January 8, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

UK Parliament Reports on "Severe" Terrorist Threats - Hayley Evans (Lawfare)
    On Dec. 20, the UK Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee issued its annual report for 2017.
    The threat from international terrorism in the UK is "Severe - reflecting that an attack is highly likely."
    Notably, this threat assessment is down from May, when the threat was at its highest level, "Critical," for three days following the Manchester Arena attack.
    As of October 2017, investigations by the Security Service (MI5) have resulted in the disruption of 20 major terrorist attacks since 2013.
    As of April 2017, MI5 was running 500 current investigations into groups and individuals involved with Islamic terrorism.
    MI5 also had 3,000 current and 20,000 former "Subjects of Interest" on its radar.

Syrian Forces Eye Rebel-Held Province after Defeat of ISIS (AP-VOA News)
    Syrian government forces and allied militiamen are advancing on Idlib province, the largest remaining rebel-held territory in the country's north, forcing thousands of civilians to flee toward the border with Turkey.
    Last week, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the main military operations against ISIS in Syria have ended and that the focus would shift to al-Qaeda-linked militants.
    An opposition activist in northern Syria said the rebels are stuck in a two-front battle with government forces and remaining pockets of Islamic State militants, and that Russian airstrikes have exacted a heavy toll.
    Idlib province is dominated by the Levant Liberation Committee, which claims to have severed ties with al-Qaeda but is widely believed to still be affiliated with it.
    Recapturing the entire province is expected to be a long and bloody process against highly experienced and well-armed insurgents.
    Rami Abdurrahman, chief of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said, "The regime wants to take the eastern part of Idlib province. Their aim is to remove any threat to the road" between Damascus and Aleppo.

Decline in Palestinian Terror Attacks in 2017 - Anna Ahronheim (Jerusalem Post)
    The IDF reported Saturday that in 2017, 20 Israelis were killed and 169 were wounded in 99 terrorist attacks originating in the West Bank, compared with 17 killed and 263 injured in 269 attacks in 2016.

Iran Bans English in Primary Schools (Reuters)
    Iran has banned the teaching of English in primary schools after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said early learning of the language opened the way to a Western "cultural invasion."

Hamas Member Dies in "Accidental Explosion" in Gaza - Dov Lieber (Times of Israel)
    Mohammad Fathi Janid, 22, a member of Hamas' Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, died on Sunday in an "accidental explosion" in Gaza, the Palestinian terror group said.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Egyptian Leaders Accept Jerusalem Move - David D. Kirkpatrick
    As President Trump moved last month to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, an Egyptian intelligence officer quietly placed phone calls to the hosts of several influential talk shows in Egypt, telling them that strife with Israel was not in Egypt's national interest and that instead of condemning the decision, they should persuade their viewers to accept it. Pro-government news media across the Arab world were strikingly muted about the status of Jerusalem.
        Shibley Telhami, a scholar at the University of Maryland and the Brookings Institution, said Arab leaders signaled that - while they may not like the decision - they "will find a way to work with it," and "with a White House that is prepared to break with what had been taboos in American foreign policy."  (New York Times)
  • Major Jewish Groups Back Cutting Palestinian Aid - Rafael Medoff
    Major Jewish organizations are expressing support for the idea of reducing U.S. aid to the Palestinians after President Trump mentioned the possibility last week. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the Palestinian Authority "has proven tone deaf to every previous U.S. warning about its actions, so perhaps some reduction in aid would finally get its attention." He said the administration "has a right to standards for aid that it provides, and where countries violate those standards, or trample human rights, then the U.S. absolutely has a right to withhold aid - especially when all the U.S. is asking the PA to do is to negotiate. That's not exactly some major concession."
        AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann said, "We have supported and continue to support reductions in assistance to the Palestinian Authority based on actions such as payments to families of terrorists and violation of its peace process commitment to direct talks with Israel, instead seeking to have the international community endorse Palestinian objectives."
        B'nai B'rith International said, "It is reasonable for the U.S. to use foreign aid as one of several mechanisms for responding to instances where its own interests, or the interests of its allies, are threatened. The Palestinians have refused to negotiate directly with Israel, have failed to comply with their obligations under previous agreements, and have chosen instead to pursue an anti-Israel, anti-U.S. agenda at the United Nations."
        David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, said, "If the Palestinian Authority balks at advancing the peace process, or if it engages in anti-American rhetoric or behavior, then, of course, it's appropriate to send a strong message of disapproval, including a cut in support."  (JNS.org)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Backs U.S. Critique of Palestinian UN Aid Agency
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday: "I agree completely with U.S. President Trump's sharp criticism of UNRWA. UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem. It also perpetuates the narrative of the right-of-return, as it were, in order to eliminate the State of Israel; therefore, UNRWA needs to pass from the world."
        "This is an agency that was established 70 years ago, only for Palestinian refugees, at a time when the UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] deals with global refugee problems. Of course this creates a situation in which there are great-grandchildren of refugees who are not refugees but who are cared for by UNRWA, and another 70 years will pass and those great-grandchildren will have great-grandchildren and, therefore, this absurdity needs to stop."
        "UNRWA support funds need to be gradually shifted to the UNHCR, with clear criteria for supporting genuine refugees, not fictitious refugees as happens today under UNRWA."  (Prime Minister's Office)
  • Palestinians Destroy Archaeological Sites in West Bank - Judith Abramson
    Hebrew University archaeology doctoral student Haggai Cohen Klonymus described to the Israel News Company (formerly Channel 2 TV) how Palestinian tractors and bulldozers arrived at an archaeological site where the ancient city of Archelaus once stood. The Palestinians completely leveled the compound in order to locate hidden archaeological treasures to sell in the antiquities market.
        "Just as ISIS destroyed sites in Iran and Syria that were thousands of years old, the same situation is occurring here," he said. "This is a deliberate and systematic destruction of an archaeological site....It's just a tragedy."  (Jerusalemonline.com)
  • 500,000-Year-Old Archaeological Site Uncovered in Central Israel - Tamar Ben-Ozer
    A 500,000-year-old prehistoric site has been exposed in the Arab town of Jaljulya in central Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University said Sunday. Thousands of flint-stone tools from the prehistoric Paleolithic era were uncovered in a 2.5-acre area. Most of the tools are hand axes that demanded much technological ingenuity and creativity by the people who made them. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Finding the Way Forward on Iran - Bret Stephens
    One of the reasons why easing sanctions on Iran was never likely to soften the regime is that the people who stood to gain from commercial ties with foreign companies are the same people most invested in the preservation of the regime. There's no trickle-down economy in the Islamic Republic.
        All Islamist movements take the concept of justice as their organizing political concept, and all of them ignore it at their peril. Ken Weinstein of the Hudson Institute has argued that the U.S. government "should release details on the billions in stolen assets" held by the IRGC and the supreme leader. That - and making sure ordinary Iranians learn about them, one scandalous disclosure at a time - is the right idea. (New York Times)
  • UNRWA - The Great Palestinian Refugee Charade - Nadav Shragai
    The twisted mandate of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) prohibits the agency from resettling Palestinian "refugees" and finding them a permanent home. Unlike UNRWA, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has been properly tasked with ending the plight of refugees, but UNRWA has been essentially tasked with ensuring the Palestinians remain displaced.
        The UN has never asked that Hindus be allowed back into Pakistan or that Greek Cypriots be allowed back to Turkish-controlled Cyprus. Over the years, tens of millions of refugees from a host of ethnicities have been resettled in new countries and rebuilt their lives.
        UNRWA should have been eliminated and financially depleted regardless of the state of the peace process. Its very existence is designed to maintain the notion of the right of return, another name for Israel's destruction. The writer, a veteran Israeli journalist, is a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. (Israel Hayom)

  • Even if the Iranian regime survives the recent wave of anti-government protests, "it will have sustained a serious strategic blow," says Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the IDF's intelligence research division. "All of a sudden, it became apparent that there is not a lot of support for...turning Iran into a hegemonic power in the region and for the Islamic idea. It turns out that it is just an empty slogan."
  • The current protests are about the very idea of the Islamic republic. "The protests, in large part, reflect a demand not just for reform but for a revolutionary change," he says. "The blow sustained by the regime as a result of everything that has happened in the last week is massive. Its entire legitimacy was shaken to the core. It obviously won't be able to continue to easily justify the support it provides to all kinds of terrorist organizations in the Arab sphere."
  • "They don't want to be a part of an Islamic republic, first and foremost. This idea of having a religious cleric dictate the conduct in the country is no longer acceptable to them....Islam will always play a key role in the life of Iranians, but it will be a different role, far more restricted to the privacy of people's homes. They are saying, 'We don't want to live in an Islamic republic, we want to live in an Iranian republic.'"
  • "This is a blow that will impact all of Iran's supporters and all its proxies - in the northern front, in Gaza, wherever there is reliance on Iran. Those who thought that Iran was an awakening giant that is progressively expanding its grip on the Middle East, and can become the regional hegemon as a Shiite Iranian axis, understand now that beneath all that power hides a weak system that can't even enlist the support of its own people. It is somewhat reminiscent of the Soviet Union prior to 1989 - inside, everything was rotten, and ultimately, it collapsed."

        See also Protests Threaten Iran's Ascendant Role in the Middle East - Liz Sly
    The eruption of political unrest in Iran has presented an unforeseen challenge to Tehran's rising influence in the Middle East. "Before the protests, you had this dominant narrative that Iran is unstoppable, Iran is undefeatable, Iran is as solid as a rock," said Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle East politics at the London School of Economics. "The protests have undermined the posture of the Islamic Republic in the region as the unrivaled superpower."
        "This will make Iran's allies and proxies nervous and feeling vulnerable," added Paul Salem of the Middle East Institute in Washington. (Washington Post)