Thank you to the members of Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford, who hosted me last night for an evening of Solidarity with Israel featuring the amazing Joel Chasnoff, with proceeds going to our community’s emergency fund for Israel. As I told people last night, it’s never a solid career move to speak before a stand-up comedian and professional entertainer. But I was glad to have the opportunity to talk about what’s happening in Israel and our Federation’s response.
I want you to know that our security team was carefully following the bomb threats aimed at our local synagogues this weekend. We followed up with those targeted, with local law enforcement, and with a reminder to all our institutions with best practices for ensuring everyone’s safety. If you would like to receive these alerts and updates in your inbox, sign up here.
My awesome colleague Sigal Kanotopsky from our Jewish Federation partner the Jewish Agency for Israel, sent us a terrific update this morning with pictures from different points of light across Israel. Federation supports the Fund for Victims of Terrorism, which runs camps during school holidays and unique activities for children and teenagers who have experienced acts of terrorism up close. They need the opportunity a few times a year to be with other kids who understand their pain but at the same time have the freedom to act like kids. Last week they held a mini-camp for 80 children from the Western Negev – children who have recently lost everything. They spent a day with activities that included acrobatics, therapy dogs, make-up and more. “The joy of the children, their voices filling the corridors, filled us with love and hope. The day concluded with lighting Hannukah candles and singing together.” I would totally pet that dog, by the way. And I’m not even a dog person.
So, here we are. As fighting continues, additional IDFsoldiers have beenkilled, bringing the total number of IDF casualties since the ground offensive began to 127, (and to 459 since October 7). See details of all the fallen soldiers here. More than 1,800 soldiers have been wounded, and 38 remain hospitalized in serious condition. Nearly 70% of Iran’s gas stations went out of service following a likely cyberattack. An Israeli hacker group claimed responsibility. It was also announced today that an attempt by Iranian figures to hack into Ziv Hospital in northern Israel was recently thwarted.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Operations
Earlier today, IDF troops seized some $1.5 million in cash in suitcases found in the home of a senior Hamas member in northern Gaza (see photos). During activity in Jabalya, the IDF located an operational tunnel shaft inside a children’s room in the basement of a building. This shaft included built-in stairs and was destroyed by the brigade’s engineering forces. The IDF also carried out strikes against more than 150 sites in the Gaza Strip over the past day. In the Khan Younis area, an IAF drone spotted a Hamas cell entering a site belonging to the terror group. Troops of the Givati Brigade then directed a combat helicopter to strike the cell.
The IDF also revealed the largest-ever Hamas attack tunnel (see animated infographic) discovered by the military, in northern Gaza, close to the Erez border crossing with Israel (see map). The tunnel, of which around 2.5 miles were uncovered by the IDF, is located some 165 feet underground in some areas and appears to be wide enough for vehicles to pass through. Watch this Hamas video of the tunnel’s construction. Over the weekend, IDF forces prevented an intricate assault prepared by Hamas. The ambush included booby-trapped children’s stuffed toys and piles of children’s clothing designed to lure soldiers into believing that Israeli children had been held hostage at that location. Hamas placed a blue-tooth speaker near the toys and played dialog in Hebrew through the speaker to convince the IDF that there were hostages nearby. See also this Jewish Federation backgrounder: Does the IDF target civilians?
Hamas rocket attacks on Israel remain far lower than earlier in the war but continue to strike Israeli cities on an almost daily basis. Most rockets are intercepted by Iron Dome, but even in these cases, fragments sometimes fall causing considerable damage. See this intercepted rocket that landed in an Ashdod supermarket yesterday. In the north, Hezbollah seems to have increased its level of rocket and other fire against Israeli targets. In response, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said, “If Hezbollah wants to go up a level, we’ll go up five….We don’t want that, we don’t want to get into a war situation. We want to restore peace and we will do it either through an agreement or with forceful action, with all its implications. We don’t want war, but we won’t hold it off for too long.” In the Red Sea, Israel and the United States military continue to shoot down missiles fired at commercial shipping vessels, by Iran-back Houthi rebels in Yemen. Israel’s President Isaac Herzog said that the Houthis have crossed a red line.
In a tragic development, three hostages were mistakenly shot and killed by IDF troops who believed they were Hamas terrorists. See more here. There are ongoing reports of a potential renewed hostage deal with Hamas. Sources say that Hamas is insisting on being able to choose those Palestinian prisoners to be released, including those who have murdered Israelis. Hamas had also proposed to release the bodies of hostages it said were killed during captivity. Possibly as a first step towards a deal, and in preparation for increased aid to the Strip, Israel has reopened the Kerem Shalom Crossing to enable commercial quantities of goods to enter Gaza. However, videos circulating on social media showed Hamas gunmen stealing trucks delivering humanitarian aid to the Strip from Egypt.
It’s believed that 128 hostages remain in Gaza, following the earlier truce deal that freed 105. Four hostages were released before that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of 8 hostages have also been recovered and 3 hostages were mistakenly killed by the IDF. The military has also confirmed the deaths of 21 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. This likely leaves some 104 living hostages.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin together with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. CQ Brown, arrived in Israel earlier today. Some media reports say that Austin will announce a new maritime protection force during his visit, after repeated attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen on commercial ships traversing the Red Sea. As the Yemenite Houthis continue to raise the level of their threats towards all ships traveling to and from Israel, the US Navy today began to redeploy the USS Eisenhower Carrier group from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden, near the Yemeni coast. It has been reported that this redeployment is a signal that the US may intervene and counterattack the Houthis shortly.
A new opinion poll about the ultra-Orthodox public in Israel shows the group seems to be moving closer to mainstream Israeli society since October 7. Among the findings: 73% of the Haredi community feels a stronger sense of shared destiny with Israeli society due to the recent war. 75% expressed a deep connection to the “Israeli narrative.” 32% supported increased involvement of their community in Israeli society. And 29% favor haredi enlistment (compared to 9% before October 7). And 70% said those not studying Torah should serve in the IDF or alternative national service. Remarkably, when asked about their trust in institutions, Haredim said they trusted: The IDF – 59% Political parties (including haredi parties) – 58% Local authorities – 48%