April 5, 2021

In-Depth Issues:

Nearly 20 Arrested in Alleged Plot Against Jordan's King Abdullah II - Joby Warrick (Washington Post)
    Jordanian authorities arrested as many as 20 people on Saturday amid what officials called a threat to "security and stability."
    Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, 41, the eldest son of the late King Hussein and the ruling King Abdullah II's half-brother, was told to remain at his Amman palace.
    The move followed the discovery of what officials described as a plot that included at least one other Jordanian royal as well as tribal leaders and members of the country's political and security establishment.
    See also Jordan's King Abdullah Clips the Wings of a Rival to the Crown Prince - Oded Granot (Israel Hayom)
    Jordan's foreign minister on Sunday created the impression that the failed coup attempt involved, at the most, conversations and plans that might have been cooked up secretly, rather than concrete actions.
    No tanks were rolling toward the royal palace in Amman, and King Abdullah's throne was never in any real danger.
    If Prince Hamzah was planning to overthrow King Abdullah, Hamzah would be in prison rather than under house arrest.

IAEA: Iran Adds Advanced Machines Enriching Underground at Natanz - Francois Murphy (Reuters)
    "On 31 March 2021, the Agency verified at FEP [the underground Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant] that: Iran had begun feeding natural UF6 into a fourth cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges," the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Wednesday, in a further Iranian breach of its 2015 nuclear deal.

U.S. Removes Gulf Air Defense Batteries amid Houthi Drone Strikes - Gordon Lubold (Wall Street Journal)
    President Biden has directed the Pentagon to realign the U.S. global military footprint away from the Mideast, as Saudi Arabia endures rocket and drone attacks from Yemen and Iraq.
    The U.S. has removed at least three Patriot antimissile batteries from the Gulf region, including one from Saudi Arabia that had been put in place in recent years to help protect American forces.
    Other capabilities, including an aircraft carrier and surveillance systems, are being diverted to answer military needs elsewhere, and additional reductions are under consideration, officials said.
    As of late last year there were about 50,000 U.S. troops in the region.

State Department Report Documents Grave Abuses in Iran - Tzvi Kahn (Foundation for Defense of Democracies)
    According to the State Department's 2020 Country Report on Human Rights Practices: Islamic Republic of Iran, the regime in Iran routinely engages in unlawful or politically motivated killings of protesters and political dissidents; tortures prisoners; denies inmates any semblance of due process; prohibits freedoms of speech, religion, and assembly; blocks access to the internet; bars regime critics from running for public office; and discriminates against women and ethnic and religious minorities.

Militias a Growing Challenge for Iraq - Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP-Military Times)
    Last week, a convoy of masked Shiite militiamen, armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, drove openly through central Baghdad denouncing the U.S. presence in Iraq and threatening to cut off the prime minister's ear.
    They sent a stark warning that the rogue militias loyal to Tehran will not be curbed.
    Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has said that bringing armed groups under state control is a goal of his administration but finds himself increasingly helpless in reining in the groups.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran, World Powers to Discuss U.S. Rejoining Nuclear Deal - Karen DeYoung
    World powers held a virtual meeting with Iran on Friday to discuss "the prospect of a possible return of the United States" to the Iran nuclear deal, the EU said. "We are determined to find a diplomatic solution that allows Iran to resume respect for its nuclear commitments and the United States to return to the agreement as swiftly as possible. We are engaged in ongoing discussions with Washington and Tehran in that regard," French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said Thursday. (Washington Post)
  • Biden Administration Ends Sanctions Against ICC Officials - Jessica Donati
    The Biden administration on Friday rescinded economic sanctions and visa restrictions against two senior officials of the International Criminal Court. The State Department said that the U.S., which isn't a party to the International Criminal Court, continues to object to its efforts to investigate the U.S. for its actions in Afghanistan, and Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. American elected officials from both parties have long been wary of the court because of the potential to prosecute American officials for military operations. (Wall Street Journal)
  • U.S. Preparing $125 Million in Aid for Palestinians - Laura Kelly
    The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department have sent notification to Congress of their intent to deliver $125 million in assistance to the Palestinians after U.S. aid was stopped in 2018, according to a congressional source. The financial assistance includes $75 million to support economic growth, $40 million for security cooperation programs, and $10 million for cross-border, people-to-people reconciliation activities. (The Hill)
        See also PA President Refuses Phone Call from U.S. Secretary of State - Benjamin Kerstein
    Israel's Channel 11 reported Thursday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to take a telephone call from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The incident occurred within the last two months. Members of Abbas' inner circle demanded that President Joe Biden personally call instead. (Algemeiner)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Troubled by U.S. Position ahead of Iran Talks - Lahav Harkov
    Mixed messages from the Biden administration on the Iran nuclear deal before indirect talks commence in Vienna are "very troubling," senior Israeli officials said Sunday. They expressed their concerns after U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley on Friday spoke about a return to the 2015 deal without any additional elements that would make it "longer and stronger," as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.
        Malley told PBS the U.S. is "going to have to lift those sanctions that are inconsistent with the deal that was reached with Iran...so that Iran enjoys the benefits that it was supposed to enjoy under the deal." Malley repeatedly spoke of equivalence between the U.S. and Iran in their behavior, referring to "mutual distrust" between the countries. A senior Israeli official said: "If this is American policy, we are concerned."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Coronavirus in Israel: Positive Test Rate Lowest since May 2020 - Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
    The Israel Health Ministry reported on Monday that 194 new coronavirus cases were identified on Sunday out of 32,000 tests, a rate of 0.6%, the lowest rate since May 2020. The number of patients in serious condition has fallen to 327. Three people succumbed to the virus on Sunday, the lowest daily toll in months. 6,243 people have died of Covid-19 in Israel since the beginning of the pandemic. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • The False Claim that Israel Is Bound to Lose Either Its Jewish or Democratic Identities - Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser
    Most Israelis consider warnings about the inevitable need to choose between being Jewish or being democratic and the urgent messages to Israel to save itself as misguided, dangerous, patronizing, condescending, and undemocratic, as well as indicative of gross ignorance of the situation in Israel and disregard for the rights of the Jewish people. These messages are seen by most Israelis as offensive, hostile, anti-Zionist, and even anti-Semitic. Most Israeli voters lean more and more toward parties that reject these exhortations.
        Most Israelis would gladly change the status quo by reaching an agreement with the Palestinians, but they insist on an agreement that includes Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, as well as one that really addresses Israel's security concerns. Virtually no one in Israel envisages a situation where Israel takes complete control and extends its sovereignty over the densely populated Palestinian areas. Most of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza already live under Palestinian rule, and no one intends to dismantle the two entities that govern them.
        The main obstacle to reaching a settlement to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is the Palestinian narrative. According to this narrative, the struggle against Zionism until its demise is the core identity of the Palestinian people. Israel does not deny that the Palestinian people have rights, and it is ready to share the land with them, but it does not regard the West Bank as "Occupied Palestinian Territory." For Israel, and according to the Oslo Accords, these are disputed lands, subject to negotiation of their permanent status.
        The writer, former head of the research division of IDF Military Intelligence, is a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Center. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Iran Probably Already Has the Bomb - R. James Woolsey, William R. Graham, and Henry F. Cooper
    Washington's mainstream thinking assumes Iran does not yet have atomic weapons, but could "break out" to develop one or a few A-bombs in a year, which the intelligence community would supposedly detect in time for preventive measures.
        We warned in 2016 that, prior to 2003, Iran was manufacturing nuclear weapon components, like bridge-wire detonators and neutron initiators, performing non-fissile explosive experiments of an implosion nuclear device, and working on the design of a nuclear warhead for the Shahab-III missile. When America's World War II Manhattan Project reached this stage, the U.S. was only months away from making the first atomic bombs.
        By 2003, 18 years ago, Iran was already a threshold nuclear-missile state. On Feb. 25, 2021, the Institute for Science and International Security assessed that Iran had a break-out time of as short as three months for its first nuclear weapon and five months for a second.
        There is no reason to believe U.S. and IAEA intelligence capabilities can assuredly detect Iran's clandestine efforts to build atomic weapons. Indeed, the U.S. and IAEA did not even know about Iran's clandestine nuclear-weapons program until Iranian dissidents exposed it in 2002. IAEA inspections failed to discover clandestine nuclear-weapons programs in North Korea, Pakistan, Iraq, and Libya. It is implausible and imprudent to assume that Iran refrained from making atomic weapons for more than a decade, when they could do so clandestinely.
        Arms control non-solutions like the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) will only make matters worse, just as arms control did with North Korea, by offering false hope while the nuclear threat grows.
        R. James Woolsey is a former director of central intelligence; William R. Graham was President Reaganís science adviser and acting administrator of NASA; Amb. Henry F. Cooper was director of the Strategic Defense Initiative and chief negotiator at the Defense and Space Talks with the USSR. (National Review)
  • Yemen's "Hizbullah": Implications of Houthi Missile and Drone Improvements - Michael Knights
    On March 25, Yemen's Houthi militia attacked Saudi Arabia with 18 explosive drones and 8 ballistic missiles, striking energy targets 900 miles away in the oil-rich Eastern Province and 650 miles away on the Red Sea coast. Such attacks are becoming a weekly occurrence, underlining the presence of a mature missile-drone assembly industry in Houthi-held areas of Yemen and foreshadowing further range increases that could allow the Iran-backed rebels to reach new targets including Israel, Egypt and Jordan.
        Iran and the Houthis have developed a military industry in Sanaa and Saada that fuses imports from Iran (e.g., drone engines, guidance systems, liquid/solid-fuel components) with domestically available military items and imported industrial materials (e.g., fiberglass). In March 2021, 70 major weapons systems were fired into Saudi Arabia, compared to 25 in February and 3 in January.
        The U.S. and its partners should intensify their efforts to map out missile and drone procurement networks and expose them to kinetic, cyber, financial, and counter-smuggling operations. Separately, any international peace deal must be conditioned on the Houthis removing Iranian technicians and coming back into compliance with the Missile Technology Control Regime - which means giving up all of its missiles.
        Washington should assess the Houthis' future intentions toward not only U.S. personnel and facilities in the region, but also Israel, international shipping, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Hizbullah. If the Houthis are likely to be a U.S. adversary in the future, then officials should start thinking about a containment strategy. Given the group's growing long-range arsenal and its commitment to its official motto of "Death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, victory to Islam," such contingency planning already seems prudent.
        The writer is a senior fellow of The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

  • The U.S. administration has detailed plans for a "reset" in Washington's approach to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
  • There can be no genuine and bona fide reset of the administration's approach which ignores and leaves intact the continuing Palestinian incitement and anti-Semitism against Israel and the Jewish people. There can be no genuine reset if the Palestinian support and encouragement of the BDS campaign against Israel's economic, cultural, and political integrity is allowed to continue and to develop.
  • There can certainly be no genuine reset if the Palestinian leadership is allowed and even encouraged to continue in its efforts to undermine the Palestinian-Israeli peace process by undermining Israel's legitimacy, as well as through its cynical manipulation of the International Criminal Court.
  • To reset the U.S. approach without requiring the Palestinian leadership to cease their "pay-to-slay" policy of paying salaries to terrorists and their families is tantamount to turning a blind eye to such payments and ignoring valid U.S. legislation prohibiting such payments.
  • To reopen Palestinian diplomatic offices in the U.S. and Israel, as well as restoring U.S. financial assistance for the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, without exacting the appropriate substantive quid pro quo from the Palestinian leadership, will not reset the peace process. To the contrary, by giving a green light and encouraging the Palestinians to continue their intransigence, it will place that process into a mode of acute regression.
  • Restoration of financial aid to the Palestinians without requiring them to cease their attempts to undermine Israel's legitimacy signals to them that they can freely advance their policies of bypassing and undermining any possible chance to reengage with Israel in a meaningful and genuine negotiation process.
  • One wonders why this new U.S. administration is so intent on coddling the Palestinians, without exacting the appropriate and necessary price.

    The writer, former legal counsel to Israel's foreign ministry and former ambassador to Canada, heads the international law program at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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