Thursday, February 27, 2020

From Ian:

The UN, where rights abusers get to be on the human rights council
The Trump administration withdrew from the UNHRC nearly two years ago, citing the parade of dictators that have turned the body into what Nikki Haley, then the U.S. ambassador to the UN, described as a “self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.” Haley also cited, not unreasonably, the UNHRC’s singular obsession with Israel.

But the Americans are missed—at least by those human rights activists who still try to use the forum of the UNHRC as a means to sanction and hold to account the world’s most brazen human rights criminals.

Last week, UN Watch—led by Montrealer Hillel Neuer—joined with two dozen other human-rights NGOs in bringing several hundred human rights activists here for the 12th annual Geneva Summit on Human Rights and Democracy. It was an opportunity for dissidents, campaigners, former political prisoners and politicians to take stock, swap notes and meet with diplomats.

It’s a wonder that any of them bother to come to Geneva at all.

The suffering of the Syrian people at the moment is as dire as it has been since a democratic reform movement sprang up in 2011. Syrian president Bashar Assad responded by destroying entire cities, resorting in dozens of cases to chemical weapons like sarin and chlorine gas. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs counts at least 560,000 children among the 948,000 Syrians driven north by Assad’s militias and the Russian air force since December.

“There should definitely be an urgent session on the situation in Idlib,” Neuer told me, “but the UNHRC just shrugs its shoulders. The council will not act with urgency on Syria.”

There is a slim chance of some movement on Venezuela, however. It took eight years of NGO lobbying for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct its investigations last year, but the lobbying did produce some results. And UN Watch has managed to pull together a petition with more than 125,000 signatures calling for Venezuela’s dismissal from the council.

There are several ordinarily dependable member states on the council this year—Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Korea, and Ukraine, for instance. But these days, almost everyone is keeping their heads down.

Even the most outrageous human rights abuses get overlooked, and sometimes, the world’s worst human rights abusers receive praise here. Last year, China won accolades from more than 50 countries, many of them Muslim-majority states, for its “counterterrorism” initiative in Xinjiang, where more than a million Muslims have been interned without trial in re-education camps.

As for the democracies, they’re intimidated. “The Human Rights Council only really has the power of shame, but the democracies have stopped issuing resolutions,” Neuer told me. “They’ve been made timid by Russia, by China, and by Turkey, and they don’t want to be embarrassed if they put forward a resolution and it fails. It’s a nice life here. The ambassadors go skiing on the weekends. But they’re afraid.”

Palestinian commentator: BDS hurts us
Bassam Eid is a Palestinian author and commentator, who may be seen frequently on Israeli television. While he is critical of various Israeli policies, he also speaks out frequently against corruption in both the Palestinian Authority and Gaza. On Tuesday evening, at the Fairbanks Country Club, in this affluent community wedged between northern San Diego and Rancho Santa Fe, Eid condemned the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as being harmful to ordinary Palestinians.

He cited the case of Soda Stream, a company which had located a plant in the disputed territories and which had employed 1,500 Palestinians. After BDS launched an international boycott against the company—supposedly to help the Palestinians—the company relocated from the territories to southern Israel. That put 1,500 Palestinians out of work. As for Soda Stream, Eid said, it is making three times as much money in its new location as it did in the territories. So, he asked a gathering sponsored by StandWithUs, who did BDS help? Certainly not the Palestinians.

“BDS is using the Palestinians for their own agenda; they are just victimizing us,” Eid declared to local contributors of StandWithUs, which combats BDS and other ant-Israel initiatives on campuses across North America.

Ordinary Palestinians, according to Eid, don’t care about settlements, nor the political struggle to create a new state. “Palestinians are seeking dignity, not identity,” he said. “What they want is a job, and education for their children.” For them, he added, “a homeland is a place where you find dignity, justice, and freedom.”

He heaped scorn on Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. “Who does he represent?” he asked. “His two sons and his wife,” he answered. “The majority of Palestinians have lost trust in him. We know that the leadership is corrupt, but we (although not Eid himself) are not allowed to speak about it.”

He noted that once it was proposed that the minute Israel made peace with the Palestinians, 54 Arab and Muslim countries would normalize relations with Israel. However, even without that peace, he said “it is already happening.”
JPost Editorial: Remembering Egypt's Mubarak's legacy in Israel
Egypt bid farewell on Wednesday to its longtime former president Hosni Mubarak, who ruled the country with an iron first for 30 years until he was ousted in 2011’s popular uprising, an early victim of the so-called Arab Spring. He spent many of the subsequent years in jail and military hospitals before being freed to his home in 2017.

Three days of national mourning were declared, and Reuters reported that horses drew Mubarak’s coffin, draped in the Egyptian flag, at a mosque complex, followed by a procession led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, top military officials, Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, and other Egyptian and Arab dignitaries. Mubarak’s coffin was to be airlifted to the family burial grounds, state television reported.

Mubarak’s legacy is clouded by the repressive manner in which he ruled the impoverished country of over 97 million people, but tempered by the chaos that followed his ouster. How he will be perceived in the history books in coming generations is still a question mark.

But in his relationship with Israel, Mubarak’s legacy is already written in stone.

Considered a war hero for his role in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Mubarak ironically ended up rigorously guarding the tenuous peace between Egypt and Israel that was forged by his predecessor Anwar Sadat in 1979.

As Herb Keinon wrote in Wednesday’s Jerusalem Post, Mubarak understood the peace treaty’s importance and utility to the Egyptian economy, yet he also wanted Egypt to regain the stature it lost in the Arab world by signing the treaty. Therefore, he fulfilled the security commitments under the accord to the letter, but at the same time did nothing to try to imbue the treaty with anything that would lead to normal relations between the two countries.

What is UN Resolution 242 and Why Does It Matter?
The Legacy of Resolution 242

Amb. Rosenne noted that while “UN General Assembly resolutions are only recommendations,” Security Council resolutions including 242 are legally binding. The Arab actions leading up to the war were sufficient to determine that Israel was not the aggressor in the Six-Day War. The implication is that with respect to the territories its forces had captured, Resolution 242 assigned Israel legal rights and obligations.

In other words, Israel is obligated to maintain the territories until the warring parties can negotiate to “achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles in this resolution.” That settlement is a required condition for the first principle of 242 – the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces” – to take place.

The biggest success that has roots in 242 is clearly Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. While the resolution has so far failed to achieve “a just and lasting peace in the Middle East” for all states in the region, peace with two formerly hostile Arab countries bordering Israel drastically changed the nature of the conflict.

More recently, two key Arab dictators who had fomented militaristic anti-Israel sentiment as a tool of their regimes – Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muamar Qadhafi – were both overthrown. Syrian dictator Bashar Assad rejected his people’s demands for democratic reforms and has presided over a civil war that has crippled his country and removed Syria as a military threat to Israel.

A long-term consequence of 242 is the marked decline in the belligerence of the Arab League of 22 countries that historically served as the collective Arab anti-Israel focus for what was called the Arab-Israeli conflict. That focus has all but disappeared given that two Arab League members have been at peace with Israel for several decades at the same time that other states are in disarray with internal strife. Several members like Morocco and several of the Gulf States do not hide their unofficial ties with Israel. Far from calling for Israel’s destruction, they openly call for cooperation.

What used to be termed the “Arab-Israeli Conflict” has morphed into the “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” With the Palestinians apparently irreconcilably split between Fatah and Hamas, any Israeli-Palestinian resolution appears to be unachievable in the short term. Despite those changes, it appears that UN Security Council Resolution 242 will continue to be used as a foundation for future peace.
Palestinian Fantasy Blocks Mideast Peace
Every president succumbs to the temptation to broker a Middle East peace deal.

Donald Trump is no exception. He recently unveiled his proposal for settling the ancient grievances dividing the Holy Land to unenthusiastic reviews. The plan, the product of three years of work by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, will fail, like all the others that came before.

That has nothing to do with the details — this offer is actually more honest and realistic than its predecessors. It should be the blueprint for Israel and the Palestinians to finally become peaceful, prosperous neighbors.

But it will go nowhere because the Palestinians still cling to an all-or-nothing fantasy which has them ruling from the river to the sea,” with the Jews driven away.

Danny Ayalon, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., acknowledges the inevitable futility of this latest peace effort even while praising the details of Trump's proposal, which Israel has embraced.

“Peace may have to wait for a new generation, new leadership,” says Ayalon, who visited Metro Detroit over the weekend to speak to the Jewish Federation. “At this point, Palestinians continue to claim the entire land. They still teach their children that the whole land is theirs, and they’re going to get it.”

Despite being panned by a commentariat that can give Trump credit for nothing, there’s a brilliance to the proposal that should have given it legs.
PMW: Abbas in La La Land
In his recent speech at the UN Security Council, it appeared Abbas had taken a trip to La La Land. His statements to the UN were almost like a comedy show - far from reality.

Abbas told the UN and the world that the Palestinian leadership has “spread a culture of peace,” that they “fight violence and terror,” and that Palestinians are “not against Jews.” He stressed several times that the PA will “never turn to violence and terror.”

Yet Abbas’ own Fatah Movement marched into 2020 carrying knives, rifles, and suicide belts, at several rallies in different towns in the West Bank, as exposed by Palestinian Media Watch.

Comparing Abbas’ words with the following three videos of PA and Fatah messages to Palestinians clearly demonstrates his attempt to deceive the UN and the world. They prove again what PMW has shown repeatedly that there is one PA message for international consumption but an entirely different one for the Palestinian street:

Abbas in La La Land #1
“We have worked to spread a culture of peace among our people”
-Yet Fatah marched into 2020 with knives, rifles, and suicide belts, while shooting in the air

Abbas: “We have worked to spread a culture of peace among our people, among all the Palestinians. We say to them: “Only peace. We do not want war. We do not want violence. We do not want terror. We fight violence and terror throughout the world… We fight against terror. We are not terrorists.”
[Official PA TV, Feb. 11, 2020]

Fatah marched with knives, rifles, and suicide belts at a rally in Ramallah in January 2020, celebrating its anniversary and first terror attack against Israel in 1965.

Abbas in La La Land #2
“We will never turn to violence and terror”
-Yet Fatah marched into 2020 with knives, rifles, and suicide belts, while shooting in the air

Abbas in La La Land #3
“We are not against Jews”
- Yet Antisemitism thrives and is taught in the PA

Canada Backs Israel in ICC Challenge
Canada has submitted a letter to the International Criminal Court (ICC) reiterating its position on Palestine, in a case in which Israel asked for Ottawa’s support.

The letter, submitted to The Hague-based ICC on Feb. 14, repeats the policy that Canada does not recognize a Palestinian state, and that the court has no jurisdiction in the case now before it.

Global Affairs said it does not release “this type of correspondence.” But The CJN was told it is the same official position on Palestine that Canada submitted to the ICC in 2015 and again in 2018.

The latest case began in December, when the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, issued a preliminary report that called for an investigation into Israeli soldiers for war crimes perpetrated against Palestinians.

“I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine,” wrote Bensouda, adding, “In brief, I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”

The allegations include “disproportionate attacks” and “wilful killing and wilfully causing serious injury to body or health” by Israeli troops. As well, the report said Israeli authorities may have committed war crimes relating to “the transfer of Israeli civilians into the West Bank” since 2014.

Bensouda also pointed to evidence of war crimes by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups.

She asked three ICC judges to first rule on whether the court has jurisdiction in the territories she cited.
Israel advances plans for nearly 1,800 new settlement homes days before election
The Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction green-lit plans for nearly 1,800 Israeli homes in the West Bank on Thursday.

Of the 1,739 homes advanced by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee, 1,036 were cleared through an early planning stage known as “deposit” and 703 received final approval for construction throughout the West Bank.

Thursday’s session came less than two months after the previous one, marking an increase in the frequency of the committee’s meetings, which, based on unofficial rules instituted upon US President Donald Trump’s 2017 entry into the White House, have only taken place four times a year.

A Civil Administration spokesman said the political echelon is responsible for convening the High Planning Subcommittee, but a spokesman for Defense Minister Naftali Bennett did not respond to The Times of Israel’s request for comment. Shabtay Bendet from the Peace Now settlement watchdog refrained from concluding that the more frequent meetings marked a change in Israeli policy, speculating that they likely had more to do with the Netanyahu government’s efforts to cater to right-wing voters, particularly residents of West Bank settlements, ahead of next week’s election.

The vast majority of the homes that will eventually be constructed as a result of Thursday’s approvals will be located in settlements deep in the West Bank, as opposed to roughly 200 that will be built within the so-called blocs that most Israelis believe will be maintained in any peace deal.

According to the Trump peace plan, Israel will be able to annex every single settlement in the West Bank, meaning Thursday’s approvals would not impact the viability of the proposal in any way.
Honest Reporting: What is E1 and is it Really So Crucial to Israel’s Security?
The Significance of E1 for Israel

To Israelis, the threat of seeing Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, cut off as it was in the 1948 War of Independence is intolerable. No country would allow itself to be cut off from its capital, and following the 1967 Six Day War, Israel has built up a ring of settlements to act as buffer zone around Jerusalem to protect it from invasion and isolation by invading armies.

Beyond the security advantages it holds for Israel, E1 is also the last significant piece of convenient and unsettled real estate close to Jerusalem. With Jerusalem’s growth already limited to its north and south by Ramallah and Bethlehem respectively, and with green groups lobbying effectively to place off-limits any plans for building in the forest land to the west of the city, the sole direction in which Jerusalem can grow naturally is eastwards. With the city facing a serious housing shortage, E1 is the only viable location where tens of thousands of homes can be built.

Things, however, are not straightforward. With the land in E1 lying beyond the Green Line, any development of the land by Israel is hotly contested.

Those supporting a Palestinian state alongside Israel declare that Jerusalem, or eastern Jerusalem should be the Palestinian capital. Because eastern Jerusalem is almost completely surrounded by a crescent of Israeli settlements, the argument goes, it is effectively cut off from the rest of the West Bank, part of the territory that the international community seeks to become a future Palestinian state. According to this logic, building in E1 would complete this crescent of settlements around eastern Jerusalem and bisect the West Bank.

So severe is their analysis, they argue that settlement construction in E1 would constitute the death knell on any two-state solution.
UN slams ‘worrying’ Israeli plans to build in West Bank, East Jerusalem
The United Nations Middle East peace envoy condemned Israel’s recent advancement of construction plans in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that he said would effectively cut the West Bank in two and isolate some Palestinian neighborhoods.

The statement from Nickolay Mladenov, the special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, joined warnings from others in the international community against the building plans announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week.

“I am very concerned about Israel’s recent announcements regarding the advancement of settlement construction in Giv’at Hamatos and Har Homa [in East Jerusalem], as well as the worrying plans for 3,500 units in the controversial E1 area of the occupied West Bank,” Mladenov said in a statement.

“All settlements are illegal under international law and remain a substantial obstacle to peace. If the E1 plan were to be implemented, it would sever the connection between northern and southern West Bank, significantly undermining the chances for establishing a viable and contiguous Palestinian state as part of a negotiated two-state solution,” he continued. “I urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from such unilateral actions that fuel instability and further erode the prospects for resuming Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.”

Netanyahu announced last week that he had lifted restrictions on the construction of the controversial Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem, saying that 3,000 homes would be built for Jewish residents there, in addition to another 2,200 housing units for Jews in the nearby Har Homa neighborhood.

He also announced plans to build in a strip of land in the West Bank East of Jerusalem called E1, effectively linking the capital to the large settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim.
Mladenov condemns E1 building, as plans deposited
Fearful of the harmful impact the E1 West Bank housing project would have on the two-state solution, eight European ambassadors met on Thursday with Israel’s Deputy National Security Adviser Reuven Ezer.

Those who participated in the meeting were; Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

After the meeting, Germany’s Ambassador to Israel Susanne Wasum-Rainer tweeted that she and her counterparts “stated their grave concerns about announcements of the Israeli authorities regarding new settlement units in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.”

She listed three projects in particular, the first of which was a plan for 3,500 new homes in an unbuilt area of the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement, dubbed E1. The other two Jewish construction projects of note were in east Jerusalem and involved a new neighborhood in Givat Hamatos and the expansion of the Har Homa neighborhood.

Israel holds that the E1 project, Givat Hamatos and Har Homa are necessary to ensure a united Jerusalem. Palestinians and the international community fear the projects doom the possibility of a two-state solution at the pre-1967 lines.
50 ex-European leaders and FMs condemn Trump plan, cite apartheid similarities
Fifty former European leaders and foreign ministers have signed an open letter expressing “grave concern” over US President Donald Trump’s plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The letter, published in The Guardian on Thursday, criticized the plan for allowing Israeli annexation of settlements and creating a situation it said was tantamount to “apartheid.”

“The plan contradicts internationally agreed parameters for the Middle East peace process, relevant UN resolutions, including security council resolution 2334, and the most fundamental principles of international law. Instead of promoting peace, it risks fueling the conflict – at the expense of Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike, and with grave implications for Jordan and the wider region,” it said.

“The plan allows for annexation of large and vital parts of the occupied Palestinian territory and legitimizes and encourages illegal Israeli settlement activity. It recognizes only one side’s claims to Jerusalem and offers no just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees. It projects a future Palestinian ‘state’ without control and sovereignty over its fragmented territory. The map featured in the plan proposes Palestinian enclaves under permanent Israeli military control, which evoke chilling associations with South Africa’s bantustans.”

It described the plan as the “formalization of the current reality in the occupied Palestinian territory, in which two peoples are living side by side without equal rights. Such an outcome has characteristics similar to apartheid – a term we don’t use lightly.”

Among the signatories to the letter were former foreign minister and vice-chancellor of Germany Sigmar Gabriel; Robert Serry, former UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process; former UK foreign secretary Jack Straw; former NATO secretary-generals Javier Solana and Willy Claes; former Swedish prime minister Ingvar Carlsson; former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland; former Irish prime minister John Bruton.
Thomas Friedman’s wacky new Mideast peace plan
So it turns out that the key to Israeli-Arab peace is not borders, refugees, or "settlements", after all. It’s solar power! So says New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, in the latest bizarre peace plan from the veteran advocate of failed peace plans.

The real obstacle to peace, Friedman wrote in a recent column, is the impact of climate change in the Mideast. Mother Nature will overwhelm all the various political and military conflicts, according to Friedman. Therefore, he argued, the only path to peace is for Israel to immediately allow creation of a sovereign Palestinian state, and then Israel, Jordan, and “Palestine” must form “a confederation of their sovereign entities based on sea and sun.”

One of Friedman’s main pieces of evidence that Mother Nature is the real issue is the fact that—he writes— “in the summer of 2018, the Sea of Galilee [the Kinneret] was so low from droughts and water withdrawals for rising populations that it was threatening to become another saline lake, like the Dead Sea.”

For a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaperman, he sure doesn’t seem to follow the news. Consider this April 2019 headline in leftist Ha’aretz, Friedman’s Israeli newspaper of choice: “Lake Kinneret Is the Fullest It’s Been in Five Years, and There’s More to Come.” Indeed, it has continued rising over the past year, and just last week it was reported that the Kinneret is less than one meter shy of being officially at its maximum level (at which point the dam at Kibbutz Deganya is opened.).

Friedman’s new “insights” into Mideast peace follow in the footsteps of an assortment of cockeyed plans and perspectives he has promoted for more than four decades.

It began in 1974, when Friedman was a student at Brandeis University (also attended by my daughter Alisa when she was murdered) and leader of a campus organization that was misleadingly named the “Middle East Peace Group.” The group’s recipe for peace was for Israel and the world to bow to the demands of Yasir Arafat.
In unprecedented move, Israelis advised to avoid all travel abroad over virus
In a dramatic statement Wednesday, Israel’s Health Ministry urged Israelis to seriously consider refraining from traveling abroad, as the country looked to isolate itself from the novel coronavirus outbreak rapidly spreading across the globe.

“If you don’t genuinely have to fly — don’t do so,” the ministry said in a travel warning.

In making the announcement, Israel became the first country to urge its citizens to refrain from international travel entirely because of the outbreak, which started in China in December and has since infected over 80,000 worldwide and claimed well over 2,000 lives, almost all of them in China.

The move comes after a series of additional countries announced they had identified cases of the virus on their soil over the past two days, including Brazil’s announcement of the first confirmed case in Latin America and uncontained outbreaks in Germany, Italy and other European countries.
El Al cancels all flights to Italy, Thailand; postpones Tokyo route launch
Israeli flag carrier El Al said it was cancelling flights to all Italian destinations and Bangkok on Thursday, as well as postponing the launch of its new route to Tokyo, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Following additional limits on movement imposed by the Health and Interior ministries, the airline said it was halting flights to Milan, Venice and Rome from Friday until March 14. Flights to Napoli, operated by El Al subsidiary Sun d'Or, have also been canceled.

All flights to Bangkok – El Al's only destination in Thailand – will be frozen from March 2 until March 27, the company said. Facing reduced demand, the airline halved its service to the Thai capital earlier this month. The scheduled launch of a new, non-stop route to Tokyo on March 11 has also been postponed until April 4.

In addition, the renewal of flights to Beijing and Hong Kong will now be pushed back until May 2.

Israel Seizes $4 Million in Iranian Terror Money Sent to Hamas
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett signed an order Thursday to seize some $4 million in funds transferred from Iran to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The funds are “intended to develop terrorist infrastructure belonging to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, including the production of weapons as well as payments to the organization’s operatives,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The order signed by Bennett targets the Elmhadon Gaza currency-exchange company owned by Zuhir Shmalach and his family.

Shmalach took the place of Hamed Ahmed Abed Khudri, who was killed in a targeted strike by the IDF in May. Khudri, who the IDF said was in charge of large-scale money transfers from Iran to terrorist groups in the Strip, was close to Hamas leader Yayha Sinwar. It was the first targeted assassination since 2014.

The order against Shmalach will prevent him and his family from working internationally by limiting their movement to some countries. It will also limit the company’s ability to conduct financial activities with international financial bodies.
Israel's Election: What Do the Iranians and Palestinians Want?
The Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip seem to have endorsed the banner of Netanyahu's political rivals in Israel: "Anyone but Bibi (Netanyahu's nickname)." The two Palestinian groups ' perceive Netanyahu as a major threat to their dream of destroying Israel and as someone who has further strengthened Israel's standing in the international arena.

The Palestinians are apparently convinced that it would be easier to extort concessions from inexperienced politicians such as Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya'alon and Gabi Ashkenazi. For the Palestinians, Netanyahu is a hard nut to crack. His strong stance against their tactics of intimidation have been, for them, a source of concern.

Abbas and his officials, in short, are telling the Israelis: "Look, we have a problem here. This man, Netanyahu, will not surrender to us -- and that is why you need to elect a new leader."

Abbas, not surprisingly, would doubtless prefer Israelis to replace Netanyahu with a weak leader who would comply with all his demands and take Israel back to the indefensible pre-1967 armistice lines -- a move that would most likely result in the militias of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Iran sitting on the West Bank hilltops overlooking Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport.

What can BBC audiences expect if the ‘Great Return March’ returns?
As regular readers will be aware, BBC coverage of the weekly ‘Great Return March’ violence between March 2018 and December 2019 was remarkable for its promotion of very specific framing which:
- Erased the fact that around 80% of those killed during the violent rioting at the border have been shown to be affiliated with various terror organisations – primarily Hamas.
- Erased or downplays the violent nature of the events by failing to provide audiences with a representative view of the number of attacks using firebombs, airborne incendiary devices, IEDs, grenades and guns, the number of border infiltrations and the number of rockets and mortars launched.
- Erased or downplayed the violent nature of the events by uniformly describing them as ‘protests’, ‘demonstrations’ or ‘rallies’.
- Failed to provide adequate context concerning the stated aims of the events including ‘right of return’ and lifting of counter-terrorism measures.
- Erased or downplayed Hamas’ role in initiating, facilitating, organising, financing, executing and controlling the events and portrayed terrorists as ‘militants’.
- Cited casualty figures provided by “health officials” without clarifying that they are part of the same terror group that organises the violent rioting.

Even before the ‘Great Return March’ events began in March 2018 the organisers described their aim as being to stage events “that the whole world and media outlets would watch”. The BBC definitely played a part in ensuring that would be the case and with no evidence to indicate that editorial policy on that topic has shifted, if the events do indeed recommence next month, audiences can likely expect more promotion of the same jaded themes and euphemisms alongside the omission of vital information and context.
PreOccupiedTerritory: Mossad Turns Tables On Hamas, Recruits Moles Via Sheep-Dating App (satire)
Israel’s intelligence agency augmented its achievements this week in the ongoing confrontation with Islamist terrorists, announcing that in addition to foiling a “honeypot” scheme to gain valuable information by the militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, the organization had achieved major success in running exactly the same kind of operation aimed at terrorist operatives, with the added tweak that the doctored images and fake personalities serving as bait offered the targets not friendship with a hot girl, but with livestock.

The Mossad disclosed today that it has achieved significant intelligence breakthroughs in the last several years with the use of the agency’s proprietary Ovinity app and related website, which purports to match users with sheep or goats for romantic purposes. In fact no such matchmaking takes place because the animals only exist as a creation of the app developers, but the numerous downloads of the software to devices within the Gaza Strip and elsewhere have also installed invisible tracking and espionage scripts on those devices, providing Israeli intelligence and decision-makers with valuable information on such sensitive topics as the location and disposition of Hamas fighters and weaponry; militants’ operational plans and tactics; and a near-complete map of the tunnel network Hamas and its allies use to move men and materiel around the territory undetected.

A spokesman for the agency warned he could reveal only a small amount of information regarding Ovinity. “It’s not available to just anyone, for one thing,” he explained, speaking on condition of anonymity under agency media protocols. “Our handlers select specific terrorists they assess will respond positively to such an invitation, and engage them in the ‘persona’ of the sheep or goat.”
1 killed in Israeli drone strike near Quneitra — Syrian state TV
A man was killed in an Israeli drone strike in southern Syria’s Quneitra province, near the border with Israel, state media reported Thursday.

“A civilian was martyred when his car was targeted by a drone belonging to the Israeli enemy south of the town of Hader,” the SANA news agency reported.

The report did not specify when the alleged strike took place or identify the man.

Quoting Syrian reports, Hebrew-language media named him as Imad Tawil, a local resident who had been recruited by Lebanese terror group Hezbollah and served as a local commander for the organization.

The reports said Tawil was apparently involved in setting up “terror infrastructure” that could be used to launch attacks along the border.

There was no immediate response from Israel, which rarely acknowledges strikes conducted in Syria.
US blacklists Iraqi Shiite paramilitary chief after base attacks
The United States on Wednesday declared a powerful Iraqi Shiite paramilitary leader to be a terrorist after a series of rocket attacks, vowing to step up pressure on his ally Iran.

The State Department listed Ahmad al-Hamidawi, secretary general of armed faction Kataeb Hezbollah, as a “specially designated global terrorist,” freezing any US assets he may hold and making US transactions with him a crime.

The group as a whole, which has a close relationship with Iran, has been designated as a terrorist group by the United States since 2009.

“Today we are intensifying our pressure on this terrorist group,” Nathan Sales, the State Department counterterrorism chief, told a news conference.

He charged that the group’s goal is to “advance the Iranian regime goal of turning Iraq into a vassal state.”

The State Department pointed to Kataeb Hezbollah’s series of rocket attacks including fire on December 27 against an Iraqi base that houses US troops which killed a US citizen contractor.

The incident sent tensions soaring, with the United States bombing paramilitary targets and eventually killing Iran’s most powerful general, Qassem Soleimani, in a drone attack at the Baghdad airport.

The State Department also pointed to indications that the group was behind deadly sniper attacks against demonstrators in October in Baghdad.

Iran Sends Proxies to Fight in Last Syrian Rebel Province
Since January, Iran has been beefing up forces in Syria's rebel Idlib province, including units from Hizbullah and other Shiite militias. After the targeted killing of Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, Iran wants to relay a message of continued support for Bashar al-Assad, and quash assessments that it intends to reduce its forces and intervention in Syria. It is also possible that Iran wants to redeploy its forces to areas in northern Syria like Idlib in order to reduce potential harm to them from Israeli attacks.

The Iranian intervention in Idlib might also be predicated on the assumption that completing the operation there will free up the regime to clean up the area in eastern Syria and thus accelerate the evacuation of American forces there. On Jan. 30, Ali Akbar Velayati, adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said: "The Syrian government and its allies from the resistance front will go from Idlib to the eastern Euphrates to expel the Americans."

The Assad regime's main ally in Idlib has been Russia, which has provided broad military and logistical assistance to Syrian military forces. The Russian interest is to end the war in Syria, reduce expenses, and hand full control of the country over to Assad. In addition, Russia has an interest in restoring control of Idlib to the Syrian regime due to its proximity to Latakia, site of the Russian airbase of Khmeimim, which has been hit more than once by fire from local rebels.

Until recently, Russia and Syria were satisfied with Iranian abstention from the Idlib campaign, given their interest in lowering the Iranian profile and the Assad regime's dependence on Iran. Yet with the military campaign bogged down and with the growing need to restrain and counter-balance Turkey, the door has opened to Iranian involvement.
Germany permits Iran’s regime to build European network - report
German authorities allow the Iranian regime-controlled Islamic Center in Hamburg to oversee a growing network in Europe, according to a recent report.

In a bombshell January exposé in the German magazine Focus titled “The long arm of the mullahs: Iran’s European network is controlled from Hamburg,” historian and Islam expert Christian Osthold unpacks the dangers of the Iranian clerical regime in Europe.

The Iranian regime’s strategy is “the result of the execution of a well-calculated master plan according to which Tehran uses religious organizations to infiltrate EU countries,” he wrote.

“When I gave an interview to the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in March 2019, I learned that all properties associated with the Copenhagen Imam Ali Mosque would become the property of the Islamic Center Hamburg in the event of closure,” Osthold said.

“Since the Copenhagen mosque was only opened on October 1, 2015, it is clear that Iran is expanding its network in Europe to this day and that Hamburg is still at the center of this network,” he added.
Iranian vice president said infected with coronavirus
A state-owned newspaper in Iran says Masoumeh Ebtekar, a vice president in the Islamic Republic and a spokeswoman for the 1979 Islamic revolutionary hostage-takers, has the new coronavirus.

The report came from the English-language IRAN daily newspaper via its Twitter account.

Ebtekar is the latest in a string of top officials in Iran’s Shiite theocracy who have caught the virus.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday banned foreign pilgrims from entering the kingdom to visit Islam’s holiest sites over the new coronavirus, potentially disrupting the plans of millions of faithful ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and as the annual hajj pilgrimage looms.

The decision showed the growing worry across the Mideast about the virus as Iran confirmed that infected cases in the country spiked by over 100, to 254 now. A total of 26 people have died so far, it said. That pushes the region’s overall cases to above 350. Iran’s death toll is highest outside of China, where the outbreak began.

Saudi Arabia’s barring of pilgrims from Mecca, home to the cube-shaped Kaaba that the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day, and also the holy city of Medina, appeared unprecedented in modern history. The kingdom’s Al Saud ruling family stakes their legitimacy in overseeing and protecting the sites. Authorities also suspended entry to travelers from nations affected by the new virus who hold tourist visas for the kingdom.

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