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Israel’s AM Radio Pierces Gaza Tunnels in Bid to Soothe Hostages

Israeli soldiers operate at the opening to a tunnel at Al Shifa Hospital compound in Gaza City, amid the ongoing ground operation of the Israeli army against Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, November 22, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

After conquering a Hamas tunnel in the northern Gaza Strip, a group of Israeli soldiers went down it with some unusual kit in hand – not explosives, robot probes or pistols for close combat, but rather: old-style, dial-operated transistor radios.

Their mission was to descend until the devices could no longer receive AM transmissions from Israel. That point, they found, was at about 10 to 12 metres depth, generally the upper “storeys” of Palestinian terrorists’ subterranean network.

The Jan 4 experiment was ordered by their commander at the behest of Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, who had just expanded the country’s most popular broadcaster, Army Radio, from industry-standard FM into complementary AM channels.

AM’s greater range meant emergency updates would have a better chance of being heard by civilians in bomb shelters. Troops in Gaza would also benefit, as they were being allowed transistor radios to keep themselves informed while being asked to surrender their cellphones lest those be geolocated by Hamas.

The tunnel experiment dangled another possibility for a country tormented with worry for 132 people held hostage by Hamas-led gunmen in the enclave: reaching out to them with custom-composed, morale-raising Army Radio broadcasts.

“It suddenly occurred to me that maybe some of those hostages also had access to transistor radios,” Karhi told Reuters. “If they had the means to hear their families’ voices it would have a huge value in terms of morale – and for their relatives, too.”

The gambit would likely need Hamas’ cooperation, a prospect its initiators hope is within the bounds of possibility.

Hamas officials in Gaza were not immediately available for comment on the idea – a testament to Palestinians’ shattered infrastructure under an Israeli offensive, as well as their reluctance to release information on the hostages’ conditions.

ACCESS TO TVS, RADIOS

Of scores of hostages freed in a November truce, several said captors had allowed them limited access to TVs or radios.

One of them learned from the radio that her husband and daughter, from whom she had been separated during the Oct. 7 cross-border Hamas killing and kidnapping spree that sparked the war, had survived. For another, an Israeli broadcast was the first notification that two relatives were among the dead.

But the accounts often left unclear whether the hostages were kept just under the surface, or in tunnels well out of range, or in above-ground safe houses with regular reception. Tunnels shown to journalists by advancing Israeli forces have sometimes included upper levels of about 10 metres depth.

Asked to respond to the Army Radio initiative, ex-hostage Nili Margalit said part of her captivity was spent 40 metres underground. “It is too deep,” she told Reuters, declining to discuss the matter further for fear “that the terrorists will use my words to hurt the captives that are still there”.

Dan O’Shea, a former Navy SEAL and hostage coordinator for U.S. forces in Iraq, said that while he “completely agrees” with the AM-radio initiative he saw scant chance of Hamas cooperating while Israel pursues search-and-rescue operations in Gaza.

“If Hamas knew that these radios could be picked up by Israeli forces, it’s the last thing they would want,” he said. “They’re paranoid about anything that’s going to track an IDF bomb to their position.”

Peter Duffett-Smith, emeritus reader in astrophysics at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, said AM transistor radios, which are designed to passively receive broadcasts, cannot easily be traced. But he did not rule it out.

Most such radios use oscillators which emit faint signals, he said, “and it is possible that (these) could be detected at a distance using specialised equipment. These signals decrease rapidly with distance, especially through ground.”

Asked whether Israel could mount such location operations, Army Radio director Danny Zaken said: “We cannot. It (a broadcast received by the radio) is not coming back. I mean, it’s not like sonar … It’s only one-way, unfortunately.”

STAVING OFF DESPAIR

Karhi said he knew of neither Israel nor Hamas being able to track passive AM reception – hence the permission for troops in Gaza to use transistor radios.

Staving off despair or rebelliousness among the hostages might prompt captors to consider taking a risk on the radios.

But Ruth Pat-Horenczyk, a clinical psychology professor with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said if Hamas felt it would weaken its control of captives it would prevent them listening.

Army Radio‘s shift into AM is backed by the Defence Ministry’s National Emergency Management Authority and Israel’s largest telecom group, Bezeq. The station has been pre-recording messages by hostage families for airing several times a day.

“They’re telling them: ‘Stay strong. We are fighting for you. Don’t worry. We’ll get to you. Stay strong,” Zaken said.

At a Tel Aviv rally to mark the first birthday of Kfir Bibas, the youngest of the hostages, an Army Radio reporter approached one of the baby’s relatives, Yosi Shnaider, to explain the station’s new reach and ask to record an interview.

He agreed: “If they are hearing us … We want to tell you that the families love you, that no one has forgotten you.”

The post Israel’s AM Radio Pierces Gaza Tunnels in Bid to Soothe Hostages first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Exclusive: Iran Sends Russia Hundreds of Ballistic Missiles, Sources Say

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 7, 2023. Photo: Sputnik/Sergei Bobylev/Pool via REUTERS

Iran has provided Russia with a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, six sources told Reuters, deepening the military cooperation between the two US-sanctioned countries.

Iran‘s provision of around 400 missiles includes many from the Fateh-110 family of short-range ballistic weapons, such as the Zolfaghar, three Iranian sources said. This road-mobile missile is capable of striking targets at a distance of between 300 and 700 km (186 and 435 miles), experts say.

Iran‘s defense ministry and the Revolutionary Guards – an elite force that oversees Iran‘s ballistic missile program – declined to comment. Russia‘s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The shipments began in early January after a deal was finalized in meetings late last year between Iranian and Russian military and security officials that took place in Tehran and Moscow, one of the Iranian sources said.

An Iranian military official – who, like the other sources, asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information – said there had been at least four shipments of missiles and there would be more in the coming weeks. He declined to provide further details.

Another senior Iranian official said some of the missiles were sent to Russia by ship via the Caspian Sea, while others were transported by plane.

“There will be more shipments,” the second Iranian official said. “There is no reason to hide it. We are allowed to export weapons to any country that we wish to.”

U.N. Security Council restrictions on Iran‘s export of some missiles, drones and other technologies expired in October. However, the United States and European Union retained sanctions on Iran‘s ballistic missile programme amid concerns over exports of weapons to its proxies in the Middle East and to Russia.

A fourth source, familiar with the matter, confirmed that Russia had received a large number of missiles from Iran recently, without providing further details.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said in early January the United States was concerned that Russia was close to acquiring short-range ballistic weapons from Iran, in addition to missiles already sourced from North Korea.

A US official told Reuters that Washington had seen evidence of talks actively advancing but no indication yet of deliveries having taken place.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the missile deliveries.

Ukraine’s top prosecutor said on Friday the ballistic missiles supplied by North Korea to Russia had proven unreliable on the battlefield, with only two of 24 hitting their targets. Moscow and Pyongyang have both denied that North Korea has provided Russia with munitions used in Ukraine.

By contrast, Jeffrey Lewis, an expert with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said the Fateh-110 family of missiles and the Zolfaghar were precision weapons.

“They are used to point at things that are high value and need precise damage,” said Lewis, adding that 400 munitions could inflict considerable harm if used in Ukraine. He noted, however, that Russian bombardments were already “pretty brutal”.

US AID DELAY WEAKENS UKRAINE’S DEFENCES

A Ukrainian military source told Reuters that Kyiv had not registered any use of Iranian ballistic missiles by Russian forces in the conflict. The Ukrainian defence ministry did not immediately reply to Reuters’ request for comment.

Following the publication of this story, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force told national television that it had no official information on Russia obtaining such missiles. He said that ballistic missiles would pose a serious threat to Ukraine.

Former Ukrainian defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said that Russia wanted to supplement its missile arsenal at a time when delays in approving a major package of US military aid in Congress has left Ukraine short of ammunition and other material.

“The lack of US support means shortages of ground-based air defense in Ukraine. So they want to accumulate a mass of rockets and break through Ukrainian air defense,” said Zagorodnyuk, who chairs the Kyiv-based Centre for Defense Strategies, a security think tank, and advises the government.

Kyiv has repeatedly asked Tehran to stop supplying Shahed drones to Russia, which have become a staple of Moscow’s long-range assaults on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, alongside an array of missiles.

Ukraine’s air force said in December that Russia had launched 3,700 Shahed drones during the war, which can fly hundreds of kilometres and explode on impact. Ukrainians call them “mopeds” because of the distinctive sound of their engines; air defenses down dozens of them each week.

Iran initially denied supplying drones to Russia but months later said it had provided a small number before Moscow launched the war on Ukraine in 2022.

“Those who accuse Iran of providing weapons to one of the sides in the Ukraine war are doing so for political purposes,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on Monday, when asked about Tehran’s delivery of drones to Russia. “We have not given any drones to take part in that war.”

Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Philadelphia-based think tank, said a supply of Fateh-100 and Zolfaghar missiles from Iran would hand Russia an even greater advantage on the battlefield.

“They could be used to strike military targets at operational depths, and ballistic missiles are more difficult for Ukrainian air defences to intercept,” Lee said.

DEEPENING TIES WITH MOSCOW

Iran‘s hardline clerical rulers have steadily sought to deepen ties with Russia and China, betting that would help Tehran to resist US sanctions and to end its political isolation.

Defence cooperation between Iran and Russia has intensified since Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia‘s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu met the head of Iran‘s Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force, Amirali Hajizadeh, in Tehran in September, when Iran‘s drones, missiles and air defence systems were displayed for him, Iranian state media reported.

And last month, Russia‘s foreign ministry said it expected President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi to sign a broad new cooperation treaty soon, following talks in Moscow in December.

“This military partnership with Russia has shown the world Iran‘s defense capabilities,” said the military official. “It does not mean we are taking sides with Russia in the Ukraine conflict.”

The stakes are high for Iran‘s clerical rulers amid the war between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas that erupted after Oct. 7. They also face growing dissent at home over economic woes and social restrictions.

While Tehran tries to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel that could draw in the United States, its Axis of Resistance allies – including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen – have attacked Israeli and US targets.

A Western diplomat briefed on the matter confirmed the delivery of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia in the recent weeks, without providing more details.

He said Western nations were concerned that Russia‘s reciprocal transfer of weapons to Iran could strengthen its position in any possible conflict with the United States and Israel.

Iran said in November it had finalized arrangements for Russia to provide it with Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-28 attack helicopters and Yak-130 pilot training aircraft.

Analyst Gregory Brew at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said Russia is an ally of convenience for Iran.

“The relationship is transactional: in exchange for drones, Iran expects more security cooperation and advanced weaponry, particularly modern aircraft,” he said.

The post Exclusive: Iran Sends Russia Hundreds of Ballistic Missiles, Sources Say first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Middlebury College Response to Antisemitism Allegations Slammed by Watchdog Group

Signage for the U.S. Department of Education – Federal Student Aid Office at 830 First Street NE Washington, D.C., USA, on November 28, 2023. Photo: Gen Namer via REUTERS CONNECT

Middlebury College on Tuesday issued, as well as deleted, statements which indirectly responded to allegations of institutional antisemitism that a civil rights group lodged against its administration last week.

As The Algemeiner previously reported, StandWithUs (SWU), a nonprofit that promotes education about Israel, filed a complaint with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) alleging that high level officials at the school fostered a “pervasively hostile climate” for Jewish students by refusing, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, to enforce anti-discrimination policies equally.

A timeline of events laid out in documents provided by SWU begins after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the school issued a statement that did not acknowledge the deaths of Israelis, but instead only alluded to “violence happening now in Israel in Palestine.” The following week, the administration allegedly obstructed Jewish students’ efforts to publicly mourn Jews murdered on Oct. 7., denying them police protection for a vigil, forcing them to hold it outside, and demanding that the event avoid specifically mentioning Jewish suffering.

Middlebury responded to the charges on Tuesday, explaining the college’s “Educational Approach to the War in Gaza and Israel,” in two statements, the first of which was later deleted and replaced with a revision containing numerous “stealth” edits.

The first defended chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a slogan widely considered as a call for a genocide of Jews in Israel, as utterance protected by its free speech policy.

“We are fully aware that, while this phrase is divisive, it is experienced and interpreted differently by different groups,” the school said. “Middlebury has extensive structures in place for mitigating ham that controversial speech can cause, and our open expression policy safeguards a learning environment ‘where all voices can be heard and have the opportunity to contribute to the conversation.’”

According to the StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice, Middlebury’s response did not directly address its handling of a vigil that Jewish students organized on Oct. 9 to mourn the victims of Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel, which happened two days prior. In its complaint, SWU alleged that Middlebury roadblocked the event, denying Jewish students police protection and demanding that they omit direct references to Jewish suffering in their remarks and promotional materials. In an email to the Jewish group that planned the vigil, Vice President and Dean of Students Derek Doucet said, “I wonder if such a public gather in such a charged moment might be more inclusive.”

Additionally, no high level administrators agreed to speak at the vigil and condemn antisemitic violence, as well as terrorism. However, a month later, the administration accommodated Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Vigil for Palestine,” providing campus police, space on campus, and a speech from a high ranking official diversity-equity-and-inclusion (DEI) official, a request, StandWithUs insists, which organizers of the Jewish vigil had been denied.

In Tuesday’s deleted statement, Middlebury claimed that president Laurie Patton provided the Jewish students “remarks that were read at the vigil, condemning Hamas and pledging support and care for students.” Not true, StandWithUs, explained. Patton’s statements, like Middlebury’s previous statements about Oct. 7, mentioned only “violence we have seen in Israel and Gaza,” a description of the conflict at which SWU takes umbrage for its equating Hamas’ atrocities with Israel’s self-defense.

StandWithUs said in a press release on Wednesday that Middlebury’s statement is “mendacious,” noting that members of the Coalition for Dismantling Antisemitism at Middlebury are all hired faculty and staff, some of whom are accused of antisemitism in its complaint. SWU also charged that Middlebury’s claim to collaborate with a local Chabad organization is misleading as well, noting that “for over six years” the school has denied the group’s entreaties for formal recognition, a designation that would qualify it for funding and the privilege to reserve space on campus for events and other activities.

“It is no wonder that by the morning of February 20, 2024, Middlebury took its statement down from its website entirely and replaced it with an even more misleading post,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said. “Middlebury can no longer hide from its legal and moral duty to provide a campus environment for its Jewish students free from discrimination and harassment.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post Middlebury College Response to Antisemitism Allegations Slammed by Watchdog Group first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Courage to disagree, with respect: York University student initiative Bridging the Gap promotes civil dialogue on Israel

How a campus initiative was revived following Oct. 7.

The post Courage to disagree, with respect: York University student initiative Bridging the Gap promotes civil dialogue on Israel appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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