News Digest — 4/14/22

Herzog To Host Lone Soldiers, Ukrainian Immigrants At Passover Seder

Now that Seder night is free of social restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal – who are hosting their first Seder at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem – will revert to the time-honored custom of hosting lone soldiers.  In addition, they will also host an immigrant family from Ukraine that arrived in Israel last month after crossing into Poland.

The two lone soldiers – a male and a female – are from Costa Rica and Argentina, respectively.  The new immigrants being hosted are Yelena and her two children, Vadim, 9 and Yevgenyi, 2.  While they will be happy to be in a pleasant social environment, they will be sad thinking about their husband and father, who had to stay behind to fight for Ukraine.

The three Herzog sons, Noam, Matan and Ro’i will also be in attendance.

The Seder will be conducted fully in accordance with tradition, with a lot of Judaica in the table setting and in the conversation.

It should be remembered that the president is the grandson of the first chief rabbi of Israel, whose name he bears, and that his father, who was the sixth president, was a student at the Mercaz Harav and Hebron yeshivot; thus it is a given that the president is more than familiar with all the Passover customs and songs, though the manner in which he conducts the Seder may be somewhat of a new experience for his guests.

Passover begins at sundown Friday (15th) and ends on Saturday evening (23rd).



Gaza Terror Factions Call On Palestinians To ‘Defend Al-Aqsa’

A collective of Gaza Strip Terror groups on Wednesday (13th) called on their followers to defend the al-Aqsa Mosque as tensions are running high across Israel and the West Bank.

“We are following developments and will make decisions to protect the Palestinian people and the holy place,” the groups said in a statement following a meeting led by Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar.

“We call on our people in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Israel to pray at al-Aqsa Mosque this coming Friday (15th), and call on the Palestinian resistance to stay vigilant and be prepared to defend the mosque.”

The factions met to draw up the “rules of engagement with Israel” in the wake of recent, near-daily raids in the West Bank following a series of terror attacks on Israeli soil.

Although the statement did not include an explicit threat or ultimatum, the collective agreed to prepare for a potential conflict with Israel.

The meeting breaks a long-standing silence from the Palestinian enclave regarding Israel’s recurrent incursions into PA cities, namely Jenin in the northern part of the territory.

Several senior Hamas officials have launched belligerent threats against Israel and messages to the Palestinians, but these were mainly intended to stoke tensions within the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem and did not mention Gaza entering the fray.

Israeli officials believe that Hamas will not instigate violence in Gaza. 

The Islamic Jihad faction whose members are behind many of the violent clashes in the northern West Bank and especially in Jenin, may force rocket fire from Gaza.

Hamas, Israeli officials say, is interested in keeping Gaza out of the current round of violence due to Israel recently easing curbs on the blockade imposed on the seaside territory that has substantially improved the lives of residents there.  Also, Israel allows some 20,000 Gazans to enter Israel for work.

Hamas is also working to rebuild its military strength in the wake of last year’s 11-day conflict with Israel.  The Gaza rulers prefer not to instigate another round of fighting before finishing the process, unless they find themselves with their back against the wall.

In the meantime, Egypt has stepped in, attempting to maintain calm and prevent the violence from spilling over from the West Bank to Gaza.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops continued their operations on Wednesday (13th) to locate and apprehend Palestinians suspected of involvement in terrorism.



Israel To Grant Tens Of Thousands Of Additional Work Visas To Palestinians

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Tuesday (12th) that he is advancing a plan to grant work permits to tens of thousands of additional Palestinians.

Recently, an estimated 100,000 Palestinians entered Israel legally, to work, after being screened by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and receiving an Israeli permit.

Gantz said the measure would be advanced alongside ongoing intensified intelligence, as well as offensive and defensive steps currently being taken by security forces to quelsh the recent wave of deadly terrorism.

“We are advancing solutions that will enable the entry of tens of thousands of additional workers into Israel in an organized manner,” said Gantz during a tour with Israel Defense Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi and other senior commanders.

During the tour, Gantz received an operational briefing on the latest developments.  He said that work would soon start to begin closing gaps in the seam-line barrier.

Two Palestinians terrorists have in recent days infiltrated Israel and conducted deadly attacks by exploiting gaps in the fence.  Five people were shot dead in a terror shooting spree in Bnei Brak on March 29, and three were killed by a Palestinian gunman in Tel Aviv on April 7.

“IDF soldiers are deployed along the seam-line in Israel, and in the depth of Judea and Samaria, equipped with all of the means necessary to provide security, and as a product of that, a sense of security,” said the defense minister.

“We will continue to operate in the depth of the territory to stop the terrorists, their abettors  and weapons dealers, in every place, at any time and with any necessary force,” he vowed.

Allowing more Palestinians not involved in violence to work in Israel will in the long run improve security while boosting both the Israeli and Palestinian economies, he affirmed, saying “ But we will continue to fight terrorism while keeping an eye on the economy.”



Iran Smuggling Weapons To Russian Army To Use In Ukraine

The Russian army in Ukraine has begun using Iranian weapons and other military equipment sourced from Iraq, The Guardian UK daily reported on Tuesday (12th).

Weapons include rocket propelled grenades, anti-tank missiles, a Brazilian-made Astro II rocket launching system and an Iranian-made Bavar-373 air defense system.  Iran also returned a Russian-made S-300 air defense system.

The Guardian cited a source who helped organize the delivery.

Since the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, numerous militias and terror groups with varying ideologies and loyalties have been fighting each other, leaving the country flooded with weapons.

According to The Guardian, many of the arms have been legally acquired by Shiite militias aligned with Iran.  In 2016, those militias were incorporated into the Iraqi military in order to fight Islamic State (ISIS).

A commander in the militia which controls Iraq’s Salamia border crossing with Iran told The Guardian that RPGs, anti-tank missiles and a dismantled Brazilian rocket launching system were brought into Iran on March 26.

The weapons belonged to the Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of Iraqi Shiite militias.

Those weapons were received by Iranian military officials and then taken to Russia by sea, the commander told The Guardian.

“We don’t care where the heavy weapons go, because we don’t need them at the moment,” one Hasd al-Shaabi source told The Guardian.  

“Whatever is anti-U.S. makes us happy,” he added. 



Israelis Mobilize To Save Ukrainian Child’s Eyesight

A seven-year-old Ukrainian boy is expected to retain at least part of his vision thanks to the combined efforts of several Israeli institutions.

Mykhailo Shpak was diagnosed with an aggressive form of retinopathy, a disease that causes severe damage to the retina of the eyes and irreversible vision impairment.  His parents began the search for doctors who could save his sight – and then war came to their home in a village near Kyiv.

The family, which includes Mykhailo’s twin brother Timofey, escaped the Russian forces that bombed their home while capturing the village.  Mykhailo’s mother, Anna, managed to contact Corridor-Israeli Aid for Ukraine, a private organization that had quickly been set up by two Israelis, Oran Singer and Shaked Goldstein, in the weeks following Russia’s invasion.

Corridor concentrates on bringing medicine and aid deep into war-torn areas of the country and getting Ukrainians out – especially those with threatening medical conditions.

The organization speedily set up an overseas call so that Mykhailo could receive an initial assessment with a doctor in Israel, who recommended surgery.  Within minutes of being told of the situation, Prof. Arnon Afek, Deputy Director General of Sheba Medical Center, in the Tel Aviv district, gave the green light to provide the necessary operation free of charge.

The Israeli government also responded in record time to the request for help, immediately confirming to Corridor that Anna and her two sons would be allowed to enter the country on a humanitarian basis.  Space was set aside for them on a special aid flight leaving Chrisinau, Moldova’s capital, but they had to get there in less than a day.

As he was of military age, Anna’s husband, Dimitry, could not leave Ukraine, but Anna and her children were closely supported by the group’s volunteers on the ground. They made it to the flight while defying military curfews and fearing for their safety every step of the way.

Upon arrival in Israel, Mykhailo was examined at Sheba’s Goldschleger Eye Institute.  The family is being taken care of while his condition is being evaluated, and Anna is very grateful for all the help she has been given by caring Israelis.

“We feel very safe here and everyone knows that the best doctors and the best sweets are in Israel.  I am very thankful to the eye doctors who are trying to save Mykhailo’s vision,” she said.

According to their website, Corridor has so far directly helped more than 3,500 people in Ukraine, evacuating some 170 men, women and children a day from the country.