July 17, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Syrian Army Says It Captures Strategic Hill Overlooking Israeli Border - Suleiman Al-Khalidi (Reuters)
    The Syrian army and its allies have taken control of a strategic hill overlooking the Israeli Golan Heights on the second day of an offensive to take back parts of Quneitra province close to the border with Israel, state TV and rebels said on Monday.
    The Syrian army has also seized the town of Mashara, 11 km. (7 miles) from the Golan frontier.

Egypt Gaining in Fight Against Islamic State in Sinai - Zvi Mazel (JNS)
    Egypt's fight against Islamic terror appears to be going well.
    After four years of fierce fighting against militants of the "Sinai District of the Islamic State," in February, President Sisi launched "Operation Sinai 2018" to eradicate the organization.
    Hundreds of terrorists were killed and caches of explosives were discovered. This led to a drastic drop in terror activities but did not eradicate the Islamic State.
    Sinai's mostly Bedouin population is now joining the fight against jihadi militants following the deadly attack on the Rawda mosque last November that killed 311 men and women at prayers.
    Early this month, two high-ranking leaders of the Sinai District surrendered in a deal brokered by the Union of Sinai [Bedouin]Tribes.
    The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Romania and Sweden.

Iranian Assassins in Europe and Africa - Borzou Daragahi (Daily Beast)
    Iran's clandestine services are making increasingly bold moves across Europe and Africa, using diplomatic missions abroad as tools to project power.
    Last week German authorities charged an Iranian diplomat with masterminding a plot to bomb the meeting in France of an exiled opposition group.
    Dutch authorities confirmed that in June they had expelled two Iranian diplomats from Tehran's mission in The Hague. Last November, Iranian Arab activist Ahmad Mola Nissi was gunned down by an assassin in The Hague.
    Last year, the chief of an Iranian opposition television channel, Saeed Karimian, was gunned down near his home in Istanbul.
    In May, Morocco accused Iran of smuggling weapons to the Polisario Front, severed diplomatic ties, and named the cultural attache at the Iranian embassy in Algeria as a key figure in the scheme.

Argentina Freezes Assets of Hizbullah Fundraising Network (JTA)
    Argentina has frozen the assets of the Barakat Clan - a criminal organization linked to Hizbullah operating near the border with Brazil and Paraguay.
    The Financial Information Unit of Argentina said Friday the Barakat Clan is involved in smuggling, falsifying of money and documents, extortion, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, money laundering and terrorist financing.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Trump, Putin Agree to Work Together on Syria, Preserve Israel's Security - Yaroslav Trofimov
    President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed at a meeting in Helsinki on Monday to work together on solving the Syrian crisis - with both focusing on the need to guarantee Israel's security. Putin said, "The situation on the Golan Heights must be brought into full compliance with the 1974 disengagement agreement. This would return calm to the Golan, restore the cease-fire, and safely guarantee the security of the State of Israel." Trump said, "I made clear we will not allow Iran to benefit from our successful campaign against ISIS."
        "Assad should respect the 1974 separation agreements, and it is important that Putin and Trump both expect him to do it," said Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of analysis in Israel's military intelligence. "But Israel wants Iran not to be allowed to stay in all of Syria, not just the Golan Heights."  (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Transcript: Trump-Putin Press Conference (White House)
  • U.S. Refuses European Requests for Exemptions from New Sanctions on Iran - Dan De Luce
    The U.S. has rejected an appeal from Britain, France and Germany to grant broad exemptions from new sanctions to European firms doing business in Iran, NBC News reported Saturday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wrote that the U.S. would grant only limited exceptions based on national security or humanitarian grounds. (NBC News)
  • Congress Wants Recognition of Israeli Sovereignty over Golan Heights - Adam Kredo
    Congress is renewing efforts to press the Trump administration into recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights on Israel's northern border with Syria. The House's National Security Subcommittee will hold a hearing Tuesday to examine how recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the territory could bolster U.S. national security efforts to stem the flow of terrorists.
        Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) said: "U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights is overdue....As we've seen with the successful relocation of our American embassy to Jerusalem, when the U.S. leads with purpose and conviction, good things happen."  (Washington Free Beacon)
        See also below Observations: Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty on the Golan Heights - Dore Gold (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Palestinians Continue to Set Fires from Gaza, Israel Responds with Restrictions
    In response to continued arson kite and balloon terror led by Hamas, Israel announced Monday that it is cutting off fuel and gas supplies to Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, but allowing medicines and food to pass through. In addition, the permitted fishing zone in Gaza has been reduced from six nautical miles to three. At the same time, the Egyptians announced that they were temporarily closing the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza. (Ynet News)
        See also Egypt Gives Hamas a Few Days to End Kite, Balloon Terror - Elior Levy
    Egypt has warned Hamas to significantly reduce or completely end the launching of incendiary balloons and kites into Israeli territory from Gaza within a few days, Ynet learned on Tuesday. (Ynet News)
  • Israeli Court Convicts Turkish Aid Agency Employee of Helping Hamas - Ilana Curiel
    An Israeli court sentenced Mohamed Murtaja, the representative of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in Gaza, to nine years in prison on Sunday for transferring hundreds of thousands of shekels to Hamas. Murtaja pled guilty to charges of membership in a terrorist organization, supporting a terrorist organization, and using property for terrorist purposes. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Why Russia Needs Israel - Prof. Hillel Frisch
    Why has Russia under Putin acknowledged Israeli red lines aimed at preventing the buildup of an Iranian military presence in Syria? To fully understand Putin's acceptance of Israeli involvement in Syria, one must consider the balance of power that existed between Czarist Russia and its southern neighbors, Ottoman Turkey and imperial Iran, at the turn of the 20th century. At that time, Russia's population was 100 million compared to 24 million for the Ottoman Empire and half that number in impoverished and divided Persia.
        One hundred years later, a massive change in the balance of power has occurred. Today the combined populations of Persia and the Ottoman Empire (165 million) exceed the number of Russian citizens (142 million). Within Russia, the birthrates of Russian Slavs, Putin's core group, are declining much more quickly than those of its sizeable Muslim Turkic populations. Moreover, the huge economic advantage Russia once enjoyed over the Ottoman Empire and imperial Persia has almost entirely disappeared, with the combined GDP of Iran and Turkey equaling Russia's.
        Israel is the only Middle Eastern country with an increasing non-Muslim population and increasing power. Moreover, Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a shared culture exemplified by Russian-born and native Russian-speaking politicians in positions of power. Thus, an understanding with Israel is important to Putin and the Russian leadership. The writer is a professor of political and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at its BESA Center. (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
  • Israelis React to Irish Boycott Vote - Mark Weiss
    Yehuda Cohen, chief executive of the Lipski Plastics factory in the Barkan industrial zone in the West Bank, said he could not understand the Seanad (Irish Senate) vote in support of a bill banning the sale of goods from Israeli settlements. Cohen, who employs 70 Palestinians in his factory, said last week's vote would first and foremost hurt the Palestinian workforce. About 7,000 of the 10,000 workers in Barkan are Palestinian. Israeli trade officials predict that in the wake of the vote, companies may reconsider doing business with Ireland.
        Moshe Lavran, who owns three factories in Barkan, said, "We can manage happily without Ireland. Every time the Irish use their mobile phones or computers, they are using Israeli technology, so let's see them boycotting anything Israeli."  (Irish Times)
        See also Hamas Hails Irish Vote Against Imports from West Bank - Hedaya al-Saeedi (Anadolu-Turkey)

Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty on the Golan Heights - Dore Gold (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security, July 17, 2018.
  • U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would constitute the fulfillment of a series of previous diplomatic assurances given to Israel by past administrations regarding the international status of Israel's position on that strategic plateau.
  • Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six-Day War, after years during which the Syrian armed forces positioned there bombarded Israel's farms and towns, situated roughly 1,700 feet below, with artillery fire. The Syrians also sought to divert the headwaters of the Jordan River that flowed through the Golan Heights.
  • President Gerald Ford wrote to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on September 1, 1975, that with respect to the Syrian front: "The US...will give great weight to Israel's position that any peace agreement be predicated on Israel's remaining on the Golan Heights."
  • In the context of preparations for the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, Secretary of State James Baker wrote a new letter of assurances to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, which included a clause reconfirming President Ford's 1975 written commitment to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. During the Clinton administration, Secretary of State Warren Christopher wrote a letter of assurances to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on September 19, 1996, committing the U.S. to the Ford Letter.
  • While Syrian ground forces were severely degraded in the recent civil war, the eventual recovery of the Syrian army must be anticipated. Massive Russian arms transfers to the Syrian armed forces will likely provide the basis for the renewal of Syrian military power.
  • A new focus of concern involves the role of Iran in converting Syria into a satellite state that will host Iranian forces and Shiite proxy militias, some of which have been integrated into the Syrian army in its campaign to take control of south Syria.

    Amb. Dore Gold, former director general of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Israeli ambassador to the UN, is president of the Jerusalem Center.