February 5, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Secret Alliance: Israel Carries Out Airstrikes in Egypt, with Cairo's O.K. - David D. Kirkpatrick (New York Times)
    For more than two years, Israeli drones, helicopters and jets have carried out a covert air campaign, conducting more than 100 airstrikes against jihadists in northern Sinai with the approval of Egyptian President el-Sisi.
    Egypt and Israel are now secret allies in a covert war against a common foe.
    American officials say Israel's air campaign has played a decisive role in enabling the Egyptian armed forces to gain an upper hand against the militants.

Top Iranian Official Tours Israel-Lebanon Border - Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
    On Jan. 30, 2018, Sayyed Ebrahim Raisi, a member of Iran's Assembly of Experts who is thought to be Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's successor, toured Lebanon's border with Israel, escorted by Hizbullah military commanders and Iranian officers.
    In 2017, Raisi lost the elections for the Iranian presidency to Hassan Rouhani.
    During his visit, Raisi proclaimed that "Jerusalem's liberation is near."
    It would appear that this visit by a senior Iranian figure close to Khamenei was meant to convey to Israel that Iran is determined to help Hizbullah strengthen its military capabilities in Lebanon.
    The writer, a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center, served as Military Secretary to the Prime Minister and as Israel Foreign Ministry chief of staff.

Hamas Tests Five Missiles on Saturday (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
    Hamas test-fired five missiles near the Gaza coastline on Saturday. According to Israeli military sources, Hamas is conducting almost daily missile tests.

U.S. Troops in Israel for Missile Defense Drill - Anna Ahronheim (Jerusalem Post)
    U.S. troops are in Israel and have deployed anti-missile defense systems across the country ahead of the biennial Juniper Cobra military exercise.
    The five-day drill will simulate a massive missile attack on Israel from both the northern and southern fronts and will be led by the Israel Air Force in a joint exercise with the U.S. Army European Command (EUCOM).
    Washington and Israel have signed an agreement which would see the U.S. assist Israel with missile defense in times of war.

Israel Foils Attempt to Smuggle Bomb-Making Materials into Gaza - Nikki Guttman (Israel Hayom)
    Israeli security forces at the Kerem Shalom crossing recently thwarted an attempt to smuggle bomb-making material into Gaza hidden in boxes containing medical supplies, the Defense Ministry revealed Sunday.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Unveils Sanctions Designed to Strangle Iranian-Backed Hizbullah - Missy Ryan
    The Treasury Department on Friday slapped new sanctions on six people and seven businesses based in Lebanon, Iraq and West Africa with links to Hizbullah. The sanctions come as the Trump administration seeks to intensify its response to Iran's support for armed groups from Lebanon to Syria to Yemen. (Washington Post)
        See also U.S. and Argentina to Work Together Against Hizbullah
    The U.S. and Argentina are to work together more closely to cut off Lebanese Hizbullah's funding networks in Latin America, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie confirmed during talks in Buenos Aires on Sunday. "We did specifically discuss the presence of Lebanese Hizbullah in this hemisphere, which is raising funds, obviously, to support its terrorist activities. So it is something that we jointly agree we need to attack and eliminate," Tillerson said. (AFP)
        See also Remarks of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Buenos Aires (State Department)
  • Syrian Rebels Down Russian Plane, Kill Pilot - Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Polina Devitt
    Syrian rebels shot down a Russian SU-25 plane on Saturday in Idlib province and killed its pilot on the ground after he ejected, Russia's defense ministry and Syrian rebels said. Tharir al-Sham, a jihadist group, claimed responsibility for shooting down the plane with a shoulder-launched, anti-aircraft missile.
        The Russian Defense Ministry said Moscow retaliated with a strike from a high-precision weapon that killed more than 30 militants in an area where the plane was downed. (Reuters)
  • Thousands of ISIS Fighters in Syria Flee to Fight Another Day - Eric Schmitt
    Thousands of Islamic State foreign fighters and family members in eastern Syria have fled to the south and west through Syrian Army lines. Some have gone into hiding near Damascus and in the northwest, awaiting orders sent by insurgent leaders. Some are defecting to al-Qaeda's branch in Syria, while others pay smugglers to cross the border to Turkey, with the goal of returning home to European countries. "ISIS fighters are fleeing Syria and Iraq," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said last week. "Jihadists are going underground, dispersing to other safe havens...and returning to their home countries."  (New York Times)
        See also Israel Part of Coalition Monitoring ISIS Fighters Returning from Syria
    Israel is a member of a secret intelligence collection and sharing operation made up of 21 nations targeting European jihadis returning home from Syria, Der Spiegel reported Sunday. The operation was being led from a U.S. Joint Special Operations Command center in Jordan. (Times of Israel)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • U.S. Envoy Greenblatt Slams Hamas Use of Iranian "Blood Money" for Terror
    Jason Greenblatt, the U.S. Middle East envoy, on Sunday tweeted: "Hamas should be improving the lives of those it purports to govern, but instead chooses to increase violence and cause misery for the people of Gaza. Imagine what the people of Gaza could do with the $100 million Iran gives Hamas annually that Hamas uses for weapons and tunnels to attack Israel!"
        "Iran spends almost a billion dollars a year sponsoring terrorism in Lebanon, Israel and West Bank/Gaza. This blood money only increases violence and does nothing to help the Palestinian people. The corrupt regime in Tehran squanders the resources of the Iranian people on military adventures throughout the region instead of investing at home and promoting peace abroad." The U.S. envoy also called on Hamas to release Israeli civilians and the remains of fallen soldiers held in Gaza. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israeli Nearly Lynched by Arab Mob near Jerusalem - Efrat Forsher and Daniel Siryoti
    Palestinian police rescued an Israeli man on Friday who was almost lynched by a mob of 200 Palestinians after accidentally entering Abu Dis, a Palestinian village near Jerusalem. The mob attacked the Israeli man's vehicle with stones. Palestinian police extricated the driver, while the mob torched the Israeli's car. A senior Palestinian police official said, "Palestinian police forces arrived a moment before the angry masses lynched him [the Israeli]."  (Israel Hayom)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Jordan's King Abdullah Sees No Mideast Peace without U.S. Role
    Speaking on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," King Abdullah II of Jordan said Sunday: "Is Jerusalem a city that ends up dividing us, which I think would be catastrophic for mankind, or is it a city of hope that brings us together? It is eternal to Jews, Christians and Muslims."
        "I think we have to give the Americans the benefit of the doubt and all work together to make sure that we help the Americans, Israelis and Palestinians come together. However, in the very near future, if it is not a good plan...I don't think we've got a plan B at this stage. Or is that a one-state solution? And how do we do that in a positive way, where Israel is integrated and part of the future of the neighborhood?"  (CNN)
  • Egypt's War Against the Gaza Tunnels - Dr. Shaul Shay
    During 2017, the Egyptian army said it destroyed 63 cross-border tunnels linking Gaza to Egypt's Sinai. In 2014, President el-Sisi ordered the creation of a "buffer-zone" along the Egyptian border with Gaza, now being expanded from 500 meters to a kilometer. Hamas has been unable to acquire more weapons and ammunition, owing to the ongoing Egyptian campaign to eliminate the tunnels.
        Since 2013, the Egyptian military has been flooding the tunnels with sewage and seawater. Egypt is creating a large fish farm on the border with Gaza. Tons of sand has been carried away, and huge tubes placed to pump seawater to destroy the smugglers' tunnels and form the base of the fish farm. Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay, former head of the IDF Military History Department and deputy head of the Israel National Security Council, is director of research of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. (Israel Defense)

U.S. National Security Strategy Converges with Israeli Viewpoints - Col. (ret.) Shimon Arad (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
  • The new U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) document on the Middle East, released in December, recognizes that an unfavorable balance of regional power in the Middle East adversely affects U.S. interests. The document cautions that disengagement from the Middle East will not shield the U.S. from a spillover of the region's problems.
  • The priority actions outlined in the NSS center around retaining an American military presence, shoring up partnerships, sustaining Iraq's independence, seeking a settlement of the Syrian civil war, denying Iran its nuclear and regional aspirations, and promoting an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
  • The NSS makes clear that the U.S. is not disengaging from the Middle East. It breaks from the previous administration's perception of Iran as part of the solution to regional instability, instead squarely defining Tehran as a major contributor to the region's problems. American leadership is working to contain and roll back Iran's malign influence and nuclear ambitions. This is a primary Israeli interest.
  • The convergence of views regarding Iran increases the potential for U.S.-Israel dialogue and the coordination of efforts to counter malign Iranian activities in the Middle East. Gone are the assumptions that support for Israel comes with high costs from the Arab world and that resolving the Palestinian conflict is key to improving U.S. standing in the region.