News Digest — 5/21/24

Knesset Signs Historic Bipartisan Statement Against ICC Charges

An immense majority of 100 out of 120 members of Knesset from the coalition and opposition signed a statement on Monday (20th) condemning the announcement by ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan that he intends to request arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on charges of crimes against humanity for Israel’s conduct in the Gaza war.

“The State of Israel is in the midst of a just war against a criminal terror organization.  The IDF is the most moral army in the world.  Our heroic soldiers are fighting with courage and dedication that has no second, according to international law, like no other army has ever done.”

“The scandalous comparison by the Hague prosecutor between Israel’s leaders and the heads of terror organizations is an unerasable historic crime and a clear expression of anti-Semitism.  We reject this with revulsion.  80 years after the Holocaust, no one will block the Jewish state from defending itself.”

The petition was signed by all the members of Knesset save for those from the Hadash-Ta’al,  Ra’am, and Labor parties.

The petition was first circulated in a closed-door meeting of the Likud party on Monday afternoon (20th).  However, the coalition eventually decided to send it to all of the Knesset members.



Report – Four Killed In Alleged Israeli Strikes In Western Syria

Four people were killed, and several others were injured in alleged Israeli airstrikes that targeted two sites in and near al-Qusayr, western Syria on Monday morning (20th), according to Syrian reports.

Footage from the scene of one of the strikes showed a truck turned on its side and a destroyed building.

According to the Syrian Capital Voice news site, at least two members of Hezbollah were killed in the strike.

The strike in Syria came just two days after an alleged Israeli airstrike targeted a vehicle on the Syrian side of the border crossing near Masnaa, west of Damascus.  The target of the strike remained unclear as of Monday (20th).

In early May, eight Syrian soldiers were injured in alleged Israeli airstrikes that targeted a building in the Damascus area.Those strikes were the first such strikes reported since several commanders in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike in early April.



IDF Succeeds In Evacuating Almost 1 Million From Rafah In 2 Weeks

The IDF has succeeded in evacuating around 950,000 Palestinian civilians in only two weeks, since May 6, the military revealed on Monday (20th).

In addition, around 30-40% of Rafah  is now under IDF control, not merely a small portion of the eastern sector, and about 60-70% of Rafah has been completely evacuated.

The remaining Rafah civilians, estimated at around 300,000-400,000, are almost all near the Gaza coast Tel al-Sultan area.

This is despite US predictions that the civilian population could not be evacuated without a huge death count or without having around four months to do so.

Of those evacuated, the overwhelming majority moved northwest to al-Muwasi. While a smaller number moved to central Gaza.

A much less significant number returned to Khan Yunis, though that had been discussed as a real possibility for potentially hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Regarding the battle, though there certainly is significant resistance from the four Hamas battalions in Rafah, the IDF said it had mostly taken them by surprise.

After initial early and more unified resistance, the impression is that the battalions are beginning to come apart, and are fleeing, or hiding to try to fight a guerilla-style battle at a later date.

Another possibility is that Hamas’ battalions will put up more of a fight for Tel al-Sultan, but generally to date, the terror group’s battalions have not put up as hard a fight as Hamas did in the initial battles for Gaza City in October-November or for Khan Yunis in December.

Next, the IDF has taken control of the majority, though not all, of the Philadelphi Corridor with Egypt. 

The military has already destroyed many cross-border tunnels on the Corridor, Hamas’ main remaining method for receiving new weapons, but still is not sure yet how many tunnels remain.

Despite Egypt’s anger at Israel for the Rafah operation and its closing the Rafah Crossing regarding humanitarian aid, the IDF said that military relations on the ground with Cairo have remained strong and there have been no violent incidents between the sides.

The IDF said the Rafah operation was incredibly complex and that it had achieved significant victories despite many restraints on how it could fire on Hamas and avoid even the possibility that a misfire might hit nearby Egyptian troops.

In addition, the IDF said it had seized  and destroyed a very large quantity of rockets and rocket platforms in Rafah, the last place where it said Hamas might still have a larger quantity  of rockets – including long-range ones.



Meeting Local Leaders, PM Vows To Restore Security To North

In a meeting on Sunday (19th) with municipal heads of cities and towns near Israel’s northern border, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to restore security to the area, most of which has been evacuated of civilians since October.

Hebrew media reported that the northern leaders had pushed the prime minister to give them a date by which residents would return to their homes, but that the prime minister refused.

“I’m not going to tell Hezbollah what we are going to do,” Netanyahu told the local leaders, according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.  “I’m not going to share with our sworn enemy the dates and how we are going to do it.”

The head of the local council in Shlomi, a small town in Israel’s Northern District, told the Ynet News outlet that it was a “stormy discussion” and that the prime minister had “heard their complaints.”

The forum, which also included ministers and advisers from various departments in the government, discussed details of a plan Netanyahu is advancing to fund the reconstruction of the northern border area, which is slated to be brought to the government for approval this week.

“We have a 48-hour deadline for this decision, and we are going to finish it right away,” the prime minister said.

It was the first time Netanyahu had met with a forum of northern officials since a meeting four months ago, according to one local official, who said that in January the prime minister committed to presenting a plan at that time.

Since then, frustration has risen among leaders who say the government has not adequately responded to the needs of the tens of thousands of evacuees, or made crucial decisions about how to address the security threat from Hezbollah in the north.

However, Shimon Guetta, head of the Ma’ale Yosef Regional Council in the Upper Galilee, told Ynet that he was surprised and pleased by Netanyahu’s attitude and attentiveness adding: “There are still a few points that we are working on, but the direction is good.”

The Mayor of Kiryat Shmona, Avichai Stern, said: “This is not the end of the road, and we have a lot more work to do.”  He added that he was “grateful for this, that finally, after seven months, we are getting somewhere.”

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

The attacks led Israel to evacuate residents from communities along the border, and some 60,000 Israelis remain internally displaced in government-funded accommodations.

So far, skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 14 IDF soldiers and reservists.  There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 305 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria.  In Lebanon, another 61 operatives from other terror groups, and a Lebanese soldier have been killed.



US, Canadian Student Leaders To Hear Testimony About Oct.7

In the face of recent protests and unrest across many campuses in North America, a delegation of pro-Israel Jewish student leaders from across prominent universities are uniting to “Take Action for Israel” on a groundbreaking mission.

The group of over two dozen students, hailing from universities such as Columbia, Cornell, UPenn, Brandeis, Berkeley, Rutgers, New York, Western Ontario and Texas, among others, arrived in Israel to embark on a high-profile mission, sponsored by Hasbara Fellowships and

The student leaders are scheduled to engage with top Israeli officials, gather first-hand testimonies about the devastating October 7th massacre, meet with hostage families and visit the Southern border communities, including Kibbutzim, affected by the terror attacks.

With tensions escalating, the rise of anti-Semitism and discourse becoming increasingly polarized in the US and around the world, the visit aims to provide students the opportunity to engage with officials, residents and peers to develop innovative strategies to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israel propaganda and create impactful messages to share on campus.

Upon their arrival, the students were welcomed by members of Israel’s Knesset and former Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon.  MK Danon expressed gratitude to the students for standing up against anti-Semitism and emphasized the importance of their advocacy.

Mr. Danon said: “We deeply appreciate your commitment to standing up for Israel and opposing anti-Semitism on campus.  It’s essential for emerging leaders like yourselves to see and hear firsthand the realities faced by the people of Israel.  Your experiences will be instrumental in advocating for Israel and spreading awareness when you return to the US.”

Josh Shain, student at Columbia University, said: “I am scared for the future of my university because of the recent events on campus.  Students no longer feel safe.  I hope that this visit to Israel gives me the tools to share the truth with those on campus who defend mass rape and murder, and who are uninformed or misinformed about events in Israel.”

Jack Landstein, student at Michigan University, added: “it means a lot to me to be participating in the ‘Take Action for Israel’ Fellowship trip to Israel.  With the rise of anti-Semitism after October 7th, I felt it was imperative that I visit and expand my own ‘Israel toolkit’ so that I can share the truth about Israel and counter anti-Semitism rhetoric to better protect other Jewish students on campus.

This student solidarity mission underscores the resilience and determination of Jewish student leaders in the face of adversity.  It sends a powerful message of resolve, demonstrating that despite the challenges, they remain steadfast in their commitment to countering misinformation and sharing the true facts about Israel.



American Sanctions Killed Raisi, Says Ex-Iranian Foreign Minister

The fatal helicopter crash in northwestern Iran which resulted in the deaths of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his entourage – including Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian – was caused by American sanctions on the Islamic republic, a former foreign Iranian minister argued Monday (20th).

Speaking in an interview with state media, Amir-Abdollahian’s predecessor, Mohammad Javad Zarif, claimed that the American sanctions on the regime of Iran, including an embargo on aircraft parts, was responsible for the helicopter crash on Sunday (19th).

“One of the culprits behind yesterday’s tragedy is the United States, because of its sanctions that bar Iran from procuring essential aviation parts,” Zarif said.

“The crime of the United States will definitely be recorded in the minds of the Iranian people and in history.”

On Sunday (19th), the American-made, Vietnam-war-era Bell 212 Twin Huey helicopter used to transport Raisi and part of his entourage crashed near Jolfa, close to the border between the nation of Azerbaijan and the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan, 375 miles northwest of Tehran.

The aircraft was exported to Iran during the Shah’s reign, which collapsed during Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.

In response to the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran and the taking of American hostages, the U.S. imposed an embargo on Iran, preventing the sale of replacement parts and service equipment for American-made vehicles used by Iran.

Raisi and his entourage were making a return trip to Iran after visiting Azerbaijan for a ceremony marking the inauguration of a dam built jointly by the two countries.

The president’s helicopter encountered severe weather conditions, including heavy fog and strong winds, and was forced to make a “hard landing,” Iranian officials said.

Rescue teams dispatched to the crash site found no survivors.