News Digest — 6/16/22

IDF Holding Military Drill Near Israel-Lebanon Border

Israel’s military on Thursday (16th) announced an exercise on the Israel-Lebanon border, saying it will include artillery fire, and stressing that the maneuvers were scheduled in advance, as part of the troops routine training.

Residents of towns near the border are expected to hear the echoes of explosions and fire throughout the day, the IDF said.

The drill comes against the backdrop of rising tensions between Israel and Lebanon in recent weeks over rights to the Karish (“Shark”) off-shore gas field.   The area is at the heart of a maritime dispute between the two countries.

Last week, Israeli ministers issued a joint statement saying that the country was “prepared to defend” the rig following Hezbollah’s threats.  Earlier in May, Israel and Cyprus held a joint military exercise to simulate war deep inside Lebanon against Hezbollah.

The IDF also played a wartime scenario during the massive “Chariots of Fire” exercise, predicting deaths in Lebanon and Israel in a future war with the Hezbollah terrorist group. Hezbollah would launch an average of about 1500 rockets daily at Israel.

On Tuesday (14th), reports said that Lebanon was planning to offer a compromise to U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein who came to Beirut at the invitation of the Lebanese government to resolve the dispute with Israel over maritime gas resources in the area.



Defense Ministry To Show Biden Laser Defense System On Upcoming Trip

The Israeli Defense Ministry’s laser interception system project will be presented to U.S. President Joe Biden during his visit to Israel, according to sources from the ministry and the IDF on Thursday (16th)

The presentation of the system will be at Palmachim Airbase alongside the Iron Dome.  The new laser defense system, according to estimates, is expected to come into use within a few years at one of the country’s borders and protect against rockets, missiles, and unmanned aircraft.

IDF sources said that it was no secret that the Defense Ministry was looking for partners for the project, which will have a high initial cost.  Talks have already been held between the ministry, the IDF and the U.S. Defense Department on the laser project.

Israel’s military is also interested in deepening its ties with the U.S. military in general.

Israel had carried out successful laser interception trials in April.  The experiments were done in Israel’s South by the Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Research and Development (DDR&D) and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. 

The laser system, referred to as the “Iron Beam,” was shown to be capable of intercepting a number of aerial targets in trial runs – which included aerial vehicles, mortars and rockets.

The laser defense system, when in use, will be much more cost effective to operate than the current Iron Dome system.



Looking To Replace Russian Oil, EU Signs Deal To Ship Israeli Natural Gas Through Egyptian Ports

Israel inked a trilateral natural gas trade agreement with Egypt and the European Union Wednesday (15th) aimed at undermining Russia’s control of the EU’s energy supply.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU), signed in Cairo, will allow Israel to export natural gas to Europe via Egyptian ports.

The arrangement, relying on existing infrastructure, enables Israel to rapidly increase the amount of natural gas exported to Europe.

Israel will now be able to pump raw natural gas to processing facilities in Egypt via the pipeline system originally built to bring Egyptian natural gas to Israel.

Once liquified and pressurized, the natural gas will be shipped to Europe from Egyptian port cities.

“You will bring from Israel, via pipeline… to Egypt, it will be liquified to LNG and then brought to the European Union,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during a visit to Israel a day earlier.

European Union Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson touted the deal Wednesday (15th), calling it a “historic day.”

“This is a historic day for the EU’s energy engagement & Energy security,” Simson tweeted, “signing the MoU with Egypt and Israel, two reliable, strategic partners.  We will be able to count on LNG from Israel & the Mediterranean region via the Egyptian LNG infrastructure.”

The move is part of a broader effort by the European Union to shore up its energy supply, as Moscow uses sales of gasoline and natural gas to pressure foreign governments to soften their sanctions on Russia.

“With this EU-Egypt-Israel agreement we will work on the stable delivery of natural gas to the EU from the East Med region,” von der Leyen tweeted after the deal was signed Wednesday (15th).

“This will contribute to our EU energy security.  And we are building infrastructure fit for renewables – the energy of the future.”

During her meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday (14th), von der Leyen accused Russia of attempting to “blackmail” EU member states by withholding energy sales.

“With the beginning of this war and the attempt of Russia to blackmail us through energy, by deliberately cutting off the energy supplies, we decided to cut off and to get rid of the dependency on Russian fossil fuels, and to move away from Russia and diversify to trustworthy suppliers.”

“So it is very important for us – and I am very grateful that we are now discussing this fascinating project – that you are willing to increase the deliveries of gas to the European Union via Egypt.”



Permits For Peace? Israel Allows Entry To 120,000 Palestinians

The Israeli government on Wednesday (15th) raised the number of permits for Palestinians from Judea and Samaria to work in Israel by an additional 20,000, to a total of 120,000, in what security officials said will “reduce the chance of terror attacks,” Ynet reported.

The news comes in the wake of a string of terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of 19 people.  Many of the terrorists entered Israel illegally through breaches in the security fence.  The attacks have forced the defense establishment to recalculate existing policies regarding Arabs from the PA, and according to a report, it came to the conclusion that providing economic stability for Palestinians by issuing more permits will reduce the incentive to engage in terrorism.

“The more Palestinians with permits there are, the less chance of terror attacks,” Ynet cited a defense official as saying.

According to the report, doing so will allow Israel to more closely monitor and vet Palestinians who wish to enter Israel.

The military will also earmark nearly $435 million to tighten security around the fence, including fixing breaches and deploying hundreds of troops to the area.  The budget will also go towards improving accessibility to Israel by upgrading crossings.

The program, which was coordinated with the Shin Bet security agency, also expanded the pool of Palestinians able to apply for permits.  Until now, only married men aged 22 and over could apply for an employment permit.  As of Wednesday (15th), unmarried men aged 27 and above could also apply, and single men aged 22-27 could apply as long as they have a close relative employed in the construction industry.

Pending individual approval from the Shin Bet, Palestinians who were previously barred from entering Israel over minor security offenses from more than a decade ago will now be able to apply for permits and have their records expunged.

Contractors welcomed the new measures. Eran Rawls, CEO of the Center for Israeli Construction, told Ynet: “The economy needs skilled workers.  In light of the severe housing shortage, accelerating construction should be seen as a national task and must be supported by a significant increase in skilled workers.”

“The new move will also ensure that those who enter do so under control and supervision.  In the end all parties are satisfied: the army, the contractors and the workers.”

Earlier this year, the number of permits for Gazans to work in Israel was raised by 8,000, to a total of 20,000.



Israel Set To Become The Most Populous Western Country By 2050

Israel is  poised to become the most populous Western country in the world by 2050, veteran environmental activist and MK Alon Tal told the Knesset on Monday (13th).

Tal presented statistics from a report prepared by an environmental group called “Zafuf: The Forum for Population, Environment and Society,” indicating that by 2050, the country’s population could reach more than 17.5 million, compared to more than 9 million today.

“The State of Israel will become the most populous Western country, with more than 800 people per square kilometer,” Tal said.

“We know the reality and know that protecting open space is not enough.  I want to know what the Israeli Planning Administration and the Construction and Housing Ministry are doing to translate their statements into reality,” he added.

“Open or green space is disappearing at a staggering rate of around 9 square miles per year, and the pace will accelerate with population growth,” warned Tal.

Member of Knesset, Ram Shefa, said this was an existential crisis.  “We are young people who are worried about what will happen here in 30 years,” he said.

“The media does not understand the gravity of the situation.  Instead of overpopulating the cities, people are taking over the agricultural green spaces.  Our job is to raise awareness and influence legislation so that the Department of Environmental Protection can make the necessary changes,” he said.

Dr. Ana Trakhtenbrot, who heads the biodiversity section at the Environmental Protection Ministry, said her ministry’s vision is for every municipality to survey which urban natural areas under its jurisdiction it should maintain and preserve.



South Carolina Beach Targeted With Antisemitic Flyers

A small South Carolina beach town was targeted with antisemitic flyers on Sunday (12th) which resembled those distributed in other locations across the United States over the past two years.

Police in Surfside Beach, South Carolina opened an investigation into the incident after the hate pamphlets in plastic bags weighed down with rice were found on lawns early Sunday morning, WPDE reported.

“The Police Department is aware of the shameful acts committed by persons distributing antisemitic propaganda around town during the early morning hours this morning.  Officers have been around town trying to remove the flyers from your yards.  We are looking into the matter and gathering facts,” local police said in a social media statement.

“The town of Surfside Beach is family-oriented and welcomes all people to our community.  We do not condone this behavior in any way,” the police added.

Similar antisemitic propaganda flyers in plastic bags weighed down with rice have been found in dozens of locations across the United States in the last two years, with some of the incidents occurring during Jewish holidays.

Flyers were also found in early May in nearby Murrells Inlet, in that case with hard candies placed in the bags to keep them from blowing away.

Police said they believe the flyers were delivered around 2:30 a.m. by vehicle, and that they are continuing to investigate.