Israel Moves Ahead on Golan Towns
AS TALKS IN VIENNA STALL AGAIN, IRAN APPROACHING BREAK-OUT CAPACITY: Iran continues to behave itself as if it is invincible in the nuclear stand-off with the West. At the same time, the Islamic Republic continues to provoke Israel and launched fresh cyberattacks against governmental institutions in Israel while openly threatening the Jewish state with missile attacks if it makes “just one wrong move.”
The renewed nuclear negotiations in Vienna between the remaining participants in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 landmark nuclear agreement with Iran, are going nowhere, as even the European Union now admits. “Iran’s continued nuclear escalation means that we are rapidly reaching the end of the road,” Nicolas de Riviere the French ambassador to the United Nations, told the General Assembly of the United Nations two weeks ago. He added that this was actually the joint opinion of Britain, France, and Germany. “We are nearing the point where Iran’s escalation of its nuclear program will have completely hollowed out the JCPOA,” France’s UN ambassador stated. The three European nations are still part of the JCPOA and their joint statement makes it clear that those countries no longer believe it will be possible to reach a compromise with Iran. They have no credible military plan B ready for the eventuality that the talks in Vienna collapse, however. Iran on its part portrays itself as a victim of former US President Donald J. Trump who in 2018 decided to leave the JCPOA and heaped a series of biting sanctions on the Islamic Republic. As a direct result of Trump’s actions, Iran then decided to escalate its nuclear program and began to enrich uranium to a level of sixty percent. (INN / VFI News)
ISRAEL APPROVES PLANS FOR GOLAN HEIGHTS, WILL BUILD TWO NEW TOWNS: The Israeli government approved a NIS 1 billion plan to develop the Golan Heights that will at least double its Jewish population and allow for the creation of two new towns in the region.
“We are making history in the Golan,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted in advance of the vote, which took place at a special meeting at Kibbutz Mevo Hamma in the Golan Heights. At the start of the visit, Bennett said: “Friends, this is our moment; this is the moment for the Golan Heights.” “A combination of circumstances has led us today to a dramatic government decision to channel considerable resources, around NIS 1b., to strengthen communities on the Golan Heights,” he said. “First, it must be said, the Golan Heights are Israeli; this is self-evident,” he added. The goal of the development plan is to double the population on the Golan within five years, including through the construction of two new neighborhoods in the town of Katzrin and the creation of two new towns already named Asif and Matar, Bennett said. The plan calls for a NIS 576m. investment in housing to allow for 23,000 new Golan residents. This would include the construction of 7,300 new units of which 3,300 would be in Katzrin and the remainder in the communities under the Golan Regional Council. This includes 18 moshavim, 10 kibbutzim and four towns. Another 4,000 units would be built in the two planned new towns, Asif and Matar. The plan also calls for NIS 160 million for transportation systems and healthcare facilities. It will also invest in education and the Odem Plan for technological-security leadership in Katzrin. Another NIS 162m. will be allocated for regional economic development, including tourism. Some 2,000 jobs will be created in agritech, hotels, agriculture and commercial sectors, according to the government. The Golan Heights will become the “renewal energy capital,” the government said in summary notes of the meeting. This will include investments in solar projects as well as agri-voltaic projects and research across 200 hectares. In addition, changes in the way people in the 21st century work allow for those who work virtually to consider living in places such as the Golan, Bennett told the ministers. Bennett emphasized that a decision taken by this government to strengthen the Golan was a sign of how much Israeli sovereignty there was a matter of national consensus, given that his coalition represented a broad cross section of Israeli society. (JPost / VFI News)
HEZBOLLAH HAS 2,000 UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLES: Hezbollah has some 2,000 unmanned aerial vehicles, many of them advanced UAVs from Iran and others manufactured independently by the Lebanese terrorist group, a new report by the ALMA Research Center has found.
Hezbollah has been using UAVs since the 1990s and has used its drones in Syria as well as against Israel. Even before the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the group launched drones into Israel; and during the war, Hezbollah launched several armed drones into the country. The report by ALMA listed several attempts by Hezbollah to fly its drones into Israel, including in October 2012 when a UAV launched over the Mediterranean Sea reached the Negev before it was intercepted by Israel Air Force jets. The group was said to have 200 Iranian-made UAVs in 2013; and with help from the Islamic Republic, it has since significantly increased its fleet, which is set to be used for kamikaze attacks on strategic national assets in Israel as well as reconnaissance against IDF troops and bases. According to the report, Hezbollah “most likely” has advanced UAV models such as the Mohajer, Shahed, and Samed (KAS-04), Karrar and Saegheh types. It also possesses dozens of smaller civilian drones made by China that are used to photograph as well as to carry and drop bombs. In September 2021, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Iran’s drone fleet “is one of the most significant tools developed by Iran.” It’s “an array of deadly, precision weapons that, like a ballistic missile or a plane, can cross thousands of miles. The Iranians produce and export these aircraft to their proxies, in coordination with and led by the IRGC Air Force and Quds Force.” According to Gantz, Iran is training militias from Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Syria to operate and manufacture Iranian UAVs at Kashan Base north of the city of Isfahan, “the cornerstone of Iranian aerial terrorism in the region.” In addition to Kashan, the report noted more than 20 production, storage and launch sites used by Iran to launch drones from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. (JPost / VFI News)
SAUDI ARABIA SAYS IRAN AND HEZBOLLAH ARE HELPING THE HOUTHIS: The Saudi-led coalition on Sunday, December 26, accused Iran and Hezbollah of helping Yemen’s Houthi rebels to launch missiles and drones at the kingdom, where two people were killed, AFP reported.
The Saudi accusation came as the coalition intensified an aerial bombing campaign against the Iran-backed Houthis in retaliation for deadly attacks on the kingdom. Coalition spokesman Turki al-Malki told a news conference the Houthis were “militarizing” Sanaa airport and using it as a “main center for launching ballistic missiles and drones” towards the kingdom. He showed reporters a video clip which he said depicted “the headquarters of Iranian and Hezbollah experts at the airport” where, he alleged, “Hezbollah is training the Houthis to booby-trap and use drones.” He said the international community must “stop hostile acts by this terrorist organization,” a reference to Hezbollah. The Houthis and their allies took over large parts of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa, in 2015. A Saudi-led military coalition then intervened in Yemen to try to restore the government. (INN / VFI News)
ISRAELI PM’S CHRISTMAS MESSAGE: ISRAEL ONLY PLACE IN REGION PROTECTING CHRISTIAN LIFE: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett issued Christmas greetings to Christians worldwide along with a message of brotherhood and unity, highlighting Israel’s determination to protect Christian life and thanking Christian “brothers and sisters” who are “united in our love for Jerusalem” for “caring about us” and “fighting for the state of Israel.”
In his public Christmas message in English posted on Thursday, December 23, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wished all Christians in Israel and around the world a merry Christmas. He also highlighted what he described as the “common heritage” of both Jews and Christians. “It’s here in this ancient land where our forefathers lived the stories we all read in the Bible from the Galilee to the Holy City of Jerusalem, right here,” he said. “You see, the land of Israel is the land of our common heritage, and it remains a beacon of religious freedom, tolerance, and prosperity.” Noting the increased persecution of Christians in the region, Bennett highlighted Israel’s role in protecting Christian life there. “In a region where Christians are routinely persecuted, there’s only one place, one country, that protects Christian life — where the Christian community is growing, thriving, and prospering — and that’s right here in the state of Israel,” he said. Stating, “We’re brothers and sisters, and we’re all united in our love for Jerusalem and our prayers for peace,” the prime minister wished “warm greetings” from Israel’s historic capital. “So, as you celebrate the holidays in Israel and around the world, I would like to send you all warm greetings from Jerusalem,” he said. He concluded by expressing appreciation for Christians who support the Jewish state. (BB / VFI News)
ISRAELIS FLOOD NAZARETH FOR CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS, WHILE BETHLEHEM SUBDUED: Tens of thousands of people visited Nazareth on Friday, December 24, for the traditional Christmas procession despite the lack of international tourists, a welcome change for residents after last year’s cancellation of major events due to the pandemic.
The atmosphere in the city where Christians believe Jesus lived was cheery as the parade moved from the Temple of Mary along Paul VI Street, with visitors bustling along between shops and stalls offering food and holiday trinkets. The event was lively despite fears of rising infections as a result of the Omicron variant of coronavirus. With Israel closed to tourists and its citizens restricted from traveling abroad, the mainly Arab city of Nazareth, normally a magnet for Christian pilgrims, has been thronged with Jewish visitors. Livnat Kizner, from central Israel, told Ynet that visiting the city was a good substitute for a trip abroad. “It’s very reminiscent of Europe, in the sounds, the smells, the experience. You can definitely have fun in Israel in such places and not fly,” she said. Another visitor identified only as Tal told Walla: “When you can’t fly abroad, Nazareth was a good alternative. It was really joyous seeing the tens of thousands of revelers enjoying the colors and tastes of the city.” Meanwhile, in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, visitors in Santa hats and scouts beating drums marked Christmas Eve, but fewer people attended as coronavirus fears overshadowed celebrations for a second year. The city where Jesus is said to have been born is usually a focal point of the holiday, with thousands packing the streets and filling the hotels. But Israel, through which tourists travel to Bethlehem in the West Bank, barred its borders to foreigners in an effort to rein in infections from the Omicron strain of the coronavirus. (TOI / VFI News)
4,000 IMMIGRANTS FROM U.S. TO ISRAEL IN 2021 – MARKING NEARLY 50 YEAR HIGH: Four-thousand people immigrated to Israel from the United States in 2021, marking a nearly 50-year high, government statistics showed Wednesday, December 21.
A total 27,050 new immigrants arrived in Israel over 2021, and while that number marked a 30 percent increase over 2020, it was still lower than the pre-pandemic rate. The last time 4,000 Jews immigrated from the U.S. was in 1973. This year also saw 3,500 Jews immigrate from France, the highest number in four years. Another 7,500 people from Russia made aliyah, or immigration to Israel, a 10 percent increase from 2020, while 3,000 came from Ukraine. Other countries that saw an increase in 2021 include Brazil, Mexico, Canada, UK, Argentina, and South Africa. The latter also saw more people immigrating since the fall of the apartheid regime in the 1990s. Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata said: “Despite the pandemic and a variety of limitations, immigration to Israel has not stopped. We are delighted to welcome the tens of thousands of immigrants who chose to make Israel their home. Immigrants are a growth engine for the Israeli economy and are a national, economic and moral powerhouse for the nation.” (BB / VFI News)
UAE’S FIRST ASTRONAUT REVEALS HE BROUGHT ISRAELI FLAG TO SPACE: Hazzaa al-Mansoori, the first Emirati astronaut in space, revealed he brought an Israeli flag to his first space flight in 2019, Ynet reported.
The Emirati astronaut presented the same flag he took to space to delegates of the Israeli pavilion at Expo Dubai 2020. Al-Mansoori launched aboard the Soyuz MS-15 in September 2019, a year prior to the signing of the Abraham Accords, which normalized ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). “I am happy to be here and present this Israeli flag to the people here and the Israeli public,” al-Mansoori said. “I took this flag with me two years ago on my first mission as an Emirati astronaut and this is my gift to all Israelis,” he added. The Emirati astronaut was part of Expedition 61 to the International Space Station (ISS), staying at the station for eight days before landing safely in Kazakhstan in October. (JPost / VFI News)
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Blessings from Jerusalem,
Barry Segal with the Editorial Staff