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October 2, 2015

In-Depth Issues:

Islamic State Gaining Ground on Golan Border as Moderate Rebels Wither - Elhanan Miller (Times of Israel)
    Islamist groups in southern Syria are growing stronger, with IS fighters now operating openly near the border with Israel, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army said Thursday.
    He said 500-700 Islamic State fighters are currently active in the towns of Jamlah and Ash-Shajarah, adjacent to the Israeli border in the southern Golan Heights.
    No ammunition or weaponry has reached the Free Syrian Army on the southern front in three months, he added.
    Salaries have also been cut, he noted. Islamist Nusra Front combatants earn $300 a month and the salary of IS fighters can reach $500, while the average FSA combatant earns just $70 a month.
    "If the donor states do not take a firm stand, within two months most fighters in the southern front will switch to Nusra or ISIS," he said.

Wake-Up Call on Syrian Army Weakness Prompted Russian Intervention - Ian Black (Guardian-UK)
    Syrian military weakness, painfully exposed over the last few months, is the main reason for direct Russian intervention in Syria.
    Analysts say Moscow decided to deepen its involvement after the fall of the northern towns of Idlib and Jisr al-Shughour in May served as a "wake-up call" about the state of the Syrian army.
    The Syrian army is estimated to be down from a pre-war figure of 300,000 to between 80,000 and 100,000. Fatigue, desertions and losses have taken a heavy toll.
    Alawites - the Assad family's minority sect - are no longer ready to fight for Sunni areas but only to defend their own homes.
    "Idlib fell very quickly because Syrian soldiers were simply not prepared to fight," said one Syrian expert. "Ahrar al-Sham [a rebel group] were surprised how quickly the regime defenses crumbled."

Bahrain Expels Iranian Diplomat (AP-New York Times)
    Bahrain ordered the acting Iranian charge d'affaires to leave on Thursday and recalled its own ambassador over allegations that Iran sponsored "subversion" and funneled arms to militants in Bahrain.
    Bahraini authorities said Wednesday that they had seized 1.5 tons of explosives at a militant hide-out.

Council of Europe Cancels Anti-Circumcision Measure after Joint Jewish-Muslim Effort - Lahav Harkov (Jerusalem Post)
    The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe reversed its recommendation that countries ban ritual circumcision when it passed a resolution on religious freedom on Thursday.
    The resolution, which passed 73-6, recommends that PACE member states "seek reasonable accommodations with a view to guaranteeing equality that is effective, and not merely formal, in the right to freedom of religion."
    It gives general guidelines to allow religious communities to practice their faith and recommended that states require circumcisions to be performed by people trained to do so.

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Christian Evangelicals in Jerusalem Show Love for Israel - Daniel Estrin (AP-U.S. News)
    Thousands of evangelical Christians from more than 80 countries descended upon Jerusalem this week to show their support for the Jewish state, including pilgrims and politicians from countries with a history of hostility toward Israel.
    "Israel has no better friends throughout the world," Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a videotaped address Tuesday.
    The annual weeklong Feast of Tabernacles, held during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, included a flag-waving parade through the streets of Jerusalem.

Life in the Islamic State: Spoils for the Rulers, Terror for the Ruled - Kevin Sullivan (Washington Post)
    White vans come out at dinnertime, bringing hot meals to unmarried Islamic State fighters in the city of Hit in western Iraq.
    A team of foreign women, who moved from Europe and throughout the Arab world to join the Islamic State, work in communal kitchens to cook the fighters' dinners.
    Foreign fighters and their families are provided free housing, medical care, religious education and even a sort of militant meals-on-wheels service.
    But local people interviewed said their daily lives are filled with fear and deprivation in the Islamic State "caliphate."

Generation ISIS: The Western Millennials Stocking the Terror Army - Kimberly Dozier (Daily Beast)
    1,000 foreign fighters a month are still traveling to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS, despite the Obama administration's year-long campaign to target ISIS and tighten regional laws and borders against militants.
    U.S. counterterrorist officials estimate that some 250 U.S. citizens have tried to travel to join the fight, with 60 of them formally charged for attempting to travel or traveling to the region and providing support, Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said.

Have Donors Forgotten Gaza? (IRIN News)
    A year after pledging $3.5 billion to help Gaza recover from last summer's conflict, donors have delivered barely a third of the aid they promised.
    Saudi Arabia and Qatar have only handed over 10% of their vast pledges.

Israel to Supply Spain with Rifle Ammunition - Yaakov Lappin (Jerusalem Post)
    Israel Military Industries (IMI) has won a 22.5 million euro contract from Spain's defense ministry to supply the Spanish armed forces with rifle cartridges, IMI announced Wednesday.
    "IMI has provided light ammunition to European countries in accordance with NATO specifications for tens of years," the company said.

Who Are Egypt's Amazighs? - Omar al-Naghy (Al-Monitor)
    Unlike many other parts of Egypt, the Siwa Oasis, located 50 km. east of the Libyan border and 560 km. from Cairo, is practically free of attempts of theft, fraud and sexual, physical or verbal harassment.
    About 30,000 Amazighs (Berbers) live along the Egyptian-Libyan border in the Siwa Oasis.
    According to historian Tariq Jahlan, in Egypt there are about 12 million people with Amazigh origins.
    Fathi al-Kilani, the sheikh of the Zayanes tribe, one of the biggest tribes in the Siwa Oasis, said in 2013, "The oasis contains 11 tribes of Amazigh origin, who speak the Amazigh language, which they learn before Arabic."
    The oasis contains nearly 300,000 date palms and 70,000 olive trees, and is a source for the production of salt.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • At UN, Netanyahu Continues to Condemn Iran Nuclear Deal - Rick Gladstone and Jodi Rudoren
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel doubled down Thursday in his harsh condemnations of the Iranian nuclear deal at the UN General Assembly in New York, describing the widespread international praise for it as a grave misjudgment. (New York Times)
        See also below Observations - Netanyahu on Iran: When Bad Behavior Is Rewarded, It Only Gets Worse (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • Russian Airstrikes Defend Strategic Assad Regime Stronghold - Sam Dagher
    Russia's first airstrikes in Syria showed a meticulously planned effort to eliminate any rebel threat to the coastal Alawite stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad, analysts said. The Russian raids hew closely to an arc running on the fringes of this strategic core. The airstrikes highlighted a tightening military and strategic alliance among Russia and other pro-regime parties, such as Iran and Hizbullah. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Russia Says Airstrikes in Syria to Last 3-4 Months - Olga Razumovskaya (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Syrian Group Says Russian Airstrikes Killed 36 Civilians
    Khaled Khoja, head of the National Coalition, Syria's main opposition group, says Russian air strikes on Sept. 30 killed 36 civilians, including five children, in Homs province. The strikes also hit a base for the Free Syrian Army. Moscow insists that its 20 strikes hit Islamic State targets, but Khoja said there are no IS forces in the four areas struck. (Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty)
  • Iran Troops to Join Syria War - Laila Bassam and Andrew Osborn
    Hundreds of Iranian troops had reached Syria in the past 10 days with weapons to mount a major ground offensive, two Lebanese sources told Reuters on Thursday. "The vanguard of Iranian ground forces began arriving in Syria - soldiers and officers specifically to participate in this battle. They are not advisers...we mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more," one source said. (Reuters)
  • U.S. House of Representatives Votes to Suspend Iran Sanctions Relief - Morgan Chalfant
    A bill that would bar the Obama administration from releasing billions of dollars in sanctions relief to Iran before Tehran pays $43.5 billion it owes to victims of terrorism passed the House in a 251-173 vote Thursday. The bill would compel Iran to pay the legal penalties awarded to U.S. victims of Iranian terrorism and their families by U.S. courts. The White House said that President Obama would veto any legislation preventing the implementation of the nuclear deal. (Washington Free Beacon)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Palestinians Murder Israeli Couple in Front of their Children - Marissa Newman
    Eitam and Na'ama Henkin, a husband and wife in their 30s, were shot to death while driving between Itamar and Elon Moreh in the West Bank on Thursday night. Their four children who were in the car were physically unharmed. The family was ambushed by two Palestinians who opened fire with a handgun and a rifle. A unit within Fatah claimed responsibility for the attack. (Times of Israel)
        See also Video: The Scene Where Eitam and Na'ama Henkin Were Murdered Before Their Children's Eyes - Peter Lerner (IDF Spokesman)
        See also IDF Deploys 4 Battalions to West Bank after Deadly Shooting Attack - Yaakov Lappin (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israeli Baby Wounded by Palestinian School Kids in West Bank - Ben Hartman
    Erica Marom, of Tekoa, feels lucky to be alive after she and her family came under a barrage of rocks and cement blocks thrown by a group of Palestinian school kids on Thursday that left her and her six-month-old infant lightly hurt. "It was very, very scary and it's a miracle we survived this attack. They were trying to kill us," said Marom.
        Marom was in the passenger seat and her husband, Moshe, was driving with their three children in the back seat when she told Moshe to slow down because there were school children in uniforms walking on the side of the road. All of a sudden, she heard a series of loud booms "and they were smashing our car with cement blocks." The car sped away with its back windshield shattered. Six-month-old Adir, who was in a rear-facing child seat, had glass all over him. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Suddenly I Heard My Children Scream - Erica Chernofsky (Times of Israel)
  • Driving Home under Rocket Fire - Adele Raemer
    I live in a kibbutz 2 km. from the border with Gaza. After the 2014 war, we had over half a year of calm, but sporadic rocket fire has been increasing over the past two months. I was driving home on a highway after a visit to Jaffa and, just as we were passing Ashdod, I noticed a high number of cars had pulled over suddenly to the side of the road. By the time we saw the floating ball of lights that were the Iron Dome tracking and then downing the rockets in the sky, we didn't bother pulling over, but we did switch off the CD to be able to hear updates, in case of more rockets.
        As we continued, my friend asked: "What does it say about our lives, this situation of driving home on any random evening, during a period which is considered to be the ordinary pace of life, and to see a rocket being shot down over our heads?"  (Times of Israel)
        See also The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Rocket Fire - Marissa Newman
    Some 5,000 people were evacuated from an Ashdod open-air theater on Monday night as the sirens rang out, interrupting an outdoor production of "The Sound of Music," Yediot Ahronot reported Tuesday. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):


  • What about Iran's Human Rights Record? - Daniel S. Mariaschin
    The Iranian regime has been a serial abuser of human rights of political opponents, women, the LGBT community, journalists, adherents of the Baha'i religion and others since 1979. In 2011 the UN Human Rights Council approved the appointment of a special rapporteur on Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, whose 2014 report on human rights in Iran runs 81 pages. He notes that there were 753 individuals executed in Iran in 2014, the highest number in 12 years. They included 25 women, and there were 53 public executions.
        Shaheed cites the death sentence for Mohamed Ali Yehari, an expert in alternative medical theories, for "corruption on earth." Four leaders of the failed 2009 Green Revolution remain under house arrest. Tehran is holding four Americans: Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian; Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor from Idaho; Amir Hekmati, a dual citizen and Marine Corps veteran; and Robert Levinson, a U.S. government contractor.
        30 journalists were detained for "national security crimes," "propaganda against the system" and "spreading falsehoods." 135 Baha'i remain jailed for their religious beliefs. On Christmas Day, nine persons in the town of Rudehen were arrested for celebrating the holiday. Addressing Iranian human rights abuses must be made a visible priority by the P5+1 and others in the community of democracies. The writer is executive vice president of B'nai B'rith International. (Jerusalem Post)
  • The Inside Story of the Obama Administration's Iran Diplomacy - Indira A.R. Lakshmanan
    The president insisted on a "red team" of internal and external nuclear experts with security clearances to test the assumptions of a one-year breakout time against the most demanding audience. Israeli government nuclear scientists were asked for their input and judgment, and were very helpful, a senior administration official says. (Politico)

  • Palestinians

  • Netanyahu: Only Israel Respects the Holy Sites in Jerusalem
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly on Thursday: When will Palestinian leaders start working with Israel to advance peace and reconciliation and stop libeling Israel, stop inciting hatred and violence? President Abbas, stop spreading lies about Israel's alleged intentions on the Temple Mount. Israel is fully committed to maintaining the status quo there. President Abbas should be speaking out against the actions of militant Islamists who are smuggling explosives into the al-Aqsa mosque and who are trying to prevent Jews and Christians from visiting the holy sites. That's the real threat to these sacred sites.
        A thousand years before the birth of Christianity, more than 1,500 years before the birth of Islam, King David made Jerusalem our capital, and King Solomon built the Temple on that mount. Yet Israel will always respect the sacred shrines of all. In a region plagued by violence and by unimaginable intolerance, in which Islamic fanatics are destroying the ancient treasures of civilization, Israel stands out as a towering beacon of enlightenment and tolerance.
        Far from endangering the holy sites, it is Israel that ensures their safety. Because unlike the powers who have ruled Jerusalem in the past, Israel respects the holy sites and freedom of worship of all - Jews, Muslims, Christians, everyone. (Prime Minister's Office)
  • Israelis and Palestinians: A Fundamental Difference in Outlook - Shlomo Avineri
    Most Israelis view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a struggle between two national movements: the Jewish national movement - Zionism - and the Palestinian national movement. The internal logic of such a view leads to what is called the two-state solution.
        According to the Palestinians' view, however, this is not a conflict between two national movements but between one national movement (the Palestinian) and a colonial and imperialistic entity (Israel). According to the Palestinian view, the Jews are not a nation but a religious community, and as such not entitled to national self-determination. According to this view, the Palestinians see all of Israel - and not just the West Bank and Gaza - as analogous to Algeria: an Arab country out of which the foreign colonialists were ultimately expelled.
        This is also the reason for the Palestinians' refusal to accept Israel as the Jewish nation-state. At the end of the day, the Palestinian position views Israel as an illegitimate entity, sooner or later doomed to disappear. This is not just a matter of historical narrative: It has political implications for the here and now. If Israel is not a legitimate state, there is no ground for an end-of-conflict agreement based on compromise. The writer, professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, served as director-general of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Ha'aretz)
  • Replacing Hamas: Iran's New Proxy Militia in Gaza - Ehud Yaari
    The Iranian-funded Palestinian militant group Hamas has irked Tehran in a number of ways. First, it refused to support Syrian President Assad; then it established closer ties with Turkey. Iran has responded by reducing funding to Hamas and making a serious attempt at empowering the al Sabirin group in Gaza, which seeks to emulate Hizbullah.
        Al Sabirin is headed by Hisham Salem, a former member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). It is claimed in Islamist circles that Salem receives an annual budget of $10 million from Iran. Salem is accused within Gaza, where there are no Shiites, of having converted to Shiism. Al Sabirin's members have apparently distributed Shiite literature and held seminars on Shiite theology. Al Sabirin's logo is nearly identical to Hizbullah's, as are its slogans and terminology.
        Al Sabirin's main activities at the moment include gathering several other small militias under its wing. Salem is apparently promising these groups Iranian funds in return for their loyalty. Iran most likely regards al Sabirin as an extremely useful tool to help keep Hamas and the PIJ in line by signaling to them that it has alternatives. The writer is a Middle East commentator for Israel's Channel Two television and a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Foreign Affairs)
  • There Is No Real Threat to Al-Aksa - Gershon Baskin
    In the days prior to the second intifada that began in 2000, campaigns were being waged by the Islamic Movement (Northern Branch) to protect al-Aksa. Then, as now, there was no real threat to al-Aksa. For Palestinians and Muslims, al-Aksa is not just the mosque at the southern end of the Temple Mount, but the entire mount. The symbol of the Dome of the Rock - the Golden Dome - is found in most Palestinian homes.
        But the issue of Jewish presence and prayer there is not a religious issue. According to sharia - Islamic law - there is no prohibition against Jewish prayer on al-Aksa. More than one Palestinian Muslim official told me that from the point of view of Islam there is no problem with Jews or others being on the Temple Mount. The problem, they said, was political. The real problem is the extremists on the Muslim side who are prepared to use violence to prevent the Jews from praying there. The writer is co-chairman of IPCRI, Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also The "Al-Aksa Is in Danger" Libel: The History of a Lie - Nadav Shragai (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Palestinian Groups Ahead of ISIS in Destroying Antiquities - Sean Durns
    From July to September 2015, 13 editorials and articles appeared in the Washington Post alone on the threat to and eventual destruction by ISIS of the ancient Roman city of Palmyra in Syria. Yet, ISIS is far from alone when it comes to defacing and destroying evidence of ancient, non-Islamic civilizations.
        In 2013, more than 200 terror attacks occurred at Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, where the Jewish matriarch Rachel is said to be buried - 119 of those attacks included the use of explosives at the sacred site. In the course of the second intifada, Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem were stoned by Arab mobs on the Temple Mount above them. The Temple Mount is considered to be the holiest site in Judaism. Its sanctity long predates the building of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque at the same location in the century after the Islamic conquest.
        During Jordan's occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank (1948-1967), Jewish holy places in eastern Jerusalem were desecrated and destroyed and Jews were denied entry to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. In 1996, the Muslim Waqf religious trust brought in heavy machinery to the Temple Mount and excavated and removed 6,000 tons of earth, dumping it in the Kidron Valley. Subsequently, archaeologists have found Jewish artifacts among the rubble. The director of Israel's Antiquities Authority, Amir Drori, called the Waqf's act an "archeological crime." Attorney General Elyakim Rubenstein referred to it as "an assault on Jewish history."  (CAMERA)
        See also U.S. Offers $5 Million Reward to Stop ISIS from Plundering Antiquities - Rebecca Kheel (The Hill)

  • Other Issues

  • Sunni Emigrants Say They Have No Future in Syria - Roy Gutman
    Some 1,000 to 1,500 Syrians daily travel by ferry from northern Lebanon to southern Turkey, according to Turkish port authorities. None of the 50 or so people interviewed were war zone refugees. They were legal emigrants from government-held areas, all carrying passports. They had purchased their tickets at local travel agencies in Syria. Most were educated and from the middle and lower-middle class. Though almost everyone was Sunni, few had adverse words for the Assad government, but all said they have no future in Syria.
        "A lot of people are not running away from war. But they are chasing a dream to be citizens in Europe in the 21st century," said Obaeda Farran, 38, from northern Syria, whose family has set up a restaurant in southern Turkey. (McClatchy)
  • A Refugee Riot Puts a German Town on Edge - Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet
    Calden, Germany, threw open its doors to arriving waves of refugees. Donations from clothing drives filled four garages. The volunteer fire department built a tent city that now teems with 1,400 migrants. But residents here are having second thoughts after the riot. On Sunday an Albanian cut in the food line at the tent city, prompting a reprimand from a Pakistani. Pushes degenerated into punches. Soon, 300 migrants wielding pepper spray and metal pipes were attacking each other in rival mobs. More than 50 police officers struggled for hours to restore order, with three hospitalized with injuries.
        Germany is undergoing a national reality check. On Wednesday, violence broke out at two refugee centers in Hamburg, including one incident involving 100 migrants wielding wooden planks as weapons, according to police. In Calden, another incident in August involved a clash between Syrian and Albanian asylum seekers. (Washington Post)
  • Israel Has Some True Friends in Europe - Bastiaan Belder
    There are true friends of Israel inside European institutions. In discussions on a resolution on the EU's role in the Middle East peace process that was adopted in the European Parliament last week, the European People's Party (EPP) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the first and third largest parties at the Parliament, teamed up to delete the most poisonous language from the document.
        For example, we took out wording which called for the release of all Palestinian political prisoners currently serving sentences in Israeli jails, arguing that some terrorists are in prison because they planned to commit a terrorist act. Other wording that was deleted included the call for the labelling of Israeli produce originating from entities beyond the green line. Another success was the inclusion of the passage that any rocket fire into Israel by militant groups is unacceptable and that it is imperative for the EU to work in partnership with Israel to prevent the re-arming of terrorist groups in Gaza and the West Bank.
        Unfortunately, the basic notion of Palestinian terrorism is always downplayed in the corridors of the European institutions, though this is the true obstacle to peace. The writer, a Dutch member of the ECR group at the European Parliament, is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. (Ynet News)

Netanyahu at UN on Iran: When Bad Behavior Is Rewarded, It Only Gets Worse (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the UN General Assembly on Thursday:

  • After three days of listening to world leaders praise the nuclear deal with Iran, I say: Ladies and Gentlemen, check your enthusiasm at the door. This deal doesn't make peace more likely. By fueling Iran's aggressions with billions of dollars in sanctions relief, it makes war more likely.
  • In the last six months alone, Iran boosted its supply of devastating weapons to Syria. Iran sent more soldiers of its Revolutionary Guard into Syria. Iran sent thousands of Afghani and Pakistani Shi'ite fighters to Syria. Iran also shipped tons of weapons and ammunition to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
  • Iran supplied Hizbullah with precision-guided surface-to-surface missiles and attack drones so it can accurately hit any target in Israel. Iran aided Hamas and Islamic Jihad in building armed drones in Gaza. Iran also promised to arm Palestinians in the West Bank and sent its Revolutionary Guard generals to the Golan Heights, from which its operatives recently fired rockets on northern Israel.
  • Iran's been doing all of this just in the last six months. Imagine what Iran will do after those sanctions are lifted.
  • As the leader of a country defending itself every day against Iran's growing aggression, I wish I could take comfort in the claim that this deal blocks Iran's path to nuclear weapons. But I can't, because it doesn't.
  • If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country. But this deal will treat Iran like a normal country even if it remains a dark theocracy that conquers its neighbors, sponsors terrorism worldwide and chants "Death to Israel," "Death to America." When bad behavior is rewarded, it only gets worse.

        See also Sometimes, Silence Speaks Louder than Words - Raphael Ahren
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech at the UN General Assembly on Thursday will be remembered for its long moment of silence, with which he rebuked the nations of the world for having remained silent during the Holocaust and for continuing to remain silent in the face of a "genocidal" Iran.
        "Seventy years after the murder of six million Jews, Iran's rulers promise to destroy my country, murder my people. And the response from this body, the response from nearly every one of the governments represented here, has been absolutely nothing," Netanyahu said. "Utter silence. Deafening silence." Then he demonstrated the deafening silence, saying absolutely nothing during 44 seconds that felt like an eternity. (Times of Israel)
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