News Digest — 4/9/19

6,339,729 Israeli Voters Go To Polls

Israel votes: More than six million Israeli citizens are realizing their democratic right and are voting in the elections for the 21st Knesset on Tuesday (9th).

Around 10,000 polling stations in the country opened at 7:00 a.m. and will remain open until 10:00 p.m., at which time television exit polls will try to predict who will form the next government.  The true results will be published Wednesday morning (10th).

In communities with up to 350 residents, the polling stations opened at 8:00 a.m. and will close at 8: p.m.  The same applies to polling stations in hospitals, prisons and detention centers.

6,339,729 eligible voters will be able throughout the day to visit polling stations and drop into the ballot box the note bearing the name of their preferred party.  The right to vote is given to every Israeli citizen who on the day of elections to the Knesset is 18 years of age or older.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and wife Sara voted at 10:30 a.m. at the ballot box at the Paula Ben Gurion School in Jerusalem.

Election Day is a day of rest by law, but public transportation services and other public services as determined by the Central Elections Committee (restaurants, theaters and cinemas, water and electric plants, hospitals, rescue forces, etc.) operate as usual.  Inter-city public transportation is always free on Election Day.



Visionary Israel Company Gives Sight To Blind At Ballot Box

Artificial vision device company OrCam Technologies Ltd. has partnered with Israel’s Central Elections Committee (CEC) to enable visually impaired voters to cast their ballots independently as the country votes in the general election Tuesday (9th).

More than 6 million Israelis are eligible to vote, according to CEC, of whom approximately 22,000 are legally blind, according to the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services.  Another 100,000 voters have visual impairments. Blind and visually impaired people usually vote with the assistance of an escort.

OrCam’s device, My Eye2, is designed to help visually impaired people “see their ballot.”  The finger-size device is fitted with a camera and microphone and clips onto glasses, discreetly reading printed and digital text aloud to the person donning the device.  On Election Day, the device is available for use in 12 polling stations throughout Israel, from Eilat in the south to Akko in the north, as part of a pilot plan.

The pilot program is conducted in cooperation with the Center for the Blind in Israel.



Trump Confirms Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corp As Foreign Terrorist Group

President Donald Trump says the U.S. has designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization” as part of an effort to increase international pressure on the country.

It’s an unprecedented move because the U.S. has never before used the designation for an entire foreign government entity.

Trump said in a statement Monday (8th) that the move recognizes the reality “that Iran is a state-sponsored supporter of terrorism and that the Guard is an active participant.

Administration officials have said the step will further isolate Iran and make clear that the U.S. won’t tolerate its continued support for rebel groups and others that destabilize the Middle east.

The designation, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes with sanctions, including freezes on assets the Guard may have in U.S. jurisdictions and a ban on Americans doing business with it or providing material support for its activities.

In Lebanon, the designation could further restrict with whom U.S. officials can interact.  The Guard has close ties to Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese government. Hezbollah is already designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S.  Its presence in Lebanon’s parliament and executive branch have forced the U.S to avoid any contact with Hezbollah members even as the U.S. continues to provide assistance to the Lebanese army.

The U.S State Department currently designates 60 groups – such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State as well as various affiliates, Hezbollah and numerous militant Palestinian factions – as “foreign terrorist organizations.”



Iranian Lawmakers Wear IRGC Uniforms, Chant ‘Death To America”

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian lawmakers convened an open session of parliament Tuesday (9th) with chants of “Death to America,” following the White House’s decision to designate Iran’s elite paramilitary Revolutionary Guards Corp a foreign terrorist organization.

Iranian media said many of the lawmakers wore the uniform of the Guard in a show of support for the force.  The session comes as Iran marks the annual National Day of the Revolutionary Guard Corp.

Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani denounced the U.S. decision as the “climax of stupidity and ignorance.”

Monday’s (8th) U.S. move is an unprecedented declaration against a foreign government and may prompt retaliation, making it harder for the U.S. to work with allies in the region.

Iran responded by designating all U.S. forces as terrorist, and labeling the U.S. a “supporter of terrorism.”



The Floods And The Mullahs – Amir Taheri

→The current nationwide floods in Iran are one of the biggest natural disasters Iran has suffered in half a century.  The floods struck over 300 towns and cities in 22 of Iran’s 31 provinces, affecting 18.5 million people, almost a quarter of the total.  The natural disaster has also revealed some of the fundamental weaknesses of Iran’s dysfunctional system.

→The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was forced to intervene to protect some of the infrastructure it built and runs as businesses.  It was soon revealed that those infrastructures, including railway lines built in traditional flood channels and dams hastily erected in wrong places and wrong rivers, massively contributed to the floods.

→The IRGC has built over 300 crude dams to divert waters of various rivers to land it had transferred to its officers.  The IRGC has also helped many peasants cut down large tracts of forests, further raising the risk of floods.

→Iranians watched in amazement as special units of the regular army moved to save lives, prevent floods from spreading further, reopen roads and even start repairing some of the damage.

→The IRGC reacted by ferrying in dozens of Madaheen, professional reciters of religious chants whose patron is “Supreme Guide” Khamenei.  The Madaheen jumped into the floodwaters chanting,”Suffering makes us strong!” and “We are not afraid of death,” while beating their chests.

The writer was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979.



New Palestinian Government To Be Formed Within Days, Officials Say

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister-designate Mohammad Shtayyeh will announce the makeup of his new government in the coming days, Palestinian officials said Monday (8th).

Shtayyeh has until April 14 to form a new government that is expected to exclude all supporters of Hamas, longtime rival to the Fatah movement of both Shtayyeh and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Analysts say real decision-making power remains with 84-year-old Abbas, in power since 2005.

Abbas on March 10 charged Shtayyeh with forming the new government, replacing Rami Hamdallah’s technocratic administration which had the nominal backing of Hamas.

Five smaller factions will also join Fatah in the new government, officials said.

Others, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), refused to take part.

Hamas has criticized the formation of the government, accusing Fatah of a power grab.

Hamas and Fatah have been at loggerheads for years, especially since the former seized control of the Gaza Strip in a violent overthrow of the PA in 2007, a year after winning parliamentary elections.

Palestinian politics has effectively been frozen since, and multiple reconciliation attempts have failed.