News Digest — 5/20/24

Iran Confirms President, Foreign Minister Killed In Helicopter Crash

After 16 hours contact was lost with a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahhim Raisi  and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Tehran officially announced Monday morning (20th) that both were killed.

The Iranian Red Crescent reported after about 14 hours of searching that the helicopter remains had been located.

An Iranian official told Reuters that “President Raisi’s helicopter was completely burned in the crash and all passengers are feared dead.”

Earlier, additional rescue teams joined the search efforts in harsh weather conditions.  “We are combing every inch of the crash area,” said an Iranian military commander before the helicopter was found.  “The weather here is extremely cold, rainy and foggy, with the rain gradually turning to snow.”

According to a report by the state news agency IRNA, teams conducted the search overnight on steep mountainsides amid a snowstorm.

Russia, Turkey and Qatar, all countries with close ties to Tehran, offered assistance to the Islamic Republic and joined the search efforts by sending search and rescue teams to the crash site.  

In Iran and globally, there were already questions on Sunday (19th) about the future of the Islamic Republic’s political system if Raisi was confirmed dead.  Although Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has the final say in state affairs, the president, elected only if approved by Khamenei and regime leaders, holds significant powers, especially in domestic matters.

According to Article 131 of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution, if a president dies while in office, the first vice president acts as interim president after receiving approval from the supreme leader.  A council composed of the first vice president, the speaker of the parliament and the head of the judiciary must then organize new presidential elections to be held within 50 days. Raisi was elected president of Iran in 2021, meaning the next presidential elections were originally scheduled for next year.

Meanwhile, the White House said that President Joe Biden has been informed of the incident, and the US State Department said that it was closely monitoring reports emerging from Iran.  

The helicopter incident occurred near Jolfa, a city close to the Azerbaijan border, approximately 375 miles northwest of Tehran.

Raisi was visiting Azerbaijan to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan counterpart IIham Aliyev, against the backdrop of tense relations between the two countries, partly due to Azerbaijan’s close ties to Israel.  The air accident apparently happened on his way back.



US Lawmaker Blasts US President In Knesset, Contrasts Israeli & American Youth

On Sunday (19th) New York Representative Elise Stefanik gave a historic address to the Israeli Knesset during which she blasted Biden’s threat to withhold aid from Israel and declared, “America is firmly behind Israel and the Jewish people.”

Republican of New York’s 21st congressional district, Stefanik, who is best known for confronting presidents of Ivy League colleges about their policy on anti-Semitism last December, praised Israel’s handling of the war against Hamas. 

Stefanik stressed the need for Israel to eliminate Hamas, given that it is part of a larger battle representing “the forces of good versus evil, the forces of civilization against the forces of barbarism, of humanity versus depravity.”

She drew a contrast between the way Israeli youth mobilized for war and the way in which young people the same age in the United States took sides with the terrorists and blamed Israel, rather than Hamas, for the ongoing Gaza war.

Stefanik explained, “In the week after October 7th, 360,000 Israelis reported for military duty, flying home from around the world.  That’s the equivalent of 20 million Americans – more Americans than served in World War II”

She added, “What a striking comparison: Young Israelis heeding the call of duty, fighting for their families, their people, and their homeland while the pro-Hamas apologists on so-called elite campuses across America are, in a paroxysm of blood lust, cosplaying Hamas, calling for ‘Intifada’ and genocide with signs saying ‘Final Solution.”  Chanting ‘Death to Israel.’  And chanting “Death to America.’”

However, Stefanik stressed that these do not represent the majority, and most Americans stand behind Israel.

“Let me repeat:  America is firmly behind Israel and the Jewish people,” she said.

Stefanik sharply criticized the Biden Administration for considering a halt to the delivery of military aid to israel.

:I have been clear at home and I will be clear here:  There is no excuse for an American president to block aid to Israel – aid that was duly passed by the Congress,” she said.

“There is no excuse to ease sanctions on Iran, paying a $6 billion ransom to the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, or to dither and hide while our friends fight for their lives, No excuse.  Full Stop.”



Palestinian Arsonists Set Fire To Farm Pasture, Stone Firefighters

Arab arsonists set fire to pastures belonging to a farm in the Binyamin region, lit a second fire and threw rocks at responding firefighters on Sunday afternoon (19th).

Dozens of volunteers from nearby farms called to the scene managed to  initially get the fire under control.  But only half an hour after they left, Palestinians set a second fire a few hundred meters away from the first fire and stoned the responding fire crews.  Most of the rioting Palestinians fled in the direction of Jericho, but Israeli soldiers arrested seven suspects.

At least one Israel volunteer trying to put out the fire was injured by the rioters.  The windshields of several Israeli cars were also smashed.

“These arsonists have one goal, just like the other attacks against the shepherds in the hills and  farms, it is the Jewish withdrawal from the territory in favor of the establishment of a Palestinian state,” a statement issued by the Pomegranate Farm said.  “Almost every day, Arab arson takes place here, which consumes extensive pastures and sometimes even comes close to the residents’ houses.”

It was the third torching in the grazing area of the Rimonim Farm, located north of Jerusalem.

On April 12, a 14-year-old Israeli shepherd was abducted and killed by Palestinians from another farm in the Binyamin region.  Benjamin Achimair  was stabbed and beaten with rocks so many times that search teams could not immediately identify his body.



Palestinian Authority Rapidly Building Illegal City In Judean Desert Nature Reserve

The Palestinian Authority continues to establish facts on the ground and is rapidly building a new illegal city in the Judean Desert nature reserve under the cover of the ongoing violent conflict in Gaza.  Gush Etzion Regional Council head Yaron Rosenthal describes  the situation as a “severe failure” and demands the Israeli government take immediate action.

The construction of the new city was exposed about a year ago in an investigative report by Israel Hayom in collaboration with the Regavim organization.  The report revealed that the construction is causing severe damage to the nature reserve.  For Gush Etzion, the construction poses a severe security threat, as it isolates the Gush Etzion settlements, turning them into an enclave surrounded by Arab cities and villages, while access to the area is already difficult.

“The Palestinian side shall safeguard  and preserve the Nature Reserves in accordance with established scientific standards,” the Oslo Accords explicitly stated, strictly prohibiting  construction in the reserve area.  Even after the areas were officially designated as Area B – under Palestinian civil control and Israeli security control – the interim Wye Memorandum from 1999 states: “The Palestinian side has further informed that they will act according to the established scientific standards,  and that therefore there will be no changes in the status of these areas… While these standards do not allow new construction in these areas, existing roads and buildings may be maintained.”

After news of the illegal city became public, an uproar ensued.  Former Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman even brought in influencers to assist in exposing the issue to the public and pressure the government to do something about it.  Before Rosh Hashanah, the Yesha Council held a ceremonial toast at the site, attended by Minister of Settlement and National Missions Orit Strock.  The event turned into a confrontation with Palestinians.

However, since nothing has been done despite statements from government officials, the construction is rapidly advancing without any intervention from law enforcement.  Many new roads and buildings have been built, scattered across a radius of about four miles.  Another recent step by the city planners is the construction of a Palestinian tourist resort area.  This project and its access roads are being built swiftly.

Rosenthal stated: “While some of us have become disillusioned with the concept in Gaza, burying our heads in the sand regarding Judea and Samaria continues.  If we do not stop the rampant illegal construction in the reserve today, in a few years we will be dealing with one of the most severe security incidents here.  This severe failure is a security threat to the State of Israel – wake up!”



Salman Rushdie Warns Against ‘Taliban-Like’ Palestinian State, Rips Pro-Hamas Demonstrators

Indian-British author Salman Rushdie took aim at anti-Israel protesters in the West Sunday (19th) and warned against the formation of a Palestinian state.

Speaking with the German paper Bild, Rushdie backtracked on his past support of Palestinian statehood, arguing that the formation of such a state today would lead to a “Taliban-like” regime under Hamas and controlled by Tehran.

“But if there were a Palestinian state now, it would be run by Hamas and we would have a Taliban-like state,” Rushdie said, “a satellite state of Iran.”

He then went on to criticize anti-Israel protesters in the West who have demanded the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“Is this what the progressive movements of the Western left want to create?”

Rushdie said that support for the “Fascist terror group” Hamas, among young progressives in the West was “strange,” and said the protests’ increasingly anti-Semitic rhetoric was “problematic.”

“When it slides into anti-Semitism and sometimes even support for Hamas, then it becomes problematic.”

“It all started with them,” Rushdie continued, saying that Israel’s critics must acknowledge that Hamas is to blame for the current war in Gaza.

The 76-year-old novelist was born to a Kashmiri Muslim family in India, and immigrated to Britain at the age of 17.

Distancing himself from his Muslim heritage and identifying for most of his life as an atheist, Rushdie sparked controversy in the Islamic world with the 1988 book on the Koran, entitled The Satanic Verses.

The Book prompted Iran’s Supreme Leader , Ayatollah Khomeini, to issue a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.  The controversy ultimately led to a major diplomatic row between Tehran and London.

In 2022, an American Shiite Muslim man of Iranian heritage stabbed Rushdie 10 times during a lecture in New York State, apparently in response to Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa.  However, Rushdie who is now blind in one eye from the attack, survived.



Why The Palestinian Authority Should Not Return To Gaza – Bassam Tawil

Those who believe the Palestinian Authority should replace Hamas in Gaza are either gullible, badly uninformed, or living in delusions.  The PA can pay salaries to civil servants, but it cannot – and will never – take on Hamas directly.  Sending PA security personnel to Gaza while Hamas terrorists are still on the streets would be tantamount to suicide.  During the 2007 Hamas coup in Gaza, Hamas terrorists killed a large number of PA security forces.  Hamas has stated that it will not allow PA security forces to re-enter Gaza.

In April, Hamas announced that its men had foiled an attempt by PA intelligence officers to enter Gaza under cover of being aid workers.  Hamas arrested 10 PA General Intelligence Service officers, while some were able to flee.  Hamas has also rejected the idea of sending international or Arab forces to Gaza.  “Any force that attempts to enter Gaza will be handled with resistance and treated as an occupying force,” Hamas recently declared.

Between 2005 and 2007. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas ruled Gaza, yet he took no action to stop terrorist groups from firing rockets at Israel or from amassing a sizable arsenal.  Despite Having thousands of security officers in the West Bank, Abbas has done little to prevent armed groups from forming in several cities and villages that fall under his jurisdiction.  Abbas, fearful of being called a traitor, is reluctant to take action against the terrorists.

Gaza needs moderate and pragmatic leaders who will embark on a process of deradicalizing and reeducating Gazans to lead peaceful , prosperous and constructive lives and who will finally prepare their people for peace in the region.  At the moment, unfortunately, among the Palestinians, no such leaders exist.