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January 21, 2021
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
At his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden's nominee for secretary of state, was asked by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), "Do you agree that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and do you commit that the United States will keep our embassy in Jerusalem?" "Yes and yes," Blinken responded. (New York Post)
See also Palestinians React with Outrage to Blinken's Remarks on Jerusalem (Fars-Iran)
See also Biden Pick for Secretary of State Backs Two-State Solution, but Doubts Prospects - Karen DeYoung
Secretary of State-nominee Antony Blinken testified at a confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked whether Blinken considered Iran the world's "largest state sponsor of terrorism." "I do," Blinken replied. Did he consider Israel a racist nation? "No."
Blinken promised an enduring U.S. commitment to Israel's security but said that Biden remained committed to a two-state solution with the Palestinians. He added that "realistically, it's hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward." (Washington Post)
See also Blinken: Vitally Important to Engage with Israel, Gulf on Iran Nuclear Deal - Elizabeth Hagedorn
Secretary of State-nominee Antony Blinken pledged to consult with Israel, Gulf allies and Congress when seeking "a longer and stronger" agreement to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions during his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday. He said the administration would "engage on the takeoff, not just the landing" with allies and partners before taking steps to rejoin the landmark nuclear agreement. "Biden is committed to the proposition that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon. Iran with a nuclear weapon or the threshold capacity to build one is an Iran that would act with potentially greater impunity than it already is." (Al-Monitor)
Avril Haines, nominated to lead the U.S. intelligence community as Director of National Intelligence (DNI), told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that the U.S. is "a long ways" from rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. "I absolutely agree that Iran is a threat and a destabilizing actor in the region." (USA Today)
Israel's demand to remove Iran and its militias from Syria was discussed by Syrian and Israeli officials last month at the Russian Hmeimim base in Syria's Latakia, according to the Syrian Bridges Center for Studies. According to the report, the meeting included the Director of Syria's National Security Office Maj.-Gen. Ali Mamlouk, Security Advisor at the Syrian Palace Bassam Hassan, and Israel's former army chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot. Alexander Tchaikov, the commander of Russian forces in Syria, was also present. The center reported that Israel demands "completely removing Iran, Hizbullah and Tehran's militias." (Al Arabiya)
See also Syria Strongly Denies Report of Israeli-Syrian Meeting (Tehran Times-Iran)
Chevron Corp. and other companies helping to develop Israel's natural gas fields will invest $235 million to lay a new subsea pipeline from Israel's Mediterranean gas fields to Egypt. (Bloomberg)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday: "Congratulations President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on your historic inauguration. President Biden, you and I have had a warm personal friendship going back many decades."
"I look forward to working with you to further strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance, to continue expanding peace between Israel and the Arab world and to confront common challenges, chief among them the threat posed by Iran. I wish you the greatest success." (Prime Minister's Office)
U.S. Ambassador Gilad Erdan has met with U.S. President Joe Biden, Erdan said on Thursday after he took over the post from Ron Dermer. "I happened to coincidentally meet him on the train to Washington. We had a very long conversation about his relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the State of Israel, which runs very deep."
"I think we can expect years of expanding cooperation to even more areas beyond the existing ones," Erdan said. "I think there is a strong basis for optimism. In talks I have had with factors in the Democratic party and members of Congress, the mainstream of the Democratic party supports Israel very much. They understand that we are an asset to the U.S. and have shared values." (Jerusalem Post)
8,174 people tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday, the Israel Health Ministry said Thursday. 1,132 patients are in serious condition, of whom 317 are ventilated, a record high. The death toll now stands at 4,179, including 800 patients so far this month. There are 82,401 active patients, 16,262 of them in Jerusalem. 2,364,828 (26.6%) people have received the first vaccination shot and 691,876 (7.8%) have received both doses. (Ynet News)
Israel told Turkey on Monday that it will not normalize relations until Turkey shutters the activities of Hamas in Istanbul - from where it now directs terrorist activities in the West Bank, recruits Palestinians for terrorism, and finances Hamas terrorism. (Ynet News)
Since December, Iranian sources have been responsible for a growing number of cyberattacks targeting the Israeli government and private companies in Israel and abroad. The vast majority of attacks have been thwarted in their early stages and, as far as is known, no major damage has been inflicted. (Globes)
Following the Czech Republic and Hungary, Slovakia is purchasing 17 MMR Radar systems manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries subsidiary ELTA in a deal valued at $182 million. The radar components will be manufactured in collaboration with defense industries in Slovakia.
The radar detects airborne threats, calculates their threat level, and provides essential data that enables systems to neutralize multiple threats simultaneously. The MMR radar is used by Israel's Iron Dome air-defense system and has been acquired by Canada, Finland, and India. (Calcalist)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
A broad political coalition of Middle Eastern states are preparing to present the new administration in Washington with a clear and determined stand: There is no going back to the original 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. Iran must not be rewarded for its actions. Conditions have changed as has the situation on the ground. The U.S. must leverage the achievements of the sanctions on Iran.
At their first meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu will present the new president with fresh intelligence - irrefutable proof that Iran lied when it consistently denied the existence of its nuclear military program. A senior Israeli diplomatic source said, "The Americans are signaling their understanding that 2021 is not 2015, they are signaling that they will not be naive and that they understand the extent of the risks."
According to current Israeli assessments, the Biden administration will conduct an intimate strategic dialogue with Israel and its allies in the region before making a final decision on the Iran nuclear issue. A second senior diplomatic source said, "We will do all we can to bring all the necessary information to their attention and prove to the Americans that they must leverage the achievements of the sanctions in order to get Iran to accept significant improvements to the nuclear agreement....The Europeans also understand that simply going back to the original agreement is not possible and that there is real need for improvements." (Al-Monitor)
Iran has clearly decided to pressure the incoming Biden administration, conveying that, whatever its priorities, it had better deal with the Islamic Republic soon. The new president's position is compliance for compliance, meaning that we cannot lift sanctions before the Iranians are back in compliance - and by most estimates, it will take the Iranians a few months to do so. In addition, the Iranians are demanding compensation for what the sanctions have cost them and insisting that the U.S., not Iran, must act first.
Iran's provocative actions are designed to get the Biden administration to give Iran sanctions relief before anything else is done. Negotiations are never easy with the Iranians. If the Biden administration wants to produce follow-on negotiations that will require more from the Iranians, it might make sense not to rejoin the nuclear deal. The writer is counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and served in senior national security positions under four presidents. (Washington Post)
The 2015 JCPOA reversed legal precedent to enable Iranian missile work under the guise of a satellite launch program. The deal also allowed Iran to maintain an industrial-scale enrichment program greater than that of Pakistan at a time that Pakistan built nuclear weapons. Iran already has the knowledge to build and launch a nuclear warhead. All it needs is more enriched uranium.
Tehran is confident that they can outplay American diplomacy. They are simply following the path already laid by North Korea. As Iran does now, North Korea maintained a pretense of abiding by the signed 1994 Agreed Framework agreement even as it sought to cheat along the margins. The reality: North Korean authorities never abandoned their nuclear drive, but saw diplomacy as a way to delay accountability and enrich the regime.
Biden's team may say they want to re-engage Tehran, but in reality, their diplomacy will simply be a fig leaf to enable Iran, like North Korea before it, to establish a nuclear fait accompli.
The writer is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. (19FortyFive)
Almost every other top official so far nominated by President Biden for State and Defense Department roles is an Obama veteran. With scant experience in foreign affairs before becoming president, Obama argued that U.S. "engagement" with adversarial regimes could diminish their hostility and even cause them to liberalize internally. He believed the Iran nuclear deal could lead the regime to embrace "a different path." It never came close to doing so.
For Biden's Obama veterans, the logical response to this failure would be a more realistic, hard-nosed appreciation of the challenges posed by Iran. Illusions about the regime's potential for positive evolution through U.S. suasion should be abandoned. (Washington Post)
Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in an interview that with the new U.S. administration, "I am worried about one thing in particular: about Iran." "In 2015...the premise was that Iran would self-modulate....Now we know they didn't. They destroyed Yemen, attacked America in Iraq, attacked Israel from Syria and funded Hizbullah, Israel's greatest risk on any border." Over five years later, "we know they cheated. We know that when they said they never had a military infrastructure for their nuclear ambitions, they were lying." (Jerusalem Post)
Former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said in an interview he hopes that the new U.S. administration will keep sanctions in place until Iran ceases its progress toward acquiring nuclear weapons. "I hope that the new administration will speak to allies in the region - Israel and Arab countries - before they take any steps regarding Iran. I think that would be the wise thing to do. And we hope that they will not try to appease the Iranians....It's very rare that you have the Israelis and many countries in the region thinking the same way."
"You don't enter the agreement and then negotiate. You do it in advance before you enter the agreement....First is the issue of enriching uranium....The second issue is the ballistic missile tests that they have been conducting for the last few years. The third issue is funding terrorism. They are paying their proxies billions of dollars every year to promote terrorism all over the world." (Fox News)
Behind the July-to-December 2020 wave of normalization deals with Arab countries were earlier turning points, where the key party was Saudi Arabia. Israeli intelligence sources say that from his start in January 2016, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen established a unit to focus on normalization. Cohen is reported to have traveled to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco and other countries without diplomatic relations with Israel. Other precursors involved in this effort included former National Security Council chief Yaakov Amidror and former Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold.
Israeli intelligence sources have indicated that a real turning point was the reported visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Tel Aviv in September 2017. (Jerusalem Post)
The U.S. was closing in on agreements with Mauritania and Indonesia to be the next Muslim countries to normalize relations with Israel, but ran out of time, two U.S. officials told the Times of Israel this week. Mauritania established full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1999, but severed ties 10 years later. The U.S. was also in "intermediate" talks with Oman and slightly less advanced talks with Saudi Arabia on Israel normalization, another official revealed.
An outgoing senior U.S. official said that "if the U.S. wants to continue to motivate the Abraham Accords, three to four more countries should be the low bar for its success....There's no doubt that when the U.S. wants to lead toward peace and normalization, more countries will follow." (Times of Israel)
An Egyptian public opinion poll in November 2020, commissioned by the Washington Institute, found that 55% say good ties with China are important for Egypt, compared with 52% who say good ties with the U.S. are important. Only 35% call good relations with Ankara even "somewhat important," while just 9% rank relations with Iran as even somewhat important.
96% voice a negative opinion of Hizbullah, and an equal amount express a negative view of Iran's ally in Yemen, the Houthis. 73% voice a negative opinion of Hamas. Only 23% now view the Muslim Brotherhood positively.
However, only 1/4 support the recent peace agreements with Israel by the UAE and Bahrain, while 2/3 reject the agreements. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
On Jan. 3, 2021, Mohammed Dahlan broadcast on his Al Kuffiya network a two-part documentary program called "The Lost Story," including the revelation that PA President Mahmoud Abbas embezzled more than $2 billion from the Palestinian Authority Investment Fund. The program revealed documents and audio recordings of senior Fatah figures allegedly confirming Dahlan's accusations. Dahlan's accusations include responsibility for the fall of Gaza to Hamas and the failure of the Fatah movement in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.
Attempts by Abbas to kill Dahlan were also cited. As a result, Dahlan feared for his life and fled the West Bank to Jordan and then on to the UAE. Senior Fatah official Dr. Sari Nusseibeh appeared on the program alongside Dahlan, describing the Abbas' behavior against him as "Mafia conduct."
It is likely that Dahlan concluded that this was the best time to disclose all the information he possessed about Abbas' actions and failures in an attempt to discredit him before the new U.S. administration. At the same time, Dahlan wants to improve his own image among residents of the territories as the battle of succession in the Palestinian Authority leadership continues.
The writer, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
For his Zionist activities in the USSR, Natan Sharansky was sent to prison for nine years, half of which he spent in solitary confinement. He is a human rights activist, an Israeli politician, and former chair of the Jewish Agency.
At one of his visits to American campuses, he says, "I gave a lecture on Jewish identity. There was an anti-Israel demonstration right outside. Demonstrators accused Israel of being an apartheid state. I tried to speak to one of the demonstrators, I told her how I was friends with Nelson Mandela, that I was even an international observer in the South African elections. I wanted to tell her about South Africa, so that we could understand together whether Israel was an apartheid state."
"She began screaming out loud: 'We didn't come here to talk to you, we came here to demand a boycott of Israel.' This is a narrow oppressor vs. oppressed understanding, according to which Israel is a colonialist nation, the Palestinians are always right and there is nothing further to discuss." (Israel Hayom)
There are negative reasons to be a Zionist - that the Jews need a state because they need a refuge. That argument launched the Zionist movement in the 19th century and it remains valid to this day.
There are also affirmative reasons that relate to Jewish civilization. They boil down to the conviction that Jewish culture is an invaluable inheritance that only in the Land of Israel, in a state with a Jewish majority, can be developed fully and perpetuated reliably. As an adult, I came to appreciate the positive reasons to be a Zionist.
To be a Zionist is to revel in the ways Israel has integrated Jewish principles and traditions into the daily life of a large, modern, democratic society. Israel is where Jewish collective interests prevail, so they enjoy the dignity of self-reliance and self-defense. Hebrew is the main language. Jewish history inspires the geographical names. Jewish subjects have a special place in the schools. The Jewish religious calendar influences the rhythm of life.
In general, the American political tradition is averse to official privileges for particular ethnicities or faiths. But the way Americans practice democracy is not the only way. Most liberal, democratic countries were founded on an ethnic basis. Most give special consideration to the majority population's cultural interests.
The writer, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, served as U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (2001-2005). (National Review)
War broke out in November 2020 between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray Regional Government in northern Ethiopia. After three weeks of fighting, the Federal forces ousted the Marxist Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) from Mekele, the capital of Tigray, arresting some, including Sebhat Nega, 83, the founder and ideologue of TPLF, and killed others.
The Tigryans have an ancient civilization, Orthodox Christian religion, a written language and alphabet, and more than 400 years of written laws. The writer, a Tigrayan of Eritrea, is a Ph.D. student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
The State Department has cut ties with Islamic Relief Worldwide, an international charity that the U.S. accuses of spreading anti-Semitism. Until recently, IRW was an official partner of the American government and raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars. The State Department is "conducting a full review of the organization and U.S. government funding" due to the "anti-Semitism exhibited repeatedly by IRW's leadership," said Ellie Cohanim, deputy special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.
The group's senior leadership has engaged in persistent anti-Semitism, including social media posts praising Hamas leaders and calling Jews the "grandchildren of monkeys and pigs." Israel has designated IRW as a supporter of terrorism. James Richardson, director of the State Department's Office of Foreign Assistance, said, "Given what we know about IRW, the Department and USAID should act with extreme caution and avoid partnering with IRW in the future." (Washington Free Beacon)
Morocco and Bahrain have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which recognizes Jewish self-determination as a core component of Jewish identity. Israel's ongoing peace deals with Arab countries provide blueprints for what a long-lasting, meaningful, and reconciliatory peace agreement with the Palestinian leadership would look like.
The new wave of peace in the Middle East promises to be one between peoples and not just governments. This is the only sort of peace that should be deemed acceptable. (National Interest)
Sgt. Jessica Klempert, 22, the first female machinist to serve on an Israeli Navy missile ship, is responsible for monitoring the ship's machines and operating its generators and motors. She was one of the four sailors entrusted to bring Israel's new Sa'ar 6-class corvette warship, the INS Magen, to the country from Germany. "The adrenaline on a missile ship is crazy," says Klempert. "You always feel like you're part of something secret. You're doing something that no one knows you did, which is kind of a shame, but still - it's a good feeling."
Capt. Shira Klieger, 23, an electronics and defense officer, has served on all the Israeli Navy's Sa'ar 5 ships. Now her job is to make the Magen operational. "My goal is to determine when there is a threat to the ship, and deploy the proper response so that threat doesn't hit the ship or any asset we are defending, like a natural gas drilling rig," she explains. 20 out of the 80 personnel who will be serving on the ship are expected to be women. (Israel Hayom)
The IDF Bedouin Reconnaissance Battalion protects the Israel-Gaza border and is a ticket for Israeli Arabs to enter Israeli society. 40% of the battalion are non-Bedouin Muslim Arabs, Christians and Circassians. While these soldiers can serve in other units, many Israeli Arabs do not speak Hebrew well enough to do so.
Lt.-Col. David Ron, the commander of the battalion, said, "My battalion is more of a 'comfort zone' for them: They speak Arabic here and hang around with people who are more like them. But on the other hand, we are also a home for those who tried to join other units in the IDF, but it didn't work out. So instead of leaving completely, they can come here." Yet Ron stressed that whenever it comes to operational actions, speaking in Hebrew is mandatory.
In addition, there is an entire educational and economic apparatus operating within the battalion. They study Hebrew at different levels as well as life skills, such as learning to go through a job interview or open a bank account. (Jerusalem Post)
The U.S. Doesn't Need a New Middle East Policy - Amb. James F. Jeffrey (Foreign Affairs)
The writer, Chair of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, served as a Foreign Service Officer in seven U.S. administrations, most recently as Special Representative for Syria Engagement and Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.