May 1, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Iran Denies It Was Targeted in Syria Strikes, Claims No Troops Killed  (Reuters)
    Iran's Tasnim news agency said Monday, "All these reports over an attack on an Iranian military base in Syria and the martyrdom of several Iranian military advisers in Syria are baseless."

Trump's Threat to Ax Iran Deal Is Scaring Off Oil Traders - Anthony Dipaola (Bloomberg)
    Some oil traders are unwilling to sign contracts for Iranian crude and refined products that would be valid after May 12, the deadline for President Trump to decide whether to ditch the nuclear deal.
    U.S. curbs would squeeze Iran's oil exports this year by as much as 500,000 barrels a day, according to consultant FGE and trader Gunvor Group Ltd.
    Iran's current exports are more than twice what they were before energy sanctions were eased in January 2016. China buys a third of Iran's crude exports.

Israel Defense Minister: Russia a "Very Pragmatic" Actor in Syria  (AFP)
    Israel is not concerned by Russia's military presence in neighboring Syria because Moscow is a "pragmatic actor" with whom deals can be struck, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Friday.
    The Russians "are very pragmatic players. At the end of the day, they are reasonable guys, it's possible to close deals with them and we understand what is their interest," said Lieberman, a Russian-speaker who grew up in the Soviet Union.
    "Their interest is very different from our interest but we respect their priorities. We try to avoid direct friction and tensions."
    See also Video - Between Syria and Gaza: Urgent Challenges for Israel's Security - Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

Gaza "Fence Cutter Unit" Vows to Breach Border  (MEMRI-TV)
    Gaza's Al-Aqsa TV broadcast footage of masked Palestinians from the "Fence Cutters' Unit" holding wire cutters.
    Their leader said, "We shall enter our occupied lands and ignite a revolution against the Zionist enemy in order to proclaim, loud and clear, that this enemy is destined for perdition.... Let our blood be shed." 
    See also Video: Palestinians Cutting the Gaza-Israel Border Fence (Palestinian Information Center)

3,500 Palestinians Flee Assad Attack on Syria's Yarmouk Camp  (Al Jazeera)
    3,500 Palestinians have fled the Yarmouk refugee camp since the Syrian government escalated its military operations in southern Damascus on April 19.
    At least 3,729 Palestinians have died in the Syrian conflict, while another 309 are missing and 1,674 are imprisoned, the UK-based Action Group for Palestinians of Syria reported.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Israel Says Secret Files Prove Iran Lied about Nuclear Program - David M. Halbfinger, David E. Sanger and Ronen Bergman
    Revealing a huge archive of stolen Iranian nuclear plans, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel accused Iran on Monday of lying for years about its efforts to build a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu played clips of Iranian leaders repeatedly attesting that their country harbored no ambition for building nuclear weapons - and then pointed to photos, videos, blueprints and other evidence Israeli agents had harvested that showed the Iranians had been deceitful all along.
        A senior Israeli official said that Israel's Mossad intelligence service discovered the warehouse in February 2016, broke into the building in January, and brought the original documents back to Israel. A former senior Israeli intelligence official said the documents revealed that Iran's nuclear program "was a far larger project" than anyone knew, and proved that the Iranians were "on a clear path to the bomb."  (New York Times)
  • U.S. Secretary of State: The Iran Nuclear Deal Was Built on Iran's Lies
    Responding to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's revelation Monday of Iran's atomic archive, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "The documents obtained by Israel from inside of Iran show beyond any doubt that the Iranian regime was not telling the truth....The documents show that Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program for years. Iran sought to develop nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems."
        "They lied to the IAEA repeatedly. They also lied about their program to the six nations who negotiated the Iran nuclear deal. What this means is the deal...was built on Iran's lies. Iran's nuclear deception is inconsistent with Iran's pledge in the nuclear deal 'that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop, or acquire any nuclear weapons.'"  (State Department)
  • White House: Iran Had a Robust, Clandestine Nuclear Weapons Program
    Responding to Israeli revelations on Iran's atomic archive, the White House Press Secretary said Monday: "The United States is aware of the information just released by Israel and continues to examine it carefully. This information provides new and compelling details about Iran's efforts to develop missile-deliverable nuclear weapons."
        "Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people. The Iranian regime has shown it will use destructive weapons against its neighbors and others. Iran must never have nuclear weapons."  (White House)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Presents Conclusive Proof of Iran's Secret Nuclear Weapons Program
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday revealed new and conclusive proof of the secret nuclear weapons program that Iran has been hiding for years. Israel has obtained tens of thousands of files from Iran's secret atomic archives that show that the Iran nuclear deal is based on Iranian lies and deception. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
        See also Video: Netanyahu Unveils Secret Iranian Nuclear Program (Jerusalem Post)
  • Hamas' Warfare Tactics in the "Great Return March" - Lt.-Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi
    The "Great Return March" is the Hamas campaign of violent weekly disturbances at several locations along the border fence between Gaza and Israel that attempt to tear down the fence to enable infiltration into Israel. The violent activities that occurred within the framework of the "Great Return March" include shooting attacks, explosive charges, firebombs, catapults, burning tires, dropping burning objects from the air and sabotaging the border fence. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Israel Reveals Much New information about Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program
    The Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, headed by former International Atomic Energy Agency inspector David Albright, said, "There is much new information about Iran's nuclear weapons program in this massive set of information obtained by Israel....Israel revealed a well-developed plan to keep the option of building nuclear weapons quickly in the future and an on-going effort to develop missing capabilities relevant for any future nuclear weapons project."
        "Unless Iran comes clean and destroys its nuclear weapons capabilities, the nuclear sunsets in the JCPOA look even more deadly to Iran's neighbors and the world more broadly."  (Institute for Science and International Security)
  • Israel Exposes Iran's Nuclear Lies, and the Limits of U.S. Intelligence - Eli Lake
    The trove of data revealed by Israel on Iran's nuclear program is a blow not only to Iran's credibility but also to the reputation of American intelligence gathering. In 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry said that American intelligence agencies had "absolute knowledge" about Iran's past efforts to build a nuclear weapon. The new Israeli intelligence shows there were many details the U.S. didn't know. (Bloomberg)
  • Israel and Its Neighbors Need an Iran Deal Overhaul - Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon
    After the intelligence revealed Monday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one thing is clearer than ever: The Iranian regime has lied repeatedly about its nuclear program and cannot be trusted. The ideal outcome would be a complete overhaul of the JCPOA to close the gaping loopholes that caused Israel to object to the pact from its outset.
        First, international inspectors must be granted full and uninhibited access to all suspicious nuclear sites in Iran. Second, monitoring and increased oversight are needed over the financial windfall awarded to Iran, the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism. Third, Iran must end the development and testing of its advanced ballistic missile program. Finally, the sunset clause must be removed so the international community has time to act if Iran makes the final leap toward becoming a nuclear superpower. (Wall Street Journal)

Bracing for an Israel-Iran Confrontation in Syria - Ehud Yaari (American Interest)
  • Israel and Iran are on course for a collision in the near future. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is determined to transform Syria into a platform for a future war against Israel. The past five years have already seen more than 120 Israeli Air Force strikes against weapons shipments to Hizbullah, Iranian attempts to instigate cross-border incidents along the Golan Heights, and Israeli targeting of arms-production facilities introduced by Iran.
  • Despite harboring deep suspicions about the Sunni rebel groups conducting the uprising against Assad, Israel nevertheless yearned to see Assad's downfall. The removal of the Assad regime would deprive Iran of what Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has called "the golden ring in the chain of resistance" against Israel.
  • The Iranian loss of Syria - following an investment of $20 billion to prop up the regime - could reduce a mighty Hizbullah proxy force to an isolated actor in Lebanon. Iran would thus be blocked from implementing its regional plan, based on surrounding Israel with Iranian allies and forging land corridors from its borders all the way west to the Mediterranean.
  • Since August 2015, Iran has focused on its long-term campaign to deepen its offensive capabilities within Syrian territory. At least five Syrian air bases already accommodate Iranian units, along with their UAVs, missiles, and intelligence facilities. The number of Shi'a and other militiamen at Iran's disposal in Syria is steadily growing, and their training and equipment are improving.
  • Contacts between Israel and Iran through a variety of Track II channels have failed to produce any prospect for near-term tacit understandings. The Iranians refuse to consider any restriction on their activities in Syria or toning down of their calls for the destruction of the "Zionist regime."
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has privately told Western interlocutors that he does not want Syria to become a "Persian colony" and that he has no interest in watching a war erupt between Iran and Israel. However, the Kremlin still requires the Iran-sponsored militias to complete the destruction of the remaining rebel bastions. Therefore, it may take time before Putin is willing to rein in his Iranian allies.
  • Above all, to prevent an all-out Israel-Iran war, which could easily expand to Lebanon and Gaza, the U.S. must lend its support to a sustained Israeli campaign to destroy Iranian facilities in Syria and continuously raise the cost of the IRGC effort, to the point that both Tehran and Damascus will have to reconsider its viability.

    The writer is a Middle East commentator for Israel's Channel Two television and a fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.