October 17, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Levels Sanctions on Iranian Basij Paramilitary Force - Jeremy Diamond (CNN)
    The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday designated Iran's Basij Resistance Force - an arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - and 22 companies and financial institutions associated with the group as "specially designated global terrorists."
    The designation freezes Basij assets and blocks U.S. citizens from doing business with the Basij and its conglomerate of banks, investment companies and engineering firms.
    "Normal governments don't have revolutionary arms that export revolutions and wreak havoc on their neighbors," a senior administration official said.
    The administration emphasized the Basij's role in recruiting and training children as soldiers.
    See also Treasury Sanctions Iranian Paramilitary Force that Recruits and Trains Child Soldiers (U.S. Treasury Department)

U.S. Imposes Sweeping Sanctions on Iran's Banks and Major Companies (Reuters)
    The U.S. Treasury on Tuesday announced fresh sanctions on Iran, targeting Bank Mellat and Mehr Eqtesad Bank, Iran Tractor Manufacturing Company, Esfehan's Mobarakeh Steel Company, and other companies linked to investment, commodities and engineering.

Egyptian Intelligence Officials Meet with Hamas Leaders in Gaza in a "Last Effort before Escalation" - Jack Khoury (Ha'aretz)
    A delegation of senior Egyptian intelligence officials arrived in Gaza on Tuesday for meetings with Hamas leaders to discuss deals for Palestinian reconciliation and a long-term understanding with Israel.
    Sources in Gaza said the talks are part of efforts to head off an escalation in the region.
    Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel is due to visit Gaza on Thursday.

Palestinian Arson Attacks Burned Half of Forests near Gaza - Avraham Gold and Tovah Lazaroff (Jerusalem Post)
    Palestinian-launched incendiary devices have burned 1,200 hectares of land on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza, more than half of the 2,100 hectares of forested land in the region, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) reported Tuesday.

U.S. Envoy Looks to Boost Israel-Palestinian Business Cooperation in West Bank - Jacob Magid (Times of Israel)
    U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman met on Tuesday in Ariel with a group of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders to discuss joint economic ventures in the West Bank, saying people on the ground are ready to cooperate despite the differences between political leaders.
    Later, Friedman tweeted that the businessmen he met are "ready, willing and able to advance joint opportunity & peaceful coexistence. People want peace and we are ready to help! Is the Palestinian leadership listening?"
    Tuesday's meeting had been scheduled to take place in Hebron, where most of the ten Palestinian business leaders Friedman met are from, but the meeting was moved due to "security reasons."

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Planning to Force Iran Out of Syria - Courtney Kube and Carol E. Lee
    The Trump administration is developing a new strategy to push Iran's military and its proxy forces out of Syria. The plan would emphasize political and diplomatic efforts to force Iran out of Syria by squeezing it financially. It would withhold reconstruction aid from areas where Iranian and Russian forces are present and would impose sanctions on Russian and Iranian companies working on reconstruction in Syria. "There's a real opportunity for the U.S. and its allies to make the Iranian regime pay for its continued occupation of Syria," said Mark Dubowitz, chief executive at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
        An administration official said that since last year its Syria strategy has included curbing "Iranian malign influence in Syria so that it cannot threaten the region, to include ensuring the withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces from Syria." The administration believes its renewed sanctions are having an impact already, and with continued economic pressure Iran will have trouble paying its forces in Syria. (NBC News)
  • Palestinians Win Vote to Chair Group of Developing Countries at UN
    The UN General Assembly, in a 146-3 vote with 15 abstentions, approved a resolution giving the Palestinians "the rights and capacity required" to head the 135-nation group of developing countries that includes China.
        U.S. deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen urged the assembly on Tuesday to vote "no" on the resolution, saying: "We cannot support efforts by the Palestinians to enhance their status outside of direct negotiations." He said the U.S. doesn't recognize "a Palestinian state" and "if this misguided resolution is adopted," when the Palestinians speak as chair of the group, the U.S. will remind UN members that "no such state has been admitted as a UN member state."
        Israel and Australia also voted against the resolution. Most Western European countries supported the measure while many Eastern European countries abstained. (AP-Minneapolis Star Tribune)
        See also Amb. Nikki Haley: UN's Mistake Undermines Peace Prospects
    "Today, the United States voted against a UN General Assembly resolution granting the Palestinians privileges at the United Nations," Amb. Nikki Haley said in a statement on Tuesday. "The United States does not recognize a Palestinian state, notes that no such state has been admitted as a UN Member State, and does not believe that the Palestinians are eligible to be admitted as a UN Member State."
        "The Palestinians are not a UN Member State or any state at all. The United States will continually point that out in our remarks at UN events led by the Palestinians. Today's UN mistake undermines the prospects for peace by encouraging the illusion held by some Palestinian leaders that they can advance their goals without direct peace negotiations. In fact, today's vote does nothing to help the Palestinian people."  (U.S. Mission to the UN)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Gaza Rocket Strikes Israeli Home in Beersheba
    A rocket fired from Gaza landed on a home in the Israeli city of Beersheba while another landed in the sea off of central Israel early Wednesday. Seven people were treated for shock, including a mother and her three children who were in the house when it was hit. "The mother and her children said they went into the [fortified] safe room and immediately after they locked the door, they heard a big explosion and everything shook," said an MDA paramedic. The rocket broke through two floors of concrete. "Nothing is left of the house except for the safe room," the woman's sister reported.
        In addition, three people suffered from bruising sustained when falling as they were running for shelter. (Ynet News)
  • Responding to Palestinian Rocket Fire, Israel Bombs 20 Targets in Gaza - Judah Ari Gross
    Israel bombed 20 "military facilities" in Gaza on Wednesday in response to a predawn rocket attack that struck a home in Beersheba. The rockets used in the attack on Israel were not the standard Grad variety, but an improved version with a larger warhead. "There are only two organizations in Gaza that have this caliber of rocket: Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad," said IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. Israeli air force jets bombed an attack tunnel being dug toward Israel, a tunnel used by Hamas naval commandos, weapons factories, military bases and other facilities, Conricus said. (Times of Israel)
        See also Video: Israel Strikes Palestinian Rocket Squad
    Watch an Israel Air Force strike on a Palestinian terrorist squad in Gaza that attempted to launch rockets at an Israeli community on Wednesday. (Israel Air Force)
  • Palestinians Use Explosives to Damage Israel-Gaza Border Fence
    Sections of the security fence along Israel's border with Gaza were damaged Tuesday by explosive devices set off by Palestinian rioters, the Israel Defense Forces said. In a separate incident, a group of Palestinians broke through the Gaza security fence and approached an IDF post. Troops fired warning shots at the men, who ran back into Gaza. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • U.S. Experts Call to Impose SWIFT Sanctions on Iran's Financial Sector - Jenna Lifhits
    Thirty U.S. foreign policy experts and former officials have written to the White House to urge the administration to once again bar Iranian banks from the SWIFT global financial messaging service that facilitates cross-border money transfers as part of new sanctions against Iran's financial institutions announced for November. The experts argue that "failure to achieve the disconnection of such banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system...would make it easier for the regime to endure the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions."
        SWIFT had barred Iran in 2012 under the threat of congressional sanctions. "The Trump administration must demonstrate its willingness to enforce sanctions targeting SWIFT's board and compel the service to act on its own accord - just as it did last year when SWIFT disconnected North Korean banks," the letter reads. It called for the president to impose all sanctions against Iran that were in place before the nuclear deal. "That includes the disconnection of the Central Bank of Iran and designated Iranian financial institutions from SWIFT."
        Among the signatories are former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and Amb. Robert Joseph, former U.S. Special Envoy for Nuclear Nonproliferation. (Weekly Standard)
  • Wave of Arab Women Running in Local Elections in Israel - Dina Kraft
    A wave of Arab women in Israel are running in local races in greater numbers and in more prominent positions than ever before. The Oct. 30 municipal elections feature all-women candidate lists running in a number of Arab towns and villages. And a record number of women are running high up in their party slates, increasing the chances they might be elected. Two women are running for mayor in separate Arab towns, and over 200 are running for local office.
        It's a significant development. Historically, Israeli Arab women's participation in local elections has been scant in a society that is only beginning to shed its patriarchal ways and where local government is dominated by men.
        Samah Salaime, a Palestinian feminist activist, said, "Women are more involved in public life now because in the last 20 years Palestinian women in Israel have made huge progress economically, and the side effect is they don't want only to earn money. The next step is to see and influence where that money is going."  (Christian Science Monitor)

  • Why did the Russians give a more advanced version of an anti-aircraft system to Syria, an incompetent ally who just shot down their plane? Wouldn't the delivery only raise the risk for Russians operating in Syrian airspace?
  • For the Kremlin, the delivery of the S-300 is about assertion of further dominance in Syria. It is a political statement to the West, and everyone else in the region: Russia is here to stay.
  • The S-300 gives Assad (and therefore Moscow) options they didn't previously have to undermine the U.S. position in Syria. It potentially will provide additional cover to Iran's and Assad's activities in Syria. It could also complicate U.S. and coalition operations against ISIS.
  • Learning to operate an S-300 takes months of serious training. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced it will take three months to train Syrians to operate the S-300. Yet the Syrians have been deploying the Soviet-provided S-200 for over 30 years, and still managed to shoot down a Russian plane. Putin's confidence in Syrian military competence is undoubtedly low and casts doubt on Shoigu's deadline.
  • The S-300 is a powerful weapon but it has limitations. It has been around since the 1970s. U.S. and Israeli militaries have studied it for years and know its capabilities. Air surveillance and battle management also matters. If the air surveillance system is too slow to see an aircraft, for example, it doesn't matter how strong the S-300 system is.

    The writer, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is a former analyst for a U.S. military contractor in Afghanistan.