News Digest — 3/27/20

Gantz And Netanyahu Poised To Form Unity Government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main challenger, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, moved toward establishing a unity government on Thursday (26th) after agreeing that the latter would serve as the new Knesset speaker.

If a unity government is indeed formed, this would have a dramatic impact on Blue and White which comprises three parties, including two that are vehemently opposed to sitting in the Netanyahu-led government.

According to previous reports, the unity government would see Netanyahu serve as prime minister until September 2021, after which he would step down and serve as minister under Gantz.

Israel has been in political paralysis over the past year, with three parliamentary elections ending with a hung parliament.  Gantz’s move could be a result of political arithmetic, having realized he could not form a stable minority government. He may have also figured that a fourth election would not be good for his political fortunes.

Following the news, two of the alliance’s parties said they would no longer caucus with Blue and White, all but ensuring an end to the political constellation.  This would mean that Gantz’s party, Israel Resilience, would be the only party from the alliance to join Netanyahu’s government.



IDF Preparing To Deploy To Support Coronavirus Curfew

Israel’s army has prepared orders to deploy 16 battalions of soldiers to back up the civilian police in enforcing an expected national quarantine, Kan News reported Thursday (26th).

The orders were given a day earlier in the army’s operations wing allowing unit commanders to begin mental preparation for the approximately 8,000 soldiers who will be taking part in the mission.

A military official told Kan that Israel Defense Force commanders would be using some of the lessons learned from the 2005 Gaza disengagement operation, when IDF troops were used to oversee the evacuation of Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip.  That was the last time IDF soldiers had to face Israeli civilians in such numbers.

Officials emphasized that the troops would be unarmed. Without helmets or bullet-proof vests.  Soldiers will accompany police as a backup only and will have no authority to arrest civilians.  At the end of the mission, the soldiers will return to their base.

As the coronavirus infection-rate skyrocketed, officials in the Ministry of Health repeatedly clamored for an immediate one-week total curfew to slow the epidemic’s spread, warning that tens of thousands of Israelis faced getting sick and overwhelming Israel’s hospitals. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far resisted the dramatic measure, instead imposing a series of increasing restrictions on the population.  In several televised addresses to the nation, Netanyahu warned that unless the entire population complied with restrictions on movement he would have no choice but to totally shut down the country except for essential services.

“If we do not see an immediate improvement in the trend, there will be no alternative but to impose a complete lock-down,” Netanyahu told the nation.

In addition to reinforcing the national police force, Israel opened its underground bunker for emergencies and activated the National Crisis Management Center, Kan News reported.  The bunker is equipped with tools and designated areas for all government ministries to enable cooperation in decision-making.

As of Friday morning (27th), Israel counted 3,035 people who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus – and the number continues to rise.  49 are in serious condition – and 10 have died. 



Turkish-Occupied Syria Cuts Off Water To 400,000 During Coronavirus Pandemic  

Turkish-backed far right militants cut off the water to 400,000 Syrians, including tens of thousands of children, during the coronavirus pandemic, according to reports in eastern Syria.  It comes at the worst possible time for people in Syria, including Kurdish and Christian minorities, who are in lockdown due to the pandemic and now have no water. The area is already threatened by the virus because the international community has cut off aid and does not provide testing for it.  The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) defeated ISIS a year ago in eastern Syria but now millions of people who live in the area lack access to basic needs. Turkey invaded part of eastern Syria in October 2019 after the US withdrew.

According to human rights reports, Turkish-backed extremists attacked civilians, executed at least one female politician in an extrajudicial killing and caused up to 200,000 people to be displaced from their homes.  The extremists also threatened minority Christian communities who were recovering from ISIS.

On March 21 residents reported that water had been cut off from the Allouk station, affecting 460,000 people.  The UN and others have recorded the same incidents of people in villages and communities under SDF control having no water.  Some water can be brought by trucks but at a time when the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends social distancing, this increasingly leads to threats of the spread of the coronavirus.

Turkey, a NATO ally, has not responded to the water shortage and its role in backing groups responsible for it.



Israeli Envoy Urges Iran To Halt Nuclear Efforts In Exchange For Pandemic Relief

Israel’s envoy to the United Nations on Thursday (26th) urged Iran to suspend its nuclear program so as to receive pandemic-related relief from the West.

With over 2,000 dead from the coronavirus and the sixth-highest infection rate in the world, Iran has already asked the UN to ensure that the United States eases the stifling sanctions it has imposed on its regime, but Ambassador Danny Danon asserted that any such relief must demand a pledge by the ayatollahs to put any nuclear activities on hold and cease its sponsoring of global terrorist activities.

“Israel remains in favor of providing humanitarian aid to the Iranian people,” Danon told The Jerusalem Post.  “But as long as Iran continues its nuclear and terrorist programs, sanctions must remain in place.” 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took to Twitter  to accuse the US of practicing “economic terrorism” against Iran during the pandemic.

More than 50 Iranian medics and ayatollahs have died from the virus as it continues spreading to neighboring countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

US officials say they plan to keep sanctioning Iran to try to force it to curb its nuclear, missile and regional terrorist activities which are continuing despite the coronavirus outbreak.



No Time To End Iran Sanctions – Editorial

Iranian proxy forces in Iran continue to lob rockets into US bases with deadly results.  But amid the coronavirus outbreak, Iranian leaders want the US to ease sanctions on the country in the name of compassion.  No one doubts everyday Iranians – along with Western hostages held by the government – are suffering immensely from the pandemic.  If American sanctions were the culprit, it might be reasonable to consider lifting them. But the regime’s incompetence and self-interests are to blame.

Easing sanctions would provide more funds for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, not the public.  Easing sanctions would shore up the regime’s shaky position without providing relief to the Iranian people.  Tehran has money for medicine if it cuts spending on missiles, nuclear-weapons development and military adventurism.

Meanwhile, two Iranian rockets slammed into Baghdad’s Green Zone early on Thursday (26th).  An Iraqi security source told AFP the intended target appeared to be the US Embassy, near where the rockets hit.  It is the 26th such attack targeting installations in Iraq where foreign troops or diplomats are based since late October.