January 4, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Rebel Shelling Destroys 7 Russian Planes at Syrian Airbase (Reuters)
    At least seven Russian planes were destroyed by rebel shelling at the Hmeymim airbase in Syria on Dec. 31, the Russian daily Kommersant reported on Wednesday.
    More than 10 servicemen were wounded in the attack.
    At least four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters, and an An-72 transport plane, as well as an ammunition depot, were destroyed by the shelling.

IDF: Hizbullah Has Capability to Strike Israel's Offshore Gas Platforms - Yaniv Kubovich (Ha'aretz)
    Hizbullah has the capability to attack Israel's offshore natural gas platforms with missiles, senior Israel Defense Forces officers said Monday.
    However, "The other side also understands that hitting the gas platforms is the declaration of a third Lebanon war," one officer told Ha'aretz.
    Last month, the IDF announced that an Iron Dome anti-missile system had been installed on a Sa'ar-5 navy corvette to defend the gas platforms.
    The IDF says Hamas is also trying to acquire the capability to hit the gas platforms, one of which is 40 km. from Gaza.

Syria Violates U.S.-Russia Buffer Zone Deal in Golan Heights - Prof. Eyal Zisser (Israel Hayom)
    Last week, Syrian regime forces, led by Hizbullah fighters and an Iranian Revolutionary Guard contingent, conquered considerable swathes of the Syrian Golan Heights in a precursor to what will likely happen all along the Israeli-Syrian border.
    The Syrian campaign to retake the Golan Heights sector is a violation of the understandings reached by the U.S. and Russia just a month ago, which focused on establishing a buffer zone and promised relative protection and immunity for the rebel groups.
    Moscow has no compunction signing a deal and the next day violating or simply ignoring it.
    The writer, vice rector at Tel Aviv University, is former director of its Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.

Poll: 72 Percent of Israeli Jews Want Jerusalem to Remain United and the Capital of Israel - Profs. Ephraim Yaar and Tamar Hermann (Peace Index-Tel Aviv University and IDI)
    65% of Israeli Jews believe President Trump's declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel contributed to Israel's interests, according to a Peace Index poll conducted on Dec. 26-27, 2017, and released Wednesday.
    64% said the UN resolution rejecting Trump's declaration on Jerusalem was just words with no practical significance.
    72% said Jerusalem should remain united and the capital of Israel.

Photos: Old City Walls Offer Glimpse of Jerusalem's Richness - Ilan Ben Zion and Oded Balilty (AP-Times of Israel)
    The current golden limestone walls of Jerusalem's Old City date back to the 16th century.
    AP photographer Oded Balilty looks at daily life along Jerusalem's historic Old City walls.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran Deploys Revolutionary Guards to Quell Protests - Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
    Iran's Revolutionary Guards have deployed forces to three provinces to put down anti-government unrest after six days of protests that have rattled the clerical leadership and left 21 people dead. Revolutionary Guards commander Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari said he had dispatched forces to Hamadan, Isfahan and Lorestan provinces.
        In Washington, a senior administration official said the U.S. aimed to collect "actionable information" that could allow it to pursue sanctions against Iranian individuals and organizations involved in the crackdown. (Reuters)
  • Top Israeli General Sees Increased Iran Spending on Foreign Wars - Dan Williams
    Iran spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually to help allies fighting elsewhere in the Middle East and this outlay appears to be rising, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot said Tuesday. He said Iran gives Hizbullah between $700 million and $1 billion each year. "In recent months, investment in the Palestinian arena has also been growing out of a desire to influence it - with an increase in the (annual) funding in the Gaza Strip for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to $100 million."
        Eizenkot said that since 2012 Iran had spent "billions" of dollars on Syria. He said Iran currently had 2,000 military advisers in Syria deployed alongside 10,000 foreign Shi'ite militiamen and 8,000 Hizbullah fighters. Iran spends "hundreds of millions" more on allies in Iraq and Yemen, he added. (Reuters)
  • U.S. Court Convicts Turkish Banker in Multibillion Dollar Scheme to Help Iran Evade Sanctions - Devlin Barrett
    A New York jury on Wednesday convicted Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, 47, a senior official at Halkbank, of helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions. Reza Zarrab, 34, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme, told the jury that he paid more than $60 million in bribes to keep the scheme going, paying Turkey's then-economy minister Mehmet Zafer Caglayan to help him hide the money transfers by making them look like gold purchases. Zarrab said he helped move billions of euros to accounts controlled by Iran and that he was told Turkish President Erdogan knew about the plot. (Washington Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • White House: U.S. Won't Subsidize Palestinians If They Spread Lies about America - Eric Cortellessa
    A senior White House official told the Times of Israel on Wednesday: "The President is a master dealmaker and is as committed to trying to achieve the ultimate peace deal as ever, but he will not tolerate falsehoods being spread about America and our positions - and he certainly will not spend taxpayer dollars to subsidize those who spread them."
        "In the meantime, we remain hard at work on our comprehensive peace plan, which will benefit both Israelis and Palestinians and will be unveiled when it is ready and the time is right."  (Times of Israel)
  • IDF Retaliates for Gaza Rocket Fire - Yaniv Kubovich
    Palestinians in Gaza fired three rockets toward Israeli communities on Wednesday. In response, the Israeli air force struck "central terrorist infrastructure" in Gaza overnight Wednesday, the IDF said. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The Ayatollah Empire Is Rotting Away - Edward N. Luttwak
    The economic numbers for the ayatollah empire just don't add up and a breakdown is inevitable. Iran, with 80 million people, cannot even match the $6,000 income per capita of Botswana. Whatever happens next, the ayatollah empire cannot just keep going, any more than the USSR could keep going by living off its oil.
        The South Koreans, whom we defend with our own troops, totally ignore U.S. interests in regard to Iran and have emerged as the lead suppliers of machinery and tooling for the Revolutionary Guards weapon factories. Every time a South Korean regime-related deal is detected, the offenders need a quick reminder they will be excluded from the U.S. if they persist. It is just a matter of getting serious in our focus on Iran. The writer is senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (Tablet)
        See also Iran's Complex of Crises Catches Up with the Regime - David P. Goldman (Asia Times-Hong Kong)
        See also Iran's Economic Situation Two Years after the Removal of Sanctions - Nizan Feldman and Sima Shine (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
  • The Islamic Republic of Iran Is Doomed - Ray Takeyh
    Even though Iran's relentless imperialism is denounced by the protesters who do not want to see their nation's assets wasted in Arab civil wars, the hardliners aren't likely to change course. This was always a revolution without a border and the Islamic Republic sees unique opportunities to project its power.
        Tehran is too proud of its Hizbullah protege in Lebanon, too invested in the Syrian civil war, and too involved in Iraq to dispense with foreign adventurism just because it is becoming a financial burden. Imperialism has always been tempting to revolutionaries despite the fact that its costs usually outweigh its benefits. The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. (Politico)
  • Jerusalem Move Could Provide a Pathway to Peace - Ahmed Charai
    President Trump's choice to recognize the Israeli capital in Jerusalem exposed a political dynamic in the region that holds new possibilities for an eventual settlement. Arab countries, historically a guarantor of strategic depth for Palestinian rejectionist forces, are increasingly a bastion of support for compromise.
        Moreover, talk of the demise of the U.S. as mediator in Israeli-Arab negotiations is unfounded. Arab leaderships have always perceived Washington as an essentially pro-Israel power. It earned its chair at the negotiating table not by projecting neutrality but by extending military and economic leverage toward Israelis, Palestinians and the broader region. It can only lose its role as a regional broker by losing its status as a global power.
        The true political departure lay within the Arab region, in the relatively modest and short-lived protests from Sunni-majority Arab countries. This weak showing matters greatly to prospects for peace. Now Arab societies have given their leaders and the world a preview of how minimally the region would convulse in the event of a future renunciation of Palestinian maximalist demands.
        Arab supporters of a regional peace, myself included, will continue to act on the belief that Arab conciliation begets Israeli conciliation. With this principle in mind, we see the outcome of the Jerusalem controversy as a sign that more is possible.
        The writer, a Moroccan publisher, is on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council and an international counselor of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (National Interest)

  • An opinion piece in the New York Times recently argued that the best way for the U.S. government to help the Iranian protesters is to "Keep quiet and do nothing." It is vital to understand why failing to support the protesters at this critical juncture would constitute a moral and strategic mistake.
  • In 2009, when Iranians came out in large numbers to denounce their country's rigged presidential election, the response they received from the American government was decidedly tepid. This policy of non-interference discouraged protesters and reinforced the regime.
  • My experiences as a political prisoner and my decades of involvement with democratic dissidents around the world have shown me that all democratic revolutions have some elements in common. It is the drive of ordinary citizens to free themselves from government control over their thought, speech and livelihoods that has propelled dissidents and revolutionary movements around the world.
  • Any regime that refuses to respect its citizens' most basic rights, and especially the right to think and speak freely, can maintain its power only by intimidation and force. Revolutions take place when enough people simultaneously cross that fateful line between silent questioning and open dissent. Once they do so, the regime can no longer contain the upsurge of opposition and must either begin to liberalize or collapse.
  • World powers should warn Tehran - and thereby reassure protesters - that it must respect its citizens' rights if it wishes to continue receiving benefits from their countries. Articulating a clear policy of linkage would put pressure on the regime to make genuine changes and give hope to protesters that their sacrifices will not be in vain.
  • It is time for all those who value freedom to state clearly that the Iranian people - like all people - deserve to be free, and that when they fight for this right, those of us who already enjoy it will stand unequivocally by their side.

    The writer was a prisoner in the Soviet Gulag for nine years for his human rights activities. He is Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel.