Prepared for the Conference of Presidents
February 20, 2020
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
On Jan. 3, Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's Quds Force and the most powerful man in Iraq, was killed together with nearly all of his closest aides. Interviews with seven people familiar with the immediate aftermath of the deadly U.S. airstrike have revealed a scene of chaos and dysfunction. "There were 11 bodies pulled from the wreckage," said one official. "We are talking about the entire inner sanctum of the Quds Force. This wasn't just Hajj Qasem [Soleimani] and Abu Mahdi [al-Muhandis]. This was everyone who mattered to them in Iraq and beyond."
The loss of Soleimani and his entourage has derailed much of Iran's momentum in the region. While the Iranian leadership sought to regroup, there have been recriminations about how Soleimani and his entourage were able to be killed in the first place.
Two senior sources in Beirut say Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah agreed to help fill the void left by the deaths of Soleimani and Muhandis. But there were limits to what he could do. He had lived a life even more in the shadows than the Iranian general, and a drone strike was unlikely to make him feel safer. Traveling to Iraq, or Syria, to rally troops was going to be a non-starter. Instead, Iran's proxy networks would need to travel to Lebanon. (Guardian-UK)
See also Lebanese Politicians Criticize New Statue of Iran's Soleimani
On Feb. 15, Hizbullah unveiled a large statue of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani near the Lebanon-Israel border, sparking considerable criticism from Lebanese public figures. Politician May Chidiac tweeted: "Are we in Lebanon or in Iran? After naming the road to the [Beirut] airport after [Ayatollah] Khomeini [in February 2019], Hizbullah has now celebrated the unveiling of a statue of Soleimani." Georges Hayak tweeted: "Putting up a statue of an Iranian military figure such as Qasem Soleimani confirms what is said about Lebanon being under Iranian control." (MEMRI)
Iran has developed a new type of antiaircraft missile and shipped it to Houthi rebels in Yemen, Pentagon officials announced Wednesday. A military official familiar with the weapons described them as cruise missiles that are designed to avoid U.S. defensive measures and that can down American military helicopters, as well as the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey. (New York Times)
Gyroscopes inside drones that targeted Saudi Arabia's oil industry and those in the arsenal of Yemen's Houthi rebels match components recovered in downed Iranian drones in Afghanistan and Iraq, reports by Conflict Armament Research and the UN say. (AP-Los Angeles Times)
President of Israel Reuven Rivlin was accorded a full traditional welcome ceremony in Fiji on Thursday. (FBC News-Fiji)
See also Israeli President Announces Scholarship Opportunities for the Pacific - Filipe Naikaso
At a meeting with Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin announced the establishment of 100 new scholarships for students of agriculture to train at a college in Israel starting in August 2020. President Rivlin also extended deep appreciation for Fiji's contribution of peacekeeping forces in the Middle East. The last visit of a president of Israel to Fiji was in 1986. (FBC News-Fiji)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
Visiting British member of parliament Stephen Crabb, who chairs the Conservative Friends of Israel parliamentary group, told the Jerusalem Post: "The Palestinians have to bring something more to the table than just a plea for sympathy and cash. There has to be a pragmatic decision to talk the language of peace and to engage in a genuine and real process. Patience is running out."
On Wednesday, after his group met with PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat, Crabb said he was disappointed by the meeting. "I went there wanting to see if there was a glimmer of opportunity, a glimmer of hope from Dr. Erekat....I came away thinking that they [the Palestinians] are absolutely not going to let this be a moment of opportunity....It was a cold blast of what the default Palestinian position is, really. It underscored to me just how dug in the Palestinian leadership is when it comes to, not just the Trump plan but any talk of a serious peace negotiation." (Jerusalem Post)
Over the past two weeks, the Arabic branch of the Department of Digital Diplomacy at the Israel Foreign Ministry has been swamped by Arabic-language comments on its social media pages that originate in Sudan, in the aftermath of Prime Minister Netanyahu's meeting with Sudanese leader al-Burhan in Uganda two weeks ago. The Sudanese say they welcome normalization with Israel and that every country should think of its own national interests, adding that hollow, hate-filled slogans against Israel have not benefited the Sudanese people. There were only a few responses denouncing normalization. (Ynet News)
In September, the PA instituted a boycott of Israeli calves, which severely affected Israeli livestock breeders. In response, Israel stopped agricultural imports from the Palestinian territories into Israel and blocked such exports from the West Bank to Jordan. On Thursday, the PA removed the ban on calf imports from Israeli livestock breeders, and Israel removed the agricultural trade limitations on the PA. (Jerusalem Post)
A series of Hamas-sponsored cyberattacks targeting PA officials was uncovered in recent months, the Israeli security company Cybereason reported on Thursday. Hamas sought to hack into the victims' mobile phones, gaining access to their microphones and cameras as well as their files and information. Cybereason says it monitored the attacks, discovering they were carried out in a similar way to previous attacks Hamas committed against Israeli strategic assets. (Jerusalem Post)
See also New Cyber Espionage Campaigns Target Palestinians (Cybereason)
Salah Zakareneh, 17, died on Wednesday after being shot by Palestinian Authority security forces south of Jenin, according to Palestinian reports. Three people, including one member of the Palestinian security forces, were wounded in clashes that erupted amid celebrations following the release of a prisoner held by Israel. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
Five days after the Americans killed Qasem Soleimani, Tehran fired ballistic missiles at two U.S. bases in Iraq. From the incomplete information available, Iran's missiles were highly accurate but unreliable, with more than half failing to hit any target. The missiles that did hit caused significant damage, however, as well as the near loss of a squadron of U.S. Predator UAVs.
The absence of U.S. deaths was explained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards Air Force commander as a consequence of prudent targeting. However, available information indicates that it was more a matter of sheer luck. The Iranians were willing to face the consequences of killing U.S. troops and had accordingly put all their military forces on full alert - an alert that resulted in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger airliner.
Lessons for Israel include: first, that Iran's regime is willing to take extraordinary risks when it feels humiliated; second, that in certain scenarios precision missiles can be as effective as combat aircraft; third, that even a few precision missiles can disrupt the operation of modern air bases.
The writer, founding director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, which managed the Arrow program, is a senior research associate at the BESA Center. (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
If Israel continues to bomb Iranian positions in Syria, Iran will eventually leave. The Iranian forces and militias are not responding to the Israeli attacks, and their ally, Russia, has expressed objections only through media statements. The U.S. targeting of Maj.-Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iranian military operations in Syria, was also meant to help kick Iran out of Syria.
We do not see the Damascus regime being eager to defend its Iranian ally, nor is Russia, so an isolated Iran is left to fight alone. For Damascus and Russia, Iran's role is over. It has financed the war and fought to protect the regime from total collapse, but now Iran has become a burden to its allies.
Iran wants to turn Syria into another Lebanon - a satellite state and a military platform against Israel - in addition to using it to secure its presence in Iraq. If Iran was expelled from Syria, its influence in both Iraq and Lebanon would also be weakened. The writer is former general manager of Al-Arabiya and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. (Arab News-Saudi Arabia)
Syrian journalist Thaer Al-Nashef told Al-Jazeera on Feb. 11: "Israel is not responsible for the progress or the backwardness of Arabs. Arabs are responsible for themselves."
"But Arabs may benefit from the extensive Israeli expertise, because when we look at today's Israel, which is an advanced country, we must ask ourselves: How come the Jews, or Israel, have excelled? These people lived in Europe for 2,000 years, as exiled refugees, in a diaspora, as prisoners, and as slaves. Imagine! They then proved to all of humanity that they are not just refugees or slaves, but a people that was able to make miracles out of the impossible." (MEMRI-TV)
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