Tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews expressed interest in aliyah following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Jewish Agency reported. As part of what was termed Operation Israeli Guarantee, some 400 refugees fleeing Ukraine arrived in Israel on March 6 on three separate flights from Warsaw, Moldova and Romania, including 100 children from Ukrainian orphanages. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sought to mediate an end to the war in a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 5 and on the phone with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, who proposed the idea of Israeli mediation. “Even if the chance is not great – as soon as there is even a small opening, and we have access to all sides and the capability – I see this as our moral obligation to make every effort,” Bennett said. Three Israeli planes flew 100 tons of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including medical equipment, tents and coats.
Israel’s borders – including Ben-Gurion International Airport – were fully opened to foreigners from March 1 for the first time since the skies were closed at the start of the corona pandemic in March 2020. While tourists and foreign citizens have been required until now to present proof of vaccination or recovery upon entry, this is no longer the case. The only requirement now is a negative PCR test ahead of boarding the flight, and another one after landing, after which visitors need to quarantine for 24 hours or until receiving a negative test result. On February 21, Israel passed 10,000 corona-related deaths since the start of the pandemic two years ago, but the number of infections has been declining steadily.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz reaffirmed his country’s commitment to Israel’s security during a visit to Israel on March 2. “You can rely on it. Germany will continue to be steadfast at Israel’s side,” said Scholz, whose visit came amid significant progress in negotiations between Iran and the superpowers in Vienna ahead of the signing of a new nuclear deal, and a month after the Defense Ministry signed an agreement with ThyssenKrupp to produce three advanced navy submarines, partially funded by the German government. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced the creation of a new strategic cooperation deal between the two countries, saying it will be “in the format of a bi-annual dialogue on security and diplomatic matters. I think that this is a significant upgrade in our relations.”
Eli Avidar, who served as strategic planning minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, became the first minister to quit the Bennett-Lapid government on February 22, accusing it of adopting a “hysterical” approach during the fifth wave of the pandemic. As an independent member of Knesset in a narrow coalition, Avidar could now be a key vote on any legislation. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid appointed Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawi Zoabi as Israel’s consul-general to Shanghai, the first Arab woman to hold a senior diplomatic position. The appointment has the political advantage of moving Zoabi out of the Knesset after she broke with the coalition in a plenum vote in January, casting the decisive vote against legislation to encourage haredim to enlist in the IDF.
The Judicial Selection Committee appointed four new justices to the Supreme Court on February 21, reordering the 15-justice body in Israel. The four are Judge Khaled Kabub, the first Muslim appointed to the Supreme Court; Judge Ruth Ronen, who served as a judge in the Tel Aviv District Court economics division; Judge Gila Kanfei-Steinitz, who is married to Likud MK Yuval Steinitz and served as deputy president of the Jerusalem District Court; and private-sector lawyer Yechiel Kasher, a partner and head of the litigation department at the Tadmor Levy & Co. law firm.
Harold (Smoky) Simon, who became the Israeli Air Force’s first chief of operations in 1948, died on February 28 and was buried in Herzliya the next day. Born in South Africa on April 24, 1920, he opened an insurance firm in Israel and served as chairman of World Machal from 1968 until he stepped down at the age of 98. His role in defending the nascent State of Israel in the skies was featured in Nancy Spielberg’s 2014 film, Above and Beyond. He won the Telfed Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 and Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Sylvan Adams Bonei Zion Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2019.