May 22, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Says Assad May Be Using Chemical Weapons in Syria Again - Edward Wong (New York Times)
    The State Department said on Tuesday that the Syrian government might be renewing its use of chemical weapons, citing a suspected chlorine attack in the Idlib area on Sunday, and maintaining that any use of such weapons would lead the U.S. to "respond quickly and appropriately."

Israelis Aid Venezuelan Refugees in Colombia - Abigail Klein Leichman (Israel21c)
    Israeli humanitarian aid agency IsraAID has dispatched an emergency response team to Cucuta, on Colombia's border with Venezuela, where around 5,000 Venezuelans cross every day seeking relief from the continued economic and political crisis in the country.
    IsraAID's response plan will include child-protection and back-to-school activities, community resilience-building and psychological support, hygiene and sanitation promotion and relief distribution.
    IsraAID currently has active recovery teams across the region, supporting communities affected by the 2018 El Fuego Volcano eruption in Guatemala, the 2017 earthquakes in Mexico, and Hurricane Maria in Dominica and Puerto Rico.
    IsraAID's emergency response in Colombia is supported by AJC and additional generous donors - see IsraAID Emergency Response Fund.

Hizbullah's Smuggler in Chief - Yoav Limor (Israel Hayom)
    When Syrian President Bashar Assad met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran in February, only one other person appeared in the photo of the meeting.
    Hizbullah senior official Mohammad Jafar Qasir, 50, better known as Hajj Fadi, has been responsible for smuggling weapons and money to Syria and Lebanon for the past 20 years.
    His brother Hassan is married to the daughter of Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.
    Another brother, Ahmed, was killed driving an explosives-laden car that brought down the IDF headquarters in Tyre, Lebanon, in Nov. 1982, killing 76 Israeli security personnel.

Photos: A Drone's-Eye View of Israel - Daniel Tchetchik (Ha'aretz)
    Adam Shpigel discovered drone photography and started to look at Israel from a different angle.

Video: Israel's New Flying-Driving Robot (Israel21c)
    A robot drone that flies like a quadcopter, drives on tough terrain, and squeezes into tight spaces was unveiled this week by Prof. David Zarrouk, head of Ben-Gurion University's Bio-Inspired and Medical Robotics Lab.
    The Flying STAR can fly over obstacles or run underneath them. It also adjusts its width to crawl or run on flat surfaces, climb over large obstacles and up closely spaced walls, or squeeze through a tunnel or pipe.

Candy Giant Mars to Build Food Tech Research Hub in Israel - Chloe Sorvino (Forbes)
    Mars, the $35 billion maker of M&Ms and Snickers, is teaming up with Jerusalem Venture Partners to create a research and development center in Israel dedicated to commercializing tech solutions in the food industry.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Believes Iran Behind Vessel Attacks
    U.S. intelligence now believes that Iran is behind the attacks against commercial vessels off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a U.S. official told ABC News. The new assessment directly blames Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for placing explosive charges at the waterline on four oil tankers that were damaged last week, said a U.S. official. (ABC Radio)
  • U.S. Officials Say Efforts to Deter Iran Have Worked - Rebecca Kheel
    Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford briefed the House and Senate on Tuesday on intelligence that led to the deployment of additional U.S. forces to the Middle East.
        "We have deterred attacks based on our reposturing of assets, deterred attacks against American forces," Shanahan said. "Our biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation. We do not want the situation to escalate. This is about deterrence, not about war."  (The Hill)
  • "Walls Have Ears, An Analysis of Classified Syrian Security Sector Documents" - Sarah El Deeb
    Thousands of documents collected from abandoned Syrian government offices during the civil war reveal the reach of President Assad's security agencies as they spied on the population, sought to eliminate dissidents, and systematically persecuted the Kurdish minority. The documents were the basis of a report released Tuesday by the Washington-based Syria Justice and Accountability Center, titled "Walls Have Ears, An Analysis of Classified Syrian Security Sector Documents."
        The documents offer a rare look into the inner workings of Syrian security agencies as they sought to eliminate dissidents through detention, intimidation or killings. (AP-Washington Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • 10 U.S.-Made Armored Vehicles Transferred to Palestinian Authority with Israel's Approval - Jack Khoury and Yaniv Kubovich
    Palestinian security forces in the West Bank received ten U.S.-made armored vehicles in the beginning of 2019, following a demand by the U.S. On Monday, the vehicles were used to help disperse a riot in Hebron. (Ha'aretz)
  • The PA Financial Crisis Is Fake - Maurice Hirsch, Adv. and Nan Jacques Zilberdik
    The Palestinian Authority is currently facing a self-induced financial crisis. Figures obtained from the Ministry of Finance prove that even after Israel deducted from tax transfers the amount the PA spends on salaries to terrorist prisoners, the PA would have still received more money in the first two months of 2019 than it received on average per month in 2018. Tax revenues in the first two months of 2019 increased by a total of 109 million shekels, while the amount of the deduction was only 42 million shekels - a positive difference in favor of the PA of 67 million shekels.
        Thus, the PA's financial crisis is not the result of the deduction of the funds by the Israeli government. The financial crisis is a direct result of the decision of the PA to insist not only to continue to encourage terror and reward terrorists but also to demand that the State of Israel be a partner to this policy. (Palestinian Media Watch)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • For the PA, Rewarding Armed Resistance Is Exactly the Point - Evan Gottesman
    One simmering crisis in Israeli-Palestinian relations is the Palestinian Authority's continued refusal of partial tax transfers from Israel after it deducted for PA martyr payments. The EU suggested the PA dole out payments to prisoners and families based on their socio-economic status rather than the severity of the crimes they are jailed for (as the Martyrs Fund currently operates).
        The Palestinian Authority also rejected this proposal, which represents a serious misreading of Palestinian motivations. They are not simply welfare checks; rewarding armed resistance is exactly the point. This is widely popular in Palestinian society and is one of the few things the PA can put before their homegrown detractors as concrete evidence that they are not just collaborators. The writer is Associate Director of Policy and Communications at the Israel Policy Forum. (Fathom-BICOM)
  • Iran Is Too Smart to Go to War - Hillel Frisch
    Iran's leaders are certainly belligerent toward their neighbors, with clear ambitions to dominate areas far beyond Iran's borders in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, but they have hardly ever been reckless. They will make sure that tensions fall far short of war.
        When they contemplate war with the U.S., they recall Operation Praying Mantis, undertaken by the U.S. Navy during the Iraq-Iran war in April 1988. Retaliating against Iranian attacks to disrupt Gulf oil shipping, the U.S. Navy in a single day of battle sank an Iranian frigate, a gunboat, three speedboats, two moving platforms and damaged a second frigate at the cost of 55 Iranian lives. U.S. losses amounted to two helicopter crew members whose helicopter malfunctioned and crashed into the sea.
        They also recall the allied conquest of Iraq in 2003, led overwhelmingly by U.S. forces. The U.S. conquered a state the size of Poland at the cost of 157 allied lives. Iran is so vulnerable, the U.S. will hardly need forces on the ground to bring it to its knees. Over 80% of its energy exports are shipped out of one port, Kharg Island. Nearly four-fifths of container imports run through the port of Bandar Abbas. U.S. cruise missiles can certainly knock out a part or all of these complexes.
        The Iranians will avoid war at all costs, sticking instead to the proven strategy of acting through proxies to undermine Arab state order. The writer is a professor and senior research associate of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. (Jerusalem Post)
  • "No War, No Negotiation" Is Iran's Stance - Mehdi Khalaji
    Khamenei is sincere when he declares that Iran is not interested in military escalation. Iran cannot afford - militarily or politically - a direct, conventional armed confrontation with any state, especially the U.S. or Israel. That is why the regime relies so much on asymmetric warfare, terrorism, and proxy warfare that can be carried out with some degree of plausible deniability. The idea is to remain a frightening threat while avoiding direct conventional war.
        Despite President Trump's offers to negotiate, Khamenei likely does not want to open talks with a leader who withdrew from the nuclear deal, continues to impose new sanctions, and uses humiliating rhetoric against the regime. The writer, a Qom-trained Shiite theologian, is a fellow at The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

PA's Artificial Economic Crisis Seeks Israeli Recognition that Palestinian Terror Is Legitimate - Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser (Israel Institute for Strategic Studies)
  • With Abbas' refusal to accept tax revenues collected by Israel for the Palestinian Authority, now that the Anti-"Pay to Slay" Law passed by the Knesset in July 2018 has been implemented, it seems that his goal is to obtain Israeli and international legitimacy for salary payments to terrorists - a de facto recognition of the PA's position that this terror is legitimate.
  • The PA's thesis on the legitimacy of terror was expressed in an official paper published by the PLO Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society. The PA fears that agreeing to a compromise now will open the door to a wave of additional pressures, including demands that they stop incitement and recognize Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish People.
  • The truth is that they reject the very existence of a Jewish People and do not recognize that the Jewish nation has a history of sovereignty in the Land of Israel. This is the basis for their claim that there is no justification for creating the Jewish nation-state on that land and for their belief that all forms of struggle against Zionism are legitimate.
  • The PA leadership's insistence on continuing wage payments to terrorists and their families, even at the price of an artificial economic crisis, shows once again that in Palestinian eyes the Oslo Accords did not reflect a substantive change in Palestinian national aspirations or in the methods employed to achieve them.
  • True, there is cooperation on security issues with the PA, but that serves the interests of both sides. The PA cooperates mainly in the battle against Hamas and hardly lifts a finger against the phenomenon of lone terrorists, which it actually encourages by means of continuous incitement (including paying salaries to terrorists and glorifying them).
  • Israel should not do anything to hasten the PA's breakdown, because it has no desire to rule over the Palestinians and run their day-to-day lives, but it also should not feel more obligated to the PA's continued existence than do the Palestinians themselves, thereby leaving itself open to continuous extortion on strategic issues.
  • Israel has no real reason to be anxious about the Palestinians purposely causing their government's collapse, because its existence is the most important accomplishment of the Palestinians so far.

    The writer, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Research Division, is Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.