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May 15, 2017

In-Depth Issues:

White House: U.S. Nears $100 Billion Arms Deal with Saudi Arabia - Steve Holland (Reuters)
    The U.S. is close to completing a series of arms deals with Saudi Arabia totaling more than $100 billion, a senior White House official said on Friday, a week ahead of President Donald Trump's planned visit to Riyadh.
    The official said the arms package could end up surpassing $300 billion over a decade to help Saudi Arabia boost its defensive capabilities.
    The package includes American arms and maintenance, ships, air missile defense and maritime security.
    See also U.S. Nears Deal on Arms Coveted by Saudis - Carol E. Lee and Margherita Stancati (Wall Street Journal)
    The U.S.-Saudi arms deal includes arms the Obama administration either refused to sell Saudi Arabia or pulled back from amid concerns about Riyadh's role in the conflict in Yemen.
    The White House is trying to encourage a longtime Middle Eastern ally to take the lead on regional security but without alienating Israel, another critical friend in the region.
    A senior U.S. official said "every system that we're talking about" with the Saudis maintains Israel's qualitative military edge over its neighbors.
    See also Ahead of Trump's Middle East Tour, U.S. Sells 160 Patriot Missiles to UAE for $2 Billion - Missy Ryan (Washington Post)

Photos: Israel Celebrates Lag B'Omer (Jerusalem Post)
    Israelis celebrated Lag B'Omer with bonfires on Sunday evening. The event commemorates the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a sage, mystic and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the second century CE.

Norway's Trade Unions Vote to Boycott Israel (RT-Russia)
    The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) voted on Friday 193-117 in favor of an economic, cultural, and academic boycott of Israel.
    Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende criticized the vote, saying the government "strongly opposes" the move. LO leader Hans-Christian Gabrielsen also opposed the measure.
    Israeli Ambassador to Norway Raphael Schutz said, "By adopting these positions LO placed itself shoulder to shoulder with the worst enemies of Israel."
    See also Norway's Largest Party Opposes Israel Boycott (AP-Washington Post)
    The leader of the main Norwegian opposition group, Jonas Gahr Store, who leads the left-leaning Labor Party, opposed a boycott of Israel decided by the trade union confederation, a traditional ally.

President Trump, in Search of Mideast Peace, Should Tackle Hate before Borders - Rabbi Abraham Cooper (Fox News)
    In his quest for peace in the Middle East, President Trump should consider tackling hatred before borders. His arrival in the Holy Land will find many Israelis who feel they have no peace partner to negotiate with.
    The Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas, is a profoundly corrupt organization despite - or rather in large part due to - massive amounts of funding from the West.
    And this funding continues to flow despite the virulent hatred and lies preached by Palestinian leaders who are using American tax dollars to brainwash yet another generation of Palestinian children to hate their Jewish neighbors.
    The writer is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S.: Iran Still Developing Nuclear Missile Technology Despite UN Resolutions
    Director of U.S. National Intelligence Daniel Coats told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday that Iran has been steadily improving the range and power of its ballistic missiles in order to carry a nuclear warhead over thousands of miles to reach U.S. soil, in violation of UN resolutions. Coats said Iran is using its space program as a disguise to illegally perfect ICBMs. (Sputnik-Russia)
        See also Threat Assessment from Iran by the U.S. Intelligence Community - Director of National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats
    Iran continues to be the foremost state sponsor of terrorism and, with its primary terrorism partner, Lebanese Hizbullah, will pose a continuing threat to U.S. interests and partners worldwide. Iran is pursuing capabilities to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons. Iran's ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD, and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East.
        The Islamic Republic of Iran remains an enduring threat to U.S. national interests because of Iranian support to anti-U.S. terrorist groups and militants, the Assad regime, Houthi rebels in Yemen, and because of Iran's development of advanced military capabilities. We assess that Iran's leaders intend to leverage their ties to local actors in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen to build long-term Iranian influence in the region.
        Iran continues to develop a range of new military capabilities to monitor and target U.S. and allied military assets in the region, including armed UAVs, ballistic missiles, advanced naval mines, unmanned explosive boats, submarines and advanced torpedoes, and anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles. (U.S. Senate)
  • U.S. National Security Adviser McMaster Outlines Objectives for Trump's Middle East Visit
    Discussing President Trump's upcoming trip to the Middle East, U.S. National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster told a White House press briefing on Friday: "The trip has three core purposes. First, to reaffirm America's global leadership. Second, to continue building key relationships with world leaders. And, third, to broadcast a message of unity to America's friends and to the faithful of three of the world's greatest religions."
        "No President has ever visited the homelands and holy sites of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslims faiths all on one trip. And what President Trump is seeking is to unite peoples of all faiths around a common vision of peace, progress, and prosperity. He will bring a message of tolerance and of hope."
        "The President...will encourage our Arab and Muslim partners to take bold, new steps to promote peace and to confront those, from ISIS to al-Qaeda to Iran to the Assad regime, who perpetuate chaos and violence that has inflicted so much suffering throughout the Muslim world and beyond....And he will develop a strong, respectful message that the United States and the entire civilized world expects our Muslim allies to take a strong stand against radical Islamist ideology, an ideology that uses a perverted interpretation of religion to justify crimes against all humanity. He will call for Muslim leaders to promote a peaceful vision of Islam."
        "There was a perception that America had largely disengaged from the Middle East in particular, and that disengagement coincided with this humanitarian and political catastrophe in the region. And so now there's a broad recognition among all of our partners in the region that American leadership is necessary to help address this catastrophe."  (White House)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu: U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem Would Advance Peace "By Shattering Palestinian Fantasy" - Barak Ravid
    Moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would not harm the peace process with the Palestinians but would help peace efforts, Prime Minister Netanyahu's Office said on Sunday. "Israel's position has been stated many times to the American administration and to the world. Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem would not harm the peace process. On the contrary, it would advance it by correcting an historical injustice and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel."
        A senior Israeli official said that Netanyahu expressed his desire that the embassy be moved to Jerusalem in his meetings with President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson during his latest visit in Washington. (Ha'aretz)
  • Video: Jordanian Man Stabs Israeli Policeman in Jerusalem
    A Jordanian citizen, Muhammad Abdullah Salim al-Kassji, 57, stabbed an Israeli police officer in the neck and head in Jerusalem's Old City on Saturday and was shot dead by the policeman. (Times of Israel)
        See also Jordan Criticizes Israel over Death of Jordanian Stabber - Tovah Lazaroff
    Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad al Momani told the Jordanian state news agency Petra that the Israeli government "bears responsibility over the shooting of a Jordanian citizen in occupied eastern Jerusalem today that caused his martyrdom," calling the incident an "ugly crime." He made no mention of the stabbing attack on the Israeli police officer.
        The Israeli Prime Minister's Office said that the Jordanian response was "infuriating" and that video evidence clearly showed what happened. "It is time that Jordan ceases its double sided game. Just as Israel condemns terror attacks in Jordan, Jordan must condemn terrorist attacks in Israel. Terror is terror."  (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Russia Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's Capital. Why Can't the U.S.? - Eugene Kontorovich
    Jerusalem is the only world capital whose status is denied by the international community. To change that, in 1995 Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which mandates moving the U.S. Embassy to a "unified" Jerusalem. The law has been held in abeyance due to semiannual presidential waivers for "national security" reasons. President Obama's final waiver will expire June 1. There's no good reason to maintain the charade that Jerusalem is not Israeli.
        Last month Russia suddenly announced that it recognized "western Jerusalem" as the capital of Israel. Note what happened next: No explosions of anger at the Arab world. No end to Russia's diplomatic role in the Middle East. No terror attacks against Russian targets. Does the U.S. want to wind up with a less pro-Israel position than Vladimir Putin's?
        If Mr. Trump signs the waiver, he could make clear that unless the Palestinians get serious about peace within six months, his first waiver will be his last. He should set concrete benchmarks for the Palestinians to demonstrate their commitment to negotiations. These would include ending their campaign against Israel in international organizations and cutting off payments to terrorists and their relatives. The writer, a professor at Northwestern University School of Law, is an expert on international law. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Hamas: Another Failed Palestinian Organization - Hillel Frisch
    Hamas has failed in both its major objectives: "resistance" - the quest to destroy the State of Israel - and governing Gaza. Following the third round of the Israel-Hamas conflict in 2014, missile launchings and tunnel attacks on Israel have come to an almost complete halt. In the preceding years, Hamas and the other factions launched on average 1,500 rockets a year, a number that has dwindled to 25 a year, by Salafi movements that chafe under Hamas rule.
        The Hamas government failed to solve Gaza's pressing electrical blackouts, which have created sewage and other ecological problems. A movement touted for having provided welfare services in the past is now devoting less than 2% of its expenditures, by its own account, to health and welfare. Moreover, Hamas is unable to pay its civil servants their full salaries on a regular basis. The number of Gaza residents who show up to Hamas rallies has diminished significantly. Israel must be patient. Time is on its side. The writer is a professor of political and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at its BESA Center. (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)

Israeli Priorities Ahead of Trump's Visit - Interview with Amb. Dore Gold (Fox News)

Ahead of President Trump's upcoming visit to Israel, Netanyahu advisor Amb. Dore Gold said Israel was focusing on a number of issues.

  • "The Jordan Valley has been the front line of Israel's defense since 1967. The Jordan Valley is something which Yitzhak Rabin, the man who started the whole Oslo peace process, warned in his last Knesset speech: 'Israel must retain the Jordan Valley in the widest sense of that term.' So that's our front line. We're not giving up the Jordan Valley, and Israeli polls show 80% of the Israeli public wants to retain the Jordan Valley."
  • "One other point - Jerusalem. In an era in which holy sites are being blown up all over the Middle East - in Egypt, in Iraq, in Syria - we are going to turn over the holy sites of Western civilization to Mr. Abbas, to Hamas, or ISIS? Israel and only Israel will protect Jerusalem for all the great faiths. And I hope the U.S. administration understands that."
  • "Before we talk about Israeli concessions, let's ask ourselves one fundamental question. Do we have bridgeable differences between the parties?"
  • "What many of us who have been involved in negotiations for more than 15 years have concluded is that a final status deal covering all the issues - like Jerusalem, like security, like borders - is not in the cards right now."
  • "But more limited understandings can be reached that are important for the Palestinians and important for Israel, and that's what we should be aiming for."

    Dr. Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former Israeli UN ambassador and director-general of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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