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March 14, 2016

In-Depth Issues:

Car Bomb in Turkish Capital Kills 34, Wounds 125 - Ece Toksabay and Orhan Coskun (Reuters)
    A car bomb in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Sunday killed at least 34 people and wounded 125 in the second such attack in a month.
    Two senior security officials said initial findings suggested that the Kurdish PKK was responsible. One security official said the car used in the attack was a BMW driven from Viransehir, a town in the largely Kurdish southeast.
    The PKK-affiliated Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) claimed responsibility for a previous car bombing on Feb. 17, just a few blocks away, which targeted a military bus and killed 29 people.
    See also Netanyahu Condemns Attack on Ankara, Calls for International Unity in War on Terror (Jerusalem Post)

South Africa "Ready to Hear" Israelís Arguments - Raphael Ahren (Times of Israel)
    Israel and South Africa are taking slow but steady steps to improve bilateral cooperation, Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold said Sunday after he returned from a three-day visit to the country. "There was a readiness to hear our arguments," Gold said.
    In his meetings, he emphasized that many Jews were involved in the ANC's fight against the apartheid regime.
    Gold said he deliberately visited places to pay homage to the country's struggle against apartheid, like the Liliesleaf Farm, where Mandela hid from South African authorities.
    "It's important that I went there. It was to break the ice, to acknowledge that they were freedom fighters in that period. And it was important for me to try and search for common ground."
    "We Jews understand implicitly the struggle for freedom which Nelson Mandela led here. For us, Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people," he wrote in the guestbook at the Mandela House in Soweto.
    See also Foreign Ministry Director General Visits South Africa - Itamar Eichner (Ynet News)

French Satellite Drops Hamas TV Broadcasts after Netanyahu's Call to Hollande - Barak Ravid (Ha'aretz)
    France's Eutelsat will cease airing broadcasts of Hamas' Al-Aqsa television following a phone conversation Friday between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Francois Hollande, according to a senior Israeli source.
    Israel insisted that the broadcasts be halted because they include incitement to violence against Israelis.
    The station was already back on the air Saturday via Egypt's Nilesat and Saudi Arabia's Arabsat.

Israeli-Arab Fighting for ISIS Killed - Hassan Shaalan (Ynet News)
    Khalil Saleh, 28, an Israeli-Arab from Umm al-Fahm, was killed in Syria during an American bombing raid on ISIS targets, his family was informed on Sunday.
    Seven Israeli-Arabs have been killed fighting in Syria in the last few years, while 50 are known to have participated in the battles.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran Missile Tests Reignite Sanctions Fight - Kristina Wong
    Republicans, and many Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, are calling for a strong response after Iran test-fired ballistic missiles twice last week, in defiance of international law. Lawmakers are particularly incensed over reports that Iran fired missiles with the words "Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth" written in Hebrew - an explicit threat to a close U.S. ally. Lawmakers seized upon the tests as evidence Iran could not be trusted to uphold the nuclear deal.
        "The Administration should act swiftly to raise these concerns at the United Nations and take action to hold all parties involved responsible for their actions, including, if necessary, through unilateral action," said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (The Hill)
        See also Israel Urges World Powers to Punish Iran for Missile Violations - Tovah Lazaroff
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday evening "instructed the Foreign Ministry to contact the P5+1 countries and demand that immediate punitive measures be taken in the wake of Iran's repeated and gross violations on the missiles issue," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement. "This is an important step in and of itself and is also a test of the major powers in enforcing the nuclear agreement." Iran's Revolutionary Guard conducted a series of ballistic missile tests last week.
        Israel's Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon wrote in an urgent letter to members of the Security Council on Saturday that Iran's missile test is "a gross violation" of Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group (six world powers), while restricting Iran from firing missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also U.S. Rebukes Iran Over Missile Tests, Calling Them Provocative - Rick Gladstone (New York Times)
        See also EU to Weigh Response to Iran Missile Tests - Laurence Norman (Wall Street Journal)
  • Kerry: Not Many People Believe in Possibility of Israeli-Palestinian Peace Right Now Because of Level of Violence
    The U.S. is looking for a way to break the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday. But U.S. officials have no expectation peace talks will resume before the end of President Obama's term in January 2017 and have played down the odds of any quick decision on how the White House might help preserve a two-state solution.
        "We're talking about any number of different ways to try to change the situation on the ground in an effort to try to generate some confidence," Kerry said. "At the moment it's a difficult one, because of the violence that has been taking place, and there are not many people in Israel or in the region itself right now that believe in the possibilities of peace because of those levels of violence."  (Reuters)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Three Israeli Soldiers Wounded in Shooting, Car-Ramming Attacks Monday - Gili Cohen and Jack Khoury
    Three Israeli soldiers were wounded in shooting and car-ramming attacks on Monday morning near Kiryat Arba in the West Bank. In the first attack a car entered Kiryat Arba and stopped at a bus station, where two armed assailants stepped out of the vehicle and opened fire, wounding a soldier, before they were shot dead. Just minutes later, two Israeli soldiers were wounded after a Palestinian rammed his car into a bus. He was killed by soldiers at the scene. (Ha'aretz)
  • Two Israeli Soldiers Wounded in West Bank Shooting Attack Friday - Gili Cohen
    Two Israeli soldiers were wounded in a shooting attack Friday evening at a checkpoint on Route 443 near Beit Horon in the West Bank by a gunman who opened fire from a vehicle before fleeing the scene. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israeli Stabbed by Palestinian in Jerusalem's Old City Friday - Nir Hasson
    An Israeli man, 29, was stabbed in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City on Friday. The assailant, 19, from the West Bank, has been detained. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • U.S. Foreign Policy - Realist or Isolationist? - Josef Joffe
    Jeffrey Goldberg discussed "The Obama Doctrine" recently in The Atlantic. Normally, starring world powers are pushed off center-stage by more muscular players. Yet Obama's America has been slinking off without duress. It made sense back at the beginning of the Obama era, in 2009, to go for retrenchment instead of overreach. The U.S. was stuck in two endless wars while battling financial catastrophe. In Goldberg's words, Obama believes that the "the price of direct U.S. action would be higher than the price of inaction."
        But realism is more complicated. A realist knows that distant threats, if ignored, can turn into direct ones. A realist also knows that the international system, like nature, abhors a vacuum. So ambitious rivals will interpret inaction as invitation. No. 1 cannot go on vacation if it wants to keep the top-floor corner office - that is the moral of this tale.
        Who has comparable weight to America today? Russia, Iran, and China. Reaching out to them reflects a misreading of reality, for they are not cohorts, but hard-core rivals who have been emboldened by America's retraction. Street cred in the global arena depends on a reputation for violence that will render force unnecessary. The writer is a distinguished fellow at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Abramowitz Fellow at the Hoover Institution. (Atlantic)
  • Selective Memory on the Middle East - Gil Hoffman
    President Obama's interview last week with Jeffrey Goldberg in which he criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proves that he has "selective memory" about Israel-related events, Michael Oren, who served as Israel's ambassador to the U.S. during the first four and a half years of Obama's presidency, said Sunday. Oren said that Obama did not give credit to Netanyahu for steps he took toward the Palestinians or hold accountable Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who he did not mention in the interview, for rejecting repeated American peace initiatives.
        "The article is missing the faintest reference to Abbas," Oren said. "This shows prejudice against Arabs, as if they have no role to play and are mere two-dimensional props for receiving Israeli concessions. Abbas walked away from the negotiating table. Why don't Palestinians ever bear responsibility for a failed peace process?"  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Americans Don't Always Know Everything - Prof. Eyal Zisser
    In a recently published interview, U.S. President Barack Obama essentially argued that winning the U.S. presidential elections proves a person's political sophistication and expertise. But with all due respect, an ability to win over American voters does not necessarily indicate a deep understanding of the Middle East.
        There is an American tendency to assess the Middle East through the prism of American concepts, as if the people living in the region adhere to an American logic, worldview and political culture. It turns out, however, that protestors in the streets of Arab cities are not necessarily social activists and Islamic movements don't exactly champion equality and human rights. The writer is former director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. (Israel Hayom)

The Obama Doctrine Revisited - Tamara Cofman Wittes (Atlantic)

  • Obama's retreat from Iraq included the withdrawal not just of U.S. forces, but even more so of diplomatic energy and leverage, which, successfully deployed, might have mitigated the collapse of the Iraqi political experiment and thus blunted the rise of ISIS.
  • In 2011, my last of two years working on Middle East policy in Obama's State Department, the administration had ample warning about the damage Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's sectarian and power-hungry behavior was having on Iraqi security and stability. But the president and Vice President Biden, who managed the Iraq portfolio on Obama's behalf, chose to do very little to constrain Maliki as he began to unravel the tentative political bargains between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds within federal Iraq.
  • Likewise, Obama's read of the Syrian conflict as holding only narrow implications for American interests was a signal failure to recognize the risk that Syria's civil war could spill over in ways that directly implicated U.S. interests. As we now know, ISIS used the security and governance vacuums created by the Syrian civil war to consolidate a territorial and financial base that the U.S. has been seeking since late 2014 to undermine, with limited success.
  • At the same time, the metastasizing threat from ISIS is forcing Obama to order limited military strikes in Libya and build up military commitments to the Sunni Arab states of the Persian Gulf.
  • Inaction is not obviously better than action as a moral choice in foreign policy. The U.S. is a global power that roots its power in a set of universal moral claims. As such, America's choices (whether to do, or to not do) have global implications, and carry moral responsibility.
  • The new war on ISIS reminds us powerfully that threats to others, left unaddressed, very easily land on America's doorstep.

    The writer is a senior fellow and the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

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