News Digest — 3/19/24

Israeli Airstrikes Target Damascus Countryside, Syria Says

Israel early on Tuesday (19th) launched missiles at several military targets outside the Syrian capital resulting in material damage,
The Syrian defense ministry said.

Syrian air defenses intercepted Israeli “missiles and shot some of them down” the ministry added in a statement.

Also, on Saturday night (16th), Syrian media reported that Israel launched an airstrike in the Damascus area.  Opposition sources said at the time that the attack, attributed to Israel, was aimed at Hezbollah targets in the city of Yabrud located near the border with Lebanon.  The Syrian army said there were injuries in the attack.

Iran has been a major backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during Syria’s nearly 12-year-old conflict.  Its support for Damascus and the Lebanese group Hezbollah has drawn regular airstrikes meant to curb Tehran’s extraterritorial military power.

Those strikes have ramped up in line with flaring regional tensions since the Oct.7 Hamas attack on Israel, with more than half a dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers killed in suspected Israeli strikes on Syria since December.

As a result, the Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria and have planned to rely more on allied Shiite militia groups to preserve their sway there, Reuters reported in February. 



Netanyahu: ‘Victory Is Within Reach’

Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Monday (18th ) regarding his determination to carry on the war in Gaza.

“We have to win this war,” he began.  “The survival of Israel, the future of Israel, the future of the Middle East, and beyond, depends on this victory.”

“This victory is within reach, because of the courage of our people and our soldiers,” he reassured the audience.

“How do we define victory?  The destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capability, the return of the hostages, and preventing Gaza from becoming a threat to Israel at any time in the future,” Netanyahu explained.

He moved on to address another issue: “There’s also the northern front, where we want to return our people to a condition of security.  Achieving that goal will be a stinging blow to Iran, which is behind everything we’re seeing here today.”

He also focused on the importance of the Iranian threat: “We all have to understand that this is not just Israel’s battle, it is the battle for the victory of the Israeli, American, moderate Arab axis against the Iran axis, and unless we have victory we have terrible things for the future of the Middle East and beyond.”

“The people of Israel are united as never before, to have that victory over Hamas, to return the hostages, to ensure that Gaza doesn’t become a terror haven and a source of threat to Israel in the future,” Netanyahu declared.

“We have to finish the job.  No local Gazans are going to stand up to Hamas, they’ll get a bullet through their heads.  The four battalions in Rafah will come back, reconquer the strip, eliminate any opposition, and repeat the October 7th Massacre over and over and over again.”

“We have smashed nineteen of the twenty-four battalions Hamas had.  People said to us ‘You can’t go into ground action.’  We proved that to be false – our forces can go anywhere.”

“When people tell us not to complete the job, what they are actually saying is don’t win the war.  Ostensibly they say it because they are worried about the civilian population.  So are we.  The army has presented plans to take over Rafah, destroy the remaining battalions, and a humanitarian plan for the civilian population.”

Netanyahu described the main challenge in sending humanitarian aid to Gaza.  “The problem is not getting the trucks there, but distribution.  How do you prevent looting?  We’ve authorized some Gazans to distribute the supplies, but they will only do it if they think Hamas is gone.  The people of Israel also don’t want the PA in charge there, because they will continue to educate Gazan children towards terrorism.”

He addressed some of the misconceptions of the situation outside of Israel.  “The picture that was presented in the last few days and weeks in the United States is completely different from what I described.  The great majority of people will tell you that they support what I just described, but add “You have an outlier Prime Minister with some extreme fringe groups and that’s what is driving the policy.”  That is deliberately false.  I’ve said this to the President as well – there is unity among the people to achieve victory along the lines that I described.  It is within reach, and we’re going to do it.”



IDF: 40 Terrorists Killed, Including Top Commander In Raid On Shifa Hospital

Israeli forces operating in Shifa Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip Monday (18th) killed some 40 Hamas terrorists, including a senior Hamas commander, the IDF said.

The IDF raided Shifa Hospital in an operation launched at approximately 2:30 am Monday (18th), a joint venture of the IDF and the Shin Bet internal security agency.

Israeli troops surrounded the hospital, engaging Hamas terrorists in a gun battle before entering Shifa, clearing out terrorists who had reoccupied the building.

Shifa, which had served as a Hamas command and control center early on in the war, was again being used by Hamas terrorists in a bid to restore the group’s control of the northern Gaza Strip, IDF intelligence had indicated, precipitating Monday’s (18th) operation.

On Monday evening (18th), the IDF revealed that approximately 40 Hamas terrorists were killed in the gun battles outside and in the hospital.

The slain terrorists included Faiq Mabhouh, a senior Hamas commander who had served as chief of the group’s internal security

According to the IDF, Mabhouh was organizing terrorist activity from a hideout inside Shifa Hospital.  He was killed in a gunbattle with IDF soldiers who discovered his hideout inside the hospital complex.  A weapons cache was located in an adjacent room.

One Israeli soldier was also killed during the battle, bringing the total of IDF troops killed in combat during the ground war in Gaza to 250.

Approximately 200 Hamas terrorists were arrested during the Shifa operation.



Bar Kochba Revolt-Period Hiding Complex Revealed Near Sea Of Galilee

Archaeological excavations at Huqoq near the Sea Of Galilee, in which students, local residents, and soldiers participated over the past few months provide a glance at dramatic episodes in the history of the Jewish people: the making of shelters in preparation for the Revolt of the Jews against the Romans, led by Bar Kochba in 132-136 CE.

The excavation also revealed that, as part of the preparations for the First Revolt in 66 CE and the Bar Kochba  in 132 CE, the residents of Huqoq converted the water cistern (dug in the Second Temple period) into a hiding complex.  In addition, at the time of danger, they broke one of the walls of the mikveh and dug a tunnel into other cavities.  Several tunnels allowed maneuvering in narrow low spaces underneath the houses.  In this underground system – the largest and most impressive discovered at the Galilee – there are about eight hiding cavities, and the connecting tunnels are dug at 90 degrees, to hamper the heavily armed Roman soldiers chasing the rebels.  The excavation also yielded hundreds of broken clay and glass dishes, a ring, and other fascinating finds.

Huqoq is known as a Jewish town from the early Roman period, about 2,000 years ago.  The Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds mention Rabbi Pinhas and Rabbi Hezekiah, sages from the 3rd and 4th centuries CE who were based in the area.  On the hilltop near the hiding complex, a synagogue with impressive and unique mosaics dating to the Byzantine period was discovered.  The synagogue was dug in 2011 by an expedition from North Carolina University.

The goal of the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeological excavation in Huqoq, funded by the Ministry of Heritage and in collaboration with the Safed Academic College and KKL-JNF is to reveal the rich history of the site while involving the youth in its discovery and eventually making the site available to the public.  The hiding complex system is one of the important sites that will be developed  in the Galilee, revealing to the public the defense methods of the Jewish population at the time of the revolts.

According to Israel Antiquities Authority Director Eli Escusido, “The Israel Antiquities Authority considers the Huqoq site and its various discoveries as part of a flagship project that will draw visitors from all over Israel and the world.  Along with our partners in the Ministry of Heritage and KKL-JNF, the site will, at some point, be made accessible to the public.”



Arsonist Arrested After Florida Chabad Center And Rabbi’s Car Torched

A synagogue and Jewish community center in southwestern Florida were destroyed over the weekend, after an arsonist set fire to the property.

Emergency dispatchers were notified of a fire on the 1300 block of East Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale at approximately 7:20 am this past Saturday (16th), after locals spotted a blaze in the building which houses the Las Olas Chabad Jewish Center and adjoining synagogue.

The building was heavily damaged in the fire, and a van belonging to the local rabbi, Chaim Slavaticki, was destroyed.

Fort Lauderdale police located and apprehended the suspected arsonist, who was later identified as 50-year-old Scott Hannaford.

Police have obtained security camera footage from the incident, showing Hannaford lighting the rabbi’s van on fire, then attempting to spark a second fire in the Chabad center.

In the end, while Hannaford was unsuccessful in his attempts to spark a second fire, the blaze from the rabbi’s van eventually spread to the community cener’s kitchen causing significant damage.

Hannaford was transferred to the Broward Sheriff’s office and charged with two counts of arson, criminal mischief, and drug possession.

Rabbi Slavaticki said “We have to look at the positive, and it’s time to reflect on unity and coming together and continuing to be a light to the community.”

In a statement released Sunday night (17th), the Chabad center appeared to dispute police claims that the arson did not seem to be a hate crime.  

“On Shabbat morning at 7 AM, the Las Olas Chabad Jewish Center was deliberately and intentionally set aflame,” the center’s Facebook account wrote.

“It was a clearly targeted attack on our facility and our community.”



The West’s Abandonment Of The Jews – Melanie Phillips

• Israel’s war of defense against a genocidal enemy is an inflection point in the seismic battle between civilization and barbarism.  The West is failing the test.  This was illustrated at the Oscars, which featured an attempt to transform Israeli suffering into Israeli oppression by Jonathan Glaser, director of a much-lauded Holocaust movie.  He implied that Israelis were like Nazis and that their behavior went against Jewish principles.  This is how he described a war caused by the worst atrocities against Jews since the Holocaust and Israel’s attempt to ensure that a second Holocaust does not happen.

• The belief that demonizing Israeli Jews somehow represents Jewish values is a pathology.  It is being fed by a venomously distorted presentation of Israelis as child-killers in Gaza that’s being ruthlessly pumped out by Western media.

• Why do so many believe these patent untruths propagated by Hamas?  For decades, the Palestinians have accused Israelis of being “Nazis” and committing “genocide” to obscure the fact that their own Holocaust denial runs in tandem with their declared intention to kill every Jew.

• In total contradiction to its foundational ideals, human rights culture has turned into a vehicle for singling out certain human rights for extinction.  The right of Jewish people to live in their own ancestral homeland.  In the 1970s, radical idealists “human rights” as a universalizing creed, promised to bring about utopia.  Judaism is in the way of all universalizing creeds: and so Israel, the particularist Jewish state, had to be dumped.

• Israel is fighting a desperate battle for its survival.  Its people are in a state of ever-deepening trauma, grief and anxiety.  Some of their families and friends are still hostages in Gaza, meeting unthinkable fates.  The death toll among their conscripted children and grandchildren fighting to defend their country is steadily ticking upwards.  They understand that genocidal savages intend to continue their attacks until they have destroyed the Jewish homeland and slaughtered every Jew.

• In this truly desperate situation, what’s even worse is that the “civilized” West is accusing Israelis of the crime of which they are the present and intended victims.  That is an unspeakable abandonment of the Jewish people and to the West a source of ineradicable shame.

The writer is a columnist for The Times of London