Friday, March 13, 2020

From Ian:

Israel Now Looks Like a Coronavirus Containment Visionary
The walls went up, and Israel is now a fortress. In a dramatic decision the government made this week, all those entering the country from abroad – regardless of where they have been – must be quarantined for two weeks to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Many other Western countries have begun taking similar measures, including the US, which barred entry from Europe on Wednesday night.

But when Israel first started pulling up the drawbridges, it was taking the most extreme measures in the West to contain COVID-19. After the government announced it was stopping flights from China, there was talk about adverse diplomatic effects.

China is very sensitive to its image in the world, and as a result, Israel made efforts to show that its problem was with the virus, not all of China. Those efforts included a video, produced by the Foreign Ministry, of Israelis saying that they stand with the Chinese in this difficult time; it was such a success that major Chinese newspapers and official TV channels reported on it. Israeli aid organizations also tried to send supplies to Wuhan, where COVID-19 first broke out.

The challenge is to try to maintain economic ties as normally as possible, even when people are not moving between the countries because of steps necessary to maintain the public’s health, sources in the Foreign Ministry said. (h/t Zvi)

127 Israelis infected with coronavirus, 2,479 health workers in quarantine
The Israeli Health Ministry confirmed that 2,479 healthcare workers had entered quarantine as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose to 127 people on Friday.

Some 1,174 hospital workers are in quarantine, as well as 171 MDA employees, 24 IDF healthcare workers, 93 psychiatrists, 128 geriatric care workers, 106 east Jerusalem healthcare workers, 20 administrative workers and 763 community staff.

Furthermore, the ministry reported that 949 doctors, 635 nurses, 127 assistants, 81 lab technicians, 64 logistic workers, 40 administrators, 83 pharmacists, 14 dietitians, 31 social workers, 108 physiotherapists, 171 paramedics and 176 others have entered quarantine.

Two of the coronavirus patients are in serious condition, five are in moderate condition and 119 are in fair condition. The others have recovered and been released.

The Health Ministry shared the epidemiology of many of the sick patients Friday morning, including four new cases - siblings between the ages of six and 18 - who had been in "close contact with a known coronavirus patient." These four, numbered patients 119-122, have gone to their respective schools and preschools before being put into isolation, those being the "Orot" school in the town of Or Yehuda, and the "Tzivoni" and "Dekel" kinder-garden, as well as the "Ulpana Tzfira".
Corona Is Slowing Down, Humanity Will Survive, Says Biophysicist Michael Levitt
Nobel laureate Michael Levitt, an American-British-Israeli biophysicist who teaches structural biology at Stanford University and spends much of his time in Tel Aviv, unexpectedly became a household name in China, offering the public reassurance during the peak of the country’s coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. Levitt did not discover a treatment or a cure, just did what he does best: crunched the numbers. The statistics led him to the conclusion that, contrary to the grim forecasts being branded about, the spread of the virus will come to a halt.

The calming messages Levitt sent to his friends in China were translated into Chinese and passed from person to person, making him a popular subject for interviews in the Asian nation. His forecasts turned out to be correct: the number of new cases reported each day started to fall as of February 7. A week later, the mortality rate started falling as well.

He might not be an expert in epidemiology, but Levitt understands calculations and statistics, he told Calcalist in a phone interview earlier this week.

The interview was initially scheduled to be held at the fashionable Sarona complex in Tel Aviv, where Levitt currently resides. But after he caught a cold — “not corona,” he jokingly remarked — the interview was rescheduled to be held over the phone. Even though he believes the pandemic will run its course, Levitt emphasizes his support of all the safety measures currently being taken and the need to adhere to them.

Levitt received his Nobel prize for chemistry in 2013 for “the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.” He did not in any way intend to be a prophet foretelling the end of a plague; it happened by accident. His wife Shoshan Brosh is a researcher of Chinese art and a curator for local photographers, meaning the couple splits their time between the US, Israel, and China.

When the pandemic broke out, Brosh wrote to friends in China to support them. “When they answered us, describing how complicated their situation was, I decided to take a deeper look at the numbers in the hope of reaching some conclusion,” Levitt explained. “The rate of infection of the virus in the Hubei province increased by 30 percent each day — that is a scary statistic. I am not an influenza expert but I can analyze numbers and that is exponential growth.” At this rate, the entire world should have been infected within 90 days, he said.



Palestinians Choose "the Cause"over Statehood
The latest U.S. proposal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was rejected by the Palestinian side before it was even tabled. It is the Palestinians who have the most to gain from securing a deal. The Jewish people have their national home, but the Palestinians remain stateless.

In rejecting the U.S. offer, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said, "It is nothing but a plan to finish off the Palestinian cause." Herein lies the answer as to why a people that claims they want nothing more than a home of their own have rejected five comprehensive offers of statehood. The conflict is not a territorial dispute to be settled by delineating borders.

The "Palestinian cause" seeks no precise outcome beyond thwarting its rival, and holding out, digging in, struggling on, resisting. So shameful to this "cause" is the notion of compromise, so inconceivable is a life beyond conflict and grievance, that it is impossible to contemplate any offer.

We hear how unbearable life is under "Israeli occupation," and yet the idea of reaching a fair bargain to change that condition is evidently more unbearable still.

Meanwhile, the Kurds, the Assyrians, the Tibetans, all stateless peoples with unimpeachable claims to their ancestral lands, who don't benefit from dedicated UN agencies or billions in foreign aid, would do anything for a single shot at statehood, let alone a perpetual flow of White House peace proposals to scoff at.
Israeli Diplomat: Israel Should Quit Putting Up with UN's "Triple" Standards
Sympathy for the Palestinians is not the only reason behind the UN's bias against Israel, says Ron Prosor, Israel's former ambassador to the UN. The race for prestigious positions and anti-Semitism are what push many countries to vote against the Jewish state.

"There are countries in Africa, former Soviet territory and Asia that would vote in favor of Israel at the UN on some of the issues but they are afraid of certain blocs that would gang up against them and prevent them from getting any positions at the organization if they dared to do so," he explained, referring to the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference or the Non-Alignment Movement.

Prosor believes that the UN accepts this behavior because of its "triple standards." "There is one standard for democracies, one standard for dictatorships, and one special standard for Israel." "I am not worried about the 'bad guys'," said Prosor referring to the undemocratic states that make up the majority at the UN. "I am worried about Europe. They need to understand that they are giving legitimacy to this behavior and are not standing up to calls to delegitimize Israel."
50 European has-beens oppose Donald Trump's peace plan
On February 27, The Guardian published a letter titled “Grave Concern about the US plan to resolve the Israel Palestinian Conflict.” It was signed by 50 European former senior politicians. These included many previous prime and foreign ministers. The signatories called themselves “Europeans dedicated to promoting international law, peace and security worldwide.” If this were truly the case, one would be able to find many letters by them in the media in view of the problematic state of these issues in the world.

Yet as far as can be reasonably checked, these 50 have only signed this one letter recently, an act which qualifies them as hypocrites. In their letter they warn that if the Trump peace plan goes ahead, Israel will be an apartheid state. Many of the signatories can be characterized as veteran anti-Israel inciters. If one applies the most common definition of antisemitism, that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, some even fit that definition and can be labeled antisemites.

The one name which catches the eye immediately among the signatories is Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland and past United Nations high commissioner for human rights. In 2014, she co-signed an op-ed in The Guardian with former US president Jimmy Carter suggesting that Europe and the US should recognize that Hamas is also a political movement. They did not mention that it is also an organization with genocidal intent. This was a showcase of a top human rightist promoting the interests of an organization that wants to commit mass murder.

A further rapid look at the signatories shows that at least 20 of them are socialists. This reflects their parties’ frequent sizable incitement against Israel and sympathy for the repressive, corrupt, anti-democratic and murderous Palestinian leadership. Those who are anti-Israel often think that having a Jewish supporter helps. The socialist former Swiss president Ruth Dreyfuss played this role in the letter. The former Dutch and UN Ambassador Robert Serry, also a socialist, is the son of a Jewish father, which he discovered only after the latter’s death. This, however, is not widely known. In 2014, when he was special envoy of the UN for the Middle East Peace Process, Israel’s then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman threatened to declare Serry persona non grata when he offered to help transfer Qatari funds to Hamas.
Canadian PM Trudeau in quarantine after wife tests positive for COVID-19
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife has tested positive for the new coronavirus, his office announced Thursday night.

It said Sophie Grégoire Trudeau was felling well and would remain in isolation.

“The Prime Minister is in good health with no symptoms. As a precautionary measure and following the advice of doctors, he will be in isolation for a planned period of 14 days,” the statement added.

His office said the doctor’s advice to the prime minister is to continue daily activities while self-monitoring, given that he is exhibiting no symptoms himself.

“Also on the advice of doctors, he will not be tested at this stage since he has no symptoms. For the same reason, doctors say there is no risk to those who have been in contact with him recently,” the statement said.

The office said he would resume his duties Friday.
Taiwan, Forced out of WHO by China, Has World’s Best Coronavirus Containment
Taiwan’s remarkably low number of coronavirus infections – less than 50 in total despite the island’s proximity to the outbreak area and extensive travel and commerce with China – has been credited to swift and effective action when the epidemic began, starting with a firm travel ban on China and the semi-autonomous territories of Hong Kong and Macau.

Deutsche Welle noted on Wednesday that experts initially predicted Taiwan would be one of the hardest-hit victims of the epidemic, but it achieved one of the lowest rates of coronavirus infection in the world.

Many factors placed Taiwan at high risk, including dense urban populations, a high number of travelers from China, the coronavirus outbreak erupting during the Lunar New Year holiday, and a large population of Taiwanese citizens living or working in China. Taiwan gets about 2.7 million visitors from China annually and has well over a million citizens either working in China or living there full-time, measured against a total Taiwanese population of 23 million.

Taiwan benefited from its National Health Command Center (NHCC), an agency established after the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic and explicitly intended to help contain future disease outbreaks.
With a 100 Person Cap on Gatherings, Israel’s 120 New Parliament Members Cannot Be Sworn In
Riddle me this: how do you swear-in 120 parliament members when only 100 people are allowed in the room? On Wednesday, Israel restricted public gatherings of over 100 people as part of the country’s efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19). This naturally poses some problems for the Israeli parliament, the Kenesset. Now, Israel is looking for solutions for the swearing-in ceremony that is scheduled for Monday, following the country’s election held earlier this month.

Traditionally, the Kensset’s swearing-in ceremony consists of parliament members being called on one after another, with each one standing and taking an oath in turn. While Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman has stated Wednesday that some situations would be exempt from the new restriction, and he could have certainly meant the ceremony, there are other solutions possible, such as swearing in the new members in groups.

While the parliament is struggling with that, it may as well attempt to solve a second problem. The centrist party Blue and White party, led by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, called for the replacement of parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein of the Likud party. Sixty-two members are expected to vote in favor, while 58 are expected to vote against. However, the new restrictions on gatherings mean the parliament will have to find another method for voting on new motions as well.


JPost Editorial: With the coronavirus pandemic, the time for an emergency gov't is now
Israel’s political quagmire and the global coronavirus pandemic have dovetailed into one chaotic situation with a potential death toll. More drastic steps need to be taken to help Israelis overcome the spread of the disease, but a thrice-interim government does not have the ability to do what it takes.

When the coronavirus crisis began, Israel took the most extreme steps in the Western world, stopping flights first from China, then more countries in Asia and then much of Europe. Self-quarantine orders have kept tens of thousands at home to ensure that they don’t spread the disease.

The plan looked like it was working. Up until a few days ago, there were no cases of unknown origin, meaning that there was no community transmission. And we still have no deaths from the virus.

But Israel passed 100 patients diagnosed with the novel coronavirus on Thursday. Containment was not a failure, because it was never really attainable, and Israel has done a good job in fighting the odds.

Now, we need to move from containment to mitigation. Major action needs to be taken.

Though this is not yet the Health Ministry’s stated policy, we see that more and more people with light cases of COVID-19 are left at home instead of taken to hospitals.

This might be needed when the number of sick people is overwhelming, but for now it seems like a mistake that can make the difference between quelling the contagion or spreading it.
Gantz: Unity gov’t needed now, I’m waiting for Netanyahu to OK talks
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said on Friday that the formation of an emergency unity government to deal with the burgeoning coronavirus crisis “is the right thing for the State of Israel at this time,” but that he is currently waiting for an answer from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on beginning negotiations.

On Thursday evening, Netanyahu reached out to his political rivals to form an emergency government to fight the spread of the virus, inviting Gantz for talks. In a prime-time televised speech from the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, the premier called on the Blue and White leader to take the step following a year-long political deadlock during which neither has succeeded in forming a governing coalition.

“It would be an emergency government for a limited time, and we will fight together to save the lives of tens of thousands of citizens,” Netanyahu said in his statement to the press, during which he issued dire warnings of a high potential death toll from the virus and announced that Israeli schools would be shut down starting Friday.

Gantz subsequently said he was willing to discuss an emergency government, but added that it would have to include elements from all political sides, an implication that he would insist on the inclusion of the majority-Arab Joint List.

Writing in a Facebook post on Friday afternoon, Gantz said that Blue and White “intends to join the fight against the coronavirus, just as we have always enlisted for the State of Israel. Since the outbreak of the crisis, we have given full backing to the government’s actions and so we will continue to do so, whatever the political circumstances.”

But turning to the possibility of a unity government, Gantz, knocking the prime minister for “addressing me via the media, as usual,” said he had not received a serious response to his request to begin formal negotiations.
Arab MK accuses IDF of ‘atrocity’ for spraying Palestinians, then backtracks
A lawmaker from the Arab-majority Joint List on Friday accused the IDF of an “atrocity” by spraying Palestinians “with an unknown substance,” before acknowledging the video clip of the incident actually shows Palestinian Authority forces disinfecting a West Bank checkpoint.

“Another atrocity [being committed] by the occupation under the cover of the coronavirus — the IDF is spraying Palestinians at the Qalqilya checkpoint with an unknown substance. Everyone agrees the spraying method is not effective in the fight against the virus,” Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman wrote on Twitter

She added: “The horrors being committed under the cover of the crisis can’t be ignored.”

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett quickly responded that the video was from the Palestinian side of the Eyal checkpoint near Qalqilya and that it was the Palestinian Authority who decided on disinfecting the area.

“You’re a liar, anti-Semitic and contemptible,” Bennett said. “It’s unbelievable that Bogie [Ya’alon], Yvette [Avigdor Liberman, [Benny] Gantz, Gabi [Ashkenazi] and [Yair] Lapid are ready to form a government with your finger [on it].”

Bennett, head of the national-religious Yamina alliance, was referring to lawmakers from the Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu parties, who since last week’s elections have been holding talks on replacing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government — potentially with outside support from the Joint List.

Touma-Sliman later deleted the post and said she had been “misled” about the video.


Powerful storm set to batter Israel with 100-kph winds, massive flooding
Already buffeted by political gridlock and facing a shuttering of key industries over the coronavirus threat, Israelis were informed on Thursday they should brace themselves for yet another storm — a literal one this time.

Local authorities issued warnings Thursday over winds set to surpass 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph), dense dust clouds, and enough rain to cut off outlying cities and threaten large cities with severe flooding.

Israel’s southwestern neighbor Egypt announced it was shuttering schools and universities on Thursday over fears that the storm will cause severe flooding, local media reported.

The weather warning by Israeli authorities begins at 8 p.m. Thursday, when winds are expected to pick up and reach 100 kph in mountainous areas in the center and north of the country, from the Judean hills to the Carmel range above Haifa. The storm-affected area will then expand to include much of the densely populated coastal plain.

“Wind damage is expected,” the warning says. The expected gusts will be almost twice as strong as the average winter-storm maximum of 50-60 kph (31-37 mph), and “are expected to cause damage: fallen trees, electricity poles, traffic lights, roofs and solar water heaters.” (h/t Zvi)
How Hamas Views Prospects of an Arrangement with Israel
On March 3, 2020, Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, was interviewed by the Hezbollah-affiliated al-Mayadeen TV channel in Lebanon. Some of the topics he related to were Hamas’s perception of a lull arrangement, Hamas’ military buildup, Hamas’ position on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s (PIJ) attacks and a long-term lull arrangement which would require Hamas to disarm. Haniyeh’s main message was that Hamas is prepared for a limited arrangement to help ease the humanitarian hardships of the Gazans, but rejects a long-term lull which could force Hamas to abandon its fundamental positions, among them continuing the buildup of its military force and keeping its weapons.

Three subjects were focused on in the interview:
The upgrading of Hamas’s military capabilities since Operation Protective Edge (2014): Haniyeh boasted that Hamas’ military force had greatly improved since Operation Protective Edge. He claimed Hamas (and the other organizations) had held out against Israel for 51 days and attacked many targets in Israel (including imposing an “aerial closure” on Ben-Gurion International Airport). He added that Hamas’ capability to attack Israel today, if [Israel] “does something foolish to Gaza,” is far greater than it was in the past. In ITIC assessment his intention was to deter Israel from initiating a broad military operation, in view of recent statements from senior Israeli officials (“…the threats don’t end…”). In addition, Haniyeh’s statements may reflect the self-confidence Hamas has gained from improving its military capabilities after Operation Protective Edge.

Hamas perception of an arrangement: Hamas seeks understandings that will lift the “siege” of the Gaza Strip and provide humanitarian assistance for the Gazan civilian population.[1] He claimed it was acceptable to the other Palestinian organizations (“an understanding in return for an understanding”). However, Hamas has no interest in a long-term lull agreement which will force it to abandon its fundamental positions or disarm. Haniyeh said that regardless of the contacts for an arrangement, Hamas continues its strategy of military buildup and will not agree to abandon that strategy as part of a lull arrangement. His statements about the nature of the arrangement are consistent with those made previously by senior Hamas figures, who said Hamas is prepared to accept a short-term, minimalist arrangement, in which Hamas will receive humanitarian aid and practical measures will be put into operation to “ease the siege.”

Providing media support for the PIJ: Although the latest round of escalation was initiated by the PIJ, challenging Hamas’ policy, and despite the fact that Hamas did not participate in the rocket fire, Isma’il Haniyeh again gave the PIJ media support without specifically mentioning it by name (after giving the PIJ media support during and after the latest round of escalation). He accused Israel of acting against the PIJ, from the killing of Bahaa Abu al-Atta (one of its senior commanders) to using an “occupation bulldozer in a terrible way” to remove the body of a PIJ operative who had been killed, to attacking the PIJ’s bases in Damascus. Therefore, said Haniyeh, the “resistance” [i.e., the PIJ] has the “right” to respond to Israel’s “aggression.” In ITIC assessment, Hamas’ media support and its lack of effective restraint of the PIJ may encourage it to continue challenging Hamas by attacking Israel, including sporadic rocket fire into Israeli territory.[2]
Gaza terrorist groups on high alert amid fears of Israeli attack - report
Terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip are on high alert amid fears that the current calm could deteriorate, reported Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on Friday.

Checkpoints have been set up throughout the Strip where security forces are inspecting passing cars in measures that have only been used twice in Gaza: once after the head of Hamas's Al-Qassam Brigades was assassinated and again after the failed Khan Younis operation.

Even though the situation is currently relatively calm, the terrorist groups believe that Israel intends to surprise Gaza. The groups are considering a number of difference scenarios, according to Al Araby. Training exercises in the Strip have also increased recently.

The terrorist groups, especially the Al-Qassam Brigades, have called on members to be cautious and raise the level of their personal security and not to approach the border with Israel. The groups fear that assassinations could be carried out by Palestinian collaborators or that "other infiltrations" into Gaza could occur, according to Al-Araby. The groups fear that Israel could carry out kidnappings of Gaza officials as well.

Security measures along the coast and the borders have been increased as well amid fears of an Israeli infiltration.

Yahya Sinwar, a leader of the Hamas terrorist group, has remained out of sight for over four months, according to Al-Araby, excepting a meeting with the Qatari envoy Mohammad Al-Emadi about three weeks ago which was not covered by the press.

According to Al-Araby, this could indicate that Hamas is concerned about Sinwar and other leaders being targeted.
Palestinian Islamists disrupt an attempted truce in Gaza
In terms of ideology, we know the PIJ originates from the same breeding ground as Hamas and shares a similar foundational identity. More ominously, though, the PIJ has identified with the path of the Iranian Islamic Revolution since 1979 and created strong reciprocal relations with Tehran. The Iranians extend financial credit lines to the PIJ, funding that it uses to build up and activate its forces. It also enjoys ties with Hezbollah, which acts as an influencing factor in the PIJ’s force build-up and training. The PIJ’s has headquarters in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, which strengthens the radical ties between this Sunni organization and the Shi’ite axis.

This situation has created a growing dilemma for Hamas in recent years. Under the leadership of Yayha Sinwar and Ismail Haniyah, Hamas has sought to buy time for its long game, without changing ideology. This stance has created a widening gap between Hamas and the PIJ. For the first time, during two rounds of fighting Hamas sat on the sidelines and refrained from joining in. The PIJ also has delivered results that Iran wanted to see, and thus considers itself an equal party to Hamas, one whose goals must be taken into full consideration.

All of this means that Hamas has reached a critical juncture. It must decide whether to enforce its rule in Gaza or co-opt the PIJ as a partner. The latter course could ruin its current strategy and drag Hamas back to the world of terrorism and armed conflict much sooner than it planned.

Israel, too, is at a crossroads and must decide if it wants to continue to extend the periods of quiet or, if that fails, launch a broad military operation in Gaza. It also needs to decide whether it will allow the PIJ to continue to strengthen its forces. Alternatively, Israel could launch a targeted campaign against the PIJ, striking its leaders, infrastructure and rocket developers, and blocking its funding sources.

Given the stakes, activating a comprehensive campaign against the PIJ would allow Israel to realize a truce far more definitively than would continuing the status quo.




Top Iranian cleric okays buying future Israeli coronavirus vaccine
A prominent Iranian cleric has said it is permissible to use a future coronavirus vaccine developed by Israel if “there is no substitute.”

The Iranian regime views Israel as a mortal enemy. But Iran has also faced one of the most severe outbreaks of the COVID-19 coronavirus outside its origin and epicenter in China.

“It is not permissible to buy and sell from Zionists and Israel,” Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, 93, told the Iranian daily Hamdeli on Wednesday.

“Unless the treatment is unique and there is no substitute,” he added, “then this is not an obstacle.”

Shirazi, one of the highest authorities in Shiite Islam and a former member of the regime’s Assembly of Experts that appoints the supreme leader, is considered among the regime’s more hard-line ideologues.

He has called the Holocaust a “superstition,” opposed owning pets and objected to efforts to allow women to attend soccer matches.

The response may reflect a regime in crisis.
Journalist for Tehran Regime Mouthpiece Mocked for Saying He’d Rather Get Coronavirus Than Use Israeli Vaccine
A journalist for the Tehran regime’s official English-language mouthpiece was widely mocked online on Thursday after he said he would prefer getting the coronavirus over using an Israeli-produced preventative shot.

Roshan Salih — of Press TV — tweeted a Haaretz article about an expected announcement by an Israeli research center that it had developed a vaccine for the disease currently spreading around the world with the comment, “I’d rather take my chances with the virus than consume an Israeli vaccine.”

The Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland replied, “You are already infected with a virus. It’s called Hatred.”

The avalanche of negative responses prompted Salih to tweet, “Looks like I’ve activated the Israel lobby.”


What game is Turkey playing in Syria? – opinion
Three basic factors underlie Turkey’s stance in the confused military situation in northwest Syria. The first is that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a Sunni Muslim while Syria’s President Bashar Assad adheres to the Shia branch of Islam. Despite any occasional accommodation between Erdogan and the Shia Iranian leadership that is backing Assad, they are far from natural allies. This is why Erdogan has been supporting Syria’s anti-government forces, and explains how the opposition have recently brought Assad’s apparently inexorable advance into Idlib Province to a shuddering halt.

Last week, Turkey deployed dozens of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) as well as heavy artillery, and with their help, opposition factions managed to recapture a number of villages in southern Idlib Province, stopping the advance of Syrian government forces toward the M4 highway linking Latakia to Aleppo. In the East, the government also lost control of the strategic M5 highway linking Damascus to Aleppo.

This was the first time that Turkey had deployed its Turkish-made UAVs in the battle against Damascus. They backed their drones with fighter jets flying along the Syrian-Turkish border and powerful ordnance, and so far this has successfully frozen Assad’s advance. The drones have not only hit positions and convoys of government forces along the front line, but they have also penetrated deep into Damascus-controlled areas, and reportedly targeted military airports near the cities of Aleppo and Hama. They have also successfully targeted high-ranking officers in both Syrian government forces and allied militias.

Of course, a counter-offensive has begun. Government forces reinforced with Iran-backed militias, Russian regulars and mercenaries are already attempting to fight their way back into Saraqeb.
Turkey downplays Holocaust in migrant crises with Greece
Turkey insulted the memory of the Holocaust this week in comments directed against Greece. Turkey has sent thousands of refugees to the border with Greece after preventing refugees for years from fleeing Turkey. After Greek border police fired tear gas at refugees Turkish officials compared the Greeks to Nazis. “There is no difference between what the Nazis did and those images from the Greek border,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

It is one of many comments over the years where Turkish officials compare every adversary to “Nazis” in various public spats. Online many pro-government Turkish nationalists take their cue from government propaganda, using the “Nazi” tag against others. Turkey has also claimed that Israel is like the Nazis during Erdogan’s speech at the UN in September.

The rhetoric is part of the rising militarist and nationalist extremism in Ankara that has led to Turkey invading Syria, forcing hundreds of thousands of Kurds to flee and jailing dissidents and journalists.

In the last month Turkey sent its army into Idlib where a Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive killed more than a dozen Turkish soldiers. In reasons Turkey sought to punish the European Union for Russia and the Syrian regime actions because Ankara was afraid to fight a war with Russia. To distract from its failures in Idlib it decided to create a new crises by opening the border with Greece in late February and encouraging Syrian refugees to go to Europe.

Turkey told European powers that until Turkey’s “expectations” were met it would leave the border open. It demanded more financial support from Europe. Since 2015 when more than 1 million refugees fled Turkey for Europe the European Union has paid Turkey to keep migrants away from Europe. Turkey has provided refugee camps and been paid billions by the EU.
Syrian Journalist: Education Agreement With Syria Will Allow Iran To Control Syrians’ Minds
On January 23, 2020, Syria and Iran signed a memorandum of understandings in the sphere of education which includes, inter alia, an Iranian pledge to renovate 250 schools in Syria, assist in the training of educational staff, assess Syrian curricula and support vocational training in the country.[1] Following the signing of the MoU, Syrian journalist 'Abd Al-Razzaq Diab warned, in an article on an opposition website, that it would enable the Iranians to inject their “sectarian drugs” into the minds the Syrians, as well as the Iranian philosophy, which champions "killing, death and weapons." He said that Syrians should not be surprised if courses in mechanics and electricity are replaced with courses on making explosives, and if women’s weaving and embroidery classes are replaced with classes on making explosive vests.

It should be mentioned that, throughout the Syria war, oppositionists have been warning about the spread of the Shi'a and of Iranian ideology in the country.[2]

The following are translated excerpts from Diab's article: [3]
"The Education Ministry of the [Syrian] regime's government signed a memorandum of understanding a few days ago with its Iranian counterpart, which authorizes the latter to supervise the overhaul of [Syria’s] school curricula, to print [Syrian textbooks] in Iran, and to renovate 250 schools, [and includes] additional aspects involving Iranian participation in [teacher] training and instruction, in [administering] and marking exams, and in supporting vocational education.

"This means that the [Syrian] regime is handing over to the Iranians not only the keys to the Syrian economy, but also the keys to the Syrian minds, so they can damage them, inject them with their ludicrous sectarian drugs and create new generations that believe in the Rule of the [Shi'ite] Jurisprudent and in [Iran's] Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp which champions resistance and loyalty to the Holy Islamic Republic [of Iran].

"Under Iranian patronage our children will learn how to chant 'Death to America and to Israel,' and to attend Husseiniyyas [Shi'ite religious centers] to weep over those abandoned and killed in the Battle of Karbala.[4] They will plan revenge against the descendants of the criminals who carried the head of Hussein [ibn 'Ali] to Yazid ibn Muawiyah,[5] and each morning they will sing the eternal Khomeinist anthem of the [Iranian] Revolution, instead of the [Syrian] national anthem…
Was Iranian IRGC General 'Siamand Mashhadani' killed in US airstrikes?
US airstrikes carried out in Iraq just after midnight on Friday may have killed an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps general supposedly named Siamand Mashhadani. Reports online in Arabic and in other local media have claimed he was killed in the attacks on five locations of pro-Iranian Kataib Hezbollah warehouses that the US carried out in retaliation to a rocket attack that killed three Coalition personnel on March 11.

According to Al-Ain media the Iranian officer was killed in the US airstrikes that took place. Reports of his death circulated around one in the morning in Iraq. He was an officer in the Quds Force of the IRGC, the same force once headed by Qasem Soleimani. Soleimani was killed by the US on January 3 in a drone strike in Baghdad. An Iraqi official told Al-Ain media that Mashhadani was killed near the town of Jufr al-Sakhar, one of the sites of the airstrikes. The town is north of Karbala in Babil Governorate. Supposedly four other members of the Quds Force were also killed. They were in a command and control headquarters for Kataib Hezbollah when the airstrike hit.

The name “Siamand Mashhadani” may be a nickname, code name or kind of Arabic kunya war name because it is not a common name. Siamand is a Kurdish first name, the same as Iranian Kurdish Paralympic powerlifter Siamand Rahman. Mashhadani indicates someone from “Mashhad,” a city known for Shi’ite pilgrimages. A few people in Fallujah in Iraq have the name Mashhadani, but these are generally Arabic Shi’ite families. That an IRGC officer would be named Siamand Mashhadani, appears strange. His name has never appeared in Arabic or Farsi media before, according to sources consulted for this article.

According to reports, Mashhadani supervised the command and control of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) in Iraq. The PMU is a paramilitary group of militias that are part of the Iraqi Security Forces. Kataib Hezbollah has several brigades within the PMU. The US airstrikes targeted warehouses of those brigades. The US has struck the units before, in December after the same group fired rockets near Kirkuk that killed a US contractor. On March 11 the group fired more rockets at Camp Taji where US and Coalition forces are based. Mashhadani was influential in advising the PMU, as Soleimani once did. “He was one of the planners of attacks by the Hezbollah militias against the US military in Iraq,” an Iraqi force told Al-Ain.
UnWatch: Iran's Human Rights Record Reviewed by UNHRC
Adoption of the universal periodic review outcome of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the 43rd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council on March 12th, 2020.






ISIS Urges Suicide Bombers to Avoid Large Crowds (satire)
In an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Islamic State is advising its suicide bombers to avoid large crowds and densely packed areas while carrying out their operations.

“As we look to mitigate the harm caused by COVID-19, we are adjusting our operations to protect our mujahideen against the threat of the virus,” ISIS leader Amir Mohammed al-Salbi said in a memo to employees. “Suicide bombers and other prospective martyrs should avoid crowded locations and be sure to wash their hands before and – if possible – after each attack.”

Wednesday night, an ISIS attack at a rock concert in London killed only the suicide bomber, who waited until the venue had been cleared of all attendees to enter and detonate his vest. And a mass shooter in the US arrived at a local mall hours before it opened and unloaded clip after clip into empty storefronts in order to avoid contact with shoppers.

“We realize that these new guidelines will limit the impact of some operations, and we may see less infidels killed than we would like in the coming weeks,” al-Salbi’s memo stated. “Our top priority, however, is your safety, and we are committed to not putting any of our terrorists at risk until this virus is under control.”



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