January 8, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

Libya Rebels Capture Key Coastal City - Declan Walsh (New York Times)
    Libyan rebels loyal to anti-Islamist militia leader Khalifa Hifter seized control of the key coastal city of Surt on Monday after persuading a local militia to switch sides.
    The Tripoli government's authority has shrunk to a 250-mile strip of coastline.
    Turkish President Erdogan has become the Tripoli government's last major patron.
    In the past week Ankara has deployed Syrian irregulars to Libya, drawn from units that fought the Kurds in northeastern Syria last year.

Ukrainian Airliner Crashes after Take-Off in Iran, Killing 176 (Reuters)
    A Ukrainian airliner crashed soon after taking off from Tehran airport on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard. Iranian TV said the crash was due to technical problems.
    Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said the victims included 82 from Iran and 63 Canadians.

Iran-Backed Shiite Militias Targeted in Syria - Shahar Klaiman (Israel Hayom)
    Aircraft attacked Iran-backed Shiite militias near Al-Bukamal in northeastern Syria near the Iraqi border on Monday night, the Deir Ezzor 24 website affiliated with Syrian rebel groups reported.
    On Saturday evening, Arab media also reported a series of airstrikes near Al-Bukamal on facilities belonging to Iran's Revolutionary Guards and its Shiite militias. Several Iranians were wounded in airstrikes on the Imam Ali base, Iran's flagship project in Syria.
    See also Iranian Militias Hide among Civilians in Syria - Mohamed Misto (Anadolu-Turkey)
    Iran-backed terrorist militias in Syria are hiding among civilians to avoid possible U.S. airstrikes, local sources said on Monday.
    "Militias that vacated their bases are now hiding inside houses in residential neighborhoods...in the towns of Al-Bukamal and Al-Mayadin."

Targeting Soleimani Is a Major Blow to Iran - Hillel Frisch (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
    Soleimani's killing proves that the Iranian security system is riddled with informants.
    They knew when Soleimani left his secret hideout in Damascus, what plane he boarded, at which airport he was going to land, which vehicles he and his retinue entered upon landing, and exactly what time those vehicles were heading out of the airport.
    This suggests an information flow involving informants closely connected to the upper echelons of the Quds Force.
    The killing creates a devastating chain of destructive suspicion and anxiety in the corridors of power.
    Many will be removed, if not executed, as Iranian counterintelligence teams try to identify the informants.
    The writer is a professor of political and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at its BESA Center for Strategic Studies.

Israelis Win Gold at World Debate Championship (Jerusalem Post)
    Israeli students Hadar Goldberg and Maya Saveliev won a gold medal at the 40th World Universities Debate Championship in Thailand on Friday in the category of debaters who speak English as a second language.
    The two Israeli women, competing on behalf of the Open University of Israel, defeated 384 groups, which included 750 speakers.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iranian Missile Attacks Strike Bases Hosting U.S. Forces in Iraq
    Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Jonathan Hoffman said Tuesday: "On January 7, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq. It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. military and coalition personnel at Al-Assad and Irbil."  (U.S. Department of Defense)
        See also No U.S. or Iraqi Military Casualties Reported after Iranian Missile Strikes - Nicole Gaouette
    No U.S. or Iraqi casualties were reported after Tuesday's Iranian missile strikes on two Iraqi bases that hold U.S. troops. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said the attacks were "hard revenge" for the death of Qasem Soleimani. The IRGC said, "To the Great Satan...we warn that if you repeat your wickedness or take any additional movements or make additional aggression, we will respond with more painful and crushing responses."
        A U.S. military official told CNN the military had enough warning of the launches that they had time to sound alarms, enabling people in harm's way to get to safety. (CNN)
        See also Iranian TV Says 80 Americans Killed in Iran Missile Strikes
    Iranian state television said Wednesday that at least 80 "American terrorists" were killed in attacks involving 15 missiles Tehran launched on U.S. targets in Iraq. It also said U.S. helicopters and military equipment were "severely damaged."  (Reuters)
        See also Iran Says It Has Concluded Its Response to U.S. Strike - Jeffery Martin
    After Iran launched a missile attack against air bases in Iraq that housed U.S. and coalition forces, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif tweeted: "Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched. We do not seek escalation."  (Newsweek)
        See also Iran's Khamenei Says "Iran Slapped America in the Face" (i24News)
  • Update: 56 Killed, 213 Injured in Stampede at Soleimani's Burial - Tom Gillespie
    At least 56 people were killed and 213 injured in a stampede Tuesday at the burial of Qasem Soleimani in his hometown of Kerman, Iran's state television has reported. (Sky News-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Iran Could Have Enough Enriched Uranium for a Nuke after Two Months - Yonah Jeremy Bob
    Olli Heinonen, former deputy director-general for safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Jerusalem Post: "If the recent performance numbers, average enrichment levels, and current inventories quoted by [Iran Atomic Energy Organization Director Ali Akbar] Salehi hold, the breakout time by the end of January will be around two months" for Iran to have enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.
        Even before Iran's announcement on Sunday that it was abandoning any limits on uranium enrichment, the breakout time could have been down to six months. However, this does not mean that Iran will convert its low-enriched uranium to weaponized uranium and that it will be able to deliver a nuclear bomb via a missile. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Hamas Chief Meets Soleimani's Successor in Tehran - Adam Rasgon
    Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh and other senior Hamas officials met in Tehran on Monday with Esmail Ghaani, the new commander of Iran's Quds Force, responsible for Tehran's military campaigns and expeditions abroad. Iran significantly supports Hamas with weapons and training. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Soleimani's Death Weakens Iran - Michael Doran
    Taking out Qasem Soleimani, the architect of the Islamic Republic's long campaign of violence against the U.S. and its allies, especially Israel, will make Iran much weaker. It will embolden the country's regional rivals - primarily Israel and Saudi Arabia - to pursue their strategic interests more resolutely. It will also instill in the protesters in Iran, Lebanon and, especially, Iraq, the hope that they will one day wrest control of their governments from the talons of the Islamic Republic.
        The U.S. search for a modus vivendi with Tehran never comported with the reality of the Islamic Republic's fundamental character and regional ambitions. A strong and visible response to Soleimani's escalations was long overdue. I know from my own experience, as a former senior official in the White House and the Defense Department, that the U.S. had several past opportunities to kill Soleimani but each time decided against it. This restraint did not make the world safer. It only gave Soleimani more time to build his empire.
        The world to which we wake up today, rid of its most accomplished and deadly terrorist, is a better place. The writer, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, served in the departments of State and Defense, and on the U.S. National Security Council. (New York Times)
  • How Soleimani's Killing Could Make a Stronger Iraq - Michael Knights
    As someone who has worked in Iraq with every U.S. administration since 2003, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relief when Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani and Iraq's most senior militiaman, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were killed, reflecting the friends and colleagues lost there to militia attacks.
        I know that this feeling was shared across the U.S. government policymaking, military and intelligence communities dealing with Iraq. In Iraq, Soleimani picked the prime minister and made sure he did not get in the way while Muhandis ran anything that mattered in the country.
        On Sunday, Iraq's Parliament agreed in principle that the presence of U.S. combat forces should be ended, although all Kurdish MPs and most Sunnis were absent. Yet many Iraqis still want a new era of strategic cooperation with the U.S., including Iraqi moderates, military professionals, technocrats, and even a good proportion of Shiites.
        Everyone remembers what happened after the sudden, complete removal of foreign forces in 2011, and few outside the Iran-backed militias are keen to repeat the episode, which opened the floodgates for a revival of the Islamic State and the near-collapse of Iraq. They also don't want Iran to have unfettered influence in Iraq.
        The writer is a senior fellow of The Washington Institute, specializing in the military and security affairs of Iraq, Iran, and the Persian Gulf states. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
        See also Soleimani's Popularity Is Largely Limited to Iran - Patrick Clawson
    Given the reports about huge crowds turning out in Iranian cities to honor Qasem Soleimani, one might get the impression that he was popular across the region. But in most Middle Eastern countries, most striking is how little reaction has been seen from Shia Muslims outside Iran, such as in Iraq. The writer is director of research at the Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

Qasem Soleimani, Who Connected All the Dots in Iran's Strategy, Targeted in Baghdad - Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Shimon Shapira and Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael Segall (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Iran's propaganda trumpets are presenting Qasem Soleimani as a Shiite version of a saint whose martyrdom deserves religious glorification.
  • Soleimani trained, armed, and provided funds to terror organizations and used Revolutionary Guards Quds Force and Hizbullah instructors, as Iran's national security policy sought to distance the frontlines from Iran's own borders.
  • At the same time, Iran strove to place the jihadi front as close as possible to Israel's borders on the Golan Heights, Lebanon, and Gaza, and close to its rival, Saudi Arabia (by aiding the Houthis in Yemen), and to Shiite areas ruled by Sunnis (such as Bahrain).
  • Soleimani helped save the Assad regime in Syria by establishing a "Shiite foreign legion" of more than 100,000 Afghani, Pakistani, Iraqi, and Lebanese Hizbullah fighters. The price to Hizbullah for Iran's success in Syria was more than 2,000 Hizbullah fighters killed and 8,000 wounded.
  • In 2016, when Mustafa Badreddine, the commander of Hizbullah forces in Syria, objected to the overuse of Hizbullah fighters in Syrian battles under Iranian command, Soleimani personally murdered Badreddine near the Damascus airport, according to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot.
  • Soleimani's instructing militias to invade the American Embassy compound in Baghdad was an arrogant move that did not take into account the American national trauma of the 2012 invasion of the American Embassy in Benghazi (and the murder of four Americans), as well as the 1979 seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran.
  • It is clear to the Iranians that the United States could, if it chooses, threaten key regime assets and even the regime itself. Therefore, the Iranian regime will probably not hurry to respond in a way that could bring the unprecedented destruction of its energy infrastructure and endanger the regime.

    Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira served as military-secretary to the Prime Minister and as chief of staff to the Foreign Minister. Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael Segall is an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran. Both are senior research fellows at the Jerusalem Center.