When Israel Was a Land of Lions, Saber-Toothed Tigers, and Elephants

Although the Hebrew Bible mentions such figures as Samson, King David, and Elisha encountering lions and bears, these animals no longer populate the Land of Israel. Going back further still, it was once home to an even wider array of species, from elephants to baboons. Ofri Ilany writes:

The last leopards were spotted in the Judean Desert and the Negev a decade ago. In the 1980s, female leopards on whom were bestowed names like names Babatha, Humbaba, and Shlomtzion made the headlines and had their exploits reported upon in newscasts.

Earlier, in the 1950s, cheetahs still prowled the Arava desert. . . . Lions flourished in the land up until Crusader times; the charter of the order of Templar knights (which was founded in 1119) even stated that lions should always be killed. A few of the animals apparently survived for several hundred years more, and the last one was hunted near Megiddo at the end of the 16th century. Syrian bears survived until the start of the 20th century.

As for prehistoric times, Ilany speaks with Yoram Yom-Tov and Guy Bar-Oz, who have just written a book on the subject:

[D]uring most of the age of the dinosaurs, until some 65 million years ago, [Israel and its environs] lay beneath the primeval Tethys Ocean, . . . Bar-Oz explains. “You won’t find dinosaurs here, and if you do, it will usually be of the maritime variety.” . . . Around 40 million years ago, the sea receded. It was a period in which an African climate prevailed in today’s Israel. “When the Land of Israel emerged from the Tethys Ocean, [it was] part of Africa,” Bar-Oz says. “At that time, the whole region was African—giraffes in Greece and monkeys in Germany. The landscape here was largely savanna, with rivers along which there was denser vegetation. You find a kind of baboon that originated in Ethiopia, and an African macaque monkey in the Jordan Valley. Add to that elephants and giraffes, and you get a safari zoo next to the Sea of Galilee.”

According to Yom-Tov, “what is singular about the Land of Israel is that it’s a transit region between continents, and that accounts for the great diversity of flora and fauna. Even today, the Land of Israel consists of a mixture of animals of completely different origins. Most are of northern origin, but about 20 percent, including hyraxes, are of tropical descent. We are on the edge of both Europe and Africa, and it’s on the edges that the interesting things happen.”

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Animals, Archaeology, Land of Israel, Prehistory


Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security