News Digest — 7/1/20

Netanyahu Delays Sovereignty Deadline

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Tuesday (6/30) that discussions with the US on his plan to extend sovereignty over Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria would continue “in the coming days,” indicating he would miss a July 1 target date for beginning the process.

Netanyahu made the comment shortly after wrapping up talks with White House envoy Avi Berkowitz and the US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.  The sides have been holding talks for several months on finalizing a map spelling out over which areas of Judea and Samaria Israel will extend sovereignty.

Netanyahu has been eager to begin the sovereignty process.  Under US President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan, unveiled in January, around 30% of Judea and Samaria will come under permanent Israeli control, while giving the Palestinians autonomy in the vast majority of the territory.

Israel gained control of Judea and Samaria from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, a conflict during which four Arab states attacked Israel.

The UN and several EU member-states consider Judea and Samaria occupied “Palestinian territory,” despite the fact that no Palestinian state has ever existed there, and consistently label Israel’s more than 120 communities there as “illegal.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who holds the title of alternate prime minister, said that the July 1 target date was not “sacred,” and that “we will wait.”  

“Meanwhile the government will grapple with Israel’s health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic,” he added.



Pompeo: ‘I Studied Israel’s Military History and Put It Into Practice Myself’

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doubled down on the United States’ support for Israel Tuesday (6/30), reaffirming that America considers Israel to be a “major asset” to the American people.

Speaking to the Christians United For Israel (CUFI) annual summit held online this week, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Pompeo praised the US-Israel relationship and said the Trump administration was working to make it stronger.

“Israel is one of America’s most trusted partners and a major asset for the security of America’s people.” Pompeo said.  “This administration is strengthening its partnership with Israel.”

Pompeo got personal as well, sharing some anecdotes about how Israel influenced him growing up as a Christian and also as an officer cadet in the US Army during his training at West Point.

“Israel’s story is part of my story too,” Pompeo said, recalling that as part of his army education he studied Israeli military history and put it into practice himself.

“Israel’s famous tank victories in the Yom Kippur War taught me valuable lessons for leading my own tank unit patrolling the Iron Curtain,” Pompeo said.

“When I first visited the Holy Land decades ago as a private citizen I experienced a transcendent connection walking in places I had heard about in church and read about in the Bible all my life.”

Another guest at the CUFI Conference was former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who described her efforts at the UN to get the international body to stop automatically condemning Israel.

“Israel shares our values and is the only true democracy in the Middle East,” Haley said.  “But most importantly, you know this indisputable fact – you can’t destroy what God has blessed.”



Egypt Staying Quiet On Israeli Moves on Sovereignty

While Egypt has expressed concern over possible moves to extend Israeli law in parts of the West Bank, the Palestinian cause may no longer be the regime’s main priority.  Balancing numerous crises, the Egyptian government can ill-afford to alienate close allies, especially Israel and the United States, analysts say.

“There are far more substantial crises facing Egypt today: the coronavirus crisis and its economic consequences, Turkish military intervention on Egypt’s longest border [in Libya] and the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.  All of these crises take priority,” said Ofer Winter, who studies Egyptian-Israeli relations at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

“There is widespread sympathy for the Palestinians, and that’s not going away….But the importance of the Palestinian cause is no longer the same.  It’s no longer the Nasser era or the Sadat era,” an Egyptian foreign affairs analyst said.  “If Israel takes steps in the West Bank, Egypt will keep rehashing all the old diplomatic statements to express its disagreement….But I don’t think Netanuyahu’s relationship with Sissi will be affected.”

New data from an independent opinion poll shows that 85% of the Egyptian public is more concerned about domestic problems than any foreign policy issue.  And on foreign affairs, only a third put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the top of their priority list.



With Tunnels Collapsed, Hamas Explores Attacks By Sea

Terrorist group Hamas is currently exploring maritime options to infiltrate Israel as underground tunnels have become less viable, reported Israel’s Channel 12 News on Monday (6/29).

Hamas has traditionally utilized extensive networks of underground tunnels to smuggle weapons, supplies, narcotics, and even terrorists from Gaza into Israel.

But since the IDF began constructing an underground barrier that prevents tunneling, along with systematically destroying the tunnels, Hamas has had to explore alternative options to attack the Jewish state, including by air and sea.

Channel 12 News reported that the loss of tunnels has led Hamas to train dozens of terrorists as naval commandos, to be used for a maritime invasion of Israel via the Mediterranean Sea.  Hamas has obtained advanced equipment that enables training for underwater warfare and invasion scenarios.

Much of the naval training is taking place at bases in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp area near Gaza City.  Some of these bases have previously been the site of airstrikes by the Israeli Air Force.

Hamas views its developing naval unit as a significant part of its military capability, as critical as its launch of rockets and explosive kites, said Channel 12 News.   

Israel’s security forces are closely watching the maritime threat.  Following the successful efforts to destroy terror tunnels, the IDF was aware Hamas would seek out other ways to invade Israel.

Recently, the IDF constructed an observation pier opposite Zikim Beach, near the Erez Border Crossing, to thwart swimmers and divers attempting to infiltrate Israel from the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli Navy has also deployed a series of underwater sensors that report real-time threats, and a dedicated fleet of Navy ships and observers regularly patrol and monitor the waters between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Two weeks ago, the IDF released a video of a weapons-smuggling attempt from Sinai, Egypt to Gaza via the sea.  The Israeli Navy thwarted the attempt, capturing Mohammad Bakar, a senior smuggler who often works with Hamas.



Iranian Missile Can Reach Central And Northern Europe

A new analysis by the site Breaking Defense suggests Iran may be developing a new missile variant that is designed to strike Europe’s heartland and is disguising it as a space launch vehicle.

According to the analysis of the Qased space launch vehicle, it appears to have “a strong relationship to the Shahab-3 ballistic missile” and based on the recent satellite launch carried out, it may in fact be used for other purposes.

This means that if the missile were to be used for military purposes rather than just for space launches, it could be fired as a ballistic missile and in this case “the Qased could reach central Europe and parts of northern Europe, depending on its payload mass.”

According to the site, the recent attack against the Al Asad airbase in Saudi Arabia shows that Iran has “made great leaps in improving the accuracy of its ballistic missiles.”

If the actual range of the missile is as analyzed, this would directly contradict Iran’s public comments.

So far, Iran says it officially limits the maximum range of its ballistic missiles to 1,242 miles; sufficient to reach Israel and Saudi Arabia, the stated foes of the Iranian regime.

The US government maintains that Iran’s space launch vehicle development is a cover for building long-range ballistic missiles, and this analysis does not contradict that assertion,” the site reported.