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DAILY ALERT

June 3, 2015

In-Depth Issue:

Iran's Rouhani Vows to Back Syria 'Until the End of the Road' (Reuters)
  Iran will back Syria's President Bashar al-Assad until the end, Iranian news agencies quoted President Hassan Rouhani as saying, signaling undimmed support for Tehran's Arab ally following major gains by armed opposition factions in recent weeks.
  "Tehran has not forgotten its moral obligations to Syria and will continue to provide help and support on its own terms to the government and nation of Syria," President Hassan Rouhani said.


Assad Recruits Afghan Mercenaries to Fight ISIS - Tom Coghlan (Times - UK)
  Iran is offering thousands of dollars to Shia mercenaries from Afghanistan and Pakistan to join the fight to keep President Assad of Syria in power.
  According to Shia community leaders in Kabul, the recruitment drive is co-ordinated by the Iranian embassy in the Afghan capital.
  


Five Requirements for a Good Deal with Iran (AIPAC)
  1. Inspection and verification.
  2. Possible military dimensions.
  3. Sanctions relief only after Iran complies with its commitments.
  4. Duration.
  5. Dismantlement.


Five Reasons Why Israel and India Can Be All-Weather Friends (Economic Times - India)
  1. "Modi'fied" Political Relationship.
  2. Expanding Strategic Ties.
  3. Trade.
  4. Countering Terror.
  5. Tourism.
  
    See also Modi's Upcoming Israel Tour: An Overdue Visit to a Steady Ally (Hindustan Times)
If there is any remaining Indian ambivalence left on Israel, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to remove that.


Islamist Extremist Killed by Hamas Forces in Gaza as Tensions Soar - Adel Zaanoun (AP/Daily Star - Lebanon)
  A local Salafist leader was shot dead in Gaza City Tuesday during a confrontation with Hamas security forces as tensions mounted between the Strip's Islamist rulers and its extremist opponents.
  The violence came as Hamas police and security forces stepped up measures against militants belonging to Islamic extremist groups. The extremist tried to blow himself up with a suicide vest but was shot dead before it detonated.
  There have also been attacks claimed by groups purporting to be from an ISIS branch in Gaza, although such claims have so far been largely discredited.
  


Islamic State Reaps Profits from Pillaging Antiquities - Louisa Loveluck (Gulf News - Dubai)
  The Islamic State (IS) has established a “Ministry of Antiquities” to maximize the profits from looting priceless artifacts across the territory it controls. In a territory replete with classical ruins, IS's ministry is doing its best to promote smuggling.
   In Iraq, the radicals have desecrated and looted the Assyrian remains at Mosul, Nimrud and Hatra. Earlier this month, they captured the Roman city of Palmyra in Syria, raising fears that the site might suffer the same treatment. When IS set up its self-described “Islamic Caliphate,” it imposed a 20 per cent tax on looted antiquities.
    See also Assad’s Militias Spirited Away Palmyra Treasures - Hannah Lucinda Smith (The Times (UK))
Paramilitaries loyal to President Assad looted Palmyra days before the city was captured by ISIS, in a pattern of “empty-and-retreat” repeated in areas that are falling into rebel hands across the north of the country.


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News Resources - North America and Europe:

  • Obama Raises Possibility of Allowing U.N. Vote on Palestinian Statehood - Christi Parsons and Michael A. Memoli
    President Obama took a step toward a tougher line with Israel in an interview released Tuesday, raising the possibility that the U.S. will allow a United Nations vote on issues related to the Palestinians if the two sides make no meaningful movement toward peace.
      In an interview with an Israeli television station, Obama noted that his administration has “up until this point” quashed such efforts at the U.N. while insisting that the Israelis and Palestinians must negotiate a resolution. But he said it is a challenge for the U.S. to keep demanding that the Palestinians negotiate in good faith if no one believes the Israelis are doing the same.
      “How do we move off what appears right now to be a hopeless situation and move it back towards a hopeful situation?” Obama asked in the interview. “That will require more than just words. That will require some actions. And that’s going to be hard work, though, because right now I think there’s not a lot of confidence in the process.”
      “If, in fact, there’s no prospect of an actual peace process, if nobody believes there’s a peace process, then it becomes more difficult to argue with those who are concerned about settlement construction, those who are concerned about the current situation,” Obama said. “It’s more difficult for me to say to them, ‘Be patient and wait because we have a process here’ -- because all they need to do is to point to the statements that have been made saying there is no process.”
      Obama’s critical tone toward Netanyahu, describing him as someone who is “predisposed” to “think perhaps that peace is naive,” appeared to return to the tough language that marked administration statements earlier this spring.
      The apparent shift in tone seems “hard to understand,” said a Democratic strategist with close ties to the White House. Previous White House criticisms of the prime minister clearly strengthened Netanyahu electorally, he said.
       Read transcript (Los Angeles Times)
  • The New Iranian Hostage Crisis - Eli Lake
    When the family of Amir Hekmati, an Iranian-American Marine, learned he was taken prisoner in 2011, the State Department told them to keep quiet. Family members were told Amir would be in greater danger if they went to the media than if they remained discreet.
      That silence now looks like a mistake. In testimony Tuesday before Congress, Sarah Hekmati, Amir's sister, said, "Our family learned later that our silence allowed Amir to suffer the worst torture imaginable." The Marine's torture was both physical and psychological. Amir's feet were beaten with cables. His kidneys were shocked with a Taser. He was drugged by his interrogators, who then forced him to suffer through withdrawal.
      Other prisoners have not had even this much contact. Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, has not been heard from since he was captured in 2007, according to testimony Tuesday from his son, Daniel Levinson. Ali Rezaian, the brother of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, said he last spoke to his brother in July, before Jason was arrested. Naghmeh Abedini has not been able to talk to her husband, the Christian pastor Saeed Abedini.
      John Kerry is not offering to trade more favorable concessions to Iran in exchange for promises to release Rezaian, Hekmati, Abedini or Levinson. But U.S. diplomats have raised their cases on the sidelines of these talks with Iranian officials.
      Several lawmakers said they would not support a nuclear deal with Iran if Americans were still detained. (Bloomberg View)
  • P5+1 Asked to Interview Iran’s Security Council Secretary - Arash Karami
    On May 13, when International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano said that the agency expects Iran would permit inspections of military sites as part of a comprehensive nuclear deal, conservative Iranian media outlets reacted harshly, vowing that Iran would not allow such a thing.
      The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) had reportedly presented Iran a list of names of nuclear scientists to be questioned by the IAEA. In an interview with Iranian TV on May 30, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), added a twist to the controversy when he said that his name was “first” on the list of those the P5+1 had requested to interview. (Al Monitor)
  • U.S. Met Secretly With Yemen Rebels
    Top-level Obama administration envoys met secretly last week for the first time with Yemen’s Houthi rebels and pressed for a cease-fire in their country and the release of Americans detained by the group, according to U.S. and Arab officials.
      U.S. officials said the State Department notified Saudi Arabia before the meeting in Oman, in recognition of what Mideast analysts said was a political and diplomatic risk by the Obama administration. One Saudi spokesman in Washington said he was unaware of the meeting.
      Saudi Arabia also views its airstrikes against Houthi rebels as a campaign against Iran, which has armed and trained Houthi military units. (Wall Street Journal)
  • News Resources - Israel, the Mideast, and Asia:

  • Britain’s Student Union Votes to Boycott Israel - Tamar Pileggi
    The UK’s National Union of Students passed a motion Tuesday to join worldwide efforts to boycott Israel over what it called Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. The NUC’s Executive Council passed the motion dubbed “Justice for Palestine,” with 19 members voting in favor, 12 against and three abstaining.
      An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the decision had “little practical implications, since this body has already voiced anti-Israel opinions in the past.” In the wake of the vote, the British Government restated its firm opposition to calls to boycott Israel. (Times of Israel)
        See also Netanyahu: British Student Union that Now Boycotts Israel, Refused to Boycott ISIS - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
  • Remembering Three Abducted Teens with Unity Prize - Danny Adeno Abebe?
    A year has gone by since the abduction and murder by Hamas terrorists of Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel; and the anniversary will be marked Wednesday evening with the awarding of the Jerusalem Unity Prize named in memory of the three.
      A joint initiative of Jerusalem's mayor, the non-profit organization founded in memory of the three teenagers and the Gesher NGO, the ceremony and prizes come to celebrate and honor organizations and individuals involved in building unity among the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora. (Ynet)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • State Department: We’re All ‘Totally Perplexed’ by New York Times Story on Iran’s Increased Nuclear Stockpile - Andrew Kugle
    State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said U.S. officials were “totally perplexed” by a New York Times story Tuesday on Iran’s 20 percent increase in nuclear fuel over the past 18 months. Would the increased stockpiles complicate the current negotiations?
      “Not at all. Our team read that story this morning and was quite frankly perplexed because the main contentions of it are totally inaccurate,” Harf said. "The notion in the story that western officials or U.S. officials involved were unaware of this issue or not understanding of what this entails is just absurd,” Harf said. “Under the JPOA (Joint Plan of Action), Iran can fluctuate its numbers in terms of their stockpile. They can go up and down as long as at the end of fixed date they are back down below a number.”
      The Institute for Science and International Security analyzed the question of whether Iran could meet its obligations regarding five percent low enriched uranium, and authors David Albright and Serene Kelleher-Vergantini assessed that “Iran has fallen behind in its pledge to convert its newly produced LEU hexafluoride into oxide form. There are legitimate questions about whether Iran can produce all the requisite LEU oxide." (Washington Free Beacon)
  • Arab Affairs Analyst Predicts Near-Term Fall of Assad Regime - Abraham Rabinovich
    The near-term fall of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria was forecast Wednesday by Ehud Ya’ari, the highly respected Arab affairs analyst for Israel’s Channel Two.
      “It can happen very suddenly,” he said on his channel’s main news program. “Unless Iran does what it hasn’t done so far—send in their own forces in significant numbers—Assad is finished,” said Ya’ari, who closely monitors events in the Arab world and is normally cautious in his projections. “Assad no longer has enough troops to move around.” (Washington Free Beacon)
  • Observations:

    Paying Tehran’s Bills. Sanctions Relief Will Only Empower Iran - Lee Smith (Weekly Standard)

  • The White House continues to insist, against all evidence, that Iran’s aggression won’t increase when it gets a huge cash infusion from sanctions relief and an immediate $30 to $50 billion bonus, when (or if) it signs the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the nuclear deal.
  • Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s Syria envoy, recently estimated that the war to prop up its Syrian ally is costing Iran $35 billion a year. Of all Iran’s regional projects, keeping Bashar al-Assad’s regime afloat is the costliest. And that’s because it’s an occupation, says Fouad Hamdan, campaign director of Naame Shaam, an organization that keeps tabs on Iran’s war in Syria.
  • What Tehran is most keen to obscure, says Hamdan, is the fact that its war in Syria is an occupation. Syrian rebel fighters acknowledge that the Syrian army still exists in places, but, according to Hamdan, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is calling the shots.
  • “In the chain of command,” says Hamdan, “Gen. Qassem Suleimani is on top, and the IRGC-Quds Force commander takes his orders directly from the Supreme Leader. Under him is Hossein Hamedani, who oversees IRGC operations in Syria. Then there’s the Iranian ambassador, various IRGC commanders, and Hizbullah commanders. Hizbullah does most of the training and takes on the most dangerous missions. Then there are other militias, like Iraqi and Afghan fighters, at the bottom.”
  • Without Iranian assistance, Hizbullah will find itself drowning in a sea of Sunnis—from villagers in the Bekaa Valley to Islamist militants in the Palestinian refugee camps. Add to those numbers the 1.2 to 2 million Syrian refugees, the vast majority Sunni, now in Lebanon thanks to Iran and Hizbullah’s occupation of their homeland.
  • Sanctions relief will abet Iran’s regional goals. The signing bonus alone will cover the costs of Iran’s continued occupation of Syria for at least another year and lead to tens of thousands more dead Syrian civilians.

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