In a move to expand its air campaign, Russia carried out airstrikes in Syria’s southern province of Daraa Wednesday night, striking villages only 15 kilometers from the Israeli Golan Heights, according to reports. It’s the closest that Russian aircraft have been to the Israeli border. According to The Jerusalem Post, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Abraham Assael, CEO of the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzliya, said that “the mere fact of this makes us a little more worried … due to the potential of creating an unclear picture, and the potential for accidental friction, the end result of which is unknown."
Despite Russian claims that their entry into Syria was based on their desire to combat ISIL, Russia and Iran have, in the past month, "stepped up" their operations inside of Syria against rebel groups. In recent weeks, Iran has sent up to 2,000 of its own troops and fighters from Iranian-backed militias “to the front lines.” In response to Russia’s expansion into Syria a month ago, former Deputy Director of the CIA John McLaughlin said, “These are facts on the ground… Anything we do now will be conditioned by their presence and influence. This is a reality we now have to deal with.” This week, the U.S. announced that talks aimed at achieving a political transition in Syria would be held in Vienna on Friday and that Russia and Iran would be participating. At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) pressed Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Anne Patterson, on why Russia and Iran were invited to the talks, if they do not share the same end goals as the United States. She responded, “Well, from a practical matter, Senator, they're there on the ground. So they have to be involved in the process.”
For the past ten days, Russia has also aided Iran in delivering weapons into Syria, according to a Fox News report on Wednesday. Russia uses unregistered cargo planes to help deliver the weapons shipments, and Iran’s head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ expeditionary Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani, is said to be coordinating the flights. Iran’s weapons trafficking is a violation of two UN Security Council resolutions. The report also highlighted that a sanctioned Iranian civilian airline is flying “military personnel” multiple times per day from Tehran to Latakia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s stronghold along the western coast of Syria.
Micah Lakin Avni, the son of Richard Lakin, an American-Israeli teacher and peace activist who died earlier this week due to injuries sustained in a Palestinian terror attack two weeks ago, said that his father was the victim of “incitement and hate,” The New York Times reported Thursday.
My father had been a great beneficiary of social media. He used Facebook and Twitter to express his thoughts on education and on peace. He also became the victim of a tremendous amount of incitement and hate on those vehicles.
Avni’s comments were part of a larger argument that he presented in a conference call hosted by The Israel Project this Tuesday. During the call, Avni stated that social media companies need to make a greater effort to stop the spread of incitement.
Avni also emphasized his father’s commitment to coexistence and noted that one of the head nurses at the Jerusalem hospital where his father was treated is an Arab-Israeli who had brought her two sons to Lakin’s house for a lesson a week before the attack. A recording of the complete conference call is embedded below. The Israel Project publishes The Tower.
Richard Lakin is named as the chief plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by 20,000 Israelis earlier this week, which calls on Facebook to do more to stop violent incitement. According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Magen David Adom medical emergency service reports that Lakin is one of 11 victims killed in the recent wave of Palestinian terror, which also left 126 injured, 13 seriously. (via TheTower.org)
Click here to listen to TIP's conference call with Micah Lakin Avni.
Israeli startups are already on track for a record-breaking year of funding and acquisitions. The new government Startup Visa initiative for foreign entrepreneurs and tech workers could make the local startup ecosystem even more prolific and profitable. The Israeli Ministry of Economy and Ministry of Interior, along with the Office of the Chief Scientist, will soon start allowing entrepreneurs from around the world to come to Tel Aviv for 24 months in order to develop innovative projects. Entrepreneurs who wish to stay in Israel and open a startup company can be granted a special Expert Visa extendable for up to five years. They may then receive reimbursement for their work, and their companies may apply for support from the Office of the Chief Scientist. “Israel is perceived in the world as a center of innovation and development, and we must preserve this achievement. The Startup Visa will enable foreign entrepreneurs from around the world to develop new ideas in Israel that will aid the development of the Israeli market,” said Minister of Economy Aryeh Deri. The upcoming program is meant to ease some of the bureaucratic red tape currently facing collaborations between Israeli and foreign startups. (via Israel21c)