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March 3, 2017

In-Depth Issues:

Israel: We Know of Hamas Cooperation with ISIS in Sinai - Anna Ahronheim (Jerusalem Post)
    The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, wrote in Arabic on Facebook on Thursday:
    "Hamas leaders: Your efforts to hide your cooperation with ISIS smuggling from Sinai through lies and manipulation in attempts to broadcast 'business as usual' with Egypt are not hidden from our view."
    Mordechai said Bilal Brahma, a Hamas member and top smuggler with the Islamic State group in Sinai, was reported by Hamas to have been killed. But despite Hamas setting up a mourning tent for him, he is alive and being treated in a hospital in Gaza.
    "Hamas is brazenly lying to its neighbors and to Egypt."

Palmyra Retaken by Syrian Government Forces - Rick Gladstone (New York Times)
    Palmyra, the ancient city that was among prewar Syria's leading tourist attractions, swung back under government control on Thursday, as Islamic State militants who had made a sport out of vandalizing the city's antiquities were evicted.

Iran's Hostile Behavior Is Growing Worse - Yousef al Otaiba (Wall Street Journal)
    When the Iranian nuclear deal took effect more than a year ago, there were high hopes that it would set Tehran on a new course of responsible engagement in world affairs. Instead, Iran's hostile behavior is only growing worse.
    There have been multiple interceptions of illicit Iranian weapons destined for Houthi rebels in Yemen.
    On New Year's Day, Iranian-backed militants in Bahrain organized a prison break of convicted terrorists.
    Later in January, Tehran tested a nuclear-capable ballistic missile, at least its 12th violation of a UN Security Council resolution barring such tests.
    What exactly does Iran want? Its constitution calls for exporting its Islamic-inspired revolution to the rest of the world.
    Its leaders talk of "Greater Persia" - a sphere of influence encompassing much of the Middle East.
    And "Death to America" remains a favorite rallying cry in Tehran.
    The writer is the United Arab Emirates' ambassador to the U.S.

Jews Donate to Repair Florida Mosque after Arson Hate Attack - Isabel de Bertodano (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
    A crowdfunding page set up by Adeel Karim has raised over $60,000 towards repairing the Islamic Society of New Tampa mosque, which was targeted last month.
    When Karim took a closer look at the donations he noticed a surprising pattern.
    "I couldn't understand why people were donating in what seemed like weird amounts," he wrote on his Facebook page. "There are sums of 18, 36, 72 dollars etc. Then I figured out after clicking on the names Avi, Cohen, Goldstein, Rubin, Fisher."
    Jews were donating in multiples of 18 as a form of chai. "It wishes the recipient a long life."
    "The Jewish faith has shown up in force to support our New Tampa Islamic community. I'm floored."
    In January, a synagogue in Texas was offered for use by the Muslim community after the local mosque burned down.

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Putting the U.S.-Israel Relationship to Work - Steven L. Spiegel (American Interest)
    The U.S. and Israel are now reaching a new stage in their relationship: one in which they are bound by common interests in economic and technological innovation.
    The wide range of fields in which the two countries can cooperate include water management, medicine, pharmaceuticals, green technology, nanotechnology, cyber security, military instruments, and communications.
    Partnering with Israel on the development of new technologies would reinforce the U.S. position at the top of the international economic pecking order.
    The writer is the director of the Center for Middle East Development and a professor of political science at UCLA.

Record $1.1 Billion in Israel Bonds Sold in U.S. in 2016 (JTA)
    A record $1.127 billion in State of Israel Bonds was sold in the U.S. in 2016.
    Israel Bonds also announced this week that it has sold more than $40 billion globally since 1951.

Photos: Passage to Israel - Karen Lehrman Bloch (Fathom)
    The fact that the people who live in Israel are incomprehensibly happy, spirited, and optimistic is very much a bonus.
    The people of Israel give me strength; they inspire me. They have gone through so much, and yet they remain highly creative, innovative, generous - a light unto the nations, as is written in the Bible.
    It is the only way that I can make sense of the fact that despite the many horrors that have befallen the Jewish people, we are still here, we are still creating, we are still the first to respond to crises around the world.
    See also 30 Photos that Will Make You Want to Book a Flight to Israel - Sharon Zobali (Harper's Bazaar)
    See also Photos: Israel in Flower - Nicky Blackburn (Israel21c)
    February is one of the most spectacular times in Israel, when the countryside turns green and the wildflowers blossom profusely.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran Poised for Massive Military Buildup in 2020 after UN Ban Expires - Anthony Capaccio
    Iran is likely to go on an international shopping spree for surface warships, submarines and anti-ship missiles after the expiration in 2020 of a UN resolution prohibiting it from acquiring sophisticated weapons, according to the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence. This "will allow Iran to pursue foreign acquisitions that have been inaccessible since sanctions were imposed," according to a new assessment of Iran's naval forces, strategy and capability. For now, Iran is likely to continue to deploy indigenous weapons its engineers copied from foreign designs. (Bloomberg)
        See also Iran's Naval Forces: A Tale of Two Navies (U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence)
  • U.S. Conducts Flurry of Airstrikes Targeting al-Qaeda in Yemen - Missy Ryan, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Ali Al-Mujahed
    The U.S. conducted 25 airstrikes by manned and unmanned aircraft on al-Qaeda targets in Yemen on Thursday, far more than on any single night in recent history. Local news media reported that "hundreds" of militants were slain.
        The flurry of activity comes as the U.S. seeks to step up its actions in Yemen. A defense official said that the military had been granted temporary authority to conduct intensified air operations against al-Qaeda in some areas of Yemen. (Washington Post)
  • Congressmen Urge Action on Anti-Semitism - Ron Kampeas
    A bipartisan House task force on anti-Semitism on Thursday urged President Trump to set up an interagency mechanism to tackle the issue, "similar to the interagency task force you proposed for dismantling criminal help synchronize governmental responses to anti-Semitic threats" in the wake of waves of bomb threats against Jewish institutions and several cemetery vandalism attacks.
        Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said it was "simply unacceptable" for American Jews to live in fear. (JTA)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • After Gaza Rocket and Gunfire, Israel Retaliates
    Late Wednesday night, a rocket fired from Gaza landed in Israel's south. On Thursday an army engineering vehicle carrying out routine activities on the border was hit by gunfire. In response, IDF forces attacked Hamas positions in Gaza with artillery fire and airstrikes on Thursday. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all aggression emanating from its territory. (i24news)
  • Israeli Defense Minister: Palestinians in Gaza Must Understand Their Suffering Is Because of Hamas - Moran Azulay and Attila Somfalvi
    Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman insisted Thursday, "there was no diplomatic alternative" to the 2014 Gaza war. "People keep thinking more can be done, another move, to throw (Hamas) another bone and everything would suddenly work itself out. They think Hamas will suddenly become pacifists... and not want to destroy us."
        The only diplomatic alternative "is primarily to raise awareness among the residents of Gaza that they are suffering because of the Hamas leadership. The second thing is that the Hamas leadership must understand it is always losing."  (Ynet News)
  • David Rubinger, Legendary Israeli Photographer, Dies at 92 - Ofer Aderet
    David Rubinger, the legendary Israeli photographer behind an iconic photo of Israeli paratroopers entering the area of the Western Wall for the first time, died Thursday at the age of 92. Awarded the Israel Prize for his works in 1997, Rubinger's photographs captured key moments in Israel's history and helped define its collective consciousness. Over his illustrious career, Rubinger took over 500,000 pictures that tell the story of the State of Israel. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Photos: Land of Blood and Honey - David Rubinger's Israel (Guardian-UK)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

    Peace Process

  • Israeli Negotiator Critiques Kerry for 2013-14 Peace Talks - Raphael Ahren
    The 2013-14 effort at Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking was doomed to fail because of the unrealistic goals set by the U.S. at its inception and mistakes made by the Americans during the negotiations, according to a new Israeli insider account by veteran Israeli peace negotiator Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Michael Herzog. In a lengthy article published this week in The American Interest, he cites instances where Kerry misrepresented Israel's positions to the Palestinians, such as when he misinformed Ramallah about Israel's firm opposition to releasing Palestinian security prisoners, one of the key misunderstandings that led to the talks' breakdown.
        After insistently launching negotiations with the unattainable goal of reaching a final-status agreement in less than a year, Kerry then mismanaged the talks as they proceeded, charges Herzog, who was a member of the Israeli negotiating team headed by then-justice minister Tzipi Livni. (Herzog, brother of Labor leader Isaac and son of former president Chaim, formerly headed the IDF's strategic planning division and served as chief of staff to the defense minister. He has participated in most of Israel's negotiations with the Palestinians, Syrians, and Jordanians since 1993.)
        Still, Herzog allows, despite the many missteps that doomed the talks, Kerry deserves praise "for his commitment, determination, and intelligence, and for his indispensable role in propelling the process....His mission was unenviable in that he was struggling to negotiate simultaneously with Israelis, Palestinians, and the White House."  (Times of Israel)
  • Israel's UN Ambassador: Discussions of a "One-State Solution" Are Not Realistic - Danielle Ziri interviews Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon
    Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon told the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that discussions of a "one-state solution" for Israel and the Palestinians are unrealistic. "I haven't heard any major parts of our democracy calling for one state, saying we should apply citizenship [to the Palestinians] and annex all of Judea and Samaria completely. I think it is being used as a threat, that if we won't accept the [Palestinians'] conditions immediately, if we don't sign an agreement now without negotiating, without making sure that [Israel's] security needs are being met, we will find ourselves with one state."
        Danon also thanked President Trump and Vice President Pence for their response to the latest wave of anti-Semitism in the U.S.  "The incidents are very serious and shocking, I would even say. We cannot ignore it. It is scary. I think the words of the administration and the president were very important and I'm sure the authorities will deal with that and make sure they will arrest the people who are doing it. For us, when we see signs of anti-Semitism, no matter where it is taking place, it's something we will not be quiet about."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Why Mahmoud Abbas Prefers an International Approach to a Regional One - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Recently, officials in Israel and Washington started talking about a "regional approach" to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which Arab countries can help achieve peace in the Middle East by persuading, or rather pressuring, the Palestinians to make concessions.
        This misapprehension is both misleading and baseless. It assumes that Arab countries such as Jordan, Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have enough leverage with the Palestinians to compel them accept a peace agreement with Israel. But Palestinians simply do not trust their Arab brothers and consider most Arab leaders and regimes as "puppets" in the hands of the U.S. and its "Zionist" allies. Arab involvement in a peace process with Israel is the last thing Abbas and other Palestinians want.
        No Arab leader in the world can persuade the Palestinians to give up the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees or accept a solution that allows Israel to retain control over certain parts of the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Any Arab or Palestinian leader who promotes such compromise is taking his life in his hands. Even if Abbas were to accept terms dictated to him by such an alliance, his own people would reject them. Any solution offered by the Arab governments will always be regarded as an "American-Zionist dictate."  (Gatestone Institute)

  • Other Issues

  • Lebanon's Army and Hizbullah Join Ranks - Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira
    Hizbullah has completed the process of usurping the Lebanese state and its institutions. The election of Michel Aoun as president, through a forced arrangement with Hizbullah, has fulfilled the Iranian vision of controlling Lebanon. Aoun's declaration that Hizbullah's military power is a main component of Lebanon's defense grants it the legal authority to operate as a legitimate military force. The Lebanese president's declaration has essentially removed Hizbullah from the restrictions of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 of September 2, 2004, that called for "the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias."
        Ibrahim al-Amin, editor of Al-Akhbar, who is very close to Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah, asserted that despite Israel's attacks on weapon convoys to Hizbullah, "tens if not hundreds" of convoys have reached Lebanon from Syria. These weapons, al-Amin noted, arrive not only to the border front between Israel and Lebanon but also to the Golan Heights front.
        The main importance of these developments is the official recognition of Hizbullah's special status in Lebanon and its ability to deploy enormous military power that Iran has built in Lebanon against Israel. This poses a substantial risk to Lebanon. The new situation will enable Israel to operate freely against the Lebanese state, including its army and its civilian infrastructures, at any time that Hizbullah acts against Israel.
        The writer, a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center, served as bureau chief to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and as military secretary to the Prime Minister. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
        See also Hizbullah and Lebanon: One and the Same? - Assaf Orion (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
  • Yemen Has Become Iran's Testing Ground for New Weapons - Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall
    Iran has turned Yemen into a testing ground for various weapons it is developing. The Houthi rebels, who have taken over parts of northern Yemen including the capital, Sana'a, are getting ongoing assistance from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), mainly via Hizbullah trainers, in the use of missiles and rockets, along with drones and explosive devices.
        On Feb. 10, Abd al-Malik al-Houthi, leader of the Houthis in Yemen, said that they were beginning to manufacture drones, surface-to-air missiles that can intercept Saudi-led coalition planes, as well as missiles "that can hit Saudi territory and beyond." Since the beginning of the year, the Houthis have increased their missile fire from Yemeni territory at targets in Saudi Arabia, including airports, along with missile fire at coalition targets in Yemeni territory. Hizbullah advisers are taking part in some of the missile launches.
        Sources in the U.S. Navy believe the Jan. 30 attack on the Saudi frigate Al-Madinah near the Yemeni port of Hudeida was carried out by an unmanned, remote-controlled boat provided by the IRGC Navy. Hamas and Hizbullah are already deploying unmanned aerial and naval craft manufactured by Iran, or built with Iranian know-how, against Israel. The writer is a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center and at Alcyon Risk Advisors. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • The Myth that American Ties to Israel Harm U.S. Interests in the Muslim Middle East - Hillel Frisch
    Many believe that U.S. financial and military support for Israel harms American interests. Yet only 5% of total U.S. exports are purchased by the 21 states in the Middle East and North Africa. Moreover, only 1% of investments in the U.S. economy are made by Middle East investors, while investors in the U.S. are not particularly keen on investing in the Middle East. Thus, the conviction that the U.S. relationship with Israel harms America's interests is a myth. The writer is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the BESA Center. (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
  • Reject Discrimination Against Israel - Joshua S. Block
    The Maryland General Assembly, meeting in Annapolis, will have a great opportunity this year to vote on a bill to join more than a dozen other states that protect taxpayer money from being used to support discrimination against Israel. Beyond sharing our values, Israel is an important business partner for Maryland, which exported more than $145 million in products to the Jewish state in 2015.
        The bipartisan legislation would prevent Maryland's retirement and pension system from investing in companies that participate in a politically motivated boycott of Israel, known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Companies that discriminate against Israel would also be barred from winning state procurement contracts.
        Fundamentally, the effort to isolate and demonize the Jewish state is an effort to discriminate against people because of who they are. We should support our elected officials as they stand up against such discrimination. (Washington Post)
  • British Universities Have a Duty to Jewish Students to Monitor Israel Apartheid Week - Richard Black
    This year "Israel Apartheid Week" (IAW) is fixated on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, a document issued in 1917 which first proclaimed Britain's commitment to the establishment of a "national home for the Jewish people." This shows that the issue of the international organizers is not this or that policy. Their objective is to undo a century of Jewish self-determination in the Middle East.
        IAW almost universally promotes a simplistic approach to discussions of the conflict. It characterizes Israel as an "apartheid" state and a "settler-colonial" regime. It is nothing of the sort. South African journalist and veteran anti-apartheid activist Benjamin Pogrund has described the apartheid charge as "at best, ignorant and naive and, at worst, cynical and manipulative." In the democratic State of Israel, Arab citizens enjoy total legal and political equality.
        Israel Apartheid Week has a very real effect upon the experiences of Jewish students at university. It has become increasingly hard to deny that anti-Zionism has become a fig leaf for ugly Jew baiting. At universities across the UK, Jewish students have been subject to a barrage of verbal, physical and visual onslaughts. No student should ever be treated like this. The writer is a recent graduate from the University of Oxford. (Telegraph-UK)
  • The Uphill Battle over Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem - David Parsons
    It was Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) who first started pushing for moving the U.S embassy to Jerusalem in the early 1980s. In 1995 I helped organize lobby days for several hundred Jewish and Christian activists to urge members of Congress to support a bill to move the embassy. The Clinton administration threatened to veto the bill, so the strategy focused on getting at least 67 co-sponsors in the Senate to demonstrate they could override a presidential veto. Sixty senators had signed on as co-sponsors.
        Eventually, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) came forward with a package deal offering to bring on 10 Democratic senators to make the bill veto-proof, but she insisted on adding a waiver authority giving the president power to suspend the bill's provisions every six months if he certified to Congress that it was in America's "national security interests." Feinstein's legislative assistant for foreign policy issues at that time was Dan Shapiro, later the U.S. ambassador to Israel.
        One excuse for nations to still refuse to move their embassies to Jerusalem is fear of the potentially violent Arab and Islamic response. This attitude of weakness is reflected in the way every U.S. president so far has exercised the waiver authority added at the last minute to the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. This is not a policy based on principle, fairness or historical right, but solely on timidity, and it has effectively granted the Palestinians a veto over U.S. decision-making. The writer is vice president and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. (Jerusalem Post)

Iran Axis in Syria Leads Israeli Security Concerns - Raphael Ahren and Judah Ari Gross (Times of Israel)

  • "The most important strategic issue we're currently facing is the strengthening of the Shiite axis led by Iran in Syria, especially after the fall of Aleppo," Hagai Tzuriel, director-general of the Intelligence Ministry who served for 28 years in the Mossad, told the Times of Israel. Recent developments in Syria have created "a strong imbalance in the region to Iran's benefit."
  • Yet at the same time, since Moscow decided to take a more engaged role in actively supporting the Assad regime, Iran's role as Damascus' main backer has been diminished. "The Russians have managed to become the key player with only a few dozen aircraft. That's proof that political will and the readiness to use military force are key."
  • "For Israel, it is important to see the U.S. remaining active in Syria and the region," Tzuriel said. Continued U.S. involvement is crucial to Israel's interest in seeing Iran kept from extending hegemony to Syria, allowing the Islamic Republic to link Tehran and Beirut.
  • He said President Obama's decision, in 2013, to not use military force against Assad's regime despite its use of chemical weapons, "was a pivotal moment for the entire region....This moment changed everything. It showed Putin that the U.S. was not willing to use force. It opened the door for Russia to take center stage."
  • For Israel, the most important issue is making sure Iran and its proxies aren't able to set up a base in Syria from which to attack Israel. "If Iran and Hizbullah manage to base themselves in Syria, it would be a permanent source of instability in the entire region," he said, referring specifically to the threat of an Iranian naval base on the Mediterranean.
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