September 19, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

Netanyahu Calls on Rival Gantz to Form National Unity Government - Ariel Kahana (Israel Hayom)
    After Israel's deadlocked election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday called on his main rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, to join in a broad, unity coalition.
    Speaking at a memorial ceremony for former Prime Minister Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem, Netanyahu noted that Peres had forged a coalition with then-Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir in 1984.
    President Reuven Rivlin welcomed Netanyahu's call for a broad coalition.
    See also With 96 Percent of Vote Counted - Blue and White Leads Likud by 2 Seats - Amir Alon (Ynet News)
    Neither the Blue and White party nor Likud appears to be able to muster the 61 MKs needed to form a majority in the Knesset.

Israel Faces New Enemy: Iranian-Backed Shiite Militias in Syria - Neta Bar (Israel Hayom)
    "Today, now that the Assad regime is well-based in Syria and there is no longer any danger it will be defeated, Iran is waging an offensive against Israel from Syria, whose vanguard is located on the Syrian Golan Heights," said Dr. Yossi Mansharof, who researches Iran and Shiite militias at the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at the University of Haifa.
    The efforts to build up Shiite militias in Syria were headed by Hizbullah operative Ali Mussa Daqduq, who was previously involved in setting up a Shiite terrorist front against the U.S. in Iraq.
    "Daqduq was captured by the Americans and released into the custody of the Iranian government, which promised he would not resume terrorist activity, but they didn't live up to their commitment, and today Daqduq is heading the front on the Golan Heights on behalf of Hizbullah and the Quds Force."
    "The Shiite militias active in Syria are comprised of three main forces: the Iraqi al-Nujaba; the Afghan Fatemiyoun, and the Pakistani Zainebiyoun. These are hired swords, people who are motivated by a combination of Shiite faith, loyalty to [Iranian Supreme Leader] Khamenei, and greed."
    "The use of a third element, a proxy, is designed to save Iranian lives and prevent criticism from the Iranian public, who will not accept Iranian losses in a foreign conflict."

Iran Suspended from World Judo for Banning Competition Against Israelis (Radio Farda)
    The International Judo Federation (IJF) on Wednesday accused Iran of violating the Olympic Charter and suspended the Islamic Republic from participation in all world judo competitions.
    The decision is based on the case of Iranian judo gold medalist Saeid Mollaei, who was forced to give away matches to avoid a potential contest against an Israeli athlete.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Saudi Oil Attack Was Approved by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei - David Martin
    The cruise missile and drone attack on Saudi oil facilities was approved by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, but only on the condition that it be carried out in a way that made it possible to deny Iranian involvement, a U.S. official told CBS News.
        U.S. officials said unreleased satellite photos show the Iranian Revolutionary Guard making preparations for the attack at Ahvaz Air Base in southwestern Iran. From there, the weapons flew through Kuwaiti airspace some 400 miles to their targets in Saudi Arabia. (CBS News)
  • Pompeo Calls Attacks on Saudi Arabia an "Act of War" - Ben Hubbard
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran on Wednesday of carrying out an "act of war" with strikes on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, as he met with Saudi leaders to discuss building a coalition to deter further attacks. (New York Times)
        See also Saudi Arabia Says Iran Sponsored Attack as U.S. Plans New Sanctions - Richard Perez-Pena
    On Wednesday, the Saudi Defense Ministry in Riyadh presented evidence of Iran's responsibility for aerial strikes on Saudi oil processing facilities. "This attack was launched from the north, and was unquestionably sponsored by Iran," said Col. Turki al-Maliki, a ministry spokesman.
        On Wednesday, President Trump tweeted that he had told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin "to substantially increase sanctions on the country of Iran."  (New York Times)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Report: Drones Attack Iran-Backed Militia on Iraq-Syria Border - Jack Khoury
    Drones attacked Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces fighters Wednesday evening in Syria near the border with Iraq, Sky News in Arabic reported, citing an Iraqi security source. Five people were killed in the attack and nine more were wounded. Overnight Monday, ten fighters died in a strike on weapon storage facilities in the border area run by Iran-backed militias. (Ha'aretz)
  • Poll: Most Palestinians Oppose Two-State Solution - Dr. Khalil Shikaki
    56% of Palestinians oppose and 42% support the concept of the two-state solution, according to a Palestinian poll conducted on Sep. 11-14, 2019. 50% support a return to an armed intifada.
        55% of Palestinians believe that Iran has a military capacity to defeat Israel in war. 59% of West Bankers said they could not criticize the PA without fear. In Gaza, 53% say they cannot criticize Hamas without fear.
        67% of Gazans say they believe that humans can be possessed by demons (Jinn), while 24% believe it is superstition. In the West Bank, 37% believe in demons, while 56% do not. (Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research)
  • Rockets Fired from Gaza Fall Short, Wound 7 Palestinians
    Seven Palestinians were wounded after two rockets fired from Gaza exploded outside a home in the Palestinian city of Rafah. (Israel Hayom)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The Attack on the Saudi Oil Facilities: A New Level of Iranian Audacity - Yoel Guzansky, Eldad Shavit, and Sima Shine
    The Sep. 14 attack on the oil facilities in Saudi Arabia is the most serious such attack since the 1991 Gulf War. Even if the Saudis manage to resume full production quickly, the vulnerability of the oil supply chain in the Gulf has been revealed.
        It is evident that Iran is prepared to take new and more daring risks, based in part on the assessment that the U.S. as well as the Saudis and other Gulf states are not interested in a broad escalation. The Iranian readiness to incur greater risk reflects the price that it is prepared to pay in order to extricate itself from the American sanctions. Its steps are also an indirect signal to Israel regarding Iran's military ability to respond with advanced weapons.
        Saudi weakness against the background of the ongoing war in Yemen and U.S. hesitation to react militarily to Iranian moves, including the downing of an American drone, have eroded American deterrence and apparently encouraged the Iranians to heighten the kinetic campaign in the Gulf.
        Dr. Yoel Guzansky is a senior researcher at INSS. Col. (res.) Eldad Shavit served as head of the research division of IDF Military Intelligence. Sima Shine, formerly responsible for the Iranian file at Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs (2009-2015), was also head of research at the Mossad. (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
  • Iran's Leadership Thinks Escalation Can Pay Off - Suzanne Maloney
    The attack on Saudi oil facilities is straight out of the playbook that Iran has employed since May. Provoking a crisis is a time-honored Iranian strategy. Iran calculates that targeting U.S. allies and interests would generate diplomatic leverage that could be used in any future negotiations, inject urgency among world powers, and dissuade its neighbors from cooperating with Washington's pressure campaign. The writer is deputy director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution. (Washington Post)
        See also Tehran Thinks It's Winning - Editorial
    No one should expect Iran to stop its provocations, especially as it concludes there is little cost to escalating. The U.S. and Saudis have shown they can't protect the oil fields, and the next attack may hit the UAE or Kuwait. Tehran has a clear policy to become the dominant power in the Middle East, and its actions - including aggression to destabilize its Arab neighbors - support that policy. (Wall Street Journal)

A U.S.-Israeli Defense Pact: How to Ensure that Its Advantages Outweigh Its Disadvantages - Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • The idea of a defense pact between Israel and the U.S. has already been considered several times and rejected. Both sides are cautious about making commitments that would limit their freedom of action and require them to act militarily in contexts that are not viewed as vital by their respective populations.
  • Israel has reserved the right of nonintervention in conflicts that do not directly affect Israel, preserving its independent decision-making when it comes to using its power, and, above all, upholding the principle that Israel should be able to defend itself by itself.
  • To date, Israel's expectations of the U.S. in the security domain have gone unfulfilled in a number of cases. According to unwritten understandings, Israel is to deal with threats within its own immediate environment while relying on U.S. assistance in intelligence, equipment, and resources, and the U.S. is supposed to prevent, with Israeli help, the emergence of strategic threats to Israel and to the U.S. from the second and the third tier.
  • At several critical junctures the U.S. has decided to prefer other interests over Israel's security needs, allowed the threats to its security to intensify, and forced it to stretch its capabilities to the limit, with Israel devoting huge budgets to its defense.
  • Nevertheless, a U.S.-Israeli defense pact could help promote the common goal of deterring Iran and curbing its activity by making it clear that aggression against Israel is tantamount to aggression against the U.S. and would prompt harsh American countermeasures.
  • Such a pact must preserve both sides' independence of decision-making in case of disagreement about a joint action; reinforce the principle that Israel must continue to be capable of defending itself by itself, to the extent possible; and it must not put new limits on Israel's ability to develop ties with other important states such as China and Russia.

    The writer, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Research Division and director general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, is director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center.