September 18, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Gathers Evidence on Strikes Against Saudi Oil Facilities - Eric Schmitt (New York Times)
    American analysts are poring over satellite imagery, assessing radar tracks of the cruise missiles, and reviewing communication intercepts to determine the origin of the strikes against Saudi oil facilities on Saturday.
    Forensics specialists are also examining circuit boards recovered by the Saudis from one of the cruise missiles that fell short of its target.
    One theory gaining traction among American officials is that the cruise missiles were launched from Iran and programmed to fly around the northern Persian Gulf through Iraqi air space instead of directly across the gulf where the U.S. has much better surveillance, one senior official said.
    In the hours before the attacks, American intelligence detected unusual activity at military bases in southwest Iran that would be consistent with preparations for strikes, another senior American official said.
    Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have presented President Trump with an array of military options in response. Officials voiced worry about the cost of doing nothing.

Billions Spent on U.S. Weapons Didn't Protect Saudi Arabia's Critical Oil Sites - Adam Taylor (Washington Post)
    The Saturday attack on Saudi oil facilities represented an unusually well-planned operation that would have been difficult for even the most well-equipped and experienced countries to detect and neutralize.
    The operation appeared to circumvent Saudi Arabia's six battalions of Patriot missile defense systems.
    Thomas Karako, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that in theory the Patriot system could protect against low-flying cruise missiles and drones, although it is primarily designed for ballistic missiles.
    However, it would depend where it was placed. "The defended area for a Patriot battery is relatively small," Karako said. "There are real limits, even if you have a ton of Patriots, on what you can defend."

Iranian Judo Champion Who Defied Tehran Now in Hiding - James Ellingworth (AP)
    Saeid Mollaei, the defending world champion, has been in hiding in Germany since he left the Iranian judo team last month.
    Mollaei told AP he was ordered to lose a bout against Russia to prevent a future competition against Israel. When he refused and won, he received intimidating calls from senior officials.

Israeli Rhythmic Gymnast Linoy Ashram Wins Silver, Bronze Medals at World Championships (Times of Israel)
    Israeli rhythmic gymnast Linoy Ashram, 20, won silver and bronze medals at the World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Tuesday.
    Ashram won silver in the hoop competition and bronze in the ball competition.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Pinpoints Launch Sites in Western Iran for Saudi Oil Strikes - Richard Spencer
    Pentagon officials told U.S. television stations Tuesday that radar imagery and other intelligence suggested that the cruise missiles that struck Saudi oil facilities on Saturday flew south from Khuzestan, an Arabic-speaking region of southwestern Iran near the Iraqi border. (The Times-UK)
  • Saudi Energy Minister Says Half of Crude Oil Production Restored after Attack
    Saudi Arabia's energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said Tuesday that 50% of the production cut by the attack on its oil processing plant has been restored. The prince added that production capacity will be up to 11 million barrels per day by the end of September. It had been around 9.6 million barrels per day before the attack. (AP-TIME)
        See also Don't Panic Over the Saudi Attack and the Oil Supply - Donald L. Luskin and Michael Warren
    After the attack on Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure last weekend the market reaction was muted, with global oil prices rising only to where they were in May. This was in part due to the explosion in U.S. crude-oil production, which has risen by 3.65 million barrels since the end of 2016, a leap of more than 40%. The only thing keeping global markets from falling into abject glut are offsetting voluntarily production cuts by some of the world's largest producers including Saudi Arabia.
        And it's only beginning. In the next several months, pipeline capacity in West Texas' Permian Basin shale fields will expand by about one million barrels a day. (Wall Street Journal)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel's Election Sees Two Main Political Parties Nearly Tied
    Partial results from Tuesday's Israeli Knesset election showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud nearly tied with challenger Benny Gantz's Blue and White party, setting the stage for a period of coalition negotiations that include the possibility of a national unity government involving both parties. Attention will now focus on President Reuven Rivlin, who is to choose the candidate he believes has the best chance of forming a stable coalition in the 120-seat parliament. (AP-Ynet News)
  • Initial Israeli Knesset Election Results
    With 63% of the vote counted, the results of the Sep. 17 Knesset elections were:
    Blue & White (Gantz-Lapid) - 25.7% - 32 seats.
    Likud (Netanyahu) - 25.0% - 31 seats.
    United Arab List - 10.7% - 13 seats.
    Shas (Religious-Sephardi) - 7.6% - 9 seats.
    Yisrael Beiteinu (Lieberman) - 7.1% - 9 seats.
    United Torah Judaism (Religious) - 6.3% - 8 seats.
    Yamina (Shaked-Peretz) - 5.7% - 7 seats.
    Labor - 4.8% - 6 seats.
    Meretz-Barak - 4.3% - 5 seats.
    (Central Election Committee-Hebrew-Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Hard-Liners in Iran See No Drawback to Bellicose Strategy - David D. Kirkpatrick
    Iranian scholars said Tehran has concluded that its recent aggressions have effectively strengthened its leverage with the West. Ali Ansari, a professor of Iranian history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said that for Iranian hard-liners, "their policy of 'maximum resistance' is working."
        Sanam Vakil, a scholar of Iran and the Persian Gulf at Chatham House policy institute in London, said the Iranians appear to have concluded from recent American actions that confrontation cannot lose, because even a potential American military action would almost certainly be a limited strike designed to avoid a prolonged ground war.
        Domestically and in the region, surviving such a strike could strengthen the current Iranian government by rallying public opinion. "They are challenging American supremacy and forcing the international community to come to terms with a new relationship with the Islamic Republic," she said. (New York Times)
  • Stand Up to Iran's Oil Market Terrorism - Mark Dubowitz and Brenda Shaffer
    From a single attack by the Islamic Republic of Iran on Saudi Arabia's main oil processing facilities, the global oil market lost more supply on Saturday than on any single day in its recorded history. Saudi Arabia's critical infrastructure is vulnerable, a weakness common to many other oil installations around the globe.
        At times, previous administrations have tolerated Iran's provocations in the Gulf, hoping restraint would prevent a direct conflict. It never worked then and is not working now. During the last six months, Iran has attacked vessels in the Gulf and made transit insecure. Tehran remains undeterred. The U.S. and its allies should therefore expect more attacks.
        Mark Dubowitz is CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Prof. Brenda Shaffer is an international energy expert. (Washington Examiner)
  • Weighing U.S. Military Options in Iran - George Friedman
    What will the U.S. do in response to Iran's drone and cruise missile attacks on Saudi Arabia's largest oil refinery? The attacks did not directly affect the U.S., save for the spike in oil prices, which actually helps the American oil industry.
        There is a temptation to let the attacks slip into history. But the U.S. has formed an anti-Iran alliance in which Saudi Arabia is a key (though weak) player. Doing nothing would call the U.S.-sponsored coalition into question. Failing to respond to an Iranian attack could help Iran increase its power throughout the region.
        The Iranians know the dilemma they have posed for the U.S. They have bet that the risks are too high for the U.S. to respond. (Geopolitical Futures)
  • Israeli Elections Did Not Determine the Future of the Peace Process - Jonathan S. Tobin
    With all the apocalyptic rhetoric over the Israeli election, many still fail to understand the broad consensus among Israelis on security issues and the peace process. That consensus holds that the Palestinians have no real interest in peace and that in the absence of a peace partner, the kind of territorial concessions some demand that Israel make wouldn't be so much unwise as insane. That's why all the talk about Israel's latest election deciding the future of the peace process is wrong.
        As Arafat did in 2000 and 2001, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas said "no" to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's 2008 offer of an independent Palestinian state in Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, as well as a share of Jerusalem. Abbas to this day refuses to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.
        Palestinian peace with Israel is impossible until a sea change in their culture produces a leadership that would be serious about peace. Should such a leadership ever emerge, they will, no doubt, find willing Israeli partners. But that's something for the future. For now, Israelis understand that the Palestinians have already decided against peace - no matter who is Israel's prime minister. (Israel Hayom)

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told CNN on Thursday:
  • "We are talking about the plan of applying Israeli sovereignty to the area of the Jordan Valley, an area not densely populated by the Palestinians, and the prime minister was very clear that sovereignty would not apply to the town of Jericho where the Palestinians live, according to the Oslo agreements."
  • "On this particular issue of the Jordan Valley, I would justify it with two paragraphs: One, our historic rights there in the area, and the other one - every military expert I know and you know would agree that it's impossible to defend the State of Israel without military control in this area. So with these two issues combined I think that is quite obvious that under no negotiations will we be able to give up the Jordan Valley."
  • "Unfortunately, I haven't seen any negotiations for the last several years. I regret that. That's definitely not Israel's fault or Netanyahu's fault. But I would dare say, I noticed your stress on the word 'unilateral.' When we were protesting Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, I don't remember that anyone was talking so negatively about unilateral steps."
  • "The results are very well-known. The moment we uprooted all the Jewish communities there and withdrew all the Israel Defense Forces from the Gaza Strip, we've been in an ongoing war on our southern border for the last 14 years."
  • "I think that as far as the Jordan Valley plan is concerned, it could bring us even closer to peace because things will become more clear. Right now with this probably illusion of some people about the future of this area, it makes it harder to negotiate."