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August 11, 2017

In-Depth Issues:

Abbas Cracks Down on Social Media, News Sites (AP-VOA News)
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has clamped down on social media and news websites, the main outlets for debate and dissent in the West Bank, with a new decree that allows his government to jail anyone on charges of harming "national unity" or the "social fabric."
    Rights activists say the edict, issued without prior public debate last month, is perhaps the most significant step yet by Abbas' government to restrict freedom of expression in the autonomous Palestinian enclaves of the West Bank.
    The PA government has blocked 30 websites in the past month, according to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (Mada).
    Most of the sites were affiliated with Abbas' main rivals, Mohammed Dahlan and Hamas, while a few had supported the Islamic State.
    Five journalists working for news outlets linked to Hamas were detained this week and charged with violating the new law, while four other journalists were called for questioning about social media posts critical of government policy.
    The new decree stipulates prison terms ranging from one year to life for using digital means to endanger the safety of the state or public order.

Who Will Succeed Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas? - Miriam Berger and Luke Baker (Reuters)
    PA President Mahmoud Abbas, 82, has been in hospital for frequent check-ups in recent months, prompting questions about what comes next.
    Currently, two names are most often mentioned as successors: Majid Faraj, 55, the head of intelligence, and Mahmoud Aloul, 67, the chief deputy to Abbas in Fatah and a former governor of Nablus.
    Marwan Barghouti, 58, who is serving five life terms in an Israeli prison for murder, is often hailed as a future leader and ranks high in polls.
    But he is unlikely ever to be released and Palestinians themselves say that if he were freed, he would probably not be so popular.

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New Zealand Poll Shows Strong Kiwi Support for Israel - David Cumin (Israel Institute of New Zealand)
    In a poll conducted by Curia Research of almost 1,000 kiwis, 55% expressed their support for Israel, compared to 13% against.
    The poll also asked about New Zealand's co-sponsorship of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 in December 2016 that demanded that "Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities."
    Only 27% believe the government was right to co-sponsor the resolution. 30% believe that New Zealand should have abstained and 43% are unsure.

Israeli Depth Sensor Company Oryx Vision Raises $50 Million - Tali Tsipori (Globes)
    Israeli autonomous car depth sensor developer Oryx Vision announced Tuesday a $50 million Series B funding round.
    Oryx builds automotive light detection and ranging (LiDAR) systems, based on a radically innovative light-sensing technology.
    A coherent flash system with no moving parts, it achieves the depth vision performance required for autonomous driving - with the simplicity and robustness of a digital camera.
    Oryx uses silicon-made microscopic antennas to detect light wave frequencies, providing a low-cost system that is a million times more sensitive than other LiDARs.

Australian Company Buys Israeli Social Gaming Firm Plarium for $500 Million (Globes)
    Australian company Aristocrat Leisure Ltd. announced that it has acquired Israeli social gaming developer Plarium Global Ltd. for $500 million cash.
    The Israeli company, founded in 2009, has nine key titles that are currently monetizing, including "Vikings: War of Clans," which has repeatedly ranked in the top 10 grossing strategy games.

Israel's Foreign Currency Reserves Rise above $110 Billion (Globes)
    Israel's foreign currency reserves have risen over the past 12 months from $97.4 billion to $110.111 billion.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S.: No Safe Havens Left for ISIS in Syria or Iraq - Cheryl Pellerin
    With 50% of Raqqa, Syria, now under the control of Syrian Defense Forces and holding forces in place in Mosul, Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has no safe haven left in either country, U.S. Army Col. Ryan S. Dillon said Thursday. He said fighting in the tightly packed old city is difficult because buildings and even corpses are rigged with improvised explosives by ISIS to stall the SDF advance.
        "ISIS does not have the same level of leadership it once had. They do not have the same level of grandeur. People just no longer want to come and join these terrorists. And they do not have the resources they once had. ISIS is losing."  (U.S. Defense Department)
        See also U.S. Troops Attacked in Syria - Ryan Browne
    U.S. troops in northern Syria came under direct attack multiple times in the last week, U.S. Army Col. Ryan S. Dillon said Thursday. U.S. forces came under attack by small arms fire, the engagement resulted in "no damage to equipment or casualties on our side," and the troops did not return fire. Dillon said the coalition was unable to identify the attackers. (CNN)
  • U.S. to Designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards as Terrorists - Amir Toumaj
    President Donald Trump signed wide-ranging Congressional sanctions against Iran, North Korea and Russia last week. The law's Iran section requires the president to extend a terrorism designation to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its foreign agents and affiliates by Oct. 30. In 2007, the U.S. designated the IRGC's Qods Force for terrorism.
        The Revolutionary Guard has deeply penetrated key sectors of the Iranian economy. Guard-owned companies would be eligible for designation as supporters of terrorism.
        Revolutionary Guard commanders have threatened U.S. bases in the Middle East should the U.S. execute the terrorism designation. IRGC commander Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Ali warned in July that the U.S. "has to close down all its bases within 1,000 kilometers of Iran and it should realize that it will pay a high price for its miscalculation."  (Long War Journal)
        See also The Real Footprint of the IRGC in Iran's Economy - Bijan Khajehpour (Al-Monitor)
  • Iran National Team Bans Two Soccer Stars for Playing Against Israelis - Daniel Rapaport
    Masoud Shojaei, 33, the captain of Iran's national soccer team, and Ehsan Haji Safi, 27, one of its most promising players, were banned for life from playing for their country on Thursday after they participated in a match in Greece with Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in Athens, Mohammad Reza Davarzani, Iran's deputy sports minister, said Thursday. (New York Times)
  • Weizmann Institute Ranked 6th in Global Contributors to Innovation - Catherine Offord
    The Nature Index ranks the world's top institutions for inspiring new inventions, based on the number of cited articles produced by their researchers. According to the 2017 Nature Index, published Wednesday, Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science, ranked sixth, is the only non-U.S. institution listed in the top 10. (The Scientist-Canada)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Iran Is Closely Watching U.S.-North Korea Nuclear Standoff - Herb Keinon
    Briefing visiting U.S. lawmakers this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a map to show Iranian areas of penetration in the region. These areas extend from Yemen, through Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Lebanon. Hamas also said this week it was opening a new chapter in its relations with Tehran.
        In Syria, the Iranians are moving 20,000 Shi'a fighters from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan into the southern part of the country, from where they can threaten both Israel and Jordan. With one government official putting the ratio at one Iranian soldier for every 12 militiamen, that would mean there are currently 1,700 Iranians soldiers within mortar range of Israel and Jordan.
        Former ambassador to the UN and Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold, who heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said, "The Iranians have applied a policy of encirclement toward Israel. They built up Hizbullah to a force bigger than most armies, and now they are expanding Hizbullah into Syria. And at the same time they have been working with Hamas."
        By the same token, the Iranians are currently trying to encircle Saudi Arabia. "The Iranians are using an insurgency force of Yemenite Shi'ites and creating a platform in Yemen for launching rockets into Saudi territory." The parallels are striking with how Iran has used Hizbullah in Lebanon to hit Israel.
        The Iranians, Gold said, are currently very carefully watching the standoff between the U.S. and North Korea. How the U.S. responds will also impact on Iran's hegemonic designs. "If Iran sees that the U.S. stood strong against North Korea, and North Korea blinked first, then the Iranians will have to think twice about escalating their own challenges to Washington in the future."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • White House Says Its Closeness to Israel Is an Asset for Palestinians - Michael Wilner
    After the Temple Mount dispute was settled, several Palestinian officials said the Trump administration's handling of the crisis confirmed its political alignment with the Israeli government. Yet White House officials are embracing that position, claiming it is in fact an asset for the Palestinians that Trump and his team are close with the Israelis.
        A senior White House official said, "We put into practice the relationships that we developed over the past several months. We understand there will be ups and downs throughout these discussions. This did not derail our optimism over what we can accomplish [to pursue peace]."
        One senior Israeli official said the whole crisis was an instructional moment for the Trump administration. "People went nuts. You have metal detectors around every holy place in the world - why not have them here? People realized that it wasn't about the Temple Mount - it was about Jews."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Two Israeli Arabs Indicted for Supporting ISIS - Yoav Zitun
    Mahmoud Jabarin, 25, and Naim Jabarin, 20 - two Israeli-Arab brothers from Umm al-Fahm - have been arrested and indicted for supporting ISIS, the Israel Security Agency announced Friday. During the course of a search at the brothers' residence, a Carlo submachine gun was discovered hidden in the attic. Mahmoud Jabarin was in contact with an ISIS recruiter in Syria who was also a former resident of Umm al-Fahm. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Islamic State Came Close to Taking Down a Passenger Plane - Editorial
    Islamic State nearly brought down a large plane without authorities having a clue. On July 15, brothers Khaled and Mahmoud Khayat placed a bomb inside a meat grinder and gave it to a third, unwitting brother to carry in his luggage on an Etihad Airways flight from Sydney, Australia, to Abu Dhabi. At the last moment the bag wasn't checked in, apparently because it was too heavy.
        The brothers received direction from an Islamic State controller in the Middle East. Components for making the bomb, including a military-grade explosive, were shipped to them on a cargo flight from Turkey.
        Western authorities will be hard pressed to stop attacks if Islamic State can put high-powered bombs in the hands of Islamic radicals not on a watchlist. The terrorists will be encouraged by their near success to try again. (Wall Street Journal)
  • What Happens to Islamic State after the Fall of Its Syrian Capital?
    Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at Israel's International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, said that after the fall of Raqqa, the Islamic State will relocate and reorganize. "Afghanistan will be a very important place for the Islamic State, which has upped its activities there already....They are also already in Libya, where leaders have been dispatched. There is Yemen, where so far the Islamic State has not been as successful because al-Qaeda controls territory."
        Iraqi intelligence reports suggest Islamic State is already trying to regroup in that country after its defeat in Mosul - by organizing clandestine operations to attract the support of local Sunni fighters who remain engaged in conflict with Shia militias.
        While Islamic State "will be more scattered" once Raqqa falls, "the terror group was always largely decentralized, as most of its associates and factions were quite independent." He added, "There is no doubt that the Islamic State will try to encourage attacks on the U.S. and EU, as this is one of their best weapons."  (Media Line-Jerusalem Post)
  • U.S. Policy on Regime Change in Iran - Ephraim Kam and Zaki Shalom
    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June 2017 that the administration's policy on Iran would be geared toward restraining Iranian aspirations to regional hegemony, curbing its efforts to achieve nuclear capability, and supporting circles within the country that seek to bring about regime change through peaceful means. Senior officials within the Iranian regime, led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, have long been convinced that American administrations have striven to infiltrate Iran's internal system and topple the Islamic regime.
        The U.S. administration regards the Iranian regime as a strategic threat of the first tier. The toppling of the Iranian regime and its replacement with a moderate one would eliminate many of the threats before the U.S. and its allies and would perhaps allow the U.S. to build proper relations with Iran.
        However, there is no easy and safe way to topple the Iranian regime. There is undoubtedly a large population in Iran that desires liberal changes. The Iranian regime is aware of these sentiments and has developed tools and countermeasures for ensuring its survival and stability. These include the establishment of the Revolutionary Guards and the volunteer units of the Basij, whose principal priority is to defend the regime.
        Since the suppression of the protests following the presidential elections of June 2009, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets to chants of "death to the dictator," the reformist camp in Iran has lowered its profile and refrained from openly challenging the regime. Presumably preventive measures by the regime are likely to deter the Iranian opposition from taking part in an American attempt to destabilize it.
        It is doubtful whether opposition elements will want to provide the U.S. with substantial assistance against the regime, as doing so would mean tainting themselves as American collaborators. They are interested in regime change, but not by means of foreign intervention. If the Iranian regime does change in the future, it will be the result of internal processes and not external intervention. The writers are senior research fellows at INSS in Tel Aviv. (Institute for National Security Studies)
  • North Korea's Deadly Partnership with Iran
    North Korea's Kim Yong Nam, speaker of the parliament and perhaps the country's second most powerful man, was a guest at the inauguration of Iran's President Hassan Rouhani last weekend. Yong Nam, who used to be the minister of foreign affairs from 1983 to 1998 under Kim Jong Un's father, is the regime's envoy to the world.
        The relationship between the two countries was ultimately propelled by revolutionary Iran's military needs in the early years of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. "The Khomeini regime was a pariah, desperate for military equipment and ammunition. They reached out to everyone they could, and few were willing to help. One of those was North Korea," said Joseph Bermudez Jr., an analyst of the Korean People's Army. "On the North Korean side, it's likely that they just saw Iran as a paying customer. Iran had oil. Iran had cash. North Korea had weapons but no cash and no oil, so it was an ideal match." Moreover, North Korea was well placed to act as a conduit for Soviet and Chinese-made arms to Iran.
        North Korea provided Iran with the SCUD B ballistic missiles it used against Iraq. Since the 1990s, North Korea has helped Iran to develop its Shahab missiles, based on North Korean models. (Iranwire-Daily Beast)

Recognizing a Palestinian State before a Peace Agreement with Israel Undermines the International Rule of Law - Peter Wertheim (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

  • Those who advocate immediate recognition of a Palestinian state, without a peace agreement with Israel, show cavalier disregard for well-established legal principles for the creation of states and their recognition.
  • The four criteria of statehood set out in the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1933) are widely accepted as the minimum required by customary international law for the creation of a new state. Two of the criteria - a single, centralized government and the capacity to enter into relations with other states - are manifestly not satisfied by any Palestinian entity.
  • For reasons which are entirely internal to Palestinian society, there is no reasonable prospect for the foreseeable future of any government being formed which would exercise effective control over both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and would have the capacity to give effect to any agreements purportedly entered into by "Palestine."
  • Recognition of any such entity as a state would be to affirm a fiction, contrary to the imperatives of international law.
  • Applying the additional requirements for recognition contained in the European Community Declaration and Guidelines (1991), the Palestinians have failed, and are likely to continue to be unwilling to make commitments to respect the inviolability of the frontiers with Israel, to repudiate all territorial claims by Palestine against Israel, and to settle all disputes with Israel by peaceful means.
  • Recognition of a Palestinian state at the present time would also contravene the internationally recognized and witnessed Oslo Accords between the Palestinians and Israel.

    The writer is executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
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