March 23, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

First Coronavirus Cases Confirmed in Gaza (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
    Gaza's Health Ministry said Sunday that two Palestinians who had traveled to Pakistan and have been held in quarantine on their return tested positive for coronavirus. It said the two men "did not mix with the residents of Gaza."
    Authorities in Gaza said 2,700 Palestinians are in home-isolation, mostly people who had returned via Egypt.
    See also Palestinian Authority Reports New Coronavirus Cases in Ramallah and Hebron (Jerusalem Post)
    The Palestinian Authority said Saturday that four new cases of coronavirus have been diagnosed, three in Ramallah and one in Hebron.

Egyptian General Dies of Coronavirus  (Jerusalem Post)
    Maj.-Gen. Khaled Shaltout, the Egyptian Armed Forces' director of water administration, died Sunday from Covid-19.

Health Ministry Phone App Lets You Check If You Were near a Coronavirus Carrier - Stuart Winer (Times of Israel)
    The Israeli Health Ministry announced Sunday the launch of a new smartphone app to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus - by enabling users to know if they were in close proximity to anyone who has been diagnosed with the virus over the previous 14 days.

Israeli President Rivlin Reads via Social Media to Kids Stuck at Home (JNS)
    In "Story Time with President Rivlin," Israeli President Reuven Rivlin read Lea Goldberg's Hebrew book Dira Lehaskir (Room for Rent) to children who are homebound due to the coronavirus pandemic, in a video posted on social media and YouTube on Thursday.
    "We'll meet again next week," the president hinted.

Citing Corona Pandemic, ICC Delays Proceedings Against Israel - Ariel Kahana (Israel Hayom)
    Fatou Bensouda, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor, announced Sunday that the decision on whether to launch a full-scale investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel will be delayed for at least a month, citing the global coronavirus pandemic.
    Bensouda was slated to file her brief on the matter on March 30.

Palestinian Throwing Rocks at Israeli Vehicles in West Bank Shot Dead by IDF  (Times of Israel)
    Late Sunday, "IDF troops spotted a number of suspects hurling rocks at Israeli vehicles driving on the highway. The troops fired towards the suspects after they hurled a rock and were preparing to hurl additional rocks. One of the suspects was killed by the fire and another was injured and escaped."
    Pictures from the scene showed a vehicle with a smashed windshield and a large rock.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran Leader Refuses U.S. Help, Citing Virus Conspiracy Theory
    Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei refused U.S. assistance Sunday to fight the coronavirus, citing an unfounded conspiracy theory that the virus could be man-made by America. "Who in their right mind would trust you to bring them medication?" Khamenei said. "Possibly your medicine is a way to spread the virus more." He also alleged that the virus "is specifically built for Iran using the genetic data of Iranians which they have obtained."  (AP-Politico)
  • German Police Raid Neo-Nazi Reichsburger Movement Nationwide
    German police have raided premises nationwide linked to an anti-Semitic, far-right movement called Reichsburger (Citizens of the Reich). Neo-Nazi propaganda and firearms were seized in the raids in 10 of Germany's 16 states. Reichsburger is estimated to have 19,000 members in Germany. (BBC News)
  • Iranian National Admits to Planning Terror Attacks in Germany - Amy Walker
    Fatah Mohammed Abdullah, 35, a British-Iranian living in Newcastle, has admitted to inciting people to commit terror attacks in Germany and buying explosive equipment. He bought more than 8,000 matches, fireworks, fuses, explosives precursors, and a remote control detonator. His intention was to help Omar Babek and Ahmed Hussein commit acts of terrorism, a Liverpool crown court heard on Friday.
        Charges state that in 2018 he encouraged others to drive a car into a crowd, attack people with a meat cleaver, and set off bombs. He also searched for guides to explosives online and tested a remote detonation system. (Guardian-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel's Coronavirus Count Reaches 1,238 - Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
    1,238 Israelis have the coronavirus as of Monday morning, with a spike in the number of cases tied to a sharp increase in the number of tests being conducted - 5,268 in the last 24 hours. 1,142 had mild cases, 24 were in moderate condition, and 24 were in serious condition. (Ynet News)
        See also Israeli Health Ministry: Measures Are Curbing New Virus Cases
    Israel is seeing success in its efforts to curb the rise in coronavirus cases after imposing a partial lockdown and increasing the number of tests, Health Ministry Deputy Director Prof. Itamar Grotto said Sunday.
        Dr. Boaz Lev, head of the coronavirus treatment team at the Israeli Health Ministry, said Sunday, "Self-isolation is very helpful and we will see the results in around 10 days. Hopefully the self-isolation will flatten the curve [of new cases] significantly."  (Times of Israel)
  • Coronavirus Crisis Increases Israeli-Palestinian Cooperation - Amos Harel
    With concerns over the spread of the coronavirus in the Palestinian territories, cooperation with the Palestinians is at its tightest ever. Israel and the Palestinian Authority understand that they're staring into this abyss together and acting accordingly. Israel also has a supreme interest in ensuring that the disease doesn't hit Gaza. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Israel Coordinates the Delivery of More Coronavirus Equipment into Gaza - Celia Jean
    Hundreds more coronavirus testing kits and 1,000 protective medical gear kits were delivered into Gaza on Friday through the Erez border crossing by the Defense Ministry's COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) unit. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Israel Can Escape Italy's Fate - Prof. Ran Balicer
    Almost 5,000 people have already died in Italy from the coronavirus and the numbers keep rising. Israel's situation is different. The correct decisions were made in a timely fashion; borders were closed, sick people were identified and quarantine protocols were issued. All these bought us an extremely valuable few weeks of time. If we now follow the quarantine directives to the letter, there's a reasonable chance we can escape the fate of Italy. The writer is a member of the Israeli Health Ministry's pandemic response team. (Israel Hayom)
  • Coronavirus Is Not a Reason to Lift Sanctions on Iran - Eli Lake
    This month alone, Iranian proxies attacked a U.S. base in Iraq, the regime denied access to international nuclear inspectors in Iran, and the commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps suggested the virus might be a U.S. biological weapon. If Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wants the U.S. to relieve the sanctions against his country, then the country's supreme leader needs to end militia attacks on Americans in Iraq, allow UN inspectors access to all of the country's nuclear sites, and stop spreading propaganda about the virus. (Bloomberg)
  • Israelis Familiar with Disruptions to Daily Life - Neri Zilber
    Missile strikes, terror attacks and sudden outbreaks of war are familiar to Israelis - along with the disruptions to daily life. The Israeli government began taking measures more than three weeks ago to halt the spread of the coronavirus, well before many Western states. Psychology and history help explain part of the response. The Jewish state is ever vigilant and always on guard.
        Bounded on one side by the Mediterranean Sea and on others by often hostile neighbors, Israel is sometimes referred to as a "terrestrial island." There are only four international border crossings and one real international airport. Some 500 km. of reinforced metal fencing and concrete walls have been erected in recent years to guard borders in the north, east and south - not including the "security barrier" that separates Israel from much of the Palestinian population.
        Like everywhere else, Israelis monitor the daily uptick in infected, ponder the economic damage of the near-total shutdown, and wonder when the crisis will end. Like everyone else, Israelis are hunkering down. The writer, based in Tel Aviv, is an adjunct fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a senior fellow at BICOM, a British think tank. (Globe and Mail-Canada)

The Significance of the Coronavirus Epidemic for Israel's National Security - Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • In spite of the potential for change that the pandemic creates, it seems that most players in the Middle East (who so far report limited damage) view it as just an imposed break and, right after it disappears, they intend to keep promoting their interests. The tensions between rival camps in the region and their attitude toward Israel are not expected to change.
  • The most affected country in the region so far is Iran and there is the main potential for change. Many in Iran believe that the dangerous reality of corona is the result of the problematic conduct of the regime. Meanwhile, the regime tries to blame the U.S. and is presenting its support for terrorist elements as useful in the fight against corona. Thus, the Iranians showed Hizbullah members from Lebanon disinfecting the streets of Qom.
  • The possibility of beginning negotiations with the U.S. on a new nuclear agreement from the point of weakness in which the regime currently finds itself is not on the agenda. Yet if it becomes clear to the regime that all other avenues of action have failed and public anger threatens to explode, it may have no choice but to consider even this possibility.
  • The Palestinian issue is completely pushed aside. The focus on the U.S. peace plan is frozen. Even if there is an increase in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority stemming from a joint interest in the fight against the virus, it is doubtful if this will have any impact on Palestinian positions regarding the conflict.
  • The enormous economic damage and the blow to the idea of globalization as an organizing principle of the international system may deepen the responsibility of each country to deal by itself with the virus and later with the need for economic revival, that will likely take time. The economic recession, the potential for growing tension between the U.S. and China, and the impact on the results of the U.S. elections may affect Israel's national security interests.
  • The tension between the need to invest in the military or in health to guarantee national security and the international economic crisis may put pressure on the military budget and affect its ability to implement long-term plans.
  • One clear way for Israel to deal with the new and complex challenges arising in the aftermath of the coronavirus epidemic is to invest in the advancement of responses to the virus and to thereby expedite its contribution as a center of scientific research to the security of the West and the U.S.

    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.