Newsletter : 18fx0918.txt
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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
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
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 Turkeythe 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 Erdoganwho is at odds with the US administration and
is dealing with an economic crisis which led to a drop in the Turkish
currencybelieves it is not a good time for an additional diplomatic confrontation to
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
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
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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