Fighting Surges in Syria amid Apparent Collapse of Truce - Zakaria Zakaria and Hugh Naylor (Washington Post)
A surge in fighting across Syria on Thursday signaled the apparent collapse of a cease-fire that took effect in late February as rebel fighters reported heavy air raids in multiple areas.
Al-Qaeda Affiliate Faces Backlash from Fed-Up Syrians - Hugh Naylor (Washington Post)
Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, has provoked a backlash in recent weeks in Idlib province, where local residents have protested the group's heavy-handed tactics.
Residents accuse the group of applying increasingly rigid interpretations of Islam, such as strict gender segregation in public places, executions of adulterers and seizures of the property of non-Muslims.
"We're all feeling like we're suffocating now because of Nusra, which is acting like ISIS," said a prominent activist based in Idlib.
After al-Nusra militants targeted a popular rebel faction in the village of Maarat al-Numan - a Free Syrian Army group known as Division 13 - and arrested or killed a number of them, hundreds of residents, including children, came to Division 13's defense.
They held large rallies, stormed buildings used by Jabhat al-Nusra and defaced the group's symbols.
The protesters, who were shown on social media setting fire to the militants' facilities, eventually forced the group to leave town.
Jewish Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament Appointed Prime Minister - Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA)
Vlodymir Groysman, 38, the former mayor of Vinnytsia,
was appointed prime minister by President Petro Poroshenko, making Groysman the first openly Jewish person to hold the country's second highest post.
See also Groysman Approved as New Prime Minister by Ukraine's Parliament - Andrew E. Kramer (New York Times)
Ukraine's Parliament voted Thursday 257 to 50 to approve the appointment of Vlodymir Groysman as the new prime minister.
Jewish Leader Calls on UN to Rescind Appointment of Anti-Israel Human Rights Rapporteur - Yaron Steinbuch (New York Post)
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote Wednesday to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling on the UN to rescind its appointment of Canadian law professor Michael Lynk of Western University in Ontario to a key post in Israeli-Palestinian relations - saying his anti-Israel bias disqualifies him.
"Professor Lynk has devoted his life and career to undermining Israel and supporting partisan Palestinian causes, no matter how fringe," Lauder wrote.
"It is counterproductive and misguided to appoint someone to a high-profile position who will further inflame hostilities."
Lynk signed a letter in 2009 criticizing the Jewish state for alleged "war crimes" in Gaza. A few years later, Lynk argued that "the international community must isolate Israel through a trial before the International Criminal Court."
The Canadian foreign minister, Stephane Dion, has himself called on the UN to reconsider its choice of Lynk.
Brazil Sees Rising Threat from Islamic Militants (Reuters)
The threat of attack by militant Islamists is on the rise in Brazil as the country prepares to host the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August, the national intelligence agency said on Thursday.
Counterterrorism Director Luiz Alberto Sallaberry said the threat had increased in recent months due to attacks in other countries, and a rise in the number of Brazilian nationals suspected of sympathizing with Islamic State militants.
Oracle Buys Israeli Big Data Company Crosswise for $50M (Globes)
U.S. software giant Oracle has acquired Israeli big data company Crosswise for $50 million.
Crosswise has developed a cross-device identification system based on big data, data science, and machine learning that identifies which PCs, phones, tablets, digital TVs and other connected devices are being used by individual consumers.
This can help advertisers target appropriate consumers.
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News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
- Don't Back Security Council on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 388 Lawmakers Urge Obama - Carol E. Lee
In a letter to President Obama, 388 Democratic and Republican members of the House of Representatives, including Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, urged the White House not to back any resolution at the UN that sets parameters for Israeli-Palestinian talks, a move the president has been considering. The lawmakers said U.S. support for a UN Security Council resolution would "dangerously hinder" the prospects of resuming direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Israel has opposed such resolutions, and the U.S. has vetoed them in the past.
(Wall Street Journal)
- U.S. Lawmakers Seek to Boost Israeli Missile Defense Funding - Jen Judson and Joe Gould
Several influential lawmakers are calling for added funding for U.S.-Israeli partnership efforts like the Iron Dome air defense system, David's Sling, a medium- and long-range air defense system, and the Arrow family of anti-ballistic missiles. Last year, Congress augmented the administration's request for Arrow and David's Sling programs by more than 100%.
The additional funds directly bolster U.S. industry, Missile Defense Agency director Adm. James Syring told a Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing Wednesday. The Iron Dome missile defense partnership includes an agreement for co-production of the system that, in fiscal 2015, brought 55% of the work to the U.S.
Some of the additional funding for Iron Dome went to the procurement of additional interceptors that were needed after the 2014 Gaza conflict, Syring noted. He was asked why the president doesn't just provide more funding for Israel up front in the base budget.
- Iranian President Rouhani: Israel Main Source of Violence, Extremism
Addressing the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul on Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described Israel as the root source of violence and extremism in the Middle East. Rouhani expressed deep sorrow over the negligence of the international community on the issue of Palestine. (Tasnim-Iran)
See also below Observations: Prisoner of the Ayatollahs - Editorial (Wall Street Journal)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Netanyahu: Extremists Are Spreading Lies about Temple Mount to Cause Riots - Herb Keinon
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Thursday of attempts to heat up the situation on the Temple Mount. "We know that there are attempts, even now, to change the downward trend in the number of [Palestinian terror] attacks. There are attempts, even now, to try to renew the agitation and violence, especially around Pesach and the Temple Mount, as we experienced earlier [in October] during the High Holidays." Netanyahu said that as the Pesach holiday is approaching, extremists are "spreading lies" about the Temple Mount to cause riots. "There is no change in our policy regarding the status quo on the Temple Mount," he said.
- Ax-Wielding Palestinian Attacks Soldier in West Bank
Ibrahim Brad'aih, 54, from Al-Aroub in the West Bank, attacked an IDF soldier with an ax on Thursday before troops shot and killed him.
The ax hit the soldier in the helmet and he was unharmed.
Earlier, two 12-year-old Palestinian boys were arrested in Jerusalem's Old City after police discovered three knives concealed in their coats. The Israel Police said it appeared the children were planning to carry out a stabbing attack since they were carrying a goodbye letter to their parents.
(Times of Israel)
- Israel Is Less Isolated than the U.S. - Jennifer Rubin
The return of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir in the Gulf of Aqaba to Saudi Arabia by Egypt "is very significant. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is agreeing, according to press reports, to abide by the Egypt-Israel peace treaty," Elliott Abrams, former U.S. deputy national security adviser, tells me.
"When that treaty was signed in 1979, the Saudis denounced it and broke relations with Egypt. Now they are formally accepting it, and that means they acknowledge and will respect Israel's rights to use the Gulf of Aqaba and pass through what are formally Saudi waters."
"Moreover, all three parties - Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia - are acting like neighbors, agreeing (though there are still no open and direct Saudi-Israeli diplomatic contacts) on not only the islands and the Gulf but also a bridge to be built across the Gulf between Egypt and Saudi Arabia....It is a remarkable demonstration of how the attitude of Arab states toward Israel is changing."
There are several takeaways here. First, the notion that Israel had to solve the Palestinian problem before getting along with its neighbors ("linkage") has proved to be utterly false. Second, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom the Obama administration portrays as some kind of diplomatic oaf, has better relations with the Saudis and Egyptians than the administration does. (Washington Post)
See also Is Israel Forming an Alliance with Egypt and Saudi Arabia? - Ben Caspit
A highly placed Israeli security official said the moderate Arab countries have not forgotten the Ottoman period, and are very worried about the growing strength and enlargement of the two non-Arab empires of the past: Iran and Turkey. On this background, many regional players realize that Israel is not the problem, but the solution. Israel's dialogue with the large, important Sunni countries remains mainly under the radar, but it deepens all the time and it bears fruit.
- American Jews and Israel's Security - Elliott Abrams
Israel, it is said, has lost touch with young American Jews who are put off by outdated Zionist slogans and appeals for communal solidarity. The fundamental problem is said to reside in the nature of the Israeli polity and the policies of the Israeli government. But perhaps the explanation for the criticism or distancing resides not in Israeli conduct, which is actually a minor factor, but instead almost entirely in the changing nature of the American Jewish community itself. A deeper analysis suggests that we are dealing here with a far broader phenomenon in which sheer indifference may count as much as or more than critical disagreement with Israeli policies.
In The Star and the Stripes: A History of the Foreign Policies of American Jews, Michael Barnett of George Washington University posits a world presenting fewer and fewer physical threats to Jews. But what are the present-day realities?
To Israel's north in Syria sits Islamic State (IS), a brutal and murderous Islamist terrorist group of growing global vitality. To the east, Jordan is now burdened by roughly 1.3 million Syrian refugees, the eventual economic and political impact of whose presence cannot be measured. And somewhat farther east sits Iran, busily building its ballistic-missile program in service of the clear path to a nuclear bomb allowed by last November's six-power agreement, while also mobilizing Hizbullah and its own Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) troops just miles from Israel in Syria.
To the south lies Sinai, riddled now with IS and other terrorist groups that, despite efforts by the regime in Cairo, are growing in size. Almost each day brings another Palestinian terrorist attack, in a series that has reached over 200 stabbings, 80 shootings, and 40 vehicular attacks, with dozens killed and hundreds wounded. And has not Europe, where in city after city Jews are warned not to walk in the street displaying any sign of their religion, abandoned its Jews to the new anti-Semitism?
The writer, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, handled Middle East affairs at the National Security Council from 2001 to 2009.
See also Unspoken Reasons for the American Jewish Distancing from Israel - Martin Kramer
The writer is president of Shalem College in Jerusalem.
- Hamas Preachers Exorcise Demons from Children in Gaza School - Khaled Abu Toameh
A video leaked to Palestinian social media shows hysterical children in the company of exorcising preachers belonging to the Hamas-controlled Wakf (Islamic trust) Ministry in Gaza who cast out "demons" that might have wormed their way into the children's souls. This humiliating and invasive rite is being practiced at the Al-Nil School in Gaza City. These are the children who are later recruited as "warriors" in the jihad (holy war) against Israel and the "infidels."
The video captures the march of Palestinian society towards endorsing the tactics and ideology of radical Islam and groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda. (Gatestone Institute)
See also Palestinian Educational System Inculcates Hatred and Violence for Israel
In March, the Hamas-affiliated Shihab News Agency issued a video showing a Palestinian teacher indoctrinating school children with hatred for Israel and support for an armed struggle against it. An ITIC examination indicated the video was apparently filmed in the Rudolf Walther School in Deir al-Balah in Gaza, which was constructed with money from a German businessman.
The Palestinian educational system in Gaza inculcates students with radical Islamic values and teaches them hatred for Israel. The children undergo military training in preparation for joining Hamas when they are older.
(Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)
See also Palestinian Children in Bethlehem Wear Suicide Belts to Celebrate Fatah's Anniversary (CAMERA)
- Where Hawks and Doves Fly Together - Martin J. Raffel and Dan Diker
We have differing perspectives on the history and current status of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and perhaps its ultimate resolution. But sometimes our viewpoints converge. We believe in peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis.
To get there, we recognize the need to develop a Palestinian governance and economic infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza capable of sustaining a future state living in peace, security and good neighborly relations next to Israel. And we believe government-to-government, civil society and people-to-people initiatives that foster cooperation and bolster trust between Israelis and Palestinians ought to be supported and expanded.
Martin J. Raffel is former senior vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Dan Diker, project director of the program to counter political warfare and BDS at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, previously served as secretary general of the World Jewish Congress.
- Israel Expands Trophy Anti-Missile Defense Systems - Barbara Opall-Rome
Israel launched operational tests this week of combat engineering versions of its actively-protected Namer troop carrier that is based on the Merkava Mk4 main battle tank. Video and still photos released Wednesday by Israel's Ministry of Defense show three combat engineering derivatives: a bulldozer, a breaching and obstacle bridging version, and a towing version, all equipped with the Trophy Active Protection System (APS) against anti-tank missiles, mortars and RPGs.
The combat engineering Namers will allow Israeli ground forces to deal with terror tunnels, bridge obstacles, and maneuver in high-threat areas. "The combat engineering Namers endow brigade-level teams with capabilities they never had before," said Brig.-Gen. Baruch Matzliah. "They will overcome any engineering obstacle in the modern battlefield."
Capt. Tzuri Dill, a Merkava Mk4 tank commander, recounted an incident during the 2014 Gaza war when a company commander's tank was targeted by a Kornet anti-tank missile from a distance of 3.5 km. "We understood the tank was targeted, but the system worked like a charm. Because of [Trophy], the threat was neutralized. Everything was automatic." (Defense News)
- Israel a World Center for Renewing Aircraft - David Shamah
The budget-challenged Israeli Air Force has learned to adapt, recycle, and renew equipment. "In many ways, we have become the world center of technology to refurbish equipment," said a senior officer in the IAF Aerial Maintenance Unit (AMU). "The original manufacturers of the equipment come here to see our upgrades and learn from us. They are especially impressed to see what we are doing with 3D printers, and how we use them to produce parts."
The air force is keeping planes that have been in the air for more than two decades operating as good as new - actually better, in most cases, he said. "Here in this unit we can turn an old plane into something that is quite capable of competing on the battlefield with new planes, and in fact we can ensure that these planes will remain competitive and mission-worthy for another decade." (Times of Israel)
Prisoner of the Ayatollahs - Editorial (Wall Street Journal)
- It's been nearly two years since Hassan Rouhani vowed to free the two leaders of Iran's pro-democracy movement.
Such promises were at the heart of the Iranian president's "moderation" pitch, yet today both opposition leaders remain under house arrest without charge. Now one has written a public letter calling Mr. Rouhani to account.
- Mehdi Karroubi was a reform candidate for president in 2009's fraudulent election that saw regime favorite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected.
Millions poured into the streets to protest, and Karroubi and ally Mir Hossein Mousavi found themselves leading a mass uprising that became known as the Green Movement.
- "I am not asking you to lift my house arrest," Karroubi wrote. "I want you to ask the despotic regime to grant me a public trial."
- Rouhani lacks the authority to free the Green leaders even if he was inclined to. The puzzle is how Western powers came to imagine that Rouhani could bind such a regime to its nuclear promises.
See also Karroubi's Letter to Iranian President Rouhani (U.S. Institute of Peace)
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