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Latest News – 4 September

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

Hezbollah missiles narrowly missed armored car with 5 soldiers inside

An IDF medical vehicle carrying five soldiers nearly sustained a direct hit from Hezbollah anti-tank fire during Sunday’s attack along the northern border, as it drove along an unprotected road in an apparent breach of army directives — with luck, rather than effective military planning, preventing the death or injury of the soldiers inside, Hebrew media reports said late Monday.

The reports appeared to contradict Israeli military sources’ claims on Sunday that an IDF vehicle that Hezbollah targeted was parked or empty at the time. The reports appeared to tally with footage released by Hezbollah-affiliated TV earlier Monday and with Israeli security camera footage that was published shortly thereafter. That footage showed two anti-tank missiles apparently narrowly missing an IDF vehicle on the road between Moshav Avivim and Kibbutz Yir’on near the northern border.

The footage from Al-Manar TV shows a Hezbollah fighter launching a Kornet guided missile at what appears to be a moving Israeli armored personnel carrier patrolling along the border fence. An additional launch at the APC is seen from further away. While the Hezbollah-affiliated network stated that the two strikes destroyed the APC, the footage does not show that the military vehicle sustained a direct hit; it shows billows of smoke surrounding it as the missiles land.

The APC itself was not in fact hit by either projectile, according to findings from an IDF analysis published earlier Monday. Rather, a piece of shrapnel from the explosion of one of the projectiles hit a tire, forcing the vehicle to stop on the side of the road, the military said.

Amos Harel, a senior military correspondent for the Haaretz newspaper, wrote late Monday that the Israeli armored vehicle, of the “Ze’ev” (or Wolf) model, was traveling on a road around 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) from the border when it was targeted — not on the front lines, but still within the range of Kornet guided missiles.

The road was one military personnel had been instructed to avoid as part of a restriction on military vehicular travel close to the border that was put in place earlier in the week in expectation of a coming attack.

For some reason not yet clear, the Ze’ev, a medical support vehicle under the command of an army doctor, failed to heed those instructions. The Walla news site said the military was investigating the troops’ actions.

Military officials had indicated following Hezbollah’s attack that one anti-tank guided missile hit an army base and one or two were fired at an armored military vehicle, but that the vehicle was empty and/or parked when it was targeted.

By contrast, the footage released by Hezbollah Monday, purporting to show one of the missile attacks, clearly showed that two missiles were targeting a moving vehicle.

Video footage from Yir’on, which was also shared on Monday night, showed the attack from a different angle.

In the video, the impact of what appears to be the second missile is seen in the left-hand side of the screen. A moment later, the army vehicle appears, driving through the smoke created by the blast at high speed.

According to the Haaretz report, another target hit by Hezbollah may have been empty, but the armored vehicle seen in the footage was clearly occupied — carrying five soldiers at the time it was fired upon. Both of the missiles fired at the vehicle narrowly missed their target, the Hezbollah footage indicated, and the vehicle sped ahead.

The Ze’ev is an armored vehicle but is not able to withstand a direct hit by the powerful Kornet missile. The absence of injured or dead soldiers in the attack was thus chiefly a matter of sheer luck and not clever tactics, the Haaretz report noted.

The IDF has said no Israelis were injured in Sunday’s attack, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said none was so much as scratched, while Hezbollah has maintained that its strike killed and injured Israeli soldiers.

Following the attack, pictures and videos released in Israel showed two apparently injured soldiers being evacuated via helicopter from the scene. However Israeli sources later said this had been a ploy meant to trick Hezbollah into thinking it had caused casualties. Haifa’s Rambam hospital said the two soldiers were released without requiring medical treatment.

Israel apparently hoped that Hezbollah, thinking it had inflicted casualties, would conclude that it had retaliated sufficiently for a pair of Israeli strikes on Hezbollah and Iranian targets late last month, and hold its fire.

The military had initially said the Hezbollah attack hit an ambulance, but later said this was erroneous and that it was an armored vehicle functioning in that capacity.

An Israel Defense Forces source told Channel 12 news Monday that Israel was prepared for a massive retaliation against Hezbollah’s precision missile system in Lebanon, and only opted against carrying out that plan because no Israeli soldiers were hurt in the cross-border attack.

“The fact that [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah missed and didn’t kill any Israelis saved Hezbollah from the destruction of its precision missile program,” the source said. “The planes were already in the air.”

In response to Sunday’s attack, the Israeli military said its artillery cannons and attack helicopters fired approximately 100 shells and bombs at Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon. But the attacks were apparently limited in scope, as there were no reports of any serious casualties on the Lebanese side either.

Hezbollah indicated that the missile attack was in response to an airstrike by the IDF last month that targeted an Iranian-led plot to bomb northern Israel with armed drones, killing several Iranian operatives, including two Hezbollah members.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Monday evening said his Iran-backed terror group would begin targeting Israeli drones flying in Lebanese airspace, and announced there were “no more red lines” in the fight against Israel, a day after the cross-border clashes.

In his comments Monday, Nasrallah did not address the question of casualties, though he was adamant that his forces had “hit [the target] without a doubt.” Instead he focused on the supposed audacity of the attack and sought to cast the assault itself as a victory.

In the past, “[Israel] would not tolerate anyone putting a hand on the fence, sending something like a drone back and forth quickly, shooting in the air or throwing a bomb into an open area,” Nasrallah said. “It would respond harshly because for it that was a red line. What happened yesterday is that the resistance broke what has for the past dozens of years been the biggest Israeli red line.

“It is no longer a red line,” he said. “That has ended. There are no more red lines.”

Nasrallah vowed to hit “deep inside Israel,” and not just along the border, in case of a new Israeli attack.

Nasrallah took credit for what he termed a successful operation in Sunday’s missile attack on IDF positions, despite the failure to cause Israeli casualties.

“Despite all the preparations and fake targets the enemy scattered along the border, we waited for our target and when it came, we hit it, without any doubt,” he said of the missiles which struck the IDF vehicle as well as an army post at Avivim.

And he urged his followers not to view the Sunday attack as underwhelming, saying its importance was in the psychological effect it had on the Israelis.

“The entire border was evacuated, you couldn’t see a single soldier on the border, nor any of the tractors we saw for a time. Second, they evacuated all their forward command posts,” Nasrallah said. “They emptied entire bases, like Avivim, a complete evacuation. A reporter from one channel walked around there and showed how everything was empty, there was no one. Entire outposts were emptied, some of them deep inside [Israeli territory].”

He was referring to a report by RT Arabic Monday in which a reporter could be seen walking around the Avivim post, which was deserted. The IDF later acknowledged it had been evacuated due to the Hezbollah threats.

Nasrallah mocked Israel’s response to the anti-tank missile attack: “Israel, which responds to every grenade or action, did everything it could to contain the incident, and most of the fire it directed [toward Lebanon in response to the Hezbollah attack] was at defensive targets, not offensive ones.”

Also Monday, Netanyahu issued a video statement on Sunday’s exchange of fire with Hezbollah, saying Israel “acted with determination and responsibility. We kept our citizens safe and also guarded the well-being of our soldiers.”

“The man in the bunker in Beirut knows exactly why he is in a bunker,” Netanyahu said of Nasrallah. “We will continue to do everything necessary to keep Israel safe — at sea, on the ground and in the air — and we will also continue to work against the threat of the precise missiles.” (the Times of Israel)

Israel exposes Hezbollah precision-missile factory amid dramatic uptick in tensions

Days after a major security escalation erupted between Hezbollah and Israel, and amid Israeli warnings over Hezbollah’s precision-missile program, the Israel Defense Forces exposed on Tuesday a new facility in eastern Lebanon for the production of guided missiles.

The site, located near Nabi Chit in the Bekaa Valley, is designed to “convert and manufacture precision guided missiles,” and “was established a few years ago by Iran and Hezbollah in order to manufacture weapons,” the IDF stated. Aerial photos of the facility, showing structures to create explosive warheads, engines and a “quality assurance” center were released by the IDF.

Arabic-language media outlets said Israel conducted an airstrike in the same area on Aug. 26. The alleged target of the strike was not confirmed, though reports at the time claimed that a base belonging to a Palestinian armed faction was hit.

On Tuesday, the IDF stated, “Lately, various activities to facilitate the manufacture and conversion of precision guided missiles at the facility have been identified, including the establishment of a dedicated assembly line for precision weapons, and the transfer of sensitive and dedicated equipment. The facility holds a number of machines designed to manufacture the motors and the warheads of missiles with an accuracy of less than 10 meters. In order to manufacture the missiles, Iran supplies special machines and instructs the manufacturing crews, in addition to continuous supporting guidance.”

According to the military, the facility plays a critical role in Hezbollah’s guided-missile program, adding that “Hezbollah, in fear of strikes, evacuated precious and unique equipment from the compound to civilian locations in Beirut.”

The exposure of the latest site comes at the same time as a dramatic uptick in tensions surrounding Hezbollah’s precision-missile program, which Iran is helping the terror organization construct in Lebanon.

On Aug. 25, according to international media reports, Israeli drones destroyed a key component hidden in southern Beirut for producing high-grade propellant for guided ballistic missiles. That same evening, Israel Air Force jets bombed an Iranian-led squad that was preparing to launch explosive drones from Syria into Israel. Two Hezbollah members of the squad were killed.

In retribution, Hezbollah fired anti-tank guided missiles at an IDF base and a military vehicle on Sept. 1. Israel responded by launching some 100 artillery shells and directing helicopter fire at Hezbollah.

‘A real possibility of serious deterioration’

Ultimately, according to Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) in Herzliya, the Jewish state has changed its strategy concerning Hezbollah’s dangerous force build-up. “This should have been stopped a long time ago,” Karmon told JNS, noting that Hezbollah has been aggressively building up its offensive firepower since before the 2006 Second Lebanon War and in earnest after it.

Iran has flooded Lebanon with rockets, leading to a massive Hezbollah armament drive. Although the vast majority of Hezbollah’s arsenal is still unguided, even those types of projectiles pose a severe risk to Israeli civilians, noted Karmon.

“While the issue of precision missiles is of top importance, the fact that some 150,000 inaccurate projectiles are also pointed at Israel has been swept under the carpet,” he said. “We’ve heard IDF assessments that Hezbollah can fire 1,500 to 2,000 rockets per day. What does this mean for civilians? We’ve heard the Home Front Command and heads of local northern councils say they are not ready.”

Karmon welcomed Israel’s campaign against the sophisticated guided-missile threat developing in Lebanon, adding that this type of active threat prevention was long overdue.

“The question is whether we have to be careful because of [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah’s threats,” he said. “There is a real possibility of a very serious deterioration. My assessment is that Israel must not let Nasrallah go back to the same force build-up as before. Not just in terms of the precision missiles, but in general.”

Hezbollah’s arsenal of unguided projectiles can cause “hundreds of civilian deaths, if not more” in the event of a full-scale war, warned Karmon. Such large-scale rocket fire would flood Israeli air defenses, meaning that the Jewish state must be “very firm not just against the build-up of precise missiles, but against all projectiles.”

Karmon praised the latest Israeli military steps to limit the developing missile threat in Lebanon, but criticized what he described as politically motivated boasts regarding such action, made by government officials. He said that there has been a reduction of previous Israeli vagueness regarding the low-profile campaign against threats in the region.

“The fact that the policy of vagueness is being reduced is something that is opposed by most former defense officials. This is all linked to elections,” said Karmon. “The military operations are strategically vital. But politically, discussing them does not serve security.”

Meanwhile, Iran—Hezbollah’s sponsor—is exploring the possibility entering into a new diplomatic process with Washington and the European Union, with France as an intermediary. That could rescue Tehran’s economy from biting American sanctions.

As a result, Iran is activating its Shi’ite terror proxy in Lebanon, but is not seeking full-scale war in order to avoid upsetting the possibility for sanctions relief, argued Karmon. This creates a sphere for Israel to operate in and deal with Hezbollah’s weapons program wherever necessary.

“We are late to this by years,” said Karmon. “In the past few years, Israel decided that it can’t allow these weapons to take root in Syria. Israel must also deal with the offensive infrastructure in Lebanon.” (JNS)

Palestinian religious leader calls Jews in Jerusalem ‘colonialist cancer’

Prominent Palestinian religious leader denounced “Jewish attacks” against Palestinian religious symbols in Jerusalem and referred to the Jewish presence in the land of Israel as a “colonialist cancer,” NGO Palestinian Media Watch said on Monday.

According to a report by the Palestinian Authority official daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, as quoted by PMW, the Supreme Fatwa Council, led by Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, “Warned of the danger of attacks against the religious and national symbols in occupied Jerusalem, and held the occupation government fully responsible for these violations.”

“The council expressed its rejection of all types of settlements and emphasized that the Palestinian people will not stand idly by in the face of this colonialist cancer,” the report added.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem is the Palestinian Authority’s highest religious leader. Hussein, a former imam of the Al Aqsa mosque, was appointed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas in 2006.

Hussein is not new to controversial statements and incitement. Shortly after his appointment, he called suicide bombing: “legitimate as long as it plays a role in the [Palestinian] resistance.”

In 2012, he quoted an ancient Islamic text encouraging Muslims to kill Jews while speaking at a ceremony broadcasted by the PA TV.

In 2015, Hussein denied that there had ever been a Jewish holy site on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

In August, Hussein closed all mosques in the city to make sure that Muslims would go pray at the Al Aqsa compound on the Temple Mount for the festival of Eid Al-Adha, which fell on the same day of Tisha BeAv, the Jewish holiday commemorating the destruction of both the First and the Second Temple.

Many Jews mark the day by going up to the Temple Mount, and Hussein aimed to prevent them from doing so. (Jerusalem Post)

Israel to send firefighting aid package to Brazil

Further to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conversation with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Security Council and the Ministry of Public Security are acting to extend immediate assistance to Brazil to combat the devastating fires in the country. Israel will dispatch a delegation of firefighters from the Israel Fire and Rescue Services who specialize in bush and forest fires.

The delegation, which is expected to depart for Brazil this evening (Tuesday, 3 September 2019), will provide assistance and professional know-how to the Brazilian authorities, including the Brazilian government and military and firefighting authorities who are combatting the fires.

The Israeli delegation, comprised of 11 experts in the fields of rescue, intelligence and bush and forest fires, will be headed by Commander Yair Elkayam, Deputy Commander of the Northern District.

Fire and Rescue Commissioner Dedy Simhi is directing preparations in Israel, while the Israeli embassy and the IDF Military Attaché in Brasilia are coordinating with the Brazilian authorities.

Over the past year Israel’s relations with Brazil were greatly strengthened following PM Netanyahu’s visit to Brazil and President Bolsonaro’s visit to Israel, which included a visit to the Israel Police Counter Terrorism Unit.

The countries have close political and strategic cooperation in various fields, and many agreements have been signed in the fields of agriculture, science, health, cyber and more. These agreements contribute to Israeli exports to the largest Latin American country. (MFA)

Netanyahu on flareup with Hezbollah: It was tense, but we achieved all our goals

PM praises Bahrain and UAE for backing Israel’s right to defend itself, announces plans for second US-Israel-Russia summit to discuss removing Iran from Syria

by Raphael Ahren The Times of Israel

The last few days were tense but Israel achieved all its goals, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, following a flareup at the northern border that started with a Sunday rocket attack by the Hezbollah terrorist organization.

Netanyahu also announced plans to hold another tripartite meeting with senior officials from Israel, the US and Russia, to be held in Jerusalem, to discuss Iran’s military presence in Syria.

“We endured several tense days on many fronts. We could have started the week completely differently, but we acted with a combination of decisiveness and sagacity, and we achieved all of our goals,” he told his ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

On Sunday afternoon, Hezbollah fired an anti-tank missile at Israeli military vehicles. No one was hurt, and Israel responded by attacking Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon. The tit-for-tat had the potential to escalate as both sides vowed not tolerate fire by the other side, but a tense calm returned to the north Monday.

Netanyahu praised two senior Gulf officials for appearing to condemn Hezbollah and back Israel’s right to respond to Sunday’s attack.

“I welcome the statements of the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the United [Arab] Emirates against Hezbollah’s aggression,” he said, noting that they condemned the group for attacking Israel from Lebanese territory.

“They condemned the helplessness of Lebanon, which allows the Hezbollah terrorist organization to operate from its territory against Israel. This sounds like messianic times, but it shows the fundamental change taking place in the Middle East. The Arab world also understands that the Iranian aggression endangers not only Israel, but the entire region as well. I call on additional countries to come out against the aggression of Iran and its proxies.”

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, who has previously expressed support for Israel’s right to self defense and has met publicly with Israeli officials, had criticized the Lebanese government for allowing the Hezbollah attack to take place.

“A state standing by, watching battles taking place on its borders and putting its people at risk, is a state that greatly neglects its responsibilities,” he wrote on Twitter.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash also tweeted: “Our hearts are with Lebanon and the Lebanese people this evening,” noting that they always suffer from “decisions taken by a single player and the consequences,” in an oblique criticism of Hezbollah.

Addressing his ministers Tuesday, Netanyahu said that preparations for a second trilateral meeting between Israel, the US and Russia were currently ongoing, “to continue discussing removing Iran from Syria.”

On June 25, US National Security Adviser John Bolton and his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, joined top Israeli security brass in Jerusalem for an unprecedented summit.

Russia, which maintains close ties to both Israel and Iran, is seen as a potential interlocutor between the West and Tehran. But Patrushev at the time indicated that Moscow was siding with the Islamic Republic, rejecting the view that the regime represents “the main threat to regional security” and asserting that Israeli airstrikes in Syria against Iranian forces and its proxies were “undesirable.”

A spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv on Tuesday did not confirm that another tripartite summit was imminent.

“After the trilateral meeting in Jerusalem the format was acknowledged as a very useful one,” the spokesperson told The Times of Israel. Certain agreements were reached, and follow-up meetings in the same format “are possible after fulfilling the previous agreements,” he said, refusing to elaborate.

Netanyahu on Tuesday also said he ordered the security establishment to focus on three main priorities: thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions; preventing the Islamic Republic from providing its proxies, including Hezbollah, with sophisticated weapons; and stopping Tehran and its proxies from establishing military bases on near Israel’s borders.