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  DAILY ALERT Thursday,
March 23, 2017

In-Depth Issues:

Iranian Navy Continues to Harass U.S. Ships in Strait of Hormuz - Sami Aboudi (Reuters)
    U.S. Navy commanders accused Iran of jeopardizing international navigation by "harassing" warships in the Strait of Hormuz.
    Two sets of Iranian Navy fast-attack boats approached a U.S.-led, five-vessel flotilla including the U.S. aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush as it entered the Strait on Tuesday.
    The aircraft carrier sent helicopter gunships to hover over the Iranian speedboats.
    The Iranian boats "were in the middle of international transit waters (while) we had a right to be there as we were exercising freedom of navigation on our way into the Arabian Gulf," said Rear Admiral Kenneth Whitesell, commander of the Carrier Strike Group.
    "They also had weapons uncovered [and]...had some of the weapons manned. We also have aerial data that they were arming all of these weapons."

U.S. Airlifts Hundreds of Militia Fighters for Attack in Syria - Michael R. Gordon and Anne Barnard (New York Times)
    Hundreds of Syrian fighters and their American military advisers, backed by American artillery and attack helicopters, have begun a major operation to cut off Raqqa, the Islamic State's capital in Syria, officials said Wednesday.
    The mission reflected the leeway the Trump administration has given its commanders to carry out operations without prolonged review in Washington.

Rebel Push on Damascus Shows Syria's War Is Far from Over - Liz Sly (Washington Post)
    An unexpected rebel push on Damascus has brought Syria's civil war to the heart of its capital for the first time in years, serving as a reminder that the conflict is far from over.
    Rebel forces have advanced to within a few miles of the historic Old City of Damascus as a Russian-sponsored cease-fire that took hold in December is now in shreds.
    Although the rebels lack the capacity to topple Assad, Assad's forces also lack the capacity to defeat the rebels, said Andrew J. Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Hamas' Gaza Chief Vows to "Liberate All of Palestine" (Times of Israel)
    Hamas' leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said Wednesday that the terror group will not cease its conflict with Israel until "the liberation of all of Palestine."
    He said Hamas would not allow the State of Israel to exist on even a "morsel" of land.
    While Hamas has drafted a new political platform that raises the possibility of a temporary Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and eastern Jerusalem, the document will not formally replace Hamas' 1988 founding covenant which calls for the destruction of Israel.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Islamist Terrorist Kills Three, Wounds 40 in Attack near Parliament in London
    A single attacker drove a car over the sidewalk along the Westminster Bridge near the Houses of Parliament in central London on Wednesday, killing two pedestrians and injuring many more. The attacker then ran toward Parliament where he stabbed and killed an unarmed police officer before being shot dead by armed officers.
        Acting deputy police commissioner Mark Rowley said the working assumption was that the attacker was "inspired by international terrorism" and "Islamist-related terrorism." The UK's threat level has been set at "severe" - meaning an attack is highly likely - for some time. (BBC News)
        See also London Attacker Was British-Born and Had Been Investigated over Extremism - Jason Collie
    The London attacker was born in Britain and had been investigated by MI5 several years ago for violent extremism, Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons on Thursday. (Evening Standard-UK)
        See also Vehicle Attacks by Terrorists Becoming Increasingly Common - Chine Labbe and Adrian Croft
    Militants are increasingly turning to vehicle-ramming attacks, like the one near Britain's parliament on Wednesday. The tactic of mowing people down avoids the need to obtain explosives or weapons and can be carried out by a lone attacker. Trucks were used to devastating effect last year against crowds in Berlin and Nice. A Palestinian drove his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem in January, killing four. (Reuters)
        See also Israel Expresses Condolences to UK over Terror Attack
    Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said Wednesday: "Israel expresses its deep shock at the terror attack in London today and its solidarity with the victims and with the people and government of Great Britain. Terror is terror wherever it occurs and we will fight it relentlessly."  (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Strengthens Response to Gaza Rocket Fire - Yonah Jeremy Bob
    IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told the Knesset State Control Committee on Wednesday that the army had adjusted the way it deals with Gaza rocket fire in order to maintain deterrence. "We had an arrangement in which they fired a rocket and we fired shells. We learned we could not tolerate this." Now, if Hamas or anyone else from Gaza fires a rocket, "we hit valuable Hamas targets - not empty locations of small arms. It gives us more deterrence."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Mossad: Iran's Nuclear Ambitions Remain Primary Threat to Israel - Lilach Shoval
    "As long as the ayatollahs' regime exists, Iran will pose a challenge to Israel," Mossad Director Yossi Cohen said Tuesday at Netanya Academic College. Cohen said Iran's nuclear ambitions remain the primary threat to the Jewish state. "We simply have to be more sophisticated. Our outlook should focus on the long term and we have to pursue complex courses of action, the kind that do not end in one year," he said.
        "The defense establishment has to focus on our enemies in the region, to study them, really get to know them, twist their arm when it becomes necessary - and it will become necessary. The Middle East is our home court and we have to be familiar with it. We have to pursue alliances and recognize mutual interests with friends and, if need be, with foes as well."  (Israel Hayom)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Israeli Expert Questions New Airport Security Rules - Jeffrey Heller
    Pini Schiff, former head of security at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport, questioned new rules banning carry-on electronics on flights to the U.S. and Britain from parts of the Middle East and North Africa. "What can explode in the plane while it's in a passenger's hands can also explode in a cargo hold, because if you put a timer or a barometric pressure switch on it, you endanger the flight to the same degree," he said, recalling the destruction of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 by a bomb that Libyan agents hid in a radio-cassette recorder in the jumbo jet's hold.
        At Ben-Gurion Airport, security screening is a combination of high-tech and thinly disguised profiling. Before reaching the main terminal, vehicles stop briefly at a security checkpoint where guards speak with the car's occupants. Small cameras point at license plates, apparently checking numbers against a data base. Other plainclothes guards are stationed at the doors to the terminal.
        Once inside, foreigners are asked who packed their bags and about their broad background by screeners who attend a course lasting several months. Bags and laptops are placed on trays for electronic screening, while shoes, belts and watches usually stay on. All luggage of departing passengers headed to the hold is screened by a system that "works on the same principle as medical CT scans," Schiff said. (Reuters)
  • The Delusion of the Iran Nuclear Deal - Mark Dubowitz
    Rigorously enforcing the Iran deal is a delusion: The greater the focus on enforcement, the higher the likelihood that Iran will emerge with nuclear weapons. The nuclear deal contains limited, temporary and reversible constraints that disappear over time. Under the terms of the agreement, Iran's uranium and plutonium pathways to atomic weapons expand over time.
        The deal allows for Iran to ramp up the testing of advanced centrifuges in seven years and install these centrifuges in its Natanz enrichment facility in nine years. Breakout time to enrich one bomb's worth of fissile material to nuclear grade will then drop from one year to months and then weeks.
        In less than 15 years, Iran will emerge with an industrial-size nuclear program with a near-zero breakout capability and much easier ways to sneak around restrictions. After the disappearance of the arms embargo 3 1/2 years from now and the missile embargo in 6 1/2 years, Tehran can acquire advanced conventional weapons and further expand its long-range ballistic-missile program to include intercontinental ballistic missiles.
        President Trump must address the Iranian threat the way Ronald Reagan treated the Soviet one. The U.S. needs a plan that uses both covert and overt economic, financial, political, diplomatic, cyber and military power to subvert and roll back the Iranian threat. The Trump administration also needs to reinvigorate the sanctions regime aimed at Iran's support for terrorism, ballistic-missile development, human-rights abuses, war crimes, and destabilizing activities in the Middle East. The writer is chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (Wall Street Journal)

Neutralizing the Palestinian Internationalization Strategy - Amos Yadlin and Kobi Michael (Institute for National Security Studies)

  • Eight years ago the Palestinians adopted an "internationalization strategy" reflecting their hope that the international community would accept their demands: (1) establishment of a Palestinian state, (2) on the basis of the 1967 lines, (3) with east Jerusalem as its capital.
  • The Palestinians hoped to achieve this without having to contribute the minimum demanded by Israel for achievement of an agreement: committing to an end of conflict and finality of claims; waiving the right of return; and agreeing to security arrangements that to some extent would limit their sovereignty.
  • It appears that the Palestinians are having difficulty in internalizing two major changes that have made their internationalization strategy much less relevant: the Trump administration is not committed to the Palestinians to the same degree as was the Obama administration, and the Israeli narrative is closer to the outlook of the current administration than the Palestinian narrative.
  • In addition, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become less important in the Arab world and in the international community. Ten million Syrian refugees, a humanitarian disaster in Yemen, and instability in Iraq and Libya have shunted the Palestinian issue to the region's political sidelines.
  • Israel's interest requires coordination and understanding with the U.S. on the truly significant challenges in the region: Iranian subversion and terrorism, the conflict in Syria, and the need to strengthen Egypt and Jordan as stabilizing elements.
  • Paradoxically, the Palestinian internationalization strategy has prevented progress toward a solution to the conflict. Making it unmistakably clear to the Palestinians that they must return to the negotiating process and mutual give and take, and also accept transitional and interim arrangements as preferable alternatives to the status quo, will engender greater potential for progress than during the Obama administration.
  • As an initial sign to the Palestinians that the rules of the game have changed, moving the American embassy to Jerusalem is in order. An American retreat from this pledge, as a result of the Palestinian threat aimed at preventing this measure, will weaken America's stature and become an incentive for the Palestinians to adhere to a strategy of bypassing Israel and evading direct negotiations.

    Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, former chief of Israeli military intelligence, heads Tel Aviv University's INSS.
        Dr. Kobi Michael, a senior research fellow at INSS, was deputy director general and head of the Palestinian desk at the Israel Ministry for Strategic Affairs.

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