January 15, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

Report: Syrian Official Gave U.S. Intelligence on Soleimani's Location - Yasser Okbi (Maariv-Jerusalem Post)
    A senior Western intelligence source told the UK's Independent Arabic that a senior Syrian official gave American intelligence agents information on Qasem Soleimani's movements in Syria, provided that his killing would not be carried out on Syrian soil.
    Due to the information given, the Americans were able to follow Soleimani's flight path after they were confident he was on board.
    At the same time, the source revealed that the Americans had hacked the phone of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the pro-Iranian Shiite militia al-Hashad al-Sha'abi, who was also eliminated in the Jan. 3 attack.
    The U.S. had tapped his conversations with Soleimani and others. In these conversations, U.S. intelligence learned that Soleimani and Muhandis were preparing for major operations against U.S., Israeli and Western targets in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.
    See also IDF Spokesperson: Israel "Had No Role in Soleimani Killing"  (France 24)
    "The IDF had no role" in the killing of Iran's Qasem Soleimani.  "This was an American-executed operation," IDF international spokesperson Lt.-Col. Jonathan Conricus told France 24 on Tuesday.

Tehran Threatens Athens over Use of U.S. Military Bases Against Iran (Ekathimerini-Greece)
    The Iranian embassy in Athens published a warning on Jan. 10 that if Greece allows the use of U.S. military bases in the country in an attack against Iran, it will be considered a "hostile act" to which it will respond "in a clear and decisive manner."

Iran Recession Deepens, Reserves Fall by $40 Billion in Two Years - Davide Barbuscia (Reuters)
    Iran's economy is set to fall deeper into recession this fiscal year and foreign reserves could drop to $73 billion by March, a loss of almost $40 billion in two years, the Institute of International Finance said.
    The IIF said that if the U.S. maintained sanctions, "official reserves would decline to about $20 billion by March 2023."

UK Envoy Leaves Iran (IRNA-Iran)
    The UK Ambassador to Tehran, Rob Macaire, has left the country.
    He was arrested by the police on Saturday while attending an illegal gathering in front of Amir-Kabir University in Tehran following the crash of a Ukraine Airlines plane, but was released shortly afterward.
    See also Effigy of UK Ambassador Burned in Tehran - Zoe Tidman (Independent-UK)

Israeli Trauma Experiences Are Helping Heal the World - Dr. Neil Farber (Psychology Today)
    The Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC) was created in 2002 (when Israel experienced an unprecedented number of terrorist attacks) to combat trauma and enhance resilience.
    The ITC has expanded beyond Israel to aid the international community.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Ukraine Airliner Was Hit by a Second Missile over Iran, Video Shows - Sune Engel Rasmussen
    Surveillance video from Iran circulating on social media Tuesday appears to show two missiles hitting the Ukrainian passenger jet downed over Tehran, fired approximately 30 seconds apart. A U.S. official identified the weapon used as a Russian-made SA-15 surface-to-air missile system. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Iranian Intelligence Agents Harass Families of Air Crash Victims
    News sources have reported that the Iranian families of the victims of the Ukrainian airliner crash have been threatened and intimidated by Iranian security agencies. They have been told that if they want the remains of their loved ones, they must refrain from giving interviews to Persian-language media outside of Iran.
        Many families say that their every move is under surveillance and security forces even interfere in their private mourning ceremonies and make threatening calls. One family member said she was called several times and told to ask Persian-language media outside Iran to remove photographs of her loved ones from their sites. (IranWire)
  • Erdogan's Chief Advisor Outlines Plan for United Islamic Superpower with Istanbul as Capital
    Turkish President Erdogan's chief advisor, Gen. (ret.) Adnan Tanriverdi, has been articulating a vision of a unified Islamic superpower. The Justice Defenders Strategic Studies Center (ASSAM), which he chairs, published a draft constitution for a planned Shari'a-based confederation of 61 Islamic countries. The constitution declares that Istanbul is to be the capital of the confederation and that the Arabic language would be taught in all schools.
        Tanriverdi recently posted a statement reading: "The welfare of Turkish and Muslim nations and the establishment of peace and justice in the world hinges upon appearance of the Islamic countries as a superpower on the global political scene." He has also said "the Islamic world should prepare an army for Palestine from outside Palestine," outlining the logistics of a hypothetical joint attack on Israel by 57 Islamic countries. (MEMRI)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Syria Says Israel Struck T-4 Airbase near Homs
    Syria's SANA news agency accused Israel of carrying out an airstrike on Tuesday night on the T-4 military air base near Homs, thought to be used by Iranian forces and allied Shiite militias. (Times of Israel)
        See also Airstrikes Cause Extensive Damage at T-4 Military Airbase in Syria
    The attack on the T-4 military airbase near Homs on Tuesday killed at least three members of Iranian-backed militias or Iranians. There are many wounded. The attack destroyed an ammunition depot of Iranian militias. (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights-UK)
  • Gas Begins Flowing from Israel to Egypt
    Israel's Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz and Egypt's Minister of Petroleum Tarek El-Molla announced Wednesday that gas has begun flowing from Israel's Leviathan field to Egypt. Israel will now be able to export some of its natural gas to Europe via Egypt's liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities. (Globes)
  • Turkey Included in IDF's Annual Threat Assessment - Judah Ari Gross
    The IDF added Turkey to its list of threats in an annual assessment for the coming year for the first time, in light of the country's growing aggressiveness in the region, the Times of Israel learned Tuesday. Turkish President Erdogan routinely speaks out against Israel and allows Palestinian terror groups to operate in his country.
        The assessment indicated that policies pursued by Erdogan, whose Islamist party is allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, were cause for concern. Yet those issues were not inherent to Turkey's outlook and would not necessarily outlive Erdogan. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Iran Faces the U.S. Alone - Prof. Hillel Frisch
    The numerous summits between Russian President Putin, Iranian President Rouhani, and Turkish President Erdogan feature plenty of smiles and photos of handshakes. But the actions of these three countries in wars on the ground tell a different story.
        In Syria, Turkey is basically waging a proxy war against Syria and Russia. Russian sorties lead the campaign against the last Sunni rebel stronghold in Idlib, most of whom are armed and financed by the Turks. There is a similar Turkish-Russian proxy war in Libya. Russia is backing Gen. Haftar's assault on the government in Tripoli which, according to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
        Russia has effectively given a green light to Israel to destroy Iran's military and industrial build-up in Syria. Moscow's tolerance for these Israeli strikes does not endear it to Tehran. Russia wants to see a strong Syrian state that can reliably host a Russian military and naval base on the Mediterranean. Iran wants to turn the Syrian state into a "Lebanon" in which pro-Iranian Shiite militias are strong and the state is weak.
        As for Turkish-Iranian relations, in the pro-Iranian media outlets al-Manar and al-Mayadin, Turkey is vilified - in terms similar to those used about Israel - for its support for Sunni fundamentalists who kill Hizbullah fighters on Syrian territory. For Iran, this means it will be on its own to face the consequences if it decides to act against the U.S. 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. (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
  • Iran's Crisis of Competence - Christian Oliver
    Over the weekend, thousands of Iranians poured back onto the streets to protest about their regime's initial, untruthful attempts to shirk responsibility for shooting down an airliner with 176 people on board. This is dangerous territory for Iran's rulers. Accusations that the leader is mismanaging the country plays to a fury that unites the reformist camp with many more conservative Iranians. There's intense frustration that the Islamic Republic never delivered.
        The demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday were significant because they showed people were still willing to vent their rage against their government despite security forces brutally crushing protests in November, killing hundreds and arresting thousands.
        Iranian anger over mismanagement runs far deeper than the latest lies over the plane. Iranians are angry that their country is an economically weakened pariah. One of the deepest grievances is that competent technocrats have been purged and replaced with people with little experience but the right connections, often to the Revolutionary Guard. Despite high levels of education, abundant crude oil, rich mineral reserves and 82 million people, Iran's economy is smaller than Belgium's.
        The shooting down of the plane underscores the fact that the nation's brightest and best look to emigrate. The list of fatalities was a harrowing litany of not only children and newly married couples, but doctors, engineers and scientists. (Politico)

Israel Is Not Iran's Primary Concern - Charles Bybelezer (Medialine)
  • Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Gilad, former director of policy and political-military affairs at the Israeli Defense Ministry, said, "The Iranians need to be concerned about the United States and I think they are. You cannot compare Iran's military might to that of America and [Iran] knows this. Also, nobody expected [Trump] to order the targeted killing of Soleimani and he could end up carrying out 'shock and awe' attacks against Iran if U.S. soldiers or interests are harmed moving forward."
  • Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland, former head of Israel's National Security Council, said he does not envision Iran initiating "comprehensive attacks" or a "full-scale war" against Israel until achieving at least one of the following goals: "The first is to develop nuclear weapons. The second condition would be for Iran to successfully build in Syria an organization similar in military capabilities to Hizbullah, and the third is to develop a critical mass of precision missiles" that would pose a major threat to the Israeli home front.
  • Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence and now Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, highlighted the multitude of problems Iran is facing.
  • "The regime is under economic sanctions that deprive it of its main oil income and that will continue to damage other sectors of the Iranian economy in the coming months. Tehran also has issues in its satellite states, such as Iraq and, to a lesser degree, Lebanon, and it has a shortage of funds to address this."
  • Moreover, Iran's weak response to losing Soleimani "has led to a growing threat to the stability of the regime, and the worst part for Iran is that the only way to solve its problems is to accede to the American demand to come back to the table and renegotiate the nuclear deal."