September 16, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

Iran's Return Handshake - Editorial (Wall Street Journal)
    Iran has tested U.S. resolve with military escalation across the Middle East.
    Iranian involvement in attacks on Saudi oil production over the weekend marks a new phase.
    President Trump is eager for direct talks with Iranian President Rouhani, and Secretary of State Pompeo floated a handshake meeting between the two at the coming UN General Assembly.
    The weekend attack is Iran's return handshake.

Attack on Saudi Oil Facility Seen as Short-Term Disruption - Clifford Krauss (New York Times)
    The attack on one of Saudi Arabia's most important oil facilities could cripple a portion of Saudi petroleum exports for days or even weeks, but experts say that a severe shock to energy markets and the world economy is unlikely.
    As luck would have it, the attack came as global oil stockpiles were higher than usual and several producing countries have ample spare capacity.
    Meanwhile, a slowing global economy has moderated energy demand. The average price for a gallon of gas in the U.S. on Sunday was 28 cents below a year ago.
    Manish Raj, chief financial officer of Velandera Energy Partners, said, "The Saudis themselves have enough storage to meet their export obligation for the next 60 days. Therefore, we expect no supply-demand imbalance in the near term."

Trump Says He Discussed Possible Defense Treaty with Israel - Catherine Lucey (Wall Street Journal)
    President Trump said he discussed a possible "mutual defense treaty" between the U.S. and Israel in a call with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Saturday.
    See also Netanyahu: Defense Treaty with U.S. Won't Compromise Our Freedom (Israel Hayom)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Cabinet on Sunday: "A defense treaty with the U.S. will not hurt our freedom to act."
    Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz told Ynet TV earlier this month that such a pact should apply to "defined issues - nuclear threats and the matter of long-range missiles aimed by Iran at Israel."
    Outside of NATO and the Rio Treaty with Latin American countries, the U.S. has separate mutual defense treaties with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand.

Arson that Destroyed Duluth Synagogue Not a Hate Crime - Robert Gearty (Fox News)
    Matthew Amiot, 36, with a history of prior arrests, was charged Friday with first-degree arson for the fire that destroyed the Adas Israel Synagogue in Duluth, Minnesota.
    Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said Sunday: "There is at this moment in time no reason to believe this is a bias or hate crime."
    The blaze started in a shed outside the synagogue and spread into the building, Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj said. No accelerants were found.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S.: Iran Fired Cruise Missiles in Attack on Saudi Oil Facility - Martha Raddatz
    Iran launched an attack from its territory on its neighbor, Saudi Arabia, using a dozen cruise missiles and over 20 drones to strike a key Saudi oil facility Saturday, a senior Trump administration official told ABC News Sunday. President Donald Trump warned Sunday the U.S. was "locked and loaded" to respond to the attack. A senior U.S. official told ABC News Saturday: "It was Iran. The Houthis are claiming credit for something they did not do."  (ABC News)
        See also Drone Strikes Knock Out Half of Saudi Oil Capacity - John Defterios and Victoria Cavaliere
    Drone strikes on key Saudi Arabian oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais have disrupted about half of the kingdom's oil capacity, or 5% of the daily global oil supply. While Yemen's Houthi rebels on Saturday took responsibility for the attacks, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: "Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen." [The distance from Yemen to Abqaiq is 1,158 km. (720 miles).]
        The U.S. "stands ready" to tap the country's Strategic Petroleum Reserve to steady oil markets if necessary, an Energy Department spokesperson said. (CNN)
        See also Iranian Media: Attacks on Saudi Arabia Mean World Needs Iran's Oil - Seth J. Frantzman (Jerusalem Post)
  • U.S. Sanctions on Iran Bring Its Pension Funds to Brink of Collapse - Nick Kalman
    U.S. sanctions in Iran have left pension funds throughout the country on the brink of collapse, according to documents reviewed by National Security Council officials and obtained by Fox News. Of the 18 retirement funds in Iran, 17 are in the red, including the pension funds for all of Iran's armed forces.
        "They have fewer resources. We can see it with the Shia militias in Iraq. They're scrambling for resources. We think the Iranian government will shrink, that their GDP will shrink by as much as 12 or 14% this year," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told "Fox News Sunday." "This will reduce their capacity to purchase the things they need, the equipment they need, the materials they need, to inflict terror around the world."  (Fox News)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Report: Russia Prevents Israeli Airstrikes in Syria - Yasser Okbi
    Independent Arabia reported Friday that Moscow prevented three Israeli air strikes in Syria recently. A source claimed that during August, Moscow stopped an air strike on a Syrian outpost in Qasioun, where a S-300 missile battery is placed. Another air strike planned for a week later in the Quneitra area and a third one in Latakia were also blocked. According to a Russian source, President Putin told Prime Minister Netanyahu at their meeting on Thursday that Russia will not allow any damage to be done to the Syrian regime's army or any of the weapons being given to it. (Maariv)
  • Gazans Use Medical Permits for Treatment in Israel to Move to West Bank
    Israeli state prosecutors told the High Court of Justice last week that Palestinians in Gaza were using permits for medical treatment in Israel to move illegally to the West Bank. As of mid-2018, 1,397 Gazans were living in the West Bank who had been granted a permit to leave Gaza for medical reasons but never returned. Entire families have illegally moved to the West Bank. After one family member is granted an exit permit for medical reasons, other relatives then began applying for permits to enter Israel to visit the sick person, and never returned. (Times of Israel)
  • Palestinians Fail in Bid to Join Universal Postal Union - Herb Keinon
    The Palestinian Authority failed on Saturday to gain full admission to the Universal Postal Union (UPU). Membership in the UPU is automatic to all UN members, but a non-member state requires the support of 2/3 of the countries to join - 128 countries. The Palestinian request to join the UPU was sent to all member states in April, and they were given four months to respond - with those not responding counted as abstentions.
        The results showed that the Palestinians were well short of 2/3 approval: 56 countries supported the bid, 7 objected, 23 abstained, and another 106 did not respond. The Israel Foreign Ministry had waged a campaign to prevent Palestinian membership. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Yes, Iran Was Behind the Saudi Oil Attack - Eli Lake
    The Houthi rebels in Yemen lack the drones, missiles or expertise to attack infrastructure inside Saudi Arabia. A commander of Hizbullah, a subsidiary of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, told two George Washington University analysts in 2016: "Who do you think fires Tochka missiles into Saudi Arabia? It's not the Houthis in their sandals, it's us."
        Iran pretends to seek peace as it makes war. Iranian diplomacy depends on its adversaries treating the aggression of its proxies as distinct from its statecraft. U.S. intelligence agencies have mapped the precise locations of Iranian bases and commanders in Yemen and the Middle East. If Trump wants to respond militarily without attacking Iranian territory, he has many targets outside the country.
        During and after the negotiations for the nuclear deal, Iran armed and trained its proxies in Syria and later in Yemen. The attack on Saudi Arabia shows just how important it is that any future deal commit the Iranian regime to ending its adventures in the Middle East. (Bloomberg)
  • If Israel Doesn't Block Missile Technology to Iran's Allies, It Could Lose the Ability to Defend Itself - Felicia Schwartz
    Israel has been hitting targets in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq to try to prevent Iran from moving military supplies to its Lebanese ally Hizbullah. Israeli officials say allowing a foe to obtain missile technology that could overwhelm Israel's defenses is unacceptable. "If someone is not ready to risk anything, he will not gain anything," said Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, who was Israeli national security adviser from 2011 to 2013. "Here we might lose the ability to defend ourselves if they succeed to build on top of what they already have."
        Hizbullah has a few dozen precision-guided missiles, mostly smuggled in from Syria, according to Israeli officials. Hizbullah isn't able to produce them in significant numbers yet, they say. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Will Israel Go to War over Hizbullah's Precision-Guided Missiles? - Ilan Berman
    Iran's strategic footprint in the Levant has grown exponentially over the past half-decade as a result of the Islamic Republic's campaign in support of the Syrian regime. For now, Israel's significant military response has succeeded in establishing at least a minimum level of deterrence against Iran in Israel's north - and in demonstrating that Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general who has been identified as the architect of Tehran's Syria campaign, is not, in fact, "ten feet tall." The writer is senior vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington. (National Interest)

  • In his first interview since announcing his resignation, Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt said he wouldn't change any of the significant U.S. decisions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "The decisions we made were appropriate for what we are trying to accomplish. They were correct for the United States and its interest."
  • "Certainly, on the major decisions - Jerusalem, the embassy, UNRWA, the PLO office, the Golan - I firmly believe [those were] the correct decisions. And I think if we didn't make those decisions, it would have brought us no closer to peace."
  • "I don't characterize anything we've done as sticks," he says regarding the peace team's approach to the Palestinians. "I think that each decision we've made over the last two and a half years has been in the interest of the United States. I know that people characterize some of our decisions as punishments toward the Palestinians. That is not only not true, it never entered into my mind."
  • "Take the recognition of Jerusalem, for example. That's a law of the USA from 1995. We respected the will of the American people in a law passed by Congress. The closure of the PLO office was based on a law. On UNRWA, it is not in the interest of the United States to continue funding into that broken system that provides no future for Palestinians living in these refugee camps. I'm surprised how people weaponize these decisions and pretend that they were done for political purposes when, in fact, they were decisions based on either law or what makes sense for the U.S. taxpayer."
  • Regarding the U.S. peace plan, he said, "If both sides study it and stay away from the political talk and understand that we delivered a realistic plan - one that is actually implementable, not one that just talks in lofty ideals - I think there is a chance that something good could come out of it."
  • "When we started, everybody would say that this is the core conflict of the Middle East. And if we solve this conflict, all of a sudden the Middle East will be an oasis of peace. That is absolutely untrue. And I think most people now understand that. You will still have the occasional group of people who still make that statement, but nobody believes it."