News Digest — 6/20/22

Cyberattack Suspected Behind False Siren Alerts In Jerusalem, Eilat

Security officials suspect that rocket sirens heard in Jerusalem and Eilat on Sunday (19th) were the result of a cyberattack.  The Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD) believes hackers may have been behind the incident due to the fact that the sirens activated were civilian rather than part of the Home Front Command network, according to a statement issued Monday (20th) by the Israel Defense Forces.

Local authorities have been instructed to take preventive measures against the threat, the statement said.

The Cyber Directorate is examining whether Iranian hackers were behind the attack, according to unsourced reports in Hebrew language media.

Jerusalem residents reported hearing the sirens in the city’s Katamonim, Beit Hakerem, and Neve Yaakov neighborhoods.  They said the alerts lasted for nearly an hour.

In an initial statement on Sunday (19th), the Israel Defense Forces said the sirens were the result of a technical malfunction, but later noted that they sounded on civilian loudspeakers rather than the military’s own network.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have intensified in recent weeks, after the assassination of a top Iranian officer in Tehran last month that Iran blames on Israel, including the deaths of other security and scientific Iranian personnel, and airstrikes in Syria against Iranian-linked targets.

These tensions led Israel to urge its citizens in Turkey to leave immediately in recent days, over concerns that Iranian agents were planning to kill Israelis there.  The warnings came amid reports in the press that Israeli and Turkish intelligence had thwarted several planned attacks by a broad network of Iranian agents, nabbing some of the suspects. 

Israeli cybersecurity firm CheckPoint Research reported last week that Iranian hackers recently led a spear-phishing operation against high-ranking Israelis and Israel-linked targets, including former foreign minister Tzipi Livni and a former US ambassador to the Jewish state.



Israel Strikes Gaza After Rocket Fire Breaks Two-Month Lull

The increase of Gaza entry permits into Israel has been suspended following the firing of a rocket into Israel, Saturday (18th), shattering a two-month lull.

The decision by Defense Minister Benny Gantz was made following a security evaluation Saturday evening (18th).

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories announced last week that an additional 2,000 permits into Israel were going to be granted to Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip for purposes of work and commerce.

“The suspension is in response to the firing of a rocket toward the State of Israel,” COGAT said in a statement, adding that “the Hamas terror organization carries responsibility for all activities directed against Israel in and from the Gaza Strip, and it will bear the consequences.”

Incoming rocket sirens were activated Saturday morning (18th) at 3:10 am in the city of Ashkelon and neighboring communities.  A rocket launched from Gaza into Israel was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

“Strikes by Israeli aircraft and tanks took place several hours after the rocket fire during the daylight hours, as Israel targeted a weapons manufacturing facility along with three outposts in the Gaza Strip, including one that overlooked Kibbutz Netiv Haasara on Gaza’s northern border,” the military said in a statement.

Machine-gun fire was directed toward the kibbutz from Gaza later on Saturday (18th), with at least one bullet entering a home and causing material damage.

The last time that rockets were fired from the Hamas-ruled enclave was on April 18 when one was fired toward the southern Israeli communities of Kissufim and Ein Hashlosha, which are located just across from the Palestinian city of Khan Yunis.  Before that, the last rockets fired were on January 1 when two landed in the sea off the coast of Tel Aviv.

The rocket fire comes as tensions remain high in the West Bank as the IDF continues to crack down on potential terrorists as part of its Operation Break the Wave.  



Russia Seeking UN Condemnation Of Israeli Strike On Damascus Airport

Moscow is preparing a resolution to formally condemn Israel at the United Nations Security Council over an airstrike in early June which saw Syria’s main international airport shuttered due to heavy damage according to a report from Hebrew language Kan Reshet Bet.

The resolution will criticize Israel for violating Syria’s sovereignty and international law.

Russia, an ally of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has de facto control over Syria’s airspace, and has generally maintained a policy of looking the other way regarding Israeli airstrikes on Iranian assets in the country.

However, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has made a number of high profile statements in recent months slamming Israel for airstrikes in Syria and denouncing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.

A Russian resolution specifically calling out Israel for the attack would mark an unprecedented deterioration in security coordination between the two countries.  Before the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow largely turned a blind eye to Israeli airstrikes against Iranian entrenchment and weapons deliveries.

Notably, a senior Israeli official confirmed to Kan that Jerusalem is aware of the resolution and expects for it to be presented to the Council, but believes it will fail to pass.

The official stressed that “Iran continues to use Syrian territory and the airport for arms smuggling.”

In May 2022, Russian soldiers used advanced anti-aircraft missiles to target Israeli jets carrying out airstrikes in Syria.  Israel said those missiles are not advanced enough to pose a risk to the IAF.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has destroyed at least 15 Ukrainian airports, according to Kyiv.



Hezbollah Members Given Life Terms For Assassination  Of Lebanon Prime Minister

Appeals judges at an international tribunal sentenced two members of the Hezbollah terrorist group to life imprisonment Thursday (16th) for their roles in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the deaths of 21 other people in 2005.

Neither of the convicted men, Hassan Habib Merhi and Hussein Hassan Oneissi, has been arrested and sent to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the Netherlands.  They were tried in absence and remain at large.

Merhi and Oneissi were convicted on appeal in March of five crimes, including being accomplices to the international homicide of Hariri and the 21 others.  They all were killed when plotters detonated a huge truck bomb outside a hotel on Beirut’s seafront as Hariri’s motorcade drove past.

The blast wounded another 226 people and plunged Lebanon deeper into political turmoil.

During a hearing Thursday (16th), the tribunal’s president, Czech judge Ivana Hrdlickova, said Merhi and Oneissi were receiving life sentences for each of their five convictions.  If they are ever captured and imprisoned, the sentences would be served concurrently.

Prosecutors appealed after the two men were acquitted nearly two years ago following a lengthy trial that found another Hezbollah member, Salim Ayyash, guilty of involvement in the Feb. 14, 2005 blast.  Ayyash, who also was tired in absentia, received a life sentence.

The tribunal’s 2020 verdict was met with anger and disappointment in parts of Lebanon.  The trial judges said there was no evidence that Hezbollah’s leadership and Syria were involved in the attack but noted the assassination happened as Hariri and his political allies were discussing calling for Syria to withdraw tis forces from Lebanon.

Hezbollah insists it will not turn in Merhi, Oneissi or Ayyash.



Israeli Government Approves Program To Preserve Heritage Of Muslim World Jewry

The Israeli government on Sunday (19th) approved a program to document and preserve the history and heritage of Jewish communities in the Muslim world.

The proposal, sponsored by Social Equity Minister Meirav Cohen and Culture Minister Hili Tropper, would allow $1.84 million for “the national effort to preserve the story and heritage of Jewish communities from Iran and Arab countries, which are a cornerstone in the history of the revival of the Jewish people in its homeland, while giving real expression to the diversity of Israeli society, strengthening the sense of belonging of members and descendants of these communities, and as part of promoting social cohesion in Israel.”

The program comes against the backdrop of several recent studies that found that 80% of high-school graduates in Israel believe the history of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews is underrepresented in schools while the history of European Jews makes up an integral part of the curriculum in the country’s educational system.

The parliamentary teams working on the proposal seek to create a specialized archive for the heritage of Jewish communities from Iran and Arabi countries which will be a center of preservation and research of documentary times on Jewish history in those countries with the hope of prompting further research.

Social Equity Minister Cohen said she was saddened by the absence of the history and culture of these Jewish communities from the public narrative and expressed hope the program would help push them to the forefront.

Culture Minister Tropper called the program “a step on the road to amend” the exclusion of Jewish communities from the Muslim world – from the “Jewish-Israeli story.”



Canine Hero: Security Dog Foils Shooting Attack In Gush Etzion

A dog by the name of Tzayid (Hebrew for ‘Hunter’) recently thwarted a shooting attack in the Israeli town of Migdal Oz in Gush Etzion in Judea, Arutz-7 reported.

The IDF cleared the information for publication Thursday afternoon (16th).

The hero dog belonged to the Israel Dog Unit (IDU), a nonprofit that trains and supplies security dogs in vulnerable locations throughout Israel.

“The IDU saves lives in Israel through the use of specially trained service dogs in coordination with the IDF, Israeli police, ZAKA, and the Israeli Fire Department,” its website explains.

According to the IDU, several terrorists coming from the direction of the Palestinian Authority controlled town of Beit Fair began firing their weapons towards Migdal Oz.  The town’s security chief, accompanied by Tzayid, immediately went to investigate.

Tzayid chased the assailants, who had tried to flee, but the dog caught up with them.  They were then detained until the IDF arrived to take them into custody.

There were no injuries.

“We are proud to work with the chief of security for Migdal Oz. and proud of Tzayid, one of our eldest security dogs,” said an IDF spokesman.

The IDF stationed Tzayid in Migdal Oz after a Palestinian terrorist murdered 18-year-old yeshiva student Dvir Sorek near Migdal Oz three years ago the Arutz-7  report said.