IS Defector: Beheaded Hostages Didn't Realize They Were Going to Die (Sky News-UK)
"Saleh," a former translator for the terrorist group Islamic State, confirmed to Sky News
that "Jihadi John" is indeed Mohammed Emwazi, a Briton who has killed a number of foreign hostages.
He is "the big boss," the one who gives orders to others. Saleh saw Emwazi kill Japanese hostage Kenji Goto.
He said the hostages were compliant when it came to their deaths because they did not realize they were going to die since they had been subjected previously to mock executions.
Emwazi told Salah to tell the hostages: "No problem, only video, we don't kill you."
Syria's Assad Tightens Grip after Four Years of War - Sammy Ketz (AFP)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad enters his fifth year of war with an increasingly tight hold on power.
Alarm over the sweeping expansion of the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria and Iraq means that international priorities have shifted away from Assad's removal.
"Assad has improved his position internationally. The U.S., EU states and others are no longer demanding his immediate departure," said Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
Today, the regime controls 40% of Syrian territory, home to 60% of the population.
See also Syria Rebel Group Anfal Brigade Defects to Regime (Daily Star-Lebanon)
Sixty fighters from the Anfal Brigade in a Damascus suburb have fled en masse to a nearby regime-held area, amid reports that the fighters had agreed to join the National Defense paramilitary group.
Satellite Images Show Syria in the Dark (AP-Washington Post)
Researcher Xi Li has watched Syria's civil war unfold through nighttime satellite imagery, as 83% of the country's lights have gone out.
A visiting scholar at the University of Maryland's Department of Geographic Sciences, Li said 97% of the lights in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, have gone out. Even the capital, Damascus, is 35% dimmer.
In Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State, 96% of the lights are out.
Iran's Economy: Fading Hope (Economist-UK)
Iran's economy is suffering from the effects of sanctions, a plummeting oil price and decades of mismanagement, not to mention the cost of funding militias and dictators in the region. Living standards are falling.
Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards run a sprawling commercial empire.
Hopes of foreign investment are stymied by strong opposition from hardliners in Tehran, many of whom bridle at the notion of foreign companies on their turf.
See also Is Iran a "Paper Tiger"? - Pinchas Landau (Jerusalem Post)
Behind the ballistic missiles and whirring centrifuges, Iran is facing a demographic implosion of massive proportions with the birth rate plunging from its pre-Islamic revolution level of seven births per woman down to sub-replacement levels today.
Between economic strangulation and demographic asphyxiation, Iran is not in good shape and is certainly not in a position to throw its weight around regionally, let alone globally.
But that clearly isn't stopping it from trying to do so.
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
- U.S. Extends Sanctions on Iran
On Wednesday, President Obama extended the existing sanctions on Iran for a year. In explaining the move, he said in a statement: "The crisis between the United States and Iran resulting from certain actions and policies of the Government of Iran has not been resolved." He noted that the interim agreement with Iran - the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) - "marks the first time in a decade that Iran has agreed to take, and has taken, specific actions that stop the advance and roll back key elements of its nuclear program."
"Nevertheless, certain actions and policies of the Government of Iran are contrary to the interests of the United States in the region and continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. For these reasons, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency declared with respect to Iran and to maintain in force comprehensive sanctions against Iran to deal with this threat." (White House)
- Saudi Nuclear Deal Raises Stakes for Iran Talks - Jay Solomon and Ahmed Al Omran
Saudi Arabia has quietly signed a nuclear-cooperation agreement with South Korea, raising concerns that a deal with Iran, rather than stanching the spread of nuclear technologies, risks fueling it. Saudi Arabia's former intelligence chief, Prince Turki al-Faisal, has publicly warned that Riyadh will seek to match the nuclear capabilities Iran is allowed to maintain as part of any final agreement reached with world powers.
U.S. officials said there is particular concern about Saudi Arabia's decades-long military alliance with Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state with a history of proliferating military technologies. A number of senior Arab officials have warned the White House in recent months the Saudi government could seek Pakistan's aid in developing nuclear technologies - or even buy an atomic bomb - if it sees an agreement with Iran as too weak.
"The proliferation of nuclear technologies is a nightmare the White House would like to discount rather than contemplate," said Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "This is more than just an imaginary threat." (Wall Street Journal)
- Iraqi Forces Break Islamic State's Hold on Tikrit in Major Battle - Erin Cunningham
Iraqi troops and Shiite militia fighters backed by Iran pushed into one of the Islamic State's most important strongholds Wednesday, breaking the militants' hold on the city of Tikrit. Iraqi security officials said the majority of Tikrit had been freed but that battles continued. They said the jihadists had laced Tikrit with explosive devices designed to slow the government advance.
See also U.S.-Trained Iraqi Forces Investigated for War Crimes - James Gordon Meek
U.S.-trained and armed Iraqi military units are under investigation for committing some of the same atrocities as ISIS, American and Iraqi officials told ABC News. Some Iraqi units have already been cut off from U.S. assistance over "credible" human rights violations. The investigation, being conducted by the Iraqi government, was launched after officials were confronted with dozens of videos and still photos that appear to show uniformed Iraqi soldiers massacring civilians, torturing and executing prisoners, and displaying severed heads.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Egypt Feels the Squeeze from Jihadis, U.S. and Hamas - Avi Issacharoff
Although the American administration recently agreed to provide the Egyptian Air Force with Apache attack helicopters, it has been making it increasingly difficult for Cairo to make additional military purchases. For example, the U.S. is delaying the shipment of tanks, spare parts and other weapons that the army desperately needs in its war against Islamic State.
Egypt is currently facing the extremist group in Sinai, where Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has sworn allegiance to IS, and in Libya, where jihadists have established substantial military bases while sending terrorists into Egypt.
In Sinai, the vast majority of attacks these days are being carried out near the Gaza border, raising strong suspicion that the Sinai terrorists are receiving significant assistance from Gaza.
This is the source of Egyptian hostility toward Hamas.
As a condition for thawing relations, Egypt has demanded that Hamas extradite Sinai terror suspects currently in Gaza - including Egyptian Shadi el-Menei, close the smuggling tunnels, and terminate the arming and training of terrorists.
Egypt says it will not permanently open the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Sinai until PA leader Mahmoud Abbas places security forces there, without a Hamas presence.
(Times of Israel)
- Hamas Drones Said to Enter Egyptian Airspace - Stuart Winer
Hamas drones reportedly flew out of Gaza and into Egyptian airspace above Sinai several times last week, the Egyptian Al Osboa newspaper reported. The UAVs penetrated as far as El Arish and Sheikh Zuweid, some 50 km. from the Egypt-Gaza border. Egypt is not allowed to station anti-aircraft weapons in Sinai.
(Times of Israel)
- Iran Is No Partner in the Fight Against the Islamic State - Ali Alfoneh and Michael Pregent
The threat of the Islamic State not only makes the Iraqi Shia more dependent on Tehran and legitimizes Iran's military presence in Iraq, it also provides the regime in Tehran with another bargaining chip in nuclear negotiations with the P5+1.
After the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, the civil war in Iraq, followed by the rise of Islamic State, forced moderate Iraqi Shia, who otherwise would have pursued a line independent of Iran, to become dependencies of Tehran.
The small contingent of U.S. advisers in Iraq is relying on a heavily Iranian-influenced Iraqi sectarian intelligence and security apparatus. The Iraqi security forces are predominantly Shia and, in addition, Shia militias and "advisers" from the IRGC Quds Force are now fighting as legitimate Iraqi forces.
This creates an environment in which targeting operations developed by Iranian forces and the militias have primacy over those developed by the U.S., leading to the possibility that Washington could be portrayed by Islamic State as complicit in the indiscriminate targeting of Sunnis. Such operations will be perceived the same way by the very Sunnis we need to fight Islamic State. Ali Alfoneh is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Michael Pregent is a former intelligence officer and military adviser and now adjunct at National Defense University.
(Long War Journal)
See also Iran Occupies Iraq - Editorial
In the battle over Tikrit, the dominant forces are Shiite militias supplied and coordinated from Iran. Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, is supervising the attack against Islamic State. U.S. air strikes have been crucial to pinning down Islamic State forces, but Iran is benefitting on the ground.
Iran is essentially building an arc of dominance from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut. The result is that an enemy of the U.S. with American blood on its hands is taking a giant step toward becoming the dominant power in the Middle East.
(Wall Street Journal)
- Iran's Next Supreme Leader and the Nuclear Deal - Mehdi Khalaji
With reports surfacing about the deteriorating health of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
there are many signs that the next supreme leader is going to be even more of a hard-liner and would be in a position to renege on any pact with the West. Given the current makeup of the Assembly of Experts, the body which chooses the supreme leader, it would certainly choose a hardliner who might be even more aggressive on foreign policy than Khamenei. The writer is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
How the AP Botched Its Investigation of Civilian Deaths in the Israel-Hamas War - Richard Behar and Gary Weiss (New York Observer)
- On Feb. 13, 2015, the Associated Press published an article that gave its readers a disturbing picture of Israel as indiscriminately slaughtering civilians during last summer's war with Hamas in Gaza. We conducted an investigation of the AP investigation and found that the news agency reached faulty conclusions based on selective information, cherry-picked quotes, and a survey set into motion by politically biased NGOs.
- For example, the lead photo shows a child standing amid the wreckage where his father, mother and two siblings were killed in an Israeli airstrike. The posed photo identifies his father - a Hamas commander - as a "Hamas policeman."
- Libby Weiss, head of the North American media desk for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), told us that "Mostafa Jamal Malakeh, born in 1983, was part of the Hamas rocket apparatus in Zeitoun, and was responsible for firing rockets into various areas in Israel."
- Reuven Erlich, who heads the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, points out that Malakeh was omitted from casualty lists generated by Hamas-affiliated agencies, even though his wife and child were on such lists. Erlich confirmed that Malakeh was identified in a YouTube memorial video as a local commander in the "Al-Zeitoun Battalions" of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.
- How did the AP get the idea for this article? AP says, "In the initial stages, the AP's reporting was guided by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, a Gaza human rights group, and the Israeli rights group, B'Tselem." Both organizations have a widely known political agenda hostile to Israeli policies. Al Mezan once attempted to bring former prime minister Ehud Barak to trial for "war crimes" in the wake of previous hostilities in Gaza.
Not describing the political agenda of these groups appears to violate the AP's code of ethics.
- Eado Hecht, a defense analyst from the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, points out that the AP focused on fatalities killed within houses, while approximately 2,500 Palestinian rockets and mortars were fired deliberately or by mistake into Palestinian residential areas by Hamas. Thus, he said, it is not clear how many of the casualties cited by the AP were a result of such "friendly fire."
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