News Digest — 3/3/23

Israel To Open Embassy In Turkmenistan, Closest To Iran

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen is expected to soon leave for Turkmenistan – the central Asian country that shares a long border with Iran – to officially inaugurate a permanent Israeli embassy in the capital city of Ashgabat.

The embassy will be the closest official Israeli mission to an Iranian border, only some 12 miles away.

Turkmenistan, a Muslim-majority country, established relations with Israel in the run-up to its declaration of independence in 1991.  About a decade ago, in light of good relations between the two states, Israel opened a temporary embassy there with a temporary structure, now permanent.

The permanent building was constructed specifically for the to-be-inaugurated embassy, like the Israeli mission in Azerbaijan, which also shares a border with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Over the years, Israeli and Turkmeni senior officials have visited each other’s countries, signing agreements of cooperation in the fields of politics, economics, and energy.  Recently progress has been made in the collaboration of health and cyber defense.

Cohen’s visit to Turkmenistan and the embassy’s inauguration are intended to send a message to Iran that Israel is a present and growing influence in the region.

Cohen told Israel Hayom that “relations between Israel and Turkmenistan are important and strategic, and are part of the activity aimed at strengthening relations with the entire region.  We will continue to promote economic cooperation between the countries, among others, and in the fields of health and cyber defense.”

“The inauguration of the embassy building is another sign of the strengthening of relations between Israel and Turkmenistan and marks over thirty years of the establishment of relations between the two countries,” he said.



Report: Israel Fears Russia Will Supply S-400s To Iran

Iran is seeking sophisticated new air defense systems from Russia that Israeli officials say would reduce the window of a potential attack on Tehran’s nuclear program, media reported Thursday (2nd), citing people familiar with the issue.

Israeli and American sources told Bloomberg that the prospect of Tehran obtaining these systems, the S-400s, would speed up the decision on a possible attack on Iranian nuclear sites.

Russia has not said publicly whether it will supply the weapons, but Moscow and Tehran have grown closer since Moscow invaded Ukraine.  It would then take less than two years for the S-400s delivered to Iran to be operational.

The Russian air defense system, which can hit air targets at a distance of up to 155 miles, would create a “red zone for high-altitude aircraft,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, a former senior Israeli military intelligence official.  “We are analyzing the most opportune time to take action.” 

Analysts also believe that an open military conflict with Iran could trigger an unprecedented regional confrontation, and affect the world’s oil supply.  Russia has offered Iran “unprecedented defense cooperation, including in the field of missiles, electronics and air defense” and may supply Tehran with fighter jets, the U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said last Friday (2/24).

Iran’s nuclear efforts have been a growing concern since international observers detected 84% enriched uranium, just below the 90% needed to make a nuclear bomb.



Israeli Medical Delegation Trains Berlin Hospital For Potential Missile Attack

An Israeli medical delegation recently visited Germany to train the staff of a major Berlin hospital how to continue operating at times of war, especially during missile attacks.

The German government had reached out to the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center requesting such training  as fears of the Ukraine war overflowing into other parts of Europe continues to grow.

Simulations included a possible strike from Kalingingrad, a Russian semi-enclave of the Baltic states.  Analysts estimate that ballistic missiles that are housed in the port city – located between Lithuania and Poland – could reach Germany in as little as five minutes.

Berlin’s Charite Hospital has a staff of 23,000 and can accommodate thousands of patients.  One of its campuses is located near the Bundestag and is therefore feared to be at risk in case of a strike on the parliament.

Dr. Yoel Har-Even, Sheba’s director of the International Division and  Resource Development and leader of the delegation said that the hospital infrastructure was unprepared for such a conflict because Germany “has not faced security threats for 80 years now.”

“The local government is very worried about the possibility of the Ukraine war getting out of control and about the certain ability that the Russians have to attack them”, he said.



Shooting Victim’s Sister To PM Netanyahu: ‘Give Us Back Our Security’

Rachel Yaniv, the younger sister of Hillel and Yagel Yaniv, the two brothers who were murdered in a terror attack in the Arab village of Huwara on Sunday (2/26), spoke on Thursday (2nd) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he came to pay a shiva visit to the family at their home in Har Bracha. 

The 16-year-old bereaved sister told the Prime Minister: “We have no security.”

In a recording obtained by Channel 12 News, Rachel said that she had to be saved from three separate stone-throwing attacks recently.

“There are things that I haven’t spoken about before, I didn’t even tell my parents so as not to worry them, but I had stones thrown at me three times in one month.  So many bereaved families come here and they strengthen me a lot, but why are there so many like us who have lost loved ones?  These are amazing people who did not come here just once to comfort mourners or to inaugurate a new building, but people who live here every day.  This is our road.  But there must be security, there must be deterrence,” she said.

She added, “Something must be done here, anything.  I don’t know what.  I’m not the prime minister and I don’t have solutions, but I’m crying out from the bottom of my heart over the blood of my brothers – this really cannot continue.  This is unacceptable.  We are two bereaved families out of eight.  It’s indescribable.  It’s not only mine and my brothers’ blood, but the blood of the entire nation of Israel.”

“I will continue to live here, this is my country and my grandparents fought for this country and I deserve to drive on the roads here and I will continue to drive on them and I just want to drive on them safely,” Rachel declared.

Netanyahu replied to her: “You are truly speaking from the bottom of your heart.  We made a series of decisions that I will not repeat here – despite international pressure – to strengthen the settlements.”

Netanyahu also told Esti Yaniv, the victims’ mother: “You talk from the bottom of your heart also, the land of Israel is obtained through suffering; there is no bigger suffering than this.”

Netanyahu added: “This heinous murder, if they only could, they would murder us all, until the last one, they want to uproot us from our homeland, we must deepen our roots, our settlement in the land, and in the end, we will win this battle.  We will win.”

“Look what was here fifty years ago and what we have now.  You were uprooted from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip.  That won’t happen again.  On the contrary, we will build,” Netanyahu concluded.



Syrian Hezbollah Agent Indicted For Spying And Terrorism After Capture In Israel

A Syrian Hezbollah agent was indicted for espionage and terrorism, the Attorney General’s Office announced, after the suspect was caught in an IDF ambush when he infiltrated Israeli territory on January 27.

Ayat Abdullah and another man, Abed al-Rahman, were recruited and paid to observe and report on troop strength, vehicle types and amounts, operational hours and routes of IDF forces, by a Hezbollah operative who initially posed as a Syrian state security officer.

The duo would spy on IDF forces along the fence and meet with their handler bi-monthly for reports and payment.  According to the announcement, Rahman was killed in an explosion in May 2022, which Hezbollah claimed was caused by an Israeli missile assassination.

Rahman’s widow and family continued to receive a salary of 180,000 Syrian pounds, the same as Abdullah’s wages.  The handler also gave Abdullah 4.5 million pounds to give to the widow, who was also his sister.  The Attorney General’s Office indicated that such rewards beyond death for service were intentionally made obvious to Abdullah.

Abdullah continued to spy on IDF activities from Syrian territory even after his partner’s death, using a new camera to document the Israelis.

The Attorney General said that during these operations, Abdullah was fully cognizant that the information would be used to harm Israel.

In January, the suspect entered Israel, though the announcement didn’t elaborate on the operational reason.



Behind Israel’s Curiously High Fertility Rate – Danielle Kubes

Israel’s fertility rate – 2.9 – is the highest in the OECD by a wide margin, nearly double Canada’s fertility rate of 1.5.  Israel is an outlier among developed countries with advanced economies, educated populations, and high female workforce participation.  The real story is the high birth rate of traditional and secular Jewish couples.

“Anyone who lives here is expected to have children,” Sigal Gooldin, a Hebrew University sociologist, told The New York Times.  “In casual conversation you will be asked how many children you have and if you say one, people will ask why only one, and if you say two, why only two?”  Why both moderately religious and non religious couples are choosing to have children is a mystery to demographers, as it is in opposition to trends in Europe, North America and Asia.

The real secret to Israel’s fertility rates appears to be cultural.  The family is at the absolute center of Israeli life.  Getting married and having children is the highest cultural value.  Holocaust generational trauma is also part of the story.  The global population of Jews is still lower than what it was before the Second World War and there is a sense among Israelis that they have a duty to replenish those numbers.

But most importantly, children are seen as a blessing instead of a burden.  I have never heard an Israeli lament the cost of having children and the impact more humans will have on climate change.  Despite the fact that they live in a land where they know they will have to send their children into the army at 18, they aren’t afraid to bring children into the world.  Rather, they believe the only way to make a better world is to have children.  (National Post – Canada)