News Digest — 3/18/21

Hezbollah Takeover: Jerusalem Think Tank Warns Of Worst-Case Scenarios In Lebanon

The political stalemate in Beirut that is threatening the Lebanese economy with total collapse is paving the route for an Iran-backed takeover of that country by the Hezbollah terror group, a Jerusalem think tank warned Wednesday (17th).

As the ongoing political crisis prevents the formation of a permanent government in Beirut, “it threatens the disintegration of the checks and balances underlying Lebanon’s sectarian government system that has existed since 1943,” noted former Brig. Gen. Dr. Shimon Shapira, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA).

In a paper published on the JCPA website, Shapira, who served as military secretary to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and chief of staff to the foreign minister, warns that Iran is working to destabilize Lebanon so that it can fill the power vacuum with its own proxies like Hezbollah.

Shapira foresees four “extreme” strategic scenarios should the government of Lebanon collapse, making it ripe for a Hezbollah takeover.

Iran could move its warships into the Port of Beirut and take it over, while exploiting Hezbollah’s control of Beirut International Airport to use it as its own military airfield.

A second scenario would see Iran send its Quds Force from Iran and Syria into Lebanon’s Baalbek and Baqaa regions, so that it can move foreign Shiite militias that it sponsors over the border from where they are currently fighting in Syria.

These Afghani, Pakistani, Irani, and Yemeni militias have all previously been invited by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to participate in the next war against Israel.

Shapira’s third scenario is that Hezbollah will retaliate deep into Israel if the IDF attacks those Iranian or Shiite forces.  Iranian military cover would allow Hezbollah to locally manufacture precision missiles to add to its arsenal of some 180,000 rockets it would use against Israel.

“This scenario is extreme.  However, given the continued deterioration of the situation in Lebanon, it can be realized –  change the regional balance of power, and directly threaten Israel,” Shapira warned.

Shapira bases his assessment on the pending collapse in Lebanon given that “Hezbollah operates an alternative governmental system separate from the central government in Beirut.”

With an estimated $1 billion in annual funding from Tehran, Hezbollah has its own banking, health care, and education system.  It also runs a scout program to indoctrinate children.

“In the words of Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah himself: ‘As long as Iran has money, we have money…Just as we receive the rockets that we use to threaten Israel, we are receiving our money,’” Shapira noted.

Lebanon has been transformed “from a failed state to a Hezbollah state, where Hezbollah’s alternative system is fully backed by Iran,” he said.

In the meantime, Hezbollah is refraining from formally seizing power in Lebanon, but Shapira says Iran’s long-term “vision is to turn Lebanon into an Islamic republic as Ayatollah Khomeini commanded.” 

“A fourth extreme scenario is that the Lebanese state will fall like a ripe fruit into the hands of Hezbollah, and Iran will realize its vision of taking over,” Shapira added.



Israeli President Reuven Rivlin Welcomed In Vienna In Official Reception Ceremony

Two Austrian fighter planes escorted President of Israel Reuven Rivlin as he landed, Wednesday (17th) in Vienna at the beginning of his official visit to Austria.  Rivlin and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi were received by an honor guard, and reviewed by Austrian President Dr. Alexander Van der Bellen, at the Hofburg Presidential Palace, where the national anthems of both countries were played.

Then Rivlin held a working meeting with his counterpart, Van der Bellen, during which the Israeli chief of staff briefed the Austrian president on security affairs, focusing on the Iranian threat.

Lt.-Gen. Kochavi emphasized that everything must be done to prevent Iran from acquiring military nuclear capability and so any future agreements with Iran must include restrictions that have no end date.

Following their meeting, the two presidents made joint statements to the press.

President Rivlin thanked the Austrian president for his invitation and warm welcome, saying “Just a year ago, I had the honor of welcoming President Van der Bellen to the capital of Israel, Jerusalem, where with dozens of other leaders and heads of state, we marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and sent a clear message against anti-Semitism, hatred and racism and for Holocaust remembrance and respect for humanity.  Austria’s leaders and its government take a clear stance against anti-Semitism, are protecting Holocaust remembrance and research, and are protecting the Austrian Jewish community.”

At the end of his remarks, Rivlin thanked the Austrian government and the leaders of Austria for standing with Israel in the international arena, and for their commitment to Israel’s security.

The President of Austria Dr. Alexander Van der Bellen said he was very happy to host the visit, particularly at this time, saying “Our two countries are bound together in a special bond.  On the one had we share the terrible memory of the Holocaust.  Thousands of Jews were murdered and many Austrians took part in these crimes.  We have taken responsibility for our role in the Holocaust and we intend to continue working for Holocaust remembrance.  Today, at our monuments, we will pay tribute to the importance of remembrance and stress care for Holocaust survivors.  We will also continue to be committed, as I am personally, to ensure that there is zero tolerance for anti-Semitism.”

On Tuesday (16th), Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Chief of Staff, Aviv Kochavi met in Berlin with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and called for the world to unify its voice against Iran. 

Rivlin is currently visiting European presidents, as Kochavi briefs them on security matters.



Arab Israeli Activist Defends Israel On Vaccines At UN

An Israeli activist on Tuesday (16th) defended Israel on its coronavirus vaccination policy at a UN Human Rights Council session after representatives from Iran, Qatar, and the Palestinian Authority accused the Jewish state of implementing a racist inoculation strategy.

Joseph Haddad slammed the officials who claimed Israel’s vaccination program was allegedly intended only for the country’s Jewish population.  “Any statement to claim that Israel’s vaccination policy is racist is a blatant attempt to defame Israel and distract from the corruption of some countries in this council,” he said.

Haddad is the CEO of “Together-Vouch for Each Other,” which was founded in 2018 by a group of young Israeli Arabs, Christians, Muslims, Bedouin and Druze, who felt determined to bring about change in the Israeli-Arab sector and adopt a positive direction concerning Israeli society and the country.

Speaking on behalf of UN Watch, Haddad said he is an Arab from Nazareth who has been vaccinated.

“Accusations have been made against Israel that its vaccination program is racist and that is not true.  Like me, my family, friends and hundreds of thousands of other Israeli Arabs have been vaccinated,” he shared.

“The State of Israel is campaigning in Arabic to encourage us Israeli Arabs to get vaccinated and Israel’s Magen David Adom National Rescue Organization, which consists of Jews and Arabs, works directly with Arab communities to vaccinate its residents,” he said.

Haddad also said that Israel is helping vaccinate thousands of Palestinian workers employed in Israel despite not being obliged to do so under the Oslo Accords.  “Israel, and not the PA, has vaccinated thousands of Palestinians.  And while the PA used vaccines to inoculate only VIPs, it was Israel that established vaccine centers for Palestinians.”



Israelis Flock To Eateries But Restaurants Still Face Long Road To Recovery

On the heels of Israel’s wildly successful vaccine rollout and plunging infection rates, Israelis are flocking to eateries in droves.

In March, the Israeli government permitted restaurants to open with indoor seating for vaccinated Green Pass holders and al fresco dining for all, giving Israelis the option to dine out for the first time in 6 months.

The decision has been met enthusiastically by Israelis.  Channel 12 News reported that restaurant reservation app Ontopo was flooded with 28,000 table requests in just one day.

“It’s like we were released from prison,” one man enjoying dinner with his family at the Tel Aviv port told Kan News.  “It’s about time.”

It’s easy to believe that a post-COVID return to normalcy is just on the horizon, but the restaurant industry still faces a long road to recovery.

“The restaurant industry is so important in Israel and plays such a big part in Israeli life and tourism, so it’s just a shame,” Timer Mor, head of the Restaurateurs Stronger Together Association, told The Media Line.

“It’s going to take a few years – estimation is between three and five years – to get the industry back to what it was,” he said.

Out of some 14,000 restaurants operating in the Jewish State before the pandemic, at least 4,000 – almost one third – have shuttered their doors forever.  Another 2,000 restaurants are choosing to remain closed until after the Passover holiday, and 6,000 remain open strictly for takeout and delivery.  

Also Restaurant owners are struggling to find staff.  “From an industry that had over 200,000 waiters, cooks, chefs, and staff, at the moment we’re at around 50,000 workers,” Mor said.

“Getting 150,000 workers back to the industry is very hard.”



Swastika, SS Symbol, Spray-Painted On Synagogues In Belarus

A swastika and SS bolts were spray-painted on the entrance to a synagogue and Jewish community headquarters in Belarus, where such incidents are rare.

Members of the Jewish Community of Gomel, a city situated about 200 miles southeast of the capital Minsk, discovered the large symbols earlier this month, the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress reported Monday (15th) on its website.  There are no suspects.

Unlike many other countries in Eastern Europe, the glorification of Nazism and anti-Semitic rhetoric are rare in Belarus, a pro-Russian dictatorship where the Nazis killed both non-Jews and Jews during the Holocaust, murdering 800,000 Jews.

Jews made up most of the Gomel population at the turn of the 20th century, and about a third in 1941, when the Nazis invaded.  Even though the Nazis murdered thousands of Gomel Jews during the Holocaust, many others had escaped into the interior of the Soviet Union and survived.  About 25,000 Jews returned to Gomel after World War II.

Today, the city of about half a million residents has only a few hundred Jews.