(JTA) – Seventeen Yemeni Jews were airlifted to Israel in a covert operation.
Four Jews were flown directly from Yemen to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday and two couples and a young child arrived through an unidentified third country. The rest were taken clandestinely from Buenos Aires after being smuggled to the Argentinian capital by a group of Satmar Hasidim in August 2011 and living in the Satmar community there. The Satmars, who are anti-Zionist, have been involved in smuggling Jews out of Yemen for several years, according to Haaretz.
Several of the Yemenis reunited with family members in Israel, including parents with their young children.
The operation — a coordinated effort among the Jewish Agency and the Israeli ministries for the interior, foreign affairs and immigration absorption — was prompted by growing concern for the safety of the Jews in Yemen, according to the Jewish Agency. Anti-Semitic violence has been a growing problem since the 2011 ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The airlift brings to 45 the number of Yemeni Jews who have been brought to Israel this year and 151 since 2009.
“Tonight we had the honor to conduct a rare operation that combines the saving of souls, family reunification and immigration to Israel,” Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said. “Behind this operation is the dedication and expertise of the Jewish Agency and other organizations who contributed to success of the operation.”
Sharansky added that the Jewish Agency will expedite the aliyah of any of the remaining Jews in Yemen if they express interest in leaving.
Fewer than 90 Jews remain in Yemen, with about half of them living in a guarded structure in the capital, Sa’ana, Haaretz reported.
The 17 Yemeni Jews will be housed in Jewish Agency immigration absorption centers in southern Israel.
Moshe Nahari, a ritual slaughterer and Hebrew teacher in the town of Raydah in northwestern Yemen, was killed in December 2008 by an Islamist extremist who reportedly had demanded that he convert to Islam. Last May, Aaron Zindani, a Jewish community leader, was stabbed to death in Sana’a.
Some 49,000 Yemeni Jews were brought to the nascent State of Israel in Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50.