News Digest — 5/18/22

Police On High Alert Ahead Of Meron Lag B’Omer Celebration

Tens of thousands of people are expected to flock to Mount Meron on Wednesday night (18th) to celebrate Lag B’Omer, exactly one year after 45 people died there in a stampede.

The disaster took place close to 12:45 a.m. when Lag B’Omer fell on April 30.  It began when about 20,000 haredi (ultra Orthodox) men and boys left a bonfire held at a compound near the tomb of Shimon Bar Yochai.

They headed down a narrow passageway known as Dov Bridge, which ended in a 90 degree turn to the right and 11 steps down to ground level.  The stairs were narrower than the passageway, creating a bottleneck.  When a few people slipped, a human crush began, resulting in the largest civilian disaster in Israel’s history.

Over the past year, the government has ordered extensive changes at the site, demolishing illegally built structures, including Dov Bridge and widening existing passageways.

“This is a complicated event since there are many changes that were done to the site and to the way things were,” Israel Police Northern District Chief Shimon Lavi said.  “There are limitations on the number of people allowed on the mountain, so only 16,000 will be permitted there at any given time.”

The event is being coordinated with the Religious Services Ministry, and tickets need to be preordered to serve as both transportation and entry passes.  No private vehicles will be allowed to approach the site.  Shuttles will be provided to ferry people to the compound.

One bonfire-lighting ceremony will be held and people will visit the site in a moving line with separate entry and exit lines, including a short duration at the tomb.  



PM Says ‘Settlement, Security And Aliyah’ Form Zionist Response To Terrorism

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday (17th) welcomed a recent decision to expand settlements in what was his first visit to a community beyond the Green Line since taking office.

During a visit to the settlement of Elkana, he cast the expansion of settlements as a response to recent Palestinian violence.  The Palestinians view settlement construction as the main obstacle to peace because it further undermines their hopes for an independent state on lands gained through war.

“In the face of enemy violence, the Zionist answer has always been settlement, security and aliyah,” Bennett said.  “Last week we approved here in Elkana, to my understanding, the largest volume of construction at once since the establishment of the town.”

He appeared to be referring to the approval of more than 4,000 homes by a military planning body.  During a call with Bennett on Tuesday (17th), French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “concern” about the settlement construction and “his desire to contribute to a decisive revival of peace efforts in the Middle East,” according to a readout from the French presidential palace.

Bennett, a longtime supporter of settlements who once held a senior position in the umbrella settlement organization Yesha Council, is opposed to Palestinian statehood.  He leads a government that includes parties from across Israel’s political spectrum, including some opposed to settlements.

In the interest of keeping the coalition together, they have ruled out any major peace initiatives or outright annexation, while continuing to expand settlements and taking some steps to help the Palestinians economically.



Israel Pledges To Stop Iran From Transferring ‘Advanced Capabilities’ To Regional Proxies

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday (16th) pledged that Israel will stave off attempts by Iran to route “advanced capabilities” to its proxies in the region.

“We will continue to act against anyone who threatens us and we will prevent the transfer of advanced capabilities from Iran that endanger the citizens of Israel and harm the stability of the entire region,” Gantz vowed during a visit to the IDF’s Northern Command, which took place amid a large-scale exercise launched by the military last week to train against a multifront war with Israel’s enemies.

The month-long training, dubbed “Chariots of Fire,” simulates combat scenarios in the air, at sea, on land, and on the cyber front.

“We are preparing for different scenarios against our enemies in the various arenas, and against Hezbollah and Hamas, which also operate from Lebanon,” Gantz announced.  “The combination of training, operational activity, and strengthening of civil resilience makes up our complete concept of protecting the north and the entire State of Israel.”

Gantz’s comments follow reports on Friday (13th) that Israel was allegedly behind an airstrike targeting a weapons production site at a central air defense base in the Masyaf area in northwest Syria.

The Israeli defense research center Alma called the airstrike a “major attack.”

“Also in the area are warehouse complexes and bases used by the Shiite axis.  Next to Masyaf are S-300 anti-aircraft batteries, which were transferred from the Russians to the Syrian army in 2018,” the report added

During the airstrike on Friday (13th), a Russian S-300 fired missiles at IDF pilots for the first time since Israel began striking targets in Syria, Israel’s Channel 13 reported Monday (16th).  The missiles did not pose a threat to the aircraft, according to the report.



US, Israeli Air Forces To Simulate Attack On Iran

The US and Israeli Air Forces will take part in a joint exercise simulating an attack on Iran, Israeli TV reported.

The simulated attack on Iran will be held as part of the ‘Chariots of Fire’ military exercise, one of the longest such exercises in the history of the IDF.

Early on Tuesday (17th), the Commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), General Michael Kurilla, landed in Israel for his first official visit in his new position.

The visit, hosted by the Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, will focus on the ongoing operational cooperation between the State of Israel and the US, maintaining regional stability and dealing with joint operational threats and challenges in the region.

One exercise in particular, will take place in two weeks, when many Israeli fighter jets will simulate an attack in Iran, and the US Air Force will refuel the Israeli aircraft.

This is meant to send a clear message to Tehran at a time when talks on the revival of the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the western powers have stalled. 

The ‘Chariots of Fire’ exercise was originally planned for last May, but was postponed when conflict broke out between Israel and the Hamas terrorist organization in Gaza.  The exercise will last a full month.



Palestinians Vandalize Historical Jewish Site In Judea And Samaria

Residents of the Peduel settlement in Judea and Samaria discovered on Saturday morning (14th) that the archeological site of the biblical town of Zeredah had been vandalized overnight with graffiti of a rifle, the Palestinian flag with the map of Israel, and writing in Arabic that praises martyrs.

Head of the Samaria Regional Council Yossi Dagan condemned the incident, saying that every “cultured person should be shocked by the destruction of a historical site that is of value to all of humanity, and certainly to the Jewish people.  This is an attack on our right to the land.  Unless we wake up, we will be left without history.”

The Zeredah archaeological site is a popular tourist destination in Israel.  On Passover, it was visited by hundreds of travelers across the country.  It is the site of the biblical city of Zeredah, which is mentioned in the Book of Kings as the hometown of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who would go on to become the first king of the northern Kingdom of Israel.

The Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria also condemned the vandalism, saying it viewed “the destruction of the archaeological site with the utmost severity.”



Austria Records Nearly 1,000 Antisemitic Incidents In 2021

The Jewish community of Vienna documented a record 965 antisemitic incidents in Austria in 2021, according to a new report.

The statistics represent the highest number of incidents since the local community began compiling such data 20 years ago.  It also represents an increase of 65% from 2020, when 585 acts of anti-Semitism were recorded to the Reporting Office for Antisemitism of the Jewish Community of Vienna.

Roughly 60% of the attacks reported last year were categorized as “abusive behavior,” which included in-person and online remarks, the report said.  Nearly 30% of the incidents involved mass mailings and writings that featured antisemitic messages, while 10% involved damage and desecration.

There were also 22 threats recorded and 12 incidents of physical assaults or attempted ones.

The report also noted that 28% of the recorded incidents involved antisemitism related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

People supporting right-wing, far-right, and neo-Nazi movements were responsible for 461 (48%) of all incidents, while 15% were committed by left-wing supporters and 11% by Muslims.  The rest were not attributable to a specific grouping.