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  DAILY ALERT Wednesday,
November 23, 2016

In-Depth Issues:

Death Toll among Iran's Forces in Syrian War Passes 1,000 - Bozorgmehr Sharafedin (Reuters)
    More than 1,000 soldiers deployed by Iran to Syria have been killed, Mohammadali Shahidi Mahallati, head of Iran's Foundation of Martyrs, said.
    It was a major increase from four months ago, when Iran announced that 400 of its soldiers had died in Syria.

Belgium Takes Tips from Israel on Airport Security (Reuters)
    Belgium has launched new security measures at Brussels Airport after suicide bombings there in March, taking inspiration from controls at Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel.
    At Ben-Gurion, cars are stopped at a checkpoint and given a once-over by guards and cameras that read license plates. Largely unnoticeable monitoring continues all the way to the terminal.
    Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Security Minister Jan Jambon traveled to Israel this summer and said he was impressed by how "security measures are present but not visible all the time."

Manpower Problems Deepen in Syria's Army - Louisa Loveluck (Washington Post)
    As Syria's war grinds on, President Assad's army is increasingly reliant on conscripts and even prisoners.
    "We know the Syrian Arab Army is facing a serious manpower shortage due to defections, desertions, draft evasion and casualties," said Faysal Itani, a resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East in Washington.
    Before the war, military service would last for two years. Now, many conscripts say they have served much longer, with no sign of discharge on the horizon. Many have been able to defer military service with a payment of $300.
    The Damascus war effort has been bolstered by two powerful militia forces - the Tiger Forces and the Desert Hawks - that pay higher salaries and allow recruits to reap the spoils of war, taking bribes at checkpoints and looting newly retaken areas.

Ethiopian-Born IDF Doctor to be Promoted - Anna Ahronheim (Jerusalem Post)
    With his impending promotion, Lt.-Col. Avraham Yitzhak will become the first colonel of Ethiopian descent in the IDF.
    Yitzhak, a combat doctor, has served as head of the IDF Southern Command Medical Corps and as a senior surgeon in an IDF field hospital in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.

British Warship Docks in Haifa as Part of Growing Cooperation with Israel - Anna Ahronheim (Jerusalem Post)
    The British Royal Navy assault ship HMS Bulwark arrived in Haifa Port on Tuesday. It is the second largest ship in the British fleet, with a company of 560 men and women.
    A Royal Navy statement said the Bulwark's docking "demonstrates the growing relationship between the Royal Navy and the Israeli Navy."
    Prior to docking, the Bulwark took part in several sea exercises with the Israeli Navy.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Israel Accuses Iran of Sending Hizbullah Arms on Commercial Flights - Michelle Nichols
    In a letter to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon accused Iran of using commercial airlines such as Mahan Air to ship weapons to Hizbullah. Danon wrote that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force pack arms and materiel into suitcases that are transferred to Hizbullah via commercial flights to Beirut and Damascus.
        "It is clear that Iran is still the primary supplier of arms and related materiel to Hizbullah, in blatant violation of numerous Security Council resolutions," Danon wrote. "The Security Council must condemn Iran and Hizbullah for the violation of its resolutions."  (Reuters)
        See also U.S. OKs Airbus Sale of Over 100 Planes to Iran - Bradley Klapper
    The Obama administration has approved the sale of more than 100 Airbus planes to Iran, U.S. officials said Tuesday. The European manufacturer Airbus needs U.S. Treasury Department approval because at least 10% of the plane's components are American-made. The planes are intended for Iran Air, whose sanctions were removed in January, and not Mahan Air, a company used for ferrying weapons and fighters to Syria's military. (AP-ABC News)
  • France Thwarts a New Terrorist Attack - Benoit Morenne
    On Monday the French government announced the arrest of seven men in Strasbourg and Marseille who were planning a terrorist attack, sounding an alert about the continuing threat from terrorism barely a year after attacks that killed 130 people in and around Paris.
        Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said investigators were looking into the possibility that the plot involved a "coordinated attack aimed to hit several sites simultaneously" in the country. The arrests "thwarted a terrorist attack that had been envisaged on our soil for a long time." The men arrested ranged in age from 29 to 37 and were a mix of French, Moroccan and Afghan citizens.
        Five people suspected of having links to the same network were arrested on June 14, and two were kept in custody. The arrests were not made public at the time. Cazeneuve said 418 people had been arrested in relation to terrorist networks since the beginning of the year, including 43 this month. (New York Times)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israeli Defense Minister: Let Us Create a New Approach with the Americans to the Dispute with the Palestinians - Gil Hoffman
    Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference on Wednesday that "Israel is still facing more challenges than any other state in the world," singling out Hamas, ISIS, Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah, al-Qaeda, "and behind all of them, Iran...the biggest threat to stability all around the world."
        Lieberman also advised waiting patiently for President-elect Trump to take over on Jan. 20, and said that he did not believe President Obama would take action on the Palestinian issue before then. "I suggest waiting for the new administration....We must give enough time to the president-elect to create with us a new approach to Judea and Samaria and the dispute with the Palestinians." Reacting to Trump's statement Tuesday that he intended to actively seek a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lieberman said, "We are open to this."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Lapid: Palestinians Should Work on Building a State Instead of Focusing on Terror - Lahav Harkov
    The Palestinians need to work on building a state for themselves instead of focusing on terror and death, Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid told the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference on Wednesday. He pointed out that the PA has existed for over 20 years and Israelis do not have a presence in Palestinian cities except when there are security needs. The Palestinians, he said, have built a corrupt governing system without an effective judiciary or modern industry. Palestinians did not use the resources Israel left behind in Gaza, and instead they voted in Hamas, who shot rockets at Israel.
        In addition, the "Palestinian education system poisons the minds of six- and seven-year-olds, every single day, with anti-Semitic propaganda of the worst kind....Instead of building something, instead of creating something, they choose a culture of murder and destruction." Lapid said "self-pity is not an efficient policy," and called on the Palestinians to "free [themselves] from the past and go build a future. If you do that, we will be the first to help you."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israeli Navy Destroys Gaza-Bound Weapons Ship - Yoav Zitun
    A Palestinian weapons-smuggling boat disguised as a fishing vessel was intercepted by IDF forces off the coast of Gaza. "We observed the boat approaching from afar and using special sensors...identified it as a suspicious vessel," said Maj. Maor. After firing at the vessel, "secondary explosions completely destroyed the ship." The incident was the third of its kind in the last year and a half.
        "The Egyptians have destroyed most of the smuggling tunnels between Rafah and Egypt and, as a result, Hamas is being forced to use maritime smuggling routes more," said Maj. Maor, who added that the IDF's "relationship with Egyptian forces is very good and cordial."  (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Iran and China Are Strengthening Their Military Ties - Farzin Nadimi
    Last week, Chinese defense minister Chang Wanquan concluded a three-day trip to Tehran. During a January visit by President Xi Jinping, the two countries signed a 25-year strategic cooperation agreement that included a call for much closer defense and intelligence ties.
        Defense officials reportedly discussed expanding China's use of Iranian air bases and naval facilities in the Persian Gulf, ostensibly for training and logistical purposes. They also agreed to exchange their hands-on military experience, mentioning examples such as facing the U.S. military at sea and in the air. Rumors persist that Iran is interested in acquiring Chinese Chengdu J-10B third-generation fighter jets as well as airborne radar and avionic suites to equip its own future designs.
        When UN Security Council Resolution 2231 was implemented in January, it required all member states to seek the council's approval before selling any warships, combat aircraft, missile systems, or tanks to Iran for a period of five years. Once that period expires, there will be no restrictions on Iran's purchase of military hardware from countries like China.
        Iran seems keen on creating a missile-firing submarine fleet - probably using Chinese help - in order to counter Israel's expanding strategic submarine fleet. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • An Economic Ultimatum for the Arab World - Marwan Muasher
    Many Arab governments were able to sustain inefficient economies for decades because they were propped up by oil revenues. However, these governments fostered a culture of dependency, rather than encouraging self-reliance and entrepreneurship to expand the private sector.
        Now that oil prices are declining and will likely continue to remain low, Saudi Arabia, for example, is shifting its foreign-aid paradigm away from grants. The kingdom has long provided financial support to Egypt, Jordan, and other countries in the region, so this shift will put pressure on those governments to pursue private-sector growth to improve their own countries' economic performance. The writer, a former foreign minister and deputy prime minister of Jordan, is Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (Project Syndicate)

Egypt Rearms - Yiftah S. Shapir and Kashish Parpiani (Strategic Assessment-Institute for National Security Studies)

  • On June 26, 2016, the Egyptian navy's new Mistral amphibious attack ship, Gamal Abdel Nasser, arrived in the port of Alexandria. Her sister ship, Anwar el-Sadat arrived on October 6, 2016, marking another step in Egypt's drive in recent years for massive rearmament. Egypt launched a massive rearmament program in late 2012 as soon as Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was appointed Minister of Defense by President Mohamed Morsi. Just one month after his appointment, Egypt announced that Germany had agreed to sell it two Type-209 submarines.
  • When the Egyptian military overthrew the Morsi regime in July 2013, the Obama administration froze further military aid as an expression of dissatisfaction with Egypt's military crackdown on civilian demonstrations. The freeze was gradually overturned in 2015, but Egypt has increasingly turned to other arms exporters, such as France and Russia, to offset its dependence on the U.S.
  • While it is conceivable that by its large arms purchases Egypt intended to send a message to the U.S. and diversify its procurement sources, the extent and diversity of Egypt's lavish shopping spree cannot be just about sending a political message. Egypt's threats are mostly from lightly armed insurgents: in Sinai, and along its borders with Libya. It also has some disputes with Sudan.
  • But none of these adversaries has a strong military, and therefore these threats do not explain the need for the number of advanced combat aircraft under consideration. They do not explain the need for six new corvettes and one large frigate, and above all, they do not explain the need for two amphibious attack ships designed for long-haul power projection.
  • The large arms acquisitions should be seen in the larger context of el-Sisi's doctrine and vision for Egypt, in place from the moment he assumed power. This vision sees Egypt resuming its former position as a regional power in the Middle East.
  • Egypt's current rearmament should not worry Israel in the near term. However, Israel cannot avoid seeing any such rearmament as a potential threat. The acquisition of modern aircraft such as the Rafale and the MiG-29M will erode Israel's qualitative edge in the air. Of particular military concern for Israel are the Antey-2500 SAMs, which could affect the Israeli air force's freedom of action even over Israeli air space, and the Moskit missiles on board the Molniya corvettes, which could affect the freedom of action of Israel's navy.

    Lt. Col. (ret.) Yiftah S. Shapir is a senior research fellow and head of the Middle East Military Balance Project at INSS, where Kashish Parpiani was an intern.

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