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  DAILY ALERT Thursday,
May 26, 2016

In-Depth Issues:

Report: Russian Helicopters Destroyed in Attack on Syrian Base (Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty)
    Stratfor, a U.S.-based think tank, said on May 24 that satellite imagery shows that four Russian Mi-24 attack helicopters appear to have been destroyed in an artillery attack on the T4 air base near the recently recaptured Syrian city of Palmyra.
    The imagery strongly suggests that 20 vehicles were also destroyed.
    The Russian Defense Ministry denied the report.

Russia Calls Off Attacks Against Syria's Al-Qaeda Franchise - Hugh Naylor (Washington Post)
    Russia said Wednesday it would halt air raids against Syria's al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, to give other rebel factions a chance to distance themselves from the group.

Israel Air Force Incorporates Anti-Missile System on Helicopters - Arie Egozi (Flight Global)
    The Israeli air force has confirmed that an advanced missile approach warning system has been incorporated as part of an upgrade program for its Sikorsky CH-53 transport helicopters.
    Developed by Israeli industry, the new defensive capability, referred to as Dragon Block 3, is designed to give effective warning of missile attack, and fast activation of countermeasure equipment, with 360-degree coverage.

U.S.-Born Soldier Wins Leadership Prize for Actions in 2014 Gaza War (Times of Israel)
    Staff Sgt. (res.) Sahar Elbaz, an American-born soldier in the Israel Defense Forces who served in the 2014 Gaza war, was awarded the Nefesh B'Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize in a Knesset ceremony on Monday.
    During the war, Elbaz was in the Rafah area in Gaza when his unit came under attack by five Hamas fighters armed with assault rifles and grenades. Elbaz ignored an order to take cover and returned fire, killing four of the Hamas fighters.

Israel's Largest Solar Energy Array Inaugurated - Hedy Cohen (Globes)
    The largest solar energy array in Israel - the Zmorot solar park, owned by the French electric utility company EDF - was inaugurated this week in the presence of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, and is expected to generate 50 MWp of clean energy.
    The plant is the French company's eleventh solar array in Israel. The former largest solar park - also owned by EDF - produces 40 MWp at Kibbutz Ketura.
    EDF Israel CEO Ayalon Vaniche said the company now generates 160 MWp of electricity in Israel.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Officials: Primary Sanctions on Iran to Stay - Nicole Gaouette
    Administration officials told skeptical lawmakers Wednesday that they'll continue to sanction Tehran for its missile tests, support for terrorism and human rights violations. "Iran's continued conventional weapons proliferation and its efforts to develop increasingly capable ballistic missile systems remain among our most important nonproliferation challenges, and pose very real threats to regional and international security," said Thomas Countryman, the State Department's Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation. "We have no intention of reducing our focus on Iran's other programs, even as we continue with the implementation of the JCPOA [the Iran deal]."
        Adam Szubin, acting Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said the primary U.S. embargo on Iran remains in place. "That means we will continue to prohibit U.S. persons from investing in Iran, importing or exporting to Iran most goods or services, or otherwise engaging in commercial or financial dealings with most Iranian persons or companies. Iran will also continue to be denied access to U.S. markets." He said sanctions remain on more than 200 Iranian firms. (CNN)
  • Iran Allocates $70 Million Yearly for Palestinian Islamic Jihad
    Iran decided in April to provide fixed financial support to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Palestinian sources close to the movement stated. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, ordered allocating $70 million annually for PIJ after a two-year hiatus. Iranian support has enabled PIJ to pay two months of salaries for its members after several months of financial crisis.
        Sources noted that Hamas had rejected Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif's offer to resume relations with Iran in exchange for siding with it against Arab countries. (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
  • Canada: ISIS Threat Making Sinai Peacekeeping Mission Less Viable - Murray Brewster
    Gen. Jonathan Vance, Canada's top military commander, has warned that the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) peacekeeping mission in Sinai is growing more violent. Describing the crumbling security situation in Sinai as "toxic," Vance said the spread of ISIS "impacts badly on mission viability." Canada contributes 70 soldiers to the mission. (CBC News-Canada)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel: Hamas Stealing 95 Percent of Civilian Cement Transferred to Gaza - Tovah Lazaroff
    Hamas is siphoning off 95% of the cement transferred into Gaza to rebuild homes, so that it can use it for military purposes, Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold said on Tuesday. "From our own investigations we found that out of every 100 sacks of cement that come into the Gaza Strip [from Israel], only five or six are transferred to civilians," Gold told the UN World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. "Since October, Israel has let into Gaza 4,824,000 tons of building materials and these have often times been seized and used to build new attack tunnels penetrating Israeli territory."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Volunteers Work to Save Ancient Artifacts from Looters - Michael Bachner
    To save as-yet undiscovered fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls from being looted, an extraordinary archaeological excavation is being undertaken with 500 volunteers from Israel and abroad, part of a national plan to conduct comprehensive archaeological excavations in the Judean Desert caves. The Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, were discovered between 1946 and 1956 in the Qumran Caves overlooking the Dead Sea.
        The current excavation is taking place at the Cave of Skulls near the Masada fortress. A group of Palestinian robbers were caught at the site in 2014 with archaeological artifacts in their possession. "The antiquity robbers are plundering the land's history and we cannot allow that," said Culture Minister Miri Regev. "It is our duty to protect these unique treasures, which belong to the Jewish people and to the entire world."  (Tazpit-Ynet News)
  • Foreign Press Group Blasts Hamas' "Thuggish Behavior"
    Israel's Foreign Press Association (FPA) has condemned Hamas for "thuggish behavior" after the terror group detained a photographer for several hours last week and banned her from returning to Gaza. "FPA member Heidi Levine, a photographer for SIPA Press, was detained by Hamas security men for more than three hours before she was allowed to leave Gaza." Hamas security told Levine she was banned, claiming her work "reflects badly on Gaza."
        "The FPA strongly condemns the thuggish behavior of the Hamas security and the implication that Hamas should judge what is or isn't acceptable coverage of Gaza. Unfortunately, this incident is not isolated. A number of FPA members have reported being forced to undergo uncomfortable questioning by Hamas security forces while entering or exiting Gaza in recent months."  (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • The Islamic State Is Targeting Syria's Alawite Heartland - and Russia - Fabrice Balanche
    On May 23, the Islamic State perpetrated suicide bombings in Tartus and Jableh in Syria, killing 154 people and wounding more than 300 in the first attacks in either city since the beginning of the war. When I visited Tartus and Latakia last month, nobody asked me for my passport or searched my suitcase. By giving 100-200 Syrian pounds (10-20 cents) to those who stopped us, the taxi driver was able to quietly proceed. It would be quite simple for terrorists to infiltrate the Alawite heartland, which is also home to Russia's main bases in Syria.
        Through the latest attacks, ISIS is attempting to send a message to the Alawites that the Assad regime cannot protect them. It hopes that Alawite soldiers serving on the eastern front will want to redeploy to the coast to protect their families. ISIS also hopes to spark Alawite reprisals against Sunnis. On Monday, Alawites attacked the al-Karnak camp in Tartus, home to 400 Syrian Sunni families; seven Sunnis were killed. The writer, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon 2, is a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Israeli Start-Up Claims It Can Identify Terrorists by Looking at Their Face - Simon Tomlinson
    Faception, an Israeli start-up, says its technology can spot character traits that are undetectable to the naked eye, and can identify terrorists, pedophiles and ace poker players simply by looking at their face. The company claims its software classified 9 of the 11 Paris massacre jihadists as terrorists from their facial features. Shai Gilboa, Faception chief executive, said the firm has developed a database of 15 classifiers which are used to determine personality traits with 80% accuracy. (Daily Mail-UK)
        See also Israeli Start-Up Says It Can Out Secrets by Analyzing Faces - Matt McFarland
    At a recent poker tournament, Faception predicted which four players out of the 50 amateurs would be the best by analyzing their photos. Two of those four were among the event's three finalists. (Washington Post)

A Note of Optimism for Israel's Future - Yossi Melman (Jerusalem Post)

  • To Israel's north on the Lebanese border, which will soon mark the tenth anniversary of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hizbullah is deterred. True, it has accumulated a huge arsenal of rockets capable of hitting almost any strategic and military site in Israel. Hizbullah also has gained impressive battlefield experience in Syria, but it is bogged down in the killing fields there.
  • In the Golan Heights, al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists on the Syrian side of the border have learned to live in co-existence with their Israeli neighbors. The terrorists have not changed their ideology or softened their hatred toward Jews and Israelis. But, like Hizbullah, they are preoccupied fighting other enemies more important to them and are deterred knowing that Israel would harshly retaliate.
  • To the east, Israeli-Jordanian relations have never been better, with improved security ties and intelligence cooperation.
  • In the south, the same is true of Egyptian-Israeli relations. The intelligence communities and militaries of the two countries cooperate in the war against the terrorists in Sinai who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Cairo and Jerusalem also see eye-to-eye with regard to how to deal with Hamas in Gaza.
  • Unlike in the past, Israel doesn't face any threat or danger from Arab armies because of the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and because the armies of Iraq and Syria have disintegrated.
  • While Iran has a strong military force and missiles capable of reaching Israel, Iran's Sunni Arab enemies have turned to Israel, which is reaching out with secret military and intelligence deals to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

    The writer was a senior correspondent for 27 years on national security, intelligence and strategic issues at the Israeli daily Ha'aretz.

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