Light for the Last Days

Israel Desk – February 2021

Israel steps up attacks on Iranian targets in Syria.


Israel stepped up attacks on Iranian targets in Syria ahead of the changeover in the US Presidency.  Media reports carried news of intensive airstrikes against Iranian-linked targets in eastern Syria, attributed to the Israeli Air Force. The alleged strikes in the Deir al-Zour and Albu Kamal areas were the latest in a long series of reported Israeli attacks that are designed to thwart the Islamic Republic’s attempts at building a war machine in Syria.

The airstrikes nevertheless stood out in light of the extraordinary comments made by a senior American intelligence official, who told the Associated Press that the bombings were enabled by intelligence provided to Israel by the United States.  There appears to be no reason to doubt this version of events, marking what would seem to be an unusual acknowledgment of the close level of cooperation between the American and Israeli defense establishments in combating the Iranian presence in Syria.

Strikingly, the same official said that the targeted warehouses also served as a “pipeline for components that support Iran’s nuclear program,” though no further details were immediately available.

A second reason that makes the strikes stand out is the unconfirmed report by a Syrian opposition war-monitoring group that at least 57 fighters were killed, including 14 Syrian regime soldiers, in addition to Iranian-backed militia members, as well as dozens more wounded.  Although uncorroborated, the claim represents a far higher casualty count than those that usually follow such strikes.

The attack is part of an unmistakable increase in airstrikes that have been hitting Iranian targets across Syria, marking the fourth known such incident in the past three weeks.  Those incidents include a reported missile attack on Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, also known by its French acronym CERS, north of Damascus. CERS is a facility that is responsible for developing and manufacturing advanced missiles and chemical weapons, and is likely used by both Iran and Syria’s Bashar Assad regime to develop and produce weapons systems, some of which is also destined for Hezbollah’s missile depots in Lebanon.

CERS was also bombed in 2018 and 2019. The area surrounding CERS doubles up as a base for Iranian personnel and Iran-controlled militias in Syria. The other recent attacks have hit reported weapons-production facilities and military bases in southern and western Syria.

In attempting to understand why the uptick in alleged preventative Israeli attacks has occurred now, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon offered this explanation: “Iran is attempting to take advantage of the transition in the United States and in Israel to alter the balance of power. Israel and the U.S. will not allow this. We will act resolutely and as needed.”

According to this explanation, Iran is trying to exploit political instability in Israel, which is on its way to its fourth elections in less than two years. That is coupled with the fact that the Trump administration is about to be replaced by the Biden administration, all while Tehran attempts to scale up its efforts to build a military foothold in Syria.

It is also important to place the latest incidents in the wider context: Israel has struck thousands of Iranian targets in Syria in recent years, according to comments made in 2019 by former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot.

The centerpiece of Eizenkot’s legacy is a low-profile, yet highly effective, campaign of preventative airstrikes to severely dent Iran’s “Syria project” and to roll back Tehran’s attempt to turn Syria into an extension of the attack front that it built in Lebanon, where Iran has helped Hezbollah take hold of some 130,000 rockets and missiles, and point them at Israeli cities and strategic targets.  The campaign against Iran in Syria has been raging for several years, and often, it is the same sites that are hit over and over again.

In June 2020, reports also said that 12 people were killed in an airstrike on an Iran-linked target in Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, which sits five kilometers (about 3 miles) from the Iraqi border.

Deir Ezzor and Albu Kamal are areas that are earmarked by Iran for the construction of a land corridor that would allow Tehran to move weapons, battle formations, and other resources into Syria from Iraq. If the corridor is completed, Iran would have land access all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, connecting Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon along a single network of roads.

Israel has no intention of letting that happen, just as it did not allow Iran to fly cargo planes of advanced missiles into Damascus airport with impunity.

Iran’s efforts are being masterminded by its overseas subversion and terrorism unit, the Quds Force, headed by Esmail Ghaani, who replaced the infamous Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani after his assassination in Baghdad in January 2020 in a U.S. drone strike.

Ghaani appears to be working hard to try and fill Soleimani’s shoes, though with little apparent success to show for it so far.  Soleimani’s grand vision was to create air smuggling routes, a land corridor, and naval smuggling routes to flood Syria and Lebanon with precision-guided weapons, bases, missile factories, and militias, and Israel kept that vision firmly in check, just as it is doing with Ghaani’s efforts.

Russia, for its part, has no interest in allowing Iran to take over Syria, having earmarked the country for its own long-term military presence and economic reconstruction programs. Still, Moscow is also keen to avoid witnessing an escalation that can threaten the Assad regime, which it spent years protecting from demise together with Iran.

Military tensions between U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf and Iran also remain high with the possibility of miscalculation is very real.  None of these factors, however, are sufficient to deter Israel from enforcing its red lines in Syria and doing whatever is necessary to keep Iran from fulfilling its dangerous “Syria project.”

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Iran warns Israel.

A senior Iranian commander has warned that the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has given the green light for Tehran-backed proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip “to level” two of Israel’s three largest cities.

Gen. Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, told Al-Manar TV that the terrorist groups would destroy Haifa and Tel Aviv if “any foolishness is committed against Iran,” warning that the Islamic republic has been working for years on developing the capabilities of its proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.  “All the missile capabilities of Gaza and Lebanon have been supported by Iran, and they are the front line for confrontation,” he added.  Noting that “the capabilities of the resistance axis” are much advanced from what they were 10 years ago Hajizadeh said, “today, the Palestinians fire rockets instead of throwing stones.”

Hezbollah and Iran have threatened both Haifa and Tel Aviv in the past. Israeli military intelligence believes Hezbollah has as many as 150,000 missiles secreted around various silos and launching sites throughout mostly southern Lebanon and can target any area of Israel.

Iran is a member of the Gog and Magog alliance of nations that comes against Israel in the latter days and meets its doom at the hand of God in the course of this war prophesied in Ezekiel 38-9.

Israel – US relations under Biden.

As the United States enters the Biden era, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) warns that the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem is poised to become particularly fragile, mainly because he believes the policies the new administration will pursue with respect to Iran will pose significant security challenges for Israel.

U.S. President Joe Biden has already stated that he plans to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran in lieu of the 2015 accord from which outgoing President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018. Following the Nov. 3 elections, Tehran has been growing brazen in its violations of the accord, in what experts believe is an attempt to produce leverage for future talks with Washington.

The situation with Iran, Cruz told Israel Hayom, could prove precarious. “I think the greatest national security threat to Israel that will be posed by the Biden-Harris administration will be their attempt to re-establish the disastrous Iran nuclear deal,” said Cruz.  “Under President Obama, the signature so-called foreign-policy achievement of his second term was sending hundreds of billions of dollars to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as part of the 2015 nuclear deal, who regularly chants ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel.’   The Biden-Harris administration will set as their top foreign-policy objective restoring that failed agreement. The single most important national security victory of the last four years was pulling out that disastrous deal.  I fear we are headed into a dangerous chapter with the Biden-Harris administration, working actively to undermine the national security gains made in the last four years, and to reinvigorate the ayatollahs in Iran, which poses an existential threat to Israel.”

Cruz further said he believes that the Democratic Party has been overrun by the radical forces within it, which are militantly pro Palestinian and anti israel.  “Unfortunately, the Democratic Party today is being driven by the extreme and angry left. The voices who are setting the agenda are [Sens.] Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and [Rep.] Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.”   

Still, even with the Democrats essentially in control of both chambers of Congress, “I believe America will continue to stand alongside Israel,” said Cruz.  ‘I have endeavored to be the leading defender of Israel in the United States Senate, and I intend to continue to do so. And I am hopeful that there will remain a significant bipartisan coalition to stand alongside Israel,” he added.

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Israel’s vaccination drive has been widely regarded as a success story.

While countries around the world are now starting to roll out Covid-19 vaccines, Israel has managed to vaccinate around a quarter of its population against the deadly virus, according to data released by the Ministry of Health. The latest figures (as of 23 January) show that over 2.43 million people in Israel have received at least one out of the two doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine — making it a frontrunner in the global vaccination race. 

So far, Israel has reported over half a million Covid-19 cases and 4,266 deaths.  Despite vaccinating a significant portion of its total population, Israel continues to report high infection rates. In mid January the government voted to extend the national lockdown by 10 more days, after Israel recorded its highest-ever infection rates since the pandemic first began.  

The rise in cases, despite the lockdown and the vaccination drive, has largely been pinned on the more infectious virus mutations that have emerged over the last few months as well as people disregarding nationwide Covid restrictions.  Secular Israelis have accused ultra Orthodox Jews of flouting the rules to keep their synagogues and schools open.  

Alarmingly over 12,000 people who received a dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine in the country have tested positive for coronavirus, including 69 people who had even taken their second jab. The Health Ministry announced that 6.6 per cent of the 189,000 people who took Covid tests after being vaccinated tested positive, BBC reported.  At least 13 people have also allegedly suffered from mild facial paralysis as a side effect after receiving the vaccine. 

Israel’s vaccine rollout was also being criticised by rights groups who say that the inoculation drive violated human rights as it excluded Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

In response to this criticism Israel has pointed out that it is under no obligation to provide vaccinations to the population of the territories.  The Jerusalem Post writes:  ‘As was to be expected, and as with any positive Israeli achievement, the favourable international attention being devoted to Israel’s successes in acquiring vaccines and in vaccinating its population against COVID-19 is being offset by a parallel and concerted wave of international criticism and hostility against Israel among states, organisations and the international media.  This criticism emanates from a number of flawed and misplaced assumptions, or deliberately misleading claims, that Israel is an occupying power, in full occupation of the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria, and the Gaza Strip. 

Following on from that is the mistaken and false assumption that international humanitarian law requires Israel, as an occupying power, to provide medical support and distribute vaccines to the occupied Palestinian population, to provide the funding to enable distribution of vaccines, as well as to ensure and maintain medical and hospital establishments and services.  A further claim relates to the Gaza Strip, governed by the Hamas terrorist organization, attributing to Israel full responsibility for the health of the Gaza population in light of the maritime blockade by which, according to the same critics, Israel willfully prevents transfer of humanitarian and health supplies.

These assumptions, claims, allegations and accusations are misplaced, misguided and in many respects, emanate from a mixture of ill-will, envy and above all, a deep hostility to Israel and to everything it achieves. Israel is under no obligation to provide vaccinations to the population of the territories. Israel’s status is not that of an occupying power, and the Fourth Geneva Convention is not applicable to the territories.

Under the terms of the Oslo 2 Accord in 1995, the Palestinian Authority has the full responsibility to govern those parts of the territories that are under its control, including the full civilian responsibility for health and dealing with epidemics, and for importing vaccines and other medical equipment.  Israel does not prevent entry of humanitarian and medical equipment, or food and other items required for everyday civilian life. Thousands of trucks deliver goods daily to the Gaza Strip through the passage points.  Israel’s maritime blockade was sanctioned by the United Nations as a legitimate means of preventing the importation of offensive military equipment.

Clearly, in light of the geographic proximity between Israel and the West Bank, areas of Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip, epidemiological and moral considerations require both Israel and the PA, as well as Hamas, to act with a view to reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19.  To this end, Israel and the Palestinians are cooperating and exchanging information pursuant to their respective obligations under the Oslo Accords.’

Messianic Pastor makes a stand against LGBT teaching programme.

A Messianic Jewish pastor is trying to remove an LGBT teaching program from public schools in Israel’s southern resort city of Eilat. Ariel Ben-David leads the Maayan Eilat Messianic Congregation, and together with a number of other parents, he was outraged when the local municipality approved a curriculum put together by HoshenHoshen is the largest non-profit LGBT organization in Israel, and as part of its activities has developed a 33-part Civics Studies program to familiarize Israeli students with the LGBT movement’s history, activists and aims.

Pastor Ben-David circulated a petition against exposing students to the Hoshen curriculum and presented it to municipal officials. He was promptly attacked in Eilat’s main newspaper over his alleged bigotry.  He also turned to Israel’s Ministry of Education, but was rebuffed by a ministry representative who again suggested that Ben-David was simply being intolerant. “The Ministry of Education advocates a pluralistic approach…[and] places special emphasis on developing an optimal educational climate characterized by acceptance of the other, solidarity and social responsibility,” read a copy of the correspondence provided to Israel Today.

As for the LGBT issue specifically, the Ministry of Education wrote:

“This action [using the Hoshen material in schools] is accompanied by the belief that it contributes not only to the LGBT youth but to a discourse that encourages tolerance and pluralism in society as a whole and in the education system in particular and thus strengthens our democratic society. From kindergarten to graduation, we find students coming from special and diverse families, young children who do not match the gender slot that society has designated for them. We also find adolescents who are in the process of forming an identity and sexual orientation. It is the duty of the education system to work to create such an atmosphere in which all students can feel that their development process is legitimate and normative.”

Pastor Ben-David argued that while the Messianic community also teaches tolerance and love for all people regardless of their background, the LGBT agenda in schools is overstepping those bounds and seeking to indoctrinate young minds with its worldview.

In his response to the Ministry of Education, the Eilat pastor wrote:  “We promote love as the most important aspect of our activities, regardless of race, gender or religion. We understand everything that the Ministry of Education is trying to do in the not-so-simple field of sexual and gender identity discrimination and children’s equality issues. At the same time, we see that in the race to find a solution and help one sector, in this case the LGBT community, the other side is forgotten.”

Pastor Ben-David asked the Ministry of Education to consider how giving such prominence to the LGBT agenda might impact a child from a traditional religious home who was raised to see certain things as being outside God’s will, including homosexuality. “This child returns home with conflict in his head, his identity has been damaged. What he is being taught in school now contradicts what he is taught at home, and he no longer feels free to express his views or opinion,” noted the pastor.

Of even greater concern, stressed Ben-David, is “that the over-influence of this agenda will lead to problems with sexual identity.” This is similar to concerns expressed by many Christian parents in America, who worry that an exaggerated focus on the LGBT issue in schools will lead to peer pressure to not only accept, but to explore homosexuality.

Israel Today. 

Tony Pearce

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