January 3, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Why Iran Is Protesting - Amir Ahmadi Arian (New York Times)
    The current unrest looks different than in 2009. Nonviolence is not a sacred principle. The protests first intensified in small religious towns all over the country, where the government used to take its support for granted.
    The chants are also different this time. They include "Down with embezzlers" and "Leave the country alone, mullahs."
    During the 1999 and 2009 uprisings, the protesters enjoyed support from powerful reformists. This time, the demonstrators don't want support from anyone associated with the status quo, including Rouhani, the reformist president.
    Iranian economists and intellectuals have long warned that something like this could happen. In early 2015, Mohsen Renani, professor of economy at the University of Isfahan, wrote expressing deep concern over rising inflation and government incompetence.
    A detailed study published last month by the BBC's Farsi-language service demonstrated the alarming decline of household income over the past decade.
    Iranians see pictures of the family members of the authorities drinking and hanging out on beaches around the world, while their daughters are arrested over a fallen head scarf and their sons are jailed for buying alcohol.

The Iranian Regime Will Do Everything to Stay in Power - Menashe Amir interviewed by Jeremy Sharon (Jerusalem Post)
    Menashe Amir, former head of the Israel Broadcasting Authority's Persian language division, said that for the Iranian protests to turn into a revolution, there would need to be desertions from the security services - including the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia - to the side of the protesters.
    He noted, "They are trying not to kill [the protesters], but if there is no choice then they will not refrain from killing. Those sitting in power know that if they fall, everyone will be killed, their lives will be in danger, and therefore they will stand to the last moment and do everything to stay in power."

Iranian Jews in a Time of Protest - Annika Hernroth-Rothstein (Jerusalem Post)
    I recently contacted one of my Jewish friends in Iran, who tells me they are safe, that the regime knows that Jews do not participate in these protests, that they never seek out conflict or trouble and wouldn't be part of uprisings against the ayatollah.
    My friend says that things feel much different now compared to what happened in 2009.
    "Everyone supports this now, even official branches, universities and public servants, and we feel it, we feel that this time it could actually happen, for real. It's like a bubble that is about to burst."
    "People are even angrier now than in 2009, and not just because of poverty and corruption. People want to be free and everyone is screaming now, loudly, at the same time."

Syrian Minister Fired over Visit by Israeli Journalist (Times of Israel)
    Syrian President Bashar Assad ousted Information Minister Mohammed Ramez Tourjman for failing to prevent the entry into the country of Israeli journalist Jonathan Spyer, Al-Arabiya reported Tuesday.
    Spyer was part of a group organized in cooperation with the ministry. He described his trip in the Times of Israel.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Trump Suggests Cutting U.S. Aid to Palestinians
    President Trump tweeted on Tuesday: "It's not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others. As an example, we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect."
        "They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?"  (AP-CBS News)
        See also Nikki Haley: U.S. to Withhold Funding for UNRWA until Palestinians Join Peace Process - Cristiano Lima
    U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Tuesday that President Trump planned to withhold money for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the entity tasked with aiding Palestinian refugees, if their leaders did not fully engage in the U.S.-led peace process with Israel.
        "He doesn't want to give any additional funding until the Palestinians agree to come back to the negotiation table....We're trying to move for a peace process, but if that doesn't happen, the president is not going to continue to fund that situation."  (Politico)
        Haley added: "The Palestinians now have to show the world they want to come to the table. As of now, they're not coming to the table, but they ask for aid. We're not giving the aid. We're going to make sure they come to the table and we want to move forward with the peace process." The U.S. is UNRWA's leading funder, providing more than $300 million per year. (Ha'aretz)
  • Nikki Haley on Iran: "We Must Not Be Silent" - Daniella Diaz and Laura Koran
    "The people of Iran are crying out for freedom. All freedom-loving people must stand with their cause. The international community made the mistake of failing to do that in 2009. We must not make that mistake again," U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Tuesday as she called for emergency meetings with the Security Council in New York and the Human Rights Council in Geneva regarding Iran.
        "This is the precise picture of a long oppressed people rising up against their dictators....The freedoms that are enshrined in the United Nations charter are under attack in Iran....The UN must speak out."  (CNN)
        See also below Commentary: It Was a Mistake for U.S. to Adopt a Low-Key Posture on Iran Demonstrations in 2009 - Dennis Ross (Foreign Policy)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel: Iranian Intelligence Operating in West Bank - Yotam Berger
    The Israel Security Agency said Wednesday that it had uncovered an Iranian intelligence operation in the West Bank. Mohammed Maharmeh, 29, from the Hebron area, was recruited into Iranian intelligence in 2015 when he visited a relative, Bahar Maharmeh, who resides in South Africa. Bahar introduced Mohammed several times to Iranian agents, "some of whom came from Tehran to meet him."
        Mohammed was tasked with terror attacks against Israeli targets including recruiting a suicide bomber and a cell that would carry out shooting attacks. Mohammed Maharmeh recruited two operatives from Hebron - Nur Maharmeh and Diaa Sarahana, both 22 - and in return he received $8,000 from Iran.
        Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that "Iran is employing terrorism against Israel, not just by assisting terror organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but also through attempts to organize terror attacks inside Israeli territory."  (Ha'aretz)
  • Why Does Iran Spend Billions on Overseas Wars? - Raphael Ahren and Avi Davidi
    Israel's Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of the security cabinet, told The Times of Israel Persian that Iran's insistence on spending a fortune on wars outside its borders was puzzling and defied logic. "I don't understand why Iranian taxpayers have to spend approximately one billion dollars every year on a Lebanese militia," he said. "They're investing billions of dollars in Syria, in Lebanon, Iraq and other places. This is very odd behavior."
        "I think that most Iranians have nothing against Israel or the Jewish people. I think that most Iranians would like to reestablish the good relations between Israelis and Iranians." In biblical times, the Persian Empire was the "most friendly superpower" toward the Jewish people, he said. "There is no real conflict between the Iranian people and the Israeli people."  (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Prospects for Change in Iran - Karim Sadjadpour
    We can salute the courage of the non-violent Iranian protesters and sympathize with their frustrations but still be sober about their prospects. The citizen protesters are unarmed, unorganized, and leaderless.
        The Iranian regime's vast coercive apparatus remains cohesive, committed, and very well-practiced in repression. They've been doing this a long time. Moreover, unlike the Shah's political and military elite, many of whom were educated abroad or had foreign passports, the Islamic Republic's elite don't have this option and will seek to stay in power by all means necessary. The regime may be able to rely on the Shia militias they've been training for years (in Syria and Iraq) and including Hizbullah. It will be easier for them to fight unarmed Iranian civilians.
        I find it remarkable these protests began in deeply religious and traditional cities like Mashhad and Qom, long considered to be government strongholds. The writer is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. (Twitter)
        See also The Battle for Iran - Karim Sadjadpour (Atlantic)
  • It Was a Mistake to Adopt a Low-Key Posture on Iran Demonstrations in 2009 - Dennis Ross
    The image of Iran on the march is one the Islamic Republic has sought to market and exploit. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has spoken of Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq as being part of Iran's forward defense. But there is a cost to Iranian expansionism, and we are now seeing it in demonstrations across Iran. Some demonstrators are even chanting for a referendum - an echo of the referendum that the new Islamic regime held two months after the 1979 revolution to provide itself legitimacy.
        In 2009, I was serving in the Obama administration as the secretary of state's special advisor on Iran and was part of the decision-making process. Because we feared lending credence to the regime's claim that the demonstrations in Iran at the time were being instigated from the outside, we adopted a low-key posture.
        In retrospect, that was a mistake. We should have shined a spotlight on what the regime was doing and mobilized our allies to do the same; we should have done our best to provide news from the outside and to facilitate communication on the inside. The writer, a former American envoy to the Middle East, is counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Foreign Policy)

Video: A Changed Saudi Arabia - Dore Gold (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • When I wrote a book about Saudi Arabia's contribution to the rise of global terrorism after 9/11, back in 2003, the Israeli security establishment at the time estimated that between 50 and 70% of the Hamas budget came from Saudi Arabia. But something happened since then that changed this picture.
  • In May 2003, Riyadh was struck by a triple suicide bombing attack - 18 people were killed and Saudi Arabia shifted from being on the side of those who were launching these terrorist attacks to those who were victims of terrorism. Basically, Saudi Arabia from that point onward was on the same side as the United States and Israel.
  • While it was true that Wahhabi Islam was associated with the revival of jihad in the Arabian Peninsula, the ones who were really behind the ideological push towards renewed terrorism were organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, which had sought and received sanctuary in Saudi Arabia.
  • So what draws Israel and Saudi Arabia to the same side of the fence today?
    • First, there are the Sunni extremist organizations. Both al-Qaeda and ISIS have mounted a threat to both our countries.
    • Second, clearly Iran looms large in the regional problems that both Israel and Saudi Arabia face. Just a few years back, the head of Israeli military intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash, revealed that analysis of Iranian missile tests indicated that there were two cities on the Iranian target list: one was Riyadh and the other one was Tel Aviv.
    • There's a third common thread tying Israel and Saudi Arabia together. Both countries are facing Iranian efforts to destabilize our strategic environment.
          The Iranians have been seeking to encircle Israel by supporting terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip to our south, in Lebanon to our north, and now in Syria and possibly even the West Bank in the period ahead. Today, it is the Islamic Republic of Iran that is providing the bulk of funding to the Hamas budget.
          For Saudi Arabia, it's clear that Iran has entered into Yemen through the Houthis to the south, they are trying to take over Bahrain which they regard as a province of Iran, and they have these huge Shiite militias that have been active in Iraq as well.
  • Over the last number of years I have met with senior officials who in the past worked for the Saudi government. I am convinced that Israel and Saudi Arabia share common concerns. I think Israel should make every effort to try and bridge the gap with Saudi Arabia, even discretely, even though there are glitches that can occur as two countries with very different backgrounds try and find common ground.

    Amb. Dore Gold, former director general of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Israeli ambassador to the UN, is president of the Jerusalem Center.