Israel’s Beresheet Lunar Rover begins its path toward the moon, corruption charges are recommended against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, flash floods engulf Jerusalem, and a scathing UN report condemns Israel’s Gaza border operation.
Israel Goes to the Moon
In the Beginning, Israel’s Beresheet Lunar Lander looked like it might fizzle out after an unexpected glitch resulted in an engine failing to fire, but the ground control team managed to correct the glitch and continued the craft’s historic path toward the moon.
The successful landing of Israel’s rover on the moon would give Israel an astronomical amount of monumental achievements. Besides being placed in the ranks of China, the U.S., and Russia as the only countries to soft-land a craft on the moon, Beresheet’s success would be the first time a privately funded team (SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries) has pulled off the feat. Additionally, the project promises much for low-cost space exploration with the entire mission costing only about $100 million, including the launch.
The five-foot-tall craft was launched into the earth’s orbit on February 21 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and has now performed two in-space maneuvers, which are designed to raise Beresheet's orbit, pushing the craft closer and closer to the moon, according to Space.com.
After a successful landing, scheduled for April 11, Beresheet’s two-day mission is to measure local magnetic fields and run other tests, but will primarily serve to push Israel's spaceflight program forward. It carries a small payload including an Israeli flag and a time capsule that holds a "lunar library" intended to preserve the record of humanity by storing digital copies of things such as the entirety of the English-language version of Wikipedia off Earth.
The next maneuver for the landing craft is planned for this week.
Corruption Indictment Looms over Netanyahu
Israel’s attorney general on Thursday recommended criminal charges against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a series of corruption cases.
The charges are the latest threat against the embattled prime minister who has been the subject of several police investigations since 2016 along with members of his family and close circle. The recommendation comes as Netanyahu struggles to hold his coalition together while heading into a tumultuous early election this April.
The Associated Press reports that the charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust include allegations that Netanyahu “accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of champagne and cigars from billionaire friends, and allegedly used his influence to help a wealthy telecom magnate in exchange for favorable coverage on a popular news site.”
A decision on whether to file charges is not likely to be made for months, but Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s recommendation gives credibility to the investigations surrounding his business deals. The most serious of the charges is the bribery allegation that Netanyahu allegedly promoted regulatory changes that helped Shaul Elovitch, the head of telecom giant Bezeq, make a massive profit in exchange for publishing favorable items about Netanyahu and his family and promoting negative coverage about some of Netanyahu’s rivals.
Those rivals are capitalizing on the indictment recommendation using it to bolster their campaigns for the April election at a time when Netanyahu is seen as extremely vulnerable. Acutely aware of the damaging timing of the announcement, Netanyahu’s Likud party attempted to block the statement in the Supreme Court, but the request was rejected, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Netanyahu, who has held onto the prime minister position since 2009 and overcome political trials time and time again, has made clear his intention to fight the charges, according to Ha’aretz. In a public address, the prime minister framed the investigations as a politically motivated witch-hunt, maintaining he did nothing wrong and on numerous occasions saying that "there will be nothing, because there is nothing."
Heavy Flooding Douses Jerusalem
Heavy rains soaked Jerusalem late last week delivering a staggering one-quarter of the city’s average annual rainfall in a single day, leading to significant flooding and dramatic rescues throughout the city.
The flash floods struck after more than 136 millimeters of rain fell in Jerusalem on Thursday, covering roads, stranding motorists, damaging infrastructure and cutting off access to a school. Dramatic videos of rescues quickly spread on social media, including the retrieval of the 1,200 trapped students. The Times of Israel reports that after an access road to the school in southern Jerusalem was deemed unsafe for buses to travel on, rescue officials had to rely on Jeeps that could survive the high waters to bring the students to safety, though several of the Jeeps were also swamped.
Just outside Jerusalem, two men were rescued in the Arazim valley. A video captured one of the men standing on the roof of his half-submerged vehicle just feet above the rushing waters. He was ushered to safety as rescuers waded into the rushing water and threw him a life preserver attached to a rope.
Besides the risk to lives, the floods also left significant damage to some city infrastructure. The torrents of rain caused fast erosion leading to the collapse of a large chunk of the West Bank barrier wall near the Shoafat refugee camp. Ha’aretz reports that some residents of the camp, which is a decades-old neighborhood, celebrated the collapse of the wall that compels them to navigate through security checkpoints to access the rest of the city. The same section of the wall has already collapsed twice, once last year and in 2013.
Israel wasn’t alone in fighting the floods last week. The next-door Kingdom of Jordan declared a “level 4” weather alert and conducted rescues of their own after the heaviest rains of this winter season so far. The entire region has experience dangerous flooding recently caused by irregular and sudden rainfall. Last winter, dozens of people were killed in flash floods, including ten teenagers near the Dead Sea, which led to a criminal investigation.
The entire region has been suffering through a prolonged drought for six years, but short, extreme rainfalls like this one are not enough to break the dry spell.
Weekly Gaza Update, UN Report
Despite a quiet lull in the weekly Gaza border protests at the fence, the violence manifested from the air this week as the IDF struck Hamas outposts in response to a cluster of explosives tied to balloons sent from Gaza into Israel.
Despite a quieter week, the global attention is again focused on Israel in the wake of a scathing UN report that accuses Israel of possibly committing “war crimes or crimes against humanity” in their handling of the Great March of Return protests that have left hundreds dead and thousands wounded since they began one year ago.
The report, issued by a panel set up by the UN Human Rights Council, which has a notorious bias against Israel, claims that Israeli soldiers intentionally fired on civilians including children and journalists. The Israeli government framed the report as "hostile, false and biased.”
The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has responded to the report saying the UN has set “new records for hypocrisy and mendacity out of an obsessive hatred of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. It is Hamas, which fires missiles at Israeli citizens, throws explosive devices and carries out terrorist activity during the violent demonstrations along the fence [which should be investigated].”
Israeli security forces also announced that they had heard unidentified operatives on loudspeakers promising children at the border NIS 300 ($83) if they get injured, according to the Times of Israel. The commission did fault Hamas for not preventing the use of incendiary airborne devices tied to kites and balloons that scorched swathes of Israeli farmland during the protests, according to Ynet.
Israel is the only country in the world on the agenda at every UNHRC session as “Item 7” on "Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”