March 4, 2021

In-Depth Issues:

Blinken: Biden Administration Embraces IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism - Melissa Weiss (Jewish Insider)
    On Feb. 23, Secretary of State Tony Blinken wrote that the Biden administration "enthusiastically embraces" the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, "including its examples."
    These examples include "drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis," "denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor" and "applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation."
    The definition has been adopted by dozens of countries in recent years.

Israel: Oil Spill Caused by Libyan Ship Sailing from Iran to Syria - Ilana Curiel (Ynet News)
    The recent oil spill off Israel's shores that caused massive ecological damage was caused by a Libyan ship sailing from Iran to Syria, Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said Wednesday.
    The crude oil tanker Emerald was sailing dozens of kilometers off the Israeli coast in Israel's exclusive economic zone, Gamliel said.
    The vessel turned off its tracking devices before entering Israeli waters in the eastern Mediterranean, and dropped oil into the sea between Feb. 1-2. The ship reached Syria on Feb. 3, and has since returned to Iran.

UN: Iran Committed Human Rights Violations in Downing of Ukraine Airliner (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights)
    Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said Iran committed multiple human rights violations in shooting down a Ukraine airliner on Jan. 8, 2020, in an official letter to Iran published on Feb. 23, 2021.
    "The explanations provided by the Iranian authorities as to how the IRGC [air defense] TOR unit struck the civilian flight present many inconsistencies," she said. "Simply put, they do not add up."

Israeli Defense System Shot Down Russian Missile Armenia Fired at Azerbaijan - Ragip Soylu (Middle East Eye-UK)
    During the Nagorno-Karabakh war in November 2020, Armenia launched at least one Russian-made Iskander ballistic missile at Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
    A senior official briefed on the incident told Middle East Eye that "a missile defense system operated by the Azerbaijani military, an Israeli-made Barak-8, shot it down."

How Azerbaijan Destroyed Russian S-300s in Armenia with Israeli Suicide Drones - Ragip Soylu (Middle East Eye-UK)
    During the Nagorno-Karabakh war last year, at first Azerbaijan found it difficult to detect Armenia's concealed, Russian-made, S-300 air defense systems.
    A senior official in Baku told Middle East Eye that Azerbaijan used a decoy aircraft to lure and identify the S-300s. They converted Soviet-era Antonov single-engine agricultural aircraft into unmanned aerial vehicles operated by remote control.
    "The Antonovs would appear on radar as legitimate military-grade drones and activate the S-300 systems," the official said. "And then Israeli-built Harop loitering munitions, dubbed 'kamikaze drones,' would hit the Russian-made systems."
    Armenia lost six S-300 systems, according to the Azerbaijan military.

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Iran Used Commercial Satellite Images to Monitor U.S. Forces in Iraq before Rocket Attack - Nathan Strout (C4ISRNET)
    Iran purchased commercial satellite images to monitor Ain al-Asad Air Base in Iraq as it prepared to launch more than a dozen ballistic missiles at U.S. forces on Jan. 7, 2020, CBS' "60 Minutes" reported.

Palestinian Leaders Divert Vaccine Doses to Favored Few - Adam Rasgon (New York Times)
    The Palestinian leadership has diverted some of its coronavirus vaccine to the senior ranks of the ruling Fatah party, allies in the media, and even to family members of top dignitaries, according to senior Palestinian officials.
    On Monday, several Palestinian civil society groups demanded an investigative committee to look into the matter.
    See also Palestinian Covid Vaccine Rollout under Fire over Doses for VIPs - Ali Sawafta (Reuters)
    The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry confirmed on Tuesday that some of the coronavirus vaccine doses it received were given to the Palestinian national football team, government ministers, presidential guards and members of the PLO Executive Committee.

Iranians Don't Hate Israel - Jake Wallis Simons (Spectator-UK)
    Iranian cash now funds 80% of the threats facing Israel, intelligence sources tell me. Yet if you search Farsi social media in the aftermath of any Israeli attack on Iranian forces in Syria, you'll find an outpouring of jubilation.
    In fact, Israeli intelligence sources have told me that their spies are able to operate so effectively in Iran because the security services are burdened by having to monitor such large numbers of their own citizens.

German Police Raid Islamic Extremists in Berlin (AP-ABC News)
    850 German police conducted raids Thursday in Berlin and the state of Brandenburg on members of Jama'atu Berlin, a banned organization that followed the Islamic State's ideology.
    Authorities said the organization espoused an anti-Semitic ideology and advocated "armed jihad and terrorist attacks on civilians."
    "We will tolerate no place where terror is preached and the so-called Islamic State is glorified," said Berlin's state Interior Minister Andreas Geisel.

Israel's Gas Royalties Up 30 Percent in 2020 - Shani Ashkenazi (Globes)
    Royalties to the state from Israel's natural gas, oil, and minerals totaled $330 million in 2020, up 30% from 2019, the Ministry of Energy reported.
    There was a 48% increase in natural gas production in 2020, and exports to Egypt and Jordan increased significantly. During the same period there was a fall of 13% in the price of natural gas.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • ICC Prosecutor Announces Formal Investigation into Israeli "War Crimes" - Isabel Kershner
    The International Criminal Court announced on Wednesday that it was opening an investigation into allegations of war crimes by Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the West Bank and Gaza. The decision comes six years after the court began a preliminary investigation of Israeli actions in the territories. The court's outgoing chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said Wednesday that the investigation would cover crimes alleged to have been committed since June 13, 2014, shortly before the start of that summer's Gaza war. (New York Times)
        See also Netanyahu: ICC Decision to Investigate Israel Is Undiluted Anti-Semitism
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday: "The decision of the International Court to open an investigation against Israel today for war crimes is absurd. It's undiluted anti-Semitism....It decided that our brave soldiers, who take every precaution to avoid civilian casualties against the worst terrorists in the world who deliberately target civilians, it's our soldiers who are war criminals."
        "This court, that was established to prevent the repetition of the Nazi horrific crimes committed against the Jewish people, is now turning its guns against the one and only state of the Jewish people....We will never stop fighting this injustice."  (Prime Minister's Office)
  • The United States Opposes the ICC Investigation into the Palestinian Situation - Secretary of State Antony Blinken
    "The United States firmly opposes and is deeply disappointed by" the decision of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding the Palestinian situation. "The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC and has not consented to the Court's jurisdiction, and we have serious concerns about the ICC's attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel. The Palestinians do not qualify as a sovereign state and, therefore, are not qualified to obtain membership as a state in, participate as a state in, or delegate jurisdiction to the ICC."  (U.S. State Department)
  • Iran Deal Architect Wendy Sherman: Facts on the Ground Have Changed - John Hudson
    Wendy Sherman, the chief negotiator for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal during the Obama administration, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday as President Biden's nominee to become deputy secretary of state. Sherman said: "I would note that 2021 is not 2015, when the deal was agreed, nor 2016, when it was implemented. The facts on the ground have changed, the geopolitics of the region have changed, and the way forward must similarly change." Sherman vowed to seek a new agreement with Iran that lengthens and strengthens the accord. (Washington Post)
  • U.S. Blacklists Two Houthi Military Leaders in Yemen - Daphne Psaledakis
    The U.S. on Tuesday imposed sanctions on two Houthi military leaders in Yemen, accusing them of procuring weapons from Iran and organizing attacks. Blacklisted were Mansur Al-Sa'adi, the Houthi naval forces chief of staff, and Ahmad 'Ali Ahsan al-Hamzi, commander of Yemen's Houthi-aligned air force and air defense forces.
        With this action, the Biden administration has signaled limits to U.S. tolerance of the Iran-backed Houthis. "The United States remains committed to promoting accountability of Houthi leadership for their actions, which have contributed to the extraordinary suffering of the Yemeni people," said Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Andrea Gacki at the Treasury Department. (Reuters)
  • Europeans Push IAEA Resolution Criticizing Iran - Francois Murphy
    Britain, France and Germany are pressing ahead at the International Atomic Energy Agency with a U.S.-backed resolution criticizing Iran for curbing cooperation with the agency. Iran has recently accelerated its violations of the 2015 deal in an apparent bid to raise pressure on President Biden. Iran last week scaled back cooperation with the IAEA, ending extra inspection and monitoring measures that enabled the IAEA to carry out snap inspections at facilities not declared by Iran.
        The three European powers circulated a draft resolution voicing "serious concern" at Iran's reduced cooperation and urging Iran to reverse its steps. The draft also expresses "deep concern" at Iran's failure to explain uranium particles found at three old sites. (Reuters)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel to UN: Iran Responsible for Attack on Israeli Ship near Oman - Sarah Chemla
    Following the attack on an Israeli-owned cargo vessel in the Gulf of Oman on Feb. 25, Israel's Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan filed an official complaint with the UN Security Council on Tuesday blaming Iran for the attack. A blast above the water line ripped holes in both sides of its hull, a U.S. official said. An Israeli official said limpet mines were used.
        Erdan emphasized that Israel has the right and will "take all necessary measures to protect its citizens. Israel has repeatedly warned of Iran's unceasing malign activities and has...provid[ed] concrete, verified and documented evidence of the Iranian regime's reckless and illicit behavior in the Middle East and beyond."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Israeli-Owned Ship in Oman Gulf Explosion Back at Sea after Repairs
    The MV Helios Ray has left Dubai after repairs following an explosion last week in the Gulf of Oman. (AP)
  • Israel, U.S. Agree Not to Surprise Each Other on Iran Issues - Itamar Eichner
    Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said Tuesday that Israel and the U.S. have agreed that neither will make decisions pertaining to Iran without informing the other first. "If anyone thought the Americans would run to make an agreement with Iran - it did not happen up until now, and I hope it will not happen going forward," Ashkenazi said, stressing that relations with the Biden administration were good and that he has been in close contact with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
        "There is a decision...to enter a dialogue with the [U.S.] in a non-oppositional manner, discuss Israeli interests and how to forge a great agreement that will safeguard Israeli and regional interests and prevent a nuclear Iran. Our policy is to exhaust this dialogue in person and to professionally converse with the Americans as allies."  (Ynet News)
  • UAE's First Ambassador to Israel Meets Benjamin Netanyahu - Taylor Heyman
    The UAE's first ambassador to Israel, Mohamed Al Khaja, met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Tuesday. "We're changing the Middle East. We're changing the world," Netanyahu said.
        Al Khaja shared photos on Twitter of the two bumping elbows while wearing coronavirus masks and tweeted his message in Arabic, Hebrew and English. In only two weeks since the launch of his official Twitter account, he has amassed more than 30,000 followers.
        On Monday, Al Khaja arrived at the Israeli presidential residence as an Israel Defense Forces band played the UAE national anthem. (The National-Abu Dhabi)
  • Coronavirus in Israel: Serious Cases Decline, only 5 Percent of New Cases among over 60s
    The Israel Health Ministry reported Thursday that the number of serious coronavirus cases has fallen to 699, the lowest figure since December. 50% of newly diagnosed cases are teenagers and children, while only 5.4% are over age 60. 88% of Israelis aged 50 and older have been vaccinated against the coronavirus or have recovered from it. (Ynet News-Ha'aretz)
        See also New Israeli Data Confirms Covid Vaccine Success - Nathan Jeffay
    Of 1.82 million people who were vaccinated by early February, only 1,248 (0.07% - 1 in 1,500) tested positive for Covid by Feb. 25, according to the Israel Health Ministry. Only 122 required hospitalization, with 23 deaths. Almost all of those currently hospitalized in serious condition are unvaccinated. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:


  • Biden's Iran Problem - Walter Russell Mead
    Last week the Biden administration launched a carefully calibrated military strike against a Syrian border post used by Iran-linked militias involved in recent attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq. The administration is signaling that it is willing to engage but is unwilling to let Iran dictate the terms of engagement.
        Seizing the opportunities that chaos offers in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, Iran has moved effectively to expand its regional profile even as it accelerates its nuclear program. The intimate linkages between the religious hierarchy and the state make it hard for Iran to de-emphasize radical religion and hard-line resistance to the West as the regime's basis for legitimacy - and the military success of Iranian proxies around the region makes it hard to abandon a policy that seems to bring gains.
        The Biden administration seems to be willing to drop Mr. Trump's maximum-pressure campaign against Tehran but wants both a "stronger and longer" nuclear agreement and more restraints on Iran's regional aggression than anything the Obama administration managed to produce. Iran, where hard-liners seem poised to consolidate even more power after the presidential election scheduled for June, has so far refused to engage.
        Knowing that the Biden administration has no appetite for another American war in the Middle East, Tehran seems convinced that Washington's only two real choices are the nuclear deal on Iranian terms or an Iranian bomb. The writer is Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities at Bard College. (Wall Street Journal)
  • U.S. Law on Congressional Review Could Complicate Return to Iran Deal - Stephen Rademaker
    As it seeks a negotiated return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), the Biden administration may find its hands tied by the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). The INARA mandates congressional review - and provides for potential disapproval - of not just the JCPOA, but any "agreement related to the nuclear program of Iran...regardless of the form it takes." Further, the Act prohibits the extension of sanctions relief during the 30-day period the law sets aside for congressional review of any nuclear agreement with Iran.
        To its credit, the Biden administration has recognized that it would be foolhardy to simply lift all sanctions and hope that Iran will immediately return to full compliance. But if the Biden administration agrees with Iran on a pathway for returning to the nuclear deal, INARA will require that agreement to be submitted for congressional review. The Act further requires the president to submit a compliance certification to Congress every 90 days confirming that "Iran is transparently, verifiably, and fully implementing the agreement." If Tehran doesn't try to fully comply, Biden certainly won't be able to make the certification.
        When Obama presented his nuclear deal to Congress in 2015, it was opposed by all Republicans, 25 House Democrats, and four Senate Democrats. Given the narrow margins in the newly elected Congress, Biden will need to command stronger support than that to prevent Congress from passing legislation to upend his Iran policy. The writer is a former assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation. (RealClearWorld)

  • Other Issues

  • The Axis of Resistance to Israel Is Breaking Up - Anchal Vohra
    Iran's axis of resistance to Israel once comprised Hizbullah, Hamas, and Bashar al-Assad's regime. As Hamas backed the anti-Assad rebels in the Syrian conflict, the resistance broke apart. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Back in 2012, Hamas was inspired by the success of the Muslim Brotherhood in placing their man, Mohamed Morsi, as president of Egypt, and hoped to cash in on the triumph of its parent organization by siding with them on the Syrian battlefield. But Hamas lost the gamble. Morsi was ousted in a coup in July 2013, and in Syria, too, they were eventually defeated by Assad and his Russian allies.
        Hamas' rejection of Assad cost the community dearly. Assad's intelligence services imprisoned thousands of Palestinians it suspected of sympathizing with the Syrian rebels or who advocated political Islam. "Bashar al-Assad considered Hamas' refusal to support him as a stab in the back and perceived the whole community as unwanted guests in Syria," said one activist who subsequently moved to the UK. "They chased Palestinians everywhere."
        Analysts say Assad's strong relationship with Russia and growing ties with the UAE, both of which want Syria to come to terms with Israel, has impacted the regime's thinking. Rami al-Sayed, a former human rights activist from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, said, "It's not impossible we will see a formal normalization between the regime and Israel very soon."  (Foreign Policy)
  • Africa Is a Jihadist Playground for the Resurgent Islamic State and al-Qaeda - Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah
    In February 2021, Bernard Emie, head of France's Directorate-General for External Security, warned, "From Mali, [Islamist] terrorists have worked on attacks against us, against our partners, and they are thinking about attacks in the region and Europe....To spread southwards, the terrorists are already financing men who are entering the Ivory Coast or Benin on the borders of Nigeria, Niger, and Chad." Last year, Gen. Stephen J. Townsend told Congress, "Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State networks are working together to exploit under-governed regions, disenfranchised populations and porous borders, and threaten the security and stability of our African partners."
        The U.S. and France's military presence, together with local allies, has succeeded in limiting the damage perpetrated by the Jihadist organizations but has failed to eradicate the phenomenon. The writer, a Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center, was former Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Why the Israel-Gulf States Peace Breakthrough Is Significant - Thomas L. Friedman
    In the middle of a global pandemic, at least 130,000 Israeli tourists and investors have flown to Dubai and Abu Dhabi since commercial air travel was established in October 2020. Unlike the peace breakthroughs between Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, which were driven from the top and largely confined there, the openings between Israel and the Gulf States are now being driven from the bottom by tourists, students and businesses.
        A new Hebrew language school that holds classes in Dubai and Abu Dhabi has been swamped with Emiratis wanting to study in Israel or do business there. Israel's Mekorot National Water Company just finalized a deal to provide Bahrain with desalination technology. If the Abraham Accords broaden to include Saudi Arabia, we are talking about one of the most significant realignments in modern Middle East history. (New York Times)
  • UK Silence over ICC Is Problematic - MP Andrew Bowie
    The UK's response to recent threats to our ally Israel has been too muted. Based on an extraordinary misinterpretation of international law, the International Criminal Court's determination that it has territorial jurisdiction over the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem and can therefore open a probe into war crimes was rightly condemned by some of our closest allies - the U.S., Australia, Germany and Canada. But the UK's silence over this dangerous precedent is problematic.
        Moreover, in December 2020, the UK voted for 11 out of 16 UN General Assembly resolutions singling out Israel, including one which only used the term "Haram al-Sharif" to describe Jerusalem's Temple Mount - effectively ignoring Judaism's fundamental connection to the site. Resolutions of this nature harm the wider peace process as Palestinian intransigence and terrorism goes unchecked. The writer is Vice-Chairman of Britain's Conservative Party. (Jewish News-UK)
  • West Bank Facts Cannot Be Ignored - Jonathan S. Tobin
    The Jewish population in the West Bank is rapidly approaching half a million, making any peace deal based on a mass evacuation of these communities a fantasy. If the Palestinians want a deal, it will have to be one that accepts that the existing Jewish communities, as well as Jerusalem's Jewish neighborhoods, will remain part of Israel under any circumstances. Otherwise, the Palestinian leadership has doomed its people to a situation in which they are mired in a conflict that offers no exit ramp. The choice for peace remains, as it always has been, in the hands of the Palestinians themselves. It is they who must either agree to share the land with the Jews or lose more ground. (JNS)

  • Weekend Feature

  • Vaccinating the Bedouin in Israel - Dr. Mohammed Al-Nabari
    In the Bedouin village of Sa'wa in southern Israel, participation in getting vaccinated was extremely low. Vaccinating the people depended on Hassan, the village's beloved and trusted Imam. He was eager to lead by example, but at 46, he was too young to be eligible for a vaccine during the early stage of the rollout. So after calling upon relationships developed over the years with various ministries and medical insurance agencies, the Imam received the vaccine and spoke about it at Friday prayers. Over the following days, more and more residents signed up.
        We learned that many women were uncomfortable attending vaccination clinics with men present. The women-only clinic we opened with Magen David Adom proved to be a game changer, with over 400 women showing up on its first day of operation.
        In my hometown of Hura, we received unprecedented support from the Israeli Home Front Command; a Muslim cleric rode through the town with a bullhorn atop an Israeli military vehicle, shouting vaccine information to passersby. The writer is former mayor of the Israeli Bedouin town of Hura (2004-2018). (Newsweek)

U.S. Balances Human Rights and Mideast Security - Lazar Berman (Times of Israel)
  • The new U.S. approach to Saudi Arabia - human rights sanctions together with security cooperation - is an indicator of how it will handle other key U.S. allies in the Middle East. In Egypt, the administration approved the sale of $200 million worth of missiles and, days later, stressed its commitment to human rights there.
  • "The minute there is outside pressure on authoritarian regimes of this type, it just opens the door for even more authoritarian figures to grab power," argued Dan Schueftan, head of the international graduate program in national security at the University of Haifa.
  • "There is no real option for democratic, liberal - or even much more moderate - regimes. If you pressure Egypt on human rights, you get the Muslim Brotherhood....If you want democracy in Bahrain, you'll get Iran."
  • He added, "the more the Biden administration pushes pro-American regimes in the Middle East into a corner, the more they will connect to Israel, since Israel is the only thing they can count on."
  • Israeli officials said Israel has in recent weeks encouraged Cairo and Riyadh to take constructive steps on human rights to "improve the atmosphere" with the Biden administration. One defense official told Walla, "Our message to the Biden administration will be: Go slowly, there have been dramatic changes, don't come with preconceived stances and don't hurt relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates."
  • David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy concluded: "I'm pleasantly surprised by the way in which [the Biden administration] seems to have a realistic understanding of where this issue fits into their overall interests and into the world."
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