March 19, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

Iranian Military Commander Killed in Syria - Yaghoub Fazeli (Al Arabiya)
    Iranian military commander Mehran Azizani was killed in Syria by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, several Iranian news agencies reported on Wednesday.
    Azizani was held captive for three weeks before he was killed.

Israel's Mossad Brings in 100,000 Coronavirus Test Kits - Itamar Eichner (Ynet News)
    The Mossad intelligence service brought 100,000 coronavirus test kits to Israel from abroad on Wednesday night, with plans to bring in millions more.

Jordan Army Closes Off Capital Amman - Suleiman Al-Khalidi (Reuters)
    Jordan's army on Thursday sealed off the capital Amman from the rest of the country as the kingdom puts its ten million inhabitants under a lockdown to try to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
    Health Minister Saad Jaber said the current number of confirmed cases in Jordan was 56.

Israel, Palestinians Cooperate to Combat Coronavirus - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    Israel and the Palestinian Authority have set up a joint operations room to combat the coronavirus pandemic, PA spokesman Ibrahim Milhem revealed on Tuesday.
    "We have been working with the Israeli authorities from day one to fight the virus," said a Bethlehem-based Palestinian health official. "Most of the measures we took in the Bethlehem area after the first cases were detected were done in full coordination with the Israeli authorities."
    The PA leadership is often criticized for promoting normalization with Israel. But "anyone who opposes cooperation with Israel in the medical field would be acting against the interests of our people," said a PA official in Ramallah.
    "This is the time to lay aside our differences and work together against the pandemic, which does not distinguish between Jew and Arab."
    Maj. Yotam Shefer, head of the International Department of the Civil Administration, said on Wednesday that in the last three weeks, "Israel delivered to the PA 400 medical kits enabling observation of the virus and 500 protective equipment kits for Palestinian medical staff and security forces as well."
    "Also, there are joint tutorials and professional medical workshops for Israeli and Palestinian medical staff."

Israeli Researchers Develop Corona Test for People without Symptoms - Celia Jean (Jerusalem Post)
    A new and more efficient diagnostic method for coronavirus was successfully tested by Israeli researchers at the Technion university and the Rambam Health Care Campus.
    The new testing method allows testing for asymptomatic people and allows dozens of tests to be carried out at once.
    "This is a remarkable example of the mobilization of an outstanding team in a time of crisis," said President of the Technion Professor Uri Sivan.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Sanctions Five Iranian Nuclear Scientists - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
    On March 16, in response to the Iranian regime's unacceptable nuclear escalations, the U.S. Department of Commerce imposed restrictions on five Iranian nuclear scientists who were involved in Iran's pre-2004 nuclear weapons program and continue to be employed by the regime.
        Iran's recent escalation of sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities underscores the serious challenge the Iranian regime poses to international peace and security. The time is now for the international community to stand together against Iran's nuclear extortion. If the world is concerned with Iran's behavior now, it should consider how Iran would behave with a nuclear weapon. (U.S. State Department)
  • U.S. Sanctions Iran's Petrochemical Industry amid Renewed Rocket Attacks in Iraq - Tal Axelrod
    The State Department on Wednesday announced new sanctions on Iran as renewed rocket attacks have been launched at U.S. forces in Iraq by Tehran-backed militias. The sanctions mainly target Iran's petrochemical industry. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sanctions will target nine entities and three individuals whose actions "provide revenue to the regime that it may use to fund terror and other destabilizing activities, such as the recent rocket attacks on Iraqi and Coalition forces located at Camp Taji in Iraq."  (The Hill)
        See also Further Sanctions on Entities Trading in or Transporting Iranian Petrochemicals - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (U.S. State Department)
  • Iran Faces Catastrophic Death Toll from Coronavirus - Shabnam von Hein
    Researchers at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran have created a computer simulation of future scenarios for the spread of COVID-19 across Iran. They concluded that in a best-case scenario - in which the government quarantines all high-risk areas, people strictly obey quarantine rules, and access to sufficient medical supplies is guaranteed - the country would reach the peak of the epidemic in one week and the death toll would exceed 12,000.
        Yet that scenario is unrealistic: The government can't impose a quarantine, people will not obey quarantine rules, and the medical supply situation is catastrophic. Accounting for those realities, the researchers estimate Iran will not reach the peak of the epidemic until late May, and as many as 3.5 million people could die.
        While as of Tuesday evening, official statistics in Iran counted 988 deaths, the World Health Organization said it believes the actual numbers could be five times higher. (Deutsche Welle-Germany)
        See also More Coronavirus Patients than Officially Announced, Iran Medical Official Says
    On Wednesday, the President of the Iran Medical Council, Dr. Mohammad Reza Zafarghandi, said that the number of people infected by coronavirus in Iran is "definitely" much higher than what the country's Ministry of Health announces. (Radio Farda)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • 529 Coronavirus Cases in Israel
    529 cases of coronavirus have been diagnosed in Israel, the Ministry of Health announced Thursday. This is an increase of 102 new cases over the past 24 hours and 192 new cases over the past 48 hours. More than 2,200 tests for coronavirus were carried out over the past 24 hours. Six Israelis are in serious condition and 13 are in a moderate condition, but there have been no fatalities. (Globes)
        See also Rise in New Coronavirus Cases Linked to Increased Testing
    The Israel Health Ministry has boosted testing for the coronavirus from 500-700 a day to around 2,200 each day on Tuesday and Wednesday, with efforts to reach 3,000 daily. (Times of Israel)
  • New Cellphone Tracking System Warns 400 Israelis Who Were near Coronavirus Carrier - Judah Ari Gross
    Israel's Health Ministry announced Wednesday that it has informed 400 people who, in the previous two weeks, were within two meters for 10 minutes or more of someone who turns out to have the virus. "In order to...accurately reach those who were in contact with a coronavirus carrier, we are starting to use technological tools," the ministry said.
        "They were informed of the date that they were near the sick person and the fact that they must enter home-quarantine immediately" in order to protect their relatives and the public. (Times of Israel)
        See also Video: How Israel Uses Geolocation Data to Fight the Coronavirus (Ha'aretz)
        See also below Observations: To Fight Coronavirus Spread, Israel Is Using Cellphone Technology - Prof. Eugene Kontorovich (Fox News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Israeli Scientist: Coronavirus Is Not Going to Kill Humanity - Prof. Shy Arkin interviewed by David Horovitz
    Isaiah (Shy) Arkin is a professor of structural biochemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, whose research has shed new light on the inner workings of viruses. He said this new virus, which is now called SARS Coronavirus 2, is incredibly similar to SARS Coronavirus 1, that was responsible for the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003 [which killed 774 people worldwide]. The thing that caused SARS in 2002-2003 is 80% identical to the thing that's causing COVID-19.
        Right now, he said, we have no drugs or vaccinations and nothing is on the immediate horizon, but this is not going to kill humanity. This is a disease that mostly afflicts the elderly. To people that are not classified as elderly, this generates a respiratory tract infection that is not very severe, and most people have very mild symptoms. But every death is a world in itself.
        Curfews are effective. In China, there have been very, very few new cases in the last few weeks. Lots of people have recovered from this virus in China. And recovery does not mean that you don't die. Recovery means you're no longer infectious, and you are not exhibiting any symptoms. Recovery means this is someone that you can go ahead and hug in public. (Times of Israel)
  • Fake News about the Coronavirus Pandemic - Roy Schulman and David Siman-Tov
    The World Health Organization (WHO) stated on Feb. 2 that the coronavirus epidemic was accompanied by an "infodemic" that could threaten public health. The pandemic provokes a wide range of emotions and fears, which are easy to exploit in order to attract attention and encourage content sharing.
        Fake news about the coronavirus may involve misinformation - the dissemination of false information - or disinformation - false information spread deliberately and maliciously, for personal gain or to cause damage to another party. Examples include accusations of concealing the number of people infected; rumors of a "miracle drug"; and blame for spreading the virus ascribed to minorities. In addition, rumors that the virus is a biological weapon are common. Israel has been mentioned in Iran as responsible for spreading the virus. (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)

  • Israel's government this week approved the use of people's cellphone location information to help battle the coronavirus epidemic.
  • This has raised serious - and legitimate - concerns about privacy and governmental intrusion in the form of unseen surveillance. Placing such sweeping data about people's movements in the hands of the government is not to be taken lightly.
  • But in an epidemic or pandemic where strong public health measures are required, some rights will inevitably be restricted. Measures like Israel's can, on balance, be a lesser evil for individual rights. If they help contain the spread of the disease, they save lives and reduce the scope and duration of far greater restrictions, like quarantines.
  • Israel is using cellphone data to find out who a coronavirus patient may have exposed to the virus when asymptomatic. The vast trove of metadata allows public health workers to see where the patient went and what other cellphone users were in the same place. Those people can then be warned, limiting their unwitting ability to pass on the virus.
  • The broad use of cellphone data to track the movements of people infringes on the privacy of individuals and should not normally be tolerated. But the particular circumstances of a contagious and life-threatening pandemic make this an appropriate response.
  • Individual rights cannot come at the expense of others' rights. Individual rights are not absolute when their exercise creates significant risk for others. That is why measures are permitted in such circumstances that would otherwise be unthinkable.

    The writer, a professor and director of the Center for International Law in the Middle East at George Mason University Law School, is also a scholar at the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem.