U.S. and Europe Say Assad May Have Kept Some Chemical Weapons - Colum Lynch and David Kenner (Foreign Policy)
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has repeatedly found traces of deadly nerve agents in laboratories that Syria insisted were never part of its chemical weapons program.
The discoveries of precursors for chemical warfare agents like soman and VX at several undeclared facilities, including two on the outskirts of Damascus, underscored what OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu describes as a troubling pattern of incomplete and inaccurate Syrian disclosures about the scope of the country's chemical weapons program.
The U.S. suspects that the government may be seeking to retain a limited capacity of nerve agents and other lethal toxins to use against Syrian rebels.
200 Tons of Crude Oil Dumped into Red Sea at Aqaba (Times of Israel)
A burst pipe at Jordan's port of Aqaba spilled 200 tons of crude oil into the Red Sea on Tuesday.
Israel contacted Jordanian officials to offer assistance with cleaning up the spill, but the Jordanians were currently handling the incident themselves.
Environmental Protection Ministry officials did not note any immediate threat to Israeli beaches.
In November, a two-day joint Israeli-Jordanian oil spill drill took place in the Gulf of Eilat.
World's Longest Glass-Bottomed Bridge Was Designed by Israeli Architect (Times of Israel)
China opened the world's highest and longest glass-bottomed bridge last weekend, designed by Israeli architect Haim Dotan.
The bridge is 6 meters (20 feet) wide, 430 meters (1,410 feet) long, and hangs 300 meters (1,000 feet) high above a ravine in Zhangjiajie National Park in Hunan province.
It is fitted with 99 huge three-layer glass panes through which visitors can glimpse the drop below.
To prove the bridge is entirely safe, in June Chinese officials staged an event in which a glass pane was repeatedly bashed with sledgehammers, then driven over with a car full of passengers.
The glass held.
Israeli Company Intsights Cyber Intelligence Raises $1.5M from India (Globes)
Indian software company Wipro has invested $1.5 million in Israeli startup Intsights Cyber Intelligence.
Founded in 2015, the company infiltrates the cyber-threat underworld to detect and analyze planned or potential attacks and threats.
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- U.S.-Backed Turkish Forces Enter Syria to Take on Islamic State - Erin Cunningham, Liz Sly and Karen DeYoung
Turkey spearheaded a new U.S.-backed offensive into Syria Wednesday aimed at capturing the Islamic State's last stronghold on the Turkish border.
Turkish tanks crossed the border in support of Syrian rebels battling IS militants on the ground. The U.S. military is also deeply involved in the operation, with U.S. special operations forces offering advice to the rebel fighters and U.S. warplanes offering air support.
Capturing the town of Jarablus would deprive IS militants of their last remaining smuggling route for foreign fighters and supplies. It will also blunt a parallel offensive by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds.
See also Assad Bombs the Kurds: Implications for U.S. Strategy in Syria - Barak Barfi
Last week, heavy fighting erupted between the Syrian army and Kurdish units belonging to the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
The U.S. works closely with the PYD and its military wing, the People's Defense Units (YPG).
The YPG joined forces with a number of Arab brigades to create the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and this group has proved to be Washington's best Syrian ally against the Islamic State. SDF units have received heavy weaponry (e.g., Javelin missiles) and special forces training from the U.S.
An all-out Syrian regime war against the Kurds could have dire consequences for Washington's anti-IS strategy. The writer is a research fellow at the New America Foundation.
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- Iranian Revolutionary Guards Building Military Camps in Northern Iraq - Dalshad Abdullah
Iran runs six military camps near the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, including around 1,500 officers and commanders from the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Tehran is also planning to open new military camps, informed sources said.
"Mohammad Shahlaei, a veteran commander of the Quds Force, currently supervises the operations and movements of this Revolutionary Guards unit in northern Iraq," said Hussein Yazdan,
head of the military wing of the Kurdistan Freedom Party. (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Israeli Defense Minister: Hamas Robbing Gazans to Fund Terror Instead of Caring for Them - Lilach Shoval
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday: "Israel can't be expected to allow Hamas to arm itself. We can't be expected to allow them to rob the residents of Gaza. They charge taxes and instead of building buildings, they built tunnels....My approach is rehabilitation for demilitarization. That is the formula....Seventy percent of their tax revenue goes to building up military power and re-arming. They don't want to take care of the citizens, they only want rockets and tunnels." (Israel Hayom)
- IDF Raids West Bank Weapons Facilities - Yoav Zitun
IDF soldiers raided weapons-making facilities in the Hebron and Bethlehem areas early Tuesday, seizing 22 lathes and 54 weapons. The IDF still presumes that many more such weapons remain in the West Bank. (Ynet News)
See also Video: IDF Seizes Weapons in West Bank Raid (Israel Defense Forces)
- Palestinian Suspected in Killing of Two PA Officers Arrested by PA and Beaten to Death - Adam Rasgon
Palestinian Authority security forces on Tuesday arrested Ahmad Halawa, a former PA police captain and leader of the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade who was the suspected mastermind behind the killing last Thursday of two PA security officers in the Nablus Casbah in the West Bank.
Dozens of security forces surrounded and beat Halawa upon his arrival at Junaid prison in Nablus on Tuesday before he was extricated, but he died from his injuries.
Fatah and Hamas both condemned the PA for the incident, while a few hundred protesters from al-Najah University clashed with PA security forces as they marched in downtown Nablus. (Jerusalem Post)
- Nigeria May Block Israeli Participation in West African Summit - Herb Keinon
A planned summit in Nigeria between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the leaders of the 15 African states that make up the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is in jeopardy because the president of Nigeria has not signed off on the deal. Marcel Alain de Souza, the commissioner of ECOWAS, last month invited Netanyahu to take part in the summit.
However, Israel's relations with Nigeria, which will host the ECOWAS summit,
took a turn for the worse when its Christian president Goodluck Jonathan lost the election in 2015 to Muhammadu Buhari, who is Muslim. Nigeria's voting pattern on Israel in international forums has changed for the worse since the election. (Jerusalem Post)
- As the U.S. Loses Regional Clout, Iran Expands Its Ambitions - Aaron David Miller
In the Middle East, strength and negotiating acumen are prized; they demonstrate power and credibility. Meanwhile, the Obama administration's handling of its $400 million cash payment to Iran in January plays into the narrative that the U.S. is weak.
Iran is cementing ties with its friends - Russia, Turkey, Hizbullah, Iraqi militias that support Iran, and the Assad regime - while the U.S. is losing regional clout by becoming estranged from its friends, notably Israel and Saudi Arabia, also because of the nuclear accord. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is tripping over itself trying to explain how and why it didn't pay ransom as Iranian hard-liners contend that that is precisely what happened.
Iran isn't 10 feet tall. But in a region of weak Arab states, alongside a Russia willing to assert its power, and a Washington constrained by a nuclear accord that has expanded Iran's ambitions, Tehran is a force to be reckoned with. This will be the case even more when the constraints on its nuclear program begin to sunset in a few years. The writer is a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars.
(Wall Street Journal)
- Video - King Abdullah: Jordan Is Responsible for Arab Interests in Jerusalem, Not the Palestinians
King Abdullah of Jordan made some very strong statements against Jews going to the Temple Mount. Should Israel be concerned?
Jerusalem Center Arab Affairs analyst Pinhas Inbari noted: "I think that the Muqata in Ramallah should be more concerned than Israel because King Abdullah's main message was not against Israel, as strange as it may seem, it was against the Muqata in Ramallah, because King Abdullah of Jordan was representing the Palestinian problem instead of the PLO, and he mentioned his sole responsibility over Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque, which is the role of the Palestinians, as far as they are perceiving their role in Jerusalem."
"And he did not mention the Palestinians in Jerusalem, but he mentioned the Arabs in Jerusalem, which means there is no legitimacy to the PA in Jerusalem." (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
The Budding Alliance of Russia, Iran, and Turkey - Bret Stephens (Wall Street Journal)
- In July 2015, Iran's Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani paid a visit to Moscow to propose a plan to save Bashar Assad's regime in Syria from collapse. Iran and Russia are not natural allies, but what tipped the scales in favor of a joint operation was a shared desire to humiliate the U.S. and kick it out of the Middle East.
- Since then, Tehran has agreed to purchase $8 billion in top-shelf Russian weapons and is seeking Moscow's help to build another 10 nuclear reactors - useful reminders of how the mullahs are spending their sanctions-relief windfall.
- All this is happening as the nuclear deal was supposed to be nudging Iran in a more pro-American direction.
- Moscow and Ankara are also moving toward rapprochement and even a possible alliance. Turkish newspapers - all of them organs of the state - are whipping Turks into an anti-American frenzy with allegations that retired American generals were behind July's failed coup.
- Erdogan is rapidly Iranianizing his regime on the Khomeini model. Turning the U.S. into a Great Satan is a necessary part of the process.
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