February 8, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Hamas: PA Helped Israel Track Down Rabbi's Murderer - Khaled Abu Toameh (Times of Israel)
    Hamas' al-Qassam Brigades on Wednesday claimed that the Palestinian Authority provided the lead that helped Israel track down and kill Ahmed Jarrar, who headed the cell that killed Rabbi Raziel Shevach in the West Bank on Jan. 9.
    "Security coordination (with Israel) must end," said Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas official in Gaza.

Poll: 2/3 of Israelis Say Economic Migrants Must Leave Israel - Profs. Ephraim Yaar and Tamar Hermann (Peace Index)
    69% of Jewish Israelis support the government's policy that economic migrants must leave Israel, while 21% disagree, according to the Peace Index survey conducted on Jan. 30-31 and published by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University on Wednesday.
    Asked if negotiations between Israel and the PA will lead to peace in the coming years, 18% of Israeli Jews said yes, while 78% said no.
    Asked about the U.S. position on the conflict, 70% said the U.S. favored Israel, while 4% said the U.S. favored the Palestinians.

Israel Seeks Diplomatic Solution to Mediterranean Gas Dispute with Lebanon - Ellen Francis and Dan Williams (Reuters)
    Israel and Lebanon have an unresolved maritime border dispute over 330 square miles of sea.
    In December, Lebanon approved a bid by a consortium from France, Italy and Russia for gas exploration in an area that juts partly into waters claimed by Israel.
    Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Wednesday, "There is a dispute, which is no secret - it's been going on for years - over the border demarcation between our economic waters and Lebanon's. We hope for, and are prepared to move forward on, a diplomatic resolution to this matter."
    Steinitz said that in 2013, U.S. intermediaries had come close to clinching a deal involving "a kind of compromise."

Video: Hizbullah Threatens Missile Strikes on Israeli Offshore Gas Rigs - Liad Osmo (Ynet News)
    A new Hizbullah video threatens Israel's natural gas drilling rigs with missiles, showing footage of the gas installations followed by missile launches.

Movie: The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg - Jordan Hoffman (Times of Israel)
    This year's Sundance Film Festival saw the premiere of an adaptation of Nicholas Dawidoff's 1994 biography, The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg.
    As the U.S. raced to create the first atomic bomb, there was great worry that the Nazis would beat them to it.
    So they sent a Jewish former professional ball player to ascertain just what was going on with the German bomb, and then, if the situation was truly dire, assassinate its lead scientist.
    When we first meet Moe Berg in 1938, he's a catcher with the Boston Red Sox. The Princeton graduate, who later attended Columbia Law School and the Sorbonne, speaks a slew of languages, reads foreign newspapers, appears on radio quiz shows (and blows everyone away).

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Military Strikes Kill 100 Pro-Regime Forces in Syria - Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne
    The U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria conducted air and artillery strikes against pro-regime forces on Wednesday, killing over 100 fighters. The strikes were carried out after forces allied with Assad "initiated an unprovoked attack" against a Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters in Khusham where U.S. advisers were stationed, a U.S. military official said. "This action was taken in self-defense," he said. (CNN)
  • Israeli Interior Minister: Plan to Deport African Economic Migrants Is Not about Race - Ruth Eglash and Loveday Morris
    Israel is offering 20,000 single men who entered the country illegally from Africa $3,500 and a plane ticket if they leave voluntarily. Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said in an interview: "Over the past four years more than 20,000 Africans have left of their own will. Around 5,000 have gone to the third country in Africa you are speaking about, and a large percentage of them left that third country and returned home to Eritrea. We know this because we have people who are checking up on them."
        "In 2017, we forcibly deported 5,200 Ukrainians and Georgians. We just put them on a plane and sent them back to their own countries. They got no grant and no airline ticket....The claim that we are sending only those with black skin away and that we don't do anything to the Europeans is a lie."
        "Instead of the Africans, I will bring in Palestinians [to work]. I have more of an obligation to help the Palestinians than I do the Africans. The Palestinians are my neighbors."  (Washington Post)
        See also UNHCR in Talks with Israel about African Migrants - Melanie Lidman
    Israel is in negotiations with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to resettle a portion of African economic migrants in third countries deemed by the UN to be "safe," possibly including Western countries, said Sharon Harel, the external relations officer at the UNHCR office in Israel. (Times of Israel)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • U.S. Peace Envoy Blasts Abbas for Denying Jerusalem's Jewish Connection - Dov Lieber
    "Pres. Abbas states about Jerusalem: 'it is Arab, Muslim, and Christian.' And makes no mention of any Jewish ties. Nothing peaceful or productive can come from statements like this," U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt said Thursday in a series of tweets. "Lasting peace will not be achieved by denying Judaism's thousands of years of ties to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is holy to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Peace can ONLY be based on truth."  (Times of Israel)
  • Israel Building Wall on Lebanese Border Aimed at Stopping Hizbullah Infiltration - Yoav Zitun and Liad Osmo
    The IDF Northern Command recently began work on a high concrete wall along the Lebanese border at high-risk spots near Israeli towns and kibbutzim to prevent infiltration by Hizbullah special forces into Israel. The wall is being constructed on Israeli territory exclusively and does not involve Lebanese territory. (Ynet News)
        See also Lebanon Says It Will Prevent Israel from Building Border Wall - Bassam Hatoum (AP-Washington Post)
  • Israel Defense Ministry Proposes to Divert Terrorist Salaries to Terror-Victims Fund - Yossi Yehoshua
    The Defense Ministry is proposing a bill to deduct sums paid to Palestinian terrorists from tax monies collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The money would be set aside in a special fund for remuneration for victims of terror who were awarded damages in court, financing a project that fights terrorism funding, and improving infrastructure such as roads and lighting, thus boosting security.
        PA payments to prisoners and families of terrorists are said to be a direct incentive for terrorists, since the average wage among West Bank Palestinians is NIS 2,000, while a terrorist serving a life sentence can receive NIS 10,950 a month. (Ynet News)
        See also Palestinian Payments to Incarcerated Terrorists and Martyrs' Families Rise in 2017 - Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Hoenlein: Iran and Turkey Are Trying to Carve Up the Region - David Horovitz
    Two empires - the Persian and the Ottoman - are being "resurrected" by Iran and Turkey and are "redrawing the lines of the Middle East," Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said in an interview on Monday. To face up to the threat, Hoenlein urged the U.S. to more visibly support its friends and allies, notably including Egypt's President el-Sissi, and to ratchet up sanctions on Iran.
        Hoenlein assessed that Mahmoud Abbas' "anti-Semitic" speech in Ramallah last month marked a "turning point" in the U.S. attitude toward the PA president. President Trump, said Hoenlein, is furious with Abbas for "walking away" when he was trying to initiate a process, and now regards Abbas as "just not interested in talking, not interested in negotiations" and as having insulted the U.S. (Times of Israel)
  • Hamas Head Ismail Haniyeh Now on U.S. Terrorist List - Yoni Ben Menachem
    On Jan. 31, 2018, the U.S. State Department announced the inclusion of Ismail Haniyeh, director of the political bureau of Hamas, on its terrorist blacklist. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Haniyeh threatens the stability of the Middle East and is destroying the peace process with Israel. Haniyeh supports armed activities, including against civilians.
        Immediately following President Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, Haniyeh called for a Palestinian intifada using every means. He declared his objective was to work with Iran to torpedo Trump's diplomatic plan even before it became public. Hamas sources state that Haniyeh is leading the Palestinian opposition to Trump's deal along with Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
        Haniyeh's name was added to the U.S. list of senior Hamas officials, including Mohammed Deif, chief commander of Hamas' military wing, and political bureau members Yahya Sinwar, Ruhi Mushtaha, Fathi Hamad, and Ahmed al-Ghandour. Similarly, the leader of Islamic Jihad, Dr. Abdullah Ramadan Shalah, and his deputy, Ziad Nahalla, appear on the list.
        The U.S. administration is also sending Mahmoud Abbas a message: take note of what happens to other Palestinian leaders who oppose President Trump's plan. The writer is a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

  • The Israeli intelligence community recently detected the emergence of serious strategic threats to Israel by Iran, Hizbullah, Syria, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. To prevent these threats from materializing, Israel's diplomatic and military system was enlisted for a concentrated diplomatic-PR effort to deter the threatening elements and use international leverages of influence against them (like Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example).
  • There are still no Shiite militia fighters near the Golan Heights border, Hizbullah doesn't have a considerable number of precision-guided missiles yet, and there are no Iranian factories for improving the accuracy level of surface-to-surface missiles in Syria or Lebanon. There are, however, preparations and attempts by the Iranian Quds Force and Hizbullah to build such a factory in Lebanon, after a similar factory was destroyed in a bombing in Syria.
  • The Iranians believe Israel won't dare strike in Lebanon for fear Hizbullah will respond by firing missiles and lead to war. They believe there is mutual deterrence between Israel and Hizbullah, which allows them to fearlessly build the "missile accuracy improvement factories" in Lebanon.
  • Israel's political-security establishment, however, has conveyed to the Iranians and Hizbullah that their assessment is wrong: "We have red lines, and if precision missile factories are built in Lebanon, or if we detect Shiite militias in the Syrian Golan Heights, we'll act to remove the threat without any hesitations, even if this leads to an escalation and war. If there is an escalation, we'll act immediately, with full force."
  • "Unlike you, Israel is already prepared, right now, to defend itself with offensive and defensive means, and your side stands to suffer from the results of that war much more than Israel would suffer. So you better think very carefully if you want Lebanon to return to the Stone Age for the sake of a precision-improvement factory."
  • There are signs that Iran and Hizbullah are taking Israel's messages seriously. Hizbullah has yet to return its fighters from Syria. The Iranians, even the Revolutionary Guards, can't afford a war in Lebanon now in light of the economic situation at home.
  • The Iranians are now focused on expanding their presence and influence in Syria and want to gain from rebuilding that country. A war in Lebanon would thwart that too.

    The writer is a veteran Israeli military correspondent.