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May 23, 2016

In-Depth Issues:

Obama Confirms Death of Taliban Leader in U.S. Drone Strike - Gardiner Harris (New York Times)
    An American drone strike in Pakistan killed Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, the White House confirmed on Monday.
    President Obama said the U.S. had "removed the leader of an organization that has continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and coalition forces."
    The strike was the first such American drone attack in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, which is the de facto headquarters of the Afghan Taliban.

Israel Transfers Ancient Sarcophagi Covers to Egypt (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
    The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday handed over to Egypt two ancient sarcophagi covers from Pharaonic times which had reached Israel illegally.
    The 3,000-year-old relics had been smuggled from Egypt through a third country before they arrived in Israel, where eventually they were confiscated by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
    Ministry Director General Dore Gold expressed the hope that the move would be a precursor to further bilateral cooperation.
    Egyptian Ambassador Hazem Khairat stated that Egypt appreciates the efforts made by the Israeli authorities to return these smuggled antiquities to their country of origin.
    See also Egyptian Artifacts Were Found in East Jerusalem in 2012 - Ariel Ben Solomon (Jerusalem Post)
    Beautiful ancient wooden coffin lids were smuggled from Egypt to Dubai, to London, and then to a shop in the Old City in Jerusalem, said Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the antiquity theft-prevention unit at the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Gunman Opens Fire on Israeli Bus in West Bank (Times of Israel)
    A gunman opened fire on an armored Israeli bus from a passing vehicle near Tekoa in the West Bank on Saturday evening.
    No injuries were reported, but the bus sustained damage from a bullet that struck the windshield near the driver.

Israeli Children's Book Series a Hit in China - Itamar Eichner (Ynet News)
    More than 700,000 copies of Yanetz Levi's series of children's books, "Adventures of Uncle Arie," have been sold in Israel.
    Now Levi has turned into a superstar in China, where tens of thousands of his translated books have been sold. He arrived last week for a tour and was received by thousands of enthusiastic children.
    The hero of the series is an uncle who tells his three nephews about imaginary adventures in fictitious places. It has become clear that Chinese and Israeli children have similar perceptions of imaginary places.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • ISIS Experimenting with Chemicals on Prisoners, Moves Labs to Residential Neighborhoods - Josie Ensor
    Islamic State has moved its chemical weapons operation to densely populated residential areas to avoid being targeted by coalition air strikes, and is testing homemade chlorine and mustard gas on its prisoners, residents of the Iraqi city of Mosul have claimed.
        ISIS has a special unit for chemical weapons research made up of Iraqi scientists who worked on weapons programs under Saddam Hussein, as well as foreign experts. The head of the unit, Sleiman Daoud al-Afari, was captured during a raid by U.S. special forces outside Mosul in March and is now sharing intelligence on ISIS' chemical operation.
        Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, former commanding officer of the UK Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment, said, "Now that we know the extent of the ISIS chemical and dirty bomb aspirations, we must make doubly sure that our security in the UK is absolutely water-tight against this threat."  (Telegraph-UK)
  • Islamic State Calls for Intensified Attacks Against West, Doesn't Claim EgyptAir Crash - Maria Abi-Habib
    The Islamic State on Saturday urged its supporters to intensify attacks against the West but didn't take responsibility for the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804. "Ramadan is upon us, the month of invasions and jihad...the month of conquests. So get ready and prepared. Be keen on spending it as a conqueror in the name of God," Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, an Islamic State spokesman and senior leader, said in a statement posted online. Make Ramadan "a month of destruction on infidels everywhere, especially soldiers of infidels in Europe and the U.S."  (Wall Street Journal)
  • As Hamas Tunnels Back into Israel, Palestinians Are Afraid, Too - Diaa Hadid and Majd Al Waheidi
    The Palestinians who live on the Gaza side of the border fence, like the Israelis a few miles away, also complain of hearing digging in the wee hours, and voice a parallel anxiety about the tunnels being rapidly rebuilt near their homes becoming targets for Israeli strikes. They are raising unusually harsh criticism of Hamas for putting people at risk.
        A woman from Beit Hanoun said she and her relatives have been jolted awake over the past year by trucks rolling by at night. Residents said they had heard thudding noises below a nearby shack that they think covers a tunnel entrance, but they were too afraid to ask the truck drivers or other men they see around the shack what was going on.
        Abu Mohammad, 29, said that the danger of nearby tunnels made him reluctant to rebuild. "I give it 99.5% that our house will be destroyed again," he said. (New York Times)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu: We Want to Work with Arab States to Reach a Real Agreement with the Palestinians - Itamar Eichner
    After Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon's resignation on Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he intended to continue "responsible, determined, intelligent policies aimed at upholding security [and] advancing the peace process and regional initiatives." "The policies [of the government] are the same policies. Its policy is to work hard for a peace agreement with the Palestinians, an agreement that preserves security, but allows us to avoid one state from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river."
        "The initiatives that I am talking about are the regional initiatives. That means working with Arab states to reach a real agreement with the Palestinians....We have many shared regional interests with Arab states, and I think that one of those interests is to advance a real peace process between us and the Palestinians."  (Ynet News)
  • Israeli Ambassador to U.S.: French Initiative Enables Palestinians to Avoid Genuine Negotiations - Michael Wilner
    Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, said Sunday that world powers supporting an initiative by France to outline parameters for peace between Israel and the Palestinians are "ignoring the will of the free people who live in the most endangered democracy on Earth."
        "These powers, albeit with the best of intentions, will only encourage the Palestinians to continue their 100-year campaign to destroy the one and only Jewish state." "Such an effort will not only prevent peace today," he said, but could prevent peace "for decades to come" and bolster international efforts to delegitimize Israel.
        Dermer noted that six of Israel's past prime ministers have offered generous peace terms to the Palestinian leadership, to no avail, and that supporting France's initiative would "unwittingly enable" the Palestinians to continue avoiding genuine negotiations. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also French Prime Minister Arrives in Israel to Promote French Diplomatic Initiative; Herzog Says He and Netanyahu Discussed Reconsideration of Saudi Peace Initiative - Tovah Lazaroff
    French Prime Minister Manuel Valls arrived in Israel Saturday night to promote his countrys Mideast peace initiative. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the Palestinians do not need a conference in Paris to open a dialogue between Ramallah and Jerusalem, given that the two cities are located right next to each other.
        Separately, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) revealed Saturday that both he and Netanyahu held a number of discussions over the past several months concerning a regional peace proposal initiated by Saudi Arabia, saying the two considered taking dramatic new steps to normalize relations with Israel's traditionally hostile neighbors. Channel 10 reported Friday that moderate Sunni governments in the region have communicated to Netanyahu their willingness to engage in negotiations with Israel over possible changes to the Saudi peace initiative so it may serve as the agreed-upon basis of renewed talks with the Palestinians. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Report: Arab States Willing to Amend 2002 Saudi Peace Initiative - Daniel Siryoti
    The Channel 10 report said Arab countries have indicated that some of the clauses in the Saudi initiative open to negotiation include demands that Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights and grant Palestinian refugees a "right of return."  (Israel Hayom)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Iran's Revolutionary Guards Stopping Iran from Integrating into Western Economy - A. Savyon and Y. Carmon
    Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which controls Iran's economy, remains under U.S. sanction "for proliferation activities and support for terrorism." Therefore, any Western economic engagement with Iran comes up against the obstacle of connections with the IRGC - thus stopping Western banks and other institutions from engaging economically with Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei realizes that reintegrating Iran into the global economy would require stripping the IRGC of its control of Iran's economy. (MEMRI)
  • Dennis Ross: White House Took "Conscious Decision to Try to Distance Itself from Israel" - Michael Wilner
    Barack Obama is one of five presidents in modern history who has made a "conscious decision to try to distance from Israel," his former aide, Dennis Ross, said on Sunday, citing former presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter and H.W. Bush. Ross, a veteran diplomat, said the White House worked under the assumption that "Israel is more of a problem than it is a partner."
        Ross summed up the premise of the Obama administration's policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "If you distance yourself from Israel, you'll gain with the Arabs." He then concluded, "Every administration that has tried to distance itself from Israel has gained nothing."  (Jerusalem Post)

Tehran's Arab Rivals Respond to the Iranian Nuclear Challenge - Dr. Shaul Shay (Israel Defense)

  • Several countries in the Middle East and North Africa have announced plans to build nuclear power plants. The United Arab Emirates' Barakah project, the first Arab nuclear plant, is expected to start generating electricity in 2017. Saudi Arabia will follow with a nuclear plan involving sixteen reactors, with the first expected to be operating in 2022. Jordan signed a deal with Russia to build a nuclear power plant, projected to be operational in 2023.
  • Egypt and Russia signed an agreement on November 19, 2015, under which Russia will build and finance Egypt's first nuclear power plant through a $25 billion loan. The planned plant would be located at an existing nuclear site in Dabaa on the Mediterranean coast, west of Alexandria. The Egyptian power plant, to be completed in 2022, will have four reactors and will also have desalination capabilities.
  • Egypt's desire for a nuclear program could also be seen as part of the greater Sunni reaction to Iran's program and what they fear will be a Shia nuclear bomb.
  • Israel has long argued that a nuclear Iran would set off a regional nuclear race, as Tehran's traditional rivals in the Middle East would quickly move to respond to the Iranian nuclear program challenge.

    Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay, Director of Research at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel, was the deputy head of the National Security Council of Israel.

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