News Digest — 3/2/22

Herzog Pays Surprise Visit To The Golan Heights

Israeli President Isaac Herzog paid a surprise visit to the Golan Heights Tuesday (1st) in what may have been a jab at Russia.

The visit and certain comments he made may have been linked to Russia’s denunciation of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan on Wednesday (2/23).

“Russia doesn’t recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights – it is part of Syria,” Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky said at the UN Security Council during a debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Polyansky was believed to be subtly threatening Israel for empathizing with Ukraine as Russian forces massed on the border.  Russia invaded Ukraine hours after that Security Council meeting.

The President’s Office, which normally releases Herzog’s schedule for the coming week each Friday, didn’t issue one this past Friday (2/25).  Also, news of the visit was kept quiet until Herzog left the Golan, an unusual measure for a presidential activity.

Herzog’s comments emphasized Israeli self-reliance and the defense of borders.

“One cannot speak about borders, and about border defense or border security, especially here in the Golan, without saying a word about the IDF,” Herzog said at Kibbutz Ramot.  “In these days of global instability, we must remember, we must base our defensive power on ourselves alone.”

Herzog also quoted from Ethics of the Fathers, saying, “‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me?’  That is the lesson of this era.  The IDF must remain the best of the best, and therefore we must ensure it has the best people and retains the best people, so that they will continue to serve day by day, hour by hour, to risk their lives, in the hope that they will always return home in peace after defending the homeland.”

The President also expressed condolences to the family of Roman Brodsky, who was in a convoy of cars in Ukraine that was making its way to the Moldovan border when it came under a shelling attack, killing him.

“This is a terrible tragedy for the Roman family, the Jewish community and the Ukrainian people,” said Herzog.  “We are profoundly concerned for them.  Together, with the whole family of nations, I hope this war ends quickly.”

Herzog also visited a wind farm run by local farmers.

In December, the Israeli government approved an initiative to double the Golan’s population, establish new communities, improve infrastructure and create 2,000 new jobs over a five-year period.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day War in June 1967 after Syrian forces shelled Israeli communities in the Galilee.

While Israel opposes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Jerusalem has been very careful to keep its criticisms low-key.  Israel and Russia have security coordination to avoid coming into conflict in Syria, where the Israeli Air Force frequently strikes Iranian targets.



Israel Condemns Russia’s War On Ukraine At UNGA, But Top Envoy Doesn’t Speak

Israel condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday (1st), but its top envoy Gilad Erdan did not take the podium to deliver the message.

“We have condemned it and we call upon Russia to heed the calls of the international community to stop the attack and respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine,” Deputy Ambassador Noa Furman said.

She was one of 78 speakers who had taken the floor as of Tuesday afternoon (1st), during a special emergency session in New York called under a mechanism entitled “Uniting for Peace,” which allows the body to skirt the UN Security Council.

Furman spoke of her country’s strong relations with both Moscow and Ukraine and said that it was willing to use those relations to help mediate a cease fire.

“Given our deep ties with both sides, we are willing to contribute to the diplomatic effort if so requested, and have been trying to do so in the last couple of weeks.

“Israel expresses its concern for the safety of the people of Ukraine, including the numerous Israeli citizens living there and the sizable Jewish communities in the affected areas.”

“We are gravely concerned by the growing humanitarian crisis.  In that regard, Israel is providing 100 tons of humanitarian assistance to the people of Ukraine,” she said.

Furman said it was important to “resolve the crisis through peaceful means in accordance with the UN Charter.

Israel has charted a carefully choreographed path when it comes to condemnation of Russia, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemning the invasion, while Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has spoken of his support for Ukraine.

On Monday (2/28), at the start of the UNGA meeting Erdan walked up to his Ukrainian counterpart and the two men affectionately put their arms around each other.

The ambassador had not consulted with anyone in Jerusalem before doing so and distributed a video of it to the press.



Russian Missiles Strike ‘Babyn Yar Holocaust Massacre Site’

Russian missiles and shells pounding the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Tuesday (1st) hit Babyn Yar, site of a notorious mass killing of Jews during World War II.

The site is adjacent to a television tower targeted by the Russian military.  Although the tower was still standing, damage knocked out the city’s television broadcasting and possibly government communications.

Five people were reported killed and another five injured in the strikes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky decounced the attack on Twitter.

“To the world: What is the point of saying <never again> for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar?  At least 5 killed.  History repeating…” he tweeted.

Natan Sharansky, who is chairman of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, also condemned the missile strikes.

“We at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, built on Europe’s largest mass grave of the Holocaust, work to preserve historical memory following decades of Soviet suppression of historical truth, so that the evils of the past can never be repeated,” he said in a statement.

“We must not allow the truth to – once again – become the victim of war,” the statement added.

Sharansky, a former Soviet refusenik, was born and raised in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk which is now controlled by Russian separatists.

In a 48-hour period on September 29-30, 1941, more than 33,000 Jews were shot dead and buried in the Babyn Yar ravine by German forces with the support of Ukrainian Auxiliary Police.  The massacre began on the eve of Yom Kippur.

The Nazi’s also used the ravine to execute Soviet war prisoners, communists, Ukrainian nationalists, Roma, invalids and the mentally disabled.  Over all, between 100,000-150,000 people were killed at Babyn Yar during the two-year German occupation of Kyiv.



Gantz: Israel Will Increase Work Visas For Palestinians From Gaza Strip

Israel will increase the number of Gaza workers allowed into sovereign Israeli territory Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on his visit to the IDF’s Gaza Division on Tuesday (1st).  The demand for work visas has grown exponentially in recent days.

Gantz toured the area together with Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Commander of Southern Command Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, Coordinator of Government Operations in the Territories Maj. Gen. Rassan Elian and Gaza Regional Division Commander Brig. Gen. Nimrod Aloni.

During the tour, the Minister of Defense received an overview of Erez and Karni crossings as well as a tour of the fence area, where he surveyed it, and made a situational assessment.

“Since Operation Guardian of the Walls, we have created a new deterrence reality, we are building regional forces and operational plans, we are doing so with special consideration to the civilian population – directly with the residents of Gaza,” said Gantz.

The Israeli government is planning to issue thousands of new work visas for Gaza Strip residents, allowing them to work in Israel itself.

“We intend to expand humanitarian civilian policy, including an immediate increase in the number of workers allowed to enter Israel,” Gantz added.

Regarding the security situation in the south of Israel, as well as the status of Israeli prisoners still held hostage by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Gantz said: “On the conditions of advancing the return of Israeli prisoners and missing persons, as well as maintaining peace, we will be able to expand this policy and develop the Gaza Strip further.”

“Unfortunately, the residents of Gaza are captives of Hamas leaders who deprive them of a better life and a safe future for their children.”

“The leaders of Hamas and the residents of Gaza will also be the ones to bear responsibility if the peace in Gaza or elsewhere is disturbed,” Gantz concluded.   



Two Terrorists Killed In Jenin Gun Battle – Hamas Calls For Revenge

Two Palestinian terrorists based in Jenin were killed by IDF forces late Monday evening (2/28) during a gun battle, sparking calls from Hamas for revenge and a “day of rage” throughout Palestinian Authority-controlled cities in Judea and Samaria and Gaza on Tuesday (1st).

Arabic-language media identified the two slain men as Abdullah al-Hosari and Shadi Najm.  A Hamas-affiliated outpost displayed cellphone footage of al-Hosari firing at security forces on social media.

Najm was reportedly a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and al-Hosari was affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).  A third man also believed to be a PIJ operative, Abadeh al-Aul, was injured in the clash.

In a statement, Israeli Border Police said they had entered Jenin in order to arrest a terror suspect and were met with heavy gunfire from locals.  The army used “riot dispersal means and live fire” to repel the mob, during which time al-Hosari and Najm were killed.

Some 150 Palestinians surrounded Israeli security forces as they departed Jenin, throwing Molotov cocktails, improvised grenades and stones, the Border Police said.

Despite the clashes, the Israeli army successfully arrested Imad Abu Al-Hija, the son of a senior Hamas figure in Jenin, who is currently serving nine life sentences in an Israeli prison.

No Israeli security forces were injured in the clashes.

In response to the slayings, Hamas demanded a “day of rage” urging Palestinians to take to the streets and confront Israeli security forces at checkpoints.

On Saturday (2/26), a gunman reportedly shot a high-ranking PIJ member, Khader Adnan, in the city of Nablus, although the exact location of the attack was not made public.

But despite an eyewitness identifying another member of the terror group as the assailant, Secretary-General of PIJ, Ziad Al-Nakhala told Arabic-language media that Israel was the perpetrator.

“The Israeli Shin Bet is behind this incident.  An attack on Adnan is like an attack on the Islamic Jihad movement,” Al-Nakhala said.  “We will respond according to the assumption.”

Abu Ali Express reported that another unnamed PIJ official said that the shooting “only serves the occupation,” dismissing the idea that it could have been triggered by internal rivalries within the terror group.