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April 10, 2017

In-Depth Issues:

Israel Closes Border with Egypt for Fear of Imminent Sinai Attack - Gili Cohen and Jonathan Lis (Ha'aretz)
    Israel decided on Monday to prohibit Israelis from crossing the Taba border point into Egypt near Eilat. Israelis currently in Sinai were requested to leave the area and return to Israel.
    The decision was made in light of concrete information about a planned attack against Israeli targets in the Sinai area.

Why Did Assad Use Nerve Gas? - Amotz Asa-El (Jerusalem Post)
    Assad's gas attacks targeted the town of Khan Sheikhoun, located just east of the Nusayriyah Mountains, the Alawite stronghold east of Syria's Mediterranean coast. The town is also on the M5 highway, Syria's most important artery, which runs from the Jordanian border through Damascus to Aleppo.
    The gas attack and the hospital bombing that followed are part of an ethnic-cleansing effort designed to chase Sunni populations out and replace them with Shi'ite Arabs from Iraq.
    Tehran wants to extend its reach to the Mediterranean by cultivating a belt of predominantly Shi'ite communities checkered by an assortment of subservient non-Sunni minorities.
    Prime Minister Netanyahu told President Putin during their meeting in Moscow last month that the Iranians are out to build their own seaport in Syria.
    The Iranian march to the Mediterranean provokes the Arab world, Russia and Turkey all at once. The Russians will not want the ayatollahs' vessels parking alongside theirs.
    Backing Assad's violence is one thing. Accommodating Tehran's imperial intrusion is an entirely different thing.
    Moreover, the Sunni Arabs along with the Sunni Turks understand what Iran is up to.
    See also I Survived a Sarin Gas Attack - Kassem Eid (New York Times)

Uzbek Man Held in Swedish Truck Attack that Killed Four - Johan Sennero (Reuters)
    A 39-year-old Uzbek man is being held as the driver of a hijacked beer delivery truck that plowed into crowds in central Stockholm on Friday, killing four people and wounding 15 in a terror attack, Swedish police said Saturday.
    See also Stockholm Attacker Was Failed Asylum-Seeker - Matti Huuhtanen (AP-ABC News)
    The suspect in the Stockholm attack had been ordered to leave Sweden in December because his request for a residence permit was rejected.
    He was known for having "been sympathetic to extremist organizations," Jonas Hysing of Sweden's national police said.

Norway Police Find Explosive Device near Oslo Subway Station (AP-CBS News)
    Police in the Norwegian capital of Oslo said they neutralized an explosive device found just outside the Groenland underground station in downtown Oslo on Saturday and said they had arrested a suspect.
    See also Russian Islamist Asylum-Seeker Identified as Norway Bomb Suspect - Jan M. Olsen (AP-ABC News)

Congressional Report: 204 Homegrown Jihadist Cases in America since 9/11 (U.S. House Homeland Security Committee)
    According to a new U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee report, since the 9/11 attacks, there have been 204 homegrown jihadist cases in the U.S., 36 of which occurred in the last 12 months.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • U.S. Says Syria Goal Is to Defeat Islamic State, Not to Push Out Assad - Dion Nissenbaum and Ben Leubsdorf
    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, in separate interviews on Sunday, said the administration's decision last week to strike an Assad regime airfield wasn't a sign that the U.S. is now focused on toppling the Syrian leader. "Our priority is first the defeat of ISIS," Tillerson told ABC. "Once we can eliminate the battle against ISIS...then we hope to turn our attention to cease-fire agreements between the regime and opposition forces."  (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Trump Officials Tell Russia to Drop Its Support for Syria's Assad - Carol Morello
    Officials in the Trump administration on Sunday demanded that Russia stop supporting the Syrian government or face a further deterioration in its relations with the U.S.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is set to have talks in Moscow this week, said on ABC: "I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility."
        National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said on Fox News: "I think what we should do is ask Russia, how could it be, if you have advisers at that airfield, that you didn't know that the Syrian air force was preparing and executing a mass murder attack with chemical weapons?"  (Washington Post)
        See also U.S. Envoy Nikki Haley Says Syria Regime Change Is "Inevitable" - Angela Dewan
    U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Sunday that removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power is inevitable. "We don't see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there," she said, adding that another priority was to "get the Iranian influence out" of Syria. (CNN)
  • ISIS Claims 2 Deadly Explosions at Egyptian Coptic Churches on Palm Sunday - Magdy Samaan and Declan Walsh
    Suicide bombers attacked two Coptic churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday, killing at least 40 worshipers and police officers stationed outside. Islamic State claimed responsibility for both attacks. The first explosion occurred at St. George's Church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, 50 miles north of Cairo, where a suicide bomber barged past security measures and detonated in the front pews. At least 27 people were killed and 71 others injured.
        A second explosion at the gates of St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria killed 13 people and wounded 21. The patriarch of the Egyptian Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, was in the church at the time but was not injured. A Coptic church official in Alexandria said a police officer at the church gates intercepted a suicide bomber, who blew himself up before he could reach the church. Two police officers and a neighborhood police chief were among the dead.
        Egyptian security officials found and defused several other explosive devices. A bomb had been planted at the College Saint Marc, a boys school in downtown Alexandria. Two others were found at the Sidi Abdel Rahim Mosque in Tanta, a famous Sufi shrine. (New York Times)
        See also Israel Extends Condolences to Egypt, Urges United Front Against Terrorism - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Vice President Pence Thanks Prime Minister Netanyahu for Israel's Strong Support for the U.S. Action in Syria
    U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Friday telephoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and thanked him - on behalf of U.S. President Donald Trump - for Israel's strong support for the American action in Syria. Pence also updated Netanyahu on the details of the action and its results. (Israel Government Press Office)
  • Gaza Prosecutor: 26 Palestinian Prisoners to Be Executed
    Public prosecutor Ismail Jabir said that 26 execution orders issued against Palestinians convicted of collaborating with Israel or other criminal charges would be carried out in the coming months. Under Palestinian law, all death sentences must be ratified by the PA president before they can be carried out. Despite this, Hamas in Gaza has carried out executions periodically without receiving approval, with an uptick in executions in the past year. (Ma'an News-PA)
  • Israel: Hamas, PA Responsible for Growing Water Crisis in Gaza
    IDF Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), contacted international aid organizations last week to warn that the Gaza aquifer has been destroyed by years of excessive pumping and 96% of the water is now unfit to drink, Army Radio reported Sunday. In January, UNICEF finished construction of a desalination plant in Khan Yunis, but Hamas won't allow the plant to be connected to the electric grid. Israel has offered to double its supply of water to Gaza, but the PA is not rushing to implement the offer.
        Additionally, in September 2015, Israel approved construction of a natural gas pipeline to Gaza, but the PA has yet to sign a deal with any gas supplier. (Times of Israel)
        Mordechai wrote: "Hamas must immediately provide needed electricity to operate the desalination plant for the good of residents, but instead the terrorist organization has chosen to send electricity to its terror tunnels and the homes of its leaders." (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • The U.S. Strike at Syria - Elliott Abrams
    Explaining the U.S. airstrike in Syria, Secretary of State Tillerson said: "It's important that some action be taken on behalf of the international community to make clear that the use of chemical weapons continues to be a violation of international norms." This strike will save lives in Syria by preventing Assad from daring to use chemical weapons again, and in unknown future conflicts where the losing side will be tempted to employ chemical weapons, and will think twice and not do it.
        The strike will have far wider effects. It was undertaken while Chinese President Xi was with Trump in Florida. Surely this will affect their conversations about North Korea. Vladimir Putin will realize that the years of U.S. passivity are truly over. Allies and friends will be cheered, while enemies will realize times have changed.
        Henceforth, when the U.S. president speaks of American conditions and demands, interests and desires, more attention will be paid. When the president said it was in the "vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons," he was right. The writer is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. (Weekly Standard)
  • Trump Raises the Stakes for Russia and Iran - Dennis B. Ross
    The U.S. response to the chemical weapons attack by the Syrian air force was clearly about sending messages to President Assad and his allies, as well as the international community: Chemical weapons will not be used with impunity. This American strike will also convey to the Iranians, and to the North Koreans, that they had better take the words of this administration seriously. America's regional allies, who had become convinced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the region, will also take the administration's words much more seriously.
        Should Assad choose to test the U.S. by carrying out another chemical weapons attack, he runs the risk of losing more of his air force and the major advantage it gives him over the rebels. The writer is counselor at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and served in senior positions in four U.S. administrations. (New York Times)
  • Does the U.S. Attack in Syria Risk a Regional War? - Yoni Ben Menachem
    The American military response to Syria's use of chemical weapons has created a crisis between the superpowers that has no end in sight. Assad is known as stubborn and vengeful, and Putin will not easily forgive this blow to his honor and wants to prove that he, and not Trump, is the strongest leader in the world. Moderate Sunnis welcomed the American attack, apart from Egypt, which maintained a neutral stance and called on Russia and the U.S. to contain the crisis.
        Russia has announced that it will strengthen Syria's aerial defenses. This could be dangerous to Israel if Syria, for example, receives air defense systems of the S-400 type that could endanger the Israeli air force. Moreover, President Putin's rebuke to Prime Minister Netanyahu, that he supported the American position on the chemical attack in Idlib without waiting for an international investigation, is a worrying sign that could impact on Israel's demand that Russia not allow Iran to hold onto Syria. The writer is a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Russia Has Backed Itself Into a Corner in Syria - Vladimir Frolov (Moscow Times-Russia)

  • The chemical attack in Idlib produced a radical shift in Trump's position on Syria and Assad and made military action against the Syrian regime to punish and deter further attacks difficult to avoid.
  • Moscow suspended a military-to-military agreement on avoiding incidents in Syria's crowded airspace, but such a reaction was self-defeating. After all, Russia was warned in advance by the U.S. through this exact agreement.
  • This time Assad may have overplayed his hand. He disrespected Putin by making him look helpless as a guarantor of the chemical weapons deal with Washington or worse, complicit with Assad in cheating on the agreement. He humiliated Putin before Trump by making Putin look weak. It is a slight the Russian leader has never taken lightly.
  • There is a sense among the Russian players that Assad was perhaps deliberately trying to scuttle the Astana peace process in which Moscow and Ankara invested much political capital. Assad and Tehran want full military victory, not a power-sharing arrangement with defeated rebels.

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