News Digest — 3/16/21

Cabinet Decides To Reopen Israel’s Skies

The Israeli Cabinet has voted to cancel limitations on air travel to and from Israel, starting Tuesday (16th), allowing the airlines that serve Israel to operate flights to nearly all destinations worldwide.

The Cabinet vote comes after a discussion in the High Court of Justice about reopening Israel’s skies.  Later Monday (15th) the government submitted to the court a list of Israelis stranded abroad who want to return.  This is a key issue, as Israel will be holding a general election on March 23 and there is no mechanism in place for Israelis to vote by absentee ballot, unless they are serving in a very limited number of public positions and have permission to do so.

However, a cap on 3,000 incoming travelers a day will remain in place, at least for now, meaning that 90,000 Israelis at the most will be able to enter the country over the course of one month.

The decision to limit the number of travelers entering Israel stems from a desire by the health and transportation ministries to enforce quarantine for returning citizens, which would be difficult if more people entered.  However, Israelis who have been vaccinated against or who have recovered from COVID are exempt from quarantine, so the more vaccinated/recovered citizens there are, the likelier it is that the quota will be removed.

Also on Monday (15th), the Cabinet was slated to discuss electronic monitoring, via a bracelet, as a method of enforcing quarantine.  If approved, the government will be able to use it as a way of policing quarantine.



IDF General: Next War Will Bring 2,000 Missiles A Day On Israel

Home Front Commander Gen. Uri Gordin gave a dire warning during an address at the B’Sheva Conference in Jerusalem on Monday (15th) regarding the threat awaiting Israel in the next war.

“In the next war, the State of Israel is expected to absorb about 2,000 missiles and rockets that will be launched at it every day and will challenge all military and civilian systems alike,” Gordin said.

Israel faces missile threats on multiple fronts.  In Lebanon, there are an estimated 150,000 missiles controlled by Hezbollah.  The terror group is engaged in an ongoing effort to make its arsenal more precise.

Hamas is also working to build up its missile arsenal and routinely launches rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip.

In Iran, which has repeatedly threatened to bomb Israel out of existence, a new “missile city” was just announced.  It also has started enriching uranium, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons.

Gordin, who assumed his command in 2020, said that the missile option is one that Israel’s enemies will turn to because they can’t beat Israel on the battlefield.

“Therefore, they are trying to transfer the battle to the second front, which is our home – physical damage to cities, towns and villages – and damage to our spirit through psychological warfare.  They must understand that even on the house front they will meet a determined and cohesive iron fist,” Gordin said.

Gordin has addressed the danger from missiles before.  In a Maariv interview in September 2020, he said Hezbollah has “created a powerful threat to Israel in the field of rockets and missiles…They have a rocket quantity that no country in Europe has, and these are very significant capabilities that will meet us if war breaks out.”

“There is no doubt that if a war breaks out, the Home Front will be very involved in it, because that is what our enemies have chosen,” Gordin told Maariv.

“This is worrying, so we take a lot of action, some of it in the area of protection.  We have many defensive programs, some already launched, and some we are working on.”



Iran Releases Footage Of Revolutionary Guards “Missile City” Base

Iran released images and film footage on Monday (15th) of what it said was a new base of its Revolutionary Guard Corps, armed with cruise and ballistic missiles and “electronic warfare” equipment, the country’s state TV reported.

The report described the base as a “missile city” and showed rows of what looked like missiles in a depot with cement walls.  It did not give any details on its location nor how many missiles are stored there.

Iireza Tangsiri, the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards’ naval unit, told state TV the base had equipment to detect enemy signals.

The report said the base’s “electronic warfare equipment” included radar, monitoring, simulation and disruption systems.

“What we see today is a small section of the great and expansive missile capability of Revolutionary Guards’ naval forces,” Guards commander Major General Hossein Salami said in the broadcast.

Last July, the Guard launched underground ballistic missiles as part of an exercise involving a mock-up American aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz, highlighting its network of subterranean missile sites.

Since 2011, Iran has boasted of underground facilities across the country as well as along the southern coast near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.  Iran claims to have missiles that can travel 1,200 miles, placing much of the Middle East, including Israel, within range.

The US and its Western allies see Iran’s missile program as a threat, along with the country’s nuclear program–particularly after Tehran gradually breached its commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, following the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018.

Since Iran’s bloody 1980s war with Iraq, which saw both nations fire missiles on cities, Iran has developed its ballistic missile program as a deterrent, especially as a UN arms embargo prevents it from buying high-tech weapons systems.  The underground tunnels help protect those weapons, including liquid-fueled missiles that can only be fueled for short periods of time.



Lockdown Percussion: Haifa Has A Boar Problem

The Haifa municipality is meeting Tuesday (16th) in a special session dedicated to – wild pigs, Walla News reported Monday (15th).

Residents of Israel’s third-largest city are furious at mayor Dr. Einat Kalisch-Rotem for not dealing with an invasion of wild boars that began to make news during the COVID-19 lockdowns, when streets emptied for months at a time, giving the animals free rein.

The boars constantly roam the streets, ripping up public and private gardens along with their piglets and destroying garbage bins in search of food.

They have taken over playgrounds, and even waded in swimming pools, said the news report.  But when they walk in the streets they can be a serious hazard, even causing accidents in the main roads of the city.  The animals are extremely strong and can be dangerous.  Within the last few months there have been reports of a girl bitten, an elderly man attacked, and another man rammed into by a boar, breaking his leg.

Conservative estimates put the number of pigs at around 2,000, given their average rate of reproduction and the fact that they have no natural enemies.  One city council member, Yitzhak Balas, who spoke about the crisis last June, thinks it’s more like 7,000, said the Walla report. 

The municipality responded in a statement that it is “using all proven methods to distance the boars from residential neighborhoods…focusing on preventing food and water sources that are the main factor attracting the boars.”  They have also recently received permission from the Nature and Parks Authority to trap the animals “in places where human-boar encounters have been reported.”



IsraAID Sends Vaccine Staff Support Team To Eswatini

Israeli humanitarian aid agency IsraAID dispatched a medical, logistical and psychosocial team to Eswatini – commonly known as Swaziland – on March 8 at the invitation of the Eswatini government.  They will be supporting the South African country’s upcoming national COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

According to Israel21c, the pandemic has claimed the lives of several Eswatini leaders including Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini.  The impoverished country, which borders South Africa and Mozambique, has the highest COVID-19 death rates in Africa and the highest HIV prevalence in the world.

IsraAID will focus on the mental health and resilience of the country’s frontline health workers as a key factor in implementing a public health response and will help the non-governmental organization formulate its new “Global Vaccine Access: initiative.

The initial assessment team, to be joined by Bar Ilan University Faculty of Medicine epidemiologist Prof. Michael Edelstein, arrived in the country with the support of the Kirsh Foundation, founded by Eswatini citizen Nathan Kirsh. 

IsraAID has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in 16 countries, CEO Yotam Polizer told Israel21c.

“Vaccines are crucial to global efforts to end the pandemic, yet many countries across the Global South are struggling to access the vaccines they need to protect their populations,” he said.

“During the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, I saw firsthand the importance of a holistic community-based approach to overcoming health crises, including trust-building and mental health support for medical workers alongside public health programs and medical care,” Polizer continued.

“We hope to use our experience to help the government of Eswatini build and implement a successful immunization program – and to expand our vaccination efforts to other countries in the near future through our Global Vaccine Access Initiative.”

IsraAID has responded to crises in 55 countries since its founding in 2001.