Horror In Beirut: At least 100 dead, more than 4,000 wounded in dual explosions. Beirut officials compare devastation to nuclear blasts. Here’s the latest.

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UPDATE at 9:00am Wednesday local time: As the sun rises over the devastated city of Beirut, the Red Cross is reporting that at least 100 people were killed and more than 4,000 were wounded in yesterday’s dual explosions, reports The Daily Star of Lebanon.

The Beirut Port is gone — completely destroyed by the blasts — including grain silos critical for the nation’s food production.

“The silos…contain essential grain reserves including wheat, corn, and barley,” reports Al-Arabiya. “Lebanon, which imports up to 80 percent of its food needs, is particularly reliant on imported soft wheat to make Arabic flatbread, a national staple.”

“What happened is like the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions. Nothing remains,” Beirut governor Marwan Abboud told Arab News after inspecting the scene of the explosion.

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Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab addressed his nation Tuesday night during a news conference, vowing a full investigation and accountability for any people who were responsible. Here are excerpts from his remarks:

  • “This is a great national disaster. The images and videos we see truly express this tragedy and translate the scope of the calamity that has affected Lebanon.
  • “Beirut is grieving. All of Lebanon is disaster-torn. Lebanon is going through a quite ordeal that could only be faced with national unity and solidarity among all Lebanese from all backgrounds and regions. We are going through a disaster that could only be overcome with determination and tenacity to face this serious challenge and its destructive consequences.
  • “What happened today will not fly by without accountability. All those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price. This is a promise I make to martyrs and injured. This is a national commitment….”

“Lebanese Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi told a local TV station that it appeared the blast was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at the dock ever since it was confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014,” reported the Associated Press.

“Ammonium nitrate, which Lebanese authorities have said was the cause of the Beirut blast, is an odorless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades,” reported Gulf News.

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“These include notably at a Texas fertilizer plant in 2013 that killed 15 and was ruled deliberate, and another at a chemical plant in Toulouse, France in 2001 that killed 31 people but was accidental,” Gulf News added. “When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used by the construction industry, but also by insurgent groups like the Taliban for improvised explosives. It was also a component in the bomb behind the 1995 Oklahoma City attack.”

Sympathy and support is pouring in from around the world.

The Israeli government has denied any connection to the blast, and is offering assistance to the people and government of Lebanon.

  • “Israel approached Lebanon through international defense and diplomatic channels to offer the Lebanese government medical humanitarian aid,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said in a joint statement.
  • “President Reuven Rivlin, in tweets in English, Arabic and Hebrew, added: ‘We share the pain of the Lebanese people and sincerely reach out to offer our aid at this difficult time,'” reported the Times of Israel.

Please continue praying for the survivors of the blasts, and for all the people of Beirut as the go through this horrific ordeal. 

[Photo credit: 1) cover of a French-language newspaper; 2) amateur video by Abir Ghattas, posted on Twitter, used by Popular Mechanics; 3) Agence France Presse graphic, published by Arab News]

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BREAKING: Two massive explosions rock Beirut. “Mushroom cloud.” Hundreds wounded. Death toll rising. Cause unknown. Israel denies involvement.

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A stunning series of explosions rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut Tuesday afternoon.

Hundreds are reportedly wounded. The death toll is rising.

Video taken from a nearby rooftop — and Tweeted out by Arab News — shows one building on fire after the first explosion. But eleven seconds into the video, a second, tremendous explosion absolutely obliterates a neighboring building and sends a mushroom cloud into high into the otherwise cloudless blue skies over Beirut.

Here is what we know at this hour:

To watch videos from Arab News, please click here.

  • “Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, many bloodied, after the massive blasts in the port area, the cause of which was not immediately known,” reports Agence France Presse. “The explosions ’caused dozens of injuries,’ a security source said.”
  • The Associated Press reports that “a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital,” adding that “witnesses saw many people injured by flying glass and debris. An Associated Press photographer near the port saw people lying injured on the ground, and hospitals called for blood donations, but exact casualties were not immediately known. Miles from the scene of the blast, balconies were knocked down, ceiling collapsed and windows were shattered.”

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It is not yet clear exactly what caused the two explosions. 

They come, however, at a time of heightened tension on the Israel-Lebanon border, and as the Lebanese Foreign Minister has just resigned and warned that Lebanon’s economy is “sinking.”

Please pray for the survivors, and the first responders.

Updates:

Developing…..

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Major Development: Jordan bans the radical Islamist “Muslim Brotherhood” as it prepares for parliamentary elections.

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(Washington, D.C.) — The extremist and often violent global movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood has been dealt a severe blow as five judges in a top court in the Kingdom of Jordan decreed the organization illegal.

The Brotherhood is now being dissolved and will not be permitted to compete in Jordan’s upcoming November 10th parliamentary elections that were just announced.

Sheikh Hamza Mansur, head of the Jordanian organization’s ruling council, told Agence France Presse his group would appeal the ruling.

“The Muslim Brotherhood…is a model of moderation and an important element in strengthening national unity, so dissolving it is not in the national interest,” he told AFP.

However, a growing number of Arab countries do not see the Brotherhood as a “model of moderation.” Just the opposite. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have banned the radical organization and branded them as terrorists.

Members of the Brotherhood assassinated Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat in 1981.

In 1987, Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip formed an offshoot of the Brotherhood which they named “Hamas,” with the mission of annihilating Israel off the map.

Turkey and Qatar, by contrast, actively support the Brotherhood, both financially and politically.

The Trump administration has been considering designating the group a terrorist organization – a move backed by a number of Evangelical leaders, myself included – but has not yet come to a decision.

Jordan’s decision is major development — and an encouraging one. 

When I led a Delegation of Evangelical leaders to Jordan in November 2018, we urged senior officials there, including His Majesty King Abdullah II, to ban the Brotherhood. At the time, however, they were reluctant. 

Senior Jordanian officials told me they have never viewed the group as moderate. They allowed it to register legally in 1946 and operate openly ever since. But this was not because its goals were compatible with Jordanian national security. Instead, they said that the objective had been to keep the Brotherhood above ground where it could be watched and monitored.

Operating as the “Islamic Action Front Party,” the Brotherhood has even been allowed to participate in elections.

“During the elections of the current 18th Jordanian parliament, candidates from the Islamic Front won 15 of the 130 seats,” reported Arab News. “New elections are expected this Fall, although no official decision or royal decree has been issued about this.”

Started in Egypt in 1928 by a radical preacher and school teacher and named Hassan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood over the past century has spread around the globe and emerged as the world’s largest Sunni political Islamist movement.

Generally speaking, they seek to appear somewhat moderate, build public support, use the ballot box to gain control of a country and then try to turn it into a more radical regime, eventually hoping it will become part of a global Islamist kingdom, or “caliphate.”

Reacting to the collapsed of the Ottoman Empire just a few years earlier – the heart of the Islamic caliphate in the world for six centuries – al-Banna called for the reestablishment of purely Islamic control of the Middle East and North Africa and the subjection of all Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims.

Such goals – violent and globalist in nature – were clearly stated in his hundreds of books, pamphlets and speeches.

In one book, al-Banna wrote:

  • “Our sincere brothers are requested to work according to the following steps….Liberation of the homeland from all unIslamic or foreign control, whether political, economic or ideological….”
  • “Rebuilding the prominence of the Islamic Umma [family or nation] by liberating its lands, reviving its glorious heritage, and uniting its countries so that one Islamic Caliphate can be established….”
  • “[T]he Muslim brother persists in his Jihad to achieve his goal….Thus, he will come to either of two great ends – victory or martyrdom, in the way of Allah.”

By the 1950s, its estimated the Brotherhood had some 500,000 members in Egypt.

The Egyptian military long warned its civilian leaders that if the Brotherhood were allowed to operate legally, it would eventually take over the country. The group was thus banned in Egypt for decades. During the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 and the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, the Brotherhood did rise to power.

A Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi, was elected President of Egypt in 2012, calling for the establishment of all of Hassan al-Banna’s objectives.

“The Qur’an is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, jihad is our path and death in the name of Allah is our goal,” Morsi said in a campaign speech at Cairo University.

Morsi served as president from June 30, 2012 to July 3, 2013, when he was removed from power by the Egyptian military after millions of Egyptians, terrified by the actions he and his regime were taking, took to the streets demanding his removal.

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Social media firestorm erupts as Hollywood actor blasts Israel’s need to exist, rips religion as “silly,” claims he was “fed a huge amount of lies” about Israel. Does it matter? Actually, yes.

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(Washington, D.C.) — Seth Rogen, the Jewish comedian, is promoting his new film, American Pickle, which will premiere on the HBO streaming service on August 6th.

Rogen plays a Jewish character named Herschel Greenbaum, “a struggling laborer who immigrates to America in 1920 with dreams of building a better life for his beloved family,” notes the movie review website, Rotten Tomatoes. “One day, while working at his factory job, he falls into a vat of pickles and is brined for 100 years. The brine preserves him perfectly and when he emerges in present day Brooklyn, he finds that he hasn’t aged a day. But when he seeks out his family, he is troubled to learn that his only surviving relative is his great grandson, Ben Greenbaum (also played by Rogen), a mild-mannered computer coder whom Herschel can’t even begin to understand.” 

In a conversation this week with Marc Maron, a popular Jewish podcaster, Rogen unleashed what one Israeli newspaper called an “online firestorm” by attacking Israel and the Jewish religion.

While covering the controversy, as most Jewish publications have, this week, The Jerusalem Post noted that while Rogen “may have mixed feelings about his connection to Israel and his religious identity, as do many North American Jews,” Rogen’s mother, Sandy, “has no such reservations. She is one of the most beloved Jewish mothers on Twitter, where she has 113,000 followers and describes herself as ‘wife, mama, nana, lucky lady!”

The Post is on to something here — while Rogen certainly went rogue on Israel and Judaism, his sentiments are, unfortunately, far more reflective of American and Canadian Jews views than most people, including most Evangelicals, might understand.

These are not, however, views held by most American Jews.

A 2019 poll published by the American Jewish Committee found that only 38 percent of American Jews strongly agreed with the statement that “caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew.”

The disconnect between the Bible — and the Biblical case for the importance of faith in God and the promises He made to Israel — and the values and beliefs of much of the Jewish community in North America is real, growing and concerning.

When Seth Rogen says, “I don’t understand it at all,” let’s be clear — he is not the only one.

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BREAKING: Hezbollah expected to attack in next 48 hours, says Israeli intelligence. Here’s the latest. Please pray.

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(Washington, D.C.) — Israel forces are bracing for new Hezbollah attacks within hours.

  • Israel’s i24 News reports that “Israeli security sources estimate Hezbollah will launch a new attack on the Jewish state, possibly within the next 48 hours,” citing Hebrew language news sources. “The assessment is that if the terrorist group would respond to the killing of its operative Ali Kamel Mohsen in Damascus last week, it would likely do so until Thursday.”
  • The Jerusalem Post reports that “following a situational assessment, advanced weapons systems, powerful intelligence-gathering systems and specialized units have been deployed to the North,” citing the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.
  • The Times of Israel reports that “touring the northern border area on Tuesday, a day after the IDF said it thwarted a Hezbollah attack there, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group and its Iranian patron against testing Israel.”
  • The Associated Press (via Ynet) reports that “The leader of a major Christian [political] group in Lebanon on Tuesday blamed the Hezbollah terror group and its local allies led by President Michel Aoun for the rapidly deteriorating economy and worsening relations with neighboring Arab countries, saying the only solution is for them to leave power. Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces Party, told The Associated Press that Monday’s military activity along the border with Israel was a clear indication the current Lebanese government, which Hezbollah supports, doesn’t have sovereignty in the south, where thousands of UN peacekeepers are based.”

The latest flare up is playing out against the backdrop of a horrific economic crisis in Lebanon and the growing suffocation of the country by the Iranian-funded and armed Hezbollah terrorist organization.

  • Bloomberg News reports, “Lebanon’s Economic Crisis Is Spinning Out of Control, Fast,” noting “the country’s pound has lost nearly 60% of its value on the black market in the past month, threatening to suck the economy into a hyper-inflation spiral. Food prices are rising so fast that the army took meat off its menus last week. The state-controlled price of a bag of flat-bread was raised by a third.”
  • Al-Arabiya reports that “the patriarch of Lebanon’s Maronite Church Beshara Al-Rai joined a growing roster of Lebanese leaders who think that the main culprit behind the country’s free-falling economy is Hezbollah and its endless wars. In a visit to President Michel Aoun, Al-Rai called for restoring regional neutrality, a policy the country used in the past, during which Lebanon saw its ‘golden years’ between 1949 and 1969. Al-Rai also said that national defense should be the job of the Lebanese Army alone. In a follow-up statement, Al-Rai said that Lebanon used to be ‘the hospital of the Arabs, the hotel of the Arabs, the tourism of the Arabs,’ and that it was Lebanon’s neutrality that allowed it to play such roles.”

Please keep praying for calm and stability on the border. Please also pray for the Lebanese people to be liberated from the occupation of Hezbollah and Iran.

For regular updates on the situation, please follow me on Twitter.

(Photo credit: Associated Press/Ynet News)

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BREAKING: Fire fight erupts on Israeli-Lebanon border. IDF thwarts Hezbollah infiltration attempt. Here’s the latest. Please pray.

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(Washington, D.C.) — Tensions on the Israeli-Lebanon border have been heating up in recent months. Israeli forces have been fortifying their positions as rumors of an impending new war with the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror movement have grown

In May, Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah declared, “Palestine from river to sea must be liberated. Israel has no legitimacy to exist at all and must be destroyed,” reported the Jerusalem Post.

Today, in a scene evocative of the first pages of my next political thriller, The Beirut Protocol, a serious fire fight erupted between IDF and Hezbollah forces.

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“The IDF thwarted a Hezbollah terror attack near Mount Dov along the border with Lebanon on Monday afternoon, IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman said after the reports of clashes were reported,” according to the Jerusalem Post.

“The cell, which numbered between three and four Hezbollah operatives, crossed the border — also known as the Blue Line — several meters into sovereign Israeli territory and were identified by the IDF which opened fire,” the Post reported.

“The military confirms no Israelis were hurt in the exchanges of fire along the northern border,” the Times of Israel is reporting

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are meeting at this hour.

“Iran and its proxies are still trying to strangle our northern border in an Iranian chokehold,” Gantz told reporters. “The IDF and our security forces will continue to block Iranian entrenchment, as well as the transfer of destabilizing weapons, and precision weapon systems.”

“As defense minister, I suggest that no enemy dare test us. Anyone who attempts to do so will find a ready and resolute army, prepared to protect the citizens of Israel and its sovereignty,” Gantz added. “Let me stress this once again: the responsibility rests on the shoulders of Syria and Lebanon for any activity on or originating in their territories.”

Please pray for calm and quiet to be restored, and that this is not the start of a new war. 

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OUTRAGEOUS: Supreme Court denies Calvary Chapel church in Nevada its Constitutional rights in 5-4 decision. Religious freedom increasingly at risk. Here’s the story — and a link to the actual decision and the dissents.

SupremeCourt(Washington, D.C.) — When Americans vote in November to elect the President, Senate and House of Representatives, the future of religious freedom is going to be a major issue on the ballot.

The next President is likely to have at least one, and possibly two, seats to fill on the Supreme Court. Will they be filled by liberals or conservatives? The freedom of Christians, Jews, Muslims and others to maintain their Constitutional rights to freely practice their faith increasingly appears to hang in the balance.

Consider the latest outrageous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. It denied a Calvary Chapel evangelical church in Nevada to have more than 50 people meet together for worship and Bible teaching, even though gambling casinos in the state are allowed to welcome many more than 50 people into their establishments.

How is that possible?

“A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court denied a rural Nevada church’s request late Friday to strike down as unconstitutional a 50-person cap on worship services as part of the state’s ongoing response to the coronavirus,” reported the Associated Press. 

“In a 5-4 decision, the high court refused to grant the request from the Christian church east of Reno to be subjected to the same COVID-19 restrictions in Nevada that allow casinos, restaurants and other businesses to operate at 50% of capacity with proper social distancing,” noted the AP. “Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley argued that the hard cap on religious gatherings was an unconstitutional violation of its parishioners’ First Amendment rights to express and exercise their beliefs.”

Four brave Justices dissented from the ridiculous decision, siding with the Calvary Chapel. They included Gorsuch, Alito, Thomas and Kavanaugh.

Justice Alito was absolutely right when he wrote, “The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the freedom to play craps, or blackjack, [or] feed tokens into a slot machine.”

Likewise, Justice Gorsuch was dead on correct when he wrote, “The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges. But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesar Palace over Calvary Chapel.”

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EXCLUSIVE: Pompeo in Iowa makes case to Evangelical conference that Trump team is the most pro-Israel administration in US history. But makes no mention of annexation. Is annexation off US agenda for now? Here’s my on-site report.

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(Des Moines, Iowa) — When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came here to the American heartland on Friday, Israel was one of his major topics.

Less than four months out from the high-stakes November presidential elections, Pompeo made the case to “The Family Leadership Summit” — a conference of some 1,000 Evangelical leaders and grassroots activists — that the Trump team has been the most pro-Israel administration in American history.

Yet not once did he bring up the hottest topic in US-Israeli relations this summer: Is President Trump preparing to give Prime Minister Netanyahu the green light to “annex” — or, more precisely, peacefully incorporate — large swaths of Judea and Samaria (a.k.a., the West Bank) into the sovereign state of Israel this summer or Fall?

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It was a conscious, strategic, striking omission, raising the question as to whether annexation is no longer on the administration’s radar screen — at least until after they know whether they have won another four years in office.

For the last two months, talk of possible annexation has dominated headlines in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Arab states throughout the region. At one point, it almost seemed a done deal. Netanyahu was vowing to move forward decisively beginning July 1st. Many analysts believed President Trump would support the move to please his Evangelical political base.

But there was no sign of that Friday.

Pompeo did not raise annexation in his prepared remarks to the 700 Evangelical activists in the room and the 300 more Evangelicals watching the Summit online from nearly all 50 states — the largest Christian conference in months.

Nor did Pompeo raise annexation Friday evening during a VIP dinner that he, his wife Susan and their son and his girlfriend attended with some 200 Evangelical business leaders and donors.

The host of the Summit and dinner — Bob Vander Plaats, head the pro-family, pro-Israel organization known as “The Family Leader” — interviewed Pompeo for about 45 minutes before the meal, but he didn’t ask about annexation issue either.

This was a noteworthy signal that with so many issues on the plate of American Evangelicals, from COVID-19 to massive unemployment to closed churches to race relations and riots, Israeli annexation simply isn’t on the agenda.

“I’m proud that there has not been any administration who has supported Israel in the way that President Trump and our administration has done,” Pompeo told the Summit to tremendous applause. “We moved our Embassy to Jerusalem. We said that the Golan Heights is a part of Israel. We now have released a Vision For Peace that recognizes reality on the ground, the Biblical truth in that special place. And we said that anti-Zionism is indeed anti-Semitism.”

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Pompeo noted that when it comes to our “closest friend in the Middle East, Israel,” that “here too my [Evangelical] faith shapes my work. Our nations share Judeo-Christian roots. Our approach to government draws on that beautiful teaching from the first chapter of Genesis: that all human beings are made in the image of God. It’s a major reason why both countries have a high respect for human dignity and personal liberty. Each of our two nations respects human rights and it only makes sense for the two countries to be so close, as close as we possibly can be. And from a pure foreign policy standpoint, Israel is an essential security partner.”

Israel, the Secretary said, is “a model in the Middle East of how to create a thriving economy. And Israel too is a bastion of freedom in the region.“

The one time that annexation came up during the day was when Miami-based Jewish businessman Simon Falic, the sponsor of the dinner and a close financial and political supporter of Netanyahu, made a few remarks before the meal and offered a Hebrew blessing. Falic spoke quite movingly about the importance of the US-Israeli alliance, the prophetic rebirth of Israel in 1948 and the ingathering of Jews back to Israel after centuries of exile.

Falic encouraged Pompeo and the administration to help Israel make more of the Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria part of the current state. He also urged Pompeo to be wary of creating any Palestinian state that could threaten Israel.

Pompeo also spoke about the threats posed by China, Russia and Iran; the administration’s efforts to advance human rights — including religious freedom — around the world; and his efforts to improve trade policy to help American farmers, workers and businesses.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst addressed the Summit, as did Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, former Senator Rick Santorum, “My Pillow” businessman Mike Lindell, myself and several others conservative leaders. (I’ll share more about my remarks in a separate story.)

Pompeo was particularly effective during the dinner-time interview — very warm, engaging, funny, shared great insider stories, talked about his personal faith in Jesus Christ and how he and his wife used to teach a Sunday School class of 5th graders back at their church in Kansas until the intensity of their Washington schedules made that no longer possible.

There was no small degree of speculation among attendees that I spoke with that Pompeo came to Iowa during the COVID crisis because he is laying the groundwork for a future presidential run. True or not, he and his wife, Susan — who is originally from Iowa and introduced her husband at the Summit — certainly made a very positive impression, received multiple standing ovations and left the state with a growing reserve of goodwill.

To watch the video of Secretary Pompeo’s remarks to the Summit, and/or to read the transcript, including Susan Pompeo’s introduction, please click here.

(Photos: they were taken by me and my son Jacob; the one of Jacob and I with the Secretary was taken by Susan Pompeo.)

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Anger at Netanyahu spiking, poll numbers dropping, as “second wave” of COVID-19 hits Israel. Nearly 25% of all corona cases in Israel occurred last week. Here’s my CNBC interview on all this.

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(Denver, Colorado) — I’ve been on the Front Range of Colorado over the past week visiting family, but I was contacted by a reporter for CNBC International, asking me about the economic and political implications of the sudden and dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases in Israel. 

The situation back in Israel is indeed getting very serious. Nearly 25% of all COVID cases that Israel has had since the beginning of the year have occurred in the past week, a Jerusalem Post editor reported yesterday. Some 10,000 Israelis turned out in Tel Aviv this week to protest Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis.

Here is my answers that I emailed back the CNBC reporter. You can read the full article, including quotes by other experts, by clicking here. 

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  • In the early stages of the crisis, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his team did an incredibly impressive job containing the COVID-19 virus. The number of cases dropped dramatically. The number of Israelis being hospitalized and on ventilators dropped to just a handful.
  • But since then, the government has made a series of very serious mistakes and Israel is now experiencing a second wave.
  • The number of new cases has spiked to more than 1,500 a day and new lockdowns are being ordered. 
  • It is hard not to conclude that Netanyahu let himself get distracted. Rather than staying laser-focused on managing the public health situation and the reopening of the economy, Netanyahu was spending a great deal of his time planning for the annexation of large portions of the West Bank. As a result, the pandemic is surging again and this is causing tremendous damage to the economy and to the millions of Israelis who are out of work and struggling to make ends meet.
  • I have no doubt that the government can get the pandemic back under control and successfully reboot the economy — and especially the tourism sector — but Netanyahu and his team have to stay completely focused. There is simply no time to contemplate annexation, at least until this health and economic crisis is completely behind us.
  • Netanyahu is beginning to pay a political price for getting his eye off the ball. His poll numbers have dropped significantly in recent weeks for one simple reason — Israelis are angry at his mishandling of the corona crisis. He can absolutely turn things around, but let’s face it, this is the most serious drop in Netanyahu’s approval ratings that we’ve seen in quite some time.

Please pray for Israel to be able to successfully combat COVID-19 and get Israelis healthy and back to work.

COVID-Israel-protestOTHER ARTICLES WORTH READING:

(Photo credits: 1) Netanyahu — Gali Tibbon/Pool via Reuters; 2) chart — CNBC; 3) protest in Tel Aviv — Tomer Appelbaum/Haaretz.)

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Exclusive: My conversations with senior Arab officials here in Washington regarding “annexation,” just hours before President Trump is set to make a “big announcement” on the Middle East.

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(Washington, D.C.) — The White House is signaling that President Trump is set to make a “big announcement” today regarding the Middle East. 

The big question: Will Mr. Trump decide to back the Israeli government’s desire to incorporate large sections of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) into sovereign Israeli territory, or ask Israel to refrain from “annexing” such territory for the time being, in order to keep trying to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process?

Last week, I met in Jerusalem with senior advisors to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and separately with a senior advisor to Defense Minister Benny Gantz to better understand their positions. I also spoke with Palestinian Muslims and Christians to hear their views. With each of them, we discussed at length how American Evangelicals are likely to see the issue (for more on that, here is the column I wrote last week for The Jerusalem Post.)

Since arriving in Washington several days ago, I have had extensive meetings with Ambassadors and senior diplomats from Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan to hear their views and discuss the wide range of viewpoints in the American Evangelical community over how best to advance peace. 

This what I’m hearing:

  • The Arab leaders believe the Trump administration is preparing to give the green light to “limited annexation” — not the full 30% of the West Bank as Netanyahu wants, and not the Jordan Valley, but perhaps about 5% of the West Bank. (They cautioned me, however, that they are still not entirely sure of the President’s final decision, that things are fluid, that Mr. Trump may not be 100% settled on his course of action, and their governments still hope to persuade Mr. Trump that for the sake of peace this is the wrong move at the wrong time.)
  • Every senior Arab and Muslim official that I spoke with are unified in total opposition to Israeli annexation of any amount — they do not see “limited annexation” as an acceptable compromise — they are very unified, operating in close coordination with each other, and fully backing Jordan’s King Abdullah. No daylight. 
  • One told me that Israel’s pending move would be “catastrophic” for the steadily warming relations between Israel and the Gulf Arab states which has never been better in history, and keep getting better month by month. “This will set Arab-Israeli relations back by years.”
  • None of the Arab officials can comprehend the urgency — why is Israel doing this now? Why this summer? Why would Netanyahu, the architect of Israel’s successful regional strategy to build closer relations with the Arab states, choose to damage these relations so badly? Does he realize just how much damage this will do, or does he think this will all blow over like the Jerusalem decision? They were admant that this is very different than the Jerusalem Embassy move. That was an American decision. This is a provocative, unilateral Israeli move that will force the Arab states to publicly and strongly condemn Israel and force them to back away from closer ties with Israel.
  • Another Arab official told me, “This is going to give a win not to the Arab states who have made peace with Israel, or those who are steadily moving towards peace with Israel. It’s going to give a win to Iran, Turkey, Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Jazeera, and all the forces of extremism in the region. What’s the point? Why give them the win?”
  • All are particularly worried about an explosion in the Kingdom of Jordan — that the streets will erupt in intense protests against Israel, that the King will need to take dramatic measures to pull back from close working relations with Israel. I didn’t press any of them regarding exactly what steps Jordan may take, but many options are on the table and being actively contemplated.
  • What struck me as particularly interesting was that the tone of the leaders I spoke to was not so much bitter anger at Netanyahu and the Israeli government but astonishment, bewilderment and serious frustration that after so much progress in recent years that Israel would be willing to throw that all away for land that Israel already effectively controls and that no one is threatening to take away.
  • There is also bewilderment at why Israel would make such a highly controversial move — and risk incurring condemnation from the European Union, Asian countries, the Arab world, etc — before knowing whether or not President Trump will be reelected and there to stand beside Israel in such a decision over the next four years. Vice President Biden and his team has already made it clear that they are strongly opposed to Israeli “annexation.” Most Democrats in Congress are opposed as well. This will severely damage bipartisan support for Israel in Congress. What if the White House, the House of Representatives and possibly the majority of the Senate is in Democrat hands come January?

Now would be a good time to be praying for the peace of Jerusalem and the region, and praying that Israeli and American leaders will have true wisdom at this critical moment. Please pray for the Palestinian people who are feeling increasingly hopeless and left out of the process and seeing the U.S. and Israel make decisions without them. And pray, too, for the leaders and peoples of the moderate Arab states who are increasingly in favor of peace with Israel and see extraordinary opportunity for enhanced prosperity for all sides if treaties can be signed and trade relationships opened. 

Strange times in the Epicenter these days.

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