U.S. Mulls Pulling Troops from Sinai Due to ISIS Threat - Barbara Starr (CNN)
The Obama administration is considering pulling troops out of the North Camp base at el-Gorah in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in part due to the growing threat from ISIS.
Some 700 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Sinai to support the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.
U.S. defense officials believe the threat of militant attacks in northern Sinai is growing.
Over 220 Iranian Troops Killed in Syria since October (Times of Israel)
Iranian media reported that over 220 Iranian soldiers have been killed in fighting in Syria since October, including three in the past day, Israel Radio reported Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, Hizbullah announced that two of its senior commanders were killed in fighting with Islamic State near Homs.
ISIS Is Losing Ground, But Not the War - Nancy A. Youssef (Daily Beast)
Islamic State has lost at least three Syrian cities and towns in the past six weeks, each time by walking away from the fight.
While the prevailing view inside the Pentagon is that ISIS is in trouble, some argue that the group is strategically saving its forces to protect its Iraqi and Syrian capitals, Mosul and Raqqa.
Israel and U.S. Sign Joint Energy Deal - Shlomo Cesana (Israel Hayom)
U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz signed a new joint energy deal in Jerusalem on Monday that expands areas of cooperation to include fuels and fuel alternatives, natural gas, smart grid technologies, desalination and water treatment, and the physical and cyber-defense of energy and water installations.
See also U.S. and Israeli Energy Ministers Sign New Energy Agreement (U.S. Department of Energy)
Trees for Terror: Palestinian Charity Holds Planting Ceremony to Honor "Martyrs" (Fox News)
A UN-funded Palestinian charity, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, planted more than 200 olive trees in the West Bank over the weekend, each to honor the terrorists who killed 34 Israelis and wounded more than 400 since September.
The UN sponsors the Palestinian group through UNRWA and UNDP, and it receives funding from the governments of Australia, Spain, Netherlands and Japan.
Israel to Hire 500 More Jordanian Workers for Eilat Hotels (Albawaba-Jordan)
Israel will allow another 500 Jordanians to work at its hotels in the Red Sea resort of Eilat, joining 400 Jordanians already employed in the hotels.
In December, Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara announced plans to eventually employ 1,500 Jordanian workers.
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- Palestinians Reject Israel's Demands for Unconditioned Peace Talks
Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator and Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), told Voice of Palestine radio on Tuesday that the Palestinians reject the notion of restarting the peace talks with Israel unconditionally. Erekat was responding to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's earlier remarks that he invites Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a meeting.
"In case the meeting is held, Netanyahu should first announce an end of settlement, release prisoners arrested before signing [the] Oslo peace accords in 1993 and recognize all the signed peace treaties between the two sides," said Erekat. "If Netanyahu doesn't do this, there will be no resumption of negotiations." (Xinhua-China)
See also Netanyahu: "I'm Clearing My Schedule" to Meet with Abbas - Herb Keinon
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once again invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Jerusalem for talks, four days after Abbas told Israel's Channel 2 that he was waiting for such an invitation.
"A few days ago on Israeli television, I heard President Abbas say that if I invited him to meet, he'd come," Netanyahu said. "So...I'm inviting him again. I'm clearing my schedule this week. Any day he can come, I'll be here."
- U.S. Will Block Sale of Russian Su-30 Fighter Jets to Iran - Kellan Howell
Thomas Shannon, the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that the U.S. would use its veto power in the UN Security Council to block the sale of Russian Su-30 fighter jets to Iran. Shannon said the purchase of the Su-30 is prohibited under the Security Council resolution which endorsed the nuclear deal with Iran. (Washington Times)
- Islamic State Activating the Sleepers - Christoph Reuter
The attacks in Brussels show that Islamic State has built up a sophisticated network of terrorists that goes well beyond al-Qaeda's capabilities. It is now able to strike using sleepers who have not yet been identified by security officials. Testimony from deserters suggests the terror organization began establishing sleeper cells in multiple European countries early on, in Turkey in particular. (Der Spiegel-Germany)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Israel Anticipates ISIS' Downfall in Syria - Amos Harel
On the Syrian part of Mt. Hermon there is no longer a trace of the Syrian army.
The last Syrian commandos abandoned their outposts last winter. There are now almost no locations along the Israeli-Syrian border on the Golan Heights where Israeli and Syrian soldiers are facing each other except for a weak Syrian presence at Quneitra.
More than a month after a cease-fire was declared in the Syrian civil war, Israel's assessment that it would collapse is starting to be actualized, albeit much more slowly than first anticipated, as fighting has resumed in various parts of the country. The fact that the cease-fire does not include the Nusra Front and Islamic State allows the Assad regime and the Russian air force to attack them.
ISIS is having difficulty holding the large territory on which it declared its Islamic caliphate, especially in Syria. Its attackers include the U.S., Russia, the EU states, Turkey, the Assad regime and numerous Arab states and rebel groups, including Kurdish factions. The coalitions attacking ISIS have complete aerial superiority and the terror attacks it committed or inspired in Paris, Brussels, California and Sinai have only intensified the hostility toward it. A senior Israeli security source said, "The defeat of ISIS in Syria is a matter of time." (Ha'aretz)
- Israeli, Egyptian Ministers Meet in Washington - Adiv Sterman
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz met last Thursday in Washington with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in the highest level meeting of senior ministers from both countries since the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. "The meeting dealt with regional issues, the possibility of providing Israeli gas to Egyptian liquefaction facilities, and international cooperation in preventing radioactive terrorism," Steinitz's office said. In September 2015, Israel reopened its embassy in Egypt, four years after it was shut when a mob stormed the complex.
(Times of Israel)
- Israel Electric Reaches Deal with Palestinians to Halt Cuts
Israel Electric Company reached a temporary agreement with the Palestinian Authority Wednesday to end the recent power cuts in exchange for paying off a small chunk of its $460 million debt. The PA will pay off $5.2 million of that debt, while negotiators have one week to reach an understanding over settling the rest of the money owed. If no deal is reached in that time, the power cuts will resume, Israel's Channel 10 reported.
(Times of Israel)
- Moscow's Mercenaries in Syria - Mark Galeotti
It is increasingly clear that there are Russians on the ground with Syrian army forces. Some are Spetsnaz special forces, there for recon and forward air control, but others are mercenaries working for private contractors. "Private" is a euphemism for "deniable." Russian contractors appear to be operating T-90 tanks in combat and similar heavy equipment, and were at the fore of the recent drive to take Palmyra.
The force in question, which may comprise 400 effectives, was disclosed last week by the independent Russian Fontanka news site. Its commander, Lt. Col. (res.) Dmitri Utkin, 46, was until 2013 an officer in the 2nd Spetsnaz Brigade, and on mustering out, joined the Moran Security Group, a private security company. Moran is run by Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)
Originally deployed to protect key government installations and assist in the security of Russian bases, as the war has taken a more offensive turn they are being used to stiffen and support Assad's forces. As a result they have suffered "dozens" of combat losses. The writer is Professor of Global Affairs at New York University's Center for Global Affairs and director of its Initiative for the Study of Emerging Threats.
(War on the Rocks)
- Poll: Both Israeli Jews and Arabs Do Not See Peace in Coming Years
76% of Israeli Jews and 62% of Israeli Arabs not believe that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will lead in the coming years to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, according to the Peace Index Survey conducted on March 28-30, 2016, for the Evens Program for Mediation and Conflict Resolution at Tel Aviv University and the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research of the Israel Democracy Institute.
69% of Jews and 76% of Arabs fear that they or someone important to them will be harmed in the current wave of terror attacks.
Iran Locks Itself Out of the International Financial System While Blaming Washington - Patrick Clawson (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- On March 22, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared that "the Americans have not acted on their promises and only removed the sanctions on paper." Although he is correct about Iran's ongoing difficulties with accessing the international financial system, he misdiagnoses the cause. The real problem is that Iranian banks are out of step with international banking regulations established over the past two decades.
- Strict anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing rules have been adopted across the world, and regulations were tightened after the 2007-2008 global financial crisis to meet the "Basel III" standards covering risk management, corporate governance, bankruptcy laws, and other bank safety requirements.
- At a meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in February, the 37 member governments - including Russia and China - gave consensus approval for a statement warning about the risks of doing business with Iran and North Korea. "The FATF remains particularly and exceptionally concerned about Iran's failure to address the risk of terrorist financing and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system."
- "The FATF reaffirms its call on members and urges all jurisdictions to advise their financial institutions to give special attention to business relationships and transactions with Iran, including Iranian companies and financial institutions. In addition to enhanced scrutiny, the FATF...urges all jurisdictions to apply effective counter-measures to protect their financial sectors from money laundering and financing of terrorism risks emanating from Iran."
- Past penalties have also made many banks cautious about how much risk to take with Iran. Having been subject to more than $15 billion in U.S. fines for poor enforcement of sanctions and regulations, and tens of billions more for other deceptive practices, major banks have adopted a "derisking" strategy predicated on leaving markets where they judge the risk of violating rules - inadvertently or not - is too high to be worth the limited returns.
The writer is director of research at the Washington Institute.
See also The U.S. Must Not Aid and Abet Iranian Money Laundering - Ed Royce
Iran has yet to see the economic growth it wants from President Obama's nuclear deal, and it's demanding additional concessions - above and beyond the agreement - in return for nothing. Allowing a belligerent Iran access to the U.S. dollar poses real dangers to our country and economy.
Congress should make clear that until the Iranian regime drops its illicit missile program and funding of terrorism, it won't receive another dime of sanctions relief.
The writer is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
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