November 6, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

Iran Haunts Iraqi Protests - Seth J. Frantzman (Jerusalem Post)
    Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has allowed his country's security forces to be pushed aside as members of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Badr Organization and Kata'ib Hezbollah militias shoot protesters.
    More than 250 mainly Shi'ite protesters have been killed and thousands wounded in an organized campaign of oppression.
    For the protesters, the hidden hand of Iran is behind the attacks.
    Many videos show security forces and police or soldiers talking to the protesters. That means that it is not the army or police doing the killing.

Israel Takes Iranian Threat Seriously - Tal Lev Ram (Maariv-Jerusalem Post)
    Israel is following the developments in the nuclear field in Iran very closely.
    If there are visible things happening that Iran declares, there is a likelihood that there is progress and steps being taken by Iran in secret channels as well.
    This obligates the IDF to develop the military capability to harm Iran's nuclear program if such a need arises.
    The level of preparedness and possible plans for a military option for action against Iran is again on the table.
    However, this is a future scenario. The Iranians are still very far from obtaining military nuclear capabilities and so, too, Israeli military action against Iranian nuclear facilities is still distant.
    At the same time, Israel takes seriously the possibility that Iran may attempt to attack Israeli targets, and therefore, at this stage, this subject stands at the head of all assessments of the security situation in Israel.

Spanish Tourists Stabbed in Jordan (Reuters)
    Three Spanish women tourists were stabbed on Wednesday along with a local guide and a security guard in Jerash, Jordan, famed for its Roman ruins, police said.

Palestinian Firefighters Train in Israel - Adam Rasgon (Times of Israel)
    Palestinian firefighters trained at the Israel Fire and Rescue Academy in Rishon LeZion on Tuesday.
    They learned "new methods to deal with fires in buildings and cars and ways to quickly rescue injured persons in blocked areas," the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said.
    In recent years, Palestinian firefighters have helped Israel battle major fires.

Offshore Karish Natural Gas Field Larger than Thought - Shoshanna Solomon (Times of Israel)
    Energean Oil and Gas, the Greek firm developing Israel's offshore Karish field, said Monday that its appraisal of the Karish North field has increased "recoverable volumes in Israel by 0.9 Tcf of gas plus 34 million barrels of light oil or condensate."

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Accuses Iran of "Nuclear Extortion" - Nasser Karimi
    After Iran announced Tuesday it would start injecting uranium gas into over a thousand centrifuges at its fortified Fordo nuclear facility, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said: "Iran has no credible reason to expand its uranium enrichment program, at the Fordo facility or elsewhere, other than a clear attempt at nuclear extortion that will only deepen its political and economic isolation."  (AP)
        See also Britain Says Iran's Move on Nuclear Deal Is a Threat to National Security
    British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said on Tuesday that Iran's actions to reduce commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal "clearly contravene the deal and pose a risk to our national security....Iran needs to stand by the commitments it made and urgently return to full compliance."  (Reuters-New York Times)
        See also Kremlin Concerned by Iran's Reduced Compliance with Nuclear Deal (Reuters)
  • Two Iranians Plead Guilty to Acting as Illegal Agents for Iran in Surveilling Americans - Spencer S. Hsu
    Majid Ghorbani, 60, an Iranian citizen and U.S. permanent resident, pleaded guilty Monday to violating U.S. sanctions. Ahmadreza Mohammadi-Doostdar, 39, a dual Iranian-U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty Oct. 8 to conspiracy and acting as an undeclared agent of the Iranian government, court filings show. Both were accused of conducting surveillance and collecting information about Americans involved with the Mujahideen-e Khalq, an Iranian dissident group. (Washington Post)
        See also Iranian Accused of Spying on Jewish Targets in U.S. Pleads Guilty
    The indictment of Ahmadreza Mohammadi-Doostdar states that on or about July 21, 2017, he carried out surveillance and took photos at several Jewish centers in Chicago, including the Hillel Center and the Rohr Chabad House, where he took detailed pictures of the security measures. (Times of Israel)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu: Israel Will Never Let Iran Develop Nuclear Weapons
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday: "Iran expands its aggression. It seeks to envelop Israel. It seeks to threaten Israel. It seeks to destroy Israel. We fight back. And I also want to say, given Iran's efforts to expand its nuclear weapons program, expand its enrichment of uranium for making atomic bombs, I repeat here once again: We will never let Iran develop nuclear weapons. This is not only for our security and our future; it's for the future of the Middle East and the world."  (Prime Minister's Office)
  • IDF: There Are Iranian Quds Forces in the Golan Heights - Anna Ahronheim
    Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva, Head of the IDF's Operations Directorate, has warned of the increased threat posed by Iran, Israel's Channel 11 reported Tuesday. He said IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi said that Israel's military has a new front in Iraq, that there are Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds forces in the Golan Heights, "and that's not fear-mongering, they're there."
        Haliva mentioned the "sophisticated" attack on the Saudi Arabian Aramco oil facilities "that managed to evade both American and Saudi defenses" as an example of what Iran is capable of. "Who says it can't happen to us?"  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Jewish Agency Reports Huge Spike in Requests for Help to Upgrade Security at Jewish Centers - Jeremy Sharon
    The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) has begun upgrading security at 50 Jewish institutions in 24 countries, following a spike in requests for assistance in the wake of increased anti-Semitic attacks around the world.
        The Jewish Agency's Fund for Security Assistance for Jewish Communities was established in 2012 following an attack against a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse in which an Islamist gunmen murdered a rabbi and three children. Since then, the fund has provided assistance at 600 Jewish institutions in 260 communities in 60 countries at a cost of $13 million, using money from donors in the Jewish diaspora.
        The funds were used to install security cameras, bulletproof glass, shatter-proof glass, security fences and walls, anti-ramming barriers, guard posts and alarm systems. 50% of the funds have gone to communities in Europe, 12% to countries of the former Soviet Union, 19% to Latin America, and the remainder to the rest of the world. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • How Tehran Is Surviving U.S. Sanctions - Henry Rome
    A year ago, the U.S. kicked off a "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran. After withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, in November it reimposed a raft of economic sanctions squeezing Iranian oil exports and curtailing the country's access to the international financial system.
        Iran expected that other parties to the nuclear deal would help shore up its economy. But European governments could not force private companies to defy U.S. sanctions. Nor did other friendly governments - China, Russia, and India - pick up the slack. They face little pressure from the oil market to go out on a limb for Iran. Global demand is slowing, supply is abundant, and prices are low - so why risk U.S. sanctions to buy Iranian oil?
        The International Monetary Fund and World Bank predict that Iran's economy will rebound from a recession to near zero percent growth in 2020. Iran's fluctuating currency, the rial, has stabilized. The Iranian economy stays afloat in part because it is diversified. In 2017, crude oil accounted for 43% of Iranian exports, so Iran's service, agricultural, and non-oil industrial sectors were able to cushion the blow from the collapse of oil revenues under sanctions.
        Moreover, the government can draw upon its $100 billion of reserves to cover any gaps and to ensure the continued strong social spending that Iranians expect. The writer is an analyst at Eurasia Group. (Foreign Affairs)
  • Iran Encounters the Costs of Its Imperialism - Hillel Frisch
    Iran has been jolted by the recurrent attacks in recent days against the headquarters of pro-Iranian militias in Iraq's southern Shi'ite provinces. In Karbala, the headquarters of two major pro-Iranian militias were evacuated and closed by the police as a preventive measure.
        The reason behind the anger against Iran and its local proxies in both Iraq and Lebanon is that the militias in Iraq and Hizbullah have been increasingly milking their governments to maintain themselves. In Iraq, a law was passed integrating these militias into the federal army, giving their members the same salaries and benefits enjoyed by army soldiers. Not one militia was dismantled.
        What worries the Iranian political elite the most is the potential linkage between these protests and the recurrent protests taking place in Iran itself. The writer is a professor of Political and Middle Eastern Studies at Bar-Ilan University. (Jerusalem Post)

Russia in the Middle East: A Higher Gear or Media Buzz? - Zvi Magen, Vera Michlin-Shapir, Daniel Rakov, and Yoel Guzansky (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
  • Recent weeks have featured Russia's expanded diplomatic activity in the Middle East following its longstanding involvement in the Syrian civil war. With the reduced U.S. military presence in northern Syria, the image of Russia as the leading power in the region was strengthened.
  • To what extent does this image of Russia reflect reality? Russia's intensive diplomatic activity in the region reflects Moscow's desire to fill the breach left by the U.S, but it does not represent a change in the balance of power between the global powers in the region. The U.S., should it choose to do so, still has the ability to challenge Moscow and upset Russia's achievements in almost every part of the region.
  • Russian analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, echoing the official position, stressed that Russia does not view the situation in Syria as a zero sum game with the U.S.
  • The political process to resolve the conflict in Syria, which was resumed on Oct. 30 in Geneva, is not under Moscow's control. The Russian attempt (2017-2019) to promote a resolution in cooperation with Turkey and Iran through the Astana Process did not succeed, and Moscow is now forced to return to the Geneva track, which is under UN control, and over which the West has veto power.
  • The U.S. still holds very strong cards in Syria - territorial (most of the Kurdish zone and the al-Tanf region); political (veto rights over the Geneva process); military deterrence; and economic (sanctions and preventing aid for rebuilding Syria). Beyond Syria, Russia at this stage has limited influence on regional states. U.S. allies in the Middle East are not rushing to the Russian side.