Protecting Israel's Interests in Syria - Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)
This week Assad's forces in Syria completed their takeover of Sheikh Maskin, on the main road from Daraa in southern Syria to Damascus.
The ground operation was preceded by a few days of heavy aerial bombings by Russian jets, only about 20 km. from Israel's border on the Golan Heights.
Major efforts are now going into maintaining the coordination apparatus between Israel and Russia to prevent misunderstandings.
Alongside the red lines that Jerusalem has drawn in Syria - preventing firing into Israeli territory and foiling attempts to smuggle advanced weaponry from Syria to Hizbullah in Lebanon - there are other interests that Israel wants to protect:
Limiting the presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards near Israel's border, preventing any more ISIS fighters from approaching the border (about 600 members of a group identified with ISIS, the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, are in an enclave in the southern Golan), and preventing a massacre of Druze in Syria.
Iran Training Volunteer "Advisers" to Serve in Syria - Ali Akbar Dareini (AP-ABC News)
Gen. Mohsen Kazemeini, a senior commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guard, said Wednesday that Iran is training volunteer "military advisers" to serve alongside President Assad's forces in Syria.
The portraits and names of volunteers killed in Syria have begun to appear on billboards across Tehran in recent weeks, signaling a rise in Iranian deaths.
France Proposes to Sanction Iran over Missile Tests (AP-New York Times)
France has asked its EU partners to consider new sanctions on Iran for its recent missile tests, European officials say, even as the French welcomed President Hassan Rouhani of Iran for a visit.
See also French Companies Join European Push to Rejoin Iran Market after Sanctions - Brian Murphy (Washington Post)
Wrapping up his four-day trip to Italy and France, Iranian President Rouhani on Thursday added French automaker PSA Peugeot Citroen and aircraft giant Airbus to a growing profile of European companies seeking to return to Iran.
German Jews Fear Rising Anti-Semitism during Mideast Refugee Influx - Tina Bellon (Reuters)
When Judith G. helped out at a refugee center near Frankfurt last October and identified herself as Jewish, she was spat on and insulted. German Jews say her case isn't isolated.
"Among the refugees, there are a great many people who grew up with hostility toward Israel and conflate these prejudices with hatred toward Jews in general," said Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews.
The German Jewish community today numbers around 100,000.
First Israeli APC Gets Advanced Missile Defense - Judah Ari Gross (Times of Israel)
An Israeli Namer armored personnel carrier has been outfitted with the advanced Windbreaker (Trophy) missile defense system for the first time, the Defense Ministry announced Thursday.
The active defense system has previously been installed on IDF tanks and saw combat during the 2014 war in Gaza.
The Namer is considered by Israel to be the most heavily armored APC in the world.
Israeli Drone Feeds Hacked by British and American Intelligence - Cora Currier and Henrik Moltke (The Intercept)
American and British intelligence secretly tapped into live video feeds from Israeli drones and fighter jets from a mountaintop RAF base in Cyprus, monitoring military operations in Gaza, watching for a potential strike against Iran, and keeping tabs on the drone technology Israel exports around the world.
UK Government Communications Headquarters files provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden state that analysts first collected encrypted video signals in 1998, and also describe efforts against drones used by Syria and by Hizbullah in Lebanon.
Israeli Zaka Emergency Response Group Granted Official Consultative UN Status (JTA)
After four years of diplomatic struggle, Israel's Zaka search-and-rescue volunteer organization was granted official advisory status by the UN Committee on NGOs on Tuesday, although this must still be approved by the UN Economic and Social Council.
The vote followed dozens of meetings between Israeli diplomats and representatives of the UN and member states after the request had been rejected several times.
Zaka assisted in the Nepal earthquake and Paris terror attacks in 2015; Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013; the tsunami and earthquake in Japan in 2011, and the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
LGBT Activists Condemn "Anti-Semitic" Protest (JTA)
After anti-Israel demonstrators forcibly shut down a reception by A Wider Bridge - a group that forges ties between LGBT Jews in Israel and North America - at a National LGBTQ Task Force conference on Friday, some 90 American LGBT activists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, condemned the protesters' behavior as "unacceptable and not in accord with the Task Force's values of pluralism, inclusivity and thoughtful debate."
University of Waterloo Students Reject BDS in Referendum (Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Canada)
Undergraduate students at the University of Waterloo (UW) voted in a referendum to reject calling for the severing of ties between UW and Israeli academic institutions by a vote of 2,329 to 1,803 after a spirited two-week campaign period.
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- Iranian Official: Nuclear Deal "Accelerated Some of Iran's Nuclear Activities"
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told Iran's Strategic Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday that the volume of nuclear material has increased significantly since implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He said the negotiations had left the major components of Iran's nuclear program intact.
"We have accelerated the pace, including in the volume of nuclear material which was 550 tons before, now we have 770 tons of nuclear material; this is a fact known to IAEA. With heavy water, we secured the project along with R&D, extraction and exploration. These provide testimony to the fact that allegations of complete suspension of nuclear activities are baseless. In the process, we also secured UNSC's acknowledgment and recognition of Iran's nuclear program," Salehi emphasized.
"A major drive behind pressures on Iran was to prevent enrichment and heavy water production; they believed Iran should not have been active in these areas; however, we were active in both paths, since we were not sure which one would lead us to nuclear fuel sooner."
- Obama Takes the Gloves Off Against ISIS - Kimberly Dozier
The administration is taking the gloves off after more than a year of reluctance to target the Islamic State's core infrastructure for fear of hitting civilians or risking the lives of American troops. Two recent strikes on ISIS cash depots are examples of ideas the administration once considered too risky, and one of those attacks may have destroyed over half a billion dollars, two U.S. officials said Wednesday. The bank strikes combined with targeting the oil infrastructure has produced a serious cash crunch. ISIS fighter morale has plummeted and foreign fighters are deserting because salaries have been halved, according to the officials.
Administration officials are green-lighting aggressive proposals that have been languishing for years, and asking for more ideas to check the growth of ISIS from Syria to Libya and beyond. "Our hands have been tied," said one senior military official. "Now I think you'll see a little more willingness to tolerate civilian casualties in the interest of making progress." Officials say the new aggressiveness is partly in response to the ISIS-directed and inspired attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, which showed ISIS' violent influence was metastasizing faster than expected. (Daily Beast)
See also More Is Needed to Beat ISIS, U.S. Military Concludes - Michael S. Schmidt and Helene Cooper
Pentagon officials have concluded that hundreds more trainers, advisers and commandos from the U.S. and its allies will need to be sent to Iraq and Syria in the coming months to deal a lasting blow to the extremist Sunni militancy known as the Islamic State. A senior administration official said Thursday that the president is willing to consider raising the stakes in both Iraq and Syria.
(New York Times)
- Palestinian Attacks Cause Economic Hardships for Other Palestinians - Michele Chabin
In the Hebron Hills in the West Bank, Muataz Shalaldeh, whose family sells high-quality Israeli firewood to heat Palestinians' stone homes, said business has plummeted 90% since a wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis began four months ago. Shalaldeh is among the many law-abiding Palestinians paying an economic price for the more than 100 attacks carried out by other Palestinians that prompted Israel to established more checkpoints and road closures.
The Israeli government says the tighter security is necessary to prevent additional attacks, which have claimed the lives of 26 Israelis and an American student.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Netanyahu Talks Cooperation with Leaders of Greece, Cyprus
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Nicosia on Thursday to discuss cooperation in the fields of energy, tourism, research and technology, environment, water management, combating terrorism, and migration. Netanyahu said the leaders agreed to set up a committee to study the possibility of building a pipeline to carry natural gas found in waters off Israel and Cyprus to Europe via Greece.
See also Prime Minister Netanyahu's Statement at the Trilateral Meeting between Israel, Greece and Cyprus (Prime Minister's Office)
See also Cyprus-Israel-Greece Trilateral Summit Declaration (Prime Minister's Office)
- U.S. Reissues Guidelines on Labeling West Bank Products - Itamar Eichner
U.S. Customs recently issued a reminder notice to importers in the U.S. to not label products that come from the West Bank as "Made in Israel" and made it clear that those who do not comply would be sanctioned. This is a reissuing of a guideline from 1995 - a byproduct of the Oslo Accords - that set different customs regulations for Israel and the West Bank.
While State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Thursday said, "this guidance was simply a restatement of previous requirements," an Israeli official said: "It's convenient for them to present it as being a technical issue, but in the U.S. things never happen just by chance....Under the guise of a technical notice the Americans are taking a political step."
- Songs in Praise of Stabbing Are Huge Hits on Palestinian Street - Lee Gancman
"Lovers of Stabbing," by the Gaza-based band Al-Gorbaa, was written after the October attack by Mohammed Ali al-Miqdad, who stabbed three members of the Israeli security forces at Jerusalem's Damascus Gate before he was shot dead. Walk in the main streets of east Jerusalem and the West Bank and you'll hear "Lovers of Stabbing" - by far the most popular of a series of such hits - as well as similar songs calling for the killing of Israelis, blaring from cars, stores, and restaurants.
The catchy songs "are characterized by mentioning the names of martyrs, praising their deeds, and challenging others to follow in the footsteps to be the next martyrs," the Palestinian Ma'an news website noted. On Oct. 26, Raed Jaradat, 22, stabbed an Israeli soldier in the neck near the West Bank village of Beit Anun. Just prior to the incident, Jaradat posted a clip of "Lovers of Stabbing" on Facebook.
Dr. Nashat al-Aqtash, media professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank, said the songs "tell you that if you go and commit an attack, you will be a hero and go to paradise." Other popular titles include "Stab the Zionist," "Fill the Bottle with Fire" and "Raise Your Weapons." (Times of Israel)
- Moderates Under Pressure in Iran - Editorial
Next month's elections in Iran do not bode well for Iranians eager for more political and social freedoms. Even before any ballots are cast, the death-to-America hard-liners are stacking the deck against moderates, disqualifying thousands of moderate would-be candidates. Not even the grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic in 1979, could pass muster.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has warned against relaxing Iran's anti-Western stance, voiced strong support for the vetting process and said the reformers could not hope to have any real influence in the immediate future. President Rouhani is a creature of Iran's establishment, not a revolutionary. But he responded by saying that Parliament must "belong to all people and reflect the realities of the nation" and added, "If one faction is represented in the elections and another is not, then why are we holding elections?" (New York Times)
- Doing Business with Iran - Suzanne Maloney
Look at the photos from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's tour of Europe this week. The most notorious shot shows plywood barricades concealing ancient Roman statues, apparently out of concern that their nudity would shock or offend the leader of an Islamic theocracy. The alacrity with which Italian leaders jettisoned their values and historical legacy in hopes of gaining some advantage in Iran's post-sanctions gold rush is precisely what nuclear deal opponents predicted and hoped to forestall.
A Europe that would so readily censor the treasures of its own glorious antiquity, in an obsequious gesture that was apparently unbidden by Tehran, is unlikely to jeopardize any budding business to penalize any Iranian infractions of the nuclear agreement, or to put pressure on Iran over any of its other objectionable policies.
How can the world continue to nudge Tehran toward "acting like a normal country"? For starters, by restraining the impulse to placate ideological excesses of Iranian politics. Iran's reintegration can be a stabilizing force, but only if Tehran reconciles itself to the world, rather than the reverse. The writer is deputy director of the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution.
- No Change in Iran After the Nuclear Deal - Eli Lake
Much of U.S. strategy in the Iran nuclear talks has been aimed at strengthening perceived moderates in the hopes of weakening perceived hardliners. But last week Iran's hardliners voted to disqualify nearly all of President Hassan Rouhani's political allies from running in next month's parliamentary elections.
Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution, noted
that even if Rouhani's allies did gain more seats in Iran's parliament, recent history suggests this wouldn't matter much anyway. Karim Sadjadpour, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, "The forces of darkness in Iran are deeply entrenched and aren't going to step aside without a fight." Those forces have been on a roll since Iran agreed in July to the nuclear accord.
- A Defense of the U.S.-Saudi Relationship - David Pollock
The U.S. no longer needs Saudi oil for itself. But we still need Saudi Arabia's ten million barrels per day of oil for a stable world economy.
Moreover, Saudi petrodollars help finance several key U.S. partners in the region, from Egypt to Jordan to the Palestinian Authority. Iran's oil revenues, by contrast, underwrite our enemies: Assad, Hizbullah, and Hamas.
If the House of Saud ever does fall, what would replace it? A friendly democracy is almost certainly not in the cards, and much more likely an ISIS, al-Qaeda, or Iranian puppet regime would develop. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
See also U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels - Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo (New York Times)
- Illegal Settlements, EU-Style - Nadav Shragai
Over the past 20 years, illegal Palestinian construction has slowly closed the corridor between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim, an Israeli city of 40,000. The European Union funnels millions of dollars into the area, essentially funding hundreds of Palestinian housing units built in defiance of Israeli sovereignty over Area C, which under the 1993 Oslo Accords was left under full Israeli civil and security control.
While Israel has heeded U.S. and EU demands to freeze construction in the area, it is the Palestinians, with the active assistance of the EU, that are reshaping the area via illegal construction.
The Palestinian Authority, assisted by EU funding, is racing to populate the area and set facts on the ground. The area between Maaleh Adumim and the Dead Sea is now riddled with illegal Bedouin and Palestinian settlements that are illegally tapped into Israel's water and power grids.
Israel's Foreign Ministry has demanded that the EU cease funding illegal Palestinian construction in the area. In response, the Europeans said they are planning to take legal action against Israel, seeking restitution for Israel's decision to raze illegal structures built with European funds.
- The Roots of Terrorism - Dr. Stuart Chesner
We need to dispense of many long-held misconceptions about the roots of terrorism. Terror is somewhat correlated with poverty, however many terrorists are products of middle-class, educated families. Terror is correlated with perceived political oppression, however history is replete with numerous examples of political oppression where the oppressed did not opt for terror. Remember Gandhi or Martin Luther King? Many terrorists are religious, however the overwhelming majority of people throughout the world of all religions find terrorism to be anathema to the principles of religion.
I suggest that the underlying cause of terrorism is an educational/ideological system that glorifies murder as the ultimate expression of human meaning. Oliver Wendell Holmes said that the right of free speech does not confer the right to shout "fire" in a crowded theater. The educational system of Palestinian society is shouting fire and espousing murder. The writer is a clinical psychologist.
(Times of Israel)
- UN Fails to Learn Lessons of Holocaust - Anne Bayefsky
On January 25, 2016, a temporary exhibit called "Holocaust by Bullets" was opened in the UN visitors' lobby. The painstaking research of the French organization Yahad-In Unum substantiates how two million Jews were shot to death in the presence of normal folks all over Europe. Father Patrick Desbois opened Yahad-In Unum's exhibit by explaining that his team locates the bodies of Nazi victims and then honors the dead.
The next day, the Security Council held a debate on "The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question." The hate speech against the Jewish state flowed uninterrupted for seven hours and was broadcast around the world. Israel was said to be guilty of "crimes against humanity," "execution" of children, "apartheid," "racism," "brutality," "terrorism," "war crimes," "assassinations," "torture of children," and "Judaization" - the allegedly vile presence of Jews on Arab-claimed territory.
So picture this. Upstairs, Council members listened unperturbed to repeated rants about "Judaization." Downstairs, the Holocaust exhibit recounted how ordinary people did nothing while their neighbors were rounded up with cries of "Juden, Juden, Juden." The writer is director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.
- The Islamic State Comes to Russia - Anna Borshchevskaya
On June 23, 2015, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the official spokesman of the Islamic State, declared the formation of a new IS governorate in Russia's North Caucasus. The announcement came just days after reports that thousands of Islamic militants in Russia's restive regions of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria had formally pledged allegiance to IS. The writer is a fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
(Journal of International Security Affairs)
- Confessions of a Muslim Zionist - Judith Bergman
A young Muslim woman from New York, Farhana Rahman, who works for an Israeli startup company, has stirred a small storm with Facebook posts about her experiences on her second visit to Israel.
"When Muslim me visited Israel this time around, the country and her people did indeed forcibly steal precious things away from me: My heart, my soul, my loyalty, my dedication, my essence of being....Everyone went out of their way to love me....Everyone of all ages in Israel gave me exceptional, world class treatment."
"It's almost crazy how many Muslim women I saw driving, shopping independently, studying, working, and enjoying life in Israel. Freedoms they couldn't even dream of elsewhere in the Mideast. And yes, many of them were all burka'd out to the nines. Also, it's way safer to walk outside late at night in most parts of Israel than in N.Y. Because the people are civil and good....You will be surprised how many other Zionist Muslims I came across there."
Rahman later posted about the reactions to her original post.
"Muslim Zionists were the ones that sent me the most messages! Tons! They hailed from many Arab countries, South Asian countries, and European countries. Each of them told me of their efforts to spread the truth in their respective communities and social media. It gave me a lot of comfort to know that the younger generations of educated Muslims are indeed stepping up. Our efforts are but a drop in an ocean of madness, but it is something." (Israel Hayom)
- Israel Honors 10 Slovaks for Heroism
On Jan. 27, another 10 Slovaks joined those who have received the Yad Vashem "Righteous of the Nations" title. Those five families joined 546 brave men and women from Slovakia and almost 26,000 people from all over the world who have received the designation. Zvi Aviner Vapni, the Israeli ambassador in Slovakia, said: "The stories are about ordinary people that never planned to become heroes and were unprepared to take risky decisions. They were ordinary human beings, but it is precisely their humanity that touches us so, and should serve as a shining example."
Jan Varga and his wife Anna were honored for saving Efraim Neumann Goz in the village of Petrovce.
"As everybody in the village was against the Nazis, we were able to stay there," Gotz said.
Jozef Krajcovic and his wife Anna were honored for helping Imrich Foldes, his wife Magdalena, and daughter Judita. Jozef hid them in a kitchen storeroom that he bricked up apart from a small hole where they stayed for eight months. "When we came out of the hiding place, the bright sunlight, fresh air and the vast excitement overwhelmed us. My mother passed out," Judita said.
Stefan Kassa and his wife Maria were honored for helping Franz Aaron Weiss, wife Rozalia, and sons Ariel and Gabriel. At first the family escaped to a cave at the entrance to a blocked mine. The Kassa family then offered the Weiss family a goat chalet where they took shelter for four months.
"They were giving us food even when it was life-threatening," said Gabriel Weiss. "When Germans learned that someone was hiding Jews his whole family was endangered." (Slovak Spectator)
Anti-Israel Academics Face Pushback by the Truth - Cary Nelson (Wall Street Journal)
- At their annual meeting in Atlanta earlier this month, members of the American Historical Association voted down a factually flawed resolution condemning Israel. The resolution claimed that Israel refuses "to allow students from Gaza to travel in order to pursue higher education abroad."
- Opponents marshaled evidence to prove this was untrue. Egypt, not Israel, controls the Rafah crossing that Gaza students and faculty heading toward universities abroad have used for decades.
- After Egypt closed the Rafah crossing in October 2014, Israel increased the flow of students leaving Gaza through the Erez crossing into Israel to the north, and on to Jordan for flights abroad.
- But Jordan, which once issued transit visas in 10 days, now takes several months or longer because of increased security concerns about students from Gaza.
- The resolution also condemned Israel for an air attack on the Islamic University of Gaza during the 2014 Gaza war. But it failed to mention that the campus housed a weapons development and testing facility, a valid target under the laws of war.
- Activists in certain humanities and interpretive social-science fields have convinced themselves they have their hands on the levers of history and can delegitimize the State of Israel. But they are more likely instead to discredit their academic disciplines.
The writer is an English professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an affiliated professor at the University of Haifa in Israel.
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