February 13, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Israel Has No Intention of Allowing Iran to Establish Itself in Syria - Ben Caspit (Al-Monitor)
    Israel effectively made quite clear that it would not hesitate to ruin Putin's party in Syria if Israel's own interests are harmed.
    With the devastating blow delivered to Syrian President Assad's air defense system on Feb. 10, Israel showed how serious it really is.
    One senior Israeli military official said, "Assad knows that despite everything, he is still vulnerable and that Israel is not some coalition of amateur rebel gangs."
    "We have no intention of giving in, and we have no intention of allowing Iran to establish itself in Syria or complete its precision rocket and missile project. Period."

Cyprus Says Turkey Blocks Gas Drill Ship - Michele Kambas (Reuters)
    Cyprus on Sunday accused the Turkish military of obstructing the Saipem 12000 drill ship contracted by Italian oil company Eni from approaching an area southeast of Cyprus to explore for natural gas.
    Turkey claims that certain areas in Cyprus' offshore maritime zone fall into the jurisdiction of Turkey or that of Turkish Cypriots.
    Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said Turkey had violated international law by blocking the ship.

Assad Quietly Aids Syrian Kurds Against Turkey - Laila Bassam and Tom Perry (Reuters)
    Syria's U.S.-backed Kurds are getting indirect help from President Assad in their war against Turkey in the northwestern region of Afrin, where they have a mutual interest in blocking Turkish advances.
    Damascus is allowing Kurdish fighters to reach Afrin through territory it holds. The arrival of reinforcements is likely to sustain Kurdish resistance.

U.S. Hunts ISIS Remnants in Libya - Frederic Wehrey (Atlantic)
    As U.S. military forces hunt down the remnants of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, they are also waging a campaign in Libya, conducted primarily from the air and through special-operations personnel to eradicate the remaining 500 fighters who fled the group's stronghold in Sirte which fell in December 2016.

Palestinians Try to Bomb West Bank Military Court for Fifth Time (Jerusalem Post)
    A Palestinian brought a pipe bomb to the Samaria Military Courthouse in the West Bank for the fifth time since October.

Palestinian Teen with Knife Caught Trying to Enter Jewish Town in West Bank (Times of Israel)
    Israeli security forces on Friday arrested a Palestinian teenager armed with a knife at the entrance to the Jewish town of Hashmonaim in the West Bank, police said.
    Earlier Friday, Border Police officers in Hebron arrested a Palestinian man trying to enter the Tomb of the Patriarchs armed with a knife.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Israel Targeted Iranians Manning Drone Control Center in Syria - Ronen Bergman
    On Saturday, soon after Israel shot down an Iranian drone that had entered Israeli airspace, Israeli jets blew up the drone's command and control center at Tiyas air base in Syria, along with the Iranians manning the center.
        The Israeli bombardment had been dangerously close to Russian forces at the air base. While Israel maintains a limited tactical coordination channel with Russia in order to prevent clashes between Israeli and Russian forces in Syria, this hasn't led Russia to understand Israel's strategic needs. A senior Israeli military source told me the Russians "could have prevented the launch of the drone, but they didn't do anything."  (New York Times)
  • UK Foreign Secretary: We Support Israel's Right to Defend Itself
    After the Iranian drone incursion from Syria into Israel on Saturday, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said: "We support Israel's right to defend itself against any incursions into its territory. We are concerned at the Iranian actions, which detract from efforts to get a genuine peace process underway."  (UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Trump: The Palestinians Are Not Looking to Make Peace - President Donald Trump interviewed by Boaz Bismuth
    In an interview published Sunday, President Donald Trump said:
    Q: What did you mean when you said that Jerusalem was off the table?
    Trump: "By taking Jerusalem off the table I wanted to make it clear that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and as for specific boundaries, I would support what both sides agreed to."
    Q: Will Israel have to give something in return for the decision on Jerusalem?
    Trump: "I think both sides will have to make hard compromises to reach a peace agreement."
    Q: When will the U.S. unveil its peace plan?
    Trump: "We are going to see what goes on. Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace, they are not looking to make peace. And I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace. So we are just going to have to see what happens."  (Israel Hayom)
  • Israel: Hamas Funneling Terror Funds through Turkey - Amos Harel
    Kamil Tekeli, a Turkish law professor, and Dergham Jabareen, an Israeli Arab, were arrested by the Israel Security Agency in January over involvement in a Hamas effort to funnel money for terrorism to the West Bank and Gaza via Turkey. Tekeli was deported back to Turkey. Both were recruited by Zahar Jabareen, a Hamas operative who was released in 2011 as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal. Jabareen is one of the heads of Hamas' West Bank Command, whose purpose is to plan and fund acts of terror in the West Bank.
        Tekeli said that Jihad Yaghmour, a Hamas operative who was also released in the Shalit deal, serves as the liaison between the West Bank Command and the Turkish government, which hosts it. A senior defense official told Ha'aretz that the Turkish government has encouraged Hamas' wide-ranging operations in Turkey. (Ha'aretz)
  • Two IDF Soldiers Attacked by Palestinian Mob after Accidentally Entering West Bank City
    Two IDF soldiers, a man and a woman, were attacked by a Palestinian mob who encircled their military vehicle after they accidentally entered the West Bank city of Jenin on Monday. Palestinian police helped rescue them. (Ynet News)
        See also Palestinians Lambast PA for Helping IDF Soldiers Escape Jenin Mob - Khaled Abu Toameh (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Continued Iranian Military Expansion in Syria Will Lead to Wider Conflict - Dennis Ross
    As someone who has long watched the Iranians sponsor proxy terror attacks against the Israelis and against American forces in Iraq, the surprise is not that the Iranians would try to hit Israel but that they would do it directly. That helps to explain the Israeli response which was designed to leave no doubt with the Iranians that they are playing with fire.
        It should also be a wake-up call for the international community and the U.S.  Acquiescing in the continuing expansion of the Iranian military presence and infrastructure in Syria will sooner or later produce a much wider conflict involving the Israelis and Iranians and the Shia militias - several of whose leaders have provocatively visited the Israeli border recently.
        It is the Russians who have abetted the spread of the Iranian military presence in Syria. The Iranians potentially put Russian forces in danger with their attempted attack against Israel. Now is the time for Putin to say that there will be no more Russian air cover for any Shia militia expansion from existing positions.
        The Trump administration has left the Israelis largely on their own. And, on their own, they have little choice but to use force to send blunt messages like they did Saturday. The writer, former special assistant to President Obama, is a Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (New York Daily News)
  • Israel Must Prepare for War on Its Northern Border - Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Eyal Ben-Reuven
    Iran has brought into Syria thousands of Shi'ite militiamen whom they wish to turn into a fighting force against the State of Israel. In addition, they plan to install Iranian air and navy military forces alongside Hizbullah troops. Their plan is to surround the State of Israel with proxy forces, including Hamas in Gaza.
        Israel has made it absolutely clear that it will not allow Iran and its cohorts to control land that touches Israel's border. However, diplomatic efforts with the Russians have not borne any fruit. I personally have met with Russian officials three times over the last 18 months as a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The Russians nod their heads in agreement, saying they understand the problem, but they don't plan on using any significant amount of force to put a stop to this. The writer, former deputy head of the IDF Northern Command, is a member of the opposition Zionist Union party. (Jerusalem Post)

Israel Signaling a Heavy Price for Iranian "Entrenchment" in Syria - David Makovsky (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • By striking Syrian antiaircraft forces and installations where Iranian personnel are located this weekend, Israel seems intent on forcing key players to recognize its deep interest in limiting Tehran's military presence in Syria.
  • Israeli leaders have repeatedly stated that their main concern is avoiding Iranian military "entrenchment" on their doorstep. Prime Minister Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly last September that Israel will not accept Tehran's development of advanced missile production capabilities in Syria and Lebanon, and that it "will act to prevent Iran from establishing permanent military bases in Syria for its air, sea, and ground forces."
  • Israel wants Damascus to realize the price of allowing Iran to house military personnel at Syrian bases. While Assad is deeply indebted to the Iranians for helping to salvage his rule, if Israel continues exacting a serious cost because of Iranian involvement, Assad may feel compelled to request that they dial back their presence.
  • Senior Israeli military officials have sent messages to Assad via third parties indicating that they do not oppose him extending his sovereignty in Syria, but that they will view the situation very differently if he does so with Iran, Hizbullah, and Shia militias in tow.
  • For now, Russia's alliance with Tehran still serves its regional interests, and the Kremlin's objectives are far more aligned with Iran's than with Israel's. Moreover, the Islamic Republic has been a significant purchaser of Russian arms.
  • Israel is determined not to let Iran develop the military capacity to change the equation on its northern borders. Israeli officials will no doubt maintain this posture even if they have to keep acting alone. This means that continued Iranian efforts to establish a military presence in Syria will likely be met with increased Israeli strikes.

    The writer is director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute.