Monday, March 23, 2020

From Ian:

JCPA: The Significance of the Coronavirus Epidemic for Israel’s National Security
In spite of the potential for change that the pandemic creates, it seems that most players in the Middle East (who so far report limited damage) view it as just an imposed break and, right after it disappears, they intend to keep promoting their interests. The tensions between rival camps in the region and their attitude toward Israel are not expected to change.

The most affected country in the region so far is Iran and there is the main potential for change. Many in Iran believe that the dangerous reality of corona is the result of the problematic conduct of the regime. Meanwhile, the regime tries to blame the U.S. and is presenting its support for terrorist elements as useful in the fight against corona. Thus, the Iranians showed Hizbullah members from Lebanon disinfecting the streets of Qom.

The possibility of beginning negotiations with the U.S. on a new nuclear agreement from the point of weakness in which the regime currently finds itself is not on the agenda. Yet if it becomes clear to the regime that all other avenues of action have failed and public anger threatens to explode, it may have no choice but to consider even this possibility.

The Palestinian issue is completely pushed aside. The focus on the U.S. peace plan is frozen. Even if there is an increase in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority stemming from a joint interest in the fight against the virus, it is doubtful if this will have any impact on Palestinian positions regarding the conflict.

The enormous economic damage and the blow to the idea of globalization as an organizing principle of the international system may deepen the responsibility of each country to deal by itself with the virus and later with the need for economic revival, that will likely take time. The economic recession, the potential for growing tension between the U.S. and China, and the impact on the results of the U.S. elections may affect Israel's national security interests.

The tension between the need to invest in the military or in health to guarantee national security and the international economic crisis may put pressure on the military budget and affect its ability to implement long-term plans.

One clear way for Israel to deal with the new and complex challenges arising in the aftermath of the coronavirus epidemic is to invest in the advancement of responses to the virus and to thereby expedite its contribution as a center of scientific research to the security of the West and the U.S.
Israel’s democratic crisis deepens
Last Wednesday, the speaker of the Knesset, Likud’s Yuli Edelstein, shuttered the plenum in order to prevent a vote that would likely have seen him replaced by a candidate from the rival Blue and White party.

As a consequence, the vote was delayed and control of Israel’s parliament, and of Israel’s parliamentary agenda, remained with Edelstein and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

His move prompted an extraordinary phone call to Edelstein from Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, who warned him of the harm to Israeli democracy caused by the shuttering of parliament — especially at a time of global and national emergency when Israel is battling the coronavirus pandemic.

Because the Knesset was out of action, crucial parliamentary committees were not established. Most dramatically in the context of the fight against the virus, the government that same day utilized emergency regulations to introduce, without parliamentary oversight, the digital monitoring of the movements of all Israelis, in order to alert them if they have been in unwitting contact with virus carriers and need to self-quarantine.

A parliament suspended by a speaker whose job would have gone to the newly elected majority? (Blue and White’s Benny Gantz was tasked last Monday with building the next coalition government because 61 of 120 Knesset members recommended him to Rivlin for the post.) A government introducing drastic surveillance over all citizens with no Knesset supervision? A judiciary already ordered onto a reduced, emergency footing amid the crisis, on the orders of another Likud politician, interim Justice Minister Amir Ohana?

And all of this overseen by a prime minister who has been leading a transitional government having failed to win a Knesset majority in three elections inside a year?

While Rivlin did not specify to Edelstein that his actions might be construed as preventing the proper representation of the will of the electorate, and thus be seen as an attempted political coup, plenty of others have seen in the events of the past few days precisely such an attempt by Netanyahu, Edelstein, Likud and its right-Orthodox bloc to illicitly retain central channels of power.

PreOccupiedTerritory: Parties Agree To Unity Gov’t As Long As ‘Unity’ = ‘My Party Dominates’ (satire)
Officials from Israel’s two largest political parties in the national legislature announced they each remain open to a government in equal partnership with the other, provided the terms of the equal partnership grant effective control of policy to the party of the person making the announcement.

Representatives of both the Likud Party and the Blue and White Party disclosed to reporters today that they are willing to sit in a government with the other and agree in principle to a national unity government with a rotation arrangement for prime minister, on condition that the agreement provides for one party to sideline the other, with the identity of the dominant party varying depending on who describes the terms.

In separate press conferences about progress in negotiations, the two parties – neither of which could cobble together a majority of the Knesset’s 120 members into a governing coalition from among its allies – disclosed the current issues under discussion, which they have narrowed to the single digits including which party would select which of several ministers, and which party would surrender to the other and let the other’s agenda define government policy for the next several years.

As coronavirus bites, comptroller warns Israel ill-prepared for pandemic
As Israeli health authorities battle day and night to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak, a stinging State Comptroller report published on Monday warned of severe gaps in Israel's readiness to combat an influenza pandemic, which would likely infect some 2.25 million citizens or a quarter of the entire population.

In a lengthy report, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman warned that the Israeli healthcare system is "not fully prepared" for such a pandemic, highlighting insufficient and expired medication, decreasing rates of vaccination, and a lack of readiness ranging from the Health Ministry to healthcare providers and the general hospitalization system.

While hospitals are already overcrowded year-round, struggling under the demands of the current outbreak, an eight-week influenza pandemic is likely to see approximately 150,000 patients admitted to hospitals, 25,000 patients requiring intensive care treatment and 12,500 needing intubation.

Despite the Health Ministry formulating a program in 2005 to prepare the healthcare system for such a pandemic, including the mass purchase of anti-viral drugs, it was found that there are sufficient drugs for only 16% of the population today, rather than the necessary 25%.

The latest findings are likely to exacerbate concerns voiced in recent weeks regarding underinvestment throughout the healthcare system, which has primarily focused on the lack of protective equipment and the quantity of respirators.
Coronavirus Takes Heavy Toll on Prominent Jewish Leaders in US, Israel, Europe
The coronavirus pandemic is taking a heavy toll on prominent Jewish leaders, with several dying of the disease and others seriously ill.

The head of Israel’s United Hatzalah emergency service, Eli Beer, was placed on a ventilator and sedated on Friday. The group said in a statement that he’s expected to make a slow but full recovery, though he will continue to be sedated for up to two weeks.

In a video message issued just before his intubation, Beer said, “I need you to keep davening, keep doing mitzvahs, it’s very important.”

He urged those watching to “make sure that people’s lives are saved and all their needs will be met through your support.”

The South Florida NBC affiliate Channel 6 reported that Rabbi Sholom Lipskar of the Shul of Bal Harbour, one of Florida’s largest synagogues and founder of the Aleph Institute, which serves prisoners, US military personnel, and other isolated communities, tested presumptive positive for the virus, according to a statement issued Sunday.

His symptoms are considered mild and he is expected to make a full recovery.

In a video message on Instagram Friday, Rabbi Lipskar thanked people for their messages of support, as well as the hospital staff.

“Almighty God will definitely have a positive response to our prayers and good wishes,” he said, and asked supporters to recite Psalms.
Jerusalem nursing home residents mourn Israel’s first coronavirus victim
Residents of a Jerusalem nursing home where Israel’s first fatality in the global coronavirus had lived, on Saturday said that they were saddened by the death of the 88-year-old man but that such things were in many ways routine for them. (The fatality was later named as Aryeh Even.)

“He was a lovely Jerusalem man who lived his life with family and children,” Nofim Tower resident and head of tenants association, Zvika Levy, told the Walla news site. “We all know each other, it’s always sad that a friend is dead, but with us it’s also part of our routine. Of course we felt it when we heard about his death.”

Levy wryly told Channel 12 news that “age, underlying illnesses and the coronavirus is a nice combination,” adding that the assisted living facility was unaware of any further infections since the first nine residents were diagnosed.

Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center said Friday that the patient had been admitted in very serious condition with multiple preexisting conditions. Despite intensive treatment, including being resuscitated from heart failure, he deteriorated rapidly and died, the hospital said.

According to Hebrew media reports, the man, along with an 89-year-old Jerusalem woman fighting for her life in Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, were among several residents of the Nofim senior home in Jerusalem who have come down with the disease.

Shulamit Levy, another tenant, said: “I am a nurse by profession, and I understand what happens when someone is in difficult condition at this age. What can be done? Very older people, it is very sad, but we are used to the way here every time you hear that someone is dead.”

Levy said that she hopes soon to be allowed to leave her apartment at Nofim and said it was very difficult to not see her family.

In Loving Memory of Aryeh Even
Coronavirus claimed its first Israeli victim this week past weekend, 88 year-old Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even. Because of the circumstances, Aryeh's family was prevented from being by his side in his final moments.

In response to the news, antisemites flooded social media with horrendous comments. HonestReporting will not let this be Aryeh's memory. Instead, we'd like to share his story with the rest of the world.

Israel may order just elderly to stay at home instead of full lockdown — report
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assesses tightening social distancing measures aimed at stemming the coronavirus outbreak, the government is reportedly considering imposing a full lockdown on elderly Israelis.

The measure would forbid all men aged 70 and up and women aged 65 and up from leaving their homes, Channel 12 reported Monday.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, has the most adverse effects on the elderly and those with underlying conditions, while younger people often experience only milder symptoms.

As of Monday afternoon, the virus had killed over 15,000 people and infected over 350,000 worldwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Other options being considered by the government include closing all shops except food stores and pharmacies or placing further limits on what kind of workers can go to their place of employment.

“There is no choice but to step up the measures. This is still not a curfew — but it is the closest there is to it,” a source with knowledge of the deliberations was quoted as saying.
Supreme Court denies request to delay Passover due to coronavirus outbreak
Israel's Supreme Court denied a request on Sunday to declare a Hebrew leap year in order to delay the Passover holiday due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to Israel business daily Calcalist.

In a Hebrew leap year, an extra month, referred to as Adar II, is added to the calendar. In ancient times, a leap year was declared if the Hebrew month of Nisan, when Passover takes place, would deviate too far from the spring equinox, if the barley crops were ripening late or if the fruit trees were not blossoming yet. Other issues, such as infrastructure work needed before the pilgrimage to Jerusalem or travel issues affecting the pilgrimage, could also warrant a leap year. Eventually, the Hebrew calendar was calculated and fixed by Hillel, a 4th century Jewish scholar, through mathematical calculations and the courts ceased to declare and calculate new months.

Yedidiah Efraim Meshulami made the request for a Hebrew leap year because of what he called the "side effects" of the coronavirus outbreak. Many Jews fear that the Passover seder this year will take place during a lock down situation and it may be more difficult to obtain the necessary food and supplies for the seder. Meshulami believed that a leap year declaration could help avoid that situation, according to Calcalist.

The Supreme Court denied the request, saying that there is no legal mechanism for declaring a leap year due to an emergency and that the court was not at the level of the Sanhedrin, the highest level court in Jewish law, and therefore did not have the authority to make such a decision.
Backtracking, interior minister says Israel can’t delay daylight savings time
For technical reasons, Israel cannot delay the switch to daylight saving time, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri conceded Monday, a day after he floated the measure in a bid to discourage pedestrian traffic in the streets in the evening, and promote social distancing, as part of the fight against the coronavirus.

As a result, clocks will spring forward later this week, on the night between March 26 and March 27, as planned.

Authorities on Sunday said they would seek to delay the switch until May 1.

But Deri said that following consultations, he learned it was too late to synchronize the change with programming on computers and cellphones.

Such a change of policy requires “technological preparations of several months,” a statement from his office said. It also said that since Israel’s internet was under strain by the millions kept indoors due to the outbreak, “any mistakes could disable entire systems.”

In addition, the statement said, “there is the danger of harming the operational capabilities of the IDF, and the medical technologies in hospitals.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit both had given their approval to the measure.

Following the reversal, at 2 a.m. Friday, the clocks will spring forward an hour, to 3 a.m. The clocks will revert back on October 25, 2020.
Israel’s jobless rate surges to 16.5% as virus puts 500,000 out of work
The unemployment rate in Israel has skyrocketed to 16.5 percent, with over 500,000 people losing their jobs since the start of March, the Employment Service said Sunday.

The unemployment rate was 3.6% in the fourth quarter of last year, according to the Bank of Israel.

Many Israeli businesses have been forced to put their staffs on unpaid leave or lay people off as regulations closing borders and restricting movement have obliterated tourism and service industries, leading to thousands of people per day applying for unemployment benefits.

The head of the Employment Service said Friday that the number of unemployed people in Israel could reach one million if the coronavirus pandemic-prompted layoffs continue.

“If it continues at this rate, we will probably reach one million unemployed, a quarter of the workers in the economy,” Rami Grauer told the Ynet news site. “It seems that 20% of those who are currently on unpaid leave will be unemployed at the end of the crisis.”
Health Ministry Phone App Lets You Check If You Were near a Coronavirus Carrier
The Health Ministry announced Sunday the launch of a new smartphone app to help to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus — by enabling users to know if they crossed paths with someone who has been diagnosed with the virus.

It came as infections topped 1,000 in Israel, where the key strategy in defeating the outbreak of the virus has been to isolate those who are already infected, and those that may have been exposed to the pathogen.

Called Hamagen (The Shield), the app reveals if a user was, over the previous 14 days, in close proximity to anyone who has been diagnosed with the virus, the ministry said in a statement.

“The application is a technological means intended to give each and every one of us the ability to accurately and immediately know if we were in contact with a person who was infected with the coronavirus,” the statement said. “With this we can stop the spread of the disease and protect those closest to us.”

Previously, the ministry has published the epidemiological history of COVID-19 patients, listing all the places they have been and advising those who were at any of the locations at the same time to self-quarantine for 14 days. However, as the number of cases diagnosed each day leaped into dozens and then hundreds it rapidly became impractical for the public to review all the listings.
Netflix to Reduce Traffic in Israel by 25 Percent to Help ISPs
Netflix said on Monday it would reduce network traffic in Israel over the next month following a government request to ease data congestion from people staying home due to the coronavirus.

The world’s largest streaming media service has also cut traffic on networks in Europe to help internet service providers (ISPs) experiencing a surge in usage.

Israeli ISPs have reported an average increase of up to 30 percent in traffic congestion since the outbreak began, and many Israelis have taken to social media to complain of a slowdown in internet speeds, prompting the telecoms regulator to ask Netflix to lower broadcasting bit rates.

Netflix, which had more than 42 million subscribers in Europe, Africa and the Middle East in the first quarter, agreed to comply and will make adjustments gradually over the next week, the Communications Ministry said.

“Given the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus, we have decided to begin reducing bit rates across all our streams in Israel for 30 days. We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on Israeli networks by around 25 percent while also ensuring a good quality service,” Netflix said.
Palestinian throwing rocks at Israeli vehicles in West Bank shot dead by IDF
The Israel Defense Forces said late Sunday that it had foiled “a terror attack” in the West Bank, opening fire on a group of Palestinians throwing rocks at passing Israeli vehicles. One of the Palestinians was killed and another wounded.

The army said the incident occurred at the Ni’lin Junction south of the city of Qaliqilya.

“IDF troops spotted a number of suspects hurling rocks at Israeli vehicles driving on the highway,” the army said. “The troops fired towards the suspects after they hurled a rock and were preparing to hurl additional rocks.”

Pictures from the scene showed one of the vehicles hit with a smashed windscreen and a large rock. There were no reports of injuries to the motorists.

“One of the suspects was killed by the fire and another was injured and escaped,” the army said, adding that troops are searching the area.

Recent weeks have seen a dip in West Bank violence with both Israel and the Palestinians imposing closures and limiting movement to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Responsibility for Gaza will fall on Israel's shoulders
Some 55 Palestinians in the West Bank are currently positive for coronavirus, and last Thursday the first two cases were reported in the Gaza Strip -- both Palestinians who returned to Gaza from Pakistan, via Egypt, and are now quarantined at Rafah.

The Gaza Strip faces a very problematic combination of third-world healthcare, one of the highest population densities in the world, and difficulty in enforcing instructions issued by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

The Palestinians are being pushed into Israel's arms by the arrival of the epidemic, since they are entirely dependent on the medical aid Israel provides them with to stop the spread of the virus. But the coronavirus crisis has turned the spotlight on a familiar and complicated truth, which many still deny -- that it is difficult and maybe impossible to separate the Palestinians and the Israelis, and that the 2005 disengagement from Gaza did not truly "disengage" Gaza from Israel.

Day-to-day life in Judea and Samaria, where Jewish and Palestinian communities exist side by side, along with the fact that tens of thousands of Palestinians make their living in Israel, make any attempt to separate the two populations in an attempt to stop the virus impractical. But Gaza, too, which is supposedly cut off from Israel, is becoming Israel's responsibility since Hamas can fire on Sderot or Tel Aviv but cannot care for the residents of Gaza in a humanitarian crisis of the kind the world is currently facing.

So Israel is shouldering responsibility for the Gaza Strip, both because it wants to contain the epidemic in Gaza and because it wants to avoid criticism at home and abroad for not taking responsibility for the health of the residents of Gaza. In fact, Israel is already supplying coronavirus testing kits to the Hamas government and preparing to provide medical aid, including field hospitals, for thousands of Gazan corona patients if the situation takes a turn for the worse, as has happened in many places all over the world.
Will coronavirus cause a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza?
According to Dangot, while there is an exchange of information and professional collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian health care workers from the West Bank, “we aren’t doing that in Gaza.”

And while only two people have so far been confirmed to have the virus, the speed of which the virus spreads “would be a significant problem in Gaza” Dangot said, warning that an outbreak of the virus “can also cause an internal explosion which can affect the security situation with Israel.”

A senior official in the Palestinian Ministry of Health told Israel Hayom on Sunday that there is major concern that if the virus spreads in Gaza and the already fragile healthcare system collapses, “thousands of Palestinians will try to reach the Israeli border."

That scenario would be a nightmare for Israeli security forces who are ordered to prevent any Palestinian from infiltrating into Israeli territory. There is no way to spin footage of IDF troops firing towards Palestinians seeking medical care to help them in the worldwide fight against the novel coronavirus.

And if they get in, will they transmit the virus to troops who would be unable to screen every person for the virus? What then? Place all those troops in quarantine? How will the military continue to protect Israel’s borders if hundreds of troops are in self-isolation or sick with the virus?

Israel and Hamas have been working towards a long-term ceasefire arrangement in recent months and since the outbreak of the virus there has been a significant drop in attacks from the Strip, be it incendiary balloons or armed infiltration attempts.

If there are any positives to be found in this worldwide plague, is that two warring parties are both facing the same deadly invisible enemy. The fight against the coronavirus has strengthened the coordination between Israel and the PA in the West Bank and can be a reason to work towards a ceasefire arrangement with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

All sides need each other in this fight, even sworn enemies.

Michael Lumish: Pay-to-Slay
I still cannot get over the fact that any Democrat who comes into the White House will favor "pay-to-slay."

This is the policy wherein Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority (PA) literally pays-off random Arabs who kill Jews in Israel with foreign tax dollars. What is even more strange is that Democrats seem entirely oblivious to this practice. Trump cut funding to the Palestinian Authority. The PA, under previous American presidents, both Democratic and Republican, used American tax dollars to primarily line their own pockets and to pay Arabs to murder Jews in Israel. This is what is called "pay-to-slay."

And, yet, American Jews, in the minds of many, are supposed to think of themselves as holding dual-loyalty if we oppose paying Arabs to murder Jews in Israel? Ridiculous. How the Democratic Party maintains American Jewish loyalty is a mystery. Democrats would literally pay Arabs to murder Jews in Israel and we are supposed to smile and nod our pretty little heads?

It is grotesque and almost nobody ever discusses it.

The truth, of course, is that the Arabs in Israel have refused every single offer for a state of their own since the British Peel Commission of 1937. They said "no" in 1937. They said "no" in 1947. They said "no" three times in 1967. Arafat refused an Arab state in the heart of Israel, as did Mahmoud Abbas... a dictator in the fifteenth year of his four-year term.

And, nonetheless, the Democratic Party would turn over working-class American tax dollars to the Palestinian Authority, if not Hamas, who will use that money to incentivize the murder of Jews on historically Jewish land. And yet they still think that we are somehow unethical if we refuse to vote for their candidates.

Qatar announces $150 million in aid to Gaza, including funds to fight virus
The Qatari monarch, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has ordered aid valued at $150 million to be delivered to the Gaza Strip over the coming six months, the state-run Qatar News Agency reported on Sunday.

The funds will support “lessening the brotherly Palestinian people’s suffering,” humanitarian projects operated by the United Nations in Gaza, and efforts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the QNA report said.

Qatar has recently poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Gaza for fuel to power the coastal enclave’s sole power plant, stipends for impoverished families, UN temporary employment programs and other efforts.

In December 2019, Mohammed al-Emadi, the head of the Qatari Gaza Reconstruction Committee, said that his country would provide funds for the fuel, the payments to poor families and the UN temporary employment programs through March, while noting it would likely continue to do so afterward.

The QNA report about the Qatari ruler’s directive appeared to confirm that Doha will continue to back the projects it has been supporting in Gaza.
Khaled Abu Toameh: Palestinians: Fighting against Coronavirus, for Freedom of Speech
Hamas is claiming that it is worried about the safety of the Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, often for multiple murders, while its own prisons in the Gaza Strip are full of Palestinians whose only crime is that they dared to criticize the Hamas leadership or its policies.

Did Hamas forget that just last month another Palestinian, Ahmed al-Sa'afeen, 39, died shortly after he was detained for his alleged affiliation with Fatah?

Instead of directing millions of dollars to building hospitals or improving healthcare, Hamas has for the past few years invested approximately $150 million in rebuilding its tunnel infrastructure, and has diverted dual-use construction materials such as concrete, steel, and wood, which could have gone to rebuilding Gaza's civilian infrastructure.

According to Palestinian sources, 50 Palestinians are being held in Palestinian Authority prisons in the West Bank because of their affiliation with Hamas and other opposition groups.

Both the PA and Hamas, even during the difficult time of a pandemic, as they have made abundantly clear, do not hesitate to pursue their repressive measures against anyone who dares to speak out against financial and administrative corruption, or expresses views that annoy any Palestinian leaders.
Hamas urges Abbas to lift sanctions to help fight the coronavirus in Gaza
Hamas has called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to lift the sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip to enable the Palestinians living there to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The appeal came in the aftermath of the discovery of the first two cases of coronavirus in the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

The Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health said two Palestinians who returned to the Gaza Strip from Pakistan tested positive for the virus and were placed in quarantine.

In the past few days, Hamas officials warned that the Gaza Strip would face a “disaster” if more Palestinians are found to have contracted the virus.

Several Palestinians who came in contact with the two patients who returned from Pakistan have been placed in quarantine. They include Tawfik Abu Na’im, commander of Hamas’s Internal Security Force.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem, who called on Abbas to lift the sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip, said on Monday that “confronting the challenge of the spread of the coronavirus requires Palestinian unity at the national level.”

Egyptian General Dies of Coronavirus
Major General Khaled Shaltout, the Egyptian Armed Forces’ director of water administration, died today from Covid-19, the Egyptian army announced on Sunday evening.
MEMRI: Lebanese Journalist: Lebanon Needs An End To The Iranian Patronage Over It, Not Nasrallah’s Advice On Fighting The Coronavirus
Lebanon, like other world countries, is currently battling the coronavirus epidemic and taking measures to limit the spread of the disease. In the recent weeks, some Lebanese, especially in the anti-Hizbullah March 14 camp, have accused this organization of causing the outbreak of the virus in Lebanon by objecting for several weeks to the halt of flights from Iran and to the closing of the border with Syria.

In a speech he delivered on Friday 13, 2020, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah rejected the criticism, calling not to politicize the epidemic or use it as an opportunity for political score-settling. He also dispensed advice and instructions to the citizens on how to avoid contracting the virus, while calling on the banks in Lebanon to behave responsibly and on the government to give priority to battling the epidemic.[1]

In response to this speech, Lebanese journalist Khayrallah Khayrallah, known for opposing Hizbullah, published a scathing column in the London-based daily Al-Arab, in which he accused Nasrallah of considering himself the “Supreme Leader” of Lebanon (as Khamenei is the Supreme Leader on Iran). He added that Nasrallah’s empty slogans of resistance will not help Lebanon fight the coronavirus, and that Hizbullah is nothing more than a battalion in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. Lebanon, he wrote, needs to free itself from the Iranian patronage, which has impeded the efforts to stop the spread of the virus from Iran to Lebanon. He noted, however, that despite the dire circumstances, Lebanon is still resisting Hizbullah, and “some people in it say no to Nasrallah and to everything he represents.”

The following are translated excerpts from Khayrallah’s article:[2]
“If the goal is for life in Lebanon to go back [to normal], then [receiving] tips, advice and instructions from Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah on handling the coronavirus is certainly not the way to achieve this. These tips, advice and instructions show that Nasrallah regards himself as the Supreme Leader of the Lebanese republic and the sole source of authority in the country, and does not have the basic humility to admit that Hizbullah, and those behind it in Tehran, bear the greatest responsibility for the bankrupt state Lebanon has reached in many areas.

“What Lebanon needs these days is not someone to tell it how to deal with the coronavirus epidemic. There are experts in the world who know very well how to halt the epidemic until a vaccine can be found… What Lebanon needs before anything else is to be free of the Iranian patronage that the Hizbullah militia has imposed on it, [a militia] that facilitated the arrival of the coronavirus in Lebanon through the neglected border with Syria and, at the same time, through the Beirut airport.

Seth Frantzman: Yes the Coronavirus Pandemic Could Come for the Gulf States Next
They have the busiest airport in the world, key hubs of international commerce and are a conduit for twenty percent of the world's oil supply. Now the Gulf states and all their rapid economic success in recent years are threatened by the advance of the coronavirus pandemic. Amid the concerns about shutdowns in Europe and the United States, as well as death tolls in Iran and China, the Gulf countries' challenges facing the pandemic have been underreported. The ramifications of what is happening in the Persian Gulf will reverberate globally as the virus spreads.

The Gulf states consist of a group of small monarchies, most of them U.S. allies where U.S. troops, CENTCOM and the Fifth Fleet are based. Along with Saudi Arabia, these states are also members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and they play a key role connecting the West to Asia, both in terms of air traffic, and in foreign policy. Now they also stand out as hard-hit by the pandemic, with Bahrain and Qatar having some of the highest per-capita infection rates. Saudi Arabia is so concerned it has canceled pilgrimages and locked down its Qatif region.

For the United Arab Emirates, the implications are staggering. Dubai International Airport saw 81 million passengers walk its halls in 2019, making it the busiest international airport. Now, like most countries, the UAE is enacting quarantine provisions for those arriving from coronavirus-affected states and has begun conducting enhanced screening. Major Gulf airlines, Emirates, Etihad and Air Arabia, are slashing prices as interest in air travel is drying up and people are forced to change destinations from places like America, China, Italy or elsewhere. Many countries are advising against unnecessary travel and restrictions on entering—such as mandatory quarantines—are making travel unlikely. For instance, Air India, which operates a popular route to the Gulf, has canceled its flights. Moreover, Dubai Airports had to downplay rumors that all flights would be canceled and the UAE has warned against the circulation of other rumorsamid general pandemic jitters.
Eli Lake: The Coronavirus Is Not a Reason to Lift Sanctions on Iran
If Rouhani wants the U.S. to relieve the sanctions against his country, then the country’s supreme leader needs to end militia attacks on Americans in Iraq, allow U.N. inspectors access to all of the country’s nuclear sites and stop spreading propaganda about the virus. That is also the view of a senior State Department who spoke to me on Saturday.

That said, the U.S. has tried to make it easier for the regime to purchase or trade for medicine and hospital equipment since the pandemic started. Last month, the U.S. and Swiss governments established a humanitarian aid channel to make it easier for banks and financial institutions to underwrite such transactions with Iran. The Iranians have not used it to make significant purchases. (The sanctions against Iran already include an exemption for humanitarian aid such as food and medicine, but banks shied away from it, fearing the aid could be diverted and expose their institutions to fines and penalties from the Treasury Department.)

The truth is that there is little anyone can do for Iran at the moment. Even if the oil sanctions were lifted tomorrow, the price of oil has plummeted. The country’s main export will not yield very much revenue to help fight the pandemic. Even if it did, an infusion of cash would not fix the public health crisis for which Iran’s leaders were not prepared.

Fred Kagan, an Iran policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told me he thinks it unlikely that Iran’s regime will collapse as a result of the coronavirus. Nonetheless, he thinks the possibility is greater today than it was before the outbreak. Members of the military and internal security militias might choose to stay home and care for sick relatives, he said, than do the violence necessary to disperse restless crowds if protests begin anew.

As for lifting U.S. sanctions on Iran, Kagan says that would be pointless to discuss now. “When the Iranian government actually articulates a coherent set of needs, we can have a sensible conversation about what the U.S. should do,” he said. “They have not done that.”

In his open letter to the American people, Rouhani notes that “the path of sanctions and pressure has never been successful and will never be so in the future.” Instead, he writes, “It is human discourse and action that produce results.” That much is true. Rouhani should try leading by example.

We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.


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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 14 years and 30,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.


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