News Digest — 7/15/20

From Mortal Threat to Common Cold: Has Hebrew University Scientist Made a COVID-19 Breakthrough?

Professor Yaakov Nachmias of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has found a way of keeping the novel coronavirus COVID-19 from replicating itself, reducing the danger of the virus to that of the common cold, new research published Tuesday (14th) claims.

Nachmias, founding director of the Alexander Grass Center for Bioengineering at Hebrew University, working in conjunction with the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, discovered that the virus is capable of causing lipids to collect in the cells of the lung, allowing it to replicate itself.  This is the process that makes the manifestation of the illness so severe in many cases.

According to Nachmias, the common anti-cholesterol drug Fenofibrate, which has been in use since the 1970s and has approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, is capable of attacking the replication mechanism of COVID-19, which is what makes the virus so dangerous to the lungs.

The drug has only been tested in a laboratory setting, and not yet in clinical trials.

If successful, with use of the drug Fenofibrate, the COVID-19 disease could be reduced to that of a common cold.



Report: Hamas Defector Providing Priceless Intelligence

The senior Hamas commander who defected to Israel last week after being exposed as a spy for the Jewish state is providing a treasure trove of information to the Israeli security services, Al-Arabiya reported Tuesday (14th).

The report, revealed by Channel 12, said that the as-yet-unnamed head of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades’ naval commando unit has reportedly provided intelligence on the movements of the highest echelon of the terrorist group.

He has also mapped out the locations of missile storage sites, training bases, and hiding places of senior Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip, the sources told the Dubai-based Saudi news outlet.

The commander’s escape on an Israeli naval vessel, set off a swift chain of events within the terror organization.  Several military and political officials have moved out of their homes, and a number of senior security personnel have been fired, said the sources.

The getaway coincided with a wave of arrests of other members of the al-Qassam Brigades on charges of espionage for Israel.  One name that has already been revealed is that of Mahmoud Amar Abu Ajawa, who Palestinian sources cited in Al-Arabiya as being responsible for “everything related to technical matters for the Qassam Brigades.”

As a major in the internal security department, they said, he also trained counter-espionage agents and investigated suspected collaborators with Israel.  Hamas is accusing him of having been an Israeli agent since 2009.

Others caught up in the security sweep so far include the heads of the electronics, telecommunications, and security training and data collection units, they said.

According to the report, much of Hamas’ technical infrastructure is now being rapidly changed after the commander’s escape with what Arabic news agency Amad said was a laptop full of “dangerous classified information” on communications equipment, including Hamas’ network of security cameras, phone numbers and maps.

Hamas’ naval commando unit is considered a highly-trained, elite force that is difficult to enter, let alone rise to its top.  Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh has reportedly asked to be personally updated regarding the ongoing investigation.    

Israel has so far kept mum over the entire affair.



Three Defense Projects Win Israel’s Top Security Prize

Three classified defense projects by the Mossad spy agency, Shin Bet security service, IDF and defense companies have been awarded Israel’s top security prize, Defense Minister Benny Gantz has announced.

A senior Mossad officer, identified as Aleph, was also presented with a lifetime achievement award for his “years-long contribution to the security of the state and for his initiative to develop many technological solutions while displaying outstanding talent, creativity, curiosity and courage,” read a statement by Gantz’s office.

Though the projects that won the prize remain classified, they all involved Israel defense companies.

One project, which led to the IDF gaining “specialized capabilities, achieving a technological breakthrough with outstanding vision, creativity and determination,” was led by the Mossad, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the Israel Air Force and the IDF’s Military Intelligence Unit 9900.

Another winner was a project led by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), with assistance from the IAF, MAFAT (the Defense Ministry’s research-and-development department), and Rafael and Elbit Systems.

“The project was carried out with utmost courage and determination, and tackled unprecedented technological knowledge gaps allowing for a great leap in IDF capabilities,” the ministry said.

The third project, carried out by the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence, “included innovative advancements in a number of areas and made a significant contribution to the security of the state,” the ministry said.

Praising the projects and the “talent, deduction and commitment to the mission” of those who were involved, Gantz said that the state has “breakthrough capabilities” and that the “security of Israeli citizens has been ensured.”

“Especially because the work of the winners was done in secret, I am proud to give them this recognition in the name of all the citizens of Israel for their mighty contributions to the resilience of Israeli society,” the defense minister said.

President Reuven Rivlin thanked the recipients for their “long nights, days, weeks and months of exhausting and grueling work,” that they “invested for the security of the country.”

“The threats facing the State of Israel, its well-being and the lives of its citizens are constantly updating and renewing themselves.  The technological arms race is a campaign that never ends,” Rivlin added.

The awards have been presented annually for over 60 years to people and projects based on technological achievements that have made a significant contribution to the country’s security and provide unique operational responses.  The awards are named after Elijah Golomb, commander of Israel’s pre-state Hagana militia.

The presentation of these security awards will be given to the recipients on September 13 in a ceremony at the President’s residence. 



Natanz Retaliation Test-Run: Iran Watches Missile-Drone Combinations In Yemen

Iran has been closely watching the use of drone and missile attack combinations being used by its Houthi allies in Yemen.  This week, the Houthi rebels announced yet another new type of ballistic missile, showing footage of drones and other weapons they have used in recent years.

Iranian media has focused on this use of missiles and drones at the same time in an attack.  In the past, Iran has used drones to monitor its use of ballistic missiles.  In the fall of 2018, Tehran used ballistic missiles to target ISIS in Syria and Kurdish dissidents near Koya in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

This use of drones was innovative for Iran; it appears that since then, they have increased their capabilities.  They used drones and cruise missiles in an attack on eastern Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil-processing facility in September 2019.  Iran then used ballistic missiles to attack US bases in Iraq in January 2020.  This shows that since September 2018, when they planned and executed the Koya attack, they have become more proficient with these weapon combinations.

Now the Houthi rebels, who receive weapons and technology for their drones and missiles from Iran, say that they will unveil a new missile, referencing recent attacks on Saudi Arabia.

Recent weeks have seen them use missiles and drones in combination.  This should be of concern to the region.  Even though Iranian shipments to Yemen have been intercepted three times by the US Navy, the Houthis have already showcased impressive missiles and drones.  The wider concern is that if Iran seeks to strike at the US, Saudi Arabia, Israel or others, it may use the experience of the Houthis to inform its allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Iran has said it will retaliate if it concludes that a recent incident at its Natanz facility was done by a foreign country,  The Houthi use of new missile and drone combinations may be what Iran is analyzing for retaliation.  

In the last two years, Iran has reportedly transferred precision guided munitions to Hezbollah and has sought to move ballistic missiles to Shi’ite militia allies in Iraq.



Austria To Create Award For Simon Wiesenthal

An Austrian parliamentary committee has paved the way for the creation of an annual prize to encourage the fight against anti-Semitism.

An amendment passed last week would create an award named for Simon Wiesenthal, the late Austrian Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter. The winner would receive about $17,000.  Two additional awards of about, $8,500 each would go to those who have made a “special civil society commitment against anti-Semitism and for education about the Holocaust,” according to a parliamentary statement.

The amendment is to be formally adopted this week.

The goal is “to encourage others to raise their voices,” said Wolfgang Sobotka, president of the National Council, Austria’s lower house of parliament.

Sobotka, a member of the conservative Austrian People’s Party, said he came up with the idea for the prize while on a trip to Israel two years ago.

“Simon Wiesenthal was a great Austrian who did not get the recognition he deserved during his lifetime.” Sobotka reportedly said.   

Oskar Deutsch, head of Austria’s Vienna-based Jewish community, said the prize was a tribute to Wiesenthal, who died in 2005 at the age of 95.  Deutsch said the prize would support projects that “strengthen Austria and the whole of Europe, in keeping with humane principles.”

Wiesenthal’s daughter, Paulinka Kreisberg-Wiesenthal, said in a written statement that the prize sends an important signal “at a time of rising racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.”

Statistics released in May showed a gradual rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents and crimes in Austria in recent years.