News Digest — 9/17/19

West Bank, Gaza Crossings Closed For Palestinians On Election Day – 20,000 Police Deployed At Polling Stations

The Israel Defense Forces on Monday (16th) announced that it was shutting down all crossings into Israel from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for Tuesday’s (17th) national elections, a standard practice during Jewish and national holidays.

The military said the closure would begin at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and last for 24-hours, pending a situational assessment.

Exceptions will be made in humanitarian cases, namely the passage of medical patients to Israeli hospitals, but will require the approval of the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the army said.

Election day is a paid vacation for workers in Israel.  Most polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 10 p.m.

Concerned by the prospect of disturbances as Israel votes, on Tuesday (17th), an unprecedented 20,000 uniformed and plainclothes police officers are being deployed at the country’s 10,700 polling stations.

“The police will not allow any violence, or any provocation that causes disturbances or constitutes a threat to voters,” the head of the police election authority, Sigal bat-Tzvi, said Monday (16th).

Most of the officers will be equipped with body cameras to document any disturbances, Channel 13 reported.

The Central Election Committee is dispatching 3,000 observers, all with cameras, to polling stations deemed potential trouble spots.  These observers have been told to immediately call the police if they catch anybody else filming polling stations, the TV report said.

Netanyahu failed to form a majority coalition after the April vote and so dissolved the parliament, calling fresh elections for Tuesday (17th).  When polls close at 10 p.m., Israel’s three main TV stations will issue exit polls. Actual results will flow in Tuesday-Wednesday (18th), with the count expected to take longer than in the past, as the Committee will take extra precautions to avoid confusion and incorrectly publish figures that mar the count.



Reports: Iranian Militia, Near Iraq-Syria Border, Hit In Airstrikes

“Unidentified warplanes” struck Shiite militia targets in the Al Bukamal region of eastern Syria early Tuesday morning (17th), Arab media outlets reported.

According to the reports, the airstrikes were carried out near the Iraqi border and targeted the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units.

One Iraqi news channel pointed to Israel as the perpetrator of one of the attacks.

The purported strikes are the latest in a mysterious spate of attacks attributed to Israel against Iran-backed bases in Syria and Iraq.

Earlier this month, 18 pro-Iran fighters were said to have been killed in an overnight airstrike on the Syrian side of the border.

Most of the explosions have targeted installations belonging to the Popular Mobilization Units.

The attacks come amid rising tensions in the Middle East and the crisis between Iran and the United States in the wake of the collapsing nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and a recent airstrike on Saudi oil plants that the US has blamed on Iran.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month that Iran has no immunity anywhere and that Israeli military forces “will act – and currently are acting – against them.”



Officer Who Lost An Eye In 2006 War Battle To Lead Golani Brigade

An IDF officer who earned official commendation for a Second Lebanon War battle in which he lost an eye was named the next commander of the storied Golani Infantry Brigade on Monday (16th), the army said.

Col. Barak Hiram, who currently commands the Israel Defense Forces’ Tzeelim training base, will take command of the Golani Brigade in the coming months, according to the military.

Hiram’s appointment was announced Monday (16th) along with 17 other high-ranking positions in the IDF.  All of the nominations – requiring a degree of colonel – were approved by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister.

New commanders were also named for a number of senior positions in the Israeli Air Force, for its Hatzor, Ramon and Uvda air bases, for its aerial attack division, department of air defense and intelligence collection, intelligence operation department, and for its planning and organizing department.

During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hiram, then a major, served as a platoon leader in the elite Egoz unit.  During a battle in the southern Lebanese town of Haddatha, Hiram sustained a head wound, which he bandaged himself.  He continued fighting, refusing to be taken away, until the end of the battle when another officer was able to take his place.  He ultimately lost his eye from the injury.

A year after the end of the war, he was awarded an official citation for bravery.



‘Israeli’ Drone Shot Down In Gaza Belonged To Palestinian Terrorists

Social media in the Gaza Strip was in an uproar Monday (16th) after, a day earlier, it was reported that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) had shot down a drone that belonged to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

The incident occurred last Friday (13th) when armed PFLP operatives shot down a drone that was spotted flying near their outpost in Khan Younis in the northern Gaza Strip.

The organization rushed to announce it had shot down an Israeli drone and promised it would make public footage showing its “heroic action.”  But the celebrations didn’t last for long.

On Sunday evening (15th), Gaza-based media outlets reported that the drone had belonged to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, not Israel.  Later, reports said that Hamas had collected the pieces of the downed drone and was asking that other terrorist organizations active in Gaza coordinate drone activity with Hamas.

The PFLP proceeded to delete the posts bragging about having successfully intercepted an Israeli drone.

Gazans took to Twitter to mock the error itself and the organization’s response.

One user wrote, “God help us, it’s lucky they didn’t try to kidnap a soldier.”

The PFLP rushed to remind the public that it was behind the hijacking of the Sabena aircraft in the 1960s, but even that remark was met with humor.

“Maybe they should go back to hijacking passenger aircraft, we’d be happy to get a flight to the Maldives,” another user responded.



Elbit To Supply Mission-Critical Products To US Air Force

Israel’s defense electronics company Elbit Systems will supply “mission-critical products,” including cockpit displays, datalinks and embedded training capabilities, for the United States Air Force’s Boeing T-X advanced training pilot aircraft.

While the value of the deal was undisclosed, Israeli business daily Globes cited sources estimating the deal to be worth approximately $500 million.

Elbit said it will provide components including large area displays, engine fuel indicators, upfront control panels and Head Up Displays, in addition to associated line replaceable units.

“We are supremely proud being trusted by Boeing and the US Air Force to supply these mission-critical products and vital training systems,” said Raanan Horowitz, president and CEO of Elbit’s American subsidiary Elbit Systems of America.  “Future pilots will greatly benefit from the revolutionary flight training capabilities featured in the T-X.”

The company will also supply air and ground datalinks, enabling the T-X’s onboard virtual avionics and integrated Live, Virtual & Constructive training capabilities.  The technology simulates advanced avionics, sensors and weapons utilized by fifth-generation fighter jets like the F-22 and F-35, enabling T-X pilots to virtually operate those systems while flying T-X aircraft.

Boeing’s T-X aircraft was selected in September 2018 by the US Air Force to become its new trainer aircraft.  A contract, worth $9.2 billion, will see Boeing supply 351 jets, 46 simulators and associated ground equipment to the US Air Force.