News Digest — 4/19/24

Israel Launches Retaliatory Strike On Iran – Reports Say Explosions Heard In Isfahan

According to reports Israel’s retaliatory attack on Iran has begun.  Iran fired air defense batteries early Friday morning (19th) as explosions could be heard near a major airbase near Isfahan, raising fears of a possible Israeli strike following Tehran’s drone and missile assault on Israel last week.

An American official told CNN that Israel advised the US of its intentions to launch an attack hours before it began.  

Israel gave no official comment and there has been no official change to the IDF HomeFront Command’s instruction to civilians in Israel.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps put all of its bases on high alert and the Iranian national council was called for an urgent consultation.

One Iranian government official suggested sites  may have been targeted by drones launched ‘from within’ Iranian territory and not missiles.

IRNA said the defenses fired across several provinces.  It did not elaborate on what caused the batteries to fire, though people across the area reported hearing the sounds.

In particular, IRNA said air defenses fired at a major air base in Isfahan, which long has been home to Iran’s fleet of American-made F-14 Tomcats – purchased before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies also reported the sound of blasts, without giving a cause.  State television acknowledged “loud noises” in the area.

Explosions were also reported in Iraq and Syria, with pro-Iranian media reporting that there were explosions in Baghdad and in southern Syria.

The US embassy in Israel on Friday (19th) once again warned its citizens in the country not to travel outside central areas and major cities.

“Out of an abundance of caution, following reports that Israel conducted a retaliatory strike inside Iran, US government employees and their family members are restricted from personal travel outside the greater Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Beersheba areas until further notice.  US government personnel are authorized to transit between these three areas, for personal travel,” the embassy noted.



Israel Sources To Post: ‘An Eye For An Eye,’ – Not Clear Why Pentagon Leaked Info On Attack

Israeli official security and government sources told the Jerusalem Post on Friday: (19th) “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”  Israel retaliated “where they were attacked.”

That said, officially, Israel will not accept responsibility for this attack for strategic reasons.  Sources explain that the Iranians claim it was an “explosion at a factory.” because they wish to avoid escalation.  Israeli sources told the Post that it is unclear why the Pentagon disclosed to the American media that Israel was involved, they could have remained silent.  They could have preserved Iran’s dignity, and avoided escalating the situation on their own.

At the Kirya base in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the entire security and diplomatic leadership have been present for 24 hours, coordinating with regional partners in Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

In recent hours, countries in the region have conveyed messages to Israel that if Iran attacks, they are here to help.

Israel reportedly informed the US of the strike.

A senior US official also confirmed this on Friday morning (19th), stating that “We were not surprised,” while also telling Walla News that Israel informed the US in advance of the strike.

A Bloomberg report said that Israeli officials notified the US on Thursday (18th) that they planned to launch a strike in the next 24-48 hours..



IDF Hits Hezbollah Cell And Sites As Lebanon Border Skirmishes Persist

Israeli aircraft killed at least two Hezbollah operatives in an airstrike in southern Lebanon early Thursday (18th), and the terror group continued attacks on northern Israel throughout the day.

The Israeli Defense Forces said in the morning it had targeted Hezbollah sites and operatives in southern Lebanon overnight.  In Khiam, the IDF said fighter jets hit two buildings used by Hezbollah and other infrastructure, and in Kfar Kila, an airstrike killed two operatives.

Hezbollah later announced the deaths of two members killed “on the road to Jerusalem,” its term for operatives slain in Israeli strikes.

They were identified as Ali Hamada, from Doueir, and Muhammad Shami, from Kfar Kila.

Later Thursday, (18th) the IDF said it had carried out another strike in the town of Blida, where troops of the Golani Brigade identified several Hezbollah operatives entering a building.

It was not immediately clear how many were killed in that strike, though Hezbollah on Thursday (18th) announced the death of another member – Hussein Ali – killed by Israeli fire, bringing the group’s total amid the war to 281.

The IDF said that several rockets crossed the border during Thursday (18th), though no injuries or major damage were reported.  The terror group claimed responsibility for at least 11 separate attacks on Israeli territory.

Since October 8, Hezbollah has attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a daily basis with rockets, drones, anti-tank missiles and other means, saying it is doing so to support  Gaza amid the war there.  The Hezbollah group is an Iranian proxy in Lebanon, as are Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The latest significant attack was on Wednesday, when 14 soldiers and four civilians were wounded as an explosive drone fired from Lebanon struck a community center in the northern border town of Arab al-Aramshe, medics and the military said.

So far the skirmishes on the border have resulted in eight civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of ten soldiers and reservists.  There have also been several attacks from Syria without any injuries.



“US Vetoes:” Security Council Resolution Accepting PA As Full Member Fails To Pass

The U.S. on Thursday (18th) vetoed a Security Council Resolution to admit the Palestinian Authority as a full member state of the United Nations.

12 countries voted in favor of the resolution: Slovenia, Sierra Leone, Russia, South Korea, Mozambique, Malta, Japan, Guyana, France, Ecuador, China, and Algeria.

Two countries abstained – Britain and Switzerland.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said after the vote, “The proposal to recognize a Palestinian state, more than six months after the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and after the sexual crimes and other atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists was a reward for terrorism.”

“I commend the United States for vetoing this shameful proposal, which was rejected today at the UN Security Council.  It is outrageous that even half a year after the October 7 massacre, the UN Security Council failed to condemn Hamas’ horrific crimes,” Katz said.

“Terrorism will not be rewarded.  Israel will continue to fight until Hamas is destroyed and all 133 hostages in Gaza are released,” he concluded.

The US had announced even before the vote that it opposed the measure and would exercise its veto power against it.

Earlier, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, strongly criticized the Security Council for considering admitting the PA as a full time member state six months after the Hamas massacre of October 7.

“The only thing that a forced, unilateral recognition of a Palestinian State will do is to make any future negotiations almost impossible.  As long as the Palestinians feel that they can exploit this politicized body to their benefit, why would they bother at the negotiating table or support any compromise?  The Palestinians rejected any peace plan and continue to support terrorism and boycott any negotiations.  And now they know that their refusal is paying off!” he said.

Ambassador Erdan called on the Council, saying “Please, do not give in to politics.  Do not support this dangerous resolution.”

The PA, which was accepted as a non-member observer state in the UN in 2012, recently revived its UN membership application, prompting the Security Council to launch a formal review process.

The Security Council Committee considering the application said on Tuesday (16th)  that “it was unable to make a unanimous recommendation on whether the PA met the criteria.”  The PA nevertheless moved forward with Thursday’s (18th) vote.



‘Gaza Stores Full; Markets Overwhelmed With Goods’

As the United States and other countries pressure Israel to increase food aid to Gaza, Israeli officials familiar with the situation say Gaza has been overwhelmed by food aid.

Israeli officials harshly criticize American representatives, led by Ambassador David Satterfield, accusing them of echoing the lie about “starvation in Gaza.”

Every evening at 8 pm, a quadrilateral forum takes place with representatives from Israel, the United States, the United Nations and Egypt, where a daily report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza is provided.

Israel is represented in this forum by the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

The Americans are represented by the Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian issues David Satterfield.

Together, they count how many trucks were inspected and entered the Strip, how many unloaded their contents inside and how many did not, as well as discuss the extent of hunger in Gaza.

“There is no food shortage in Gaza, and there never was,” said an Israeli official familiar with the details.

The stores are full, the markets are bursting with goods, fruits, vegetables, shawarma, pitas – there is everything.  Do you know why they no longer loot convoys?  Because there is no shortage of food.  The quantities entering are not normal.”

Recently COGAT Commander Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian issued an unusual statement:

“Israel does not constitute a bottleneck when it comes to providing humanitarian aid,  The UN needs to do the job it is charged with and do it properly.”

“There is no need to open a passage in northern Gaza, no need to open the port of Ashdod, and also no need for an air corridor in Gaza – because there’s no lack of food.  The air corridor is a crazy operation, the airdrops are unnecessary – they are expensive and the quantities are small, but they photograph well.  The United Nations cannot distribute what enters, so why would more be needed?” said an Israeli official familiar with the data.

Despite this data, last week Satterfield told the American Jewish Committee (AJC) that “There is an immediate risk of starvation, for most if not all 2.2 million people in Gaza.”

This, despite the fact that in the three previous days, around 300 trucks entered the Strip per day.

Israel believes that the way senior Biden administration officials express themselves echoes the false claims of Hamas supporters in the US, as if a genocide was taking place in Gaza.

“The rhetoric of Satterfield and others is shocking,” said an official in the field of public diplomacy.

“The only explanation for the disparity between what they know and what they say must be political.  They say what will be pleasant for voters to hear.  Incidentally, you can see that the policy in practice does not change.”



How Israel Can Win In Gaza – And Deter Iran – Elliott Abrams (Foreign Affairs)

• In the wake of Iran’s attack on Israel with hundreds of drones and missiles last weekend, Israel must decide how to calibrate its response.  One part of Israel’s response must be to stay the course in Gaza, despite tremendous pressure from the U.S. and others to retreat.  That means entering the southern Gaza city of Rafah and eliminating the Hamas brigades and leaders based there.

• In 2006, Hezbollah attacked Israel, and the George W. Bush administration, in which I was serving at the time, gave the Israelis strong support – but only for a couple weeks, after which Washington pressured Israel to end the war by extending assurances that have never been met and never seemed likely to be.

• UN Security Council Resolution 1701 of 2006 included an end to arms transfers by any state to Hezbollah and total Lebanese army control of Lebanon’s south.  Neither stipulation has ever been enforced – a testament to the dangers of relying on a paper peace rather than conditions on the ground.  That is why Israel is resisting international pressure, especially from Washington, for a ceasefire that would leave Hamas in control.

• Israelis across the ideological spectrum agree that Hamas must be crushed because they see the fight as an existential conflict.  All of Israel’s enemies are watching to see whether Israel can fully recover from the Oct. 7 attack.  If they conclude that they cannot, the Jewish state will find itself in mortal peril.  Israel gained Arab partners in the region through demonstrations of strength, not acts of restraint.

• Polls make it clear that both Israelis and Palestinians are highly unenthusiastic about and wary of the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Gallup polls found that 65% of Israelis opposed the two-state solution and only 25% supported it.  Among Palestinian polls that Gallup conducted before October 7 found that 72% of Palestinians opposed the two-state solution and only 24% supported it.

• Moreover, the PA lacks the ability to lead a Palestinian state that would be free and democratic, have a decent and effective government, and build a prosperous economy.  Palestinian nationalism still seems to be more about destroying the Jewish state than about building a Palestinian one.  In addition, an independent Palestine state would represent yet another route through which Iran would seek to attack Israel.

• In last week’s mammoth Iranian aerial assault, the Islamic Republic deployed hundreds of drones and rockets against Israel.  Israelis understand that their country’s long-term survival depends on reasserting deterrence by striking back: displaying resilience, determination, and military prowess.

The writer, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, served as deputy national security advisor, where he supervised U.S. policy in the Middle East for the White House.