May 22, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Has the Assad Regime "Won" Syria's Civil War? - Michael Eisenstadt (American Interest)
    Syria's bloody civil war may be far from over and its military gains may be more tenuous than they appear.
    Pro-regime forces now control more than 50% of Syria's territory and between 1/2 and 2/3 of its population. Yet the regime's hold on many areas remains uncertain due to a lack of loyal and competent troops.
    The Syrian Army has perhaps 10,000-20,000 troops available for offensive operations. The rest of the Syrian Army - perhaps 100,000-150,000 men under arms - include poorly trained conscripts and volunteers of all ages, as well as militia auxiliaries responsible for local security.
    Much of the regime's offensive combat power is provided by Hizbullah (6,000-8,000), Iran (2,000), Shia fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (10,000-20,000), and a Russian ground and air contingent.
    Many areas are currently controlled by foreign pro-regime forces, as well as "reconciled" rebel groups and tribes whose loyalty to the regime is conditional.
    Moreover, overstretched pro-regime forces reliant on exposed lines of communication that run through majority-Sunni regions are vulnerable to guerilla attacks.
    The writer is director of the Military and Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Citing Israeli Intelligence, Panama Says 1994 Plane Crash Was Terror Attack - Elida Moreno (Reuters)
    Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela said on Monday a 1994 plane explosion that killed 21 people, most of them Jewish, was the result of a terrorist attack and called for the case to be re-opened.
    Varela said Israel provided reports late last year about the plane crash.
    The 1994 crash, whose victims included prominent Jewish Panamanian businessmen, came soon after a bomb at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires killed 85 people.

Why Has South Africa Fallen for Hamas' Deception? - Dan Diker (Huffington Post-South Africa)
    South Africa's withdrawal of its ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, hands a momentary victory to Hamas in its war of deception and terror.
    Hamas rules Gaza with an iron fist without regard for human or civil rights - including the persecution, torture and killing of Palestinian Christians.
    South Africa must understand that its diplomatic break from Israel weakens the cause of peace, justice and self-determination for Palestinians and Israelis.
    The writer is project director of the Program on Political Warfare at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Israel's Spacecom Gets $55 Million Deal for African Communications Services (Reuters)
    Israel's Space Communications said Monday it signed a $55 million deal for communications services to Africa from its Amos-17 satellite, slated to be launched in 2019.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Lays Out Demands for New Iran Deal - Michael R. Gordon
    The Trump administration put Iran on notice that any new deal would require it to stop enriching all uranium and halt its support for militant groups in the region, sweeping demands that Tehran swiftly rejected. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday spelled out 12 requirements for a new agreement with Tehran that would require a wholesale change in Iran's military posture in the Middle East.
        Pompeo said Iran must withdraw all of its forces from Syria, end its support for Hizbullah, stop sending arms to the Houthi militia in Yemen, release all U.S. and allied citizens it has detained, and cease its threats to destroy Israel. Barring a reversal of its aggressive stance, Pompeo said, Iran would be saddled with "the strongest sanctions in history."  (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Text: A New Iran Strategy - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (U.S. State Department)
  • Putting a New Squeeze on Iran - Editorial
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday laid out a new strategy to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions and regional imperialism. The U.S. plans to impose severe financial and economic pressure while offering Iran better diplomatic and commercial relations if it changes its threatening course.
        In 2015, the U.S. made a $100 billion bet that the JCPOA would end Iran's nuclear program while transforming the Islamic Republic into a responsible member of the world community. While delaying its nuclear dream a few years, Iran has spent the windfall from sanctions relief financing proxy wars through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hizbullah, Hamas and the Houthis in Yemen. Iran has helped turn Syria into "71,000 square miles of kill zone," Pompeo said, and the refugees it has caused to leave Syria "include foreign fighters who have crossed into Europe and threatened terrorist attacks in those countries."  (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Iran Deal Restored Funding for Hizbullah - Dennis Ross
    Iran's material support for Hizbullah has varied - when it was under heavy UN sanctions, it dropped to about $200 million a year and after the JCPOA it has risen back to roughly $800 million. (New York Daily News)
  • UN Chief Urges Lebanon's Hizbullah to Halt Military Action
    In a report to the Security Council, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly criticized Hizbullah and urged the militia to halt military activities inside and outside the country, including in Syria. Guterres also called on Lebanon's government and armed forces "to take all measures necessary to prohibit Hizbullah and other armed groups from acquiring weapons and building paramilitary capacity" outside the authority of the state. He said Hizbullah's military activity violates a 2004 Security Council resolution ordering all Lebanese militias to disarm. (AP-New York Times)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Paraguay President Inaugurates Israel Embassy in Jerusalem - Herb Keinon
    Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes opened his country's embassy in Jerusalem on Monday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the event "a great day for Israel, a great day for Paraguay." Netanyahu recalled that Paraguay helped Jews escape Nazi Germany both before and during the Holocaust. Paraguay also supported the establishment of Israel during the partition vote in the UN in 1947. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israel Used New F-35 Stealth Fighters in Syria Attack - Yaniv Kubovich
    Israel used its new F-35 stealth fighters in Syria earlier this month, Israel Air Force commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin said on Tuesday. Norkin said Iran fired 32 rockets at Israel. In addition, more than 100 surface-to-air missiles were fired at Israeli jets over Syria. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Deal or No Deal, The IAEA Must Monitor Iran's Nuclear Program - Olli Heinonen and Brig.-Gen. (res.) Prof. Jacob Nagel
    While the IAEA has long been in possession of evidence that Iran once pursued a nuclear weapons capability, the cache of documents removed from a Tehran warehouse by Israel's Mossad reportedly proves that the scope of Iran's weaponization program was likely far greater than previously suspected. The fact that the regime in Tehran maintained this archive also indicates that Iran sought to preserve its ability to weaponize in the future.
        Pursuant to its mandate, it is now the IAEA's obligation to investigate fully the personnel, sites, equipment, and activities described by the archival materials, even if this requires inspections at military sites. For its part, Iran must comply fully with the Agency's investigation, lest it breach the NPT safeguards obligations.
        Dr. Olli Heinonen is former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and head of its Department of Safeguards. Brig.-Gen. (res.) Prof. Jacob Nagel is a former Israeli acting national security advisor. (Foundation for Defense of Democracies)
  • Iran Nuclear Deal Scrambles Regional Dynamics - Noah Rothman
    In March, State Department veteran and former Obama adviser Frederic Hof bid farewell to public life with a stunning admission. He wrote that the Obama "administration sacrificed Syrian civilians and American credibility for the mistaken notion that Iran required appeasement in Syria as the price for a nuclear agreement."
        The opening up of the Iranian economy in a post-deal world, so the thinking went, would facilitate - even necessitate - domestic liberalization. Purely out of self-interest, the Mullahs would soon agree to pare back their support for destabilizing activities in the region. Yet all these ambitious objectives went unrealized in the years since the 2015 JCPOA's adoption.
        The Obama administration's effort to empower Iran and its Shiite proxies compelled the Sunni states to rethink their alliances, forcing longtime foes, Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, into a de facto pact. And just like that, the region's all-consuming Palestinian question faded into the background. (Commentary)
  • Gazans' Protests Did Them More Harm than Good - Ira Sharkansky
    So far the rush of thousands of Palestinians toward the Israeli border on successive weekends hasn't accomplished anything more than occupying thousands of IDF personnel, burning a few acres of Israeli crops, losing some 100 Palestinian lives, and the wounding of what's said to be thousands. That isn't the way to create a Palestinian state, much less accomplish the pronounced aims of destroying Israel. The last time the Gazans sought to conquer Israel with their rockets cost them more than 2,000 lives.
        It appears that Israel's show of force, along with the cooperation of Arab governments, have helped to fizzle what the Gazans were proclaiming as their latest great campaign. Israeli soldiers did what is necessary and justified to defend their border and the civilian settlements close to it. Should Palestinians get through that border, we could expect a slaughter of Israeli civilians in the style of pogroms once popular in Europe and the Middle East. The writer is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University. (San Diego Jewish World)

  • It is customary to adopt an apologetic tone when scores of people have been killed, as they were last week in Gaza. But I will declare coldly: Israel had a clear objective when it was shooting, sometimes to kill, well-organized "demonstrators" near the border.
  • Israel was determined to prevent these people from crossing the fence separating Israel from Gaza. Guarding the border was more important than avoiding killing, and guarding the border is what Israel did successfully.
  • They marched against Israel because they dislike Israel, and because they cannot march against anyone else. They marched to Israel because if they marched against Hamas, a regime whose actions and policies make Gaza suffer, their government would have killed scores of them without much hesitation.
  • Gaza must be isolated until its leaders are replaced or until they realize that their war against Israel hurts the population they rule more than it hurts Israel.
  • People in Gaza suffer more than they should - not because of Israel, but because of Hamas. The people of Gaza deserve sympathy, but expecting Israel to solve their problem will only lead them to delay what they must do for themselves.
  • Denying Hamas any achievement is the only way to ultimately persuade the Palestinians to abandon the futile battle for things they cannot get ("return," control of Jerusalem, the elimination of Israel). If Hamas is rewarded for organizing violent events, the result will be more demonstrations - and therefore more bloodshed, mostly Palestinian.

    The writer is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute.