U.S. Captures Suspected Ringleader of Benghazi Attack - Dan Kedmey and Zeke J. Miller (TIME-USA Today)
U.S. special forces and law enforcement personnel apprehended Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a senior leader of the militant group Ansar al-Shari'a and a key figure in the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby confirmed Tuesday.
American forces seized Khatallah on Sunday from his home south of Benghazi and took him to a U.S. Navy ship in the region.
U.S. Doesn't Know Who to Hit in Iraq - Eli Lake (Daily Beast)
American defense and intelligence officials say the CIA and the Pentagon are not certain who exactly makes up the forces that have taken so much of Iraq.
They believe some of the people fighting with ISIS are former U.S. allies who could be turned against the hard-core fanatics - if they can be identified.
Complicating the task is that ISIS has taken refuge in urban areas, making striking them without striking civilians near to impossible, said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Militants Attack Iraq's Largest Oil Refinery - Kim Hjelmgaard (USA Today)
On Tuesday, Iraq's largest oil refinery in Baiji was shut down and foreign workers were evacuated as Iraq security forces prepared for a siege of the compound by insurgents. The sprawling facility is 50 miles north of Tikrit.
The refinery came under attack from Sunni militants on Wednesday. An official speaking from inside the refinery told Reuters:
"The militants have managed to break in to the refinery. Now they are in control of the production units, administration building and four watchtowers. This is 75% of the refinery."
Palestinians Flooding Israel's Emergency Call Center with Fake Kidnapping Alerts - Dave Bender (Algemeiner)
Police officials in Israel say that 42% of all the emergency calls they field in the West Bank are being placed by Palestinians intentionally trying up tie up the lines, hobbling response time to real alerts, Israel's Ma'ariv reported on Tuesday.
"The dispatchers deal with insults and abuse on a daily basis," said a former police official.
Norway Cancels PA Donor Conference in Wake of Kidnapping - Barak Ravid (Ha'aretz)
The Norwegian government has cancelled a conference of Palestinian Authority donor countries slated to take place in Oslo next week, in the wake of the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers, Israeli and European diplomats have confirmed.
The Message Behind the IDF's Extensive Operation - Yaakov Lappin (Jerusalem Post)
The clear message behind the IDF's large-scale operation in the West Bank is that Israel will not turn the other cheek in the face of wanton terrorism against its civilians.
A second message is that Hamas will end up regretting its decision to kidnap the Israeli youths.
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- Israel Ramps Up Pressure on Hamas in Hunt for Missing Teens - Ali Sawafta
Israel on Tuesday widened a crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, detaining more than 40 members, and raising to more than 200 the number arrested since Friday. Israel accuses Hamas of kidnapping three Jewish teenagers. The Israeli army has carried out house-to-house searches, round-ups of suspects and interrogations in Hebron and other parts of the West Bank, in a mobilization on a scale not seen in years. Israel showed photographs of hundreds of weapons, including guns, seized at some of the detainees' homes.
"As long as our boys remain abducted, Hamas will feel pursued, paralyzed and threatened," said Lt.-Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman. (Reuters)
See also Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad: "The Capture of [Israeli] Soldiers in Order to Swap Them with our Prisoners; That Is What Moves Us"
In a June 2, 2014, speech broadcast on Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas Minister of the Interior Fathi Hammad said:
"This is no time to back down. This is a time to be real men, a time for determination, a time for Jihad, a time for resolution, a time to make sacrifices for the sake of Allah....What moves us is the whistling of bullets, the sound of bombs and missiles exploding for the sake of Allah, and the capture of [Israeli] soldiers in order to swap them with our prisoners. That is what moves us. This is music to our ears." (MEMRI)
- Obama Considering Airstrikes on Sunni Militants in Iraq - Mark Landler and Eric Schmitt
President Obama is considering a targeted campaign of airstrikes against Sunni militants in Iraq similar to counterterrorism operations in Yemen, a senior administration official said Tuesday. Such a campaign, most likely using drones, would hinge on the gathering of adequate intelligence about the location of the militants.
At a meeting with his national security advisers at the White House on Monday, the official said, Obama was presented with a "sliding scale" of military options. Given all the hurdles to effective military action, Obama is continuing to emphasize a political solution to the crisis, the official said. A senior official played down the extent of any coordination with Iran.
(New York Times)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- IDF Arrests 51 Prisoners Released in Shalit Deal - Yoav Zitun
Through Tuesday night, the IDF has arrested 240 Palestinians, including 51 Hamas members who were released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange, as part of Operation Brother's Keeper, in response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teens. (Ynet News)
See also West Bank Operation Delivers a Strategic Blow to Hamas - Ron Ben-Yishai
The kidnapping may have won Hamas some credit on the Palestinian street, but in the long term, Hamas may lose the chance to achieve its strategic goal - a political and physical takeover of the West Bank, as it had done in Gaza.
Israel's operation against Hamas is meant to thwart a Hamas takeover of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.
- Israel Tells PA: Abduction Was Perpetrated with Approval of Senior Hamas Officials - Daniel Siryoti and Shlomo Cesana
A senior Palestinian source confirmed that during a phone conversation between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, the prime minister presented Abbas with clear evidence of Hamas' involvement in the abduction, which was perpetrated with the knowledge and approval of senior Hamas political officials.
The senior PA source said, "The understandings with Hamas, which made it possible to create the unity government...included commitments from Hamas not to undertake violence and terror. But the more evidence is collected, the more it appears that Hamas betrayed the trust it was given and that the organization exploited the reconciliation agreement to throw sand in our eyes and reopen its terrorist network in the West Bank, which harms not only Israel but also the Palestinian Authority." (Israel Hayom)
- Abbas: Kidnapped Youths "Must Be Returned" - Aron Donzis
PA President Mahmoud Abbas spoke out Wednesday against the kidnapping of three Israeli teens and demanded their immediate release. During a visit to Saudi Arabia he said:
"Those who perpetrated this act want to destroy us [the Palestinians]. The three young men are human beings just like us and must be returned to their families." In his address at the Organization of the Islamic Conference Abbas said:
"It is in our interest to have security coordination with Israel because that would help protect us....I say it frankly, we will never have another intifada - that would destroy us."
A senior Palestinian official said that if it was proved that Hamas was behind the kidnappings, the PA would reevaluate the unity pact.
(Times of Israel)
See also Fatah Relishes Chance to Undermine Hamas - Yoav Limor
Anyone communicating with PA officials over the past few days has heard only outrage over the abduction, as well as satisfaction over Israel's actions against Hamas in the West Bank.
- IDF Is Targeting Hamas - Yaakov Lappin
Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon, who heads the IDF's Central Command, said Tuesday, "The heads of Hamas are feeling the hits and understand the message." When the IDF's military operation is over, Hamas will be a much weaker organization, Alon said.
Hamas made a strategic error in carrying out the kidnapping, a senior security source said. He argued that Hamas will be harmed "because it will be isolated. There were those who wished to make concessions to Hamas. Now it placed a sign on itself saying, 'I'm terror.'"
"We are hurting the [Hamas] organizational infrastructure politically, financially, and in other ways." The Palestinian population understands the IDF's actions are aimed at Hamas and not at it, he said.
- Iran Is Not an Ally in Iraq - Michael Singh
During the second Iraq war, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was one of the U.S.' fiercest foes. The IRGC was responsible not only for organizing, training and equipping Shiite militants who fought U.S. troops, but also for manufacturing and importing the "explosively formed penetrators," one of the chief banes of American forces there. Also courtesy of Tehran: mortar and rocket attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad.
For this reason, it is more than strange to hear both American and Iranian officials mooting the possibility of U.S.-Iran cooperation in Iraq today. Accepting Iran's offer of assistance in Iraq would be a grave mistake.
ISIS would likely welcome deeper Iranian involvement. ISIS would take this as a propaganda boon and use it to attract funding and fighters.
Deeper IRGC involvement would also increase Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki's dependence on Iran.
What is needed from Iran is not more involvement in regional conflicts, but less. Specifically, Tehran must end its support for the Assad regime in Syria; its provision of arms, funding and equipment to Sunni and Shia extremist groups alike (such as Hizbullah and Hamas); and its nuclear brinkmanship.
The writer is managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
(Wall Street Journal)
- Demographic Upheaval: How the Syrian War is Reshaping the Region - Pinhas Inbari
The current upheavals in the Middle East are producing new demographic realities.
In Syria the Alawite-Shiite components are gaining strength. The Syrian ethnic-cleansing policy includes the Palestinians in Syria, where the regime is systematically destroying the refugee camps to cause Sunni emigration.
The Sunnis in Syria are leaving for Lebanon and undermining Hizbullah's status. The influx of Sunni refugees in Jordan from Syria and Iraq has led to a reduction in the relative weight of the Palestinians, diminishing the "Jordan is Palestine" threat. The West Bank is undergoing emigration pressures which will certainly be copied in Gaza if emigration is allowed.
Some minority communities in the Levant and in Libya are expressing a positive attitude toward Israel and repudiating pan-Arabism.
The writer, a veteran Arab affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, currently serves as an analyst for the Jerusalem Center.
(Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
The U.S. Should Not Cooperate with Iran on Iraq - Michael Doran and Max Boot (Washington Post)
- It's sometimes true that very different countries can cooperate against a common enemy, as the United States and Soviet Union did during World War II. But the suggestion of a united U.S.-Iran front is more reminiscent of the wishful thinking among conservatives who argued in the 1930s that Britain and the U.S. shared a common interest with Nazi Germany in countering communism.
- The idea that the U.S., a nation bent on defending democracy and safeguarding stability, shares a common interest with the Islamic Republic of Iran, a revolutionary theocracy that is the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism in the world, is as fanciful as the notion that Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler could work together for the good of Europe.
- We have grown accustomed to Pakistan playing both arsonist and fireman at the same time - sheltering bin Laden and supporting jihadist groups while winning aid from Washington by portraying itself as a partner in the war against terrorism. Iran is adept at playing a similar game. Indeed, the non-jihadist Syrian opposition insists that ISIS is a creation of Iran. There is much evidence that Iran and its Syrian allies have cooperated with ISIS.
- In 2012, the Treasury Department identified Iran as supportive of ISIS, which has reportedly grown fat in no small part due to deals with the Assad regime for oil from wells under its control. That's right. According to Western intelligence sources, Assad has a business partnership with ISIS.
Michael Doran is a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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