News Digest — 3/22/22

Report: Israel, Egypt, UAE Summit Born Out Of Anger At Potential Nuclear Deal Outcome

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett paid an unannounced visit to Egypt on Monday (21st), where he met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Azyed al-Nahyan.

A high-ranking government official told Israel Hayom that the tripartite summit had been planned secretly in the last few days.

While Israel preferred that the news of the meeting would not be leaked out, Egyptian officials reported it.  Officially, the meeting was planned to mark the renewal of flights between Sharm el-Sheikh and Ben-Gurion International Airport, but according to the official in Jerusalem, the real reason for it was all three sides’ anger at the US over the progression of the nuclear talks with Iran and the Biden administration’s willingness to remove Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps from its list of terrorist organizations, at which the UAE said “it was shocked.”

El-Sissi stressed Egypt’s commitment to security in the Gulf and “rejection of any practices that seek to destabilize it,” the presidency said in a statement.

According to a report in Haaretz the summit was convened as part of an effort to forge a coalition, with US support, of countries – including Egypt, the Gulf States and Turkey – that will stand together against Iran.  The report also said Israel was interested in convincing the UAE and Saudi Arabia to boost their oil production to offset Russian oil.

Israel is also interested in helping assist Egypt in finding alternative sources of wheat amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Al-Nayan said he met with el-Sissi to also discuss bilateral relations and regional and international developments, adding that Egypt and the UAE would maintain coordination, and consult with each other on new global challenges as well as work together to secure their countries’ interests in the region.



Gantz Urges U.S. To Keep Revolutionary Guards On Terror List

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday (21st) joined the call to keep Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps on the United States’ list of terrorist organizations, all the while calling for further cooperation with Washington.

His comments came days after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid issued a joint statement, lamenting Washington’s plans to remove the Revolutionary Guards from its notorious list as part of a series of concessions meant to revive the tattered 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran.

Speaking at a Ynet “People of Israel” conference, Gantz said the IRGC is “a terror organization and should be viewed as such.”

“Another thing that is important to understand is that we need to coordinate our actions and positions with the U.S. and voice them in unequivocal ways,” he said.

“I think that in the end, our strategic relations with the United States, the West and other countries in the region, should not be conducted over Twitter… That’s what I’m doing.  I am in touch with American officials and travel to countries which have relations with Israel and even with those who don’t,” he said.

The defense minister described Iran as more than a “regional problem,” adding that Tehran and its nuclear ambitions are a “global issue and an existential threat to Israel.”

Gantz also criticized what looks to be imminent revival of the 2015 nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran.

“This agreement is not a good one, it has several shortcomings, which we emphasize in our working groups with the Americans.”

Gantz also reiterated Bennett’s claims that Israel will not be bound by any agreement with Iran.

“Prime Minister Bennett said we are not a party to this agreement, and I tell you we are not a party to this agreement.  We will ultimately keep our destiny in our hands, and not in the hands of the world,” Gantz said..

The defense minister also addressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s virtual speech at the Knesset on Sunday (20th), in which he implied Israel was sitting on the fence concerning the Russian-Ukrainian war.

“The man is leading the struggle of his life… he spoke from his heart and from his absolute depth.  But it is important to be clear – The State of Israel is on the right side.  It is against the violence in Ukraine, and is doing everything in its power, in the right way, to help Ukraine,” Gantz added.



Hezbollah Denies Fighting Alongside Russia In Ukraine

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is denying reports that members of the Iran-backed terror group are fighting in Ukraine alongside Russian soldiers.

“No one from Hezbollah, neither a fighter nor an expert, went to this arena or any of the arenas of these wars,” Nasrallah told the Hezbollah-run TV station, Al Mayadeen. 

Earlier in March, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved 16,000 volunteers from around the Middle East to join his war effort.  That has reportedly grown to a force of 40,000 Syrians.

According to state-run Russian media reports, Syria and Russia have an agreement allowing active duty Syrian soldiers to join the fighting in Ukraine, so, the Russian military has opened up several recruitment offices in Syria.

Western intelligence assessments cited by the Washington Post suggest that the Russian military is losing an estimated 1,000 men each week to death or injuries as the invasion appears to drag into a stalemate.



Israel’s Surprising Ally In The Middle East

Following Iran’s ballistic missile attacks on various sites in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish province in northern Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran claimed two secret Israelis bases were still active in the area.  Tehran issued an ultimatum: Shut down the remaining bases or face further military action.

Books can be written about Iranian aggression toward the Kurdish autonomy and Erbil’s complicated relations with Baghdad, but whether Iran’s claims that Israel is operating out of the autonomous area are true or not – the very insinuation of clear ties between Israel and a Muslim, Kurdish state entity in northern Iraq is notable.

The Kurdistan region in northern Iraq was established in 1992, during the Gulf War, when the US declared the area a no-fly zone – which led to the withdrawal of Saddam Hussein’s forces from the region.  Leaders of the Kurdish underground, the courageous Peshmerga, formed a parliament and a government, and Erbil was named the capital city.

Between 1994 and 1997 a bloody civil war raged between the two main Kurdish political factions.  The war ended in a political arrangement that brought a modicum of stability and democracy to the autonomous region.  Following the fall of the Saddam regime in 2003, the Kurdish region became part of the Iraqi Federation and gained autonomy.  This ushered in an era of significant economic prosperity.  Unlike Iraq, which descended into all-out war and endless recession, the Kurdish region grew and flourished.

The connection between the Jewish state and the Kurds in northern Iraq was forged long before the latter received any degree of autonomy.  The relationship can be traced all the way back to the 1960s when the Israeli government sought to create a coalition of non-Arab forces in the Middle East as a counter-balance to the united front posed by Arab countries in their fight against Israel.  With Iranian help (before the Iranian Islamic Revolution), the Mossad armed and trained those who fought under renowned Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani.  Kurdish leaders, including Barzani himself, visited Israel in secret during those years, while representatives of the Israeli government and army visited northern Iraq.

Israel’s connection to the Kurdish minority in Iraq reached a high point in 1966 when a Peshmerga force managed to wipe out an entire Iraqi brigade on its own in a battle south of Erbil.  Israel at the time even built a field hospital for the wounded Kurdish fighters.

In 1975, however, Iran severed its relations with the Kurds, and the link between Israel and the Kurds consequently suffered as well.

Despite the severed relations and the difficulties the Kurds encountered in their struggle for independence, the pro-Israel sentiment among much of the Kurdish leadership remained strong – and Israel even transferred humanitarian aid to northern Iraq via Turkey in the 1980s.

With the expulsion of Saddam’s forces from northern Iraq, Israeli-Kurdish relations began to improve once again.  In 2004, the leader of the Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani, met with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and the two declared cooperation in certain areas.  Barzani himself said after the meeting that if Iraq established diplomatic ties with Israel, he would work to establish an Israeli consulate in Erbil.  Over the years, foreign reports have indicated growing ties between Jerusalem and Erbil, and during the war against the Islamic State group between the years 2014-2017, it was reported that Israel helped the Peshmerga fight the terrorist group.

In light of the growing threat from Iran, many in Iraqi Kurdistan view the alliance with Israel as another link in the chain that will help assure the future of their autonomy and as a springboard to independence.

Dr. Mahdi Faraj, an expert on international relations from the Kurdish autonomy, said: We share many common traits.  In the past, the Kurds helped the Jews immigrate to Israel, and Israel helped the Kurds fight Saddam.  Like many Kurds, I’m happy over Israel’s success and am very familiar with its story.  I’d like to see Israel help resolve the Kurdish national question.”  



Children Saved By Israeli Doctors Dressed Up As Them For Purim

As part of the Purim tradition of donning costumes, the children of ‘Save a Child’s Heart’ (SACH) dressed up, last week, as the doctors who saved their lives.

Samir and Inas arrived on special flights to Israel to undergo life-saving heart surgeries about a month ago.  Samir from Zanzibar and Inas from Iraq were both born with complex and life-threatening heart defects.

Now, while recovering from their surgeries at the SACH Legacy Heritage Children’s Home in Holon, they celebrated Purim for the first time in their lives, despite coming from different cultures and were quick to adopt the custom of playing dress-up.

In a moving gesture, the children decided to dress themselves up as the doctors who saved their lives – Dr. Sagi Assa and Dr. Yosef Frei from Wolfson Hospital who treated them.

Samir and Inas wanted to surprise the doctors in the middle of their shift, so they wore doctor’s gowns, surgeon’s caps and stethoscopes when they arrived at the Sylvan Adams Children’s Hospital.

The doctors were touched by the gesture, amazed to see the little ones whose lives they saved in these special costumes.

The big doctors played along with the little doctors and allowed them to use real medical devices in the hospital to check their hearts.  The children hugged and thanked the medical team members who saved their lives in their native languages.