January 9, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Knew Iranian Missiles Were Coming Hours in Advance - Shane Harris (Washington Post)
    The Iranian missile strike on American facilities in Iraq was a calibrated event intended to cause minimal casualties and give the Iranians a face-saving measure, according to senior U.S. officials.
    A senior administration official said, "We had intelligence reports several hours in advance that the Iranians were seeking to strike the bases."
    The advance warning gave military commanders time to get U.S. troops into safe, fortified bunkers and to don protective gear, while some left the al-Asad air base in western Iraq before the attack.
    Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Iranian missiles hit tents and a helicopter but did not cause major damage.

False Claims Spread Online after Iran Missile Attack on Iraqi Airbases - Jim Waterson (Guardian-UK)
    Iran's missile attacks on two Iraqi airbases have been accompanied by online disinformation and false claims.
    "A fake account impersonating me was pushing fake news with my name on it. It has been suspended from Twitter," said Israeli journalist Jack Khoury, who works for Ha'aretz.
    Iran has a long history of running state-backed disinformation campaigns which attempt to influence opinion overseas.
    See also Fake Twitter Post Claims U.S. Casualties from Iran Missile Strike Evacuated to Israel (Press TV-Iran)
    A Twitter post ascribed to Israeli journalist Jack Khoury on Wednesday claimed:
    "According to reports received by Ha'aretz, a U.S. aircraft carrying American soldiers wounded by Iran's missile strike on Ain Asad Air Base landed in Tel Aviv hours ago. Based on informed sources, 224 soldiers were taken to Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center Hospital."
    The post continued that Ronni Gamzu, CEO of the hospital, had reassured the U.S. Department of Defense that "medical staff will attend the American soldiers as best as they can."

Former Iraqi Parliamentarian Says Most Iraqis Support Soleimani's Killing - Heather Robinson (JNS)
    Mithal al-Alusi, a former Iraqi parliamentarian and a longtime friend of Israel, said in a phone interview on Monday that he supports the U.S. decision to target Qasem Soleimani and that he believes the majority of Iraqis "are very happy" about it.
    Alusi served in Iraq's parliament for more than a decade. In February 2005, terrorists murdered his two adult sons as payback for his visit to Israel to attend a counterterrorism conference.

500 College Students Come to Israel for "Christian Birthright" (Jerusalem Post)
    Passages, a "Christian version of Birthright" for college students, brought 500 participants from the U.S. to Israel last week where they were welcomed on Thursday by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
    Passages plans to bring 10,000 Christian college students to Israel this year, introducing them to the roots of their biblical faith and building bridges between Israel and the U.S.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • White House: Iran's Campaign of Terror Will No Longer Be Tolerated
    President Trump said Wednesday: "No Americans were harmed in last night's attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases....Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned....No American or Iraqi lives were lost because of the precautions taken, the dispersal of forces, and an early warning system that worked very well."
        "For far too long...nations have tolerated Iran's destructive and destabilizing behavior in the Middle East and beyond. Those days are over. Iran has been the leading sponsor of terrorism, and their pursuit of nuclear weapons threatens the civilized world. We will never let that happen."
        "The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime: Your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer."  (White House)
  • Report: Iran-Backed Iraqi Militias in Chaos after Leaders' Killing - Suadad al-Salhy
    Iranian-backed Iraqi armed factions are distracted and unable to effectively strike American forces in Iraq after the loss of two key leaders last week, Shia leaders have told Middle East Eye. Local commanders said they are now almost paralyzed. "What happened was a surprise and a nightmare. To lose both men at the same time was a shock to all of us," one commander said.
        Qasem Soleimani was the field commander for all the armed factions fighting on Tehran's behalf in the Middle East, while Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy head of the Hashd al-Shaabi, was seen as the godfather of the Iraqi fighters and the founder of most of their armed factions. With their loss, the factions have lost their confidence and ability to work together, say multiple sources. "Muhandis kept all the financial, administrative and military powers of the [Hashd al-Shaabi] in his hands to maintain his dominance over everyone around him," a prominent Hashd commander said. As a result, commanders say, it is now extremely difficult to replace him.
        The accuracy of the U.S. attack and its reliance on intelligence has left faction leaders with a strong feeling that the U.S. has penetrated their ranks and will now terminate them, one by one. (Middle East Eye-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Pompeo "Disavows" Carter-Era Anti-Settlement Policy - Lahav Harkov
    The U.S. is "disavowing the deeply flawed" 1978 Hansell memo determining that Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate international law, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday in a video statement to the Kohelet Forum's conference on his settlement policy. "It's important to speak the truth that the facts lead us to, and that is what we have done," Pompeo said. "We are recognizing that settlements do not inherently violate international law."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also below Observations: Dissecting the U.S. Policy Shift on Jewish West Bank Communities - Charles Bybelezer (Media Line)
  • Israel Unveils Laser to Intercept Aerial Threats - Anna Ahronheim
    Israel's Defense Ministry has announced new laser technology to intercept a variety of aerial threats, including rockets and anti-tank guided missiles. "The R&D investments made by the DD [Directorate of Defense] R&D in recent years have placed the State of Israel among the leading countries in the field of high-energy laser systems," said Brig.-Gen. Yaniv Rotem, head of the Ministry's Directorate of Research and Development.
        The ministry has carried out a number of successful interceptions of targets including mortar shells, drones, and anti-tank missiles at a variety of ranges. The system will complement the other layers of Israel's aerial defenses and will be a strategic change in the defense capabilities of the state.
        "During a war, missile interceptors will at one point run out, but with this system, as long as you have electricity you have a never-ending supply," Rotem said. Every interception will only cost a few dollars, as opposed to interceptor missiles which can run into the thousands. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The Targeting of Soleimani and International Criticism - Amb. Alan Baker
    The targeted killing by the U.S. of Iranian terror chief Qasem Soleimani has generated considerable criticism. Strangely, much of the criticism appears to ignore the actual, immediate, and substantive dangers that Soleimani posed both to U.S. forces in the Middle East as well as to all those innocent civilians who have been and continue to be subjected to the reign of terror that Soleimani established and maintained throughout the region.
        The UN's Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Agnes Callamard, tweeted on Jan. 3: "The targeted killings of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis are most likely unlawful and violate international human rights law. Outside the context of active hostilities, the use of drones or other means for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal."
        By suggesting that Soleimani was "outside the context of active hostilities" is to ignore the fact that at any given moment, Soleimani was heavily involved in the planning and execution of massive acts of terror. That was his function within the Iranian military and terror infrastructure. His every move was well within the context of "active hostilities."
        The writer, former legal adviser to Israel's Foreign Ministry and Israeli ambassador to Canada, is director of the international law program at the Jerusalem Center. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Iran's Power Is an Illusion - Lee Smith
    Iran isn't actually all that powerful. Its conventional military forces are old and rusting away. Yes, IRGC speedboats can harass, and target, the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf. But it can't move large land forces into Iraq.
        Qasem Soleimani was commander of the Quds Force, the expeditionary unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. The Quds Force is relatively small, estimated at 3,000-15,000 fighters, a force the size of Hizbullah. For protracted campaigns like the Syria war, the Quds Force relies on what Israeli analyst Shimon Shapira calls the Shiite International - paid militias drawn from Shiite populations in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
        It is only because Americans and other Western powers had declined to call out Iran and have instead appeased it, that the regime appears like a formidable adversary. In making Iran accountable, the U.S. has knocked Iran down to its natural size. The writer is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. (Tablet)
        See also Iran, The Paper Tiger - A. Savyon and Yigal Carmon
    On Jan. 8, Iran carried out a dummy attack designed to save face, launching missiles at two U.S. bases in Iraq and succeeding in killing and wounding no one. Iran claimed that 80 Americans were killed and 200 were wounded. (MEMRI)

The U.S. policy change regarding the legality of Jewish communities in the West Bank was the subject of a conference on Wednesday in Jerusalem organized by the Kohelet Policy Forum.
  • U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman emphasized that the U.S. policy change did not "obfuscate the very real issue that 2 million or more Palestinians reside [therein]," who deserve to "live in dignity, in peace, with independence, pride and opportunity. We [the U.S.] are committed to finding a way to make that happen, but the Pompeo Doctrine says clearly that Israelis have the right, Jews have the right, to live in Judea and Samaria, and it calls for a practical, negotiated resolution of the conflict that improves the lives of both sides."
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the U.S. for "recognizing that we [Israelis] are not foreigners in our own land....We are not occupiers of our homeland."
  • Dore Gold, former Foreign Ministry director-general and current Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs president, said it was "obscene" that the Geneva Convention discussion of the Nazis' forced deportation of Jews to death camps was now being used against Jews who wish to build homes in their ancestral homeland.
  • The settlements started as an Israeli security measure to prevent invasions, and UN Security Council Resolution 242 explicitly authorized Israel to remain in control of portions of the disputed West Bank land, Gold said.
  • Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, head of the International Law Department at the Kohelet Policy Forum, said, "I think peace is much more possible now that the notion that settlements are illegal has been taken off the table because the notion that the Palestinians were entitled to an area equivalent to everything that Jordan and Egypt took in 1949...made negotiations impossible."
  • "By making Palestinian claims detached from supposed legal entitlements, now the sides can negotiate based on reality, based on facts on the ground, based on what can actually be - not based on a unique and illiberal claim of a Jew-free state."