News Digest — 3/26/21

Let Us Celebrate The Breaking The Bond Of The Coronavirus – Prof. Arnon Ofek

On Passover Eve, as Israel prepares to celebrate the Festival of Freedom and our people’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt, we also celebrate our liberation from the coronavirus.  The State of Israel is the first in the world to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s unbelievable that at this time last year, we were in the midst of the first wave of the pandemic, shuttered in our homes.  At the time, even just saying “we overcame Pharaoh, we will overcome this as well,” was perceived as detached from reality.

Yet, here we are, thanks to the extraordinary combination of the Israeli government importing enough vaccines, a public health system with rare capabilities, and the majority of the public answering the bell to get vaccinated – for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic we are seeing a consistent drop in the reproduction rate, percentage of positive tests and the number of patients in serious condition in our hospitals.  Not to mention the further opening of our schools, cultural events and businesses.

Israel’s recovery is particularly conspicuous amid the backdrop of the current situation in Europe, which is dealing with a vaccine shortage, a public disinterested in getting vaccinated, spiking morbidity rates, lockdowns and protests.  

This is also the time to open the borders to all Israelis.

Earlier this week, the High Court ruled that the restrictions the government imposed on entering and exiting the country were unconstitutional.  This is a welcome decision.  Israel can bring home its citizens from across the globe when they need help.

This year, when we sit around the Seder table with our slightly more expanded family, compared to last year, we will acknowledge the changes in our lives – for better and worse.  This year, we learned to appreciate the small things we used to take for granted, for example, meeting and hugging our elderly parents or being free to move and travel.  We learned the importance of unity between the various tribes.  It is not for nothing that the Jewish people were already split into tribes during the exodus from Egypt.  From then to now, our tribes have always been capable of overcoming divisions when it mattered most.

The person elected to lead this country will have to unite the tribes under one umbrella, in the vein of Moses and Aaron.

This year we learned the importance of education and the central role teachers play in society.  In the first century CE, when education was only accessible to the very few, the children of Israel were the first to be obligated to learn to read and write.  Today, more than 24% of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, which is notable in comparison to their miniscule percentage of the global population – 0.2%.

We have many reasons to give thanks and blessings this holiday, including special gratitude for the medical teams fighting even now to save the lives of their seriously ill patients.  We also offer our condolences to the families who lost their loved ones.

This is also the time, now more than ever, to remember that if we are united, no force in the world can defeat us.

NOTE: Passover begins Saturday, March 27 and ends Saturday, April 3.



Election Stalemate: Israeli Parties Search For Winning Combinations

Israel’s political parties were jockeying for position Thursday (25th) as the final ballots were counted from Israel’s fourth national election in the past two years.

However, with most of the counting done, it appears that the country is stuck with the same inconclusive result as the previous three elections, with no clear winner and political parties either prepared to make big concessions or head to a fifth election.

The 13 parties elected to the 120 seat Knesset are negotiating with each other to find a power-sharing arrangement whereby several of them together would make at least a 61-seat majority in the house.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party won 30 seats, the most of any party, but its potential coalition partners of the religious Shas (9) United Torah Judaism (7) and Religious Zionist (6) parties gives it a bloc of only 52 seats.

The opposition bloc that wants to oust Netanyahu from power is headed by the center-Left Yesh Atid party (17) and includes Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White (8), nationalist Israeli Beiteinu (7), Labor (7), New Hope (7), the left-wing Meretz (6) and the Arab Joint List (6), but that only comes to 57.

The potential kingmakers appear to be the right-wing Yemina Party (7), headed by Naftali Bennett and the Islamist Ra’am Party (4), led by Manour Abbas with a total of 11 potential swing votes.

Under the Israeli system, the head of state, President Reuven Rivlin, will next week invite representatives of all 13 parties to his official residence to ask them who they recommend to form a government. Based on who has the best chance of forming a coalition with at least 61 members, Rivlin will then give that person a month to put together a government.

As the results stood Thursday evening (25th), neither Netanyahu nor his opponents appeared able to get a majority in the Knesset.  There are still two months of potential wheeling and dealing left for the parties to make compromises before the country will be faced with the daunting scenario of having to return to the polls later for a fifth time – most likely in the fall, to try again.



Report: Iran Fired Missile At Israeli Ship In Arabian Sea

An Iranian missile was fired at an Israeli ship in the Arabian Sea, hitting and damaging it, News12 reported Thursday (25th).

The container ship is owned by an Israeli businessman and was making its way from Tanzania to India, according to the news media.

As the ship sailed between India and Oman, it was hit by a missile that damaged it, News12 said.

The incident was reported to Israeli security officials and to the company’s owners.  The ship is continuing on its path to India where the damage will be assessed.

Israeli security officials are examining the possible implications of the incident and estimate that it could mean Iran intends to attack more Israeli ships, the news stated. 

According to the report the ship is owned by XT Management, based in the port city of Haifa and was sailing under the Liberian flag.

Iran was also the main suspect behind an attack in late February on an Israeli-owned cargo vessel, the MV Helios Ray, that was damaged by a mysterious explosion in the Gulf of Oman.

“We will need to keep investigating, but we can say for sure that Iran is attempting to damage Israeli infrastructure and to hurt Israeli citizens,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz told Kan News.  He noted that the ship’s proximity to Iran during the incident has strengthened the suspicions against Tehran.

Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiee appeared to imply earlier this month that Iran is seeking to “secure the open seas,” suggesting a potential threat to Israeli ships.  He did not admit Iran’s involvement in the attack on the MV Helios Ray.



Israel’s Daily Battle To Block Iranian Aggression – Yaakov Lappin

Iran’s scheme for hegemony in the Middle East includes surrounding Israel with missile bases and heavily armed proxies, as well as earmarking territories further away, such as Iraq and Yemen, as future bases of attack.

Hezbollah, Iran’s flagship in Lebanon, is armed with more surface-to-surface firepower than most NATO armies.

Reports have emerged over the past two years of Iran moving missiles to Iraq, from where it can target Israel.  In January, the IDF moved an Iron Dome air defense battery to Eilat amid threats that Houthis in Yemen could target the city with long-range cruise missiles or drones on Iranian orders.  Newsweek reported in January that Iran deployed Shahed-136 suicide drones to Yemen.  They have a range of 1,370 miles, placing Israel in range.

It is clear that Iran intends to gain the ability to strike sensitive strategic targets in Sunni Arab states and Israel, and to do so from as many areas in the Middle East as possible.  Iran would like to one day extend a nuclear umbrella over its proxies, a development that would likely set off a nuclear arms race with Sunni powers threatened by Iran.

Israel is engaged in a long-standing shadow-war against Iranian weapons-smuggling and attempts to build military attack bases in the region, with a special focus on Syria.  This campaign includes action in multiple arenas and is part of Israel’s daily effort to defend its vital security interests without crossing the threshold of war.

(The writer is a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies At Bar-Ilan University)  



Matzah Tower Breaks Guinness World Record

Residents of the Azrieli Palace assisted living facility in Modi’in broke a world record this week by building a matzah and chocolate spread tower over 15 feet high.

Two hundred residents took turns building the tower, using matzah and the HaShachar Haole chocolate spread, a classic Israeli combination for Passover.

The tower consisted of 950 matzahs and weighed 22 pounds.

“We love the present and miss the past,” resident Perla Fleischman said.  “We used to eat the matzah with the chocolate spread as children.”

After the record was confirmed by Guinness World Records, Gili, the local chef, turned the tower into chocolate balls.