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  DAILY ALERT Wednesday,
December 21, 2016

In-Depth Issues:

Man Sentenced to 8 Years for Shipping Guns to Hizbullah (AP)
    The U.S. Attorney's Office says Bassem Afif Herz, 31, was sentenced on Dec. 12 in federal court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to 8 years in prison plus 3 years of supervised release after pleading guilty to charges related to the shipping of guns to Lebanon.
    See also Lebanese-American Family Sent Three Shipping Containers of Weapons to Beirut - Phil Helsel (NBC News-12May2015)
    A Lebanese-American group sent three shipping containers to Beirut between August 2014 and May 11, 2015. The last two containers were stopped and found to contain 152 guns and 16,300 rounds of ammunition. Bassem Afif Herz is a U.S. citizen born in Kuwait.
    See also Final Person Sentenced in Scheme to Smuggle Guns to Lebanon (U.S. Department of Justice)

Knesset Bans Lawmakers from Visiting Security Prisoners (Times of Israel)
    The Knesset House Committee on Tuesday issued a blanket ban on Knesset members visiting security prisoners after the Israel Security Agency recommended the ban.
    The move came in the wake of allegations that MK Basel Ghattas (Joint List) smuggled cellphones and coded intelligence information to Palestinian prisoners at Ketziot Prison south of Beersheba.
    Ghattas met Sunday with two Palestinian security prisoners at Ketziot.

Ethiopian-Israeli Women Appointed Judges - Greer Fay Cashman (Jerusalem Post)
    Two women from Israel's Ethiopian community, Ednaki Sebhat Haimowitz and Esther Tafta Gardi, on Tuesday became the first to be appointed judges at a ceremony at the President's Residence.
    Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said they had been chosen for their qualifications and abilities, and not to simply fill a void in the demographic mosaic of the courts.

Video: Splitting Jerusalem (Video Activism)
    For the past decades, there have been many moves to split Jerusalem. But is this really best for all the Arabs, Jews and Christians living there today?

Tel Aviv's Rooftop Farm Grows Fresh Food for Thousands - Katherine Martinko (Tree Hugger)
    Dizengoff Center is a vast shopping mall in central Tel Aviv. There is a vegetable stand just inside the door, built of wood and packed with bags of fresh, wet leafy greens and herbs.
    The vegetables sell out so quickly that the stand has to be restocked four times daily. They're grown on the roof of the shopping center.
    An urban rooftop farm has been established over the past year with two commercial greenhouses and 750 sq.m. of growing space.
    The rooftop farm produces 10,000 heads of lettuce per month year-round, and grows 17 different varieties of greens and herbs using a variety of hydroponic systems that grow food two times faster than in soil.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Berlin Attack
    The Islamic State on Tuesday said the driver of the truck that plowed into a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday was "targeting citizens of the Crusader coalition," according to the group's news agency Amaq. Earlier, German prosecutors announced the release of the Pakistani detained in connection with the truck attack, citing a lack of evidence. A police spokesperson told Die Welt, "We have the wrong man, and therefore a new situation. The true perpetrator is still armed, at large and can cause fresh damage." A Polish man who was in the passenger seat of the crashed truck was found shot dead at the scene.
        German Prosecutor Peter Frank said the attack was reminiscent of July's terrorist attack in Nice, France, and of the "modus operandi" deployed by Islamist terror groups. The head of Germany's Criminal Police Agency, Holger Munch, said six of the 12 people killed have been identified as Germans. He could not, however, identify the nationalities of the other six. (Deutsche Welle-Germany)
        See also Israeli Tourist Injured, Wife Missing in Berlin Terror Attack - Barak Ravid
    An Israeli citizen was seriously injured on Monday in the truck attack at a Berlin Christmas market, the Israel Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. The man's wife is listed as missing.
        Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday, "We send our condolences to the families of those killed and, of course, to the government of Germany, and we wish a speedy recovery to the injured, who include an Israeli citizen....Terror is breaking out everywhere and we need to defeat it. We can defeat it, but it will happen a lot faster if all the free countries that are under attack unite in defeating terror."  (Ha'aretz)
  • Iran Is Brutalizing Aleppo - Rowan Scarborough
    Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force has played an extensive role in Aleppo, building a network of bases around the Syrian city and directing militiamen from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan to do the killing, the Iranian opposition group People's Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) says in a new intelligence report. "Aleppo has been occupied by the IRGC and its mercenaries," amassing an army of 25,000 Iranian and militia troops in and around Aleppo. These include homegrown Syrian mercenaries who receive cash transferred from Tehran to Damascus.
        The MEK report says that Syrian government forces are scarce around Aleppo, meaning it is Iran doing the lion's share of offensive maneuvers and killing. The MEK report identifies Iranian leaders in Aleppo, the locations of bases, the foreign militias doing the killing and how Iran pays them.
        Jim Phillips, a Middle East expert at the Heritage Foundation, said, "Without Iran's expanding military intervention, the Assad regime would have fallen months ago....Iran has been responsible for almost all of the ground offensives in recent months that clawed back territory from the rebels and encircled Aleppo. It has deployed thousands of Revolutionary Guards."  (Washington Times)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu: Israel Seeking to Expand Medical Assistance to Syrian Civilians - Herb Keinon
    Israel is exploring ways to expand the medical assistance given to civilian casualties in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the foreign press on Tuesday. "We are prepared to take in wounded women and children, and also men if they are not combatants. [We are looking into ways to] bring them to Israel, take care of them in our hospitals as we have done with thousands of Syrian civilians." Up until now, he pointed out, most of the Syrians treated in Israel were from regions close to the Golan border. Transferring the wounded from Aleppo is a much more complicated logistical issue, he said. (Jerusalem Post)
  • One Hamas Fighter Killed, Two Injured in Training Accident
    Moussa Hafeth Abu Saalik, 19, was killed and two others were critically injured in an explosion at a Hamas training site in Khan Yunis in Gaza on Friday. (Ma'an News-PA)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • A U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem Won't Hurt the Chances for Peace - Editorial
    Opponents say moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem would poison chances for an Israel-Palestinian compromise over the city. But the relocation would merely acknowledge the reality that Israel will never give up Jerusalem in any negotiated settlement. It might even help by sending a useful message to the Palestinians that their maximalist claims to Israeli territory are an obstacle to peace.
        Neighboring Arab states might protest for public show, but they have been getting closer to Israel for their own shared strategic reasons - i.e., the common enemies of jihadists and Iran. The symbolism of the U.S. Embassy location won't stop that cooperation.
        If the location of an embassy is enough to block peace talks, then there must not be much of an underlying basis for peace. Mr. Trump says he still wants to revive talks, and if moving the U.S. Embassy reassures Israelis of U.S. support, so much the better. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Israeli Envoy: U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem a "Step Forward" for Peace - Matt Spetalnick
    Speaking at an Israeli embassy Hanukkah party in Washington, Israel's ambassador Ron Dermer said that relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem would be a "great step forward to peace" and a move that "should have happened a long time ago....It would send a strong message against the de-legitimization of Israel." Dermer said he hoped that next year when the new U.S. ambassador lights the traditional Hanukkah candles in his embassy, he will do so in Jerusalem. (Reuters)
  • Russia's Rise in Mideast Creates Enemies - Yaroslav Trofimov
    Since entering the Syrian war last year, Russia successfully ended America's status as the Middle East's sole superpower, an achievement capped by the fall of Aleppo. As America's influence has shrunk, Russia has taken the place the U.S. long occupied in the minds of many people in the Middle East: an alien imperialist power seen as waging war on Muslims and Islam. Tens of thousands of protesters converged this month outside Russian missions from Istanbul to Beirut to Kuwait City, where they chanted: "Russia is the enemy of Islam." The Turkish policeman who gunned down Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov on Monday shouted that he was avenging the suffering of Aleppo.
        "Russia is certainly being perceived as the new bully in the neighborhood," said Hassan Hassan, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington. "You only need to follow how the killer of the Russian ambassador was glorified throughout the region to get an idea of how Russia is despised by the populace today."  (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Russia, Iran and Turkey Meet on Syria, Excluding U.S. - Ben Hubbard and David E. Sanger
    Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Moscow on Tuesday to work toward a political accord to end the war in Syria, leaving the U.S. on the sidelines. Secretary of State Kerry was not invited. Nor was the UN consulted. (New York Times)

An Existential Battle for the Demographic Future of Syria - Harold Rhode (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

  • The Syrian government, Russia, and Iran are trying to change the demographic makeup of Syria, aiming to depopulate the country of Sunni Arabs. All three see themselves in an existential battle against radical Sunnis and are now moving to repopulate formerly Sunni areas of Syria with Shiites - mostly from Iraq.
  • The places which the Russians have been attacking are the traditional strongholds of the Sunnis, including Aleppo. At the same time, they have refrained from attacking the Christians, Sunni Kurds, and Druze throughout the country. The overwhelming number of Syrian refugees are Arab Sunnis from the Damascus-Aleppo corridor.
  • When the Arab Spring took hold in Syria, the Arab Sunnis revolted against the Alawite regime. They were aided in their efforts by fellow Sunnis in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni powers, which provided arms and funding.
  • Syria's Arab Sunnis never recognized the Alawite rulers as Muslims. The Sunnis acquiesced to Alawite rule because of their inability to forcefully remove the Assad family from power. For these Sunnis, it is an offense against Allah that these non-Muslim Alawites were ruling Syria.
  • The Middle East is a rough neighborhood, and people nurse grudges and perceived insults to their honor until they have the opportunity to avenge perceived "wrongs." Nothing is ever forgotten; nothing is ever forgiven.
  • Though America naively spent large sums trying to train and arm some Sunnis, many of America's "friends" in Syria turned over their weaponry to the myriad of Sunni fundamentalist groups fighting in Syria. For example, American-supplied TOW missiles to these Sunnis later ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda.

    Dr. Harold Rhode served for 28 years as an advisor on the Islamic world in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

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