1. Hours before Israel marks Memorial Day, which in turn is just before the country prepares to switch and celebrate Independence Day, the focus in Hebrew-language media reflect the challenges, foreign threats, and inner conflicts facing the Jewish state as it enters its 8th decade of existence.
- Haaretz’s military and defense analyst Amos Harel posits that the escalating tensions between Israel and Iran are “casting a shadow over Independence Day celebrations.” Harel writes that last Monday’s strike on the T-4 Air Base near Palmyra in central Syria — an attack in which seven members of Iran’s military were killed, out of at least 14 reported fatalities — has left the Islamic Republic in a vulnerable position, and the regime now feels it must respond in order to prove its superiority over Israel.
- Harel explains that Israeli news sites had recently been briefed by the IDF on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ air defense systems, in what the Haaretz writer deems to be an intentional move aimed at sending a message to the regime in Tehran. By leaking this information, Harel asserts, Israel is stressing to Iran that it is “determined to continue to confronting [Iran] if it decides to deepen its military presence in Syria,” and that the Islamic Republic’s “military system is transparent to Israeli intelligence and therefore is quite vulnerable to additional attacks.”
2. On Monday, an Israeli military official confirmed to The New York Times that Israel was, in fact, behind last week’s strike on Iranian forces in the Syrian airbase.
- While many had already assumed that the strike had been Israel’s doing, there was no official confirmation on behalf of the Jewish state of the unnamed official’s statements.
- Later Monday, The New York Times writer updated his article with the following paragraph in parentheses, after he was contacted by the IDF Spokesman’s office: “After the story appeared, the Israeli Army’s spokesman’s office disputed the characterization and accuracy of the raid by my Israeli source, and emphasized that Israel maintains its policy to avoid commenting on media reports regarding the raid on the T4 airfield and other events. He would not comment further.”
- The strike, which came after Iran launched an explosives-laden unmanned aircraft into Israeli airspace in February, reportedly targeted the Islamic regime’s entire drone attack program at the base. Military officials said Friday that the Iranian drone was carrying enough explosives to cause damage. Its precise intended target in Israel was not known, they said.
3. After Iran threatened to retaliate for the raid, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel was “more powerful” than ever.
- “The founders of modern Zionism did not say the attacks on the Jewish people would cease once we establish a Jewish state,” Netanyahu told the Keren Hayesod-UIA Annual World Conference in Jerusalem. “They said that we could defend ourselves against those attacks. And that’s exactly what the State of Israel has done,” he said. “It’s restored the capacity of the Jewish people to defend ourselves, by ourselves, against any threat.
- Tehran on Monday threatened to deliver a response to the alleged Israeli strike, saying it would come “at the right time” and that Israel would “regret” what it had done. “The Zionist entity will sooner or later receive the necessary response and will regret its misdeeds,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi told reporters.
4. Syrian state news reported overnight that missiles targeting government air bases had been shot down over the western city of Homs, but later said the air defense systems had been triggered by a false alarm.
- Large explosions were heard near Al Shayrat Air base, and in eastern Qalamoun near Damascus, where two other air bases are located, the Syrian Observatory for Human rights reported.
- Following initial reports that a strike had been carried out by Israel, an IDF spokesman said he was “not aware of such an incident.” And in Washington, Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb said that “there are no US or coalition operations in that area.”
5. On the internal side of Israel’s struggles, the state told the High Court of Justice on Monday that authorities have not yet reached a deal with Uganda for the deportation of African migrants.
- On Sunday, more than 200 African migrants who have refused deportation were ordered released from Saharonim Prison in southern Israel by the High Court, after the government was unable to provide a signed deal with an African country to which they could be deported.
- The asylum seekers can only be imprisoned if they refuse a lawful demand by the state to leave to a country willing to receive them. They are freed whenever the state loses the ability to argue before the court that there is such a country.
- The presence of the primarily Sudanese and Eritrean migrants in Israel has become a divisive political issue. Israel’s earlier deportation policy to the African countries, which offered each migrant $3,500 and a plane ticket, had been condemned by Israeli activists and the United Nations as chaotic, poorly executed, and unsafe. Earlier this month week, Netanyahu announced he was canceling a new agreement with the UN’s refugee agency that would have seen thousands of African migrants resettled in Western nations and thousands more given temporary status in Israel. The prime minister froze the deal mere hours after announcing it, following an outcry from right-wing politicians and advocacy groups.
6. Meanwhile, Israel’s High Court ordered Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to grant entry permits to Israel to 90 Palestinians who are slated to attend an Israeli-Palestinian memorial service in Tel Aviv.
- The Palestinians were invited as participants at the annual ceremony, organized by the Combatants for Peace and the Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace groups as an alternative to the standard Israeli Memorial Day events.
- The Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit had told Liberman that the Palestinians who were invited posed no security threat and recommended that he grant them entry permits, but Liberman rejected the application and barred the Palestinians’ entry, saying that the joint Israeli-Palestinian service was in “bad taste.”
- After the court’s decision, Liberman rejected the ruling, saying it created an equivalency between “terrorists” and bereaved families.
- In its initial response against the petition challenging Liberman’s decision, the state claimed that some of the Palestinians who were due to attend had family members who were terrorists, but subsequently admitted that it had no evidence to that effect and that the participants did not pose a security threat.
7. In honor of Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the Central Bureau of Statistics released official figures on the country’s population, which stands at 8,842,000, of whom 74.5 percent are Jewish.
- The Jewish population stands at approximately 6.589 million, while Arabs number some 1.849 million, 20.9% of the population. There are approximately 404,000 citizens, 4.6%, who are non-Arab Christians or members of other ethnic groups.
- Over the past 12 months some 177,000 babies were born, 41,000 Israelis died and 28,000 immigrants arrived. Overall, the population increased by 1.9%, and at the current rate will hit 15.2 million by the time Israel celebrates its centennial in 2048.