February 15, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Tillerson: U.S. Mideast Peace Plan Is "Fairly Well Advanced" - Nick Wadhams and Mohammad Tayseer (Bloomberg)
    The Trump administration's Middle East peace plan is "fairly well advanced," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday in Amman, Jordan.
    "It will be up to the president to decide when he feels it's time and he's ready to put that plan forward."
    Tillerson said Trump "remains committed to seeing a Middle East peace process go forward."

U.S. Forces in Syria Come under Second Attack in a Week - Kyle Rempfer (Military Times)
    For the second time in less than a week, U.S. special operations forces in eastern Syria came under attack from pro-regime forces loyal to Syrian President Assad.
    The coalition advisers to the Syrian Democratic Forces called in an airstrike with an MQ-9 Reaper UAV to destroy a Soviet-made T-72 battle tank on Saturday.
    "We detected and saw a tank that took a shot at us," Lt.-Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, said Tuesday.
    "It continued to move, so we again executed self-defense rules of engagement to protect ourselves."

Report: Russian-Made Anti-Aircraft Rocket Transferred to Israel - Dov Lieber (Times of Israel)
    Fragments of a Russian-made S-200 anti-aircraft rocket fired by the Syrian military at IDF jets on Saturday were handed over to Israeli security forces by Syrians in border villages on the Golan Heights, the al-Khaleej news site reported.

Iraqi Militia Vows to Back Hizbullah in War with Israel (AFP-Gulf News-Dubai)
    The head of the powerful Iraqi militia Harakat Al Nujaba pledged on Tuesday to stand alongside its Lebanese ally Hizbullah if a new war breaks out with Israel.
    On Tuesday, the movement's secretary general, Akram Al Kaabi, visited the tomb of top Hizbullah commander Imad Mughniyeh to commemorate the 10 years since his death.
    Both Harakat Al Nujaba and Hizbullah are backed by Iran.
    See also Hizbullah Commander Imad Mughniyeh: 10 Years since His Assassination - Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Chinese Peacekeepers in Lebanon Clear Border Minefields (Xinhua-China)
    Of the 400 members of the Chinese military deployed as UNIFIL peacekeepers, 60 are tasked with clearing mines along the Israel-Lebanon border.
    Lt.-Col. Luo Qiang, the head supervisor of the demining team, proudly noted the unit's clear record of any accidents and injuries since the beginning of their work in 2006.
    "The work we do is difficult. It requires such precise attention and it is dangerous, but we are honored to be granted such a task and represent China in doing so," he said.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Haley: Iran and Hizbullah Are Entrenching Themselves Inside Syria
    U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told the Security Council on Wednesday: "Earlier this week, Iranian-backed militias in southern Syria launched a drone into Israeli territory. It was an egregious and unprompted escalation. Iran was once again doing what it does - risking conflict and testing the will of its neighbors and opponents to resist its aggression. Israel rightly took action to defend itself. The United States will always stand by our ally when confronted with provocations from Iran, Hizbullah, or the Assad regime."
        "On every front of this conflict [in Syria], we find fighters imported by Iran from Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. When we see the Assad regime starving civilians in eastern Ghouta or pummeling schools and hospitals in Idlib, we see advisers from Iran and Hizbullah helping direct those atrocities."
        "The drone flight this week is a wake-up call for all of us. Iran and Hizbullah are making plans to stay in Syria....It's hard to see how a peace process will work while the Assad regime continues to launch all-out attacks against the Syrian people, and Iran and Hizbullah are entrenching themselves inside the country."  (U.S. Mission to the UN)
  • Turkey's Offensive Against Kurdish Fighters in Syria Runs into Problems - Louisa Loveluck and Zakaria Zakaria
    A Turkish offensive against Kurdish fighters has bogged down in the mountains and mud of northern Syria. After two weeks, Russia restricted Turkish access to the airspace. Without air cover, the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army, who are doing most of the fighting in the Turkish offensive, have found it hard to advance.
        On the ground and in the air, Ankara is suffering losses. At least 28 troops have died during the offensive, two of them helicopter pilots killed Saturday, and Syrian rebel battalions said their casualties were mounting. The Afrin region's mountains are riddled with tunnels, giving Kurdish forces the advantage in surveillance and surprise. So far, the offensive has not progressed far beyond the Turkish border, according to Kino Gabriel, a spokesman for a U.S.-backed force composed primarily of Syrian Kurds. (Washington Post)
        See also Turkey Assails U.S. over Ties with Syrian Kurdish Militia - Philip Issa and Suzan Fraser (AP-Military Times)
        See also U.S., Turkey on Collision Course in Syria - Metin Gurcan (Al-Monitor)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israeli Defense Minister: Iran Declared War on Us Long Ago - Anna Ahronheim
    "Iran declared war on us. The highest echelons in Tehran want to erase the Zionist entity; they do not hide the fact that they want to wipe the State of Israel off the face of the earth," Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday. "Iran is also fighting us through its proxies - Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad and now Hamas, and of course the Syrian regime. Therefore, it is a daily war, not only in the military aspect but also in the realm of international terrorism, and we do everything in order to preserve Israel's security."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Despite Official Boycott, Over Half of East Jerusalem Arabs Want to Vote in City Elections - Nir Hasson
    Palestinians have consistently boycotted Jerusalem municipal elections and those who sought to run for election were violently attacked until they withdrew their candidacies. Yet a new poll by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion found that nearly 60% believe they should participate in municipal elections, while only 14% oppose doing so. Moreover, 97% opposed a redivision of the city along the 1967 lines that would end free access to both sides of the city. (Ha'aretz)
  • Palestinian Terrorist Given Four Life Sentences - Elisha Ben Kimon
    Omar al-Abed, who murdered Yosef Salomon, his daughter Chaya and his son Elad in their home in Halamish in the West Bank last July, was given four life sentences on Wednesday by a three-judge panel.
        In a minority opinion, military court judge Lt. Col. Dov Gilboa argued that al-Abed should be sentenced to death. "These are very exceptional circumstances," wrote Judge Gilboa. "The defendant, from the inception stage and until the criminal massacre, acted as one who wishes to carry out a slaughter....Throughout the trial, I watched him enjoy himself and smiling, even doing so in front of the family [of those he murdered]."  (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Nuclear Deal Linked to Iranian Gains in Syria - Jonathan S. Tobin
    The conflict heating up on Israel's northern border is a direct consequence of the Iran nuclear deal. By choosing to normalize relations with Tehran - and signing a deal that legalized their nuclear program and ignored everything else it was doing - the U.S. set in motion a series of events that led directly to the presence of significant Iranian forces in Syria.
        Far from encouraging Iran to be a responsible member of the world community, ending sanctions encouraged its leaders to treat the deal as a green light for their quest for regional hegemony. The only solution is going to have to involve rolling back the gains Iran has made since the U.S. signed a deal that set them on their current path. (JNS.org)
  • Who's Responsible for the Mess in Gaza - Liel Leibovitz
    We know from both Israeli and Palestinian estimates that Hamas spends approximately $100 million a year - about 20% of the budget of the government in Gaza - on preparing for and executing attacks against Israel. The New York Times told us this past Sunday, "Five concrete plants have been set up, supplying 20 digging sites, at a cost of nearly $1 billion," all for the purpose of digging tunnels designed to facilitate the kidnapping and murdering of Jews.
        Given Hamas' steadfast commitment to destroy Israel at all costs, and given their dedication to spend every last shekel on tunnels, Qassam missiles, drones, and other weapons - and if Israel isn't going to provide free electricity, sewage treatment, and hospital care to the terror group busy trying to kill it - we're looking at a deep humanitarian crisis. (Tablet)
  • The Palestinian Textbook Problem - Yaakov Ahimeir
    Dr. Arnon Gross, formerly a senior Arabic language broadcaster at Voice of Israel Radio, read 200 Arabic textbooks to understand what Palestinian students are taught. He found that the school system drills into the heads of students that there is no entity called "Israel." And if it does exist, it should be called "the Zionist entity" that must be destroyed.
        He says the books clearly "demonize the Jews and Israel, and encourage the violent struggle to liberate Palestine from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea." The area in question here is not just the West Bank but the whole Land of Israel. Gross stresses that from year to year, Palestinian textbooks have not become more moderate - quite the opposite, in fact. The writer is editor and presenter at Israel's Channel 1 television. (Israel Hayom)

Iran Is Playing with Fire by Testing Israel in Syria - Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin and Ari Heistein (Foreign Policy)
  • Iran is seeking to rewrite the "rules of the game" governing Israel's actions in Syria. By launching a sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicle into Israeli airspace on Saturday, Iran set off a chain reaction which led the Israeli Air Force to strike Iranian and Assad regime positions in Syria, including the Iranian command center from which the drone was remotely piloted.
  • The loss of one Israeli jet should not be exaggerated; it is not a watershed moment that will alter the strategic balance in the Middle East. Because Israel's enemies have succeeded in bringing down only a single plane over the past 30 years despite that fact that it has launched over 100 strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war, there is little basis for questioning Israel's air superiority.
  • By causing heavy damage to Syrian defense infrastructure but not completely decimating all of its air defenses, Israel demonstrated that it could demolish all Syrian forces if necessary, but by not doing so it gave Damascus an incentive to avoid future conflict.
  • Israel also conducted its first-ever direct strikes on manned Iranian fixtures in Syria. Iranian forces stationed in Damascus are 800 miles from Tehran and only a few dozen miles from Israel, which leaves them extremely vulnerable to Israeli aerial attacks.

    Amos Yadlin, former head of IDF Military Intelligence, is director of the Institute for National Security Studies, where Ari Heistein is his special assistant.