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Friday, February 26, 2021

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Every week, we post seven to ten news stories from Israel with a suggested prayer focus and scripture for each one, guiding readers how to pray for Israel’s most urgent needs. This Prayer Update is also sent to over 18,000 subscribers every Friday by e-mail. Please contact us at intl.office@bridgesforpeace.com if you would like to receive this Prayer Update by e-mail.

Khamenei: Not Even Israel Can Block Our Path to the Bomb

by Ilse Strauss

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Wednesday, 24 February 2021 | If Iran wants a nuclear bomb, nothing and nobody—not even Israel—will stand in its way. This was the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic’s message to Israel, the US and the rest of the world.

Taking a swipe at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who has repeatedly vowed that Israel would block Tehran’s path to the bomb—Ayatollah Ali Khamenei posted to his official Twitter account on Monday: “That international Zionist clown has said they won’t allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons. First of all, if we had any such intention, even those more powerful than him wouldn’t be able to stop us.”

Khamenei was quick to point out that his threat is merely hypothetical—that Iran does, in fact, have no ambition to develop a nuclear weapon—but pledged at the same time that Tehran would “not back down on the nuclear issue.”

Khamenei later reiterated his hardline attitude, state television reported, vowing not to yield to US pressure and threatening to up its enrichment of uranium to 60%.

Iran currently enriches uranium up to 20%—well beyond the 3.67% fissile purity cap the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) demands, but still some ways off from the 90% purity level required for a nuclear weapon.

Iran has been breaching the terms of the JCPOA ever since the Trump administration withdrew from the pact in 2018—and according to many, well before. The threat to up enrichment from 20% to 60% comes a day before Tehran made good on its vow to cut down on cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and restrict international inspections access to nuclear sites, a move which the IAEA described as “deeply concerning.”

As Iran continues to step further away from the 2015 pact, the Biden administration seeks to resuscitate it. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that the US is prepared to return to the nuclear deal, provided that Tehran “comes back into strict compliance.”

Washington and Tehran have been at loggerheads over what a revival of the deal should entail and who should take the first restitutory step. Iran demands that the US brings an end to the crippling sanctions instituted to force Tehran to toe the nuclear line, with each new threat and breach thus serving as a means to pressure the US into capitulating and bolstering its negotiation position. The US, on the other hand, demands Iran’s immediate return to full compliance.

The face-off has resulted in what the Times of Israel describes as a game of chicken, with each world leader waiting to see if the other will blink first.

In the meantime, Israel—the role-player with arguably the most at stake—keeps a close eye on the situation as it unfolds.

A day after Khamenei called out Netanyahu on Twitter, the Israeli prime minister answered. Speaking three days ahead of Purim (Feast of Esther), he vowed: “I say to those who seek to harm us—Iran and its proxies in the Middle East. 2,500 years ago, another Persian tyrant tried to destroy the Jewish people, and just as he failed then, you too will fail.”

Source: (Bridges for Peace, February 24, 2021)

Photo Credit: khamenei.ir/commons.wikimedia.org

Photo License: Wikimedia

Prayer Focus
Pray that the US will be firm and immovable in its demands that Iran cease its current level of uranium enrichment and return to the levels set by the JCPOA. Beseech the Lord that He open the eyes of the international community to the truth of PM Netanyahu’s frequent warnings about Iran’s intentions, causing them to stand with Israel against this very real global threat.

Scripture

The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.


- Psalm 34:15–17

Israeli Woman Released from Syria Lands in Israel

by Ilse Strauss

An IDF soldier on Israel’s northern border (illustrative)

Friday, 19 February 2021 | A young Israeli woman who was imprisoned in Syria after crossing the Syrian border by accident was released from captivity and landed safely in Israel this morning. Her release is described as the fruit of a week of diplomatic negotiations between Israel and Syria—with Russia acting as mediator.

Since Israel and Syria have no diplomatic ties and are technically in a state of war, Moscow acted as intermediary to help the two hostile nations come to an agreement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed in a recorded message that the woman, who has not yet been identified, touched down at Ben Gurion International Airport on a flight from Moscow and thanked the Russians for their role in securing her release.

“A few days ago a young Israeli woman crossed the border into Syria,” the prime minister said. “I spoke twice with my friend President Vladimir Putin of Russia. I asked that he help to return her, and he took action.”

“Israel has always done and will always do everything in its power to bring its citizens home,” Netanyahu said.

In what is widely considered a prisoner swap between Jerusalem and Damascus, Israel released two Syrian shepherds who crossed into Israel and reduced the sentence of a Golan Heights resident.

Israel initially agreed to free from prison two residents from Golan Heights towns where most residents are loyal to Syria and identify as Syrian. The agreement was, however, held up when both prisoners refused to leave Israel for Syria.

According to Israel’s Channel 12 news, the Israeli woman who crossed the Syrian border is a 25-year-old resident of Modi’in Illit. Her identity has not been released.

This is not the first time that Russia acts as the go-between for Israel and Syria. In April last year, Moscow played a key role in helping Israel find the remains of Sgt. Zachary Baumel, who went missing during the Battle of Sultan Yacoub in the 1982 Lebanon War. Baumel’s remains were subsequently returned to Israel in a prisoner exchange deal.

Source: (Bridges for Peace, February 19, 2021)

Photo Credit: Photo by Cpl. Eden Briand/IDF Spokesperson's Unit/flickr.com

Photo License: Flickr

Prayer Focus
Praise the Lord that this Israeli woman has been rescued and returned home. Pray that the Lord will be her strength and comfort as she deals with the aftermath of such a terrifying experience. Thank Him for the relationship Israel has with Russia and for their assistance in this situation.

Scripture

Thus says the LORD: “Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor.”


- Jeremiah 22:3a

Israel Suffers “One of the Most Serious Ecological Disasters” in History

by JNS

Israelis stand around a large fin whale washed ashore on the Nitzanim beach near Ashkelon.

Monday, 22 February 2021 | Tons of toxic tar washed ashore along Israel’s entire Mediterranean coastline over the weekend in what Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority is calling “one of the most serious ecological disasters” in the country’s history.

The cause of the pollution is under investigation, but it is believed to have been caused by an oil spill from a single vessel off of Israel’s coast. The black tar washed ashore following a significant winter storm. The scope of the incident became apparent when a dead whale washed ashore in Ashkelon on Friday.

“Regarding the environmental damage that we are currently dealing with, I have asked that a report on the matter, which is still being investigated, be submitted to the next Cabinet meeting,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday night before visiting affected beaches in Ashdod on Sunday with Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel.

Gamliel suggested that the cleanup will be costly and may take months, if not years.

“In order to succeed, we need to raise tens of millions of shekels that will be invested in cleaning the beaches. We have the possibility of suing the insurance company of the ship that is responsible for the pollution and we will do everything to locate it. Our moral obligation to the public is to locate those responsible for the event. Our goal is to open the bathing season on time.”

“We have one beach here that is not very long, 180 km long [112 miles], most of it is now exposed to pollution from a single ship and it probably managed to reach most beaches,” Professor Ilana Berman, head of the School of Marine Sciences at the University of Haifa, told Israel’s Channel 12 News. “Even if they manage to clean what is visible on the surface, a large part of the pollution goes down and sinks to the bottom of the sea and you don’t see it.”

Berman warned that the toxins may have an effect on the marine food chain for many years.

Several volunteers working to clean up the substance over the weekend were hospitalized after inhaling toxic fumes.

In a government statement, individuals were asked to steer clear of the beaches, following earlier calls for volunteers to start the cleanup. “The ministries are asking the public to refrain from going to beaches from Rosh Hanikra, in the north, down to Zikim Beach in the Hof Ashkelon Coastal Council, until further notice due to the pollution of the Mediterranean Sea and the beaches from tar.”

Source: (This article was originally published by JNS on February 21, 2021. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today.)

Photo Credit: Yossi Aloni/Flash90/jns.org

Prayer Focus
Beseech the Lord for His miraculous intervention in this environmental disaster, that His creation will continue to show forth His glory. Pray that Israel will be able to clean up the beaches and rid the area of toxic waste with no more victims of the fumes or destruction of marine life. Cry out to Him that those responsible for this catastrophe are found and held accountable.

Scripture

Praise Him, sun and moon; praise Him, all you stars of light! Praise Him, you heavens of heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for He commanded and they were created. Praise the LORD from the earth, You great sea creatures and all the depths.


- Psalm 148:3–5, 7

Former World Leaders Take Stand against ICC Investigation of Israel

by Ariel Kahana~Israel Hayom via JNS  

The judges of the ICC and eminent guests at the opening of the ICC judicial year.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021 | A group of former heads of state and high-ranking ministers on Friday sent a letter to newly-appointed International Criminal Court [ICC] prosecutor Karim Khan, warning him against launching a war crimes investigation against Israel. Such an investigation, the letter states, would politicize the court and thus harm its standing.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, was initiated by the Friends of Israel Initiative. Signatories include former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper; former Australian Prime Minister John Howard; former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar; former Uruguay President Luis Alberto Lacalle; and former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

The former leaders explain that they decided to appeal to Khan out of a sense of concern regarding the “unprecedented campaign of delegitimization against Israel waged by the enemies of the Jewish state and supported by numerous international institutions.”

In the letter, the former leaders explain at length that as Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, from which the court derives its authority, and is not a member of the ICC, the court has neither reason nor justification to try Israeli citizens. “This view is strongly supported by the government of the United States of America, as well as the governments of Rome Statute state-parties Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Uganda and leading international law scholars,” it states.

The letter points out that the ICC has a mandate to investigate the “gravest crimes” as a court of last resort when national jurisdictions cannot or will not do so—a situation that does not apply to Israel, which it notes has a “long-established and internationally respected legal system with a track record of investigating such crimes.”

An ICC Pre-Trial Chamber ruled on February 5 that the court had jurisdiction over the Gaza Strip, eastern Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, due to “Palestine” being a state party to the Rome Statute. The court based its opinion on United Nations General Assembly Resolution 67/19, which “[reaffirmed] the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.”

The ruling drew heavy criticism, with the US State Department issuing a formal statement of objection and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling the decision “pure anti-Semitism.” Germany and Hungary also objected to the ruling, while Jewish organizations called it a “distortion of international law.”

Khan is due to take over from current ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in approximately two months.

Source: (Excerpt from an article originally published by Israel Hayom via JNS on February 22, 2021. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: ICC-CPI/jns.org

Prayer Focus
Pray that the ICC will heed the advice of these former heads of state and cease their illegal and anti-Semitic campaign against the Jewish state. Pray that all the nations mentioned in this article will be firm in their conviction to stand with Israel against this injustice.

Scripture

Do you indeed speak righteousness, you silent ones? Do you judge uprightly, you sons of men? No, in heart you work wickedness; you weigh out the violence of your hands in the earth. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent; they are like the deaf cobra that stops its ear, which will not heed the voice of charmers, charming ever so skillfully.


- Psalm 58:1–2, 4–5

A Gag about Israel and Vaccines is More than a Bad Joke

by Jonathan S. Tobin~JNS  

Heads of different religious communities in Israel get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021 | A comedian telling a bad joke that hurts someone’s feelings isn’t news. But when the bad joke validates a lie that is fueling the latest anti-Semitic blood libel, it may actually be far more important than even many of those who are always on guard against anti-Israel bias think. That’s especially true if it is broadcast on one of the late-night comedy programs that have increasingly played a role in shaping American public opinion.

Those who saw the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live (SNL) heard comedian, chief writer and Weekend Update anchor Michael Che’s casual claim that Israel’s record vaccination rate has already covered half its population. The butt of the “joke” was when Che quipped: “The Jewish half.”

The comment provoked immediate outrage from pro-Israel groups and viewers alike—and not all of them Jewish. Yet predictably, Che’s jibe provoked as much left-wing support for the false assertion cloaked in a humorous review of the news as it did anger. That speaks volumes about the pervasive nature of the anti-Semitic myths spread by Israel’s enemies about its successful effort to vaccinate its citizens—all of its citizens.

The most important thing to understand about this kerfuffle is that the argument isn’t about defining what is or isn’t funny or, as one celebrity rabbi mistakenly insisted, the need for more outreach or an effort to better educate a comedy star who is probably as well-versed in the news of the day as most pro-Israel activists. Nor is this the moment for wise guys to tell the Jewish community to chill out, and understand it was just a joke and not be taken so seriously.

Instead, it’s time to realize that the ground on which the battle to combat misinformation about the Middle East conflict and anti-Semitism is fought has shifted. It’s a mistake to dismiss the content of television satire as mere pop-culture fluff. What is said on SNL or any of the other late-night comedy shows may be as important as the bad reporting in mainstream news outlets on which the writers of these satirical skits base their calumnies.

In the entertainment world, anyone who transgresses whatever the left is currently defining as politically incorrect is in trouble. One of the most reliable indicators of what can or cannot be said is late-night comedy, which has become increasingly politicized in the last two decades. This is especially important because these programs aren’t just operating in lockstep when it comes to politics. They also have tremendous influence, especially on younger viewers, who are less likely to read or watch actual news than their elders.

Thus when Che noted that half of Israel’s population had become vaccinated—“the Jewish half”—it’s not just a matter of an unfunny and false claim. A year ago, he made a tasteless and possibly anti-Semitic joke about the winner of a “Miss Hitler contest” being “Miss Israel,” while also implying that pro-Israel Fox News host Laura Ingraham was a Nazi. But this past week, he was repeating libelous assertions about Israel denying the coronavirus vaccine not only to Arabs—an untruth that has been aired on CNN by correspondent Christiane Amanpour and also spread by BDS supporter Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)—but to Christians and other minorities who live in the country as well. All of which is false. In fact, many of them have already been vaccinated, to which the Israeli Ministry of Health can attest.

With pop culture becoming a political battlefield, comedy shows can’t be given a pass for spreading dangerous lies. Claiming that Jews are letting Arabs die when they should be saved isn’t a joke. Not only does it paint the Jews as oppressors, but it’s also classic anti-Semitism. The fact that it is uttered by someone that a lot of people like and look to for entertainment makes it even more dangerous than when it comes from biased news sources.

The proper response requires not just an apology, but a realization on the part of those who run these shows that the applause and laughter their political virtue-signaling generates shouldn’t be mistaken for legitimacy.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

Source: (Excerpt from an article originally published by JNS on February 22, 2021. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: David Cohen/Flash90/jns.org

Prayer Focus
Anti-Semitism rears its ugly head in many forms including comedy. Pray that SNL will make public a retraction and apology for this grossly incorrect and misleading “joke.” Also pray that as the world becomes increasingly fixated on political correctness, Israel and the Jewish people will be afforded some protection from this type of anti-Semitism.

Scripture

Do not be afraid of sudden terror, nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; for the LORD will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught.


- Proverbs 3:25–26

In Letter to Biden, PA and Hamas Commit to Two-state Solution on 1967 Lines

by Elior Levy

The Palestinian Authority sent an official letter to the White House (illustrative).

Monday, 22 February 2021 | The Palestinian Authority (PA) sent an official letter to the White House claiming that all factions, including Hamas [the terror organization ruling the Gaza Strip], were committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The letter was delivered by Hussein Al-Sheikh, the PA’s Head of the General Authority of Civil Affairs, to US President Joe Biden’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr.

The provisions listed in the memorandum were all agreed upon during a meeting of the various Palestinian factions in September.

The letter also stated that all the factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad [the second largest terror group operating in the Gaza Strip], were committed to international law standards, that the PLO is the political umbrella and the legitimate sole representative for the Palestinian people and that the results of the Palestinian elections will be respected and that a peaceful transfer of power will take place afterward.

The memo also asserted the factions’ continued commitment to “popular peaceful resistance” until a Palestinian state is founded.

With parliamentary and presidential elections set to take place on May 22 and July 31 respectively, more than 2.6 million Palestinians registered last week on the electoral rolls—over 93% of eligible voters.

The memorandum reinforces the assessment that the elections within the PA are meant to rebuild relations between Ramallah and the new US administration.

On Saturday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree ordering to lift all sanctions on freedom of expression ahead of the elections, banning all police pursuits and detentions in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria] and the Gaza Strip for “reasons related to freedom of expression and political affiliation,” with prisoners held on such justifications to be freed.

Hamas welcomed the order, allowing their movement to campaign in the West Bank.

Source: (This article was originally published by Ynetnews on February 21, 2021. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: Aaron Burden/unsplash.com

Prayer Focus
Pray that the Biden administration will not be taken in by any falsehood or trickery on the part of Palestinian leadership.

Scripture

You shall destroy those who speak falsehood; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.


- Psalm 5:6

Israel, US Developing Next-generation Arrow Missile Interceptor System

by JNS

An illustration of the Arrow-4 missile interceptor

Friday, 19 February 2021 | The Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO), in partnership with the US Missile Defense Agency, is developing the Arrow-4 missile interceptor system, Israel’s Defense Ministry announced on Thursday.

The Arrow-4 will be the next generation of endo-exoatmospheric interceptors in Israel’s Arrow Weapon System and have “unprecedented flight and interception capabilities,” according to Moshe Patel, head of the IMDO, which is part of Israel’s Defense Ministry.

Endoatmospheric inceptors address missiles in the atmosphere and exo-atmospheric interceptors address missiles out of the atmosphere.

“The development of Arrow-4, together with our American partners, will result in a technological and operational leap forward, preparing us for the future battlefield and evolving threats in the Middle East and beyond,” said Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Vice Admiral John Hill, director of the US Missile Defense Agency, said the joint development of the Arrow-4 “illustrates US commitment to assisting the government of Israel in upgrading its national missile defense capability to defend the State of Israel from emerging threats.”

Israel Aerospace Industries was named as the prime contractor for the development and production of the system.

Israel’s Arrow Weapon System currently consists of Arrow-2 interceptors, which have been operational since 2000, and Arrow-3 interceptors, which became operational in 2017. The Arrow-4 will replace the Arrow-2 interceptors over the next decades, according to Israel’s Ministry of Defense.

The Arrow Weapon System is a major element of Israel’s multilayered defense systems, according to the Defense Ministry. The Arrow-3 interceptor—the world’s first operational, national, stand-alone anti-tactical ballistic-missiles defense system—serves as the upper layer of Israel’s multi-tier defense array.

Over the last few years, the Arrow-2 and the Arrow-3 interceptors have been upgraded, said the Defense Ministry, which noted that both systems demonstrated successful capabilities during tests held in Israel and Alaska.

Source: (This article was originally published by JNS on February 18, 2021. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: Israel Ministry of Defense Spokesperson’s Office/Israel Aerospace Industries/jns.org

Prayer Focus
Thank the Lord for military cooperation between Israel and the US. Pray for their success in developing this new weapon that will have superior defense capability while crying out to the Lord that neither nation will ever have need to use it.

Scripture

The LORD will give strength to His people; the LORD will bless His people with peace.


- Psalm 29:11