March 12, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

18 Iraqi Militiamen Killed in Airstrikes near Syrian-Iraqi Border (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights-UK)
    18 members of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces were killed in the al-Bukamal area of Syria on Thursday in airstrikes carried out by three unidentified aircraft targeting the Al-Imam Ali base and the al-Hassian area near the border with Iraq.
    The targets were used by pro-Iranian militias as military headquarters.

Iran Traces Origins of Coronavirus Epidemic to Chinese-Backed Infrastructure Projects - Benoit Faucon (Wall Street Journal)
    Iranian officials trace the origins of the country's coronavirus epidemic to a number of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects in the city of Qom built by scores of workers and technicians from China.
    In the face of American sanctions, "China has been the trading partner of last resort but, in this case, it has turned into a very toxic bomb," said Sanam Vakil, deputy Middle East director at Chatham House, a think tank in London.
    China Railway Engineering Corp. is building a $2.7 billion high-speed rail line through Qom. Chinese technicians have been helping refurbish a nuclear-power plant nearby. There are also Chinese religious students studying at Qom's seminaries.

U.S. Sees Drones as Greatest New Threat since IEDs - Tony Capaccio (Bloomberg-MSN)
    The "growing threat posed by unmanned aerial systems, coupled with our lack of dependable, networked capabilities to counter them, is the most concerning tactical development" in the Middle East since IEDs, Gen. Frank McKenzie, who heads the U.S. Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
    Since May 2019, Iranian-supported groups have "conducted scores of UAS reconnaissance flights near U.S. and Iraqi Security Force bases" and used drones in the September attack against Saudi oil facilities, McKenzie said.

Six-Year Prison Sentence for Iran Activist Who Called on Khamenei to Resign (Radio Farda)
    Reza Mehregan, a civil rights activist who is one of the 14 signatories to a letter published last June asking Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to step down, was sentenced by an appeals court to six years in jail, human rights groups reported March 10.

Israel to Provide Missile Defense System to U.S. Air Force for F-16s - Luke Tress (Times of Israel)
    Israeli defense firm Elbit said Monday that its U.S. subsidiary, Elbit America, had won a U.S. Air Force contract worth up to $471 million to supply a missile warning system to F-16 fighter jets belonging to the U.S. Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command.
    The work will be carried out in Fort Worth, Texas, over a 10-year period.

17 Bedouin Women Graduate Magen David Adom's EMT Course - Celia Jean (Jerusalem Post)
    17 Bedouin women from the Negev graduated from Magen David Adom's six-month Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course on Sunday.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • 2 U.S. Soldiers, 1 Brit Dead after Rocket Attack on Iraqi Base - Vandana Rambaran
    Two Americans and one Brit were killed and 12 coalition soldiers were wounded as 18 Katyusha rockets hit Iraq's Camp Taji base housing U.S. troops Wednesday, the U.S. military said. The attack marks the largest on a U.S. base in Iraq since Iran fired missiles at bases housing U.S. troops in January. (Fox News)
        See also Is Iran behind Rocket Attack on U.S. Forces in Iraq? - Seth J. Frantzman
    The attack on the Taji base in Iraq Wednesday has all the fingerprints of an Iranian-backed militia attack. (Jerusalem Post)
  • New U.S. State Department Report Blasts Iran for Anti-Semitism
    The U.S. State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on Wednesday. The Iran section includes a discussion of anti-Semitism in Iran.
        "Members of the Iranian Jewish community are reportedly subject to government restrictions and discrimination. Government officials continued to question the history of the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism remained a pervasive problem. In May, President Rouhani implied Jewish control over various Western interests, saying that speeches by foreign officials criticizing Iran were 'written by Zionists word for word.' Cartoons in state-run media outlets repeatedly depicted foreign officials as puppets of Jewish control."  (U.S. State Department)
  • Lebanon Defaults on Debt, Leaving Creditors Facing Big Losses - Tommy Stubbington
    Investors in Lebanon's dollar bonds are nursing big losses after the government failed to repay a $1.2 billion bond due on Monday, triggering the country's first ever sovereign default. (Financial Times-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel's Coronavirus Cases Reach 100
    The total number of coronavirus cases in Israel reached 100, health officials confirmed on Thursday. At least 91 people have been hospitalized. Two are in serious condition, while three more are considered moderate. (Ynet News)
  • Israel Sends Coronavirus Aid to Gaza - Daniel Siryoti
    A senior official in the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza has confirmed that Israel has sent coronavirus testing kits to Gaza via third-party mediators, along with medical equipment, in response to an appeal by Gazan medical personnel. The official said that "handling the coronavirus outbreak takes precedence over any political consideration, and without help from Israel, Gaza would be in a very difficult situation in the case of an outbreak." No cases of coronavirus have yet been reported in Gaza. (Israel Hayom)
        See also Israel Delivers Disinfectant to West Bank amid Coronavirus Outbreak - Celia Jean
    In wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Israel coordinated the entry of 20 tons of disinfectant into the West Bank on Tuesday. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Mideast Fight Against Coronavirus Elicits Rare Unity - Joshua Mitnick
    The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how Israel and the Palestinian areas in the West Bank are in fact one unit in the battle to preserve public health. COVID-19 tests from Palestinians were sent to laboratories at Israel's Sheba Hospital for analysis because such lab facilities don't exist in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority is enforcing its own closure on Bethlehem to prevent the virus from spreading to other cities in the West Bank. (Christian Science Monitor)
  • U.S. to Stop Calling Arab Residents of Jerusalem "Palestinians" - Ariel Kahana
    In a new human rights report released by the State Department on Wednesday, the U.S. refers to the Arab residents of Israel's capital as "non-Israeli residents who live in Jerusalem." U.S. officials told Israel Hayom that the new definition reflects reality: the Arab residents are not Israeli citizens, but there is no Palestinian state, so they cannot be considered Palestinian citizens. A senior U.S. official said "the goal of this report is to maximize accuracy....Peace can only be built on a foundation of truth, anything else will crumble and fail."
        One official said the administration was surprised by the strong disavowal by Israeli Arabs of the U.S. peace plan and its call for land swaps that would have some Israeli Arabs live in a new Palestinian state. For dozens of years, Arabs in Israel have called themselves Palestinians and, therefore, the U.S. can't understand why they are so vehemently against becoming citizens of a Palestinian state. (Israel Hayom)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Palestinian Islamists Disrupt Attempts at Truce in Gaza - Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Eitan Dangot
    Hamas has determined that a truce can boost its regional standing in the Middle East and enable it to find support beyond its traditional, more radical allies. At the same time, a ceasefire enables Hamas to build up its resources. Driven by these objectives, Hamas has pursued efforts to reach understandings with Israel. However, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which maintains strong relations with Tehran, has torpedoed these attempts.
        Hamas must decide whether to enforce its rule in Gaza or co-opt the PIJ as a partner. Israel also needs to decide whether it will allow the PIJ to continue to strengthen its forces. Alternatively, Israel could launch a targeted campaign against the PIJ, striking its leaders, infrastructure and rocket developers, and blocking its funding sources.
        Activating a comprehensive campaign against the PIJ would allow Israel to realize a truce far more definitively than would continuing the status quo. The writer served as military secretary to three Israeli defense ministers and as Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. (The Hill)
        See also Palestinian Islamic Jihad Delegation Arrives in Moscow - Yaser Albanna
    A delegation from Palestinian Islamic Jihad, led by the group's chief, Ziyad al-Nakhalah, arrived in Moscow on Wednesday to meet Russian officials in response to an official invitation by the Russian Foreign Ministry. (Anadolu-Turkey)
        See also Israel Protests Russian Foreign Minister's Meeting with Islamic Jihad Leader - Lahav Harkov (Jerusalem Post)
  • The Crisis of Public Confidence in the Iranian Regime - Raz Zimmt
    The attempts by Iranian authorities to hide information from the public regarding the downing of the Ukrainian airplane by the Revolutionary Guards in January and the outbreak of the coronavirus in February have caused further significant damage to Iranian public confidence in Islamic Republic institutions. However, this does not mean that the current political order is under any significant immediate threat.
        A large part of the public, including those opposed to the regime, are still concerned about chaos and loss of control, particularly in view of the experience of many Arab countries in the past decade. To many Iranians, the alternative to the current regime may be even worse, for instance, a Revolutionary Guard takeover of power centers if the current political system collapses.
        Moreover, the Iranian regime still holds significant means of repression, and does not hesitate to resort to brutality to repress demonstrations that challenge its stability. The writer is a research fellow at INSS specializing in Iran. (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)

  • As my colleagues and I delved into the history of the Oslo peace process and the unsuccessful efforts of multiple U.S. administrations to bring Israel and the Palestinians to a deal, one issue stood out: While successive Israeli governments (left and right) had acknowledged the Palestinians' ultimate goal - some form of a Palestinian state or self-determination - the Palestinian leadership continues to refuse to acknowledge Israel's ultimate goal.
  • In 2014, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas insisted that millions of descendants of the original Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war had a personal "right of return" to all of Israel, including Tel Aviv and Haifa. The Trump plan stops the nonsense and says no to using generations of Palestinians as pawns to keep the 1948 war alive.
  • Several U.S. administrations and Israeli prime ministers had presented the Palestinian leadership with opportunities to end the conflict. Each time, the Palestinian leadership walked away, at times not even advancing a counteroffer. They weren't willing to compromise.
  • So long as Palestinian leaders were feeding their people a steady diet of incitement against Israel, plying them with the myth that they would achieve their claimed right of return, and glorifying murderers of Israeli civilians as "martyrs," there could never be a true end of conflict with Israelis.
  • Our approach, therefore, was to formulate a plan to deal with the situation as it was, in a realistic and implementable manner, and not through a prism that filtered out the harsh realities of the past 25 years of unsuccessful peacemaking. The Palestinian leadership, of course, rejected this plan before they even saw it.
  • After observing Ramallah's behavior over time, the Trump administration determined that we were not going to pander to the illusion that the Palestinian leadership was now prepared to negotiate in good faith. And we were not going to immunize them from the consequences of their actions.

    The writer is a former assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations.