December 28, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

Gaza Rockets Intercepted over Israel, IDF Strikes Hamas Targets - Yaniv Kubovich (Ha'aretz)
    The IDF struck several Hamas targets in Gaza early Saturday after two rockets fired at Israel were intercepted over Ashkelon, the IDF Spokesperson said.
    See also Hamas: Israel Hit Secret Rocket Factory in Gaza - Daniel Siryoti (Israel Hayom)
    Israeli airstrikes Saturday in response to Gaza rocket fire severely damaged a secret rocket manufacturing facility, a senior Hamas official confirmed.
    See also IDF Rejects Hamas Claim It Hit Hospital, Secondary Blasts Came from Exploding Arms Stash (Times of Israel)
    Hamas on Saturday claimed the IDF damaged a children's hospital in an airstrike in Gaza, but Israel said secondary explosions from a strike on a Hamas rocket manufacturing site caused the damage to the nearby hospital.
    Hamas "deliberately places military targets at the heart of densely populated areas," while the Israeli army "takes all possible precautions to avoid harming civilians and civilian buildings," the IDF said.

Israel Suspicious of Erdogan's Overtures - Lahav Harkov (Jerusalem Post)
    Turkish President Erdogan cannot harbor Hamas terrorists and try to forge closer ties with Israel, a senior diplomatic source said Sunday, amid reports of a change in Turkey's approach to Israel.
    Erdogan "has a system" by which he tries to bolster economic ties between Israel and Turkey while supporting Islamist extremists who attack Israel. "He can't have it both ways," the source said.
    Turkey and Israel were allies for decades, but those relations have frayed in recent years. Turkey under Erdogan has close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and his AKP party has repeatedly compared Israel to Nazi Germany.
    Turkey has also criticized the Abraham Accords for peace between Israel and Arab countries.
    The Foreign Ministry denied reports that Erdogan had appointed a new ambassador to Israel.

Bread Crisis in Syria a Sign of Economic Meltdown - Sarah Dadouch (Washington Post)
    A rapidly growing number of Syrians are languishing for hours in line for subsidized bread, even as the amount most families can buy has been reduced by half or even more. Subsidized prices have doubled since October.
    Outside major cities, poor people in villages no longer have cooking gas; they use wood - and they make their own bread.
    During the past three years, Syria has imported millions of tons of wheat, mostly from Russia. But the spread of the coronavirus pushed Russia to limit wheat exports, cutting Syrian wheat imports nearly in half.
    Moreover, U.S. economic sanctions have hindered Syria's ability to import spare parts for machinery and pesticides, while hitting fuel imports hard, leading to long lines outside gas stations.

Economic Analyst Pinpoints Israel's Rating Strength - Amiram Barkat (Globes)
    Christian Esters, Senior Director at Standard & Poor's Global Ratings, told the Israel Democracy Institute on Monday that Israel's main strength lay in "the fact that Israel has had a current surplus on its balance of payments in each of the past seventeen years...the largest surplus in the world among countries that do not export raw materials."
    The cumulative surplus has led to the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves by the Bank of Israel now amounting to more than 40% of GDP.
    Esters estimated that the increase in debt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic was considered moderate in comparison with other developed Western countries such as the U.S., UK, and France.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Report: Israeli Airstrikes Destroy Missile Factory in Syria
    Israeli satellite imagery analysis company ImageSat International has published footage of an Israeli airstrike in Syria on Friday that destroyed four weapons production buildings "probably used for mixing and casting components of missile engines and warheads....The aim of the attack is to weaken the production of missiles in Syria, which Damascus may be manufacturing for the Lebanese militia, Hizbullah." A number of foreign, Iran-backed, paramilitary fighters were reported killed.
        Another target was a research center where surface-to-surface missiles are developed and stored, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Iranian experts are believed to work in the center, which has been hit several times in the past. (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
  • Jewish Groups in Argentina Outraged as AMIA Bombing Suspect Acquitted
    On Dec. 23, an Argentine federal court acquitted Carlos Telleldin of preparing the deadly car bomb that destroyed the AMIA Jewish center in 1994. According to the indictment, Telleldin filled a Renault van with explosives, left it in a parking lot, and handed it over to unidentified individuals who carried out the bombing which killed 85 and injured 300. (JTA)
  • Israeli Ambassador Urges UK to Move Embassy to Jerusalem - Sandy Rashty
    Israel's new ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, has called on the British government to move its embassy to Jerusalem. "The whole myth of making the Middle East a dangerous place by moving the embassy to Jerusalem is just not correct. Look at the reality, the Middle East was never more flourishing in terms of peace agreements....We keep on saying: 'Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel' and just denying it won't help."
        Hotovely also said, "Settlements are legal according to international law; this is the Israeli policy about it, this is the Foreign Ministry's interpretation of international law." She added that they were not an obstruction to the peace process, saying: "The Palestinians were offered time after time to have their own state in different formulas; they always refused and it wasn't about settlements. Flourishing communities, kindergartens and schools are not an obstacle to peace."
        "Jews were connected to Judea - look at this name - and Samaria for 3,000 years. When we are speaking about places like the Cave of the Patriarchs or the City of David - those are places that Jews were connected with for so many years....Jews are indigenous to this piece of land."  (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • King of Morocco, Israeli Prime Minister Discuss Regional Issues - Judy Maltz
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Friday with Morocco's King Mohammed VI and invited him to visit Israel. Netanyahu also thanked the king for hosting an official Israeli delegation last week. King Mohammed underscored the close ties between the Moroccan Jewish community and the monarchy, the Royal Court said in a statement. (Ha'aretz)
  • Palestinian Arrested in Murder of Israeli Mother of Six - Aaron Boxerman
    A Palestinian was arrested Thursday, suspected of the murder of Israeli Esther Horgen, 52, a mother of six, who went for a run on Sunday in the Reihan forest near her house in Tal Menashe in the West Bank. Channel 13 reported that he waited in the forest to attack any Israeli who passed by and snuck up on Horgen, striking her several times in the head.
        Palestinian media said the man was 36, from Tura, a town 2.5 km. from Tal Menashe. He had served time in Israeli prison for security offenses. (Times of Israel)
  • Coronavirus in Israel: 3,498 New Cases as Vaccinations Expand
    The Israel Health Ministry reported Monday that 3,498 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed Sunday. The number of active cases was 35,591, with 590 people seriously ill - of whom 144 are ventilated, and the test positivity rate reaching 4.9% - the highest rate since mid-October. The death toll has reached 3,226.
        At the same time, 98,916 vaccinations were administered Sunday, with the total number reaching 379,000 as additional vaccination locations were opened. (Times of Israel)
  • Israel Repackaging Corona Vaccines to Maximize Public Accessibility - Abigail Adler
    Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced that "Israel is the first country to repackage and allow maximum public accessibility to the [corona] vaccine." Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine needs to be kept in ultra-cold storage and comes packaged in batches of 975 units. "Workers operate inside refrigerators at temperatures of two degrees! That way we will reach every point in the country without losing expensive vaccines."
        "The solution has been found for the vaccines to be safe and effective, without compromising their quality," said Health Ministry Director General Prof. Chezy Levy. "This allows us to vaccinate in small and remote places, as well as nursing homes."  (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Moroccan-Israeli Peace Addresses Multiple Security Challenges - Dore Gold
    King Mohammed VI has bravely moved Morocco into the circle of states making formal peace with Israel, a move that is not without risks for the Moroccans. The security challenges they face primarily emanate from the area of the former Spanish colony of the Western Sahara, where an insurgency campaign is being waged by guerrillas from the Iran-backed Polisario Front with the support of Algeria. Morocco had valid claims to this disputed territory; many tribes in the area had been historically linked to the Moroccan monarchy.
        In 2018, Morocco presented documents proving that Tehran was arming and training the Polisario with the help of Hizbullah, including the supply of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. Moreover, the Iranians were using their embassy in Algiers as a conduit to the Polisario. As a result, Morocco cut its diplomatic ties with Iran. It was clear that the Polisario, far from being a national liberation movement, had linked itself to the terrorist network Iran had established across the Middle East and Africa.
        Recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara sends a message to Iran that the U.S. wished to reinforce political moderation across the region and weaken the axis of extremism. When the voices of Arab moderation are secured, peace can become a reality. But if Iran enters undisturbed, then any peace can be undermined.
        The writer, former director-general of the Israel Foreign Ministry and ambassador to the UN, is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Thomas Friedman: UAE-Israel Peace Agreement Has Created a New Mood in the Middle East - Angel Tesorero
    New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman told the Arab Media Forum on Wednesday that the recent UAE-Israel peace agreement "may give rise to new aspirations for the people of the Middle East and a shift from old ideologies and political strategies in the region....People saw a really successful Arab state get together with a really successful non-Arab state and if you're in Beirut right now and...you see successful states getting together...you're saying why am I not part of that."
        "There's a new mood....People on the street actually want to be part of the world. They're tired of the old games. Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) has to wake up to that and so do the Iranians."
        "The Middle East only puts a smile on your face when it starts with the parties out there because that meant it was in their own interests, it was self-sustaining. I see America much more in an amplification role rather than one stomping around diplomatically or militarily."  (Gulf News-Dubai)
  • Political Assassinations by Iran's Islamic Regime - Dr. Ardavan Khoshnood
    Politico revealed on Sep. 13 that Iran was plotting to assassinate U.S. ambassador to South Africa Lana Marks, who is Jewish, citing U.S. intelligence.
        Dozens of Iranians were assassinated both inside the country and abroad over the decade between 1988 and 1998, during the presidency of AliAkbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami, both deemed to be reformists. Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, more than 160 Iranians in exile have been assassinated by regime operatives all over the world.
        Iran has made extensive use of its diplomatic arm for subversive activities like espionage, assassinations, and terrorist plots. Investigating the 1994 AMIA Jewish center bombing in Buenos Aires, Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman reported that the Third Secretary of the Iranian Embassy in Argentina, Ahmad Reza Asghari, was directly involved in the decision to attack AMIA. Nisman concluded that the AMIA attack "was carried out by the Lebanese terrorist organization Hizbullah at the behest of the highest authorities in the Iranian government, and with local assistance from Iranian diplomats who were accredited in Argentina."
        Israel's embassies as well as its ambassadors and diplomats are high-priority targets for the Islamic regime in Tehran. In 2012, it engineered attacks against Israeli diplomats in Azerbaijan, India, Georgia, Thailand, and Turkey.
        The writer, an Associate at the BESA Center, is a criminologist, political scientist, and Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Lund University in Sweden. (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)

Iranian Intelligence Uses International Crime Organizations to Eliminate Opposition Activists and for Narco-Terrorist Activity - Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall and Iran Desk (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Iranian intelligence uses international crime organizations to kidnap exiled political activists and journalists and transfer them to Iran for execution.
  • Turkish police recently arrested at least 13 members of an international crime organization on charges of collaborating with Iran's intelligence services. The Turkish news agency Anadolu recently confirmed that Iran's intelligence ministry used a criminal organization run by Naji Sharifi Zindashti, an Iranian who lived in Turkey for many years, to assassinate and kidnap Iranian dissidents on Turkish soil.
  • Sky News on Dec. 16, 2020, reported on the "honeytrap" capture of Habib Assyud, vice president of the Executive Committee of ASMLA, a party working for the rights of Iran's Arab minority. Video footage showed a woman, Sabreen Saeedi, luring Assyud to fly from Sweden to Turkey, where he was abducted by Zindashti's gang and driven 1,600 km. to Iran to stand trial.
  • Another female agent, Sherine Najaf, is suspected of luring dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam from Belgium to Iraq, where he was kidnapped. Ram was executed by hanging on Dec. 12, 2020.
  • Exiled Iranian journalists reported that Zindashti was also involved in the assassination of a senior Iranian judge, Gholamreza Mansouri, in Romania in June 2020. Zindashti reportedly passed an order from Iran to his cousin, Hossein Karimi Rickabadi, a criminal in Romania, to eliminate the judge who held considerable information about the corruption of senior Iranian regime figures. Mansouri's death was ruled a suicide after falling from the fifth floor of his Bucharest hotel.

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