December 24, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

UK Security Minister: Al-Qaeda Plans New Attacks on Airliners and Airports - Leigh McManus (Daily Mail-UK)
    UK Security Minister Ben Wallace told the Sunday Times that al-Qaeda is planning new attacks on airports and airliners, and even plans to use explosive-packed drones, in a series of deadly attacks that are "keeping ministers awake at night."
    Wallace said that 13 Islamist terror plots have been thwarted in Britain since March 2017.

IDF Fires at Gunmen approaching Border from Syria - Yaniv Kubovich (Ha'aretz)
    Israeli soldiers fired toward several gunmen approaching Israel's border with Syria in the Golan Heights, the Israeli army said Sunday.
    The gunmen crossed the Alpha Line demarcating the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria set up in 1974. The gunmen approached the Israeli border, but did not cross it.

IDF: UNIFIL, Lebanese Army Ignoring Israeli Intelligence on Hizbullah Tunnels - Lilach Shoval and Adi Hashmonai (Israel Hayom)
    Israel has provided UNIFIL and the Lebanese army with the exact coordinates of where Hizbullah's cross-border attack tunnels had been dug from specific homes, but they "are still not doing anything to seal the tunnel shafts," IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said.
    See also IDF: Iran No Longer Has Missile Factories in Lebanon (Jerusalem Post)
    IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said Sunday that Iran no longer has missile factories in Lebanon.
    Manelis told Kol BaRama radio that "the sites to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed to when he was speaking in the UN are no longer active."

Palestinian Official Hails Iran's Support (IRNA-Iran)
    Iran is the most honest country in confronting Global Arrogance and helping Palestinians, Al Mayadeen TV quoted Abbas Zaki, a member of Fatah's central committee, as saying Monday.

Gaza Sentences Six More Civilians to Death for Collaborating with Israel - Huda Baroud (Al Monitor)
    The Hamas-controlled military court in Gaza has sentenced six people to death for allegedly collaborating with Israel on a covert operation in Gaza revealed on Nov. 11, in which six Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were killed.
    In June, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed the 1989 UN Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which aims to abolish the death penalty.

Israel Is Third Most Educated Country in the World - Abigail Klein Leichman (Israel21c)
    Israel is the third most educated country, according to 2017 data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
    50.9% of Israelis between 25 and 64 have a higher-education degree.
    Canada was No. 1 (56.7%), Japan No. 2 (51.4%), South Korea No. 4 (47.7%), and the U.S. No. 5 (46.4%).

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • British Army Uses Israeli Drone Dome to Defeat Drone Disrupting Gatwick Airport - Joe Pinkstone
    The British Army used a cutting-edge Israeli anti-drone system to defeat the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that shuttered London's Gatwick Airport for over 36 hours beginning Thursday. The British Army bought six Israeli Drone Dome systems in 2018. (Daily Mail-UK)
  • Trump Signs Law Sanctioning Hamas, Hizbullah for Using Civilians as Shields
    President Trump signed into law on Friday the "Sanctioning the Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act," which requires the President to identify and impose specified sanctions on members of Hizbullah or Hamas who use civilians as human shields. (White House)
  • Assad Is Emptying His Prisons of Political Prisoners through Mass Executions - Louisa Loveluck and Zakaria Zakaria
    As Syria's government consolidates control after years of civil war, President Assad's army is doubling down on executions of political prisoners. In interviews, more than two dozen Syrians recently released from the Sednaya military prison in Damascus described a government campaign to clear the decks of political detainees. They said prisoners are being transferred from jails across Syria to be executed in pre-dawn hangings in Sednaya's basement.
        Some of the former prisoners had themselves been sentenced to hang, escaping that fate only after relatives paid tens of thousands of dollars to secure their freedom. Satellite imagery of the Sednaya prison grounds taken in March shows an accumulation of dozens of dark objects that experts said were consistent with human bodies. (Washington Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu Reassures Cabinet after U.S. Announcement on Withdrawal from Syria
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday: "The decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria will not change our consistent policy: We will continue to act against Iran's attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, and to the extent necessary, we will even expand our actions there. I would like to reassure those who are concerned. Our cooperation with the U.S. will continue in full and finds expression in many areas: Operations, intelligence and many other security spheres."  (Prime Minister's Office)
  • Secret Talks with Russia Reach Understandings to Enable Israel to Attack Iranian and Hizbullah Targets in Syria - Daniel Siryoti
    Russian forces currently in Syria will restrain Hizbullah and Iranian activity there, according to understandings reached by Israel, the U.S., Jordan and Saudi Arabia with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Jordanian official told Israel Hayom. Russia will continue to give Israel the freedom to strike Hizbullah and Iranian targets and weaponry that threaten the "balance of power" in Syria. According to the Jordanian official, it was these understandings between Trump and Putin that paved the way for the U.S. decision to pull its forces from Syria.
        Jordanian officials have emphasized that U.S. officials had made it clear that U.S. intelligence agencies would increase cooperation with Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to counter Iran's attempt to create a contiguous Shiite corridor from Tehran to Beirut. (Israel Hayom)
        See also Kremlin Refutes Reports about Russian-U.S. Agreement on U.S. Withdrawal from Syria (Sputnik-Russia)
  • IDF Chief of Staff: U.S. Leaving Syria Is "Significant," But We Shouldn't Exaggerate - Yaniv Kubovich
    IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said on Sunday that the U.S. decision to withdraw its troops from Syria is "significant," but should not be overblown. "For decades, we have dealt with this front [in Syria] alone," Eisenkot said, adding that Israel has acted independently during the entire period. "That's also how it has been over the past four years, during the American and Russian presence [in Syria]. We have been acting in support of Israel's security interests."  (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The U.S. Disengagement from Syria - Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi
    President Trump's decision to end America's military presence in Syria was anchored in his position to disengage from the centers of conflict that do not present an immediate and tangible threat to American security. As long as the Islamic State constituted a central terrorist threat in Syria, the president accepted America's continued presence there. Now, with ISIS in significant decline, the decision to disengage is a natural move for Trump, who has made his desire to reduce the scope of America's overall involvement overseas abundantly clear.
        Against this background, the apocalyptic warning that the disengagement from Syria will cause massive damage to the U.S.' overall standing appears to be without basis. Although one cannot dismiss the price the Kurdish minority may be forced to pay, was the presence of 2,000 American military advisers in a narrow strip in Syria's northeast ever enough to dramatically influence what transpires in Syria and throughout the region? Moreover, will the withdrawal be enough to undermine the prestige of the American superpower on a front defined by Washington as marginal?
        The U.S. troop withdrawal could lead to Russia deepening its strategic coordination with Israel in Syria's skies, not out of sensitivity to Israel's security concerns, but rather to prevent Iran's excessive empowerment in the Syrian sphere. The writer is professor of international relations at the University of Haifa. (Israel Hayom)
  • A Dangerous Christmas for Iran's Christians - Lela Gilbert
    "Over 100 Christians have been arrested in Iran in the past week and nearly 150 in the past month, as part of the [Iranian] government's attempt to 'warn' Christians against proselytizing over Christmas," the Christian website World Watch Monitor reported earlier this month.
        The U.S. International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Report for 2018 noted that the Iranian government targeted "Baha'is and Christian converts in particular....Christian converts and house church leaders faced increasing harsh sentencing: many were sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for their religious activities." Conversion from Islam to another faith is a capital offense according to Islamic law.
        Sunni and Sufi Muslims and Zoroastrians also face intense discrimination and imprisonment. And with a government that repeatedly calls for "Death to Israel," Iran's 15,000 Jews live under close scrutiny.
        On Dec. 17, the UN approved a Canada-sponsored resolution which forbade Iran's abuses of minorities - including religious groups - and its widespread practice of arbitrary detention, demanding that it "release those who have been arbitrarily detained." Iran called the resolution "a political charade." The writer, an expert on religious persecution, is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also 85 Countries Vote to Adopt UN Resolution Urging Iran to Halt Widespread Human Rights Violations
    85 countries approved a resolution urging Iran to address a list of human rights violations including the widespread use of arbitrary detention. 30 countries voted against and 68 abstained. (Center for Human Rights in Iran)

  • President Trump's move to quickly withdraw U.S. military forces from Syria didn't cause the U.S. to lose in Syria. For all practical purposes, Syria was already lost. Much like his predecessor, Trump's decision is motivated by a calculation that the U.S. can't alter the military or political balance in Syria that has long favored Russia and Iran.
  • With a modest military footprint and little public support for a larger American role, the U.S. can't really compete with Russia or Iran on the ground. Trump said back in March that "We're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon."
  • Moscow and Tehran had long ago won the strategic fight for Syria. Russian military intervention in 2015 saved Assad. Russia and Iran have been more willing to devote resources toward keeping Assad afloat than the U.S. has been prepared to either remove him from power or stand behind the assorted elements in Syria who've tried and failed to overthrow him.
  • Americans should let go of the idea that we were ever trying very hard to win.
  • In contrast to the U.S., if and when Syria and its backers decide to conclusively take on the Islamic State, their approach is unlikely to employ much regard for humanitarian concerns or civilian lives.
  • Critics of the president's decision are right that the U.S. is once again going to throw its reliable Kurdish allies under the bus. But the Kurds could have foreseen this, both because of their previous experiences with the U.S. in Iraq and Trump's chronic unhappiness with the Syria deployment.

    Aaron David Miller, a vice-president at the Woodrow Wilson Center, was a State Department negotiator and adviser in Republican and Democratic administrations.
        Richard Sokolsky, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was a member of the Secretary of State's Office of Policy Planning from 2005-2015.

        See also Kurdish Hopes for U.S. Support Dashed Again - Liz Sly
    President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria represented yet another setback to Kurdish aspirations for some form of statehood, which have repeatedly met disappointment at the hands of the U.S. The letdowns began after President Woodrow Wilson pushed for but failed to secure a separate Kurdish state at the 1919 peace conference following World War I.
        In 1975, the U.S. abandoned support for a Kurdish uprising in Iraq after President Saddam Hussein struck a deal with their ally, the Shah of Iran. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush encouraged Iraqis to rise up against Saddam, but when the Kurds responded, the U.S. refrained from going to their aid.
        Most recently, the Trump administration last year withheld support for an independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, and Iraqi troops rolled unopposed into areas the Kurds had controlled. (Washington Post)