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April 14, 2017

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Drops Largest Conventional Bomb on Islamic State Forces in Afghanistan - Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Erin Cunningham (Washington Post)
    U.S. forces in Afghanistan dropped a 22,000-pound GBU-43 bomb on Islamic State forces in eastern Afghanistan Thursday, the Pentagon announced.
    Navy Capt. Bill Salvin, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said Islamic State in Afghanistan had lost more than half its territory and had 800 fighters spread between two provinces. At the group's height in Afghanistan, it had more than 3,000 fighters.
    The U.S. has 8,500 troops in Afghanistan, and has carried out more than 400 airstrikes on Islamic State since the start of the year. There are also about 7,000 NATO troops in the country.

U.S. Drone Accidentally Bombs Syrian Allies, Killing 18 - Thomas Gibbons-Neff (Washington Post)
    A U.S. drone struck and killed at least 18 members of an allied Syrian force on Tuesday, the Pentagon said, after Syrian forces erroneously identified another allied unit as Islamic State fighters.

America and Iran Are Jostling for Influence over Iraq (Economist-UK)
    Officially, Iran has only 95 military advisers in Iraq, compared with America's 5,800 soldiers. In reality, an adviser to the prime minister confides, Iran's forces outnumber America's at least five to one.
    Iran's hidden hand is everywhere. "The Americans are more powerful," says Hashim al-Hashemi, an Iraqi security analyst in Baghdad, "but the Iranians are more dangerous. They have penetrated every organ of state."

Video: There Is No Place in the World Like Jerusalem (Jerusalem Municipality)
    Israel celebrates the 50th anniversary of the reunification of its capital.

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First-Ever Visit to Israel by Indian Prime Minister Set for July - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's long-awaited visit to Israel - the first by an Indian prime minister - will take place on July 5-6, the Hindustan Times reported on Thursday.
    The paper said the visit will "be an open acknowledgment of India's close ties with Israel."
    Modi is not expected to visit the Palestinian Authority.

Israel Helps Train Indian First-Aid Instructors (Israel21c)
    First-aid instructors and paramedics Eliaz Mor and Amir Namyot from Magen David Adom - Israel's national emergency-response organization - are spending two weeks in India training instructors within the Indian Red Cross.
    The Indian Red Cross instructors will be teaching first aid to Indian civilians based on a new program designed to improve first response in India, a country prone to disasters and traffic accidents.

Record Incoming Tourism to Israel in Q1 - Michal Raz-Chaimovich (Globes)
    The number of tourists coming from abroad to Israel reached an all-time record of 739,000 in the first quarter of 2017, up 24% from the corresponding quarter of last year, the Ministry of Tourism reports.
    In March alone, 293,000 tourists reached Israel, up 22% from March 2016.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Palestinians Convicted of Killing U.S. Tourist in Israel Charged in U.S.
    Two Palestinian men convicted in Israel of murdering a U.S. citizen there could face charges in the U.S. if they're ever released from an Israeli prison. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia said Thursday that Ayad Fatafta and Kifah Ghanimat face federal charges of murdering a U.S. national outside the U.S. for the 2010 murder of tourist Kristine Luken, 44. (AP-New York Daily News)
        See also Two Terrorists Charged in Connection with the 2010 Murder of a U.S. National in Israel (U.S. Department of Justice)
  • Trump Administration Sanctions Iran Prison Torture Industry - Adam Kredo
    The Trump administration is leveling new economic sanctions against senior Iranian officials and its prison system for widespread human rights abuses, including the systematic torture of those being held in these facilities, White House officials say.
        The latest sanctions target the Tehran Prisons Organization and Sohrab Suleimani, a senior official in the prison system. "It's no coincidence that Sohrab Suleimani is the brother of the notorious Qassem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC's Quds Forces, who has been responsible for so much of the violent disruption Iran has been spreading through the region," said a senior official on the White House National Security Council.
        "Today's designations highlight our continued support for the Iranian people and demonstrate our commitment to hold the Government of Iran responsible for its continued repression of its own citizens," John E. Smith, director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement. "We will continue to identify, call out, and sanction those who are responsible for serious human rights abuses in Iran." (Washington Free Beacon)
  • Sunni and Shia Populations Swap between Four Towns in Syria - Laila Bassam
    The transfer of the Shia populations of two Syrian towns, in exchange for moving Sunni rebels and civilians out of two others, has started under an evacuation deal, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday. Buses carrying residents left the majority Shia towns of al-Foua and Kefraya in northwestern Idlib province. Buses carrying mostly Sunni rebel fighters and their families simultaneously left the town of Madaya near Damascus, while the evacuation of Zabadani had been delayed.
        Syrian President Assad's government has struck a number deals in the past year which have provided for rebels and their families to leave areas the opposition has held, after months or years of being besieged by government forces. The opposition says the deals amount to forced population transfer and deliberate demographic change. (Independent-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Terrorist Murders British Woman in Jerusalem on Friday - Roi Yanovsky
    A female British student, 23, was stabbed to death in a terror attack at IDF Square on Jaffa Road on Jerusalem's light rail on Friday afternoon. The terrorist was arrested. (Ynet News)
  • Israel Arrests Palestinians Who Planned Stabbing Attack - Roi Yanovsky
    On the eve of Passover, Israeli security forces arrested a Palestinian man, 20, who was armed with a knife and a stun grenade. He arrived at the Kalandiya crossing north of Jerusalem in an attempt to enter Israel and carry out a stabbing attack. His interrogation revealed that he planned to carry out the attack with another person, who eventually did not come with him. That person turned himself in to security forces on Thursday. (Ynet News)
  • IDF Engineering Officer Works to Keep Hizbullah Out - Judah Ari Gross
    Maj. Eliyahu Gabay, 54, chief combat engineering officer of the IDF's 300th Regional Brigade, is reshaping the topography along the Lebanese border in order to keep terrorists out and the Israeli communities in the area protected - hewing cliffs, raising berms and clearing brush. Israel's main concern here is an above-ground infiltration. The IDF does not believe Hizbullah has border-crossing tunnels.
        Earlier this month, Hizbullah's Al-Manar broadcast a special report showing the progress the IDF has made in preparing the border for a future war, featuring footage of Israeli berms and concrete defenses. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Syria: The Hidden Power of Iran - Joost Hiltermann
    As my own trip to northern Iraq and northern Syria last month revealed, even as the international coalition makes major gains against the Islamic State, the region's crises are multiplying.
        ISIS is quickly losing ground. Its fighters are exhausted, its ranks depleted, but its remaining forces are clearly prepared to fight to the bitter end. Moreover, Islamic State ideology will remain attractive to Sunni Muslims as long as they feel politically excluded. Already, local ISIS recruits are blending in with civilians who are taking refuge in camps - lying low, waiting for more opportune times.
        The Iranian government wants to connect Iran to Hizbullah via Iraq and Syria with a land corridor running from its own borders to the Mediterranean. This is an aim that is acknowledged by Iranian analysts themselves, who describe it as a strategic necessity. It needs these routes to get arms to Hizbullah. That explains the importance of Iran's alliance with the Assad government in Syria, and also why Iran and Hizbullah were in such a hurry after 2011 to prop up the Syrian regime when it was threatened with imminent collapse.  (New York Review of Books)
  • Israel's Syria Dilemma: Your Neighbor's House Is on Fire, But He Hates You - Joshua Mitnick
    Last week's sarin gas attack has intensified a long running debate in Israel about whether the government should be doing more to alleviate humanitarian suffering just beyond its northern border, despite a state of war that exists with Syria. "As Israelis and Jews, the use of gas takes us back [in time]," said Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz. "Our obligation as Jews and Israelis is to offer aid to the victims of the gas attack."
        The dominant approach reflects a realpolitik recognition that Israel shouldn't take sides in the civil war because it has little ability to shape a new Syria and is viewed as a pariah by most of the Arab world. At the same time, Israel has treated thousands of Syrians in its hospitals, and sends food, clothes and blankets to pro-rebel villages along the border.
        "Israel has been very clear that it doesn't want to enter the mix in Syria, but it will safeguard its vital interests," said Dore Gold, a former director general of the Israel Foreign Ministry under Netanyahu. Intervention "might create a more difficult situation. Israel has been very careful and responsible about what it does."  (Los Angeles Times)
  • Why Overthrowing Assad Won't Solve Syria's Crisis - Lawrence Solomon
    Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad did not "gas his own people," as was widely reported. Assad is an Alawite, a minority people that rules over the many non-Alawite tribes that constitute Syria. Assad gassed non-Alawite Muslims.
        There is no true Syrian people, except in the imagination of Westerners. The Western goal of keeping Syria whole, with its devout Muslims harmoniously living side-by-side with Alawite tribes they consider heretical, as well as with Syria's pro-Assad Christian minority, is delusional and guaranteed to fail.
        Although the Alawite tribes now have the upper hand, they know that, if they lose, they will be mercilessly slaughtered, just as Assad is mercilessly slaughtering those who would overthrow his Alawite regime. The writer is a policy analyst with Toronto-based Probe International. (National Post-Canada)
  • Erdogan Aims to Islamize Europe - Moshe Ya'alon
    Three different radical Islamist movements are seeking hegemony in the Middle East and beyond. Iran seeks to export its "Islamic revolution" and has seen success in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Sunni jihadists, whether from ISIS or al-Qaeda, aim to impose an Islamic caliphate in the region. Turkish President Erdogan is the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, and seeks to create a neo-Ottoman empire based on the Brotherhood's ideology.
        Erdogan supported ISIS economically by buying its oil because they were willing to kill Kurds. He allowed trained and experienced jihadists to come from all over the world to join ISIS to fight in Syria and Iraq, and to go back to their own countries, especially to Europe.
        For a very long time, Erdogan didn't just allow illegal immigration, he facilitated it. We are not only talking about refugees. I went to Greece in February 2016 and was briefed on illegal immigration from Turkey. Many were illegal immigrants from Morocco and Pakistan. There was no war in those places. The Greeks claimed that Turkey subsidized flights from Marrakech to Istanbul for $50. My conclusion is that Erdogan aims to Islamize Europe. Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya'alon is a former Israeli defense minister and IDF chief of staff. (BICOM-UK)
        See also The Other Islamic State: Erdogan's Vision for Turkey - Daniel Pipes (Wall Street Journal)

  • Weekend Feature

  • The Arab Guard Who Protected a Yeshiva in Jerusalem's Old City - Nadav Shragai
    Of the 80 synagogues and yeshivas in the Old City of Jerusalem before the 1948 War of Independence, the Torat Chaim yeshiva was the only one whose contents remained intact during the 19 years of Jordanian control of the city. This was thanks to Abdul Raani, an Arab guard who was also a British sergeant and married to a Jewish woman. After his death, his brother, Mohammed Abdul Raani, a guard at Al-Aqsa mosque, continued to safeguard the Jewish property.
        The brothers hid the books and original furniture of the yeshiva in a small room and prevented anyone from entering. The guard furnished the yeshiva with his own personal furniture to make it look lived in. When the Jordanian electric company inspector would visit every month to read the meter, Raani didn't let him come inside, but wrote the number on a note and handed it to the inspector outside. After the Six-Day War, when Jews returned to the yeshiva, they were shocked to find more than 2,500 books in a tiny room, all completely unharmed. (Israel Hayom)

Most Palestinians Dream of Obliterating the Jewish State - Daniel Pipes (Mosaic)

  • In "Do Palestinians Want a Two-State Solution?" Daniel Polisar of Shalem College in Jerusalem studied 400 opinion polls of Palestinian views to find that Palestinians collectively hold three related views of Israel: it has no historical or moral claim to exist, it is inherently rapacious and expansionist, and it is doomed to extinction.
  • Palestinian rejectionism demands that Palestinians (and beyond them, Arabs and Muslims) repudiate every aspect of Zionism: deny Jewish ties to the Land of Israel, fight Jewish ownership of that land, refuse to recognize Jewish political power, refuse to trade with Zionists, murder Zionists where possible, and ally with any foreign power, including Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, to eradicate Zionism.
  • So long as rejectionism runs rampant, debates about one-, two-, and three-state solutions, or about electricity grids and water supplies, are for naught. There can be no resolution so long as most Palestinians dream of obliterating the Jewish state.
  • My research finds, and Polisar's confirms, that about 20% of Palestinians are ready to live peaceably with the Jewish state. The challenge is to increase this number to 60% and more, so that this group at last can wrest control of the Palestinian national movement from rejectionists.
  • When Palestinians emerge from this ordeal, they will greatly benefit from throwing off the burden of anti-Zionism. Finally, they can begin to build their own polity, economy, society, and culture. All will gain when this proud people turns its attention to creating the institutions of civil society and to teaching children skills rather than hatred.

    The writer is president of the Middle East Forum.
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