep, and subdued them. In another case, IDF soldiers reached a blast door and successfully opened it. Behind it were three terrorists who surrendered.
President Of Argentina Visits Devastated Kibbutz, Likens Hamas Atrocities To Holocaust
Argentina’s President Javier Milei visited Nir Oz, a kibbutz devastated on October 7 by Hamas and said the atrocities reminded him of the Holocaust.
He declared, “We see clear examples of terrorism and anti-Semitism and what I would describe as 21st Century Nazism.
A quarter of the population of Nir Oz were either murdered (38) or taken hostage (72) by Hamas.
Milei was accompanied by President Isaac Herzog and Ofelia Roitman, a freed hostage who was returning to Nir Oz for the first time since she was freed as part of a hostage exchange deal on November 28.
Roitman, along with many others who were murdered and kidnapped in Nir Oz, is an Argentinian national, as are Shiri and Yarden Bibas and their two boys, Ariel, 4, and Kfir, then 9 months old, all of whom are still captives in Gaza. In addition, Yair and Eitan Horn, who are still held hostage, are Argentinian.
Milei also met with the parents of Argentinian David Curio, who is still in captivity in Gaza while his wife and 3-year-old twin daughters were freed in November.
Of the remaining 136 hostages, 15 are Argentinian nationals.
“When we saw the pictures, we were filled with horror, but now to see things for myself, up close, it is a more disturbing and powerful experience,” Milei said.
On the subject of the hostages, Milei declared, “We will continue to demand the release of all of the hostages, regardless of nationality.”
He added, “Of course, there are Argentine nationals among the hostages, but this is a crime against humanity, and this must be redressed.”
He also said he had sent a bill to the Argentina Congress to demand the immediate release of all the hostages.
Milei emphasized his support for Israel and criticized those who remain indifferent in the face of Hamas’ crimes against Israelis.
“We strongly condemned the terrorist acts of the terrorist group Hamas, and we continue to reaffirm our solidarity towards the people and the State of Israel and our support for Israel’s right to legitimate self-defense.”
”He added, “Again we see that it was the indifference of the free world that made the Nazi Holocaust possible.”
When Milei arrived in Israel on Tuesday (6th), he announced that he would move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem and have Hamas declared a terrorist organization.