Israel & UAE foreign ministers to visit Holocaust museum in Berlin; Saudi ex-intel chief slams Palestinian criticism of UAE deal

October 06, 2020

Photos from last month’s Israel-UAE-Bahrain peace ceremony at the White House



[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach several articles below.

In the first, the Reuters news agency reports that Saudi Arabia’s influential former intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, yesterday evening slammed the Palestinian leadership’s criticism of the UAE-Israel and Bahrain-Israel peace deals.

In remarks in Arabic to one of the Arab world’s major news networks Al Arabiya, he said “There is something that successive Palestinian leadership historically share in common: they always bet on the losing side, and that comes at a price.”

Tom Gross adds: Prince Bandar remains one of the most important people in Saudi Arabia. His daughter is currently Saudi ambassador to Washington and his son (who I know personally) is ambassador to London. They are cousins of, and close to, the crown prince.



The Foreign Ministers of Israel, Gabi Ashkenazi, and of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, are due to meet in Berlin today, at the invitation of German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. Ashkenazi left Israel this morning on a German military plane.

The ministers will visit the Holocaust Museum together and will hold a ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial. While the two have spoken by phone, this will be their first (known) meeting.

Afterwards, they will hold one-on-one and trilateral meetings on a variety of issues, including aviation, trade, and establishing embassies in each other’s countries.

German Foreign Minister Haas called the peace agreement between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain brokered by President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner “the first good news in the Middle East for a long time.”

In his first interview with an Emirati publication last month, Ashkenazi praised the UAE’s leadership and called on the Palestinians to follow the Emirates’ example in normalizing relations with Israel.

His father, Yosef Ashkenazi, was a Bulgarian-Jewish Holocaust survivor and many of his relatives were murdered. His mother is from a Syrian-Jewish family.



1. Saudi former Intel chief slams Palestinian leadership’s criticism of UAE-Israel deal (Reuters, Oct. 6, 2020)
2. Behind new Khashoggi group are anti-Israel activists (Washington Free Beacon, Oct. 5, 2020)
3. Iran sets coronavirus record as capital returns to lockdown (Wall St Journal, Oct. 6, 2020)
4. In third week of lockdown, Israel shows tentative signs of slowing coronavirus spread (Haaretz, Oct. 5, 2020)
5. Long buoyed by high-flying Emirates, Dubai now shares its woes (Wall St Journal, Oct. 4, 2020)




Saudi former intel chief slams Palestinian leadership’s criticism of UAE-Israel deal
By Reuters
October 6, 2020

Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, slammed the Palestinian leadership for criticizing the decision of some Gulf states to normalize ties with Israel.

In an interview with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television aired on Monday, the prince labeled the Palestinian authorities’ criticism a “transgression” and “reprehensible discourse.”

“The Palestinian cause is a just cause but its advocates are failures, and the Israeli cause is unjust but its advocates have proven to be successful. That sums up the events of the last 70 or 75 years,” he said in the first of a three-part airing of the interview.

“There is something that successive Palestinian leadership historically share in common: they always bet on the losing side, and that comes at a price.”

The United Arab Emirates agreed a historic deal to normalize relations with Israel in August, and the Gulf state of Bahrain, a close Saudi ally, followed suit in September.
Palestinians fear the moves will weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position - known as the Arab Peace Initiative - that calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab states.

President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian leadership regarded the UAE’s move as “a betrayal.” Veteran Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi told Reuters the deal was “a complete sell-out.”

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has not directly commented on the normalization deals, but has said it remains committed to peace on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative.

Prince Bandar noted the decades-long support of successive Saudi kings to the Palestinian cause and said the Palestinian people should remember that the kingdom has always been there for them to offer help and advice.

“This low level of discourse is not what we expect from officials who seek to gain global support for their cause,” he said.

While Saudi Arabia is not expected to follow the example of its Gulf allies any time soon, experts and diplomats believe the kingdom has started shifting the public discourse on Israel.

Prince Bandar’s daughter, Princess Reema, is the current Saudi ambassador to the United States.



Behind New Khashoggi Group Are Anti-Israel Activists
By Adam Kredo
Washington Free Beacon
October 5, 2020

A new organization intended to carry out the vision of late Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi is led and staffed by prominent anti-Israel activists, including a controversial lawyer who defended a dozen people allegedly involved in the 9/11 terror attacks.

Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) bills itself as a new human rights group that seeks to “focus on violations by the United States’ closest Arab allies,” according to a New York Times report this week on the group’s foundation. Khashoggi was reportedly working to launch the organization when he was killed in Saudi Arabia in 2018.

While the group positions itself as a pro-democracy watchdog, its leadership is comprised of controversial anti-Israel voices who have targeted the Jewish state. The group’s executive director, Sarah Leah Whitson, is a well-known Israel critic who most recently served as managing director for research and policy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, an isolationist think tank that has pushed anti-Israel and pro-Iran viewpoints.

Whitson attracted widespread criticism in March when she likened Israel’s tough coronavirus quarantine measures to the plight of Palestinians living in the disputed territories. “Such a tiny taste. Missing a tablespoon of blood,” Whitson wrote in a tweet that she later deleted after it prompted accusations of anti-Semitism.

DAWN’s board of directors includes the founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an anti-Israel group that was embroiled in an FBI probe into whether it was funneling cash to the terror group Hamas. Another board member served as legal counsel for Sudan when it was taken to court for alleged involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks.

DAWN’s leaders say the organization is meant to boost Khashoggi’s vision for democracy across the Middle East. He reportedly seeded the idea in 2017, after he fled Saudi Arabia and relocated to Washington, D.C., where he became a frequent critic of Saudi leadership.

“The fundamental premise that democracy and human rights are the only solution for stability, security and dignity in the Middle East is 100 percent Jamal’s point of view,” Whitson said in an interview with the New York Times. “That is what he wanted this organization to be about.”

Among those serving on the organization’s board of directors is Asim Ghafoor, a prominent national security lawyer who has represented the Sudanese government against American victims in litigation stemming from the 9/11 terror attacks, the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Sudan, and the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole.

CAIR’s cofounder Nihad Awad is also a DAWN board member. Prior to joining CAIR, Awad served as the public relations director for the now-defunct Islamic Association for Palestine, a group “described by the U.S. government as part of ‘Hamas’ propaganda apparatus,’” according to information from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which combats anti-Semitism.

CAIR’s leadership has been embroiled in controversy over its connections to the terror group Hamas. The ADL, which offers muted praise for the group’s work, has warned that “at times the organization’s positions and work have been shadowed by early connections between some of CAIR’s top leadership and organizations that are or were affiliated with Hamas” and that “antipathy towards Israel has been a CAIR staple since the group was founded.”

Awad was an early supporter of Hamas, stating in 1994: “After I researched the situation inside Palestine and outside, I am in support of the Hamas movement more than the PLO.” Asked by Al Jazeera in 2000 if he would condemn Hamas, Awad stated, “We do not condemn, and we will not condemn any liberation movement inside Palestine or inside Lebanon.”

Prior to joining Dawn, Whitson spent a short time at the Quincy Institute, which is funded by billionaires Charles Koch and George Soros. Her anti-Israel Twitter outburst contributed to allegations that Quincy was founded to push anti-Israel causes and attack the Jewish state.

Whitson also worked at Human Rights Watch, another advocacy group that has spent years criticizing the Israeli government and its policies in the West Bank area. She made headlines during her time there for attempting to raise money in Saudi Arabia by highlighting the group’s anti-Israel work.



Iran Sets Coronavirus Record as Capital Returns to Lockdown
Government shuts schools, movie theaters, beauty salons, coffee shops, mosques and other businesses and institutions
By Aresu Eqbal
Wall Street Journal
Oct. 6, 2020

“The transmission of this virus is getting out of control,” Payam Tabarsi, head of the infection ward at Tehran’s Masih Daneshvari hospital for respiratory diseases, told the reformist Mardomsalari newspaper Monday. Some 80% of health workers at the hospital have been infected with the coronavirus.

“Health-care personnel are exhausted and fatigued, and the number of critical patients increases every day,” he said.

Iran is in the throes of a third surge of coronavirus infections. On Monday it added 3,902 infections and 235 deaths to its total toll – a record number of deaths that it also hit in late July. Roughly 475,000 people in Iran have been confirmed as infected, and more than 27,000 have died from Covid-19.

While most of the country has seen rising infection rates, Tehran and its suburbs, a metropolitan area of some 16 million residents, has been a main coronavirus hot spot since the outbreak in Iran began in February.

As in other countries, the easing of Iran’s first lockdown increased the contagion risk by allowing people to gather in closer proximity. The most recent surge follows a national religious holiday, during which many Iranians travelled.

The government has largely blamed residents for failing to adhere to health guidelines, including social distancing and mask wearing, and weeks ago warned that travel during the holidays would lead to a surge in infections.

The difficulty in getting the virus under control reflects an attempt by Iranian authorities to balance public health concerns with a need to keep the country’s sanctions-battered economy alive.

The pandemic hit Iran’s economy particularly hard, as the Islamic Republic was already struggling under U.S. sanctions imposed after President Trump in 2018 withdrew from an international nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers.

The new U.S. sanctions isolated Iran from global financial markets and diminished its exports, including oil, leaving Tehran with fewer engines than most other countries to keep up economic activity when forced to go into lockdown to contain Covid-19.

Such restrictions slashed the purchasing power of Iranian citizens as they rattled Iran’s volatile currency. The open-market value of the rial hit a record of 300,000 to the U.S. dollar last week, up from around 140,000 in February, before the pandemic. Officially, the rial trades at 42,000 to the dollar.

Bans on religious tourism have added to Iran’s economic pain. Weeks ago, Iran canceled ceremonies for Muharram, one of the most important religious holidays for the world’s Shiite Muslims. This week, processions for Arbaeen, another important religious holiday, also were canceled.

The deep economic crisis has made the government reluctant to impose another lockdown, after loosening the first one in April. But health officials recommend even stricter measures.

Alireza Zali, head of the capital’s corona task force, called for the shutdown to be extended for longer than a week.

“A one-week shutdown won’t have any diminishing impact on the transmission of the disease,” Mr. Zali told the national medical council’s website. “The situation in Tehran is completely critical.”

The health ministry said 28 of the country’s 31 provinces were now coded “red,” indicating the highest level of contagion risk. Health officials said restrictions might be imposed on travel around the country, which previously helped spread the virus.

“Hospitals are full. There is no space for new patients and ICU beds have been occupied to a great extent,” Masoud Mardani, a member of the national corona task force’s scientific committee, told state television. “If people travel we will probably have to set up field hospitals.”

Health officials have warned that the country’s hospitals are overwhelmed with new cases, and its health personnel are increasingly falling victim to the virus.



In Third Week of Lockdown, Israel Shows Tentative Signs of Slowing Coronavirus Spread
Health expert attributes the drop-off in the overall incidences of infection to the lockdown, but ultra-Orthodox community continues to buck the trend
By Ido Efrati
Haaretz (Tel Aviv)
Oct. 5, 2020

Israel’s rate of coronovirus infection – which is among the highest in the world – may be slowing down, according to data from the past few days. But it will take another week or two to see if these preliminary indications reflect a real change.

Health Ministry officials are cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a slowdown, but analysis of the data also show an ongoing rise in the spread of the disease in the ultra-Orthodox community.

The number of new daily cases per million people in Israel is 720 (based on a weekly average) compared to only 155 on September 3. This is far higher than the United States (128 per million), the EU (92) and well over the global average of 37. The number of daily deaths in Israel from COVID-19 (based on a weekly average) is 3.76 per million people, compared to 1.52 in early September.

Along with these disturbing numbers are two worrisome trends. One is the rise in infections in the ultra-Orthodox community, which constitutes 40 percent of the new confirmed cases over the past two weeks, and has contributed to the rise in the seriously ill patients and deaths, according to coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu. The second is the state of the health system, which is suffering extreme overloads that are undermining the health services provided to non-coronavirus patients.

However, the data from the past few days may be indicative of a slowdown. A week ago, on Yom Kippur (September 28) and the following day, September 29, the percentage of the daily tests that emerged positive was 15 percent. That could have been a reflection of the relatively low number of tests (7,700 on Yom Kippur and around 33,000 tests the next day). On September 30 there were more than 9,000 positive tests out of 67,000, a rate of 13.7 percent. On October 1, there 63,600 tests of which 12.1 percent were positive. On October 2, of some 60,000 tests, 11.8 percent were positive, while on October 3, of 23,000 tests, 11 percent were positive.

“It must be said that morbidity is still high, but at least it’s not getting higher,” said Weizmann Institute Prof. Eran Segal, who heads one of the analysis teams accompanying the government’s Magen Yisrael initiative to curb the spread of the virus. Segal said that Health Ministry data show a “significant drop” in the infection coefficient (the number of new infections estimated to stem from a single case) in the Arab community to below R=1. Among the general public there is also a drop to below R=1. “By contrast, in the Haredi community we are seeing that not only is there no slowdown, there’s a rise,” he said, adding that “the number of dead from the coronavirus in the Haredi sector has doubled in a week.”

According to the data analysis by Segal and his team, most of the increase in infections in Israel derives from the Haredi community. Last Thursday, for example, there was a 9 percent increase in the number of confirmed cases in the Haredi community over the previous day, compared to a 6 percent drop in the Arab community and no change in the rest of the population, leading to an overall 2 percent increase on a national level. With regard to patients in serious condition, that same day there was a 6 percent increase in the Haredi community, a 2 percent drop in the Arab community, and no change in the rest of the population. There were 10 percent more deaths in the Haredi community than the previous day, compared to 1 percent more in the Arab community and 6 percent in the rest of the population.

An analysis of the weekly data shows even more starkly the spike in the infection rate in the Haredi community compared to the rest of the Israeli population. The number of confirmed cases in the Haredi community rose 79 percent between the week of September 16 to 23 and the week of September 23 to 30. In contrast, the number of new cases in the Arab community dropped by 33 percent in this same period, while there was a 1 percent rise of new cases in the rest of the population. Moderate to serious cases shot up by 47 percent in the Haredi community, fell 13 percent in the Arab community and rose 3 percent in the general population between those same two weeks. Even more alarming was the coronavirus death rate, which rose 100 percent in the Haredi community, six percent in the Arab community and 48 percent in the general population in that second week.

According to Segal, the slight slowdown in the overall incidence of infection is the result of the lockdown. But the increase in the spread of the virus within the Haredi community reflects the flouting of the rules and the holding of mass events during the holidays. He cited Yom Kippur, in particular, and said that we have probably not yet felt the full impact of that day on the infection rate in the Haredi community. “As far as [the impact of] Sukkot is concerned, we’ll have to continue to monitor things.”

During a press briefing last Thursday, Gamzu said, “The lockdown was necessary. The numbers [of daily new cases] were rising quickly and significantly from 1,500 to 4,000 and at the start of the lockdown to 7,000. Everyone knows I didn’t want the lockdown but when... the hospitals started to exhibit distress, I didn’t hesitate.” He added that the lockdown was already proving to be effective as evidenced by a drop in traffic and less contact between people. But he added that it would not bring the same reduction in the spread of the virus as the Passover lockdown achieved.



Long Buoyed by High-Flying Emirates, Dubai Now Shares Its Woes
The coronavirus is hurting the world’s largest carrier and the city’s travel-dependent economy
By Rory Jones
Wall Street Journal
Oct. 4, 2020

DUBAI – Emirates Airline powered Dubai’s rise from desert backwater to teeming Mideast metropolis, making the city one of the world’s biggest intercontinental hubs and generating a yearslong economic boom.

But now, the coronavirus pandemic and the economic devastation it has wrought have forced the first major downsizing for an airline that has weathered Middle East conflicts and oil-market shocks. As a result, the state-owned carrier’s woes are tearing through Dubai’s economy.

The airline’s parent company, one of Dubai’s biggest employers, has slashed tens of thousands of jobs from its 100,000-strong workforce after the pandemic halted much of global air travel, a fall from grace for an airline that long outmuscled competitors in the U.S. and Europe for landing rights and passengers.

That has in turn driven an exodus of Dubai-based expatriates linked to the airlines, shrinking spending at restaurants, bars and even private schools.

“It is extremely difficult for the hospitality sector, the restaurateurs, the hoteliers, but they are not alone,” Emirates Airline President Tim Clark said in an interview. “The number of people coming into Dubai has significantly reduced. Everything has got to go into a deep freeze.”

Dubai’s Rock Bottom Cafe, near an apartment building where Emirates houses hundreds of staff, once teemed with partyers until the early hours. Now it serves only about 50 people on the weekends, said Mitendra Sharma, the general manager of the Ramee Group, which owns the cafe as well as four hotels in Dubai. The group has cut staff from 1,000 to 300 as its hotels are at 10-15% occupancy, compared with nearly 95% this time last year, he said.

“Emirates was the driving force for the tourists, and it is cutting jobs and reducing destinations,” Mr. Sharma added. “All industries are affected as a result.”

Dubai’s government established Emirates in 1985 with $10 million and two leased aircraft from Pakistan International Airlines. The current ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, helped set up the carrier and ordered that it had to “be good, look good and make money.”

The airline soon became one of the world’s biggest, using a fleet of wide-body jets to ferry passengers through its Dubai hub. Many travelers began to stop in the city, driving hotel and shopping mall construction. That helped contribute to a bubble in the real-estate market and a dramatic collapse during the financial crisis in 2009.

By building a global network that served developing markets, Emirates endured the economic pain in Dubai. It also added to the growing cityscape, building accommodations to house its staff and expanding into hotel operations. In 2014, Dubai International overtook London’s Heathrow as the world’s busiest airport for international travelers, largely driven by Emirates. The city became a playground for Europeans seeking winter sun and Saudis deprived of entertainment options in their more conservative kingdom.

The numbers of pilots, cabin crew and other staff also swelled. “Ladies Night” became popular with Emirates’ majority-female cabin crew in bars on Tuesdays and bottomless Friday brunches multiplied across the city’s hotels and restaurants, fueled in part by aviation professionals.

These same places are dealing not only with Emirates’s job cuts but coronavirus-related restrictions – a double whammy that has wrung the life out of some establishments.

David Cattanach, the general manager of the Irish Village, a popular bar located near Emirates training facilities at Dubai International Airport, said it has to contend with both fewer customers and rules that patrons must keep 6 feet apart. “We won’t break even until the vaccine comes,” he says.

While Dubai reopened to tourists on July 7 after a three-month closure, travel from its top feeder markets – India, the U.K., Saudi Arabia, China and Russia – has remained depressed due to high levels of infections or travel restrictions. The surge in cases globally means Emirates is now carrying 12% of the passengers it did this time last year, according to Mr. Clark.

Dubai’s travel and tourism sector has contracted each month since January, mirroring a decline in activity across the emirate, according to an index compiled by IHS Market. Real-estate firm Colliers International predicts Dubai hotels will see occupancy of just 45% to 50% during 2020. S&P Global Ratings said Saturday it expects Dubai’s economy will contract by around 11% in 2020, citing the city-state’s concentration in travel and tourism.

The U.A.E. reported 1,231 new daily coronavirus cases Saturday, a record, taking its total to 97,760 cases and 426 deaths since the pandemic began.

To entice people to travel, Emirates is committing to covering passengers’ medical expenses if they are diagnosed with Covid-19.

“That’s been really, really helpful,” said Kabir Mulchandani, who runs the luxury five-star Five Hotel on Dubai’s palm-shaped island. It saw occupancy among tourists collapse at the start of the pandemic but is now welcoming more foreigner travelers.

Emirates passengers coming to the United Arab Emirates must present a negative Covid-19 test four days before departure. Dubai doesn’t break out figures on cases, but its population makes up a third of the nearly 10 million people in the U.A.E., which on Sept. 21 surpassed China in total confirmed infections.

Dubai officials have long wanted the airline to operate without further cash injections from the state and to remain profitable in its own right. Emirates said it would need a bailout in March. Officials moved quickly to shore up the airline with $2 billion in equity, the first time the government had provided fresh capital since its establishment.

The Dubai government didn’t respond to questions on the bailout or broader impact of Emirates’ downsizing. The airline declined to comment on cost savings from the job cuts.

GymNation, a fitness center operator popular with cabin crew, lost members after Emirates job cuts and for a moment considered nixing plans to open a new branch near staff apartments but decided to move ahead, hoping the airline would rehire once the global travel market rebounds, according to CEO Loren Holland.

The Dubai branch of private school Kent College – a U.K. institution that Mr. Clark attended as a child – is now negotiating discounts with parents of Emirates staff who have lost their jobs, according to Principal Anthony Cashin. Pilots still employed also have had education allowances trimmed, further straining the school’s finances, he said.

“It’s a tough time,” Mr. Cashin added. “We’re working with families case by case.”


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