News Digest — 3/23/23

Poland, Israel Reach Agreement On Youth Trips, Return Of Ambassador

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen met Wednesday (22nd) with his Polish counterpart Zbigniew Rau to sign an agreement to resume the Israeli youth Holocaust trips to the Nazi concentration camps in Poland and to announce the return of the Polish ambassador to Israel.

Relations between Israel and Poland deteriorated after Poland passed two laws related to the history of the Holocaust. The first law makes it illegal to blame Poland for the horrors of the Holocaust, while the second restricts the rights of Jewish Holocaust survivors to reclaim property which was taken from them during World War II.

Former Prime Minister Yair Lapid delayed the appointment of an ambassador to Poland during his term as Foreign Minister in protest against these laws.  The current government has attempted to resolve the diplomatic dispute with Poland.

Minister Eli Cohen said: “We are opening a new page in relations with Poland.  The return of the Polish ambassador to Israel, along with the return of the youth delegations to Poland, are important moves to strengthen relations between our countries.”

“Poland is a very significant factor in Europe today and together with it we will continue to advance issues of political importance, such as the most effective ways to deal with the Iranian threat, whose terrorist metastases are already evident in Europe.  I emphasized to my colleagues that only the continuation of heavy economic and political sanctions, together with a credible military threat, will bring the desired results against the terror regime in Tehran,” he added.

Prime Minister Netanyahu praised the announcement, saying: “I am sure that it will lead to even closer cooperation between the two countries.  I look forward to the continuation of the dialogue and the strengthening of our relations.”



Nasrallah: Silence On Megiddo Bombing Is Psychological Warfare On Israel

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah refused to comment on the details of the bombing attack near Megiddo in a speech on Wednesday (22nd), stating “our silence is part of the psychological media war with the enemy.”

“It is not our responsibility to answer what confuses the enemy, and sometimes our answer is in not commenting on the incident,” added Nasrallah.

The Hezbollah leader rejected threats issued by Israeli officials concerning a possible retaliation against Lebanon, telling Israeli officials to “go to the sea and do whatever you want” and stressed that Hezbollah is “not afraid to go into battle.”

Nasrallah warned that “any Zionist aggression, whether military or security, that affects any area in Lebanon and any person, whether he is Lebanese, Palestinian or of another nationality, the resistance will definitely and quickly respond to it.”

The Hezbollah leader added that a war in Lebanon could lead to “a war throughout the region.”

Nasrallah additionally referenced the internal political crisis in Israel, saying “The Israeli entity is in crisis, and there has not been in the history of this entity such weakness and debilitation as there is today.”

Last week a terrorist infiltrated Israel from Lebanon and planted a roadside bomb near the Megiddo junction, seriously injuring an Israeli citizen.  The terrorist was found later the same day on Route 899 near the Lebanese border along with a driver.  During the attempt to arrest him, he was shot and killed after security forces believed he posed a threat to them.

Defense establishment sources reported on Tuesday (21st)  that the terrorist crossed the border into Israel by using a ladder and did not use an attack tunnel.

An initial investigation indicates that the terrorist who carried out the attack is Palestinian in background, implying that he is from one of the Palestinian camps in southern Lebanon, Army Radio reported last week.



Syrian Spy Caught By Israel Reveals Hezbollah’s Methods

A Syrian national arrested by Israeli security forces and accused of spying for Hezbollah revealed during his interrogation the terror groups’ espionage methods at the northern Israeli border, Ynet learned Wednesday (22nd).

Ghaith Abdullah, 24, was arrested in January after entering Israeli territory and faces charges of being a member of a terrorist group, espionage, and providing support and resources to foreign terrorist organizations.

During his interrogation, Abdullah also revealed the perks and the salary he was offered in exchange for his services.  “As far as he is concerned, he was offered a good job with a good salary,” the Israel Police said.

According to the indictment, Abdullah, who lives in the Syrian Golan, was recruited by a Hezbollah operative in late 2019 to monitor IDF maneuvers along the Syrian border, gather classified information and pass it on to his Hezbollah handlers.

About a month later, he received a camera and began taking photos and videos of the forces.  In every meeting with his handler Abu Ali, Abdullah handed over the full memory card, and the operator gave him a new, empty memory card so that he could continue to document IDF maneuvers.

Eight months later, the suspect learned that the man who he was involved with was a Hezbollah operative and yet he continued spying on the IDF.

“This is the first time we encountered an investigation of a living Hezbollah spy,” said Northern District Police First Sergeant Major Khaled Zein al-Din.

“For the first time we have investigated a Hezbollah man who has been spying on the IDF for several years and he revealed Hezbollah’s methods in the Golan.  The suspect has been questioned by me six times, for long, comprehensive, and interesting investigations.  He is a single Muslim who lives in the village of Al-Asbah, near Quneitra, is engaged and plans to marry.”

“His brother-in-law-to-be is a very senior Hezbollah operative who offered him work and linked him to his handler.  Abdullah was offered monthly payments and free passes through all Hezbollah checkpoints in Syria,” he added.



Former US Generals Urge Current US Administration To Arm Israel Heavily Against Iran

44 retired officers from the US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines published an open letter on Tuesday (21st) urging the United States to provide advanced weapons to Israel to deter and prevent a nuclear Iran.

The letter organized by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) and published in the political publication The Hill, calls for the delivery to Israel of C-46A aerial refueling tankers, F-151 and F-35 multirole fighters, and precision-guided bombs.

“As retired American military leaders who devoted our lives to the defense of our nation, we prefer a diplomatic solution that would genuinely end the threat posed by Iran’s escalating nuclear program.  But no such deal is imminent, nor realistic,” the letter said.  “The United States cannot pursue a deal while the Tehran regime brutalizes its own people and provides Russia with arms to target civilians in Ukraine.”

In February the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) detected uranium enriched to 84% at Iran’s Fordow Nuclear Power Plant.  The IAEA has previously said there was “no credible civilian justification” for Iran’s enrichment levels.  Uranium enriched to 3-5% is the level typically used for civilian nuclear reactors.  84% pure uranium is considered to be “highly enriched,” but remains short of the approximately 90% purity required for weapons grade uranium used in nuclear weapons.  CIA Director William Burns said in February that Iran could cross that threshold “within weeks”… if it decided to, but did not assess that they had done so.

Led by Air Force General Chuck Wald (ret) and Navy Vice Admiral John Bird (ret), Tuesday’s (21st) letter said there was only one way to prevent Iran from taking that step.

“The only thing that can stop Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold is a credible military threat,” the letter said.  “Only Israel offers that, since it alone demonstrates the will and effectiveness in containing and rolling back Iranian aggression and nuclear development.”

The Biden administration has repeatedly said that a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the 2015 Iran nuclear deal –  is “not on the agenda,” but has also refused to say the talks are “dead.”

“The Iranian regime has not been true to its word when it said early on in this administration that it sought a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said on March 14.  “It has consistently proven itself unable or unwilling to do so, and the JCPOA is no longer on the agenda.  But what very much is on the agenda is working with our European allies, other allies, and partners in the Middle East, and other partners in the world to do what we can to counter this program, to impose additional pressure on Iran in response to its intransigence and its continued advancements when it comes to its nuclear program.” 



Saudi State News: Saudi, Iranian Foreign Ministers To Meet, Discuss Reopening Embassies

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amirabdollahian, agreed in a phone call to meet soon and pave the way for the reopening of embassies between the two countries, Saud state news agency SPA  reported early on Thursday (23rd).

“Today, His Highness Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah, Minister of Foreign Affairs, made a phone call to His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hossein Amirabdollahian,” the report read.

“At the beginning of the call, the two sides exchanged congratulations on the occasion of the holy month of Ramadan.  The two ministers agreed to hold a bilateral meeting soon in order to pave the way for the reopening of embassies and consulates between the two countries.”

Earlier this month, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to re-establish relations after years of hostility that had threatened stability and security in the Gulf and helped fuel conflicts in the Middle East from Yemen to Syria.

Former prime minister Yair Lapid warned that the detente signals the end of Israel’s “defensive wall” against Iran, The Jerusalem Post reported earlier this month.

“[The rapprochement] reflects the complete and dangerous failure of the Israeli government’s foreign policy,” Lapid said.

A senior Israeli official blamed the governments of Lapid and former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for the development.



Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem Ranked In World’s Top 50 Tourist Attractions

Israel’s national Holocaust memorial museum Yad Vashem, in the capital of Jerusalem, is the 47th best tourist attraction in the world, according to a Stasher ranking, published earlier this month.

Yad Vashem, Hebrew for “hand and name,” is Israel’s preeminent Holocaust memorial and museum and commemorates the six million Jews systematically murdered by the Nazi regime.

Using data based on several different categories, the luggage storage network ranked the museum 47th on its list of tourist attractions.  Any locations missing more than one point of data were excluded from the list.

Topping the list is the Hungarian Parliament Building.  This was followed by Disneyland Paris, Iceland’s The Blue Lagoon, the Plaza de Espana, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, St. Peter’s Basilica, El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Argentina, the Acropolis of Athens, the Museum of New Zealand and Italy’s Milan Cathedral.

Yad Vashem outranked locations including the Burj Khalifa, The Eiffel Tower, Times Square, the Great Wall of China and Niagara Falls.

While there are many ways to evaluate tourist attractions, and while some may strongly disagree with the ordering of the list, Stasher’s evaluations of the locations were based on Google Reviews, Tik Tok engagement, distance from an airport, tourist safety and quality of local accommodation.

Still, the list is arguably inappropriate.  Undoubtedly, comparing locations such as Yad Vashem with places such as Disneyland and ranking them in terms of “better” or “worse” may not only be taken poorly, but it is problematic in that these locations have different goals and serve different purposes.

The criteria the Stasher list uses doesn’t address this, and lumping all “tourist attractions” together debatably views them through a far-too-broad lens.

Yad Vashem declares it is “entrusted with the task of commemorating, documenting, researching and educating about the Holocaust.”  It was created by an act of the Israeli government, not a private business.  While it may be architecturally stunning and its exhibits may evoke powerful emotions, its purpose is education, not earning money or providing a fun excursion to its visitors.

Still, that Yad Vashem would make the list is a testament to its fame, its efficacy and its impact on those who visit.