News Digest — 3/30/23

Israeli Airstrike Near Damascus Wounds 2 Soldiers, State Media Says

Loud explosions were heard in the Damascus area overnight Thursday (30th), Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

Syrian television claimed that the explosions were caused by an Israeli strike on the capital and that air defense systems were activated to intercept the missiles. 

The UK-based opposition war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that there were casualties, and smoke was seen rising from the scene of the attack.

According to state-run media, two soldiers were wounded.  “Israel launched several missiles from the Golan Heights towards the capital.  Two soldiers were injured and damage was caused in the area,” the report said, adding that some of the incoming missiles were shot down.

Last week, a strike against the Aleppo airport was attributed to Israel.  It was the third attack on the airfield in six months and resulted in the airport being shut down for repairs.  According to the state television report, four missiles had hit the airfield, setting off air defense systems, and large blasts rocked the area.

A week earlier another strike targeted a weapons depot belonging to pro-Iranian forces located between the Tartus and Hama provinces, which according to the watchdog resulted in the killing of two pro-Iran fighters and the wounding of three Syrian soldiers.



Former US Ambassador To The UN Criticizes Biden For Judicial Overhaul Comments

Nikki Haley, former US Ambassador to the UN, blasted US President Joe Biden on Thursday (30th) for his comments on the Israeli government’s proposed judicial overhaul directed towards Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It’s outrageous for the US President to lecture Israel on a matter that is entirely their domestic concern,” Haley said in a statement, later also posting her words on her Twitter account.

“We would never want the Israeli government to push America on issues surrounding our Supreme Court, and they wouldn’t do it,” she explained.  “We should let Israelis decide this themselves.”

“To get this sort of pious talk coming out of these characters, but they are as anti-democratic as you could possibly imagine,” said Richard Epstein, the director of the Classical Liberal Institute and a lecturer at NYU Law.

Netanyahu has dismissed Biden’s initiation for a proper debate between Israel and the United States, but affirmed the enduring strength of the relationship between the two countries, saying it was “unshakeable.”



Azerbaijan Opens Tel Aviv Embassy, Israel Seeks Tighter Anti-Iran Ties

Azerbaijan became the first Shia Muslim country to open an embassy in Israel on Wednesday (29th), as the Jewish state looks to tighten military ties between the two countries against Iran.

“Israel and Azerbaijan share the same perception of the Iranian threats,” Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov when they met in his Jerusalem office, hours before the embassy’s opening reception.

Israel and Azerbaijan share the same perception of the Iranian threats,” Cohen said, adding that the Islamic Republic “threatens both our regions and destabilizes the entire Middle East.”

Azerbaijan, which borders both Russia and Iran, chooses to increase its public alliance with Israel precisely at a time when its two neighbors, Moscow and Tehran, are strengthening their military ties.

Azerbaijan and Israel have a strong history of military cooperation – the country is considered a possible landing site for IDF aircraft in any potential military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Azerbaijan’s first-ever ambassador to Israel Mukhtar Mammadov, has already clarified to The Jerusalem Post that the IDF cannot use his country to refuel its planes in any military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Cohen, however, underscored the importance of a military alliance between the two countries, when he met with Bayramov.

“We must act together to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capabilities,” Cohen said.  “The way to do it is by using political and economic tools while at the same time formulating a reliable and decisive military threat.”

Israel was one of the first countries to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991.  It formed diplomatic ties with it in 1992 and opened an embassy there a year later.

Cohen spoke about the importance of strengthening the relationship, particularly financial ties, as he explained that he planned to lead an economic delegation to Baku next month.

“The opening of the Azerbaijani embassy in Israel is further evidence of the strengthening of relations between our countries.  Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, and its strategic location makes the relationship between us of great importance and great potential,” Cohen said.

Bayramov did not mention Iran, during his press conference with Cohen.

Bayramov said that with the opening of the embassy, the two countries had entered a new improved phase in their relationship, particularly with respect to increased economic ties.  He noted that 14 Israeli companies operate in his country, which provides Israel with 30% of its oil.

“There is a huge potential for Israel to bring its advanced technology to Azerbaijan” which is “keen to attract innovation and artificial intelligence-based investments,” Bayramov said.  He added that Azerbaijan was particularly interested in Israeli agriculture and water technology.



Greece Reveals Identity Of Suspects In Plot To Attack Local Chabad Center

Greek media on Wednesday (29th) identified the two Pakistani nationals who were arrested a day earlier in Athens on suspicion of planning to carry out an attack on the city’s Chabad center.

The men who were of Iranian origin were in Greece illegally and working in agriculture.  They were sent by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds force to attack a kosher restaurant inside the center and were allegedly being paid between $10,000 to $15,000 for each Israeli murdered.

According to the reports, Greek anti-terror police forces raided the home of one of the men identified as 27-year-old Haider, a month ago and arrested him after he was under observation for a number of days.

The reports also said the men had rented an apartment in the Omonia district of Athens and conducted surveillance of their target from there.  Their intention was to attack during the Passover holiday when Israelis were expected to visit the Chabad center in large numbers.

In their questioning, the men said they were instructed to kill as many Jews as possible but after being told what to do by an Iranian they had known from Pakistan, they struggled to obtain weapons and since they were undocumented, planned instead to blow up the restaurant using gas containers.  It is unclear how advanced their plans were.

In an unusual statement, Israel said on Tuesday (28th), that the Mossad assisted in “intelligence priming of the network, the methods of operation and the connection to Iran.”

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the investigation revealed that the network that operated in Greece is part of a wider Iranian network that spans many countries and receives its instructions from Tehran.

Chabad emissary to Athens Mendel Handel thanked local authorities for foiling the attack.  “This place is very secure and security is taken seriously.  Thank God that we have authorities that thwarted the attack,” he said.

“There is no fear, they worry more about security here, and this is relevant to every other place in the world that has a Jewish identity.”



Israeli Arabs Urged To Show Presence At Al-Aqsa Mosque

The Arab leadership in Israel and the leadership of the Hamas terrorist organization are encouraging Muslims in Israel to go up to the Al Aqsa Mosque during the month of Ramadan.

Mahmoud Mawasi, a member of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab citizens of Israel, called on Israeli Arabs to come to the mosque and stop what he defined as settler invasions of the Temple Mount.

The Hamas television channel Al-Aqsa reported that Mawasi stressed the importance of being present at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, conducting prayers there, and working to “thwart Israel’s Judaization plans.”

“The Zionist occupation strives to increase the number of invasions into the territory of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque in the coming days of the month of Ramadan.  It is the duty of every Palestinian to protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the Zionist occupation” Mawasi was quoted as saying.

Mohammed Hamada, a Hamas spokesman in Jerusalem who is currently in the Gaza Strip, condemned “the settlers’ invasion of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the extension of their daily invasion hours by occupying the holy site.”

“We call on our people in the West Bank and in Palestine, which has been occupied since 1948 to come in greater numbers (to the Al-Aqsa Mosque) and hold prayers there in order to revive the Islamic tradition and as an expression of resistance to the occupation and the Zionist falsification machine of history,” claimed Hamada.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has frequently denied any Jewish connection to Jerusalem or the Jewish holy sites in the city, including the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.  Jews who visit the Temple Mount are forbidden by police from praying and are frequently accused of “storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque” and performing “Talmudic rituals” in the Arabic press.

Arabs continuously accuse Israel of “Judaizing” the Temple Mount, sometimes resorting to ridiculous propaganda such as accusing Israel of using chemicals to erode the foundations of the mosque in order to cause it to collapse.

In 2020, the official PA television aired a program claiming that the Western Wall is exclusively Muslim and that “not even one rock” from the site is Jewish.



Jewish Politician In Finland Assaulted And Hit With Antisemitic Slurs

A Jewish member of Finland’s parliament said he was assaulted in a Helsinki subway station on Saturday (25th), where an assailant punched him in the face and hurled antisemitic insults.

Ben Berl Zyskowicz, a member of the conservative-leaning National Coalition Party, said that, in addition to the antisemitic comments, the assailant blamed him for the recent attempts to join the NATO alliance, the Associated Press reported.

Zyskowicz, who is the son of a Polish Holocaust survivor and a Finnish Jew, added that he was unfazed but felt the attack had dire meaning for Democracy in Finland.

“Physically attacking candidates must under no circumstances become part of Finnish society, even as a completely marginal phenomenon.” Zyskowicz said, according to Finnish media.

President Sauli Niinisto called the assault an “offense against the people’s power.”

According to Finnish police, the assailant was apprehended the same day, though his identity has not been revealed.

Fewer than 2,000 Jews live in Finland, according to the World Jewish Congress, but in 2021, the Helsinki Jewish Community reported they spend nearly half a million euros a year on security.  Last year, the European Union’s antisemitism commissioner criticized Finland for not having an official framework to deal with antisemitic  crimes in the country.

Finland has long taken a neutral position on Russia, a country it shares a border with.  But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February has reignited debate in the Scandinavian nation over NATO membership.  Zyskowicz’s National Coalition Party has been advocating NATO membership for decades.