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FRIDAY FEATURE - Fading memories, fading sympathies

Memory is so important, yet so fragile. The most often repeated command in the Tanakh is to “remember!” Yet we are mere humans, and the memories captured in our minds tend to fade so easily. On Monday, January 27th, I will have the privilege to address hundreds of Holocaust survivors at a remembrance gathering in Haifa to honor the memory of the six million Jews massacred in the Nazi genocide. The ceremony will be held at a unique “warm home” which is solely dedicated to caring for needy Holocaust survivors – the only one of its kind in Israel. There will be cabinet ministers and other dignitaries there as well. Sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem with Yad Ezer L’Haver, the warm home is located in an older neighbourhood of upper Haifa, and although I have been there dozens of times, I still worry if I will remember how to get there through the winding hilly streets.

For most of the survivors I have met, they have a much greater worry on their mind, which is that people will forget about their suffering and loss during the Holocaust. They fear the world will not remember, and thus will not carry the important lessons of the Shoah (Holocaust) into the future. Sadly, their fears are a valid concern.

In their lifetimes, those European Jews who survived Hitler’s genocide campaign have witnessed the rise of Holocaust denial, as well as the resurgence of anti-Semitism. This has been a particularly bad year for terror attacks and hate crimes against Jewish people. From Pittsburgh to Halle, synagogues have been, quite literally, under siege.

Nevertheless, I would urge all my Jewish friends to take courage. There are many in the world who have learned the lessons of the Holocaust, and this is especially true of Christians. We used to be the Jewish people’s worst enemies, but ever since the Holocaust, Christians have become their best friends. This new era of close Jewish-Christian friendship also has something to do with the rebirth of the nation of Israel, which is the best answer we have to the threat of anti-Semitism. But we are here now, remembering with them not only the horrors of the Holocaust, but also the long, tragic legacy of Christian hostility towards Jews. And we say to both: “Never Again!”

Many of the survivors of the Holocaust helped to build the state of Israel. They are here by historic right. Yet some say that the world only accepted Israel as a nation 70 years ago out of sympathy for Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. I am afraid there is some truth to this.

When the United Nations voted to accept Israel as a member state in 1949, the key vote was cast by the Soviet Union. If they had opposed Israel’s admittance, the vote would have turned out very different. But the Soviets had just enough sympathy for Jewish suffering because of what the Red Army discovered when it liberated Auschwitz exactly 75 years ago. Yet it did not take long for that sympathy to wear off. Within a few short years, the Soviet Union was oppressing its Jewish population and joining with its Arab allies to try to wipe Israel off the map.

The lesson is clear! Sympathy for Jews can fade quickly, while hatred of the Jews never seems to disappear. Today, the Soviet Union may be gone. But senior advisors to Vladimir Putin recently began reviving the old libel that Jews murdered the Russian royal family. Meanwhile, angry calls for the killing of Jews have been heard once more echoing off Brandenburg Gate. Every Jewish synagogue, school, and community center in Europe has security guards, and American Jewry is now scrambling to do the same. 

So my dear Jewish friends, remember to stay on guard! Do not be deceived when members of the United Nations or European Union stop for a few moments one day each year to show sympathy for Jewish suffering in the past. It may be there only to ease their conscience, so they can go back to criticizing and condemning the Jewish state every other day of the year. Indeed, their sympathy can fade so fast, even by sundown.

Yet also be encouraged that there are millions of Christians at your side today! We have more than a temporary sympathy for your sufferings. We have a love for you from God that is stronger than hate. It is a love that compels us to stand with you and defend you. And it will never fade away. Am Israel Chai!

David R. Parsons is Vice President & Senior Spokesman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

FRIDAY FEATURETTE - Water, Water Everywhere

Capping off one of the wettest winters in decades, torrential rains have poured down on Israel all this week, bringing the Sea of Galilee to its highest level in years and also filling many small streams, ponds, tributaries and rivers all over the Holy Land. Coming as it does after years of near-drought conditions, the rains (and snow on Mount Hermon in the north) have been welcomed, but there has also been a price to pay in the form of several deaths and billions of shekels in property damage, including massive destruction in the coastal city of Nahariya.

The IDF has also suffered damage including to 8 F-16 jets which were caught in underground shelters when the rains hit. Ironically, the shelters, built to protect the jets from falling rockets and bombs, quickly filled up with water, “drowning” the planes and causing severe damage to their computerized components and engines.

With the end of January approaching, Israelis are aware that the traditional end of winter is also looming and with it the end of the season when their country receives all of its rainfall. This brings mixed feelings as sunshine and warm temperatures are much more pleasant, but everyone knows how much the country needs water.

Along with the unusually high volume of rain, there has also come a flood of commentary about the possible prophetic significance of the unusually heavy rains. In the amusing but harmless category there have been questions raised in online forums about the possible need for the Israeli government to set up a process for issuing fishing licenses for the Dead Sea, since so much fresh water is flowing into it from these rains. On the other end of the spectrum there have been deeply hurtful and unhelpful blogs written accusing the city of Nahariya of some uniquely terrible sin which caused God to send a rainstorm to punish it, just as He sent showers of burning sulphur and brimstone to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, as described in Genesis 19.

All of this speculation and commentary is belied by the fact that Israel’s neighbours are also experiencing similar conditions this winter, with Egypt, Turkey, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Iran and even far away Spain, Portugal and France all suffering from destructive flooding after days when several months worth of rain fell in just a few hours, completely overwhelming the absorptive capacity of the ground and the channelling capacity of man-made infrastructure meant to alleviate flooding.

These storms have caused widespread destruction in dozens of cities and villages all over the region, including some towns which have been completely washed away so that an observer would never be able to tell that there had ever been a town full of people there in the first place. On the other hand, I an arid region where millions of people living in ever-present fear of not having enough fresh water is blamed for a variety of chronic health, economic and general quality of life problems, this winter’s heavy rains have also filled reservoirs and re-charged aquifers, giving hope for better days ahead.

Back in Israel, the rains continued on Friday morning as they had been falling all this past week, drenching but not yet drowning the Holy Land’s grateful but weary inhabitants and giving them many things to pray about as the Sabbath approaches.

Iranian Officials Outraged as Another Colleague Assassinated

Iranian officials were reacting with hysterical outrage Thursday following a brazen assassination of one of their colleagues, Basij forces commander Abdolhossein Mojaddami, who was leaving his home in Khuzestan province on Wednesday morning when two masked men rode up on a motorcycle and shot him to death in front of his own front door. The assassination of a senior regime figure was noted by analysts who speculated that it might be a sign that fear of the regime, which has for so long held opposition groups in abeyance, may be rapidly eroding.

The hit also came on a day when U.S. special representative for Iran Brian Hook told London-based the Arabic-language daily newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that if newly appointed Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani “follows the same path of killing Americans then he will meet the same fate" as his predecessor, Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US air strike earlier this month.

"This isn't a new threat. The president has always said that he will always respond decisively to protect American interests," Hook said. "I think the Iranian regime understands now that they cannot attack America and get away with it."
 
Here is a video giving some context to this story

Leaders Arrive in Israel for Holocaust Commemorations

US Vice President Mike Pence and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Israel Thursday morning to participate in the Fifth World Holocaust Forum to commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, joining dozens of other heads of state, as well as many of the crowned heads of Europe, who are already in Jerusalem for the event. On Wednesday evening, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin hosted a gathering of those who had already arrived at his official residence in Jerusalem, inviting them to join him in a joint statement against racism, antisemitism and extremism.

Here is a video the IDF posted on the occasion



Israel Moving on Environmental Issues
In the wake of a recent report showing dangerous levels of air pollution in Israel, Wednesday saw an inter-ministerial tenders committees for seawater desalination and solar power plants extend an invitation to companies who are interested in building a new desalinization plant in the Western Galilee and a large solar power plant near Dimona. "This is a significant step, alongside many other initiatives, to realize the ministry's policies of increasing its targets for electricity generation from renewable energy by 2030," said Energy Ministry director-general Udi Adiri.

Here is a video about green technology being developed in Israel



Macron Has Big Day in Jerusalem
French President Emmanuel Macron had an eventful visit to Jerusalem’s Old City on Wednesday, getting soaked with rainwater in the process of becoming the first French government leader to visit the Western Wall in almost a quarter of a century while also managing to get filmed getting into a sharp verbal confrontation with his Israeli security escort at the entrance to the Church of St. Anne. Despite reports that he later apologized for speaking harshly and shook hands with his escort, the video of the confrontation, which went viral on the internet, is likely to be the part of his trip to Jerusalem which is most remembered.
 
“I feel the holiness and the history here,” Macron said as he was standing at the Western Wall. Later, he visited the Temple Mount and was greeted by the director of the Wakf Islamic religious trust, Azzam al-Khatib, and Omar Kisswani, director of al-Aqsa Mosque.

Here is a video showing one aspect of Macron's big day



Archeologist Confirm Details of ‘Samaria Ostraca’
A study was published this week in the scientific research journal PLOS One, confirming that the famous “Samaria Ostraca” pottery fragments found by American archaeologist George Andrew Reisner at a dig in the Samarian foothills in 1910 were, in fact, originally produced in the Biblical city of Samaria itself. Many of the fragments have ink-on-pottery inscriptions in Biblical Hebrew recording transactions and delivery schedules for various merchandise including olive oil and wine.
 
“If only two scribes wrote the examined Samaria texts contemporaneously and both were located in Samaria rather than in the countryside, this would indicate a palace bureaucracy at the peak of the Kingdom of Israel’s prosperity,” archaeologist and coauthor Prof. Israel Finkelstein explained.

Here is a video about recent Biblical archeology in Israel

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.

 

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