Catching up on the news

There’s a fair bit of news out there which I’ve wanted to catch up on but I ran out of time during the week, so here’s a quick summary of the main points I missed.

Jewish-American journalist Steven Sotloff, beheaded by ISIS terrorists

The big news of this week was the dreadful murder of the Jewish-American journalist Steven Sotloff, beheaded by the barbaric ISIS terrorist group. Not only was he American, he had Israeli citizenship too, and had lived in Israel for a while, studying and earning a degree at the IDC in Herzliya.

Steven Sotloff, the American journalist whose beheading features in a gruesome video issued Tuesday by the Islamic State group, was an Israeli citizen who had lived and studied in Israel.

Sotloff, the grandson of Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Florida, came to Israel in 2008 to pursue an undergraduate degree at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. His Israeli citizenship and Jewishness were suppressed by the media while he was alive in an effort to protect him from his Islamist captors.

Sotloff, 31, was captured by ISIS terrorists in northern Syria last August while working as a freelance journalist and covering the civil war ravaging Syria. His captors were apparently not aware of his Israeli citizenship or his Jewish faith.

The Daily Telegraph has more about the “cover-up” of Sotloff’s Jewish identity:

A former hostage who spent time with him in captivity told the Israeli website Yedioth Aharonoth: “He used to pray secretly in the direction of Jerusalem. He would see in which direction [the Muslim kidnappers] were praying and then adjust the angle.”

Mr Sotloff kept a careful count of the number of days he had been held so he could work out the date and observe Jewish religious festivals on the right days.

During Yom Kippur “he told them he was sick and didn’t want to eat”, the former hostage said.

A network of 150 friends and acquaintances worked throughout his time in captivity to remove all online references to his faith whenever they arose, according to one report.

Avi Hoffman, editor of the Jerusalem Report, said: “We refused to acknowledge any relationship with him in case it was dangerous for him.”

American media organisations also decided not to publish the fact that he was Jewish.

After Mr Sotloff was murdered by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, tweeted: “Cleared for publication: Steven Sotloff was Israel citizen RIP.”

When he was reporting in Muslim countries, Mr Sotloff reportedly told anyone who asked about his background that his surname was Chechen in origin and he had been raised as a non-practising Muslim, without attending mosques.

The Times of Israel has a similar story but notes Sotloff’s “complicated” relationship with Israel:

“Like most of us, he came here and he became very critical of the government,” said Hillary Lynne Glaser, who studied conflict resolution, international relations and counter-terrorism alongside Sotloff.

“I’m not so sure it was about the Israeli-Arab conflict, I think it was more how they treat their own people. But he still came back to visit,” she said, noting that Sotloff was in Israel as recently as last year to celebrate the wedding of a former IDC roommate.

“He didn’t hate it enough to not come visit,” she said. “He still considered it his home.”

A friend of his writes in the Times of Israel about the day Steven came on Aliya, or as he put it, “the day Steven Sotloff chose to become an Israeli”.

It seems from the various reports that he was an excellent journalist, and no matter what Sotloff’s attitude towards Israel was, he did not deserve to die – and certainly not in as dreadful a manner as beheading.

May his family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may his memory be for a blessing.

One could say that Sotloff took huge risks in travelling throughout the Muslim world, but particularly to Iraq and Syria in recent months.

May Hashem avenge their blood. Eyal Yifrah, Gil-ad Shayer and Naftali Frenkel, murdered by terrorists

However that cannot be said of the three Israeli teens Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Shayer and Naftali Frenkel who were kidnapped and murdered in June this year. Some of the kidnappers were arrested over a month ago and this week the alleged mastermind of the kidnapping was indicted.

The Shin Bet released on Thursday further information about the abduction and killing of three Israeli teens in June, including the transfer of money from Gaza to Hebron to fund the triple killing and the failed escape to Jordan of Hussam Kawasme, who allegedly helped bury the three teens on his land and was indicted Thursday in a military court.

Kawasme, 40, was arrested on July 11. He later admitted to his role in the attack and fingered other family members and acquaintances, detailing their role in the June 12 killing of Gil-ad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrach, after the three Israeli teens were abducted from a hitchhiking post in Gush Etzion in the central West Bank.

The two men suspected of carrying out the murders, Marwan Kawasme and Amer Abu-Ayshe, are still at large.

The officer revealed that the terror attack is believed to have been a local initiative rather than a directive from above, and that, according to Hussam Kawasme’s confession, Marwan Kawasme arrived at his house at one in the morning on the night of the attack and said: “We wanted to kidnap one, we kidnapped three. We got tangled up. We killed them.”

The two men at the heart of the attack were the brothers Hussam and Mahmoud Kawasme. The latter, who lives in Gaza, was released from a 20-year sentence in an Israeli prison for his role in a 2004 suicide attack in Beersheba and exiled, as part of the Gilad Shalit deal, to the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave.

Hussam, whom the Shin Bet said played a “staff officer role” in the attack, asked his brother for, and received, NIS 220,000 ($61,000) in cash in order to fund an attack, the Shin Bet said.

With the money, which was allegedly hand-delivered to Hussam’s mother in envelopes, he bought two rifles and two handguns from Adnan Zaro, 34, of Hebron, and two cars – one for the abduction and one for the escape.

After disposing of the bodies and torching the newly stolen Hyundai i-35 used for the kidnapping, the Shin Bet said, Marwan Kawasme arrived at Hussam’s house and explained the complications in the plan. The two then allegedly decided to retrieve the bodies and to bury them on a plot of land that Hussam had recently purchased.

The Shin Bet said that the land had not been bought for this purpose, Haaretz reported.

On June 30, once the bodies were found by an Israeli search team, Hussam, the owner of the land, was forced to go on the lam. “He planned to flee to Jordan on a forged document, along with two other family members,” the Shin Bet said. But in an intelligence operation “he was found and arrested in his [East Jerusalem] hiding spot in the refugee camp of Shuafat.”

All told, eight operatives and accomplices allegedly directly related to the crime were arrested. The information they revealed was passed on to the military court system.

Such a nice family, the Kawasmes. (/sarcasm). And what a bright idea it was to release all those terrorists in the Shalit deal.  Who could have foreseen what it might have brought? (/more sarcasm).

Some more sad news this week when Joan Rivers passed away at the age of 81 when she went into cardiac arrest during throat surgery.  She was a staunch supporter of Israel and never held back in saying exactly what she thought.  I posted a video of one of her impassioned defences of Israel only a few short weeks ago.

Joan Rivers z”l

The Times of Israel has a round-up of celebrities’ reflections on the passing of Joan Rivers z”l.

Rest in peace, funny lady. May her family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may her memory be for a blessing.

Moving on to more regional news, more mortar shells have landed in the Golan Heights, once more an inadvertent spillover from the war raging there between ISIS and its allies, and the almost equally brutal Assad regime.

ISIS fighting in Syria

Israel is not only being hit accidentally. According to Israeli terrorism specialists, the Israel-Syria border is becoming a magnet for ISIS terrorists:

Israel’s frontier with Syria, where militants recently kidnapped 44 U.N. peacekeepers, has become a magnet for Islamist activity and Israel itself is now a target, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and security analysts said on Tuesday.

The Nusra Front, an al-Qaida-linked group fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad, has established a major presence in the region and is poised to carry out attacks across the borders where Syria, Israel and Jordan converge, analysts said.

Iran’s fingerprints can be seen in Syria, including on the Golan Heights, in attempts to use terror squads against us,” Ya’alon told an economic conference.

“We now have Jabhat al-Nusra [the Nusra Front], which is basically al-Qaida, on the border with Israel, and Israel is a legitimate target for Muslim militants all over,” said Aviv Oreg, a retired Israeli intelligence officer and a specialist on al-Qaida.

Oreg said it was only “a matter of time” before the Islamist groups now engaged in fighting in Syria turned more of their attention towards Israel.

“I cannot tell you exactly when, but it’s very risky. It only needs one suicide bomber to cross the fence and attack an Israeli military patrol or a tractor full of farmers going to work in the fields,” he said.

But while Israel may be alarmed, it is not clear that Israel is a strategic priority for Nusra or other radical Sunni Muslim groups.

Their focus since 2011 has been the overthrow of Assad, a campaign that has bogged down from infighting in their ranks and Shiite Muslim Hezbollah’s intervention on the side of Assad.

If Israel is attacked in any serious way, the retaliation would likely be intense, setting back the insurgency and opening the way for Assad’s forces to further reclaim the initiative.

The kidnapping of Fijian UN peacekeepers and the escape of the Fillipino peacekeepers means that UNDOF has effectively become irrelevant (if it was ever relevant in the first place) as the article continues:

Stephane Cohen, the former chief liaison between the Israeli army and the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, said the U.N.’s mandate was now meaningless. With the Philippines, Ireland and other contributing nations set to withdraw from the mission, it was questionable whether the United Nations could continue monitoring the area.

“UNDOF is collapsing and the mandate has not been relevant for at least two years,” said Cohen, now a defense analyst with the Israel Project, a pro-Israel advocacy group.

“Eighty percent of the border area is now in the hands of [Syrian] opposition forces,” he said, adding that if more nations withdrew, the militant presence would only rise.

For now, Israel is merely remaining vigilant.

Israel’s vigilance has recently been tested by Hamas’s attempts to infiltrate into Israel via tunnels and by sea. Now our vaunted technological ability is developing methods to counter these threats.

An Israeli tech firm is aiming to detect tunnels using seismic vibrations:

Something that looks like a can of soda could be Israel’s high-tech answer to the network of tunnels that Hamas has created under the Gaza border.

A destroyed terror tunnel in Rafah, Gaza

A sensor known as a geophone can detect underground movement based on the sound generated by the movement, the Israeli defense firm manufacturing the device says. The firm,  Elpam Electronics, says the geophone is capable of finding the location of a person crawling as far down as 32 feet.

If this system can be properly developed and become operational, the positive implications for Israel are enormous.  What a pity that it wasn’t up and running before so many of our soldiers lost their lives. Let us hope that the system will go on to save many more lives in the future.

Another defensive system which was already operational during the last war is the Aqua Shield, to thwart marine terrorism:

DSIT’s system spotted Hamas divers several kilometers from the Ashkelon coast.

One of the prominent events in Operation Protective Edge was the elimination of a Hamas terrorist squad sent by sea to Zikim on the Ashkelon coast in order to carry out a large-scale terrorist attack. The thwarting of the attack was unquestionably a very great achievement in many aspects: the rapid operational response, the encounter between the IDF unit and the terrorists, and above all the early detection of the threat, which made appropriate preparation possible.

There are currently two companies in the world capable of dealing with undersea threats. One of them is Israeli company DSIT, a world leader in undersea technology.

DSIT’s flagship product in the market today is called Aqua Shield, a land-based sonar designed to protect stationary targets, such as coastal facilities and drilling sites. The detection range of this product is a few kilometers. Of course, it also offers Point Shield, a smaller mobile system with a shorter range, designed for vessels moving about in the open sea.

Kol hakavod to DSIT and similar companies who are putting their efforts into developing and operating defensive systems for the benefit of the whole nation.

I’ll conclude for now with an opinion piece rather than a news item, an excellent piece by Brett Stephens in the Wall Street Journal who writes about Obama’s curious rage.  (If the link won’t open fully, Google the title and click on one of the links to get around the WSJ paywall):

Barack Obama “has become ‘enraged’ at the Israeli government, both for its actions and for its treatment of his chief diplomat, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. ” So reports the Jerusalem Post, based on the testimony of Martin Indyk, until recently a special Middle East envoy for the president. The war in Gaza, Mr. Indyk adds, has had “a very negative impact” on Jerusalem’s relations with Washington.

Think about this. Enraged. Not “alarmed” or “concerned” or “irritated” or even “angered.” Anger is a feeling. Rage is a frenzy. Anger passes. Rage feeds on itself. Anger is specific. Rage is obsessional, neurotic.

Think about this some more. In the summer in which Mr. Obama became “enraged” with Israel, Islamic State terrorists seized Mosul and massacred Shiite soldiers in open pits, Russian separatists shot down a civilian jetliner, Hamas executed 18 “collaborators” in broad daylight, Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria came close to encircling Aleppo with the aim of starving the city into submission, a brave American journalist had his throat slit on YouTube by a British jihadist, Russian troops openly invaded Ukraine, and Chinese jets harassed U.S. surveillance planes over international waters.

Mr. Obama or his administration responded to these events with varying degrees of concern, censure and indignation. But rage?

If Hamas had honored any of these cease-fires it could have saved Palestinian lives. It didn’t. Mr. Obama is enraged—but not with Hamas.

As for Israel’s supposed ill-treatment of Mr. Kerry, the president should read Ben Birnbaum’s and Amir Tibon’s account of his secretary’s Mideast misadventures in the July 20 issue of the New Republic. It’s a portrait of a diplomat with the skills and style, but not the success, of Inspector Clouseau. Mr. Obama might also read Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit’s assessment of Mr. Kerry’s diplomacy: “The Obama administration,” he wrote in July, “proved once again that it is the best friend of its enemies, and the biggest enemy of its friends.”

Ouch! Read it all, if only to understand what motivates the most powerful man in the world.

I’m not sure what’s more scary: Obama’s curious rage or ISIS on our borders.

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4 Responses to Catching up on the news

  1. Linda says:

    Thanks, again, for your blog.

  2. Reality says:

    I was “amused”(not) when I read about Israel having to rescue UN peacekeepers(really?!!) from the border with Syria.These same UN groups who are extrememly anti Israel and who certainly don’t keep peace. The opposite is true as they allow the build up of arms. Israel missed its opportunity in telling the UN it would help its forces on condition that they change their attitude towards Israel. If not,let the vaunted UN risk their lives to extract their people.

    As far as an enraged Obama, he reminds me of a 3year old having tantrums.We should ignore him as much as possible. He has made America mainly irrelevant in the mid-east to the point that Egypt,Jordan and Israel are figuring things out on their own. We don’t need Obama.Let him enjoy Isis when it turns up on USA shores.

    • anneinpt says:

      Very good point about the UN. They don’t do anything except get in the way of either side. The peace has been kept till now because it served Syria’s interests. Now that ISIS have arrived the UN have shown their uselessness.

      Re Obama, you should know about 3 year olds, having a kindergarten-full of them!

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