February 4, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

Senior Iranian Commander Killed in Syria (Times of Israel)
    Asghar Pashapour, a senior member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, was killed Sunday in battle with Syrian opposition forces in Aleppo, Iranian and Arab media reported.

Egyptian President Sisi Says No Alternative to Direct Talks between Israel, Palestinians (Al-Ahram-Egypt)
    Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo on Saturday there is no alternative to direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
    El-Sisi stressed the importance of direct negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli sides towards reaching an agreed settlement.

Israel Slams UNRWA Head for Attacking U.S. Peace Plan - Benjamin Kerstein (Algemeiner)
    Christian Saunders, interim commissioner-general of UNRWA, on Sunday called the U.S. peace plan "extremely unsettling."
    In response, Israel's Foreign Ministry tweeted, "Statements criticizing the U.S. peace plan made by UNRWA's acting commissioner-general C.F. Saunders are unacceptable and in blunt contrast to the commitment of UN officials to uphold values of neutrality and impartiality. It's another proof that UNRWA is part of the problem and not of the solution."

Iranian Intelligence Services Track Potential Victims (Times of Israel)
    Iranian intelligence services and other organizations they are backing are monitoring hotels, the travel industry, and phone calls to carry out surveillance on individuals with the aim to possibly cause them physical harm, John Hultquist, head of the intelligence analysis team at the U.S.-based cybersecurity firm FireEye, warned in Tel Aviv on Thursday.
    Hultquist added that his firm tracked ten different "destructive" hacking attacks by Iranian actors against oil and gas firms in the Gulf last year.

Iranian National Charged in $115 Million Sanctions Busting Scheme - Tom Winter (NBC News)
    Bahram Karimi, 53, an Iranian national living in Canada, has been charged with funneling $115 million through the U.S. financial system in a scheme that benefited several Iranian individuals and companies - and violated U.S. sanctions, according to an indictment unsealed Friday in New York.
    See also Iranian National Charged with Bank Fraud and Lying to Federal Agents (U.S. Department of Justice)

Intel Israel's Exports Up 70 Percent in 2019 to $6.6 Billion (Globes)
    Intel Israel's exports rose 70% in 2019 to $6.6 billion from $3.9 billion in 2018.
    Much of the increase was due to the new Kiryat Gat fabrication facility increasing to full production.
    Intel now has 13,700 employees in Israel, and is indirectly responsible for an additional 53,000 jobs.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Sudan Leader Moves toward Recognizing Israel in Historic Shift - Ivan Levingston
    The head of Sudan's sovereign council, military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Entebbe, Uganda, on Monday, and agreed to work toward normalizing relations, in what would be a historic step for the Arab League member that's never officially recognized the Jewish state. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo welcomed the meeting and "thanked General al-Burhan for his leadership in normalizing ties with Israel."  (Bloomberg)
        See also below Observations: Israel Comes Full Circle with Sudan - Dore Gold (Jerusalem Post)
  • Leaked Audio Shows Tehran Knew Missile Hit Ukrainian Passenger Jet - Erin Cunningham
    Iran said Monday that it was halting cooperation with Ukraine in the investigation of a downed airliner after Ukrainian media published an audio recording that showed Iranian authorities knew immediately about the missile strike that brought down the plane.
        A leaked audio file and transcript were published Sunday by Ukrainian television. They included an exchange between an Iranian air traffic controller and a pilot who said he saw a missile hit the Ukrainian plane on Jan. 8. On Monday, Ukrainian and Iranian authorities both confirmed the authenticity of the Persian-language recording. (Washington Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Barrage of Balloons Bearing Bombs from Gaza Lands in Israel
    At least nine balloons suspected of carrying explosives and incendiary devices from Gaza were found Monday in Israeli communities. Trains in the Netivot area were briefly interrupted and Route 6, a major north-south toll highway, was briefly closed near Kiryat Gat. One balloon bomb exploded near a house in the Israeli community of Kfar Aza. (Times of Israel)
        See also Explosive Balloon Lands in West Bank Palestinian Village
    Balloons carrying a grenade landed in the Palestinian village of Majd in the southern West Bank on Sunday, Palestinian sources told Ynet. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israel Thwarts Weapons Smuggling into Gaza from Sinai by Sea - Anna Ahronheim
    The Israeli Navy thwarted an attempt to smuggle weapons into Gaza from northern Sinai by sea three months ago, the IDF said Tuesday. The weapons were intended for Hamas' naval commando unit. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Fatah Rejects U.S. Peace Plan: Palestinian State Must Include All of Israel - Nan Jacques Zilberdik
    Responding to the U.S. peace plan, the Fatah movement made clear in the official Palestinian Authority paper al-Hayat al-Jadida that any future Palestinian state must include the whole of what is currently Israel, as well as the West Bank and Gaza.
        Mahmoud Abbas, as chairman of both the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, may assert that the Palestinians are only interested in a state on the 1967 lines, but the messages from Fatah contradict this. PA and Fatah leaders often use the expression "from the river to the sea" to describe "Palestine" and deny Israel's right to exist. (Palestinian Media Watch)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Misreading Reality, Palestinians Overplayed Their Hand - Oded Granot
    The Palestinians are deep in denial about their part in the creation of the U.S. peace plan. Their grand expectation, built up over the decades, was that there would be an international plan that would force upon Israel a sovereign Palestinian state on all of the West Bank with a mass return of refugees that would shatter the foundations of the Zionist state.
        The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a thorn in the side of most Arab states, which are dealing with extremely difficult issues of their own. Many of the leaders of the Sunni bloc believe that now that Israel has accepted the principle of two states, President Mahmoud Abbas must end his boycott and immediately reenter into discussions with the Americans.
        The U.S. put considerable effort into preparing the ground with the moderate Arab states ahead of the release of the plan. The Saudi Crown Prince tried to convince Abbas that it "would not be a disaster" if the Palestinian capital is in the Abu Dis neighborhood of Jerusalem. The writer headed the Middle East desk and was senior commentator at Israel Television - Channel 1 (2001-2017). (Israel Hayom)
  • When Palestinians Say "No," Westerners Explain It Means "Maybe" - Einat Wilf
    Much of the criticism of the U.S. peace plan emerges from the assumption that there is another plan to be found; a better, more just and fairer one, to which the Palestinians would say yes, and which would then truly bring about peace. Sadly, there is no evidence for such an assumption. Decades of determined words and actions have made it very clear that the Palestinian leadership will say yes only to plans that bring about the end of Israel as the sovereign state of the Jewish people.
        Westerners who genuinely want to believe that there is a peace plan that allows both a Jewish Israel and an Arab Palestine to live side by side in peace have sought to square the Palestinians' decades of consistent rejectionism by engaging in a practice I term "Westplaining." It means that when Palestinians say "no," Westerners explain it means "maybe."
        Westplaining has sought to mask the Palestinian view that if the price of an Arab state of Palestine is that the Jewish people will be allowed to retain their sovereign state and self-rule in another part of the land, then that is too high a price to pay. Faced with such choices in 1937, 1947, 2000 and 2008, the Palestinians have considered it far better to keep fighting. The writer is a former Labor member of the Knesset and the author, together with Adi Schwartz, of the upcoming book The War of Return. (Telegraph-UK)
  • U.S. Peace Plan Allows Israel to Annex Jordan Valley - Boaz Bismuth
    Critics dismiss the U.S. peace plan, saying it is nothing more than a proposal. But they have forgotten that in the Middle East, perception is just as important as reality. In fact, in the Middle East, perception creates reality in many cases. The old formula is that Israel is the only one that makes concessions. Last week the U.S. created a new formula. The plan is front-loaded with benefits to Israel, whereas the Palestinians have to wait four years for a state, which will be contingent on disarming terrorist organizations.
        Israel got a green light from the U.S., a veto-wielding power on the UN Security Council, to start treating the conceptual map in the plan as a signed agreement. Israel may start annexing the areas that are to be part of Israel under the plan. An American source told me: "Israel can annex the Jordan Valley and build in Judea and Samaria as if it was Tel Aviv." The writer is editor-in-chief of Israel Hayom. (Israel Hayom)

Israel Comes Full Circle with Sudan - Dore Gold (Jerusalem Post)
  • On Sep. 1, 1967, just after Israel's victory in the Six-Day War, an Arab League Summit convened in Khartoum, Sudan, and issued what became known as the Khartoum Declaration, which stated: "No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel." Today that declaration has been reversed.
  • People forget that Sudan actually is an Arab state and a member of the Arab League. It decided that the time had arrived for its new president to meet openly with the prime minister of Israel. Precisely when the Palestinian Authority was trying to incite the Arab states against the U.S. peace plan, one of the largest Arab countries was thawing its relationship with Israel.
  • In the past, the Sudanese had brought together many of the main Islamist militant organizations and supplied them with training camps, including the Muslim Brotherhood, the Algerian GIA, Hizbullah, and even the PLO. It was one of the earliest places that hosted the Saudi jihadist Osama bin Laden.
  • Tehran gained access to Port Sudan on the Red Sea for its naval forces. Frequently they carried shipments of Iranian weapons that were transported northward into Egypt, destined for Sinai and Gaza. This was one of the key supply routes for Hamas as it built up its capacity to wage war against Israel.
  • Then Sudan changed its pro-Iranian orientation and aligned its foreign policy with Saudi Arabia, severing Hamas' Sudanese supply line.
  • Sudan was part of the joint front against Israel in many significant ways. With Sudan exploring new ties with Israel, that front has been split. And the forces that waged war against the West over the last two decades have lost one of their most important bases of operations.

    The writer is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and previously served as director general of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he undertook multiple initiatives in Africa on behalf of the prime minister.