Wednesday, September 01, 2021

09/01 Links Pt1: Melanie Phillips: Biden's contemptible speech; Will the West Bank Become the New Afghanistan?; Wildfires: 'If I can't have it, neither can you'

From Ian:

Melanie Phillips: Biden's contemptible speech
The claim that the killing of bin Laden neutralised Afghanistan as a potential danger to the west is beyond ridiculous. What Biden has done is negate the gains made through investing blood and treasure in Afghanistan for two decades in order to protect the west — however muddled the implementation of that goal may have been — and he has thus dishonoured the sacrifice of all those who gave their lives in that process.

Whether this speech consisted of Biden’s own words, or whether someone else wrote them and he merely read them out, they are shocking. For the damage his administration has done is unforgivable and incalculable.

Consider how the Taliban have been galvanised by what’s happened. Anthony Lloyd of The Times reports from the Bagram airbase:
Maulawi Hafiz Mohibullah Muktaz, a religious leader and fighter from Kandahar aged 35, leaned back in his seat laughing, twiddled some dials on a control console, stared out across the multibillion-dollar base the size of a small city and picked up a phone to summon an imaginary jet.

“Never in our wildest dreams could we have believed we could beat a superpower like America with just our Kalashnikovs,” he beamed, staring across the two runways beneath him.

…“When you do jihad all doors open,” he added, unable to stop smiling. “Our lesson is that we defeated America with our faith and our guns and we hope now that Bagram can be a base for jihad for all Muslims.”

But the Taliban didn’t overwhelm a superpower. The reason it is now in control in Kabul is that the US cut and ran. The Afghan army was only able to function effectively with the assurance of American back-up. As soon as former president Donald Trump decided that this back-up would go, the Afghan army started to crumble; and when Biden set the inflexible August 31 pull-out deadline, the Afghan army collapsed and chaos ensued.

The Taliban did not defeat the United States. The United States defeated itself. That’s why the Afghan debacle is so shattering for the whole of the free world; and why Biden’s arrogant and obstinate remarks, showing that he has learned no lessons whatsoever from a calamity he caused but for which he takes no responsibility, are as ominous as they are contemptible.
Will the West Bank Become the New Afghanistan?
The US spent many years training and equipping the Afghan National Army, and yet it folded like a house of cards before the forces of the Taliban, and its soldiers quickly changed their military fatigues for civilian dress.

They didn’t have the “will to fight” for their country, President Joe Biden said in his August 16 address as thousands of desperate Afghans fled to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.

What are the chances that the Afghan scenario will repeat itself in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority government is increasingly unpopular, economic conditions are dire and public discontent is burgeoning?

In June, a few weeks after the most recent war in Gaza ended, a public opinion poll conducted in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, led by Dr. Khalil Shikaki, found a sharp rise in the popularity of Hamas.

Fifty-three percent of the respondents said that “Hamas is most deserving of representing and leading the Palestinian people.” Only 14% prefer the rival Fatah party, led by PA President and Fatah Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Then came the June 24 killing of Nizar Banat, a political activist from Hebron, at the hands of PA security forces. Unprecedented demonstrations rocked Palestinian cities. Given the ongoing economic crisis, budget deficit and dwindling international aid, the situation on the ground seemed to be rapidly spiraling out of control.

The new Israeli government quickly understood the challenge. It increased the number of entry permits to Israel for Palestinian workers and resumed direct ties with Abbas, in order to prevent economic collapse and promote increased security cooperation.

It is still unclear whether these steps will prove effective and head off the crisis. The big question remains: What will happen to the PA if Israel chooses not to get involved when push comes to shove? Would the Palestinian security services be able to defend their leaders against their rivals – Hamas and other Palestinian factions – if Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank like the US did from Afghanistan?
'If I can't have it, neither can you'
There are Palestinians, obviously not all of them, whose hearts soared at the sight of last week's fires, which wiped out thousands of acres of land surround Jerusalem. There are too many Palestinians who rejoiced at the sight of the flames burning their "stolen land," turning it into blackened fields.

While so many peoples' hearts were wrung at the sight of the embers and the destruction and the burned homes and the smoke – theirs swelled with joy. I know this because in the past few days, I've been talking to a few of them. They are smart enough not to be interviewed on the record, but too happy at the suffering of others to hide it.

I found them after encountering a few social media posts from Palestinians and Arab Israelis. One was the well-known Haifa historian Dr. Johnny Mansour, a lecturer at Beit Berl College. Mansour and his colleagues aren't dancing with joy, but they choose to stress what, in their eyes, the fires exposed: the "geographic, historical truth" of what the "Zionist colonial project" was hiding – "sights that no one expected," Mansour said.

He cited "agricultural terraces that Palestinians worked for decades, the result of the Palestinian peasant's hard work, sweat, and blood to preserve his land and make a living off it, landscapes that the 'project of occupation and Zionist uprooting,' with its 'colonial institutions' planted with trees to destroy what the peasants created and to hide the land and the characteristics of the region."

Mansour, who sees Palestinianism and its agricultural expressions as natural, and Zionist forestation as a foreign weed, is not alone in his views. The discourse in Arab Israeli society, much like among the Palestinians, is redefining the green landscapes of the land and sees the forestation planted as a method of hiding the Palestinian past and the remains of the villages that existed around Jerusalem until 1948.

Back during the wildfires of 2016, the Fatah movement adopted a similar stance, underscoring "The Palestinian identity of all Palestinian rocks and trees being burned now, which are part of our historic Palestine…." There would be no point in bringing up the "diagnosis" of Mansour and people like him, whose views of the Zionist enterprise and the return of the Jewish people are well-known, if it weren't for the nationalist pyromanaics whose discourse repeats the same perception: that the fire is a blow to the enemy and the "occupied land" at the same time. Or in other words, "If I can't have it, neither can you."

Biden Urged Afghan President To ‘Change Perception’ of Fight Against Taliban
In the last call between U.S. President Joe Biden and his Afghanistan counterpart before the Taliban seized control of the country, the leaders discussed military aid, political strategy, and messaging tactics, but neither Biden nor Ashraf Ghani appeared aware of or prepared for the immediate danger of the entire country falling to insurgents, a transcript reviewed by Reuters shows.

The men spoke for roughly 14 minutes on July 23. On August 15, Ghani fled the presidential palace, and the Taliban entered Kabul. Since then, tens of thousands of desperate Afghans have fled, and 13 U.S. troops and scores of Afghan civilians were killed in a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport during the frenetic U.S. military evacuation.

Reuters reviewed a transcript of the presidential phone call and has listened to the audio to authenticate the conversation. The materials were provided on condition of anonymity by a source who was not authorized to distribute it.

In the call, Biden offered aid if Ghani could publicly project he had a plan to control the spiraling situation in Afghanistan. "We will continue to provide close air support, if we know what the plan is," Biden said. Days before the call, the United States carried out air strikes to support Afghan security forces, a move the Taliban said was in violation of the Doha peace agreement.

The U.S. president also advised Ghani to get buy-in from powerful Afghans for a military strategy going forward and then to put a "warrior" in charge of the effort, a reference to Defense Minister General Bismillah Khan Mohammadi.

Biden lauded the Afghan armed forces, which were trained and funded by the U.S. government. "You clearly have the best military," he told Ghani. "You have 300,000 well-armed forces versus 70-80,000 and they're clearly capable of fighting well." Days later, the Afghan military started folding across provincial capitals in the country with little fight against the Taliban.

US withdrawal from Afghanistan was right move but done poorly - Lapid
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan was the right move but was carried out poorly, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Wednesday in the first sound of criticism from a senior Israeli about the recent withdrawal.

"It was probably the right decision but wasn't performed in the right manner," Lapid told foreign reporters in Jerusalem.

"We don't understand completely all the consequences of this move, of this retreat," he added.

It could affect Pakistan and Iran's long border with Afghanistan that is now run by a radical Suni organization, Lapid said. He further speculated that it could "hugely" impact the battle with Al-Quida.

"We should wait a little before we jump to conclusions about the aftermath of the US withdrawal," Lapid said.

Lapid added that he did not believe that the US pullout from Afghanistan signaled an American retreat from the Middle East.

"I do not think that the US is retreating from the Middle East," Lapid said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett discussed this matter with US President Joe Biden in Washington last week, Lapid noted, adding the he is also speaking about the matter with American officials, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Secure Freedom Radio Podcast: With Richard Kemp
Col. Richard Kemp: We had to remain in Afghanistan for some time after 2001 - We couldn’t just destroy Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and immediately pull out Where and when did the situation in Afghanistan “go off the tracks”?
Col. Kemp: The U.S. and U.K. directly controlled the Afghan government, which was not capable of controlling the whole of Afghanistan
Col Kemp: Taxpayer money was used to fund a war against the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan
Col. Kemp: For President Biden to call the Afghan army, “cowards…they won’t fight for themselves, why should we fight for them,’ after stripping them of vital U.S. support, is devastating
What are the takeaways from the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?
Col. Kemp: “Talk about a twenty-year war, what about South Korea? The Americans have been in South Korea since the 50’s…We’ve had a U.S. garrison in Germany since 1945…” So why is Afghanistan separated from the rest?
Col. Kemp: It took the U.S. 15 years to successfully regain its position in the world after the Fall of Saigon
Former MI6 Head Says Biden’s Withdrawal Will ‘Inspire’ Terrorists To Attack the West
The former head of the British intelligence agency MI6 on Tuesday said the Biden administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan will "inspire" terrorists to attack Western nations, according to the Daily Mail.

Sir John Sawers, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service from 2009 to 2014, said there is "no doubt" that extreme Islamist groups "celebrated" the United States' withdrawal and that it "raises the risk of them being inspired to more violence in Western countries." He added that Biden's decision also left the United States, United Kingdom, and NATO allies in a "much weaker position," as terrorist groups will now be given "some operating space" in Afghanistan.

The remarks come as U.K. and U.S. citizens as well as their Afghan allies still remain trapped in Afghanistan. The Guardian reported Monday that Labour MPs are scrambling to evacuate more than 7,000 British constituents and family members left behind. A State Department official also confirmed about 250 U.S. citizens remain.

Former U.K. defense staff chief Lord David Richards, who served in Afghanistan, echoed Sawers's remarks, calling the withdrawal a "defeat" for the West.
Seth Frantzman: The Taliban have an ‘Emirate,’ if they can keep it
On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “US military flights have ended, and our troops have departed Afghanistan. A new chapter of America’s engagement with Afghanistan has begun. It’s one in which we will lead with our diplomacy. We will hold the Taliban to their commitment on freedom of movement for foreign nationals, visa holders and at-risk Afghans. The international chorus on this is strong, and it will stay strong.”

THE BIG question for the Taliban is how they handle the next few months. Many Western countries have moved their diplomats to Qatar, which now appears to be the power broker in Kabul.

Turkey wants to come in and run Kabul’s airport. The Taliban will want to get the airport running soon. Also, the Islamic group won’t want any more US airstrikes, such as the drone strike that apparently killed an Afghan family over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the Taliban will want to bring in China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Turkey for investment opportunities. They will want to neutralize any opposition, such as in the Panjshir Valley. They will also want to get the abandoned equipment left behind working so they can secure the country.

These are big tasks. But they may have support from Qatar and others that will come out in the open now. They will have to decide how much they want to let these foreign countries have a say in running things in Kabul.

They have an emirate, if they can keep it. It remains to be seen if they will want to host Hamas and other groups, such as HTS from Idlib, and provide guidance to other terrorist armies that want to transform into states.
JINSA: Accountability in Afghanistan and Determining What Went Wrong
Adam Kredo of The Washington Free Beacon joins Erielle to discuss the official end of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, the possible consequences for U.S. security interests, and whether those responsible for the roughshod nature of the withdrawal will be held accountable.
State Department Decision to Abolish Crisis Response Bureau ‘Mucked Up’ Afghanistan Exit, Report Says
The State Department's decision to abolish a crisis response bureau, as first reported by the Washington Free Beacon, "mucked up America's exit from Afghanistan" and prompted the resignation of the department's top physician, according to a new report in Vanity Fair.

The Free Beacon reported earlier this month that the State Department moved in June to dissolve the Contingency and Crisis Response Bureau (CCR), a Trump-era project that was meant to coordinate the evacuation of Americans from hotspots overseas. The decision was made just months before the Biden administration pulled U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and sparked a chaotic rescue effort that sources inside and outside of the State Department said could have been bolstered by the CCR.

The Biden administration's decision to scuttle the CCR bureau prompted the resignation of William Walters, the State Department's top physician and coordinator of emergency evacuation operations, according to Vanity Fair.

"I am resigning," Walters reportedly told Secretary of State Antony Blinken in June, saying that Blinken's "decision not to move forward with the establishment of the CCR bureau, which Walters had been slated to lead, was a mistake."

"Given simmering tensions in Afghanistan and elsewhere, Walters said, he believed that throwing out plans for the new unit … would impact State's ability to respond to threats to U.S. diplomats and citizens abroad," Vanity Fair wrote.

These concerns came to fruition months later, as the State Department scrambled to evacuate Americans stranded in Taliban-controlled Kabul, where many Americans remain trapped after the Biden administration's decision to not keep troops in the country past Aug. 31.
PreOccupiedTerritory: We At Human Rights Watch Are So Concerned About Afghanistan, We Went A Whole Hour Without Tweeting About Israel By Ken Roth, Director (satire)
What is happening in Afghanistan is as horrific as it was preventable, which compounds the tragedy. Our organization’s anxiety regarding recent developments there has increased to the point that one day two weeks ago, and again this past Friday, our official Twitter account focused exclusively on it for sixty entire minutes, with nary a message defaming Israel posted during that time. That is how seriously we take these events.

Under ordinary circumstances we at Human Rights Watch maintain a laser-like focus on what truly matters, i.e. the satanic, vile nature of the world’s only Jewish state as characterized by opponents of Jewish self0defense and sovereignty, whom we are happy to employ with no critical lens on their work. On occasion, however, a development so momentous and cataclysmic in its human rights implications occurs somewhere other than Palestine – I know, it’s crazy, right? You and me both, pal – that credibility demands we address it with more than the token sympathy we sporadically issue for Jews who should have known better than to be so Jewy.

The last time I can recall a sixty-minute stretch without an anti-Israel tweet from HRW – either the official account, my professional account, or that of one of our specially-focused researchers of whom, wouldn’t you know it, not a single one is dedicated to the ongoing human rights debacle that has been Afghanistan for upwards of forty years – was when Twitter suffered a major outage in 2015. You can bet we made up for that drought in the hours that followed, though. Couldn’t have our Saudi, Qatari, and who knows which other donors thinking we’ve gone soft on our core issue.
Israel Opposes US Plan to Reopen Jerusalem Consulate as ‘Destabilizing’
Israel said on Wednesday that a US plan to reopen its consulate in Jerusalem that has traditionally been a base for diplomatic outreach to Palestinians is a “bad idea” and could destabilize Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government.

The prior administration of President Donald Trump signaled support for Israel’s claim on Jerusalem as its capital by moving the US embassy there from Tel Aviv and subsuming the consulate in that mission.

It was among several moves that incensed the Palestinians, who want eastern Jerusalem as capital of a hoped-for, future state.

President Joe Biden has pledged to restore ties with the Palestinians, back a two-state solution and move forward with reopening the consulate. It has been closed since 2019, with Palestinian affairs handled by the embassy.

“We think it’s a bad idea,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told a news conference when asked about the reopening. “Jerusalem is the sovereign capital of Israel and Israel alone, and therefore we don’t think it’s a good idea.

“We know that the (Biden) administration has a different way of looking at this, but since it is happening in Israel, we are sure they are listening to us very carefully.”

Asked for comment, Wasel Abu Youssef, an official with the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization, said Israel was trying to keep the status quo and block any political solution.

Lebanon-Egypt gas wild theories unfounded: US plan is pro-Iran, pro-Hezbollah
The US ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea, confirmed recently that the Biden administration is facilitating the export of Egyptian natural gas and Jordanian surplus electricity to Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon via Syria. Shea’s remarks came after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s announcement that Iran was sending Lebanon shipments of fuel.

Even though the effort to wheel Egyptian gas had been reported last month, the coincidence in timing has led to a flurry of speculative commentary in Lebanon about the supposed meaning of the American initiative.

Always eager to see their affairs as the center of global intrigue, Lebanese commentators quickly weaved grandiose theories, tying the US plan to geopolitical threads that are as convoluted as they are fictional. Instead, the announcement is another misstep in Biden-era US policy that will benefit Iran’s Lebanese interests and its local arm, Hezbollah.

At the heart of the Lebanese speculative analysis is the conceit that the US is competing with Iran over Lebanon. By bringing gas and electricity from Arab countries through Syria, the argument goes, the US is countering Hezbollah, and preventing Lebanon from falling entirely into Iran’s orbit. Leaving aside the fact that Lebanon has been an Iranian satrapy for well over a decade – what does falling “entirely” even mean in this context? – this reading is off on all counts. It is confused both about the Biden administration’s regional posture as well as about the conduit for its latest initiative, namely Syria.

For the American plan to work, the Biden team would require the cooperation of the Assad regime and would therefore need to waive sanctions on Damascus. In other words, the administration would throw a lifeline to Iran’s other vassal, whom Tehran continues to prop up with assistance, ranging from funding to fuel shipments, and the support of a host of militias, led by Hezbollah.

Swastika at State Dept., ‘Antisemitic’ Blogger Prompt Protests From Staff
A group of more than 70 State Department officials sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken voicing alarm about “an openly antisemitic department employee who continues to have a home in our midst,” calling for his removal, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Foreign Policy.

Fritz Berggren, a U.S. foreign service officer, maintains a website,, where he writes online posts and publishes video and audio files assailing Jews, the LGBTQ community, and calling for the creation of Christian nation-states.

The letter, which was sent to Blinken on July 28 and signed by more than 70 employees, according to two officials involved in the matter, reads: “Fritz Berggren’s continued employment is an affront to all of us and the values we share. While there may be HR processes underway, they do not appear to be having an impact and are apparently proceeding very slowly as Berggren has been posting this content since at least 2017.”

“Not only is his propagation of antisemitic ideas highly disturbing and offensive to Jewish and non-Jewish employees alike, but as Jewish employees, we feel his presence at the Department is threatening,” the letter reads.

The letter reflected mounting anger among State Department employees that Berggren was still employed with the department after years of maintaining the website and six months after his State Department affiliation came to light in a Politico story.

The push from employees to oust Berggren from his job comes against the backdrop of rising concerns in the United States’ diplomatic corps about antisemitism after a swastika was found carved into an elevator at the State Department’s main headquarters in Washington in July. Both Blinken and U.S. President Joe Biden swiftly denounced the incident and condemned antisemitism in any form. The State Department launched an investigation into the incident.
FDD: Bipartisan Effort to Deepen Defense Cooperation With Israel Advances
To strengthen bilateral cooperation on military research and development (R&D), Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) announced today their introduction of an amendment (#1197) to the National Defense Authorization Act to require, with the concurrence of Jerusalem, the establishment of a U.S.-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group. The working group would help the United States better compete in the military-technology competition with China and Russia while strengthening Israel’s qualitative military edge over any regional adversary.

The success or failure of Americans and our Israeli allies on future battlefields will depend significantly on whether they wield the most advanced military systems and weapons available. Washington, however, confronts great power adversaries in China and Russia, which are increasingly fielding capabilities that are comparable or even superior in some cases to those of the United States. Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Iran and its terrorist proxies are sprinting to field drone, missile, and other capabilities that endanger Americans and Israelis in the Middle East.

To be sure, the United States and Israel already enjoy a deep and broad defense partnership. Despite this fact, dangerous military capability gaps continue to emerge that a more systematic and proactive cooperative R&D program could have prevented.

Consider, for example, that it took the Pentagon until 2019 to acquire for U.S. tanks Israeli-made active protection systems that had been operational there since 2011. Consequently, U.S. soldiers deployed for years in tanks and armored vehicles lacking the cutting-edge protection Washington could have provided against missiles and rockets, subjecting those troops to unnecessary risk.

Given the pace of the U.S. military technology competition with China, Americans may pay a higher cost for such delays in the future. A better R&D relationship with Israel would help avoid delays and enable the United States to benefit more fully from Israeli military innovation and agility.
How China drove a wedge between America and Israel
Prime Minister Bennett was more sympathetic than his predecessor to American appeals to lock China out of the Jewish state. But in Israel as all over the world, the Chinese approach has been a stealthy and clever one. For all Bennett’s goodwill, his country will find it difficult to close the door entirely on such a lucrative and subtle resource.

There is a sense in some Israeli quarters that the United States is being overly sensitive. After all, China accounts for no more than 10 per cent of total foreign capital investments in Israel. That is far smaller than for other American allies.

Chinese investors’ portfolio of UK interests, for example, amounts to nearly £135 billion, dwarfing that in Israel. There are 216,000 Chinese students studying in British universities, compared to about 1,000 in Israel (dual Chinese-Israeli citizens are almost unheard of, and there are no Israeli public schools stuffed with the sons of Chinese ‘big croc’ oligarchs).

Whereas Chinese infrastructure is deeply embedded in the UK, from the Hinkley Point nuclear plant to 5G – which will only be clean of Chinese equipment in 2027 – Israel’s sensitive national security infrastructure is far more secure.

Moreover, Britain is home to pro-China lobby groups like the 48 Group Club, whose fellows include Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Alex Salmond and Peter Mandelson. The Knesset’s Israel-China Parliamentary Friendship League is negligible by comparison. How can Washington complain about Israel’s trade with China when Britain is so much more compromised?

But to view the matter this way is to miss the point. The problem is not so much economic, or even security-related. It is political. With China emerging as America’s greatest global adversary, and Afghanistan underlining Washington’s declining influence, the White House is filled with adrenaline, especially with Covid turning the skies dark over Beijing.

The US-Israel alliance is a fundamental plank in America’s foreign policy strategy. For China to seek to undermine it represents a deep worry for the United States, raising questions about Israeli loyalty and ultimately placing the alliance at risk. Aside from anything else, this is creating tension; and this tension in itself, coming at such a fragile geopolitical moment, plays into the hands of China.
Greece’s new Health Minister comes under fire for inflammatory Auschwitz comment from 2009
Greece’s new Health Minister has come under fire for inflammatory comments he made in 2009 when defending a man accused of inciting racism.

Thanos Plevris, a lawyer who is reported to have a “far-right, anti-immigrant and extremist background”, became Greece’s new Health Minister on Tuesday. However, The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS) expressed concern regarding this new appointment owing to Mr Plevris’ 2009 comments during a trial in which he was defending a man who said that Auschwitz concentration camp should be kept in “good conditions” so that it may be used again.

The KIS issued a statement demanding an apology for the comments Mr Plevris made before the Greek Court of Justice, where he reportedly said: “I will refer to issues that have puzzled you. You are concerned about the reference to Auschwitz. The one that says ‘to keep the camp of Auschwitz in good conditions’. I will examine the most extreme interpretation. That the defendant with this reference means: ‘Keep the camp of Auschwitz in good conditions because I want, at some point, the national socialist regime to come back, Hitler to come back, take the Jews and put them in Auschwitz’. What kind of instigation is this? What incitement is this? Is it that one is not allowed to believe and want to believe that ‘I want to exterminate someone’?”

The KIS continued: “We expect Mr. Thanos Plevris to apologise to the Jewish people for this reference and express his unequivocal condemnation of intolerance, antisemitism and Holocaust denialists, conforming with the declared positions of the Greek prime minister. We also hope that the new minister will address all citizens equally, regardless of skin colour, race or religion.”
Delta wave claims lives of 500 Israelis in August
The IDF Military Intelligence Directorate warned this week that the opening of the school year was bound to lead to an increase in the coronavirus infection rate.

"There is a reasonable possibility that despite the extensive third vaccine campaign, the increase in the number of verified cases will continue to increase," it said, "which would, in turn, lead to a rise in serious cases, further burdening the healthcare system."

The task force called on the government to reassess its plans for the 2021-2022 school year based on the coronavirus situation throughout September and prepare to decrease educational activities significantly.

They further stressed that while an "artificial" increase might soon occur in the number of daily cases – due to the mass testing by parents of their children ahead of the school year – a more accurate reflection of the effects of the school year on morbidity will be known in several more weeks.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry reported that 526 Israelis succumbed to the coronavirus in August 2021 alone. Altogether since the outbreak of the pandemic, 7,043 Israelis have died of COVID.

Of the 145,868 Israelis the ministry screened for the virus on Tuesday, 10,947 (7.65%) tested positive. There are 83,542 active cases in the country, with 1,122 Israelis hospitalized. Of those, 217 are in critical condition and 172 on ventilators.

Israel has reported 1,066,352 cases since the epidemic began. Thus far, 5,974,921 Israelis have been partially vaccinated, 5,482,062 have received both doses, and 2,157,299 got their third jabs.
Palestinian killed by IDF, allegedly after trying to attack cars in West Bank
A Palestinian man was shot dead Tuesday night in the West Bank by Israeli forces, with Israeli media saying he had been attempting to start a fire next to a local highway.

Official Palestinian Authority news agency WAFA said the incident occurred near the village of Beit Ur al-Tahta, west of Ramallah, and that the soldiers “left [the man] to bleed until he was martyred.”

Israel’s Army Radio said the man was apparently shot by Israel Defense Forces soldiers during an ambush on Route 443, which passes near Beit Ur al-Tahta and is used by many Israelis on their way to or from Jerusalem.

The past week has seen many incidents in which firebombs were thrown by Palestinians at Israeli cars, the report said.

On Tuesday night, the forces saw a suspect igniting a fire near the road, shot at him and saw him flee the scene, the report said, adding that no firebomb was found.

About an hour and a half later, a man arrived at the nearby Maccabim checkpoint with gunshot wounds in his chest and leg, the report said, adding that he was apparently the man shot earlier.

Soldiers tried to give him life-saving medical treatment but ended up pronouncing him dead.
Israel must probe 'heinous' settler attack on Palestinian teen - UN Envoy
Israel must investigate the brutal assault on a Palestinian teen by right-wing Jewish extremists that took place earlier this month, urged United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland. "On 17 August, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy was attacked in the northern West Bank, during which a group of Israeli settlers kidnapped the boy, tied him to a tree, and brutally assaulted, cut and burned him," Wennesland told the United Nations Security Council on Monday. "I am deeply concerned by this heinous act and I expect the Israeli authorities to undertake a swift, thorough and transparent investigation and ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable," Wennesland told the Council when it convened in New York for its monthly meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Neither the IDF nor the police have opened an investigation into the matter. Both the army and police have linked the report of the attack to a stone-throwing incident that occurred near the evacuated Homesh settlement near the Palestinian city of Jenin, in the Samaria region of the West Bank. The army said that they had received that day a report of Palestinians throwing stones at Israelis near Homesh. Forces that arrived at the scene saw the Israelis, presumed to be settlers, chasing after a Palestinian teen. The soldiers intervened and returned the teen to his family, the IDF said. Police said they also believed the Palestinian teen along with other had been throwing stones and that there was no evidence to back up his description of the attack against him.
PMW: PA TV libel: The Jews are still trying “to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and build the alleged Temple in its place” as they did in 1969 arson
Every year, the PA commemorates the burning of the pulpit of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969. And every year the PA repeats the libel that Jews set the fire.

In fact it was a man named Michael Rohan – an Australian Christian with a mental health disorder – who lit the fire in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969.

But such facts don't matter to the PA. Every year, the PA uses the occasion to demonize Israel and Jews by claiming Rohan was a Jew, and to add fuel to its own “fire” that the PA always keeps on the backburner: The libel that Israel/the Jews are continuously trying to “destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and build the alleged Temple in its place.”

This year was no exception. In a chilling voice conveying a sense of impending danger, the narrator on official PA TV said the following:
PA TV narrator: “A disaster happened when the Jews came to burn the Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969 (sic.). The spectacular pulpit was burned in the brutal fire of hatred… Since the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967 and until now, [the Jews] have not stopped the attempts to Judaize the site, to take control of it in order to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and build the alleged Temple in its place.”

[Official PA TV, Aug. 22, 2021]

The head of the PA presidential committee for church affairs and Director-General of the Palestine National Fund (PNF) Ramzi Khouri libeled Israel in a similar way, claiming arsonist Rohan was an “extremist settler terrorist” and that Israel is still driven by the same “extremist thinking and ideology,” seeking the destruction of Al-Aqsa:
“The extremist thinking and ideology that pushed this criminal to commit what he did still exist and feed the ultra-extremist Jews who are supported by an extremist right-wing government to carry out their goal to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and build the so-called alleged Temple in its place.”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Aug. 21, 2021]

Israel Captures Ventilation Equipment Meant for Hamas Terror Tunnels
Israel’s security services were successful in thwarting an attempt to transfer advanced filtering equipment from the Hebron area to the Gaza Strip, apparently on its way to be fitted in Hamas’ terror tunnels.

Transit Authority security inspectors at the Tarkumiya crossing near Hebron exposed on Wednesday an unusual smuggling attempt of advanced ventilation systems, which were supposedly intended for the Hamas tunnel project in Gaza.

The shipment included filters, valves and even assembly instructions in Hebrew.

The equipment was seized and an investigation has been launched by Israel’s security establishment.

Israel’s combined security agencies have been successful in thwarting thousands of attempts to smuggle illicit materials and products into the Gaza Strip in the past years.

In many of the incidents, the smuggled materials and products are meant for Hamas’ rocket production program or its military build-up, including its elaborate underground city, dubbed by the IDF as the “Metro.”

No longer sacred, Hezbollah increasingly blamed by Lebanese for country’s woes
Driving back to base after firing rockets toward Israeli positions from a border area last month, a group of Hezbollah fighters was accosted by angry villagers who smashed their vehicles’ windshields and held them up briefly.

It was a rare incident of defiance that suggested many in Lebanon would not tolerate provocations by the powerful group that risk triggering a new war with Israel.

As Lebanon sinks deeper into poverty, many Lebanese are more openly criticizing Iran-backed Hezbollah. They blame the group — along with the ruling class — for the devastating, multiple crises plaguing the country, including a dramatic currency crash and severe shortages in medicine and fuel.

“Hezbollah is facing its most consequential challenge in maintaining control over the Lebanese system and what is called the ‘protective environment of the resistance’ against Israel,” said Joe Macaron, a Washington-based Middle East analyst.

The incident along the border and other confrontations — including a deadly shooting at the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter and rare indirect criticism by the country’s top Christian religious leader — have left the group on the defensive.

The anger has spread in recent months, even in Hezbollah strongholds where many have protested electricity cuts and fuel shortages as well as the currency crash that has plunged more than half the country’s 6 million people into penury.

In its strongholds, predominantly inhabited by Shiite Muslims, it is not uncommon now for people to speak out against the group. They note that Hezbollah is paying salaries in US dollars at a time when most Lebanese get paid in Lebanese currency, which has lost more than 90% of its value in nearly two years.

Protests and scuffles have broken out at gas stations around Lebanon and in some Hezbollah strongholds. In rare shows of defiance, groups of protesters have also closed key roads in those areas south of Beirut and in southern Lebanon.

Will a new Iran deal be Biden’s next folly?
While the media are decrying and dissecting President Biden’s catastrophe in Afghanistan, his Middle East staff are frantically trying to lure the Islamic Republic into the administration’s next adventure—a new Iran deal.

Now, even more so because of its Afghanistan blunder, Team Biden feels extreme pressure to pull out a foreign policy success. President Obama was operating under similar pressure to perform when he rammed through the ill-begotten Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, in 2015.

Meanwhile, on Aug. 17, while all eyes were on Kabul, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. atomic watchdog, released a report that detailed how Iran has accelerated its enrichment of uranium to near weapons-grade, posing the greatest threat to global security in a generation.

This dangerous development is merely the latest of Iran breaching the restrictions imposed by the JCPOA, which capped at 3.7 percent the purity to which Tehran can refine uranium. Iran has now enriched uranium to 60 percent, leaving it just 30 percent shy of weapons-grade material.

Unfortunately and bafflingly, despite this massive breach of Iran’s commitments as a member of the 1995 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)—as well as numerous violations of the JCPOA starting from day one—the U.S. administration still appears to believe that Iran can be a reasonable partner in honest negotiations.
US Government Recorded 33,000 Phone Calls of New York Times Writer Charged as Paid Iranian Agent
The US government was surreptitiously listening in on the phone calls of a frequent New York Times opinion contributor who now faces federal criminal charges for allegedly being an unregistered foreign agent of Iran.

The Times contributor, Kaveh Afrasiabi, pleaded not guilty in February after being arrested at his Boston-area home.

At an August 25 status hearing, a US attorney handling the case, Ian Richardson, said he was preparing to turn over 33,000 audio recordings of Afrasiabi. An August 27 letter said that in addition to the audio recordings, the government is turning over Internal Revenue Service, health insurance, and banking records.

Afrasiabi told The Algemeiner in an email that the recordings are “the sum of all my phone calls over 13 years maybe even longer, I have better things to do than to listen to my own calls to my family, friends etc. A giant waste of time.”

The federal judge hearing the case, Edward Korman, praised Afrasiabi and admonished the government for dragging out discovery in the case. “For a pro se defendant, you’ve been terrific,” the judge told Afrasiabi. “I have an assistant US attorney who is dragging out discovery to no end.”

Korman said Afrasiabi faced a “worst case scenario” maximum sentence of five years, a little over 4 years with time off for good behavior. Afrasiabi’s standby lawyer, Deirdre Von Dornum, said the prospect that Afrasiabi, who is a permanent resident of the US, could be deported to Iran if convicted, “terrifies me and Dr. Afrasiabi.”