January 15, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Wants to Cut Funds for UN Palestinian Refugee Agency - Matthew Lee and Julie Pace (AP-San Francisco Chronicle)
    President Trump hasn't made a final decision, but appears more likely to send only $60 million of the planned $125 million first installment to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, according to U.S. officials.
    Future contributions would require the agency to demonstrate significant changes in operations, they said.
    The plan to withhold some of the money is backed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, who offered it as a compromise to demands for more drastic measures by UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who wants a complete cutoff in U.S. money until the Palestinians resume peace talks with Israel.

Iran Violated Yemen Arms Embargo, UN Experts Say - Rick Gladstone (New York Times)
    In a report to the Security Council this week, a UN panel has concluded that Iran violated an arms embargo imposed on Yemen by failing to prevent the Houthi rebels from obtaining Iranian missiles, including one fired at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, two months ago.

Video: A Changed Saudi Arabia - Amb. Dore Gold

U.S. Helps Build New Force on Syria's Northern Border - Tom Perry and Orhan Coskun (Reuters)
    The U.S.-led coalition is working with its Syrian militia allies to set up a new border force of 30,000 personnel, the coalition said on Sunday.
    The new "Border Security Force" will be deployed at border areas with Turkey and Iraq controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of militias dominated by the Kurdish YPG.
    Turkish President Erdogan's spokesman said the development was unacceptable.

Understanding the Islamic Salafis - Zvi Bar'el (Ha'aretz)
    The ultraconservative Salafis are divided into three factions, one that strives to live as Islam's founding fathers did. This faction shuns political or military activity and condemns religious leaders who do otherwise.
    This is the root of the theological rivalry between the purist Salafi stream and political-Islam movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and their descendants like Hamas.
    The second faction recognizes the power of politics to push for a sharia state. This faction set up Salafi parties that cooperate with the Egyptians in their fight against the Muslim Brotherhood.
    The third faction, called Salafia Jihadia, refuses to take part in the politics of the existing Arab regimes, which it intends to topple. Some of its members joined the Islamic State, some joined al-Qaeda, and others are acting independently.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Vows to Withdraw from Iran Nuclear Deal Unless There Are Major Changes - Ian Talley
    The Trump administration vowed Friday to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear accord unless there are substantial changes. Senior administration officials said the White House would consider remaining party to a nuclear deal with Iran, but only if it was modified. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also below Observations: Statement by the President on the Iran Nuclear Deal (White House)
        See also Iran to Trump: Nuclear Pact Is "Not Renegotiable" - Thomas Erdbrink (New York Times)
  • Palestinian Leader Abbas Attacks President Trump - Loveday Morris
    In a combative, two-hour speech brimming with colorful insults, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denounced President Trump on Sunday. He said Palestinians were being offered the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis as the capital of their future state, rather than east Jerusalem.
        "We said no to Trump," Abbas said. "We won't accept his project; his deal of the century is the slap of the century, and we will respond....May your house be destroyed." He also pledged to continue payments to families of those imprisoned, killed or wounded by Israel, including those who carry out attacks. (Washington Post)
        See also below Commentary: Did Abbas Just Give His Valedictory Speech? - Avi Issacharoff (Times of Israel)
  • Israel's Netanyahu Eyes Trade, Defense Ties on India Trip - Rupam Jain
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began a six-day visit to India on Sunday. The two countries have grown closer since Narendra Modi became Indian prime minister in 2014, widening commercial cooperation beyond their longstanding defense ties. Foreign policy experts in New Delhi said Modi had made significant changes in diplomatic and strategic ties with Israel while at the same time retaining links with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. (Reuters)
        See also Text: Prime Minister Modi Welcomes Prime Minister Netanyahu to India (India Ministry of External Affairs)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Destroys Gaza Attack Tunnel that Also Went into Egypt - Yaniv Kubovich
    Israeli planes on Saturday night destroyed an attack tunnel along Israel's border with Gaza that also extended into Egyptian territory, the Israel Defense Forces said. The tunnel passed under the Kerem Shalom border crossing, the main entryway of humanitarian aid to Gaza, near the Egyptian border. The tunnel began in the Palestinian town of Rafah and reached 180 meters into Israeli territory.
        This is the fourth tunnel destroyed by Israel in recent months. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that digging the tunnel inside Israel "is a blatant violation of Israeli sovereignty."  (Ha'aretz)
        See also Report: Hamas Tunnel Was Built to Blow Up Main Humanitarian Crossing to Gaza
    The Hamas attack tunnel destroyed by the IDF on Saturday was built for a planned attack on the border crossing where most of the humanitarian aid, food and fuel enter Gaza, Israel's Hadashot TV reported Sunday. The tunnel ran underneath the Kerem Shalom Gaza crossing, as well as below major gas and diesel pipelines, IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said. An explosion beneath the area would have caused mass casualties among the hundreds of people who work there every day. The army spokesperson credited the discovery and destruction of the tunnel to a combination of "cutting-edge" technology and intelligence. (Times of Israel)
        See also With Tunnel under Gaza Crossing, Hamas Tried to Deceive Both Israel and Egypt - Ron Ben-Yishai
    The tunnel's exposure will likely make it clear to the Egyptians that Hamas tried to deceive them. The Egyptians likely never imagined that Hamas would dare dig a tunnel under Israeli territory which would reach Sinai.
        Israeli Air Force planes used particularly accurate and heavy ammunition to destroy the tunnel shaft on the Palestinian side, while other IDF forces - mainly engineering and infantry units - quietly destroyed the route of the tunnel on Israeli territory. (Ynet News)
        See also Video: Path of Hamas Terror Tunnel under Kerem Shalom Crossing (Israel Defense Forces)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The Problem Is UNRWA - Amb. Ron Prosor
    One of the main obstacles on the path to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is UNRWA, the UN agency founded to assist only Palestinian refugees, and that perpetuates the fantasy of their return. Some of these refugees do not exist at all. The most recent population census in Lebanon found that two-thirds of the refugees listed in UNRWA reports were simply made up. UNRWA prevents a political settlement from being reached, contributes to anti-Israel incitement, and robs aid to real refugees.
        While concerns have been raised over instability if the funding for UNRWA stops, there are UN organizations that are already active, like the UN Development Program (UNDP) and others, that can supply humanitarian services to the Palestinians relatively quickly. We have a ticking time bomb here, and if we do not defuse it now, in the long term it will blow up in our faces. The writer, who holds the Abba Eban Chair of International Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, is a former Israeli ambassador to the UN. (Israel Hayom)
  • Did Abbas Just Give His Valedictory Speech? - Avi Issacharoff
    Sunday's address by PA President Mahmoud Abbas to the PLO Central Council sounded like the farewell of a leader at the end of his political path. "This may be the last time that you see me here," Abbas said in Ramallah.
        The banner that Abbas waved time after time - establishing a State of Palestine along the 1967 lines - became an idea disconnected from reality. Abbas blamed the entire world for the situation of the Palestinians, from the U.S., to Israel, Hamas, and even the Europeans, for their role in sending the Jews to Israel. "Israel is a colonialist project, which has nothing to do with the Jews," he charged.
        Looking at the faces of those participating in the PLO conference, it is clear how the PLO and Fatah have refused to reform. The leaders today are much the same ones who led the PLO in the 1980s in Lebanon and the West Bank. Over the last few years, Abbas has made sure that he has no heir, nor even a clear official process for choosing a successor. (Times of Israel)

President Trump said in a statement issued on Friday:
  • "The Iranian regime is the world's leading state sponsor of terror. It enables Hizbullah, Hamas, and many other terrorists to sow chaos and kill innocent people. It has funded, armed, and trained more than 100,000 militants to spread destruction across the Middle East. It props up the murderous regime of Bashar al Assad, and has helped him slaughter his own people. The regime's destructive missiles threaten neighboring countries and international shipping. Within Iran, the Supreme Leader and his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps use mass arrests and torture to oppress and silence Iran's people. Iran's ruling elite has let their citizens go hungry while enriching themselves by stealing Iran's national wealth."
  • "We are...supporting the brave Iranian citizens who are demanding change from a corrupt regime that wastes the Iranian people's money on weapons systems at home and terrorism abroad. And crucially, we are calling on all nations to lend similar support to the Iranian people....The enormous financial windfall the Iranian regime received because of the [nuclear] deal - access to more than $100 billion, including $1.8 billion in cash - has not been used to better the lives of the Iranian people. Instead, it has served as a slush fund for weapons, terror, and oppression, and to further line the pockets of corrupt regime leaders."
  • "I have outlined two possible paths forward: either fix the deal's disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw....[Congressional] legislation regarding Iran...must include four critical components."
    • "First, it must demand that Iran allow immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors."
    • "Second, it must ensure that Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon."
    • "Third, unlike the nuclear deal, these provisions must have no expiration date. My policy is to deny Iran all paths to a nuclear weapon - not just for ten years, but forever. If Iran does not comply with any of these provisions, American nuclear sanctions would automatically resume."
    • "Fourth, the legislation must explicitly state in United States law - for the first time - that long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs are inseparable, and that Iran's development and testing of missiles should be subject to severe sanctions."
  • "My Administration has engaged with key European allies in seeking to secure a new supplemental agreement that would impose new multilateral sanctions if Iran develops or tests long-range missiles, thwarts inspections, or makes progress toward a nuclear weapon."
  • "Today, I am waiving the application of certain nuclear sanctions, but only in order to secure our European allies' agreement to fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal....In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal."
  • "Those who, for whatever reason, choose not to work with us will be siding with the Iranian regime's nuclear ambitions, and against the people of Iran and the peaceful nations of the world."