April 25, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Recent Iranian Shipments to Syria Concern U.S. Intelligence - Barbara Starr (CNN)
    U.S. intelligence is monitoring a series of cargo flights from Iran into Syria that the U.S. suspects may be carrying weapons systems for potential use by the Assad regime or Iranian forces.
    An administration official confirmed that both the U.S. and Israel are concerned the cargo could include weapons that could be used to threaten Israel.
    While weapons shipments into Syria are not uncommon, these flights involving Iran have caught the attention of U.S. intelligence because they occurred in the days after the April 13 U.S. airstrikes on Assad regime targets.

Iran Is Messing Up Its Own Economy (Economist-UK)
    The Iranian rial has lost a third of its value on the black market since September. On April 9 it sank to a record low of 61,000 to the dollar.
    The next day the government imposed a rate of 42,000 and vowed to arrest anyone who bought or sold rials for what they are actually worth.
    A lack of confidence in the rial reflects a lack of confidence in the economy.
    From the outside Iran looks ascendant, using proxies to expand its reach across the Middle East. In Syria it is establishing a permanent military presence.
    At home, however, the regime looks increasingly brittle. Unmet expectations may pose a bigger threat to the regime than sanctions ever did.

Some of Israel's Minorities Are Grateful to Be Israeli Citizens - Ariel Ben Solomon (JNS)
    With the rise of Islamists and the persecution of minorities in the Middle East, especially Christians, gaining steam in recent years, some of Israel's minorities say they are thankful they are Israeli citizens and not living elsewhere in the region.
    Atta Yemini Farhat, chairman of the Druze Zionist Council for Israel, says, "We lived here under the occupation of the Arabs before 1948, and we are blessed and love Israeli independence.... The Druze don't want to rule the country and feel themselves to be an integral part of the state."
    Shadi Halul, an Israeli Aramean Christian and a captain (res.) in the IDF, heads the Christian IDF Officers Forum, which helps recruit and support Christians serving in the IDF.
    "Israel independence is also my independence; I feel part of the country," he said.
    "Thank God that... the Jews returned to their homeland and created freedom for the Jews and the Christians in Israel...since the Arabs even today do not recognize our Christian existence."

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Trump: Iran Can't Be Allowed to Develop Nuclear Weapons; We Want to Leave a "Strong and Lasting Footprint" in Syria
    At a joint press conference in Washington with President Emmanuel Macron of France, President Donald Trump said Tuesday: "France and the United States also agree that Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, and that regime must end its support for terrorism all over. No matter where you go in the Middle East, you see the fingerprints of Iran behind problems."
        "As far as Syria is concerned...Emmanuel and myself have discussed the fact that we don't want to give Iran open season to the Mediterranean....I do want to come home. But I want to come home also with having accomplished what we have to accomplish....We want to leave a strong and lasting footprint."  (White House)
  • U.S. "Will Not Leave a Vacuum" in Syria
    Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan told the G-7 Summit in Toronto on Monday: "The United States calls on all of our partners to continue working alongside us as we counter Iran's destabilizing activities in the region and hold the Iranian Government accountable for their actions: supporting terrorist organizations, launching cyber attacks, threatening international shipping interests, and committing unconscionable human rights abuses."
        "The U.S. will remain committed in Syria until ISIS is defeated and the so-called caliphate completely eliminated. We will work to ensure global forces enabled by our regional partners and allies will consolidate these gains, stabilize liberated territories, and prevent the return of ISIS. We will not leave a vacuum that can be exploited by the Assad regime and its supporters."  (State Department)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • U.S. Mideast Envoy: "You Can't Make Peace in an Environment Where Violence Is Celebrated" - Daniel J. Roth
    Jason Greenblatt, President Trump's Special Representative for International Negotiations, said Tuesday in New York: "Past failures do not absolve us of the responsibility to try" to facilitate an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, adding that it will be "up to the parties themselves" to negotiate and conclude an accord.
        Greenblatt touched on the threat Iran poses to the region, saying that "America looks forward to the day when we can restore our historical friendship with the Iranian people. They don't want a government that squanders its resources on regional adventures."
        He also criticized the Palestinian Authority's continued support of terrorism. "You can't make peace in an environment where violence is practiced and celebrated." He pointed out that the Taylor Force Act "dramatically reduces U.S. funds to the Palestinian Authority until they stop the abhorrent practice of paying stipends to terrorists and their families."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Internal Hamas Rift Blocks Deal to End Gaza Border Marches - Daniel Siryoti
    A rift has erupted between Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar and Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh, senior Hamas sources said. Haniyeh has rejected Egyptian proposals for a possible prisoner swap deal with Israel and an easing of the blockade on Gaza in exchange for a cessation of the border demonstrations. A senior Egyptian intelligence official said Sinwar was furious with Haniyeh and accused him of coordinating Hamas policy with Tehran rather than with the group's own leadership. (Israel Hayom)
        See also Understanding the Hamas Rift - Daniel Siryoti (Israel Hayom)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Iranian Moves in Syria Threaten Israel - Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser
    The Iranians are trying to turn Syria into a base from which they can threaten Israel in a much easier way than they can from far away in Iran. They are trying to introduce elements to make it possible to threaten Israel in three ways: The first is by improving the capabilities of Hizbullah. The main focus in this respect is to try to enable Hizbullah to have weapons that are more precisely guided. Israel is trying to prevent that from happening.
        Second, they were trying to build, until recently, a base for carrying out terror attacks against Israel from the areas adjacent to the border in the Golan Heights. Third, the Iranians are trying to build a base inside Syria itself from which they can attack Israel using their various military capabilities, and use Syria as a place for the production of weapons that they cannot produce in Iran. All of these are direct threats for Israel. From an interview with i24news on April 23, 2018. The writer was head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • The West Bank Is "Disputed," Not "Occupied" - Editorial
    Anyone with a modicum of intellectual honesty and a basic ability to reason can recognize the weakness of the claim that the West Bank is "occupied" by Israel. The term "occupied" implies that Israel took, even stole, this land from another people. That is not the case. After Britain ended its mandate over Palestine, Jordan conquered the West Bank in 1948 and unilaterally annexed it in 1950. Today the West Bank remains a "disputed" territory with Palestinians and Israelis claiming that some, or all, of the land is rightfully theirs.
        For the first time since 1979, a State Department report on human rights has dropped the term "occupied" in reference to the West Bank. Palestinian and Arab intransigence, not Israeli "occupation," have prevented a pragmatic resolution of the conflict. The likely alternative to an Israeli military and administrative presence in the West Bank would be anarchy and the renewal of Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks directed at Israelis. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Prime Minister Rabin Drew the Contours of Area C in the West Bank - Maj.-Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen
    In May 1994, Israel's rule over the Palestinian population of Gaza came to an end with the establishment of the Palestinian Authority; and in January 1996, the Israeli civil administration's rule over the Palestinian population of Areas A and B of the West Bank came to an end. Since that time, over 90% of the Palestinians in the territories have been living under the PA.
        During the Oslo process under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, he drew the contours of Area C, paying close personal attention to every road and hill, reflecting the map of Israel's spatial interests in the West Bank. The writer served in the IDF for 42 years, commanding troops in battle on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts. (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)

U.S. Embassy Move in Israel Emblematic of Broader Policy Shift - Josh Lederman and Matthew Lee (AP-Washington Post)
  • When the Stars and Stripes is hoisted over the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem next month it will be a physical milestone in a broader, striking shift by the Trump administration away from a half-century of traditional U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians.
  • For decades, Washington has tried to position itself as a neutral party in the conflict. Yet the May 14 move of the embassy from Tel Aviv will be just the latest in a series of steps the administration has taken that have delighted Israelis and angered Palestinians.
  • President Donald Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital over Palestinian objections and slashed American aid to the Palestinians. Just last week, the administration signaled it may be moving away from describing the West Bank as "occupied," and has steadfastly avoided any public comments critical of Israel related to the mass protests along the Israel-Gaza border.
  • Taken together, the moves indicate that Trump intends to make good on his pro-Israel campaign promises. Whereas previous administrations have gone out of their way to appear evenhanded, Trump has made no secret of his affinity for Israeli positions.
  • The White House pushes back on criticism that the administration has been unfair to the Palestinians. A senior official pointed to Trump himself having made an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal a priority and assigned some of his most trusted advisers to the task. The official also noted that the White House last month convened an international conference to discuss humanitarian assistance in Gaza.