January 25, 2021

In-Depth Issues:

Israeli HMO Says Coronavirus Infections Have Plunged among Vaccinated Over-60s - Harry Howard and Chris Jewers (Daily Mail-UK)
    KSM, the Research and Innovation Center for Israel's Maccabi HMO, on Friday said new coronavirus infections had plunged 60% among people aged over 60 who had been vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine.
    Analyzing data of more than 50,000 patients aged over 60, they found that hospitalizations in the group had also plunged by more than 60%.

With Iran Nuclear Deal Likely, Israel Puts All Options Back on the Table - Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)
    Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, former head of Israel's National Security Council, said last week:
    "In a situation where the United States returns to the old nuclear agreement with Iran, Israel will have no choice but to act militarily against Iran to prevent it from manufacturing a nuclear weapon."
    "If it turns out that the American moves make it possible for the Iranians to move closer to a bomb, the military option must be better prepared. There's no need to hurry too much, but Israel has to preserve its freedom of decision and freedom of action."

Israel Allows U.S. to Deploy Iron Dome Missile Defense in the Gulf - Yaniv Kubovich (Ha'aretz)
    The U.S. is expected to soon begin deploying Israeli-made Iron Dome missile interceptor batteries in its bases in the Gulf States with the approval of senior Israeli officials, Israeli defense sources say.

Social Media Sees Drop in Arab Objection to Normalization with Israel (Jerusalem Post)
    Arab social media witnessed a 20% decline in negative attitudes towards normalization with Israel during the past four months, Israel's Strategic Affairs Ministry reported.
    The amount of online objection to the Abraham Accords dropped from 94% in summer 2020 to 75% in November 2020.

At Least 15 Wounded in Gaza Weapons Explosion - Jack Khoury (Ha'aretz)
    At least 15 people were wounded Saturday in an explosion in a house in Beit Hanoun in Gaza.
    IDF spokesman in Arabic Maj. Avichay Adraee wrote on Twitter that "this house, like many others in Gaza, was turned into a storehouse for weapons, ammunition, rockets and military equipment for terror organizations, with innocent residents being the ones who eventually pay the price."

Israel Providing Diver Detection Sonar System to NATO Country - Eyal Boguslavsky (Israel Defense)
    Israeli company DSIT Solutions, which specializes in underwater security solutions based on advanced sonar and acoustics technologies, announced Thursday that it will supply an unidentified NATO country with its fully automatic PointShield Portable Diver Detection Sonar (PDDS) system.
    The system secures nuclear power facilities, underwater pipelines and cables, naval bases, ports, offshore platforms, and oil and gas terminals, as well as ships of all sizes.
    DSIT VP Hanan Marom said their systems deliver "a high level of precision and reliability, with a minimum false alarm rate....About 100 systems of this type are in use around the world."

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. to Work with Israel to Build on Normalization Deals
    U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke by phone on Saturday evening with Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben Shabbat. They discussed opportunities to enhance their bilateral partnership, including by building on the success of Israel's normalization arrangements with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. Sullivan confirmed the U.S. will closely consult with Israel on all matters of regional security. He also extended an invitation to begin a strategic dialogue in the near term to continue substantive discussions. (White House)
  • Middle East Leaders Praise "Maximum Pressure" Campaign on Iran - Abigail Ng
    "We are still in favor of maximum pressure [on Iran] - absolutely," said Omar Ghobash, the UAE's assistant minister for culture and public diplomacy. "Was it successful? We think it will succeed," he told CNBC on Sunday.
        "We thought that the maximum pressure policy with regard to Iran was very productive," said Israel's Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. "Iran was weakening, Iran [had] to reduce its military-force building and also its support to some terrorist organizations like Hizbullah," he said Wednesday. "The only thing that [works] with Iran is economic pressure, combined with a valid military threat." He noted that the regime agreed to negotiate with the Obama administration only after punishing sanctions were introduced. "Iranian nuclear capability should not be only frozen, but dismantled," he said, adding that this is about the safety of the "entire world."
        Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem, said Thursday, "It is the only thing that will work. Anything else is a capitulation....That's the only policy that's shown any signs of working."  (CNBC)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Opens Embassy in UAE - Lahav Harkov
    Israel officially opened its embassy in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday as Ambassador Eitan Na'eh arrived in Abu Dhabi. Earlier Sunday, the UAE cabinet approved the opening of an embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv. The Israeli embassy in Bahrain has been open for several weeks. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Coronavirus in Israel: Cases Down, Ventilated Patients Up, as Vaccination Continues
    The Israel Health Ministry said Monday that 1,878 patients are currently hospitalized with Covid-19, of whom 1,140 are in serious condition, including 358 who are ventilated, the highest figure since the start of the pandemic. 4,868 new cases were diagnosed on Sunday. The death toll reached 4,419 after 57 people passed away on Sunday. At the same time, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said more than a million Israelis have received the second dose of the vaccine, with 193,000 people vaccinated on Sunday. (Ynet News)
        See also UK Corona Strain Seen to Cause More Serious Illnesses - Stuart Winer
    Israel's coronavirus czar, Nachman Ash, said Monday that mutated Covid-19 strains brought in by travelers are hampering efforts to contain the disease outbreak. Officials estimate 40-50% of new cases are caused by the British variant. The British government has said the strain may cause 30% higher mortality. The mutations "are setting us back in dealing with the disease," Ash said, leading to a closure of Ben-Gurion Airport.
        Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health, said "the vaccine works against the British mutation but the virus infection rate is much faster than the vaccine rate."  (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Peres Center for Peace Chairman Chemi Peres: Palestinians Need to Rethink the Way They Treat Israel - Daniel Estrin
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promoted: "peace for peace," a rejection of the traditional paradigm of land for peace. He says the UAE deal sets a precedent: Israel doesn't need to cede land to the Palestinians in order to win friends in the Arab world. In the Persian Gulf, a new generation of Arabs is less consumed by the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
        "This is a model of how the peace needs to be with the Palestinians. Mutual respect and acceptance...looking forward to doing business together and living together," said Israeli investor Simcha Fulda after business meetings in Dubai.
        "I think that the Palestinians need to rethink the way they treat Israel," said Chemi Peres, son of the late Israeli President Shimon Peres, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for peace efforts with Palestinians. Peres' son runs the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, which is prioritizing Israeli business ties with the Emiratis, an approach he wants Palestinians to adopt in forging peaceful ties with Israelis.
        "Their point of view has been, let's first solve the political issues and then we can start normalizing things and move forward. I believe those days are gone," Peres said. "I believe that the only way for us to really, really achieve peace, comprehensive peace, and save the region from backwardness, is to focus on moving forward together."  (NPR)
  • Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman Looks Back - Ariel Kahana
    After four intense years, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman sat down with Israel Hayom for an "exit interview." "There are so many things that we've done that nobody really knows about," he said. Friedman described how former British Prime Minister Theresa May told Israel that the "White Helmets" who rescued civilians during the Syrian civil war were in danger of being massacred by the Syrian military. "It was very complicated. In the end, we were there at the border one night. Israeli soldiers met the White Helmets, who were with their wives and children, and were waiting with baby formula and blankets."
        "I think we all want to see a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but we want to see it done on the basis of just a dispute between two people with competing claims to territory that should be resolved as disputes get resolved, not that one side is an illegal occupier and the other side is a perpetual victim."
        "We left the Middle East in a pretty good place. Normally, you come into office and the Middle East is always on fire. This time, it's not. I would say, this is not where you ought to be focusing your attention. This is not where I would be trying to bring change. This is one of the few places in the world where change is going to be counter-productive."  (Israel Hayom)

The Case Against the Iran Deal - Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi (Atlantic)
  • Proponents of the Iran nuclear agreement say Iran is closer today to producing a bomb than it was in 2015. Only the deal's renewal, they insist, can prevent the nightmare of a nuclear Iran. Why, then, aren't Israelis and Arabs - those with the most to lose from Iranian nuclearization - also demanding a return to the JCPOA? The answer is simple: The JCPOA didn't diminish the Iranian nuclear threat; it magnified it.
  • The JCPOA allowed Iran to retain its massive nuclear infrastructure, unnecessary for a civilian energy program but essential for a military nuclear program. The agreement did not shut down a single nuclear facility or destroy a single centrifuge. The ease and speed with which Iran has resumed producing large amounts of more highly enriched uranium illustrates the danger of leaving the regime with these capabilities. The deal allowed the regime to develop advanced centrifuges capable of spinning out more highly enriched uranium in far less time. Less than a decade from now, Iran will be legally able to produce and stockpile enough fissile material for dozens of bombs. Breakout time would be a matter of weeks.
  • In a recording obtained by Israel and shared with the U.S. in 2008, nuclear weapons program head Gen. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps explained that Iran's secret efforts had in fact continued after 2003 and that Iran intended to initially produce five nuclear warheads. Three years ago, Israel exposed Iran's secret nuclear archive, confirming that Iran's nuclear-weapons program did not stop in 2003 but was merely split into overt and covert channels. Fakhrizadeh stated that the goal was to maintain "special activities...under the title of Scientific Development" that "leave no identifiable traces."
  • With its sunset clauses, the JCPOA merely postponed the outcome of Iran becoming a global nuclear power, while rewarding Iran extravagantly. The JCPOA infused the Iranian economy with tens of billions of dollars in immediate sanctions relief and trade deals and promised to provide hundreds of billions more. Yet rather than invest in its decaying infrastructure, the regime used portions of this windfall to expand its international terror network, enhance the offensive capabilities of Hamas and Hizbullah, and further assist the Syrian regime in massacring and uprooting its own people. Rather than buying Iran's moderation, the JCPOA helped fund its quest for regional hegemony.
  • The Obama administration seemed to genuinely believe that Iran was capable of change. If it were treated respectfully and reintegrated into the international community, Iran would lose interest in a nuclear bomb long before the deal expired, choosing instead to become "a successful regional power," and would cease supporting terror. From the outset, the Obama administration was so wary of antagonizing Iran that it consistently overlooked the regime's outrages - including a 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi and Israeli ambassadors in Washington (the Israeli ambassador at the time was Michael Oren, a co-author of this essay).
  • Tragically, spokespeople for the new U.S. administration are proposing to return to the JCPOA and lift sanctions, and only afterward negotiate a longer, stronger deal. Such a course has no chance of success. Even a partial lifting of sanctions would forfeit any leverage that could compel the regime to negotiate a deal that genuinely removes the danger of a nuclear Iran. The deal's fervent supporters need to recognize that its fundamental assumptions - that Iran had abandoned its quest for a military nuclear option and would moderate its behavior - have been thoroughly disproved.

    Michael Oren is former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

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