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Israel and Iran Escalate their 'War of Messages' in Syria

By DEBKAfile. World Israel News, IsraelNationalNews.com The ground-to-ground missile aimed at the Golan on Sunday, Jan. 20 was fired by Al Qods and made in Iran, the IDF spokesman said Monday. DEBKAfile reported that it was a Fateh-110 missile that was launched from a point in the Damascus region that Russia had promised would be kept out of bounds to the Iranians. The missile was intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome air defense system. It may be recalled that last year, Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, affirmed that the Iranians had withdrawn deep inside Syrian territory, more than 80km from the Israeli border. IDF army spokesman Brig. Gen. Manelis said in a statement on Monday, Jan. 21 that Sunday's missile attack on the Golan was aimed at civilians and carried out by the Iranian command – not local militias. For the first time, an Israeli military spokesman named the Al Qods Brigades (of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards under the command of Gen. Qassem Soleimani) as being present in the Damascus region. He said the Iranians "had planned the attack in advance to deter Israel from continuing its operations against them," stressing: "This was an Iranian attempt to attack Israel." Manolis said that early Monday, Jan. 21, Israel, in its most extensive offensive hitherto against Iranian sites in Syria, had struck 10 targets, including "an important weapons warehouse" near the civilian section of Damascus International Airport" and, in other locations, an Iranian intelligence site and an Iranian training camp in Syria's south. Some Iranian military facilities were embedded in Syrian military compounds. A series of secondary explosions were set off. Manelis said: "We warned the Syrians not to fire anti-aircraft missiles at our planes during the strike and they chose to fire anyway." The IDF had responded with three waves of air strikes against the Syrian batteries. The IDF spokesman made no mention of Russian involvement in Syria's air defense operations against Israel. On Monday morning, the Russian army issued the following statement: Syrian air defenses destroyed over 30 cruise missiles and guided bombs when repelling the Israeli air strike. The statement added that 4 Syrian soldiers had been killed in the Israeli attack and 6 injured. Iran is prepared for a cataclysmic final battle with Israel, a senior Iranian military leader said Monday, following the latest escalation between the two countries. "We are prepared for the decisive battle against Israel, which will lead to its elimination," Aziz Nasir-Zadeh, the commander of the Iranian air force, was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying Monday morning, several hours after Israeli forces hit Iranian and Assad regime positions in Syria. He said that Iran's military is "well-prepared" for the decisive battle that will lead to the end of Israel. "Our armed forces are well-prepared for the day of Israel's destruction," he said, according to Israel Hayom. "Iran is ready to respond to all threats. Our enemies don't have the strength to attack Iran directly." The Russian military claimed that Syrian surface-to-air systems provided by Russia had downed seven Israeli missiles fired at targets in Syria. In response to the rocket attack, however, Israeli forces pounded multiple Iranian and Syrian targets, reportedly killing 11 soldiers. Following the attack on northern Israel, the Israeli military has ordered the closure of Mount Hermon near the Syrian border to visitors. IDF forces in the Golan have been placed on elevated alert, Hadashot 12 reported. The targets of the predawn Israeli strikes Monday morning included Iranian weapons depots, an Iranian intelligence site, and a military training camp used by Iranian forces in Syria. The Israeli strikes also targeted multiple Syrian surface-to-air missile batteries. According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad NGO, a total of 11 people were killed in the Israeli attacks. Of the 11 people killed, two were Syrians, the SOHR claimed. "Israeli strikes targeting Iranian and Syrian military positions near and south of Damascus killed at least 11 fighters including two Syrians," SOHR chief Rami Abdel Rahman said. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned, "We have a permanent policy: To strike at Iranian entrenchment in Syria and hurt whoever tries to hurt us...Last night the air force strongly attacked Iranian targets in Syria after Iran launched a missile from there at our territory," the prime minister said. Following the Iranian missile attack, Israel pummeled multiple Iranian and Syrian targets, with the death toll from the strikes reportedly reaching 11 combatants. He added, "We are acting against Iran and against the Syrian forces that abet the Iranian aggression. Whoever tries to hurt us – we hurt them. Whoever threatens to destroy us will bear the full responsibility." The flare-up arrives amid saber-rattling on the part of Iranian military officials, who routinely threaten to destroy Israel.

In Hungary, a Jewish Community Political Fight Taints Effort to Bury Holocaust Victims

By JTA

Relations between Hungary's two Jewish federation groups have recently deteriorated from stony silence to a full-blown row. The fight between the Mazsihisz group, which is critical of the Hungarian government, and the Chabad-affiliated EMIH group, which is an advocate of the government, is essentially over government cooperation and funding. How to work with the government is an understandably divisive issue in a country whose government is often accused of encouraging anti-Semitic rhetoric. But late last week, the fight veered away from politics and spilled over into one of the major dilemmas facing Eastern European Jewish populations: How to treat the remains of Holocaust victims. The new dispute over giving such remains a proper burial marks a new and worrisome low in the internal fight, which now has been extended to include a core issue of the Jewish faith. It raises concerns as to the depths of division among the 100,000 Jews living in Hungary – by far Central Europe's largest Jewish community. The burial fight began with a sonar sweep Jan. 15 of the floor of the Danube River. Commissioned by EMIH's leader, Chabad Rabbi Slomo Koves, the sweep ended without meeting its aim of identifying bones of some of the thousands of people that Nazi collaborators shot and dumped into the river during the Holocaust. But what started as an example of innovative technology being used to bring dignity to unburied victims quickly devolved into a vociferous exchange that included even Israel's interior minister, Aryeh Deri. The sweep "insults the calm and dignity of Jewish or non-Jewish dead people who may be found during the exploration," Mazsihisz wrote a day after the scan. "Moreover it breaks halacha," or Orthodox Jewish law, the federation group, said in its statement. Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti, the chairman of the rabbinical council of Mazsihisz, told JTA that any bones found likely would be from one of the thousands of non-Jewish German, Soviet and local troops and civilians who died in fighting along the riverbank. Mazsihisz itself organized in 2016 a Jewish burial for bones that had been found in the Danube in 2011 amid renovations on the foundations of Budapest's Margaret Bridge. "We had a multifaith burial ceremony, with two priests and rabbis from various denominations," Radnoti said of the ceremony. "It's true that these were likely Jews but the truth is there is no way of knowing for certain." Koves said that most people killed in the Danube were Jews. He cited DNA testing on the bones found in 2011. Of the 15 people identified from the bones, at least nine had Ashkenazi Jewish DNA, the tests showed. Both groups can cite principles from halacha, which state that bones should be buried when there is a danger to the dignity of the dead but forbids disturbing Jews' remains in all but the most extreme circumstances. EMIH, for its part, described the retrieval mission as fulfilling the "major mitzvah of bringing the victims to burial." But the core of EMIH's dispute with Mazsihisz is not about halacha. Rather, it is a fight over attitudes toward Hungary's controversial government and its funding for Jewish groups, where EMIH seems favored. "This fight over the Danube is part of the bigger fight," Radnoti acknowledged. The two groups have clashed publicly recently over EMIH's taking over of a state-funded Holocaust museum. The person tapped to head the museum, Maria Schmidt, is a right-wing historian who has been accused of distorting the Holocaust. In light of this, Mazsihisz criticized EMIH's decision to head the House of Fates museum, which has not yet opened. "There is no way this museum will operate independently," Radnoti said in explaining his group's objections. But EMIH said they would have total discretion over the museum's content. For those seeking unity among Jews, internal fights about the memory of the Holocaust are painful. But in Hungary, politics spilled over to disagreements about one of the fundamentals of being Jewish. Deri, who heads Israel's Sephardic Orthodox Shas Party, decided to wade into the fight and turn it into an interdenominational religious conflict with a statement that inaccurately labeled Mazsihisz as a "Reform" community. (Mazsihisz does have many members of the Neolog stream, an endemic movement that is fairly liberal but far closer to modern Orthodox streams than to either Reform or Conservative Judaism.) "I was deeply shocked by the [Mazsihisz] statement, in which it used pretenses to oppose, in violation of the Jewish conscience, bringing to burial the remains of the martyrs," Deri wrote. "It is shocking and appalling that some are carrying out political score-settling on the backs of those murdered in the Holocaust," he added. Radnoti said that Deri's characterization of Mazsihisz was "a disgusting form of character assassination."

Jordan Slams New Ramon International Airport

By AFP
Jordan on Monday hit out at Israel's move to open a new international airport along their shared border close to the Red Sea, saying it would threaten the kingdom's airspace. "Jordan rejects the establishment of the Israeli airport in its current location," head of Jordan's Civil Aviation Regulatory Commission Haitham Misto said, according to state media. Misto said the airport violated "international standards regarding respect for the sovereignty of airspace and territory of other countries". Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu attended the opening ceremony earlier in the day of the Ramon Airport, meant to boost tourism in the Jewish state and serve as an emergency alternative to Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion airport. Initially, the sleek new terminal will handle only domestic flights operated by Israeli carriers. A date has not yet been set for the start of international flights. Jordan first voiced its objection to the new Israeli airport when construction began in 2013. The airport sits just across the border from Jordan's King Hussein International Airport in the Red Sea city of Aqaba.

Texas Congressman Trying to Stop Freshman Lawmaker Trip to West Bank

By JTA

A Republican lawmaker from Texas is trying to prevent freshman congresswoman Rashida Tlaib from leading a delegation of freshman lawmakers to the West Bank. The trip led by Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, would be held at the same time as the traditional Israel mission for first-term lawmakers sponsored by the education arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, which includes touring and meetings with leading Israeli figures in business, government and the military. Rep. Brian Babin said in a letter dated Jan. 17 to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and circulated to fellow congressmen that the taxpayer-funded trip led by "an outspoken supporter of the `BDS' Israeli boycott movement and whose personal vitriol led her to publicly brag about calling our President a "mother****er" to her young son, is both ill-conceived and inconsistent with our national values." He said that Israel is "of vital importance to U.S. interests in the Middle East," and that a trip of lawmakers exclusively to the West Bank "threatens that relationship. To signal to our most threatened ally in the region that the United States Congress sanctions an official trip to visit Israel's nemesis would be an exceedingly dangerous path forward. Please consider the damage that a yet unexperienced and overly caustic Member of Congress may cause to Israeli relations, or the perceptions of our own Jewish-American citizens," he also wrote. Tlaib has called the AIPAC-sponsored trip "one-sided." She said she would take lawmakers to the northern West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Foqa, where her grandmother lives.

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