July 11, 2020

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03/05 Links Pt1: Who’s the Real Cause of Gaza’s Misery? Surprise: It’s Not Israel!; Eugene Kontorovich on the Trump Peace Plan; Trump Just Enabled Israel to Attack Iran’s Nuclear Sites


From Ian:

Who’s the Real Cause of Gaza’s Misery? Surprise: It’s Not Israel!
Instead, everyone looks the other way — condemning Israel, which is actually Gaza’s greatest, though still-hated, benefactor.

In reality, Egypt could open its border with Gaza tomorrow. It could declare a free trade zone to aid the shattered Gazan economy. It would have masses of trucks and civilian transportation crisscrossing the border, as they do at Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing, giving Gazans freedom of travel and employment in a place their leadership hasn’t insistently deemed worthy of total destruction. After all, Gazans and Egyptians are Arab brethren, with a shared language, culture, and religion.

So why doesn’t Egypt open their arms to their Gazan brethren? Simple: thanks to Hamas and PIJ, Gazans are thoroughly indoctrinated in militancy and terrorism. Islamist elements that have made it into Sinai from Gaza have murdered Egyptian citizens and soldiers on a large scale. What’s more, Egypt has enough trouble containing the Muslim Brotherhood on its own territory — remember the Morsi regime? The last thing Egypt wants is to allow the free movement of Hamas operatives into Egypt; Hamas is, after all, the Gaza branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

So why then does the media ignore Egypt’s critical role in keeping Gaza boxed in and isolated? The answer is simple: When in doubt, blame Israel. Gazans inevitably get shot trying to invade Israel, making for good TV and photos. Plus, it fits neatly into the mainstream media’s preferred narrative — Israel is Goliath. Likewise, the Hamas leadership fully appreciates that attacking the Egyptian border and launching hundreds of missiles into Egypt would cause a reaction that would make Israel’s responses look positively pacifistic in comparison.

Egypt is responsible for the perpetual pressure cooker that is Gaza. While Israel’s blockade of Gaza completes its encirclement, that encirclement would not be possible if the world demanded that Egypt throw open its border with Gaza. The focus on Israel as the culprit in Gaza’s misery is misplaced and hypocritical.

The Tikvah Podcast: Eugene Kontorovich on the Trump Peace Plan

Since the administration of President Jimmy Carter, nearly every American president has sought to attain the holy grail of diplomacy: a solution to the conflict between Israel and her Arab neighbors. In some ways, the Trump Administration’s new peace initiative, “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People,” is merely another proposal for an American-brokered arrangement, the next plan in a line of many.

But its vision is based on political premises that reveal a fundamentally different understanding of American interests in the region. From its approach to Israeli settlements and the “land for peace” paradigm to the nature of its ambitions and its conception of America’s role, this new plan, whether it proves successful or not, could come to be seen as the beginning of new era in Israeli security and regional order.

In this podcast, Professor Eugene Kontorovich, who participated in the crafting of the Trump Administration’s plan, joins Jonathan Silver to explain the details of the “Peace to Prosperity” vision and why it represents a step forward for U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East.

View Jared Kushner’s PowerPoint Briefing on the U.S. Peace Plan

Senior White House advisor Jared Kushner on Thursday briefed a bipartisan group from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the U.S. Middle East peace plan.

Kushner argued that the status quo is broken and something else has to be tried. He added that the lingering Israeli-Palestinian conflict is used as a pretext for more radicalization in the Middle East.

He said the White House wanted to use the plan to bring Israel and the Arab and Muslim worlds closer together. He also presented a list of reforms he said the Palestinians must undertake to achieve statehood and reduce the risk of creating a failed state.

A White House official slammed the Palestinian response to the plan, saying, “It has exposed the Palestinian leadership who is defending the status quo. We are moving the debate to discussing the technical challenges and the details as opposed to romanticizing about things that people know will never happen.”

Kushner’s PowerPoint presentation notes that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

ICC top court reinstates war crimes probe against US for alleged torture

The International Criminal Court appeals chamber on Thursday reinstated a closed war crimes probe against the US for the alleged systematic torture of detainees in Afghanistan.

While every case is unique, the decision puts Israel on notice that the ICC’s top court is ready to expand its jurisdiction to non-traditional war crimes and ready to bang heads with the US.

On December 20, the ICC prosecution requested that the ICC pretrial chamber endorse a full criminal probe into alleged war crimes by Israel and Hamas from the 2014 Gaza War and by Israel with regard to the settlement enterprise.

The ICC pretrial chamber is expected to decide sometime after March about whether the ICC prosecutor has jurisdiction to move forward with this probe.

A decision propelling forward a probe against the US for seemingly “less serious” crimes – like torture – would appear to signal a greater likelihood that the ICC will approve a probe against Israel relating to the deaths of 2,100 Palestinians (of which 50-80% were civilians).

On April 2019, the lower ICC pretrial chamber ordered the ICC prosecutor to close the probe, saying that the investigation did not comport with the mission to pursue cases “in the interest of justice.”

Afghan withdrawal-deal fallacy: The US cannot wish away terrorism

While the long war in Afghanistan has had setbacks, its primary objectives of denying al-Qaeda territory in which to train, and preventing attacks in the US, have been largely successful. These important accomplishments – as well as the casualties tragically incurred – must not be squandered.

It bears saying that a large American footprint in Afghanistan is not necessary in order to protect US security interests. A variety of residual US force structures that combine both special operations and air-strike capabilities are sufficient to manage the lingering challenge posed by the Taliban. Accompanied with continued economic assistance for the Afghan government in Kabul, these forward-deployed capabilities are sufficient and necessary for preventing Afghanistan from again becoming a breeding ground for global terrorism.

As American voters seldom pay attention to the details of foreign and security policy, future presidents and Congresses will need to recommit to educating Americans on the importance of these vital security issues in order to avoid repeating the present withdrawal mistake in Afghanistan.

While ever-shifting news cycles covering the latest controversies, as well as legitimate policy issues, make it difficult to secure the attention of an increasingly fractured citizenry, the avoidance of an honest discussion about the needed commitment to fight terrorism does a disservice to both service members and the broader public. If there is a silver lining in this flawed Afghanistan withdrawal deal, perhaps it is that this mistake will over the long-term help educate the American people about the continued threat of terrorism and provide greater clarity on needed policies for addressing this ongoing challenge.

U.S. Carries Out First Airstrike on Taliban Since Doha Deal

The United States conducted an airstrike on Wednesday against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, a U.S. forces spokesman said, the first such attack since a troop withdrawal agreement was signed between the two sides on Saturday.

The Taliban fighters were “were actively attacking an (Afghan National Security Forces) checkpoint. This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack,” said Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan in a tweet.

He said Washington was committed to peace but would defend Afghan forces if needed.

“Taliban leadership promised the (international) community they would reduce violence and not increase attacks. We call on the Taliban to stop needless attacks and uphold their commitments,” he said.

The airstrike was the first by the United States against the Taliban in 11 days, when a reduction in violence agreement had begun between the sides in the lead up to Saturday’s pact.

Since the signing, the Taliban had decided on Monday to resume normal operations against Afghan forces, though sources have said they would continue to hold back on attacks on foreign forces.

The Taliban has so far declined to confirm or deny responsibility for any of the attacks and did not immediately respond to request for comment on the airstrike.

Defense Department Linguist Charged With Passing Highly Classified Intel to Hezbollah Operative

A linguist working for the Defense Department was charged with passing “highly sensitive classified national defense information” to a foreign national affiliated with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group.

Mariam Taha Thompson is charged with compiling classified U.S. government information “regarding active human assets, including their true names” and passing it to Hezbollah operatives, the Department of Justice announced on Wednesday.

“By compromising the identities of these human assets, Thompson placed the lives of the human assets and U.S. military personnel in grave danger,” the Justice Department said in a statement on Thompson’s case.

“While in a war zone, the defendant allegedly gave sensitive national defense information, including the names of individuals helping the United States, to a Lebanese national located overseas,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a statement. “If true, this conduct is a disgrace, especially for someone serving as a contractor with the United States military. This betrayal of country and colleagues will be punished.”

“The conduct alleged in this complaint is a grave threat to national security, placed lives at risk, and represents a betrayal of our armed forces,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Timothy J. Shea said in a statement. “The charges we’ve filed today should serve as a warning to anyone who would consider disclosing classified national defense information to a terrorist organization.”

DOJ watchdog faults FBI investigations into ‘homegrown violent extremists’

The Justice Department’s internal government watchdog released a report Wednesday identifying what it described as significant issues with how the FBI handled investigations of extremists based in the U.S. who either sought or successfully carried out attacks against Americans.

The report from DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz scrutinized how agents investigated so-called ‘homegrown violent extremists,’ or HVE, and found several instances where individuals who went on to carry out attacks had been previously identified by the FBI but had their cases closed with no further action.

“Since September 11, 2001, HVEs have carried out over 20 attacks in the United States, some of which occurred after the FBI closed a counterterrorism investigation or assessment on the individual,” the report said.

The investigation found “at least six attacks committed in the United States by individuals who the FBI had previously assessed or investigated,” between 2009 and 2017. Some of the more high profile instances singled out by the inspector general included the 2009 attack on Ft. Hood in Texas, the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and the Orlando Pulse Nightclub attack in 2016.

Following several of the attacks, the bureau conducted reviews into how they typically assess suspects who might carry out attacks.

However, the DOJ inspector general faulted the FBI, saying it “did not ensure that all field offices and headquarters implemented recommended improvements and subsequent policy requirements,” according to the report.

The Problem with Released Jihadists

“We’re playing Russian roulette with people’s lives, letting convicted, known, radicalised jihadi criminals walk about our streets”. — Chris Phillips, former head of the UK National Counter Terrorism Security Office, The Guardian, December 1, 2019.

The hate literature was distributed to inmates by… chaplains, who themselves were appointed by the Ministry of Justice.

The prison staff lacked the training to confront and deter… extremist ideology, and “were often fearful they would be accused of racism if they did”. — Ian Acheson, former prison governor, Daily Mail, July 13, 2016.

It remains to be seen, whether releasing a terrorist after serving two-thirds of his sentence, rather than half, will make any difference.

“If there are people who are absolutely determined not to accept any intervention that will change that toxic mind-set, yes they should be in prison and if necessary, indefinitely.” — Ian Acheson, former prison governor, BBC News, February 3, 2020.

Trump Just Enabled Israel to Attack Iran’s Nuclear Sites

However, the U.S. government also asserts that the sale “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”

Iran may beg to disagree.

Israel is buying 50 U.S. F-35 stealth fighters, and has already stood up two squadrons. The U.S. Air Force’s F-35A model has a range of more than 1,350 nautical miles using internal fuel. While the Israeli-modified F-35I has special Israeli-designed external fuel tanks, a direct flight path between Jerusalem and Tehran is just under a thousand miles each way.

Israel has long threatened to attack Iranian nuclear sites if Tehran tries to build atomic weapons. Iran has more than a thousand anti-aircraft guns, several varieties of surface-to-air missiles, and has repeatedly asked Russia to sell it advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missiles. Iranian nuclear facilities will certainly be protected by strong air defenses.

The KC-46A has more fuel capacity and better sensors and jammers than current IAF tankers.

Which means that if Israel attacks Iranian nuclear sites, the IAF F-35’s – as well as additional F-15 fighters that it intends to purchase – would need mid-air refueling, and probably multiple refills. The KC-46A carries more fuel than current Israeli tankers, and it has better sensors and jammers to survive hostile air defenses.

New aerial tankers by themselves won’t guarantee the success of an Israeli strike on Iran. But they do make it a little easier.

Report: Israel Targets Hezbollah Weapons Shipment, Military Bases in Syria

Israel carried out multiple missile strikes in southern and central Syria on Thursday, Syrian state media reported.

Syrian air defenses “successfully confronted” Israeli missile attacks early on Thursday morning against targets in Homs, in the center of the country, and minutes later in Quneitra in the Syrian Golan Heights near the border with Israel, Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported. Syria routinely makes false claims about having downed Israeli missiles.

The missiles were launched from Israeli warplanes in Lebanese airspace and over the Golan Heights, according to the report.

Other Arab media outlets also attributed the attacks to Israel. Arab media reports identified the targets as a missile shipment earmarked for Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Syrian military bases, including an airbase near Homs used by Hezbollah forces in the country that was allegedly attacked by Israel in May 2018.

Last Thursday, Arab media outlets reported that an Israeli had assassinated a senior Hezbollah operative in charge of creating an Iranian-backed terrorist network in the Syrian Golan.

Innovative Light-Blade laser can cut down Hamas, Iranian attack drones

A laser-based defense system capable of taking out attack drones even in urban environments has been developed by Israeli experts, who hope to roll out the system for a range of security uses, including at airports.

The system was developed by Prof. Amiel Ishaaya at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev after incendiary balloons started being launched into Israel in 2018, setting fire to farmland and causing widespread damage. Realizing that no one was looking into a way to prevent the balloons from posing a threat, Ishaaya, an expert on lasers, contacted industry experts. Together, they developed the Lahav-Or, or Light Blade defense system.

“We just worked on a laser system for cutting thick plastic for greenhouses. Kites and balloons are made of similar materials,” he recalled.
Together with Dr. Rami Aharoni and the backing of Border Police commander Yaakov (Kobi) Shabtai, Ishaaya founded OptiDefense to develop the system, working on a shoe-string budget of just a few million shekels to develop a prototype within a year.

Last month, the team proved the efficacy of their system by downing explosive balloons traveling across the border from Gaza. The system was paired with Elbit’s SupervisIR threat detection system in the test, and operated by the Border Police. “We succeeded in downing everything that came within our field of fire,” Ishaaya said.

Israel Demolishes Homes of 2 Suspected Members of Terror Cell That Killed Rina Shnerb

The Israel Defense Forces demolished the homes of two suspected Palestinian terrorists on Thursday morning, the military said.

The suspects, Walid Hanatsheh and Yazan Mughamis, are believed by Israel to have been members of the terrorist cell that killed 17-year-old Israeli Rina Shnerb and injured her father and brother near the town of Dolev in Judea and Samaria in August.

One of the homes destroyed was in the city of Birzeit, north of Ramallah, while the other was in Ramallah itself, according to the AP.

According to the IDF, dozens of Palestinians burned tires and threw rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops during the demolition work, who responded with “riot dispersal means.” No casualties were reported.

Anti-Netanyahu bill has majority support with Liberman vote

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suffered a blow on Thursday afernoon when Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman endorsed Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s efforts to pass a law that would prevent an indicted MK from forming a government.

Liberman’s endorsement gave the bill a majority, with the support of all 62 MKs who are not in Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc. Liberman said he would also back term limits for prime ministers.

Netanyahu responded on Twitter, asking Liberman: “Are you just a liar who cannot be trusted, or do you have hidden motives?”

In the tweet, Netanyahu included a collection of clips of Liberman saying that he would oppose the bill and that Netanyahu could in fact function as prime minister under indictment.

Liberman then responded by asking Netanyahu the same question, attaching an article about Netanyahu voting in favor of a bill in 2008 that would automatically topple an indicted prime minister.

Speaking at a meeting of the MKs in his right-wing bloc on Thursday, the prime minister said the effort to pass the bill would undermine democracy. The leaders of the parties in his bloc vowed to remain united and insist that only Netanyahu form the next government.

16th Israeli diagnosed with coronavirus: East Jerusalem tour bus driver

The Health Ministry has announced that a 16th Israeli has been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. The individual is in isolation in Poriya Hospital in Tiberias.

The patient is a 38-year-old male from east Jerusalem.

A tour bus driver, he has reportedly been in contact with tourists from Spain, Germany and Greece. According to the Hebrew website Ynet, he was the bus driver for a group of 21 Greek tourists, four of whom have been diagnosed with the virus.

The driver checked into the hospital with pneumonia.

According to the director of infectious disease at the hospital, the man is in stable condition and fully conscious. The hospital is keeping him in isolation and adhering to the guidelines of the Health Ministry.

American woman who traveled in Israel diagnosed with coronavirus

An American woman from New York City who traveled around Israel from February 23 to 27 was diagnosed with coronavirus Wednesday night, according to the Health Ministry. She had been staying in Jerusalem.

The ministry is now asking anyone who was in the locations she visited when she was there to start a 14-day period of home isolation.

She went to Osher Ad grocery store on General Pierre Koenig Street in Talpiot, ate at the First Station and shopped at Hadar Mall, among other places. She also took local buses.

According to the ministry, she returned home on El Al flight LY27, departing Israel on February 28 at 1:05 a.m. and landing in New York that morning at 6:00 a.m.

Israel helping Palestinians prevent spread of coronavirus

The Palestinian Authority announced on Thursday that it has discovered seven cases of coronavirus.

The announcement was made by PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaialah during a press conference on Thursday evening.

She said her ministry decided to conduct tests on hotel workers who had come in contact with Greek tourists who stayed there. “Our medical teams examined the workers of the hotel, and later found that seven people tested positive,” Kailah said. “They have been placed in quarantine together with the hotel staff and two doctors who came in contact with them.”

She said the tests were sent to the Sheba Medical Center, which later confirmed the seven positive cases.

PA Health Minister Mai al-Kailah said the measures include closing all mosques and churches in Bethlehem for 14 days and cancelling all workshops, conferences, social and sports activities.”

Minister said seeking to cancel Muslim prayers at Temple Mount over virus fears

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has been seeking to ban Friday Muslim prayers at the Temple Mount over fears of the spread of COVID-19, a report said Thursday.

According to Channel 12, Erdan wrote to the head of the National Security Council asking him to prevent the services from taking place, following reports that four Palestinians are suspected of carrying the virus.

However, the report said, entry of thousands of Palestinian workers into Israel would continue normally.

The weekly prayers at the holy site draw thousands of Muslim worshipers. Any attempts by Israel to interfere with the prayers at the flashpoint compound, which is under Jordanian custodianship, would likely be met with fierce Palestinian protest.

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry said earlier Thursday that four people at a hotel in the Bethlehem area were suspected of having being infected with the coronavirus by tourists who have since flown back to Greece.

An Israeli man who drove the bus the tourists were in was also diagnosed with the virus Thursday, becoming the country’s 16th case.

The tourists were diagnosed with the virus upon their return home.

Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity Ordered Closed Over Coronavirus Fears

The Church of the Nativity was ordered closed on Thursday and foreign tourists were banned from West Bank hotels after four suspected coronavirus cases were found in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem.

The measures announced by the Palestinian Authority’s Tourism Ministry came as a particular blow to the Biblical town, whose businesses are largely dependent on Christian visitors to the church, built on the traditional site of Jesus’s birth.

Just three months ago Bethlehem was hailing its best Christmas for two decades, the mayor and hoteliers said, even better than the 1.5 million visitors it received in 2018.

The Latin Patriarchate of the Holy Land said the Church of the Nativity, which was first founded in 339 and rebuilt and extended over the centuries, would be closed for two weeks, along with other churches and mosques in the Bethlehem area.

The ban on foreign guests at West Bank hotels will also last two weeks, the tourism ministry said.

“This affects us dramatically,” said Joey Canavati, manager of the 58-room Alexander Hotel in Bethlehem. “Our workers are essentially laid off for the next 14 days. We will be closed down completely. It destroyed our business from every perspective.”

Canavati said groups of tourists from the United States, Poland and Cameroon had already canceled their bookings.

Palestinians at odds about normalization with Israel

The vexed issue of normalization reared its ugly head again recently, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas faced a dilemma of the PA’s own making.

For hard-line supporters of the Palestinian cause, “normalization” (or “tatbia” in Arabic) is the worst political sin any Palestinian can commit. It brands any form of joint Palestinian-Israeli activity as a form of treachery, and has been adopted as a term of abuse by the Palestinian leadership and organizations that support them.

In September 2016 the PA arrested four Palestinians for sharing a cup of coffee with Jewish community members in the West Bank town of Efrat, claiming it was a crime for Palestinians to meet socially with settlers, because it promoted normalization.

In December 2018 a Palestinian court in Ramallah sentenced a Palestinian-American to imprisonment for life for brokering the sale of a house in Jerusalem’s Old City to an Israeli organization.

In June 2019 the PA sacked Radi Nasser from its Education Ministry and removed him as council chief of the village of Deir Kadis after a social media video showed four Israeli neighbors joining in the celebrations at his son’s wedding.

In short, in the view of the anti-normalizers, no form of joint activity, cooperation or dialogue with Israelis is acceptable – even engaging with Israeli peace activists who have the best of intentions toward them. All such undertakings must be viewed as collaboration with the enemy of the Palestinian people.

PMW: Ashrawi attacks Israeli democracy: “Israeli political system, is based on murder”

Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi is upset with Israeli democracy. The Palestinian leader is unhappy with the results of the election in which the right wing and religious parties achieved 58 seats, the center party 32 seats and the coalition of 3 left wing Zionist parties together only reaching 7 seats in Israel’s 120 seat parliament. Ashrawi said this was “a clear expression of the expansion of the culture of hate, racism, and extremism in Israel.” She added that “the election results have strengthened the distorted character of the Israeli political system, which is based on murder, escalation, settlements, annexation, and the theft of lands.” [Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 3, 2020]

She also congratulated the Joint Arab List that achieved 15 seats making it the third largest party in Israel’s parliament.

What Ashrawi forgot to mention was that it is the Palestinian Authority and Fatah that are directly responsible for the strong right wing showing in these elections. PMW has been alerting the Israeli population for years that the PA rewards terrorist prisoners with high monthly salaries, recently placed a permanent plaque at the entrance to a school in Bethlehem honoring a 17-year-old girl suicide bomber, names schools and sporting events after terrorists, teaches children that Jews are “barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs”, broadcasts sermons anticipating the extermination of Jews and calling on Allah to count the Jews and kill them “one by one, and do not leave even one,” and tells its people that coaxing Israel to the 1967 lines in exchange for a peace treaty is a step towards eliminating Israel in stages. By now all Israelis are very aware of PMW’s findings and have concluded that there is no honest Palestinian peace partner. The election results with 90 seats for the right-center parties and 7 for the left wing parties don’t indicate “extremism” in Israel but reflect what Israelis have learned about the PA from the PA itself.

Amazon to provide free shipping to Palestinians after PA complaint

Amazon on Wednesday said it would provide free shipping on certain orders to West Bank Palestinians, as it does to Israel, after sustaining criticism for offering the benefit to Israeli settlements but not to the region’s Arab population.

Last month the Palestinian Authority’s economy ministry sent a letter of complaint to the retail giant over its shipping policy, after the Financial Times reported that Amazon was offering free shipping to settlements in the West Bank for purchases above $49, but not to Palestinians who marked their address as being in the Palestinian territories.

The report said Palestinians who marked their address as being in Israel did receive the free shipping.

An Amazon spokesman told the FT on Wednesday: “There are multiple technical, legal and logistical challenges that have prevented us from offering our free shipping promotion to our customers in the Palestinian territories. We have been working on a solution to some of these challenges and are now providing access to the free delivery promotion to our customers in the West Bank.”

The free delivery to Israel on certain purchases above $49 was launched in November and is still in effect.

Iraqi Politician Samir Ubeid: Trump Is Milking Money from Gulf Countries in Exchange for Protection

Iraqi political Samir Ubeid said in a January 29, 2020 interview on Sumaria TV (Iraq) that the “Gulf Spring” will come after Trump milks the Gulf countries of their money in resources in exchange for protection. Ubeid said that Trump is doing this in a fashion similar to the jizya poll tax and that Trump turned Iran into a boogeyman in order to scare the Gulf countries into paying the United States for defense.

Coronavirus Kills the “Butcher” of Tehran

Another senior Iranian official has been killed by the coronavirus, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported on Wednesday, a day after Iran put its armed forces on alert to assist health officials in battling the virus, which has killed at least 77 people in an outbreak that has sickened top officials and pushed even supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei into wearing disposable gloves while trying to reassure the nation.

Mohammad Haj Abolghasemi, 71, was hospitalized in Tehran a few days ago and died on Tuesday, state media reported.

Abolghasemi was an intelligence officer and battalion commander in the Basij – the volunteer paramilitary wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps used for internal security and other tasks, such as violent suppression of civilian protests.

Relatives of Abolghasemi told news outlets outside of Iran that he was apparently infected with the virus while on duty, after local authorities failed to issue proper warnings about avoiding large gatherings or physical contact.

As stated, Abolghasemi, was a senior commander in the Basij and served as an Iranian intelligence officer after the Iran-Iraq War.

Websites affiliated with Iran’s exiled opposition celebrated Abolghasemi’s death, calling him a “butcher” and a “hangman” due to the role of the Basij in brutally suppressing popular countrywide protests over the past year, in which hundreds of Iranian civilians were killed.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday issued a rare confession that “the coronavirus has spread to nearly all parts of the country.”

Erdogan’s Attempts to Blackmail Europe are Doomed to Fail

If the current crisis facing Turkey is entirely of Mr Erdogan’s own making, that has not prevented the Turkish president from trying to deflect attention away from his own mishandling of the conflict by seeking to provoke a new migrant crisis in Europe.

When Turkey took the controversial decision last year to purchase Russia’s state-of-the-art S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, Mr Erdogan calculated that it would herald new era of friendly cooperation with Ankara’s long-standing rival in Moscow even if, by pressing ahead with the deal, the Turks risked jeopardising their relationship with NATO, which bitterly opposed the deal.

Russians now find themselves in a direct confrontation with Turkish forces in Idlib province, where the Turks are trying to protect a number of Islamist militias committed to overthrowing the Assad regime… [A]s the recent escalation in fighting has demonstrated, the Russians’ main priority is to support the Assad regime.

Mr Erdogan is also about to discover that there has been a hardening of attitudes among European leaders about dealing with unwanted migrants since the Turkish leader last used his blackmail tactics five years ago…. These days, senior politicians in Mrs Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats take a more hard-nosed approach to the migrant issue, with one senior party member warning the migrants this week, “There is no point coming to Germany. We cannot take you in.”

MEMRI: Istanbul Governor’s Office Bans Anti-War Protests Amid Turkish-Syrian Fighting In Idlib; Turkish Press, NGOs Criticize Government Decision To Allow Syrian Refugees In Turkey To Go To Turkey-Greece Border

On March 3, 2020, the office of the governor of Istanbul banned anti-war protests for one week as Turkish journalists, civil society organizations, and opposition parties reacted to the Turkish government’s decision to allow Syrian refugees in Turkey to try to enter Europe.

Istanbul Governor’s Office Bans Anti-War Protests For One Week

On March 3, 2020, amid fighting in Idlib,[1] the Istanbul governor’s office said in a statement: “Meetings and demonstration marches, press statements, opening stands, gathering signatures, leaflets, distributing brochures and similar activities that are aimed at criticizing the military operations that our Turkish Armed Forces are carrying out in Syria or with bringing an end to them are forbidden until March 10 at 11:59 pm.”[2] With 15.5 million people, approximately 20% of the population of Turkey lives in Istanbul.

Opposition Party As 135,000 Syrian Refugees Reportedly Go To Turkey-Greece Border: “The AKP Has… Turned The Refugees Into A Political Vehicle And Used Them As A Weapon”

On February 28, AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik announced that the government would open the borders to allow Syrians to try to enter Europe.[3] The government decision to open the border was apparently in response to the February 27 strike. In a speech on February 29, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: “As of this morning, there were about 18,000 people at the border, but today it may reach 25 or 30 thousand. We will not shut close the border in the coming duration.”[4] On March 4, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu tweeted: “The number of refugees leaving Turkish soil to go to Greece via Edirne [a Turkish city near the Turkey-Greece border] is 135,844.”[5]

NGOs, civil society organizations, and journalists reacted to the move. The People’s Bridge Association And Immigrant Solidarity Network, a Turkish NGO that works with refugees, said in a statement: “Random, out-of-control transits mean death more than hope for refugees… The state should right away stop seeing refugees as a threat in bartering… Those who use refugees, who are already pushed from their own places, for their military policies are responsible for the current political climate in which racism is normalized.”[6] Gülsüm Ağaoğlu, who prepared a written statement on behalf of the Immigrant And Refugees Commission of the opposition HDP, wrote: “The AKP has shown once again that it has turned the refugees into a political vehicle and used them as a weapon… The government will be responsible for the possible deaths and tragedies of the refugees, which have been made into a means of blackmail and threat against the EU, on this dangerous journey.”[7] The Izmir Bar Association said in a statement: “The government is using the refugee problem as a political trump-card in the strife-ridden environment. Immigration cannot be made a tool of politics.”[8]

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