March 25, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

ISIS Has Lost Its Final Stronghold in Syria - Ben Wedeman (CNN)
    ISIS has lost its final stronghold in Baghouz in eastern Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced Saturday, bringing an end to the caliphate established in 2014. The SDF is a coalition of Kurdish and Arab soldiers backed by U.S., British and French special forces.
    The SDF said it had lost 11,000 "forces, leaders and fighters" battling ISIS and vowed to continue the fight against any sleeper cells.
    Lina Khatib, the head of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House in the UK, told CNN, "The group itself has not been eradicated. The ideology of ISIS is still very much at large," with 20,000-30,000 ISIS members estimated to remain in Iraq and Syria.

    See also Islamic State "Caliphate" Defeated, Yet Threat Persists (U.S. Defense Department)
    Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said Saturday: "We will continue our work with the Global Coalition to deny ISIS safe haven anywhere in the world. We remain committed to ISIS' enduring defeat."

    See also ISIS Still Has Lots of Money - David Kenner (Atlantic)
    The U.S. and its allies are nowhere close to bringing down ISIS' economic empire. The group remains a financial powerhouse with access to hundreds of millions of dollars, according to experts' estimates.
    A senior Iraqi security official told me that the bulk of the Islamic State's assets had been transferred to Turkey.
    See also ISIS Leader Still at Large - Zeina Karam (AP-Military Times)

Moon-Bound Israeli Spacecraft Snaps Stunning Photos and Videos (NoCamels)
    SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) released on Sunday a number of stunning images and short videos taken by Israel's lunar lander Beresheet during its journey to the moon.

Video: "Hatikvah" Plays in Qatar after Israeli Gymnast Wins Gold (Jerusalem Post)
    "Hatikvah" - the Israeli national anthem - was played in Doha, Qatar after Israeli gymnast Alexander Shatilov won the gold medal for the floor exercise during the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Cup series.

Pompeo Denounces Hizbullah in Lebanon - Hwaida Saad and Edward Wong (New York Times)
    In tense meetings in Beirut on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed leaders of Lebanon to curb the growing power of Hizbullah.
    "Lebanon and the Lebanese people face a choice: bravely move forward as an independent and proud nation or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hizbullah to dictate your future," he said while standing next to Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, an ally of Hizbullah.

Alibaba Buys Israeli Augmented Reality Company InfinityAR - Yasmin Yablonko (Globes)
    Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has acquired Israeli augmented reality company InfinityAR, both companies announced Sunday.
    InfinityAR's technology can turn any device into a powerful content augmentation platform, enabling accurate 3D digital scene representation of the user's current physical environment.
    It allows users to intuitively interact with augmented content using natural hand movements.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Rocket Launched from Gaza Strikes House Outside Tel Aviv, Injuring 7 - Mike Ives
    A rocket launched from Gaza struck a house in central Israel at 5:20 a.m. on Monday, injuring seven people including two children. (New York Times)
        See more below in News Resources - Israel
  • House Majority Leader Hoyer at AIPAC Delivers Strong Defense of U.S.-Israel Alliance - Paul Kane
    House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) delivered a strong defense Sunday of the U.S.-Israel alliance at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference at Washington. Hoyer explained that while he is not Jewish and does not have many Jewish constituents, "We are loyal Americans, patriots who believe it is in America's interest that Israel remains strong and free and supported as a place of refuge from the haters of the world. We proudly stand with Israel."  (Washington Post)
  • Pompeo Denies U.S. Stance on Golan Violates UN Resolutions
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Sky News on Saturday: "What the President did with the Golan Heights is recognize the reality on the ground and the security situation necessary for the protection of the Israeli state. It's that simple."
        Q: Isn't this a violation of Security Council resolutions?
        Pompeo: "No, this is deeply consistent with the reality on the ground, the facts on the ground....The decision the President made will increase the opportunity for there to be stability throughout the region."
        "Everywhere we find malign activity by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the United States is going to pursue it, whether that's in South America, whether that's in the Middle East. Wherever we find it, we are going to give it a push back."  (U.S. State Department)
        See also U.S. Preparing Official Document on Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty on Golan Heights - Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick
    U.S. officials are preparing an official document to codify recognition by the U.S. of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights and President Donald Trump is likely to sign it when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Washington on Monday, a senior administration official said on Friday.
        The decision to go ahead with the Golan announcement was spurred in part by an assessment by Trump's aides that his recognition of Israel's claim to Jerusalem in 2017 and 2018 had provoked less of a severe reaction in the Arab world than many experts had predicted. (Reuters)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • IDF: Hamas Fired Rocket at Central Israel - Anna Ahronheim
    IDF Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said the rocket that struck a home in central Israel on Monday was fired from a Hamas military post in Rafiah in southern Gaza. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Long-Range Rocket Hits Home in Israel - Ron Ben-Yishai
    A large rocket was fired at dawn, when people were still sleeping, from a distance of over 100 km. A warhead containing dozens of kg. of explosives hit the center of the living room. Fortunately, the family members were sleeping in inner rooms, and escaped serious injury. The building was made of reinforced concrete with large windows that helped to dilute the impact of the blast. (Ynet News)
        See also Netanyahu Shortens Visit to U.S. after Gaza Rocket Fire on Central Israel (Prime Minister's Office)
  • "My Husband Pulled our Son from the Window and the Glass Smashed a Second Later" - Stuart Winer
    The rocket that landed in the community of Mishmeret on Monday destroyed a five-room home and caused damage to other structures in the area. Iris, a resident of the community, recalled how her husband managed to pull her son to safety a moment before the blast blew out the windows of their home. "My husband pulled Nir away and a second after that the glass shattered," she said. (Times of Israel)
  • Hamas Inmates Riot, Stab Two Israeli Prison Guards
    Hamas prisoners stabbed two Israeli guards at the Ketziot prison in southern Israel on Sunday. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The Case for AIPAC - Mark Horowitz
    AIPAC's success flows from the fact that a majority of Americans, not just Jews, are predisposed to support Israel. Polls consistently confirm this. Why is it so surprising that a lobbying organization exists to channel this support into political and legislative action? Labor unions do it, chambers of commerce do it, abortion rights groups do it and Arab-Americans do it. It would be weird if there wasn't a pro-Israel lobby.
        AIPAC was never the big spender its antagonists claim. Its total lobbying expenditures in 2018 came to $3.5 million, which doesn't even put it in the top 50. (Realtors spent $72.8 million.) The total amount of pro-Israel donations to members of Congress came to $10.6 million in 2018, only the 34th highest among Washington interest groups, behind the entertainment industry ($15.6 million), lawyers ($80.6 million) and retirees ($110 million). (New York Times)
        See also AIPAC Did Not Invite 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates to Conference - Jackson Richman
    As various Democratic presidential candidates announce their upcoming absence from this year's AIPAC policy conference, a source in the pro-Israel lobby told JNS that none of the candidates were invited to speak. "Since 2008, we have only had presidential candidates speaking in actual election years," said the source. (JNS)
        See also Democratic Leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer to Address AIPAC Conference - Zachary Basu (Axios)
  • The Golan Heights Was Once an Arab Rallying Cry. Not Anymore. - Ben Hubbard
    In 2011 a civil war erupted in Syria that would destroy the country and reshape the regional order to such an extent that when President Trump on Thursday called for the U.S. to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, the shift was met across much of the Arab world with a shrug. Today, the Gulf countries are more interested in partnering with Israel against Iran, while unrest and economic troubles have left other Arab countries more concerned with their own affairs. As for Syria, few care what it wants.
        "The Golan was always seen as the carrot that Israel would cede for peace with Syria, and now peace doesn't matter, Syria doesn't matter and maybe Syria doesn't exist at the table as the legitimate owner of the land," said Kareem Sakka, editor in chief of Raseef22, an Arabic news site. Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said, "The public, when they think about Syria, will be more concerned with the death and suffering than with the official loss of something that has been gone for a long time."  (New York Times)
  • Why Trump's Golan Heights Gesture Won't Derail Peace - Jonathan S. Tobin
    President Trump's intention to "fully recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights" is grounded in realpolitik, not the quixotic attempt to salvage a peace process that died long before he took office. The move is rooted in a recognition that any effort to broker a deal between the Bashar al-Assad regime and Israel is a hopeless endeavor - and that such a deal would be undesirable. Assad's victory in the bloody Syrian civil war has brought the forces of Iran and its Hizbullah terrorist auxiliaries close to the Golan Heights, where they already constitute a potent threat to Israel.
        Recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan is a warning to Iran that the U.S. supports Israel's policy of not tolerating Iran's and Hizbullah's efforts to create a second northern front against Israel. It is a recognition that the U.S. no longer wants Syria to possess a strategic plateau that dominates northern Israel and southern Lebanon.
        Israel was never going to leave the Golan, whether or not the U.S. recognized its sovereignty over the region. But Trump's move strengthens an ally, warns off a foe, and will have no real effect on any viable peace negotiation. (National Review)

  • Top American Jewish groups welcomed American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations tweeted, "We appreciate the recognition...of the importance of Israel maintaining control over the Golan Heights, given the increasingly dangerous and volatile situation with Syrian, Hizbullah, Iranian forces, and militias across the border."
  • The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) tweeted, "Given current political and security circumstances in Syria, we have said it was inconceivable to imagine Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights."
  • The American Jewish Committee (AJC) tweeted, "We welcome President Trump's recognition of Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which acknowledges the history of the region and the facts on the ground. The events in Syria have proven that the entire region is safer with Israel in control of this territory."
  • B'nai B'rith International President Charles Kaufman and CEO Daniel Mariaschin stated, "Israeli control over the Golan Heights...reflects the longtime strategic reality in the region. It is from the Golan that Syria launched two wars against Israel, and it is from the Golan today that Iran's proxy in Syria - Hizbullah - seeks to open a second front against the Jewish state....Syria has had numerous opportunities over 71 years to seek peace with Israel. It has repeatedly rejected that option, choosing instead to seek to destroy it, now joined by Iran and its agents in the region."