Prepared for the Conference of Presidents
September 17, 2019
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
U.S. intelligence indicates Iran was the staging ground for Saturday's debilitating attack on Saudi Arabia's oil industry. Yet until the Saudis make the same determination, the U.S. would have trouble galvanizing regional support for a unified response. Saudi Arabia said it was going to invite UN experts to investigate and would wait for the results before deciding how to respond.
On Monday, President Trump said he is not yet considering military options and that he expects Saudi Arabia to play a central role in any response. "The fact is the Saudis are going to have a lot of involvement in this, if we decide to do something," he said.
Robert Malley, president of International Crisis Group, said, "Both President Trump and Mohammed bin Salman feel the need to respond but neither wants war. The question is how they achieve the former without provoking the latter." (Wall Street Journal)
See also below Observations: A Credibility Test for U.S.-Saudi Defense Relations and Iran Deterrence - Michael Knights (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
"All Islamic Republic of Iran officials unanimously believe there will be no negotiations with the U.S. at any level," Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday on his official website. (AFP-France 24)
Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea told the Atlantic Council in Washington on Friday that U.S. sanctions on Iran and its proxy, Hizbullah, "are having a clear impact, leaving Iran with scarce funds to spend in its perfidious pursuits. Hizbullah is also feeling the squeeze - its fighters have been furloughed or assigned to reserves, where they earn far lower salaries; its media employees laid off; payments to families slashed....Our course remains constant and unchanged - to degrade Iranian finances."
"If you are a collaborator with Hizbullah, regardless of your political party and ideological affiliation, if you're offering material support, we are going to target you. This is not about the Lebanese Shia community, this is about Hizbullah."
Billingslea said Hizbullah "engages in a wide range of illicit business activities in Lebanon, well outside the financial sector. Pharmaceuticals come to mind, the abuse of free trade zones, the abuse of the airport and the seaport. These are all areas where it's incumbent upon a good government in Lebanon to take back control of their own country." (The National-Abu Dhabi)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
The Iranian attack on Saudi oil installations is the most dramatic development in the Persian Gulf since the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear agreement in May 2018. So far the president's reaction has been relatively mild and he continues to convey more of a willingness to dialogue with the Iranians than a desire to confront them.
The Iranian attack testifies to the improved capabilities of Iran's cruise missiles. While Israel is out of this system's current range, these capabilities are indicative of what might end up in the hands of Hizbullah. This signals the need for a speedy upgrade of Israeli defense and interception systems, with an emphasis on protecting strategic sites. (Ha'aretz)
An airstrike targeted Iran-backed militias near the border between Iraq and Syria overnight Monday, according to media reports. (Ha'aretz)
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine announced Saturday it had downed an Israeli drone over Gaza. An Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman denied that IDF aircraft were involved in the incident. Gaza sources later reported that the UAV was an Iranian-manufactured aircraft operated by Islamic Jihad. (Ha'aretz)
Jordan's Supreme Court has approved an agreement to import natural gas from Israel, ruling that additional approval from the Jordanian parliament is not necessary. The agreement was reviewed by the court after widespread protests in Jordan. The court decided that "this is an agreement between two companies, whose contracts do not touch on aspects of the law that would require parliamentary approval." (Ynet News)
Col. Barak Hiram was named the next commander of the IDF's Golani Infantry Brigade on Monday, the army said. During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hiram, then a major, served as a platoon commander in the elite Egoz unit.
During a battle in the southern Lebanese town of Haddatha, Hiram sustained a head wound, which he bandaged himself. He continued fighting, refusing to be taken away until the end of the battle. He ultimately lost an eye from the injury. (Times of Israel)
Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics reported that the economy grew by 3.6% in the first half of 2019. This compares with 2.8% in the second half of 2018 and 3.5% in the first half of 2018. (Globes)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
The attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities have been blamed by America on Iran, confirming the country's rapid descent into the ranks of rogue states. The denials from Tehran are predictable but why should they be believed?
By any measure this is a geopolitical enormity, a deliberate attempt to disrupt the world's oil supplies, followed up by threats from the Revolutionary Guard to fire on U.S. warships in the Gulf. Nothing justifies Iran's random arrest of foreign nationals and threats to undermine the global economy. The time has come for a unified response to the menace emanating from Tehran. (Telegraph-UK)
The Islamic republic remains affixed upon a singular goal: acquiring nuclear weapons. Now that the regime is hastening its deadly day of triumph, there is only one rational response: Resist until the moment when that terror-wielding nation desists.
The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran proudly exhibited a set of advanced uranium centrifuges. Half are capable of enriching uranium five times faster than earlier models, the rest able to enrich at 10 times the rate.
Tehran is confronting European nations with an ultimatum: Begin purchasing Iranian oil in violation of economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. or face the peril of a nuclear Iran. The implied threat is thinly disguised nuclear blackmail. Forcing the regime to choose between its nuclear program and economic collapse is the only rational course. (Washington Times)
Why has Israel limited its responses to daily violence from Gaza? The answer is that it is in Israel's interest that the Gaza front remain as quiet as possible for the time being.
Iran clearly wants a hot war on Israel's Gaza front to deflect attention from its strategic build up in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. Without Iranian backing, both Hizbullah and Hamas over time will be reduced to the stature of small local terrorist movements. They are only powerful to the degree that they enjoy the power of a state behind them. For now, Iran and Israel's northern front are far more important.
The writer is a professor of political and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at its Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. (Jerusalem Post)
Since the Assad regime returned to the Syrian side of the Golan Heights in July 2018, pro-Syrian activities have increased among the Druze in the area. During the first week of September 2019, a large group of Druze sheikhs from the Golan Heights sought to visit Syria. However, Israel did not allow them to cross into Jordan on their way to Damascus.
Today, the Mukhabarat - Syria's Military Intelligence Directorate - has reopened its offices in Quneitra and is already intervening in villages on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights to stir up unrest.
The Druze in the Golan Heights are aware of what happened on the Syrian side and al-Qaeda's attacks on Druze in Syria that ended in the massacre of many Druze in 2015 and again in 2018. The Druze understood that this happened because they refused to send their youth to Assad's army, preferring that young Druze would protect their homes in Jabal al-Druze. There are also reports that the Druze are following Hizbullah's entrenchment around them with suspicion. The writer, a veteran Arab affairs correspondent, is an analyst for the Jerusalem Center. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
The number of West Bank Palestinians working in Israel has almost doubled in the past five years, according to official Palestinian figures. Israel said the number of permits for employment in Israel had risen 160% since 2012.
Palestinian workers typically earn between $70 and $100 per day working in Israel or in Jewish communities in the West Bank, compared to just $20-$30 with Palestinian companies, workers said. With unemployment rates in the West Bank at 18%, according to the World Bank, the revenue is vital for many families.
"Palestinian labor is a win-win for both sides," an Israeli defense official said. The employees' salaries helped the Palestinian economy and contributed to calm in the West Bank. Waiting times at the checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel had been cut from 30 minutes to only a few. (AFP-Daily Mail-UK)
A Credibility Test for U.S.-Saudi Defense Relations and Iran Deterrence - Michael Knights (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
The writer is a senior fellow of The Washington Institute.