February 24, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

Concern in Israel after Visit by Pilgrims with Coronavirus (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
    Israeli and Palestinian authorities sought to quell fears of a potential local outbreak of the coronavirus after learning that nine South Korean pilgrims who had toured some of the most popular sites were later found to be carrying the virus.
    Israel's Health Ministry ordered anyone who was in close contact with the group to report it to the ministry and to stay at home for 14 days while monitoring their health. The Palestinian Health Ministry issued similar instructions.
    An Israeli woman who was aboard the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess tested positive for the virus after returning to Israel on Friday but was in good condition and not showing any symptoms, health officials said.
    See also Israel's Ambassador to China under Quarantine after Sharing Flight with South Koreans Infected with Coronavirus - William Zheng (South China Morning Post-Hong Kong)
    Israel's ambassador to China, Zvi Heifetz, who shared a flight from Tel Aviv to Seoul on Feb. 15 with a group of South Koreans later found to be infected with the coronavirus, has been placed under quarantine in Beijing, according to the Israel Foreign Ministry.
    A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy in Beijing said that Heifetz was seated some distance away from the group, had worn a face mask for the duration of the trip, "feels very well" and is working.

Palestinian Stabbing Attack Thwarted in Jerusalem's Old City - Josh Breiner (Ha'aretz)
    On Saturday, Israeli Border Police identified a Palestinian running while wielding a knife. They yelled at him to stop, at which point he started running towards them shouting "Allah Akbar."
    The officers responded and he was shot dead. A passerby sustained a leg injury, probably by a bullet ricochet.

Israel Police Find Seven Pipe Bombs in Palestinian Home (Jerusalem Post)
    Israel Police seized seven pipe bombs from a home in the West Bank city of Hebron during a search for weapons, a police spokesperson said. Four Palestinians at the scene were arrested.

Iran Recruits Syrian Children and Changes Their Faith - Mendi Safadi (Jerusalem Post)
    Iran is recruiting Syrian children and teenagers, and influencing their religious beliefs, through the creation of Shia missionary schools, in order to foster their loyalty to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    On the official Facebook page of the Syrian State Scouts, one can see children with photos of Iran's Supreme Leader and Iranian flags. Their shirts bear religious slogans as well as the Hizbullah flag.
    With the approval of the Syrian regime, Iran in 2011 opened primary and secondary schools that teach Shia studies on the Syrian coast and in Latakia, where there previously was no Shia community.
    The writer is head of the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Human Rights and Public Relations.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • World Antiterrorism Monitor Calls on Member States to Sanction Iran - Maria Abi-Habib and Salman Masood
    The Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based monitoring group, voted on Friday to keep Iran on its blacklist for failing to tackle terrorism financing. The FATF had given Iran a February deadline to approve antiterrorism legislation. France, Britain and Germany had tied a new channel for trade with Iran to its compliance with FATF rules. (New York Times)
        See also FATF Reimposes Countermeasures on Iran for Failing to Meet Anti-Money Laundering Standards - Toby Dershowitz
    Countries on the FATF, the global anti-money laundering body - including Russia, China, and the E3 - understood that Iran had made a strategic decision to defy FATF. Iran's Guardian Council, which screens prospective laws for fidelity to the regime's Islamist ideology, rejected legislation passed by Iran's parliament to comply with FATF's concerns. The writer is senior vice president for government relations and strategy at the FDD. (Foundation for Defense of Democracies)
  • 16 Turkish Soldiers Killed in Libya
    Forces loyal to Libyan eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar said on Sunday they had killed 16 Turkish soldiers in recent weeks. Turkish President Erdogan said Saturday, "We have several martyrs. In return, however, we neutralized nearly a hundred (of Haftar's) legionaries."  (Reuters)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Palestinians in Gaza Fire 30 Rockets at Israel on Sunday
    Palestinians in Gaza fired a barrage of 30 rockets at Israel on Sunday. Israel's Iron Dome defense system intercepted 10 rockets headed toward urban areas. (Israel Hayom)
        See also Palestinian Rocket Fire from Gaza Continues Monday (Ynet News)
        See also IDF Strikes Palestinian Islamic Jihad Targets in Gaza, Syria - Anna Ahronheim
    The IDF struck targets belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Syria and Gaza following rocket fire toward Israel on Sunday. Israeli jets struck PIJ targets south of Damascus, including a compound "used as a hub of Islamic Jihad activity in Syria," as well as dozens of targets across Gaza. The strike on the PIJ compound in Syria targeted a site where the group conducts research and development of weapons and manufactures fuel used in solid-propellant rockets. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Two Palestinian Terrorists Killed Planting Explosives on Gaza Border - Dean Shmuel Elmas
    IDF soldiers shot and killed two Palestinian terrorists trying to plant explosives at the Gaza security fence on Sunday. (Israel Hayom)
        See also Israel: Gaza Terrorist's Body to Be Held to Gain Release of IDF Soldiers' Bodies - Benjamin Kerstein
    After two Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed attempting to plant an explosive device on the Gaza border fence, the Israeli news website N12 reported that the IDF was then ordered to collect the bodies but were blocked by a group of Gazans. An IDF bulldozer then collected the body of Muhammed Ali al-Na'im, 27, a commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's Al-Quds Brigade in Khan Yunis.
        Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett explained that the body would be used as a bargaining chip to gain the release of the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, two IDF soldiers killed in 2014, whose bodies are still being held by Hamas. "What do they want - that I should send flowers to Hamas?" Bennett asked.
        Asked about the video images of the bulldozer that have been distributed online, Bennett said, "I'm fine with the pictures, we're facing a cruel terror organization that is holding our children's bodies. There is no nice way to bring our boys home."  (Algemeiner-Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Iran: The Fabrication of Democracy - Dr. Tamar Eilam Gindin
    1/3 of eligible Iranian voters voted on Friday for the Iranian parliament, many of them soldiers bused to the polls. The Guardian Council, whose 12 members are directly or indirectly appointed by the supreme leader, filtered out the reformists, including 90 serving parliamentarians. Iranians seeking change had no one for whom to vote. The writer is a scholar of ancient Persia and modern Iran at Shalem College in Jerusalem. (Israel Hayom)
        See also Iran Hard-Liners Win Election, But with Record Low Turnout - Yonah Jeremy Bob (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israelis Respond to Turkish Parliament's Condemnation of U.S. Peace Plan - Uzay Bulut
    All five parties in the Turkish parliament signed a joint declaration condemning the U.S. president's plan that actually aims to "fulfill the aspirations of self-determination for the Palestinian people." "Turkey is dominated by an Islamist president who is deeply hostile to Israel, pro-Palestinian, and more specifically supportive of Hamas," Itamar Rabinovich, Israel's former ambassador to the U.S. and Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University, told Ahval.
        Maj.-Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen told Ahval that for Jewish people, having a state in Israel is not just a "security" issue. "This is a homeland issue for Jewish people. When my ancestors returned to this land, which was then under Ottoman rule, they did not come here just for 'security.' We are not here for security only. Security is required for Jews in the diaspora. Our main aim here is to have a Jewish homeland, our ancient homeland."  (Ahval)
  • Americans Aren't So Eager to Retreat from the Middle East - Dina Smeltz and John Cookson
    According to a January 2020 poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a majority of Americans support maintaining (45%) or increasing (29%) the U.S. military presence in the Middle East; fewer than a quarter (24%) say reduce. Asked which region is most important to the security interests of the U.S., 61% of Americans name the Middle East, up from 50% in 2018. No other region comes close, including Europe (15%), Asia (12%), Latin America (7%), and Africa (1%).
        The percentage who say that Iran is the country that poses the greatest threat to the U.S. has increased from 10% to 34% since February 2019. The percentage of Americans who say that Iran's nuclear program is a critical threat to the U.S. has increased to 61% from 57% in 2019. At the same time, 2/3 of Americans say the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not worth the cost. Dina Smeltz is a senior fellow in public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, where John Cookson is research content officer. (The Hill)

  • Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander-in-Chief Gen. Hossein Salami told Hizbullah-affiliated Mayadeen TV on Feb. 17: Our "goals revolve around the collapse of the Zionist entity and the annihilation of its existence in this region. This regime constitutes the center of evil right now."
  • "This is in addition to [the goal of] ending the American presence in the region and thwarting all the policies of the United States. Our strategic retaliation will be complete when these things happen."
    See also Iran's Revolutionary Guards Wrestle with New Reality after Death of Gen. Soleimani - Erin Cunningham and Steve Hendrix (Washington Post)
  • "The assassination of Qasem Soleimani and the downing of the [Ukrainian] airliner were both shocks to the Revolutionary Guard. Soleimani was a big loss for the Islamic republic, and the downing of the airliner, it blew the Guard's entire credibility," said Prof. Saeid Golkar, an expert on Iran at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
  • The IRGC "has to rebrand and rebuild its reputation, which takes time, especially with a population that has grown critical of the Islamic republic."
  • The new commander of the IRGC Quds Force, Soleimani's deputy, Brig.-Gen. Ismail Qaani, 62, had been responsible for Quds Force operations on Iran's eastern borders, including in Afghanistan and Central Asian republics.
  • Still, analysts and officials say he lacks the ambition, charisma and strong connections of his predecessor.