February 20, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Iranian Airline, under Sanctions, Bought U.S. Jet Parts through Front Firms - Ian Talley (Wall Street Journal)
    Iran's Mahan Air, under U.S. sanctions for ferrying weapons and fighters into Syria, repeatedly bought U.S.-made jet engines and parts through Turkish front companies over the past several years, most recently in December, federal investigators said.

Turkish Students on Temple Mount Declare "Jerusalem Is Islamic" - Yori Yalon (Israel Hayom)
    Dozens of Turkish students from Istanbul University's Anatolian Youth Association arrived at the Temple Mount last week, unfurled a sign declaring that "Jerusalem is Islamic," and tweeted a photo of the group with the sign.
    The leader of the delegation wrote on social media: "Jerusalem, the center of the world and humanity, belongs to the Muslims, as it has since the first man on a daily basis. Zionist Israel must be defeated in these lands by the unity and solidarity of the [Muslim] nation."
    See also How Muslims Now View a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem - Madison Rinder (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
    Turkish President Erdogan has called for Muslims around the world to travel to Jerusalem to "strengthen the Islamic heritage and character" of the city.
    While Eitan Na'eh, Israel's envoy to Ankara, said, "We will always be glad to warmly welcome Turkish tourists to Israel and our capital Jerusalem," privately, Israeli officials in Jerusalem voice concern about Turkish pro-Hamas agitation inside their capital city.

70,000 Hindus Rally for Israel in India - Souptik Mukherjee (Jerusalem Post)
    Over 70,000 Hindus held a pro-Israel rally in Kolkata (Calcutta), India, on Feb. 14, one of several organized by the Hindu Samhati.
    There were calls for India to stand by Israel and move its embassy to Jerusalem.

Iranian Wrestler Suspended for Six Months for Refusing to Fight Israeli (AFP)
    Iran's Alireza Karimi Mashiani threw a match against his Russian opponent in the world championships in Poland in November to avoid fighting Israel's Uri Kalashnikov in the next round.
    On Friday, the United World Wrestling Disciplinary Chamber banned Karimi Mashiani from competition for six months, and banned his coach Hamidreza Jamshidi for two years.
    "Both wrestler and coach were found to have acted in direct violation of the International Wrestling Rules and the UWW Disciplinary Regulations."

Israel Plans Post-Harvest Warehouses in Mandalay - Khin Su Wai (Myanmar Times)
    Avri Bar Zur, chief agronomist at the Israeli firm Oz Agribusiness Projects, said his company is in talks with the Myanmar government to build warehouses to help farmers with post-harvest production in the Mandalay region.
    "Farm infrastructure is needed to help farmers. If they know about post-harvest production techniques, they can store their products for several months and sell them when prices are high on the market," he said.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Russian Foreign Minister: Iran's Statements on Destroying Israel Unacceptable
    Russia condemns Tehran's remarks that Israel should be wiped off the map, TASS quoted Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying on Monday at the opening of the Valdai conference on "Russia in the Middle East."  (RT-Russia)
        See also Lavrov Issues Rare Rebuke of Iran - Herb Keinon
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, "We have stated many times that we won't accept the statements that Israel, as a Zionist state, should be destroyed and wiped off the map. I believe this is an absolutely wrong way to advance one's own interests."
        Dore Gold, head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a former director-general of the Israel Foreign Ministry, was in the audience for Lavrov's statement and noted it was said in the presence of Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Gold considered this to be very significant "because it is blatant criticism by the foreign minister of Russia of their Iranian ally."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israel's Deepening Involvement with Syria's Rebels - Elizabeth Tsurkov
    While Israeli policymakers have sought to avoid entanglement in Syria, Israel is increasingly involved in supporting rebel militias in southern Syria. As Assad's regime stabilized, Russia spearheaded negotiations with the U.S. regarding the establishment of a deconfliction zone which abuts the Golan border fence. Russia agreed to prevent the presence of foreign Shia fighters within 5 to 7 km. from the Israeli border, but made it clear that the guarantee was only temporary.
        In late 2017, Israel began providing more military support to at least 7 rebel groups affiliated with the Free Syrian Army. This support came in the form of weapons, ammunition, and money to purchase weapons on the black market. Some of the groups were previously supported by the Military Operations Command, a CIA-directed center in Amman, which until January 2018 paid the salaries for tens of thousands of Free Syrian Army "Southern Front" fighters and provided them with materiel and ammunition.
        Israel's support is intended to protect the border area from encroachment by Iranian proxies, but also to enable the rebels to more effectively fight the local ISIS affiliate, Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Walid. Syrian rebels say Israel's support includes drone and precision missile strikes on ISIS targets in the Yarmouk basin. Israel also increased the flow of humanitarian aid into southern Syria in recent months, sending construction materials and supplies for schools and hospitals. The writer is a research fellow at The Forum for Regional Thinking in Israel. (War on the Rocks)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Signs $15 Billion Deal to Export Natural Gas to Egypt - Noa Landau
    The Israeli natural gas exploration group Delek on Monday announced two deals to sell gas to Egypt's Dolphinus Holdings over 10 years for $15 billion. The gas will come from Israel's offshore Tamar and Leviathan gas fields in the Mediterranean. Egypt has very heavy demand for natural gas for domestic use and for export as liquefied natural gas. (Ha'aretz)
  • Gazans Attack Qatari Ambassador's Convoy - Elior Levy
    Throngs of Gaza civilians attacked the convoy of the Qatari ambassador responsible for the rebuilding of Gaza, Muhammad al-Amadi, accusing his country of deepening the division between Fatah and Hamas. Some of the attackers demanded that the $9 million that Qatar announced it was donating to Gaza's health infrastructure should be given directly to its citizens. (Ynet News)
  • Israeli Ministers Back Bill Slashing PA Funding over Terror Payouts - Marissa Newman and Dov Lieber
    The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday approved a bill that would slash funds to the Palestinian Authority over salaries paid to convicted terrorists and their families. The legislation would deduct such payments from the tax revenues Israel transfers annually to the PA under an economic agreement signed in 1994.
        Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, "Soon, this theater of the absurd will come to an end, and the salaries of the terrorists that we will withhold from [PA President] Abbas will be used to prevent terrorism and compensate victims."  (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • How to Tackle the Biggest Obstacle to Finishing the War with the Islamic State - David Ignatius
    The biggest obstacle to finishing the war against the Islamic State and beginning the stabilization of Syria is America's supposed friend and NATO ally Turkey. Granting Turkey's demands would make Syria more unstable and prolong the threat of radical Islamist terrorism there. While American and Turkish interests should converge, why does Turkey imprison American citizens, accuse Washington of fomenting a coup, and violate U.S. sanctions against Iran?
        Seven years into the Syrian war, observers need to admit some truths: The Turks allowed thousands of foreign radical Islamists to flow into Syria and create bases from which they threatened Europe and the U.S.  These terrorists would still be in their capital of Raqqa, planning attacks, if the U.S. hadn't partnered with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces militia that Turkey hates so much. Meeting Turkish demands would mean abandoning the SDF, which did the fighting and dying against the Islamic State. (Washington Post)
  • Inflated Numbers for Palestinian Refugees - Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Israela Oron
    According to UNRWA, Palestinian refugees and all their descendants today number over five and a half million. Citizenship in another country, for example, Jordan, does not cancel their refugee status. For Israeli governments, the Palestinian demand for the "right of return" of refugees remains a red line supported by a majority of Israeli citizens from all parts of the political spectrum.
        The expanding numbers of refugees from the Middle East and Africa challenge the uniqueness of the Palestinian situation. Today there are 60 million displaced people, including 17 million refugees. Thus, with the growing numbers of refugees worldwide, the value of refugees as the Palestinians' main bargaining chip appears to be ebbing.
        In contrast to figures on UNRWA's official site, which cite 526,700 registered refugees in Lebanon, newly published figures based on a Lebanese census conducted in cooperation with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics estimate their number at 175,000. In the Shatila camp in Lebanon, for example, 57% of the refugees are from Syria, while only 30% are Palestinians. The gap in the figures strengthens the assumption that the numbers on the UNRWA site do not reflect reality - not only in Lebanon, but also in other countries. The writer served as Deputy National Security Advisor at Israel's National Security Council. (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)

  • The latest episode of Iran flexing its regional hegemonic muscles in the Middle East came with a direct and unprecedented military challenge to Israel. Last week, Iran used a technologically advanced drone to penetrate Israel's airspace.
  • Israel took the drone down, and proceeded to strike Iranian and Syrian military targets deep in Syria, demonstrating Israel's willingness to respond quickly and decisively.
  • The core issue is Iran's ongoing presence in Syria: Its goal is to assert itself there, and to call the shots, including vis-a-vis Israel.
  • Iran strives to establish permanent Shiite militias in Syria that will fulfill its hegemonic designs for the Middle East, similar to the role played by its proxy, Hizbullah, in Lebanon.
  • Russia and the U.S. have a strong interest in denying Iran freedom of action for military moves in Syria that go beyond the bounds of the civil war, and they are the main parties that should be working to ensure Iranian restraint, and its ultimate departure from Syria.

    The writer is head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

        See also The Iranian Militia Problem in Syria - Jackson Doering
    The presence of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Syria has grown from 700 to 3,000 since the Russian intervention began in September 2015. The IRGC acts not so much as frontline combatants but rather as a command structure and connective tissue for Tehran's allies in Syria. Other militias supplied, funded, and commanded by Iran include Hizbullah, Liwa Fatemiyoun, Liwa Zainabiyoun, and elements from the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) such as the Imam Ali Brigade. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)