December 27, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

Fierce Competition for Supremacy in Northeast Syria - Jonathan Spyer (Jerusalem Post)
    Eight separate armed forces may be discerned in northeast Syria.
    There is the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S. Army, the Turkish Army, the Turkish-associated Sunni Islamists of the Syrian National Army (SNA), the Syrian government army (SAA), the Russians, the IRGC-supported Shia militias, and the Sunni jihadis of Islamic State.
    South of SDF and U.S. forces, the Iranians have carved out an area of de facto control in the area just west of the Euphrates.
    At the Albu Kamal border crossing, the Imam Ali base with its tunnel system for storing missiles and heavy weaponry, and in the villages around Mayadin, the Syrian government is nowhere to be found.
    The IRGC and its militia allies, including Lebanese Hizbullah, are the de facto ruling force there.
    This area has been a particular focus for air activity attributed to Israel, including an air raid on Wednesday.
    The good news for Israel is that it is not currently faced with a potent, focused and united enemy camp in Syria or in the region generally.
    Iran is a powerful enemy, Turkey a determined adversary, but both are beset by other problems requiring their urgent attention.
    The writer is director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.

Japan to Send Warship, Aircraft to Middle East to Protect Shipping - Kiyoshi Takenaka (Reuters)
    Japan will send a helicopter-equipped destroyer and two P-3C patrol planes to protect Japanese ships in the Middle East, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Japan's top government spokesman, said on Friday.
    "It is very important to make sure Japan-related ships can sail safely in the Middle East, the world's major source of energy," he said.
    In May and June, there were several attacks on international merchant vessels in the region, including the Japanese-owned tanker Kokuka Courageous, which the U.S. blamed on Iran.
    If there are any emergencies, a special order would be issued by the Japanese defense minister to allow the forces to use weapons to protect ships in danger.
    Japan, which has maintained friendly ties with Iran, opted to launch its own operation rather than join a U.S.-led mission to protect shipping in the region.
    A European operation to ensure safe shipping in the Gulf will also get underway next month, when a French warship starts patrolling there.

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250,000 Immigrants to Israel in Past Decade (Globes)
    More than 250,000 immigrants reached Israel from 150 countries in the past decade, the Jewish Agency reported, with 34,000 coming in 2019.
    Over the past decade, 130,000 came from the countries of the former Soviet Union.
    55,000 came from other European countries, including 38,000 from France.
    32,000 came from the U.S. and 3,800 from Canada.
    13,420 came from Latin America, including 4,320 from Brazil and 3,150 from Argentina.
    10,500 came from Ethiopia and 2,560 from South Africa.
    1,950 came from Australia and New Zealand. 1,180 came from India.
    3,040 immigrants came from Middle Eastern countries with which Israel has no diplomatic relations.
    60% of the immigrants were younger than 45.

British Report: Amnesty International Is Institutionally Biased Against Israel - David Collier (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
    Amnesty International has an institutional hostility towards Israel that borders on obsession, visibly attacking Israel more frequently and with far more energy than it does any other nation. It is as if Amnesty has declared war on Israel.
    In research commissioned by Jewish Human Rights Watch, I found that an Amnesty media manager advised Palestinian terror groups like Hamas not to publicly identify their martyrs if they were lost in an action, but rather have the West believe the fallen were innocent civilians.
    An Amnesty consultant tweeted an image of two Islamic Jihad terrorists, with a love heart - and she wrote the word "heroes" above the images.
    A deputy regional director at Amnesty was once a Palestinian activist who had Leila Khaled, the PFLP hijacker, as his Facebook profile picture.
    Amnesty eagerly employs people with a history of anti-Israel activism, then sends them in as "unbiased human rights workers" to report on what is happening.
    Their biased accounts then provide the motivations for constructing far larger Amnesty campaigns against Israel.
    Amnesty used to have a rule that prevented people from working on issues where a conflict of interest may have occurred, but they dropped this in the early 2000s.
    See also Report: Amnesty International - from Bias to Obsession - David Collier (Jewish Human Rights Watch)

Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Fast Train Begins Operations (Globes)
    The new high-speed electrified railway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was inaugurated on Saturday night.
    Travel time on the new route is 30 minutes, compared with 90 minutes on the old Jerusalem-Tel Aviv railway line winding through the Judean hills.
    The new 56-km. route includes an 11.6-km. tunnel, the longest in Israel; a 1.25-km. bridge, the longest in Israel; and a 90-meter high bridge, the highest in Israel.
    The Yitzhak Navon railway station in Jerusalem is 80 meters underground, the deepest railway station in Israel and one of the deepest in the world.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Congress Passes Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act Supporting Links with Cyprus, Greece and Israel - Menelaos Hadjicostis
    The U.S. Congress approved the bipartisan Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act on Dec. 19. Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said it sends out "significant diplomatic and political messages" about how the U.S. perceives a growing energy partnership between Cyprus, Greece and Israel. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who co-authored the bill, called the legislation "a comprehensive re-calibration of American diplomatic, military, and economic policy towards the Eastern Mediterranean and a strong and prosperous alliance between the United States, Greece, Israel, and Cyprus."
        "Our vision for the region is to see all states together, without excluding anyone, even Turkey," said Christodoulides. Turkey doesn't recognize EU-member Cyprus as a state and says that part of the waters where the divided island nation has exclusive economic rights fall within its own continental shelf. Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the island's northern third and keeps 35,000 troops there.
        Ankara also strongly objects to the Cypriot government's gas search and has dispatched warship-escorted vessels to carry out exploratory drilling off Cyprus, including in areas where energy companies such as Italy's Eni and France's Total are licensed to drill. The EU has condemned Turkey's actions and has prepared sanctions against it. (AP)
  • Turkey to Send Troops to Libya at Tripoli's Request, Erdogan Says - Ece Toksabay
    Turkey will send troops to Libya at the request of Tripoli as soon as next month, President Erdogan said on Thursday. Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli has been struggling to fend off Gen. Khalifa Haftar's forces, which have been supported by Russia, Egypt, the UAE, and Jordan. Erdogan said 2,000 mercenaries from the Kremlin-linked Wagner group were supporting Haftar, together with 5,000 fighters from Sudan.
        Haftar's forces, which are based in eastern Libya, have made small gains in recent weeks in some southern suburbs of Tripoli with the help of Russian and Sudanese fighters, as well as drones from the UAE, diplomats say. The Chinese-made drones have given Haftar "local air superiority" as they can carry over eight times the explosives of the drones given to the GNA by Turkey and can also cover the whole of Libya. (Reuters)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Gaza Border Protests Suspended for 3 Months - Khaled Abu Toameh
    The organizers of the Great March of Return demonstrations near the border with Israel on Thursday suspended the protests until the end of March 2020. Palestinian political analysts said the decision was linked to ceasefire understandings reached between Israel and Hamas.
        Yusri Darwish, from the group organizing the protests, said that when the demonstrations resume on March 30, they will take place monthly rather than weekly. Darwish said this year's last protest is slated for Friday, Dec. 27.
        "Thursday's announcement is an admission of failure," a Palestinian journalist in Gaza said. "The protests failed to achieve their two declared goals: ending the blockade on Gaza and achieving the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their former homes inside Israel."
        A Palestinian human rights activist in Gaza said "fatigue" was also behind the decision. "People are tired, and the organizers know that very well. In recent months we've seen a significant decrease in the number of people participating in the Friday demonstrations."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Iran Is at the Top of the Mossad's Priorities
    At an awards ceremony honoring the outstanding employees of Israel's national intelligence agency, Mossad head Yossi Cohen said Iran is "at the top of the Mossad's work priorities. All Iranian nuclear, long-range missile and precision missile activities, its regional spread, and its support for terrorist organizations are a challenge to the security of the State of Israel and its citizens."
        The ceremony was hosted by President Reuven Rivlin, who said, "In the Mossad's dictionary, you will not find the word 'impossible.' For the Mossad, excellence is not a luxury, it is the only way to survive." Rivlin said Israel's enemies "are frustrated by their failure to harm us, and never stop searching for a way to catch us unawares. To protect ourselves in the neighborhood we live in, we have no option but to be sharper and much better."  (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:

    The International Criminal Court

  • ICC Accusations Against Israel Are Outrageous - Col. Richard Kemp
    The ICC prosecutor accuses Israel, during the 2014 Gaza war, of using disproportionate force, willfully killing and injuring civilians, and intentionally attacking protected individuals and locations. She also alleges that the IDF committed war crimes against Gazans violently attempting to breach the border into Israel in 2018 and 2019.
        I was present during these conflicts, witnessed, and was extensively briefed on IDF operations. I was a member of an investigation into the 2014 Gaza war by the High Level Military Group, an independent body of retired generals from Western armed forces and human rights experts. The group unanimously concluded that: "The IDF not only met its obligations under the Law of Armed Conflict, but often exceeded these on the battlefield."
        Gen. Martin Dempsey, at the time Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, commented: "Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties." My first-hand observations during the Hamas-instigated Gaza border violence in 2018-19 echo these assessments.
        The allegation that Israel committed war crimes by transferring parts of its civilian population into occupied territory can only be described as outrageous. The West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza are not "occupied territories." The suggestion that willing tenancy on this land by Jews is intrinsically illegal sees the ICC prosecutor adopting the Nazi concept of Judenrein, cleansing an area of Jews.
        Despite situations where such crimes have actually occurred, including Northern Cyprus and Crimea, no prosecutions for war crimes in this category have ever been brought against anyone. Special treatment is reserved for the Jewish state. The writer is a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan. (Jerusalem Post)
  • ICC Prosecution of Israel Just Another Way for Palestinians to Avoid Peace - Jonathan S. Tobin
    The announcement by Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, that she is prepared to begin an investigation into Israeli "war crimes" is just the latest evidence that the Palestinian Authority, which originated the complaint, would rather seek to wage legal war against Israel than to negotiate with it.
        No matter how prejudiced the ICC and its chief prosecutor may be, the supposed moderates running the Palestinian Authority made this farce possible; it represents their desperation to avoid negotiations with Israel under any circumstances.
        The PA has rejected Israeli peace offers that would have given it statehood over nearly all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. It refused because doing so would require it to give up the hope of eliminating the State of Israel altogether. The PA wants to delegitimize Israel in the international courts because it is incapable of living in peace with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn. (JNS)
  • Israel's Defensive Arguments Fell on Deaf Ears at the ICC - Nitsana Darshan-Leitner
    Since September 2012, when the Palestinians' status was upgraded in the UN to an observer state, they have repeatedly warned that if Israel does not submit to their demands, they will turn to the International Criminal Court in The Hague and formally submit war crimes complaints.
        Israel tried to persuade ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that the tribunal has no authority to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since Israel is not a signatory to the Court's Rome Treaty and the Palestinians are not a state. Israel correctly argued that it has a strong and independent judiciary investigating every incident, and does not hesitate to prosecute and frequently convict whenever there is even the shadow of a violation of law. As such, the ICC has no authority to act as a super-review court for the Israeli justice system.
        Every IDF tank and helicopter has an on-call legal advisor who is relied upon to instruct the units whether to shoot a shell or fire a missile when there is even the slightest question concerning collateral damage to civilians. But all of these defensive arguments seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The writer, an Israeli civil rights attorney, is president of the Shurat HaDin Law Center. (Jerusalem Post)
  • The Difference between a Tragedy and a War Crime Is Intent - Nave Dromi
    Who cares what the politicized International Criminal Court thinks about us? So Israeli officers won't be able to wander the streets of Europe. Somehow, we'll manage.
        Have we behaved perfectly in this conflict that has been forced upon us? There have indeed been some tragedies. But the difference between a tragedy and a war crime is intent. Israel has no desire to hurt civilians and no interest in doing so. Moreover, Israel often refrains from attacking Palestinians who are genuine war criminals to avoid killing uninvolved civilians.
        Nowadays, the blood libel is that the Zionists are responsible for war crimes. But Israelis are strong enough to walk with their heads held high and without fear - to stand up to the anti-Semites dressed up as seekers of justice. (Ha'aretz)

  • Other Issues

  • Implications of Turkey's Pivot to Tripoli - Soner Cagaptay and Ben Fishman
    Turkish President Erdogan has announced that he was willing to deploy troops in Libya to counter the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who is threatening to take Tripoli by force. Ankara's Libya policy stems from its isolation in the East Mediterranean.
        Erdogan's support for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood in 2011-2012 cost him dearly after that government was ousted by mass protests. And when he refused to recognize the subsequent government of President al-Sisi, he alienated Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who supported Sisi and were deeply concerned about the role of the Brotherhood. Meanwhile, Turkey's support for rebel groups in Syria put it at odds with Damascus and Iran, as well as Tehran's allies inside Lebanon and the Iraqi government. In short, Ankara's loss of regional partners was nearly total by 2014, setting the stage for Turkey's turn to Tripoli.
        Egypt and the UAE were worried about the ascent of political Islam in Libya and eager to undermine Erdogan, so they quickly backed Gen. Haftar and his avowed "anti-Islamist" agenda. Among other assistance, they carried out airstrikes on his behalf. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Why Does the International Community Support Hamas While It Seeks Israel's Destruction? - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Hamas recently celebrated its 32nd anniversary by reminding everyone of its main goal: the destruction of Israel and its replacement with an Islamic state. Ibrahim Yazouri, one of the founders of Hamas, said in a Dec. 15 interview with the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Information Center: "Hamas and its military wing are continuing with their policy until the liberation of Palestine. We are nearing the day of liberation. Within a few years, God willing, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, occupied Jerusalem and all of Palestine will be liberated. Hamas will continue to use all means to liberate Palestine. The big victory is nearing and we need to be more patient."
        In light of the recent venomous anti-Israel statements by Hamas leaders, why is the UN trying to convince Hamas to participate in Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections? Calamitously, the international community failed to demand that Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist, and commit to all agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel as a prerequisite for participating in the 2006 election. It now seems that the international community is about to repeat that disastrous decision. What is it that they do not understand about "Death to Israel"? (Gatestone Institute)

  • Anti-Semitism

  • Anti-Semitism and Israel - Ruth R. Wisse
    The war against the Jewish state is a genocidal assault against a particular people. Blaming Israel for the Arab plight is an article of theological and political faith to much of the Arab and Muslim world. Rather than educate to reform and ameliorate that misdirected political charge, universities have welcomed it as just another point of view. Schools that forbid other forms of hatred and pass speech codes monitoring slights to all other minorities are only too happy to allow all those other repressed forms of antagonism to emerge in this acceptable form.
        No one can say "we did not know" what anti-Israel forces intend because anyone with access to a computer can locate the platforms and sponsors of these groups, all of which aim to take down Israel and the civilization it represents. The writer is a former professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard. (Commentary)
  • Why Are Seattle's Leaders Silent about Anti-Semitism? - Regina Sassoon Friedland
    Seattle's political and civic leadership acted in unison with appropriate and necessary horror when an African American City Council candidate's campaign sign was defaced with racist graffiti days before Election Day. Ominously, that same reflex was absent when vile acts of anti-Semitism have occurred in our city.
        Hate is hate. Discrimination and bigotry, whether based on race, religion, sexuality, gender or ethnicity, should never be tolerated or ignored. Why is it so difficult to call out anti-Semitism and take action to effectively fight it? The writer is director of the American Jewish Committee, Seattle region. (Seattle Times)
        See also Seattle's Anti-Semitism Problem - Ari Hoffman (Post Millennial-Canada)

  • Weekend Features

  • Israel Is Using Digital Diplomacy to Reach Out to the Arab World - Ruth Eglash
    Linda Menuhin, born in Baghdad, is the moderator of the Arabic-language Facebook pages and social media platforms run by Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Interacting daily with residents of Arab countries and providing information about Israel, Judaism and the Jews who once lived among them, Menuhin said her goal is to show "the common values we share and the similarities between us."
        Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, said the region was in a "transitory phase," including "a growing portion of young Arabs who are no longer afraid to talk to Israelis....Today, most people know that Israel is not the problem." The Foreign Ministry's Arabic-language Facebook pages, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and YouTube channel collectively draw 10 million viewers and followers each week. (Washington Post)
  • Holocaust Survivor: "My Mother Blocked the Door" and Saved My Father from the Chelm Death March - Attila Somfalvi
    Ben Zion Drutin was 8 when Nazi soldiers invaded his home town of Chelm in eastern Poland in October 1939. In December, there was a call for all of Chelm's Jews practicing free professions (lawyers, accountants, engineers, etc.) to report to the town's square. Drutin's father, a merchant and store owner, was one of those required to report. "I remember hearing my parents fighting, my mother blocked the house's door, yelling at him that he's not going anywhere," he says. "My father insisted on going along with the other Jews in town."
        In the end, Drutin's father answered his wife's demands that he seek shelter in the nearby village where his grandfather lived, and his life was saved as a result. "My mother had a very good understanding of the situation," says Drutin. "Out of the 2,000 men - who'd been gathered in the square and taken to the Bug River - only 150 managed to escape."
        The head of the Chelmer Organization of Israel, Benzi Labkovich, whose grandfather was among those killed in the Chelm death march, noted that the "march occurred only 3 months after World War II started....It's important to remember when the first mass murder of Jews happened."  (Ynet News)

  • Omri Ohayon, one of the Israeli soldiers who was fighting in Gaza during 2014 war, an event that the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court wants to investigate, said, "You cannot compare the only democracy in the Middle East with a terror organization like Hamas."
  • Ohayon served in the Israel Defense Forces' Yahalom unit, responsible for spotting and eliminating tunnels used by Hamas to infiltrate Israeli territory to kidnap and murder Israelis.
  • In 2014 Ohayon's team found 11 such tunnels. Our goal "was to find and destroy tunnels as well as to protect Israel from militants' infiltrations, not to harass Palestinians or kill civilians. This is not what we were ordered to do by our commanders, and this is not what we did on the ground," he explained.
  • "If the ICC claims to be objective, equal and unbiased, why don't they investigate regimes where human rights are breached, and civilians are massacred, including in Syria, Iran, North Korea or even the Palestinian Authority that knows little about such rights as freedom of speech?"
  • "I can testify that in many cases shelling of civilian buildings was called off simply because we found out that there were civilians inside. At times we were too cautious, and it would cost us our soldiers' lives," he said, recalling an incident when a Hamas militant attacked his squad while hiding behind civilians.
  • Ohayon says his conscience is clear. "I know my commanders, and I know my soldiers. War crimes were not committed. Even more so, we did everything in our power to save human lives and avoid unnecessary casualties."

        See also Israel, Gaza and Humanitarian Law: Efforts to Limit Civilian Casualties in the 2014 Gaza War - Lt.-Col. (res.) David Benjamin
    The writer served in the IDF Military Advocate General’s Corps (MAG) as Chief Legal Advisor for the Gaza Strip and as Director of the Strategic and International Branch in the International Law Department. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
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