August 23, 2021

In-Depth Issues:

Report: Iran Has Doubled Forces on Israeli Border since 2018 - Neta Bar (Israel Hayom)
    A new report from the Istanbul-based Jusoor research institute says the Iranian military presence in southern Syria has more than doubled since 2018 and is deployed in preparation for a future confrontation with Israel.
    The number of military bases and outposts of pro-Iranian militias and Hizbullah in southern Syria has increased from 40 to 88.
    Moreover, bases of the Syrian Army, particularly the 90th Brigade deployed from southern Syrian to Damascus, serve as logistics backing for pro-Iranian militias.
    The fighters are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Lebanon, while the command echelon is mostly comprised of Iranian Revolutionary Guards disguised as militia members or Syrian army officers.

Hamas' Secret $500 Million Foreign Investment Portfolio - Paul Peachey (The National-Abu Dhabi)
    Hamas has a secret overseas investment portfolio worth more than $500 million, according to documents seen by the German newspaper Die Welt.
    The documents from 2017-18 were part of a decade's worth of financial files discovered on a Hamas computer.
    Investments in 40 international companies were mainly in the construction sector in Turkey, Sudan and Algeria.

Moroccan King Hopes Ties with Israel Will Encourage Regional Peace (Times of Israel)
    Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Friday revealed a letter from Morocco's King Mohammed VI, responding to his letter to the king delivered last week during a visit to Morocco by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
    The king wrote: "I am pleased with the steps taken for the resumption of contacts between our two countries. I am convinced that we shall make this momentum sustainable in order to promote the prospects of peace for all peoples in the region."
    See also Israeli, Moroccan Universities Sign Collaboration Agreement (i24news)
    Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev signed historic agreements with Morocco's Mohammed VI Polytechnic University last week, seeking to promote "joint research and collaborative degrees," "innovation on a global scale," and the "exchange of publications and academic materials."

Abbas Steps Up Crackdown on Critics - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    PA security forces arrested 23 Palestinians in Ramallah on Saturday who were planning to participate in a protest to demand justice for slain anti-corruption activist Nizar Banat, who was beaten to death by PA security officers in June.
    Most of those arrested are affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).

Israel Uses Drones to Catch Environmental Criminals - Nick Kolyohin (Xinhua-China)
    Israel's Ministry of Environmental Protection is expanding its use of drones to fight environmental offenders, as high resolution video serves as substantial evidence in court.
    Green Police inspectors focus on illegal dumping, hazardous materials, and construction waste.
    Trucks full of construction waste were dumping their loads at night, but did not take into account drones with night-vision cameras that captured the faces of environmental criminals and their license plates.
    "Drones are a game-changer," said Nir Shorashi, an inspector in the Green Police. "We can sit kilometers away from the crime scene and produce incriminating evidence....In the past, we needed to hide on the ground."
    The drone unit, Squadron 11, began operations in 2017. In 2020, it dealt with 700 incidents in all parts of the country.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Terrorist Elite Set Free in Afghanistan - Catherine Philp
    Thousands of Afghanistan's most dangerous terrorism captives have been set free after the Taliban seized control of the former American base at Bagram. Bagram prison contained the 5,000 "highest value" Taliban, al-Qaeda and Islamic State fighters. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News, "Al-Qaeda will probably come back."  (Sunday Times-UK)
        See also U.S. Acknowledges Growing Terrorism Threats in Afghanistan - Zach Montague
    On Sunday, Jake Sullivan, President Biden's national security adviser, said the threat of ISIS terrorists regaining a foothold in Afghanistan was of growing concern to security experts. "The threat is real," he said. "It is acute. It is persistent. And it is something that we are focused on with every tool in our arsenal."  (New York Times)
        See also Taliban Said Hunting for West's Allies House-to-House
    The Taliban have been conducting "targeted door-to-door visits" of people who worked with U.S. and NATO forces, according to a document by the UN's threat assessment consultants seen by AFP. "They are targeting the families of those who refuse to give themselves up, and prosecuting and punishing their families," said Christian Nellemann, executive director of the Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, which wrote the report. (AFP-Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
  • France, Germany and UK Condemn Iran for Nuclear Violations
    The governments of France, Germany and the UK note with grave concern the latest reports by the IAEA confirming that Iran has produced uranium metal enriched up to 20% for the first time, and has significantly increased its production capacity of uranium enriched up to 60%. These are serious violations of Iran's commitments under the JCPOA. Both are key steps in the development of a nuclear weapon and Iran has no credible civilian need for either measure.
        Our concerns are deepened by the fact that Iran has significantly limited IAEA access. Iran must halt all activities in violation of the JCPOA without delay. (Foreign Office-UK)
  • Israel Tightens Cooperation with Egypt - Ben Caspit
    Egyptian intelligence director Maj.-Gen. Abbas Kamel, President Sisi's right-hand man, met with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem on Aug. 18-19. Contrary to previous visits, Kamel did not insist on secrecy. "On the contrary," a senior Israeli diplomatic source said, "they want their photos taken and they want to be seen with us, just like the Jordanians. Relations with Israel have become an asset rather than being a burden." It was reported that Sisi had invited Israeli Prime Minister Bennett to visit Egypt.
        At the same time, a senior Israeli officer was visiting Cairo for talks on ongoing efforts to establish a long-term cease-fire with Hamas, which would include returning the bodies of two Israeli soldiers and releasing two civilians held in Gaza.
        The last time a Democratic president held power in Washington, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down. To this day, the Egyptians claim Obama "threw Mubarak under the wheels of the bus." Sisi's human rights record is not much better than Mubarak's. The Egyptians are asking for Biden's understanding of the importance of a stable regime in Cairo and Israel is the main conduit of this argument. In return, Israel wants Egypt to redouble its efforts to block supplies to Hamas arsenals through the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Sinai. (Al-Monitor)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • IDF Soldier Critically Hurt in Gaza Border Shooting
    An Israeli Border Police officer, Barel Shmueli, 21, was shot in the head at point-blank range during a riot along the Gaza border on Saturday. A video showed a Palestinian with a pistol who ran up to a small hole in the concrete wall along the border and fired a number of shots through it. In response, the IDF carried out airstrikes on four Hamas weapons storage sites in Gaza. (Times of Israel)
  • Qatar, UN Reach Agreement on Aid Money for Gaza Families - Jack Khoury
    Qatar announced on Thursday an agreement with the UN to transfer aid money to poor families in Gaza. Some 100,000 Palestinian families will receive $100 in cash each month, starting in September. However the agreement does not cover salaries for Hamas government employees, who had previously been supported by Qatari funding. (Ha'aretz)
  • Hamas Instigated Gaza Riots, Even after Deal on Qatari Funding - Avi Issacharoff
    With the violence on the Gaza border Saturday, including a Palestinian critically injuring a Border Police officer, Hamas is playing with fire for the umpteenth time, looking to bolster its status on the Palestinian street and send a message that it's not afraid of a fight with Israel, even after reaching a deal with it on the transfer of Qatari funds. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Setting the Agenda for the Bennett-Biden Meeting - Israel Kasnett
    Ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's visit to the White House on Aug. 26, the U.S. "is going through an almost traumatic foreign policy setback in Afghanistan with implications for the entire Middle East," said former Israeli Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. "Now is not the time to experiment with new ideas in the peace process."
        "The main effect of the Afghan withdrawal is not that it occurred, but rather how the U.S. handled it. Many American allies from the UK out to the Far East are raising serious questions about America's handling of foreign policy." Gold noted that "there is always a cottage industry of so-called experts who have proposals they want their bosses to advance when an Israeli prime minister comes to town." Many of these "so-called experts" have in the past demonstrated their obsession to create a Palestinian state at all costs, even if it would pose a danger to Israel.
        Regarding the possibility of the U.S. reopening its consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, Gold questioned why the U.S. would establish a Palestinian consulate in a location which has been under Israeli sovereignty since 1949. "It has huge implications for the future and it is something Israel will have to resist with all its diplomatic strength....The unity of Jerusalem is such a fundamental principle. It's a consensus issue."  (JNS)
  • Night Falls on Afghanistan: Again - Amir Taheri
    Will the Taliban succeed in building a state in Afghanistan or will Afghanistan become another ungoverned territory in West Asia's arch of instability? The Taliban did not win on any battlefield because, outside a few locations such as Kandahar and Lashkargah, Afghan security forces either surrendered or ran away. Like the last time when they emerged as top dog in Afghanistan, the Taliban used a mixture of bribes, promises of safety and appeals to Pushtun tribal affinities to persuade army and police chiefs to sheath their swords.
        More importantly, most Afghans saw no reason to fight and possibly die for the U.S.-backed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The regime's corruption, incompetence, tribalism and cowardice prevented the shaping of a will to resist.
        Afghanistan has over 18,000 villages, where 76% of the population live, which have never really been governed by anyone. Among the urban population, numerous opinion polls over the past two decades show Taliban support hovering below 14%. This is why even in Pushtun-majority towns and cities, no one turned up to welcome the Taliban forces. Women dusted off their old burqas or stayed home while men started to grow longer beards. Yet in urban areas, millions of Afghans have had a taste of a different way of life and are unlikely to put the clock back 1,400 years as the Taliban demand.
        The writer was editor-in-chief of the Iranian daily Kayhan. (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
  • Why We Must Not Abandon the People of Afghanistan - Tony Blair
    In the aftermath of the decision to return Afghanistan to the same group from which the carnage of 9/11 arose, has the West lost its strategic will? Anyone given commitments by Western leaders will understandably regard them as unstable currency.
        We have given up much of our leverage in dealing with the Taliban, but we retain some. The country's finances and public-sector workforce are significantly dependent on aid from the U.S., Japan, and the UK. The average age of the population is 18. A majority of Afghans have known freedom and not known the Taliban regime. They will not all conform quietly.
        The motivation for the 9/11 attack arose from an ideology many years in development: radical Islam. Its essence is the belief that Muslim people are disrespected and disadvantaged because they are oppressed by outside powers and their own corrupt leadership, and that the answer lies in creating a state based not on nations but on religion, with society and politics governed by a strict and fundamentalist view of Islam. It turns the religion of Islam into an exclusionary and extreme political ideology in a multi-faith and multicultural world, holding that there is only one true faith and we should all conform to it.
        We recognized revolutionary Communism as a strategic threat which required us to confront it both ideologically and with security measures for more than 70 years. We would never have dreamt of saying, "well, we have been at this for a long time, we should just give up." If we understand that radical Islam is a strategic threat, we need to decide how those opposed to it, including within Islam, combine to defeat it.
        The writer is former Prime Minister of Great Britain. (Tony Blair Institute for Global Change)
        See also American Mistakes in Afghanistan - Gen. David Petraeus interviewed by Isaac Chotiner (New Yorker)

The Lesson from Afghanistan: Israel Must Recognize the Limits of Superpower Support - Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • The rapid collapse of the Afghan government and its U.S.-backed security forces shows how the American attempt to instill in Afghans a liberal worldview in the space of 20 years was politically and culturally impossible and how misguided that approach was.
  • But the more fundamental problem is that the U.S. decision to leave Afghanistan is part of an American strategy to reduce its role as an international superpower, especially in the Middle East.
  • This may encourage radical Islamic elements such as Iran, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Hamas, to challenge the U.S. and its allies, including Israel.
  • The essential lesson for Israel is that with all the importance of Israel's strategic partnership with the U.S., Israel must recognize the limitations of a superpower's backing and adhere closely to the principle that Israel will defend itself on its own.
  • This is a relevant lesson in the Iranian context when the Americans project hesitation in response to Tehran's many provocations.

    The writer, Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center, was formerly head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence.

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