News Digest — 5/30/19

In News Surrounding Israel by The Friends of Israel

Knesset Votes To Disperse, Hold New Elections On September 17

Israel’s Knesset members voted Wednesday night (29th) to dissolve parliament, barely a month after the swearing in of the new assembly, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to strike a coalition deal with his prospective partners.

Dissolving the Knesset and holding a new round of elections just months after the last, and without having formed a government is unprecedented even in Israel’s fast-paced political landscape.

Of the 120 lawmakers that make up the Knesset, 74 voted in favor of dissolving parliament, and 45 voted against.



Jerusalem To Host ‘Unprecedented’ Israel-Russian-US Security Summit

Jerusalem will host next month an unprecedented trilateral meeting of top security officials from Israel, Russia and the US, the White House announced on Wednesday (29th).

“In June, United States National Security Adviser Ambassador John Bolton, Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, and Russian Secretary of the Security Council Nikolay Patrushev will meet in Jerusalem, Israel, to discuss regional security issues,” the White House Press Secretary said in a statement issued minutes before the Knesset voted to disband and to set new elections for September 17.

Minutes after the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the planned meeting, stressing its unique nature and importance for Israel’s national security.

“We have a lot of things we want to do,” Netanyahu told reporters.  A meeting like this has never taken place before in Israel. Never.”

He did not reveal what would be on the agenda.

The rare tripartite meeting is expected to deal mostly with Syria, specifically Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily near Israel’s borders, and the planned withdrawal of US troops from the war-torn country.

Moscow is a close ally of Tehran and Damascus, while Jerusalem and Israel are the Islamic Republic’s arch-enemies.  



IDF Set To Destroy Largest-Known Hezbollah Attack Tunnel

The IDF has located the largest known tunnel ever dug by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah into Israeli territory, it was announced on Wednesday (29th).

The Hebrew news site Mako reported that the tunnel was of massive size – 262 feet deep and 253 feet long.  It originated in the village of Ramyeh in southern Lebanon and apparently was planned to end between the Israeli towns of Shtula and Zar’it in northern Israel.

The tunnel was exposed during Operation Northern Shield last winter, in which the IDF located and destroyed multiple tunnels dug by Hezbollah.  It is scheduled to be destroyed over the next few days.

Like the others, the latest tunnel was extremely elaborate, with fully functioning electrical and ventilation systems, allowing round-the-clock work to continue.  It also had a functioning railroad used to carry equipment into the structure and debris out of it.

Colonel Roi Levi of the IDF’s Brigade 300 said, “We are neutralizing the flagship tunnel of the terror organization Hezbollah.  Throughout the entire operation, both before and after, the residents of the north have given us a tailwind and genuine partnership.”

An army source stated that the purpose of the tunnel was to facilitate the capture of a northern community, something Hezbollah has threatened to do for years.

The IDF now believes there are no more Hezbollah tunnels that have yet to be discovered.



Iran Deeply Concerned Over Upcoming Arab Conference – Heshmet Alavi

A conference of Arab countries scheduled for Thursday,  May 30 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, has resulted in Tehran scrambling senior figures across the Middle East calling for talks and accelerating their tactic of deceptive measures, while three fundamental domestic and global elements are placing the regime ruling Iran on the edge of a cliff.

First, sanctions are beginning to bite.  The U.S. bringing an end to oil sanctions waivers issued for China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey and imposing new sanctions on Tehran are beginning to suffocate the mullahs.

Second, the presence of U.S military forces in the region has literally terrified the mullahs regime.  During the past three decades, Tehran has never paid a price for its interference in regional countries.  Currently, Tehran is deeply concerned that this period of taking utter advantage of regional developments is coming to an end.

Third, Iran is watching the active presence of the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its cornerstone member, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), inside the country and abroad.

Looking forward, Arab delegates participating in the Mecca conference should adopt a firm position against the regime of Iran to deliver a strong response to Tehran’s recent measures.  “No Thank you, Mr. Javad Zarif, Iran’s proposal is unacceptable,” was the title of a piece published in the UAE Gulf News responding to Zarif’s ridiculous suggestion of signing a “non-aggression pact” with Iran’s neighbors.



What’s Beijing Doing In Haifa? – William A. Galston

In 2015, Israel’s Transportation Ministry accepted an offer from the Shanghai International Port Group to operate the port of Haifa for 25 years, starting in 2021, and invest $2 billion to expand the port into Israel’s largest harbor.  Notably, this decision was taken without the formal involvement of either Israel’s security cabinet or its National Security Council.

In 2018, retired Adm. Gary Roughead, former chief of naval operations, warned Israelis that China’s presence in Haifa might force the U.S. Sixth Fleet to abandon the port and dock elsewhere.  As he explained in remarks reported in the Jerusalem Post, “The Chinese port operators will be able to monitor closely U.S. ship movements, be aware of maintenance activity, and could have access to equipment moving to and from repair sites and interact freely with our crews over protracted periods.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Israeli officials that if the Chinese deal continued, the U.S might reduce its intelligence sharing with Israel.

Underlying this dispute is the remarkable growth in recent years of economic ties between Israel and China.  China’s investment in Israel’s high-tech sector is soaring.

Doing business with China is not the same as doing business with a democracy.  Does Israel really want to enable China’s rise at the cost of weakening its relationship with its greatest ally?



The Impossible Future of Christians In Iraq – Emma Green

→The precarious state of Christianity in Iraq is tragic on its own terms.  The world may soon witness the permanent displacement of an ancient religion and an ancient people.  Those indigenous to this area share more than faith: They call themselves Suraye and claim a connection to the ancient peoples who inhabited this land long before the birth of Christ.

→But the fate of Christianity in places like the Nineveh Plain of Iraq has a geopolitical significance as well.  Religious minorities test a country’s tolerance for pluralism – a healthy democracy protects vulnerable groups and allows them to participate freely in society.  Whether Christians can survive and thrive in Muslim-majority countries is a crucial indicator of whether democracy, too, is viable in those places. In Iraq, the outlook is grim, as it is in other nations in the region that are home to historic Christian populations, including Egypt, Syria and Turkey.  Christians who live in these places are subject to discrimination, government-sanctioned intimidation, and routine violence.

→Alqosh sits nestled below the mountains that divide Iraq from Turkey.  For Christians in the Nineveh Plain, Alqosh is a place of national and religious pride, a way station for important figures in the ancient Christian world that some compare in significance to Jerusalem or Rome.

→There’s another history to Alqosh.  Back through the winding roads of town sits a tomb said to belong to Nahum, a biblical prophet believed to have lived in the region during the 7th century BCE.  Jews prayed in this place – the building was a synagogue and the walls were covered in Hebrew. One engraved stone promises,”This will be your dwelling place forever.”

→Jews lived in Alqosh for centuries, and in Iraq for thousands of years, although a priest who lives there, Father Araam, knows about them only from stories.  The Babylonian Talmud, which is the major text of rabbinic Judaism, was written there. Then, over a few short years, the Jews disappeared. Almost all of Iraq’s remaining Jews were effectively expelled from the country in the late 1940s and early 1950s amid intense political pressure and mob violence.

→Priests in the Nineveh Plain see this history as a warning.  Their communities, too, could one day be nothing more than overgrown tombs.