News Digest — 10/19/20

Israel, UAE To Sign Agreement For 28 Weekly Flights

Israel and the United Arab Emirates will sign a deal on Tuesday (20th) to allow 28 weekly commercial flights between Ben Gurion Airport, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the Israeli Transportation Ministry said on Sunday (18th).

The agreement, which also allows unlimited charter flights to a smaller Ramon airport in Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat and 10 weekly cargo flights, comes after Israel and the UAE agreed to normalize relations.

The aviation deal will be signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion Airport as flights are expected to begin within weeks, the ministry said.

“This is a historic and exciting day for Israel, which is starting to experience the economic boom with new markets and flight destinations,” Transportation Minister Miri Regev said in a statement.

Regev thanked all the officials who made the agreement possible, wishing luck to “all the Israeli flight companies that will establish new air routes to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and other Gulf states down the line.”

In the meantime, an Israeli delegation, along with several US officials, landed Sunday (18th) at Bahrain to formalize the normalization agreement signed last month along with the UAE.

The delegation, led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, is accompanied by US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, whose office said the mission seeks “expanded economic cooperation” among Israel, Bahrain and the UAE.



Abbas’ Fatah Warns Jerusalem Arabs Against UAE Funding

The Palestinian ruling faction headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday (18th) stepped up its attacks on the United Arab Emirates and accused it of stabbing the Palestinians in the heart with a dagger.

Fatah also warned residents of east Jerusalem of the “Emirati money dipped in Palestinian blood,” an apparent reference to claims that the UAE is planning to fund various projects and individuals in the city in cooperation with the Jerusalem municipality.

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, refused to comment on the arrival of an Israeli delegation in Bahrain on Sunday (18th) for a series of meetings and the signing of declarations, including one establishing full diplomatic relations and peace between the two countries.

Shadi Mtour, Secretary General of Fatah in Jerusalem, said that the purported UAE funding of projects in Jerusalem comes while Israeli authorities ban the PA from operating in the city.  He warned Palestinians not to cooperate with such projects, whether directly or indirectly.

An Israeli law passed in 1995 bans the PA from engaging in political, diplomatic, security or security-related activities within the area of Israel, including east Jerusalem.

Mtour again condemned last week’s visit by an Emirati delegation to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, dubbing it a “dagger in the Palestinian heart.”  he said that it was “a patriotic religious duty to confront and preserve our holy sites and our land.”

The Fatah official claimed that another Emirati delegation is planning to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque this week.  He urged the “free Arabs and peoples and friendly governments to take a serious stance that ends this Emirati persistence in falling into the arms of the occupation.”

Mtour also warned that any visit to Jerusalem that is not done in coordination with the Palestinian leadership “is tantamount to an intrusion and not a visit, and it will be rejected by everyone.”



Iran Celebrates ‘Defiance Of US’ As UN Arms Embargo Ends

Iran’s Foreign Ministry released a statement Sunday (18th) celebrating the end of the longstanding United Nations embargo on arms sales, in line with conditions set forth in the 2015 nuclear deal signed by then-US President Barack Obama.

“As of today, all restrictions on the transfer of arms, related activities and financial services to and from the Islamic Republic of Iran … Are all automatically terminated,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry wrote on Twitter.

“The Islamic Republic may procure any necessary arms and equipment from any source without any legal restrictions, and solely based on its defensive needs.”

The UN Security Council originally imposed an arms embargo on Iran in 2007.  In 2015, Tehran entered into a deal with Russia, China, Germany. Britain, France and the United States that saw Iran promise to halt its nuclear weapons program for relief from crushing economic sanctions.

In 2018, US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the agreement and recently unsuccessfully attempted to renew the UN arms embargo against Iran before the restrictions expired.

While the UN says that the terms of the deal include a gradual ending of the embargo, the Iranian government said “the lifting of arms restrictions and the travel ban were designed to be automatic with no other action required.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif declared victory via his Twitter account, writing, “A momentous day for the international community…in defiance of malignant US efforts.”

“Today’s normalization of Iran’s defense cooperation with the world is a win for the cause of multilateralism and peace and security in our region.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry released a statement claiming that “unconventional arms, weapons of mass destruction and a buying spree of conventional arms have no place” in the country’s plans.

Despite the UN embargo expiring, EU embargoes on arms exports and missile technology to Iran will remain in place until 2023.



Erekat’s Hospitalization In Israel Exposes PA’s Hypocrisy

The Palestinian Authority is very much aware of the embarrassment and backlash it might face following the hospitalization of senior PLO official Saeb Erekat in Israel, who is in critical condition after contracting the coronavirus.

The decision to rush him to an Israeli hospital is especially tenuous given a total lack of diplomatic ties between Ramallah and Jerusalem and the criticism leveled by the PA at UAE and Bahrain over their normalization deals with Israel, (in addition, the warming of relations between Fatah and the Hamas terror group).

As a result, Ramallah is trying to minimize the damage done to its public image.  For example, a spokesman for Fatah was quick to tweet that “the transfer of Saeb Erekat to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem has nothing to do with him contracting coronavirus, but rather to complications related to a lung transplant he underwent three years ago.”

“The hospital was chosen since it is the closest one to Ramallah, with the right equipment and team needed for the treatment,” he added.  “Erekat was transferred to Hadassah Medical Center because a treatment abroad is not possible during the pandemic.”

The official Twitter of the Palestinian Negotiations Affairs Department outright hid the fact that Erekat was in Jerusalem and wrote that he was taken to a hospital in Tel Aviv, correcting the statement an hour later.

In addition, the fact that Erekat’s family requested for him to be transferred to an Israeli hospital, might serve as an indication that his condition is worse than what is being told to the public.

The chief Palestinian negotiator suffered from a respiratory condition that forced him to undergo a lung transplant in the US in 2017.  If his condition was relatively mild, it is safe to assume his family would have opted for a hospital in Jordan’s Amman.

The Jerusalem hospital spokesperson said Sunday evening (18th) that Erekat was in serious but stable condition.  He needed high-flow oxygen support and was being treated in an intensive care unit for coronavirus patients following pleas by the PA officials to the Israeli government and Hadassah’s management.

Erekat’s hospitalization has exposed that not everything is as it seems.  Despite Ramallah ending almost all military and civilian coordination with Israel, urgent cases appear to be an Exception.

There might have been other similar instances of mutual cooperation between Ramallah and Jerusalem over the past months, which were kept under the radar and away from the media’s eyes.

Nonetheless, the cutting of ties has significantly complicated things for ordinary Palestinians.  Those from the West Bank or the Gaza Strip requiring advanced medical treatment in Israel are stopped from receiving it, even if such services are not available in the PA. 



After French Teacher’s Beheading, Jewish Groups Call To Rally Against Islamic Terrorists

French Jewish groups called on their supporters to join a rally Sunday (18th) in memory of the school teacher murdered Friday (16th) after facing criticism for showing caricatures of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad to his students.

The rally, attended by thousands, in memory of Samuel Paty, who was decapitated outside the school where he worked, by an 18-year-old refugee from Chechnya, was focused on safeguarding freedom of expression.  But Jewish groups said it also called attention to the threat of Islamic terrorism in France.

The killer, identified as Abdoullakh Abouyezidovitch Anzorov, was shot dead while brandishing a knife at police.  

CRIF, the umbrella organization of French Jewish communities, called on its followers to show up for the rally in Paris’ Republique Square, citing the “escalating nature of Islamist attacks.”  So did the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism.

“Islamist horror and Islamist terror have hit France again,” said the anti-Semitism watchdog group’s statement, which called for the expulsion of Islamist terrorism suspects from France.  “It is time to take real action to eradicate this danger that comes from within.”

Multiple French groups have condemned the attack, which came a week after Samuel Paty showed his students cartoons that had appeared in Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine targeted in a 2015 terror attack, as part of a lesson about free speech.  

Last month, an attacker stabbed multiple people on the Paris street where Charlie Hebdo once was located, prompting French officials to deploy armed guards to protect Jews in synagogues on Yom Kippur.  “Jews in particular are the target of Islamist attacks,” a top French official said at the time.