News Digest — 5/6/20

Israel Defense Ministry Declares ‘Breakthrough’ In Corona Antibody Treatment

Israel’s biological defense research lab has discovered what they say is a “breakthrough” in finding an antidote to the coronavirus by isolating and developing an antibody that attacks the virus, defense officials said Tuesday (5th).

The Israel Institute for Biological Research, which normally deals with responses to chemical and biological threats against Israel, presented its findings to Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who hailed the work as a “major breakthrough.”

Researchers said the development phase has been completed and that they are filing for a patent for the antibody and looking for a commercial partner to manufacture it in large quantities.

A defense ministry statement said the antibody attacks the virus “and can neutralize it within the bodies of those who are ill.”

Located in Ness Ziona, some 10 miles south of Tel Aviv, the institute issued a joint statement with the Ministry of Defense saying the antibody is a significant step on the path to developing a treatment that directly targets the coronavirus.

“I am proud of the Biological Institute staff who have brought about this amazing breakthrough,” Bennett said during a visit to the institute Monday (4th).  “The Jewish brain and ingenuity have brought about this amazing achievement,”

The antibody was produced from plasma from animals and patients who have recovered from the virus, Ynet reported.  The discovery still needs to go through several stages before it will be ready as a treatment.

If continued testing proves itself, the antibody will be administered by transfusion to patients in moderate condition where the virus has not yet caused massive damage to body tissues.

At a press conference Monday night (4th), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned that the work is ongoing and not final.

“The biological institute is indeed working on developing a vaccine for corona and several other projects.  I think it is premature to say whether the efforts will achieve the desired result,” Netanyahu said.

In a separate project, the IDF said it has developed an innovative laser system that remotely checks medical metrics such as pulse, temperature, respiratory rate and eye redness and will be installing the devices at the entrances to military bases and in public places to check if people entering the area are sick.

Meanwhile, as of Wednesday morning (6th), there are 16,314 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, while 238 patients have succumbed to the virus.  There have been no new deaths reported since Tuesday (5th) from COVID-19 for the first time since early March.  10,527 have recovered from the virus.



IDF Hits Targets In Gaza Strip After Rocket Fired Into Israeli Territory

The IDF confirmed on Tuesday night (5th) that IDF tanks struck three sites belonging to Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, after a rocket was launched from Gaza towards southern Israel earlier in the evening.

When the rocket was launched, it triggered a red alert, and landed in an open area, according to an IDF spokesperson.

The Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, announced on Wednesday morning (6th) that one of its members from Gaza City died after a terror tunnel he was working in collapsed.  It is unclear if his death had any connection with the rocket fire or the IDF’s response on Tuesday night (5th).

The missile launch was the first in about 40 days from the Strip, the last rocket fired toward Israel was at the end of March.

Earlier on Tuesday evening (5th), the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), announced new details concerning the Badr 3 rocket in a video, according to the Palestinian Sawa News, including information on its use in past clashes and on further development of the rocket that has made it more destructive and given it a further range.



Israel: For First Time Iran Is Retreating From Syria

“Iran has turned from being an asset for Syria to being a burden.  For the first time since Iran entered Syria, it’s shrinking its forces and evacuating bases,” senior Israeli defense officers said on Tuesday (5th) at a news briefing, adding that “Israel will keep increasing the pressure.” 

The comments were made following reports of an airstrike on two facilities in Syria overnight Monday (4th).  Israel did not take responsibility for the attack but Syria blamed it. 

“14 Iranian militia members were killed,” reported a Syrian war-monitoring group.

That attack joins at least five others last month that were attributed to Israel, the most recent last Monday (4/27), in which seven were reported killed and an ammunition dump destroyed.

“Syria is paying higher prices because of the Iranian presence in its territory, for a war which is not its own.  Iran has become a burden to Syria,” the officials said.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday (5th), “We are determined – more determined, and I will tell you why – for Iran, Syria is an adventure 1,000 miles from home.  For us, it is life, so we are much more determined.”

“We will not give up and will not allow the establishment of an Iranian base in Syria,” Bennett said.

Israel has carried out hundreds of attacks in Syrian territory, mainly targeting Iranian forces and installations.  Israel has made clear it won’t tolerate Iranian entrenchment on Syrian soil.

Ynet reports that at the height of the civil war five years ago, Iran sent thousands of fighters and advisers to assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad battle ISIS and other rebels.

However, Iranian forces remained and continued to strengthen in the country in what analysts say was part of a strategy to build a land-bridge of Iranian influence to the Mediterranean.  Such a land-bridge would have encompassed Israel on its northern border.



Critics Wrong On U.S. Mideast Peace Plan – U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman

→ Two of the architects of the last administration’s Mideast policy – Philip Gordon and Robert Malley writing in Foreign Policy – have publicly offered their advice on how to frustrate President Trump’s vision for the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

→ The authors argue that the limited annexation of West Bank territory that is envisioned would jeopardize Israel’s future as a Jewish state.  Wrong.  Israel would be claiming sovereignty over a fraction of the West Bank, comprising territories that either are sparsely populated or overwhelmingly populated by Israeli Jews.

→ The authors argue that the U.S. vision would jeopardize Israel’s democracy.  Wrong again.  A majority of Israelis, as well as Israel’s democratically elected government, support the president’s vision.  It is ironic that so many of Israel’s critics, who purport to care so much about democracy, condemn Israel when it adheres to the will of its own citizens.

→ The authors charge that the U.S. vision relegates Palestinians to second-class status.  Wrong again.  The vision gives Palestinians a clear path to statehood and a huge influx of economic investment that would allow them to live independently with peace, prosperity and dignity.

→ The authors want the U.S. to reject any action the Israelis take unless the Palestinians agree.  Wrong.  That approach was taken for 53 years and led nowhere.  Giving the Palestinians a veto on progress guarantees stagnation and violence.

→ The authors would withhold aid to Israel and deny it any support at the UN if the Jewish state declares sovereignty in conformity with the Trump vision.  Extremely wrong.  Israel has made enormous concessions in agreeing to negotiate in accordance with the Trump vision, and it shouldn’t be punished for acting in accordance with its commitment  to Washington.



828 Lightning Strikes: Israel Battered By Unseasonal Thunderstorms, Hail And Floods

Thunderstorms drenched Israel on Tuesday (5th) in a rare springtime downpour, with hail and flooding recorded in the south.  The rains were expected to continue through Wednesday (6th), but ended by evening.  However, more rain is expected according to weather reports.

The Israel Electric Corporation recorded 828 lightning strikes on Tuesday morning and afternoon (5th), an unprecedented number for May, and up dramatically – 2,748% – from May’s monthly average of 30.

The Israeli Water Authority on Tuesday (5th) said the last time the country saw two such rainy winters consecutively was over three decades ago in 1987-88.

Last year Israel saw generous rainfall in the north, raising the level of the Sea of Galilee and ending a five-year drought.

Parts of Highway 90 in the south were closed to traffic Tuesday (5th) amid flooding.  Strong hail was recorded in the south and battered most cities, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Israel barely sees rain in its dry season between April and October.

Following an especially wet winter this year and last year, the Sea of Galilee is at its highest level in two decades.

The Sea was at an all-time-low in 2017.