March 6, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

International Criminal Court to Probe U.S. War Crimes in Afghanistan - Elian Peltier (New York Times)
    The International Criminal Court ruled on Thursday that its chief prosecutor could open an investigation into allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan, including any that may have been committed by Americans.
    The decision was the first by the ICC that could make American forces defendants in a war-crimes prosecution by the court.
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the ruling a "truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable, political institution masquerading as a legal body."
    He reiterated that the U.S. was not a party to the treaty that created the ICC, and that "we will take all necessary measures to protect our citizens from this renegade, unlawful, so-called court."

Amid Coronavirus, Netanyahu Asks Israelis to Use Indian Namaste Greeting instead of Shaking Hands (Press Trust of India)
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday encouraged his countrymen to adopt Namaste - the Indian way of greeting - instead of the normal handshake as a measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
    He demonstrated at a press conference how the Indians do Namaste while greeting people.

Israel Attends Anti-Terrorism Conference in Morocco - Raphael Ahren (Times of Israel)
    An Israeli official attended the Warsaw Process Counterterrorism and Illicit Finance working group in Marrakech, Morocco, on Wednesday and Thursday, in another indication of warming ties between Jerusalem and some Arab countries.
    Israel was one of more than 50 countries who are part of the Warsaw Process, which started with a meeting to "Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East " in the Polish capital in February 2019.

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Massive Swarms of Desert Locusts Invade Southern Iran - Maryam Sinaiee (Radio Farda)
    Massive swarms of desert locusts have been arriving in Iran's southern regions since late February.
    "The density of locusts in the swarms is so high that a 10 to 15-cm. layer of dead locusts forms on the ground after spraying pesticides," Reza Mir, spokesman for Iran's Plant Protection Organization, said Tuesday.

Washington Redskins Players Train with Israel Defense Forces - Trey Yingst (Fox News)
    Two NFL players from the Washington Redskins trained with Israeli soldiers on Thursday.
    Adrian Peterson and Josh Norman completed obstacle courses and took lessons in Krav Maga at Wingate Institute in Netanya, Israel, before receiving a briefing about the military landscape.
    "It's amazing to get in there and train with these guys, because they are at the top of their game at being in combat," Norman told Fox News.
    One drill that stood out to the pair required 40-pound vests and a steep hill.
    "To go through some of the training and see the focus that it takes, the mental toughness...it just gives you a different appreciation for the training they do on a daily basis," Peterson said.
    IDF Major Roy Yovulznik said, "We are proud of what we do to protect Israel and to have the opportunity to share with these athletes, that play such an empowering and physical sport, the way in which we train IDF troops."

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Archive of Secret Iranian Nuclear Documents Draws Fresh Scrutiny as Tehran Stockpiles Enriched Uranium - Joby Warrick
    A recently unearthed trove of secret Iranian nuclear documents are now being studied in major Western capitals as weapons experts seek to answer a suddenly timely question: How quickly could Iran build a nuclear bomb if it decided to do so? As the UN nuclear watchdog reported this week that Iran is accelerating its production of enriched uranium, the papers stolen from Iran two years ago by Israeli spies are offering new insight into how far Iran had already come in acquiring other critical components needed to build a nuclear weapon.
        Newly-released records from the document trove are testaments to the depth and scale of Iran's past nuclear research, showing the country's scientists racing to master key technical challenges. Summary reports provided to the Washington Post by David Albright, a nuclear-weapons analyst, show that Iranian officials were conducting scores of complex experiments across a network of secret laboratories. The results of that work are still available to Iran, giving it a head start to make a dash toward becoming a nuclear-weapons state, say U.S. and Middle Eastern weapons experts.
        The new disclosures from Iran's nuclear archives are a portrait of what "all out" looks like. Today, Iran has dramatically shrunk its theoretical "breakout" time to acquire a bomb's worth of weapons-grade uranium to less than four months, according to some independent calculations. (Washington Post)
  • U.S. to Approve Israeli Annexations within Months If Palestinians Don't Negotiate - Barak Ravid
    Jared Kushner told senators in a closed-door briefing Wednesday that the Trump administration is pressing ahead with its Middle East peace plan, even with the Palestinians boycotting the process, White House officials tell me. The administration is urging the Palestinians to negotiate, warning that its current plan will move forward without their input if they don't.
        Kushner said the mapping and demarcation process will take months, and that the Palestinians could improve the proposal by negotiating, but the U.S. will otherwise move ahead without their input. A joint U.S.-Israel mapping committee convened in Jerusalem two weeks ago to begin discussing the demarcation of areas in the West Bank to be recognized as part of Israel. The White House feels that because Prime Minister Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, his primary rival, both support the plan, it can move ahead. (Axios)
  • U.S. Pushes Back Against UN "Blacklist" of Companies Operating in West Bank
    The U.S. is pushing back against the UN Human Rights Council for its recent publication of a database of companies that currently provide goods and services to Israelis living in the West Bank. "The UN 'blacklist' is anti-business, seeks to isolate Israel, has no factual basis or legal force whatsoever, and should not be adhered to in any respect," said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Tuesday. He added that the U.S. "fully supports the U.S. companies identified on the list and encourages all U.S. businesses to continue to work with and invest in Israeli as well as Palestinian communities."
        The U.S. has had antiboycott regulations on the books for more than 40 years which prohibit U.S. persons from complying with unsanctioned boycotts. (Benzinga-Yahoo)
  • Ex-Nazi Concentration Camp Guard, Living in U.S., Faces Deportation - Debbie Cenziper
    U.S. Immigration Judge Rebecca L. Holt in Memphis has ordered the deportation of longtime Tennessee resident and German citizen Friedrich Karl Berger, 94, who acknowledged having served as a guard at a subcamp of the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg in Germany during World War II.
        After the war, Berger emigrated from Germany to Canada with his wife and daughter, and came to the U.S. in 1959. Justice Department officials said Berger came to the U.S. legally; the federal law that barred the entry of people who assisted in Nazi persecution had expired in 1957. But Berger was ordered removed under a 1978 law, known as the Holtzman Amendment, that bars anyone who participated in Nazi-sponsored persecution from entering or living in the U.S.
        "This is an important step in bringing Nazi war criminals to justice," said former U.S. congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, who pushed for the law. "We cannot forget as a nation, and this court decision shows that we are not forgetting."  (Washington Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israeli, Palestinian Officials Discuss Joint Efforts to Counter Coronavirus - Noa Landau
    Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials met Thursday to coordinate joint efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus. PA and Israeli officials agreed to cooperate on epidemiologic investigations, particularly those involving tourists who visited both Israel and the PA.
        Israeli Civil Administration health coordinator Dalia Bassa said, "We'll continue investing efforts to help the PA to eradicate the spread of the coronavirus in the territories." The Palestinian Tourism Ministry announced a two-week ban on foreign tourists visiting the West Bank after cases of coronavirus were found in Bethlehem. (Ha'aretz)
  • Purim Events Scrapped in Israel over Coronavirus
    Concerts, sporting events and parades for the upcoming Purim holiday were canceled on Wednesday as Israel's Health Ministry banned gatherings of over 5,000 people to stem the spread of the coronavirus. (Times of Israel)
  • Israeli Celebrities Not Spared from Coronavirus Quarantine
    Strict measures taken by Israeli health officials against anyone who may be at risk of contracting the coronavirus haven't passed by Israeli celebrities. The Health Ministry announced Wednesday that to contain the spread of the virus, Israelis arriving from France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Spain must enter a two-week quarantine. They include Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai who recently returned from Spain. Shari Arison, Israel's wealthiest businesswoman, recently returned from countries with the travel advisory and needs to self-quarantine.
        Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team, that recently travelled across Europe for games, has been asked to enter self-quarantine. Blue & White MK Yoaz Hendel, who last week took part in a conference in Austria on anti-Semitism, has also entered self-quarantine at his home. According to Health Ministry directives, someone in proximity to someone who needs to be quarantined does not have to enter quarantine themselves. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Israel's Response to the Coronavirus Challenge - Dr. Yoel Donchin
    16 Israelis have now tested positive for the coronavirus, with 7 more cases identified in the Bethlehem area of the PA. Israeli and Palestinian medical professionals have undergone joint training on the threat, and Israel has sent 250 test kits to the PA, with each kit allowing for hundreds of tests.
        Given the current efforts and Israel's relatively small number of entry points, and assuming the disease course follows the current trajectory with only mild or asymptomatic disease in about 80% of cases, it is likely that Israel will succeed in hindering the spread of this virus while allowing most of its citizens to conduct their lives as normal.
        The writer is the chief medical officer at Israel's Ben-Gurion international airport, a professor of medical education at Hebrew University, and former director of Israel's public emergency medical response team. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Coronavirus: For Once, Israel and the Rest of the World Are on the Same Side - Zev Chafets
    Israel is a country that has known more than its share of national emergencies. Over time its citizens have weathered Arab invasions, ballistic missiles and terror bombing campaigns. The sudden attack of coronavirus is something new. For once, we and the rest of the world are on the same side.
        In the first stages of the virus, Israel's aggressive instincts have kicked in as it has adopted emergency measures. Tourists from countries affected by the virus have been sent home. Foreigners from "contagious" nations were banned. Avoiding panic is central to the government's strategy. Officials want to contain the virus as much as possible. It appears to be working. No Israelis have yet died from corona and less than two dozen are hospitalized.
        "We are in control of the situation, thanks to the great caution we have adopted," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the country on Wednesday. "We have been forced to take very severe steps to slow the spread of the virus in Israel and that is what has happened. We have ordered quarantines and mass checkups that many other countries haven't done."
        Critics say that the hardline virus defense policy is exaggerated. But that is unknowable in advance. Risking lives to placate treasury officials, tourist agencies, business travelers or disappointed children on Purim is a step responsible officials can't contemplate. (Bloomberg)
  • Erdogan Promoting Istanbul Canal to Bypass the Bosphorus - Remi Daniel and Gallia Lindenstrauss
    Since 2011, Turkish President Erdogan has promoted the excavation of a canal between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, as a waterway parallel to the Bosphorus Strait. The straight route of the artificial canal, compared to the sharp bends in the Bosphorus, should prevent accidents and help reduce the traffic in the strait, which is used by 40,000 ships every year (more than the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal combined). The Turkish government claims it will be entitled to collect a transit toll from ships crossing the canal - a charge that is not possible in the Bosphorus.
        Opponents of the project say the cost ($20 billion according to unofficial estimates) is too great a burden on the Turkish economy. They also note that elements close to Erdogan and his AKP party have purchased land for the canal's planned route and stand to earn considerable revenues when the state buys the land. Opponents include Istanbul's new mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu. (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
  • Why Are Palestinians Dying in Hamas Prisons? - Bassam Tawil
    Essam al-Sa'afeen, 39, from al-Bureij in Gaza, was pronounced dead on Feb. 23, one month after he was arrested by Hamas security forces. Al-Sa'afeen was a member of Fatah who previously served as a PA police officer. Fatah has accused Hamas of brutally torturing al-Sa'afeen during his incarceration.
        When Palestinians die in Palestinian prisons, no one in the international community seems to care. Murders by Arabs are held to a lower standard of conduct, so international human rights organizations do not even notice them. (Gatestone Institute)
  • The Soleimani Statue in Lebanon's "Iran Garden" - Lenny Ben-David
    A large plywood cutout of Qasem Soleimani pointing toward Israel was unveiled on February 15, 2020, by Hizbullah in the southern Lebanese village of Maroun al-Ras. Iranian leaders and commanders of pro-Iran Iraqi militias are frequent visitors to the border area opposite Israel.
        In 2010, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dedicated the "Iran Garden" there, a park glorifying Iran's support for Hizbullah. The park includes a large reproduction of the Dome of the Rock shrine in Jerusalem although, ironically, the Dome of the Rock plays no role in the Shiite tradition.
        The Iran Garden also contains replicas of Hizbullah bunkers, an obstacle course for tourists, and even a paintball attraction. The writer served 25 years in senior posts in AIPAC in Washington and Jerusalem, and served as deputy chief of mission at Israel's Embassy in Washington.  (Times of Israel)

  • Israel has too many cars and not enough roads to accommodate them. Israel needs more hospital rooms to deal with the needs of its growing population. And while some high-tech entrepreneurs have gotten rich, many poorer Israelis and those in the middle class feel left behind, as is the case in many other prosperous nations.
  • But a little historical perspective is needed. Israel is only 71 years old. A century ago, Zionism was a dream dismissed as a fantasy. Even after the state was declared, smart people thought it could not survive.
  • Who could have predicted that a poor community of 600,000 Jewish souls could withstand the might of the rest of the Middle East and then, with the financial help of the diaspora, provide homes for hundreds of thousands of survivors of the Holocaust in Europe and a still larger total of Jews who were forced to flee their homes in the Arab and Islamic world?
  • For the last five decades, we've been told that Israel cannot thrive or survive in the long run without peace with the Palestinian Arabs, only to see it grow stronger and wealthier even though an end to the conflict is nowhere in sight.
  • Today, Israel has become a First World powerhouse, with many of its enemies recognizing that the nation is simply too strong and too wealthy to be destroyed. Its dramatic makeover is the envy of the world.
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