News Digest — 3/22/19

Pompeo Visits Israel

During a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Israel on Wednesday (20th), the White House announced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be welcomed in Washington over two days next week with Israel just two weeks from the April 9 polls.

Netanyahu thanked Pompeo for the Trump administration’s strong stance against Iran, which routinely threatens to destroy Israel.

The prime minister also referenced Iran’s attempt to set up a terrorist network to target Israel from the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

“You could imagine what would have happened if Israel were not in the Golan,” he said.  “You would have Iran on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.”

Pompeo did not mention the issue, but the administration is considering recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan.  Last week, in its annual human rights report, the State Department dropped the phrase “Israeli occupied” from the Golan Heights section, instead calling it “Israeli-controlled.”

Referring to Iranian leaders’ continual pursuit of the “annihilation and destruction” of Israel, Pompeo pledged continued American support for the Jewish state.



Security Forces Kill Ariel Terrorist In Shootout

After a two-day manhunt, security forces on Tuesday (19th) killed a Palestinian terrorist who carried out the stabbing and shooting attack on Sunday (17th) that left two Israelis dead at Ariel junction in Judea and Samaria.

Staff Sgt. Gal Keidan and Rabbi Ahiad Ettinger were killed in the attack and another soldier, Alex Dvorsky, was critically wounded.

The IDF said late Tuesday (19th) that 19-year-old suspect Omar Abu Laila was fatally shot when he opened fire on soldiers trying to arrest him.  The army said troops had surrounded a building near the city of Ramallah and that Abu Laila was killed in an exchange of gunfire.

The Shin Bet reportedly discovered the terrorist’s hiding place and sent a SWAT team in to capture him.  

“The effort was a culmination of various intelligence and operational and technological capabilities that were used to locate him in the building in which he was hiding,” the Shin Bet said.

No Israeli troops were wounded during the operation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the forces, saying that “the long arm of Israel will reach anyone who harms our citizens and soldiers.”



Rivlin Visits Families Of Terror Victims, Praises Their Memory

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday (20th) visited the homes of the families of two Israelis killed in a terrorist shooting attack in the West Bank on Sunday (17th), as they mourned their losses in the customary seven-day shiva period.

He first paid a condolence call to the family of Staff Sgt. Gal Keidan from Beersheba, who was murdered in the attack at the Ariel junction – Keidan was laid to rest Monday (18th).

“Gal was an artist with incredible talent, and he gave the state everything with infinite dedication, and we must make sure that we are worthy of his dedication,” the president said of Keidan, who was a musician and one of only a handful of mandocello players in the country.

The president then traveled to the Jewish settlement of Eli to visit the family of Rabbi Ahiad Ettinger, a father of 12 who was gunned down in his car.

Rivlin said Ettinger “was an inspiration and example to us all.”

“I told his widow Tamar that her cries of grief echo from one end of the country to the other.  Our faith must be strong, we must be confident and we must carry on the work he left behind,” Rivlin said.

A third victim of the attack, IDF soldier Alex Dvorsky, remains hospitalized in serious but stable condition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who paid his respects to the families on Tuesday (19th) said he would seek to legislate a death penalty punishment for terrorists.



Muslim Stands Up For Israel At UN Human Rights Council

Kasim Hafeez, a British Muslim and former Islamist who is now a proud Zionist who stands with Israel, spoke out at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) against their condemnation of Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“As this body recently displayed by brazenly lying about Israel’s actions in Gaza, hatred towards the Jewish state persists,” Hafeez said.  “This council has repeatedly demonized Israel while ignoring Palestinian terror attacks and the real victims of human rights abuses across the globe.”

Referring to his own background, Hafeez mentioned that hatred was so ingrained in his identity “that in my early 20s I decided that terrorism, murdering civilians who did not see the world as I did in order to advance my agenda, was my calling.”

A trip to Israel gave Hafeez a new perspective and showed him “that the media reports and international condemnations of the Jewish state were lies.  Israel is a free and democratic state.”

Last week, Hafeez took part in the #DigiTell, a gathering of 100 pro-Israel bloggers and social network managers from all over the world.

Hafeez grew up being exposed to radical anti-western, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel ideas on what he describes as a daily basis.  During his teenage years, Hafeez embraced a radical Islamist ideology and became very active in the anti-Israel movement.

But in the early 2000s, he came across Alan Dershowitz’s book, The Case For Israel.

“I was so convinced that I was right, I bought the book and read it to essentially read the ‘Zionist lies’ for myself,” he told The Jerusalem Post.  “I was presented with ideas and arguments I had never come across in all my years of being anti-Israel.

So, he read more books.

”I began to see a lack of factual argument on the anti-Israel side, a lot of rhetoric and emotion but little fact,” he said.

In 2007, he traveled to Israel for the first time, “hoping to have a nightmare scenario and see apartheid and racism to reaffirm my hatred,” he said.

“Seeing the reality, meeting the Israeli people, talking to Arabs and Jews, I realized that I was wrong, and, ultimately, fell in love with Israel,” he said.  “When I got back to the UK, I felt obligated to just tell the truth. How many minds had I poisoned with lies I believed while never having set foot in Israel?”

Hafeez left the UK and today works for Christians United for Israel (CUFI) which has a digital reach of millions, which it uses to mobilize individuals to action for Israel.



UNIFIL Confirms Existence Of Six Tunnels In South Lebanon

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has confirmed the existence of six tunnels in southern Lebanon, two of which violated the Blue Line and crossed into Israeli territory.

While UNIFIL said it could not determine who built the tunnels or when, they were recorded by UNIFIL in the region of Kafr Kila after UNIFIL engineers used verification tools such as laser range finders to confirm their existence.

Though the IDF reported the existence of six cross-border tunnels, UNIFIL was able to visit only five of them, as one was destroyed by Israel’s military before it notified UNIFIL.

UNIFIL is said to have requested to enter one disused brick factory across from Metulla, after Israel filled it with liquid concrete, but the government of Lebanon refused to give it access, as it was private property.  The property was said to then be completely covered in blue tarpaulins within 24 hours of UNIFIL’s request.

Israel launched Operation Northern Shield in early December and destroyed at least five cross-border tunnels, either by explosives or by flooding with liquid concrete.

The tunnel underneath the brick factory was the first to be discovered by the IDF and stretched some 131 feet into kiwi and apple orchards belonging to the community of Metulla.  According to the military, the tunnel, which stretched a total of 650 feet, took Hezbollah around two years to build.

Hezbollah, the military said, chose the building because of its strategic location, in near proximity to a UNIFIL post and hidden behind the security wall and not visible from Israel.

The military discovered the location of the tunnel after Israeli jets noticed dozens of trucks going in and out of the building and driving some 6 to 7 miles to dispose of their material.

The IDF declared the end of the operation in mid-January, saying that it had “deprived Hezbollah of the unique offensive abilities it had built for years as part of its planned attack on Israeli territory,” and that it had strengthened security along the northern border.



El Al To Offer Direct Flights Between Tel Aviv And Chicago

El Al will be offering direct flights between Tel Aviv and Chicago starting in 2020, Israel’s national carrier disclosed last week in its quarterly earnings report.

This development comes as the airline will be acquiring additional Boeing 787 Dreamliners.  El Al already has eight of the sixteen it ordered, according to the Israeli financial news site Globes.  

In North America, El Al currently flies out of New York; Newark, New Jersey; Los Angeles, Boston; Miami; and Toronto.

That will soon expand as the airline offers flights from San Francisco starting on May 13; Las Vegas beginning on June 14; and Orlando, Florida, as of July 2..

Leaders from the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation, along with then-consul General of Israel, met in 2016 with both Chicago Department of Aviation and El Al officials to convince the airline to open a hub at O’Hare International Airport in the Windy City.

“EL AL’s return to the Chicago market with a direct flight to Israel is a long-awaited, exciting development,” JUF Executive Vice President JayTcath told JNS.

“Though their absence was longer than anyone imagined or hoped for, there was never any doubt but that they would return,” he said

“The return is most welcomed by religious pilgrims of all faiths, business professionals, academics and artists – in short, anyone and everyone who is looking forward to their first or their 50th trip to Israel,” Tcath added.