October 16, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Carried Out Secret Cyber Strike on Iran in Wake of Saudi Oil Attack - Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart (Reuters)
    The U.S. carried out a secret cyber operation against Iran in the wake of the Sep. 14 attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities, two U.S. officials said.
    The operation in late September aimed at Tehran's ability to spread "propaganda" and affected physical hardware.
    "You can do damage without killing people or blowing things up; it adds an option to the toolkit that we didn't have before and our willingness to use it is important," said James Lewis, a cyber expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

IMF: Iran Economy to Shrink 9.5 Percent amid Tighter U.S. Sanctions (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
    Iran's economy is expected to shrink by 9.5% this year due to the impact of tighter U.S. sanctions, up from a previous estimate of a 6% contraction, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Tuesday.
    The IMF forecasts annual inflation to be 35.7% this year.

British Experts in Iran to Upgrade Arak Reactor (AFP)
    A team of British experts led by UK Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Robin Grimes arrived in Iran on Monday to begin work to upgrade the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor, the UK embassy in Tehran said.
    The reactor is to be modernized with the help of foreign experts under the 2015 nuclear deal.

Former German Coach in Iran: "I Never Met a Person in Favor of the Regime" (Radio Farda)
    German soccer coach Winfried Schafer, who managed the Iranian club Estqelal FC for almost two years, said:
    "I never met a person who was in favor of the regime - and I speak of people from very different backgrounds: industrialists, academics, football players, taxi drivers and even ministers."
    "The people I've met, no matter young or old, are not at all in line with the [Islamic] regime."

U.S. Airstrikes Kill 1/3 of Libya's Islamic State Fighters - Kyle Rempfer (Army Times)
    A series of four airstrikes in recent weeks against Libya's Islamic State franchise killed 1/3 of the group's personnel.
    The strikes killed 43 ISIS fighters, with 100 still remaining, according to a senior U.S. defense official.

Israeli Gymnast Wins Silver at World Championships (Times of Israel)
    Israeli gymnast Artem Dolgopyat on Saturday won the silver medal in the floor exercise competition at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.
    Dolgopyat also won the silver medal in the 2017 World Championships.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Russian Troops Patrol between Turkish and Syrian Forces - Bethan McKernan
    Russian units have begun patrolling territory separating Turkish-backed Syrian rebels from the Syrian army around Manbij in northeast Syria, in a sign that Moscow has become the power broker in the region after the evacuation of U.S. troops. Moscow's special envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, said on Tuesday Russia opposed the Turkish operation and would not allow direct clashes between Turkey and Syrian forces.
        Kurdish officials struck a Russian-brokered deal with Damascus on Sunday for reinforcements to protect Kurdish-held border positions. Syrian state media reported that Kurdish officials agreed to a deal allowing the Syrian regime to protect both Manbij and nearby Kobane from the Turkish assault.
        Airstrikes and shelling of Kurdish-controlled roads and towns has displaced 160,000 people and killed at least 165 civilians. Kurdish-led SDF counterattacks over the border have left 20 Turkish civilians dead. (Guardian-UK)
  • U.S. Says It Wants to Keep Helping Kurds in Fight Against Islamic State
    The U.S. wants to maintain support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their fight against ISIS despite U.S. troops withdrawing from northern Syria, a Pentagon official said Tuesday. "There'll be ongoing conversations on what kind of capabilities we can help bring to them to continue the fight within Syria," the official said. "We continue to be committed to the de-ISIS campaign and we want to figure out how we can continue working with the SDF."  (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
  • U.S. to Lobby NATO for Tough Turkey Punishment - Paul McLeary
    U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper will travel to Brussels next week to demand NATO members implement "collective and individual diplomatic and economic measures" on Turkey as punishment for its incursion into Syria, he said Monday. NATO members Germany, France, Norway and the Netherlands, as well as EU members Sweden and Finland, have already halted weapons sales and military aid to Ankara, as Congress readies its own sanctions on the Turkish military. (Breaking Defense)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel's Rafael Delivers U.S. Army Tank Protection Systems - Yuval Azulai
    Israeli defense electronics company Rafael has delivered a first consignment of Trophy anti-missile protection systems to the U.S. Army for Abrams tanks and armored personnel carriers. The system has been in operational use with the Israel Defense Forces since 2011 and has on many occasions intercepted missiles fired at Israeli armored vehicles.
        Rafael CEO Gen. (res.) Yoav Har Even said, "There is great satisfaction that technology developed in Israel over many years of investment will play a major role in protecting U.S. soldiers." Production of about half of the components making up the Trophy system is being carried out in the U.S. The U.S. Army will also use Elbit's Iron Fist system for protecting Bradley armored fighting vehicles. (Globes)
  • Israel to Construct Waste-to-Energy Power Plant near Jerusalem - Eytan Halon
    Israel will build its first waste-to-energy power plant at the recycling park near Ma'aleh Adumim, it was announced Thursday. The plant will serve as the primary waste treatment facility for the Jerusalem metropolitan area. The site will be home to an innovative waste sorting facility and an advanced energy recovery facility, producing electricity from waste under stringent environmentally-friendly conditions. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Money, Hatred for the Kurds Drives Turkey's Syrian Fighters
    The Syrian fighters, trained and funded by Turkey, vowed to kill "pigs" and "infidels," paraded their Kurdish captives in front of cameras and, in one graphic video, fired several rounds into a man lying on the side of a highway with his hands bound behind his back. They are part of the Syrian National Army, the shock troops in Turkey's offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces. Many are Arab and Turkmen fighters from northern and eastern Syria who have an ax to grind against the Kurds and a reputation for violence and looting.
        "The main problem with these forces is their criminality," said Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the U.S.-based Foreign Policy Research Institute. "Hatred of Kurds, a sense of Arab chauvinism, complete intolerance for any dissent, and just a desire to make a profit is what's driving most of the abuses." The Rojava Information Center has identified at least 40 former ISIS militants among the Turkey-backed fighters. (AP-New York Times)
  • Iran and Turkey Are Rivals for Middle East Hegemony - Col. (res.) Ronen Itsik
    The U.S. retreat from Syria and abandonment of the Kurds does not mean that America is pulling out of the Middle East. It was an operational decision designed to focus efforts on Iran.
        Iran and Turkey are open rivals for Middle East hegemony. Turkey is flexing its muscles in Syria, an Iranian ally. Iran also has good reason to worry about the danger of the Islamic State reemerging, since ISIS' main enemy is Shiite Islam.
        Nothing has really changed in our world in the 21st century. National interests come first and humane concerns are marginalized. A people without self-determination and without a sovereign state doesn't count. The writer was an IDF armored brigade commander. (Israel Hayom)
  • Hamas Would Win PA Elections in West Bank - Daniel Siryoti
    Senior security officials from Israel, Jordan, and the PA confirm that security coordination and intelligence cooperation are operating with "Swiss clock" precision. PA President Mahmoud Abbas told the UN last month that PA elections would lead to Hamas defeating Fatah and seizing control of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas would then quickly and brutally oust Fatah officials from all government agencies, ministries, and the PA security and intelligence apparatuses.
        Senior Palestinian officials say recent polls indicate clearly that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would beat Abbas for the presidency by a considerable margin. One official told Israel Hayom: "There will not be a general election in the Palestinian Authority, certainly not so long as Abbas is alive."  (Israel Hayom)

  • IDF Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence research division, told JNS that the strengthening of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated extremist Sunni forces in northeast Syria "should disturb us." He stressed that Turkey had launched its offensive with "problematic, radical forces."
  • Kuperwasser predicted that "if the Kurds feel distressed, and American pressure can't stop the Turks, they will try to link up with Assad, as well as with the Russians and the Iranians." The Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) signed such a cooperation agreement with the Assad regime on Sunday.
  • While Israel can provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian Kurds and also apply diplomatic pressure, military intervention is out of the question, said Kuperwasser, director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
  • Kuperwasser insisted that the events in northeast Syria will have no direct repercussions on U.S.-Israel relations. "The depth of the U.S. commitment to Israel is very different" from its commitment to the Syrian Kurds.
  • He added that while Israel "is acting decisively to prevent an Iranian base in Syria, what is important in this context is that the American economic pressure on Iran continues."
  • "Despite pinpoint [Iranian] achievements on the ground, the infrastructure of Iran is still eroding. They can't hold on for a long time without money. It all costs money in the end."