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Monday, August 31, 2009

Obama's New York Times Op-Ed: The Lingering Questions

On August 15 The New York Times published an op-ed, entitled "Why We Need Health Care Reform", written by or for President Obama. I can add little to the debate over health care reform, currently the hottest news item in the U.S. and the subject of fractious controversy. However, there are other aspects of the president's op-ed which raise questions: its venue and timing.

Is it appropriate that a president take his or her case on a matter of national importance to the public via an op-ed in a solitary, regional (albeit internationally read) newspaper? Is it appropriate or efficacious for a president to publish his or her views exclusively in a newspaper known for its Left-leaning bent and whose editorial staff in the 2008 election was firmly in his camp? Is it appropriate for a president to demonstrate favoritism of this kind to any specific media entity?

Still more troublesome was the timing of the president's op-ed, which appeared so soon after The New York Times' editorial staff sought to bolster Obama following a derisive editorial in the Washington Post concerning his foreign policy. (See: Was a favor being returned?

In a nutshell, does this sort of special relationship behoove the president, who now serves all of the nation's electorate?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Investigate Anti-Semitism at Aftonbladet

As noted in an earlier blog entry, Stephen Dubner of "Freakonomics" fame wrote in The New York Times on August 25 an opinion entitled "Why the Israeli Organ-Harvesting Story Is Probably False". In this opinion he observed that given the need to match organs between the donor and the recipient and the short time that organs remain viable for transplant, the recently published accusation in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that Israeli soldiers in 1992 sought to kill Palestinians and harvest their organs should probably be discounted.

There is, however, an even better reason why the Aftonbladet article is palpably false. As stated in the article concerning the death of the Palestinian:

"The first shot hit him in the chest. According to villagers who witnessed the incident he was subsequently shot with one bullet in each leg. Two soldiers then ran down from the carpentry workshop and shot Bilal once in the stomach."

However, when a bullet strikes a body, it tumbles ("yaws") and can cause extensive internal damage before exiting the body. Anyone interested in "harvesting" organs would not shoot a person both in the chest and the stomach for fear of damaging the organs.

Aftonbladet's editors are calling for an investigation of the purported 1992 incident? They should be busy investigating stupidity and anti-Semitism at their own newspaper.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Compugen: The Evolution of a New Platform for the Rational Design of Therapeutics

In March 2008 Compugen announced the development and validation of its Blockers of Disease Associated Conformation ("DAC Blockers") discovery platform for the identification of peptides that block proteins from adopting their disease associated conformations. A little over a year since this announcement, there have been further announcements concerning the platform's initial therapeutic candidates, CGEN-25007 for inflammatory bowel disease and CGEN-25017 for retinopathy, both of whose in vivo results are best understood from the attestations of the outside parties who performed the testing.

Re CGEN 25007:

"Professor Markus F. Neurath, from the University of Erlangen, Germany, who supervised the study and is a recognized world expert in this field stated, 'The results achieved with CGEN- 25007 are very impressive. In the past, we have evaluated numerous molecules in this model but never saw such dramatic effects. If these results continue to be confirmed in further studies, this molecule should represent a very exciting drug candidate for this substantial, and largely unmet medical need.'"

Re CGEN-25017:

"Professor John S. Penn, from the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who supervised the study and is a recognized world expert in this field stated, 'The efficacy achieved with CGEN- 25017 is a fairly rare finding in this model. Based upon our past experience conducting efficacy trials of this type, CGEN-25017 falls within the top 10% of all test compounds that have passed through our hands. Thus, in my opinion, CGEN-25017 warrants further development and study as a potential therapy for angiogenesis-related diseases.'"

There is nothing "hit or miss" about these discoveries. As noted by Compugen:

"To date, peptide blockers predicted by this platform have been validated experimentally in functional assays for 11 out of 12 protein targets selected for screening."

At a time when Big Pharma's pipelines are going dry, how did this new discovery platform evolve? Compugen will never disclose all of the platform's underlying proprietary wizardry. In addition, it seems inane for an "outsider" to summarize the platform's scientific underpinnings, premised upon 10 years of R&D, within the space of a blog entry, yet here is my attempt:

Proteins consist of long strings of amino acids, generally between 50 and 2,000 amino acids in length and consisting of 20 types of amino acids. The location of these amino acids determines their many possible shapes (for example, Alpha Helix, Beta Helix, turns and loops), i.e. how these proteins fold. A protein's shape, in turn, determines its function.

Although proteins normally fold into a single stable conformation, slight changes can subsequently occur within certain proteins, causing them to become active or inactive, i.e. giving rise to "disease associated conformations". The literature indicates there are dozens of such disease associated conformations potentially causing pathologies, but how do you even begin to influence these minuscule transformations, which can cause, for example, solid cancers and inflammatory diseases?

Some 10 years ago it was already known that peptides (protein fragments) could be used to seal off cells from viruses, e.g., HIV, seeking to penetrate their membranes. It was believed that peptides could similarly be used to bind to proteins at relevant sites, thereby preventing them from adopting their disease associated conformations, but it would be necessary to know the specific segment of the given protein. Compugen seized upon this idea and began to construct its platform:

"The [DAC Blockers] platform is based on the integration of methods and ideas varying from information theory, through machine learning and statistics, to mathematical analysis for detecting intra-molecular interactions within the protein of interest."

Details concerning a resultant product candidate? Let's look at CGEN-25007, which interacts with the glycoprotein, gp96. As observed in Compugen's website:

"extracellular gp96 plays an important role in activation of innate immunity, through direct action on various types of immune cells, including dendritic cells, monocytes, macrophages and neutrophils, promoting the induction of proinflammatory cytokines."

Cytokines are secreted by immune cells that encounter pathogens, thus recruiting additional immune cells to augment the body's response, which can cause acute inflamation, and the DAC Blockers platform was initially validated by Compugen by demonstrating that CGEN-25007 significantly reduces the serum levels of inflammatory cytokines in mice treated with lipopolysacharide, which acts as a toxin and causes strong immune responses. Given that gp96 has been implicated in inflammatory bowel disease ("IBD"), the next step taken by Compugen was to test CGEN-25007 on an IBD animal model. The results of the testing conducted by Dr. Neurath (see above) were announced in June:

"In a recently completed study of TNBS-induced colitis, which is a well accepted animal model of inflammatory bowel disease, administration of CGEN-25007 protected mice from the effects of lethal colitis. Study data showed an increase in survival rate and reversal of weight loss, while mice treated with a negative control showed an irreversible and fatal wasting syndrome. This protective effect of CGEN-25007 was confirmed by improved endoscopic colitis scores, which were similar to those obtained with corticosteroids as a positive control."

With respect to IBD, there are 500,000 persons in the U.S. suffering form Crohn's Disease and another 5 million persons suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. We will see whether Compugen now also tests CGEN-25007 on an in vivo model of rheumatoid arthritis, which affects some 1% of the world's population and for which there is no known cure.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

E-Mail to an Editor of Aftonbladet

Below is my e-mail to Johan Edling, an editor of Aftonbladet, which published the heinous, anti-Semitic story that accused Israeli soldiers of murdering Palestinians and harvesting their organs. Will I receive a response from Edling? Again, I'm not holding my breath.

Dear Mr. Edling,

The absurdity of Aftonbladet's story alleging that Israeli soldiers killed Palestinians in 1992 in order to harvest their organs was highlighted yesterday in The New York Times. See the the last paragraph below from:

I believe in "freedom of expression", and Aftonbladet is free to publish what it wishes, but you need also recognize that this was an instance of vile anti-Semitism without any factual basis whatsoever, which will only perpetuate hatred and violence.

Yours sincerely,
Adv. Jeffrey Grossman
Caesarea, Israel

August 25, 2009, 10:03 am
Why the Israeli Organ-Harvesting Story Is Probably False
By Stephen J. Dubner

A strange story has broken out in Sweden and Israel, with an article in Aftonbladet, a Swedish newspaper, by a journalist named Donald Boström.

According to The Times, Boström’s article “accuses the Israeli Army of harvesting organs from Palestinians wounded or killed by soldiers.” This claim is linked to the charges of black-market organ trafficking by Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum, one of the flock of characters recently arrested in a corruption and money-laundering racket that revolved around New Jersey politicians.

. . . .

The Times article asserts that Boström’s article “was based on accusations Mr. Bostrom heard from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in the 1990’s, and which he published in a book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2001.”

That would certainly give one pause as to the veracity of the charge. This isn’t to say that all rumors are untrue, but there is perhaps no easier trap for a journalist to fall into than to listen to the harshest accusations of one group of people that is at war with another.

But there is probably a better reason to discount the accusation.

Al Roth, the Harvard economist whose work on matched-pair organ donations has started to transform the organ-transplantation scenario, told me he found the accusation unbelievable because of the logistics of organ harvesting itself. “Organs don’t last very long and have to be matched rather particularly,” he said, “so it would be hard to take them on spec for an international market. So I think black market organs must mostly be from live donors. Live donors can take blood tests well in advance and travel to where the patient is. Deceased organs have to be put on ice, and the clock starts ticking immediately and fast.”

. . . .

Monday, August 24, 2009

Censored Again by The New York Times: Should I Contact the Guiness Book of World Records?

In response to Frank Rich's August 23 op-ed, "The Guns of August", I submitted the comment, below, which needless to say was censored. What a surprise!

What Frank Rich labels "irrational radicalism" is not restricted to the right.

In response to Maureen Dowd's April 29 op-ed, "Vice's Secret Vices", an online comment, no. 8, was posted which could be interpreted as a call to murder a former, very senior, U.S. government official.

This comment, which made it past The New York Times' moderators, was ultimately removed after I contacted a very senior editor of The New York Times.

As that same editor can attest, The New York Times also permitted anti-Semitic online comments until several months ago, when I brought this phenomenon to the attention of this editor, and he quickly intervened.

These comments made their way past the moderators of The New York Times, at a time when I was often witnessing the rejection of my comments. My complaint to the Public Editor elicited the following response, dated June 29, 2009, from Clark Hoyt:

"I have inquired about why your comments have not been posted and have been told that those that were rejected were considered off the topic. Times editors agreed that some of the comments you objected to should not have been posted, and it is my understanding that they were taken down."

Clark Hoyt had "been told" that my comments were "off the topic"? Why didn't he take the time personally to examine the examples that I sent to him?

Clark Hoyt stated in his e-mail to me that "I am considering a public editor column on the subject of comments on the Web site of The Times." In July 2008 I had also been informed by the Public Editor's office that "Mr. Hoyt is thinking about addressing the issue of comment moderation in an upcoming column" and was requested to provide examples of comments that I submitted but were rejected. Over the past year, I provided many examples, but the long awaited column has yet to appear.

In short, radicalism and intolerance extend to both the right and left, and the breathing space allotted to those of us in the "middle" often appears to be shrinking.

I should mention that I also sent the above, including the text of the threatening comment that was posted by The Times' "moderators", to Frank Rich by e-mail. No response yet from Rich, and I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Has Swedish Foreign Minister Bildt's Brain Gone Missing?

The Swedish Penal Code prohibits "hate speech" that expresses disrespect for ethnic groups, but Swedish Foreign Minister Bildt is incapable of drawing the connection between the absurd allegation of organ harvesting by Israeli soldiers in 1992 now surfacing in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet and the centuries-old blood libel accusing Jews of using Christian children's blood in Passover matzot.

Fortunately, Israelis, i.e. Jews, have yet to be accused of robbing Bildt of his brain.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wee-weed Up

In his August 21 New York Times op-ed entitled "Voices of Anxiety", concerning U.S. economic woes and ambiguous health care reform, Bob Herbert contradicts himself. He tells us that a smiling Obama stated:

“There is something about August going into September where everybody in Washington gets all wee-weed up.”

He then observes:

"Wee-weed up? I don’t know what that means".

Next, he tells us that Obama:

"has a command of the English language like few others".

Herbert tells us that people:

"don’t feel that he is speaking to them in a language that they understand."

He concludes by noting:

"Mr. Obama has proved the naysayers wrong time and again. But if it turns out that this time he’s wrong, hold onto your hats. Because right now there is no Plan B."

I am also unsure concerning the meaning of "wee-weed up"; however, there is a "Plan B" come 2012, at which time the dynamic duo of Obama and Axelrod might be none too sanguine, i.e. also "wee-weed up".

Friday, August 21, 2009

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

The Swedish government has now forced Sweden's embassy in Israel to remove its tepid denunciation of the Aftonbladet article from the embassy's Website.

According to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, freedom of expression precludes the Swedish government from taking issue with the Aftonbladet article that suggested Israeli soldiers harvested organs from dead Palestinians, i.e. taking issue with rabid anti-Semitism.

Fair enough. And it's our prerogative to boycott Swedish goods: Volvo, Ericsson, Swedish manufactured products sold by Ikea, etc.

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

An International Investigation? First Begin with the Libidinous Chewing Gum!

Aftonbladet's editorial staff has been quick to support publication of the story alleging that Israeli soldiers killed Palestinians in order to harvest their organs. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

"Asa Linderborg, an editor of [Aftonbladet's] culture section which printed the story, told Haaretz that the publication 'stands behind the demand for an international inquiry.'"

By all means, let's organize an international inquiry and place Linderborg in charge. But first things first: Linderborg should begin the worldwide investigation by examining Hamas' July 14 allegations:

"that Israeli intelligence services are supplying its Gaza Strip stronghold with chewing gum that boosts the sex drive in order to 'corrupt the young'".

Have fun chewing on that, Asa Linderborg.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How Do You Say "Blood Libel" in Swedish?

An article in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet accuses Israeli soldiers of abducting and killing Palestinians to steal body parts. The Swedish Embassy in Tel Aviv has responded in its Website to this article as follows:

Aug 19 2009

Media allegations on organ trafficking

On 17 August the Swedish daily Aftonbladet published an article on alleged organ trafficking in Israel. It related, inter alia, claims from individual Palestinians that organs had been stolen from captured Palestinians. The given sources, and a photograph of a dead Palestinian man, pertain to an incident in 1992.

The article in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet is as shocking and appalling to us Swedes, as it is to Israeli citizens. We share the dismay expressed by Israeli government representatives, media and the Israeli public. This Embassy cannot but clearly distance itself from it.

Just as in Israel, freedom of the press prevails in Sweden. However, freedom of the press and freedom of expression are freedoms which carry a certain responsibility. It falls on the editor-in-chief of any given newspaper.

Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier

I called the Swedish Embassy and told them that this article went beyond "shocking and appalling" and constituted a blood libel reminiscent of the Nazi-era. In addition, I asked whether the Swedish Embassy had made their opinion known to Aftonbladet. The answer:


I sent an e-mail to the Swedish Embassy asking to speak directly with the Swedish ambassador to Israel. Response:

"I regret to tell you that the Ambassador will not be in a position to discuss this matter with you, but kindly wishes to refer you to her statement this morning."

And so such matters are handled in diplomatic "circles".

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Obama and Robinson, a Haunting Picture

Over the past two weeks I spent far too many hours at airports and on airplanes, watching sunsets and sunrises, consumed with thoughts about work and family. I also stood in a hospital waiting room as my father underwent three surgical procedures that caused this veteran of two wars, World War II and Korea, a level of pain that morphine could not subdue. And throughout this anguish, somewhere in my subconscious, lingered the picture of Mary Robinson grinning like a Cheshire cat as a smug Barack Obama draped the Presidential Medal of Freedom around her neck.

Mary Robinson, the former U.N. high commissioner for human rights and a former president of Ireland (a ceremonial office), who orchestrated the 2001 Durban conference, a hate fest which spun beyond Robinson's control, received the highest civilian honor in the United States. Her picture with Obama is one that I will never forget.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Robinson was being awarded the medal because she was a prominent advocate for women's rights in her country and around the world. You don't say? When did Robinson ever visit the Palestinian Authority to decry a grizzly "honor killing"?

But more to the point, who decided to award this honor to Robinson? John Bolton stated in his August 11 article in The Wall Street Journal:

"Those in the administration who recommended her either ignored her anti-Israel history, or missed it entirely, as they either ignored or overlooked her hostility toward America’s role in promoting international peace and security. Or perhaps they share Ms. Robinson’s views."
Query: Was it "those in the administration" who ignored "her anti-Israel history" and "hostility toward America's role in promoting international peace", or was it Obama himself? Is Obama still a radical wolf dressed by Axelrod in moderate sheep's clothing?

Personally, it was a wake up call, a stinging slap in the face. If there had been any doubts concerning Obama's "indifference" toward Israel, here in this photograph lay the answer.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cantor Fitzgerald Initiates Coverage on Compugen

Having written about Compugen in earlier posts ("Investing Then and Now, Compugen" and "Compugen, Evolving Case for Business Schools"), I was gratified to learn that Cantor Fitzgerald last week initiated coverage on Compugen. Cantor Fitzgerald's analyst stated:

"We think Compugen's predictive platform portfolio can streamline identification/validation of relevant biomarkers/therapeutic targets — a paradigm shift in discovery/development programs that can mitigate risk, condense timelines, and exponentially increase pharma's output of both diagnostics and therapeutics...In our view, Compugen is the emerging leader in next-generation discovery a design and development methodology — using a market-disruptive approach integrating millions of genome experiments into a series of discovery engines."

Open Letter to Mr. David A. Harris, President of the National Jewish Democratic Council

Dear Mr. Harris,

On the website of the National Jewish Democratic Council appears your post, "Listening for the Truth about Iran", dated July 17, 2009, which states:

"American Jews—like many other Americans—are right to be nervous about Iran’s intentions here. Iran has a squirrelly track record, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ... well, not much more needs to be said about him and his Holocaust-denying, Israel-threatening ways. A nuclear-armed Iran poses an existential threat to Israel, and a clear and present danger to America as well. The American Jewish leaders who met with Obama on Monday widely applauded the president’s vision and comments regarding Iran, and Clinton’s address on Wednesday only puts more meat on the bone.

If anyone hasn’t gotten the message loud and clear from this administration—essentially “no nuclear Iran, not on our watch”—then they’re not listening."
Well, I'm no political animal – I'm just hoping to keep my Israeli family alive - but say what you may, I try to listen. In fact, I heeded very carefully the words of Roger Cohen in his August 2 article in The New York Times Magazine, "The Making of an Iran Policy":

"What Obama’s precise tolerance threshold is for the Iranian nuclear program is in fact unclear. Officially, the administration still insists on the “zero option” — no enrichment, no reprocessing, no sensitive technology. But I heard talk of nonzero options . . . . So deterrence may indeed be the administration’s reluctant bottom line."
"No nuclear Iran, not on our watch"? This isn't what Cohen is telling us. Quite the contrary: "Deterrence" means that if Iran nukes Israel, Iran can expect to be nuked back – hardly reassuring. Cohen goes on to say:

"Clinton has returned to talk of “crippling action” against Iran — not heard since April, when she spoke of “crippling sanctions” — and late last month introduced the notion of a “defense umbrella” in the region that would make Iran less secure, even with a nuclear weapon." [Italics added.]
Please, Mr. Harris, tell me that Cohen is wrong.

Your colleague, Ms. Cynthia Friedman, a member of the executive committee of the National Jewish Democratic Council, wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times, dated July 30, 2009, in which she says:

"The presence of so many top American officials in Israel at one time working to improve security cooperation sends a message to Israel and the entire world: the United States-Israeli relationship is rock solid, and it’s here to stay. Those who say it isn’t aren’t listening to our president."

Nice mantra: Those who disagree with Obama are not listening.

More recently, in "The Chutzpah of Obama's Jewish Critics", which appears online in the Jerusalem Post (, Marc Stanley, Chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council, states:

"However, there will still be those with the undying chutzpah to attack the president for not being sufficiently supportive of Israel. I urge them to actually listen to what the president is saying and watch what he is doing - they might be surprised."

"Chutzpah"? Again I am "not listening"? True, I'm hard of hearing from many years serving in artillery. Nevertheless, let me inform Ms. Friedman, Mr. Stanley and you that there is an unprecedented crisis of confidence among Israelis, from both left and right, regarding America's "rock solid" relationship with Israel, and given what appears in Roger Cohen's article, their misgivings appear justified.

Imagine if President Obama had gone from Cairo to Jerusalem to Ramallah. This trip would have established President Obama as one of today's preeminent statesmen, and a wide spectrum of Israelis would have applauded his vision and courage. But he didn't.

General Jones, Defense Secretary Gates, Dennis Ross and George Mitchell have been sent to correct the damage? Sorry, but Israelis aren't stupid. You see, even the Israeli left knows that the current "settlement crisis" with Israel was manufactured to order. Most Israelis are willing to relinquish the settlements, and former Israeli prime ministers Barak and Olmert offered the territories back to the Palestinians, with an exchange of lands where necessary, to achieve peace. If Obama was serious about halting settlement construction and not just winning approbation from the tyrannical Iranian, Syrian and Saudi regimes, quiet diplomacy would have been more effective.

Ms. Friedman wrote her letter to the editor of The New York Times from Palm Beach. I know little about prevailing attitudes in Florida, but let me inform you that here, in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, fear has penetrated the collective psyche. Israelis go about their day-to-day lives, yet know that they again face extinction, this time from Iran, and listening to the minutest details as is their wont, they currently have little faith or trust in President Obama, as amply evident in recent polls.

But who cares about polls? At home my wife is terrified by the ramifications of President Obama's appeasement of Iran and Syria. She grew up on a kibbutz in northern Israel and spent much of her childhood in underground bomb shelters, owing to incessant Syrian shelling of her agricultural collective. Maybe you would like to pick up the phone and tell her that she is "not listening". I can promise you an "animated" conversation.

Best regards,

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Ridiculed by The Washington Post, Obama Rescued by The New York Times

Who would believe? Labeled "Pravda on the Potomac" and long considered an exemplar of liberalism, The Washington Post in its Thursday editorial, "Tough on Israel", took Obama to task for his "peculiar" style of diplomacy: coddling tyrannies while beating up on Israel:

"ONE OF THE MORE striking results of the Obama administration's first six months is that only one country has worse relations with the United States than it did in January: Israel. The new administration has pushed a reset button with Russia and sent new ambassadors to Syria and Venezuela; it has offered olive branches to Cuba and Burma. But for nearly three months it has been locked in a public confrontation with Israel over Jewish housing construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank. To a less visible extent, the two governments also have differed over policy toward Iran."

The Washington Post noted that Obama's "missteps" had caused Israelis to rally behind Netanyahu and that in order to advance peace in the Middle East, Obama

"must be tough on more than one country."
The Obama administration was much distressed by this rebuke, and lo and behold, wonder of wonders, the next day, Friday, The New York Times attempted to shore up Obama's flagging foreign policy ratings with its own editorial, "The Settlements Issue".

"[W]e commend President Obama for demanding that Israel halt all new construction. The controversy must not obscure Mr. Obama’s real goal: nudging Israel and the Palestinians into serious peace negotiations. . . . The Americans have decided that a freeze is needed to show Palestinians and other Arabs that Israel’s conservative government is serious about peace."

Poppycock. Prior Israeli governments, those of Barak and Olmert, offered the return of the territories, but neither Arafat nor Abbas was willing, in return, to concede Israel's right to exist.

Even more absurd, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal stated on Friday at a State Department press conference that Saudi Arabia rejects any gestures from Israel as part of a step-by-step peace process.

In other words, Obama is demanding unilateral concessions from Israel - exactly as The Washington Post informs us.

As an aside, it is worth observing that The New York Times' editorial was rushed out before its factual content could be properly verified. According to The Times, Obama and Mitchell:

"have asked Arab states — notably Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria — to signal the beginning of an acceptance by allowing Israel to fly commercial planes through Arab airspace or open government commercial offices in their capitals."
Israel has an embassy in Egypt, and El Al has regularly scheduled flights to Cairo.