January 26, 2021

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07/03 Links Pt1: Israeli cyberattack caused Iran nuclear site fire, F35s hit missile base; Terrorists Convicted for Antisemitic Murder of Daniel Pearl in Pakistan Could Go Free This Year


From Ian:

Report: Israeli cyberattack caused Iran nuclear site fire, F35s hit missile base
Israel was responsible for two blasts at Iranian facilities — one related to uranium enrichment, the other for missile production — over the past week, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported Friday.

The Al-Jareeda daily cited an unnamed senior source as saying that an Israeli cyberattack caused a fire and explosion at the largely underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility in the predawn hours of Thursday morning.

According to the source, this was expected to set back Iran’s nuclear enrichment program by approximately two months.

The newspaper also reported that last Friday Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jets bombed a site located in the area of Parchin, which is believed to house a missile production complex — an area of particular concern for the Jewish state, in light of the large number and increasing sophistication of missiles and rockets in the arsenals of Iranian proxies, notably Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Neither of these claims were confirmed by Israeli officials, who have been mum on the reports.

The reported Israeli strikes followed an alleged Iranian attempt to hack into Israel’s water infrastructure in April, an effort that was thwarted by Israeli cyber defenses, but if successful could have introduced dangerous levels of chlorine into the Israeli water supply and otherwise seriously interrupted the flow of water throughout the country.

Ultimately, the alleged Iranian cyberattack caused minimal issues, according to Israeli officials.

Terrorists Convicted for Antisemitic Murder of Daniel Pearl in Pakistan Could Go Free This Year

Four men sentenced to life imprisonment in Pakistan for the antisemitic murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 could go free later this year, following a court ruling earlier this week that paved the way for their imminent release.

British citizen Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh — who masterminded Pearl’s kidnapping and execution by beheading in the city of Karachi — saw his conviction for murder overturned by the High Court in the province of Sindh in April. His three collaborators — Fahad Nasim Ahmed, Syed Salman Saqib and Sheikh Muhammad Adil — were also exonerated by the same court.

That ruling was upheld by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, triggering concerns that the four men would be released immediately.

But on Thursday, Hasan Sehtoo — superintendent of the Karachi Central Prison — said that the four would remain in custody until Sept. 30 under a law that allowed authorities to detain a suspect for up to a year. Sehtoo said that the release of the convicted men would threaten public safety.

Pearl’s parents have filed an appeal with the Pakistani Supreme Court in another attempt to reverse the Sindh court’s shock decision in April. In an interview with CBS News this week, Pearl’s father, Judea, denounced the decision as a “travesty of justice.”

Pearl remarked that “one theory is that somebody tried to take advantage of the corona situation. Assuming that no one will pay attention to this decision.”

He continued: “And, evidently, we did pay attention.”

Coronavirus: Israel hits 1,130 new patients in a single day

Israel hit another record on Friday evening, as the Health Ministry reported that 1,130 people were diagnosed with the novel coronavirus the day before.

Among the now 10,060 sick patients (17,669 of Israel’s 28,055 patients have already recovered), some 77 are in serious condition – a number that has continued to grow in the past week.

Moreover, the death toll is rising, reaching 326 on Friday morning.

The new number of patients was released as a series of restrictions were rolled out at 8 a.m. on Friday morning. Event halls, bars, clubs and prayer houses will be limited to 50 attendees. Any other gatherings in closed spaces are now limited to 20 people.

During a briefing on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the number of patients in serious condition increased by 50% in just the last week.

“We must return to the reality of restrictions in order to flatten the curve,” he said.

Israel’s Rafael, IAI work with UAE counterpart to combat coronavirus

In a historic move, the United Arab Emirates’s (UAE) leading technology company Group 42 (G42) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with two Israeli hi-tech companies: Rafael Advanced Defense Systems (Rafael) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

The three companies plan on exploring collaborations in research and development in order to offer effective solutions against the novel COVID-19.

The companies, which celebrated their cooperation in a virtual signing ceremony, intend to use each one of their fields of expertise and technologies to develop medical initiatives to combat coronavirus.

“At G42, we embrace international cooperation as a way to develop new and innovative technological solutions for the public good,” said G42 CEO Peng Xiao. “The UAE has led by example in the global collaborative effort to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic, and our company is privileged to follow the lead and share resources and expertise with Rafael and IAI for such a significant cause.”

China Never Reported Existence of Coronavirus to World Health Organization

Contrary to claims from both Chinese officials and the World Health Organization, China did not report the existence of the coronavirus in late 2019, according to a WHO timeline tracking the spread of the virus. Rather, international health officials discovered the virus through information posted to a U.S. website.

The quiet admission from the international health organization, which posted an “updated” timeline to its website this week, flies in the face of claims from some of its top officials, including WHO director general Tedros Adhanom, who maintained for months that China had informed his organization about the emerging sickness.

China and its allies at the WHO insisted in multiple interviews and press conferences that China came to the health organization with information about the virus. This is now known to be false. The WHO’s backtracking lends credibility to a recent congressional investigation that determined China concealed information about the virus and did not initially inform the WHO, as it was required to do.

The WHO’s updated timeline, posted online this week, now states that officials first learned about the virus on Dec. 31, 2019, through information posted on a U.S. website by doctors working in Wuhan, where the virus first emerged. This contradicts the agency’s initial timeline, which said that China first presented this information at that date.

That initial timeline stated that the “Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, China, reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, Hubei Province” on Dec. 31.

These claims were carried in numerous American media outlets that relied on the WHO’s inaccurate timeline, including CNN and Axios.

NY Times Refuses to Correct Falsehood on U.S. Views of Settlements

Last week, the New York Times claimed – wrongly – that there had been a “longstanding American policy treating the settlements as illegal,” which remained in place until Secretary of State Pompeo announced a reversal in 2019.

Although the newspaper is aware of the error, it has refused to correct, and refuses even to put forward a defense for its claim.

To be fair, the Times isn’t the first to make this mistake. In October 2016, the Washington Post corrected its claim that the US regarded settlements as illegal. A month later, the Associated Press corrected. The following month, The Times (UK) corrected, as did ABC News and the Times of Israel. In 2018, the Times of Israel corrected again. The Financial Times corrected in November 2019. And two days the Economist ran a correction of its own.

Even the New York Times itself has corrected the false claim. After a March 2017 editorial asserted that the United States “has consistently held that settlement building in the occupied territories is illegal,” a correction clarified,

An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated the United States’ position on settlement building in the occupied territories. It has been highly critical of the activity, but has not consistent held it to be illegal.

From the news side, an Aug. 8, 2013 correction in the Times likewise acknowledged that “the United States has taken no formal position in the last several years on whether [settlements] are legal or illegal.”

Netherlands votes to fight antisemitism, not fund Jewish security costs

The Dutch parliament passed a number of motions that speak of the need to fight antisemitism. A draft motion calling for the government to pay for security around synagogues failed to pass, however.

The motions were voted on earlier this week at the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the parliament, in the framework of a two-day session of the house’s Justice and Security Commission.

The rejected motion stated that the Jewish community in the Netherlands “often lacks the means to adequately protect their infrastructure, events and synagogue services” and called on the government to supply the finances for this purpose.

The motion, filed by Geert Wilders and Gidi Markuszower of the anti-Islam Freedom Party, received 28 votes in the 150-member Tweede Kamer, with the ruling VVD party, Dutch Labour, the Socialist Party, and the D66 and Green Left progressive parties voting against it.

Institutions from the Dutch-Jewish community, which belongs to a minority of about 40,000 people, spend over $1.2 million annually on security, according to community leaders.

Rival Palestinian Factions Declare Unity: ‘We Have No Enemy Except for Israel’

Representatives of rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas on Thursday united against Israel’s plans to extend sovereignty in Judea and Samaria.

At a press conference in Ramallah, senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub declared, “We are now talking about a joint struggle, a campaign on the ground. We call on all Palestinian factions to see cooperation between Hamas and Fatah as a historic opportunity for a joint fight to establish a Palestinian state and oppose the Israeli occupation.”

“We have no enemy except for Israel,” Rajoub added, according to Ynet.

Rajoub called Hamas a “complete partner” in the battle against Israel’s intention to extend sovereignty.

“We are leaving this meeting under one flag, with which we oppose annexation,” he said. “We want to open a new page [in Hamas-Fatah relations] and set an example for the people, prisoners and martyrs.”

Belgian gov’t funds groups promising to weaken pro-Israel influence

The Belgian government is financing organizations that in their appeal for federal funding promised to “mitigate the influence of pro-Israel voices.”

The appeal by three nongovernmental Belgian organizations, the Catholic aid group Broederlijke Delen, Oxfam Solidarity and Viva Salud, appeared in a document from 2016 by the Belgian Joint Strategic Framework Palestine, a platform that distributes federal money.

NGO Monitor, an Israel-based organization that investigates the activity and funding of players in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, published a report on that funding Thursday.

Arnaud Gaspart, a spokesman for the Belgian Foreign Ministry, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the document “does not reflect Belgium’s position or point of view.”

In 2018, the Belgian Ministry for Development Cooperation allocated at least $1.8 million for Joint Strategic Framework projects, Belgian government documents show. In the years 2015-18, it gave approximately $20 million to “NGOs and Civil Society.”

In the 2016 appeal, Joint Strategic Goal No. 3 for “Good Governance, Civil Society and Human Rights” calls for strengthening local civil society organizations “to increase their advocacy efforts towards the European institutions and member states, promoting respect for international law and mitigating the influence of pro-Israel voices.”

NGO Monitor in a statement called this a “misuse of European taxpayer funds to benefit radical groups.”

UK woman handed life sentence for plot to blow up St. Paul’s Cathedral

A woman was jailed for life, with a minimum sentence of 14 years, on Friday for plotting to blow up London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, a nearby hotel and a subway train in a suicide attack.

Safiyya Shaikh, 37, extensively researched how to cause maximum carnage at the historic church and visitor attraction. Police said she had planned to leave a bomb in a bag at the cathedral before detonating a suicide vest on a London Underground train.

Her defense lawyers said she had doubts about the plot, but prosecutors disclosed details of a call she made to a friend from prison last week in which she said she “didn’t get cold feet” and “was ready to go through with it.”

The Muslim convert, who was a supporter of the Islamic State jihadist group, pleaded guilty to creating a terrorist act and dissemination of a terrorist publication.

Shaikh, born Michelle Ramsden, was arrested in October after she sought help from an undercover officer who posed as a bomb-making expert.

“She engaged with others, who she believed to be of a similar mindset, to instigate and plan a terrorist attack involving the use of improvised explosives to attack St Paul’s Cathedral and a hotel nearby,” prosecutor Alison Morgan said. “She visited the cathedral to assess its security arrangements and the best place to detonate a bomb.”

“She stated that her intention was to kill herself and as many other people as possible,” she added.

UN Suspends Two Middle East Peacekeeping Staff Over Sexual Misconduct

Two male staff members of the UN peacekeeping operation in the Middle East have been placed on leave after an initial inquiry found they had engaged in sexual misconduct, a UN spokesman said.

The United Nations’ internal investigations office launched the inquiry after a video circulated on social media appearing to show a woman straddling a man in the back seat of a UN-marked vehicle as it was driven down a coastal boulevard in Tel Aviv.

“Two male international staff members who were in the UN vehicle in Tel Aviv have been identified as having engaged in misconduct, including conduct of a sexual nature,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement late on Thursday.

Dujarric said the video involved staff of the Jerusalem-based United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), which provides military observers to monitoring missions in south Lebanon and the Golan Heights, according to its website.

Given the seriousness of the allegations, Dujarric added, the two were placed on administrative leave without pay, pending the conclusion of the investigation by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services.

PMW: PA anger at Arab world’s indifference to Israel’s possible applying civil law to parts of West Bank

The Palestinians’ frustration and anger with the Arab world for its general indifference to “the Palestinian cause” is on the increase. It seems the PA had expected solid backing from the Islamic nation after Abbas announced that the PA had absolved itself from all agreements with Israel because of Israel’s presumed application of Israeli civil law to the Jordan Valley and Jewish towns on the West Bank.

But serious Arab backing is not coming. The cartoon above expresses the PA’s discontent with the Arab world, criticizing its lack of help to the Palestinians by showing “the Arabs” as an ostrich burying its head in the sand through a hole in a document announcing the Israeli “annexation of the West Bank.” [Official Fatah Facebook page, June 25, 2020]

The cartoon was published the day after the Arab Parliament (i.e., the executive body of the Arab League) in fact did express support for Abbas’ decision to cut ties with Israel:

“The Arab Parliament emphasized its support for the Palestinian leadership’s decision – which was declared by [PA] President [Mahmoud] Abbas – to cut off all types of relations with the occupying power (Israel) [parentheses in source] and to be released from the agreements and commitments stemming from it… The Arab Parliament emphasized that it rejects and condemns the occupying power’s (Israel) continued implementation of the settlement plans.”
[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, June 25, 2020]

But apparently the Palestinians felt it was not strong enough, expecting much more.

JCPA: Rajoub (Fatah) and Aruri (Hamas) Hold Joint Press Conference – a Qatari Statement of Intentions

Two senior Hamas and Fatah leaders appeared in a joint Zoom press conference on July 2, 2020; it deserves our attention. Jibril Rajoub, secretary-general of the Fatah Central Committee, spoke from Ramallah, while Salah al-Aruri joined via video call from Beirut, from where he directs Hamas’ terrorist activities on the West Bank.

While the presentation was described in the media as Hamas-Fatah joint meeting, it was much more. It was a meeting between the two prominent clients and representatives of Qatar (and Turkey) in the West Bank and Gaza, and the event should be understood as a declaration by Qatar (and Turkey) that they were entering into the fray to decide on the successor to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

In the opening of his address, Rajoub repeated what Abbas had said earlier about the need for unity based on his personal point of view. It was strange to mention that the leader of the PLO speaks on his personal behalf, but it positioned the entire meeting with Aruri as a personal event.

And indeed – when we watch the TV screen, we cannot find any formal symbols – neither of Fatah or the PLO nor Hamas. Just Palestinian flags behind them. Aruri, sitting in Beirut, had a picture of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

While Rajoub was speaking about the regional challenges like stopping Arab states from normalizing with Israel, he added an implied warning when he said, “We shall protect your oil” – that is to say— we may attack your oil unless….” Aruri concentrated on the West Bank and Jerusalem only. He did not refer to Gaza at all despite Hamas’ exclusive rule there.

Hamas claims to bust Israeli-run spy ring planning ‘sabotage’

The Hamas terror group arrested several members of an “Israeli-directed” spy ring planning “sabotage” in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas Interior Ministry announced on Friday morning.

“The security services discovered a cell directed by the Israeli occupation as it attempted to conduct sabotage against resistance elements,” the ministry said in a statement.

Hamas did not say how many people it had detained and did not provide any evidence of its claims, nor any photos or names of the alleged cell members. It also gave no details on the targets of the cell.

Hamas security services said they had been tracking the cell’s activity for several days before catching them in the act. In addition to capturing the operatives, Hamas agents confiscated equipment and money Israel used to pay its operatives in the spy ring, the ministry claimed.

The spy ring was in direct communication with Israeli intelligence, Hamas said.

Along with the statement, the Hamas Interior Ministry released a propaganda video praising its “men in the arena — the knights of the Interior Ministry.”

The Shin Bet security service declined to comment.

Trump’s Syria Policy Is Working

Regime spokespeople and apologists in the coming period are likely to highlight the difficult humanitarian situation in regime areas and call for a softening of restrictions. But it’s hard to credit any sincerity to the regime’s belated discovery of humanitarian concerns toward its own citizens. In covering Syria from the early years of the civil war, I witnessed the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, by the Assad regime’s air force in Aleppo in the summer of 2012. Such tactics, replicated throughout the country, were the main reason for the terrible loss of civilian life during the Syrian war, and they were never informed by the regime’s newfound humanitarianism.

The U.S. strategy has not yet succeeded at its ultimate aim of changing the Syrian regime’s calculations. The main result instead is emergent strife between different elements of the pro-regime camp, including Russian public criticism of Assad, the falling-out between the president and Makhlouf, and growing tensions between Russian-aligned and Iranian-aligned elements of the Syrian security forces in strife-torn Daraa. But a strategy of this kind doesn’t require immediate results. The direct cost to the United States of an economic blockade of Assad’s Syria—like the maximum pressure campaign against Iran—is low or nonexistent.

Those wondering about the future shape of U.S. power projection in the Middle East should be paying close attention to the current look of Syria policy. The key element is the weaponization of Western economic strength. The camp around Assad is practiced in political and proxy warfare, and ruthless in pursuit of its goals. It has bested over the last decade the efforts of Western-aligned regional powers to oust the Assad dictatorship. But the Achilles’ heel of this camp is its scarcity of economic resources. This vulnerability is now being exploited, at minimal cost to the United States and without the large military commitments that both the president and the public prefer to avoid. The intention is to turn Syria into a quagmire for the dictator and his allies.

Although Syria’s active war may have largely concluded, the United States has ensured that its underlying issues remain unresolved. The resulting stalemate—marked by frozen conflict, continued poverty, and a messy de facto division of the country—has prevented a triumph for Assad and his allies. This will remain the country’s only practical future until Assad and his allies are finally prepared to negotiate on terms that their opponents are willing to accept.

Iran threatens retaliation after possible cyber attack on nuclear site

Iran will retaliate against any country that carries out cyber attacks on its nuclear sites, the head of civilian defense said, after a fire at its Natanz plant which some Iranian officials said may have been caused by cyber sabotage.

The underground Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog.

Iran’s top security body said on Friday that the cause of the “incident” at the nuclear site had been determined, but “due to security considerations” it would be announced at a convenient time.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation (AEOI) initially reported an “incident” had occurred early on Thursday at Natanz, located in the desert in the central province of Isfahan.

It later published a photo of a one-story brick building with its roof and walls partly burned. A door hanging off its hinges in the photo suggested that there had been an explosion inside the building.

“Responding to cyber attacks is part of the country’s defense might. If it is proven that our country has been targeted by a cyber attack, we will respond,” civil defense chief Gholamreza Jalali told state TV late on Thursday.

An article issued on Thursday by state news agency IRNA addressed what it called the possibility of sabotage by enemies such as Israel and the United States, although it stopped short of accusing either directly.

“So far Iran has tried to prevent intensifying crises and the formation of unpredictable conditions and situations,” IRNA said. “But the crossing of red lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran by hostile countries, especially the Zionist regime and the US, means that strategy…should be revised.”

Arabic media: Israeli cyberattack struck Natanz nuclear facility

Kuwait’s Al-Jarida newspaper, which covers security incidents and sometimes alleges Israeli involvement, says that Israel carried out a cyber attack on the Natanz nuclear facility on Thursday. The incident has been downplayed by Iran but experts say that a sensitive warehouse that deals with centrifuges was damaged.

According to the report a source informed Al-Jarida that a cyber attack hit the facility. The report linked this to an earlier cyber attack on Israeli water infrastructure that Iran allegedly carried out and then another cyber attack on an Iranian port in May. It also links the Natanz cyber attack to the earlier Stuxnet computer worm attack in 2010.

These are coordinated sabotage operations, according to the newspaper. The Natanz incident explosion and another explosion near Parchin targeted UF6 gas storage that was used for uranium enrichment. This is uranium hexafluoride gas.

In November, 2019 Iran unveiled the production and injection of the gas into IR-6 centrifuges. These are the advanced centrifuges Iran has increased at Natanz. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI)’s Ali Akbar Salehi has spoken openly about the gas and the new centrifuges. Iran added around 30 of these IR-6 centrifuges to Natanz in November 2019, making at least 60 in total at the site.

The Kuwaiti paper argues that Iran has now lost 80% of its stock of this gas. “This is likely to be an electronic attack on the computer network that controls the storage compression tanks. Iran will need about two months to compensate for the gas that was lost.”

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