February 6, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

Iran Says Europeans Aren't Buying Oil Despite U.S. Waivers (AP-Washington Post)
    Iran says European nations have not responded to its offers to sell them crude oil.
    Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh appeared to be referring to Greece and Italy, which were granted waivers to import Iranian oil when the U.S. restored sanctions in November.

Russian-Supplied S-300 Systems Becoming Operational in Syria, Satellite Images Reveal - Yaniv Kubovich (Ha'aretz)
    Three of four S-300 aerial defense launchers deployed in Masyaf, Syria, have been documented in an erected position in an image produced by an Israeli satellite, indicating that they are becoming operational.
    Israeli defense officials believe that the Israel Air Force can overcome the new batteries in Syria.

Russians Hide Their Losses in Syria - Maria Tsvetkova and Anton Zverev (Reuters)
    After a major battle against U.S.-led forces in Syria's Deir al-Zor region on Feb. 7, 2018, in which 100 Russian military contractors were killed, Reuters has identified half a dozen instances where a Kremlin-linked private military organization returned bodies of fighters to their families more than seven weeks after the battle and with official documents bearing incorrect details.
    Such practices would have helped conceal heavy casualties until after President Putin's re-election in March.

Attendance of Israeli Ambassador Slammed by Organizers of Cairo Book Fair (Middle East Monitor)
    The organizers of the Cairo Book Fair have condemned Israeli Ambassador to Egypt David Govrin after he attended their event, accusing him of attempting to encourage "a state of cultural normalization."
    Photos shared on the Israeli Embassy's Facebook page last week showed Govrin perusing books at the fair, with a statement praising the event.

Israeli Startups Raised $450 Million in January (Globes)
    Israeli startups raised over $450 million during January, according to press releases issued by companies that have completed financing rounds.

Meet Israel's Elite Military Divers - Seth J. Frantzman (Jerusalem Post)
    The IDF's Yaltam underwater mission unit is one of several units requiring divers in the military.
    While the naval commandos are better-known, Yaltam deals with explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and professional divers.
    Training includes a diving school, advanced diving, and learning to work underwater.
    One of the unit's most important missions is search and rescue. If there is a civilian in distress or need for divers, they would be the first to be deployed.

Tourism to Israel Continues to Rise (Jerusalem Post)
    The number of tourists who entered Israel in January 2019 represented an 11% increase over January 2018 and a 35% increase from January 2017, according to the Israel Ministry of Tourism.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Senate Passes Anti-BDS Measure by 77-23 - Ron Kampeas
    The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved by a 77-23 vote a bill that codifies $38 billion in defense assistance to Israel and which provides legal cover to states that target the boycott-Israel movement. Among the Democratic dissenters to the bill - sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) - were declared presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Non-declared presidential contenders who voted against included Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown.
        The American Israel Public Affairs Committee praised the Senate for passing the bill and noted, "The legislation has no impact on the right of Americans to personally boycott Israel or oppose Israeli policies. The bill's scope is limited to commercial activities between companies and state and local governments."  (JTA)
        See also below Observations: The Truth about BDS and the Lies about My Bill - Sen. Marco Rubio (New York Times)
  • Trump: "We Must Never Ignore the Vile Poison of Anti-Semitism"
    In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Trump said: "One of the most complex set of challenges we face is in the Middle East. Our approach is based on principled realism - not discredited theories that have failed for decades to yield progress. For this reason, my Administration recognized the true capital of Israel - and proudly opened the American Embassy in Jerusalem."
        "My administration has acted decisively to confront the world's leading state sponsor of terror: the radical regime in Iran. To ensure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons, I withdrew the United States from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. And last fall, we put in place the toughest sanctions ever imposed on a country."
        "We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants death to America and threatens genocide against the Jewish people. We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed. With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs."  (White House)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu to Meet Putin to Discuss Blocking Iranian Entrenchment in Syria - Herb Keinon
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Feb. 21. Netanyahu said: "It's very important that we continue to prevent Iran from entrenching in Syria. In many ways we've blocked that advance and we're committed to continue blocking it, preventing Iran from creating another war-front against us, right here opposite the Golan Heights. This is the main subject I will be discussing with President Putin."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Senior White House Official: No Need for Equivalency between Israelis and Palestinians - Raphael Ahren
    A senior White House official this week dismissed the concept that the U.S. must be an "honest broker" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as "a vestige of talking points from decades ago." "We don't believe that in order for us to work on a peace effort we need to have an equivalency, where we can only say certain things about Israel if at the same time we also say something about the Palestinians. Not only does that not work, we don't think it's right. We say what's on our mind, we speak the truth. The truth may be uncomfortable for some people. But we cannot solve the conflict without being open and honest."
        The official reiterated that meetings with "ordinary Palestinians" were taking place on a regular basis. "They express deep frustration with their leadership. They believe that their leadership has eroded their standing in the world....They want to engage with us and they want to see what is in the plan. They want a better future, and they know the key to that involves the U.S."
        "We believe we can put forth a credible, realistic and fair plan that could bring this conflict to an end; to dramatically improve Palestinian lives, maintain Israel's security and allow Israel to integrate into the region in a way that even two years ago no one would have imagined it could."  (Times of Israel)
  • Israeli Ambassador Urges Germany to Change Anti-Israel Stance at UN - Benjamin Weinthal
    Israel's ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, on Tuesday called on the federal republic "to change its voting behavior" at the UN. Bild newspaper reported that "Germany, of all places, regularly sides with the enemies of Israel. In November, Germany voted 16 times in 21 resolutions against Israel. It abstained in four resolutions." Issacharoff said, "It's urgently necessary to change German voting behavior in the UNGA on Israel."  (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Europe's Iran Trade Flop - Editorial
    European diplomats have convinced themselves that they must abide by the flawed 2015 nuclear deal with Iran to demonstrate their credibility. The European Commission, Germany, France and the UK are clinging to the agreement out of fear that Tehran might start developing the nuclear weapons Tehran intends to develop eventually anyway.
        Yet already the new Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchange (Instex) to allow EU companies to keep trading with Iran is shaping up to be a major flop. It will facilitate only trade in humanitarian goods not covered by U.S. sanctions. Most large companies are likely to avoid trading via Instex in any case, for fear of legal problems in Washington if Iran misdirects the proceeds. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Islamic Jihad, the New Lord of Gaza? - Shlomi Eldar
    Over the past few months, Israeli security forces have noted the growing influence of Islamic Jihad on Hamas. Seeking to avoid problems with Iran, the Hamas leadership feels it has little choice but to follow Islamic Jihad's dictates when dealing with Israel and Egypt. This was exacerbated following the appointment of Ziyad al-Nakhalah as secretary-general of Islamic Jihad in September 2018. Nakhalah replaces Abdullah Ramadan Shalah, who has been in a coma ever since he suffered a stroke in April 2018. Nakhalah was his deputy.
        Islamic Jihad and Hamas fully cooperated operationally during armed conflicts with Israel. Yet Islamic Jihad competes with Hamas over Palestinian public opinion, particularly on who was more loyal to the idea of a genuine armed jihad against Israel. In the last few months, Islamic Jihad has transformed from an organization that takes its cues from Hamas to an activist group that initiates its own activities. On Jan. 22, an Islamic Jihad sniper in Gaza shot an IDF officer in the head during a riot along the border fence. (Al-Monitor)
  • Why Has Human Rights Watch Become an Anti-Israel Activist Group? - David May and Jonathan Schanzer
    When Airbnb announced in November that it would ban Israeli listings in the West Bank, it was Human Rights Watch (HRW) that pressured Airbnb into boycotting Israel with its report, "Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land." HRW has since joined several controversial BDS campaigns. In 2017 and 2018, HRW began pressuring banks to cease operations in Israeli settlements. It's unclear why HRW's leadership allowed an otherwise mainstream group to become a ringleader for BDS.
        David May is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, is senior vice president. (Washington Examiner)

The Truth about BDS and the Lies about My Bill - Sen. Marco Rubio (New York Times)
  • A bipartisan supermajority in the Senate passed the Combating BDS Act on Tuesday. Yet a few of my colleagues recently echoed false claims made by anti-Israel activists and others that the bill violates Americans' First Amendment rights.
  • That line of argument is not only wrong but also provides cover for supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, who embrace an international campaign of discriminatory economic warfare against Israel, a fellow democracy and America's strongest ally in the Middle East.
  • In a high-profile case in 2014, the BDS movement drove the Israeli company SodaStream from the West Bank. Five hundred Palestinian employees were left jobless by the move.
  • The Combating BDS Act does not prohibit Americans' right to engage in boycotts. It focuses on business entities - not individuals - and, consistent with the Supreme Court, it focuses on conduct, not speech. It does not restrict citizens or associations of citizens from engaging in political speech, including against Israel.
  • Rather, the bill merely clarifies that entities - such as corporations or companies - have no fundamental right to government contracts and government investment.
  • "Anti-discrimination restrictions on government contractors are commonplace and a normal requirement for government funding," Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor at George Mason University, notes.