Gantz Does About Face, Moves Toward Unity Government With Netanyahu, Likud; Labor, Gesher To Join

Benny Gantz, leader of the opposition party Blue and White, shocked supporters by moving towards a unity government with interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Gantz was elected speaker of the Knesset, signaling a likely unity government. Gantz told the Knesset, “These are unusual times and they call for unusual decisions. That’s why I intend to explore the formation of a national emergency government.” Gantz cited the COVID-19 crisis and the need not to drag the country towards a fourth round of elections during the pandemic as the basis for his decision. Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

The door was opened for Gantz to become speaker after former speaker Yuli Edelstein, a Netanyahu supporter, resigned rather than obey an Israeli supreme court order for him to reopen the Knesset and hold an election for a new speaker—an election he was sure to lose. Edelstein had closed the Knesset due to coronavirus fears. Critics say Edelstein was thwarting democracy. Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

Gantz’s move towards a unity government angered his supporters. Gadeer Mreeh, a Druze lawmaker from Israel’s Arab Druze minority said, “A leader does not betray his principles and his electorate … I will not sit one day under the corrupt [premier].” Reported by Reuters. Read more…

Also reported by Fox News. Read more…

U.S. President Donald Trump telephoned Netanyahu to congratulate him on being the one to form Israel’s next government. Reported by Times of Israel.Read more…

Gantz defended his decision in a Facebook post, saying he was at peace with it because “I did what my nation needs.” Continuing, Gantz said, “These are unusual times. Israel is in a state of emergency. Hundreds of thousands of families are hunkering down in their homes. There is a real sense of emergency in the face of a health threat that is taking human life and in the face the threat of economic devastation … This is the time for leaders to choose what is right and put the lingering issues and personal scores aside.” Gantz also praised his former partners, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, in the now-defunct Blue and White party, saying they were “patriotic” and “principled.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Gantz also addressed Lapid and Ya’alon in a separate tweet, explaining, “At the end of the day, I believe we must not drag Israel to a fourth election at such a challenging time, when the country is dealing with the coronavirus crisis and its fallout. We disagree on that point.” He complimented the two lawmakers, stating, “In my eyes, you will always be patriots who love the country and act on behalf of it wherever they are.” Earlier, Lapid had said, “The coronavirus crisis doesn’t give us the right or permission to abandon our values … We promised not to sit under a prime minister with three criminal indictments. We promised not to sit in a coalition of extremists and extortionists. We said we wouldn’t allow anyone to undermine Israel’s democracy. And on this week of all weeks, in which the attacks on the justice system were at their worst, a prize is given to those who disobey the law. A prize to criminality. You can’t crawl into a government like that and tell us you did it for the good of the country.” Ya’alon was more subdued, saying that Gantz’s “decision to crawl into Netanyahu’s government, which represents everything that we oppose, is disappointing to say the very least.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Israeli media reports also suggested that the Labor party would join Gantz in forming a government with Netanyahu, along with MK Itzik Shmuli and the Gesher party’s MK Orly Levy-Abekasis. There is no chance, however, Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman will follow Gantz into a Netanyahu led government, said a source close to Liberman. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

In fact, Liberman blasted the developing unity deal, saying his party would stay in the opposition. He characterized any unity government that included the interim prime minster as only another Netanyahu government, saying, “unlike others, we have no intention of deviating from our path or the promises we made to the public that voted for us.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Netanyahu and Gantz worked overnight the last weekend in March trying to iron out the details of a new unity government. A joint statement from the two the following day stated that they had reached “understandings and significant progress.” In a video released before the meeting, Netanyahu told Israelis, “We’re on the way to a unity government; we will join forces for you, for our country.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

More Reported by i24 News. Read more…

One thing seems certain, current Health Minister Yaakov Litzman will remain in his post. Gantz had demanded that Litzman be dismissed but backed down after Netanyahu offered the justice ministry to Gantz’s party. Read more…

Litzman has been under fire for his response to the coronavirus. Litzman chairs the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party. Litzman has become so controversial that a group of senior Israeli medical officials have addressed a letter to Gantz and Netanyahu urging that Litzman be dismissed and replaced with a medical professional. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

The unity government may see as many as 30 ministries, 15 for the the Likud, Yamina, United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, and 15 for Gantz’s party and its possible allies, Labor and Gesher. Gantz justified his decision to join forces with Netanyahu in an op-ed for The Times of Israel, saying, “At this time of crisis, I had no choice but to put politics aside and choose the only path that allows us to avoid fourth elections.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

However, achieving a unity government is proving more difficult. While some were saying the party would be formed as early as last Monday, others say squabbles within Netanyahu’s bloc were complicating the negotiations. The disputes center over some of the cabinet posts and who will be the Knesset’s next speaker. Gantz’s faction is demanding the lion’s share of the cabinet’s top positions. Gantz’s coalition has also rejected a request that former speaker Yuli Edelstein be re-appointed. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Meanwhile, Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar is arguing against a large government with 30 ministry portfolios. “Fifteen ministries for the 58 seats of the right-wing bloc seems like a reasonable or even modest key, but 15 ministries for a faction with 15 seats is completely unrealistic,” Sa’ar said in a recent interview. “An evenly balanced government does not justify having an equal number of ministers.” Sa’ar says the key to a smaller government rests with Gantz, who should demand fewer ministries for his faction. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

A draft of the unity agreement shows Netanyahu would remain prime minister for 18 months, with Gantz in an “acting prime minister” role, and the two would then swap for the next 18-months. Netanyahu would live at the current official prime minister’s residence, while Gantz would have another “official” residence elsewhere. Some have criticized the building of an expensive new residence for Gantz, but Gantz, for his part, says he will continue to live at his current address. Likud called the report “fake news.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

A unity deal is proving more elusive by the day, however. Netanyahu’s supporters are less than happy that he has promised two important ministries, defense and justice, to Gantz. Both are critical to their aspirations of holding on to power. Yamina has even threatened to leave the coalition rather than join a government that would not annex the West Bank. Gantz, for his part, can’t return to his former allies; his only way is forward in a deal with Netanyahu. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

The Labor party has ended its partnership with the left-wing Meretz party, in preparation to joining a unity government with Netanyahu’s Likud and what is left of Gantz’s Blue and White. While Labor chairman Amir Peretz is set to become a minister in the new government, the only other Labor party member to win a seat in the Knesset, Merav Michaeli, said she “will not be part of any move that will advance the entry of the Labor party into the corrupt Netanyahu government.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

At the end of the first week in April, Gantz and Netanyahu remained in negotiations, with Netanyahu currently quarantined because of COVID-19, and Gantz talking to the interim prime minister from Netanyahu’s patio. The meeting was again described as “positive” where “understandings were reached.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

 

 

COVID-19 Ravages Middle East; Experts Worry About The Extent of Outbreak in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq; Saudi Arabia Urges Pilgrims To Reschedule

Iran and the rest of the Middle East continue the fight against the COVID-19 virus. In Iran, almost 300 people have died from drinking methanol, a form of alcohol used industrially, in the mistaken belief it protects against the virus. Drinking alcohol is forbidden under Iran’s Islamic law. Reported by The Times of Israel.Read more…

Thousands in Iran are in critical condition as a result of the virus. Iran’s military built a 2,000-bed field hospital in an exhibit center in Tehran to help local health care officials deal with the pandemic. The facility will be used for persons who have contracted the virus. In Yemen, the U.S. Agency for International Development has scaled back aid to Houthi rebel-controlled areas because the rebels are resisting measures to ensure the aid goes to those who most need it. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Meanwhile, U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called on the Trump administration to ease sanctions on Iran. Biden said, “in times of global crisis, America should lead. We should be the first to offer help to people who are hurting or in danger. That’s who we are. That’s who we’ve always been.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo disputes, however, whether sanctions are hampering Iran’s battle against the virus. Iran has been one of the nations hit hardest by the virus. Reported by Fox News.Read more…

The Trump administration may have another reason for refusing to ease sanctions. On April 1, Trump tweeted that Iran or its proxies were planning a sneak attack on U.S. assets in Iraq. “If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!” Trump continued. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

Iranian officials quickly responded. The Chief of Staff of Iran’s army, Mohammad Bagheri, said that the recent attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq had nothing to do with Iran, but were “a natural response by the Iraqi people.” Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, also hit back, tweeting, “Don’t be mislead [sic] by usual warmongers, AGAIN. Iran has FRIENDS: No one can have MILLIONS of proxies. Unlike the US—which surreptitiously lies, cheats & assassinates—Iran only acts in self-defense.” Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

Saudi Arabia has called on Muslims to postpone booking pilgrimages to Mecca to help stem the spread of COVID-19 in the Middle East. Some 2 million Muslims make the pilgrimage each year. However, despite the call to postpone the pilgrimages, Saudi Arabia is not closing the site to visitors. Reported by Fox News.Read more…

At the other end of the spectrum, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has closed its doors to prevent the spread of the virus. It is the first time the church has closed it doors since 1349. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

Health officials and others are concerned that the number of people infected by COVID-19 in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq far exceed official numbers disclosed by the three governments, and that non-state actors are quarantining whole communities of patients. In a report in The Guardian, the media outlet says that officials have expressed concern that Iran and Lebanon are likely holding thousands in quarantine and that a lack of disclosure poses a serious health risk. Even more concern has been expressed over Syria, where the health care infrastructure has been weakened by 9-years of civil war, and hundreds of thousands of refugees are crammed into camps along the Syria-Turkish border. Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

Reported cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip surpassed 100 by the end of March. Most of those cases were in the West Bank, where at least one person has died from the virus.  Mohammed Shtayyeh, the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, said that China had promised to deliver testing kits and ventilators to the Palestinians. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Hamas leader Yahya Siwar threatened to take ventilators “by force” is Israel did not send more to the Palestinian enclave. “If ventilators are not brought into [Gaza], we’ll take them by force from Israel and stop the breathing of 6 million Israelis,” Sinwar threatened, according to Israeli media. Sinwar also accused Israel of not allowing medicine into Gaza. Hamas has issued strict quarantine orders for those entering the Gaza Strip to stop the spread of the virus. “When we decided to establish compulsory quarantine facilities for people returning to Gaza, we knew that it would be a difficult decision that would cause a lot of criticism against us. It’s our first line of defense. We can’t allow the epidemic into Gaza,” Sinwar said. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Finally, a recent study suggests that middle-aged people between the ages of 30 and 60 may also have a higher risk from COVID-19 than those under 30. The study, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal, found that 4% of infected people in their forties required hospitalization; the number doubled for those in their fifties. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Netanyahu Threatens Lockdown If No Improvement in COVID-19 Cases; Virus Spreads Through Ultra-Orthodox Communities; Bennett Seeks To Have Intelligence Services Monitor Israelis for COVID-19 Spread; Bennett Seeks To Have Virus Fight Transferred to IDF, Defense Ministry

Israel’s interim prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, warned that unless there is improvement in the number of reported coronavirus cases, he would have no choice but the order the country into a complete shutdown. During meetings with his ministers to discuss additional steps that could be taken to combat the virus, Netanyahu reportedly told them to make preparations to significantly tighten restrictions on transport. “The prime minister also stated in the discussions that if we do not see a reduction in the numbers of infected in the next two days we will have no choice but to impose a full closure,” a statement from his office said. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has pushed back against a lockdown, however, saying the country may see more suicides than deaths from the virus if a lockdown were imposed. “We have to understand the massive distress of those who won’t have enough money to pay their rent — we may have more suicides than deaths from coronavirus,” he said. Instead, Bennett called on the government to work to reopen businesses as quickly as possible. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

COVID-19 also spread rapidly through Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox communities, with Jerusalem and Bnei Brak being the hardest hit. Bnei Brak has almost as many infections as Tel Aviv, a city more than twice its size. Reports indicate that Ultra-Orthodox communities violated the government’s regulations on several occasions, gathering for mass prayers and weddings, which may have facilitated the spread of the virus. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

At the end of March, IDF soldiers began bolstering police units in an effort to impose new restrictions imposed by the government. According to the IDF, some 500 soldiers would assist police “in patrolling, isolating and securing certain areas, blocking routes and additional similar assignments.” Reported by i24 News. Read more…

Then, a week ago, Netanyahu went into quarantine after one of his aides tested positive for COVID-19. Reported by Fox News. Read more… (Ed. note: Netanyahu has since come out of quarantine).

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s defense minister, told Israelis that the country must develop the capacity to become self-reliant in its fight against COVID-19. “The State of Israel must develop independent capabilities in everything related to dealing with the COVID-19 virus pandemic,” Bennett declared. “We cannot remain dependent on procurement from other countries. We must develop independent, advanced capabilities.” He announced that the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Invoytec, an Israeli medical company, will begin manufacturing Israeli developed ventilators. Israel’s health ministry has already accepted delivery of 30 ventilators made by the joint venture between the two Israeli companies and Israeli defense ministry. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

Bennett has also proposed a highly controversial program to have Israeli military intelligence and the controversial intelligence firm NSO Group assist in tracking carriers of COVID-19 in an effort to better predict outbreaks. According to the reports, Bennett has proposed allowing NSO and an elite military intelligence group known as Unit 8200 (similar to the USA’s National Security Agency) to access data gathered by Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, to perform the tracking analysis. Lawmakers voiced opposition to the idea, however, and the idea appeared dead in the water. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

However, a Knesset committee approved the collection of personal date on citizens. This was a controversial measure enacted by the interim government earlier in the month of March to fight the spread of COVID-19. Shin Bet collected the information from cell phones, which is used to track and notify people of potential infection. It is also used by police to enforce quarantines. A subcommittee of the Knesset’s Clandestine Services Subcommittee approved the move after a marathon session. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

The technology may do Israel little good. Hundreds of people have been entering the country from areas hit hard by COVID-19. But they’ve not been tested upon arrival and were not sent for quarantine in hotels set up for that purpose. Although Bennett’s office issued an order that all arrivals from the U.S., Italy, or Spain were to go into quarantine, the order was not carried out. Apparently, during a cabinet meeting with Netanyahu, it was decided to nix Bennett’s plan. As a result, hundreds of passengers from those countries have been able to enter Israel without being tested or quarantined. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Netanyahu later reversed course, ordering that the Health Ministry to enforce regulations requiring new arrivals to Israel be taken to quarantine. He gave the order after it came to light that new arrivals were walking out the doors of Ben Gurion airport without being required to submit to quarantine. Nor were they being tested. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

On April 1, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recommended that all Israelis wear masks when out in public. He suggested that people who do not have masks use an improvised facial covering instead. He also announced new strict limitations on travel in and out of Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox city with one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the country. The Director-General of the Israeli Health Ministry said that Israelis should not rush out to buy masks but instead leave them for medical professionals. Netanyahu also announced that families would get a stipend of NIS 500 per child, which is about $140 USD. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who has come under fire for his policy regarding COVID-19, tested positive for the virus last week. It appears the minister broke his own department guidelines by attending group prayer services days before he was diagnosed. Ministers are unhappy with Litzman, with one media report4 stating an unnamed minister accused Litzman of putting “all of our lives in danger.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

On April 4, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said that management of the COVID-19 pandemic should be transferred immediately to his office and the IDF. In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12, Bennett characterized the fight against COVID-19 as a “war.” “If we want to cope with this [pandemic], if we want to reopen the Israeli economy, then all responsibility for managing the coronavirus crisis — from A to Z — must be transferred to the IDF and the Defense Ministry as quickly as possible,” Bennett said. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

At the end of March, Israel had confirmed 5,358 cases of COVID-19 and reported 20 deaths. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

As of April 5, 2020, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Israel jumped to 8,018, with 47 fatalities. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

 

FBI Concludes Robert Levinson Died in Iranian Custody, Family Says

The FBI has concluded that Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran in 2007, is dead, and that he likely died in Iranian custody. The Levinson family, in a Facebook post on a page managed by them, “Help Bob Levinson,” say U.S. officials recently reached out to them to share intelligence that led the U.S. to believe the retired FBI agent was dead. The statement says that they do not know how he died, only that it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. The family thanked the Trump administration for efforts to bring Levinson back. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

New Leader of U.K. Labor Party Vows to Tear Out Poison of Anti-Anti-Semiticism

Britain’s Labor party has a new face—Keir Starmer, who has been elected as its new leader. Starmer, whose wife is Jewish, apologized to Jews for anti-Semitism in the party’s ranks, saying, “We have to face the future with honesty. On behalf of the Labor Party, I am sorry … I have seen the grief that [anti-Semitism] brought so many in Jewish communities.” Starner also vowed to “tear out this poison by its roots.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

A number of Israeli ministers welcomed the change. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said, “I hope he will live up to his promise to eradicate anti-Semitism that has emerged in the party in recent years and, like former Labor leaders, he will strengthen the friendship between Britain and Israel.” Labor leader Amir Peretz said, “Your victory and commitment to ‘removing the stain of anti-Semitism’ creates hope for Israeli-British relations, and for building political-social partnerships for peace and social justice. Good luck!” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Israel Closes Border As Coronavirus Spreads; EU Seals Borders; Gaza Reports First COVID-19 Cases; Egypt Likely Underreporting COVID-19; Syrian Refugees At Severe Risk

Israel has closed its borders to all foreigners seeking entry to the country in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19. Prior to the border closure, Israel had been allowing non-nationals into the country if they could demonstrate the ability to self-quarantine. Under the new ban, however, all non-Israeli nationals will be barred from entering the country. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Israel’s Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, has also instructed Israeli Police to prepare for a complete lockdown of the county. Erdan described such a move as “inevitable.” During a conference Erdan told participants that, “I am convinced that in view of the situation that has arisen, this is an inevitable decision that will save many lives.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

More Reported by i24 News. Read more…

As of March 18, 2020, the number of people infected worldwide by COVID-19 was more than 200,000, while deaths from the pandemic exceeded 8,000. Travelers seeking to return home as European nations closed border clogged the highways, slowing the movement of needed supplies. The United States and Canada were reported to be working on a mutual ban that would restrict non-essential travel between the two nations. Reported by the Times of Israel. Read more…

The European Union has sealed its borders, barring visitors from traveling to Europe for 30-days. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

Israel will impose a total lockdown when it feels it is losing control over the COVID-19 situation said Avi Simhon, chairman of the National Economic Council in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. “If we feel that the number of people infected in one day is so high that we are losing control, that we’re headed to a situation of thousands of new infected a day, we will hit the brakes and declare a lockdown,” he told The Times of Israel, saying it was impossible to determine how the quickly the virus might spread. The Israeli Health Ministry has warned that if citizens do not adhere to restrictions and guidelines issued by the government the virus could kill thousands. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

The number of COVID-19 infections in Israel rose to 883 by Saturday, March 21. Israel’s first fatality was also reported, an 88-year old man. Fifteen patients were in serious condition. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

The Gaza Strip has also reported its first two cases of coronavirus, raising concerns that if the virus spreads there, it could overwhelm Gaza’s health care system. The virus was confirmed in two men who traveled from Egypt. Gaza’s isolation due to an Egyptian and Israeli blockade may have delayed the arrival of the virus there. The Palestinian Authority prime minister, Mahammad Shtayyeh, ordered people to stay home for two weeks to slow the spread of the virus. Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

Egypt itself may be grappling with a higher rate of the virus than what the government is reporting. Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

Hamas may have also threatened to spread the virus in Israel. According to a report in Breaking Israel News, a Lebanese newspaper with close ties to Hamas says that Gaza warned Egypt and Qatar that if the flow of money to the enclave does not continue, they will send half of Israel into bond shelters and increase the number of coronavirus patients. Reported by Breaking Israel News. Read more…

Some believe that COVID-19 could be and indication that we are in the war between Gog and Magog, as foretold in the Bible. Shmuel Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of Tzfat, during a lecture discussed the concept of God wielding a pandemic as a weapon. According to Eliyahu, the virus is part of the war, and will hit particularly hard nations who boycotted or caused Israel to suffer. Reported by Breaking Israel News. Read more…

At the opposite end of the spectrum, in a marvelous display of hypocrisy, Israel-hating Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, who denies the Holocaust, issued a religious ruling that it is okay for Muslims to buy a “Zionist” vaccine against coronavirus. Reported by Breaking Israel News. Read more…

Oddly, Syria claims it has no outbreaks of coronavirus. However, given that Syria’s health care system has been devastated by the nine-year long civil war, limited testing in some areas and no testing available in others, the virus may be running unchecked. Particularly vulnerable will be those in northern Syria in the Idlib province where a recent government offensive has pushed refugees into crowded refugee comps at the border with Turkey. Reported by U.S. News and World Report. Read more…

Medical workers are warning that a coronavirus outbreak in northern Syria could be devastating due to a lack of medical equipment and infrastructure. Reported by The Voice of America. Read more…

As COVID-19 continues to spread, people have questions regarding the virus. Isaiah Arkin, a virus researcher and professor of Structural Biochemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, gave some answers about how virus’s such as COVID-19 work, in an interview with The Times of Israel. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

 

Rivlin Selects Gantz to Form Next Government; Speaker Shuts Knesset As Vote Looms to Remove Netanyahu as Interim Prime Minister; Likud, Blue and White, Discuss Unity Government

Although Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party won 36 seats in Israel’s most recent election, it was Benny Gantz who received the nod from Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, to form a government. Gantz received the endorsement of 61 parliamentarians. Rivlin urged Gantz and Netanyahu to meet and discuss the possibility of forming a unity government. Gantz received endorsements from both Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party and the Arab Joint List party. Netanyahu has urged Gantz to form an emergency government with him to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

Rivlin also swore in members of the new Knesset. He swore them in in groups of three as a precaution against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In a plea for Knesset members to work together, Rivlin said, “Politics is far from perfect. But politics is meant to be the art of the possible. Often, politics needs to be the art of compromise… At the heart of democracy lies the understanding that what often creates the requirement for compromise, to make deep and painful concessions, is the will of the people itself.” Reported by i24 News. Read more…

After the 23rd Knesset was sworn in, the first bill put forward was a bill to remove incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The new bill, put forward by MK Oded Forer, would require an interim prime minister to step down if under indictment. Netanyahu is currently under indictment on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. The Blue and White party followed a similar path, putting forward three bills limiting a prime minister’s tenure to two terms, halting the tenure of a prime minister who has been indicted, and barring the formation of a government by a Knesset member who is under indictment. Reported by i24 News.Read more…

But before any progress or discussion on the bills could be made, Knesset speaker Yuri Edelstein abruptly closed the Knesset until the following week, citing coronavirus concerns. The move enraged members seeking the ouster of Netanyahu. Reported by the AP. Read more…

The move to close the Knesset also seemed to be in response to Blue and White’s refusal to give Likud equal representation on the “Arrangements Committee,” which oversees the creation of the Knesset’s other committees as well as overseeing the formation and operation of the parliament. The committee could also allow the removal of Edelstein as speaker, a position he has held since 2013. The Knesset’s legal advisor, however, Eval Yinon, says that Edelstein will not be able to continue the closure of the Knesset past Monday the 23rd. In an opinion, he said that if the committee is not formed by the beginning of the week, it must be put to a vote before the full Knesset, a vote Likud will likely lose. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Israel’s president, Rueven Rivlin, called Edelstein and told him to reopen the parliament, saying, “A Knesset that is out of action harms the ability of the State of Israel to function well and responsibly in an emergency. We must not let this crisis, as serious as it is, harm our democratic system.” He also asked Edelstein to ensure ongoing parliamentary action even during the coronavirus crisis, cautioning, “We must do everything to deal with the crisis, being careful not to grievously harm our democratic system.” In response, Edelstein stated Israel’s “democratic process and parliamentary oversight” will only be restored when “we are prepared for it.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

The day before, Interim Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a Netanyahu appointee, closed Israel’s justice ministry, effectively postponing Netanyahu’s trial, which was set to start on Tuesday, March 24. Reported by Haaretz. Read more…

Yair Lapid, a Blue and White MK, blasted the interim government’s actions. Receiving criticism in return, Lapid tweeted, “the instruction [not] to leave home is not the problem; the fact that it is given by an illegitimate government is definitely a problem.” Lapid also posted a video, saying, “It’s possible that it doesn’t really interest you with all this coronavirus in the air, but as of today, you no longer live in a democracy.” Noting that the Justice Ministry was closed on an order without anyone knowing about it, Lapid continued, “The legislature was closed today, illegally. … The previous Knesset speaker, who wasn’t elected to the position [in the current legislature], closed the Knesset. Before that, he refused the request of a majority of the Knesset, 62 MKs, to pick a new speaker instead of him.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Nonetheless, the Likud and the Blue and White have been holding talks for days with the goal of establishing a unity government. Blue and White has reportedly demanded several top ministries, including the Foreign, Justice, Public Security, and Culture Ministries. The two parties have reportedly agreed to have former IDF chief-of-staff Gabi Ashkenazi serve as defense minister. But the two parties are reported to still be dickering over how long current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will serve until Benny Gantz takes over. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

In the end, Blue and White may not be able to hold it together. Three party members—Omer Yanklelevitch, Zvi Hauser, and Yoaz Hendel—are reported to be openly opposed to a government supported by the Arab Joint List.  Orly Levy, from the Gesher party, expressed a similar concern. Yair Lapid meanwhile blasted Netanyahu, saying, “What country has an interim government that forces its people to stay at home.” Three MK members have been quarantined, including two from Blue and White. Reported by Breaking Israel News. Read more…

 

Two U.S. Marines Killed in Attack on ISIS in Iraq; U.S. British Service Members Killed During Rocket Attack on Base; U.S. Retaliates

Two U.S. service members were killed in Iraq on March 8, 2020. They were killed while accompanying and advising Iraqi security forces during a mission to eliminate an ISIS stronghold in north-central Iraq. The two service members were Marine Raiders accompanying Iraqi Special Forces. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

Days later, two Americans and a Briton were killed when between 15 and 30 Katyusha rockets hit an Iraqi base housing U.S. troops. Twelve others were reported injured. Although the military could not confirm the source of the attack, one source told reporters at Fox News that ISIS did not have that capability. Iraqi Security Forces later found a rocket rigged truck a few miles from the base. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

More Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

The dead Briton was identified as L/Cpl. Brodie Gillon, a reservist. She served as a frontline medic and had volunteered for deployment to Iraq. Officials believe the attack was carried out by Kataib Hazbollah, an Iranian proxy group. Ben Wallace, the U.K.’s defense secretary, said that those behind the attack will face justice. Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told Senators that “The Iranian proxy group Kata’eb 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.” Although the U.S. has sent some 10,000 troops to the Middle East, McKenzie says Iran seems undeterred. “What has not changed is their continuing desire to operate through their proxies indirectly against us,” the General said. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

In response to the attack, the U.S. military launched several air strikes targeting multiple bases used by Iranian-backed Shia militias believed to be behind the attack. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

And, a week later, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraq’s prime minister that the U.S. would take action in self-defense if attacked. According to a statement cited by Reuters, “Secretary Pompeo underscored that the groups responsible for these attacks must be held accountable. Secretary Pompeo noted that America will not tolerate attacks and threats to American lives and will take additional action as necessary in self-defense.” His warning came after another barrage of rockets were launched at a base occupied by American personnel. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

UN Blasts Iran on Human Rights as Islamic State Grapples With COVID-19

The U.N. released a damming report on human rights in Iran at the beginning of March. The report, released by the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, said, “Individuals who have called for the alleviation of economic hardships, and those who peacefully exercise their civil and political rights in defense of human rights have faced a harsh response.” The Rapporteur also said he “remain[ed] deeply concerned at the arrest and imprisonment of human rights defenders and lawyers. I received reports that imprisoned human rights defender, Arash Sadeghi, has been denied treatment for bone cancer and a serious arm infection.” The report chronicles Iran’s savage crackdown on protesters against Tehran’s mismanagement of the economy and rising gas prices. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

Meanwhile, COVID-19 is crippling the country and spreading rapidly. Although coronavirus numbers in Iran have escalated every day, analysts believe Tehran is fudging them, and that the true numbers may be even higher. An unnamed professional in Mazandaran, Iran’s third most impacted province, said “The situation is very difficult; the authorities do not provide the exact figures of the dead.” He also stated that “They have even arrested a staff member who shot film inside a hospital, where you could see it was filled with dead people inside a cellar.” Continuing, he said, “And the situation is much worse now. Hospitals (everywhere) are at capacity. No one is reporting the real death toll.” Reported by Fox News. Read more…

In fact, coronavirus cases in the Middle East had pushed well past 10,000 by mid-March, with many of the cases linked to Iran. Iran has reported around 360 deaths and 9,000 cases, although critics believe the number is far higher. Matthew Schmidt, a national security and political science expert at the University of New Haven, says that “Nobody believes the numbers coming out of Tehran.” He also said that it could well be that Iran is now the epicenter of the virus. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

More shocking, satellite imagery shows that Iran has dug two 100-yard long trenches at the Behesht-e Masoumeh cemetery in Qom, which is about 80 miles south of Tehran. The trenches appear to be for the purpose of burying coronavirus dead, confirming fears that the virus outbreak in Iran is far worse than officials are reporting. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

More Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

In a desperate effort to stem the spread of the virus through Iran’s prisons, Iranian officials have released some 85,000 prisoners. Reported by Fox News.Read more…

Not all news from Iran is bleak. A 103-year old woman has survived the virus. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

On Friday, March 20, Tehran finally admitted the seriousness of the virus in Iran when Kianush Jahanpur, a spokesperson for the health ministry, tweeted that “Based on our information, every ten minutes one person dies from the coronavirus and some 50 people become infected with the virus every hour in Iran.” As of Friday morning, however, Iran had officially documented only 11,500 active cases saying that all were mild or non-critical—despite a spiraling death toll that places the country in third place behind Italy and China. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

In an open letter to Americans, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called upon them to urge the U.S. government to end the “dark chapter” of sanctions against Iran. “Even under the circumstances of the pandemic, the U.S. government has failed to abandon its malicious policy of maximum pressure; and is thus in practice aiding the spread of this virus with its sanctions,” Rouhani’s statement was made apparently in response to new U.S. sanctions being placed on Iran the previous week, where the U.S. blacklisted five international companies for doing business with Iran. Rouhani said that the war could only be “won” if all countries worked together. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

Contributing to its woes, many Iranians ignored government requests to stay home to celebrate the country’s new year. Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

 

Virus Death Toll in Iran Likely Higher Than Recorded

On Friday, March 20, Tehran finally admitted the seriousness of the virus in Iran when Kianush Jahanpur, a spokesperson for the health ministry, tweeted that “Based on our information, every ten minutes one person dies from the coronavirus and some 50 people become infected with the virus every hour in Iran.” As of Friday morning, however, Iran had officially documented only 11,500 active cases saying that all were mild or non-critical—despite a spiraling death toll that places the country in third place behind Italy and China. Reported by Fox News. Read more…