January 10, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Israel Seeks to Revive Long Abandoned Railway to Gulf - David Awad (Al-Monitor)
    On Dec. 13, Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Transportation Yisrael Katz announced Israel's intention to revive the Hejaz railway linking the Israeli port of Haifa to the Gulf states.
    The Hejaz railway was built in 1908 to link Damascus to Medina through the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia. A branch was added to Haifa on the Mediterranean Sea but it was closed when World War I broke out.
    Katz said, "We will extend the track that connects Haifa and Beit Shean to the King Hussein Bridge; the Jordanians will extend it to connect to the Saudi railways."
    Katz said the project's designs and plans have been completed and are ready to execute within a year or two if approved by Jordan and the Gulf states.
    Mustafa Al-Rasheed, a professor of economics at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport in Alexandria, Egypt, noted that "The Israeli project is not a competitor to the Suez Canal."
    He explained that the expansion of the Suez Canal launched by President Sisi in 2014 deepened the main waterway to fit massive vessels and large oil tankers, and that no railway can compete with the new canal since trains can only carry the same cargo as small-sized ships.
    This "means that the railway and the Suez Canal have different targeted customers."

Germany Summons Iran Envoy to Warn Against Spying on Israel (Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty)
    Germany has summoned Iran's ambassador in Berlin to warn Tehran against spying on individuals and groups in Germany with close ties to Israel, saying such acts violate German law.
    Mustufa Haidar Syed-Naqfi was convicted in March of gathering intelligence on Reinhold Robbe, the former head of the German-Israel Friendship Society and an Israeli-French economics professor in Paris, for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
    After the conviction, Robbe accused Tehran of plotting to have him murdered and demanded that Berlin call Iran to account.
    Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that the Iranian ambassador was warned that spying on Israel would "have negative consequences on bilateral relations between Germany and Iran."
    Germany's domestic intelligence service highlighted Iran's spying activities in its annual report in July, saying that Tehran was focused heavily on Israeli or pro-Jewish targets.

Police Rescue Czech Tourists Who Accidentally Entered Palestinian Village (Times of Israel)
    Two Czech tourists were rescued by Israeli police after they took a wrong turn and drove into the West Bank Palestinian village of Teqoa on Tuesday.
    Police noticed the vehicle entering an area under Palestinian jurisdiction and chased after them, Hadashot news reported.
    As the police were escorting the two women back to an Israeli area, a number of Palestinians arrived and began throwing rocks, damaging the tourists' car.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran's Leader Warns of Revenge for U.S. Role in Protests - Thomas Erdbrink
    Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, on Tuesday blamed Washington for recent protests in his country and vowed to retaliate. "They damaged us during these days, they know there will be some sort of retaliation," he said. The uprising appears to have largely died down following a crackdown and the imposition of severe restrictions on social media. (New York Times)
  • U.S. Weighs Cutting Aid to Palestinian Refugees - Josh Rogin
    $125 million of U.S. aid to UNRWA that was scheduled to be delivered Jan. 1 is now on hold. "The president is fed up with this phenomena of trashing the United States at the UN and then asking us for money. Ambassador Haley shares that view," a senior administration official said.
        Three administration officials confirmed that at a Jan. 5 interagency meeting in Washington, representatives from the State and Defense departments argued for at least partial funding for UNRWA, while the representative from America's UN mission held firm to Haley's view that no funding should be provided. A State Department spokesman told me the administration is considering a range of options, such as providing partial funding or asking others, such as Saudi Arabia, to foot the bill.
        Sources close to Haley said she does not advocate abolishing UNRWA altogether, but believes that there can be no more business as usual when it comes to giving aid to countries that oppose U.S. policy. This position is shared by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Jared Kushner. (Washington Post)
  • Abbas' Electricity Deal Is an Olive Branch to Gaza - Shlomi Eldar
    On Jan. 7, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, wrote on his Arabic Facebook page: "Recently the Palestinian Authority turned [to Israel] with the request to turn on the electricity after its supply was constricted in June 2017, and promised to pay the requisite costs. Israel...accepted the Authority's appeal only out of humanitarian considerations." Mordechai noted another humanitarian issue had yet to be resolved: the return of the bodies of Israeli soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, held by Hamas since the 2014 Gaza war.
        The cost of Gaza's electricity consumption is estimated at $11.6 million a month. Abbas' decision to resume payment for Gaza's power supply will add two to four additional hours of electricity a day. It sends a message to Gaza residents that the PA and Abbas have not abandoned them, prior to a meeting of the Palestinian National Council in Ramallah on Jan. 14. (Al-Monitor)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israeli Murdered in Drive-By Shooting in West Bank - Yaniv Kubovich
    Rabbi Raziel Shevach, 35, an Israeli father of six, was murdered on Tuesday evening when his vehicle was targeted by gunmen in a passing car on Route 60, the main highway in the West Bank. Rabbi Shevach was a volunteer at Magen David Adom and at a chevra kadisha (Jewish burial society). (Ha'aretz)
        See also Video: Car Was Sprayed with Bullets in Terror Attack - Elisha Ben Kimon
    Upon arriving at the scene, security forces found a wounded Israeli man inside a car whose windshield had been riddled with bullets. His wife said, "He called me and said, 'They have shot me. Order an ambulance.'"  (Ynet News)
  • Mossad: Iranians Are Coasting into the Middle East Undisturbed and with Very Large Forces - Tamar Ben-Ozer
    Yossi Cohen, director of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, warned Tuesday that "the Iranians are coasting into the Middle East undisturbed and with very large forces, in a way that virtually creates an air and land corridor that pours fighters into the region in order to actualize the Iranian vision....The well-being of the entire world is threatened in the shadow of Iran's dramatically extremist ambitions."
        He also noted, "Our cooperation with the U.S. is exceptionally good, and it is only getting better. The U.S., over the past year, has been changing its policies, and we are beginning to see dramatic changes in the American understanding of strategic threats. We're seeing a positive shift, one that could possibly take into account more of Israel's security interests."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israel: Palestinian Authority Paid Terrorists $358 Million in 2017 - Lilach Shoval
    The Palestinian Authority spent $358 million on payments to terrorists and their families in 2017, the Israel Defense Ministry said Tuesday, an amount representing 7% of the PA's total budget. In 2016, the PA spent $322 million on terrorists' stipends. Terrorists serving a life sentence receive a monthly stipend of $2,900. To compare, the average monthly salary of Palestinians in the West Bank is $580.
        "The Palestinian Authority pays terrorists and their families over a billion shekels a year, thus encouraging and perpetuating terrorism," Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Monday. "It constitutes financing terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. Nothing demonstrates the Palestinian Authority's support of terrorism more. It is our duty to stop it," he said. (Israel Hayom)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Don't End the Iran Deal, Fix It - Michael Doran
    President Trump faces on Thursday a legislatively mandated deadline to waive or reimpose sanctions on Iran. However, he does have a third alternative: fixing the deal. As he suggested in October, he and Congress could eliminate the nuclear deal's sunset clauses - its most dangerous provisions - by making restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program permanent in U.S. law and requiring more robust inspections. Failure by the Iranians to comply with such a law would bring about an immediate snap-back of the most debilitating sanctions. The administration has been conducting quiet conversations with Capitol Hill about such an approach, which offers the possibility of forging a new bipartisan consensus on Iran.
        While the nuclear deal prevents the administration from reconstituting the previous sanctions regime, it does not preclude new sanctions designed to curb Iran's ballistic missile programs, its human rights abuses, and its malevolent behavior abroad. The first priority of the administration should be to forge a new containment coalition. The writer is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Where to Start Cutting UNRWA Funding - Noah Pollak
    The U.S. has donated close to $6 billion to UNRWA and is its single biggest donor at $400 million a year. UNRWA schools and community centers teach Palestinians to believe in the fantasy of Israel's destruction and their "return" to homes they never had.
        UNRWA has a "cash assistance" program that involves literally handing out cash to people in Gaza and Syria. There is no accountability or oversight for these disbursements, which in 2016 amounted to $192.3 million. These cash handouts undoubtedly involve an enormous amount of waste, fraud, and diversion of funds to terrorists and other bad actors. Future U.S. donations to UNRWA should be conditioned on either the termination, or the strict reduction and dramatic reform, of this program.
        In the long term, the U.S. should condition assistance on a change in UNRWA's definition of a refugee. UNRWA should adopt the refugee definition that is observed everywhere else in the world. This policy change will allow the descendants of refugees from 1948 to finally have a chance at normal lives. (Washington Free Beacon)

How Israel Contributes to the Security of Every NATO Country - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Prime Minister's Office)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told NATO member state ambassadors to Israel on Tuesday that there "are important areas where Israel contributes to the security of every single NATO country."
  • "We have, through our intelligence services, provided information that has stopped several dozen major terrorist attacks, many of them in European countries. Some of these could have been mass attacks, of the worst kind that you have experienced on the soil of Europe and even worse, because they involve civil aviation. Israel has prevented that, and thereby helped save many European lives."
  • "The second assistance that Israel has given to Europe and NATO has been the prevention of the establishment of what I call 'ISIS West' in the Sinai. As ISIS is contracting and is being destroyed in Iraq and Syria, it is trying to establish an alternative territorial base in the Sinai. Israel is contributing to preventing that in myriad ways, and in general I would say that Israel is the most powerful indigenous force in the Middle East that fights radical Islam."
  • "[Iran] is, as Kissinger said, a cause, not a country. And the cause is worldwide domination under their brand of Islamic militancy....They have designs on all of us. Iran is dangerous because this radical ideology seeks to acquire nuclear weapons. The first task is to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons."
  • "As part of Iran's plans of conquest and colonization of Syria, they want to bring in as many as 100,000 Shiites, Shiite fighters, imported into Iran - non-Iranians under Iranian command."
  • "If Iran realizes its goal of bringing in 100,000 Shiite fighters into Syria, this will reignite the same conflict and you'll have the son of ISIS and the grandson of al-Qaeda that will be fighting this new Shiite force. Where will the spillover happen? In Europe. Where will the human flow go? To Europe. Who's preventing that right now? Israel....This is a common interest that we have with NATO."
  • "An attack by radical Islam from whichever direction on any of our democracies is an attack on all our democracies. This is not merely a statement of abstract principle, this is simple truth."

        See also Netanyahu: Israel Helped Stop Terror Attacks on Planes in Europe - Raf Sanchez (Telegraph-UK)