August 17, 2020
Special Issue

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Seizes Iranian Fuel Cargo - Benoit Faucon (Wall Street Journal)
    The U.S. has for the first time confiscated cargo in vessels loaded with Iranian fuel in violation of sanctions, U.S. officials said. The vessels were taken over without the use of military force.
    The U.S. expects the seizures will deter shipping companies from dealing with the Iranians and Venezuelans as tanker owners, brokers, insurers and other businesses see the risk as too costly, senior officials said.
    The four vessels were seized at sea in recent days and are now en route to Houston.

200 Israeli Companies Are Already Doing Business in the UAE - Omri Milman (Calcalist)
    Israeli firms have been selling goods and services to the UAE for years.
    According to the Manufacturers Association of Israel, about 200 Israeli companies are already exporting products to the UAE, especially in the fields of medical equipment, telecommunications, and national security.

Erekat: "I Never Expected This Poison Dagger to Come from an Arab Country" (AP-New York Times)
    The UAE presented its decision to upgrade longstanding ties to Israel as a way of encouraging peace efforts. But from the Palestinian perspective, it undermined an Arab consensus that recognition of Israel only come in return for concessions.
    "I never expected this poison dagger to come from an Arab country," Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, said Friday.
    The Palestinian Authority called the move a "betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian cause," language clearly aimed at inflaming Arab and Muslim sentiment.
    But the Middle East conflict was never between Israel and the UAE, which have fought no wars and share no borders.
    Egypt, Bahrain and Oman welcomed the agreement, while Germany, France, Italy, China and India expressed hope it would help revive the peace process.

Seismological Data: Six Explosions before Massive Beirut Blast (Israel Defense)
    The tremendous explosion in Beirut was preceded by six smaller explosions 11 seconds apart, according to seismological data collected by Israel's Tamar engineering group, which has for decades dealt with demolition and controlled explosions.
    While sensors in Israel clearly detected the tremors caused by the huge blast, the six others were discovered using CY603, a seismographic network of six sensors located in the sea between Cyprus and Lebanon, installed in the framework of IRIS, an international geological project for the prediction of earthquakes and the detection of weapons testing in the Mediterranean basin.
    Each of those six explosions was equivalent to several tons of explosives. The sixth explosion was several times bigger.
    According to Aharon (Arik) Goren, head of the Israeli Explosives Safety Center, "If there were really 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port, as it was declared, it would have been equivalent to the power of about 850 tons of TNT...but that still isn't enough to explain the 43-meter-deep crater that was created."
    "According to the accepted formulas, the crater should have been less deep. The unusual depth could be explained by...the explosion of weapons that weren't reported."

Turkey Grants Citizenship to Hamas Operatives Plotting Terror Attacks from Istanbul - James Rothwell (Telegraph-UK)
    Turkey has granted citizenship to seven senior operatives of a Hamas terrorist cell using the country as a base of operations, with five more in the process of receiving Turkish citizenship, the Telegraph has learned, raising fears that the Palestinian group will have greater freedom to plot attacks on Israeli citizens around the world.
    A senior source in the region said: "These are not foot soldiers but the most senior Hamas operatives outside of Gaza. [They] are actively raising funds and directing operatives to carry out attacks in the present day."
    Among those who received Turkish citizenship is Zacharia Najib, who oversaw a plot to assassinate the mayor of Jerusalem.

Gaza Arson Balloons Spark 28 Fires in Israel (Times of Israel)
    Incendiary balloons launched from Gaza sparked at least 28 fires in Israel on Sunday.
    On Sunday night, 200 Palestinians rioted along the Gaza border, burning tires and setting off explosives. On Saturday night, 800 people participated in riots.
    In response, Israeli tanks shelled Hamas observation posts in Gaza early Monday morning.
    Israel's Channel 13, citing Palestinian sources, reported that some of those who have been launching the balloons at Israel received messages on their cellphones warning that they have now become a "target for IDF actions."
    See also Hamas Incendiary Balloons Are Ecoterrorism - Editorial (Jerusalem Post)

IDF Wounds Palestinian Throwing Firebomb at Rachel's Tomb - Aaron Boxerman (Times of Israel)
    Israel Defense Forces soldiers opened fire on a Palestinian about to throw a firebomb at Rachel's Tomb near Bethlehem in the West Bank after midnight Sunday.
    The Palestinian news agency WAFA said an 18-year-old was shot in the leg.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Israel, UAE Agree to Full Normalization of Relations
    President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates, spoke Thursday and agreed to the full normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE. Delegations will meet in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, the environment, and the establishment of reciprocal embassies.
        As a result of this diplomatic breakthrough and at the request of President Trump, Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President's Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world. (White House)
        See also Prime Minister Netanyahu on Peace Agreement with UAE (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • Shifting Dynamics of the Mideast Pushed Israel and UAE Together - David M. Halbfinger and Ronen Bergman
    At least since 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been insisting, against conventional wisdom, that Israel could build full diplomatic and trade relationships with Arab countries in the Middle East without settling the Palestinian conflict first. When he sealed a deal to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates this week, what had changed was the dynamics of the region.
        As Iranian-sponsored proxy forces grew more powerful across the region, the Gulf states increasingly saw Iran as their greatest threat. According to Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, Netanyahu's former national security adviser, the Gulf countries were hearing from Egypt and Jordan about Israel's helpfulness and reliability on vital matters of national security.
        An Israeli official said, "Israel is in the region. We're not going to become neo-isolationists or pivot to Asia. And we have this convergence of interests where Israel's enemies are their enemies."  (New York Times)
        See also U.S. National Security Adviser Hopeful More Nations Will Follow UAE on Israel - Justine Coleman (The Hill)
        See also Israel-UAE Deal Draws Bipartisan Praise in U.S. - Ben Wolfgang (Washington Times)
        See also EU's Top Diplomat Welcomes Israel-UAE Peace Deal - Zoe Didili (New Europe)
        See also Iran and Turkey Condemn UAE's Peace Agreement with Israel (Middle East Monitor-UK)
  • UAE Says Pact Not about Confronting Iran, Rejects Erdogan Threat - Mahmoud Habboush
    The UAE decision to normalize ties with Israel "is not about Iran. This is about the UAE, Israel and the United States," said Anwar Gargash, UAE minister of state for foreign affairs. "This is in no way meant to create some sort of grouping against Iran."
        Responding to criticism from Turkish President Erdogan, Gargash dismissed his statement as a "double standard" which glossed over Turkey's own significant trade links with Israel. "They receive over half a million Israeli tourists, have $2 billion worth of bilateral trade and an existing embassy there."  (Bloomberg)
  • UN Security Council Rejects U.S. Proposal to Extend Arms Embargo on Iran - Michael Schwirtz
    The UN Security Council on Friday rejected a proposal to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran. Only the Dominican Republic joined the U.S. in supporting the proposal, while Russia and China voted against and 11 countries abstained, including Britain, France and Germany.
        "We can't allow the world's biggest state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell weapons," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Vienna before the vote. "I mean, that's just nuts....We will continue to work to ensure that the theocratic terror regime does not have the freedom to purchase and sell weapons that threaten the heart of Europe, the Middle East and beyond."  (New York Times)
        See also Iran Celebrates "Heavy Defeat" for U.S. over Arms Embargo (Radio Farda)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • For UAE Peace Deal, Israel Suspends Moves toward Sovereignty in Parts of Judea and Samaria - Lahav Harkov
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he "did not and will not remove sovereignty from the agenda" as part of the deal between Israel and the UAE. U.S. President Donald Trump said "Israel has agreed not to do it....I think it was a smart concession," but then said that he "can't talk about some time in the future." U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said "suspended" means "not off the table permanently." Yet American sources made clear that extending sovereignty will not happen this year.
        Netanyahu decided that for Israel, promoting peace with Arab countries is a more urgent priority and a greater boost to Israel's national security than setting Israel's eastern border. He said Thursday that "without support from the U.S., in the best case [sovereignty] would be worthless, and in the worst case, it would hurt ties very much."
        Setting Israel's eastern border would have been a boon to Israel's national security, said Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs President Dore Gold, who advised the U.S. as it prepared its peace plan. With control of the Jordan Valley, Israel could resist an attack from the east along its longest border, despite the IDF's "quantitative inferiority to its neighbors."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Coronavirus in Israel Appears to Be Leveling Off - Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
    Dr. Erez Barenboim, director-general of Samson Assuta Ashdod University Hospital, said Israeli hospitals are currently treating some 400 patients in serious condition. "We have gotten to a place where we are not seeing exponential growth, but we are still not seeing the numbers go down."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Israel's Coronavirus Death Toll Reaches 690
    The Israel Health Ministry on Monday reported 1,044 new cases of coronavirus on Sunday. The death toll rose to 690, with 398 people in serious condition and 113 on ventilators. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Denial over Coronavirus Leads to High Infection Rates in Arab Neighborhoods of Jerusalem - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Currently, there are more than 4,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods, according to Israeli and Palestinian health officials. "Many residents are not abiding by the health regulations, and that's a serious problem," said Maher Barakat, a nurse at a private medical clinic. "You find many people who would tell you that the whole coronavirus issue is fake."
        "There are many people who believe that the coronavirus is some kind of a conspiracy by Western powers directed against Arabs and Muslims," said east Jerusalem psychologist Hala Samara. In some east Jerusalem mosques, worshipers became angry when asked to wear face masks. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:

    The Israel-UAE Agreement

  • U.S. Ambassador Says Israel and UAE Agreement a "Courageous Decision" - Steve Inskeep
    U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Thursday's U.S.-brokered diplomatic agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates breathes life into the U.S. peace initiative. "I don't think the Palestinians should feel betrayed. What the Palestinians should recognize is that in contrast to the old days, they no longer can hold countries hostage from acting in their own self interests. It is in the interests of the Emirates to make peace with Israel and vice versa."  (NPR)
  • Israel-UAE Peace Deal a Step toward a Better Future - Jared Kushner
    The peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates is a breakthrough for Muslims who wish to come in peace to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Direct flights between the two countries will facilitate pilgrimages to al-Aqsa - a victory for religious pluralism and a repudiation of the false narrative, used by extremists to bolster their ranks, that the mosque is under attack.
        In the new Middle East, nations must chart their course based on shared interests and common values, not old hatreds and rivalries. Thanks to the courageous leaders of Israel and the UAE, the Middle East took a great step toward a future in which people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds can live together in the spirit of cooperation and peace. Ultimately, it is up to the people of the Middle East to decide the future they want for their children. The U.S. cannot and should not choose for them. The writer is senior adviser to President Trump. (Washington Post)
  • The Israel-UAE Agreement Is a Key Step for Peace and Sends a Crucial Message to Palestinians - Dennis Ross
    The UAE understood from conversations with the administration that formal peace would give it access to previously off-limits U.S. weaponry, such as advanced drones. Until now, these weapons had been denied to them because of the U.S. commitment to preserving Israel's qualitative military edge. The U.S. provided Egypt advanced weaponry after President Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel. Similarly, Jordan did not get F-16s until King Hussein concluded a peace treaty with Israel.
        Normalization should signal to Palestinians that others are not going to wait for them. Focusing only on their grievances, their narrative and their posture of never initiating or offering counterproposals to negotiations will continue to weaken their position. With Covid-19 wreaking havoc throughout the region, the desire to benefit from working with the Israelis on a wide range of needs, including health care, tech, water access and cyber security, will only increase.
        This normalization represents an important contribution to peace-building between Arabs and Israelis. It also crosses a threshold, effectively saying "enough of tradition, habit and inbred hostility - we will make peace because it serves our interests, and others can choose to accept or reject it." (Others may not follow immediately, but the barriers to normalization have been eroded.)
        The writer, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama, is the counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Washington Post)
  • Israel, UAE Agreement May Herald a New Era of Peace - Ronald S. Lauder
    The agreement between the UAE and Israel is the beginning of regionwide peace. It is a catalyst for more countries in the Middle East to actually envision a better future for their children. During my visits to universities, cultural sites and souqs in the UAE, Bahrain and other nations, I have seen a people quite open and eager to engage the world. I was deeply impressed with their tolerance toward other religions.
        The agreement is called the Abraham Accord because of the obvious connection the two religions share with the Prophet Abraham. Together, the descendants of Abraham can make not just their countries but the entire world a better place. I often like to remind my Jewish and Muslim friends in Israel, the U.S., Europe and the Middle East that we are cousins.
        Peace between us is possible. Friendship between us is possible. But it takes courage to take that first, difficult step. The writer is president of the World Jewish Congress. (Arab News-Saudi Arabia)
  • Israel-UAE Deal Shows How the Notion of Middle East Peace Has Shifted - Anne Gearan and Souad Mekhennet
    The surprise U.S.-brokered agreement last week to establish normal ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates was a powerful example of how the very notion of Middle East peace has shifted. Arab states are increasingly willing to leave aside the Palestinian question to seek a variety of relationships with Israel, the region's dominant military force and economic powerhouse.
        "We saw an opportunity to take a bold step, one with the potential to fashion a new regional paradigm and introduce a new way of thinking - pragmatic, practical and solution-oriented," said Omar Ghobash, the UAE assistant minister of public diplomacy. "The paradigm is also one of substantially greater collaboration across critical areas, including but not limited to technology, trade and education, and a strong reduction in the level of tensions. We believe Israel is keenly aware of that same potential."  (Washington Post)
  • Some Arab Leaders Don't Want to Be Held Back by Palestinian Rejectionism - Robin Wright
    After decades of dominating and defining tensions across the Middle East, the Palestinians are no longer a pressing priority; they also seem increasingly irrelevant to the region's trendlines. Their brethren are abandoning them. "The conflict is decidedly less important to leaders in the region," Natan Sachs, the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, told me.
        The agreement is "a visible demonstration of the fatigue of some Arab leaders, in the UAE and Saudi Arabia in particular, with the Palestinian leadership and their cause. They no longer want to be held back by what they see as Palestinian rejectionism." The Palestinians have to sort out their own political mess before the Arab world will again expend much political clout to help their cause.
        Israel's deal with the UAE alters a fundamental premise of peace, Sachs noted. For decades, the framework of international diplomacy was based on "land for peace" in exchange for the Arabs promising no future aggression. The new premise is "peace for peace."  (New Yorker)
  • The Israel-UAE Agreement: A Message to the Palestinians - Prof. Eytan Gilboa
    The Israel-UAE agreement is extremely important. This is the third peace agreement between Israel and an Arab country after Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994). People across much of the Sunni Muslim Arab world don't perceive Israel anymore as an enemy, but rather as an ally. It will increase the legitimacy of Israel's existence as a Jewish state in the Middle East.
        The Israel-UAE agreement sends the Palestinians a number of messages: The Palestinians can no longer exercise veto power on relations between Israel and Arab states which strongly share with Israel significant security and economic interests. Blocking the Iran threats is more important than the Palestinian cause. Time is not on the Palestinians' side. The agreement also undermines the Palestinians' strategy of conditioning peace agreements between Israel and Arab countries on an agreement with the Palestinians.
        The writer is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. (Jerusalem Post)
  • UAE Deal Gives Israel Long Overdue Legitimacy - Dave Sharma
    The announcement that the United Arab Emirates and Israel will establish diplomatic ties and normalize relations is hugely significant for the Middle East. Though it has taken decades longer than it should have, Israel is finally becoming accepted as a legitimate stakeholder in the Middle East and part of the regional furniture.
        Building ties between the two most economically dynamic parts of the Middle East will provide big commercial and trade opportunities. Direct flights and access between Israel and the UAE will link Israel's technological prowess with the financial, logistics and investment hub of the region.
        The writer, a former ambassador to Israel, is a member of the Australian Parliament. (Sydney Morning Herald-Australia)

  • The U.S., Israel and the UAE pulled off a diplomatic win-win-win in the Middle East. The Palestinian leadership will inevitably denounce the development, but it would be wiser if they didn't: This agreement could benefit them, too. Until now, Israelis and Palestinians have been locked in a moribund process. The announcement of the deal holds the potential of breathing life into the peace process.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, like every Israeli premier before him, has made normalizing relations with Arab and Muslim countries a key piece of his diplomatic agenda. This reflects a deeper, long-standing Israeli desire for a normal place in the region.
  • The historic willingness of Arab states to put the plight of the Palestinians in the center of their foreign policy has magnified the clout of the Palestinians and their struggle. But if the UAE can pull off this diplomatic 180, it will suggest that the Palestinian issue is losing its traditional resonance and is now incapable of mobilizing the masses.
  • The Palestinian Authority recently rejected UAE Covid-19 aid when it sent a plane via an Israeli airport to deliver it. Yet such a reaction ignores the potential benefits of this breakthrough to the Palestinians themselves. History has shown that Arab countries that have relations with Israel - namely, Egypt and Jordan - are more effective in advancing Palestinian interests. The UAE will be a valuable and effective addition to this group.
  • Israel and the UAE should be commended for this courageous act. The international community needs to capitalize on its momentum, and Arab and international friends of the Palestinians need to urge them to use this opening to explore ways of resuming Palestinian-Israeli talks within a wider regional context.

    The writer, a senior fellow in The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was an advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team in 1999-2006.

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