March 5, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

Coronavirus in Iran Is Far Worse than Reported - Erin Cunningham (Washington Post)
    The coronavirus outbreak in Iran has infected two dozen members of parliament and at least 15 other current or former top figures, according to official reports.
    A dozen hospitals in Tehran have reported 80 deaths from the coronavirus during the six days ending Wednesday, a small fraction of the total.
    Five nurses reached by telephone in Tehran and Mashhad reported an increasing number of cases not included in official figures.
    See also Coronavirus Kills the "Butcher" of Tehran - Netta Bar (Israel Hayom)
    Senior Iranian official Mohammad Haj Abolghasemi, 71, has been killed by the coronavirus, Iran's Tasnim news agency reported Wednesday.
    Abolghasemi was an intelligence officer and battalion commander in the Basij - the paramilitary wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards.
    Websites affiliated with Iran's exiled opposition celebrated Abolghasemi's death, calling him a "butcher" and a "hangman" due to the role of the Basij in brutally suppressing popular countrywide protests over the past year.
    See also Coronavirus Has Spread to Nearly All Iran Provinces - Babak Dehghanpisheh (Reuters)

U.S. Not Planning to Provide Ammunition to Turkey for Syria Campaign - Jack Detsch (Al-Monitor)
    The U.S. will not provide fresh supplies of ammunition to Turkey for its ongoing offensive in Syria's contested Idlib province.
    The State Department's special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. would provide fresh supplies of ammunition to Ankara.
    But a State Department official later clarified to Al-Monitor, "On Ambassador Jeffrey's comments in Turkey today regarding equipment and assistance for the Turkish government, there is nothing particularly new here as he was talking in the context of what we are already doing."

Egypt Executes Top Militant (Reuters-New York Times)
    Top Egyptian militant Hisham al-Ashmawy was executed on Wednesday following his conviction over several high-profile attacks.
    Ashmawy, a former Egyptian special forces officer, led the Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis before it pledged allegiance to Islamic State in 2014.
    He then moved with a group of followers to Egypt's Western Desert, later crossing into Libya to join the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia.
    Ashmawy was convicted on several charges including plotting a 2014 attack that killed 22 military guards, and the attempted assassination of a former interior minister in 2013.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • UN Nuclear Chief to Iran: Cooperate or Face New Crisis - John Irish
    International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi said Tuesday, "We have been requesting some information and access from Iran but we haven't been getting the information we require....What this means is that Iran is curtailing the ability of the agency to do its work."
        "I sincerely hope that Iran will listen to us and listen to the voice of the international community at the board of governors and assess that it is in their own interest to cooperate with us. We don't have a political agenda; we simply are requesting them to comply with their obligations. We will be walking towards a crisis (if not)."
        After Iran failed to answer the IAEA's questions about past nuclear activities at three sites and denying it access to two of them, Grossi said, "These sites have been judged by our technical experts as indispensable for us to visit to provide the necessary guarantees that nothing is happening which shouldn't be happening there."  (Reuters)
  • Translator Accused of Revealing U.S. Secrets to Hizbullah - Adam Goldman
    Mariam Taha Thompson, 61, who worked as a translator for the U.S. military in Iraq, was charged on Wednesday with providing highly classified information to a Lebanese man with ties to Hizbullah. Prosecutors said she revealed the names of foreign informants and details of the information they provided to the U.S., endangering their lives as well as those of military personnel.
        The recruitment of a military contractor with access to such important secrets shows the strength of the intelligence operations of Iran and its proxy forces. American officials have long warned that Tehran's intelligence work should not be underestimated. (New York Times)
        See also Defense Department Linguist Charged with Espionage (U.S. Department of Justice)
  • Syrian, Turkish Armies Clash in Idlib - Suzan Fraser
    Two more Turkish soldiers were killed and six were wounded Wednesday in a Syrian government attack in Syria's Idlib province. (AP)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Report: Israel Hits Hizbullah Weapons Shipment in Syria - Dean Shmuel Elmas
    Arab media reported that Israeli planes attacked targets early Thursday in Homs and Quneitra in Syria. Reports said targets included a missile shipment earmarked for Hizbullah in Lebanon, as well as Syrian army bases and a military airport used by Hizbullah. (Israel Hayom)
  • Final Election Count Leaves Netanyahu Bloc with 58 Seats - 3 Short of a Knesset Majority
    With 99.9% of the votes counted from Monday's Knesset elections, Prime Minister Netanyahu's bloc has 58 seats - three short of a 61-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Netanyahu's Likud has 36 seats, Blue and White has 33, Joint Arab List 15, Shas 9, United Torah Judaism 7, Labor-Gesher-Meretz 7, Yisrael Beitenu 7, and Yamina 6. (Globes)
  • Israel Widens Coronavirus Rules
    Israel on Wednesday announced a series of new measures to curb the spread of coronavirus. All Israelis returning from France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland were instructed to enter self-quarantine for a period of 14 days. Foreign citizens arriving from those countries will not be allowed into Israel. Gatherings of over 5,000 people will not be permitted, and Prime Minister Netanyahu advised Israelis to avoid shaking hands. (Times of Israel)
  • Four Cases of Coronavirus Confirmed in Palestinian Authority
    Four hotel staff members in the West Bank city of Bethlehem were diagnosed with coronavirus after being infected by Greek tourists, the Hebrew daily Israel Hayom reported Thursday. (i24News)
        See also Palestinian Authority Bars Tourists from Bethlehem due to Coronavirus - Fadwa Hodali
    The Palestinian Authority barred tourists and closed all mosques and churches in Bethlehem for the next two weeks after identifying cases of coronavirus in a Bethlehem hotel. (Bloomberg)
  • U.S., Israel Joint Missile Defense Drill Cancelled due to Coronavirus - Anna Ahronheim
    The bi-annual Juniper Cobra missile defense exercise between the IDF and the U.S. Europe Command (EUCOM) was suspended on Wednesday over fears of the coronavirus. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • UAE an Example of a Successful Mideast Nuclear Deal - Yousef Al Otaiba
    On March 3, the UAE announced it had finished loading fuel into Unit 1 of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant. When all four units become operational, the plant will provide 25% of the UAE's electricity. Ten years ago, the U.S. and UAE signed the strongest bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement in history. The UAE pledged to forgo domestic enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear material. It acceded to the IAEA Additional Protocol, allowing for short-notice inspections of any nuclear facility at any time.
        The UAE's voluntary commitments significantly exceed those extracted from Iran. The international community should insist on Iran signing on to the same voluntary commitments as the UAE. The writer is the United Arab Emirates' ambassador to the U.S. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Israeli Election a Reminder of the Absence of Democracy under the PA and Hamas - Khaled Abu Toameh
    The Palestinians are the only people in the Middle East who do not have a functioning parliament. The Hamas coup in Gaza in 2007 led to a split with the West Bank that has effectively paralyzed the Palestinian parliament ever since. In 2018, Abbas said he would hold elections within six months but has not fulfilled his promise. The absence of parliamentary life for the Palestinians has been highly convenient for Abbas, who continues to demonstrate zero tolerance towards his political rivals and critics.
        At the same time, Arab members of the Knesset in Israel are free to say whatever they wish about the Israeli government and its policies without giving a single thought to possible repercussions. If the Arab Knesset members were living under the Abbas regime, the likely scenarios would be arrest or worse.
        The Palestinian members of the PA parliament can only envy their Arab colleagues in Israel for the existence of free elections and for the exceptional freedom that Arab citizens of Israel enjoy. For the Palestinians, each Israeli election serves as a sad reminder of the catastrophic failure of Palestinian leaders and the complete absence of democracy under the PA and Hamas. (Gatestone Institute)

  • Senior White House advisor Jared Kushner on Thursday briefed a bipartisan group from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the U.S. Middle East peace plan.
  • Kushner argued that the status quo is broken and something else has to be tried. He added that the lingering Israeli-Palestinian conflict is used as a pretext for more radicalization in the Middle East.
  • He said the White House wanted to use the plan to bring Israel and the Arab and Muslim worlds closer together. He also presented a list of reforms he said the Palestinians must undertake to achieve statehood and reduce the risk of creating a failed state.
  • A White House official slammed the Palestinian response to the plan, saying, "It has exposed the Palestinian leadership who is defending the status quo. We are moving the debate to discussing the technical challenges and the details as opposed to romanticizing about things that people know will never happen."
  • Kushner's PowerPoint presentation notes that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.