Today we’re diving into: the escalating situation with Iran, Netanyahu’s new emergency powers, El Al government bailout, new ambassadors, Israel’s step toward gender pay equality and Hamas rocket fire.
TENSIONS RISING WITH IRAN
Serious damage to Iranian nuclear site leads to attempted retaliatory attack on Israeli embassies.
Significant damage to Iranian nuclear site: An Iranian nuclear official disclosed that an explosion at Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility has caused significant damage, saying that it could slow the development of advanced centrifuges used to enrich uranium by months. This attack is the latest in a string of fires and explosions at Iranian facilities, some of which have hit sensitive sites. Iran is not yet publicly providing information on the cause of the explosions for “security reasons,” but its spokespeople claim that authorities know.
Israel blamed: A Middle Eastern intelligence official with knowledge of the incident claimed Israel was responsible for the incident, by planting a bomb in the building. A member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) also said an explosive was used. Both spoke on condition of anonymity to the New York Times. In the past, Israel and the U.S. have used cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear program, but that has been ruled out here. Israeli Defense Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said that Israel is “not necessarily” responsible for the repeat offenses.
Mossad foils Iranian retaliatory attack: Israeli news reported that Iran targeted multiple Israeli embassies in countries around the world in an attempt to attack them. There are no further details about the scope of the attack, only that Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, apparently foiled the plot by working with the unnamed countries in which the embassies are located. The countries in question are probably in Europe and elsewhere. The Israeli government has been preparing itself for the possibility of an Iranian retaliatory attack, cyber or otherwise.
Iran’s deep economic crisis a bigger concern: The mysterious explosions are not thought to be at the top of the political agenda in Iran or of public discussion due to the severe economic crisis. On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was lambasted by members of the Iranian parliament over the economic crisis and political battle against the government of President Hassan Rohani, with the parliamentarians accusing Zarif of lying and one even calling for his death.
Potential impeachment of President Rohani: Amid growing anger over the country’s economic crisis, Iran’s hardline lawmakers are planning to question the president which could lead to impeachment. The economy has been severely damaged by the reimplementation of U.S. sanctions in 2018 and the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the crisis. Analysts say the presiding board might hold back from issuing the summons to the President because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for unity among the branches of government while Iran faces immense international and internal pressure.
Iran triggers Nuclear Deal dispute mechanism: Iran issued a notice to the European Union that it is triggering a dispute mechanism formally designated in the Iran Nuclear Deal a day after the mysterious fire broke out at the Natanz underground facility. Although Iran did not explain exactly what it perceived to be the dispute in question, the country did claim that Britain, France, and Germany, three signatories to the deal, were not abiding by terms of the agreement. Should the parties be unable to resolve the dispute, the entire deal will be nullified. Much of the deal has come into question since the U.S. withdrew under President Trump in 2018.
Iran’s FM blames U.S. bullying: In a tweet on June 19, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif said the three European countries “must stop public face-saving and muster the courage to state publicly what they admit privately: their failure to fulfill even (their) own [Nuclear Deal] duties due to total impotence in resisting US bullying.
Iran’s violations: On January 15, the three European signatories to the deal triggered the dispute resolution mechanism to force Iran into discussions on possible violations of the deal, but later suspended the action.
UN expert deems Soleimani strike unlawful: Agnes Callamard, a United Nations human rights investigator, said that the U.S.’ January strike in Iraq against a top Iranian official and sponsor of terrorism, Qassem Soleimani, was illegal under international law. The United States failed to provide information showing that Soleimani was an ongoing or imminent threat to U.S. interests, which is required by the international body. The investigator will present her findings to the UN Human Rights Council—of which the U.S. is no longer a member—on Thursday.
Israeli government grants Netanyahu emergency powers; El Al gets government bailout; New satellite imaging policy may put Israel at risk; Bill for gender equality pay & New Israeli Ambassadors.
Netanyahu’s new emergency powers: Though nowhere near the staggering case numbers in the U.S., coronavirus has reemerged in Israel with such a vengeance that a panel of experts before Israel’s National Security Council warned that the country has only “days” to contain the outbreak before the healthcare system collapses. The government voted to allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bypass the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in making emergency decisions with regard to coronavirus health and safety measures. The Prime Minister’s decisions will now take effect immediately and not be subject to normal voting processes.
Backlash: Knesset committees will still have the chance to review the decisions, but within a week after the decision has already been implemented. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid Party decried the move as undemocratic, pessimistically saying “There is no longer a need for the Knesset. There is only one branch in the land of Israel. The legislative branch is no more.”
El Al accepts $400M bailout: Under a deal accepted Sunday evening, Israeli airline El Al will get a bailout package from the state. The state will guarantee a $250 million loan and will purchase $150 million worth of stocks in the company, which means the government will control 61% of El Al. The Finance Ministry said the goal is for an outside investor to purchase the airline when the company is stable again. According to Haaretz, an unnamed Israeli citizen already made inquiries into the matter.
Knafaim Holdings no more: This decision ends the 15-year tenure of control by Knafaim Holdings—more specifically by husband and wife David Borowitz and Tami Moses Borowitz, who controlled 32% of the shares. The El Al pilot union led a general strike objecting to the continued control of Knafaim in the company and cuts to their salaries.
Warning from Israel’s airport chief: The bailout announcement comes days after a dire warning issued by the CEO of Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, Shmuel Zakay, that the Israeli airline industry is “days away from reaching the point of no return.” Nearly all international travel in and out of Israel comes through aviation.
Security risk with change in satellite imaging policy: A possible security risk has been flagged following a U.S. move to allow American providers to sell clearer satellite images of Israel and the Palestinian territories. This is a change in policy from a 1997 U.S. regulation prohibiting U.S. authorities from granting a license for collecting or disseminating high resolution satellite imagery of Israel. The concern is that this shift may help enemies spy on sensitive sites using public domain information and plan rocket strikes on key infrastructure, but the U.S. agency which regulates the policy said “a number of foreign sources” are already disseminating higher-res imagery of Israel.
Bill approved for gender salary equality: A Knesset committee has approved legislation that will mandate companies with over 100 employees publicly disclose pay disparity existing between male and female workers annually. The legislation was put forward by Eti Atia of the ruling Likud Party and is intended to help equalize the pay disparity. In 2019, the average working man in Israel made 32% more than the average working woman in Israel. Atia explained that there would be hardly any additional cost to the companies to produce the report, because they are required to produce one anyway by existing law—the only difference would be to specify salaries by gender.
First ever Bedouin Ambassador: Israel has a new Ambassador to the African nation of Eritrea—a Bedouin Israeli from northern Israel! Ishmael Khaldi will be Israel’s first Bedouin Ambassador. Khaldi grew up as a shepherd and, after joining the Israeli foreign services, eventually worked at the Israeli consulate in San Francisco and in the Israeli embassy in London.
New Israeli Ambassador to the UN and U.S.: The Israeli government voted to send a new Ambassador jointly to the UN and the U.S., replacing Danny Danon and Ron Dermer respectively. Likud minister Gilad Erdan is set to begin work immediately as Israeli Ambassador to the UN, and will be replacing Dermer, the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., after the U.S. presidential election in November. It will be the first time that one individual holds both roles simultaneously since Abba Eban in the 1950s.
Mossad chief staying on for now: Israel’s Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen, is staying on the job for at least another six months. Netanyahu announced that Cohen’s departure date has been pushed back from January of 2021 to June of that year. Cohen has been in the role since 2016, and Mossad heads are typically appointed every five years. Netanyahu will be able to appoint Cohen’s successor before Benny Gantz takes over as Alternate Prime Minister in November of 2021. Recently, Cohen has met with both Egyptian and Jordanian officials to discuss security cooperation as Israel considers whether to annex parts of the West Bank.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Hamas fires more rockets at Israel; Israel retaliates; & Protesters take to the street in Gaza against Hamas.
Israel and Hamas exchange more rocket fire: The Israeli Air Force retaliated against Hamas rockets fired from Gaza into Israel over the weekend. Hamas shot three rockets into southern Israel on Sunday, two of which landed in open fields but caused thousands of Israelis to run to bomb shelters twice in less than an hour. The third rocket was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome. In response to the attack, the IDF struck back at Hamas underground facilities.
Hamas/ Fatah unity: The Gaza strike comes after the joint press conference between leaders in the rival Palestinian ruling factions Hamas and Fatah, in which the parties vowed to work together to achieve an independent Palestinian state and to foil any annexation plans. In another sign of unity between the two groups, a senior Fatah official visited a prominent Hamas activist who was released from Israeli prison last week.
Gaza protests against Hamas over conditions: Six Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including two university graduates, have attempted or committed suicide in recent days. As a result, dozens of individuals took to the streets in the territory, chanting “We want to eat. We want to live.” The protests are aimed at the ruling terrorist organization, which faced similar criticism from within last summer. In fact, one of the individuals who committed suicide was partially responsible for organizing the 2019 protests.
Hamas swiftly quashed protesting: In an effort to avoid widespread anger at their failed leadership, Hamas moved quickly to quell the dissent. Hamas altered its military wing to “thwart any suspicious attempt to create instability and anarchy.” It also arrested Palestinian journalists working for a Jordanian television program under its jurisdiction who had planned to publish news reports of the protests.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we celebrate three Jewish LA residents who set up a program to transform empty overnight parking lots into safe housing locations for homeless people. The program, known as Safe Parking LA, was founded in 2010 by Scott Sale and Pat and Ira Cohen, who belong to the Leo Baeck Temple. Safe Parking LA utilizes nine empty parking lots, many of which are those of religious institutions. All the users are vetted by the program, which also provides security, liability insurance, and a portable bathroom. Synagogues such as Beit T’Shuvah and Ikar have opened their parking lots to the program.
Today in 1946, five thousand Jews, including members of Parliament and Holocaust survivors, protested in Trafalgar Square in London against Britain’s actions in then-Palestine. The protestors demanded the immediate release of Zionist leaders detained in Palestine, the cessation of attacks against Jews in Palestine and the admittance of 100,000 Jews to the Mandate. Among the protestors were several hundred veterans. British officials at the time tried to halt Jewish immigration and refused to recognize the Jews as a national group. The Labour Foreign Secretary at the time, Ernest Bevin was motivated by antisemitism and felt strongly about not allowing then-Palestine to be a Jewish home. He felt that the Jews had organized a conspiracy against Britain and against him personally.