News Digest — 5/25/21

Israel Will Act To Counter Nuclear Threat Netanyahu Warns

Israel may act on its own to counter the Iranian nuclear threat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Monday night (24th), as US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken headed to the region.

Blinken’s Tuesday (25th) visit comes just before a fifth round of indirect negotiations between the US and Iran to return to the 2015 Iran deal on Thursday (27th).

Blinken himself and another senior State Department official briefing on the matter did not say Iran was on the agenda for the visit, but Israeli officials plan to raise the matter in their meetings with him.

At an award ceremony for excellent Mossad agents on Monday (24th), Netanyahu said: “The top mission for every one of you is to prevent Iran from arming itself with a nuclear weapon.  That is the supreme mission.”

Netanyahu said he “values our friend the US very much” and their support is “part of our national security.”

However, he added: “Ensuring that the Ayatollahs will not stop the thousands of years of the existence of the Jewish people will require us to make courageous and independent decisions.  With or without an agreement, we will do everything to prevent Iran from arming itself with a nuclear weapon, because that is our existence,” he stated.

Netanyahu had warned multiple times, last month, following the attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant, that Israel would defend itself against Iranian threats.  He stressed that Jerusalem would work to combat Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Reports at the time claimed that the Mossad was behind the attack at the Natanz nuclear plant in Iran.

It was the second attack on Natanz that foreign reports have blamed on Israel in the past year, with an explosion and fire at a facility at the site in July reportedly impacting Iran’s nuclear program significantly.

The most recent attack against Natanz took place a day after Iran began injecting uranium hexafluoride gas into advanced IR-6 and IR-5 centrifuges at Natanz and was revealed as US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was visiting Israel.

Tensions have been rising between Israel and Iran amid a number of attacks on Iranian and Israeli maritime vessels, with recent reports claiming that Israel has hit dozens of Iranian ships in recent years.

Tensions were already high between the two nations after the Fakhrizadeh assassination and reported attempts by Iran to carry out revenge attacks on Israeli embassies around the world.



Hamas Official: Ceasefire Will Last, But Israel Has No Right To Exist

A senior Hamas leader who helped found the Iran-backed terror group in Gaza came out of hiding, saying that while he thinks the recent ceasefire will hold, his organization remains totally committed to replacing Israel with a Palestinian state, Sky News reported Monday (24th).

“I think that nobody on both sides is looking for escalation,” Mahmoud al-Zahar told Sky News’ Mark Stone, who interviewed the Hamas co-founder in Gaza after top leaders of the terrorist group emerged from hiding following their rocket attack on Jerusalem May 10 that sparked 11 days of fighting ending with a ceasefire last week.

Al-Zahar said he expects the ceasefire to continue, but he acknowledged that Hamas purposely targets Israel’s heavily populated centers with rockets.

“The new element here is the degree of the resistance movement, particularly in Gaza, to attack the Israeli targets at its very important points, including most of the overcrowded areas in the Israeli civilian society.  The main issue is how long will the Israelis accept that,” said Zahar.

Apparently surprised by al-Zahar’s honesty, Stone pointed out that Hamas was also firing the rockets from civilian areas in Gaza and told the Hamas leader, “that’s a war crime.” 

Al-Zahar denied it, saying, “not a single rocket was sent from civilian areas,” but Stone retorted that “we’ve seen videos of rockets being fired from within the built-up area of Gaza City at Israeli communities.”

Al-Zahar then tried to switch tracks, saying “this is not against Israeli communities, this is against the Israeli occupation.  Hamas didn’t spend any money on civil defense because it was using the money on a military ministry to defend us – we are protecting ourselves against Israeli aggression,” he explained.

Asked directly, “Does the State of Israel have the right to exist,” al-Zahar replied bluntly “no.”

“We are the owner.  This is known as an Islamic area – well known,” al-Zahar said, adding there was no point even talking about a two-state solution because the previous negotiations had failed and Hamas was not interested in “a failed business.”

At the end of the interview, Stone noted that the “prospects for long term peace are as elusive as ever.”



Senior Hezbollah Official: Smuggling Rockets Into ‘Palestine’ Moving Full Force

Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general Naim Qassem said Palestinian operatives have undergone training by members of the “axis of resistance” to help them produce weapons, according to the Middle East Research Institute’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (MEMRI-JTTM).

“We were in daily contact with the leaders of the resistance and the Palestinian Jihadi fighters.  Our position was that we would assist the Palestinian resistance in every way that we can and that we will do what we must do at the appropriate time and in the way that we choose” he said.

Qassem gave the interview with the Hezbollah-owned Al-Nour radio station in Beirut to mark the 21st anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in addition to the ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip that went into effect on May 21.

He asserted, according to the report, that “the smuggling of rockets into Palestine continues at full force.”

“There are important Palestinian brains which are helping in the creation and establishment of the capabilities.  They have trained and been in contact with the axis of resistance – the support will not cease, but will only increase,” he said.

Qassem also said that his organization was responsible for “most” of the demonstrations and protests that took place on the Lebanon-Israel border during the last round of fighting, and that the Lebanese man who was killed by Israel Defense Forces’ fire during the protests was a member of Hezbollah.  

He stressed that his organization rejects the idea of a two-state solution, saying the only end to the conflict is for Jews to leave – for “the Zionists” to return to the countries they came from.



Israel Seizes Contraband Destined For Gaza

Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed five administrative orders for the seizure of suspected contraband material destined for the Gaza Strip shortly before hostilities erupted between Israel and Palestinian terror groups on May 10, his office said Monday (24th).

According to a Defense Ministry statement, the shipments contained considerable quantities of potassium chloride, glycerin, polyurethane, polyester, fiberglass, and communications equipment.

The equipment is considered dual-use, meaning it has both civilian and military applications and would have most likely ended up with Hamas’ military wing, Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades.

“Since the beginning of the year, the defense minister has signed more than twenty administrative orders against contraband material suspected of being used by Hamas and other terror factions in Gaza,” the statement said.

An order was also issued to stop a clandestine shipment of gold worth over $300,000 from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, melted into the shape of nails, and planted in the surfaces of wood.

The seizure also comes on top of two orders signed earlier this month against concealed gold bars weighing a total of 13 kilograms, confiscated after militants attempted to smuggle the material from the Palestinian coastal enclave to the West Bank.

The smuggling of gold from Gaza is part of Hamas’ efforts to finance its activities in the West Bank, according to suspicions of the Israeli Defense Ministry, which says, “the value of the seizures is estimated at around a million shekels.”



2 Israelis, Including Soldier, Stabbed In Jerusalem Terrorist Attack

Two Israelis were stabbed on Monday (24th) near Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem.

Two men in their 20s, one of them a soldier, were stabbed on Shlomo Zalman Shraga Street in front of the Israel Police National Headquarters.  They received medical attention on the scene before being evacuated to nearby Hadassah-University Medical Center on Mount Scopus in moderate and serious condition.

The suspected terrorist, 17, was killed by a Border Police officer, the police said.  Police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) forces were dispatched to the scene.

Video posted on social media showed one of the victims wearing an IAF uniform.  A knife was lodged in his back as he knelt on the ground and received treatment from medics.

Israel Police Insp.-Gen. Kobi Shabtai and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana arrived at the scene shortly after the attack.  They held a briefing with security officers involved in the investigation and spoke with Border Police officers who killed the terrorist.

“We pray for the recovery of those wounded in the stabbing attack in Jerusalem,” President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement.

He praised the security forces at the scene saying they “acted quickly to neutralize the terrorist.”

“We will not allow this accursed terrorism to raise its head, and we will fight it without compromise,” he added.

The incident occurred near the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where tensions have been high in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire between Israel and Hamas held into a fourth day on Monday (24th).



Israel Marks 30 Years Since Operation Solomon

Israel is marking the 30th anniversary of Operation Solomon, this week, celebrating the largest-ever individual Aliyah mission undertaken from any country in the world.

The covert military operation took place on May 24-25, 1991, when 14,325 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted from Addis Ababa to Israel on nonstop flights involving 35 Israeli aircraft, including Israeli Air Force C-130s and El AL Boeing 747s, which transported them from the war-torn country to safety in Israel in 36 hours.

Operation Solomon was the third Aliyah mission from Ethiopia to Israel.  It was preceded by Operation Moses in 1984 and Operation Joshua in 1985.  In the mid-1980s Ethiopian Jews found it virtually impossible to leave the country and only a very small number of them were able to leave and go to Israel.

The Jewish Agency and the Israeli government were the main players in planning and executing Operation Solomon, working with the support of the American Joint Distribution Committee, the American Association for Ethiopian Jews, the Jewish Federations of North America, and more.

“This milestone anniversary of Operation Solomon serves as a crucial reminder for Israel and global Jewry that all of the Jewish people are responsible for one another.  It also shows, once again, that when the global Jewish people collectively rally together around a cause, nothing is impossible,” said Jewish Agency CEO Amira Ahronoviz.  

In the weeks leading up to Operation Solomon, the Jewish Agency and the JDC oversaw the identification of those Ethiopian Jews who were eligible to make Aliyah, issuing documentation to ensure that when the day arrived, family members would be kept together on their journey to Israel.

For more than 40 years, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government have assisted over 95,000 Ethiopian Jews to move to Israel.  Currently, there are more than 150,000 first-generation Ethiopian immigrants and second-generation Ethiopian Israelis living in Israel.

The Jewish Agency operates 10 Absorption Centers in Israel dedicated to new immigrants from Ethiopia, helping ease their transition to Israel, a modern and industrialized country, where job-training is offered for adults and after-school academic enrichment for the children.