News Digest — 4/12/21

Iran’s Zarif Blames Israel For Natanz Attack, Vows Revenge

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif blamed Israel for an incident at Natanz nuclear facility that occurred on Sunday (11th).  He joined an increasing number of Iranian officials describing the incident as sabotage or “terrorism.”  His comments appeared on state television on Monday morning (12th).

“The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions…they have publicly said that they will not allow this.  But we will take our revenge from the Zionists,” Zarif said.

On Sunday afternoon (11th), Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said there was an act of “nuclear terrorism.”  The act was carried out by “opponents of the country’s industrial and political progress, who aim to prevent development of a thriving nuclear industry,” he said, according to reports.

Zarif’s comments on Monday morning (12th) appear to be building to a crescendo that could indicate Iran intends to retaliate.

In the 24 hours after the damage was first reported, and first ascribed to a failed electrical grid that harmed the facility, increasing details have emerged about a major setback to Iran’s nuclear program.  Tehran had just boasted on Saturday (10th) about using new advanced centrifuges at Natanz.

The attack comes almost a week after an Iranian ship was allegedly attacked in the Red Sea, an attack that the New York Times has ascribed to Israel.

Iran’s own media is quieter about the incident at Natanz.  It was not front-page news on Tasnim, Fars, or other Iranian channels.  This may be due to the fact that the Islamic Republic wants to message one thing to the international community, complaining about sabotage and Israel, while messaging something else at home.  It has boasted about its successes at Natanz, a facility that also suffered sabotage in July 2020.

Tehran says that the facility is more secure, so the incident on April 11 is embarrassing.  At the same time, Iran wants to feed information to its pro-lobby in the West where it pretends to be a victim and where Iranian “moderates” are portrayed as embattled and in need of support via a new Iran deal.

Iran tries to present Israel as sabotaging that deal.  It also uses narratives about a possible conflict in the region to threaten Western countries.



Israel’s Enemies ‘Weighing Their Actions Carefully’

Israel’s enemies are watching the IDF’s actions in the Middle East, seeing our capabilities, and are weighing their next steps carefully, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said Sunday (11th) at a ceremony at Mount Herzl honoring Israel’s fallen soldiers.

“Thanks to sophisticated operational activity, this past year has been one of the most secure Israel’s citizens have ever known.  We will continue to act with might and with judgment, with determination and responsibility, to ensure the security of the State of Israel,” Kochavi said.

Addressing a large-scale drill the IDF is scheduled to hold in Cyprus this summer, which was first reported by Israel Hayom, Kochavi said that “The IDF is on guard with improved offensive powers, which can at any moment switch from a drill to a real operation.  This will be a full month of warfare.”

The IDF chief also addressed the families of Israel’s captive citizens and missing soldiers, saying that Israel is “committed to making every effort so they will return to you and to our nation.  Efforts on the issue are ongoing and are taking place appropriately, behind closed doors.”

Other defense and security officials participating in Sunday’s (11th) ceremony included Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, Shin Bet Security Agency Director Nadav Argaman, and Israel Prisons Service Commissioner, Katy Perry.

During the ceremony, flags were placed on the graves at Mount Herzl to honor the 23,928 men and women who were killed in Israel’s wars.

Due to COVID, the IDF has asked the public to keep away from military cemeteries and allow the families of the fallen to visit without additional crowds on Memorial Day itself, which begins the evening of Tuesday, April 13.  The general public is invited to visit military cemeteries before Tuesday .

At 8 p.m. Tuesday evening, a one-minute siren will sound nationwide to mark the beginning of Memorial Day 2021.  Immediately after the siren, memorial events will begin nationwide.  As usual, the main state event will take place at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, April 14, a two-minute siren will sound at 11 a.m., to be followed by ceremonies at 52 military cemeteries across the country.  Mount Herzl will host the main ceremony, which will begin with a special flyover to honor the fallen.



Is Israel Behind The Natanz Nuclear Mishap?  Chief Of Staff Says “Our Actions Are Not Hidden From Enemy Eyes”

On the same day that Iran reported an accident at a nuclear facility, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi made remarks that some say hint at possible Israel involvement in the incident.

On Sunday (11th) at a pre-Memorial Day ceremony at Mount Herzl national cemetery, Kochavi said, “The Israel Defense Forces’ actions throughout the Middle East are not hidden from our enemies’ eyes.  They are watching us, seeing our capabilities and carefully considering their next steps.”

His comments followed on the heels of Iran’s revelation Sunday morning (11th) that the Natanz nuclear facility suffered an accident a day after it inaugurated new uranium enrichment centrifuges.

“The cause of the incident is under investigation,” Iran’s PressTV reported.

Kochavi’s comments may have been coincidental but many noted how they dovetailed with the incident.

The accident at Natanz comes a day after the Islamic Republic inaugurated its IR-9 centrifuges, which separate uranium isotopes 50 times faster than Iran’s current centrifuges.  

Western analysts say that the incident was an intentional cyberattack.  A member of Iran’s parliament has also said that the country suspects there is a “high probability” that it was no accident but a purposeful attack.

In July 2020, Natanz was the site of an explosion at its new centrifuge assembly center.  Iran downplayed the incident, initially calling it a fire.

Since January, Iran has been enriching uranium up to 20% at its Fordow underground nuclear facility, in violation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.  According to the accords, it can only enrich up to 3.67%.

This latest accident came Sunday (11th), the day US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Israel for his first official visit.

Austin met with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and did not refer to Iran at a press conference following the meeting, but offered reassuring words regarding the US-Israel relationship.  “I reaffirmed to Minister Gantz our commitment to Israel is enduring and it is ironclad,” he said.



PA Builds Illegal School In Jordan Valley Nature Reserve

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has built a new school in the site of the historic Hamam al Maliakh hot springs, located in the heart of the Jordan Valley’s Bazak Nature Reserve.  The site is in Area C, under full Israeli jurisdiction.

Some years ago, an Arab family took over the site, turning the historical structure into a private residence and making structural changes as if it was personal property.

Now, aside from the illegal invasion and damage to the site, insult has been added to injury: a new school has sprung up at the site in recent weeks, complete with signage announcing that the construction was funded by the European Union and group of European countries – all of which have been playing an increasingly significant role in the PA’s quiet takeover of Area C in recent year. 

The new school is adorned with colorful wall murals – as well as tarpaulin sheets that are meant to hide the illegal structure from the eyes of Civil Administration inspectors.

Regavim turned to the Civil Administration seeking answers: “How is it possible that a school was built in the heart of an historic site located in a national nature reserve – and no one did a thing to stop it?”

Eitan Melet, Regavim’s Field Coordinator for Judea and Samaria, explains: “The Palestinian Authority is playing hide and seek with the Civil Administration.  The PA builds ‘confrontation schools’ – illegal schools in Area C – for the purpose of anchoring a network of outposts in Area C.  The Palestinians come up with new inventive ways of camouflaging their activities, and the Civil Administration, either intentionally or unintentionally, continues to fall into the very effective trap that the PA is using over and over again: Once these illegal schools are completed, they create a win-win public relations headache which the Civil Administration hasn’t learned to contend with.  The PA appears to be the only team on the playing field.” 



19 Years After Djerba Synagogue Bombing, Tunisian Jews “Again Live In Fear”

Nineteen years ago precisely, on April 11, 2002, there was a bombing at a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia.  A truck fitted with explosives blew up by the entrance of the El Ghriba synagogue killing 21 people.  Since then the local Jewish community has lived in relative peace, that is until a couple months ago when the police and local residents began to harass them, the Jewish residents claim.

“About a month and a half ago, the president of Tunisia, Kais Saied accused Jews of terrible things and then apologized and said that he is not against Jews in Tunisia,” one Jewish resident, who chose to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from local authorities said. 

“Despite his apology, the Jews of Djerba have been suffering from anti-Semitism ever since.  On Passover, a 10-year-old boy, the grandson of Rabbi Haim Bittan [Chief Rabbi of Tunisia], was walking in the street when he was attacked by someone, for no reason,” said the Jewish resident. 

He continued, “Last week, a 19-year-old Jewish girl was attacked by two men on motorcycles.  They tried to strangle her, but when she screamed, the neighbors rushed to her help, and the motorcyclists fled.”

“ We are terrified.  It is not simple to live this way. The police check us all the time and harass us, and every time they enter our quarter they hound us.”

“One of the policemen, who saw my ID that states I am Jewish, detained me for half an hour for no reason.  They are really harassing us.”

“Each time they enter our quarter, they ask us to stand on the sides.  It reminds us of dark times, and we want this to stop.  We are living in fear,” he said.

“Even though the police did catch the motorcyclists who attacked the girl, ever since the president took office, he has been inciting against us, and we are suffering.  There are about 1,200 Jews in Djerba now, and everyone is talking about the difficult days we are living through.  It’s been a few days sinc Holocaust Remembrance Day, and 2021 has no room for hatred,” concluded the anonymous resident of the Djerba community.