March 16, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

Ayatollah Khamenei: Coronavirus Likely a "Biological Attack"  (Tehran Times-Iran)
    Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Thursday that "the evidence...suggests the likelihood of this [coronavirus] being a biological attack."
    See also Iranian Ayatollah Dies of Coronavirus - Ismaeel Naar (Al Arabiya)
    Ayatollah Hashem Bathaei-Golpaygani, a member of Iran's Assembly of Experts, has died from the coronavirus, Iran's state news agency IRNA reported on Monday.
    Iran's Assembly of Experts is a clerical body that appoints the Supreme Leader.
    At least 14 Iranian regime figures have died from the virus.
    See also Report: Iran's Coronavirus Death Toll Exceeds 3,300 (National Council of Resistance of Iran)
    As of March 15, the real death toll from the coronavirus in 149 cities in Iran had exceeded 3,300.

Sudan Authorizes Direct Flights to Israel over Its Territory - Lahav Harkov (Jerusalem Post)
    Sudan has authorized direct flights to Israel from South America over its territory for the first time ever, shortening flight times.
    The move by Sudan comes after Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Sudanese leader al-Burhan in February and announced that they would take steps towards normalization.

Israeli Musicians to Perform via Streaming for Those Stuck at Home - Hannah Brown (Jerusalem Post)
    Following Saturday night's announcement cancelling all cultural events until further notice due to the coronavirus, some of Israel's finest musicians will be performing via Internet streaming for those stuck at home.
    Last November, when missile barrages from Gaza drove Israelis into shelters, musicians went to the shelters to perform.

Video Shows PA Disinfecting West Bank Checkpoint, Arab MK Accuses IDF of "Atrocity" (Times of Israel)
    MK Aida Touma-Sliman of the Joint Arab List on Friday accused the IDF of an "atrocity" by spraying Palestinians "with an unknown substance," before acknowledging the video clip of the incident actually shows Palestinian Authority forces disinfecting a West Bank checkpoint.

Hizbullah Commander Prosecuted in Austria for Terror Finance - Benjamin Weinthal (Jerusalem Post)
    Prosecutors in the Austrian state of Carinthia are about to begin a trial against an unnamed Hizbullah military leader who has lived there for 13 years, accused of financing terrorism activities.
    See also Austrian Parliament Urges Chancellor to Clamp Down on Hizbullah - Benjamin Weinthal (Jerusalem Post)

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Fresh Rocket Attack Wounds 3 American Soldiers in Iraq - Missy Ryan
    At least 25 rockets hit Camp Taji, a base north of Baghdad, on Saturday, wounding at least three American military personnel and two Iraqi troops. Two of the Americans were seriously injured. The Iraqi military said seven rocket launchers had been found in a garage near the base, along with two dozen rockets that had not been fired.
        On Wednesday, a rocket barrage on Taji killed two Americans and a British soldier. In response, the U.S. military struck targets on Friday associated with Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-linked militia. (Washington Post)
  • Lebanon's Economy Is Sinking Fast - Eric Knecht
    Businesses in Lebanon have been shutting at a rapid rate since a financial crisis exacerbated by months of political instability has brought much of the economy to a halt. Interviews paint a picture of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, with more than 220,000 jobs in the private sector shed since mid-October. The Lebanese pound has lost 40% of its value since October. (Reuters)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Hamas-Run Gaza Shuts Egypt Crossing amid Virus Crisis - Adam Rasgon
    The Hamas-run government in Gaza announced on Saturday that the Rafah crossing with Egypt would be shut to travelers in both directions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in Gaza, although 2,667 persons were quarantined in their homes. (Times of Israel)
        See also Will the Coronavirus Quiet Gaza? - Yoni Ben Menachem
    In recent days, since the coronavirus was discovered in the PA and Israel, there has been relative quiet on the Gaza border with Israel regarding the launching of explosive balloons, mortars, and rockets. Sources in Gaza say the quiet is related to the Hamas leadership's fear of the spread of the coronavirus to Gaza and the resulting dependence on Israel and Egypt in dealing with the pandemic.
        According to Hamas sources, the leadership will, therefore, keep the border with Israel calm for the near future. On March 31, demonstrations against Israel were to resume at the Gaza border; however, this is likely to be postponed. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Palestinian Authority Declares a State of Emergency - Jack Khoury
    As of Thursday, the Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank reported 30 corona cases in Bethlehem and another case in Tulkarm. The PA has imposed a total closure on Bethlehem as well as the adjacent towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. Everywhere else in the PA, schools, mosques, churches, restaurants, banquet halls and large commercial centers have been shut down. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Israel Helps Palestinians Prevent Coronavirus - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Israel is working overtime with Palestinians to curb and prevent the spread of the coronavirus, while the Arab states appear to be doing nothing at all. When the current virus crisis has passed, it is to be hoped that the Palestinians will remember that one country alone came to their rescue. (Gatestone Institute)
  • Israel Foils Hamas Attempt to Recruit Israeli-Arab - Anna Ahronheim
    The Israel Security Agency has foiled an attempt by Hamas to recruit an Israeli-Arab as a terror operative, the agency announced on Sunday. Ayia Khatib, 31, a mother of two, who engaged in humanitarian activities for Gazans in need, was arrested on Feb. 17, 2020.
        The ISA said she provided the terror group with hundreds of thousands of shekels by scamming aid organizations and innocent civilians who donated funds to help the needy. She also provided Hamas with information about the movement of Israeli military forces during one of the rounds of fighting with Gaza. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Iran's Coronavirus Cover-up - Majid Rafizadeh
    The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) have taken charge of dealing with the coronavirus by cracking down on any individual or institution that attempts to reveal accurate information about it. IRGC and MOIS agents are reportedly present at hospitals, informing medical staff what they are allowed to reveal and what they are banned from disclosing to the public. (Gatestone Institute)
  • Will Iran's Regime Survive Coronavirus? - Ilan Berman
    The upper echelons of the Iranian leadership are overwhelmingly aging and infirm, and coronavirus is exacting a deadly toll on this cohort. Moreover, coronavirus has exposed the country's ruling clerical elite as incompetent. Viral videos and social-media posts show coronavirus sufferers collapsing in the streets and Iranian healthcare workers pleading for international assistance.
        As Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute notes, in recent years Iranian religious officials have been "uncompromisingly rejecting modern medicine and promoting 'Islamic medicine' as the true science inspired by divine knowledge." Today, that policy is having disastrous consequences. The writer is senior vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council. (National Review)
  • As Coronavirus Strikes, Iran Forced to Rethink Its Proxy Wars - Amos Harel
    The economic slowdown in the wake of the coronavirus has led to another decline in oil prices. Last week Iranian oil production dropped to 150,000 barrels a day, at $30 a barrel. Tehran will have to reconsider the extent of its regional activity in light of mounting budgetary constraints. (Ha'aretz)

  • Nobel laureate Michael Levitt, an American-British-Israeli biophysicist, looked at the statistics and concluded that the spread of the coronavirus will come to a halt. At the same time, he emphasizes his support of the safety measures currently being taken and the need to adhere to them.
  • Levitt explained: "The rate of infection of the virus in Hubei province [in China] increased by 30% each day." At this rate, the entire world should have been infected within 90 days, he said.
  • But then, the trend changed. "On Feb. 7, the number of new infections started to drop linearly and did not stop. A week later, the same happened with the number of deaths....Now there are very few new infection cases." Based on the diminishing number of infection cases and deaths, he said, the virus will probably disappear from China by the end of March.
  • There are other factors at work. "In Wuhan, which had the highest number of infection cases in Hubei province, everyone had a chance of getting infected, but only 3% caught it," he explained. "Even on the Diamond Princess (the virus-stricken cruise ship), the infection rate did not top 20%." Based on these statistics, Levitt concluded that many people are just naturally immune to the virus.
  • "You need to think of corona like a severe flu. It is four to eight times as strong as a common flu, and yet, most people will remain healthy and humanity will survive."

        See also Israeli Virologist Seeks to Calm Public over Coronavirus
    Prof. Jihad Bishara, director of the Infectious Disease Unit at Petah Tikva's Beilinson Hospital, told Israel's Channel 12 that the steps being taken in Israel and abroad to respond to the coronavirus pandemic were very important, but the virus is not airborne, most people who are infected will recover without even knowing they were sick, the at-risk groups are now known, and panic is unnecessary. (Times of Israel)