December 18, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Carrier Strike Group Harassed by Iranian Vessels - Ed Adamczyk (UPI)
    As a carrier strike group led by the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln left the Middle East after patrolling the North Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman since May, Iran reported that 20 Revolutionary Guard vessels approached and "harassed" the U.S. ships, some coming within 400 yards.

NGO Goes Undercover in Iran to Disclose Sanctions Violators - Yossi Melman (Ha'aretz)
    The nonprofit group United Against Nuclear Iran, chaired by former U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, has close ties to defense officials in the U.S., Germany, Israel and other Western countries.
    This week the group disclosed that some of its members, posing as businesspeople, attended fairs and conferences in Iran, seeking to find out which companies and businesspeople planned to invest in Iran and thus violate the sanctions regime.
    Their findings were sent to these companies and businesspeople with a warning to cease their commercial ties with Tehran.
    Norman Roule, a retired 34-year veteran of the CIA who served from 2008 to 2017 as intelligence manager for Iran at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told Ha'aretz:
    "Certainly, millions within Iran would choose a different path for their country, if they could. But it also needs to be recognized that millions of Iranians continue to support the regime."

Austrian Police Foil Vienna Christmas Market Terror Plot (AFP)
    Austrian authorities have foiled a plot to carry out a series of terror attacks, including bombing one of Vienna's Christmas markets, local media reported Monday.
    Other possible targets included Salzburg and locations in Germany, France and Luxembourg.
    All three suspects are ethnic Chechens, whose ringleader had been influenced by ISIS ideology.

Secretary of State Pompeo Recalls U.S. Effort to Revoke "Zionism Is Racism" UN Resolution (Twitter)
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Tuesday: "This week 28 years ago, the U.S. led the effort to revoke a UN resolution that falsely slandered Zionism - the movement for Jewish statehood in the homeland of the Jewish people."
    "We remain committed to supporting our ally Israel and confronting the hostility it faces at the UN."

Who Will Fill the Void in Iraq? - Pinhas Inbari (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
    The protesters in Iraq are deeply concerned that the West has not learned from the failure of the rebellion in Syria and that what happened in Syria will happen in Iraq as well.
    There are already signs of a pact between Russia and China on dividing the Middle East - Russia will be based in Syria, and Iraq will be in China's domain.

Russia to Modernize Syrian Port, Build Railway to Persian Gulf (AP-New York Times)
    Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said Tuesday that Russia will spend $500 million to modernize Syria's commercial port of Tartus.
    There is also a plan to build a railway across Syria and Iraq to the Persian Gulf.
    See also Syria Hands Oil Exploration Contracts to Two Russian Firms (Reuters)

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Hamas Plots Attacks on Israel from Turkey as Erdogan Turns a Blind Eye - Raf Sanchez
    Turkey is allowing senior Hamas operatives to plot attacks against Israel from Istanbul, as President Erdogan plays host to the terrorist group's leaders. Transcripts of Israeli police interrogations show that senior Hamas operatives are using Turkey to direct operations in Jerusalem and the West Bank, including an assassination attempt earlier this year on the mayor of Jerusalem. Last weekend Erdogan met Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, and Turkish intelligence agents maintain close contact with the group's operatives in Istanbul.
        Turkey agreed in a U.S.-brokered 2015 deal with Israel to stop Hamas planning attacks from its soil but has consistently failed to honor the agreement, Israeli officials said. A dozen Hamas operatives have moved to Istanbul from Gaza in the past year, according to Israeli and Egyptian intelligence records. (Telegraph-UK)
  • Turkey Warned over Money Laundering and Terror Financing - Laura Pitel
    The Financial Action Taskforce (FATF) warned Turkey on Monday to improve "serious shortcomings" in its approach to combating money laundering and terrorist financing. Ankara will be now subject to special monitoring. If it fails to improve over the coming year, it risks being added to an FATF "grey list" - which could damage its ability to attract foreign financing. (Financial Times-UK)
  • Brothers Jailed in Australia for ISIS Plane Bomb Plot Foiled by Israel - Jamie McKinnell
    Khaled Khayat, 51, and Mahmoud Khayat, 34, planned to bring down an Etihad Airways flight to Abu Dhabi with a bomb hidden in the luggage of a third brother, Amer, who was to unwittingly carry it onto the plane. The plot also involved another brother, Tarek Khayat, a senior member of Islamic State overseas, who was known as "the controller."
        In the months leading up to the attack, components of the explosive were posted from Turkey to Australia. The plot was uncovered thanks in part to a tip-off from Israeli authorities. (ABC-Australia)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel's F-35s Can Overcome Russian Air Defense Systems in Syria - Nir Dabori
    Former Gen. Gary North, now a senior official at Lockheed Martin, learned from Israeli pilots that the F-35's stealth capability has enabled them to repeatedly bypass the Russian S-300 and S-400 air defense systems deployed in Syria and act freely inside an enemy country.
        This capability has embarrassed Moscow, which is practically blind to Israeli actions. It calls into question the effectiveness of the Russian systems, which has led to frustration and anger. Lockheed Martin engineers are already planning improvements in the F-35 based on Israel's experience. (Mako-Keshet Channel 12-Hebrew)
        See also F-35 Planes Can Identify and Destroy Cruise Missiles - Anna Ahronheim
    Amid concerns that Iran might attack Israel with cruise missiles, Gary North, Vice President for Customer Requirements, Aeronautics for Lockheed Martin, revealed that the stealth F-35 Adir fighter jet's radar can detect and intercept such airborne threats flying at low altitude and high speeds. The Israeli Air Force currently has 20 F-35 aircraft and is expected to have 50 planes by 2024. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Video: IDF Aircraft Strikes Armed Terrorist at Gaza Border - Yoav Zitun
    An Israeli military aircraft on Tuesday struck an armed militant in Gaza who approached the security fence along the border with Israel. (Ynet News)
        See also Palestinian Throwing Firebombs at Israeli Cars Shot in the Leg and Arrested
    The IDF shot and arrested a Palestinian who was throwing firebombs at Israeli vehicles near the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, northwest of Bethlehem, on Tuesday. (Jerusalem Post-Ynet News)
        See also Israel Arrests 50 PFLP Terrorists, Thwarts Upcoming Attack - Anna Ahronheim
    Israeli security forces in the West Bank have uncovered and dismantled a 50-person terror cell of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Israel Security Agency said Wednesday. The cell was involved in shooting attacks near Ofra in December 2017 and March 2019, as well as the deadly Dolev bombing in October 2019, and planned to carry out additional attacks in the near future.
        A large number of weapons were seized including M-16s, Kalashnikovs, Uzis, Galil rifles, pistols with silencers, ammunition, fertilizer to build bombs, as well as walkie-talkies and telescopic devices. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Saudi Arabia Withdraws Citizenship of Pro-Israel Journalist - Yasmine El Tohamy
    Abdul Hameed Al-Ghabin confirmed on Twitter that Saudi authorities had deprived him of his citizenship. In August, he wrote a column for the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom where he said that Saudi Arabia viewed Israel "as a logical future partner for us." He also concluded that Saudi Arabia and Israel "have mutual enemies: Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda."
        Five days prior to the removal of his citizenship, the Israeli Foreign Ministry retweeted a video made by Al-Ghabin in which he spoke of the benefits of normalizing relations with Israel, mentioning Israel's agricultural technology. (AlKhaleej Today-UAE)
        See also A New Saudi Perspective for Peace - Abdul Hameed Al-Ghabin (Israel Hayom)
  • Christians Fleeing Gaza, Fearing Persecution - Elizabeth Blade
    Kamal Tarazi, 60, a Christian from Gaza, is now living on the streets of Nazareth but says he prefers to stay there than to go back to Gaza, where he had lived his entire life. He fled Gaza in 2007 after Hamas seized control from Fatah. "The moment they took control, they started persecuting us, ruining our churches and forcing Christians to convert to Islam," he recalls.
        Released after two months in a Hamas prison, Tarazi applied for a permit to travel to Bethlehem to attend religious ceremonies for Christmas. Once in the West Bank, he vowed he would never go back, and he is not alone. Before 2007, there were 3,500 Christians in Gaza. Now, there are no more than 1,300 and Tarazi says the actual number is 500. (Sputnik-Russia)
  • How the German Government Supervises Islamic Schools and Mosques - Assaf Gabor
    Nearly five million Muslims live in Germany today. Muslims have their own educational system where the language of instruction is Arabic, a system closely supervised by the government. Nadav Gavlinger, an Israeli with a masters degree in modern German history who is a tour guide in Berlin, says, "The German government prohibits home schooling and thoroughly supervises the content of the lessons and the textbooks used in the schools. All of the textbooks are translated into German and officials review them in order to guarantee that improper messages are not allowed to enter the students' minds."
        "There is also strict supervision of the mosques in Germany. In certain places the imams are asked to submit the text of their Friday sermons to the authorities in advance. Agents of the security services attend the mosques and listen to the sermons, sometimes publicly and sometimes secretly. There have been cases where imams have been removed for inciting violence or speaking against Jews."  (Makor Rishon-Hebrew)

  • A new narrative is emerging in the Middle East. The anti-Semitic craze to destroy Israel was powerful in the 1960s, but now, Sunni Arab neighbors are changing course. Islamist leaders are losing their appeal - at a time when Iran, with its brand of theological fascism, poses a threat to Israel and the Arab world alike.
  • Polls show that the percentage of Arabs expressing trust in Islamist parties has fallen by well over a third since the uprisings of 2011. The number of young people who say they're "not religious" is also on the rise. This generation wants Arab leaders to increase economic prosperity, minimize political conflicts, and build alliances, including with Israel.
  • I regularly meet Egyptians and others who desperately want to normalize relations with Israel and they offer three reasons. First, the events of the Arab Spring exposed the fanaticism of the Muslim Brotherhood and other related Islamists, with the hardliners now being viewed as a threat to both Islam as a faith and Muslims as a people.
  • Second, the need to stand firm against Iran is becoming a cause that unites Israel with Sunni Arabs and anti-Tehran Shiite Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The mullahs in Tehran support Hizbullah, which is dedicated to destroying Israel, but they also meddle in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
  • Finally, and most intriguingly, Israel is being seen by moderate Arab governments as a trade and security partner as the West sends mixed signals. As one Arab prince said recently at a private meeting: "Who else will fly in joint missions against Iranian targets with us?"
  • For 70 years the Arab world was driven by an anti-Semitic ideological craze to wipe out Israel. But before that came a far-longer history of coexistence and respect. The people of Israel are honored repeatedly in the Quran, which confirms that Jews have every right to settle in and around Jerusalem. It was Omar, a friend of the prophet, who invited Jews back into Jerusalem in 637 after five centuries of being banished by the Romans.

    The writer is a senior fellow at the British think tank Civitas and a global fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.