News Digest — 3/5/20

Report: Israeli Jets Hit Targets, Including Hezbollah Weapons Shipment In Syria

Syrian air defenses “confronted hostile targets” early Thursday morning (5th) in two areas – the first in Homs in the center of the country, and minutes later in Quneitra, on the Syrian Golan Heights near the border with Israel, Syria’s state-run news agency SANA reported.

The Syrian army later identified the hostile targets as Israeli warplanes which allegedly launched “a number of missiles” from Lebanese airspace.

Other Arab media outlets attributed the attacks to Israel as well.  According to a report in Lebanon, missiles destroyed targets in Homs.  Meanwhile a different report identified the target of the attack as a missile shipment earmarked for Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Among other targets hit included Syrian army bases and a military airport used by Hezbollah in the country, which was also attacked by Israel in 2018.

According to reports Israel’s “campaign between wars” has also included strikes against Iranian efforts to build a land-corridor linking Iraq to Syria for the purpose of transferring weapons and fighters.

Israel is determined not to allow Iran to build drone bases, missile factories and proxy terrorist networks with which to threaten its citizens, and the Israeli Air Force operates around the clock to monitor and disrupt emerging threats.



Israel Will Be ‘America’s Most Important Ally In The 21st Century’ Says Dermer

Israel is going to be ‘America’s most important ally in the 21st century,’ Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said on Tuesday (3rd).

Speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., Dermer said the two most important things the U.S. looks for in an ally are “security and technology.”

“When it comes to security, both Israel and Britain are America’s most reliable allies,” said Dermer, but when it comes to technology Britain is “not in the same time zone as Israel.”

“The future of technology will involve artificial intelligence, and the four countries that have made the most progress in that field are the United States, Israel, China and Russia,” said Dermer.  China and Russia are not allies of the United States,” he added. “Israel is.”

He went on to say that “10 years from now, when an Israeli ambassador is going to sit here, people are going to say, ‘Of course Israel is America’s most important ally in the 21st century.’”

Additionally, Dermer recalled in 2018, while he was touring the crematorium in Majdanek, a Nazi concentration camp in Poland, he discussed with U.S. national security advisers how to deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“If you ever needed to encapsulate the great transformation that has happened in the life of the Jewish people from a stateless and powerless people to a sovereign people that is capable of defending itself, it was right there,” said Dermer.  “And that’s why it was a remarkable event.”

Dermer also said that the Israeli government is thankful for President Donald Trump’s policies on Iran, arguing that Trump’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and sanctions on the Iranian regime have starved the “regime of the money it needs to fuel its war machine in the region.”

The Israeli ambassador said that the U.S. decision to kill Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani “has helped restore American power and deterrence in the Middle East,” arguing that “Iran and its proxies now know that the U.S. will take action to protect itself.”   



Purim Parades, Sporting Events Scrapped Over Coronavirus Fears

Concerts, sporting events and parades for the upcoming Purim holiday were canceled on Wednesday (4th) as the Health Ministry banned gatherings of over 5,000 people to stem the spread of the coronavirus.  Purim begins Monday (9th) at sundown and ends Tuesday evening (10th).

The Ministry’s announcement came days before the Purim holiday, when many cities hold carnival-type parades at the end of the winter, and races are often held before the weather turns too warm.

The cancellations included a concert in Tel Aviv, a soccer state cup quarter-final match in Haifa, and a race in Rishon Lezion.

According to Channel 12 the entire Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team was ordered into home quarantine after visiting Spain.

The central city of Holon announced it would scrap its annual Purim parade, which draws thousands each year and was scheduled for Tuesday (10th).  Many other cities throughout Israel are canceling all Purim events.

The cancellations came after authorities announced dramatic new measures aimed at stemming the spread of the COVID-19 virus, sending arrivals from five Western European nations into immediate quarantine and limiting mass gatherings in the country.

The Health Ministry has faced criticism for its extreme measures, with some saying it is unnecessarily panicking people and causing economic and diplomatic damage to the country.  Ministry officials have said they prefer to take a strict line than be sorry later.



IDF Chief Of Staff Cancels Trip To US Over Coronavirus

IDF Chief of Staff General Aviv Kochavi’s trip to the United States, scheduled to take place next week, will be postponed to another date, due to concerns about the coronavirus.

In the meantime, Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz instructed all government ministries to prohibit all civil servants from flying abroad as part of work travel, including travel that already has been approved.  The commissioner also urged civil servants to avoid private travel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the Health Ministry Wednesday afternoon (4th) to announce additional restrictions on tens of thousands of Israelis who have returned to Israel in the past two weeks or will soon return from European countries.  As a result, the government has posted a list of 11 guidelines for Israelis to follow to further stem the spread of the deadly virus.



Innovative Light-Blade Laser Can Cut Down Hamas, Iranian Attack Drones – Donna Rachel Edmunds

A laser-based defense system capable of taking out attack drones even in urban environments has been developed by Israeli experts, who hope to roll out the system for a range of security uses, including at airports.

The system was developed by Prof. Amiel Ishaaya at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev after incendiary balloons started being launched into Israel in 2018, setting fire to farmland and causing widespread damage.  Realizing that no one was looking into a way to prevent the balloons from posing a threat, Ishaaya, an expert on lasers, contacted industry experts. Together, they developed the Lahav-Or, or Light Blade defense system. 

“We just worked on a laser system for cutting thick plastic for greenhouses.  Kites and balloons are made of similar materials,” he recalled.

Together with Dr. Rami Aharoni and the backing of Border Police commander Yaakov (Kobi) Shabtai, Ishaaya founded OptiDefense to develop the system, working on a shoe-string budget of just a few million shekels to develop a prototype within a year.

Last month, the team proved the efficacy of their system by downing explosive balloons traveling across the border from Gaza.  The system was paired with Elbit’s SuperVISIR threat detection system in the test, and operated by the Border Police. “We succeeded in downing everything that came within our field of fire,” Ishaaya said.  However, OptiDefense has set its sights on bigger targets.

Attack drones are becoming increasingly common threats, but at the moment require a communication link to either their handler or a GPS system in order to operate, meaning that they can be downed by electronic jamming systems – known as a “soft kill.”  Future generations of drones are expected to do away with this weakness and operate completely autonomously. In order to neutralize the threat, a”hard kill” option would need to be employed to shoot the drone out of the air. This is where the Lahav-Or system comes in.

“In order to operate most high-powered laser defense systems, the airspace needs to be cleared for many kilometers around, so the laser does not accidently blind anyone.  Our system operates on a lower frequency which makes it safer for urban environments. Airports, for example, could station our systems around different areas to provide complete coverage without endangering any pilot or passenger,” said Ishaaya.