December 27, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Iranian MP: 1,800 Religious Scholars, Preachers Hold Posts in Oil Ministry (Al Arabiya)
    The head of the Iranian Parliament Commission on Energy, Hassan Wand, said 1,800 religious scholars have been appointed to posts in the Oil Ministry under the guidance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, although their job titles and the nature of their roles is unknown.
    Iranian citizens have recently criticized religious scholars for their role in corruption and domination of power in the country at the expense of marginalized groups.
    A spokesman for Iran's religious clergy, Ghulam Reza Musbahi Muqaddam, warned against the increasing phenomenon of clerics being stabbed in the streets by disgruntled citizens.

Hamas: Silencing and Intimidating Critics - Khaled Abu Toameh (Gatestone Institute)
    When Hamas is not firing rockets at Israel or sending Palestinians to clash with Israeli soldiers along the border, it sends its security officers to arrest, interrogate, intimidate and harass anyone who dares to criticize Hamas.
    The terms "democracy" and "freedom of expression" have never been in Hamas' dictionary.
    In the past week, Hamas arrested two Palestinian academics for voicing criticism of the group.
    Professor of biology Salah Jadallah, once a prominent figure in Hamas, posted a comment on Facebook on Dec. 19 accusing Hamas rulers of stealing funds earmarked for the people in order to build villas and mansions for themselves.
    Writer Khader Mihjez was detained by Hamas for several hours on Dec. 26 - apparently for criticizing the arrest of Jadallah.

Russia's Arabic Propaganda - Anna Borshchevskaya and Catherine Cleveland (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
    The Kremlin has invested heavily in reaching Arabic-speaking audiences. Indeed, Moscow devotes more resources to reaching the developing world, primarily Spanish as well as Arabic-speaking, than to reaching Western audiences.
    Moreover, while Russia's overall population is declining, its large Muslim minority is growing, a factor which has boosted Moscow's need to engage with the Middle East.
    The RT Arabic and Sputnik Arabic websites are the two most visible outlets of Moscow's propaganda influence.
    The writers are senior fellows at The Washington Institute.

Malaria Blood Test Firm Sight Diagnostics Raises $28 Million - Gali Weinreb (Globes)
    Israel's Sight Diagnostics announced Sunday it had raised $28 million.
    The firm has developed a real-time blood test for malaria requiring only the prick of a finger. Current tests require taking blood from a vein.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Trump: U.S. Can Use Iraq as Base for Syria Operations - Paul Sonne and Tamer El-Ghobashy
    President Trump said during a visit to Iraq on Wednesday that the presence of U.S. troops in that country would enable the U.S. to reenter Syria if need be. Trump said he has no plans to withdraw American forces from Iraq, which allows the U.S. to maintain a presence in the heart of the Middle East as a bulwark against Iranian influence. U.S. forces remain in Iraq with the permission of the government, unlike in Syria. (Washington Post)
  • Iran's Economic Crisis Drags Down the Middle Class Almost Overnight - Thomas Erdbrink
    Millions of middle-class Iranians have seen their lives shrink almost overnight, dragged down by economic forces beyond their control. Iran's economy is in a shambles, savaged by years of mismanagement and renewed economic sanctions. Abbas Torkan, a former adviser to President Rouhani, said recently that the middle class had shrunk by 50%.
        The government has expanded the money supply by more than 30% annually for more than a decade, using the extra cash to cover budget deficits. As a result, inflation has exploded to an annual rate of 35%, says Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, a professor of economics at Virginia Tech University. (New York Times)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu: Withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Syria Will Not Change Our Policy
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told graduates of the Israel Air Force pilots' course on Wednesday: "We are not prepared to accept the Iranian military entrenchment in Syria which is directed against us....President Trump's decision to withdraw the American soldiers from Syria will not change our policy. We are standing steadfast on our red lines in Syria and everywhere else."  (Prime Minister's Office)
  • IDF Destroys Fifth Hizbullah Tunnel - Yoav Zitun
    "IDF troops exposed an additional cross-border attack tunnel that was dug from the Shiite village of Ayta al-Shab and crossed into Israeli territory. A short while ago, the tunnel was neutralized by an explosion," the IDF Spokesperson announced Wednesday. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Criticism of the U.S. Withdrawal from Syria Is Overblown - Dr. Christopher J. Bolan
    Criticism of the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Syria as handing both Russia and Iran a significant "victory" is overblown. Russia and Iran were positioned from the beginning to be the dominant influencers in the course of Syria's civil war. Moreover, what passes for a short-term win for Moscow and Tehran will likely prove to be a rather hollow victory.
        First, Russia and Iran have vital interests at stake in Syria, whereas U.S. interests have always been limited. Moscow and Tehran were never going to abandon Syria, which has been their ally for decades. Moreover, in the battle for influence in Syria, Moscow and Tehran were supporting an existing internationally-recognized government possessing a large array of domestic security and military forces. In contrast, the U.S. supported a fractured and divided political opposition which, aside from Syrian Kurdish militias, proved to be anemic and ineffective.
        Syria will remain a broken, divided, and weak country for decades to come. The civil war displaced nearly half of Syria's 22 million people, destroyed much of its infrastructure, and hardened the political, religious, and social divisions within Syrian society.
        With Russia and Iran both suffering under the heavy burden of U.S. sanctions, neither country can afford to make the substantial investment needed for reconstruction. For the foreseeable future, a needy Syria will remain a drain on Russian and Iranian coffers. The writer is Professor of Middle East Security Studies at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. (Foreign Policy Research Institute)
  • Hamas Is Committed to Israel's Destruction - Lt.-Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Bartal
    Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh boasted at this month's celebration of the organization's 31st anniversary that Hamas has succeeded in rallying the Palestinians behind a national political plan to end the "Zionist occupation" and derail President Trump's "deal of the century," viewed as a Zionist-American conspiracy to undermine the Palestinian national struggle.
        Hamas makes no effort to disguise its ultimate goal of establishing a Palestinian state on Israel's ruins. The glaring failure of the UN to condemn Hamas' countless war crimes (firing rockets at Israeli civilians or straightforward terror attacks) has reinforced its belief that its actions are considered by the international community to be legitimate.
        Hamas boasts that it has carried out numerous "acts of resistance," including "dozens of shooting operations as well as hundreds of stabbing, car ramming and firebomb attacks that killed and wounded the enemy."  The writer is a research associate at the BESA Center. (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
  • Palestinians Learn to Hate - Nadav Shragai
    Palestinians are not born hating Jews. That hatred is learned. This is how for generations they have been churning out terrorists who shoot, stab and run over pregnant women, children asleep in their beds, and soldiers and police officers on guard duty.
        The Palestinians feed their children hatred with their mothers' milk. Where else in the world will you find a society that gives babies names like "Knife of Jerusalem" and posts pictures of them on Facebook holding weapons in their tiny hands? Where else on Earth are sports teams, streets and schools named after the murderers of children and the elderly?
        While in Israeli society we fight the agents of hatred and try to cast them out from among us, religious figures in the Palestinian Authority explain that the conflict with Israel is an eternal war commanded by God and that hating and killing Jews is the will of Allah. The problem is not just the murderers themselves, it is the masses in Palestinian society who stand behind them. The writer, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a veteran journalist and commentator. (Israel Hayom)

  • The Syria that the U.S. military is vacating is a Balkanized version of the country that plunged into a calamitous civil war nearly eight years ago. The most likely Syrian future, Middle East analysts project, is a far more brittle version of what existed before the war: President Assad leading a repressive government puppeteered by Russia and Iran.
  • Defying the Syrian government's historic secularism, Iran and Hizbullah have infused parts of the country with a strikingly religious tint. Ali Rizk, a Beirut-based analyst, said Iran and Hizbullah have spread their Shiite beliefs among some of the Syrian forces. Moreover, some Syrian army soldiers have joined Iran-backed Shiite militias because their fighters receive better pay and more days off.
  • Iran and Russia are already in competition, with Russia wanting a self-supporting Syrian government weaned from Russian military and financial help, and Iran preferring something weaker, analysts said. But neither can afford the cost of Syria's reconstruction.
  • The Russians "want to find an exit from Syria basically, militarily, leaving in place their two bases and their own people within the security apparatus, and Russian companies to help with reconstruction," said Joost Hiltermann, the Middle East program director for the International Crisis Group. "They don't want to get bogged down militarily."
  • Both patrons may find Syria's stability hard to re-establish under Assad. Already, peaceful protests against him have been staged in areas where he has reasserted control, analysts said. "The Russians are very keenly aware that Assad's position is fragile, the economy is totally destroyed, and politically it's a mess," said Alexander Bick, who oversaw Syria issues at the National Security Council under the Obama administration.