November 22, 2021

In-Depth Issues:

Israeli Intelligence Warned Americans Prior to Iranian Attack on U.S. Base in Syria - Eric Schmitt and Ronen Bergman (New York Times)
    Most of the 200 American troops stationed at the Al Tanf base in southern Syria, which was attacked on Oct. 20 by Iranian suicide drones, had been evacuated hours earlier after being tipped off by Israeli intelligence, officials said.
    Senior U.S. and Israeli officials said they had intelligence indicating that the drone attack was retaliation for several recent Israeli strikes on Iranian forces in Syria.

Yemen's Battleground Shifts in Favor of Iran-Backed Houthis - Dion Nissenbaum (Wall Street Journal)
    Yemeni forces supported by Saudi Arabia and the UAE abruptly withdrew last week from key positions near the western port city of Hodeidah.
    At the same time, the Houthis have been methodically gaining new ground for months near Marib, the center of an energy hub near the Saudi border.

Secret Chinese Port Project in Persian Gulf Rattles U.S. Relations with UAE - Gordon Lubold (Wall Street Journal)
    U.S. intelligence agencies learned this spring that China was secretly building what they suspected was a military facility at Khalifa port, 50 miles north of Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, one of the U.S.'s closest Mideast allies.
    Alarmed, the Biden administration warned the Emirati government that a Chinese military presence in its country could threaten ties between the two nations.
    After rounds of meetings and visits by U.S. officials, construction was recently halted.
    It appeared the Emirati government was unaware of the military nature of China's activity.
    "The UAE has never had an agreement, plan, talks or intention to host a Chinese military base or outpost of any kind," a UAE Embassy spokesman in Washington said.

Israeli Drones Have Downed Hundreds of Arson Balloons from Gaza - Sagi Cohen (Ha'aretz)
    During 2018, Israeli communities adjacent to Gaza came under a relentless assault of hundreds of explosive and incendiary kites and balloons.
    In response, the Israel Defense Forces called up for reserve duty 15 of the most experienced drone operators to intercept the balloons.
    Over several months, the experts downed hundreds of kites and balloons, controlling the drones intuitively with virtual-reality goggles that provide the operator with the drone's point of view.
    A new drone operating system enables soldiers with very little training to fly drones. "We eliminated the concept of control by means of sticks," said Rubi Liani.
    "We reduce two years of training into five minutes. Soldiers arrive, and within 10 minutes of training they start downing balloons in Gaza," Aviv Shapira added. Takeoff and landing are performed automatically.

Morocco Purchases Israeli Anti-Drone Defense System - Oumaima Latrech (Morocco World News)
    Morocco's Royal Armed Forces have purchased five Israeli Skylock Dome anti-drone defense systems.
    Last year, Morocco purchased three Israeli Heron drones for reconnaissance to combat insurgent groups in Western Sahara.

PA Forces Confront Gunmen in Jenin in West Bank - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank entered the Jenin refugee camp to make arrests on Friday.
    Dozens of local residents hurled rocks and other objects at the vehicles of the security forces, forcing them to retreat. Masked gunmen opened fire at the vehicles from rooftops and alleyways.
    Later, gunmen attacked the headquarters of the PA security forces in Jenin.
    See also PA Launches Military Operation to Regain Control of Jenin - Elior Levy (Ynet News)
    The Palestinian Authority launched an extensive military operation in Jenin on Friday to regain control of the area.
    Armed militias affiliated with Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, and Hamas recently marched openly in the city, proclaiming their control.

Fitch Reaffirms Israel's A+ Credit Rating - Ricky Ben-David (Times of Israel)
    Fitch Ratings on Nov. 11 reaffirmed Israel's A+ rating with a stable outlook.
    Fitch said the improvement in Israel's finances in 2021 has been "driven by the strong economic rebound, the gradual withdrawal of pandemic support measures, and particularly buoyant fiscal revenue from high-tech sectors."

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Hopes for Nuclear Deal Fade as Iran Rebuilds - David E. Sanger
    Iranian negotiators plan to meet with their European, Chinese and Russian counterparts on Nov. 29 to discuss the future of the 2015 nuclear agreement. American officials will be in Vienna but not inside the room because Iran will not meet with them. While five months ago, U.S. officials seemed optimistic that the 2015 deal was about to be restored, they return to Vienna far more pessimistic. Today President Biden's vision of re-entering the agreement and then building something "longer and stronger" appears all but gone.
        Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran's newly appointed chief nuclear negotiator, does not refer to the upcoming talks as nuclear negotiations at all. Instead, he refers to them as "negotiations to remove unlawful and inhuman sanctions."
        The Iranians are declaring that they have now produced 55 pounds of uranium enriched to 60% purity. That is below the 90% normally used to produce a weapon, but not by much. It is a level "that only countries making bombs have," said Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN watchdog. (New York Times)
  • Britain Outlaws Palestinian Militant Group Hamas - Stephen Farrell
    Britain's interior minister Priti Patel on Friday said she had banned the Palestinian militant group Hamas, bringing the UK's stance in line with the U.S. and the EU. "Hamas has significant terrorist capability, including access to extensive and sophisticated weaponry, as well as terrorist training facilities," Patel said. "That is why today I have acted to proscribe Hamas in its entirety." Until now Britain had banned only its military arm - the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. (Reuters)
        See also Israel Provided Intelligence to UK on Hamas
    Several officials from the Israel Security Agency traveled to the UK in recent weeks to provide the British government with intelligence on several individuals in key positions in Hamas as well as on funding mechanisms to finance the terror group, Israel's Channel 12 reported Saturday night. The UK's terror designation is a major blow for Hamas, which carries out significant fundraising there. (Times of Israel)
  • Iranian Hackers Charged with Meddling in U.S. Presidential Election - Eric Geller
    U.S. federal prosecutors on Thursday announced charges against two Iranian hackers accused of attempting to sow chaos and fear during the 2020 presidential election. Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi and Sajjad Kashian, who worked for an Iranian technology company that has provided services to the regime, stole private information on more than 100,000 voters, sent threatening emails to voters, and spread false claims about election security vulnerabilities, according to the indictment. The two are not in U.S. custody.
        Earlier this year, the U.S. intelligence community said Iran had waged a "covert influence campaign intended to undercut" then-President Donald Trump's campaign. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei authorized the campaign, which included both "messaging and cyber operations," the intelligence community said. The two tried to hack into "11 state voter websites" in September and October 2020 and successfully breached "a misconfigured computer system" in one state, prosecutors said. (Politico)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Hamas Terrorist Opens Fire in Jerusalem's Old City, Kills One, Injures Four - Judah Ari Gross
    A Hamas gunman, Fadi Abu Shkhaydam, 42, from eastern Jerusalem, opened fire in Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday morning with a Beretta M12 submachine gun, killing one Israeli and wounding four others. Eli Kay, 26, an immigrant from South Africa who was employed at the Western Wall as a guide, was shot dead by the gunman. Rabbi Zeev Katzenelnbogen, 46, and yeshiva student Aaron Yehuda Imergreen were injured, as were two police officers who were lightly hurt. Israeli security forces killed the shooter. (Times of Israel-Jerusalem Post)
        See also Eli Kay: A Passionate Zionist - Jeremy Sharon
    Eli Kay, who was murdered by a Hamas terrorist on Sunday, is remembered by his friends as an ardent Zionist with a deep sense of mission to contribute to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. Eli made aliyah from South Africa in 2016 by himself and then enlisted in the army, serving in the Paratroopers Brigade.
        One of his commanders described him as the hardest-working member of the unit. "He forced people to be better." When the company was on duty on the Gaza border, Eli would tell his comrades to look behind them at the Israeli towns and say, "That's why we're here, that's who we're doing this for."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Video - Eli Kay's Fiancee Speaks Out (Twitter)
  • The Islamic "Scholar" Who Carried Out the Jerusalem Shooting Attack - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Fadi Abu Shkhaydam was a well-known mosque preacher who was described as a "senior Hamas official in Jerusalem." He was known for his daily presence at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, where he delivered sermons and led protests against tours by Jewish groups. He worked as a teacher of Islamic education at a secondary school operating under the supervision of the Jerusalem Municipality. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Hundreds of Palestinians March in Support of Jerusalem Terrorist - Elior Levy
    Hundreds of Palestinians marched through the Shuafat neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem on Sunday in support of the Hamas gunman who killed one Israeli and wounded four others on Sunday. The crowd set tires on fire, threw rocks at Border Police forces, and chanted, "the martyrs are going to Jerusalem in the millions."  (Ynet News)
  • Palestinian from West Bank Stabs Israeli Man in Jaffa - Emanuel Fabian
    A Palestinian, 18, from Jenin in the West Bank, who was in Israel illegally, stabbed an Israeli man, 67, in the back five times and attempted to stab his wife in Jaffa before he was arrested, Israel Police said. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Ex-Mossad Chief: It's Not Too Late to Stop Iran from Getting Nuclear Weapons - Aluf Benn
    Yossi Cohen, the former head of Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency, oversaw an operation in 2018 to obtain Iran's nuclear archive. "We had shown the Americans and the world that Iran lied all the way to the [nuclear] deal," Cohen said Sunday. "Iran wasn't coming clean on many issues that were hidden from the world."
        With regard to operations that the Mossad reportedly conducted deep inside Iran, Cohen said: "You can damage and slow down their capabilities. Everything that we, according to foreign press reports, did in Iran was to make sure that they keep enough of a distance in terms of capabilities." However, he added, the main problem remains Iran's leaders' intentions, which cannot be changed by clandestine activities.
        Despite some assessments that it is now too late to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state, Cohen said that "it's never too late....I assume it's going to be complicated militarily, operationally, but I don't think it's impossible. I think that if the State of Israel will decide to get rid of this program, we will have to do it."  (Ha'aretz)
  • Iran Developing Air Defense Systems to Challenge U.S., Israel - Yaakov Lappin
    Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael Segall - a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and an expert on Iranian military strategy and tactics - published a report in August that documented recent developments in Iran's Bavar 373 air-defense system, which the Islamic Republic touted as a "substantial upgrade" from the Russian-made S-300 system.
        Segall told JNS that Iran could deploy its domestically produced surface-to-air missile batteries in the Persian Gulf, close to islands near the UAE that are subject to long-standing territorial disputes. Such systems could be operated against American forces, said Segall, noting that the Iranians "fly unmanned aerial vehicles over U.S. battle carrier groups in the Persian Gulf all of the time. They could combine these UAVs with surface-to-air missile systems."
        Iran is also believed to be seeking to smuggle such systems into Syria in order to challenge Israeli Air Force strikes as it continues attempts to transfer weapons and build military bases there. (JNS)
  • Hamas Supporters Are Terrorist Sympathizers. The UK Is Right to Punish Them - Ian Austin
    Home Secretary Priti Patel's decision to ban Hamas in its entirety should be welcomed by all those who oppose terrorism. Hamas is not - as some of its sympathizers intimate - a legitimate campaign for Palestinian rights. It is an armed group of genocidal terrorists that wants to wipe Israel off the map and murder both the Jews and Arabs who live there. It has subjected the poor people of Gaza to a brutal dictatorship ever since it seized power in a bloody coup 15 years ago.
        The group is opposed not just to the idea of any sort of peace process with Israel but rejects the very existence of the Jewish state in the first place. In fact, its founding charter contains disgusting racist language calling for the death of all Jews worldwide. Funded by Iran, it presents an existential threat to the Middle East's only democracy.
        Earlier this year, Hamas provoked a conflict with Israel by firing thousands of rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians. Had it not been for the country's Iron Dome missile defense system, thousands would have been slaughtered. Several of their missiles misfired and killed Palestinians.
        The UK decision will mean that showing support for Hamas could result in imprisonment under the Terrorism Act. That will prevent the group raising funds here. Moreover, it will deal with some of the disgusting anti-Semitic racism we have seen on British streets during the recent conflict, like pro-Palestinian demonstrators wearing the Hamas-style headband traditionally worn by its suicide bombers. The decision is showing that the supporters of anti-Semitic terror will not be tolerated on the streets of Britain.
        Lord Austin is a former Labour MP and chairs the anti-extremism campaign Mainstream. (Telegraph-UK)
  • Israel Signals Confidence in Its Relationship with Biden - Laura Kelly
    Israeli officials are feeling confident about where they stand in Washington nearly one year into the Biden administration. Biden has largely sought consensus with Israel, firmly supporting Israel during its war with Hamas in May, and backing off demands related to the Palestinians, despite vocal opposition among progressives in his party.
        "We respect the president, we respect the administration," Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said in an interview with The Hill in Washington this week. "There are specific issues in which we don't think the same, but in general, we are working together." Overall, the U.S.-Israel relationship is one of the strongest - if not the strongest - partnerships among American allies.
        Israel's current government is outspoken in its opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran but has worked more closely with Biden to project a united front, an effort to increase pressure on Iran to rein in its nuclear ambitions. The administration has "coordinated with the Israelis every step of the way," said Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has served as a Middle East negotiator. According to Miller, "Biden learned from Obama, you do not confront the Israelis on the Iranian and the Palestinian issue at the same time. Obama did and it turned out to be a disaster. So you don't do that."  (The Hill)

Does a Palestinian "Right of Return" Exist in International Law? - Amb. Alan Baker and Lea Bilke (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • On Nov. 9, 2021, the Fourth (Special Political) Committee of the UN General Assembly adopted by a 160-1 vote a draft resolution on Palestinian refugees. The U.S. abstained, although all previous administrations, apart from the Obama administration, had voted against this resolution.
  • In 1999, the U.S. representative (representing the Clinton administration) stated, "This delegation could not support unbalanced resolutions which attempted to prejudge the outcome of negotiations; lasting peace would come from agreements reached among the parties themselves, not from any action taken by the Committee."
  • The international media pounced on the latest change in the U.S. voting pattern, erroneously claiming that it signified "support by the Biden administration for a right of return for Palestinian refugees to sovereign Israel." In fact, the U.S. vote-change signifies no such thing, and the resolution does not mention any right of return for Palestinian refugees.
  • Several international legal and political documents try to tackle the question of return of refugees, but they do not establish any right of return for Palestinian refugees. UN General Assembly Resolution 194 states that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so," but no resolution of the General Assembly has the capacity to determine laws or establish rights. The term "should" underlines that this is solely a recommendation.
  • Moreover, a "right of return" does not appear in resolutions of the UN Security Council, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), or in Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process documentation.

    Alan Baker, former legal counsel to Israel's foreign ministry, heads the international law program at the Jerusalem Center. Lea Bilke is a law student at the Free University of Berlin in Germany.

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