News Digest — 10/22/21

For First Time Under Bennett: 3,000 Settler Homes To Be Approved

The Supreme Planning Council of the Civil Administration will convene this coming Wednesday (27th) for the first time since the current government’s term began and since the beginning of the Biden administration and will approve 3,144 housing units in Judea and Samaria.

Among the approvals is the outline plan of Mitzpe Dani, near the settlement of Ma’ale Mikhmas in the Benjamin region.  At the same time, the construction of more than a thousand housing units for Palestinian Arabs in Area C will be approved.

The council was supposed to convene many weeks ago and approve a little over 2,000 housing units, but a strike by Civil Administration employees prevented the meeting.  Over the past few months, staff work has been carried out to approve another 900 housing units.

According to the published agenda, the homes will be built in the communities of Revava, Kedumim, Elon Moreh, Ha Bracha, Karnei Shomron and communities in Gush Etzion and the Hebron Hills.

The construction that will be approved for the Palestinian Arabs on Sunday (24th) in Area C will include about 1,133 housing units.  At the political level, it was decided not to include Khirbet Beit Zakariyya in the permits following a protest by settlement leaders who claimed that building permits at this location, between Alon Shvut and Rosh Tzurim, would harm the Israeli territorial continuity. 



Air Force Resumes Training To Attack Iran Nuclear Sites

The Israeli Air Force has resumed training for a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities after two years in which no such training had taken place, Channel 12 News  reported Thursday (21st).

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has even ordered a significant budget be used to facilitate the training exercises.

The resumption of training for a possible attack on Iran is taking place against the background of American attempts to resume talks with the Iranians on a nuclear agreement.

In Israel, it was decided that there was an urgent need for a military backup plan in case the negotiations with the Iranians did not achieve the desired results.

According to the report, the chief of staff is now instructing the military not only to increase its intelligence gathering capability and build up-to-date operational plans, but also instructed the Air Force on the basis of these plans to start training and regain readiness for a strike.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Israel has approved the budget package for building an attack capability against Iran’s nuclear program amounting to about NIS 5 billion.

The budget also includes the financing of aircraft of various types, intelligence gathering capabilities such as satellites, and dedicated and unique armament to enable this attack.



Christian Lebanese Leader: ‘Hezbollah Is An Illegal Entity’

The leader of the Christian Lebanese Forces party on Thursday (21st) refuted claims by rival Shiite Hezbollah of seeking to start a civil war.

In an interview with Lebanese broadcaster MYV, Samir Geagea said the confrontation with Hezbollah was purely political and must remain so.

The Lebanese forces is a registered political party with official members, he said, contrary to Hezbollah which “legally does not exist as it is not registered with the Interior Ministry and its members are accused of various crimes.”

“We do not have fighters,” Geagea said.

“Nobody should think about confronting Hezbollah militarily,” Geagea added, saying that “doing so would be a big mistake.”

Already suffering a devastating economic meltdown, Lebanon has been overshadowed by renewed tensions since seven Shiite Muslims were shot dead in Beirut last week during the worst street violence in the capital in more than a decade.

The heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah accuse the Lebanese forces of perpetrating the killing and attempting to instigate a civil war.

“The real agenda of the Lebanese Forces is civil war,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech, adding that his Iran-backed terrorist organization would not be dragged into one.

Thursday’s (14th) shooting started as supporters of the Shiite group and ally Amal were gathering for a demonstration against Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator in the Beirut Port blast probe.

Geagea said that while he initially thought Hezbollah had nothing to do with the explosion, “with its recent actions it is telling us we should be concerned over the matter.”

Hezbollah has been leading demands for Bitar to be removed, accusing him of bias.  The lead investigator has sought to question several Hezbollah allies on suspicion of negligence that led to the blast, which killed more than 200 people and devastated swathes of Beirut.

In its efforts to stop the probe, Hezbollah has taken the current government “hostage,” Geagea said, referring to how the standoff over Bitar has paralyzed the cabinet.

Geagea also told reporters that he had been summoned for questioning over the shooting.

“I am ready to appear before the judge, on one condition: that Hassan Nasrallah does it before me,” he said.



Israel Opening Up To Tourists Despite More Cases Of New Covid Variant

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov attended a meeting Thursday (21st) to ratify a new policy for the entrance of non-Israeli citizens into the country, specifically those people seeking tourist visas.

The meeting came following health authorities uncovering  five additional cases of people in Israel who were infected with the new Covid AY4.2 variant.  There are now six confirmed cases.

In any event, Israel is planning to reopen the country to foreign tourists as of November 1.  The country had planned to reopen last July, but the spread of the Delta variant forced a continuation of its closure to foreign citizens who did not receive a special exemption to enter Israel.

On Tuesday (19th), an 11-year-old boy who returned from a trip abroad was the first to test positive for the new variant, which until recently had been classified the same as the Delta variant.

The Minister of Health’s genetic sequencing laboratory then conducted a review of coronavirus cases going back several months and checked all the sequences of positive tests that were classified as the Delta variant.  This led to the discovery of the five additional cases of AY4.2.

At Thursday’s meeting (21st), a new plan for the November reopening was approved.  Its guidelines will soon be brought to the cabinet for approval.

The following persons are eligible to enter Israel in the framework of the plan:

Foreign nationals who have been inoculated with two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna Covid vaccine, and one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, at least seven days prior to their day of entry into Israel.  They may not remain in the country for more than 180 days after their last vaccination.

This also applies to foreign nationals who have been inoculated with the Pfizer booster and at least seven days have passed on the day of their entering Israel, or those who have been inoculated with the Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson booster at least 14 days prior to entering Israel.

Foreign nationals who have recovered from COVID-19 and who present proof of the results of a positive NAAT test at least 11 days prior to their day of entry into Israel may stay in the country no more than 180 days after the vaccination.

Also foreign nationals who have recovered from COVID-19 and have received at least one dose of the WHO-approved vaccines may enter Israel

These groups are exempted from quarantine on the basis of their functioning like a “capsule” that stay together within their own group and are allowed admission if they have been inoculated with a WHO-approved vaccine.  These groups will not have leisure time and their movement will be restricted in areas in which there is an increased risk of infection.

Up to 2,000 tourists in a capsule per day will be allowed admission to Israel. A more stringent plan will apply to mixed groups.

If a visitor remains in the country for more than 14 days, then he or she must submit to either an antigen test or a PCR test every two days.

These guidelines are limited to tourists who have not been in red countries or countries under severe travel warnings in the 14 days prior to entering Israel.



Swedish Foreign Minister: Corruption An Obstacle To Economic Support For Palestinian Authority – Mohammad Al-Kassim

One of the Palestinian Authority’s biggest European backers is calling out the PA for widespread corruption.  A Swedish radio station quoted Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde on Tuesday (19th) as saying: “The corruption that pervades Palestine is an obstacle to providing economic support.”

There have been numerous accusations that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas rewards officials that are close to him; for example, close advisors and top officials, or their children, have been appointed to top positions in Palestinian embassies, diplomatic missions and in the prosecutor’s office in Ramallah.

A high-ranking PA official and one of Abbas’ closest confidants reported benefits, financially, by taking a cash cut from every work permit issued for Palestinians to work in Israel.  Attorney Moien Odeh told Media Line that “corruption stories of senior PA officials, their families and relatives were well known by the Palestinians, but recently their stories started going out to the international community.”

A recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey research showed that 83% of Palestinians believe there is corruption in PA institutions.  The survey found a record-high 78% who called on Abbas to resign.