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Explosions Rock Latakia Hours after Russia-Turkey Agree on Idlib Buffer

By the Jerusalem Post

Syrian media reported several explosions were heard over the city of Latakia on Monday night, Israeli media reported. A Syrian military official told the Syrian Arab News Agency that missiles were fired from the Mediterranean Sea towards the port city, but were intercepted and downed by air defense. Several unconfirmed sources quoted a Syrian military official accusing Israel of the attack. Images on Syrian television showed glowing fires from the aftermath of an explosion near Latakia city. Latakia is home to Syrian President Bashar Assad's family and also an area intensely loyal to the government. Russia's air base at Khmeimim and the Russian naval facility at Tartus are also in Latakia governorate. This may suggest that if the Israelis were the true source of the explosions, Russian-Israeli coordination might have been involved. Moscow intervened in the Syrian conflict in September 2015. Officials from Israel and Russia meet regularly to discuss the deconfliction mechanism implemented over Syria to coordinate their actions to avoid accidental clashes in Syrian airspace. Hours earlier, Israel released satellite images of strategic sites in Syria, including the Damascus airport and the Presidential Palace Zaid Benjamin, a journalist, focused on the Middle East, tweeted that the explosions took place at the Technical Industries Corporation. Syrian air defenses have been activated recently by the regime against what it says are Israeli attacks. On September 15, Syria said Damascus International Airport was targeted. Videos also showed lights in the sky over Latakia's countryside that appeared to be either missiles or air defenses operating. The incident comes just hours after Russia and Turkey indicated a buffer zone had been agreed on in Idlib province, which would prevent a major Syrian regime offensive. In recent weeks, there has been increased tension as Syria and its Russian and Iranian allies seek to retake Idlib province from Syrian rebels whom the regime and Russia refer to as terrorists. Turkey has warned such an operation would result in waves of refugees and civilian casualties. Idlib is one of the only areas of Syria still held by rebels, who first began fighting the government in 2011. Russia has accused the extremist groups in Idlib of preparing a "false flag" chemical weapons attack while the US has warned the regime against using chemical weapons. The buffer zone agreed on would prevent an offensive. Al-Mayadeen media, which generally is sympathetic to the Syrian regime, reported that Syrian air defense had intercepted missiles over Latakia. Leith Abou Fadel, founder of Al-Masdar news, tweeted that missiles struck Hama countryside and near Baniyas, while reporting that drones were involved in the attack. But he wrote that people in Latakia took the explosions in stride. "Lol, people in Latakia are something else. People are still driving their cars, walking around, and smoking nargileh [waterpipe] on their balconies."

Israel and Turkey Conduct Secret Talks

Four months after Israel's Ambassador to Ankara Eitan Na'eh, was expelled from Turkey following the death of 61 Palestinian protesters during "March of Return" riots, the two countries are conducting secret talks to normalize relations. According to Israeli and Turkish officials, if there will not be another last-minute crisis, the two countries are expected to return their respective ambassadors after the Jewish holidays. Also, the Israeli Foreign Ministry recently published a tender for the appointment of a new Israeli ambassador to Turkey for the summer of 2019. Several factors are behind the resumption of talks between Israel and Turkey—the end of the Syrian civil war, Syria's President Bashar Assad who is a common enemy, and Iran's entrenchment in Syria. Sources who follow the Turkish media say the country has surprisingly refrained from condemning Israel for the recent air strikes attributed to the IDF in Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan—who is at odds with the US administration and is dealing with an economic crisis which led to a drop in the Turkish currency—believes it is not a good time for an additional diplomatic confrontation to develop further. According to a Plate Radar report, Israeli and Turkish governmental planes took off simultaneously at 9 a.m. on Sunday from Ben Gurion International Airport to the United Arab Emirates, making a short, midway stop in Oman. The purpose of the flights is not yet clear. Also, both President Erdogan and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman spent the weekend in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, and almost ran into each other. Lieberman was invited to visit the Muslim state and held talks with President Ilham Aliyev and a number of senior officials in the country, which maintains extensive security ties with Israel. According to foreign reports, Azerbaijan is one of the main purchasers of Israeli weapons. Erdogan landed on Saturday in Baku to participate in a military parade marking the 100th anniversary of the liberation of Azerbaijan from the Armenian-Bolshevik occupation. Diplomatic sources stress that the visits of the two officials were a coincidence and no attempts were made by the Azerbaijanis to try and mediate between the sides. It was reported that the closest Lieberman got to the Turkish president was seeing Erdogan's envoy return from the parade through his hotel window.

Allowing Iran's Land Bridge to Syria – An Israeli Mistake Comparable to Ignoring Egyptian and Syrian 1973 War Preparations

By DEBKAfile (Commentary)

Marking the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed never to repeat Israel's mistake of not ordering a pre-emptive attack. Addressing a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Sept. 16, Netanyahu said that Israeli military intelligence "erred once in missing the war preparations afoot [by Russia, Egypt and Syria] and "the government erred twice by omitting to order a pre-emptive attack." This mistake would not be repeated, he said. However, 45 years later, in September 2018, DEBKAfile's military analysts find Israel again missing the looming hazard of Iran's two active land corridors between Iraq and Syria. Iranian and pro-Iranian Shiite militias are moving freely between Syria and Iraq. They are crossing the River Euphrates and passing back and forth through the southeastern Al Qaim border crossing and the Rabiya crossing in the northeast. While these movements do not hold the dramatic impact of the surprise Egyptian-Syrian invasions of 1973, they are no less dangerous in strategic terms. In the past week, Russian media attempted to deflect attention from this critical development by highlighting a Syrian operation against ISIS: The Syrian army is dealing the final blow to the last enclaves of Daesh fighters in a desert in Central Syria between Homs, Deir ez-Zour and Damascus, they reported. "The army managed to liberate vast areas, destroy dozens of militants and shelters that were located in the rocks." However, Russia's main purpose in engineering the Syrian attack was to clear the ISIS hazard from the Iranian Al Qaim route between Iraq and Syria. It also came in response to a large-scale live-fire exercise conducted by the US army and its Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) proxy in the same region up until Saturday, Sept. 15, which Moscow, Tehran and Damascus saw as a threat to their corridor from Iraq. These corridors have become a major bone of contention over which the US, Russia, Syria and Iran are fighting because it is the key to Iran's solid, long-term military presence in Syria. Although in August, President Donald Trump flip-flopped from his insistence on pulling US troops out of Syria to a decision to leave them there, for now, he may have missed the train. Attempts to shut the Iranian land bridges down at this stage will by now entail a major clash with Russian forces. In some ways, this standoff recalls a scarcely reported situation in the Yom Kippur War: When the US and Israel discovered that the Russian ships steaming towards Egypt were carrying nuclear weapons, both hurried to place their armies on nuclear alert. Today, with both big powers concentrating massive naval and air might in the Mediterranean and Red Sea, a big power flare-up may not be far off. For Israel, the open land bridges for Iranian and Hizbullah military movements are a major security menace. It must be admitted that Israel's repeated air and missile strikes on Iranian and Hizbullah targets in Syria hardly scratch the surface. Although some arms shipments are destroyed, even the most effective bombardments and clever intelligence can't be sure to catch every last Iranian arms consignment carried thousands of kilometers from Iran through Iraq. Some of those weapons almost certainly reach the battlefield. Some, too, are also being delivered by sea to Syria and Hizbullah in Lebanon and unloaded in Latakia and Tartus under the eagle eyes of Russian air defense crews, where Israel does not operate. When Netanyahu vowed not to repeat the Golda Meir government's mistake in holding back from a pre-emptive operation, he omitted to explain what was behind it. Indeed nothing much has changed from that day to the present. Then, Golda and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan were held back by concern about Washington's response. Today too, Netanyahu understands that Israel is not free to take independent action for destroying Iran's land corridors without the Trump administration's approval.

Israel to Approve Immigration for 1,000 Ethiopian Jews

By VOA News

The Israeli government announced Monday that it agreed to absorb 1,000 Ethiopian Jews — accepting just a fraction of the African country's 8,000 remaining Jews who want to move to Israel. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that a special committee had agreed to allow community members who already have children in Israel to immigrate. It was not clear what will happen to the remaining 7,000 people. Alisa Bodner, a spokeswoman for Struggle for Ethiopian Aliyah, a group petitioning the government to allow Ethiopian Jews to immigrate, called Netanyahu's decision an "incredible disappointment" and "another spit in the face" for Israel's Ethiopian community. Citing his previous vows, the group is calling on the prime minister to provide a path to citizenship for the remaining 7,000 members of the Ethiopian Jewish community. Many of the 8,000 are practicing Jews and have relatives in Israel. But Israel doesn't consider them Jewish under strict religious law, meaning their immigration requires special approval. The 8,000 are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity around a century ago, and the Israeli government views bringing them to Israel as family reunification rather than "aliyah," or Jewish immigration. Israel agreed in 2015 to bring the remaining Ethiopians to Israel, but has not authorized funding for their move. The families allege discrimination. Avraham Neguise, an Ethiopian-Israeli lawmaker and member of the special committee, said that while he welcomes the government's decision, he was disappointed that this issue has yet to be resolved. "We won't cease in our mission, our struggle until everyone is reunited with their family here in Israel," he said, adding the committee did not discuss plans for the remaining 7,000 Ethiopian Jews in Monday's meeting. Israel is home to approximately 144,000 Jews of Ethiopian descent, the majority of whom immigrated to Israel in the 1980s and 1990s. Last year Israel approved immigration for 1,300 Ethiopians with relatives who had already immigrated. But their assimilation into Israeli society hasn't been smooth, with many arriving without formal education and then falling into unemployment and poverty. Ethiopian Jews have also protested in recent years against perceived discrimination in Israeli society.

An Afro-Cuban-Yiddish Opera Tells the Story of a Jewish Refugee


"Hatuey: Memory of Fire" flashes alternately among three unlikely settings and languages. The chamber opera is set in a nightclub in Havana in 1931, a Cuban battlefield where indigenous people fight Spanish conquistadors in 1511 and Ukraine in the early 20th century, where Jews face violent pogroms. The settings may seem incongruous enough, but they are connected by perhaps an even more surprising piece of writing: an epic Yiddish poem about an indigenous chief who has been called "Cuba's first national hero." The opera, with music by Grammy Award-winning klezmer musician Frank London and libretto by Elise Thoron, is having its U.S. premiere at Montclair State University as part of the suburban New Jersey school's Peak Performances series. It draws inspiration from the life of Asher Penn, a Ukrainian Jewish refugee who arrived to Cuba in 1924 and later founded the country's first Yiddish newspaper.

In Cuba, Penn learned about the story of Hatuey (pronounced ha-too-WAY), an indigenous chief who led Cuba's Taino people in an uprising against Spanish colonial forces in the 16th century. He was so taken by Hatuey's heroism and execution at the hands of the Spanish — and the way it resonated with his own experience of pogroms in his native Ukraine — that he composed a 125-page poem about him in 1931. The catch: Penn wrote the poem in Yiddish. London and Thoron's production, which is playing at Montclair State's Alexander Kasser Theater through Sept. 23, stays true to Penn's writing by including excerpts of the poem in the mamaloshen. The Taino characters sing in Yiddish, which could have turned out as a joke from a Mel Brooks movie but instead eerily connects one persecuted "tribe" to another. Other parts are performed in English and Spanish with supertitles. Even though he was enthusiastic about combining the various narratives and languages, London said it wasn't necessarily an easy fit. "It took us a long time to figure out how this piece was going to work," he said. The diverse cast of 16, none of whom knew Yiddish previously, learned the entire libretto in the span of two weeks. London said it helped that they are all opera singers and thus used to performing in foreign languages. "It's hard to act in a language you don't know," he said, "but opera singers are trained to learn how to sing in languages they don't know — that's what they do." The production also received assistance from the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, which helped with translation and transliteration into Yiddish. Writing an opera in Yiddish had been a longtime goal for London, but he struggled with finding a story that fits. "I really wanted this to have a more universal message." Last year, London staged the opera in Cuba, but he had to make modifications to accommodate the production company's limitations. The Yiddish parts were performed in Spanish, and London altered the music so it could be played by a band rather than a full orchestra. The New Jersey production represents the opera's first run as it was written. London said that putting on a new opera helps bring Yiddish theater back to its roots. "Yiddish theater 80-100 years ago was cutting edge, avant-garde zeitgeist theater," he said. "We've gotten back to that."

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