Israel’s government approved a NIS 1 billion plan to develop the Golan Heights that will at least double the region’s Jewish population of 27,000 and allow for the creation of two new towns named Asif and Matar. “We are making history in the Golan,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted before a festive cabinet meeting on December 26 at Kibbutz Mevo Hamma in the Golan Heights. The meeting came 40 years after the Knesset passed the Golan Heights Law, extending Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, which was captured by Israel from Syria in the Six Day War. Left-wing and Arab parties opposed the plan, with MK Ahmad Tibi tweeting, “It doesn’t matter how many cabinet meetings are held on the Golan, it is occupied Syrian territory.”
A day after inviting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to a meeting at his home in Rosh Ha’ayin, Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced on December 29 that Israel would provide the PA with a NIS 100 million loan on tax revenues that Israel collects in an attempt to reduce the PA’s spiraling deficit, and also legalize the status of 9,500 undocumented Palestinians and foreigners living in the West Bank and Gaza. Gantz flew to Amman on January 5 for a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II to discuss “the strategic importance of strong and enduring relations between Israel and Jordan, which contribute to the security and prosperity of both nations,” according to his office.
The IDF carried out retaliatory air strikes in Gaza after two rockets fired from Gaza landed off the Tel Aviv coast on January 1. “Fighter jets and helicopters attacked a series of targets in a rocket production facility belonging to the Hamas terror group,” the IDF said. “Hamas is responsible and bears the consequences for all activity in and emanating from the Gaza Strip.” IDF tanks also shelled Hamas military posts near Gaza’s border with Israel. Gaza media, which reported that the rocket fire had been triggered by inclement weather, said Israeli warplanes struck a Hamas post west of Khan Younis in southern Gaza.
Israel became the first country in the world to offer a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine to people aged 60 and over – at least four months after they received their last jab – to fight off the Omicron strain. “We must keep our eye on the ball, and act swiftly and decisively if we want to continue engaging and working with the country open as much as possible throughout this pandemic,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told a news conference on January 2, warning that new daily cases, which had topped 5,000 the previous week, could reach as many as 50,000 a day. Despite the rise in cases, Israel opened up its borders to all vaccinated visitors from January 10.
Two IDF pilots were killed when an Israel Navy helicopter crashed off the coast of Haifa on January 3, while the third person on board, a patrol officer, was rescued from the sea and flown to Rambam Hospital in moderate condition. The two fatalities were Lt.-Col Erez Sachaini, 38, who was married with three children and who served as deputy commander of Ramat David airbase, and Maj. Hen Fogel, 27. IAF chief Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin ordered an investigation into the crash.
Mordechai Ben-Porat, who was featured on the cover of The Jerusalem Report on January 6, 2020, died on January 3 at the age of 98 and was buried the next day in Holon. Ben-Porat, who was born in Baghdad, was the mastermind and undercover on-site facilitator of Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, which rescued some 130,000 Jews from Iraq in 1950-1951. In 2001, he was awarded the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement.