May 30, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Students Harshly Criticize Iran in Meeting with Supreme Leader - Nasser Karimi (Associated Press)
    Iranian university students in a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday offered harsh criticism of the country's direction, in an unusually frank discussion. University student Sahar Mehrabi read a speech in which she recounted the "numerous crises" now facing the country.
    Among them, she listed Iran's "intensified systematic inequality in social classes, the decline of public trust, and the increase in environmental crisis and shantytowns." She also mentioned high unemployment, the challenges faced by minority groups and the way hard-line elements within Iran's judiciary and security system "fabricate security cases in a delusional way" to target activists.
    In his own speech, Khamenei acknowledged many of the shortcomings, saying that "removing problems is not as easy" as the students expect.

Hizbullah Chief's Net Worth Is $250 Million, Mainly Thanks to Drugs - Daniel Siryoti (Israel Hayom)
    Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah has amassed a net personal worth of around $250 million due to his organization's illegal drug smuggling operations, Al-Ittihad, an Arabic language newspaper published in the United Arab Emirates, reported on Monday.
    According to the report, which relies on senior Lebanese government sources, the scope of Nasrallah's fortune was discovered within the framework of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation against Hizbullah - which aside from its designation as a terrorist organization also operates as one of the largest drug cartels in the world.

Capital Flight from Iran $59 Billion since March 2016 - Saeed Ghasseminejad (Twitter)
    In a report, Iran's Parliament Research Center estimates the value of capital flight between March 2016 and March 2018 to be around $59 billion, $13 billion in the last three months. The report expects an even higher number for March 2018-March 2019 period due to the return of sanctions.
    The report shows country's currency reserve decreased $16.3 billion between March 2016 and January 2018 with an accelerating trend. If sanctions cut the inflow of foreign currency, one can expect Iran's currency reserve to decrease more and its access to it even at a faster rate.

Clay Seal of Prophet Isaiah to Be Unveiled at Joint Israel-U.S. Event - Tamara Zieve (Jerusalem Post)
    Clay seals believed to have been used by the biblical prophet Isaiah and King Hezekiah are set to be unveiled at a June event, which will be held simultaneously in Jerusalem and Oklahoma via a live stream.
    While the seals and nearly three dozen other pieces loaned by the Antiquities Authority will be on display in Oklahoma, the archeologist who made the discoveries, Dr. Eilat Mazar, will deliver a keynote address in Jerusalem.
    View the video trailer "Seals of Isaiah and King Hezekiah Discovered"

News Resources - North America and Europe:
  • Gaza Militants Barrage Israel with Mortars and Rockets - Isabel Kershner and David M. Halbfinger
    Islamic militants in Gaza attacked southern Israel with rockets and mortars on Tuesday and Israel responded instantly with a wave of airstrikes across the Palestinian territory. On Tuesday, Israel said there had been 70 rockets or mortars fired from Gaza throughout the day.
        The military wing of Hamas - the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza - claimed responsibility jointly with another faction, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
        Israel responded with airstrikes on 35 targets in Gaza after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel held Hamas responsible for the mortar attacks. Israel's Iron Dome antimissile system intercepted dozens of incoming projectiles, according to the military. (New York Times)
  • The United States Calls for Emergency UN Security Council Meeting on Attacks against Israel
    The United States called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the latest attacks on Israel out of the Gaza Strip by Hamas and other militants. We expect the meeting to take place Wednesday afternoon.
        "The recent attacks out of Gaza are the largest we have seen since 2014. Mortars fired by Palestinian militants hit civilian infrastructure, including a kindergarten. The Security Council should be outraged and respond to this latest bout of violence directed at innocent Israeli civilians, and the Palestinian leadership needs to be held accountable for what they're allowing to happen in Gaza," said Ambassador Haley. (U.S. Mission to the United Nations)
        See also White House Condemns "Destructive Violence" of Gaza Volleys - Michael Wilner
    "We are aware of numerous mortar attacks on Israel today and are closely monitoring the situation," a National Security Council spokesman told the Post. "We call on those launching the attacks to cease this destructive violence. We fully support Israel's right to self-defense." (Jerusalem Post)
  • UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Condemns Hamas Actions - Nickolay E. Mladenov
    It is UNACCEPTABLE (sic) to indiscriminately fire at civilian communities! I am deeply concerned by today's rockets fired by Palestinian militants towards Southern Israel, one of which hit close to a kindergarten. Such actions undermine efforts to improve the situation in Gaza. (Twitter)
  • Israel-Gaza Border Falls Quiet after Egypt Brokers Ceasefire Arrangement - Nidal al-Mughrabi
    The Israel-Gaza border fell quiet on Wednesday under an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire after the most intense flareup of hostilities between Palestinian militants and Israel since a 2014 war. There were no reports of further fighting after Palestinian and Israeli attacks in the early hours of Wednesday, and both sides appeared to back away from a slide toward a new war after weeks of violence along the border.
        A Palestinian official said Egyptian mediation led to a ceasefire, but the terms of the "understanding" did not go beyond "a restoration of calm by both sides. An agreement was reached to return to the (2014) ceasefire understandings in the Gaza Strip." (Reuters)
        See also Conference Call with Yossi Kuperwasser on Possible Gaza Cease-Fire
    TIP hosted Brig.-Gen. (ret) Yossi Kuperwasser of the Jerusalem Center for a phone briefing on a potential cease-fire on the Gaza border. (The Israel Project)
News Resources - Israel, the Mideast, and Asia:
  • Gaza Terror Rocket Hits Strip's Own Power Lines, Leaves Palestinians in Dark - Judah Ari Gross
    One of the rockets fired by terrorist groups from Gaza at southern Israel Tuesday struck equipment that provides electricity to the southern Gaza Strip, knocking out power to tens of thousands, a spokesperson for Israel's Electric Company said.
        Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz ordered the company to hold off repair work until the situation in the restive border region returned to calm, in order to "not endanger its workers." (Times of Israel)
  • Israeli Navy Stops Palestinian Flotilla Attempting to Sail From Gaza to Cyprus - Jack Khoury
    The Israel Navy stopped a flotilla of Palestinian activists who set sail from Gaza Tuesday to protest years of a naval blockade by Israel and Egypt on the Gaza Strip. The navy prevented the flotilla from crossing the blockade line - six nautical miles off the coast. (Haaretz)
        See also U.S. Peace Envoy Greenblatt Commends Israel on Flotilla - Jason D. Greenblatt
    We commend the Israeli military for handling the so-called reverse flotilla with professionalism and compassion. They successfully de-escalated a dangerous situation. If Hamas cared for the welfare of its people as much as Israel does that would be progress. (Twitter)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Will Iran Withdraw Its Forces from Syria? - Moshe Arens
    The Iranian forces' bases and installations in Syria have been under relentless attack these past few weeks by the Israel Air Force. That's a clear message that Israel is adamant about preventing the Iranians from approaching Israel's borders. The Iranian dilemma has been made that much greater with the recent American announcement in support of Israel's position that Iranian forces must be withdrawn from Syria.
        The ad hoc alliance between Russia and Iran that has propped up Assad seems to be unraveling. Now President Vladimir Putin's advice to the Syrian president is to order the Iranians to leave Syria. Alliances in the Syrian theater of operations are shifting. This shift is the direct result of Israel's determination to prevent Iranian military forces from approaching Israel's borders. (Haaretz)
  • Rise Of Computer Vision Brings Obscure Israeli Intelligence Unit 9900 into Spotlight - Amir Mizroch
    It's well known that Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence Unit 8200 - Israel's cyber and code-breaking version of the NSA - produces the cream of the crop of the country's tech startups. But the accelerating shift toward technologies like autonomous driving, natural language processing, satellite navigation, image recognition, and augmented and virtual reality - where machines are taught to make sense of visual information and act appropriately on it - is bringing to the fore another Israeli intelligence unit, called 9900, whose grads are starting to make a name for themselves in Israel's tech ecosystem.
        Unit 9900 is also very tech-heavy, with graduates gaining knowledge in location-based technologies like GPS, experience in machine vision, photo analysis, and even in Cyber, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality. It's official name is Unit 9900: Terrain Analysis, Accurate Mapping, Visual Collection and Interpretation Agency.
        The Unit is already widely recognized for recruiting soldiers diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The army says these soldiers have remarkable visual and analytic capabilities, and "can detect even the smallest details, undetectable to most people." (Forbes)

Russia Holds the Key to Nearly Half of Syria - and With It, the Power to Keep Iranian Dominance at Bay - Hassan Hassan (The National - UAE)
  • After Russia intervened directly in Syria in September 2015, it was able to achieve a sequence of military and political gains for the regime. The latest of such gains might be the most important. It is clear that the Russian intervention had put an end to any serious attempt by backers of the rebels to topple the regime.
  • Almost all the countries that once backed the opposition now depend on Russia to salvage the situation for them in Syria. Israel, Jordan, the United States, and the Gulf states had all viewed the role of Russia with hope at various times, either because it would make the regime in Damascus less dependent upon Iran or because of a perceived Iranian and Russian divergence in their approach and future vision for the country.
  • The regime is under less military pressure than before and so it can now do with less Iranian help. Strengthening the regime would gradually enable Syrians to take control of their country rather than to continue to be under the influence of Iran, whose militias, resources, and expertise are indispensable as long as fighting continues.
  • The U.S. and Turkey control close to 40 per cent of the country in the east and north. Israel also has a de facto veto power in any regime military operations near its borders, by virtue of an agreement between it, Russia, and the U.S.
  • Russia, not Iran or Syria, is the country that has existing channels with those countries. In other words, the regime and Iran are currently locked out from about 40 percent of Syria - and Russia holds the key.
  • Once the regime's military and security forces control the country, the thinking goes, outside pro-Iranian militias could be forced out. For those countries, Russia could enable such a scenario.