March 15, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Monitoring Possible North Korean Military Base in Syria - Adam Kredo (Washington Free Beacon)
    The U.S. is monitoring information indicating that North Korea may be running a large underground military base in Syria that could be used for advanced weaponry and nuclear-related work, according to U.S. officials.
    "Long tunnels have been built during the last seven years in a deep valley in Qardaha under the supervision of North Korean experts," the Syrian Zaman Al Wasl outlet reported.

Report: Iran Sets Up New Drone Base in Palmyra following Israel Strike (Syrian Observer)
    Iran has moved its drones in Syria from the T-4 military air base to the Palmyra air base after an Israeli airstrike in February, the Syrian Zaman Al Wasl reported.
    Israel's airstrikes on the Iranian drone base on Feb. 10 killed 7 Iranians, including pilots and experts, and wounded 3 Syrian troops.
    75% of the base and its military equipment were destroyed, including four launch bases for Iranian drones.

Iran Cracks Down on Dervish Minority (Human Rights Watch)
    Iranian authorities arrested over 300 members of the minority Dervish Muslim community in late February 2018 after police forcibly tried to break up a protest.
    The ensuing clashes left dozens of people injured and at least three police officers and one Basij member dead.

Israel Is 11th Happiest Nation in the World (Times of Israel)
    Israel remains the 11th happiest country in the world for the fifth year running, according to the UN's annual "World Happiness Report," published Wednesday.
    The report for the first time evaluated 117 countries by the happiness and well-being of their immigrants. It notes that Jews who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union have much better lives than before they immigrated.

USS Iwo Jima Docks at Haifa Port - Ahiya Raved (Ynet News)
    The USS Iwo Jima amphibious assault ship docked Wednesday at Haifa Port after participating in this month's Juniper Cobra joint military exercise.
    The 2,000 sailors and soldiers on board will be granted shore leave and taken for tours throughout Israel.

Birthright Israel Participants Save over 200 Lives - Judy Siegel-Itzkovich (Jerusalem Post)
    More than 53,000 participants in Birthright Israel have given tissue samples for testing to see if they can be bone marrow donors.
    1,543 matches were made and 205 saved others' lives.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran Halts Provocations Against U.S. Ships in Persian Gulf
    Iranian naval forces appear to have deliberately halted their provocations against U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf in recent months, Navy Cmdr. William Urban, spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said Thursday. There have been no "unsafe and unprofessional" actions by Iranian naval forces in the Gulf since August 2017.
        Prior to that, Iranian vessels had periodically made high-speed approaches to U.S. ships that were considered dangerous provocations. "It seems like they've absolutely made a conscious decision to give us more space," he said. "That is definitely a change in their behavior."  (AP-CBS News)
  • World Fails to Cover Costs of U.S. Aid Cuts to Palestinian Refugee Agency - Colum Lynch
    Two months after the U.S. withheld $65 million in funding for UNRWA, the UN agency that serves Palestinian refugees, no other country has stepped forward to increase its 2018 funding pledge. In an effort to address the cutback, ministers from 90 countries will meet in Rome on Thursday to discuss Palestinian aid.
        The decision to cut U.S. funding was taken in retaliation for the Palestinian Authority's promotion of two UN resolutions condemning President Trump's Dec. 6, 2017, announcement that the U.S. would move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The impact of the budget cuts has been partially mitigated by the fact that at least 15 donors, including the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, have agreed to immediately transfer their entire annual contribution for 2018. (Foreign Policy)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Amb. Dermer: U.S. Jerusalem Recognition Is "Shock Therapy" for Palestinians - Herb Keinon
    President Donald Trump's recent moves on Jerusalem constituted "shock therapy" against Palestinian rejectionism, which is the real obstacle to peace, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said in Washington. Dermer was speaking at an event in the Senate on Tuesday where former Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold gave a presentation on "Jerusalem: What's at Stake."
        Dermer said, "The Palestinians try to deny any historical connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem because to admit this connection is to admit that the Jewish people aren't foreign colonialists in the Land of Israel." The minute the Palestinians recognize a Jewish connection to Jerusalem, he said, the whole edifice of Palestinian rejectionism would begin to collapse because it would mean that the Jewish people are in Israel "not merely by might, but by right."
        Dermer said he does not understand why the world tolerates Palestinian denial of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, as it did when it adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2334 in December 2016, stating that the Western Wall is occupied Palestinian territory. "To advance peace, you must confront this Palestinian rejectionism."
        Gold, the head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said U.S. recognition effectively put to rest the idea of internationalization of Jerusalem. It also corrected decades of diplomatic distortions at the UN and fulfilled the Jerusalem Embassy Act from 1995, which was supported across the American political spectrum. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Bombs Explode on Gaza Border, IDF Responds - Yoav Zitun and Elior Levy
    Three or four bombs exploded Thursday at the Gaza border fence while an IDF patrol was in the area, but caused no damage. In response, the IDF fired from the air and from a tank at targets belonging to Hamas. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The Pyongyang-Tehran Axis - Richard Goldberg and Mark Dubowitz
    For more than 30 years, Iran and North Korea have exchanged nuclear expertise, cooperated widely on missile technologies, and run similar playbooks against Western negotiators. There is concern that Tehran is using Pyongyang for work no longer permitted under the 2015 nuclear deal while perfecting North Korean-derived missile delivery systems back home.
        For years Iran watched Pyongyang play successive U.S. administrations to advance its nuclear and missile programs. The Kim regime demonstrated how a relatively weak country could persuade the U.S. to yield on major concessions along a pathway to nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Mr. Goldberg is a senior adviser and Mr. Dubowitz chief executive at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Is Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Moving Too Fast? - David Gardner
    Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has moved fast to start freeing Saudi society from the stifling watch of a reactionary and misogynistic clergy. He has set ambitious goals to transform the kingdom's oil-dependent economy into a hive of private investment-driven innovation.
        No one expects MbS to sprinkle pixie dust on an absolute monarchy that is rooted in a theocratically absolute brand of Islam and magic it into a Jeffersonian democracy. But this young ruler, autocratic even by Saudi standards, has undermined each of the three pillars that hold the kingdom aloft - the ruling House of Saud, the Wahhabi clerical establishment, and the tribes.
        It is an unqualified good that MbS is striving to unpick this fusion of religious and political power. But building up institutions to underpin the new kingdom he aims to create will be vital - not an optional extra. (Financial Times-UK)
  • Israel Isn't at the Center of the Middle East's Problems - Joshua S. Block
    U.S. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told the recent AIPAC Policy Conference, "There are probably 10 major problems facing the Middle East and Israel doesn't have anything to do with any of them." Yet every month the UN Security Council holds "an Israel-bashing session." Haley suggested the UN focus on the real pathologies of the Middle East, such as "Iran or Syria or Hizbullah, Hamas, ISIS, the famine in Yemen."
        If we look objectively at the reality on the ground, the roads that connect many of the Middle East's trouble spots lead to Tehran. Ambassador Haley is right. Peace only has a fighting chance when "all sides will be dealing with realities, not fantasies." The writer is CEO and president of The Israel Project. (Jerusalem Post)

The Palestinian Leadership Does Not Want to Return to Negotiations with Israel - Brig. Gen. (ret.) Michael Herzog (World Affairs Journal)
  • PA Chairman Abbas used President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital as an excuse to "check out" of the U.S.-led peace process. He was afraid of the U.S. peace plan coming his way.
  • The Palestinian leadership does not want to return to negotiations. They feel that the Arabs have lost much of their enthusiasm to actively support the peace process. The Arab reaction to the U.S. decision on Jerusalem was rather moderate and not what the Palestinians expected.
  • When Turkish President Erdogan convened an Islamic summit in Istanbul to protest the U.S. decision, only two Arab leaders showed up, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Abbas. Most Arab leaders are highly critical of Abbas and Palestinian dysfunctionality, and a number have developed close, below the radar relationships with Israel.
  • Yet Abbas is in a position to accuse Arab leaders of betraying support for Jerusalem, a highly sensitive and emotional issue which could damage them on the "Arab street." This weakens the hand of those who were hoping that the Arab states would play an effective role in the peace process.

    The writer, a fellow of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is a former chief of staff to four Israeli ministers of defense.