September 12, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Coalition Begins Push to Retake Last ISIS Territory in Syria - Rukmini Callimachi (New York Times)
    The Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led militia fighting the Islamic State in Syria with the U.S. and its allies, said Tuesday that they had begun a final push to oust the militants from the last vestige of ISIS' caliphate near Hajin in Syria.
    The fight is expected to last for months. "We expect a long and hard fight," said Col. Sean J. Ryan, a spokesman for the American-led military coalition in Baghdad. "These are the die-hard fighters with nowhere else to go."

Iran Ordered to Pay $104.7 Million over 1996 Khobar Towers Attack in Saudi Arabia - Jonathan Stempel (Reuters)
    Federal judge Beryl Howell in Washington on Monday ordered Iran to pay $104.7 million to survivors of a 1996 truck bombing at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 U.S. military personnel.
    13 members of Hizbullah were indicted in June 2001 in the U.S. over their roles in the attack.
    In 2006, another federal judge in Washington ordered Iran to pay $254.4 million to family members of Americans who died in the attack.

EU Spokesman Upholds Israel's Jewish Nationality Law (IMEMC News-PA)
    Arab-Israeli MK Ayman Odeh left disappointed after a meeting on Sep. 4 with EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini to request that the body condemn and call for the cancellation of Israel's new nation-state law.
    An EU spokesperson said that the law "is first and foremost a matter of how Israel chooses to define itself, and we fully respect the internal Israeli debate on this."

Protesters in Basra, Iraq, Storm Iranian Consulate - Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP)
    Protesters in Basra, Iraq, stormed the Iranian consulate on Friday. Iran controls powerful Shiite militias in Basra which are held responsible for poor public services and corruption.
    Protesters have torched offices belonging to the Iranian-backed militias, chanting, "Iran, out, out!" They also burned an Iranian flag and trampled on a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Tehran Targets Iranians in Smartphone Surveillance Operation (AFP-Daily Mail-UK)
    Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point on Friday said a surveillance operation had targeted the smartphones of 240 Iranian citizens via malware implanted in their phones, indicating Tehran was responsible.

Israeli Rhythmic Gymnast Wins Silver Medal at World Championships (Times of Israel)
    Israeli athlete Linoy Ashram won a silver medal at the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships on Tuesday.
    See also Video: Linoy Ashram's Hoop Final (YouTube)

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Trump Administration Orders Closure of PLO Office in Washington - Karen DeYoung and Loveday Morris
    The Trump administration on Monday ordered the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington, saying that the PLO "has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel." The order to shutter the PLO office within 30 days comes amid the Trump administration's ramping up of financial pressure on the Palestinian Authority. Since U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital late last year, the Palestinians have refused to meet with U.S. negotiators. (Washington Post)
        See also Statement: Closure of the PLO Office in Washington - Spokesperson Heather Nauert (State Department)
  • U.S. National Security Adviser Bolton: "We Will Not Allow the ICC to Constrain Israel's Right to Self-Defense"
    U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton told the Federalist Society in Washington on Monday: "I am here to make a major announcement on U.S. policy toward the International Criminal Court, or ICC....In theory, the ICC holds perpetrators of the most egregious atrocities accountable for their crimes, provides justice to the victims, and deters future abuses. In practice, however, the court has been ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed, outright dangerous. Moreover, the largely unspoken, but always central, aim of its most vigorous supporters was to constrain the United States."
        "The International Criminal Court constituted an assault on the constitutional rights of the American people and the sovereignty of the United States....In November of 2017, the ICC prosecutor requested authorization to investigate alleged war crimes committed by U.S. service members and intelligence professionals during the war in Afghanistan.... Any day now, the ICC may announce the start of a formal investigation against these American patriots, who voluntarily went into harm's way to protect our nation, our homes, and our families in the wake of the 9/11 attacks."
        "The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court. We will not cooperate with the ICC....We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us....The International Criminal Court's authority has been sharply criticized and rejected by most of the world. Today, more than 70 nations, representing 2/3 of the world's population, and over 70% of the world's armed forces, are not members of the ICC."
        "While the court welcomes the membership of the so-called 'State of Palestine,' it has threatened Israel - a liberal, democratic nation - with investigation into its actions to defend citizens from terrorist attacks in the West Bank and Gaza....The United States supports a direct and robust peace process, and we will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel's right to self-defense....If the court comes after us, Israel or other U.S. allies, we will not sit quietly."  (Lawfare Institute-Brookings)
  • Russia Warns U.S. of Pending Attack in Syrian Area with U.S. Troops - Barbara Starr
    Russia warned the U.S. military twice last week that its forces, along with Syrian regime units, are prepared to attack in an area where dozens of U.S. troops are located, sparking U.S. warnings to Moscow not to challenge the U.S. military presence, U.S. defense officials said. Concern centers on a U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition base at At Tanf. U.S. troops help monitor a 55-km. (34-mile) exclusion zone around At Tanf near the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq.
        Officials said U.S. troops in the area have the right of self-defense if they are attacked and would not need to ask permission from higher-ups before acting. "We have absolutely advised them [Russia] to stay out of At Tanf," one U.S. official said. "We are postured to respond....If attacked, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend U.S., coalition or partner forces."  (CNN)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu Backs U.S. Decision to Shutter PLO Mission in D.C.
    In response to the U.S. decision to close the PLO Mission in Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday evening: "The U.S. made the correct decision regarding the PLO mission in Washington. Israel supports American actions that are designed to make it clear to the Palestinians that refusing to negotiate and attempts to attack Israel in international forums will not advance peace."  (Prime Minister's Office)
  • Palestinians Launch Rafts with Burning Tires toward Israel - Elior Levy
    Palestinians in Gaza on Monday set afloat rafts with burning tires toward Israel. Earlier, dozens of Palestinian boats tried to approach the border with Israel. (Ynet News)
        See also Palestinians Carrying Knife, Ax Caught Trying to Enter Israel
    Four Palestinians carrying a knife and an ax were arrested Saturday while trying to infiltrate into Israel from Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces said. On Friday, 7,000 Palestinians took part in the weekly clashes at the border, hurling rocks, firebombs and a grenade at soldiers. Arson balloons were flown across the border, causing two fires. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Shutting Down the PLO - Editorial
    The Palestine Liberation Organization was allowed to open an office in Washington in 1994 after the Oslo accords produced hope for a new era of reconciliation between the PLO and Israel. That hope has never been fulfilled, notably since Yasser Arafat began the second intifada after walking away from the generous Israeli peace offer brokered by Bill Clinton in 2000. Long-term indulgence of the PLO's recalcitrance has allowed a toxic and reflexive anti-Israel sentiment to build in international institutions and on U.S. campuses.
        The U.S. Congress said in 2015 - before Donald Trump became President - that the Secretary of State was required to certify that the PLO wasn't trying to use the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israel. Last November, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking at the UN, called for the investigation and prosecution of Israeli officials by the ICC.
        The point of recent U.S. moves and funding cuts isn't to be vindictive but to show Abbas and the PLO that they can't continue to underwrite anti-Semitic textbooks and anti-Israel terrorism without consequences. If the Palestinians want to be treated with the respect of a peace partner, they have to first show a desire for peace. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Michael Oren: Closing PLO Office in Washington Advances Peace - Gil Hoffman
    Deputy Minister Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., said, "With the closing of the PLO office in Washington, the American administration is not changing the rules of the game, but simply restoring them after years of neglect....In contrast to previous administrations that would reward the Palestinians for abandoning the negotiations with Israel, President Trump is forcing the Palestinians to pay a price. As we have seen in the past, giving gifts to the Palestinians only keeps them away from the peace talks."  (Jerusalem Post)

  • UNRWA has existed for more than 60 years as a "temporary" initiative to address the needs of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli-Arab conflict and to facilitate their resettlement and/or repatriation. The U.S. has provided UNRWA with more than $6 billion since 1950.
  • Unfortunately, that support did not bring the situation any closer to resolution. On the contrary, it absolved Palestinian leaders of the responsibility to provide health care, education, and other basic services that sovereign governments - which the Palestinians claim to be - are expected to provide for their own people.
  • Contrary to the claims of the Palestinians, the U.S. is not "violating international law" by ending funding for UNRWA. U.S. funding is voluntary, not a legal entitlement, and America reasonably expects that its support not be misused and that the Palestinians earnestly engage in the peace process.
  • Instead, Palestinian leaders have rejected increasingly generous offers since the 1990s. This intransigence, encouraged by Iran and rejectionist Arab leaders, lies at the root of the Palestinian refugee problem and harms the Palestinian people.
  • Although it will likely cause short-term ramifications, the decision to defund this agency will, hopefully, refocus attention on what is necessary to end this protracted dispute.

    The writers are fellows at The Heritage Foundation.