News Digest — 8/5/21

Iranian President Sworn In As World Watches

Ebrahim Raisi will be sworn in as Iran’s president at its parliament Thursday afternoon (5th) in front of international officials from over 70 countries.

His swearing-in ceremony at the Islamic Republic’s legislative branch comes after Tuesday’s (3rd) ceremony in which the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini formally marked Raisi as president in a ceremony attended mostly by Iranian domestic officials.

While Tuesday’s (3rd) ceremony seems to have marked Raisi’s formal ascent to power from Tehran’s number one decider, Thursday’s (5th) ceremony seems more directed at introducing him to the world.

In advance of Thursday’s (5th) ceremony, Iran even advertised that fewer domestic officials would be present to make room for foreign dignitaries and maintain existing coronavirus distancing restrictions.

At Tuesday’s (3rd) ceremony, Khamenei and Raisi made a significant number of internal religious references which might be less prominent in Thursday’s (5th) ceremony due to the presence of international attendees.

Raisi first vowed to take steps to lift “the tyrannical sanctions” imposed by the US.

It is unclear if he might make a more conciliatory approach in front of global leaders or whether he would maintain his more confrontational approach to the West.

Thursday’s “inauguration ceremony will be attended by 10 presidents, 20 speakers of parliament, 11 foreign ministers, 10 other ministers, envoys of presidents, vice presidents, and parliamentary delegations,” Iranian Parliament spokesman Seyyed Nezam Al-Din Mousavi said, as quoted by Iranian media.

He added that the heads and officials of 11 international and regional organizations, the representative of the UN secretary-general and the president of OPEC, as well as officials from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the European Union, Eurasian Economic Union, Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States, Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and the D-8 Organization for Economic Cooperation will also be in attendance.

Israel has slammed the EU for sending a representative to the ceremony that is taking place less than a week after a British and Romanian national were killed in a drone strike on an Israel-operated oil tanker in the Arabian Sea for which Tehran has been blamed.

In addition, some countries have imposed sanctions or criminal proceedings against Raisi for his role in mass executions of his own people in the 1980s.

In recent days, Iranian media has focused on Raisi’s religious credentials, building him up as a potential successor to the 82-year-old Khamenei, who has had significant health issues in recent years.

Iran is a theocracy run by ayatollahs.  For Raisi to inherit the supreme leader role from Khamenei, he would have to gain more clout as a religious expert.  

At the same time, some of the religious prominence can be a smoke screen, since Khamenei himself achieved the role of supreme leader despite several major religious figures competing against him who were seen as being much greater experts in religion.    



IDF Ramps Up Pressure On Lebanon Following Rocket Fire On Israel

Three rockets were fired at northern Israel from Lebanon on Wednesday afternoon (4th), triggering sirens in communities near the border and a quick response from IDF forces that continued in intervals over several hours.

By Wednesday evening (4th), it appeared that the flare-up was over, with the IDF reporting that it had fired three salvos in response to the rockets.

The escalation started around noon when the IDF confirmed rocket fire from across the border triggered air raid sirens in Kiryat Shmona, Kfar Giladi, Tel Hai, and the Golan Heights.  One rocket landed in Lebanon, one was intercepted by a local Iron Dome defense system battery, and one hit an open area near Kiryat Shmona, sparking a small fire.

Israeli forces responded with artillery fire towards the origin of the attack, across the Lebanese border, the army said.  More artillery fire was reportedly resumed about an hour later.  Residents in northern Israel said they heard a third round of shelling and then quiet.

Magen David emergency service said no injuries were reported in the incident but four people suffered shock.

Initially the Home Front Command instructed residents in the area to remain indoors.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Aviv Kochavi were all briefed on the incident and called in top officials for a security consultation. 

The IDF issued a statement on Twitter saying that “the government of Lebanon bears full responsibility for any rocket fire from its territory toward Israel.  There is a lack of governance in Lebanon over terrorist elements, and Israel will not tolerate any rocket fire against it under any circumstance.”

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said its Head of Mission and Force Commander, Major General Stefano Del Col, was in contact with both parties.

“He urged them to cease fire and to exercise maximum restraint to avoid further escalation especially on this solemn anniversary,” UNIFIL said in a statement.

The border has been mostly quiet since Israel fought a 2006 war against Hezbollah, which has advanced rockets.

Wednesday afternoon (4th) marked the one-year anniversary of the 2020 Beirut blast.  The August 4 explosion, linked to a massive amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the Port of Beirut, killed 218 people, left 7,500 injured, and caused upward of $15 billion in property damage.



Gantz, Lapid Name Iranian Commander Responsible For Tanker Attack

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid highlighted Iran’s aggression in the region in a special meeting Wednesday (4th) with ambassadors to Israel, revealing the perpetrators of recent maritime incidents.

Speaking before ambassadors of countries that sit on the UN security Council, they named the Iranian commanders responsible for the recent drone attacks on civilian ships, including last week’s attack on the Israeli-operated vessel Mercer Street off the coast of Oman, which killed two crew members.

“Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force, Amit Ali Hajizadeh is behind dozens of terror attacks in the region employing UAVs and missiles,” Gantz said.

He added that “the person directly responsible for the launch of explosive UAVs is Saeed Ara Jani…the head of the IRGC’s UAV Command, which conducted the attack on Mercer Street.  He is the one who provides the equipment, the training, and the plans to conduct terror attacks in the region.”

Gantz and Lapid explained to the ambassadors that the Iranian threat was not a local problem, but a threat to world order that warranted an immediate response.

“Iran has once again proved that it poses an international and regional threat, as well as a threat to Israel,” Gantz said.  “Tehran is responsible for dozens of terror attacks throughout the Middle East, and operates militias in Yemen, Iraq and other countries.”

Lapid called Iran’s attacks on shipping arteries “an international crime.” 

“What is the international community going to do about this,” he asked.  “Is there still such a thing as international law?  And does the world have the ability and willpower to enforce it?  If the answer is yes, the world should act now.”

Gantz said that Israel had and would continue to share incriminating evidence of Iran’s activity with the international community.



Gantz: Iran’s Nuclear Breakout Time Reduced To 10 Weeks

Defense Minister Benny Gantz told diplomats of countries on the United Nations Security Council Wednesday (4th) that Iran’s breakout time – the period it would take it to have enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, if it embarks on such a path – has been significantly reduced in light of its enrichment progress as of late.

Gantz assured that once a decision is made in Tehran, it would be “10 weeks away from having the weapons-grade material necessary for a nuclear weapon.”  Similar assessments have been made by other Israeli and American officials in recent months as Iran and the West have engaged in talks aimed at curtailing its nuclear program.

Gantz insisted during the meeting that Iran was increasingly emboldened in its actions across the region, including the recent attacks on maritime vessels in the Gulf of Oman.

“Now is the time for deeds – words are not enough. It is time for diplomatic, economic, and even military action – otherwise, the attacks will continue,” Gantz maintained.



Evidence Of 2,800-Year-Old Biblical Earthquake Found In Jerusalem

Some 2,800 years ago, a powerful earthquake hit the land of Israel.  Now for the first time, archaeologists found evidence of the event in Jerusalem, in the City of David National Park, the Israel Antiquities  Authority (IAA) announced Wednesday (4th).

“The word of Amos, a sheep breeder from Tekoa, who prophesied concerning Israel in the reigns of Kings Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years before the earthquake,” reads the first verse of the Book of Amos.

“And the Valleys in the Hills shall be stopped up, for the Valley of the Hills shall reach only to Azal; it shall be stopped up as it was stopped up as a result of the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah.  And the LORD my God, with all the holy things, will come to you,” reads another passage in Zechariah, recalling the event some 200 years later, to suggest how strong of a collective memory it left.

While evidence of the earthquake had been found in the past at other sites in Israel, such as Hazor and Tell es-Safi/Gath, archaeologists had never uncovered any indication of it in Jerusalem, until they were surprised to find broken vessels and other signs of destruction, in some buildings in the City of David, dating back to a period when Jerusalem was not subjected to any conquest or other violent event.

“When we excavated the structure and uncovered an 8th century BCE layer of destruction, we were very surprised, because we know that Jerusalem continued to exist in succession until the Babylonian destruction, which occurred about 200 years later,” IAA excavation directors Dr. Joe Uziel and Ortal Chalaf said.

“We asked ourselves what could have caused that dramatic layer of destruction we uncovered.  Examining the excavation findings, we tried to check if there is a reference to it in the biblical text.  Interestingly, the earthquake that appears in the Bible, in the Books of Amos and Zechariah, occurred at the time when the building we excavated in the City of David collapsed.”

Among the artifacts, the archaeologists found fragments of beautiful vessels and small tables.

It appears that residents of the area – living on the steep eastern slope, just a few dozen meters from the Temple Mount – built again on top of the ruins left by the earthquake, preserving its traces. 

The buildings are located adjacent to the Jerusalem city wall dating back to the First Temple Period (1200-586 BCE)

The wall, as well as the nearby houses, were destroyed by the Babylonians when they conquered Jerusalem in 586 BCE.

Centuries later, they would be used once again, as the foundation of new buildings.

The findings will be presented to the public at the Megalim Institute’s “City of David Research” conference, which will take place in September.