Four Israeli soldiers died in Lebanon during February as the 12-year old war between Israel and its mostly-Christian South Lebanon Army allies, and the Iranian and Syrian sponsored Hizb'Allah, raged on. The first casualty was Nikolai Rappaport, who was killed in a Hizb'Allah ambush on February 7. The 23-year-old immigrated from Russia in 1995. His body was flown to his former homeland for burial. Three men from Rappaport's unit died on February 26, when a long-range mortar scored a direct hit on their outpost. The attack wounded three other soldiers, two of them seriously.

During the month, various reports indicated the IDF shot dead a number of Hizb'Allah terrorists. Seven were reported killed in the last week of the month. On February 14, as Galilee residents spent the night in bomb-shelters, several Katyusha rockets were fired into northern Israel and southern-Lebanon, inflicting property damage but no injuries.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on February 27 that he has "no qualms" about Security Council Resolution 425, which calls for a withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Netanyahu stressed however that Israel would only remove its troops if the Lebanese government provided security guarantees. Earlier, Labour Party Knesset Member Yossi Beilin, an ardent proponent of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal, toured the security zone on February 21 together with other left-wing parliamentarians of 'The Movement to Leave Lebanon in Peace'. Beilin told reporters the visit had strengthened the group's belief that there are other ways to ensure Israel's security in the north. He said resolution 425 could be implemented even though Syria and the Hizb'Allah have rejected it. The international community would have to let Syria know it would earn global condemnation and censure if Israel was to be attacked from Lebanon by Syrian-supported groups after the IDF had withdrawn, he said.

Mossad falls on hard times

Israel's famous intelligence agency, the Mossad, is reeling after suffering a series of body blows last month. Mid-month saw the release of the Ciechanover Report into the failed assassination attempt on Hamas leader Khaled Masha'al in Jordan last year. The report cleared PM Netanyahu of any responsibility in the debacle, but scoured agency head Danny Yatom along with other senior Mossad officials. Despite reports that Netanyahu would not demand Yatom's head, the spy chief tendered his resignation on February 24. Unknown to the Israeli public at that time, another botched Mossad operation had occurred the week before which, it was believed, pushed Yatom to bow out. On February 26, news broke that Swiss police had arrested a Mossad operative for trying to bug the home of an Iranian diplomat. The Swiss demanded, and got, an official apology from the Israeli government. Swiss Ambassador Pierre Monod had made it clear his government was waiting for an apology for the "unacceptable and regrettable" incident. "We Swiss are foreign to the espionage culture," he told The Jerusalem Post. Netanyahu has named the head of Northern Command, Maj-Gen Amiram Levine, as his choice to succeed Yatom, with former Mossad deputy-director Ephraim HaLevy serving as an interim director to help Levine make the transition. The Mossad (the Institution for Intelligence and Special Assignments) was formed by Prime Minister David Ben Gurion in 1951.

Washington Holocaust museum fires director who refused to escort Arafat

Walter Reich, director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, was fired on February 18, one month after he refused to escort Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on tour through the museum. The Washington Post quoted senior Museum officials as saying Reich's departure had been under negotiation since January, when the museum's governing council clashed with Reich over the proposed Arafat visit. "The minute Reich refused to greet Arafat, he was finished," a senior museum official reportedly said. According to the Post, Reich, 54, "was 3 years old in 1946 when his family, Polish Jews who had lived in hiding through World War II, made a night-time trek from Poland to the American sector of Berlin. Eventually, the family settled in Brooklyn, where Reich grew up with a powerful interest in the Holocaust..." As director, Reich had urged the museum to engage in contemporary issues for which the Holocaust provided important moral and historical lessons.

Israel will have biggest Jewish population by 2003

In just five years, Israel will finally have fulfilled a dream of its founders when it overtakes the US to become home to the largest number of Jews in the world. This according to the Institute of the World Jewish Congress, which is shortly to publish new Jewish population statistics in its updated Jewish communities of the world. Since the last survey, published two years ago, America's Jewish population has decreased by 200 000, while Israel's has grown by 300 000. Today, according to the institute, around 700 000 more Jews live in the US than in Israel. The WJC puts today's world Jewish population at 13.8 million. Following the Holocaust 50 years ago, the number was estimated at 11 million. According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics 66 000 new immigrants arrived in Israel in 1997, 54 600 of them from the former Soviet Union. This brings to 723 500 the total number of new olim from the Commonwealth of Independent States since the mass exodus began in 1989. The following eight countries have Jewish populations in excess of 200 000. Together they total 92 per cent of world Jewry:

USA - 5,6 million;
Israel - 4,9 million;
France - 600 000;
Russia - 450 000;
Canada - 360 000;
Ukraine - 310 000;
UK - 300 000;
Argentina 230 000

Pope to come calling in 2000

Pope John Paul II will make pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the year 2000, according to reports published February 15 quoting Vatican officials. This is the first indication of a definite plan by the pontiff to visit the Middle East at the turn of the century. According to the Israeli embassy in Rome, the Pope has an open invitation to the Holy Land. In recent months unconfirmed reports have circulated concerning plans by the pope to join Muslim and Christian leaders - among them Yasser Arafat - on a climb up Mount Sinai to mark the start of the new millennium. Meanwhile, Israel's Sephardic Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron participated in an interfaith convention in Morocco in February, together with representatives of Judaism, Christianity and Islam from various countries. Among topics discussed was the role of clergy in helping to forge world peace.

Outrage as Hebrew U hosts PLO official for Jerusalem debate

Israeli opponents of the Oslo process protested a February 8 Hebrew University event entitled "The future of Jerusalem" at which senior PLO Authority official Feisal Husseini was the featured guest. The groups, "Yerushalayim Shelanu" (Our Jerusalem) and "Women for Israel's Tomorrow" (Women in Green) demonstrated outside the university auditorium. Protestors who managed to enter the building unfurled a banner bearing the verse, "For Jerusalem's sake I will not keep silent…" Security officials ejected them, but not before audience members had slandered the Bible, and expressed regret that Hitler had not dealt with one of the demonstrators - a Holocaust survivor. "Our Jerusalem" spokesman Ronn Torossian told reporters "Palestinian Authority activity in Jerusalem is a clear and blatant violation of the Oslo accords... Husseini [has] absolutely no place in any forum discussing the future of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is Jewish [and] it is not for negotiation."

Report: PA preparing for war with Israel

As the Israeli Defense Forces monitored the east for a possible Iraqi attack, Time magazine published a special report according to which Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority has laid the groundwork for war against Israel if the Oslo Process finally founders. IDF sources questioned the report's credibility, at the same time acknowledging that the PA is preparing for the possibility of a large-scale eruption of Palestinian violence. Many settlement leaders asked what, if any, precautions were being taken against a possible offensive by PA troops or Arab residents of PA areas, in the event of an Iraqi assault on Israel. According to Time, the PA is believed to have obtained anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, armoured vehicles and artillery, plus other weaponry.

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