July 23, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Israel Evacuates Syria's White Helmets and Their Families to Jordan (AFP-Guardian-UK)
    Israel on Saturday night evacuated 442 White Helmets volunteer rescuers and their family members - threatened by advancing Syrian regime forces - to Jordan for resettlement in Britain, Canada and Germany.
    The White Helmets have rescued thousands of civilians caught in fighting in opposition-held zones.
    More than 200 of its volunteers have died and another 500 have been wounded in the Syrian conflict.
    See also The White Helmets Rescue - Zvi Bar'el (Ha'aretz)
    Israel's extraction of members of the White Helmets from southern Syria into Jordan came just in time, after concerns that they would be massacred by the Assad regime.
    Syrian refugees who had camped near the Israeli border returned to their homes Thursday and Friday after an evacuation agreement between Syria, Russia and rebel militias, so by Saturday there were no refugees at the border.
    The White Helmets freed people from buildings destroyed by the Syrian army and the Russian air force, and aided the wounded in places where no other aid was available.
    They reported on the use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs, and posted videos that showed the cruelty of the regime's soldiers and the pro-Iranian militias.
    See also Video: Transfer of Syrian White Helmets through Israel - Judah Ari Gross (Times of Israel)
    "Once they reached the border, their eyes twinkled from happiness with the knowledge that they'd gotten their lives back," said Lt. Col. "A," head of the IDF project to assist southern Syria.

Iran Has Laid Groundwork for Extensive Cyberattacks on U.S. - Courtney Kube (NBC News)
    Iranian hackers have laid the groundwork to carry out extensive cyberattacks on U.S. and European infrastructure and on private companies, and the U.S. is warning allies, hardening its defenses and weighing a counterattack, say multiple senior U.S. officials.
    U.S. officials at the 2018 Aspen Security Forum said Iran is making preparations that would enable denial-of-service attacks against thousands of electric grids, water plants, and health care and technology companies in the U.S., Germany, the UK and other countries in Europe and the Middle East.

Two Palestinian Students Die in Algeria from Gas Leak (Ma'an News-PA-The New Arab-UK)
    Two Palestinian brothers doing graduate studies in Algiers died on Sunday due to a natural gas leak at their home, police said.
    The Palestinian embassy in Algiers, cited by Al Jazeera, denied the two men had been murdered.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iranian President Rouhani Threatens to Close Strait of Hormuz, Warns U.S. of "Mother of All Wars"
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned the U.S. on Sunday that it could shut down international oil shipments in the Strait of Hormuz if Washington continued to provoke Tehran. "Americans should know that...a war [with Iran] would be the mother of all wars," he said. (Deutsche Welle-Germany)
        See also Trump Warns Iran's Rouhani: "Never, Ever Threaten the U.S." - Nick Wadhams
    President Trump on Sunday posted a response on Twitter addressed to Iranian President Rouhani: "Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence and death. Be cautious!"  (Bloomberg)
  • U.S. Likens Iran's Leaders to the Mafia - Carol Morello
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday, "The level of corruption and wealth among regime leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the Mafia more than a government" - a message the U.S. plans to broadcast heavily in Iran. Pompeo said the U.S. is creating a round-the-clock Farsi channel across television, radio, digital and social media formats to circumvent Internet censorship in Iran "so that ordinary Iranians inside Iran and around the globe will know that America stands with them."
        Pompeo singled out "the billionaire general," Interior Minister Sadegh Mahsouli; Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, the "Sultan of Sugar"; and Sadeq Ardeshir Larijani, the head of Iran's judiciary, whom he said had embezzled $300 million in public money.
        Pompeo said Tehran has no moderates. "Some believe that President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif fit the bill," he said. "The truth is they are merely polished front men for the Ayatollah's international con artistry. Their nuclear deal didn't make them moderates, it made them wolves in sheep's clothing."  (Washington Post)
        See also Video: Supporting Iranian Voices - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (YouTube)
        See also U.S. Launches Campaign to Erode Support for Iran's Leaders - Jonathan Landay (Reuters)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • IDF Soldier Killed by Sniper Fire from Gaza, Israel Retaliates - Bar Peleg
    Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi, 20, was killed by a sniper on the Gaza border on Friday, the first active duty soldier to be killed on the Gaza front since the 2014 war. The IDF carried out extensive attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza in response, killing four Palestinians including three members of Hamas. Three rockets were fired at Israel during the escalation, two of which were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system. The IDF said its tanks had hit 68 Hamas targets in retaliation and had "eliminated about 60 buildings and infrastructures and revoked significant military and command and control capabilities."  (Ha'aretz)
        See also Gaza Sniper Used Iranian Armor-Piercing Rifle to Kill IDF Soldier
    The IDF has concluded that Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi was killed by an armor-piercing bullet fired from an Iranian-manufactured rifle, which penetrated his ceramic vest, Hadashot news reported Sunday. The rifle was said to be an Iranian replica of an Austrian Steyr rifle. (Times of Israel)
  • Defense Minister Links Restoring Flow of Goods to Gaza Quiet - Yoav Zitun
    Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday that the key to opening the border with Gaza to transfers of goods is continued quiet, meaning "zero incendiary balloons, zero friction on the fence, zero rockets." "The residents of Gaza must understand that as long as incendiary balloons keep landing on our side and causing fires, on both sides of the fence, life will not go back to normal." Lieberman added that "the transfer of food and medicines to Gaza continues."  (Ynet News)
  • Israel Said to Strike Iranian Missile Production Facility in Syria
    Israeli jets reportedly carried out a strike Sunday on an Iranian-run missile production facility at Masyaf in northwest Syria. In the past, the site was used to produce and store chemical weapons. Syrian opposition officials said several Hizbullah members were killed. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • For Gaza Peace, Tell the Truth about Hamas - Nikki Haley, David Friedman, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt
    Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza, has been inciting the violence at the Israeli boundary fence for months, using Palestinian civilians as human shields. At the UN General Assembly on June 13, Algeria offered a grossly one-sided resolution blaming Israel alone for the recent violence in Gaza. In response, the U.S. proposed an amendment demanding that the UN condemn Hamas by name for its role in the skirmishes and for firing rockets into Israel.
        We offered our amendment to give countries the opportunity to put the truth above politics by holding Hamas to account. Algeria made a motion to dismiss our amendment without debate and called for a vote. The assembled nations voted 78-59 to go ahead with a vote on our amendment. Although the measure ultimately failed for technical reasons, more nations voted for holding Hamas accountable with the U.S. amendment than against it. Reality means recognizing the primary responsibility Hamas bears in perpetuating the suffering of the people of Gaza. (CNN)
  • U.S.: Hamas Must Demonstrate Peaceful Intent before Aid and Investment in Gaza - Mark Landler
    Five months ago, presidential adviser Jared Kushner began shifting his focus from brokering a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians to tackling the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Now, with Israel and the Hamas militants who control Gaza in a fresh cycle of violence, Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations, are rethinking their efforts to rebuild Gaza's economy as a way of opening the door to a broader peace accord. They declare that no foreign investors are willing to pour money into Gaza during what they label a Hamas-driven conflict.
        "Provocations will not be rewarded with aid," Kushner said Sunday. Hamas leaders, he said, needed to demonstrate "a clear intent for a peaceful relationship with their neighbors" in order for aid and investment money to flow. (New York Times)

Inside the Putin-Netanyahu-Trump Deal on Syria - Josh Rogin (Washington Post)
  • President Trump now endorses a deal on Syria that Russian President Putin struck in Moscow on July 11 with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
  • Based on conversations with several government and diplomatic sources, under the deal, Russia agrees to keep Iranian troops and proxy groups 80 km., or about 50 miles, from Israel's border (if they can), and Putin promises not to object if Israel strikes Iranian assets in southern Syria, especially if Iran deploys weapons that threaten Israel, such as strategic missiles or anti-aircraft systems.
  • Of course, there's broad skepticism about Russia's ability to force Iran to do anything in Syria. But overall, it's a deal that Israel can live with and that establishes a framework for Israeli relations with its powerful new neighbor - Russia.
  • You can't blame the Israelis for being realistic about the fact that Russia, not the U.S., is the power they have to work with most in the Middle East now.

        See also Russia: We Have Reached Understandings with Israel on Southwest Syria - Herb Keinon
    Israel and Russia have an understanding regarding what southwestern Syria will look like after President Assad retakes complete control over the area bordering Israel, Russia's ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov told Russia's Rossiya 24 TV on Friday. "There are different reports in the media that some groups will withdraw from this area to a certain number of kilometers. It is quite true," Viktorov said. (Jerusalem Post)