News Digest — 4/12/22

DM Gantz: Regional Alliance Needed Against Iran

Defense Minister Benny Gantz called for a regional alliance and an expansion of intelligence cooperation in order to make up for a lack of inspections on Iran’s nuclear project.

Speaking at a Washington Institute Policy Forum, Monday (11th), Gantz said that Iran is continuing its uranium enrichment and is close to 90% which is suitable for nuclear weapons “once they decide to reach it.”

He told the audience that while he understands America’s need for a nuclear agreement, the loopholes in the deal need to be closed, because “if you don’t close them, you will have serious problems down the road.”

Pointing to the war in Ukraine where Western countries are using economic and political pressure on Russia but are being “very careful” with military options because Moscow has nuclear capabilities, Gantz warned that this is not something Israel wants with Iran.

Gantz said that if a deal is not reached then Israel will activate Plan B “immediately.”

“We must make sure we are increasing our intelligence cooperation and creating an intel coalition that operates against Iran and compensates for a lack of inspection capabilities,” he said.

At the recent Negev Summit in southern Israel, Iran and regional cooperation were central topics between the foreign ministers from Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Egypt. 

In addition to strengthening ties with regional countries, Gantz said that Israel “will have to increase offensive capabilities, intercept regional activities carried out by Iran in other countries, increase our defensive capabilities and communicate with the Iranian society held hostage by the regime.”

Gantz told the audience that in addition to expanding intelligence cooperation with the Americans, there should be a regional intelligence coalition against Iran which also poses a threat to Gulf states.

In February, CENTCOM Commander Army Lt.-Gen. Michael Kurilla said that Israel’s incorporation into US Central Command has increased the possibility of a regional integrated and missile defense system against aerial threats.

“That’s probably the area with some of the greatest opportunities: working toward an integrated air and missile defense.  I think the addition of Israel… will help with that.  We are collectively stronger together, and there are areas where each one brings unique capabilities,” said Kurilla.

Israel formally moved from US European Command (EUCOM) to CENTCOM in September, a move that is believed to not only simplify the coordination with American troops in the region but can also create the potential for a regional coalition with Arab countries that have normalized ties with Israel against shared threats posed by Iran.

In March, senior Israel Air Force officers confirmed that Israel was working with countries in the region to counter threats coming from Iran, namely with drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles.

The officers said that “regional partnership is unprecedented” and there has already been cooperation with many countries in the region, including aerial drills and even operations.

According to foreign reports, Jordan has also allowed Israeli jets to use its airspace for its war-between-wars campaign in Syria where Israel continues to act against Iranian weapons transfers and other Iranian threats.

Increasing Israel’s cooperation with Gulf countries that are geographically closer to Iran will allow the IDF to stop threats even further from its borders.



Lebanon: At Least 1 Person Killed, 5 Injured In Explosion Near Sidon

At least one person was killed and five were injured in a fire and explosion near a scout center affiliated with the Shiite Hezbollah-allied Amal Movement in Bnaafoul near Sidon in southern Lebanon Monday night (11th), according to Lebanese media.

The victim killed in the explosion was identified by Lebanese media as the son of Bnaafoul’s mayor.

The cause of the explosion is still unclear.  The Iranian IRNA news site stated that according to some reports, the site of the blast was used by the Amal Movement to store ammunition and weapons.  The Lebanese al-Janoubia reported that the site was used as a weapons depot as well.

A security source told Reuters that the explosion was not caused by an act of sabotage.  According to the Lebanese daily Annahar, it was caused by a tank containing diesel fuel for generators – and shots were reportedly fired before the blast.

The explosion led to the destruction of the municipal council building and there was extensive damage to an adjacent building, according to the Lebanon news media.

A dispute broke out between the Lebanese Army and Amal members at the site on Tuesday morning (12th), according to Annahar.  

The Lebanese Red Cross told the paper that the exact number of victims is unknown and that teams are searching the site for the wounded.

The IDF has repeatedly warned that Hezbollah stores weapons near civilian buildings including schools, mosques and residences.



Chinese Embassy Is Suspected Of Trying To Spy On Israel’s Government Ministries

The Chinese government is suspected of trying to spy on Israeli government ministries, after a listening device was found concealed in a gift given to a government official.

According to a report Tuesday morning (12th) by Galei Tzahal, Israeli security officials are investigating the possibility that the Chinese embassy in Israel attempted to plant listening devices in Israeli government ministries.

Suspicions were aroused after a listening device was found concealed in a thermal mug given as a gift to an Israeli minister.

The listening device was found during a routine security check, the report said.

Following the discovery, authorities collected all thermal mugs given by the embassy to the ministries.

In addition, the government has imposed a new regulation regarding gifts from foreign entities to government ministry officials, requiring that all gifts receive security clearance.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that the matter is currently being investigated by the Shin Bet Israel Security Agency.



Abbas’ Senior Religious Advisor: Ramadan Is The Month Of Jihad, Conquest And Victory

Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ advisor on religious affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash declared on the first day of Ramadan that “in the same way that Muslim Prophet Muhammad engaged in war during Ramadan, so too the Palestinians should engage in jihad.”

Explaining how Muhammad embarked on the Battle of Badr in 624 CE and conquered Mecca during Ramadan, Al-Habbash, the head of the Sharia courts in the PA, clarified that Ramadan “is not a month of laziness but rather … as it was in the life of the Prophet, a month of jihad, conquest and victory.”

The Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reported that in the run-up to the Muslim month of Ramadan, the PA, “intensified its false rhetoric” that Israel was seeking to escalate violence and destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“Those calls were then used as a means to create hatred and recruit Palestinians to conduct terror attacks,” PMW explained.

There should be no misunderstanding.  The current terror wave in which five terrorists have murdered 14 people in Israel was initiated and is being fueled by the PA and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party,” PMW charged.

“In order to ignite and perpetrate the terror wave the PA and Fatah are using all their usual methods: implicit and direct calls for violence; demonization of Israel and Israelis; invoking the false claim that Israel/Israelis are planning to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque; attacking Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid for walking in Jerusalem;  and repeating sundry libels,” PMW warned.

In the history of Islam, Ramadan is considered a month in which the Muslims have had significant victories over the Persians, Mongols, Crusaders and Jews.

In recent years, extremist Muslim clerics have often underscored the connection between fasting, one of the five foundations of Islam, and jihad.  They stated that “he who can stand the testing of fasting can also stand the test of jihad,” and added that Allah examines his believers who meet the challenge of fasting before choosing them to meet the challenges of jihad.

Israel’s security establishment is bracing for further violence, especially as Ramadan coincides with Passover, and following the first anniversary of Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021, which was launched by the IDF following a Hamas rocket attack on Jerusalem that began at the height of the month of Ramadan.



Iran Threatens: We Won’t Hesitate To Fire Missiles At Bahrain – Lt.-Col. Michael Segall

→ Since Bahrain’s announcement of forging ties with Israel, demands within Iran to restore Bahrain to Iranian rule have returned at greater intensity.  Iran has repeatedly warned recently that it sees Israeli activity in Bahrain as endangering its own security interests and declares that it will not hesitate to attack targets in the kingdom, whether by itself or through its proxies.

→ Bahrain is of particular historical, religious, and political importance to Iran.  Bahrain was once under Persian rule (1602-1783), and as Iranian’s “14th Province,” it sent representatives to the Iranian majlis (parliament).  A recent documentary film, “The 14th Province,” has won prizes in Iranian film festivals organized by revolutionary elements.

→ A Sunni minority rules Bahrain’s Shiite majority, and part of the population is Persian in origin.  Increased Iranian subversion in the kingdom through local shiite terrorist groups and Shiite opposition parties operated by Iran is highly likely.  Leading Iranian media, such as Kayhan, which reflects the opinions of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, are already inciting Bahrainis to pick up arms.

→ Terrorist cells in Bahrain operate with Iranian supervision and funding.  Although most of these cells have been thwarted by Bahrain, those still active are capable of destabilizing the country if Iran turns up the flames.

→ Another question is whether Iran will try to invade Bahrain in a manner reminiscent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Tehran supports.  Bahrain is becoming more susceptible to an Iranian strike involving ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones on strategic targets in the kingdom, despite the fact that it hosts the US Navy’s main naval base for the Fifth Fleet in the Gulf region.

The writer is a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs