"Comfort, comfort my people says your God" Isaiah 40
  1. Israel’s Health Ministry took an unprecedented step on Wednesday, urging Israeli citizens to drop nearly all non-essential travel abroad until further notice in light of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. “Travel to conferences and other international gatherings should be avoided, including trips for religious events. International conferences in Israel should also be avoided," the Ministry said in a statement. Meanwhile, the Health Ministry announced on Thursday morning that an Israeli citizen returning from Italy had tested positive for the virus.

    Here is a podcast giving some analysis of the COVID-19 problem and a video showing how Israel is helping to confront it

    Iran Announces Sharp Increase in COVID-19 Infections
    The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Iran took a dramatic turn on Wednesday evening when the Health Ministry announced that the death toll from the outbreak was being officially increased from four to nineteen, while the number of confirmed cases jumped from 44-139. Both numbers are estimated by many analysts to be vastly underestimated. Meanwhile, the NGO Reporters Without Borders issued a statement on Wednesday accusing the clerical regime that rules Iran of interfering in the attempts by journalists to report the truth about the outbreak there.

    Israel Blesses the World
    Research by a team of scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, led by Prof. Itzhak Mizrahi in collaboration with experts from the Agricultural Research Organization and The Hebrew University announced this week that they have developed new methods for growing fish in ponds, allowing for the development of a highly nutritious source of protein for at-risk populations around the world. The research was published this week in the journal Nature Microbiology and has aroused great interest.

    Gaza Border Crossings Re-Opened
    Following the cessation of rocket fire into Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, the Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings were scheduled to be re-opened Thursday morning. Israeli officials made the announcement following consultations with representatives from Egypt and Qatar, which have diplomatic relations with the Islamist terror militia Hamas which rules the Strip.
  2. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted cautiously to US Senator Bernie Sanders accusation, aired during a debate between Democrats vying for their party’s nomination in the upcoming US Presidential election, that he is a racist. "I am not intervening in the US election," Netanyahu replied when asked on Army Radio about Sander’s statement.  "What I think about this matter is that he is definitely wrong. No question about it."

    Elsewhere, Blue and White Party leader MK Benny Gantz gave a fiery speech in  Kfar Maccabiah Wednesday evening during which he said, among other things, that Netanyahu is conducting a “hate crime against democracy” by slandering his political opponents in various ways. He also demanded during his speech that the Central Elections Committee closely monitor Likud for signs of foul play as Israelis head to the polls on Monday. In reference to the criminal investigations pending against Netanyahu, he also accused the incumbent Prime Minister of creating “a culture of crime, of state witnesses. A culture of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.”

    Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s speech later in the evening at a Likud event in Jerusalem, saying: “I heard Gantz say we are dividing Israeli society, but in his party, Blue and White, they incite all day and night and then complain about incitement.”

    Elsewhere, Amir Peretz, the titular leader of the Labor-Gesher-Meretz faction in Monday’s election, said on Thursday morning that his price for entering a governing coalition would be the appointment of an Arab MK to be a Minister. He also complained about the statements made against Ultra-Orthodox (haredi) Israelis and Arab-Israelis by some Blue and White officials, further complicating the picture for Blue and White which is counting on support from Labor-Gesher-Meretz to form a coalition following Monday’s elections.
  3. Representatives from Iran, the EU,  the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China were scheduled to meet in Vienna on Wednesday in an effort to find some way to salvage the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal which has progressively unravelled in recent months as Iran has taken incremental steps to violate it.“This is a chance -- though not of 100 percent -- to stop escalation before it’s too late,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. 

    Here is a video which gives and in-depth look at geostrategic issues regarding Iran

    In related news, public anger against the clerical regime which rules Iran has been growing over its poor response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in that country.

    Following announcements by several of Iran’s neighbours that they have diagnosed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus among people who had recently returned from Iran, virtually all road, air and sea links to the Islamic Republic were blocked. In a poignant sign of the seriousness of Iran’s predicament, the country’s  deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, announced that he himself has contracted the disease and is self-quarantined in his home. The regime has admitted that 15 people have died of the illness while several hundred more are infected, but many Iranians have taken to social media to register their belief that the numbers are far higher.

    Here is a video about the coronavirus outbreak in Iran

  4. Rachel Biton, an Israeli citizen who recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus after falling ill in Japan, returned to Israel on Wednesday morning. As she arrived at Ben Gurion airport, she underwent a series of medical tests to ensure that she was entirely free of the virus before being allowed to go home with her family. “I met my family members at the airport and we cried tears of joy,” Biton said, adding her thanks to the Israeli officials who had assisted her in her time of need. Meanwhile, the government issued a statement on Tuesday evening that they have a plan for mitigating the economic fallout from the disease. Meir Ben-Shabbat, the national security adviser and National Security Council director, said: “We have established an orderly process between all government ministries to enable maximum synchronization between all parties. We are careful, but we are not hysterical. Everything is under control, and we are constantly assessing risk.”

    “We are working with the Finance Ministry to secure an economic safety net for the private sector to ensure continued economic activity,” added Ron Tomer, president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel.

    Gaza Border Region Residents Demand Stronger Action
    Residents of southern Israel gathered in town squares on Tuesday to voice their disappointment with the government’s decision to a accept a cease-fire from the Gaza-based terror militias who have launched so many rockets at them in recent days. “We support the security forces and the state and call on them to never cease action, until the last rocket in the Gaza Strip is destroyed and the last terrorist’s life is over,” the protest organizers said. “We are sick of promises, it’s time for actions. After years of terror and fear - it’s time for a clear conclusion. Enemies are something you defeat, not contain.”

    Turkish Troops Killed While Fighting in Libya
    Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan admitted on Tuesday that Turkish soldiers he sent to Libya to assist that country’s UN-recognized government in its clash with a coalition of armed factions called the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by former Ghadaffi regime General  Khalifa Haftar, had suffered casualties. Previously, Erdogan’s regime had claimed that Turkish troops sent to Libya were merely advising and coordinating the forces of the Government of National Accord (NA) based in Triploli but not actively engaging in hostilities. Haftar’s forces are supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.

    Here is a video which takes a closer look at Turkey’s regional activities

    Rivlin Meets Senior Officials in Australia
    The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered another defeat this week when President Reuven Rivlin arrived in Australia for high-level meetings with senior officials including Governor-General David Hurley and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Canberra. “I am delighted to welcome you here,” said Morrison. “Australia is happy to stand with Israel in the international arena and the diplomatic relations between the countries are no less important than the relations between the peoples, which are excellent and will remain so.”

    Today's video provides an in-depth look at strategic issues regarding Iran

  5. A fragile cease-fire on the Gaza-Israel border appeared to be holding Tuesday afternoon following a barrage of over 50 rockets fired into Israel from the Hamas-ruled enclave on Sunday and Monday and retaliatory strikes by Israeli aircraft on terror infrastructure inside the Strip. The Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror militia launched most of the rockets that were fired into Israel but announced a unilateral cease-fire at 11 PM Monday evening. Israeli officials said they are prepared to launch a broad offensive into the Strip if there are any more flare-ups.

    Here is a video posted by the IDF about the recent barrage of rockets

    Coronavirus Fears Impacting Global Economy
    Following Monday’s massive drop in stock markets around the world over fears of economic losses due to the rapidly spreading COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, the Bank of Israel announced late in the day that it was keeping its benchmark interest rate at 0.25%. “Inflation is expected to remain low in the coming months and may even become negative, but it is expected to move back toward the lower bound of the target range in the second half of the year,” the bank’s monetary committee said in a statement. Other fallout from the crisis became apparent throughout the day and into Tuesday.

    “According to the Bank of Israel’s assessment, beyond the impact on specific companies, this scenario is not expected to have a significant macroeconomic effect in Israel, even though China is a significant trading partner in a range of industries,” the bank said. “If the crisis persists and flows over into other countries, and particularly if strict preventive measures will be required in Israel, it is expected to have a more significant impact, the scope of which is difficult to assess at this stage.”

    However, as if to underscore the uncertainty surrounding potential risks, Israel’s Health Ministry issued a travel warning for Italy on Monday following reports of a large number of people in that country testing positive for the virus.

    Israel’s National Basketball Team On Winning Streak
    Israel’s national basketball team defeated Romania 87-63 on Monday night at the Drive-In Arena in Tel Aviv in its second victory of the EuroBasket 2021 qualifying round. “This was an important win for us and it’s always great to represent the Israel national team,” said Deni Avdija of Maccabi Tel Aviv. “It’s the biggest honor for any player to do so for their country.”

    Iranians Suspect Their Government Is Lying About Epidemic
    Iran's Health Ministry angrily dismissed accusations made by various activist groups this week that it has attempted to conceal the true scope of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in the country, despite some of the accusations coming from regime officials in the city of Qom, which is the epicentre of the outbreak in Iran. Eyewitness reports from Qom have also appeared in various media outlets speaking about a lack of protective clothing for health workers and other worrisome indications that the situation is being badly mishandled by the clerical regime which rules Teheran.

    Mubarak of Egypt Dies at 91
    Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled in Cairo for 30 years before being toppled in the wave of protests which became known to history as “the Arab Spring” in 2011, died on Tuesday at the age of 91. His passing was announced on official state TV in Egypt.