Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
Palestinians launch missile warhead into Israel using balloon
A balloon launched from Gaza carried an anti-tank missile warhead into Israel on Saturday, representing a new stage in the airborne attacks that have remained a key feature of the Hamas terror group’s nearly year-long “March of Return” riots along the Israel-Gaza border.
While balloons, kites, drones, and even a live falcon have been used by Palestinian rioters to send incendiary devices into Israel, the incident on Saturday represents the first time they sent an anti-tank missile warhead into Israeli territory.
Police sappers arrived to the Sdot Negev area immediately and carried out a controlled explosion, according to coverage in the Israeli media.
To date, fires started by airborne incendiary devices have burned thousands of acres of Israeli farmland and nature preserves, causing millions of dollars of damage.
On Friday, Palestinians rioted along the fence bordering the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, and Palestinians and the Israeli military clashed in Samaria earlier in the day.
Terrorists also fired a rocket from Gaza on Friday, which landed in an open field in Israel and failed to cause any damage or injuries. The Israeli Air Force responded with several strikes on the Strip, hitting a Hamas base and other underground infrastructure.
In a statement, the military said the raids were a response to the projectile and incendiary kites that were flown Friday across the border. There were no reports of casualties.
Thousands participated in Friday’s riots along several sections of the fence, which occurred shortly after Egyptian mediators met in Gaza City with Hamas’ leadership in a bid to calm the situation. There were no immediate details about the results of the discussions.
Also on Friday, the Israeli military said it detained two Palestinians shortly after they crossed the border from Gaza. They were hiding a grenade and a knife in their clothes, according to the military.
In Samaria, meanwhile, clashes erupted between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian rioters in Beit Sira village, the site of a car-ramming attack earlier in the week that left an Israeli officer seriously wounded, prompting troops to open fire, killing two Palestinians assailants in the car. (WIN)
Israeli military launches nighttime raid on Hamas targets
The Israeli Air Force struck several Hamas targets overnight Saturday after a rocket was fired at Israel from Gaza, the military said.
A military compound in the northern Gaza Strip, as well as two naval vessels belonging to the terror organization were targeted in the night-time aerial raid.
The strikes come after a projectile fired from the Strip landed in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council, one of many Israeli communities located along the Israel-Gaza frontier. There were no reports of any damage or injuries.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit confirmed the strikes, emphasizing they came in response to “the terror attacks from the Gaza Strip, which include incendiary balloons and attempts to damage our security infrastructure over the past few days.”
The military emphasized they take any attempt to harm Israeli civilians very seriously and hold Hamas responsible for the developments in the coastal enclave.
Friday also saw a similar chain of events unfold, with Israeli military striking two Hamas positions in the northern and southern Gaza Strip, in response to two rockets fired into Israel from the coastal enclave.
In addition, earlier on Saturday an anti-tank missile attached to a cluster of balloons landed in the Sdot Negev Regional Council—bordering the Strip—and was neutralized by police sappers. No one was hurt in the incident.
Despite the volatile situation along the southern border, Palestinian sources said the Egypt-brokered, indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas, to reach a possible ceasefire arrangement, are still ongoing.
The delegation of Egyptian intelligence officials, which has been mediating the talks for several months, arrived in Israel on Saturday after spending a number of days in the Strip. (Ynet News)
Netanyahu warns Hamas: Don’t count on elections preventing major Gaza operation
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip should not assume that Israel won’t respond to their recent attacks with a major military operation in the territory just because of approaching elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, warning that the country will do whatever is necessary to restore security to southern communities.
Netanyahu’s remarks came hours after air force jets bombed Hamas targets in Gaza in the latest tit-for-tat fighting that has set the restive border region on edge. There was no immediate word on casualties from the strikes, which came after Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired a mortar shell at the Eshkol region of southern Israel on Saturday night.
“We have recently seen provocations and heads being raised from the direction of the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said at the start to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. “This has been done by dissidents, but this does not absolve Hamas. Hamas is responsible for everything that comes out of the Gaza Strip, and we respond accordingly, with assaults by Air Force planes against Hamas targets.
“I heard people from Gaza saying that since we are in an election campaign a wide-ranging operation is out of the question,” he continued. “I suggest to Hamas – don’t count on it. We will do everything necessary to restore security and quiet to the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and to the south in general.”
Israel’s national elections for the Knesset are scheduled for April 9.
The army said the early-morning strikes were in response to the mortar attack, as well as “continuing terror activities from the Strip, including balloon explosives and causing harm to security infrastructure in the last several days.”
The Saturday mortar was the third to be fired at Israel since Wednesday, as tensions between the sides continued to simmer. Gazans have also launched balloon-borne bombs at Israel and fired small arms across the border, along with near-daily protests at the fence, in which fire bombs are thrown at troops and Palestinians attempt to damage the barriers, according to the army.
Israel has carried out perfunctory air raids after each balloon or mortar attack, usually hitting empty military posts maintained by the Hamas terror group, which is the de facto ruler in the Strip.
The uptick of violence comes after several months of relative calm thanks to a hard-won ceasefire brokered by Egypt.
Egypt and other mediators have been working intensively in recent weeks to broker a new ceasefire agreement between the two sides, but thus far to no avail.
On Thursday Netanyahu warned Hamas that Israel would respond harshly to any further violence emanating from the Strip. (the Times of Israel)
Watch: Israel unveils its 2019 Eurovision song “Home”
Can Israel bring the Eurovision “Home” again in 2020?
On Sunday evening, the KAN public broadcaster released the official video for its 2019 Eurovision song: “Home,” by Kobi Marimi. The video, shot completely in black and white, features Marimi singing dramatically while his reflection is graphically reproduced in the background. The song was written by musicians Ohad Shragai and Inbar Vaitzman.
In the ballad, which is entirely in English, Marimi sings about “coming home.”
“I feel the sun upon my skin/ And I am someone, I am someone,” he sings in his signature, opera-tinged style. “You pulled my heart, I took it in/ It made me someone, I am someone/ And now I’m done, I’m coming home.”
Marimi said Sunday, “I am excited and proud to represent my country here at home. The song speaks about empowerment and self-confidence, a topic that is close to my heart, and I believe that everyone can relate to it like I can.”
Since Israel is hosting the competition this year after winning in Portugal in 2018, Marimi will not be competing in either of the semi-finals. Instead, he will advance straight to the live grand finale on May 18. (Jerusalem Post)
Hamas is willing to risk war to avoid economic collapse
The economic chokehold that the Palestinian Authority has tried to place on Gaza, as part of its own internal war with Hamas, has contributed to tensions with Israel in the past year.
by Yaacov Lappin JNS
Tensions between Israel and Hamas are surging again, following a string of attacks from Gaza and Israeli retaliation airstrikes.
The reason for the deteriorating is ultimately simple: Hamas is struggling to manage Gaza economically, it refuses to divert funds from its military wing to civilian needs, and the Strip’s infrastructure is eroding at an alarming rate.
All of these factors add up to a potential implosion in Gaza, which could mean that the Islamist regime will find itself facing an internal revolt. To avoid this fate, Hamas is doing what it has tried to do for an entire year: escalate the security situation, and ratchet up the pressure on Israel and other regional actors, though stop short of triggering a war.
This high-stakes brinkmanship—based on using violence to try and force Israel to ease security restrictions on Gaza, increase the import of goods and get the international community to find donors who can rescue Gaza from economic doom—is a calculated approach by Hamas leader Yihye Sinwar. It appears as if the Qatari cash injections have not been sufficient to push Gaza away from the brink of instability. The economic chokehold that the Palestinian Authority has tried to place on Gaza, as part of its own internal war with Hamas, has contributed to tensions in the past year as well.
“A short while ago, shots were fired at an IDF position near the northern Gaza Strip security fence. No IDF injuries were reported. In response, an IDF tank targeted a Hamas military post in the northern Gaza Strip,” the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Unit announced on Thursday.
On Wednesday night, Gazan terrorists fired a rocket at the Eshkol region, triggering a siren, sending residents fleeing for cover and causing an Iron Dome missile-defense system to fire an interceptor. Previously that day, Hamas-organized operatives sent balloons carrying explosives over the border into southern Israel, jeopardizing the safety of local residents.
In response, the Israeli Air Force launched strikes on several targets inside a Hamas compound in southern Gaza overnight between Wednesday and Thursday. The IDF did not specify what those targets were, but it’s safe to assume that they were high-value Hamas assets, and that the strikes were designed to tell its leadership that it only stands to lose if this situation continues.
This message was reinforced by Netanyahu, who stated on Thursday that Hamas “should understand now that any display of aggression will be answered with a double and quadruple decisive reply by Israel. It is best that Hamas understands this now, rather than later.”
While on Friday, a rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel after thousands of Palestinians took part in another round of violent protests along the border. Amid the protests, two men were arrested by the IDF after crossing into Israel from the northern part of the Gaza Strip.
The IDF has, in fact, been stepping up its responses to attacks from Gaza. In recent weeks, airstrikes on Hamas positions have become a new norm in retaliation to explosive devices sent over the Israeli border attached to balloons, and to the explosives that terrorist operatives set off along the border every night.
Taking advantage of the Israeli election season
The problem is that Hamas’s leadership is prepared to take the risk of continuing this escalation, even though it doesn’t seek a full-scale war. Hamas has assessed that any further delay in getting outside actors to step in and stabilize Gaza’s economy will threaten the future of its regime as least as much as a war with Israel would. Hence, it is signaling to Israel and to Egypt (which is playing a key role as an intermediary), as well as to the international community that its demands must either met or the attacks will continue, come what may.
For Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is in the midst of a contentious election campaign, the timing of Hamas’s latest challenge is difficult. If he is seen to “give in” to its demands, it will damage his campaign, and the prime minister is already facing domestic criticism for facilitating Qatari aid money into Gaza.
Hamas may have decided to try and gamble by increasing the pressure during elections, based on the assumption that Netanyahu will be reluctant to get into a major conflict in Gaza at this time. For his part, Netanyahu is seeking to convince Hamas that this assumption is a dangerous illusion.
The coming days and weeks will be explosive and decisive for the Gazan arena.
Assuming conflict does not break out before the elections, whoever is in government in Israel post-elections will likely end up with one of two difficult choices: seeking a long-term truce in Gaza by stabilizing its economy—an option that will bring quiet, but also strengthen Hamas—or decimating Hamas’s military wing in a new conflict.
In the meantime, Israel’s defense establishment is also keeping a cautious eye on the West Bank arena, which has managed to stay relatively calm so far and has not reflected Gaza’s instability.
But Hamas is doing its best to change that.
The Gaza-based Al-Aqsa satellite TV, run by Hamas, is one of the ways that Gaza has tried to export terrorism to the West Bank. Hamas even used the channel to send coded messages to terror cells in the West Bank last year, leading the IDF to bomb its studios in November. This week, Israel designated the channel as a terrorist organization. Even so, that won’t stop Hamas in Gaza from systematically trying to set fire to the West Bank.