Israel: A Brief Pandemic Pause

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April 16, 2020: Violence of all sorts has declined as everyone pays attention to the coronavirus (covid19) pandemic. Israel and all its neighbors are coping with the medical and economic impact of the virus whether they want to or not.

Israel is ranked as the most effective nation in dealing with the virus. Israel has developed more successful treatments and is closing in on a vaccine. Israel has the best public health system in the region and, because of the constant threat of attack, the best civil defense system and capabilities to handle a large-scale emergency. So far Israel has suffered 1,444 infected per million Israelis and 15 dead per million. The Israeli population travels to foreign destinations more (per million people) than any other nation in the region. That meant Israel was infected about the same time the rest industrialized nations were.

The virus and quarantine response are hurting the economy. The unemployment rate is up from 4 percent on March 1st to 25 percent now. GDP growth will be less this year. How much less depends on how long the nationwide quarantine and business shutdown lasts.

Israeli medical experts believe the health crises will pass in a month or two. At that point, the terrorist and other violence against Israel will resume. The Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are accumulating more grievances against their leaders (Fatah and Hamas respectively ) because of the inept way the covid19 crises is being handled At first Fatah and Hamas blamed the virus on Israel and insisted the struggle to destroy Israel would go on despite the health emergency. That soon changed because of the Palestinian popular demand for action against the virus. Fatah and Hamas blame any problems dealing with the virus on Israel and the need to continue allocating resources to the fight against Israel. Fatah has bigger problems because there is a constant movement of people between the West Bank and Israel. That allowed the virus to spread into the West Bank. Fatah has been slower to accept Israeli help and put that aid to work.

In Gaza, Hamas has taken advantage of the isolation Gaza normally experiences because of the Hamas sponsored violence. Hamas closed the one crossing to Egypt for a while before opening it again to allow Gaza residents who had business in Egypt to return. Those coming from Egypt were greeted by masked and gloved medical personnel who checked everyone and then put the returnees in 21 days of quarantine to ensure they were not infected. So far Gaza has only had about twenty people infected and those are being treated. The weekly mobs organized by Hamas to try and force their way into Israel have been suspended until the health crises is over.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah has been quick to mobilize their members to deal with the covid19 threat. Uniformed Hezbollah members were very visible aiding victims or handling disinfection and aid distribution work. Hezbollah is desperate to rehabilitate its reputation inside Lebanon. More and more Lebanese are openly criticizing Hezbollah and demanding a government free of Hezbollah violence and influence. For example, many Lebanese blame Hezbollah for bringing covid19 to Lebanon because of frequent travel of Hezbollah personnel to and from Iran. Hezbollah often brings back Iranians with them and several of these recent visitors were later found to have been infected.

April 15, 2020: In the north, on the border between Syria and Lebanon an armed UAV, believed to be Israeli, destroyed a vehicle crossing the border illegally. Israel often targets lone vehicles in this area because intel has identified the people inside as Hezbollah, Iranian or Islamic terrorists trying to attack Israel.

April 14, 2020: In the south, three men were caught trying to sneak into Israel from Gaza. They were arrested after they got past the security fence and were found to be carrying knives and incendiary devices. The three were interrogated and returned to Gaza.

Further south in Egypt (Cairo) police acted on a tip and raided a possible Islamic terrorist hideout. The tip was accurate and one policeman was killed and three wounded as the seven Islamic terrorists fought to the death during the subsequent gun battle. Many weapon and much ammo were found at the location, but no explosives.

April 13, 2020: In the south (east of Gaza in the Negev Desert) an Arab man was confronted by soldiers after he had sneaked onto the Mishmar Hanegey army base. The intruder had a knife and fought the two soldiers, wounding one of them. The intruder then escaped into the pre-dawn darkness and fled the base through the hole in the fence he got in through. The intruder was apparently intent on theft, of weapons or anything portable and of value.

April 12, 2020: Egypt is detecting more people with covid19 but the pandemic has not done major damage. In the last four weeks, the number of infected with covid19 went from 366 to 1,939. Currently, the virus has infected 18 per million Egyptians and killed one in a million. At some point in March, two Egyptian army major generals died from covid19. The national health system in Egypt is largely non-existent and many cases of covid19 will go undetected as will deaths, which can be confused with any number of similar diseases. In contrast, Israel has the best health care system in the region and more of its population is regularly exposed to foreign travelers who unknowingly spread such diseases all over the world. So far Israel has detected 1,241 cases per million population and suffered 12 deaths per million.

April 10, 2020: Israel has again warned Syria to keep Hezbollah away from the Golan Heights. A recent Syrian news video showed the Syrian corps commander in charge of the Golan Heights sector personally showing a senior Hezbollah commander around the Golan Heights border. If this was meant to taunt Israel it worked as Israel announced that both these commanders were on the target list as were any Hezbollah personnel found near the Golan Heights. Israel has occupied most of the Golan Heights since 1967 when they took the area after Syrian used these heights to attack Israeli territory to the south. In 1981 Israel annexed the area. The UN opposed this but that had no impact on the situation. Israel points out that Syria has never made a serious effort to retake the Golan Heights since 1973. In that respect Israel considers the Golan Heights abandoned property and has absorbed it. Iran ordered Syria and Hezbollah to assist Iran in turning the Golan Heights into a combat zone. So far that has gotten a lot of Syrians and Lebanese members of Hezbollah killed. Recently Iran spent a lot of money to recruit nearly 4,000 Syrians into a Syrian branch of Hezbollah. A similar effort was undertaken in Iraq.

April 7, 2020: Another Arab-Israeli has been arrested and charged with working as a spy for Iran. Police have observed the suspect meeting with Iranian intel personnel and then seeking to recruit other Arab-Israelis to work for Iran and help destroy Israel. Since 2014, and the appearance of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), there has been a sharp increase in Arab-Israelis actively working t0 “destroy Israel”. Police estimate that between over 50 Arab-Israelis have actually made it to Syria and joined ISIL and about as many were detected in Israel or in Turkey before they got to Syria. Not many Palestinians (about a hundred) have actually gone to Syria. ISIL put the destruction of Israel high on its todo list and called on Arab-Israelis to join the fight. Many of those who did not want to fight in Syria were receptive to Iranian efforts, via Hezbollah) to recruit Arab-Israelis to serve as spies. In most cases, Iran simply wanted a reliable source of basic information any Israeli citizen could pick up by driving around the country or consulting local media.

April 4, 2020: In Lebanon Ali Mohammed Younes, the head of Hezbollah counter-intelligence (catching spies) was assassinated by gunmen and also stabbed with a knife. Hezbollah blamed this on Israel but few Hezbollah members believed that. The killing was probably because of an internal feud, possibly over money. With the recent sharp cuts in Iranian cash assistance to Hezbollah, there has been a lot scrambling to placate Hezbollah members who have lost their jobs or had their pay cut. Even commanders were hit with cuts and the search for additional funds brought to the surface some of the corrupt deals Hezbollah leaders engage in to enrich themselves and their families. The death of Younes was a plus for Israel because he had led an increasingly successful effort to detect and eliminate Israeli informants in Hezbollah controlled southern Lebanon. This effort was made possible by Iranian technical assistance.

April 1, 2020: Ethiopia announced it would defy Egypt and proceed to begin blocking the flow of Nile River water in July. In the last month, Egypt has tried to get Ethiopia to agree to a plan on how to fill and operate GERD (Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) that was agreeable to Egypt. The dispute over the GERD involves Nile River water rights, which Egypt considers an issue of national survival. Officials say the GERD is about 75 percent complete and filling of the huge reservoir behind the dam can begin. Egypt wants seven years for the initial fill while Ethiopia wants to fill it in four years. Once it is filled, the GERD’s reservoir will serve as a hedge against drought for all nations involved. The GERD will also supply electrical power to a region running from Kenya and Uganda through South Sudan and Sudan to Egypt. The main fear in Egypt that reducing the flow of Nile River water could cause shortages in Egypt that would lead to less food produced.

March 31, 2020: In eastern Syria (Homs province), someone (apparently Israel) carried out an airstrike against Shayrat airbase. Most of the Syrian airstrikes in northern Syria are flown out of Shayat. Satellite photos later showed massive damage to Shayrat with at least craters in the runways and damage to airbase support facilities.

There have been several attacks on Shayrat by unidentified aircraft during the last two years. These were at night and Syria tried to portray many of them as a “mysterious explosion” rather than an airstrike the Syrian military was unable to prevent. Open season on Shayrat began three years ago when the U.S. Navy hit the base with 59 cruise missiles, launched from ships in the eastern Mediterranean. The United States was retaliating for the recent Syrian use of nerve gas. Shayat was inoperable for a day or two because all but one of the Tomahawks hit their targets. This was all about the Syrian government being held responsible for using nerve gas in a recent attack on a rebel village in Idlib province. This would be a clear violation of the 2013 Russian brokered deal where Syria surrendered all its chemical weapons in return for no foreign intervention (as the U.S. has promised) because chemical weapons were used. An August 2013 attack used nerve gas to kill over 1,400 people in a rebel-controlled village outside Damascus. The evidence was overwhelming for the 2013 attack and this latest one in Idlib is equally incriminating. The Syrian government, Russia, Iran and Iraq condemned the American Shayat attack and supported the Syrian Assad government denials that they had anything to do with the use of nerve gas. But the rest of the world either openly supported the attack or were undecided. Most Western nations openly supported the attack as did Middle Eastern nations Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE (United Arab Emirates). This American action was a big deal in Israel which had hoped the newly elected American government would be more supportive of Israeli efforts to deal with Islamic terrorism (both Sunni and Shia) in the region. Israel and its new Sunni Arab allies are particularly concerned about the growing threat from Iran, which the previous U.S. government did not take as seriously as the Middle Eastern nations (particularly Israel) that Iran openly threatened.

March 22, 2020: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) there was apparently another Israeli airstrike against Iranian weapons being stored near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. These border crossings are vital for the Iran-to-Mediterranean land route. This road is essential to supporting any Iranian military expansion in Syria and Lebanon. Israel has bombed it before and will apparently continue doing so. That is what will also happen to the new military base Iran is building here on the Syrian side of the border. The base is nearly complete despite several Israeli airstrikes. At that point, the Israeli airstrikes usually intensify in an effort to obliterate the completed base.

For the first time, the Assad government in Syria admitted that the covid19 virus has reached Syria. Unofficially the virus had been encountered in Syria over a month earlier. The Assad government denied this for as long as they thought they could get away with it. There are still a lot of anti-Assad Syrians in Syria and they believe Assad looked the other way as Iranians infected with covid19 were allowed into the country. This happened before these Iranians experienced symptoms. One can get covid19 and not feel it for a week or two. Most countries avoid letting infected people in by imposing a two-week quarantine on visitors to verify they are virus-free. No such quarantine was imposed on any Iranians coming in.

March 21, 2020: Efforts to improve relations with Morocco continue, but slowly. Morocco still hesitates to establish official diplomatic and economic relations. The small Jewish community in Morocco continues to thrive and tourism between the two countries grows. In 2019 75,000 Israelis visited Morocco and 3,000 Moroccans visited Israel. The growing tourism has made Morocco receptive to allowing regular direct flights between the two countries and fewer bureaucratic obstacles for Moroccans visiting Israel.

March 19, 2020: In Syria, Iranian military advisors are continuing to recruit local Shia into new mercenary units based in the south, near the Israeli and Jordan borders and the northeast, near the autonomous Kurdish provinces. Some of these units are for local defense but the better paid ones will get more training and better weapons so they can be moved around the country as needed.

 

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