January 14, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

Israeli Minister Visits Egypt following Invitation from Cairo (Al Jazeera)
    Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz arrived in Cairo on Sunday to attend a regional forum on natural gas after receiving an invitation from the Egyptian government.
    "Here you have for the first time real economic cooperation between the axis-of-peace states - Israel, Egypt and Jordan - along with European countries," Steinitz told Israel Army Radio ahead of the trip.

16-20 Hamas Fighters Killed in November Incident, Not 7, IDF Chief Says (Times of Israel)
    IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told Hadashot TV on Saturday that 16-20 Hamas members were killed in a firefight on Nov. 11 with IDF special forces operating in Gaza, and not 7, as previously reported. 40 to 60 Palestinians were injured, he added.
    In the incident, an Israeli officer was killed and a second soldier badly injured.

After Mass Riots on Gaza Border, U.S. Envoy Says Hamas "Putting Lives at Risk" (Times of Israel)
    Jason Greenblatt, President Trump's envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, condemned Hamas on Friday for its "instigation of violence" along Gaza's border with Israel, after a day of intense rioting.
    Greenblatt tweeted that Hamas was "putting lives, both Israeli and Palestinian, at risk," and added that it was making "cynical use of Gaza's citizens" while driving the territory backward.
    The Israeli army said 13,000 Palestinians participated in riots on Friday, throwing rocks, fire bombs and hand-grenades at Israeli troops, burning tires and trying to breach the security fence.
    On Friday morning, Palestinians launched balloons laden with incendiary devices across the border into Israel.
    See also Violence at the Gaza Border Continues - Yoni Ben Menachem (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Palestinian Tries to Stab IDF Soldiers near Kiryat Arba (Times of Israel)
    A Palestinian man tried to stab soldiers at an army post near Kiryat Arba in the West Bank on Friday before he was shot and "neutralized."

Yemen Military Intelligence Chief Dies after Drone Attack - Ahmed al-Haj (AP)
    Yemen's chief of military intelligence Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Saleh Tamah died Sunday after a bomb-laden drone targeted a military parade at the Al-Anad Air Base near Aden, killing at least six people. The attack was claimed by the Shiite Houthi rebels.
    See also Houthi Drones Attack Senior Officials in Yemenite and Saudi Armies - Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
    The drones used by the Houthis are very similar to the Iranian Ababil-T, which is produced by the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA).
    This drone can carry 30-40 kg. of explosive material over a distance of 150 km.
    Iran is developing asymmetrical air (attack drones) and naval (GPS-controlled explosive speedboats) capabilities to compete with the superior naval and aerial abilities of the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
    See also Saudi Coalition Says It Destroyed Houthi Drone Control Center in Yemen (Reuters)

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • White House Sought Options to Strike Iran - Dion Nissenbaum
    The U.S. National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran last year, current and former U.S. officials said. The request came after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad's diplomatic quarter, home to the U.S. Embassy, on Sept. 6. Two days later, militants fired three rockets that hit relatively close to the U.S. consulate.
        White House officials decided they needed to send a clear message to Iran. President Trump's national security team, led by John Bolton, conducted a series of meetings to discuss a forceful U.S. response. The Pentagon complied with the NSC's request, the officials said. (Wall Street Journal)
  • U.S. Officials Say California Men Were Agents of Iran - Melissa Etehad
    Majid Ghorbani, 59, and Ahmadreza Mohammadi Doostdar, 38, were operating in Orange County, California, as agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran, U.S. authorities allege. The men's goal, authorities say, was to conduct surveillance on Israeli and Jewish facilities in the U.S., and to collect information on members of the Mujahedin Khalq, MEK, an Iranian exile group that has long sought to topple the regime in Tehran.
        From the summer of 2017 to the spring of 2018, authorities say, the men crisscrossed the U.S., videotaping participants at MEK rallies in New York and Washington, and photographing Jewish centers in Chicago. Both men have been accused of acting as agents of a foreign government and with providing services to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Trump Threatens to "Devastate Turkey Economically" If It Attacks Kurds - Thomas Gibbons-Neff
    President Trump threatened Turkey on Sunday with harsh economic sanctions if it attacks Kurdish forces in Syria after American troops withdraw from the country in the coming months. "Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds," Trump said on Twitter. "Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey."  (New York Times)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu Confirms IDF Strike on Iranian Targets in Damascus
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Cabinet on Sunday: "Just in the past 36 hours the IDF struck Iranian targets in Damascus, proving we are more determined than ever to take action against Iran in Syria." He said the strikes targeted Iranian warehouses. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said airstrikes targeted an area near the airport while others hit the area of Kiswa, home to positions and storage sites for Iranian and Hizbullah forces. (Israel Hayom)
        See also Report: Recent Israeli Strike in Syria Wounded Top Iran, Hizbullah Militants
    Israel's airstrike on Iranian "weapons depots" at Damascus airport may have also targeted and wounded members of Lebanese Hizbullah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps leadership, according to a report by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida. At least two IRGC officers and a Hizbullah official were seriously injured, as well as several officers from the Syrian army, according to the report. (i24News)
        See also Satellite Photos Show Iranian Missile Depot Leveled by Israeli Strike - Michael Bachner (Times of Israel)
  • IDF Finds Sixth and Largest Hizbullah Attack Tunnel - Yoav Zitun
    The IDF on Saturday located a sixth attack tunnel dug by Hizbullah from Eastern Ramyeh in Lebanon into Israeli territory. "The tunnel was 800 meters long on its Lebanese side and infiltrated dozens of meters into Israel. The tunnel is two meters high, one meter in diameter, and approximately 55 meters deep. It's equipped with railway tracks, steps carved into the rock, as well as electric power and lighting," the army said.
        "According to our assessments, there are no longer any tunnels crossing into Israel," said military spokesman Lt.-Col. Jonathan Conricus. "IDF troops and the underground detection laboratory will continue operating regularly along the Lebanese border," as the army declared Sunday the completion of Operation Northern Shield to locate Hizbullah terror tunnels. (Ynet News)
  • Israeli Army Detains Palestinian Cell Responsible for Shooting at Jewish Community
    The Israeli army announced Friday it had detained the Palestinian cell responsible for a shooting attack on an Israeli town south of Jerusalem last Saturday. A group of Palestinians climbed onto the roof of a building in Beit Fajjar and opened fire at Israeli houses in nearby Kibbutz Migdal Oz. (Ma'an News-PA)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Why Israel Chose to End Its Ambiguity over Syria Strikes - Ron Ben-Yishai
    Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, in his farewell interviews, confirmed that the Israeli army has attacked thousands of targets in Syria. On Sunday, the prime minister revealed that Israel was responsible for the Friday night attack in Damascus. The Israeli decision to end the ambiguity of its attacks in Syria is a calculated move.
        Israel wants to make sure that the Iranian leadership is fully aware of the losses and damage they are suffering in Syria under Qassem Suleimani - the head of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards - and of the resources they have expended in vain trying to entrench themselves there.
        Israel has an interest in making Iranians understand that these efforts by Suleimani - which Israel has foiled in recent years - cost huge sums. Israel decided that it was time to end its policy of ambiguity so that Iranians will finally know why senior Revolutionary Guards officials are coming home in coffins. (Ynet News)
  • Why Lift the Fog Off IDF Actions in Syria? - Herb Keinon
    Former Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold said that when Israel takes credit for an operation of this sort, "it becomes part of its deterrence posture - there is no longer a doubt, and it is now clear that Israel will do what is necessary to prevent the buildup of an Iranian military presence on Syrian soil." Taking responsibility "adds credibility to Israel's statements about not allowing Iran to convert Syria into a satellite state."
        The timing, he said, is connected to the U.S. intention to remove its forces from Syria. "I think the discussion of a U.S. withdrawal has perhaps given the Iranians a sense that they now can just take over Syria." Israel's taking responsibility for attacks there sends them a clear message that they cannot. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Revealed: Iranian Site for Production of Uranium Metal and Nuclear Weapons Components - David Albright, Olli Heinonen, Frank Pabian, and Andrea Stricker
    Documentation from the Iranian Nuclear Archive seized by Israel reveals a major, former nuclear weapons site that was not previously identified. The most likely purpose of this site was as a production-scale facility to produce uranium metal components for nuclear weapons.
        A key step in the manufacturing of a nuclear warhead is the production of its fissile material components. A facility was designed to turn high enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) to uranium metal, cast it, and machine components to their final forms to be assembled in the warhead itself.
        The decision to build a production-scale plant would imply that Iran had gained confidence in making uranium components for nuclear weapons and was implementing a plan to build them in the near future. (Institute for Science and International Security)

The Man Who Humbled Qassim Suleimani - Bret Stephens interviews IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot (New York Times)
  • "We struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit," says Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot about Israel's undeclared and unfinished military campaign against Iran and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon.
  • "Two-and-a-half years ago...we noticed a significant change in Iran's strategy. Their vision was to have significant influence in Syria by building a force of up to 100,000 Shiite fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. They built intelligence bases and an air force base within each Syrian air base." Behind the build-up was Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran's Quds Force, which has spearheaded Tehran's ambitions to make itself a regional hegemon.
  • In January 2017 Eisenkot obtained the government's unanimous consent for a change in the rules of the game. Israeli attacks became near-daily events. In 2018 alone, the air force dropped 2,000 bombs.
  • That May, Suleimani attempted to retaliate by launching "more than 30 rockets toward Israel." None reached its target. Israel responded with an assault that hit 80 separate Iranian military and Assad regime targets in Syria.
  • Suleimani's "error was choosing a playground where he is relatively weak. We have complete intelligence superiority in this area. We enjoy complete aerial superiority," said Eisenkot. "I can say with confidence that, as we speak, Hizbullah does not possess accurate [missile] capabilities except for small and negligible ones. They were hoping to have hundreds of missiles in the mid- and long-range."
  • Thanks to Gadi Eisenkot, at least we know the Iranians aren't invincible.