March 19, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Israel Foils Hamas Attempt to Build Base in South Lebanon for Attacks - Yossi Melman (Jerusalem Post)
    On Jan. 14, 2018, senior Hamas operative Mohamed Hamdan's car blew up in Sidon, Lebanon. Hamdan survived but lost a leg.
    Reliable Western intelligence sources told me that Hamdan was responsible for the Hamas plan to build a "post" in South Lebanon and he was targeted in order to foil his efforts.
    The plan can be called "Hamas' northern front" - to establish in South Lebanon a secret infrastructure and launching pad for attacks against Israel.
    Hamdan planned to assemble a substantial number of rockets to be fired at Israel sometime in the future.
    Western intelligence sources assume that despite the fact that Hamdan was not killed, "the message was understood" and the Hamas plan has been foiled.

Report: Russia's Chemical Weapons Commander Was Targeted by Israel's Mossad - Ronen Bergman (Ynet News)
    Gen. Anatoly Kuntsevich, considered the head of the Soviet Union project to develop nerve agents in the 1970s and 1980s, was for many years in the sights of an Israeli intelligence analyst.
    In the 1990s, Kuntsevich received huge sums of money in exchange for divulging his knowledge of nerve agents to Syria, and for providing equipment for developing deadly chemical weapons.
    Israel told senior officials in the Kremlin that chemical weapons were being sold by Kuntsevich to the Syrians, but this effort failed to yield results.
    On April 29, 2002, in circumstances that remain unknown, Kuntsevich died during a flight from Aleppo to Moscow.
    A top secret CIA document from the same period says that Syria managed, by the time of his death, to produce a large stockpile of particularly lethal chemical weapons.

Two French Consulate Employees Arrested for Smuggling Hamas Weapons from Gaza to West Bank - Yoav Zitun and Itamar Eichner (Ynet News)
    Romain Franck, a French national who was the driver at France's consulate in east Jerusalem, and a Palestinian guard employed there, were arrested by Israeli authorities last month for using a vehicle with diplomatic plates to smuggle 70 handguns and two assault rifles from Hamas in Gaza to the West Bank, the Israel Security Agency said Monday.
    The investigation clearly showed that Franck had a financial motive and was acting of his own volition and unbeknownst to his superiors.

Russia Deploys Two Frigates to Eastern Mediterranean - Tim Ripley (IHS Jane's Defence Weekly)
    Two major Russian naval vessels - the frigate Admiral Essen and the anti-submarine frigate Pytivyy - were photographed passing southwards through the Bosphorus by independent ship observers on 12-13 March.
    The ships will join the Russian naval contingent off the coast of Syria.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Syrian Kurdish Enclave of Afrin Falls to the Turks - Carlotta Gall and Anne Barnard
    Turkish-backed Syrian rebels fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army seized control on Sunday of Afrin, a mainly Kurdish city near the Turkish border and the target of a two-month military operation against Kurdish militias in the enclave in Syria. The Syrian rebel forces, which have served as advance troops for the Turkish operation, entered the city without a fight after the Kurdish YPG withdrew to the surrounding hills. (New York Times)
  • European Powers Propose New Iran Sanctions to Meet Trump Ultimatum - Robin Emmott and John Irish
    Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles and its role in Syria's war, according to a confidential document sent to EU capitals on Friday. The proposal is part of an EU strategy to save the 2015 nuclear deal.
        President Trump delivered an ultimatum to the European signatories on Jan. 12. It said they must agree to "fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal" or he would refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran on May 12.
        A diplomat said the proposal also reflects frustration with Tehran: "We're getting irritated. We've been talking to them for 18 months and have had no progress on these issues."  (Reuters)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Palestinian Kills Two Israeli Soldiers in West Bank Car-Ramming Attack - Judah Ari Gross
    A Palestinian driver, Ala Qabha, 26, from Barta'a, hit four Israeli soldiers with his car on Friday next to an army observation post, killing Capt. Ziv Daos, 21, and Sgt. Netanel Kahalani, 20, and seriously injuring the others outside Mevo Dotan in the West Bank. Qabha recently completed a 17-month sentence for security-related activities. He admitted that he had intended to kill soldiers. (Times of Israel)
  • Palestinian Stabs Israeli to Death in Jerusalem's Old City - Yaniv Kubovich
    Adiel Coleman, a married father of four, was stabbed to death Sunday on Haggay St., near the entrance to the Temple Mount, by Abed al-Rahman Bani Fadel, 28, from the West Bank village of Aqraba. According to eyewitnesses, Coleman tried to fend off the assailant until police forces arrived at the scene and shot and killed Bani Fadel. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israel Destroys Two More Gaza Tunnels - Yaniv Kubovich and Noa Landau
    The IDF destroyed two tunnels in Gaza overnight Sunday. One tunnel near Rafiah was sealed using a method that does not allow for any future rehabilitation.
        Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday: "Israel systematically destroys one Hamas tunnel after the other, thanks to quality intelligence and ground-breaking technology....By the year's end their tunnel project will be destroyed."  (Ha'aretz)
        See also Video: Hamas TV Glorifies Tunnel Diggers - Elior Levy (Ynet News)
  • Israel Arrests Palestinian for Murder of Rabbi - Yaniv Kubovich and Yotam Berger
    Israeli security forces arrested Abed al-Hakim Asi, 19, in Nablus on Sunday, who had stabbed Rabbi Itamar Ben Gal to death on Feb. 5 at a bus stop near Ariel. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Arab Leaders Pressure Mahmoud Abbas - Yoni Ben Menachem
    Several Arab countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have begun to come to terms with the fact that they can't change the U.S. president, and that they need to be more pragmatic and try to work with him on his new plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are closer to the American position than that of the Palestinians, and they are pressing the PA chairman to show political pragmatism. The east Jerusalem newspaper al-Quds reported on March 17, 2018, that both Arab countries were putting pressure on Mahmoud Abbas and on King Abdullah of Jordan to stop opposing the "deal of the century."
        Even the European countries, which usually support the Palestinian position, don't want to clash with the Trump administration with regard to the Palestinian issue. They are expecting Abbas to be prepared to listen to the details of the deal and not reject it out of hand.
        Apparently, what interests Abbas right now is preparing for his retirement from politics, while leaving behind a legacy of strict adherence to Palestinian "red lines." For this reason, according to senior Fatah sources, the current dispute with the Trump administration serves his desire to step down dramatically from the political stage as the leader who never gave in to American and Israeli pressure. From his point of view, rejecting the American plan outright and withstanding the pressures upon him are his greatest achievements as Palestinian leader. The writer is a veteran Arab affairs commentator for Israel Radio and Television. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
        See also Report: Palestinians Believe U.S. Delaying Peace Plan for a Post-Abbas Era - Khaled Abu Toameh
    The U.S. administration is delaying the announcement of its Middle East peace plan because it believes the proposal would have a greater chance of success after a new leader replaces PA President Mahmoud Abbas, a senior Palestinian official was quoted as saying Saturday by London-based Al-Hayat.
        PA officials claim that the U.S. is currently working on two tracks: First, to secure a political solution for Gaza and parts of the West Bank, without Jerusalem; second, to create a new Palestinian leadership that would accept the solution. (Times of Israel)
  • The Problem Is Hizbullah - Ziva Dahl
    The U.S.' Lebanese strategy of providing training and advanced military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is based on the fallacy that it will promote stability and prevent Hizbullah from taking over the country. Lebanon already is Hizbullah country and a wholly-owned Iranian subsidiary. Paradoxically, America is essentially arming Hizbullah, an Iranian proxy and U.S.-declared terrorist group. Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah describes the LAF as a "partner" and "pillar" to Hizbullah. The writer is a senior fellow at the Haym Salomon Center. (Washington Times)

Should U.S. Aid to the Palestinians Be Suspended? - Dr. George N. Tzogopoulos (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
  • Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs:
    Cutting American aid to the Palestinian Authority as a result of its insistence on paying salaries to terrorists and refusal to engage in the peace process means that Palestinian deterrence has weakened dramatically. The U.S. realizes that the legendary Arab Street is not really a threat and that the pragmatic Arab states consider other issues more pressing.
        The Israelis are losing hope that there will ever be a Palestinian partner for real peace, the Arabs are giving the Palestinians the cold shoulder, and the U.S. is recognizing the reality about the conflict (Jerusalem, refugees, the Palestinian position as the main obstacle to peace) and is forming a peace plan they are likely to oppose.
  • Peter Brookes, Senior Fellow, Heritage Foundation:
    The U.S. should reconsider the need for UNRWA at all, especially since every other refugee population in the world is handled by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. U.S. aid is not an entitlement. President Trump is right to expect that U.S. support will result in a Palestinian willingness to negotiate with Israel on finding a comprehensive peace. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened - and Palestinian intransigence should not be rewarded. The U.S. should suspend aid to UNRWA and the PA until the Palestinians engage in meaningful talks with the Israelis on peace.
  • Prof. Hillel Frisch, Bar-Ilan University:
    The recent U.S. decision to cut aid to UNRWA is a move in the right direction and Israel should welcome it. UNRWA privileges Palestinian refugees over all others in flagrant contempt of the principle of equality, especially as most of them are descendants of refugees and not refugees themselves.
  • Dr. Asaf Romirowsky, Middle East Forum:
    The existence of UNRWA allows the Palestinian Authority to continue dodging core responsibilities towards its citizens. With the withholding of UNRWA funds, the Trump administration has the opportunity to disrupt dysfunctional patterns that are long entrenched and fantastically expensive. It also has the chance to confront the PA with a choice: if it wishes to be regarded as a state, it must assume its responsibilities and act like a state.
        U.S. support for UNRWA has kept Palestinians in stasis, promoted Palestinian rejectionism, and failed to advance either peace or U.S. policy.
  • Dr. Alex Joffe, Middle East Forum:
    The process of giving aid to the Palestinians is ritualized and sacrosanct; it must be done reliably and in increasing amounts. Any cuts automatically result in the putative death of children and the inevitable radicalization of adults. The element of blackmail is inescapable. Palestinian culture has long internalized the belief that their political circumstances are the absolute responsibility of the international community.
        U.S. aid reduction must be accompanied by a well-articulated message directly to the Palestinian public: welfare is not forever, self-reliance is critical, and the path for the future goes through negotiations with Israel.