News Digest — 9/10/20

Health Minister Pushing For Month-Long Lockdown For High-Holidays

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called Thursday (9th) for a full lockdown across Israel during the Jewish High Holidays, which begin next Friday (18th), at sundown, and end in October.

Edelstein, who is currently in quarantine after coming into contact with an infected person, was to present his plan to ministers at a meeting Thursday afternoon (9th) to decide on steps for the holiday season. 

The health minister’s plan includes shutting all academic institutions, workplaces and gatherings, and putting the entire public sector on an emergency footing.

Two other proposals were to be presented to ministers by coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu.  

The first calls for a nationwide lockdown only during the holidays themselves.  Grades 1-4 would continue going to school, with the rest remaining at home.  Restaurants and entertainment spots would only be open in “green” and “yellow” communities – those with low or moderate virus morbidity.  Domestic tourism and businesses that don’t involve contact with the public would continue to operate as usual, while prayer gatherings would function in accordance with public health regulations.

The second plan also calls for a lockdown only during the holidays themselves, but would see all restaurants and entertainment sites closed completely.  Hotels would also be closed and domestic tourism would cease.  As with the first proposal, children in grades 1-4 would keep attending school while the rest learned at home.  Workplaces without public interaction would operate as usual and the public sector would function on an emergency footing.  Prayers would only be allowed in open spaces, with prayer sessions in houses of worship limited to 10 people.

Israel saw 4,000 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday (9th) – a daily record high for the country.  There were also 405 new diagnoses as of 7:30 a.m. Thursday (10th).

The national death toll for COVID-19 has now reached 1,055.



Fearing Virus Spread, Chief Rabbi Upends Key Rosh Hashanah Ritual

A key ritual ahead of Rosh Hashanah has been effectively banned by Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Tashlich, a prayer during which Jews symbolically throw their sins into the water to purify themselves ahead of the Jewish New Year, sometimes draws crowds and often involves large gatherings, potentially creating superspreader events that could exacerbate the coronavirus crisis.

Lau issued a special directive to observant Jews noting that “reciting the Tashlich does not have to be near a source of water, and therefore no such gatherings shall take place this year.”  He added that “prayer can be carried out from afar.”

Lau further urged synagogue organizers to take the necessary preparations for the High Holy Days, including by writing down the congregants’ names to ensure proper separation into “mini services.”  Likewise, the traditional blowing of the shofar must be performed far away from worshipers to ensure virus-carrying droplets are not distributed across a large area.



Iron Dome Production Facility To Open In US

The United States Raytheon Missiles & Defense Company and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems made an unusual announcement in August, stating that they had signed a joint venture to produce Iron Dome weapons systems on American soil.

The new partnership anticipates finalizing a site location, either in Arkansas or Alabama, before the end of the year.

“This will be the first Iron Dome all-up-around facility outside of Israel, and it will help the US Department of Defense and allies across the globe obtain the system for defense of their service members and critical infrastructure,” said Raytheon’s Sam Deneke, vice president of Land Warfare and Air Defense Business Execution.

The new facility will produce the Iron Dome weapon system, which consists of the Tamir interceptor and launcher, and the Sky Hunter missile, which is a US derivative of Tamir.  Both Tamir and Sky Hunter intercept incoming cruise missiles, unmanned aerial systems and short-range targets such as rockets, mortars and other aerial threats.

Iron Dome is the world’s most widely used air-defense system, with more than 2,500 operational intercepts over Israeli cities since 2011 and a success rate exceeding 90 percent.

Today more than 70% of Iron Dome’s components are made in the United States.  They were then sent to Israel, where Rafael integrated them to create the system’s interceptor for the Israel Defense Forces.

In 2016, Brig. Gen. Pini Yungman, executive vice-president for Air and Missile Defense at Rafael, suggested that Rafael and Raytheon jointly produce the systems in a factory – meaning that a single center in America would make the interceptors, some of which would stay there and the remainder would go to Israel.

“It took about two years to begin the joint venture,” he said.  

Raytheon will soon decide on the final location of the factory.  The offices of the venture will be headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Yungman noted that this level of intimate cooperation between Israel and American defense firms is highly unique. 

“This is a bold connection between the two companies, which is marked by a passion for working together,” he said.



Trump Nominated For Nobel Peace Prize For Israel-UAE Peace Deal

President Donald Trump has been nominated  for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, Fox News reported Wednesday (9th).

The nomination was submitted to the Nobel Prize Committee by Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a member of the Norwegian Parliament, who praised Trump for his peace efforts in numerous conflicts around the world.

“For his merit, I think he has done more trying to create peace between nations than most other peace prize nominees,” Tybring-Gjedde told Fox News.

In his nomination letter, Tybring-Gjedde praised Trump for his key role in the peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates that is expected to be signed at the White House on September 15.

“As it is expected, other Middle Eastern countries will follow in the footsteps of the UAE – this agreement could be a game changer that will turn the Middle East into a region of cooperation and prosperity,” Tybring-Gjedde wrote, also citing Trump’s role in other conflicts like the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India and his attempts to defuse tensions with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.

Tybring-Gjedde also nominated Trump for the prize in 2018 following the Singapore summit between Trump and the North Korean dictator.



Israeli Firefighters Help With Explosive Wildfires Across California

Wildfires raged unchecked across parts of the Western United States on Wednesday (9th), with gusty winds driving the flames into new ferocity.

In California, Diablo winds in the north and Santa Ana winds in the south were spreading unprecedented numbers of fires that have already grown explosively.  In Washington, more acres burned in a single day than firefighters usually see all year.  Fires also forced people to flee to Oregon and Idaho.

A temperature plunge of as much as 60 degrees helped contain wildfires that spread in Colorado and Montana in the hot windy weather.  But no such respite was in the immediate forecast for California.

On Tuesday (8th) 14 firefighters were forced to deploy emergency shelters as flames overtook them and destroyed the Nacimiento Fire Station in the Los Padres National Forest on the state’s central coast, the US Fire Service said.

The firefighters suffered from burns and smoke inhalation, and three were flown to a hospital in Fresno, where they died.

In the past two days, helicopters were used to rescue hundreds of people stranded in the burning Sierra National Forest, where the fire has destroyed 365 buildings, including at least 45 homes, and 5,000 structures were threatened, fire officials said.  Flames also threatened foothill communities near Fresno.

A team of Israeli firefighters has also been helping combat the fires that are engulfing huge swathes of the state since their arrival two weeks ago.

The Israeli delegation, which includes rescue workers and experts in both forest and brush fires, as well as Foreign Ministry representatives, maintain they will stay as long as needed.