May 13, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Tells Iran to Send Plane so Washington Can Deport 11 Iranians - Humeyra Pamuk (Reuters)
    The U.S. urged Tehran on Monday to send a charter plane to take home 11 Iranian nationals whom Washington wants to deport.
    Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Homeland Security Department, said Washington had been trying for months to return Sirous Asgari, an Iranian science professor who was acquitted in November of stealing trade secrets but was still in U.S. custody, and that Tehran was delaying the process.
    Iranian sources have said talks for a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Iran have been in the works for some time.
    See also below Observations: Is Iran Seeking a Historic Compromise with the United States? - Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael Segall (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Jordan's Constitutional Court Rules Parliament Can't Cancel Gas Deal with Israel - Tzvi Joffre (Jerusalem Post)
    The Jordanian Constitutional Court decided Wednesday that a natural gas deal between Israel and Jordan could not be legally cancelled, as this would be "completely inconsistent" with obligations stipulated in the peace agreement between the two countries.
    The decision was made in response to a parliamentary proposal to cancel the natural gas deal with Israel.
    In March, the Jordanian House of Representatives declared its "utter rejection" of the deal and requested that it be "canceled at any cost."

Israel to Make Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron Wheelchair Accessible - Tovah Lazaroff (Jerusalem Post)
    The IDF on Monday issued an order to enable construction to commence on an elevator at the Tomb of the Patriarchs which would make the ancient biblical site wheelchair accessible.
    While the Palestinian Authority denounced the move, the office of the IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said it was a "humanitarian" project that included an elevator and a ramp.
    At present, the only way to enter the site is by climbing a high staircase.
    The project will also provide wheelchair accessibility for the Ibrahimi Mosque located in the same building.

Covid-19 Monitoring "Cockpit" Developed for Hospitals - Shoshanna Solomon (Times of Israel)
    Israel Aerospace Industries, Microsoft and Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba have developed a supervision system that makes it possible to collect real-time data on Covid-19 patients who are on ventilators and concentrate it in a single location to make it easier for medical teams to monitor them from afar.
    The system uses artificial intelligence to gain insights, identify trends, and generate early warning signals to help medical teams better watch their patients.
    The system is able "to simulate the routine situation in which I enter the room, see the patient, and collect data from all the devices around him," said Prof. Yaniv Almog, Soroka's head of the intensive care unit for Covid-19 patients.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Secretary of State Arrives in Israel for Talks
    Secretary of State Michael Pompeo traveled to Israel on Wednesday for meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz in Jerusalem to discuss U.S. and Israeli efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as security issues related to Iran's malign influence in the region. (U.S. State Department)
        See also Remarks by Secretary Pompeo in Jerusalem
    Before meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday in Jerusalem, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: "We'll certainly talk about the challenges the globe faces with Covid....You share information, unlike some other countries that try and obfuscate and hide that information....Second, we'll get a chance, too, to talk about the [U.S.] Vision for Peace [plan]....We need to make progress on that."
        "The campaign that we have been part of to reduce the resources that the [Iranian] ayatollah has to inflict harm here in Israel and all across the world has borne fruit, it has been successful, and we're going to stay at it....Even during this pandemic the ayatollahs are using the regime's resources to foment terror across the world even when the people of Iran are struggling so mightily. [This] tells you a lot about the soul of those people who lead that country."  (U.S. State Department)
  • Doctors and Nurses Died as Iran Ignored Virus Concerns - Maggie Michael
    Interviews with more than 30 medical professionals and a review of communications by doctors on messaging apps paint a fuller picture of the extent of the disjointed Iranian response as the coronavirus spread through Iran's population. Medical workers say they were defenseless to handle the contagion. During the first 90 days of the outbreak, about one medical staffer died each day and dozens became infected.
        According to official figures, around 6,500 Iranians have died. But a report by the research arm of Iran's parliament said 11,700 may have died. In Tehran, the municipal council said it had to add 10,000 new graves to its largest cemetery, Behesht e-Zahra.
        Several medical professionals said Iran's leaders delayed telling the public about the virus for weeks, even as hospitals filled with people. One doctor said he and his colleagues were even discouraged from using protective equipment. He said government officials claimed wearing masks would cause panic. Government officials called physicians' pleas for a quarantine "medieval" and floated theories that the U.S. created the coronavirus to spread fear. The Revolutionary Guard kept health facilities under tight control and medical statistics were treated as top secret. (AP-ABC News)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Palestinian Attempts to Stab Border Policemen at Jerusalem Checkpoint
    A Palestinian assailant attempted to stab Border Police officers at the Qalandiya checkpoint north of Jerusalem, police said Tuesday. Officers at the scene opened fire and neutralized the assailant. (Times of Israel)
  • Israel's Coronavirus Death Toll Is 262
    Israel's coronavirus death toll is 262 (up from 258 on Tuesday), the Israeli Health Ministry said Wednesday morning. 61 people are in serious condition (down from 67 on Tuesday), of which 51 are on ventilators (down from 57 on Tuesday). 4,104 people are currently ill with the virus (compared with 4,312 on Tuesday) and 12,173 people have recovered (compared with 11,956 on Tuesday). (Ynet News)
  • Disagreement within EU on Sanctioning Israel over Sovereignty for West Bank Communities - Lahav Harkov
    EU member states are divided on how to respond to the possibility of Israel applying sovereignty in parts of the West Bank, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said Tuesday. "Everything in [EU] foreign policy requires unanimity, especially sanctions, and we are for the time being far away from discussing about sanctioning," Borrell said. The matter is "a very divisive issue inside the [Foreign Affairs] Council and different member states have different positions."  (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Why Syria Isn't Firing Its S-300 Missiles at Israeli Jets - Yossi Melman
    The Israel Air Force has acquired considerable experience in evading Syrian anti-aircraft batteries. Over the past seven years, Syrian anti-aircraft systems have launched 700 missiles at IAF planes. One missile shot down an F-16 fighter jet in 2018 when it was flying in northern Israel, an event which was more of an IDF error than a Syrian success. Israel shares its experience and knowledge in this sphere with its counterparts in friendly countries, including the U.S. Air Force, which also participates in assault missions in Syria and Iraq.
        Moscow has now supplied the Syrian regime with S-300 surface-to-air missile batteries. Yet after 20 months, not a single missile has been launched from an S-300 battery in Syria at IAF aircraft. The batteries have been under the total control of Russian advisers and operators, who are in charge of all the buttons, and they are not permitting Assad's army to launch the missiles.
        Another reason why the S-300 batteries are not thundering through the skies is the fear in Russia that if they are indeed activated and miss their targets, it would demonstrate the technological and operational superiority of Israel and the West, which would hurt Russian President Putin and his country's defense industries.
        In 2016, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani ordered the assassination of Mustafa Badr al-Din, one of the three supreme military commanders of Hizbullah and commander of Hizbullah forces in Syria since the beginning of the civil war. Due to the large number of casualties among his fighters (over 2,000 dead and thousands of wounded), Al-Din demanded the reduction of Hizbullah's presence in Syria. On May 13, 2016, Soleimani summoned Al-Din to a meeting at Damascus international airport. When Soleimani left the room, his bodyguards entered and shot Al-Din at short range with their pistols. (Ha'aretz)
  • New York Times Favors Palestinian Narrative on Payments to Terrorists - Gilead Ini
    On May 9, the New York Times published "Israel Cracks Down on Banks Over Payments to Palestinian Inmates." The story discusses Israeli legal measures targeting Palestinian stipends that have sent hundreds of millions of dollars to Palestinians involved in violent attacks against Israelis, and to the families of suicide bombers and other terrorists. Many see the payments as incentivizing anti-Israel violence.
        The piece is loaded with emotional messages from Palestinians about the "occupation's tyranny, the "prisoners of freedom" who "have sacrificed their lives in the darkness of prisons," and the supposed "rights of the prisoners and martyrs." IDF Brig.-Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser has noted that "while ordinary prisoners, such as car thieves, do not receive a salary, every person committing acts of terror is on the PA payroll."
        While the article quotes the Palestinian position that the stipends are "vital welfare" payments, they don't bother to point out a World Bank report saying, "The level of resources devoted to the Fund for Martyrs and the Injured does not seem justified from a welfare or fiscal perspective." It isn't until paragraph 19 of 21 that readers encounter the first quotation from the Israeli side of the debate. (CAMERA)

Is Iran Seeking a Historic Compromise with the United States? - Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael Segall (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • On May 8, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei tweeted to mark the birthday of Imam Hassan (the Second Imam): "I believe that Imam Hassan was the greatest hero in the history of Islam....He was prepared to sacrifice himself, along with his good name among his comrades, to further his goals, and he agreed to peace for the sake of the future of Islam."
  • In 2013, in the midst of the negotiations on the nuclear deal, Khamenei coined the term "heroic flexibility," which also appears in the book he later wrote under the title, The Peace of Imam Hassan: The Most Wonderful Heroic Flexibility in History. Khamenei's allusion to Imam Hassan's "heroic flexibility" was seen as a green light to promote the nuclear deal, which was eventually signed in 2015.
  • Some claimed that Khamenei's tweet signaled that Iran, which is in very poor economic straits amid the sanctions and the coronavirus crisis, is (again) seeking a compromise with the United States, possibly on the nuclear issue.
  • The coronavirus crisis has greatly exacerbated Iran's economic distress because of the dramatic decline in oil prices and the United Arab Emirates' closing of its ports to Iran to prevent the spread of the virus. Iran had been using some of those ports to circumvent the sanctions.
  • Despite its difficult situation at home and abroad, Iran continues to adhere to the key objectives of its strategy: to advance the nuclear program and to expand its regional influence through subversion in the Persian Gulf, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon.
  • Even if he allows a period of calm between Iran and the United States, Khamenei will not want to be remembered as someone who gave in to America, and he will keep adhering to Iran's basic objectives.

    The writer, an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, is a senior research fellow at the Jerusalem Center.

Daily Alert was prepared for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations from May 3, 2002, to April 30, 2020.
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