January 18, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Iranian Spies in Germany Targeted Israel Embassy, Jewish Kindergartens (Times of Israel)
    Josef Hufelschulte, of the weekly German-language magazine FOCUS, told Israeli broadcaster Kan on Tuesday that the suspected Iranian spies sought in Germany had been gathering information on the Israeli embassy in Berlin, as well as on the local Jewish community, including kindergartens.
    The suspects were members of the al-Quds force, part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
    Kan also reported that the Israeli Mossad intelligence service had provided critical information that led to the raids.

Pentagon: U.S. Not Forming New "Army" in Syria (U.S. Defense Department)
    The U.S. continues to train local security forces in Syria to enhance security for displaced persons returning to their devastated communities.
    It is also essential so that ISIS cannot reemerge in liberated and ungoverned areas.
    This is not a new "army" or conventional "border guard" force.
    The military campaign against ISIS in Syria is not over and heavy fighting is still underway.
    These forces will protect the local population and help prevent ISIS from launching new attacks against the U.S. and its allies and partners, pending a longer-term political solution to the Syrian civil war.
    We are keenly aware of the security concerns of Turkey and stand by our NATO ally in its counter-terrorism efforts.

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Trial Opens in Bulgaria for 2012 Bombing of Israeli Tourists (AP-Washington Post)
    On July 18, 2012, Mohamad Hassan El-Husseini, a French-Lebanese national, blew himself up on a tourist bus at the airport in the Black Sea resort of Burgas, killing five Israeli tourists and their bus driver and injuring 35.
    A Bulgarian court has opened the trial in absentia of Meliad Farah, a dual Lebanese-Australian national, and Hassan El Hajj Hassan, a dual Lebanese-Canadian national, who provided the explosive device and logistical support to the bomber on behalf of Hizbullah.

Last Fallen Soldier from Lebanon War Laid to Rest 31 Years Later - Itay Blumenthal (Ynet News)
    Sgt. Abraham Ajami, 50, who was wounded at age 19 while fighting in Lebanon in 1987 and has since been in a vegetative state, passed away on Tuesday and was laid to rest on Wednesday, surrounded by family and friends.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Abbas: Trump's Recognition of Jerusalem Was "Sinful" - Hamza Hendawi
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday in Cairo that President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital was "sinful." "Jerusalem will be a gate for peace only if it is Palestine's capital, and it will be a gate of war, fear and the absence of security and stability, God forbid, if it is not."  (AP-Washington Post)
  • Haley: Palestinians "Not Serious" about Peace - Margaret Besheer
    U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Wednesday that the Palestinian Authority was "not serious" about the peace process, and she threatened to withhold future funding if they did not move toward talks. "We are not going to reward bad behavior," she said in an interview.
        "Here you've got the Palestinians who are basically saying they are going to cut the U.S. out of the peace process. They are saying that they no longer want to have anything to do with us....By the Palestinians cutting us out of the peace process, it shows they are not serious in truly getting to peace."
        "They go and take us to the United Nations and are basically very hostile in what they say and what they do. We are not going to pay to be abused. It doesn't make sense." Haley suggested that UNRWA could find new donors among the countries that rejected the U.S. decision on Jerusalem. (VOA News)
  • U.S. Signals Open-Ended Presence in Syria - David Brunnstrom
    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday discussed the Trump administration's new strategy on Syria, saying a U.S. disengagement from Syria would provide Iran with an opportunity to reinforce its position in the country. (Reuters)
        See also below Observations: Secretary of State Tillerson Warns of the Iranian Threat in Syria (U.S. State Department)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israeli Forces Hunt Down Murderers of Rabbi in West Bank - Jacob Magid
    Israeli special forces killed Palestinian terrorist Ahmed Jarrar, 22, in the West Bank city of Jenin early Thursday, believed to have been behind the murder last week of Israeli Rabbi Raziel Shevach in a drive-by shooting. A second suspect in the murder was arrested. Two Border Police officers from the counter-terror unit were injured in the operation. (Times of Israel)
        See also Terrorist in Rabbi's Killing Was Hamas Member - Dov Lieber
    Hamas on Thursday said the Palestinian terrorist killed by Israeli security forces overnight in Jenin was part of its Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. (Times of Israel)
  • Navy's New Defense System Can Mislead Enemy Missiles - Yoav Zitun
    The Israeli Navy has a new defense system to defend against the most advanced anti-ship cruise missiles and shoulder-fired missiles. In response to an incoming missile, the system launches chaff rockets to create a "wall" of hundreds of metal wires which mislead the enemy missile into thinking this is the Israeli ship, diverting the missile before it hits the ship.
        An additional new defense system allows naval vessels to disrupt the frequencies of enemy missile radars. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • U.S. Funding Cut Reignites Debate on Palestinian Refugee Agency - David M. Halbfinger
    The U.S. announced this week that it was withholding $65 million from a scheduled payment to UNRWA. Unlike the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNRWA allows refugee status to be passed down for generations. UNRWA also does not remove people from its list who have acquired citizenship in a new country, so their number always increases. Hence, the Palestinian refugee population has grown from 700,000 to more than 5.2 million.
        "At the rate we're going now, it's going to be 15 million soon," said Asaf Romirowsky, executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, who has called for disbanding the agency and turning over its functions to other institutions, like the Palestinian Authority. He said that freezing the agency's money could be a good step if it forced the Palestinians to the negotiating table. (New York Times)
  • UNRWA Is Being Investigated by the U.S. Government - Nadav Shragai
    UNRWA - the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees - is being investigated by the U.S. government over suspicions about its growing overlap with the goals of the PLO, to the point of accepting violence, terrorism and incitement. In January, a team from the U.S. Attorney General's office launched a probe, on behalf of Congress, into whether the textbooks used in UNRWA schools in the West Bank and Gaza included anti-Semitic content and encouraged terrorism. The team is also investigating to what extent UNRWA is linked to terrorist entities, particularly in Gaza.
        One example has to do with UNRWA's links to Palestinian singer Mohammad Assaf, who was made its official youth ambassador. Assaf was supposedly chosen to promote peace, but his songs praise violence and glorify a martyr's death and jihad. He also sings about the vision of a Palestinian state that will stand on the entire territory of Israel. His music videos, broadcast on PA and Hamas television, have background images of Palestinians fighting IDF soldiers and funerals of "martyrs." The writer, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a journalist and commentator who has documented the dispute over Jerusalem for 30 years. (Israel Hayom)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke at Stanford University's Hoover Institute on Wednesday:
  • "Continued strategic threats to the U.S. from not just ISIS and al-Qaeda but from others persist. And this threat I'm referring to is principally Iran. As part of its strategy to create a northern arch, stretching from Iran to Lebanon and the Mediterranean, Iran has dramatically strengthened its presence in Syria by deploying Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops; supporting Lebanese Hizbullah; and importing proxy forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Through its position in Syria, Iran is positioning to continue attacking U.S. interests, our allies, and personnel in the region."
  • The U.S. desires an end state for Syria in which "Iranian influence in Syria is diminished, their dreams of a northern arch are denied, and Syria's neighbors are secure from all threats emanating from Syria."
  • "ISIS presently has one foot in the grave, and by maintaining an American military presence in Syria until the full and complete defeat of ISIS is achieved, it will soon have two....It is vital for the United States to remain engaged in Syria....Ungoverned spaces, especially in conflict zones, are breeding grounds for ISIS and other terrorist organizations....Similarly, we must persist in Syria to thwart al-Qaeda, which still has a substantial presence and base of operations in northwest Syria."
  • "U.S. disengagement from Syria would provide Iran the opportunity to further strengthen its position in Syria. As we have seen from Iran's proxy wars and public announcements, Iran seeks dominance in the Middle East and the destruction of our ally, Israel. As a destabilized nation and one bordering Israel, Syria presents an opportunity that Iran is all too eager to exploit."
  • "Finally, reducing and expelling malicious Iranian influence from Syria depends on a democratic Syria. For many years, Syria under Bashar al-Assad has been a client state of Iran. A Syrian central government that is not under the control of Assad will have new legitimacy to assert its authority over the country....A stable, unified, independent Syria will serve the national security interests of the United States, its allies, and our partners."