October 23, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

Israel Preparing for Iranian Cruise Missile or Drone Attack (Times of Israel)
    Israel is preparing for an Iranian cruise missile or drone strike in response to Israel's recent attacks on Iranian regional proxies, Army Radio reported Tuesday.
    Israeli sources said the IDF was on high alert for the possibility.
    See also Iran Is Getting Stronger - Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Eitan Ben Eliyahu (Ynet News)
    On Sep. 14, the Iranians carried out a focused strike on the main oil facilities in the heart of Saudi Arabia, using "aerial robots," a blend of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and cruise missiles.
    The attack was a clear operational success. The Saudis discovered the attack too late to prevent it. Post-attack footage shows precise results, with every target hit at its center.
    For four years Israel has been attacking inside Syria in order to prevent, or at least delay, the entrenchment of Iranian forces in the country.
    The Saudi attack sent a message that an Israeli attack on Iranian forces in Syria could result in an attack on Israel similar to the one in Saudi Arabia.
    The writer is a former Commander of the Israel Air Force.

ADL: 12 White Supremacists Arrested for Plots, Attacks and Threats Against Jewish Community since Pittsburgh Shooting (Anti-Defamation League)
    According to data released by ADL on Sunday, at least 12 white supremacists have been arrested for terrorist plots, attacks or threats against the Jewish community in the year since the attack on Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue.
    The U.S. experienced 780 anti-Semitic incidents in the first six months of 2019.
    In at least three cases - in Monroe, Washington; Lehighton, Pennsylvania; and Las Vegas, Nevada - ADL's Center on Extremism provided critical intelligence to law enforcement, leading to investigations and arrests.
    Since the Pittsburgh shooting on Oct. 27, 2018, white supremacists have targeted Jewish institutional property on at least 50 occasions.

Iran Banned from World Judo until It Agrees to Face Israel (AP-Washington Post)
    Iran was banned from international judo competitions Tuesday for refusing to let its athletes fight Israeli opponents.
    The International Judo Federation imposed an indefinite ban on Iran's team "until the Iran Judo Federation gives strong guarantees and prove that they will respect the IJF Statutes and accept that their athletes fight against Israeli athletes."
    The IJF's disciplinary commission said Iran broke rules on non-discrimination and the manipulation of competition results.

Czech Lawmakers Condemn BDS - Raphael Ahren (Times of Israel)
    The Czech Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday passed a resolution condemning all forms of anti-Semitism as well as calls for boycotts of Israel.
    The non-binding resolution rejected "any questioning of the State of Israel's right of existence and defense" and "condemns all activities and statements by groups calling for a boycott of the State of Israel, its goods, services or citizens."
    The "Friends of Israel" caucus in the chamber has 58 members out of a total of 200 lawmakers.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Syrian Kurdish Fighters Tell U.S. They Have Withdrawn from Turkey's Safe Zone - Jessica Donati
    Mazloum Abdi, head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said in a letter Tuesday to Vice President Mike Pence that Kurdish forces have completed their withdrawal from a safe zone along the Turkey-Syria border as defined under an agreement between the U.S. and Turkey last week, a senior U.S. official said. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Russia, Turkey Reach Deal to Remove Kurdish YPG from Syria Border - Darya Korsunskaya
    Russian military police and Syrian border guards will deploy in northeast Syria to remove Kurdish YPG fighters and their weapons from the border with Turkey under a deal agreed on Tuesday. Next week Russian and Turkish forces will jointly patrol a 10-km. strip of land in the "safe zone" that Ankara has sought in northeast Syria. Under the deal with Moscow, the length of border which the YPG would be required to pull back from is more than triple the size of the territory covered by the U.S.-Turkish accord.
        "The outcome of the Putin-Erdogan meeting in Sochi today indicates that Erdogan has become a master of leveraging the U.S. and Russia against each other to maximize Ankara's gains," said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
        300,000 people have been displaced by Turkey's offensive and 120 civilians have been killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday. 259 fighters with the Kurdish-led forces had been killed, as well as 196 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels. (Reuters)
        See also Turkey Halts Syrian Incursion after Deal with Russia - Carlotta Gall
    The Turkish Defense Ministry said Wednesday it would not advance beyond an area of 900 square miles that Turkish-led forces have seized from Kurdish control since invading the area two weeks ago. (New York Times)
  • Iraq: American Troops Leaving Syria Cannot Stay in Iraq - Qassim Abdul-Zahra
    An Iraqi official said his government has told the Americans that they will allow the U.S. forces leaving Syria to pass through, but not to stay in Iraq. The U.S. currently has more than 5,000 American forces in Iraq. The U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq in 2011, but they went back in after ISIS began to take over large swaths of the country in 2014. (AP-ABC News)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Palestinian Who Converted to Judaism Arrested, Badly Beaten by PA Police - Yifat Erlich
    A 50-year-old Palestinian from Hebron in the West Bank, who converted to Judaism in Israel three weeks ago at a strict Haredi court, was arrested by Palestinian Authority security forces over two weeks ago while meeting with one of his children in PA territory and has been held in custody ever since. He said he was tortured on multiple occasions, which left his hands and feet badly burned.
        According to Haim Perg, a leader of the Jewish community in Hebron, the man is the grandson of a Palestinian who helped save 26 Jews during the 1929 Hebron massacre. (Ynet News)
  • Jordan's Queen Rania Has Become a Lightning Rod - Yoni Ben Menachem
    Queen Rania of Jordan has posted an open letter to the Jordanian public in which she denies all of the defamatory allegations made against her in an effort to neutralize the widespread criticism of King Abdullah and his wife in light of the difficult economic situation in Jordan.
        Queen Rania, 50, was born in Kuwait and is from a Palestinian family from Tulkarm in the West Bank. She has been accused of promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees at the expense of the Bedouin residents of Jordan, and robbing the kingdom by taking long holidays abroad.
        Even among the Bedouin tribes who are faithful to the palace, demands have been heard over the past two years for a change in the monarchist regime and a limitation of the king's authority. Criticism has grown among the Beni Hassan tribe, the largest tribe in Jordan, which serves as the traditional base of support for the royal family. Joined by the Beni al-Abbad and the Beni Hamida tribes, they have called for the king and queen to be deposed and for a change in the system of government.
        The writer is a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Iran Is Losing the Middle East, Protests in Lebanon and Iraq Show - Hanin Ghaddar
    In both Iraq and Lebanon, demonstrations have erupted against corruption and a lack of economic reform. For the Shiite communities in Iraq and Lebanon, Tehran and its proxies have failed to translate military and political victories into a socioeconomic vision; simply put, Iran's resistance narrative did not put food on the table.
        Today, state institutions in Iraq and Lebanon have one main job: to protect and serve Iranian interests. But for the first time since Hizbullah was formed in the 1980s, Lebanese Shiites are turning against it. In Nabatieh, in the group's heartland in southern Lebanon, Shiite protesters even burned the offices of Hizbullah's leaders. By joining the protests, the Shiite community is now attempting to claim its Lebanese identity rather than the religious one that has, so far, failed it.
        The story is similar in Iraq. This month, tens of thousands of Iraqis in Shiite-majority areas came out in protest. An aggressive crackdown resulted in the deaths of more than 100 protesters. Reuters confirmed that Iran-backed militias had deployed snipers on Baghdad rooftops to kill protesters.
        The recent protests show that Iran's power is more fragile than the world perceives; and more importantly, that Shiism does not belong to Iran. The writer is a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Foreign Policy)
  • Political Islam Is Declining in the Middle East - Prof. Hillel Frisch
    The death of former Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi, the first-ever Muslim Brotherhood head of state, on June 17, 2019, prompted barely a whisper among the Egyptian public. When Egyptians took to the streets three months after Morsi's death, their chants had nothing to do with Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, or Islamist ideology. The same can be said of the months-long protests taking place in Algeria and Sudan.
        Even in Iraq, one sees a waning of the political importance of religion. When Shiite protesters point an accusing finger, it is against Iranian intervention in Iraqi affairs and the economic costs of such involvement. In recent elections in Tunisia, the candidate endorsed by the Nahda, a reformist Islamic party, came in a distant third. 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. (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)

Some Uncomfortable Truths about U.S. Policy in Syria - Aaron David Miller, Eugene Rumer and Richard Sokolsky (Politico)
  • For nearly a decade, U.S. policy in Syria has been a never-ending mission impossible without realistic goals or the means to achieve them. The decision to abandon the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a mainly Kurdish-led militia, of which at least 40% are Syrian Arabs and other minorities, was predictable. It should have been clear that after the physical dismantling of the ISIS Caliphate, the U.S. relationship with the SDF would become increasingly fraught.
  • The SDF did not sacrifice its fighters out of love for America; rather, it hoped to harness U.S. power to help protect Kurdish territory and guarantee autonomy in a future Syria. Washington and the Kurds formed a marriage of convenience to defeat ISIS, but over the longer term there would have been a reckoning over divergent goals. It is an open question whether the next administration, Congress and the American public would be prepared to foot the bill of getting drawn into what would have been a nation-building exercise.
  • Putin did what the Obama and Trump administrations would not - intervene in the Syrian civil war. Putin won the Syrian civil war, and he deserves its spoils. And what spoils they are - a war-torn society, a ruined economy, bombed-out cities, and millions of refugees. If Putin wants to take on the burden of rebuilding Syria, fixing what his air force destroyed, and brokering peace among Syria's many factions, then we should let him.
  • But the idea that Putin's Syria gambit will allow him to take over the Middle East is just silly. Few, if any, core U.S. interests - halting nuclear proliferation, preserving Israel's security, preventing terrorist attacks against the homeland, and maintaining the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf - are likely to suffer.
  • Rather than chase unrealistic ambitions, the U.S. should remain focused on what its core interest in Syria has been since 2011: countering the threat from ISIS. The conditions that created ISIS are not going to go away. But Washington should assume that at some point Assad and his allies will act in their own self-interest - and they all want to prevent a resurgence of ISIS.
  • More importantly, attacks by ISIS, while horrific for the people of Syria, should not be conflated with a heightened threat to the American homeland. It has been 18 years since the U.S. suffered a terrorist attack that was planned and executed by foreign jihadists. Attacks on the U.S. homeland may well continue to be committed by radicalized U.S. citizens, but that problem won't be solved by maintaining American troops in Syria.

        Aaron David Miller served as a State Department Middle East negotiator in Republican and Democratic administrations.
        Eugene Rumer is director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Russia and Eurasia Program.
        Richard Sokolsky was a member of the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Office in 2005-2015.