News Digest — 5/21/19

Bipartisan Letter Calls On Trump To Address Threats In Syria, Ensure Defense Of Israel

A bipartisan letter signed by nearly 400 members from both sides of the aisle in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate was sent to US President Donald Trump on Monday (20th), calling on him to address threats in Syria, in addition to ensuring Israel’s safety.

“At a time of grave security in the Middle East, we are deeply concerned about the role that terrorist and extremist groups and US adversaries continue to play, particularly in Syria,” stated the letter.  “As some of our closest allies in the region are being threatened, American leadership and support are as crucial as ever.”

The letter went on to describe the threat posed by groups, including ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah.

It also warned about the threat Russia poses by “working to secure a permanent presence in Syria, beyond its naval facility at Tartus.”

The congressional members recommended three elements to limit the presence of terrorists and extremists, counter the activities of our adversaries and strengthen Israel’s security: “to underscore Israel’s right to self defense; to increase pressure on Iran and Russia with respect to activities in Syria; and to increase pressure on Hezbollah.”

The letter was signed by 79 senators and 303 representatives from both parties.



Scorecard on Israel’s Iron Dome Missile Defense System – Amit Rapaport

The most recent round of fighting between Gaza and Israel was a battle between Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system and Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets.  Israel sustained four civilian deaths and 150 injuries. Palestinian rockets have been upgraded significantly over the years, with some short-range rockets now carrying dozens of kilograms of explosives, which definitely affected the scope of casualties and damage.

At the same time, Iron Dome achieved an interception rate of more than 90% for rockets launched at inhabited areas.  This percentage was maintained even when the enemy launched a massive salvo of 117 rockets within one hour at the city of Ashdod.  A total of 690 rockets were launched, with 35 reaching populated areas. When Israel first sought to develop Iron Dome, the Defense Ministry had hoped for an interception-rate of 70%.  During a round of fighting in March, 100% of 50 rockets launched from Gaza were intercepted successfully.

“No other system worldwide, can even come close to the interception percentages of the Iron Dome,” said a senior source at Rafael, which developed Iron Dome jointly with IAI.  “The number of deaths would have been hundreds of times higher if the Iron Dome had not existed.”



Two Prominent Palestinians Arrested For Attempted Terror Attacks

Former Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade commander Zakariya Zubeidi and east Jerusalem Lawyer Tareq Barghut have been indicted in a West Bank military court for firing at Jews near Ramallah.  Zubeidi had been given amnesty for his role as one of the leaders of the Second Intifada.

The Israel Security Agency announced on Monday (20th) that intelligence “pointed to the involvement of Zakariya Zubeidi and Tareq Barghut in a series of attacks in the Beit El area.”  The two carried out two shooting attacks – on Nov. 7 and on Jan. 5 – toward buses after first carrying out reconnaissance of the area. The two were arrested on Feb. 27. They carried out another shooting attack on Dec. 27 when they opened fire on a bus going to Psagot.  Barghut admitted that he carried out another shooting attack on Nov. 19, 2016, at a police car at the Zeitim crossing near Jerusalem.

“These are serious incidents involving a senior official in the Palestinian Prisoners’ Ministry and a lawyer working in the Palestinian Prisoners’ office who carried out severe terrorist attacks using a Palestinian Authority vehicle used by Zakariya as part of his job in the prisoners’ office,” a senior ISA official said.



Israeli Military Textile Developer Turns Out Tech To Combat Agricultural Terror – Gadi Golan

Liran Cohen, 35, produces products designed to protect civilians and security forces.  Now he is designing fake rocks and bushes that will help farmers defend their livelihoods against agricultural crime.

Cohen was inspired to go into the security and defense sector after losing his mother in a terrorist bombing in Afula in 1994.  She was killed by a piece of shrapnel.

“She died a needless death, and that made me realize that I wanted to go into the defense and security field.  When I help one soldier, one family, I feel good about myself. I lost something I wasn’t supposed to lose,” Cohen said.

After completing degrees in non-scientific areas – humanities and business administration – Cohen began creating products to protect security forces and civilians. He founded T9 Design and opened a factory in Raanana, where he manufactured tactical textiles for the IDF as well as various other safety technology.  Most of his company’s products are designed for the military and made available for civilian use after a certain amount of time.

“Today, we’re the second biggest group in the field of tactical operational solutions.  Everything is made in Israel. My life story led me to take pride in what I do, with my own two hands.”

This past year, Cohen expanded his horizons and began working on a way of combatting agricultural terrorism.  He came up with anti-theft fake rocks. His company sends teams to sample the ground in a given field, and based on the rocks or fauna they find, build similar rocks, fake trees, or bushes that include hidden cameras and surveillance equipment, as well as motion sensors and alarms.

The security rocks were originally developed for use by the IDF and the Defense Ministry. Each system takes up to 45 days to manufacture.  Once in place, the systems can track suspects’ cars, groups of vandals who operate at night, and spot invasive animals. The company is now making the technology available to farmers to help them combat agricultural crime.

“The thieves have learned to avoid cameras,” Cohen explains.  “We created a platform that will provide farmers with a concealed solution to the plague of agricultural crime.  The new development will be the farmers’ eyes in the field and allow them to set up defenses and concealed surveillance.”



Over 1,000 Bodies Found In Holocaust-Era Mass Grave In Belarus

In January, memories of the Holocaust were once again brought up when a mass grave was discovered in Brest, Belarus on the construction site of a new luxury apartment block.

Since the discovery, the bones of 1,214 people, most believed to have been Jews, were excavated from the site, tangled with shreds of cloth and the soles of shoes.

Dmitry Kaminsky, a Belarusian soldier running excavations, said earlier this year that some of the skulls bore bullet holes, suggesting that victims were executed by a shot to the back of the head.

The city of Brest, then part of the Soviet Union, was attacked on June 22nd 1941, the first day of Hitler’s invasion.  Reports say the German forces may have shot up to 5,000 people in the first few days after the city fell. Around 20,000 Jews were forced into a ghetto in late 1941.  The ghetto was in existence until it was liquidated in October 1942.

The World Jewish Congress said it was “dismayed by the construction of an apartment building” on the land that contained victims of the Holocaust, and said it was “an affront to the memory of the Jewish residents who were shot and murdered in cold blood at that very site.”

In response, Brest Mayor Alexandr Rogachuk said that the city had many unmarked gravesites due to the ferocious fighting that took place there.  He said in March, “Everyone here is a sinner in this respect. We are all walking on bodies.”

While it was known that the building site might contain “a few dozen bodies, the mayor said, “nobody expected such a large number.”

One local official, Alla Konduk said the foundations of the housing development would not be built on the grave, and that construction would resume soon.  After discussions with the city’s small Jewish community, he said that it was agreed to bury all the bones recovered on May 21 in a Jewish cemetery in the north of the city.