News Digest — 3/17/21

Israeli Airstrike Hits Iranian-Backed Arms

On Tuesday night (16th), Israel launched an airstrike on two ammunition depots maintained by Iranian-backed militias in the suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus.

Air defenses responded to the strikes, state television reported, adding that Syrian air defenses shot down some of the Israeli missiles.  It gave no further details.

They were the first attacks since February 28, when Israeli missiles struck southern suburbs of Damascus.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-linked military targets in Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses the operations.

Iranian entrenchment on Israel’s northern border remains a red line for the Jewish State, and it has repeatedly struck Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group.

Syria’s SANA News said that the strike originated in the Golan Heights, with a Syrian military source reporting that damage was restricted to property and there were no casualties.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that the attack was aimed at weapons depots belonging to Iran-backed militias.

According to the SOHR, the warehouses hit in the Tuesday night (16th) strike are a few kilometers from Damascus International Airport.



In First, Iron Dome Intercepts Multiple Drones, Rockets At Once

The Defense Ministry on Tuesday (16th) announced it has completed an upgrade of the country’s Iron Dome rocket defense system to cope with an array of aerial threats.

The Iron Dome was developed by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to intercept short-range unguided rockets and has shot down some 2,500 incoming projectiles fired from the Gaza Strip since it was deployed a decade ago.

In a statement, the ministry’s head of missile defense, Moshe Patel, said the Iron Dome has completed a series of tests that included successful interceptions of rocket and missile salvos as well as simultaneous interceptions of multiple unmanned aerial vehicles.

The campaign, along with two recent Iron Dome flight tests, “demonstrated a significant upgrade of the system’s technological capabilities,” the Defense Ministry stated.

“The new version of the Iron Dome system will be delivered to the IAF and the Navy for operational use and will strengthen Israel’s multi-tier missile defense capabilities,” the ministry said.

“In the face of emerging and rapidly changing threats, these new capabilities provide the political echelon and defense establishment with the operational flexibility that is critical to our national security,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said of the results.

The Iron Dome is part of Israel’s multilayered aerial defense system, ranging from systems capable of intercepting rockets fired from short range up to striking long-range missiles outside of the atmosphere.

They provide a defense against a wide array of ballistic projectiles, with eyes on the Iranian ballistic threat and those presented by the Hezbollah terror organization from Lebanon and Hamas and Islamic Jihad from the Gaza Strip.

Iran has recently demonstrated such attack capabilities in several strikes on targets in Saudi Arabia.

Patel said the new Iron Dome system would be deployed by the Israel Air Force and Navy in the near future.

In 2018, the Iron Dome system was voted Israel’s top innovation of all time in honor of the country’s 70th Independence Day celebrations.



2000-Year-Old Biblical Texts Found In Israel, First Since The Dead Sea Scrolls

A 2,000-year-old biblical scroll has been unearthed in the Judean Desert, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday (16th).  The groundbreaking discovery marks the first time that such an artifact has been uncovered in decades, since the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Besides the manuscript, the cave harbored several other unique findings, including a trove of coins from the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt, the skeleton of a child dating back to some 6,000 years, and a 10,000-year-old exceptionally well-preserved basket which experts say might be the earliest item of this kind ever uncovered.

The two dozen fragments were found in a cave in the Judean desert, as a result of a several-year-long breathtaking rescue operation with the purpose of surveying all the caves of the area, carried out by the IAA in cooperation with the Archeology Department of the Civil Administration.

The scroll was written in Greek, but God’s name appears in paleo-Hebrew.  It contains passages from the Minor Prophets, including Nahum.

The cave, known as “the cave of Horror” in the Judean Desert reserve’s Nahal Hever, stands some 263 feet below the clifftop and can be accessed only by clinging to ropes.

“These are the things you are to do; Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates.  And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate – declares the Lord,” one of the fragments reads, featuring an excerpt of the biblical book of Zechariah.

“The aim of this national initiative is to rescue these rare and important heritage assets from the robbers’ clutches,” IAA director Israel Hasson said in a press release.  “The newly discovered scroll fragments are a wake-up call to the state.  Resources must be allocated for the completion of this historically important operation.  We must be sure that we recover all the data that has not yet been discovered in the caves before the robbers do.  Some things are beyond value.”

“This is definitely an exciting moment, as we present and reveal to the public an important and significant piece in the history and culture of the Land of Israel,” said Hananya Hizmi, Head Staff Officer of the Civil Administration’s Archeology Department in Judea and Samaria.

“In as early as the late 1940s, we became aware of the cultural heritage remains of the ancient population of the Land of Israel with the first discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” he said.  “Now, in this national operation, which continues the work of previous projects, new finds and evidence have been discovered and unearthed that shed even more light on the different periods and cultures of the region.”

The finds attest to a rich, diverse and complex way of life, as well as to the harsh climatic conditions that prevailed in the region hundreds and thousands of years ago.”

The conditions of the region remain challenging to this day.  Some 50 miles of caves have been surveyed within the operation, including very remote and inaccessible hollows.  Drones and mountain equipment have been deployed; about half of the area is still to be explored.

The skeleton, which probably belonged to a child aged 6-12, was wrapped in a cloth and mummified.

“On moving two flat stones, we discovered a shallow pit intentionally dug beneath them, containing a skeleton of a child placed in the fetal position,” IAA prehistorian Ronit Lupu explained.

“It was obvious that whoever buried the child had wrapped him up and pushed the edges of the cloth beneath him, just as a parent covers his child in a blanket,” she said.  The child’s skeleton and the cloth wrapping were remarkably well preserved, and because of the climatic conditions in the cave, a process of natural mummification had taken place, the skin, tendons, and even the hair were partially preserved, despite the passage of time.”



Western Wall Notes Cleaned Out Ahead Of Passover

The notes that had been placed in the Western Wall over the last six months were cleaned out on Tuesday (16th) ahead of the Passover holiday which will begin next weekend on Friday evening, March 27.

The notes will be transferred to the Mount of Olives where they will be buried with religious texts that need to be buried as well.

The notes placed in the cracks of the Western Wall are cleared out twice a year: before Passover and before Rosh Hashanah.

“This year, more than any year in the past, we received tens of hundreds of thousands of notes that came from all over the world, that came from both Jews and non-Jews who could not get here to the Western Wall, because of the coronavirus,” said Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel.

He said “the notes were ones of prayer that this plague would end and the plaza of the Western Wall would be as in the past, full of worshipers: people that come here to wail and pray at the site of the gates of heaven.”



South Africa’s Chief Justice Refuses To Back Down From Pro-Israel Comments

On Sunday (14th), the Chief Justice of South Africa reiterated that he will not back down from comments made previously in which he spoke of his “love” for Israel, and attacked his country’s antagonistic behavior toward the Jewish State.

On March 5, the South African Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC), which investigates complaints made against judges, conducted an investigation into Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s pro-Israel statements which were said during an online conference in June 2020 where other speakers included South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein.

The JCC ruled that Mogoeng was guilty of four counts of misconduct, and that he must publicly apologize for his pro-Israel beliefs.

During the talk with Rabbi Goldstein in which the judge spoke of his support for Israel, Mogoeng criticized South Africa’s government for its hypocrisy in continuing to have ties with the country’s former colonial rulers while maligning Israel and falsely accusing it of being an “apartheid state.”

Mogoeng is appealing the ruling by the JCC.  He said during a recent virtual Thanksgiving service that his statements, which also spoke of working for peace in the Middle East, did not contradict any South African government policies.

“If I get to the point where there is a judgment that says ‘Mogoeng you must say you hate Israel and the Jews,’ I would rather cease to be chief justice, than to do it.  If I get to the point where they say ‘Mogoeng you must say you hate the Palestinians,’ I would rather cease to be chief justice than to do it, because my God has instructed me to love and not to hate,” he said.