February 19, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Report: Russian Toll in Syria Battle was 300 Killed and Wounded - Maria Tsvetkova (Reuters)
    About 300 men working for a Russian private military firm were killed or injured in Syria on Feb. 7, according to three sources.
    A Russian military doctor said around 100 had been killed near Deir al-Zor where U.S.-led coalition forces attacked forces aligned with Syrian President Assad.
    The wounded were sent to four Russian military hospitals, according to five sources.
    A source with ties to the Wagner group which employs private ex-military contractors said the U.S.-led forces warned Russian regular forces that they were preparing to strike. He does not know if the warning was passed on to the contractors.

Israel Successfully Tests Arrow 3 Long-Range Missile Interceptor - Anna Ahronheim (Jerusalem Post)
    A flight test of the Arrow-3 weapons system was successfully carried out early Monday, Israel's Defense Ministry said.
    The Arrow-3 is a highly maneuverable system designed to intercept missiles when they are still outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
    Boaz Levy, Executive VP of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Systems, Missiles & Space Group, said the interceptor missile "flew to its orbit deep in space... as if it were heading towards a real target in the sky."
    The interceptor does not carry a warhead but intercepts an incoming missile by crashing into it.
    Moshe Patel, Director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, said the successful test will enable Israel to carry out a series of interception tests on the Alaskan island of Kodiak this year in cooperation with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

Israel's Gun Control Laws - Janet Rosenbaum (New York Post)
    Israel exists under constant threat of attack - and requires citizens to serve in the military - but still has much stricter gun laws than the U.S. and a lower gun-related homicide rate.
    Even those Israelis who pass through extensive hoops to get a firearm permit can only own one gun. And that's a handgun - not a semi-automatic rifle. There are also limits on ammunition.
    Israel limits gun permits to people who meet strict requirements of residency, occupation, or army rank.

Three Charged in U.S. with Exporting Drone Parts to Hizbullah (AP-New York Times)
    A federal grand jury in Minnesota indicted three people on charges that they conspired to export drone parts and technology from the U.S. to the Iranian-backed Hizbullah militia in Lebanon, the U.S. Attorney's office announced Friday.
    Brothers Usama and Issam Hamade are now in custody in South Africa, while Samir "Tony" Berro, remains at large. The brothers were arrested Tuesday in South Africa for extradition to the U.S.
    The conspiracy operated from 2009 through 2013 and the equipment included electronics that can be used in drone guidance systems, one jet engine and 20 piston engines that can be used in drones, and a pair of digital video recording binoculars.
    Most of items were shipped to Lebanon and Hizbullah through the UAE and South Africa.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran, Deeply Embedded in Syria, Expands "Axis of Resistance" - Ben Hubbard
    Tactical advisers from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are deployed at military bases across Syria. Its commanders regularly show up at the front lines to lead battles. Iran has built and continues to back powerful militias with thousands of fighters it has trained in Syria. And it has brought in new technologies, like drones, to spy on enemies and perhaps to attack them. Israeli officials say that any new conflict between Israel and Iran, or any of its allies, could mobilize Iran's expanding network of militant proxies, what Iran refers to as "the axis of resistance."
        As the Syrian rebels have lost ground, Iran and its allies have stayed, shifting their focus to creating an infrastructure to threaten Israel, analysts say. Many Israelis say the danger is not just from the new Iranian-backed militias, but also from the Iranian efforts to give advanced, high-precision weapons capable of hitting sensitive infrastructure to Hizbullah, Iran's most powerful and experienced external force. (New York Times)
  • U.S. Wants Europeans to Commit to Improve Iran Deal - Arshad Mohammed, John Irish, and Robin Emmott
    The U.S. has sketched out a path under which three key European allies would commit to try to improve the Iran nuclear deal in return for President Trump keeping the pact alive by renewing U.S. sanctions relief in May. The approach, outlined in a State Department cable this week, said, "We are asking for your commitment that we should work together to seek a supplemental or follow-on agreement that addresses Iran's development or testing long-range missiles, ensures strong IAEA inspections, and fixes the flaws of the 'sunset clause.'"
        Trump sees three defects in the deal: its failure to address Iran's ballistic missile program; the terms under which international inspectors can visit suspect Iranian nuclear sites; and "sunset" clauses under which limits on the Iranian nuclear program start to expire after 10 years.
        A senior State Department official said in an interview last week, "We want a commitment from them [the Europeans] that these are the deficiencies that need to be addressed...and an agreement that we will seek an agreement."  (Reuters)
  • McMaster to NATO Allies: Stop Funding Iran's Proxy Militias - Jill Aitoro
    U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster made an appeal to NATO members and allies at the Munich Security Conference to look hard at who they're doing business with overseas and cut off funding that indirectly funds Hizbullah and other proxy militias that bolster Iranian influence.
        "When you invest in Iran, you're investing in the IRGC. You might as well cut the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a check and say, 'please use this to commit more murder across the Middle East,'" McMaster said. "And when we look at the biggest trading partners with Iran, we of course see Russia, we see China. But we also see Japan, South Korea and Germany."  (Defense News)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Four Israeli Soldiers Injured in Gaza Border Blast - Yaniv Kubovich
    Four Israeli soldiers were wounded, two seriously, when a device exploded at the border fence with Gaza on Saturday. The IDF struck six Hamas targets in Gaza in response. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Rocket Fired from Gaza Hits House in Israel
    A rocket fired by Palestinians in Gaza hit the roof of a house in an Israeli border community on Saturday night, causing significant damage. (Times of Israel)
  • Gaza Fence Protests as an Infrastructure for Terror Attacks - Ron Ben-Yishai
    IDF strikes in Gaza on Saturday night, in response to the attack near the border fence which wounded four Israeli soldiers, hit "high-quality targets" serving Hamas military forces including an attack tunnel. The Popular Resistance Committees, which planted the explosive device, used civilian protests at the fence, which have been occurring every Friday, to mask the placing of the device.
        The protesters left a Palestinian flag on a pole at the fence. The pole was filled with explosives that wounded members of the bomb disposal unit and others. In the new reality, every object placed along the fence has the potential of being an explosive device. (Ynet News)
        See also The Gaza Escalation: A Message from Iran - Yoni Ben Menachem
    Of course, Hamas is behind the ambush at the Gaza border fence. No other organization in Gaza can initiate such an attack without a green light from Hamas. We know that Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is in direct contact with the military leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He is trying to escalate the situation in order to send a message to Israel not to carry out further attacks in Syria. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Israel Thwarts Islamic Jihad Plot to Assassinate Defense Minister Lieberman - Anna Ahronheim
    The Israel Security Agency announced Sunday it had thwarted an Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorist cell that was planning to place a bomb on a West Bank road on which Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's convoy was scheduled to travel. Cell members had tried to purchase explosives and had contacted a terrorist organization in Gaza to receive funding for the attack.
        One cell member said he wanted to carry out the attack in order to be arrested so his family would receive a prisoner's pension. "These terrorist intentions reflect the increasing efforts of the PIJ and other terrorist organizations in Gaza to escalate activity with activists in the West Bank," the ISA said. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The UN's Uncomfortable Truths about Iran - Amb. Nikki Haley
    Last week, the UN published a report by a panel of experts who found that Iran is violating a UN weapons embargo - that missiles fired by Yemen's Houthi rebels into Saudi Arabia last year were made in Iran. It proves, once again, that the Iranian regime can't be trusted. By confirming that Iran is the source of the missiles fired into Saudi Arabia, the UN panel has given the world a chance to act before a missile hits a school or a hospital and leads to a dangerous military escalation.
        The new UN report makes it clear that the Iranian weapons were transferred to Yemen after the arms embargo was imposed, putting Iran in undisputed violation of the UN resolution. The world can no longer claim ignorance or skepticism of Iran's role in fomenting instability in the Middle East. Today, armed with this evidence, we have the chance to rein in Iran's behavior and demand that it live up to its international agreements. The writer is the U.S. ambassador to the UN. (New York Times)
  • UAE Leaders Tell Jewish Leaders of Concerns about Turkey, Iran Expansionism - Herb Keinon
    During talks last week with an American Jewish delegation, UAE leaders in Abu Dhabi and Dubai put almost equal emphasis on the negative regional behavior of Turkey as they did on Iran, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Sunday. He said the leaders expressed concern about the hegemonic desire of Iran and Turkey to recapture the Ottoman and Persian empires.
        According to Stephen Greenberg, the chairman of the Presidents' Conference, and Hoenlein, the UAE leaders also talked about tolerance and described efforts to combat radical Islamic extremism by sending moderate messages to mosques. (Jerusalem Post)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Munich Security Conference on Sunday:
  • "Iran is not Nazi Germany. There are many differences between the two....One advocated a master race, the other advocates a master faith....But there are also some striking similarities. Iran openly declares its intention to annihilate Israel with its six million Jews....Iran seeks to dominate our region, the Middle East, and seeks to dominate the world through aggression and terror. It's developing ballistic missiles to reach deep into Europe and to the United States as well."
  • "Henry Kissinger said that Iran must choose between being a country or a cause. Well, the regime in Iran has chosen to be a cause. The commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Ali Jafari, said, 'we're on the path to the rule of Islam worldwide.'...Once armed with nuclear weapons, Iran's aggression will be unchecked and it will encompass the entire world. Look at what they are doing now, before they have nuclear weapons. Imagine what they will do later if, G-d forbid, they'll have them."
  • "Just as was true 80 years ago [in the 1938 Munich Agreement with Hitler], an agreement that was seen as appeasement has only emboldened the regime and brought war closer. The nuclear agreement with Iran has begun the countdown to an Iranian nuclear arsenal in little more than a decade. And the sanction relief that the deal provided has not moderated Iran. It's not made them more moderate internally and it's not made them more moderate externally. In fact, it's unleashed a dangerous Iranian tiger in our region and beyond."
  • "[Last week Iran] sent a drone into Israeli territory, violating Israel's sovereignty, threatening our security. We destroyed that drone and the control center that operated it from Syria, and when our planes were fired upon, Israel destroyed Syrian anti-aircraft batteries. Israel will not allow Iran's regime to put a noose of terror around our neck. We will act without hesitation to defend ourselves. And we will act, if necessary, not just against Iran's proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself."
  • "Iran...denies that it committed an act of aggression against Israel last week, that it sent a drone into our airspace to threaten our people. Well, here's a piece of that Iranian drone, or what's left of it after we shot it down. I brought it here so you can see for yourself. [Iranian Foreign Minister] Zarif, do you recognize this? You should. It's yours. You can take back with you a message to the tyrants of Tehran: Do not test Israel's resolve."