December 27, 2021

In-Depth Issues:

Iran-Backed Houthi Attacks on Saudi Arabia Have Doubled this Year - Gordon Lubold (Wall Street Journal)
    Attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi militant group against Saudi Arabia have more than doubled this year, according to a recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
    During the first nine months of 2021, Houthi attacks against the Saudi kingdom averaged 78 a month, or 702 in total, compared with 38 a month during the same period in 2020.
    Moreover, Hizbullah, also backed by Iran, has provided the Houthis with weapons and training.
    The Houthi attacks include ballistic and cruise missiles and drones, often used against Saudi civilian infrastructure, as well as maritime attacks against oil tankers.
    See also The Iranian and Houthi War Against Saudi Arabia (Center for Strategic and International Studies)

Deadly Water Crisis Threatening Iran's Leadership - Golnar Motevalli (Bloomberg)
    A long-brewing crisis over water scarcity poses an increasing challenge to Iran's leaders as the country faces the worst drought in decades.
    State agencies run daily headlines about huge drops in rainfall, dam failures and depletions in ground and surface water stores.
    Fars News has warned that 300 towns and cities now face acute water stress.
    Government meteorologists estimate 97% of the country is affected by drought, while one academic says 20 million people have been forced to move to cities because the land is too dry for farming.
    Many dams registered record levels of evaporation this year, triggering power outages at the height of one of the hottest summers ever recorded.
    The Zayandeh Rud river started disappearing two decades ago after engineers diverted its flows to support industrial plants outside Esfahan.
    At the same time, public parks in Tehran remain well-watered. It's common practice to spray pavements to cool them down.

How NGO Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P) Distorts the Truth - Daniel Segal (Jerusalem Post)
    Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P) - designated in October by Israel as a terror organization citing links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) - regularly distorts the truth.
    In a November 2021 film produced by DCI-P, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak said, "we are usually talking about...boys throwing stones at tanks of Israel."
    These are imaginary attacks against tanks which have not been operationally deployed in the West Bank for nearly two decades.
    DCI-P claimed that Hamas member Zuhdi al-Tawil, 17, "allegedly committed a stabbing attack" and was "unlawfully killed," despite security camera footage clearly showing al-Tawil's attack.
    DCI-P seems to lack interest in the recruitment and exploitation of children by terrorist organizations.
    Were they genuinely motivated by a concern for Palestinian children, DCI-P would advocate and campaign against the endemic incitement against Jews and Israelis to which these children are exposed.
    The writer is a researcher for NGO Monitor.

Israel Found a Way to Make Soldiers Invisible - Kyle Mizokami (Popular Mechanics)
    A new camouflage material, Kit 300, developed by Israeli defense contractor Polaris Solutions, is a "thermal visual concealment" sheet that blocks a soldier's body heat, rendering them invisible to night-vision sensors.
    The foil-like material can be formed into rock-shaped structures for soldiers to hide behind. A large sheet can hide vehicles as large as a Hummer.
    A Kit 300 sheet weighs around one pound and compresses into a small roll. It's strong enough to carry injured soldiers and is waterproof.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • UN Backs New War Crimes Probe Against Israel
    125 countries in the UN General Assembly voted on Thursday to back an open-ended war crimes probe against Israel, which had been initiated in May by the UN Human Rights Council after the fighting in Gaza. When Israel sought to exclude funding for the probe from the UNHRC budget, only 8 countries voted in favor, including Israel and the U.S., while 34 countries abstained. (Middle East Monitor-UK)
        See also Israel, U.S. Oppose New UN Commission of Inquiry - Tovah Lazaroff
    As the UN General Assembly voted to fund an unprecedented open-ended war crimes probe against Israel, Israeli UN representative Sherry Zilbergeld said: "Establishing a novel, permanent standing committee rather than a limited, temporary and well-defined Commission of Inquiry is unprecedented and dangerous," accusing the General Assembly of funding a "mock court" against Israel. "Countries who opposed the formation of the Commission of Inquiry...will have to pay for this mechanism next year...in 10 years and...in 100 years."
        Zilbergeld said, "Since its establishment in 2006, the UNHRC has set up 32 investigative bodies, with nine - nearly a third - of these focused exclusively on Israel." She noted that no Commission of Inquiry was created to investigate Hamas, an "internationally designated terror group" that has launched thousands of rockets against Israeli civilians.
        The U.S. representative said the probe "perpetuates a practice of unfairly singling out Israel in the UN and, like prior U.S. administrations, we strongly oppose such treatment of Israel. The U.S. will continue to oppose this....Israel can continue to count on the U.S. to do everything possible to shield it from discriminatory and unbalanced criticism - whether at the UNHRC or elsewhere in the UN system."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also The Newest Anti-Israel UN Action Must Be Challenged - Prof. Anne Bayefsky (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Israel Accuses Iran of "Nuclear Blackmail" and Asks the West to Devise a "Credible" Military Threat - Con Coughlin
    Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warned in an interview with the Telegraph that Israel and its Western allies must devise a credible military threat to deter Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapons arsenal. "If the Iranians think the world does not seriously intend to stop them, they will race towards the bomb," said Lapid. "There needs to be a credible military threat on the table."
        Lapid insisted that Israel's preferred outcome was a negotiated settlement. "Israel hopes for a permanent and comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear threat," he said. During his recent talks in London, Lapid set out a comprehensive plan for dealing with Tehran, including tighter sanctions and tighter supervision of Iran's nuclear activities, arguing that the West needed "a plan for Iran's continued intransigence....Iran must be diplomatically and politically isolated."
        "While we in Israel focus on building bridges between peoples, Iran is busy trying to build a bridge of terrorism from Iran, through Iraq and Syria to Israel's border," he added. "Iran and its proxies are constantly working to undermine regional stability." "A nuclear Iran...will not only mean nuclear weapons in the hands of a fundamentalist, brutal regime: it will also embolden Iran's terrorist proxies to further expand their terrorist activity across the region and the entire world, including into Europe."  (Telegraph-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel to Strengthen Its Presence in the Golan Heights - Tovah Lazaroff
    The Israeli government on Sunday approved a $300 million plan to develop the Golan Heights and at least double its Jewish population, including the creation of two new towns. The U.S. recognized Israel's sovereignty over the Golan in 2019. There are currently 53,000 people living in the Golan - 27,000 Jews in four towns, 18 moshavim and 10 kibbutzim; 24,000 Druze in four communities; and 2,000 Alawites in the village of Ghajar. (Jerusalem Post-Globes)
  • Israel Protests to UN over Lebanese Plans to Drill in Its Maritime Waters - Tovah Lazaroff
    Israel's Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan wrote a letter of protest to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday "regarding the recent tender issued by the Government of Lebanon to grant offshore licenses in maritime areas where Israel asserts sovereign rights or jurisdiction in accordance with international law."
        At issue is a long-standing dispute over an 860 sq. km. area in the eastern Mediterranean near Israel's natural gas fields. The process stalled when Lebanon sharply increased its demands to 2,300 sq. km. that included the Karish North field in Israeli waters, where drilling is already taking place. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israel Eyes Gaza Economic Relief without Strengthening Hamas - Yaniv Kubovich
    Israel is undertaking a series of steps to ease the deteriorating economy in Gaza without coordination with Hamas. The amount of cross-border traffic at the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza has been increased; new and used vehicles have been allowed to enter; and thousands of laborers from Gaza have been issued permits to work in Israel at several times the comparable wage in Gaza. Escalation with Israel by Hamas would freeze these measures. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Israel Is the Best Thing to Happen to Christians in the Holy Land for Centuries - Robert Nicholson
    Every year at Christmas, some Christian prelate warns of the fate of Christians in the Holy Land. This year it was Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem Hosam Naoum.
        But the state of Israel is the best thing to happen to Christians and other minorities in over a thousand years: a revolution for freedom against religious empire, a refuge for Jews, and a model of multi-ethnic pluralism at the same time. To the Archbishops' credit, they acknowledge that "In Israel, the overall number of Christians has risen," yet fail to note that this is the first time in 13 centuries that such a thing has happened.
        There are, in fact, two Christian communities in the Holy Land: a large and prosperous Arabic-speaking population in Israel, where 182,000 live as citizens, mainly in the Galilee; and a smaller group of 50,000 Christian Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The real crisis is here, under Palestinian rule. Data from a study by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research show that 2/3 of Christians in the Palestinian territories worry about rising Islamic sentiment, which drives economic hardship, emigration and decline.
        Christmas offers an opportunity to thank Israel for safeguarding Christianity. If the Church of England wants a Christian renaissance in the Near East, it should extend a hand of friendship to the only country where that project is still viable.
        The writer is president and executive director of the Philos Project, a community of Christian leaders who advocate for pluralism in the Near East. (Telegraph-UK)
  • How a Victorious Bashar al-Assad Is Changing Syria
    A new Syria is emerging from the rubble of war, with the government supported by Syria's victorious minorities - Christians, Shias and Alawites - who banded together against the rebels who are nearly all Sunni. More than half of the country's population of 22 million has been displaced - 6.5 million inside Syria and over 6 million abroad.
        The authorities seem intent on maintaining the new demography. Four years after the government regained Homs, residents still need a security clearance to return and rebuild their homes. Few Sunnis get one. Portraits of Hassan Nasrallah, the Lebanese Shia leader of Hizbullah, hang from Sunni mosques.
        The regime has neither the money nor the manpower to rebuild. Aleppo's pre-war population of 3.2 million has shrunk to under 2 million. Men left first, many fleeing the draft and their likely dispatch to the front. As in Europe after the First World War, Syria's workforce is now dominated by women. There are female plumbers, taxi-drivers and bartenders.
        Assad seems focused less on recovery than rewarding loyalists with property left behind by Sunnis. He has distributed thousands of empty homes to Shia militiamen. (Economist-UK)
  • Russia Unlikely to Help Syria Break Away from Iranian Influence - Anna Borshchevskaya
    As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reconsolidates control over Syria, many in Israel hope that Russia might push Assad away from Iran. Is this realistic?
        Moscow accepted Israeli airstrikes against Iran-backed targets in Syria not out of sympathy but rather because Russia has a genuine interest to keep Iranian ambitions in check and not let Iran become powerful enough to challenge it. However, Russia had neither the ability nor desire to limit Iranian-backed forces in Syria. Russia's entire Syria intervention depended on Iran doing the heavy lifting, keeping the Russian intervention limited and inexpensive. There is no indication Putin wants to risk a clash with Iran.
        The hope that differences between Russia and Iran will emerge as fighting ends is misplaced and reflects wishful thinking more than reality. Iranian tentacles are entrenched too deep in Syria and Assad owes not only Putin but also Tehran his survival.
        The writer is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (19FortyFive)

  • Sima Shine - head of the Iran program at Israel's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and former head of the research and evaluation division at the Mossad - explained earlier this month that Israel is faced with three main issues with regard to Iran: the nuclear program; the fact that Iran is close to Israel's borders in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza; and Iranian cyberattacks against Israeli infrastructure and civilian entities. "The closer Iran gets to a nuclear weapon, the more temptation there is to get there," she added.
  • Elliott Abrams, former U.S. special representative for Iran, said, "We see the behavior of Iran in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen. All of this is undertaken without nuclear weapons. One therefore must ask oneself: What would Iranian behavior be like if it felt safer because it had a nuclear weapon?"
  • He noted that it would be "destabilizing and terribly undermining of U.S. leadership and credibility if all of these pledges and promises by American presidents over the years turn out to be hollow, and it turns out they can be defied by Iran with no impact or reaction on the part of the United States."
  • The world order "is largely based on the credibility of the U.S., and if that credibility disappears, we have a whole different world....An Iranian nuclear weapon, in the teeth of the American pledge 'this will never be permitted to happen,' would really do damage to America's interests throughout the world."
  • Speaking on Dec. 21 to the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said he stands by his stance that U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was the single-most important decision that any president had made for Israel's national security, because the deal provided a legal framework for Iran to achieve nuclear status once its provisions ended, rather than block it entirely. "Contrary to what many people believe, the nuclear deal did not freeze Iran's program."
  • Iran "was allowed to do research and development on more and more advanced centrifuges. So the nuclear deal with Iran enabled Iran to advance their nuclear program, under the imprimatur of the international community - essentially gave a kosher stamp to Iran moving on a path not just on one bomb but to an entire nuclear arsenal." The nuclear deal created a false sense of security and "put us on cruise control heading over a cliff."