April 22, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

Syrian Refugees to Face Their Torturers in German Court (AP-New York Times)
    This week, Wassim Mukdad, 34, together with more than a dozen other witnesses, will testify before a German court in the trial of Anwar R., 57, a former member of Syria's secret police, accused of running a government detention center where Mukdad and thousands of others were tortured during the early months of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
    Human rights activists say this case marks the first time worldwide that a former Syrian official is being held responsible for serious crimes during the conflict.
    As a senior member of Syria's General Intelligence Directorate, R. is accused of overseeing the "systematic and brutal torture" of more than 4,000 prisoners between April 2011 and September 2012, resulting in the deaths of at least 58 people, federal prosecutors said.

9 Pro-Iranian Fighters Reported Killed in Syria (Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty)
    Nine pro-Iranian militiamen were killed in airstrikes on Monday night that targeted "military posts for Iranian militias" in the Palmyra desert in Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
    The slain militiamen included three Syrian nationals and some Hizbullah fighters.

Covid-19 Strikes the Syrian Economy - David Adesnik (Foundation for Defense of Democracies)
    One year ago, the Syrian pound traded at less than 600 to the dollar, whereas it now hovers around 1,300.
    In mid-March, after the regime began to implement mandatory social distancing measures, including school and business closures, local media reported increases of 40-75% in the price of groceries.
    Lockdowns in neighboring counties have also disrupted the flow of remittances from Syrians abroad, a major source of hard currency.
    The writer is director of research and a senior fellow at the FDD.

Six Lung Ventilators Arrive in Ukraine from Israel (112.International-Ukraine)
    Six lung ventilators have been delivered to Ukraine from Israel, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry reported Wednesday.

Israeli 3D-Printer Owners Make Protective Visors for Medical Teams - Ilana Curiel (Ynet News)
    Using his 3D-printer, Yehonatan Dor-On, 31, is printing protective visors. He is part of a project involving hundreds of volunteers who own 3D printers and are now printing medical masks.
    "Today we have approximately 10,000 requests for protective equipment," says project member Arbel Tamari, a fifth-year medical student.
    "We have an amazing volunteer base who help us move the equipment to clinics and hospitals - it is all based on personal acquaintance."

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Plague on a Biblical Scale: Hasidic Families in New York Area Hit Hard by Covid-19 Epidemic - Liam Stack
    In the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park, Shulim Leifer's great-uncle died of the coronavirus. Then his grandmother fell ill, as did two of his cousins. The man who lived next door to his childhood home died on a Tuesday, and by Friday the neighbor on the other side was dead. "There is not a single Hasidic family that has been untouched," said Leifer, 34. "It is a plague on a biblical scale."
        The coronavirus has hit the Hasidic Jewish community in the New York area with devastating force, killing influential religious leaders and tearing through large families. The city does not track deaths by religion, but Hasidic news media report that 700 members of the community in the New York area have died from Covid-19. (New York Times)
  • Iran Launches Military Satellite into Orbit
    The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Iran said Wednesday it had launched a military satellite into orbit, after months of unsuccessful efforts that raised the specter of outside sabotage. The U.S. says such satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. American officials, as well as European nations, worry that these launches could help Iran develop intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. (AP-New York Times)
  • Iraq Resists Iranian Pressure to Reopen Border - Alissa J. Rubin
    Iraq closed its border with Iran on March 8 to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Iran needs trade with Iraq to help stabilize its economy and wants the border reopened immediately. The dispute comes at a time of mounting pressure in Iraq to reduce Iran's influence. The coronavirus first arrived in Iraq from Iran, and only through strenuous efforts has Iraq kept its caseload relatively low, with only 82 deaths attributed to the virus by Monday. Iran is one of the world's coronavirus epicenters, with more than 75,000 cases and 5,200 deaths reported.
        In the coronavirus era, with the health of Iraqis at stake, the push to distance the country from Iran has gained broader appeal. Political observers see Iraq's resistance to reopening the border as a signal that Iraqis no longer want Iran to assume it can get what it wants from their country, when it wants. "Many Iraqis understand that there are many negative sides in this relationship that damage the Iraqis," said Yaseen al-Bakri, a political science professor at Al Nahrain University in Baghdad. "They have concerns about mentioning these things publicly. But today, the virus has given them an acceptable way to say it."  (New York Times)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel's Coronavirus Death Toll Is 187, with 14,326 Confirmed Cases
    Israel's coronavirus death toll is 187, with 14,326 confirmed cases, the Israeli Health Ministry said Wednesday morning. 148 patients are in serious condition, including 111 patients on ventilator support. 483 coronavirus patients are receiving treatment in hospitals (down from 521 on Tuesday), 2,210 are in specially designated hotels, and 4,961 have recovered (up from 4,353 on Tuesday). (Ynet News)
  • Palestinian Attacker Wounds Israeli Border Policeman near Jerusalem - Judah Ari Gross
    An Israeli Border Police officer was injured at a checkpoint east of Jerusalem on Wednesday when a Palestinian assailant rammed his car into the border guard, then got out of the vehicle and stabbed the officer before other troops at the scene shot and killed him. Police say a pipe bomb was also found at the scene. (Times of Israel)
        See also Video: Israeli Border Policeman Run Down and Stabbed (Israel Hayom-Hebrew)
  • Nazareth Hospital Director: Coronavirus Is Opportunity for Arabs to Integrate - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Prof. Fahed Hakim, medical director of Nazareth Hospital, the largest medical facility in the Arab sector, praised the Israel Health Ministry and the IDF on Friday for their assistance in combating the coronavirus. "The three departments that we built here for coronavirus patients were actually funded by the ministry. We're talking about millions of shekels. The IDF also provided us with ventilators and other equipment," he said.
        "Everyone here, including our facility, understands that this is a time of cooperation, and not a time to widen gaps....For the first time, you see that every citizen in Israel is actually involved in activities against this pandemic....More than 80% of families in the Arab sector have someone working in the health system as nurses, physicians and pharmacists."  (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Hizbullah Makes Clear It Will Strike Israel from Lebanon Even If It Is Attacked in Syria - Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira
    On April 17, three Hizbullah units, working simultaneously, penetrated the border fence with Israel at three locations. Hizbullah is pleased with its operational capability to identify key points along the border fence with Israel and damage them. Hizbullah wants to make clear that even though its ability to operate cross-border tunnels under the fence has been impaired, it is still operationally capable of crossing the fence aboveground.
        Hizbullah directly linked its "fence operation" to the airstrike on its vehicle in Syria near the border with Lebanon, affirming that its response was completely symmetrical to the Israeli move. Hizbullah's operation was aimed at warning Israel that any attack on it, even on Syrian soil, will prompt a retaliation from Lebanon. The writer is a senior research fellow at the Jerusalem Center. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Hizbullah's Corona Quagmire - Hanin Ghaddar
    At Hizbullah's urging, the Lebanese government continued to allow flights from coronavirus-stricken Iran as late as mid-March, despite calls from civil society figures and some political parties to suspend them. Even after the airport was officially closed, Hizbullah used unofficial means to bring people in from Iran.
        Unofficial sources indicate that the number of Lebanese citizens infected with coronavirus is much larger than the government is reporting, particularly within Hizbullah's core Shia community. A Guardian report cites a number of Lebanese officials stating that Hizbullah has quarantined neighborhoods in many southern towns and placed its own guards outside these areas.
        Also of concern are Lebanon's 115 border crossings with Syria, through which untold numbers of people and materiel are still being smuggled in by various actors. The writer is a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

  • Unlike every other Holocaust Remembrance Day over these past few decades, on Monday and Tuesday the gate at the entrance to the Auschwitz extermination camp remained empty. The thousands who usually visit the camp every year have stayed at home due to the coronavirus epidemic - but we will be back, strong and with our heads held high.
  • Auschwitz was here with us, in our generation, before the eyes of the entire world. Most of the world knew about Auschwitz as early as 1942, more so in 1943, and all the more in 1944, while trains filled with 50,000 Hungarian Jews to be exterminated were dispatched daily to the camp.
  • Some of the people who perpetrated these atrocities had even graduated from universities after studying enlightened German philosophers and spiritual leaders such as Goethe, Heinrich Heine, and Immanuel Kant.
  • Auschwitz was a factory of death. It was there that the cursed Dr. Josef Mengele stood, and with a glance decided who was worthy of staying alive to bolster the camp's workforce, and who was to be sent to the gas chambers.
  • This year we could not walk the same route that those sentenced to death walked so many years ago, and no rendition of the Israeli national anthem HaTikvah will be heard in this valley of Jewish suffering. Even so, every one of us knows that the memory lives on of the Nazis, who threw millions of innocents into gas chambers and planned to eradicate an entire people from the face of the Earth.
  • But it is this people, our people, who are the people of eternity and will remain so until the end of time.

    The writer, who survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, is chairman of the Yad Vashem Council and a former chief rabbi of Israel.