News Digest — 7/1/21

IAF’s New F-35 Squadron Becomes Operational

The Israeli Air Force on Thursday (1st) dedicated its third Adir squadron, which will call the Nevatim Airbase in the south its home.

Composed of the advanced F-35 stealth fighter jets exclusively, the 117th Squadron – the namesake of the iconic IAF squadron that led the 1981 strike on the nuclear reactor in Iraq – will initially focus primarily on training pilots.

The squadron thus joins the two existing F-35 formations, the 140th Squadron, formed in 2016, and the 116th Squadron, which became operational in 2020.

The IDF has already begun preparations to form a fourth stealth jet squadron.

The Israeli Air Force currently has 27 F-35 stealth jets, delivered as part of a 50-aircraft deal inked with the United States.  Delivery of the remaining jets should be concluded by 2024, with six aircraft expected to arrive each year until then.



Bennett Says Israel Will Never Hold Back Against Enemies Near And Far

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday (6/30) vowed Israel will never hold itself back from striking its enemies in self-defense if necessary.

“The State of Israel will always defend itself against any external threat and will not hold itself back from ensuring our security,” Bennett said at a ceremony in Jerusalem marking the anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism.

He added: “We will act firmly, creatively and consistently against threats both near and far.”

Bennett did not refer to any specific threat but his remarks came as the United States held talks on rejoining the international accord restricting Iran’s nuclear program, a move Israel opposes.

The new premier last week singled out Iran when vowing not to allow any “existential threat” against Israel.  He also hinted at Israeli involvement in a recent drone attack at an Iranian nuclear site outside Tehran.

In his speech on Wednesday (6/30), Bennett also commented on the formation of his power-sharing government with Yair Lapid earlier this month, which saw him replace Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.

He said the government was seeking to handle internal divides “quietly, calmly, respectfully and attentively.”  “We not only talk, we also listen to all opposing sides,” Bennett added.



Report: Cairo Talks To Release Israeli Hostages Didn’t Yield Results

Indirect Egyptian-mediated talks in Cairo between Hamas and Israel failed to advance a deal that would allow the release of two Israeli citizens held captive and the return of the remains of two IDF soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza War, KAN news reported.

Israel has insisted that any agreement to rehabilitate Gaza must be linked to the return of the soldiers and citizens.  President Reuven Rivlin delivered this message to US President Joe Biden on Monday (6/28) and to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday (6/29).

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also raised the matter with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday (6/27).

At issue are the bodies of Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, presumed to have been killed during the 2014 Gaza War, and the fate of two Israeli citizens, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who crossed into Gaza in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

According to KAN news, both the Hamas and Israeli delegations were in Cairo at the same time.

Egypt, with the help of the UN, is attempting to broker a permanent cease-fire to prevent a further outbreak of IDF-Hamas violence, such as last month’s 11-day war known as Operation Guardian of the Walls.

In his meeting with Rivlin, Guterres “stressed the importance of unconditional humanitarian access and of reconstruction in Gaza,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.  Guterres, however, reiterated “that the fate of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israel Defense Force soldiers held by Hamas in Gaza remains an important humanitarian concern and called for their return,” Dujarric said. 



Congress Advances $180 Million For Jewish Security

WASHINGTON – The House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee approved on Wednesday (6/30) an advance on the 2022 Appropriations Bill, including $180 million for the Nonprofit Security Grants Program.

The program allows houses of worship and other nonprofits to apply for grants of up to $100 thousand for each institute.  The money can be used for security measures such as fencing, cameras, stronger doors and the hiring of security personnel.

Last December, Congress doubled the budget of the NSGP from $90 million to $180 million for the fiscal year 2021.  Several Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federations of North America and the Secure Community Network (SCN) advocated increasing the project’s funding in light of antiSemitic attacks in several states across the US.

At a time when three-quarters of American Jews believe that anti-Semitism is on the rise, Jewish Federations are working hard to secure our communities,” JFNA CEO Eric Fingerhut said in a statement.

“We thank Congress for its continued funding of the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which has been an important tool to help secure the Jewish community in the face of rising anti-Semitism, and continue to urge further funding,” he said.

The security grants, a FEMA program, has been tripled since 2019, from $60 million to $180 million.  “Given the current environment, Federations respectfully but strenuously urge support for further substantial increases in funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program in fiscal year 2022,” JFNA said in a statement.



New Plaque To Be Unveiled at Athens Concentration Camp

A memorial plaque was erected last week in Block 15 of the Haidari concentration camp in Athens, Greece where Jews were imprisoned and murdered during the Nazi occupation of Greece between 1943 and 1944.

The plaque was installed next to a sign that speaks of the Greek resistance fighters who were killed there, reported Athens newspaper Ekathimerini.

Haidari was the largest and most infamous concentration camp in Nazi occupied Greece, where it became known as the “Bastille of Greece.”

It was a transit camp that sat on the former site of a Greek Army base.

It saw thousands of prisoners pass through its gates, including as many as 21,000 in one year, mainly Jews, Italian POWs and Greek political prisoners.  Most of the Jews ended up in Auschwitz where many were executed.  Others were sent to Germany and used as forced labor.

The plaque was created in coordination with the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, Deputy Defense Minister Alkiviadis Stefanis and the Cultural Ministry.

The Jewish Museum of Greece helped provide the historical information on Jews who were imprisoned in the Haidari concentration camp.

The plaque will be officially unveiled in September.



Rafael Unveils Seabreaker, A New Missile With Over 168-Mile Range

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems has unveiled a new precision missile that can be launched from ships at sea or ground-based launchers and hit targets at a distance of over 168 miles.

Called “Seabreaker” the missile is a naval and artillery unit “force multiplier, designed to overcome the challenges of the modern warfare arena,” Rafael said in a statement.

The 13-foot long missile weighs less than 882 pounds and flies at high subsonic speeds toward its target.  With infrared homing and automatic target recognition capabilities, it can be launched both during the day or night and in all weather conditions.

“It’s smart and to the point,” a senior Rafael official told reporters on Tuesday (6/29), adding that the Seabreaker brings all the capabilities of the Israeli company into one precision strike fifth-generation missile.

It can be used for various purposes including sea-to-sea, sea to land, land to sea, or land to land missions against high-value targets and can be launched from naval platforms of varying size, from fast attack missile ships to corvettes and frigates.  Based on Rafael’s SPYDER launchers, the Seabreaker can also be fired from vehicles such as Humvees or Dodge Rams, making it versatile and mobile.

Rafael did not design the missile for launch from submarines or aircraft like other missiles it produces.

According to the company, the battery architecture supports standalone launchers, or operates as an integrated solution with a command and control unit (CCU) and various sensors.

With an advanced IIR (Imaging Infra-Red) seeker, the Seabreaker can engage both maritime and land targets in advanced anti-access or area denial arenas.  It can hit targets in littoral or brown water, including archipelagos and also strike targets where previous generation RF-seeker-based missiles are not effective,” Rafael said.

The Seabreaker can maneuver and dodge obstacles while it flies at terrain-following low-level flight above the ground or sea skimming, below enemy air defense radar altitudes.  With data sharing and man-in-the-loop systems, the operator can see exactly when the missile hits its target, even when launched from a stand-alone range.

According to senior Rafael officials, the company took the capabilities of both the SPIKE NLOS and SPICE missiles and combined them to make the Seabreaker.

With state-of-the-art electro-optical seekers with unique scene-matching algorithms, navigation guidance and honing techniques, the Seabreaker can fulfill operational missions without GPS and with minimum collateral damage.

Using artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies like deep-learning and big data-based scene matching, the missile is able to automatically acquire and track targets.  It also has a datalink-support system that allows the operator to make decisions and tactical updates.

The surgical-strike missile can be operated in GPS-denied arenas and is immune to electronic countermeasures (ECM) and is jam-resistant.  The Seabreaker also has a mid-flight abort capability and battle damage assessment for operators to see the target after firing the missile.

“It’s mission-effective,” said the official, adding that it can strike targets “when you want, how you want and from where you want.”