December 31, 2019

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Merchant Ship Rescues Iranians after Others Left Them Adrift - Gina Harkins (Military.com)
    The U.S.-flagged merchant vessel Maersk Kinloss rescued three distressed Iranian mariners on Dec. 18. The men were spotted floating in a large plastic water tank 80 miles off the coast of Oman.
    Ed Hanley, a vice president of Maersk Line, said: "The Iranians said that in the course of being adrift over 19 days, several other ships had stopped, provided them with food and water, but refused to take them aboard."

How the U.S. Military Is Protecting the Strait of Hormuz - Shawn Snow (Military Times)
    Iranian small boat swarms, limpet mines and Tehran-backed forces armed with cruise and anti-ship missiles are just a few of the threats to shipping in the Persian Gulf.
    The U.S. conducted an exercise in December in the Arabian Gulf showing how U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships can counter small boat threats with Griffin missiles.
    Other security measures taken on board U.S. warships have included the use of Marine light armored vehicles armed with the 25 mm bushmaster chain gun, parked on the flight deck.
    Marines toting anti-tank Javelin missiles could also counter small boat threats.
    In July, the Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS), parked on the deck of the amphibious assault ship Boxer, downed an Iranian drone near the Strait of Hormuz.

2,000-Year-Old Hasmonean Coins Unearthed in Shiloh - Ilanit Chernick (Jerusalem Post)
    20 ancient coins were found last week in ancient Shiloh in the West Bank.
    More than half of the coins date back to the Hasmonean period, to the ruler Alexander Jannaeus, the second king of Judea, who ruled from 103 to 76 BCE.

1,200-Year-Old Gold Coins Found in Excavations in Yavneh (Israel Antiquities Authority)
    A hoard of gold coins was found last week in Yavneh during excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
    The coins, discovered in a broken clay juglet, include a gold dinar from the reign of the Caliph Haroun A-Rashid (786-809 CE).

Israel Welcomes Record 4.55 Million Tourists in 2019 - Eytan Halon (Jerusalem Post)
    4.55 million tourists visited Israel in 2019, the Tourism Ministry announced on Sunday. Tourist entries increased by 11% compared to 4,120,800 in 2018.
    The leading sources for tourism were the U.S. (890,000), France (338,200), Russia (296,000), Germany (268,900) and Britain (218,700).
    144,400 visitors arrived from China, up 51%.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • State Department: U.S. Seeks to "Restore Deterrence Against Iran's Regional Aggression"
    Senior State Department officials on Monday held a briefing on Sunday's U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. One official said, "It is clear that under the nuclear deal, Iran was able to run and finance an expansionist foreign policy, and we are trying to restore deterrence against Iran's regional aggression, against its missile proliferation around the region that finds its way into conflicts, as we have seen recently in Iraq. In the past two months alone, there have been 11 attacks on Iraqi bases that host coalition forces."
        "We will not tolerate this sort of behavior, not tolerate attacks on U.S. citizens, its military, or our allies....These were defensive strikes. But we are not going to let Iran get away with using a proxy force to attack American interests, and we will hold Iran accountable for these attacks, which we have done."  (U.S. State Department)
  • Supporters of Iran-Backed Militia Storm U.S. Embassy in Baghdad
    Dozens of Iraqi Shiite militia supporters, many in militia uniform, broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area. The mob also set fire to three trailers used by security guards along the embassy wall. The embassy attack followed U.S. airstrikes on Sunday against the Iran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah militia in Iraq and Syria. (AP-CNBC)
  • The U.S.-Iran Showdown Begins in Iraq - Jonathan Spyer
    The U.S. killed at least 25 Kataeb Hezbollah fighters on Sunday in its first counterstrike in a decade against an Iran-aligned Iraqi Shia militia. Kataeb, created by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in 2007 to fight the U.S. presence in Iraq, is modeled after Lebanon's Hizbullah. Its leader, Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, 65, is wanted by the U.S. for the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait. He helped smuggle IEDs during the Shia insurgency in Iraq a decade ago and has the blood of many Western soldiers on his hands.
        I embedded with the Kataeb during Iraq's war with Islamic State in June 2015 and interviewed Ibrahimi. The Kataeb fighters I met were younger, keener and better equipped than either the Iraqi Army soldiers or the representatives of other militias I met. They were also the most vividly anti-American. Kataeb Hezbollah isn't an underground or fringe group. It is deeply embedded in both the political and security structures of the official Iraqi state. The writer is director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis. (Wall Street Journal)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel's Leviathan Offshore Natural Gas Field Begins Production - Shoshanna Solomon
    Gas began flowing from the Leviathan offshore natural gas field on Tuesday, the largest energy project in Israel's history. Yossi Abu, CEO of Delek Drilling LP, said, "For the first time since its establishment, Israel is now an energy powerhouse, able to supply all its energy needs and gaining energy independence. At the same time, we will be exporting natural gas to Israel's neighbors [Egypt and Jordan], thus strengthening Israel's position in the region."
        Located in the Mediterranean Sea 125 km. (77 miles) west of Haifa, the Leviathan field holds some 22 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. The gas supply will enable Israel to phase out expensive and polluting imported coal for generating electricity. (Times of Israel)
  • Iran Could Deploy Its Iraqi Militias Against Israel - Assaf Golan
    Iran is using its Iraqi militias to pressure the U.S., said Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate's Research Division and now a senior scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. "Iran is working by way of these militias to persuade the Americans that it's not worth it for them to continue with economic sanctions....It's possible that Iran will ultimately take things even further and attack the U.S. in a more painful manner....It could be that in order to hurt the Americans, the Iranians will suddenly look to us [in Israel]....It is very convenient for them to attack us as a message to the United States."
        "Already today, pretty close to the border with Israel, there are multi-national militias comprised of Shiites that receive money from Iran....Iran is spending several billions on militias which consist of tens of thousands of soldiers.  (Israel Hayom)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Fighting the Demonization of Israel at the International Criminal Court - Prof. Eytan Gilboa
    On December 20, 2019, Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, announced: "I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip."
        Bensouda's opinion is baseless, preposterous, discriminatory, and violates the ICC's own mission and rules. The Court was established in 2002 to prosecute individuals for international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and serious war crimes. The U.S. and Israel did not ratify the Rome Treaty that established the Court out of concern that it would be used to deliver politicized and biased judgments. That concern has been proven valid.
        The ICC prosecutes individuals, not states. Therefore, if its pre-trial chamber of three judges rules that the ICC has jurisdiction over the case, Bensouda will be able to subpoena senior Israeli politicians and military officers for interrogation. If they refuse, she could issue warrants for their arrest.
        The writer teaches public diplomacy at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy in Los Angeles and is a senior research associate at the BESA Center. (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
  • Turkey's Libyan Gambit Reveals Erdogan's Delusions of Grandeur - Dr. Simon A. Waldman
    Last week, Turkey's President Erdogan announced plans to send troops to Libya. Since 2016, Turkey opened military bases in Qatar and Somalia, intervened three times in neighboring Syria against Kurdish forces, and sent naval vessels to disrupt Cypriot drilling for gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. In November, Turkey and Libya signed an agreement on maritime boundaries which extended into the exclusive economic zones of Greece.
        However, such moves highlight Ankara's delusions of grandeur. While Turkish leaders genuinely believe that Turkey is a significant international power, the country has limited means at its disposal. In Libya, Ankara is backing the underdog Tripoli government, while the forces of the opposing General Khalifa Haftar dominate much of the country. Haftar is backed by Russia, Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, France, and the UAE, with hundreds of Russian mercenaries fighting alongside his forces.
        The writer is an associate fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and a visiting research fellow at King's College London. (Ha'aretz)

Video: The Turkish-Libyan Maritime Agreement and the Struggle over the Mediterranean - Amb. Dore Gold (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Turkey's AKP Party, which has ruled for nearly 20 years, has increasingly become preoccupied with the nation's Ottoman past, especially under the leadership of President Erdogan. At its zenith, the Ottoman Empire stretched from Algiers in the west to Iraq in the east. The Ottomans seized Jerusalem in 1517.
  • A new opportunity for restoring what are viewed as former Ottoman territorial claims has recently arisen with the Turkish-Libyan maritime agreements concluded on November 27, 2019. While Libya is split between two governments, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj based in Tripoli, with Turkish support, created an Exclusive Economic Zone for Libya extending 200 nautical miles into the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Libya's Exclusive Economic Zone now touches the Exclusive Economic Zone of Turkey, making their maritime borders contiguous in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. These agreements do not establish sovereignty over the Mediterranean seabed, but they do help define the rights of Mediterranean states to exploit hydrocarbon resources.
  • The Libyan move was opposed by many states; Egypt registered its objections to the UN Security Council. Israeli leaders privately called the Libyan-Turkish deal illegal.

    The writer, former director general of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Israeli ambassador to the UN, is president of the Jerusalem Center.