News Digest — 5/20/22

Shin Bet Uncovers Iranian Effort To Lure Israelis Abroad For Kidnappings

The Israel Security Intelligence Agency (Shin Bet) announced on Thursday (19th) the uncovering of an Iranian plot to lure Israeli academics and businesspeople abroad for kidnapping and attack purposes.

Using a host of deceptive online tactics, Iranian intelligence elements also targeted former members of the Israel defense establishment, pretending to be academics, journalists, businesspeople and philanthropists, according to Shin Bet.

The Iranians used the authentic identities of foreign individuals who were not aware of what was being done to them.

Using “relevant cover stories,” the Iranian Intelligence operatives sought to gather information on their targets and lure them abroad for kidnapping or attack purposes, said the agency.

The Shin Bet said “this is a known technique of Iranian intelligence and defense organizations, led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps intelligence organization, the Quds Force and the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.

The Iranian operatives sent emails to their targets, often using email addresses that were similar to those used by the individuals whose identities they stole.  Examples include invitations to academic conferences and questions sent by operatives pretending to be journalists.  Some of the Israelis reported the suspicious messages to security forces, but others were on the verge of going abroad, according to a Shin Bet statement.  

A senior Shin Bet source noted that a substantial amount of information was gathered on the Iranian intelligence operatives behind the profiles.  “The alertness of civilians, among other things, contributed to a thwarting of severe incidents,” said the source.

The source added: “The Shin Bet, together with all of its partners in the intelligence community, will continue to thwart the activities of Iranian intelligence while continuously monitoring its activities online, and through the use of advanced tools and means.”



IDF Simulates Destruction In Tel Aviv As Part Of Drill

The IDF on Thursday (19th), completed its second week of a large-scale exercise to prepare its forces for the event of a large-scale war that could involve damage to civilian areas and widespread rioting.

In Tel Aviv, the military simulated their response to consider destruction, which could occur in major cities as the result of intense rocket fire.

The purpose of the military was to train for extreme scenarios, where multiple populated concentrations would be damaged while riots would break out in mixed cities and on major roads.

“The goal was to practice complex scenarios which could occur in the future,” a senior Home Front Command officer said late Thursday (19th).

“In the next military conflict, we could experience more frequent and intense rocket fire, especially from Hezbollah, and the potential of more racially motivated riots across the entire country, after the May riots last year.” the officer said.  “Therefore, we must practice evacuating civilians from danger zones under fire, and be prepared for any scenario,” he added.

The IDF said the military trained in 42 cities and towns, and in the industrial areas across the country activating sirens in as many as 61 communities, as part of the drill.

Another senior official said that during the exercise, the military practiced its ability to connect online with local authorities, government ministries and the police using special software.

“If major roads are blocked by rioters, we are preparing a dedicated force able to address the issue and ensure traffic can continue safely,” he said.

The IDF also said its Home Front Command trained in handling mass casualty events and major destruction caused by rocket fire.

The Home Front Command drill was part of a month-long military exercise that included all branches of the IDF.



Palestinian Factions Preparing ‘Battle’ To Break Gaza Naval Blockade

Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip are preparing for a “battle’ to break the naval blockade on the coastal enclave, with a number of activities being planned in the coming weeks, informed sources told the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds on Wednesday (18th).

The sources added that the actions being planned by the factions would be similar to the “March of Return,” a series of often violent demonstrations that took place along the Gaza border on a weekly basis between March 2018 and December 2019.  The report did not mention the specifics planned.

In a recent address, Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, claimed that Hamas was working with other parties to operate a maritime line to the Gaza Strip in order to bypass the Israeli blockade on the coastal enclave.

Sinwar added that consultations and preparations on this issue are “in full swing” in order to “break the siege completely,” but did not elaborate on how such a line would get past the Israeli blockade.

The Gaza Strip is under a land, sea and air blockade by Israel and Egypt.  As part of the blockade, Gazan maritime vessels are only allowed a certain distance off the coast of Gaza, with this distance changing depending on the security situation.  No vessels are allowed to enter Gazan waters from outside the blockade and multiple flotillas which have attempted to do so in the past have been intercepted by Israeli forces.

A Palestinian fisherman was moderately injured on Wednesday (18th) after he was shot by the Egyptian Navy off the coast of the southern Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian reports.

Last week, the IDF announced that it had thwarted a naval smuggling network that was bringing parts for weapons into Gaza for Hamas.  The Shin Bet Intelligence Directorate and Navy arrested three suspects on April 8 after they attempted to cross into Egyptian territorial waters from Gazan waters.  One of the suspects was found to have conducted additional smuggling operations for Hamas in the past year. 

“We really hit a significant operative cell that was used to transfer components to create weapons to terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip,” said Eli Sukholitsky, commander of the Navy’s Ashdod base.



US Ambassador Moving Into New Jerusalem Residence

The US Embassy in Jerusalem found a residence for US Ambassador Tom Nides, more than a year after it stopped using the palatial home it once owned in Herzliya, a source with knowledge of the matter has confirmed.

The new residence is off of Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim Street, a busy thoroughfare of cafes and boutiques, as well as historic homes.

The old, Arab-style building is in a compound surrounded by walls at the site of what used to be a flower shop.  A developer renovated the structure and built two buildings on the site, all of which appear to be a part of the ambassador’s new residence.

Nides has lived at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel since arriving in Israel about six months ago, but was unable to host guests there, using the old Jerusalem consulate building on Argon Street instead.

Previous ambassadors lived in a large home with a pool overlooking the beach in Herzliya.  The US State Department sold the home, after the previous Trump administration moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem.  The embassy retained the house until former US Ambassador David Friedman finished his tenure as ambassador.



Agriculture Minister Visits ‘Smart Villages’ In Azerbaijan Built With Israeli Technology

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Oded Forer visited the so-called “smart villages” in Azerbaijan – located just several kilometers from the Iranian border – to examine the Israeli technology that was put in place as part of the development of a special project.

Minister Forer also met Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who several years prior chose Israel to be a partner in developing the country’s flagship agricultural project that aims to develop rural areas through advanced technology.  The first residents of the villages are expected to begin moving there in the coming weeks.

“I appreciate the opportunity to visit the smart villages near the Iranian border and to see Israeli knowledge and technology build life,” Forer said.  “It is also wonderful to see Israeli agriculture – a national pride – break boundaries.”

The news comes after several months of tensions between Baku and Tehran when Iran accused Azerbaijan of hosting Israeli military and intelligence bases in its territory.  The Islamist Republic went on to hold military drills close to the countries’ shared border, vowing to never “tolerate the presence of the Zionist regime” near its borders, an allusion to Azerbaijan’s friendly relations with Israel.

In response, during one of his visits to the Iranian border, Aliyev purposefully showed off Israeli-made drones as a sign of refusal to succumb to Iranian threats.   



German Teen Arrested For Planning School Attack Fueled By Antisemitism

German police found explosives and antisemitic, far-right literature at the home of a teenager they suspect of planning a terrorist attack at a school.

Federal officers took the 16-year-old suspect, who was not named in the German media, into custody Thursday (19th), the Tagesschau news site reported.  He is suspected of planning to bomb a high school in Essen, a city about 250 miles west of Berlin.

Separately, German police are investigating a suspected arson at a Jewish cemetery near Cologne.  Both incidents closely followed the release of a report indicating a 28% rise in antisemitic hate crimes in 2021.

In the incident in Cologne on Wednesday evening (18th), an unidentified person poured a flammable substance on the wall around the Jewish cemetery of Bocklemund, a western suburb of Cologne, Rundschau Online news stated.  Police are investigating whether the incident was an anti-Semitic hate crime, the report said.

A report published Tuesday (17th) by the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community recorded 3,027 antisemitic incidents in 2021 – a 28% increase over 2020.

Also on Thursday (19th), the office of Berlin’s police commissioner declined to authorize a protest rally planned for later in the day by pro-Palestinian activists seeking to commemorate what they call Nakba Day.  Nakba in Arabic means catastrophe, and is used to describe the aftermath of the Arab defeat during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.

The police said they blocked the gathering due to the likelihood of antisemitic speech and incitement at the event, based on previous rallies.