March 12, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Pares Back Use of Turkish Base amid Strains with Ankara - Gordon Lubold, Felicia Schwartz and Nancy A. Youssef (Wall Street Journal)
    The U.S. military has sharply reduced combat operations at Turkey's Incirlik air base and is considering permanent cutbacks there, according to U.S. officials, a shift they said was driven by tensions between Washington and Ankara.
    The base was the centerpiece of the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State for several years.
    U.S. military officials said it has become challenging to operate at Incirlik, whose use Ankara has long used as leverage against the U.S.

Iran Accused of Killing Senior Iranian Kurdish Leader (Kurdistan 24)
    Qadir Qadiri, a senior Kurdish Peshmerga commander of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iran (KDP-Iran), was killed in northern Iraq last Tuesday.
    The party said, "he was shot 20 times outside of his car" and was "assassinated" by Iran and its mercenaries.

Shell in Talks to Buy Israeli Gas - Sonia Gorodeisky (Globes)
    Global energy giant Shell is in talks to buy gas from the Israeli Leviathan and Cypriot Aphrodite reservoirs in the Mediterranean in a $25 billion deal over ten years, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.
    Shell, which owns the EDCO natural gas liquefaction plant in Egypt, will then be able to liquefy the gas and sell it all over the world.
    "If a deal is signed, it will...remove any fear of excess supply of gas in the local market," an energy industry source said.

Palestinian Intelligence Chief Undergoes Successful Heart Operation - Adam Rasgon (Jerusalem Post)
    Majid Faraj, head of the Palestinian Authority's General Intelligence Service, recently underwent a successful heart operation in the U.S., a Palestinian official said.
    Faraj also underwent cardiac catheterization at an Israeli hospital six months ago.
    Faraj has been named as a possible successor to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel Distributes Food Aid to Refugees in South Sudan - Itamar Eichner (Ynet News)
    An Israeli Foreign Ministry delegation headed by Ambassador to South Sudan Hanan Godar recently distributed 20 tons of food to refugees affected by the civil war there.
    Goder also announced that Israel will receive 60 students from South Sudan for agricultural training in the coming year, up from 20 students this year.

Palestinian Caught Crossing Gaza Border with Weapons - Judah Ari Gross (Times of Israel)
    The IDF arrested a Palestinian Sunday who crossed the border fence from Gaza into Israel carrying a grenade and a knife.
    An unarmed Palestinian was also apprehended after crossing the Gaza border in a different sector.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Trump Told Netanyahu U.S. Will Pull Out of Iran Deal If Big Changes Not Made
    Senior Israeli officials who were briefed on the Trump-Netanyahu meeting at the White House last Monday say Trump told Netanyahu that France, Germany and the UK have only proposed "cosmetic changes" in the Iran deal that he doesn't find satisfactory. Trump said he demands "significant changes" in the deal itself and not simply the addition of a supplemental agreement between the U.S. and the European countries. Trump stressed that if his demands are not met, the U.S. will withdraw from the deal. (Axios)
  • Palestinian Authority Rejects U.S. Invitation to Humanitarian Summit on Gaza
    The Palestinian Authority (PA) has rejected an invitation by the White House to attend a Gaza "stakeholders" summit next week, senior PA official Ahmad Majdalani told Voice of Palestine radio on Friday. Jason Greenblatt, an assistant to President Donald Trump, said the meeting on March 13 will be a brainstorming session devoted to solving the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. (Al Jazeera)
        See also Hamas, Islamic Jihad Denounce U.S. Meeting on Gaza Crisis - Khaled Abu Toameh (Times of Israel)
  • Assad Forces Seize more than Half of Syrian Rebel Enclave outside Damascus - Raja Abdulrahim
    The Syrian regime has seized more than half of the Eastern Ghouta rebel enclave outside Damascus that has been under a tightening military and economic siege. The latest advances have split the enclave and made its recapture possibly imminent. The three-week military assault on Ghouta, home to nearly 400,000 people, follows years of deprivation of food and medical supplies. The latest offensive has killed more than 800 civilians. Warplanes drop dozens of bombs daily and fire rockets containing chlorine gas or incendiary chemicals, according to local doctors. (Wall Street Journal)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu Warns of Mideast Nuclear Arms Race
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday reported to the Israeli Cabinet on his visit in the U.S. last week: "The diplomatic talks focused mainly on Iran. I said that the nuclear agreement with Iran contains within it many dangers for the world, including the special danger of the nuclearization of the Middle East. Many countries in the Middle East are saying that they are also allowed to enrich uranium if Iran is allowed to do so; therefore, the way to prevent this danger, the nuclearization of the Middle East, is to either thoroughly correct the agreement or abrogate it."
        "Moreover, I remind you that Iran declares, on an almost daily basis - including recently, its intention to wipe out the State of Israel. It is hardly worth saying that we will not allow this."  (Prime Minister's Office)
  • PA: Warm Relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia Are Damaging the Palestinian Authority
    Top Israeli and Saudi Arabian officials reportedly held a series of secret meetings in Cairo last week. A PA official told Qatar's al-Khaleej news site on Friday, "The warm relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia are damaging the Palestinian Authority. It seems that Israel is no longer the greatest enemy in the region anymore."  (Times of Israel)
  • IDF Launches Nationwide Defense Exercise, including Mock Rocket Attack - Judah Ari Gross
    The Israel Defense Forces launched a large-scale emergency preparedness exercise on Sunday, which will include nationwide tests of the incoming rocket alert system. "The exercise presents an additional opportunity to prepare the general public for emergency situations, to test different systems and inter-agency cooperation, and to improve preparedness and the ways of defending the home front in a crisis," the IDF said. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • No More Pay-to-Slay: Pass the Taylor Force Act to Curb Terror - Editorial
    Two years ago, Taylor Force, a 28-year-old American tourist and former U.S. Army captain who had served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was stabbed to death in Tel Aviv by a Palestinian terrorist. The terrorist's family on the West Bank celebrated and pocketed cash from the Palestinian Authority, as do all terrorists' families. "Martyr" payments, which can go as high as $3,500 per month, add up to $400 million a year, more than 20% of the annual foreign aid to the Palestinian government.
        These payments send a clear message that violence against innocent people, targeted because they happen to be Israeli or American, is incentivized. The Taylor Force Act would stop all U.S. aid to the PA until these official rewards for terror cease. The bill has cleared the House. The Senate is next. Pass this law now. (New York Daily News)
  • Israel Says ISIS Has Strengthened in Sinai - Yossi Melman
    60 Israeli Arabs - out of 1.8 million - traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS since its establishment in 2014. In 2017, with the collapse of ISIS, no Israeli Arabs joined the group. According to the Israel Security Agency, out of the 60, 13 were killed in fighting, while two dozen returned to Israel and were arrested, indicted and sentenced to prison terms. The rest, around 20 individuals, are still at large.
        Israel's intelligence agencies report that hundreds of jihad warriors have arrived in Sinai and are contributing their significant military experience to the thousand-strong force of the local branch of ISIS. The new volunteers either land illegally by boat from the Red Sea or enter Egypt legally on regular flights.
        Israeli intelligence believed that in recent years, the Egyptian army, through a systematic and intense campaign, had managed to decrease the scope of ISIS terror attacks. In recent weeks, however, the Israeli intelligence assessment has changed.
        There is growing concern that the human infusion into Sinai will strengthen the terrorists. Where in the past they looked like bandits, operating with no coordination, today they are dressed in military uniforms, carry better weaponry and communication equipment, and operate in larger units. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinian Women's Groups Use EU Funding to Incite against Israel
    European organizations, the UN, and EU fund numerous Palestinian NGOs with the stated goal of improving gender equality and enhancing women's rights. However, many of these groups promote incitement, glorify violence, and advocate for a rejectionist narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
        The Palestinian NGO Code of Conduct Coalition - a network comprising the vast majority of active Palestinian civil society - compel women's groups to follow an extreme agenda that forbids any normalization with Israel. Women's organizations are required to bind themselves to Palestinian national aspirations in order to gain internal acceptance. This linkage relegates gender equality to the background. (NGO Monitor)

  • The Iranians are playing three-dimensional chess. The Iranians cunningly took a step back and allowed the superpowers to destroy their main enemies in the region. The Americans weakened the Taliban and eliminated Saddam Hussein, and, along with Russia, they annihilated the Islamic State.
  • The Iranians also helped Shiite militias exhaust and chase American forces from Iraq. The resulting vacuum in Iraq and Syria was filled by the Iranians and their proxies.
  • Today, Iran is penetrating deeper across the Middle East and is guiding the Shiite majorities in eastern Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. It has also established a foothold among the Houthis rebels in Yemen. Recently, Bahraini forces thwarted a coup attempt orchestrated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
  • At the same time, the Iranians have forged strong alliances with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Together with their complete control over Lebanon, the Iranians have laid siege to virtually the entire Middle East.
  • The nuclear deal grants Iran all the advantages of military nuclear capabilities without the costs. While Iran doesn't have to fear a military strike on its nuclear facilities, sanctions relief and lucrative business deals have provided the immense funds it uses to realize its regional aspirations.
  • The Israeli government has thus far set clear red lines prohibiting the Iranians from building missile bases and ports in Syria and from transferring sophisticated weaponry to Hizbullah. These red lines must be stringently enforced, while international support must also be enlisted.

    The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. who currently serves as deputy public diplomacy minister.