September 14, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Withdrawing Thousands of Troops from Iraq and Afghanistan - Robert Burns and Zeke Miller (AP-Military Times)
    The U.S. will pull thousands of troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan by November, Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said Wednesday.
    U.S. forces in Iraq will be reduced from 5,200 to 3,000 and troop levels in Afghanistan will drop from 8,600 in June to 4,500.
    U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan since 2001 and returned to Iraq in 2014 after the Islamic State overran large parts of the country.

New Satellite Photos Show Airstrikes on Secret Missile Facility in Syria - Seth J. Frantzman (Jerusalem Post)
    Photos released by ImageSat International on Sunday reveal evidence of an attack on Sep. 11 at the Al-Safirah missile factory near Aleppo in Syria.

Hamas Retrieves Mortars from Sunken UK WW1 Warship (Mehr News-Iran)
    A commander of Hamas' al-Qassam Brigades said the force has retrieved hundreds of mortar shells from a sunken UK warship off the Gaza coast.
    The Royal Navy's HMS M15 was sunk off Gaza in 1917 during World War I.
    A documentary aired this week by Al-Jazeera shows the retrieval of these arms.

Ending the Iranian Occupation - Jason Greenblatt (CNN)
    The "Iranian Occupation" is the best term to describe Iran's sprawling influence across the region, from its exertion of political influence in Iraq (via ties to Shia political actors and militias that are part of the official state security apparatus) to its support for Hamas in Gaza, to its long-standing backing of Hizbullah, to its involvement in the Syrian war to prop up Bashar al-Assad via its proxies.
    Complaints about so-called "occupation" have been misdirected for years against Israel. In reality, Arab populations are now recognizing the brutal and devastating "Iranian Occupation" in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, Yemen and Syria.
    The writer served as U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations (2017-2019).

Qatar Funds Hizbullah Arsenal through Gold Markets in Uganda - Damien McElroy (The National-UAE)
    Qatar operated a funding network for arms shipments from Europe to Hizbullah using gold shipments traded through Africa, the Austrian think tank Mena-Watch reported on Tuesday.
    High-ranking Qatari officials coordinated the payments and offered protection for Doha-based Hizbullah financiers.
    "General Dhalan Al Hamad, a member of the royal family in Qatar, used gold from Uganda to fund this arms trade," the report states.
    Weaponry was purchased in Serbia. The arms, labeled as building materials, were moved through North Macedonia to the Greek port of Thessaloniki and on to Beirut.
    In addition, "the Qatari charities Sheikh Eid and the Education Foundation passed on $500 million to Hizbullah in 2020 alone."

90 UNIFIL Peacekeepers Contract Coronavirus - Daniel Nisinman (Jerusalem Post)
    90 soldiers from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) have contracted the coronavirus, a spokesperson said Sunday.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Bahrain Normalizes Relations with Israel
    President Donald Trump said Friday, "Just a few moments ago, I hosted a historic call between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and King Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain....In the spirit of peace and cooperation, both leaders also agreed that Bahrain will fully normalize its diplomatic relations with Israel. They will exchange embassies and ambassadors, begin direct flights between their countries, and launch cooperation initiatives across a broad range of sectors, including health, business, technology, education, security, and agriculture....This is now the second peace agreement that we have announced in the last month, and I am very hopeful that there will be more to follow."  (White House)
  • Bahrain: Peace Deal with Israel Will Enhance Regional Security - Ismaeel Naar
    Bahrain's declaration of a peace deal with Israel will enhance regional security and stability and stems from a firm belief in coexistence and tolerance between nations, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani told Al Arabiya. (Al Arabiya)
        See also Egypt Welcomes Bahrain-Israel Agreement
    Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi on Friday welcomed an agreement by Bahrain and Israel to normalize relations and establish diplomatic ties, calling it a "historic step" toward regional stability and peace. (Al-Ahram-Egypt)
        See also Oman Praises Bahrain-Israel Move to Normalize Relations - Mina Aldroubi (The National-UAE)
        See also EU Welcomes Establishment of Diplomatic Relations Between Bahrain, Israel (Council of the European Union)
  • Jewish and Pro-Israel Groups Welcome Israel-Bahrain Normalization Agreement - Jackson Richman
    Jewish and pro-Israel groups instantly applauded Israel and Bahrain for agreeing on Friday to normalize relations. At last, "the walls of isolation around Israel are crumbling," Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations told JNS. Jewish groups from both sides of the political aisle applauded the development.
        American Sephardi Federation executive director Jason Guberman said the Emirati and Bahraini normalization deals with Israel exemplify "a new era, but one rooted in history. Muslims and Jews, as in centuries past, will once again be able to channel their considerable talents and resources into projects that will benefit all of humanity."
        "For the Greater Sephardic community, these developments are at once historic and personal in ways that may be difficult for others to understand. With shared roots in the region and [those] who have in recent memory experienced the trauma of exile, it is deeply moving to see one Arab country after another welcome them, in freedom and friendship, to be fully Jewish."  (JNS)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel to Enter 3-Week Coronavirus Lockdown on Friday - Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
    The Israeli government on Sunday approved a three-week nearly total lockdown on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The closure will go into effect at 2 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 18, and last through Simhat Torah on Oct. 9. The decision came after hospital heads said that the situation in their coronavirus units and among their staff was becoming unsustainable. The number of serious patients in the hospitals increased by 51 in the last two weeks. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said, "Under the circumstances, we had no choice."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Coronavirus in Israel
    The Israel Health Ministry said Monday that 3,182 new cases of the coronavirus were reported on Sunday. The number of serious coronavirus cases rose to 529, including 135 people on ventilators. The death toll from the pandemic reached 1,126. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Gaza Records 100 New Cases of Coronavirus
    Gaza on Sunday recorded 100 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the number detected outside quarantine centers to 1,588, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The number of people infected in Gaza has thus increased 15-fold in nearly three weeks. (i24News)
        See also 486 New Coronavirus Cases in West Bank, 408 in Arab Jerusalem Neighborhoods (Xinhua-China)
  • Kushner: Normalization Deals Will Enable All Muslims to Pray at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque - Jacob Magid
    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said Friday that the two normalization deals between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain affirms Israel's commitment to allow all Muslims to visit and pray at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque. He said Israel's control of the holy site has been "distorted by the extremists" who claim "that the mosque is 'at risk' or 'under attack' by the Israelis as a way to drive hatred."
        "Through these agreements, all Muslims throughout the world can travel to Israel, whether it's through the UAE or through Bahrain....Those people will be able to visit the al-Aqsa Mosque and show their friends on Facebook and on Instagram that it's open, and that Israel is respectful of their religion."
        Kushner added that the normalization deal brokered last month between Israel and the UAE had "been more popular than we expected, which is why this next agreement came so quickly....It's an inevitability that all countries in the Middle East will normalize with Israel."  (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Israel Hopes It Is Finally Gaining Acceptance in Its Neighborhood - David M. Halbfinger
    Since its founding, Israel has seen itself as a tiny nation-state in a hostile desert, surrounded by Arab and Muslim enemies who denounced the Jewish state as an outpost of foreign intruders who were bound to be evicted like all their predecessors back to the Crusaders. But with agreements to normalize ties with the UAE and Bahrain, to be signed at the White House on Tuesday, could Israel at last be gaining acceptance in the region as a legitimate member of the neighborhood?
        Israelis who have studied the Arab world, including former intelligence and national-security officials, are deeply cautious about how much this shift has progressed, saying that Israel is far from being able to let its guard down toward its newfound friends.
        Former Israeli lawmaker Einat Wilf says, "They're retelling the entire story of the Jews in the region and they're changing the whole narrative: They're not saying, 'We still hate Israel, Jews are bad, we wish they're gone but we need them against Iran.' They're saying the Jews belong here, that we're not foreigners, and that the Palestinians need to accept us."  (New York Times)
  • Bahrain's Diplomatic Agreement with Israel Is a Building Block toward Middle East Stability - David Ignatius
    With Bahrain's announcement that it will join the UAE in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, dominoes are falling in the Middle East in the right direction for a change. Bahrain's action wouldn't have happened without the blessing of Saudi Arabia, which has historically exercised a veto over Bahraini policy. In this case, the Saudis silently endorsed their neighbor's decision.
        For a region that sometimes seems to be in slow-motion collapse, the decision by two wealthy Gulf countries to recognize Israel is a building block for a better future. (Washington Post)
  • Orthodox Jewish Woman Interned at UAE Embassy in Washington - Hanna Gerber
    Last year I secured an internship at the UAE embassy in Washington. The individuals I encountered at the embassy, from Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba on down, were not merely neutral toward Israel and Jews, but were all exceedingly hospitable and excited to work with someone who cared so much about their Jewish heritage. Many showed true curiosity in learning more about the Jewish people.
        At the embassy, there was a profound cultural respect for Israeli and Jewish society. I was constantly approached with questions about Israeli politics and Jewish customs and laws. I encountered dozens of Emiratis from all sorts of backgrounds, but not a single one had anything negative to say to me about Israel or the Jewish people.
        For years, the media has portrayed Muslim-Jewish relations as strained and tenuous. This historic normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE proves that both sides are eager to move forward - to cement the reunion of estranged cousins, once and for all, and the UAE has taken bold steps to do so. (Algemeiner)
        See also UAE: We Seek a Warm Peace with Israel - Hend Al Otaiba
    The writer is director of strategic communications at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Ha'aretz)

Turkish Hyper-Activity Reverberates throughout the Middle East - Yossi Kuperwasser and Lenny Ben-David (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • In recent months, Turkey has increased its efforts to enhance its position as a regional power following in the path of the Ottoman Empire, adopting daring measures that border on megalomania at home, in the region, and internationally. President Erdogan sees himself as the sultan of a resurgent Ottoman Empire and as the pillar of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region.
  • A video recently broadcast by the Turkish Ministry of Information describes Turkey's ambition to achieve superpower status. It also displays a troubling appetite for Jerusalem and Saudi Arabia's holy sites in Mecca and Medina.
  • Israel is perceived by Erdogan as a powerful rival that threatens Turkish and Islamic interests and promotes an ideology opposite to that of Turkey.
  • This can be seen through Israel joining the pragmatic Sunni camp in the region, led by the Emirates, Turkey's sworn rival, that does not hesitate to confront Turkey in every arena, including Libya, the eastern Mediterranean, Qatar, the Palestinian camp, and Saudi Arabia - the ultimate destination of Turkish hegemonic aspirations.
  • The Turkish provocation against Israel is reflected in the Turkish opposition to Israel's normalization of ties with the Arab world, its attempts to thwart the plan to lay a gas pipeline from Israel to Europe, and in its championing the Palestinians' cause including that of Hamas.
  • At the same time, Erdogan recognizes Israel's military and political power (especially its relations with the U.S., Europe, and Russia) and realizes that without relations with Israel, its ability to intervene in the Palestinian system would diminish. Turkey also recognizes the importance of diplomatic and economic ties with Israel.

        Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the research division of IDF Military Intelligence, is a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Center.
        Lenny Ben-David, former deputy chief of mission at Israel's Embassy in Washington, is Director of Publications at the Jerusalem Center.

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