Prepared for the Conference of Presidents
August 17, 2018
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
Brian Hook, the new U.S. special representative for Iran, says his team will focus most of its work on changing Tehran's behavior on issues of nuclear weapons, terrorism and detention of Americans. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday announced Hook's appointment to head a new U.S. team known as the Iran Action Group. Hook said the group would work to pursue changes in 12 aspects of Iran's behavior as outlined by Pompeo in May.
Pompeo said the U.S. hoped it could reach a new agreement with Iran "one day soon. But we must see major changes in the [Iranian] regime's behavior, both inside and outside of its borders." (VOA News)
See also Remarks on the Creation of the Iran Action Group - Secretary of State Michael Pompeo (State Department)
See also Briefing on the Creation of the Iran Action Group - Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook (State Department)
Deutsche Telekom, Europe's largest telecommunications provider, and rail operator Deutsche Bahn, two state-owned German companies, are following car manufacturer Daimler and tunneling company Herrenknecht to withdraw from Iran because of U.S. sanctions. Deutsche Telekom stopped all transactions in Iran in May. Deutsche Bahn will have its projects phased out by the end of September, German business magazine Wirtschaftswoche reported Thursday.
The exodus flies in the face of the EU implementing a "blocking statute" to protect firms against fallout from breaching U.S. sanctions on Iran. (Press TV-Iran)
Egypt is finalizing details of a long-term truce deal between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, an Egyptian security source said on Thursday, amid easing tensions. "We are putting the final touches to the terms of the truce that will be signed by all sides, and we expect to announce the terms next week if Fatah helps us to do so," the source said, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' party.
Officials from Fatah have not joined the talks in Cairo, but Fatah's backing is crucial for any deal. A Palestinian source in Ramallah said Abbas had informed Egypt that Fatah representatives would join the Cairo talks by next week.
The Egyptian source said, "The period of calm will be for one year, during which contacts will be held to extend it for another four years." Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel this week, an Israeli official confirmed. (Reuters)
Russian air defenses have downed 45 drones targeting the Hmeimim airbase in Syria including 5 in the last 3 days, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Thursday. He said all of the attacks were launched by forces based in rebel-held Idlib province. (AP)
British and Israeli flags were burned in a huge annual Republican bonfire in Derry, Northern Ireland, as hundreds gathered to watch. Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has described the bonfire, held on Wednesday, as a hate crime.
The bonfire was held in the staunchly Republican area of the Bogside, where in 1972 British soldiers opened fire on a protest, killing 14 people, in an event that came to be known as Bloody Sunday. Alongside the Bogside's murals to the victims of Bloody Sunday are murals adorned with the Palestinian flag.
There is a long history of solidarity between the Northern Irish Republicans and Palestinians. This solidarity often sees Republicans burning the Israeli flag alongside the Union Jack. (RT-Russia)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
U.S. officials who claim to want to improve the living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza are "liars," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the PLO Central Council in Ramallah on Wednesday. "We were the first to fight against [Trump's "Deal of the Century"] and we will continue to fight against it until it falls. This is the 'slap of the century.'" Abbas also pledged to continue payments to Palestinian security prisoners and families of "martyrs" killed while carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel.
Meanwhile, Abbas' ruling Fatah faction on Wednesday criticized the current discussions in Cairo aimed at reaching a truce between Hamas and Israel and said the PLO was the only party authorized to make such a deal. (Jerusalem Post)
IDF Maj.-Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen said Israel's re-opening of the main cargo crossing into Gaza, the Kerem Shalom crossing, is a step toward creating stability in Gaza. "This is in Israel's interest, as reaching an agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is far-fetched." Hamas could "act reasonably in accepting an equilibrium. I do not believe in agreements and grand ceremonies, but in a practical equilibrium of power. And in a realist sense, this is what could be expected from Hamas." (Media Line-Jerusalem Post)
Israel Security Agency head Nadav Argaman told members of the security cabinet, "Pushing aside [Abbas] from the process [of reaching an] agreement will strengthen Hamas in the West Bank and prove terror pays. Such a move would also weaken the moderates and prove to Palestinians that only the path of violence achieves results," Hadashot TV reported Thursday. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
Israel's Nation-State Law
The Jewish Nation-State Law reflects the de facto condition inside Israel since its establishment 70 years ago and should not be earth-shattering for anyone with the slightest familiarity with the country. Two polls taken the week after the law passed showed that a majority of Israeli Jews support the law. Nothing in the law's text impinges on the individual civil rights of Israeli citizens, and it does not add any individual privileges for Jewish Israelis.
As Northwestern University law professor Eugene Kontorovich argued in the Wall Street Journal, the Jewish Nation-State Law is not so different from the constitutions of many European democracies. Yet there doesn't seem to be much outrage about the Latvian constitution citing the "unwavering will of the Latvian nation to have its own state and its unalienable right of self-determination" - even though a quarter of Latvia's population is Russian. Moreover, many European countries with large minority groups have only one official language. (Commentary)
Deputy Minister and former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren strongly rejected claims that the Nation-State Law is discriminatory and insisted that Israel's democracy was alive and well. "All you have to do is walk through the country, go to shopping malls, hospitals, and know there is no apartheid. All you have to do is spend a day in the Knesset, where Arab member after Arab member gets up and basically impugns and refutes the very existence of the Jewish state and you'll know we have democracy." He said no member of Congress would ever speak about their country, flag, or anthem the way Arab MKs speak about Israel and its national symbols.
Likud MK Amir Ohana, who chaired the committee which dealt with the law, insisted that there is no right held by any citizen, that existed before the law was passed, that no longer exists. He continued: "Why did we come here 70 years ago and before? Why did people come here from Russia, Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, Poland, and so on?...They came to establish a Jewish state, where the flag, symbols, anthem, holidays, language belong to [the] Jewish people. There are 21 Arab states. Can't the Jews also have their own state?" (Jerusalem Post)
On April 20, 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte prepared a proclamation known as the "Letter to the Jewish Nation," making the Land of Israel an independent Jewish state and characterizing the Jews as the "rightful heirs of Palestine."
In June 1922, when he was Secretary of State for the Colonies, Winston Churchill wrote in a British White Paper: "The Jewish people...is in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance. That is the reason why it is necessary that the existence of a Jewish National Home in Palestine should be internationally guaranteed, and that it should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection."
The public debate that has emerged after the approval by the Knesset of the Nation-State Law is a clear indicator of Israel's vibrant democracy and an extreme illustration of the freedom of expression that characterizes the Israeli state of mind. The writer served as a senior analyst in IDF Military Intelligence. (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
In September 1972, the Palestinian terror group Black September took 11 Israeli athletes participating in the Olympic Games in Munich hostage. Two athletes were tortured and killed on the spot; the other nine were later killed at the airport. The British press published a photo taken in Tunisia in 2014 which shows British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn honoring the graves of the perpetrators with a wreath of flowers. It is just one of the many anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli expressions of the Socialist leader, who has called Hamas and Hizbullah his "brothers."
Corbyn recently led the British Labour Party to reject the international definition of anti-Semitism (written by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance), propelling Britain's Jewish newspapers, usually vigorous competitors, to unite in a call for a collective protest against the current Labour leader's "contempt for the Jews and Israel."
The writer, former vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Italian Chamber of Deputies, is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. (JNS)
Israel's exports to Gulf Arab states were worth nearly $1 billion in 2016, a new analysis of trade data suggests, despite their refusal to recognize Israel or have diplomatic relations with it. The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change said Tuesday its analysis of goods flows between third countries suggest the true amount of Israel's direct trade in recent years with Saudi Arabia and the UAE is "close to" $1 billion. The study said the current figure is only a tiny fraction of the trade's potential.
The institute said the true value of current trade is hidden in export statistics of trade with third countries. These goods are then resold to the Gulf. The institute estimates that the level of trade is greater than Israel has with Egypt and Jordan combined, despite having peace treaties with both. (i24News)
See also Assessing Israel's Trade with Its Arab Neighbors (Tony Blair Institute for Global Change)
The Assad regime's recapture of the entire Syrian Golan Heights took place in tacit consultation with Israel, coordinated by Russia. In the ongoing Israeli-Russian dialogue over the Syrian conflict, an understanding was reached on the redeployment of Iran's proxy militias and their future stay in Syria.
For years, Israel has been waging a largely covert campaign against the consolidation of Tehran's military presence in Syria. The feeble Iranian response to hundreds of (undeclared) Israeli air strikes during this period is almost certainly indicative of its inability to contend with Israel's overwhelming air superiority.
Hizbullah has not yet overcome the full consequences of its Syria intervention, and the repeated gloating of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, from his Beirut hideout - where he has been sheltering since the 2006 Lebanon war - can hardly disguise this reality. Due to increasing financial difficulties, exacerbated by the economic crisis in Iran, Hizbullah has been forced to slash the salaries it pays its operatives. As a result, and due to mounting opposition among Lebanese Shiites to its Syria involvement, Hizbullah is having difficulty recruiting new fighters to fill its depleted ranks.
Given the decapitation of the Syrian armed forces during the civil war, Assad will need to focus on consolidating his renewed grip on power and reconstructing the country. Under these circumstances, any military confrontation with Israel is likely to wreck the regime's fragile recovery. The writer is a lecturer in the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University. (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
In 1974, PLO leader Yasser Arafat addressed the UN General Assembly in military uniform with a pistol strapped to his belt. This past February, PA President Mahmoud Abbas told the UN Security Council of his "absolute readiness to reach a historic peace agreement," but he has chosen to avoid direct negotiations for peace. Abbas knows that he can circumvent the hard act of direct negotiations with Israel and seek refuge in the UN's warm embrace, which only serves to enable Palestinian rejectionism.
When the Security Council votes 14-1 in favor of condemning the sovereign U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as our capital, and when the UN continues to provide a platform for anti-Israel incitement, this only emboldens the Palestinians' rejectionism and moves us further from peace.
Israel has always sought peace with our neighbors and we welcome any effort to achieve that noble objective. But we will not be fooled into believing that the Palestinians are committed to the same goal. Through our accords with Egypt and Jordan, Israel knows the difficult choices peace demands. We eagerly await the day when the Palestinians finally let the gun fall from their hands and join us on that path. The writer is Israel's ambassador to the UN. (Washington Times)
Ramadan Dabash, a civil engineer who helped found the community center in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sur Baher, is running for a seat on Jerusalem's City Council. More than a third of the city's residents are Palestinian, but in the last election in 2013, not even 2% cast a ballot. The Palestinian Authority sees participation in Jerusalem elections as a form of collaboration.
The way Dabash sees it, the chances of a peace deal are nil. With Hizbullah, Hamas, the Islamic State and the Syrian war all within a three-hour drive, an Israeli pullout isn't happening anytime soon. To get things done, he has been willing to play ball with Israelis. He points to the community center, which is funded by Israel, as proof he can work the system and get results.
Over the past five years, remarkable changes are afoot in Jerusalem's human landscape. Worlds that have long been distinct are moving closer together. Seeing Palestinian salespeople in Israeli stores is now common. Palestinian enrollment at Hebrew University is up dramatically, as are requests for Israeli citizenship. Close to 50% of east Jerusalem wage earners are employed in west Jerusalem. In May, the Israeli government allocated $560 million to projects in east Jerusalem.
Dabash showed me a site where a 140-classroom school complex is under construction. The project was approved with the cooperation of the local Palestinian PTA, which is associated with Hamas. No one was signing a peace agreement. Everyone just wanted the kids to have a school. (New York Times)
Complaints about Israel's public diplomacy efforts appear regularly. At the same time, Israel remains hugely popular among the American public. According to Gallup, 64% of the U.S. population sympathizes with the Israelis over the Palestinians, and only 19% say they sympathize more with the Palestinians. Congress also remains firmly pro-Israel.
The Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement hasn't taken root either. As of June, 25 states have enacted anti-BDS laws. In fact, the whole point of BDS is that Israel has a positive image that needs to be undermined. You wouldn't know about BDS if celebrities didn't regularly include Israel on their world tours. (JTA)
In an Aug. 6 Vox piece about tensions between Israel and Gaza, Alex Ward told readers that the 2014 Gaza War began when "Israel started launching airstrikes on Gaza, and Palestinians responded by firing rockets into Israel." Ward is just making this up. Hamas had increased the frequency of its ongoing cross-border rocket attacks from Gaza, leading to Israeli reprisals. An even steeper increase in rocket fire prompted Israel's ground operation on July 8. The historical record is well-documented in news reports from the time.
Vox is rewriting history. In essence, it is excusing Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians by portraying them as retaliation for Israeli airstrikes that, in reality, were launched to stop the Palestinian attacks. (CAMERA)
As the Assad regime completes its takeover of southern Syria, Israel is winding down it humanitarian and medical operation that saved thousands of Syrian lives throughout the civil war. Israeli hospitals have treated 4,800 Syrian civilians since 2011, half of them children. A separate field clinic in the Golan Heights treated 6,000 Syrian civilians since last year.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former IDF Military Intelligence research division chief, said the Syrians "are much more aware than they were in the past that Israel is a force for good. In the past, due to education programs, Syrians perceived Israel as a demon that wants to expand, and which poses many dangers. Today, the Syrian public knows that Israel is a power that tried to help it, at least on the humanitarian level, during years of war. They know Israel provided extraordinary care for the sick and wounded near the border. And beyond that, that a variety of Israeli humanitarian organizations provided aid. That will remain in the Syrian public awareness."
Syrian-Druze civilians living near the Israeli border have also become more friendly towards Israel, Kuperwasser assessed. "They see Hizbullah [which fought alongside the Assad regime] as hostile. There has been an attempt to force the Syrian-Druze in the southwest village of As-Suwayda to join Hizbullah. But they have resisted this. The Assad regime is also trying to forcibly recruit them, but they refused this as well." (Investigative Project on Terrorism)
On Wednesday night, Aug. 8, many residents in the Gaza periphery were up all night due to a constant barrage of rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza. The rocket fire was meant to kill them, their children and their families. 15 people were injured and dozens more suffered from shock and distress. United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Yaakov Bar Yochai in Sderot wrote:
Just after 7:30 p.m. the red alert siren sounds and I don't have time to make it to a protective shelter when a massive explosion erupts from somewhere behind me on the next street. I rush over on my ambucycle, and see a man bleeding from cuts in his arm when pieces of shrapnel from the rocket struck him. When I finish treating him, I see that a number of people are suffering from emotional shock and I begin treating and stabilizing them. From there I am dispatched to another location in the next neighborhood where another rocket exploded after striking a direct hit in the courtyard of a house. I treat more people suffering from shock.
More sirens begin to sound, and I realize that it will likely be a very long night. I jump from location to location, wherever the rockets fall, treating the people who suffered physical and emotional injuries and comforting others who are suffering from stress reactions. Rockets fall, people get hurt, and I rush to the scene to help them. This was the pattern of my night, just like it was a few weeks ago, and just like it has been, on and off, for the past 12 years. (Ambulance Today)
It's been almost two years since I enrolled at Sapir College in Sderot near the Gaza border. For the previous four years, following the war in 2014, it had been quiet. The area was booming, with hundreds of Israelis moving in. A few months ago, that all changed. Weekly demonstrations broke out along the border and rockets started falling. The city streets began to stink of smoke from the fire kites being sent our way.
Last year I mentored a local teenage girl and asked her how she's been coping with the situation. She shrugged. "It's no biggie for me, definitely better than when we lived in Ashkelon and didn't have a safe room in the house and had to go sleep in the stairwell. Now my dad and brothers come to my room in the reinforced shelter, and it's really not so bad. Kind of like a big family sleepover." Her nonchalant attitude broke my heart. This is her reality.
Sometimes I feel that I may have made a mistake choosing to live in Sderot, because of the anxiety it causes me. Yet I've never been one to quit anything. I'm going to see it through and stick it out, whatever toll that takes. There are thousands more like me. We are the reason our country still thrives, because we don't leave, no matter how scared we are. Because we know how to weigh the enormous benefits of life in the periphery against the equally enormous challenges. (Times of Israel)
Thousands of Italian civilians helped the Nazis murder Italian Jews during the Holocaust, according to the recently translated 2015 Italian book The Italian Executioners: The Genocide of the Jews of Italy, by Simon Levis Sullam. Italy introduced anti-Jewish racial laws in 1938, two years before entering the war on Hitler's side. Jews were dismissed from their jobs, kicked out of schools, and denounced in the media. As in Germany and the Netherlands, meticulously kept records helped identify the country's 46,000 Jews.
The chapter "Hunting Down Jews in Florence" recounts that on the night of November 16, 1943, Italian Fascists, including members of the notorious Carita gang, "took part in the raid on the Franciscan convent in the Piazza del Carmine where numerous Jewish women and their children had taken refuge. They were held prisoner in the convent for four days before being transferred to Verona by truck...and deported from there to Auschwitz."
By the end of the Holocaust, 6,746 Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where nearly all of them were murdered in the gas chambers upon arrival. An additional 303 Jews were killed in massacres committed on Italian soil. Half of Italy's murdered Jews were arrested by Italians, as opposed to Germans. At the same time, more than 400 Italians who helped rescue Jews have been recognized by Israel's Yad Vashem. (Times of Israel)
Israel's NUFiltration (NUF) will provide its unique water filtration systems to thousands of people in the African country of Cameroon who currently have no access to clean water and face a cholera epidemic. With support of the Foreign Ministry, NUF will provide $15,000 worth of water treatment systems. Each system can convert eight liters of water per minute, providing the average daily water consumption for 500 people.
The device uses disinfected, recycled, high-standard dialysis filters to purify water. The filters do not require electricity and have a minimum lifespan of three years. "With the use of a medical device that otherwise would have been discarded into the waste...we purify water at the best rate possible," said NUF CEO Mino Negrin. (Jerusalem Post)
American Diplomat Offers UNRWA Exit Plan - Dave Harden (Times of Israel)
The writer, managing director of the Georgetown Strategy Group, was an American diplomat who led the U.S. assistance mission to the West Bank and Gaza for more than a decade.