December 31, 2018

In-Depth Issues:

Ayatollah Khamenei Sees Palestine's Ultimate Victory in the "Not Too Distant Future" (Mehr News-Iran)
    Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Khamenei told visiting Secretary General of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement Ziad al-Nakhala in Tehran on Monday that Palestine's ultimate victory will be realized in the "not too distant future."
    "The Zionist regime, which the Arab armies could not defeat, was brought to its knees by the Palestinian people and resistance groups, and bigger victories will be on their way."

Four Killed in Bomb Attack on Tour Bus near Pyramids in Egypt - Adham Youssef (Guardian-UK)
    Three Vietnamese tourists and a local tour guide were killed and 11 others injured on Friday after a roadside bomb hit a bus near the Giza pyramids in Egypt.

Bomb from Gaza Tied to Balloons Lands near Israeli Kindergarten - Matan Tzuri (Ynet News)
    A cluster of balloons attached to an explosive device landed on Friday near a kindergarten in Moshav Kfar Maimon, not far from the Israeli border with Gaza.

IDF: 1,000 Rockets and Mortars Fired at Israel from Gaza in 2018 - Anna Ahronheim (Jerusalem Post)
    1,000 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza into Israel over the past year, a dramatic rise from the past three years when there were 71 in total.
    250 were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system and 45 fell in urban areas.
    The IDF destroyed 15 terror tunnels which infiltrated into Israeli territory from Gaza this year, and completed 27 km. of an underground barrier designed to block tunnels.
    7 soldiers and 9 civilians were killed and 199 injured in 87 terror attacks in 2018, compared to 20 killed and 169 injured in 97 terror attacks in 2017.

F-35 Sale Boosts Reciprocal Procurement in Israel - Yuval Azulai (Globes)
    The Israel Ministry of Defense on Sunday reported that Israeli companies had signed reciprocal procurement deals totaling $440 million with manufacturers of the F-35 Stealth Fighter.
    Israeli company Elbit Systems and U.S. company Rockwell Collins, in a joint company that manufactures an advanced helmet used by F-35 pilots, expanded its contract with Lockheed Martin to $1.12 billion.
    Other defense industries throughout Israel are involved in producing subsystems for the F-35.
    Israel has purchased 50 F-35 planes and 14 have been delivered so far, with six more slated for 2019.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Syrian Forces Move to Protect Syrian Kurds Fighting Islamic State - Nazih Osseiran
    Syrian government forces moved to protect Syrian Kurds who are fighting Islamic State after the U.S. said it would withdraw its troops from the region and the Syrian Kurds said they feared an attack by Turkey. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government troops had deployed just outside the city of Manbij between Kurdish YPG forces and Turkish-backed troops nearby. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Iraq Hints at Bigger Role in Syria after U.S. Withdrawal
    Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, referring to President Trump's announcement that he will withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, said on Sunday, "We have a 600 km. (400 mile) border with Syria and Daesh (Islamic State) is there.....There are groups operating in Syria, and Iraq is the best way to deal with this."
        Abdul Mahdi said Iraq sought to move beyond its current arrangement with Syria - under which it launches air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syrian territory. Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim paramilitary groups backed by Iran already operate inside Syrian territory against the Sunni Muslim militants of Islamic State. (Reuters)
  • U.S. Confirms Israel's "Right to Self-Defense" Against Iran
    State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino said Friday: "The United States fully supports Israel's right to defend itself against Iranian regional actions that endanger Israeli national security and the safety of the Israeli people. Iranian support of and supply to terrorist groups in Syria and across the region that have the clear intent and capability to strike Israel are unacceptable."
        "The United States fully supports Israel's right to defend itself against the Iranian regime's aggressive adventurism, and we will continue to ensure that Israel has the military capacity to do so decisively. The commitment of the Trump Administration and the American people to ensuring Israel's security is both enduring and unshakable."  (U.S. State Department)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu Warmly Welcomed in Brazil - Ariel Kahana
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was warmly greeted by Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, becoming the first Israeli prime minister to visit the South American country. (Israel Hayom)
        See also A Golden Opportunity for Israel in Brazil - Ariel Kahana
    Until a few months ago, Brazil, with a population of over 200 million people and the world's eighth largest economy, was impenetrable to Israeli diplomacy. Due to its Catholic background, traditionally socialist governments and strong Arab influence, Brazil was not only tough on Israel but also worked to derail Israel's diplomatic efforts throughout Latin America.
        However, internal processes in Brazil led to the rise to power of Jair Bolsonaro. Overnight, Brazil changed course to become a supporter of the Jewish state. (Israel Hayom)
  • UNIFIL Confirms Another Cross-Border Tunnel Violated UN Resolution
    UNIFIL in southern Lebanon on Saturday confirmed that a tunnel filled with cement by the Israeli army a day earlier had crossed the border and was in "violation of Resolution 1701," the UN decision that ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006. It was the third such tunnel that UNIFIL forces confirmed crossed the border. However, UNIFIL has not confirmed that the tunnels were dug by Hizbullah. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The UN Must Do Better to Condemn Terrorism - Jason D. Greenblatt
    On Dec. 6, the UN General Assembly failed to pass a resolution condemning Hamas' terrorist activities. The UN has condemned Israel - a UN member state - hundreds of times, but it has never condemned Hamas. Just a month ago, Hamas fired over 400 rockets into Israel. It has released hundreds of burning kites and encouraged violent demonstrations. These wanton acts of violence clearly deserve the strongest of condemnations.
        The small piece of good news is that the resolution received 87 votes. Last June, this same resolution received 62 votes. But at the end of the day, the UN General Assembly voted to defend terrorism.
        The vote undermines the Palestinian Authority as well. By opposing the resolution, the PA won a short-term political gain at the cost of sending a message that it supports Hamas' terrorism. But this will never achieve peace. The writer is an assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations. (The Hill)
  • Ten New York Times Journalists Accuse Israel of "Possibly a War Crime" - Ira Stoll
    The New York Times devoted a lot of resources to its investigative project about the death of Gaza medic Rouzan al-Najjar. It carries the front-page bylines of five Times reporters and also credits inside an additional five named Times journalists. Strip away the attempt at a dignified presentation, and the message is effectively - Jews are guilty, blood-drenched killers.
        The problem with the article is that the Times wants to accuse Israel of murdering this woman, but it can't quite prove its case. Ten Times journalists couldn't find a genuine war crime, just "possibly" a war crime. (Algemeiner)
        See also When a Medic Was Killed in Gaza, Was It an Accident? - David M. Halbfinger
    The Times' reconstruction confirmed: The bullet hit the ground in front of the medics, then fragmented, part of it ricocheting upward and piercing Ms. Najjar's chest. It was fired from a sand berm used by Israeli snipers at least 120 yards away. "She was not the target," IDF Spokesman Lt.-Col. Jonathan Conricus said. "None of the medical personnel are ever a target....In a situation like that, accidents happen, and unintended results happen."  (New York Times)

The U.S. Withdrawal from Syria Is Essentially Correct - Amb. Robert S. Ford (Washington Post)
  • Many observers have asserted that the U.S. withdrawal from Syria gives victory there to Russia, Iran and the Syrian government. That's absurd. Bashar al-Assad's regime already controls two-thirds of Syria, including all of the major cities.
  • The portion of Syria that U.S. forces control alongside their Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) allies is mostly either desert or drought-prone plains. The oil fields there produce high-sulfur, low-value crude, and production has long been diminishing. In sum, holding northeastern Syria would not have enabled Washington to leverage any important concessions from Damascus, Tehran or Moscow.
  • The Syrian Kurds have always allowed Damascus to keep its security offices open in northeastern Syria. If anything, the Syrian Kurds prefer the deployment of Syrian government forces along the Turkish border to deter Ankara. Agile Russian diplomacy should be able to secure the deal for a deployment of Syrian government forces into the region formerly controlled by the U.S.
  • Nor will the U.S. withdrawal be a game changer for Israeli security. Already, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, a former chief of the research division of Israeli military intelligence, noted that the U.S. troops' contribution against the Iranian forces in Syria was "marginal to zero."
  • If Iran tries to build a land bridge from Tehran to its allies in Lebanon, the Israeli Air Force is more than capable of interdicting those convoys.
  • Critics also warn that the U.S. withdrawal could lead to a resurgence of the Islamic State. This is possible, but U.S. troops can't destroy the Islamic State ideology, and restraining future recruitment by the extremist group requires more than some infrastructure rehabilitation projects. Only Syrians, not U.S. troops and stabilization teams, can deal with Syria's underlying societal problems that spurred Islamist extremist recruitment.

        The writer, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and Yale University, was U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2011 to 2014.