Syrian rebel resistance to the Syrian Army advance on Quneitra opposite the Israeli Golan crumbled on Thursday, July 19, in the absence of Israeli military support. The terms of surrender that rebel leaders signed with Syrian army officers obliged them to hand over all their strongholds, including the town of Quneitra. The Syrian army was able to return to the positions held before the 2011 uprising without a shot. Rebels refusing to sign were to be sent with their families north to Idlib province.
Israeli officials and military leaders were dismayed by a message received from Damascus claiming that the 1974 Separation of Forces Accord, which both governments resuscitated this week, allowed Syrian aircraft, including assault helicopters and UAVs, to fly over the buffer zones of the Golan up to the Israel border. Damascus relayed a copy of the accord to Moscow with a warning that any Israeli attempt to shoot down a Syrian overflight would be a breach of the 1974 accord, and its endorsement on July 16 at Helsinki by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. DEBKAfile revealed on July 17 that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had partnered the Helsinki deal for the restoration of southern Syria to the Syrian army under Russian oversight.
Israeli officers were handed the Syrian message on Thursday by the UNDOF commander, Maj Gen. Francis Vib-Sanziri of Ghana, who is henceforth responsible for monitoring implementation of the Helsinki deal.
According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, this Syrian message for the first time forbids the Israeli air force and anti-air missile batteries shooting down Syrian aerial vehicles entering the air space over the buffer zones. On July 13, Israel shot down a Syrian drone entering the buffer zone. This is no longer permissible. Israel is even precluded from discovering if the intruder belongs to Iran or Hizballah, leaving both these hostile entities free to fly at will over Israel’s Golan border. Furthermore, Assad may have those flight painted with Syrian air force markings, just as he supplies Syrian military uniforms to disguise Hizballah and pro-Iranian Shiite militiamen.
Our sources reveal that it took the Assad regime no more than four days to renege on Syria’s role in the Helsinki accord. For regaining Quneitra, the Syrian army, led by disguised Hizballah and Shiite troops, was obliged to evacuate the Beit Jinn pocket opposite the IDF’s Hermon outpost. On Monday, July 16, the Syrians pretended to pull back, while actually leaving several hundred troops behind – disguised this time as civilians and farmers.
“We do everything possible to prevent the escalation of the conflict” Russian Ambassador to Iran Levan Dzhagaryan.
Moscow is concerned by a possible military escalation between Iran and Israel and is doing everything possible to prevent a conflict between them, Russian Ambassador to Iran Levan Dzhagaryan said in an interview with Russian daily Kommersant on Wednesday.
“Sometimes conflicts arise, and we are naturally concerned about the possibility of military confrontation between the Iranian and Israeli forces in Syria. We do everything possible to prevent it. To prevent the escalation of the conflict,” he was quoted as saying.
“Iran is not a country that you can put pressure on. This is a big state, pursuing an independent foreign policy. Work with Iranians can only be a method of persuasion,” Dzhagaryan said.
Tensions between the two foes has risen in recent months and Jerusalem has repeatedly said it would not allow Iran to set up a permanent presence in Syria.
Israeli officials, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, have met with their Russian counterparts , both in Russia and in Israel, numerous times in recent weeks to stress the importance of this point.”
Last week Liberman reiterated Israel’s concerns, stressing that the “the Iranian presence in Syria is unreasonable, and we are not prepared to accept an Iranian presence in Syria anywhere, and as you have heard more than once, we will act against any Iranian consolidation in Syria.”
In recent weeks Syrian government forces backed by Russian air-power have been retaking large swathes of territory on the Syrian Golan Heights from rebel groups along the Israeli border. Iranian forces and affiliated Shiite militias are also said to be playing a minor role in the offensive.
Due to the offensive and the Shiite forces creeping steadily to the border, the IDF reinforced the Golan Division with additional armor and artillery ready to protect Israel’s border “until the last millimeter.”
Last week in a joint press conference in Helsinki with US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin agree on securing Israel’s border with Syria in accordance with the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement following the Yom Kippur War.
Doing so, Putin said, would bring “peace to [the] Golan Heights and bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel, and also to provide security of the State of Israel.”
Moscow intervened in the Syrian conflict in September 2015 and as an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Moscow finds itself part of an alliance between Damascus and Tehran, the patron of Hezbollah. Russia, which views Iran as a key player in resolving the crisis in Syria, has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the role that the Islamic Republic plays in the war-torn country.
Israel believes that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Corps and Quds forces have continued to entrench themselves in Syria despite strikes against Iranian targets attributed to Israel, the most recent being last week in Syria’s Aleppo province.
Israeli intelligence estimates there are thousands of Iranian advisers and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officers in Syria, some 9000 Shiite militia fighters from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq and another 7,000 Hezbollah fighters.
Israel and Russia implemented a deconfliction mechanism system over Syria to prevent accidental clashes between the two militaries and, according to Liberman, the deconfliction mechanism with Russia is “a connection that proves itself.”
“It is clear that each side has its own interests. Each side sees the picture differently. In the years of civil war in Syria, we were able to avoid direct friction, and that is an achievement in itself,” he said in February. “This is an effective relationship.”
|An ancient mosaic depicting the 12 tribes of Israel|
The final draft of the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law was approved Wednesday by an 8 to 7 committee vote after government officials and Knesset members wrangled over key details in the text. The bill then went to a final vote very early Thursday morning (Israeli time) and passed it’s second and third readings in the full Knesset with a vote of 62 to 55. The third reading is final and because of this successful vote, the bill now becomes law. As an Israeli Basic Law, it has constitutional weight and supersedes regular statutory legislation.
In my estimation, July 19, 2018 will go down in history as one of the most significant dates in Israel’s prophetic history—right up there with May 14, 1948 and June 7, 1967. 1948 was the restoration of the nation-state itself, 1967 the restoration of the nation’s capital, and 2018 the restoration of the nation’s biblical identity.
|The Knesset’s final vote on the Nation-State Basic Law very early on July 19, 2018|
Thousands have gathered in Tel Aviv to protest the legislation:
I’ve been following the progression of this law through the Knesset since March, recognizing that if it were to pass this year it would undoubtedly make 2018 as prophetically significant as 1948 and 1967. Well, it passed. It happened. And it happened 70 years since the nation was established—the length of a biblical generation according to Psalm 90:10. Israel’s biblical and Jewish identity has now been restored, along with its prophetic purpose to in-gather the exiles and possess the Holy Land. Even more amazing, it was exactly one year ago this week that Israel temporarily regained control of the Temple Mount and Jewish prayers were first offered openly on the ancient Temple platform.
- The land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people only (as God’s covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob stipulates); from 1948 to 2018 it was the land of both Jews and Arabs
- The Israelites’ ancient language, Hebrew, is now the official language of the land
- The biblical calendar is now the official calendar of Israel
- Keeping the biblical Sabbath is now a nationwide requirement
- The biblical festivals and holidays are now officially recognized by the state and must be kept nationwide
- The Israeli government must work to complete ingathering the exiles—a prophetic term pertaining to the end of the age when the dispersed Israelites would return to the land; furthermore, the law makes official Israel’s connection to the Diaspora
- Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel
- Jewish settlement of the Holy Land is now a “national value” and will be officially encouraged by the government—further bringing Israel back on track for God’s prophetic program of the Israelites possessing the land
- The state shall act in official capacity to preserve the Jewish religion around the world
- The Star of David is the official flag, the Second Temple’s Menorah is the official state symbol, and Hatikvah, a poem which formalizes the Israelites’ prophetic desire to return to Zion, is the official national anthem
- Interestingly, it seems that the bill changes the official name of Israel from the “State of Israel” to just “Israel”
A major dispensational change is now imminent when God will return His focus to the restoration of Israel:
When they finished, James spoke up. ‘Brothers,’ he said, ‘listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things—
things known from long ago.’
The final text of the new law is as follows:
Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People
1 — Basic principles
A. The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established.
B. The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.
C. The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.
2 — The symbols of the state
A. The name of the state is “Israel.”
B. The state flag is white with two blue stripes near the edges and a blue Star of David in the center.
C. The state emblem is a seven-branched menorah with olive leaves on both sides and the word “Israel” beneath it.
D. The state anthem is “Hatikvah.”
E. Details regarding state symbols will be determined by the law.
3 — The capital of the state
Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.
4 — Language
A. The state’s language is Hebrew.
B. The Arabic language has a special status in the state; Regulating the use of Arabic in state institutions or by them will be set in law.
C. This clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.
5 — Ingathering of the exiles
The state will be open for Jewish immigration and the ingathering of exiles.
6 — Connection to the Jewish people
A. The state will strive to ensure the safety of the members of the Jewish people in trouble or in captivity due to the fact of their Jewishness or their citizenship.
B. The state shall act within the Diaspora to strengthen the affinity between the state and members of the Jewish people.
C. The state shall act to preserve the cultural, historical and religious heritage of the Jewish people among Jews in the Diaspora.
7 — Jewish settlement
A. The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.
8 — Official calendar
The Hebrew calendar is the official calendar of the state and alongside it the Gregorian calendar will be used as an official calendar. Use of the Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian calendar will be determined by law.
9 — Independence Day and memorial days
A. Independence Day is the official national holiday of the state.
B. Memorial Day for the Fallen in Israel’s Wars and Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day are official memorial days of the State.
10 — Days of rest and sabbath
The Sabbath and the festivals of Israel are the established days of rest in the state; Non-Jews have a right to maintain days of rest on their Sabbaths and festivals; Details of this issue will be determined by law.
11 — Immutability
This Basic Law shall not be amended, unless by another Basic Law passed by a majority of Knesset members.
Iranian leadership does not intend to withdraw its troops from Syria
The special representative of the Russian president for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, should visit Tehran on July 19 to hold a meeting with members of the Iranian Security Council. This was reported by the Russian Embassy in the Islamic Republic. Evidently, Lavrentiev will tell the Iranian leadership about the decisions of the summit in Helsinki, where the leaders of the Russian Federation and the United States seem to have reached an understanding on the need to limit the Iranian military presence in Syria. However, the former American diplomat and Arab experts explained to NG that there is no need to count on the obedience of Tehran.
The Iranian leadership demonstrates sharpness in assessing the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his American counterpart Donald Trump in Helsinki. “Neither Russians nor Europeans can make a decision on the withdrawal of Iranian military specialists from Syria,” said Hossein Amir Abdollahiyyan, senior adviser to the speaker of the Iranian parliament, speaking on the Al-Kawthar TV channel on the day of the summit. According to him, his country’s advisers will not leave Syria until peace reigns in Syria and the safety of Syrian citizens is ensured. It is possible that the results of the dialogue between the presidents of Russia and the United States have become one of the reasons why the Iranian leadership gathers staff and heads of Iranian diplomatic missions in Tehran in the coming days so that, as official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic Bahram Kassemi explained,
The situation in the south of Syria shows that at present Iran has agreed to leave these areas located in the neighborhood with Israel and Jordan. At least this was indicated on the day of the Helsinki summit by Lavrentiev himself, who participated in negotiations with the American side as part of the Russian delegation. “In principle, no one is recording them there in the region,” the diplomat answered the question about the presence of Iranian formations in the Syrian southern provinces. In response to the clarifying question that followed, Lavrentiev explained that the units under the direct or indirect leadership of Tehran there “as such did not exist.” The special representative of the Russian president also did not forget to emphasize that the goals of the Russian Federation and the United States in Syria coincide. “The goals of stabilizing the situation and reaching a political settlement are goals pursued by us,
However, this does not mean Iran’s consent to the requirements of the Russian Federation and the United States. “Iran will be quite effective in resisting any attempt to restrict its freedom of action in Syria,” former Foreign Ministry spokesman Frédéric Hof told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “Even if Russia wants to weaken Iran’s influence, I doubt that it will succeed in the course of time.”
Nevertheless, the former diplomat, who worked under the leadership of Hillary Clinton, believes that Tehran can pause in its attempts to establish a military presence near the Golan Heights – as long as the American leadership is not convinced of the security of Israeli borders and will not decide to withdraw its contingent from Syria. “As soon as the Americans leave, the creation of a new” resistance front “by Iran and Hezbollah (the Lebanese grouping – NG) east of the Golan Heights can be resumed with even greater scope,” Hof said in a conversation with Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
“I stressed the importance of putting pressure on Iran to stop its campaign of violence and nuclear striving in the region in the Middle East,” Trump said after a meeting with Putin. – We discussed the crisis in Syria. That’s a very difficult question. Cooperation between our countries can potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives. I also said that the US will not allow Iran to take advantage of our successful campaign against the IG (“Islamic State”, banned in the Russian Federation – “NG”). ” In his response, the Russian president focused on the agreement of 1974 on the separation of Israeli and Syrian troops – the situation in the Golan Heights should be brought into line with him after the defeat of the terrorists. “This will restore calm to the Golan, restore the ceasefire between the Syrian Arab Republic and Israel,
“Damascus is very important for Iran,” Samir Seifan, Executive Director of the Qatar Center for Contemporary Studies “Harmun”, explained to NG. – Who controls Damascus, he controls South Syria. At a press conference, Putin and Trump announced that they had reached an agreement on South Syria. They are concerned about the security of Israel. This area (the south of the Arab Republic – NG) is now controlled by Russian forces along with government troops, but Iran is present in a different form. On the other hand, Russia and Iran are both cooperating and competing on Syrian soil. The presence of the Iranian militia is important for Russia to hold territory. It is not clear yet whether Putin and Trump have agreed on the issue of Northeast Syria and the future political process, but it is understandable that Trump transfers Russia’s responsibility for Syria. ”
Long before the meeting in Helsinki, experts suggested that, as one of the concessions in Syria, Trump could present Putin with the withdrawal of the American contingent from the north-eastern regions of the Arab Republic. The head of the White House repeatedly spoke about his intention to reduce American participation in the settlement of the Syrian conflict due to the fact that, in his opinion, American taxpayers should not bear the burden of financial responsibility for military campaigns in the Middle East. The hypothesis, in particular, was voiced in a conversation with Nezavisimaya Gazeta by Frederic Hof (see the issue dated 02.07.18). In his opinion, in exchange for the “surrender” of the northeast by the Americans, the Russian side could undertake obligations in the sphere of security. “Moscow, in turn, may consider the option of ensuring the security of Israel and Jordan in the southwest as an incentive for the US to abandon the north-east,” the ex-diplomat noted.
In the expert community, they emphasize that the Iranian leadership has probably already accepted the demands placed on it in the south of Syria – from Russia, Israel and the United States. “After the February clashes (between the opposition and the government army – NG), a more stable status quo appeared in South Syria,” explained Ezid Saig, a senior researcher at the Carnegie Middle East Center. “This allowed Russia to support the Assad regime in its desire to regain control of Deraa (the southern province that was held by the fractions of the moderate armed opposition – NG) and most of the south-west of Syria.” According to the expert, this assumes a sufficient level of mutual understanding between the Russian Federation, the United States and Israel. “In other words,
However, the main thing in the history of South Syria is another, the analyst points out. “I suspect that Iran has already developed a long-term strategy for its presence in Syria in such a way that its focus is primarily on maintaining the combat capability (the Islamic Republic – NG) from the point of view of personnel or equipment,” Saig said. “In other words, he (Iran,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta “) will not resist or respond to developments in South Syria, as these events are not so relevant.”
As “NG” has already written, the soldiers of the Iranian formations are deeply integrated into the detachments of the Syrian government army. Earlier in the Israeli press, there were even reports that the Shiite militia was disguised as a Syrian military to avoid Israeli strikes. The influence of Tehran on the state institutions of Syria also remains quite impressive.
Spokesman for Tehran’s nuclear agency says it is taking steps towards boosting centrifuge work should talks with Europe fall through
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran is ready to boost its uranium enrichment to higher levels if talks with Europe on salvaging the nuclear deal fail, a top official said Tuesday.
“We have of course adopted some measures in order to prepare the ground for eventually increasing the level of enrichment if it is needed and if the negotiations with the Europeans fail,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman and vice-president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told a news conference in Tehran.
“We are of course continuing to carry out and implement our obligations based on the JCPOA,” he said, referring to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that put strict limits on its atomic program in return for sanctions relief.
“But at the same time, taking every scenario into consideration, we are preparing ourselves,” he added.
The United States announced in May that it was abandoning the 2015 agreement and reimposing nuclear-related sanctions, threatening global companies with heavy penalties if they continue to operate in Iran.
In a bid to save the accord, the EU and European parties to the deal — Britain, France, and Germany — presented a series of economic “guarantees” to Iran this month, but these were judged “insufficient” by Tehran.
Negotiations are continuing, and foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Monday they could last several “weeks,” according to state television.
In June, in a bid to mount pressure on the Europeans, Iran announced a plan to increase its uranium enrichment capacity with new centrifuges in the event that the agreement collapses, while still denying any desire to build a nuclear weapon.
Under the 2015 agreement, Iran can only enrich uranium to 3.67 percent — far below the roughly 90% level needed for nuclear weapons.
Ali Akbar Salehi says his country has enough nuclear material to reach its longtime goal of 190,000 centrifuges
The chief of Iran’s nuclear agency said on Wednesday that his country’s effort to acquire uranium has resulted in a stockpile of as much as 950 tons.
Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told state TV that Iran had imported some 400 tons of uranium since the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Western powers, bringing its stockpile to between 900 and 950 tons — up from 500 tons.
Salehi said that would be enough of the material for Iran to reach its longtime goal of running 190,000 centrifuge machines for enriching uranium in the future.
Salehi also said that the country constructed a new factory to build rotor blades for centrifuges, with a capacity to manufacture rotors for up to 60 IR-6 centrifuges per day, Reuters reported.
Salehi insisted that the factory did not break the terms of the nuclear agreement.
“Instead of building this factory in the next seven or eight years, we built it during the negotiations but did not start it,” Salehi said, according to Reuters.
“Of course, the [Supreme Leader] was completely informed and we gave him the necessary information at the time. And now that he has given the order this factory has started all of its work.”
The nuclear accord limits Iran’s uranium enrichment to 3.67 percent, enough to use in a nuclear power plant but far lower than the 90% needed for an atomic weapon.
However, since the US pulled out of the deal in May, Iran has vowed to boost enrichment capacity to put pressure on the remaining signatories to live up to the agreement.
In a video clip aired Tuesday by Israeli television, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted that Israel was responsible for Trump’s decision to quit the Iran nuclear deal.
The prime minister, who has long railed against the pact, gave a dramatic presentation a little over a week before Trump’s May 8 decision, where he unveiled documents Israel secreted away from Tehran that he said proved “Iran lied” about its nuclear program.
In his announcement, the US president said the accord would not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms and he therefore was exiting the agreement and reimposing sanctions.
Trump’s decision was sharply opposed by Iran and the deal’s other signatories — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China. Those countries are currently working to preserve the accord following the US pullout.
Israel considers Iran its arch-enemy, citing Iran’s calls for Israel’s destruction, support for terrorist groups across the region, and growing military activity in neighboring Syria. Israel has warned that it will not allow Iran, whose troops are backing Syrian President Bashar Assad, to establish a permanent military presence in Syria.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Israel struck a villa housing Shi’ite militias, Iranian forces in attempt to disrupt Iran’s land corridor to Mediterranean
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the new factory did not in itself break the terms of the nuclear deal
Iran has built a factory that can produce rotors for up to 60 centrifuges a day, the head of its atomic agency said on Wednesday, upping the stakes in a confrontation with Washington over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear work.
The announcement came a month after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he had ordered agencies to prepare to increase uranium enrichment capacity if a nuclear deal with world powers falls apart after Washington’s withdrawal from the pact.
Under the terms of the 2015 agreement, which was also signed by Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
The other signatories have been scrambling to save the accord, arguing it offers the best way to stop Iran developing a nuclear bomb.
Iran has said it will wait to see what the other powers can do, but has signaled it is ready to get its enrichment activities back on track. It has regularly said its nuclear work is just for electricity generation and other peaceful projects.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the new factory did not in itself break the terms of the agreement.
“Instead of building this factory in the next seven or eight years, we built it during the negotiations but did not start it,” Salehi, said, according to state media.
“Of course, the [Supreme Leader] was completely informed and we gave him the necessary information at the time. And now that he has given the order this factory has started all of its work.”
The factory would have the capacity to build rotors for up to 60 IR-6 centrifuges per day, he added.
Last month, Salehi announced that Iran has begun working on infrastructure for building advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility.
The Syrian army and Hizballah advanced to a point on Tuesday, July 17, that was close enough to Israel’s Golan border to bomb its northern cities. Yet Israel’s leaders had shifted their attention to Gaza and a possible counter-terror operation against Hamas.
An approaching operation was signaled by the IDF’s troop build-up around the Gaza border, the deployment of extra Iron Dome anti-rocket batteries in Greater Tel Aviv and video presentations of soldiers geared for battle run on TV screens. Commanders interviewed by military reporters outlined their targets and the sectors of the Gaza Strip to which their units were assigned. Adding to the drama, both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman paid visits to the IDF formations with pep talks. With them was the Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkot. The day before, Netanyahu paid his first visit to Sderot, the town long battered by Palestinian rockets from next-door Gaza.
Suddenly, no one remembered that a Gaza operation had been ruled out for months because the danger to the northern front was deemed more pressing, even though the worst-case scenario was now at hand. On Tuesday, while Israel’s top officials toured the south, the Syrian army, eighty percent of whose troops are members of Hizballah and Shiite militias loyal to Iran, had pressed forward to the Quneitra region and reached a point 4km from the Israeli border.
Seeing the Syrian and Hizballah troops so close, dozens of Syrian refugees came up to the Israeli Golan border waving pieces of white clothing and appealing for help. IDF officers told them through loudspeakers to go back to their tents in the demilitarized zone.
IDF officers posted on the Golan reported anonymously that Syrian and Hizballah forces had captured the hilltop town of Tel Al-Harra, from which they could not only blast all parts of the Golan, but even reach Israel’s northern Galilee and Mediterranean coastal towns, like Nahariya.
No official bothered to tell the Israeli public why the Netanyahu government had suddenly abandoned the northern front. The first clue came from the abrupt halt in Israeli air force flights over the embattled districts of southern Syria on Tuesday, July 16, as US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin sat down in Helsinki for their first full meeting. It was Putin who shed light on the change when he disclosed that he and the US president had agreed that Israel’s border with Syrian should be secured according to the terms of the 1974 separations of forces agreement for the Golan, thereby endorsing a demand made in the last two weeks by the Israeli prime minister. The full connotations for Israel of this format have yet to be revealed to the public. Meanwhile, popular attention has swung round to the Gaza front to see whether the government and IDF actually go through with their plans for an operation to finally cut Hamas down,
Nice, France — I was getting out of our car with my wife and children on a main thoroughfare in Nice when a young French-Jewish woman walked over to us. Speaking in a heavily accented English, she practically begged us to either get back in the car or at least take our yarmulkes off. “I don’t want you to get attacked. This is not a good neighborhood for Jews.”
We were disturbed by the encounter. Not because we believed that we were in danger, but because of her state of alarm. She was genuinely scared for us. And when my wife and I were buying tickets to a French museum, the woman who was selling us our tickets asked my wife to please put away her Magen David necklace. “I am Jewish, too. I also love Israel. But it’s not safe.”
Welcome to France, the third largest Jewish community on earth, comprised of a secret society of 600,000. By this I mean that French Jews are vibrant, extremely well organized, passionate, and quite observant. There is one catch. You don’t know they are Jewish unless they reveal themselves to you.
While walking in St. Tropez immediately after France won the World Cup, with the entire city celebrating, a man on a scooter with his girlfriend started singing to us “Am Yisrael Chai.” He saw our kippot and outed himself.
We saw the same thing happening while walking the streets of Cannes the day before. Many people whom we did not know were Jewish would say, “Shabbat Shalom,” “Good Sabbath,” or just “Shalom.” I felt that our overt Jewish demeanor was bringing more people out of the woodwork.
This does not mean, by any stretch, that French Jewry is doomed. To the contrary. I was amazed at their vibrancy, Jewish commitment, and solidarity with Israel.
For all the reports that we American and Israeli Jews read about growing French antisemitism, especially emanating from sectors of the Muslim community, and for all the reports of French Jews wanting to either make aliyah to Israel or emigrate to Canada, French Jewry is still thriving.
What has changed is that it’s becoming more and more subterranean. Yes, you can still find large numbers of synagogues, kosher restaurants, and Jewish community centers. What you don’t see on the streets, however, is Jews. Or you see them, but you don’t necessarily know they are Jews. Overt, identifiable symbols of Jewishness — like a kippa, Magen David, or tzitzit — are disappearing from French streets and cities.
Why? Because French Jews are genuinely concerned about a possible attack.
There is one glaring exception: Chabad rabbis and community members who walk around with black hats, long black coats, and tzitzit flying, and the Chabad women dressed in clearly identifiable Jewish modest garb.
And how did I feel as an American Jew, walking around with a family wearing yarmulkes and tzitzit? I got some stares, to be sure. And truth be told, on the night that France won the World Cup semi-final, there were some stares at my Yarmulke that might have been interpreted as menacing.
But contrast that with the following story: I was walking in St. Tropez with my kids just as the World Cup final was beginning; we painted our faces in support of France. And there we were, clearly identifiable American Jews who had suddenly been transformed into fans of “Les Bleus.” Two hours later, as France erupted like a volcano upon their 4-2 victory over Croatia, we were swept up into the celebrations as people all around broke into “La Marseillaise,” lit flares, jumped into the water, sang, and doused us in champagne.
So how did it feel, for a brief moment, to be both French and overtly Jewish? Well, it felt like it’s something that could be pulled off — if only people could always live at the pinnacle of joy that comes from a World Cup victory.
It is utterly unacceptable that Jews in France should feel unsafe. The government must enforce the strictest penalties against all antisemitic attacks and safeguard Jewish areas to the highest degree. They must also teach about the Holocaust in all French schools — the French were official collaborators with the Nazis after their initial defeat — and the French government must always embrace a strong alliance with Israel. French Muslim leaders must preach love and friendship with their fellow sons of Abraham, and brook no incitement in the name of Islam toward Jewry.
But alongside all that, there must also be a stalwart decision on the part of French Jews to proudly wear their Jewishness on their sleeves.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 32 books, including Lust for Love, co-authored with Pamela Anderson. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.