March 17, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

More than 32,000 Coronavirus Patients in Iran Hospitals - Maryam Sinaiee (Radio Farda)
    Radio Farda has confirmed that at least 32,000 people have been admitted to Iranian hospitals with coronavirus.
    See also Revolutionary Guard General Dies of Coronavirus (Radio Farda)
    Lt.-Gen. Nasser Sha'abani, a member of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for 37 years, died on March 13 of coronavirus.
    See also Hard-line Shiites Storm Iran Shrines Closed over Coronavirus (AP-NBC News)
    On Monday night, hard-line Shiite faithful in Iran stormed into the courtyards of Mashhad's Imam Reza shrine and Qom's Fatima Masumeh shrine, closed due to the coronavirus, Iranian state media reported Tuesday.

Concern Mounts over Coronavirus Outbreak in Syria - Mariya Petkova (Al Jazeera)
    Despite repeated denials by the Syrian government, on March 10, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported outbreaks of COVID-19 in Tartous, Damascus, Homs and Latakia provinces.
    Social media and news outlets have attributed the COVID-19 infections to continuing travel between Syria and Iran, the regional epicenter of the outbreak.

Poll: Views of Jerusalem Arabs Harden toward Israel - David Pollock (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
    From 2010 to 2015, the proportion of east Jerusalem Arabs who said they would prefer Israeli to Palestinian citizenship rose from 35% to 52%. But in a survey conducted Jan. 23-Feb. 11, 2020, this figure dropped to 15%, compared with 70% who would choose citizenship in a Palestinian state.
    The dream to regain all of Palestine persists. Like their cousins in the West Bank and Gaza, 59% of east Jerusalem Arabs prefer a five-year goal of "regaining all of historical Palestine for the Palestinians," compared with 32% who favor a two-state solution.
    Over 2/3 said "the conflict should not end and resistance should continue until all of historic Palestine is liberated."
    Around 3/4 say "any compromise with Israel should only be temporary."
    Moreover, 2/3 agree that "We should demand Palestinian rule over all of Jerusalem, east and west, rather than agree to share or divide any part of it with Israel."
    61% "somewhat" or "strongly" agree that "the Palestinians should move to a new intifada and make armed struggle their top priority."

Israeli Cybersecurity Firm Checkmarx Acquired for $1.15 Billion - Yasmin Yablonko (Globes)
    U.S. private equity firm Hellman & Friedman has bought control of Israel cybersecurity company Checkmarx in a cash deal valued at $1.15 billion.
    Checkmarx deals in application security testing designed to identify and fix security weaknesses in source code and to block security chinks in web and mobile applications.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S.-Led Coalition to Withdraw Hundreds of Troops from Smaller Bases in Iraq - Louisa Loveluck
    The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State said Monday that it will move hundreds of troops out of bases in Iraq, with most redeployed to other locations in the country, as threats from the militants wane and risks to foreign troops elsewhere in Iraq increase. Officials said the move has been planned for months and is not the result of a wave of attacks by Iran-backed militia groups, which have killed and wounded almost two dozen coalition troops in recent weeks. (Washington Post)
  • Iranian National Convicted of Violating U.S. Economic Sanctions - Adam Klasfeld
    Iranian national Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad was convicted on Monday in New York of a $115 million sanctions-evasion scheme that ran through Venezuela. Indicted in March 2018, Sadr was accused of funneling a portion of a Venezuelan construction contract through the U.S. banking system, masking Iran's identity. (Courthouse News)
  • Report: 110 Palestinian Women Held in Syrian Prisons
    The London-based Action Group for Palestinians of Syria (AGPS) revealed that the Syrian regime is holding 110 Palestinian women in secret detention, while at least 34 have been tortured to death. Former Palestinian female detainees said they were regularly subjected to intense psychological and physical torture. AGPS reported that 4,013 Palestinians have been killed so far in the Syrian civil war. (Middle East Monitor-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • IDF Seeing Decrease in Enemy Activity amid Coronavirus Outbreak - Anna Ahronheim
    There has been a decrease in hostile enemy activity targeting Israel due to the continued spread of the coronavirus, IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman said Monday.
        Areas of eastern Syria have begun reporting multiple cases of COVID-19 among the Iranian and Iraqi nationals serving in Iranian-backed militias there. Deir Ezzor 24 confirmed that Iranian militia members have died due to the virus. (Jerusalem Post)
  • IDF Readies Hotels to House Coronavirus Patients with Light Symptoms - Judah Ari Gross
    Maj.-Gen. Tamir Yadai, head of the IDF Home Front Command, on Monday said that Tel Aviv's Dan Panorama Hotel would open on Tuesday as a quarantine facility for coronavirus carriers who have only light symptoms, followed by Jerusalem's Dan Hotel (formerly the Hyatt). This will relieve some of the burden on the nation's hospitals. Two more hotel-hospitals - one in northern Israel and one in the south - were due to open in the coming days. (Times of Israel)
  • Magen David Adom Triples Call-Fielding Capacity to Deal with Coronavirus - Donna Rachel Edmunds
    Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel's medical emergency response service, has expanded its call-response capacity from 93 to 352 call-taker workstations with the addition of two new centers. Each workstation is staffed by two call-takers: a dispatcher for standard medical emergencies such as heart attacks and car accidents, and one dedicated to answering calls about coronavirus.
        In a one-hour period last week, MDA received 9,000 calls, 50% more than it normally receives in a whole day. On Wednesday, MDA received 48,000 calls. The expansion is to encourage people to first call MDA instead of appearing at a hospital or clinic where they risk infecting others, including healthcare workers. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Coronavirus and the Palestinians - Pinhas Inbari
    The coronavirus scare has captured the mind of Palestinian public opinion. There are also political concerns related to Mahmoud Abbas' health. The octogenarian receives health care that weakens his immune system.  According to sources in Ramallah, Abbas does not receive audiences, and his discussions with operatives in the field are made via telephone.
        Fatah institutions have weakened. The municipality of Jenin in the northern West Bank, for example, refused to receive a delegation from Ramallah to coordinate the popular struggle against the U.S. peace plan. Now, the entire "Popular Struggle" program is crashing, including the active participation of Europeans on Friday marches.
        On the Temple Mount, the anti-Jordanian Hizb ut-Tahrir (Islamic Liberation Party), with strong influence among many of the al-Aksa Mosque's activists, planned to send a delegation to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (and possibly the King) to request that Saudi Arabia replace Jordan as the "guardian" of al-Aksa. Then the coronavirus story broke and the matter was frozen. During the last Ramadan holiday, Hizb ut-Tahrir announced the beginning and end of the fast according to the lunar calculations of Saudi Arabia, and not those of the PA and Jordan. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Coronavirus, Europe and Israel - Prof. Eyal Zisser
    The head of the World Health Organization says Europe has become the global epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, replacing China, which is slowly recovering. Europe is particularly vulnerable. In Italy, 23% of the population is over the age of 65, with similar ratios in Spain and Germany. In Israel, on the other hand, 12% of the population is older than 65. In addition, Europe responded slowly and hesitantly to the spread of the virus, stemming from an ideology which emphasizes the interests of the individual, who is prioritized over the good of society at large.
        It appears that the Israeli way of doing things provides us with a modern Western country simultaneously capable of rallying society and state bodies toward a singular purpose, while maintaining dynamism, growth, and openness, as well as a positive natural growth rate. The writer is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University. (Israel Hayom)

Security Aspects of the U.S. Peace Plan - Brig.-Gen (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser (Fathom-BICOM-UK)
  • Compared with the extremely dangerous security plan of the previous U.S. administration, prepared by General John Allen, the new plan is much better. The Allen plan did not provide security and was going to cause inevitable bitter quarrels between Israel and the U.S.
  • In the new plan, Israel is expected to defend itself by itself and has overriding security responsibility in all the areas. It will control the crossings and the areas around the future Palestinian state. It will be able to carry out security-related operations inside the territory of the Palestinian state, according to its own decision.
  • Unlike the Allen plan, there are going to be no foreign forces involved in any security matters. Moreover, the plan recognizes that the Jordan Valley is critical for Israel's national security and therefore will be under Israeli sovereignty.
  • Yet, the plan is not perfect from Israel's security point of view. First, since Israel does not have an equivalent area to the Jordan Valley along the border between Egypt and Gaza, the Palestinian-controlled route under/over land that is going to connect Gaza and the West Bank constitutes a threat that was not sufficiently addressed.
  • Second, the review committees that overlook the security and the crossings issues have an American participant which may erode Israel's overriding responsibility, though fortunately these committees are going to be much less involved in day-to-day issues compared with the Allen plan.
  • Third, the Palestinian state may be established well before the new narrative the Palestinians have to adopt is inculcated into their culture and psychological infrastructure. The timetables in this respect are vague. We have to remember that the main obstacle to peace is the existing Palestinian narrative, and the entire plan is focused on the need to change it.

    The writer, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Research Division and director general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, is director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. This is from his presentation at the Jerusalem Center on February 9, 2020. View the video.