March 1, 2021

In-Depth Issues:

Israeli-Owned Ship Hit by Explosion in Oman Gulf (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
    An Israeli-owned ship, the MV Helios Ray, was hit by an explosion in the Gulf of Oman overnight Thursday.
    A U.S. defense official said the blast left holes in both sides of the vessel's hull above the water line.
    See also Blast-Hit Israeli Cargo Ship Anchors in Dubai for Repairs (Times of Israel)
    The MV Helios Ray arrived at Dubai on Saturday. The vessel, a cargo ship carrying vehicles, was in transit from Saudi Arabia to Singapore.
    After Friday's explosion off Iran's coast at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, the ship was forced to stop for repairs.
    The area saw a series of explosions in 2019 that the U.S. Navy blamed on Iran.

Netanyahu: Iran "Clearly" behind Attack on Israeli-Owned Ship in Gulf of Oman (Times of Israel)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel's Channel 11 on Monday that Iran was behind the explosion that hit an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman last week. "This is indeed an action by Iran, it is clear."
    He added that "The Iranians will not have nuclear weapons, with or without an agreement. I said that to my friend Biden as well."
    Israel's Channel 13 reported that the damage was caused by mines covertly attached to the ship.
    See also Iranian Media Brag about Attack on Israeli-Owned Cargo Ship - Dr. Thamar Eilam Gindin (Israel Hayom)
    Iranian media boasted that the attack was very much the work of Tehran. The newspaper Kayhan, considered Khamenei's mouthpiece, declared on Sunday that the attack was reprisal "for Israeli aggression in the Middle East."
    In Arab social media, special attention should be paid to criticism of the U.S., Europe and even Israel for not doing everything they can to end the ayatollahs' regime.
    The writer is a linguist and scholar of ancient Persia and modern Iran at Shalem College in Jerusalem.

U.S. Intelligence Finds Saudi Crown Prince Responsible for Operation that Killed Khashoggi - Nicole Gaouette (CNN)
    A report by the Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, released Friday, says that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman approved the operation to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new "Khashoggi Ban" that restricts visas to the U.S. for 76 Saudi individuals "believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing."
    The Treasury Department followed with sanctions against a former Saudi intelligence official, Ahmed Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, as well as the crown prince's personal protective detail.
    See also Text: Assessing the Saudi Government's Role in the Killing of Jamal Khashoggi (Director of National Intelligence)

Analysis of IAEA Iran Verification and Monitoring Report - February 2021 - David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, and Andrea Stricker (Institute for Science and International Security)
    This report assesses information in the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA's) quarterly safeguards report for Feb. 23, 2021, on "Verification and Monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran."
    Iran started to produce near 20% enriched uranium on Jan. 4, 2021, in 1044 IR-1 centrifuges located at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.
    Iran's low enriched uranium (LEU) stock far exceeds the limit set by the JCPOA. Iran's estimated breakout time is 3.1 months.
    Iran now has sufficient LEU to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for a second nuclear weapon, where the second one would be produced more quickly than the first.

How Egypt Benefits from Gas Agreement with Israel - Ahmed Gomaa (Al-Monitor)
    Egypt and Israel agreed on Feb. 21 to connect Israel's offshore Leviathan natural gas field to liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities in Egypt via an underwater pipeline in order to meet an increasing European demand for natural gas.
    Former Egyptian petroleum minister Osama Kamal told Al-Monitor that Egypt has two LNG stations which have been idle or run at less than full capacity since 2011.
    "Additional gas supplies would mean that stations would normally resume operations, which would lead to economic benefits and create jobs."

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Conducts Defensive Airstrikes Against Iranian-Backed Militia in Syria - Jim Garamone
    At President Joe Biden's direction, U.S. military forces on Feb. 26 launched airstrikes against infrastructure utilized by Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria. These strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Iraq, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said. (U.S. Defense Department)
        See also Biden Warns Iran: "You Can't Act with Impunity, Be Careful"
    When asked what message he was sending to Iran with the U.S. airstrikes in Syria, President Joe Biden said Friday, "You can't act with impunity. Be careful."  (Reuters)
        See also Report: Israel Pleased with U.S. Strikes on Iranian Targets in Syria, Was Informed in Advance
    Israeli officials were "very pleased" with U.S. airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in eastern Syria, and were informed by the Biden Administration before the attack, the Hebrew news website Walla reported Friday. "The Iranians didn't realize that Biden is not Obama, and that in the end they will miscalculate and get hit," an Israeli official said. (Algemeiner)
  • Iran Rejects Offer of Direct U.S. Nuclear Talks, Senior Diplomats Say - Laurence Norman
    Iran has rejected a European Union offer to arrange direct nuclear talks with the U.S.  Two senior Western diplomats said Iran has ruled out attending a meeting in Europe for now, saying it wanted a guarantee first that the U.S. would lift some sanctions after the meeting. The Biden administration has said it wants to return to the nuclear deal but won't suspend its sanctions on Iran until Tehran reverses the multiple steps it has taken to breach the 2015 nuclear deal. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Israel's Ahead-of-the-World Vaccine Rollout Offers Hope - Steve Hendrix
    Israel's fastest-in-the-world vaccine campaign, which reached half its citizens as of Sunday, is offering the first real-life look at how mass inoculation can bend the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic. A rush of Israeli medical research reveals that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is even more effective than hoped at preventing serious disease and death, safe for nearly all adults, and almost completely free of serious side effects.
        Almost 90% of Israelis over 50 have been fully vaccinated. A major study showed a 93% plunge in serious Covid disease and death among the vaccinated. The digitized medical file kept on almost every Israeli has allowed scientists to track the vaccine's impact with unprecedented speed. Yet the country's rate of infection remains stubbornly high, apparently driven by the arrival of variant strains. (Washington Post)
        See also Israel to Provide Covid Vaccines to Sinai Peacekeepers (Reuters)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israeli Arab Collected Information on Iron Dome Missile Defense for Hamas - Alex Winston
    Mohammad Abu Adra, 43, an Israeli citizen, has been arrested for collecting information for Hamas about the location of Iron Dome missile batteries, the Israel Security Agency has revealed. He was indicted at Beersheba District Court on Friday for membership in a terrorist organization and passing information to the enemy, among other offenses. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israel to Vaccinate Palestinian Workers - Danny Zaken
    Israel has approved a request by the Palestinian Authority to vaccinate Palestinian workers holding permits to work in Israel and in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. In the first stage, 50,000 Palestinian workers will each receive two vaccine doses. Israeli medical staff will administer the Moderna Covid vaccine at vaccination centers set up at checkpoints where Palestinian workers enter Israel. (Globes)
  • Senators to Call on Blinken to Take Stronger Action over ICC War Crimes Probe - Ben Samuels
    Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are circulating a letter calling on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to take a stronger stance against the International Criminal Court's potential probe into Israeli war crimes. They say "the Court's recent actions regarding the 'Situation in Palestine' have inappropriately infused politics into the judicial process" and that "the ICC does not have legitimate territorial jurisdiction in this case."
        "The ICC's mandate should not supersede Israel's robust judicial system, including its military justice system" and "it is not within the authority of the ICC to accept or deny any party's claims to these disputed territories." Moreover, "this unprecedented action by the ICC's Pre-Trial Chamber unfairly targets Israel, biases any subsequent investigation or trial, and hinders the path towards regional peace."  (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Implications of the U.S. Strike on Iranian Proxies in Syria - Michael Knights
    On Feb. 26, U.S. aircraft bombed an east Syrian base used by Iran-backed Iraqi militias in response to the Feb. 15 rocket attack on Erbil International Airport, where the U.S.-led coalition has a major base. The Syria strike followed a U.S. complaint and warning sent to the Iranian government via backchannels. This first use of force by President Biden shows that the U.S. will use the military instrument to restore deterrence even as it prepares for nuclear talks with Tehran.
        The U.S. air operation in Abu Kamal, a Syrian district on the Iraqi border, targeted the most important zone of concentration for Iran-backed Iraqi militias in Syria, which has been struck repeatedly by Israel and (separately) the U.S. since 2018. This area - particularly the Iranian-built Imam Ali Base Complex - has been used to store Iranian rockets, drones, and the military industrial equipment needed to make and maintain them.
        One of the strike's key messages is that judicious use of the military instrument remains in the U.S. toolkit under the new Democratic administration. The administration intended to send a message to Iran and its proxies that attacks on U.S. persons will not be tolerated, and such attacks must stop if negotiations on sanctions relief are to succeed. The writer is a senior fellow of The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Inside the U.S. Decision to Kill Iranian Gen. Soleimani - David Martin
    Marine General Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told "60 Minutes" about the drone strike which killed Iran's most powerful general: "The blood of many Americans is on the hands of Qasem Soleimani. He was as close to an indispensable man as you could find inside Iran. Where he went violence and death followed." During the American occupation of Iraq, Soleimani orchestrated attacks which killed more than 600 U.S. troops.
        "We saw intelligence reports where Qasem Soleimani was moving various attack streams forward against our forces in Iraq, against our embassy and against other bases there....Perhaps in hours, perhaps in days, probably not weeks....The risk of not acting in this case outweighed the risks of acting, so, yes, I was good with the decision."  (CBS News)
  • Is Israel Legally Obligated to Provide Palestinians with Vaccines? - Tovah Lazaroff
    Those who argue that Israel has no legal obligation to provide vaccines for the Palestinian Authority rely heavily on the Oslo Accords. One of the drafters of the Oslo Accords is former Israel Foreign Ministry legal adviser Alan Baker, who is now director of the International Law Program at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
        He points to annex III, article 17 of the Oslo Accords. It states that the "powers and responsibilities in the sphere of Health in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be transferred to the Palestinian side, including the health insurance system." The text specifically stipulates that this includes vaccines.
        Baker told the Jerusalem Post that Israel has "a moral and epidemiological responsibility" to the Palestinians "because they are our neighbors and they come and work here. If they are ill, then we are ill. It is in our interest to help them." But there is no legal obligation, he said. "The full powers and responsibilities for health care and for dealing with epidemics in the territories is in the hands of the Palestinian Authority. It is written in black and white."
        Baker added, "As soon as we signed the Oslo Accords, any provisions of the Geneva Convention are no longer valid because both the Palestinians and the Israelis agreed to establish a special regime that is set out in the Oslo Accords."  (Jerusalem Post)

  • Remembering Manfred Gerstenfeld

  • Remembering Manfred Gerstenfeld: Truth Against Myth - Ben Cohen
    Manfred Gerstenfeld, who passed away in Jerusalem on Feb. 25 at age 84, was an unrivaled master in the art of deconstructing myths in order to reveal truths. He did so through his myriad books and articles examining the persistence of anti-Semitism after the Holocaust, most of all in Europe. "The widespread resurgence of European anti-Semitism after the Holocaust suggests it is inherent in European culture and values," he stated in a 2005 article.
        The Jewish people were fortunate to have an individual with Gerstenfeld's intellect to highlight these enduring hypocrisies. He is not someone who can be easily replaced, though his influence will certainly endure. (JNS)
        See also Post-Holocaust Anti-Semitism - directed by Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld
    This program focuses on anti-Semitism after the Holocaust and up to the present day - its origins and lessons, manifestations and mutations. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Remembering Manfred Gerstenfeld - Gerald M. Steinberg
    Manfred Gerstenfeld was a Jewish renaissance man and a prodigious writer who leaves a rich legacy in many different realms. Born in Vienna in 1937, he and his family were forced to flee, and survived the Holocaust by hiding in a small apartment in Amsterdam. At a young age, he wrote for the Dutch Jewish newspaper on the vanishing Jewish communities of Holland. After university, with degrees in chemistry and economics, he established a reputation as an expert on international business strategy in Europe. He moved to Israel in the wake of the 1967 war.
        Gerstenfeld became a leading expert on anti-Semitism, particularly its resurgence in Europe. He chaired the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and founded its project on post-Holocaust studies and anti-Semitism, publishing scores of articles and 10 books. He also edited the Jewish Political Studies Review. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Manfred Gerstenfeld, Pioneer of Contemporary Anti-Semitism Scholarship (Algemeiner)
        See also Download the Book - The War of a Million Cuts: The Struggle Against the Delegitimization of Israel and the Jews, and the Growth of New Anti-Semitism - Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2015)

Insufficient Diplomatic Strength to Stop Iran - Amb. Dore Gold (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • A new Iranian law mandated by the parliament has cut back the monitoring of the Iranian nuclear program. There would be no more "snap inspections" by the West on Iranian facilities.
  • With Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declaring that Iran's uranium enrichment levels would no longer be limited to 20%, and adding, "We may even increase enrichment to 60%," Tehran is now on a path to get closer to an atomic bomb than ever before.
  • When the West created an arrangement with Saddam Hussein at the end of the First Gulf War that sought to address his weapons of mass destruction, they included all ballistic missiles above a range of 150 km. But the JCPOA did not touch Iran's missile capabilities. There is no indication that this is now going to be remedied.
  • The JCPOA was built around the assumption that Iranian behavior would become more moderate as a consequence of the easing of economic sanctions. But the relaxing of sanctions on Iran did not moderate its regional behavior. The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change reported in February 2021: "The number of militias created by the IRGC surged."
  • Iranian expansionism spread in this period to areas which are not thought to be within its sphere of influence. Its support for the Houthi guerrillas in Yemen gave it a strategic presence along the Bab al-Mandeb Strait that connected the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.  Iran began working with the Polisario in the Western Sahara, basing themselves in Algeria. Iran was operating far away from the Persian Gulf. 
  • What was needed was a robust response by the West to these Iranian actions. In the past month alone, Iranian proxies rocketed an American facility in Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as a civilian airport in Saudi Arabia. True, the U.S. hit back at an Iraqi militia stationed just over the border in Syria. But without a consistent American policy of striking back, the Iranians will not internalize the U.S. message. There was no indication that the U.S. and Europe understand what they are facing.

    The writer, former Director-General of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Israeli Ambassador to the UN, is President of the Jerusalem Center.

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