January 2, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

Jordan Begins Receiving Natural Gas from Israel - Suleiman Al-Khalidi (Reuters)
    Natural gas from Israel's offshore Leviathan field has begun flowing to Jordan, the kingdom's National Electricity Company (NEPCO) said Wednesday.
    According to a $10 billion deal struck with Noble Energy in 2016, a U.S.-Israeli consortium will supply Jordan gas for 15 years.
    The Jordanian government said that securing stable energy prices for the next decade can achieve savings of at least $500 million annually.

Israel's Strikes in Syria Hurt Iran - Hillel Frisch (Jerusalem Post)
    Israel's offensive posture toward the Iranian build-up in Syria stems from its desire to prevent the introduction on a mass scale of precision-guided missiles and the establishment of an Iranian-run weapons industry there.
    But there is another reason behind Israel's resolve: to increase the costs of Iran's imperialism.
    U.S. sanctions against Iran have struck hard: the Iranian economy contracted by 9% in 2019, especially due to the decline of oil exports.
    China has recently diversified its oil imports away from Iran, choosing instead to increasingly rely on Russian energy sources.
    The writer is a professor of political and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University.

Iraq Is a Key Battleground for Tehran - Dr. Azeem Ibrahim (Arab News-Saudi Arabia)
    The U.S. war in Iraq achieved exactly the opposite of what it was meant to: Instead of creating a staunch and reliable partner to help encircle Iran, it has created an ally of Tehran.
    Iran was much more helpful to Baghdad in its fight against ISIS than was the U.S., and so the Iraqi government owes a debt of gratitude to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their Shiite militia proxies.
    Yet the Iranians seem to be repeating the mistakes of the U.S. in Iraq, overplaying their hand regarding how much leverage they have in the country, and how much they should try to exert.
    It turns out that the people of Iraq are in no mood to be pawns of Iran either.
    The writer is a research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College.

Palestinians Are Victims of Their Arab Brothers - Khaled Abu Toameh (Gatestone Institute)
    No one in the international community cares about Palestinians when they are targeted by their Arab brothers.
    Palestinians living in Iraq were last year stripped of the equal-rights status they had enjoyed under Saddam Hussein. Many Palestinians have been killed, injured and arrested by Iraqi authorities and various militias.
    More than 4,000 Palestinians have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the civil war there in 2011.
    Palestinians in Lebanon are banned from working in 70 professions, such as medicine, law and engineering.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iraqi Protesters Withdraw from U.S. Embassy Perimeter
    All members of paramilitary groups and their supporters withdrew from the perimeter of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday, the Iraqi military said. (Reuters-New York Times)
  • Iraq's Leaders Allowed Militias to Reach U.S. Embassy in Baghdad - Falih Hassan
    The full withdrawal of the protesters at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad came after leaders of the Iranian-backed militias who had organized the demonstration received a commitment from Iraq's prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, to move ahead with legislation to force American troops to withdraw from Iraq.
        Despite a 16-year American effort to establish a government friendlier to Western interests, at a cost of more than $1 trillion and 5,000 American lives, Iraq's leaders lined up in opposition to the American airstrikes on pro-Iran militias, and Iraqi security forces allowed the militias' supporters to reach the American diplomatic compound. Some people wearing the uniforms of the Iraqi security forces were even seen attacking the compound. (New York Times)
  • U.S. Embassy Siege Shows Strength of Iraq's Pro-Iran Groups - Maya Gebeily
    The ease with which supporters of the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) breezed past U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces to besiege the U.S. embassy in the high-security Green Zone in Baghdad on Tuesday demonstrated the PMF's dominance in Iraq, said Harith Hasan, an expert at the Carnegie Middle East Center. "A political-military faction imposed its will on everyone and commandeered all decisions." The PMF is formally part of Iraq's government forces and its nominal head, Faleh al-Fayyadh, also serves as the country's national security advisor.
        An Iraqi special forces fighter guarding the Green Zone said, "The [PMF] is now the most influential of Iraq's forces because the military and political leaders are allowing it to play this role." Phillip Smyth, a U.S.-based specialist in Shiite armed groups, said, "This demonstrates how much hold Tehran has over Baghdad. There shouldn't be any illusion."
        Among those marching on the U.S. embassy Tuesday were top figures in Iraq's security apparatus: Fayyadh, his deputy Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and PMF commanders Qais al-Khazaali and Hadi al-Ameri. Their presence outraged U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who slammed the four as "terrorists" and "Iranian proxies."  (AFP)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel to EU: Don't Give Funds to NGOs with Terror Ties - Lahav Harkov
    The EU must not give in to Palestinian demands to allow aid to groups with ties to designated terrorist groups, Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan wrote to the EU's new foreign minister, Josep Borrell, on Tuesday. Erdan referred to the many ties between the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, designated as a terrorist group in the EU, U.S., Canada and Israel, and Palestinian NGOs. The Palestinian NGOs have demanded the EU erase a stipulation that aid must be sent only to organizations with no ties to EU-designated terrorist groups. (Jerusalem Post)
  • The Iranians Are Becoming Less Welcome in Damascus - Alex Fishman
    As long as there is an Iranian presence on Syrian soil, Israel can be expected to launch attacks, thereby endangering the critical financial aid to rebuild vital infrastructure that Assad's regime hopes to receive. Assad knows that Iran remains an obstacle to any serious effort to rebuild the country, even though it was the Iranians who stepped in to help during the civil war when the Syrian army fell apart.
        The more Iran competes with the Russians over hegemony, and the more its insistence on remaining in Syria threatens the flow of financial aid, the less welcome it will be by the Syrians. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Iran Trying to Divert Focus from Anti-Iranian Demonstrations in Iraq - Yaakov Lappin
    "The Shi'ite militias and Iran are trying to divert the focus from the anti-Iranian sentiment of the demonstrations [in Iraq] that have occurred over the past two months and turn the rage in the direction of the United States," said Col. (res.) Udi Evental, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. Evental was formerly head of the Strategic Planning Unit of the Political-Military and Policy Bureau of the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
        However, Iran's chances of succeeding are low since the demonstrations have been occurring for two months, and some of the 400 Iraqis killed while protesting were shot by militias under the command of the Iranian Quds Force.
        "Strategically, the Iranians aren't deterred" by the airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah. "Iran will tell itself, 'If they hit our proxies but not us, we can continue to operate by proxy,'" said Evental. He said America needs to decide whether the next time it comes under militia attack, it will hit Iranian targets directly instead of making do with striking Iran's proxies. (JNS)
  • Experts View U.S.-Iran Tensions - Amir Tibon
    The attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad was an Iranian initiative and not a local protest, Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Ha'aretz. "This is telegraphed from Iran, straight out of the regime's playbook. The regime wants to spook America. They hope to either get Trump to agree to negotiations, or, even better, to get America to withdraw forces and send a message of retreat. They would be happy to solidify the impression that America is getting out of the Middle East, whether it's in Syria or Iraq. They are willing to take risks to make that happen."
        Ben Taleblu says Sunday's U.S. airstrikes were "very important" because they sent the opposite message: that the United States would not ignore Iran's actions.
        Michael Doran, a former Middle East director at the U.S. National Security Council and currently a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said it would be a "grave mistake" if the U.S. agreed to negotiations with Iran. "The protests that swept Iran, Iraq and Lebanon in November have changed the balance of power. Iran is experiencing unprecedented difficulty at home and abroad. If Trump were to sit with Iran now, he would look weak in the region, demoralize allies and give breathing room to Tehran."  (Ha'aretz)

  • In a clear sign that the Islamic regime in Iran is worried about its survival, it has increased its attacks on American interests in Iraq.
  • In response, the U.S. engaged in some signaling of its own, hitting five targets in Iraq and Syria on Sunday. Washington is calling the regime's bluff.
  • Good. Exposing the regime's weaknesses, economically and now militarily, may be the best strategy yet for putting the squeeze on Tehran. The 13th century Iranian poet Saadi Shirazi had a saying: "If you want to bring a mullah down from his high horse, make sure both he and the four-legged animal are hungry."
  • The campaign of "maximum pressure" is wreaking economic and psychological havoc on the regime and the mullahs are scared. During the recent uprisings, the Revolutionary Guards killed more than 1,500 protestors in the deadliest uprising since the Iranian Revolution.
  • Decades of economic mismanagement and political isolation have ruined the lives of Iranians and dashed the hopes of young people. To make matters worse, recent droughts and destructive floods have hurt the farmers and low-income households who traditionally form the base of the regime's support.
  • The Iranian regime has long been running on ideological fumes, imposing strict Islamic law on one of the Middle East's most moderate, well-educated populations.

    The writer is a political consultant on Iran, and a PhD candidate at St. Andrews University.