Archive for February 2020

Israel’s preparedness to tackle the coronavirus – Jerusalem Studio 492 

February 29, 2020



Iran reports 7 new virus deaths as another senior government official infected

February 27, 2020

Source: Iran reports 7 new virus deaths as another senior government official infected | The Times of Israel

Death toll in Islamic Republic at 26; security official announces he tested positive, following deputy health minister and MP; hardest-hit China, South Korea count 938 new cases

A nurse cares for patients in a ward dedicated for people infected with the coronavirus, at Forqani Hospital in Qom, Iran, Feb. 26, 2020 (Mohammad Mohsenzadeh/Mizan News Agency via AP )

A nurse cares for patients in a ward dedicated for people infected with the coronavirus, at Forqani Hospital in Qom, Iran, Feb. 26, 2020 (Mohammad Mohsenzadeh/Mizan News Agency via AP )

Iran on Thursday announced seven additional deaths from the COVID-19 coronavirus, as the head of the country’s parliament national security and foreign policy committee announced he had been infected.

Mujtaba ZulNour, said in a social media video that he had tested positive and had entered quarantine. The development came after the Islamic Republic’s deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, and MP Mouhmoud Sadeghi, also caught the virus.

Iran now has the highest death toll from the virus — 26 dead from among 245 confirmed cases — outside of China, where the outbreak began. That is up from the previously reported 19 death and 139 cases.

The epicenter in the Middle East’s most-affected country appears to be in the holy Shiite city of Qom, where the faithful in reverence reach out to kiss and touch a famous shrine.

Ali Hashem علي هاشم


Iran’s health minister stated that Friday prayers are to be halted this week in provinces witnessing outbreak

Ali Hashem علي هاشم


Head of ’s parliament national security and foreign policy committee Mujtaba ZulNour announced via social media that he tested positive for and that he’s in quarantine

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The tiny, oil-rich nation of Kuwait announced a sudden jump to 43 cases from 26 on Thursday as well, all linked to travelers who recently came from Iran.

As the worst-hit areas of Asia continued to struggle with a viral epidemic, with hundreds more cases reported Thursday in South Korea and China, worries about infection and containment spread across the globe.

For the first time, the coronavirus has caused more new cases outside China, the epicenter of the outbreak, than inside the country. With Brazil on Wednesday confirming Latin America’s first case, the virus has reached every continent but Antarctica.

The United States, which has 60 cases, hasn’t been spared the fear that has swept Asia, Europe and the Mideast. US President Donald Trump declared that the country was “very, very ready” for whatever threat the coronavirus brings, and he put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of overseeing the country’s response.

As the epidemic expanded geographically, worries about the COVID-19 illness multiplied.

“The sudden increases of cases in Italy, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Korea are deeply concerning,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

A worker wearing protective gear sprays disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus at a shopping street in Seoul, South Korea, February 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Though the virus has pushed into countries both rich and poor, its arrival in places with little ability to detect, respond and contain it brought worry that it could run rampant there and spread easily elsewhere.

Major gatherings have been eyed warily, with schools closing, churches moving services online, food deliveries booming and many business conferences and sporting events canceled. The Summer Olympics begin July 24 in Tokyo, and Japan’s top government spokesman said Olympics preparations would proceed and the games would go on as planned.

South Korea reported 505 more cases Thursday, bringing its total to 1,766. Most of the new cases were in the country’s fourth-biggest city, Daegu, where the outbreak has hit hardest and the national government has mobilized public health tools to help the region’s overwhelmed medical system.

But there are signs the virus is spreading further in South Korea, with 55 cases reported so far in the capital, Seoul, and 58 in the second-largest city, Busan. The country on Thursday also confirmed its 13th death; most of them are still in and near Daegu.

People wait in line to buy face masks from a store at the Dongseongro shopping district in Daegu on February 27, 2020. (Jung Yeon-je / AFP)

China reported 433 new cases along with 29 additional deaths. Thursday’s updates bring mainland China’s totals to 78,497 cases, and 2,744 deaths.

Of the new cases, 383 were in the epicenter of the city of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December. Wuhan also accounted for 19 of the new deaths.

South Korea followed China in expressing dismay at travel restrictions imposed by other countries.

About 40 nations and regions so far have prohibited or restricted South Korean visitors, according to Lee Tae-ho, Seoul’s second vice minister of foreign affairs, who described such moves as excessive and said his government has been effectively utilizing its “world-best quarantine capabilities.”

But calls have grown inside South Korea for expanding its own entry ban, which currently covers only visitors from China’s Hubei province, where Wuhan is the capital.

China has put Wuhan and nearby cities on lock down, many airlines have reduced Chinese flights, and many places have increased monitoring of arrivals from China, all resulting in far few Chinese arrivals around the globe. Lee said the inflow of Chinese into South Korea has been reduced by more than 80%.

In Europe, an expanding cluster of more than 440 cases in northern Italy was eyed as a source for transmissions.

Saudi Arabia said early Thursday it would ban tourists from places with confirmed outbreaks, including pilgrims coming for the Umrah or to visit the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

Muslim pilgrims perform the tawaf-e-ifadha circling of the Kaaba, during the annual Haj pilgrimage on the first day of Eid al-Adha in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, August 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Iraq announced the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the capital Baghdad on Thursday, taking nationwide infections to six and raising concerns about the capacity of the dilapidated health system to respond.

Baghdad announced sweeping measures late Wednesday to try to contain the spread of the virus, ordering the closure of schools and universities, cafes, cinemas and other public spaces until March 7. It also banned travel to or from some of the worst affected countries, including China, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Italy, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Shortly after Trump spoke about US efforts on the virus, health officials identified what could be the first community spread US case. The patient in California was not known to have traveled to a country with an outbreak or had ties to a known patient. Most of the previously confirmed US cases had traveled to China, were evacuated from the virus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship, or were family members of those cases.


Iran announces 50 dead in Qom coronavirus outbreak

February 24, 2020

Source: Iran announces 50 dead in Qom coronavirus outbreak | The Times of Israel

Tehran says deaths date back to February 13, though first cases were only announced days later; Kuwait, Bahrain announce first cases in people entering from Iran

People wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus on a street in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

People wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus on a street in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A staggering 50 people have died in the Iranian city of Qom from the new coronavirus this month, Iran’s semiofficial ILNA news agency reported on Monday.

The new death toll is significantly higher than the latest number of confirmed cases of infections that Iranian officials had reported just a few hours earlier and which stood at just 12 deaths out of 47 cases, according to state TV.

A lawmaker from Qom, Ahmad Amiriabadi Farahani, was quoted in ILNA saying that more than 250 people are in quarantined in the city, which is a popular place of religious study for Shiites from across Iran and other countries.

He said the 50 deaths date as far back as February 13. Iran, however, first officially reported cases of the virus and its first deaths on February 19.

Speaking to ILNA, Farahani said the situation in Qom is “not good.”

“I think performance of the administration in controlling the virus has not been successful,” he said, referring to the government of President Hassan Rouhani.

“None of the nurses have access to proper protective gears,” Farahani said, adding that some health care specialists had left the city. “So far, I have seen any particular action to confront corona by the administration.”

The new coronavirus originated in China sometime around December. There are concerns that clusters in Iran, as well as in Italy and South Korea, could signal a serious new stage in its global spread.

Authorities in Iran have closed schools across much of the country for a second day and as neighboring countries reported infections from travelers from Iran, prompting several to shut their borders to Iranian citizens.

The number of deaths compared to the number of confirmed infections from the virus is higher in Iran than in any other country as compared to the ratios in China and South Korea, where the outbreak is far more widespread.

Iranian health officials have not whether health workers in Qom who first came in contact with infected people had taken precautionary measures in treating those who died of the virus. Iran also has not said how many people are in quarantine across the country overall.

Kuwait announced on Monday its first cases of the virus, saying that three travelers returning from the northeastern city of Mashhad, Iran were confirmed infected with the coronavirus.

Kuwaiti health minister Sheikh Basel al-Sabah (R) speaks to the press at Sheikh Saad Airport in Kuwait City, on February 22, 2020, as Kuwaitis returning from Iran wait before being taken to a hospital to be tested for coronavirus (YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP)

Iran, however, has not yet reported any confirmed cases of the virus in Mashhad, raising questions about how the government is carrying out tests and quarantines.

Iran has confirmed cases so far in five cities, including the capital, Tehran. A local mayor in Tehran is among those infected and in quarantine.

Kuwait has been evacuating some 750 citizens from Iran and testing them as they enter the country after saying that Iran had barred its medical workers from testing travelers at an exit terminal in Iran, despite an agreement to do so.

The three people returning from Iran to Kuwait who were infected with the virus are being treated in Kuwait and were identified as a Kuwaiti male, 53, a Saudi male, 61, and the third was not identified except as a 21-year-old. The news was reported by the Kuwait News Agency quoting the Kuwait Health Ministry.

Bahrain’s healthy ministry also reported the country’s first COVID-19 case on Monday after a “citizen arriving from Iran was suspected of having contracted the virus based on emerging symptoms.”

This photo taken on February 22, 2020 shows people who have recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus infection leaving a hospital by bus in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province. (Photo by STR / AFP)

The patient was transferred to a medical center for “immediate testing,” which proved positive for the infection, the ministry added.

Iranian travelers with the virus have also been confirmed in Canada, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

The outbreak in Iran has centered mostly on the city of Qom, but spread rapidly over the past few days as Iranians went to the polls on Friday for nationwide parliamentary elections, with many voters wearing masks and stocking up on hand sanitizer.

Iran is already facing diplomatic and economic isolation under US pressure. The virus threatens to isolate Iran even further as countries shut their borders to Iranians.

Soccer fans across the country will not be allowed to attend matches, and shows in movie theaters and other venues were suspended until Friday. Authorities have begun daily sanitization of Tehran’s metro, which is used by some 3 million people, and public transportation cars in the city.


IDF pounds Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza after rockets fired at south 

February 24, 2020

Source: IDF pounds Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza after rockets fired at south | The Times of Israel

Military says fighter jets, attack helicopters bombed terror group’s facility in Khan Younis, elsewhere in the Strip, following afternoon barrages that struck southern Israel

The Israel Defense Forces launched a series of airstrikes against Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday, after the terror group fired at least 14 rockets at southern Israel earlier in the day, the military said.

The IDF said it struck an Islamic Jihad military base in the Gazan city of Khan Younis, along with other facilities controlled by the terror group in the Strip.

Shortly after the military completed its airstrikes in Gaza, terrorists in the Strip fired one rocket toward the city of Ashkelon, just north of the Palestinian enclave, sending thousands of people rushing to bomb shelters, the military said.

It appeared as though the rocket landed in the sea off the coast of the city, according to video footage and photographs of the attack. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian@manniefabian

One of the rockets fired from Gaza a short while ago landed in the sea

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Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian@manniefabian

Palestinians report firing a Badr-3 rocket towards Ashkelon.

It landed in the sea.

View image on Twitter

The military said the Khan Younis base, which featured underground infrastructure, was used by the Islamic Jihad as both a training center and a storage depot for weaponry.

The retaliatory strikes were conducted by fighter jets and attack helicopters in response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip aimed at southern Israel earlier in the day, the IDF said.

Photographs and video footage of the IDF’s rare daytime strikes showed massive fireballs going into the air following the strikes, likely indicating secondary blasts from explosives being stored on the base.

“The IDF will respond aggressively to the terrorist activities of the Islamic Jihad, which threaten the citizens of Israel and harms its sovereignty,” the military said in a statement.

A police sapper removes pieces of a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip that struck a playground in the town of Sderot on February 24, 2020. (Israel Police)

In announcing the fresh airstrikes in Gaza on Monday, the IDF notably mentioned only Islamic Jihad, not the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, with which Israel hopes to negotiate a ceasefire agreement. In the past, Israel held Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from the Strip, regardless of which terror group was behind it.

However, the IDF has lately begun to distinguish between Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which Israel believes is responsible for the majority of the violence along the Gaza border in recent months.

Beginning at noon Monday, Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired at least 14 rockets at southern Israel, 12 of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the IDF said.

Smoke trails are left in the sky after Palestinian terrorists fire a rocket at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip on February 24, 2020. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the attacks.

One rocket struck an empty playground in the town of Sderot on Monday, causing damage but no injuries, police said. Another rocket appeared to strike an open field outside the community of Nir Am in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, according to local government.

Shrapnel from one of the Iron Dome interceptions also shattered a car windshield in the community of Nir Am, a Sha’ar Hanegev spokesperson said.

The IDF’s high interception rate indicated an impressive performance by the Iron Dome missile defense system and its operators, as well as a high degree of accuracy by terror groups in the Strip. In general, the Iron Dome is only activated when an incoming projectile is heading toward a populated area, rather than an open field where it is unlikely to cause injury or damage.


There were no physical injuries caused by the rockets. Medics treated one woman who suffered an anxiety attack during the barrage on Monday.

The attacks triggered sirens in the town of Sderot, in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, and in the community of Netiv Ha’asara, sending thousands of residents rushing to bomb shelters.

Videos shared on social media appeared to show multiple launches of the Iron Dome missile defense system over Sderot.

The attack came after Palestinian and Israeli officials exchanged threats of renewed violence throughout Monday morning.

On Sunday evening, the Islamic Jihad and other terror groups fired some 30 rockets at Israel on Sunday evening, approximately half of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. The rest landed in open fields. Some shrapnel caused light property damage, but no injuries were reported.

The IDF retaliated with airstrikes on Islamic Jihad facilities in both Syria and Gaza. Two members of the terror group were killed in the airstrikes outside Damascus along with four other pro-Iranian fighters, according to a Britain-based Syrian war monitor. A number of Islamic Jihad operatives were also injured by an IDF airstrike in Gaza as they prepared to launch rockets at Israel, the military said.

Abu Hamza, a spokesperson for the Al-Quds Brigade, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad military wing, said Monday that Israel’s strikes on Damascus “will not pass fleetingly,” adding: “The fight is not over.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and senior officials from Israel’s security services meet to discuss growing tensions with terror groups in the Gaza Strip at the military’s Tel Aviv headquarters on February 23, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Both Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened Monday that Israel could begin a major operation to stem rocket fire and other attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border, despite elections a week away.

“We are preparing a plan to fundamentally change the situation in the Gaza Strip,” Bennett told a conference in Jerusalem. “I really understand the situation of the people of the south. They deserve peace and security.”

Netanyahu told Radio Jerusalem that he “will not compromise Israel’s security for political reasons.”

“War is a last resort, but there may be no escape from it. We’ve prepared a radically different campaign,” Netanyahu said.

“If Israel is in the position of entering a large-scale military operation, we will have to deal a bigger blow than [operations] Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge. It could very well be that we may have to carry out — I don’t really want to say it, but — ‘the mother of all operations.’”

Israeli military surveillance footage of two alleged Palestinian Islamic Jihad members planting what appears to be a bomb along the Gaza border on February 23, 2020. (Screen capture: Israel Defense Forces)

Early Monday, the IDF Home Front Command issued a series of precautionary directives for southern Israel in case of renewed fighting throughout the day, closing schools, banning large outdoor gatherings, blocking roads and halting train service.

Sunday’s rocket fire came after an irregular clash along the Gaza border earlier Sunday in which Israeli troops shot dead a member Palestinian Islamic Jihad as he planted an improvised explosive device along the border. The Israeli military then retrieved his body, using a bulldozer.

The retrieval of the corpse was apparently part of Bennett’s announced plan to “hoard” the corpses of Palestinian terrorists in order to use them as “bargaining chips” in negotiations for the release of two Israeli men, and the remains of two fallen Israeli soldiers, who are being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The smoke trail of a rocket, fired by Palestinian terrorists, flying over the Gaza Strip, on February 23, 2020. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The border clashes come amid reports of ongoing efforts by Israel to broker a ceasefire agreement with Gaza terror groups, following weeks of intermittent rocket fire and the regular launching of balloon-borne explosive devices into Israel.

The IDF said the strikes in Syria and Gaza were in response to both Sunday morning’s attempted IED attack and the rocket fire throughout the evening.

In November, Israel fought a punishing two-day battle with the Islamic Jihad, sparked by the IDF killing one of the terror group’s leaders — Baha Abu al-Ata — whom Israel believed was responsible for most of the group’s aggressive actions.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.


After heavy rocket barrage from Gaza, Palestinian Jihad swears to retaliate for any Israeli reprisal – DEBKAfile

February 24, 2020

Source: After heavy rocket barrage from Gaza, Palestinian Jihad swears to retaliate for any Israeli reprisal – DEBKAfile

That the latest Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket offensive on Feb. 23 against Israel from Gaza occurred just eight days before Israel’s third election will determine how it plays out. The 21 rockets fired in three quick salvos Sunday night mostly targeted two Israeli towns, Ashkelon and Sderot, injuring two people. The Iron Dome anti-rocket system intercepted 13 before they hit anything.

The rockets came as a sequel to an incident that morning, in which two Islamic Jihad terrorists were caught planting a roadside bomb for an Israeli border patrol and shot dead. The firefight began when the IDF unit and Jihad raced each other to collect the bodies. The soldiers withdrew with one of them. The Palestinian terrorists vowed to punish Israel for this incident. Iron Dome batteries were accordingly posted during the day at strategic points around the Gaza Strip.

As is their wotn, Israel’s top defense and military officials thereupon met at national defense headquarters in Tel Aviv, led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and Chief of Staff t. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. Their options were complicated. With a general election just days away and a caretaker government due to bow out for a new administration at a future date, launching a full-dress war offensive Gaza was not on the table. At the same time, letting the Islamic Jihad get away with its provocation was not an option.

However, most of those present generally favor avoiding a full military confrontation in Gaza and prefer to address the recurrent Palestinian aggression by non-military means. This near-consensus came to the fore earlier, when it was revealed that Mossad Director Yossie Cohen and the head of the IDF’s Southern Command Maj. Gen. Hertzi Halevi,  had just paid a secret visit to Qatar to ask the emir to continue shelling out a monthly $25m cash allocation to the Hamas rulers of Gaza as a powerful incentive for them to maintain calm rather than constant terror.

Secret foreign trips in the region are nothing new for Israel’s Mosad chiefs, however never before has a serving Israel general been known to visit an Arab state. That alone was a measure of how far the Netanyahu administration was ready to go  to bring to fruition the long-term truce with the Palestinian Hamas which is in advanced negotiation with Egypt’s mediators.

For Jihad and its Iranian backers, any deal for suspending anti-Israel violence is anathema. And they lost no time in using the current precarious situation both to undermine Hamas and hit Israel.


The history of nonaggression pacts in Islam

February 21, 2020

Does it matter that Muslim Arabs cannot sign a true peace agreement with Israel? Not as long as Israel recognizes it must remain militarily strong and resolute in defending its culture and borders.

The news media is filled with reports that the Arab world – most notably Saudi Arabia and countries in the Persian Gulf, might be prepared to sign a nonaggression pact with Israel. What does this mean, however, from a Muslim perspective?

For countries with strong institutions, agreements are not made between leaders. Meaning that such agreements continue to be valid even if the countries’ governments change.
This is not the case in the Middle East, where with the possible exception of Turkey, agreements are made between leaders, and last as long as those leaders are still in power.

Middle Eastern states are by their very nature authoritarian, even if they appear to have the trappings of democracy – like parliaments, government ministers, etc. If a leader dies or is overthrown, all bets are off. The new leader decides which agreements he will honor.

In essence, in these authoritarian states institutions are by their nature weak, because they are loyal and respond to the leader – not to the people. Regarding Middle Eastern leaders, the late professor Bernard Lewis used to say “the state is their estate.” Meaning that they understand their countries to be their fiefdoms, where they can do pretty much what they want.

In summary, in democratic societies, a “government official” means a person who represents the people vis-à-vis the government. The people empower their governments.

In the Middle East, the Arabic/Turkish/Persian word for government official/bureaucrat is “maamur” or “mu’azif” – which mean “one who is commanded.” But commanded by whom? Answer: Middle Eastern government officials don’t work for the people, they work for and represent the rulers – i.e. a top-down structure.

In Islam, peace as we know it in the West, meaning letting bygones be bygones, cannot exist between Muslims and non-Muslims. According to both the Koran and the Shari’a, there can however be a temporary agreement – a truce or armistice. Such a truce is called a “sulha” or “hudna.” These agreements are modeled after the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, a 628 CE treaty between the Islamic prophet Mohammad and the Quraysh tribe of Mecca, who Mohammad was unable to defeat.

The agreement was to last 10 years, but after only two – when Mohammad had managed to rearm himself sufficiently – he reneged on the agreement, attacked his enemies, and defeated them.

This sulha/hudna agreement is the type of non-aggression pact the Saudis and other Arab Muslim nations seem to be willing to sign with Israel. It is now in their interest to do so because their existential enemy is Iran, an enemy which they share with Israel.

Any agreement they sign with the Israelis must be understood in these terms. These are not peace agreements; they remain in force only as long as the leaders of these Arab countries believe it in their interest.

What would happen, for example, if the Iranian regime collapsed and the new government in Iran no longer threatened the Sunni Arab regimes? Would Israel and these Arab countries still share common interests? Would these agreements still hold? Can Muslim leaders recognize Israel as a Jewish state with the right to live within borders on land once conquered by Muslims?

What does history teach us here?


At the 1949 Rhodes conference after Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, the Arabs insisted on calling their treaties with Israel “armistice agreements” – not peace agreements. They further insisted that the lines drawn on the map which divided Israeli-controlled territory from territory controlled by the Arabs be defined as “armistice lines” – not borders. Borders and peace agreements imply permanence and an end to war; the Arabs could not agree to either. From a Muslim-Arab perspective, all of pre-1948 Palestine was Muslim land. Thus, they could not agree to permanent borders or peace.

PLO leader Yasser Arafat, two weeks after he signed the Oslo agreements with Israel, was in South Africa speaking to Muslims. He was recorded telling them that the agreement he signed with Israel was like the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah their prophet had signed with his enemies the Quraysh. Everyone understood the reference and the meaning – Arafat would break the agreement as soon as it became possible to do so.


Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, upon returning to Egypt after signing an agreement with the Israelis on the White House lawn, told his people he had done what he did for the good of Egypt. Egypt needed its resources to build itself up, and must not waste them on battles Egypt was certain to lose, he said. Sadat ended his speech by saying: what will happen in the future will happen in the future – meaning, this was a temporary agreement until Egypt could regroup – which could last as long as needed. Even so, some in Egypt saw this as treachery, which is why they assassinated him.


In 2000, President Bill Clinton hosted then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat at a Camp David. The stated goal going into the summit was to come to an agreement which would end the Arab-Israeli conflict. Barak offered Arafat almost every square inch of eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank if Arafat would sign a peace agreement with Israel. Arafat instantly rejected Barak’s offer, saying “that he [Arafat] would not have tea with Sadat.” Arafat knew that if he signed such an agreement, he too would be labeled a “traitor” and likely assassinated.

There are no permanent agreements between Muslims and non-Muslims, and certainly not over land that Muslims believe is theirs.

So, what does the above tell us about any possible nonaggression pacts between Israel and Arab countries? The Arab countries in question are all ruled by Sunni Muslims. All are authoritarian. All are in the same boat as the Arab leaders in the examples mentioned above. They cannot agree to permanent peace with Israel. Almost all Muslim scholars agree that once a territory is conquered by Muslims, it must remain under Muslim rule forever. Non-Muslims – i.e., Christians, Jews and others who received a revelation from God prior to Islam can live under Islamic rule, but do not have the right to rule any territory that has ever been conquered by Muslims.

Today’s Israel was conquered by Muslims in 637-38 CE, and thus according to Islam must be ruled by Muslims forever. The Saudis, Morocco and any other Arab Muslim countries therefore cannot sign permanent peace agreements with Israel. Neither, for that matter, can Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas’s charter explicitly calls all of pre-1948 Mandatory Palestine a Muslim waqf – which means it belongs to Allah forever.

No Muslim can recognize Israel’s permanent right to exist because it is a Jewish state, ruled by Jews, which contradicts Islam. Any Muslim that recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state on Muslim land would be labeled a “traitor” and suffer the same fate as Sadat. So the best we could hope for is a temporary non-aggression pact between Israel and its Muslim neighbors.

Does it matter that the Muslim Arabs cannot sign a true peace agreement with Israel? As long as Israel recognizes that it must remain militarily strong and resolute in defending its culture and borders, it should be fine.

Nonaggression pacts or peace treaties notwithstanding, as long as the Muslims realize that Israel is here to stay and will defend itself at whatever cost, non-aggression pacts or truces will be fine. But no one should delude himself into believing that any agreement between the Arabs and Israel will ever be like the peaceful relationship between, say, the United States and Canada. That could only happen if there is a thought revolution in Islam, something that seems unlikely for the foreseeable future.

Egypt builds a wall on border with Gaza Read

February 21, 2020

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Maj. Gen. Ahmed Abdel Khalek, the Egyptian intelligence officer in charge of Cairo’s Palestinian portfolio, arrived in the Gaza Strip Feb. 10 as head of an Egyptian security delegation that made a field trip along the Egyptian-Gazan border as part of the new Egyptian preparations to boost border security and prevent extremists from entering the Sinai Peninsula from the Gaza Strip. The delegation also met with Hamas’ leadership in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, tribal sources in the northern Sinai Peninsula stated that on Jan. 27 Egyptian armed forces embarked on the first phase of building a 2-kilometer-long barrier on the border with the Gaza Strip, starting from the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Rafah border crossing. Such a step went unannounced by the Egyptian armed forces, the sources added.

They explained that the 6-meter-high barrier is made of reinforced concrete and goes 5 meters under the ground. It consists of a second barrier parallel to the old rock barrier built in early 2008 on the border with the Gaza Strip, separated by a distance not exceeding 10 meters. The barrier is designed to block the entry of gunmen from the Gaza Strip into Sinai and shut down the remaining Palestinian cross-border tunnels.

The sources said the second and last phase involves building the barrier along unspecified segments of the border that Egyptian armed forces appraise as vulnerable or where underground tunnels are suspected. The sources anticipate completion of the barrier would drag out until mid-2020.

Egyptian armed forces announced Feb. 3 “having found south of the Rafah security camps’ yard a nearly 3-kilometer-long [underground] tunnel coming from the Gaza Strip to the heart of the [Egyptian border city of] Rafah,” Palestine’s Maan News Agency reported the same day.

Maan News quoted Egyptian security sources as saying that “the tunnel serves as [an underground means] for the infiltration of terrorists from the Gaza Strip, planting [roadside bombs] in the Egyptian side, pushing terrorist [Islamic State] supporters to Sinai, and for the transfer of arms and explosives. Ammunition and explosives were seized in the tunnel.”

Egyptian armed forces announced having discovered the tunnel a few hours after five Egyptian soldiers were killed and others were wounded Feb. 3 in a roadside bomb south of the town of Sheikh Zuweid, which borders the Gaza Strip.

Previously, there were multiple Egyptian measures to close the Palestinian tunnels, including a buffer zone along the 14-kilometer-long Egyptian-Gazan border in October 2014. The 500-meter-deep buffer zone set up on the Egyptian side was expanded to 1,500 meters deep into the Egyptian side in October 2017.

Such an Egyptian policy managed to close and destroy hundreds of border underground tunnels and caused Hamas a stifling financial crisis that has been ongoing to date.

The recent developments on the border coincided with US President Donald Trump announcing Jan. 28 his Mideast peace plan, which assigns to the Palestinians new lands adjacent to Sinai in Israel.

Mohammed Abu Harbeed, an expert on security affairs at the Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor, “The construction of this barrier was highly coordinated with Hamas and the Gaza Interior Ministry. It is designed to bring about better security on [both] sides of the border.”

He explained that all of the security measures Egyptian authorities made, including building the barrier, serve the interests of both sides. Ending contraband, including the smuggling of drugs from Sinai to the Gaza Strip, and preventing the infiltration of extremists from and into the Gaza Strip are what Hamas seeks as well, Abu Harbeed added.

He did not find it strange that Egyptian armed forces discovered a Palestinian tunnel on the border with the Gaza Strip. “Prior to the Egyptian army’s crackdown on the tunnels in October 2014, there were hundreds of tunnels underneath the Egyptian-Palestinian border — some of which were wide enough for the smuggling of cars. Yet the number of tunnels has become small following the Egyptian crackdown. The [remaining] tunnels are unknown and are run by individuals who are smuggling goods from Egypt to the Gaza Strip with the intent to evade customs duties or contraband such as drugs,” said Abu Harbeed.

He affirmed that the Gaza Interior Ministry does not see a need for these tunnels as long as Egypt opens the Rafah border crossing to Gazans, adding that the ministry is preventing any attempt to dig any new tunnels.

On the Palestinian side, Hamas took multiple measures to promote border security and prevent any infiltration attempt into Egypt. On June 28, 2017, it set up a 100-meter-wide buffer zone into the Palestinian side.

Iyad al-Qara, a political analyst and journalist for the Hamas-affiliated Felesteen newspaper in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that “in the past years, Hamas worked on boosting security on the border with Egypt, deploying dozens of its members and a series of observation towers and surveillance cameras mounted on the towers along the border to prevent infiltration attempts from the Gaza Strip into Egypt.”

The Gaza Interior Ministry announced Nov. 14 thwarting an infiltration attempt by three Islamic State supporters from Gaza to Egypt.

Qara perceived that the Egyptian and Palestinian sides agreed on the construction of the barrier at their meetings in early 2018, noting that the arrival of an Egyptian security delegation in the Gaza Strip to inspect the border at this time points to this agreement.

He indicated that Hamas in the Gaza Strip has great interest in securing the border with Egypt “because bringing about security in Sinai will be positively reflected on the Gazan security.”

Talal Okal, a political writer for the West Bank-based newspaper Al-Ayyam, told Al-Monitor that Hamas hears the Egyptian concerns about the infiltration of extremists from the Gaza Strip into Sinai. He said this is particularly true since such extremists do not find the Gaza Strip to be a favorable environment, given that Hamas opposes the presence of extremist organizations that have religious motives behind espousing conflicts.

Okal ruled out the possibility of a correlation between the construction of the barrier and the deal of the century. He said, “I do not think that the construction of this barrier has anything to do with the deal of the century in any way. It is a security, not a political, measure.”

Iran’s Khamenei says ‘Zionist-controlled’ US government will sink like Titanic 

February 20, 2020

Source: Iran’s Khamenei says ‘Zionist-controlled’ US government will sink like Titanic | The Times of Israel

Supreme leader appears to quote progressive Democratic talking points, says most of US riches going to a few billionaires while ordinary Americans suffer

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani walks past a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as he arrives for a news conference in the capital Tehran, on February 16, 2020.(Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday said the United States will sink like the “Titanic,” blaming it on “wealthy Zionist individuals and corporate owners” who he said controlled the US economy.

In a long series of tweets, Khamenei said the strength of the US economy was a “facade” and appeared to quote  progressive Democrats saying that US President Donald Trump was overseeing the transfer of US wealth to a few billionaires.

“Today, the epitome of rebellion, arrogance and tyranny is the US government, which is controlled by the wealthy Zionist individuals and corporate owners,” Khamenei tweeted.

“In the same way that the glory and splendor of the famous #Titanic ship did not prevent her from sinking, the apparent glory & splendor of the US won’t prevent it from sinking. And, the US will sink,” he said.

Khamenei took aim at Trump’s economic policies, which the president often touts as one of his greatest accomplishments, noting that markets are at record highs and and the unemployment rate is at its lowest  in decades.

“The current US President claims he has improved the economic situation there. Others say yes, it’s become better, but only for the billionaires, not for the people of the US,” Khamenei said.

Without mentioning names, Khamenei appeared to cite Democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

“These aren’t my words, but the words of a member of the U.S. ruling body. He says over $100B has been added to the wealth of the 5 richest people in the US in the 3 years of Trump’s presidency. 3 of them own wealth equal to half the US population. Look at this social gap!

Khamenei’s comments come as Iran gears up for a crucial parliamentary election in two days, with many people in the country feeling that their lives have been crippled by an economic slump exacerbated by harsh US sanctions since Trump pulled the United States out of a landmark nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic in 2018.

Conservatives are expected to make an overwhelming resurgence in Friday’s vote, which comes after months of steeply escalating tensions between Iran and its decades-old arch foe the United States.

Their gains would be made at the expense of those who back President Hassan Rouhani, a relatively moderate conservative who was re-elected in 2017 promising people more freedoms and the benefits of engagement with the West.

Rouhani urged people to go and vote, saying that taking part would give Iran the “strength and unity” needed in its stand against the United States.

“We are going to the polls to choose the best people for parliament, which is a very important institution,” he said in televised remarks after a meeting of his cabinet.

“We are under severe sanctions and pressure by the global arrogance, and we have to break these sanctions and improve people’s lives,” he added, referring to the United States.

People withraw money from an automated teller machine in the Iranian capital Tehran’s grand bazaar on November 3, 2018. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

“Sanctions are a terrorist and tyrannical act against Iran.

“One cannot say sanctions have no effect and the government should be doing more… It’s lies, it’s supporting America.”

Iran’s electoral watchdog on Wednesday defended its decision to disqualify thousands of candidates from the vote.

The Interior Ministry said around half of the 16,033 hopefuls would contest the election after the Guardian Council barred thousands, most of them relative moderates and reformists.

But the Council said it was “neutral” in its dealings with all political camps and acted in accordance with the law when it blocked their candidacy.

“The Guardian Council follows the laws and regulations parliament has passed at different times,” said its spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaee.


Israel’s Merkava Tank: The Toughest Tank on the Planet?

February 20, 2020


Israel’s Merkava Tank: The Toughest Tank on the Planet?

The Merkava tank is sometimes called the most survivable tank in the world. The reasons given usually include its active protection system, forward engine design, urban warfare specific modifications, and thick armor. But do these claims hold up to scrutiny?

The Merkava was designed in the 1970s following the failure to purchase Chieftain tanks from the United Kingdom. Originally designed to duke it out with Soviet tanks in the deserts surrounding Israel, the tank was laid out in a rather unorthodox manner compared to contemporary Western and Soviet tanks, featuring a design more akin to some infantry fighting vehicles. Instead of having the engine at the rear, the engine was moved in front of the crew compartment, with the turret placed further back on the chassis.

The result was that the front armor could be more gradually sloped, and the crew could enter and exit the tank quickly from the rear.

However, this comes with the drawback of having the engine more easily disabled, as any penetrating front hit will disable it. Israeli doctrine prioritizes the survivability of the crew in an engagement, so in the event of a disabling hit the crew will bail out rapidly through the rear hatch if the situation allows. On the other hand, a penetrating frontal hit on a western tank will likely leave the tank still mobile.

While the question of whether a tank crew would stay in a tank or not after a penetrating hit is up for a lot of debate, there are instances where mobility will increase the survivability of the crew, primarily in a fighting disengagement where the tank might be surrounded. In an engagement where an attack is succeeding (which to be fair to the Israeli Defense Forces, is likely in most of their post-1970s conflicts), the Merkava’s design makes sense, but for a European army expecting to hold against a Soviet or later a Russian advance, a mobility kill might be a far bigger deal.

Syria: latest developments – Jerusalem Studio 489 

February 19, 2020