1. US President Donald Trump’s cryptic tweet Thursday — according to which his country would attack Syria “very soon or not so soon at all” in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack against civilians — leaves the Israeli media, and everyone else, very confused about the White House’s next moves in the war-torn Middle East.
- Israel Hayom’s front page leads with a CNBC report detailing eight targets in Syria which Trump is allegedly planning to bomb. The targets, the paper adds, include an airport, a research center, and a facility related to chemical weapons.
- But only hours after the CNBC report was published, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned that an American attack in Syria carried the risk of spinning out of control. While Mattis emphasized that use of chemical weapons should not be tolerated, adding that he personally believes President Bashar Assad’s regime is guilty of an “inexcusable” engagement in unconventional warfare, he insisted that it remains US policy not to be involved directly in the Syrian civil war.
2. So far, the White House has indicated that no final decision on a strike in Syria has been made. “We are continuing to assess intelligence and are engaged in conversations with our partners and allies,” White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a brief statement after Trump met with Mattis and other members of his National Security Council.
- Sanders said Trump would soon speak with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
- Macron has said that France has proof the Syrian government launched chlorine gas attacks. He said France would not tolerate “regimes that think everything is permitted.” US officials have indicated that they were considering a joint military operation, possibly with France rather than the US in the lead, in order to send a message of international unity about enforcing the prohibitions on chemical weapons.
- Meanwhile, the UK Cabinet agreed on the need to “take action” to deter further chemical weapons use by Assad, but added that May would continue to consult with allies to coordinate an international response.
3. The situation in Syria could have a serious effect on the Jewish state south of its border, especially in the wake of a predawn Monday missile barrage on the T-4 Air Base near Palmyra — an attack which was attributed to Israel and which killed seven members of Iran’s military, out of at least 14 reported fatalities. One of the Iranians killed was named as a colonel in the air force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
- Israel has refused to comment on the attack, for which it has been blamed by Iran, Russia and Syria. Two US officials were also quoted as saying that Israel had carried out the strike, adding that Washington was informed in advance.
- Israeli TV reports said Iran was building an air base at the site of the attack, and that a major weapons system of some kind had been destroyed.
- On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a stern speech at a state ceremony on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, warned Iran not to test Israel’s resolve, asserting that the Jewish state would respond to Tehran’s “aggression” with “steadfastness.”
4. And amid all the muddle surrounding the attack in Syrian, a senior military leader in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps threatened Thursday that “Tel Aviv and Haifa will be razed to the ground,” if Israel did not stop meddling in affairs across its northern border.
- “Iran is not Syria. If Israel wants to survive a few more days, it has to stop this childish game,” Ali Shirazi, liaison for Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the elite Quds Force, said.
5. Threats and complications are not restricted to Israel’s northern border though. Along the Gaza Strip security fence, IDF soldiers geared up for another showdown, with the army deploying snipers and tanks ahead of a mass Palestinian protest.
- Friday’s protest is the third of what Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group said would be several weeks of “March of Return” demonstrations, which Hamas leaders say ultimately aim to see the removal of the border and the liberation of Palestine.
- Last Friday, about 20,000 Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border in what Israel has described as a riot orchestrated by Hamas, and what Palestinians say was supposed to be a peaceful protest. The previous week there were an estimated 30,000 protesters.
- Thirty-two Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli forces since March 30, according to the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza.
6. Tensions have flared since the beginning of the protests, and on Thursday, the IDF said it bombed Hamas military targets in the Strip, after an explosive device detonated near an Israeli army vehicle along the border on Wednesday.
- The health ministry in the Strip said one Gazan was killed and another seriously wounded in the strike.
- During that airstrike, Hamas gunmen targeted an Israeli aircraft with machine gun fire, and one of the bullets hit a family’s home in Kibbutz Sha’ar Hanegev as it fell back to earth. The gunfire triggered rocket sirens in the area, and the family rushed to a reinforced room inside their home. The bullet landed in the house’s shower. There were no injuries but light damage was caused to the roof and internal ceiling of the home.
7. In the West Bank, video footage revealed a suspected hate crime as two young men are seen throwing up firewood and setting fire to a mosque in the Palestinian village of Aqraba, southeast of Nablus.
- The walls of the mosque were spray-painted with the Hebrew words for “revenge” and “price tag” — a phrase associated with offenses ostensibly carried out in retaliation for Israeli policies that are seen as unfriendly to radical settlers.
- In recent weeks, many of the so-called “hilltop youth” settlers have launched a campaign against the employment of administrative detention against suspects accused of committing attacks against Palestinians and non-Jews in the West Bank.
- Administrative detention is also widely used against Palestinians, and has been criticized by many rights groups since it allows Israel to hold detainees for long periods of time, without trial, being allowed to consult a lawyer or even knowing what they are accused of.