May 8, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

Iran Has Sent Scores of Intelligence Operatives to Venezuela - Adam Kredo (Washington Free Beacon)
    Elliott Abrams, a veteran U.S. foreign policy hand who now serves as the administration's special representative for Venezuela, told the Free Beacon that the Iranians have sent scores of intelligence officials to work with Maduro's anti-American regime.
    "There are Iranians on the ground," Abrams disclosed. "We're talking more about intelligence types. But they're increasing their commitment to the regime."

Hamas and Islamic Jihad Continue to Stockpile and Improve Their Rockets - Shlomi Eldar (Al-Monitor)
    The latest conflict with Gaza, the most fatal since the 2014 war, created serious doubts among those in Israel who believe that improving Gaza's economy would ensure against the next war.
    It seems that every time, there's another reason or even a misunderstanding that drags the two sides to an armed conflict.
    In the meantime, Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to stockpile more rockets, more powerful than the previous ones, and challenge the Iron Dome missile defense system with massive fire.
    According to intelligence sources, in 2019 Hamas has between 5,000 and 6,000 rockets, dozens of them with a range of more than 100 km. (62 miles).
    Islamic Jihad has 8,000 rockets, most of them short- and medium-range, but also several hundred long-range rockets that threaten the Tel Aviv region.
    These rockets, as of now, are not an existential threat to Israel, but Hamas and Islamic Jihad will certainly continue in their arms race toward the next conflict.

Ghost Tankers, Bartering, and Middlemen: Iran's Playbook for Selling Oil in the Face of U.S. Sanctions - Frud Bezhan (Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty)
    While the U.S. has pledged to cut Iran's oil exports to "zero," denying Tehran a key source of revenue through tough sanctions, analysts predict that Tehran's exports will not fall more than 30% from current levels.
    An Iranian official said the country would circumvent renewed sanctions by selling oil on the "gray market."
    One tactic previously employed by Iran to bypass U.S. sanctions is through the use of "ghost" tankers, switching off oil tankers' automatic tracking signal.
    This makes it difficult to pinpoint the origin, route, and the date a tanker is loaded and unloaded.
    Other tactics include ship-to-ship oil transfers and discharging and loading oil at remote ports.
    Tehran has also reflagged its tankers to mask their origins.
    Scott Lucas, an Iran expert at Birmingham University in Britain, says some industry experts estimate that Iran is exporting up to 400,000 barrels of oil per day above officially acknowledged levels through such methods.

Locusts Spotted in Israel (Times of Israel)
    Israel's Agriculture Ministry said locusts had been found Monday in agricultural villages in the southeastern Arava region.
    The ministry said pesticides used to kill locusts are environmentally friendly and that swarms of locusts pose no danger to humans or animals, though they can destroy fields of crops.
    In 2013, swarms of locusts infested Israeli croplands and the Agriculture Ministry waged a three-week campaign using crop-dusting planes to bombard the bugs.

Video: Feel Israel (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
    Israel in 42 seconds - without words.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Deployment Triggered by Intelligence Warning of Iranian Attack Plans - Gordon Lubold and Michael R. Gordon
    U.S. intelligence showed that Iran has made plans to target U.S. forces in the Middle East, triggering a decision to reinforce the American military presence in the region in an effort to deter such moves, U.S. officials said Monday. The new U.S. intelligence showed that Iran drew up plans to target U.S. forces in Iraq and possibly Syria, to orchestrate attacks in the Bab el-Mandeb strait near Yemen through proxies and in the Persian Gulf with its own armed drones, the U.S. officials said. There has also been intelligence that Iran may be seeking to target U.S. forces in Kuwait. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Iran Moving Ballistic Missiles by Boat, U.S. Officials Say - Barbara Starr
    Intelligence showing that Iran is likely moving short-range ballistic missiles aboard boats in the Persian Gulf was one of the critical reasons the U.S. decided to move an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers into the region, according to several U.S. officials. On Tuesday, U.S. Central Command spokesperson Capt. Bill Urban said they had seen "indications that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were making preparations to possibly attack U.S. forces in the region."  (CNN)
  • Zarif Says Iran Will Cut Back on "Voluntary" JCPOA Commitments
    Iran will reduce some "voluntary" commitments within its nuclear deal with world powers but will not withdraw from it, state media on Wednesday quoted Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying. "Iran's future actions will be fully within the (nuclear deal), from which the Islamic Republic will not withdraw," Zarif said. (Reuters)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Memorial Day: Saluting Israel's 23,741 Fallen Soldiers - Editorial
    The State of Israel bows its head to remember 23,741 fallen soldiers and 3,150 terror victims, and pay tribute to them for making the ultimate sacrifice. Remembrance Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism began Tuesday night with a state ceremony at the Western Wall, where a minute of silence was observed in memory of the fallen after a siren at 8 p.m. Another siren was heard Wednesday morning at 11 a.m., when most Israelis stop whatever they're doing to pause and recall loved ones, relatives and friends - and people they didn't know.
        In a special message to soldiers, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi wrote: "Standing upright, knowing that justice is on our side, we will continue the battle to secure our independence, and our right to live in safety and flourish in the Land of Israel."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Netanyahu on Memorial Day: Our Willingness to Make Sacrifices Guarantees Our Survival
    At the opening ceremony of Memorial Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "If there is one thing that unites many of us, maybe all of us, it is the understanding of the great mission that our loved ones carried out. It gives us the strength to bear the burden of grief. It is thanks to them that we live as a proud people in our homeland after many generations of weakness and humiliation....And since the national revival in our homeland - every generation has stood strong against our enemies. We do not want war but we know that our willingness to make sacrifices is the thing that guarantees our survival."  (Prime Minister's Office)
  • An Assessment of the Latest Fighting in Gaza - Amos Harel
    After the two days of fighting ended, IDF officials stressed the need for an accompanying diplomatic effort in Gaza to ensure longer-term quiet. They estimated that the extensive air strikes against Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza would only yield a few weeks of calm. Moreover, Islamic Jihad, as a result of Iranian instigation, is liable to try to reignite the situation sooner rather than later.
        The indirect arrangement that was ultimately reached with Hamas appears to be another return to the understandings reached at the end of the 2014 war. The idea is to keep a regular cash flow going into Gaza, to ease movement at the border crossings and to finally get infrastructure repair projects going. In return, the Palestinians are supposed to ensure total quiet on the border: no rockets, no sniper attacks, no incendiary balloons.
        The IDF did operate somewhat differently than in previous rounds of fighting. It responded with greater force, resumed targeted killings after a nearly five-year-long hiatus, struck a large number of targets, including some high-rise buildings, and managed to thwart several Palestinian attempts at surprise attacks - including bombings via drone aircraft.
        The Palestinians showed their ability to produce intensive and continuous fire. In addition to the 700 rockets that flew over the border fence into Israel, about 200 more apparently fell inside Gaza. This attests to a poor level of maintenance, but also to a nearly endless supply of rockets. Both Islamic Jihad and Hamas operate underground production lines, which can replenish the stock in a short time. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The Plot Against the King of Jordan - Yoni Ben Menachem
    King Abdullah II of Jordan confirmed that a plot aimed at undermining his rule failed. The Jordanian army fully supports the king. On May 1, 2019, the Jordanian news agency Petra reported that King Abdullah ordered the retirement of Gen. Adnan al-Jundi, director of the Jordanian security service. A few days earlier, several senior advisers at the royal palace submitted their resignations to King Abdullah.
        The Jordanian army chief of staff, Field Marshal Mahmoud Farihat, warned that all those who dream of upsetting King Abdullah's regime and overthrowing him on account of Trump's "bargain of the century" will encounter resistance from the Jordanian army. King Abdullah is preparing for a difficult situation, both politically and security-wise, that is expected to erupt in the Middle East with the publication of the new American peace plan. These events are taking place while Jordan is having no success in overcoming its economic difficulties.
        The Jordanian king is apprehensive that the end of the month of Ramadan will bring a renewal of demonstrations against the difficult economic situation. Palestinians who recently returned from Jordan to the West Bank say the marketplace is empty and the pervading feeling is one of austerity. They claim there is tension in the air. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Why Gaza Hasn't Erupted into All-Out War - Daniel Byman
    Hamas leaders recognize their own military, political and diplomatic weakness; a longer war would achieve little and leave Gaza in even worse shape. Hamas has long used or tolerated rocket attacks as a way to draw international attention to Gaza. Hamas may seek to send the world, including the U.S., the message that no peace deal can happen without Hamas' tacit approval.
        Hamas governs Gaza ineffectively, which hampers its ability to gain leadership of the Palestinian cause. Hamas is willing to risk conflict to show militants that it is standing up to Israel and let frustrated Gazans know that it will not meekly accept a grim status quo.
        Hamas' rockets spread terror and some death, but they aren't a winning military strategy, and the group was quick to press for a ceasefire. Israel's tough but calibrated military response ended the barrage and it provoked little international criticism. In addition to its poor military options, Hamas is diplomatically isolated. The writer is a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. (Washington Post)
  • The Cost Problem of Iron Dome and a Possible Solution - Eli Meron and Eli Bar-On
    Hundreds of rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza at cities and communities in Israel on Saturday and Sunday. Hundreds of Iron Dome interceptor missiles were launched to down them, and in many cases saved lives. The cost of a single Iron Dome interception is about $80,000. If we need to use the David's Sling or Arrow systems, the average cost of an interception will jump to about $2 million.
        Northrop Grumman's SkyGuard laser cannon system, which was developed at Israel's request and with U.S. research and funding 12 years ago, was designed to facilitate affordable and logistically efficient answers to massive onslaughts of rockets and mortars. It could be made operational in two to three years. Using this system in conjunction with Iron Dome could eradicate all low-level threats.
        The situation on the northern front, against Hizbullah, is much worse. Defense and security officials think that in the next war in Lebanon, some 2,000 rockets and missiles will be fired at Israel daily, some with precision capabilities.
        Eli Bar-On is an economist who specializes in the analysis of defense systems and performance research. Eli Meron is a physicist and chemist and a former senior official in the Israeli defense establishment. (Israel Hayom)

  • When it comes to Hamas, "restraint" is Israel's choice - one it may make for tactical and strategic reasons of its own. The actual law of war would allow Israel to invade Gaza, utterly destroy Hamas, and occupy Gaza City until Israel's safety is ensured. Firing 600 rockets at civilian targets in a neighboring country is an act of war.
  • It's an attack by an army against a nation-state, and as such it grants the nation-state the authority under the international law of armed conflict not just to disable the specific military assets used to carry it out but to destroy those who carried it out.
  • For example, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, America had the right not just to sink the Japanese fleet but to defeat Japan's military, invade its sovereign territory, and overthrow its government. Similarly, when America and its allies launched their war against the ISIS caliphate, they had the right not just to destroy ISIS military assets but to take ISIS territory.
  • Moreover, a terrorist army cannot lawfully protect itself from destruction by blending in with civilian populations, fighting from civilian structures, or using civilians as human shields. Hamas violates every single one of these commands. Nations have a right to defend themselves, and that right of self-defense is not abrogated when an opponent fights dirty.
  • Think of it like this: If an army tried to march into Philadelphia behind a wall of women and children, the citizens of Philadelphia would not have to surrender if fighting meant killing those human shields. Instead, they could fight back and then hold war-crimes trials against the attackers for the resulting civilian deaths.
  • The world holds Israel to a standard of military restraint that it applies to no other military force on the planet. If Israel used American rules of engagement, the devastation in Gaza would be orders of magnitude greater than anything we've yet seen.