US Announces Legal Seizure of Iran Assets
US ANNOUNCES ‘LARGEST-EVER’ FORFEITURE OF IRANIAN MISSILES, OIL SEIZED IN US NAVY RAIDS: The US Department of Justice successfully claimed forfeiture of approximately 1.1 million barrels of oil and hundreds of missiles seized by the US Navy from several Iranian vessels in the Arabian Sea late in 2019 and early 2020, the US Department of Justice confirmed in an announcement on Wednesday night, December 8.
These represent the largest-ever American forfeitures of Iranian fuel and weapons to have been seized by the US government. Forfeiture of property – penalizing the owner for wrongdoing – allows the US government to take possession of and sell it. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is alleged to have orchestrated the shipments, is designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the DOJ, which allowed for the seizures and forfeitures. “The actions of the United States in these two cases strike a resounding blow to the Government of Iran and to the criminal networks supporting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” said Assistant Attorney-General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to use all available tools to combat the threats posed by terrorist organizations and all those who seek to harm the United States and its allies.” The two weapons caches of eight surface-to-air missiles, 171 anti-tank missiles, and thermal optics – as well as components for naval surface-to-surface cruise missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, drones, and other missiles – were alleged by the DOJ to have belonged to the IRGC and were destined for Houthi militants in Yemen. The two flagless vessels, dhow sailboats, were raided on November 25, 2019, and February 9, 2020. The DOJ announcement contains contradictions about the number of different types of missiles seized, in the opening sentence of the press release listing 171 surface-to-air missiles and eight anti-tank missiles. (JPost/ VFI News)
ISRAEL, US TO DISCUSS MILITARY DRILLS TO PREP FOR WORST-CASE IRAN SCENARIO, US SAYS: Israeli and American military leaders are set to discuss possible military drills to practice destroying Iranian nuclear facilities in a potential worst-case scenario, a senior US official said on Wednesday, December 8.
The comment came as the faltering nuclear talks were set to resume on Thursday in Vienna, and as Defense Minister Benny Gantz flew to Washington for meetings with top US military leaders. US and European representatives at the nuclear talks voiced pessimism and frustration over Iran’s demands last week. The possible military drills would prepare for a scenario with Iran in which negotiations fail and US and Israeli leaders request a military strike, the US official told the Reuters news agency. Ahead of takeoff for the US, Gantz said, “Iran is a threat to world peace and seeks to become an existential threat to Israel. At the meetings, we will discuss possible courses of action to ensure that it stops its attempt to reach the nuclear arena and expand its activities in the region.” Gantz said he will meet with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The US official did not give details about the potential preparations. “We’re in this pickle because Iran’s nuclear program is advancing to a point beyond which it has any conventional rationale,” the official said. (TOI / VFI News)
THREE SHOTS OF PFIZER COVID VACCINE 4X LESS EFFECTIVE AGAINST OMICRON: The neutralizing ability of even three shots of the Pfizer corona vaccine is four times less against the Omicron than the Delta variant, according to researchers at Sheba Medical Center.
The team looked at the ability of serums of 40 vaccinated healthcare workers at Sheba to neutralize the Omicron variant – 20 who received the booster shot within the last month, and 20 who had only received two shots, the last one five or six months ago. The study is based on the exclusive data available in Sheba as part of the large serology study conducted among health workers at the medical center. It was conducted in collaboration with the Health Ministry’s Central Virology Lab, which is located on the Sheba campus. Those who received the second dose did not have any neutralization ability against the variant, while they continued to have some ability against Delta and even the original Wuhan strain. “There was no neutralization ability whatsoever, and that is very worrisome,” said Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit at the hospital, in a briefing on Saturday night, adding that these people might also be exposed to serious disease. It is also unclear if people who received two doses more recently would also be protected, she said. Lab tests conducted in South Africa last week showed that antibodies from two shots of the Pfizer vaccine may be up to 40 times less effective against the Omicron variant. In response to these studies, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of Public Health Services, said in an interview with N12 Saturday night that the ministry is considering asking people to get their third dose as soon as three months after the second. “People who have received the booster are better protected than those who received only the second, and of course, more than the unvaccinated,” Alroy-Preis said.She noted that the only individual infected with the Omicron who is in serious condition is unvaccinated.There are a million Israelis who have had two shots five or more months ago and have not gotten their boosters, she said, and another 325,000 who had two shots more recently and would be eligible for an earlier third dose if the policy changes. “Two doses are not effective enough,” Alroy-Preis said. On the other hand, the Sheba study found that the booster dose does increase the ability of the vaccine to work against Omicron by about 100-fold, meaning that there is “significant protection,” Regev Yochay said. “It is lower than the neutralizing ability against the Delta – about four times lower. But it is very optimistic.” She added that “it looks like with Omicron there is a chance that people with the booster could get infected, but have much less chance of getting seriously infected.” (JPost / VFI News)
BENNETT TO MEET WITH UAE CROWN PRINCE IN HISTORIC FIRST: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett departed to Abu Dhabi on Sunday, December 12, to meet with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on the first trip by an Israeli prime minister to the United Arab Emirates.
Bennett was greeted by an honor guard and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed. “I’m excited to be here, on the first official visit of an Israeli leader here,” Bennett said. “We look forward to strengthening the relations between the countries.” Bennett said on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport that Israel-UAE relations are “excellent and extensive,” and called to “nurture and strengthen them, and build the warm peace between the two nations.” Bennett is set to meet with MBZ, as the Emirati leader is known, on Monday, as well as with other ministers and senior officials. Relations between Israel and the UAE were officially established in August 2020, in what became known as the Abraham Accords. The meeting comes at an important juncture for relations between the countries, which grew closer in the years before the accords were signed, over shared concern about the Iranian nuclear threat. (JPost/VFI News)
ISRAEL AND MOROCCO CELEBRATE ONE YEAR OF NORMALIZATION: On Thursday, December 9, Israel and Morocco marked one year of normalized relations at a joint celebration at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C.
In December 2020, the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco reestablished diplomatic ties through a trilateral agreement with the United States. Since this historic breakthrough, the two countries have grown closer through government relations and on a people-to-people basis. This connection builds upon decades of kinship towards the Jewish community in Morocco, from Moroccan kings to the Moroccan people, and lies at the heart of the bond between both countries. Morocco’s Ambassador to the US Lalla Joumala and Israel’s Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog celebrated this milestone together along with distinguished guests, including the State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert and Representatives Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Steve Cohen (D-TN). Ambassador Herzog reiterated his commitment to working together with the Moroccans to not only expand upon relations between the two countries but to collaborate on innovative projects that will better the region. (INN / VFI News)
IMMIGRATION MINISTER REPORTS 27,000 NEW ARRIVALS TO COUNTRY, JUMP FROM LAST YEAR: By the end of the year, the number of new immigrants to Israel in 2021 is set to reach 27,000, a rise of 30% compared to the year before, Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata said at a conference in the United States, according to Hebrew-language media reports Sunday, December 12.
At the annual conference of the Israel American Council in Florida, Tamano-Shata said the numbers surpass the target she had set of 25,000 new arrivals. Tamano-Shata called it “a very good year, even when compared to regular years when there was no coronavirus,” according to a report by the Ynet website. The figure matched that of 2016. In 2017 there was a slight climb to 29,000 and that continued into 2018 with 30,000, reaching a record of 35,000 in 2019. However, with the start of the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions it caused to international travel, numbers tumbled. In 2020 there were just 22,000 who moved to start a new life in Israel. Tamano-Shata highlighted increased immigration from North America and France. There was a 34% increase in immigration from the US, with 4,000 arriving this year. France saw a 41% leap, with 3,380 arriving so far in 2021 and over a hundred more expected by the end of the month. There were 7,000 immigrants from Russia and 2,800 from Ukraine this year. (TOI / VFI News)
2ND-TEMPLE-PERIOD SYNAGOGUE FOUND WHERE GOSPEL’S MARY MAGDALENE WAS BORN: A 2,000-year-old synagogue was discovered in the ancient Jewish settlement of Migdal in Galilee, the second synagogue from the Second Temple Period uncovered in the town, also known as Magdala. The location is prominently featured both in the Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus’ writings and as the birthplace of Mary Magdalene in the Gospels.
“The discovery of a second synagogue in this Galilean settlement casts light on the social and religious lives of the Jews in the area in this period, and reflects a need for a dedicated building for Torah reading and study and for social gatherings,” said Dina Avshalom-Gorni, one of the directors of the excavations. “We can imagine Mary Magdalene and her family coming to the synagogue here, along with other residents of Migdal, to participate in religious and communal events.” According to the Gospels, Mary Magdalene – also known as Mary from Magdala – was one of the women who traveled with Jesus and witnessed his crucifixion and resurrection. The first synagogue was uncovered in Migdal in 2009 when an excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority unearthed Jewish ritual baths (mikvaot), streets, a marketplace, and industrial facilities. A unique artifact stood in the middle of the synagogue’s main hall: a large stone portraying the Second Temple of Jerusalem, with a carved seven-branched menorah on one of its sides. It represented a crucial discovery because the depiction was engraved in the stone when the temple was still standing. The newly discovered synagogue was shaped as a square and built with basalt and limestone. It featured a main hall and two other rooms. The main hall was coated in white plaster and featured a stone bench along the walls, also coated in plaster. One of the smaller rooms presented a stone shelf. According to the experts it might have been used to store Torah scrolls. The excavation was initiated as a salvage excavation before construction works at the Migdal intersection. According to Israeli law, all development projects need to be accompanied by such an excavation. (JPost / VFI News)
DRUG FOR RARE DISEASE COULD TREAT ALZHEIMER’S, AUTISM SYMPTOMS: A Tel Aviv University study found that a drug that was designated as an “orphan drug” by the FDA – meaning it is used to treat rare diseases and is subject to separate regulations – can also treat a variety of symptoms associated with autism, intellectual disabilities, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Prof. Illana Gozes of the Tel Aviv University Sackler Medical School’s Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry discovered the drug – named NAP – in 2020. The drug is meant to treat symptoms related to ADNP syndrome, a rare genetic disease that causes symptoms associated with intellectual disabilities and autism. Prof. Gozes then commissioned this most recent study, which was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Biological Psychiatry, with the intention of studying the drug’s effect on those suffering from diseases other than ADNP that also exhibit similar mental symptoms. Researchers studied the effects of NAP on mice with ADNP syndrome, finding that the NAP treatment restored a large portion of typical brain function. “To our amazement and joy, we discovered that treatment using NAP normalizes the functioning of these mice for most of the symptoms indicated above,” said Gozes. Prof. Gozes summarized: “We examined the effect of the ADNP gene’s most prevalent mutation in a broad spectrum of aspects and found extensive impairment in physical and cerebral functioning parallel to the symptoms of autism, developmental delay, mental disability, and Alzheimer’s disease in humans,” said Prof. Gozes. “Similarly, we examined the potential use of the NAP drug for treating these diseases, and discovered that it is effective against most of these symptoms in lab models.” “This study is an important milestone on the way to developing a drug, or drugs, that will help children with autism stemming from genetic mutations, as well as Alzheimer’s patients,” Gozes concluded. (JPost / VFI News)
The suggestions, opinions and scripture references made by VFI writers and editors are based on the best information received.
Blessings from Jerusalem,
Barry Segal with the Editorial Staff