News Digest — 4/2/20

Netanyahu, Heads Of Mossad, NSC, MOH All In Isolation After Litzman Infected

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, National Security Council chief Meir Ben Shabbat and the director general of the Health Ministry Bar Siman Tov were all sent into quarantine Thursday (2nd) after Health Minister Yaacov Litzman was diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The list of officials is basically the top leadership in the country currently leading efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 throughout the land.

“The health minister is feeling well,” a statement by the Health Ministry informed the public on Thursday (2nd).

Alongside Netanyahu, Litzman, Cohen and Ben-Shabbat, head of the Hadassah-University Medical Center, will also self isolate after they all met in recent days with Litzman.  On Wednesday night (1st) the prime minister completed a few days of self isolation after coming in contact with another official who had contracted the disease.

“We were prepared for such a possibility,” Bar Siman Tov said in a statement.  “I will continue to manage my team through digital means… The need to go into isolation can happen to all of us and we must obey instructions.”

He called on the citizens of Israel to follow the Health Ministry guidelines, as well.

The health minister lives in Jerusalem, where certain neighborhoods have struggled to keep the necessary guidelines to stop the spread of COVID-19.  Litzman is among the high-risk population – born in September 1948, he is nearly 72 years old.

As of Thursday morning, 6,211 Israelis were diagnosed with coronavirus and 31 people had succumbed to the disease.  Of those infected, 107 are in serious condition – 83 of them intubated.



Israel’s Defense Establishment Starts Manufacturing Ventilators

With Israel, like the rest of the world, facing a shortage of ventilators as the number of seriously ill coronavirus patients continues to rise, the nation’s defense establishment has stepped in and on Tuesday (3/31) started manufacturing the machines that will keep the population breathing.

Thirty of the Israeli-made ventilators have already been completed and handed over to the Health Ministry, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced Tuesday evening (3/31).

Bennett spearheaded the ventilator project and it is being carried out by a special assembly line set up by Israel Aerospace Industries at one of the country’s missile factories. Israel’s Inviatech PCB Engineering, the ministry’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development, and the Defense Ministry’s Purchasing and Procurement Department are also involved in the special initiative, which seeks to make Israel independent of international suppliers of the precious equipment.

“Israel must develop the capability to handle every aspect of the coronavirus epidemic independently,” Bennett said, adding that the country “must not remain dependent on acquisitions from other countries.  We need to develop independent power.”

According to Health Ministry assessments, Israel could soon face a need for thousands of ventilators.  The defense establishment hopes to ensure that any patient requiring the treatment receives it, avoiding a situation in which doctors must decide which patients are treated and which are left to struggle and die, as happened in Italy and Spain.

The model in production is called the Ventway Sparrow and is considered an advanced design.  It is lightweight, easy to use and can serve both adults and children. It is already in use in hospitals and emergency centers in Israel and abroad.

On Wednesday (1st), Bennett ordered the defense establishment to also increase the local production of protective medical gear, including masks, overalls, and robes for the medical teams.

The move seeks to reduce the need for short-and long-term imports, the Defense Ministry said, noting that it plans to produce 15 million masks.

“Having a local production line for advanced masks and gear was made possible after the Defense Ministry procured a special machine, which currently is the only one of its kind in Israel,” the ministry said.



Western Wall Prayer Notes Removed, Stones Sanitized To Protect Worshipers

As is the custom prior to Passover and Rosh Hashanah,  Western Wall prayer notes were cleared out of its walls on Tuesday morning (3/31) and buried along with other sacred papers on the Mount of Olives.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and Israel’s other holy sites, supervised the removal to make sure it was done properly, using gloves and disposable wooden tools.

He also issued a prayer asking God’s protection and help for those affected by the deadly coronavirus.

“During these difficult days in which the plague is spreading around the world and threatening our lives, we collect prayers from around the world at the remnant of our destroyed Temple, prayers to the Creator of the Universe that He should send us a complete healing and good health and redeem us from this difficult virus that has attacked the world,” Rabbi Rabinowitz prayed.

Meanwhile in an effort to protect worshipers who pray at the sacred wall, local workers sanitized its stones.

With the coronavirus spreading rapidly through the country, prayer at the Western Wall has been a contentious issue due to the large crowds usually present.

Earlier this month, Israel’s chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef ruled that praying at the Western Wall should be avoided, as well as all religious services with large groups.

According to Yosef, “There is no Jewish Law directive that overrides the instructions of the Ministry of Health” and all such instructions must be obeyed “without exception.”

However, Rabbi Rabinowitz ruled at the time that it was permissible to continue coming to the Western Wall as long as worshipers practiced social-distancing.

As of March 26, The Western Wall Heritage Foundation announced, per Health Ministry guidelines, that the Western Wall is now open only to Jerusalem’s Old City residents.  On Monday night (3/30), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced stricter regulations countrywide, including a limit of 10 worshipers at the Western Wall.

Passover, this year, begins Wednesday (8th) at sundown and runs through Thursday evening (16th).



Israel Ranks ‘Safest’ Country During Coronavirus Pandemic

The website Deep Knowledge Group has ranked Israel the safest country in the world in terms of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The site, which partners with non-profit organizations and companies from the high-tech and health care sectors, awarded Israel a score of 619.  The site ranked Singapore as No.2 and Slovakia No.3.

However, it should be noted that the methodology used to arrive at the rankings have not been clarified.

Associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel received its high ranking because of “the strict steps promoted by the prime minister.”

“Israel is ranked first among the safest countries in the world.  The over-preparation, in which it is a leader, is justified, and that has resulted in Israel leading among Western countries,” one associate said.

As of Tuesday (3/31), a statistical analysis prepared by Jason Oke and Carl Heneghan of Oxford University indicated that an Israeli resident who contracts the coronavirus has a 0.37% chance of dying, making the overall chances of surviving the virus in Israel some of the best in the world. 



The Coronavirus Is Absolutely No Excuse To Lift Sanctions On Iran – Mark Dubowitz and Richard Goldberg

→ A chorus of Americans and Europeans are exploiting the coronavirus crisis in Iran to push the Trump administration to lift sanctions against the country.  This is fundamentally dishonest – the sanctions do not restrict medical supplies and other forms of humanitarian aid.

→ Iran’s human rights record is one of the worst in the world.  Last fall, the regime killed 1,500 people who peacefully protested the dictatorship’s mishandling of the economy.  Soon after, it blew a passenger airliner out of the sky, killing everyone on board.

→ A few weeks ago, Iranian-backed militias killed two U.S and one British soldier in Iraq.  Last week, we learned that Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent held by Iran, died in captivity.  More Americans and other foreigners, arbitrarily detained and falsely accused of being spies, remain hostage in Iranian jails today.

→ Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has approved diverting billions of dollars from Iran’s sovereign wealth fund over the last two years to finance terrorism, human rights abuses, and expanded nuclear activities.  Yet when it comes to fighting a pandemic to save lives, there’s allegedly no money to be found.

→ Sanctions relief would only make these challenges worse.  So would a $5 billion International Monetary Fund bailout requested by Iran.  Khamenei’s nuclear program continues without delay. The regime hasn’t stopped supporting terrorism or killing Americans.  Concerns regarding money laundering, corruption, and diversion of humanitarian goods remain unresolved.

→ Putting money into the hands of this government will neither solve the pandemic in Iran nor improve global security.  Sanctions relief for the regime should be a non-starter. The Iranian government is the problem, not U.S. sanctions.

Mark Dubowitz is CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at FDD, was the U.S. National Security Council’s Director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction from 2019-2020