February 27, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

Iran Clerics Encourage Superstition in Response to Coronavirus (Radio Farda)
    While the Iranian public has been demanding the closure of the holy shrine of Masoumeh in Qom out of concern for the coronavirus epidemic, the shrine's superintendent, cleric Mohammad Saeedi, insists that people should visit the shrine to seek a cure for coronavirus.
    Saeedi's office says the architecture of the shrine and its metal ornaments strongly protect everyone against viruses.
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on TV that the situation will be normal by Saturday. He ruled out imposing a quarantine on Qom at a meeting in Tehran on Wednesday, insisting that the coronavirus is a Western conspiracy to shut down the economy in Iran.
    In the meantime, groups of people have been taking part in ritualistic processions, beating on huge drums and self-flagellating in a bid to ward off the virus.

Saudi Arabia Suspends Pilgrimages to Mecca over Coronavirus - Zaid Sabah (Bloomberg-TIME)
    Saudi Arabia temporarily halted religious visits to Mecca and Medina to help prevent the spread of coronavirus into the country.

Israel Sells 150 Drones to European Country - Seth J. Frantzman (Defense News)
    Israeli company Bluebird Aero Systems has sold more than 150 vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) drones to an unnamed European country in a deal worth "tens of millions of euros," the company announced Tuesday.
    The customer will incorporate the UAVs into infantry, armored, artillery and special forces units.
    The commander of the ground forces of the country said the VTOL solution will enable "high operational flexibility and provide invaluable real-time intelligence and situational awareness."

The Fortunate Arabs in the Middle East - Bassam Tawil (Gatestone Institute)
    The two million Arab citizens of Israel have become the subject of envy by their Palestinian brothers in the West Bank and Gaza.
    An example can be seen in Arraba, a town of 26,000 located in the Galilee.
    "There are 400 physicians in Arraba," said Dr. Tarek al-Sa'di, an internist from the town working at Rambam Hospital in Haifa. "Arraba has the highest number of physicians [per capita] in the world."
    Plastic surgeon Yusef Nassar, also a resident of Arraba, remarked: "I have several clinics all over the country. Who comes to my clinics? From many cities and villages, Jews and Arabs alike."
    Saeed Yassin, a veteran family physician from Arraba, is the father of three physicians - two boys and a girl. "I also have two other sons who are pharmacists," he said.
    The residents of Arraba note that the number of female physicians in the town is higher than that of males.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • World Powers Express "Serious Concerns" about Iran's Nuclear Program - Philipp Jenne
    The world powers that remain party to the nuclear deal with Iran expressed "serious concerns" on Wednesday after talks in Vienna about Tehran's violations of the pact, while acknowledging that time was running out to find a way to salvage it. The top EU official for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, said, "Serious concerns were expressed regarding the implementation of Iran's nuclear commitments under the agreement."  (AP-Washington Post)
  • U.S. Blacklists Lebanese Companies with Ties to Hizbullah - Mengqi Sun
    The U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday blacklisted three Lebanese officials and 11 entities linked to the Lebanon branch of the Martyrs Foundation, a group the U.S. designated in 2007 as supporting terrorism. The Martyrs Foundation makes payments to families of killed or imprisoned Hizbullah fighters and families of suicide bombers from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Canada Backs Israel in ICC Challenge - Ron Csillag
    Canada submitted a letter to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Feb. 14, saying that the court has no jurisdiction in the case now before it regarding Israel. "Canada's long-standing position is that it does not recognize a Palestinian state and therefore does not recognize the accession of such a state to international treaties," Guillaume Berube, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, told CJN. "In the absence of a Palestinian state, it is Canada's view that the (ICC) does not have jurisdiction in this matter under international law."  (Canadian Jewish News)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Seizes $4 Million in Iranian Terror Money Sent to Hamas - Anna Ahronheim
    Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett signed an order Thursday to seize $4 million in funds transferred from Iran to Hamas. The funds are "intended to develop terror infrastructure belonging to Hamas in Gaza, including the production of weapons as well as payments to the organization's operatives," the ministry said. The order targets the Elmhadon Gaza money exchange company owned by Zuhir Shmalach. Shmalach replaced Hamed Ahmed Abed Khudri who was killed in a targeted strike by Israel in May.
        "We are in an extensive economic campaign against terror activities around the world and we will pursue anyone who harms us, in order to make killing Israelis an unprofitable business," Bennett said. (Jerusalem Post)
  • European Jewish Group Unveils Plan to Counter Anti-Semitism amid Rise in Attacks - Jacob Magid
    The European Jewish Association unveiled a plan to counter anti-Semitism at its annual conference on Tuesday in Paris. The plan calls on all European countries to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism; to appoint a special envoy on combating anti-Semitism; to mandate schools include lessons on anti-Semitism; and to legislate bans on anti-Semitic symbols in public, including Nazi imagery.
        The organization's chairman, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, said, "After 20 years dealing with this subject, I've come to the understanding that no matter how many schools we visit, and no matter how many delegations we bring to Auschwitz, it's all just a drop in the bucket. Therefore we realized that the way to fight anti-Semitism is to pass on the responsibility to European governments."
        In the early 2000s, when anti-Semitism began to intensify in Europe, some community leaders sought to distance themselves from Israel, not wanting to be equated to the Jewish state, which was becoming increasingly unpopular among their non-Jewish neighbors, particularly Muslim immigrants. "But now, everyone knows that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism," said Margolin. (Times of Israel)
        See also Survey: 1 in 5 Europeans Says Secret Jewish Cabal Runs the World - Cnaan Liphshiz
    In a survey among 16,000 Europeans from 16 countries, 1/5 agreed that a secret network of Jews influences global political and economic affairs. The same number agreed that "Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own needs." The survey was presented Monday at a conference about anti-Semitism organized in Paris by the European Jewish Association. (JTA)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The Arab World Has Been Brainwashed with Anti-Zionist and Anti-Israel Rhetoric
    On Feb. 12, 2020, French-Moroccan Professor Youssef Chiheb told France 24 Arabic TV: "Israel is not an enemy of Morocco. Furthermore, in the past, it provided some intelligence services....The Arab world has been brainwashed with anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli rhetoric. But the world has changed and so has the balance of power in the Middle East. Other dangers have risen....The Arab way of thinking towards Israel has become archaic. Israel must be dealt with as an existing state."
        Q: "So the Palestinian cause is over?"
    Chiheb: "The Palestinian cause is between the Palestinians and Israel."
    Q: "For many years, the Palestinian cause has been the number one cause of the Arabs."
    Chiheb: "It was in the old days, but it's over. It was part of the common tune, but all the Arab regimes have used the Palestinian cause for domestic purposes. No Arab leader has offered any solution for the Palestinians."  (MEMRI-TV)
  • Palestinian Fantasy Blocks Mideast Peace - Nolan Finley
    The new U.S. peace plan is actually more honest and realistic than its predecessors. It should be the blueprint for Israel and the Palestinians to finally become peaceful, prosperous neighbors. But it will go nowhere because the Palestinians still cling to an all-or-nothing fantasy which has them ruling "from the river to the sea," with the Jews driven away.
        "Peace may have to wait for a new generation, new leadership," says former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Danny Ayalon, who spoke over the weekend to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. "At this point, Palestinians continue to claim the entire land. They still teach their children that the whole land is theirs, and they're going to get it."  (Detroit News)

Iran Sends Proxies to Fight in Last Syrian Rebel Province - Carmit Valensi, Neta Nave, and Ofek Mushkat (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
  • Since January, Iran has been beefing up forces in Syria's rebel Idlib province, including units from Hizbullah and other Shiite militias. After the targeted killing of Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, Iran wants to relay a message of continued support for Bashar al-Assad, and quash assessments that it intends to reduce its forces and intervention in Syria. It is also possible that Iran wants to redeploy its forces to areas in northern Syria like Idlib in order to reduce potential harm to them from Israeli attacks.
  • The Iranian intervention in Idlib might also be predicated on the assumption that completing the operation there will free up the regime to clean up the area in eastern Syria and thus accelerate the evacuation of American forces there. On Jan. 30, Ali Akbar Velayati, adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said: "The Syrian government and its allies from the resistance front will go from Idlib to the eastern Euphrates to expel the Americans."
  • The Assad regime's main ally in Idlib has been Russia, which has provided broad military and logistical assistance to Syrian military forces. The Russian interest is to end the war in Syria, reduce expenses, and hand full control of the country over to Assad. In addition, Russia has an interest in restoring control of Idlib to the Syrian regime due to its proximity to Latakia, site of the Russian airbase of Khmeimim, which has been hit more than once by fire from local rebels.
  • Until recently, Russia and Syria were satisfied with Iranian abstention from the Idlib campaign, given their interest in lowering the Iranian profile and the Assad regime's dependence on Iran. Yet with the military campaign bogged down and with the growing need to restrain and counter-balance Turkey, the door has opened to Iranian involvement.

        See also Syrian Government Forces in Full Control of Southern Idlib
    Russian-backed Syrian government forces have seized full control of southern Idlib province after fresh advances against rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Thursday. Government forces have seized 60 towns and villages in southern Idlib and the adjoining province of Hama in the last three days. (Reuters-New York Times)