February 13, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Troops Exchange Fire with Pro-Assad Gunmen in Syria - Raf Sanchez (Telegraph-UK)
    U.S. troops exchanged fire with pro-Assad gunmen in northeast Syria on Wednesday after an American military patrol was stopped by a crowd of pro-Assad militiamen and civilians near the town of Qamishli.
    Video footage showed several armed men shooting rifles at U.S. vehicles while the American troops fired bursts of automatic gunfire.
    "The patrol came under small arms fire from unknown individuals. In self-defense, Coalition troops returned fire," said Col. Myles Caggins III, a U.S. military spokesman.

Video: Israeli Laser Defense System Successfully Intercepts Multiple Drones (Times of Israel)
    Israeli aerospace company Rafael said Wednesday that its Drone Dome C-UAS defense system successfully intercepted multiple targets and shot them down with a laser beam.
    "The system achieved 100% success in all test scenarios," Rafael said.
    In addition to melting drones with its laser, Drone Dome has sophisticated electronic systems that can interfere with the signals of a hostile drone and even take control of the device.

Iran Disqualifies Thousands from Running for Parliament - Nasser Karimi (AP)
    Iran's Guardian Council that vets candidates for office has barred thousands of people from running in next month's parliamentary elections, including 90 current lawmakers.
    Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei said of the more than 14,000 people registered to run in December, just 5,000 qualified.
    The Council rules out individuals if it believes their views or behavior are incompatible with the theocratic system.
    The reformist newspaper Etemad said Tuesday that most of those rejected were reformist and moderate candidates. As a result, it said, the elections will essentially be an "internal vote" among hard-liners.

Jews Are Still "Treacherous," according to Saudi Textbooks (JNS-Israel Hayom)
    In the Saudi curriculum, Jews are blamed as assassins, described as monkeys, and will be fought and killed on the day of resurrection, according to a new report by IMPACT-se, a research institute that analyzes schoolbooks and curricula in accordance with UNESCO-defined standards on peace and tolerance.
    Christians and Jews are still called "infidels" in textbooks, which also teach that Jews and Israelis are eternally treacherous and determined to harm Muslim holy places.
    Israel is seen as conspiring and striving to control the Middle East.
    "Improvements have appeared in recent years, and while they are welcomed, there remains too large an amount of unacceptable and intolerant material" in Saudi textbooks, said IMPACT-se CEO Marcus Sheff.
    "Anti-Jewish hatred is still widespread.... One is left wondering why, if considerable change can be made to gender issues, a similar effort could not be made to remove anti-Jewish hate."

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • UN Rights Office Issues List of Companies It Says Have Ties to Jewish Communities in West Bank - Stephanie Nebehay
    The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, issued a report on Wednesday on companies it said have business ties to Jewish communities in the West Bank. It identified 112 business entities - 94 in Israel and 18 from six other countries including the U.S., Britain and France. Bachelet's spokesman, Rupert Colville, said it was "not a blacklist, nor does it qualify any companies' activities as illegal."  (Reuters)
        See also Database of Business Enterprises Involved with Israeli Settlements
    Non-Israeli firms on the UN list include Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia Group, TripAdvisor, General Mills, and Motorola Solutions. (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights)
        See also Israel Condemns UN Rights Council "Blacklist"
    Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Wednesday: "The UNHRC Commissioner's announcement regarding the publication of a "blacklist" of companies represents the ultimate surrender to pressure exerted by countries and organizations interested in harming Israel. This announcement was made despite knowing that the majority of countries around the world declined to join this political pressure campaign."
        "The Commissioner's decision to continue to pursue an anti-Israel stance at the UN Human Rights Council is a stain on the office of the UN Commissioner and on human rights itself....Since its establishment, the Council has not taken a single meaningful step towards the preservation of human rights, but has rather served to protect some of the most discriminatory regimes in the world."  (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • Senators Condemn UN "Blacklisting" of U.S. Companies Operating in Israeli West Bank Communities - Laura Kelly
    Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the panel's ranking member, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), on Wednesday slammed a report by a UN human rights body for blacklisting U.S. companies that operate in the Israeli-controlled parts of the West Bank.
        "This incredibly biased report...is in direct support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement against our close ally Israel," Risch said. "This list and its public release were driven by politically motivated actors who seek to isolate Israel and undermine its right to exist," Menendez said. (The Hill)
        See also Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Decries UN Blacklist (Twitter)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Palestinians Weigh Options after Failure at UN Security Council - Daniel Siryoti
    After the failure of the Palestinian initiative to condemn the U.S. peace plan at the UN Security Council, a member of the Palestinian delegation who went to the UN with Abbas said, "There is an atmosphere of bitter disappointment....We were caught unprepared, and we didn't properly assess the American pressure on the members of the Security Council....We are still in shock from the cold shoulder we received from Arab states, chief among them the Gulf emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia."
        One official said, "The time has come to break free of the conception shackling Abbas and his old guard, whereby the international community and Arab countries will care for the Palestinians' interests....The time has come to change the thought process and reconsider the boycott of the Trump administration and the peace plan it formulated."  (Israel Hayom)
  • Explosive Balloons Continue to Fly from Gaza into Israel - Tzvi Joffre
    Explosive balloons continued to fly into Israel from Gaza on Tuesday and Wednesday, despite claims that Egypt had convinced Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to halt the launches. Hen Greenberg, spokesperson for the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council north of Gaza, said Wednesday that explosions were heard near the towns of Nir Yisrael, Beer Ganim, Nitzanim and Nitzan from explosive balloons launched over the area. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Israel Turned Down Opportunity to Assassinate Khomeini
    Former Mossad station chief in Iran Eliezer Tsafrir remembers better times, when Israelis were still welcomed in Iran and when Tehran "didn't threaten to wipe Israel off the map." Iran was the second Muslim-majority country after Turkey to recognize the new Jewish state in 1948 and it sold oil to Israel. "For Israel, Iran was the second most important ally in the world. In the last year of the shah, we had some 1,300 Israelis working in Iran. These were businessmen, agronomists, engineers," said Tsafrir.
        "We knew that the days of the shah were numbered but we didn't know when it would all end," he recalled. During one of the protests that erupted in November 1978, thousands of demonstrators stormed the offices of El Al, Israel's national carrier, in Tehran. "They set it on fire so people had to escape the offices through the roof, jumping from one to another, not to fall in the hands of the angry mob." In response, Israel sent three planes aimed at getting all its citizens out.
        "In December, I was approached by a top official who conveyed to me a personal request from the shah. He wanted to know if the Mossad would be willing to assassinate Ayatollah Khomeini in Paris. I immediately informed Jerusalem of the request but received a reluctant 'no.' 'Israel is not the policeman of the world, I was told.'"
        "Had we eliminated him back then, the entire world would have been against us and the international community would have never understood the magnitude of the disaster we saved them from. They do understand it now."  (Sputnik-Russia)
  • Palestinians Protest U.S. Peace Plan at UN, But World Has Moved On - Howard LaFranchi
    PA President Mahmoud Abbas sought a UN Security Council resolution demonstrating global rejection of the U.S. peace plan, but things did not go as he had hoped. Once it became clear that the resolution was garnering only mixed support, it was delayed indefinitely.
        "It's sad for the Palestinians, but they just aren't the do-or-die issue for countries that they once were," says Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of U.S. foreign policy at New York University's Center for Global Affairs. "Clearly this issue has become kind of a nuisance for many countries, particularly the Gulf states that once stood solidly behind them. It's no longer central to their diplomacy or to their pursuit of national interests." Other priorities, from tending to broad strategic relationships (with the U.S. and even Israel) to confronting an expansive Iran, have supplanted the Palestinian issue, he says.
        James Phillips, senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, says many countries in the region look at the Syrian civil war, with its millions of refugees; the war in Yemen; upheaval in Libya; the destabilizing presence of the Islamic State - and the result has been a weakening fervor for the Palestinian cause. "The impact of all these other conflicts is that the Palestinians' plight is not perceived to be as bad as it used to be," he says. (Christian Science Monitor)

Palestinians Must Change Their Political Strategy - Tony Blair (Project Syndicate)
  • I can think of a thousand things Israel should do to make a Palestinian state more likely. But the truth is that such a state will come into being only if there is a fundamental shift in Palestinian strategy.
  • The Palestinians don't need a strategy for sympathy. They need a strategy for statehood, and their current path will not lead them to it. In the real world, all the resolutions, gestures of support, and rhetorical expressions of solidarity showered upon the Palestinians buy next to nothing.
  • To attain a political objective requires starting with a cold-blooded analysis of the reality of your situation. To achieve two states living side by side in peace, in circumstances where one state already exists and is much more powerful than the proposed state, means that the first must feel safe with the creation of the second.
  • It is inconceivable that Gaza, under the control of Hamas, and the West Bank, controlled by Fatah, could yield a credible agreement for a state. It will therefore be difficult for any Israeli prime minister to accept one, and for any U.S. president to compel its establishment. Palestinian political unity on a basis that is compatible with peaceful co-existence with Israel is a pre-condition for success.
  • The Arabs care about the Palestinians, and they care passionately about Jerusalem. But they are exhausted from being caught between the challenges of regional stabilization and modernization, which necessitate a close alliance with America and a burgeoning relationship with Israel, and a cause which they are expected to support but are excluded from managing.
  • Instead of insisting that Arabs have nothing to do with Israel until the Palestinians have negotiated peace, the smart approach would be to encourage good Israeli-Arab relations. The goal should be a joint Arab-Israeli framework for the region, in which resolution of the Palestinian question is a part. This would give Israel confidence that peace with the Palestinians is part of genuine regional acceptance - not a reward for extracted concessions, but a natural consequence of a new spirit of friendship.

    The writer, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007, is Chairman of the Institute for Global Change.