January 2, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Netanyahu Wishes Iranian People Success in Their "Noble Quest for Freedom" - Brett Samuels (The Hill)
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, "Brave Iranians are pouring into the streets. They seek freedom. They seek justice. They seek the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades....I wish the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom."
    Netanyahu lamented that European nations haven't spoken up in support for the protesters and called Iranian claims that Israel is behind the protests "false" and "laughable."

Israel Foreign Ministry Assesses Iran Protests (Times of Israel)
    A classified memo assessing the unfolding Iran protests distributed by the Israel Foreign Ministry says the regime was caught off-guard by the protests, Israel's Channel 10 reported Monday.
    "At the moment, the protests do not constitute a threat to the survival of the regime, but they do weaken it and undermine its legitimacy, and they are likely to threaten its stability in the long term." 

Assad Has Retaken the Syrian Golan, But Iran Is Pulling the Strings - Avi Issacharoff (Times of Israel)
    With the evacuation of several hundred Syrian rebels from the Beit Jinn area on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights over the weekend, Assad's army has almost completely retaken control of the border with Israel.
    Hizbullah or Iranian Revolutionary Guards fighters may very well be present in Syrian positions on Mt. Hermon right now.
    In 2018, Assad will need more help than ever from Iran and Hizbullah. The Sunni enemies of his regime, who make up the majority in the country, are still hostile.
    Syria is bankrupt as a country, with hundreds of thousands dead, millions injured, and a destroyed infrastructure.

Seal from First Temple Period Found at Western Wall in Jerusalem - Daniel K. Eisenbud (Jerusalem Post)
    A well-preserved piece of fired clay dating to the First Temple period, with the Hebrew inscription "belonging to the governor of the city," was recently discovered during excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem.
    The relic, dating from the 6th to 7th centuries BCE, "depicts two figures facing each other, and the lower part holds an inscription in ancient Hebrew script," said Dr. Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah, excavator of the site.
    "The finding of the seal with this high-rank title...supports the assumption that this area...was inhabited by highly ranked officials during the First Temple period."
    Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said the find "shows that already 2,700 years ago, Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, was a strong and central city. Jerusalem is one of the most ancient capitals of the world."

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran Protests and Death Toll Grow - Erin Cunningham
    Clashes in Iran between security forces and demonstrators left nine people dead, state television reported Tuesday, bringing the death toll to at least 20 in the unrest that has raged for six days. The protests have spread to far-flung towns and cities that are strongholds of the middle and working classes. In addition, the semi-official ILNA news agency reported Tuesday that 450 people have been arrested in Tehran since Saturday. (Washington Post)
        See also Iranian Regime: "God Help Us, This Is...Different from Previous Occasions" - Ben Evansky
    A report on high-level meetings of the Iranian regime up to Dec. 31, provided to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said the nationwide protests threaten the regime's security. "God help us, this is a very complex situation and is different from previous occasions." At least 40 cities across Iran witnessed protests Monday. (Fox News)
  • Islamic State Returns to Guerrilla Warfare in Iraq and Syria - Raja Abdulrahim and Isabel Coles
    Despite Syrian and Iraqi claims of victory over Islamic State, thousands of militants still holed up in both countries have mounted a number of recent guerrilla-style attacks on civilians and military forces, according to the U.S.-led coalition. The fighters, hiding in isolated desert or mountain regions or among civilian populations in neighboring countries, are stepping up hit-and-run attacks.
        In Iraq, insurgents disguised as members of a government-backed militia set up fake checkpoints south of Kirkuk where they assassinated a local police chief and his son. Days later, militants ambushed an army patrol.
        Jennifer Cafarella, an analyst for the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, said maintaining sleeper cells is a crucial part of Islamic State's long-term strategy to resurge. Its decisions to withdraw early from several battlefields across Syria and Iraq were aimed at preserving capability for future use. "As long as Iraqi cities remain destroyed, as long as Iranian proxies continue to get stronger, as long as the Assad regime continues to grow stronger, ISIS will continue to represent a mantle of Sunni resistance, however horrific."  (Wall Street Journal)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Security Agency Warns of Hamas Mega-Terrorist Attack - Ronen Bergman
    The Israel Security Agency told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last week that Palestinian violence in the wake of President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital is declining from week to week.
        While Hamas in Gaza has detained members of Salafist splinter groups identifying with al-Qaeda and ISIS in order to stop them from firing rockets at Israel, Hamas in the West Bank is eager to carry out mega-terror attacks against Israel. There is an unprecedented effort underway by Hamas to instigate attacks in or from the West Bank. Israeli intelligence reports that Hamas commander Salah Arouri has conveyed instructions to launch attacks, including suicide bombings in shopping malls, buses, and other crowded venues.
        A senior intelligence source said, "The fact that buses are not blowing up every day is not a result of a lack of desire, effort, orders or investment of Hamas' resources. It is, rather, the result of interdiction.... The heads of the Hamas HQs in Gaza and abroad, what they are trying to do from the moment they wake up in the morning and until they go to sleep at night is to instigate terror in its worst possible form."  (Ynet News)
  • Five Members of Hamas Terror Cell Arrested in West Bank - Yoav Zitun
    Israeli security services have arrested five members of a Hamas terror cell who planned to carry out attacks under the direction of a Hamas operative from Gaza. The group's handler was Abdullah Arar, a Hamas operative who was involved in the kidnapping and murder of Israeli Sasson Nuriel 12 years ago. Arar was deported to Gaza following the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap deal and has since returned to terrorist activity. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The West Should Support the Protesters in Iran - Editorial
    Five days of street protests in cities across Iran have underlined the fundamental weakness of a regime sometimes portrayed in Washington as a regional juggernaut. Protests quickly mushroomed into a nationwide uprising directed squarely at the rule of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The popular demand for change is justified and deserves international support. (Washington Post)
        See also The Protesters in Iran Need Real Help from Washington - Michael Singh
    What precisely can we do to help the protesters in Iran? The U.S. and its allies should, through public statements, private messages, UN resolutions and whatever other vehicles are available, clearly express their support for Iranians' right to protest. They should also warn authorities in Iran against any violent suppression of the demonstrations. If the regime resorts to violence anyway, the international response should focus on diplomatic isolation.
        Another focus should be to help Iranians elude the security apparatus by providing platforms outside Iran for dissidents to speak out and supply accurate information to those inside Iran, along with the technical tools Iranians need to evade censorship and surveillance. The writer is managing director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Washington Post)
  • Iran's Theocracy Is on the Brink - Mark Dubowitz and Ray Takeyh
    After the nuclear agreement lifted debilitating sanctions, Iran received tens of billions of dollars in financial dividends. Instead of channeling that wealth into productive uses, Ayatollah Khamenei and the clerical establishment consumed much of it on foreign adventurism and corruption.
        Ideological authoritarian states need a vision of the future by which their enforcers can condone their own violence, but the Islamic Republic can no longer appeal to its ideals. The theocracy's vast patronage system will not cure this crisis of legitimacy.
        The White House should continue issuing condemnations daily, including through Persian-language media outlets, and follow up with sanctions targeting corruption and human-rights abuses. Congress should rediscover its once-bipartisan determination to hold the regime accountable for its crimes and push America's European allies to overcome their mercantile greed and support Iranians striving to be free from theocracy.
        Mr. Dubowitz is chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Mr. Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. (Wall Street Journal)

Lessons from the Negotiation that Led to the Iran Nuclear Deal - Emily B. Landau and Gilead Sher (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
  • At an INSS seminar on the negotiations with Iran, investigative journalist Jay Solomon asked how Iran went from a weak negotiating position to attainment of such a good deal from its perspective. In 2012 Iran faced an economic crisis that threatened the regime, feared a possible Israeli attack, and was concerned about the collapse of the Assad regime. By July 2015 Iran had secured a deal that alleviated all of these concerns.
  • Solomon identified five main reasons: Obama's own fear of an Israeli attack that pushed him to engage diplomatically; the shift in the "DNA" of key personnel from the first Obama administration to the second, with Kerry significantly less hawkish on Iran than Clinton; Kerry's domination of the negotiations, which was not planned in advance; Obama's sense that the negotiation was a key to his legacy, which meant that Iran could hear the ticking clock; and the fact that Iran and Russia were working together behind the scenes of the negotiation.
  • At the negotiating table, the international negotiators began making concessions to Iran in order to secure a deal, and in the hope that a more cooperative approach on their part would elicit a similar response from Iran. That did not happen.
  • The concessions sent only one message: that the bargaining partner had "blinked" first, exposing the extent to which it desired, and indeed was dependent on, a deal. The concessions that were offered also signaled to Iran that more concessions could be extracted.
  • Secretary Kerry's assumption had been that by the time that sunset clauses come into effect beginning in 7-8 years, they will not present a serious threat because the nature of the Iranian regime will have fundamentally changed, but what we have seen since the deal was signed is a more aggressive Iran.

    Emily B. Landau is head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at INSS, where Gilead Sher is head of the Center for Applied Negotiations.