In this week's Israel News Recap Without the Rhetoric, Israel and Iran come to blows, a new prayer section at the Kotel, and the discover of the Byzantine Mosaic. After over a year of delay, construction has commenced on a southern section of the Kotel in Jerusalem’s old city that allows both men and women to pray in the same section.
Construction to Renovate Egalitarian Section of Western Wall Begins
The construction is based on a plan first drawn up in 2016, but was quickly hampered by controversy and ultimately frozen in June 2017 over objections from Haredi parties. They disagreed over the make-up of the committee in charge of the remodel and design of the plaza entrance. Now, however, the construction has proceeded under the direction of the government but without key aspects of the deal originally agreed upon for the renovation.
The original blueprints include upgrades at the Robinson’s Arch significantly expanding the prayer space, the creation of a larger prayer area next to the Western Wall stones than the current one, and a wider staircase leading to the prayer area, according to The Jerusalem Post.
The go-ahead on the construction is being welcomed by some but treated with suspicion by others who demand that the terms of the original construction deal be met. Haaretz reports that Netanyahu, who helped freeze the deal in 2017 under pressure from the religious parties, has made it clear that he will not keep several of the key parts of the original deal such as making the new prayer plaza fully visible, sharing an entrance with all visitors, and creating a new public authority to administer the section that would include non-Orthodox and members of a feminist movement called Women of the Wall.
The Reform and Conservative movements, both supporting the expansion of the egalitarian prayer area, have met the construction with divided reactions. The Reform Movement demands that the full original deal be met or nothing at all. The Conservative Movement has shown that some flexibility may be beneficial, according to Haaretz.
A petition is now in front of the Supreme Court from both the Reform and Conservative movements arguing against the government for backing out of the full agreement.
Israel and Iran Come to Blows over Syria
After months of saber-rattling, Israel and Iran have engaged in open combat over the skies of Israel and Syria.
The Israeli Security Forces first reported that an Iranian-controlled drone had entered and violated Israeli airspace before an Israeli attack helicopter intercepted it and shot it down. In response, an Israeli air sortie targeted twelve Syrian and Iranian sites and struck the base the drone originated from near Palmyra inside Syria, destroying buildings and equipment and killing at least six members of the Syrian army and its affiliated forces.
One Israeli F-16 fighter jet in the squadron launching the airstrikes was hit after Syrian anti-aircraft defenses launched a slew of anti-aircraft missiles at the attacking jets. The F-16 crashed in the Golan Heights near Beit She’an, within Israeli territory. Both crew members were able to eject safely, though one was seriously injured and is currently in recovery.
The IDF said the Iranian drone’s design was based on an American stealth drone that was intercepted by Iran six years ago.
Israel said several of the sites it targeted on Saturday "are part of Iran's military establishment in Syria." Iran denied that its drone had been shot down, but video appears to dispute that.
This marks a dangerous escalation game in the fight over Syria as more foreign interests such as Iran seek to entrench closer to Israeli borders under cover of the current conflict. For years now, Iran and its militia forces have pushed further into Syria and possibly even into Iraq as part of the Arab force pushing back the Islamic State. Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and anyone not allied with Iran have been warning that the ground gained by the Iranian forces is unlikely to be relinquished after the defeat of the Islamic State. Instead, the fear is that they will use the new territory to establish bases for staging attacks and missions, such as the drone Israel shot down.
“The Syrians are playing with fire when they allow the Iranians to attack Israel from their soil,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli military, in a statement. “We are willing, prepared, and capable to exact a heavy price on anyone who attacks us. However, we are not looking to escalate the situation.”
Military analysts are expecting that this new level of engagement is far from over. Iran is highly unlikely to remove its forces from Syria having invested so much into supporting Syria’s Assad. Israel is bent on keeping Iran away from its borders and from expanding into Syria. Additionally, Russia can remain neutral in this only for so long since it has ground and air assets working with Syria.
This is the biggest and most significant attack the Israeli air force has carried out against Syrian air defenses since 1982.
Rare Greek Mosaic with Inscription Unearthed
Archeologists uncovering the ruins of a Byzantine structure were delighted to discover a rare Greek mosaic underneath the Byzantine commercial building in Caesarea.
The Times of Israel reports that the colorful mosaic, dated around the second or third century, is one of few examples of mosaics from that era in Israel and “its craftsmanship is compared by archaeologists to the fine artistry found in Antioch.”
The mosaic depicts three males wearing togas, typical mosaic patterns and an unusually long Greek inscription. The inscription, unfortunately, was damaged by the building on top of it. Some letters are missing or damaged rendering it difficult to decipher, but are being studied at Hebrew University’s Institute of Archeology. The archeologists do not expect that this is the last find in this artifact-rich area.