News Digest — 9/1/20

Netanyahu: Hello First Grade And Abu Dhabi

“How do you spell Shalom?” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked elementary school pupils on the first day of school, in the settlement of Mevo Horon, Tuesday (1st).

It was a spelling lesson he did twice, first with a class of female first graders and then again with a group of boys from third to sixth grade, who had come to the girls’ school especially to meet Netanyahu.

In both classes Netanyahu noted the double meaning of the word Shalom, which is used for “welcome” or “hello” and also for “peace.”

Netanyahu took a few moments from his customary first day of school visit to speak about the topic of the day, the burgeoning Israeli peace deal with the United Arab Emirates.

“Israel is one state.  And we are making peace with an Arab state called the United Arab Emirates.  What do we do when we make peace, we stop fighting, and we look for ways to cooperate,” Netanyahu said as he sat at a small round table designed for first-graders.

“This is what I am asking you to do,” he said.

Later when speaking to the group of boys, he said, “We are at the dawn of a new era, in which Israel as a strong nation makes peace with its neighbors.”

He asked the boys if they knew that Israel was poised to sign an agreement with the UAE, to which the pupils said they did.

“Do you want to visit there?” he asked.

Picking up on a Yediot Aharonot story about a secret Netanyahu trip to the UAE in 2018, one of the boys said, “you visited there two years ago.”

Another boy said, “I wish I could.”

Netanyahu assured that the people from the UAE would also be able to come to Israel.

Binyamin Regional Council head Israel Gantz told the boys that Netanyahu specifically chose to come to Mevo Horon to show how much he “cared about the settlements.”

Netanyahu has been under some criticism from settlement leaders for his decision to temporarily suspend plans to annex all West Bank settlements as a precondition for the UAE deal.



Report: Eleven Killed, Seven Injured In Syria Following Airstrikes

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 11 people were killed in airstrikes in Syria on Monday night (8/31).

Syrian air defenses intercepted missiles over the southern region of the country on Monday (8/31) near Damascus, State TV cited a Syrian military source as saying.  The source accused Israel as being behind the attacks.

According to Syrian State TV, the strikes reportedly only killed two and injured seven.

While Syrian officials are accusing Israel of being behind the attacks, the IDF has yet to comment or confirm.

Israel has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets in Syria and those of allied militias, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Earlier in August, the IDF carried out airstrikes against targets belonging to the Syrian military in southern Syria, in the southwestern region of Damascus as well as in Quneitra in response to an attempted terrorist attack that was thwarted along the Syrian border the night before.

“The IDF sees the Syrian regime as responsible for all operations carried out in its territory and will continue to act with determination against all attacks on the sovereignty of the State of Israel,” the IDF said following the incident at the time.

Israel has destroyed one-third of Syrian air defenses in the past two years, while carrying out its war-between-war-campaign against Iran, striking thousands of targets in Syria.  According to foreign reports Israel has also struck neighboring Iraq, in order to prevent the smuggling of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the entrenchment of its forces in Syria where they could easily act against Israel. 

The strikes over the past year have been targeting Iranian infrastructure and its presence on the ground to prevent Iran from embedding itself in Syria, and compromising Israel’s freedom of operation.



Hamas Announces Ceasefire Understandings With Israel – Khaled Abu Toameh

Hamas announced on Monday night (8/31) that it had reached new understandings with Israel to de-escalate the situation in the Gaza Strip.

The announcement published by the office of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, said the understandings were reached “after a round of discussions and contacts, including with Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi.”

The announcement came after two weeks of tensions between Israel and Hamas during which hundreds of explosive-laden and incendiary balloons were launched towards Israel.

“Understandings have been reached to contain the escalation and halt the Zionist aggression on our people,” Hamas said in its announcement.

According to Hamas, the new understandings include “a number of projects that serve our people in the Gaza Strip and will help them cope with the outbreak of the coronavirus.”  In addition, under the terms of the agreement, Hamas and Israel will restore the calm that prevailed before the latest round of violence.

Reports in Arab media said that in the understandings, Qatar pledged to carry out several infrastructure projects in the Hamas coastal enclave, and increase its cash grant to thousands of Palestinian families.  It also reported that borders would be reopened and Israel would expand the fishing zone. 

Earlier on Monday (8/31), Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi.  In a statement he said that the civilian policy toward the Gaza Strip “is subject to the continuation of calm and security stability.  This decision will be tested on the ground: If Hamas, which is accountable for all actions that are taken in the Gaza Strip, fails to understand its obligations, Israel will act accordingly.”



Palestinians Are Not Ready To Restore Ties With Israel – Steve Hendrix and Hazem Balousha

When Palestinians cut off long-standing security, financial and civil ties with their Israeli counterparts in May, they pledged not to resume them until Israel gave up its plans to extend Israeli law to Jewish communities in the West Bank.  But when these plans were halted as part of a diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Palestinian leaders condemned the UAE for normalizing relations with Israel.  Weeks later, they still will not restart cooperation, rebuffing European and Arab allies that pushed them to end a policy that seemed to be hurting everyday Palestinians more than Israel.

Public coffers are being drained and civil servants are on half pay because the Palestinian Authority refuses to accept tax and customs payments from Israel.  With no ties to Israel, more than 25,000 babies born in the West Bank have not been registered by Israeli civil authorities, making them ineligible for passports. 

The response in the Arab world was far from what Palestinian leaders wanted.  Bahrain, Egypt and Oman expressed support for the UAE deal.  Kuwait and other Arab states in the Persian Gulf declined to condemn it.    

Meanwhile, Palestinians are still awaiting requests for an emergency response to the Israel and UAE peace agreement from the Arab League. So far it has not come.



Tigris, Euphrates Rivers Drying Up, Creating Serious Threat To Iraq’s Water Supply

“Iraq: Climate, Water & Conflict in 2020,” an interactive webinar on the growing problem of water scarcity in Iraq, was hosted on July 8 by the Planetary Security Initiative (PSI), a think tank organized by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The water situation of today is basically a result of multiple negative developments impacting water quality and quantity alike over the last years,” said Tobias von Lossow, a research fellow at the Clingendael Institute and PSI project manager.

Von Lossow said the most prominent factor has been a 30 to 40 percent decrease in water inflow from the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, Iraq’s most important fresh water sources, due mainly to dam building activity in Turkey, Iran and Syria.

He said that Iraq’s water infrastructure has also been deteriorating over the past several years, partly as a result of damage and destruction during wars and conflicts, and partly due to neglect and insufficient maintenance.

“Another problem is the ongoing immense pollution that we see,” von Lossow said, citing drainage from agriculture, household and industrial sewage, and the dumping of toxic waste into the rivers.

Azzam Alwash, founder of the Iraqi non-government organization Nature Iraq, said, “We’ve been talking about problems for 17 years, and it seems to me that everything is getting worse and worse, not better.”

“Let’s talk honestly,” Alwash said.  “We are a war theater, and Iraqis are the victims.”

“We can talk about it, we can talk around it, but until there is stability in the region, none of our problems are going to be really resolved,” he said.

“Iraq’s claim to fame is that we are the cradle of Western civilization.  We are where irrigated agriculture started.  We were the bread basket of this region,” Alwash said.

He added, “The solutions to Iraq’s economic problem, political problem, income problem is to go back to our history.  We can become again the bread basket of this region if we actually focus a nationwide plan on reinvigorating agriculture and improving irrigation.”

Alwash said that the most important factor would be coming to an agreement with Iran and Turkey on the distribution of water from the Tigris and Euphrates. 

“It cannot happen while we are fighting wars,” he said.  “It cannot happen while we are not trusting each other, while Iran and Turkey are fighting about the Kurdish issue, with internal struggles inside Iraq.”

Alwash envisions an agreement between Iraq, Turkey, and Iran that could include Syria, Kuwait, and Jordan.

“And we can actually build a stable region based on the management of water, together, as a natural resource – that is the right of everyone who lives in this region,” he said.

“The solutions are really very simple.  But what is needed is political will, and the political will is not there,” he said.