News Digest — 9/23/22

Tens Of Thousands Attend Pre-Rosh Hashanah Prayers At Western Wall

Around 35 thousand people arrived at the Western Wall Thursday (22nd) for pre-Rosh Hashanah prayers, known as selichot.

Worshipers began arriving throughout the night in preparation for the upcoming Jewish new year.

Other major selichot prayers will be held right after Shabbat, the last ahead of the holiday, and will include prayers for the well-being of the general public.

Efforts are being taken to manage the crowds in a way that allows every visitor to the  holy site to join in praying.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation said that entrances to the Old City and the Western Wall will be closed to private vehicles if there is congestion, to allow entrance and free movement of possible pedestrians on foot.

Rosh Hashanah begins Sunday evening (25th) and ends at sundown on Tuesday (27th).



2 Israelis Stabbed, 6 Lightly Wounded In Suspected Stabbing Attack, Assailant Killed

Eight Israelis were slightly wounded in a suspected stabbing attack near the city of Modi’in in central Israel, Thursday (22nd).  The assailant was shot dead.

According to initial reports, the suspected attacker, a man in his 30s, lunged at the victims’ vehicle, opened the door and attacked people with a knife and pepper spray.

At least two were stabbed before one of the passengers sprayed the attacker with pepper spray he had in his possession.

An off-duty plainclothes police officer who happened to be on scene shot the attacker, killing him with a shot to the upper body.

According to the Magen David Adom ambulance service two people suffered light stab wounds while six others were injured by pepper gas inhalation.  All wounded were treated on the scene.

The Hamas terrorist organization on Thursday evening (22nd) welcomed the stabbings and promised further terrorist attacks against Israel.

In an interview with Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem called the attack “an act of heroism” which is a continuation of the “resistance taking place in the occupied West Bank” which “cannot be broken.”

Qassem pointed out that the attacks will escalate in the coming days in response to Israel’s attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in reference to the visit of Jews to the Temple Mount, holding services there and blowing the shofar.

“The Zionist aggression against the Al-Aqsa Mosque is a real indication that the situation is about to explode,” Qassem stated.

Meanwhile, earlier on Thursday (22nd), an IDF soldier was lightly injured in a suspected car-ramming attack in the Palestinian village of Huwara near the PA city of Nablus.

IDF soldiers shot the suspected attacker and severely wounded him.  Entrances to the village were then blocked.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said that an IDF force spotted a Palestinian vehicle with an Israeli license plate speeding toward and hitting an Israeli soldier, who suffered lower body injuries.

The suspect was taken to the hospital for medical treatment.

This was the third attack in the Nablus area in 24 hours after a shooting attack in the settlement of Har Brakha in the northern West Bank and another reported shooting at a military post near Nablus.



Hamas Threatens Violence Over Contested Jerusalem Holy Site

The Palestinian terror group Hamas on Thursday (22nd) threatened hostile actions against Israel over what it called “violations against Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque” ahead of the upcoming Jewish holidays.

Hamas’ threats came just ahead of Sunday’s (25th) Jewish new year, and a day after a group of Jewish religious activists visited a contested holy site revered by both Jews and Muslims and blew the shofar – a ram’s horn that’s trumpeted in the run-up to and during the Jewish High Holidays.

The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, begins at sundown on Sunday (25th), and in the succeeding weeks thousands of Israelis are expected to visit Jerusalem.

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev told Kan public radio on Wednesday (21st) that Israeli authorities would not limit Jewish visits to the contested Jerusalem holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Visitations and prayers by hardline Jewish worshipers at the site have triggered rounds of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

For Jews, the site is the holiest on earth, the location of their two ancient Temples.  For Muslims, it is the home of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the third holiest place after Mecca and Medina.  The shrine is the emotional epicenter of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Officially, under a loose set of rules known as the “status quo,” Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray at the site, which is managed by a Jordanian-run trust.  But in recent years, the number of Jewish visitors to the site has steadily grown, and some hold Jewish prayer there under police protection.

Addressing reporters in the city of Gaza, Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar decried what he called a “blatant attack on the religious and Islamic status of the city and the mosque,” saying Israel will bare full responsibility for “the possibility of dragging the entire region into an open religious war.”

He said the terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip, would “defend the rights and sanctities of our people by all possible means.”



Iran Unveils Missile It Says Can Strike All Of Middle East And Parts Of Europe

Iran held a military parade on Thursday (22nd) and unveiled what it claimed to be a new ballistic missile.

The missile is a medium-range ballistic rocket capable of traveling around 870 miles according to Iranian media.  Images of the missile were also shown.  Called “Rezvan,” the missile was shown during a parade that marked Iran’s victory over Iraq in the 1980-1988 war.

With its range, the missile would be capable of striking anywhere in the Middle East as well as in parts of Europe.

“It’s a precision ballistic missile,” the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Major General Hossein Salami, said, according to Iran’s IRNA.  Iran has increased both the precision and range of its missiles in recent years and it has been increasing its abilities to launch satellites and manufacture drones.  Iran has reportedly provided Russia with Shahed-136 drones.

The Rezvan missile is a single-stage- liquid-fueled ballistic missile that, Iran says, can launch from a variety of mobile and fixed platforms.  This means it could be transported to Iraq or Syria.  In contrast, the Kheiber-Shekan missile is a solid fueled missile.  It appears the showcasing of the missiles is tied to comments by Iran’s Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces warning the Gulf states against cooperation with the US and Israel.  In recent weeks Iran has been increasing its rhetoric against the Gulf state.  This is believed to be a kind of warning to Bahrain and the UAE.

In addition, Iranian technology enabled the Houthis in Yemen to increase the range of their ballistic missiles.  Iran also supplies Hezbollah with missiles and precision-guided munitions which are considered a threat to Israel and to the wider region.

Iran has used its ballistic missiles to target US forces in 2020 and its Fateh series of missiles to attack Kurdish dissidents in Iraq in 2018.  In addition, it used cruise missiles and drones to attack Saudi Arabia in 2019 and it used a drone to attack a ship in the Gulf of Oman in 2011.

Iran reportedly has around 20 types of ballistic missiles, some of which are replicas of missiles developed in North Korea, or have origins in Russia and Chinese missiles.  Iran has sought to improve all of these older varieties of missiles in recent years, to improve their precision.  Iran’s media also has mentioned that Iran has improved its Kheibar Shekan missile, which is also supposedly able to fly 870 miles.



The Race Between Rocket Capabilities And Israel’s Defensive Capabilities – Dr. Uzi Rubin

→ During the fighting on August 5–7, 2022, between Israel and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, most of the rockets fired at Israel that were headed towards Israeli population centers were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

→ Israel suffered no fatalities and only three people were lightly wounded (two IDF troops hit by a mortar bomb, and a Palestinian worker in an industrial plant hit by a rocket).  Twenty-eight other Israelis were hurt while rushing to take shelter.  Only four houses were directly hit by rockets (with no casualties among their residents).

→ Nevertheless, in a short time, Islamic Jihad managed to launch 1,175 rockets and mortar bombs against Israeli targets.  During a two-day round of fighting in 2019 between Israel and Islamic Jihad, IJ managed to fire only 450 rockets and mortar bombs, which illustrates a major enhancement in its capabilities.

→ In addition, IJ concentrated its fire by launching massive salvoes in brief time periods.  This proficiency was seen on the second day of the fighting in 2022, when IJ launched at least five large salvoes against Ashkelon within two and a half hours.

→ It appears evident that the IJ rocket manufacturing and launching facilities have not been seriously damaged by previous Israeli offensives against them.  It also appears that there is no lack of raw materials and components for expanded rocket and launcher production lines.

→ Arguably, what is true for IJ is also true for Hamas.  It can therefore be expected that in future escalation rounds in Gaza, the combined rate of rocket fire by the Palestinian armed militias will reach or even exceed 1,000 rockets per day.

→ At the same time, there has been a degradation in the reliability of the Gaza-produced rockets.  While the rate of failed launches during the 2014 operation stood at 7%, the failure rate grew to 23% during the fighting in 2021-2022.

The writer was founding director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, which managed the Arrow program.