The Angelina Drahi Entrance Pavilion at the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem's Old City. Photo by Dor Pazuelo.
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Jerusalem’s Old City gets architectural makeover
The Angelina Drahi Entrance Pavilion of the Tower of David Jerusalem Museum becomes a new gateway to the Old City.

A walk around the Tower of David is a one-stop shop for architecture in Jerusalem from the times of the kings of Judea in the First Temple period 2,800 years ago until today.

There are walls from the Hasmoneans, towers from King Herod, a banquet room from the Crusaders and arched walls from the Ottomans to name just a few. 

Now the Tower of David Jerusalem Museum welcomes the latest layer in the Old City's architecture with the addition of the Angelina Drahi Entrance Pavilion, which opens its doors next month.

After more than a decade of planning and three years of construction, the final part of the $50 million renewal of the Tower of David Jerusalem Museum is complete with the opening of the new multi-level sunken entrance pavilion.

The 1,000 square meter (10,763 square feet) building nestled between the walls of Jerusalem's Old City and the ancient citadel walls is barely noticeable from the Jaffa Gate Plaza.

The Tower of David Museum. Photo by Dor Pazuelo.

Building regulations forbid building above the height of the Old City walls, so the architects and engineers needed to plan for excavating the site 17 meters/18.6 yards down to build the pavilion that now houses the ticket office of the museum, a changing exhibition gallery, and a labyrinth of offices for the Education Department underground and a shaded seating area outside. In May, the coffee shop will open.

A duty and an honor

The ancient citadel was transformed into a welcoming and accessible environment under the direction of Kimmel Eshkolot Architects, Professor Etan Kimmel and lead architect Yotam Cohen-Sagi.

“The opportunity to bring the 21st century to this ancient iconic site is both a duty and an honor," says Kimmel.

"We were set the task of renovating one of the earliest and most important architectural treasures of Jerusalem. Our challenge boiled down to our ability to find solutions to preserve the ancient stones that represent Jerusalem’s past without compromising their historic value or their beauty while planning new architectural structures and introducing modern infrastructure using modern materials to create a fruitful, interesting meeting between the new and the old,” he explains.

The first people to go on site were the archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

"You only need to use a teaspoon to dig up antiquities in the Old City of Jerusalem, and this is even more true when you are building a structure underground next to a citadel thousands of years old," says Cohen-Sagi.

The Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem's Old City, May 4, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

No great treasures from Jerusalem's past were found during construction and the building of the pavilion could go ahead as planned.

The renewal and conservation of the museum was led by the Clore Israel Foundation.

“No other museum can tell Jerusalem’s story in such a distinctive setting, within this citadel that has witnessed so many eventful periods in the city's past," says Eilat Lieber, director and chief curator of the museum. 

"Alongside the physical conservation of the walls and towers of this ancient site, we have developed a completely new permanent exhibition and creative programming that tells Jerusalem's long, complex and colorful history in respectful, innovative and engaging ways," she adds.

The museum now boasts 10 galleries spread throughout the ancient citadel that bring the story of Jerusalem to life through ancient artifacts mixed with the latest in immersive and interactive technology.

Designing Memory at the Tower of David Museum. Photo by Ricky Rachman.

The new pavilion allows for a change in the flow of visitors.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion says, “The new Tower of David Jerusalem Museum at the Jaffa Gate will serve as the new gateway to Jerusalem for the millions of visitors, tourists and pilgrims who want to explore the city’s rich and complex history before visiting the religious sites and ancient alleyways of the Old City.”

The entrance should have been opened on Nov. 3 but the Hamas war changed these plans. The museum opened on Oct. 9, the third day of the war, and has been running activities and guided tours for evacuated families, arts and crafts fairs for artists from the north and south as well as education programming for school children, all free of charge. 

"When we opened the museum, we didn’t know who would come," admits Lieber.

It quickly became clear that for the thousands of visitors who arrived, the museum offered a reprieve from the shadows of the war, she says. One visitor, who had been evacuated from Moshav Kfar Maimon, near the northern Gaza Strip, says that standing surrounded by the ancient Jerusalem stones gave a historical perspective and some hope.

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There can be no negotiations with Israel as the Jewish people are "slayers of prophets," a top Qatari official told representatives at a recent Arab League summit, according to a translation of the speech the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) published on Wednesday.

Essa bin Ahmad al-Nassr, who serves on Doha's Shura Council legislature and holds the rank of brigadier-general in the Qatari Armed Forces' elite Emiri Guard protection unit, threatened the annihilation of the Jewish state.

Qatar, which hosts Hamas leaders and has provided the terrorist organization with hundreds of millions of dollars, played a role last year in mediating the release of 105 hostages from Gaza in exchange for 240 Palestinian terrorists.

It has previously deflected accusations of playing a double game, saying the United States requested that it open that mediation channel.

The undated footage of al-Nassr's speech was first shared to X by Al Jazeera correspondent in Yemen Ahmed Alshalfi on April 22.

In his remarks to the Arab League, al-Nassr said that "there can be no peace or negotiations with the Zionist entity [Israel] for one reason and one reason only: Their faith does not allow for negotiations.

"Rather, it [condones] deception, the violation of agreements and lies," the Qatari official continued, claiming that the Jewish faith "only accept[s] one thing—killing. They are the slayers of prophets."

Quoting the Quran, he said, "The Al-Aqsa Flood operation is only the introduction of the annihilation of the corruption that the Zionist entity has spread ... Inshallah ["God willing"], this will spell the beginning of the end for their state."

Al-Aqsa Flood is the name given by Hamas to its Oct. 7 massacre of more than 1,200 people, primarily Jewish civilians, in the northwestern Negev. Terrorists also took 253 hostages, 133 of whom remain in Gaza.

Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani claimed last week that talks for their release had hit a delicate stage. "We are going through a sensitive stage with some stalling, and we are trying as much as possible to address this," said Sheikh Mohammed, who also serves as foreign minister.

One day later, the Qatari leader announced that Doha would be reviewing its position as mediator between Israel and Hemas, citing "misuse of this mediation for narrow political interests."

The announcement came after U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that Washington should "reevaluate" its relationship with Doha over the stalled hostage negotiations with the Gaza terrorist group.

Qatar should threaten Hamas with "repercussions" if the terrorist group "continues to block progress towards releasing the hostages and establishing a temporary ceasefire," said Hoyer.

While Israel has shown flexibility, Hamas has impeded an agreement, U.S. State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller said on April 15.

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Seeing it from THEIR side.

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Israeli Air Force planes attacked Hezbollah targets in Lebanon throughout the day Wednesday after the Iran-backed terrorist group continued to fire heavy rocket and missile barrages at the Upper Galilee.

"IDF forces are attacking targets of the Hezbollah terrorist organization in the area of ​​Southern Lebanon," the Israel Defense Forces confirmed.

The military's announcement came shortly after Hezbollah terrorists fired anti-tank missiles towards Moshav Avivim in the northeastern Galilee, scoring direct hits on two homes and causing a fire but not wounding anyone.

Earlier on Wednesday, Hezbollah took responsibility for firing "dozens" of Katyusha rockets at the northwestern Galilee moshav of Shomera. The IDF said that it detected 10 launches. All projectiles struck open areas and no alarms were triggered during the incident, according to the military.

Several projectiles were also fired at the northwestern border communities of Zar'it, Shtula and Netu'a.

In a statement cited by Al-Akhbar, a Lebanese daily close to Hezbollah, the terrorist group said it carried out Wednesday's strikes in response to "Israeli attacks on the steadfast southern villages ..., specifically the massacre in Hanin."

On Tuesday, IAF jets struck a home in the Southern Lebanese town, killing at least two people and injuring six others. Both of the fatalities were Hezbollah terrorists, according to Israel Hayom.

In the hours following the strike, Hezbollah fired several barrages towards the largely evacuated northern communities of Shomera, Zar'it, Kiryat Shmona, Manara and Margaliot. No casualties were reported, although residents experienced power outages. In addition, a coop with approximately 4,000 chickens was destroyed in Margaliot.

In total, Hezbollah took responsibility for at least eight rocket and missile barrages on Tuesday, the first day of Passover. The IDF responded by striking the sources of the launches in Lebanon, as well as with airstrikes on terrorist infrastructure in the country.

Tehran's terrorist proxy in the Land of the Cedars has carried out near-daily attacks on the Jewish state since joining the war in support of Hamas a day after the Oct. 7 massacre in the northwestern Negev.

A Hezbollah source in the Lebanese parliament told Qatar's Al-Araby Al-Jadeed outlet on Tuesday that Hezbollah's terrorism would "increase and reach deep into Israel as a response to the expanding Israeli attacks."

Hezbollah has killed nine civilians—Israelis as well as a foreign worker—and 11 IDF soldiers since it began its current round of attacks at the behest of Iran.

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In the summer of 2008, a group of Christian Lebanese from the Jezzine area were making their way by car towards the well-known Maronite summer resort town when it was suddenly forced to stop after being fired on at a Hezbollah roadblock.

They failed to understand why they had been detained and were even more astonished when they were sent for comprehensive questioning as to what they were doing in the area where they lived.

It was only in hindsight, after they saw the bulldozers, the heavy drilling equipment, and several Asian-looking individuals, that they suddenly realized that the members of the Shi'ite terrorist organization suspected them of being spies, collecting information on the excavation work being carried out on a whole network of fortifications and tunnels in the vicinity of their own homes. The individuals, it later turned out, were professional tunneling consultants from North Korea.

Similar to what the residents of the Christian village of Rumaysh did two weeks ago, the Christians from the Jezzine area asked Hezbollah not to be involved and to stop the activity there. They were mainly concerned that during a war, the village would become a target for Israeli strikes due to Hezbollah's use of it.

The map of Hezbollah bases in Southern Lebanon that was uploaded to the web 15 years ago. Source: Alma Research and Education Center.

When their pleas went unanswered, they or their friends decided to take action, uploading a map to the web with 36 geographical areas or communities circled to show Hezbollah's deployment there as part of its setup against a possible IDF ground incursion in Lebanon.

More than they sought to cause damage to Hezbollah, or to help Israel, these Christians were trying to protect themselves and to keep the members of the terrorist organization at a safe distance away from them.

Only a few people noticed this mysterious map that was uploaded onto the internet some 15 years ago. It encompassed the entire region between Sidon in the west, Lake Qaraoun in the east, and Marj Ayyun and Nabatiyeh in the south.

But a decade later it was noticed by a bunch of ex-IDF Military Intelligence Directorate soldiers, analysts from the Alma Research and Eduication Center.

This is how that map became the basis for a comprehensive study of the Lebanese terrorist tunnel land, an extremely long and winding underground route that Hezbollah built in the Land of the Cedars, mainly in Southern Lebanon.

Since its establishment in 2018, the Alma Center has focused on the security challenges to the State of Israel along its northern border, and one of its main areas of interest is Hezbollah's tunnel project.

Into the hard rock

Maj. (res.) Tal Be'eri, the head of the center's research department and somebody who had himself researched and coordinated the center's extensive work on Hezbollah's tunnels in Lebanon, says that this project covers "hundreds of kilometers of underground facilities excavated into the hard rock—much more dangerous, deeper, wider and more difficult to unravel and destroy than anything we have come across in the Gaza Strip in recent months."

Brig. Gen. (res.) Ronen Manelis says the tunnel system is "10 levels above anything we have come across in Gaza."

Manelis was the IDF spokesperson, but before that, he was head of the Lebanon Branch in the IDF Northern Command and the intelligence officer of the IDF Gaza Division.

He also served as assistant to the then chief of IDF Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, in the two years preceding 2018's "Operation Northern Shield" in which six attack tunnels, excavated by Hezbollah in Lebanon and crossing under the border fence into Israeli territory, were exposed and destroyed.

Manelis returned this week to a video clip that Hezbollah put out in 2008.

"In that clip," he recalls, "in which Hezbollah, using maps and other visual illustrative aids, described how it intended to take over the border communities and the IDF military posts along the northern border, and even beyond that, it depicted a combination of ground, air and naval forces that would take part in the effort to occupy part of the Galilee.

"It did not include a single word about tunnels and underground facilities. That clip was released as part of a military deception exercise, and it took some time for Israel to understand what was really happening along its border. It was only in 2014, following the IDF's 'Operation Protective Edge' [war against Hamas in Gaza] that we came to realize that Hezbollah had built a whole network of offensive tunnels crossing into Israel.

"Over the course of time," Manelis recounts, "the offensive tunnels were deciphered by us more precisely, and in late 2018 we arrived at the point where Israel faced a dilemma that it was not accustomed to dealing with: Should it neutralize the enemy's capability prior to the enemy having any actual intention to use that specific capacity, or should we wait. Israel, after some complex deliberations at both the military and political policymaking levels, decided to target this infrastructure as part of 'Operation Northern Shield.'

"The six tunnels that were uncovered, were either destroyed or neutralized, mainly by pumping enormous volumes of concrete into them, and also by blasting them. That was an extremely brave decision," states Manelis, "Israel neutralized a clear and present danger and a genuine threat. [Hezbollah chief Hassan] Nasrallah was taken aback. I really don't want to think what might have happened along the northern border had those tunnels been operational today."

Q: A tunnel heading towards the town of Shlomi?

"The offensive tunnels that were destroyed in 2018 were supposed to enable companies from Hezbollah's elite Radwan Force to infiltrate Israeli territory without them being spotted when crossing over, to take over military posts and civilian communities along the border, and at the same time to hit the IDF reinforcements rushing to respond.

"One tunnel, which was excavated from inside a private house, crossed the border southwards from Kafr Kila to Metula, a stone's throw away on the other side of the border fence. Another tunnel departed from the village of Ramyah and reached a point adjacent to Moshav Zarit. An additional tunnel was excavated from the area of the village of Ayta ash-Sha'b towards the neighboring Moshav Shtula, and another one, reaching a depth of 55 meters, which also housed a railway for transporting equipment, also came out of Ramyah," Manelis says.

Five years and one war that might turn out to still be in its infancy have elapsed since and northern Israel is far from being quiet. The heads of the local municipalities such as Metula Mayor David Azoulai and Shlomi Mayor Gabi Na'aman say that they have not yet received any clear or satisfactory answers to the question of whether or not there are any more Hezbollah attack tunnels crossing the border from Lebanon into Israel.

Na'aman tells of information passed on to him by two members of Knesset, according to which there is a tunnel heading towards Shlomi.

Azoulai tells of complaints made by residents who claim to have heard underground digging noises at night. "I am extremely anxious," he admits.

Moshe Davidovich, the head of the Asher Regional Council in the Western Galilee, is also concerned. In a meeting held recently at the Knesset's State Control Committee, he claimed, "IDF officers have told me that there are numerous tunnels in the north."

In contrast, Maj. Gen. Ori Gordin, the head of the IDF Northern Command, recently made it clear in a conversation he held with local authority heads in the north, at the clubroom of Kibbutz Hanita, that the IDF is engaged in a constant effort to trace terrorist infrastructure both above and below the ground. "If we do find a threat, we won't keep it a secret from anyone," he promised.

Following "Operation Northern Shield" in January 2019, Nasrallah, claimed that there were tunnels that the IDF had failed to uncover, even though it had publicly announced the completion of the operation. Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon admitted after the operation that for years he had denied the existence of cross-border tunnels in order to confuse Hezbollah and to create the impression that Israel was not aware of what was going on.

Only two months ago, the French daily newspaper Libération reported that during the current war, the IDF had dropped phosphorus bombs in Southern Lebanon to burn the vegetation and thus expose tunnel exits.

According to Libération, 12 tunnel exits were uncovered and destroyed.

An Israeli military source was quoted as saying to the newspaper that the IDF uses movement sensors, fiber-optic cables, robots, drones and information sources to map out the tunnel network.

It is not wholly clear from the report whether this relates to cross-border attack tunnels or tunnels that form part of the extensive underground defensive and combat setup that Hezbollah has built deep under Southern Lebanon.

Whatever the case might be, although Hezbollah's cross-border attack tunnels are an important part of the underground story of Southern Lebanon, according to all the indications and the information available, this is only a small part of a much more expansive picture, which has developed there over the last 18 years, a period in which Israel has done next to nothing against the "Tunnel Land" that Hezbollah built across Lebanon.

According to the information collected by Be'eri and the Alma staff from open sources, in addition to the offensive tunnels, Hezbollah has also built in Lebanon a broad network of strategic interregional tunnels covering tens and hundreds of kilometers, which are deployed and connect the chief command centers of the organization in Beirut with the Beqa'a Valley, and from there link with Southern Lebanon.

Moreover, according to Alma, the Hezbollah tunnel network also connects the various staging areas of the terrorist organization within Southern Lebanon itself.

A map of an approximate tunnel route in Lebanon. Credit: Alma Research and Education Center.

 'Approach tunnels'

Be'eri calls this network "The Hezbollah Tunnel Land." He recounts how North Korean experts provided direct help with this project, and even brings a report from Asharq Al-Awsat, which was given to the popular Saudi newspaper by a senior officer from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

According to that report, a North Korean consultant helped in the construction of a highly sophisticated 25-km.-long (15.5-mile) tunnel in Lebanon, "a tunnel with numerous connection and collection points that Hezbollah used to transport and concentrate its forces."

Be'eri assumes that there is more than one such tunnel.

"According to the testimonies," he says, "Hezbollah has carried out fortification works in those geographical areas, using enormous amounts of building materials. The works were carried out by a Korean company called the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation under the supervision of an Iranian officer from the IRGC.

"The actual construction work was carried out by Hezbollah's Jihad Construction Association, which is in fact a branch of the Iranian Jihad Construction Association, established in 1988. The Jihad Construction used companies under a civilian guise to build the 'Tunnel Land.'"

"One of them," so the Alma analysts think, "is the 'Beqa'a for Construction and Contracting Work,' or under its previous name, 'The Iranian Authority for the Construction of Lebanon.' The company was established in 2005 under the guise of the IRGC, and until 2013 it was headed by the Iranian military engineer Hassan Shateri, a senior IRGC officer with the rank of major general, who was killed in Syria about a decade ago."

According to Be'eri, "Hezbollah's strategic tunnels are fitted with underground C2 (command & control) rooms, arms and quartermasters' stores, field clinics and dedicated tunnel shafts intended for firing various types of missiles (rockets, surface-to-surface missiles, anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft missiles)."

Those shafts, the Alma experts believe, "are concealed and camouflaged, and they cannot be observed from above the ground. They are opened for only a very short period of time for the purpose of missile fire and then immediately closed again, in order to reload the hydraulic launcher with new arms.

"In addition, the tunnels enable forces [on foot or in vehicles] to be transported from one location to another for reinforcement, defense or conducting an offensive, all in the safest, most protected, and concealed manner possible. We believe that Hezbollah's strategic tunnels also enable the movement of motorcycles, ATVs [all-terrain vehicles], and both small and medium-sized vehicles.

"The map with which we set off," he confirms, "is the map that was uploaded to the internet by anonymous figures, perhaps from the Christian surroundings that had been disturbed by the Hezbollah presence in the area. Our most up-to-date information today indicates that the entire area—from Sidon in the west to Lake Qaraoun in the east and Nabatiyeh in the south—is linked by a network of strategic tunnels, which also serve as a platform for the storage and launching of arms, as well as for transporting forces.

"This is topography that combines tunnels and wadis where the tunnel networks are interrupted. Beyond the offensive and strategic tunnels," Be'eri explains, "there are a further three types of tunnels: 'Approach tunnels' that allow Hezbollah to stealthily approach the border area without being exposed, and then, at least potentially, to try and breach the IDF border obstacle; [local] tactical tunnels, which are located in Hezbollah's first and second defensive strips, to the Litani River, and from there inwards into the heart of Lebanon—they serve the organization for defense and for combat; as well as booby-trapped tunnels that are filled with explosives after being excavated in order to explode them, at a time to be chosen by Hezbollah, alongside Israeli targets such as an Israeli community or IDF post.

"As far as the issue of underground facilities is concerned," Be'eri sums up, "Hezbollah is at the head of the food chain, and it is of course led by Iran. Hamas is Hezbollah's industrious student, and the tunnels that it has established in Lebanon were excavated over a period of many years, in stone, so that their natural defense against a powerful strike is much stronger than those dug by Hamas in the sand of Gaza, in the south."

'A good intelligence picture'

"Apart from that, Manelis points out, "the underground network that Hezbollah built in Southern Lebanon, which includes bunkers and arms depots, enables it to move in a more protected and concealed manner between the villages, whose residents are Hezbollah men, and the open terrain, from which attacks are carried out. For example, the attack in which IDF soldiers Goldwasser and Regev were abducted in 2006 [the incident that triggered the Second Lebanon War—N.S.].

"That underground network also houses positions, which when the command is relayed, following a whistle, are meant to be occupied by members of the Radwan force."

Manelis believes that Israel's overall intelligence picture today regarding Hezbollah's underground network is "not bad, and even a good one. It is slightly different to the Gaza area," he points out, "in the Gaza Strip, everything is buried under a densely-populated built-up area. In Lebanon, there are both built-up areas and open terrain. But compared with the situation in Israel's south, Hezbollah's underground facilities are in a league of their own. They have genuinely built here an underground monster.

"It certainly won't be easy," Manelis assesses, "but, the fact that we have a good intelligence picture enables our forces to train in an orderly manner. They ought to know where the underground facilities are located, and I guess that even now, while the IDF is operating north of the border, its airstrikes are also hitting underground facilities and infrastructure."

Q: Do you think that Israel should be taking the initiative to operate in an orderly fashion in order to destroy the Hezbollah Tunnel Land, as it does in the Gaza Strip?

"Israel should be operating wherever it might be forced to pay a heavy price in the future if it fails to take action now. On the other hand, it cannot simply engage in warfare for years against the enemy's capabilities just because they exist, and as far as I am aware, it is very difficult to prevent the enemy from arming its forces with conventional arms. Therefore, the method involves a system of checks and balances and deterrents, and of course, also operations wherever that is necessary.

"Above all, we must not allow Hezbollah to obtain any game-changing weapon systems. Are precision weapons, in large quantities, that are aimed at the State of Israel, considered a game-changer? Yes, I believe so. Are cross-border tunnels that penetrate into Israeli territory also a game-changer? In my opinion, yes they are."

Manelis levels harsh criticism at the "defeatist and alarmist policy" that Israel has adopted over the years in relation to Hezbollah, according to him, "including in response to the terrorist attack in Megiddo, and the tent that Hezbollah erected in Israeli territory and that we were afraid to take down, as well as the incident at the IDF 'Gladiola' post in 2020, when the soldiers were issued with an explicit order not to fire at the attackers, but only to fire into the air.

"In 2019 too, at Avivim, when Hezbollah AT [anti-tank] squads attacked, there was no return fire against them."

Now, Manelis believes things are changing.

Like Okinawa

Engineer Yehuda Kfir, a former intelligence officer who served in both the Gaza Strip and in Lebanon, points out the high degree of natural protection afforded by the tunnels in Lebanon compared with in Gaza.

"This involves cutting into limestone, dolomite and on occasion into basalt rock. It is very difficult for air-dropped bombs or artillery shells to penetrate such material," says Kfir.

"The topography in Lebanon also has an impact on the warfare there. It enables the enemy to create long-range fire positions, that are well-protected, concealed, and camouflaged deep in the heart of the territory, with arrays from which they can launch missiles either via direct or indirect fire, laser target designation, and even launching Iranian-made drones."

Kfir believes, stressing that this is purely an assessment, that "the model of the war, in the event of a ground maneuver in Lebanon, will be similar to the Battle of Okinawa in the Second World War, in which the Japanese used the topography and the ridge lines that were fortified with tunnels across the island. This was a defensive array that made it extremely difficult for the U.S. Army to conquer the island, and even after it was conquered, the U.S. military continued to suffer considerable losses."

In addition, he thinks that one of the undeclared reasons for the extensive evacuation of the civilian population from Israel's northern border is concern over the existence of additional attack tunnels that have yet to be revealed. Kfir raises doubts as to the IDF's level of readiness to engage in underground warfare in Lebanon.

"Despite the experience that we have accumulated now in the Gaza Strip, this is a whole new ball game," he reiterates. "At the Engineers' Association, we set up a professional group that is intended to help the IDF with this. Some of the people are already part of the military setup in their reserve service capacity, people who deal with ground and terrain on a routine basis. The army does not ordinarily have access to so many people from this specific discipline."

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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  • Words count:
    378 words
  • Type of content:
    Update Desk
  • Publication Date:
    April 24, 2024
  • Media:
    1 file

Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, head of the Israel Defense Forces Central Command, which covers Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem, the Sharon plain, Gush Dan (the Tel Aviv metropolitan area) and the Shephelah (the Judaean Foothills), will leave his post after three years and retire from the army.

Fox, who turned 55 on April 10, informed IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi that he intends to return to civilian life this summer. Fox attributed his decision to fatigue and the sense that he had nothing more to contribute to the security establishment.

He previously served as the Israeli defense attaché to the U.S., assuming the Central Command post in August 2021 under the government of then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and then-Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Over the past years, Fox's policies in Judea and Samaria have regularly been criticized by Israeli residents, right-wing activists and politicians.

Judea and Samaria saw a dramatic rise in terrorist attacks in recent months, with shootings reaching their highest level since the Second Intifada of 2000-05, according to IDF data.

Between Oct. 7 and Jan. 15 alone, Hatzalah Judea and Samaria recorded more than 2,600 terrorist attacks against Israelis in the area, including 760 cases of rock-throwing, 551 fire bombings, 12 attempted or successful stabbings and nine vehicular assaults.

However, Fox repeatedly refused government and public calls to restore security checkpoints and roadblocks near Palestinian terrorist hotspots in the Jordan Valley and northern Samaria, critics charged.

Last year, Israel Hayom claimed he unilaterally undercut government policy by reducing the personnel tasked with the enforcement of Palestinian construction violations.

Earlier this year, Fox ordered the destruction of six Jewish homes in eastern Gush Etzion. He bypassed regular procedure in ordering the demolitions, taking the issue directly to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

In the wake of Hamas's Oct. 7 attacks, Judea and Samaria residents formed a protest group in response to Fox's decision to green-light Palestinian olive harvesting close to Israeli communities, even after several Arabs were caught observing security procedures.

Tensions reached a boiling point in February when IDF soldiers were ordered to conduct a training exercise that included a scenario simulating the kidnapping of Palestinian Arabs by Jewish residents of Samaria.

In a conversation with council leaders and local officials, Fox subsequently apologized to "anyone who was harmed."

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  • Words count:
    184 words
  • Type of content:
  • Byline:
  • Publication Date:
    April 24, 2024

A 32-year-old Jewish woman in the Paris suburb of Gennevilliers was allegedly the victim of a horrific antisemitic crime this week. She says she was raped, kidnapped and threatened with murder by a man seeking revenge against her for Palestinians.

The suspect, who has not been publicly named, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with kidnapping, religiously-motivated death threats and drug offenses. The rape allegation is still under investigation.

The victim told police she met the perpetrator on a dating app in 2023. She says he held her against her will in his apartment, where he assaulted and threatened her. The suspect allegedly sent disturbing texts to the woman's mother, saying he would "prostitute" her daughter to "avenge Palestine."

The case has drawn outrage across the political spectrum in France. Politicians from both the left and right condemned the attack and expressed solidarity with the Jewish community.

Marine Le Pen of the National Rally party blamed "far-left" inaction for allowing an environment of antisemitism to fester. The government's anti-racism delegation called the importation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to France unacceptable.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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  • Words count:
    448 words
  • Type of content:
    Update Desk
  • Publication Date:
    April 24, 2024
  • Media:
    1 file

Israeli Air Force fighter jets destroyed two Hamas rocket launchers embedded in a humanitarian zone in southern Gaza, the army said Wednesday, as the war started by the terrorist group entered its 200th day.

The Israel Defense Forces said the launch pads were loaded with rockets and were struck before they could be used to attack the Jewish state.

The strike in the heart of a humanitarian zone was carried out following efforts to prevent harm to civilians, the military added.

On Tuesday morning, as Israelis celebrated the Passover holiday, air-raid siren sounded in the southern border communities of Ashkelon, Sderot and Zikim, sending close to 190,000 people running for shelter.

Four rockets were intercepted. In Sderot, a storage shed burned down after it was hit by shrapnel. There were no people in the structure, which had been under renovation since it was hit by two Hamas rockets on Oct. 7, and no injuries were reported.

Hours later, two more rockets were fired towards Kibbutz Zikim. One was intercepted while another fell short inside the Strip. Iran-backed Islamic Jihad claimed the attacks, which originated from northern Gaza.

The IDF said it responded with artillery fire towards the launch sites. In addition, IAF jets struck rocket launchers and other terrorist infrastructure in the Beit Lahia area in the northern Gaza Strip.

During the first day of Passover, soldiers of the IDF's Netzach Yehuda Battalion carried out intensive counterterror raids in Beit Hanoun in the northeast Strip that included close-quarters combat, the army said.

During one encounter with terrorists on Monday, Sgt. First Class (res.) Salm Alkreshat, 43, from the Bedouin community of Abu Rabia, a tracker in the Gaza Division's Northern Brigade, was killed.

Meanwhile, the IDF's Nahal Infantry Brigade continued targeted ground operations in the central Gaza corridor, neutralizing terrorist squads and destroying infrastructure.

The IDF is preparing to begin its ground operations in the southernmost Hamas stronghold of Rafah "very soon," beginning with the evacuation of over a million Palestinian civilians, Israel's Kan News public broadcaster reported on Tuesday evening, citing U.S. officials.

Jerusalem has repeatedly emphasized that telling Israel to refrain from operating in Rafah is equivalent to demanding that it lose the war. According to Israel, the final four Hamas battalions, composed of some 3,000 terrorists, are holed up in the city along the Egyptian border.

Many of the 133 hostages still in the hands of Hamas after 200 days are believed to be held in Rafah. Two captives were rescued from the city by special forces in a military operation in February.

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  • Words count:
    1095 words
  • Type of content:
  • Byline:
  • Publication Date:
    April 24, 2024

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is reportedly considering blacklisting the IDF’s Netzach Yehuda Battalion under the “Leahy Laws,” two statutory provisions that, according to the State Department, prohibit the U.S. government “from using funds for assistance to units of foreign security forces where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights.”

Extreme political NGOs and rights organizations often falsely accuse Israel of committing human rights abuses. In October 2022, DAWN (Democracy for the Arab World Now) submitted to the State Department a Leahy Law referral against the Netzach Yehuda Battalion for alleged “systematic and widespread abuses.”

The battalion, an exclusively male, ultra-Orthodox battalion that, until late 2022 served in the Jordan Valley and Samaria and today operates in Gaza fighting Hamas terrorists, has faced accusations of abuse, most notably in the case of 78-year-old Palestinian-American Omar As’ad, who in 2022 died after being detained by the battalion.

But many critics see this hostile move as nothing short of preposterous, with the Biden administration hoping to win over anti-Israel voters ahead of the U.S. elections in November by delegitimizing the Jewish state as it fights a crucial war against a genocidal enemy.

Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, specifically blamed U.S. President Joe Biden, telling JNS the president “appears to be ready to cross yet another Rubicon, this time in delegitimizing the military of a close democratic ally by fundamentally questioning its integrity, morality and adherence to the rule of law.”

Goldberg added that the Biden administration is sourcing its information from “radical extremist organizations that work to destroy the State of Israel on a daily basis—some with ties to terrorist organizations.”

According to Goldberg, the ongoing political warfare against Israel “has emboldened Hamas, Hezbollah, and ultimately Iran.

“That Hamas refuses to release any more hostages and that Iran felt so confident in launching 120 ballistic missiles at Israel is a direct result of the Biden administration using BDS delegitimization tactics against a democratic ally,” he said.

In an April 21 post on X, Goldberg called on U.S. senators to “elevate this [the Netzach Yehuda issue] to the President right now before the supplemental has passed the Senate, and get a firm commitment that such a morally bankrupt and irresponsible action will not occur. The House and Senate should ready legislative responses.”

He also accused some employees of the State Department of harboring “virulent anti-Israel sentiment” and said there are “radical anti-Israel activists inside the Biden administration” who have a “long-awaited dream of imposing sanctions on the IDF or its units.”

Goldberg called on committees of jurisdiction to “move expeditiously to demand Secretary Blinken turn over the list of organizations that submitted ‘evidence’ that’s been used as the basis for a potential imposition of sanctions. … All communications on this matter between both State and NSC [the National Security Council] and State and outside groups should be subpoenaed.”

Far-reaching damage

Jacob Olidort, director of research for the Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), told JNS the Biden administration’s reported decision to rebuke Israel “by imposing sanctions on a unit of its military—as well as the manner and timing of how it was done—causes far-reaching damage, in this case not only to the institution of the IDF but to Israel’s security.”

Israelis “across the political spectrum are right to view this as a rebuke of the entire IDF, with a secondary message that Israel’s military has no credible legal or judicial system to hold its own accountable,” Olidort said.

He said he considered the move as “a concession by the administration to parts of its electoral base during an election year as well as an expression of its personal displeasure with certain members of the Knesset.

“This move could not have come at a more inappropriate time—during war, as Israel prepares for the Rafah operation in Gaza and braces for escalation on its northern border as well as from Iran directly—or in a more distasteful manner—announced publicly by the secretary of state rather than through the discrete channels of deliberations between U.S. and Israeli militaries—and sends an unmistakable message to our adversaries abroad and their supporters on U.S. college campuses that the United States restrains its support for Israel during its most precarious moment,” Olidort said.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the Biden administration’s intentions to sanction the Netzach Yehuda Battalion. 

“I will strongly defend the IDF, our army and our fighters,” he said. “If somebody thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit in the IDF—I will fight this with all my powers. As our soldiers are united in defending us on the battlefield, we are united in defending them in the diplomatic arena.”

Defense Yoav Gallant spoke with Blinken on Sunday and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Jack Lew, to discuss the issue of sanctions, according to an Israeli Government Press Office statement.

“The battalion’s activities are carried out in accordance with the values of the IDF and in accordance with international law,” Gallant said in the statement. 

He admonished the U.S. and said, “Any attempt to criticize an entire unit casts a heavy shadow on the actions of the IDF, which operates to protect the citizens of Israel. Damage to one battalion affects the entire defense establishment—this is not the right path for partners and friends.”

Gallant called on the U.S. to “withdraw its intention to impose sanctions,” adding that Israel’s “friends and our enemies are closely watching the ties between Israel and the United States, now more than ever.”

A slippery slope

Goldberg told JNS that using BDS tactics to delegitimize Israel and exercising the Leahy Laws “would start a slippery slope where the U.S. signals to the world that democracies are not capable of holding themselves accountable, giving the ICC [International Criminal Court] pretext to step in with arrest warrants for Israeli officials for made up war crimes, reopen investigations into the British military and eventually indict American officials for made-up war crimes, too.

“The president may think he’s just throwing another dart at Israel, but it’s actually a boomerang that will hit the U.S. military, too,” he said.

In his post on X, Goldberg wrote, “This is entirely a campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel—and to kneecap its efforts to defend its citizens from annihilation.”

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  • Words count:
    457 words
  • Type of content:
    Update Desk
  • Publication Date:
    April 24, 2024
  • Media:
    1 file

The U.S. Senate passed a $95 billion foreign aid package late Tuesday that includes $26 billion in wartime assistance for Israel and $9 billion in humanitarian aid, some of which will be allotted for the Gaza Strip.

The bill passed the Senate on an overwhelming 79-18 vote after the House had approved the package Saturday, sending the legislation to President Joe Biden's desk after months of delays.

U.S. officials told AP that about $1 billion of the aid could be on its way shortly, with the bulk following in the coming weeks.

"Tonight, a bipartisan majority in the Senate joined the House to answer history's call at this critical inflection point," Biden said, vowing to sign the bill into law as soon as it reached his desk on Wednesday.

"This critical legislation will make our nation and world more secure as we support our friends who are defending themselves against terrorists like Hamas and tyrants like [Vladimir] Putin," added the president about the aid, which also includes $61 billion for Ukraine amid its war with Russia.

Thirty-one Republicans voted for the legislation on Tuesday, nine more than when the Senate passed a similar version in February. The previous aid package was effectively shelved for weeks due to disagreements over the illegal migration crisis at the U.S. southern border and the aid for Kyiv.

Tuesday's legislation was opposed by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Ted Budd (R-N.C.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Of the $14.1 billion earmarked for Israel, $10.6 billion is U.S. Defense Department funding, including $4 billion for the Iron Dome and David's Sling aerial-defense systems; and $1.2 billion for further development of the Iron Beam laser-defense system to counter short-range rockets.

Another $3.5 billion is a U.S. State Department grant for Israel to pay for American military equipment and services.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz thanked senators from both parties after the conclusion of the first day of Passover.

"The Israel aid package that now passed both houses of Congress is a clear testament to the strength of our alliance and sends a strong message to all our enemies," tweeted Katz on Wednesday.

"As we mark 200 days to the barbaric October 7th terror attack by Hamas, Israel and the United States stand together in the fight against terrorism, defending democracy and our shared values," he stated, personally thanking Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

"The Israel-U.S. strategic partnership is unbreakable," Jerusalem's top diplomat said.

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