September 4, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

Iranian Oil Tanker nears Syria, Captain Refuses to Cooperate with Delivery - Trey Yingst (Fox News)
    The Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1 that the U.S. has pursued is now 10 miles from Syria, intelligence sources say.
    The captain of the vessel, Akhilesh Kumar, has been refusing to cooperate with a planned oil delivery and has asked to be dismissed or replaced, the sources added.
    By entering Syrian waters, the vessel was defying a commitment to the UK that allowed its release after it was detained in Gibraltar.

U.S. Sanctions Iranian Space Agency - Matthew Lee (AP-Washington Post)
    The U.S. State and Treasury departments imposed sanctions Tuesday on Iran's space agency, accusing it of developing ballistic missiles under the cover of a civilian program to launch satellites into orbit.
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "The United States will not allow Iran to use its space launch program as cover to advance its ballistic missile programs."

Hungary Charges Syrian Jihadist with "Crimes Against Humanity" (Reuters-New York Times)
    Hungarian prosecutors said on Tuesday they had charged a Syrian man, F. Hassan, 27, with terrorism and crimes against humanity committed as a member of Islamic State in 2015.
    He was charged with beheading an imam and later with armed companions killed at least 25 more people, including women and children, in 2015 in Syria's Homs region.
    The man was caught with forged documents in Budapest's main airport at the end of last year.

Israeli Innovative Cancer Treatment Gets FDA Approval - Rachel Wolf (Jerusalem Post)
    The world's first drug to prevent proliferation of cancerous cells, developed by Israeli scientist Dr. Sharon Shacham, just received FDA approval.
    During a pivotal trial that led to XPOVIO's approval, 40% of leukemia patients saw their tumors shrink, while patient life expectancy increased by three to five times thanks to the treatment.
    The drug is currently undergoing advanced clinical trials for patients with myeloma, lymphoma, sarcoma, uterine cancer and brain cancer.

Inside the Labs Creating Meat from Stem Cells - Seth Doane (CBS News)
    At a laboratory near Tel Aviv, Aleph Farms is growing steak from the stem cells of cows.
    "We can produce meat more efficiently in a way which is more ethical, more sustainable and healthier," said Aleph Farms CEO Didier Toubia.
    "Right now, most of the agriculture is there to feed the animals," said investor Erel Margalit. He said the planet will not sustain the way we currently eat.
    At SuperMeat, they extract stem cells from chickens. "The beauty with cell-based meat is that once you've established the cell bank you don't need the chicken anymore," CEO Ido Savir said. "So, theoretically, one chicken could feed the world."
    A vegan himself, Savir thinks there's also potential for consumers who object to killing an animal.
    And as to our taste of the future? It was surprisingly normal.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Photos: Iran Building New Military Base in Syria - Trey Yingst
    Iranian al-Quds forces have established a new military base in Syria near the Iraqi border and plan to house thousands of troops at the location, according to multiple Western intelligence sources. Analysts say precision-guided missiles could be housed at the site. This is the first time that the Iranian military is building a base of this scale from scratch in Syria. (Fox News)
  • Palestinian Authority Must Pay $3.61 Million in Torture Case - Ahmad Melhem
    Payment has come due in a two-year-old court case, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) now must forfeit $3.61 million for arresting and torturing more than 50 Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship, an Israeli court ruled. The victims were arrested between 1990 and the early 2000s, in the days of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, on suspicion of collaborating with Israel. The prisoners escaped from PA prisons in 2002 after the Israeli army carried out Operation Defensive Shield and re-entered the West Bank.
        In July 2017, the court ruled the PA did not have the authority to arrest the individuals, and their detention caused them grave physical and psychological harm because they were tortured in Palestinian prisons. The Israeli Ministry of Finance recently transferred the money from Palestinian tax funds to the Israeli Law Enforcement and Collection System Authority, Israeli newspaper Maariv reported Aug. 15. (Al-Monitor)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Hizbullah Setting Up Precision Missile Plant in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley - Anna Ahronheim
    Hizbullah has set up a production and conversion site for precision missiles near Al-Nabi Sheeth in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, the IDF announced on Tuesday. Israel has identified the establishment of a dedicated assembly line for precision weapons, and the transfer of sensitive and dedicated equipment including machines designed to manufacture missile motors and warheads. Iran is providing the special machinery, trains production operators, and regularly provides guidance and support. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinians Plan Construction Campaign in Israel's Area of Authority in the West Bank - Tovah Lazaroff
    The Palestinian Authority plans to promote Palestinian building in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli military and civilian control. "We will set free the hands of people in Area C and see how many housing units will be built," the PA Minister of Local Government, Ahmad Ghoneim, told WAFA. He said his ministry was coming up with an action plan to implement a PA decision on the matter. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Exposure of European Involvement in 2007 U.S.-Israeli Cyber Op on Iran
    On Sep. 2, Yahoo News broke a story about a Dutch mole who planted the Stuxnet malicious computer worm that damaged 2,000 centrifuges at Iran's Natanz nuclear plant in 2007. Citing intelligence sources, the report said the operation was carried out by Israeli and American secret services along with the Netherlands, Germany and, presumably, France and the UK. The purported joint intelligence operation was aimed at thwarting the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.
        Former FBI special agent Mark Rossini emphasizes the report highlights that Washington's European allies have reportedly been involved in the U.S. efforts to derail the Iranian enrichment process from the very beginning. "European nations were and needed to be involved since they had/have diplomatic and commercial relations with Iran," Rossini explains. "They are our allies and, like us, have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure the safety and security of Israel."
        Anthony Tucker-Jones, a former British intelligence analyst, believes that "in a way this report is a warning shot: it reminds Iran what Western intelligence agencies are jointly capable of." He added that "by threatening Europe, Iran is inevitably pushing the [U.S. and Europe] closer together again."  (Sputnik-Russia)
  • Israel's Warning to Iran, Hizbullah over Precision Missile Project - Yoav Limor
    The message conveyed on Tuesday - revealing Hizbullah's precision missile factory in Lebanon and the military base being built by Iran in eastern Syria - cannot be mistaken: If the activity there doesn't cease, Israel will have to make it cease. Both cases involve substantiated information, backed by satellite images and detailed explanations. They illustrate the depth of Israel's intelligence penetration into the axis linking Iran to Lebanon, but also the determination of this axis to continue operating.
        The purpose of exposing Iran and Hizbullah's activities is to create legitimacy for Israeli action and attempt to foil the enemy's activities without the need for military force. In his speech to the UN General Assembly last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed three facilities in Beirut used by Hizbullah to equip missiles with precision components. Hizbullah hastily scrubbed these facilities.
        Israel reiterated plainly on Tuesday that it has no intention of blinking first this time. If Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah doesn't choose to shelve the precision missile project on his own, and spare Lebanon from calamity, Israel will do it for him - even if it means going to war. (Israel Hayom)
        See also Israel's Message to the Iranians - Marwan Bishara
    Israel's expansion of its military operations against Iranian assets to include Iraq puts Tehran on notice: Israel will be watching, weighing and wielding its superior power like never before, until and unless Iran stops projecting power and building allies and assets close to its borders.
        With Hizbullah abetting Iranian projection of force from Syria, Yemen and Iraq, it has come to be considered a client of the ayatollahs in Tehran. Paradoxically, the more Hizbullah has become overstretched and preoccupied with other conflicts in the region, the less time and energy it has had for confronting Israel. (Al Jazeera)
  • Hizbullah Can Expect Additional Israeli Strikes on Its Precision Missile Project - Tony Badran
    Israel's operation in Beirut reflects a new security footing towards Hizbullah. For the past decade, Hizbullah's strategy has relied on two key conditions, both of which now appear to be coming to an end. The first was that the U.S. would continue to pay into the myth of an independent Lebanese state that exists separate and autonomous from the terror group. The second was Israel's general avoidance of conducting military operations inside Lebanese territory.
        The position of the Lebanese government has been entirely predictable. Hariri and the government he nominally heads lined up behind Nasrallah to endorse any Hizbullah attacks launched from Lebanese territory against Israel. Moreover, the U.S.-supported Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) opened fire on Israeli reconnaissance drones in southern Lebanon.
        For cheerleaders of the U.S. policy of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the LAF, on the grounds that "Lebanese state institutions" are not only distinct from Hizbullah but also key to weakening it, this should be cause for embarrassment. Holding the Lebanese government responsible for what occurs in its own sovereign territory might sound basic, but it had been entirely absent from the past U.S. approach. The writer is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (Tablet)

  • Israel's alleged attack in Dahiye, the Beirut Shi'ite neighborhood where Hizbullah is headquartered, was met with a very limited Hizbullah response, sending a signal, acknowledged by the Israeli side, that Hizbullah wanted to avoid escalation that could lead to all-out war.
  • There are several reasons why Hizbullah is restrained, but probably the most important has to do with its demographic predicament. Hizbullah's recruitment pool is strictly limited to the Shi'ite community in Lebanon which numbers 1-1.5 million souls.
  • The community is suffering from a rapidly declining birth rate similar to the declining fertility rate in Iran - less than is needed to maintain the existing population. Moreover, small families are reluctant to sacrifice what is all too often their only son in a society where the two-child family becomes the norm.
  • Hizbullah has been sacrificing Shi'ite blood for the last 37 years. The ardor to sacrifice is hard to maintain.
  • It's also a problem Hizbullah hardly can counter. Declining birth rates are the result of urbanization. Most Lebanese Shi'ites live in the multi-storied apartment buildings of Dahiye as opposed to the small villages and towns in the past.
  • In the city, children can no longer help on the farm, becoming consumers rather than producers. The parents want them educated, and many want to see them in Canada and Australia rather than fighting Iran's wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
  • The balance between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Lebanon has grown in favor of the former as hundreds of thousands of Syrian Sunnis found refuge there. Shi'ite Hizbullah, then, faces a more uncertain future in Lebanon itself as a result.

    The writer is a professor of political and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at its Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.