September 17, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

Report: Airstrike Targets Iran-Backed Militias near Iraq-Syria Border - Jack Khoury (Ha'aretz)
    An airstrike targeted Iran-backed militias near the border between Iraq and Syria overnight Monday, according to media reports.

Why Israel Limits Its Reaction to Provocations from Gaza - Hillel Frisch (Jerusalem Post)
    Why has Israel limited its responses to daily violence from Gaza?
    The answer is that it is in Israel's interest that the Gaza front remain as quiet as possible for the time being.
    Iran clearly wants a hot war on Israel's Gaza front to deflect attention from its strategic build up in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.
    Without Iranian backing, both Hizbullah and Hamas over time will be reduced to the stature of small local terrorist movements. They are only powerful to the degree that they enjoy the power of a state behind them.
    For now, Iran and Israel's northern front are far more important.
    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.

More Palestinians Find Work in Israel Despite Conflict (AFP-Daily Mail-UK)
    The number of West Bank Palestinians working in Israel has almost doubled in the past five years, according to official Palestinian figures.
    Israel said the number of permits for employment in Israel had risen 160% since 2012.
    Palestinian workers typically earn between $70 and $100 per day working in Israel or in Jewish communities in the West Bank, compared to just $20-$30 with Palestinian companies, workers said.
    With unemployment rates in the West Bank at 18%, according to the World Bank, the revenue is vital for many families.
    "Palestinian labor is a win-win for both sides," an Israeli defense official said.
    The employees' salaries helped the Palestinian economy and contributed to calm in the West Bank.
    Waiting times at the checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel had been cut from 30 minutes to only a few.

Officer Who Lost an Eye in 2006 War Named to Lead Golani Brigade - Judah Ari Gross (Times of Israel)
    Col. Barak Hiram was named the next commander of the IDF's Golani Infantry Brigade on Monday, the army said.
    During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hiram, then a major, served as a platoon commander in the elite Egoz unit.
    During a battle in the southern Lebanese town of Haddatha, Hiram sustained a head wound, which he bandaged himself. He continued fighting, refusing to be taken away until the end of the battle.
    He ultimately lost an eye from the injury.

Israel's Economy Grew by 3.6% in First Half of 2019 (Globes)
    Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics reported that the economy grew by 3.6% in the first half of 2019.
    This compares with 2.8% in the second half of 2018 and 3.5% in the first half of 2018.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S., Saudis Weigh Response to Iranian Attack on Saudi Arabia's Oil Industry - Dion Nissenbaum
    U.S. intelligence indicates Iran was the staging ground for Saturday's debilitating attack on Saudi Arabia's oil industry. Yet until the Saudis make the same determination, the U.S. would have trouble galvanizing regional support for a unified response. Saudi Arabia said it was going to invite UN experts to investigate and would wait for the results before deciding how to respond.
        On Monday, President Trump said he is not yet considering military options and that he expects Saudi Arabia to play a central role in any response. "The fact is the Saudis are going to have a lot of involvement in this, if we decide to do something," he said.
        Robert Malley, president of International Crisis Group, said, "Both President Trump and Mohammed bin Salman feel the need to respond but neither wants war. The question is how they achieve the former without provoking the latter."  (Wall Street Journal)
        See also below Observations: A Credibility Test for U.S.-Saudi Defense Relations and Iran Deterrence - Michael Knights (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Iran Supreme Leader Rules Out Negotiations with U.S.
    "All Islamic Republic of Iran officials unanimously believe there will be no negotiations with the U.S. at any level," Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday on his official website. (AFP-France 24)
  • U.S. Treasury: Hizbullah Illicit Activities Involve Lebanon's Airport and Seaports - Joyce Karam
    Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea told the Atlantic Council in Washington on Friday that U.S. sanctions on Iran and its proxy, Hizbullah, "are having a clear impact, leaving Iran with scarce funds to spend in its perfidious pursuits. Hizbullah is also feeling the squeeze - its fighters have been furloughed or assigned to reserves, where they earn far lower salaries; its media employees laid off; payments to families slashed....Our course remains constant and unchanged - to degrade Iranian finances."
        "If you are a collaborator with Hizbullah, regardless of your political party and ideological affiliation, if you're offering material support, we are going to target you. This is not about the Lebanese Shia community, this is about Hizbullah."
        Billingslea said Hizbullah "engages in a wide range of illicit business activities in Lebanon, well outside the financial sector. Pharmaceuticals come to mind, the abuse of free trade zones, the abuse of the airport and the seaport. These are all areas where it's incumbent upon a good government in Lebanon to take back control of their own country."  (The National-Abu Dhabi)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Tehran Raises the Stakes - Amos Harel
    The Iranian attack on Saudi oil installations is the most dramatic development in the Persian Gulf since the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear agreement in May 2018. So far the president's reaction has been relatively mild and he continues to convey more of a willingness to dialogue with the Iranians than a desire to confront them.
        The Iranian attack testifies to the improved capabilities of Iran's cruise missiles. While Israel is out of this system's current range, these capabilities are indicative of what might end up in the hands of Hizbullah. This signals the need for a speedy upgrade of Israeli defense and interception systems, with an emphasis on protecting strategic sites. (Ha'aretz)
  • Palestinian Group Downs Islamic Jihad Drone in Gaza - Jack Khoury
    The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine announced Saturday it had downed an Israeli drone over Gaza. An Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman denied that IDF aircraft were involved in the incident. Gaza sources later reported that the UAV was an Iranian-manufactured aircraft operated by Islamic Jihad. (Ha'aretz)
  • Jordan's Supreme Court Okays Israel Gas Deal - Daniel Salami
    Jordan's Supreme Court has approved an agreement to import natural gas from Israel, ruling that additional approval from the Jordanian parliament is not necessary. The agreement was reviewed by the court after widespread protests in Jordan. The court decided that "this is an agreement between two companies, whose contracts do not touch on aspects of the law that would require parliamentary approval."  (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The International Community Needs to Get Tougher on Iran - Editorial
    The attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities have been blamed by America on Iran, confirming the country's rapid descent into the ranks of rogue states. The denials from Tehran are predictable but why should they be believed?
        By any measure this is a geopolitical enormity, a deliberate attempt to disrupt the world's oil supplies, followed up by threats from the Revolutionary Guard to fire on U.S. warships in the Gulf. Nothing justifies Iran's random arrest of foreign nationals and threats to undermine the global economy. The time has come for a unified response to the menace emanating from Tehran. (Telegraph-UK)
  • Iran Resumes Its Nuclear Menace - Editorial
    The Islamic republic remains affixed upon a singular goal: acquiring nuclear weapons. Now that the regime is hastening its deadly day of triumph, there is only one rational response: Resist until the moment when that terror-wielding nation desists.
        The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran proudly exhibited a set of advanced uranium centrifuges. Half are capable of enriching uranium five times faster than earlier models, the rest able to enrich at 10 times the rate.
        Tehran is confronting European nations with an ultimatum: Begin purchasing Iranian oil in violation of economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. or face the peril of a nuclear Iran. The implied threat is thinly disguised nuclear blackmail. Forcing the regime to choose between its nuclear program and economic collapse is the only rational course. (Washington Times)
  • Assad Tries to Stir Up Trouble among the Druze on the Golan Heights - Pinhas Inbari
    Since the Assad regime returned to the Syrian side of the Golan Heights in July 2018, pro-Syrian activities have increased among the Druze in the area. During the first week of September 2019, a large group of Druze sheikhs from the Golan Heights sought to visit Syria. However, Israel did not allow them to cross into Jordan on their way to Damascus.
        Today, the Mukhabarat - Syria's Military Intelligence Directorate - has reopened its offices in Quneitra and is already intervening in villages on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights to stir up unrest.
        The Druze in the Golan Heights are aware of what happened on the Syrian side and al-Qaeda's attacks on Druze in Syria that ended in the massacre of many Druze in 2015 and again in 2018. The Druze understood that this happened because they refused to send their youth to Assad's army, preferring that young Druze would protect their homes in Jabal al-Druze. There are also reports that the Druze are following Hizbullah's entrenchment around them with suspicion. The writer, a veteran Arab affairs correspondent, is an analyst for the Jerusalem Center. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

A Credibility Test for U.S.-Saudi Defense Relations and Iran Deterrence - Michael Knights (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • The Sep. 14 attack on Saudi targets in Abqaiq and Khurais could take up to 5.7 million barrels per day off the global market for the next several months. This makes it the most comprehensive blow against the global energy sector since Iraq's seizure of Kuwait in 1990.
  • The lack of attempted air defense interception by numerous overlapping Hawk and Patriot missile batteries suggests a low-level cruise missile attack that hugged the ground at altitudes of under 300 feet.
  • Seventeen individual impact points were struck at the Abqaiq facility. The weapons were highly accurate. All 12 of the 30-meter-wide spheroid gas-oil separation tanks at Abqaiq were hit almost dead center. Much thinner stabilization towers were also accurately struck. The tanks appear to have been struck with high-velocity kinetic force sans explosions, perhaps signaling an effort to damage but not permanently destroy them.
  • Assuming that indications of a major cruise missile attack launched from Iranian territory prove correct, the strike is a very bold gamble by the country's leadership. Iran can count on public skepticism to afford it some deniability, but an attack of this magnitude stands a much greater chance of provoking very severe diplomatic and military consequences.
  • If significant portions of the intelligence community conclude that the world's most important energy site has been hit by unprecedentedly advanced weapons launched directly from Iran or by the regime's proxies, the finding would challenge not only Riyadh and Washington, but the entire global energy community, including China.
  • Iran has deliberately gone much further than its previous provocations, and if it avoids consequences once again, it may decide it has a free pass to go even further, whether against Saudi Arabia, Israel, or other U.S. partners. And other known global provocateurs will be watching how Washington responds, including Russia, China, and North Korea. For the sake of reestablishing deterrence, the attack must not go unanswered.

    The writer is a senior fellow of The Washington Institute.