News Digest — 6/25/21

Mask Mandate Reinstated As COVID Infection Rate Hits 0.6%

Coronavirus chief Nachman Ash noted 227 cases of the coronavirus were confirmed, Thursday (24th), in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster.  He said the infection rate had increased to 0.6% and that he was concerned by the spread of the virus in different cities across the country.

The last time Israel confirmed over 200 cases in a single day was in April.

In response to the uptick in infections, the Health Ministry reinstated the requirement to wear masks indoors.  The mandate was set to go into effect beginning at 12:00 p.m. Friday (25th).  The Health Ministry has also recommended people wear masks in large outdoor gatherings and that unvaccinated or high-risk individuals should not take part in mass events.

At a press conference Friday (25th), Ash said: “The outbreak that was centered in Binyamina and Modiin is spreading to additional places like Kfar Saba, Ramle, Herzliya, and other cities.  Our goal is to get control and bring morbidity down to a minimum by cutting off the chain of infection.  We are prepared to carry out widespread testing, and I call on those who need to come and get tested.”

He said, “It’s important that those that were in contact with a verified coronavirus, even if they’ve been vaccinated, to go and get tested because the vaccinated can become infected and infect others.”

As for the issue of mandatory quarantine, Ash said: “Maintaining quarantine is our Achilles’ heel, and because we don’t make a point of it, dangerous variants enter the country and the spread of the virus continues.”

“A child who was overseas and comes to school – that’s not OK and the parents need to be told as much,” he said.

On Thursday (24th), the Health Ministry announced water samples taken recently from sewage water in the southern city of Ashkelon were found to contain the coronavirus variant originally detected in India, also known as the Delta variant, raising concerns residents have been infected with the virus.

The ministry requested anyone experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough, difficulty breathing or fatigue or who suspects they may have contracted the virus be tested for COVID 19 to prevent an outbreak in the country.

On Wednesday (23rd), Israel reinstated the Coronavirus Cabinet as the country confirmed 169 new cases of the virus.

Also on Wednesday (23rd), the IDF Homefront Command said it would set up seven COVID screening centers at outbreak posts, with a plan of increasing such centers to 30 nationwide. 



Washington Vows No Iranian Nukes As Kochavi Wraps Up US Visit

The Biden administration reaffirmed a US commitment not to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons as IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi wrapped up four days of discussions with American defense and intelligence officials.

According to a White House statement, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told Kochavi that President Joe Biden has a “commitment to ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon.”

The statement added that Sullivan “reaffirmed President Biden’s unwavering support for Israel’s security and commitment to continuing to strengthen the defense partnership between the two countries.”

Israel opposes the US returning to the JCPOA nuclear agreement from which Washington withdrew in 2018.  The sixth round of indirect US-Iran talks in Vienna concluded on Sunday (20th), with a new round yet to be scheduled.  Returning the US to the nuclear deal is a foreign policy priority for the Biden administration, believing the agreement can be strengthened through talks.

But White House hopes have been complicated by the Iranian election of President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner also referred to as the “Butcher of Tehran,” and a mysterious drone attack on an atomic facility for which Iran blames Israel.

Other top officials who Kochavi met included US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and CIA director William Burns.  In several of the discussions, Kochavi was joined by Israel’s Ambassador to the US and UN, Gilad Erdan.

According to the IDF, Kochavi reiterated the “failures of the current nuclear deal” and sought to explain to his American counterparts other suggested approaches to counter the Iranian threat.

On Wednesday (23rd), Kochavi visited the Florida headquarters of the US Military’s Central Command (Centcom), whose area of responsibility includes the Middle East and parts of Asia.  Kochavi discussed the Iranian threat, the recent Gaza conflict and developments in Syria with Centcom commander Gen. Frank Mckenzie.

“The mutual and main goal of action for the two armies is thwarting Iranian aggression,” Kochavi said at Centcom.  “Iran seeks to establish and entrench terrorists in many countries and continues to pose a regional threat in terms of nuclear proliferation, advanced weapons systems, including ballistic missile capabilities, and the financing of terrorist armies.”

The Israeli government will watch closely how the Biden administration reacts to Kochavi’s visit.  Outgoing Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is scheduled to visit the White House on June 28, where it is expected that he too will bring up the Iranian issue.



Gantz: ‘Ground Invasion Of Gaza An Option For Next War’

In an apparent warning to Hamas, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Israel would not hesitate to invade “enemy territory” during its next war.

Speaking at a memorial ceremony for soldiers killed in the Second Lebanon War, Gantz appeared to be addressing the Gaza-based terror group.

“In the next operations or, God forbid, wars, when we have to reach the depths of the enemy again, our military forces – which are both regular soldiers and reservists – will enter swiftly and powerfully, and will be a central part of the fighting,” said Gantz.

“We will activate ground forces if required.  Not lightly, but with the knowledge and understanding that the full force of the army is required, powerful…and ready for the challenge before us.”

It’s believed that in general, Israel prefers to mitigate the potential for IDF casualties by focusing on aerial strikes, rather than boots on the ground.

The last time that Israel deployed ground forces in Gaza was during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, during which some 40 IDF soldiers were killed in ground battles in the Strip.

Gantz said that while Israel prefers peace to conflict, the Jewish state will not hesitate to use its “full capabilities,” even in neighboring countries, such as Lebanon.

“Attempts to quietly infiltrate our borders do not go unnoticed, and we keep our eyes open, act routinely and are prepared for extensive operations, even in emergencies.” he added.

During Operation Guardian of the Walls in May, Hezbollah encouraged Lebanese protesters to approach the border fence with Israel.

At least four rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel during the May conflict.  The Iron Dome defense system successfully intercepted them.

Gantz’s remarks come on the heels of statements by Hamas, insinuating that if Israel does not release some $30 million in Qatar aid money, the terror group will respond with a violent escalation.



Israeli Activists Go On Solidarity Mission To US In Wake Of Rising Anti-Semitism

The Gesher non-profit organization, which works to bridge the different sectors of Israeli society, sent a delegation to the United States Wednesday (23rd) to express support for the Jewish community, due to the recent uptick in anti-Semitic incidents.

Members of the Knesset and public leaders met with the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt and the President of The Jewish Federation of North America Eric Fingerhut, as well as the victims of recent anti-Semitic attacks.

The delegation’s goal was to express solidarity with American Jewry in the wake of a troubling spike in anti-Semitic incidents.

“The tours and meetings with the members of the Jewish community in the US attest to how much our brethren abroad long for solidarity and support from Israel,” said Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who was part of the delegation.

Gesher CEO, Ilan Geal-Dor said: “it is our national and moral duty to make Jews in the Diaspora feel and understand that we are with them and that Israel and its citizens see them as an integral part of the Jewish people.  We Israelis should care about them no less than they do about us.”



Belgium To Remove Military Protecting Jews Even Amidst Rising Anti-Semitism

The Belgian government announced on Wednesday (23rd) that it will remove military security from Jewish institutions across the country.

The move comes amidst rising anti-Semitism in the country, especially following the coronavirus and Israel’s conflict with Gaza last month.  The government provided no alternative plan to protect the institutions, such as placing responsibility for security on the Belgian police.

Troops began protecting Belgian cities in 2015 following the terrorist attacks at the Charlie Hebdo offices and a kosher supermarket in Paris.  In 2020, the new Belgian government came to power on a campaign platform of a “gradual withdrawal” of the military from urban centers.

However, members of the Jewish community in Belgium expressed fear over the decreased protection.

Regina Slozny, President of the Forum of Jewish Organizations in Antwerp, stressed that “the decision of the Belgian government increases the threats and strengthens the feelings of insecurity among the Jewish population in Belgian.”

In addition, the Chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations in Europe (EJA), Rabbi Manachem Margolin, wrote a letter to Minister of the Interior, Annelies Verlinden, urging her to reconsider the decision “precisely when anti-Semitic threats are at their peak and the harassment of Jews is becoming a daily struggle.”

“In the Corona year, and especially in light of the security incidents between Israel and Hamas last month, we are witnessing a significant increase in threats and assaults against Jews in Belgium as well as across Europe.  We do not understand the decision and the timing, and are particularly concerned about the Belgian precedent,” Rabbi Margolin said in response to the government’s imminent security withdrawal.

A Jewish member of parliament in the country, Michael Freilich, said that he is formulating a plan to allocate 3 million euros to continue to secure Jewish institutions throughout the entire country. 

Meanwhile, anti-Semitic activity is rising all across Europe.