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Forecast Podcast: Israel on edge after three deadly attacks in a week

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stands on the right wearing a facemask and a suit. He is talking to an unnamed person. Both stand in front of the wall of a building, probably concrete.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Ahmed Namatalla discuss recent deadly attacks in Israel, plus more on Shanghai’s coronavirus lockdown, a strike by Tunisian journalists, elections in Hungary, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voting on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

These stories and more are also available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Imana Gunawan, Agnese Boffano, Jaime Calle Moreno, Joe Veyera and Ahmed Namatalla.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed? Drop us a note: hello@factal.com.

Podcast Transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.

JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:

Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is March 31st.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got Shanghai’s coronavirus lockdown, a strike by Tunisian journalists, elections in Hungary, the Senate Judiciary Committee voting on a Supreme Court nomination and an interview about the recent attacks in Israel. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Second half of Shanghai enters lockdown

Information compiled by Imana Gunawan

JIMMY: The west side of Shanghai, China, is set to enter lockdown starting Friday.

It’s part of a two-phase restriction on movement enacted in the city, which is mainland China’s most significant financial hub.

The lockdown, of course, is due to a surge in coronavirus cases. 

The east side of the city went under lockdown for five days beginning March 28th during the first phase, with massive testing underway.

Shanghai’s lockdown is China’s biggest coronavirus closure since the shutdown of the city of Wuhan two years ago. Wuhan is believed to be the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.

A record of nearly 3,500 asymptomatic cases were reported in Shanghai the day before lockdown started, accounting for nearly 70 percent of the nationwide total and reaching China’s highest case tallies since the first weeks of the pandemic.

Now, under China’s “zero-coronavirus” strategy, cities and even a province have come under lockdown in recent weeks due to a fresh wave of cases fueled by the omicron variant.

But given Shanghai’s role as a global financial and manufacturing hub, and as a major international port, Chinese officials opted for the two-phased approach to minimize disruptions to world trade.

Tunisian journalists strike

Information compiled by Agnese Boffano

JIMMY: The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists is planning a one-day national strike for Saturday involving several public media institutions.

Press freedom in Tunisia has been considered one the most important successes of the country’s Arab Spring in 2011.

In fact, from 2011 to 2019, Tunisia saw its ranking in the Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom index rise 62 spots 

However, the 2021 coup by President Kais Saied brought further restrictions on press freedom, with several local and international news outlets facing state censorship and police raids. 

The recent arrest of a Mosaique FM  journalist on terrorism grounds – over his refusal to release his sources to the government – is just the latest of a series of detentions in the country.

Now, Saturday’s strike shows the growing opposition to the government across Tunisia’s political spectrum.

The journalists’ union hopes to pressure President Saied into reversing his decision to bring state television under government control. 

That government control that would ban state media from featuring opposition figures, including the country’s ousted Islamist Ennahda movement. 

Still, in the past, protesters in the country have faced arbitrary arrests, some resulting in years of lengthy prison sentences.

Hungary elections

Information compiled by Jaime Calle Moreno

JIMMY: Hungarians will vote in the country’s parliamentary elections on Sunday.

The vote will either secure a fourth term for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s populist right-wing Fidesz party or usher in the six-party independent United Opposition led by former mayor Péter Márki-Zay.

Polls expect a tight race with Prime Minister Orbán’s party leading by nearly 7 percent. 

Both campaigns have had to scrap some of their rhetoric in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Now, this will be the first political challenge Orbán has faced in over a decade and the election will foreshadow Hungary’s position regarding Russia. 

Orbán, the Kremlin’s strongest EU ally, has campaigned to defer from joining the war, citing his own party as the “pro-peace right” against Márki-Zay’s support of Ukraine as the “pro-war left”.

Financial woes will also crop up after the elections, created by a recent spending spree, immigration, and a lack of access to EU’s pandemic recovery funds.

Senate panel votes on Supreme Court nomination

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will vote Monday on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

The committee’s action comes ahead of a possible vote by the full Senate later in the week before its scheduled Easter break.

Jackson’s confirmation to fill the seat of retiring Justice Stephen Breyer is all but certain after West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin announced last week he would support the nomination

Jackson has also at least one Republican vote – earlier this week Maine’s Susan Collins said that she would vote to confirm the judge. 

Utah’s Mitt Romney is also seen as a likely GOP supporter, though it’s still unclear how he will vote

Meanwhile, Collins and Romney’s conservative colleagues have criticized Jackson over what they say is an expansive view on judicial power and record of being soft on crime.

Now, while her confirmation wouldn’t change the 6-to-3 conservative majority, Jackson would make history as the first Black woman to sit on the high court. 

Jackson’s hearings may also foreshadow the Republican Party’s new line of attack in judicial hearings, as lawmakers continue to push to see nominees’ pre-sentencing reports.

Israel attacks

Information compiled by Ahmed Namatalla

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is a look at the recent attacks in Israel. For more on that I spoke with Factal Editor Ahmed Namatalla. 

JIMMY: Hi, Ahmed. 

AHMED: Hi, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Well, Ahmed, it’s been a surprisingly violent week in Israel with reports of several armed attacks. What can you tell us about these?

AHMED: It started last week with an attack in Beersheba, that is a town in southern Israel, where a person from a neighboring Palestinian village, who is also an Israeli citizen, they stabbed three people to death and killed another person by running them over with their car. A few days later, in the town of Hadera, that is north of Tel Aviv, two gunmen shot at people near a bus station and they killed two police officers before being shot dead. And just yesterday in Bnei Brak, that is a town, a suburb of Tel Aviv known for its ultra orthodox community, a gunman shot at people and killed five, including a policeman. These attacks coming just within days of each other have prompted a significant security response. In fact, security forces are on their highest alert level since the outbreak of violence almost a year ago at this time – only then it was with organized militant groups in the Gaza Strip.

JIMMY: The other day you were saying that the location of these attacks is unusual? Can you explain that a little?

AHMED: Yes, it is rare that we see attacks inside Israeli territory. Usually, with the attacks that we’ve seen over the past decade in general, they have been mostly in the West Bank against mostly military and police forces, although there have been attacks on civilians there. And usually the casualty tolls are a lot lower. We have really not seen many attacks where, you know, four or five people die at a time. And this points to really the main difference between past three attacks and those other attacks. These past three attacks appear to have been perpetrated by lone wolf actors – this is according to Israeli security assessments so far. And although they had been praised by militant groups in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, none have directly taken responsibility for them.

JIMMY: Do we know who’s behind the attacks?

AHMED: We know that the first two attacks in Beersheba and Hadera, the Islamic State, ISIS, has taken responsibility for them. Now, that has been called into doubt by many analysts, because really, there’s, well, there’s no way to verify that. And also the Islamic State has taken credit for attacks in the past where there have been no verifiable links between them and the perpetrators. In Bnei Brak, it was a Palestinian that actually crossed the border between the West Bank and Israeli territory and that is the subject of investigation.

JIMMY: How have folks in Israel and in the region reacted to these attacks?

AHMED: So in Israel, there’s – it’s not just the reaction inside Israel that is notable, where people are angry and holding protests. We’re seeing far-right groups also hold protests, like just a few hours ago near the attack site in Bnei Brak. We’re also seeing protests on the other side, inside the West Bank, where Palestinians are praising the latest attack in saying that it’s a justified response against Israeli occupation. In Arab capitals, most of them are on friendly terms with – at least the influential ones are on friendly terms with Israel – we’ve seen condemnation. But we’ve also seen condemnation from Arab Israelis who are members of the Israeli parliament and also from the Palestinian Authority, which is seated in Ramallah in the West Bank.

JIMMY: Well, Ahmed, I know there’s a lot of unknowns here, but what do you think folks should be watching for next?

AHMED: I think the biggest question here is going to be Israel’s response. Israel is not used to dealing with lone wolf attackers. They’re used to dealing with organized militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They’re used to dealing with Iran. Usually Israel will strike at Iranian assets, either in Syria or Lebanon, or in Iran as we’ve seen, in retaliation for whatever attacks that have happened by these sides. With the Gaza Strip, it’s the same thing. We’ll see Israel carry out strikes in response to rocket attacks. It remains to be seen how Israel deals with attackers that have seemingly not been satisfied with the response by Hamas and the militant movements in the Gaza Strip and have gone even further to the right to the Islamic State. These attacks are notable because of the high death toll, which indicates that these attackers had some training of some sort. They’re unlike any, really, attacks that we’ve seen, and so how Israel deals with them is a big question. And another thing that we have to look to is the upcoming holiday season in the Middle East. You have Ramadan coinciding with Passover coinciding with Easter and that is going to bring people from different faiths,  some of whom don’t necessarily like each other, together within very close proximity of each other, particularly in East Jerusalem. And this all comes on the back of the violence that we saw last year. So there’s definitely the potential for escalation there.

JIMMY: Well, Ahmed, we are out of time, but as always, I appreciate your help in explaining the news in the region. Thanks for your insight here. 

AHMED: Thanks, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Take care

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Imana Gunawan, Agnese Boffano, Jaime Calle Moreno and Joe Veyera. Our interview featured editor Ahmed Namatalla and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello@factal.com.

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visits the Hadera police station after an attack took place in the city over the weekend. (Photo: Kobi Gideon, GPO)

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