Thursday, May 07, 2020

From Ian:

Foreign Minister Israel Katz: EU most stop funding terrorists
The European Union must stop any form of support for terrorists, Foreign Minister Israel Katz demanded on Thursday, in response to a letter stating that Palestinians affiliated with terrorist groups may participate in EU activities.

"We demand the EU immediately stop all support, monetary or other, for any factor that supports terrorism directly or indirectly," Katz said. "Experience teaches us that terrorism and any aid to terrorism will bring more terrorism."

Katz's comments came after the Foreign Ministry reprimanded EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret over the letter. The summons came late Wednesday night, hours after media reports about the letter. Foreign Ministry Deputy director-general for Europe Anna Azari, told Giaufret that "Israel categorically opposes the EU's policy in relation to funding terrorist organizations, which is an inspiration for incitement, support and involvement in terrorism."

Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff, EU representative to the West Bank and Gaza, wrote in an official letter to the Palestinian NGO Network, dated March 30, that all EU-funded projects, including by Palestinian organizations, must follow EU law, such as a ban on funding terrorist groups.

However, the letter points out that there are no Palestinian individuals on the EU’s “restrictive measures list” barring funds to terrorists, such that the NGOs would not be penalized if members of terrorist groups benefit from EU funding.

Charlie Weimers, a conservative member of the European Parliament, challenged European Commissioners: “Will you take action and create legal obstacles to people affiliated with terrorist groups participating in activities that the EU funds? Will you make sure that European taxpayers don’t fund terrorists?”

The Tikvah Podcast: Einat Wilf on the West’s Indulgence of Palestinian Delusions
The so-called “right of return” is one of the thorniest issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, as many as 700,000 Arabs fled or were driven from what had been mandatory Palestine. But unlike every other refugee population in the world, the official number of Palestinian refugees has not declined, but exploded—because, contrary to its policy for all other displaced groups, the United Nations recognizes their refugee status as passing from generation to generation. Moreover, the Arab countries where many of these refugees reside, along with the Palestinian Authority itself, refuse to integrate them into their local populations.

Why did this happen? In The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace, Einat Wilf and Adi Schwartz explain that the persistence of the Palestinian refugee problem is part of the broader Palestinian war—waged not only with rockets, knives, and bullets, but also through international bodies, NGOs, and the media—against the very existence of the Jewish state. They also show how Western indulgence of this manufactured problem has harmed the effort to achieve an end to the conflict.

This week, Jonathan Silver sits down with Einat Wilf, a former Knesset member, to discuss the roots of the refugee problem, the role it plays in the Palestinian war against Israel, and why peace will never be achieved until Palestinians abandon the dream of destroying the Jewish state.
Iran used US servers in cyberattack on Israeli water facilities - report
Iran was responsible for a widespread cyberattack on Israeli water and sewage facilities last month, Fox News reported on Thursday. According to the report, Iran used American servers to hack into the facilities.

Foreign correspondent for Fox News Trey Yingst wrote on Twitter that, "A senior official at the US Department of Energy declined to comment on any specifics related to an 'ongoing investigation.' The official reiterated that the DOE routinely gathers and shares info with private sector partners to protect the US and it’s allies from cyberattacks."

The attack took place at the end of April and attacked several Israeli Water Authority facilities.

The head of the Water Authority's security department, Daniel Lacker, told the head of the cyber department Avi Azar that, "We have received a number of reports regarding a cyberattack on the... systems. No damage was reported during the incident," Ynet reported.

Iran is often accused of attempting cyberattacks against Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the issue at last year's CyberTech conference in Tel Aviv, saying that "Iran is attacking Israel on a daily basis. We monitor it and prevent it every day."

He added: "They are threatening in other ways. What is important is that every country can be attacked and each country needs the combination of defense and attack capabilities and Israel has such ability."




Implementing Elements of the Trump Plan: An Opportunity to Give New Life to the Two-State Option
Extending Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and settlement blocs, we are being told, would finally bury all hopes of an agreed solution. At the core of the underlying assumptions which give rise to these dire warnings is one persistent but unfortunately perverse proposition: that only an agreement (or an imposed solution) based on the 1967 lines, with minor swaps, a partition of Jerusalem, and some more-or-less symbolic concession on the Palestinian "right of return" can offer any hope for the future. This may be called the "Everybody Knows Paradigm" (EKP) for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Yet there must be a reason why all attempts to realize the EKP have failed, again and again; hence the need to chart a new way forward. A case can be made for trying to do so based upon the strategic outline of Trump's plan. It may even be the case that taking unilateral steps towards its implementation would not wreck the prospects of peace but rather the opposite. It could jolt a moribund process into life.

Past intense peace processing efforts fell apart, at the end of the day, not because of some specific fault in Israeli policy, but because the sky-high Palestinian expectations were not met. JISS Vice President Eran Lerman held senior posts in IDF Military Intelligence for over 20 years.
A golden opportunity for Judea and Samaria
According to the current planning trends, Israelis will continue gravitating toward the country's over-crowded center, along the coast and the greater Tel Aviv area. Looking ahead to 2040, the planning authorities have been instructed to build another 2.6 million apartment units – all of them within the Green Line. The Jerusalem District alone needs to plan for another 300,000 apartments, all within Israel's official borders. Such a directive pushes Jerusalem's expansion westward into the green forest areas of the Judean hills and contradicts the national need to realize the potential of the open space east of Jerusalem, toward Ma'ale Adumim and the Dead Sea. Following the same trend, all the existing construction plans have long since expedited the flow of Israel's population toward Gush Dan.

To create more properly balanced spacing, a new national plan is needed along the following lines:
1 Establishing Jerusalem as a metropolitan city, by developing perimetric municipal transportation infrastructures from Gush Etzion to the Mishor Adumim industrial zone, Ma'ale Mikhmas, Ofra and Givat Ze'ev.
2 Utilizing the open corridor from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea for settlement purposes through mass construction of hundreds of thousands of housing units.
3 Developing an eastern boulevard for the State of Israel from Arad to the Gilboa mountain range in the north, while turning the Jordan Valley from the eastern Samarian hills into a contiguous living space that can absorb 2-3 million Israelis.
4 Paving a road akin to Highway 6 along with the steps of the Judean Desert, from Arad to Mishor Adumim, continuing northward to Beit Shean and Afula based on the Allon Road outline.
5 Developing urban contiguity along Route 5, from Rosh Ha'ayin to Ariel, Tapuah, Migdalim, and Ma'ale Efrayim.

These lines all run through Area C, and will create a sustainable infrastructural framework for the Palestinian entity in the areas they already control.

A comprehensive plan is needed for western Israel that will balance the necessary space between transportation, water, electricity, housing, sewerage, and protection of green spaces. From this perspective, applying sovereignty obligates the government to formulate a new strategic master plan for the development of Israel's eastern backbone.
Two top settler leaders accuse Trump of ‘scamming’ Israel with peace plan
US Ambassador David Friedman said Wednesday that the US was prepared to recognize Israeli annexation within weeks.

In an interview with the pro-Likud Israel Hayom daily published Wednesday, Friedman said that it is up to Israel to decide whether it wants to move forward with annexing settlements but that if it does, Washington will recognize the move.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (4th from right) tours the Efrat settlement with settler leaders on February 20, 2020. (Courtesy)

But Elhayani was not impressed.

“Not for nothing is Ambassador Friedman not talking about [Israel accepting] a Palestinian state, but instead the ‘Trump plan.’ He knows that specifying this fact will cause public opposition,” Elhayani told Ynet.

“We will not agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of the process of [enacting Israeli] sovereignty [in the West Bank]. Sovereignty is important to Israel’s security, but it is not worth damaging even a centimeter of the State of Israel and establishing a terror state in the heartland of the country,” added Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan.

Ultimately, settler leaders will have to reconcile with the recently inked unity deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Gantz, which allows the Likud leader to begin advancing legislation on annexation — but within the context of the Trump plan and its envisioning of the establishment of a semi-autonomous Palestinian state — starting on July 1.

Several of the 24 Israeli mayors of West Bank towns have expressed willingness to accept the Trump plan. In a statement responding to the Friedman interview, Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi called on his fellow settler leaders to exercise the “courage… to say yes [to the Trump plan], despite the conditions and challenges posed by this agreement, and to enact Israeli law in Judea and Samaria. In my opinion, this is a formative time, and we must not miss the opportunity to change a generation.”
Pompeo said planning Israel visit next week to meet with Netanyahu, Gantz
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel next week and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, several Hebrew media outlets reported Wednesday.

The Ynet website said Pompeo’s visit will focus both on the new government being established in Israel and on Israel’s plan to move forward with annexing parts of the West Bank under the Trump administration’s peace plan.

There was no official confirmation of the report, though Pompeo told reporters he would soon make a travel-related announcement when asked about plans to visit Israel.

“I don’t have any travel to confirm, but I think in the upcoming hours and days you’ll see an announcement. We’re hoping to get back out and be on the ground to do the things the State Department needs to do — that we need to physically be located in those places for. We’re hoping we can get that started up before too long. It’ll start off smaller but we’re hoping to get back at it,” he said.

US Ambassador David Friedman said in an interview earlier Wednesday that Washington is ready to recognize Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank should it be declared in the coming weeks.

In an interview with the pro-ruling party Israel Hayom daily, Friedman said that it is up to Israel to decide whether it wants to move forward with annexing settlements but that if it does, Washington will recognize the move.
Biden Pledges to Reopen PLO Mission and Resume US Assistance to Palestinians
Former US Vice President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that if elected president, he would reopen the Palestine Liberation Organization Diplomatic Mission in Washington, DC, and restore US assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

The presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee also reiterated that he would reopen the US consulate in eastern Jerusalem, which primarily serves the Palestinians.

“A priority now for the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace should be resuming our dialogue with the Palestinians and pressing Israel not to take actions that make a two-state solution impossible,” Biden told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a statement. “I will reopen the US consulate in East Jerusalem, find a way to reopen the PLO’s diplomatic mission in Washington, and resume the decades-long economic and security assistance efforts to the Palestinians that the Trump administration stopped.”

The Trump administration has virtually cut off all US assistance to the Palestinian Authority due to Ramallah’s “pay to slay” program, rewarding terrorists and their families. The PLO mission was closed in October 2018.

Biden has already pledged to keep the US embassy in Jerusalem, a move that was made from Tel Aviv in May 2018, five months after US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.


Arsen Ostrovsky and Maurice Hirsch: The ICC just became a tool of Palestinian lawfare
Benjamin Franklin famously said “there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes.” Today we can add a third: There is hardly a single multilateral organization that the Palestinians have not hijacked as part of their campaign of political warfare against the Jewish state.

Enter “Exhibit A”: Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Last week, Bensouda submitted her long-awaited opinion that “Palestine” is a state for the purposes of transferring jurisdiction to the ICC. Her opinion will potentially open the door to Israel being prosecuted for “war crimes” relating to its defensive actions against Hamas and Palestinian terror groups.

A panel of judges at the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber must now either affirm (or throw out) her decision.

The ICC was created with honorable intentions. Established in 2002, the ICC was meant to end the impunity of those accused of committing the most heinous of crimes, including war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The ICC functions on the basis of the criminal jurisdiction of the member “states,” delegated to the court.

However, by ignoring a tidal wave of legal opinion and ICC member state positions that “Palestine” is not a state for the purposes of ICC jurisdiction, Bensouda has just willingly become a pawn in this Palestinian lawfare campaign against Israel, thereby politicizing the court and bringing its very legitimacy into question.

“Palestine” is of course not a state since there is no such entity that meets the internationally recognized Montevideo Criteria for statehood. No matter how Bensouda spins it, highly politicized, biased resolutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, in which the anti-Israel forces have a guaranteed automatic majority, cannot invent a “State of Palestine.” Bensouda’s further attempt to justify the existence of “Palestine” using the Oslo Accords is similarly erroneous. As clearly stated and stipulated, the Oslo Accords cannot in any way be read as creating a state.

Even if Bensouda were to twist the text and intentions of the Oslo Accords to invent “Palestine,” she should have found that those same accords deny the Palestinian entity any criminal jurisdiction over Israelis. Accordingly, that Palestinian entity could not delegate any of its non-existent jurisdiction to the ICC as is required for the basic assumption of jurisdiction by the ICC.

During the proceedings, at least eight countries, including Germany, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Hungary, Uganda, Czech Republic and Austria, submitted “amicus briefs” calling on the ICC to throw out the proceedings on the basis that “Palestine” does not meet the most elementary criteria of statehood and therefore the court does not have jurisdiction.
FM summons EU ambassador over letter on terrorist funding
The European Union must stop any form of support for terrorists, Foreign Minister Israel Katz demanded on Thursday, in response to a letter stating that Palestinians affiliated with terrorist groups may participate in EU activities.

"We demand the EU immediately stop all support, monetary or other, for any factor that supports terrorism directly or indirectly," Katz said. "Experience teaches us that terrorism and any aid to terrorism will bring more terrorism."

Katz's comments came after the Foreign Ministry reprimanded EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret over the letter. The summons came late Wednesday night, hours after media reports about the letter. Foreign Ministry Deputy director-general for Europe Anna Azari, told Giaufret that "Israel categorically opposes the EU's policy in relation to funding terrorist organizations, which is an inspiration for incitement, support and involvement in terrorism."

Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff, EU representative to the West Bank and Gaza, wrote in an official letter to the Palestinian NGO Network, dated March 30, that all EU-funded projects, including by Palestinian organizations, must follow EU law, such as a ban on funding terrorist groups.
However, the letter points out that there are no Palestinian individuals on the EU’s “restrictive measures list” barring funds to terrorists, such that the NGOs would not be penalized if members of terrorist groups benefit from EU funding.

Charlie Weimers, a conservative member of the European Parliament, challenged European Commissioners: “Will you take action and create legal obstacles to people affiliated with terrorist groups participating in activities that the EU funds? Will you make sure that European taxpayers don’t fund terrorists?”
German military counter-intelligence omits Israel from map, apologizes
The German military counter-intelligence service on Wednesday deleted Israel from a map that included the Middle East, prompting a swift correction and apology from Germany’s Defense Ministry via Twitter.

The twitter handle named Klemens Köhler @WarumDresden wrote: “In MAD's first public report Israel is missing on the map.”

MAD is the German-language abbreviation for military counter-intelligence service.

The twitter feed for Germany’s defense ministry responded, writing: “Hello Mr. Köhler, that is indeed a mistake. We will investigate and thank you for the tip.”

“Care of course takes precedence - we made a mistake on the map of the MAD report, we apologize and corrected it immediately," the Defense Ministry tweeted. "Thanks to everyone who made us aware of this! Here is the link to the updated version of the report.”

The ministry added that “according to the current status, the software was operated incorrectly. That should have been noticed in quality assurance. We spoke to the responsible persons for the purpose of raising awareness. A political background is currently not recognizable.”

The Jerusalem Post sent a press query to the German defense ministry asking how the software allegedly malfunctioned and whether the defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer wishes to comment.
Putin’s Religious Soft Power Hits Jerusalem
The recent “backpacker deal,” the Crimean Peninsula annexation, and Russia’s Sochi Olympic Games are all examples of Vladimir Putin’s global “smart power” strategy, which combines soft and hard power. In winning Russian sovereignty over the Jerusalem complex near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, he scored a significant soft power win.

In January 2020, Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin struck a deal that rescued Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar from a Russian prison and brought her safely home in exchange for Russian sovereignty over the Alexander Courtyard in Jerusalem, which is near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This deal was a major win for Vladimir Putin as he pursues his aim of Russian global imperialism.

Since 2000, Putin has worked hard to return Russia to the status of global superpower, and the Russian Orthodox Church has been a cardinal component of this plan. Putin’s object is not only to preserve Russian culture but to turn it into a dominant force in the Middle East. To accomplish this, he is employing a grand strategy that is strongly reminiscent of Suzanne Nossel and Joseph Nye’s idea of “smart power.”

Since 2000, Putin has worked hard to return Russia to the status of global superpower, and the Russian Orthodox Church has been a cardinal component of this plan. Putin’s object is not only to preserve Russian culture but to turn it into a dominant force in the Middle East. To accomplish this, he is employing a grand strategy that is strongly reminiscent of Suzanne Nossel and Joseph Nye’s idea of “smart power.”

On the one hand, Russia, under Putin’s leadership, has showed impressive diplomatic and cultural openness. The Sochi Olympics of 2014, for example, showed off a Russia that had been “rebrand[ed]…as a strong, stable, modern and gracious” country. The 2018 World Cup similarly strengthened Russia’s global image.
In triumph for Netanyahu, 72 MKs endorse him as PM, paving way for new coalition
Completing a remarkable turnaround that will see him retain the premiership for at least the next 18 months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was endorsed Thursday as prime minister by 72 Knesset members, paving the way for him to finalize a coalition agreement with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and swear-in his new government next week.

The signatures were delivered to President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday afternoon, hours after constitutional changes underpinning the Likud-Blue and White power-sharing deal were approved by the Knesset and less than a day after the country’s top court rejected eight petitions against the deal and Netanyahu’s right to set up a new government when under indictment.

Rivlin was expected to task Netanyahu with forming a government in the coming hours, bringing the country one step closer to ending 16 months of political turmoil wrought by three inconclusive elections.

Netanyahu has continued to helm the transitional government during what is widely seen as the worst political crisis in Israel’s history, despite being under criminal indictment and incessant predictions of his political downfall.

Faction representatives presented Rivlin with the signatures recommending Netanyahu as the next prime minister, the Likud and Blue and White parties said in a statement.

Netanyahu told Rivlin in a letter that he agreed to be tasked with forming the “emergency national unity government.”
PMW: PA banks heed PMW warning and start closing terrorist bank accounts PMW cracks the weakest link in the PA’s “Pay for Slay” payments
Banks operating in the Palestinian Authority are heeding the warning of Palestinian Media Watch and have started closing bank accounts of Palestinian terrorist prisoners. PMW’s recent letter warned bank officials that failing to close the accounts could result in potential criminal and civil action for aiding and abetting the payment of the PA’s terror rewards to terrorist prisoners when Israeli legislation regarding this procedure is applied in two days. In recent days different Arab media outlets have reported that some banks active in the PA are already rushing to close the accounts of terrorist prisoners and released prisoners before the new law takes effect.

PMW’s warning letter informed the banks of the new Israeli legislation that explicitly criminalizes the PA’s salary payments to the terrorist prisoners and also prohibits facilitating the payment of these rewards for terror. In the letter, PMW warned the banks of the legal repercussions they would face.

Based on the speed by which the PA banks are responding to PMW’s letter, it seems that PMW accurately identified the banks as the weak link in the PA’s terror reward program. Many of these banks are foreign banks that conduct business internationally and would not want to be tainted by the threat of criminal or civil proceedings for supporting terrorism.

Significantly, the reports about the banks closing accounts of the terrorist prisoners did not appear in the official PA-controlled media, but rather appeared in independent Palestinian or Arab news sources.

PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs spokesman, Hassan Abd Rabbo, confirmed that families of terrorists are already complaining that their bank accounts have been closed and he also confirmed that the PA is holding discussions about this new crisis:

“[PLO] Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs Spokesman Hassan Abd Rabbo confirmed to the [independent Palestinian] paper Al-Hadath that complaints have come in from the families of prisoners and released prisoners against two banks that are active in the Palestinian territories, because they have closed the prisoners’ bank accounts.
He added that today, Wednesday [May 6, 2020], a meeting will be held on the matter between the [PA] Monetary Authority and the Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs.”
Documents obtained by Al-Hadath revealed that Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) Director of Legal Strategies and former Head of Israeli Military Prosecution Itamar Marcus (sic., Maurice Hirsch; Itamar Marcus is PMW director) warned the Palestinian banks of the consequences that there will be for continuing to maintain the prisoners’ accounts, through which the PA pays them salaries… It should be noted that PMW, which Marcus directs, issued a special report at the end of 2019 regarding the amount of money that the PA pays the prisoners, which according to the report had reached $517 million.”
[Al-Hadath, independent Palestinian weekly paper, May 6, 2020]

One Palestinian source depicted the decision of the banks with this cartoon, showing a credit card of the Jordan-based Cairo Amman Bank, which recently closed accounts of terrorist prisoners. The card is superimposed on a prison cell with a Palestinian flag on it, which is surrounded by barbed wire.
Gaza man charged with funneling money to Hamas in West Bank
A Gaza resident was indicted Thursday for allegedly funneling money to fund Hamas terror activity in the West Bank.

Zuhair Arafat, 43, is accused of conspiring with Gaza-based members of the Palestinian terror group and with a terror convict in Israel’s Ketziot Prison, making use of his permit to enter Israel, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

The charge sheet, filed with the Beersheba District Court, says Arafat transferred some NIS 100,000 ($28,500) from the Strip to the West Bank for Hamas, knowing it was intended for terror activity.

Arafat is charged of conspiring to commit a crime, violating a ban on using property for terror purposes, money laundering and other terror-related offenses, the statement said.

Hamas has ruled Gaza since seizing the territory from the rival Palestinian Authority in a bloody coup in 2007, though it also remains active in the PA-ruled West Bank. Hamas openly seeks Israel’s destruction and has launched tens of thousands of rockets at cities in the Jewish state, which maintains a blockade of Gaza to isolate the terror group.

Israel has reportedly been holding talks lately with Hamas over a potential deal to return two Israeli captives, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, and the bodies of two IDF soldiers being held in the Gaza Strip, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

Israeli officials last month reportedly quietly confirmed that “significant” talks were underway with Hamas.
Palestinians Reject Normalizing Ties with Israel
Palestinian factions on Wednesday called on Arab societies to combat campaigns aimed at normalizing relations with Israel.

"Those campaigning for normalization are a small fraction, who don't represent the Arab nation; they are affiliated with international parties like the U.S.," said Hani al-Thawabta of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Gaza City.

He described TV shows promoting normalization with Israel by the Dubai-based Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) as a "crime against the Arab mind."
Amnesty slams PA, Hamas for jailing critics, one of whom held call with Israelis
Amnesty International on Thursday censured Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip over their detention of critics and opponents for expressing their views.

The London-based human rights group said five people were arrested in March and April, including a peace activist for holding a video call with Israelis and a writer who criticized authorities in Gaza for a deadly market fire. Amnesty called the detentions a “pattern of arbitrary arrests” of Palestinians for voicing their opinions.

“The authorities in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip have violated the right to freedom of expression by arbitrarily detaining individuals solely for peacefully sharing their views on social media. This must immediately stop,” said Saleh Higazi, deputy Middle East director at Amnesty International.

The group, which criticized both the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza, called for all those who were arrested for expressing their views to be released.

The arrests happened during states of emergency imposed in both territories over the coronavirus outbreak, and Amnesty said the detentions during a pandemic “puts these individuals at an increased risk.”

In the West Bank, one of the detainees is a former member of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party who criticized the Palestinian leader. A second detainee had also slammed Abbas’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. Both were later released.
Pandemic boosts Palestinian PM as potential Abbas successor
One man has become the face of the Palestinians' response to the COVID-19 crisis, and it's not Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Rather it is Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, an economist-turned-politician whose prominence in tackling the coronavirus has led many Palestinians to predict that he may one day succeed 84-year-old Abbas as president.

For Shtayyeh – an unelected Abbas appointee – the urgency of the Palestinian Authority (PA) efforts to curb the virus have helped reinvigorate the domestic image of a body long viewed by some as corrupt and unproductive.

Some 96% of West Bank Palestinians trust the way the PA under Shtayyeh has handled the pandemic, said a recent poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre.

The West Bank has recorded 354 cases and just two deaths. After an outbreak in Bethlehem in March the PA moved quickly to impose a full lockdown, fearing its weak health system would be overwhelmed.

"The current crisis has bolstered Shtayyeh's presence and cemented the impression that he might be the next president," said political analyst Akram Atallah.

"He has brandished an image as a successful administrator in the eyes of the media, a leader who can be trusted to navigate a pandemic."

Shtayyeh has consistently said he does not harbor ambitions of the presidency, deferring instead to senior colleagues in the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization and Fatah, the party that has long dominated it.


Israel demands major changes in UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon
Israel's UN ambassador said Wednesday that his government is demanding major changes in the way the UN peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon operates on the ground and has support from the United States.

Ambassador Danny Danon told a video press briefing that Israel will insist that peacekeepers have access to all sites, that they have freedom of movement and that any time they are being blocked the UN Security Council must be immediately informed.

The peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, was originally created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 1978. The mission was expanded after a 2006 war between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group so that peacekeepers could deploy along the Lebanon-Israel border to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into their country's south for the first time in decades.

Israel has repeatedly accused Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants of impeding the peacekeepers from carrying out their mandate.

"We have seen that slowly there is less places that the troops in the peacekeeping operation can actually travel in southern Lebanon," Danon said. "So we want them to have full freedom of movement."

"I have discussed it with the commander of the force and we tell them, `You are there, you cannot move and you can't inspect, so why you are there?,"' he said. "`You have to be more active, you have to move freely and you have to inspect all sites.'"

UNIFIL includes more than 9,400 ground troops and over 850 naval personnel in a Maritime Task Force. Its budget from July 2018-June 2019 was $474 million.
Clifford D. May: Terrorist organization Hezbollah permits Lebanon to be rescued by the IMF
That should not be enough. The United States, Germany and other major contributors to the IMF ought to demand that before any checks are written, Hezbollah disarms — that, from now on, it seeks power based on the ballots it can garner rather than the bullets it can fire.

I know what you’re thinking: Hezbollah will never agree, and the LAF, despite the assistance it receives from the U.S. and Europe, is too weak to force the terrorists to lay down their arms. In that case, the “international community” should tell the Lebanese government: “Perhaps Hezbollah’s patrons in Tehran can offer a better deal.”

OK, if you think that’s unrealistic, here’s a fallback: Hezbollah merely removes the estimated 150,000 missiles it has aimed at Israel — as was promised by the U.N. Security Council resolution that halted the war between Israel and Lebanon in 2006.

The purpose of making that demand would not be to demonstrate that U.N. Security Council resolutions aren’t worthless, nor out of consideration for Israeli lives, but because it would be foolish to invest billions of dollars in a country that Hezbollah, at Tehran’s behest, might drag into a devastating war at any moment.

If even that seems too big a lift, I’ll suggest a further fallback. Iran’s rulers have been giving Hezbollah precision-guided munitions (PGMs), as well as kits that enable Iranian-trained Hezbollah technicians to transform dumb rockets into smart missiles. Because these weapons have the potential to defeat Israeli missile-defense systems, especially if fired in sufficient numbers, it’s likely only a matter of time before Israelis decide their least-bad option is to remove them by military means.

Hezbollah has installed many if not most of these missiles in mosques, schools, hospitals and homes. That’s a blatant violation of international laws prohibiting the use of human shields, and it guarantees high numbers of civilian casualties.

Rather than waiting for that tragedy to unfold, would it not make sense for the United States, Germany, France and other civilized countries to couple diplomacy with economic incentives so as to diminish the threat that Hezbollah’s weapons pose?

The alternative is for the West to shore up a terrorist organization that answers to terrorist sponsors in Tehran, and holds the Lebanese people hostage. To do that would not be courageous. To do that would be irresponsible and downright stupid.
COVID-19 might be a blessing, not a curse, for Hezbollah
Over the past few years Hezbollah, a designated terrorist organization by the US, UK, Israel, EU (only its military arm), and others, has been increasing its power in Lebanon and slowly replacing the government's relevance by hijacking institutions and providing civil services in place of the Lebanese government.

Hezbollah operates a host of social programs: providing financial assistance, training to Lebanese farmers, free medical treatment for Hezbollah members, and operating hospitals and clinics, to mention a few. Most of Hezbollah's programs benefit the Shi'ite population in southern Lebanon. In the midst of this coronavirus, Lebanon defaulted its $1.2 billion loan this past March, setting up the stage for Hezbollah to take over the government's role in providing civil services.

Armed with Iranian money, which has dwindled since the US sanctions on Iran, the terrorist organization has a chance to increase its influence beyond the Shiite community in the south. With the country facing bankruptcy, the people's trust in the Lebanese government will decrease while the trust in Hezbollah will grow ever stronger. As it is, in the recent 2018 general election, Hezbollah received 16.5% of the popular vote – more than any other political party. By stepping up in place of the government, Hezbollah's influence has the potential to grow further. This is something to look out for in future elections. It could shift the internal politics in Lebanon and pose a threat to future stability in the region.

In an effort to increase their political influence in Beirut, after the elections, Hezbollah was given the health ministry and appointed Hamad Hassan as minister. The current pandemic threw the new minister into the deep end and serves as a test. Should Minister Hassan successfully handle the health crisis, Hezbollah will be perceived as a legitimate political player.

Hezbollah has a good starting point: a number of their fighters have recently returned from Iran where they helped fight the virus – giving them a chance to learn from the mistakes of their protégé. The party has already mobilized tens of thousands of medical staff and is pouring money into renting a disused hospital and prepared dozens of medical centers. It, therefore, seems that the organization will be successful in managing the coronavirus, thus further increasing its influence.

The biggest concern is that Hezbollah, riding the wave of high approval rates in the Lebanese society, coupled with their increasing control in the government and parliament, will feel a boost of unnecessary confidence to take greater risks and destabilize the region further. Since Hezbollah fighters are active in Syria and Iraq as well, this risk impacts not only on US operations in the region but on of their regional allies as well. Hezbollah's confidence, for instance, may motivate the terrorist organization to continue developing their precision guided munition (PGM) program with Iran.
Iran Accused of Spreading Coronavirus Throughout the Middle East
At the same time that the airline [Iran's Mahan Air] was flying to China, it also continued operations to other countries in the Middle East, with the result that it has now been accused of spreading the virus to a number of countries including Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Lebanon. Mahan Air has so far declined to comment on the allegations

Sources within the airline are said to have told the BBC that dozens of Mahan Air's cabin crew were showing symptoms of Covid-19 after the flights to China, but that when staff tried to raise concerns about the airline's management of the crisis and provision of safety equipment, they were silenced.

Claims that Iran has been responsible for spreading the virus throughout the Middle East could also have a negative impact on Tehran's hopes of persuading the International Monetary Fund to provide a $5 billion bailout package. The IMF says the request is still under consideration, but it is unlikely the organisation will be prepared to provide funding to a regime whose irresponsible behaviour threatens the well-being of other countries.
Worst Locust Plague in 50 Years Hits Iran
For the second consecutive year, locust swarms are threatening widespread destruction across southern Iran in what's expected to be the worst infestation in more than half a century.

Keith Cressman, senior locust forecaster for the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, said, "There's a generation of locusts in southeastern Iran every year, and that's not the problem, as preparations have always been made to fight the insects."

"The issue this year is that swarms from outside invaded the southwest of the country, while seasonal rains came early" and hatched the local population.
PreOccupiedTerritory: Iran Reluctant To Leave Assad Alone In Syria With Only Russia To Abet War Crimes (satire)
Officials in the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei voiced hesitation this week over what appears to signal the beginning of the retrenchment of their forces in Syria following a rising price tag in manpower, materiel, and expenditures there in the face of determined Israeli, US,and Turkish efforts in opposition, as the officials expressed concern that without their assistance, Syrian President Basher Assad will have only Russia upon whom to rely for logistical and tactical support in continuing to massacre Syrian civilians.

Deputy Minister of Defense Aidan Anabettin issued a memorandum Wednesday to colleagues in the country’s defense establishment expressing concern over the void Iran will leave in Syria if the planned withdrawal of support and manpower goes through, as President Basher Assad will no longer have anyone but Vladimir Putin’s Russian forces available to support and participate in indiscriminate bombing and shelling of rebel-held areas. The memo leaked last night.

“I worry that our friend and comrade President Assad will find himself unable to call on more than just Russia in his effort to kill hundreds of thousands and displace millions more,” wrote the deputy minister. “Ultimately the decision lies with others whose experience and authority outweigh my own, but I simply wish to go on record arguing in favor of finding a solution to our dilemma that does not involve forcing President Assad to put all his war crime eggs in one Cyrillic basket.”

Anabettin’s memo reflects frustration on the part of at least some Iranian defense officials at the country’s inability to maintain its ambitious efforts to attain regional hegemony, as well at their own limited capacity to influence military decisions and policies by organs of the regime that answer directly to Supreme Leader Khamenei, over the heads of the rank and file.




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