News Digest — 3/2/21

IDF To Award Medal To SLA, IDF Soldiers Who Fought In Lebanon Buffer Zone

The Israeli Cabinet approved on Monday (1st) an initiative to grant a campaign ribbon for IDF and South Lebanese Army soldiers who participated in an almost two-decade-long war in Lebanon.

The Lebanon war started in September 1982 and ended with the Israeli withdrawal in May 2000.

The granting of the ribbon is the outcome of a long struggle of former soldiers for recognition in the war, and its costs for the Israeli public.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who was the last IDF Lebanon Liaison Unit commander, and was pushing to approve this initiative said: “As the person who was the last soldier to leave Lebanon, I feel a great honor today to grant this recognition to thousands of combat soldiers and brothers in arms – those who came home and those who didn’t.”

“Granting this ribbon is also a symbolic message to the present IDF combat soldiers; we show them that we honor them also, and their devotion, the risks they are taking and their activities to protect the security of the country.”  

“I wish to thank the IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and the IDF Manpower Directorate who were promoting this issue.  I also wish to thank Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz and the rest of the committee members that examined granting this medal,” he said.

Chief of Staff Kochavi said, “The Cabinet’s decision to accept our recommendation to grant the campaign ribbon is a highly important closure for us, as we stand in front of thousands of soldiers who relentlessly acted and put their lives in danger in order to protect communities in the North.”

“Granting the ribbon also to our brothers in arms, the combat warriors of the South Lebanon Army (SLA) is an important manifestation of our courageous alliance that was a major component in fulfilling our mission in the South Lebanon Security Belt for 20 years.

“Our hearts now are with the bereaved families who lost their loved ones during the combat years in the Security Belt,” he said.



1,800 Former Israeli Generals, Service Members Urge Biden Not To Return To JCPOA

A group of 1,800 retired Israeli generals, officers and Mossad operatives have written a letter to US President Joe Biden urging him not to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

In the March 1 letter, the group, which goes by the name “Habithonistim” states that it has watched “with great concern” as the Biden administration seeks to return to the “flawed principles” of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“From a strict security perspective, [rejoining the accord] represents an existential threat to the Jewish state.  It would also work against your administration’s stated goal of stabilizing the Middle East,” states the letter.

“Such an action would push Israel and Sunni allies into a dangerous corner and potentially ignite a massive nuclear arms race,” it continued.

Habithonistim was founded in 2020 by a group of retired Israeli generals with the aim of securing the Jewish state and has since grown into a national movement of almost 2,000 former servicemen and women.  The group said in a statement that they felt it was important to share their perspective with “the new American president.”

“The JCPOA,” the letter states, “granted the Iranian regime a ‘safe path’ to acquiring a large nuclear arsenal.  Even the limitations the deal did impose have either expired or will be sunsetting shortly,” it added.

“What is needed is not to succumb to the false brinkmanship and nuclear blackmail of Iran, but to use the maximum pressure of sanctions to demand Iran accept a more effective deal that will not include sunset clauses, and will guarantee that Iran will never have the capability to produce nuclear weapons.  A deal that dismantles the military nuclear facilities, provides for real inspections anywhere, anytime, limits enrichment for a very long time or prevents it, and takes care of delivery systems (ballistic missiles),” says the letter.

Habithonistim director IDF Brig. Gen. (res.) Amir Avivi, who initiated the letter, said that those suggesting the JCPOA was beneficial to Israel’s security were “out of touch and politically motivated.”

“Iran must be held accountable for its global aggression and must never be allowed to attain a nuclear bomb,” he added.

The letter concludes by stating: “President Biden, your 40-year history as a public servant has clearly demonstrated that Israel’s security is something you take seriously.  The Iranian regime seems to be expecting a deal as favorable to them as the original JCPOA.  You have the unique opportunity to deal with that fallacy by negotiating a deal that protects Israel, the Middle East and the United States of America from an empowered and nuclear-armed Iran.”

The group also sent a copy of the letter to the US State Department.



Insufficient Diplomatic Strength To Stop Iran – Amb. Dore Gold (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

→ A new Iranian law mandated by the parliament has cut back the monitoring of the Iranian nuclear program.  There would be no more “snap inspections” by the West on Iranian facilities.

→ With Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declaring that Iran’s uranium enrichment levels would no longer be limited to 20%, and adding, “We may even increase enrichment to 60%,” Tehran is now on the path of getting closer to an atomic bomb than ever before.

→ When the West created an arrangement with Saddam Hussein at the end of the first Gulf War that sought to address his weapons of mass destruction, they included all ballistic missiles above a range of 95 miles.  But the JCPOA did not touch Iran’s missile capabilities.  There is no indication that this is now going to be remedied.

→ The JCPOA was built around the assumption that Iranian behavior would become more moderate as a consequence of the easing of economic sanctions.  But the relaxing of sanctions on Iran did not moderate its regional behavior.  The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change reported in February 2021: “The number of militias created by the IRGC has surged.”

→ Iranian expansionism spread in this period to areas which are not thought to be within its sphere of influence.  Its support for the Houthi guerrillas in Yemen gave it a strategic presence along the Bab-el Mandeb Strait that connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.  Also, Iran began working with the Polisario in the Western Sahara, basing themselves in Algeria.  Here, Iran was operating far away from the Persian Gulf.

→ What is needed is a robust response by the West to these Iranian actions.  In the past month alone, Iranian proxies rocketed an American facility in Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as a civilian airport in Saudi Arabia.  True the US hit back at an Iraqi militia stationed just over the border in Syria.  But without a consistent American policy of striking back, the Iranians will not internalize the US message.  There is no indication the US and Europe understand what they are facing.



BGU Develops Easy Cheap Test To Identify UK, South African COVID Variants

Ben Gurion University has developed a rapid and cost-effective test to identify the UK and South African variants of the novel coronavirus, reducing the time needed to determine if an infection is caused by a variant to a matter of hours.

The current method for testing for variants involves sequencing the entire virus genome, which is expensive and time consuming.

The new method uses two RT-qPCR rapid tests based on gene deletion that differentiates the variants from the original strain.  The tests successfully detected the British variant in sewage samples from Beersheba.

“My lab has been working hard throughout this pandemic to provide early-warning and detection tools.  Our detection of corona in wastewater successfully completed a pilot program in 14 cities around Israel,” said Prof. Ariel Kushmaro, who supervised the development of the new method.  “We continue to refine our research in service to mankind.”

The method was developed by Dr. Karin Yaniv and Dr. Eden Ozer.  Kushmaro and Yaniv are members of the Environmental Biotechnology Labs and the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering at BGU.  Ozer is a member of the department of Life Sciences.



Israelis Perform First Heart Accessory Implant Surgery In The World

The first cardiac accessory surgery in the world was performed Monday (1st) at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva, highlighting a major medical technological advancement in the field of cardiac healthcare.

In this case, a patient required a cardiac aid, but this time, rather than being implanted using open heart surgery as is usually the case, the implant was simply inserted beneath the skin.

The 65-year-old patient had entered surgery to replace a faulty and infected valve when she had suffered heart failure.  Emergency intervention was needed to save her life.

At the prompt decision of Dr. Yaron Barak, director of the Heart and Lung Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support programs at the Division of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery at Beilinson, the medical team proceeded to perform a heart surgery that included attaching the patient to a valve implant via a subcutaneous – or beneath the skin approach – unlike the more common procedure involving open heart surgery to hide the device.

In this procedure, the patient remains fully conscious, mobile and able to perform daily tasks during the recovery process.

Following the procedure, only a brief rehabilitation process was required and the patient was released home.

The procedure was completed without a hitch.  Such treatment could open a whole new world of treatment for more complicated cardiac cases.