News Digest — 6/22/20

Kochavi: Iran Is The Most Dangerous Country In The Middle East Despite The Distance

Despite its distance from Israel, Iran is the most dangerous country in the Middle East, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Aviv Kochavi said Sunday evening (21st).

“Iran has become the most dangerous country in the Middle East,” Kochavi said at a ceremony marking Strategy and Third-Circle Directorate, an entirely new position on the General Staff, which will focus principally on Israel’s fight against Iran.

“Iran has made significant progress with its nuclear program, but the nuclear threat is no longer the only threat.  Iran also possesses conventional weapons,” Kochavi said, adding that while “it is located in the third circle, it highly influences the first and second circle,” he said referring to financing terror groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking at the ceremony, former fighter pilot, Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman, who is the new Chief of the Strategy and Third Circle Directorate in charge of Israel’s fight against Iran, said that the reality of the region “has not been static, but very dynamic” and while the IDF has strengthened its position as a player in international security… faced with the challenges of Iran, the IDF is required to operate in a variety of arenas and dimensions.”

Israel has warned repeatedly about Iran’s nuclear ambitions as well as aspirations of regional hegemony and has admitted to hundreds of airstrikes as part of its “war between wars,” campaign to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the entrenchment of its forces in Syria where they could easily act against Israel.

With more active and explosive fronts on Israel’s borders, with enemy arsenals turning groups like Hezbollah into terror armies, the guiding principle for the IDF’s Momentum multi-year plan is to win any future war as quickly as possible.

The new directorate was formed as part of the IDF’s Momentum Plan, and under Kalman it will bolster the IDF’s attack capabilities, including by technological means for the IAF jets to destroy enemy targets, increase the military’s intelligence superiority and expand its intelligence gathering on the Islamic Republic including by satellites as well as bolster Israel’s cyber (both defensive and offensive) capabilities.

And while Iran will be the directorate’s primary threat, it will also focus on other countries in the region that pose a threat to Israel.

The “three circles” refers to three tiers of direct threats to Israel, the first being terror groups along Israel’s borders, like Islamic Jihad and Hamas.  The second is larger threats like Hezbollah and neighboring enemy militaries, and the third is enemy countries that do not share a border with Israel, like Iran and Yemen.



Israeli UN Envoy Slams Body’s ‘Systematic Mechanism of Discrimination’

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN headquarters in Geneva, Aviva Raz Shechter, delivered a strong rebuke of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Sunday (21st) in her farewell address to the organization.

In a speech marked “Blunt Truths,” Shechter accused the council of unfairly targeting Israel and attempting to foster “institutionalized anti-Semitism” through the notorious Agenda Item 7.

Agenda Item 7 is the only permanent item on the Council’s agenda against a particular country.  It targets Israel and Israel only.  That agenda item requires Israel’s record on human rights to be debated in particularly every meeting of the council, essentially creating a platform to bash the Jewish state to a degree not shared by any other country.

In her speech before the UNHRC, Shechter called it “nothing but a systematic mechanism of discrimination against Israel and Israelis, one deeply rooted in the culture of this council and of some of its member states.”

Accusing the UNHRC of aiding and abetting Palestinian recalcitrance in accepting any peace plan, previous or upcoming, Shechter reminded the council of an important historical fact and a subsequent reality: “Let me remind you today, as I am reaching the end of my term here, that the United Nations called for the creation of two states in November 1947.  The UN resolution was accepted by the Jewish side and rejected by the Arab side.  The Arab effort to deny and destroy the Jewish state started immediately – and for some, has never ceased… But the fact is – demonstrated over and over at the UN Human Rights Council and across the UN system – Palestinian leadership and its representatives prefer victimhood to peace, PR stunts to truth, blame games to taking responsibility either for what has been or what could be.”

Shechter concluded her remarks with a message of hope for compromise, “I hope and pray that we will find a sustainable compromise and enjoy better days ahead at home and in our region, despite your efforts, and not because of them.”



Three Women Will Receive Their Wings At Air Force Graduation Ceremony

Forty Air Force cadets will get their wings this Thursday (25th), including three women, at a completion ceremony for the 180th flight course.  The pilot course is considered one of the most prestigious in the Israel Defense Forces.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Air Force Chief Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin will attend the event.

The grueling three-year course starts with 600 cadets, of whom about two-thirds drop out the first year.  Graduates learn on several types of aircraft, receive a Bachelor’s degree and graduate with the rank of lieutenant.

The ceremony will be conducted with limitations due to the coronavirus.  There won’t be an audience as is usually the case.  Families of graduates will watch the ceremony via broadcasts provided by the IDF and Air Force.

Israel relies heavily on its Air Force to reduce threats to the country by enemies in the region.  The Jewish state has carried out hundreds of strikes on Iranian forces in Syria, which have attempted to entrench there, in an effort to build a land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean.

“Let me reiterate Israel’s policy.  We will not allow a regime hell bent on the annihilation of the Jewish state to acquire nuclear weapons.  We will not allow that regime to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do,  for the express purpose of eradicating our state,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in 2017.



Breakthrough At Israeli Lab As Coronavirus Vaccine Passes First Stage

A coronavirus vaccine developed in Israel was tested successfully on lab hamsters and shows promise as a potential cure for the pandemic, Israel Hayom reported Sunday (21st).

The Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) published a report Friday (19th) showing how the new vaccine being developed in Israel successfully inoculated hamsters against coronavirus.

The vaccination of hamsters “results in rapid and potent induction of neutralizing antibodies against” the coronavirus, the researchers wrote, adding that the lungs of infected hamsters displayed extensive tissue damage while “the immunized hamsters’ lungs showed only minor lung pathology and no viral load.”

The scientists concluded that their method with a single dose vaccination is “a safe, efficacious and productive vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 infection.  These results pave the way for further examination… in clinical trials as a vaccine against Covid-19.”

The IIBR noted that more than 90 vaccines are being worked on around the world using a variety of technologies, none of which have yet been approved.  The Israeli team took a different approach using the “recombinant replicating virus” method that was originally discovered by two American researchers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that Israel has signed an agreement with the American biotechnology company Moderna to acquire vaccines being worked on by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm.

“The company is advancing its development.  They say they can achieve it in the middle of next year, we hope they will succeed, although there is no guarantee of that, but we want to get these vaccines quickly if and when they are developed,” Netanyahu said.  “It puts us in a very good place in the world.”

“We are, of course, continuing our efforts here in the State of Israel at the Biological Institute and we also hope to achieve results there,” Netanyahu said, adding that a vaccine would both solve the spread of the disease on the one hand and allow the government to continue opening up Israel’s economy as a second wave of infections appears to be hitting the country.

Established in 1952 IIBR is an Israeli government defense research institute specializing in biology, medicinal chemistry, and environmental science whose work is mostly classified.

Located in Ness Ziona about 12 miles south of Tel Aviv, the institute employs some 350 people.



Haifa Port Braces For Return Of Cruises By End Of Summer, Hoping To Keep Virus At Bay

The Port of Haifa is bracing to relaunch cruise ships by the end of summer under strict social distancing and hygiene regulations in hopes of keeping the coronavirus at bay.

“Right now, we’re talking about return to activity toward the end of summer,” said port officials.  “We wish to bring back tourists during the busy autumn season.  In practice, it is still too early to estimate when the cruises will return. And it is highly likely that this will only happen next spring.”

The port is still receiving cancellations of cruises for the coming months on a daily basis, but also receives new orders for 2021-2022 at the same time, which should be peak years if the industry resumes full operations.

“We assume that a full return to activity of the cruise industry, including high occupancy of ships, will only happen after a vaccine or an effective cure have been found since both cruise companies and tourists are afraid of getting stuck in the middle of the ocean with sick passengers,” said port authorities.

The cruise industry came to a screeching halt in March as the pandemic first hit the country, causing the port to lose tens of millions of revenue.  This year was projected to be a record year for cruises docking at the northern harbor, however with the virus, everything stopped.

Port officials also said that forced closure of the industry throughout 2020 would see the country miss out on some 60,000 foreign tourists bringing in profits estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars.  Also, in 2020, a similar number of Israelis were projected to embark from the Haifa Port and cruise to other parts of the world.