Iran Said to be Building Military Facilities in Syria Near Russian Positions

Tehran’s gambit is apparently based on assessment that Israel wouldn’t dare strike for fear of tangling with Moscow

By: Avi Issacharoff; timesofisrael.com

Iran’s army chief of staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, looking into binoculars, and other senior officers from the Iranian military, visit a front line in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria, October 20, 2017. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP, File)

As it works intensively to deepen its military presence in Syria, Iran is building military facilities very close to Russian forces there, The Times of Israel has learned.

Continue reading “Iran Said to be Building Military Facilities in Syria Near Russian Positions”

Israel Says it Destroys New Hamas Tunnel Network in Gaza

apnews.com

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military said Sunday it destroyed a tunnel built by the Hamas militant group.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the new tunnel was intended to connect to an old one that Israel partially destroyed in the southern Gaza Strip during the 2014 war, in what appears to be the first case of Hamas trying to “recycle” part of its devastated network.

Continue reading “Israel Says it Destroys New Hamas Tunnel Network in Gaza”

French Consulate Worker Arrested for Smuggling Weapons to Palestinians

“This is a very serious incident, in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign missions in Israel was cynically exploited in order to smuggle dozens of weapons…”

By: Anna Ahronheim; Jerusalem Post – jpost.com

french consulate worker
A French consulate worker alleged to have smuggled weapons to Hamas in Gaza. (Shin Bet). (photo credit: SHIN BET)

Two French Embassy workers along with five Palestinians have been indicted on charges of smuggling dozens of weapons from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip to the West Bank.

The Shin Bet (Internal Security Agency) cleared for release on Monday that 24-year-old French citizen Romain Franck, who worked as a driver in the French Consulate in East Jerusalem, was part of a cell which smuggled 70 pistols and 2 assault rifles through the Erez crossing on the Israel-Gaza border on five different occasions.

He is accused of using his diplomatic vehicle to avoid security checks at the Erez border crossing as well as using another vehicle with diplomatic plates – a Citroen which was for his personal use – to drive through the Kalandiya checkpoint to get from Jerusalem to Ramallah.

Franck was charged with importing, trading, carrying, transporting and possession of weapons, as well as with fraudulently obtaining benefits under aggravated circumstances.

“The consulate employee has smuggled weapons on several occasions in recent months, taking advantage of the consular vehicle of the French Consulate, which has facilitated the security check at the border crossing, as is customary for these vehicles,” read a statement released by the Shin Bet.

According to the Shin Bet investigation, Franck received the weapons from a Palestinian resident of the Gaza Strip employed at the French Cultural Center in the Gaza Strip, and then transferred them to a cell in the West Bank that sold them to arms dealers.

The investigation clearly showed that Franck was acting in return for financial gain, of his own volition and without the knowledge of his superiors.

According to the indictment, Franck received $700 for smuggling five or six guns, and another estimated NIS 10,500 to smuggle 17 guns and a rifle.

The investigation also found that several Palestinians arrested in relation to the case were also involved in the smuggling of money from Gaza to the West Bank.

“This is a very serious incident, in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign missions in Israel was cynically exploited in order to smuggle dozens of weapons that may be used for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces,” a senior Shin Bet source said.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj.-Gen. Yoav “Poly” Mordechai called the matter a “grave incident of cynical and never-ending exploitation of humanitarian aid and international aid by the terrorist infrastructure.”

Mordechai called for a stricter policy for granting permits to enter and leave Israel and the Palestinian territories as “the international bodies are required to carry out internal inspections to ensure aid goes to the residents of Gaza and not to terror.”

FRENCH LAWMAKER Meyer Habib, who represents French nationals living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, noted that it wasn’t the first time that the French Consulate in Jerusalem has been involved in “problematic affairs.”

Habib pointed out several incidents, including one in 2013 when a French Consulate employee was detained after attempting to use an official vehicle to smuggle a large amount of gold, tobacco and checks into Israel from Jordan.

“This is without referring to the shameful UNESCO vote on the Temple Mount or [the fact] that mail sent from the consulate to French citizens says ‘Jerusalem-Palestinian Territories,’” he added.

“For shame – even if it is a junior staff member, I have a feeling that, unfortunately, the consulate has actually become the French Embassy to the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

In addition to Franck, a resident of east Jerusalem who worked as a security guard at the French consulate in Jerusalem, as well as several Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who were living in the West Bank illegally, were arrested and indicted.

The Shin Bet investigation was conducted in coordination with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Shin Bet was in constant contact with the French authorities.

The French embassy issued a statement saying it is taking the incident “very seriously,” and is cooperating with the Israeli authorities.

The statement added that Franck was receiving “full consular protection and visits from our embassy staff in Tel Aviv, including the ambassador herself.” According to the statement, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has ordered an “immediate administrative investigation” into the matter, and conclusions will be drawn “that will allow the staff of the Consulate General to continue their important work under the best conditions under difficult circumstances.”

Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem characterized the incident as “very difficult,” and said that Israel views it with the utmost gravity.

Despite all this, the sources said that relations with France are “excellent,” and that this will not negatively impact on them. They thanked the French authorities for their cooperation in the matter.

Construction Minister Yoav Galant, meanwhile, posted a tweet saying that the arms smuggling was a deed of “double treachery – against Israel and France.”

“Israel needs to expel the French citizens to their country where they will be tried there as terrorists,” he wrote.

 

Israeli leader opens Jerusalem exhibit, rebukes opponents

By: Edith M. Lederer; apnews.com

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened an exhibition on Jerusalem Thursday to reinforce Israel’s claim to the historic city as the Jewish people’s “eternal capital” — and rebuke over 125 countries that support Palestinian claims to east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Netanyahu’s U.N. visit follows President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly soon afterward, denouncing the U.S. announcement and declaring Trump’s action “null and void.”

The Israeli-sponsored exhibition traces Jews in Jerusalem back centuries before the Christian era, and Netanyahu said it clearly shows the city’s long history “cherished” by Israelis and friends of the Jewish people and “friends of truth.”

This “is being denied by those seeking to erase the history of our people, our connection to our lands, and our connection to our eternal capital Jerusalem,” he said.

The Israeli leader noted a disclaimer sign at the entrance to the exhibition that says: “The content of this exhibit is solely the responsibility of the sponsors. The holding of the exhibit in U.N. premises does not imply endorsement by the United Nations. Please direct any queries to the organizers.”

Hitting back at the U.N., Netanyahu responded: “Of course it doesn’t represent the United Nations. It represents the truth, and we’ll continue to tell the truth and speak the truth everywhere, including the United Nations.”

“This exhibit would not have been possible 10 years ago,” he added. “And this exhibit will be unnecessary 10 years from now. We are changing the world. We are changing Israel’s position in the world, and above all we are making it clear that we fight for the truth and for our rights. We also fight for security.”

The photos and replicas at the exhibit, titled “3000 Years of Jews in Jerusalem,” include ones of the Tel Dan Stela from 8-9th century BC, which has the first known historical evidence of King David from the Bible, and a seal with the Hebrew inscription “To Netanyahu son of Yaush” from the 7th century BC.

Netanyahu met with U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley before viewing the exhibition and praised her strong support for Israel at the U.N., saying: “We call her hurricane Haley.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the Israeli prime minister did not ask to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“Sometimes leaders come in for a very quick visit,” Dujarric said. “The secretary-general and his senior officials are often in contact with the Israeli government. There’s nothing to read into it.”

Netanyahu came to New York after meeting in Washington with Trump and leaders of Congress. He said most of his week in the U.S. capital was devoted to Iran, which he said wants “to extinguish our history” and “our presence.”

A strong opponent of the nuclear agreement between Iran and six major powers, Netanyahu said, “The best way to prevent the nuclearization of the Middle East is to either fully fix the Iran deal or fully nix it.”

He added, “There is a newfound alliance in the Middle East between all those who recognize that the greatest threat we face is a nuclear Iran and an aggressive Iran.”

As for the Palestinians, who are furious at Trump for overturning decades of U.S. policy and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Netanyahu said: “We have not walked away from peace negotiations. The Palestinians have.”

 

Hopeless in Gaza

By: Clifford D. May; defenddemocracy.org (The Washington Times)

Gaza has been an unhappy place for a long time but the situation is now reportedly growing desperate. Jobs are scarce, electricity is intermittent, drinking water is unsafe, and raw sewage released into the Mediterranean is washing up on Gaza’s white sandy beaches.

How did this happen? A one-paragraph history: Ruled by the Ottomans for centuries, then ruled by the British for decades, in 1948 the territory was taken over by Egypt. The Israelis seized it in 1967, the outcome of a defensive war in which Israel also took the West Bank from Jordan. In 2005, the Israelis withdrew from Gaza, thinking that might pave the way to a resolution of their conflict with the Palestinians. Instead, the two dominant Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, went to war with one another. After two years, Hamas emerged on top.

A front-page takeout in The New York Times this month gives voice to Gaza’s suffering masses. Accompanying photos, artfully composed, show a woman begging, shopkeepers behind bars for not paying their debts and patients in a hospital looking grim.

Jerusalem bureau chief David M. Halbfinger concludes that Hamas has “few options.” He adds: “The one it has resorted to three times — going to war with Israel, in hopes of generating international sympathy and relief in the aftermath — suddenly seems least attractive.”

Did you get that? The New York Times sees nothing alarming, certainly nothing to criticize, about Palestinians contemplating “going to war” against Israelis to improve their economic situation. Would the newspaper take the same attitude toward any other peoples anywhere else in the world?

Also notice what was not mentioned: that Hamas might contemplate giving up its goal of destroying Israel; that it might, as the saying goes, “Give peace a chance!” Not only did that option not occur to Mr. Halbfinger, it also apparently didn’t cross the minds of other “Gaza experts” to whom he turned. Nathan Thrall, an analyst for International Crisis Group, tells him simply: “Hamas itself has few ways to alleviate the crisis.”

Just for grins, imagine this: Hamas stops spending hundreds of millions of dollars (mostly drawn from foreign aid) building missiles to fire at Israeli cities, and digging tunnels to infiltrate terrorists into Israeli villages where they are to spray bullets at men, women and children, and drag others, as hostages, into the holes leading back to Gaza.

Further imagine: In response to such a suspension of hostilities, Israel stops building an underground anti-tunnel system with a price tag of roughly $1 billion. Israel offers to spend those funds to assist the people of Gaza instead.

With Israel’s cutting-edge technology, Gazans soon have all the clean drinking water they need, all the electricity they want, and a sewage system unlike any in the Middle East (outside Israel).

And were another war between Hamas and Israel to be seen as unlikely rather than inevitable, do you not think Gazawould become much more attractive to job-creating investors? I wonder if there are Syrians and Yemenis who wish they had such an alternative available to them as a way to relieve their (much more intense) deprivation.

OK, enough imagining. Most “Gaza experts” no doubt do regard such ideas as crazy or at least unrealistic. The “disarmament of Hamas appears to be nonnegotiable” write David Makovsky and Lia Weiner of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in a report published last month on Gaza’s “humanitarian situation.”

I could end this column here but there’s one more layer that ought to be peeled from the onion. Mahmoud Abbas is the Palestinian Authority president but he does not rule Gaza’s two million residents. He dares not even set foot in the territory. But rest assured he is doing everything he can — to make the crisis there worse.

Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and currently Israel’s deputy public diplomacy minister, wrote last week: “Abbas recently cut the salaries of Palestinian Authority officials in the Gaza Strip by 50 percent, and fired thousands more.

He has suspended welfare benefits to families in Gaza, generally cut budgets to the coastal enclave, and is again trying to limit the power supply, despite the winter cold, thus exacerbating Gazans’ suffering. Perhaps in his cruelest move yet, he has also suspended the delivery of vital medicines to Gaza, including for infants and children, and significantly reduced the funding for medical care for Gazans in Israel.”

Why would he do such things? Because, Mr. Oren explains, he wants Hamas to start another war with Israel — one that would end with Israel soundly defeating Hamas and expelling it from Gaza once and for all.

In the aftermath, Israel would “be accused of war crimes and Abbas himself would lead the charge, in an attempt to benefit twice: He would be hailed for having dealt Hamas a final blow, and would be revered for defending the Palestinians from the Zionists.”

To prevent this scenario from playing out, and to avoid letting Mr. Abbas “fight Hamas down to the very last Israeli soldier,” Mr. Oren argues that Israel should take significant steps to alleviate the crisis in Gaza — expecting nothing in return.

Less than a decade after Israel’s founding, Golda Meir, who would go onto to become Israel’s fourth prime minister, was famously quoted as saying: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” Hamas‘ parental affections have not evolved. As for the immiserated people of Gaza, perhaps they lack the courage to challenge Hamas. That would be the hopeful explanation.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times. Follow him on Twitter @CliffordDMay.

Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Why Christians Support Israel

By: Dennis Prager; townhall.com

In speeches to fellow Jews around America, I often point out that many American Jews are experiencing cognitive dissonance. The institution Jews most admire — the university — turns out to be the most significant source of Israel hatred in America and the rest of the West. At the same time, the people many Jews most distrust — Christians (especially evangelical and other conservative Christians) — turn out to be the Jews’ and Israel’s best friends.

Given that these two facts are undeniable, how do many American Jews deal with this dissonance? They largely ignore the Israel hatred on campuses, and they dismiss the authenticity of the Christian support. They dismiss it by denying it is genuine. Christians who support Israel, they (and non-Jews on the left) argue, do so for two deceptive reasons.

One is they seek to convert Jews.

That Christians seek to convert non-Christians is, of course, true. The primary aim of Christianity, after all, is to spread belief in Christ. But why would anyone think supporting Israel will convert Jews? Does anyone think that Christians who support Israel’s enemies are making Muslims convert to Christianity? The fact is there isn’t a shred of evidence that Jews have converted to Christianity, because of Christian support for Israel. Indeed, the Jews who most support Israel are either the most religious or the most strongly identifying secular Jews. Neither is a candidate for conversion.

Another way Christian support for Israel is belittled is by claiming that Christians support Israel in order to hasten the Second Coming of Jesus. But pastor John Hagee, head of Christians United for Israel, the largest pro-Israel organization in America, has said countless times nothing a Christian can do will hasten the return of Jesus; only God will decide when that happens — and in His own good time.

Moreover, even if this were the reason Christians support the Jews and Israel, why would it disturb Jews? It would mean that Christians would support them until Jesus returns. What’s wrong with that?

Having spoken at numerous churches’ “Night to Honor Israel” events, I know how genuine this support is. But last week in Nashville, I witnessed a particularly convincing example of the sincerity of this support. I spoke before thousands of Christians at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention when they gathered one evening solely to express their support for Israel. Maybe five Jews were present. Isn’t thousands of Christians devoting an entire evening to express support for Israel — with essentially no Jews in attendance to witness it — about as convincing a proof of the authenticity of this support as one could imagine?

So, why do Christians support Israel? They believe in supporting American allies and supporting countries that share their moral values. And, unlike the left, they have moral problems with Islamism, not with Zionism.

But the primary reason virtually every Israel-supporting Christian gives is the biblical verse from Genesis in which God says to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” These Christians believe (as does this Jew) God blesses those who treat the Jews decently and curse those who seek to harm the Jews.

You don’t have to be a believer in the God of Abraham or the Bible to accept this proposition. All the Jews’ ancient enemies disappeared from history. And look at what happened to Spain after it expelled its Jews in 1492. One of the greatest powers of the world became largely irrelevant to history within a couple of generations. As for Germans, the perpetrators of the Holocaust, they endured a staggering amount of death and suffering as a result of their support for the greatest Jew hater in history; and their country was divided in half for the next half-century. Likewise, the countries today that most curse the Jews — Arab and other Muslim countries — are among the most benighted countries in the world. If they were to devote to building their countries the money and energy they devote to attempting to destroy Israel, they would be in far better condition morally, socially, economically and politically.

Meanwhile, the country that has most blessed Israel and the Jews is America. No country in the modern period has treated its Jews as well as America has, and no country has stood by Israel as much as America has. And America has been almost uniquely blessed.

These American Christians know something that the secular and left-wing elites do not: The day America abandons Israel will be the beginning of the end of America as we know it.

These people are not fools.

Their detractors are.

 

New Passenger Wing Opens at Ben-Gurion Airport as Air Travel Booms

The new passenger wing includes telescopic glass pathways, eight plane exit gates, four bus exit gates, along with shops, restaurants, a VIP lounge and maintenance and cargo services.

By: Max Schindler; Jerusalem Post, jpost.com

New passenger wing opens at Ben-Gurion Airport as air travel booms
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Ben-Gurion Airport opened the fourth passenger wing in its main terminal on Thursday, a sign that Israeli air travel continues to expand amid a growing economy and calmer security.

The new extension in Terminal 3, Wing E, will accommodate up to 1,800 more passengers per hour, allowing for dozens of additional incoming and outgoing flights daily. That should reduce the load on the other congested wings and improve service provided for passengers.
Wing E was designed by Israeli star architect Moshe Safdie and  associate architect Irit Kohavi.

“As part of a fruitful cooperation with the Israel Airports Authority, the fourth wing that my office was responsible for designing will enable the expansion of the capacity of those departing and entering Israel, thus further opening the field of tourism in Israel,” Safdie said. “I hope that work on a fifth wing will begin shortly.”

The new passenger wing includes telescopic glass pathways, eight plane exit gates, four bus exit gates, along with shops, restaurants, a VIP lounge and maintenance and cargo services. Some of the gates include double bridges, allowing for passengers to board and disembark from both the front and back of wide-bodied aircraft.

Ben-Gurion handles more than 90% of passengers entering and exiting the Jewish state, and travel through the congested airport continues to rise.

Almost 20.8 million passengers transited through Ben-Gurion in 2017, according to data from the Israel Aviation Authority, a sharp uptick from 17.9 million in 2016. The airport’s 2018 estimate is 23 million.

When Ben-Gurion sees more than 25 million passengers transit through the site, that will result in the airport being classified as among the world’s largest airports, Globes reported. That is projected to occur in 2019, barring a major security incident.

The rapid uptick in passengers takes place despite the negligible number of transit passengers. Flagship airliner El Al has not adopted a transit-friendly business model for security reasons, putting it at a competitive disadvantage to airliners like Turkish Airlines, which has turned its Istanbul hub into a major transit hub.

More than 100 airliners now service the airport, a handful of which have launched operations in the past year. The increase in competition comes after Israel signed the Open Skies agreement a decade ago, permitting many more European airliners to fly to Tel Aviv.

The airport is in the middle of a multi-year expansion plan, with recent renovations to Terminal 1, which services domestic locales, along with hosting low-cost airliners like Wizz Air, Easyjet and Ryanair.

The relatively strong local currency – with a dollar trading for NIS 3.53 at Thursday evening – has made shekel-priced flights cheaper for Israelis, along with low oil prices and more intense competition.

In 2017 a record-breaking 3.6 million tourists visited Israel, but it took three years since the Gaza war – Operation Protective Edge – for the tourism numbers to bounce back to their regular growth rate.

Safdie has helped design Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall, Yad Vashem, the Yitzhak Rabin Center, and Los Angeles’s Skirball Cultural Center.

Anti-Semitic Incidents Surged 57 Percent in 2017, Report Finds

By: Maggie Astor; nytimes.com

Workers repositioned headstones at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo., after as many as 200 were toppled last February. Credit Nick Schnelle for The New York Times

The number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in the United States surged 57 percent in 2017, according to an annual report by the Anti-Defamation League.

The organization’s Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, released Tuesday, found 1,986 such incidents in 2017, compared with 1,267 in 2016. That increase was the largest in a single year since the A.D.L. began tracking in 1979.

Only once since 1979 has the Anti-Defamation League recorded more incidents: 2,066 in 1994. Since then, the numbers had mostly declined. There were small increases in 2014 and 2015. Then, in 2016, the count began to shoot up.

“It had been trending in the right direction for a long time,” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, chief executive of the A.D.L., said in an interview. “And then something changed.”

Anti-Semitic incidents, long trending downward, increased 35 percent in 2016 and 57 percent in 2017. Credit Anti-Defamation League

That “something” is hard to identify definitively, but Mr. Greenblatt pointed to three likely factors: the increasingly divisive state of American politics, the emboldening of extremists, and the effects of social media. Some of the increase may also be attributable to better reporting of incidents.

The invigoration of the far right, including white supremacists and neo-Nazis, has been on display at events like a rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August that turned deadly when a man drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters. A separate Anti-Defamation League report released last month found a more than 250 percent increase in white supremacist activity on college campuses in the current academic year. (The count released Tuesday does not include white supremacist incidents unless they had a specific anti-Semitic element.)

“The diminishment of civility in society creates an environment in which intolerance really can flourish,” Mr. Greenblatt said. And the platforms of social media, he added, have “allowed the kind of poison of prejudice to grow at a velocity and to expand in ways that really are unprecedented.”

The count by the A.D.L., an international organization that fights anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice, includes three categories: harassment (1,015 incidents in 2017, up 41 percent from 2016), vandalism (952 incidents, up 86 percent) and assault (19 incidents, down 47 percent). The decrease in assaults was “the one piece of good news in this report,” Mr. Greenblatt said.

For the first time in at least a decade, incidents were reported in all 50 states. And, unusually, K-12 schools had more reports than any other location. (Typically, public areas have the most.) Incidents at those schools nearly doubled, to 457 from 235; those on college campuses increased 89 percent, to 204 from 108.

Many of the incidents involved swastikas etched on school property or drawn on Jewish students’ belongings.

The increase in expressions of anti-Semitism among students is “astounding” in its size, Mr. Greenblatt said, but also not entirely surprising.

“Kids repeat what they hear,” he said. “And so in an environment in which prejudice isn’t called out by public figures, figures of authority, we shouldn’t be surprised when we see young people repeat these same kind of tropes.”

The count is based on reports from victims, law enforcement and the news media. The Anti-Defamation League’s 26 field offices in the United States often receive reports directly from victims or their loved ones. Other times, employees will see a post on social media and follow up with the poster.

In each case, the group confirms the information independently and assesses its credibility. Reports deemed not credible are not included in the tally.

IDF Cyber Warriors Thwart Major ISIS Aviation Terror Attack

By: Anna Ahronheim; jpost.com

Spread across the country, the online soldiers of Unit 8200 are on the front line of Israel’s cyber wars 24/7, 365 days a year to identify possible threats and effectively neutralize them.

female soldier
Female IDF soldier in the J6/C4I Cyber Defense Directorate.. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON’S UNIT)

Soldiers in the IDF’s Unit 8200 played a large role in thwarting a major Islamic State terrorist attack this past summer, which aimed to bring down a civilian airliner headed from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, the army has revealed.

In cooperation with Israel’s intelligence community, soldiers provided exclusive intelligence that they had gathered on an attack that was being planned. The intelligence led to the arrest of the suspects, who were in a very advanced stage in executing the plot, the army said.

“The thwarting of the attack led to the saving of the lives of dozens of innocent people and demonstrated that Unit 8200 is a player in the intelligence war against Islamic State,” the army said. Regarded as Israel’s equivalent of the National Security Agency in the US, the soldiers of one of the IDF’s most prestigious units, Unit 8200, intercept and collect digital communication and intelligence on Israel’s enemies.

Spread across the country, these online soldiers of Unit 8200 are on the front line of Israel’s cyberwars 24/7, 365 days a year, to identify possible threats and effectively neutralize them.

“About half of Unit 8200 is engaged in operational activity beyond Israel’s borders,” a senior officer in Unit 8200 told military reporters on Tuesday, referring to the interception and analysis of signal intelligence gathered by troops. “Because of our abilities, we are very attractive to foreign countries,” he added.

The ISIS-inspired attack against an Etihad Airways flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi was thwarted, according to Australian officials, in July. Four men were arrested in Sydney suburbs for planning two separate attacks, including one where a bomb, which was to be carried onboard the plane by an unwitting “mule,” would be detonated while in the air.

Local press at the time quoted Australian police as stating that one suspect planned to plant military-grade explosives inside a meat-grinding machine. The explosives were sent by a senior ISIS operative through international air cargo to the suspects in Australia.

The New South Wales Joint Counterterrorism Team charged 49-year-old Khaled Mahmoud Khayat and 32-year-old Mahmoud Khayat with two counts each of acts in preparation for a terrorist act for that foiled plot.

While Islamic State’s territorial “caliphate” may have crumbled, the IDF does not believe it to be the end of the threat posed by the terrorist group, as terrorists have moved from Syria and Iraq to places like Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel.

Unit 8200 soldiers were also responsible for thwarting a recent Iranian hacking attack against private and public organizations in Israel.

The attack by a hacking group was thwarted in cooperation with the defense division of the IDF’s telecommunications department by the “close monitoring of the operations of the Iranian network and the early identification of attempts to attack Israel,” the IDF said.

According to ClearSky, an Israeli cybersecurity company that has studied the malware behind cyberattacks across the region, the hacking group has been targeting multiple organizations in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries such as in Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon since 2015.

In one attack against the UAE government uncovered by Palo Alto Networks, another cybersecurity company, the hacking group sent spear-phishing emails with the subject line “Important Issue” which in reality were malware-infected documents.

A January 2017 report by ClearSky stated that the hacking group set up a fake VPN Web portal and targeted several Israeli IT vendors, financial institutions and the Israel Post since the end of 2015.

“Today, cyber is an additional front in which Israel has significant offensive and defensive capabilities,” a senior officer in Unit 8200 said Tuesday.

“Iran is a very smart country with advanced technology and a lot of motivation,” the officer said, adding that he respects the intelligence of his enemy, which is “increasing in its offensive capabilities.”

According to the senior officer, the unit has also been very effective in thwarting dozens of attacks by lone-wolf Palestinians in the West Bank since the beginning of the latest wave of violence that broke out in 2015.

“When we see talk of an attack that could happen in the next 10 minutes, we need to act in an effective and quick manner in order to stop it,” he said. “There is a lot of responsibility sitting on the shoulders of these young officers.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday evening that Israel’s intelligence service deserve thanks for not only protecting Israel, but also for “protecting people everywhere around the world.”

Netanyahu, speaking at the annual meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the downing of the plane would have led to a major tragedy and to a massive disruption of civilian air traffic.

Netanyahu said this was just one of many attacks that Israel has thwarted throughout the world.

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

Israel Destroys Hamas Tunnel Following Rocket Fire

The tunnel struck by Israel’s Air Force inside Gaza is the second destroyed in two days.

By: Anna Ahronheim; jpost.com

A general view of the interior of a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, near Kissufi
A general view of the interior of a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, near Kissufim, seen on January 18, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/JACK GUEZ)

The Israel Air Force struck an underground network of terrorist tunnels in the Gaza Strip overnight on Sunday, after a rocket launched from the Hamas-run enclave struck southern Israel, the IDF announced.

It was the second Hamas tunnel in Gaza to be struck in as many days, and the sixth tunnel destroyed since late October.
“Hamas is responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip, above and below ground,” the statement read. “The army will continue to act to ensure security for the citizens of Israel using all means at its disposal.”

Earlier on Sunday, incoming rocket sirens were activated in communities in the Sha’ar Hanegev region bordering the northern Gaza Strip. A rocket fell in open territory near the city of Sderot causing no damage or injuries.

According to Palestinian reports, jets fired some 10 missiles towards the Hamas tunnel. The tunnel was located in an agricultural area near the destroyed Dahiniye airport, east of Rafah in the southern part of the Strip close to the Israeli border. No casualties were reported.

The previous night, a home in the Sha’ar Hanegev community of Or Haner was directly hit by a rocket causing damage but no injuries to the family inside.

The rocket was launched several hours after four IDF soldiers were wounded – two seriously, including a combat engineer officer, and two moderately – after an improvised explosive device detonated against their military jeep as they patrolled the border fence south of the Gaza Strip on Saturday afternoon.

The IDF later confirmed that it had carried out large-scale strikes against 18 terrorist targets belonging to Hamas, including an attack tunnel in the Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City that was dug toward Israeli territory.

“Harming IDF soldiers constitutes a grave terrorist [attack],” Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, the head of the southern command, said Sunday afternoon at a military ceremony. “We will not abide by this reality of using the land around the fence for terrorism.”

“Anyone seeking to undermine Israel’s security will be met with a determined response. We have considerable power and will not hesitate to exercise it as needed, despite our desire to maintain stability and avoid escalation.”

While the security establishment does not believe that Hamas currently seeks another war, the situation is fragile, especially given the worsening conditions in the Strip. Gazans have been demonstrating on the border fence with Israel each Friday throughout recent months and the army believes that Hamas is using these weekly demonstrations as a cover to carry out terrorist attacks.

The explosive device that detonated on Saturday had been hidden inside a Palestinian flag and placed near the fence during last Friday’s demonstrations.

“This is further proof of the utilization of disturbances near the fence by Hamas and other terrorist groups as cover for terrorism. Anyone seeking to undermine Israel’s security will meet a determined response based on intelligence and aerial, land and naval capabilities,” Zamir warned.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed to eliminate those responsible for the attack, which he said was carried out by the Popular Resistance Committees organization, a group comprising several terrorist groups.

“Until we eliminate them, the score remains unsettled,” he said. “It will take two days, a week, or two weeks. We’ll eliminate anyone behind the attack’s execution.”