Middle East Monitor / March 20, 2020
Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, has caused an unprecedented global pandemic. This has spread fear, suffering and needless death around much of the world. Due to the genuine and serious threat to public safety, governments are taking steps usually only witnessed in wartime to curb freedom of movement in an effort to halt the spread of the virus.
The British government, however, has been far too slow to take the threat to public health seriously. Richard Horton, the editor of respected medical journal The Lancet lamented on Wednesday that the government has wasted precious time in the fight against the virus. The “rapid and rigorous work” of Chinese scientists in identifying the virus and writing about it in his journal “was an urgent warning to the world. We owe those scientists enormous thanks,” Horton wrote in The Guardian.
“Why did it take the UK government eight weeks to recognise the seriousness of what we now call Covid-19? … After weeks of inaction, the government announced a sudden U-turn on Monday, declaring that new modelling by scientists at Imperial College had convinced them to change their initial plans.”
Horton didn’t pull his punches, but seems confident the tide can now be turned. Let us hope that he is correct and that the right lessons have been learned.
Meanwhile, in occupied Palestine the Israelis are leveraging the pandemic to further increase their control of the already suffering Palestinians living under Israel’s military dictatorship in the West Bank, and in the Gaza Strip under siege and occupation.
What’s more, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth by Western liberals on Thursday, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved to tighten his grip on the state, side-lining calls for him to step down to make way for former general Benny Gantz. With Netanyahu’s approval, Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet, imposed “emergency” measures to track people’s movements via their mobile phone data.
Such all-pervasive violations of privacy have long been used against the Palestinian population by Israel’s racism regime, with not a peep of objection from any Israelis apart from a minority of marginalised dissidents. Now, though, it seems that the “oppressive policies and practices developed and used in contexts of occupation, also end up being used by the occupying power against its own citizens,” to quote the Palestinian digital rights group 7amleh.
Yuval Noah Harari, a relatively apolitical Israeli author, decided for once to tweet about the prime minister: “The first coronavirus dictatorship,” is how he described Netanyahu’s power play.
“Netanyahu lost the elections,” claimed Harari, “so under [the] pretext of fighting corona, he has closed the Israeli parliament, ordered people to stay in their homes, and is issuing whatever emergency decrees he wishes. This is called a dictatorship.”
Harari has a point, but was seemingly ignoring the military dictatorship that Israel has imposed on Palestinians without interruption since 1948. As is usual for most Israelis, he was treating the Palestinians as if – at best – they are invisible.
Netanyahu’s son Yair, a well-established Twitter troll, shot back that Harari was a “lier [sic] and hater of your own country! He won!”
Another bizarre Covid-19 story out of Israel this week was about the Mossad, its notorious spy agency and death squad. Mossad is most noted for murdering Palestinian leaders and using forged passports in doing so from countries such as the UK and Ireland with which it supposedly has friendly relations.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Mossad has “obtained” 100,000 test kits for the new coronavirus from overseas. The initial report on this, from an Israeli news channel, “appeared to leave ambiguous whether the agency had taken the test kits without permission.”
Having taken them “without permission” seems like a very roundabout way of saying that, actually, Mossad agents stole them. Not to worry though. Our intrepid Jerusalem Post reporters “confirmed” that the deadly Israeli spy agency had actually obtained its haul “with consent”. Exactly how the Post claimed to have “confirmed” this is not at all explained in their article, nor did it say whose “consent” was given. It seems reasonable to assume, therefore, that the independent “confirmation” of this information consisted of a journalist asking the newspaper’s Mossad sources, who swiftly proceeded to absolve themselves of any wrongdoing. Case closed.
While there is a theoretical possibility that the test kits were bought legitimately, the involvement of a secretive, clandestine and brutal spy agency seems to suggest otherwise. However, another line in the paper’s report hinted at another explanation. “Some of the countries involved” in selling the kits “do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.” Who has very friendly links with Israel, but no formal diplomatic relations? Could the virus testing kits have been sold to Israel via Mossad by Saudi Arabia, the UAE or one of the other oppressive Gulf dictatorships? They are known to have serious under-the-table contacts with Israel, which have become fairly overt in recent years.
If that is the case, then the citizens of those countries will be asking why the test kits were sent to Israel and not used for their own wellbeing. Either that or Mossad is making the entire “consent” story up and its agents really did steal them.
Furthermore, The Jerusalem Post warned that, “Additional Mossad operations are expected soon, which could bring up to four million test kits to Israel.” Let’s hope for their sake that the spooks will be more successful next time. A postscript to this story reveals that Israel’s most notorious spies managed to bungle yet another operation. It has emerged that Mossad’s agents did not even take the right stuff, because the virus test kits were “incomplete”, claimed the Post. While the headline of the online version of the relevant article has been edited, an earlier version pointed out that the kits are, in fact, “unusable”. According to Haaretz, they are the wrong type altogether.
Nevertheless, The Jerusalem Post’s warning about “additional Mossad operations” has to be taken seriously. Such ineptitude is unlikely to be repeated.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East