Top Iranian Holocaust-denying cleric says Iran can use future Israeli coronavirus vaccine (& other items)

March 14, 2020

The statue of Ben-Gurion at Israel’s Ben-Gurion international airport today

 

Sanitary workers disinfect the desks and chairs of the Lebanese Parliament in central Beirut amid the spread of coronavirus in the country

 

CONTENTS

1. Top Iranian cleric okays buying future Israeli coronavirus vaccine (Times of Israel, March 12, 2020)

2. Iran’s First Vice-President, Three Minsters, Khamenei Aide Ill With Coronavirus (Radio Farda, March 11, 2020)

3. Strategic Partnership With China Lies at Root of Iran’s Coronavirus Outbreak: Pathogen spread rapidly from Qom, where Chinese-backed projects helped prop up nation’s sanctions-hit economy (Wall Street Journal, March 11, 2020)

4. Coronavirus Dictates New Reality for Israeli Army: One senior officer says implications of coronavirus crisis could be more profound than 9/11 (Haaretz , March 14, 2020)

5. In Arab Israeli Town, 100 Returnees From El Clásico soccer match in Madrid last week, Flout Quarantine (Haaretz, March 13, 2020)

6. Coronavirus Makes Iran More Dangerous: U.S. General Says After Attack in Iraq Kills U.S. and British Troops (Reuters, March 12, 2020)

7. Harnessing Anne Frank for Covid19-immigration action

8. Israeli Research Center may Announce It Developed Coronavirus Vaccine, Sources Say (Haaretz, March 13, 2020)

9. For Lebanon’s Newly-formed Government, Coronavirus Is Just the Latest Extension of a Mounting Crisis (Haaretz, March 13, 2020)

10. Hamas announcement puts a BBC narrative into perspective (BBC Watch, March 13, 2020)

 

[Note by Tom Gross]

Earlier today I sent a dispatch with general articles about coronavirus. This new dispatch has articles concerning the affects of coronavirus on Middle East nations.

That earlier dispatch can be read here:

Gun drawn in fight for frozen food amid coronavirus panic (& Quarantined Italian tenor sings ‘Nessun Dorma’)

 

TOP IRANIAN CLERIC OKAYS BUYING FUTURE ISRAELI CORONAVIRUS VACCINE

Top Iranian cleric okays buying future Israeli coronavirus vaccine
Naser Makarem Shirazi, 93, a Holocaust-denying hardliner and one of the highest religious authorities in Iran, says using vaccine made by ‘Zionists’ okay if ‘there’s no substitute’
The Times of Israel
March 12, 2020

A prominent Iranian cleric has said it is permissible to use a future coronavirus vaccine developed by Israel if “there is no substitute.”

The Iranian regime views Israel as a mortal enemy. But Iran has also faced one of the most severe outbreaks of the COVID-19 coronavirus outside its origin and epicenter in China.

“It is not permissible to buy and sell from Zionists and Israel,” Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, 93, told the Iranian daily Hamdeli on Wednesday.

“Unless the treatment is unique and there is no substitute,” he added, “then this is not an obstacle.”

Shirazi, one of the highest authorities in Shiite Islam and a former member of the regime’s Assembly of Experts that appoints the supreme leader, is considered among the regime’s more hard-line ideologues.

He has called the Holocaust a “superstition,” opposed owning pets and objected to efforts to allow women to attend soccer matches.

The response may reflect a regime in crisis.

At least 429 people have died in Iran from the coronavirus outbreak, according to Iranian officials, and more than 10,000 people were confirmed as infected as of Thursday. International estimates suggested the death toll could be far higher.

The outbreak has put additional strain on a regime already battered by US sanctions and mass riots over the past year over fuel price hikes and other economic pressures.

On Wednesday, media reports said Israel’s Institute for Biological Research, which operates under the aegis of the Defense Ministry, was closing in on a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Later in the day, the Defense Ministry denied any “breakthrough” had been achieved and said the institute’s efforts “will take time” to bear fruit.

Reporting on the possibility that Israel would be the first to produce a vaccine, the Iranian daily Hamdeli turned to Shirazi to ask if Iranians would be permitted to buy and use the Israeli-developed vaccine.

 

IRAN’S FIRST VICE-PRESIDENT, THREE MINSTERS, KHAMENEI AIDE ILL WITH CORONAVIRUS

Iran’s First Vice-President, Three Minsters, Khamenei Aide Ill With Coronavirus
Radio Farda
March 11, 2020

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard affiliated Fars News Agency on March 21 published a list of senior officials and politicians who have tested positive or died from coronavirus (COVID-19). First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri is included among those who have tested positive and in isolation.

Jahangiri had not been seen in public for several days and was conspicuously absent from the regular Wednesday morning Cabinet meeting. However, his condoling message for Mohammad-Reza Rah-Chamani, a veteran reformist politician and lawmaker, was published on the government website on Tuesday.

Two days ago, the Head of Public Relations of First Vice-President denied the rumors that Jahangiri has coronavirus and said he was present in his office and spoken to province governors across the country about the coronavirus situation. The Cabinet has yet neither denied nor confirmed the report by Fars News Agency.

Among other eye-catching names in the list published by Fars is the name of Mohammad-Javad Iravani, one of the influential men in Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s office. According to Fars he has been quarantined but his health is improving. Iravani is also a member of the Khamenei-appointed Expediency Council. Another member of the Council, Mohammad Mir-Mohammadi, died of coronavirus on March 2.

Three other cabinet members who have tested positive are Vice-President in Women’s Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar, Cultural Heritage and Tourism Minister Ali-Asghar Mounesan and the Minister of Industries, Mines and Commerce Reza Rahmani.

When questioned by the press today about the health conditions of Jahangiri and Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, Health Ministry Spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour did not even include Jahangiri’s name in the very general response that he made, leaving everyone guessing.

Iran is among the hardest-hit nations by the virus and so far even according to doctored official figures, at least 9,000 have been diagnosed with coronavirus and 354 lost their lives.

Five current lawmakers have the coronavirus and two representatives elected in February 21 parliamentary elections have died of the disease.

 

STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP WITH CHINA LIES AT ROOT OF IRAN’S CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

Strategic Partnership With China Lies at Root of Iran’s Coronavirus Outbreak
Pathogen spread rapidly from Qom, where Chinese-backed projects helped prop up nation’s sanctions-hit economy
By Benoit Faucon, Sune Engel Rasmussen and Jeremy Page
Wall Street Journal
March 11, 2020

“China has been the trading partner of last resort but, in this case, it has turned into a very toxic bomb,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy Middle East director at Chatham House, a think tank in London.

China Railway Engineering Corp. is building a $2.7 billion high-speed rail line through Qom. Chinese technicians have been helping refurbish a nuclear-power plant nearby. There are also Chinese religious students studying at Qom’s seminaries.

Iranian health officials have said the source of the outbreak is likely either Chinese workers in Qom or an Iranian businessman from Qom who travelled to China. Iranian officials haven’t identified the businessman by name but say he travelled from China to Qom through an indirect flight.

Once the pathogen was loose in Qom, a city of roughly one million people, it spread rapidly, taxing a sanctions-stretched health-care system, amplifying economic woes and fueling an anti-Chinese backlash.

“We were unhappy with all these crappy Chinese goods everywhere,” said a housewife who asked to be quoted by her last name, Ms. Ashtari. “Now they brought us this crappy virus, too.”

According to official statistics, more than 350 Iranians have died from the new virus. The government says 9,000 people have been infected; epidemiologists say the number could actually be in the tens of thousands. Travellers, many of them pilgrims, carried the virus to at least 15 other countries, the World Health Organization and governments in those countries say.

Dozens of Iranian officials and parliamentarians have been infected by the coronavirus since the outbreak began in Iran. Iranian media Wednesday evening reported that First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri had been infected, along with two other cabinet members. The semiofficial Fars news agency published a list of 24 officials infected with the virus, at the top of which was Mr. Jahangiri. On the list were also the minister of industry, mines and business, Reza Rahmani, and the minister of cultural heritage, Ali Asghar Mounesan.

Mr. Jahangiri is the most senior Iranian official yet infected with the virus. The list of infected officials also counts more than 20 lawmakers, as well as Masoumeh Ebtekar, a spokesperson for the Iranian students that besieged the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and who currently serves as a more junior vice president and the highest-ranking Iranian woman in government. Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, prominent reformist Mahmoud Sadeghi and the head of parliament’s foreign policy commission Mojtaba Zonnouri have also been infected.

The government reacted slowly to the outbreak. Hours after the first infections were announced, the victims were declared dead, suggesting that the coronavirus had been allowed to spread for weeks.

For days after the first cases were discovered on Feb. 19, Qom’s clerics defied government orders to close shrines. By the end of the month, when authorities cancelled Friday prayers for the first time in decades in an effort to stem the epidemic, the disease had already spread to most provinces.

Weeks earlier, on Feb. 1, as the coronavirus outbreak centered on the central Chinese city Wuhan worsened, the Iranian government had banned its airlines from flying to China. It gave an exception, however, to Mahan Air, which has emerged as a popular source of air transport for the country’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The U.S. government alleges the airline transported personnel, money and arms for the Guards, and provided transportation for the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, which Washington considers a terrorist organization. After the Guards’ Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, who frequently travelled with the airline, was killed by a U.S. drone in January, his coffin was returned to Iran on a Mahan Air flight.

Mahan Air said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal that it had carried out eight flights between Tehran and China between Feb. 1 and Feb. 9 to transfer Chinese and Iranian passengers to their respective home countries. Since February 12, the airline had flown 12 flights with cargo – such as flying testing kits and disposable masks to Iran – and followed disinfection and hygiene instructions issued by the health ministry.

“We carry out flights under full supervision of the health ministry,” Reza Jafarzadeh, spokesman of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, told state radio. “Whether incoming foreign passengers have been tested or not is a matter for the health ministry.”

Mahan Air has made at least 43 trips since Feb. 1, according to online flight records from FlightRadar24, including one to Wuhan on Feb. 5, which evacuated 70 Iranian students living there, according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry. The students were quarantined after their arrival from Wuhan, deputy health minister Alireza Raeisi was quoted as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency. Mahan Air said the numbers from the flight tracker are inaccurate.

Mahan Air’s most recent flight from China landed in Tehran from Shanghai on the morning of March 9, according to FlightRadar24. There is no official total count of passengers.

Iran’s Minister for Roads and Urban Development said Thursday that an investigation by the health ministry had concluded that the coronavirus hadn’t been brought to Iran by one of the country’s own airlines, according to state television. The minister didn’t provide an explanation for that conclusion.

Irate Iranians have accused the airline of serving as a conduit for the deadly virus. “We won’t forget the coronavirus of the traitor company #Mahan Air,” said one Twitter user, while another called on the airline’s managers to be prosecuted.

To combat the epidemic, Iran’s authorities have erected checkpoints on roads leading to and from major cities, and Revolutionary Guard and police forces on Friday closed streets leading to major infection hubs in the country’s north, far from Qom. Drones have been deployed to disinfect streets.

In contrast to China, which took draconian measures to contain the coronavirus in Wuhan, Iranian officials have insisted they won’t quarantine Qom, calling such measures a relic from pre-World War 1 times.

Iran’s health-care system has struggled to cope with the sudden case load stemming from keeping the extent of the illness under wraps, according to Kamiar Alaei, an Iranian public-health expert and co-president of the Institute for International Health and Education in Albany, N.Y. “It’s not necessarily about the quality of the health-care system,” he said. “It’s about mismanagement and misinformation.”

On March 5 – two weeks after the first deaths occurred in Iran – the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, suggested that the global spread of the coronavirus may be the work of U.S. biological warfare against China and Iran: “Today, the country is engaged in a biological battle,” Mr. Salami said at a ceremony in Kerman.

Many Iranians have refused to get tested, worried that they might contract the virus in hospital.

China, Russia and the World Health Organization have delivered thousands of test and diagnostic kits as well as respiratory machines. France, Germany and Britain also have transported equipment and pledged close to €5 million ($5.67 million) through the World Health Organization or other United Nations agencies.

But Iran officials, traders and experts say it won’t be enough to make up for dwindling stocks of supplies and faulty equipment. Most of the installed equipment in hospitals in the country was historically supplied by Western companies, which Iranians have tended to prefer to Chinese alternatives.

Some companies that supply testing kits or respiratory equipment, such as ventilators, have stopped delivering to Tehran because their banks refuse to carry the payments, Iranian distributors said. In September, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran’s central bank.

Despite Iran’s own struggle to contain the virus, many Iranians are directing their anger at China for bringing the illness to their country in the first place. “When you put all your eggs in one basket, this is what you get,” said Ali, a 43-year-old kitchenware seller in Tehran. “The Chinese are everywhere.”

To keep a lid on popular anger, the government in late February blocked entry for Chinese travellers. China hasn’t blocked entry for travellers from Iran, although Beijing and Shanghai have since early March required arrivals from Iran and others badly affected by the coronavirus to self-quarantine for 14 days. Three charter flights from Iran have brought hundreds of Chinese back to China. There were about 1,400 Chinese nationals still in Iran as of Tuesday, according to Beijing’s ambassador in Tehran.

In recent days, China announced that at least 42 people – including some Chinese nationals who came back from Tehran via Moscow or Bangkok – were found to be carrying the virus after returning from Iran.

 

CORONAVIRUS DICTATES NEW REALITY FOR ISRAELI ARMY

‘It’s Not a Black Swan, It’s a Mammoth’: Coronavirus Dictates New Reality for Israeli Army
One senior officer says implications of coronavirus crisis could be more profound than 9/11
By Amos Harel
Haaretz
March 14, 2020

During the past few days public health experts in Israel have described two major bottlenecks in the battle against coronavirus. The first concerns the paucity of tests done on possible patients; the second concerns the difficulty in identifying, locating and isolating people who have been in the close vicinity of people found to be ill. Clearly a large part of Israel’s citizenry is attentive to the reports in the media, but relatively simple monitoring of credit-card usage and pinpointing mobile phones can help issue a swift warning to anyone who has been in a place and time identified as dangerous, obligate him to isolate himself and maybe thereby to some extent slow down the spread of the virus.

These are techniques that can be applied, and they are currently being employed for other uses like fighting terror or solving crimes. In effect, the worldwide breakthroughs in “fusing” the relevant information to put together an extensive intelligence picture and, accordingly, rapid action were achieved in Israel in the early 2000s. This happened in a joint effort by the various security organizations as part of the fight against the suicide terrorists during the second intifada. Later, these methods were used by the Americans and subsequently became the daily bread of police forces and security services around the world.

However, these measures also entail considerable and unusual infringement of citizens’ privacy, in circumstances in which there is no suspicion of their having committed a crime or harming to state security. It is no wonder that the two organizations most adept at these methods, the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces, are not keen to offer to do the work. Apparently in the Shin Bet they are concerned about harm to its elevated, politically neutral status, and possible harm to democracy if it is assigned these missions. In the IDF they are wary of using “the people’s army,” which relies on soldiers doing compulsory service, for similar missions.

On the assumption that the virus will continue to spread and the government will want to undertake extraordinary measures of this sort, apparently it will require close legal oversight. Moreover, the IDF and Shin Bet would prefer that the Israel Police deal with this, even if it needs to borrow the means and even personnel to do so. Military Intelligence Unit 8200 is not going to rummage around cellular data to check who was sitting in a Tel Aviv café at what time of day. Graduates of the unit who are about to be demobilized could conceivably be put to the task, if an alternative solution is not found by then.

However, it is possible that this discussion is becoming superfluous. The increasingly firm understanding among experts is that the official number of patients suffering from the disease (about 100, by press time) is lower than the true number – that it does not reflect the many people who have the virus, hundreds if not thousands, who simply have not been tested and diagnosed yet. In such circumstances, much farther-reaching steps could come up for discussion, like those that were adopted in South Korea and Taiwan – measures that according to the reports from East Asia, indeed delayed the virus’ spread considerably.

If there is a decision to seal off parts of the country and even impose a curfew, the only organization that will be able to help the police and local authorities, both in enforcement and supplying food and medicine to the population, is the IDF. Therefore, a dramatic call-up of reservists will be required, along with extensive deployment of the Home Front Command. Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and the IDF brass should already be preparing for this possibility. Otherwise, it will turn out that Israel is lagging too far behind the spreading virus.

At the moment, the army is for the most part busy protecting itself – attempting to reduce the rate of the spread of the virus within its ranks and making preparations that will try to ensure the functioning of sensitive units – combat flight squadrons, submarines and others – even under extreme conditions in which a large part of the population is infected with corona. In a number of units, they have already put into effect initiated furloughs, with the intention of keeping the soldiers on base for longer periods in the future.

A civilian or a reservist who visits the bureaus of senior IDF officers, operation rooms or sensitive units these days is required to sign a form upon entering. They have to commit that they did not return from abroad in the past two weeks, do not have a fever and have not spent time in the presence of sick people.

In the defense organization they already understand that the coronavirus is a classic instance of a “black swan” scenario, which seems to come out of nowhere and scrambles the whole deck of cards. “This isn’t a black swan, it’s a mammoth,” says one senior officer, who agrees that the repercussions of the coronavirus could yet prove to be far-reaching, long-term and even more so than the September 11 terror attack.

For the IDF, there is another danger inherent in the developments: The ambitious multi-year plan that has been formulated by Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has come up against a huge and unexpected obstacle. The launch of the multi-year plan has already been delayed because of the three elections and the big deficit in the national budget, which has been estimated at a minimum of 20 billion shekels.

The IDF has managed to advance some of the projects by means of a one-time addition of 2 billion shekels that was approved by the transitional government. Now, however, when the price of the systematic neglect of the health system and the shortage of hospital beds are destined to be revealed in all their severity, and when the economy is fearing a recession, the army is facing much harder competition for resources.

This is what happened to Benny Gantz as chief of staff at the beginning of the previous decade: a temporary change in priorities, after the social protest in the summer of 2011, made it difficult for the army and two multi-year plans were buried without a trace.

Still, the IDF’s argument will be stated with fervor in the coming months, even if the politicians don’t have time or attention now for long-range decisions. The General Staff will present “momentum,” the Israeli military’s multi-year strategic plan, as an insurance policy, necessary for protecting Israel’s national security.

In the past decade, it will be argued, there has been considerable improvement in the operational capabilities of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah and to a lesser extent the Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, the withdrawal by the United States from the nuclear agreement has enhanced the need for planning for a regional clash that will also include Iran.

Without a drastic improvement in the IDF’s capability, it will be difficult to maintain the qualitative gap between Israel and the enemy. According to the army, the result in the case of a war will be prolongation of fighting for many weeks, during which the IDF will have difficulty ensuring a decisive victory and Israel will pay a far steeper price in losses and economic damage.

The cabinet has not yet found time to discuss the multi-year plan in depth. In preliminary discussions with the elected officials, Kochavi presented a diagram showing the narrowing of the capability gaps between the IDF and its enemies. He revived the expression coined by Ehud Barak in his day, which described Israel as a villa in a jungle. The chief of staff argued that without authorization of the multi-year plan, the country will be in a situation in which the top floor of the villa is exposed and vulnerable.

The answer to this situation, according to the IDF, includes not only extensive acquisition of precise attack weaponry and missiles to intercept rockets (for systems like the Iron Dome and Arrow 3), but also massive equipping with new technological means, with extensive emphasis on the field of cyber. In light of the political situation, the discussion has not yet delved into details but it is not unlikely that the army will try to persuade the government of the need for a temporary increase in the deficit in order to advance the program – an idea to which the Budget Department at the Finance Ministry is very much opposed to.

 

IN ARAB ISRAELI TOWN, 100 RETURNEES FROM EL CLÁSICO SOCCER MATCH IN MADRID LAST WEEK, FLOUT QUARANTINE

In Arab Israeli Town, 100 Returnees From El Clásico soccer match in Madrid last week, Flout Quarantine
Some of them went to the El Clásico soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona earlier this month where two others Israelis who were later found to have coronavirus also attended
By Jack Khoury
Haaretz
March 13, 2020

A hundred residents of the Arab-Israeli town of Tira who recently returned from overseas and are required to quarantine themselves at home (along with everyone else now arriving in Israel from abroad, both citizens and tourists) are walking around the city unrestricted, according to the municipality.

Some attended the El Clásico soccer match in Madrid last week, which was attended by two other Israelis who got diagnosed with corona upon their return. Tira’s Mayor Mamoun Abd al-Hay said he was considering turning to the police to enforce the quarantine, calling on Tira residents to adhere to Health Ministry guidelines. He noted that no case of corona had surfaced in the city of 26,000 yet.

The head of the local parents committee, Muaz Iraqi, told Haaretz that some of the people returning to Israel continued with their routines, sending their children to kindergartens and schools. “Earlier this week, parents became troubled and the number of children attending schools dropped. There was a lot of pressure by parents to take concrete steps,” he said.

Due to the situation and parental pressure, the municipality decided to close all schools from Thursday until Sunday. Thousands of children, from kindergarten to high school, did not come to class. Meetings will be held on Friday and Saturday to decide whether classes will be suspended next week as well. In the meantime, schools will be disinfected.

One resident said she decided not to send her daughter to kindergarten even without the decision by city hall. “The fact that parents and residents thumb their noses at guidelines and ignore instructions raises many concerns,” she said. “I know parents who were overseas and did not quarantine themselves when they returned, sending their children to school. It’s an attitude of ‘don’t worry, it will all be fine,’ as if nothing could happen. This only increases the stress.”

Similar complaints have been made in other Arab communities. The Galilee non-profit group, an Arab group promoting health services, held an emergency meeting in Shfaram this week, with the participation of the national committee of Arab mayors, parents committees and a monitoring committee for education in Arab communities. The group’s director, Ahmed al-Sheikh, noted that his group emphasized to the mayors the need for early preparations and increased dissemination of information, asking them to call on residents to abide by quarantine instructions.

“There is no cause for alarm,” said al-Sheikh. “On the other hand, we need to be prepared. The Arab public is relatively young but there’s a need to be extra cautious. Local authorities can help a lot with giving out information to stop the virus, assuming that the required steps are taken and people don’t dismiss the need for quarantine.”

 

CORONAVIRUS MAKES IRAN MORE DANGEROUS: U.S. GENERAL SAYS AFTER ATTACK IN IRAQ KILLS U.S. AND BRITISH TROOPS

Coronavirus Makes Iran More Dangerous: U.S. General Says After Attack in Iraq Kills U.S. and British Troops
U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of Central Command said he believes Iran is significantly underreporting the number of its coronavirus victims
Reuters
March 12, 2020

A top U.S. general said on Thursday that Iran is significantly underreporting the number of its coronavirus victims and he believed that the global pandemic is making Tehran more dangerous, a day after an attack in Iraq that killed U.S. and British troops.

“I think it is having an effect on how they make decisions, I think it slows them down...I believe the numbers are probably significantly underreported,” U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of Central Command, said.

McKenzie said while he did not know for sure what impact the virus was having that “authoritarian regimes” usually react to extreme pressure by looking at external threats.

“I think it probably makes them, in terms of decision making, more dangerous rather than less dangerous,” McKenzie said during a Senate hearing.

“While we are still investigating the attack, I will note that the Iranian proxy group Kataib Hezbollah is the only group known to have previously conducted an indirect fire attack of this scale against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq,” McKenzie added.

Washington blamed Kataib Hezbollah for a strike in December that killed a U.S. contractor, leading to a cycle of tit-for-tat confrontations earlier this year that culminated in January’s U.S. killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and a retaliatory Iranian missile attack that left more than 100 U.S. troops with brain injuries.

The U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq says 18 107 mm Katyusha rockets struck Iraq’s Taji military camp.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a total of 30 of the rockets were fired from nearby truck and that only 18 of them landed at the Iraqi base.

On Wednesday, the U.S.-led coalition said about a dozen personnel were injured. McKenzie told the Senate there were several servicemembers injured, which leaves open the possibility that the additional wounded were contractors.

In a sign of concern that tensions between the United States and Iran could be headed toward open conflict, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday to limit President Donald Trump’s ability to wage war against Iran.

The Republican president has been engaged in a maximum-pressure campaign of renewed sanctions and near-constant rhetoric against Iran, after pulling the United States out of the international nuclear deal reached during the administration of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have mostly played out on Iraqi soil in recent months.

Iran-backed paramilitary groups have regularly been rocketing and shelling bases in Iraq that host U.S. forces and the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

 

DISGRACEFULLY HARNESSING ANNE FRANK FOR COVID19-IMMIGRATION ACTION

The radical anti-Israel extreme left wing Jewish group popular writes:

Never Again Action on Twitter: “Anne Frank didn’t die in a gas chamber. Anne Frank died because she caught an infectious disease in a concentration camp. Unless people are freed from immigrant detention IMMEDIATELY, thousands upon thousands of our neighbors will die horrific deaths. We have to stop it. https://t.co/YQ0JpWx97x” / Twitter

https://twitter.com/NeverAgainActn/status/1238138973844918272

 

(Tom Gross adds: Doubts have been put on this report following publication by Haaretz yesterday.)

ISRAELI RESEARCH CENTER MAY ANNOUNCE IT DEVELOPED CORONAVIRUS VACCINE, SOURCES SAY

Israeli Research Center may Announce It Developed Coronavirus Vaccine, Sources Say
By Ido Efrati
Haaretz
March 13, 2020

Scientists at the Biological Research Institute are making significant breakthroughs in understanding the virus, the sources say, but a long process of pre-clinical and clinical trials is to follow

Scientists at Israel’s Institute for Biological Research are expected to announce in the coming days that they have completed development of a vaccine for the new coronavirus COVID-19.

According to medical sources, the scientists have recently had a significant breakthrough in understanding the biological mechanism and qualities of the virus, including better diagnostic capability, production of antibodies for those who already have the virus and development of a vaccine.

The development process requires a series of tests and experiments that may last many months before the vaccination is deemed effective or safe to use.

Asked about the development, the Defense Ministry said: “There has been no breakthrough in the efforts of the biological institute to find a vaccine for the coronavirus or to develop testing kits. The institute’s work is conducted according to an orderly work plan and it will take time. If and when there will be something to report, it will be done in an orderly fashion. The biological institute is a world-renowned research and development agency, which relies on experienced researchers and scientists with great knowledge and quality infrastructures. There are now more than 50 experienced scientists working at the institute on researching and developing a medical remedy for the virus.”

The Institute for Biological Research, located in the central Israeli town of Nes Tziona, was established in 1952 as part of the Israel Defense Forces’ Science Corps, and later became a civilian organization. It is technically under the supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office, but is in close communication with the Defense Ministry.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu ordered the institute to devote resources to developing a vaccine for COVID-19 on February 1.

Normally, a long process of pre-clinical trials on animals would be the next phase, followed by clinical trials. This period allows for a full characterization of side effects and a better understanding of how different populations are affected.

Yet the global emergency over the coronavirus pandemic may accelerate this process in order to vaccinate as many people who are most at risk from the virus.

The development of an effective vaccine would end the global crisis caused by the virus; it would also protect the world’s population for a more serious outbreak next year, as some predict could happen.

According to a Ynet report, three weeks ago, five shipments of virus samples arrived in Israel from Japan, Italy and other countries. They were brought by a specially secured Defense Ministry courier to the Institute for Biological Research. The samples had been frozen to -80 degrees Celsius. According to health and defense sources, since the samples arrived, there has been intensive work, including by leading experts, to develop the vaccine.

The assessment of experts in Israel and abroad is that the length of time needed to develop a vaccine runs from a few months to a year and a half. Numerous research teams all over the world are participating in the race to develop a vaccine. Many of them at this point are focusing on the way the virus presents itself in animals, with the biggest hurdle being the way it morphs when it moves from animals to human beings.

Shortly after the outbreak started in January, China released the genetic sequence of the virus on open scientific databases so that research institutes and commercial companies could try to develop treatments and vaccines without needing to obtain samples.

Around a month and a half after the genetic sequence was published, biotechnology company Moderna, Inc., based in Boston, Massachussets, announced it had completed the development of a possible coronavirus vaccine. Immediately afterward the vaccine was sent to the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, with clinical trials, which will include up to 25 health participants, to start in April and end in the summer. Any Israel vaccine will presumably also need to go through a similar or even stricter process before it will be approved for use.

 

FOR LEBANON’S NEWLY-FORMED GOVERNMENT, CORONAVIRUS IS JUST THE LATEST EXTENSION OF A MOUNTING CRISIS

For Lebanon’s Newly-formed Government, Coronavirus Is Just the Latest Extension of a Mounting Crisis
The coronavirus hits the country during massive social upheaval, as the Lebanese government struggles with enormous public debt, forcing it to take drastic steps to reign in the economy
By Zvi Bar’el
Haaretz
March 13, 2020

In the large hospital named after Rafik Hariri in Beirut there was no need to wait for the coronavirus epidemic to see the extent of the crisis in medical services. Long before the outbreak of the plague that has so far only hit Lebanon in a limited fashion, patients faced a severe shortage of medicine and medical supplies.

In the orthopedic wards, elective surgeries have been put on hold and those scheduled for urgent operations have discovered that the staff is unable to provide basics such as bags for blood transfusions, artificial knee parts and even needles for anesthesia drips.

The medical staff and hospital managers have joined thousands of protesters in squaring off with security forces and Hezbollah activists in recent months. Neither the transition government nor the government formed a month and a half ago by Prime Minister Hassan Diab could help very much. They may have agreed to sell dollars to this hospital and the rest of the country’s health centers at an official exchange rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds, compared to the black-market price of about 1,800 pounds to the dollar at the time, but the decision was never completely implemented. The health services were forced to pay for medicine and equipment with dollars bought on the black market.

The Lebanese government’s enormous public debt has forced it to take drastic steps, including severe limitations on spending foreign currency. The situation has gotten so dire that individuals and businesspeople who deposited dollars in their bank accounts have discovered that they are not allowed to withdraw their money.

The threatening shadow looming over the government was the impending due date for Eurobond government bonds, whose maturity date for the first series, worth $1.2 billion, was on March 9. Though the central bank may have the money in its vaults, paying out that amount would place the country on the brink of a red line for its depleted foreign currency reserves. This would endanger its ability to fund day-to-day expenses, imports and social security payments for the needy.

At the same time, nonpayment of this debt – the portion of the total national debt that is over $90 billion, about 160 percent of GDP – harms Lebanon’s ability to receive further loans in the international market and endanger the stability of its banks.

The political pressure has been enormous. The governor of the central bank, Riad Salame, demanded that the government meet its obligations and try to find additional sources of financing for its activities. The public stood against the central bank, demanding that the payment be postponed so the government could meet its budgetary commitments and use funds for economic development.

Last Saturday, a historic decision was reached. For the first time, Lebanon will not pay its debts and not redeem its bonds. The country that once enjoyed the title “banker of the Middle East” is now facing a three-sided crisis. It must conduct negotiations with bondholders over how to pay them what they are owed, it must find sources for financing the next two rounds of bond payments – about $700 million in April and another $600 million in June – and it must assemble enough foreign currency to pay for government operations.

Even before they decided to postpone the Eurobond redemption payment, the government unsuccessfully tried to reach an understanding with bondholders – mostly Lebanese banks and foreign investors – who refused to hear of a delay in payment. The government now has two unpalatable options: Give the bondholders a “haircut” pay them less than they are owed, or ask the International Monetary Fund for a loan.

Diab said this week that negotiations with the bondholders could very well last for nine months if “everyone demonstrates understanding and good will.” The question is, who will agree to conduct negotiations with a government that does not keep its commitments, and where will the money come from for payment even if an agreement is reached. The most reasonable path is to turn to the IMF, but Lebanon’s political leaders know that receiving such a loan means a commitment to carry out deep reforms, without which the IMF will not approve the aid.

Reforms have long ago become a false hope in Lebanon, after every government in the last few decades has promised to carry out some reform and ended its term with an even larger debt than when it began. The latest budget approved for 2019 was also phrased in a way that promised reforms, but so far nothing has been implemented.

It is clear to every political and ideological movement in Lebanon that any reforms would require a systematic and effective battle against corruption, greater transparency in government activities, structural changes, including in the central bank, and building a list of budgetary priorities that would meet the needs of the economy, instead of the political elites.

This would mean a loss of control over the sources of funding enjoyed by interested parties, and placing the economy – at least for a few years – under the oversight of the International Monetary Fund. It is hard to imagine the heads of Lebanon’s political movements reaching such an understanding on the nature of the reforms before the government goes completely bankrupt. This is evidenced by the lack of an economic plan attached to the decision to delay the bond payment.

Lebanon has not yet decided whether it wants to restructure its debt by building a new payment schedule over a longer period of time, or to refinance the debt – a step that would mean asking the bondholders to forgo part of what they are owed, in return for a large-scale reform plan.

For now, the government may be enjoying the lull in the ongoing social protests due to public fears of coronavirus, but it will soon need to reach some conclusions regarding its ability to continue running the country.

 

HAMAS ANNOUNCEMENT PUTS A BBC NARRATIVE INTO PERSPECTIVE

Hamas announcement puts a BBC narrative into perspective
By Hadar Sela
BBC Watch
March 13, 2020

Earlier this week the Times of Israel reported that:

The Hamas-run Health Ministry has urged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to avoid travel abroad as the coronavirus continues to spread around the world.

No cases of the virus have been reported in Gaza, where more than 2 million people live, including many in densely populated neighborhoods.

“We call on citizens to not depart the Gaza Strip — unless totally necessary — in order to preserve their well-being,” the ministry said in a statement on Saturday. […]

The ministry also said that all persons returning to Gaza via the Rafah crossing would be required to quarantine themselves in their homes for two weeks.

***

That announcement may come as something of a surprise to those accustomed to the BBC’s cross-platform portrayal of the topic of travel to and from the Gaza Strip – including that sourced from Hamas officials.

“Those in Gaza have great difficulty in travelling at all. There are only two crossings out: Rafah and Erez, controlled by Egyptian and Israeli authorities respectively.” (BBC Culture, September 2019)

“… we are under siege, we can’t…we can’t leave Gaza, you know. You need to wait one year if you decide to leave to study or to attend a festival outside of Gaza. So they need their rights.” (BBC World Service radio, August 2019)

“…it’s just another reminder of how wrong it is that we can’t travel. It’s, you know, it’s unjust.” (BBC Radio 4, August 2019)

“…many young people, I mean, have simply never left Gaza. There’s huge restrictions on freedom of movement. I mean some people you talk to describe it as like living in an open-air prison.” (BBC Radio 1, May 2019)

“It’s not easy because Gaza’s like prison. It’s closed from all sides. The gates of Gaza are controlled by the occupation.” (BBC World Service radio, BBC News channel, BBC World News, May 2019)

“More than half of Gaza’s two million inhabitants live in poverty and rely on aid. And they’re prevented from leaving what is one of the most densely populated regions on earth.” (BBC Two, May 2019)

As has been noted here before, at the Erez crossing into Israel:

“Every day an average of 1,000 Gazan residents enter Israel through Erez Crossing. The vast majority of these people are those in need of medical treatment, but it also includes businessmen, industry professionals, students, individuals going to pray on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and others.”

The Gaza Strip of course also has a border with Egypt and the territory’s other pedestrian crossing into a neighbouring country is located on that border. The Rafah crossing into Egypt has been mostly open since November 2017 and last May Ha’aretz reported that:

“According to data compiled by aid agencies affiliated with the United Nations, 60,907 Palestinians left Gaza via Egypt in 2018…”

While travel to and from the Gaza Strip may certainly not be straightforward, the Hamas-run health ministry’s announcement clearly shows the BBC’s standard portrayal of the subject to be partial and misleading.

 

* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.