News Digest — 3/7/23

The Tomb Of The Book Of Esther Heroes In Iran

On the Eve of the Jewish festival of Purim, a special video documentation that reached Ynet shows the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai – the heroes of the biblical Book of Esther – in the city of Hamedan, Iran.

As a site of significant religious importance to the Jewish community, the authorities in Iran are making efforts to preserve the place from harm.

The relatively small Jewish community in Iran visits the site regularly, and every year before the holiday of Purim.  Emotional footage received by Ynet on the Eve of Purim 2023 gives a quick tour of the Tomb compound in Hebrew.

The cameraman behind the footage told Ynet: “Despite the rumors that the place was destroyed, we see that is not the case and that it is kept in good condition.  It is very exciting to maintain the connection and relationship with the Jewish community in Iran, and I hope that we can all arrive here one day safely and in peace.”

The story of Purim takes place in ancient Persia, where the Jewish people were living in exile.  The villain of the story Haman despises the Jewish people and convinces King Ahasuerus to issue a decree to kill all Jews in the kingdom.

Esther, a Jewish queen, reveals her identity to the king and pleads with him to spare her people.  With the help of her cousin Mordechai, Esther devised a plan to expose Haman’s evil intentions, and saved the Jews.

In ancient times, Persian Jews used to pilgrimage on the Holiday of Purim to the tomb in order to read the Megillah as close as possible to the central characters in the story.

Over the years, various customs and traditions have been established and attributed to the site, while there have also been calls from extremist elements in Iran to raze the compound, which honors figures that were responsible for saving the Jewish people.

Dr. Tamar Elam Gindin, an expert on Iran, once reported on her website about a large student demonstration near the gravesite of Mordechai and Esther. 

Dozens of students protested the site’s designation as a “National Heritage Site” and demanded the removal of the inscription designating it as a pilgrimage site.

The signs they carried bore the number 77,000 – the number of Persians who were killed, according to the Biblical account – which protesters dubbed “the Holocaust of the Iranians.”  (Unable to annul a formal royal decree, King Ahasuerus instead added to it, permitting the Jews to join together and destroy any and all of those seeking to kill them, Esther 8: 1-14.  According to Esther 9:16, the Jews killed 75,000 of their enemies).

In response to the protest, the tomb’s “National Heritage Site” designation was removed by authorities but restored shortly after thanks to protests from locals in Hamedan.

Following the dispute over the site, the place was set on fire May 2020, causing damage to the graves.  As a result, a series of Jewish organizations criticized the Iranian government for not protecting Historical Heritage Sites and enabling “hate crimes.”

Purim 2023 is celebrated in Israel on March 7th and in Jerusalem on the 8th.     



Reports In Syria: Iranian Targets Attacked At Aleppo Airport

Media outlets in Syria reported overnight Monday (6th) that explosions were heard in the vicinity of the military airport in the city of Aleppo, as a result of an airstrike which was attributed to Israel.

According to the reports, several targets belonging to Iranian militias were targeted.

It was also reported that Syria’s air-defense systems were activated against the missiles, which were fired, according to estimates, from the Mediterranean Sea.   A military official said that the airport was shut down due to damage to the runway.

No injuries were reported in the air strike.  

In mid-February, Syrian media reported a missile strike on the capital Damascus, which was blamed on Israel.  Reports said the air strike targeted a warehouse of Iranian arms that were on their way to the Hezbollah terrorist organization in Lebanon.  Sources said there were fatalities in the attack but there were conflicting reports concerning the numbers.  Syria said residential buildings were damaged.

In January, a convoy of 25 trucks crossing the border from Iraq to Syria was attacked from the air.  According to reports, the attacked convoy belonged to a pro-Iranian militia that carried weapons.



Shin Bet Says It Busted Turkey-Based Hamas Ring Planning Attacks In Israel

Four Palestinians from the West Bank were detained in recent weeks over plans to carry out attacks on behalf of the Hamas Terror group, the Shin Bet security agency said Monday (6th).

According to the Shin Bet, Ahmed Mahmoud Abu Salah, 24, a student, was arrested several weeks ago after returning from studying abroad.

The Shin Bet said that while in Turkey, Abu Salah was recruited by Hamas and carried out military training in Turkey and Syria.

The training included “weapons training and studying the manufacturing of explosives, in order to advance terror attacks against the State of Israel,” the agency said.

Before returning to the West Bank, Abu Salah allegedly  met with senior Hamas officials in Turkey, who instructed him to recruit others for a local cell to carry out terror attacks.

The interrogation of Abu Salah led to the arrest of three others, relatives of the main suspect, the Shin Bet said.  Iyas Mahmoud Abu Salah, 20, Salah Mahmoud Abu Salah, 23, and Hassin Fauz Aqra, 25, all planned to carry out attacks, including a bombing attack, according to the Shin Bet.

Iyas Mahmoud Abu Salah and Hassin Fauz Aqra sought to join Hamas in the Gaza Strip at one stage, the Shin Bet said.  The three additional suspects were also accused of hurling rocks at police officers on the Temple Mount during Ramadan in April 2022.

The Shin Bet said the four were regularly in contact with a relative who lives in Turkey, who is the son of a senior Hamas official there.

Abadah Abu Salah, the son of the senior Hamas member Salah Abu Salah (who is separate from the aforementioned Salah Mahmoud Abu Salah), worked “under the guidance of senior Hamas officials in Turkey,” especially Saleh al Arouri, who is regarded as the military commander of Hamas’ West Bank division, the Shin Bet said.

The agency said Abadah Abu Salah “took advantage of the family connection with the accused and their stay in Turkey for the purpose of studies, in order to recruit some of them.”

Turkey has long had close ties with the Gaza Strip-based Hamas, and hosts terror group officials and units in the country.  Jerusalem has also long pressed Ankara to crack down on Hamas’ activity in Turkey, arguing that the Gaza-based terror group uses its representatives there to orchestrate terror attacks against Israelis.



Azerbaijani FM To Visit Israel For Opening Of New Embassy In Tel Aviv

Azerbaijan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeyhun Bayramov will visit Israel on March 29 for the opening of his country’s embassy in Tel Aviv, marking the first visit of its kind in a decade.

During his stay, Bayramov will meet with President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen.

The decision to open an Azerbaijani embassy in Israel came in November, after the establishment of a trade office in Israel in April 2021.

The first-ever ambassador of Azerbaijan to Israel, Mukhtar Mammadov, arrived last week and is expected to present his credentials to Herzog in the coming days.

The arrival of the Azeri foreign minister, and the opening of the embassy, are important steps in strengthening ties between Israel and Azerbaijan – a Shia Muslim country bordering Iran and the first predominantly Shia country to have an embassy in Israel.

For years Azerbaijan, partly to avoid provoking its neighbor Iran, avoided opening an embassy in Israel.  However the two nations enjoyed close ties on defense, as 69 percent of Azerbaijan’s arms imports between 2016 and 2020 came from Israel.

With the signing of the Abraham Accords and the thawing of Israeli-Turkish relations, the fears of the Central Asian nation have diminished.

Upon the announcement of the opening of an embassy in Israel, Roman Gurevich, the Jewish Agency’s honorary envoy to his native Azerbaijan, expressed excitement.

“Azerbaijan is a tolerant Shia Muslim country, in which there has never been antisemitism.  The country has always respected the Jewish people, and the warm relations between the two nations will only grow stronger if an embassy of Azerbaijan opens in Israel,” he said.



As Mideast Tensions Rise, U.S. And Israel Practice Fighting Side-By-Side – Tom O’Connor

From Feb. 19 through March 1, U.S. Marines trained alongside the Israel Defense Forces in simulated urban combat, in an exercise known as Intrepid Maven.  IDF Lt.-Col. Gilad Pasternak, commander of the Israeli Training Battalion, said, “We were able to advance – to charge shoulder-by-shoulder with our allies, the Americans.”  He noted that the IDF “had the opportunity to train the Marines on infrastructure of the IDF, including live-fire instructions on Israeli weapons,” and that both sides were “able to learn operational lessons, also on the tactical level.”

The exercise addressed facing hidden explosives along with rocket and mortar fire, as well as efforts to detect  the sources of such enemy operations.  U.S. military personnel in both Iraq and Syria have faced rocket attacks attributed to militias aligned with Iran.

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Sean Styerwalt said, “It was great with us being able to work hand-in-hand with the IDF because the IDF has different tactics, techniques, and procedures….We were able to learn…from them and also, at the same time, were able to teach them some of our methods.”  One final exercise involved a combined IDF-US “red cell” unit playing the role of enemy combatants.



‘We’re Here To Help’ – Israeli Doctors Treat Brazilians In Amazon Rainforest, Slums

A delegation of Israeli doctors recently visited Brazil, treating rural communities in the Amazon rainforest and people living in the favelas (slums) in major cities.

The mission was headed by Dr. Ronit Almog, a gynecologist and the head of Tel Aviv-based Ichilov Hospital’s Bringing Life To The World Project, which aims to reduce maternal and infant mortality in developing countries.

Prof. Tamar Safra, director of the Center for Women’s Cancer at Ichilov hospital; Prof Ronella Marom, Pediatrics Specialist and director of Ichilov’s Neonatal Department, Gynecologist Dr. Ran Nagar and anesthesiologist Dr. Haim Greenberger participated in the mission.

The doctors first began seeing patients in Rio des Padres, an impoverished favela within Rio de Janeiro, the second most populous city in Brazil.

“We’re here to help the destitute, who live in extremely crowded conditions with no sense of security,” Almog told Ynet.  “People are afraid to walk the streets, and the option of advanced medical care is non-existent.  When they heard that doctors from Israel were coming over, they flocked here,”

“After seeing several hundred patients in the urban neighborhood, the doctors sailed along the Amazon River to four remote communities in the middle of the rainforest, treating locals at each stop.

“Most of the women who come here have specific problems that are related to them or their children,” Almog told Ynet.  The doctors treat the issues, then offer the women “tests to detect breast cancer or cervical cancer, because routine tests are almost non-existent here.”

The doctors transformed rooms within a ship into temporary medical facilities for patients who required more advanced treatment, with each specialist commandeering space aboard for their patients.

“No matter how much you treat people, there will always be thousands of others who will not receive treatment, mainly because of the unavailability of clinics, doctors or equipment,” Almog said.

“But even if what we are doing  is just a drop in the ocean, it’s a drop and then another drop and another drop.  In the end, it becomes a small sea.”

Israel’s Ambassador to Brazil Daniel Zonshine told Ynet that the doctors’ visit had a positive impact on the average Brazilian’s view of the Jewish State.

“The local media here covered the work of the doctors all throughout the mission, and the public was exposed to the beautiful face of our country,” he said.

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