Tel Aviv Terror, Jerusalem Prayers, and Kyiv
Terror in Tel Aviv
Thursday night TV viewing was interrupted by news of yet another terror attack, this one in Tel Aviv’s busy Deizengoff street, at the Ilka Bar. Two Israelis, Eytam Magini and Tomer Morad, both 27-years old, childhood friends from Kfar Saba, were shot and killed when Ra’ad Hazan, 28, from the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin, opened fire with a handgun.
This was the fourth terrorist attack in recent weeks, leaving fourteen dead and scores wounded.
Deizengoff Street Terrorist Attack
The terrorist, apparently acting alone, shot and seriously wounded four other young Israelis, leaving one in critical condition, and lightly wounding ten others. All were enjoying drinks at the tables spread out on the broad sidewalk outside the bar, just one of many bars up and down Deizengoff street, a venue popular with young Israelis.
Within a few minutes of the shooting Deizengoff street had become crowded with police and army special forces searching for the terrorist. At first it was not clear if the terrorist acted alone of if there were other terrorists loose. Police took to the airwaves and warned those in the neighborhood to stay indoors, off of their balconies, and lock their doors.
The TV coverage was non-stop, clearly showing a chaotic scene, with reporters and cameramen running down the street with on-site announcements of the terrorist’s sighting, then running back in a different direction with other reports of yet another sighting. Within an hour a thousand police and soldiers were on a manhunt for the terrorist.
Unbeknownst to the security forces, the terrorist had fled between two buildings and escaped towards the sea, encountering another Israeli along the way, shooting at him, but missing. Police speculate the terrorist had previous knowledge of the area.
The manhunt went on all night. At around 05:00, two Shin Bet (Israel’s FBI) operatives, tipped off that a man was acting suspiciously near the mosque, on the border of Tel Aviv and Jaffa. The two officers saw the man and confronted him. The man initially raised his hands in surrender then spun around and opened fire letting loose with ten bullets. The officers returned fire and killed the terrorist. Neither officer was hurt in the exchange.
Police soon identified the terrorist as Ra’ad Hazem from Jenin. His father, Fathi Hazem, had served in the Palestinian Authority police force in Jenin. According to the Times of Israel, on Friday morning Fathi Hazem praised his son’s actions saying, “Your eyes will see the victory soon. Your will see change. You will achieve your freedom… God, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the desecration of the occupiers.”
Ra’ad Hazam reportedly had no clear organizational affiliation nor had he been arrested in the past. The police did determine that he had been living in Israel without a permit. There was no clear indication how he had obtained a weapon.
Some sources speculate that Hazam had been seeking shelter in the mosque, attempting to hide amid the masses gathered for the crowded Friday Ramadan prayers. (Friday is the Moslem day of rest. Ramadan is the month-long Islamic religious festival where the believers fast every day from sunrise to sunset.) The festival began a week ago.
But the mosque only opened its door at 05:30 and thus the terrorist stood out lurking around the building and was reported as a suspicious person. Other sources say that the Shin Bet officers were already patrolling the area around the mosque should the terrorist show up.
“Lone gunman are almost impossible to defend against,” said former Shin Bet officer Ilan Segev on Israel Radio’s Reshet bet. Segev also said that the Jenin refugee camp held approximately 40,000 Palestinians and that it was impossible to keep track of all that went on there.
Segev was also critical of the separation fence between the West Bank and Israel. “This fence is a joke,” said Segev. “Fix the fence so that every Palestinian has to pass through a check point, and metal detector, show his entry permit and then go to work, returning by 19:00. If they don’t return they go on a list and their permits to enter Israel and work here are withdrawn.” Segev added, “If not, this situation will continue.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Neftali Bennett said that said that the terrorist had help and the security forces would do their best to find his accomplices. Israel has beefed up security around the country in the face of these recent ‘lone terrorist’ attacks that are exacerbated by the month-long Ramadan holiday.
According to police spokesman Eli Levy, speaking on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, on Friday morning the area around Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate was festive with carts and tables selling food and souvenirs to those going or coming from the Al Aksa mosque, Islam’s holiest site.
However, during the last week Moslem youth have gathered at the gate and attacked Israeli border police with bottles and fireworks. Many demonstrators have been arrested. But, according to Levy, Friday’s prayers, which usually attracted the biggest crowds to Jerusalem, went off peacefully.
Police and other security forces have warned the public to go about their lives normally but to be on the lookout for anything suspicious. At least until this wave of ‘lone terrorist’ attacks is over.
Neftali Bennett’s fragile 10-month-old historic coalition government, joining Israelis and Arabs together, looks in danger of collapsing. Idit Silman, the coalition whip and a member of Bennett’s Yamina party, announced on Thursday that she was leaving the government and joining the Likud, led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Bennett’s coalition held a one-vote majority in the 120 seat Knesset with 61 seats.
Silman said that the reason she was quitting the government was her disagreement over a recent ruling by Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz that ‘chametz’ non kosher for Passover items, would be allowed into Israeli hospitals. Silman said this ruling went over the red line she’d drawn as a member of the religious Zionist Yamina party.
Some say that former prime minister Netanyahu was behind Silman’s defection offering her a cozy cabinet post should he regain power, although Silman has denied there is any deal with Netanyahu.
According to analysts, with Silman’s defection, Bennett will have trouble getting any legislation passed. Should a no-confidence motion be tabled the government could quickly fall creating new elections. However, pundits say that new elections won’t be called that fast.
Israeli pollsters claim that Netanyahu’s Likud still does not have the necessary votes to take over the government. Nor will they have when new elections are called.
“Once again,” say observers, “Israelis find themselves in a political quagmire.”
Bennett accuses Silman of losing her nerve and cracking under pressure. Silman says she was elected with Bennetts to represent the religious Zionist camp and the settler community in the West Bank.
Silman has said she and her family have been harassed and called ‘traitors’ for joining in a coalition that consists of Arab parties. She said that her husband was insulted at work and at his daily minyan, and their children persecuted at school. She said she was paying a heavy price for staying in the government.
Silman made no mention of the speculation that Netanyahu and his Likud activists were responsible for pressuring Silman and her family, even mounting loud demonstrations before her home, and accosting her while stopping at a gas station to fill up her car with gasoline.
Other members of Bennett’s party have also threatened to leave for the Likud claiming Bennett has lost sight of the goals of his mandate, to represent the West Bank, and also to help the Orthodox. A new proposed law would allow the drafting of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students into the Israeli army, a contentious issue that has been fought over for years.
One Yamina party member, Knesset member Nir Orbach, complained that when Bennett spoke with U.S. Sec. of State Anthony Blinken he referred to the settlement area as the West Bank and not Judea and Samaria, a term used by the settler community that ostensibly is Bennett’s constituency.
Some commentators have pointed out that Bennett deserves his fate since he took his eyes off the ball. Rather than concentrating on the serious domestic Israeli issues, Bennett became star-struck, enamored with being in the spotlight while sharing the world’s stage as a mediator between Ukraine’s Prime Minister Zelensky and Russia’s President Putin.
Had Bennett paid more attention to local issues rather than dealing with the war in Ukraine, these pundits say, he would have been aware of Silman’s planned defection and perhaps been able to dissuade her of her plans.
Still others speculate that perhaps Russian President Putin had grown disaffected with Bennett since many around Bennett, like Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is also the alternate Prime Minister scheduled to take over in less than a year should the government stay together, have called Putin a war criminal, echoing the term used by U.S. President Biden. Observers wonder how Putin could have affected Silman’s action, yet all agree that Putin would be happy to see Netanyahu back in power.
Netanyahu is still on trial for the first of three felonies. Pundits say that many who dislike Bennett for his policies are still heavy-hearted when contemplating a Netanyahu return to power with his ‘gang of criminals.’
Israel’s daily case numbers keep dropping. On Thursday April 7th the number of daily infections had dropped to just over 5,000, with 249 serious cases, and 91 patients on ventilators. Most of those who have contracted Covid have suffered mild cold or flu-like symptoms and recovered within two or three days. Although, some have what appears to be ‘long Covid.’ Of those infected almost all had the BA.2 variant.
Around the world there are 496,738,773 cases, with 6,196,337 deaths and 69,303,575 active cases. The USA still leads the world with 81,988,278 cases, 1,011,096 deaths, and 14,757,686 active cases. Israel has reported 3,982,531 cases with 10,599 deaths, and 77,890 active cases.
War in Ukraine
CNN reports that the Russian army has essentially withdrawn from northern Ukraine, giving up on the attacks on Kyiv and the surrounding towns and gone back to Belarus and Russia. However, Ukrainian security officials say that Russia is preparing for an assault on the eastern Ukrainian Donbas region. CNN reports that the “U.S. is providing intelligence to Ukrainian forces to conduct operations in the Donbas region.” This was the first time, according to CNN, that the US has admitted to providing intelligence to the Ukrainians.
On Friday, a railroad station in Kramatorsk, in the Donbas region, was hit with Russian missiles. At least 30 civilians were reported killed and over 100 injured. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kaleba said this attack was a precursor to the impending assault on the Dombas region. “This will be reminiscent of WWII,” said Kaleba.
Mariupol Train Station
The Ukrainian military has said that thousands of Russian tanks, artillery, planes and troops are massed near the border ready to attack the Eastern Ukrainian Donbas region.
Some experts say that the Russian tactic is to drive Ukrainians out of their homes, send them fleeing, and leave empty towns and cities that are easy for Russian troops to occupy without incurring guerilla attacks by Ukrainian patriots.
The recently discovered massacre in Bucha, where hundreds of corpses were found in a mass grave and scores more left scattered on the streets, has brought about international condemnation of the Russian attack on that town. Pundits wonder if that condemnation will have any effect on the Russian government is up to debate.
Sanctions against Russia have been stepped up as a result of the news of the massacre. Russian oligarchs have been put on the international sanctions list. Oligarchs’ luxury villas, apartments, and super-yachts have been seized. Some had their bank accounts frozen.
Even Putin’s children have been put on the sanctions list. NPR (National Public Radio) reports that two of Putins daughters have been sanctioned. “…many of Putin's assets are hidden with family members and that's why we're targeting them," a senior Biden administration official said in a call with reporters on Wednesday.
The two daughters being sanctioned are Maria Vladimirovna Vorontsova, 37, a pediatric endocrinologist and Katerina Vladimirovna Tikhonova. a former competitive dancer turned tech executive. According to NPR “Both are the daughters of Putin's ex-wife, Lyudmila Putina, an Aeroflot flight attendant whom Putin married in 1983. The two later divorced after three decades of marriage.”
"Vorontsova leads state-funded programs that have received billions of dollars from the Kremlin toward genetics research and are personally overseen by Putin," according to the U.S. Treasury Department. Vorontsova, who speaks English, German, Russian and Dutch, is a physician at the Endocrinology Research Center Moscow that deal with, among other things, children's obesity and diabetes. She is the only physician on the center's website without a photo. Reportedly, she is married to a Dutch citizen Jorrit Joost Faassen, although the two may have separated. Vorontsova is also the co-owner of a company involved in “the largest private investment project in Russian healthcare,” according to NPR.
The other daughter, Katerina Vladimirovna Tikhonova , 36, was a professional dancer. According to the U.S. Treasury she is now involved as a tech executive whose work supports the Russian government and defense industry. She also reportedly runs a new $1.6 billion startup incubator and science center center adjacent to Moscow State University. She is married to Kirill Shamalov, a shareholder of a Russian petrochemicals company and son of a long-time Putin ally from St. Petersburg. The couple’s wealth is estimated at @$2 billion. Their villa in Biarritz, France is valued at $3.7 million.
Immigrants arriving at Ben Gurion Airport
As of now, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, the number of immigrants landing from Russia in the last two months exceeds the number of immigrants and potential immigrants from Ukraine, according to a report in Ha’aretz.
8,371 immigrants and potential immigrants from Ukraine have landed in Israel. According to the National Security Council, a department of the Prime Minister’s office, 12,593 immigrants and potential immigrants have arrived from Russia. By comparison only 7,700 Russians made Aliyah in 2021.
The Jewish holiday of Passover begins on Friday night April 15th, and coincides with the Christian holiday of Easter. May the holidays pass peacefully, and happily, and bring more hope and safety for a peaceful future.