August 26, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

Two Drones that Crashed in Beirut Were Iranian, Not Israeli - Ron Ben-Yishai (Ynet News)
    Two drones that crashed in Beirut on Sunday were manufactured in Iran and not in Israel, as Arab media had reported.
    One caused damage to a building housing Hizbullah's media office.
    Footage from the scene shows that these were the same type of drones used by Iranian-allied Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen in attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.

Drone Strike Targets Shiite Rocket Squad in Iraq (AFP-France 24)
    A drone attack on Sunday at a Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) position near Al-Qaim in Iraq, 15 km. from the Syrian border, killed Abu Ali al-Dabi, a member of a Kataib Hizbullah rocket squad.
    "He fought in Syria and was previously detained by the Americans," a source said.
    Kataib Hizbullah is designated by the U.S. as a "foreign terrorist organization."
    Blasts have been reported at four other Hashed bases since mid-July.
    Hashed units have received Iranian training, but operate officially under Iraq's armed forces.

Israel to Help Brazil Fight Amazon Fires - Jake Spring (Reuters)
    As Brazil's military began fighting fires in the Amazon rainforest, President Jair Bolsonaro said on Twitter he had accepted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer of a plane and flame retardant materials for the firefighting operations, following a call between the two leaders.

UN Chief Calls for Release of Israeli Captives Held by Hamas (Jerusalem Post)
    UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met on Thursday with the parents of Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was killed during a UN-brokered humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza five years ago and whose body is still held by Hamas.
    Guterres called for "the unconditional and immediate return of captive IDF soldiers held by Hamas."
    He added, "From now on, the United Nations will monitor the issue of prisoners and missing persons in every UN report on Gaza."
    He said he will also raise the issue during meetings with heads of state next month at the UN General Assembly.

State Department Removes Palestinians from Its List of Countries - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    Until recently, the State Department's list of countries and areas on its website included the "Palestinian Authority."
    Palestinian officials on Sunday condemned the State Department for deleting the PA from the list.

PA Pays NIS 300 Million to Israel Electric Company - Ilana Ushomirsky (Ynet News)
    The Israel Electric Company said that the Palestinian Authority on Monday paid NIS 300 million on its debt for electricity usage; NIS 200 million was deducted from tax revenues the PA was supposed to receive, and NIS 100 million was paid by the PA.

Iranian Celebrities Use Ambulances to Skip Heavy Traffic in Tehran (Radio Farda)
    Riding ambulances to skip Tehran's chaotic traffic has become trendy among movie stars, private tutors, and wealthy Iranians, the head of the private ambulance services, Dr. Mojtaba Lohrasbi, told the state-run ISNA.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Israel Thwarts Iranian "Killer Drone" Attack - Ben Wolfgang
    Israeli military officials said Sunday that Israel had thwarted a major attack by Iranian "killer drones" set to launch out of Syria, after Iranian Quds Forces delivered attack drones armed with explosives to an air base southeast of Damascus. "We just prevented a pending, large-scale attack of multiple killer drones on Israel by striking Iranian Quds Force operatives and Shiite militia targets in Syria," the Israel Defense Forces said. (Washington Times)
        See also IDF Foils Iranian Plot to Kill Israelis - Yoav Zitun
    Iranian officials at a luxury villa near Damascus planned an attack on Israeli targets with explosive-laden drones, an IDF spokesman said Sunday. The four-man Shi'ite militia cell, funded, trained and brought into Syria by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force, was spotted on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights on Thursday while attempting to carry out the attack. The IDF managed to disrupt the effort and then destroyed the drone equipment housed at a Quds Force compound in Aqraba, south of Damascus.
        The IDF blames the Syrian regime for allowing Iranian activity on its territory and cooperating with the Iranian militias. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi said that "the attack we thwarted tonight was an Iranian attack from Syria's territory against the State of Israel. It was supposed to include attacks by a number of explosive-laden drones against a number of targets in the country. Qasem Soleimani personally drove the terror attack and commanded it."
        IDF sources said the decision to publicize its preventive attack was due to the fact that this was a specific terrorist attack rather than an attack on a military target or to prevent the transfer of weapons. "The Iranians were planning to kill Israeli soldiers and civilians with explosives on our own territory - and this is not something that we can keep quiet about," the IDF said. (Ynet News)
        See also Netanyahu: "We Will Not Tolerate Aggression Against Israel from Any Country"
    During a security tour of the north on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "'If someone rises up to kill you, kill him first.'...Iran's Quds Force dispatched a special unit of Shi'ite militants to Syria in order to kill Israelis on the Golan Heights with explosives-laden UAVs....This was an initiative of Iran, under the command of Iran, at the behest of Iran."
        "In a perfect IDF operational and intelligence effort, we pre-empted them and thwarted this attack; we prevented serious attacks....We will not tolerate aggression against Israel from any country in the region. Any country that allows its territory to be used for aggression against Israel will face the consequences."  (Prime Minister's Office)
  • U.S.: Israel Has the Right to Defend Itself and Prevent Iranian Attacks - State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus
    "Secretary of State Michael Pompeo spoke by phone Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding recent Israeli airstrikes in Syria. The Secretary expressed support for Israel's right to defend itself from threats posed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and to take action to prevent imminent attacks against Israeli assets in the region."
        "The Secretary and the Prime Minister discussed how Iran is leveraging its foothold in Syria to threaten Israel and its neighbors. The Prime Minister noted that Israel would strike IRGC targets threatening Israel, wherever they are located."  (U.S. State Department)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Video: Gaza Rockets Intercepted above Israeli Concert - Judah Ari Gross
    At least three rockets were fired at Israeli communities near the Gaza border on Sunday night including Sderot, where 4,000 people were attending a music festival. Videos showed Iron Dome rocket interceptions above the event. The concert was cancelled as attendees sought shelter. Separate video showed rocket fragments striking a multi-story building in Sderot.
        In response, the Israel Defense Forces hit targets on "a military base belonging to the Hamas terror group in northern Gaza, including the office of a Hamas battalion commander."  (Times of Israel)
        See also Video: Israelis Evacuate Concert, Mothers Shield Children (YouTube)
        See also Israel Cuts Gaza Fuel Delivery in Half after Rocket Fire - Tovah Lazaroff (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israeli Teen's Murder in Bomb Explosion Points to Organized West Bank Cell - Amos Harel
    Friday's killing of Rina Shnerb, 17, at a spring near Dolev in the West Bank was apparently the work of a remotely-activated explosive, with the assailants viewing the scene from afar. The attack suggests prior planning, knowledge of the area, and skills in putting together a sophisticated device. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Hamas Lauds "Heroic" Bombing Attack that Killed Israeli Teen
    Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Friday praised the perpetrators of a bombing in the West Bank that claimed the life of Israeli Rina Shnerb, 17, and seriously injured her father and brother, calling the killing "a heroic attack." Islamic Jihad said "resistance lives and is expanding."  (Times of Israel)
  • Report: Israel Strikes Palestinian Terrorist Base near Lebanon-Syria Border - Daniel Siryoti
    Arab media reported Monday that Israel targeted a base in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, near the border with Syria, manned by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a terrorist group affiliated with Hizbullah. (Israel Hayom)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Did Soleimani Leak His Plan to Attack Israel with Drones? - Prof. Eyal Zisser
    Iranian Quds Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani apparently leaked his plans to attack Israel to the Iranian paper Kayhan. The paper warned last week that Israel would wake up one day and discover that its population centers had been attacked by Iranian drones. But it was Iran that woke up to discover its plans had been thwarted.
        The attack also sends a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Russian benefactors. Israel will not sit idly by as Iran continues to use Syria as its forward operating base against Israel. The writer is a lecturer in Middle East History at Tel Aviv University. (Israel Hayom)
  • The Security Threat Iran Poses Is Real and Urgent - Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
    The past year has seen European allies contort themselves in attempting to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive. Not only is that not possible, but it should no longer be attempted. The deal was fundamentally flawed from the start. The composition of the negotiating team completely excluded those on Iran's doorstep, with policy set by governments thousands of miles away, in an approach reminiscent of a bygone colonial era. The funding of violent proxies, in the form of Hizbullah, Hamas and the Houthis, was entirely overlooked in a way it never would have been had the Gulf states or Israel been at the table.
        In fact, the deal freed up extra funds which have flowed to these groups in ever greater volumes. The result has been a greater propensity for Houthi rocket launches at civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, the deployment of thousands of Hizbullah foot soldiers in Syria, and the constant bombardment of Israel by Iranian-funded Hamas rockets. The Strait of Hormuz, the world's busiest shipping corridor, now requires commercial shipping to be escorted by allied naval vessels. It's clear that since the deal's implementation, the national security interests of U.S. allies in the region have far from improved.
        The latest Iranian actions against shipping are the desperate acts of a nation whose funding sources for regional destabilization are drying up. The response to Iranian belligerence cannot simply be further appeasement. That route has been tried and that route has failed. The security threats Iran poses to both regional and international security are real and urgent. Attempting to revive the failed Iran deal is not the way to combat them. The writer is a political scientist at Harvard University. (Independent-UK)

  • A wide, multi-dimensional (geographic, operational, intelligence, and technological) campaign is being waged in the Middle East, far beyond Israel's latest strike in Syria to foil an Iranian drone attack.
  • This is an Israeli-Iranian conflict in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon (and Yemen and Saudi Arabia?) with both significant Russian and American forces present, and their discontent about the events. So far, all remains under the threshold of war, but a consistent escalation control is vital.
  • Impressive IDF intelligence and air force capabilities were seen in the Syrian strike. High-quality, real-time intelligence along with a precise surgical operation prevented a significant attack on Israel. I would not want to be in Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani's shoes after yet another operational failure in Syria.
  • Israel's decision to take responsibility for the attack in Syria signals a warning to the enemy to avoid further escalation and increases readiness of our forces for an Iranian response.
  • Maybe a more interesting incident took place in Beirut. Were Iranian drones prevented from taking off from the Beirut area?
  • The strategy of the two sides appears to be "cooling" the situation down to avoid full-scale conflict. But at the end of the day Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah is an Iranian proxy, and it is possible that Soleimani will use him to settle the score.

    The writer is executive director of Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).