Friday, March 27, 2020

From Ian:

Four more Israelis die of virus, bringing COVID-19 death toll to 12
Four more Israelis have died of the coronavirus, bringing the country’s death toll to 12, as the number of infections nationwide climbed to 3,035.

The Soroka Medical Center on Friday morning said 93-year-old Avraham Aroshas was brought to the hospital from the nursing home where he lived. He had a fever and shortness of breath and had “complicated and difficult underlying illnesses,” the Beersheba-based hospital said. He tested positive for the virus and hours later succumbed to the illness, according to the statement.

A 76-year-old woman with preexisting health conditions also died of the virus, the Sharon Hospital in Petah Tikva announced Friday morning.

Hours later, a 73-year-old man was pronounced dead as a result of the virus at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. He was identified as Shaul Farhi. He reportedly caught the virus on a trip to Tenerife in Spain.

On Friday afternoon, the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon said that an 80-year-old man had died. He had been in a serious condition for several days.

The number of Israelis diagnosed with the coronavirus has risen to 3,035, the Health Ministry said Friday morning. Of them, 49 are in serious condition and 60 are in moderate condition.

Some 45 Israel Defense Forces soldiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, while 4,156 are in quarantine, the IDF said on Thursday.

Of the 12 fatalities in the country, three died on Thursday.

One of the three was an 89-year-old woman being treated at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem.

“This is a patient with preexisting conditions who a week ago already was categorized as being in critical condition and was treated with devotion during her entire hospitalization by the department staff, who did everything possible to ease her suffering,” the hospital said in a statement.

Another was an 83-year-old man from Bnei Brak who had preexisting conditions. Wolfson Medical Center in Holon said earlier that the third victim was a 91-year-old woman.
IDF Prepares for World War C
It’s come to this: The whole country on lockdown, the civilian population locked away in their homes, hiding from a deadly and invisible enemy. The only people on the street are police officers and IDF troops. It’s World War C.

The coronavirus crisis, a global pandemic on a level not seen since the Spanish flu in 1918, reminds many of the 2013 zombie movie World War Z. For Israelis, the “Jerusalem scene,” in which healthy Jews and Arabs are quarantined in the Old City singing songs of peace until zombies breach the walls, is extremely poignant.

It is as though the movie has come to life, but instead of the enemy being zombies, Israel is afraid that the invisible enemy - Coronavirus - could breach its walls and infect the population, as it did in Asia.

Israel had quickly closed its borders and quarantined all travellers returning to the country for two weeks. But the virus seeped in, and slowly the numbers of those infected with coronavirus started to rise. At the time of this article’s writing, 2,000 are reported sick and five are dead.

On Wednesday, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett warned that Israel is facing “severe morbidity levels” in the coming days.
“We are in accelerated growth in patients in serious condition; the number of positive tests is increasing. Severe morbidity levels are approaching,” he said. “Within 10 days there will be a significant rate of serious patients, but this is not a matter of fate. We can work to change the situation."
Mossad Brings another 400,000 Coronavirus Test Kits to Israel
The Mossad intelligence service on Thursday helped bring another 400,000 coronavirus test kits to Israel from an undisclosed foreign location, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

That was in addition to the roughly 100,000 test kits the spy agency brought to Israel last week.

The Prime Minister’s Office, which is responsible for the Mossad, said the intelligence service had imported the chemical reagents needed to perform approximately 400,000 tests. The swabs needed to carry out the task are being sourced both internally and from a number of foreign countries.

The PMO refused to comment further on the matter, specifically on the country or countries that sold it the testing components, leading many to assume that it was a country that does not have strong or formal ties with Israel.

The Mossad’s first operation to bring the chemical reagents needed for 100,000 coronavirus tests sparked a minor controversy last week, after Health Ministry officials lamented that what they’d actually needed were more swabs. After a small flurry of accusations and reversals, the ministry released a statement affirming that the test kits were “important” and “necessary” in the fight against the disease.

Israel has significantly stepped up its testing over the past week, performing several thousand each day, with the goal of increasing that level further.

The other arms of Israel’s defense establishment have also enlisted in recent days to tackle the virus threat.

Netanyahu to further tighten movement restrictions in Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave instructions on Friday to further tighten restrictions on movement that will reduce the number of people who are able to be outside and help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"If we do not see a change in the proportion of infections over the next two days, there will be no escape from a full shutdown of the country," the prime minister said following meetings about the pandemic on Friday. He said that the Finance Ministry is working on a plan for handling a further reduction of the country's labor force.

Netanyahu ordered stepped up enforcement in supermarkets and pharmacies to ensure that the Health Ministry's directives - no more than 10 people and each person 2 meters apart from the next - are adhered to.
Additional restrictions, the prime minister said, should be expected within the next 48 hours.
Netanyahu's proclamation came on the backdrop of an announcement by the Health Ministry that it will increase the number of people it tests for coronavirus to 30,000 per day within the next month. On Friday, some 6,000 tests were taken and that number is expected to increase to 10,000 by next week, a decision that Defense Minister Naftali Bennett called "tremendous news.

"I congratulate the prime minister on the important decision," Bennett said in a statement. "Locating virus carriers and isolating them is a cornerstone of the campaign against coronavirus. We will immediately locate new patients, send them to isolation and thus cut off the infection chain."
He predicted that by taking so many tests "Israel to exit from the economic stranglehold."
Melanie Phillips: Israel's lockdown can be a model for Britain
For the past 12 days I have been under effective house arrest in Jerusalem. That’s because, just over two weeks ago, Israel started requiring everyone arriving in the country, even if they were citizens, to self-isolate for 14 days. Now all foreign visitors with no place of permanent residence are banned. My husband joined me in isolation at our place here a week ago.

When I emerge into the world again this week I will be allowed out only for a limited range of activities such as obtaining essential food and medicines, taking a short walk round the neighbourhood or participating in an “unorganised sport activity of up to two people”. The police have opened more than 270 investigations and handed out dozens of fines over breaches of social isolation directives and quarantine restrictions.

Soon after the first few cases of Covid-19 appeared in Israel at the end of last month the government stopped arrivals from China and subsequently from Italy and other hotspots. It has steadily increased restrictions over the past two and a half weeks.

In the most controversial development, the domestic security agency the Shin Bet, using hitherto secret anti-terrorist cyber-technology, is collecting location data from the mobile phones of virus carriers and sharing it with the health ministry. Officials use this data not only to track whether quarantine is being obeyed but also to match it with the mobile data of everyone with whom the sufferer has come into contact. The result is that people suddenly get a message pinging to their mobiles to say they have been exposed to a virus carrier and must immediately self-isolate for 14 days.

Covid-19 has thrown the world into a life-threatening crisis created by an invisible enemy. Israel, however, has long experience of a life-threatening crisis caused by visible enemies. So when coronavirus struck, Israel went into proactive, no-messing-about crisis mode faster than countries like Britain which have had the luxury of living in peace and tranquillity for decades.
CAMERA Webinar Coronavirus and its Impact on Israel
As the coronavirus crisis envelops the global community, the flow of information becomes increasingly difficult to follow, especially in the age of social media. When it comes to Israel’s evolving situation, CAMERA hopes to provide some much-needed insight during this confusing time.

On March 26, 2020, Sean Durns, senior research analyst for CAMERA’s Washington D.C. office, sat down with CAMERA on Campus staff members to discuss the coronavirus and its impact on Israel. Durns answered questions including:

- What is Israel doing to combat spread of the disease?
- How has the media been addressing the topic?
- How are anti-Israel activists exploiting the crisis to demonize the country?

Vital meals help Holocaust survivors amid coronavirus crisis
Brooklyn caterer Israel Frischman is continuing to prepare dozens of meals for elderly Holocaust survivors even though the Jewish community center that provides them owes him money.

The Nachas Health and Family Network in Brooklyn has been forced to suspend its counseling services, exercise classes and Torah lessons due to the coronavirus outbreak. But it's relying on the kindness of Frischman and volunteers to continue delivering vital kosher meals to survivors, many of whom live in poverty, and are in their 80s and 90s and at a high-risk of the contagion.

Frischman and volunteer Freida Rothman are united by their roots and their cause. Their grandparents survived the Holocaust, and they say it's their duty to help others who suffered unspeakable horrors in concentration camps and who are now isolated at home, fearing the impact of the fast-spreading virus.

Brooklyn caterer Israel Frischman is continuing to prepare dozens of meals for elderly Holocaust survivors even though the Jewish community center that provides them owes him money.

The Nachas Health and Family Network in Brooklyn has been forced to suspend its counseling services, exercise classes and Torah lessons due to the coronavirus outbreak. But it's relying on the kindness of Frischman and volunteers to continue delivering vital kosher meals to survivors, many of whom live in poverty, and are in their 80s and 90s and at a high-risk of the contagion.

Frischman and volunteer Freida Rothman are united by their roots and their cause. Their grandparents survived the Holocaust, and they say it's their duty to help others who suffered unspeakable horrors in concentration camps and who are now isolated at home, fearing the impact of the fast-spreading virus.

"People have to do what they have to do. They have to be kind," Frischman said via videoconferencing. "Sometimes it doesn't suit our pockets the right way, but it's not about what goes into our pocket. ... We have to make sure that people have what they need to continue to survive."
The Calm before the Storm? Coping with Corona in the Middle East
The Middle East is poised to experience a severe outbreak of the coronavirus, given the population density in certain cities and the millions of refugees scattered throughout the region.

The virus is likely to severely disrupt even states that enjoyed relative stability prior to corona.

States that were engulfed in armed conflict are the most handicapped, and the least transparent, in responding to the virus. The same can be said for states with large concentrations of refugees, such as Lebanon and Jordan.

In countries that have experienced mass protest movements since last year, congregating in large groups suddenly posed a health risk and, by now, most protests have dissipated, offering governments a temporary reprieve.

The remaining states may be marginally better equipped to handle the outbreak. Still, even in sturdier countries like Turkey and Morocco, the very integration with the global economy facilitating that stability will make them all the more vulnerable to economic shocks reverberating from containment measures.
Coronavirus: The European Union Unravels
Faced with an existential threat, EU member states, far from joining together to confront the pandemic as a unified bloc, instinctively are returning to pursuing the national interest. After years of criticizing U.S. President Donald J. Trump for pushing an "America First" policy, European leaders are reverting to the very nationalism they have publicly claimed to despise.

Ever since the threat posed by coronavirus came into focus, Europeans have displayed precious little of the high-minded multilateral solidarity that for decades has been sold to the rest of the world as a bedrock of European unity. The EU's unique brand of soft power, said to be a model for a post-national world order, has been shown to be an empty fiction.

In recent weeks, EU member states have closed their borders, banned exports of critical supplies and withheld humanitarian aid. The European Central Bank, the guarantor of the European single currency, has treated with unparalleled disdain the eurozone's third-largest economy, Italy, in its singular hour of need. The member states worst affected by the pandemic — Italy and Spain — have been left by the other member states to fend for themselves.

The European Union, seven decades in the making, is now unravelling in real time — in weeks.
World could witness 'huge backlash' in pollution after outbreak
A dramatic reduction in air pollution might seem like a silver lining in global efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, but the world could see a "huge backlash" in emissions once the crisis comes to an end.

That is the warning delivered by Dr. Orr Karassin, a senior lecturer in public policy and environmental regulation at the Open University of Israel, based on evidence from the 2008 global financial crisis.

"Everything that we are currently seeing, the improvements in environmental conditions, are possibly - and regretfully - very temporary," Karassin told The Jerusalem Post. "The great concern has to be that, with the deterioration in economic conditions, we might actually see a huge backlash after the current crisis is over."

Karassin points toward the 5% increase in global carbon emissions following last decade's downturn, compared to before the financial crash. As governments sought to boost their economies, concessions were increasingly granted to industries previously being phased out, including coal and oil shale.

"It is of great concern that we will not actually be able to sustain any environmental improvements that we make," she said. "There is a need to talk more about how we can shift our economic patterns to ensure that regrowth, and we will need a lot of economic regrowth, is conducted in a more sustainable way than in the past."

Earlier this month, significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were detected over China by NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) pollution monitoring satellites, as the country sought to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak.

One NASA air quality researcher said she had never "seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event," as motor vehicles and industrial facilities ground to a halt.
British PM Boris Johnson has coronavirus, self-isolates in Downing Street
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for coronavirus and is self-isolating at his Downing Street residence but said he would still lead the government's response to the accelerating outbreak.

Johnson, 55, experienced mild symptoms on Thursday, a day after he answered at the prime minister's weekly question-and-answer session in parliament's House of Commons chamber, and received the positive test result at around midnight.

"I've taken a test. That has come out positive," Johnson said on Friday in a video statement broadcast on Twitter. "I've developed mild symptoms of the coronavirus. That's to say - a temperature and a persistent cough.

"So I am working from home. I'm self-isolating," Johnson said. "Be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fightback against coronavirus."

British health minister Matt Hancock said later on Friday morning that he has also tested positive and is self-isolating at home with mild symptoms.
21 Nobel laureates blast Iran for allowing spread of coranavirus, cover-up
A group of Nobel laureates announced Monday in a letter sent to the United Nations that the rulers of Islamic Republic of Iran have failed take measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus and engaged in a cover-up over the deadly disease.

"As a result of the regime's inaction, there has been a serious lack of preventive measures to control and ward off the spread of the novel coronavirus in Iran. For example, according to experts, the initial epicenter of the virus outbreak, the central city of Qom, was not quarantined, due to the regime's parochial political considerations," the 21 Nobel laureates wrote in a letter sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The laureates added that, "We are asking for your urgent intervention in the situation that is unfolding in Iran, as a means of preventing the further expansion of this catastrophe. We request that, with the help of the international community, all of the medical resources and treatment be taken out of IRGC's [Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps] control and instead be allocated to treatment and prevention efforts that can halt further spread of the coronavirus.”

The United States classifies the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.

“There are various reports that indicate that the clerical dictatorship ruling Iran has engaged in a cover-up, preventing the free flow of crucial information about the spread of coronavirus in that country.

"It covered up the truth in support of its political motives and agenda, including its intention to draw as many people out as possible so they attend its sham parliamentary elections and the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, which included street marches," the letter noted.
Two European Countries Report High Error Rate For Chinese-Supplied Coronavirus Tests
Medical personnel in Spain and the Czech Republic have reported that the coronavirus rapid tests their respective countries have received from China are faulty and have a high error rate.

Several labs in Spanish hospitals have reported that the test kits they purchased, manufactured by Chinese company Bioeasy and based in Shenzhen, have a sensitivity of 30% when the sensitivity should be above 80%, Spanish newspaper El País reported Thursday. Due to the test’s lack of reliability, medical personnel in Spain have switched back to the PCR test, which takes up to four hours for a diagnosis, while rapid tests take between 10 to 15 minutes. (RELATED: Chinese Propaganda Has Infected Daily Mail’s Coronavirus Coverage)

The Spanish government purchased 340,000 tests from the Chinese company, a similar quantity to the tests ordered by the Czech Republic, where medical personnel also report an 80% failure rate. China has been attempting to deepen ties with Europe by supplying countries like Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, and Slovenia with medical equipment and testing amid the outbreak.

Prague Morning reported Thursday that the Chinese tests, worth over $2 million, were showing false positives and false negative results. Health officials determined the failure rate was too high and the tests were unreliable.

“We used the tests on those who came to the testing station. Fortunately, we also took samples for further testing and thus learned about the error rate of the tests,” Pavla Svrčinová, a hygienist from the Ostrava region of the country said according to the Prague Morning.

Gantz to former allies: Coronavirus challenge bigger than politicking
Israel Resilience party leader Benny Gantz told his erstwhile partners early Friday that he was splitting off from them, seemingly to forge a unity government with bitter rival Benjamin Netanyahu, in order to save the nation from another round of elections during “such a challenging time,” as his shock decision continued to reverberate through the political sphere.

The statement capped a stunning 24 hours that saw Gantz shed his partners in Blue and White and appear set to join Netanyahu in a unity government, ending a year of political deadlock and keeping the indicted Likud leader as prime minister for at least the next year and a half, while essentially dismantling Gantz’s former party.

“At the end of the day, I believe we must not drag Israel to a fourth election at such a challenging time, when the country is dealing with the coronavirus crisis and its fallout. We disagree on that point,” Gantz wrote in a tweet addressed to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Telem leader Moshe Ya’alon, who had been his No. 2 and No.3 in Blue and White.

Gantz thanked both of them for their partnership over the last year.

“In my eyes, you will always be patriots who love the country and act on behalf of it wherever they are,” he wrote.

Gantz had come under vociferous criticism from his former partners for his apparent about-face, following a year in which he vowed Blue and White would not sit in a government under a prime minister who had been indicted.
Joint Arab List: Benny Gantz betrayed us
Joint Arab List lawmakers, among them faction leader MK Ayman Odeh and faction chairman MK Ahmad Tibi, a veteran parliamentarian who has seen his share of political stunts, knew nothing about the move to nominate Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz to the post of Knesset speaker.

On Thursday, in the afternoon hours, most of the Joint Arab List's MKs were still on social media, writing about their support for Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen as next Speaker, based on the understandings between the Joint Arab List and Blue and White representatives MKs Ofer Shelah and Avi Nissenkorn.

Just a little while later, however, the rumors that had spread were verified and the shock and dismay in the faction's offices quickly turned to outrage and condemnation of Gantz.

Odeh said, "We won't lend a hand to a government headed by [Benjamin] Netanyahu. Blue and White will decide if they want to win together or surrender alone."

Another senior Joint Arab List official lambasted Gantz, saying that he "betrayed us time after time. We went against our principles and the red lines we set for ourselves, to give him the support to remove Netanyahu and the right-wing government, and in return, we got a finger in the eye and a knife in the back."

The official added: "First and foremost we need to ask forgiveness from our constituents. Nissenkorn and Shelah, at the behest of Benny Gantz, threw sand in our eyes and used us.

Israel to release hundreds of prisoners to curb spread of coronavirus
The government approved new emergency regulations on Friday, initiated by Minister of Defense Gilad Erdan, to release approximately 400 offenders from prisons across Israel for a 30 day house arrest starting this coming Sunday, after which they will be released.

The measures are a part of an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, coming only a day after an officer serving at Neve Tirza prison tested positive for the coronavirus.

The prisoners who are found eligible under the new regulations will go on a special 30-day "vacation," under house arrest conditions, at the end of which they will officially be released from prison.

The regulations that stipulate which prisoners are selected for early release says that they must currently be serving no more than a 4-year prison sentence, and must not have been convicted of either sexual offenses or domestic violence.

Minister Erdan said in a statement that "prisons are the most vulnerable and sensitive place for the spread of the virus. And so, since the beginning of the crisis, I have been taking emergency measures to reduce the congestion among prisoners and reduce the chances of infection."

"The inmates who will be released will remain in house arrest conditions until the end of their imprisonment, while the police will monitor their compliance with house arrest conditions," Erdan added.
Defense Ministry to rent 20 more hotels for Israelis in quarantine
The Defense Ministry declared it wants to rent 20 more hotels to house Israelis returning from abroad for Passover under quarantine.

In the statement, the ministry wrote to the hotels that, "as Passover approaches, many efforts have been made to bring home Israelis from abroad," adding that the Defense Ministry, the Health Ministry, and the IDF are all committed to the mission and that everyone, in their own field, is called on to participate.

The ministry is looking for hotels with at least 200 rooms in Tel Aviv and Gush Dan, the Sharon area, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.
Hotels have been asked to submit proposals.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Thursday that, starting from Saturday, anyone returning to Israel from abroad will be checked immediately for coronavirus and then be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

JCPA: If the PA Lacks Funds to Combat the Coronavirus, It Should Stop Paying Salaries to Terrorists
Following the outbreak of the coronavirus, the PA asked Israel to deliver the withheld funds (650 million shekels, according to Palestinian sources). This request was refused, but instead, on March 22, Israel transferred to the PA 120 million shekels of arrears, whose status had been disputed. Clearly, if the PA lacks the financial resources to combat the epidemic, they can stop paying salaries to terrorists.

The law is implemented by the Ministry of Finance, but the preparation of the data and many additional activities are performed by the relatively new National Bureau of Counter-terror Financing at the Ministry of Defense. The bureau is headed by advocate Paul Landes, formerly the head of the Israel Money Laundering and Terror Financing Prohibition Authority at the Ministry of Justice. In addition to following the PA payment of salaries to terrorists, the bureau issues decrees authorizing the confiscation of the money paid as salaries through the banking system to Israeli citizens and Jerusalem residents. So far, about 350,000 shekels have been confiscated from accounts or from funds prisoners received in prison.

Some lessons can be learned from the 2019 experience with payments to Palestinian terrorists:
- The Palestinian Authority still insists on paying the salaries in line with its law and narrative that consider the terrorists as heroes and the fighting sector of Palestinian society.
- The many warnings by certain Israelis and Americans, who prefer to ignore the mind-boggling phenomenon whereby the PA solicits Palestinians to kill Israelis by promising them handsome salaries and other benefits in advance, proved baseless. The PA did not collapse and did not stop its security cooperation with Israel. I predicted several times in the past that none of these threats are real, since the existence of the PA is the most important achievement of the Palestinian national movement and since security cooperation with Israel is much more beneficial to the PA due to its confrontation with its political opponent, Hamas, than it is for Israel.

The Israeli government has to abide by Israeli law and deduct the Palestinian payments of salaries to terrorists from the money transferred to the PA. The new Security Cabinet should affirm the amount spent by the PA in 2019 on salaries to terrorists and start deducting it immediately from the money transferred to the PA on a monthly basis.

More countries should follow the United States by conditioning their aid to the PA on abrogating the PA law according to which these payments are made and stopping the practice of “pay for slay.” If European donors adopt this policy, the chances increase that something will change.
Palestinians transform factories into mask manufacturing plants as virus spreads
Despite multiple wars and incessant smaller conflicts, Unipal 2000 has produced clothing in the Gaza Strip for more than five decades.

Its designs have appeared in stores across Israel, including in Tel Aviv, Beersheba and Ashkelon, but also to a lesser extent in markets in the Palestinian coastal enclave.

Following the global outbreak of the highly contagious coronavirus, however, the Gaza City-based company has taken a break from manufacturing garments, and instead thrown all its resources into producing surgical masks and other protective gear.

Nabil Bawab, Unipal 2000’s 59-year-old chairman, said the company made the transition at the beginning of March and was already producing thousands of masks and protective suits daily.

“We never stopped making clothing, even during all the difficult times,” Bawab, a fluent Hebrew speaker, said in a phone interview. “But when the virus came, we decided to do something to provide people with protection.”

FDD: New Iraqi Prime Minister-Designate Poses Threat to Iran, Opportunity for U.S.
The March 17 nomination of Adnan al-Zurfi as Iraq’s prime minister-designate highlights the extent to which Iran’s stranglehold on Iraqi politics could be eroding. As such, Zurfi’s nomination holds out both the promise of a restoration of Iraqi sovereignty that aligns with U.S. interests, as well as the danger of escalating violence by an Iranian regime desperate to prevent such a strategic defeat.

Zurfi’s nomination by Iraqi President Barham Salih came on the heels of the failed effort of Mohammed Allawi earlier this month to replace the caretaker government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi. Abdul-Mahdi was forced to resign in late November under pressure from a mass protest movement demanding an overhaul of Iraq’s post-2003 political system.

Allawi’s February 1 nomination was almost entirely engineered by Iran, operating in conjunction with its Iraqi allies and Lebanese Hezbollah. It reflected a concerted effort by the Islamic Republic to shore up its position in the face of two fundamental challenges: first, the January 3 U.S. drone strike that killed both Qassem Soleimani, the mastermind of Iranian strategy in Iraq since 2003, and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, Soleimani’s most powerful Iraqi agent; and second, the anti-government protests that have roiled Iraq since October, centered in the country’s Shiite heartland and propounding a distinctly nationalist narrative deeply resentful of Iranian interference.

Allawi’s failure to gain parliamentary approval marked a profound defeat for Iran. A surge in violence against protesters, ordered by extremist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (eager to prove himself as Iran’s new post-Soleimani enforcer), only bolstered the protest movement’s unambiguous rejection of Allawi. Sadr’s efforts to intimidate Kurdish and Sunni politicians into providing a parliamentary quorum for Allawi’s appointment also cratered.
Now is the time to save Lebanon from Hezbollah
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is quickly sending the world into the biggest economic crisis in decades. Here in Israel, we’re witnessing how almost all the macro-economic strides the country has made in the last decade are quickly eroding. It’s hard to look beyond the next few hours.

With all the threats that this crisis delivers, it also brings a severe security risk to Israel and the Middle East from the North; Hezbollah is trying to take advantage of the current financial distress of Lebanon.

Usually we hear about Lebanon when tensions escalate on the border. In its prime, Lebanon was a European oasis in the heart of the Middle East. Lately, we neglect to observe that it is going bankrupt and on the fast track to being declared a failed state.

In recent years, Lebanon has become the third country in the world that is the most in debt in terms of debt to GDP ratio. Overly dependent on its banks, Lebanon is now defaulting on its debt. Most recently, on March 9, it failed to pay a $1.2 billion payment to Eurobond. At this rate, official bankruptcy seems all but inevitable.
IDF shoots down drone from Lebanon, says it was flown by Hezbollah
The Israel Defense Forces said it shot down a drone that was flown by the Hezbollah terror group into Israeli airspace from Lebanon on Thursday morning.

The military said the small drone was retrieved by Israeli troops. The IDF refused to comment on the nature of the device, and whether it carried explosives, implying it was a reconnaissance drone.

On Thursday afternoon, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told reporters that the military was on “high alert on a number of fronts,” without elaborating.

“The IDF works constantly on the borders of the State of Israel using multi-tiered defense systems to detect and intercept aerial infiltrations,” the military said in a statement.

“The IDF will continue to thwart any attempt by the Hezbollah terror group to violate the State of Israel’s sovereignty, using various defensive and offensive tools in order to protect the citizens of Israel,” the IDF said.

In recent days the military has said that it noticed a marked decrease in activity by Israel’s enemies in light of the coronavirus — notably Iran, which has been dealing with one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the disease.
Trump Admin Sanctions Vast Iranian Terror Network in Iraq
The Trump administration on Thursday designated a vast network of front companies and entities tied to Iran's terrorism operations in Iraq, where U.S. personnel have been under near-constant attack by militia groups armed and funded by Tehran.

The new designations target "Iraq-based front companies, senior officials, and business associates that provide support to, or act for or on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), in addition to transferring lethal aid to Iranian-backed terrorist militias in Iraq, such as Kata'ib Hizballah (KH) and Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH)," according to the Treasury Department.

The companies and terror groups have organized a series of rocket attacks and bombing on U.S. positions in Iraq, including one earlier this month that killed two American troops and one British soldier. At least two rockets struck inside Baghdad's Green Zone early Thursday, with no casualties reported at the time of this writing.

The Trump administration has been engaged in a growing conflict with Iran in Iraq since its killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. The new terror designations are meant to disrupt Iran's financial networks and deal a blow to these militia groups' capabilities.

"Iran employs a web of front companies to fund terrorist groups across the region, siphoning resources away from the Iranian people and prioritizing terrorist proxies over the basic needs of its people," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

These sanctions do not impact the import of food and medicine needed to help Iran combat the spreading coronavirus, which has ravaged the Islamic Republic.
Sorry, Now Is Not the Time to Lift Sanctions on Iran
Under the Trump sanctions, the Iranian economy has cratered. Official unemployment rose from 14.5 percent in 2018 to 16.8 percent in 2019, and unofficial employment rates are far higher. GDP has plummeted. The cost of basic goods has doubled since 2016. Two years ago Iran was exporting 2 million barrels of crude a day. It’s now down to around 300,000. The IMF was forecasting zero growth in 2020 even before coronavirus hit. As a result, the regime has needed to respond to increasing economy-driven unrest at home. Demonstrations starting in November elicited a major crackdown, with at least 1,000 killed and many more imprisoned.

Do the Iranian people blame the United States for their economic hardship? Despite shifting attitudes toward the United States (which has generally enjoyed substantial popularity with the Iranian people), polling shows the public places fault squarely at the regime’s feet. Why? Because they aren’t fools. They are well aware what their government is up to, both at home and abroad. Abroad, Iran’s costly commitment to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has exhausted resources. The war in Syria is estimated to have cost the regime from $30 billion to $100 billion. Then there’s Iran’s arming, payment, and sustenance of Hezbollah, which costs an estimated $700 million a year. Iran also transfers cash to Palestinian terrorist group Hamas to the tune of $100 million per annum. And don’t forget Iran’s arming and support for Yemen’s Houthis, another several million dollars a year. Finally, there are Iran’s costly adventures in Iraq, the scope of which was revealed in a series of leaked intelligence reports published by the New York Times and The Intercept last fall. (Indeed, the Islamic Republic is so committed to its anti-Western agenda in Iraq that on March 12—in the midst of its coronavirus crisis— it allowed its proxies to launch an attack on Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, resulting in the death of two U.S. and one British servicemen.)

At home, another persistent fly in the Iranian economic ointment is outright theft. In this, the regime’s mullahs resemble the run-of-the-mill regional kleptocrat. It’s not just that current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s holdings alone are estimated at $200 billion: Food and medicine budgets—for goods which are exempt from sanction—have been plundered by the regime. In 2012, the then (and promptly sacked) health minister complained that of $2.4 billion allocated for medicine imports, only a quarter had been delivered, while subsidized dollars had been used to import luxury cars.

Then there’s the Cuba-style scandal of stockpiling key medicines for regime friends and officials. And the false stories blaming sanctions for deaths. Not to speak of the rejection of an offer of U.S. assistance during the coronavirus crisis. And finally, in reaction to an aggressive campaign of disinformation from the supreme leader himself, yesterday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleged that the regime has plundered over a billion euros slated for food and medical assistance.

MEMRI: IRGC Cyber Division Confirms Supreme Leader Khamenei's Assertion That 'Demons Are Assisting The Enemies' With Statements That 'The Israeli Mossad Is... Using Demons' And 'The Jews Are Experts At Sorcery And At Creating Relationships With Demons'
In a March 22, 2020 speech broadcast live on Iranian television, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reiterated that the U.S. created the coronavirus and is spreading it worldwide, and explained to the public that "demons are assisting the enemies." Iranian news agencies omitted this quote from their reporting on the speech. [1]

Following criticism of this omission by the news agencies, the Telegram channel of the Cyber Division of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) posted, on March 22, a full video of Khamenei's statements. As support for his assertions about the demons, the Cyber Division also posted two video clips showing two seminary lecturers who are well-known in regime-affiliated ideological circles, Ali Akbar Raefi-Pour and Hojatoleslam Valiollah Naghi-Pour, claiming that Israeli and American espionage agencies are using "demons" to carry out intelligence operations against Iran and against the resistance organizations affiliated with Iran.

Associates of Khamenei have previously accused Jews of using sorcery. Mehdi Taeb, head of the Ammar Headquarters think tank that advises Khamenei and a close Khamenei associate, said in 2013 that the Jews' sorcery is the most powerful in the world and that they are using it to attack Iran. Also in 2013, the Rasanews website, which is associated with the seminaries in the city of Qom, published an article arguing that the Jews hand down their knowledge of sorcery from generation to generation in order to use it to control the world, nature, and even God's decisions (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5288, Iranian Official: The Jews Use Sorcery Against Iran, April 28, 2013).

In Islamic and Iranian folklore, the world's sentient beings are divided into ins ­(mankind) and jinn (demons). Jinns, which are mentioned in the Quran, are supernatural beings with free will, and can be either good or evil; evil jinns can lead humans astray. According to Shi'ite tradition, when the Mahdi, the Hidden Imam, is revealed, he will bring all the jinns under his command.

The following are the main points of the statements by Khamenei and the statements by the two lecturers claiming that Jews and Israeli espionage organizations are using witchcraft against Iran:

Canadian Islamic Scholar: We Must Not Ally with Jews, Christians – It's More Dangerous than COVID19
In a Friday, March 20, 2020 sermon at Muslim Youth of Victoria, Canada, Sheikh Younus Kathrada, asked why Muslims do not take Allah's commands to distance themselves from sin as seriously as they are taking medical professionals' guidelines about social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that Muslims should distance themselves from fornication by lowering their gaze, wearing the hijab, and avoiding events where men and women can mingle freely, and he advised his audience to audit themselves and see if their closest friends are Muslims or non-Muslims, explaining that this matter is more dangerous that the coronavirus or any other plague. Sheikh Kathrada cited verses from the Quran that said that Muslims should not take infidels, Jews, or Christians as allies and that the Jews and the Christians will never be pleased with the Muslims until they follow their religion. He emphasized that non-Muslims are still human beings that should be treated justly and called to Islam, but added that Allah has warned the Muslims regarding what is in the hearts of the non-Muslims. In addition, Sheikh Kathrada criticized prominent English-speaking Muslim preachers who advise Muslims not to object to gay marriage. This statement may have been a reference to a recent lecture by prominent American scholar Omar Suleiman that was titled "Alliances and Coalition Building." Sheikh Suleiman had delivered this lecture at the LGBTQ+ Conference that was hosted by the East Plano Islamic Center in Plano, Texas, and he has drawn some criticism from the Muslim community (for one example, see MEMRI TV Clip No. 7878). Sheikh Kathrada's lecture was uploaded to Muslim Youth Victoria's YouTube and Facebook pages.

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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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