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August 28, 2015

In-Depth Issues:

Americans Flocking to Iraq and Syria to Fight Islamic State - Adam Rawnsley (Foreign Policy)
    A growing numbers of Americans are heading to Iraq and Syria to fight against the extremists.
    The American fighters - mostly military veterans, with a disproportionate share of Texans - are linking up with Kurdish groups and Christian militias to battle Islamic State militants.
    A new report by the investigative website Bellingcat, released Wednesday, takes the first systematic look at these "other foreign fighters," identifying 108 Americans who have made the journey to take on the Islamic State.

Palestinian President Constructing $13 Million Palace - Conor Gaffey (Newsweek)
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is constructing a $13 million palace in the West Bank, despite the country being crippled by financial woes.
    The complex will include a 4,700-square-meter guest palace and two helipads, as well as a 4,000-square-meter administrative building.

Scenes from Inside Aleppo: How Life Has Been Transformed by Rebel Rule - Marwan Hisham (Vanity Fair)
    I first moved to Aleppo 10 years ago to attend university. Most of Aleppo regarded the Arab Spring with indifference when the revolution broke out in 2011.
    When rebel groups from the northern countryside pushed towards the city, those in the poor slums were the first that welcomed them, unlike the richer neighborhoods, which instead remained in the hands of the regime.
    Aleppo is now a city divided, with each half shelling the other. World heritage sites have become front lines.
    I left Aleppo in 2012 and only returned this May. The northern districts were now empty except for blocks of rubble with flags of the innumerable rebel groups flapping above.
    Most of the old city's neighborhoods had become inaccessible. Trips that before the war took minutes had become marathons, traversing dozens of checkpoints, each controlled by different warring groups.
    On May 30, barrel bombs fell in the rebel Al-Ferdous neighborhood. According to Amnesty International, barrel bombs killed more than 3,000 civilians in Aleppo governorate last year.

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Monaco Apologizes for Deporting Jews during Holocaust - Carol J. Williams (Los Angeles Times)
    Monaco committed the "irreparable" injustice of handing over Jews to the Nazis in France during World War II, Prince Albert II said Thursday in a belated apology for the action on Aug. 27, 1942, that sent scores of residents and refugees to their deaths.
    According to a government report released this year, only nine of the 90 who were deported survived their Nazi detention.

Israeli Organizations in Nepal Continue to Provide Support after Deadly Earthquake - Melanie Lidman (Times of Israel)
    After a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated Nepal on April 25, Israeli charity workers are still on hand to help.
    "Now, people are thinking in the long term of a year or two, where in the beginning people were just thinking a week ahead," explained Eliran Douenias, an Israeli fellow with the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish American group based in Kathmandu.
    A number of Israeli organizations are working long-term in Nepal including humanitarian aid groups Natan and IsraAID, both of which deal with emotional rehabilitation.
    Tevel B'Tzedek, which has worked in Nepal for years on rural development projects, has adapted their work to include disaster and trauma relief.

Israeli Biogas Digesters Energize Isolated Palestinian Village - Ori Lewis and Elana Ringler (Reuters)
    Palestinians living in off-grid villages in the West Bank have begun using Israeli-made HomeBioGas generators that supply free, clean methane gas for cooking and lighting from food leftovers and manure.
    Around 40 digesters have been set up in a pilot project at the Palestinian village of al-Awja in the Jordan Valley, funded by the EU and the Peres Center for Peace.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • White House Pushes for Iran Filibuster - Edward-Isaac Dovere and Burgess Everett
    President Obama faces a huge pile-up of trouble if he has to veto Congress' rejection of the Iran nuclear deal. Other governments involved have expressed concern that a deal preserved only by a sustained veto might represent a lack of long-term American commitment. Opponents of the deal say forcing the president to veto the measure would send a message to Iran that enough members of Congress are ready to impose new sanctions on Tehran if it fails to follow the accord.
        Forcing the president to pull out his veto pen is "important as a statement to Iran, and may make it more likely that Iran keep the promises about what it will not do," said former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of United Against Nuclear Iran. Lieberman says the Iran debate isn't "static," changing daily as Iranian leaders utter bellicose rhetoric and new revelations about secret deals with international inspectors roll out.
        Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that when he saw Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) say that he is trying to build support for a filibuster to block a vote on the Iran deal, his response was: "Is that where they really want to be? Do they really want to vote to block consideration of...probably the biggest foreign policy endeavor? Do they want to be in a place where they voted to keep from going to the substance [of the Iran debate]?"  (Politico)
  • Abbas Heats Up Palestinian Politics in PLO Reshuffle Bid - Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, 80, facing a mounting challenge to his stewardship, resigned last week as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee, its top decision-making body, together with nine of his colleagues. Some saw the move as little more than a maneuver to bolster his own standing and weaken his opponents.
        Abbas' step forces the Palestinian National Council into session within 30 days to elect a new committee. That is when, his critics say, he will be re-elected committee chairman and pack it with cronies.
        Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri said Abbas was signaling he did not plan to step down any time soon. "He wants everything to be in his hands." Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote that the resignations were "likely internal political maneuvers aimed at consolidating power."  (Reuters)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel "Hopeful" Turkey Will Reconcile Soon; Hamas "Remains Unreformed" - Herb Keinon
    Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold said Thursday he is "hopeful that in the not-too-distant future Israel and Turkey will find a way to reestablish their relationship." Gold held secret talks in Rome in June with his Turkish counterpart, Feridun Sinirlioglu. "The strategic environment around Turkey is much more complicated than it was two or three years ago, with the rise of ISIS as a challenge to Turkey, not just Syria, and the growth of Iranian power, which is not just a problem for Israel, but for Turkey as well," Gold said. "I think countries ultimately operate according to their interests, and I think Turkey and Israel do have important converging interests."
        Gold dismissed reports of a long-term Hamas-Israel deal, saying Hamas "remains unreformed" and Israel "is not negotiating with it." Hamas "remains a dangerous organization committed to Israel's destruction, and is also equipping itself for future rounds of warfare." Over the past decade there have been claims that "Hamas is on the verge of becoming a political organization with whom you can engage diplomatically....Recent events show that is simply not true."
        "Hamas is now the ally of the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis jihadi organization in northern Sinai, which is part of the ISIS network....You can't have Hamas as a movement about to become a moderate partner for negotiations and at the same time have Hamas fully engaged with one of the most dangerous jihadi organizations."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Netanyahu: Jewish Tradition of Inquiry Seeks to Make a Better Life for All People
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Thursday in Italy at Israel's exhibition at Expo Milan 2015: "I'm proud of everything that we're doing. I think it has to do a lot with our culture. Our scholars for centuries studied the Talmud. They always believed that there wasn't one answer. They always questioned. They always argued. There wasn't a single set truth, and truth wasn't achieved by repetition and memory. It was achieved by constant inquiry."
        "And this tradition was translated in modern times by Jewish scientists and Israeli scientists into the fields of mathematics and physics and chemistry and in every field of life, medicine. And it is now being translated by Israeli entrepreneurs and technologists for all the things that can make a better life for all the people of the planet."  (Prime Minister's Office)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):


  • The Better Alternative to the Iran Deal - Former Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and USMC Gen. Charles C. Krulak
    There is sufficient time to renegotiate a better deal, strong incentives for the Iranians and the Europeans to do so, and clear precedents for arms control agreements being sent back by Congress and improved. If Congress rejects the current agreement, banks worldwide will face a simple choice - do business in dollars and with America, or do business with Iran. They will not be able to do both. With sanctions still in place for 6-12 months anyway, regardless of the action Congress takes, there is time to make it clear the loopholes must be closed and force the parties back to the table. If Iran is unwilling to shutter the current loopholes, its intention to abide by this agreement and renounce nuclear weapons must be called into serious question.
        Since the agreement allows Iran to continue developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, that is just too close for comfort - especially when Iran's "Supreme Leader" was not only chanting "Death to America" after the agreement was announced, but went on to call those words a "major orientation of the Iranian nation." America needs a better deal with Iran, and we have the tools and the time to get one. Landrieu served in the Senate from 1997 to 2015. Krulak served as Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1995 to 1999. (The Hill)
  • Debating the Iran Nuclear Deal - Robert Einhorn
    Many elements of the Iran deal are widely seen as positive, even by skeptics. These include deep reductions in installed centrifuges and enriched uranium stocks; the re-design of the Arak heavy water reactor, the shipment of its spent fuel out of Iran, and the 15-year ban on reprocessing; and limits on research and development of advanced centrifuges for 10 years.
        The agreement ensures high confidence in the ability to detect non-compliance at declared facilities because of the use of advanced verification technologies and the scope and intensity of monitoring arrangements, including continuous surveillance and inventory accounting.
        Tehran will not receive sanctions relief until the IAEA confirms that Iran has fulfilled its key nuclear commitments, including moving roughly 13,000 excess centrifuges to monitored storage, reducing enriched uranium stocks from well over 10,000 kg. to 300 kg., and removing and disabling the core of the Arak heavy water reactor.
        Moreover, the annexes contain numerous detailed, technical agreements that will minimize ambiguities and should reduce implementation problems down the road. The writer is a former U.S. Department of State Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control and former negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks. (Brookings)

  • Other Issues

  • Muslims Must Combat the Extremist Cancer - Fethullah Gulen
    As the group that calls itself Islamic State continues to produce carnage in the Middle East, Muslims must confront the totalitarian ideology that animates it and other terrorist groups. Every terrorist act carried out in the name of Islam profoundly affects all Muslims. Thus members of the faith must do whatever possible to prevent this cancer from metastasizing in our communities. If we don't, we'll be partly responsible for the smeared image of our faith.
        First, we must denounce violence and not fall prey to victimhood. Having suffered oppression is no excuse for causing it or for failing to condemn terrorism. Second, Islam's core ethics are not left to interpretation. One such principle is that taking the life of a single innocent is a crime against all humanity (Quran 5:32). Even in an act of defense in war, violence against any noncombatants, especially women, children and clergy, is specifically prohibited by the Prophet's teachings.
        Third, Muslims must publicly promote human rights - dignity, life and liberty. These are the most basic of Islamic values and no individual, nor any political or religious leader, has the authority to snatch them away. Living the essence of our faith means respecting diversity. God identifies learning from one another as the primary goal of diversity (Quran 49:13).
        Finally, it is imperative that Muslims support equal rights for women and men. Women should be given opportunity and be free from social pressures that deny their equality. Muslims have a great example in Prophet Muhammad's wife Aisha, a highly educated scholar, teacher and prominent community leader of her time. The writer is an Islamic scholar, preacher and founder of the Hizmet movement in Turkey, who lives in exile in the U.S. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Securing the Sinai Multinational Force without a U.S. Drawdown - Eric Trager
    In the wake of a June 9 jihadist rocket attack on the Multinational Force of Observers (MFO) and other dangerous incidents, the U.S. government is reviewing the future of its military deployment in the Sinai Peninsula. Some U.S. officials believe it might only be a matter of time before Wilayat Sinai (formerly Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) - a jihadist faction that declared itself a "province" of the Islamic State - executes a major attack on the MFO.
        Cairo's outdated approach to fighting the Sinai jihadists has exacerbated these concerns. Two years into its current operation, the Egyptian military still relies on tactics suitable to conventional combat rather than to a counterinsurgency campaign. According to U.S. officials, the military has alienated the local population by entering villages in large formations, targeted the enemy imprecisely by relying on standoff firepower (artillery and airstrikes), and failed to support its special forces operations with targeted intelligence. Whenever MFO units have faced potential attacks, the Egyptian military has not moved out of its hardened positions to engage Wilayat Sinai, leading U.S. officials to question whether Cairo is merely trying to contain rather than defeat the jihadists.
        In the meantime, Washington and the MFO have hardened the MFO's positions and focused on force protection. Improved sensors and barriers as well as additional guard towers have been erected around MFO outposts over the past two years, and peacekeepers have received weapons upgrades in recent weeks. Washington is deliberating closing isolated manned outposts and replacing them with mobile surveillance.
        If the administration is serious about altering the U.S. MFO deployment, it should coordinate these changes with Egypt and Israel to show that it is fully engaged with its allies in pursuit of mutual interests. Unilateral deliberations send the exact opposite message and indicate that Washington just wants out. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

Questions for President Obama about Iran - Jeffrey Goldberg (Atlantic)

  • Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argues that there is still time for the administration to make improvements to the Iran nuclear deal to make the agreement stronger - without opening it up for renegotiation - and that, he suggests, is what the Obama administration should be doing.
  • Satloff generated a list of questions he would like to ask President Obama about the deal:
    • You have argued that the Iran deal enhances Israel's security and those of our Arab Gulf allies. At the same time, your administration has offered the Gulf states a huge security package by way of compensation and you have expressed frustration that the government of Israel has not yet entered into discussions with you to discuss ways to bolster its security. But if the Iran deal bolsters their security, shouldn't their security needs be going down, not up?
    • It certainly seems odd for you to claim to understand Israel's security needs more than its democratically elected leaders. Are there other democracies whose leaders you believe don't recognize their own best security interests or is Israel unique in this regard?
    • Former [National Security Council] Iran policy advisor Dennis Ross and others have urged you to transfer to Israel the "mountain-busting" Massive Ordnance Penetrator as a way to boost Israel's independent deterrence against Iran. Instead, in your letter to Congressman [Jerrold] Nadler, you highlighted your plan to send Israel a much less capable weapon. Why are you reluctant to send Israel the best item we have in our inventory to address this profound threat?
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