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November 7, 2014

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. General: Coalition Airstrikes Are Demoralizing Islamic State Forces - Eric Marrapodi (CNN)
    Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, who heads the U.S. Central Command, said Thursday that airstrikes to erode Islamic State's capabilities were "having the desired effects."
    Austin also said the coalition was able to listen in on IS communications. "As we listen to them, we know that the impact of the precision strikes is demoralizing to them."
    See also The Tide Is Turning Against ISIS in Iraq - Riyadh Mohammed (Fiscal Times)
    The past two weeks have seen Iraqi military victories near Baghdad, and in Diyala, Salahuddin, and Ninevah provinces to the east and north of the city.
    In Mosul, 150 ISIS fighters were killed in the last 10 days of October and more were injured in coalition airstrikes.
    The ISIS military commander of Nineveh province, Bashar al-Jarjari, and his counterpart in Salahuddin province, Ala' al-Mashhadani, as well as ISIS leaders in Fallujah and Ramadi provinces were among those killed in the fighting.

Explosions Target Fatah Officials in Gaza (AP-ABC News)
    A series of coordinated explosions targeted the homes of several leaders of PA President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party in Gaza on Friday.
    Fayez Abu Eitta, a Fatah leader in Jebaliya, said no one was hurt in the near-simultaneous attacks.
    He said his car was destroyed and the homes and cars of two other Fatah officials were damaged.

Report: Secret U.S. Contacts with Iran Since 2007 - Eli Lake (Daily Beast)
    In 2007, 2008 and 2009, the U.S. intelligence community participated in talks led by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad with representatives of Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran's Quds Force and the man currently reported to be helping lead Iraq's ground campaign against the Islamic State.
    To date, much of the details of the diplomacy and even the interim deal between Iran and the West that resulted from private discussions with the Iranians in Oman are shrouded in secrecy.
    "The Iranians insisted on secrecy, for them the sensitivity about meeting bilaterally with Americans is very acute," said Gary Samore, who served as the White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction in Obama's first term.

Second Jerusalem Attack Victim Dies (Jerusalem Post)
    Shalom Aharon Baadani, 17, who was critically injured in a terror attack at the Jerusalem light rail on Wednesday, succumbed to his wounds on Friday.
    See also "Car Intifada" Cartoon Campaign Encourages More Palestinian Vehicle Attacks - Elior Levy (Ynet News)
    After a number of terror attacks using vehicles as lethal weapons, Palestinians have termed these efforts a "car intifada" and are posting cartoons online likening vehicles to rockets launched by Hamas.
    See also East Jerusalem's Shuafat Refugee Camp a Terrorist Stronghold, Security Sources Say - Jonathan Lis and Gili Cohen  (Ha'aretz)
    The Shuafat refugee camp in east Jerusalem, home of Ibrahim Akari, the perpetrator of an attack on Wednesday that killed two Israelis, has been the source of many of the terror attacks in recent months in the Jerusalem area, security sources say.

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Video: Israeli Border Police Resuscitate Electrocuted Palestinian Boy in Hebron (Tazpit-Jerusalem Post)
    Israeli Border Guard officers on patrol in Hebron on Wednesday saved the life of a Palestinian boy after finding him unconscious, not breathing, and with no pulse.
    They continued with CPR until an ambulance arrived. Thanks to the efforts of the policemen in those first minutes, the boy's life was saved.

U.S. Cuts Funds for Investigating Assad's War Crimes - Colum Lynch (Foreign Policy)
    The U.S. State Department plans to cut its $500,000 in annual funding next year to the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), a group of international war crimes prosecutors that documents the war crimes of Syrian President Assad's regime, according to a senior U.S. official.
    The funding shift has raised concerns that the U.S. is reducing its commitment to holding the Syrian leader accountable for atrocities because the interests of Washington and Damascus are converging over the fight against the Islamic State.

New Documentary Film Follows Five Israeli Soldiers - Yitzhak Benhorin (Ynet News)
    The documentary film "Beneath the Helmet," to be screened on university campuses across the U.S., seeks to shed light on the Israeli military experience.
    The film's producers accompanied five paratroopers from diverse backgrounds for a year.
    See also Video: "Beneath the Helmet" - From Basic Training to the Battlefield - A Coming of Age Story (Jerusalem U)
    This year thousands of Israeli high-school graduates will be drafted. Those joining combat units will spend at least eight months in training. This is their story.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Military Chief: Israel Went to "Extraordinary Lengths" to Limit Civilian Casualties in Gaza - David Alexander
    U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that "Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties" in the recent war in Gaza. "In this kind of conflict, where you are held to a standard that your enemy is not held to, you're going to be criticized for civilian casualties." "They did some extraordinary things to try and limit civilian casualties, to include...making it known that they were going to destroy a particular structure."
        He said the IDF, in addition to dropping warning leaflets, developed a technique called "roof-knocking," dropping a low-yield explosive or non-explosive device on a rooftop, to advise residents to leave sites they planned to strike.
        Dempsey said civilian casualties during the conflict were "tragic, but I think the IDF did what they could" to avoid them. "The IDF is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They're interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip and into Israel."  (Reuters)
        See also U.S. Sent Team to Learn Israel's Tactics in Gaza War - Michael Wilner
    The U.S. sent a team of senior officers to Israel three months ago to learn from Israel's tactics in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza over the summer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said on Thursday. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Obama Wrote Secret Letter to Iran's Khamenei about Fighting Islamic State - Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee
    U.S. President Barack Obama secretly wrote Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last month and described a shared interest in fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Obama stressed to Khamenei that any cooperation on Islamic State was largely contingent on Iran reaching a comprehensive agreement with global powers on the future of Tehran's nuclear program by a Nov. 24 diplomatic deadline. The letter marked at least the fourth time Obama has written Iran's political and religious leader since taking office in 2009 and pledging to engage with Tehran's Islamist government.
        Obama and senior administration officials in recent days have placed the chances for such a deal at only 50-50. "There's a sizable portion of the political elite that cut their teeth on anti-Americanism," Obama said on Wednesday about Iran's leadership. "Whether they can manage to say 'Yes' an open question."  (Wall Street Journal)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu Assures Jordan King Abdullah: Temple Mount Status Quo Won't Change - Barak Ravid and Jonathan Lis
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned King Abdullah II of Jordan on Thursday to assure him of the maintenance of the status quo on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Netanyahu also undertook to preserve the special status of Jordan regarding the Temple Mount and the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, as specified in the peace agreement between the two countries. Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel on Wednesday. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Prime Minister Netanyahu Speaks with King Abdullah of Jordan (Prime Minister's Office)
        See also below Observations: Palestinian Radicals Are Desecrating the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • Egypt Creating Buffer Zone along Gaza Border
    Residents are being evicted from land adjacent to Egypt's border with Gaza to create a buffer zone. Security sources said aerial photography has revealed the existence of at least 200 tunnels below houses slated for evacuation, and in some cases two or more tunnels lead from a single home. Homeowners with tunnels beneath their homes are not eligible for compensation. While the initial zone is to be 500 meters wide, some tunnels extend as far as two km. into Egyptian territory. (Al-Ahram-Egypt)
        See also Egypt Levels Sinai Homes to Battle Islamist Militants
    At nine Egyptian villages in Sinai along the frontier with Gaza, 680 houses - homes to 1,165 families - are being razed to seal off smugglers' tunnels and try to crush a militant insurgency. While Egypt has destroyed most of the larger tunnels once used to smuggle cars and trucks, hundreds of smaller tunnels have evaded detection. (Reuters)
        See also Egyptian Cleric Defends Forced Evacuation of Families from Sinai - David D. Kirkpatrick (New York Times)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

    Islamic State

  • The Roots of the Islamic State's Appeal - Shadi Hamid
    In September, ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani expounded on his group's inherent advantage: "Being a victory." Religion - rather than ideology - matters. ISIS fighters are not only willing to die in a blaze of religious ecstasy; they welcome it.
        ISIS draws on ideas that have broad resonance among Muslim-majority populations. The notion of a caliphate - the historical political entity governed by Islamic law and tradition - is a powerful one, even among more secular-minded Muslims. (Atlantic)
  • Middle East Meltdown - Aaron David Miller
    IS emerged, gained power, and is now operating more effectively because it exists in an environment of failed or failing states. Indeed, IS feeds on Sunni grievances created by bad governance - either in the form of the Assad regime's murderous policies toward Sunnis, or Shia oppression of Sunnis in Iraq.
        The IS crisis has effectively enhanced Iran's role and influence. And as the Nov. 24 deadline for a deal on the nuclear issue looms, Tehran has become even more important to U.S. policy. It is Iran, rather than any Arab state, that sits at the nexus of almost every issue America cares about in the region, from Syria, to Lebanon, to the nuclear issue, to Iraq, to the Palestinians. And the Saudis and the Israelis know and resent it, further complicating their ties with Washington.
        As the Arab world melts down, America's capacity to pressure its close ally Israel decreases. If there's a deal with Iran on the nuclear issue, Washington will have its hands full trying to get Israel and Congress to support it. Washington needs to keep Jerusalem close; pressuring Israel on any issue while IS beheads Americans and the Arab world is in turmoil just doesn't compute. (Foreign Policy)
  • Why Iraqi Army Can't Fight, Despite $25 Billion in U.S. Aid, Training - David Zucchino
    On June 9 in Mosul in northern Iraq, a federal paramilitary police division and two army divisions disintegrated as thousands of soldiers and police officers shed their uniforms, dropped their weapons and ran for their lives before attacking Islamic State fighters. "Our commanders were afraid of Daesh [IS]. They were too afraid to lead us," said police officer Hussein Shehab, 43. The military collapsed in Mosul even though Washington spent eight years and $25 billion to train, arm and equip Iraq's security forces.
        Iraqi security force members acknowledge that many Sunnis and other minorities see the Shiite-led army as a brutal occupying force. Under former Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shiite, Sunnis were driven out of the security forces and replaced by Shiites. Worse, Maliki integrated Shiite militias, accused of torturing and killing Sunnis, into the army and police. "The army became Maliki's private militia," said retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, who was in charge of military training in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
        Shehab said U.S. training was useful. But as soon as the American advisors left, "our commanders told us to ignore what the Americans taught us." Shehab and others said their ranks in Mosul were infiltrated by Islamic State agents posing as police or soldiers. The militants knew their plans and operations, they said, and some commanders were sympathetic to Islamic State.
        Eaton said without competent ground forces, U.S. and coalition airstrikes will have minimal effect because they cannot teach the "moral component" to fight and die for a common cause. "Until the Iraqi soldier in his eyes is a legitimate actor for a legitimate government, we are not going to have any hope of success."  (Los Angeles Times)
  • Long-Term War Against IS Needs to Be Fought by Iraqis and Syrians - Walter Pincus
    The fight against the Islamic State will last for years, and U.S. military power won't decide the issue. "It's a three- to four-year effort, because that's what it's going to take to get the indigenous forces prepared and to do this," Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. Army's chief of staff, told CNN on Wednesday. "The long-term war against [the Islamic State] needs to be fought by the indigenous capability there. It needs to be fought by Iraqis. It needs to be fought by Syrians. It needs to be fought by other Arabs, because it's their country and they need to win that back."  (Washington Post)

  • Other Issues

  • Iran Marks Ashura and the Takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran - Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall
    On Nov. 3, Iran marked the Ashura, when Shiites all over the world mourn the martyrdom of Hussein bin Ali, the Third Imam of the Shiite faith, in the Battle of Karbala [in today's Iraq] in the year 680. On Nov. 4, Iran observed the anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Demonstrators chanted and carried banners proclaiming, "Death to America," "Death to Israel," and "Death to Britain," and flags of these countries were burned.
        The death of Imam Hussein in Karbala some 1300 years ago remains a formative factor for Shiites and underlies the tenets of sacrifice and martyrdom. Iran's drive for regional and Islamic hegemony backed by nuclear weapons is largely aimed at rectifying the historical injustice caused to the Prophet's family members at the dawn of Islam and by the West's "arrogance" toward the Muslim world.
        Over the next 40 days thousands of Shiites from all over the world will make their way to the Imam Hussein Shrine in Karbala. Last year, two million faithful made the pilgrimage. The conquest of parts of Iraq by the Islamic State, along with the intensification of the Sunni-Shiite struggle, are likely to make this journey to Karbala by Shiites from various parts of Iraq (and the Shiite world) into a bloody affair. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Why the Arab Peace Initiative Is Not a Suitable Platform for Meaningful Negotiations - Zalman Shoval
    The so-called "Arab Peace Initiative" has undergone numerous changes since it first appeared in Thomas Friedman's 2002 New York Times column. Then Saudi crown prince Abdullah's original wording - expressing, at least in spirit, a willingness to declare an end to the conflict and aiming at establishing normal relations with Israel - was changed at the 2002 Beirut Arab League meeting. The final document became a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum to Israel.
        While calling on Israel to withdraw unconditionally to the pre-'67 armistice lines, including in Jerusalem, it deliberately omitted UN Security Council Resolution 242, the universally-agreed basis for Arab-Israeli peace - which had specifically related the location of future borders to the question of security.
        The Beirut summit also called for the return of the Palestinian refugees on the basis of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which the Arabs interpret as meaning a "right of return" to Israel. Significantly, former American national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, in a joint article in the Washington Post some years ago, proposed several alterations in the Arab Peace Initiative, including a specific denial of the "right of return," as well as "strengthening steps to address Israel's security concerns."
        If the Arab Peace Initiative had been presented, as Jordan's esteemed foreign minister, Marwan Muasher, suggested at the time, as a "simple and powerful explanation of the Arab position" and not as an "either or" dictate, it could perhaps have served as a suitable platform for meaningful negotiations. In its present form it is not. The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also The Arab Peace Initiative: A Primer and Future Prospects - Joshua Teitelbaum (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • The Dictators' Mutual Praise Club - Sohrab Ahmari
    At the UN Human Rights Council on Friday, it was Iran's turn to undergo its Universal Periodic Review of its rights record. The North Koreans praised the ayatollahs for making "commendable achievements in the field of political, economic, social and cultural rights." The Syrians commended Tehran for "the adoption of new laws and regulations" that allegedly promote human rights. Sudan "warmly welcomed" Iran's human-rights progress in the face of international sanctions. All this during a week when Iran executed Reyhaneh Jabbari, a 26-year-old woman convicted in 2007 for killing an Iranian intelligence officer who she said had attempted to rape her.
        Welcome to the crown jewel of the UN human-rights system. Of the 47 current members of the council, 23 are classified as unfree or partly free by Freedom House. Meanwhile, Israel remains the only country to be subject to a permanent agenda item, and more than half of the council's country-specific resolutions and condemnations are directed at the Jewish state. (Wall Street Journal Europe)

  • Weekend Features

  • Israeli Start-Up Helps Farmers Save Water and Reduce Pesticides - David Shamah
    Israeli agricultural technology firm AutoAgronom was one of 25 finalists chosen from 128 participants at the biggest start-up contest in the world, MassChallenge 2014. In September, the company was acquired by Yuanda Enterprise Group, a Chinese conglomerate. With the acquisition, AutoAgronom will bring its advanced, smart sensor drip irrigation technology to the world's most populous country.
        AutoAgronom uses sensors attached to plant roots embedded in the ground to analyze soil conditions, weather, water levels, and nutrient levels in the soil, and pest conditions. The system then directs the computerized water and pest control systems on exactly how much of each to release and when to release it for maximum positive effect. In the UK, for example, strawberry farmers have been able to cut down on water use by 30% and increase yield by 28% while reducing their use of pesticides by 70%. (Times of Israel)
  • Israel Aerospace Towing System Approved for Boeing 737 Jets - Tova Cohen
    The TaxiBot system developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has been certified in Europe and Israel for airport towing of the Boeing 737 narrow-body jet. TaxiBot is a semi-robotic, pilot-controlled vehicle designed to transport planes from airport gate to the runway and back without using the aircraft's engines, reducing CO2 emissions and noise. "This innovative system will create an eco-friendly revolution in the commercial aviation industry and will save millions of dollars in fuel for airlines, ground-handling companies and airports worldwide," IAI Chief Executive Joseph Weiss said. (Reuters)

Palestinian Radicals Are Desecrating the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

  • In the past few months, Palestinian radicals have been trying to breach the status quo by preventing Christians and Jews from visiting the Temple Mount. Palestinian rioters - incited by Hamas and the radical branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel - have attacked visitors as well as the police with stones and fireworks, using the Al-Aqsa Mosque as their base of operations.
  • On Nov. 5, several dozen masked Arabs again rioted on the Temple Mount. The rioters came out of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and launched stones and fireworks at police. The police responded with non-lethal measures to prevent injuries.
  • The rioters then returned to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, positioning themselves behind barricades they built the night before. They targeted the police with hundreds of fireworks, rocks and iron bars prepared beforehand, all from within the mosque itself. Several police officers were injured.
  • Following the escalation of attacks from inside the mosque, a small number of officers walked a few steps into the mosque's entrance to remove the barricades that were preventing the mosque's doors from being shut. By closing these doors, the police separated the rioters from their targets, thereby restoring calm to the Temple Mount and enabling peaceful visits to the plaza.
  • A video filmed by the Israel Police clearly shows the Palestinian rioters at the entrance to the mosque, which they have taken over and desecrated as a launching base for their attacks.
  • Israel has made no move to change the decades-old status-quo on the Temple Mount, to which the Government of Israel is committed. Its goals are to allow Muslims to pray peacefully and for Jews and others to visit safely.
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