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March 31, 2017

In-Depth Issues:

Italian Police Foil Jihadist Plot to Blow Up Rialto Bridge in Venice (AFP-The Local-Italy)
    Three men and a minor from Kosovo have been arrested in Venice for plotting to blow up the city's celebrated Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal, Italian police said Thursday.
    "With all the unbelievers there are in Venice, you put a bomb under the Rialto and you go straight to heaven," one of the jihadist plotters said in a wiretapped conversation.
    Other recorded conversations reveal them celebrating the attack outside Parliament in London last week and discussing their desire to join Islamist fighters in Syria.

Trump OKs Ramped-Up Airstrikes Against Al-Qaeda in Somalia (Fox News)
    President Trump is ramping up airstrikes in Somalia against al-Qaeda's third largest affiliate, al-Shabaab, the Pentagon announced Thursday.
    Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said: "The President has approved a Department of Defense proposal to provide additional precision fires in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security forces operations to defeat al-Shabaab in Somalia."
    "The additional support provided by this authority will help deny al-Shabaab safe havens from which it could attack U.S. citizens or U.S. interests in the region."
    See also U.S. Is Sharing More of the Anti-ISIS Campaign Burden - Max Boot (Commentary)

Video: IDF Holds Major West Bank Drill Ahead of Passover Holiday - Anna Ahronheim (Jerusalem Post)
    The IDF Central Command this week completed its largest exercise in the West Bank in five years.
    The four-day drill saw hundreds of regular and reserve troops simulate a variety of scenarios and emergency situations, such as settlement infiltrations, abductions of Israeli citizens, bombings, vehicular or shooting attacks, and large-scale riots.
    Last week Israel Security Agency director Nadav Argaman warned that Hamas and other terrorist cells will try to carry out attacks over Passover.
    In March, several Hamas cells planning or responsible for terrorist activity were broken up by Israeli security forces.

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Israel Aerospace Industries Sells Border Protection Systems to South American Nation (UPI)
    Israel Aerospace Industries has received a contract to supply border protection systems to a South American nation.
    IAI will provide land-based systems and sensors in addition to unmanned aerial vehicles fitted for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Israel's Elbit Offers Multimission, Unmanned Naval Robot - Barbara Opall-Rome (Defense News)
    Israel's Elbit Systems has concluded operational testing of its Seagull Unmanned Surface Vessel, a maritime robot designed for underwater mine hunting, mine clearing, anti-diver and anti-submarine warfare missions.
    The Seagull USV can operate for four days at a time, using electro-optic and infrared sensors along with various sonars to scour the seas for underwater threats.

Record Europe Sales Push Israeli Defense Exports to $6.5 Billion in 2016 - Ora Coren and Gili Cohen (Ha'aretz)
    Israeli military exports grew to $6.5 billion in 2016, an increase of $800 million over 2015, according to the military exports unit of the Defense Ministry.
    Unit chief Michel Ben-Baruch noted that while Asia remains Israel's biggest military market, Europe has become a key buyer for counterterrorism, border defense and infiltration prevention technologies.

Samsung to Integrate Israeli Technology to Spot Strokes - Shoshanna Solomon (Times of Israel)
    MedyMatch Technology Ltd. and the healthcare unit of Samsung Electronics said Wednesday they will collaborate to integrate the Israeli startup's artificial intelligence software with Samsung's medical imaging hardware for emergency use.
    The collaboration with Samsung NeuroLogica Corp. will help clinicians quickly and accurately assess patients in environments in which hospital specialists are not always at hand.
    MedyMatch technologies will be integrated into mobile stroke units and specialized ambulances equipped with a Samsung CT scanner.
    The company's artificial intelligence applications will enable CTs to provide clinical answers, not just images.

Israeli Economy Outperformed OECD Nations in 2016 - Zeev Klein (Israel Hayom)
    The Israeli economy grew by 4% in 2016, double the U.S. growth rate and 2.3 times higher than the average growth among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development members, the Bank of Israel said Wednesday.
    Israel had a record $12.4 billion surplus in its current account balance of payments; unemployment dropped to 4.8%; and public debt dropped to an all-time low of 62.8% of GDP.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • New ISIS Tactic: Gather Mosul Civilians, Then Lure an Airstrike - Michael R. Gordon
    Col. Joseph E. Scrocca, a spokesman for the American-led task force that is battling the Islamic State, said Thursday that ISIS had been herding local Iraqi residents into buildings in western Mosul, calculating that rising civilian casualties would restrain U.S. airstrikes. "What you see now is not the use of civilians as human shields. ISIS is smuggling civilians into buildings so we won't see them and trying to bait the coalition to attack." American surveillance aircraft this week observed Islamic State fighters forcing civilians inside a building, killing one who resisted, then firing from the same structure on Iraqi forces. (New York Times)
  • U.S. Priority in Syria No Longer Focused on Getting Assad Out - Michelle Nichols
    U.S. policy on Syria is no longer focused on making President Assad leave power, U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said on Thursday. "You pick and choose your battles and when we're looking at this...our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out....Do we think he's a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No....Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done, who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria."
        On Wednesday, Haley accused Russia, Iran and the "Assad regime" of committing war crimes. She has also said the U.S. supports the UN-led Syria peace talks, that Syria could no longer be a "safe haven for terrorists," and that it was important "we get Iran and their proxies out."
        A senior Trump administration official said Haley's remarks reflected "a measure of just realism, accepting the facts on the ground....Assad is never going to have sufficient force to reassert control over the whole country....Our focus is on defeating ISIS and al-Qaeda and preventing Syria from being used as a terrorist safe haven."  (Reuters)
  • On Display at Arab Summit: Division and Declining Influence - Taylor Luck
    This year's Arab Summit on Wednesday served as a showcase of the lack of Arab leadership and the waning influence of the Arab League, officials and analysts say. With several states reeling after both the ouster of dictators and weakening of remaining autocrats, the League - like the Arab world itself - is divided, looking inward, and dominated by the Saudi rivalry with Iran.
        "The Arab League is a dead body being kept in the ICU out of hopes we can find a new remedy to revive the Arab regional order," says Oraib Rantawi, director of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies. "The major decisions being taken about the region are not being taken by Arab strongmen anymore, they are being taken by Iran, Turkey, and Russia."
        "The Arab political system has failed to solve the crises and halt the collapse, as the trust of Arab citizens in the joint Arab institutions has eroded," Ayman Safadi, Jordanian foreign minister, warned Monday at a gathering of foreign ministers. Several initiatives launched by the League failed to curb the fighting in Syria, and Arab leaders cannot even agree on a stance toward Iran, where Oman, Iraq and Lebanon are pushing for cordial ties with Tehran. (Christian Science Monitor)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • In Response to Trump Request, Israel to Restrict Settlements' "Footprint" - Herb Keinon
    Israel will restrict its building in the West Bank to the built-up areas of existing settlements to limit as much as possible Israel's settlement "footprint," following a policy that was employed during President George W. Bush's tenure, the security cabinet decided Thursday. Israel also committed not to permit the establishment of new outposts.
        Sources said the decision was taken out of consideration of the position of U.S. President Trump, and that Israel will curb building to enable efforts to advance a diplomatic process with the Palestinians. The new guidelines are aimed to remove settlement construction as a bone of contention with Washington. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Netanyahu to Slow Down Settlement Activity in Effort to Appease Trump - Ruth Eglash
    Prime Minister Netanyahu informed his cabinet Thursday that Israel would construct more housing units inside already existing settlements, in keeping with projects approved before President Trump took office, but that, moving forward, Israel would adopt a more muted policy on settlement construction in deference to the Trump administration. "This is a very friendly administration and we need to take his requests into consideration," Ha'aretz reported Netanyahu saying. (Washington Post)
  • New Settlement for Amona Evacuees Approved - Herb Keinon and Tovah Lazaroff
    Israel's security cabinet approved the establishment of a new settlement in the West Bank near Shiloh on Thursday for 40 families evacuated last month from Amona by court order. This is the first time the government has sanctioned a new settlement in 25 years. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Trump Accepts Amona Settlement Exception, U.S. Official Says - Michael Wilner
    The Trump administration accepts Prime Minister Netanyahu's rationale for approving a new settlement for evacuees of Amona, a senior U.S. official told the Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "We would note that the Israeli prime minister made a commitment to the Amona settlers prior to President Trump laying out his expectations, and has consistently indicated that he intended to move forward with this plan," the U.S. official said.
        "Going forward, and as we move into more detailed discussions regarding the possibilities for advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Israeli government has made clear that Israel's intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes President Trump's concerns into consideration."  (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Trump's Peace Push - Editorial
    It is not clear why the Trump administration believes it will succeed in brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace where other U.S. leaders have failed. The core issues - Jerusalem, security arrangements, refugees - remain as intractable as ever. Moreover, the Palestinian leadership remains divided between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. For many Palestinians, the conflict is not just about territory in the West Bank and Gaza - it is about the very legitimacy of a Jewish state within any borders.
        Any serious attempt to begin a process of normalization that includes the Palestinians, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states is a positive development that should be welcomed. However, we must enter into this initiative aware of the potential dangers, including the possibility that a high-profile push for peace will raise unrealistic expectations. (Jerusalem Post)
  • The Bigotry of "Intersectionality" - Alan M. Dershowitz
    Intersectionality - the radical academic theory which holds that all forms of social oppression are inexorably linked - has become a code word for anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bigotry. On college campuses, intersectionality has forced artificial coalitions between causes that have nothing to do with each other except a hatred for their fellow students who are "privileged" because they are white, heterosexual, male and especially Jewish.
        Flyers were recently plastered around the University of Illinois (UIC) campus stating: "ending white privilege starts with ending Jewish privilege." This practice resembles the vile, anti-Semitic propaganda of the 1930s, when Der Spiegel blamed so-called disproportionate Jewish wealth for Germany's losing WWI and the country's subsequent economic downturn. Most successful Jews, like most successful people of other religions and ethnicities, earned this success by hard work, not special privilege. Despite finishing first in my class at Yale Law School, I was rejected by all 32 of the law firms to which I applied.
        The linking of unrelated "victimizations," despite their tenuous connections, leads to the forming of alliances between causes that at best, have nothing to do with each other. Their only common feature is that to join, they must demonize the nation-state of the Jewish people.
        The essence of anti-Semitism is the bigoted claim that if there is a problem, then Jews must be its cause. All decent people must join in calling out intersectionality for what it is: a euphemism for anti-American, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel bigotry. The writer is professor emeritus of Harvard Law School. (Gatestone Institute)
  • The Chinese Approach to Radical Islam - Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah
    There are roughly 22 million Muslims living in China today. The dominant Muslim minority group is the Uyghurs, a Sunni population who speak a Turkish dialect and live in the northwestern province of Xinjiang, home to 10 million Chinese Muslims.
        Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria and Iraq, Uyghurs have flocked to the Middle East. The Chinese government has alleged that "more than 1,000" Xinjiang separatists have received terrorist training in Afghanistan and claims to have arrested a hundred foreign-trained terrorists who made their way back to Xinjiang. The likely defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria could potentially send back to China hundreds of Uyghurs who had been fighting in the ranks of the rebels, fully trained for guerilla warfare.
        The Chinese government has sought to dilute the Uyghur majority in Xinjiang by encouraging Han Chinese to resettle there. As a result, the Uyghurs represent today barely 45% of the population compared to having been a large majority in 1949.
        The terrorist attacks perpetrated by the Uyghurs follow almost the same patterns as those conducted by Islamic radicals in other places, such as car-ramming, suicide bombers, and knife-wielding attackers. The writer, a special analyst at the Jerusalem Center, was former deputy head for assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
        See also China Reacts to Muslim Uyghur Terror Threat - Philip Wen (Reuters)
        See also Israeli Report: Thousands of Chinese Jihadists Are Fighting in Syria - Itamar Eichner
    A report by the Israel Foreign Ministry found that thousands of Chinese Muslims are fighting in the ranks of jihadi organizations in Syria. China is very concerned about their return and their influence on the security of its citizens and its worldwide interests. The report stated, "The arrival of tens of thousands of Chinese citizens fighting and living in the country raises the need for monitoring them. China is interested in as much data that can be collected on them, and it is our understanding that they would prefer to liquidate them on Syrian soil, in order to prevent their return to their region."
        The Chinese who fight in Syria are members of the Muslim Uyghur minority. According to the Israeli report, the Chinese have made great efforts to stop the illegal departure of Uyghurs, blocking the shortest route through Pakistan. Thanks to their Turkish origin, Turkey helps those who want to reach its territory. The report says 3,000 Uyghurs are fighting in the ranks of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the al-Qaeda branch in Syria (formerly known as the al-Nursa Front), and several hundred fighters are in ISIS. China estimates the total number of fighters to be 5,000. Many Uyghur families have settled in villages in Syria. "The main threat to China is not the return of Uyghurs to China, but rather the activities of Uyghur terrorists operating against Chinese targets outside China."  (Ynet News)
  • Why Arabs Are Not Protesting Indian President's Israel Visit - Bobby Ghosh
    When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Israel this year, it will be remarkable in that no Arab state has voiced any displeasure. This is nothing short of astonishing to anyone who grew up in the India of the 1970s and 80s, when it was routine for New Delhi to join the Arab chorus of condemnation for Israel at every turn.
        One reason is an acceptance that the two countries have much in common, including their enemies, in the shape of Islamist terrorism. Another is a profound sense of Palestine fatigue in Arab capitals. Yet another reason is that many Arab governments would themselves like an accommodation with the Jewish state. Arab leaders have determined that Shia-ruled Iran represents an existential threat to their Sunni-dominated regimes, and recognize that, in this, they have a common cause with Israel. (Hindustan Times-India)
  • Israeli Firebomb Victim Asks EU to Stop Supporting Palestinian Terrorists - Tovah Lazaroff
    Ayala Shapira, 13, spoke on Tuesday about the impact of a firebomb landing on the car seat next to her in December 2014, as she urged the European Union in Brussels to stop the Palestinian Authority from funding terrorism. "I saw a ball of light coming towards us....The ball of light shattered my window....I remember that everything around us was burning. I thought I was going to die," Ayala said. "My entire left side was on fire, but I couldn't free my seat belt with my left hand, so I put my right hand into the flames, too."
        Ayala's mother, Ruth, recalled, "I saw the extent of Ayala's injuries only after she entered the house, in the light. She had horrible burns on her face and neck, on her chest, on her back and on the palms of both her hands....Ayala was hospitalized for three weeks in intensive care, for two months in the regular ward and an additional five months in a rehabilitation ward....She has undergone six operations and is expected to undergo more surgery in the future.
        Ruth described for the assembly how Ayala must wear a pressure garment 24 hours a day and cannot be exposed to sunlight. She wears a special mask to protect her face, so that only her eyes and lips are showing.
        Ayala said, "One of the terrorists who threw the firebomb at our car was a 16-year-old boy. He did it, among other reasons, to help his family economically; he knew that if he is put into prison, the Palestinian Authority would take care of them." Ruth explained that the terrorists' families receive a monthly salary from the Palestinian Authority. "This is money they receive from you, from the countries of the European Union, who transfer hundreds of millions of euros a year to the Palestinian Authority."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Palestinian Firebomb Attacks Continue - Stephen M. Flatow
    On March 23, 2017, four Palestinian attackers drove up to the perimeter of the Jewish community of Beit El, north of Jerusalem, and began hurling firebombs toward homes there. Israeli soldiers fired at them, killing one - a 17-year-old - and wounding three others.
        The fact that a Palestinian died, while no Israelis were burned to death as he had intended, meant that many news outlets portrayed the attacker as the victim. Here's how AFP began its coverage: "Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teenager Thursday." Ramallah Governor Laila Ghanam called the dead terrorist a "martyr."  (

  • Weekend Feature

  • Good Deeds Day in Israel - Liat Collins
    More than a million Israelis marked Good Deeds Day on March 28. Launched in 2006 by businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison, now nearly all municipalities in the country and hundreds of schools, businesses, organizations and the IDF offer their services as part of the project.
        The activities included volunteers painting houses and daycare facilities for the elderly; cleaning up beaches and parks; renovating daycare facilities for children at risk; planting and tending community gardens; packing and delivering food packages for the needy; and recycling projects. Among my favorites are volunteers who cut hair to be donated to make wigs for cancer sufferers.
        The Israeli state education system considers fostering a spirit of volunteering an essential part of the curriculum. Students from 10th grade on have to volunteer 60 hours a year in projects including helping in hospitals, clinics and old-age homes; serving with the ambulance, police or fire services; repairing old computers for those unable to afford new ones; and helping children with illnesses and disabilities. (Jerusalem Post)

Can Egypt Drive Moderate Arab States to Talk Mideast Peace? - Zvi Mazel (Jerusalem Post)

  • Could Egypt broker a regional peace plan based on the bloc of pragmatic (or moderate) Arab states? Could such a bloc even arise given the political and military situation in the Middle East?
  • Egypt is embroiled in an endless fight against terrorist attacks on all its borders and is, therefore, primarily focused on its own security problems. At the same time, relations between Egypt and the Palestinian Authority are strained because PA President Abbas rejected Egyptian President Sisi's initiative for a summit in Cairo with Prime Minister Netanyahu and is reluctant to cooperate with Cairo regarding Hamas.
  • Moreover, tensions between Saudi Arabia and Egypt mean conditions are not ideal for the creation of a coalition of pragmatic states acting together to promote a peace process. It is hard to see how they could agree on a common approach.
  • There is discussion of a solution based on the Saudi-Arab peace initiative formulated in 2002 and endorsed by the Arab League in 2007. It entails preconditions that Israel cannot accept such as withdrawal from all territories taken in 1967: not only the West Bank, but also eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, as well as the Shaba Farms (Mount Dov) on the Lebanese and Syrian borders. It also entails "the solution of the [Palestinian] refugee problem." All Arab countries, Egypt included, are united in considering that these preconditions must be met to ensure the end of the conflict.
  • Today, Sisi is sincerely committed to promoting a peace agreement aiming for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines with eastern Jerusalem as its capital. Being part of the Arab and Islamic world is embedded in Egypt's constitution. Can it then diverge from the Arab consensus regarding the core issues relative to the conflict, take the lead in the negotiations and bring about needed Palestinian concessions?
  • Could Saudi Arabia, keeper of the two holy sites of Islam, endorse an agreement regarding Jerusalem that would not leave the Temple Mount in Arab/Muslim hands? Undoubtedly, those states would like to see an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, but cannot free themselves of their traditional positions.

    The writer, a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Romania and Sweden.
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