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January 20, 2017

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Bombs ISIS Camps in Libya, 80 Killed - Barbara Starr (CNN)
    U.S. B-2 bombers struck and destroyed two ISIS camps in Libya overnight, with initial estimates that over 80 militants were killed, U.S. officials said Thursday.
    The strikes were on external actors who were actively "plotting attacks in Europe," Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said.
    The Defense Department showed a video of surveillance footage of the ISIS fighters as they loaded shells and rocket-propelled grenades into pick-up trucks.
    "The fighters training in these camps posed a security risk to Libya, to its neighbors, to our allies in Africa and Europe, and to the United States," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.
    The strike was carried out by two Air Force B-2 bombers flying from Missouri, a 30-plus hour roundtrip mission, with over 100 bombs and missiles dropped on the targets. In addition, unmanned aircraft also took part in the strikes.

Russia, Turkey Join in Airstrikes on ISIS in Northern Syria (AP-Military Times)
    Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military's General Staff said nine Russian and eight Turkish jets have conducted joint airstrikes against the Islamic State in support of the Turkish offensive on al-Bab in the province of Aleppo.
    The two nations had backed opposing sides in the Syrian conflict.

Jewish and Israeli Groups Deliver Emergency Aid to Refugees in Greece - Renee Ghert-Zand (Times of Israel)
    Representatives of Amaliah, a New York-based organization which provides aid to Syrians, and iAID, a new humanitarian initiative by former IsraAID founding director Shachar Zahavi, arrived on the island of Lesbos, Greece, on Thursday to distribute 1.5 tons of relief supplies collected in Israel to Syrian refugees suffering in unexpected snow and sub-zero temperatures.

Iran's Ahwazi Arab People Deserve Self-Determination (MEMRI)
    On Dec. 3, 2016, an international conference on Ahwaz in Tunisia by the Euro Arab Center for Studies called on the UN and human rights organizations to oversee human rights there and in other Iranian regions populated by non-Persian minorities.
    'Abd Al-Mohsen Hilal, writing in the Saudi daily 'Okaz, called the Ahwaz issue older than the Palestinian issue.
    Ahwaz is home to 12 million Arabs, and most of Iran's oil and natural gas comes from the region.

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Israeli Military Open to Volunteers with Medical Issues - Michele Chabin (USA Today)
    Unlike other armies, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) encourages young adults with a wide range of medical disabilities - from diabetes and cystic fibrosis to Asperger's and cerebral palsy - to volunteer for active duty.
    The IDF annually accepts 850 volunteers with serious medical conditions. About 300 of them, ages 21 to 24, are in a program called Special in Uniform that places them in military jobs "compatible with their abilities that prepare them for the labor force," said Yossi Kahana, director of the Task Force on Disabilities at Jewish National Fund, which helps operate the program.
    "Being able to volunteer helps people with disabilities integrate into society, and society benefits."
    Erez Orbach, 20, an American-Israeli officer-in-training, was one of the four soldiers killed in a truck-ramming attack in Jerusalem on Jan. 8.
    Yechiel Schlesinger, Orbach's personal physician, said the young man challenged the IDF's initial refusal to accept him, even as a volunteer.
    "He had a severe hematological condition that caused recurrent anemia and crises....When he asked, I wrote letters to the army explaining that he was capable of being a volunteer and then an officer cadet," the doctor said.
    "If those of us who helped him get into the army hadn't helped, he might still be alive, but he was so proud and he wanted to serve. This was his dream."

For Israel, Energy Boom Could Make Friends Out of Enemies - Peter Baker (New York Times)
    Israel is pushing ahead with an ambitious strategy to tap offshore gas reserves that could transform its economy and its place in a historically hostile region.
    If all goes according to plan, Israel will not only become largely energy-independent, it will also supply neighbors that will have new reason to be friends.
    Israel's energy minister, Yuval Steinitz, credited energy for a recent reconciliation with Turkey.
    In September, Jordan signed an agreement to buy $10 billion in natural gas over the next 15 years, which would supply 40% of its electricity.
    Officials are contemplating a pipeline to Cyprus, Greece and eventually Italy to access European markets.
    Israeli gas now produces more than half of Israel's electricity.

Liberating the Visually Impaired - Tali Tsipori (Globes)
    The Israeli company OrCam has a discreet device that attaches to eyeglasses and reads aloud any text the wearer points to.
    OrCam has developed a computer vision device that includes a miniature video camera and processing unit that can be attached to eyeglasses.
    Through a computer vision algorithm, the device is able to vocalize texts it encounters with almost no delay.
    The device weighs a very light 14 grams. There is a version designed for reading texts on smartphone screens.
    Orcam was started by the people who founded Mobileye, which senses objects for vehicles. In effect, the computerized vision of Mobileye has been translated for those with impaired vision.

Israel's Simbionix Has Software for Printing Models of Patients' Organs - Eitan Baigel (Globes)
    U.S. company 3D Systems exhibited software for 3D printing of organs specific to a patient in advance of complicated surgery, enabling doctors to hold and study the organ.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran's Revolutionary Guards Reaps Economic Rewards in Syria - Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and Ellen Francis
    Iran's government and entities close to the Revolutionary Guards have signed major economic contracts with Syria, reaping lucrative rewards for helping President Assad regain control of parts of his country from rebels. During a visit by Syrian Prime Minister Emad Khamis to Tehran on Tuesday, a license for Iran to become a mobile phone service operator in Syria and phosphate mining contracts were approved. An opposition group condemned the deals as the "looting" of the Syrian people by "Iranian extremist militias."  (Reuters)
  • Islamic State Steps Up Oil and Gas Sales to Assad Regime - Benoit Faucon and Ahmed Al Omran
    Islamic State has ramped up sales of oil and gas to the Syrian Assad regime, U.S. and European officials said. The regime's purchases are helping sustain Islamic State, despite its insistence that it is dedicated to eradicating IS. Oil and gas sales to Assad's regime are now Islamic State's largest source of funds, the officials said. Islamic State's "revenue and energy generation is being supported by the Syrian regime," said Amos Hochstein, a U.S. State Department official. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Iran Repopulates Syria with Shia Muslims to Help Tighten Regime's Control - Martin Chulov
    People are starting to return to the valleys between Damascus and Lebanon, where whole communities had abandoned their lives to war. But the people settling in are not the same as those who fled during the past six years. Unlike the predominantly Sunni Muslim families who once lived there, the new arrivals are Shia Muslims, not just from elsewhere in Syria, but also from Lebanon and Iraq.
        The population swaps are central to a plan to make demographic changes to parts of Syria, realigning the country into zones of influence that backers of Bashar al-Assad, led by Iran, can directly control. Iran's project will fundamentally alter the social landscape of Syria, as well as reinforce Hizbullah in Lebanon, and consolidate its influence from Tehran to Israel's northern border. "Iran and the [Syrian] regime don't want any Sunnis between Damascus and Homs and the Lebanese border," said one senior Lebanese leader. "This represents a historic shift in populations."  (Guardian-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Time to Reset Israel-U.S. Ties - Herb Keinon
    The angst in Israel about what President Obama would do in his final weeks in office is now yesterday's concern. The diplomatic process the French tried to ignite in Paris will go nowhere without U.S. support, and that support will not be forthcoming under Trump.
        In recent weeks Secretary of State John Kerry kept repeating his arguments about the settlements killing the peace process. He dedicated not a word to the impact that Palestinian terrorism, incitement and political division and dysfunction have had on that same process.
        At his final press conference on Wednesday, Obama indicated that the U.S. abstention at the UN was a shot across Israel's bow. It is doubtful the new president or his national security team will be taking public shots across Israel's bow. Not because there won't be differences between the countries, there will be. Israel and the U.S. are different countries, with different interests. Although these interests thankfully overlap most of the time, sometimes they don't.
        But will those differences be put out there for all the world to see and for Israel's enemies to gain comfort from, or will they be dealt with more discreetly. Obama magnified the differences. In Trump's inner circle there will be people who will advocate for the policies championed by the current government of Israel to a degree that was sorely lacking in the Obama administration, at least since Dennis Ross left the White House as a key Middle East adviser in 2011. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also below Observations - The Trump Administration: A Turning Point in Middle East Policy? - Dore Gold (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Israel Opens NATO Office in Brussels - Itamar Eichner
    IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan was in Brussels for the official opening of the Israeli office at NATO headquarters. In light of the Israel-Turkey reconciliation agreement, and at the behest of the Americans, the Turks rescinded their opposition to Israeli participation in NATO.
        Several Arab military heads were also at the NATO meeting in Brussels, and also met with Golan on the sidelines. (Ynet News)
  • The Facts about the Bedouin in Hiran - Ben-Dror Yemini
    The members of the al-Qiyan Bedouin tribe were transferred to the Yatir Forest area in the 1950s. Most tribe members later moved to the village of Hura. A small minority left the Yatir area and spread to the Hiran area. At the center of the violence on Wednesday was a minority who felt they had massive backing from radical activists backed by NGOs and Islamic Movement activists, helped with a lot of European money.
        A Supreme Court ruling determined that "most of the tribe members moved to Hura - a Bedouin community, which is regulated and connected to infrastructures - and the remaining ones are required to evacuate their homes, and are being offered to move to Hura."  (Ynet News)
  • Antiquities Robbers Caught Red-Handed in Galilee - Itay Blumental
    Officers of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) caught a ring of antiquities robbers red-handed while they were illegally digging at the biblical city of Mishkana in the Lower Galilee. IAA investigator Nir Distelfeld said Mishkana "was a Jewish village during the Roman period, and is written about in the Jerusalem Talmud...located half way between Tzipori and Tiberius." The 11 antiquities robbers are all from the Israeli-Arab towns of Turan, Kafr Manda, and Bir al-Maksur. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):


  • Abbas: Wake Up, The Middle East Is Being Reshaped - Francesco Sisci
    Shipping goods from China, India, or even Thailand by train to Europe through the Middle East is faster, cheaper, and more efficient than doing it by boat. This, however, needs political certainty. Israel, the industrial and technological powerhouse of the region, and the soundest democracy, is the politically most stable place and needs to be integrated to bring welfare to all.
        A major obstacle to this integration is the failure of Palestinians to recognize Israel's existence. Palestinians know Israel exists, but they do not want to admit it in order not to give up the possibility that Israel might be beaten and erased from the map. This might have been a possibility decades ago, but the shrinking political leverage coming from oil extraction, and the growing political and industrial force of Israel, makes the old Palestinian position insignificant. Everybody, including Palestinians, is lining up to deal with Israel.
        What was a bargaining chip for the Palestinians 50 years ago has now become a huge drag on their movement and a blinder thwarting their political vision. The Palestinians should work for a time when they can bank on decades of close contact with Israel to help Israeli integration in the region. This integration is already happening with or without the Palestinians.
        Palestinians can choose to join in this effort or be completely bypassed. The sooner they do it, the more political bargaining power they will get. The later they do so, the less they will get. The writer is an Italian sinologist, author and columnist who lives and works in Beijing. (Asia Times-Hong Kong)
  • The Palestinians Have Partitioned Themselves - Prof. Hillel Frisch
    The Palestinian Authority (PA), established in 1994, came to rule over all of Gaza in 2005 after the complete Israeli withdrawal and destruction of Israeli settlements. The PA also had exclusive control over the major cities in the West Bank and their environs, comprising 95% of the Arab population. However, in 2007, after several rounds of fighting, the Palestinians partitioned themselves when Hamas established its own exclusive government in Gaza. Almost unnoticed, the two-state solution had given way to a three-state solution.
        For Abbas' PA, the current status quo is essential for its security. The Hamas network of sympathizers, activists, and terrorists in the PA is so substantial that the PA is able to contain it only with significant help from the IDF.
        The international community argues that Israeli settlements would turn a future Palestinian state into a discontinuous state geographically, forgetting that it was the Palestinians themselves who initiated the process of discontinuity, and they are likely to make it worse as the fight over Abbas' successor intensifies.
        The Zionist movement, and later the State of Israel, have been waiting a hundred years for the Palestinians to be both sufficiently flexible to live side by side with the Jewish state and sufficiently unified to remain intact as a state. The writer, a senior research associate at the BESA Center, is a professor of Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University. (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
  • The Gaza Expert - Yaakov Katz
    During nearly 10 years in Gaza, Col. David Hacham developed close ties with a range of Palestinian leaders. There are few people in Israel who know the Palestinians like he does. For most of the last 15 years, Hacham has served as a senior adviser to consecutive Israeli defense ministers.
        I asked him, is there any chance that Hamas will one day change and be willing to accept Israel? Hacham said on a tactical level, Hamas would be willing to reach short-term cease-fires with Israel, but nothing more. "On an ideological level, Hamas will never change and will never be a partner for a peace process," he said. "The chance to advance something with the Palestinians today is slim to nil. Under the current reality, there is no room for optimism."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinians Want the Jews Gone from All of Israel - Robert Fulford
    The editors of the student newspaper at McGill University have announced: "The McGill Daily maintains an editorial line of not publishing pieces which promote a Zionist world view, or any other ideology which we consider to be oppressive." In other words, McGill student journalists can comment on Israeli affairs only if what they write is negative.
        Israel is the closest thing to a Western-style democracy in the Middle East. It has flaws, like all countries, but its freedoms (speech, trade, elections, independent judges) make it unique in the region.
        The settlements are on land captured by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967. Yet in 1964, when the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded, its aim was to eliminate Israel through armed struggle - before the settlements existed. The truth is that Palestinians want the Jews gone from the whole place. (National Post-Canada)

  • Iran

  • Changing the U.S. Approach to Iran - Emily Landau and Shimon Stein
    The impulse to scrap the Iran nuclear deal is understandable, but at this point renouncing the deal would be a lose-lose proposition. Iran has already pocketed over $100 billion in sanctions relief, the decision would cause friction with the other P5+1 states, and Iran would presumably be free to resume its program with no restrictions. Demanding renegotiation of the deal is also perilous. Renegotiation would take years, and what leverage would the international powers have to work with to pressure Iran, after having lifted the sanctions?
        However, much can be achieved simply by changing the U.S. approach to the deal and to Iran, and by altering the rhetoric. The Trump administration should press to end the secrecy surrounding many of Iran's nuclear activities and plans, reminding all that as a known and proven NPT violator, Iran lost its confidentiality privileges.
        Given the absence of any convergence of interests between the U.S. and Iran, the administration should set the ground rules for interactions with Iran, and preconditions for any future relations. Discussion in Europe today of steps to normalize relations with Iran is premature and misguided; it projects weakness vis-a-vis Iran's aggression and provocations, and lack of political will to confront Iran with determination.
        Since the Iran deal was announced, Iran has displayed emboldened behavior: stepping up its missile program, including testing of precision-guided missiles that can carry a nuclear payload, and possible cooperation with North Korea on ICBM capabilities; increasing its military role in fighting in Syria and committing barbaric crimes against the Syrian population; repeated provocations against the U.S. Navy in the Gulf; continued holding of Iranian American prisoners as bargaining chips to squeeze more money; and continued sharp anti-American rhetoric.
        Defense Secretary-designate Gen. James Mattis told Congress that Iran is the biggest destabilizing force in the Middle East, and that the U.S. must have a strategy for confronting its regional hegemonic aspirations. He views the malign influence of Iran in the region as on the rise, rendering Iran a growing threat.
        Emily Landau heads the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Former Israeli ambassador to Germany Shimon Stein is a senior research fellow at INSS. (National Interest)
  • U.S. Should Isolate Iran Immediately - Jeb Bush and Dennis Ross
    A pattern of Iranian aggression has accelerated in the year since the nuclear deal with Iran was implemented. Yet the Obama administration has ignored the comprehensive nature of the Iranian threat and soft-pedaled non-nuclear sanctions seemingly out of fear that Iran would walk away from the nuclear deal. As a result, Iran's leaders have become more emboldened and its footprint continues to grow across the region.
        Iranian advisors with Shia militias from as far away as Afghanistan flooded Syria, giving Tehran a military arc of influence stretching to the Mediterranean. Eleven Arab states also recently accused Iran of sponsoring terrorism and meddling in their internal affairs.
        The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control should not provide licenses to Boeing and Airbus until Iran stops using Iran Air and other carriers to ferry weapons and personnel for the Assad regime and Hizbullah in Lebanon. The new administration must also establish unmistakable red lines for continued Iranian harassment of U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf. Only through a new campaign of pressure can the U.S. demonstrate to Iran that it runs very great risks if its policies don't change and if it is ever tempted to pursue nuclear weapons again.
        Jeb Bush was governor of Florida (1999-2007). Dennis Ross, counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was a special assistant to President Obama (2009-2011). (TIME)
  • The Sunni Muslim World vs. Iran - Zvi Mazel
    Sunnis make up 85% of the Muslim world, while Shi'ites are less than 15%. Nevertheless, Iran enjoys an advantage because it is the supreme Shi'ite religious and political authority, whereas in the Sunni world, every imam can issue his own fatwas - though there is no general obligation to follow them. The lack of religious solidarity - let alone a common policy - severely hampers the ability of Sunni countries to counter the Iranian threat.
        Beginning with Khomeini, Tehran has developed a powerful and aggressive army to push its agenda: exporting its Islamic Revolution to Sunni states as a first step before attacking "the great Satan" - the U.S. and its allies. Iran was a major driving force in the disintegration of Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the shambles that is Lebanon. The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden. (Jerusalem Post)

  • Other Issues

  • South Africa Cannot Claim Ancestral Land Yet Deny Jewish People the Same Right - Luba Mayekiso
    I have supported the ANC for decades, but the ANC's view on Israel is divorced from history and reality. Any people that have ever felt the yolk of colonialism should understand the plight of the Jewish people in Israel. The only difference between us Africans and the Jews is that we were internally displaced, while the Jewish people were dispossessed and exiled. Is it illegal or undesirable for Jewish exiles to return to their ancestral homeland? How is it possible for our president, Jacob Zuma, and others in the liberation movement to return from exile in 1990, yet condemn Israel for settlements? The writer is national director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, South Africa and the founder of Africa for Israel Christian Coalition. (IOL-South Africa)
  • The Intersectionality of Fools - Dominic Green
    BDS, the campaign for "Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions" against the Jewish state, is the only form of campus activism to attack a single state internationally - and a single group domestically. BDS activists seek to control the intellectual environment, to create a "safe space" for the indoctrination of a biased and often false view of Israeli-Palestinian conflict while it aims to curtail the freedom of speech of Jewish and pro-Israel students. (New Criterion)

The Trump Administration: A Turning Point in Middle East Policy? - Dore Gold (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

  • The inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States is likely to lead to a major transformation of U.S. Middle East policy. Many of the assumptions that accompanied the years of President Barack Obama will no longer be held by American policymakers.
  • But equally important, many elements that had in the past been fundamentals of U.S. policy, and had been forgotten and had not been part of the repertoire of the White House in the last eight years, could be reintroduced.
  • The first element involves Israel's future border. Ever since 1967 when Israel captured the West Bank in the Six-Day War, the question of Israel's future borders was governed by UN Security Council Resolution 242, which talks about an Israeli withdrawal from territories - not all the territories - to secure and recognized boundaries.
  • Now some people think that's being very picayune with the language. But in fact the decision on the language of 242 was decided at the highest levels of the U.S. government, by President Lyndon Baines Johnson himself. And that language was preserved by successive U.S. presidents and secretaries of state.
  • For example, the Reagan administration in 1988, through its Secretary of State George Shultz, talked about the fact that Israel would never negotiate from or return to the 1967 borders. During the Clinton administration in 1997, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, in a letter to Israel, spoke about Israel getting "defensible borders," and that idea was enshrined in 2004 by President George W. Bush in a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that was approved by both houses of Congress.
  • Unfortunately, over the last eight years, Israel's recognized rights have been eroded, culminating in the most recent UN resolution on December 23, 2016 - on which the U.S. abstained - which made constant reference to the 1967 lines as its primary point of reference.

    Dr. Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former Israeli UN ambassador and director-general of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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