May 15, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

Video: A Celebration of Israel's 72nd Independence Day (Embassy of Israel-Washington)
    The Embassy of Israel in Washington hosted a virtual Israel Independence Day celebration on Thursday.

Forces in Eastern Syria Move to Block Tehran-Beirut Corridor (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
    Israel, the International Coalition, and Russia are seeking to block the Tehran-Beirut highway used by Iran to transport arms and ammunition to its allies, particularly Hizbullah, and to remove the Iranians from the Syrian desert, sources with knowledge of the matter told the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
    A delegation from the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) met with commanders of the Maghawir al-Thawra Forces and al-Nukhba Forces operating in the Al-Tanaf area in the Syrian desert to discuss coordinating advances of these forces into the desert, backed by the International Coalition, to block the highway.
    At the same time, the Iranians have formed a strong line of defense along the desert, from Boukamal near the Iraqi-Syrian border to south of Deir Ezzor city, and large military reinforcements have been delivered to the Iranian-backed militias in Syria.

In Syria, Russia Is Turning Against Iran and Assad - Jeremy Hodge (Daily Beast)
    Assad, members of his family, and his Alawite clansmen enjoy close bonds to the regime in Tehran and to Iranian-backed militias in Syria.
    As long as Assad's relatives continue to function as a mafia and give free rein to Iranian troops using Syria as a base of operations to threaten Israel and plan attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq, those countries likely to foot the bill for Syrian reconstruction - the nations of Europe and the Gulf - are unlikely to come up with the cash.
    James Jeffrey, the U.S. special envoy for the Coalition to Defeat ISIS, said Thursday, "You find Assad has nothing but thugs around him, and they don't sell well either in the Arab world or in Europe. We have heard repeatedly from Russians we take as credible that they understand how bad Assad is."
    Just one week ago, Russian state media unleashed a slew of reports and editorials targeting Assad, portraying him as hopelessly corrupt and unfit to govern, and suggesting the time had come to replace him with a new leader.
    See also Russia Wants a Diplomatic Victory in Syria. Iran and Assad Are in Its Way - Zvi Bar'el (Ha'aretz)
    Russia aims to push Iran out of the rebuilding project in Syria. To hasten Iran's departure, Russia permits Israeli attacks on Iranian bases.
    Alexander Shumilin, head of the Europe-Middle East Institute in Moscow, which is funded by the Russian administration, wrote: "The Kremlin must rid itself of the Syrian headache. The problem is with one person - Assad - and his entourage."

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Iranian Support Revives Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - Jonathan Spyer (Jerusalem Post)
    The terrorist network maintained by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in the West Bank has shown increased capacities and activity in recent months.
    Growing financial and logistical support from Tehran to the PFLP has been reported since 2013.
    The specific reason for Iran's renewed support for the PFLP relates to the Syrian civil war. Hamas strongly supported the Syrian rebellion, leading to a rupture in Tehran's support to it which has not been entirely repaired.
    This led Tehran to look further afield in order to build armed networks in the West Bank. The PFLP strongly supported Assad throughout the war.
    The PFLP is a small organization with a somewhat eccentric secular and leftist ideology possessing little appeal among the broad masses of the conservative, religious Palestinian population.
    It possesses, nevertheless, a tight organizational structure, a cadre of fiercely loyal operatives, and a willingness to engage in violence.
    The writer is director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.

Israel Develops Coronavirus Test Producing Results in One Minute - Celia Jean (Jerusalem Post)
    A new method of testing for the coronavirus that produces results in a minute and has a success rate of 90% has been developed by Ben-Gurion University Prof. Gabby Sarusi, deputy head for research at the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
    Ongoing trials aim to determine if the test can identify the specific stage of the infection.
    The testing method uses particles from a breath test or from throat and nose swabs and analyzes the samples using a chip with specially designed sensors.

Ultrasound Test Reveals Coronavirus in Asymptomatic Patients (Times of Israel)
    Israel's Maccabi HMO has started using a special ultrasound test that scans lungs and detects effects typically caused by Covid-19, Channel 12 reported.
    The small, portable ultrasound kit called "Focus" has helped discover several asymptomatic patients, and several who had tested negative and were re-diagnosed with Covid-19.
    "This capability allows us to locate the disease, especially in outbreak areas, even in people who seem to be completely healthy," said Dr. Sharon Hermoni-Alon, head of family medicine at Maccabi.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. to Israel: No More Chinese Deals - Arie Egozi
    One of the main reasons U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came to Israel was to deliver a very strict message - stop all Chinese investment in Israel, either in high tech companies or infrastructure, Israeli officials said. The message relayed was that Israel must stop any action that strengthens the Chinese Communist Party, even if that means canceling projects already planned. Israeli sources said the demand also stems from the suspicion in Washington that China is responsible for the effects of the coronavirus.
        Israel's National Authority for Data Protection barred China from building communications infrastructures of any kind in the country, and Israeli communications companies are not using Chinese components in their communications equipment. Israeli sources said the new U.S. demands will create problems in some major infrastructure projects. (Breaking Defense)
        See also A Response to Secretary of State Pompeo on China - Wang Yongjun
    At the end of 2018, China's investment in Israel accounted for 0.4% of China's investment across the world and 3% of foreign investment in Israel. Over the past 5 years, only 4% of the investment in Israeli hi-tech industries are from China. The writer is the spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy to Israel. (Jerusalem Post)
  • European Parliament Condemns Palestinian Failure to Stop Hate in School Textbooks - Yossi Lempkowicz
    The European Parliament passed three resolutions which condemn the Palestinian Authority (PA) for continuing to teach hate and violence in its school textbooks and which oppose EU aid to the PA being used for this purpose. The resolutions were passed by over a 60% majority of the parliament. The legislation calls on the European Commission to ensure that salaries of teachers and education sector civil servants financed by the EU are used to teach curricula that reflect UNESCO standards of peace, tolerance, coexistence and non-violence.
        German MEP Niclas Herbst of the European People's Party stressed that "EU funds should be spent on peace and mutual understanding. Paying teachers to teach anti-Semitism and incitement to violence through Palestinian schoolbooks should never be subsidized by EU money. The result of the votes today is a strong signal in this regard."  (European Jewish Press)
  • Nazi Swastikas at U.S. Military Cemeteries Prompt Outrage - Leo Shane III
    Officials from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation have called for the removal of gravestones bearing Nazi swastikas at a pair of federal veterans cemeteries. The Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in Texas and the Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Utah were both used to inter dozens of unclaimed remains of enemy troops following World War II. The grave markers of the foreign troops are engraved with a swastika in the center of an iron cross and an inscription in German which reads: "He died far from his home for the Fuhrer, people and fatherland."
        One retired senior officer who visits the grave of his Jewish grandfather at Fort Sam Houston said he only recently discovered the offensive grave markers. "This is the hallowed ground of people who gave their life for this country," he said. "To be buried next to people they fought displaying that symbol of hate is disgusting."  (Military Times)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Soldier Hurt in West Bank Car-Ramming - Judah Ari Gross
    An Israeli soldier was injured on Thursday when he was hit by a car in a deliberate attack near Negohot in the southern Hebron Hills of the West Bank, Israeli officials said. The driver accelerated as he drove his car toward a group of soldiers. He was shot dead by a soldier at the scene. (Times of Israel)
        The IDF soldier wounded in the car-ramming attack, Shadi Ibrahim, 20, from the Galilee Druze town of Sajur, had to have his leg amputated. (Ynet News)
        See also Palestinian Car Ramming Attacker Left a Suicide Note - Yoav Zitun (Ynet News)
  • Israel's Coronavirus Death Toll Is 266
    Israel's coronavirus death toll is 266 (up from 264 on Thursday), the Israeli Health Ministry said Friday morning. 60 people are in serious condition (compared with 62 on Thursday), of which 50 are on ventilators (compared with 52 on Thursday). 3,736 people are currently ill with the virus (compared with 3,939 on Thursday) and 12,587 people have recovered (compared with 12,364 on Thursday). (Times of Israel)
        See also Israel Completes Week with Fewer than 50 Daily Coronavirus Cases (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Israel Is Not the Obstacle to the Two-State Solution - Melanie Phillips
    The claim that the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over parts of the West Bank would destroy the possibility of a Palestinian state is untrue. Every serious Middle East peace plan has accepted the eventual incorporation into Israel of the major settlement blocs to safeguard its security.
        It is the Palestinians who have destroyed the possibility of a Palestinian state. Offered it repeatedly from the 1930s onwards, they have refused it every time. Nine decades of the Palestinians rejecting the two-state solution might possibly mean that the Jews aren't the obstacle.
        Opposition to the "annexation" is driven by the belief that Israel illegally occupies these territories. But this is untrue. As several legal experts have pointed out over the years, the Jews are the only people to have a legal and moral right to this land. In 1922, the international community gave them the never-abrogated right to settle what is now Israel and the disputed territories. Restoring Israeli sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria will therefore actually correct a historic act of illegality. And it will help protect Israel against its existential enemies. The writer is a columnist for The Times of London. (JNS-Israel Hayom)
  • The Israeli Consensus on the Jordan Valley - Gregg Roman
    Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared in October 1995, "The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term." This demand mirrors the U.S. peace plan, which would allow Israel to declare sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.
        Israelis of all backgrounds and ideologies long have believed the conflict never was about territory. The question that motivated Palestinian rejectionism was always about Jewish sovereignty over any territory in their indigenous and ancestral homeland, and not about where and how much.
        Israelis are tired of waiting for a Palestinian leader who will free his people from rejectionism, so they want to end the deadlock by declaring sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria which are vital to Israel from a security, national, and historic vantage point. It will show the Palestinians that rejectionism has consequences. None of these steps precludes making a deal in the future if a Palestinian leader decides to do so. Until such time, Israel must take steps that it sees as being in its best interests, with broad support from the Israeli public. The writer is director of the Middle East Forum. (The Hill)
  • Legal Experts Question ICC over Alleged Israeli "War Crimes" Case - Israel Kasnett
    International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has set in motion an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel in the West Bank, Gaza, and eastern Jerusalem.
        Eugene Kontorovich, director of International Law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum and director of the Center for International Law in the Middle East at George Mason University in Washington, told JNS that Bensouda "has come to the absurd decision that a non-country can sue a non-member of the ICC for a non-crime that nobody has ever been prosecuted for, in which the ICC prosecutor herself has said does not exist when it comes to Russia and Crimea or Turkey and Cyprus....This isn't international law; it's politics."
        A recent study published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs highlights the ICC's collaboration with and reliance on four radical NGOs: Al-Haq, Al-Dameer, Al-Mezan and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, some of which are affiliated with terror organizations, to promote complaints against the U.S. and Israel at the ICC.
        Avi Bell, of the faculty of law at Bar-Ilan University and the University of San Diego School of Law, said, "There are no good legal grounds for what the prosecutor wants to do." "From her annual reports since 2015, we know exactly what the prosecutor is looking at, and it is not the many Palestinian crimes," Bell said. "She is looking at alleged Israeli crimes related to settlements and crimes in combat, which include every military operation since 2014, including all incidents along the border of Gaza."
        "[Bensouda] will issue a charge sheet and arrest warrants. If any Israelis are stupid enough to go and appear in court, they will be tried....It is clear there are going to be charges....Once Israel made the correct decision to not be part of the ICC, it really makes no sense to grant it legitimacy and treat it like a genuine court of law."  (JNS)
  • How Turkey Shifted the Air War in the Battle for Tripoli - Ben Fishman and Conor Hiney
    In April, one year after Gen. Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) began its offensive against Tripoli, forces aligned with Tripoli's Government of National Accord (GNA) have retaken much of the capital's periphery, partly as a result of tactical victories by local GNA militias against inferior Sudanese mercenaries fighting for the LNA, as well as reported reductions in the Russian Wagner Group private military contractors who had devastated GNA forces in September-October. Yet a dramatic shift in the air war with Turkish support was most responsible for enabling the GNA to achieve their biggest victories.
        In May 2019, the LNA took the upper hand by expanding its use of UAE-operated combat drones and maintained this air superiority until November. The Chinese-designed drones were especially effective at targeting the small drone fleet that Turkey provided to the GNA. Then Turkey establish an air defense bubble around Tripoli, deploying multiple SAM systems. This protection, combined with an increase in Turkish operators and equipment, allowed GNA forces to increase the number and effectiveness of their drone operations. Ankara has also deployed the Koral jamming system, resulting in increased survivability of GNA drones and disruptions to LNA drone operations.
        Ben Fishman is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute and former director for North Africa at the National Security Council. Lt.-Col. Conor Hiney (USAF), a military fellow at the Institute, formerly served as the U.S. air warfare division chief at al-Dhafra Air Base, UAE. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • How to Rescue Civil Discourse on Israel - Dan Diker and Amb. Alan Baker
    Israel has been the only democratic nation-state whose existence has been rejected and attacked since the day of its establishment in 1948, 36 months following the revelation of the Nazi regime's mass murder of European Jewry. It would appear reasonable that any well-reasoned civil discourse on Israel would include an appreciation of its security concerns, historical and legal rights, and its diplomatic claims.
        The topics of settlements, occupation, the West Bank security barrier, and borders have been among the most politicized, distorted, and mischaracterized in the decades-long history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
        Legitimate political critique would include the presentation of raw facts, stripped of political hyperbole, and couched in principles of evenhanded assessment and well-reasoned legal, historical, security, and diplomatic context. The principles of fact and context-based discussion on Israel would result in far more productive international dialogue than the current one.
        Finally, Israel should be judged by the same values as other nation-states, values that overcome the current tendency to defamation, delegitimization, dehumanization, demonization, and denial of equal treatment under the law.
        Dan Diker is a foreign policy fellow at the Jerusalem Center, where Amb. Alan Baker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

  • Weekend Feature

  • An American Rabbi Enters Buchenwald - Rafael Medoff
    On April 11, 1945, U.S. Army chaplain Herschel Schacter was on the outskirts of Weimar, Germany, when he was told, "We just got word that our troops penetrated a place called Buchenwald. It's some kind of concentration camp." Schacter and his assistant, Pvt. Hyman Schulman, drove five miles to the site.
        As he stepped through the front gate, his eye "caught a glimpse of a tall chimney with billowing smoke still curling upward." It was Buchenwald's crematorium. Schacter later recalled, "There I stood, face to face with piles of dead bodies strewn around, waiting to be shoveled into the furnace that was still hot."
        A GI led the rabbi to a nearby prisoner barracks. "A foul odor hit me as I entered. I saw a series of shelves, hard cold planks of wood from floor to ceiling. There were hundreds of men and a few boys lying on stinking straw sacks, looking out at me from dazed and bewildered eyes, skin and bones, more dead than alive....Impulsively, instinctively, I shouted in Yiddish, 'Sholom aleichem Yidden, ihr zeit frei - Greetings, Jews, you are free!'"
        Some 21,000 Jews remained alive in Buchenwald on its day of liberation. Prisoner Moshe Avital later recalled, "We crowded around him [Rabbi Schacter] and hugged and kissed him. And some asked him, 'Why did you take so long to come?'" At one point, Schacter found himself "paralyzed in front of a mound of corpses." He noticed a small movement from among the bodies and stepped closer. The eyes of a young boy stared out at him. The 8-year-old boy, known as "Lulek," was Israel Meir Lau, who grew up to become the chief rabbi of Israel.
        With the permission of his superiors, Schacter returned to Buchenwald every day for the next 2 1/2 months, nursing the survivors back to life and serving as their liaison to the military authorities. The writer is director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington. (Jerusalem Post)

Israel and the Jordan Valley - Armin Rosen (Tablet)
  • Declaring Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley - with its obvious strategic significance and relatively small population of Palestinians - is a demand shared across the Israeli political mainstream.
  • Israel can even plausibly claim that extending sovereignty to the area between the West Bank ridgeline and the Jordan River would be a coordinated move, rather than a unilateral one: The U.S. peace plan framework foresees permanent Israeli control over the area and doesn't condition a change in status on any peace agreement with the Palestinians.
  • A significant share of Israeli leaders, and the people who elect them, believe they now live in a region where the consequences of such a move are manageable. By their logic, the Arab states need Israel too much to scuttle relations over what amounts to less than a quarter of the West Bank, especially when such action would be consistent with an American peace plan that most regional governments have endorsed.
  • American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and relocation of its embassy there, as well as endorsement of Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, were moves that were long believed to be too provocative to ever carry out. Instead, when they happened, they were all relative nonevents.
  • Dore Gold, Israel's former ambassador to the UN, director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and confidante to both Benjamin Netanyahu and the late Ariel Sharon, was one of a small number of Israelis outside of government who routinely consulted with Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman about the U.S. peace plan. "I was in it to try to help formulate a plan that would provide a consensus basis for Israel's future borders," Gold recalled.
  • The Jordan Valley was hardly a new issue for Gold. In 1997, he accompanied Netanyahu to the Map Room of the White House, where they presented President Clinton's peace process team with an "interest map" of the West Bank that highlighted areas Israel believed to be of critical importance, the Jordan Valley included.
  • Until the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, it was believed Saddam Hussein's army could cross the Kingdom of Jordan and reach Israeli-controlled territory in 36 hours. Even with that scenario foreclosed, Gold thought Israeli planners needed to work across a longer time scale than the life of a single leader or even a single regime. "Military planning, especially strategic planning, should never be scenario-specific," Gold said.
  • "I personally had the view, which got backing from the prime minister's office, that in places like the Jordan Valley where Israel had the highest security interests, it would have to seek actual sovereignty over the territory." This argument repudiated decades of peace process doctrine, which defaulted to treating the valley as territory in a future Palestinian state.
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