IDF: We will ‘respond with force’ to threats from Palestinian Islamic Jihad
Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Major Gen. Yoav (Poli) Mordechai issued a stern warning to Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) on Saturday, warning that the organization is “playing with fire” in challenging Israel.
In a YouTube video published by COGAT, Mordechai recounted, in Arabic, that Israel blew up a PIJ-owned terror tunnel two weeks ago and cautioned, “We are aware of the plot being waged by Palestinian Islamic Jihad against Israel. They are playing with fire with the residents of the Gaza Strip and at the expense of Palestinian reconciliation and the entire region.”
In October, Hamas and Fatah announced they had reached a deal for Palestinian reconciliation, including the handing over of the Rafah border crossing to a unified government at the beginning of November and full administrative control of the Gaza Strip to a unified government by December 1. The deal, announced in Cairo, was brokered by Egyptian authorities and signed exclusively by Hamas and Fatah, failing to include the PIJ, a small yet active group in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2008, when it forcibly ousted the Palestinian Authority from the area.
On October 30th, the IDF blew up a terror tunnel via a series of air strikes near the border of the Gaza Strip, an act the Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed killed 12 members of the militant group.
The tunnel ran from the southern town of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip to approximately two kilometers from the Israeli border community of Kissufim.
The PIJ was formed in 1981 with large funding from the Iranian government and its military wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, and remains active in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The group has been classified as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom, among other countries.
“So that it is clear: for every Islamic Jihad response, wherever it is, Israel will respond with force and determination, not only to the jihad but to Hamas as well,” Mordechai continued. “We advise the leadership of the Islamic State in Damascus to exercise caution.”
Mordechai also specifically issued a warning to the heads of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shallah and Ziad Nahaleh, holding them responsible for future actions taken against Israel.
Shallah was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list in 2006 for conspiracies to commit terrorism.
“The Palestinian Islamic State headquarters in Damascus and leaders of the organization– Ramadan Shallah and Ziad Nahaleh – take matters quickly into your own hands, because you are the ones who will bear responsibility,” he cautioned.
The PIJ responded to the video on Sunday in a statement, firing back, “the threats of the Zionist enemy to harm the organization’s leadership are a declaration of war.”
“These threats reveal the true intentions to carry on the aggression that was started by the Zionist enemy, which violated the cease-fire agreement brokered by Egypt in 2014,” the group added.
It continued, “it is our right to respond to any aggression, including the right to respond to the crime of attacking the tunnel east of Dir al-Balah, where 12 Mujahideen from Al-Qassam and Saraya al-Quds fell. To clarify the matter, our children and our people are also dear to us, as are our leaders, and the terrorism and the threats of the enemy do not frighten us.”
“The settler is a murderer and a criminal and must understand that his hands are stained with the blood of our children and will not stop killing until he is cut off or he leaves our land,” the statement read.
Hamas responded with a similar tone in a statement released on Sunday.
“The threats of the coordinator of the occupying government’s actions, Yoav Mordechai, point to the terror and confusion of the Israeli entity from the reaction to the crime of blowing up the tunnel with the fighters,” the statement said. (Jerusalem Post)
Saudis told Abbas to accept Trump peace plan or resign — report
Saudi Arabia last week ordered Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to either accept an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal being put together by the Trump administration, or resign, according to an Israeli report Sunday.
The Trump administration has begun drafting an Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal based on a two-state solution, officials and analysts quoted by The New York Times said on Saturday.
A senior White House adviser said the plan would attempt to tackle controversial issues such as the status of Jerusalem and West Bank settlements.
Abbas was called unexpectedly to Riyadh six days ago by the office of the powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
There, in addition to being told to “accept Trump’s peace plan or quit,” he was ordered to keep away from any Iranian influence, according to the report on Israel’s Channel 10.
The Saudi authorities made clear that they were dismayed by media images of Hamas’s deputy political leader, Saleh al-Arouri, visiting Tehran in October. Arouri, a Hamas terror chief, was the Hamas signatory on a reconciliation deal with Abbas’s Fatah group signed in Cairo last month.
The Saudis also made clear that Lebanese activists within Abbas’s Fatah faction could no longer cooperate with the Iranian-backed Lebanese terror organization, Hezbollah.
Since the reported the warnings, which could threaten the new Palestinian unity agreement signed by Fatah and the Iranian-backed Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian media displayed a rare degree of unity in recent days by coming out against Iran.
The daily newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida, for example, wrote that, “The Palestinian Authority will not allow Iran to interfere on its territory” or to try to create a Palestinian copy of the Hezbollah.
Sunni Saudi Arabia has been flexing its muscles opposite Shiite Iran.
Last week, Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri turned up in Riyadh, appearing on Saudi TV to announce his resignation and prompting rumors that he was being held against his will.
On Sunday night, Hariri gave his first TV interview, attacking Iran and its Hezbollah proxy, and claiming that he would return to Lebanon in the coming days to formally submit his resignation to Lebanese President Michel Aoun. (the Times of Israel)
Israel signals it will retain right to strike at Syria, despite US-Russia-brokered truce
The US, Russia and Jordan signed on an agreement on Saturday that includes a Russian commitment to remove Iranian forces, Hezbollah and Shi’ite militias in Syria from its border with Israel on the Golan Heights. Despite this, Israeli officials are wary of the agreement, and stress that Israel will retain its right to strike at Syria if necessary.
US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed on Saturday their joint efforts to stabilize Syria as its civil war wanes, including with the expansion of a July 7 truce in the southwestern triangle bordering Israel and Jordan.
A US State Department official said Russia had agreed “to work with the Syrian regime to remove Iranian-backed forces a defined distance” from the Golan Heights frontier with Israel, which captured the plateau in the 1967 Six-Day War.
The move, according to one Israeli official briefed on the arrangement, is meant to keep rival factions inside Syria, such as Iranian forces, Hezbollah and Shi’ite militias, away from each other, and it would also effectively keep Iranian-linked forces at various distances from the Israeli Golan.
Those distances would range from as little as 5-7 kms and up to around 30 kms, depending on current rebel positions on the Syrian Golan Heights, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Moscow did not immediately provide details on the deal.
Israel has been lobbying both big powers to deny Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other Shi‘ite militias any permanent bases in Syria, and to keep them away from the Golan, as they gain ground while helping Damascus beat back Sunni-led rebels.
In televised remarks opening Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not speak about the new US-Russian arrangement for Syria.
Regional Cooperation Minister and Netanyahu confidant, Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud), however, sounded circumspect about the deal, telling reporters that it “does not meet Israel’s unequivocal demand the there will not be developments that bring the forces of Hezbollah or Iran to the Israel-Syria border in the north”.
“There’s reflection here of the understanding that Israel has set red lines, and will stand firm on this,” Hanegbi added.
That was an allusion to Israeli military strikes in Syria, carried out against suspected Hezbollah or Iranian arms depots or in retaliation for attacks from the Syrian-held Golan.
In the latest incident, the Israeli military said it shot down a spy drone on Saturday as it overflew the Golan. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman blamed the drone on the Syrian government. Damascus did not immediately respond.
Repeating Israel’s warnings to Iran and Hezbollah, Lieberman said: “We will not allow the Shi‘ite axis to establish Syria as its forefront base.”
Russia, which has a long-term military garrison in Syria, has said it wants foreign forces to quit the country eventually.
The US State Department official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity on Saturday, said that goal could be served by Russia’s pledge to remove Iranian-linked fighters from the truce zone in southwestern Syria.
“If this works, this is an auspicious signal, would be an auspicious signal, that our policy objective—the objective that I think so many of us share, of getting these guys out of Syria ultimately—that there’s a path in that direction,” the official said (Ynet News)
In 1986 letter, Prince Charles blames ‘foreign’ Jews for Mideast turmoil
In a newly revealed letter from 1986 , the UK’s Prince Charles implied that the “influx of foreign, European Jews” to Israel was to blame for fueling the Israeli-Arab conflict, and lamented that US presidents were unwilling to take on the American “Jewish lobby.”
The November 24, 1986 letter was written to a friend, explorer Laurens van der Post, after a visit to the Gulf with Princess Diana. It was published by the Mail on Sunday. Charles wrote that he now had a greater insight to Arabs’ hostility towards Israel following the trip.
“Also begin to understand their point of view about Israel. Never realized they see it as a US colony,” he wrote. “I now appreciate that Arabs and Jews were all a Semitic people originally + it is the influx of foreign, European Jews (especially from Poland, they say) which has helped to cause great problems.”
A 1986 letter written by Prince Charles to his friend Laurens van der Post
Charles, who was 38 at the time, then suggested the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel was a root cause of terrorism that needed to be addressed.
“I know there are so many complex issues, but how can there ever be an end to terrorism unless the causes are eliminated?,” he wrote.
It was not clear from the letter whether he was referring to European Jews immigrating to Israel before or after the Holocaust and the country’s establishment in 1948.
Charles also wrote he hoped a US president would take on the “Jewish lobby,” presumably in order to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict.
“Surely some US president has to have the courage to stand up and take on the Jewish lobby in US?,” wrote Charles. “I must be naive, I suppose.”
Following the publication of the letter, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle weekly called its content “jaw-droppingly shocking” and criticized the prince’s use of the term “Jewish lobby.”
“To me this is the most astonishing element of the Prince’s letter. The ‘Jewish lobby’ is one of the anti-Semitic themes that have endured for centuries. It is this myth there are these very powerful Jews who control foreign policy or the media or banks or whatever,” the Mail quoted Stephen Pollard as saying.
Pollard also said the views in the letter expressed by Charles were “the absolute classic Arab explanation of the problems in the Middle East.”
“And it is what everyone has always said the British aristocracy actually thinks – the idea that Jews were some kind of foreigners who had no real place in Israel until we decided to make it their homeland,” said Pollard. “Historically it is nonsense and it’s quite stunning when it comes from the heir to the throne.”
A spokeswoman for Prince Charles said the letter was not reflective of his views but only relaying arguments he encountered during his trip.
“He was sharing the arguments in private correspondence with a long-standing friend in an attempt to improve his understanding of what he has always recognized is a deeply complex issue to which he was coming early on in his own analysis in 1986,” the spokeswoman said.
She also said Prince Charles “has continued his study of the complex and difficult themes he referenced here” and defended his “proven track record of support for both Jewish and Arab communities around the world” and promotion of interfaith dialogue.
President Reuven Rivlin in March publicly extended an invitation to Prince Charles to visit Israel during the centennial year of the 1917 signing of the Balfour Declaration, although UK media reports said the prince would not visit the Jewish state in 2017.
Though never officially confirmed by London or Jerusalem, a senior British Jewish community leader told The Times of Israel last November that plans were underway for a member of the royal family to visit Israel for the first time.
According to The Sun tabloid, the Royal Visits Committee, the branch of the Foreign Office that coordinates trips on behalf of the royal family, nixed the visit in an apparent effort “to avoid upsetting Arab nations in the region who regularly host UK Royals.”
”No British royal has ever made an official visit to Israel”
The report said Rivlin’s invitation never reached the office of Prince Charles.
While royals have visited Israel in the past, no representative of the British monarchy has ever come to the country on an official “royal tour.”
Prince Charles’s attendance at Shimon Peres’s funeral last year and the funeral of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 did not include diplomatic meetings and are not considered official royal visits. Nor was a brief 1994 visit by his father, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to attend a ceremony commemorating his mother, Alice of Battenberg, who is buried on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.
Despite numerous invitations over the years, no UK government has approved such a visit to Israel since the end of the British Mandate and the establishment of the state in 1948.
Israeli officials have bristled at royals’ unwillingness to come to the Jewish state, while they appear to have no qualms about visiting authoritarian states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. (the Times of Israel)
Israel arrests senior Palestinian Authority security official
Israeli security forces arrested a senior Palestinian Authority security official on Friday for sending his forces into east Jerusalem to carry out arrests, an Israeli security official said on Sunday.
The security official named the PA security official as Ali Qaimiri, who serves as head of the PA Police in the Jerusalem outskirts and holds the rank of colonel.
“[Qaimiri] sent his forces into east Jerusalem to carry out arrests of blue-ID card holders,” the security official said, referring to Palestinian residents who hold Israeli residency cards.
The official declined to elaborate on the circumstances surrounding Qaimiri’s case, stating that an “investigation is ongoing.”
A PA security official confirmed that Israel arrested Qaimiri near Gush Etzion on Friday evening and subsequently transferred him to a jail in downtown Jerusalem.
The official added that Qaimiri was scheduled to appear before an Israeli court on Monday.
Qaimiri’s arrest came two days after the Israel Police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) detained two residents of east Jerusalem for allegedly working on behalf of the PA security services.
A Jerusalem Police spokeswoman on Wednesday said the two residents had been “operating against residents of east Jerusalem,” without providing additional details.
When asked on Sunday if the arrest of the two residents on Wednesday was connected to Qaimiri’s detention on Friday, the spokeswoman said there was no link between the two cases.
The PA security official denied that Qaimiri had sent forces into east Jerusalem.
“We do not operate there,” the official said. “It is outside of our jurisdiction.”
The official also objected to Israel arresting Qaimiri, asserting that it would have been more appropriate for Israel try to address its concerns through dialogue with the PA Police.
“Frankly, arresting him was not the right way for them to handle this situation,” he said. “They could have contacted us to express their concerns and we could have reached a resolution in a civil way.”
While Israel has previously arrested entry-level members of the PA security forces, it has not, in recent memory, detained a member of the forces at a rank similar to that of Qaimiri. (Jerusalem Post)
Israel rattled as 7.2-magnitude earthquake strikes northeast Iraq
A magnitude 7.2 earthquake rattled northeast Iraq near the border with Iran on Sunday, killing at least 67 people, with tremors reported in parts of central Israel.
The US Geological Survey said the temblor was centered 30 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of Halabja, near the northeastern border with Iran.
Iran late Sunday reported more than 61 dead. In Iraq, officials said the quake had killed six people in Sulaimaniyah province and injured around 150.
“Four people were killed by the earthquake” in Darbandikhan, the town’s mayor Nasseh Moulla Hassan told AFP.
Another two people were killed in Kalar, according to the director of the hospital in the town about 70 kilometres (45 miles) south of Darbandikhan.
Iranian state media initially reported seven people had died in the quake, but later raised the toll to at least 30.
“According to the latest toll, six people were killed in Qasr-e Shirin and one in Azgaleh,” Kermanshah province governor Houshang Bazvand told the ISNA news agency.
State television had previously reported six dead in Qasr-e Shirin, close to the Iraqi border, around 40 kilometers southwest of Azgaleh.
Both agencies reported 25 people had been wounded.
Some Israelis, especially those living on high floors, from Haifa in north to Beersheba and Ofakim in the south and along the coast, including Tel Aviv, reported feeling the tremor.
Several people posted videos of swaying light fixtures to social media.
“I felt like I was on a boat, I thought it was vertigo. Then the building’s WhatsApp group filled with messages from people who also felt the tremor,” Elad Hopper, who lives in a high-rise building in Hod Hasharon, told the Ynet news site.
There were no reports of damage in Israel.
The quake struck the mountainous area of Sulaimaniyah province at 8:18 p.m. Israel time at a depth of 25 kilometers (15 miles), the USGS said.
It was felt for about 20 seconds in Baghdad, and sometimes for longer in other provinces of Iraq, AFP journalists said.
In the province of Sulaimaniyah, located in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, residents ran out onto the streets at the time of the quake and some minor property damage was recorded, an AFP reporter said.
In Iran, ISNA said the earthquake was felt in several cities in the west of the country including Tabriz.
The quake took place along a 1,500 kilometer fault line between the Arabia and Eurasia tectonic plates, a belt extending through western Iran and into northeastern Iraq, the US Geological Survey said.
The quake was also felt in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
In southeastern Turkey, the earthquake was felt “from Malatya to Van,” an AFP correspondent said. In the town of Diyarbakir, residents also left their homes before returning.
Israel is situated along the Syrian-African rift, a tear in the earth’s crust running the length of the border separating Israel and Jordan, and is part of the Great Rift Valley, which extends from northern Syria to Mozambique.
Experts have warned a large earthquake could strike Israel in the near future, and the government has been funding projects for buildings to be bolstered against tremors.
The last major earthquake to hit the Israel region was in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude tremor that killed 500 people and injured another 700. (the Times of Israel)
‘Rock stars’ of the IDF: Israeli soldiers go on tour to educate the masses
By Cathryn J. Prince The Times of Israel
The questions come fast and furious for Israel Defense Force reservists Keren and Haitham, who goes by the nickname Tom.
“How do you show your support for Israel on campus?” “How does training and combat affect you?” “Do you have to live in Israel to show your love for it?”
About 40 students sit inside the book lined beit midrash, or study hall, of Hebrew High School of New England (HHNE). They have more questions than time allows. Still the pair does their best to answer each one clearly, concisely and completely.
This is the second to last stop on a nearly three-week long Israeli Soldiers Tour, or IST, through New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Along the way the two, whose last names have been withheld for security reasons, met students at University of Hartford and cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
“This is something very important to us. The students here have a variety of views and it’s really important for us to show them the complexities of Israel. The reality on the ground is more complicated than what they might know,” said Rabbi Jeremy Bruce, HHNE’s head of school.
IST, sponsored by the Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs, is just one of several such tours to crisscross the United States, Canada and Europe each year. While each organization differs, they all seek to put a “human face” on the IDF. Additionally, they work to counter misconceptions about life in the IDF and push back against anti-Israel activists.
The IST dispatches six teams of pairs on campuses, in high schools, synagogues and churches throughout the US. The reservists who take part in the IST speak with students about their backgrounds, what it’s like to serve, and how life changes after leaving the IDF.
Born in Israel, Keren and her family moved to East Brunswick, New Jersey, when she was two. She moved back to Israel at 16 and enlisted in the IDF — just as her parents and grandparents had done.
“I never took the fact that I was free for granted or that Israel was there as a homeland for Jewish people for granted,” she said, adding that all four of her grandparents survived the Holocaust. Her grandmother hasn’t cut her hair since the end of the war “because they cut your hair in the camps.”
Keren served as a basic training commander and then after knee and back problems sidelined her, she served as an assistant to a company commander with a Paratrooper unit near Gaza.
Tom, 30, comes from Bir al-Maksur, a Bedouin village in northern Israel. Like all Bedouins, he wasn’t required to serve in the Israeli army. Yet, like most of the men in his family and village, he joined. He was drafted into the Israeli Air Force in the Iron Dome unit.
He told the students about arresting a Palestinian man in his home. The young man didn’t resist and on the way to jail, Tom asked him why he was doing what he did since they were both Muslims and their religion forbids murder.
The man’s answer surprised Tom.
“‘You are free, you have a decent life in Israel. We don’t have that, no one from the Palestinian Authority cares how we live or what we need. I did this for my family,’” he recounted.
He’s repeated this story often these past few weeks as a way to show American students that not just Jews, but Muslims and Christians also serve in the IDF.
“I want them [students] to have another voice and face of Israel,” Tom said, explaining his reasons for joining the tour.
Activists from the group Reservists on Duty, in t-shirts reading ‘Defending freedom from hate,’ counter protest in front of Boycott, Divestment and Sanction display on a college campus.
Now in the reserves, Tom is getting his degree in law, government, and management at the Academic College for Science and Law. He also works for Acharai, or Follow Me. The non-profit prepares teens for their military service and encourages them to become socially involved and responsible.
The school’s Rabbi Bruce said he hopes students might consider doing a gap year in Israel, or spending a semester there after hearing the reservists’ stories.
Where the reservists taking part on the IST seek to engage with students in close settings, other organizations, such as Reservists on Duty, take a slightly different tack.
“Our group is built like a unit. Rather than having new people each time, we work with the same core group of reservists. We are also more activists than speakers. We are not coming to apologize for the air we breathe. We are coming during Israeli Apartheid Weeks,” Amit Deri, the group’s executive director, said in a phone call with The Times of Israel.
Deri, the former director of the pre-military college Tavor, founded the NGO in 2015 as a way to engage with university and college students.
When members of the group show up they might wear blue sweatshirts emblazoned with the words “Defending Freedom from Hate.” Some hold signs saying “I was an Israeli soldier: don’t listen to the lies. Ask me anything.”
Beyond speaking about the ethics of the IDF soldier, the group talks about how Israel treats its minorities. Many of the organization’s members are Druze, Arab, Muslims, Christians, and Bedouin.
Beyond fighting BDS, Deri said his organization strives to get Jewish students to engage with Israel and their Jewish identity.
“We care a lot about Jewish students and pro-Israel students around the world. I see them as brothers,” he said.
That’s also the guiding philosophy behind Our Soldiers Speak.
OSS has sent IDF and Israeli National Police officers to more than 400 campuses across North America and Europe where, according to their website, they engage with “the pro, the anti and the undecided.”
The Jerusalem-based CAMERA on Campus, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, has sent speakers abroad since 2006; not all of them are IDF reservists.
It recently sponsored Jerusalem Post reporter Lahav Harkov on a trip to the UK to speak about diversity in Israel’s Knesset. It also sponsored presentations across the US by Israeli photojournalists Gil Cohen Magen and Noam Bedein.
Not all CAMERA-supported groups are led by Jewish speakers, Lia Lands, campus communications for CAMERA on campus, said in an email. Its student activists include Christian and Muslim students. Additionally, CAMERA-supported groups will co-host events with other groups on campus, such as the Indian Students Association or the Persian Club.
While most events go off without a hitch, given the current campus climate, they aren’t immune to protests.
The night before Keren and Tom arrived in Connecticut they spoke at Northeastern University in Boston. They had to remain inside the hall where they spoke until campus security cleared about 30 protestors connected with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
And last year during a CAMERA on Campus event at University College London, protesters surrounded a room where reservist Hen Mazzig spoke. Mazzig was eventually escorted out of the room with a police jacket over him to make his escape safer.
“But again, this was an extreme case,” Lands said. “On rare occasions, anti-Israel protesters disrupt events by heckling the speaker, which is what happened when we co-sponsored a talk by Danny Danon at City College New York in May.
“Their message is consistent and clear: anti-Israel student groups such as SJP aren’t interested in learning from someone who contradicts to their own beliefs. Their only goal is to prevent speakers from sharing the truth. Oftentimes negative incidents are covered by the press, but it is not representative of the majority of events,” Lands said.
Now with less than two days left on their tour, signs of fatigue are showing. Keren is fighting a cold. Tom can’t wait to get home and see his nephews. And both are sick of eating on the road, especially fast food.
“They didn’t even have a tomato for the bagel and cream cheese at Dunkin Donuts,” Keren, 24, said.
Still, the pair would do it again.
“This is the first step of what I want to do for my life. I want to do Israel advocacy. This is something very important to me,” Keren said. “A lot of people don’t know we live happily in Israel.”
Why a growing number of religious women want to serve in the Israeli military
By Ruth Eglash The Washington Post
Within a few weeks of starting their military service, many Israeli women head to a tailor to have their oversize uniforms altered to be more form-fitting or more fashionable.
But a cadre of women soldiers instead is opting for flowing pants or a modest knee-length skirt. They are religiously observant recruits, and although they are eligible for a faith-based exemption, their numbers are growing.
All Israelis are drafted into the military at age 18, with a few exceptions. Israeli Arabs, both male and female, are not required to serve, and the same goes for the ultra-Orthodox. Young, religiously observant women, known in Israel as modern Orthodox, traditionally have opted to enroll in national service, volunteering in schools or the community for a year or two, instead of the military.
But that is changing.
Since 2010, the Israel Defense Forces has recorded a surge in the number of religious women who want to serve. These figures have almost tripled, from 935 in 2010 to 2,499 last year — a welcome development for a military whose recent efforts to draft ultra-Orthodox men have been largely unsuccessful.
Bat Tzion Michlashvili, a combat soldier who was raised in a religious household, is one of a growing number of “modern Orthodox” women who opted to serve in the military . (IDF)
The IDF has become more flexible in accommodating modern-Orthodox women, who increasingly are choosing to serve in the military out of a sense of duty to defend Israel, military officials and soldiers say.
But the path from a modest, observant life to the military is not easy. Within the modern-Orthodox community, many frown upon women who want to serve, even as men are encouraged to try out for the most competitive units.
If women manage to overcome pressure within their family or community, they still face the challenge of practicing their faith while serving in a secular military.
“I was the only person in my unit who observed Shabbat [the Sabbath], and I had no place to light my candles,” said Netta Asner, who immigrated to Israel from the United States with her family when she was 8.
But she said the hardest part of her military service was fulfilling her duties on a Friday night or Saturday — the 24 hours when religious Jews observe the Sabbath and must refrain from writing, using electronics or doing anything that might constitute work.
“The first time in my life that I picked up the phone on a Saturday, I had to switch something in my brain,” said Asner, who served in the military spokesman’s unit from 2014 to 2016. “It was a very weird feeling.”
She also opted to wear a skirt.
“There were certain people in my neighborhood who did not approve of me choosing to serve, but my immediate family was supportive,” Asner said. She said her experience has inspired her two younger sisters to sign up.
Not every Orthodox woman’s story is as smooth.
In the city of Safed, Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu has spoken out against allowing women to serve in certain combat units and is especially critical about drafting religious women. They will be corrupted, he said.
“The belief that men and women are the same is popular but not accurate,” he said. “The beauty of the world is that there are different kinds of people, with different views, different assets and different strengths. If we put men and women together in the same operation, it makes the world unhealthy.”
And, he said, it is impossible for Orthodox women to remain religious and modest while in the military.
Twenty-one-year-old Bat Tzion Michlashvili disagrees. She is one of only a handful of religious women serving in a mixed-gender combat unit.
“All over the world, people have realized that whatever boys do, girls can do it, too,” said Michlashvili. “I don’t see why I should give up on doing what I love: sports and exercise.”
As for compromising her religious beliefs, Michlashvili said that if anything, the military has made her feel closer to her Judaism: “If I thought it was important before to defend Israel’s borders, now I am doing the things I learned about in the Torah, and I see my job as even more important.”
Women make up roughly a third of Israel’s military, compared with about 14 percent in the U.S. armed forces. They are required to serve two years, while the requirement for men is 32 months. Since the 1990s, women have been allowed to take on combat roles, and the IDF says that today around 90 percent of all military jobs are open to women. There are three co-ed combat units.
Brig. Gen. Sharon Nir, the adviser on gender affairs to the IDF chief of staff, said that while it might have been difficult for Orthodox women to feel comfortable in uniform in the past, the military is becoming more accommodating.
“These women have realized the army is a very important component of feeling part of Israeli society, and they want to contribute to the state,” Nir said. “They are religious Zionists — their brothers serve, and now they want to, too.”
In September, the army’s computer and communication unit launched a course for Orthodox women. The 23 women who signed up will spend 18 months studying computers, engineering and cyberwarfare and another 18 months in active service.
“We need people in these units,” said Maj. Hagit Kalef, who leads the program. “Future wars will not be fought on the battlefield but through technology. The brain is more important.”
A growing number of religious leaders have voiced support for religious women who want to serve in the military.
“While Israel still has enemies all around it, it is the duty of every person, no matter if they are male, female, Jew or non-Jew, to serve the country,” said Rabbi Binyamin Lau, a modern-Orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem.
“All the reasons given as to why women should not serve have nothing to do with religion. They are either based on principle or politics,” he said. “We need to support these girls while at the same time helping them remain religious.”
Israel as a Strategic Asset of the West – Col. Richard Kemp (Jewish Political Studies Review)
In 1938, the Jews in what was then Mandatory Palestine established the village of Hanita, on the Lebanese border, against the wishes of the ruling British. Two years later, in 1940, the very same British authorities asked the Jews of Hanita for help as they planned to invade Syria to prevent the Vichy French government there from allowing a German army to build up there. Bridges over the Litani River were vital for the operation, and the Jews were asked to capture and hold those bridges to prevent their destruction by the Vichy forces.
Fifty young Jewish farmers from Hanita held the bridges for seven hours and repulsed ten mass attacks before regular Australian troops arrived. This was the operation in which Moshe Dayan lost his left eye, and his forces suffered over 50% casualties. The Israeli pioneers proved to be a vital strategic asset to Great Britain, as did the Jewish Legion of the British Army, which helped defeat the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Megiddo in 1918.
In World War II the British Eighth Army included 30,000 Jewish volunteers, many of whom carried out extraordinary acts of heroism and devotion to duty in the face of horrific adversity.
Moreover, the Jews of Palestine contributed much more to the Allied war effort than all of the Arab nations combined. The British army was supported in Palestine by 200,000 Jewish industrial workers and farmers and thousands more doctors, dentists and nurses. 7,000 factories and vast acres of agricultural land were placed at the disposal of British Empire Forces.
In 1981, an Israeli strike destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction in Baghdad, an attack that was condemned at the time but was later recognized as being an important factor in enabling the U.S.-led coalition to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. In 2007, the Israeli Air Force destroyed the Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir ez-Zor region, preventing the Assad regime from acquiring atomic weapons or transferring nuclear material to Hizbullah and Iran.
After 9/11, Western nations found themselves increasingly dependent on Israel’s vast operational and counterterrorism experience, incomparable intelligence resources and highly developed technological sophistication.
The writer is former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan.