October 18, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

Turkey Suspected of Using White Phosphorus Against Kurdish Civilians in Syria - Anthony Loyd (The Times-UK)
    A growing body of evidence suggests Turkey is using white phosphorus against Kurdish civilians in its offensive into northern Syria.
    Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert, said, "In 24 hours I have been shown more photographs of these kinds of burns than at any recent stage in Syria's war. White phosphorus is a horrific weapon, which can be delivered by aircraft or artillery. It reacts to the moisture in the skin in a way that intensifies its burning, so that water cannot put it out."
    "Human rights organizations should be here to see what is happening and investigate the weapons being used on civilians," said Hassan Amin, director of the Tal Tamir hospital, which has received more than 550 wounded civilians, most from Ras al-Ain, since the Turkish offensive began last week.
    "Just 2% of those we treat have been shot. The rest are injured by airstrikes or artillery. Some burn patients are so badly injured as to be barely recognizable."

    See also Death Toll in Syria: 224 SDF Soldiers, 183 Turkish-Backed Rebels (Reuters)
    The Turkish offensive into northeast Syria has led to the death of 224 Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and 183 Turkish-backed rebels after eight days of fighting, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Thursday.
    The fighting has also led to 72 civilian deaths.

Syrian Kurds Seek Autonomy under Assad - Neville Teller (Israel Hayom)
    Several media commentators see the Kurdish-Syrian arrangement as a move forced by events on the reluctant Kurds.
    But the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), held direct talks in Damascus on July 27, 2018, in response to an invitation from the Syrian government.
    The Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria, known as Rojava, is not seeking independence but a degree of autonomy akin to the arrangement in Iraq, where an autonomous Kurdistan operates in alliance with the government.

ISIS Eyes Breakout as Turkish Forces Batter Kurds - Joby Warrick (Washington Post)
    The Islamic State is racing to capitalize on the deteriorating security situation in northern Syria, stepping up attacks on prisons as well as on the now-weakened Kurdish militia, intelligence officials and terrorism experts say.
    Pro-Islamic State social media sites are exulting over the rapid turn of events, and are calling for fresh attacks on prisons to free thousands of Islamist militants held by Kurdish forces.
    Islamic State websites reported 27 successful or attempted attacks against the Kurdish-led SDF in the week following the Turkish invasion.

    See also Three Ex-ISIS Fighters from Gaza Escape Kurdish Detention Camp (i24News)
    Three Islamic State operatives from Gaza who were held in a Kurdish prison in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad have escaped amid the Turkish offensive.
    A source in Gaza said the three spoke to their families by telephone on Wednesday.

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U.S. Special Operations Secrets Could Fall into Hands of Russians and Syrians - Shawn Snow (Military Times)
    For nearly five years American commandos have served beside Kurdish-led forces as they battled ISIS across northern Syria.
    Now Kurdish fighters in Syria are embracing Russia and Syrian regime forces for help against the Turkish incursion.
    This may prove to be an intelligence bonanza for Russia and Syria since the Kurdish fighters spent years working alongside Americans, learning their tactics, techniques, procedures, equipment, and intelligence gathering methods.
    A former U.S. military intelligence operator, who spent years working with special operations forces, said the potential spillover of sensitive tradecraft or information was "super problematic."

    See also Departing Syria, U.S. Destroys Ammunition, Equipment in Airstrike (Reuters)
    The U.S. carried out a pre-planned airstrike in northern Syria on Wednesday to destroy an ammunition cache and military equipment left behind by U.S. personnel, U.S. officials said.

Poll: 3/4 of Iranians Against Ending Nuclear Enrichment (University of Maryland)
    75% of Iranians say Iran should not agree to permanently refrain from nuclear enrichment on its soil, even if the U.S. promises sanctions relief, according to a new survey by the University of Maryland.
    55% of Iranians blame domestic economic mismanagement and corruption for Iran's poor economic conditions, more than the 38% who blame foreign sanctions and pressure.
    58% oppose limits on Iran's ballistic missile program.

Iranian Lawmakers Weigh Banning English Teaching in Public Schools (Radio Farda)
    57 Iranian members of parliament are backing a draft law to bar the teaching of English in government schools.

IDF Air Traffic Controllers Help Pilots Complete Their Missions - Anna Ahronheim (Jerusalem Post)
    The soldiers of the predominantly female Air Traffic Control Division are the eyes of the entire Israel Air Force.
    "On a normal day, we can have between 40 and 50 jets in the air simultaneously, at least three times a day," said 2nd-Lt. Yuval Yanovsky.
    The soldiers must provide reliable aerial pictures to aircrews, while also preparing for emergencies, and monitoring and updating the crews about threats and dangers in the air.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Turkey Agrees to Pause Military Operations in Northern Syria - Alex Leary
    Turkey agreed to suspend military operations in northern Syria for five days in return for a U.S. pledge to facilitate a pullout by Syrian Kurdish fighters. Vice President Mike Pence reached the deal after five hours of talks with Turkish President Erdogan on Thursday. Once Kurdish forces withdraw from a "safe zone," the cease-fire will become permanent, Pence said.
        The head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Mazloum Abdi, told Kurdish Ronahi TV that the SDF will do what needs to be done to make the cease-fire succeed. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the move a "pause," saying, "This is not a cease-fire. Taking a pause doesn't mean that our soldiers will withdraw."
        "We have a very convoluted situation, with Russian, Syrian Army, Turkish, American, SDF and some [Islamic State] elements all floating around in a very wild way," said James Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative for Syria, who accompanied Pence. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Shelling Heard around Syrian Town after Turkish-U.S. Ceasefire Deal - Mert Ozkan
    Shelling and gunfire resounded around the northeast Syrian town of Ras al Ain on Friday, a day after Turkey agreed with the U.S. to pause its offensive in Syria. (Reuters)
  • U.S. Envoy Says If Iran's Missiles Not Contained, Regional War Might Ensue
    U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic shows that it only comes to the negotiating table when under threat of military force, sanctions or political isolation.
        He said that while the U.S. was still in the Iran nuclear deal, the Islamic Republic extended its support to terrorist groups and transferred missiles to its proxies in Iraq and Lebanon. He warned that if Tehran's missile program is not contained, a regional war might ensue. He added that "The UN Security Council needs to renew the arms embargo [on Iran] before it expires" in 2020.
        "Iran no longer has enough money to pay Shi'ite military groups in Syria," Hook insisted. "Hizbullah and Hamas have enacted austerity plans due to a lack of funding from Iran. In various parts of Lebanon, you can see piggy banks in grocery stores soliciting spare change from Lebanese citizens to support Hizbullah's operation."  (Radio Farda)
  • U.S., Israel Blast Election of Venezuela, Libya to UN Human Rights Council - Edith M. Lederer
    Venezuela received 105 votes in the UN General Assembly on Thursday for election to a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Libya was also elected. U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said, "That one of the world's worst human-rights abusers would be granted a seat on a body that is supposed to defend human rights is utterly appalling."
        Israel's UN Ambassador Danny Danon said: "The Human Rights Council continues to abandon human rights and is now in the business of protecting dictators and war crimes. In Venezuela, a dictator starves his people, and in Libya there are camps that torture African migrants."  (AP-Washington Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Pompeo Meets Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Discusses Iran and Syria
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Friday. "Netanyahu and I had a productive meeting on efforts to counter the Iranian regime's malign influence as well as regional developments and other issues related to Israel's security," Pompeo tweeted after the meeting. (AFP-Times of Israel)
        See also Video: Statements of Pompeo and Netanyahu in Jerusalem (U.S. Embassy in Israel)
  • IDF Troops Bring Down Drone Launched from Gaza - Yoav Zitun
    Israeli troops on Thursday shot down a drone that entered Israeli territory from Gaza. (Ynet News)
  • PA Warns Against New U.S. Hospital in Gaza - Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik
    The Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Health condemned the planned construction of a 500-bed hospital in northern Gaza that was donated by the U.S. NGO Friendship and is partially funded by Qatar.
        An op-ed by Omar Hilmi Al-Ghoul in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida on Oct. 2 claimed that the hospital will be run by the CIA "to serve the U.S. as an early warning, monitoring, and espionage station." "The hospital has an additional functional role, which is to carry out experiments on the sick Palestinians...and it is possible that the hospital will be a partner in trafficking in human organs."  (Palestinian Media Watch)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The End of Kurdish Autonomy in Syria? - Jonathan Spyer
    In the early years of the revolt against his regime, Assad was desperately short of loyal manpower and unilaterally withdrew his forces from Syria's northeast in June-July 2012. The Kurds had to fight for their lives from the beginning as the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra attempted to wipe them out.
        Islamic State then sought to destroy the Kurdish enclave of Rojava in mid-2014. The jihadi forces swallowed up village after village as they headed toward the town of Kobani. Just a few hundred YPG fighters remained in the town, prepared to fight the jihadists to the death. But ISIS never took Kobani. A new partnership with U.S. air power, the artillery of Masoud Barzani's Peshmerga from Kurdistan in Iraq, and the grit, courage and self-sacrifice of the YPG stopped them. It took another four years of fighting and 11,000 dead from the ranks of the YPG and its allies (now the SDF) to destroy the ISIS caliphate.
        I worked a lot in the SDF areas during this campaign and remember the faces and the names of many friends and acquaintances killed in those years. The Kurdish fighters maintained an odd sort of fatalism. If you were there, it was reasoned, you were ready to die and willing for it.
        After the caliphate was destroyed, the most common predictions were that the Americans would leave at some point, given the limited nature of their commitment. If that happened, there would be a need for a rapid deal with the Syrian regime to prevent a Turkish/Sunni Islamist rampage. The writer is director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Turkey's Syria Offensive Puts Alliance with U.S. near Breaking Point - Soner Cagaptay
    The war in Iraq solidified the views of many in the U.S. that Turkey wasn't a reliable ally, and in Turkey that the U.S. was a faraway power that creates chaos and civil war that Turkey then has to deal with. A decade later, Turkey turned a blind eye to radicals crossing into Syria in its push to oust Bashar al-Assad. These radicals morphed into ISIS.
        Resentment over the 4 million Syrian refugees that Turkey has taken in has been intensified by an economic downturn. It's forcing Erdogan to make it look like he's doing something to address the refugee problem. And that something will be to repatriate some refugees into Syria.
        Turkey's offensive is focused on an Arab-majority corridor where Turkish troops will, by and large, be welcomed. If Turkey goes maximalist and expands its reach into solidly Kurdish areas, then it will face an insurgency. The writer is director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • U.S., Saudis Heighten Security Defenses after Attacks on Oil Industry - Benoit Faucon
    The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have stepped up efforts to protect the kingdom's oil production, holding talks on connecting Saudi missile defenses to more sophisticated U.S. systems, and investigating new systems to destroy, detect or jam drones or missiles.
        Saudi Arabia's Patriot missiles are mainly positioned to counter attacks from Yemen and U.S. officials had expressed concerns that the Saudis were leaving the oil facilities vulnerable to strikes. "The location of the Patriots in Saudi Arabia had been a source of significant friction," a person briefed by the administration said. "They protect the palaces, not the oil infrastructure." U.S. officials are also concerned that the Saudis are deferring maintenance and training for their Patriots as they attempt to keep all 24 up and online every day. (Wall Street Journal)
  • How Israel Deters Iran - Evelyn Gordon
    Israeli airstrikes in Syria seemed to be aimed solely at preventing Iran from establishing military infrastructure that could threaten Israel. They were also sending an important deterrent message: If Tehran attacks Israel, Jerusalem will have no qualms about striking back. They may actually make war less likely by letting Tehran know that Jerusalem - unlike Saudi Arabia - won't sit with folded hands if it suffers a significant Iranian attack like last month's strike on Saudi oil facilities.
        Israel is in a very different position from either Saudi Arabia or the Kurds because it has always insisted on defending itself by itself rather than expecting American soldiers to fight on its behalf. Israel has a large army equipped with the best military gear American and Israeli ingenuity can devise, combined with willingness to use it and experience in doing so.
        Iran isn't a superpower like the Soviet Union, which Israel had to rely on America to contain. It's a mere regional power, just like Israel. Moreover, the fact that the countries share no land border deprives Iran of its greatest advantage: its vastly bigger population, which enables it to field many more troops than Israel can. Thus any fighting between Israel and Iran itself would be limited to air and missile battles, in which the superior equipment and skills of Israel's air force provide a counterweight to Iran's advantage in missiles.
        Nevertheless, since an Israel-Iran war could wreak devastation on both countries, it's much better to prevent it from occurring. And that's where all those Israeli airstrikes come in. Despite Iran's willingness to engage in military provocations, it has shown no desire to risk serious military consequences on Iranian soil. (JNS)
  • Sufi Leader's Visit to Israel Seen as "Quiet Normalization" - Michael Barak
    Sheikh Mehmet Adil al-Haqqani, the spiritual leader of the 60-million-member Haqqanniya-Naqshbandiyya Sufi order, paid a historic first visit to Israel and the PA on Sep. 21-23. Currently residing in Istanbul, Al-Haqqani visited Israel accompanied by more than 100 of his followers.
        The Hamas leadership is hostile toward the ten Sufi orders in Gaza and has been narrowing their activity. The strict policy against the Sufis was articulated in closing Sufi houses, prohibiting their rituals, imputing them in deviating from Islam, and defining them as a threat to Palestinian society.
        Al-Haqqani's visit is important to Israel as he disregarded calls by Islamist movements, such as the northern faction of the Islamic Movement in Israel, for Muslims around the world not to visit Israel for fear of contributing to normalization with it. Salafi factions have already defined the visit as "quiet normalization." Indeed, the visit has given legitimization for millions of Sufis to come and visit Israel.
        The writer is a senior researcher at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism and a lecturer at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy at IDC, Herzliya. (Jerusalem Post)
  • UK High School Textbook on Israel Full of Errors, Lies, Distortion - David Collier
    The Middle East: Conflict, Crisis and Change, 1917-2012 is a school textbook used to teach 16-year-olds in the UK about the Arab-Israeli conflict. This textbook is part of the Pearson Library; Pearson calls itself "the world's leading learning company." This book rewrites history - it whitewashes anti-Jewish violence - and every child who has studied from it has been exposed to hard-core anti-Zionist material, faithfully delivered to them by their teacher, their school and the taxpayer.
        This is how the book describes the bloody massacres of Jewish communities in 1929 as Arab mobs ran riot throughout Mandatory Palestine: "In August 1929, angry clashes occurred over holy sites in Jerusalem. These grew into 4 days of bloody riots and mob violence throughout Palestine, leaving 133 Jews and 116 Arabs dead." The comparable fatality count is more than deceptive. The reason 116 Arabs died is because the British killed them as they tried to stop them massacring Jews.
        Of the images in the book, not a single one shows the devastation on Israel and Israelis. There was no room for an image of a burnt-out bus, or the damage Hizbullah did to civilian housing. The distortion is all one way. The Irgun are consistently described as terrorists. The PFLP are a "guerrilla" group. Throughout the book, the word "terrorist" is (almost) exclusively reserved for Jewish actions. (david-collier.com)
        See also Indoctrinating Children in the UK: A Textbook Example - David Collier (david-collier.com)

  • Anti-Semitism

  • The Anti-Semitic Nature of BDS Exposed - Cary Nelson
    A new report by the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs concentrates on the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic tweets, cartoons and posters circulated on social media. To someone who has studied anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic tweets and cartoons for some years, it is clear they are becoming more virulent.
        They are also increasingly intrusive and aggressive. "Kill ur local Zionist" does not feel like an abstraction. That is the dark underbelly of the BDS movement disturbingly documented in the report. The report is a wake-up call and a warning. It simply gathers its open source evidence in one place. Its categories are adopted from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism that has been endorsed by many countries. (Fathom-BICOM)
        See also Behind the Mask: The Anti-Semitic Nature of BDS Exposed (Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs)
        See also BDS Unmasked: Radical Roots, Extremist Ends - Dan Diker (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

  • Weekend Features

  • 5,000 Christians Support Israel at Jerusalem Sukkot March - Eliana Rudee
    More than 5,000 Christians from 100 nations joined 5,000 Israeli marchers on Thursday in Jerusalem for the 64th annual Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) festive parade. David Parsons, spokesperson for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), said, "The whole world is learning that the gentiles can come celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with the people of Israel. It's an ancient tradition that we've revived over the past 40 years," adding that the visitors represent "a lot of admiration for Israel."  (JNS)
        See also Photos: Israelis and Christians at the Sukkot March in Jerusalem (Times of Israel)
  • IDF Soldiers Recall Mission to Thwart Iran Drone Attack
    Israel quickly took credit for its Aug. 24 airstrike in Syria which targeted a cell from the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that was planning to attack Israeli territory with explosives-laden drones. "What is different about this strike from other operations the air force does in the theater is that...it was the thwarting of an [imminent] attack that was going to be carried out," Israel Air Force Lt.-Col. "N" told Channel 13. As commander of the mission, N was at the head of an attacking force.
        He told his squadron following the mission, "What we did that night and all the hard work we're doing during the year is exactly for this moment - defending the home."
        "We take the working assumption...that every day the Quds Force is trying to advance an attack," Lt.-Col. "Y," head of the Quds Force branch in the research and analysis division of IDF Military Intelligence, told Channel 13. Y said his unit gathered intelligence on two Hizbullah members who were killed in the raid, and learned where they were staying. "We were right, I must confess in this case, down to the last detail," said Y. (Times of Israel)

The Dream Palace of the American Peace Processors - Michael S. Doran (Foreign Affairs)
  • By moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, blessing Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, and other gestures, the administration is said to have overturned half a century of settled U.S. policy, abandoned the Palestinians, and killed the two-state solution. But on close inspection, these charges turn out to say more about the hysteria of the critics.
  • In 1948, the U.S. foreign policy establishment opposed recognizing a soon-to-be independent Israel. Truman was not persuaded by the diplomats and experts, so he went ahead and recognized Israel anyway. The establishment considered it a gross mistake driven by the intrusion of amateur domestic politics into professional foreign policy.
  • Egypt made a private side deal with Israel in the 1970s, and Jordan did so in the 1990s. Egypt made peace to get back the Sinai and a place within the American system, and Jordan did it to keep its place in that system and insulate itself from the vicissitudes of the peace process. Both sought to extricate themselves from the Palestinian problem, not solve it.
  • It is difficult to say whether the Palestinians were ever serious about making peace. They certainly convinced their U.S. interlocutors that they were, and they parlayed that success into decades of continued power, status, and international largess. Yet somehow the final settlement was always six months away - and always would be. Thus did the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat start the 1990s exiled in Tunis, yet end them as a king in Ramallah.
  • For 70 years now, many American (and European) policymakers have seen it as their mission to stabilize the Middle East by constraining Israel's power and getting the country to give back at the negotiating table what it has taken on the battlefield. Over the decades, however, Israel has grown ever stronger and more able to resist such impositions.
  • Most Arab states moved on long ago. They now treat Israel as a normal player in the great game of regional power balancing. So now has the U.S. administration.
  • The president looks at the Middle East like any other region, and respects power. Without the ideological blinders of the professional peace processors, he has recognized that the Palestinian issue is not a major U.S. strategic concern and has essentially delegated its handling to the local parties directly involved. He can see that Israel, having conquered the staging areas its enemies regularly used to attack it, will never give all of them back.

    The writer, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, served as Senior Director for the Near East and North Africa at the National Security Council and as U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense.
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