Alma’s Weekly Report (16-30 March 2020)

The Coronavirus crisis

Iran – Laughing at Israel, blaming the United States, beginning to prepare with a very little budget:

  • While Iran is the third country in the world with the highest death toll attributed to the Coronavirus (almost 2000 deaths), Iran’s top leader Khamenei continues to spread hatred. In his speech on 19 March, he argued that there might be some truth in the theory that the United States is responsible for the spreading of the virus. He added, “How can anyone with any common sense rely on their medication. Their medication may be a way of spreading the virus.”
  • To the long list of Iranian senior officials who have died from the Coronavirus is Muhammad Mahdi Salehi, assistant to the Supreme Leader for cultural and political science matters.
  • Despite the dire situation in Iran, the Iranian “Tasnim” news agency (whose editor-in-chief recently died of the virus …), published a caricature mocking Israel for the quarantine procedures put in place for fear of the Coronavirus. The caricature portrays the virus roaming freely in the streets, while the Israelis are frightened and hiding in the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the Israeli Ministry of Health buildings.
  • However, even in Iran, President Rouhani has announced the closure of all non-essential shops and businesses for 15 days in some of the country’s districts.
  • Despite the steps were taken by the Iranian regime against the Corona, the budget approved by the president last week does not reflect the country’s new needs: The new Iranian annual budget for 2020 shows that the revolutionary export institutions, including the religious institutes, consume the major share of the budget. According to The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), on 19 March President Rouhani signed and approved the budget, guided by Khamenei the Supreme Leader, without it going through parliament due to the spreading of the virus. The current Iranian budget is about $ 37 billion. The defense budget was granted $ 4 billion, out of which the Revolutionary Guards were awarded $ 1.5 billion; the Iranian Army and Internal Security Forces were awarded $ 1 billion. The struggle against the Coronavirus was allocated about $ 33 million. Religious institutions exporting the revolution received generous budgets, the leading institution being the worldwide “al-Mustafa” institution of Qom, which received about $ 26 million.
  • The fact is that Hezbollah is no longer trying to hide its Iranian affiliation; there are many examples evident in Lebanon. Credible assessed photos released this week, show Hezbollah operatives sterilizing the streets of Qom while carrying the Hezbollah flag. The Iranian “al- Alam” channel in Arabic not only did not deny the report but also even quoted it.

Syria – hiding the actual situation alongside appropriating precautionary measures

  • Despite President Assad’s statement that the first patient was discovered just this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are many more unreported infected people as well as deaths from the virus. It is also estimated that many more people among the militias operating under Iran in Syria are infected.
  • Support for this assumption can be found in the government’s lockdown during the hours of the day, as well as  the following:
  1. A two-month ban issued by the Syrian Interior Ministry forbidding the entry of Arabs and foreigners into its territories, even if they hold residence and entry visas. The countries included in this ban are: (for foreign countries – the ban is for two months): China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, France, USA, Japan, Belgium, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. (For Arab countries – a ban for a month): Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. At present, the level of application of the guideline is unclear.
  2. Simultaneously, a medical isolation site was set up in the Alduir area of ​​the Damascus district, where about 130 people that came from Tehran are isolated. According to criticism from the Syrian media, the site does not appear to be properly maintained and the pictures reminded Syrians of the sightings of detention and torture centers “because this is what the regime knows.”
  3. In the Syrian army, training leaflets are distributed, instructing how to protect against the virus, including rules of gathering prevention. Soldiers are instructed to use gloves and masks (the application of these guidelines is unclear), with an increased preparedness in the military hospitals.
  4. The Lebanese newspaper Almodon reported that there is a concern to get infected by the coronavirus even among the Russian military in Syria. Thus, the Russians had taken steps to reduce contact with the Iranian forces in the country.
    ** Despite the Coronavirus, the Syrian effort to completely   eliminate the rebels and Turks continued
  5. Reports from the Idlib and Aleppo provinces indicate that the Syrian government has been engaged in the past week in the gathering of various militias and military units, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, in order to renew attacks in these areas. The scale of the operation particularly amid the current health crisis led the Russian Defense Minister to visit Syria suddenly, presumably to warn Assad not to violate Russian-Turkish agreements. The significant dispute is probably over the  Aleppo-Latakia road, on which the Russians have seized control with the consent of the Turks who control the areas around it.

In southern Syria – Daraa province – instability continues – no one is enforcing law and order

  • The “ORIENT” channel reported that Assad’s militants shelled the town of Jillen, west of Daraa, on 18 March, and that eight people among them 3 children were killed in the bombings.
  • In continuation of our previous reports of numerous clashes between local opposition and regime forces, it appears that in recent days there has been a trend of young people trying to establish local networks for the local’s protection. For example, 40 young residents of the village of al Kurk in eastern Daraa have set up an organization aimed at maintaining order. These young residents have set up checkpoints in the town and are conducting patrols.

Lebanon – a Quarantine (relatively) applied on time, alongside a criticizing speech against Hezbollah

  • The number of people infected in Lebanon is relatively low, possibly due to the low number of tests issued, the percentage of deceased so far is seemingly also very low.
  • In the Lebanese public, alongside criticism of Hezbollah – particularly for their adamant refusal to stop flights from Iran, there has been considerable effort to maintain the quarantine. Helicopters flying over areas in Beirut, the Beqaa and southern Lebanon called for residents to stay in their homes. Hezbollah, following Nasrallah’s pledge that his activists will assist as needed to create awareness of “home to home”, have volunteers from the organization making home visits and explaining to the population how to defend themselves against the epidemic.
  • In this context, Nasrallah’s weekly speeches are notable- who speaks even more to the Lebanese public than the prime minister, thus positioning Hezbollah as the acting power servicing the Lebanese people in times of crisis, any crisis, not merely military ones.
  • Nasrallah, the artist of rhetoric and manipulation, of course, exploits the Corona crisis to strengthen his narrative to improve Hezbollah’s image. (An image that has been badly damaged since the October 19 protests).
  • Nasrallah is trying to reinforce the message that Hezbollah has the Lebanese people’s best interest at heart, mainly in an attempt to overcome the criticism of Hezbollah for preventing close international flights and borders, which is what has actually brought the Corona to Lebanon from Iran.
  • In addition, Hezbollah as the holder of the Ministry of Health is utilizing this well for diverting resources for the organization in preparation for Corona and less for the state of Lebanon.
  • Nevertheless, the IDF updated this week that it had intercepted a Hezbollah drone that had crossed Israel’s airspace – Our experience with Hezbollah tells us that the drones they sent across the border did not do so by mistake, but for intel purposes. Hezbollah’s message to Israel is that the resistance to Israel remains strong and despite the Corona crisis.
  • In Lebanon, as elsewhere in the world, there has been a demand to return citizens living/staying abroad, despite the fear that they may be infected with Corona. Nabih Berry, the head of the Parliament, is a strong supporter of this motion, as he stated that the country cannot abandon its citizens, those who support the government and his party “Amal Movement” and will allow them to return home.
  • The economic situation in Lebanon that was difficult even before the Corona crisis continues to worsen – an article in the “Asharq al-Awsat” newspaper reports that hundreds of workers have been sent on vacation without pay while the number of laid-off workers in the last six months reaches tens of thousands and others have had salary cuts. In recent months, 2000 private companies and some 800 food and beverage outlets have closed. The fact that the Corona crisis is causing dire damage to the tourism trade further aggravates the economic situation.
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Sarit Zehavi

Sarit Zehavi

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