News Digest — 2/21/20

Israelis From Japan’s ‘Coronavirus Ship’ Arrive Safely Back Home

After a two-week quarantine onboard the coronavirus-hit Diamond Cruise ship, 11 seemingly unaffected Israeli passengers returned home Friday morning (21st).

As a precaution, they were immediately taken by Magen David Adom personnel to a special area set up for them in Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer and placed in quarantine for 14 days.

“I know this is a complicated time for you and you will not be allowed to see your families or walk around in public, but we will try our best to make your stay a pleasant one,” Dr. Galia Barkal, head of Telemedicine Services at Sheba, told the group upon arrival.

Dr. Gadi Siegel, who is in charge of the unit, told Israel Hayom, “We know they were not sick when they got on the ship, and we are relating to them as such.  We are keeping an eye on their overall condition, and are ready for any developments.”

“The criticism that we are being overcautious may be legitimate, but it must be remembered that we are dealing with a disease that we know very little about, so it’s important to keep track of even small details,” he said.

The Diamond Princess began allowing passengers who tested negative for the virus off the ship Wednesday (19th) when the government-set 14-day quarantine had ended.

Four Israelis who tested positive for the virus are still being treated at a military hospital in Japan.  According to the Israel consul in Japan, Revital Ben-Naim, the four infected Israelis “are feeling well.”

The new virus began in China late last year and has affected tens of thousands of people, mostly in central China’s Hubei province. The 621 cases confirmed among the Diamond Princess’ original 3,711 people on board are the most anywhere outside China.  In all, Japan has more than 700 confirmed cases, including the country’s first death unrelated to the ship, reports the Associated Press.



PM Vows Not To ‘Transfer’ Any Arab Citizens To Future Palestinian State

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a surprise interview Tuesday (18th) with Israel’s most popular news website in Arabic, PANET, vowing that no Arab citizen would be forcefully transferred to a Palestinian state amid the unveiling of the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan.

“The transfer idea needs to be erased.  There isn’t and there won’t be any transfer, not one – no Arab or Jew will be uprooted from his home.  I oppose that ideologically and practically,” Netanyahu said.

Within the next two weeks, before Israeli citizens cast their ballots for the third time in a row, the Israeli premier said he hopes Israeli Arabs will consider voting for his Likud party come March 2.

He spoke of internal polls conducted by the Likud that show the right-wing bloc receiving 58 parliament seats, were elections held today.

“We are missing three more seats for victory,” Netanyahu said, referring to the 61-MK majority that would guarantee his forming a coalition. 

“I will be very happy if I actually get votes from the Arab citizens – do you know why?  Because I really believe in that, because we are working for all, and we’re the only ones who’ve helped them with infrastructure and welfare,” the veteran politician added.



Under Pressure PA Backs Out Of Boycott On Israeli Farm Goods

The Palestinian Authority (PA) ended on Thursday (20th) its months-long boycott on Israeli agricultural products and livestock just a week after Israel launched a counter boycott.

The PA announced its ban on the purchase of Israeli livestock in mid-September which led to severe and ongoing damage to the cattle breeders’ sector in Israel and the collapse of farms in the industry.

Israel had since issued several warnings and finally took counteraction earlier this month and launched a ban of imports into the PA.

The Israeli Ministry of Defense stated that its discussions with PA officials led to a mutual lifting of the boycotts.

“Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday (20th) informed the Palestinian Authority… of the opening of the Israeli market to PA agricultural imports after the lifting of the boycott against Israeli cattle breeders,” said a statement from Bennett’s office.

The PA’s Ministry of National Economy and Ministry of Agriculture confirmed that businesses in the PA have resumed the import of animal livestock and other goods after Israel lifted the ban on its imports.

The PA has recently announced several bans on the use of Israeli services and products, and especially in the Israeli medical system in an attempt to inflict economic damage on the Jewish State.

The PA had announced over the past months that it intended to fully disengage from the Israeli economy, a move that analysts warn could collapse the PA economy.



Soleimani’s Death Derails Iran’s Regional Momentum

On January 3, Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force and the most powerful man in Iraq, was killed together with nearly all of his closest aides.  Interviews with seven people familiar with the immediate aftermath of the deadly U.S. airstrike have revealed a scene of chaos and destruction. “There were 11 bodies pulled from the wreckage,” said one official.  “We are talking about the entire inner sanctum of the Quds Force. This wasn’t just Hajj Qassem [Soleimani] and Abu Mahdi [al-Muhandis]. This was everyone who mattered to them in Iraq and beyond.”

The loss of Soleimani and his entourage has derailed much of Iran’s momentum in the region.  While the Iranian leadership sought to regroup, there have been recriminations about how Soleimani and his entourage were able to be killed in the first place.

Two senior sources in Beirut say Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah agreed to help fill the void left by the deaths of Soleimani and Muhandis.  But there were limits to what he could do. He had lived a life even more in the shadows than the Iranian general, and a drone strike was unlikely to make him feel safer.  Traveling to Iraq or Syria to rally troops was going to be a non-starter. Instead, Iran’s proxy-networks would need to travel to Lebanon.

Meanwhile on February 15, Hezbollah unveiled a large statue of Iranian commander Soleimani near the Lebanon-Israel border, sparking considerable criticism from Lebanese public figures.  Politician May Chidiac wrote on Twitter, “Are we in Lebanon or in Iran?  After naming the road to the Beirut Airport after Ayatollah Khomeini in February 2019, Hezbollah has now celebrated the unveiling of a statue of Soleimani.”  Another politician, George Hayak tweeted, “Putting up a statue of an Iranian military figure such as Qassem Soleimani confirms what is said about Lebanon being under Iranian control.”



Israel’s Rafael Defense Firm Develops Tech To Take Over Vehicles In Emergency

An Israeli defense company has unveiled a mechanism that can take over the operation of a car or airplane in case of emergency, Israel Hayom reported in an exclusive on Thursday (20th).

The device is a sensor-adorned joystick, which has repeatedly taken over the controls of a simulator successfully over months of testing, said the report.  It can be adapted to many kinds of vehicles, whether on land, sea or air.  

“It can be installed in every place a human interacts with a mechanical system,” a spokesman for Rafael Advanced Defense Systems said.

Rafael is one of Israel’s leading manufacturers of defensive weapons such as the acclaimed Iron Dome system.  The company said it developed its high-tech joystick because it has been shown that when people are suddenly faced with high-pressure situations, their ability to act decreases exponentially.

One example of a practical scenario where the invention can be a lifesaver is when a pilot is suddenly fired upon.  The airplane is then maneuvered by the new autopilot system so that the pilot can concentrate on his counter-attack without having to simultaneously control his jet.

It is estimated that the device will become operational in just a few years.