Light for the Last Days

From Our Israel Desk – December 2016

December 2016 News Update

Relations between Moscow and Jerusalem are at their highest point ever.

So said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov at the 10th convention of RISA (Russian International Studies Association). He said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu hold regular telephone conversations. ‘This year bilateral contacts have been unprecedentedly intense. Russia’s leadership places great importance on boosting trade, economic and investment cooperation with Israel … Israel remains of Russia’s biggest economic partners in the region,’ he added.

Russia has involved itself in the peace process, proposing a direct meeting between Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under its auspices. On November 11th Russia’s Prime Minister, Mr Medvedev paid a three day visit to Israel, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas. Mr Medvedev said all the right things to Israel, visiting Yad va Shem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, where he expressed horror at the massacre of Jewish people by the Nazis. He also said ‘Russia has never denied the rights of Israel or the Jewish people to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount or the Western Wall.’

Despite all this Israel is concerned about Russia’s move into the Middle East. Russia is selling advanced weapons and nuclear technology to Egypt, Jordan and above all Iran. Mr Netanyahu expressed concerns about Russian military involvement in Syria, particularly the deployment of advanced S-300 and S-400 air-defence batteries to Syria and Iran. These have restricted Israel’s strongest deterrence against its enemies in the region, its Air Force. Former Israeli Air Force commander, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Eitan Ben Eliyahu warned, ‘we must keep in mind that conflict with Russia could happen,’ and if it does, Israel would have no other choice but to destroy the S-300s

On October 7th the Russian Duma (parliament) authorised a permanent Russian military base and troop presence on Syrian soil. Russia and Iran now have several thousand troops in Syria. We also see Turkey involved in the Syrian conflict, though not on the same side as Russia. Sunni Turkey is against Assad, while Russia and Shiite Iran are on his side. At one point Russia and Turkey nearly came to blows after Turkey shot down a Russian plane which strayed into their airspace. However since the failed coup in Turkey, its leader Erdogan has begun to turn away from the west and look to ally itself with Russia.

Russia is allied to Iran in Syria, which has made no secret of its intentions concerning Israel, announcing that it expects the Jewish state to be destroyed within 10 years. Turkey’s President Erdogan has said that Israel must set up a Palestinian state immediately with its capital in East Jerusalem and called for ‘all Muslims to embrace the Palestinian cause and protect Jerusalem.’ This sounds like a call to arms for Muslims to come against Israel over the status of Jerusalem. The UN has called on Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria. Russia has endorsed this claim especially since the discovery of a major oil field in the Golan Heights. Sputnik News, an international news agency owned and controlled by Russia, has already declared that the oil deposits belong to Syria. ‘The oil deposit lies in the Golan Heights, which is internationally recognized as Syrian territory but has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 war between Israel and Arab states.’

Israel has made it clear that it has no intention of handing over the Golan Heights to Syria. Concerning the Russian presence in Syria, the Jerusalem Post commented, ‘The Russian bear is already across the border in Syria. Is Israel next in line for Russian domination?’

Ask Ezekiel. (38-9).

Israel drawn into Syrian conflict.

While Israel has expressed a determination not to get involved in the Syrian civil war, Mr Netanyahu spoke in April of two conditions which would provoke an Israeli response: ‘We will not agree to the supply of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah from Syria. We will not agree to the creation of a second terror front on the Golan Heights. These are the red lines that we have set and they remain the red lines of the State of Israel.’

In late November Israel responded on both these issues. On 28th November the Israeli Air Force struck a terrorist cell affiliated with Islamic State in Syrian territory after its members fired across the border at an IDF unit. Four terrorists were killed, while no IDF soldiers were hurt. In the first clash between the IDF and the ISIS-linked group, an air force missile destroyed a vehicle carrying four operatives from the ISIS-linked Khaled Ibn al-Walid Brigade.

Israeli soldiers stationed on the Golan Heights at the time of the ISIS attack, reported that a literal pillar of cloud descended on the border. The bizarre storm completely engulfed the Syrian side of the border, but stopped just at the boundary and did not enter Israel. A number of soldiers are seen in a video on Israel Today capturing the phenomenon on their cellphones. (http://www.israeltoday.co.il/NewsItem/tabid/178/nid/30652/Default.aspx). The video went viral on Facebook, where not a few Israelis labeled the storm as ‘divine intervention.’ ‘Huge miracle! Notice how God stopped this enormous storm exactly on the border,’ wrote Yifat Romano. ‘Thank you, Father!’ Netanel Tanaami wondered, ‘What more do you need to believe?’ ‘The Creator of the world is protecting us,’ proclaimed Nissim Nahoum.

On the other front which Mr Netanyahu addressed, Israel has made attacks inside Syria on convoys on their way to Lebanon with arms imported from Iran to be used by Hezbollah. In early December Israel also carried out two targeted attacks causing big explosions at the Mezzeh military facility near Damascus. Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel is seeking to ‘prevent the smuggling of advanced weapons, military equipment and weapons of mass destruction from Syria to Hezbollah.’ Hezbollah is part of the alliance fighting with Russia on the side of the Assad regime in Syria. Given the reference to ‘weapons of mass destruction’ involved in this attack, Amir Tsafarti, an Israeli Messianic Jew who gives regular prophecy updates from Israel, believes this kind of attack could lead to the destruction of Damascus, as in Isaiah 17.1: ‘Damascus will cease from being a city, and it will be a ruinous heap.’ In which case it could trigger the War of Gog and Magog as described in Ezekiel 38-39.

Knesset Bill sparks controversy over status of West Bank / Judea – Samaria.

On 13th November the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation unanimously approved the Regulation Bill, a draft legislation that legalises communities in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) which were established with state involvement and possibly built on private land or land not owned by the state. The law stipulates that communities which were built on private land or non-state-owned land will not be demolished. Rather, the land will be expropriated and the owner of the land will be compensated. This law addresses hundreds of instances in which Israelis built homes with government consent or encouragement, later to discover that the land may be privately owned or otherwise in dispute.

Thousands of Israelis live in the unauthorised enclaves. Although they were built without following formal procedures, government officials knew they were being erected and linked them up to state infrastructure and gave them military protection. In addition, Israel has built more than 120 authorised West Bank settlements, housing about 400,000 people, that it considers legal and most countries and the UN do not.

This legislation provoked Palestinian outrage and was condemned as a land grab by the United Nations. The Obama administration is ‘very concerned about the advancement of this legislation that would allow for the legalisation of Israeli outposts located in private Palestinian land,’ State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. ‘Enacting this law would be profoundly damaging to the prospects for a two-state solution,’ he asserted, adding that Washington is ‘troubled’ by comments made by political figures in Israel that the law ‘would be the first step in annexing parts of the West Bank.’

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a prominent supporter of the legislation and chief of the Jewish Home party, hailed it for demonstrating that a ‘nation can’t be an occupier of its own land.’ He said the billed paved the way for Israel’s eventual annexation of Judea and Samaria: ‘Today, the Israeli Knesset moved from heading toward establishing a Palestinian state to heading toward sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, and to remove any doubt about it—the outpost regulation bill is the tip of the iceberg in applying sovereignty.’

Wild fires in Israel.

In 22 November a wave of fires (both wildfires and urban fires) began in Israel from the Dead Sea area to Nahariya. Some of the fires occurred naturally; others were arson attacks. On 28 November, after 8 days, the fire fighting services announced that the emergency condition was over, after fire fighters fought 1,773, of them at least 39 were major fires that required at least ten crews or more. The largest fire occurred in Haifa, where 527 apartments were destroyed completely, leaving 1,600 people homeless. 75,000 residents, about a quarter of the city’s population, were evacuated from 11 neighbourhoods. Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority reported that more than 20,000 dunams (4,900 acres) of forests, brush land and open space were burnt, the largest amount since the Mount Carmel forest fire (2010).

Some of the fires were caused by arsonists encouraged by anti-Israel activists on social media. At least 35 people were arrested on suspicion of setting fires or inciting to do so. More than 15 were citizens of the Palestinian Authority and at least 10 were Arab citizens of Israel. Officials in Israel has stated that the deliberate setting of fires is a form of terrorism.

The unseasonably dry and windy conditions were also responsible for the emergency. Israel has again turned its attention to the stark fact that it is the middle of another drought. This summer has been ranked as the longest in Israel’s history. Prior to heavy rains that swept across Israel in the last week of November, no rain had fallen in the north since April, causing streams and waterfalls to dry up.

Israel was heartened by the help it received from abroad. Fire fighting crews came from Russia, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Croatia and Turkey with planes capable of dropping huge quantities of water on the flames. Fire crews also came from the USA and the Palestinian Authority to help in the effort.

Tony Pearce

Tony Pearce

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