January 10, 2022

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Congress Launches Bipartisan Abraham Accords Caucus - Marc Rod (Jewish Insider)
    Eight House and Senate lawmakers will launch this week a bipartisan Abraham Accords Caucus, focused on supporting the normalization agreements between Israel and Arab states.
    The co-chairs will be Sens. James Lankford (R-OK), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), David Trone (D-MD), Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Brad Schneider (D-IL).
    "In just one year, the Abraham Accords have already transformed the Middle East by contributing to regional peace and stability, promoting U.S. interests, and enhancing Israel's security," said Sen. Rosen.

Israel Opens Up International Travel as Covid Spike Renders Ban Obsolete (Times of Israel)
    Israel has ended restrictions on international travel, as coronavirus rates spiked to record levels due to the omicron variant, making the impact of travel bans negligible.
    Two-way travel has now resumed to the U.S. and Britain.

Israeli Satellite Begins Testing Technology to Guard Against Cosmic Radiation (Xinhua-China)
    TauSat-3, an Israeli satellite designed to test a new technology for protecting space systems from cosmic radiation, has safely reached the International Space Station (ISS), Tel Aviv University said Sunday.
    The COTS-Capsule, an innovative technique for detecting and mitigating cosmic-ray-induced damage, will allow the use of modern commercial, off-the-shelf electronic components to be used in space.
    The satellite was launched onboard a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 21 and was transferred to the ISS via the Cargo Dragon C209 spacecraft.

Israel Aerospace Industries Aircraft Conversion Hub in Abu Dhabi to Meet Surging Global Demand - John Benny (Gulf News-UAE)
    "The issue of conversion of passenger aircraft to cargo is very 'in' right now because the pandemic has changed the ratio between passenger jets and cargo," said Shmuel Kuzi, Executive VP and General Manager of IAI's Aviation Group.
    IAI's conversion hub in Abu Dhabi will serve the global demand to convert the Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 over the next few years.
    Kuzi noted that "the difference between the cost of a new cargo plane and a converted airplane is huge. It is about two or three times more expensive to buy a new airplane."
    Before Covid-19 hit, 2/3 of the world's freight tonnage was carried on passenger flights, whose services have still not returned to normal.
    Meanwhile, cargo demand has soared with consumers thronging to e-commerce platforms and online shopping websites.

Israel's National Library Sees Arabic Site Traffic Boom - Ilan Ben Zion (AP-Washington Post)
    Israel's national library says the number of visitors to its Arabic website more than doubled last year, driven by a growing collection of digitized materials and an aggressive outreach campaign to the Arab world.
    650,000 users, largely from the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Algeria, visited the National Library of Israel's English and Arabic sites in 2021, said library spokesman Zack Rothbart.
    One of the most popular resources is a newspaper archive with more than 200,000 pages of Arabic publications from Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine.

News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran's Foreign Minister: In Nuclear Talks "We Are Close to a Good Agreement"
    Talks between Tehran and world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear accord are approaching a "good agreement," Iran's foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Sunday. "The initiatives of the Iranian side and the negotiations that have taken place have put us on the right track. We are close to a good agreement....Yesterday, the American side had unacceptable demands, but today we believe that it has adapted to the realities."
        French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday that negotiations were progressing on a "rather positive path."  (AFP-Al Arabiya)
        See also Israel Won't Be Bound by Vienna Nuclear Talks - Gil Hoffman
    Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that Israel would not be constrained by whatever agreements the world's leading powers reach with Iran in talks in Vienna. "Iran is the head of an octopus that constantly threatens Israel via its proxies," he said. "We shifted from defense to offense consistently. Israel is not a part of the agreements and is not obligated by them. Israel will maintain unlimited freedom to act."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • UN Report: Iran Navy Port Emerges as Key to Weapons Smuggling to Yemen - Benoit Faucon
    Thousands of rocket launchers, machine guns, sniper rifles and other weapons seized in the Arabian Sea by the U.S. Navy in recent months originated from the Iranian port of Jask on the Sea of Oman, according to a confidential UN report that provides detailed evidence that Tehran is exporting arms to Yemen and elsewhere. Iran has long denied providing the Houthis in Yemen with arms. Deliveries of weapons to the Houthis is a violation of a UN arms embargo imposed on the group since 2015. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Saudi Arabia Turns to Gulf States to Replenish Depleted Air Defenses - Andrew England
    Saudi Arabia has appealed to regional countries for help to replenish the depleted stock of interceptor missiles for its U.S.-made Patriot air-defense system as Yemeni rebels ramp up rocket and drone strikes on the kingdom. A senior U.S. official said the Biden administration supported the moves to source missiles from the Gulf amid concerns that Riyadh's Patriot stocks could run out in "months" given the current rate of attacks on the kingdom by Houthi rebels.
        A U.S. official said the Houthi rebels, who are aligned to Iran and control northern Yemen, launched 375 cross-border attacks last year against Saudi Arabia, many of which targeted oil infrastructure, airports and cities. (Financial Times-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Coronavirus Cases in Israel Are Rising - Rossella Tercatin
    Israel registered 32,000 new Covid cases on Sunday due largely to the Omicron variant, Health Ministry data showed on Monday, with 21,514 identified by PCR tests and another 10,000 by antigen tests. As of Monday morning, 224 people were in serious condition out of 608 who were hospitalized. Active cases totaled 133,928, including 18,672 in Jerusalem and 10,112 in Tel Aviv. In the past week, 12 people have died from Covid. (Jerusalem Post-Ministry of Health)
  • Israel Becomes Expert at Downing Hizbullah Drones - Amos Harel
    The Hizbullah spy drone downed by the Israel Defense Forces on the Lebanese border on Tuesday is the fifth within a year. In the past few years there have been almost weekly sightings of drones from Lebanon flying along the border with Israel and in some cases penetrating a few hundred meters southward. The IDF does not elaborate on how it brings down the drones.
        In August, the IDF downed a drone and was able to view the photographs taken by the device. The drone's handlers are connected to Hizbullah's offensive Radwan Unit, which learned from Russian and Iranian instructors in Syria. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Hizbullah Drone Downed by IDF Reveals Operatives' Pictures - Anna Ahronheim
    A Hizbullah drone downed by the Israeli military on Tuesday had a memory card with clear pictures of its operators, members of the Radwan unit. The pictures, likely taken by mistake by the UAV, revealed their faces and vehicles - complete with license plates - as well as the operatives flying another drone that was downed a few months ago by the IDF. (Jerusalem Post)
  • 5 Firebombs Thrown at Israeli Bus in West Bank
    Five firebombs were thrown at a bus near Halhul between Hebron and Gush Etzion in the West Bank on Thursday afternoon, Walla! reported. There were no injuries. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinians Escalate Attacks on Israeli Motorists
    Hila Lehm was driving home to Elazar, south of Jerusalem, around midnight on Thursday when a block weighing nine pounds suddenly "flew towards me, penetrated the windshield and hit my forehead," Ynet reported. "Blood was pouring from my forehead, glass and blood were in my mouth," she said after she was evacuated to a hospital.
        Tam and Malahi Zamir were attacked at the same spot on Thursday. The rock-thrower "stood at the side of the road, in the dark," recounted Tam. "Suddenly he raised his hand and I understood what was about to happen. The block hit our car, the side window shattered on me and glass flew throughout the car." Malahi told Ynet, "When they say, 'stone throwing,' you think of a small pebble of sorts - but they're blocks. They're blocks that can kill."  (Algemeiner)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Israel Warns Against Hizbullah Presence in Venezuela - Sabrina Martin Rondon
    In a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque and Minister of Defense Diego Molano in Jerusalem on Nov. 8, 2021, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said that Israel is concerned about the presence of Iranian terrorists in Venezuelan territory. "These are elements that must be stopped immediately, as soon as possible."
        Molano responded, "Here we have a common enemy and that is the case of Iran and Hizbullah, which operate against Israel, but also support the Venezuelan regime. Therefore, it is an important effort of exchange of information and intelligence that we are developing with the military forces and the Ministry of Defense in Israel." He added that "the Hizbullah factions that are present in Venezuela are supported by the Venezuelan regime."  (El American)
  • Meet the Online Arab Zionists - Jonathan Sacerdoti
    The growth of social media has allowed the world to see a different Middle East. A Syrian blogger began a video begging the Israeli government to "occupy" Syria to save more lives, noting that "The Golan Heights is the only area in Syria that hasn't been destroyed and had its people killed." The signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020 allowed many Arabs to speak out openly about Israel without fear of a backlash. Now, pioneering Arab Zionists and pro-Israel influencers are promoting Israel to their followers.
        Loay Al-Shareef, 39, is an Abu Dhabi-based social-media influencer and a self-declared Zionist with 180,000 followers on Twitter and 80,000 on Instagram. He studied biblical history, archaeology and the history of the Near East and Mesopotamia, all of which led him to believe in the legitimacy of the State of Israel.
        "It's very righteous for the Jews to have their ancestral homeland in the Land of Israel," he said. "Jews are not colonialists or conquerors in the Land of Israel, because if we would believe that, then we would believe that David, Solomon, Isaiah and Jeremiah and the prophets were actually colonizers, and that would kill the Islamic faith."
        Loyalty to the Palestinian cause has changed since the Abraham Accords. "We've given them lots of money that could turn Gaza into a Silicon Valley. Enough money that would turn the West Bank into a new Singapore. Where is this money going?"  (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
  • Israel Bids Farewell to Yoram Taharlev, Who Wrote "The Soundtrack of Generations" - Jessica Steinberg
    Israeli songwriter and poet Yoram Taharlev died on Thursday at the age of 83. Taharlev wrote more than 1,000 songs, including 100 works for the army's musical entertainment troupes that became classics of Israeli culture. His songs, recorded by Israel's top groups and vocalists, were played incessantly on the radio. Defense Minister Benny Gantz said of Taharlev, "With an incredible combination of humor and seriousness, you shaped the soundtrack of the military, which has accompanied us soldiers for decades and still accompanies us."
        Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli said Taharlev's "soundtrack is a unique combination of the love of country and love of the [fellow] person, of romance and of pain and always with humor." Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper said Taharlev's words "connect to countless Israelis in moments of love and death, joy and sadness, on a trip in the country, in meetings, in moments of longing," and that "not many manage to be the soundtrack of many generations, of grandparents, parents and children."  (Times of Israel)
        See also A Tribute to Yoram Taharlev - Greer Fay Cashman (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Video: Israel Music History - Yoram Taharlev's Songs (YouTube)

The Critical Role of Demography in the Middle East - Prof. Eyal Zisser (Israel Hayom)
  • The Jewish majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is stronger than ever, among other factors because of immigration from Russia and Ethiopia, and rising birth rates in the Jewish sector.
  • In Syria, Sunnis represented 60% of the population on the eve of the civil war, compared to President Assad's Alawite sect, which comprised 12%. The Assad regime and its allies, Russia and Iran, carried out an ethnic cleansing during which nearly 1/3 of the population - 8 million people, the vast majority of whom were Sunnis - were either expelled or fled. 10 million Syrians currently reside under Assad's control, and the percentage of Alawites has doubled to 25%, if not more.
  • In Iraq, the percentage of Shiites who rule the country has grown to 65%, with the remainder comprising Kurds and Sunni Arabs who have been relegated to secondary status and many of whom have fled to Jordan and even Syria.
  • In Lebanon, the Shiites have become the largest sect in the country, nearly 1/3 of the population, while the Christians represent 1/4,and the Sunnis and the Druze represent 1/3 of the population. One in every three Lebanese (2 million out of a population of 6 million) is a Syrian or Palestinian.
  • In Jordan, 1/3 (4 million out of a population of 11 million) are refugees from Iraq or Syria.
  • The Fertile Crescent is no longer as Sunni as it was for a thousand years. This serves the hegemonic interests of Iran.

    The writer is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

Daily Alert is published every Monday and Thursday.
Unsubscribe from Daily Alert.