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Syrian Government Retakes Golan Heights Frontier with Israel

By DEBKAfile and Israel Hayom

The Syrian government regained control of the frontier with the Israeli Golan Heights for the first time in seven years on Monday, after Islamic State-linked fighters gave up their last pocket of territory in the area. The breakthrough against the fighters, reported by state media and an opposition-linked war monitoring group, capped a six-week campaign to retake the southwest corner of the country. Three glaring inaccuracies appeared in the Syrian claim on Tuesday, July 31, that its army had won control of the entire border with Israel, which failed to credit Hizbullah and pro-Iranian Shiites. Hizbullah and Shiite militias commanded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers, in fact, fought the winning battle for the Syrian-Israeli border regions – not the Syrian army's 4th "The Syria Special Forces" credited with the feat is a euphemism for "The Local Defense Forces" – itself a code-word for a Shiite unit run by Hizbullah officers and local mercenaries in Hizbullah's pay. Its commander does not take its orders from the Syrian general command, but directly from Iranian Revolutionary Guards centers in Syria. DEBKAfile's military sources disclose that, by now, these "Local Defense Forces" have set up headquarters in the Quneitra region at Tel Mashara and Mashara the town. An Israeli officer relayed a hurried request through IDF channels to the Russian command in Khmeimim, asking them to protect the population which had fallen under Syrian-Iranian-Hizbullah control after being long allied with and aided by Israel. This request to save lives was not only belated but futile. The Russians, having abetted the Syrian/Iranian conquest of southwestern Syria, are now gone from the area. President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu have therefore reneged on their reiterated pledge to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to appoint a Russian officer at the head of the Syrian units entering the border regions as a guarantee that pro-Iranian elements would not move in with them. This was the last of a row of commitments which the Russians failed to uphold. Anatoly Viktorov, Russia's ambassador to Israel, said Monday that his country could not remove Iranian forces from Syria, any more than it can prevent Israel from attacking them. "We can talk to the Iranians freely and frankly," he said, but when asked if the Russians could persuade them to get out of Syria, he replied: "We cannot dictate to Israel how to proceed. It is not up to Russia to give Israel freedom to do anything, or prohibit Israel from doing anything." Going by past instances, the incoming Syrian "special forces" will now start a process of "selection" to establish which parts of the population collaborated with Israel. We will soon start hearing about mass executions. The battle for the Yarmuk valley is not over, as the Syrians maintain. True, the roughly one thousand Khalid bin Walid Army fighters loyal to the Islamic State have no chance against the onslaught mounted on them in the last corner of the border. But for now, they are still holding out in 50 sq.km of the pocket that controls the Syrian-Israeli-Jordanian border intersection, They are also armed with Grad ground-to-ground rockets, two of which landed in the Sea of Galilee on July 25. So what happened to the solemn promises never to allow pro-Iranian and Hizbullah forces to reach the Israeli border and certainly not to set up bases in Syria, that were heard week after week from Israel's top leaders, such as the prime minister, the defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, senior cabinet ministers Naftali Bennett and Yoav Galant and the IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkot? Israel has largely kept to the sidelines of the civil war in neighboring Syria but has said it will not allow Iran or the Lebanese terrorist group Hizbullah to establish a permanent military presence near the frontier. Both are allied with Assad and have provided crucial military support to his forces.

Two Druze Israeli Army Officers Resign over Nation-State Law

By JTA

Two Druze military officers have resigned from the Israeli army over the nation-state law. One of the officers, a captain, resigned Sunday in an open letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu posted on Facebook. The second, a deputy commander in a combat unit, took to Facebook on Monday night to say he would resign. "I'm a citizen like everyone and gave my all to the state," Shady Zaidan, 23, wrote in a post-Monday. "And in the end, I wind up a second-class citizen. I'm not prepared to be a part of this. I'm also joining the struggle; I've decided to stop serving this country. Zaidan also wrote: "Until today I stood in front of the state flag proudly and saluted it. Until today I sang the Hatikvah national anthem because I was certain this was my country and that I'm equal to everyone. But today, today I refused for the first time in my service to salute the flag, I refused for the first time to sing the national anthem." In a Facebook post on Sunday, Capt. Amir Jmall wrote: "This morning when I woke up to drive to the [army] base, I asked myself, why? Why do I have to serve the State of Israel, a state that my two brothers, my father and I have served with dedication, a sense of mission and a love of the homeland, and, in the end, what do we get? To be second-class citizens." Jmall called Israel a country with a government that "takes but does not give back," and called for an end to military conscription for members of the Druze community. The Israel Defense Forces' chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, responded Tuesday in a statement. "As a peoples' army whose mandate is to protect the security of the people of Israel and winning in war, we are committed to preserving human dignity, regardless of ethnicity, religion and gender. So it has been and so it shall always be," he said. "We have pledged that the joint responsibility and brotherhood of the warriors, with our Druze brothers, Bedouin and the rest of the minorities serving in the IDF, will continue to lead our way." Eisenkot later on Tuesday met with Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muafak Tarif who after the meeting in a statement to Druze soldiers wrote: "Trust us, we will fight for you. We have no bone to pick with the army – you are soldiers and loyal commanders, and I trust you to leave yourselves and the IDF out of the public debate." The IDF later announced that Jmall would be suspended for 14 days over his post. "His commanders made it clear to him that he was expected to refrain from publishing the post, which identified himself as an officer in the IDF. There is no place in the IDF for political discourse of any kind," the IDF said in a statement.

Did Researchers Just Solve the Jonah and the Whale Puzzle?

By Candida Moss (Daily Beast)

There's a famous story in the Bible in which Jonah, a reluctant prophet, attempts to flee from God's call. Thinking that geographical distance will solve his problem, Jonah gets on a boat and sets off across the Mediterranean for Tarshish (in the Western Mediterranean). But things do not go to plan. There's a terrible storm, the sailors draw lots to see who among them is responsible for incurring divine wrath, and they end up throwing Jonah overboard. From there, things only get worse for Jonah. He is swallowed by a big fish, spends three days in its belly, and, repentant, is finally regurgitated onto the shore. But one element puzzles modern readers: even if you grant the existence of miracles, where did the whale (people almost always think the fish is a whale) in the Mediterranean come from? In other Biblical passages, God's adversary is also described as some kind of sea creature. Sometimes referred to as Rahab and sometimes as Leviathan, this primordial monster was an adversary of God. These ancient peoples had never seen Jaws; given the relatively predator-free status of the Mediterranean, what are they so afraid of? This isn't a problem exclusive to Bible stories. The ancient Romans, too, appeared anxious about the presence of sea monsters in the Mediterranean. In fact, while they were enormously fond of swimming in their famous baths, local rivers, and man-made plunge pools, the Romans were less interested in swimming in the sea. They were terrified of it. There are all kinds of legitimate reasons to be afraid of the sea that doesn't include fierce aquatic creatures. Pirates were a real threat, and the lack of technology and communications systems we enjoy today meant that shipwrecks were a common, costly, and deadly affair. Anxieties about these are a common current throughout ancient literature. In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew are shipwrecked and everyone but the protagonist is killed. In the same way, the shipwreck scene—in which the hero or heroine is shipwrecked and washes up in a foreign land—is one of the pivotal plot devices of ancient Greek Romance novels (the Harlequin novels of their time). But a new study, published last week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B by an international team of researchers, offers the first evidence that there were once whales in the Mediterranean. In their article, the team, headed up by Ana Rodrigues of the Université de Montpelier, analyzed the DNA in a rare set of whale bones from Roman and pre-Roman sites in the Strait of Gibraltar. The results identified two species of whale: right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) and Grey whales (Eschrichtius robustus). Their article concludes that roughly 2,000 years ago the Mediterranean was a calving ground. Even more remarkable, the study argues that the reason we no longer see these whales in the Mediterranean is because ancient commercial whaling by the Romans drove them from the region. The Romans were prodigious fishermen and had hundreds of processing plants for fish dotted along the Western coast of the Mediterranean (much of which was salted, dried and, sometimes, turned into garum, a popular Roman fish sauce). In a sensibly guarded comment to the New York Times, Rodrigues said, "We show the Romans had the means, technology and the opportunity for a whaling industry. But we don't prove that they did." If accurate, this study can explain why it was that ancient peoples who lived along the Mediterranean were so afraid of sea monsters, and also why we no longer see these "monsters" today. This, in turn, can help solve one of the biggest marine puzzles in the Bible: what did people imagine swallowed Jonah? So while Northern Europeans might have always assumed it was a whale, this wasn't always the case, and only now seems credible.

British Lawmaker Suspended by Labour Party Admits to Facebook Post Saying Jews Drink Blood

By JTA

A British lawmaker suspended for sharing a post on Facebook that said it is a Jewish ritual to drink blood admitted to publishing the articles after initially denying it. Damien Enticott, a councilor in Bognor Regis, a town on England's southern coast, told the Jewish Chronicle last week that he had not published the post. Enticott said he lives in a shared house and has a computer that does not have passwords, suggesting that someone else made the post in his name. But on Monday, Enticott in a new post acknowledged that the posts were his, the UK Jewish News reported. "I do accept that I posted all the articles in question and that I was confused as to what the papers were asking me about on the phone as I was in the middle of shopping," according to the post. Enticott said the post headlined "Jewish Ritual – They drink blood and suck baby's [sic] d***," referred to a rite practiced by the haredi Orthodox during a bris, or ritual circumcision. He also said that he published a post saying "Hitler would have the solution to the Israeli problem" due to "frustration at seeing unarmed civilians being shot by Israeli soldiers… I am anti-Zionist, not anti-semantic (sic)," he wrote. Enticott said that he believes the Labour Party will "do the right thing" and reinstate him. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Board of Deputies of British Jewry called for the expulsion from the Labour Party of Peter Willsman, a member of his Party's national executive committee and an ally of party leader Jeremy Corbyn, over comments he made about Jewish Trump fanatics" during the party leadership's discussion of the adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism. The remarks, which were recorded, were first reported Monday by the London-based Jewish Chronicle. Willsman told the July 17 meeting: "Some of these people in the Jewish community support Trump – they are Trump fanatics and all the rest of it. So I am not going to be lectured to by Trump fanatics making up information without any evidence at all."


Booking.com Labeled Jerusalem as an `Israeli Settlement'

By JTA

The online travel reservation service Booking.com amended its definition of the city of Jerusalem as an "Israeli settlement" following a critical query from a Belgian Jewish newspaper. The Amsterdam-based company acted on Tuesday, a day after Michael Freilich, editor in chief of the Joods Actueel newspaper in Antwerp, asked the firm about its characterization of the capital city, he said. "I thought it was a hoax until I checked it out and saw it with my own eyes," Freilich said of his verification of a tip by one of his readers. Booking.com has not responded to Joods Actueel's query, Freilich said but fixed the subject of his query within a few hours of his sending the email. Jerusalem is now shown as being in Israel on Booking.com. Most of the world's countries do not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, even with the U.S. recognition in December. However, Israeli sovereignty in the western part of the city is internationally recognized. Israel's control over the eastern part, which the Jewish state annexed in the 1980s, is disputed and seen as illegal by many countries and international organizations, including the European Union and the United Nations. Founded in the Netherlands in 1996, Booking.com now offers more than 28 million reported listings in more than 138,000 destinations in 229 countries and territories worldwide. More than 1.5 million room nights are reserved daily on the platform, according to the firm.


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