News Digest — 9/4/20

Israel Readies For High Holy Days Without Foreign Visitors

It is apparently, “Next Year in Jerusalem” for the High Holy Days.

Major Israeli-based tour operators tell Media Line they do not expect the country’s skies to open for international visitors in time for some of the most important religious dates on the Hebrew calendar in just a couple weeks.

“I don’t see any kind of traffic coming to Israel.  Not during Rosh Hashanah – definitely not Yom Kippur, and I don’t think that Sukkot is even an option,” Etay Furmen. business/development manager at Haifa-based G&S Travel, told Media Line.

“Maybe – and it’s a big maybe – I hope that by Passover [in the spring] we’ll see some movement, some traffic,” he said.  But for the near-term, I don’t see any.”

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts on Friday, September 18, followed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on September 27, and Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, on October 2.

A “traffic light” plan by Israel’s coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, which takes effect on September 6, could put a damper on the holidays for local residents as well.  It is an effort to lower the daily transmission rates and shows that Israel has a long way to go before it opens itself up to foreign visitors.

The number of coronavirus cases confirmed on Tuesday (1st) was 2,183, the same number as the day before, continuing a trend of high daily infections, according to the Health Ministry.

Meanwhile, municipalities across the country are preparing for the High Holy Days with the looming threat of a lockdown unless there is a drastic drop in daily infection rates.



Honduras Official: Embassy Location Moving Forward

Honduras may soon relocate its embassy to Jerusalem, a year after recognizing it as Israel’s capital, the government said on Wednesday (2nd).

The announcement was reported by Foreign Minister Lisandro Rosales Banegas, who told local media that in conjunction with the expected arrival of an Israeli ambassador in the coming days, the country was going to move forward with the relocation of its embassy to Jerusalem.  The implementation of that decision has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

The announcement comes amid a reorganization carried out in Tegucigalpa, involving new postings in embassies around the world.

Honduras under President Juan Orlando Hernandez has pivoted toward closer technological and economic ties with Europe, as well as with Israel, resulting in a series of key ambassadorial appointments. 

Hernandez announced the opening of a trade mission in Israel’s capital in March 2019, and later in September that year arrived in Israel to inaugurate it.

In August, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi inaugurated the official representative office of Israel in Honduras through a virtual meeting.  “The Israeli office in Honduras will focus on promoting joint projects in the fields of economics and development,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement.



Defense Officials Expect Hezbollah Revenge Attack Before High Holidays

Amid tensions in the north, Hezbollah on Thursday (3rd) reiterated its threat to carry out a revenge attack against Israel within the next two weeks, and defense officials believe the Iran-backed terrorist organization will try implementing its plan of action before the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), on September 18.  Consequently, the IDF is remaining on high alert along the Lebanese border, although, with the exception of specific locations, reinforcements have not been deployed to the north.

The assessment within the army, particularly following Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speech last Sunday (8/30), is that the Shiite terrorist group is determined to carry out an attack before the upcoming holiday.

While IDF officials cannot predict the exact nature of such an attack, they have not ruled out the prospect of rocket fire in the Har Dov sector, an infiltration attack, anti-tank missile fire, small arms fire and more.

As a reminder: Ever since the attack in Syria about a month ago that was attributed to Israel, in which a Hezbollah operative was killed, the terrorist organization has sought to enforce the deterrence equation declared by Nasrallah and has tried but failed to avenge his death on at least two separate occasions.

The belief in Israel is that Hezbollah does not want a full-blown clash with Israel and therefore will seek to carry out an attack that is limited in scope, against a military target.

Israel has warned in the past that it will respond disproportionately to such an attack, even against Lebanese infrastructure.



Hamas In Lebanon Meets Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah In Meetings

Hamas members were hosted in Beirut recently by Palestinian Islamic Jihad in a meeting of arch-terrorist masterminds that included a meal at what appeared to be a nice villa or restaurant.  Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is on a regional tour after being given the red-carpet treatment in Ankara by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It appears that Hamas is seeking to gain more notoriety after the UAE and Israel announced normalization.  Haniyeh is also trying to present himself as a regional leader.  He and the Hamas delegation are meeting with Hezbollah officials, Al Arabiya  television news reported. 

The meeting in Beirut came after other meetings Hamas held with Lebanese officials.  Beirut Port suffered a massive explosion in August that killed more than 150 people.

Despite Lebanon being in mourning and financial distress, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad appeared to be toasting their success.  PIJ has been confronting Israel over the last two years after Hamas launched its “March of Return” in 2018.

Islamnc Jihad secretary-general Ziyad al-Nakhalah is intensely interested in the meetings because they are supposed to be the lead-up to a video conference with Palestinian groups in the West Bank.

Hamas also met in Beirut with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), as well as with Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Hassan Diab, the caretaker prime minister, who complained about Lebanon’s treatment of Palestinian refugees and discussed Israel’s threats to “annex” areas in the West Bank.

Gaza-based Islamic Jihad member Mohammed al-Hindi also participated in the meetings.  Osmana Hamdan, a senior Hamas member, indicated that the meetings might include Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

It is the first high-level Hamas visit of this kind in 17years, and included a picture of Hezbollah’s Hassan Huballah and Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh taken together.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad is considered a proxy of Iran.  It is one of the smaller Palestinian factions with networks in Syria, Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon and has been active in missile development and increasing its threats from Gaza over the last several years.

Iran also has been active in trying to recruit Palestinians over the years, including an attempt to infiltrate and work more closely with the PFLP.  This included attempts by Iran to work through PFLP activists in Lebanon.

The Hamas meetings in Lebanon appear to be part of a wider move, backed by Turkey, to increase Hamas’ relevance in the region by making it seem like Haniyeh is a head of government traveling from country to country.

Last December the terrorist group made a similar tour of countries, including Turkey and Qatar among others. 



Swedish Muslims Chant About Killing Jews At Malmo Protest

This week, demonstrations by Muslims in the Swedish city of Malmo, against a far-right lawmaker, turned violent and included chants in Arabic about killing Jews.

Some Muslim protesters attending at least one of the rallies staged against a plan by Rasmus Paludan, the leader of Denmark’s far-right anti-immigration Hard Line party, to burn a copy of the Quran in Malmo chanted “Khaybar Khaybar oh, Jews, Muhammad’s army will return.”

The chants referenced the massacre of Jews in the town of Khaybar, in northwestern Arabia, in 628 C.E.

In the rioting, several cars were set ablaze and at least 10 people were arrested.  Authorities in Sweden prevented Paludan from actually traveling to Malmo.

“We take this incident extremely seriously and call on the police and other responsible authorities to prosecute those individuals who through this act have committed incitement to hatred against ethnic groups,” the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities wrote in a statement.

“We view with disgust the burning of the Koran and holy scriptures,” they added.

The Malmo Muslim Network, an organization promoting the interests of Muslims in the city, sent a letter this week to Ann Katina, a leader of the Jewish community of Malmo, thanking the city’s Jews for opposing Paludan’s plan and wrote that they “condemn the anti-Semitic words of hatred that some Muslims chanted during the riots.”



Sea Of Galilee Water Level At 27-Year High For Early September

According to data published by the Israel Water Authority Thursday (3rd), the Sea of Galilee’s water level stands at a 27-year high for the start of September, at 687 feet below sea level.  That is the highest it’s been since 1993, when the water level reached 686 feet below sea level during the same period.

The maximum level for the Sea Of Galilee is 208.8 meters below sea level (28.9 inches above the current level) – the so-called upper red line, above which the body of water would be in danger of overflowing.

As recently as 2018, the Water Authority warned that the Sea Of Galilee was drying up as a result of low rainfall and was approaching the “black line,” below which damage to the water quality from silt and other problems would likely begin.

However, as of March this year, rainfall had been so plentiful that the water level rose 8.6 feet since January.