U.S. Military Sets April Target Date for Leaving Syria
- Dion Nissenbaum and Nancy A. Youssef (Wall Street Journal
The Pentagon is preparing to pull all U.S. forces out of Syria by the end of April, U.S. officials said on Thursday. The military plans to pull a significant portion of its forces out by mid-March.
The U.S. military has more than 2,000 troops in Syria, where they are helping Kurdish and Arab fighters seize the final patch of Islamic State territory.
Defense officials have said equipment has begun moving out of Syria and the additional troops needed to support the withdrawal have arrived.
The U.S. has been trying to work out a deal with Turkey on a political plan for northeastern Syria that would avert a fight between Turkish forces and Kurdish forces in Syria that Turkey views as terrorists. But the two sides have made little headway.
Iran Tried to Hack Israel's Missile-Alert System
- Yoav Limor (Israel Hayom
Iran tried to hack Israel's missile-alert system over a year ago, IDF Cyber Defense Division Commander Noam Sha'ar told Israel Hayom.
The cyberattack on the system that provides early warning on incoming missiles was successfully repelled.
The attack was detected due to the constant monitoring of an Iranian cyber group, one of dozens run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps with a budget of over $1 billion.
According to Sha'ar, Iran is constantly trying to compromise Israel's sensitive infrastructure, both inside and outside the military. His unit has foiled about 130 such attacks.
"There is a nonstop Iranian effort to engage in cyberwarfare against Israel," he said.
Iran to Syria: Time to Pay Us Back
- Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael Segall (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, Chairman of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, during a recent visit to Syria and upon his return to Iran, leveled criticism over the treatment Iran receives from Syria, particularly over its disregard for paying its many debts to Iran.
He complained that Iranian aid given to the Syrian government during the war was funds pulled "out of the throats of the Iranian people," and Syria must pay back these funds in the form of preferential treatment to Iranian companies bidding on rehabilitation projects in Syria.
Falahatpisheh also revealed impatience with Russian military operations in Syria and the "abandonment" of Iranian forces.
Falahatpisheh stated after Israel's recent attack that Russia did not activate the S-300 anti-aircraft defense system during the raids.
This, he said, comes from "apparent coordination between Russia and Israel."
Report: ISIS Leader Survives Coup Attempt
- Martin Chulov (Guardian-UK
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi survived a coup attempt on Jan. 10 launched by foreign fighters in his eastern Syrian hideout, intelligence officials believe.
A planned move against Baghdadi led to a firefight between foreign fighters and the terrorist chief's bodyguards, who spirited him away to the nearby desert.
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Watchdog: Revolutionary Iran Jails 1.7 Million in 30 Years
Media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Thursday that Iranian authorities arrested, jailed and sometimes executed 1.7 million people around the capital Tehran alone in the first 30 years after the 1979 Islamic revolution, including at least 860 journalists.
The group said its information was based on a confidential file obtained by whistleblowers of judicial proceedings for people locked up in Evin prison.
"We have identified... the cases of at least 61,940 political prisoners during the period of 1979 until 2009, only in Tehran," said Christophe Deloire, head of RSF.
Israel: Still the Underdog in Today's Middle East
- James Sinkinson (JNS
Israel is the Middle East's ultimate scrappy underdog. Few countries in the world are more threatened by more belligerent enemies than Israel.
Certainly, no country is hated as vehemently for its very existence. Iran threatens Israel on virtually a daily basis and makes belligerent military gestures on Israel's borders through its sponsorship of Syria and terror groups.
Israel is the only rule-of-law democracy and Western ally in the Middle East, struggling to defend itself against a deadly array of Islamist forces - including Iran, Syria, Turkey, Hizbullah and the Palestinians - all of whom are attempting to destroy the Jewish state.
In truth, Israel is no less an underdog today than it was in 1948.
It struggles under a constant international diplomatic barrage at the UN, daily attempts to violate its borders via land and sea by designated terror groups, murderous attacks against its civilians and bellicose threats from an imperialist nation with one of the world's largest armies - one that's on the threshold of acquiring nuclear arms.
The writer is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME).
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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
- U.S. Will Not Renew Iran Sanctions Waivers in May
U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told Japanese public broadcaster NHK on Tuesday: "Iran's oil customers should not expect new waivers to U.S. sanctions in May. The November waivers were designed to prevent a spike in oil prices, and it appears that there will be enough oil supply to satisfy demand this year."
"We are not looking to grant any future waivers or exceptions to our sanctions regime, whether it's oil or anything else," adding that the U.S. aims to "get to zero imports to Iranian crude as quickly as possible." The U.S. had exempted eight countries from sanctions on importing Iranian oil for six months. U.S. sanctions have almost halved Iran's oil exports.
The head of Iran's Plan and Budget Organization, Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, acknowledged last month, "We are in dire straits when it comes to exporting oil. The drop in our oil exports has left us far behind." (Radio Farda)
- U.S.: Israel Had the Right to End the Mandate of International Observers in Hebron
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino was asked Thursday why the U.S. blocked a statement at the UN Security Council on Israel's decision to end the mandate of international observers in Hebron.
He replied: "The 1997 agreement on the temporary international presence in the city of Hebron clearly states that the consent of both the Israelis and the Palestinians is required in order to extend the mandate and presence of the TIPH. Furthermore, Oslo II and Hebron Protocol of 1997 also stated that the agreement from both sides was necessary for that to continue."
"Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the Israeli decision not to renew, it would be inaccurate to accuse Israel of not having the right to make this decision under the 1997 agreement." (State Department)
- White House Aims to Build Support from Arab Allies for Mideast Peace Plan - Vivian Salama
Senior Trump administration officials will travel to the Middle East this month to unveil the administration's long-term economic vision for Israel and the Palestinian territories. "We understand that if the political aspect of [the peace plan] is not solid, the economic aspect is meaningless. But at the same time, the political aspect will not succeed without a proper economic plan," a senior White House official said Thursday.
"If regional leaders think our ideas offer a transformative vision for the Palestinians, for integrating the Palestinians and Israel into the region, and if they agree to financially support our plan, that would be a success." (Wall Street Journal)
- Palestinians Label Upcoming Middle East Meeting an "American Conspiracy"
The Palestinian government rejected on Thursday a U.S.-led conference on Middle East peace and security due to take place on Feb. 13-14 in Warsaw, branding it an "American conspiracy." The Palestinians were not invited to the meeting and said they would ignore all conclusions from the conference.
The Palestinians have refused to talk to the U.S. since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December 2017.
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
- Iran Rebuilds Precision Missile Factory in Northwest Syria
Israel has discovered a new precision missile factory being constructed by Iran near the northwestern city of Safita in Syria after Israel bombed and destroyed a previous one, Channel 12 reported Thursday.
The new factory could dramatically upgrade the threat to Israel from the vast arsenal of rockets and missiles deployed in southern Lebanon by Iran's proxy, Hizbullah.
(Times of Israel)
- Israel Thwarts Jordanian Weapons Smugglers - Hagay Hacohen
Israeli security forces thwarted Jordanian weapons smugglers intending to sell weapons to Fatah officials in the West Bank, Channel 12 reported on Thursday. The weapons included 82 assault rifles and 80 handguns. Fatah officials are arming supporters ahead of an expected civil war over leadership when PA President Mahmoud Abbas dies.
- Declassified U.S. Document: Palestinian Schools Teaching Hate - Ben Bresky
A declassified document from the U.S. Government Accountability Office says that schools in Palestinian Authority areas run by UNRWA have an anti-Israel bias bordering on incitement to violence. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) said, "It is unacceptable that the textbooks that are used delegitimize Israel and demonize the Jewish people; it is unacceptable that this program attempts to engrain this hatred in the hearts of children. Americans' hard-earned money went towards its funding and it is unacceptable that the State Department lied to Congress about these very realities." (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
- Has the U.S. Intelligence Community Misread Iran's Nuclear Program? - Ariel Ben Solomon
U.S. President Donald Trump clashed with the intelligence community last week over the threat posed by Iran, a position that has some U.S. and Israeli experts nodding in agreement.
Former weapons inspector David Albright, founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said the U.S. intelligence community told us that "Iran does not have a structured nuclear-weapons program - something we all know."
However, he said, the intelligence community "punted on the more important questions of whether Iran is preserving capabilities to make nuclear weapons, e.g., the Atomic Archive, or working on certain activities to overcome bottlenecks in their nuclear-weapons program."
How "does the intelligence community...know that certain activities do not continue today, particularly given the IAEA has not visited many of the sites mentioned in the archives?" he asked. How does the intelligence community "view Iran's ongoing development of missiles that would be capable of delivering nuclear weapons? Several pieces of the assessment puzzle just weren't there."
Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said Iran "is indeed working on advanced centrifuge R&D under the terms of the deal. Moreover, it is testing missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. Both activities are key to having a nuclear-weapons capability, and Iran can work on them without violating the JCPOA."
Compliance with the JCPOA is not the barometer for assessing Iranian intentions or ambitions, she added. The JCPOA enables Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure, which is in line with its continued nuclear ambitions.
- As Arab Leaders Warm toward Israel and Jews, Are Arab Publics Following? - Joseph Braude
In the Arab Middle East, even as some Arab leaders are visibly warming toward Israel and Jews, the widespread culture of rejectionism and anti-Semitism persists. Ingrained over generations, it permeates much popular sentiment.
Yet the Israel Foreign Ministry's Arabic Facebook page, "Israel Speaks Arabic," has attracted 1.7 million followers in the Arab world. Of the 2,700 daily comments on the page, 1/3 are positive and 17% are neutral. Among the positive comments are tens of thousands of requests for tourist visas.
"Let's be honest," wrote Muna Abd al-Aziz, a professor of media studies at Cairo University, in the Arab Telegraph in October 2018:
"In every newsroom...there have always been voices...more skeptical of the wisdom of the 'boycott,' and more open to direct engagement. They know that when the Jews of Arab lands fled to Israel, we lost a piece of our collective soul. And they know that if we can somehow reclaim that connection - accepting our Jewish brethren for who they are, where they live, and what they believe - then we can gain something vital for our future."
But the open expression of such attitudes is still rare. Today, four decades after the Camp David accords inaugurated a peace between governments without a peace between peoples, might the U.S. at last adopt the goal of fostering an Arab public discourse supportive of partnership with Israel and friendship with Jews, and pursue that goal as an interim strategic priority?
The writer is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and senior advisor to the Al-Mesbar Center for Studies and Research in Dubai.
- The Way Forward for U.S. Policy in the Arabian Peninsula - Michael Singh
Amid outrage over the Khashoggi assassination and concern over mounting humanitarian problems in Yemen, U.S. partnerships in the Gulf - and particularly the U.S.-Saudi relationship - has
faced new scrutiny. In my view, it would be a serious mistake to jettison our partnership with Saudi Arabia or with our other Gulf allies.
First, there is a defensive element to these alliances, in order to maintain influence
over these states' choices, and to ensure they remain stable. Second, working
through allies is the clearest way to secure our interests in the Middle East while shifting resources to other regions. Third, severing our partnerships in the region would force these states to
look elsewhere for arms and other support, and increase the incentives for other external powers
to deepen their involvement in the region.
The writer, Managing Director of The Washington Institute, testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on February 6, 2019.
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- Standing Up to the Eurovision Boycott Brigade - Vic Alhadeff
Who knew that when Israel won the right to host Eurovision 2019, it would ignite controversy in Australia? Australia's entrant will be selected this weekend. At the same time, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Australia will set up shop nearby, demanding that SBS Television boycott Eurovision because it's being held in Israel.
To its credit, SBS responded quickly and definitively. "SBS respects the right for people to express their views and we acknowledge the concerns raised by those opposed to the contest being held in Israel. SBS has been proudly broadcasting Eurovision for 35 years and we will continue to do so because of the spirit of the event in bringing people and cultures together in a celebration of diversity and inclusion through music."
Then there are the principled voices, notably Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who blasted BDS during a historic apology for Canada's refusal to admit Jews fleeing the Holocaust.
"Of all the Allied countries, Canada would admit the fewest number of Jews...far fewer than the UK and significantly fewer per capita than the U.S.," Trudeau said. "Of those it let in, 7,000 were labelled prisoners of war and unjustly imprisoned alongside Nazis....Hitler tested the world's resolve...as country after country proved indifferent to the plight of Jewish refugees. He watched as we...denied them entry."
Is it unrealistic to dream that the hypocrisy in singling out the world's only Jewish state for boycott while ignoring some of the most egregious human rights abusers - who also participate in Eurovision - will one day be rendered obsolete? The writer is CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.
(Australian Jewish News)
See also Eurovision Winner Netta Barzilai on BDS: "When You Boycott Light, You Spread Darkness" (Times of Israel)
- How Will Israel Navigate the U.S.-China Tech Cold War? - Omree Wechsler
Israel is a key technology and innovation center. In the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017, Israel is ranked as the second most innovative nation in the world.
The U.S. is trying to prevent key technologies from being transferred to Chinese entities and its technological and trade secrets from being stolen. Australia and Japan banned Chinese telecommunication companies from supplying equipment to 5G cellular networks infrastructure out of fear of cyber espionage.
Chinese firms are interested in Israel's innovation and technological capabilities and Israel welcomes their investments. Trade relations between Israel and China grew 30% in the first half of 2018.
Israel has an interest in increasing its exports to the huge Chinese market, as well as increasing foreign investments in its local industries. Israel also hopes that its growing relations with China will prevent it from supporting its regional adversary, Iran.
The U.S. is likely to pressure Israel to limit its exposure to Chinese investors, particularly in key technologies like cyber and AI.
Should Washington exert serious pressure, Israel's interest in China will always be secondary to its close ties with the U.S. The writer is the head of cyber research at the Yuval Ne'eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security in Tel Aviv.
(Council on Foreign Relations)
- Dangers of a Mideast Nuclear Arms Race Cast a Long-Term Shadow - Yaakov Lappin
The danger of a Middle Eastern nuclear arms race in the near future is casting a shadow over the long-term future of a region. Former Israeli security officials say that several Sunni states in the region are watching Shi'ite Iran's nuclear project with concern and could in the future set up their own nuclear programs to counter the threat of a "Shi'ite bomb."
Shaul Shay, a former deputy head of Israel's National Security Council, warns that "the Middle East is in the process of going nuclear...several countries including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and UAE have announced plans to build nuclear power plants over the next decade. Iran's program has already triggered a number of civilian nuclear programs in other Sunni Arab countries." (JNS)
- I Would Be a Criminal under Proposed Irish Bill to Boycott Israel - Steven Jaffe
I enjoy kosher wine from the Golan Heights and the small candelabrum I use to light candles during the festival of Hannukah was purchased in the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. That makes me a criminal twice over if this bill boycotting goods manufactured in the West Bank, which was passed by the Dail, becomes law in the Republic of Ireland. I would face up to five years in an Irish jail.
This bill treats the Jewish presence at the Western Wall in Jerusalem or at the burial place of the Patriarchs in Hebron as illegal settlements and doing business with any Jews there is a criminal offense. Those behind this bill have failed to impose an effective consumer-led boycott against Israel despite over ten years campaigning. They are therefore turning to abusing the criminal law to impose a partisan anti-Israel point of view.
The writer is co-chair of Northern Ireland Friends of Israel.
(Belfast News Letter-UK)
- The British Labour Party and the Banality of Anti-Semitism - Stephen Daisley
This week, Labour's general secretary Jennie Formby reportedly told a parliamentary party meeting that it was "impossible to eradicate anti-Semitism and it would be dishonest to claim to be able to do so."
As a matter of fact, it is possible to eradicate anti-Semitism from a membership-based organization. You just revoke the membership of all the anti-Semites. Of course, Formby can't do this because it would mean sacrificing a tidy sum in monthly subs and having to find a new leader.
In a broader sense, no, you can't eliminate Jew-hatred from the general population but nor can you fully be rid of inequality or poverty or unemployment. That doesn't mean you don't try.
The Formby Point allows Labour to abdicate responsibility for its own anti-Semitism and for its role in replenishing the reserves of anti-Semitism in the world at large.
Anti-Semitism has lost its power to appall. It has become pedestrian, mundane. This is how bias makes its way into the mainstream and anti-Semitism, to our boundless shame, is once again an idea of the mainstream. It is ceasing to be a prejudice and becoming a point of view. We are making it safe for anti-Semites to come out from behind their various guises and hate Jews in the open once more.
- Guardian Publishes Piece on UK Anti-Semitism - with a Picture of Gaza
Anti-Semitic incidents in the UK are at a record high for the third year in a row, Britain's Guardian reported Thursday. But the story was illustrated with a photo of protests at the Gaza border, suggesting British Jews somehow are associated with, or even responsible for, violence against Palestinians in Gaza.
The Guardian has now changed the picture.
See also Guardian Apology over Gaza Photo for UK Anti-Semitism Story - Mathilde Frot
The Guardian has apologized for illustrating an article on the rise in anti-Semitism in the UK with a photo of Palestinians protesting along the Gaza border. A Guardian spokesperson said: "We apologize for the original photo on the story which should not have been used, and has now been replaced."
A Board of Deputies of British Jews spokesperson said: "Using that photo in the first place provides a disturbing insight into the newspaper's attitudes about anti-Semitism, Jews and Israel." Mark Gardner, Director of Communications at Britain's Community Security Trust, said: "We are glad that the picture was changed, because this is about Britain, not Israel, and it is time that was understood." (Jewish News-UK)
- As the Holocaust recedes into the past, the world is witnessing a resurgence of anti-Semitism. Most Western leaders condemn this bigotry when it targets diaspora Jews. But too often they disregard, dismiss or even justify Jew-hatred when it targets Jews in their national homeland, Israel.
- This willful neglect of anti-Semitism against Israeli Jews poses the greatest danger to diaspora Jews, since it legitimizes anti-Semitism everywhere.
Jews in Israel aren't immune to violent anti-Semitism.
- Hamas in Gaza is one of the world's most virulently anti-Semitic organizations. Its charter calls for genocide against the Jewish people, and it doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist.
- In the West Bank, President Mahmoud Abbas has allocated $355 million of the Palestinian Authority budget to bankroll the families of terrorists who attack Jews. He has stated publicly that any future Palestinian state would be free of Jews.
- To paraphrase the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., anti-Semitism anywhere is a threat to Jews everywhere. An attack against a Jew for being a Jew must be condemned for what it is - bigotry - regardless of whether it occurs in New York, Paris or Jerusalem.
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