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Latest News – 28 August

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Israel prepares for Hezbollah reprisals along Lebanon border

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday put limits on traffic near the border with Lebanon following threats by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah after two alleged Israeli attacks on Sunday.

“At the end of an operational assessment, it was decided that the movement of certain vehicles on several axes would be possible on the basis of individual approval,” the IDF said.

On Sunday, Nasrallah said that the Lebanese resistance would respond to any new Israeli attack, and that the time when Israel could attack Lebanese territory with impunity was over.

“From tonight, I tell the Israeli army on the border, be prepared and wait for us,” Nasrallah said in the televised address. “One day, two days, three days…”

Israel was held responsible for an airstrike on Palestinian terrorist bases and, in a separate incident, two drones which crashed near Hezbollah offices in Beirut. On Tuesday, Hezbollah said they were filled with explosives and were intended as an attack.

Israeli forces have been on high alert in the north since Sunday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an emergency meeting with Israeli defense officials overnight Saturday to discuss the situation.

He also held a four-and-a-half hour meeting with his Security Cabinet on Monday. Details of the meeting were not released but Netanyahu ordered opposition party chairman Benny Gantz to receive a briefing on the security situation.

Lebanon and Iraq called the recent attacks attributed to Israel a “declaration of war.”

The angry rhetoric from Lebanon came in response to three strikes on military sites in the country belonging to the Palestine Front for the Liberation of Palestine, (PFLP) a terrorist group that has remained largely behind the scenes in recent decades.

However, Israel has not taken credit for the attacks on PFLP bases and Israeli observers say the drones that Hezbollah claimed crashed near its headquarters appear to be Iranian, not Israeli.

However, according to Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper on Tuesday, the U.S. sent a message to the Lebanese government that Israel had “no intention of carrying out an offensive mission” but that one of its drones suffered a technical malfunction. A second one was sent to blow it up.

Al-Akhbar says that the intention of the message was to convince the Lebanese government to stop Hezbollah from taking military reprisals against Israel. (WIN)

Three Palestinians killed in explosions in Gaza

At least three Palestinians were reported to have been killed and several others wounded in two explosions in Gaza City late Tuesday night, local authorities said.

The two killed in the first explosion at the al-Dahdouh junction in the southern part of the city were identified by the Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Health as 32 year-old police officers Salameh al Nadim and Ala’ al Gharbleh.

According to an interior ministry spokesperson the explosion happened close to a police checkpoint.

“Two members of the police were martyred as a result of an explosion that took place near a police checkpoint at the Dahdouh intersection south of Gaza City. The relevant authorities have started to examine the nature of the explosion.”

Another man was said to have been killed in another explosion shortly afterwards in Sheikh Ajlin neighborhood.

Several others were wounded in the explosions, including one critically, and transferred to al-Shifa hospital for medical treatment.

While the interior ministry first placed blame on an Israeli airstrike before retracting it, other reports in the Strip claimed that one of the policemen had been carrying an explosive device which detonated.

The IDF denied involvement saying that they were unaware of any airstrikes.

Hours earlier on Tuesday four mortars were fired at southern Israel.

According to the IDF, one fell in open territory next to the border fence while the other three fell inside the Strip. There were no casualties or injuries.

In response, an Israeli aircraft bombed a Hamas observation post east of Juhor ad-Dik in the central Gaza Strip.

In the last round of violence between Israel and group in the Strip in May,which saw close to 700 rockets were fired on Israel, the Israel Air Force carried out the first targeted killing in five years taking out Hamed al-Khoudary who Israel accused of being the man in charge of transferring funds from Iran to terror groups in the Strip.

Another Hamas operative was struck while riding his motorcycle on Salah al-Din Street, near the city of Khan Younis and the Israeli military also targeted the private homes of other senior Hamas activists.

The targeted strikes brought Hamas to its knees and a ceasefire arrangement was hammered out.

The tensions in southern Israel come as the IDF is on high alert in northern Israel following an Israeli airstrike in Syria and alleged Israeli attacks in Lebanon, leading to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that the group would retaliate.

According to the Lebanese satellite television station Al-Mayadeen, the Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip will join any confrontation between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group.

The Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen quoted an unnamed source in the “Palestinian resistance” in the Gaza Strip as saying: “If war breaks out with Hezbollah, we will be at the front line.”

The source, who was described as a leader of the “Palestinian resistance,” said that Israel “must read the message of our support for the resistance in Lebanon.”

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Gaza-based groups have condemned Israel’s recent airstrikes in Syrian and Lebanon and voiced support for Hezbollah.

The situation in Gaza remains very fragile as violent incidents continue,” Mladenov told the Security Council in New York.

“Israel must calibrate its use of force and use lethal force only as a last resort, and only in response to imminent threats of death or serious injury. Hamas must prevent the indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars towards Israel. It must ensure that protests at the fence remain peaceful and prevent provocations,” he said. (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli drone attack in Beirut targeted precision guided missiles technology

An alleged Israeli drone attack in Lebanon’s capital targeted shipping containers with “machinery to mix high-grade propellant” for precision guided missiles, the British daily newspaper The Times reported Tuesday.

The Lebanese terror group Hezbollah said two Israeli drones rigged with explosives came down over Beirut on Sunday on the roof of a building housing Hezbollah’s media office in the Moawwad neighborhood in Dahiyeh, the group’s stronghold in the southern part of the Lebanese capital. The second drone, which arrived in the area 45 minutes later, exploded in the air and crashed nearby.

Images from the alleged Israeli drone attack in Beirut

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier on Tuesday warned Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to “calm down,” after the leader of the Iran-backed terror group threatened to retaliate to the alleged attack.

“I heard what Nasrallah said. I suggest to Nasrallah to calm down. He knows well that Israel knows how to defend itself and to pay back its enemies,” Netanyahu said in a speech.

The prime minister also sent a message to Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whom Israel accuses of masterminding a drone attack from Syria that it thwarted with its airstrike.

“Be careful with your words and even more so be careful with your actions,” Netanyahu said.

Meanwhile, the Russian foreign ministry said Tuesday that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, asking him to use his “influence to prevent a further escalation of tensions between Israel and Lebanon.”

According to Hariri’s office, Hariri told Lavrov that the attack in southern Beirut was “a dangerous act and aggression” and that he’s counting on Russia’s role to “avoid more escalation and tension and to send message to Israel to stop violating Lebanese sovereignty.” (Ynet News)

Israeli Elections: Déjà vu or not

by Dr Ron Weiser ZFA

We are seeing a rerun of the April 2019 Israeli elections but with one big difference, this time round we will have a government formed.

The question is, what government?

In the main, the issue in April was whether the people wanted to elect the statesman Prime Minister Netanyahu, or oust the flawed human being Bibi. And the people chose ‘the Statesman’.

Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s frenemy, whilst recommending only Netanyahu as Prime Minister to President Rivlin, then made an issue of the Haredim and army service, extending into a stand on religion and state – and that was that – no coalition – new elections.

There are a number of factors that we now need to watch:
– Will the people still vote for ‘the Statesman’, or has Netanyahu lost more of his lustre?
– Voter turnout. With voting in Israel voluntary, this will have serious bearing on the final result. Have Israelis developed voter fatigue or will they continue to turn out in high numbers?
– Which party – and there are only two immediate possibilities, either the Netanyahu led Likud (perhaps later, a Likud without Netanyahu), or the Gantz led Blue & White – will gain sufficient votes so that President Rivlin will offer them first bite at forming government?
– In the game to get the nod from Rivlin, which of the two major parties will suffer the most from voter drift within their nominal blocks. That is, votes moving from their own party to their ostensible future coalition partners from amongst the variety of smaller parties?

Whilst this will matter less once the process of trying to form a government is reached, it will matter greatly in the first instance vis a vis the options for President Rivlin.

Netanyahu seems more vulnerable here than Gantz, with Ayelet Shaked and her newly named Yamina party, openly attempting to chip away at Netanyahu’s base and with some success.

And Netanyahu attempting to do likewise to Yamina, with somewhat less success.

This time the external forces that be, are not working in Netanyahu’s favour.

Hamas and the whole Gaza situation, as well as the escalation of terror in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria have been politically harmful to Netanyahu. Aside from his image as a statesman, he has cultivated a strong persona as ‘Mr Security’.

Hamas knows that Netanyahu does not want a war before the elections, if at all, and they’re using that to test Netanyahu’s restraint.

The deteriorating security situation has allowed every political party to Netanyahu’s left and right, to attack him as being weak on security and responsible for the apparent decrease in Israel’s deterrent abilities.

At the same time, the earlier rumoured visit of Putin to Israel, which would have been a boost to Netanyahu, did not happen.

And Trump did not put forward his peace plan which the Israeli right hoped might give public voice from the office of the President to autonomy for the Palestinians, rather than statehood. Although Trump is teasing that he still might release it before the elections.

Whatever one thinks of the ban from visiting Israel on US Congress members and BDS supporters Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, Netanyahu was damned if he let them in and damned if he didn’t. But Netanyahu’s leadership prowess was somewhat dimmed by appearing to kowtow to Trump’s whim.

Trump’s tweet that: “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit” put Netanyahu is a difficult position after Israel has seemingly already previously agreed to let them in.

Whilst it is dangerous to upset someone as temperamental and unpredictable as Trump (just look at Denmark and the ‘buy’ Greenland issue) and especially someone who has done so many positive things for Israel, it was a bad look for Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s closeness to Trump may not be as strong a political benefit for him as in the past.

With the US President’s comment that: “If you vote for a Democrat, you’re being disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel”, Trump even more clearly demonstrated that he is using Israel as a wedge issue in the internal politics of the US.

Certainly Trump’s actions before the April elections were calculated to help Netanyahu win then. However, now whether planned or not, the steps seem more aimed at Trump’s own re-election campaign and US domestic politics.

And that apparent change in Trump’s priorities plays less well for Netanyahu in Israel and causes some possible concerns for Israel as well, in terms of US policy generally.

With an eye on Lieberman, Netanyahu is trying to drag votes away from him by heavily courting the Russian vote. Netanyahu’s visit to the Ukraine should mainly be looked at through this prism. One of trying to attract the Russian vote in Israel.

If the polls are to be believed, it’s not working.

In fact the only party, according to the polls, that has risen dramatically, is Lieberman’s. Which, again if the polls are correct, will make him the kingmaker as opposed to the kingslayer last time – in Game of Thrones terms – an entertainment series not far removed from the current machinations.

Virtually all of the small party amalgamations are designed towards ensuring their own survival, to pass the threshold of votes required to enter the Knesset.

Whether it was the merging of the 3 Arab parties, or Meretz going with someone they really have/had distaste for in the form of Ehud Barak.

Likewise Labor deciding that it was electoral poison to merge with Meretz and to try and save itself from total oblivion, turned rightward in terms of foreign policy (whilst maintaining a more socially aware domestic agenda), by joining the yet to be electorally proven Orly Levy-Abekasis.

Ayelet Shaked’s Yamina is a merger between complex people with similar but differing polices in terms of emphasis and split on the matter of religion and state. It is doing alright in the polls, but remains a danger for the Likud in terms of potentially siphoning away votes as described earlier and leaving Blue & White as the election frontrunner.

After the election and when it will come to coalition building, the real truth is that virtually almost any party can join any other party. No matter how many ‘red lines’ are declared before the election.

The ultimate expression of this is the very clear signal that Lieberman has sent in making an agreement on surplus vote sharing with Gantz’s Blue & White with two large implications.

1 – Assisting Blue & White to potentially win one additional seat in the Knesset – which may be critical when going to President Rivlin

And 2 – Sending a warning to Netanyahu that given the chance, Lieberman this time is able and possibly quite willing to give Gantz the nod, should Netanyahu not cave in to Lieberman’s demands

At the end of the day, no-one should count Netanyahu out in what is probably his last election.

He is the most experienced person running and he is a master in the art of politics.

He has constantly proven pollsters wrong.

We are in a strange period. After the election whether Netanyahu is Prime Minister or not, either way, with hindsight, commentators will say that the result was obvious all along.

It’s just so easy for it to go either way.

After leading Israel for so long he is in a class of his own on so many levels and the rest of the pack are some way behind.

That is why the only person that can defeat Netanyahu in 3 weeks, is Bibi.

We will see.

Facing tensions on multiple fronts, is Israel on the verge of an all-out war?

Speculation abounds as to whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s order to brief rival Benny Gantz on current security issues is a sign that the Jewish state is preparing for a major conflict on one or more fronts.

by Israel Kasnett JNS

The big news in Israel is not that Iran attempted to send kamikaze drones into Israeli territory last week or that Israel targeted that terrorist cell in Syria; these are not completely out of the ordinary or even unexpected. Rather, what was quite the unusual occurrence took place in central Israel when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered officials from the security establishment to brief his chief rival, former Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who serves as leader of the Blue and White party.

Why so? It’s a rare move to brief a rival like Gantz and a possible signal that Israel may be readying itself for a major conflict on one or more fronts. Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip show no signs of reigning in their efforts to attack Israel, and whispers and murmurings can be heard about an imminent Israeli land incursion into the coastal territory. At the same time, the Lebanese border can explode at any time, depending on Iran and Hezbollah, while the situation in Syria continues to remain tense amid the Iranian build up there.

Given the tensions on these multiple fronts, is Israel on the verge of an all-out war with Iran and its proxies?

Yoel Guzansky, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, confirmed to JNS that the attempted drone attack was Iran’s attempt “to retaliate” for various Israeli operations against Iranian forces in Syria.

But the real story, according to Guzansky, is in Iraq, where Israel recently bombed a weapons’ depot and reportedly other targets as well. He said Israel’s decision-makers had “no other choice” but to do so.

Guzansky noted that while Israel may have had to take action, at the same time the complications of those kinds of operations “are quite severe.”

“You open an account with the Shi’ite militias in Iraq with whom you were not No. 1 on their priority list—and now you are on their list,” he said. “It is complicated because U.S. forces are there, and you need to coordinate.”

Guzansky also pointed out that now Iraq’s political arena is in an uproar with some parties calling for the expulsion of U.S. troops, blaming them for coordinating with Israel. “I really hope that those attacks in Iraq were more about mowing the lawn,” said Guzansky. “In Syria, we have the upper hand. In Iraq, it is a different story. Shi’ite militias can retaliate against us from Iraq, from Syria and elsewhere.””

With regard to the threats facing Israel and whether Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani will seek further action against Israel now, Guzansky said that the political situation in Lebanon places a lot of pressure on Hezbollah, preventing it from acting too freely. “Soleimani has more freedom of action elsewhere in Syria, Iraq or Gaza,” he said.

Iran has a few possibilities, “and I am not sure Lebanon is the more attractive one,” he noted.

What Guzansky is certain about is that Iran has reached its limit of “holding back.” He said that Soleimani and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah have now “committed themselves to respond. I do not know when and where, but I think it will come,” he warned.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu told Nasrallah to “calm down” as Israel braced for a possible retaliation from the terror group.

“I heard Nasrallah’s speech. I suggest he calm down,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony in Jerusalem, referring to rhetoric on Sunday that promised revenge on the Jewish state for Saturday’s airstrikes.

However, Guzansky said he fears that Iran and Hezbollah can do “many things” and “not necessarily in the Middle East.”

“They have capabilities in South America and in the Far East, and they tried in the last decade in India, Azerbaijan and many other places,” he said. “They try all the time.”

‘Sanctions will determine the cost of adventurism ’

Nevertheless, while Israel appears to have had the upper hand against Iranian buildup in Syria so far, the Iranians appear to be continuing their efforts, despite the setbacks.

According to Guzansky, if Iran’s aim is to establish itself militarily in Syria, it can be viewed as “quite a failure.”

On the other hand, he said that Iran’s presence in Syria cannot be isolated from the sanctions the Trump administration has placed on the Islamic regime. The IRGC has proved itself rather capable, under trying conditions, in obtaining and moving mass amounts of manpower and equipment, ever under Israel’s watchful eye. This may not necessarily be termed a success, though it might not be considered a failure either.

David Adesnik, director of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank (which was threatened by Iran over the weekend for its hawkish stance towards the regime), agreed with Guzansky, telling JNS that “Iran’s persistent efforts in Syria and Iraq show that its failures have not resulted in defeat. The depth of Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq means that it can keep trying to build up offensive capabilities for as long as it has the necessary resources.”

Adesnik also pointed to the significant role the Americans can play in reigning in Iran.

“In that regard,” he said, “it is the U.S. which has a decisive role to play since its sanctions will determine whether the cost of adventurism across the Arab world becomes too much for Tehran to bear.”

An ‘enduring’ campaign

With regard to Israeli attacks on the weapons caches of Iranian-backed militia in Iraq, Adesnik said this serves to “prevent the emergence of more advanced capabilities or the transfer of such capabilities to partners at other points along the land bridge to the Mediterranean Iran is now building.”

Looking westward, he said that “Iran wants Syria to become a second front on Israel’s northern borders, alongside Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon. Beyond propping up [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, Tehran has consistently sought to develop offensive capabilities in Syria.”

Answering the question of whether Soleimani seeks revenge or is managing a larger plan, Adesnik confirmed that it’s all “part of a concerted and enduring campaign—not mere retaliation for Israeli actions in Iraq or Syria earlier this summer.”

Circling back to whether Israel will find itself at war in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria or all three, Adesnik said that he doubts Iran seeks an all-out war at the moment. Rather, he said, “Tehran is trying to shape the rules of the undeclared war, or ‘gray zone’ conflict, that Israel and Iran are already fighting in Syria.”

Those rules, he noted, have already been established in Lebanon, where Iran has built up a significant arsenal of missiles without any retaliation or preemptive attacks by Israel against targets there.

On the Syria front, Adesnik said that Israeli airstrikes “seem to have prevented Iran from establishing anything like the capabilities the pro-Iran ‘axis of resistance’ has in Lebanon.”

Still, speculation abounds as to whether Netanyahu’s order to brief Gantz is a sign that Israel is preparing for a major conflict on one or more fronts.

“We need to be careful and open our eyes,” cautioned Guzansky. “I think something is coming up. This is the quiet before the storm.”

Hezbollah and its Lebanese allies are building a case for war

by Seth Frantzman The Jerusalem Post

Hezbollah and its allies are building a case for war and Lebanon’s media and other officials are fueling the tensions with assertions that drones that crashed in Beirut carried bombs. Whether or not the drones carried C4 explosives or that their aim was to carry out a bombing or target an individual is not particularly important because what matters is the calculations going on beneath the surface in Lebanon.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun by inferring that the incident marks a kind of “declaration of war” ups the rhetoric and the chances that a green light has been given to Hezbollah to retaliate. The main issue Hezbollah has faced in the past, since Israel’s withdrawal in 2000, is to try to create a legitimate reason for maintaining a massive armed group within a functioning state. It has been able to keep its arsenal, not only because no one can disarm it, but also through claiming it is part of a “resistance” that “defends” Lebanon. As such it claimed after 2000 that it must recover the “Sheba farms” or “Mount Dov” area on the border, a disputed territory with Israel and Syria. Suddenly, a tiny area became the reason for Hezbollah’s existence. This was all a veneer for the real reason of Hezbollah’s existence, which is that as an Iranian proxy and ally which wants the group to continue stockpiling its weapons and building up its infrastructure along Israel’s border to threaten Israel.

Hezbollah doesn’t keep secret its regional ambitions. It fought in the Syrian civil war, it has contact with Shi’ite militias in Iraq, it talks about the Houthis in Yemen as if they are a part of its strategy. It shows images of Al-Aqsa as if it is the main champion of the Palestinian case against US President Donald Trump’s Deal of the Century. At every juncture its role is regional and global. Two small drones, one of which apparently caught on video was far from clandestine, sounding more like a flying washing machine on spin cycle, are merely Hezbollah’s icing on the cake justifying its “right” to respond. This is lip service because Israel uncovered Hezbollah tunnels in December 2018 which showed Hezbollah as having violated the 2006 UN Resolution 1701. So, Aoun says that the drone incident also violates the resolution. This is to create a legal pretext and cover should hostilities begin. Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon, including President Aoun, are thus already creating the context for the post-war scenario.

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, whose father Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was murdered in an assassination likely carried out with Hezbollah’s aid, has seemingly forgotten about the 2005 tragedy. He, too, has condemned Israel but hedged his bets by arguing that it is not in the interest of Lebanon to spiral into a dangerous escalation. He hopes that friends in Washington, or Riyadh, can calm things down. The Lebanese Parliament speaker Nabih Berri, has also spoken with the Kuwaitis and condemned the “Israeli aggression.” Berri is a Shi’ite from the Amal movement.

Is this just a lot of posturing designed by Hezbollah to test the Israeli alertness? Hassan Nasralla recalls the last war and he knows what Hezbollah will face. He also knows his forces lost many casualties in Syria but, they also gained experience there. Unsurprisingly, rhetoric leads the way with talk of “opening the gates of hell” now that the “investigation” has found that the drones were allegedly armed.

Nasrallah has a problematic calculation to make. His allies in Iran are not entirely clear on what the best response is and Hassan Rouhani is discussing a possible meeting with the US under some conditions. Meanwhile, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Qasem Soleimani and Iran’s allies in Iraq have also appeared to green light a kind of “declaration of war.” Yet none of them seem to want to fight the war they have declared, despite their assertions that Israel and the US are behind attacks across the region. Nasrallah’s movement is not the movement of 2006, it is more closely linked to issues in Syria and Iraq today than in the past. It understands this linkage and has to weigh it against its desire to react with a response in the wake of the drone incident.