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FRIDAY FEATURE - ‘Unity Among the Brethren’

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments.” (Psalm 133:1-2)

The Psalmist tells us that it is both “good” and “pleasant” when “brethren… dwell together in unity." (Psalm 133:1)  However, the political situation in Israel today is anything but unified as the people have been struggling for more than a year now to elect a new government.

Currently, Israel is in the midst of its third election campaign in the past year, with voting to take place again on March 2nd.  Israeli voters are highly frustrated with the current stalemate and yet most seem to be sticking with their old parties. Meantime, their leaders are refusing to make compromises which could produce a governing coalition. At the heart of the current impasse is a battle over whether long-serving prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu should stay on as head of the government.

The various parties had to file their lists of candidates this week, and while there were a few hurried mergers and joints lists, there were no big surprises. The latest polls indicate that little has changed in the left/right balance which might break the political deadlock. Most of the surveys have the Blue & White faction up on Netanyahu’s Likud party by a few Knesset seats, but they also were slightly ahead before the elections in April and September, only for Likud to make last-minute comebacks each time. Russian strongman Avigdor Liberman appears to still be the swing vote and it would be in his power once again to break the impasse should he choose to do so.

Things could begin to shift in the coming weeks, however, as Netanyahu is on the brink of losing his battle for parliamentary immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases being brought against him. Should that happen, he could already be sitting in a courtroom facing trial in the closing days of the campaign, which would not be a good image for Likud [which, by the way, means “union” or “consolidation” in Hebrew].

Given how long this has taken and the unprecedented nature of the electoral logjam, one cannot help but sense that Israel is actually locked in a spiritual battle over its future. And they could certainly use our prayers for some “unity” among the brethren.

The Psalmist likens this unity to the precious anointing oil which ran down Aaron’s beard and clothing when he was installed as High Priest over Israel. And while this imagery may be appealing, it was actually a very difficult and painful moment for Aaron.

After his brother Moses had received all the Lord’s instructions on the priestly duties, it was now time for Aaron to be set in place as High Priest and begin offering ritual sacrifices to God. Leviticus chapters 8 to 10 describe these events in detail.

We read that Aaron put on the special garments, breastplate and turban of his office, and Moses poured the anointing oil over his head. Then he was told to stay outside the tent of meeting for seven days to perform sacrifices to purify himself and his sons for service. In the end, the Lord was pleased and sent holy fire to consume the offerings on the altar, causing the people to shout and fall on their faces in awe (Leviticus 9:24).

But then Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons, offered “strange fire” before the Lord. Bible scholars differ on exactly what this meant, but the Lord was very displeased and slew the two sons of Aaron. Yet Moses insisted to Aaron that the consecration process was not finished, and thus he could not tear his garments or mourn the loss of his sons – “for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you” (Leviticus 10:7).

So Aaron had to stand, stiff-lipped, outside the tent of meeting with the anointing oil still dripping down his beard and garments, and continue his priestly duties for the sake of the nation. No tears or sign of grief! It was a very painful moment for Aaron, but as they watched the fear of the Lord came upon the people, bonding them to the Lord’s chosen leadership. It also further cemented the relationship between Moses as the senior leader and his brother Aaron in a subservient role as High Priest.

That is what the Psalmist praised as both “good” and “pleasant,” when “brethren dwell together in unity.” At that moment, Israel was a nation which feared the Lord and respected His chosen leaders. And those leaders earned that respect due to the personal price they paid in the sight of all the people to serve in leadership positions.

Israel today could surely use some sort of unmistakable confirmation from heaven over their leaders, so that the people might fear the Lord and respect His choice. And those vying for leadership over Israel should consider that being a ruler over this chosen nation may require personal sacrifices which few are willing to make. 

May our prayers somehow help them all along the path to national unity, self-less leadership and godly fear.

Iran Under Pressure on JCPOA Violations from EU3

The governments of Germany, Britain, and France, the so-called EU3, announced on Tuesday afternoon that they are triggering a dispute mechanism in the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal because of Iran’s non-compliance with key components of the agreement. Officials in Teheran were quick to declare the move a “strategic mistake” and re-iterated their demands that the EU3 facilitate Iranian attempts to bypass US economic sanctions in return for the clerical regime’s consideration of the idea of coming back into compliance with the JCPOA. Also on Tuesday, it emerged that Iran has threatened to fire missiles at NATO ally Greece if it continues to allow the US military to use its territory.

The naked aggression of Iran against Greece was reported on Monday by the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, in a report which said in part that Iran’s “warning came in a letter sent by the Iranian embassy in Athens to Kathimerini, which was published on January 10 in the column Readers’ Letters. The letter contained an implicit threat to hit Greek military facilities used by US forces in the event of a confrontation.

Without making reference to the threat to its NATO ally, the joint statement by the EU3 focused on the nuclear issue, saying "Following Iran's announcement in May 2019 that it would cease meeting some of its commitments under the JCPOA, we have sought to persuade Iran to change course,. We do not accept the argument that Iran is entitled to reduce compliance with the JCPOA. Contrary to its statements, Iran has never triggered the JCPOA Dispute Resolution Mechanism and has no legal grounds to cease implementing the provisions of the agreement."

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted that “Our goal is clear. We want to preserve the accord and reach a diplomatic solution within the deal."

However, Iran’s response to the statement came in the form of a report by Stat-run news agencies on the subterranean “missile cities” the regime has built in several regions of the country, complete with images of underground silos bristling with short, medium and long range missiles and solid fuel rockets.

Elsewhere, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani issued a statement on Tuesday derisively dismissing the idea for a “Trump deal” to replace the rapidly disintegrating JCPOA. His statement also included harsh words for the EU3 move.

Here is a video showing recent anti-regime protests in Iran



Unidentified Aircraft Strike Iranian Proxies in Syria
Officials with the Assad regime in Damascus announced on Wednesday morning their condemnation of an air strike on the T-4 military airbase in Syria’s Homs province in western Syria the previous evening which reportedly killed three members of a pro-Iranian militia, wounded many more and destroyed a cache of stockpiled munitions as well as several military vehicles and a partially constructed building at the site. The strikes came just a few hours after two large military cargo aircraft which had taken off hours earlier from Iran landed at the site and began to offload their contents. Israeli officials declined comment on the report, in line with standard procedure.

Fresh Riots Break Out in Lebanon
Rioting broke out in the Lebanese capital of Beirut Tuesday evening, prompting security forces to use tear gas and other means to disperse angry crowds which had gathered near the central bank. Rioters pelted security forces with stones and fireworks, set dumpsters on fire and smashed storefront windows, ATMs and other visible property associated with the central bank. One protester told a western journalist that the Lebanese people blamed the central bank for the economic woes they’re suffering.

BDS Movement Suffers Another Defeat
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered another defeat this week when British Formula One motor racing team and constructor ROKiT Williams Racing signed 25-year-old Israeli Roy Nissany to their 2020 driver lineup. Williams Racing Group President and Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams said “I am so glad Roy is joining our team. I have always believed that sport should transcend boundaries. You are an inspiring nation... this gives another platform to showcase this on a global level."

Israel Blesses the World
A team of medical researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center announced this week that they have developed a method for addressing the haunting problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. “We can predict which antibiotic combination would work on these bacteria and which would not,” Hebrew U. Prof. Nathalie Balaban told The Jerusalem Post. “Our understanding could help doctors choose what treatment to give.”

Today's video gives some analysis of Israel's upcoming elections

Iranian Regime Scrambling to Appease Protesters

Facing large crowds of angry street protesters, including some chanting “Death to the Dictator” for a third day on Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rohani issued a statement calling for a special court investigation into the shootdown by an IRGC air defense unit of a Ukrainian passenger aircraft that killed 176 people last week. This and similar statements by mid-level regime officials appeared to have little effect on the crowds who continued to take to the streets on Tuesday, nor did they appear to be deterred by reports that security forces were using live ammunition and tear gas on protesters in some cities.

“In these sorrowful days, many criticisms were directed at relevant officials and authorities,” said regime spokesman Ali Rabiei. “Some officials were even accused of lying and a cover-up but, in all honesty, that was not the case.”

However, several governments around the world criticized the regime for its handling of the situation and urged the regime to ‘show restraint” in its treatment of protesters.

“We want the regime to know that the United States is watching, that the world is watching, and that we are going to shine a very, very big light on any abuse by the regime to their own people," US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told RFE/RL on Monday. Elsewhere, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC Tuesday morning that the regime is "clearly guilty of an appalling error, I don't think we are currently envisaging any further escalation of the tensions." He added however that he had conveyed to the regime’s ambassador in London that the detention of British ambassador to Teheran Rob Macaire while he was attending a vigil for victims of the shootdown last week was an “unacceptable breach” of diplomatic protocol.
 
Elsewhere, In response to questions raised by videos showing bulldozers clearing away wreckage from the crash site before investigators could visit it, IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami brazenly lied to journalists, saying “We didn’t touch anything. We didn’t move the wreckage of the aircraft, we didn’t change the scene, we didn’t move the air defence system, and we didn’t [alter] the radar readings.”

BDS Movement Suffers Another Defeat
In the latest bad news for the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel, a report was published Tuesday by IVC Research Center and law firm Meitar Liquornik Geva Leshem Tal showed that Israel’s hi-tech sector achieved 138 IPOs, mergers, private-equity buyouts and acquisitions worth $21.7 billion in 2019. "I am very optimistic with respect to the Israeli tech ecosystem in general - the world is moving constantly in a more technological way," Adv. Mike Rimon, a partner at Meitar Liquornik Geva Leshem Tal, told The Jerusalem Post. "Because we have very strong fundamentals of a true technology hub, we will be more and more significant in the world scene."

Here is a video about another defeat for the BDS movement



Israel blesses the world
Researchers at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovote announced this week that they’ve developed a computer algorithm which can predict which women are at a high risk of gestational diabetes in the early stages of pregnancy. The early detection technique can be used to help women at risk avoid the disease using nutritional and lifestyle changes.

"Our ultimate goal has been to help the health system take measures so as to prevent diabetes from occurring in pregnancy," said Prof. Eran Segal of the Computer Science, Applied Mathematics and Molecular Cell Biology departments.

Unidentified Aircraft Pounding Pro-Iran Militias in Syria
A series of airstrikes by unidentified aircraft have struck positions occupied by forces loyal to the Assad regime in areas near Al-Bukamal in the Deir Ezzor area of eastern Syria, leading to panic in the ranks of pro-regime militias and a state of maximum alert amongst the Iranian IRGC forces deployed in the area. The IRGC and its terror proxies have come under intensified air bombardments across the Syria/Iraq border region in recent days, resulting in heavy casualties and damage.

Today’s video shows the journey of an Israeli soldier

Iranians Protesting Against Clerical Regime

Protesters flooded the streets of Iranian cities over the weekend to express their disgust with the clerical regime which rules their country over its apparent efforts to cover up the accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian airliner during last weeks showdown with the US. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed a vigil for the 57 Canadian citizens killed in the incident, saying he would “not rest until there are answers," while other Western governments issued statements criticizing Teheran’s behavior. Iranian leaders issued their own statements apologizing for the loss of innocent life and trying to reassure foreign governments and domestic protesters that an investigation would take place, even as reports emerged of security forces using live ammunition on protesters.

"U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday evening “To the leaders of Iran - DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!”

Meanwhile, signals emerged on Sunday that Iranian leaders were attempting to de-escalate tensions with the US, in part out of embarrassment over the shootdown and the protests, which have included the arrest of Rob Macaire, the British Ambassador to Iran, as he was attending a vigil for the slain airline passengers (including three UK citizens) at Amir Kabir University in Teheran.

The British Foreign Ministry called Macaire's detention "a flagrant violation of international law," adding "The Iranian government is at a crossroads moment. It can continue its march towards pariah status with all the political and economic isolation that entails or take steps to deescalate tensions and engage in a diplomatic path forwards.”

Here is a video showing some of the protests



In related news, a joint statement by the governments of the UK, France and Germany has urged the regime in Teheran to adhere to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement even as the regime has incrementally abandoned several key elements of it over the last 18 months.

 

Israeli Missiles Chosen by US Army

The US Army announced over the weekend that it is purchasing a large number of Israeli-made SPIKE precision stand-off missiles for its fleet of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. This makes the US Army the latest of dozens of militaries around the world to deploy the SPIKE family of munitions for air, ground and naval platforms. In related news, the IDF announced over the weekend that it has carried out a series of tests meant to improve the performance of the Iron Dome air defense system. “The success of the experiments is an important milestone for Israel’s operational ability to defend itself against existing and future threats in the region,” the Defense Ministry said.

The announcements came as Forbes magazine published an article about notable innovations in the field of defense technology over the last decade, naming three Israeli-related systems in its top ten, including the Stuxnet computer virus which did vast damage to Iran’s renegade nuclear program. The other two systems mentioned in the article were the Iron Dome and the TROPHY active protection system for armored vehicles.

Israeli Athlete Wins Bronze Medal at Youth Olympics
Israeli downhill skier Noa Szollos became the first athlete from the Jewish State to win a medal and the Winter Youth Olympic Games over the weekend, claiming the bronze in Alpine skiing at the competition being held this year in Lausanne, Switzerland. Szollos said, "I hope I made everyone proud at home and... it's a big deal, it's the very first Olympic medal at the winter games, [for either] youth or normal Olympics for Israel, so I think it means a lot."

Netanyahu Suffers Legal Setback
Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon issued a ruling on Sunday that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein cannot prevent the formation of a Knesset House Committee that will reject immunity for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The move was the latest in the legal saga surrounding the incumbent Prime Minister and makes it more likely that he will soon face prosecution in the three criminal cases pending against him. “[Yinon’s] lack of restraint increases concern about conflict of interest and harms the public’s trust in the Knesset and its legal procedures,” a Likud spokesperson said on Sunday.

Israeli Olympic Baseball Team Trains with Jerusalem Little League
Jerusalem’s Little League baseball teams received a visit from the national Olympic baseball team on Sunday evening at their practice field in the capital’s Talpiot neighborhood. Braving cold temperatures, the youngsters, along with their parents and coaches, spent 90 minutes going through various drills before having a meet-and-greet session. The Olympians made it clear that going to the upcoming Summer Games in Japan was a nice bonus, but their main mission was to invest in Israel’s budding baseball program so that someday the young players on the field that evening would be proudly carrying their flag to the Olympics every four years.

Today's video shows a panel discussion of Israel's security challenges in 2020

FRIDAY FEATURE - The Dog That Didn’t Bark

Headlines in Israel and much of the rest of the world were dominated this week by the fallout (and lack of fallout) from last week’s assassination by the US of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and his key Iraqi disciple Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of the Kataib Hezbollah terror militia. News analysis shows and newspaper editorial pages in the US and many other countries were filled with commentary mostly composed of severely overwrought predictions (some of which crossed the line into bizarre absurdity) of calamitous events which were sure to follow, from all-but-guaranteed massive numbers of civilians casualties from Iran’s retaliation to the oft-repeated possibility that America and its longsuffering friends and allies were staring down the barrel of a potential Third World War.

When Iran’s retaliation came, however, it took the form of an almost comically impotent barrage of 12-15 (depending on whose intelligence reports you believe) medium-range ballistic missiles aimed at two military installations in Iraq where US forces were deployed. Partly due to the fact that four of the missiles broke up in flight before reaching their targets and partly due to the fact that they were tracked by US radar from the moment they were launched, giving the soldiers at the targeted bases adequate time to get into fortified shelters, the Iranian strike caused no casualties and little material damage.

However, in a transparent attempt to assuage a domestic Iranian audiences anger, state-run media outlets boasted of dozens of US soldiers killed in the strikes amidst devastating damage to the bases and the military equipment deployed there. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that America had received an appropriate “slap to the face” that it would not soon forget and various other Iranian officials warned the US not to make any more grievous errors which would prompt even more catastrophic consequences.

Without bothering to respond to these ludicrously absurd falsehoods and posturing, US President Donald Trump gave a press briefing a few hours later in which he declared that Iran appeared to be backing away from the fiery rhetoric of retribution, having made their point, and that he would therefore not order any further military action against Iran in the immediate future since he had also made his point and accomplished what he’d set out to do.

However, in the ensuing hours, videos began being posted by various news outlets showing the same pundits who had, the day before, been warning of doom and gloom appearing on the same news analysis shows but displaying little evidence of contrition or any acknowledgement that they had been mistaken in their assessments of what was likely to happen. Instead, many of them doubled down on their declarations that the actions taken by the White House had had a “destabilizing effect” on the Middle East, with some even issuing fresh warnings about what terrible retribution Iran was still able and likely to take against America and its allies in the Middle East and around the world.

However, at least one commentator this week astutely noted that Soleimani was such an important chess piece for Iran, that in targeting him the Trump administration had already ‘maxed out’ the escalation cycle to the point Tehran risked all-out war with the United States if they retaliated in true measure to his worth to the regime.

Many in Israel’s strategic community took note of all these developments and even some of the usually dovish voices among them expressed concern at the odd behaviour of their colleagues in the US and Western Europe. The following is a short list of key takeaways from recent events.

Background:

The recent escalation started on December 27th, when one of Iran’s foremost Shi’ite proxy militias in Iraq, Kataib Hezbollah, carried out a rocket attack on US military forces at the K-1 base which left an American contractor dead and scores of soldiers and civilians wounded. The US responded two days later by targeting Kataib Hezbollah in air strikes and killing two dozen of its fighters. Iran retaliated by organizing a mob of Iraqi militiamen from Kataib Hezbollah and the pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) to storm the American Embassy compound in Baghdad. This move was orchestrated by Soleimani and al-Muhandis as a calculated reminder of the Iranian storming of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979. 

However, US President Donald Trump decided this embassy siege would turn out quite differently by ordering a drone strike on Soleimani, the central figure behind Iran’s drive for regional hegemony, as he landed at Baghdad airport. The successful hit also took out al-Muhandis, who had come to greet Soleimani at the airport and plan further attacks on US forces in the region. Iranian leaders were livid and vowed revenge, which initially took the form of the ballistic missile strikes. But in a tragic fallout to the escalation, Iran appears to have mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian civilian airliner taking off from Tehran, killing some 180 passengers and crew, including over 30 Canadians as well as dozens of its own citizens.

The Israeli Pattern:

We can expect the Iranians to steer away from engaging in a more direct, sustained, intensified confrontation with the US because that has been the pattern Tehran has followed in its hostilities towards Israel. Over recent decades, Israel has been forced into its own shadow war with Iran due to Tehran’s renegade quest for nuclear weapons with which to threaten the Jewish state, as well as its arming and financing of anti-Israel terror militias throughout the region, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. 

Israel has been able to land important blows to Iran’s ambitions in the region, such as the assassination of Hezbollah’s primary military strategist Imad Mughniyeh in 2008, serious blows to IRGC bases and weapons convoys inside Syria and even Iraq, and the Mossad’s ingenious heist of its nuclear archives from a Tehran warehouse. 

In each instance, the Iranians have issued very loud, enraged vows of revenge. But most of their retaliatory attacks were exposed and thwarted, or failed to inflict major damage, and the ayatollahs quietly returned to their long-term strategy: Using proxy militias to harass Israel rather than risking direct military confrontations, while slowly and steadily building its military presence and expanding its dominance throughout the region.

Israel’s Laser Breakthrough:

The latest US-Iran confrontation came the same week that Israel announced a breakthrough in laser weapons technology. The IDF said it has made important advances recently in developing an electrical laser defense system capable of shooting down enemy planes, drones and missiles at a more effective and much cheaper rate than Iron Dome and other current anti-missile systems. This is good news for Israel and its allies confronting Iran, but in the short term it could actually increase the likelihood of Iran and its proxy militias triggering a war. 

Hezbollah, for instance, has stockpiled more than 150,000 rockets and missiles in Lebanon to use against Israel, an arsenal that could overwhelm the IDF’s current anti-missile capabilities. But if an effective and cheap laser system can be deployed within five years or so, as hoped, it would render Hezbollah’s rockets ineffective. Until then, Iran might calculate that it is better to use them now rather than lose them later. 

Against this background, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a prominent Israeli think tank, posted a report this week pointing out that contrary to the rhetoric surrounding Soleimani being a “man of the people” who bravely served his country and selflessly sacrificed for it, he had a strategy (which he never made any attempt to hide) of using non-Iranian proxies to do all the dirty work for the clerical regime which rules Iran.

The report pointed to the over 100,000 members of the IRGC’s “Shiite foreign legion” from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere which it trained and equipped before deploying it to Syria to prop up the Assad regime. The prosecution of that conflict by IRGC officers included, according to various reports, the sending of these non-Iranian militias in costly “human wave” style suicide charges against fortified positions. Lebenese Hezbollah is reported to have lost 2,000 troops killed and over 8,000 wounded in the Syrian conflict, including dozens of senior officers who were veterans of past conflicts with Israel and whom it had doubtless been hoped would lead the fight against Israel again in the future.

According to Israeli intelligence, Soleimani personally murdered a Hezbollah officer who dared to object to the careless way his troops were being used in battles led by IRGC officers.

Another takeaway from this weeks events, which was noted by another Israeli think tank, the Begin – Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, was how Soleimani’s death was widely celebrated in the Sunni Arab world with the exception of the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror militias in the Gaza Strip all issued statements mourning his death and condemning the US for killing him. These statements were met with outrage by the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab powers, who rebuked the Palestinians for mourning the death of a man they considered to be a deadly enemy. Many prominent commentators in Arab media outlets begged to point out that Soleimani had been responsible for the deaths of many Sunnis, including Palestinians, and it was therefore quite strange that the Palestinian factions should take the positions they did.

To sum up, the reactions and fallout from the US strikes which took out Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and his key senior aides provides a useful barometer to gauge the prevailing political and strategic atmosphere in the US, Western Europe, Israel and the wider Middle East. The almost hysterical anxiety expressed by many in the West’s “chattering classes” and their accompanying condemnation of what they described as the “recklessness” of the present US Administration can be contrasted with the praise the move elicited in Israel and the Sunni Middle East.

However, open questions remain about what long-term effect recent events, particularly the revelations about Iran’s accidental shootdown of a civilian airliner in the midst of their otherwise impotent attack on US forces stationed in Iraq, will have on events going forward. One particularly sharp rebuke came from an Iranian opposition group which issued a statement sarcastically congratulating the IRGC for killing more Iranians this week than Americans or Israelis.

In any event, as Israelis prepare for the Sabbath this Friday evening, they can take comfort from the proverbial “dog that didn’t bark” as the dire predictions of imminent catastrophe made by so many “experts” in the wake of last Friday’s assassination of Iran’s most famous terrorist leader did not come to pass.

Sea of Galilee Steadily Rising Amidst Winter Storm

Strong winds, heavy rains and low temperatures battered many communities in Israel this week, while the death toll from the severe winter weather climbed to five on Wednesday after 32-year-old Motti Ben Shabat died while trying to help a family whose car had been caught up in a strong cross current in the water flooding the streets of Nahariya. Several communities all over Israel reported widespread property damage from flooding and high winds, while health funds were reporting a sharp increase in people contracting seasonal conditions which caused them to miss work and school. However, streams, rivers and the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) were reaching their highest levels in years with more precipitation forecasted into the weekend.

Conflict Unlikely Between US and Iran in Short Term
US President Donald Trump used his brief, highly anticipated address from the White House Wednesday morning to announce that the ballistic missile attacks launched from Iran at bases in Iraq hosting US military personnel did not cause any casualties and little damage, making retaliatory strikes unnecessary. “Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world,” he said. He also announced that the US will soon impose new economic sanctions on Iran, while his political opponents declared themselves to be totally unsatisfied with the briefing on recent events they received from senior Administration, State Department and Pentagon officials.

Here is a video of President Trump’s speech



Meanwhile, Israel’s security cabinet met regarding developments in Iran for five hours on Wednesday, followed by a late night phone conversation between Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which "critical issues"connected to the region and relations between the countries” were discussed, according to a short White House statement.

Elsewhere, formulaic statements were issued by several Iranian-backed terror groups around the Middle East, declaring that they would continue to strike US interests and allies despite declarations by senior Iranian officials that there would be no further escalation.

Mystery Surrounds Crash of Ukrainian Airplane in Iran
Iranian officials announced on Thursday morning that their initial investigation of the crash of a Ukrainian Airliner shortly after it took off from Teheran International Airport on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board, indicates that at least one engine caught fire shortly before the crash. However, Canadian security officials, who are participating in the investigation due to the large number of Canadian citizens who died in the incident, immediately disputed these claims. Meanwhile, Iranian aviation authorities declared their refusal to hand over the “black box” cache of flight data to US-based Boeing, which manufactured the aircraft, leading to questions about what the clerical regime in Teheran might be trying to conceal about the crash.

Turkey and Russia Call for Cease-fire in Libya
Following their meeting in Istanbul Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his host, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a joint statement calling for a cease-fire in Libya, where they’re supporting two different and opposing factions in that country’s ongoing civil war. The proposal had not elicited any response from the opposing factions at press time.

Israel Has Developed Laser Solution to Incoming Rockets
Israel’s Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday that it has developed a laser-based system for intercepting aerial threats. Brig.-Gen. Yaniv Rotem, head of the Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Research and Development, said: “We are entering a new age of energy warfare in the air, land and sea. The R&D investments made by the DD [Directorate of Defense] R&D in recent years have placed the State of Israel among the leading countries in the field of high-energy laser systems.”

“During a war, missile interceptors will at one point run out, but with this system, as long as you have electricity, you have a never-ending supply,” he continued. “This is a weapon that you can’t see or hear.”

“This technology enables the development of highly effective operational systems that will serve as an additional layer of defense to secure the State of Israel by air, land and sea,” the Defense Ministry said.
 

Hezbollah Warns It Will Attack Israel If US Attacks Iran

The Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah was warning on Tuesday that it would attack Israel if the US presses a military offensive against Iran. The warnings came hours after Iranian forces launched a barrage of missiles at military bases in Iraq where US forces were also deployed, causing no casualties. Iranian military sources claimed that they had killed 80 American military personnel in the attacks in a transparent attempt to mollify domestic anger at the US, while Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps statements darkly warned of further carnage if the US dared to respond. However, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that Iranian honor had been satisfied while expressing hope that the situation would stabilize and that the US would not see a need to respond further.

"We in no way consider the Zionist regime (of Israel) to be separate from the criminal US regime in these crimes," the IRGC warned in a statement. "We warn the Great Satan, the bloodthirsty and arrogant regime of the US, that any new wicked act or further agression (against Iran) will bring about more painful and crushing responses."

US President Donald Trump responded to the impotent Iranian rhetoric and accompanying rocket attacks on Wednesday morning with a Tweet that "all is well" before elaborating that “Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq," the president tweeted. "Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning."

The targeted bases included the al-Assad airbase, which hosts both Iraqi and US soldiers and another base in Erbil as part of what the IRGC was calling "Operation Martyr Soleimani".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu re-iterated his support for the US action to assassinate IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a speech to supporters on Tuesday evening.

However, US President Donald Trump’s domestic political opponents took the opportunity to criticize him, starting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who Tweeted "Closely monitoring the situation following bombings targeting U.S. troops in Iraq. We must ensure the safety of our service members, including ending needless provocations from the Administration and demanding that Iran cease its violence. America & world cannot afford war."
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also gave a speech Wednesday morning in which he declared that his forces had given the US “a slap in the face” and that “We are prepared to deal with the bullies of the world."

"Military action like this is not sufficient," he added. "What is important is ending the corrupting presence of America in the region."

Russia Increases Investment in Middle East Energy
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Istanbul on Tuesday for a ceremony to launch the TurkStream natural-gas pipeline along with his host, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The pipeline, which cost an estimated $8 billion, is scheduled to carry around 31 billion cubic meters of Russian-produced natural gas to Turkey every year, for further distribution to European markets.

Honduras Designates Hezbollah a Terrorist Organization
The Central American country of Honduras announced on Tuesday that it is designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz issued a statement shortly thereafter saying, "I applaud the Honduran government for its important decision to declare Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and to take the necessary sanctions against it. This is an important step in the worldwide war against terrorism."

Open University of Israel Wins Debate Competition
Hadar Goldberg and Maya Saveliev, representing the Open University of Israel, won the gold medal at the final event of the 40th World Universities Debate Championship held in Thailand on Friday. The duo bested 384 competing groups, including teams from other Israeli Universities.

BDS Movement Suffers Another Defeat
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered yet another defeat this week when Former NBA all-star Michael Redd announced his participation in a major venture investment firm backed in part by Israeli investment firm OurCrowd and dedicated to exploring Sports-related technology opportunities. The venture, ADvantage Sports Tech Fund, specializes in solutions for the kinds of injuries which plagued Redd during his athletic career.

IRGC Commander Issues Angry Threats Against Israel, US

Major General Hossein Salami, recently appointed to command Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) following the assassination of his predecessor Qasem Soleimani, made an impassioned speech at a memorial event on Tuesday morning in which he said, among other things, that his soldiers would “set ablaze” unspecified locations identified with the US and its regional allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia. Shortly after his speech, a stampede broke out at the event which health officials said killed an estimated 40 mourners and injured hundreds of others.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted Saudi Arabian Vice Minister of Defense Khalid bin Salman in Washington on Monday afternoon. Both officials emerged from the meeting tweeting formulaic platitudes about the importance and strength of their bilateral relationship. Also on Monday, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a statement flatly denying reports that the US is preparing to withdraw its troops from Iraq. The reports were prompted by a letter reportedly sent to the Iraqi government in which the Pentagon announced it was preparing to redeploy forces out of the country.

Elsewhere Monday, it was reported that the price of oil has increased dramatically since the assassination of Soleimani, however, some analysts attributed the price hike to unwarranted alarm which would quickly subside in the absence of dramatic military escalation.

US Peace Plan Discussed in Jerusalem
Avi Berkowitz, assistant to US President Donald Trump and special representative for international negotiations, was in Jerusalem Monday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was also reportedly at the meeting, which was held for the purpose of discussing the Trump Administration’s so called “deal of the Century” plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The meeting comes amidst rumors that the Administration will release the plan publicly in the new future, perhaps even before elections scheduled for early March.

Israel Begins Extracting Natural Gas from Leviathan
Rigs extracting natural gas from Israel’s massive offshore Leviathan field began pumping on Monday, with the Ministry of Environmental Protection issuing a statement that air quality was not affected as was feared by residents of the nearby coastal cities. The field is estimated to contain at least 605 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas, enough for 65 years of domestic consumption at current rates.

BDS Movement Suffers More Defeats
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered more setbacks this week as British singer/songwriter Robyn Hitchcock announced that he will be performing in Tel Aviv in early February and American private equity firm Insight Partners announced that it is acquiring  cybersecurity firm Armis, based in California but with strong ties to the Jewish State, in a deal valued at $1.1 billion.

Israel’s 2019 Deficit Larger Than Expected
Financial analysts were warning of rough times ahead for Israel following Monday’s announcement that the government’s fiscal deficit widened to 3.7% of GDP in 2019. The Ministry of Finance admitted that this was substantially higher than the target of 2.9 percent, adding that the gap amounted to nearly NIS 12 billion. The total deficit for 2019 came to roughly NIS 52.2b. ($15b.)

Today’s video comes from Israel’s ministry of tourism and the Israel Antiquities Authority



Iranian Leader Threatens Israel Amidst Confrontation with US

Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who currently serves as Expediency Council Secretary thundered on Sunday that the Islamic Republic will “wipe out Israel” if the US responds to threatened Iranian actions to retaliate for last Friday’s assassination of former IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani. Also on Sunday, senior officials of the clerical regime which rules Iran announced further withdrawals from the JCPOA nuclear deal and a large crowd attended Suleimani’s funeral in Teheran, where his daughters and various officials made threats against the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Britain and a longish list of their other opponents.

US President Donald Trump has threatened to strike dozens of Iranian targets, including cultural sites, with massive conventional military power if Iran carries out any of its threatened terrorist attacks. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared on several US news shows throughout the day on Sunday to clarify these remarks, saying on one that the consequences of Iranian actions “will be borne by Iran and its leadership itself. Those are important things the Iranian leadership needs to put in its calculus as it makes its next decision."

Meanwhile, experts and pundits weighed in over the weekend, with heavyweight former CIA director and US Central Command leader General David Petraeus telling influential news magazine Foreign Policy that “It is impossible to overstate the importance of this particular action. It is more significant than the killing of Osama bin Laden or even the death of [ISIS leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi.” He further praised the assassination as a “very significant effort to reestablish deterrence,” against Iranian aggression.

However, Iraq’s parliament passed a non-binding resolution on Sunday requesting that foreign military forces leave the country, while large demonstrations were held in Iraqi cities including speeches demanding that both the US and Iran withdraw their forces and stop fighting a proxy war against each other on Iraqi soil. However, Sunni and Kurdish factions boycotted the parliamentary session in which the resolution was passed and leaders of those factions expressed fears of a return to civil war if the US-led coalition troops left while Iranian forces would be sure to stay under any circumstances.
 
Here is a video of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu responding to news of the strike



Hezbollah Leader Predicts Dire Consequences for US
Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah, issued a fiery statement Sunday warning that US soldiers stationed in the Middle East would be slaughtered by Iran following what he characterized as the foolish and criminal “murder” by US forces of IRGC-Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani last Friday. Adding that Soleimani was “the glue that held the Resistance Axis together,” Nasrallah said that “our confrontation has already begun, from the night of the assassination.” However, he added that while US military personnel were fair targets, US civilians in the Middle East were not.

BDS Movement Suffers More Setbacks
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered more defeats in recent days as Aliyah and Integration Minister Yariv Levin presented statistics to the Cabinet on Sunday including an estimate that 4.5 million tourists had visited the country in 2019, a new record. "We have received more than NIS 22 billion from tourism, and created more than 13,000 new jobs, resulting in a total of more than 150,000 jobs created due to the influx of tourists," he said. "I think the [tourism] industry is catching on as a central element of the Israeli economy." In another hopeful sign for the economy, 1 January saw a recently signed free trade agreement between Israel and Panama come into force.

Jerusalem Zoo Sends Supplies to Assist Australian Wildlife
Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo sent a donation of veterinary medical supplies to Australia over the weekend to assist efforts to rescue animals injured and displaced by the massive wildfires there. Press reports indicate catastrophically large numbers of animals have died as a result of the fires while large swaths of natural habitats for many species have been destroyed.

Floods Kill 4 in Israel Over Weekend
A strong winter storm hit many areas of Israel over the weekend bringing floods that resulted in the deaths of four people and widespread property damage. Also resulting from the storm was a dense covering of snow on Mount Hermon, leading to the ski resorts opening for visitors on Monday.
 
Today's video shows a recap of recent developments between Israel and the Arab World

 

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