Iran, Hizbullah Gain Foothold in Golan Heights - Nicholas Blanford (Daily Star-Lebanon)
Allowing Iran and Hizbullah to gain a stronger foothold in the Golan is one of the goals of the current offensive underway in southern Syria.
Combat operations are being directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp with much of the attacking force composed of IRGC soldiers, Hizbullah fighters and Shiite auxiliary forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Abu Ali, a veteran Hizbullah fighter who has served multiple tours in Syria, confirmed IRGC leadership of the southern Syria offensive and that Iranian troops were involved.
"Iran will be so close to the Israelis that it will no longer need long-range missiles to hit them," Abu Ali said. "The Golan is going to be a new front line."
He added that tunnel and bunker construction in the Golan has been underway for a year. He said Iranian Gen. Mohammad Allahdadi, killed in January, was conducting an inspection tour of the new facilities when he was killed by Israeli drones.
ISIS Wants to "Blow Up" White House, Big Ben and Eiffel Tower - Stewart Bell (National Post-Canada)
The Islamic State wants to "blow up your White House, Big Ben, and the Eiffel Tower," official spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said in an audio message Thursday.
"We want" Paris, Rome, Jerusalem, and Kabul, he said.
See also Defending Italy from the Islamic State - Adm. James Stavridis (Washington Post)
The Islamic State has geographic, political and symbolic interests in sailing to Italy. We must do all we can to help Italy prepare.
The writer, former supreme allied commander at NATO, is the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
U.S. Drone Strike in Somalia Kills Kenya Mall Attack Planner - Tom Odula (AP)
A U.S. drone strike in Somalia on Thursday is believed to have killed Adan Garar, a senior member of al-Shabab who helped plan the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi in which 67 people were killed.
A senior Kenyan official said Garar is also suspected of planning failed attacks on Kenya's coast and in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, last year.
Palestinian Activist Sentenced for U.S. Immigration Fraud - Ed White (AP)
U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain on Thursday sentenced Rasmieh Odeh, 67, to 18 months in prison for lying about her convictions for bombings in Israel when she sought U.S. citizenship, calling her a "terrorist" from decades ago.
Odeh, who helps run Chicago's Arab American Action Network, also was stripped of her citizenship and will be deported, probably to Jordan.
ISIS Brainwashes, Trains New Generation of Militants - Ammar Al Shamary and Gilgamesh Nabeel (USA Today)
Some 600 children younger than age 13 are patrolling the streets of Mosul for Islamic State.
Videos released after Islamic State captured Mosul last summer showed adult trainers beating black-garbed children with sticks and forcing the young would-be fighters to break concrete blocks over their heads during martial-arts training.
Later, the children were shown shooting rifles in the air, climbing dusty hills and learning how to detain a prisoner.
Other videos have shown teenagers blowing themselves up at a Shiite mosque in Baghdad and driving explosive-packed vehicles into a government security checkpoint in Tikrit.
Riyadh Mohammed, an Iraqi journalist, pointed out that fighters younger than 18 comprised most of the IS reinforcements sent to Kobani.
What's a Palestinian? - Zachary J. Foster (Foreign Affairs)
When did the Arabic speakers of Palestine first began calling themselves Palestinians?
It seems that the first Arab to use the term "Palestinian" was Farid Georges Kassab, a Beirut-based Orthodox Christian in his 1909 book Palestine, Hellenism, and Clericalism.
By 1913, the concept of a Palestinian identity began forming in the media.
The Guardian ran a piece stating that "most historians mark the start of Palestinian Arab nationalist sentiment as 1834, when Arab residents of the Palestinian region revolted against Ottoman rule."
In fact, few historians think that the 1834 revolt had much to do with Palestine or the Palestinians. Rather, the event was a revolt in support of Ottoman rule, against the policies of the Levant's new Egyptian occupiers who had levied high taxes, conscripted young men into the army, and abolished erstwhile privileges that Muslims had had over their Christian neighbors.
The Quiet Growth in Indonesia-Israel Relations - Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat (The Diplomat-Japan)
Indonesia, the nation with the largest Muslim population in the world, quietly enjoys a cordial relationship with Israel.
Although the two countries maintain no official diplomatic relations, trade between Jakarta and Tel Aviv has reportedly reached $400-500 million.
Israel to Provide Ammunition to the Spanish Army - Ami Rojkes Dombe (Israel Defense)
Israel Military Industries (IMI) has won a tender to supply ammunition to the Spanish army, according to a report on diariopalentino.es.
IMI will provide 68 million 5.56 mm rounds throughout six years for 41 million euros.
Israel Foreign Direct Investment Rises to $710M in January (Reuters)
Israel received $710 million worth of foreign direct investment in January, up from $570 million in December, the Bank of Israel said on Sunday.
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- Major Nations Hold Talks on Ending UN Sanctions on Iran - Louis Charbonneau
Major world powers have begun talks about a UN Security Council resolution to lift UN sanctions on Iran if a nuclear agreement is struck, a senior U.S. administration official confirmed. Some eight UN resolutions - four of them imposing sanctions - ban Iran from uranium enrichment and other sensitive atomic work and bar it from buying and selling atomic technology and anything linked to ballistic missiles. There is also a UN arms embargo.
"If there's a nuclear deal, and that's still a big 'if,' we'll want to move quickly on the UN sanctions issue," an official said. (Reuters)
See also Senator Corker Pushes Obama for Congressional Vote on Iran Deal - Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), urged President Obama on Thursday not to seek a UN endorsement of the emerging nuclear agreement with Iran without first giving Congress a chance to vote on it.
(New York Times)
- Which Group in Syria Is the Lesser Evil for Israel? - Yaroslav Trofimov
Opposite the southern Golan Heights, in Syria, are the positions of the Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda that the U.S. has targeted with airstrikes. Nusra Front, however, hasn't bothered Israel since seizing the border area last summer - and some of its severely wounded fighters are regularly taken across the frontier fence to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals. There is clearly a growing divergence in U.S. and Israeli approaches over who should be seen as a lesser evil in the implosion of Syria.
"There is no doubt that Hizbullah and Iran are the major threat to Israel, much more than the radical Sunni Islamists, who are also an enemy," said Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel's military intelligence. "Those Sunni elements who control some two-thirds to 90% of the border on the Golan aren't attacking Israel. This gives you some basis to think that they understand who is their real enemy."
Israeli officials also stress that Israel views with mounting alarm the push southward along the frontier by regime troops and Hizbullah forces. "Nusra is a unique version of al-Qaeda. They manage to cooperate with non-Islamist and non-jihadi organizations in one coalition," said Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Michael Herzog, former chief of staff for Israel's defense minister. "They are totally focused on the war in Syria and aren't focused on us. But when Hizbullah and Iran and others are pushing south, they are very much focused on us."
Yet Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University, one of the country's foremost experts on Syria, cautioned, "It is just a matter of time before some of these Syrian rebels start launching attacks against Israel....Nusra is al-Qaeda. Maybe a little bit more pragmatic, but still al-Qaeda." (Wall Street Journal)
- U.S.: Islamic State Could Infiltrate through Caribbean and South America - Dan Lamothe
About 100 people have joined the Islamic State from countries in the Caribbean and South America, and existing human smuggling networks are in place that could allow them to infiltrate the U.S. if they return, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, chief of U.S. Southern Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. He said the networks are "so efficient that if a terrorist or almost anyone wants to get into our country, they just pay the fare."
"I would suspect...that while they're in Syria they'll get good at killing and they'll pick up some real job skills in terms of explosives and beheadings," Kelly said. "Everyone is concerned, of course, if they come home...with really good job skills." (Washington Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Hamas Digging, Building Outposts Not Far from Border - Matan Tzuri
Hamas is preparing for the next round of fighting against Israel by building fortifications near the Israel-Gaza border, video footage filmed this week shows. Armed and masked, Hamas fighters are seen digging and setting up outposts and training facilities dozens of meters from the border fence. The video was filmed from inside Israel near Netiv HaAsara. The Hamas fighters are operating where the settlements of Elei Sinai and Nisanit once were, before they were evacuated as part of the Gaza disengagement.
- Revolutionary Guard Official: Iran Indoctrinating Syria Youth; Rouhani Advisor: All of the Middle East Is Iranian
A top Iranian Revolutionary Guards officer boasted to Al-Arabiya on Tuesday about Tehran's role in Syria and revealed that his country has been indoctrinating youth there to fight under the IRGC. "The IRGC has begun to establish new religious groups in Syria called 'Kashab' among young Alawites, Sunnis, Christians and Ismailis" to carry out "ideological education" for the "recruitment of teenagers in Syria to fight in militias under [the command] of the IRGC."
He boasted that Iran had formed 42 brigades and 138 battalions to fight for the Assad regime. He added that the "establishment of the Basij [paramilitary militia] in Syria was one of Iran's most important achievements in recent years."
Earlier in the week, Ali Younesi, one of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's advisors, said that no power had the right to oppose Iran in the region. "All of the Middle East is Iranian," the Kurdish Iraqi Rudaw news agency quoted him as saying.
- The Palestinian Authority's New Economic Strategy - Yoni Ben Menachem
The Palestinian Authority is not content with breaching diplomatic clauses of the Oslo agreements and taking unilateral steps such as turning to the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court at The Hague. It is also planning to repudiate the Protocol on Economic Relations (or Paris Protocol) that is an integral part of those agreements.
On March 1, PA Minister of Economy Mohammed Mustafa told Palestinian businesspeople that the PA is "preparing a new economic strategy whose aim is to create a Palestinian economy that is independent and separate from Israel." On March 2, Mustafa announced that the PA "is on the way to an economic revolt like the diplomatic revolt when we turned to the UN." On March 10, Fatah Central Committee member Dr. Mohammed Ashtiya, who is mentioned as a possible successor to Mahmoud Abbas, declared the PA's intention to repudiate the Paris Protocol.
At the same time, some senior PA officials view these declarations as empty threats, aimed at placating the Palestinian public amid the delay in paying PA workers' salaries. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- Gaza Vegetables Enter Israel for 1st Time since 2007
Vegetables grown by Palestinian farmers in Gaza entered Israel on Thursday for the first time since 2007, Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said. Future stages may see the export of 1,000-1,500 tons of produce per month. Israel announced last week it would allow Gaza to export produce, both to help its farmers and to satisfy the religious needs of Israeli Orthodox Jews.
Every seventh year on the Jewish calendar [the shmita year], observant Jews cannot eat produce grown by Jews in Israel. (Ma'an News-PA)
- Iran's Expansion Will Reshape Lebanon - Michael Young
As Iran expands its power throughout the Middle East, it is seeking to reshape the political landscape in ways designed to enhance its leverage and that of its allies. Nor is anybody successfully hindering this. It has become increasingly apparent that the U.S. has no intention of challenging Iran's sway in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Gone are the days when the American priority was containment of Iran in the region. The U.S. appears to favor a new regional order in which Iran will be granted a choice role.
Lebanon has particular importance for Iran. It seems highly probable that Iran will seek to modify the political system to the advantage of the Shiite community, led by Hizbullah. Moreover, as Iran puts in place a broad strategy for the expansion of its power in the Arab world, Lebanon and the Golan Heights take on exceptional value. That is why the internal Lebanese power-sharing agreement needs to be adapted to ensure that Iranian stakes are not threatened.
- What Congress's Iran Letter Signals about Obama's Diplomacy - Michael Singh
Members of Congress in both parties have deep reservations about the trajectory of U.S. diplomacy with Iran. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll this week found that this skepticism is shared by 71% of Americans.
Some foreign partners - including Israel but also Arab allies in the Middle East - share many of the stated congressional concerns. They worry that a "bad" deal will leave in its wake an empowered Iran and disengaged U.S. Most of those who are skeptical about a deal are not warmongers but support a negotiated agreement.
To gain skeptics' support, the president needs to make the substantive case for his Iran policy and be willing to take their concerns on board. Diplomacy is not just about negotiating with adversaries. It is also about bringing along one's allies and domestic constituencies, without whose support an agreement would be a hollow achievement. The writer, managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, worked on Middle East issues at the U.S. National Security Council from 2005 to 2008.
(Wall Street Journal)
- Dennis Ross: U.S. Must Decide in Advance How to Respond If Iran Violates Deal - David Horovitz
Dennis Ross, a former Middle East adviser to President Obama, told the Times of Israel on Thursday that the U.S. needs to decide in advance on precisely how it would respond to potential violations of any deal with Iran on its nuclear program. "If you're really going to put a premium on one-year breakout time, by definition what you require for verification and transparency becomes even more demanding," Ross said. Keeping Iran a year from the bomb requires "anywhere, anytime inspections, for declared and undeclared sites," and would likely need "a new set of protocols for the scope of your access and the numbers of inspectors."
The international community would have to agree ahead of time on what to do in the event of violations. "If you're going to wait until you detect a violation, what are you [going to do] then? Are you then entering into a negotiation over it" with the Russians and Chinese? Obviously, if Iran was caught "dashing" to the bomb, "that would be a justification for the use of force," he said. (Times of Israel)
- Resisting the Iranian Occupation - Hanin Ghaddar
Iran is looking forward to a deal with the U.S. that will see sanctions lifted, a blind eye to its growing influence in the region, and eventually a supremacy that allows it to make major changes to the current geopolitical map of the Middle East. Arab Shiites are being gathered from all over the Middle East and Asia to help Iran build its realm and fight against Arab Sunnis.
If the Iranian economy recovers after the deal, the region will drown in yet more blood, as Iran will have the financial means to boost its militias in the region. The reality imposed by Iran on the ground contradicts all assurances given by the U.S. to its regional allies. Iran is an occupying force by proxy, and will not abandon its ongoing pursuit of hegemony.
Iran's militias in Iraq and Syria are not about to leave any time soon. They are here to stay.
The perception of the U.S. in the region is changing. The majority of Sunnis now see the U.S. as taking sides in a sectarian fight, as an Iranian ally. Democracies like Lebanon, or potential democracies in the region, will slowly deteriorate because Iran will not acknowledge state institutions or tolerate freedom of speech. Liberal and civil groups or individuals will lose legitimacy in the region and civil society will crumble amidst sectarian bloodshed. Is this what the U.S. really wants the region to look like?
- Purim Lessons - Editorial
It was only natural that Prime Minister Netanyahu would mention the story of Purim and the way the Jewish people were saved in his speech to Congress. The Persian emperor did not order his soldiers to intervene on behalf of the Jews. What he did do was give the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies.
Today the Jews have restored their sovereignty. They have the ability to defend themselves against their enemies.
No country has a bigger stake in seeing a peaceful resolution to the conflict with Iran over its nuclear arms program. But Iran's expansionist aggression makes a peaceful resolution difficult, if not impossible, to attain.
Perhaps after another round of sanctions with the added impact of falling oil prices, the Iranians can be convinced to abandon their designs for nuclear weapons. Perhaps not.
Either way, the days are over when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies. (Jerusalem Post)
- Egypt's Sisi: The Enemy Is Political Islam - Egyptian President Sisi interviewed by Lally Weymouth
Sisi: "The Muslim Brotherhood is the parent organization of extreme ideology. They are the godfather of all terrorist organizations. They spread it all over the world....All extremists derive from one pool. This extreme mind-set is nurtured by religious rhetoric that needs to be reformed."
Q: Do you see any hope for the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in politics again?
Sisi: "They turned [Egyptians'] lives into a living hell....Do you think a country like Egypt will become like the Taliban and destroy the pyramids? [The Brotherhood] would have gone to the pharaonic temples to try to take them down....Westerners believe that political Islam did not have a chance to be part of the political process, so [Islamists] resorted to violence. This eventually led to terrorism. This is not true. Their ideology requires them to get power but never give up power."
"They consider that being on top is a means to apply their own mind-set, to establish a greater Islamic state. They think that they have the absolute truth, so everybody must listen and obey. If anybody disagrees, then they should die." (Washington Post)
- Palestinians: We Want Democratic Elections, Too - Khaled Abu Toameh
As Israelis prepare to head to the polls on March 17, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza watch with envy as voters in Israel practice their right to elect new representatives. The average age of the PLO leadership is 75. The same faces have been in control of Hamas for the past two decades.
The last time the Palestinians went to the polls was in January 2006, when they voted for a new parliament. The vote resulted in a victory for the Hamas-affiliated Change and Reform list. The truth is that neither Fatah nor Hamas is interested in holding new parliamentary and presidential elections.
Fatah leaders say that it would be impossible to hold new elections while Hamas remains in control of Gaza. Hamas leaders say there can be no free elections while PA security forces continue to arrest dozens of Hamas supporters in the West Bank every week. "We really envy the Israelis," remarked a veteran Palestinian journalist from Ramallah. "Our leaders don't want elections. They want to remain in office forever." (Gatestone Institute)
- Time to Reconsider U.S. Support of UNRWA - Brett D. Schaefer and James Phillips
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established more than 60 years ago as a temporary initiative to address the needs of Palestinian refugees and to facilitate their resettlement and/or repatriation. It has become a permanent institution providing services to multiple generations of Palestinians, of whom a large majority live outside refugee camps, enjoy citizenship in other countries, or reside in Palestinian-governed territories.
The reality is that UNRWA obstructs its original mission of resolving the Palestinian refugee problem. Worse, by encouraging the Palestinian fixation on their "right to return" to Israel, UNRWA impedes negotiations for a permanent peace agreement.
The U.S. should
encourage reform and replacement of UNRWA to facilitate its original purpose: ending the refugee status of Palestinians and facilitating their integration as citizens of their host states, where most were born and raised.
The authors are fellows at the Heritage Foundation.
- The Goering Brother Who Saved Jews - David B. Green
Albert Goering, the younger brother of Hitler's second-in-command, Hermann Goering, risked his life and livelihood countless times during the Holocaust to save the lives of Jews. In 1939, Albert became export manager of the giant Skoda automotive works in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, where he helped individual employees who were dissidents to escape by forging his brother Hermann's name on documents. He also requisitioned slave laborers from concentration camps, and then released them into the forests. Albert also turned a blind eye to episodes of sabotage at the plant, which had major military contracts from the German occupiers.
In Vienna Albert joined a group of Jewish women who had been forced to scrub a street clean, giving the SS officer in charge no alternative but to release the entire group so as not to be accused of humiliating Hermann Goering's brother. He helped friends who were Jews or married to Jews to escape occupied Europe or to go into hiding.
With the war's end, Albert was arrested by American troops and held until he could document that he had directly rescued 34 Jews from concentration camps. He was rearrested by Czech authorities, but former Skoda workers and resistance fighters testified on his behalf, saying he had saved the lives of hundreds, and he was acquitted in 1947. Brother Hermann was convicted of crimes against humanity. Several hours before he was to be hanged, he killed himself by swallowing a cyanide pill smuggled into his cell. (Ha'aretz)
An End to Iran's Containment? - Editorial (Washington Post)
- The Obama administration is seeking to assure U.S. allies and congressional skeptics that the nuclear accord it is contemplating with Iran will not lead to a broader detente with the Islamic republic.
- "We will not take our eye off of Iran's other destabilizing actions in places like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula," Secretary of State John Kerry declared last week during a visit to Riyadh.
- In recent months, the notion that President Obama is prepared to scrap the 35-year-old U.S. policy of seeking to contain Iranian influence in the Middle East has been widely accepted by Arab and Israeli officials and U.S. commentators; opposition to such a reversal is one reason the prospective nuclear deal is generating bipartisan unease in Congress.
- Obama said in an interview in December that he hoped a nuclear deal "would serve as the basis for us trying to improve relations over time"; if Iran agreed to the accord, he added, it could become "a very successful regional power."
- A relaxation of U.S. efforts to resist this bid for regional hegemony would be a strategic calamity for Israel and the Persian Gulf states.
- Moreover, what will the administration's response be to further Iranian adventurism following a nuclear deal? Will it help its allies fight back, or will it restrain itself in the interest of preventing a rupture of the nuclear accord and in order to "improve relations over time"?
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