Prepared for the Conference of Presidents
March 23, 2018
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
The U.S. says it had constructive talks with its European partners last week on changes to the Iran nuclear agreement, but it is making contingency plans in case the talks fail and President Trump decides to pull out of the 2015 deal. Lead negotiator and State Department Policy Planning Director Brian Hook said Wednesday, "We have had constructive talks with the Europeans...but I can't predict whether we will reach an agreement with them or not....We always have to prepare for any eventuality, and so we are engaged in contingency planning because it would not be responsible not to."
Hook conceded Tehran is in "technical compliance" with the terms of the Iran nuclear agreement, but pointed to a shift in policy, saying the Trump administration is taking into consideration the totality of Iran's actions in the world, including its support for terrorism. (VOA News)
Saudi Arabia has opened its airspace for the first time to an Israel-bound Air India passenger plane, breaking a 70-year ban on flying over the Arab kingdom. "This is a historic evening. The Israeli skies are connecting with the Saudi Arabian skies in one direct flight," said Israeli transport minister Yisrael Katz. "We are celebrating the strengthening relations with India and the first civilian connection with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states."
There was no confirmation that the Israeli flagship carrier El Al will be granted airspace access. Avoiding Saudi Arabia typically adds hours to Israel-bound flights. (Guardian-UK)
President Donald Trump has named former U.S. UN Ambassador John Bolton, 69, as his new national security adviser, succeeding Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. (Wall Street Journal)
See also Zionism Is Not Racism - John R. Bolton (New York Times, Dec. 16, 1991)
Federal prosecutors have dismissed all criminal charges against seven bodyguards of Turkish President Erdogan who were involved in beating protesters in Washington, D.C., in May 2017 outside the Turkish ambassador's residence. Video of the incident "appears to show security forces belonging to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pushing past police and violently breaking up the demonstration," NPR reported. (WAMC-Northeast Public Radio)
See also Erdogan Security Forces Launch "Brutal Attack" on Washington Protesters, Officials Say - Nicholas Fandos and Christopher Mele (New York Times, May 17, 2017)
See also Dismissal of Charges Against Erdogan Bodyguards Draws Criticism - Dion Nissenbaum (Wall Street Journal)
Turkish singer and actress Zuhal Olcay was sentenced to 10 months in jail for "insulting" President Erdogan, Hurriyet reported on Thursday. The Istanbul Prosecutor's Office stated that Olcay had made an insulting hand gesture against Erdogan during a concert in Istanbul on Aug. 5, 2016, and had revised lyrics to a song to criticize Erdogan. The prosecutor sought a four-year prison sentence. (Hurriyet-Turkey)
The Jordan Gendarmerie Training Academy, the second U.S.-funded counterterrorism center in the pro-Western kingdom, opened on Thursday in Al-Swaqa. At the center, law enforcement officers from partner countries in the Middle East and beyond can practice shooting, storming hideouts and responding to bomb threats.
Paul Davies, director for the State Department's Office of Anti-Terrorism Assistance, says that additional training centers are to be built in Senegal and Kenya. Earlier this week, Tunisian police officers practiced storming rooms in the new center. (AP-ABC News)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
U.S. officials reached out to Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and director of Palestinian intelligence General Majid Faraj in letters last week after they were targets of a bombing during a visit to Gaza. Senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner and special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt wrote: "We were deeply troubled to hear about the March 13 attack on your motorcade. We are relieved that you are unharmed, and we wish a speedy recovery to your injured staff."
"This attack underscores that only the Palestinian Authority, in cooperation with regional and international partners, can provide Gaza with a freer, more prosperous future in which Gazans can fully utilize their potential. Gaza needs responsible and responsive governance - not militant and extremist groups that seek conflict and are profoundly unfit to govern. Yesterday's incident demonstrates once again that Hamas is profoundly unfit to govern Gaza. Please convey our best wishes for recovery to those injured. Working together, we can bring a better future to all Palestinians." (Jerusalem Post)
See also Palestinians Call to Put U.S. Ambassador Friedman on "Global Terror List" - Khaled Abu Toameh
The Palestinian Authority Ministry of Information in Ramallah on Thursday called for U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman to be added to a "global terror list." (Times of Israel)
At the end of last month, following America's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Israeli finance minister and security cabinet member Moshe Kahlon marched into the Muqata in Ramallah with a broad smile on his face, and declared in Arabic, "Rahat a-Quds!" (You've lost Jerusalem!). Those present, familiar with Kahlon's direct but endearing style, responded with forgiving amusement and shook the hand of their guest. It wasn't Kahlon's first visit to Ramallah, or his first meeting with senior Palestinian Authority officials.
Since he became finance minister, he has succeeded in developing a quiet channel with the Palestinian leadership. First it was on the basis of economic cooperation, while later other issues were added. His conversations are sprinkled with the Arabic he learned from his parents. Kahlon is currently Israel's only active diplomatic channel with the Palestinians. (Ha'aretz)
Greek firm Energean Oil & Gas said Thursday its board has approved its investment to develop the Karish and Tanin natural gas fields off Israel's shores. The two fields are earmarked to supply natural gas to the domestic market. Energean said it has already secured long-term gas agreements with some of the largest private power producers and industrial companies in Israel to purchase the gas. A 90-km. gas pipeline will link a floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) facility to the Israeli coast, with the supply of gas starting in 2021. (Times of Israel)
61% of Israeli Jews and Arabs expect the transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem for Israel's 70th Independence Day will spark a violent Palestinian eruption against Israel, according to the Peace Index survey of March 13-14, 2018, released Thursday. At the same time, 69% of Israeli Jews said the embassy transfer should not be postponed, while 78% of Israeli Arabs said it should be postponed. In addition, 70% of Israeli Arabs said they do not expect a violent Palestinian eruption against Israel after PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas retires or passes away. (Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University)
Senior Hamas figure Isma'il Radwan said the "great return march" events at the Israel-Gaza border would begin on March 30, and the "march of the millions" would be held on May 15. After tent camps are erected 500 meters from the fence, there will be an effort to enlist masses of Palestinians who will "march toward their lands." (Israeli Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
Israel's 2007 Attack on Syrian Nuclear Reactor
Declassified: On September 2007, Israel destroyed the nuclear reactor in Dier ez-Zor, Syria, one of the most important military operations in the IDF's history. The premise that led Israel in its decision to attack was that the existence of an operational nuclear reactor in Syria would represent a potential existential threat to the State of Israel. "When faced with today's reality, the decision to destroy the reactor is one of the best decisions made in Israel over the past 70 years," declared Lt. Gen. Amikam Norkin, Commander of the IAF.
"We realized that we were facing an event of national significance," said Lt.-Col. (res.) S. "During this operation I learned that when facing a crisis, every branch and department in the IDF can work together and focus on the mission." (Israel Air Force)
Won't Israel's detailed statement admitting to bombing Syria's clandestine nuclear reactor in 2007 force the Syrian president to retaliate? In 2007, Syria possessed hundreds of ballistic missiles, as well as an enormous arsenal of chemical weapons. Today, the Syrian army is a shadow of its former self and can barely shore up the regime. Assad, who controls 70% of Syria's territory today, knows that if he becomes embroiled in conflict with Israel, he may lose everything he fought so hard to gain since the onset of the civil war.
Israel's public taking of responsibility was intended to signal to Tehran that Israel still abides by the "Begin doctrine" and will not allow a country with which it is still in a state of war to obtain nuclear weapons. This strategic signal is doubly important now, when President Trump is threatening to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal and Iran is counter-threatening to resume its nuclear program with vigor. It is crucial for Israel's national security that the Iranians remember that renewing the nuclear arms race may carry disastrous repercussions for them. The writer, a veteran journalist, won the Israel Prize in 2018. (Ynet News)
The few Arab networks that did inform their viewers about the Israeli media reports acknowledging the 2007 airstrike that destroyed Syria's nuclear reactor in Deir ez-Zor were noticeably overjoyed at Assad's misfortune. There was also palatable relief in the region's capitals at the thought that Assad was kept from developing nuclear weapons. Is there any doubt regarding his willingness to use nuclear weapons on his own people or against his opponents in the region?
But the silence in Damascus and the Arab networks' low profile regarding the Israeli news in no way suggests that the Arab world isn't closely monitoring Israel's every move. Some Arabs interpreted the timing of Israel's publication as a clear and simple message to Iran: that Jerusalem is determined, just as it was in the past, to nip any security threat in the bud. This message is also addressed to the many other hostile Arab states. The writer, vice rector at Tel Aviv University, is former director of its Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. (Israel Hayom)
As President Trump prepares for direct negotiations with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, one of the administration's goals should be to permanently halt Pyongyang's arms sales to the Middle East. North Korea continues to export dangerous military technologies to countries such as Iran, Syria, and Egypt. Evidence of North Korea's clandestine role in building a plutonium-producing reactor in Syria emerged in 2007. Israeli jets ultimately destroyed Syria's reactor in September 2007, killing a number of North Koreans working at the site.
The UN found that Pyongyang has been deploying engineers to Syrian chemical weapons and missile plants in recent months, including at facilities in Hama, Adra, and Barzah. UN, U.S., and Middle Eastern officials continue to express concerns about North Korea's suspected missile cooperation with Iran. The writer is a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
Israel and Hamas have engaged in three large-scale conflicts and numerous smaller-scale flare-ups since it came to power in Gaza more than ten years ago. The IDF recently held a war exercise for its infantry commanders to prepare them for the challenges of combat in Gaza. Officers simulated fighting in and around tall residential towers, which double as military bases for Hamas, which uses them as command posts, lookouts, and firing positions.
Maj. Guy Madar, a key planner of the drill, explained, "In this last drill, we focused in a major way on the concept of the 360-degree threat. The fact is that the enemy can appear from above and below....When [our soldiers] enter the combat arena, they could have [enemy] people under their feet. And they need to look up."
He added, "This exercise is about Gaza. We wanted to achieve four training goals: nighttime combat; fighting in armored vehicles; combat in closed urban areas, with a strong emphasis on tall buildings and tunnels; and focusing on the smaller units, at the level of platoons and companies." The IDF thinks these smaller units will ultimately decide the outcome of urban battles against Gaza's armed factions.
The drill involved new quadcopters that recently entered service in the IDF. The drones have revolutionized the ability of company commanders to receive an aerial picture of their battle space. Platoon commander 2nd Lt. Nadav Serlin described an unprecedented level of intelligence that commanders now receive about the threats that await them in Gaza. The writer is a research associate at the BESA Center. (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
The population of the east Jerusalem neighborhoods of Kafr Akab and Shuafat, areas outside the security fence, now numbers about 140,000 people, about a third of the population of east Jerusalem. The great majority of housing in these neighborhoods was built without authorization. 30-40% of the residents moved in from areas in the West Bank. These areas suffer from a low level of municipal infrastructure and services, illegal weapons, and generally a severe lack of governance.
In order to improve governance in these areas, it is proposed that these neighborhoods be removed from the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem and be governed by their own municipal authorities, while remaining within the State of Israel. This will enable the local residents to improve their situation considerably and invest more funds in infrastructure and services. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
Campus anti-Israelism does not operate like a genuinely academic movement governed by ordinary intellectual norms (such as objectivity, rigor, and the pursuit of truth) and moral or social norms (such as civility and respect). A movement governed by those norms would favor freedom of speech and welcome the diversity of views. But campus anti-Israelists refuse even to consider the possibility that Israel is not entirely evil and that Israeli Jews, being not entirely demonic, have their own legitimate claim to self-determination.
No, anti-Israelism - particularly in its invasions, disruptions, and personal attacks - is about something much darker. Not dialogue, debate, and free exchange of ideas; not openness, pluralism and diversity, and the pursuit of knowledge that (ought to) characterize the Western university, as well as the civilization of which the university is the heart - but rather: Silencing. (Tablet)
Nobel laureate Jose Saramago not long ago claimed that "what is happening in Palestine is a crime we can put on the same plane as what happened at Auschwitz." But "genocide" isn't merely a matter of opinion; it's measurable.
At the end of the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel took over the territories from Jordan, the average Palestinian in the West Bank and Gaza expected to live just 49 years, according to a UN report. Since 1984, Palestinians have lived an average of 75 years. That's not only higher than the global average, but longer than the life expectancy in many Arab and South American countries - and even in some European countries. Israeli Arabs, meanwhile, have the highest life expectancy in the Muslim world.
Next time a commentator starts to catastrophize about Israel, cheer them up with truths of increasing Palestinian life expectancy, declining infant mortality, growing populations, improved water conditions, amazing literacy, and comparatively low casualty rates. "Relative to population size," says Israeli journalist Ben-Dror Yemini, "more Palestinians have died in traffic accidents than in violent clashes with Israel." The writer is communications director for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). (Weekly Standard)
On my Norwegian passport is the name of my birthplace in Iran. I am a Kurd. I came to Norway with my parents as a young boy. They fled from Iran after my father's brother was tortured and killed in an Iranian prison, suspected of supporting a Kurdish movement.
It has been six months now since the world's largest ethnic group without its own nation state held a referendum on Kurdish independence in the Kurdish areas of Iraq, where 93% said "yes." Since the referendum, the Kurdish population of northern Iraq has been living under major economic and political sanctions. The reactions from the West have been minimal, although the Kurds have been prominent in the struggle against Islamic State. The only support came from Israel, and was expressed by Prime Minister Netanyahu.
We know what the Jews have been through, we know that the Jewish people need their own state to defend themselves, and we know that the Jewish people are one of the proudest people in the world. Israel is the only real democracy in the Middle East, a country that defends Western Christian-Jewish culture, democracy, human dignity and humanism.
We Kurds are Western-oriented and want a Kurdish democratic state. We thank Israel for the support of our cause. It is time that other Western countries also wake up and support a group fighting for democracy and contributing to the fight against terrorism. For Western countries to support a Palestinian state, but show total disinterest in establishing a state for us Kurds, demonstrates a double standard. In addition, we have also noticed that the Palestinian Authority has failed to support us. The author is leader of the Democrats in Norway. (Jerusalem Post)
Hodaya Koskas, 14, from Israel, and Barrett Brickell, 71, a retired schoolteacher from Ottawa, Canada, have been video chatting every week since September through Israel Connect, a program where older North American adults tutor Israeli kids in English once a week via video chat. For seniors, the program is a relatively easy way to connect with Israel and help kids. For kids, the sessions expand their vocabulary, improve their pronunciation, and introduce them to North American culture.
Brickell, who taught for nearly 20 years, now tutors three kids as part of Israel Connect. "I end up liking them a lot. The time I get to spend with young people is very meaningful to me, and I have a feeling that they enjoy it." Israel Connect now has 400 volunteer tutors and 500 Israeli high school students from 35 schools, mostly on Israel's periphery. There is a waiting list of 100 schools that want to join the program. Most of the students' chats happen while they're at school, under a teacher's supervision. (JTA)
Zambia President Edgar Lungu met Tuesday with Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman. He said that bilateral relations between Zambia and Israel should result in economic growth if best practices, especially in agriculture, which Israel has implemented well, are emulated. (Lusaka Times-Zambia)
Video - In Moscow: Asserting Israel's Legal Rights to the Golan Heights - Dore Gold (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
Dore Gold told the Valdai conference in Moscow on February 19, 2018:
Amb. Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center, is a former Israeli ambassador to the UN and a former director-general of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
See also Time for International Recognition of Israeli Sovereignty in Golan - Dan Lavie
At a Kohelet Policy Forum conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Zvi Hauser, a former cabinet secretary, and Itzik Tsarfati, a former attorney and chairman of the Coalition for the Israeli Golan, presented a policy paper (in Hebrew) that calls for international recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
"Israel has an opportunity to receive recognition of its sovereignty over the Golan as a consequence of the war in Syria," they argue. "Israel must aspire toward international recognition that the 1967 borders are no longer sacrosanct and of the need to change the border in accordance with the current reality on the ground." (Israel Hayom)