Opening New Iraq Front, U.S. Strikes ISIS in Tikrit - Rod Nordland and Peter Baker (New York Times)
American planes began airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Tikrit on Wednesday, joining a stalled offensive to retake the Iraqi city as American officials sought to seize the initiative from Iran, which had taken a major role in directing the operation.
For more than three weeks, the Americans had stayed on the sidelines of the battle, wary of aiding an essentially Iranian-led operation.
President Obama approved the airstrikes on the condition that Iranian-backed Shiite militias move aside to allow a larger role for Iraqi government counterterrorism forces that have worked closely with U.S. troops.
Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards who has been advising forces around Tikrit, was reported on Sunday to have left the area.
Antisemitism Is a Central Component of Palestinian Authority Ideology - Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik (Palestinian Media Watch)
On Feb. 27, PA TV broadcast Muslim preacher and professor of Quranic Studies Imad Hamato, saying:
"Humanity will never live in comfort as long as the Jews are causing devastating corruption throughout the land....If a fish in the sea fights with another fish, I am sure the Jews are behind it."
In February, the Fatah-run TV channel Awdah broadcast a PA TV documentary that justifies the persecution of European Jews throughout history as an act of self-defense.
Last year, an ADL survey found that 93% of adults in the West Bank and Gaza answered "probably true" to a majority of the antisemitic stereotypes tested in the survey.
See also Video: Children's Army of Hamas (Center for Near East Policy Research)
Hamas engages in training child soldiers, in violation of international law.
"You are the generation that is being trained to fight - although you are young. You are being trained for jihad," senior Hamas official Khala al-Hayya is seen telling young children at a Hamas military training camp.
Women Fought for Hamas in Gaza War (The Times-UK)
Om Adam, 40, is a veteran fighter and wife of a senior commander in the Nasser Salahuddin Brigades. She said there were several hundred female fighters in Gaza, and that the women fighters had become increasingly important because they could move more freely, passing on weapons, food and information to the men.
Some were engaged in direct combat, said Om Khadija, 24, a female fighter who manned an RPG and several rocket launchers during the two months of fighting last summer.
IsraAID Brings Aid to Vanuatu after Cyclone (IsraAID)
As the IsraAID team walked up the path, the chief of one village on the remote island of Tongoa broke down in tears, explaining, "It's been ten days since the disaster, and these are the first supplies we have received."
The situation was the same all across Tongoa and Mataso. In total, the team visited 12 villages, distributing rice, flour and drinking water.
In the coming days a third IsraAID team will leave for Vanuatu, and will include medical and psycho-social staff, and a water engineer.
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- Saudi Arabia Begins Air Assault in Yemen - Mark Mazzetti and David D. Kirkpatrick
Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday it had launched a campaign in Yemen to restore the Yemeni government after Shiite Houthi rebels took control of large swaths of the country. Saudi Arabia said it had launched airstrikes in coordination with a coalition of 10 nations. (New York Times)
See also Obama Authorizes Support for Saudi Operations in Yemen - NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan
Saudi Arabia, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, and others will undertake military action to defend Saudi Arabia's border and to protect Yemen's legitimate government. President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC-led military operations. While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support.
See also Iran Urges Immediate End to Saudi Attacks in Yemen (Press TV-Iran)
See also The U.S. Dropped the Ball on Yemen - Ron Ben-Yishai
The U.S. has once again messed up big time - this time in Yemen, where it underestimated the military might of the Houthis, who are backed by Iran and Sunni tribes loyal to the old regime. The Americans also understand the strategic significance of the capture of the Bab-el-Mandeb strait by a Shiite tribe loyal to Iran, which now controls the entrance to the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean.
But the U.S. National Security Council and President Obama were so hell-bent on the need to fight al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen that they failed to see the much greater threat being created right under their noses.
- Iran Stalls UN Probe into Its Atomic Past - Jay Solomon and
Talks over Iran's nuclear program have hit a stumbling block because Tehran has failed to cooperate with a UN probe into whether it tried to build atomic weapons in the past, say people close to the negotiations.
In response, the U.S. is revising its demands on Iran to address these concerns before agreeing to finalize a nuclear deal which would repeal UN sanctions.
The ability of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify whether Iran is abiding by any deal to prevent it from racing to develop a nuclear weapon depends, in part, on an understanding of its past work.
The U.S. is seeking to get Iran's upfront approval to implement a scaled-back version of the IAEA's 2013 agreement with Iran to a 12-step work plan to resolve questions related to possible weaponization work. IAEA head Yukiya Amano said Iran has addressed only one of the 12 areas. (Wall Street Journal)
See also Iran Says No Snap Inspections of Nuclear Sites - Amir Vahdat (AP)
- Amnesty International Charges Palestinians with War Crimes during Gaza Conflict
Palestinian armed groups repeatedly launched indiscriminate rockets and mortars towards civilian areas in Israel during the 2014 Gaza conflict, Amnesty International said in a new report published Thursday. The attacks launched from inside Gaza amount to war crimes. In one deadly incident, 13 Palestinian civilians - 11 of them children - were killed when a Palestinian rocket exploded next to a supermarket in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza on July 28. An independent munitions expert who examined the available evidence on behalf of Amnesty concluded that the cause was a Palestinian rocket.
The report details other violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian armed groups, such as storing rockets in civilian buildings, including UN schools, and cases where Palestinian armed groups launched attacks or stored munitions very near locations where hundreds of displaced civilians were taking shelter.
See also The Gaza War 2014: Hamas' Crimes Against Humanity - Alan Baker (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- Netanyahu Pledges Peace, Eyes Better U.S. Ties - Hazel Ward
Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu extended a "hand of peace" to the Palestinians Wednesday as he was formally tasked with forming a government after his reelection. The prime minister also pledged to shore up ties with Washington while continuing to oppose an emerging nuclear deal with Iran. (AFP)
See also Netanyahu's Statement Upon Being Appointed to Form a New Government (Prime Minister's Office)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Delegation of Arab Knesset Members Meets Abbas in Ramallah
President Mahmoud Abbas received a delegation from the Arab Joint List at his headquarters in Ramallah on Tuesday. Abbas publicly supported the Joint List in the run-up to the elections. (Ma'an News-PA)
See also Abbas Meeting with Israeli Joint List Blurs Green Line - Renee Lewis
A meeting in Ramallah between the PA leadership and representatives of the Arab Joint List had a symbolic meaning greater than the political clout of the politicians. Blurring the Green Line that separates Israel from the West Bank affirmed a common identity between Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and those in the West Bank.
The result could be more coordination of protests, where campaigns by Palestinians inside Israel are adopted by those in the West Bank and Gaza, and vice versa. (Al Jazeera-U.S.)
- Egypt Cuts Power Supply to Gaza for Non-Payment - Daniel Siryoti
Egypt's Ministry of Electricity and Energy cut power to Khan Yunis and Rafah in southern Gaza this week due to outstanding debts owed by a Palestinian utility company.
- Recent Comments from Washington Are Undermining U.S. Policy - Zalman Shoval
The patronizing reaction in parts of the American media and from certain officials in Washington to the outcome of the Israeli elections is a slap in the face to Israel's democracy and its people's right to make up their own mind.
The Palestinian position clearly indicates that compromise and concessions are to be made by Israel alone. Unfortunately, the recent comments emanating from Washington can only encourage Abbas to persist in his strategic quest to achieve statehood not by direct talks with Israel but through the UN and other international bodies. This would be in direct contravention of established U.S. policy.
The president expressed his misgivings about "seeing a chaotic situation in the region" - but unfortunately that situation is already here, all over the Middle East - and it has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as President Obama himself admitted in his last year's UN speech.
There was also the mantra of "expanding" settlements, though America closely monitors everything going on beyond the former "Green Line" and knows that in fact there has been little settlement-related activity for many years - except in the big settlement blocs whose area is no greater than 5% of the West Bank. The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S.
- An Ugly Double Standard for Israel - Lawrence J. Haas
President Barack Obama's vow to reassess U.S.-Israeli relations after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's campaign remarks about a Palestinian state showcases his badly skewed views of Israel.
If Obama takes Netanyahu "at his [election-driven] word," one can't help wonder why he's so willing to ignore the far more explosive words of Iran's leader. "Of course, yes, death to America," Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a speech on Saturday. (Nor should we forget that Khamenei continues to call for Israel's annihilation.) The writer, former communications director for Vice President Al Gore, is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.
- Allies Behaving Badly:
Where Is the White House Headed on Israel? - Daniel W. Drezner
Last week, the Obama administration was doing a lot of throat-clearing about the need to reevaluate relations with Israel after Benjamin Netanyahu's reelection. The administration's tone has been remarkably inflexible despite Netanyahu's post-election efforts at a walk back. What gives?
The Wall Street Journal quoted a senior administration official saying, "The Israelis really better be careful because a lot of these people will not only be around for this administration but possibly the next one as well." I have never seen a senior administration quote like that one directed against an ally. The writer is a professor of international politics at Tufts University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Recognizing Iran as a Nuclear Threshold State: Implications for Israel and the Middle East - Yoel Guzansky and Udi Dekel (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
- The Iranian leadership seeks an agreement that, in addition to leaving it with access to its nuclear technology, also rewards it with both removal of the sanctions and international recognition of its special status in the Middle East.
- The status of a threshold state will leave Iran with the possibility of arming itself with nuclear weapons within a short time span, when it decides to break out to military nuclear capability.
- Recognition of its status as a threshold state will help Iran expand and enhance influence in the region, enable it to provide a "defensive umbrella" to the allies and non-state proxies in the region that it supports, and grant it "blackmail power" vis-a-vis third parties.
- Removal of most or all of the sanctions imposed against it will provide Iran with resources to promote its regional goals and make it less economically vulnerable.
- Above all, the international community will likely fear that a challenging policy toward the Iranian regime in the face of its negative behavior in the Middle East and inside Iran could cause the ayatollahs to breach the nuclear agreement and cross the nuclear threshold.
Yoel Guzansky, a senior research fellow at INSS, is a former Iran Coordinator in Israel's National Security Council.
Brig. Gen. (ret.) Udi Dekel, managing director of INSS, was head of the Strategic Planning Division in the Planning Directorate of the IDF General Staff.
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