February 21, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Nearly 200 Civilians Dead in Syria Rebel Enclave - Anne Barnard and Carlotta Gall (New York Times)
    The Syrian government has loosed a devastating bombardment on the rebel-held Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, killing at least 200 people, many of them children, aid workers said Tuesday.
    See also Syria's Ghouta Residents "Wait to Die" as Bombs Fall (Reuters)

Houthi Missiles Test U.S.-Supplied Saudi Missile Defense Systems - Riad Kahwaji (Eurasia Review)
    The Houthi rebels in Yemen have increased the frequency of firing ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia in the past couple of months.
    The Houthis have fired at least 90 ballistic missiles against targets in Yemen and Saudi Arabia over the past three years.
    In the past, Houthi missiles were limited to ranges of 350 km., but since November 2017 the Houthis have been launching missiles with ranges of up to 800 km. - placing the Saudi capital, Riyadh, within reach.
    "The Houthi ballistic missiles could be an attempt by the party (Iran) providing them...to test the missiles' performance and efficiency against U.S.-supplied missile defense systems," according to a Western diplomat based in the region.
    A senior Arab military official said, "The Iranian advisors who are helping the Houthis fire these missiles are basically testing their accuracy and efficiency as well as their performance against the missile defense systems the Arab Coalition has deployed in Yemen and Saudi Arabia [the Patriot Pac-3]."
    See also Countering Iran's Missile Proliferation in Yemen - Michael Knights (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

How the IDF Is Preparing for Multi-Front War - Yaakov Lappin (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
    While according to Israeli intelligence assessments, none of Israel's enemies want a full-scale war any time soon, the IDF is implementing a plan to improve its ability to operate on multiple battle fronts simultaneously.
    In January, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot identified five fronts that pose threats to Israel's security: Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, Gaza, and Sinai.
    Hovering over all these sectors is Iran, with its nuclear ambitions and regional hegemony efforts.
    Former Israel Air Force Chief Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel said the IAF's strike rate has "doubled twice" in recent years. Several thousand targets can be hit within 24 hours, every 24 hours - a degree of air power unprecedented in military history.
    Yet the IDF will not rely mainly on air power, with a major effort underway to improve war readiness among ground forces.
    To counter the threat of armor-piercing RPGs and anti-tank missiles, the IDF is mass producing modern armored personnel carriers and tanks with the Trophy active protection system.
    This gives them not only the ability to intercept incoming missiles, but also to instantly detect and share the location of enemy cells that are firing at them, enabling rapid, accurate return fire.
    The writer is a research associate at the BESA Center.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Abbas at UN Calls for International Peace Conference - Farnaz Fassihi and Felicia Schwartz
    PA President Mahmoud Abbas told the UN on Tuesday: "To solve the Palestine question, it is essential to establish a multilateral international mechanism emanating from an international conference." Abbas said President Trump's decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel "has violated international law."  (Wall Street Journal)
        See also below Observations: "The U.S. Stands Ready to Work with the Palestinian Leadership. But We Will Not Chase After You." - Amb. Nikki Haley (U.S. Mission to the UN)
  • Abbas Leaves UNSC after Palestinian Statehood Call Rather than Hear U.S. Response
    At the UN Security Council, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walked out on U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley's rebuttal to his speech. (Sputnik-Russia)
        See also Israel: Abbas Is No Longer Part of the Solution - Daniel J. Roth
    "[The Palestinians] need leadership that will speak to Israel and not run away from dialogue," Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said Tuesday as PA President Mahmoud Abbas walked out of the Security Council hall to avoid hearing the Israeli envoy's comments. "You just addressed the members of the Security Council and spoke of your commitments to peace. This is what you often do when speaking to international forums," Danon said. "But, when you address your people, you convey a very different message."
        "You have made it official Palestinian policy to sponsor terrorism. In 2017, you spent $345 million paying terrorists for killing innocent Israelis. That is 50% of the total foreign aid donated to the PA. This is money you could have spent building 40 hospitals. This is money you could have used to build over 170 schools - every single year."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also AJC: The PA Pays Its People a Lifetime Salary for Committing Terrorist Attacks on Israelis
    Responding to PA President Mahmoud Abbas' UN speech, AJC CEO David Harris said, "Instead of traveling a short distance from Ramallah to Jerusalem to negotiate directly with Israel, Abbas chose yet again to come to UN headquarters in New York to ostensibly advance peace by internationalizing the conflict."
        Harris dismissed as "off the wall" Abbas' assertion that the Palestinians descend from "Canaanites who lived on the land of Palestine 5,000 years ago." He added: "Is there no limit to his capacity to rewrite history?" As for Abbas' claim that he is committed to non-violence, Harris said, "The PA, in fact, pays its people a lifetime salary for committing terrorist attacks on Israelis. To call that non-violence is straight out of George Orwell's 1984."  (American Jewish Committee-PR Newswire)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Trump Team Briefs Security Council on Mideast Peace Plan - Michael Wilner
    President Trump's Middle East peace team - Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt - together with U.S. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, fielded questions from UN diplomats for an hour on Tuesday after a public session of the UN Security Council concluded. They dismissed Abbas' proposal to organize yet another conference on Middle East peace that is bound to fail.
        Instead, they plan on rolling out their peace plan in a short time, saying, "Both sides are going to love some of it, and hate some of it."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Sharansky Warns on Building Ties with European Pro-Israel, Anti-Semitic Groups - Tamara Zieve
    Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky warned the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on Tuesday against the growing phenomenon of political groups on the Right in Europe returning to their Nazi pasts, while supporting Israel for its stand against Islamic extremism. "Those who love Israel and hate Jews and those who hate Israel and love Jews are not our partners," he affirmed. Sharansky is stepping down from the helm of the Jewish Agency in June after nine years. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Abbas Seeks to Halt Trump's "Deal of the Century" - Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi
    Mahmoud Abbas' political outline at the UN Security Council on Tuesday presents an outwardly moderate approach. However, in practice, it shows an uncompromising Palestinian adherence to the basic principles of striving for Israel's ultimate destruction.
        Abbas demands international recognition of a Palestinian state within the lines of June 4, 1967. This type of recognition would effectively render the necessity of negotiations on most of the issues under debate superfluous. His position also demands "the right of return" of Palestinian refugees to Israeli territory. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
        See also Video - Abbas at the UN: An Exercise in Futility - Amb. Alan Baker (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Abbas at the Security Council - Ghaith al-Omari
    In his address to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas reiterated the traditional Palestinian narrative and grievances, emphasized his unwillingness to compromise on core Palestinian interests, and repeated his rejection of the U.S. decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Although he called for an international conference, there is very little chance of that happening - the very model he cited, the January 2017 Paris Peace Conference, demonstrated how untenable that approach is.
        In short, Abbas balanced his domestic need to appear proactive and defiant, but avoided irretrievable diplomatic damage. The writer is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • America Should Get Behind Saudi Arabia's Revolutionary Crown Prince - Dennis Ross
    Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's efforts to transform Saudi society amount to a revolution from above. MBS is not trying to secularize Saudi Arabia. In his words, he is trying to "restore" Islam to its true nature and turn it away from those who sought to spread an intolerant, austere faith that created a justification for violence against all non-believers.
        The drive for change in Saudi Arabia is more credible because it is homegrown, not a response to outside pressure. It is being driven by an understanding that Saudi Arabia cannot sustain governance based on the lowest common denominator among all the factions of the royal family, the approval of the Wahhabi clerics, an economy dependent almost exclusively on oil for revenue, and 80% of Saudi households dependent on the government.
        We in the U.S. have a tremendous stake in MBS' success. He is a Saudi revolutionary, and the success of his policies will be felt not just in Saudi Arabia. So would their failure. The writer, counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, served in senior national security positions for four U.S. presidents. (Washington Post)

UN Amb. Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council on Tuesday:
  • "The United Nations spends an altogether disproportionate amount of time on Israeli-Palestinian issues....The problem is that the UN has proven itself time and again to be a grossly biased organization when it comes to Israel. As such, the UN's disproportionate focus has actually made the problem more difficult to solve, by elevating the tensions and the grievances between the two parties."
  • "Another reason we have attempted to shift the discussion is that the vast scope of the challenges facing the region dwarf the Israeli-Palestinian conflict....These immense security and humanitarian challenges throughout the region should occupy more of our attention, rather than having us sit here month after month and use the most democratic country in the Middle East as a scapegoat for the region's problems."
  • "I do not mean to suggest that there is no suffering in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides have suffered greatly. So many innocent Israelis have been killed or injured by suicide bombings, stabbings, and other sickening terrorist attacks. Israel has been forced to live under constant security threats like virtually no other country in the world. It should not have to live that way. And yet, Israel has overcome those burdens. It is a thriving country, with a vibrant economy that contributes much to the world in the name of technology, science, and the arts."
  • "It is the Palestinian people who are suffering more. The Palestinians in Gaza live under Hamas terrorist oppression. I can't even call it a governing authority, as Hamas provides so little in the way of what one would normally think as government services. The people of Gaza live in truly awful conditions, while their Hamas rulers put their resources into building terror tunnels and rockets."
  • "The Palestinian leadership has a choice to make between two different paths. There is the path of absolutist demands, hateful rhetoric, and incitement to violence. That path has led, and will continue to lead, to nothing but hardship for the Palestinian people. Or, there is the path of negotiation and compromise. History has shown that path to be successful for Egypt and Jordan."
  • "The United States stands ready to work with the Palestinian leadership. Our negotiators are sitting right behind me, ready to talk. But we will not chase after you."

        See also Video: Amb. Nikki Haley at the UN Security Council on Feb. 20 (State Department)