News Digest — 8/5/20

Over 100 Dead, More Than 4,000 Injured In Beirut Explosion

Hospitals in Beirut turned away the injured from Tuesday’s (4th) massive explosion, as there were too many.  Bodies were strewn everywhere under the burning rubble.  The scene in the city looked like a war zone.  For many in Lebanon, it conjured up images from decades ago during the Civil War.  But these scenes of destruction all occurred in the space of half an hour on Tuesday evening (4th).

At least three explosions happened in Lebanon’s port.  One caused smoke to billow in the sky, a second created a reddish dark smoke, and the third looked like fireworks or other explosive material combusting, before another explosion sent a huge shockwave of vaporizing air, water and smoke throughout areas of the port.

More than a mile away, a correspondent wrote of being knocked off her feet.  Beirut offices were destroyed as windows caved in  from the force of the blasts.  People speculated about fireworks or fuel combustion.  The Health Ministry, which is linked to Hezbollah, put out a statement after seven in the evening, blaming fireworks.

The question some were asking is whether there were other munitions in the area that caused the bigger explosions.  Could a warehouse nearby have held fertilizer or nitrates?  Could it be linked to Hezbollah weapons trafficking?  These are the questions that the explosions brought to mind.  Questions were raised also why anyone would store munitions so close to a civilian area.  Others noted that Hezbollah has done this for years. 

Beirut International Airport, over 6 miles away, was also damaged from the blasts.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Wednesday morning (5th) that thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the site was the cause of the blast.  The material had been stored in a warehouse at the dock ever since being confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014, according to Lebanese media.

Lebanon’s Red Cross said more than 100 people have died so far, and over 4,000 are injured as of Wednesday (5th).

Beirut is already suffering a financial crisis and electricity problems.  It has had difficulties with garbage collections, protests, and a seemingly endless list of political crises.  The scale of destruction in offices and other areas appeared to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  This will ravage a Lebanon that is already financially ruined.  Nevertheless, within an hour of the explosions, as fires burned in the port, cars began to drive back and forth on Charles Helou Avenue, nearby.



Israel Offers Help To Lebanon

Within hours of the explosion that tore apart Beirut, killing hundreds and injuring thousands, Israel was prepared to support its victimized neighbor in its time of need.  Lebanon and Israel are not just neighbors – the countries share many commonalities.

The architecture and design of their port cities are rooted in the 1940s and 1950s.  The coastline is the same.  But the policies of the Lebanese government appear to have prevented immediate aid or support from reaching the tragedy-stricken country.

Israel has extensive experience in search and rescue as well as disaster relief.  The Jewish state has pioneered the use of technology to aid in disasters as well, part of the overall technological innovations in the Home Front Command.

Israel has already been recognized for offering support to Lebanon.  But Lebanon’s authorities have been slow to respond.  This, despite the fact that Israel’s hospitals in the north are a short trip from Beirut, and all medical personnel have had experience working with wounded from Syria in the past.

During the Syrian Civil War Israel provided help to thousands of people from Syria – many that were transferred to hospitals in Israel.

According to the IDF, Israel has provided aid to almost 30 countries during disasters.  This goes back to 1953 in Greece, and includes operations in 2004 in Egypt, in Kenya in 1998, Turkey in 2011, including Croatia in 1992 and the massive earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

Israel has thus deployed support globally.  It stands to reason that Israel could be of assistance in Lebanon.  And every hour that Lebanese authorities do not agree to Israel’s support in facilitating an aid mission, they pass up a unique opportunity.

The reason Lebanese authorities remained silent on Wednesday morning (5th) regarding Israel’s offers of help is likely due to Hezbollah’s stranglehold on Lebanon.

The movement which vows to destroy Israel with Iran’s backing poses as defending Lebanon, but when it comes to actually defending the thousands of Lebanese killed and wounded, Hezbollah’s billions of dollars that it siphons from the Lebanese economy are not there to provide search and rescue. 

Instead, Hezbollah is blocking Lebanon from the support it needs in time of economic crisis, in time of COVID-19, and now in time of this latest disaster.

It appears, at least a day after the explosions, that the ability to rapidly support Lebanon easily, has many hurdles due to Lebanon’s fractured politics and inability to put politics aside in favor of average people.



‘Israel Does What’s Necessary To Defend Itself,’ Netanyahu Warns Hezbollah

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday (4th) warned the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah and others after Israeli forces thwarted an infiltration attempt from Syria by militants.

The Israeli military announced late Monday (3rd) that it had struck targets in Syria after militants tried to plant explosives in the Golan Heights.  Israel killed the four suspects. 

Netanyahu, who toured a military base on Tuesday (4th), said Israel would not hesitate to take further action.

“We hit a cell and now we hit the dispatchers.  We will do what is necessary in order to defend ourselves.  I suggest to all of them, including Hezbollah, to consider this,” he said.

The incidents come amid heightened tension on Israel’s northern frontier following a recent Israeli airstrike that killed a Hezbollah fighter in Syria and anticipation that the Lebanese terror group would retaliate.

Following the airstrike, the Golan Heights was hit by explosives fired from Syria to which Israel responded by striking Syrian military positions and beefing up its forces in the area.

Last week, Israel also thwarted an infiltration attempt from Lebanon by Hezbollah terrorists, setting off one of the heaviest exchanges of fire along the volatile Israel-Lebanon border since a 2006 war between the bitter enemies.

Iran-backed Hezbollah is one of Israel’s most immediate threats.



World’s Largest Plane Lands In Israel With US-Made Trucks For Iron Dome

A massive Soviet-era cargo plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport Monday (3rd) bringing a load of American military trucks that will be integrated into Israel’s famous Iron Dome anti-missile system being sold to the U.S. military.

The huge Antonov 225 Mriya jet attracted a crowd of photographers and airplane aficionados as it roared overhead on its way to touching down.  On board were a load of military truck chassis manufactured by the Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Corporation.

“These trucks will be used by the Iron Dome systems purchased by the U.S. Army in the framework of the agreement signed between the two countries,” the Ministry of Defense said.

The systems will be used “to defend U.S. military troops against a wide range of ballistic and aerial threats,” the ministry added, without giving details on where the systems will be deployed.

The Oshkosh trucks will be fitted with the Iron Dome equipment that has proven itself as a highly-accurate defense system for shooting down unguided rockets.  First introduced in 2001, some 10 Iron Dome batteries are believed to be deployed around Israel where they have shot down an estimated 2,000 rockets fired by terrorists, mostly from Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Last year the United States Defense Department signed a contract to purchase two complete Iron Dome Systems, meant as an interim missile defense solution for the U.S., but Defense News reported that Iron Dome could turn into a permanent solution depending on its performance in the field for the Americans.

Delivery of the two systems for the United States Army is expected to commence in December 2020 and February 2021.

Known by its nickname Mriya (dream), the AN-225 is the largest aircraft ever produced and has over 30 wheels, six jet engines and a wingspan of 290 feet compared to the widest Boeing 747 jumbo jet whose wingspan is 211 feet.

Although the exact payload was not disclosed, the Mryia is big enough that it could theoretically carry eight of the Oshkosh Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks (HEMTT).



Israeli Chemistry Students Win Gold, Silver, And Bronze At 52nd Olympiad

A member of the Israeli delegation to the 52nd International Chemistry Olympiad, held this year in Istanbul, became the first Israeli competitor in a decade to win a gold medal at the prestigious event.

Israel’s young chemistry whizzes competed against 240 youths from 60 nations, including Iran and Syria.  Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s IChO was held via Zoom.

Roi Peer, 18, of Gan Haim scored a total of 90.35, qualifying him for the gold medal.

Prior to the competition, Peer said, “Last year, I won a silver medal, and I won bronze the year before that.  It’s been a weird year because of the coronavirus, mostly because the competition is taking place on Zoom, and that kind of lowers your motivation.”

After securing a gold medal, Peer said, “When they called my name, it was exciting.  After three years in the competition, I found that the work paid off.”  Peer’s teammates Ron Shprints and Bar Sheffer both earned silver medals, with scores of 83.31 and 81.80, respectively.  Team member Ward Yahya of Taibe scored 62.05, earning a bronze medal.

The Education Ministry and the Maimonides Fund’s Future Scientists Center oversaw the team’s training.  Education Minister Yoav Gallant congratulated the team, saying “We will support training for Israeli teams in scientific fields in 2021, as well.”