News Digest — 7/2/21

After 3 Weeks Of Quiet, Arson Balloons Launched From Gaza Start 4 Fires In South – IAF Strikes Back

Incendiary balloons launched from Gaza sparked four fires near Israeli towns along the southern border Thursday (1st), breaking more than two weeks of quiet since the last wave of attempted arson attacks.

Most of the fires were small and not dangerous, according to the Fire and Rescue Services, which said that its respondents quickly managed to gain control of the blazes in the Eshkol Regional Council before significant damage was caused.

In response, IAF aircraft struck a Hamas weapons manufacturing facility in Gaza Thursday evening (1st), the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement.

“The IDF will respond strongly to any terrorist attempts from the Gaza Strip,” the statement read.

In June, arson balloons launched by Hamas operatives caused some 20 fires in Israeli communities in the Gaza periphery.  Israel Defense Forces planes struck a wide range of Hamas military targets throughout the Strip, responding to the attacks in less than a day.

The response by the new government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett indicated a shift in policy from the previous one, which did not always respond to arson balloon attacks with airstrikes, and wouldn’t do so as quickly or as forcibly, in order to avoid escalation along the southern border.

Last month’s arson balloons and counterstrikes were the first since the 11-day war that Israel fought against Gaza terror groups in May.  They took place amid Israel’s decision to allow activists to proceed with the annual flag march through the Old City of Jerusalem, which Palestinians branded a “provocation.”

For the past three years, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, mostly linked to Hamas and other terror groups, have launched thousands of balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel, causing widespread fires and significant damage to agricultural fields, nature reserves, and private property.

Hamas has used the launching of incendiary devices in order to keep pressure on Israel to move along with reconstruction efforts in the Strip.

Bennett, who replaced Benjamin Netanyahu on June 13, has long urged a tougher response to arson balloons, saying in previous years that they should be treated the same as rockets, and that attacks on southern Israel should receive the same response as attacks targeting central Israel.



Israel Welcomes German Leader As Ally Against Anti-Semitism

Israel’s President warmly welcomed his German counterpart on Thursday (1st), praising him as an ally in combatting anti-Semitism.

Reuven Rivlin said that Germany has been Israel’s “strong partner in the uncompromising fight against anti-Semitism” and has stood with Israel against “the forces of terror who seek to wipe us off the map.”

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also met with Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem.  The prime minister’s office said in a statement that the two discussed Iran’s nuclear program, and that Bennett restated Israel’s determination to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

During a solemn visit to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Steinmeier said the “unspeakable suffering” caused in Germany’s name “fills us with pain and shame.”

“We will keep the memory of this alive for the sake of those who were murdered and for the sake of future generations,” he said.

Germany launched a new initiative with the United States last week to stem an alarming rise in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial around the world.

The US-Germany Holocaust Dialogue seeks to reverse the trend, which gained traction during the coronavirus pandemic amid a surge in political populism across Europe and the US.

The dialogue creates a way to develop educational and messaging tools to teach youth and others about the crimes of the Nazis and their collaborators.



US Lawmakers Seek To Press Lebanon To Disarm Hezbollah

A bipartisan bill aimed at pressuring the government of Lebanon to disarm paramilitary groups such as the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization within its borders was introduced in the US House of Representatives on Tuesday (6/29).

The bill, called the “Strategic Lebanon Security Reporting Act,” requires the State Department to put together a strategy to help Lebanon implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was agreed to after the 2006 Lebanon War, setting up a strategy for disarming armed groups along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

The bill was introduced in the House of Reps. by Elaine Luria (D-VA.) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY).

“Having been to the Israeli-Lebanese border, I’ve seen the rockets aimed at Israel and I understand the importance of curbing Hezbollah’s presence and impact in Lebanon,” Luria said in a news release.

“Hezbollah will not stop its pursuit of destroying Israel.  I introduced this bill to strengthen the international effort to prevent Hezbollah and other terrorist paramilitary groups within Lebanon’s borders from freely amassing arms and posing significant security risks to our closest Middle East allies.”

The bill encouraged cooperation between Lebanon and international peacekeeping missions on the border and utilized US-Lebanon diplomatic engagement to prevent the building of cross-border tunnels into Israel and weapons factories inside Lebanon.

“Like Hamas, Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy that is an imminent and constant threat to our greatest ally in the region, Israel,” Zeldin said in the release.  “The United States cannot sit idly by as Hezbollah continues to exert influence within the Lebanese Armed Forces and amass  military resources as it seeks to destroy Israel.  We must make it clear to our allies and adversaries in the Middle East and throughout the world that the United States stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel and considers its safety a top international priority.”

Last week, Zeldin reintroduced the “Countering Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Military Act,” which threatened to withhold 20% of US security assistance to Lebanon until its military effectively expels Hezbollah-influenced personnel and fulfils Resolution 1701.  Luria and Zeldin had co-introduced the same bill in 2019.

That same year, Luria sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pushing for a stronger international effort to limit Hezbollah and bolster existing UN capabilities in the region.



European Court Rejects Attempt To reopen Yasser Arafat Death Probe

The widow and daughter of former Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Yasser Arafat have lost an attempt to reopen an investigation into his death in 2004, The Guardian reported on Thursday (1st).

Suha El Kodwa Arafat and Zahwa El Kodwa Arafat, who are both French nationals, filed a criminal complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that claimed Arafat had been the victim of premeditated murder, after unsuccessful lawsuits in French courts.

However, in a ruling issued on Thursday (1st), the ECHR said there had been no infringement of the right to a fair hearing and the complaint was “manifestly ill-founded.”

The court unanimously declared the complaint inadmissible, according to The Guardian.

Arafat, aged 75, died in Percy military hospital near Paris in November of 2004 after developing stomach pains while at his headquarters in Ramallah.

His widow Suha lodged a complaint at a court in France in 2012, claiming that her husband was assassinated, sparking an inquiry.

The same year, Arafat’s tomb in Ramallah was opened for a few hours, allowing three teams of French, Swiss and Russian investigators to collect around 60 samples.

Suha Arafat allowed investigators to exhume her husband’s body after traces of polonium-210 were found on clothing that she provided to scientists as part of an Al Jazeera documentary.

Following the investigation by the Swiss team, PA officials were quick to say that the findings proved that Arafat had been “assassinated” and, as expected, blamed Israel for his murder.

In 2015, French judges closed an investigation into claims Arafat was murdered, without bringing any charges.  The French court of appeal upheld the dismissal of the case, leading his widow and daughter to take their case to the ECHR.



Arab Social Media Users Find Common Ground With Israelis – Tara Kavaler

Social media influencer Yousif Mohamed, 20, is one of the first Bahrainis to visit Israel.  “You’re never too young to want to try and change the world,” he says.  “Ignorance can sometimes hinder us and it was because of this that I decided to visit and see things for myself, and I’m really happy that I’ve taken that step…It’s completely different from what you see in mainstream media.  Israelis aren’t people who want death to Arabs….In fact, they live with Arabs like their brothers.”  Mohamed is one of 25 social media influencers from the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco who came to Israel for a week-long tour and to find common ground with Israelis.

Saoud Saqer, 30, is from Abu Dhabi.  One lesson that Saqer learned and wants to take back with him is that Israelis come from all different backgrounds.  “Israel is a nation, it’s a country….Within that state there are Muslims, Jews, Christians, and all of them share their love for the land and for the State of Israel.  There are even Israeli [Jews] who have an Arab background.  I want the world to know…there are Arabs and Muslims who are working in Israel’s health department, the police, and in the army.”