News Digest — 10/28/20

Famous Cellist Performs In Ceremony Honoring Pittsburgh Shooting Victims

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed in a commemoration ceremony held in honor of the 11 people whose lives were lost on October 27, 2018, during an attack on three Pittsburgh synagogues: Congregation Dor Hadash, New Light Congregation/Tree of Life and Or L’Simcha Congregation.

Maggie Feinstein, director of Healing Partnership, explained the purpose of having the ceremony despite the social distancing required as a way to reflect on the lives of the people who died and the impact the event had on the community itself.

Yo-Yo Ma spoke about what one should say during times of crisis, citing his friend Mister Rogers, who said: “When there’s a crisis, you can always look to the helpers,” before playing a song dedicated to those who’ve been helping others since the day of the shooting.

The ceremony also included several prayers, both for the families of the dead and the healing of the community.

The event was held virtually on Tuesday (27th) and was organized by the NGO Healing Partnership, which provides support for and connections between individuals and their loved ones who were impacted by the 2018 attack, as well as others suffering from similar hate-induced trauma.

Robert Gregory Bowers, a neo-Nazi anti-Semite and conspiracy theorist, murdered 11 congregants on October 27 in the attack.  He was later charged with 63 federal crimes, many of which are capital offenses, as well as 36 charges in Pennsylvania state court.



Gantz: I Hear Positive Voices In Lebanon Talking About Peace With Israel

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday (27th) welcomed the reported words of the daughter of Lebanon’s president, who said she could envision a peace deal with Israel after border disputes and issues concerning the Palestinians were resolved.

Gantz spoke during a visit to a large-scale IDF exercise simulating war with Hezbollah and he said he had heard “positive voices in Lebanon that are maybe talking about peace and relations with Israel.  These are welcome words.”

Claudine Aoun Roukoz, the daughter of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, said Lebanon was counting on solving problems to advance their economy.  Lebanon is in a deep, years-long financial crisis made worse by the devastating explosion at the Beirut Port in early August.

“After these problems are solved, I do not mind that the Lebanese state makes peace with Israel, after the demarcation and the guarantee of resources,” she told Al-Jadeed.

“I defend the interests of my country, Lebanon, first.  Are we required to remain in a state of war?  I do not have an ideological dispute with anyone, but my dispute is political.”

“I defend the sovereignty and independence of my country, but today we ask, who are the victims?  They are the Lebanese people,” she added.

During Gantz’s visit to the IDF war-exercise, he warned Lebanon of the dire consequences to them if Iranian-backed Hezbollah were to launch another attack at Israel.

“The citizens of Lebanon must remember that Hezbollah, not Israel, is their problem.  If Hezbollah attacks the State of Israel, Lebanon will pay the price, because Israel is always ready to defend itself.”

“Our enemies do not rest – not in the north, not in the south, not close by or far away – and we will continue to protect the citizens of the State of Israel, we will continue to deter our enemies, we will continue to harm their intensification processes and we will be ready for any battle,” Gantz added.



Iran Building Underground Nuclear Facility, UN Watchdog Confirms

Inspectors from the UN’s atomic watchdog have confirmed Iran has started building an underground centrifuge assembly plant after its previous one exploded in what Tehran called a sabotage attack over the summer, the agency’s head told The Associated Press on Tuesday (27th).

Iran also continues to stockpile greater amounts of low-enriched uranium, but does not appear to possess enough to produce a weapon, Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the AP in an interview in Berlin.

Following the June Explosion at the Natanz nuclear site, Tehran said it would build a new, more secure, structure in the mountains around the area.  Satellite pictures of Natanz analyzed by experts have yet to show any obvious signs of construction at the site in Iran’s central Isfahan province.

In 2018, Israel produced a trove of evidence related to Iran’s covert nuclear program, which spies spirited out of Tehran in a daring operation.  In total, Israel collected around 50,000 pages of documents, in addition to CDs, related to Iran’s nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a televised address at the time warning the world that Iran never abandoned its plans to develop a nuclear bomb.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Grossi’s findings this week.

Under the provisions of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran is allowed to produce a certain amount of enriched uranium for non-military purposes.

In return, Iran was offered economic incentives by the countries involved.

Since President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, the other signatories – Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China – have been struggling to keep the deal alive.

Meanwhile, Iran has been steadily exceeding the deal’s limits on how much uranium it can stockpile, the purity to which it can enrich uranium and other restrictions to pressure those countries to come up with a plan to offset the US sanctions.

Grossi personally visited Tehran in late August for meetings with top officials, and managed to break a months-long impasse over two locations thought to be from the early 2000s where Iran was suspected of having stored or used undeclared nuclear material and possibly conducted nuclear-related activities.  Inspectors have now taken samples from both of those sites, and Grossi said they are still undergoing lab analysis.



Congress To Consider Bill To Provide Israel With Bunker Buster Bombs

The US Congress will consider a bill to sell bunker buster bombs to Israel later this week.

The bipartisan legislation will be introduced by Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Brian Mast (R-FL), and will open the door to Israel receiving the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), one of the most powerful non-nuclear bombs in the American arsenal.  This would not include the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), also known as the ‘Mother of all bombs,’ which is not a penetrator.

Bunker buster bombs are designed to penetrate hardened underground targets such as military bunkers.

The bill is meant to increase Israel’s deterrence capabilities in the event that Iran accelerates its nuclear weapons program and reaches the point of breakout.

“We must ensure our ally Israel is equipped and prepared to confront a full range of threats, including the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.  That’s why I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan bill to defend Israel from Iran and Hezbollah and reinforce our historic ally’s qualitative military edge (QME) in the region with ‘bunker buster’ munitions,” Gottheimer told Jewish Insider.  “Iran and its terrorist proxies throughout the region must never be able to threaten the US or Israel with a nuclear weapon.”

Under the bill, the US Defense Department must be in contact with Israeli defense officials and report to Congress on Israel’s deterrence capabilities as well as the strategic benefits of the transfer of the (MOP) to Israel. 

Gottheimer intends to submit the bill to the House of Representatives this Friday (30th).



Saudi Arabia Rejects Terrorism, Avoids Backing Action Over Mohammad Cartoons

Saudi Arabia condemned cartoons offending the Prophet Mohammad, but held back from echoing calls by other Muslim states for action against images being displayed in France of the Prophet.

A foreign ministry official also said in a statement that the Gulf state condemns all acts of terrorism, an apparent reference to the beheading of a Paris teacher who showed cartoons of the Prophet in a class on freedom of speech.

“Freedom of expression and culture should be a beacon of respect, tolerance and peace that rejects practices and acts which generate hatred, violence and extremism and are contrary to coexistence,” said a statement carried by state media.

Saudi Arabia’s daily Arab News on Tuesday (27th) cited the head of the Saudi-based Muslim World League, Mohammed al-Issa, as cautioning that an over-reaction “that is negative and goes beyond what is acceptable” would only benefit “haters.”

The cartoons depicting Mohammad were first published years ago by a French satirical magazine, whose editorial offices were attacked by gunmen in 2015, killing 12 people.  Since the beheading of the teacher this month, the cartoons have been displayed in France in solidarity, angering some Muslims.

Turkey’s leader has called for a boycott of French goods and Pakistan’s parliament passed a resolution urging the government to recall its envoy from Paris.

In Saudi Arabia, calls for a boycott of French supermarket chain Carrefour were trending on social media, though stores Reuters visited in Riyadh on Monday (26th) seemed busy as normal.  A company representative in France said it had yet to feel any impact.

United Arab Emirates-based Majid Al Futtaim, which owns and operates Carrefour supermarkets across the Middle East, said the chain supports regional economics by sourcing most items from local suppliers and employing thousands of people.

“We understand that there is some concern among consumers across the region at present and we are monitoring the situation closely,” it said in a statement.

In Kuwait, some supermarkets have pulled French products from their shelves.