March 29, 2021

In-Depth Issues:

Iranian Missile Hits Israeli-Owned Cargo Ship in Arabian Sea (Haaretz-Reuters)
    An Iranian missile hit an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Arabian Sea, Israel's Channel 12 reported on Thursday.
    The ship was making its way from Tanzania to India and continued on to its destination.

Head of Iran's Olympic Committee Implicated in Murder of Prisoners - Benjamin Weinthal (Jerusalem Post)
    Sardar Pashaei, the former head coach of Iran's Greco-Roman wrestling team and a world gold medalist who now live in the U.S., tweeted last week:
    "Is the Olympics aware that there are horrific reports about Seyed Reza Salehi, the president of the NOC (National Olympic Committee) of Iran? During his time as senior director at the ministry of intelligence, he went by the name of Seyed Reza Fallah and was involved in the torture and murder of prisoners."
    "We, the Iranian athletes, call on the Olympics to ban [him]... from attending the Tokyo 2020."

Pro-Iranian Militias Strengthen Presence in Eastern Syria (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights-UK)
    Pro-Iranian militias continue their intensive activities in eastern Syria, west of the Euphrates River, after turning it into a colony in which they move freely.
    These militias continue to bring in weapons and ammunition from Iraq through trucks loaded with vegetables and fruit via illegal crossings.
    The pro-Iranian militias store their weapons in residential areas and archaeological and historical places.
    Furthermore, pro-Iranian militias continue recruiting young men in the area, exploiting the extreme poverty in the region, which is becoming an "Iranian protectorate" in a territory larger than Lebanon.
    The number of Iranians and allied militias in the region has reached more than 25,000.

Hamas Working to Capture Israeli Soldiers as "Bargaining Chips" (Times of Israel)
    Khaled Mashaal, who headed the Hamas political bureau from 1996 to 2017, said Saturday that the terror group was working to get "bargaining chips" to free Palestinian security prisoners.
    "When we hold an Israeli soldier, the Israeli leadership can only agree to our demands," he said, citing a 2011 swap in which the Israeli government freed over 1,000 convicted Palestinian terrorists for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in 2006.

Israel Offers Lebanon Respirators to Help Fight Covid (Naharnet-Lebanon)
    Israel has offered to provide hospitals in Lebanon with ventilators to treat coronavirus patients "due to the severe shortage of such devices in Lebanon," Israeli Health Ministry Director-General Hezi Levi said.

Israeli Rhythmic Gymnast Wins Two Gold Medals at World Championship - Tobias Siegal (Jerusalem Post)
    Israeli gymnast Linoy Ashram, 21, won two gold medals at the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Cup in Sofia, Bulgaria, on March 27-28.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • 43 U.S. Senators Push for Broader Iran Deal - Patricia Zengerle
    43 U.S. senators appealed to President Joe Biden on Thursday to work toward an international agreement that addresses issues beyond just Tehran's nuclear program. They wrote: "Democrats and Republicans may have tactical differences, but we are united on preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon and addressing the wide range of Iranian behavior." The letter was led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
        In addition to the "long-held view" that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a grave threat to the security interests of the U.S. and its allies, the letter also says Iran poses a threat by exporting arms, supporting militants who target U.S. forces and via its ballistic and cruise missile programs. It also called for the release of political prisoners. (Reuters)
  • China Signs $400 Billion Investment Deal with Iran - Farnaz Fassihi
    China agreed to invest $400 billion in Iran over 25 years in exchange for oil under a sweeping economic and security agreement signed on Saturday. "China firmly supports Iran in safeguarding its state sovereignty and national dignity," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at his meeting in Tehran with President Hassan Rouhani.
        Experts said the deal was largely unchanged from a draft obtained last year by the New York Times. Chinese investments will be made in banking, telecommunications, ports, railways, health care and information technology. In exchange, China would receive a heavily discounted supply of Iranian oil. The draft also called for deepening military cooperation, including joint research and weapons development and intelligence-sharing. (New York Times)
  • U.S. Gives Palestinians $15 Million for Covid-19 Response
    The State Department said Thursday that the U.S. Agency for International Development will give $15 million to the Catholic Relief Services to aid the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in their Covid-19 response. (Reuters)
        See also U.S. Humanitarian Assistance for the Palestinians in Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic (U.S. State Department)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • The Palestinian Authority's Financial Support for Terrorism Circumvents U.S. and Israeli Law - Yoni Ben Menachem
    The Palestinian government has decided to pay grants to terrorists and their families through Palestinian postal banks to circumvent the Israeli prohibition on West Bank commercial banks' involvement in terrorism-related activity. Later, ATMs will be set up to enable the withdrawal of the salaries with a "smart" card. In addition, Qadri Abu Bakr, Chairman of the PA Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, said 7,500 released terrorists would receive salaries for official jobs in the PA and receive wages like other government officials.
        Israel and the U.S. Congress see these payments as rewards and incentives to terrorists. Last year, Israel began deducting NIS 52 million each month from the tax revenues it collects for the PA to offset the amount paid by the PA to terrorists. Congress has enacted the comparable Taylor Force Act. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Coronavirus in Israel Continues to Decline
    Active coronavirus cases in Israel fell to 9,248, the Israel Ministry of Health reported Monday. 676 people are hospitalized, including 467 in serious condition. The death toll reached 6,194, including 10 deaths on Sunday and 5 on Saturday. (Israel Ministry of Health-Hebrew)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The Next Bad Idea: A PLO Office in Washington - Elliott Abrams
    One aspect of the reset in the U.S. relationship with the Palestinians appears to be a reopening of the PLO office in Washington, which was closed in 2018. The existence of that office always required a special waiver from the U.S. government because of PLO support for terrorism. That won't be easy because of the Taylor Force Act, which was signed into law in 2018.
        Named after an American soldier murdered by a Palestinian terrorist, the law states that the PA and PLO will be liable for damages awarded by a jury if they open offices in the U.S. or make payments to Palestinian terrorists being held in Israeli prisons. A State Department report said the Palestinians spent at least $151 million in 2019 on its "pay-to-slay" program, the Washington Free Beacon reported. How the administration plans to get around the Taylor Force Act, and why it believes it is sensible and moral to do so, remain unclear.
        The writer, a senior fellow at CFR, served as U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor and as U.S. Special Representative for Iran. (Council on Foreign Relations)
  • No Agreement is Better than Another Bad Agreement with Iran - Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror
    All these years, Israel indeed hoped for an agreement with Iran. That is what we told our American interlocutors time and time again. Moreover, Israel helped quite a bit in bringing Iran to the negotiating table, as well as with the process itself. At the same time, we always made it clear that no agreement with Iran is better than a bad agreement that places Israel in great peril.
        Israel's current dialogue with the Biden administration is an important path towards a meeting of minds on policy towards Iran. However, if the U.S. re-enters the old JCPOA or it concludes an agreement with Iran that is only cosmetically better, Israel must be prepared with its own military option against Iran, as a last resort. Israel cannot agree to a situation where Iran draws closer to nuclear weapons.
        The writer served as Israel's National Security Advisor and Chairman of the National Security Council. He is the author of "Winning Counterinsurgency War: The Israeli Experience" (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2010). (Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security)
  • Arabs Warn Biden about Iran's Mullahs - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Many Arabs remain skeptical about Washington's policy toward the threats posed by the mullahs in Tehran. In the Saudi daily Al Jazirah, editor-in-chief Khalid bin Hamd Al Malik wrote on March 5: "He [Biden] should not make any concessions [to Iran] that do not serve stability in the region. Iran will continue with its tricks and deception to avoid sanctions and attempts to stop it from possessing a nuclear bomb that would pose a danger to countries in the region."
        "Iran is an evil, terrorist, and rogue state, and it does not abide by what is agreed upon with it. Iran plants its proxies in most countries of the region to create chaos and consolidate its agenda and expansionist goals."
        Prominent Saudi writer Mohamed al-Sheikh said he was doubtful whether Iran would change its policies now that Biden is in the White House. "Iran's mullahs are like dangerous poisonous snakes," he cautioned. "The mullahs cannot be tamed unless their fangs are completely pulled out....The mullahs of Iran are still dreaming of establishing the Great Persian Empire, and for the sake of this goal they are not averse to harnessing all efforts and funds to reach this goal, even if they are forced to be patient."
        Former Egyptian diplomat Amr Helmy lashed out at the Biden administration for "dropping" most of the 12 conditions announced in May 2020 by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for returning to the nuclear agreement with Iran. Iran "will not stop the escalation in the region now that it understands that the new U.S. administration will not hesitate to continue weakening Washington's allies and prioritize the most dangerous adversaries."
        Egyptian political analyst Dr. Tarek Fahmi wrote: "U.S. begging for negotiations [with Iran] will lead to more Iranian intransigence and promote its extremism."  (Gatestone Institute)

Recalibrating the Diplomacy of Middle East Peace - Amb. Dore Gold (Jerusalem Post)
  • Hussein Agha and Ahmad Samih Khalidi, senior associates at St. Antony's College at Oxford, have been central figures in the Palestinian intellectual elite since they wrote for the Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut in 1975. They were involved in repeated diplomatic initiatives like the Beilin-Abu Mazen Agreement, and Agha was a back-channel negotiator during the tenure of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
  • In February 2021, they wrote, "A Palestinian Reckoning: Time for a New Beginning," in Foreign Affairs. At a time when policymakers are rushing back to the "two-state solution," Agha and Khalidi move past the old formulas, out of recognition of how the Middle East region has changed.
  • The most revolutionary part of their proposals involves a recalibration of Palestinian national goals. They admit that chances of securing "hard sovereignty," on the basis of "full and complete control over land, borders and resources," is remote.
  • Their hope is that by moderating Palestinian goals in the direction of what they call "soft sovereignty," other arrangements might become possible. They depart from the conventional notion of a two-state solution and rather look to multilateral arrangements.
  • Given the growing role of pro-Iranian militias today in Iraq, the need to have a regional arrangement once the U.S. goes has grown. If the Palestinians found their place in such an arrangement, undoubtedly the Gulf states would have a greater propensity to work with them - diplomatically, financially and otherwise.
  • Agha and Khalidi's important statement opens the door for a new political discourse in the Middle East. It can only be hoped that their path to a new political realism is seriously considered and not obliterated by those still clinging to worn-out concepts that plainly have not worked in the past.

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

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This issue of Daily Alert was produced in Israel on Hol Hamoed Pesach.
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