December 5, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

Report: Airstrikes Target Iranian Weapons Stores in Eastern Syria - Judah Ari Gross (Times of Israel)
    Unidentified aircraft bombed an Iranian-controlled weapons storehouse at the al-Hamdan airport outside Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria on Wednesday night, causing a massive explosion, the Syrian opposition Step News reported.
    See also Satellite Photos: Aftermath of Israeli Airstrike on Iran's Quds Force in Syria (ImageSat International)
    On Nov. 20, 2019, the media reported an Israeli airforce strike which targeted mainly Iranian sites in Syria. On the same day, ISI tasked its very-high-resolution Eros-B satellite to capture areas that were likely attacked.
    The top two floors of "The Glasshouse" at Damascus Airport, the primary Quds force and Shiite militia headquarters in Syria, were destroyed.
    A Quds Force headquarters at Al Mazzeh Airport used for Shiite militias in the Damascus area was destroyed.
    Warehouses used for Shiite militia vehicles and other weapon systems at the 4th Division camp in West Damascus and at a military camp west of Al Mazzeh Airport were destroyed.

Few Britons Feel Warmly toward Israel, But See It as an Ally Against Terrorism - Donna Rachel Edmunds (BICOM)
    19% of Britons feel warmly towards Israel, compared with 21% for the Palestinians, according to the 2019 annual survey of UK public attitudes carried out in November for the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).
    46% oppose and 14% support boycotts of Israel.
    Israel is considered to be Britain's most important ally in the fight against terrorism compared to other Middle Eastern countries, named by 44%.
    45% agreed that it is anti-Semitic to hate Israel and question its right to exist, 18% disagreed, and 36% did not know.

Poll: Lebanese Groups Split over Support for Hizbullah, Ayatollah Khamenei - David Pollock (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
    A new Lebanese opinion poll, conducted in November, found that 75% of Shiites hold a "very positive" attitude toward Hizbullah and 73% voice a "very positive" opinion of Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei.
    In sharp contrast, 51% of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims have a "very negative" attitude toward Hizbullah, with another 38% holding a "somewhat negative" view.
    Just 33% of Lebanese Christians have at least a "somewhat positive view" of Hizbullah, compared with 82% in 2018.
    Nearly 2/3 of Sunnis express a favorable view of Turkish President Erdogan, while 47% of Christians voice a positive opinion of him, but only 4% of Shiites agree.
    22% of Lebanon's Sunnis, 18% of Christians, and just 2% of Shiites favor improved relations with Jews.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Fresh Intelligence Points to Iranian Threat Against U.S. Forces and Interests in Middle East - Barbara Starr
    "There has been consistent intelligence in the last several weeks" of a potential Iranian threat against U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East, an administration official told CNN. In the last several weeks there has been movement of Iranian forces and weapons that the U.S. worries could be put in place for a potential attack. (CNN)
        See also Iran Is Secretly Moving Missiles into Iraq, U.S. Officials Say - Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt
    Iran has built up a hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq that pose a threat to American troops in the region as well as to Israel and Saudi Arabia, according to American intelligence and military officials. (New York Times)
  • France, Germany and UK Say Iran Has Nuclear-Capable Missiles - Edith M. Lederer
    France, Germany and the UK say "Iran's development of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles" goes against a UN Security Council resolution calling on Tehran not to undertake any activity related to such missiles. They asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a letter circulated Wednesday to inform the council that Iran's ballistic missile activity is "inconsistent" with the council's endorsement of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
        The letter cites footage on social media of a previously unseen flight test of a new Shahab-3 missile that "is technically capable of delivering a nuclear weapon." The Europeans also noted a 2015 IAEA report that concluded "that extensive evidence indicated detailed Iranian research in 2002-2003 on arming the Shahab-3 with a nuclear warhead."  (AP-New York Times)
  • U.S. Groups Call to Prevent Federal Funding of Anti-Israel Mideast Programs
    88 education, civil-rights and religious organizations called on U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday to prevent federal funds from being used by higher-education Middle East Studies programs that support an academic boycott of Israel. "It is of particular concern that more than half the directors of currently Title VI-funded Middle East Studies National Resource Centers (NRCs) have pledged support for an academic boycott of Israel or engaged in boycott-compliant behavior, including attempts to shut down their universities' study abroad programs in Israel," they wrote. (JNS)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Cyprus Investigates Israeli-Owned "Spy Van" - George Psyllides
    An August report by Forbes about an Israeli-owned surveillance van in Cyprus, picked up by local media in November, prompted a reaction from the main opposition Akel party which demanded an explanation from the government over the presence of the vehicle. According to Forbes, the van can intercept WhatsApp messages, Facebook chats, calls, and all the contents of a smartphone. (Cyprus Mail)
        See also A Multimillionaire Surveillance Dealer Steps Out of the Shadows - Thomas Brewster (Forbes)
        See also Israeli "Spy Van" CEO Denies Any Wrongdoing - Bouli Hadjioannou
    Tal Dillian, CEO of WS Wispear Systems Ltd. which owns the "spy van" at the center of a police investigation, has denied any wrongdoing. He said, "There has never been any illegal activity whatsoever and I am adamant that the police are aware of this fact which is supported by their own investigation." Dillian said he and the company have been communicating and cooperating with the police on a daily basis since Nov. 15.
        Dillian reiterated that the vehicle, a converted GMC ambulance, has not been active in Cyprus other than for demonstration and field test purposes, solely on company-owned devices, and under the guidelines directed by the local authorities. Moreover, the van is not worth 9 million euros as stated by the press, but approximately 200,000 euros. "Given the fact that our company is a Cypriot company, it is now very clear that the hostility, especially from certain political parties, is targeting our Israeli ethnicity."  (In-Cyprus)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The United States and the Iranian Policy of Escalation - Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser
    Iran's interest is to avoid any escalation into a full-scale war, in which the U.S. would enjoy a clear advantage, but to push the brinksmanship to the point where it appeared that Iran retained the option of full-scale war.
        Iran's readiness to confront America stems from its self-perception as the Islamic Republic, a country fulfilling a Divine mission to spread the message of Islam to humankind. This means that Iran is destined to be victorious, as it is inconceivable that Allah will abandon his nation of followers, especially when Iran is facing decaying societies of disbelievers.
        What the U.S. demands from Iran is interpreted in Tehran as a fundamental change of its identity by relinquishing its mission to spread Islam. This means that the option of real change in Iranian policy under this regime is almost impossible.
        Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser served as Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Iran Is Crushing Freedom One Country at a Time - Thomas L. Friedman
    From Beirut to Baghdad and all across Iran, Middle Easterners are demanding to be treated as citizens with rights, and not just members of a sect or tribe with passions to be manipulated. And they're clamoring for noncorrupt institutions and the rule of law, not just the arbitrary rule of militias, thugs or autocrats.
        For years, Sunni and Shiite party bosses and militia leaders have manipulated sectarian and tribal identities to cement themselves in power and make themselves the brokers for who get jobs and contracts. But there's been a stunning shift in the flow of politics in some of these countries from Sunnis versus Shiites to Sunnis and Shiites locking arms together against all their leaders.
        These movements are inspiring, but their chances of taking power remain remote, largely because their biggest opponent - the Islamic Republic of Iran - is ready to arrest and kill as many democracy demonstrators as needed to retain its grip on Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, not to mention at home. Iran's clerical regime has emerged as the biggest enemy of pluralistic democracy in the region today. There are plenty of Arab dictators keeping their own people down, but Iran is doing it at home and in three other countries at once. (New York Times)

Erdogan Has Remade Turkey - Michael Rubin (American Interest)
  • Since his party came to dominate Turkish politics in 2002, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has transformed Turkey from a reliable Western partner to a regional adversary. U.S. officials comfort themselves in the belief that Turkey will revert to its previous character after Erdogan dies or is defeated, but this is a dangerous self-delusion.
  • Over the past 16 years, the Turkish curriculum and broader education system have changed to promote Erdogan's religious and foreign policy agendas. He privileged graduates of Imam Hatip schools - Turkey's system of madrasas - as they sought to enter the state bureaucracy. Within ordinary schools, he forced Sunni theological studies upon non-Sunnis.
  • Erdogan has likewise transformed the Turkish military, using a series of coup conspiracies to purge top brass and those deemed too connected with NATO and the West. Whereas the Turkish army once stood as the constitutional guardian of secularism, today it is a driver for Islamism.
  • Erdogan's assault on the free press completed his strategy for national indoctrination. Punitive and politicized audits led most television and newspaper owners either to amplify Erdogan's positions or to sell their media outlets to him or his immediate family members. Those who did not take the hint found themselves bankrupt, imprisoned, exiled, or dead.
  • Erdogan has diverted tremendous resources to promote not only Islam generally, but also a Muslim Brotherhood worldview, which sees only its own strict version of Sunni Islam as legitimate, treating all other forms as deviant. At least 20% of Turks are Alevi, an offshoot of Shia Islam to which Erdogan has long been hostile. He has forced Sunni religious education upon Alevi students in public schools and torn down Alevi prayer halls.
  • According to the Pew Global Attitudes surveys, Turkey is among the most anti-American countries on earth. This is the result of more than a decade of anti-American incitement in Turkey's state-controlled media. Turkey's recent turn toward Russia is a reflection of Erdogan's animosity toward America.
  • Not only should the U.S. remove its nuclear weapons from Turkish soil at Incirlik air base, it should also consider evacuating Incirlik altogether. It should also quarantine Turkey within NATO, excluding it from meetings and preventing Turkish officers from accessing classified documents. The U.S. should also provide Cyprus with the means to prevent Turkish theft of its maritime resources.

    The writer is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.