News Digest — 7/21/20

Israeli Airstrikes Hit Iranian Posts In Damascus, Says Syrian War Monitor – 5 killed, 11 wounded

The Syrian military said the country’s air defenses responded on Monday (20th) to Israeli air raids in south Damascus that caused material damage, and residents said loud explosions rocked the capital.

It was not clear what the targets were.  The air raids, which came just before 10 p.m., continued for more than fifteen minutes.  Residents reported hearing at least four explosions around Damascus.

A military official quoted in Syrian state media said the attack was carried out by Israeli jets that took off from the Golan Heights in northern Israel.  The unnamed official said air defenses responded and downed most of the missiles.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the country’s civil war, said the suspected Israeli strikes targeted government and Iranian militia posts, killing 5 pro-Iranian militants and injuring 11.

Israel rarely comments on such reports, but is believed to have carried out hundreds of raids targeting Iran’s military presence in Syria since 2017.  In the past two months alone, Syria has accused Israel of carrying out at least eight airstrikes.  The last reported strikes came in late June.

Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism and remains a key ally of the brutal Syrian government in the nearly decade-long civil war.

Iran has established itself as a regional menace and Israel has vowed to prevent any permanent Iranian military entrenchment in Syria, particularly near the border.

In recent months, Israeli officials have also sounded the alarm over the Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah’s attempts to establish facilities to produce precision-guided missiles.  Tensions have also risen along the Israeli-Lebanon border. 

The strikes Monday (20th) came a day after Syrians voted in government-held areas to elect a new parliament.  The vote is the third to take place in Syria since the civil war began in March 2011.  The war has killed more than 400,000, displaced half the country’s population and caused more than five million to become refugees.

Shortly after the strikes on Monday evening (20th), Israel closed the airspace above the Golan Heights east of the Jordan River until the end of July.



Hungarian FM Szijjarto: EU Must Give Trump’s Plan A Chance

Hungary vetoed EU condemnations of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan because “it has more hope to succeed than any previous proposal,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview during his half-day visit to Israel on Monday (20th).

“All of the plans put forward so far have failed,” Szijjarto pointed out.  “If you look at the Trump plan, we do believe it has the most basis for successful negotiations.  That’s why we vetoed the EU statement condemning the plan when it was published.”

Hungary has been one of a small number of EU member states – Czech Republic and Austria are others – that consistently blocked statements against the Trump plan and threats to Israel if it allows sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria.

“We think we should give this plan time and patience, to see if it works or not, instead of judging it upfront,” Szijjarto said.

“Let’s wait until Israel makes a decision.  Judging Israel on something that has yet to be done, on which there has been no decision made, doesn’t make sense.  It’s very counterproductive,” he said.

Szijjarto, who met with PM Benjamin Netanyahu for about an hour, Monday (20th) said that Hungary has the largest Jewish community in Central Europe and unlike in most of the continent, Budapest’s synagogues and Jewish community events do not need armed guards.  He also pointed to government-funded reconstruction projects for synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.

“We have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism,” he said.

Szijjarto Visited Jerusalem last year to open a Hungarian Trade office in the capital – however moving the Hungarian embassy there is not currently on the agenda.

Szijjarto also referred to an Israeli-Hungarian partnership to combat coronavirus, as Celitron, a subsidiary in Hungary of Israeli company BATM Advanced Communications, is currently working to  produce ventilators to treat COVID-19.

“In light of the pandemic, our country now has a duty to build strategic capacities to be able to produce the most important protective equipment on our own,” he said.  “This new step made in cooperation now with Israel … means we will be able to produce what we need and be an exporting country as well.”

During his short visit, Szijjarto spoke with Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi about regional security, and also met with Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay.



Iran Executes Alleged Mossad/CIA Agent Who Spied On Former Quds Commander

An Iranian accused of spying for US and Israeli intelligence was executed on Monday (20th), according to Iran’s official IRIB news agency.

Last month, Iran’s judiciary claimed that Mahmoud Mousavi-Majd, who was arrested in 2018, was “linked to the CIA and the Mossad” and spied on former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani.

On January 3, a US drone-strike in Iraq killed Soleimani, leader of the IRGC’s clandestine Quds Force.  Washington had accused Soleimani of masterminding attacks by Iran-aligned militias on US forces in the region.

Iran’s state-run Fars news agency said Monday (20th) that Mousavi Majd left Iran with his family as a child and grew up in Syria, and although he was never a member of the IRGC, “he was able to infiltrate many sensitive areas under the guise of a translator.”

The execution comes at a time when millions of Iranians have taken to social media to protest the death sentences awarded to three men accused of participating in anti-government protests last November.  The Farsi hashtag “Don’t execute” was tweeted millions of times last week.

“Since then their executions have been suspended,” one of their attorneys, Babak Paknia, said on Sunday (19th).



See You In September: Israeli Air Travel Shut Down For The Rest Of The Summer

Back in May, Managing Director of Ben Gurion International Airport Shmuel Zakai announced that air travel to and from Israel would resume July 1.  Since then the coronavirus epidemic in the country worsened, and Israelis are unwelcome in many countries around the world because of the nation’s high number of cases.

On Monday (20th), the Israel Airport Authorities informed airlines serving Israel that the date for re-launch of air travel had been postponed again, and the current restrictions would remain in place until September 1.

This means that foreign citizens will not be allowed to enter Israel through the end of the summer, and Israelis returning from abroad will still have to quarantine themselves for two weeks.

As a result, Israel’s aviation and tourism industries will have to write off most of the current year, with losses that include the peak periods of Passover and summer.

However, despite Monday’s (20th) announcement, many employees of the tourism and aviation sectors doubt that the airport will open as slated on September 1 and expect that air travel will not resume until after the High Holidays, which begin at the end of September.



The Alignment Of BDS And BLM: Implications For Israel And Diaspora Jewry – Dan Diker

→ American Jewish leaders unequivocally condemned the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd while in police custody.  Yet Jewish support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement failed to prevent a surge of anti-Semitic violence across the US in the aftermath of the Floyd murder.

→ Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) organizations have ratcheted up racial tensions and anti-Semitic agitation by accusing Israel of complicity in the Floyd murder, recasting Israel as an illegitimate “white oppressor” state that should be dismantled.  These BDS-led accusations have moved from the margins to the mainstream of US discourse.

→ The BDS-BLM narrative rebrands Israel as it has the US: as paradigms for white supremacy.  This has removed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from its territorial framework and has recast it as a racial issue.

→ The BDS and BLM movements share a vision for the replacement of Israel, which they see as an extension of the white United States – inherently unjust.  In this view, Israel is the result of a historical sin – an error that can be corrected only by Israel’s replacement by Palestine.

→ The rebranding of Israel as a white supremacist entity also categorizes Diaspora Jews as “white supremacists” by extension, unless they disavow Israel as a centerpiece of their American Jewish identity.

→ This assault against the historical and international legal legitimacy of the nation-state of the Jewish people also delegitimizes, criminalizes and dehumanizes Diaspora Jews by extension.

(The writer is Director of the Project to Counter BDS and Political Warfare at the Jerusalem Center.)