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September 9, 2016

In-Depth Issues:

Hamas Spends $100 Million a Year on Military Infrastructure - Avi Issacharoff (Times of Israel)
    Hamas spends some 20% of its budget, over $100 million a year, on the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, according to estimates by both Israeli and Palestinian sources.
    Spending on digging tunnels accounts for $40 million of that annual sum.
    Some 1,500 Hamas members are currently employed in tunnel digging.
    Hamas has been investing in weapons that could bypass Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system and in more precise rockets.
    As part of this effort, Hamas has allocated tremendous resources to smuggling materials into the Strip that can be used for building weapons, mostly from Israel, but also by sea or through smuggling tunnels from Sinai.

Israeli Missiles to Be Included in U.S. Air Defense Deal with Poland - Udi Etzion (Ynet News)
    The U.S. company Raytheon has offered Poland a version of Israel's David's Sling missile interceptor system, designed to intercept long-range rockets, manned and unmanned aircraft, and cruise missiles.
    On Tuesday in Kielce, Poland, Raytheon unveiled the SkyCeptor missile, which is expected to be integrated into the Patriot batteries Poland is set to acquire.
    The missile is currently being produced in Israel and has successfully passed a series of interception tests.

U.S. Trained Dissident Iranian Kurds (AP-New York Times)
    An Iranian Kurdish group received military training from U.S. and European advisers as part of the international program backing Kurds in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq, the group's commander, Hussein Yazdanpana, told AP.
    The group, called the Kurdistan Freedom Party, is one of several Iranian Kurdish factions that have carried out attacks this year inside Iran.
    At the same time, the group has been fighting alongside Iraqi Kurds against Islamic State in northern Iraq.
    The government of the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous zone has called for a halt to any attacks into Iran by Kurds in Iraqi territory.

73 Syrian Aid Groups Suspend Cooperation with UN - Rick Gladstone (New York Times)
    73 Syrian aid groups suspended their cooperation with the UN on Thursday, saying the Assad government had exploited a UN aid distribution system to steer aid to areas it regards as politically acceptable.
    "This deliberate manipulation by the Syrian government and the complacency of the UN have played hand-in-hand," the groups said. "We have little hope that the UN-coordinated humanitarian response might operate independently of the political priorities of the Syrian government."
    Dr. Ahmad Tarakji, president of the Syrian American Medical Society, said some aid intended for civilians winds up in Syrian military bases.

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Israel Girds for Golan War with Iran, Hizbullah - Ed Blanche (Arab Weekly-UK)
    Israeli military leaders say that Iran and its prized proxy, Hizbullah, are seeking to establish a new front against the Jewish state in the Golan Heights that overlooks northern Israel.
    The Golan has acted as a buffer zone that protects Israel from any spillover from the war raging in Syria.
    Iran's IRGC and Hizbullah have been setting up bases on the Syrian sector of the Golan and in other parts of southern Syria.
    If Assad manages to stay in power, he will likely have to surrender control of the Golan to Iran and Hizbullah to threaten Israel.

Abbas and the KGB - Yossi Melman (Jerusalem Post)
    The revelation that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was a KGB agent shouldn't come as a surprise.
    Since its creation in 1959, Fatah and later the PLO were influenced and supported by the KGB and its satellite security services in the communist bloc.
    The Soviet Union, entangled in the Cold War with the West, wanted to increase its influence in the Middle East.
    It gave grants to and hosted thousands of students from Asia, Africa, South and Central America at its universities, and this generosity was also a tool to recruit agents among the foreign students. Abbas studied at Moscow's Oriental University, where he submitted his PhD thesis.

U.S. Police Delegation Visits Israel to Learn Counter-Terrorism Techniques - Daniel K. Eisenbud (Jerusalem Post)
    52 U.S. police officers from seven states arrived in Israel on Wednesday for one week of counter-terrorism training.
    The leader of the delegation, Michael Safris, expressed respect for Israel's efficiency and advanced tactics, coupled by its ability to enforce the law in a humane manner, despite dealing with countless depraved terrorists.
    The delegation is one of more than 200 from across the globe annually hosted by the Israel Police.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Russia: Netanyahu and Abbas Agree "In Principle" to Meet in Moscow
    Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed "in principle" to resume peace talks in Moscow, the Kremlin announced Thursday. Netanyahu has repeatedly said he would meet with Abbas anywhere and at any time, as long as there were no preconditions for the talks.
        U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, "It's our belief that - and this speaks broadly to any peace negotiations, but certainly in this case...if you don't have the right climate for them to be successful, then it's not worth having it."  (VOA News)
        See also Abbas Still Insisting on Preconditions before Moscow Meeting - Itamar Eichner
    Despite reports of a possible meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA Chairman Abbas in Moscow, officials in Jerusalem are in no hurry to book their plane tickets. "There was also an agreement in principle before, but Abbas didn't remove the preconditions. Drop the preconditions and come," said a source. "In light of the fact that there are still preconditions, there is nothing for now."  (Ynet News)
        See also Experts: Potential Abbas, Netanyahu Meeting Dubious at Best - John Bacon
    Experts see little chance for a breakthrough even if a face-to-face Abbas-Netanyahu meeting takes place. Elena McLean, a University at Buffalo, SUNY professor focusing on world politics, said, "The likelihood of successful talks is non-existent. Nothing has fundamentally changed since 2014." James Piazza, a Penn State professor who specializes in Middle East affairs, said, "It is difficult to be optimistic about the success of the planned Moscow-hosted talks. The legacy of failed previous talks by countries and world leaders with greater incentives to seek a lasting peace agreement than Putin fuel this pessimism."  (USA Today)
  • Iranian General Commands Shiite Expeditionary Forces in Aleppo - Amir Toumaj
    Photos have emerged showing that Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC) foreign operations unit, the Qods Force, is in Aleppo, Syria. Soleimani commands the IRGC-led Shiite expeditionary forces there, which include the Afghan Fatemiyoun, Pakistani Zeynabiyoun, Lebanese Hizbullah, and the Iraqi Harakat al-Nujaba, now the largest Iraqi Shiite militia in Syria.
        Whereas significant numbers of regular IRGC ground forces rotated into Syria between September 2015 and May 2016, during the latest phase of the battle for Aleppo there have been higher numbers of Afghan, Pakistani, Lebanese, and Iraqi fatalities, while IRGC fatalities have dropped significantly. However, at least five IRGC commanders with the rank of brigadier general were killed in Syria in the past few weeks. The writer is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (Long War Journal)
  • U.S. Officials: IS Losses on Battlefield Won't End Threat - Deb Riechmann
    Despite the Islamic State's loss of territory, Islamic extremists will continue to pose serious national security problems for the U.S. and Europe in coming years, the directors of the FBI and CIA said Thursday. "The threat that I think will dominate the next five years for the FBI will be the impact of the crushing of the caliphate, which will happen," FBI Director James Comey said. "Through the fingers of that crush are going to come hundreds of hardened killers, who are not going to die on the battlefield. They are going to flow out." He predicted that many will head into Western Europe and try to duplicate recent attacks in Paris and Brussels to maintain IS' credibility in the militant world. Others will try to bring the fight to the U.S. (AP-ABC News)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Both Hamas and Fatah Blamed for Palestinian Election Postponement - Ben Lynfield
    On Thursday, after a Hamas court in Gaza canceled nine lists of Fatah candidates for the upcoming Palestinian municipal elections, the high court in Fatah-controlled Ramallah froze the holding of elections, at least until December. The collapse of the electoral process is a reflection of Hamas' and Fatah's fears of losing, according to Talal Awkal, Gaza-based columnist for Al-Ayyam.
        "Neither side really wanted these elections to go ahead. Hamas was afraid it would fail in Gaza, and that this would be a real challenge to its legitimacy....If you ask any citizen in Gaza, he would say Fatah has a better chance than Hamas to succeed" in the elections. "Fatah was also afraid of losing in the West Bank. Both are to blame for the elections not taking place."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Fatah Stood to Make Strong Showing in Gaza - Avi Issacharoff
    Hamas was expected to register nice gains in the West Bank in the now-postponed Palestinian local elections, but Hamas faced a bigger risk in Gaza. In at least four major cities - Gaza City, Rafah, Khan Yunis and Deir al-Balah - there was the impression that Fatah's electoral lists were more popular.
        As one Gazan analyst said, "If during the 2006 elections [won by Hamas] the people demanded revenge against Fatah, this time the residents of the Strip are looking to settle the score with Hamas" in light of the current deteriorating economic situation and the feeling that Hamas is treating the residents with disdain. "For years we have suffered here from the difficult situation, [and] they run a campaign that says, 'Gaza is more beautiful' under Hamas. They tried to claim Gaza is now better than ever. Obviously, people are angry at them."  (Times of Israel)
  • The Significance of a Netanyahu-Abbas Meeting in Moscow - Herb Keinon
    The Russian announcement of Netanyahu-Abbas talks in Moscow is significant not because it is the harbinger of an accord, but rather because of what it says about Russia's emerging power and influence in the region. This is not the first time the Russians have proposed Moscow as a venue of talks, but previously, the Americans were fully engaged in the region, and had no interest in letting the Russians elbow in on a process they were leading.
        While peace may not emerge from a meeting in Moscow between Abbas and Netanyahu, having the two leaders meet there will show the degree to which Russia's influence in the Mideast has skyrocketed over the last eight years. (Jerusalem Post)
  • The Evolution of Egypt-Israel Relations - Zvi Mazel
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declares that he has frequent conversations with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Egypt has sent an ambassador to Tel Aviv and the Embassy of Israel in Cairo is open again. Sisi's foreign minister recently made a visit to Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu's envoys regularly travel to Cairo for high-level talks.
        The Egyptian president is behind all these moves. Sisi has launched an all-out effort to develop his country and put it on the path of sustainable economic growth. Cooperation with Israel is part of this vision.
        Sisi is a staunch Muslim but has always shunned religious extremism and has been pushing for toning down extremism in Islam. The Education Ministry has been tasked with removing from textbooks elements encouraging religious extremism, specifically those extolling Jihad. Also expunged were some texts disparaging the Jews, but not all. Chapters dealing with the peace agreement with Israel were expanded; the new history book has a picture of Menachem Begin next to Anwar Sadat. The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Romania and Sweden. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • The Fragile State of the Palestinian Authority - Jonathan Schanzer and Grant Rumley
    A Palestinian court on Thursday postponed municipal elections scheduled for Oct. 8 because the two largest political factions, Fatah and Hamas, couldn't agree on terms. Palestinian opinion polls show a majority of voters want President Mahmoud Abbas, 81, to resign. Armed gangs regularly skirmish with Palestinian Authority forces, while Abbas' rivals, such as exiled Palestinian leader Mohammad Dahlan, continue to foment opposition.
        Ramallah has so far managed to avoid the Arab Spring and its aftershocks, but under the one-man rule of Abbas, the Palestinian Authority is becoming brittle. More pressing than an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is the need to reconcile and stabilize Palestinian politics. Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Grant Rumley is a research fellow. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also The Fraying Palestinian Political Entity in the West Bank - Pinhas Inbari (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Israel's Arabs Optimistic about a Shared Future - Yedidia Stern
    A joint Palestinian-Israeli survey, conducted by Prof. Tamar Hermann of the Israel Democracy Institute and Dr. Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, published last month, provides a fascinating look at the position of Arab Israelis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When asked about a "package deal" to end the conflict based on the contours of final status arrangements laid on the table in previous rounds of negotiations, only 39% of Palestinians and Israeli Jews reacted favorably. However, 90% of Arab Israelis expressed support for these plans.
        While 40% of Palestinians and 64% of Jews voiced support for mutual recognition of Palestine and Israel as the national homelands of their respective peoples, 91% of Arab citizens of Israel did so. The writer is vice president for research at the Israel Democracy Institute and Professor of Law at Bar-Ilan University. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Iran Helping Assad Establish Full Control in Damascus - Hanin Ghaddar
    On Aug. 27, Bashar al-Assad's forces moved into Daraya, a besieged Sunni suburb less than two miles from the center of Damascus, after convincing the 8,000 local residents who remained there to leave. The regime has begun negotiating similar agreements with other besieged Sunni areas, where Iranian-sponsored militias are heavily involved in the sieges of these towns.
        Assad seems to be moving to eliminate any Sunni presence around Damascus, while Iraqi Shiite families are being moved to Syria to repopulate the evacuated suburbs. Assad's father Hafez actively populated Damascus with Alawites during his time as president. While in 1947 only 300 Alawites lived in Damascus, by 2010 that figure had soared to more than 500,000.
        Iran's strategy is to create a Sunni-free corridor linking Hizbullah in Lebanon to Damascus, Homs, and the Alawite enclave on Syria's coast. This would also give Hizbullah safe access to the Golan Heights, potentially allowing the group to open another front against Israel. At the same time, Iran's corridor would be surrounded by a sea of Sunnis and remain vulnerable, meaning that Iran's militias, including Hizbullah, will have to remain deployed on multiple fronts to protect it. The writer, a veteran Lebanese journalist and researcher, is a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Patterns of Subverson: Iranian Use of Proxies in the Middle East - Jonathan Spyer
    Iran is actively supporting proxies in major conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories. In addition, Iranian agencies are active among Shia populations - as yet without major effect - in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The release of tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief has enabled the Iranians, who were in some danger of overstretch, to now freely commit to supporting more strongly their various allies and proxies in the Middle East. (Rubin Center-IDC Herzliya)
  • The Islamic State - the Beginning of the End - Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah
    With the latest defeats of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, it appears today that IS is doomed. In Syria, the border with Turkey is sealed, cutting IS off from its ultimate logistical support, as it faces an American-led coalition as well as Russia, Iran, and Turkey. IS also suffered the loss of significant territorial assets in Iraq and its Mosul stronghold is on the verge of being surrounded by anti-IS forces.
        However, IS has planted thousands of anti-personnel mines in minefields, prepared deadly improvised explosive devices, and is ready to use scores of suicide bombers. An IS in agony could very well mean a revival of terrorist attacks in the West, using the local radical Muslim infrastructure, to "punish" the West for its attacks on the Caliphate. The writer was former Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Setting the Record Straight on Hitler and Zionism - Daniel Sugarman
    Yehuda Bauer, professor of Holocaust Studies at Hebrew University, responded Tuesday to former London Mayor Ken Livingstone's remark that Hitler had supported Zionism. "The Nazi policy from 1933, when they reached power, was to get rid of the Jews of Germany. They did not yet plan the Holocaust. They wanted the Jews to emigrate and if they didn't emigrate voluntarily, to expel them. The Zionist movement in Palestine at the time wanted to rescue these Jews."
        "The British government, in 1938-1939, agreed to the absorption in Britain of close to 10,000 Jewish children - the Kindertransport - from Germany, Austria and later from the occupied Czech lands until the outbreak of war. This was done with the agreement of the German government; they wanted to get rid of Jews, and the British wanted, at that point, to rescue children. Does that mean that the British and Nazi governments were in collusion?"  (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
  • Google's Plan to Stop Aspiring ISIS Recruits - Andy Greenberg
    Jigsaw, the Google-owned tech incubator and think tank, has been developing a new program using a combination of Google's search advertising algorithms and YouTube's video platform to target aspiring ISIS recruits and dissuade them from joining its cult of violence.
        The program, called the Redirect Method, places advertising alongside results for any keywords and phrases that people attracted to ISIS commonly search for. Those ads link to Arabic- and English-language YouTube channels that pull together preexisting videos to undo ISIS brainwashing - clips like testimonials from former extremists, imams denouncing ISIS' corruption of Islam, and clips from inside the group's dysfunctional caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
        "The Redirect Method is at its heart a targeted advertising campaign," said Yasmin Green, Jigsaw's head of research and development. "Let's take these individuals who are vulnerable to ISIS' recruitment messaging and instead show them information that refutes it." In a two-month pilot project early this year, more than 300,000 people were drawn to the anti-ISIS YouTube channels. (Wired)

Remember Iran's Role in 9/11 - Joseph I. Lieberman (Wall Street Journal)

  • A key al-Qaeda partner, Iran, has never been held responsible for its enabling role in the worst terror attack on American soil - even though the 9/11 Commission found that "there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al-Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers."
  • As the Washington Institute's Matthew Levitt and Michael Jacobson have concluded, "Iran and al-Qaeda reached an informal agreement to cooperate, with Iran providing critical explosives, intelligence, and security training to bin Laden's organization."
  • Because the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) already supported Hizbullah operationally and financially, a vehicle was in place through which Iran could support and influence al-Qaeda. Operating through Hizbullah gave Iran immense freedom to funnel money and weaponry and to train al-Qaeda operatives in deadly tactics that would be employed around the world, including against the U.S.
  • The coordinated 1998 truck bombings targeting the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were a direct result of the Iranian terror training, according to a finding by Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in a 2011 case.
  • After 9/11, Iran became a more important haven for al-Qaeda fighters who fled from Afghanistan as the Taliban collapsed. From their safe base in Iran, al-Qaeda members planned terrorist operations, including the 2003 attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that killed 26 people, including eight Americans, and the 2008 attack on the American Embassy in Yemen.
  • In 2011, the Treasury Department officially accused Iran, as a Wall Street Journal report put it, "of forging an alliance with al-Qaeda in a pact that allows the terrorist group to use Iranian soil as a transit point for moving money, arms and fighters to its bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan."
  • Newly declassified letters captured in the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden reveal that in a 2007 letter, bin Laden directed al-Qaeda not to target Iran because "Iran is our main artery for funds, personnel, and communication."

    The writer, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut, is chairman of United Against Nuclear Iran.
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