News Digest — 7/1/22

Hamas Reconciliation With Syria ‘Source Of Concern’ For Israel

A recent report that Hamas and Syria have established relations after a decade of rupture between them is a source of concern for Israel, Michael Barak, a senior researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya told Jewish News Syndicate.

The Palestinian terror group has “decided to restore ties with Syria 10 years after its leadership shunned Damascus over opposition to President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on a revolt against his rule,” according to Reuters, citing two Hamas members.

The terrorist group, which rules the Gaza Strip, had to vacate its Damascus headquarters in 2012 after it came down on the side of Sunni rebels who were fighting to topple the minority Alawite Assad regime from power that year. 

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) – the second-largest armed terror faction in Gaza – has remained in Damascus.

Hamas’ position on the Syrian war also harmed its ties with Iran for several years until relations were restored in 2017, and Iranian financial and operational assistance to Hamas was restored.

According to Barak, the reports of a new breakthrough in ties between Damascus and Hamas appear credible.

“Hezbollah in Lebanon was involved in the reconciliation,” he said.  “The efforts led to a green light for Hamas and the Syrian regime.  Why did it happen now?  It took time for Hezbollah to mediate and for relations to thaw.”  This is a source of concern for Israel because we know that Hamas is building up its presence in the north of Lebanon.  If Hamas opens a headquarters in Syria, it can start to build capabilities in Syria, too,” cautioned Barak.

With much of Syria under Iranian control, Hamas has a new opportunity to receive access to weapons from Iranian-backed forces in the area, such as Hezbollah and pro-Iranian Shiite militias.

“This is an arena that can develop in Syria,” Barak assessed.

Noting the changes that have occurred since 2012 that have facilitated the reconciliation, Barak said: “We should remember that geostrategic conditions have changed.  In 2012, then-Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood President, Mohammad Morsi rose to power and this led Hamas to cancel relations with Syria, which was butchering its Sunni population.  But since then, the Assad regime has grown stronger; Iran is advancing in its nuclear program; Morsi is gone; and Hamas has been isolated in the region.”

Looking ahead, Barak posited a scenario in which Hamas could act as the arrowhead of Palestinian terrorist factions in Syria with the blessing of Hezbollah and Iran.

“Hamas is trying to create a command and control mechanism with other Palestinian factions in Lebanon so that it can operate in a more efficient manner from Lebanon, and now, Syria’s door is open, also.  This is a force multiplier,” he stated.

Jordan could be less than thrilled to find Hamas cells operating near its border, according to Barak.

“Egypt, also concerned by Iranian hegemonic aspirations in the Middle East, will take a dim view of the increasing amalgamation of Hamas with the Iranian axis,” he added.  “It makes Hamas look worse in Egyptian eyes,” he said, “like it is getting closer to the Iranian-Shiite crescent.”



Israel’s President Meets Incoming PM Yair Lapid

Israeli President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog met Thursday afternoon (6/30) with incoming Prime Minister Yair Lapid and wife Lihi Lapid at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

At the start of their meeting, President Herzog said: “We are in a period of new elections.  Five elections in such a short time is very unhealthy for a country.  We must remember that first of all, first and foremost, there is a state to run, a country to lead, a country that must take care of its citizens’ needs, even if there are elections.”

“I want to congratulate you and wish you success my friend, Yair Lapid.  You come to this role with great experience, with many talents, and you have also proven considerable political skill.  I wish you great success, because your success is the country’s success, regardless of elections.  Elections are elections, running the country is running the country.  I offer you my help and support, as I have done with any other prime minister, and the same with you.  I am sure we will work together successfully.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid said; “Thank you, Mr. President. Even though we have clashed in the past politically, we respected each other and kept a common language.  Let’s remember that the arguments we have had were arguments for the sake of the State of Israel.  So I have come here to you to receive reminders of the past and a blessing from you concerning the future way ahead, because you have done this your whole life.”

Earlier on Thursday (6/30) Lapid and outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a ceremony marking the transfer of power.



Germany seeking Israeli Weapons Systems

As Germany rebuilds its military after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is looking to Israel to help improve its preparedness.  In the past decade, a reciprocal security relationship has provided Germany with UAVs built in Israel and air-to-surface missiles fired from UAVs developed by Israel’s defense industry.  Israel also sells anti-tank missiles and missile defense systems to Germany.  A German request  to purchase the Arrow-3 long-range missile defense system is also being discussed.

“From the moment the German army’s procurement list was published, that is, the key areas where it intends to spend its 100 billion euros, the phones have not stopped ringing in Israel,” said an Israeli source familiar with security procurement relations between the two countries.

Dr. Peter Lintl, of SWF, the German Institute for International Security Affairs, said, “The Germans see clearly that Israel’s arms work, and there’s no doubt that Israel is a leading country in this area….There are many considerations in buying weapons systems, but they are undoubtedly always joined by a longstanding German consideration of reinforcing ties – reinforcing ties between the two countries because of their histories.”



Three Years After Its Founding, Trump Heights Is A Flourishing Community

Trump Heights has blossomed into a thriving community in the three years since the then-non-existent Golan Heights town was named after the former American president, the Israel Hayom Hebrew-language daily reported on Thursday (6/30).

Local residents of the new community were interviewed for the newspaper’s weekend supplement to mark the anniversary of Trump Heights’ inauguration in 2019.

In June 2019, the Israeli Cabinet under the Netanyahu government voted on a resolution to “initiate establishment of a new residential community on the Golan Heights to be named for U.S. President Donald Trump.”

The move was in recognition of the president’s efforts on behalf of Israel, including recognizing Jerusalem as the country’s capital as well as Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights.

When it was first inaugurated, Trump Heights was nothing more than a patch of grass in the rolling hills of the Golan Heights.  Around 20 families moved there in the summer of 2020, from both secular and religious backgrounds.  A boarding school for underprivileged youths, prior to their military enlistment, was inaugurated there in 2019.

According to the report, the newly established town hopes to see an additional 99 homes built in the next five years.

“What pioneers we are,” local resident Alik Goldberg quipped, “we now have the internet here, not like the internet in Tel Aviv, and our deliveries come straight from the supermarket.”

“In 2022, it’s a challenge to speak in terms of pure Zionism, but the small operation of establishing a settlement is still significant in itself, especially in this part of the country,” said Goldberg. 

Ariel, 40, admits he was afraid of the long distance move to Trump Heights.  His children live in the center of the country while his parents live in Jerusalem.

But Trump Heights’ religious-secular mix appealed to Ariel, who is an observant Jew and his wife Dafna who is secular.

“We want to show that you can live life differently, without arguments and division.  Our family is proof of that.”

The Golan Heights was captured by Israel from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War after the Syrians had amassed troops on what was formerly the border.

During the 19 years after the State of Israel was established, Syrian snipers and artillery used the Heights to fire at Israeli civilians below.

In 1981, the Israeli parliament passed legislation extending Israeli law to the strategic plateau.



70 Headstones Toppled In Winnipeg Jewish Cemetery

Around 70 headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Winnipeg, Manitoba that were found toppled earlier in the week have been put back in place, but it is unknown how many were damaged and in need of repair.

On Wednesday morning (29th), workers at Shaarey Zedek Cemetery in the city’s West Kildonan residential suburb discovered that the stones had been pushed over onto the ground, CBC News reported.

According to Ran Ukashi, executive director of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, the owner of the cemetery, community members are in shock.

“It’s an insult to the dead and also to the living families who go there and see this,” Ukashi told the CBC.

The grave markers have all been put back in place. Police have opened an investigation into the vandalism.  B’nai Brith Canada and the Jewish Federation of Canada have also been notified.



Jewish Population of Australia Close To 100,000 For First Time

The Jewish population of Australia hit a new record in the latest census figures for 2021.

Data released on Tuesday (6/28) showed there were 99,956 Jews in the country, a 9.8 percent increase from the last figure in 2016 of 91,023, the Australian Jewish News reported.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures released this week from the 2021 Australian Census showed a historic record, with the Jewish population nearly at 100,000 for the first time, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) stated.

ECAJ co-CEO Peter Wertheim told the news outlet that he believed the number of Jews was undercounted with some Holocaust survivors not comfortable with marking  their religion and used the “no religion” option at the top of questions on the census.  He estimates that there are likely around 120,000 Jews in Australia currently.