News Digest — 9/11/20

Syrian State Media Reports Israeli Airstrikes Southeast Of Aleppo

Israeli aircraft launched a number of missiles at targets near the Syrian city of Aleppo in the early hours of Friday morning (11th), Syrian state media said.

Syrian news outlets reported the strikes hit unspecified targets in the town of al-Safirah, southeast of Aleppo, an area that once contained a Syrian regime missile production facility.

The Israel Defense Forces did not comment on the reported strikes, in accordance with its long-standing policy of neither confirming or denying its activities in Syria.

Aleppo is a major city in northern Syria, near its border with Turkey, and is an uncommon – but not unprecedented – site for reported airstrikes.

The attack reportedly left seven militia men of the Iraqi Hezbollah dead, and the death toll is expected to rise due to the severity of casualties, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Israeli defense officials have said in recent months Israel would step up its campaign against Iran in Syria where, with the help of its proxy militias, Tehran has expanded its presence.

Israel has acknowledged conducting many raids inside Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011.



Coronavirus Restrictions Complicate Coverage Of UAE-Israel Peace Event

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Washington to participate in the historic ceremony formalizing ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates next Tuesday (15th), the reporters following him will be subject to a severe set of restrictions aimed at minimizing exposure to potential coronavirus carriers.

The visit will be as short as possible, with the prime minister’s plane departing back to Israel immediately after the signing ceremony.  All those who join Netanyahu on his flight from Israel to the United States will have to prove that they had tested negative to the virus before being allowed to board, and they will have to be spaced out in the cabin and wear a facemask throughout the flight.

The traveling press was also told they would have to lodge at the hotel where Netanyahu will stay and will be banned from leaving it, essentially becoming encapsulated.

The ceremony is scheduled to take place at noon at the White House, with President Donald Trump presiding over the event.  Netanyahu, the UAE foreign minister, and various other dignitaries will be in attendance.

The UAE and Israel announced their intention to normalize relations and strike a peace deal on August 13, in what was the culmination of a multi-year process involving US mediation efforts behind the scenes.



IDF Troops Participate In Large-Scale West Bank Drill

Thousands of IDF soldiers and reserve forces have completed a large-scale drill simulating an escalation of violence in the West Bank.

The week-long drill, which the military has been preparing for since February, took place across the entire West Bank.  It focused on various scenarios the IDF could face should violence break out.

“We drilled on everything we could imagine in terms of violent uprisings, should it happen, even the most extreme,” the commander of the drill, Col. Guy Ashuri, told the Israeli press during a break from the activities.  “We wanted the division and units to be ready and prepared.”

Soldiers confronted scenarios such as terrorist attacks inside Jewish settlements, attacks on Israeli vehicles, shooting attacks and rock-throwing.  They practiced both defensive and offensive maneuvering to prevent possible attacks and how to respond to actual ones.

The soldiers and reservists were from the Judea and Samaria Division, and the Paratroopers and special forces from the Commando Brigade’s Egoz Unit, which specializes in guerrilla warfare and reconnaissance

Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officers, police and Magen David Adom rescue workers and firefighters also participated.

“I’ve done dozens of drills, but in this drill there was a level of cooperation that I never saw before,” Ashuri said.  “I really saw the synergy.”

At one point during the week-long exercises, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Aviv Kochavi sprang a surprise exercise that simulated the military’s response to a kidnapping.  It examined the division’s ability to handle such a scenario and the cooperation between the military and other bodies.

“We wanted the division to be ready to go from a routine to an emergency situation and how to identify when such a change happens and to be able to respond to several scenarios taking place simultaneously,” Ashuri said.

“In the West Bank, like on many fronts, the pressure is there,” Ashuri said.  “You don’t need a lot for it to explode, and we are ready for any escalation.  There is a high-level of readiness, and we are prepared for anything.”



‘Implication Of PA’s Collapse May Not Be As Dramatic As Assumed’

The prospect of the Palestinian Authority imploding should not concern Israel as much as it does, a new study by the Bithonistim Security and Defense Forum, presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, concluded.

Netanyahu had asked the forum’s top members, including former head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate’s Research Division Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, to study the results that a Palestinian Authority potential economic collapse would have for Israel, in a meeting they held about two months ago.

The study was compiled while Israel was still debating how to extend sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley under the US Middle East peace plan, a move which Palestinian Authority Leader Mahmoud Abbas warned would render the PA null and void.

Kuperwasser found that while “it is in Israel’s best interest that the Palestinian Authority remain intact, its dissolution in part or in full would present alternatives that would not be much worse.”

Kuperwasser presented five scenarios should the Ramallah-based government implode: the termination of all PA activity; a suspension of PA activity; the transfer of government to local elements; a succession struggle in the post-Abbas era; and a takeover of the West Bank by Hamas – the terrorist group that usurped control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah in 2007 in a military coup.

Chances of any of the scenarios coming true are low, the former MI chief said in his report.

Instead Kuperwasser believes that even if the PA announced a termination of all its activities, “Domestic and international pressure – by the Europeans and the Democrats in the US, as well as by the pragmatic Arab states – would push it to resume its rule.

Bithonistim Forum Director Brig. Gen. Amir Aviv, who is among the study’s signatories, told the news media that the government “must be ready and have contingencies in place to deal with the possibility that the Palestinian Authority dissolves.  There are better alternatives [to the PA’s rule] that won’t undermine Israel’s interests and won’t require Israel to rule the Palestinian people.”



Israeli Government Okays Immigration Of 2,000 Falash Mura From Ethiopia By End Of 2020

The Israeli government approved on Wednesday night (9th) the immigration of 2000 Falash Mura to Israel by the end of the year.

The NIS 180 million plan was announced as part of the new government budget.

“Our government and Finance Minister Israel Katz backed the decision, because the situation of those waiting in Addis Ababa is worsening due to the coronavirus crisis in Ethiopia,” explained Pnina Tamano-Shata, Aliyah and Integration Minister.

“Preparations can now begin to bring the members of the community whose immigration is approved, by the end of 2020,” she added.

‘It has been 100 days since I became Aliyah and Integration Minister,” said Tamano-Shata, “and I am committed to all those who are waiting in Ethiopia so we can shut down the communal compounds there.”

“I thank the finance minister, who saw eye to eye with me about the importance of this issue,” she said.  “As it is said, anyone who saves one person is as if they saved an entire world.”

Last month, Tamano-Shata presented her plan for bringing to Israel the remainder of the estimated 8,000 Falash Mura who have close relatives in Israel.  She would love to bring 4,500 by the end of the year.  

However, support could only be garnered for an initial 2,000 by the end of 2020.